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“Ruby dared me to make a steak smoothie and drink it--”

“I did not!”

“--So thank you to Vitamix for sponsoring this XL video. Here we go!”

“Yang! What was that noise?”

“Good thing they sent me two blenders just in case, huh?”

“Why do I smell smoke? Oh my god, the KITCHEN--”

Yang laughed to herself as she hit the spacebar to pause the clip. She didn’t make a point of chasing down sponsors, but who was she to turn down a fancy blender? Sure, there were a few people in the comments calling her a sellout, but their accusations were quickly drowned out by the thousands of supportive voices.

The picture she’d posted to her Instagram of her cradling her new blender in a baby blanket was receiving just as much support.

@yangbang proud mother #Ad #Vitamix

@yang_xl_stan yes!!! get that spon girl!!!

@lesbiyangz so pretty omg 😍😍😍

@fthograywhales ur a mom? u mean milf

@xiaoshort let 👏 her 👏 drink 👏 the 👏 steak 👏

@crescentrose31 YANG YOU STILL NEED TO CLEAN UP THE KITCHEN >:c

Yang tapped over to her sister’s page. The first post was photographic evidence of the kitchen crime scene documented in full. It looked more horrifying that it was, really, but Yang recruited their father to help with the clean up. Taiyang would take any opportunity to bond with his daughters, even if it meant letting Ruby command them to scrub the undersides of the cabinets spotless.

They finished just in time to be fifteen minutes late to pick up Weiss on their way to the airport. Their delay inspired Weiss to simmer in her grouchiness for the entire plane ride that followed. She was still in a bad mood when they checked into their hotel, and by the sounds of it not even a hot shower had calmed her down.

“You wanna know the best part of hotels?” Weiss said, exiting the bathroom. “No kitchen for you to blow up. Plus, your hair isn’t everywhere already.”

“That’s just the price of beauty, Weiss,” Yang said.

“Are you talking about the steak smoothie or your hair?”

“Two things can be true,” Yang shrugged. Her finger hovered over her mousepad. “It’s time to press the best button in the world.”

Weiss dabbed at her long hair with a towel. “Please do not elaborate.”

Yang shot her a look. “I meant ‘upload.’ You’re such a pervert, Weiss.”

Before Weiss could expand on her indignant scoff, Ruby burst into the room, arms full of--

“Snacks!” Ruby announced, dumping her grocery haul on the bed next to Yang.

“Great,” Weiss commented. “Now we have enough junk food to feed the entire convention.” She picked up a blue-wrapped pack. “Did you spend our entire budget on Oreos?”

“Please say yes,” Yang said.

Ruby snatched the pack out of Weiss’ hand and tore into the cookies. “I didn’t pay for any of this,” she said, popping two into her mouth.

“Excuse me?” Weiss squeaked. “How are you supposed to go to the awards ceremony tonight if you get arrested for shoplifting?”

“No, I got it all for free!” Ruby said, chocolatey bits falling from the corners of her mouth as she spoke. “The manager was so nice. She was actually wearing a Zwei shirt! And she asked me to do bunny ears to her in our selfie.”

Yang shrugged. “Perks of having 15 million followers, I guess.”

“Fourteen,” Ruby corrected.

“Point eight,” Weiss added, refusing to dilute the bitterness in her voice. She softened when she saw Ruby’s eyes widen. “I just don’t understand how a six-second video of your dog pretending to write his own name translates to free Cheetos.”

“That video was real and you know it. Oh, I got this, too.” Ruby dug up a single box of salad from under all the snack bags. “They had the butter lettuce you like!”

“...Thank you.” Weiss put her greens in the little fridge under the TV, mollified for the moment. “I suppose I have little room to complain about your questionably earned fame when I reap the benefits.”

“That’s right!” Ruby said with finality.

Yang set her laptop aside. She’d already queued up all of her posts for the next week, and if all went well she wouldn’t need to worry about editing, filming, or uploading for a few days after the convention. Granted, she’d had to work twice as hard the week before, but it was worth it for a rare break.

Plenty of other vloggers made daily or even hourly posts during VidCon, but fortunately that wasn’t Yang’s brand. She posted on her channel around once a week, sometimes more if something truly groundbreaking happened. For example: the time their Uncle Qrow went on a drunk rant about how much he hated non-solid foods. “OLD MAN YELLS AT SOUP” racked up a million hits in one day, and now it was one of her most popular uploads with almost 20 million views. The stats were impressive even compared to her usual 5 or 6 million views per video.

To Yang’s absolute confusion, the video of her uncle was somehow up for an award for Best Editing. When she’d seen the nomination, she’d actually snorted from laughing so hard. It was, by all definitions, a crack video: breakneck pace, close-up zooms, absurd filters and wacky sound effects. She was a hundred percent sure she wouldn’t win any of these semi-prestigious awards, and she was more than content to spend the weekend just having fun.

She had no idea how she’d ended up at VidCon, but it was a great excuse for a most-expenses-paid vacation with her sister. And considering Weiss and Ruby had been best friends for almost a decade, her presence was simply assumed at this point.

“Are you two almost ready?” Weiss asked, plugging in the hair dryer.

Ruby started to respond. “Almost--”

Weiss switched the dryer on. WOOOOOOOOOOO.

“Weiss,” Yang projected. “Weiss.”

Finally, Ruby pulled the plug from the socket. “Weiss!”

“There’s no need to scream,” Weiss said, snatching the dryer back. “It was a rhetorical question. I know you’ll wait until the last minute if I don’t start nagging now.” The crease of her frown somehow deepened. “Brush your teeth. They’re full of Oreo.”

Ruby ducked into the bathroom, mumbling something about how Weiss was always right (and annoying for it).

“I’m ready.” Yang hopped up and stretched. Editing anywhere but her desk always put a kink in her neck.

Weiss looked her up and down. “Are you joking?”

“Nope. Hurry up, slowpoke.”

“You can’t wear that.”

Yang put a hand on her hip, fully aware that she was in terry cloth shorts and a ratty, off-yellow tank top that she’d probably bought in high school. “I make videos in my pajamas all the time. It’d be weirder if I changed into something else.”

“That’s true,” Ruby chimed in, toothbrush in her mouth.

“Ruby having cookie crumbs all over her face is also very on brand.”

Weiss placed her hairdryer on the counter and turned to look at Yang dead on. “Is this whole event just a joke to you?”

Yang shrugged. “I mean...who am I trying to impress?”

“This is a chance to make a real name for yourself even if you don’t win your category. Most people would kill for this kind of networking opportunity, Yang. Pyrrha Nikos landed a sponsorship here last year because she happened to talk with an Underarmor representative at an afterparty. The only reason she didn’t end up signing with them was because Reebok swooped it and signed her for twice as much. Don’t screw this up by being an idiot on purpose.”

“Wow. You made it through two whole sentences without insulting me. That was almost an actual pep talk.”

Weiss sighed and started up her hairdryer again.

Still, Yang let the words settle a little more deeply than she normally might. Maybe it wouldn’t hurt to take this weekend a little more seriously.

***

By the time they reached the elevator, Weiss still hadn’t gotten it out of her system.

“...And how do you think that shirt’s going to look in pictures? It’s neon orange.”

Yang sighed. “Hey, you’ll be able to see me across literally any room and it doesn’t have holes in it. I’m wearing an entire bra. And pants. Can we just focus on how amazing Ruby looks?”

“Aw!” Ruby exclaimed, playfully punching Yang on the shoulder. “Thanks, sis.”

The biggest surprise of the night so far was the black-and-red dress that Ruby had pulled out of nowhere. After many, many hours of fruitless online shopping, she’d apparently decided that making her own dress in secret was the most practical option. All of her other options were too tight, too short, or too “plunge-y,” and sewing together several layers of tulle by hand was better than spending money on a dress she wouldn’t even like. If she started a fashion channel, it would surely take off, but she wasn’t one to wring out fame for every last drop of attention it would offer. Ruby was perfectly content running an Instagram account for their dog and posting TikToks once in a blue moon. Her adorable dog pictures and sporadic video posts had somehow amassed a huge following.

“Considering the event said cocktail attire, Ruby is dressed appropriately,” Weiss said, jabbing an accusatory finger at Yang. “Don’t blame me if you have to go on stage looking like a traffic cone.”

Yang chuckled. “Have you seen the other people in my categories? If Pyrrha doesn’t win Best Lifestyle Vlog, I’ll start the riot myself. And editing is stacked. I honestly don’t know how I got nominated for that one.”

Ruby nodded along. “I think Penny will win it. All the production ones should go to her, really. I don’t know how she comes up with so many Rube Goldberg ideas, let alone films her videos in single takes. And the videos where she makes knives out of all sorts of weird stuff? So cool! Have you seen the one made out of smoke? Ahh, it’s just--”

The elevator dinged. Yang started to walk off, but Weiss pulled her back just before she collided with another hotel guest.

“My bad,” Yang said. They were only on the thirteenth floor. How slow were these elevators?

She had to look up just slightly at the man she’d nearly bodychecked. Yang didn’t like to judge people by the way they looked--she’d been on the other end of nasty assumptions more times than she could count--but something about this man made her skin crawl. His hair was the color of a fresh slap mark, and he carried himself as if he genuinely believed he was six inches taller than he really was. The smug set of his jaw and less-than-subtle sneer etched into his mouth made Yang 90% sure that he worked for some sort of morally questionable tech company and still slept soundly afterwards.

Plus, what kind of douchebag wore sunglasses inside?

He flashed a cold smile at Yang and turned to faced the doors as they closed. His chill spread through the entire elevator. “Careful,” he started, “If I’d been holding a drink already, I might have spilled it on you.”

“She said she was sorry,” Weiss hissed.

“Did she? I must not have heard.”

Ruby stepped between her sister and the strange man. “Anyway...I think Penny’s really got a shot.”

“Yeah,” Yang said, still eyeing the man. Finally, she turned back to her friends. “She could sweep the post-production awards, honestly.”

The man chuckled to himself. He never turned around, but the way he smiled and shook his head made Yang wonder how he’d look as a permanent bobblehead.

“Bless you,” Ruby said automatically, confusing his callous grunt of a laugh for a sneeze.

“I appreciate it,” he said, his words dripping with condescension. Yang was certain that he did not, in fact, deserve her sister’s blessing.

Yang glared and hoped he could feel it stabbing into his skull. When he scratched the back of his head a moment later, Yang felt a little swell of pride.

Finally, the elevator dinged again. This time, Yang checked that they were on the ground floor before getting off, though she desperately wanted to push past this rude stranger as quickly as possible.

“Best of luck to your friend,” he said. “I hear the competition’s pretty cutthroat this year.”

“Thanks, I’ll let her know,” Ruby replied, either oblivious to his caustic tone or unwilling to tarnish their night by engaging further.

The man lingered in the doorway just long enough that even Ruby had to notice. Weiss cleared her throat, but he didn’t budge. The doors were open, but he was still as a roadblock, shoulders square and stance spread.

Forget not judging a book by its cover; his arrogance was practically glinting in his stupid sunglasses. He was very clearly Yang’s least favorite kind of person: one who relished in every ounce of control he could flaunt. He tossed a glance back at Yang, his smirk cataloguing her irritation with sick satisfaction.

Finally, he made to leave.

When he tripped crossing the threshold, Yang barely had the self-control to stifle her laugh.

“Careful,” Weiss said, pulling her foot back from in front of his ankle. “If I’d been wearing heels, you might have broken them.”

The man sneered, plucked at his red-lined lapel, and stormed off down the hallway.

“Weiss, that was amazing.” Yang stepped out onto the loud, patterned carpet (was that a requirement in all fancy hotels?).

Ruby glommed onto Weiss’ back like a koala. “You’re officially my hero!”

“It was nothing.” Weiss’ cheeks dusted pink like they always did when one of her close friends complimented her. A lifetime of parental neglect meant that even the smallest positive reinforcement made her feel like she was on a pedestal, something she’d admitted almost verbatim to Ruby and Yang one night while very drunk. As hard as she worked to maintain her cold, disaffected exterior, she really did care what others thought of her. It was obvious, at least to Yang, but she’d never say it out loud.

Weiss brushed her hands over her dress, making the tastefully sparse beadwork sparkle like snowflakes. “Shall we?”

Ruby skipped ahead into the crowded lobby, waving to a few fans who recognized her. Even in the hotel, there were security guards and ropes corralling the crowd, but a little velvet never stopped Ruby from turning a fan into a friend.

Weiss grumbled under her breath. “That unpleasant and lengthy elevator ride put us even more behind schedule.”

“You can’t be late to a red carpet. It’s not going to come to life and crawl away,” Yang said, throwing her arm around Weiss’ shoulders and smiling at a flashing phone camera. “Everyone just gets there whenever.”

“That’s completely incorrect.”

“You go to a lot of red carpets, Weiss?”

“...I didn’t say that.”

“Excuse me, everyone. Red carpet queen coming through,” Yang announced loudly to the lobby.

Weiss flushed the same color as the carpet in question and marched ahead to catch up with Ruby.

Yang took her time walking through the lobby, just as happy as her sister to stop for pictures. She wasn’t quite as omnipresent as Ruby, but she wouldn’t deny the fact that she had a particularly passionate fanbase. Some saw her as a role model, but others seemed wholly unconcerned with whatever content she was putting out. Some of the more graphic responses to her social posts had shocked her at first, but apparently “please punch me in the face” and “I want her to strangle me” were intended as compliments.

As Yang leaned across the rope to take a picture with a girl wrapped in a rainbow flag, someone else screamed, “White hair girl! Who is she?!”

“What?” Yang said, caught off guard. Usually she tried not to engage beyond superficially in this kind of setting.

It was too fast and too flashy. Things always escalated.

“Is she your date?!” A voice screeched from the back.

The crowd went eerily quiet. It was like they’d all stopped breathing at the same exact second. The girl with the rainbow flag turned to Yang, eyes wide, a hint of a smile creeping onto her face. As Yang glanced over the crowd, she noticed that not everyone had such a hopeful reaction to the possibility that she might be seriously involved with someone for the first time since becoming a YouTube star. Many of them were looking at Yang like she was holding a needle up to an overfilled balloon. Much of her fans’ interest, she was well aware, resided in the mystique around her very private dating life despite being an out-and-proud internet celebrity. If she was so much as photographed with a pretty girl, Twitter and Tumblr exploded. It flooded her Instagram comments for weeks.

Once, she’d jokingly tweeted that she was in love with Pyrrha Nikos--and a handful of fans took it as an invitation to send the fitness vlogger death threats. The damage control video they had to film explaining that they weren’t involved in any way beyond platonically was a whole lot less fun than their usual collaborations. Fortunately and unfortunately, it attracted over 10 million views.

The girl with the flag reiterated the question quietly, eyes wide with wonder, speaking as if she was having a perfectly normal conversation with Yang and not baiting her into announcing potentially career-shattering news. “Is she your girlfriend?”

Yang burst out laughing. “Weiss? Oh my god, no. She’s a great singer, but we’d probably kill each other after one date.”

She swore the crowd took a collective exhale of relief. The girl with the flag, however, deflated just a little.

“Date me instead!” Someone shouted rabidly, sparking a chorus of similar echoes.

“I can sing, too!”

“You can kill me anytime!”

Yang painted on a grin, her go-to armor. Charm usually worked well to safely defuse these situations. “You guys, I’m so flattered. Seriously.” She started backpedaling towards the exit, completely unprepared for what she was about to see. “But I’m really not looking for a...”

When she turned around, her jaw dropped. Sweeping through the revolving door was the most beautiful woman Yang had ever seen.

The first thing Yang noticed was her eyes, gold and warm and glowing like liquid amber. Dark hair the color of whispered, late-night conversations ever so effortlessly curled in loose waves past her shoulders. A smirk danced on her lips like an unsolvable riddle.

“...Girlfriend,” Yang finally finished, wondering when exactly she’d taken up praying.

She cleared her throat and tried to focus on extricating herself from the gaggle of fans, but she couldn’t stop herself. She glanced back at the woman by the door--who was, in fact, no longer at the door. With all the audacity in the world, she was striding right over, slipping into Yang’s world like she had a reservation.

(Yang would’ve invited her in anyway.)

From so close, Yang could see the perfectly blended, violet-tinted, smoky makeup that complemented her golden eyes and deep purple dress. It was all so put together. Flawless. Meticulous. Curious, Yang thought to herself.

So that was Blake’s brand: mysterious, alluring, just dangerous enough to draw people in and keep them at arm’s length.

A princess who’d built her own tower.

(Yang wondered if she might be strong enough to scale it.)

Blake offered an aloof half-smile to the adoring fans before looking up at Yang, the corners of her lips still curled slightly. Captivated and stunned, Yang finally understood what it meant to feel someone’s gaze.

(How quickly a moment could crumble.)

“Oh my god! That’s Blake Belladonna!”

“Can we please get a picture?”

“You literally cleared my skin. I owe you my life!”

Blake stood her ground through another moment of the frenzy. Yang might have forgotten about her own ability to move altogether if Weiss hadn’t reemerged from the revolving door right then to summon Yang with a shout and an aggressive wave.

When Yang turned back, Blake was no longer at her side.

She whirled around to face the elevators and caught those eyes one last time, her stomach flipping when she saw that they were staring right back at her, into her. Surveying her. All of a sudden, she felt underdressed for the occasion--or perhaps entirely overdressed.

With that, Blake Belladonna vanished down the hallway.

“Yang!” Weiss’ voice called for what must have been the third or fourth time based on her sharp tone. It had taken as much to cut through Yang’s daze.

“Yeah,” Yang said to no one in particular. She blinked back to reality and remembered the hundreds of people watching her. With a broad smile, she pointed to the door and addressed them. “I gotta run. But before I do...”

The crowd jumped in. “Make today XL!”

“You got it!” Face time with fans could be overwhelming in all kinds of ways, but hearing her own sign-off line shouted back to her never got old.

She caught up with Weiss at the door just in time to overhear something about a stupid slogan.

***

“And the winner for Best Collab is...Poledinamonium and Renora Is On Fire, ‘Killer Robot Attack!’”

Yang stood up, wolf-whistling and cheering as loudly as she could. Ruby joined, shrieking in support of their friends.

Weiss remained seated, pressing her hands over her ears until the sisters sat down.

“Do you have to do that every time?” she asked.

“Only when someone we know wins,” Ruby said. She was practically bouncing in her seat, thrilled by the outcome of the last few awards. So far, Penny was cleaning up, which meant that Weiss’ ears had yet to be granted a respite of more than a few minutes.

Weiss opened her mouth to snark back, but she would never risk ruining Ruby’s mood. She settled for crossing her arms indignantly.

Penny stayed on stage to present the next award, a purely vote-based category called Rising Star that she’d won the previous year. There were no official nominees, only write-ins, but there were plenty of rumors and fan theories about who might be crowned the best newcomer. No fewer than three people on Reddit claimed that they already knew the winner from an “airtight source” on the convention staff, but they all supplied different names as the definitive answer.

As Penny stepped up to the mic, she peeked inside the envelope. Her face lit up.

“It is my absolute pleasure to present the Rising Star Award. Please engage in wholehearted applause for my friend, Ruby Rose!”

Ruby’s eyeballs almost popped out of her head, and Yang couldn’t blame her.

While Ruby stayed seated, unsure if she was dreaming or not, Yang leapt up and let out a roar. “Yeah, Ruby!”

It took Weiss physically yanking Ruby to her feet to make her head to the stage. Penny pulled her into a bone-crushing embrace.

Yang worried when she remembered that Ruby had no speech prepared, but her concern faded quickly when she realized that the rest of the attendees were standing, too. Their applause had yet to subside.

Penny tilted the mic just a little lower as Ruby stepped up to it. When the applause finally faded, her voice was a bit shaky, like she’d recently been dropped headfirst into an ice bath and pulled out just as quickly. “What is happening...”

The whole crowd laughed.

“Um, okay,” Ruby continued. She tugged at the high, tight collar on her dress. “Boy, it is really warm up here.”

Another wave of laughter.

“Okay. This is...wow,” Ruby tried again.

Yang could sense her sister’s nerves. Making videos online didn’t necessarily prepare someone for surprise public speaking. Yang figured it was worth embarrassing herself a little bit if it meant helping her sister through. She jumped up onto her chair and yelled. “Yeah, Ruby!”

It worked. The room lit up with guffaws and giggles. Yang clapped and shouted again as she landed back on the floor. “Woooo!”

While most everyone was distracted, Ruby took a deep breath. It was all she needed. “Everyone here is...so amazing. I mean, Oscar Pine? That decorative mini hay bale tutorial was so cute! We made like sixteen of them for Halloween. Oh, and I can’t believe I got to meet Coco Adel. And Penny! Ahhh. Thank you so much. Your videos are amazing. Anyway, I don’t exactly know what I did, but I know I couldn’t have done it without all of you.” Her left foot tapped nervously. “Okay, I’m just going to make a video later that will hopefully make more sense than this rambling. Today was just...” She broke away from the mic before she could finish, trailing off in a sentence that Yang could anticipate. The whole thing was surreal. Ruby swallowed hard and added an eloquent button to her speech. “Yeah.”

The crowd burst into cheers again. Penny gave Ruby another near-fatal hug before escorting her offstage.

Most of the other winners were predictable. Penny took home practically all of the remaining technical awards, including Best Editing, but the category wasn’t entirely without surprise for Yang.

When she’d first looked at the list, she’d seen Penny’s channel name, laughed away any hope of winning, and spared a cursory glance at the rest of the nominees. “Belladonna Beauty” hadn’t stuck out in the original email, but the few seconds of footage the presenters showed made Yang feel like all of the oxygen had been sucked out of the room without warning. It was the girl from the lobby, impossibly elegant even in what looked like a green tea clay mask. Blake was objectively, subjectively, transcendently gorgeous. Sure, the perfect lighting and crisp, subtle editing added a certain sheen to her image on screen, but that wasn’t all that drew Yang’s attention. The the calming lilt to her voice, her cute little mannerisms, the way she cocked her head when she talked about a product she liked...

Yang wasn’t normally one to care about the powder-versus-cream eye shadow debate, but after the brief montage she suddenly found herself very, very invested.

Luckily, the rest of the award ceremony demanded little attention. She clapped when Ruby clapped and cheered louder when Weiss reprimanded them, but her mind was busy wondering if--when?--she might cross paths with Blake again.

Finally, the ceremony was over.

Yang considered going back up to the room to change out of her neon t-shirt and ripped black jeans, but she knew that if she left she probably wouldn’t come back down. There was far too strong a possibility that she would just end up snacking on junk food and binge watching Blake’s videos. The only thing propelling her towards the party was the chance that she might actually run into Blake in person, free of ads and comment sections, and it was enough to steel her against the imminent schmoozing. Even with Weiss’ advice in the back of her mind, she wasn’t thrilled by the idea of using her supposed vacation to network.

Ruby stuck around at the theater for interviews after her big win. Yang wanted to wait for Ruby to finish up, but Weiss insisted that they go on ahead to the hotel lobby.

All of the fans had cleared out during the ceremony, and it was immediately easier to breathe in the less crowded room. The staff had set up a number of standing tables to create a classic cocktail party atmosphere, but instead of the typical black tablecloths, they were all draped with a rainbow of solid neon. Weiss’ disgusted expression alone made the whole event worthwhile.

“Guess I’m on theme after all,” Yang laughed.

Weiss scoffed, making Yang wonder if she was genuinely feeling self-conscious. “Ugh. Whatever. I need a scotch. Find the least offensively bright table and guard it carefully.”

As Weiss sashayed through the increasingly populated room, sorely out of place between lemon yellow and hot pink, Yang kept her eyes on the entrance. She told herself that she was waiting for Ruby to walk in, but a (not so) little part of her was hoping to see someone else come out of that revolving door. It was so easy, Yang thought, to admire Blake from afar--wasn’t that the foundation of every beauty channel’s success?

Yang scanned each new face that came in, pushing down the fact that even the passing thought of striking up conversation with Blake made her feel like she’d just crawled out of the ocean, shivering from a midnight swim. Earlier, Blake had stunned Yang silent with nothing more than her eyes. Had she even been trying? What would happen to Yang’s heartbeat when that silky voice joined the fray?

A few people came over to greet Yang, including Ren and Nora. Instead of showing off their awards, however, Nora took the opportunity to challenge Yang to an arm wrestling contest.

“Tonight’s the night I finally take you down,” Nora said, slamming her elbow on the table and wiggling her fingers. “Bring it on!”

“Are you sure you want to ruin your own night by losing to me?” Yang countered, crossing her arms.

“Impossible! I’m on a winning streak.”

Ren leaned around Nora’s shoulder to chime in. “A streak technically has to be more than one win in a row.”

“Which is exactly why I have to beat her!” Nora said. Her circular logic was rather impossible to argue with. It was as effective as blowing spitballs at the crooked skeleton of a nascent building; nothing would knock the helter-skelter foundation back into place.

After Yang emerged victorious, Nora accused her for the dozenth time of cheating. “It’s not fair! Her prosthetic doesn’t get tired.”

“That excuse might work if it hadn’t been a left-handed match,” Ren pointed out. “Come on. Time to eat.”

“I love it when you say those three little words...”

Nora and Ren bid Yang a good evening and made their way to the bar.

Yang peeked over her shoulder at the front door again--still no sign of Ruby.

“Waiting for someone?” A voice said from across the table.

When Yang turned her attention back, she was shocked and thrilled to see the mysterious woman she’d so hoped to find.

Two identical curls framed Blake’s face perfectly, and her hair was now up in a perfect, artful messy bun. Yang wondered how long it had taken--did she tie her hair up haphazardly, uncomfortable with the heat in the theatre? Or had she spent a painstaking number of minutes pinning it up, spooling those curls around her fingers until they spun out just right?

“Blake,” Yang said, letting the name take shape on her tongue with a shallow exhale.

“And you must be Yang.”

“I must be.” Yang extended her hand, delighted to discover an excuse to touch Blake in some way.

“A handshake. That’s a very formal introduction coming from a traffic cone.”

Yang raised an eyebrow. “Did Weiss pay you to come over here and say that?”

Blake cocked her head. “Who’s that?”

With a wave, Yang dismissed it. “Just a friend we brought along. ‘We’ being me and my sister.”

Blake took another step towards the table and placed her drink down softly. “I don’t think anyone in the room could have missed your cheering. Her speech was very--”

“Rambly?”

“I was going to say endearing,” Blake finished.

Yang cracked a smile. When she realized that Blake’s expression was inching towards amused, she realized that she should probably say something instead of continuing to stare in silence.

“Congrats on the nomination,” Yang said quickly. She wished that she’d remembered her water bottle. Her mouth was a little too dry all of a sudden. “I mean, I know some people are all about winning, but I think it’s pretty cool just to be here.”

“Agreed. And same to you.” Blake’s phone rang and she took it from her pocket, her smile falling as the screen absorbed her attention.

“Do you need to get that?”

“Sorry,” Blake muttered. She turned away as she answered the phone. “Adam, what--”

Yang could hear yelling from the other end of the line. She saw Blake flinch and pull the phone away from her ear.

Though Yang couldn’t quite make out what this Adam was saying, she had a feeling this kind of call didn’t fit the party mood.

While he continued to yell, Yang brainstormed ways that she could get Blake out of it.

Blake finally brought the phone closer and spoke into it, still careful to the keep the receiver a ways from her ear. “Adam. Just being nominated is--”

He started yelling again.

Yang tapped lightly on her wrist, but she didn’t miss the way Blake jumped at the unexpected contact. “Sorry. Do you need an out? I can pull the fire alarm,” Yang whispered.

Blake bit her lip. By the sounds of it, Adam wasn’t going to give up his ranting any time soon, and Yang wasn’t about to let some angry guy ruin Blake’s night.

Blake stared at her phone. After another moment of hesitation, she hung up.

“That works, too,” Yang said.

The phone started ringing again right away, but Blake put it on silent.

Yang was curious about the man on the other end, but it didn’t feel like a great moment to ask.

“That was my editor, Adam,” Blake said, banishing the need for Yang’s question. She turned to face Yang rather than her abandoned phone. “He’s mad that we didn’t win, but I think I’ll let him calm down on his own. He can be...a lot.”

Yang put a hand on her hip. “Ha. I definitely get that. You know my high school superlative was ‘Most?’ Not ‘most likely to be famous’ or anything like that. Just ‘Most.’”

Blake burst out laughing. She caught herself just as abruptly, covering her mouth and watching Yang with sparkling eyes.

It was a lovely sound, like crystal chimes brushing against each other in an autumn breeze. Yang wanted to hear it again without the immediate censoring.

“I hope that’s the only thing you two have in common. Although I guess you both gravitate towards colors most commonly found on caution signs.” Blake shifted, subtly circling the table to toy with the sleeve of Yang’s orange t-shirt.

Yang feigned a frown but let herself lean down a little closer. “Are you ever gonna let me live this outfit down?”

“I guess you’ll have to find out.”

And then Yang was staring again. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about the lighting in the lobby, but Yang was just as dazzled by the woman standing in front of her as the version she’d seen on screen earlier. More so, perhaps, now that Blake was close enough that Yang could see a rogue eyelash on her cheek. When she caught herself glancing down at Blake’s lips, she knew she was already a lost cause.

She hadn’t had a drop of alcohol, but she was well beyond intoxicated.

Blake seemed content to stand in silence, too, but the clicking of heels alerted Yang to Weiss’ arrival. She was double-fisting scotches, surely both for herself. Yang wouldn’t bother asking either way.

“The gamers are here,” Weiss drawled, letting all of her disdain flow freely. She downed a glass in one go. “How does anybody play a video game for eight hours straight? My brain would melt. Though I suppose that explains their charming personalities.”

When she finally noticed that she and Yang weren’t alone at the table, she cleared her throat.

Yang caught on. Of course Weiss would insist on a personal introduction. “Oh, right. Weiss, this is Blake.”

Weiss looked her up and down, apparently deeming her worthy of continued engagement. “That’s quite an ensemble.”

“Thank you. I think,” Blake said, brushing her fingers over the skirt of her dress.

“It’s a compliment.”

“As close as Weiss ever gets to one, anyway,” Yang corrected, winking conspiratorially at Blake.

Weiss turned her head so fast that her ponytail whipped around her shoulders (Blake narrowly dodged it). “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing. Nothing at all.” Yang patted Weiss on the head.

“Stop it. Don’t touch me,” Weiss snapped, flailing about until she successfully drove Yang’s hand out of her personal bubble.

Yang couldn’t help but smile when she heard Blake laugh again. Unfortunately, she made the mistake of letting her gaze linger in front of Weiss.

“Yang,” Weiss said sternly. She changed the subject as swiftly as she’d entered the conversation. “Where’s Ruby?”

“Still doing interviews. She texted us,” Yang said.

Blake brushed her fingertips against Yang’s hand atop the table, and Yang was sure her reaction was all too obvious. “Actually, she came in just a minute ago with Pyrrha Nikos.”

“Oh. Guess I missed her.”

Weiss took an unwelcome opportunity to chime in. “Distracted, perhaps?” She asked knowingly.

If Yang didn’t find something to look at besides Blake’s mouth, she was going to make an even bigger fool of herself. It was bad enough that she wasn’t taking Weiss’ bait. She locked onto Blake’s glass, forgotten on the table. “What are you drinking? Gin and tonic? Straight vodka?”

“Vinegar,” Blake deadpanned.

Yang’s eyebrows flew up before she heard Weiss scoff next to her. “Are you messing with me?”

Blake’s sly smile was enough of an answer. “Just water.”

“Water on the rocks, classy. Also my drink of choice.” Yang picked up the glass and finished it off. “Mind if I grab you another?”

“Offering to buy me water? From the free open bar? How chivalrous.”

“Is that a no?” Yang challenged.

Blake hummed to herself and tapped her chin as if she was pondering her answer carefully.

Weiss said something about obscene eye contact in public, but Yang wasn’t listening. She finally snapped out of it when she heard her sister call her name.

Ruby skipped over their table, followed closely by a tall woman with a dress fiery enough to give her hair a run for its money.

“If it isn’t the Best Lifestyle Vlogger herself,” Yang said, clapping Pyrrha on the shoulder.

“Congratulations,” Weiss blurted out. “Your videos are incredibly inspiring. For so many people. Myself included. I never used to do cardio.” She was rambling, uncharacteristically uncomposed.

“That’s very sweet of you,” Pyrrha said, voice bubbling with a laugh. “You’re Weiss, right? Yang played one of your songs for me.”

“She what?” Weiss’ voice jumped a full octave, more shrill than Yang had ever heard her.

“I’m sorry! I hope you don’t mind,” Pyrrha went on. “I thought your lyrics were truly beautiful.”

Yang braced herself to catch Weiss in case she passed out on the spot. Of all the ways she imagined this night might go, watching Weiss go absolutely tongue-tied over Pyrrha Nikos hadn’t even crossed her mind, but it was an absolute delight to witness.

Pyrrha gestured to the rest of their little group. “Congratulations to all of you as well.”

Yang opened her mouth to commend Pyrrha on her win, but Weiss cut in again. “You’re so brave.”

Pyrrha’s brow furrowed. “I’m sorry. I don’t follow.”

“Speaking out against Dust,” Weiss explained.

Ruby nodded. “That stuff’s kinda really scary.”

“It’s a problem,” Pyrrha nodded. “I was getting so many questions about diet supplements and the like, so I figured I should just make a video about it.”

“What’s Dust?” Blake asked.

“You know those diet pills that guarantee losing a shit-ton of weight? It’s like those, but a powder you can put in drinks,” Yang explained.

“It’s more dangerous than pills,” Weiss went on, apparently recovered enough from her starstruck state to form coherent thought again. “The company that manufactures Dust has absolutely no moral grounding. They have entire departments dedicated to finding ways around all sorts of health codes and regulations. Worse, they call it their ‘Distribution Ethics Department.’”

“Really?” Blake asked. “That’s awful.”

Yang lowered her voice, intending her words for Blake’s ears only. “Weiss’ dad is the CEO. He’s full-on garbage.”

Blake looked a little surprised, but Weiss’ dark expression confirmed the truth of Yang’s words.

“She doesn’t like to talk about it,” Yang tacked on.

“Anyway, Blake, Pyrrha has a whole campaign against Dust and unhealthy dieting,” Ruby said. “Her channel’s all about body positivity. It’s so great!”

Pyrrha blushed. “You’re far too kind.”

“Sounds like important work,” Blake said, her voice soft but steely. “There’s so much insidious messaging out there that can hurt young people, especially girls and young women.”

“I--Yes! Exactly,” Pyrrha said. “Of course you would know all about this. I’m sure you’ve encountered such things in the cosmetics world.”

“Unfortunately.”

“Would you be interested in collaborating sometime? Honestly, I’d love to have you do my makeup while we talk about body image messaging,” Pyrrha laughed.

Blake shifted her weight to her other foot. “Oh, I...I’d have to ask my manager.”

“Of course. I understand,” Pyrrha said, taking out her phone. “Would you mind if I gave you my number? We can keep in--”

When she looked at her screen, her smile dropped.

She said nothing as she stared, her eyes widening.

Weiss moved her hand towards Pyrrha’s shoulder but pulled it back at the last second, opting to hover at a safe but nosy distance. “What’s wrong?”

All of the excitement at the table sublimated, suddenly displaced by a dreadful anticipation.

“Pyrrha?” Yang asked.

“My producer just...” Pyrrha trailed off.

Ruby gasped. “Jaune?”

“Did something happen to him?” Blake asked.

Pyrrha shook her head. “No, no. He’s quite alright. He just texted me. My channel’s been demonetized.”

“What?!” Weiss exclaimed a little louder than intended. Someone at a nearby table cleared their throat and shot her a glare, which Weiss returned with equal ferocity.

Suddenly, Ren and Nora were barreling towards them. Well, Nora was. Ren was taking his time gently pushing through the crowd, avoiding rustling too many feathers.

“This is ridiculous!” Nora announced.

“We know,” Weiss said. “It’s absolutely absurd.”

“You already heard?” Pyrrha asked.

Nora threw her arms around Pyrrha. “How dare you not let me congratulate you first!”

“Wait. What?”

Pyrrha rubbed Nora’s back for a moment before carefully extricating herself from the violent embrace. “I’m sorry, Nora. I didn’t see you when I came in.”

“Well, we did get a little distracted on our way to the buffet,” Nora admitted, waggling her eyebrows at Ren.

“Uh,” Yang began, “I don’t think this is the major issue at the moment.”

“What happened, Pyrrha?” Ren asked, inserting himself into a small space around the little table.

“Her channel just got demonetized.” Weiss crossed her arms, utterly indignant.

“WHAT?!” Nora shrieked.

“Agreed.”

Ren looked just as shocked despite his lack of an outburst “That’s...”

“INSANE!” Nora finished.

“Yes,” Ren agreed. “That. Though I might have chosen a more sensitive word.”

“Yes, yes, you’re right--but I’m ANGRY!”

“What are you going to do?” Blake jumped in, tapping Pyrrha on the arm.

“What can you do?” Yang said. “The same thing happened to Carmine Esclados last year.”

Ren thought about the name for a moment. “Who?”

“Exactly.”

Ruby gasped again.

“Everyone, stop,” Weiss insisted. “Obviously, this was a mistake. We’ll just contact YouTube and--”

Pyrrha’s phone rang. She picked it up right away. “Jaune?”

“Put it on speaker,” Yang said.

Weiss slapped her arm. “Don’t be an idiot. It’s way too loud in here.”

Everyone stood still, not one breath taken between them as Pyrrha listened.

Yang couldn’t help but notice the discrepancy between this call and Blake’s earlier one with Adam. Even under the most dire circumstances, Jaune wasn’t screaming at his colleague. If Yang ever met this Adam...well. She hoped for his sake that she never got the chance.

“Alright. Thank you,” Pyrrha finally said. Then she hung up.

Nora broke the silence. “Well?”

“Apparently my latest yoga tutorial was flagged for obscenity.”

Weiss scoffed. “What’s obscene about downward-facing dog?”

“Depends on the context...” Nora said. With a cutting look from Weiss, she stopped herself.

Next to Nora, Ren’s face turned a shade darker than the bright pink stripe in his hair.

While Pyrrha went over the details of the sudden spike in reports on her page, Yang was already thinking of possible solutions. She was tired from the long day, but she always had enough energy to help someone as good and kind as Pyrrha.

Whatever was going on, Yang was sure there was something shady involved. Popular channels didn’t just get uniformly shut down. One or two videos, maybe, if the person on camera forgot to edit out a name brand, used Taylor Swift’s music, or made the mistake of mentioning anything about being queer. Yang’s own coming out story had been demonetized, but she’d expected it on some level, and the feedback from fans telling her she’d inspired them to come out or helped them discover their own identities was worth infinitely more than any ad. Making videos was her job, sure, but that didn’t mean it was always about making money. Fashion vlogger Coco Adel, food photographer Velvet Scarlatina, and general chaosmongers Nora and Ren had gone out of their way to make their own videos supporting her after the whole thing, all of which suffered a similar fate under the questionable regulation.

And that gave Yang the perfect idea.

“...And then there was something about my pants being too tight.”

“Why would somebody complain about that?”

“Nora, now is so not the time.”

“Guys,” Yang broke in. “Let’s make a video.”

Ruby brightened. “That’s a great idea!”

“All of us standing up for Pyrrha? That’s way better than some boring VidCon vlog,” Nora said.

“We could film it at our house when we get back.” Ruby was practically bouncing.

“We’ll bring our lighting kit,” Ren offered.

“No. We’re doing this right now,” Yang clarified, already reaching for her phone in her back pocket.

Weiss stepped off to the side and held her hand out to take the phone. “I’ll film it.”

Yang pulled the phone away. “What? No, we should all be in it.”

“Come on!” Ruby urged.

“I’m not a celebrity,” Weiss said matter-of-factly.

“You are to me, Weiss!”

Weiss looked at Ruby like she’d just offered her some moldy fruit. She plucked Yang’s phone out of her hand. “No thank you. Now, everyone gather around Pyrrha. No, Pyrrha in the middle, Nora.”

Yang ended up on one end, flanking Pyrrha with Ren.

Blake had drifted a few steps from the group, but she was still watching everyone cluster up.

“Hey,” Yang said, splitting off as Nora and Ruby vied for the spot closest to Pyrrha on her other side. “You’re totally invited, you know.”

“Are you sure? It looks like Nora and Ruby are ready to start throwing punches to get a spot next to Pyrrha,” Blake laughed.

“Yeah, they get a little rowdy. But you can stand next to me if you want.”

Blake pursed her lips, thinking so hard Yang could almost hear it.

Yang backtracked, worried that she’d come on too strong like she always did. She rubbed the back of her neck with her prosthetic hand. “No pressure, though. You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to.”

The past few hours had been full of glitzy dresses and indulgent decor, but the quiet smile that blossomed on Blake’s face was by far the most beautiful thing Yang had seen all day. She glanced at the still-squabbling group and reached for Yang’s right hand. “I’d love to be in your video.”

Yang wondered what she’d find in those eyes if she didn’t force herself to look avert her gaze.

“Great,” she said. “Let’s do this.”

***

“Okay, wait. Pyrrha, you start.”

“Hello everyone!”

“WE’RE AT VIDCON!”

“Nora, please.”

“Can we get to the point already?”

“Weiss, you can’t say you don’t want to be in the video and then provide commentary.”

“What? Ren does it all the time.”

“That’s sort of our brand.”

“Anyway!”

“Thanks for keeping us focused, Ruby. As we were saying...”

“Pyrrha’s channel is in trouble! And we know you all love her as much as we do because she’s the nicest person in the whole universe, so...”

“We’re gonna do something about it.”

“Hell yeah we are!”

“...We don’t know what exactly we can do, though.”

“Way to be a downer, Ren.”

“It is sort of true.”

“Sigh. I guess you’re right.”

“Nora, did you just say ‘sigh’ out loud?”

“What did Yang say about the commentary, Weiss?!”

“Ah! Nora, you stepped on my foot.”

“Your foot stepped under mine.”

“So as we were saying.”

“Thank you, Blake. At least someone is keeping their priorities straight.”

“Straight? Sorry, Weiss, but I’m bisexual.”

“How is that possibly bad news?”

“If you must ask, Yang, now this video will be demonetized, too.”

“Which is what we’re here to talk about!”

“Yes, thank you, Ruby! We came to support Pyrrha and break legs, and--”

“ANYWAY.”

“Ah. Weiss is cranky. We need to get her back to the room so she can take a nap.”

“I swear to god, Yang, I will lock you out.”

“You can always crash with me.”

“Aw, thanks, Blake--”

“That’s it. You two, stop flirting. You’ve known each other for two hours. Nora, stop stepping on Ruby’s feet. Pyrrha, the floor is yours.”

“Wait. Is...is she crying?”

“I’m sorry. This has been such an overwhelming day and you’re all simply wonderful. And all of you out there, too. I wouldn’t have come this far without your support and it truly means the world to me.”

“Oh, Weiss, are you crying, too?”

“Shut up.”

“Tell my baby sister to shut up again and I’ll lock you out.”

“Alright, are we done y--wait, Yang what are you--get out of my face!”

“Everybody tweet #SavePyrrha, don’t forget to love yourselves, and go make a positive difference in the world. We love you! Goodnight!”

***

“Well. That was a complete mess,” Weiss said. “Let’s try again, shall we?”

“No! That was perfect!” Ruby exclaimed, dashing to snatch the phone from Weiss’ hand.

Yang snorted. “That was live on Instagram, Weiss. No do-overs. And no demonitization. Besides, it was awesome.”

Weiss crossed her arms with an indignant Hmph.

Nora stood in a wide stance, hands on her hips. “Man, it’s been so long since we did something totally unscripted. What a rush. I could jump over a building right now.”

“You guys plan your videos?” Yang asked. “I just turn the camera on and hope I catch myself sneezing or doing something else stupid.”

“I have scripts for all of mine,” Blake said.

“Yeah, but you actually have to remember stuff and, like, know what you’re talking about,” Yang said.

“I hope it comes across that way.”

“It does. You sound super smart.”

“Do I?”

Weiss slapped her palm against her forehead. “I can’t listen to this anymore. Ruby, let’s go.”

Pyrrha grabbed Weiss before she left, hugging her and saying something that made Weiss’ cheeks flush. Weiss smoothed out her dress as she headed for the elevators, Ruby happily following.

“I think we’re turning in as well,” Ren said. “Goodnight, everyone.”

He and Nora walked off, discussing whether jumping over buildings was a viable idea for a future stunt video. Ren seemed to be on board provided they could get the appropriate permits.

At the table, Pyrrha wrapped Yang and Blake in a tight hug. “Thank you both so much. What a splendid idea, Yang.”

“I hope it helps,” Yang muttered. “There’s no way your fans will let this slide. They won’t let Kassandra go down without a fight.”

Blake’s face betrayed confusion. “Kassandra?”

“Yeah, from Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Pyrrha was the body model for the character.”

Blake’s jaw dropped.

Pyrrha didn’t even try to hide her embarrassment. She ran her fingers through the end of her ponytail and offered a little smile. “That’s me.”

Yang chuckled to herself. “Man, I love seeing people’s reactions to that. Anyway, I guess poor Jaune’s gonna have a hell of a weekend.”

“I trust him to figure out what’s going on,” Pyrrha said with a tired smile.

“He’s got your back.”

“If you need anything else this weekend, you have my number,” Blake said. “Keep us posted, okay?”

With one last hug and several more words of gratitude, Pyrrha made her exit.

That left Yang and Blake alone--sort of.

The crowd at the party was thinning out, leaving the lobby significantly quieter than it had been hours before. Still, there was a buzz to the room, a constant reminder that they were being watched or overheard. There was always a risk of an unwelcome photograph or the wrong person listening in, and Yang wasn’t sure if she would ever get used to the feeling.

Yang needed to drag her mind away from its late-night attempts at anxious thoughts. Being around Blake didn’t exactly alleviate her nerves, but it was a much more pleasant kind of anxiety, full of anticipation and potential. “Sorry I didn’t include your slogan along with Pyrrha and Nora’s. I kinda don’t know it.”

Blake shook her head. “That’s really okay. All I do at the end of videos is say ‘That’s all from me! See you next week.’ It’s boring.”

“It’s cute,” Yang said without thinking. “Very...natural.”

“What?”

Yang stumbled over her explanation, which ended up being an absolutely terrible cover. “I mean, it’s cute when you say it. It’s straightforward, for sure. But...yeah.”

“What’s with everyone accusing me of being straight tonight?” Blake said, stifling a laugh deep in her chest. Yang wondered if she was feeling that same anxiety bubbling inside her ribcage, the kind that made thoughts like ‘it’s cute’ boil over without intention. Blake went on, her demeanor sobering. “Then again, I guess I never really talk about it in my videos. Anytime I mention something like that, it gets edited out.”

“I guess that’s good if you want to get paid.”

“I don’t know. Most of my videos are already sponsored by whatever product I’m using that day, so editing it out feels a little...”

Manipulative? Controlling? No, that was too much too soon. “Extra?” Yang tried.

“Yes.” Blake nodded once. “That.”

“Are you okay with that video being on my story?”

“I am.” Blake shrugged. “If Adam has a problem with it...”

“Then it’s his problem,” Yang finished. “It’s also none of his business.”

“I--Yes. You’re absolutely right.”

For what felt like the hundredth time, Yang was struck speechless by the way Blake was looking at her. Was this part of the allure, part of the image? It couldn’t be. Without too many flashing cameras around to bear witness, there was nothing sly or superior about this smile. It was quiet and contained, but maybe that was just the real Blake.

And maybe Yang liked that. She’d grown up with a loud father, a loud sister, a loud dog, and a loud personality of her own. So many of her important people outside of her immediate family were bold and brash in their own unique ways, including Weiss and Nora. Blake reminded Yang more of Ren or Pyrrha. Ren was soft, both in voice and demeanor, always ready to offer an open ear. Pyrrha’s presence was usually enough to turn heads, but being eternally humble meant that she wasn’t aware of the effect she could have just by walking into a room.

Now there was Blake. She wasn’t loud, but people listened when she spoke. Noise faded into nothing (though perhaps that was just in Yang’s imagination).

In that moment, Yang realized why she felt so comfortable and so nervous around Blake at the same time. Blake noticed things, and there was a good chance she’d already picked up on the fact that Yang hid behind her own facade. Hers might not be based on mystery and shadows; she could never pull that off convincingly. Yang used her bright smile the way Blake used her enigmatic smirk. Most people wouldn’t look too closely at the sun, content to receive its the warmth and light without ever considering just how lonely it might be.

Maybe Blake understood that. The moon spent every day hiding, didn’t it?

She seemed to always know just a little bit more than she was letting on. She was observant, that much was obvious. Deliberate and intentional, too, her flawless presentation a perfect distraction from whatever was buried underneath it.

What was she keeping under that shroud of elegance? Did she want to climb the slippery ladder of success without making disruptive waves? If not, what did she want?

These weren’t questions that belonged to 10:30 p.m. on a Friday night. They shouldn’t have been anywhere near the front of Yang’s mind, but here she was, meditating on when and how against a backdrop of gold.

It should have been terrifying to meet someone whose soul was so easy to see--oh, it’s you, I know you--but it was also a relief.

Maybe loneliness could become a worn-out habit instead of an inevitability.

What frightened Yang the most, as she stood by that neon blue cocktail table, was the fact that she wasn’t scared. How could she be thinking all of this about someone she’d just met? Why did she feel so certain that the same thoughts were swirling around Blake’s head, too?

Blake must have sensed Yang spiraling into the paradox of it all. She held Yang’s gaze steadily, ready to fall right along with her. So Yang decided to jump.

“Can I ask you something?” Yang started, barely whispering.

“Of course,” Blake answered.

If I wanted to give you the world, would you take it?

Yang thought through every option, a woman about to gleefully give away her soul to an unknown and enthralling devil. Finally, she settled on a question that wouldn’t quite feel like careening over a cliff. “How did Pyrrha end up with your number before me?”

It was less of a jump and more of a stumbling step forward, but it was enough to spark a glimmer in Blake’s eyes. “She asked.”

Yang leaned back against the table, elbows slipping with the blue linen. “Yeah, I guess that works if you wanna do it the boring way.”

“What’s the not-boring way?” Blake pushed.

“Can I walk you back to your room?” Yang asked.

Somehow, Blake was getting closer, too close for the hotel lobby at a convention where a considerable number of people had GoPros strapped to their bodies. “No. But you could walk me back to yours.”

“Yeah,” Yang breathed. She was so used to being the one leading, but there was something exhilarating about letting someone else pick their step. Blake was a waltz, graceful and practiced, but never predictable. Just when Yang thought she knew where they were going next, she was spinning in another direction altogether.

“Yang?” Blake sounded almost nervous--maybe she wasn’t as used to being in control as Yang thought.

Yang cleared her throat. “Oh, um. I would, but Ruby and Weiss are probably asleep already.”

Blake hummed in response. “Roommates. So inconvenient.”

“I guess...goodnight, then.”

“You can still drop me off at my door,” Blake proposed, less expectation behind the words than before.

Regardless, Yang beamed. “Okay.”

The elevator ride felt like an eternity, partly because of the old hotel’s dire need for renovations, but mostly because Yang had to fight the urge to take Blake’s hand or stare at her lips or press her back against the mirrored walls and melt against her. There were other people crammed in the car with them, enough that the elevator stopped on seemingly every other floor before arriving at 13.

Blake was apparently equally unprepared to say goodbye as she dragged Yang out of the lift by the hand.

And then they were standing in front of Blake’s room, the entire evening gone in a blink.

“This is me,” Blake said indicating room 1346.

“No, this is a door,” Yang teased.

Blake shoved her shoulder lightly. “You got famous with that sense of humor?”

“Oh, yeah. I got famous because of it.”

“Sorry, but dad jokes are a dealbreaker.”

“Dealbreaker?” Yang raised her eyebrows.

“Mhm.”

“Implying...” Yang trailed off, sure that Blake would the reins again.

Instead, Blake’s cheeks flushed and her gaze fell to the ground. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to assume anythi--”

“Blake.”

She looked up, meeting Yang’s eyes again.

“Look, I’m all for cute banter, but I guess...I’ll be honest, I don’t want this to be the last time I see you. Besides when I watch your videos, I mean, because I am totally going to subscribe when I get back to my room. I could really use some advice on my oily t-zone.”

Blake frowned, but fought off a smile. “Not the smoothest pickup line.”

“Would you prefer smooth? I can do that, too.”

“Really?”

“You don’t believe me?”

Blake’s expression was skeptical, one brow quirked up, lips neutral, barely parted. Yang wasn’t sure if it was an invitation or a challenge, but she wasn’t going to risk overstepping.

When Blake lifted her chin defiantly, though, a stray curl fell out of place and tumbled across her cheek.

Yang’s fingertips barely grazed Blake’s cheek as she guided the curl back, tucking it behind her ear as delicately as possible.

The dark hair was almost distractingly soft, and Yang narrowly remembered that she was on a mission to stay cool.

She let her thumb glide over smooth skin, fingers barely brushing against the hollow under Blake’s jaw.

As Yang let her hand fall away, Blake let out a rushed exhale, releasing a breath she’d apparently been holding a little too long.

“Sweet dreams, Blake,” Yang whispered, determined not to let their growing proximity throw her off.

Blake’s response danced in the inches between them. “Sweet dreams--”

The doorknob turned. They sprang apart as a man opened the door and filled the frame, his forearms leaning against the old wood, taking up as much space as possible.

It was the same red-haired jackass from the elevator.

When he saw Yang, his icy blue eyes grew even colder.

“You.”

With his sunglasses gone, Yang could see a puckered scar over his left eye, a burn whose shape she couldn’t quite make out.

Yang stared at him in disbelief, wondering how he could wrap a litany of accusations in a single, ordinary word. But of course someone who blocked elevator doors for fun would yell at his coworker for something completely outside of her control. Of course he would show up at the worst possible moment.

“Adam,” Blake sputtered.

“I heard talking,” he spat. “I was worried, Blake. Are you coming inside?”

“I--” Blake cut herself off with a bittersweet smile. “One minute.”

“Fine.” Adam pushed off the frame and disappeared into the room, but he left the door ajar.

Blake cast an apologetic look up at Yang. For the first time, Yang noticed that there was quite a gap between their heights.

Was Blake really this short? Maybe she’d been wearing heels earlier.

“I should go,” Blake said softly.

“Do you have breakfast plans?” Yang asked, keeping her voice down.

Blake seemed to shrink into herself even more. “I usually sleep through breakfast.”

“Brunch, then. Lunch, even. Whatever you want.” She hoped that a bright smile would be enough to distract from the intense undercurrent of that last thought.

Fortunately, that sparkle that Yang was quickly coming to adore returned to Blake’s eyes. “Brunch sounds good.”

“Great,” Yang said, making no effort to leave.

“Okay,” Blake replied, just as still.

In all the ways Yang thought this moment might end, there was a splintering, the eventual moment when she had to put distance between herself and Blake. It was too soon, she kept telling herself, to find loss in saying goodbye. But here she was, unwilling to be the one to break the moment. If it broke, would it ever come back together?

She knew she was probably grinning in a way that Ruby would lovingly describe as goofy, but she couldn’t help it.

Suddenly, Blake’s arms were around her.

Yang was stuck blinking at the wall for a second before wrapping her arms around Blake’s waist to return the embrace.

A small part of her said that this was nothing to dwell on. New friends hugged each other, right?

She knew it was a foolish thought, a last-ditch attempt to write off the instant pull she felt towards Blake’s very essence. This wasn’t some superficial attraction. She knew it too well. It was gravity, Yang thought, familiar and inescapable, pulling two bodies towards each other until they collided. And there they were, finally in each other’s orbit, in each other’s arms.

(It still wasn’t close enough.)

“Goodnight,” Blake whispered against the shell of Yang’s ear, and Yang understood how it might feel to be struck by lightning.

Just as quickly as Blake had latched on, she let go and ducked into her room. The door clicked shut behind her.

Yang took a moment to acknowledge that she wasn’t dreaming. She leaned back against the wall, hands behind her head--and realized just too late that they hadn’t picked a time for brunch.

***

When Blake entered the suite, she wasn’t expecting to find it completely overturned. The couch cushions were scattered about the small living room, drawers were barely half-closed, and even the cabinets in the kitchenette were hanging open.

“Did someone break in?” Blake asked, taking in the scene.

“Of course not. Don’t you think I would have told you?” Adam replied. He sat down at the desk in one of the few corners that wasn’t disturbed. He refused to book any hotel room unless it was a suite, claiming that he needed the extra space to set up his own quiet work station. And you snore, he’d informed Blake.

Blake took a few steps towards him. “So what happened?”

“I was looking for my external hard drive.” He tapped a slim, metallic rectangle next to his laptop. “Good news.”

“Glad you found it. I’m going to sleep,” Blake said, flinching at her own tone. If she’d noticed how irritated she sounded, he would, too.

“What?”

Blake went into the bedroom to change, hoping against reason that it would stop whatever argument was likely brewing. They’d already gone at it twice that day, and she was beyond exhausted just from the convention activities. Nothing good ever came from their arguments, and Blake wasn’t sure she liked making up any better.

She found her own suitcase overturned on the bed.

“I said I had good news.”

Blake jumped when she heard Adam’s voice from the door right behind her. She hoped he hadn’t noticed.

“Are you going to ask me what it is?” Adam pushed.

She rolled her eyes as she turned to face him. “I thought you were talking about your hard drive.”

“You have to listen better,” he said, a gentle tone masking his harsh words. They were ones Blake had heard before, more often than not in a raised voice.

Blake was torn--she wanted to ask why exactly her belongings were strewn across the sheets, but she knew that bringing it up would only push him closer to snapping. Did he honestly believe that he’d packed his hard drive in Blake’s suitcase by accident? No. Adam didn’t make mistakes. If she asked anything even mildly incriminating, he would back himself into a corner and claim that she’d caged him there.

“What’s the good news?” Blake sat on the edge of the bed and used what little energy she had left to feign interest in the answer.

Adam straightened, puffing out his chest. “A headhunter reached out to me from a very well-known corporation.”

“Well-known enough that you can’t say what company it is?” Blake guessed.

“Now you’re getting it,” Adam said. “They asked me to sign a non-competitive contract as their chief commercial editor.”

“That’s great, Adam. Congratulations.” Evaluating her own response, she was confident that she sounded supportive and happy enough for the conversation to end there. But as she got up to dig her pajamas out of the mess of clothes, his firm hand caught her by the shoulder.

“Thank you, Blake,” he said. “There’s something I need to ask you.”

“Can it wait until tomorrow? I’m really, really tired.”

“Maybe you shouldn’t have stayed out so late.” He said it calmly, but Blake could feel the subtle snarl behind his words. He didn’t like it when she spent time with other people alone, especially people he didn’t know. Especially people like Yang, who rivaled his magnetism without burning half as much fuel.

Blake sat down again and looked up at him, waiting. “What is it?”

“I saw the video your new friend posted,” Adam started. “It could be a problem.”

They’d had this conversation before. Every time Blake said something about sexuality in her videos, he sat her down and walked her through the many, many reasons why that was bad for her brand. It could compromise her career, he said. And where would that leave him, her editor and first fan?

She stayed quiet. It was a touchy subject to being with, and she wasn’t sure yet which version of Adam she was dealing with.

He sat next to her and placed a hand on her back. So tonight was Calm Adam--Blake’s least favorite after Furious. It was dangerously easy to listen to what he had to say when he was playing nice. “You know I support you. I’ve always supported you.” He paused.

He wanted confirmation, so she nodded.

Adam went on. “Pyrrha Nikos has a history of speaking out on issues she knows nothing about. Now that I’m working for a big company, I need you to be more careful about who you associate with. I can’t have other people’s politics affecting my opportunities.”

She very nearly pointed out the irony that he’d spent five years working for her father’s non-profit civil rights group and gotten all of his opportunities as a result, but she held her tongue. Instead, she asked what she hoped would be a harmless question. “So you already took the job?”

“We finalized everything an hour ago.” He frowned. “I thought you’d be happier for me.”

Blake couldn’t take it. “That’s why you missed the awards ceremony?”

Some switch flipped in him, his eyes going cold. Calm Adam was gone in a flash. “You’re right. I should have been there. Maybe I could have stopped you from making such a stupid, selfish mistake.”

Blake stood up. “What mistake, Adam? Coming out publicly? Meeting Pyrrha? Talking to Yang?”

He froze. “Who’s Yang?”

“No one,” Blake backtracked, mentally kicking herself. “Just someone I met at the afterparty.”

“The girl who walked you up here.” He wasn’t asking.

Blake had to fight every instinct she had telling her run out of the room. It wasn’t like she had somewhere else to go--he would lock her out until she apologized for leaving, for acting childish.

“Tell me about her,” he insisted.

“I’m tired, Adam,” Blake said, making for the door.

As predictably as ever, he stepped into her path.

“Blake,” he started, taking her hand less roughly than she’d expected. “I want you to feel like you can tell me things.”

“I do tell you things.” She could feel her lungs burning with the breath she was holding. Even expired air was too much to give him.

“Figuring out this new job has been stressful. I need to feel like you trust me.”

If she didn’t say something soon, he’d take her silence as an invitation.

He stepped closer. “I know I’ve been busy, and I know I said I wanted to focus on my career. But now that everything is settled, I think we should be together. For real this time.”

Blake felt her eyebrows shoot up involuntarily. “I--is that what you wanted to ask me?” She dodged.

Their history was nothing if not complicated, on-and-off, but never official in any capacity. When he’d started at Menagerie United, he’d been a charming, deep, talented recruit straight out of college. Blake, still finishing her last year of high school, thought he was the most interesting person she’d ever met. He cared about real issues, not gossip and petty drama, and he wanted to used his media skills to help people. Most everyone else working at the organization was around Blake’s parents’ ages, so she naturally ended up spending time with Adam at rallies and events.

In his words, it was more important for her to focus on college while he established himself in his field, but he promised he’d wait for her.

Now, apparently, he was done waiting.

She knew Adam--she knew he only acted impulsively when he felt threatened. The way his gaze flickered nervously, searching every part of her face for an answer, was enough to tip her off. Her earlier thought had been correct: he didn’t like Yang, and he hated that Blake did.

Blake slowly pulled away from his hold, shaking her head. “It’s almost 2am.”

His nostrils flared. Blake was fairly certain that he wouldn’t risk getting them kicked out of a convention suite for making too much noise at this hour, but she wanted to be sure.

Hoping to settle him, she patted his chest. “We can talk about it after this weekend is done, okay?”

“You don’t have to sleep on the couch,” he offered. An invitation laced with barbed wire.

She barely paused to grab pajamas from the messy pile of clothes, making sure to take her own shirt and not one of the many belonging to Adam that had migrated into her wardrobe. Then she continued out of the bedroom. “It’s fine. It’s actually comfortable.”

How many times had she lied to him? For him?

Once she’d put the cushions back, she plugged her phone in to charge and settled onto the couch. To her surprise, she had several new messages. Both Ren and Nora had messaged her on Instagram saying how nice it was to meet her, and Pyrrha had done the same via text. Blake had four more messages from a rather strangely named contact.

Human Traffic Cone

hey :D

oh shit i just remembered how i saved my name in your phone

it’s yang!

what time’s good for brunch??

Blake couldn’t help but smile at her screen.

Blake Belladonna

12?

Human Traffic Cone

perfect

Blake Belladonna

See you then.

Human Traffic Cone

i’ll be sure to wear extra neon so u can find me

Blake bit her lip. It was probably not appropriate to be messaging someone you’d only recently met at 2 o’clock in the morning, and it was definitely not appropriate to consider sending that person things that could be construed as, say, mildly flirtatious. And yet...

Blake Belladonna

You’re pretty hard to miss.

Human Traffic Cone

have you looked in a mirror?

...Well. At least they were on the same page.

Blake Belladonna

And I thought your other lines were cheesy.

Human Traffic Cone

that’s why they call me cheddar

Blake laughed out loud.

Human Traffic Cone

i’m so sorry. that was bad even for me

i blame the 2 am

Blake Belladonna

No worries. I’ve edited your contact appropriately.

Cheddar

wow u just get me

Yes, it was probably supposed to be a joke. Still, Blake felt a distinct warmth blossom between her ribs. If Yang could make her feel that way with a ridiculous, throwaway comment, Blake wasn’t sure how long she’d survive brunch without combusting. With the way the conversation was already going, she might not even make it to brunch.

Blake Belladonna

It was nice to meet you, Yang

Cheddar

you too!

now i must brie off to sleep

i camembert to keep my eyes open

Blake Belladonna

Goodnight, you weirdo

Cheddar

think you mean goudanight ;)

Blake smacked her forehead and failed to hide her smile from herself. Oh, she was already a lost cause, wasn’t she?

***