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body language will do the trick

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5:30 in the morning is, normally, a peaceful time for Weiss.  The gym in her building is mostly treadmills and ellipticals, a stretching area with just enough room for two people to avoid bumping into each other, a yoga studio because hipsters need them like they need air apparently , one barbell set and cage and most of a set of dumbbells.  It’s a decent sized building, but most of the neighbors are twee hipsters with LinkedIn profiles that list jobs like Digital Product Manager for startups that have been around for eight months or Content Designer for some Instagram influencer or another, and not a one of them ever stumbles down into the gym before nine, and none of them ever use the weights.

5:30 is her time, and she has the weights to herself, except she stops dead in the doorway this morning because some blonde behemoth is deadlifting three hundred pounds right in the middle of Weiss’s gym and it’s annoying .  She’s got headphones in, pausing after every rep to reset her hands on the bar and feet on the floor, hips shifting in time with music Weiss can’t hear, before she settles and then lifts again, and if Weiss was less irritated that her entire routine-- weights and heavy bag in the morning, cardio before the evening crowd shows up-- has just been completely disrupted, she’d acknowledge that the perfect form is, in fact, extremely appealing to witness.

“Excuse me,” she says politely, her own headphones in hand, because she can be polite even when sixteen years of muay thai and a lifetime of temper are burning in her knuckles.  “Are you almost finished?”

She’s rewarded with a raised eyebrow and a flash of irritation, and Weiss folds her arms over her chest because she’s been coming here at the same time for three years, thank you very much.  Wraps unwind from the bar, and the blonde straightens up, towering over Weiss with broad shoulders as she mirrors Weiss’s posture, headphones dangling around her neck.

“Fifteen minutes, give or take,” she finally says, looking Weiss up and down.

“Fifteen?” Weiss gapes, glancing at the clock as if she doesn’t know exactly what time it is.  Fifteen minutes will completely derail her schedule for the morning.  “I--”

“It’s a shared gym.”  Enormous shoulders shrug, a wolfish grin, smug and infuriating, flashing at her, and irritation boils over into something more dangerous in Weiss’s chest.  “Get here earlier next time, I guess?”

“I’ve been coming here at the same time for years --”

“Shared gym,” she says again, waving one arm lazily.  “I don’t see your name anywhere here.”

Her name is, in fact, everywhere, because Weiss owns the gym  She owns the building; she owns this entire six block radius of Bushwick, bought up with her father’s money in a fit of pique, before she and her sister turned his own board against him and forced him out of the company, just to watch his face to turn purple when she put a century-long rent lock on every single piece of property and and every ironclad legal protection for the tenants in that she could, because she may have every inch of his grotesque temper running through her veins and not enough lifetimes left to undo the damage he did to the world, but she can try.  She owns every piece of equipment in the gym and she has thousands of pages of legal documents to prove it to this oversized heathen with the impressive biceps, but that way lies trouble, and instead she inhales her temper and exhales an irritable sigh.

“I don’t need the bar,” she says, because she doesn’t, because she’s strong, yes, but she’s small and she prefers dumbbells and bodyweight workouts to barbells, and mostly she just needs the bench and the cage for pullups.  “I just need the frame.”

There’s only so much room in the weights section, and it’s technically possible to deadlift further out from the cage, but it’s not ideal, and Weiss watches as a frown spreads and then flashes away.

“Fine.”  She huffs out a dramatic sigh but flashes a more dramatic wink at Weiss, rolling the overloaded bar further away and nearly crashing it into the mirrors on the opposite wall as she does-- Weiss holds her breath because she does not feel like paying to have those replaced this month-- and then bows gallantly, like some 21st century knight in Lululemon and a Kesha t-shirt.

“Thank you,” Weiss says, not at all grateful, because she’s been using this gym at the exact same time for three years and this behemoth of a woman could at least pretend that she doesn’t own the place when Weiss is the one who does, in fact, own the place.  Weiss slaps her headphones back into her ears and turns her music up, sniffing pretentiously and studiously ignoring the other woman for the rest of the morning, absolutely not knocking every exercise up by ten pounds or doing twice as many pullups as she normally does.

If it winds up with the hulk dropping a 45 pound weight plate almost on her foot as she re-racks the weights at the end of her set because she’s not-subtly watching Weiss do pullups in the mirror then, well.  Payback’s a bitch.  The extra pullups will hurt by the time she makes it to the heavy bag, but it’s worth it for the way the embarrassed flush highlights the dusting of freckles on the blonde’s cheeks.

Even so, when she makes it back upstairs, Weiss sets her alarm to an hour earlier for tomorrow.

 


 

Blake doesn’t like the gym in her building.  It’s too small for her tastes, but it’s dead empty at 4:30 in the morning, just like basically everything else in the world, and since the gym nearby converted into some yoga-pilates-nonsense thing, she’s left with either trekking into Manhattan earlier than she’d like to find a heavy bag and weights, or using the one in the building.  

It’s too small, but it works. She can get in an out, managing a brisk weights workout and ten minutes on the bag-- less than she’d like but enough to keep her form in-- and still make it out in time to head out for a run by 5:30, brushing past the cute but forever angry looking girl with white hair who’s always walking in as Blake’s walking out.

It works, until suddenly the cute grump is showing up five minutes after her, angrier than ever, and Blake’s sharing space with someone who looks ready to murder her because there’s only one weight bench.

“Unbelievable,” the other girl mutters.

Blake bristles, hands on her hips and one headphone out, ready for a fight because there’s very little else to do at 4:30 in the morning.  “Sorry?”

“What?” 

She’s rewarded with a blink and a shake of the head, as if she’d forgotten Blake was there, and Blake’s shoulder relax.  Maybe this won’t be a fight.

“I’m sorry,” the other woman says.  “I-- normally come later, but someone’s started showing up and taking over, so I decided to come in earlier and--”

“Right,” Blake says with a sigh, rubbing at her forehead.  “I--we can work around each other.  I mostly just need the dumbbells and the heavy bag.  Shouldn’t be too much overlap, right?”

It’s the absolute wrong thing to say, apparently, because a dark anger flickers across the other woman’s face, arms folding across her chest and mouth setting into a firm line.  There’s a faint scar dragging straight down over one eye, visible but subtle, but the sudden tension snapping her whole body-- lean rigid lines of muscle standing sharp and angry under well-worn workout clothes-- pulls it tight and paler than the rest of her face, and Blake nearly takes a full step back.

“I also need the heavy bag,” she says, voice light and easy and unequivocally terrifying, and Blake barely registers the words because she’s fully convinced that she’s about to be struck by lightning.

“I-- sorry?”

“I also use the heavy bag,” she says, hands now on her hips.  She tilts her chin towards the well-worn bag in the corner and then down towards the bag at her feet, and Blake blinks down at the lazily wound-up handwraps shoved into the end pocket, well used and worn.

“Oh,” Blake says stupidly, because she’s been underestimated before, because she knows how it feels, because it’s 4:30 in the morning and her day’s now off to an excellent start.  “Um.  Sorry.  I shouldn’t have--”

“I do weights first,” the other woman informs her briskly, coldly.  “It normally takes me 25 minutes.  You can use the bag til then.”  

“Yes ma’am, your majesty,” Blake mutters, annoyance building in her stomach because sure, she stuck her foot in her mouth but the brush off of her apology hadn’t exactly been warranted either.  She’s ignored, an expensive set of headphones tucked into the other woman’s ears as she stalks over to the dumbbell racks, and Blake sets to wrapping her own hands.

She wails away at the bag, throwing her frustrations-- at work, at her preferred gym closing down, at this stupid tiny apartment gym, at the annoyingly cute girl who’s ten feet away knocking out a circuit of pushups and planks and fingertip pullups like some kind of bodyweight wizard-- until sweat’s dripping down her back and off her nose, until there’s the sound of a clearing throat from the other side of the too-small room.  She could keep going, plenty of irritation still burning in her muscles, but the dumbbells are re-racked and the other woman is wrapping her hands, quickly and expertly, and Blake sighs and pulls at one the straps on one of her gloves with her teeth.

“We could share,” she offers, knowing she’ll be turned down.

“No, thank you.”  It’s polite in name only, curt and short, and Blake sighs again.

“Sure would be nice if there was more than one bag in this stupid gym,” she mumbles, yanking her gloves off and stretching her arms with a groan.

“The building structure won’t support it,” isn’t the answer she’s expecting, much less in an automatic and bored tone as one white wrap is tucked neatly around a wrist, the other started briskly, expertly.  “The ceiling would need to be taken apart and reinforced.”

“Yeah, well, maybe if our miserly old landlord gave a shit about it, they’d do it,” Blake says with a groan.  She’s met with an unimpressed stare and sighs, dumps her wraps into her bag with her gloves, digs her headphones out.  “Have fun.”

She won’t need a run after that much work on the heavy bag, and she finishes her weights workout with one eye on the precise strikes the other woman throws at the heavy bag, hard and perfect and exacting every time.  She ends up leaving ten minutes earlier than she normally would have and nearly walks into a winking and obnoxiously charming blonde wall on her way out, too caught up in imaging sixteen different and better ways she could’ve handled the conversation earlier.

By the time she makes it into the elevator she’s flushed from embarrassment more than exhaustion and she groans and drops her head back against the wall as the doors slide shut.  Today’s garbage , and she still has an hour on the train before she even gets into work.

 


 

Yang’s tired-- so tired-- when she gets home from the library finally, after project mishaps and train delays and trudging an extra eight blocks home because the train decided to skip her stop for some godforsaken reason, and all she wants to do is crash into her bed and sleep for sixteen years, but instead she has to go for a run because it’s late and the stupid building gym is closed so she can’t use the treadmill like she’d intended.  

She slumps onto the couch, staring balefully at the ceiling, and considers if she really needs to go for the run.  She could skip just this once; she’s hit every other workout this week, and her next fight isn’t for another week, and it’s not like this is a sanctioned fight.  She knows what she’s up against and she’s just in it for the cash, filling the gaps in her scholarship and funneling the rest to her sister’s tuition.  

Sighing, she toes out of her boots and shuffles into the bedroom, hunting down a clean pair of shorts and a t-shirt to change into.  She shoves half a granola bar into her mouth and plops down on the floor by the front door to tie her running shoes, wondering why she doesn’t switch her workouts to cardio in the morning so she can come home and punch a heavy bag and pretend it’s her asshole dissertation advisor instead.

Objectively, it’s because she never makes it home before the stupid apartment gym closes, and this miraculously rent-controlled, surprisingly nice building is the only one she could find on the right subway line, so she has to make do with the cramped gym.  She pops up to her feet and pockets her keys, shoves her phone into an armband and headphones into her ears, and sets off to the elevator, bouncing on her toes on the way down in an attempt to wake herself up more.

She’s halfway out the lobby when a flash of movement and sound catches her attention, and she pauses, yanking one headphone out and tilting her head towards the gym.  There’s a light on inside, even though it’s been shut down for an hour, ostensibly, and what sounds like someone going at the heavy bag like it owes them money.

Yang casts a glance down at the time-- it’s late and she has to be up by five-- and then, because she’s an idiot with more curiosity than brains, like always, pushes the gym door open and finds herself staring at the woman with the white hair who’d bitched at her for using the gym at 5:30 in the morning two weeks ago, absolutely beating the shit out of the heavy bag.

She knows what she’s doing.  She really knows what she’s doing.  Yang’s been fighting off the books since undergrad, since a bar fight sent her stumbling into the worst-organized underground fighting ring in the city, one she can slide in and out of at will whenever she needs money; she knows enough to know that even though she’s probably got forty pounds of muscle on this woman she’s not a hundred percent sure she could land a hit on her, with how fast she moves.  She folds her arms over her chest, leaning against the doorframe and staring unashamedly at the clean lines of her strikes, the textbook precision of every kick.

“Gym’s closed, you know,” Yang says eventually, and all movement freezes, fist stopping an inch from the bag and a white ponytail whipping around.

“What?”

“Gym’s closed,” Yang echoes.  She taps the closed door behind her where the hours are printed.  “You didn’t strike me as much of a rule breaker, princess.”

She scowls, swiping at her forehead with one wrapped hand.  “I have a key.”

“If you can come in whenever you want,” Yang drawls out.  “Then why be so cranky about me needing the free weights at the same time?”

It earns her a darker glare, and Yang grins broadly, and this is not what she needs to be doing right now, but it’s fun.  So sue her.  She steps further into the gym, winding around the dumbbell racks and mats and holding a hand out.

“I’m Yang,” she offers.  

A long moment passes, Yang holding her hand out as the moment stretches out just past this side of awkward before the other woman shakes it, wraps sweaty but grip firm.  

“Weiss,” she finally says.  

“That bag owe you money, Weiss?” Yang says, reclaiming her hand and shoving both of hers into her pockets.  

“What?”  She blinks, looking over her shoulder at the bag as if it hadn’t been there, as if she hadn’t just been beating it to a pulp fifteen seconds ago.

“You were going at it pretty hard.”  Yang shrugs.  

“Oh.”  Weiss glances down at her wrapped hands, clears her throat.  “I just had a long day.”

“Yeah, I know the feeling,”  Yang says, pauses, considers ending it there and going for her run, and then slaps her foot straight into her mouth instead.  “You’re pretty decent, you know.”

Weiss’s eyebrow arches straight upwards, posture sharpening, and Yang’s stomach drops into the floor because she’s not sure what it is, precisely, that she just did but she’s absolutely sure it was dumb.

“Decent,” Weiss repeats slowly.  “That’s...benevolent of you to say.  With all of your presumed experience.”

“Hey,” Yang says defensively.  “I’ve been in a lot of fights, you know.”

“Oh, really?” Weiss folds her arms over her chest, eyebrow lifting so high Yang’s certain it’s going to detach from her body and shoot right into the stratosphere.  “What, bar fights?”

“No!” Yangs says, and then immediately flushes.  “I mean, well, yes, but also like-- MMA fights.”

Weiss’s expression shifts, the whole room seeming to slide to one side, and Yang should be outside on a run, prepping for a fight and thinking through what she has in the fridge to cook for tonight and going over her dissertation in her head yet again, but she’s here with some stranger and for some reason she’s absolutely giddy with uncertainty at the way Weiss is looking at her.

“Is that so,” Weiss murmurs, and Yang isn’t sure what it is that Weiss means by that but she does know that her entire body reacted to it in a way that she absolutely does not want to admit to.

“Uh,” she says stupidly, because she’s a year away from a doctorate and it’s somehow the best she can come up with.

“You moved in recently, right?” Weiss says, and Yang blinks at the whiplash.

“Yes?”

“You like to use the weight room at 5:30.”

“Yeah?”

“So do I.”  Weiss settles her hands on her hips, and she’s small but somehow her shoulders look enormously broad, which is absurd because Yang knows that her own shoulders are approximately eighteen times wider and that she could probably deadlift Weiss at least twice over, but Weiss is all compact lines of wiry muscle and, well, shit, Yang’s only been in this building for a few months and mostly she’s just crushed on the hot girl who’s leaving the gym when Yang arrives every morning, dark sweaty hair and darky sweaty skin and golden bright eyes, graceful and lean and quiet, but now Weiss has completely turned Yang completely inside out in about three minutes flat.  

“I’ll fight you for it,” Weiss says, and Yang nearly falls over.

“What?”  

“I’ll fight you for the weight room at 5:30,” Weiss says, as if that’s not the most absurd thing Yang’s heard in the entirety of her life on this stupid planet.

“What?” Yang says again.  “Did you just-- what?”  She shakes her head like a dog, as if her ears are clogged, because surely Weiss isn’t suggesting what she thinks.  “We can’t--”

“Why not?” Weiss says snidely.

“You’re--” Yang cuts herself off, gesturing wildly at Weiss, all five foot nothing of her, and then back at herself, the eight inches and forty pounds at least that she has at her.  “You weigh like sixteen pounds!”

“I’ve been doing muay thai since I was four,” Weiss informs her.  “I’m a black belt in jiu jitsu.”

Yang gapes at her, like a supremely stupid fish, because she’s absolutely not thinking about the myriad of ways a black belt in jiu jitsu could be fun in things that are not jiu jitsu.

“What, are you scared?” 

Yang’s known Weiss for all of seven minutes and still she’s fully aware that she’s being baited, but she gapes at Weiss and then lets out an annoyed huff, yanking at the velcro on her armband and pointing at the gym bag by Weiss’s feet.

“Got any more wraps?”

Weiss smiles, smug and infuriating, and Yang is going to win this fight and knock that smug smile off her face and then take her out on a date, because that’s how she rolls.  She catches the wraps Weiss tosses to her and follows her to the yoga studio, toeing out of her running shoe and hopping on one foot and then the other to get out of her socks.

She wraps her hands quickly-- the wraps are shorter than the ones she normally uses, leaving her knuckles less padded than usual, but this is hardly an orthodox situation, and they’re clearly not fighting to knockout, so it should be fine-- and cracks her neck, watching as Weiss wipes at the back of her neck, still sweaty from going at the heavy bag.

“Should we lay down some ground rules?” Yang stretches one arm across her front, then the other.  

Weiss tilts her head towards the mirrors surrounding the room.  “Stay away from those. Nothing to the back of the head.  Maybe careful with the face shots, since we don’t have mouthguards and I don’t feel like paying for dental work this month.”

Yang hums in agreement, shaking her arms out and throwing out a few lazy punches.  “Two minute rounds?”

Weiss shrugs and nods, crouches by her bag and sets a timer on her phone.

“Also,” Yang adds, picking lazily at an edge on her wraps.  “You can have the 5:30 slot.”

She settles into an easy stance in the center of the room on the balls of her feet, fists up and waiting for Weiss, who stares at her.  

“What?”  She meets Yang in the middle anyways, hands up automatically.

“If I win though,” Yang tosses out a lazy jab, wide and slow, smiling wide when Weiss doesn’t even bother trying to dodge it.  “I get to make you dinner sometime.”

Weiss circles slowly, throwing a few easy hits of her own, probing Yang’s guard, eyes narrowed.  “Like a date?”  She dances back out of Yang’s reach when Yang throws the first real punch of the night, slides back in under it and lands a hit, hard enough to sting but not enough to hurt, low on Yang’s ribcage.  “You don’t even know me.”

“Like whatever you want it to be.”  Yang tags her shoulder with a cross and blows a kiss over her guard when Weiss grunts in annoyance, though it’s hard to tell if it’s from the hit or Yang in general.  “But like a date would be legit, not gonna lie.”

Weiss stares at her appraisingly, not answering for long seconds as the trade testing blows.  She sends a flurry of punches towards Yang’s face, not hard enough to hurt her but enough for her to hunch into her guard, and is rewarded with the wind bursting out of her when Weiss’s knee slams up into her stomach.

“Sloppy,” Weiss says, cocky and smirking as she adds a cross to Yang’s jaw to the hit, the way she pulls it up at the last minute adding insult to injury, as does the way she blows a kiss just like Yang had earlier.  “Date’s fine.  If you win.”

Yang dabs at her sore jaw and grins, settling back into her guard.  This is going to be fun.

 


 

Blake loves her apartment, she really does: the rent is absurdly cheap, the building is surprisingly nice, she’s never had an issue with management, her neighbors are mostly fine, it’s on the right subway line even though it’s still an hour into Manhattan to get to her office.  She even has a tiny balcony with a sliver of the Manhattan skyline to look at from her bedroom.  She loves it, she really does, but that hour-long commute can turn into a two hour one when the L train goes sideways, and the L train goes sideways all the time these days, and she finds herself trudging home at nearly midnight after a twelve-hour day at the cramped nonprofit office she spends her thankless days at, and she loves it a little less because she could’ve been home an hour ago if she lived closer to work.

It also didn’t help that her headphones died halfway home and she’d been left listening to a subway preacher for six stops.  Her patience has limits.

Her dead headphones mean that she can hear her own footsteps ringing in the empty lobby when she steps inside, the echo of the door shutting; she doesn’t even notice the light from the gym, which should be dark and empty, until she hears the unmistakable sound of a fist hitting flesh and freezes in place, bag dangling from her fingertips and eyes wide.

There’s a grunt and then she hears it again, and her hands curl into fists, adrenaline and the last four years-- of recovery, of therapy, of beating her fists raw in MMA gyms just to wrest back some feeling of control from the helplessness she’d felt under the thumb of an abusive ex-boyfriend-- swell over her, and before she can compute it she’s through the gym door, footsteps silent on the rubber floors.

The weight room is empty, the heavy bag rocking minutely on its chain.  She hears another fist hit home from the yoga studio and creeps closer, leaving her bag silently on the floor and peers through the door in time to see the blonde wall she’d bumped into once, an enormous behemoth of muscle, throw a punch at the absolutely petite white haired girl who Blake had butted heads with once.

“Hey!” Blake yells out without meaning to, moving before she knows what she’s doing, adrenaline humming in her veins, and the smaller woman looks over at her, guard dropping, and immediately gets smashed in the side of the face for it.  Blake launches herself forward, tackling the blonde woman to the ground and locking her into a submission hold that has her grunting in pain.  

“Are you okay?” Blake says with a grunt, staring wide-eyed at the other woman, who’s crouched down next to them, one hand on her face as she gasps out a curse.

“What’s wrong with you?” she grinds out, glaring at Blake.

“What’s wrong with me ?” Blake says incredulously.

“Hey,” comes out from under Blake, a hand slapping uselessly on the hardwood floor.  “Tapping out, tapping out, oh my God.”

“Let her go!”  There’s going to be a violent bruise on the other woman’s face, but she seems unconcerned, fury snapping in her eyes as she fully grapples Blake right out of her own side control and then shoves her away.

“Fine, Jesus, okay,” Blake mutters, dropping back to sit and hold her hands out, breathing heavily.  “What the hell are you--”

“We were sparring,” is all she gets as an answer.  “Yang, are you okay?”

“I’m fine,” Yang says, even as she winces and rotates her shoulder.  “Nothing broken.  Just my dignity.”

“Hey,” Blake says indignantly.  

“That was a textbook hold.”  She shoots Blake a reluctantly impressed look, even as she rotates Yang’s arm for her.  “Not that it was necessary.”

“Well excuse me for caring that it looked like someone twice your size was going to beat the shit out of you,” Blake grumbles.

Yang raises an eyebrow at her, and Blake flushes, because Yang is solid muscle and Blake got a drop on her, sure, but she’s pretty sure in a fair fight Yang would’ve flattened her.  It doesn’t help that Yang is hot, all bright eyes and bright hair and broad lines of muscle, and she clearly knows it, winking at Blake even as she lets her arm be rotated carefully by another woman.

“Thank you.”  It’s quiet, and there’s no eye contact, nothing to directly acknowledge that she’s even speaking directly to Blake, her focus still entirely on Yang’s arm, strands of white hair coming loose from her braid and cheeks flushing in a way that seems wholly distinct from the sparring match Blake had interrupted, but she glances obliquely over to Blake.  “I-- can see why you might have thought that.  I appreciate the sentiment.”

“Even though it got you punched in the face?”

“Even though it got me punched in the face.”  She settles down to sit between them, arms wrapped around her knees, and then offers a hand to Blake.  “My name’s Weiss.”

“Blake.”  She shakes her hand, then Yang’s.  “Why were you brawling in the yoga studio at midnight?”

“We weren’t brawling ,” Weiss says primly.

“Totally brawling,” Yang says, digging an elbow into Weiss’s side and smiling broadly when Weiss swats at her arm.  “Winner takes all fight for rights to the 5:30 slot in the weight room.”

Blake blinks, head tilting to one side, thinking back to when she’d run into Weiss in the gym, pieces slotting together.  “Oh,” she says.

“I like to work out alone,” Weiss says defensively.  “I’ve lived here for years and before you two I never had to worry about anyone showing up early, you know.”

“My old gym became a pilates studio last month,” Blake says with a shrug.

“I just moved in.”  Yang shrugs as well.  “I figured a place with rent control like this, with a relatively straight shot to campus?  I could deal with the tiny gym.”

“You’re in school?” Weiss blinks at her.

“Grad school,” Yang says, waving one hand dismissively.  “Are we calling this a draw for the evening?  Because if we are, I could use a drink.  I’m willing to share, if y’all don’t mind that I’ve only unpacked like two and a half boxes since I moved in.”

“I have wine,” Weiss offers after a moment, almost shyly, as if she hadn’t just been fighting Yang evenly, hadn’t just snapped Blake into a hold that nearly broke her arm.

“Works for me,” Blake says with a shrug, because why not.  It’s Friday and she’d planned on going into the office tomorrow, but she doesn’t have to, so why not get wine drunk with two hot strangers who she’s been in unreasonably close physical quarters to already.  

Yang rocks up to her feet, offering a hand to pull each of them up, and Blake flushes but lets herself be helped up.  She gathers her bag from where she’d left it, hefting it over her shoulder, and waits, fiddling with the cuff on her jacket, as they gather their things.  It’s awkwardly silent as they wait for the elevator, until Yang clears her throat.

“So,” she says.  “Weiss.  How long have you lived here?”

“Oh,” Weiss says, flushing delicately.  “Three years, give or take.”

“Do you know anything about the mysterious landlord no one’s ever met?”  Yang follows them into the elevator, tucking her hands into her pockets and leaning against the door as it slides shut.  

“You mean the reason we have the tiniest gym in the world that’s nothing but treadmills?” Blake says with a snort.  

Weiss is quiet, pressing a button.  “Most of the tenants want treadmills.  Not very many people want free weights.”

“Seriously though,” Yang says.  “All anyone’s been able to tell me about him is that he pimped out the top floor and like never comes out.”  

Weiss shrugs, glancing down at her feet and her untied shoes.  Blake looks from her to Yang, eyebrow lifting, and then to the elevator buttons, where the button for the twelfth floor-- the penthouse-- is lit up, and her mouth drops open slowly.

“Oh,” she says softly after a long moment.  “I-- what?”

Yang blinks, glancing from the buttons to Weiss and the way she hasn’t looked up from her shoes.  “Really?”

The doors slide open onto the top floor, and Weiss clears her throat, squares her shoulders, leads them out.  There’s a door to the rooftop to one side, one to the fire escape on the other, and only one apartment door.  She unlocks it, deliberately not looking at either of them, though the tips of her ears are flushed scarlet, and Yang looks over at Blake, uncertain and unsteady.

Weiss’s apartment is twice the size of Blake’s, three times the size of Yang’s, with a sprawling view of the Manhattan skyline.  It’s full of warm colors and soft furniture, the walls lined with bookshelves, the kitchen well used, and Yang and Blake stand awkwardly in the foyer, staring at Weiss as she toes out of her shoes and sets her gym bag on the kitchen counter.

“My family has money,” she says, brisk and clean, not looking at either of them.  “I--don’t like to flaunt it.  My father was going to buy up a huge chunk of this neighborhood to turn it into condos, so I just-- bought it instead.  So he couldn’t displace these people.”

Blake gapes at her, nearly dropping her bag.  “You-- bought the neighborhood.”

“Is that why it’s rent controlled?” Yang ventures, absently rubbing at her arm.

“Yes.”  Weiss doesn’t elaborate, instead pivoting to the fridge and surfacing with both a bottle of white wine and a six pack of beer and holding the both of them up.  They both point dumbly to the beer, and she nods and sets it on the counter.  “We can talk about literally anything else now, if you don’t mind.”

She opens the beers and offers one each to Blake and Yang, glaring at them expectantly until they take them and huffing quietly when they do.  

“Thanks,” Blake says, shuffling her feet awkwardly and then unzipping her boots, looking for anything to do to occupy her hands while Weiss cracks open the freezer and pulls out an ice pack to press against her jaw.

“How’s it feeling?” Yang tilts her beer towards what’s going to be one hell of a bruise on Weiss’s face, looking for all the world like an extremely muscular kicked puppy.  

“I’ve been hit harder,” Weiss says drily.  She hops up to sit on the counter as Yang gasps dramatically, one hand pressed over her heart, and Blake laughs into her beer.

“All the space in this apartment, and you sit on the counter,” Yang comments.  She takes a long pull on her beer and winks at Blake, charming and roguish, and Blake hides her flush extremely well, she’s sure of it, behind taking a long swig of her own beer.  Judging by the way Weiss is looking at her, appraising and heated, Blake’s fairly certain she failed, and a shiver drags down her spine and coils low in her belly.

“I think she likes feeling tall,” Blake whisper loudly, desperate to redirect the attention back on someone else, and it works because Weiss gasps, indignant and loud, and Yang laughs so brightly the whole room warms.  Blake smiles, wide and happy and easy, because she doesn’t know them, not really, but it’s calm and easy, chaotic beginnings notwithstanding/

She levers herself up to sit next to Weiss and takes the ice pack out of her hand, wedges her beer bottle between her knees and settles a gentle hand at Weiss’s chin, tilts her jaw in the light.  Her focus is on the damage to Weiss’s jaw, looking for any signs of lasting damage from the hammerblow of Yang’s fist, but this close she’s distracted by the rhythm of Weiss’s breathing, the pale line of scar tissue slicing through her eyebrow, the summersky blue of her eyes.  

“I don’t think anything’s broken,” Blake says after too long, her mouth dry and hand still on Weiss’s chin, not looking at all at the bruise on Weiss’s jaw and instead caught on the way Weiss is watching her, eyes wide and sharp, unmoving and coiled tight and drawing all of Blake’s attention to exactly how much strength she knows is burned into those muscles.  Her focus shifts from Weiss’s eyes to her mouth, a slip she blames on exhaustion as much as confusion, and she snaps her attention back up to Weiss’s eyes and the way one of her eyebrows has lifted and her mouth is curling into a smile--

“Don’t stop on my account,” Yang drawls out, leaning against the fridge right across from them, and Blake jerks back abruptly, nearly dropping the beer she still has wedged between her knees.  Weiss huffs out an annoyed sigh and Yang laughs, loud and bright.  “I said don’t stop on my account.”

“Unbelievable,” Blake mutters, as if she doesn’t know she’s burning bright with embarrassment, as if she hadn’t been about to kiss someone she just met right in front of someone else she just met.  

“You know,” Yang says, casual, unconcerned, setting her beer on the counter and leaning close, one hand settling by Weiss’s leg and one by Blake’s, and Blake glances at Weiss and then at Yang and back again.  “I was thinking.”  

She steps closer, straightening up and tilting her head towards Weiss until she’s crowded in close, pressed between her knees and Blake’s, lips brushing softly against the unbruised side of Weiss’s jaw.  Weiss stiffens but leans into it, one hand drifting up and fingernails finding their way along Yang’s ribcage.  Yang arches into it and then pulls back, just enough to raise an eyebrow at Blake.  

“We have three jiu jitsu experts in one room,” she carries on.  She drags a hand along Weiss’s arm, shoulder to elbow and back again, and leans over to brush a kiss against Blake’s neck and grinning against her skin when Blake shudders involuntarily.  “As evidenced by certain activities downstairs.  And I have always wondered what would happen--”

She pauses to bite down, harder then Blake expected, where her shoulder meets her collarbone, and Blake makes a noise she’ll absolutely never admit to and her eyes roll back in her head, one hand digging into Weiss’s thigh involuntarily.

“--if you put that much strength and flexibility into bed together.”

Yang pulls back, hands light on the countertop, waiting patiently and giving the both of them all of the room in the world to back out. Weiss glances over at Blake, the way her dark skin’s flushed darker, and thinks about her bursting into the gym and throwing Yang to the floor to protect a total stranger, of soft hands on her skin just moments earlier, and covers the hand on her thigh.  Blake’s eyes burn and she nods and there’s no hesitation, her free hand fisting into Yang’s shirt and yanking her forward.

It’s complicated, but so is trying to find time to work out alone in a gym the size of a postage stamp, and look how that worked out.  They can handle complicated.