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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

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The events never quite develop the pattern Yang expects them to. At some point, she thought she could anticipate them all—deduce the exact wardrobes and foods and conversations. But they shift too often, and she’s thrown into a situation just outside of what she had prepared for. 

 

Tonight, it’s a burnt gold dress, tight against her skin with black heels strapped to her feet. Someone’s placed a martini in her hand, an olive poking out the wide rim of the glass. Her hair falls in loose, natural waves down her back, one of Coco’s assistants had approached her with a flat iron, hairbrush, and bobby pins, but Yang had held up a hand and said, “Trust me,” and that was that.

 

She grimaces as she sips her drink, the edge of the glass tinted red from her lipstick. Gin wasn’t her go-to. Neither were olives. A tray goes by, and she deposits the drink now that the photographers have moved on from her initial entrance. They’d come back around, but she’d have something worth drinking in her hand by then. 

 

Qrow is here. They only cut him loose for the more significant events. He looks characteristically disgruntled, ice cubes rattling back and forth as he shakes his distinctly empty glass. The staff ignore him, orders no doubt given by Raven Branwen-Madam President herself. A photographer stops in front of him, mimics a broad smile, and receives a hard glare in response. If only Yang could explain to her not to take it personally. 

 

This is an important event, more closely related to sophistication than celebration. They’re gathered under the guise of charity, but it’s for publicity and nothing more. Election season was on the horizon, and it was always better to get a jump start on the narrative, get her name on every paper that might circulate through Vale, in every magazine internationally. It’s not like it wasn’t going to be there regardless.

 

The Schnees are here. Jacques was the tsar of Atlas and absolute horseshit in every way possible. Yang made a point to not exchange pleasantries at each event they ended up co-existing at. The Prime Minister of Vacuo, the Chancellor of Mistral, and, last of all, the still unofficial Monarchs of Menagerie. 

 

This was an annual event meant to benefit the hungry and impoverished in each region. This year it just so happened to convene in Vale, which was fine with Yang. The less travel she was inclined to do, the better after these last few years. She showed up because she had to, but her involvement ended there as much as possible. 

 

Besides, she has classes in the morning. 

 

Weiss is positively bored, drinking sparkling water out of a tall glass, eyes scanning the room and a hand on her hip. She looked irritated too, but that was hardly new.

 

Yang approaches her, almost a full foot taller than Weiss in heels. Yang’s able to leer right over her if she wants to, tease her. Sometimes that was half the fun in Weiss, driving her up a wall. “You look pissy, and we’ve barely started,” Yang says, greeting with the mandatory formal kiss to the cheek that they hold long enough for a photo to be taken. Anything missed and they’d be feuding tomorrow as far as the tabloids were concerned. 

 

“I am pissy.” She throws back the last of her water as if it's a stiff shot of scotch. The strings in the corner swell in volume, reminding those here that this event had multiple live orchestras to perform tonight, and wasn’t that just so impressive? Everything about these events screamed performative actions if you knew how to look right. “My father and I had it out on the way to Vale today.”

 

With a wave of her hand, Yang throws her arm around Weiss’s shoulders. “Tell me something new.” The father/daughter duo got along terribly, which was the only option, with how miserable of a twat Jacques could be. “Study abroad starts in two weeks. You can do it.”

 

A heavy sigh. Weiss was six months Yang’s junior but seemed so much younger, innocent in a way that Yang couldn’t be. More mature in others. She’d grown up in this world; she grasped the secrets, the obvious dark side of every politician, and their underhanded actions, which landed them in positions of power. She could look at a statement and pick apart the truth, find the ugly realities that hadn’t been uttered all in the span of a headline. And nine times out of ten, she was right. “Winter got to skip this year.”

 

“Being full time military does have its occasional perks.”

 

“Not nearly enough.” A tray of crab puffs comes by, and Yang steals two, passes one in Weiss’s direction. “At least you’re here.”

 

“Please,” Yang says, eyes panning the room and taking mental attendance, finding the new faces, cataloging who was missing, “you know there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

 

The delivery of the statement is what makes it funny, and Weiss chuckles behind her glass. Her attention is diverted though, explicitly reserved for Pyrrha Nikos, the daughter of a prominent political figure in Mistral. Her father hadn’t bothered to attend an event in the last year; rumors flew about his health, his past, the likelihood that he was in jail. Pyrrha handled it all with unflinching grace and easy smiles. 

 

Yang bumps her hip against Weiss, jostling her drink. “Go talk to her.”

 

“What? No, I don’t know what you’re-”

 

A roll of her eyes. They were so far past denials at this point. “Ask her to dance.”

 

“This is not a dancing event, and you know it,” and there was the quintessential Weiss Schnee, tight voice that was a few octaves too high, irritated tone, superiority complex at its finest. 

 

Yang shoots her a smile that only hints at danger, at trouble. “All the more reason to make it one.”

 

After that, she walks away, leaving Weiss to her own devices before she can insist Yang remain by her side and run damage control. Pyrrha was perfectly lovely, but not Yang’s type. 

 

At the bar, she orders a mojito with a little sprig of mint sticking out of the top. She takes a sip and appreciates the extra hit of liquor they were kind enough to include. 

 

Stepping away, she nearly runs right into Blake Belladonna. Princess Blake Belladonna, that is. “Shit, sorry,” Yang side steps just in time, her drink tilted back to keep it from spilling over. That’d be two tragedies in one.

 

“Quite alright,” Blake says, her eyes scanning over Yang’s body. A habit she’d adopted six months ago when she had first entered, or technically reentered, the political scene. She had been off on her “gap year” ever since Yang had been dragged into this world and returned three and a half years later with a quiet demeanor and a repeated “no comment” to the press when they inquired where she had been. “Good to see you.”

 

Yang scoffs before she can stop herself. These events weren’t all bad. She had found people in this society that she genuinely enjoyed. Blake Belladonna had never been one of them. Be it her absence in the beginning or just the air surrounding her. Yang didn’t have time for monarchs, no more after she’d learned about the going ons in the world of the tsar of Atlas. “Right, likewise, I mean.”

 

A camera swings by. Blake’s hand lands on Yang’s arm, they both laugh. A flash and the lens is gone along with Blake’s hand. 

 

“You’ve been doing well, I trust?”

 

And then there was that, the absolutely infuriating way she insisted on speaking. So careful and precise. Weiss had her own air surrounding her, but that was part of what made her fun, getting under her skin and making her angry. It was Yang’s dose of dopamine at this fuckery. But Blake was different, impenetrable. She refused to be anything but polite. Honestly, she was nothing besides whole-heartedly boring. It was frustrating to encounter when Yang was already up to her neck in annoyances.

 

She shifts in her heels and takes a sip from her drink. “Splendid, darling,” she says without any sort of attempt to cover the mockery in her tone, as she adopted the same subtle accent Blake carried. 

 

“I’ll be seeing you.” 

 

She goes to approach the bar, but Yang had never been very good at letting things be.  She was a last word sort of woman. “Yes, I wouldn’t want to keep you from your needlepoint.”

 

Unbothered, Blake’s shoulders square. If Yang placed a book on top of her head right now, she’d bet Blake would carry it without even noticing until the end of the night. “And I’d hate to interrupt any of your adrenaline driving decision makings. Surely there’s a roof you’re meant to be jumping off of?”

 

This was the good stuff. This was how Yang stayed alive. She took too much pleasure in wreaking havoc. She took what she could from what little she was given at these bullshit evenings. “Ziplining from the top of Beacon Academy is tomorrow, actually. Care to join?”

 

“Unfortunately, I do believe I have a very painful root canal I’d rather attend.” Yang doesn’t laugh, but it is close. “Besides, we’re leaving tonight, and I’d hate to force a change in plans. One night is enough in Vale, I think.”

 

And there’s nothing Yang can say to that. Because yes, they are monarchs, but it’s only in recent years that they had been allowed any amount of a spot at the table. Menagerie was an island exclusively for the Faunus. Though they had climbed in their social standing, their overall acceptance as human beings, there were still many rights that had been withheld, many opportunities kept out of reach. So Yang presses her lips tight before she says something stupid that will land her on the front page of TMZ’s website and a Presidential punishment. 

 

“Take care, Belladonna.” There was probably supposed to be a “Your Royal Highness” in front of that, but Yang wasn’t one to be bothered with titles. She and Blake had never gotten along. Underhanded comments and quiet jabs that the media couldn’t quite pick up on were their specialty. There were more articles about Yang and Weiss despising each other than any content surrounding her and Blake. 

 

For the first three and a half years, it was a non-issue seeing as Blake never existed beyond the mention of a name anyway. One more year, one more election season, and then Yang could forget about her entirely again.

 

She ends up making impolite conversation with her uncle for the next half hour, and her eyes definitely don’t follow Blake around the room for one second.

 

//

 

Taking a transcontinental flight for a singular event seemed like a complete and utter waste, a point Blake had made to her parents about half a dozen times.

 

They had flown out early, her dad conducted some business he had in the area, and then they were to stop in at Mistral before ultimately flying back to Menagerie. Still seemed like a waste of taxpayer money, but what did Blake know. 

 

She sat in silence on the jet that evening, lightly buzzed from the schnapps she’d been drinking. Her shoes are kicked off on the floor, and her feet pulled up in the chair beside her. 

 

Her dad sits down next to her, silent and stoic. “Did you have a good time?” he asks. He clears his throat and unbuttons the top of his shirt; his jacket had already been tossed aside. This pomp and circumstance was new in the last fifteen or so years, the demands only increasing each year as they were further and further incorporated as a fifth kingdom, acknowledged as more than the island of misfit toys. It was what they’d been fighting for, as a race and a monarchy, but that didn’t mean there weren’t associated downsides. 

 

“I guess,” she flips a page of her book. Her relationship with her parents was not strictly bad, not after these last few months, but it definitely presented its challenges. That just came with the territory, though. 

 

Hand on the back of his neck, a scotch neat delivered to him. “You know, Blake, it might not be the worst to try and make some friends.”

 

The words on the page all converge and blur together. She looks up and turns to face him. “In that social group?” she deadpans. There were fellow royals she was friendly with and those of lower political power, but kids like Weiss and Pyrrha and Yang ? “No, thank you.”

 

“Blake-”

 

“I’m serious.” Her words are tight and clear. “I will not belittle myself for them.

 

This is when her mother’s head pops around. Of course she hadn’t been far. “But, sweetie, no one said anything about belittling.”

 

Four years away. Blake’s family was already enshrouded in enough critique just for the mere sake of daring to be Faunus, but her lack of appearances for so long was less than helpful. The speculations were almost worse than just coming clean with the truth. Almost. 

 

“I think some of them might even surprise you,” her dad adds on. 

 

Blake’s friends were the fellow island kids, the sons and daughters of their security team. She made friends just fine.

 

“One day, you will be queen. Don’t you think it’d be worth getting to know the same people you will be in negotiations in?”

 

If only they weren’t 38,000 feet in the air, she’d walk away from this conversation altogether. At first, they’d been so careful, so cautious, but reality was descending around them once more and that meant facing it or, at the very least, acknowledging it. 

 

“Vale and Mistral both have elected officials. I can promise you Yang Xiao Long will not be the least bit relevant in politics come time for me to be queen.” Blake almost rolls her eyes at the thought. 

 

Her mother hums. “She’s always seemed like such a nice girl, even if she is a bit...unrestrained.” It’s unclear if Kali’s referencing the cliff diving or bungee jumping or motorcycle stunts. Yang was an accident waiting to happen. Worse, Yang was asking for one to hit her. And yet, she hadn’t faced a single consequence.

 

“Well, she’s not. And if you think I’m befriending a single racist Schnee, you can think again.”

 

Her dad sighs and polishes off his drink. The lights in the cabin dim. They’re at full altitude. Time for a brief nap before they land in Mistral with another itinerary to contend with. “What about Sun Wukong?”

 

Blake laughs the whole way over to a reclining seat on the opposite side of the plane, not justifying them with a response.

 

//

 

“I miss you,” Yang sighs into the phone. Patch was so close, only a two hour drive from Vale’s biggest city, and yet it was rare she was allowed time to go home. First, there was the issue of security detail. Second was the reminder that Raven Branwen was a divorced woman whose ex-husband had a child with her ex-best friend and the scandal that had been drudged up last election period and nearly made her lose the primaries. 

 

So, Yang’s visits were infrequent and too short. 

 

“I saw you in four different magazines at the grocery store. Dad picked one up, and they were discussing the likelihood that you were doing the nasty with Jaune Arkos.”

 

They both laugh just from the utterance of that sentence alone. “One day they’ll figure out I’m a lesbian.”

 

“You could just tell them. Make it a whole thing, give Raven some extra publicity for supporting her precious gay daughter.”

 

Yang gags at the very thought. “Nah, it’s become a game at this point.” Sometimes the tabloids got closer than others. Too often they suggested Yang and Weiss were a thing which was wrong on so many levels that it was an idea asking to be toyed with. Then others it was weeks on end of possible proposals or pregnancies or surprise! She’s been married to security detail Lie Ren this whole time. 

 

For all interviews, there was a list of questions that went back and forth between hands until both sides had determined they were getting what they wanted out of it. It was a syllabus for a ten minute conversation. When Yang had been pulled into all of this, she’d told the head of PR that there was a list of things that she would never answer: Questions about Summer, about her parent’s divorce, about Ruby, and about her love life. The rest could be fair game.

 

She was promptly provided a file on how to best answer the questions she’d allowed. Just like that she had a new favorite book, music artist, and school subject. At least she was still allowed to say her favorite color was yellow, but it ended there. The reality of Yang was deemed not quite palatable enough, just a tinge too much

 

“What about you and Blake?” Ruby asks, voice teasing. She was twenty years old, one year left of her undergrad before she marched across the stage with a double major and early graduation. Sometimes she could still act like she was ten, though. 

 

“Belladonna?” Yang’s voice is a cross between incredulous and disgust. “God, let’s go back to Jaune.”

 

Tutting comes from the other end. “Now, now,” she chirps, voice always light and free even when delving into ridiculous topics. “I saw how you two were looking at each other. There’s probably a ship name trending on Twitter already.”

 

“It was staged, Ruby, just like every other photo.” Yang shoves aside her breakfast, finding little interest in the fruit salad and turkey sausage she’d been devouring a moment ago. “Besides, Blake was the one putting her hand on my arm.”

 

There’s a buzzing from Yang’s phone. “I don’t know what picture you’re talking about,” Ruby says, “but there are no hands on arms, and this is definitely not staged. Unless you’ve been practicing your bedroom eyes for the press.”

 

Vernal walks in, and that’s the sign Saturday morning is in full swing. There’s bound to be something to attend, a response to be given, someone demanding her time. “Okay, I have to go for a whole slew of reasons, but mostly because you just mentioned my supposed bedroom eyes.”

 

“Love youuuu,” Ruby cries through the phone before hanging up without waiting on Yang’s response.

 

She tosses her scroll down screen first on the table. She didn’t want to see the agenda that had been sent her way. “What do I have to do first?”

 

After parties, she was always cranky. There was just enough alcohol the night before to give her a pounding headache and never enough water to keep it at bay. It didn’t help that these parties were always on the verge of fun but never actually realizing it. So close, but there were appearances to keep and a stature to maintain. 

 

“An attitude adjustment would be a solid start.” Vernal had been around since before Yang. She wasn’t afraid of her. First daughter or not, Vernal was here before and would remain after. Vernal outranked. “Besides that, a reading to the children event at the Library of Congress, a meeting with the Post, and a fitting for next weekend’s campaigning event.”

 

Yang is handed a hardcover picture book featuring a barking cow, a list of questions to expect and answers she should give, and three photos of possible outfits. “When you said attitude adjustment, you meant a worse one, right?”

 

//

 

“Do not make me do this,” Blake sighs, her forehead falls to the desk. She was still a student, working towards a mid-century literature degree her parents had suggested when she was a junior in high school. She liked reading, didn’t she? “Please.”

 

It wasn’t too often that she fully applied begging, especially not since she had returned six months ago. She’d done exactly what was asked of her from the second she’d walked back through these doors. No fights, no bargaining, no demands. She wore the dresses, the tiara, went to the events, and faced the very people who she had  all but abandoned. But this was too far. 

 

“It’s just one night, Blake,” her dad says like it’s not going to be open to discussion no matter how much she pushes. “Besides, it’s important to be forming these connections with the other kingdoms. The United Kingdom’s council vote is slated for next year and when was the last time Menagerie had an event?”

 

The council vote had been the pressing concern for months on end. After years of petitioning and fighting and debating, Menagerie was finally to be given an opportunity to be declared a proper kingdom. They could achieve full representation and her father would join as a council member on the board. This potential transition was enough to change everything.

 

“Can’t we do literally anything else?” she asks anyway, glancing back down to the invitation in hand for November 23rd. All of the most crucial teen to young adult aged members of courts were invited along with a smattering of celebrities who would perform or post half a dozen instas to increase the discussion around the event as a whole. Every single person Blake wanted nothing to do with would be invited to her 23rd birthday party. “What about bowling? I hear that’s a big hit.”

 

“I’ll have them bring the alley to you,” her dad winks and walks away—end of discussion. 

 

God, there’s no worse way she could celebrate her birthday than surrounded by people like Weiss Schnee or, god forbid, Yang Xiao Long-Branwen. A cake and accompanying movie marathon with Ilia really would have been just fine. 

 

If she thought she’d get anywhere, she’d go beg her mom to do something, intervene in any way possible. But she knows that this has nothing to do with her day of birth and everything to do with international relations. She groans, cheek hitting the keyboard and ignoring the line of g’s going across the screen.

 

//

 

Tonight is not quite a rally, it’s far too soon for those, but it’s close to it—a room full of people, wearing their old election shirts and pins. There’s a buzz in the air, and they cheer when Yang walks onto the stage. She climbs the steps to their loud cries and thunderous clapping. Which was, admittedly, nice and weird all at the same time. 

 

“Welcome!” she proclaims simply into the microphone, and they all but lose their minds with delight. Yang takes a step back, smiles and pans her eyes across the room, through the sea of people. The same way she’d been taught to. “It’s such an honor to see you all out here tonight. To see, that after three years of my mom doing everything she can for this kingdom, so many of you recognize her efforts and want to celebrate her.” The lights overhead are bright. Yang always gets hot beneath them, unable to fight off the light sheen of sweat that starts on her back. “It’s truly amazing to see so many citizens who believe in my mom just as much as I do.” 

 

More cheering and shouts and cries—the energy at these events came pre-set, prepared just by the buzz of anticipation. There are two tall flags behind each of Yang’s shoulders. One for the United Kingdoms and another to represent the kingdom of Vale specifically. 

 

The whole room begins to shake and that’s how Yang knows Raven’s stepped out. She’s climbing the stage to roaring praise, stomping feet, shouts of, “I love you!” from the back. She smiles graciously, first to the crowd and then to her daughter. “Thank you, Yang,” she says carefully stepping in front of the microphone and allowing Yang to step into position behind her right shoulder.

 

Her speech is already taped to the podium, three pages of meticulously written script in her mother’s handwriting. There were lines drawn through and bits rewritten, thoroughly edited, but the core message still came from Raven herself. 

 

There had been so many months before the last election where Yang would listen to Raven practice her speeches, inflections of tone and delivery of final words, over and over on the campaign buses. Yang got used to falling asleep to the same sentences being pronounced, to the careful scratching of pen on paper. Even without those papers in front of her, Yang thinks her mother would do just fine. 

 

“It’s so good to see you all,” Raven says warmly and waits patiently as the crowd cheers one final, whole-hearted time before she delves into what she came to say. Here is what I have promised for you, here is what I’ve delivered, here is what I’m still to do. Your support makes all the difference. Your votes change the game.

 

Raven empowers the citizens, makes them feel they have a voice. Raven reminds them that she is here to serve them and them alone. And she’s so good at sending that message and letting it feel genuine, real. She’s so good because it’s true for her.

 

Yang stands behind her mother with her gaze fixed carefully, her lips neither smiling or frowning. She glances out every so often to the crowds of people, the diverse gathering, of young and old, human and Faunus. They sit together, laugh with Raven, cheer for her as one. 

 

It’s the moments that solidify why Yang is here, why she makes the sacrifices she made. These people, this unity, this version of her mother who stands on stage and commands an entire kingdom to believe she is rooting for them, that her actions revolve around their livelihoods, their happiness, their existence. It’s one of the times Yang is reminded that her mother truly is a good leader.

 

//

 

There were about a hundred reasons Yang didn’t want to spend the weekend before Thanksgiving flying out to Menagerie for a princess’s birthday party. First and foremost being this was supposed to be her time with Ruby and her dad. On the actual day of Thanksgiving, she would be in attendance at the White House as her mother pardoned a turkey with a distinct note of disdain in her voice as she did. Traditions could hardly be blatantly ignored, but if they could, Raven Branwen would replace that one in a heartbeat.

 

The one good thing is Yang has been granted a plus one. 

 

Ruby was a bundle of overly sugared energy, homework spread out in front of her on the plane as she wrote down one thing and yammered on about another. Enviable energy, that’s what Ruby’s second-grade teacher had written on her report card, and it had yet to stop being true. 

 

It’s night now. They’ll land on the island roughly six hours before the party, during which time they would shower and then be prepped and preened via Coco, stylist extraordinaire. Then the four hour event, one night to stay over, straight to publicity events around the city in the morning including a charity food drive, and then straight back home before class on Monday. 

 

Yang was exhausted already.

 

“Do you think you’ll be making your bedroom eyes at her all night long?” Ruby asks, unable to deter her giggle as she finishes out the end of an equation. 

 

Despite Yang explaining in half a dozen ways she absolutely abhors Blake Belladonna, Ruby will not let that damn photo from three and a half weeks ago drop. “You know me. Can’t resist a royal.”

 

“I read something the other day saying that this wasn’t the real princess at all. That she was a replacement because the actual heir had died in a horrible accident four years ago. That’s why her gap year was so long.”

 

Yang rolls her eyes, filling out her own homework. She was in graduate school at this point. There’d been a list of majors to choose from, neither of which included mechanical engineer or race car driver, so she went with defense attorney just for the sake of how much it would get under Raven’s skin. “Definitely not because she had an ever so typical drug problem and had to go to rehab.”

 

“Hm, that’d be sad too,” Ruby muses from her endless pool of sympathy. “Is that what really happened to her?”

 

“How would I know?” she shoots back. “It’s not like I have a secret file on her. Weiss said, knowing how these things go, it was either drugs or a falling out with her parents probably due to drugs.”

 

The eraser end of Ruby’s pencil tap tap taps against the table in front of them, rushed and inconsistent. “Do you really not like her?” she asks the question with innocence. She was too kind for her own good. Off to college at barely seventeen with her hands wringing in concern of not making friends or her roommate hating her. In the end, she made friends without a single issue, and her roommate Penny was so unapologetically herself, as strange and different as that may be, that she and Ruby hit it off in a handful of days. 

 

Yang sighs as she runs a hand through her hair. “She just...she bothers me is all.”

 

“Why?” Ruby presses, and there’s definitely something about the bedroom eyes that she’s still trying to get to the bottom of.

 

Yang takes a deep breath, fills her lungs before letting out a mere, “Because,” with a rush of an exhale. 

 

“Because...” Ruby fills in none of the blanks, waiting patiently.

 

It wasn’t a question Yang had really spent the time considering. She’d decided Blake wasn’t worth that sort of mental exercise. “Whatever happened before, she got to choose to leave,” she says, even though she’s sure the situation surrounding it all had been ugly. It was undoubtedly a PR nightmare, which is why Blake’s face was only seen in paparazzi shots entire kingdoms away. No other comments offered besides she’s traveling the world, learning more about cultures and history. Bullshit. “She got to leave, and she was stupid enough to come back anyway.”

 

//

 

The party is fine or whatever. There are fancy lights, live music by many popular Faunus groups. People dance, get drunk, Yang walks in on Sun Wukong and Neptune Vasilias smoking a joint they’re kind enough to share with her.

 

The food is okay. Ruby eats three pieces of cake and washes it all down with a bright red punch that has way too much alcohol for her lightweight little sister to be consuming. 

 

It’s held outside; the night air is still warm and balmy even in November. Breezes brush through the coconut trees overhead and the waves can be heard crashing just off the shore. Weiss ducks down by the water with Robyn Hill, one of the few people willing to take the reputation hit to talk to a Schnee at a Faunus event. 

 

There’s a dance floor under their feet, built above the sand just for this occasion no doubt. Lights are strung from pole to pole, little golden bulbs that are overshadowed by the tall, swinging lights that change color every so often so that skin has a blue or green tint. The music is loud, the sort that doesn’t swallow all of the other noises but helps intensify it, the buzz of conversation and high-pitched laughter.

 

Blake’s parents are there in the beginning, milling around and making introductions, shaking hands. They’re exceedingly kind to Ruby even without a camera to catch the interaction, and it makes Yang a little bit nicer when they turn to greet her. Handshakes, head nods, a hello and polite question or two. That was how these things went.

 

They leave when it gets later, when the bands change over and when the punch is first rolled out. 

 

Blake’s got a girl who follows her around most of the night. Yang catches her name at some point, Ilia. She’s got casual clothes on which look out of place next to Blake’s near goddamn ball gown. That leaves when her parents do too, wide skirt shed for something that stops midthigh and actually allows for some movement. 

 

For most of the night, Yang dances. She dances with Ruby or Weiss or Sun or, at one point, Ren, who was in charge of her security detail for the night. She dances with some Faunus cat she doesn’t know who is either on cocaine or the most annoying person on the planet. Yang is just the right amount of drunk and high to find it amusing. 

 

The saltwater hovers in the air and soaks into the strands of her hair that, like always, hangs loosely down her back. Her makeup started out pristine but is sure to be just slightly out of place from sweat and humidity. Every breeze becomes a relief. 

 

The next band to go on is the loudest and the music is in her chest, reverberating between her ribs. She’s alive with it, tingling in her fingertips, a rhythm grinding out from her hips. She dances without worry because everyone around her does exactly the same. 

 

When she next opens her eyes, she’s half an inch away from pressing her body up against Blake’s. She freezes, and Blake doesn’t even notice the proximity. She’s faced the other way, allowing Yang to just barely catch her profile, the smile that fills her face as her shoulders shake and her head tips back. Sun is dancing with her. He’ll loosen anyone up, his dress shirt unbuttoned and hanging wide open for whoever might want to run their fingers over his abs. A fact that left Yang rolling her eyes but slightly jealous she couldn’t get away with doing that same.

 

Electric air, that’s what does it. But Yang is unable to move, staring at Blake’s movements, the way her body moves, the edges of her lips moving along to the lyrics, how her eyes are on Sun but also around him. She’s into it but not into it . Yang finds a smug hint of satisfaction, and then she’s moving inside of Blake’s space, eyes closed for the sake of plausible deniability. She wanted nothing to do with her, but there was something to be said about walls being demolished, about uncovering a person even when they tried to hold back. There was something to be appreciated about the truth. 

 

Six months ago, it had been a whole spread in People about how Blake Belladonna, the prodigal princess, had returned. The very next day, it was a separate spread about how the prodigal princess had cut her hair! Scandal. Now the edges have grown out, falling just past her shoulder blade, some curls bouncing and waves tumbling. Yang withdraws her hand before wrapping a single curl around her finger. 

 

She dances with Blake for almost a minute before Blake bothers to notice she’s there. When she finally turns, surprised, she doesn’t stop, but presses in a little bit closer, takes up a little more space. “I didn’t think you’d come,” she shouts over the music, and Yang can’t help but grin at her, a couple inches taller than Blake tonight.

 

“So you were thinking about me, huh?” She’s a flirt; what can she say?

 

“I think about things I don’t like all the time.” But she’s smiling wide, her hair is loose, her arms are up at her sides, and her body moving to a rhythm that has tied itself within their cells. “Carrots, Picasso, velour-”

 

“The devil?” Yang cuts her off, flashes eyes that might just be tinged with red, with danger, with suggestion. She lifts a finger, lets it slip over the curve of Blake’s cheek, doesn’t tell herself to stop.

 

The energy leaves Blake just slightly, but she recovers quick enough. “Don’t flatter yourself, Xiao Long-Branwen.” This is said right in Yang’s ear, the two of them pressed together, no space for Jesus to be found here, folks. “I know much worse demons than you.”

 

And then she’s gone. Yang hates her, but she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t a little bit turned on too.

 

//

 

“Explain.” Raven’s staring down at Yang with arms crossed over her chest and a stern look on her face. She’s already pant suited up, all authority figure and ruler of the kingdom and all that shit. It didn’t fit her, not really. She didn’t match the person Yang used to think about, not the one she saw once every few years, not the one who refused to be an adult at all, or at least the kind of adult who was also a mom. 

 

When Yang drags her eyes away from the imposing figure of her mother, she finds a picture of herself and Blake, twisted together and dancing away the night of Blake’s party. She rolls her eyes. “This is what you’re worried about?” Yang was more concerned about the flack she would get from Ruby than any negative feedback from the media. “Someone broke their NDA, and I was drunk. Oh, and high.”

 

Yang .”

 

“What?” she defends with a shrug. “You told me to explain. I’m sure Blake was drunk too. Everyone was drunk. Security was probably drunk.”

 

“I can guarantee you, Madam President, that I was entirely sober.”

 

Yang doesn’t even justify Ren with a glance. “Brown noser.”

 

“This is an international relations headache at the least,” Raven snips at Yang, words tight and frustrated. “I’ll have to speak with King Belladonna this afternoon, which is hardly something that fits into my schedule.” She spits out the name Belladonna like it tastes sour.

 

“Raven,” Yang snaps, tossing the lacrosse stick she’d been using a minute ago to the ground, sweat dripping from her forehead despite the cool morning. She wipes at her face with a towel and stares at her beloved mother with a hard set look on her face. “It was a party full of eighteen to mid-twenty year olds. Do you think anyone was sober? It’s not like I slept with her for fuck’s sake.”

 

“It looks like your ten seconds away from doing just that.”

 

“Go talk to the Prime Minister of Vacuo whose son was trying to fuck anyone who moved there. Or the senator's daughter that was definitely getting a blow job in the bathroom. Or how ‘bout the minister’s kid Neon who was doing a line of coke?”

 

Raven steps directly in front of Yang; her lips are tinged from the cold though she doesn’t shiver. The sun is over her left shoulder. It makes Yang’s eyes water. Or maybe that’s the sweat on her forehead, causing her sunscreen to run into her eyes. “I don’t care what any of those dumbasses do because they don’t impede my chances of re-election.”

 

And that’s what it simplified to, what piece Raven bothered to care about. There was really only one reason Yang was forced to be here at all. At least both sides of this party were grudgingly co-existing. 

 

“Ties to Menagerie are the last things I need to throw my campaign under the bus.”

 

“I mean, with so many other possibilities…”

 

Raven glares, arms crossed over her chest. “I hardly need to be accused of colluding with their kind right now.”

 

Sweat rolls down Yang’s back even as the cool fall air brushes past them, and she glances briefly towards the vast expanse of perfectly green grass. “Well, if that’s not an insinuation of something far nastier than a love affair, I don’t know what is.”  It was a fine line, Yang knew, the majority of the kingdom had to know, mediating between appropriate Faunus relations and remaining on Atlas’s good side. An ethical dilemma with a clear answer of right versus wrong but the promise of economic ruin in return. 

 

“You are here for one reason, Yang,” Raven states between ground teeth. Maybe it’s meant to feel like a threat or a taunt, but it only lands as a reminder. Yang’s used to letting those roll right off of her. “Stay away from the Belladonna’s at all costs or so help me.”

 

“Or what?” Yang challenges, not mentioning that she doesn’t care . She doesn’t give a shit about Blake Belladonna, about the sexy smirk of her lips or the danger of her hooded eyes. She can’t be bothered with caring about a single damn thing because she had been dragged on a campaign trail, shoved into a bedroom in the White House, plopped into college courses, hauled to stylists. There was only one way to survive any of this, a singular method to get her through again and again. “I don’t have much more to lose at this point.”

 

Roll of her eyes, the ringing of her phone, frustrated, maybe a little bit disgusted. It was how their conversations tended to go. “It would do you well to remember not everything is about you,” are her parting words, heels clicking against the concrete as she answers the call with a brisk “Hello,” and disappears inside. 

 

It kills Yang a little bit that she didn’t get to shoot back that Raven had been teaching Yang that very lesson since the day she was born.

 

//

 

“Hello?” Blake answers her scroll out of blatant curiosity and for no other reason at all. There were certain contacts that just about came pre-programmed when your father was king of a burgeoning kingdom. 

 

“Blake Belladonna.” One of them just so happened to belong to the first daughter of Vale. “Long time, no chat.”

 

Blake’s eyes cut to her mother, who’s sat next to her, writing some speech for her father to present tomorrow. She stands, the leather cushion holding to her thighs a second too long from the heat that had somehow managed to find its way inside their home, the heat Blake was no longer quite as accustomed to. “We don’t chat,” she says, blinking dumbly as she steps into the kitchen that was emptied and dark for the evening. “Ever.”

 

“Hm,” Yang murmurs like that’s a statement worth debating. “I figured it was time to rectify that.”

 

The fridge holds the coconut cake they’d had over the weekend, and Blake presses her scroll between her ear and her shoulder as she pulls it out and pops off the top. “Don’t take this the wrong way,” she says, cutting away a layer of outside frosting to get towards the cake inside, “but why would we do that?”

 

It was a well-known fact that Blake and Yang just...did not get along. No one appreciated Blake in this upper circle except Sun Wukong, who had known her far longer than any of the others. Vacuo had an established ally-ship with Menagerie that the other kingdoms had simply never bothered with. They had secured them a seat at the table, which eventually allowed them to be more broadly recognized as a proper kingdom. Meanwhile, Menagerie had been trading with Vacuo alone for over a decade, spices and gems and Dust that could not be found elsewhere. No one was doling out any favors. 

 

“Must there truly be a reason?” Yang asks, tone bored. Blake can almost picture her, distressed jeans and flannel tied around her waist, heavy boots on her feet. Photographers are documenting her every step with careful regard as election season reared its head in Vale once again.

 

Chewing another bite of cake in consideration, Blake taps the prongs of her fork against her bottom lip. “Considering we find one another relatively...distasteful, I just assumed our relationship was best left to a professional capacity.” This was how her father talked when he didn’t want to be blatantly rude, and it was the tactic Blake stuck to, with some added leniency, when it comes to Yang. They hated each other. That fact was so ingrained that it was practically a sport at charity events and state banquets. 

 

“Did you see our sensual photoshoot they’d released?” 

 

It was damn near impossible to avoid the gossip columns and speculations when they were on the front page of magazines every other day, but that didn’t mean Blake didn’t at least try. “Our tension is simply off the charts, isn’t it, darling?” She’s fucking with her, chewing loudly and adding an extra ounce of inflection to her accent to make it more pronounced. 

 

“How could it not be? We were the best looking people in that room, after all.” The words are said with confidence and a hint of suggestion. They had been in a room with nothing but attractive people, all with their own personal stylists intentionally making them their most appealing. 

 

Blake can’t say she minds the implication. “Doesn’t quite hit the same over the phone.”

 

“I digress, Belladonna,” and Yang’s definitely flirting now, her voice dropping a couple of octaves until it registers as nothing but sexy, tempting. “There’s something to be said about being so close to what you can’t quite have.”

 

Blake’s fork hovers in the air, vanilla and coconut stuck in her throat, clogging up her nose. And she can picture Yang, her toned arms and tanned legs and those eyes that flash with a promise of something not quite safe. She thinks about how everything has been about security and shelter and caution for too long now. “I don’t like you,” Blake says without putting in any effort to hide this plain and simple truth.

 

There’s a pause; it feels heavy like Yang’s got a dozen things to say but holds them all back. “Oh, Blake,” she finally responds, sighing her name like a surrender, like a prayer, “isn’t that half the fun?”

 

//

 

It wasn’t exactly premeditated, more so the lack of thought that had led her there. 

 

There was little to hold onto these days—occasional visits home, a graduation lingering closer than not, an election that would go one way or the other until it was blissfully over. Her obligations didn’t end there, but they could lessen. There would be fewer expectations, decreasing demands. Pretenses could begin to slip. 

 

A year was a fraction of what she’d already endured, but it was nothing small or trivial. So much time had already been stolen and Yang didn’t know how she could allow any more of it to wither away. Not quite stolen, but borrowed and spent with no promise of a return. She wasn’t angry, except for when she was. She wasn’t petty, except for all of the ways she chose to be.

 

So she made the call without thinking too hard about it, about motivations or reasonings or intentions. She jumped out of the plane without bothering to find the cord to release her parachute first. Fuck it, she says while listening to the ring, waiting to be rejected as much as she waits for the “hello?” on the other end. 

 

There’s satisfaction crawling beneath her skin as she sits down to dinner that night, pleasure when she goes for her run the next morning. It feels like a win. A goal scored just as the timer began running low. So much taken, lost, and Yang was complacent. It’d all happened so fast, and she was so young, a little ball of fury who hadn’t even made it through her SATs, barely gotten her braces off. She didn’t know how to take control. She didn’t know to strategize. But now it’s been years. It’s been a hundred thousand dinner events, hours on the road, or in an airship. A couple dozen talking to’s. She learned how to play the game, how to manipulate. 

 

Step number one is to play your cards close to your chest. Don’t reveal anything until you’ve got your winning hand until you’ve made your opponent bet all they have.

 

It’s not even that Yang wants to watch Raven fail, not in the grand scheme, but she’d be a filthy liar if she didn’t admit a part of her needed to get to watch her lose just one small part, to not get just one thing she wanted.

 

//

 

For six months, Blake was allowed to hide out. 

 

Important political figures or not, the Belladonna’s welcomed their daughter home and then allowed her to hide away and heal. 

 

There comes a time where there’s nothing more they can do, no more time they can buy. Her dad approaches her first, even though her mom was usually the one to take these conversations. 

 

He comes to her with a gown and a tiara and a simple request. 

 

Blake doesn’t know how to explain that she needed more time. She can’t admit that there will never be such a thing as enough.

 

The dress fits her perfectly; the tiara secured amongst her hair. 

 

When the doors open that evening, camera flashes go off at an erratic rate. The crowds go silent; even the music seems to respond to her, the swell of strings in harmony with her footsteps downward. It was like being presented to society, like an old fashioned debutante ball. She had left this society as a girl and came back a woman. 

 

The people are kind to her. A middle-aged man was the first to ask her to dance. He holds her an appropriate length away and makes not a single creepy comment. 

 

The ladies of the court fawn over her, bending over backward to ensure her comfort, undoubtedly instructed by her parents to do so. There’s always a glass of something in her hand, a tray of food going past, a well-timed comment to pull her from a conversation that’s gone on a moment too long.

 

Everything goes according to plan. No one pushes too hard. Nothing moves too fast. 

 

Blake goes back to her rooms, dismisses her lady in waiting with her gown still tied tight. She looks at herself in the mirror, diamonds of her crown glinting back in the mirror, reflecting light into her eyes. She doesn’t change a single thing before she finds the dagger and slices through her hair without much thought on even ends or leaving enough to rectify the damage later. There was no time to consider the consequences of her actions. Wasn’t that just how she did things?

 

That’s how the conversation with Yang feels. Like Yang is taking a dagger to her hair, like she hasn’t wasted time on thinking of consequences. She had dived into something with abandon, and Blake watched her pass by and decided it was only smart to join her. 

 

There were a handful of things Blake knew about the royal children because it was impossible not to. Sun was a troublemaker who flirted with anything that moved and played pretend sports like water polo and disc golf. Weiss Schnee had become the heir to the throne after her sister Winter abdicated to join the military full time, though she still presented to court with her family. Pyrrha Nikos was the closest version of a prodigy in Mistral and whether genuine or a fine-tuned act, she was endlessly kind and sincere. She was a shoo-in for future Chancellor, and somehow, the best Mistral could ask for, though not much known about her.

 

And Yang Xiao Long-Branwen. Yang was a daredevil, reckless. She rode a motorcycle. She went to clubs. She kissed girls beneath streetlights, uncaring that cameras had flashes, and they were all there to capture that exact moment. Yang played lacrosse and softball and enjoyed kickboxing. Yang went to concerts and was found in the crowd as often as she was a private box. Yang had a younger half-sister. Yang had terrible posture until she was beside Raven Branwen. And then she was straight-backed, thin-lipped. Tension thrummed between the two of them and no interview where they doted over the other would convince Blake otherwise. 

 

She snaps a picture of a bright red anthurium and texts it to Yang with the caption, Made me think of you . She gives it a single beat of a second before circling the worm crawling across the wide leaf and sends again. My bad, forgot to highlight the subject matter.

 

There’s a time difference of about seven hours, and Yang answers right away regardless with a snarky don’t flatter urself, belladonna. i barely even laughed.

 

Blake smiles without thinking about it. But you still did ;)

 

“Who are you talking to, darling?” her mom asks while they’re in the gardens together. Tending to the plants there was something they had started when Blake was young and fervently dismissing the bonding activities of cooking, needlepoint, or shopping. 

 

Gardening with her mom, horseback riding and a small amount of sword work with her dad when her mother wasn’t looking. They were pieces of her childhood she had cherished. They were things she’d ached for while she was away.

 

Hands plunged deep in the soil, sweat beading on her neck, text messages intentionally ignored. “No one,” she says quickly, like she’s hiding something.

 

Of course the look she receives is one of concern. That was how all her conversations went, how every comment was regarded. “Blake…”

 

“Cut it out,” she grumbles as she did as a teenager. She was an adult now, but there had been years missed, and Blake had decided it was only right to make sure they didn’t feel like there were any moments lost. “It’s nothing to worry about.”

 

Teeth digging into her lip, eyebrows furrowed. No amount of dirt or sun would make Kali’s line of thought transition from one topic to the next.

 

So, Blake sighs heavily, like she’s exhausted just at the concept of conversing. “It was Yang.”

 

“Branwen?” her mother asks in surprise, eyebrows shooting up now. 

 

“Xiao Long-Branwen,” Blake corrects quietly, not that it matters except she gets the sense that it does. Why else would Yang hold onto her full title like that? The Xiao Long meant little, after all. Her dad had a brief stint in politics as a representative of the island of Patch and it’s small collection of residents. He served two terms before stepping down and leaving the political scene altogether, seemingly without reason. “But yes.”

 

Kali places a seed amongst the crevice she’s created, fingernails dark with soil as she carefully buries it. “I seem to recall you saying you hated her,” she remarks, more buried in her tone than she bothers with a look. A wide-brimmed sun hat casts shadows over her face as she focuses on their task. 

 

Though there had always been plenty of traditional monarch tasks, Blake’s life had never been what one may consider that of a royal. That was more of Schnee territory. Sure, there were the gowns and the balls and the crowns, but they were more involved with the community, one of which had not quite finished it’s growing, hadn’t quite worked itself to establishment. They were newborn, fresh and uncoordinated. Their rulers had no desire for full-fledged luxury and no excess available to accommodate it. 

 

Their house was large, but not overly so. They held events, but few that barred the regular citizens of the island. The Faunus had been pushed down for long enough. They existed now in equality, they simply turned to the Belladonna’s to lead them. Ghira was only the second generation of rulers. And two generations do not a monarch make. 

 

So Blake was not unfamiliar with calluses, no stranger to hard work. She was a princess, but loosely so. Which meant she threw around words like hate, like despicable, like infuriating. All words she’d used to describe Yang. “We’ve come to a temporary truce.”

 

“Oh?” Kali asks the questions and adds nothing else; she lets Blake do with it what she will. 

 

And there were so many months of shutting them out, so long of not knowing what to say. Still, nothing is back to how it was, nothing has been restored. There was a stilted awkwardness between them, one that shouldn’t exist between a mother and daughter. “I don’t know why,” she admits to keep the conversation going, to discuss something concretely in the present and in no way inflicted by a portion of her past. “But, I guess I don’t despise the concept.”

 

It’s just before winter, but the day is still warm and the sun shining. That’s just how the island was. They planted the right seeds to bloom in the next few months, even as the temperatures dropped in the night, and the air became dryer. “It’s nice, isn’t it?” Kali comments, resting back on her heels and staring down at the work they have finished, a planter mounded with fresh, dark dirt. 

 

“What is?” Blake asks, thinking about plants and growth and life and how it’s all tied together. She expects her mom to say something about sunshine or water or watching something grow from nothing. There are a hundred little lessons her parents want to impart each day. Always something new, something to reflect on. 

 

Instead, she places a soil stained palm on Blake’s cheek. Wrinkles have sunk deep within the skin by her eyes, no longer hidden by makeup or youth. “Having a friend.”

 

“Now don’t get ahead of yourself,” Blake says, a laugh in her tone. She presses her cheek against her mother’s hand for just a second, breathing in the scents of earth and flowers and her musky, sweet perfume. “No one ever said a word about friends.”