It’s Weiss who spots Yang first as she jogs towards her team for the first time in a number of hours. The first time since meeting Salem.
Yang can see grime coating the sleeves of Weiss’s dress, splotched with a green liquid she couldn’t even begin to guess where it came from. Her braid, usually near perfect, was falling out, almost unkempt, which was a word Yang never thought she would ever use to describe the Ice Queen.
The white haired girl polished off a sabyr, and finally turned to face Yang as it disintegrated into nothingness. She noticed Yang; her sword clattered to the ground as her face morphed into pure relief. Yang grinned as she ran up to her teammate, ready to tease her about the state of her hair, but quickly turned to confusion as she saw the tears falling from Weiss’s eyes as she tackled her.
“Yang, oh my god, are you okay ?” Weiss hiccuped as she hugged the taller girl in a near death grip,
“Yeah, we’re okay, it’s been a rough couple of days? Are you guys okay?” Pulling away from the hug, Yang looks around. “Where’s Ruby and Blake?”
Weiss glanced towards a nearby building, grimm cries echoing through alleys, before settling on a narrow side street and pointing. “Ruby was over by 17th. She’s probably still near there, come on.” The ex-heiress picked up her sword, cleaning off some of the blade with the edge of her skirt. She started to jog forwards, then stopped. Yang was bewildered.
“Weiss, what’s- HEY ” Weiss punched her surprisingly hard, her aura too low to defend against it. “What was that for?” she demanded.
“Worrying all of us so much.” Weiss replied, still sniffling, before continuing to run towards the alley. Yang followed, disoriented by how shaken Weiss seemed, but determined to find the others nonetheless. She could ask for more of an explanation later.
As they rounded the corner, they found Ruby fighting her own hoard of grimm, slashing through shadows and speeding around to avoid attacks. With only a few left, Yang fired a couple of shots at some of them still lurking around the edges of the fight.
Upon hearing the familiar noise, Ruby looked up, spotted her sister-gauntlets still smoking-then froze as if she had seen a ghost. Weiss finished off the leftover grimm as the sisters walked toward each other. She looked between them, before declaring that she’d be back soon and running off. The two were left alone in silence.
Ruby began to reach out for a hug, but hesitated as the tension set in. Neither of them had forgotten their last conversation in the Happy Huntresses’ Hideout, the grimm alarm sirens wailing faintly. She stared at the ground, tears falling, looking almost scared to touch her sister
“Yang, I-“ Ruby began, before the older girl interrupted.
“I’m sorry. For what I said before I left.” She glanced at a light pole, before redirecting her gaze to Ruby’s eyes and steeled herself.
“I was stressed and scared and angry, but that doesn’t excuse it. I’m sorry.” She looked at the younger girl, noticing how she seemed even worse for wear than Weiss, almost completely wrecked. Her eyes were almost bloodshot, the dark bags beneath them like a corpse. Exhaustion radiated from her, panging the older girl’s heart. Yang grabbed Ruby, pulling her into a tight embrace. “I trust your leadership and I’m sorry for yelling at you like that.”
Ruby slowly relaxed into it, before soft breaths became heavy sobbing.
“I’m sorry,” Ruby cried, “I’m so sorry, it’s all my fault.” Yang tried to object, but Ruby went almost limp in her arms, Yang softly stroking her hair as she held her sister. Something felt off in the back of her mind, the reactions of her teammates being far too extreme for her just being gone for two days, but she couldn’t place it.
They stood there for a few moments, the sobs slowly becoming quieter. The howls of grimm and gunfire echoed off the streets, disorienting their distance from the two. Yang scanned around, checking for any sign of grimm that could have been drawn to them.
“Weiss, why are we heading over here if you’re done clearing this area?” A familiar voice asked distantly, drawing nearer from behind a building. Yang’s head whipped around before she could stop herself, Ruby slowly stepping back from the embrace to look towards the source as well.
The clacking of heels rounded the corner, revealing Weiss and Blake, the former still moving towards the sisters while Blake stopped. The faunus looked at her partner in shock, taking a small step back as if to brace herself. Yang stepped forward, confused as to the hesitancy from her. Thoughts raced as she began to wonder how upset her partner was with her for not helping with Amity.
“Blake?” Yang called softly. Blake’s face immediately flooded with relief, tears brimming as she ran to throw her arms around the blonde’s neck.
“Oh my god, it’s really you,” Blake cried, burying her head into Yang’s neck. Yang held her, cradling the shorter girl’s head. After a moment, the other two members of the team joined the hug, huddling together in the biting cold of Atlas.
“I can’t believe even Weiss missed me this...much...,” Yang attempted to quip, trailing off as she looked at her friends, each of their faces displaying a different brand of horror. Yang looked on befuddled as the other three exchanged tense glances. Blake’s ears folded onto her head.
“Yang…” Ruby began, a grim look upon her face. She opened her mouth to continue but was cut off.
“We thought you were dead. That you went up with the whale.” Blake whispered tearfully, her voice shaking as she grabbed Yang’s hand and squeezed it. Yang squeezed back, running her thumb over Blake’s.
“We got out of there before it blew, took shelter out in the lower edges of the city for a while. How did you find out about us going into the whale?” she asked, looking at the shorter two. They both looked away, Ruby glancing nervously at her partner. Weiss sighed, like it was her burden to explain, visibility gathering herself before speaking.
“Winter…” Weiss’s voice caught. She cleared her throat before continuing, slightly quieter than before. “She called before they set it off. Said no one had seen any of you since you went in.”
“Is she…?” Yang asked tenderly.
“I don’t know.” Ruby wrapped her arms around her partner and sister and the whole group fell back into an embrace. There was a lot Yang needed to tell them. About Salem, how gruesome the explosion site looked up close, even about what happened with Oscar. But that could wait.
“We’ll find her, Weiss. Together.” Yang promised.
“Together.” The group echoed, the sirens of Mantle below still wailing into the night.
A radiator hums in the dim light, being powered by a flimsy backup generator somewhere in a back of an abandoned storeroom. Completely exhausted, the entire group had broken into a building in a feeble attempt to get some rest before deciding the next course of action. They sprawled across the room, sitting on crates and the floor, trying to get their first sleep in days.
Jaune, Nora, and the others are on one side, farther from the single entrance into the building and the sole window in the corner, fitfully dreaming, but getting sleep and rest nonetheless.
Below the window laid Weiss and Ruby, leaned against the wall, sharing Ruby’s cloak as a makeshift blanket. Ruby snored, usually followed by Weiss’s sleepy muttering at the nearby noise. Yang chuckled to herself, the familiarity comforting her. The two of them had dozed off later than the rest of the group, still running on the adrenaline of their teammate’s return. Blake sat next to them, curled up in the corner between the box and the wall silently enough that Yang couldn’t tell if she was truly asleep.
Yang herself sat on a high crate next to the drafty window, taking the first watch of the night. She couldn’t stand seeing the exhaustion in her friends’ eyes, insisting that they get some rest first, despite her own lack of energy catching up to her.
She looked out of the smoke smudged window, gazing at the sky rather than the battle still raging below. Peeking out from the thundering, blackened clouds, the shattered moon glowed, illuminating her face and the room. She tried to avoid looking at the planes still remaining in the sky.
With how few there were now, it wasn’t exactly difficult.
Shaking herself out of it, she looked back down, rolling up a sleeve and tenderly poking at a bruise from Salem’s grimm grip. Despite the break, her aura still needed time to recover from the battering it had received for the last few days.
She needed time to recover from the last few days. Meeting the immortal lady trying to end the world, the root cause for everything that has been taken from you can do that to a person.
Suddenly, a voice broke the silence she had been in, startling her into rolling her sleeve back down over the shadowy patches of skin.
“Yang?” Blake called from the floor.
“Can I come up there?”
“Of course.” Blake rose, climbing onto the crate and sitting next to Yang. They weren’t touching, but Yang knew her heat would still radiate towards the other girl.
They sat there for a few beats before Yang spoke before she could stop herself.
“Are you disappointed? That I didn’t help on Amity?” She softly asked, turning back to look at the window, or anywhere away from her partner as she braced for the response.
“Why would I be disappointed?” Blake replied. Yang twisted back, staring at the faunus.
“I…” She stared at her lap. “I don’t know. Because I didn’t take the noble route. When I first saw you, when I came back, you looked almost…”She trailed off, fidgeting with a buckle on her overalls. “Almost scared of me. I don’t want to cause you that pain or be like how he was.”
Blake sat up, turning towards her and quickly reassured, “No no, it wasn’t you. It wasn’t you at all.” Her fist clenched. Yang reached out, brushing Blake’s hand, the faunus accepting the warm touch.
Blake’s breath shuddered as she inhaled to continue.
“I thought you were some cruel trick of Salem’s. A mirage. I couldn’t… I couldn’t let myself hope for a moment. I couldn’t let myself think it was you only to lose you again,” Blake murmured. Yang squeezed slightly, but remained silent for a moment.
“I touched her. Talked to her.” Yang whispered. They had told the others when they had gotten back, but failed to disclose many of the details, as they didn’t have the time or the strength to disclose all of what they had seen.
Blake sat in shock as she watched her partner roll up her sleeve to reveal a myriad of blooming bruises. The faunus ghosted her fingers over the darkened spots, waiting for any sign to stop.
“She doesn’t even care what she’s taken from people. Who she’s taken,” The blonde continued, clenching her first.
Blake traced aimless loops over the bruises, writing adoration over the malice on her partner’s skin. Yang stared into gold, glowing in the moonlight.
Blake trailed her hand up to Yang’s face, cupping her cheek. Yang leaned into the gentle embrace, turning into her partner’s hand.
“I’m so sorry, Yang.”
She leaned in, pressing her forehead to Yang’s, their breath mingling in the frigid air. Yang could feel her heart beat faster at the close contact, hoping Blake couldn’t hear the thunder pounding in her chest.
But at the same time, she felt calm.
“How are we supposed to beat her? I watched her get pounded into the ground, her blood spilling onto the flesh of the whale like some knocked over cup and she just...pulled herself together again. Like it was nothing.” Yang could feel the catch in the back of her throat, trying to force it down.
“Hah, I really gotta stop sharing the nightmare fuel.” She half heartedly joked.
Blake pulled back slightly, far enough to look into Yang’s eyes.
“I’m scared too,” she admitted, her ears folding against her head. “When we watched the whale explode, Ruby blamed herself. That it was her fault that you left.” Yang glanced down to her sleeping sister, guilt setting in.
“I blamed myself. That I broke my promise because I wasn’t there with you.” Blake looked away, staring at Yang’s hand in her own.
“Blake, you didn’t break it at all. If anything, I did.”
“Neither of us did. But…” Blake locked her eyes onto Yang’s; “I couldn’t lose you. And blaming myself felt like something I could control.” Blake confessed.
“You’re not going to lose me. I’m staying right here, I promise,” Yang breathed. Blake nodded, tension releasing from her shoulders.
Yang looked down at her sister and best friend, gesturing to them with a tilt of her head.
“I missed all of you. I couldn’t stop thinking about if all of you were okay,” the blonde admitted.
“We missed you too. It’s Team RWBY, not Team RWB.” Blake said, playing with Yang’s fingers.
“Roob.” Blake giggled at the grinning blonde, sending Yang’s heart racing once again. They both leaned back against the wall, legs pressed next to each other. Yang let her head fall onto Blake’s shoulder.
“Thank you, Blake.”
“For what?” the faunus asked, confused.
Yang let out a loud yawn, the comfort and exhaustion threatening to take over.
“Yang, go to sleep.” Blake urged softly.
“But it’s my watch,” the sleepy girl argued, sitting up.
“I’ll take over. You need rest to heal and who knows when the next chance will be?” Blake gently guided Yang’s head onto her lap, brushing the loss bangs out of her partners eyes.
“Fine, but I owe you one, Belladonna,” Yang begrudgingly agreed.
“Mmhmm. Goodnight, Yang.”
As Yang drifted off to Blake softly stroking her hair, she could hear the low humming of a song, an old lullaby that Yang remembered her own mom singing to her as a child.
Yang slept peacefully under the moonlight of Atlas.