Actions

Work Header

All That Glitters Is Not Gold

Chapter Text

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.”

Chapter Text

A semester abroad is almost expected of a child in high political standing. It would be near insulting if Weiss remained in Atlas for the entirety of her college education. She was getting a degree in business, something her father had pushed since Winter had abdicated her position to focus on her military career. 

 

It just so happened that relations between Atlas and Vale had been...tense ever since Raven had been elected. She had little patience for Jaques Schnee, the singular piece of familiarity between her and Yang. However, both parties made small attempts at peace; neither party over-extending themselves to do so. Jacques frequently  made his distaste clear, going on rants about Dust production and how much Vale relied on them, and the least they could do is show some respect. 

 

Weiss had chosen to study abroad at Beacon University, Vale’s most prestigious, in the name of international relations and the pure beauty of distance. She lived in a private apartment with her personal security team directly next door, chaperoning her to and from classes, the grocery store, and hot yoga. When she got away from them were the moments where Weiss was noticed the least, ironically enough. Only a handful of people bothered to discern who she was when she didn’t have six foot tall men flanking her. 

 

The White House is only a brief two hour car ride from the University, and Weiss makes good use of the proximity. She and Yang spend the start of the winter outside, walking trails on the grounds without anyone needing to follow them around. 

 

There was a campaigning function a few territories in the coming weekend, and Weiss had been strictly informed she was not permitted to go as Jacques hadn’t settled on who he wanted to endorse. A woman wielding power better than how he used his was his greatest nightmare. It didn’t help that Raven Branwen had gone on the record calling Jacques a “sniveling, weak-willed man-baby,” when he refused to side with her on the Environmental Act last spring. They didn’t put much energy into pretending they liked each other, but they were willing to slide an underhanded favor to the other for the sake of keeping the peace.

 

“At least it’s not another charity function,” Weiss comments, arms stretching over her head. The sun had gone behind a layer of cool, grey clouds and the air smelled of snow—crisp and fresh. Atlas was already covered in a foot of snow at this point in the year. Christmas was a week away, and, in a different lifetime, she and her siblings would be bundled in outrageous, puffy snowsuits, building elaborate snow forts in their backyard and sledding down a hill on the edge of the property that was riddled with trees to hit on the way down. Only Whitley had been foolish enough to collide with one. “More comfortable clothes.”

 

Yang snorts, arms crossing over her chest as the wind blows. “As if. Campaigning means more business attire. I’d rather be sexy and fancy than stiff and uncomfortable.” 

 

The grass was yellowing in the dry winter air. It trembled in the wind. It would be smarter to head back towards the house, but they both naturally turn away, choosing the opposite direction instead. “Fine. At least you aren’t taking a private jet home to celebrate Christmas with your family.” Just the thought put a bad taste in her mouth. 

 

“A private jet?” Yang gasps, hands coming to cover her mouth in mock horror. “Oh god, how ever will you survive something so cruel?”

 

“Would you care to trade?” she deadpans.

 

Yang throws her head back when she laughs, slings an arm around Weiss’s shoulders for a brief moment. “I would rather eat my own hand.” There’s a ping of a notification, and Yang is grabbing her scroll and responding in less than ten seconds. That’s how it’s been for a week now. Weiss was willing to let things go for a time, but clearly this was more than a Tinder hookup. 

 

“Do you care to share with the class?”

 

“Hm?” Yang doesn’t even look in her direction until she’s done, and the scroll’s placed in her coat pocket. 

 

Weiss tuts, annoyed without reason. “Who the hell are you talking to?”

 

There’s a hesitation, probably Yang trying to think of a lie. A few dead leaves trip across the path in front of them and rattletheir way back over to the otherwise immaculate grass. 

 

“Just...someone,” Yang shrugs like this is something she can just play off. 

 

“You have a million friends.” And it’s true. Every event or party or panel, Yang knew someone. She had a laugh over something, already had their number programmed in her scroll. Yang was annoyingly social, pretentiously friendly. All the talk she had about how much she hated this life had not once been put on true display. She was charismatic—easy smiles and just right words. Meanwhile, Weiss would rather watch paint dry than maintain small talk with another middle-aged man who was half-drunk off of over-priced wine. “You don’t jump at the chance to answer everything they say.”

 

Hands shoved in her pockets, Yang offers a shrug. “Maybe I just like this one more than the rest of you.” Deflecting, like always. Weiss doesn’t bite, making her walk in silence with nothing but the cold for company. The trees at the edge of the property shake with the gusts that had not let up. “She’s, um, Blake?”

 

Weiss’s boot snags on the pavement as she comes to a stop, blinking in Yang’s direction. “Belladonna?” Oh, this was rich. “The woman you’ve been bitching about for six months now?”

 

“I have not been-”

 

“God, you’re such a lesbian.” That earns a laugh and a shove, and Weiss remembers why she came out here, why she chose Vale over the other kingdoms and schools, why it had nothing to do with international relations. Yang has a million friends. It’s nice that she makes Weiss feel that she likes her best.

 

//

 

“I think it’s all overrated,” Blake says, scroll squashed between her ear and her shoulder. She was making up the guest bedroom with white, starched sheets. The windows are thrown open to allow for the rush of fresh, island air to fill the room. 

 

The royal family didn’t have anyone extended to invite to stay with them, Blake’s grandparents were all dead, and her singular aunt lived in Vacuo with a loud, consistent disdain for travel by airship. Once a year at Christmas time, the Belladonna’s opened their homes to a group of citizens, some in politics with her dad and some not, hosting a grand dinner. The ballroom is freshly waxed to bring out its shine. They wear their best gowns and jewelry but celebrate the eve of the holiday amongst the people who supported this makeshift kingdom and put their faith in Ghira and Kali to support them and their small sampling of land. 

 

It’s nice in theory, but it quickly becomes overcrowded. There were always the most important of politicians who failed to remain sober enough to get home, taking up a bed for the night in one of the otherwise rarely used guest rooms. 

 

There’s the roar of an engine revving on the other line. Figures Yang would be making some bad decision or another in the name of Christmas fun. “I disagree,” she shouts over the noise. “Christmas is over-commercialized. I’ll give you that.”

 

Maybe it was her recent desire to spend as much time alone as possible, but Blake has a hard time not disagreeing. “Well, what are your plans?” She’d given a brief explanation of what her family does, even snapped a picture of the gown she was to wear and sent it Yang’s way. 

 

“You’re listening to ‘em now.” Blake rolls her eyes at another loud rumbling through her speaker. But she can picture Yang—fitted leather jacket, bright yellow helmet, hair spilling out behind her in the wind as she weaves her way up a mountain or down a coast. Somewhere beautiful, that’s where Blake is inclined to imagine her. 

 

She doesn’t consider why. “Dirt biking through flaming hoops again?” There’s a rush of wind crackling through; she sees Yang’s body hunching over as she gains speed, racing forward on an open stretch of road. 

 

“They weren’t on fire,” she corrects like it makes a difference. “I’m, uh, I’m road tripping home.”

 

“Home?” Blake asks before she remembers. “Right. Patch.” She tucks a corner of the sheet under the mattress, pulling the sheet taut as she’d once been taught to do. They only had a singular worker inside the palace. Her father always said they could handle caring for themselves well enough and that Menagerie didn’t have the money to spare for more.

 

Somehow Yang manages to speak over the outside noise. “Been reading up on me, have you?” her tone is leering, a bait asking to be taken. “I can’t blame you. I know I carry quite the air of mystery.”

 

Blake rolls her eyes, glancing towards the mirror where she catches the smile on her face before pressing her lips together. “If that’s what you want to call tabloid headlines, sure.” There was a lot of drama over in Vale during the last election. Raven had already been a well-publicized senator, representing the territory of Amthina, but when she’d announced her bid for the presidency, the opposing side had come at her full force. Those who valued the ways of old didn’t approve of Raven Branwen running from any aspect. They came for her past career mistakes, her drunk of a brother, and finally, the daughter she had previously failed to mention in any capacity. Two weeks later, Yang was on the campaign trail, smiling at her mother’s side with a resemblance that wasn’t overtly obvious, but still there. 

 

“The tabloids had really ought to find something more interesting worth reporting on.” 

 

Yang sounds irritated, more than Blake expected, and it's a habit, a muscle too well-toned and practiced to ignore. She goes right for distraction, to smooth over the conversation before it derailed. “So you spend Christmas back with your dad?”

 

“And sister,” she adds in, her voice immediately lighter, gentle how Blake has come to know it even with all of the volume Yang tended to project. “Ruby’s a couple of years younger than me. She’s graduating this year. Total genius.”

 

There’s no denying the pride in Yang’s voice. “You sound like you really love her,” Blake lowers herself to the floor and presses her back against the mattress and knees to her chest. Her eyes remain fixed towards the opposing wall and lower edge of the window. It feels a little like she’s hiding; maybe that’s exactly what is happening. “I’m sure it’s hard, being away so much.”

 

A sharp intake of breath that Blake somehow catches through surging winds and growling engine. “Yeah,” and now she sounds not proud or angry or joyful, just sad. A handful of conversations just like this one, and Blake has come to realize just how well she has gotten at listening to Yang, reading her. Yang was the rare sort who never covered her tone, never masked it with anything. How she sounded was how she felt, Blake got to learn that through a speaker on the other side of the world, she got to figure it out while still feeling safe.

 

“Did you…” this is uncharted territory. It’s not that Blake was subscribed to Yang Monthly or anything, but she’d read her fair share of interviews and caught her public appearances. For the sake of knowing how she was to be marketing with, of course. “Um, did you spend a lot of time with your dad when you were younger? Or your mom?”

 

There’s the rush of air, a speed that only gains. There’s a loose exhale, rushing from lungs. There’s the steady thrum of an engine, consistent enough to become an odd white noise. “I don’t really talk about that sort of stuff,” she says the words slowly, like she’s thinking through the answer more than she does before diving out of a plane.

 

“I’m sorry,” Blake rushes out of instinct. She stands in haste as if there’s somewhere to hurry to. The floorboards creak beneath her feet, her shadow cast against the wall in the lamplight illuminating the room in the late evening. She pulls the curtains shut, leaving the glass flung open so the humidity couldn’t get trapped again throughout the day. “I didn’t mean to-”

 

“It’s okay.” Yang is quick to reassure. “Don’t worry.” There’s an intention behind her words, like she really means them. “The media knows the topic is blacklisted,” Yang laughs lightly, but it isn’t very convincing. 

 

Unfolding the comforter, Blake gets a whiff of the back of the wardrobe it’d been stored in, cedar and mothballs, and a lingering hint of old laundry detergent. “We all have our lists, don’t we?” 

 

There’s a beat before Yang answers with, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.” 

 

Ridiculous. “And why would I do that?” She poses the question with a hint of flirtation in her voice, like she was edging towards something a little less known, a little more uncertain. It was just the sort of thing Yang seemed to love. 

 

“You can’t fool me,” Yang murmurs, the background noises now silent. Blake doesn’t know if she should picture her at a red light by a gas station or the driveway of her dad’s island home. “I know you’re dying for the answer.”

 

“Goodbye, Yang.” She hangs up before risking the chance of making a confession she hadn’t come to accept yet. 

 

//

 

Patch had been the only world Yang had known before Raven had swept in during her senior year of high school. Sure, they took a few vacations here and there to some touristy spots in Vale, but Patch was her home. She had grown up less than twenty minutes from the ocean. She knew when the trees bloomed bright, pink blossoms and when the weeds poked through the cracks in the sidewalk. She knew where the best sledding hills could be found after a blizzard and which movie theater sold the cheapest candy. 

 

She’d been planning to go away to a state school that following fall anyway, but still close. She’d already made a deal with Ruby to come home at least one weekend a month and to talk her unknown roommate into letting Ruby sleep on the floor of their dorm for overnights. 

 

Then Raven showed up. 

 

It’s not like Yang didn’t know her mother was running for president. It was just that it only matters so much when you’ve met her a grand total of three times in your whole life. But number four was Raven on her doorstep, scroll in hand, bag hanging off her arm. She was impatient but said she felt like she should explain in person. She didn’t really ask Yang or Tai, just explained what had been running through the gossip mill and was bound to be published first thing tomorrow if it wasn’t already circulating online. She talked about damage control. About image. About opportunities. 

 

The list of things she did not talk about was a lot longer.

 

Yang finished her senior year half in person and half online from a bus with builtin wifi. She wrote essays on her scroll in the middle of a dress fitting, took her SATs in a random territory that they spent three overnights in the nicest hotel they had (which was a Holiday Inn) in their biggest city, she dropped out of her state school and was arranged to attend Ozma University in September even as Raven mumbled about how much she hated its founder and current President.

 

The memories are unwelcome but present as she props out the kickstand and slides her helmet from her head. The chill had only further seeped in the closer Yang got to the shore, and she stood in front of her home now with a freshly shoveled driveway, sprinkled with salt, the mailbox still crooked in the ground from when their dumbass neighbor had backed into it. 

 

Coming back was weird because it felt like she should never have left. Time had kept moving forward without her, and when she reappeared there was still a moment, an adjustment, that she wasn’t used to. A new shelf on the wall, half the posters in Ruby’s room gone, one of their favorite diners closed. Little pieces of things she would never have missed. 

 

It’s easy to blame it all on Raven, for taking her away, but Yang knows part of this is just growing up.

 

“Yang!” The door slams against the walls as Ruby throws it open, taking hurried, uneven steps down the stairs and throwing herself into Yang’s arms. Six months from college graduation but sometimes still the same kid Yang would wait for on the steps outside of their elementary school, walking home together hand in hand. 

 

She’s laughing without realizing it, squeezing Ruby hard enough to lift her off of her feet. “It hasn’t been that long,” she’s saying while also trying not to cry while also continuing to laugh. God, she was going to go crazy.

 

The light from the doorway shifts, and her dad’s in the doorway, slippers on his feet, hair a little mussed. He stands with his arms crossed over his chest, smiling. “Hey, kid,” he says just loud enough to be heard over the window. A tow truck rushes down the street behind them, yellow lights flashing in the dusk of sunset. 

 

A hand tightened on the strap of her backpack, Yang makes her way up the half-shoveled steps, made all the more slippery for it, and hesitates for just a minute before throwing her arms around her dad’s neck, breathing in the scent of firewood and aftershave and dried ink. He smells like childhood.

 

She pulls back, fighting down emotions she wasn’t expecting to have. The call with Blake on the way over had left Yang with feelings all drudged up—regrets and questions and a distinct taste of missing someone or something. Maybe just nostalgia in general, but it wedged its way into her chest and refused to ease up until she pulled onto familiar roads, until she saw the lights twinkling on her rooftop, until she’d been outside a home that she had once dreamt of running away from and one she’d ached in missing ever since the day she had left. 

 

There’s a half-finished pizza on the counter, an open bottle of beer in the living room, a basket full of clean laundry at the landing of the stairs. It’s somewhere between clutter and chaos and that’s good enough for Yang. Inside is warm, the fire strong and bright, and Yang sheds her jacket, props it on the end of the banister. 

 

Ruby’s pushing a plate of pizza slices and jalapeno poppers into her hands, grabbing her a beer from the fridge. “How have you been? How was your ride over? Are the roads getting bad yet? Is Weiss in town yet? Why didn’t you bring her? You should have brought her.”

 

“Breathe, Ruby,” Yang says, pinching the back of her arm and stealing the plate as she flops onto the living room floor. The TV is on, one of those old claymation Christmas movies playing in the background. “Weiss has to go home to spend Christmas with her family.”

 

Nose wrinkling, Ruby sits next to her and props her elbows on the coffee table, back against the old yellow and brown plaid couch that had only gotten scratchier and lumpier every time Yang had come home. The rug beneath them is soft and plush, about sixteen years newer than any furniture in this room. 

 

Eyes fixed on her plate, Yang looks straight ahead, finds the same photograph that has been there for most of their lives. The two of them, Ruby still chubby-cheeked and rosy and Yang missing one of her front teeth, each propped on one of Summer’s legs, smiling widely up at her, a kiss to Ruby’s cheek and fingertips wrapped tight around Yang’s waist. It was easier, back when she saw that picture every day. But now, now it hurts differently, now it makes her want to tear it down, turn it the other way ‘round. Now she hurts, and she’s forgotten exactly how to process it, push it down.

 

“It’s dumb to fly the whole way home,” Ruby critiques, stealing a fried snack off of Yang’s plate. “She doesn’t even like them.”

 

“Do you really think she gets a choice?” Yang mutters around her bite, unfairly irritated. Hasn’t it been long enough that Ruby understands none of them do? “Be realistic, Ruby.”

 

It’s not really harsh, but Ruby seems to deflate a little. This is what the adjustment period means, going from two sisters who used to rip out each other’s hair and tell each other to shut the fuck up twelve times a day to two people who didn’t quite know where the lines were, how personally something should be taken. 

 

“How’s school?” Yang asks with her shoulder bumping against Ruby’s, an olive branch. “Did they give you a Nobel Peace Prize yet or what?”

 

“Your sister might get valedictorian,” their dad comments from the kitchen chair he’s dragged in, perched on the edge, elbows resting on his knees. 

 

Head whipping around to face Ruby, Yang demands, “What?” “You didn’t tell me that!”

 

Ruby’s laughing but shaking her head and pushing Yang off of her. “Nothing’s official yet. It’s all just rumors.”

 

That doesn’t deter Yang, pulling Ruby back in and rubbing her knuckles against her head until she’s groaning and flailing all around, violent enough to get Yang to release her. “You’re amazing, you know that?” she asks, swept up in feeling bad for all the things she’s missing even when she’s here. “Don’t forget us when you’re rich and famous.”

 

A roll of her eyes, one final shove against Yang. “I’ll be forgetting you first,” she grumbles, continuing to snack off of Yang’s plate, eyes fixed on the TV.

 

//

 

Christmas was never really about gifts. When they were kids, it was about waking their dad by jumping on his bed, eating pancakes and cocoa and whip cream. They played in the snow, sometimes took a family walk down to the beach to run on the sand and the snow all blended, steely grey waves rolling in under a cloud-covered sky. It was a day they sat down and played a game all together, watched a movie, opened the thing or two beneath the tree. Their dad would take the homemade cards they’d created each year and pin them to the fridge where previous year’s had resided until then. 

 

It was a day where no one thought about work or school or bills or how there was something missing that they couldn’t name without all getting sad. 

 

Sometimes Uncle Qrow would stop by, usually drunk but always with presents. He’d throw them around and play video games and talk their dad into letting him take them for a spin on his motorcycle. Then they’d all sit around to a dinner of Chinese take out, staying up way later than kids should, listening to stories that went over their heads on the full context. It wasn’t like everybody else’s, but it was special to them. It was important to them.

 

Sometime just before midnight, Yang is up, unable to sleep as she tossed and turned in her old childhood bed that now felt a lot less cozy than it once had, her legs a little too long and her back a bit too accustomed to memory foam and quilted mattress toppers. Through the walls, an anime theme song plays every twenty or so minutes, and Yang can picture her little sister slumped over on her pillows, blue light from the television cast on the walls, a small puddle of drool collecting. Just like when they were kids. 

 

The kitchen’s a mess, and it’s been almost six months since the last time Yang has done any dishes. Most of what’s scattered around are paper plates and empty cans, but she fills up the recycling and scrubs off forks and ice cream bowls with chocolate sauce glued to the sides. 

 

A light flicks on, and Yang jumps. Her dad is standing behind her, same old, red bathrobe on and deep set exhaustion beneath his eyes. “Can’t sleep?”

 

The sponge lathers when she squeezes it, tiny bubbles of lavender scent wafting up by her face. “You could say that.”

 

They loved each other, plain and simple. But there was baggage between them, memories and hopes and disappointments that muddled up a relationship that never really stood a chance of being traditional from the start. “How have you been?” Yang presents the question more like an interrogation than a request. “Really.”

 

He sighs like just the effort of listening to the question makes him tired. “I’m hanging in there.”

 

And that’s the truth, that’s the same response he’s been giving since they stood clustered by a casket as teary eyed adults stood before them with gentle hands on their shoulders and condescending smiles and all asked, “How are you holding up?” in that same tone of sympathy and concern. Like they’d all rehearsed together before coming in. 

 

“I’m hanging in there,” he would say, a hand on each of his daughter’s shoulders, Ruby who wouldn’t stop sniffling for the last week even though she wasn’t crying, and Yang who had a stolen communion wafer stuffed in her shoe and a pack of gum from the gas station shoved in the lining of her tights that didn’t fit to begin with. 

 

“Care to elaborate?” The water runs off the plate, washing away the suds and bubbles before Yang props it in the dish drainer. 

 

Barefoot steps are approaching behind her, a hand on her shoulder. “It’s not your job to worry about me.”

 

“I’m not,” Yang says, and she doesn’t know if it’s the truth or not. All she knows is that she’s worried about plenty of things and only sometimes does she stop to include her dad on that list. Maybe it’s more of a guilt thing than an anxiety thing. “Just want to make sure you aren’t letting Ruby come home to chaos all the time.”

 

His hand drops away, and he leans back against the kitchen counter, turns his head so he can look directly at her even when she makes no attempt to meet him halfway. “I’m doing alright. I’ve got things under control. Okay?”

 

Yang loves her dad; she really does. But there’s something about looking him in the eye, about hearing him say those words, that just makes her angry. Almost like she wishes he wasn’t, like she would rather he was falling apart. “Good for you.”

 

The clock on the microwave flips over to twelve. Yang thinks about causing drama for the sake of it. Acting like a teenager like the last time she lived in this house, slamming doors and shouting curse words because there was so much rage, and she’d never figured out how to release it, where it could go. But instead, she shuts off the sink and reaches for a hand towel. She props herself up on the counter and stares down at her dad, who has a hand running down his face. There’s a grayish tone to his skin in the dark. 

 

“I’ve missed you,” she goes for instead. 

 

He looks up at her, and he’s not actually smiling, it’s not pancakes and snow forts and off-key singing, but it’s something. It’s the truth. “I’ve missed you too.” The silence is awkward between them because this is the point where Ruby wraps her arms around them both and pulls them in for a hug. This is the part where Yang throws her bag over her shoulder and rides off once again. This is the part where the conversation ends.

 

But this time, she doesn’t jump off the countertop and stretch her arms overhead. This time he doesn’t yawn and take a few steps back towards the stairs. They’re both just kind of there. Waiting.

 

“How is...how’s your mom?” Tai asks, which is potentially the worst thing he could have said.

 

And here’s why they tended to end the conversation at the I miss you’s and I love you’s and call it a day. Yang sits up straight, teeth grinding down. “Raven’s the same as ever.” There was a distinction, and she clung to it. Raven wasn’t her mom, and it didn’t matter how many years she lived in the same mansion, how many campaign trails she went on, how many charity events she dressed up for. No amount of interviews could ever change the truth she had grasped as a pre-teen who’d had an opportunity slammed shut in her face, who felt a sense of loss too many times. Summer was her mom. Her mom was six feet under, just like she’d been for sixteen years now. 

 

“I hope you two are at least getting along some?” he asks, looking over his shoulder at her. His foot taps against the faded, yellow linoleum of the floors—a nervous habit. 

 

“It’s been four and a half years, Dad,” Yang comments like he doesn’t know. “We get along the same as we always have.”

 

The silence lasts for too long and that’s how she knows he’s about to say something she doesn’t want to hear. “Just…” he starts, stops, and Yang’s muscles are locked in place, her fists clenched. She doesn’t even breathe, just waits instead of storming out before he can say something bound to piss her off. “Have you given her a chance?”

 

“Ha!” Yang says too loudly with Ruby asleep upstairs and the stillness of their conversation and the eggshells they normally tiptoe on, now fractured. “Why?” She insists on an answer worth listening to.

 

“Well, she is your mother and-”

 

“No.” Yang jumps down, exhales harshly and ignores the lump rising in her throat. “She’s my President, and I’m her pawn. The only reason I’m there is because the press found out about me and used me against her. The only reason I’m staying is that my being with her helped her numbers. Because the people started seeing a mom along with a politician and a business woman and a strategist. Because the only thing that made her seem human was me .” 

 

“Yang, I’m sorry. I-”

 

Head shaking, fists trembling. The whole situation made her angry, but her anger was to be tamed, controlled, ignored. Her position was too important to waste on rage. She could fly off the handle all she wanted in the privacy of the god forsaken White House, as long as the cameras weren’t there. But then no one cared, no one gave a shit. None of this was about her. It was about image, about winning. “I never wanted this.” She’s not crying, but she is frustrated. She’s upset because home is now a vacation spot and the picture from Summer in the living room is visible from the doorway, and she forgot just where she had to kick her closet door to make it open. Her world was taken from her all so she could serve a purpose, do something bigger than herself. Do something she never wanted to.

 

“I know.”

 

“You knew and you didn’t do a thing.” And that’s what it boils down to, how it simplifies. There was so much covering the truth, layers and pieces which obscured it, but when it came down to it, and Yang hunted for breaking points and disappointments and fault lines, that’s where it started. “You said I should go. You told me I should ‘take the opportunity.’”

 

“C’mon, Yang, you know-”

 

“No! I don’t!” she gets in his face, and she doesn’t know if she’s crying or screaming or whimpering. But she knows that no one else cares when she gets like this, that her anger doesn’t hurt anyone else, and he’s got a right to it as much as the rest of them. “The only thing I know is you pushed me to do this bullshit and I’m still here, stuck in it, wrapped up in shit I never cared about, playing some power game with people I don’t like, manipulating the media for a candidate I support but a mother who I don’t trust in the slightest.”

 

She steps away, finds that she can breathe again, that her muscles are relaxed, that the fight’s gone out of her. “All I know, is that you didn’t even make a case against her as to why I should stay.” She stalks out of the kitchen before he can say anything else.

 

//

 

The sun is barely up when Blake’s scroll starts to ring.

 

Last night she hadn’t drunk a single drop of alcohol, and still, her head was pounding. Eyes cracking open, she sees the early morning orange cast across her bedroom, the flowers she’d been presented as a joke from Ilia last night glowing in them. 

 

It’s too early to justify a call, which is the part that catches Blake’s attention. It’s the only reason she rolls to her other side and grabs her scroll off the charger on her bedside table, flipping it over with her heart beating in her throat. Yang’s name flashes on the front. 

 

“Yang?” she answers without another thought; even though a month ago, she would have rolled her eyes and hit the silence button, now she feels inclined to answer. Now she thinks maybe she even wants to. “Isn’t it like, 1 AM for you? Are you okay?”

 

There’s no answer for a minute, and Blake sits up, quilt slipping away from her body and her hair falling in disarray.

 

“I’m fine, sorry.” Her voice doesn’t sound right, doesn’t match the tone and cadence Blake has become accustomed to. “Just, uh, wanted to wish you a Merry Christmas before your day got busy. I’m heading to bed.”

 

There’s a rush on the other end that sounds like the same wind she’d heard the day before, no revving engine to match it this morning. “My day won’t be busy for a bit still,” she yawns, falling back amongst the pillows, “if you want to talk for a little bit.”

 

It’s bolder than Blake normally goes with. Because she didn’t know what this was between them, if it counted as friends or flirting for the sake of pissing people off. She didn’t know how sincere any of this was meant to be, but trust was fickle, hard to find and harder to keep. “It’s nothing. I had a big fight with my dad is all and, ugh. I’m sorry. This is stupid.”

 

“I don’t think it is,” Blake finds herself whispering, face half buried in the pillowcase that smells of spring and mountains, apparently but mostly just smells like detergent. The pounding behind her eyes doesn’t relent, but it does seem less important, like she has other things worth considering first. There’s her past creeping up beside her, how she would have said those same words, try and shrug it off and pretend it wasn’t real at all—what words it was that she needed to hear instead. “Do you want to talk about it?”

 

More silence and Blake can see her now, the trees looming in the shadows of the evening, the wind cutting through her front yard, arms crossed over an old pajama shirt and feet shoved into snow boots with the laces still untied. 

 

For a long time, Yang says nothing. “You know how something could have happened an entire lifetime ago, but you can’t...no matter what you do, you can’t let it go.”

 

Blake swallows, feeling small and seen and exposed while buried beneath covers an entire ocean away. She feels like all those times she has pictured Yang, maybe Yang has seen her too. “Yes.” It’s a confession whether Yang knows it or not, a truth she had buried so deep, never for anyone else to have access to, no one else allowed to exploit. “I do.”

 

“That’s what it’s like between us.” And she sounds resigned, surrendered. Blake imagines her sitting on her front doorstep, snow soaking her sweatpants and lips turning blue. She imagines her breath coming out in clouds of condensation. “All this shit that happened when I was six or seventeen, and I can’t let it go. I can’t forgive him even though I know like, he did what he could. But I’m holding this grudge and...I take all this anger out on him. Even if it’s not meant just for him.”

 

“Yeah,” Blake agrees, teeth digging into her bottom lip. “Anger can be scary,” she admits, and she doesn’t mean just when it’s directed at her, even though that was the part that always seemed the worst, the part everyone always focused on. She meant the anger inside of you, the way it could grab hold of your common sense and your rational behaviors and twist them all to shreds, trample them down until there was nothing more than a devil inside of you, and he was finding his way out. 

 

Maybe there are Christmas lights across the street, definitely a motorcycle parked in the driveway, next to a four-door sedan and a dog bowl on the porch. It fits. “I don’t want to feel this way anymore, so I try and convince myself I don’t but then…”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“Yeah.” Yang sighs. “I’m sorry, this probably wasn’t how you wanted to start your Christmas,” she laughs in a rush of an exhale, and Blake considers masks versus the truth and which was easier to look head-on and embrace. 

 

It’s not so much as a decision as a risk she decides worth taking. “It’s okay. Not really something I was looking forward to anyway.”

 

“Why?” Yang asks without hesitation, relieved to be moved past herself and onto someone else, no doubt. 

 

That answer is multi-faceted; it’s too clunky to give in its entirety and too complex to narrow down to an easy solution. “It’s been a few years since I was home to celebrate.” There’s an undercurrent of something more, a promise of truth with a gentle reserve still tethered tight. Eyes fixed on the ceiling, the fan making its rotation and a soft breeze cast down. There’s something to be said about circles, how easy it is to trace the same path over and over. 

 

“Right,” Yang answers without asking for more. 

 

“So I kind of get awkward family encounters right now,” Blake offers up, trying to connect like you’re supposed to with a friend. “I hope things work out between you and your dad,” she offers lamely instead of giving anymore of herself.

 

//

 

For a handful of generations, the offspring of the Chancellor of Mistral had thrown the New Year’s Eve party to beat all other parties. Every year there were new themes, live celebrity performances, a private fireworks show—all at the top of the mountain where the capitol building resided to domineer over the city. This was not for the rulers of kingdoms or the prominent political figures but exclusively reserved for their children. It was a privilege allotted to those a degree away from power but forced to wear its responsibilities regardless.

 

It had been a few years since the current Chancellor had any teens or young adults in the house, but that did not interrupt the tradition. 

 

catch you in mistral this weekend? ;) Yang asks her first morning back in the White House. Three days before she’s on a plane to Mistral, where she’ll be conducting a handful of interviews and a charity event with Pyrrha Nikos to spread outreach to one of the valley villages recently impacted by flooding in the further regions of the kingdom. 

 

Not usually my thing

 

Yang’s lips pull down in disappointment. It’s not like she wanted wanted Blake to be there. More that it would just be...nice. She had plenty of friends who’d be there, and the surplus of alcohol alone was promising enough. She could even bring Ruby if she asked. Hell, probably even if she didn’t. 

 

But having Blake there would be, like nice or something. maybe it should be Yang shoots back with a shrugging emoji, practiced nonchalance. There had been something that transpired between them over Christmas, an intimacy that made Yang almost ache to see her, to speak not with a speaker pressed against her ear, to hold her amber eyes and just watch her. i for one will be looking amazing. you don’t wanna miss that. 

 

There’s a beat, a moment where she says nothing at all, and Yang is ready to try another angle, to try anything because maybe she does want Blake to be there. Maybe it is a borderline need. 

 

I mean, when you put it like that.  

 

And it’s only a handful of minutes later before Yang has a picture on her scroll of Blake in a fitted black dress, hair grazing on her shoulder, a half-smile tugging on her lips. What do you think?

 

Yang doesn’t have oxygen, doesn’t have a single breath of air, and she’s glad that Blake isn’t in front of her, relieved that she doesn’t have to admit what is happening inside of her through expressions and glances and an embarrassing inability to breathe. She’s grateful she has a chance to edit what she says next. i think it’d be a shame if i didn’t get to see you in that in person. 

 

The next morning Yang has a picture of the box next to ‘Yes’ checked on the RSVP and not even Raven can sour her mood at breakfast.

 

//

 

Mistral was the kingdom that shouldn’t work. Sure, Vacuo existed in the vacuum of a desert, but they made it function by placing their major cities and capital at the edges of the water or in the heart of oases. But Mistral took land that was theirs to claim with all of its treacherous terrains and settled the most striking buildings of the kingdom atop mountains. They built a city on its side, irrigating the waters to create a fresh stream that ran through with predictable floods twice a year to nourish the soil for crops.

 

They built shops on the edge of cliffs, neighborhoods lining the side of switchbacks. The waterfall that ran down the center of their city was used first as a resource and later as recreation. The very existence of Mistral’s population was proof of what civilizations had always been capable of, what people would do to survive. And just how much their people would look to a challenge and figure out a way to make it work for them.

 

In modern times, gondolas had been installed up and down the mountains to allow for ease of transportation. Those who lived towards the top of the mountain were of higher status and wealth, but there were many shops, parks, and restaurants that were among them for citizens to travel to. New office buildings were being added just above the treeline, covered in hurricane grade building materials to protect against weather extremes. Even now, when the city was desperately out of space, they continued to grow.

 

Blake adored the sights of Mistral. With a Faunus as the headmaster of Haven, and the school playing a part in the kingdom’s overall governance, this was an area she had frequented, even as a child when it was far more common for humans to shun the Faunus as best possible. Mistral made a small place at the table for her father, had been a long term ally. 

 

So really, she would have landed at this party almost regardless, but she had left the RSVP unanswered for two full weeks before Yang had messaged her. The text had sent Blake’s heart racing in her throat, her pulse quivering at possibilities promised. 

 

This was nothing, she had told herself in her hotel room as she’d dressed for this evening. She would do her own hair and makeup as she did for most events. Tonight she curls the top layer of hair, giving the bob she’d cut it into a few months before an extra layer of texture. She lines her eyes with a deep black pencil, dusts pink across the dark skin of her cheeks. 

 

The dress slips on perfectly, tailored to fit her just right. The straps are thin, and a slit rises up the side to her thigh. A jeweled necklace around her throat, deep purple earrings drop from her ears. Simple, elegant, nothing flashy but just enough to catch some eyes, to catch Yang’s.

 

There was a singular guard to escort her to the party. Though her family would never pay for the extravagance, the Chancellor had reserved a room for her at the finest hotel, one that sat almost to the top of the mountain. Outside of her window had been the expanse of the city, the formidable waterfall, to the mountain range beyond. They were almost entirely covered in snow this time of year, not so much a dusting as a drenching. 

 

The sidewalk they take to their gondola is heated, powered by Dust to keep it warm, the snow melts away as the flakes land. It eliminates the struggle of walking in heels through three feet of snow as she would have otherwise had to contend with.

 

The capitol building has been transformed. They’ve leaned into a tropical theme this year, and Blake suspects it’s a minor salute to her kingdom in the making and the momentous vote to be made on Menagerie’s status later in the year. 

 

A lei made of real flowers is strung around her neck as they climb the stairs, and she laughs to herself as one is slipped over the head of her guard. “Pink complements you,” she jokes and receives not even an inkling of a smile in return.

 

The band on stage wears their shirts open, hair tousled, as they play songs with heavy bass and even heavier drum beats. There are island-themed snacks which Blake appreciates, pina coladas on trays, shrimp cocktail, coconut covered cookies. Little tiki torches rest in the chandeliers, their flames more decorative than to light anything.

 

Blake’s heels click against the hardwood, and she’s grateful they hadn’t gone to the measure of covering it with sand. This is the part where her guard bows his head and steps to the side of the room to monitor, but mostly to convene with fellow security detail.

 

Nora finds her first, all but screaming as she approaches and drags Pyrrha forward by the arm. They hug even without the cameras present.

 

That was the beauty of this event. All of the cameras had to wait outside. The exclusivity made them all the more curious, leaving them lining the sidewalks and exits for over a mile by the end of the night. 

 

“You made it!” Nora shouts, even though Blake had never told her she was coming. “You have to try the smoked salmon.”

 

“And soon,” Pyrrha adds with a smile, “before Nora eats it all.”

 

Blake laughs with them, but she’s scanning the room, searching with intention.

 

“I haven’t seen her yet,” Pyrrha says quietly in Blake’s ear. Blake blushes and doesn’t respond. “I’m happy you were able to make it this year.” Last year everything had still been too fresh, too new and old all at once. She wasn’t ready to tackle parties and events at that time. And the previous four years...well, it’d been a while since Blake had attended. 

 

“Whoa,” Nora says with no degree of subtlety when the doors open once more. 

 

It’s Yang, a simple white dress with gold accents all along it and a lei of purple flowers around her neck. She’s got half her hair pulled on top of her head, secured in an elegant bun that looks far simpler than it must have been to accomplish. The dress leaves her arms bare and sways loosely at her hips, begging for her to dance. 

 

Except Nora isn’t even looking at Yang, which seems like a sin; her eyes are fixed on Yang’s head guard who had two leis of pink flowers around his neck and a look of wonderment in his eyes as he glanced around the transformed room. 

 

“Yeah,” Blake responds without meaning to. “I’ll, uh, catch you guys later.”

 

Nora’s already walking towards Yang, exchanging brief pleasantries before redirecting her attention. And Pyrrha is at Blake’s ear again, whispering just above the music. “The whole room is looking at her,” she says, and Blake breaks her gaze to confirm the claim. Even the band has eyes on Yang, on the way she illuminates the space she’s in, how the gold of her bodice almost shines in the lights of the room. It’s unnerving how dedicated the attention is to Yang. “But she’s looked nowhere but at you.”

 

Blake swallows and approaches Yang with measured, steady footsteps. She thinks of all their encounters before, of bickering and arguments, of the irritation that rode beneath their words. And then she thinks of calls and funny texts, and the sound of her voice on Christmas morning. 

 

“Hey,” Blake breathes in her direction, and, though she’s dressed in every degree of finery, finds that Yang only cares to watch her face, her eyes.

 

Yang, ever the picture of confidence and nonchalance, scans Blake up and down before landing on her eyes. Her irises are a deep lavender in this light. “I was right,” she says.

 

“About what?” Blake swallows and thinks about kissing her, about how easy it would be, about how much she wants to do it when before the thought never would have crossed her mind.

 

“Definitely deserved to be seen in person.”

 

And there are a hundred different responses flitting around in Blake’s head, but she forgoes words and instead offers her hand as a new song begins to play, the energy of the room shifting and swelling until there was no choice but to follow along with it. “Shall we?”

 

Yang smiles, and she’s not at all arrogant or cocky or infuriating. She’s gentle when she takes Blake’s hand, eases into following Blake’s lead. “I thought you’d never ask,” she comments finally, hand on Blake’s hip and eyes unafraid, unabashed. And there’s no space between them but floating in its non-existence is the beginnings of a history, the promise of a future neither of them could quite realize. 

 

“Didn’t realize you were waiting for me to,” Blake answers with her hips shaking and a sheen of sweat on her forehead from the heat of bodies packed around. 

 

Yang is watching her, more attuned to Blake than the room or the music or her own movements. “Neither did I.”

 

//

 

It’s easy to lose yourself to the thrum of a party, the heady haze of alcohol and heavy beats, the intoxication of fellow party-goers moving around you, existing on this same plane.

 

But Yang forgets about them. She forgets about the thrum of the bass in her chest, about the room full of important people with important titles going absolute apeshit with the freedom allotted for tonight alone. 

 

Tonight, Yang’s lost in the only person she’s been waiting for, the only one she’s cared at all about seeing. Her gaze is held by molten gold, by deep purples, by hips that sway and a neck that dips back, open and exposed. Yang’s eyes are caught on red, full lips and the distinct way they twitch upwards when their eyes meet. 

 

Weiss ends up beside them, a few people down from Pyrrha. “Will you just go ,” Yang shouts with a shove of her shoulder against Weiss’s back to ease her towards that side of the dancefloor. 

 

She stumbles forward but falls back to Yang’s side. “I can barely breathe in here,” she yells back, all dramatics and excuses.

 

Yang rolls her eyes and looks to Blake, uses the flow of music as an excuse to run her fingers over Blake’s arm, lingering for a second on the inside of her wrist. “Wanna get outta here?”

 

Eyebrows shooting up in surprise, Blake seems to try and consider if Yang’s suggestion is even viable. And there’s danger in her smile, a promise of something messy and disastrous tucked at the edges of her lips. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

 

Yang steps into her, presses their foreheads together and draws a deep breath, the air distinctly tinged with cigarettes and weed and a hundred different expensive perfumes all swirled into one. And there, just beneath it all, is a tinge of jasmine and a hint of lavender; there is something Yang has come to distinctly recognize, to crave. “No,” she answers with a smirk. “Personally, though, I’m a big fan of risks.”

 

And Blake reaches out, twists their fingers together, palms pressed close. “I think I’m starting to see the appeal.”

 

They slip out the employee entrance, Weiss and Pyrrha tailing them. Some wait staff definitely notice them, but no one in a crisp white shirt and solid black tie is going to put a stop to them, and security is at the door, vigilant and cautious but Blake nods, all royal authority to which they bow without question. Their job was to keep people out, no one ever told them to make sure others didn’t leave.

 

Outside the air is crisp, cold. The snow has stopped. It lays in large drifts on the sides of the walkways, piling in perfect, even lines almost to their hips.

 

None of them are dressed for the weather, but they’re warm on the alcohol still rushing through their bloodstreams, still drunk off the blurry rush of freedom to such a degree. 

 

Weiss keeps giggling, frankly a mess but still with pristine hair and untouched makeup, gown swirling by her ankles and high heels teetering on the sidewalks. Pyrrha slips an arm around Weiss’s shoulders when she steps a little too close to the edge, unbalanced and overwhelmed. Yang wants to shake her head but finds how quickly she loses herself in Blake’s stare, in how their palms are still warm where they are held together. 

 

“I think I know a place,” Yang smirks, and Blake takes suggestions and hints. “If you’re up for it, that is.”

 

Somewhere along the way, they lose Weiss and Pyrrha, who duck into a late night coffee shop, Pyrrha commenting on needing to warm Weiss up and Blake muttering, “I’m sure you’re up for the task,” under her breath with Yang laughing beside her. 

 

The lights of the grocery store beckon them, and really Yang doesn’t know a damn place except her hotel room, and it’s too early for that, too rushed, when she’s exposed nerve endings and nebulous desires. 

 

It’s late enough on New Year’s Eve that the twenty-four hour store is cleared out besides for employees stocking shelves and a bored woman flipping through a magazine behind the counter. Blake’s still got a tight hold on Yang’s hand and drags her in, begs her forward. “Do you know the last time I went grocery shopping?” Yang asks, lips slightly parted, partially entranced by the lights, the products, the colors. Even when she went home to Patch, she was to remain indoors as much as possible, draw as little attention to herself as she could. 

 

Blake pulls a cart loose of the row, and Yang hops lightly on the balls of her feet to the end of it, laughing as they disappear down an aisle. “One thing you always want but never get to have anymore.” Blake prompts, a bag of Sour Patch Kids slapping against the plastic bottom of the cart. 

 

Everything is bright, burning against her retinas with colors illuminated in fluorescents, the light FM playing a popular song from five years ago, the laughter that slips free from Yang’s chest without effort. “Pop-Tarts,” she says without thinking too hard about it—a staple in the Xiao Long-Rose household.

 

The cart swings around haphazardly, and they wind up in the breakfast aisle, rows of cereal boxes with cartoon toucans and multi-colored marshmallows. 

 

There’s a line of various Pop-Tart flavors, bright red cherry and vibrant purple berry, sprinkled covered strawberry. Yang stares between them all and defers to Blake, hopping off of her chariot ride and coming to stand beside her. “I don’t know,” she says, “sometimes decisions are the worst.”

 

And Blake’s chewing her lip, she’s glittering in the lights, she’s happy, bright. “Only when you don’t know what you want,” she says and it’s a challenge, a suggestion.

 

Yang swallows, stare fixed ahead. An employee sweeps down the aisle with a mop in hand, light lemon cleaner scent left behind him as he goes. “Maybe I just don’t know if the Pop-Tarts want me,” she says with a poorly disguised metaphor. 

 

Blake grabs a box of cookies and cream right off the shelf, presses it against Yang’s chest, lets her hand linger by Yang’s side as it drops away. “I didn’t know you were the type to worry about that,” she says, scanning, assessing. “You don’t seem to worry about much at all.”

 

“There’s plenty I worry about,” Yang whispers under her breath, one hand holding an eight-count box of Pop-Tarts to her chest and the other itching, wanting, missing. “There are a lot of things I want that...don’t want me.” It’s a confessional in the aisles of a 24-hour mart, a revelation admitted to oatmeal boxes and pancake syrup. It’s a truth usually so buried down in the dark laid out here in the lights and colors and wonderment of a place so common-place, so definitely not special, that it doesn’t feel quite so scary to face. 

 

And Blake doesn’t even look over her shoulder, doesn’t even think or scan or worry, before pressing up on the very tips of her toes, looping an arm around Yang’s neck and pulling her down to press their lips together. Warm and gentle and wanting with how they hold Yang in place, easing concerns while answering desires. “I don’t think you need to spend your time worrying about something like that,” she mutters when their lips are still a centimeter apart, their breath still warm on each other’s face. They’re both a little drunk, or maybe a lot, which is why they fail to recognize bad ideas, don’t stop themselves in fear of an unplanned press release or the knowledge that they lived on two different ends of the earth, two different sides of the same society.

 

They kiss in the bright lights of the grocery store, the sound of fireworks booming in the sky heard from just outside. They kiss as the new year strikes, and Yang finds herself pleased that if she were to spend the rest of her year exactly like this, it would be the best one yet.

 

//

 

They end up at a table outside of the store, cold metal chairs biting through their gowns and the sharp rush of wind whipping against exposed arms and red tinged cheeks every few minutes. 

 

There was shitty coffee for sale, and they drink barely lukewarm, watery coffee from paper cups, with handfuls of candy, half-finished Pop-Tarts, and a bag of chips between them. Forget a hangover. They’ll have food poisoning by morning.

 

It’s so easy to be enamored by Yang, for Blake to find herself wrapped within her stratosphere, her center of gravity pulled from the earth. And just when she worries it's too much, too strong, she finds Yang releasing her. 

 

Blake finds that the choice never stops being hers. 

 

They talk outside, sitting beside each other with their sides flush together in some small means of generating heat. They ask where the hell Pyrrha and Weiss are, what they’re possibly getting into, how much their security detail is suffering in a panic. 

 

A cart attendant pushes in a long row of clanking together shopping carts. They have an old line of wet, half-melted snow being shoved off of their handles as he goes, not even glancing at the ornately dressed women enjoying candy that were part way to frozen at an outdoor table on New Years. 

 

“So,” Yang says, popping a handful of sour candy in her mouth without so much as wincing against it. “Do you have any resolutions?” and just like before, everything is a challenge, like she’s being demanded to meet her halfway, to outbid her.

 

Blake rests her chin in her hand, body turned to take in the profile of Yang, the way her hair seems to radiate even in the dying lights and her body remains warm beside Blake even as the wind howls. “I don’t know if I believe in them.”

 

Lingering close, eyes shifting and studying, Yang gives it a single minute before answering, “Liar,” and grinning cheekily at her.

 

She’s right, but Blake refuses to give her that. “Hm,” she answers, eyes fixed on Yang’s, some part of her still wrapped within the heady rush of their kiss, the dangers it posed and how none of it mattered at all because her world was simplifying to a point, to a future she felt she could trust in, “maybe it’s to tell the truth, then.” 

 

Yang kisses her first this time, just an imperceptible lean in, and their lips were pressed together, the tinge of sour and sweet still lingering on Yang’s lips. “How would you feel if I told you my resolution was to let down my guard, with you, I mean.”

 

“I’d say that’s just another way of telling the truth.”

 

//

 

The island is overcast for days on end when Blake returns. This was their version of winter—thick, grey clouds and a breeze coming off the water so cold to encourage you to put a sweatshirt on. The evenings grew chilly enough to justify a bonfire, something locals loved to make a full festival out of. Teenagers on the beach smoking pot, families in their backyards making smores. The people of Menagerie were an outdoor folk by nature, somewhat due to necessity. They embraced these rare winter days, let the cold cloak them in beanies and fleece lined leggings.

 

It’s not exactly a tradition, but Blake remembers doing the same herself as a kid. The scent of wood burned smoke sinking deep into the fibers of her clothes, Ilia’s marshmallow catching on fire, her parents laughing as the kids darted into the cold waves of their private beach, racing back with full body shivers. 

 

It was one of the rare moments void of royal responsibilities. And instead, drenched in the sticky, sweetness of childhood. 

 

Tonight is the first island-wide bonfire festival Blake has been home for in Menagerie in five years.

 

It wasn’t an event that demanded any sort of royal attendance. When she was young, the baby princess who the civilians loved to dote on, she would ride on her dad’s shoulders in the same clothes she wore to roam the palace halls, as her parents weaved through the crowds, being welcomed by their people wholeheartedly.

 

But tensions on the island had shifted, and though the Faunus of Menagerie were still eager to celebrate the winter festival in their own way, the king and queen were only so welcomed.

 

The White Fang movement had caused so much unrest that had yet to settle. Adam had good intentions initially, but even today, the mistrust and questions of the people remained out of hand and upset any concrete ability in trusting their king to make decisions in their best interest. 

 

So Blake isn’t attending tonight out of obligation or duty. There won’t be much press at an event like this anyway. Tonight she goes for herself, for the remnants of her past she clung to most dearly, for the potential she still senses from the night as a whole. 

 

The fires are alight by twilight, the sky a deep blue, an occasional star poking from between the clouds. Swinging open the door, there’s the ever present crashing of waves mixed with the crackling of wood and screams of laughter from a distance.

 

Blake wears warm layers, a sweatshirt pulled overtop of everything, and her hands buried deep into the pocket, a beanie slipped low to cover both sets of ears.

 

“I didn’t know you were coming, homie!” Sun rushes up beside, throws an arm around her shoulders and smiles wide like they’re old time friends.

 

Blake steps to the side, allowing his arm to drop naturally. “And why exactly are you here?” Though not really anyone important in Vacuo, with how spare family lines can be in the harsh desert, Sun being a cousin to the Prime Minister manages to mean something. 

 

“Maybe to see you.” He winks, and it’s all wrong, the same sort of sunny optimism and overt joking that Blake is accustomed to in Yang but doesn’t know how to accept on someone that it fits so different. 

 

“Uh-huh,” she shoves her hands deeper. There’s a promise of rain in the air, but it’s holding off, like they’ve been offered a few hours of celebration first. “Really, though.”

 

Sun walks easily beside her, arms swinging and shirt still wide open despite the dropping temperatures. So unashamed. “My Gramps moved out this way ‘bout a decade ago. I come visit him twice a year if I can swing it.”

 

Solitude was the part of this Blake had been most looking forward to. The fact that she could be surrounded by people but covered by a light that wouldn’t stay in any one place and no one was looking for her presence one way or the other. Now this buffoon, lovable or not, was at her side, drawing attention with his nonstop swinging tail or his abs or his too loud voice. “That’s nice.” She decides to be as boring as possible to conceal that she wanted him to leave, making him think it was his idea. 

 

“I’m surprised they didn’t make it more of a thing that you were coming,” Sun tosses a coin in a vendor's direction, grabbing two bottles of ale and passing one her way.

 

Blake wrinkles her nose but accepts his offering regardless. “That was kind of the point,” she mutters, not quite under her breath. She thinks about Yang, what she might be doing back home, how she would feel about the sparklers kids sprinted in circles with or the flames that climbed towards the heavens, licks of heat reaching out, sparking off with ash falling to the ground by their feet. Blake thinks it’s beautiful and that it’s something she wants to share. She thinks of Yang. 

 

“You aren’t really the social type, huh?” Sun says like he hasn’t known her for the better part of a decade, taking a long pull of drink and ambling on. “I remember you being a little more wild when we were kids.”

 

Vacuo was the only kingdom that had been willing to defend Menagerie for over a generation now. They were also familiar with being taken advantage of, pushed to the points where they were less bothersome as they were drained of their own resources to benefit others. An ally was an ally, and one so loyal to the throne in Menagerie was something worth preserving, something that offered stability, a defense on an allyship that was fragile at best.

 

Blake clears her throat. Drinks the beer and forces herself to swallow it down, the bitter hops warmer than she typically cared to tolerate. “That was a long time ago.”

 

“So vague,” Sun leers, leaning into her space. “So serious.”

 

“Maybe I just want you to leave me alone.”

 

His eyes narrow, backing off but not in the way Blake had anticipated. “Nah, I think it’s all a projection.”

 

“What?” The tone of disdain coats her voice, and Blake does nothing to cover it. 

 

Sun’s hand gestures to all of her. “Your whole, moody and depressed vibe you’ve got going. It’s not really you.”

 

“You don’t know me.”

 

“You’re protecting yourself, I think. Something happened, or maybe it’s a royalty thing, but you’d rather alienate anyone than deal with the fallout of something going wrong.” Sun Wukong didn’t strike Blake as the perceptive type, more of the two brain cells maximum and lack of self-restraint type. “You’re afraid. This moody and brooding part of you isn’t, like, you . It’s what you pretend to be.” He looks proud of himself. 

 

Blake hates him all the more for it. “Do yourself a favor and don’t act like you fucking know me.” Not even the drums easing out a slow beat is enough to brighten her mood. He won’t stop negging her, and she was in no mood to put up with some rando, half-assed not even elected fuckwad. “Just leave me alone, okay?”

 

“Eh, not my style, really.” When she stops walking, so does he. Sipping casually, posture relaxed and easy. “Hey, do they have turkey legs at this thing? I am dying for some good roasted meat.”

 

When she walks away, he follows at her side.

 

//

 

“Can I ask you a question?” Blake whispers on the other line, voice crackling and weak like from a poor connection. Maybe an island storm is blowing through.

 

With a seven hour time difference, they were used to awkwardly timed calls. It was seven in the morning for Yang, just after midnight in Menagerie. The winter sun had begun to rise, rays of light reflecting back off the freshly fallen snow, still white and crisp and untouched. “Sure,” Yang responds with a light tone. She’s still in bed; hair fanned out on the pillows, teeth unbrushed, eyes only half-opened. She wasn’t ready for heavy.

 

“Do you...do you think I’m projecting something I’m not?”

 

The question is just vague enough, and there’s too little coffee in Yang’s system to decipher hidden meanings and layers of truths. “It’s seven AM, darling. I’m going to need more.” The pet names were just a thing now, not quite a mockery but not really serious. They slipped loose. 

 

“Sorry.” Blake sighs. She’s never loud, impossibly unobtrusive while also being steadily, presently there. Yang felt like she could be beside her, wrapped loosely in sheets with dark hair tumbling, her deep skin tone awash in the morning light. “Sun just said something and I-”

 

“Sun?” Yang cuts her off, pulled swiftly from the vision she’d been losing herself in. “Sun Wukong? Cousin to the Prime Minister of Vacuo?”

 

“That’s the one.” The words come out grumbled and cranky.

 

Yang makes a sound of distaste in the back of her throat, like he’s something she simply needs to clear her system of. That was the perfect way to describe Sun. Distasteful. “Need me to beat him up for you?”

 

There’s a light laugh on the other end, the seriousness of Yang’s offer seeming to miss Blake entirely. “I just felt like he was telling me things about myself that I didn’t really want to hear. Or, maybe I didn’t like to think he could see them.”

 

“Blake.” God, Yang loved her name. Someone’s name shouldn’t be able to live inside of you the way Blake’s did in her. It should not cause a rush of blood, a swelling in your chest, a stirring in your stomach. Yang is abruptly awake. “I’m going to say this as plainly as possible. Are you ready?”

 

The question is asked because Yang just really wants to hear her say, “Yes.”

 

“Don’t listen to a goddamn thing coming out of that dickwad Sun’s mouth,” she declares without hesitation, eyes shut so she can imagine Blake beside her. “And you can quote me on that.”

 

“Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?”

 

“Fuck no.”

 

//

 

 Headaches, they came with the territory. 

 

Certain pretenses had been relieved as years wore on. Dinners together, eliminated. Stilted conversations, reduced. A relationship that had never been anything but complicated now simplified.

 

They were mother and daughter, but really they were queen and pawn. In time, it became easier to stop pretending there was anything additional at all. 

 

As Yang got older, she was almost expected to follow her mother’s role, adopt political standpoints and publish think pieces on a highly edited online blog. She was meant to choose a major that aligned just right. She was expected to attend certain meetings, to hold opinions and offer endorsements to lower elected officials before voting day. 

 

Really, Yang was utterly unqualified for a job no one had elected her into, and yet she was expected to do it well anyway. It came with the territory. When they elected Raven, they had chosen her daughter as well, whether they knew it or not. Expectations were laid out, and the only thing worse than failing to do what was anticipated of her was not trying  at all.

 

And that’s why Yang is there. That’s why it’s a Tuesday morning, and there’s a meeting being held on security in Vale, the Grimm attacks and the dwindling forces and cities versus villages versus the nomad settlements.

 

Part of Raven’s job was assessing resources and allocating them as seen fit. In most aspects, Vale had a superfluous reservoir of supplies. Unlike kingdoms such as Vacuo or Menagerie, there was plenty of food for their citizens, housing for the needy, and clean water for those suffering in the droughts of summer. It was more of a distribution plan, the efficiency of supply and transportation. The same could not bed said in regards to security. 

 

Ozpin’s platform of peace, no matter how well intended, had caused a plummet in enrollment of huntsmen and armed forces. Though Grimm numbers were nowhere near at the same rates as they had been a couple of generations ago, when they had ravished villages and demolished civilizations, that did not mean they had been eliminated entirely. 

 

In recent months, more hardships had befallen Vale’s citizens than in the last few years combined. Hardships not directly caused by their President, but ones they expected assistance in. And with re-election so close...well, Yang tried not to dwell on motivations. 

 

The coffee has gone cold, a smattering of picked through bagels, mini muffins, and rejected fruit sit on the table in the corner of the room. The head of the guard is speaking, running through the recent surge of attacks, locations and injured and medical tents. It all sounds a little more World War than Yang is used to. She shifts, awake for once. “Well, what about the guards here?” Yang interrupts when he pauses for a drink.

 

Heads turn in her direction. Raven doesn’t bother as she says, “What about them?”

 

“Well,” Yang says, fingers plucking idly at a cooled blueberry bagel, “we have enough security and personally licensed huntsmen to protect at least half a dozen small villages from Grimm attacks.”

 

“An excellent point, Ms. Branwen,” the Head Guard responds in a manner that suggests he won’t outright disrespect her, but it might be in her best interest to shut her damn mouth.

 

Chair legs scrape against the floor as Yang stands, arms crossing over her chest as she stares down to the large scale map of Vale. “You have twice the resources in Vale City than you should need. And in DV, for that matter.” 

 

“Yang-” Raven goes to cut her off but Yang reaches down to the representation of guards and huntsmen, redistributing along the map. 

 

There still weren’t enough, not for the collection of Grimm increasing in the mountains or the villages of middle Vale that had been fighting them off in droves for years now, already adjusted to fending more for themselves than expecting help.

 

“I get that the higher populations in the cities attract more Grimm, but with all of our defenses, it only seems wise to send more to the outskirts and clean up the surges before any more civilians lose their lives.”

 

The heat kicks on in the room, a gentle hum filling the otherwise heavy silence hanging between them.

 

Raven’s stare is fixed exclusively on her daughter. Yang squares her shoulders, prepares to go on the defense, to support her statement unwaveringly. “No.”

 

“But-” she opens her statement with little more, being left with nothing to defend because there was no argument to fight against—only refusal.

 

“Yang, sit down.”

 

Now it’s just embarrassing. She had a role to play; one specifically cast for her with no room for interpretation. She stands there now, mouth open, lines forgotten. This was not agreed upon. The men and women in the room avert their gaze, aware they are witnessing more than a debate in military tactics or a dispute of professionals. This is a fight between a mother and daughter. This is a fight that has a winner before it’s even begun. 

 

“Now,” Raven clears her throat, the word is spoken before the chair even creaks beneath Yang’s weight settling. “You were saying, Guard?”

 

But Yang had seen the news reports, had witnessed the suffering people were succumbing to as their homes were destroyed, their loved ones injured. They needed intervention. They needed the help the government owed them. 

 

The news feed was never endingly discussing the cities, forgetting the lesser towns which made up Vale to what it had become today. Scroll in hand, Yang pulls up her text messages without thinking too hard about who or why.

 

worst meeting you’ve ever had to attend? Go.

 

There’s discussion amongst the Head Guard and Raven. The map is rearranged to reflect a more accurate representation of where they would deploy the guards. Yang tries not to think about what it must be like to be one of the few sent to the outskirts, expected to protect five different villages a hundred miles apart. She tries not to think about her uncle, who used to be one of those huntsmen, separated from the government but working harder than those with their names attached. Or Ruby, who trained hard, who talked about their mom with awe, who wanted to be everything Summer once had been. She tried not to consider what it would mean if more government associated were pulled back into the areas of denser population, how people would flee, what would become of those smaller villages and those who vowed to protect it. 

 

I’d say most of them, Blake answers. Though, I do have a special hatred for anything revolving around the budget.

 

ah, but is that not every meeting? The housing crisis of the cities, the unrest between Vale and Vacuo and Vale and Atlas and, some days, Vale and Menagerie. The costs of war versus the price of peace. 

 

Touche. Blake shoots back from a different timezone, a different place and time in the world as a whole. Yang thinks of stepping out, of not being missed, and calling to hear her voice. She shouldn’t think about things like Blake’s voice or the curve of her lips or the slope of her shoulders. It’s all she can think of. What are you doing in an hour?

 

The question makes Yang smile despite how angry she is, regardless of how small she’s been made to feel or how pointless her presence is proven to be over and over again. You must be here, but you are not wanted. You are to be seen and not heard. You are invaluable but without worth. It was what no one said but seemed agreed upon by her mother’s entire cabinet. Yang was the necessary evil of the narrative which had been forced on them. And there was nothing worse than to be made to feel like a child.

 

An unwanted one at that. 

 

Hadn’t that message already been sent loud and clear? Wasn’t now when she attended therapy to get over her unresolved childhood traumas and move forward for good?

 

talking to you ;)

 

There’s a pile of books laid out in front of Yang with a hundred different tabs opened to research articles, pasts cases, and a handy one for amendments. She’s three sentences into her research paper when her scroll buzzes on the solid wood of the desk. 

 

Spinning in her chair so the mess of responsibilities is behind her, Yang answers with a smile. “Hey, babe,” she says with ease, tone airy. “What are you wearing?”

 

“Crocs, bell bottom jeans, and a Nickelback T-shirt,” Blake answers without missing a beat. “Do try and contain yourself.”

 

Yang fights back a laugh, “Stop flirting with me. God.”

 

“Bad meeting this morning?” A harsh shift in conversation. It’s disappointing. Their banter that skirted just on the edge of forbidden was one of Yang’s favorite parts of talking to Blake. More than hashing out details like security meetings and woe is me feelings. 

 

“What constitutes a good meeting?” Yang sighs, flopping back against her chair, legs thrown over the armrest as she slowly rotated to the side, eyes fixed on the bookshelf in front of her covered in books on law and government. The exact sort of books that would be expected to be found. “Did you ever read those books about the kids and their magic treehouse?”

 

And that’s the thing about talking to Blake; they could shift the conversation a hundred different times without it ever failing to feel natural. “When I was eight, yeah. Why?”

 

There’s a dozen books heavy enough to be used as makeshift weapons, embossed golden text on spines. “I used to read to Ruby all the time when we were kids,” Yang says, offering up a piece of her usually guarded past. It feels important to share a part of who she used to be when she no longer can remember how it feels to be that person. “It’s been a long time since I've read a book that was just...fun.”

 

“I read all the time,” Blake says like it’s a confession. That’s the sort of hobby the media usually runs with, and it’s Blake admitting that which makes clear just how little anyone reports on Blake besides speculation pieces on where she’s been and what trouble she’s getting into now. It makes Yang understand just how far Blake has removed herself from their lens that not even this perfect hobby has been revealed about her. “I could recommend you something. If you want, I mean.”

 

She rushes to correct herself, like Yang would want anything else. “Only one condition.”

 

“What?” Blake whispers like they’re in the dark, like this is a place for secrets. Like she only wants to hear what Yang has to say. 

 

There are voices in the hall and a list of things left to accomplish for the morning. But Yang is thinking only about Blake, about secrets and truths and what it means to give something of yourself that you’ll offer to no one else. “It has to be something you love.” 

Chapter Text

The lights overhead are glimmering, fragments of glowing bulbs cast over the floors and dance in rainbows along the walls. It’s dim, an added element of excellence, while also still shining in brilliance. The band stands to the right side of the room, strings that swell and surge, woodwinds to fill the spaces of class with a touch of celebration. 

 

Yang stands outside the doors, reminded to square her shoulders just so, smile as she’s been taught. Glynda Goodwitch’s perfume is sweet and musky, overwhelming the scents of roasted meats rolling by tables filled with silver trays ready to be distributed to the people throughout. 

 

The heels on her feet had been a fight. She’d insisted, the same way she did with her makeup and her hair and the pieces of herself she fought to maintain as only hers. But now they felt too tight, the straps winding up her ankles and the heels a little too thin. Tonight she’d opted for a dress that was the color of gemstones, rubies and golds, blended together so she could be drenched in fire. She was unobtainable. She was her own. 

 

It was never the part of being the center of attention that put Yang on edge—that was a role she naturally assumed, slipped into with ease and comfort. But it was how she was not in a position of her own choosing, that she was meant to stand by and support someone else. Most interviewers expected her to simply parrot what Raven preached, the same policies she campaigned. That was another fight. That was something she didn’t manage to hold onto quite as well. 

 

Dressed in glitter and gold with a thousand tiny prisms cloaking the room in elegance, all eyes would be on her. Yang’s gaze slipped through the narrow crack of the double doors, searching for only one person at all.

 

“Mind yourself,” Glynda is whispering in her ear, gowned in a fine, deep purple suit. Her hair is done up in curls and her makeup was dramatic with winged eyeliner perfectly even—like it had been drawn on with a ruler. She must have gotten stuck with monitoring Yang duty tonight as Vernal was to be at Raven’s side all night long. “This is arguably the most important event the media will cover before the election,” she says like Yang doesn’t know, like she hasn’t been here before, like her mother wasn’t the goddamn fucking President. “No messes. No drama.”

 

“Please,” Yang answers, looking over her shoulder to flash Glynda a smile and bat her eyelashes. “Am I one to start any trouble?”

 

She clears her throat and shakes her head. “I’m not justifying that with an answer and you know exactly why.”

 

“Because you love me.” There’s no time for Glynda to get the last word. Yang leaves that between them and steps through the drawn doors, right at the head of the staircase. 

 

The room almost stops movement altogether. Yang is not even near the most important person here, but she was close enough. And where she lacked, her looks made up for. There was no denying this aspect was put to use. 

 

For all the dismissal of royalty and monarchs, Vale was little beyond traditions of the former. It had wrapped itself in affairs of the crown, habits of the aristocracy: ornate parties, fine gowns and gems, a towering staircase to descend. There may not be a tiara on her head, but Yang was as near princess as Blake herself and moments like this made that oh so apparent. 

 

The first to greet her at the bottom of the stairs is General Ironwood, a deep bow of his head and his arm offered out. “It’s an honor to see you, Ms. Branwen.” 

 

Four and a half years ago, Yang would have corrected him. But that was a definition of trouble, a version of deviance. Also, “Likewise, General,” it was never worth it.

 

Weiss is in the corner, hands empty but not placed on her hips or arms across her chest. She’s talking with a definitive degree of animation, lips in a loose smile as she speaks. Of course there would be no one across from her than Pyrrha Nikos, long red gown grazing the floor and head thrown back in laughter. 

 

In events so often void of life, there’s beauty in witnessing a new blossom. 

 

“Yang.”

 

Heartbeat in her ears, oxygen caught in her throat,Yang turns. She finds Blake just behind her. “You look gorgeous,” tumbles from her lips without thought to censorship or caution. It’s the exact sort of danger Yang had been warned against. A risk even she knew was not worth the adrenaline that pumped through her veins, couldn’t be worth anything at all, not in comparison to costs and consequences. 

 

Redness blooms across Blake’s cheeks, but she doesn’t look down or shy away. “I know,” she says instead, not with humor but confidence. Yang swallows. “It’s been a few weeks. Figured I’d take a shower first.”

 

“So that’s the difference,” Yang says with a snap of her fingers. “I see it now.”

 

“It’s good to see you, Yang.” 

 

And there’s the beginnings of a history buried in those words, the makings of a past eeking out. There are phone calls cast in darkness, secrets whispered through the speaker, poetry scribbled onto stationary meant for calligraphy. There’s a potential seeping through, a promise not realized. The front steps on Christmas morning, the empty dinner table, the wide-open trails beneath bare branches. Emptiness no longer. A space filled. 

 

Then, there’s another senator at her shoulder, firm handshakes as she’s passed around the room and put to use. The food has been handed out to the tables before Yang pulls out of the grasp of those demanding of her time, her answers, her acknowledgment. 

 

The band plays as the patrons carve into tiny, ornate salads for the first course. The woman beside Yang actually cuts her lettuce into smaller pieces, knife scratching across the china. Weiss is almost clear across the room at a table filled with Atlesian military and political members. Even still, her table has two open chairs with no dark navy uniforms or white pins seen throughout the rest of the room. Jacques had rejected the invitation, not even sending his regards. There was unsettlement between him and Raven, and pledges were worth everything right now. Support from the other kingdoms could make or break a bid and even though voters were as likely to go against who Jacques selected, it was too high a risk to be seen as true enemies.

 

International relations were what kept wars at bay, kept the peace harbored between, no matter how weak. Citizens feared the ideas of distress between nations. They turned ugly just at the mentions of war. Yang could only think that they were smart to do so.

 

A tiny wave is all Weiss offers from her corner of the room, looking miserable yet splendid in a long evening gown that fit her body just so and draped elegantly down to her feet, toes poking out in diamond studded strapped wedges from where she sat.

 

“And then I said, the clearance rack? Would you rather I just dress as an animal? Why, I might as well just visit Mable’s down the street!” 

 

The entire table laughs; admittedly, to their defense, it was clear no one found it funny, but the comment alone puts Yang on edge. Fingers curled around the satin cushion of her seat at the insinuations. Mable’s was a high-end Faunus fashion designer who owned the first boutique proudly created by a Faunus on the first class side of the downtown district in DC. Though she was wildly successful, many still talked down about her creations. Even more outright refused to shop there, leaving behind nasty reviews online and even critiquing Raven for allowing her to open at all.

 

“As if these people think I care about a goddamn clothing store?” Raven retorted from where she sat in front of her vanity, liquid foundation blending into her skin. “I’ve got rumors of an attack on the mines, an economic disaster at the banks, and hurricanes sweeping up and down the coast, and people think I ought to care some woman with horns is next to a fucking Calvin Klein store no one under the age of 50 shops at anymore?”

 

That was one of those times Yang couldn’t help but appreciate her mother. At least she had some of her priorities in line.

 

Somewhere halfway through the main course, fish with summer grilled vegetables and some ball shaped rice impersonator, the speeches begin. 

 

This dinner, in theory, was to elevate Raven as a leader. It was meant to showcase her best moments as President to be televised and gone viral through YouTube videos. It was a celebration of her time served as much as it was a campaign effort for reelection. Thus, the speeches are chosen with caution, pre-screened for appropriateness, ensuring nothing broaches on a subject better not remembered from the public en masse. It’s meant to appear sophisticated and elegant while also not being deemed a waste of tax dollars.

 

Ozpin speaks first. From his ties to the school, his history as a VP, and one of the House’s most influential members, it was only fitting. 

 

During Raven’s first election, his support had been...lukewarm, and Raven’s acceptance of it had been ever cooler. But this time around, they share a more united front. The name on the other side of the ticket most likely plays a role in exactly that.

 

There’s cake, coffee, and dessert wine being rolled out when Lionheart steps forward, cards dropping behind the podium as he goes to lay them out.

 

Yang groans, the back of her legs itchy from the tulle beneath her dress, and the man beside her has a tick of a cough every twelve seconds that finally pushes her over the edge. She slides back her seat, winding her way through the tables filled with important people, vases of flowers, and half burnt candlesticks. 

 

There’s an open seat beside the Princess. Maybe because someone had the good sense to get up and leave and perhaps because of a seating arrangement misfortune. Either way, Yang makes good use of it. 

 

“How’s it going?” Yang asks, her practiced tone and even posture forgotten as she leans back in the seat, pushing out with her toes so she’s back from the table and just beside Blake, allowing her to lean over and whisper directly into her ear with ease.

 

Blake clears her throat, glances from the stage to Yang for a mere second before reaching for a sip of her wine. “The last one of these I went to in Mistral had musical performances.”

 

“So you visited hell briefly? Splendid.”

 

“I got you a magnet but left it at home.”

 

“You went to hell, and all you got me was a magnet? Now, Blake, where is the courtesy?” 

 

She hums, cake abandoned in favor for her wine. She leans back and crosses one leg over the other, body angled in Yang’s direction. “I was a little distracted by my ears bleeding.”

 

“Pitiful excuse considering I went brain dead forty-five minutes ago.”

 

“Is that all? I was sure it had to be at least three years by now.”

 

Yang laughs louder than she should. Lionheart is mid-comment of the tragic airship crash two years ago. “Where did your dad go?”

 

Blake shrugs. “Menagerie takes issue with him leaving so much for...bullshit like this. They find trouble to call him about.”

 

“And what about you?”

 

“He can do what he wishes with his time, as far as I’m concerned.”

 

“No,” Yang corrects, twisting around in her seat so she’s not even feigning attention towards the front of the room any longer. “What do they think of your absence?” 

 

A smattering of applause and Lionheart is done. No one will be mentioning a word about that speech tomorrow except to discuss how his fly was down. 

 

Aptly timed, as Raven plans most things, the comedian goes up front, reawakening the crowd with a joke just close enough to being at Lionheart’s expense that it catches the audience off guard and turns the blandness into a distinct opportunity for humor. The room roars with laughter.

 

“I don’t think the citizens have a...strong opinion of me.”

 

“Now, darling,” Yang taunts, leans closer, forgets about cameras and caution and comedy. She’s attuned only to Blake, “you know people have nothing but strong opinions, one way or the other.”

 

The whole room laughs, varying from polite giggles to a man in the corner bent over at the waist, wheezing. The true trick of comedy was the unexpected, and nowhere was the irreverence of the act up front more abnormal than an event ruled by finesse, class, and propriety. 

 

Blake’s head falls to the side, lips an inch from Yang’s ear, breath against her skin. “That doesn’t mean I care to think about them.”

 

“What do you care to think of?” Yang asks, frozen. She waits, to feel Blake’s breath against her body, to sense her so close once more.

 

Blake sits back, crosses one leg over the other, shoots a look in Yang’s direction before looking towards the stage, smiling only to herself as the room chuckles. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

 

Oh, she has no idea how much.

 

//

 

Blake isn’t giving up her secrets quite so easily. She keeps her lips pressed together after that, eyes fixed ahead on the stage in front of her. So many people here she had seen more times than she ever cared to, even more she’d be expected to know but could not recall a name to save her life right now. All she really thinks about is Yang beside her. All she really imagines are Yang’s lips, how they part and purse and stretch wide in smiles. 

 

Her head is full of Yang Xiao Long Branwen, but Blake isn’t about to admit that as truth. Better to leave her speculating, to allow for that brief flash of surprise and wonderment which crossed Yang’s face to remain stuck on her loop of thoughts, curious and unsure.

 

So the answer she gives is not with words, but somewhere around the third speech, Blake’s legs refuse to sit any longer. Her stomach is knotted, eager. She shoots Yang a look, waits to make sure she’s seen, and then stands and exits the room without allowing herself to check over her shoulder that she was still being watched. 

 

The hallway is drenched in grandeur, cloaked in low lighting and dressed with fine curtains in deep reds. The rug beneath her feet is plush and squishes beneath her heels. 

 

When the door to the ballroom next opens, it does not squeak but parts silently on its hinges. 

 

Maybe Blake was answering questions, but so was Yang.

 

She’d been watching her all night, and somehow Blake still loses her breath by the mere sight of her. Exhale caught in her throat, pupils blown wide, a heavy thumping in her chest that has nothing to do with fear or anticipation or worry and is only propelled by excitement, by desire

 

They don’t speak a single word but communicate through a glance. A moment passes between them; Blake waits and leaves whatever happens next in Yang’s hands. 

 

And there it is, the widening of a smile, slow and simple. It’s one part seduction and another thrill. Is this like bungee jumping off of bridges or diving from cliffs? Is this another conquest, another rush of adrenaline to remind herself that she’s alive and her own? 

 

But Yang just extends her hand, presents an offering with no demands, no insistence. Blake could take the whole thing back, turn and walk to her table, sit in the same seat with one leg crossed over the other, shoulders squared and eyes at attention. She’d hold her wine glass loosely and sip until it was empty, wait for the refills to make their way around the room and take another. Just to blunt the edges and ease the distaste left in her mouth from all this pomp and circumstance. 

 

Blake takes it. She twines their fingers together. She follows the path Yang sets out on and asks no questions, demands not a single answer.

 

What do you think of ? The question repeats in Blake’s head, and all she can think of is not the words to answer, but the actions. 

 

A door opens, and the walls are covered with portraits of important historical figures of Vale. A desk sits, too empty to be often used. Expensive lamps rest on expensive end tables, intricate embellished woodwork on the feet of each one. Yang switches on a singular light and does not touch the lightswitch on the wall, leaving the room almost covered in darkness. 

 

What do you think of?

 

Blake kisses her first. 

 

The fact of this almost takes her by surprise. Partially because she had never planned to make another move, but also the intensity of it, how she hears Yang’s question bouncing around the corners of her mind and has no choice but to answer it with unquestionable certainty. She kisses her hard, backs her against the door that doesn’t even rattle when Yang’s hips hit against it. 

 

Lips parted, waiting and eager. Yang does not merely accept Blake. She receives her with excitement, pushes back with her own enthusiasm, her own request for more. 

 

Blake’s got her hand cradling Yang’s face, the other wrapping around her. And Yang...Yang’s hands are everywhere. She’s moaning so quiet it’s almost inaudible as she runs her hands along Blake’s arms, rests them on her hips and tugs her forward, sliding against her ass. They don’t rest for long but are never grabbing or insistent. She does not grasp without the intention of letting go.

 

Maybe Blake had forgotten exactly how it felt, or maybe she never knew it in the first place, but Yang’s hands on her—impatient and hopeful and a tiny bit desperate—they remind her what it means to be wanted. 

 

The silence between them persists as Blake slips a shoulder of Yang’s dress free, hands fumbling behind her back now to search for the zipper and yank it downward. 

 

All of her senses are clogged with thoughts of Yang. Her scent filling Blake’s nostrils, the sight of her with parted lips and shut eyes and loose, tangled golden hair spilling free, the sensation of her touch, fingers over fabric and then pressed against skin. Her hand running along Blake’s bare arm sends a thrill through her, tingling along her spine and pooling low in her stomach. 

 

Yang more so works around Blake’s dress than makes any moves to remove it. So Blake reaches behind herself and drags the zipper down, leaves the rest up to Yang’s discretion. There’s not even a moment before Yang is slipping the fabric from Blake’s shoulders and easing it downward. The air of the room has a slight chill to it, and Blake shivers before Yang’s warm hands cover her skin, and then it’s her lips. 

 

Pushing further into the room, a little removed from the light, Blake ends up backed against the desk with half of her dress down past her breasts and the other half quickly rising as Yang drops to her knees. 

 

Panties sliding down her thighs and fingers sliding up. Goosebumps flashing across her skin as she fights to keep her eyes open, too obsessed with the image of Yang like this, on her knees, pushing layers of gown out of the way to press herself closer to Blake. Exploring her first with a finger that slicks across too gentle and too quick, eliciting a moan from both of them. And then her tongue is on Blake’s clit, and it’s such sweet relief, such a sudden answer to the silent prayers repeating through her head that she mumbles out a, “You,” with a sigh. The first word spoken between them since Yang’s question had gone unanswered.

 

There’s the briefest of pauses before Yang pushes two fingers inside of Blake, gentle before she pushes deep without a moment’s hesitation. Tongue still pulling her closer to ecstasy, pressing hard for a second before easing prior to Blake falling apart. 

 

And Blake knows it’s a losing battle, she won’t hold out long, but she takes a last glance, hoping to memorize this exact moment. Yang’s tongue against her, her fingers inside of her. The edge of the desk biting against her, the low light cast from the other side of the room and the music swelling from three doors down. She memorizes the image of Yang in front of her dress shoved aside, whole body posed exclusively to bring Blake pleasure, the entire point of her being aimed towards Blake alone. 

 

She shuts her eyes as her hips buck forward, her legs going weak while her muscles tense and only after some time does she realize the fact that she is muttering, “You, you, you,” beneath her breath as she rides through the waves of pleasure. Well aware that no matter how much she thought of Yang before, that last image is all she will see from now on.

 

//

 

When Yang returns to the party, her hair looks distinctly like she’s just had sex. 

 

They help each other straighten out their clothes. Blake has breath mints from her pocket that she offers. Yang spritzes them both with a bit of perfume and sends Blake back first.

 

Her heart is still pounding with the same ferocity it’d been going at the height of her orgasm. Deep breaths do shit all to calm it. 

 

Because she’d just had sex with Blake Belladonna. Princess Blake Belladonna. At the State of Affairs dinner that was arguably her mother’s biggest pre-election event and was bursting at the seams with important political figures, not to mention the journalists.

 

Lipstick had been sacrificed some time between when she’d been pressed to a bookshelf with her lips locked against Blake’s and when she’d fallen to her knees in front of this woman who had driven her mad since the day Yang had met her, filled her with distaste and displeasure and walked some fine line of hatred that never felt truly earned but was undeniable when Yang’s teeth ground together, her very skin on edge. 

 

Huh, perhaps that was for a different reason. Undeniably, she’d made some bad decisions on the worst possible night for them. 

 

The thought alone leaves her warring between guilt and exhilaration. 

 

A full two minutes after Blake leaves, Yang follows. She does her best to tame her hair. The only solace was hope that her usually unruly curls didn’t look that different from usual. 

 

She slips back within the room where music is swelling. Some people dance formally in the middle of the room while others take the opportunity to network with all of the most influential people gathered in one room.

 

“There you are.” Vernal’s tone is poorly hidden displeasure. “Where the fuck have you been?”

 

“Bathroom,” Yang answers quickly before Vernal’s analyzing scan can determine an answer on its own. “Those mushroom caps sure didn’t agree with me.”

 

That’s all it takes. Her nose wrinkles and she rolls her eyes. “Whatever. The President was looking for you.”

 

Sometimes Yang couldn’t decide if she hated the people who referred to Raven as her mom or those who referred to her as her President more. “Of course she is.”

 

Far corner of the room, laughing at something the Prime Minister has said without a degree of genuity. Yang approaches but waits to the side so as not to intrude. Pleasantries are exchanged for a minute with the clicking of cameras to backdrop the conversation. 

 

Raven wraps her arm through Yang’s and leads her away, lips pressed into a smile as she speaks through gritted teeth. “Don’t think I didn’t notice your absence.”

 

“Don’t you have more important things to be worrying about right now?” Yang shoots back, not pretending a damn thing for whoever may be watching. “I was gone for like, ten minutes. Relax.”

 

They come across a senator and shake hands before continuing on. “And the Belladonna girl?”

 

Yang snorts. “You think I care where she is?” Though her eyes had been scanning for her ever since returning. Though she looked for her now, as if just finding where she was in the room might help to reorient reality back into something that makes sense. 

 

“Contrary to your beliefs,” Raven doesn’t even sound angry, mostly tired, “I’m not actually an invalid.”

 

“Could’ve fooled me,” she slips in.

 

“I know those looks you two are sharing.”

 

It’s not really ominous so much as annoying. Yang feels like a child being led to sit in the corner, think about what she’s done and face her consequences. “I’m sorry I looked at the Princess of Menagerie,” Yang says, fake remorse saturating her words. “I’ll be sure to direct my eyesight elsewhere next time.”

 

Raven rolls her eyes, stops when they’re in the mouth of the doorway that was now propped open wide, announcing for the attendees that the time to leave was soon. “Watch yourself, Yang. I don’t want to intervene here.”

 

They assume position by the exit, standing just close enough to pass as friendly but far enough apart that they weren’t in danger of so much as grazing arms. “Please, Raven. Let’s not lie for once.”

 

//

 

It’s a phone call when the truth slips.

 

Blake isn’t so much keeping secrets as she is biding her time. So much effort was put into pushing it down, keeping her past locked tightly inside of a box with no key meant to set it free. But Yang is on the other end, her breathing is soft and even like she’s just woken up, and she’s murmuring in Blake’s ear, saying very little but not shutting up. Blake’s heart squeezes at the connection between them, this bond that has tied them together despite mountains and oceans and the dangers found from both.

 

“And like, that’s why Ruby really shouldn’t be allowed in the kitchen.” Her voice is fond, a special softness coating her words even as she is ribbing her little sister. “Total genius but really lacking that common sense bit.”

 

“You really love her.”

 

“Blegh,” Yang cries dramatically on the other end. “Clearly, you’re an only child. I tolerate her.” A beat of silence. “But yeah, I love her more than anyone. We were...there was a time that we were all each other had.”

 

The idea makes Blake sad, something inside of her clenches tight with sorrow. “Your dad?”

 

There’s the sound of a door slamming shut and then the wind whistling past the microphone. Morning run time. “He tried.” That’s all the credit she offers him. “What can you do?”

 

Blake stares out the window of the study room she’d tucked herself away in. There were three books propped open with staplers and coasters in front of her and a blinking cursor on the computer, but she’d made limited progress on her first paper of the semester. “That must have been hard.”

 

Yang’s breathing comes faster now, harsh exhales punctuating. “What part of life isn’t?” she laughs bitterly. “I guess...I just know what it can mean to lose someone even if they don’t leave you.”

 

The statement makes Blake feel nothing but sad. “I think I know what you mean,” she says quietly, even though she knows it’s all so different. Yang was willing to be vulnerable, and it made Blake want to expose her skeletons. She was tired of being half-real to the woman she routinely wondered if she was falling in love with. “Sometimes, it would be better if they would just leave you alone instead of wanting you to become something else.” The wind rushes by, and Blake spares a thought to wonder if there’s a storm rolling in over there. “Actually, it might not be the same at all.”

 

“Tell me,” Yang whispers without insistence or demand. She would drop the issue if Blake asked, set it aside on the dusty, dim shelf and pretend was nothing left to unpack.

 

If only she could be in front of her. It feels wrong to lay her heart bare with so many miles between, to confess truths without the chance to meet Yang’s eyes and see how they fit, what she thought before there was a chance to filter. 

 

“His name was Adam.” It’s the start of a story, the opening line of a book. Little had Blake known at the time it was more of a ghost story than a fairytale. “I left him, but...it took too long. It would have been better if he had left me. So much easier. Saved a lot of regrets.”

 

Steady footfalls, even breaths, they pause sooner than usual. Yang has barely gone a half-mile this early on, and Blake imagines her frozen on the trail with the icy morning wind rushing against her skin, not yet sheened with sweat. “You don’t have to-”

 

“I think I’d like to,” Blake swallows the lump rising in her throat, telling her that no, she really didn’t. “If that’s okay.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Blake explains why she left, why it took so long. She whispers like she’s in a library, hushed and hurried to get the words out before they can bury themselves beneath the floorboards and haunt her still. “The truth was there, but I didn’t want to see it.” Even with notches in records, strikes against, even with markings on her skin. She couldn’t find the truth beneath the fog he’d created around her head, deep inside her brain. “It was always about power...control.”

 

“That’s why you were gone so long.” It’s not a question.

 

“Yes,” Blake answers regardless. “He told me things that I wanted to hear anyway. Half the job was done for him.”

 

The silence lasts just long enough to know Yang is considering her words and not without any to offer at all. “He lied to you.”

 

“That’s all he did.” The whole world seems to be shaking around her, trembling. Blake was shivering in her chair, shuddering at the memories she kept so carefully tucked away. “And I just… I believed him. I believed everything.”

 

“Of course you did,” Yang shoots back without pausing to consider. 

 

“What?”

 

A sigh, voice almost whispering in response. “He started off by telling you what you wanted to hear. He made it so you wanted to believe him. So when he started saying shit that wasn’t real or that you didn’t want to believe, well, you’ve already gotten used to trusting his word. It made it easier to just lean into whatever reality he was spinning.”

 

All the ways she tried to reason it, all the explanations she searched to unearth. “Yeah,” Blake agrees, knees pulled to her chest and an inhale hissing through her teeth. “Yeah, I guess so.”

 

“Blake.”

 

“Yeah?” 

 

“It wasn’t your fault.” She keeps talking without breaks or pauses, perseveres and grabs a belief along the way. She holds onto it without question. “What you did or how long you were there or what you did to get away...that’s not you.”

 

It’s been so long since she’s talked about any of this— lifetime since she’d stopped going to the psychologist her parent’s arranged. “How do you know?” she asks with tears in her voice and fear in her chest. 

 

“Because I know you.” Yang doesn’t think, doesn’t carefully analyze. She follows her instincts and sees over and over again how they hold true. Yang doesn’t rush to find the truth because she has held it this whole time. “I know exactly who you are.”

 

//



Interview days are some of Yang’s least favorites. The process is perpetually scripted and vapid and empty. It was a series of conversations that were never worth having. They talk about school, her major, sometimes it’s her diet and exercise routine and her favorite fashion trends. Today they open with her old college lacrosse team who had made it to the finals before leading right into Raven’s most recent campaign promises and polling results. “A seven-point lead is nothing to sneeze at.”

 

Yang remembers for the fourth time to cross her legs and place her hands in her lap. This interview was intended for online video. They’d angled her chair to ensure the best light. Like always. “It will only increase the closer we get, I’m sure.” Yang smiles, keeps her eyes from glancing towards the camera. 

 

“You must be so proud,” the interviewer says, a hand to her heart. “It sounds like your mom has just come such a long way. From raising you as a single mom and working as a low congresswoman to President of Vale. It’s just...so inspiring for young girls to see, don’t you think?”

 

A forced swallow, smile still in place. There are a hundred responses, a million retorts that include her dad and Summer and Ruby, a whole life Yang is forced to pretend she has never lived at all. Yang Branwen. Nothing more. “It’s an honor to share my mom with our citizens,” she says just as had been rehearsed. “I have looked up to her my whole life, and now other girls have the same opportunity. To see that you can be anything you want.” Including an abandoner, a fleeting presence, picking and choosing responsibilities but never hesitating to take all the praise. “An inspiration this kingdom truly needs.” 

 

“And, just between us,” she giggles behind her hand and waves at the camera as if that would delete it’s existence, “what are your thoughts on the new Faunus rights movement?”

 

Eyebrows rising in surprise, Yang takes a second. It was rare these interviews went off script, and when they did, it was about crushes or celebrity news—not politics. “I, well, um,” eloquent, truly. “I understand that the situation is varied and there are a lot of elements at play but...well, actually no,” Yang sits up straight, legs uncrossed and elbows on her knees. She leans towards Cindy or Lucy or whatever this woman’s name was like she really was speaking to no one but her. “I think it’s bullshit that it’s taken this long to get where we have. I think Vale should be ashamed of itself for not taking a stand with Menagerie half a century ago like Vacuo did.”

 

“A bold statement.” 

 

It probably wasn’t the answer she wanted, but it was the only one Yang would give. “Well, it’s about time someone was bold about this injustice. I mean,” and she shouldn’t say this. She really should not say a word involving anyone else, but her conversation with Blake the night before is still heavy on her chest, and she can’t bite it back. “Look at what Atlas is still doing. Still! And with no repercussions? We continue to give them our international support when they’re using people like that?”

 

“Legally.”

 

“Legal doesn’t mean ethical.” Yang crosses her arms and narrows her eyes. “Don’t go off the script if you aren’t ready for where the conversation could go, honey.” And then she gets up and walks out, Ren right behind her with his head shaking.

 

//

 

It’s best to put it out there before it’s released online, her words edited to make her sound like a total extremist as soon as someone from the right’s side gets their hands on a single minute of that footage.

 

They’re having dinner, one of the few nights they bother to sit down together, and the loudest noise has been a knife scraping along glass to cut through a bit of roast. It won’t be a pleasant conversation, but most of the ones they have are not. 

 

“How was your day?” Yang starts, aiming for some mildly polite conversation before explaining how she’d fucked up. 

 

The heat kicks on as the late night air begins to freeze outside. Yang doesn’t imagine it’ll do much to warm the temperature at the dinner table. “Busy.” 

 

Chewing occupies her for a minute before Yang takes a sip of wine. “Mine too,” she offers even though no one asks. “Lots of interviews.”

 

“Was today the New Yorker?”

 

“That was yesterday.”

 

“Right. Good.” 

 

Cringing, Yang plays with a piece of asparagus on her plate. If only she could explain all the reasons she’d had for going so blatantly off-script. If only she could talk about what Blake had shared, about how corrupt it was. If only Raven could see that Yang couldn’t sit through another best-mom-ever rap session and not burst at the seams of how wrong it felt. “One today didn’t go...swimmingly.”

 

The fork pauses half an inch from Raven’s mouth. She lowers it, closes her eyes, and exhales heavily before reaching for her wine glass. “Who do I need to call?”

 

This was hardly Yang’s first slip up. She had a big mouth that usually started talking before her brain could warn her to shut the fuck up. Because, as much tension as there may be between the two of them, Yang did support her mother’s campaign. It wasn’t perfect, policies and promises and amendments that Yang took plenty of issues with, but it was better than it could be. Raven was still the first female President of Vale. Raven was still setting precedents and breaking barriers. She was underhanded and sketchy as hell, but she was better than the leaders who had been tethered to Jacques Schnee like a baby to an umbilical cord. “On Point Videos.”

 

In a second, Raven is pressing the headpiece tucked into her ear and muttering about their best lawyer and an NDA and “just make a fucking deal.” “One day,” Raven sighs.

 

Yang drops her fork. She didn’t have an appetite anyway. “And what’s that supposed to mean, exactly?”

 

Raven folds her hands against the plain, white tablecloth. Wax drips from one of the tall, beige candles at the center of the table where freshly grown flowers sit in ornate, glass vases—pink roses and babies breath arranged for them to look at this one meal alone. 

 

Raven swallows and looks directly at Yang. So often, it feels like she’s looking around her or through her, anywhere but actually at her. “It means that one day you’ll learn to hold your tongue and just stick to the script.”

 

“She went off script first!” Yang argues like an eight year old.

 

“Do you know how many interviews I do with reporters that go off script? How many debates I do where my opponents fail to actually stick to the topic? And do I let myself get baited, Yang?” It was actually impressive how well she maintained her composure. “Exactly. Because to do so is what they want to see. That’s the story. There is the headline. They don’t really care about spreading news. They care about sales, and you going off the rim about Grimm security or the state of Vacuo or your goddamn childhood is going to get enough clicks that their producers or CEOs will be bathing in gold tomorrow.”

 

The chair legs scrape against the hardwood floor. The security detail, they were never too far, step back further into the shadows and out of the range of fire. This would hardly be their first dinner time dispute. “I didn’t ask for this!” Yang throws at her like she has a dozen times before. “I didn’t train myself not to take any damn bait. In fact, I was raised to stand up for what I believe in. Not that you’d have any way of knowing that.”

 

“Yang.” It’s not said to reason with her or to calm her down. It’s a command, an instruction. “You’re twenty-three years old. Stop behaving like a child. You let your emotions control you.”

 

“I do not.”

 

“Anger dictates your responses.” 

 

The worst part is that she’s right. Yang didn’t deal much with sadness or disappointment; it was a waste of time. But anger, anger could fuel her. Anger was what got her to reach new heights. It was how she succeeded. “Justified anger, sure.”

 

A shrug of her shoulders. A sip of her wine. “It doesn’t really make a difference, does it? You’re mad at the world, at social injustice, at me. And what can you do about it? Go off in an interview? Tell me how that makes a difference.”

 

Blinking, not crying, that’s what Yang is doing. Because she has so much to say, so much that is building inside of her, and it’s a rush of venom, a wildfire of rage that sees nothing but a path of destruction waiting for her. There are rationalizations, reasons, for her feelings. The injustice trembles in her bones, but there’s no way to be heard if you don’t shout above the noise. Indignation towards the world they live in. Antagonized by the leaders of the kingdoms and what little they do, how they shift responsibilities. Resentment towards Raven. For being right. For openly admitting that no matter how angry Yang is at her, no matter how much she screams, it will never make a difference. It will never change what’s between them.

 

“At least I don’t have to regret never saying anything at all.”

 

//

 

“Well that settles it then,” Blake declares. It’s a Tuesday morning, council meeting. Her father is away in Vacuo on business with the Prime Minister, and she’s been delegated the task of leader. She has an itinerary in front of her, most essential matters underlined, and resolutions written in the margins to report back to him. It was time she fulfilled her position, she knew that. But that didn’t mean she felt confident. 

 

Forty-five minutes in and she has a completed list and what appears to be a relatively complacent group in front of her. Some amount of success to celebrate, and she was more eager to relay the information to Yang than her dad. “We will honor the east’s request for an additional well to be added to the island’s water system to improve their water quality and pressure.” She tried to speak with command as he did, sitting at the front of the table with her shoulders back. Despite his intimidating appearance, though, he was soft at heart. The decision made would please him. “Construction will convene Monday morning.”

 

Clicking on keyboards, pens on paper. Everyone in this room hung on her very words. It was...alarming and intoxicating all in one. “Well, we’ve wrapped up all of the required points early. Does anyone have any additional concerns they would like to bring to attention?”

 

Looks are exchanged, people glancing at their watches and scroll screens. Though Ghira always allowed the opportunity, most people preferred to steal away with their extra ten minutes then discuss roadway construction any further.

 

“I have something.” Ilia’s seated at the far end of the table, but she stands, her voice loud and clear across the room.

 

Blake’s eyes widen in surprise, though she could hardly blame her friend for choosing now. This would probably be an easy win for her while allowing for extra participation points. Why not choose today? “Yes, Ms. Amatola. Proceed.”

 

Ilia has printouts, and she makes her way around the table, presenting each seated council member with one. Many of them look to her with surprise. She’d been a recent addition and had remained silent in her few months attending. It wouldn’t be a surprise if many of them did not recognize her at all. “As you can see here,” she drops one in front of Blake, the single sheet of paper floating back and forth in the air before settling just to the left of Blake. “I have compiled a list of the White Fang’s mission statement and demands.”

 

“Ilia…” Blake doesn’t like what she’s looking at. She doesn’t like hearing that name. She doesn’t like the chill of the room or the electric shock that pulls her muscles taut, her spine ramrod straight. 

 

“It was not that long ago that Menagerie was aligned with the White Fang, that your king Ghira Belladonna was at the forefront of the movement!” she continues without looking in Blake’s direction. “Yet we strayed. We were given crumbs by the surrounding kingdoms and considered our mission finished.”

 

Wrong. She’s so wrong, and she had been there. Ilia witnessed the truth and persisted regardless. “No, you know that’s not-”

 

“So we have a spot at the table for the United Kingdoms, great. What does it matter if they won’t acknowledge us as a kingdom !” Her voice rises as she goes, standing at the head of the table opposite of Blake. Some council members read their hand-outs intently, others whisper to their neighbors, a handful murmur agreements with Ilia’s mini-speech. “Why do we settle for so much less when it’s time we’re given more? The White Fang is pursuing Faunus rights more than our own King, who wraps himself in political leanings.”

 

“Ilia!” Blake shouts her name, drowns out whatever was supposed to come next. She had no patience for this. “That’s enough.” These words come with measured patience and authority. Blake spoke how her father would, tampering down her emotions and fighting back the rolling panic. 

 

A harsh laugh. “Is it?” Ilia demands, calling attention back to Blake’s end of the table. “Why are we supposed to settle on what is enough ? Who are they to decide for us? We've been sequestered to this tiny island while Jacques Schnee has glorified slave labor in his mines and factories. Those are our people! And we let it all go for what? A goddamn seat at a table where no one wants to listen to what we have to say? Where no one cares for our opinions?”

 

“You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

But Ilia continues like Blake hadn’t spoken at all. “The White Fang has made some mistakes, sure, but they are fighting for what we deserve. They are fighting for justice while our kingdom is belittled in court. While our rights are debated in elections like retirement policies and taxes.”

 

“The White Fang is an extremist group led by dangerous people, and you know it,” Blake speaks darkly, aiming for power in her words over volume. “You all know it. The things they’ve done…” She quiets before she can include “to me.”

 

“But if we worked with them, Blake. We could be stronger, better!”

 

“If we work with them, we would be committing a goddamn war crime, Ms. Amatola! This is not up for debate or discussion. This meeting is adjourned thank you all for your time.”

 

Files shoved into her bag, papers getting wrinkled and mixed up, and Blake doesn’t care. She throws her bag over her shoulder and walks from the room in haste, heels clicking against the hardwoods. Heart in her throat, bile rising up her esophagus. Why would Ilia be pushing for this? Was she talking to...him. 

 

“Blake!” 

 

Frozen, feet fixed in place. Questions, so many of them circling, and Blake doesn’t know what to do. She’s caught somewhere between angry and afraid. 

 

Fingers locked around Ilia’s wrist, she pulls her friend towards the first doorway she finds and swings it open, shoving Ilia inside the closet and pulling the string overhead to illuminate the room. Her shin whacks against an empty mop bucket, the sound hollow and harsh. 

 

“What the fuck are you thinking?” Blake demands with venom in her tone, with horror on her tongue, with betrayal in her chest.

 

Ilia snatches her wrist from Blake’s grasp. “Calm down. You’re being irrational.”

 

“I’m-I-are you fucking kidding me?” Tears burn her eyes. Ilia was there . Ilia left too. Ilia saw. She witnessed. The shouting, the bruises, the choices that had to be made. “What the hell is going on with you?” Pressured whispers and urgent demands. A prayer that there was something she was missing, something that would make this all make sense. 

 

Eyes cast to the side, Ilia takes a minute to stare at the bottles of cleaner and rags on her right side before looking back to Blake and sighing. “I’ve been talking.”

 

“Talking.” 

 

“Yes.”

 

There’s a beat, a moment where Ilia would fill in the rest of that statement if it was anyone but who Blake knew it was from the very beginning. “Why?” she asks instead of who , in place of how?

 

“Because. I know he could be...extreme.” Blake scoffs. “But he was right, Blake. I’ve been here in court with you for months, and what changes have been made to how we live? Who cares about being on councils and included in dinner parties? We have families who go without! We have citizens who have loved ones back in Atlas all but held captive for petty fucking crimes.”

 

“Don’t you think my dad is doing something?”

 

“I don’t think he’s doing enough!” Ilia screams in Blake’s face, angry and uncontrolled.

 

Flinching away, Blake drags air deep into her lungs, the oxygen tinged with the scent of bleach and lemon. “Ilia, Adam might have good ideals, but he has dangerous methodologies.” She didn’t even buy the bit about ideals, but she wanted to ease Ilia to her side, and there were ways to do these things. She needed a gentle hand and careful words. “He isn’t a good person.”

 

Ilia’s expression is pained, and she looks at Blake's forearm. One time, that was all she had witnessed, but once was enough, wasn’t it? She had watched it happen, and now she could stand here and still defend Adam over her own best friend. “I know he’s made mistakes. He knows he’s made mistakes, Blake. It was a misunderstanding! An accident!”

 

Head shaking, eyes clenching shut. She’d heard this from him too many times. He couldn’t control his anger; it wasn’t his fault. She should know better than to bait him. She had to learn how to talk him down. “It’s a direct representation of his character,” Blake whispers. Her hands are shaking. She wants to call Yang, wants to make sense of any of this. She wants to not be afraid. “I learned that the hard way. You don’t want to.”

 

Ilia rolls her eyes.

 

“I’m serious,” Blake whispers. The string to the light smacks against the lightbulb as Blake pulls it, casting the closet into darkness once more, hand on the doorknob. “And if you choose to remain on his side, then get the hell out of my court.”

 

She slams the door behind her, leaving Ilia behind in the dark.

 

//

 

It’s four AM, and Yang answers her scroll without a second thought. “Blake?” she asks, voice cracked with sleep. She drags a hand down her face and stares at the darkness overhead, not bothering to turn on the light.

 

“I’m sorry,” she’s speaking softly. Something isn’t right in her voice. She sounds hollowed out. “It’s still too early.”

 

“Nah,” Yang clings to casual, disinterested. She wanted to tread carefully, feel out before she could spook Blake away. “I was going to get up and work out soon. What’s up?”

 

Silence. It’s too loud in Yang’s head, static fizzling that’s empty but demanding to be acknowledged. She didn’t know how to do this, how to navigate. Because there was panic on the other end, it was almost palpable, and Yang was on her back in bed, staring at empty shadows. Yang was far when she wanted to be right there. 

 

“Would you like to come and visit?” Blake whispers like she had read Yang’s mind. “It doesn’t have to be a PR thing unless Raven wants it to be. If she does, we can arrange some photographers, do a group interview, bolster her alliance with Faunus rights before the upcoming election.”

 

“Blake.”

 

“And if she doesn’t, that’s okay too. My house is kind of huge. We have a private beach. It could be a weekend when you aren’t busy doing other stuff, just you and me and the waves.”

 

“Blake.”

 

“Or maybe I could come to you. My dad’s been relying on me to cover some more royal duties, and this close to Vale’s election, I’m sure he could stand to have some amount of influence. Maybe I could convince him to send me instead.”

 

“Blake!”

 

The pressured rate of her words is gone. Now she speaks with a cautious, quiet, “Yes?”

 

“Baby,” Yang sighs into the phone. She sits up, legs crossing beneath her and an elbow resting on her knee as she exhaled. “What’s wrong?”

 

“I don’t know how to talk about that.”

 

It’s an answer all on its own. Blake was guarded, careful. She let Yang in but only in fragments. Handed her pieces of pasts and histories and wounds. She said, here is all I have to offer of myself . She said, I’m sorry, there’s nothing left. She said, I feel broken . Yang took what she gave and pressed it back against Blake’s palms, told her to keep herself, to hold onto it. She gave Yang what she could, and Yang took it in scattered pieces, grateful for each and every piece she was offered. “Is it...him?” 

 

“I miss you.”

 

There’s no need for the dramatics, but Yang finds tears welling in her eyes, her head falling in defeat, and her chest shuddering with a breath that wouldn’t sit right. “I’ll figure something out to tell Raven. Maybe I can get a flight out by Thursday.”

 

“I didn’t mean to-”

 

“Blake.”

 

“Yes?”

 

“I miss you too.” It’s hardly a confession, they exchanged those words almost daily, but Yang offers it as one. “I’ll text you as soon as I talk to Raven. Okay?”

 

“Okay,” she sighs on the other end. She doesn’t quite sound scared, but she isn’t right. The distance was never easy, but, right about now, Yang would do anything to squander away the miles, to dry up the ocean, to build a bridge between them. “Thursday.”

 

It’s so far from a promise, but they cling to it as one regardless. “I mean, how can I say no to a private beach?” The joke fits all wrong, lands flat between them. 

 

“Yeah.”

 

Yang sighs, feeling her ribcage fracturing apart, feeling her heart so far away from herself. “How could I ever say no to you?” she whispers instead, offers the truth of what she really feels, what she really means. It’s foreign, but she doesn’t take it back. “You’re all I want, Blake.”

 

There’s something between a sob and a laugh on the other end of the line. “Don’t even get me started.”

 

//

 

The luxuries were aspects Yang adjusted to over time. She stopped gaping at private jets, at a car that was always waiting, at dinners delivered on platters and gowns hand-picked and deposited in her closet. It was often, though, that she longed for simplicity—a sink full of soapy dishwater, a bedroom past the need for dusting, a pair of shorts from Old Navy with a thread threatening to unravel at the seams. 

 

The plane touches down on the tarmac of Menagerie’s small, unobtrusive airport. The island had all the makings of a tourist destination. Still, the main population put many people off, which kept the land rather infrequently traveled, with large docks and shipping ports being the primary means of transportation and exchange. 

 

Yang expects the air to be like Patch, her own only little island in the world, but it’s all different. The atmosphere here is still damp with moisture, but the humidity rests different, swirls on the waves, and eases back out to sea. Yang can smell the salt, feel how it swells in the strands of her hair.

 

Despite the lack of tourism, the island is beyond crowded, bodies pressed together on the main strips leading just off from the airport, outdoor stands for shops and walkways of boards emerging from the water, people unbothered by the occasional wave that splashes up at their feet. 

 

Ren is surreptitious enough. He was to deliver her to the palace before being released of guard duties. The Belladonnas did not bother themselves with private cars though Blake had offered her one. 

 

Sunglasses sliding up to the top of her head, Yang releases a low whistle. “Pretty,” she says quietly, partially to herself but somewhat to Ren. 

 

“I don’t care for beaches,” he answers as he shoves a chunk of hair that has escaped his braid behind his ear. “But, I suppose so, yes.”

 

The sun was unrelenting, not a cloud in the sky, and the water was unbelievably blue, crisp, and inviting even as the waves out at sea were capped with white, the promise of rough currents. The sand was almost white, and Yang was eager to put her feet in it. Something about this place held all the promises of home while also breathing air into something brand new.

 

The anticipation for toes in the sand and salt water to her knees died in comparison to the thought of seeing Blake again so soon. Holding her, kissing her. It was almost a physical ache, being so close yet still out of reach. 

 

“Shall we?” Duffel thrown over her shoulder, waving off Ren’s offer to carry, Yang pulls her glasses back down to obscure her face. Though, if she had to guess, not too many residents here would care greatly that Vale’s President’s daughter graced them with her presence. Raven wasn’t public enemy number one by any means, but with so much more that she could do, well, Yang was almost ashamed to show her face here. 

 

Their home isn’t really a palace. There were no turrets or stone structures or moats like was written of the kings and queens of old. Instead, it just appeared to be a very large house. Grand in its own way, settled at the top of a hill with large pillars and bright, overflowing flowers. Beautiful while also escaping the pitfall of true gaudiness. 

 

There were guards stationed very obviously at the front doors, but they were also hidden in other layers, the outer portions of the land and some on the higher balconies, only a few feet from the roof itself. No gates kept citizens out or the royalty in, but there was still a degree of separation between the two.

 

No need to knock, the guards nodded serenely at the two of them, unbothered by Yang’s old green duffel with the rip at the bottom, or her bright orange tank top and loose fitting shorts. She straightened, regretting every decision she’d made prior to once again presenting herself to royalty. Yes, she’d met them before, but this was different. Though this entire time she had thought of this extended weekend as something between her and Blake only, she had failed to recognize that the King and Queen would still be present with watching eyes and discerning judgments. She probably could have stood to take the presidentially approved luggage that had the insignia to mark it as such. 

 

Deep breath in, shoulders back. It should be par for the course by now, meeting official, important people. But, regardless of what Blake had shared with her parents, Yang wasn’t used to making the acquaintance of anyone in this regard. Meeting the parents wasn’t exactly a stage she aimed for. 

 

Throat cleared, shoulders back, Yang’s convinced she’s ready for whatever might come. The picture of composure. The doors open and Blake’s there first, top of the stairs, her clothes casual and relaxed, and her hair pulled back from her face.

 

There’s air stuck in Yang’s throat, and composure slips away much too easily; wanting, yearning, waiting takes its place. Her bag hits the ground, and a cloud of dirt and sand waft up from the disruption. She rushes forward, Blake’s down the steps in the beat of a second. Her expression is worried and frightened and then so very relieved. 

 

Blake’s arms slide around Yang, grasping her tight, and Yang has one arm firm against Blake’s back, the other pressed against the back of her head, holding her in that exact place she’d been missing from far too long now. “Hey,” she whispers, feeling the earth lurch back into place beneath her feet, feeling the rhythm of her heart settle in her chest. This is right, the whole world whispered to her. This is where you belong. 

 

Tears on Yang’s shirt. Blake pulls away and runs a hand down her face. “Hey.” She smiles, embarrassed. Even with how vulnerable they were to one another, how much they could lay themselves bare, it was still hard to expose weakness like that, shimmering in the island sun. 

 

A gruff throat clears from the doorway, and Blake takes a step away from Yang, grabs her bag off the ground and slings it over her shoulder as she faces the king and queen.

 

Yang’s mouth opens and closes as she searches for words. “Your, uh, royal highnesses,” she finally manages, some poor excuse of a curtsey taking place. Five years of manners training, and she still couldn’t manage a normal greeting. “Thank you so very much for being gracious enough to, uh, host me?” the end comes out as a question, uncertain and afraid without proper reason. 

 

It’s Blake’s mom who steps forward first, walking down the steps with elegance and patience, the opposite of how Blake had taken them. She’s wearing clothes better fit for running the kids to soccer practice, not at all aligning with the mental image Yang had from all those balls and parties they attended together. It reminds Yang of what Blake had promised her. This weekend was just for them, no appearances, no publicity. Save for a charity event arranged by Raven, of course. 

 

The queen smiles at Yang and raises a hand, dirt caked beneath her nails and weathered from the sun, pressing it to Yang’s cheek with unexpected maternal tenderness. “We’re so happy to have you here.”

 

Eyes shifting, aware of Blake and Ren and the king and everyone who is silently watching this exchange, waiting for her response. Yang doesn’t know what to do with this, unprepared for this degree of warmth, this removal of formality. “Thank you,” she gets out in a strangled whisper, and despite the secrecy, it seems clear enough that the queen has seen through them both, just like Ruby and Weiss had with Yang. “I…Thank you.”

 

The Queen steps back, and the King is at her side now. His eyes are evaluating, cautious. Blake’s teeth are worry lip as if she knows what to expect as well as Yang does, or she knows exactly what to expect and is right to look fearful. “Your mother sure is a headache to deal with.”

 

“Dad…” Blake mutters in warning.

 

But Yang just smiles. “You should try living with her,” she jokes with carefully reserved bitterness, only a rueful smile.

 

He laughs in response, seemingly caught off guard. “I guess you win!” He places a large hand on Yang’s shoulder, and she wastes a moment to wonder why they were all still standing exposed in front of the palace. She wonders if they were afraid of cameras and truths and consequences. “Welcome, Ms. Xiao Long.” It doesn’t go unnoticed that he drops the Branwen in favor of her less impressive title, the one that mattered to no one but her. 

 

“It’s an honor to be greeted with your hospitality.” There, that was something she’d learned in Emily Post lessons. 

 

But the king just guffaws, throws an arm around her shoulders and begins to lead her towards the palace. “Now, my daughter tells me you play a mean game of poker…”

 

//

 

Blake hadn’t lied about the private beach. It was a stretch of empty, white sand straight off the back of the palace. The sand was the powdery kind, soft and fluffy beneath your feet with no rocks or shells to cut at your heels. Someone clearly combed it regularly. 

 

Afew lounge chairs were laid out with some umbrellas, a little table, and an emptied, opened cooler. The stretch of beach is probably a few hundred feet in both directions before the waves curl inward, cutting off the access from either side. It’s their own mini-peninsula. 

 

The sun’s setting already though the heat is as omnipresent as ever, saturating Yang, rolling through her veins. She and Blake walk hand in hand, far enough down the east side of the beach that they wouldn’t be visible from the windows. There were no guards, no parents, no reporters—just them. 

 

Yang drops her hand from Blake’s grasp to hold her face between her palms, leaning in at the same second Blake reaches up on her tiptoes for a kiss.

 

After all the anticipation and fear, Yang expected she would be frenzied and impatient, rushing to remind Blake how she felt, desperate to feel her responding. There was an urgency between every heartbeat back in Vale, but now Yang’s surprised that she’s found her patience. She’s as eager to make the moment last as she was for it to finally be here. 

 

Foreheads pressed together, shared breath as they held each other’s stare. Words passed between them without any volume. They heard each other so clearly. Maybe that was the thing about distance; maybe you learned how to read every breath and sigh and inflection so clearly that you needed less to understand. Maybe that was just them.

 

“Thank you for coming,” Blake whispers, eyes fluttering closed so she now only feels Yang, feels how her fingers adjust around her cheeks, feels how her exhales escape in uneven wisps. Probably feels her heartbeat, half an inch away.

 

Yang’s tongue runs along her lips. They taste of salt. “As if you could keep me away.” And she remembers the early morning call. The dread seems so far away now, something that has no place beside them. “What’s wrong?” Yang asks because she’s waited four and a half days to do so. Her eyes are searching, but when Blake opens to stare back, Yang perceives none of the fear that had been so apparent on the other line.

 

A slow smile, sad and pleased all at once. “Absolutely nothing.”

 

They kiss with the rush of ocean water as their background noise, cold water licking at their feet. They kiss, and Yang is inclined to agree.

 

//

 

The room is dark, curtains swaying in the breeze that drifts in from the open windows. Yang’s on her back, but tonight, she’s not watching the ceiling. Blake’s curled up against her, head on her chest. They’re both silent, lungs breathing and hearts beating, afraid to break a silence that holds them both so carefully, so cautiously. 

 

Yang shouldn’t be here. She doesn’t mention how she lied, manipulated, to get here. Maybe she could be a politician yet. 

 

“I wish this could be forever,” Blake whispers like it’s not an admission. Yang’s heart stutters, her stomach swoops. She breathes the word in and tethers it to her bones. Wishes are not realities, though. But they hold onto their own weight, carry their own meaning. 

 

There’s a response that’s begging to break free from Yang’s lips, but she presses them tight, saving questions and demands and answers for some other time. She wanted that, but she wanted these moments with Blake so much more.

 

“Who says it can’t?” she whispers after too many minutes, after so long that Blake knows Yang thought long and hard, considered her response before offering it. 

 

The sheets slide as Blake shifts up, propping herself on her elbow. She looks down at Yang, her eyes wide and pupils blown in the dark. The faded, yellow light from the streetlamps filter into the room just enough for Yang to make out shapes and features. Her hand reaches up, fingers tracing along cheekbones and jawlines, trembling down the contours of Blake’s throat and ghosting over pulse points. There’s a clavicle beneath the pads of her fingers, ribs. “What’s stopping us?” she asks, head fogged with the sensation of Blake beneath her fingers, with the scent of jasmine on her pillows, with the sea breeze and constant, soothing rush of waves. She’s gone hazy with the onslaught of warmth and love and the distinct sense of being wanted...desired.

 

“Election season, for one,” Blake sighs, and she falls back beside Yang, her head on the pillow now as she stares straight ahead, zipping herself shut and compressing down. “Reality.”

 

“Fuck reality,” Yang whispers. “We’ll find another dimension, one where it’s you and me and not a damn thing to keep us apart.”

 

Blake’s head turns, strands of hair tumbling down her cheek and resting there. Yang’s brushes them back, finds it hard to breathe. “I wish it could be so easy.”

 

Yang wants to argue, like she could prove Blake wrong. She wants to fight that they could have it, that it could be theirs. Because they’ve earned it. They’ve earned so much more than phone calls and letters and mere, short days. Haven’t they’d yet earned a forever? 

 

“Yang,” her voice is a breath in the room, rushes past her lips and is whisked away on a breeze, pulled out to sea where her secrets could be buried like messages in glass bottles, cork plugged tight. 

 

There’s fear in her voice, and that leaves ice in veins. “Yes?” she asks, feeling the dizzying turn in tone, in atmosphere. Blake’s afraid, and Yang doesn’t know why. Too quickly, Yang has forgotten what it was like to fear having something, someone, to lose. 

 

“I think...I think he’s planning something.”

 

Vague, unclear, but so easily deciphered, too easy. It was hard to forget the frantic look in Blake’s eyes when she’d first explained, how she looked over her shoulder, how the dark left her unsettled, how she looked for exit signs and locks on doors. 

 

And what does Yang say to that? How could there ever be words enough? All she wants is to do . To tear the world around them apart, to bring him to his knees, to defeat the demon in shadows and conquer her whole world with light. Anger, so many had been quick to remind her, has been her biggest flaw, her greatest weakness. Yang tampers it down, draws in a measured breath, and runs her hand up and down against Blake’s arm that was coated with goosebumps. 

 

“What can we do?” 

 

There’s a beat, a flash of a smile, the steadiness of hearts beating, blood flowing. The promise of no doubt and the freedom it allowed. “What if the answer is nothing?”

 

Yang curls on her side, presses her body beside Blake’s so she feels the length of it against her. “Then we’ll do it together.”

Chapter Text

There’s a deep voice coming from the television in Ghira’s office when Blake comes down for breakfast, less than a week after Yang’s flown home. It’s unusual for them to watch the news so early. Her parents usually took the morning to revel in the quiet, pot of tea and the morning newspaper between them.

 

They both sit in her father’s office, backs to the doorway, and their mugs are full, no steam rising from the surface. Voices on the television are turned low. Blake can barely make them out; all she can hear are tones and cadences. It’s the sort of series of events that sets her a little bit on edge, sends a wave of anxiety to the surface at the idea that something isn’t right, and they’re once again trying to protect her from it, like she was still a child, like she hadn’t learned a way to defend herself.

 

When she peeks around the corner, it’s him. And it’s not a newscast at all, but a video call. Her breath catches in her chest in a tiny gasp, and that’s enough to get her mom’s attention. Kali stands, reaches Blake in two strides, and takes her by the hand to lead her away.

 

“What’s going on?” Blake’s demanding before the television is completely out of sight. 

 

Yang had left only a week ago, and Blake urges to have her back at her side, to have the right to call her, beckon her. It’s been a week and the distance is wearing on the frays of her remaining sanity.

 

“Blake,” Kali’s voice is soft and quiet, drenched in maternal affection. “We should talk.”

 

But her dad isn’t following them, and the TV volume gets just a little bit louder. Her heart stumbles around in her chest, her lungs constricting against each breath she tries to take. “I don’t understand.”

 

In the kitchen stands the gardener, iced tea being poured over cubes that crack and fracture against the still warm liquid. 

 

No one says anything as Kali switches on the burner beneath the kettle, the gas stove, click, click, clicking as it ignites into a perfect, blue flame. She warms two biscuits in the toaster oven, lays out jam and honey on the table, folds the napkins just so as she sets a fork and knife on each setting.

 

The gardener looks between them and clears his throat to splinter the silence before acknowledging a hint and stepping back outside to the ever swelling heat. 

 

“Mom,” Blake demands, real fear in her voice now. She should have brought her scroll. She should be calling Yang right now, warning her or protecting her, or maybe just…

 

“One second, dear,” her mom is humming a familiar tune beneath her breath as she works with ease and efficiency. Cream and sugar on the table, a cup of tea placed in front of Blake, mug ringing against the saucer as they’re set on the table. The freshly warmed biscuits are placed in a basket, a blue and white checkered towel wrapped around to keep them warm as they’re placed right in the center of the table. “Eat.”

 

“But-”

 

“Eat,” Kali cuts her off before she can argue, unfolding the edges, which releases tufts of steam as she pulls forth two biscuits and deposits one right onto Blake’s plate. “Your father and I received this charming huckleberry jam from the Nikos family, made right from the berries of the Mistral Mountain range.”

 

“I don’t care about jam!” she shouts, palms flat against the table, frustration welling inside of her. “Stop trying to distract me and tell me what’s going on.”

 

There are several seconds where all Blake hears is the ticking of the clock on the wall, where all she sees is her mother slathering jam across one half of a biscuit, the sweet scent of berries catching in Blake’s nose, and her stomach rumbling despite itself. “I will,” her mother assures, taking a bit of her breakfast and washing it down with a sip of tea. “But you need to eat. You need to relax.”

 

“How can I relax when I know...when he...when there’s.” Her head falls to her hands, and she doesn’t so much cry as shake, inhale, falter. 

 

“Honey, breathe,” Kali’s hand rests on Blake’s arm. “Everything is okay.”

 

“How can you say that?” Don’t they know that with Adam, nothing is okay? Don’t they know the danger he carries, the threats he’s spit in her face, and how Blake has witnessed time and time again that Adam sees his threats through?

 

Glass clinking lightly against the table, the plate pushed slightly closer to where Blake’s elbows rest on the stained wood table. “Eat. I’ll talk.”

 

Her hand shakes as she takes the knife and attempts to slice through, and her mother’s hands lightly push hers away, taking over and applying a generous helping of jam to each side. “The White Fang has been keeping themselves pretty far out of the spotlight as of recent,” she says, leaning back in her seat and watching Blake with careful eyes. “Your father and I have been waiting for the other shoe to drop for a while now.”

 

And now it has. Blake shivers even as the morning sun streams through the windows and stretches across her back. It isn’t enough to warm her, not strong enough to soothe. “What does that mean?”

 

Kali draws a long breath and seems to really consider her words as she exhales. “It means things are as worrisome as we’d feared. Sienna Kahn is dead, and Adam has taken her place as leader.” 

 

It means it’s the end of the world. 

 

Of course he did—another promise he’d made good on. There had to be a dozen plans Adam kept hidden away, but there was plenty he’d ranted and raved about to Blake. Late at night, pacing in their room, neither hearing or seeing her but talking at her for sometimes hours on end. “Yes, that sounds right.” That sounds like what she’s feared, that sounds like the hell she’d been waiting to wander its way to her front door. “And what is he saying now?”

 

Kali bites her lip, looks to the tea cup between her hands, and swirls the liquid lightly around. “He’s...made some claims.”

 

“About?”

 

Tea cup unevenly placed on the saucer, hurriedly discarded as Kali takes her daughter’s face between her palms and makes sure she’s looking, that she’s hearing. “Nothing we can’t deal with, okay?”

 

And some things are right, the touch and the stare and an idea of a promise, except it cannot be kept, except that no matter how well-intentioned it would never be the sort of promise that could exist. There were too many outliers, too much withstanding. 

 

“That’s not an answer,” Blake responds with practiced, even words. She doesn’t think about what the answers could be, only considers that she can’t fight her demons unless she knows who they are, where to watch for them. 

 

But the queen has faced so much, has fought just as hard as her husband to get them where they are now, but she didn’t have the same experience as her daughter of looking monsters in the face and not flinching away. She drops her hands, looks down at the table. “He’s made some accusations.”

 

“About?”

 

“You,” she says with a sad smile, “and our family in general.”

 

But that’s the anticipated, that was the storm she knew was coming, a prediction made true. That could be processed and accepted. This was something they could deal with. She sighs, a rush of air from her lungs. She takes a second bite of her breakfast and finds it a little easier to swallow. “No surprise,” she mutters, tired from the fear of realization and the exhaustion of processing a threat that’s become a reality. “I’m sure we’ll be hosting a press conference tonight?”

 

Maybe Blake has gotten good at reading people, or maybe her mom has never been able to hide the truth from her daughter. Either way, she knows there’s more to be said, and Blake thinks of how she heard what Adam was up to, at which point he had reached, and thought, okay, I can do this. I knew this was coming. This is only expected. Which means there can only be more. Which means she’s still waiting for the other shoe to drop.

 

“There was...something else he mentioned.”

 

“Mom.”

 

This time there are no palms pressed to her cheeks or solid, even stares. Without any more preamble, Kali just says, “He mentioned Yang.”

 

There it is. This is the worst thing that could happen. This was how he targeted her, how he sunk beneath the surface, and deduced where he could hurt her most. “No.”

 

“He’s going after Raven Branwen’s campaign.”

 

“No.” Denial. It can’t be real if she just refuses to believe it. This can’t be happening if she doesn’t hear the words. 

 

“It was a threat, Blake.” A threat against who should be their real concern, the true focus. Because he might paint a picture against the President of Vale, but he has different intentions, a utterly separate target. “He’s calling for the Faunus to stop colluding with any outside kingdoms immediately. And his case isn’t without support.”

 

“What did he threaten?” Because Adam never just says what he really means, but Blake is an expert in subtext and reading between margins. She finds truth in the dark and dusts off their cobwebs, exposes their cracks. “Mom? What did he say?”

 

The queen bites her lip, looks like she’s a degree away from splintering herself. Now Blake understands the ritual of breakfast—the boiling of water and slow spreading of jam on freshly warmed biscuits; she understands taking the time to enjoy one more moment of peace before the crushing torture of reality broke through. “He said the Branwen’s had no place here and that...one certainly didn’t belong in your bed.” When Kali looks up, she smiles, eyes glossy and lips a degree away from joy. “He said that he knew plenty of secrets, and he wasn’t afraid to release the proof. That we...you, would pay for what has happened and is still to take place.”

 

“He said the throne was just as well his as it is ours, and if we weren’t willing to stand down and work with him, then we should prepare for a war.”

 

//

 

“Hey, I’ve got something I wanted to talk to you about,” Yang says on a Tuesday night. She’s on the floor of her room post-workout, covered with a sheen of sweat and air still huffing from her lungs, still figuring out how to regulate the supply and demand. 

 

Blake is silent for a minute, which is just how she’s been since they’d gotten on the phone ten minutes ago. Quiet, reserved, something to say without getting it off of her chest. “Yeah,” she whispers, “me too.”

 

The hesitancy of her tone puts Yang on edge, sets her mind searching and her heart racing, and she wishes that there wasn’t so much distance, that they weren’t where they were but still with so many miles between. Because Yang is at a point where she is done with the separation, where it’s starting to kill her a little bit more each time they have conversations, and she can’t see her or touch her or feel her breath against her skin. Now, Yang knows what it’s like to fall asleep with Blake pressed beside her body, to wake up to the scent of her against the sheets, to glance up from the dinner table and find her staring back. Now, Yang doesn’t know how to live without it.

 

“You go first,” she suggests with her voice soft and careful, her exhale a few seconds too long. Blake being on edge, put Yang over the top. She knew there were reasons to worry. She knew legitimate fears were stalking her in the dark. And she knew there was little she could do about them.

 

Emptiness is all that fills the other line. “Blake?”

 

A soft sigh. It’s late where Blake is, or maybe early, almost four in the morning. But there had been a handful of nights as of recent where Blake just wanted to talk, no matter the hour. She was awake anyway. It made Yang ache for the fact that she couldn’t fly back to Menagerie and lay in the sand with their hands clenched tight, couldn’t reassure her that everything was going to be fine even if she didn’t always know that herself. 

 

“Sorry,” she says. “I just...I miss you.”

 

The words are bittersweet. Yang doesn’t know if she’s smiling or crying, maybe both at the same time. “Baby, I miss you too. You have no idea. Actually, that’s what I wanted to mention.”

 

“Well, that works out well.”

 

God, how it ached . It was a battle in her chest, a swooping in her stomach. All she wants is just out of reach, and this is what really hurts; all that stuff before was only preparing her for how she would long for what she couldn’t quite have now. “My family, dad side, of course, goes to our lake house in the summer every year,” Yang rushes out, words not quite separate from one another. “I would love it if you could come, any length of time at all. It’s super private, not a soul has to know you’re there, and we have tons of security that stay next door if your parents don’t want you taking too many guards and...and I know it hasn’t been long, but I miss you so much, Blake. I miss you like I didn’t know I could miss anything.”

 

The line is totally silent. Yang waits, breathes, worries. She gives Blake the space and time she needs.

 

“Of course,” the words come out trembling, desperate, and seeking. “Of course, I’ll be there.”

 

Relief, that’s the only word Yang can give the sensation coursing through her veins. It’s not right, this space between them. It doesn’t fit them, doesn’t work. Yang hasn’t needed anyone since she was six years old, has not given herself over to that damning vulnerability since they lowered an empty casket with her mother’s name on it six feet under. She was convinced she didn’t know how to open herself anymore, had hard-wired that part of the human experience out of herself and implanted armor, defenses. But now she sees how it has always been a part of her, the way it was always buried just beneath her skin. She was weak too. She needed someone. She needed Blake. 

 

“I think there’s something I need to tell you, next time we’re together,” she whispers through the line and feels the words threatening to bubble free, feels how right and true and real they already are. “What was it you needed to talk to me about?”

 

Blake doesn’t quite sound like she’s crying, but she doesn’t sound right. There’s a wavering, a degree of separation. “Yang,” she sighs, and it’s that same yearning Yang has right behind her chest. It’s that same thread pulling taut, dragging her forward. “I just wanted to say...I can’t wait to see you.”

 

Smiling, eyes shut, Yang pretends for just a moment that Blake is beside her. She revels in a soon to be realized reality. She holds it close and prays it gets here just a little sooner.

 

//

 

The house is so much less than Blake anticipated. She forgets that half of Yang comes from somewhere wholly separated from any political scene, that she didn’t always live in the shadows of importance but grew up in the sweeping lines of low swinging tree branches, ropes to glide on, bungalows with windchimes. 

 

Deep blue water that sparkles in the sunlight can be seen just off the side of the building, a path covered in roots and patches of grass leading out to a dock with a wave runner tethered to it.

 

Ruby comes bursting through the front door, arms flung wide, and a half-eaten sandwich clutched in one hand. “You made it!” she cheers like it hadn’t always been the plan. “I’m so glad you’re here,” Ruby adds on even though they’ve met exactly once. “Yang has been in a mood all day.”

 

Blake smiles, takes her bag from the driver. Her security detail is mid-conversation with Yang’s. They would stay in the house next door, never far, just in case. That had been one of the conditions before Ghira would even consider letting Blake attend. First, it was a game of intentions, why did Yang invite you? Why do you want to go? Will President Branwen be there? Will the press be there? Where’s the last NDA Yang had signed? Then it was a shift from king to dad. Was she happy? Did she feel safe? Was Yang someone...special?

 

Then Blake walked from the room and said they could send whichever guard they wanted, but she better not see them looking in her windows at two in the morning. 

 

“I’m sure she’s just-”

 

“Hey.” Blake didn’t know how she would’ve finished that sentence but isn’t upset that she doesn’t have to. Yang’s standing there in the doorway, three steps up, dark blue door at her back. A breeze rushes by, scented with summer and warmth and gardenias, and Blake doesn’t really know what’s happening, doesn’t know how they got here, but she swallows hard and does not think about family vacations or secrets or how wine tastes when it’s on Yang’s lips, how desks feel against Blake’s back. 

 

“Hi.”

 

Ruby looks between them, chewing on her sandwich and a piece of lettuce stuck between her teeth. “Should I get Weiss out here to stand in the other corner? We can make a foursquare of greetings.”

 

Yang’s dad steps out of the house then, apron on and spoon in hand. He points it in Blake’s direction. “Do princesses like guacamole?” he asks, eyes narrowed. “Or should I be mixing in caviar or some shit?”

 

“I love guac,” Blake answered, pulling her gaze away from Yang to smile in her dad’s direction, trying to reconcile what it means to be here and the fact that she’ll be staying. “Hold the caviar.”

 

“Huzzah!” And just like that, he’s gone.

 

“Swimming?” Ruby asks, licking her fingertips. 

 

The steps creak beneath Yang’s weight as she walks down, reaching out to take Blake’s bag from her. “Meet you down there in a bit. Go splash Weiss for me.”

 

With a mock salute, Ruby takes off around the corner of the house, bare feet slapping against the stones. A minute later, there’s a shriek from around back.

 

They look at one another. Blake’s words are stuck in her throat, her breath the only thing coming loose. The invitation had felt special all on its own. But being here—amongst music pouring from the kitchen, water splashing , sun seeping into skin and warming everything it touches—being here with Yang’s hand wrapped loosely in Blake’s, fingers linked and tugging her in, there’s something alive inside of her that’s been dormant so long she’s forgotten how it feels. 

 

The curtains are all pulled open, sun streaming through, a mess of mugs, swimsuit cover ups, and ponytail holders cluttering the living room. Yang’s dad is slicing into an avocado, hips moving to the Spice Girls blasting from the speakers on the back porch.

 

The wall of the staircase Yang leads her up has pictures of she and Ruby in life vests, with popsicles, around the campfire with friends. There’s one of Yang wrapped tightly in her dad’s arms on the front of a wave runner, a gap in her front teeth and her hair stringing and wet as she smiled wide. 

 

It’s wholesome in the way that makes Blake ache with longing. 

 

“Ruby and Weiss took the bunk bed room,” Yang explains as she shoves open the bedroom door, her duffel sliding across the hardwood floors with the door. She tosses Blake’s suitcase right onto the nicely made, singular full-sized bed. “I hope you don’t mind.”

 

The window overlooks the lake and Ruby’s running, water dripping from her hair as she attempts to evade Weiss Schnee, who’s braid is flying out behind her and pure white, name brand flip flops muddied as she sprinted after Ruby around the side of the building, cursing her name. 

 

Blake faces Yang, the light from the window catching on a silver bracelet on her arm, the unsureness of her smile, the emptiness of her hands. She steps into her, invades space. “I don’t mind.”

 

The mattress dips in the middle, the rug on the floor is almost threadbare, a spider’s web is halfway complete in the corner of the room. The space smells of wood and water and fresh air that hasn’t quite fit itself into corners, hasn’t eased out the mustiness of winter. The walls are paneled with wood, small pictures pinned between, an unused hook by the door. A fan spins lazily overhead, casting circulated warm air over them both.

 

“Summer tradition, huh?” Blake asks, fingers reaching out blindly and finding Yang’s, twisting them together with intention and holding tight.

 

Yang nods, swallows hard. “Yeah, this place was my mom’s. Well, I mean, my stepmom. Ruby’s mom.”

 

“Summer,” Blake fills in. Yang’s mentions of her had been so rare, so careful, and Blake knows uncharted territory when she sees it, knows what it means to fill out maps with labels and landmarks. “Your mom.” She squeezes Yang’s hand and doesn’t look anywhere but right into her eyes, cast in the shadows of the room, a heavy shade of violet right now.

 

“Yeah,” the word is whispered, a fractured voice. “My mom.”

 

There’s a heaviness in the air. It presses around them, against them. Blake takes her free hand, brings it to the ends of Yang’s hair, no light around it yet still glowing, still alive. “Do you think she would have liked me?” she asks the question without thinking about it, before she could consider implications, before either of them could 

 

Yang smiles then. It replaces the awkwardness, the sadness, the heavy weight that surrounded them until there was just a singular beat between them both steady and unrelenting. “My girlfriend?” she asks, leaning into the line they were already toeing, what they already knew but couldn’t manage to say. “I think she would.”

 

They kiss in the shadows with the windows cast wide open.

 

//

 

Yang and Ruby’s dad has a tendency to be a complete, quintessential dad. He and Yang take turns telling horrible jokes, both of them holding their stomachs in laughter as Ruby groans, forehead on the table, and Weiss rolls her eyes. 

 

“So, Blake,” he turns to her somewhere between the second and third helping. Blake was still in awe of witnessing Weiss grasping a quarter pounder with mustard oozing out the side and about near unhinging her jaw to take a bite out of it. “My daughter keeps bringing home different kinds of royals. Tell me about being a princess. Any talking mice?”

 

She laughs to be polite as Ruby throws her hands in the air. “I need more to drink,” and gets up from the table. 

 

“No mice, I’m afraid.” Yang has butter dripping down her chin as she bites into the corn on the cob. It was all quintessential cookout food, according to Ruby. However, after all the summer meals in Menagerie, Blake had a different opinion, roasts out on the back patio, heaps of freshly caught seafood bundled on top of sticky rice and seaweed salad. “Haven’t found my fairy godmother either.”

 

There’s the snap of a can opening, the momentary sweet scent of Coke. “I’d imagine your situation is also a little different, being from Menagerie and all.”

 

Weiss looks down, fork twisting amongst her macaroni salad. 

 

The bench shifts beneath Blake as she wiggles in her seat and clears her throat. “Yeah, it’s crazy how much things have changed just in my lifetime.”

 

Tai nods, talking with his mouth half-full as he says, “I don’t always agree with everything your father does, but he’s a brilliant man, and he’s done wonders for your kind when no one else will.”

 

“Dad.” Yang cuts him off in an attempt to put an end to any shop talk at the dinner table.

 

“What?” he asks, ketchup dripping from the end of his hotdog to the edge of his paper plate. “It’s not like you aren’t all well versed on the political situation here. Just ‘cause your parents think or say something doesn’t mean you guys have to shy around it.” The mayo of the macaroni salad suddenly tastes as though it has turned on Blake’s tongue. “Especially you, Yang. You have no trouble expressing your feelings.”

 

“She’s trying to keep Blake and me on civil ground,” Weiss contributes, wiping her fingers on the napkin from her lap. “All things considered.”

 

Blake glances at her across the table, caught between knowing she was Yang’s best friend and simultaneously the daughter of Jacques Schnee, the man who single-handedly belittled Blake’s entire race and their right to exist as their own people. Atlas’s laws regarding slavery were loose, forgiveness for the people in power and none for those who needed it. “We don’t exactly share a whole lot of common ground.”

 

Tai waves a hand and leans back in his seat. “What’s between your parents only has so much to do with you. If Weiss was anything like her asshole father, you think she’d be at this table right now?”

 

“Fair,” Weiss responds without hesitation. “My dad is kind of the worst.”

 

“Kind of?” Yang mutters. “He’s an asswipe.”

 

The crickets seem to announce nightfall in a chorus, singing out together as the sun sets beneath the treeline. The lights strung overhead are enough to eat by, and Ruby pulls out a lighter to ignite the Citroen lantern and keep the mosquitoes away.

 

“I tend to agree,” Blake adds on. “Atlas has some...unfortunate practices.” A wince, Weiss can’t quite meet Blake’s eyes. “But, I agree with Mr. Xiao Long.”

 

“Just Tai is really fine.”

 

“We aren’t our parents.” At this, she looks to Yang. “And they don’t even have to exist to us in a place like this.” Blake saw the magic now. She felt it. The tiny yellow lights, the silent, empty road out front, the sky cast in deep reds and pinks, the water a still, dark blue as boats bobbed against their docks. Here, they were no one. Here, they were free. 

 

“I’m sorry,” Weiss says the words without volume or any particular conviction, but she does still say them. “For what my father has done to your people or even just your family. I...I’m just sorry.”

 

It’s not what she expected. It certainly isn’t what Blake came here for, but she finds herself nodding, happy to accept something that might not cost Weiss Schnee a whole lot except the one thing she may want to keep guarded most of all. “Thank you.”

 

Tai whistles and reaches across the table to sink his fork into a piece of watermelon. “You girls sure made that heavy fast.”

 

He doesn’t understand that the weight has always been there between them.

 

//

 

When the night has truly fallen, it’s just the four of them. The fire has dwindled down to little more than the occasional snap or crack, embers not quite surrendering. 

 

Weiss keeps kicking Yang off of the bluetooth to play music, all these somber indie tunes with women whose voices go deep as much as they do high, gentle guitar strings. It’s a total contrast when Yang manages to override and start blasting something filled with a heavy bass and thudding drums. 

 

Ruby’s just finished telling a ghost story, all dramatic tones and sound effects, when she sits back and pops a marshmallow in her mouth like she hasn’t just made Blake feel that she can sense someone’s breath on the back of her neck. 

 

“Truth or dare,” Yang starts out of nowhere, waggling her eyebrows in Blake’s direction before darting her gaze towards Weiss. “You first.”

 

“Truth.” No hesitation. “Pro-tip is against Yang, always opt for truth.”

 

The smile curling on Yang’s lips is dangerous enough on its own. Blake could only imagine some of the dares she could create. “Have you kissed Pyrrha Nikos?”

 

Even in the dim of the firelight, it’s impossible to miss Weiss turning bright red. “No. Ruby, truth or dare.”

 

“Dare.”

 

“Shit,” Weiss mutters, looking around to find something to make her do. “Chubby bunny challenge. Go.”

 

Ruby gets to seven before dissolving into giggles and gagging on marshmallows. “Weiss. Truth or dare?”

 

Narrowed eyes, untrusting tone as she says, “Truth.”

 

“Do you want to kiss Pyrrha Nikos?” Ruby and Yang fall apart in laughter, all but rolling around on the ground while Weiss huffs, nose in the air to remind them just how far above she was from their nonsense.

 

Blake can’t help giggling just a little, endeared at the way Ruby throws her arm around Weiss’s shoulders, and Yang elbows her in the ribs, driving her crazy in the way only people secure in each other’s love ever do. 

 

“Blake,” Weiss turns towards her after a muttered, “Yes.” “Truth or dare?”

 

“Truth,” she answers like it’s not the option that makes her heart race, like it didn’t scare her more than ghost stories and haunted houses. The truth was her demons, and they were very much alive.

 

Weiss ponders for a moment, chin tilted toward the sky as a breeze brushes past, rustling the leaves of the trees overhead before wisping over their skin and leaving a trail of goosebumps behind. The height of summer and Blake is regretting not bringing a sweatshirt. “Have you ever been in love?” Weiss asks, pulling Blake’s thoughts from her suitcase and what exactly she had remembered to pack.

 

“What-I…” She stutters, eyes on her, and heart racing. It was as if Weiss had reached right into the recesses of Blake’s mind and selected the exact line of questioning she had wanted to stay very far away from. “I don’t know,” is how she finally answers, the words a whisper. Clearing her throat, Blake tries again, “I thought at one point...maybe, but now...now, I think no.” She feels Yang’s presence beside her, the fire crackling on, and a low hoot of an owl off in the trees. She thinks about the bed she will fall into tonight, of the place she wants to always be, how the location changes, but some elements remain exactly the same. “And I think maybe falling in love again showed me just how wrong it was. Before, I mean.”

 

There’s a heartbeat in her throat, a churning in her stomach. Her eyes go to the trees, hair standing at attention on the back of her neck, wondering, waiting. They were in the middle of nowhere. There were guards housed on either side of them. They were safe. “Uh, my turn then.”

 

She looks over her shoulder and sees only the dark.

 

//

 

Mornings are Yang’s favorite part of being at the lake. Since they were kids, she and Ruby stumbling bleary-eyed from the bunk bed room they once opted to share and being greeted by a mountain of pancakes stuffed with fresh blueberries, syrup stringing in thick, sweet lines off of their forks. Summer would come around their side of the table, pile Yang’s hair high on top of her head with a kiss to her cheek and lean over Ruby’s shoulder to cut up her breakfast. Mugs filled with apple juice so they could pretend they were grown ups too. 

 

Now she wakes with a line of sunlight splitting between the curtains, casting itself across their bed. She wakes with Blake’s face beside her, breathing heavily with hair halfway covering her face. Beautiful. Yang reaches out a hand, fingers sliding back the strands of ink black hair, palm curling itself against Blake’s cheek.

 

The bed creaks as Blake stirs, a long inhale, arms stretching out before her eyes open and find Yang there, staring down at her with her hand a millimeter from her face. “Hi,” she says quietly, a tired voice and tired eyes.

 

“Hi.” There’s so much else to say, so many words that are alive inside of Yang, begging to come tumbling free. Secrets and confessions. Truths, maybe a couple of dares. “How’d you sleep?”

 

“Better.”

 

“Then what?” Yang asks, their voices are both so soft, so gentle, not daring to disturb so much as the air around them. Yang pushes up onto her arm, so she’s just above Blake, staring down at her in bed. Hair mussed, eyes hooded, voice rough and throaty. It’s like an invitation, a plea. One Yang would happily answer if Weiss and Ruby weren’t a mere, thin wall away from them.

 

The words that come next are enough to persuade Yang not to care. “Than when I’m not with you.”

 

Hitched breath, swooping stomach. It was too early to feel this much. “Blake…” She doesn’t know what else to say. Just like she doesn’t know what to do, what is worth the risk. Yang’s been living for the thrill of danger since she was seventeen years old. The more she could throw caution to the wind, the better. But now, now she leans above Blake, now she has words that die in her throat, now she knows what a real risk looks like, what it means to have something to lose. “What are your thoughts on pancakes?”

 

They end up being the first ones awake. Which is for the best, honestly. As much as her dad tried, he never quite got the hang of cooking anything much beyond pasta and green beans. The burner clicks before igniting to life, a hum of gas fire as the oil heats in her pan. Blake makes the coffee, counting scoops of grounds out loud.

 

There’s no music, hardly any talking. But there are birds in the trees just outside the open windows. There is the swirl of warm summer breezes skimming off the water. There are fresh blueberries, skin popped between Yang’s teeth and a rush of tangy-sweet flavor on her tongue. 

 

Pancake batter sizzles as it hits the pan. Yang throws some chocolate chips into this one, knowing exactly how Ruby will want hers. 

 

There’s a plate stacked high, a cluster of mismatched forks, orange juice, and syrup set out on the table. It’s time to start kicking doors and shouting to get everyone up, but Yang wants just another minute. The two of them with space for no one else. 

 

“So, you’ve done this every year?” Blake asks, sitting on the counter next to Yang, staring down at the frying pan as bubbles appear in the batter.

 

The chocolate chips ding against the pan when Yang flips it. “Used to be a few times a year. My mom...Summer liked coming up here in the fall to see the leaves changing.”

 

There’s a pause; Blake’s mouth opens and closes, but ultimately she twists around, looking out at the bright blue of the lake peering through the trees. “I bet it would be beautiful then.”

 

“Yeah.” And now her words are sad, heavy. Now there’s a weight in her chest, and it makes everything feel tight, pressure building. 

 

“Maybe we could come back,” Blake suggests while Yang is thinking about memories that are too hazy, about perfect moments that will never come to pass again.

 

Lips pressed tight, she breathes in through her nose, her exhale all stuttering and uneven. “I’d like that.”

 

A door upstairs flies open, and Ruby appears in a flurry of excitement, cheering for breakfast as she dumps half the bowl of sugar into her coffee.

 

“Me too,” Blake adds on as she hops down from the counter, words whispered right against Yang’s ear for only her to hear. It sounds just like a promise.

 

//

 

The clouds have retreated for the day, nothing but bright, unrelenting sunlight overhead. It was only good judgment to properly sunscreen, not that Ruby wanted to listen to common sense, sprinting off the end of the dock and screeching as her legs bicycled in the air for a second before she made contact with water. The splash just barely misses the edge of Weiss’s towel, and she glares in Ruby’s direction with a simple, “Hey!”

 

But she’s brought out her float today, and she throws herself onto it before Yang can snatch it from under her like the other day. Glass full of margarita, sun hat pulled low over her eyes, and music blasting from the speaker on the dock. It had only been a handful of years that Weiss had been joining Yang and Ruby, but somehow these elements had become the definition of her summers. A whiff of bacon grease, musty closets, and poorly rinsed out bathing suits still clinging to the scent of lake water.

 

It was the sort of vacation that couldn’t go anywhere near social media, had to remain completely paparazzi free. Her ties to Yang Branwen were questionable at best, disastrous at worst. How her father felt about it relied entirely on how close Raven was willing to work with him, how many of his policies she publicly agreed with, how much she sought his endorsement. With re-election coming up so soon, Jacques was only becoming equally frustrated that Raven had yet to turn to him and begin pleading at his feet for his support. The fact meant that it was Weiss’s mom who had packed her a bag and arranged the flight. She was still drunk at five in the morning when she’d crept into Weiss’s room and shook her awake. 

 

“It’s best if you stay away,” she’d said by way of explanation. “Just for a little while.” The words caused Weiss to shiver all wrapped up there amongst her bedsheets. But she didn’t fight. Because this was only halfway to a life she’d chosen for herself. Her mother could live with the consequences of her own actions. Weiss had the right to escape, just as Winter did. Just like Whitley could. Not that he’d want to.

 

There’s a shriek back on the dock, and Weiss glances over, sunglasses blocking the overwhelming light from her eyes. Blake’s on the dock, a towel spread out and book in hand. Yang’s hovering off the edge of it, looking definitely mischievous between the glint in her eye and the grin on her face. Trouble, it’s what they’re both asking for. 

 

Blake leans forward, and they’re both wrapped in sunlight and smiles and each other. Trouble, Weiss realizes, is something they are far beyond. They don’t kiss, some degree of separation remaining between them, but she knows how to read familiarity, how to spot the restraint of a muscle memory that’s already been formed.

 

It’s not just friendship. It will never be just a royally deemed relationship. They are more than Weiss and Yang have come close to being. Even back in the day when they joked about fucking, used to kiss when they were too drunk to consider bad ideas, too desperate to act some regardless, they never came close to this. Because it’s there in the brushing of fingers, in laughter, in the water that swallowed them up and the sun that bathed them in gold. 

 

They were in love. They were in unsanctioned, unapproved, god forsaken love. And they were utterly screwed.

 

//

 

One in the morning, gibbous moon hanging overhead. Constellations dot the sky, Big Dipper, Orion’s Belt, pictures that have been titled, and those that have not. Yang’s hand is wrapped around Blake’s, pulling her gently down the tangled path towards the dock. She walks the trail like she’s memorized it with her eyes closed, like the dark makes no difference in how she sees. 

 

At the dock, she turns to Blake. Yang holds her face between her hands and kisses her long and slow. There’s so much feeling in that kiss, so much love that Blake can feel her heart stutter and swell, can feel exactly how Yang exists within her body, takes up space like it was always meant to belong just to her. 

 

When she pulls away, Blake rests her forehead on Yang’s, exhales against her. She closes her eyes, not wanting to do anything but feel . For once, she just wanted to know exclusively what was inside of her, what pressed against her skin. She desired to follow her instincts and have them deliver her somewhere safe. She wanted not to doubt. “Yang.” 

 

Lips parted, breath stuttering. All those phone conversations with those miles between them, separated by time itself. So much time spent imagining her and how she would look, how she would move, and how it would be to hold her in her hands. Blake opens her eyes, finds Yang staring at her. She doesn’t look weirded out or concerned or overwhelmed. She’s patient, waiting. 

 

“Shall we swim?” Blake asks, breaking the moment because it was swelling too high within her, would swallow everything whole, consume and destroy and demolish like the wave of a tsunami, no way to control. And because she needs to do something, because she’s felt fear in all its ranges, with all its strengths, Blake steps out to the dock and draws the fresh lake air into her lungs. She knew what it meant to fear, to be destroyed by it. To overcome it. She knew that this was different. She knew. She knew. She knows.

 

Flip flops kicked off, she grabs the ends of her shirt and goes to pull it off. Gasping in surprise when she feels Yang’s fingers wrap around her wrists. “May I?” she asks, all coy and questioning with an eyebrow raised and a quirk of her lips. She’s asking, but she knows the answer. 

 

“Yes.” 

 

A breath. 

 

Yang kisses her, teases the end of Blake’s T-shirt and lifts it over her head, drops it to the boards of the dock that bob beneath their feet. And then there’s urgent, pressing kisses, so fast and fleeting but desperate against Blake. Hands. They trail down her sides, carve something from the ridges of her spine, bury themselves in her hair. “It’s been killing me not to touch you,” Blake admits while Yang is the one who ravishes Blake’s body with her touch. 

 

“Me too,” she says, and now she sounds almost pained, near desperate. 

 

They barely break apart when Blake goes to remove Yang’s shirt, slipping it overhead and tossing it somewhere, hopefully not in the water. Shorts tumble down their legs, stepping out of them with significantly lacking grace. Blake giggles against Yang’s lips, pausing just in time to keep from falling in the water. “Would it be inappropriate to make you come right here on this dock?” Blake asks, fingers teasing at the edge of Yang’s underwear. 

 

“More like it’d be rude not to.” To make her point, she releases the clasp of Blake’s bra. Their towels are still laid out on the dock from earlier today. It’d be more concerning except all the lights have gone dark. No one is here to bear witness besides themselves and the stars above. 

 

The water moves the docks just so beneath them, rocking gently and planks hitting against one another. Somehow they end up laying there, Blake on her back and Yang above her, knees on either side. She’s smiling down at Blake, and her hair is still made of golden fire, spun to perfection. Blake’s throat runs dry. She thinks of sliding out and slipping beneath the surface of the water. She thinks of escape routes and exits. She leans up and kisses Yang with as much force as she can muster. 

 

Fingers around her wrist, guiding Yang’s hand down where she wants it, whimpering against contact without coordination, the fabric of her underwear still between them. She’s had Yang between her legs so many times before, knows how she grinds hard against her, the feeling of her tongue against her clit, the sensation of her fingers sliding deep inside of her. Blake knows and, she thinks, that’s exactly why she so desperately needs this. 

 

“I thought you wanted to go swimming,” Yang quips, waistband pushed aside, the ghost of a touch. 

 

“I hate the water,” Blake mutters back, hips rising, searching. 

 

A gasp when Yang’s fingers slide right inside of her, no hesitation. “But you sure don’t mind getting wet, do you?”

 

It’s too hard to form words right now. Blake’s eyes are closed, groaning when Yang pulls out and moves to rub at her clit, making her want her inside of her that much more. “Not when...it’s you,” Blake manages to gasp out, her hands wrapped around the edges of Yang’s hips, sliding along her skin, pulling at the back of her head to beckon her close enough to kiss. 

 

“Fuck,” she mutters now, her insides fluttering, her stomach clenching. So fast, but that was what anticipating for so long did to her. She was ready for Yang to make a mess of her. She was ready to be unraveled, opened and in disarray. See how weak I am , she almost commands. Choose me anyway. 

 

Yang is kissing curses from her lips, curving fingers inside of her, easing her forward before she surrenders completely, gasping and urgent and shuddering. “God, Blake,” she’s whispering in her ear, breathing just as heavy as Blake, not moving her hand from between Blake’s thighs until she’s edged out every last wave of Blake’s orgasm. And then she’s bringing her fingers to her lips, tasting Blake there and leaning forward to kiss her, tongue along her bottom lip. 

 

Sometime later, they’re laid side by side, catching their breath. Yang’s underwear is in the sandy dirt at the shore, and Blake’s wiping her chin with the back of her hand. She feels like she’s been reduced to jello, formed but loose and wobbling, so easy to carve away at—the dock bobs beneath her, just rough enough to graciously keep her from drifting off to sleep. “You’re incredible,” the words stumble out of her mouth before she thinks about them. 

 

Yang is laughing, high off of the two of them, drunk on hands and mouths and sensations. “Don’t sell yourself short, Belladonna,” she whispers near her ear, pops her head right onto Blake’s shoulder and kisses her cheek. “You are staggering. Breath-taking. Sublime.”

 

“I thought you didn’t care for words?” 

 

Now Yang is so close that Blake can’t see her face at all, can only feel her lips against her cheek, how they curve with a smile, the brush of her eyelashes as her eyes slip shut. “I could write a novel about you, baby. A whole damn tome.”

 

“A handbook?” she tries to joke, but it comes out sad.

 

“No.” Simple, succinct. All the answers Blake needs to know it is the right one. “A dedication. A memoir. A tale of beauty and brilliance and bravery. You are a goddamn classic.”

 

“I think I love you,” Blake spills right there, words tripping from her tongue and tumbling into the space between them, swallowed up by the water beneath them.

 

There’s a lull, full-fledged silence before Yang pulls back. Foreheads together, tongue darting along lips. Patience. Waiting. The words are out there, and Yang is letting them saturate between before she jumps in herself. “Blake.” A cloud passes overhead, the moon vanishes. A breeze causes a jumbling of the docks beneath them both. It carries in the scent of water. “I love you more than anything.”

 

There’s no question, no doubt, no contingency. Blake tries not to cry. Yang kisses her even when she does.

 

//

 

They wake late on Sunday morning, buried in twisted sheets and fan whirring overhead. Yang stares at the ceiling. Blake stares at Yang. 

 

Messy, that was once the easiest way to define what was between them. Now though, now it was something else entirely. So much more was at stake than hearts and feelings and hopes. But how those things consumed, how they narrowed to all that has ever mattered in the universe. Forget politics and wars and pawns. Forget being ten steps ahead, hands grasping at power, a carefully constructed narrative, a manipulated manuscript. It was all inconsequential compared to them

 

“I don’t want to leave,” Blake whispers, head on Yang’s chest and fingers skimming along her ribs. 

 

“You have no idea,” Yang answers with a sigh, hair that slips along her palm, through her knuckles. “This close to an election, we’ll either see each other again soon or…”

 

“Not at all,” Blake supplies because she knows what that means, how endorsements make or break votes, can decide on who wins. Atlas stood as the most prominent kingdom. Atlas controlled so much of the trade of Dust. Atlas could determine the fate of the world. “I understand.”

 

Yang bites her lip. “I wish I didn’t.”

 

“Wouldn’t that be nice,” Blake answers, and they think of a world where neither of them knew the ins and outs of political leanings, the importance of unity in a world where little survived. If only they could exist in a life where they had no obligations and the world had not already settled upon their shoulders. “It could be just you and me.”

 

It’s raining outside. Heavy enough to be heard against the windowpane. Fat raindrops break the surface of the water out back, heavy winds creating waves. A thing of beauty all its own. “No more games.”

 

“I do still love a good round of Twister,” Blake comments for the sake of the tilting of Yang’s lips, for the rush of levity that blows in and out of the room like a breeze. “But no more sense of duty.”

 

“I don’t know if I have one,” Yang confesses to the wooden beams above them. “I don’t know if I care at all, about any of it.”

 

What could that mean for them? What were the implications of a truth like that? “I think I really, really do.” Is how Blake responds. “I thought before I didn’t. I was convinced I hated it. But when I ran away...I learned a lot about myself and what I value. I learned why my position was important. I can make a difference.”

 

It almost feels like a surrender, an admittance to failure. Instead of hanging her head or existing in silence, Yang tilts down to meet Blake’s eyes. She smiles. She kisses her. She says, “Hell yeah you can.” And there’s a light that ignites that makes her smile all the way to the airport.

 

//

 

Back home, Yang’s more disinterested than usual. Four months away from the election, and they’re busier than ever. She sees less of Raven than usual, finds her snippier on the occasions they do interact. Vernal is on her case about interviews and presentations and the next charity event they’re flying out to, the next rally to attend. Glynda reminds Yang that everything she does, says, barely bothers to think, will be watched right now. She’s to guard her every word, monitor each action with minute precision. 

 

But Yang’s thoughts are with Blake. Her words were saved only for her. They fit in their conversations just like always, but Yang feels something slipping, feels a loose sensation she’s not used to with Blake. It causes her hands to grasp wherever they can find a handhold. It’s so close to normal, but a degree away. It’s so close to how it’s supposed to be, but there’s a couple thousand miles, an ocean, and words going left unsaid. 

 

Yang tries to draw it out of her. 

 

“Are you okay?” 

 

“What’s going on?” 

 

“Blake, you can talk to me.”

 

But there’s never an answer that makes sense, never something that fits. It’s poorly veiled excuses and half-truths. She’s afraid she’s scared Blake off with the intensity of her feelings, their confessions on the dock, beside each other late at night in bed. But Blake still whispers a quiet, “I love you,” before they hang up each time. She’s not guarded with her feelings and wears them bare for Yang to witness and absorb. 

 

They’re so close to where they should be, so close to right, but there’s a roadblock between them, forcing them apart. And Yang can’t quite decipher the source. She’s a step away from comprehending the causation. 

 

“I’ll talk to you later,” Blake whispers into the line sooner than usual that day. 

 

“Okay,” Yang says back. She doesn’t know how to fight it, doesn’t exactly know what else to do, how to make someone want her if they’ve decided otherwise. She’s been trying to piece that one together her whole life. “I love you.”

 

“Yeah, me too.” The words are distracted, hollow. The line goes silent, and Yang tries not to think about what that means.

 

//

 

Ghira watches his daughter more closely than usual. Even before she had left home, he was never very good at understanding her. She existed on her own plane, followed an opposing course, and fell to a different source of gravity, something else that held her and pulled her, and he never really had a say. So when she came home, he tried a little harder to understand her, to get in her head and process the way she was thinking, how she was coping. 

 

Those first couple of months, she was guarded, armor up at all times and trusting on one. She wouldn’t talk to them about a thing, not what had happened or why she had left or how it had taken place. She was a ghost in their own home, walking the halls without purpose, engaging with hardly anyone. There was no emotion behind her eyes, no joy when she attempted a smile.

 

It was a nightmare watching his child suffer how she must have, witnessing her attempting to piece herself back together. But eventually, things seemed to even back out. She got closer to finding herself again.

 

And then Yang Xiao Long Branwen appeared. It was, quite honestly, a huge source of potential controversy and political nightmares, but he couldn’t deny Blake that happiness. They were smart girls, knew how to keep things quiet, beneath layers which obscured the truth. So he kept out of it, with Kali’s reminders to do so, of course.

 

He watched his daughter transform into someone brighter, looser, happier. She wasn’t weighed down quite so thoroughly. Her gravity shifted course. 

 

“This is going to be a problem,” Kali told him the second they saw an incoming call from Adam Taurus. And it was, for a whole slew of reasons, but the effect on Blake was immediate. 

 

“I have a proposition,” Adam said that first day through the camera. A mask covered his face, a hand rested on his sword as he stood in the middle of an otherwise bare, empty room. He intended to convey threats and warnings, but Ghira only found him small, minuscule. 

 

Clearing his throat, he heard Blake’s gasp behind them, and Kali was gone. Maybe he should have heard him out, maybe he should have waited for more and considered whatever Adam had to offer, but all he could hear was that gasp of fear, all he could see were those first few months when his daughter was not even herself and the fact that he knew who was the cause of that.

 

And after Adam’s long diatribe, his vague insinuations of war, and his frenzied rant of Faunus rights, Ghira looks him dead in the eye and says, “I’m not interested.”

 

“I don’t really know if you’re in a position to decline this offer,” Adam states slowly, taking a step closer. “We both know Menagerie isn’t prepared for any kind of battle and, really, what kingdoms are coming to your aid? Wouldn’t you rather a peaceful transition of power, Your Highness.”

 

Ghira lets out a huff of a laugh, almost choking on it as Adam grinds his teeth together and shoots out the title with disdain. “Let me make this clear,” Ghira squares his shoulders and stares Adam straight on. It feels a little like disciplining a child. “I am their king. I am going to remain their king. Every day my court gets closer to further establishment, and my guard is more than ready to take on whatever half-assed dilapidated plan you think you’ve created. Stay away from my kingdom and, most importantly, stay the hell away from my daughter.”

 

He ends the call before Adam can get another word in.

 

//

 

Yang is drenched in campaigning madness when Blake calls her on a rainy Tuesday morning. 

 

It’s still the end of August, but they’ve traveled up north of Vale, where the mornings are cool and the nights even colder. Yang is constantly pulling sweatshirts overtop of her pre-approved outfits until they reach the venue, listening to Vernal mutter in her ear everyday about wrinkling her clothes. 

 

The receptions are warm, at least. Rooms filled with people who have all flocked out to come and see their President, eager questions being asked, and even the less pleasant, mostly men who spend a little too much time reflecting on Raven’s womanhood and how that might play a role in her ability to lead a kingdom, tend to be persuaded by her answers and walk away with a slow nod of their heads. 

 

Raven walks into a room, and people cheer before falling silent, attuned to whatever she’ll say next, eager for what she’ll offer them now. 

 

Yang’s scroll starts buzzing right in the middle of a rally. They’ve already moved on from opening speeches and were now amidst a question and answer session. Raven was currently fielding one regarding the taxes of the outlying villages, a display of graphs on the screen overhead. 

 

Maybe it’s stupid, but Yang’s all the way in the back, half-covered by balloons anyway. She slips down the stairs and tucks herself behind the raised podium. “Hello?” she whispers.

 

“Yang?” It’s Blake, just like Yang knew it would be. Their chances for calls and conversations were less and less these days between time differences and busy schedules. Menagerie was in a state of unrest as the entire court prepared their case towards the United Kingdoms council to persuade their vote. The citizens were uneasy, and the White Fang had been busy with statements, both in the form of demonstration and through the media. “Where are you?”

 

“Um,” Yang bites her lip, looks up over her shoulder in fear of finding Vernal or Glynda glaring down at her. “You know, at a thing.”

 

“Why did you answer?”

 

And the response isn’t because Yang doesn’t care about this. She does. It’s why she’s here. It’s why she keeps coming back and why she hasn’t left, hasn’t kicked and screamed and slammed the door on her way out. She cares. About Vale, about Raven’s presidency, about all those petty politics which help keep the fragile peace between nations. “Because,” Yang relents. “I miss you.”

 

There’s a beat of silence, and Yang imagines Blake’s rush of an inhale, the gentle smile that would cross her face out of habit and happiness. 

 

“And I’m worried about you.”

 

Now is when it would fall. Her eyes would harden. “Yang, don’t.”

 

“Adam is everywhere right now. Whether you’re willing to admit it or not, I know that has to be messing with you.” Not to mention all the other ways Yang worried, all the threats Blake had told her about, the “promises” that kept her where she was for so long. It was hard to stay away for a lot of reasons these days. “Have you talked to your parents? They increased security, right?”

 

“Yang, I’m fine.” Blake sounds tired, resigned. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

 

Yang shifts uncomfortably, her knees protesting against the awkward position she’s assumed. The questions are wrapping up, Raven will give her closing remarks now, and they’ll all walk from the stage. “You can’t just ignore this,” Yang argues, as much as they both might want to run away from it; Yang can see a threat closing in. She can sense when to pull her head out of the sand and fight. “I gotta go, but we’ll talk later, okay?”

 

“Yeah, okay.” It’d be so much easier if Blake sounded angry or annoyed or even sad. But she doesn’t sound anything like there’s not a single emotion to be processed. She hangs up the line before Yang gets the chance. Yang pops back over the side of the stage, praying few enough people noticed to make it in tomorrow’s news coverage.

 

//

 

“What was that?” 

 

Okay, so maybe people noticed.

 

Yang swallows, stands with her arms crossed beside the bus they were driving around the kingdom in like a fucking rock group. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She goes with plausible deniability. 

 

Raven looks like she’s in the middle of an aneurysm rupture. “You fucking left! Do you know how that looks? What the hell were you doing? What could be so important it couldn’t wait ten more damn minutes.”

 

Jaw set, inhale and exhale, maintain composure. “You wouldn’t get it,” Yang goes with, sounding more like a fifteen year old than she intended. “It’s...personal.”

 

Raven’s head shakes back and forth as she takes three steps towards Yang, unmeasured, unthinking. “No. No, that’s not how this works. We’re as far in as we get right now. The whole world is watching us. You and me, Yang. You’re just as much in this as I am. So what’s your business is my business. Got it?”

 

Never before has it been so clear, has been laid so bare and unadorned. Yang has always been a tool, has always been property here, but rarely is it thrown so clearly in her face. “I didn’t ask for this.”

 

“And you think I did?” Raven shouts the question, face red and arms spread, and Yang doesn’t flinch from it, but she wishes she could. She wishes she didn’t have to stand here and have this conversation at all.

 

“What do you mean?” she asks with eyebrows furrowed and pieces that don’t fit together. This has been all her mother has asked for, all she’s aspired to become. How dare she stand here now and deny otherwise. 

 

Retreating back, Raven’s out of Yang’s space and shaking her head. “We have three months to go. Let’s just hold it together until then.”

 

“Raven…”

 

“Forget it.” She storms past Yang, shoulders bumping against her as she moves for the door of the bus and slams it shut. 

 

//

 

The call comes late at night. It’s well past the time for business, which means one thing: this is personal. Blake’s alerted not by the ringing of her scroll but a knock on her door. There’s a call for her in the conference room. She’s dressed for bed, already thumbing through the pages of a book to find where she’d left off. 

 

“Who is it?” she asks with a raised eyebrow and her teeth digging into her bottom lip, afraid of the answer before it can be given.

 

“It’s the President, princess.”

 

Ah, well, that was both better and worse. 

 

She looks to check her texts, hoping to find a missed message from Yang, some sort of indication of what was happening right now. There’s nothing. 

 

“Alright then,” she says and shoves her feet into a pair of slippers.

 

Of course, it’s a video call. The President waits on hold, and Blake is left sitting at that big, empty table with an old water bottle left from earlier today, the omnipresent map of Remnant fixed in the middle. There’s nowhere she can look, but the screen that takes over the majority of the wall across from her. The screen splays her face across it, messy hair and circles beneath her eyes. She looks tired, vulnerable, maybe a little weak. She looks all of the ways she tries so hard not to.

 

She should call her dad to join her. She should have an advisor at her side. It seems clear enough that this call is being made under professional pretenses, and someone inclined to make good decisions would have a witness in the room, have someone to stop her before she agrees with haste. Before she makes plans and deals and bargains, she doesn’t know if she can keep. 

 

Heartbeat in her throat, room emptied out, Blake connects the call.

 

The President’s image replaces Blake’s, and the differences are contrasted like black on white. Raven Branwen’s face is composed of clean, sharp angles. Lips pressed into a thin line without a trace of a smile, and the flag of Vale pinned neatly to her lapel. “Princess Belladonna.” The words hold a sense of disdain, disapproval, and Blake squares her shoulders against it. It wasn’t the first time someone’s attempted to belittle her with her title. 

 

“Blake is fine, Madam President.” 

 

There’s no one else in the shot, just a wall with the edge of a golden frame in the top right corner of the camera with an empty glass to the right and a large, black portfolio binder in front of Raven. “Blake it is, then.” Her voice sounds tired, like she’s the one surrendering. But Blake knows better than to let down her guard because of that. She knows this could still go a few different ways. “I apologize for calling so late.”

 

Glancing at her own image, which has been reduced to a tiny corner of the screen, Blake takes stock of how she appears. Half-asleep, unkempt. She looks like she already knows she’s lost. “I have to say, it came as a surprise.” This wasn’t true. A piece of Blake has been waiting for this call for weeks, months even maybe. But every step closer Adam comes, Blake waits for this call to connect. There’s no way the leaders don’t know about these warnings from the White Fang. There’s no way they don’t have a plan in place for whatever it is that may happen next.

 

They size each other up in silence, letting the emptiness swallow the conversation a moment too long. Stares that do not waver. Eyes that assess and compile and wait for nothing, gaining all they can on vision alone. “We need to talk about your relationship with my daughter.”

 

Blake swallows, hits the button on the side of her scroll to bring it back to life. Scanning for a message, for anything. “What about it?” she asks, disappointed in how her voice falters,  in how frail she sounds when she means to be so much more contrite. Clearing her throat, she sits up taller and regrets her old T-shirt and lack of makeup. She regrets looking so damn small. 

 

Raven doesn’t appear happy about what she’s going to say, and that’s the only thing Blake can really give her credit for. “It has to stop.”

 

The room gets quiet again ,but this time Blake sees nothing, hears nothing. It’s empty space, a void she’s been swallowed into. She tries to think, to process. Sure, she can compile her own reasons easily enough, can think of an answer to the why's that bounce around in her head, demanding rationale. “With all due respect,” her voice is too quiet, and she squares her shoulders, picks up her chin. She sizes herself up and denies the need to shrink within as she had done so many times before. Instinct reminds her of hands to her face, shoulders rolled forward, lips pressed tight. Be quiet, be small, make him forget you’re here at all. “I disagree.”

 

Raven exhales heavily through her nose, her fingertips steeple in front of her, and she drops her forehead to them, balanced on the tip of her manicured fingernails. “I want you to know I take no pleasure in this.”

 

“I want you to know I don’t particularly care.”

 

That makes Raven laugh, and despite all of their differences, Blake recognizes a piece of Yang in that. Except Raven’s laugh is too hard, too short and rough. She doesn’t throw her head back, doesn’t have a smile that lingers when she’s done. She laughs, and then, for just a brief moment, she looks sad. “I can’t give you the details, but I am very serious when I tell you that you need to cut off ties to my daughter. Immediately.”

 

Blake swallows; she fights back fear and intimidation and reminds herself that she has faced so much more, has conquered so much greater than a mere President. “Or what?” she asks with a sense of bravado, confidence impersonated translating to confidence experienced. 

 

“Or...I can change my vote on the council.”

 

The words don’t come easily, but how much does that mean when they come at all. “Change...change your vote to determine if Menagerie is to be established as a kingdom.”

 

“Precisely.”

 

Blake’s throat goes dry. She’s in the desert and wishes for the void to be kind enough to swallow her again. Because this isn’t a problem she wants to address, this isn’t a reality she wants to confront. Because Yang, Yang , is her entire world. Yang has given her a universe without end, and Blake’s forever in an existence where she has only experienced finite, an eternity that has Blake so used to limitation. But Menagerie...that was an entire people’s world. Their rights, their claims, their futures. 

 

And now she can’t help it. She has to demand, “ Why ?” with a strained voice and her scroll lighting up next to her, a message from Yang. It’s about some TV show she’s watching. It’s about nothing, but ten minutes ago, it would have meant everything regardless. 

 

And Blake thinks she knows why; she thinks she already knows the truth. Adam was a danger best avoided. Raven was keeping her kingdom safe from whatever Menagerie might be wrapping itself within, guarding her daughter against the very beast that lurked in Blake’s closets.

 

When she looks back to the screen on the wall, Raven continues to watch her without falter. “There is much at play, Blake. And I’m afraid your fling with my daughter is a complication not suited for our political landscape.”

 

“It’s not a fling,” is what bursts past Blake’s lips, what she decides is most important to clarify. “Nothing about Yang is like that.” I would never risk her. I’m already trying, she wants to insist. Blake wants to explain that she understands and that she’s doing all she can to protect Yang, to remove her from this as best possible.

 

A hand held up. “I’m afraid specifications only mean so much.” 

 

And there’s so much to question, to demand, but Blake doesn’t know how to get the words out. She doesn’t know how to stop staring down at the now black screen of her scroll. She doesn’t really know how to do anything at all. Because never in her wildest dreams, would it come to this. Never did she think she’d be left with the power of her kingdom’s well-being weighed against the only person she’s ever loved so dearly, ever looked at and saw a future.

 

“All ties cut immediately is imperative.” The words don’t even sound like they hurt her to say while Blake is being cleaved open. “I am sorry it’s come to this,” she whispers, and maybe her tone conveys that, maybe her eyes confirm. But Blake doesn’t have the capacity to care about any of that in the slightest. She’s consumed with grief. “I didn’t want it to. Honest.”

 

“What about after the election?” Blake practically shouts as she watches Raven’s hand move to hit the end call button on the screen. The words are rushed, blurring together. Raven speaks so clearly, like this is a mere business meeting, without a hint of emotion in her voice. Blake does not maintain the same level of control, does not even attempt to. How do you hold yourself together when the world is fracturing beneath your feet?

 

The hand falls back to rest on the desk, folds together with the other as Raven draws in a measured breath. “Blake,” and this time, she says her name with intention, with meaning, “for...for Yang’s well being, I think it’s best if you stay away.”

 

Blinking, processing, the words don’t make sense. “For Yang’s? Or yours?”

 

Raven acknowledges the challenge and sits back in her chair. She looks near defeated. “I know I’m the villain in her world, okay?” She doesn’t sound upset at the prospect, only weary. “But I think it’s important you know that I do care about Yang.”

 

“Uh-huh,” Blake responds dryly. 

 

“If what’s between you and Yang is as precious as you seem to be saying,” Raven sighs, “then surely you want to keep her safe too.”

 

“Safe?” A new word, something that piques Blake’s interest, sends her heart racing for an entirely different reason. That word leaves the hair on the back of her neck standing on end. “Why wouldn’t she be safe? What do you know, Raven?”

 

Now Raven leans towards the camera so she’s almost taken over the entire screen. “Listen,” the word is harsh. “Yang sure as hell won’t heed a damn thing I say. But she’ll listen to you. I’m sure she’s important to you, okay? I get that there’s something between the two of you, and I’m sorry that this is where we’ve ended up, but if you want to do your part to protect Yang, you’ll stay away from her. For good.”

 

The call is disconnected before Blake can say anything else.

Chapter Text

One week, that’s how long Weiss decides to give it. 

 

She’s back home on the first Monday of September after completing her post-graduation travel that was customary in her family. A month in each of the kingdoms, time spent in the penthouse of a Mistral villa, weeks in a Vacuo resort just outside of the main port city and a couple more in oasis villages, and, of course, time dedicated to traversing Vale’s expansive countryside beyond the main cities she’d visited so many times with Yang. 

 

The travel was layered with interviews, events, and photoshoots for the press. In each location, she visited local hospitals, had meetings with her father’s most primitive business partners, made impressions at societal dinners and galas. She went to horse races in fitted riding pants, saw a Vacuan theater production three nights in a row in a different outfit each night, posed by the beaches of Vale. The traversing of the world was as much a media opportunity as it was a reward for her graduation.

 

Look, it tried to say, we Schnee’s are just like you. See, we are among you, in all of your kingdoms. Don’t you want to support this royal family? Don’t you trust this Tsar who sends his children to dine with you, visit you, grace you with the mere blessed presence of Schnee blood?

 

Only, what wasn’t seen was the hostility, the frustration of those she passed by or worked next to. In Vacuo, their Dust mines deep in the desert had been almost entirely inaccessible due to bandit activity and an ever-growing Grimm population the government had failed to get under control on their own. Vacuo had reached out to Atlas for added help in defense, and, instead, Jacques had simply offered an increase in Dust trade.

 

Mistral was torn towards unfailing loyalty to Atlas and the Schnees and their citizens being swayed towards support for Menagerie and their efforts to claim status as full kingdom-hood. Those she interacted with, typically higher ups, were either dismissive of her very presence or praising her family for sticking to their guns on Faunus rights and just how limited they should be. More than once, she’d shot back a response without thinking and received an angry video call from her father reminding her that she must watch her tongue. 

 

And Vale, Vale was all over the place. Deep in the south by the rolling planes and expansive skies where Weiss was sent to rally support for her father and gauge opinions, they were spiteful of Raven’s rule, hostile in their review, and frustrated with how little they were made to feel beneath her. The larger cities, where the main population for the kingdom resided, though, adored her. They felt well protected, appropriately taxed, and like they had a good economic support system. They were frustrated with Atlas relations mostly, on edge that some of Raven’s less sensitive responses would lead to a war they didn’t expect to win or hefty tariffs on the Dust trade so many relied on. Vale had their own Dust mines, of course, but it had been many years since most of their citizens did the dangerous work of extracting it. 

 

Now that Weiss was home, she had social media accounts overflowing with graceful poses in front of canyons, hot springs, mountain ranges, and rural villages. She had multiple million likes and shares, hundreds of thousands of comments she’d been personally blocked from interacting with, lest she says something in response that her father would rather she not.

 

At home, she was now expected to have a large, formal dinner to celebrate her homecoming and her introduction to greater family responsibilities. Winter’s had been canceled two weeks before on account of her abdicating for the sake of full military enrollment under General Ironwood. Weiss had stood around the corner of her father’s office the night he had received the news. She’d been as blindsided as him and her heart squeezed with loss, with loneliness, with abandonment. 

 

She thought he might kill the General then and there, but Winter stood up to him and put an end to his ranting and raving. Weiss didn’t even breathe as she eavesdropped on her sister putting their father in the exact place he’d always belonged—beneath her command. 

 

But Weiss was to be different. Weiss would one day be tsarina. She would marry a man who would further support this kingdom, this business. She would be allowed to rule by herself, but marriage would be expected sooner rather than later. The company would be placed further and further into her hands. She’d be forced to the front lines of business, Dust production and trade laws, and an entire civilization of people.

 

The actual kingdom wouldn’t be rescinded until her father passed, of course, but now was when she would study beneath him and learn from him. Weiss felt a distinct sense of distaste at the thought of spending so much time with him.

 

The very prospect left her in a sour mood each day. When the first snowfall comes the third weekend of September, she’s not even surprised or disappointed. She accepts the gloomy gray day when she first opens her eyes and thinks yes, this makes sense. 

 

Her party is a week away. Her dress picked out, matching shoes resting in a box in her closet. The hairstylist had come by three days prior and determined exactly how her hair should be done, a makeup artist was sending her emails of eye shadow palettes, the head chef smiled each time she walked in the kitchen and held up a spoon of sauce or soup for her to try or a fork full of dessert. It was all lining up exactly as it was supposed to. 

 

She texts Yang when she first gets back, and their conversation is brief. But Yang’s on the campaign trail currently. She was swathed in exhaustive media work just as much as Weiss was, and so she doesn’t think much of it.

 

But then she sends a text and hears nothing back. She messages Blake as well, they did that occasionally now, but the answer she gets is a single No and nothing more. 

 

“Ruby,” Weiss hisses into her scroll in between council meetings, her head a million miles away from where it was supposed to be right now.

 

“Weiss!” she cheers in her ever-present positive mood. “You missed me.”

 

“Hardly,” she scoffs, though during her trek on the beaches of Patch, she’d snuck in a single night at the Xiao Long-Rose residence just for the sake of feeling like a normal human being eating normal human food in a normal human bed. It was weird, after growing up surrounded by opulence, swathed in indulgences, she’d grasped tiny pieces of simple and easy, of family, and she managed to miss something which had never been hers at all. “I was checking in on Yang.”

 

“Oh,” Ruby sounds sad in just that one word, like the joy had deflated out of her. “You’re calling the wrong person then.”

 

And that wasn’t right. “What?”

 

Ruby sighs. She sounds heavy, tired. She sounds wrong . “I don’t know what happened!” The words are almost desperate. “One night we were having a conversation, and she wasn’t herself, she really hasn’t been, what with all the campaign stuff and her and Raven are always fighting about something-”

 

“Ruby.”

 

“Right,” she corrects, always going down bunny trails and losing her own train of thought while on it. “Well, she just snapped at me. Like, lost it completely.”

 

Sure, Yang was known to flip a switch and let loose her rage, her anger, the indignation she carried around on her back like a weight she could never drop. “Like how?”

 

“She was mad, really mad, and she was crying and, I don’t know...she wouldn’t tell me anything and then she hung up and hasn’t picked up my calls since. I thought about taking a drive to her but…”

 

But she might not want her there. “That’s not like her.”

 

“I know!” Ruby shouts, sounding more like herself. “Dad says she’s stressed with the election, but I think it’s something more. Why do you ask?”

 

Setting her scroll to speaker, Weiss looks down, examines her and Yang’s most recent conversations, examines the emails in her folders she’s been ignoring, considers how things might fit together. “My head hurts,” she says after a minute. “If you hear from her, can you let me know?”

 

“Don’t hold your breath,” Ruby mumbles, sounding a little put out.

 

And Weiss doesn’t. She hangs up and calls Yang thirteen times in an hour with no response. She paces the length of her rooms, heels clicking on the floorboards. The moon has risen outside of her window, bright as it reflects against the freshly fallen snow from the day—the pale light tracks in long lines across the floor of her bedroom.

 

At her laptop, Weiss opens emails and attempts to decipher what they all mean. She was only included on pre-approved matters—Dust trade, budget reports, tax plans, events to be had and to go to. They didn’t add her onto the server for the proper international relations, the real drama involved. She’s heard whisperings since her month in Vacuo about how there were sure to be problems arising before the vote for Menagerie took place. Some said it was like the island was asking for trouble. And she keeps hearing about the White Fang, about Adam Taurus. Yang had mentioned an Adam exactly once and immediately clammed up after which leaves Weiss suspicious. 

 

She calls Blake. No answer. It’s almost midnight, and she’s got a hundred tabs open on her laptop. She reads articles, analyzes speculation pieces, interprets the vague information versus the outlandish claims. There’s something bigger going on, and she finds one element that keeps seeming to fit, one answer that leads back more than she would like to acknowledge it.

 

Knowing it was part excuse but largely rooted in desperation, Weiss decides to call one more person. Her heart is in her throat as she listens to the empty ringing of her scroll, a hundred questions in her mind, and a persistent hope in her trembling fingers.

 

“Hello?” Pyrrha answers, voice rich and calming. 

 

Weiss draws in a rush of oxygen, attempts to settle the anxiety quivering in her ribs. “Hey, Pyrrha. Can you talk?”

 

There’s barely even a beat before she declares, smile in her voice, “I always look forward to talking to you, Weiss.” And she has to reorient herself to why she was calling, to what really mattered. The thundering of blood in her ears would just have to wait.

 

Because there was something going on, something Weiss didn’t yet fully grasp.

 

Something big was shifting course, and Atlas was right at the epicenter of it all.

 

//

 

One month in, and Blake doesn’t know how to live anymore. She thought that eventually, she would stop reaching for her scroll, that it was only a matter of time before she ceased feeling like something, someone, was missing. But it’s been a month, and there’s guilt eating her alive, grief swallowing her whole. She doesn’t know how to process; she’s forgotten what progress feels like.

 

After the phone call with Raven, Blake tells her dad the parts that scare her most. What kills her is the belief that Raven is very right. Yang is in danger as long as Blake is around her. That truth should have been apparent from the beginning, maybe it was, but her demons felt more metaphorical, less present and real and heavy. And there’s a lot of sacrifices she’s made, so much she can lose still, but Yang’s safety is not one of them. She will sever ties, cut connections before she will stand beside Yang and allow her to get caught in the wildfires of revenge.

 

She sobs like a child when she sits beside her father and explains the situation presented to her. He offers to do the hard part, to shield her from what came next. But she had played a role in taking them here; she was the culprit for where their destination has ended at all. And Adam might be right about one thing, it’s time for her to take responsibility. It’s time she faced the mistakes she’s made, the time wasted, the consequences that were knocking on her front door, and she could not keep locking them out. They had as much right to enter as any of the good she has managed to procure in her life.

 

A phone call is the best she can do. 

 

Yang has been growing frustrated, but really it was probably the weight of worry, the arduous struggle with horror. Blake had invited her in, had asked her to join in this destruction she had left half a step behind, one that was always going to catch her.

 

And Yang was just like that; she would take someone else’s burden and carry it for them. She would jump straight into danger, jump off the bridge or dive off a cliff. She looked fear in the face and said, I am bigger than you, stronger than you . But she doesn’t know how powerful someone can be. She has yet to meet immovable obstacles.

 

There’s no easy way to do this. There isn’t a means of ripping off the bandaid that doesn’t hurt, doesn’t leave a trail of stinging, throbbing pain behind. 

 

What’s important, though, is how Blake does it. She does not blame Raven. She doesn’t even mention Adam’s name. Yang won’t listen if those are the reasons. And Blake’s getting calls from unknown numbers. There has been an increase in guards and all curtains closed before dark, there’s a heaviness in their hallways and a drifting of dread through their windows. Blake calls Yang and tells her a handful of lies. She tells her the things that will lead to the path of least resistance.

 

And then she cries. She grieves. But it’s less than it could be. It’s easier than if she lost Yang to other circumstances.

 

Her family attempts to carry on as normally as possible. The vote gets delayed by the council, but they’re rescheduled for mid-November. There’s still work to be done, census data to be collected, and books to get in order. Blake helps going door to door to speak with the citizens. She searches for flags with a wolf face on them, peeks around corners for masks. Most welcome her and her team warmly, a few send her away with quiet disregard, but no one is rude. No one indicates they are looking to overthrow her family in favor of a new power to come along. 

 

The news reports are exhausting to keep up with. More disasters in Mistral’s deep mountain mines, explosions and a fall rainy season they were not prepared to conquer. Vacuo is still overwhelmed with local Grimm, and Vale is reportedly meager with the aid they’re willing to send. News reports in Vale shift. They transition from election focused to talks of attacks on outlying villages, Grimm and bandits running rampant. Similar to the election before, Raven’s past gets thrown in her face and circulates heavily through all sorts of media. 

 

Is this the same group of bandits she had once been a part of? Was her denouncement of their actions imposing enough? If she can’t control what’s happening right now, how will she if things worsen in the next year? The next four?

 

Poll numbers drop.

 

Torchwick holds rallies in the outlying towns, pointing out Raven’s flaws. He critiques her sending any aid to Vacuo when Vale can’t even manage to fend for itself. He dismisses her leadership as weak-willed, loose, heartless. 

 

Poll numbers drop further.

 

Vacuo suffers a terrible explosion. Another mine shuts down, half a dozen dead and twice as many injured.

 

Mistral’s flooding gets worse, and they close their mines entirely. 

 

Atlas sells more Dust. Atlas trades more Dust. The tariffs increase. The next thing Blake sees are advertisements on the television about, “moving to a better life,” and “Come to Atlas and never worry about a Dust shortage again!”

 

“Awfully convenient,” Kali says from the corner of the room she sits in, sorting through some old files. “Jacques must be making a pretty penny right about now.”

 

But it’s more than that. Blake feels it in the ridges of her spine. “Have you heard from Adam again?” she asks even though she doesn’t want to know. “Has he tried at all recently to contact in any way?”

 

Pausing, Kali looks up, hands frozen in mid-motion of flipping through the contents of a manila folder. It’s still afternoon, and the daylight that casts through the room is deep and golden. The shades embed themselves against her mother’s skin, highlighting all of her softest, warmest features. “Blake.”

 

“I’m still a princess,” she insists like a child. “I’m as wrapped up as ever in affairs international and otherwise. If we are still living with a threat of war in our backyard, I should be aware.” 

 

“She’s right,” her dad’s gruff voice says from behind her. “We haven’t heard anything since the day I hung up on that bastard’s face. But-”

 

“That doesn’t mean something isn’t coming.” The time for conversations may have ended; the place for negotiations is now closed. “You’ll tell me, though? When you hear from him.”

 

They exchange a look, two parents amid silent communication. Ghira opens his mouth first, but Kali must see something and jumps ahead. “We think it might be best if you go to Vacuo for a bit. Stay with Starr Sanzang and Sun Wukong while things settle down.”

 

If they had any hopes of convincing Blake that they weren’t about to be under attack, they were gone now. “What makes you think I’ll be any safer in a kingdom wrecked with bandit and Grimm attacks?”

 

“Well-”

 

“Because they aren’t Adam,” her father declares loudly. He remains in the doorway, arms crossed over his chest and face cast in shadows.

 

Blake stands from where she’d been perched on the couch, the TV report still running. She looks between her parents and shakes her head. “Are you sure about that one?” and walks from the room before they can ask her anything else. 

 

//

 

Pounding—on the door, in her head, within her chest—what else was new? 

 

“Go away!” Yang shouts, pulls the pillow over her face to block out the morning light and any amount of noise that can be managed. She didn’t want to deal with Vernal. She didn’t want to be dressed by Coco. She didn’t want to rush from interview to charity food drive to photo op. Yang wanted to lay in the dark and think of nothing. Yang wanted to bask in her gloom and stop searching for reasons that never made sense at all. 

 

The door flies open. “Get. Up.”

 

Despite herself, Yang shoots up in surprise. There was a lot she expected these days, but Raven Branwen herself busting through the door at eight in the morning less than three months away from the election was not one of them. “I don’t...feel good.”

 

“You haven’t ‘felt good’ for a fucking month.” She storms through, throws open the curtains, and slides up the blinds to all five of the windows throughout the room. “Now get up.”

 

Of course she does, following behind her mother and violently pulling the curtains closed. “I’ll get up later,” she says simply for the sake of defiance, for the need of winning. 

 

Raven swings around so she’s standing right in front of Yang, the two of them almost evenly matched in height. Raven’s got an inch of advantage from her heels as Yang stares, barefooted and swollen-eyed, up at her. “No, you will not.” She does not look soft or kind or the least bit concerned. There’s anger and maybe a hint of fear she hasn’t yet managed to tuck away. “You will get your ass out of bed in the mornings, go to your nine AM class, and meet me in the council room at noon for a meeting with congress. You will eat your meals. You will wear the clothes selected for you. And, most importantly, you will stop your goddamn moping like some little girl!”

 

“Where do you get off thinking you can just tell me what to do?” Yang shouts back, rising to an anger Raven never asked of her. She’s red-faced and heart racing and hands trembling. She feels her very blood on fire, her eyes wide and demanding. She feels alive for the first time in a month. “I’ve given up years for you, and you still think-”

 

“Shut up.” She’s all authority, no rage. She turns to throw open the thick, white curtains once more, and the sunlight streams through. It’s the beginnings of fall. Dew glistens off the grass in the backyard. “I have given you the finest college education. I have given you a whole future to build your career off of or hell! Become a fucking Instagram influencer from. I don’t care. But I’m not in the mood today, Yang. Yes, you are here to help my campaign and aid in re-election, but you have been compensated for it.”

 

“I had a full ride to three different colleges,” she argues back. “Lacrosse or softball, you know what I gave up when I came here.”

 

“You had a full ride to state schools,” Raven rolls her eyes. “Probably could’ve gotten a grant to community college too.”

 

“And what’s wrong with that?” Yang challenges, well aware the conversation has derailed but not caring to correct it. She just wanted to fight. She just wanted to be angry, be something , and, if nothing else, Raven allowed for that much to come out of her. 

 

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Raven exhales through pursed lips. “Nothing. But most children don’t complain when they attend an Ivy League college and graduate school completely for free. Something I’d assume you’d understand.” 

 

There had been a time four years ago when Ruby had gotten a full ride to state, partial to Ivy. They didn’t have any money, what else is new. Yang hadn’t even mentioned it to Raven. That would’ve included a conversation, but Ruby’s tuition had been completely covered for a full four years. No one ever discussed it again. “I do.” Yang clears her throat, feeling small. “But it’s not the same,” she refers to the situation, to the circumstances. Yang had never cared about a fancy education or impressive titles. She had always clung to one thing—freedom.

 

“Either way,” Raven steps back. The door to Yang’s room is open, and though no one stands within sight, there’s no doubt some eavesdroppers linger in the hallway. “This is the second week of classes. You’re going to get your ass out of bed and go.”

 

She had every intention to before Raven came in and lost her mind, but she doesn’t bother muttering that under her breath. Instead, going for, “What do you care?”

 

Raven rolls her eyes. “Get over yourself. It’s a busy week, and we have a lot of recovery interviews to prep for. Ren will be waiting to escort you.”

 

The door shuts firmly behind her, and Yang feels her throat tight and aching. Just once, it might be nice for Raven to answer that question with, “I do.”

 

//

 

The phone call had been so brief, so out of place. First, it was three days of nothing, and Yang was horrified. She called Weiss, who talked her off the ledge of extremes the first time, and then she went to Raven, requested an airship and was promptly laughed in her face. So that was a no. 

 

She and Ruby talked about funding a ticket to the island with their own private accounts when Blake’s call came through. She didn’t sound like herself, not quite like she’d been crying but also not like she hadn’t. “I think this needs to end, Yang.” And it was the way she’d said her name, how it had slipped out easy and sweet and gentle. It was the way she’d always held it, how she would no more.

 

The explanation was loose and messy. Something about royal duties. Something about the council vote in a few months. Something about conflicts of interest. None of it really registered because it all just sounded like bullshit as far as Yang was concerned.

 

There’s not really a chance to respond, just Blake saying shit that doesn’t make sense and then...silence. Yang doesn’t know what to do, doesn’t know how to process a goodbye that wasn’t ever supposed to occur. She doesn’t know how to accept the one person who has wanted her deciding that she doesn’t. 

 

And there’s so much happening right now, political warfare on all sides. Jacques is calling every other damn day with new demands and new questions and new threats. Raven is on edge, Torchwick is pulling ahead in the polls. The White Fang goes from being everywhere to nowhere, and that’s how Yang knows they’re closing in. 

 

The one thing she knows how to do is be angry, and, right now, she can't be that, not towards Blake. Weiss tells her it’s got to be connected with the council’s vote. Ruby says maybe she just needs time. Yang wants everyone to stop talking about it, hopes that it gets easier to just get out of bed every day.

 

She loses her cool. Screams at Ruby, tells her off in all the ways she wasn’t able to when it came to Blake. The things she says are horrible, intentionally hurtful, and she’s crying just from saying them, angry at herself for being so unhinged, so unable to regulate her own emotions.

 

She works on autopilot. Makes the same opening speech at rallies, offers identical smiles at interviews, applies her makeup the exact way each morning. 

 

Classes begin, and her head still isn’t in it; her heart is no longer engaged. But she goes. She gets up each day, checks her scroll for texts or calls or news updates. Blake’s blocked her from social. Yang checks back every day, just in case. 

 

It’s impossible not to feel that there’s a shift happening in the world at large, something bigger than just Raven or only the Belladonna’s. Something huge. It’s the precipice of history, and this election is still hanging in limbo, still waiting to determine how Vale will fit and what side they’ll reside on.

 

Which is why Yang gets out of bed, why she gets dressed in just the right clothes the press won’t be able to complain about, why she goes to her classes and interviews and rallies. Nothing feels right, sometimes nothing feels at all, but she stumbles forward, and she keeps fighting for the same exact reason she had started here at all. Raven was the best person for this job. Raven cared about Vale, about its citizens, about peace. Raven would do what needed to make Vale the best kingdom it could be. She would defend those who lived here and take whatever came at her. 

 

As much as Yang was done, now more than ever, while still wrapped in the heavy loneliness of loss, the pulverizing sensation of being left, she persevered. She believed in what they were doing, and that was the part that mattered. That was why she did it. 

 

That doesn’t mean it’s easy.

 

//

 

Midday, the sun is high and bright in the fall afternoon. Blake is on the beach for lunch today, favoring coconut water over any food. Her scroll is tucked in her pocket, but she’s gotten so used to fighting urges and desires that it’s like a well-flexed muscle at this point. The temptation doesn’t lessen, but her resolve manages to grow. 

 

That doesn’t mean her imagination won’t fill in the gaps. 

 

The ocean water is at low tide, just starting to come back in, and one wave sweeps further up the sands, sliding along Blake’s ankles and soaking the sandals on her feet. She kicks them off and pushes back, the sand warm on her toes from the hours of sunshine cast down. There are the memories of summer on the precipice, and she yearns to reach out and hold onto them, cling to the shrieks of Yang’s laughter, on her hands wrapped around Blake’s waist, on her lips buried against her throat, her cheek, her chest. Some of them tumble loose without consent. She shoves the rest back.

 

But now, Yang has entered her mind. She’s already breached the defensive line. Blake imagines her now, as she has so many times before, running on the trail by the White House, cast in the afternoon sunshine, swirling an iced coffee in her hands as she talked and talked in the early mornings. Her voice was easy to recall, how she sounds when cracking a joke or confessing a truth or between Blake’s thighs—all the different tones and cadences. 

 

Maybe now she’s getting ready for bed, shorts low on her hips and T-shirt hanging off of one shoulder with her wild, blonde hair tangling down her back. Or maybe she was sitting out back beside Weiss, a blanket around her shoulders and a tumbler of whiskey in hand. Maybe she was already lying in her bed, on her back as she stared up towards the dark ceiling, scroll clutched in her hand but not put to use. And it makes Blake hurt, an ache that licks through her like flames of a fire. 

 

It’s over . All the different ways those words could sound. I don’t want you anymore might be what Yang heard. Or, I’m leaving you now . Yang, who laid her heart bare, confessed truths about what it was like to lose one mom to death and another to choice. Yang, who’s been left too many times. Who carries herself with infectious confidence, unfaltering conviction. 

 

I am enough, she would tell a whole room who merely looked at her. I am more than you could ever hope for. 

 

But she never believed it herself. She never really subscribed to that opinion beyond skin deep.

 

In an attempt to maintain her sanity, Blake had thrown herself into the work of a royal. She’d applied to graduate school, partially for the sake of something to do but also for a distinct sense of needing more. You’re not done yet, a voice seemed to tell her. There’s more to come. 

 

And learning to run a kingdom is responsibility enough, but there’s more to gain from professors and classes and books. There were heaps and heaps of books, novels and historical accounts and memoirs of those in the throws of social justice movements, ones that mirrored a time of where they were now. How there was no right way to fight because to earn a damn thing, you must be heard, but all the humans want to do is shut you out.

 

The White Fang is on the periphery more and more. It makes Blake feel on edge, even when her dad refuses to talk negotiations. Because Blake hears rumors about Atlas, about power moves, about Jacques Schnee, who knew how to play people like they were cards in a poker game. It wasn’t right, the White Fang working with the goddamn Tsar of Atlas that they hated, the one who all but enslaved them, but before Blake had left, she heard Adam’s whisperings, and now she was frightened it had all amounted to results. 

 

Some days she sat here in solace. Others she would call people, reach out without saying, I need someone. Without admitting, I’m so lost. 

 

Sun answers, talks her ear off. He makes assumptions, always wrong. He makes suggestions, always bad. But he answers, and no one tells her she can’t communicate with him. No one threatens her race while he makes bad jokes and misses each and every one of her references.

 

There’s nothing there but friendship, but it’s one Blake clings to regardless. Losing Ilia had been a nail in the coffin a couple of months ago. Her closest friend in court, one degree from treason.

 

Once in a while, she talks to Pyrrha Nikos. It’s happenstance the first time. Publicity stunt coordination and the number Blake called to speak with Pyrrha’s assistant was answered by the woman herself.

 

Her voice is warm through the speaker, friendly and light. She’s kind enough to engage with Blake’s small talk but not obtuse enough to drag it out. “I was thinking the article might do nicely if they wrote it more as a conversation, you know? Alternating the lines of our responses.”

 

“I’ll pass your recommendation along,” Blake answers, scribbling in her notebook to do so. And Blake knows she’s dismissive, never inviting further conversation, so she sighs and tries again. “I mean, that’s a really good idea. Thank you.” Not much better.

 

“How are you, Blake?” Pyrrha asks after a moment. Still not at the point of being the child of a true ruler, her family’s political influence was strong, and there were talks of her potential to one day be Chancellor of Mistral. It was only in her own good interest to engage.

 

But Blake hated that question. “I’m doing well, thank you.” They’d already had this exchange, already entertained these formalities. She hangs her head in defeat and sighs. “It’s a lot these days, you know? With Menagerie’s standing constantly up in the air and preparing to one day inherit a kingdom that is not quite a kingdom at all.”

 

“I can only imagine,” and she sounds like she’s genuinely grasped Blake’s words. “Your family has done so much for Menagerie and for the Faunus at all. All the sacrifices you must have made...I really do admire you, you know.”

 

The sincerity bleeds through, and Blake feels momentarily warm, briefly alive. “Thank you, Pyrrha. I appreciate that.” But she does not touch on sacrifices and losses andwhat she is missing this very minute. “You have no idea.”

 

And so they formed a tenuous bond. Not really friendship, there was too much between them, but closer to true acquaintances, more than political powers to be swayed and manipulated. 

 

Today she misses Yang too much. It’s a hole in her chest, an ache in the joints of her fingers and the creases of her ribs. She’s sad. She’s weak. But she’s careful, determined. So she doesn’t make the mistake of calling Yang. But she wants someone who reminds her of the only person she cannot have, the one she so desperately wants.

 

“Hello?” The voice on the other line sounds slightly impatient, a bit put out. “ Blake, why are you calling me?”

 

And it’s ridiculous, but she starts to cry because it’s so far from being right, but there is the echo of memory, of something manageable, something pure and entirely their own. “I’m sorry,” she mutters out. “I didn’t mean to-”

 

“Where the hell have you been?” Weiss demands. Blake can see her with a hand on her hip, the irritated set to her eyes. “Are you okay? Yang hasn’t mentioned anything since...well, you know.”

 

And that does it, the mere mention, and Blake is a puddle on the beach. She’s reduced to a pool of water there amongst the sand, awaiting the tide to come in and whisk her away, mixed within the swirl of an ocean whose depths were unknown. “It’s a long story.” A pitiful excuse but all she’s got right now. 

 

“What is going on .”

 

“I can’t talk about it.”

 

No answer. It’s so long before Weiss speaks again that Blake pulls the scroll away to ensure their call hasn’t been disconnected. “Are things okay where you are?” she asks in a rushed whisper.

 

And despite all of her sadness and weakness and embarrassment from both, Blake feels all of that overrun by fear. “I don’t know. You tell me.”

 

Silence.

 

“Weiss?”

 

“I’ve been home for a few weeks now,” she says, words rushing together. Blake presses her scroll closer, trying to block out the dull roar of the ocean waves. “I don’t entirely know what is happening, but it’s not pretty, Blake.”

 

So much time spent not thinking about him, and then thinking about him head on in an attempt to cleanse her memories, lay them to rest. All that work to overcome, and she’s right back to where she’d been before. Afraid. “The...the White Fang?”

 

“You knew?”

 

“I hoped it wouldn’t come true.”

 

Now Weiss sounds more irritated than anything else, her voice rising in decibels. “Well, I, for one, do not know what either party is thinking. But I can guarantee if my father is involved, it is for the good of no one but him.”

 

“And Adam.”

 

“Who?”

 

Blake shakes her head, bites her lip. “Listen, I need to know what’s going on.”

 

“Blake…” she’s hesitant, apologetic in advance. “My father isn’t exactly on friendly terms with your family. Sharing sensitive information like this...well, that’s treason.”

 

She’s right. Blake can’t ask Weiss to do something like that, to defy her father, her title, her own people who lived amongst the clouds. “It’s not for my family,” Blake urges, “just me.”

 

There’s desperation, need. It’s apparent in her tone just enough to give Weiss pause. “Why?” she asks, quiet and slow like she’s not sure if she wants to know.

 

“Adam is dangerous,” Blake lets the words run from her tongue before she can swallow them back down. “And if things have already progressed this far...he’s in charge now, I’m sure of it.”

 

“Dangerous to who?” And now Weiss is starting to understand. Now there’s a chill in her voice, a hesitation that does not come from uncertainty or unwillingness, but fear. 

 

“Me,” she answers with immediacy. “You. Anyone he’s around. He’s a monster.”

 

The waves come in further, and Blake lets them, her body shaking as the water drenches up to her calves. “I need more than that.”

 

And now isn’t the time, but Blake thinks of Yang, of her gentle voice easing her forward, her “Only what you want to share.” Her patience abundant, not a demand in sight. 

 

“What sort of men does your father normally work with, Weiss?”

 

“Bastards,” she shoots out. “Rich men, powerful men...human men.”

 

There it is. “And why would he work with a Faunus now . Why would he bend his strongly held convictions after all these years? What would make this any different? What other sorts of men does he convene with?”

 

“Oh,” Weiss whispers because there are no concrete answers, but there is an undeniable understanding. “Evil ones.”

 

“Exactly.”

 

//

 

Despite her protests, Blake ends up in Vacuo. She’s housed with the Prime Minister’s family, which was pretty much Starr Sanzang herself, her wife, and occasionally Sun. Blake’s in a guest room almost in an entirely separate wing of the house. She has guards from both her own sector and Vacuo. Starr must be well aware of just how serious the threats were to be taken and does not falter in her impervious care and precise caution. 

 

It’s been a rough few months for Vacuo, and there is always chaos, be it the early hours of the morning or late into the night. There are council meetings with the citizens, congress gatherings to discuss budgetary restrictions and necessary aid, advisors whispering about war with Atlas, about their fear that the attacks on the mine have not all been related to bandits.

 

Blake puts in some effort to make herself scarce. She provides the necessary publicity her first week there, a few photo ops in the city, front and center at some charity drives, but otherwise keeps to herself. After a handful of publicity stunts, Blake is put away into hiding.

 

Starr is friendly enough, but they’re both aware she’s essentially been tasked with babysitting Blake while Menagerie takes one turn or another. 

 

“Have you heard anything about that crazy Adam guy?” Sun asks, lacking the same degree of tact he always does as he sucks hard on a popsicle that was quickly melting. His friend Neptune was over as he was most days, dressed like it was twenty degrees cooler than it actually was but appearing unbothered by it. They sit in the shade outside, the hot, stagnant air choking around them. 

 

The mention of his name produces the same reflexes Blake has come to practice, look over her shoulder then down at her scroll. Breathe. “No.”

 

“Did you…” he pauses and exchanges a look with Neptune, who just shrugs, a silent conversation that Blake was keenly aware was taking place. “Like, know him?”

 

It’s never a conversation she craves, never something she wants to drag back out into the light when it could almost, nearly, be ignored within the shadows. “Yes. I knew him very well.”

 

Another look exchanged, Neptune leans forward with his elbows on his knees. He looks eager, for once not even bothering to masquerade his expression into nonchalance. “What was he like? Is he as intense as he seems when they broadcast him?”

 

The media coverage had primarily stopped, but for three weeks straight, a clip of Adam’s conversation with the king and queen was broadcasted worldwide with speculations of what it could mean and how this would impact the council’s vote in November. “He’s unhinged,” Blake says simply. She shies away from the emotions that had rolled forward when explaining to Yang, removes herself from the equation of Adam Taurus. He was who he was, and that was not reliant on who she may be. At least, she tried her best to remember that. “Dangerous in how far he’ll go. So far...his plans are aligning with what he used to tell me.”

 

“Whoa, you were like, really on the inside, huh?” They sound awed, look impressed. Blake wants to smack them both across the face and wake them to reality, to truth. 

 

“So, what comes next?” Sun pushes, never one for recognizing when to back off or how to stand down.

 

Blake stares to the ground, to the backyard’s packed, red dirt with tufts of dried, yellowing grasses pushing up through cracks and crevices. Her shoe arcs through the dusty earth a few times over and leaves three straight lines. “Next, you pray we never have to see it.” She stands, stomping right through her slashes in the sand, the imprint of her boot left to replace them.



//

 

Growing up, their house wasn’t very big. The whole first floor was probably less than 500 square feet—a simple living room with threadbare carpet, yellowing wallpaper, and mismatched furniture. Only a doublewide, open doorway separated that from the kitchen. White cabinets painted over and tan laminate countertops splayed against the wall with a fridge in the corner. A four person table fit in the corner, that was where Yang would sit and do her kindergarten homework as Summer made dinner, where they dumped art supplies and flowers and rocks from the garden. 

 

It was so small that it would be almost January till they bothered to switch on the heat. Because in that tiny, two story house, all it took was a single flicker of warmth from one room to travel throughout the rest. The oven baking dinner or a hot shower in the morning. The heat would spread, trickle down the staircase and sit just on the other side of bedroom doors. All it took was that small, singular source, and suddenly there was heat everywhere. When they made the big Christmas meal, Tai would throw open the windows right in the middle of December, fat flakes of snow falling from the sky. Because it had just gotten too damn warm inside.

 

That’s kind of what it was like with Blake. 

 

Yang thinks of this, this separation and emptiness, like windows open in December. There had been a spark of heat, of warmth, and it was too much—too strong and powerful and consuming, and it couldn’t be contained. There was no way to hold onto so much. 

 

Except when she was a kid, she remembers standing at her dad’s hip as they would let out relieved sighs, grateful for the cool air washing over their faces, but to their backs was still a warmth, ready to welcome them back. 

 

There is none of that now. There is only an open expanse of blowing wind, ice cold snow, and a withering nothingness of blank space.

 

//

 

“How are you planning to vote?” Yang asks Raven, standing in the doorway of her mother’s room. A room she has never entered, one she’d barely ever scanned through. She finds pieces of the person her mom might be. A torn pair of panty hose on the floor, a half dozen tubes of lipstick on her dresser. A dried, pressed rose hung in a silver frame on the wall. 

 

Raven seems surprised to find Yang there, head turning at once and raising her eyebrows at her daughter’s presence. “I don’t...I don’t see how that’s terribly relevant until after the election so, I’d rather not discuss it.”

 

Yang straightens, steps in uninvited. “Because you haven’t made a decision or because you have and don’t want me to know?”

 

Thumb and index finger squeezing the bridge of her nose. A heavy sigh, and then Raven is sliding open her bedside table drawer, swallowing two pills down dry. The beginnings of a migraine, no doubt. “I know what the right way to vote is, Yang. Trust me.”

 

“But?” she demands the rest, hearing that very word buried close behind.

 

“But this is an election year. But my endorsements are greatly lacking. But Jacques Schnee has a hell of a lot of dirt on this whole kingdom, let alone me, that I’d rather not be used to bury my grave. I need to watch what I’m saying beforehand.”

 

Lips pressed together, Yang considers just what Raven’s words. “So, what are you saying?”

 

“I’m saying that my competitor is crazy fucking Roman Torchwick, Yang! And even if I win, an if that gets bigger every day, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but the political landscape with Atlas right now is far from ideal. I’m saying that I’ve been inserted between the people of Menagerie and the people of Vale. My people.”

 

And Yang came here to yell, to scream about right versus wrong, to insist that Raven knew what she had to do and that there were no other options to consider. She sought this conversation out because it’s been another few days of feeling numb, and she could really do with a fight. But now she pauses and considers what Raven’s said. “Okay,” she nods as her eyes shift from side to side, thinking. “What’s he threatening you with?

 

“We aren’t getting into that.”

 

“Fine,” she tries something else. “How do you think the people who voted you into office to begin with would feel if you fail to follow through on your word? How would they like you turning your back on the policies you swore to uphold?” 

 

Raven buries her face in her hands. “Don’t you think I know this?” Hands fall, and Raven all but shouts in Yang’s direction. “I don’t exactly need you pointing this out.”

Now is when Yang backs off. She could stick up a middle finger as she turns and leaves just to accentuate her feelings on the conversation. “Maybe I can help,” she offers for the very first time. Not coerced, not forced—wanting. 

 

“What?”

 

“That’s what I’m here for, right?” And Yang doesn't even go sour at the words, doesn’t resent them as she says them. “Maybe it’s time I tried. Maybe…” and this one stings, hard to swallow pills and all that. “Maybe we can do more if we actually work together.”

 

Raven’s eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “And why would you do that?”

 

All those years spent being childish, immature, driven by pain and anger, and this trauma she still doesn’t know how to face. “This has never been about you,” Yang says and finally believes it. “Sure, I’m here to help the people like you more, to help encourage them to see your more emotional side but...what you’re doing isn’t just for you .”

 

“It never has been,” she whispers, and Yang hears fear, senses admissions that ache. “What made you finally see that?”

 

And Yang doesn’t have a single hint of malice as she answers, “Because if it was, you wouldn’t be here at all.” Yang doesn’t add that neither would she.

 

//

 

The shift happens midway through October. Blake had been waiting for it, watching the pot in hopes it would never boil. She sits in the desert heat and reads books, finishes her final semester of college online. She talks to her parents in the evening, never having felt so far. Never has she felt so much like she’s abandoned her people.

 

“I should be there,” she argues often. “If something happens, how will it look that their princess is an ocean away?

 

“Smart?” her dad shoots back in response, unwilling to have this conversation any more than usual. 

 

“I’m hiding scared while the rest of you are there to face whatever comes.”

 

“If anyone asks, you’re offering aid to Vacuo in a time of need.”

 

Offering aid, more like her listless body roaming the halls of an always busy, cramped house. The Prime Minister of Vacuo lived differently from the other kingdoms. They hadn’t bothered with palaces or temples in recent years. Their climate was too ever-shifting, their sandstorms too powerful. They had lost many grand buildings throughout the years, and after the last crash of the Holy Temple from a bombing raid by Atlas, they’d decided to stop wasting their resources. Instead, they built interconnected homes just off the shore, placed right up on a hill. There was intricate work done on the roofs, religious carvings against the outside walls. Tapestries cloaked the inside, incense rooms, and original copper statues. It was beautiful in the subtle complexity, the ornate structures underlying simple architecture. 

 

Blake loved it. She took pictures and researched in the library, unearthed the truths of their religious figureheads and ancient traditions. She entrenched herself in their history as a means of escape from her present. She read about influential leaders, citizens, soldiers—all those who stood and fought for what they believed in while she was hiding away in a location no one was to know about.

 

“I’m not doing shit.”

 

“Blake-” Ghira starts, admonishing.

 

“I should be back home.” It’s hardly the first time they’ve been through this. Blake has insisted she’s not too fragile, not too weak. They conclude that isn’t why they want her to stay away, but she knows it’s at least in part because they’ve witnessed what it is for Adam to break her before. “I don’t care what happens to me. I just want to help defend our kingdom.” Officially deemed or not, she was claiming it.

 

There’s a hard thwack on the other end. “That is exactly why you will stay put, young lady!” he shouts into the line. The microphone must be just beside his mouth now, so loud Blake pulls the speaker away from her ear and flinches. “You’re worth much more alive than you are dead, and how do you think Adam Taurus wants you?”

 

“How do you think he wants all of us!” she cries, pushing up from her bed and pacing the floor. “He wants nothing to do with the royal family, which means he wants everything to do with eradicating us, and me being in Vacuo won’t make a difference!”

 

“Let’s calm down,” Kali insists, her voice on edge. “Blake, you should know we aren’t trying to keep you from anything.”

 

“Besides death.”

 

“Hush, Ghira.” She speaks with gentle command and soft authority. She speaks just as well as she always has. There was a reason the people loved her, a purpose as to why the citizens fell to their knees in the throne room, but when they looked up, it was always to her mother first. “You being in Menagerie further endangers us all, dear. Vacuo is less of a target, and Starr’s security team is truly unparalleled. No offense, Charlie.”

 

“None taken, Your Highness.”

 

“Do you understand, Blake?”

 

But she aches for the conference room. She yearns for a job well done to do, for collaborating with her father or their advisors. She wants to be in the middle of it all. She wants to stand and face her monsters instead of hiding again. “I understand, but it doesn’t mean I agree.” She needs a means of distraction. “I miss you,” she says because someone ought to hear it. 

 

“We’ll be together soon, darling.”

 

They hang up, and Blake stares at the closed curtains and thinks of all the phone calls she’s not allowed to make.

Chapter Text

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.