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All That Glitters Is Not Gold

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It happens quicker, easier, than Yang expected. She and Raven sit together with Glynda and a handful of lower advisors on her team, laptops in front of them late on a Wednesday night. They go over election details—where support was weakest, where it was most likely to be rebuilt. A map of Vale is up on the screen, debate topics to be rehearsed and ready for, and voter issues that were most popular this season.

 

Top of the list—the United Kingdoms vote on Menagerie’s initiation to a full-fledged kingdom state. Many voters were very opinionated one way or the other. It wasn’t an even split, but it was a strong sway in voter’s choice. For many, this was a one issue election. 

 

Raven was more distracted tonight, staring off into space in deep thought. She contributes little, letting her team squabble finer details like word choices and how to sound least like they were open and ready for war.

 

“If only people knew how much they shot themselves in the foot with that kind of thinking,” Glynda murmurs, her glasses pushed on top of her head, fingers digging into her temples. The harsh, white light of the conference room left her pale and colorless, even her blond hair lighter than usual. 

 

Yang’s got her legs slung over the arm of a chair, flipping a coin on the edge of her thumbnail and catching it back down in her palm. “The real problem is they oversimplify it. Allowing Menagerie to embrace being a full kingdom has advantages for Vale too.” Shaking her head, Yang’s shoulders slump down. It didn’t hurt to talk about the vagueness of Menagerie as a whole, but it did sting if she dared to remember Blake even a second too long. “Besides, we have bigger issues right now.”

 

“Issues,” Vernal says, tone dripping with disdain. She hated Yang. Everyone knew she hated Yang. The fact that her President’s bratty daughter was permitted to join some of the most vital meetings to be had in the next few weeks was a direct thorn in her side. “That are directly related to the Menagerie vote.”

 

“Yes and no.”

 

“Tell me where the no is?” Vernal demands, hands on her hips, and eyebrow raised in Yang’s direction. Someone opens the door to the conference room, sending in a rush of cool air and the scent of freshly brewed coffee. “Vale votes yes on Menagerie and Atlas at minimum increases tariffs on Dust trade, and agitates our overall alliance and at worse...well, I suppose you don’t need war spelled out for you?”

 

Glaring, Yang reaches for a fresh cup of coffee, sipping in disregard for how it might burn her tongue. “I can spell,” she spits back, a lacking comeback, to say the least. “But a vote no is it’s own war crime. Vacuo has a heavy alliance with Menagerie and as long as Lionheart is ruling in Mistral-”

 

“A fucking joke,” comes from someone in the corner.

 

“-we need to at least consider them as allies to Menagerie, regardless of past practices.” 

 

“I just don’t think you’re grasping the complexities of the situation,” Vernal shoots back.

 

Yang jumps up from her seat, palms placed against the table. “And I don’t think you’ve ever exercised critical thinking skills in your life. At least, none that emulate normal human emotions.”

 

“Girls!” Raven grumbles from her spot across the room like they’re children needing to be split up from their fight. “That’s enough.”

 

They give each other a hard glare before Yang falls back into her seat, and Vernal spins around. She perches on the edge of the table and stares at the screen ahead.

 

“In summary,” Raven says, turning to face the room. “We stand the risk of going to war if we vote against Menagerie or for.”

 

“Yes, Madam, but one is a war against Atlas .”

 

“And the other would be war against everyone else!” Yang insists, coffee forgotten. “Would you rather face one kingdom with three more at your back or three all on your own?”

 

“Please, Menagerie won’t fight for shit.”

 

“Watch it, Vernal.” 

 

They’re a string pulled taut, the tension of the room compressing around them until it was hard to so much as breathe in.

 

“Am I wrong?” She steps forward, asking for a fight.

 

Yang sits straight up and glares forward. “You don’t know them,” she says darkly.

 

“And you do?” Vernal slinks forward and bends over so she’s leaning across the table from Yang, so they’re almost even, but she’s just above, staring down. “What is it? You fuck one, and you know them all?”

 

Yang’s chair hits the floor with a hard smack . She sees red enough to launch clear across the table. “You best keep your opinions to yourself,” Yang warns, fists trembling at her side, begging to throw a punch, to start a fight, to win a battle.

 

“Out of line,” Raven says, her coffee mug slamming against the hardwood table, drops of liquid sloshing over. “Vernal, take ten. Yang, sit the hell down. This is a council meeting, not a goddamn schoolyard.”

 

Vernal throws the door open and storms out, not even so much as glancing behind. 

 

Glynda looks between them, clears her throat, and steps forward. “I do think, ma’am, that those at least started as legitimate concerns.”

 

“Don’t you think I know that?”

 

Yang falls back down, head in her hands. It's a habit, slipping her scroll out of her pocket and sliding it open—no messages, no calls, just like always. 

 

“I’m saying send me to Vacuo as well, Madam.”

 

They’re hashing it out now, voices rising as Glynda stood toe to toe with Raven. She was one of the few who wasn’t afraid to push back hard. And she had common sense and years of experience to go along with it. 

 

Yang thinks about calling Blake, sending a quick text. That couldn’t hurt, right? Blake wouldn’t mind that , would she? Because eventually, things would have to go back to normal. Dinners and parties and charity gatherings. Kingdoms coming together with Blake and Yang as much a part of it as they’d once been. She would have to see her across a room, have to watch her smile and chit chat her way through the evening, all while Yang could see to the truth of her, the honest actuality. 

 

“That settles it then. You okay with that, Yang?” Raven asks the question like an afterthought, but she asks it at all, which is the part that counts.

 

Head swinging up, Yang blinks herself back into reality. She leaves behind elegantly lit ballrooms and sparkling gowns, high heeled shoes and sweet smelling perfumes overlaying a decadent lavender. “Um, what?”

 

“You. Glynda. Vacuo. Tomorrow.”

 

Blinking, she looks to Glynda, who raises her eyebrows expectantly. “Uh, yeah, sounds great. I’ll pack a bag.” She leaves the room before Vernal gets a chance to come back and go for round three.

 

“We’ll meet right before you leave, go over some details. This one’s going to have some potentially...sensitive moments.”

 

//

 

The next day, she tries to prepare. She sits idly as Coco packs Yang’s bag for her, all her professional attire, a sexy dress just in case, and the most convenient yet elegant accessories to pair along. Yang attempts to gather information on what exactly it is they're supposed to be doing. Negotiations with the Prime Minister, attempt to gather her thoughts on the vote next month, and just what the hell has been happening with their Dust mines. Not that Yang can focus well at all.

 

It happens slowly, crippling in pieces like a muscle contracting in on itself, ruined to a deformed shape never to be used again.

 

She shrugs her shoulders in response to Raven’s demands, uncaring. Because she didn’t care. She wasn’t angry or happy or frustrated or even sad. She was just...empty. The fighting stops. The arguments become one-sided.

 

“What is with you?” Raven demands later that day, eyes narrowed in Yang’s direction. Yang’s finishing her homework before leaving, compiling research and theories and putting them together like they could all mean one thing, could ever come to a singular conclusion. 

 

She looks up and sighs. Conversations took more energy than she had. She didn’t wake up early in the mornings to run. She didn’t tell Ren puns to watch him roll his eyes. She didn’t do anything. She just was. Exactly as Raven had always wanted her. “I’m just keeping my nose clean till election day,” she mutters, a hint of bitterness sneaking in. Maybe she did have the ability to feel something after all, as long as that thing was deep, undiluted resentment. “Isn’t that what you want?”

 

It’s almost night time, Yang realizes when she looks out the window. The sun goes down a little earlier every day this time of fall, and it’s a surprise to find the world outside cloaked in the golds and oranges of late afternoon. Their flight would be leaving in a couple of hours, a red-eye across the globe.

 

Raven’s in jeans, glasses pushed up in her hair. She looks a few degrees outside of perfect, a concept Yang is entirely unfamiliar with. “You’ve been a zombie for weeks now.”

 

Weeks? Maybe it has been that long. “Again, isn’t that how you prefer me?”

 

A roll of her eyes. “How are you still this dramatic?” Raven drones out. “Haven’t you passed the teenage angst phase?”

 

This conversation was familiar enough. Now was when Yang would shoot back Raven doesn’t get to complain about teenage angst when she’d missed the majority of the teen years in their entirety. She didn’t get to complain about how Yang behaved because she’d had no involvement in shaping it. You get what you get. “Apparently not.”

 

“Yang.”

 

And maybe it’s because she's barely slept or because it’s been weeks in the plural instead of days or because she’s been functioning solely on autopilot, and now she doesn’t know how to turn it off. Pencil down, eyes up. “What?”

 

And for all the hate Yang has stored up for her mother, for all the times she has seen nothing but apathy, but power hunger, but obligation and manipulation, she finally detects a single hint of an emotion unfamiliar to her features. Yang sees just a sliver of sadness. “You and the Faunus princess-”

 

“Blake,” Yang corrects automatically, ignoring how the name hurts, how it makes her hand want to stretch out and grab her scroll, just one more phone call, one final text. Maybe she’s changed her mind. Maybe this didn’t have to end. 

 

“You and Blake...was that...what was that?”

 

And the question is foreign, unexpected. “What do you care?”

 

Raven’s eyebrows furrow, like she’s trying to figure out the answer herself. “You haven’t been yourself, and I’m wondering if she’s related, is all.”

 

If it was a different time, if Yang wasn’t reduced to the pulp of who she was, if it hadn’t been weeks and months and years of living a life she’s been told is hers while never having the choice to claim anything for herself, there would be a scathing comment already on the tip of her tongue. Harsh words to end a discussion before it can start. “It doesn’t matter,” is what comes out instead.

 

“I disagree.”

 

“Why the fuck would you care at all?” About any of it. About Yang or emotions or cause and effect. “When have you ever given a shit?”

 

Eyes closed, breathing in long and slow, like she’s taking a drag from a cigarette before exhaling in a rush. “Contrary to the truth you’ve been clinging to, I do care about you, Yang.” And it doesn’t fit with the caricature Yang has always known, the shape she’s fit the person of her mother into in an attempt to understand a single decision that has ever been made. “Not that you like to make it easy. I suppose I...I mean, I guess I deserve that.”

 

“Wait, what?” Yang’s drawn back, caught off guard. In all this time, they’ve never had a singular, productive, honest conversation. Raven alluded. Yang accused. Thus was the conclusion of their relationship to one another. 

 

“I know you prefer to see me as the faceless villain,” she says this leaning her hip against Yang’s desk, arms crossed over her chest. She looks tired. She looks weary. She looks human . It’s the first time Yang has ever thought of her mother as anything close to it. “But I am sorry, Yang. You have to know…” she fades off, hand running through her hair, “you have to understand that I made mistakes, some that I would change and some I wouldn’t, but I’m sorry I’ve hurt you the way I have. I’m sorry that everything I do is still wrong.”

 

And just like fights on Christmas Eve with her dad, Yang doesn’t know how to have this conversation with her mom. She pulls her knees to her chest, swallows against a lump lodged in her throat, and tries to respond. “Not...everything,” is the best she can do. It’s as close as she gets to retaining her grasp on righteous anger and justified rage while extending an offering only a few degrees away from forgiveness. “You uh, switched to my favorite coffee brand, back when I first started living here.”

 

A brief laugh. “That’s the best thing I’ve done? Maybe this has gone worse than I thought.”

 

Does she not think that all of this has been a disaster? A horrible experiment waiting to end? A test of endurance, unending stamina? Just so much longer until she could be free of the pain in the ass daughter the citizens of Vale demanded, including—on campaign trails and the interviews that followed and the tabloids, the discussions, the political talks—as if Yang was indeed an extension of her mother. As if what she did and felt and said all swung back around like they were coming from the President’s mouth herself. 

 

“I personally would’ve considered it a rousing success,” Yang mutters, but her legs drop, and she sits up a little straighter. She grabs her pencil like the conversation’s ended just so she can stare back down at the papers cluttering her desk instead of looking up towards the woman she was so used to hiding from—of feeling the shame of her very existence from. “What are the things you would?” The words rush out before Yang can tie them back. 

 

It’s delayed, but Raven knows exactly what her daughter is implying, and she sighs that same sigh Yang has grown accustomed to, the one that makes her feel like a nuisance, an exhaustion, a weight that was not worth bearing. “I should’ve called more...at all. And after Summer,” her voice is layered, tangled and twisted with no sense of authority or confidence. It sounds like a voice Yang has never known. “I should have been there. I know that now. And I’m sorry.”

 

Yang nods, fights against the swarm of emotions teeming behind her eyes, choking in her throat. “Yeah, okay.” And she thinks of how tired Raven looks in comparison with how Yang feels, and she wishes for her bed, for darkness, for sleep that didn’t fight its way out of her grasp. It’s like she’s survived a battle that never took place, wore wounds that she would never get the chance to show because they were buried down too deep. 

 

“I just need to make sure you’re prepared for what I’m asking of you in Vacuo.”

 

And as much as Yang hates her deflecting and is tired of how Raven ties matters back around to impersonal and professional, she starts to understand. Yang resents the walls just as much as she hides behind her own.

 

“I’ve got it,” she assures without faltering. “Don’t worry about me.”

 

Raven’s eyes cut to the side, evaluating Yang for a second too long before she turns away and walks towards the door. “Oh, trust me. I’ve tried that.”

 

She’s gone, just like that. She still leaves too soon, doesn’t put the time in that’s needed to wear down to the truth, to the grit of it all. But, Yang reminds herself with her head cradled in her arms on the desk, she showed up in the first place. Low standards, sure, but maybe victory has to come in waves.

 

//

 

The Prime Minister’s home is large and moderately staffed. Blake is served three meals a day in the dining room, usually with Sun and often Neptune. The cleaning staff come and go throughout the day, a groundskeeper, and always council members buzzing about. It helps the area feel alive when Blake is otherwise confined these days. The backyard has a privacy fence over ten feet tall, so she sits out in the sun, feet dangling in the pool to keep from getting too hot, sunscreen slathered on her shoulders. 

 

She reads, and occasionally, her father will video her in on important meetings, when the schedules manage to align from the other side of the world, that is. White Fang members Corsac and Finnic arrived a few nights ago but were playing nice enough, presently at least. They appeared to still be bargaining, willing to negotiate under peaceful terms and conditions. 

 

No one had heard of or from Adam. Corsac and Finnic mentioned him all of one time in their conversations, a passing word about their “leader” and then moved on. Blake knew that this could only mean something was closing in; someone was growing ever closer.

 

“We have some advisors of President Branwen’s stopping by this evening,” Starr tells Blake from the doorway to the backyard. She went out of her way to ensure Blake’s comfort, which was more than was necessary, considering they were all taking a risk letting her hide out here, considering the target they were painting on their back if the information were to be leaked. “Just wanted to make sure you were aware.”

 

“Thank you,” Blake nods, pushing up on her elbows, which dug against the concrete, feet drifting back and forth in the too-warm pool water. “I’ll be sure to make myself scarce.”

 

The smile shot in her direction is sad. “It’s Friday night. Maybe you and Sun could go for a drive, get some bad takeout. Be sure to leave the wrappers in his car with a single bite left in them. That’s his favorite move.” She winks before ducking back inside.

 

That night, Blake wears her most nondescript clothes, black leggings and a dark purple T-shirt, hair hanging loose and glasses on. Sun pops a baseball cap on her head as he walks by, shooting a pair of finger guns in her direction. “You mind if Neptune takes shotgun?” he asks.

 

“All the same to me.” Blake climbs into the backseat and adjusts the air conditioning vents away from her face. She hated how quickly everything dried out here. Her skin, her lips, her will to live...the list goes on. 

 

“You alright?” Sun asks, eyes catching hers in the rearview mirror and crinkling with a smile.

 

There was something so effortless about Sun, comfortable. He was unapologetically himself that it seemed natural for everyone around him to be precisely the same. He helped you relax into your own skin. “What’s with you and Neptune anyway?” Blake asks without answering his question.

 

His hand rubs at the back of his neck before moving to mess with the radio dial. “You know, he’s my buddy.”

 

“Your...buddy.”

 

The expression on his face could only be described as guilty. “Yeah?”

 

The corners of Blake’s lips tilt up. Vacuo was a kingdom still drenched in tradition and the hintings of religion. “Yang and I were...buddies too,” she offers with eyes cast down to her knees. She pulls on the middle seam of her leggings, giving her fingers something to do, anything to keep her entire body from honing in on her name. 

 

Sun’s smiling when she glances back up towards him. “You think I didn’t know?” he asks lightly. “Past tense, huh?”

 

And it’s just the phrasing, the tinge of sadness that gets her. It presses against the little drawer she’d been stuffing full for the sake of compartmentalizing. “Yeah.” The word breaks her, severs her in two and leaves nothing but raw, exposed nerve endings sensitive to the touch. Hell, it hurts just to be looked at. 

 

“Fuck.” Sun throws open his glove compartment and shoves a dozen fast food napkins back in her direction. “Don’t, like, cry.”

 

“Sorry. I’m sorry.” She wipes at her snotty nose and the tears that just keep leaking out, her breath coming in uneven, messy hiccups. It’s the first time she can remember crying in front of someone so openly, so ugly. Well, someone besides… “I’m sorry.”

 

Sun cranes his neck to look out the window and must not find Neptune ‘cause he turns back to face her and offers a small, sad smile. She hated sympathy but has nothing left to do other than accept it. “Do you wanna talk about it? You don’t have to or anything.”

 

It’s all such a mess, Blake doesn’t know where to start. And she believes Adam is the problem, that he’s the threat and the danger to Yang’s safety, but the more Blake thinks about it, the more she doesn’t know. Could Raven have been alluding to something else? Was it really just Blake herself? Her family? Was she nothing but a dark curse, and now she was here to rain her cloud of poison on Vacuo as well? “Let’s just say it wasn’t our decision to end things.”

 

“Oh.” That he gets. Because as cool and carefree as Sun could be, even he grasped royal duties. Even he could understand having the weight of the world on your back. “That sucks.”

 

She’s still sniffing and teary when Neptune pulls open the passenger side door, all calm and collected. “Hey guys, how’s it-shit, you okay?”

 

Blake wipes at her face frantically.

 

“Break up,” Sun answers with a tilt of his head.

 

“With that hot First Daughter? Damn, that sucks.”

 

And Blake just starts all over again. It wasn’t a break up! She wants to shout at them, but how else was she supposed to explain it? “Can we just go?” she stammers out, her napkins all crumpled and damp. “I could really do with some shitty tacos right about now.”

 

“Yeah, course.” Sun throws the car in reverse and looks over his shoulder. “Ah, shit. You made us late, Neptune!”

 

The hum of a car’s engine passes by outside, and Blake sinks back into the seats to avoid being seen, just in case. There are flags on either side of the car’s hood, Vale’s flags, and the windows are tinted a deep, obstructing black. 

 

“Finally!” One of the car doors slams shut outside, and Blake would know that voice anywhere. She twists around in her seat, seatbelt tangling around her body as she does. Her knees digging hard into the leather seat beneath her.

 

“Oh my god,” Blake whispers, eyes wide. She sees bright blond hair cascading down, a pair of aviators pulled low over eyes. “Yang.”

 

“Fuck.”

 

//

 

It’s hot. Even inside the Prime Minister’s home—it’s still hot.

 

Yang takes off her jacket immediately, throws it over her shoulder. Halfway through dinner, she’s regretting not tying her hair up off her neck, and she downs three glasses of ice water to try and cool off. Vacuo was the sort of heat that took up space, expanding and soaking and increasing until it had no choice but to be everywhere. Even with the air conditioning running, it was overwhelming.

 

“Sorry,” Starr Sanzang says halfway through the meal as Yang attempts to surreptitiously wipe at the sweat on her forehead. “We’ve had to implement Dust rations with everything going on and, well, gotta follow your own rules, right?”

 

Yang snorts. “Jacques Schnee wouldn’t agree with you,” she mumbles into her bite of spaghetti squash, whatever the hell that was. 

 

“Well,” Starr says, forefinger and thumb twiddling with the stem of her glass. “Wouldn’t be the first thing Schnee and I don’t agree on.”

 

“Here, here!” her wife, Scarlet, calls good naturedly.

 

The chair creaks beneath Glynda as she repositions, angling herself closer to the table. “I don’t mean to be so forward…”

 

“Go right ahead,” Starr waves a hand in their direction. “You did come all this way, and I’m sure so close to an election you’re eager to get back.”

 

“If we end up in an all-out war with Atlas, you on our side?” Yang asks from the other end of the table, glass halfway to her mouth.

 

“Yang!” Glynda admonishes like she’s a child.

 

“Gotta give it to ‘em straight, Goodwitch. I’m not here to  play games.”

 

Glynda’s shaking her head, mumbling something that sounds an awful lot like, “Just like your damn mother,” which would typically be an insult, but in this instance, Yang finds herself smirking behind her wine glass. 

 

Starr and Scarlet exchange a look, not nearly the degree of surprise Yang had been anticipating, all things considered. “That isn’t a question we can easily answer, I’m afraid.”

 

There’s a moment of uncomfortable silence as Starr and Yang take stock of each other, feeling the other out. “Our resources are already so limited,” Scarlet shakes her head. “I mean, we can’t even supply our royal guest with proper air conditioning.”

 

“Scarlet!” 

 

Yang stops breathing, air caught halfway in. “What?” she asks on an exhale. 

 

“You,” Scarlet attempts to cover. “I was just...sometimes I forget Vale is like us with elected officials, is all.”

 

Well, now, Yang was suspicious. She glances over her shoulder, searching for someone who she knows won’t be there. But she had been, just a few weeks before. Blake had sat at this table, roamed these halls. It had been everywhere in the media. “So you’re saying no.”

 

Starr’s earrings catch glimmers of the chandelier as she shakes her head. “I’m saying I would love nothing more than to take down Atlas and the tsar, but that I don’t even have enough people to keep my civilians alive. I’m saying that we hardly would have food to offer an army, let alone weapons, ammunition, medical care? I can’t promise to join a war I have no hopes of supporting and even less of surviving. Schnee would overrun us in a second.”

 

It’s supposed to be the secret card to play, the hand kept close to their chest. Glynda must know what Yang’s thinking because she jumps in, starts talking about inconsequential matters while Yang is chewing on her lip, eyebrows furrowed as she decided exactly how she wanted to play this. 

 

“What if I told you he already has?”

 

“Yang…”

 

She holds a hand up, cutting Glynda off, something she’ll be paying for later. “How would you feel if he already has overrun you?”

 

Starr looks far from convinced. Their circumstances haven’t changed in the slightest, but she does hesitate for a single moment, and that’s all Yang needs. A single moment that is entirely hers.

 

“How would you feel if Schnee broke the terms of the peace treaty? If he was planning to go even further?”

 

“Depends,” Scarlet jumps ahead of her wife. “What proof do you have to whatever you’re insinuating.”

 

“Limited,” Yang shoots back without a single drop of confidence lost. “But I have a theory, and I mean, it doesn’t hurt to listen to a theory now, does it?” 

 

Goodwitch sits back. She watches Yang and does not look away, waiting to see what she does, silently. Goodwitch, Yang thinks, is trusting she’ll play it right. 

 

Forks dropping against plates, chair backs creaking as weight is adjusted. Starr stares at Yang dead on with a singularly raised eyebrow and says, “Alright, I’m listening. Convince me, Branwen.”

 

//

 

They have a hotel booked for the night, so there’s no reason to stay behind long after dinner. Yang lays the situation as she understands it out in front of them and leaves it in their hands to discuss and decide what they want to do. 

 

Starr turned bright red at the implication that Atlas might be a little involved in their current Dust shortages. Scarlet let loose a few choice words. Of course, they suspected it, but that didn’t mean they would ever believe it could be true.

 

The desert has cooled by night, the air tinged with a distinct chill drifting from the open windows. The stars overhead are numerous, even with the city just beneath them on the hill. Their lights go out at night. There wasn’t enough Dust to keep everything running. 

 

Vacuo was the last to join the United Kingdoms, and with good reason. They and Atlas had spent many years battling over Dust production, Faunus rights, and pretty much every other policy they could. There was bad blood between them, like a feuding family. But Vacuo was reliant on the other kingdoms for trade, and they had certain delicacies, like spices or rich fabrics or elegantly dyed porcelain, that kept them desirable. The one thing they didn’t need to trade for, though, was Dust. And now, that was changing. A fact Yang further considers as she’s walking to the bathroom through a hallway lit by candlelight. 

 

This big house with its intricate wall designs and creepy old statues deposits an unsettled feeling low in her gut, a sense that there was someone just behind her when, of course, there wasn’t. But there’s a difference between knowing something and believing it. There’s a distinction between suspicion and acknowledging how fear sat beside your bones, quivered in your muscles. So Yang looks over her shoulder. She walks a little more quickly. She locks the bathroom door behind her and lets out a long exhale. She doesn’t want to know what she’s afraid of, what she feels like is waiting for her in the shadows. Yang Xiao Long has never been afraid of the dark.

 

Her heart is in her throat, tingles climb their way up her spine. She stretches it out and turns to face the mirror. Her face is yellow in the singular candle resting on the counter. Apprehension runs through her veins, this unquiet energy tripping through her blood. She doesn’t know how to expel it, how to quiet her own head. Part of it was the unnerving truth that Raven had sent Yang here to accomplish something, or maybe just to give Glynda back up, but damn it if Yang wasn’t going to try on her own. Perhaps tonight she’d succeeded, or maybe she was still missing the mark, unable to convince a leader who has long since made up her mind.

 

And part of it is...well, isn’t it always somewhat about Blake? Yang watches herself in the mirror, the slow blink of her eyes, the way a heavy exhale fogs the glass in a small, even circle. Just a couple weeks ago, Blake had been in this very house for a few days. She’d probably eaten at that table, maybe stood in this bathroom. It kills Yang that she’s so close yet entirely out of reach. Yang misses her; that’s what it simplifies to. She just misses Blake, as a girlfriend and a person and someone to talk to. It’s so easy to overlook how much you need someone while they’re still beside you. 

 

Her head hangs, and she rolls it out, attempting to release some of the tension she’s grown used to carrying around. There was still a three day itinerary to complete here, and it was time to get back to it. There was still a threat to contend with, a fear to fight running from.

 

The doorknob twists in her hand, and she’s barely taken a step back down the hall when someone wraps a hand around her mouth and drags her further down the hall.

 

//

 

Blake doesn’t even really try at dinner. She stirs absentmindedly at her soda with her straw, pushing down cubes of ice and watching them bob back up. They get tacos to go and head to an abandoned park, a whole security team parked just down the street to observe. 

 

Neptune and Sun pound down half a dozen tacos in as many minutes, but Blake just picks at hers. She’s all lost in her head, wrapped within the confines of her own twisting, questioning mind. Why is Yang here? Did she know Blake was? Would she even want to?

 

“You gonna eat that?” Sun asks, a finger pointing towards Blake’s taco.

 

Wordlessly, she pushes it in his direction, twisting around behind her, just to check.

 

“You alright?” Neptune asks with a piece of shredded lettuce hanging out the side of his mouth and red sauce dimpling on his chin. 

 

The hint is passed along with a napkin, and he wipes his face. “I think I’m just tired,” Blake lies and it’s evident that’s exactly what she’s doing. But Neptune barely knows her, and Sun only slightly more. This wasn’t their burden to bear. Hell, she didn’t even know what it was. 

 

“I mean,” Sun starts, actually lowering his food, “we know you saw her and like that had to be hard for you. Do you wanna head back early and see if you can try and catch her?”

 

How easy he makes it sound. Just like that, leave a little early to grab her wrist and pull her towards a room, hold her face between her palms, feel her lips beneath her own, savor in the gloriousness of her presence. Like it could ever be so simple. “No one’s supposed to know I’m here,” she mumbles miserably, ice bobbing up no matter how long she tries to hold it under. “Remember?”

 

“Do you...think she’d tell anyone.”

 

Even the suggestion feels ridiculous, after everything. “What are you suggesting?”

 

Neptune and Sun exchange a look. “Just that we know a lot of ways in and out of that place.”

 

And well, it’s as good of an idea as any right now.

 

//

 

There’s more time spent in board meetings than Weiss has ever desired. She wakes up and goes to meetings, eats her lunch in a meeting, and sometimes video conferences to another meeting after dinner. 

 

Every morning she wakes up at five. It’s still dark outside, and the rest of her family is solidly asleep, exactly how she likes it. She drinks a cup of coffee by the big bay window on the east wing of the house, hair loose from sleep and giant, fuzzy socks on her feet. She watches for the first signs of sunlight, and then she goes to the barre room of the gym and begins a session of yoga. The onscreen instructor repeatedly reminds to focus on her breathing, to feel her body, to direct her energy into the earth, to release her stress while here. Weiss holds each pose flawlessly, but she never feels the tension liberated from her shoulders, never senses the earth seizing a single ounce of the nervous energy rolling around within her.

 

There are still some meetings she isn’t invited to join, and, above all else, she is to remember that she joins not as a participant but as a learner, a listener. She is to keep her mouth fucking shut.

 

The group of old white men in the pressed linen suits talk all around her. They do not ask her a question, don’t include her in the conversation. Not a single one. Sometimes, Weiss fantasizes about how she will fire them all by the time her father dies. 

 

Kline keeps her well caffeinated, tells her a joke while passing over the morning reports. Kline attempts to keep her sane. 

 

“I’m just saying, Jacques,” one of the many suits is saying on an unimportant Wednesday afternoon, “with Vacuo still refusing aid, I feel like sending the White Fang to go after Vale’s supply is only opportune.”

 

“Jefferson,” Jacques gruffs harshly. Weiss can feel his eyes moving to her, watching her reaction.

 

Head swiveling around, Weiss is more in tune than she’s been for weeks. And there are a hundred questions to ask, but Weiss presses her lips tightly together and seals them all back, intentionally puts her head back down to her notepad, and draws innocuous doodles on the paper. Weiss waits.

 

//

 

“Shh,” Blake attempts to reassure as Yang thrashes about against her hold. “Yang, it’s me. Shut up!”

 

For a second, Yang freezes, going still enough that Blake drops her guard, assuming it’s safe to release her.

 

“What the fuck, Belladonna?” Yang all but shouts at her.

 

Frantically, Blake presses a hand to Yang’s mouth and tries to hush her. 

 

“Jesus fucking Christ, get off of me.” Yang pushes her away with hands that are still gentle, still careful with the ease of muscle memory. “What the hell are you doing?” Her breath comes in ragged gasps, face flushed and pupils blown wide. Blake had horrified her.

 

Instinct leads to her reaching her hand out, letting it drop at just the last second. This changes nothing. This was supposed to be nothing. “I’m sorry,” she rushes to say. “I didn’t mean to scare you.” They’re locked in a stare, caught somewhere between past and present, all that had just begun and all that had cemented between them. How quickly it was for things to set.

 

With a shake of her head, Yang takes a step back. “What the hell are you doing here?” she asks, hands brushing her hair back and a staggering inhale being drawn. Yang attempts to collect herself, to find her gravity. A moment spared to wonder if Yang still feels like it’s found in Blake. “I thought you flew back like two week ago.”

 

And the fact that she thinks about Blake at all, tracks her movements and watches the media coverage. Oh, that’s a spasm in her chest, a stiff trembling of awakened pain that was visceral, psychosomatic in nature. “My parents are worried,” is what she says by way of explanation.

 

Yang softens, the features of her face loosening, her shoulders dropping. “What’s going on .” And her voice twists and wrings—snarls its way around Blake until it’s twisting up her body and gripping her tight. “Blake, just tell me what’s happening. Let me understand.”

 

The desperation, the need, is apparent in her voice. She stands in front of Blake, arms loose, stance open. She’s begging. And this is why Blake had ended things the way she had. A bandaid ripped off, and a cord slashed clean cut. She couldn’t handle the tethers; she could not fight against the draw. “I don’t know how,” she confesses, words weak with the weight they carried. 

 

Yang’s eyes close, her head shakes. “One night, we’re making love on the docks, and a few weeks later, I got your call.”

 

“Yang, I-”

 

“One night, you’re beside me in bed—you’re saying you love me and that you want me and then, and then…”

 

The tears are right at the surface, the misery saturating through. Blake is forced to bear witness to what she has caused, what she has allowed. All because she let herself get close, she demolished walls and formed a connection. She left her defensives down for too long. “I don’t know how to-”

 

“I spilled my heart to you, Blake. I trusted you.” I love you more than anything. How the words danced around them, how they could overrun lakes and oceans, could carry to the peaks of mountains and lay within the crevices of canyons. Those words were wings on Blake’s back. They were a release of the truth. They were a realization and a promise. They were the barest part of Yang, open and vulnerable. “No more games. You agreed.”

 

Head shaking, heart breaking. She doesn’t mean the denial, just that she can’t accept this truth. “I said I wanted no more games, Yang. Same as you.”

 

“So you just left me?” Weak. Broken. Small. The words don’t fit with Yang Xiao Long, but it’s what’s inscribed against her skin. It’s pressed deep within her lips. “Wasn’t I worth more than that?”

 

And it’s not fair for Blake to be the one breaking down, but she saw her from the backseat of a car window. She saw her, and there went her strength; there vanished her resolve. But she can’t forget the whys, can never ignore the reasons behind the sacrifices she made. “Yang, it’s not that. You have to understand. It’s never been that.”

 

“Then tell me!” she’s too loud, too wrapped up in her hurt. “Make it make sense, Blake. Explain why you leaving me made any damn sense if that’s not the truth of it.”

 

“I’m trying to protect you!” The words burst out of her, rushing free like a dam that’s broken, a support system giving way. The building collapses in on itself, and Blake has no choice but to let it fall. “I’m a curse, Yang. Can’t you see that? I bring danger, a-and death, and I couldn’t let that happen to you. I couldn’t let me happen to you.”

 

It doesn’t fit with what Yang’s worked out for herself to be the truth, doesn’t equal out to the simplifications she’s boiled it down to. It was uneven numbers, unmatched lines, circles that don’t end. “What.” But it doesn’t seem to soothe anything, doesn’t ease one ounce of the agony she’s been put through. Her face contorts. Her eyes are a flash of red. “You think you get to just decide that for me? Don’t you think I get a say in this? Don’t you think I get to have an opinion here?”

 

It’d be so easy to absolve herself of guilt, to eliminate the anger directed toward her, but Blake fights back the urge. She remembers why she’s done this at all. “Yang, I’m here right now because my parents thought it was better if no one knew where I was. I’m here because they’re worried me being present will draw Adam to Menagerie that much quicker. Because that’s what he used to tell me. Just like he said he would kill Sienna and work with Schnee if it got us where we wanted.” The words come out in a rush, a desperate need to be understood, to right the wrongs Yang had accused her of. “He said if I ever left him, he would track me down, and he would kill me. But first, first he would have me sit beside him and watch as he slaughtered every single person I love.” 

 

It’s like watching back a tape, parroting his words all this time later. How he would press her to the wall, a knife to her throat. How his fingers would clench deep and bruise with her arm bent behind her back. The words were growled in her ear, careful and even and methodical. They were not empty words fueled by emotion but a carefully thought out plan.

 

They were the truth.

 

“And I won’t let that happen to you!”

 

“Blake, why would-”

 

“Well, isn’t this touching,” another voice says from the shadows of the room, from the far corners and deep within the darkness. “Wrong, though. Very, very wrong.”

 

//

 

“And you’re sure?” Raven Branwen’s voice drips with something just a degree away from disdain.

 

Weiss fidgets with the edge of her skirt, readjusts against the hard seat beneath. “Yes, Madam. I’m certain.”

 

“And your proof?”

 

At this, Weiss smirks. “Is better than yours,” she answers with a surge of confidence. “I have...sources.” Weiss doesn’t breathe a word regarding identities. She wouldn’t betray that poor girl who had seemed so hesitant, so uncertain, but ultimately more concerned about the consequences of hiding the truth than releasing it.

 

But Raven’s eyes narrow with what can only be suspicion. “And why are you telling me?” she asks, her words slow and careful. “You have to know that to your family this is-”

 

“Treason.” The word is ugly, nasty and uncomfortable. But so is racism. So is collusion. So is lies. “Yes, well, I’m not sure where this is going, and I’d rather secure some degree of immunity for whatever comes next.”

 

It’s funny, Weiss rarely spots the similarities between Raven and Yang, but there’s something that flashes across Branwen’s face—surprise, maybe, or confusion—but for a moment, she looks almost just like her daughter. “But nothing had to happen at all, did it? If you hadn’t come forward, that is.” It’s a challenge. Raven is feeling out motivations, reasonings. Maybe she’s trying to sense the clever placement of a trap. She was nothing if not meticulous, well known for her conniving caution and how many times it saved her from one mess or another. 

 

There’s an easy way to answer what Raven indirectly asks, but Weiss doesn’t know how to portray the truth without some mild brutality associated. “Maybe...” Weiss sighs, considering her words that were most definitely being recorded right now, “maybe I wanted it to. Maybe I want to take my father down as much as you do.”

 

Raven raises an eyebrow. There’s an imperceptible smirk on her lips. Amused is the best way to describe her. “Why?”

 

Now that one’s straight forward. “Because, he’s a bastard, and it’s time he pays for it.”

 

//

 

Blake is shaking. Their backs are pressed together, and Blake is trembling against Yang. All that fear, realized. All that caution, for nothing. They have ended in the exact same place she has run so hard from. She tried and got nowhere. She fought and still lost.

 

“Blake-”

 

“No talking!” Adam stands in front of them both, the barrel of a gun switching between the two of them, picking who it’s immediate target was with no rhyme or reason. “You shut your mouth, and maybe one of you will stand a chance here.”

 

Unhinged, that was the word Yang distinctly recalled when Blake had described Adam Taurus. He was powerful but unhinged. Yang sees that now and she’s grateful for it. Because she can only be as strong as she’s been before. She still existed within limitations, but she was the daughter of Raven Branwen, after all. And the good thing about unhinged was that it often equated to someone that might be easily manipulated. And well, Yang could work with that.

 

“Dude,” she says, voice level and careful. He’s already warned them that if they shout, he’ll shoot the other without a second thought. Neither of them was willing to risk that. But, Yang decides that his desire to possess Blake overrides so much else; even the power falling within his hands means less unless it is power over her. So he won’t want to kill her. Yang, however, well, he might shoot her just to shut her up, and that’s a risk she has to take. “Do you really think this is going to work? This place is crawling with security right now.”

 

“I got around them, didn’t I?” he asks darkly, lingering into her space, gun placed directly to her temple. Yang’s gotten pretty damn good at tampering down emotions. She’s learned how to contain herself, but her exhale shakes as she releases it. Her whole body might be quivering against the cold metal buried beside her skin. “It’d be so easy to just kill you.”

 

It’s a dangerous game to play, but Yang swallows. She does not flinch. “So why don’t you?”

 

“Yang,” Blake admonishes. They’ve been told not to move a muscle, but she makes a move for Yang’s hand as if to drag her back, keeping her from some edge of impulses and whims. 

 

Adam just growls at her before turning to Blake and slapping her hard against her cheek. She doesn’t make a sound, but the crack of it resounds from the walls. “You’re worth something. I know an advantage when I see one.”

 

And Yang can’t fault him on that logic at least. “And who pointed that one out?” she asks, head cocking to the side, “your boss?”

 

He grabs Yang’s cheeks between his thumb and forefingers, pinches hard. “I work for no one but myself,” he growls in her face, spit landing on the bridge of her nose. “Now shut the hell up. You aren’t worth this much.”

 

“Funny,” Yang says, her shoulder pressing against Blake’s as they wait for what’s to come next, “pretty sure my mom would agree with you on that one.”

 

//

 

“So why are you calling me now?” Raven asks. It was early afternoon on a Wednesday in Vale, and Raven looks like she’s had a day, like Weiss Schnee’s confessional call was the victory she needed but not necessarily the move she was looking forward to coordinating. 

 

So Weiss feels a little bad about the part that comes next, about the truth she has to reveal. “Because I have information, and I think you might want to hear it.”

 

“More?” she drawls, drinking from her white mug that might be coffee or whiskey or maybe a bit of both. “What now, Schnee. I’ve got shit to do, you know.”

 

“I think you’ll want to hear this one,” she says, making a final decision, a lasting nail in the coffin as she shut down her chances of backpedaling for good. “It has to do with a man who goes by the name of Adam Taurus.”

 

//

 

“So,” Yang pushes on because the window is open wide, and there’s a movement out in the dark. Adam’s half-watching them and half-glancing out the window. “You acting off orders, or did you manage to negotiate this one to get your fearless leader to agree?”

 

“Yang.” Blake’s whisper is harsh, her fingers reaching out and pinching the sensitive skin of the underside on Yang’s forearm.

 

“I mean, you must have your priorities straight. After all, wasn’t your whole purpose fighting for the Faunus? Getting the humans beneath your feet? And yet, here you are. All tied up on your cause, caught up with some filthy, time-wasting human.”

 

Adam grabs her by the neck, drags back to the wall, and holds her against it. He lifts her clean off of her feet so she doesn’t stand a chance to draw in a single last moment of oxygen. “You are worth nothing ,” his words come out as frantic breaths, trying to find the air to be delivered. “Your whole race is worthless.”

 

It’s been a while since she’s taken a self-defense class, but Yang’s foot swings out with the one memory that remains, making forceful contact and causing Adam to drop her. Her hand flies to her throat on instinct as she draws breaths in ragged gasps, adrenaline coursing through her. She kicks Adam over on to his back. The gun lays at his side. Blake sprints. She grasps it tight in her fist and holds the head of the gun in Adam’s direction.

 

“What do you want from me?” she cries, eyes fixed on him even as the tears run from her eyes. “Are you really doing this all just to get back at me, Adam?”

 

He fights against Yang’s hold, but, she realizes with distinct satisfaction, can’t break her off of him. “You ruined everything, Blake!” He’s screaming now, blowing his own cover. “You promised me, you bitch. And after everything I did for you, all I got you from and all I offered you, you just went back! You’re no better than the worst of those godforsaken humans!”

 

“Kinda like Jacques Schnee?” Yang asks, smiling surreptitiously down at him. “Because it sure seems like you forgave him.”

 

Blake looks frantically between Yang and Adam but leans forward, impresses the gun against Adam’s forehead like he’d done to Yang only minutes before. “Answer the question, Adam.”

 

“I’ll do whatever it takes to make the Belladonna’s pay,” he spits out at them. 

 

“Even it costs your own people, huh?” Yang shakes her head. “You really are unhinged.” 

 

The door flies open then, time is up. Security detail comes bursting through, heavily armored and weapons at the ready. 

 

“Please,” Yang says with some desperate attempt at nonchalance, eyes catching on Blake who was shaking. The gun was still pointed in Adam’s direction with unsteady determination. “We’ve already got this one handled.”

 

“For the love of god,” Raven rolls her eyes. “Get the hell up.”

 

They handcuff Adam Taurus on the floor of the Prime Minister’s study. Yang finds the adrenaline still rushing through her body, the cortisol not yet settled. She’s spinning high, breathing too fast, heartbeat out of control. Someone attempts to pull her aside, lecturing about the discoloration of her throat, but Yang’s eyes are on Blake, who was shuddering, crumbling against the floor, fear overtaking her.

 

“Blake…”

 

She hears Yang’s voice but shakes her head and allows the medical technician to escort her away, a careful arm around her and a blanket draped around her body.

 

“Hm,” Raven grabs Yang’s chin and lifts up. “Let him get the drop on you, I see.”

 

Yang pulls her chin from Raven’s grasp. “As if,” she retorts, but her heart isn’t in it. It’s already down the hall to where Blake was headed, out the door towards a recovery she was still hoping to encounter. “I figured I had to make it at least seem like a fair fight.” And then she pauses, steps back. “Did you know she would be here?” Yang demands, anger on the precipice when she was already this crazed, this wired. 

 

“No,” she answers with immediacy and looks Yang in the eyes, unflinching. “I had no idea.”

 

“Swear?” she asks, unsure how to trust her mom but deciding that she would like to.

 

“I swear.”

 

“Okay.” It’s never been enough, but maybe whether or not it is was up to Yang.

 

//

 

It was hard to miss the hoard of emergency lights racing around the corner only mere seconds after security had burst through the door. It occurs to Blake now, albeit delayed, that they had been there for quite some time. Sun and Neptune are sitting in the front living room as Blake’s being led by, and they both jump up, hurrying towards her. 

 

“Homie, so glad you’re okay!” Sun is practically yelling at her.

 

“Yeah,” Neptune agrees emphatically. “We swear we had no idea what was going down tonight, or we wouldn’t of-”

 

“It’s okay,” she cuts them off. There’s too much noise, too much pressed against her skin, a stranger’s arm still looped around her shoulders, and an unfamiliar blanket scratching against her skin. It’s too much when she hears the echoes of the last twenty minutes rolling around in her head. Adam emerging from the shadows. Adam with a gun. Adam glaring down at her. Adam’s hand cracking across her cheek.

 

Yang, her whole body trembling. Yang, dangling from the ground by her throat. Yang, with a gun pressed to her temple. 

 

“It’s okay,” she says again and offers the two of them a small smile. She continues being led outside, where there’s an ambulance open and waiting. She wants to call her parents, is what she finds herself thinking. She wants to tell them she’s okay. She needs them to know none of this has ever been their fault. And Yang, she’s searching for Yang, still not grasping the fact that Raven had been there, their entire security team exploding through. It doesn’t make sense except in the small ways it does. 

 

Yang, seconds from death.

 

“I-I just…” she shakes her head, denying the intrusion of thoughts that are descending. She needs these images out of her mind, bleached clean, boil out the inequities buried in. “I need a minute.”

 

“Miss? Are you alright?” The EMT  grabs Blake’s shoulders and spins her to face her. “I’m worried you might be going into shock.

 

“Blake!” 

 

And Blake doesn’t know how to explain that’s not it at all. That really something is missing, something that keeps her alive isn’t where it should, but she’s running from the front door, sprinting through the red and blue lights that flashed around her.

 

“Blake, are you okay?” Yang’s hands replace the EMTs, and that feels right; that feels exactly how it should be.

 

Everything is right, but something still doesn’t make sense, there’s a thread hanging loose, and it’s unraveling, releasing truths. The emergency vehicles were here in a matter of seconds. The security team had increased tenfold from what Blake had been seeing for weeks. Raven Branwen Madam President herself had been just in the other room when before she was nowhere to be found. “Did you know?”

 

Yang’s mouth falls open, closes. “I thought you were in Menagerie, Blake. I swear if we had any idea that you would be here we wound’t have-”

“But you knew,” she says more than asks. “You knew, and you came here anyway. This was all...a plan.”

 

Yang’s eyes are nervous, careful. “I mean, the part where I got strangled was improvised.”

 

“Do you think this is funny?” Blake shouts. “Do you think any part of this is the least bit comical?” She demands answers to questions she doesn’t even know how to register. “After...after everything, this is where you ended up? This is what you were doing!”

 

“Blake,” Yang takes a step back and shakes her head. “Why are you mad at me? I didn’t know you would be here, okay? I didn’t even know if he would.”

 

Something new clicks then. It was an ambush. Adam had no idea anyone would be in that house tonight besides Blake herself. There was one target tonight, and she never would have stood a chance by herself. “I did all of that to try and protect you and you still...she still put you up to this!”

 

“I told you. No one asked you to try and protect me, Blake. And who’s she? What are you talking about?”

 

The EMT’s hand is on her shoulder again, but Blake shakes her off, spots Raven standing just outside the door, and a sense of indignant rage rolls through her, stretches to the very tips of her fingers, reaches deep within her chest. “Raven told me you were in danger,” Blake spits out, not caring anymore. The danger was obliterated, right? So what did it matter anymore? What did anything matter at this point? “She told me to stay away from you, Yang. She told me if I were to contact you again, your safety would be at risk.”

 

“What.” Yang’s whole face drops, her eyes look weary, the bruising around her throat is red and angry, and she looks to where Blake is staring, finds her mother on that luxurious front step beneath its elaborate arch and elegant stone walls. She’s in the midst of an interview, two huge cameras pointed in her direction, and a microphone held out in front.

 

“I left you because she told me to, okay? I was told that I’d be putting my happiness before your safety if I didn’t break up with you.” And Menagerie too. So much was put at risk, so much was threatened. “And then I find out she didn’t even care if you were safe! That she knowingly put you through that tonight.” Blake doesn’t even know what to do with the information that slowly peels itself back, which starts to piece together. “So yes, Yang. I’m really fucking angry.”

 

Hands are pushing Blake down onto a stretcher, a blood pressure cuff wrapped around her arm as they attempt to make her lie down. The whole world is trembling, the earth itself is shaking beneath her feet, wavering from her fury alone. 

 

Yang’s blinking. Blake expects to see familiar anger, well-placed rage, but all she sees instead are fat tears rolling down her cheeks, a swelling pain rising in her chest. 

 

The medics call out numbers, put a needle in her arm, insisting she try and calm down, but all Blake notices is Yang storming across the lawn and punching the President of Vale on live TV.

 

//

 

It ends with Atlas incriminating their tsar all on their own. The events of the night are publicized widely and immediately. As more and more of Jacques Schnee’s plans begin to leak out, the more of an uprising takes to the streets. 

 

Ironwood’s already arrested Jacques based on Weiss’s report a day prior. She’d told Raven Branwen first, deciding that she would handle the situation best, the most fearless. She doesn’t ask what the plan is but sets things in motion, emancipates her name from her father entirely, and waits in the wings to be told where she would be needed next. 

 

Once a little piece comes out, the rest will follow, as tends to happen with these things. Men come forward with confessions in favor of some amount of immunity from consequences. 

 

The White Fang dissects, one side unfalteringly in favor of Adam’s decisions and the other denying him for all he is worth. Many members present themselves for questioning. Some are arrested via Menagerie law, and others land on a lovely most wanted list. 

 

Adam is placed under maximum security for a trial that was still to come but considerably unnecessary by the sounds of the evidence that was attached exclusively in his name. In an attempt for some degree of a lighter sentencing, he folds and gives up everything on Jacques. The plans to limit other kingdom’s Dust distribution, the threats he was making towards Vale in regards to the Menagerie vote mid-November, the moves he made on Vale and Mistral to lead them directly where he wanted, and his colluding with the upcoming election, hoping to move Torchwick into power and eliminate Raven Branwen as any form of threat.

 

It’s a lot of information that leads to a bit of mass panic. There’s talk of postponing the election, of delaying the vote on Menagerie.

 

The good thing is, ample information is leaked swiftly enough that Yang punching her mother on live television, gets brushed aside rather quickly. As does the fact that Princess Belladonna was in the house that night. As does the leak that Sun Wukong and Neptune Vasilias were a couple. For once, the drama gets pushed aside in favor of worldwide upheaval. 

 

Yang goes home to Patch. The media reports she is healing from the incident, and she is crowned some sort of hero for putting herself in danger to unveil these ugly truths. Many criticize her, of course, say she was nowhere she belonged to be, that there were protocols for these things. But that was also why the citizens loved Raven. She was willing to step over yellow tape and do what is needed to make shit happen without any terrible concern for protocols or proper channels. 

 

Back at home, Yang spends a lot of time in her room. She doesn’t talk to anyone for a few days under the guise of her throat hurting, which was entirely true. It hurts like a bitch for weeks after. She sleeps off and on. She reads the old novels falling over on her shelf with broken spines, the same tales she used to read over and over to Ruby when they were little. 

 

Ruby’s working her first post-grad job, and she’s gone for long hours, her commute over an hour every day, but she comes home and sits with a plate of reheated dinner at the end of Yang’s bed and just talks, doesn’t ask for anything in return. She just...talks.

 

The space her dad gives her feels careful, cautious, almost like he’s afraid of her. 

 

It’s mid-morning sometime in the third week when Yang goes downstairs. It’s late in October now, and the leaves have all changed, many of them falling to the earth and leaving the branches sparse and bare. 

 

She walks past where her dad sits in the living room, writing out a lesson plan, and pours herself a cup of coffee from the still-warm pot in the kitchen. And then, instead of retreating back upstairs, she sits on the couch beside him and tucks her legs up beside her. 

 

At first, he pauses for a singular second before rehoming his attention. “You were right,” he says while she’s sipping on the hot, black coffee that was made a little too weak now that she’d adjusted to what the White House served. Tai pulls his reading glasses off, the plastic meeting each other clacks as he tosses them onto the coffee table. “About me not saying something. You were right. I should have talked to you more. I should have fought for you, kid.”

 

It’s an apology in its own form. Yang nods, agreeing. “Yeah,” she sighs. Her voice was still scratchy, not quite right. The bruising was faded at least, more deep yellows and light greens than any of the previously unsightly purples. “But it was good too, you know? It was good that I went.”

 

“Yeah?” he sits back in surprise, analyzing his daughter with careful eyes. “Even after…”

 

“I mean, right now? I hate her guts.” Yang hadn’t gone into the details, but, suffice to say, Tai was well aware she was not on Team Raven at the moment. “But it wasn’t all bad.”

 

Eyebrows raised, lips pressed together. Tai takes a minute before asking, “So what are you going to do now?”

 

Across the room is that same picture, Summer’s bright, adoring smile, and Yang’s gap-toothed grin. Her heart squeezes at the memory. “I’m going to do what Mom would suggest,” she says, looking at her dad with glassy eyes and an odd spasm of emotion. “I’m gonna make things right.”

 

//

 

Election night is chaos. It always is. The room is filled with people, advisors and congressmen and campaigners. Interns are still running frantically with clipboards under their arms and two cups of coffee in hand as they rushed between large groups of individuals. 

 

Yang’s there. She’d gotten a three week reprieve, and now all it took was a little makeup to hide the bruising. She doesn’t see Raven. It’s to Coco first who is kind enough not to mention a word about all that had transpired and instead divulges into a recent fashion show she’d been to and the different kinds of lipstick she wanted Yang to examine for tonight. 

 

The polls were all indicative that Raven was pretty well ahead. The collusion with Atlas on Torchwick’s side hadn’t exactly helped his campaign, and his redirecting on the narrative hadn’t been remotely successful. The head of national security was more than pleased to share credit with his President on screen, ensuring Raven was properly credited for her part in what eventually brought Jacques Schnee right where he needed to be. 

 

So it was kind of expected to be a landslide, but people still cheered with each territory that turned an official, finalized blue and tensions rose with each territory switching to a bright, undeniable red. 

 

Yang’s allowed to mill about the room, sipping on her single approved pre-speech drink from the corner of the room. She sits at one of the tables covered with a thin, blue linen tablecloth, chin resting in her hand as she stares up at the coverage coming from the TV. Lisa Lavender is giving a recap of Raven Branwen’s accomplishments over the last few weeks.

 

“This seat taken?” 

 

Standing over her is Raven herself, crisply pressed suit and empty hands. She’s the picture of calm, of unconcerned, and Yang wonders if knowing Raven’s ability to compress and contract every single emotion is what makes her so easy to hate. 

 

“Unfortunately no,” she mutters, knocking back the rest of the whiskey and coke. 

 

“I’d like to talk to you.”

 

It’s not really the place for it. There’s an air of anticipation and a whirlwind of activity. The noise only surges louder but never decreases. 

 

Yang shrugs. “If you have to.”

 

“Yang.”

 

She looks up, hard eyes in place, armor on. It wasn’t just anger that rolled through her, though there was plenty of that. It was disappointment. It was the taste of having forged something between them, no matter how minuscule or fragile, only for it to be a lie. Just like everything else. It never meant anything. It was never that important. One more thing placed above her daughter. 

 

“I’m sorry.”

 

The words lodge something in Yang’s throat, tighten something behind her eyes. “No, you aren’t.”

 

“Can I have one minute to explain?”

 

She wants to say no. She wants to get up and walk away. She wants Blake to call her back. “Fine.”

 

“I screwed up, Yang. I screwed up a lot, and I know that. You asked what I regretted, right? Which mistakes I begrudge the most.” Yang watches her mom with careful eyes and unspoken acknowledgments. 

 

Give me the right answer , she wants to ask. Get it right. 

 

“It was missing out on you.”

 

Coco will kill her if she smudges all of her carefully applied makeup. This was easily some of her best eyeliner work, and Yang was about to wreck it all. “Don’t lie to me.”

 

“I’m not, Yang.” Raven runs a hand through her meticulously placed hair and gives a heavy exhale. “I made the choices I did with reasons, and some of them were good and some...I thought I was protecting you.”

 

“From Adam?” she asks because the irony is so strong Yang doesn’t even know how to process it.

 

“From me. All those years ago. I ran because I was trying to save you from myself.” 

 

And just like Blake calling and saying it’s over. Just like Raven telling Blake to stay away. Just like her dad, never presenting Yang with another option. “You don’t get to decide that.”

 

“But I did,” she argues, plain and simple. “I decided you were better off without me, and I don’t think I was wrong about that part, do you understand? But I still regret that I wasn’t there. I regret that I missed out on you .” 

 

“Raven.”

 

She has the edges of emotion to her eyes, the slightest softness to her features. She reaches a hand out and rests it on Yang’s arm. It’s the most affectionate moment they’ve shared outside of hugs for the cameras and shared laughs for the papers. “And I’m sorry about the way I meddled with Blake. I...did it some for selfish reasons and some to protect you.”

 

“Neither were your place.”

 

Raven shrugs. “I don’t necessarily agree, but I can see why you would think otherwise.” The whole conversation is so civil; it almost makes Yang uncomfortable. Standing up, Raven brushes whatever creases may have formed out of her skirt. “I want you to know from here on out...what you do is your decision, Yang. But you’ve been more than an asset these last few years and...I would like it very much if you would stay, at least part time.”

 

It was all she wanted, to be cut free, cut loose. “I’ll think about it.”

 

Raven nods. “I’ll take what I can get.” She steps away, a hand brushing down Yang’s back as she walks off. It was easily the most maternal gesture she had ever offered with no one else to witness it, and Yang doesn’t quite know how to bite back the way tears are filling her eyes, something clenching in her chest.

 

Someone else pulls the chair out and sits, and Yang looks straight down at her hands to try and collect herself, deep breath in and hold, before standing under the premise of getting some air. Yeah, air would be good.

 

“Don’t let me scare you off,” the voice beside her says, and Yang freezes, turns back. “Hey.”

 

“Blake.” God, she really thought there had to be a cap, an endpoint, but here she is with emotions flooding her system. Joy and sadness and something she doesn’t quite have the vocabulary for. 

 

Blake looks to Yang with a small smile. “Do you wanna…”

 

“God, yes,” she says and leads them to the backdoor where there were sure to be fewer press to contend with. They slip into the back alley, duck around the side of the building. It’s just them, the shadows, and a dumpster. “So.”

 

“I’m sorry.” Blake rushes to say. 

 

“Me too,” Yang nods, caught up for days in what she would say to Blake if she had been granted the chance, and now that she’s standing here in front of her, all those words are missing, vanished. “I’m really sorry.”

 

And there’s a lot to talk about, a lot to work through, but Blake smiles, presses her palm to Yang’s cheek, and she smells the same she always has, her hand smooth and gentle beside Yang’s face, her lip gloss glimmering in the street light. “I think that’s the only part that really matters right now.”

 

Yang smiles, leans forward, and sighs, “I think you might be right,” she says against Blake’s lips before pressing into them and finding all the pieces of herself exactly where she left them.

 

//

 

The air is strained, stilted, in the atmosphere of the room. The time for arguments and reasonings had come and gone. It’s early afternoon, and the sunlight has sunk low enough to cast through the windows on the west side of the building, offering a false sense of warmth.

 

Blake sits beside her mother with hands clenched in her lap, twisting and worrying as she examined the many faces that set before her family, holding an answer that would determine the future of their people. 

 

Raven Branwen is beside Ironwood at the far end of the table, her shoulders squared and expression unreadable. There had been a hard shift after that night in Vacuo, and as information leaked, more schemes and ploys and plans, Raven Branwen was unafraid to stand before her people and tell them what side she would stand on, what she would choose. 

 

A week after everything had leaked, there had been a quick, quiet preliminary trial which had removed the Schnees’ temporarily from power until further evidence could be examined and a greater conclusion reached. Ironwood had been granted temporary power until matters could be further resolved.

 

He sat impassive, frozen. Posture stiff and eyes hard. Blake’s heart is in her throat, her emotions worn on her face. Ironwood had this vote placed in his hands with only two weeks to consider what his answer would be and was seemingly immovable.

 

Lionheart starts, clearing his throat as his glances scatter from the papers in his hands to the people throughout the room but never to the royal family. “I have reached my final conclusion,” he says, as was customary before a ruling from the council. “As the leader and representative of Mistral, I will be voting no.” He sits instantly, chair legs scraping on the floor from the sudden shift.

 

There’s a momentary disruption in the room, murmurs and exclaims as everyone whispered to the person next to them. Kali visibly pales as she and her husband exchange a look.

 

Blake twists around in her seat, moving from her previously precise posture and scans to find Yang behind her, a small wave and smaller smile waiting. Yang had felt certain Raven would vote in favor of Menagerie on the issue, but she was always hesitant to proclaim too high of a degree of confidence. 

 

No one saw Lionheart voting against. All of the projections and conjecture had just assumed he would vote in favor. Mistral wasn’t the most forward-thinking, but they had elected a Faunus Chancellor, and that should stand for something; he should at least want to support his own people.

 

The King shakes his head, looking directly towards Lionheart, who keeps his eyes securely set on his lap.

 

Starr stands next, throws a smile in Blake’s direction. “I have reached my final conclusion,” she says with clear, even words. “As the leader and representative of Vacuo, I will be voting yes.” She sits after, arms crossing over her chest as she shoots Lionheart a dirty look. 

 

Next, Raven Branwen stands. The election had looked close the night of. Even with all of the polls in her favor and media reports projecting she would win “by a landslide,” it hadn’t looked positive. They were counting until the early hours of the morning, the rally parties lasting just as long and Yang pulling Blake out on stage sometime around one in the morning. It was overwhelming, the surge of cheers and the bright lights in her eyes. The crowd roared from high energy and unspent adrenaline, but they also cheered for her. 

 

When the results were finalized, there had been a collective exhale in the room. Yang kissed Blake square on the lips in a room filled with people and cameras and a hundred other liabilities, not that anyone was looking at them right then anyway. Raven took Yang out on stage, no one else. It was her and Yang in front of a flood of people all screaming with ecstasy, relief, and joy. It was the President and her daughter, the First Family of Vale, as tiny and broken as it may be. 

 

It had been a nice moment, though Yang shrugged it off, guarded and cautious as ever when it came to Raven. But now a whole room was waiting just the same, bated breath and jittery nerves, desperate for some sort of anxious release.

 

“I have reached my final conclusion.” As always, Raven speaks with a careful command, a power projecting her words forward. “As the leader and representative of Vale,” she turns and holds Blake’s stare. The turn of her lips looks similar to Yang’s own small smile. They have the potential to maintain that same softness. “I will be voting yes.”

 

A collected exhale is released through the room, and Blake holds Raven’s gaze, offers a single nod of her head before the President takes her seat, affording herself a single, small smile. 

 

It’s a win, sure, and without Lionheart voting against them, the tension would be diminished entirely, and Atlas’s vote made inconsequential. But now they sat at an impasse. If Atlas voted no, as it was well-projected they would, that would be considered a loss, and Menagerie would remain exactly as they were before. 

 

Ironwood stands, buttoning his jacket as he does. There had been clamor back and forth as to whether the vote should be allowed to take place today with the Atlesian government so disrupted. A delay had been called for from various government officials, and the Belladonnas wondered if it was better to wait or push forward. But Atlas’s issues would be in the midst of solving for months to come, years even. So the decision to vote was pushed through, no more delays. 

 

The silence that descends on the room is heavy, impenetrable. No one dares to even breathe too loudly as they wait for Ironwood to speak. 

 

“I have reached my final conclusion.” His voice is deep. It does not shake before a crowd of people. He does not look out of place in a world that was not his own until barely a month before. “As the current leader and representative of Atlas,” he says, a small modification made but no one protesting it. 

 

Blake waits for him to just spit the words out, her heart slamming against her ribs and her stomach swooping and swirling with fear, desperately hoping she didn’t lose her breakfast right then and there. Her mother reaches over and grasps Blake’s fingers tight enough to hurt. Blake squeezes in return, attempts to remember the ground beneath her feet, the setting of the sun in the west, the woman just behind her. Blake focuses on all of the things that would remain steadfast, all that she could do with those certain truths even if this vote were to all go wrong. She thinks of all the fight that still remains in her family, her people. This wasn’t the end. They’d get through this no matter what. 

 

“I will be voting yes.”

 

For several seconds, the whole room doesn’t move or breathe or even think too hard. It’s a collective processing, a joint experience. And then Blake’s parents jump to their feet and hug each other tight in victory, draped in celebration. Blake joins between them both, pressed tight against them.

 

Order rescinds from the room. Yang’s at Blake’s side after her parents drop their arms, and they hold each other, caught somewhere between relief and unresolved fear that had yet to stopped trembling through Blake’s veins. She grasps Yang against her, breathes her in, keeps close the one point of certainty she trusts, the person she never doubts. 

 

It’s loud chaos, hands grabbing at her, microphones in her face, a roar of activity and media demands. And this was all before even stepping outside. 

 

There’s a speech Blake had drafted with her parents last night, one for her father and one for her. They’ll make them when they touch back down in Menagerie. They will deliver their addresses in front of their people. They will share in their victory, dwell amongst the celebrations.

 

But first, there’s the disorder, the swirl of important figures imposing their way in. There are senators and council members and so many who advocated against Menagerie ever being claimed as a proper kingdom that now stood beside them and behaved as if they’d never done so. Of course, there were also those already contesting the decision. One of Atlas’s advisors, a Jacques Schnee cronie no doubt, is shouting that the vote is invalid and should not be accepted. He is escorted from the room.

 

It’s a flurry of activity, a rush of clamor and invigorating celebration contested with angry protests. Outside is bound to more of the same, people taking to the streets en masse one way or the other with picket signs and witty T-shirts that would be all over the internet tomorrow.

 

But what mattered today, what mattered right this second, was that they won. 

 

There’s a banquet dinner held, thrown together in one of Vale’s main buildings. “I figured we would need the space,” Raven said with a shrug and an air of confidence. Maybe she had known how the vote would go, though Blake can’t imagine how. 

 

The royal family sits at the head table with the leaders and their significant others at their sides. Sun waves eagerly from the sea of tables when Blake takes her seat. She doesn’t hide her smile when she spots Neptune’s hand resting on top of Sun’s arm.

 

Ilia’s here, a midnight black dress and hair slipping elegantly down her back. She sits with a table of Menagerie advisors and smiles minutely at Blake, careful and restrained. They’d talked once since everything had occurred in Vacuo. Apparently, it was Ilia who had been leaking information from inside the White Fang. She was the reason Weiss had been able to get the pieces together and contact Raven to give her a heads up on the matter.

 

Typical nights would find Vernal at the table beside Raven, sometimes Glynda, but tonight Yang sits on her mother’s right hand side. She’s glittering in gold, shining in ambers, an intricate weave of purple through the bodice of her gown. Blake sits beside her, their hands bumping beneath the table and the delicate gold chain on her wrist catching the light as she reaches for her glass.

 

Yang whispers in her ear, cracks jokes until Blake is laughing behind her hand, runs fingers along Blake’s knee, scoots imperceptibly closer over and over again until there was a mere inch between them. 

 

Each of the leaders takes their turn saying something, even Lionheart who concedes the loss of his vote with surprising grace, even for him. The cake that rolls out at the end of the night is over the top, island themed with sugar glass for ocean waves and buttercream seashells peppering cinnamon sugar sand. It’s beautiful, elaborate. 

 

The evening happens more so to Blake than her interacting within it. She’s in a rush, a fog not yet cleared from her head. It’s been a long day, a longer month, an unbelievable year.

 

When the evening is truly finished, Yang presses a keycard against Blake’s palm. She shoots her a look with a quirk of her eyebrows and a twitch of a smile, wordless. The message was clear enough.

 

Blake manages to slip out without too much fanfare in goodnights. Her father reminds her what time their flight was in the morning. Her mother tucks a strand of hair behind her ear and tells her how proud she is. Blake fights back a response that she hadn’t really done anything in this regard.

 

The light flashes green as Blake slides her key card in, and the door flies open before she can even wrap her fingers around the doorknob. 

 

Yang waits in front of her, gown just as elegant and discerning in the dim light of the room. There’s a wide window straight across from where Blake stands, a full wall of glass that displays the city's shining lights below. 

 

Lips parted, breath held, Blake smiles and steps inside. The door hasn’t even clicked shut before Yang’s hands are on either side of Blake’s face, cradling her gently as she kisses her with just a hint of pressure, of desire, of untapped need. 

 

There’s no rush tonight. It’s them and crisp white sheets, a fluffy, pure bedspread. It’s them and an entire city below. They make love with patience, with tenderness, without caution. 

 

Yang carefully unbuttons Blake’s gown from top to bottom, the silk fabric slipping bit by bit from her body. Blake runs her fingers delicately along the patterning of Yang’s dress, appreciates it fully before removing it with meticulous precision. 

 

They kiss with hands that wander. They press one another to the mattress. They make love with the knowledge that there was no need to rush, no need to worry. The rest of the world would wait for them. The rest of the world was theirs to claim yet. “I love you,” Yang mutters against Blake’s neck, holding long enough to leave a mark.

 

“I love you,” Blake declares against the sensitive skin of Yang’s thigh. Nothing about this was ever easy, but that part is. That’s how it simplifies. It’s Blake and Yang and love that courses through them, that drives them forward, that keeps them circling one another’s gravity. 

 

It had been a long few weeks with exhausting conversations and desperate apologies, a waiting forgiveness. They healed in the quiet space of one another before returning to the real world, before facing what was still to come. 

 

And now, now, they were done with just healing, merely surviving. Now is when they get to be more than a hope, more significant than a secret. Finally, they get to forge exactly all they had to offer, all they could become with the other at their side. 

 

“I’ve been meaning to tell you,” Yang whispers to the air of the room, the lights turned out, and the sheets tossed over their naked bodies. “Raven’s got some plans she’s been running by me.”

 

They were words that before would have been tainted with distaste, clouded with unhappiness. “Oh?” Blake asks, lips tripping over Yang’s shoulder, tickling up her neck with lightness. 

 

“Yeah,” Yang sighs, eyes slipped shut as Blake hovers above her. There is so much happiness circulating through Blake right now, her bones porous as they leaked out all of the fear and sadness and burdens she had carried for all those years, finding nothing but joy and love and peace to replace it.

 

Yang’s eyes open, finds Blake staring down at her. She smiles wide just like that, eyes crinkling as her lips stretch. “She wants to increase her support and presence internationally, especially with a new kingdom now established.” The very idea still causes Blake’s heart to trip over itself. “There’s a lot of work to be done in Vale currently too.”

 

“Of course,” Blake answers, forgetting all about restraints and deciding she wanted to kiss Yang. She leans down to do exactly that. 

 

“She thinks it might be good for me to spend some time in Menagerie, a great show of support. Maybe work on get some charities up and running, First Daughter sort of work.”

 

They’re grinning at each other like idiots, full and sated and ready for whatever comes next, ready for the concept of forever that hung in the air around them. “Are you telling me you like Raven Branwen’s plan?” Blake asks, feigning shock.

 

“I am her daughter after all,” she says with a shrug, the words not sad or angry or even resigned. They almost sound a little bit pleased. 

 

“So you’ll come stay in Menagerie?”

 

Yang doesn’t respond immediately, reading something on Blake’s face. “If you’ll have me,” she answers without any real fear, no actual doubts. 

 

“Please,” Blake shoots back with a degree of immediacy. “No more games. No more lies.”

 

“It’s you and me, baby,” Yang almost laughs with the relief, with the truth. 

 

“Hope you were looking to be queen of a kingdom one day,” Blake says without holding anything back, without hiding or worrying or flinching from the fear of uncertainties.

 

It’s as easy as that, the truth. Their reality. This dimension or the next, it was the two of them, together. “I do look good in a tiara,” Yang jokes. The future fills around them, filters through with ease. It was theirs, that was the part that mattered. 

 

“You look even better with me on your arm.”

 

“Don’t get cocky, Belladonna,” Yang whispers, leaning up to catch Blake’s lips in a kiss and smiling into it. They lean into a future, a forever. They lean into each other and find not a single doubt remaining. Just them, love, and a kingdom waiting to welcome them home.