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what i'm trying to say is i think i love you again

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“I think I’m gonna ask Blake out on a date,” Sun announces to the newsroom on a particularly slow Wednesday afternoon.
 
“Oh, no,” Ruby says, violently pressing the delete button.
 
“I wouldn’t,” answers Weiss, who hasn’t even stopped typing, nor bothered to look up from her laptop screen.
 
“Yikes,” says Nora, examining a print on the wall.  
 
“That idea wasn’t as well received as I thought it’d be,” Sun replies, scratching the back of his head.
 
“Well,” Weiss says, “that’s because it wasn’t a very good idea.”
 
--
 
(“I’m taking over the family newspaper,” Weiss announces the month before they’re all due to graduate, sprawled out in various corners of their living room. “I’m hiring all three of you.”
 
Ruby blinks, taking the cookie out of her mouth long enough to say, “Oh, sweet.
 
“Us?” Blake asks, lifting her head from where she’d been resting it in Yang’s lap. “Why?”
 
“Because I trust you,” Weiss says. “I’ve lived with you for almost four years. I know how dedicated you all are, and I know how well we work together. I’d like to continue that relationship.”
 
“And?” Yang says, her arm draped over Blake’s stomach.
 
“And I want to take back my family’s name,” Weiss says.
 
“There it is,” Yang says.
 
“Schnee is not my father’s right by birth,” Weiss declares. “It is not his legacy to leave behind. This is mine.”
 
“You’re so cool, Weiss,” Ruby says, staring at her in awe.
 
“What’s cooler than being cool?” Yang nudges Blake after a moment of silence. “Say it.”
 
“Ice cold,” Blake says flatly.
 
“Alright, alright, alright, alright, alright--”
 
“Okay, that’s enough,” Weiss says, crossing her arms. “Are you in or are you out?”
 
“You’re asking a bunch of broke college kids if they want jobs after they graduate,” Blake points out. “I think we’re all in.”)
 
--
 
“Why not?” Sun asks, leaning against the short wall that separates the hallway from the cubicles. “I know I’m kinda new here, but - is she seeing someone or something?”
 
“No,” Ruby says, just as Weiss says, “Yes.” Weiss shoots her a glare. Ruby holds up her hands.
 
“Not technically,” Ruby corrects.
 
“She’s unavailable,” Weiss says.
 
“Jaune?” Sun says, looking for some support. “What’s your opinion on this? You’re the advice guy.”
 
“I wouldn’t touch Blake romantically with a fifty-foot pole, and when Pyrrha gets here, she’ll tell you the same,” Jaune says, squinting at his notes. “Unless you feel like you can take Yang in a fight.”
 
“Yang Xiao Long? Ruby’s sister?” Sun says, now even more confused. “The investigative photojournalist?”
 
“The youngest Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative photojournalist in history,” Nora corrects seriously.
 
“They’re partners,” Weiss says, clicking through her email. “Yang’s been on a solo assignment for awhile. It’s why you haven’t met her yet.”
 
“They’re ex-partners,” Jaune says.
 
“Yeah,” Ruby says, somewhat quietly. “They’re ex-a lot of things.”
 
--
 
(Blake and Yang don’t really date in college.
 
Or, at least, nobody else thinks they do, because they don’t really go around advertising it. They’re called that wistful almost; the couple people glance at and think, oh, it’s like that. They’re in love, and everyone can see it except for them. They’re what love should look like if it ever existed at all.
 
They share a major: investigative journalism. Yang’s minor is photography. Blake’s is law, politics and regulations. It’s how they meet. Blake’s an activist on a remorse mission, and Yang’s just in it for the knowledge, for the adventure. She tells Blake she likes photography because she likes to see the truth of things, likes exposing it, running her fingers all over it, underneath it, inside of it. She stares at Blake as she says this and doesn’t blink, her mouth curling at the corners. Blake’s done a lot of bad in the world but she thinks maybe the good can start with Yang.
 
Yang’s not overwhelmingly studious as a first year and somehow top of the class anyway. She’s all confidence and ego, drive and motivation in a chaotic and selflessly motivated way; she loves to make people laugh, make them comfortable, impress them. All of it is real but it’s barely whole. There is so much to Yang she wants to uncover, unwrap.
 
They’re assigned a project in their Storytelling class where their goals are to write a captivating piece about the other, showcasing their knowledge of which details to blow up and shrink, which deserve to be probed and left alone. Blake says, “You,” when they’re told to pick a partner, and Yang only smiles like she knows what game is being played.
 
“I’m an open book,” Yang says.
 
“Let’s agree not to lie to each other,” Blake says dryly. “I’d like to get a good grade.”
 
Yang’s stare narrows slightly, eyebrows lowering. “Is that what you’d like?” she insinuates, trailing her eyes down Blake and up. “Really?”
 
“Is this what you do?” Blake asks, perturbed and trying to move past it. “Unravel people before they can get too close?”
 
“Maybe,” Yang says after a moment. “I like to think it involves a little more connection than what you do, though.”
 
“Which is?”
 
“You don’t put up walls,” Yang says. “You have them, and you never take them down. I bet you don’t even remember how, anymore.”
 
The challenge of it digs its claws into her. They recognize each other, and it’s frightening and addicting, like floating in the ocean during a thunderstorm, watching lightning strike the water and wondering how long you have until it hits you.
 
“And you think you can knock them down,” Blake interprets.
 
“Let me take your picture,” Yang says, “and I will.”
 
“Fine,” Blake says. “Then I get to take you out. On a date.”
 
Yang’s caught off-guard by the deal. “Why?”
 
“Because,” Blake murmurs, piercing into Yang’s lavender eyes, “I know the talk about you isn’t true. You don’t fuck around. You barely even flirt with other people unless you’re about to prove them wrong.”
 
“You want me out of my comfort zone,” Yang realizes, and grins coyly. “You know, for that sort of tactic to work, you’d need to actually be interested in me.”
 
“Who says I’m not?” Blake asks rhetorically, and the clock signals the end of the lecture. She swings her bag over her shoulder and stands, and for the first time, smiles genuinely at Yang. “How’s Friday night? Around eight?”
 
“Sure,” Yang agrees after a pause of deliberation, looking at Blake with a reluctant admiration in her gaze. “Where?”
 
“You’re not, like, a vegetarian or something, are you?”
 
Yang pulls a face. “Absolutely not.”
 
“Okay.” Blake thinks a second. “The Six?”
 
“Between Harbor and Third?” Yang asks, typing something in her scroll.
 
“Yeah.”
 
“Sure,” Yang says again, and Blake’s delighted to sense an underlying embarrassment to her tone. “I’ll see you then.”)
 
--
 
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Sun says, tail flicking aimlessly around behind him.
 
Weiss sighs, shuts her laptop tiredly. “Look, Sun,” she says, rubbing her temples. “I respect that Blake wanted to take a chance on you as a newspaper writer, and her instincts weren’t wrong. Your pieces are good. But I won’t hesitate to get involved in personal business when it affects us personally.” She eyes him down. “Do you understand?”
 
“Not at all,” he says, bewildered. “Yang and Blake are dating?”
 
“No,” Ruby says again, just as Weiss replies, “Yes.”
 
They exchange another heated glance. “Ruby,” Weiss warns.
 
“It’s more complicated than that,” she whines, spinning lightly in her chair.
 
Sun looks at her. Weiss glares back, and Nora, Jaune, and Ren sort of watch delicately from the sidelines, unsure of how far to intervene, if even at all.
 
“They’re not dating,” Weiss says finally. “Not anymore.”
 
“What happened between them?” Sun asks, intrigued. “How long ago did they break up?”
 
“A little over a year ago,” Ruby answers, and even she seems downtrodden now. “It’s a...long story.”
 
“Sun, honestly,” Jaune starts, “I really wouldn’t push it.”
 
“I mean, I won’t, not anymore,” he says, shaking his head. “I just feel like something really huge happened and you all know about it and I don’t. It’s just, like, really confusing.”
 
There’s dead silence for a moment, the computers humming creating a steady white noise in the background. Weiss says, “Something did happen,” and then stops again. She presses her lips into a thin line. “You’re all writers, mostly,” she says to the room. “Help me explain this.”
 
“I dunno, man,” Ruby shrugs. “Just, like, they belong to each other. It’s weird. Like, go ahead and ask Blake out, but she’ll say no, and Yang will have a coronary or something when she hears about it, and then she’ll probably kill you.”
 
Sun feels his palms start to sweat, skin clammy. “Like, seriously?”
 
“No,” Weiss says. “But considering what she went through for Blake, I wouldn’t blame her if she did.”
 
--
 
(Blake meets her at the bar. She’s drinking something fruity and wearing blue denim skinny jeans with brown heeled boots that rise to just below her knee. Her knitted sweater is off-white and partly covered by a plaid scarf, and her blonde hair flows loose down her back. Blake’s mouth waters just looking at her, and a group of men are hovering behind her, staring creepily.
 
One of them approaches just before Blake does. He barely makes a sound and she says, “Not interested,” without even looking at him. He turns away dejectedly and comes face-to-face with Blake, and his eyebrows raise, glancing her up and down; she says, “I’m not interested, either,” and then man scowls heavily before stalking back to his friends.
 
“Men,” Yang says, but shoots Blake a very similar appraisal to the one she’d just been given. “You look incredible.”
 
“So do you,” Blake says, slipping onto the stool next to her. “I’m glad you actually came.”
 
Yang smiles, leaning her chin against her palm, elbow on the bar. “I wouldn’t stand you up,” she says.
 
“No?”
 
“No,” Yang says. “We’re partners on this project, remember? I’d have to see you in class, and that’d be all kinds of awkward.”
 
Blake rolls her eyes. “Ah, of course. Saving yourself the embarrassment.”
 
Yang drops her arm, leans in. “No,” she says again, bashful. “I like you. I want to listen to you talk and hear what you have to say. You interest me.”
 
Blake asks, “People don’t normally do that, do they?”
 
“Do what?”
 
“Interest you.”
 
Yang hums. “No,” she says. “They don’t.”
 
“I’m flattered,” Blake says, because she is. “You intrigue me, too. I want to know everything about you.”
 
“Prepare to be disappointed,” Yang says, and her smile aims down, eyes averted.
 
“I don’t think I will be,” Blake answers, just as the bartender comes over for her order. “Gin and tonic.”
 
“Jesus, Christ,” Yang says, and laughs once, breathlessly. “That’s serious.”
 
“I refuse to drink tequila on a first date,” Blake says mildly. It makes sense to Yang, who rewards her with a knowing snicker.
 
“Afraid of doing something dangerous?” Yang asks.
 
Blake’s knees brush hers, angling her body towards Yang. “God, yes,” she says. “Look at you. You are dangerous.”
 
Yang’s tongue darts out and sweeps across her bottom lip. “Good to know I’ve got that effect on you.”
 
The bartender hands Blake her drink. She says, “Let’s grab a table. I’m not getting drunk on a first date, either.”
 
They’re seated at a small table looking out over the ocean, and the moonlight through the window grants them an extra slice of atmosphere, which is already overwhelming with the fairy lights snaking up the wooden beams and glittering across the walls; they order a few appetizers and Yang leans back in her chair and says, “Okay. Interview me.”
 
Blake laughs. “That’s not exactly what I’m going for.”
 
Yang grins. “Oh, no? More natural approach?”
 
“We are on a date,” Blake says, and her mouth twists up at a corner. “You can relax. I am actually attracted to you.”
 
“That’s not helping me relax,” Yang says, and she’s blushing slightly under the dim light. “I don’t go on a lot of dates.”
 
“Why not?” Blake asks, watching the way Yang’s lips wrap around her straw, fingers tightening around her glass.
 
She shrugs. “I’m from Patch - I’m not sure if you know it, but it’s an island just off of the coast of Vale. It’s pretty small. Nobody ever caught my eye.”
 
“When did you realize you were gay?” Blake says, and it doesn’t feel invasive; Yang’s made it pretty clear.
 
“Oh, forever ago,” she says, rolling her eyes, but there’s a turn to her voice she doesn’t quite manage to hide. “Didn’t really admit it until recently, though,” she continues, and that makes a little more sense. “Have you dated a girl before?”
 
“No,” Blake says. “Never.”
 
That seems to surprise Yang more than anything else. “So what makes me special?”
 
“I didn’t know I had a type until I saw you,” Blake says. “It’s you. You embody it. I don’t know how to explain it.”
 
Yang laughs appreciatively, flattered. “You’re not getting off that easily,” she says. “You’re in journalism. I know you can write, Blake.”
 
“Then you can read my piece when I’ve finished with it,” she teases, and Yang tuts.
 
“Touché,” she says. “Boyfriend, then, huh?” She leans forward, and her look is akin to an examination for a split second, like shining a flashlight into a tomb. “Serious, right? Haven’t dated anyone since?”
 
Blake sips at her drink. She’d expected this; Yang’s annoyingly astute, like she can take a single glance at a person and know everything that’s ever happened to them. “Yeah.”
 
“Hm,” Yang says, stretching out a leg; her ankle brushes Blake’s, their shoes resting against each other. “Real piece of shit, I’m guessing.”
 
“You could say that,” Blake says wryly, thinking of Adam’s controlling, possessive behavior, barking orders in her ear, “and you’d be right.”
 
Yang observes her a moment longer, stare darting between Blake’s eyes, and then she smiles suddenly, softly, and it’s so open and sincere that it feels like Blake’s lungs were never meant to work at all, like breath were a thing she’d been granted out of benevolence until Yang decided to take it back.
 
Yang says, “Well, you’re here now, aren’t you?” and skims her fingers across the back of Blake’s hand. “So you must’ve done something right. Something to survive.”
 
Blake can’t speak at all, only stare; Yang holds up her hands like a frame.
 
“There,” she says. “That’s the picture.”)
 
--
 
Ilia gets into the office around ten, holding a cup of coffee and wearing sunglasses over her eyes as if she’s hungover. She’s not, but her style is always slightly off, conveying a mood consistently different to the one she feels. She lifts up her glasses onto her forehead and says, “What the fuck?” and glances around the main room, almost oppressed by the strange weight hovering in the air. “It’s like a funeral home in here today. Nobody died, right? Should I go dark? Like a midnight-blue?”
 
“Hey, Ilia,” Ruby greets, raising a hand over her head. “No, no deaths as of yet.”
 
“I’ve been checking the news,” she says. “Nothing’s happened yet today to be this depressed over.”
 
Jaune says, “Sun wanted to ask Blake out.”
 
Sun glances up, catching her reaction; she winces, skin taking on a reddish hue, throwing him a desperately pitying look. “Oh, dude,” she says. “That’s rough. Sure explains it.”
 
“Does it?” Sun asks, still hanging halfway in the dark. Being the newest sucks.
 
“I mean, been there, done that,” Ilia waves away. “Blake’s off the table, man.”
 
“I’m off the table for what, exactly?” comes Blake’s own voice from the doorway behind her, standing with an eyebrow raised, her laptop tucked under her arm.
 
Weiss chimes in gracefully with a lie prepared so quickly it’s slightly unsettling. “For tomorrow’s cover story,” she says airily. “Barring any sudden attack or tragedy, Mistral and Vacuou are facing off tonight in the finals of the tournament, so the outcome of that will likely make the cover - it’ll go to Nora.” Nora pumps a fist into the air. Weiss says, “Blake, I actually have something else to talk to you about.”
 
Blake’s suddenly on high alert, staring at Weiss with a swiftly dawning terror in her eyes; Weiss notices the reaction immediately and says, “No, not - it’s not bad.”
 
“Okay,” Blake says, still tense, fingers curled so hard around her bag her knuckles are turning white. She breathes for a moment. “What is it?”
 
“We’ll go into my office,” Weiss says, and Blake follows her in, barely sparing a glance at anyone else.
 
The door shuts. Ilia takes her seat at the desk next to his, swinging her backpack onto the table. Sun leans over and whispers, “You tried asking Blake out, too?”
 
Ilia shoots him a look, a mix of fear and bafflement, like he’s either the craziest or the stupidest person she’s ever spoken to. “Uh, what? Hell no.”
 
“Why not?” he asks.
 
“Dude,” Ilia says.
 
“That doesn’t tell me anything,” Sun answers, still keeping his voice lowered.
 
“I mean, I had a crush on her back in high school, and, like, yeah, when we reconciled and she got me this gig the thought crossed my mind, but, like, come on,” she rambles, and Sun’s expression is so muddled and perplexed it’s as if someone is squeezing his facial features together. Ilia seems vaguely concerned at this, but presses on. “I’m not an idiot. I can’t compete with Yang. Nobody can.”
 
“But, like, why,” Sun says, staring blankly, his brain cells literally killing themselves in rebellion by this point.
 
“Are you serious?” Ilia asks, raising an eyebrow.
 
“No, I’m keeping this up because it’s fun to feel stupid,” he deadpans.
 
Weiss’s office door opens again just as Ilia’s on the verge of speaking, and she shuts her mouth instantly, turning back to her computer. Blake’s saying lowly, “Thanks. I appreciate it.”
 
“Of course,” Weiss murmurs. “It wasn’t supposed to go on this long, but it’s - the city’s been devastated.”
 
“I understand,” Blake says. “It’s fine. She needs to do this.” But her hands clench briefly into fists at her sides, and open again like a reflex. “Anyway, I received your email this morning - I’ll look over the suggested changes and send to Ren.”
 
“Great,” Weiss says. “Thanks, Blake.”
 
Ruby glances over out of the corner of her eye and meets Weiss’s stare, who shakes her head imperceptibly. Ruby reopens twitter and starts to draft up a new tweet.
 
--
 
(Yang says seriously, “If I order the steak, this is definitely a date. So here’s your last chance to back out.”
 
The concept somehow makes no sense and perfect sense all at the same time, which is a quality Yang eventually comes to epitomize to Blake; ideas that seem as though they should be at conflict with one another and aren’t. Blake asks, “What’s it mean if I order the salmon?”
 
“It means you want a second date,” Yang says, running a finger down her menu. Blake only hums noncommittally.

The waiter returns with their next round of drinks. Yang had said she’d get up and leave if Blake asked for another gin and tonic, so she’d settled for a whiskey neat, and Yang’s outraged burst of laughter had been entirely worth it. “Ready?” the waiter asks.
 
“I’ll have the salmon,” Blake says without missing a beat. “Roasted garlic potatoes for the side. Thanks.”
 
Yang’s lips are tilted into a reserved sort of smirk.
 
“I’ll do the steak,” she says. “Medium-rare. With steak fries.”
 
He smiles at them politely and leaves to place their orders, and Blake says, “Guess we have to go on a second date.”
 
“Guess so,” Yang echoes casually. “It’s the law, after all.”
 
“Is it?”
 
“You’re the one with the law minor,” Yang points out. “You tell me.”
 
“Oh, right,” Blake says. “Yeah, it’s in the rulebook, page three thirty-two. We’re, like, bound together now.”
 
“This is worse than a blood oath,” Yang says. “Shit. I should’ve gotten a salad. What’s that say?”
 
“You hate me,” Blake tells her. “I could’ve done the soup of the day. I think it was clam chowder.”
 
“Bowl or cup?” Yang asks shrewdly.
 
“Bowl.”
 
“Means you’re nervous around me,” Yang says. “You’re on the fence.”
 
“I think it’s the opposite,” Blake says, finally seeing an opening for the higher ground. “I think I make you nervous, and you’ve been trying to impress me since the moment you showed up here tonight.”
 
Yang blinks, stunned at the sudden shift in tone, and then smiles widely with her teeth, eyes burning like the devil. Something about her mouth appears as a threat, like Blake should turn and run now or she’ll never escape.
 
Yang says, “You were wrong about something earlier, you know,” and her voice is so husky and hot that Blake automatically swallows.
 
“What?” she asks, trying to hide the dryness of her throat.
 
“The talk about me is most definitely true,” she murmurs seductively, eyes flashing red in the candlelight, and for a split second, Blake wishes she were a little bit better at photography.)
 
-
 
Weiss is the only one with a truly private office in the building, even though she spends half her time at Ruby’s desk. They’re in the process of moving to a new one - a bigger one she’d had renovated shortly after taking over the company, and only recently finished and furnished - but until then, everyone knows everyone’s business. Sun and Ilia share a workspace; Ruby’s got her own, and it’s a direct product of favoritism, not that anyone really cares; Pyrrha and Jaune, Ren and Nora, and--
 
The lettering’s faded over time, and nobody’s ever bothered to replace it; not that they’ve ever bothered to remove it, either. Sun gets the sense that it’d been too difficult of a decision, and thus ignored, like refusing to delete posts with an ex on social media. (Blake’s never touched a single picture she has with Yang. He checked.)
 
Blake Belladonna & Yang Xiao Long, is what it used to read, and still does if you look closely enough. Blake’s in there now, pouring over her piece for the day, but the room’s strangely big and empty through the glass walls. Like someone else’s presence should be filling it up and isn’t.
 
Sun and Ilia’s space faces Weiss’s office, and so all he notices is Ruby perking up as Weiss waves at her, pointing at something behind them. Ruby arches her neck, lifting herself onto her knees on her chair, and promptly falls off of it. It’s not exactly an unusual occurrence and so nobody reacts - except Weiss, who has her face in her hands - and Ruby stands, brushing herself off, and flies out to the hall behind them.
 
He tilts his head to look, but she’s too far down the hallway and all he can see is the back of her red skirt. She takes a step backward and spins around, marching over to Blake’s door and knocking once. Nora raises her eyebrows, glancing over at Ren, who shrugs.
 
Blake motions for her to enter, and Ruby slides in the room, walking casually over to the opposite side of the wall and leaning against Blake’s printer, seemingly chatting her up about something. All he can see are her ears twitching, which either means she’s irritated or interested, and for Ruby’s sake he hopes it’s the latter.
 
He’s so focused on Blake that he doesn’t notice her enter until she’s halfway past his desk, and then he glances over to find--
 
“Oh my God, ” Ilia breathes out beside him, watching with rapt attention. “Holy shit. No way.”
 
Yang Xiao Long walks by, and Nora raises a hand for a high-five which Yang indulges, the metal alloy of her prosthetic arm glinting under the fluorescent lights; Jaune’s mouth is hanging open. She’s taller than he’d thought she’d be, and she’s stunning; Sun’s finding it hard not to be intimidated by her. She’s a legend in their field, and the feeling is akin to being slightly starstruck.
 
She raises a finger to her lips, and slowly edges Blake’s door open. “Surprise,” he hears her say, and her voice is almost unsteady, like it’s been unused, mummified.
 
Blake starts at the sound, and from Sun’s perspective, the door closes and she just sits there for a minute, staring blankly like she’s looking at a ghost or hallucination; suddenly she’s on her feet in a flurry of motion, Yang’s bag falling to the floor, Blake’s arms thrown around Yang’s neck, her face buried in her shoulder. She seems to be shaking, fingers clutching desperately at the material of Yang’s coat. Ruby quietly leaves the room, shutting the door behind her; they can all still see through, but the sound is muffled and unintelligible.
 
“I don’t get it,” he whispers to Ilia. She’s staring with wide eyes, like she never thought this day would come.
 
“Yang’s here,” she breathes out.
 
“Where’s she normally?” Sun asks.
 
“Away,” Ilia says. “Just...away.”
 
--
 
(“So why the beanie?” Yang asks curiously. “You don’t hide your ears at school. Don’t get me wrong, it’s hot, but I’m just wondering if there’s a reason.”
 
Blake shrugs. “It’s safer,” she says. “We’ve made huge strides in Faunus rights, obviously, but there are still the select few who are egotistical enough to think their racism is worth my time.”
 
“Hot,” Yang says again, biting her lip. “Not - not the, you know, what you just said - but I love people who know where they stand. What they believe in.”
 
“What do you stand for?” Blake asks on a hunch.
 
Yang blinks slowly as if she’s tired by the question. “I’m still figuring it out,” she says. “I don’t think I know, yet.”
 
“And that bothers you,” Blake infers.
 
“Well, yeah,” Yang answers, and sighs, running her hands through her hair. Blake catches herself slipping into a daydream about doing the same thing. “I don’t know. I’m used to thinking about other people. Not myself.” She pauses. “Not in a, like, I’m so selfless way, but…” she trails off, seemingly uncomfortable with continuing.
 
“You can tell me,” Blake says nicely. “I’m not judging you.”
 
“I’ve been taking care of my little sister for awhile,” Yang admits, eyelashes fluttering down. “She’s been my focus for so long that sometimes I forget to focus on me. She’s here, too, and she’s only sixteen, so I worry about her.”
 
“I won’t call the act noble, or heroic of you, or whatever other bullshit,” Blake says softly, “in case you feel like you didn’t have a choice.” Yang’s hand twitches once. “But it’s brave, and obviously you’ve done a great job.”
 
Yang smiles genuinely at her, face flushing lightly. “Thanks,” she says, and then, her eyes flashing again: “Hey, wanna get out of here?”
 
“God, yes,” Blake says, want apparent in her voice. “Are you in the dorms, or…?”
 
“No, we have an apartment,” Yang says. “Well, for now, but they’re raising our rent, so next semester we’ll have to do something about that.”
 
“I’m in the same boat,” Blake says. “Is your sister home?”
 
“No,” Yang says, and if there was any doubt about what’s going to happen between them, it’s certainly gone now.  “She’s out with a friend tonight.”
 
“Great.” Blake swings off the chair and stands, slipping her coat over her shoulders. “Lead the way.”)
 
--
 
“What the fuck,” Blake breathes out into her crook of her neck. “What the fuck, Yang--”
 
“Surprise,” Yang says again, gently, her arms wrapping around Blake like that’s the reason she has them at all. Blake’s ears swivel back, flat against her hair. “I’m home.”
 
Blake can barely form words, tears rolling down her cheeks. She feels Yang shuddering against her and knows she’s trying not to do the same thing. “Weiss said,” Blake starts, and stumbles, throat constricting over her voice like it’s taking up too much space. “She said - it’d be another--”
 
“I know,” Yang says. “I told her to say that. I wanted to surprise you.”
 
“Fuck you,” Blake says, gripping her tighter. “Jesus, Christ. Fuck you.”
 
“I missed you,” Yang murmurs, burying her face in Blake’s shoulder.
 
“Did you?” Blake whispers, opening her eyes. “Wasn’t the reason you left to stop?”
 
Yang doesn’t reply immediately, only pulls back slightly. “Yeah,” she says tiredly, and nothing else. Blake isn’t sure which question she’s answering, and she’s not sure she wants to know, anyway.
 
“Are you - are you here for the day, or…?” Blake asks, and her hands travel from her back to her waist to her hips and up, her arms - her arm - her neck, her face. Yang doesn’t look any different than she remembers, except her hair’s a little longer, her skin tanned; her muscles tense and relax under Blake’s touch, more prominent than before.
 
“I have a little dark room work to do,” she says. “I literally just got in a few hours ago, though, so after I’m--”
 
“Come home with me,” Blake says hurriedly. “Please.”
 
Yang raises her eyebrows slightly, but doesn’t react other than that. She studies Blake a moment and agrees quietly, “Okay,” and picks her bag up from the floor. “D’you wanna join me?”
 
“Yes,” Blake says, smiling unsteadily. Yang mirrors the expression, and lifts her hand to wipe a tear away from underneath Blake’s eye.
 
“Come on, then,” she says, and opens the door, purposefully ignores everyone staring outside. She doesn’t reach for Blake’s hand, and Blake doesn’t take hers, either.
 
--
 
(“I’m actually only a few blocks from you,” Blake says as Yang unlocks her front door with her key. “I’m down on Argent and Second.”
 
Yang throws her a smirk over her shoulder. “Good to know,” she says.
 
“It’s always easier dating someone in your area,” Blake tosses out the word nonchalantly, waiting for her reaction.
 
Yang shuts the door behind them. “True,” she says, unraveling her scarf. “Plus, I’d prefer to travel as little as possible for sex.”
 
“You don’t want to be in the business of looking desperate,” Blake says, grinning.
 
“Exactly,” Yang says, but laughs. She runs her hands through her hair again and Blake has to stop herself from snapping. “Assuming you’re good in bed, that is.”
 
“I get the general idea,” Blake says, only slightly intimidated at the prospect. She takes off her coat and throws it over the arm of the couch. Yang doesn’t seem to mind.
 
Yang says, “Never slept with a girl before, either, huh?”
 
“No,” Blake says. “But I’m sure you’d guessed that already.”
 
Yang smiles widely. “Innocent until proven filthy,” she says, and Blake laughs unexpectedly.
 
“I don’t think that’s the phrase,” she says, following Yang to the kitchen.
 
“I’ve made it one.”
 
“I’m sure it’ll catch on.”
 
“Drink?” Yang asks, opening her fridge and examining its contents. “Beer, hard cider, water…”
 
“Cider’s fine.”
 
Yang takes two bottles out and pops both their caps by placing them against the edge of the counter, and hitting them from the top down, catching the caps as they fly off. She doesn’t spill any and passes the bottle to Blake with a wink. Yang’s drinking beer, and for some reason Blake finds it unbelievably attractive.
 
“So how many girls have you slept with?” Blake continues the earlier conversation. Yang chokes, lifting her arm to her mouth.
 
“Okay, not as many as I made it seem,” she admits sheepishly.
 
“I figured,” Blake says, and it’s her turn to reveal her own observations. “You don’t have control issues, but you like to get your way. You like having power and you’re not used to caring enough about it to not have it.” Off her startled look, Blake continues, “You didn’t like that I’d pegged you at dinner, did you?”
 
“No,” Yang grumbles, and it’s strangely endearing; Blake smiles without being able to stop herself. “You do make me nervous. I mean, look at you - you’re intelligent, insightful, and you’re gorgeous.” She averts her eyes as she says this, and it’s how Blake knows she’s telling the truth. “I’ve slept with girls before, but none that I - wanted to impress.”
 
Blake confesses, “You make me nervous, too.”
 
Yang takes a sip of her beer and says, “Maybe we should...relax. Like, stop trying to one-up each other.”
 
Blake walks around the counter, takes Yang’s beer out of her hand and says, “I think we can do that.”
 
Yang only gazes down at her, watching every movement; Blake catches the way her breath flutters once in anticipation, stuck in her throat. “Oh?” she says, and the expectancy lingers delightfully underneath her tone. “How so?”
 
Blake lifts one hand to her cheek, leans in, and brushes her lips over Yang’s; there’s a pause as she waits for a reaction, and then Yang chases her mouth, kissing her hesitantly. Her fingers trail up Blake’s neck, cupping her jaw, and when Blake doesn’t pull away, she gives Yang the exact type of power she knows she wants. Yang takes a step into her, pushing her back against the kitchen island, and Blake’s hands fall to the counter behind her, steadying herself, Yang’s mouth moving more insistently. Yang drops her arms and her fingers cover Blake’s, interlacing against the cool marble, and Blake’s breath sticks to her lungs; it’s hotter than she thought it’d be, being powerless in Yang’s control.
 
Yang lifts her head, smirking dangerously. “You came here for something,” she murmurs, tongue darting out and sweeping over her bottom lip. “Do you want it now, or later?”
 
“What kind of a stupid fucking question is that,” Blake answers breathlessly, and Yang laughs, body pressing deeper into her. “Don’t put that line of questioning into your assignment. You’ll fail.”
 
“Hmm,” Yang says, and bends down, opening her mouth against Blake’s neck, kissing once, twice, and then sucking hard, her teeth scraping Blake’s skin. Blake hisses at the pain, the throbbing pressure of pleasure after. “You’re feistier than I’d thought you’d be. I like it.”
 
“Yang,” Blake says.
 
“Answer me,” she says.
 
“Now,” Blake says. “I want it now.”
 
Yang straightens up, her lips curled audaciously. The look in her eyes reminds Blake of a fire over gunpowder, the brink of an explosion. She lifts a hand and catches Blake’s chin between her thumb and forefinger, tilting her head up, and she kisses Blake hotly, tongue brushing through her mouth.
 
“Jesus, Christ,” Blake exhales when Yang pulls away. “What the fuck.”
 
“How am I compared to the talk so far?” Yang asks, as if this whole thing is very amusing rather than the sexiest experience Blake’s ever had.
 
“You’re much worse,” Blake says, and when Yang smiles, Blake can see her teeth. They glint like fangs, like Yang’s about to devour her alive.
 
She might. Blake’s finding that hard to be upset about.)
 
--
 
“Yang, these are - incredible,” Blake says awingly, going over the digital prints. Yang’s fiddling with the enlarger for her negatives. Yang had been documenting the civil war in Atlas, and due to their strict control of information, she’d been the only journalist allowed inside the kingdom’s borders. It was an extremely high honor and a terrible responsibility all at the same time.
 
“Thanks,” Yang says.
 
The set Blake’s looking at are from a village on the outskirts of Atlas, not important enough to be protected or governed by militant rule, but not worthless enough to totally demolish, either. She catches the same people, faces weary and hard, children with battle scars they shouldn’t have. As she goes on, some of the people disappear entirely, and Blake can guess why.
 
“It’s horrible, isn’t it,” Blake murmurs, staring at a photo of a boy with a missing leg being carried by his father.
 
“It’s worse,” Yang says. “I wanted to quit more than once.”
 
Blake looks up and observes her candidly. “You’re tired,” she says.
 
“Yeah.”
 
“I’m sorry.”
 
Yang shrugs. “It’s not your fault,” she says, brushing past it, or at least trying to.
 
Blake doesn’t move any closer to her. Yang’s movements have grown stiff. In the red light, Blake can see her human arm shaking.
 
“Isn’t it?” she asks quietly.
 
Yang pauses entirely. The silence thickens overhead, descending down upon them. Yang says, “Maybe I should go to Weiss and Ruby’s instead.”
 
“No!” Blake says, louder than she means to, and flushes. She steadies herself and says again, “No, please. Please.
 
Yang blinks at her, startled by the outburst. “Okay,” she says. “Okay, Blake.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Blake whispers. She’s not used to not knowing where she stands with Yang. “I just - I’ve - I’ve had so much to say to you for so long. And now that you’re finally here, it’s like I don’t know how to say any of it.”
 
“Start at the beginning,” Yang says gently, because regardless of their history, her instinct - her desperate need to comfort Blake, to hold her, to help her - hasn’t faded.
 
Blake says, “I’m sorry,” and covers her eyes with her hands. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
 
--
 
(Yang drags her through her bedroom door, giggling against her mouth; “I’m sorry,” she says, “I laugh when I’m nervous,” and Blake presses her back against the wood, smiling.
 
“What are you nervous about?” she asks, trailing her lips across Yang’s jaw.
 
“You’re so fucking hot,” Yang says breathlessly, her fingers slipping underneath Blake’s shirt. Blake’s mouth opens against her neck, her shoulder. Yang bites her lip, fingernails digging into her lower back. “Fuck, Blake--”
 
Blake pulls away, tugging at the hem of Yang’s sweater. “Says you,” she points out, and drags it over Yang’s head, captivated by the way her hair spills over, flowing loose and wild over her shoulders, down her back. Yang returns the gesture, stripping Blake’s shirt off of her, and leans in to kiss her again, walking her towards the bed. She falls against the comforter, holding herself up on her elbows, and Yang towers over her, eyes burning red.
 
Yang’s hands brush her hair over her shoulders, and trail the surface of her body, nails dragging lightly over her collarbone, her chest, her stomach, her hips. She unbuttons Blake’s jeans and unzips them, watching the way Blake’s lungs expand and contract beneath her ribcage, breath unsteady and uneven, pupils blown.
 
“Like you said,” Yang says with a smirk she’d crawl through hell for, “I like to get my way.”
 
“So do it,” Blake says huskily, staring up at her through her eyelashes. “Have your way.”
 
Yang rolls her jeans down her hips, over her thighs and off. “Don’t you want to know what that entails?” she asks, an obvious trap. Blake can’t find it within her to care as Yang strips herself of her own jeans, hovers over her.
 
“Tell me,” she answers.
 
Yang tangles her fingers in Blake’s hair, tugs her head back slightly, neck arching. “I’d rather show you,” she murmurs, lips barely brushing Blake’s own. She avoids her mouth entirely, and her lips fall to just below one of Blake’s human ears, kissing her skin gently, following the curve of her neck. She finds the same hickey she’s already left and sucks on it again, and Blake moans low in her throat.
 
But Yang doesn’t stop there; her tongue sweeps over Blake’s collarbone, the curve of her breast, her navel. Blake can only stare, heart pounding like the rumble of an earthquake, fingers curled around the bedspread tightly, knuckles white.
 
Yang looks up at her, the red of her eyes capturing Blake’s like something mythical, something too dangerous for words or comprehension, only stories and legend, fire and passion and seduction, beauty that levels the earth, and Blake becomes immediately aware that she is lost.
 
“Oh,” she breathes out. “This isn’t fair.”
 
“Hm?” Yang hums against her skin.
 
“You should’ve warned me that I didn’t stand a chance,” Blake says, and Yang only laughs, fingerprints burning everywhere they touch, like Blake’s own skin is making sure she knows she’ll never be anyone else’s ever again.)
 
--
 
“Let’s go,” Yang says softly, stepping around the table. “I don’t think this was a good idea.”
 
“We need to talk,” Blake says, tears spilling over. “Please. Please talk to me.”
 
“We will,” she says, “I will,” and carefully places her hands on Blake’s arms, steadying her. “I just need to talk to Weiss for a minute, okay?”
 
“Okay,” Blake whispers. “Okay. Go ahead - I need a moment.”
 
“I shouldn’t have surprised you,” Yang says, voice quiet and genuinely apologetic. “I didn’t know how to tell you. I didn’t know how I could come back at all to that kind of...expectation. I needed to be me. Not me after you. Just me.”
 
Blake’s fingers curl around the material of her sweater; on instinct, Yang raises a finger and wipes away another tear underneath Blake’s eye. It’s not the time, it’s not the place, but they are nothing if not woven from habit, and Blake’s gaze darts briefly down to Yang’s mouth like it’s the only home she remembers.
 
“I understand,” Blake says unsteadily, her grip growing tighter.
 
It’s been a year but Yang knows her, knows what her body means in the way it moves, knows every tilt of her mouth, every blink, every beat of her heart, every chamber of it, the way it bruises and bleeds and bumps against her chest. I’ve lived there, Yang thinks of telling her, please let me leave. But Blake is silent and doesn’t move.
 
“Don’t,” Yang says quietly. “Don’t do this. Don’t do this to me.”
 
“I’m not,” Blake says, lying, and they’re both aware of it. Slowly, she loosens her grip, and Yang seems to breathe for the first time, as if she’d forgotten how; another second, and Yang steps by her, out the door.
 
Blake doesn’t follow. She stares at the photo of the little boy in his father’s arms and thinks about the shape of love, all its intricacies and concepts, and how to her, it is the color yellow and the sound of steel slicing cleanly through bone.
 
--
 
(“Look at me,” Blake murmurs, Yang’s eyelids fluttering, her teeth pulling her bottom lip into her mouth. She slows her hand. “Yang.”
 
“Fuck,” Yang exhales, muscles tensing and shaking, but her eyes open to meet Blake’s and they’re lavender again. “Kiss me.”
 
“No,” Blake says, mouth in an almost threatening half-tilt. “If you look away, I’ll stop.”
 
“What - the fuck,” Yang says, panting, but does as she’s told. “Fuck you.”
 
“You’ve done that,” Blake says, amused, and curls her fingers. Yang gasps, spine arching, and can’t respond; Blake can see her fighting the urge to shut her eyes. “You like power,” Blake says again, Yang trembling underneath her. “But you like giving it up even more.”
 
“Holy shit,” Yang says, one of her hands covering Blake’s, still looking at her. “Please,” she begs.
 
Blake continues smirking, but Yang quivers suddenly, her free hand tangling in Blake’s hair, and her eyelids drop but don’t close; Blake leans in and parts her lips against Yang’s, and Yang’s moan shudders through her mouth like she’s on the verge of breaking entirely, shattering to pieces.
 
“Fuck,” Yang says after, glancing at her appreciatively, chest still heaving. “I had a feeling you liked being in control, but that was - fucking hell, Blake. Unbelievably hot.”
 
“I learn fast,” Blake says, smirking. Yang rolls over, sheet tucked around her body, her head falling just underneath Blake’s chin.
 
“I’ll say,” Yang breathes out. “Jesus Christ. That was the best sex I’ve ever had.”
 
“Me, too,” Blake says. “I’m thinking we definitely need to have that second date.”
 
Yang laughs into her chest. “How about we make it breakfast?” she says, her arm resting comfortably over Blake’s waist. “Stay. Do whatever you want to me, all night.”
 
“The feeling is definitely mutual,” Blake replies, but smiles, and without knowing why she does it, drops her head to press a kiss into Yang’s hair. It’s soft and unwarranted and entirely too familiar. Yang cracks an eye open, looks up at her.
 
“I don’t want this to be a one-night stand,” Yang murmurs. “Stay.”
 
“Okay,” Blake agrees, already knowing she’ll do anything Yang asks.
 
Yang turns onto her stomach, lifting herself up onto her elbows until they’re resting at the same height. She glances at Blake’s expression, blushes slightly. “What’s that look for?” she says.
 
“I feel like I know you,” Blake confesses. “Like I know you from somewhere else. Some other time.”
 
“Maybe you do,” Yang says, captivated by the idea. “That’s why the sex is so good. We’ve probably had a lot of practice.”
 
Blake laughs, falls back against Yang’s bed. “I see no other explanation,” she says.
 
“Now that we’re done with that sentimentality,” Yang says, leaning over her with a grin, “please, God, fuck me again.”
 
Blake tangles her fingers in Yang’s hair and pulls her down, and the kiss feels like falling into the middle of something, miles from the beginning and nowhere near the end.
 
--
 
Yang lets her borrow a shirt in the morning so she doesn’t have to step out in exactly the same outfit from the night before - it’s a black tee with a small design of a yellow heart on fire over the front pocket - and has an extra toothbrush waiting for her in the bathroom like this is normal, familiar, inconsequential.
 
“Grabbing my beanie,” she says to Yang, who’s digging through her laundry for a pair of leggings and only hums in response. She walks into the living room, combing her fingers through her hair, and stops suddenly; a red-headed girl is staring at her from where she’s sitting at the kitchen table, eating cereal and reading some sort of comic book.
 
“Hey,” Blake says, caught off-guard.
 
“Hey,” the girl echoes, an expression of surprise plain on her face.
 
Blake cocks her head slightly, and then--”Oh,” she says, the realization coming to her. “You’re Yang’s little sister, aren’t you?”
 
“Yep!” the girl answers cheerfully, seeming to relax. “I’m Ruby.”
 
“I’m Blake,” she says. “It’s nice to meet you.”
 
“Same,” Ruby says, grinning. “Sorry I was so weird just now. Yang doesn’t usually have girls over.”
 
“Oh?” Blake says, the comment piquing her interest. “What, like stay over, or--?”
 
“No, like, at all,” Ruby says, and dips her spoon into her bowl. “You’re the first person she’s ever even invited.”
 
Really, ” Blake says, voice turning on an edge. “I wasn’t aware of that.”
 
“Yeah,” Ruby says, and shrugs. “She likes to pretend that I don’t know she has sex or something.”
 
“Uh, because you don’t,” Yang says, poking her head out of her room. “And even if I did, I’m eighteen, which is the age you have to be before you’re even allowed to think about sex. And if you’re thinking about boys, it’s twenty-four.”
 
“Sure,” Ruby says, rolling her eyes; Blake failingly tries to hide a smile. “Either way, Blake, you’re the only girl Yang’s ever invited over to not have sex with.”
 
“Excuse me,” Yang says, finally getting the gist of their entire conversation; she finishes pulling a sweater over her head and marches towards Ruby, who starts to giggle, holding up her hands. Yang wraps her in a teasing headlock and rubs her knuckles against the crown of Ruby’s head. “You fucking snitch. Where’s the loyalty?”
 
“I’m sorry!” Ruby says breathlessly, laughing. “Get off, get off--”
 
Blake covers her mouth with her hand, trying to mask her own laughter. Yang finally lets her go, grinning. “You brat,” she says. “Don’t go revealing shit like that. It’s embarrassing.”
 
“Whatever,” Ruby says. “I think Blake already knows you like her, considering all the sex you totally didn’t have last night.”
 
“Ruby Rose--” Yang threatens, holding up one finger dangerously; Ruby defensively raises her arms again, snickering. Yang tosses Blake her beanie and asks, “What time did you get in, anyway?”
 
“Around two,” she says. “We watched a horror movie and then got like, paranoid that some mad-axe murderer was gonna kill us, so I stayed a little longer and we watched some random comedy.”
 
“Cute,” Yang says, lacing up her boots. “So you like her or something?”
 
“I don’t know,” Ruby says. “I’m not allowed to think about it.”
 
“I’m such a good influence,” Yang says proudly. “We’re gonna go grab bagels from the deli on the corner. Want anything?”
 
“Nah.”
 
“Cool,” Yang says. “Text if you change your mind. Blake, ready?”
 
“Yeah,” Blake says, stepping to her side. “Nice meeting you, Ruby.”
 
“See you around,” Ruby says, waving them off.
 
Yang locks the door behind her and exhales loudly. Blake finally allows the smirk she’d been repressing to curl wide across her mouth, and Yang looks over at her and blushes, cheeks warm.
 
“So,” Blake says deliberately.
 
“Okay, yes,” Yang admits instantly, eyes averted to the floor as she heads for the stairs. “I’ve never had a girl over. I mean, I did once, but I made her leave before Ruby got home and we like, barely did anything.”
 
“I see,” Blake says, unable to rid the smugness from her tone. “So why’d you want me to stay?”
 
Yang stops on the bottom landing, takes her hand as she descends, and traps her against the wall just to the inside of the front door. She leans in and paints her mouth over Blake’s, lips parting, tongues brushing; her palms cup Blake’s jaw.
 
“Blake Belladonna,” she says when she pulls away, steadier, assured, “like I’d ever kick you out of bed.”)
 
--
 
Yangs knocks once on Weiss’s door, and enters without waiting for permission. Weiss used to scold her for it, but it’s been so long since it’s happened that she finds herself unwilling to refute it, like it’s something she’s been missing.
 
Yang collapses wearily in the armchair across from her desk. “She wants me to go home with her,” she says.
 
“It is your home,” Weiss points out cooly. “She hasn’t touched it, you know. She couldn't. The same way you couldn’t when she left.”
 
“C’mon, Weiss,” Yang says tiredly, closing her eyes. “Don’t start with me already.”
 
“She’s a mess.”
 
“I’m a mess.”
 
“There’s quite an easy solution to both of those things,” Weiss says, and then pauses, sighing. “What are you doing, Yang? What did you think was going to happen?”
 
“I thought,” Yang says, stops, starts again. “I thought that I could see more from a distance.” She blinks slowly, eyes focusing on nothing. “I don’t know, Weiss. I thought space would put it in perspective.”
 
“Did it?”
 
“No,” Yang says, and swallows, words cutting at her throat. “Not that I managed to stick to it. I’d email her sometimes. Call her on the phone if it was really bad. I learned to be...civil.”
 
“She missed you,” Weiss says delicately. “And I don’t mean passively. We were terrified she was going to destroy herself. Honestly, if she hadn’t reconciled with Ilia, or met Sun, I think she would’ve.”
 
“Who?” Yang asks sharply.
 
“Sun Wukong,” Weiss repeats. “He’s a new hire. Newspaper writer. He was - aimless, I suppose is the word, until she took an interest in his work.” Yang stares at her, fingers clenched around the armrests. Weiss continues, “I think he reminded her a little of you, actually.”
 
“Are they--” Yang begins to ask, and cuts herself off, infuriated with her inability of broaching the topic. “Forget it.”
 
“No,” Weiss says. “I said he reminded her of you. He’s not you.”
 
“I don’t care.”
 
“Don’t lie to me,” Weiss retorts. “It’s Blake. You’re always going to care.”
 
“Whatever,” Yang says, eyes fluctuating red. “Fuck you, Weiss. You have no idea what it was like. What I went through.”
 
“Because you refused to tell me!” Weiss says exasperatedly. “You shut down. Acted like nothing had happened. Your arm didn’t bother you the way her leaving did, and that’s the one thing you wouldn’t talk about.”
 
“She should have known better,” Yang finally snaps, sitting up, muscles tensing like her whole body is fighting the urge to break. “She should have known me better. Known I wouldn’t blame her. Known all I needed was her to be here for me.”
 
“Maybe it isn’t all about you,” Weiss answers, interlacing her fingers and resting her chin on the backs of them, elbows against her deck. “You’re allowed to be hurt, Yang, but Blake’s past has literally always haunted her. You want to say she should’ve known better, fine - maybe you should have, too.”
 
Yang is silent for a long time, staring at her, staring through her, eyes flickering in color, mood wavering with her thoughts. She says, “She should have talked to me,” and her voice finally cracks and crumbles at the edges. “That’s all I wanted. Her to talk to me.”
 
“Yes, well,” Weiss says testily, “I think she would’ve rather died for you than watch you lose an arm for her, so I suppose nobody wins.”
 
“I hate the truth,” Yang says.
 
“You didn’t used to.” Weiss can’t melt the ice from her tone. “So? Are you over her, like you’d wanted?”
 
Yang rests her head back, staring at the ceiling. “Yeah, right,” she says quietly, resigned. “You know, that last month I was gone, I didn’t think about her constantly. I mean, there’s a fucking war zone in Atlas. I had work to do. I had people to shadow and follow and I wanted them to be safe, but if they weren’t, all I could do was photograph it.” She raises her metallic arm, bending at the elbow, stretching. “I didn’t think about Blake every waking moment and it was terrifying. Like I was losing things that made me me along with her. And sometimes I’d be struck by a memory of her so hard I couldn’t move, couldn’t focus, and I’d want her gone entirely.”
 
“So no,” Weiss interprets accurately, voice more sympathetic.
 
“So no,” Yang confirms, sighing heavily. “I walked into this office and looked at her and it was like - that’s all it took.”
 
“Blake’s changed, Yang,” Weiss says poignantly. “You leaving - just before she’d come back - fucked her up, for lack of a better, proper term.”
 
“What, like she owns the monopoly on abandoning people?” Yang asks. “Well--”
 
“No,” Weiss interrupts. “She came back because she realized she was wrong, and you were gone, and it was too late. She knew she’d made a mistake. It was hard for her to recognize that you’d do the same thing.” Weiss smiles wryly to herself. “Though I’m not sure why she was surprised. You’ve always been more alike than either of you cared to admit.”
 
“I was doing my job,” Yang says, and repeats, “and she shouldn’t have left in the first place.”
 
Weiss exhales loudly. “Oh, enough, Yang,” she says, almost scolding. “Are you going to hold a grudge against her forever for breaking your heart? As if you’re the only one who suffered? Her ex-boyfriend cut off your arm for what was essentially her redemption assignment, and you don’t understand why she blamed herself?”
 
Yang stares, her human arm shaking slightly in her lap. She steadies it with her other hand. “I never said I didn’t understand,” she answers after a moment, and rises to her feet. “And I may not be over her, but I don’t love her anymore.”
 
“You--” Weiss starts, surprised, blank. “Wait a minute--”
 
But she’s already out the door.
 
--
 
(It’s something they naturally fall into, almost without thought, without expectation. They go on a third date and a fourth date and then they stop calling them dates at all, instead defaulting to the assumption they’ll be seeing each other during whatever free time they have, which only starts when Yang calls her after class one afternoon a few weeks later and says, “Hey, I’m coming over.”
 
“Hello to you too,” Blake says into her scroll. “Something wrong?”
 
“Really stressful day,” Yang enunciates.
 
Blake smirks, tossing her book onto the coffee table. “Oh, I see.”
 
“Mhm. You’re not in the middle of anything, are you?”
 
“No,” Blake says. “And even if I were, I’d make sure I wasn’t by the time you arrived.”
 
Yang laughs appreciatively. “I’m glad we both have our priorities gay.”
 
“Ugh,” Blake says, lip curling. “I hate that you just said that. I’m hanging up. Offer revoked.”
 
“Sure,” Yang says, “see you soon,” and hammers on the door. Blake sighs exasperatedly; the sound comes through as a loud static.
 
Blake swings it open a second later, deliberately pressing the end button. “Were you really already here by the time you called?”
 
Yang steps forward, dips her head and kisses her. “Sure was,” she says breezily. “I knew you weren’t going to refuse me. I was just being polite.”
 
Blake drags her inside, rolling her eyes, and shuts the door behind them. “The ego on you,” she says, somewhat fondly.
 
“It’s out of control,” Yang agrees, and pulls Blake into her again, lips parting against hers and sighing into her mouth. Her arms wrap around Blake’s waist, pressing their hips together, and Blake curls her fingers into Yang’s hair, tongue sweeping over her bottom lip. Yang smiles, breaks away, and drops her head into the crook of Blake’s neck.
 
Blake isn’t really used to being hugged, but Yang’s a tactile person and it’s something she’s adapting to; she relaxes her grip and holds her closer, more gentle, soft. “What was so stressful about your day?” she asks.
 
Yang lifts and drops her shoulders lightly. “The usual shit,” she murmurs. “Worrying about rent. Worrying about Ruby. Some guy tried to touch my ass and I punched him in the face.”
 
“What ?” Blake asks, pulling back entirely, torn between amused and concerned. “Are you serious?”
 
“Yeah - that fuckboy Mercury in my photojournalism class,” Yang says with a lopsided smile. She holds up her right hand in front of Blake’s face; the knuckles are red, but otherwise look undamaged. She wiggles her fingers. “Kiss it better.”
 
“I’ll add him to my hit list,” Blake says. “Also, you’re an idiot.”
 
“I know,” Yang says, lowering her arm, but Blake wraps her hand around Yang’s wrist and brings her knuckles to her mouth, delicately pressing her lips to them once. Yang stumbles on an inhale, but catches it, breathing evenly.
 
“How’s that?” Blake asks. “Better?”
 
Yang stares at her, skin warming underneath Blake’s touch, and cups Blake’s cheeks in her hands, tilting her jaw up to kiss her hotly. “No,” she says, want dripping from her voice. “Worse. Much worse.”
 
“Oh,” Blake exhales, fingers toying with the hem of Yang’s shirt. “Hm. We’ll have to fix that.”
 
“Please,” Yang says. “I have a few ideas.”
 
“I’m sure you do,” Blake answers.
 
“Wanna hear them?” she asks, making it increasingly difficult for Blake to continue kissing her.
 
“No,” Blake says, smiling against her mouth. “I have an even better one.”
 
“Oh?” Yang says. “What’s that?”
 
“You shutting the fuck up for once,” Blake says, and Yang’s so caught off-guard by the reply that she laughs loudly, giving Blake the opening she needs to drag Yang’s shirt up and over her head.
 
“Make me,” Yang challenges, so Blake takes her to bed, and Yang doesn’t manage to speak much after that.
 
--
 
They’re lazing around under Blake’s purple sheets when Yang says, “I’ve been thinking.”
 
Blake holds up a hand. “Stop there,” she says. “This is making headlines. I can see the piece now--”
 
Yang leans over, presses her lips against the indent of Blake’s collarbone, and blows hard in annoyance; Blake pushes her away, giggling. Yang’s hair falls across her face as she lifts her head, grin visible underneath. Blake sweeps it behind her ears gently.
 
“You know what?” Yang says. “I was gonna suggest we have the talk about not falling in love with each other, but I really don’t think that’s gonna be a problem.”
 
“Oh, no?” Blake asks, raising her eyebrows.
 
“No,” Yang says. “I despise you.”
 
“Clearly,” Blake replies sarcastically. “That’s why you’re always begging me to fuck you.”
 
“It’s called hate sex,” Yang points out. “It’s all that pent up aggression between us. It translates into passion.”
 
Blake smiles, resting her head in her arm, her free palm cupping Yang’s face. “Is that what it is,” Blake says, not like a question. Yang interlaces their fingers, drawing the back of Blake’s hand to her mouth.
 
“Definitely,” she says, and her smile conveys the real truth.)
 
--
 
Blake’s standing down the hall by the entrance when Yang walks out of Weiss’s office with her bag. She ignores most of the staff, but makes sure to hug Ruby on her way by; “I love you,” she whispers, and Yang echoes the sentiment.
 
She catches the eye of whom she assumes must be Sun, because he’s the only one she doesn’t recognize; he’s sitting next to Ilia, staring at her dazedly, his tail flicking behind him. She cocks an eyebrow cooly. He flushes instantly and turns back to his laptop.
 
“I’m ready,” Yang says quietly, stepping up to Blake’s side, who hurriedly drops a hand away from her face.
 
“Okay,” she whispers, and heads off without even glancing up at her.
 
--
 
The car ride isn’t long, but it’s long enough for Yang to have to fight the urge to take her hand over the gearshift, interlace their fingers like she used to. It’s the same black car she drove a year ago, smelling like lavender and whiskey from the time Yang had spilled a bottle of Jack Daniels across the passenger seat, something an expensive detail had still failed to remove. Blake turns on the radio at a stoplight, and a song from one of Yang’s playlists for her croons softly through the speakers, forcing her to promptly turn it off.
 
“Fuck,” she says, and nothing else.
 
Blake’s apartment - their apartment, Yang corrects, as the lease is still under both of their names - comes into view down the street, and Yang’s heart constricts like it’s trying to cut her off, like she’s had one too many at a bar and the bartender takes her keys. What are you doing, she swears it’s saying. You’re making a mistake.
 
Blake helps grab her bags out of the trunk and carries them inside, waiting for the elevator. The hum of it is familiar, digs under her skin and vibrates there, and everything is coated in her old life, in their past time together. She kissed Blake here, once, and she can say that for just about anywhere.
 
“Give me a minute,” Yang says when Blake unlocks the door. “Just...a minute.”
 
“Okay,” Blake says, and steps inside.
 
The same art litters the walls, the same framed photographs. The furniture is unmoved, unchanged. She’s sure her side of the bed has gone unslept on. She knows her clothes haven’t remained untouched in the closet and dresser, knows that Blake wears them and sleeps in them the way Yang did when Blake left. The door shuts behind her.
 
“Fuck,” Yang exhales, her body shaking. Blake is watching her, expression too open and unguarded and raw. Like it’s hurting her just as much to see Yang home as it is for Yang to feel like she isn’t. “I didn’t think it would - be this hard.”
 
“I did,” Blake says.
 
Yang finally looks at her - really looks at her - and says, “Why did you ask me here?”
 
“You live here,” Blake says, and Yang flinches. “Why did you agree?”
 
“I don’t know,” Yang answers blankly. It’s like she’s walked into a haunting where her own memory is the ghost. “Because you asked me to.”
 
“And that’s enough?” Blake says. “Me asking you to?”
 
“Don’t say it like that,” Yang answers, fingers clenching. She can’t steady her voice. This is all too familiar and foreign and she’s afraid and alone. She remembers coming home from the hospital to nothing, to a dull, throbbing emptiness and a blackness where her heart used to be. She remembers packing her bags and walking away from an apartment full of things she’d never wanted to leave behind.
 
Blake steps towards her, slow and cautious. “I’m not,” she says. “I just want the truth.”
 
“I can’t give it to you,” Yang says, watching Blake’s motions without being able to make her own. The room closes in on her, the ceiling cracking in, the books leaping from their shelves; blood is in her lungs, ash dusting her eyes, and the sound of breaking--
 
“Hey,” Blake whispers, fingers carefully lacing through Yang’s. She raises her other hand and gently sweeps Yang’s bangs away from her forehead. Vaguely, Yang realizes her irises must be a brilliant red. “It’s me. It’s just me.”
 
Yang blinks against the burn of her eyes, the dryness stinging; her breath pulses in short, staccato waves. Her arm stills gradually, the trembling ceasing in Blake’s grip. Blake cups her left cheek, runs her thumb just below Yang’s eye. Yang doesn’t want to need her, doesn’t want to fall against the comfort of her arms, but anything is better than the cut of skin and bone.
 
“Is this what happens when you run away?” she asks brokenly, and Blake fights the urge to cry. “Does it all just wait for you to return?”
 
Blake keeps stroking her face, bringing her back down, calming her heartbeat.
 
“Yes,” she says softly. “It does.”
 
--
 
(Blake turns into a fixture in Yang’s apartment to the degree, Yang says after class, that Ruby’s surprised when she doesn’t see Blake in the mornings on certain days. Blake giggles, rolling her eyes. “We’ll have to rectify that,” she says.
 
“I agree,” Yang says, grinning. “Unless you’re getting your kicks somewhere else on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and having early class is just a convenient excuse.”
 
Blake hums noncommittally. “Definitely,” she says. “You don’t satisfy me nearly enough for all seven days of the week. I need variety, Yang.”
 
Yang struggles to keep a straight face. “Do I need to come up with a safeword?”
 
Blake eyes her, smirking. “We can talk about it if you want.”
 
“No,” she says, finally breaking and laughing, and pulls Blake close, throwing an arm around her shoulders. “I’m plenty satisfied.”
 
“Are you?” Blake asks, tone aiming for casual, like maybe Yang won’t notice what question she’s really posing if she acts like she doesn’t care.
 
It doesn’t work. Yang raises her eyebrows, a cross between surprised and knowing. “Yeah,” she says, and smiles slightly bashfully. “Are you?”
 
“Yes,” Blake says, and turns as they walk, pressing a kiss against Yang’s hair. “I am.”
 
--
 
Yang takes her out on an unusually warm day near the beginning of November, says there’s just something about the way Blake looks drowning in sunlight underneath a winter sky that’s better than any digital effect she could ever produce. Blake thinks it’ll all be posing and awkward stills and forced movements, but they walk idly through the park, holding hands and giggling, and she barely notices Yang pick up her camera at all, until--
 
“Here,” Yang says, gesturing her over, staring at her screen. “Check them out.”
 
Blake leans against her side, watching Yang cycle through the photos, and they’re so stunningly framed and lighted and colored it’s hard to believe they’re her. “When did you take these?” she asks, awed.
 
“While you weren’t looking,” Yang says, grinning. “That’s the key to photography. People, anyway. Capturing them when their guard is down so you can see the truth.”
 
“And what’s the truth here?” Blake asks, her stare rising up to Yang’s lips, her eyes.
 
Yang’s grin turns into a gentler smile, gaze tender. She dips her head and kisses Blake once, like they’re something more than they’ve convinced themselves they are, and it’s leading nowhere; not to sex, not to expectation. She says, “I can show you.”
 
“Okay.”
 
Yang flips through more of her photos, passes Blake the camera. Blake almost remembers the angle, remembers Yang draped over a low-hanging branch of a tree and laughing, camera resting between her hands against the bark. Remembers Yang leaving it there and walking towards her and curling an arm around her waist, whispering, You know, I think you’re the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. The result is the picture in front of her; her with a faint blush and an appreciative look of surprise, her arm curled around Yang’s neck, the other hand resting against her chest, and Yang smiling similarly to the way she’s smiling now, her expression open and vulnerable and honest.
 
“That one,” Yang says softly, waiting for her reaction.
 
Blake meets her eyes, lips parting, unable to speak; Yang seems to understand, because all she does is kiss Blake again, lifting a finger underneath her jaw and tilting her head up.
 
“I told you,” Yang says.
 
“Told me what?” Blake asks dazedly.
 
“You have walls,” Yang says, “but if I took your picture, I could knock them down.”)
 
--
 
The picture still hangs in their hallway, the first photo the two of them had ever had framed, only now it reads as mockery, as someone else’s cruel joke. Blake doesn’t look at it as she walks by, used to all the demons. Yang stares openly, runs a finger over the edge of the glass, and thinks of shattering.
 
Their bedroom is worse. She takes one look at it - her gold watch is still sitting on the dresser, but it isn’t covered in dust; two pieces of paper are framed side-by-side and hung up above their bed - and she turns and walks away, opting for the couch.
 
“I can’t,” she says, when she catches Blake leaning against the wall, watching her, arms crossed. “Everything is the same, and nothing is.”
 
“A lot has happened,” Blake says.
 
“Why did you leave?” Yang croaks, staring at her plainly. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted to know. Why did you leave me?”
 
Blake bites down hard on her lower lip, trying to distract herself with the pain of it. “Because I love you,” she says honestly, and Yang’s reaction is so visceral it’s as if Blake can see her heart breaking apart. “That’s the only reason I’ve ever done anything.”
 
“I don’t believe you,” Yang says.
 
“You don’t have to,” Blake says. “It doesn’t make it untrue.”
 
“You don’t run away from people you love,” Yang argues weakly.
 
“No,” Blake denies quietly. “You don’t.”
 
--
 
“She’s lying,” Ruby says confidently to Weiss over dinner, cutting through her lemon-herb roasted chicken. “I saw her face when she entered, and it was like - like - I don’t know. Like nothing had changed, and like everything had at the same time, but the feeling was there. It was in the room with them.”
 
“Why’d she say it, then?” Weiss asks, mixing the dressing into her salad.
 
“Because she wishes she weren’t,” Ruby says. “She’s afraid of getting hurt again. She doesn’t want to move on but she feels like she has to. She’s stuck, and so she’s projecting.”
 
“Like if she says it aloud, somehow, it’ll make it true,” Weiss reasons. “Well, I suppose that’s on par.”
 
“Yeah,” Ruby affirms, mouth full of chicken. “Yang’ll never love anyone like she loves Blake. It’s crazy of her to even pretend. She knows that.”
 
“So what should we do?” Weiss asks, setting down her knife with a light plink.
 
“Nothing,” Ruby says, shrugging. “They’re both back for good in the same place, the same office. They’ve had their time. They’ll figure it out.”
 
“You’re wiser than I remember,” Weiss tells her, pride subdued.
 
“Well, I’m older,” she says airily. “Had to grow up sometime.”
 
“Oh, is that all it is?” Weiss teases mildly. “I like to think I’ve had some impact on your maturity.”
 
Ruby rolls her eyes. “Yeah, yeah,” she says. “Your love has totally changed me.”
 
“It changed me.” She says the remark almost defiantly, unable to drop her habit of adding an edge to any vulnerable emotion. Ruby grins widely, and Weiss pulls a face, grimacing. “I’m well aware of how overly sentimental that was, but please don’t smile like that with your mouth full.”
 
“Well, don’t say mushy shit when I’m eating,” Ruby says, still chewing. “Getting a compliment from you is like, a momentous occasion--”
 
“Okay, shut up,” Weiss says crossly.
 
Ruby laughs. “There’s the woman I know and love.”
 
--
 
(She’s working on her piece about Blake late at night on a Sunday, editing and refining the prose, double-checking her notes, recalling every memory. They’ve spent so much time together that it’s hard for her to stop writing, each detail fascinating and intriguing, like the more she reveals the more she wants to know. It’s a mixture of a narrative study and an interview, but by eleven she feels like she’s finally resolved most of the structural conflicts and wants a second opinion.
 
“Hey, Ruby,” she calls, “can you give this a quick read? Let me know how it sounds?”
 
Ruby traipses over from the living room, mug of hot chocolate in her hand. “Sure.”
 
“It’s a little late for chocolate, isn’t it?” Yang says pointedly.
 
“No,” Ruby says. “Up you go. Lemme check this out.”
 
Yang makes herself a cup of tea while Ruby reads, Blake passing through every thought in her mind like she’s a landmark there, like Blake’s made a home in the back of her skull. Ruby starts to laugh wildly as Yang’s gazing dazedly out the window, daydreaming, and the sound jolts her back to reality.
 
“What is it?” Yang asks, poking her head in.
 
Ruby swivels in her chair, her mouth covering her hand. “Dude,” she says, trying to contain herself. “Are you serious?”
 
“Is it that bad?” Yang says, her stomach twisting around, torturing itself.
 
No,” Ruby says emphatically, still laughing. “It’s, like, fucking incredible.”
 
“Okay,” Yang says slowly. “So what’s funny?”
 
God,” Ruby says dramatically. “You’re so oblivious. You’ve got it bad.” She turns back to the laptop screen, highlighting random phrases and lines. “This is the best thing you’ve ever written, but it’s a love letter, Yang. I mean, what the fuck--” she laughs again “-- ‘I’m tired of hatred,’ Blake tells me wistfully, drowning her strawberry in her drink. ‘I spent so long composed of it that shedding it feels like overexposure. Like skinning callouses. Everything below is raw.’
 
‘So why do it at all?’ I ask her.
 
She smiles at me bittersweetly. ‘Nothing touches you when you have thick skin,’ she says gently. ‘If you’re driven by hatred, hatred is all you see, all you prepare yourself to face. I’m trying to see everything else. Compassion. Understanding. Peace. Love.’
 
Perhaps that’s the truth of goodness, that it comes so sincerely only when it is in the form of atonement,’ ” Ruby continues, but the humor has faded from her voice and a quiet acceptance replaces it instead. “Perhaps we could all be better than we are if only we were asking for forgiveness.’”
 
Yang stands still in the doorway, and Ruby spins back around, meeting her eyes with a grin.
 
“You love her, Yang,” Ruby says, and types the words in bold, highlighted lettering on the final page.
 
“Oh, shit,” Yang answers blankly, and reaches for her scroll.
 
--
 
hey, Yang texts hurriedly, are u home?
 
Yeah, why? Blake responds immediately.
 
ok don’t move. i’m coming over, she types back, slipping on her shoes.
 
Ok.
 
She runs to Blake’s apartment, and since it’s only a few blocks it winds up being more like a nice jog; she hammers on Blake’s door when she arrives, and it opens a second later, swinging inward.
 
“Well?” Blake says, concerned. “What’s wrong?”
 
Yang takes her in, her messy hair, ears flat against the cold, scratchy voice, bleary eyes; she’s wearing a loose shirt of Yang’s hanging off one shoulder and a pair of shorts - she’d been asleep when Yang texted, she realizes - and she blurts out, “I think I’m in love with you or something.”
 
Blake blinks like she’s not quite sure she’s seeing her correctly. “You - what?”
 
“Yeah,” Yang breathes out. “I, uh, I’m in love with you. And I don’t want to fuck around anymore. I want to be with you.”
 
Blake keeps staring, but she’s slowly started shivering and hasn’t noticed. “I don’t understand,” she says.
 
Yang rolls her eyes, and steps forward through the doorway, Blake allowing her in automatically. The door shuts behind her and the room is instantly warmer. Now that she’s here, the nervousness starts to tingle, the tips of her fingers, her stomach, the pulse in her neck. She turns around. “I finished my assignment on you,” she confesses. “I had Ruby read it for coherency, consistency, and flow. And she laughed at me. Like, she just sat there, laughing, and she said, ‘Wow, sis, you’ve got it bad.’”
 
Blake raises an eyebrow, but the image no doubt strikes her in its genuinity. “You realized you loved me because of our project?”
 
“Yeah,” Yang says. “Is that, like, not romantic enough? I’m a writer. I can come up with a better story.”
 
Blake finally breaks and smiles, and then hooks a hand around the material of Yang’s shirt, dragging her in for a kiss. “You’re so stupid,” she chides, her tone lighter than her words. Blake kisses her again, Yang’s palms cupping her cheeks. “God, I’m so stupid. We’re both stupid.”
 
“Why are you stupid?” Yang asks, surprised. Blake pulls away, blush on her face apparent, and grabs a thick stack of paper from the kitchen counter. She hands it to Yang, obviously embarrassed. “What is that?”
 
“It’s my piece on you,” Blake says. “My friend dropped it off this morning after reviewing it. Look at the last page.”
 
Yang flips quickly through, noticing various markings in red littered throughout the paper. Blake waits patiently, arms crossed. Finally, in a small, flowing script, someone’s written the words, It’s truly excellent, Blake, but you sound like you’re in love with this girl.
 
Yang looks up at her. “Jinx,” Blake says, smiling; “I’m in love with you,” and draws Yang back into her again.
 
Yang doesn’t leave that night. She falls asleep splayed out in Blake’s bed, Blake curled against her side, limbs entangled. Blake skims her fingers lightly across Yang’s stomach, her skin smooth and warm, muscles relaxed, and thinks maybe, she’s done enough.)
 
--
 
Yang lies awake on their pull-out couch, stretching out her arm and staring at the metal of her hand glinting in the light of the streetlamps peeking through the curtains. Blake being a room away from her in a bed they used to share makes it hard to concentrate on anything else, like every sound is a bitter invitation, go to her, go to her, go to her. She doesn’t. She thinks of being eighteen and the way it felt to be in love, to realize it, the weightlessness and grace and beauty of it, and how her future gleamed in the palm of her hand, uncertain and exciting and full. Blake’s fingers linking through hers, Blake’s smile, Blake’s laughter against her mouth. Blake underneath her, on top of her, inside of her. Blake like a melody, haunting.
 
Blake standing by the hallway, staring at her, hand resting on the wall.
 
“Hey,” Blake whispers.
 
“Hey,” Yang says.
 
“I can’t sleep,” Blake says, and steps closer to her, slowly, one foot a few seconds too long after the other.
 
“I can barely breathe,” Yang answers, watching her as if she’s seeing a vision, like Blake isn’t really there at all. She’s not sure which would be worse: blinking and finding her gone or blinking and finding her closer.
 
Blake carefully kneels down in front of her, their eyes holding each other’s gaze. Yang’s transfixed, like she’s had this dream before. She says, “I don’t know how to be alone when you’re right next to me.”
 
“Are you tired of it?” Yang asks, because at two in the morning nothing seems real; like she never left, like neither of them did. Like they’re teenagers whispering secrets in the dark, limbs entangled, skin pressing against skin. “Being alone?”
 
“Since the moment I left,” she murmurs, and sighs with the heaviness of what has gone unsaid resting on her tongue. “Aren’t you?”
 
“God, yes,” Yang says, eyes burning. “Since the moment you left.”
 
Blake rests her arms on the side of the mattress, raises a hand to Yang’s prosthetic, wavering above it. “Can I?” she asks. Yang can’t answer, only nods; Blake trails her fingers along the metal wrist, the back of the hand, the knuckles, the palm. “Can you feel it?”
 
“Yeah,” Yang says. “It’s not the same, but I can feel - the pressure, I guess.”
 
“Is that going to be us?” Blake says, and Yang’s startled to see tears mirrored in her eyes. “Never the same, but the pressure of it...”
 
“I don’t know,” Yang breathes out. “I don’t know what we are anymore. I wanted it to be nothing.”
 
Blake gently runs her fingertips across Yang’s forehead and temple, pushing her hair behind her ear. She leans forward, adjusting herself on her knees. “We’ll never be nothing,” she says quietly. “Even if I mean nothing to you anymore.” She pauses, allowing the sentiment to fall against her. “Do I?”
 
Yang takes in the shine of her eyes in the dim light, the way her heartbeat pounds like it’s furious with itself for falling for this, for still caring despite her insistence not to. Blake’s touch against her face is all too achingly familiar, too painfully soft. She’s focused on the bad for so long that the ghost of the love they used to have is what sinks its teeth into her, the memory of how Blake would hold her and soothe her and kiss her like she was the only thing in the world worth touching tearing through her skin.
 
Yang’s gaze drops to her mouth. The silence draws in around them, holding its breath, and with a resignation not as reluctant as it should be, Yang curls a hand around the back of her head, leans forward and kisses her.
 
God, it’s all she’s thought about for months, Blake’s lips on hers and fingers traveling down her body, Blake’s voice stalling on an inhale and a moan, how they went from sex to soulmates to regret, how beautiful it would be to be who they were in the beginning before either of them ever knew any better. Yang’s tongue brushes against Blake’s bottom lip, and Blake kisses her hot and open-mouthed, the same craving sweeping through her blood like an addiction.  
 
“Come here,” Yang whispers, and Blake rises up, crawls over her on the sheets and doesn’t smile, just gazes at her like she never thought she’d be granted a second chance to do so. Yang pulls her down and kisses her again, and what she wants is Blake’s skin against hers, the heat and sweat and salt, the blissful pleasure of having someone who knows how to love her without words, without guidance. What she wants is to remember how Blake used to make her feel good instead of empty.
 
The instincts are still there, the impressions; Yang slips one hand on her head between her ears, the other gripping her pillow, and parts her lips and sighs. It’s almost peaceful, almost content, but it’s three in the morning and instead of love she finds an unraveling. Their bodies aren’t what they were, aren’t smooth and undamaged; Yang traces her index finger along a scar running across the left side of her abdomen, presses her mouth to it, and tries not to cry. Blake’s face is buried against the pillow, but she’s trembling and it isn’t purely the result of Yang touching her. It’s the kind of shaking induced by fighting. Fighting and finally wanting to stop.
 
“Kiss me,” Blake says, nails digging into her back. “Please.”
 
Yang only looks at her, too close and too far away at the same, not cruel but not kind, either.
 
“No,” she whispers, and Blake comes apart.
 
--
 
(“Finally,” Ruby says the following afternoon, sprawled out across the couch and watching TV, when they traipse through the door after classes. “You’re, like, dating now, right? Did Yang romantically declare her love for you, and then you stayed up all night not having sex?”
 
Yang throws her scarf at Ruby’s face. “Shut up.”
 
“Essentially, yes,” Blake says. “Except we did have sex.”
 
“I knew it,” Ruby says triumphantly.
 
“Oh, so this is where it starts, huh?” Yang asks rhetorically. “My girlfriend and my sister, conspiring together to betray me.”
 
“Girlfriend,” Ruby coos, and gets up, throwing her arms around them both. “Oh, I love you guys. I’m so happy.”
 
Yang embraces her back; Blake pats her on the head, grinning. “And how’s the girl you’re seeing?” she asks when Ruby pulls away.
 
Ruby shrugs, falling against the cushions. “I mean, good, I think,” she says. “Maybe bad. It’s hard to tell. It’s very love-hate. She’s sort of, uh, not good with emotions, I guess. She’s getting better, though.”
 
“Sounds like a friend of mine,” Blake says, pulling off her boots. “I get it.”
“Yeah,” Ruby says. “Plus, like, I’m sixteen, and I don’t think - like, I think even if she had a crush on me, she wouldn’t tell me ‘til I was older.”
 
“Good,” Yang says emphatically, walking into the kitchen. “That’s how I know I can trust her.”
 
“Yeah, yeah.” Ruby picks up her scroll. “I think she’s gonna come over later this week. We’re partners on an assignment in our Storytelling class.”
 
“Sounds good,” Yang says. “Anyone want tea?”
 
“Please,” Blake says. “Earl Grey is fine.”
 
“Ruby?”
 
“Hot chocolate,” she says. Yang sighs, but doesn’t protest. Blake watches her pour milk into a mug, humming to herself, and thinks about being the one to finally take care of her for a change. Yang glances over, meets her eyes, and smiles softly like she knows what’s running through Blake’s mind, like she can read every detail of it through her expression.
 
She probably can, Blake realizes. I hope she can.
 
--
 
“We’re totally crashing their date, right?” Yang asks her at dinner on Thursday; they’re at a bar close to Yang’s apartment, eating fried pickles and fries and sliders.  
 
“Oh, definitely,” Blake agrees. “We have to approve, don’t we? She’s young. We have to be invested in her love life. It’s for her own good.”
 
Yang grins, sucks ketchup off her thumb. “I knew there was a reason I married you.”
 
“And this is it, is it?” Blake asks, smirking. “My willingness to judge your sister’s taste in women?”
 
Yang laughs, elbows leaning on the bar. “Well, that,” she says, “but I can tell you care about her. It means a lot to me.”
 
Blake briefly rubs a hand against her back as an acknowledgement. “Of course I care about Ruby,” she says, fading into a lighter kind of seriousness. “I know how close you are. How hard you’ve worked for her.”
 
Yang leans in and kisses her once. “Thanks,” she says quietly. “It’s not like - not like I ever regret it, or anything. I don’t hold it against her.” She pauses, chewing on the inside of her lip. “Do you think I’ve done a good job? Really?”
 
“I do,” Blake says honestly, not a hint of hesitation. “She’s wonderful, Yang. She’s smart and engaging and she has her quirks, but they don’t limit her in any way. She has a little more youthful optimism than the rest of us jaded ‘adults’--” she places air quotes around the word “--but for where she is, what you’ve done, what you’ve been through? It’s incredible.”
 
Yang looks slightly abashed, embarrassed. “Thanks,” she repeats, averting her gaze. “I don’t really like to talk about it with people, but - it means a lot, coming from you.”
 
“I wouldn’t lie to you,” Blake says, and adds in a droll sort of voice, “The agreement we made wasn’t just for our project. It was for life, Yang. Blood oath.”
 
“Shit,” Yang says after a pause, smiling. “I knew I should’ve gotten the salad.”
 
--
 
Yang unlocks the door with a finger pressed to her lips, slowly, quietly, and then blows through it as though trying to catch her sister and her friend in the middle of whatever they’re doing without giving them time to cover, like she thinks she’s about to barge in on them making out. Instead, they find Ruby sitting at the table with her laptop, and a white-haired girl is beside her, looking appropriately startled of the speed at which the two of them just burst into the room. There’s a moment of silence as they all take each other in, and then--
 
“Blake?” the girl says, mildly confused.
 
Weiss? ” Blake says from behind Yang, blinking once, twice.
 
“Hey, Ruby,” Yang says, just to get in on the action.
 
“Yo, Yang,” Ruby echoes, seemingly unconcerned.
 
“Yang?” Weiss says, now even more bewildered than she was before. “Yang Xiao Long?”
 
“Yeah?” Yang asks, baffled from the recognition.
 
Weiss glances from Blake to Yang to Ruby in turn. “Your Yangs...are the same?” she asks, eyebrows furrowed. “But your last names--”
 
“Ohhhh,” Ruby says suddenly, understanding the disorientation. “Yang and I have different mothers. I never told you that. I have my mom’s last name, Yang has our dad’s.”
 
“Oh,” Weiss says, slowly comprehending, and her expression relaxes. “I thought it was an uncommon name, but I assumed - I didn’t think yours would be different from your sister’s.”
 
“My bad,” Ruby says. “So you know each other?”
 
“Yeah,” Blake answers. “Weiss is in my Mass Comm class.”
 
“Wait, Weiss?” Yang repeats, finally catching on. “Weiss Schnee? Heiress to Schnee Print Co.? The girl who read your piece on me? The girl you both keep saying is like, emotionally stunted and kind of a bitch?”
 
“Hey!” Weiss says, affronted. “I am not!
 
Weiss Schnee is the girl you have a crush on?” Yang directs at Ruby.
 
“No!” Ruby says, flushing hotly.
 
“What?” Weiss says, forgetting to be angry.
 
“Nothing,” Blake interrupts, covering Yang’s mouth with her hand. “Let’s start over. Weiss, this is Yang, Ruby’s older sister and my moronic girlfriend. Yang, this is Weiss.”
 
“Hello,” Weiss says curtly.
 
Yang holds up two fingers. “Yo,” she says, muffled through Blake’s palm. Blake finally drops her arm. Ruby is still blushing wildly. “So, to rephrase, nobody has any crushes on anyone here - well, like, except Blake, who’s in love with me or whatever--” Blake rolls her eyes and elbows Yang in the ribs “--and Weiss’s emotional capacity is totally normal.”
 
“Good God,” Weiss says, rubbing her temples.
 
“I’m so sorry,” Ruby says. “Please. Please ignore her. Ignore them both. I’m begging you.”
 
“We’ll be going now,” Yang says, and drags Blake with her into her room, and all they hear when the door shuts is laughter.
 
Weiss glances over at her, biting her bottom lip. “Do you really think I’m a bitch?”
 
No,” Ruby says seriously, and then, well: “Okay, a little bit, but I think it’s kind of funny.”
 
“Really?”
 
“I don’t mind if you’re a bitch as long as you like me,” Ruby explains, and then pauses, tripping over herself. “Not like - you know, not like that or anything, I’m sixteen and I know that’s like, kind of weird for you - not that you have anything to be weird over, or anything, it’s just like--”
 
Weiss breaks and her lips tilt up into a rare amused smile. “Okay, okay,” she chides. “I understand. Let’s get back to our work.”
 
Ruby sighs, relieved. “Okay. Great. Awesome.”
 
There’s another quiet moment of silence, and then Weiss says, “Sixteen is...a little young.”
 
Ruby swallows. “Uh,” she says, realizing what Weiss is telling her, “how’s seventeen?”
 
Weiss’s smile grows the barest amount. “Better,” she says. “It’s better.”)
 
--
 
Yang wakes up and the world is still there even though she doesn’t expect it to be. Her forehead is pressed against the top of Blake’s spine, and arm rests around Blake’s waist, a position so practiced it hasn’t faded. She has to force herself to pull away, and Blake is already awake, waiting. She sits up when Yang lets her go, doesn’t look at her.
 
“Was that a mistake?” she asks like she’d rather not hear the answer, and so Yang doesn’t say anything at all. Blake clears her throat. “I’m going to take a shower.”
 
She slips on her robe and pads down the hall, and the bedroom door shuts. On the other side of the wall, Yang thinks, she’s on the verge of falling apart. They both are. Perhaps they have already, and what they’re doing now is merely sorting through the wreckage.
 
She grabs her scroll from the side table and dials Ruby, fingers digging into her temples. “Hello?”
 
“Please pick me up,” she whispers desperately. “Please, Ruby. Please.
 
“Okay,” Ruby agrees, sensing the severity of the situation. “Weiss and I are leaving now. We’ll swing by.”
 
“Thank you,” Yang breathes out, and hangs up, running her hands through her hair. She throws something on from her suitcase and thinks about not telling Blake at all, but with their history, she can’t bring herself to be so cruel. She texts her instead. See you at work.
 
“So?” Weiss says when Yang slides into the car.
 
“I slept with her,” Yang says, and Ruby and Weiss exchange a glance. Her tongue darts out, skims across her bottom lip. “I don't know why. It just happened.”
 
“I think I know why,” Ruby murmurs under her breath.
 
Yang’s so on edge and vulnerable that the comment sets her off instantly, igniting a kind of hopeless fury within her fueled by fear, regret, anger, want. “Maybe I’m not looking for your fucking opinion right now,” she says, irises red, aflame.
 
“Hey,” Weiss snaps, meeting her eyes in the rear-view mirror. “Watch it, Yang. It’s not Ruby’s fault you fucked your ex-girlfriend.”
 
Yang blinks forcefully, shaking her head, and breathes in and out. “Ruby,” she says unsteadily.
 
“It’s okay,” Ruby says gently. “I get it. I shouldn’t have been so...snarky.”
 
“I’m sorry,” Yang says, pressing the heels of her palms against her eyes. “I’m sorry.”
 
“Take a moment,” Ruby says. “It’s okay. You’re allowed to be confused and hurt and upset. You can talk to us.”
 
“She was just there,” Yang says, voice soaked in anguish. “I loved her for over four years. How am I - how do I forget something like that? She was there, finally, next to me, and I could touch her, and I wanted it to be like it was. I wanted it so badly.”
 
“You don’t have to be strong all the time,” Weiss says softly, tapping her fingers against the steering wheel. “It’s Blake. We know what she means to you. We know how difficult it was to be without her. I understand why you’d...slip. Why you’d crave it.”
 
“Yeah,” Yang whispers miserably. “Yeah.”
 
“How’d you feel after?” Ruby asks. “Like, did you feel better? Worse?”
 
“Lonely,” Yang says. “Just...lonely.”
 
--
 
Yang’s already working at her desk when Blake gets in around nine. Yang pretends not to watch her path through the office, her stop in front Ren for notes, a quick debrief from Ruby of what’s breaking so far, a brief chat with Ilia, and--
 
--Yang almost snaps at the way she leans over Sun’s desk and smiles nicely, and how he clearly appreciates it. Not that Yang can blame him - Blake looks incredible today, black skinny jeans and black heeled lace-up boots with a white blouse, half-tucked in, a grey coat over her shoulders - but there’s a possessiveness that hasn’t disappeared, an urge to protect her that still rears its head when she’s stared at a certain way.
 
I don’t like being looked at by men, Blake had told her once, sighing against the crook of her neck. It’s like Adam. Like you’re something to fuck or touch or kiss, like they think they can make you want them.
 
I understand that, Yang had answered, holding her closer. So how do I look at you?
 
Blake had pulled back slightly, smiled cutely. Like you love me.
 
I do.
 
Her smile to Sun isn’t that - it’s not entirely real, not fully genuine, but it’s not fake, either. Yang tries to stop herself from scowling and fails. She tears her eyes back to her screen and skims the words on the page, but none of them stick in her brain, falling away and clattering against the bottom of her skull. All she’s left with is Like you love me.
 
Blake opens the door a moment later, shutting it gently behind her.
 
“Hey,” she says.
 
“Hey,” Yang says, purposefully keeping her gaze trained on her computer.
 
“Yang,” Blake says, and that’s all it takes, all it ever has.
 
“Who’s Sun?” Yang asks, hating the way her voice betrays her in its accusation. She can’t save it now. She turns, meeting Blake’s eyes; Blake pauses, seemingly startled at the unexpected question. “Who is he to you?”
 
Blake’s eyebrows raise, and Yang feels even more pathetic, like it’s her business, like the knowledge of what Blake does and who with still belongs to her. Blake says quietly, “Not you.”
 
“That’s not what I was asking,” Yang says.
 
“Yes it was,” Blake retorts, setting her bag down. “Let’s agree not to lie to each other.”
 
“That’s rich,” Yang says, “coming from you.”
 
“I haven’t lied to you,” Blake says. “Not once.”
 
“Why did you run?” Yang poses, swiveling her chair all the way around, defiant. “Why did you leave me?”
 
“Because I love you,” Blake says again, accepting her challenge. “Because it was my fault.”
 
“That’s not true,” Yang says.
 
“This isn't a difference of opinion,” Blake says, towering over her. “It’s objective.”
 
“See?” Yang says. “You’re lying.”
 
--
 
They’re all watching them through the half-glass walls and pretending they aren’t. Ilia keeps tilting her head like she’s cracking her neck, taking a glance. Jaune stretches, peeks over. Ruby swivels in her chair.
 
Sun’s staring, too, because it’s addictive. They’re keeping their voices lowered but their posture is tell-all, aggressive, held back, tense. His messenger dings, and Ilia’s sent him a link, internal archives. He clicks it, curious, and it’s--
 
--it’s Yang’s photo, the one she’s simultaneously in and won numerous awards for, and even now it still pains him to look at. It’s Adam Taurus, the White Fang leader now struggling for power after exposure of Yang’s injury and Blake’s investigation and their subsequent cooperation with police, and he’s slicing cleanly through Yang’s arm, and the picture is so vivid he can see the cut of skin, the separation of muscle, the cleave of bone.
 
Ilia messages him again. the person in bottom left corner of the frame, she types, that’s blake. the white fang held her down and made her watch.
 
His eyes travel automatically to where he’s been directed, and he’d never noticed it before, too caught up in the grotesque horror of the rest of the image, but it’s definitely her. Struggling, from the looks of it. Crying. Screaming.
 
Yang’s face, from the angle it’s at, is somehow peaceful, like she’s prepared for it, like she’s made a choice, somehow. Like it’s worth it.
 
they were six months in, Ilia continues. adam wasn’t supposed to be at the meeting that night. someone set them up. and that’s why blake blames herself. because adam recognized her, blew their cover. so he said he’d give them a choice. he’d kill them both eventually, but either yang could watch him torture blake and slit her throat or blake could watch him cut off her limbs one at a time, stop her from being able to photograph, write. She pauses before continuing, fingers twitching nervously.
 
Yang volunteered? He asks, awed and nauseous, on the verge of vomiting. Most of this story hadn’t reached the public, hadn’t been disclosed, and now he understands why.
 
yeah, Ilia types. they weren’t stupid; the minute they realized adam was there, they called in emergency services. they knew they’d been exposed. and yang was afraid adam would kill blake before help arrived, so she bought them time. Ilia’s skin has gone a pale green beside him, and she swallows, hesitating before typing the last sense. dismemberment takes time and precision the way torture doesn’t.
 
“Holy shit,” Sun breathes out, feeling like he’s about faint, sweating lightly. “Fuck.”
 
Ilia doesn’t react, doesn’t move, but her skin is greener than before.
 
yeah, she writes. and yang had left her second camera in a nook in the back of the room, perfectly focused and framed. she manually triggered it with the remote as he attacked her. that’s how she got the shot.
 
Sun looks over at the two of them again, at Yang’s prosthetic arm gleaming under the fluorescent light, at Blake staring down at her in despair, in hopelessness, in grief.
 
“It’s wrong,” he says aloud suddenly, and barely anyone turns to look at him, fully aware of what he’s referring to. Ruby stops spinning; Pyrrha sighs heavily, her chin in her hand. Jaune pats her on the shoulder. “It’s just...wrong.”
 
“Yeah,” Ruby murmurs quietly, focused on them. “We know.”
 
--
 
“Fine,” Blake says. “Please. Enlighten me. How wasn’t it my fault? My abusive ex, my past. My assignment. My request for it.”
 
My decision,” Yang replies, dangerously quiet. “It doesn’t matter how much of it was yours. The choice was mine to make. And I made it.”
 
“For me!” Blake says, spreading her arms and dropping them helplessly, like she’s saying for nothing.
 
“Yeah, for you!” Yang raises her voice angrily, cracking. “I would’ve rather lost both my arms than watch him kill you!”
 
“He should have!” Blake protests violently, and they both instantly stop, Yang’s expression falling into disbelief. Blake hadn’t meant to let it out, reveal it, give her haunting a name. But it’s too late now. She repeats quieter, “If it would’ve kept you safe, he should have killed me.”
 
Yang’s silent for a long moment, eyes tracing over her face, every inch of her. “That’s not how this works,” she says, subdued, thinking of Weiss, I think she would’ve rather died for you than watch you lose an arm for her. “Jesus Christ, Blake. You die for nothing and I, what - move on with my life like nothing happened?”
 
“I don’t know,” she whispers. “I don’t know.” She presses her palms against her eyes, trying to hide the tears, the way the depth of her despair digs into her heart like it’s being punctured.
 
Yang takes a step towards her, and then--
 
Weiss raps on the door, pushes it open. Her expression is stoic and hard, not giving way to the emotion underneath. “Yang,” she says. “We have a meeting.”
 
“I’m coming,” Yang says curtly.
 
“Blake,” Weiss starts, but Blake turns on her heel and brushes by her out the door.
 
--
 
(Second semester is smoother, more defined. Weiss starts spending more and more time with the three of them until it’s just as common for Yang to come home to Weiss working at the table as it is for Ruby to come home to Blake lounging on the couch, despite the both of them having their own apartments. Yang jokingly thinks about making them spare keys.
 
“I have an idea!” Ruby exclaims loudly, startling Blake out of her light daze against Yang’s shoulder. Weiss actually flinches from the volume.
 
“Ruby, please,” she hisses. “What is it?”
 
“We should live together!” she says, throwing up her hands, and Yang glances over from the couch as Blake straightens up tiredly. “Think about it! The three of us barely make rent, Weiss is getting cut off at the end of the semester - it’s perfect!”
 
“Hey!”
 
“Hm,” Blake says, and yawns, adjusting her body and lying down across Yang’s lap. “Splitting a two bedroom between four people does seem more efficient.”
 
“I don’t know,” Yang says seriously, and looks at her, eyes wide. “Isn’t that, like, a little fast?”
 
She shifts her head against Yang’s thigh. “Shut up,” she mumbles. “Like you’re not obsessed with me.”
 
“No, I’m totally down and I totally am,” Yang says unapologetically, running a hand through Blake’s hair out of habit, careful to avoid her ears. “Not a bad idea, Ruby.”
 
“I don’t know,” Weiss says, mostly just because it’s expected of her to hesitate, tapping her pen against the table. “We’ll have to do some research.”
 
“So let’s do it,” Ruby says, and opens Google, typing frantically and reading it aloud at the same time: “Two bedroom apartments in downtown Vale…”
 
“I trust your taste, Weiss,” Yang says, also leaning her head back against the cushions and closing her eyes. “Keep her in line.”
 
“Isn’t that your job?” Weiss snarks.
 
Yang grins evilly. “I’m her sister, not her girlfriend.”
 
Weiss flushes pink, the transition obvious against her pale skin. “She - she’s not - ugh! We are not dating!”
 
“Yang, stop fucking with her,” Ruby says. “She’s trying to be, like, cool until I’m eighteen. At least seventeen.”
 
“Oh my God,” Weiss says, burying her face in her hands and breathing steadily. “There is no fucking way I am living with any of you.”
 
--
 
They move in to their new apartment over summer break, and it’s decided that Weiss and Ruby will get the bigger bedroom because they’re not sharing a bed - yet, Yang can’t resist pointing out, and Weiss throws a shoe her - and it feels more like home than any of their old buildings ever did. Their styles clash in places, mesh in others, and it’s so authentically them that even Weiss grows fond of the mismatched decorations littered throughout the space, though it goes against almost everything she believes in, like organization and order and flow.
 
“Now that we’re settled in,” Yang says from where she’s leaning against the kitchen island, “I’m having a birthday party on Saturday. Invite all your friends.”
 
“Awesome,” Ruby says from where she’s sitting on the other side of the counter. Weiss wrinkles her nose, apparently disagreeing, but knows better than to fight Yang on a party.
 
“Ugh,” she says, passing Blake a bowl of freshly-chopped carrots. “How many people are we talking?”  
 
“Only like twenty,” Yang says, intercepting it and popping one in her mouth.
 
“‘Only,’ ” Blake quotes, adding rice and chicken to the skillet on the stove.
 
Yang wraps her arms around Blake’s waist, stepping up to her back, and presses a kiss to her cheek; she can feel Blake’s smile. “Aw,” Yang coos, “you know you’re my one and only. Those people ain’t got nothing on you, babe.”
 
“Please stop talking,” Weiss says, sighing heavily. “I’m begging you.”
 
“I’d die for you,” Yang declares dramatically, nuzzling her face into Blake’s hair.
 
“Blake, control her.”
 
“I can’t do that here,” Blake answers mildly, completely unbothered, drizzling soy sauce over the pan. “It’s inappropriate.”
 
“I’m holding a knife,” Weiss says. “I’d like everyone to keep that in mind.”
 
“But I haven’t done anything,” Ruby complains.
 
“Everyone but Ruby can keep that in mind.”
 
“Oh, playing favorites, are we?” Yang says, releasing Blake. “Well, you can’t kill me. Ruby really won’t date you then.”
 
“I dunno,” Ruby shrugs. “Depends on how badly you’re annoying me.”
 
Blake laughs; she catches Weiss trying to hide a smirk. Yang walks over, picks Ruby right off the stool she’s sitting on and heaves her over her shoulder. Ruby giggles wildly, unable to remove herself from Yang’s strong grip.
 
“Say goodbye to Ruby, you guys,” Yang says stoically. “It’s been great having her as a sister all these years, but family isn’t everything.”
 
“What are you gonna do to me?” Ruby asks breathlessly, still laughing. “Yang!”
 
“Out the window!” Yang says, and heads into hers and Blake’s room. All they hear from the kitchen are the sounds of a struggle and something heavy knocking against the floor.
 
“Please don’t break my things,” Blake calls passively, still stirring. Weiss sighs again.
 
“How do you do it?” she asks tiredly.
 
Blake grins. “How do you?”
 
“Touché,” Weiss says. “They have so much energy.”
 
The window slams shut, and then all they hear is the sound of muffled yelling. Yang strolls back in the kitchen, dusting off her hands. “The evil has been defeated,” she says.
 
“You’re an adult,” Weiss points out, setting her knife down.
 
“Yeah, right,” Yang says. “I’m about to be nineteen. Shit doesn’t get real until you’re, like, twenty-three at least.
 
“I’m thinking twenty-five,” Blake says, flicking the burner off.
 
“Yeah, that’s probably more accurate.”
 
“I’m going to rescue Ruby from the fire escape,” Weiss announces, rolling her eyes. “Please remain calm for like, two minutes. I will commit a murder here tonight if I come back to you two fucking on the counter.”
 
Yang dissolves into laughter; Blake snorts at the visual. “We’ll try, Weiss, but we can’t promise anything.”
 
“I knew living with you was a bad idea.”
 
“We love you too,” Blake says, and catches the tilt of Weiss’s mouth as she turns away.)
 
--
 
Weiss retreats to Ruby’s desk, gives Yang the cover of breathing room. She takes in a second of almost-silence, the edge of peace, the rustle of newspapers and constant typing settling over her like a calming wave. She can’t lose control at work, regardless of how well her friends know her, know both of them; regardless of how deserved they believe it to be.
 
She opens the door, ignores the way everyone immediately pretends like they weren’t just watching the scene unfold, and follows Blake’s same path down the hallway, away from prying eyes and into the bathroom.
 
Weiss looks after her as she leaves and says to the room, “We need to do something.”
 
“But what?” Nora asks. “Having them in the same room again after a year, it’s like - like we should’ve trained for this. We should’ve run drills and shit.”
 
Ren says calmly, “I don’t think it’s that dramatic, but I agree that the nature of their relationship is troubling. And disruptive.”
 
“It’s hard,” Pyrrha says, “to see them like this when we know what they’re supposed to be.”
 
“So let’s help them be that again,” Sun says, surprising everyone. Most turn to look at him. “I know what happened,” he explains, “through sources I will not reveal.”
 
“I told him,” Ilia says, raising a hand half-heartedly.
 
Sun continues, “And I don’t know what they used to be like, sure, but - whatever that is, it’s gotta be better than this. Yang almost died for her. They deserve to be happy. And Blake...Blake’s done a lot for me.”
 
“Blake never told you about any of this?” Weiss asks suddenly, staring at him with a frown. “Never mentioned it?”
 
“Not really,” Sun confesses. “I mean, I know the players from notoriety alone, but she never talked about it. Sometimes I’d catch her scrolling through messages, or looking at pictures - once I heard them on the phone - but she didn’t offer it up, so I didn’t ask. I didn’t know enough about the situation to pry.”
 
“Makes sense,” Ruby says. “It’s not something she...likes to talk about. For obvious reasons.”
 
Weiss sighs. “It’s hard to know what they’re thinking,” she says. “They both have conflicting views about the event, and none of us were there, so we can’t...participate, I suppose.”
 
“You really think we should intervene?” Ruby asks, stare shifting to her. “I really thought they’d figure it out, but--”
 
“I think,” Weiss starts, “that love makes it hard for them to see clearly. Yang’s been back for two days and they’ve already had sex--”
 
“--Wait,” Nora says, “what?”
 
“--and it’s not like it magically solved their problems. They’re using it as a - a tool. A distraction,” she finishes. “I’m afraid it’ll break them.”
 
Pyrrha and Jaune exchange a look. “That’s familiar,” Jaune says. “We get asked for advice about situations like that all the time.”
 
Ruby stops. “Do you,” she says, not a question, and narrows her eyes.
 
“Yeah,” he says. “People fuck instead of talk, because it’s easier.”
 
“I have a plan,” Ruby declares.
 
“You always do,” Weiss answers fondly.
 
--
 
Yang pushes open the door and finds her standing at the sink, running a wet paper towel underneath her eyes. She catches Yang’s eyes in the mirror and pauses, arm lowering, breath coating her lungs like it’s stuck there.
 
“What?” she whispers when Yang doesn’t make a move. “Just say it.”
 
Yang stays as she is, still and stoic and staring, expression complex and conflicted and entirely too difficult to read. Blake allows it a moment longer, choking back on a sob, tired of crying, tired of arguing, tired. Just tired.
 
Finally, she turns around to face her, on the verge of giving up. “Yang,” she says, and her eyes are red, her ears are back, her body shrinks into itself. There’s a war she’s already lost, a war she’s always losing. “Say it.”
 
Yang walks up to her and stops, and without warning, threads her fingers through Blake’s hair and kisses her, kisses her, kisses her; it’s fierce in a way, unapologetic, furious, desperate. Blake can’t do anything else but respond, not that there’s anything else she‘d want to do, anyway; she fists Yang’s shirt in her hands, opens her mouth, sighs at how it bruises and heals at the same time.
 
Yang pulls away and rests her forehead against Blake’s, arm unsteady, body shaking. Her eyes remain closed. She murmurs, “You can’t say things like that,” and kisses her again. “It’s all - it’s all I think about. What if you’d died then. What if I hadn’t been able to stop him.” She swallows against the muscle constricting in her throat. “I was so - so terrified. I thought he was going to kill you, Blake. I thought he was going to take you from me."
 
“I thought he was going to kill you,” Blake whispers, stroking her hair. “I had to - they made me - made me watch, Yang. I still dream about it. I see it all the time.”
 
“Me, too,” Yang breathes out, their noses brushing. “I wish I had been able to - to protect you.”
 
“I was I had been able to protect you,” Blake echoes, and tilts her head, finds Yang’s lips again. “I’d take it back. I’d take it all back.”
 
“If only we could,” Yang says, and lets her go, stepping away. “I wish we could.”
 
“Yeah,” Blake says quietly as Yang leaves the way she came. “So do I.”
 
--
 
(They stay up late most nights talking, nothing and everything, filling their room with words. Sometimes it’s nonsensical - if goldfish were really made of gold, how much would they be worth; if Yang names a star after her, does she have ownership of that star - and sometimes it’s without the sound of laughter, fading into solemnity, skin pressing against skin.
 
“There’s something about you,” Blake whispers to her in the early hours of the morning, fingers knotted in Yang’s hair, holding her close. Moonlight drips through the curtains like someone’s pouring it over them, like the accidental spill of hot wax. “Something about you I’d sacrifice everything for.”
 
Yang smiles lazily against her shoulder. “Why’s there have to be any sacrifice at all?” she asks. “Are you changing your major to screenwriting? Is this a new plot you’ve cooked up?”
 
Blake giggles quietly against the crown of her head. “No,” she says. “And there doesn’t have to be. But I have a feeling - I don’t know how else to explain it, just a feeling - like somewhere else, in some other life, I already did. And I’d do it again. Like if it came down to it, I should.”
 
Yang strokes her fingers idly up and down her arm. “Do you believe in that?” Yang asks. “We joked about it that one time, but - reincarnation? Soulmates?”
 
Blake’s quiet for a moment, allowing the concept to settle against them comfortably without posing an answer. “Do you?” she echoes.
 
Yang raises her head and meets Blake’s eyes in the dim light, and leans forward, gently brushing her lips over Blake’s.
 
“Blake Belladonna,” Yang murmurs softly. “How many lives do you think we’ve had this exact conversation in?”
 
“Oh,” Blake sighs, and kisses her with all the love she’s ever had, their own ghosts filling up the room. “All of them.”
 
--
 
Blake picks Yang up from her photojournalism class with an iced tea on a fall Friday afternoon. It’s a habit they’ve developed, since they don’t share as many classes this semester as their previous ones; Yang sometimes picks her up a tuna melt from the deli on Wednesdays, Blake grabs her a banana muffin for her late morning class on Tuesdays, and Mondays and Thursdays they meet in the dining hall for lunch. Yang smiles widely, swinging her camera bag over her shoulder, and kisses Blake once on the cheek in appreciation. She says, “So, I have a proposition for you.”
 
“For the last time, I’m not letting you tie me up.”
 
Yang flushes hotly, caught off-guard. “I’ve never asked you to do that!” she squeals, laughing, and Blake snickers at the response. “You’re the one who--”
 
“Okay, okay, it was only a joke,” Blake cuts her off hastily, knowing there are actually worse things Yang could say about her. “Not in public, babe, please.”
 
“You’re the worst,” Yang says, still giggling. “You started it.”
 
“You were saying?” Blake probes, hoping to move on.
 
Yang indulges her, lets it drop for now. “We’re starting portraiture - so, basically, my professor wants us to take a journalism piece we’ve already written for another class and create a photo spread for it. I want to use my piece on you, so - d’you mind, like, posing for that?”
 
“Aw, that’s cute,” Blake teases. “But you’d better be careful. People are going to think you’re, like, obsessed with me.”
 
Yang tosses an arm around her shoulders, grinning as she slurps through her straw. “Well, I am.”
 
“Oh? Yeah?”
 
“Yeah.”
 
“That’s embarrassing.”
 
“It would be,” Yang says, “if you weren’t also obsessed with me.”
 
“Where’d you hear that?” Blake asks. “I’ll have to sue for defamation of character.”
 
Yang pulls her in and kisses her, smiling through it, her lips soft and tasting vaguely of raspberry. “Oh,” she says, “I read an article, once.”)
 
--
 
“Are you done making out with Blake in our bathroom?” Weiss says upon her entering, barely glancing up from her notes.
 
“I wasn’t making out with Blake,” Yang says automatically, unwilling to give her the satisfaction of being right.
 
“Her lipstick is all over your mouth, Yang,” Weiss says boredly.
 
“Shit,” Yang says, running the back of her hand across her lips; her skin comes away unstained and the realization hits her. “Oh, fuck you.”
 
“Blake isn’t wearing lipstick today,” Weiss says snidely.
 
“Okay, fine,” Yang says, “but I don’t want to talk about it. Let’s move on, please.”
 
“You never want to talk about it,” Weiss points out, and presses her lips together into a thin line, contemplating. She says, “Yang, you’re family to me, and you always have been - even more so than my own family. I’m trying to be here for you.”
 
The sentiment strikes a nerve; she thinks of Weiss and Ruby taking care of her in the hospital and home, thinks of Weiss’s patience and Ruby’s distance, thinks of their struggle to get her to eat, most days, let alone talk. She thinks of how she never acknowledged it and should have.
 
“Thank you,” she tells Weiss suddenly, soft and sincere. Weiss seems startled by it, finally dropping her mask of indifference; her eyebrows raise in surprise. “I’m sorry I didn’t say it sooner. Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I know I couldn’t - didn’t tell you at the time, didn’t show it, but it meant - means - a lot to me.”
 
Weiss is struck speechless, the apology and gratitude unexpected; she reaches out, rests a hand over Yang’s and says, “Of course,” and squeezes once. “I’d do anything for the three of you. I just want you to be happy.”
 
“I know,” Yang says, and sighs, slouching forward. “It’s just that I - I don’t know how to talk about it. She said - she said she would’ve rather died, and I - Weiss, it’s all I think about. Her screaming. Adam’s sword through her stomach. I see it. I can smell the blood.” Weiss bites her lip, remains silent. Yang continues, “I can’t let go. I thought I could. But maybe I can’t.”
 
“Okay,” Weiss says after a pause. “Thank you for telling me.”
 
“Thanks for listening.”
 
She smiles warmly, the first true smile Yang’s seen from her since being back. “Anytime.”
 
--
 
Blake seems to be working when she returns to their office, actually going through her own journal and transcribing its pages. She acknowledges Yang with a quick glance, and then lowers her eyes back to her screen. Yang sighs, and starts to type out her own rough draft, sitting at the her desk perpendicular.
 
They manage to accomplish enough to feel productive; Yang submits her first five pages to Weiss for direction, and Blake gets her article back from Ren with notes, which she then adjusts accordingly. After a few hours of mostly working in peaceful silence at a pace they’re used to, comfortable and familiar, Blake asks, “Will you come home with me again?”
 
“Yeah,” Yang answers, because she can’t say no and doesn’t want to. “I’ll come home.”
 
The words hit Blake in a way similar to a physical force; her chest stutters briefly on an inhale, like a sharp jab to the stomach, and her body holds still.
 
“Okay,” she says.
 
“Okay,” Yang echoes.
 
--
 
“Are you sure about this?” Jaune asks for the fifth time. “I mean, I’m all for it, but I just want to make sure--”
 
“Yes, Jaune,” Ruby says exasperatedly. “Look, it’s a good plan. They’ll see it and realize how stupid they’re being, and then they’ll like, talk to each other for once.”
 
“I don’t think it’s a bad idea,” Pyrrha says. “There’s no harm in trying it, is there?”
 
“Okay,” Jaune says. “I’m convinced. How are you going to phrase it, though? It’s all in the phrasing. If you’re too specific, they’ll know it’s us. We have be a little subtler.”
 
“I’ll send the advice account an email,” Weiss says, leaning over the cubicle wall. “Or, no, hold on - I have a few family acquaintances who owe me a favor or two. They’re investigative journalists. If they grow suspicious, they’ll try and track us down.”
 
“Now this seems a little extreme,” Ren says.
 
“No, she’s right,” Nora agrees. “They’re, like, crazy-driven. And stubborn. If they think something’s up, they’ll dig for the truth.”
 
“I’ll take care of it,” Weiss says, already typing on her scroll. “Watch your inbox, Pyrrha, Jaune.”
 
“Roger,” Jaune says as Pyrrha starts to draft up their new column.
 
--
 
(Her photographs are gorgeous; so stunning that even Weiss unwillingly fawns over them, her fingers trailing around the edges of the prints. Ruby oohs and awws as she sorts through each picture, marking them in piles by which should make Yang’s cut. Blake’s already seen them - she’d seen them first, with her lips parted in awe and her eyes wide, biting back against the urge to cry.
 
“It’s about the emotion,” Yang murmurs to her, staring over her shoulder, chest pressed against her back. “You’re beautiful, sure, but anyone who looks at you knows that. I try to capture what only I can see.”
 
“And what’s that?” Blake asks, still struck by the images.
 
Yang smiles against her, chin barely resting on her shoulder. “Like this,” she says, separating a photo of Blake at an angle, face tilted down and mouth slightly curled. “You give me this, like, half-grin whenever you think I’m funny, but you’re trying not show it. And sometimes you’ll look away as you smile, like you’re afraid that if you stare at me too long, you’ll reveal too much of yourself. Like it’ll be too obvious you love me, and it’s...dangerous, or something.”
 
“I feel that way,” Blake says, voice rough and low. “Like I love you too much, and someday, someone’s going to use it against me.”
 
Yang wraps her arm comfortingly around Blake’s stomach, holding her close. “You’re not in the White Fang anymore,” she whispers against the shell of Blake’s ear. “Nothing can take me from you.”
 
“I know,” Blake says unsteadily. “But it’s still…” she trails off, searching for a picture she’d brushed by earlier of her looking troubled, face turned towards the camera but her stare trained elsewhere beyond it. “I was a possession of the White Fang, not a member. And it’s hard to feel...like a person again, sometimes. Like I have to remember that I’m allowed to love who I want without it being under constant threat.” She nods at the photograph. “Like when - when those guys walked past us in this one. They didn’t say anything, just watched for a moment, but it felt like...” she struggles for the words, attempting to place her emotions in the context of the circumstance she’s drawing them from.
 
“It’s hard,” Yang says, and presses her lips to the side of her head. “Take your time.”
 
Blake turns around in her arms, burying her face in the crook of Yang’s neck and sighing. “I don’t like being looked at by men,” she says. “It’s like Adam. Like you’re something to fuck or touch or kiss or show off. Like they think they can make you want them and what you actually want doesn’t matter.”
 
“I understand that,” Yang says quietly. “So how do I look at you?”
 
Blake pulls away and smiles cutely. “Like you love me.”
 
“I do,” Yang says, and kisses her. “I do.”
 
“It’s hard to feel safe,” Blake says, and Yang holds her like she wants to envelope her, protect her from the things she’s left behind but won’t leave her. Blake drops her head to Yang’s neck again, comforted by the scent of her shampoo, like strawberries and lillies. Yang hums, lightly rocking her weight between feet. “But you- you are safe. Like you’d never let anything bad happen to me.”
 
“I won’t,” Yang murmurs, subtly startled by the way her own eyes sting with tears. “Never.”)
 
--
 
It’s still just as hard being in their apartment. She feels formless, incorporeal, floating through rooms and picking up momentos. She stares at the pages hung above their bed and reads Ruby’s bold typing - YOU LOVE HER - and Weiss’s neat scrawl, you sound like you’re in love with this girl, and this life both belongs to her and doesn’t.
 
She stays on the couch. Blake comes to her again, but waits, doesn’t beg on her own. Yang beckons her forward with a sigh and an extended hand, and the way Yang kisses her is a spark of the past, trapped in a memory. They aren’t them now. They’re them before they tore each other apart. The dead of night becomes something of a time machine, a liminal space they pass through and never hold, their actions and words fading with the sun.
 
“This isn’t a good idea,” Blake exhales, her fingers tangling in Yang’s hair.
 
“None of this is good,” Yang says, mouth opening over her collarbone. “But it’s all we have.”
 
“We could have more.”
 
Yang sucks hard on her skin, and Blake throws her head back, voice lost.
 
--
 
They’re constantly volatile and on-edge, one glance away from fighting or fucking, and even at work it’s hard to tell if they want to destroy each other or put each other back together. There’s no difference of opinion, Blake insists. She’s telling the truth. Yang stopped wanting to see it long ago. Yang scoffs and lets her eyes flash without any fire behind them, exhausted and aching.
 
After a week, it only seems to get worse; they can’t keep their hands to themselves, but can’t keep their problems at bay without them. Yang’s bitter and resentful without answers, though she isn’t angry; everything about her demeanor is resignation at war. She wants it to be over but doesn’t want to be over it. She wants what she has and can’t reconcile it. And Blake is already covered in cracks, strained without shattering entirely.
 
On Monday, after a weekend of wanting to simultaneously kill each other and never let go again, Blake’s reading their paper as she does every day. She skims Jaune and Pyrrha’s advice column, because sometimes it gives her a laugh - people are so stupid, Yang used to say, snickering - but today--
 
“What the fuck,” she says aloud, and Yang stops pretending to be busy long enough to look at her curiously.
 
“What?” she asks.
 
Blake stands, seething, her chair rolling back. “Have you seen this?” she demands, and leans over Yang’s shoulder, slamming the paper down on her desk. “Pyrrha and Jaune’s column.”
 
Yang’s eyes flick over every line. “Wait a minute,” she says, and pauses, finishing the paragraph. “What the fuck?”
 
They begin talking over each other, both infuriated, heated. Blake starts, “This is the most--”
 
“-- total invasion of our privacy--”
 
“--I can’t believe the nerve--”
 
“--they think they’re being clever--”
 
“--what the fuck --”
 
“--we have to say something,” Yang says, standing up, the paper crumpling in her fist. “This is completely inappropriate.”
 
They both storm out of their office, Blake following swiftly behind her, and stop right and Jaune and Pyrrha’s cubicle, Yang’s red eyes gleaming under the fluorescent light. Pyrrha looks up at them, bewildered.
 
“Um,” she says. “Can we help you?”
 
“You sure as fuck can,” Yang hisses, tossing the paper at them. “What the fuck is that?”
 
Pyrrha raises an eyebrow, reading. “Oh,” she says, realization dawning on her as she begins to explain, voice steady. “Well, this girl from Vacuo is asking our advice on what to do about an ex of hers whom she can’t seem to...let go of, even though they broke up a year ago after...a tragic accident. They have rather conflicting views of the event, so it was difficult to offer direction, but I think our response sufficed.”
 
“Yes, thanks, we can read,” Blake snaps. “Don’t play dumb. Who sent this? Ruby? Weiss? Ilia?”
 
“Hey!” Ruby squeaks out.
 
“Don’t drag me into this,” Ilia calls. “I’m trying to do my own work, thanks.”
 
Blake ignores her. “Jaune,” she says threateningly.
 
He holds up his hands, looking slightly as if he’s about to be sick. “Look, don’t ask me,” he says. “It was submitted to our email address. We answered it. That’s it.”
 
“Pull it up,” Yang says. “Let me see it.”
 
He does as he’s asked, already expecting the response, anyway. Blake and Yang lean close together, both scrutinizing every word, every punctuation mark, every implied inflection. Finally, Yang says, “Forward it to us,” and turns, heading away. Blake gives them both another stern glance and walks after her, and they shut themselves back in their office, talking in low, hushed tones.
 
Jaune releases a breath he’d been holding. “Jesus,” he says. “They’re one hell of an intimidating team. It’s been so long, I’d forgotten.”
 
“I know,” Pyrrha agrees, and pauses, smiling softly. “It was nice, though, wasn’t it? In a way.”
 
Jaune grins back at her. “Yeah, it was,” he says. “In a way.”
 
--
 
“We should go to Weiss,” Blake says. “She allowed this to print. She knows full well what she’s doing.”
 
Yang strokes her chin with her prosthetic fingers, the yellow bright and arresting. “No,” she says finally. “We can’t go to her with an accusation we can’t prove. She’ll shut us down in a second.”
 
“So we’ll prove it,” Blake says vehemently. “This is our business. We’ve had enough of our lives in newspapers.”
 
Yang’s eyebrows raise at the strength of the statement, the passion, the poorly-disguised anger curling around the corners of Blake’s voice. She thinks of her photograph, and notoriety, and press that Blake never, ever wanted. Truth she may not have chosen to share, but was forced to anyway. She starts to wonder how much of this has been even remotely close to anything Blake has wanted.
 
“Okay,” Yang agrees quietly. “We’ll prove it.”
 
--
 
Hi J&P,
 
I’m in kind of a tricky, complicated situation and I really don’t know what to do anymore. I feel like I’m at the end of my rope. Basically, I have an ex I dated for five years before we broke up, but it wasn’t because we didn’t love each other. We got into a really bad accident that I’ll be vague about in case he reads this. He blames himself but I never blamed him, and after it happened, he broke up with me and left because he thinks he’s not good enough for me and that he should’ve been able to protect me. We were apart for a year, and now we’re back in the same town and we can’t stop arguing about it, but we can’t seem to pry ourselves away from each other, either. He regrets leaving but still thinks it’s all his fault. I’ve spent so long trying to get over him, and now that he wants to fix what he’s broken, I’m afraid he’ll succeed and end up hurting me again. I don’t know how to trust him when he still carries all this guilt around with him. I want him to understand I don’t regret the choice I made, regardless of what happened after, and the only thing I blamed him for was leaving in the first place. What do I do? This situation is killing us both.
 
Signed,
YFI.
 
-
 
Hello!
 
J&P here. We’re both answering your plea for advice because - as you put it so succinctly - it’s a tricky, complicated situation. We’re going to be blunt about it, too, because we think so much of your suffering is unnecessary.
 
You’re having a misunderstanding. It’s such a simple way to put such an enormous, seemingly unconquerable issue, but it’s the truth. He feels guilty because he sees it as his fault, and you never blamed him so it’s difficult for you to see his perspective. We feel quite bad for him, actually, because heaving blame onto yourself for an incident that had the potential to destroy both your lives can’t be any light burden to bear. It sounds like what you need to do is talk to each other. Let him share his emotion without you feeling the need to immediately rectify it. Let him tell you every detail of his thought process, each facet of emotion. Maybe he doesn’t just need to hear that you don’t blame him. Maybe he needs to hear that you understand him, and you understand the magnitude of his guilt, and you don’t blame him even in spite of it. He can’t heal if he feels like he’s doing it alone.
 
As for yourself, I think you need to take a look at your priorities and the bigger picture. You love each other, and regardless of your pasts, something of that weight isn’t going to disappear. He made the wrong decision in a moment of unimaginable weakness, pain, and regret. Are you going to punish him forever? Are you prepared to lose him entirely over your inability to accept that your take on the situation isn’t black and white, that perhaps, there is no singular “truth” of the event? No total right, no ultimate wrong?
 
People make mistakes when the people they love are hurt, because we take it upon ourselves to be the ones to protect them from hurting. When we fail, we feel as if we’ve failed not only them, but ourselves. We should have done more. We should have tried harder. We should have changed our actions, our words. But by then, it’s too late.
 
We’re rooting for your happiness. We’re rooting for second chances, for mutual understanding, for love. We think you have it, and we think you have enough of it to overcome this situation.
 
After all, doesn’t it seem foolish for two people who love each other this much to force themselves apart?
 
Wishing you luck,
Jaune & Pyrrha
 
--
 
Yang reads the column ten times, rips it out of the paper, and throws it in the trash, burning furiously the entire time.
 
Blake pretends not to see Yang pull it out at the end of the day, smoothing it out and tucking it in her bag, her expression agitated and distraught.
 
--
 
(Yang gets a 99% on her photojournalism assignment; the professor can’t stop praising her technique, the way she’s captured a different kind of vulnerability and poise and passion in every individual photograph. She asks her inspiration after class, what struck her as the perfect opportunity for a shot, how she perceived each angle. Yang says, “Well, I love her,” and the professor smiles knowingly. That, my dear, she says, is obvious.
 
“I told you,” Blake says when Yang relays the conversation. “Your image is really taking a hit.”
 
“I think I’m okay with that,” Yang says, kicking off her boots by the door and tossing her a grin. “When I marry you, the whole world’s going to know, anyway.”
 
“A lot of assumption is happening in that sentence,” Blake says, the snark not managing to cover her blush.
 
Yang laughs, walks over to where she’s sprawled across the couch with a textbook and kisses her. “Sorry, right,” Yang says. “I must be respectful to all your other girlfriends and boyfriends whom you may potentially marry.”
 
Blake smiles unwillingly, and pulls her down gently by tugging at her cardigan. “Shut up,” she says, lips brushing hers. She’s so in love with Yang that she feels like the universe is playing a trick on her, giving her something so wonderful only to take it away at a later date, and it’s that fear that continuously drills at the back of her skull. Some days she’s afraid she’s going to bury it herself, shovel the dirt over her own head out of perceived expectation, terror.
 
Yang tilts her jaw up with a finger, gaze flickering between her eyes. “Hey,” she says softly. “Don’t worry. I’m not going anywhere.”
 
Blake blinks. “How did you…?”
 
Yang smiles tenderly. “I know that look,” she says. “I’m here. I’m here and I love you, not in spite of your past, but because of it. Nothing scares me.”
 
“You’re lying,” Blake says, and Yang sits next to her, resting her chin on Blake’s knee. “What are you afraid of?”
 
“When it comes to you,” Yang says, lavender eyes gentle and unguarded, “nothing scares me.”
 
“I love you,” Blake says, biting down on her lip.
 
“Give me your ghosts,” Yang says. “Give me your demons. I’ll fight them all with my bare hands.”
 
Blake straightens out her legs, takes her by the arm, and carefully guides her down, wanting to feel the weight of Yang’s body covering hers, wishing for the world to remain just as it is and nothing more, nothing less.
 
“Later,” Blake breathes out into her hair, holding her tightly. “For now, I want to stay with you, right here, exactly like this.”
 
“We can do that,” Yang murmurs against her neck, eyelids fluttering closed. “Anyway, I’m marrying you.”
 
Blake smiles widely, trying to stop the way her heart tumbles and knocks about her chest. “Okay,” she says, failing. “Okay.”
 
--
 
Ruby’s birthday comes and goes, and there’s no sign Weiss has tried anything, changed her view on age. It’s getting ridiculous, Yang points out, because they’re not even two years apart. Weiss is the youngest after Blake and Yang, her birthday late enough in the winter that she’s actually still eighteen by the time Ruby turns seventeen. Weiss flushes and huffs, but never offers up any actual response or reasoning.
 
“I mean, seriously,” Yang drawls, head resting in Blake’s lap, playing a game on her scroll with her feet kicked up on the armrest. “You’re, like, a year and nine months, or something. That’s not bad at all.”
 
“Blake,” Weiss says, “please tell your girlfriend to shut the fuck up and mind her own business.”
 
“Yang, Weiss says ‘shut the fuck up and mind your own business,’” Blake recounts, playing the same game on her own scroll. “Oh, you asshole, did you use a trap card? What happened to my fucking airships?”
 
Yang snickers. “Sure did, motherfucker,” she says. “You walked right into that one.”
 
Blake flicks her nose; Yang chokes on an inhale and sneezes. “I’m still learning,” Blake says. “Fuck you.”
 
Yang rubs her nose viciously. “Ugh,” she says, and sticks her tongue out at Blake, who makes a face back at her. “Anyway, Weiss, if we have to watch you and Ruby accidentally brush hands and then stutter over each other one more time, I’m locking you both on the fire escape.”
 
“Ugh!” Weiss squeals, fingers clenching into fists. “We have kissed, okay?! Will you drop it now?!”
 
Blake drops her scroll on Yang’s face. “What?” she says, Yang groaning from beneath her raised hands. “When?”
 
“Excuse me,” Yang says, pointing at her red cheek.
 
“Oh, sorry babe, love you.”
 
“How sincere.”
 
“It was on her birthday,” Weiss confesses, blushing horribly. She can’t seem to look at them, tapping her pencil against her journal. “It was - we, uh, after we - I thought that - you know what?” she says, the pressure of the moment finally getting to her. “I don’t have to tell you this! I’m going to bed!” And she stands, skin still pink against her white hair, and storms into their room, slamming the door behind her.
 
They both stare after her with expressions of incredulity. “How did we not know about this?” Yang asks.
 
Blake checks her scroll. “It’s only nine,” she says. “Ruby’ll be home in ten. She’ll tell us.”
 
“Hell yeah she will,” Yang says, sitting up and cracking her knuckles threateningly.
 
“Relax,” Blake says. “We’re not gonna kill her.”
 
Yang turns on her with a devilish grin. “Oh, that wasn’t for her,” she says, wiggling her fingers. “You’re going to get what’s coming to you.”
 
“Don’t you dare,” Blake warns, holding up a foot against Yang’s arm, keeping her at bay. Yang smirks with her teeth, dangerous, and lunges forward, digging her fingers into Blake’s side. Blake screams and tries to kick her off, but Yang’s stronger than her and holds her down, tickling her until Blake’s gasping for air, laughing so hard she’s crying.
 
“Had enough?” Yang asks, also breathless. “Care more about the damage you do to me, bitch!”
 
Blake continues laughing, now only able to curl up into a ball and wait for Yang to relent. “I’m sorry!” she exclaims. “I’m sorry, I won’t drop things on you ever again - please--”
 
Yang slows, grinning widely, and presses kisses to every inch of her face. “Forgiven,” she says, but taps her own cheek with her index finger. “You owe me one.”
 
Blake places a gentle kiss against Yang’s red skin, feeling slightly bad; it does look rather painful. “I’m sorry,” she says. “I won’t risk your beauty again. I’m shallow. One scar and you’re on the street, babe.”
 
“Goes double for you, baby,” Yang shoots back, smirking. “Your pretty face is all you’ve got going for you. You get a mark, you’re done for.”
 
“You guys are disgusting,” Ruby says from behind them, having opened the door without either of them noticing. She drops her bag against the armchair, stretching.
 
“You,” Yang accuses forcefully, getting off of Blake.
 
“Me?” Ruby repeats meekly.
 
“You kissed Weiss,” Yang says.
 
Blake sits up. “And you didn’t tell us!”
 
“Ohhhh,” Ruby draws out, eyes owlish and fearful, like being tied to tracks with an oncoming train. “Uh, yeah, I’m like, so tired - I’m probably gonna just - go to bed--”
 
She’s halfway through a single step when Yang tackles her to the floor, arms locked around her stomach. “Ruby Rose,” she says. “Explain. Now.”
 
Blake sighs. “Yang, you have to stop like, physically attacking people.”
 
Yang glances back over her shoulder, eyebrows raised. “Someone has to teach her respect,” Yang says. “I’m her sister. She owes me a debt for life or whatever.”
 
“Ugh,” Ruby says, curling her lip in distaste.
 
“Let her up,” Weiss calls from the doorway of their room, looking resigned. “I’ll tell you.”
 
--
 
Weiss and Ruby don’t have the same kind of relationship that Blake and Yang do, and they’re both well aware of it.
 
They don’t always stay up talking and laughing. It’s hard for Weiss to open up at all in the beginning, her family too complicated to explain in the face of Ruby and Yang’s ever-apparent undying love for one another, a bond that outweighs silly, trite things like power and money and parentage. Ruby doesn’t pry, but she likes to talk about her own emotions, more open in the face of vulnerability than Weiss, who tends to cover herself in ice whenever any part of her is exposed.
 
“I know it’s dumb,” Ruby confesses one night in September, sitting on her bed and leaning against the wall, “but I miss my mom the most on my birthday. I don’t know why. It’s just like - I keep getting older, and she’s not here to see it.”
 
“I don’t think that’s dumb,” Weiss says, thinking of her own parents, who barely remember when her birthday is anymore. “It’s natural that you’d want her around for momentous occasions.”
 
“Yeah,” Ruby says, and sighs, pausing. “You’re allowed to feel that way too, you know.”
 
Weiss blinks at her, struggling against her worst impulses; it’s hard to default to dismissiveness after the weight of something so straightforward and honest. “I’m sorry?”
 
“You don’t really talk about your family,” Ruby says. “I’m not like, asking you to now, but I just want you to know - we can be your family. They might not want you, but we do.” She hesitates, tongue darting out of wet her lips nervously. “I do.”
 
“Thanks,” she says after a long moment of silence, out of her depth and having no idea how to react to such sincerity. “I, um - I don’t know how.”
 
“How to talk?”
 
“I suppose,” Weiss says slowly. “I tend to keep my feelings to myself. People always...expect certain things of me. Or they take what they want and use it to their own advantage.”
 
“Well,” Ruby says, “if you want - what’s your mom like?”
 
“She’s an alcoholic,” Weiss says, surprising even herself with her candidness, wanting to stop and simultaneously wanting to pour it all out. “She and my father don’t get along. He only married her for the family name and business. He actually admitted that to her on my birthday.” She shuts her mouth, unwilling to continue. It’s too much, too fast. Too hard.
 
“Hm,” Ruby says, and smiles in a way Weiss isn’t used to seeing from anyone, save Yang and Blake when they think they aren’t being watched. “Seems like birthdays aren’t great for either of us.”
 
The expression pierces her like an arrow, softer than a bullet but thicker. She manages, “Yeah,” and then, “I suppose so.”
 
“Maybe we’ll fix that one day,” Ruby says, and pulls back her covers, finally laying down to sleep. “Thanks for trusting me enough to tell me, Weiss.”
 
Weiss doesn’t say anything after that, just turns out her lamp and stares at the ceiling until the sun trickles through their curtains.
 
--
 
Her alarm goes off at three forty-three in the morning on October thirty-first. She slides it off instantly, heart thrumming against her bones, and reaches under her bed for a pristinely-wrapped package.
 
“Ruby,” she whispers. “Are you awake?”
 
Ruby snores on. Weiss slips out of bed, sits hesitantly on the side of Ruby’s, making sure to avoid her limbs. “Ruby,” she whispers again, and shakes her shoulder lightly. “Wake up.”
 
Ruby rolls her head, blearily cracking open an eye. “Weiss?” she mumbles out, and yawns. “What time is it?”
 
“It’s three forty-four,” Weiss says, and flicks her lamp on low. “Happy birthday.”
 
Ruby sits up, coming alive, a grin spreading across her face. “You remembered what time I was born?” she asks, surprised and impressed.
 
“Of course,” Weiss says, like it’s a common thing people remember about others. “I wanted to be the first one to wish you happy birthday.”
 
“Mission accomplished,” Ruby says. “Thanks. That’s really cute.”
 
Weiss blushes, cheeks tinging pink. She thrusts her present forward. “Here,” she says, stumbling over words. “I - got this for you.”
 
Ruby takes the gift from her, holding it carefully in her hands, lips parted in awe. She tears through the paper, taking the box from it and resting it on her lap. “Um,” she says nervously, like she’s afraid of opening it.
 
“Keep going,” Weiss prompts impatiently.
 
Ruby lifts the lid, pulls away the tissue paper, and--
 
She inhales, staring down in a mixture of astonishment and amazement. “Weiss,” she breathes out. “A laptop?” she asks, trailing her fingers over the design on the cover; it’s an intricately drawn red rose outlined over the sleek black metal. “But this is--”
 
“It’s Summer’s signature,” Weiss finishes. “You told me she was an artist, so...I found her signature and had it custom-designed. I thought of getting you a journal, but this is so much more practical, and I just assumed - you’re an artist too, Ruby, in your own way. You’re an incredible writer. I thought it’d be nice to give you something you use, but...with her as the inspiration you can carry around with you.”
 
Ruby looks up, expression almost blank from shock. “Weiss,” she repeats again.
 
“It’s the latest technology,” she says, now rambling from the sheer embarrassment of it, “and the newest programming. I know you have an external hard drive to transfer your files, so it shouldn’t be difficult, and it’s all compatible, so--”
 
She’s cut off abruptly as Ruby leans forward, eyes darting to her mouth, and kisses her.
 
Weiss has been kissed before, but it’s always felt awkward, uncomfortable, something she should be enjoying in theory more than she actually is. She’s never kissed a girl, either, and she thinks it’s nicer than she’d imagined it being; there’s no pressure behind it, no hint of expectation, just the barest brush of lips, feather-light, tender. She places a hand carefully against Ruby’s jaw, unsure if what she’s doing is even right, merely hoping it is.
 
Ruby pulls away and says cheekily, “I’m seventeen.”
 
“I’m eighteen,” Weiss says. “I suppose it’s not so strange.”
 
“Will it be weird when you’re nineteen in a few months?”
 
Weiss pulls a face, grimacing. “I’d prefer not to think about it.”
 
“We’ll burn that bridge when we come to it.”
 
“Cross. You mean cross.”
 
“Well, if we get to the bridge and we don’t like it, we’ll burn it.”
 
Weiss smiles, laughing breathlessly once. “Alright,” she says. “Deal.”
 
“Hey, Weiss?” Ruby says shyly, looking at her from underneath her eyelashes. “Thanks. Really. This is...the most thoughtful present I’ve ever gotten.”
 
“Happy birthday,” Weiss says, fingers toying with a loose thread on the bedspread, like now that she’s kissed Ruby once she isn’t sure where to put her hands. “Maybe...we can make them a little better for each other here on out.”
 
“Yeah,” Ruby says, still smiling quietly. “I’d like that.”
 
--
 
“Oh my God,” Yang says. “That is so fucking cute. What the fuck.”
 
Weiss is so red Blake actually fears her blood may be burning her alive. “So you are sentimental,” Blake says. “Just not to us.”
 
“You’re both sappy enough towards each other without needing any sort of intervention from me,” Weiss snaps.
 
“Uh, our first kiss wasn’t nearly that adorable,” Yang says.
 
“Considering we were trying to get each other’s clothes off, I’d say--”
 
“I don’t want to hear anymore,” Ruby says, covering her ears. “We were definitely not trying to follow your example, thanks.”
 
Yang raises an eyebrow. “I think we turned out just fine,” she says.
 
Blake throws her a grin. “So do I.”)
 
--
 
Strangely enough, Weiss and Ruby’s plan works, albeit not in the way they’d intended it to.
 
Having a common goal - an assignment, Weiss supposes - draws them together enough to overcome their differences. They’re more absorbed in figuring out who’s betrayed the both of them than focusing on which of them is wrong or right. The office is still tense from the sheer power of the two of them combined, on the same side, their personalities so intensely motivated and strong, but they all prefer it to the strange disproportion of the world when they’re at odds with one another.
 
They come to work together, leave together, and the pieces they’re writing are excellent. Yang’s Atlas exposé is shaping up to be award-winning, and in a rare moment of collaboration, she gives it Blake to look over for notes, something Weiss only realizes when she’s accidentally sent a draft with Blake’s changes highlighted. She tries not to cry and succeeds, but it’s close. It’s been so off-balance for so long, and the three of them had been the first stable relationship Weiss had ever had. Without it, it’s like part of her is gone, like her lungs are littered with holes.
 
She’s sitting at Ruby’s desk three weeks after Yang’s return and she’s watching them through the glass windows, and Yang turns around in her chair, passing Blake a print-out of something; Blake looks it over and laughs, and the expression on Yang’s face tears bittersweetly through her. It’s that same soft look she’d seen from Yang a million times over the years, always directed at Blake when she thought nobody else was watching her. Seeing it now, seeing it here - Weiss averts her eyes and smiles.
 
--
 
“The email was registered with an encryption so high it can literally only be military tech,” Blake says that night, swiping her fingers up and down her screen.
 
“I recognize this coding,” Yang says, leaning over her shoulder. “It’s Atlas. I saw it in their engineering stations constantly.”
 
Blake continues, “We can pinpoint the location, but nothing about the registered user.”
 
“What’s the location?” Yang asks.
 
“Looks like a warehouse, but it’s hard to tell,” Blake says, squinting. “The most I can get out of it is that the property itself was leased under the name Polendina.”
 
Yang frowns, tapping her fingers against the table. “Polendina,” she murmurs under her breath. “Hm. I know that name.”
 
“Searching it comes up with nothing,” Blake says. “So your memory’s what we’re going off of.” She leans back in her chair, rubbing her eyes, and shoves her laptop to the side. “Your turn. I’m starving.”
 
“Me, too,” Yang agrees, taking a seat at the kitchen table as she gets up, chin in her hand, brow furrowed in concentration.
 
“Okay, so, dinner?” Blake asks, pulling out takeout menus in their kitchen. “I’ve been craving seafood the past few days.”
 
“That’s fine with me,” Yang says from the kitchen table, typing furiously. “Vorro’s?”
 
“Yes, please.”
 
“I want--”
 
Blake rolls her eyes. “I know what you want,” she interrupts good-naturedly, entirely on instinct. “Lemon-garlic shrimp scampi, right?”
 
Yang lifts her gaze from her laptop and smiles. “Yep,” she says, and freezes instantly.
 
Blake pauses, too, finally realizing the magnitude of their exchange. Their stares lock, intertwined, unable to shift away; Yang’s expression fades from her smile to something torn, frustrated, nostalgic. Without being able to stop herself, Blake walks over to her, lifting a hand to her hair, fingers curling against the nape of her neck, and Yang merely watches without making a move to pull away. Blake bends down, hesitating--
 
--but Yang closes the distance between them, lips brushing, soft and open-mouthed. It’s brief, just a kiss, something they haven’t actually done since Yang’s been back; it’s always been leading, painful, desperate. This is only a kiss, like a kiss they would’ve shared rather than saying I love you.
 
Blake straightens up, clearing her throat, and Yang seems somewhat dazed by the turn of events, her confliction spreading itself across her face for Blake to see. She’s sure her own expression screams something similar.
 
“Um,” Blake starts, “it’ll be here in half an hour.”
 
Yang gathers herself before responding. “Okay,” she says shakily.
 
Blake turns away, palms resting against the countertop, but her posture isn’t tense, isn’t on edge. It’s just defeated. Like she’s done everything she can and she can’t take much more.
 
Yang says suddenly, “I’m sorry.”
 
Blake’s ears twitch back. She turns, confused. “Sorry?”
 
“For publishing my photo.”
 
It’s clearly the last thing Blake ever expects her to say; her eyes widen and stall, and for a moment it’s like time flutters its wings and flies away from them, every pulse on mute, every flicker of breath halted.
 
“What?” she whispers.
 
“I’m sorry I published my photo,” Yang repeats. “I never thought about what it would do to you. I never thought about how you’d have to relive it for the rest of your life, too. I was trying not to think about you at all.”
 
Blake doesn’t move, doesn’t blink, doesn’t answer. She seems unable to process exactly the apology Yang’s giving her, all its implications and regrets. Yang drops her eyes back to her screen, and--
 
“Holy shit,” she says, and it snaps Blake from her daze.
 
“What?” she asks.
 
“We fucking got her,” Yang says. “Polendina . It’s one of Ironwood’s code words for undercover operations.”
 
“General Ironwood?” Blake says. “Ironwood, extremely close friend of the Schnee family? Ironwood, who helped Weiss revolt against her father for his shady business practices?”
 
“Yep,” Yang says, grinning evilly. “That bitch is going down.”
 
Blake smiles. “If anything,” she says, “I’m glad to see we still work well together.”
 
Yang meets her eyes, devilish turn of her mouth relaxing into something lighter.
 
“Yeah,” she says. “Me, too.”
 
--
 
Yang and Blake stroll confidently into Weiss’s office the next morning, Yang tossing a folder down onto her desk, scattering her pen to the floor. Weiss raises a single eyebrow, as if she’s unimpressed. “Two weeks, huh?” she asks. “It should’ve taken you one.”
 
“You got General Ironwood to submit a false account for advice to our newspaper based off of our situation,” Yang hisses furiously.
 
“Weiss, have you lost your fucking mind?” Blake adds savagely.
 
“No,” Weiss taunts, “but the two of you have.”
 
“Excuse me?” Blake snaps, hands fisted in her pockets. Yang’s are clenched as well, like she’s trying to stop herself from punching Weiss in her smug face. Blake thinks she’d support her if Yang decided to.
 
“The two of you have been working brilliantly together ever since you thought someone in the office was conspiring against you,” Weiss points out haughtily. “You don’t argue like you did. You’re civil. Hell, sometimes you’re even friendly to each other. Even if you’re still stuck fucking and fighting at home, it’s improved your working relationship dramatically.” She takes a breath, standing to her feet, finally saying everything she’s ever wanted to say. The two of them stand there, equally surprised at the outburst, and more shocked to find that she’s right. She continues viciously, “I have a feeling it has improved your relationship, though, hasn’t it? Focusing on anything except what you’ve been through, how you feel about it. You’re both so stubborn and you always have been. It drives me up the fucking wall. Did you even comprehend their advice?”
 
“Yes,” Yang says, but her voice isn’t as strong as it was when they began.
 
“No,” Weiss retorts. “You haven’t. Or you’d be talking to each other, and not in here yelling at me for taking drastic action when the two of you could barely stand to be in a room together.” She presses her fingers to her temples, rubbing her head. “You’ve been in love essentially since the day you met. Jesus, Christ, please take the day off and fucking talk to each other. Don’t throw everything away because you both wish you’d died for the other rather than face them head-on in the aftermath.”
 
Her closing remark strikes a tough nerve, shattering the both of them so violently Weiss thinks it’s something they’d never managed to acknowledge: both wishing they’d been able to bear the entirety of the torture, rather than having to watch the one they loved go through some of it as well.
 
Yang stares her down another moment longer, but Weiss sees the cracks in her expression; Blake’s already dismantled entirely, finding the truth in Weiss’s words to be infallible. One more minute, a single second, and Yang turns on her heel and walks out the door.
 
Blake hovers and says, “Thanks, Weiss.”
 
“Don’t thank me yet,” Weiss says crossly. “Please, Blake, go get your girlfriend back.”
 
--
 
“I know what you fuckers did,” Yang threatens on her way out, Blake at her side. They’re still as intimidating to Sun as ever - more so than before, if he’s being honest - and Ruby merely shrugs at her.
 
“Sorry,” Ruby says. “But not really.”
 
--
 
(They date for four and a half years, and only Ruby and Weiss know until junior year, when they meet Jaune, Pyrrha, Ren, and Nora, who slot into their group like they’ve always been there. Ruby thinks they’re going to get married; Weiss secretly creates a binder full of color schemes and flower choices and dresses. She needs to organize to keep her sane, she defends; weddings are nothing if not organized. Ruby rolls her eyes. How fucking clinical, she says, but kisses Weiss anyway.
 
They have their arguments occasionally, but they’re always more along the lines of stubborn misunderstandings than anything else. They don’t tend to disagree, but their methods sometimes clash. More than anything, they’re what Weiss thinks love should look like. The kind of love Weiss likes to think she now has.
 
“So you’re going to get married, right?” Weiss asks just before they’re due to graduate.
 
Yang laughs loudly, trying to steady Blake on her lap at the same time. “Oh, definitely.”
 
“Yang already talks like we’re married,” Blake says dryly. “She kept drunkenly introducing me as her fiance at Nora’s party the other night.”
 
Ruby snickers from the kitchen, stirring noodles in a pot on the stove. “I forgot about that.”
 
“Whatever,” Yang dismisses. “I was just trying it out. Verdict: loved it.”
 
“Get me a ring and we’ll talk.”
 
“Like I don’t already have one.”
 
Blake eyes her cautiously. “Do you?”
 
Yang smirks. “No. But I could. Maybe I’m lying.”
 
Blake loops an arm around her shoulders, pecks her on the nose. “You’re not,” she says. “We promised we’d never lie to each other.”
 
“Ah, shit,” Yang says. “Okay, no, I don’t have a ring, but I have one in mind.”
 
“I love my theoretical ring,” Blake says.
 
“I hate you.”
 
“There’s that lying again.”
 
“Okay,” Weiss interrupts, “forget I asked. I can only listen to the two of you for so long before wanting to vomit.”
 
Yang grins at her. “Weiss,” she says, “you can be our wedding planner. I know about your secret binder, you fucking loser.”
 
Weiss’s jaw drops. “Ruby!” she squeals, whipping around to look at her girlfriend. “You fucking snitch!”
 
“The love in this room is overwhelming,” Ruby say solemnly, trying hard to hold back her laughter.
 
“It is,” Blake says. “It really is.”)
 
--
 
Blake pulls her hands out of her pockets as they open the door to their apartment, ears twitching nervously. “Okay,” she says.
 
“Okay?” Yang asks, tossing her keys on the coffee table the same way she used to every day they lived here together.
 
There’s a moment of silence as Blake collects her words, gathering them up like she’s preparing to accept whatever outcome it may yield. “What do you want from me?” she asks plainly, giving up all pretense.
 
Yang looks at her, stilling in the middle of taking off her coat. “I’m sorry?”
 
“Do you want me or do you want to move on?” Blake rephrases. “I’m in love with you. I’ll love you for the rest of my fucking life, Yang. But I can’t - I can’t make you love me again.”
 
Yang studies her carefully, that same look Blake remembers so long ago from their first date, that probing examination. “What do you mean, ‘love you again’?” she asks slowly.
 
“I heard you that day,” Blake confesses. “You told Weiss that you - you aren’t over me, but you don’t love me anymore. So I’m asking: what do you want from me?”
 
Yang’s eyes trace over her like she’s coloring her in, like if she misses a spot it’ll remain blank on the canvas. She says, “I don’t know.”
 
“I get I don’t deserve you,” Blake says, spreading her arms and dropping them. “I won’t find someone new. I won’t move on. But if that’s what you want, I won’t stand in your way.”
 
“What do you mean, you don’t deserve me?” Yang echoes her words, some of the fire coming back to her. “You dumped me, remember? You left.”
 
“I know,” Blake says, furious with herself. “I literally never stop fucking thinking about it. And while I was gone, you were still all I thought about.”
 
“I wanted to get over you,” Yang says. “I wanted to.”
 
“You blame me for what happened to you,” Blake says.
 
“That’s never been true.”
 
I blame me for what happened to you.”
 
“Well, stop,” Yang says irritably. “I made my own decisions. I’d do it all again for you. All of it.”
 
“I wasn’t worth it!” Blake finally raises her voice, needing to make her point heard. “Look, whatever the fuck you think about it - I wasn’t worth it. My fucked-up past, my stupid fucking mistakes - they weren’t yours to pay for, and I’ll never forgive myself for them!”
 
“I don’t care,” Yang argues heatedly, hands clenching into fists. Blake’s eyes drop to her prosthetic. “You were worth it to me. You’re always worth it to me, even more than a fucking arm! Some of this is mine, Blake. Some of this belongs to me. I wish you would let it.”
 
“I can’t,” Blake whispers, tears rolling down her cheeks. “Because then I have to admit that I did everything wrong, and I hurt you worse - you, the one person I’d never wanted to hurt in this world - and none of it amounted to anything.”
 
Yang doesn’t speak for a moment, observing her like she’s looking through a telescope and a microscope simultaneously, seeing what’s there and whittling it down to the barest she can skin it. “It did amount to something,” Yang says finally. “You did hurt me worse than if you’d stayed, Blake, that’s true. But the work you did when you were gone can’t be overlooked or dismissed.” After all these years, Yang still can’t resist the urge to fight Blake’s battles, to challenge her haunted past. “Your exposure of the White Fang’s plans for a coup was invaluable. You literally stopped Adam from rising to power.”
 
“I did it for you, ” Blake confesses. “Everything has been for you. I wanted to take Adam down, but more than that, I wanted to show the world what you’d truly gone up against for the truth.”
 
“For you,” Yang says.
 
“You said you weren’t over me,” Blake repeats again, heart like thunder rattling her bones, “but you told Weiss that you don’t love me anymore.” She waits for the sentiment to make its impact again. “Is it true?”
 
Silence incurs, barely punctuated even by breath. “Fuck you, Blake,” Yang utters lowly. “You don’t get to do this to me again. You don’t get to love me only when it’s convenient for you.”
 
“I’m not,” she says angrily. “I left. It didn’t mean I stopped loving you! As if I could. As if it were ever even an option.”
 
Yang’s eyes flash red, and in another second she has Blake pressed against the door, hands cupping her cheeks, mouths colliding in a painful show of desperation. Yang kisses her and they’re eighteen again, standing in Yang’s kitchen at three in the morning and laughing over tea; they’re nineteen and Blake brings her home to meet her family, kissing her when they aren’t looking; they’re twenty and Yang’s saying I’m marrying you in between the persistence of Blake’s mouth; they’re twenty-one and twenty-two, about to graduate, and they’ve got forever; they’re twenty-three, and they don’t. Yang pulls away and they’re twenty-four again, both closer and further apart than they’ve ever been.
 
“Please,” Blake whispers, fingers clutching at her painfully, cheeks wet against Yang’s palms. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but I love you, and I’ll never, ever stop.” She brings Yang’s mouth back down to hers and finds no resistance. “Please don’t tell me that you don’t love me anymore.”
 
Yang’s never been unforgiving or cruel, never purposely tried to hurt anyone just for the sake of doing so, and she doesn’t start now. She meets Blake’s eyes and they’re lavender again, wide and watery and honest. “A year,” she says achingly. “You were gone, and then I was gone, and I was fine.”
 
“Tell me the truth,” Blake says. “We promised we’d never lie to each other.”
 
A tear spills over and down to her jawline. “I was fine,” she repeats again.
 
“Yang,” Blake says, sensing the need for the barest push.
 
“I love you,” she finally confesses miserably, starting to cry. “Of course I - I love you. I can’t even - I can’t see anyone else. Like they aren’t even there. It’s just you. You’re all I ever think about.” She drops her head to Blake’s shoulder, and Blake tangles her fingers in her hair, holding her. “You can’t leave,” Yang whispers, and the hollowness of breath sinks into her heart, hooking against the muscle like claws, tearing it out and throwing it against the floor. “I can’t love you again and wake up one day and find you gone.”
 
“Never,” Blake murmurs, and presses her lips to the shell of Yang’s ear. “I know I make a lot of mistakes, but I learn from them.”
 
“Please,” Yang says, voice cracking. “Please don’t do this to me if you don’t mean it.”
 
“I do,” Blake says achingly. “I do, Yang, I swear. I won’t leave you again. I won’t run.”
 
Yang mumbles against her skin, “Okay.”
 
“Okay?”
 
Yang raises her head, and Blake runs her thumbs underneath Yang’s eyes, brushing aside the tears. She smiles to the best of her ability, trying to contain herself before she shatters apart, too, or maybe she’s coming together. Becoming whole feels a lot like rebreaking the parts of herself she’d learned to survive without. Here, Blake thinks of telling her, pressing Yang’s palm over her heart in the absence of language, letting her feel the way it beats steadily in her chest, no longer a flight risk. You used to live here. Please come home.
 
Yang kisses her like she knows exactly what’s being said.
 
Maybe she does.
 
--
 
It still takes a few months, but it’s less time than anybody expects. Well, everyone except Weiss.
 
They stroll casually into Weiss’s office on a morning in late June, attempting to avoid any sort of suspicion. Ruby’s sitting in the armchair and offers them a wave; Weiss looks up from her computer screen, studying them intently for a moment.
 
“Finally!” she says, oddly relieved. “I’ve been waiting forever for this. Do you have a date in mind? A spring wedding may be your best bet if you’re on the fence with seasons.”
 
“Wait,” Yang says, tone bordering disbelief; Blake looks equally as nonplussed. “How did you know we came to tell you we were engaged?”
 
“It’s all over your faces,” Weiss says, smirking at them. “You look like the entire world is suddenly the best version of itself it’s ever been, and we work in news.
 
“Congratulations,” Ruby says, not even remotely surprised.
 
“Seriously?” Blake says.
 
“No,” Weiss says. “Look at that ring. I could see it from here when you were driving up to the building.”
 
“Shut up,” Yang says, but finally laughs breathlessly, overjoyed.
 
“Let me see!” Ruby exclaims, and Blake holds out her hand, grinning. “Oh my God, it’s perfect. Holy shit. Weiss, look at this--”
 
“It’s nicer than her theoretical ring all those years ago,” Weiss agrees, inspecting every inch. “Wow, Yang. You really...didn’t spare any expense.”
 
“I’ve had it for years,” Yang admits. “I actually...I’d bought it when we graduated. The middle amethyst is from the original ring, and I added the black diamonds a month ago.”
 
It’s beautifully set on a gold band, and it looks like it’s always been on her finger, like if Weiss were to conjure memories of the two of them from college, the ring would be there, nestled comfortably. “I’m happy for you,” she says softly, and smiles up at them.
 
Ruby stands to pull them into hugs, and Weiss follows after in a rarer display of physical affection; Yang places a hand on the back of her head, Blake wraps one around her waist. “We love you,” Yang says. “We wouldn’t be here without you.”
 
“You’re family,” Weiss says, and shuts her eyes on tears. “I love you.”
 
“Excited to plan the wedding?” Yang says. “You can take the binder out of the bottom drawer of your desk now. We know you keep it there.”
 
Wess turns on Ruby, scowling. “Ruby,” she hisses. “Can’t you keep one thing to yourself?”
 
Ruby holds up her hands. “Yang is extremely persuasive!” Ruby argues. “She said if I didn’t tell her, she wouldn’t let you plan it.”
 
“I lied,” Yang says. “I just needed to know so that I could call you a fucking loser again.”
 
Weiss huffs, and pulls it out of her drawer where she’s been hiding it. “You laugh now,” she says, “but I’ve updated it to match the times, as well as your personal tastes as you’ve gotten older - not too modern, but we aren’t aiming for rural, either. If you want to go with spring, I’m thinking maybe a salmon, a light grey, and perhaps gold as a color scheme.”
 
Blake turns and smothers her laughter in Yang’s hair, Yang’s arm curled around her waist. Yang’s still grinning widely. “We’ll talk,” she says. “We just wanted to tell you first.”
 
“How did you propose?” Weiss asks.
 
--
 
(Nothing is happening at all, that’s the first step.
 
She wakes up to the smell of coffee, and Blake’s standing in the kitchen in her robe, reading over one of their rival newpapers, absentmindedly chewing on a scone. Yang steps up behind her, wraps her arms around her waist. Blake smiles, resting her back against Yang’s chest.
 
“Anything good today?” Yang asks. “That error last week where the intern forgot to replace ‘add list of accomplishments here’ to Ozpin’s interview was one of the greatest in recent memory.”
 
Blake laughs. “Nothing,” she says, tossing it onto the kitchen table. “They’re a bunch of spineless assholes over there, anyway. Salem doesn’t know how to run a newspaper. It’s all fear-mongering. Remember when they came out in support of the White Fang? God, damn.”
 
“I love it when you’re feisty,” Yang says.
 
“I can’t wait until Weiss and Ruby buy them out,” Blake continues dreamily. “We’ll make it a workplace holiday.”
 
“You’re so cool, babe.”
 
“Shut the fuck up,” Blake counters. “You hate them just as much, if not more.”
 
“Oh, I still remember punching Mercury in the face,” Yang agrees. “Highlight of my life, for sure.”
 
Blake turns around in her arms, interlacing her fingers behind Yang’s neck. “What are some others?” she asks cutely, and Yang can’t resist kissing her once.
 
“Hmmm,” Yang says, pretending to think, like she hasn’t already made a list mostly comprised of things like you smiling, you laughing at my jokes, you breathing next to me. “Meeting Weiss. Those three semesters in a row of straight A’s. When Ruby got into college early. And...that’s it.”
 
“Ugh.” Blake rolls her eyes. “You’re so annoying.”
 
That’s the second step, maybe. The way Blake says you’re so annoying like I want to spend my entire life with you.
 
“And,” Yang says softly, meeting her gaze shyly, “when you agreed to marry me.”
 
Blake pauses, her stare darting between Yang’s eyes. Her pulse quickens underneath her skin, hammering hard enough to bruise. She says unsteadily, “When did I agree to that?”
 
Yang licks her lips and says, “Now, hopefully,” and Blake’s eyebrows raise, her lips parting in understanding. “I love you. I’ve loved you forever. There’s nobody else in the world for me, not in this life, not in the next. Marry me.”
 
Blake takes her face in her hands and kisses her fiercely, unable to speak, unable to breathe; time doesn’t freeze, it ceases to exist entirely. The walls melt down into ash, the ceiling collapsing in on them, books leaping from their shelves. Photographs fling off their hooks and shatter their glass. Outside, the trees shed their bark and turn to dust; the moon fuses into the sun and promptly burns itself brighter than it’s ever been. The sky breathes easy and is no longer laced in shadow. Their ghosts are here, but they don’t haunt them anymore.
 
That’s the third step, Yang thinks. Peace.)