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i pictured you then, in your wedding dress

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“There’s so much sand.” It’s a silly observation, maybe; Blake has seen nothing but sand and equally sandy buildings since their plane touched down in Vacuo, but it’s especially noticeable in the view from her hotel room window. The hotel is on the edge of the city, and the pamphlets in the lobby had marketed it more as a nature resort than a tourist hotel—a place to go, not a place to stay, one of the pamphlets had said. The bedroom window in Blake’s suite looks out across uninterrupted desert, and while it’s not quite the cartoonish sand dunes and cacti that she had been picturing, it is a vast expanse of flat tan earth, populated sparsely by dry bushes and rocks.

“You’ll never get it out of your clothes,” Pyrrha says as she sets down the last of Blake’s suitcases. “It might be worth going shopping during the group date tomorrow if you have the time and cash to spare. Your regular clothes are probably too warm anyway, and if you get sand in them and put them back in your suitcase, everything in there will be sandy forever.”

“Talking from experience?” Blake says, turning to lean against the windowsill. Pyrrha straightens up to look at her.

“Absolutely,” she says. “My first year working on the show, I made the mistake of not keeping my Vacuo suitcase separate from the rest. It took me months to stop finding sand in my clothes dryer.” Blake winces at the thought and makes a mental note to buy some new clothes and an additional suitcase next time she’s let out of the hotel.

“You worked with contestants in past years, right?” Blake says aloud, sensing an opportunity. Pyrrha nods.

“I don’t miss it,” she says. “I never knew when my contestant might get eliminated and I would be reassigned to something else. Besides, some of the people they cast on this show…” She shakes her head slowly, and Blake certainly agrees. “It’s always worse when they cast straight leads,” Pyrrha says. “When it’s all male contestants in the house, they get…well, I’m sure you can imagine.” Blake can, and it’s unpleasant, but that’s not what she latches onto from that statement.

“Straight leads,” she echoes. “You say that like you’re not.” Pyrrha gives her an odd look.

“I’m bisexual,” she says. “Is there a reason you’re asking?” Blake shrugs. Might as well bite the bullet.

“I noticed Jaune has a thing for you,” she says. “It seemed like it might be mutual.” Pyrrha lets out a long, slow sigh, and sits down on the end of the bed.

“I’m sorry about him,” she says quietly, looking up at Blake. The good cheer that’s usually etched into every line of her face is faded, pressed over by worry and what looks a little bit like shame. “He’s meant to be here for you. He shouldn’t be acting like that.“

“Whoa,” Blake says. “You aren’t responsible for his crush on you, and you aren’t responsible for the fact that anybody could see it from space.”

“I realize that,” Pyrrha says. “But it’s—like you said. It’s mutual. And I am responsible for that.”

“Pyrrha—“ Blake crosses the room and sits down beside her. “Pyrrha, if it bothered me, I would’ve sent him home the first night. Look, you’ve spent more time with me than any of the other contestants here. You…know that I’m not as enthusiastic as I could be about all of this. Right?”

“I’ve noticed,” Pyrrha says, brow furrowing. “Still, it doesn’t bother you? He’s here under the pretense of falling in love with you, and instead he’s…infatuated with me.”

“It doesn’t bother me,” Blake says firmly. “I’m not interested in Jaune.” Pyrrha closes her eyes, a little of the stress bleeding out of her expression. “But you are, right?”

“I…” Pyrrha clenches her hands into fists where they rest on her thighs. “Under any other circumstances, I would be, yes. But he’s a contestant. I could lose my job. I would lose my job, if I pursued him.”

“Maybe after the show is over, then,” Blake says. Pyrrha shrugs. It’s not a very hopeful gesture.

“Maybe,” she says. She doesn’t sound convinced, and Blake frowns, deeply unsatisfied with this end to things. Maybe it’s the romance writer in her, maybe it’s the fact that all anyone ever talks about on this damn show is love, but Blake wants Pyrrha to get her shot. She wants a happy ending, for everyone involved.

“You know how to sneak around, right?” she says. “I mean, you helped Yang the other night.”

“I didn’t help Yang do anything,” Pyrrha says, raising a finger. “I…answered a contestant’s question about filming procedures. Whatever she did with that information is none of my business.”

“Of course.” Blake smiles. “Maybe Jaune should ask you a question about filming procedures.” Pyrrha squints at her.

“I’m not sure I completely follow the euphemism,” she says.

“It’s not my best.” Blake winces. “Look, just…don’t worry about me, okay? Even if other stuff is holding you back, don’t let me be a factor.” She reaches out, hesitates for a moment, then sets her hand on Pyrrha’s shoulder. “I hope things work out.” Pyrrha reaches up and settles her hand atop Blake’s, squeezing gently.

“I hope so too,” she says. They sit for a moment longer before Blake lowers her hand and stands up.

“Well, I’ve got to unpack,” she says as Pyrrha follows her to her feet. “And I’m sure you’ve got a million things to do.”

“I always do,” Pyrrha says. “Should I even bother asking who you want to take on the one-on-one later this week?” Blake had already submitted her list of names for the group date tomorrow—which is a blessedly smaller group than the week before; Jaune, Neptune, Sun, and a quiet girl with glasses who Blake imagines will be going home at the end of the week—and it very purposefully hadn’t included Yang or Ilia.

She should pick Ilia. It’s the right thing to do. Pick her and let her down easy. But there will be cameras everywhere; that’s the whole point of a one-on-one, to fill the future episode with actual interaction between Blake and one of her favorites. There almost certainly won’t be a chance to talk things out alone.

Some small part of Blake’s brain wonders how long she’ll be able to keep using that excuse.

“What exactly is the date?” Blake asks, stalling for time.

“Horseback riding,” Pyrrha says. “The hotel runs a scenic riding tour in the desert. Then a campfire dinner under the stars. I think the network is going for an old west theme.”

“Yang,” Blake says, barely a moment after Pyrrha is finished speaking. “I want to take Yang.” It’s hardly even a choice; the thought of wandering out into the nothingness of the desert with Yang by her side, getting to sit beside her in the desert night chill, is irresistible. The stars are supposed to be amazing in Vacuo. It’s something about the lack of light pollution in most of the desert. Blake has seen photos of the night sky where galaxies are blazing bright as day.

It’s the easy choice. It’s the selfish choice, and even so, Blake refuses to feel bad for making it. She’s earned a little selfishness over the years.

“Of course you do,” Pyrrha says. “I’ll see you in the morning, okay? Get plenty of sleep tonight.” Blake waves her away, and Pyrrha slips out of the room. Blake returns to her spot at the window, looking out over the vastness of the desert and imagining herself and Yang in it.

Damn, Blake,” Yang calls from a dozen feet away. Blake grins at her, crossing her arms over her chest. She’s wearing some of the clothes she’d bought the other day on the group date: a white, short-sleeved button-down shirt that she knows makes her arms look amazing and a pair of brown pants that the shopkeep had insisted she buy after she admitted she was going horseback riding today. He’d also foisted a cowboy hat on her, though Blake refused to try it on, and certainly isn’t wearing it tonight. She kind of feels like she looks like a park ranger—in a decidedly bad way—but Yang clearly doesn’t agree. She’s strolling across the back lot of the hotel towards Blake with a smile on her face and fire in her eyes.

“Hey,” Blake says as Yang comes to a stop in front of her. Yang just grins, lifting a hand and resting her palm against the side of Blake’s neck. Her fingertips fall along Blake’s spine, and her thumb rests just on the edge of Blake’s jaw. Her eyes flick down, and she looks like she’s about to ask permission, so Blake beats her to it. She pushes herself up on her tiptoes and kisses Yang. Yang isn’t quite prepared for it, so she’s still half-smiling when their lips meet, and Blake thinks she might get addicted to that feeling, of Yang’s happiness so tangible against her skin.

“Hey,” Yang says when Blake finally pulls away.

“Hey.” Blake feels a little floaty, and she takes a deep breath, trying to steady herself as she takes in Yang’s appearance. Yang is wearing similarly functional clothing to Blake: an old t-shirt with a faded graphic that Blake can’t make heads or tails out of beneath a yellow plaid shirt and plain blue jeans. Her hair is up in a ponytail, which Blake is thoroughly unprepared for, and now that Blake knows her freckles are there, she can’t stop looking for them.

“Hey,” Yang says again, smirking.

“Okay, that’s enough of that,” Blake says. Yang shakes her head in amusement, and her hand slips away from Blake’s neck. It lands neatly in Blake’s hand at her side instead, their fingers tangling together, and Yang makes no move to put more space between their bodies. Blake doesn’t, either. She has no desire to keep Yang at any distance other than touching.

“So, where are we off to?” Yang says, looking across the back lot. It’s mostly dirt, with a few ATVs parked in a row off to their left. Right beside the ATVs are three horses, one of which has a man perched atop it.

“Where do you think, Yang?” Blake says, raising an eyebrow.

“I’m gonna guess we’re going with John Wayne over there,” Yang says. “So, off into the desert? I thought you said we couldn’t run away together until after I win the show.” Blake looks over at her, a little incredulous.

“After you win it?” she repeats. Yang shrugs.

“I figure it can’t hurt to be confident,” she says, but there’s a hint of insecurity in it that gives Blake pause.

“Morning, ladies.” It’s the man on the horse, guiding the animal up to them before Blake can try to ask Yang about her tone. He speaks with a near-comical Vacuan accent, drawling and slow. “How y’all doing today?” Yang and Blake exchange a look. Yang’s eyes are wide, and it’s obvious to Blake that she’s holding back a smile.

“We’re good,” Blake says, because she doesn’t think Yang will be able to open her mouth without laughing.

“Glad to hear it,” the man says. “Either of you been riding before?” They shake their heads practically in unison. “Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. I’ll help y’all up, and after that you shouldn’t have to do much. These girls are trained to follow the leader, they shouldn’t go wandering off beneath ya.”

“Sounds good,” Yang says, finally speaking. The man nods, and climbs off of his horse in a smooth motion that Blake can’t quite follow with her eyes.

“This one’s for you,” he says, looking at Blake and gesturing at one of the two horses beside his own. It’s not nearly as big as his. Its fur is solid, shiny black, and it watches Blake with strangely intelligent eyes as she steps towards it. “She’s a sweet girl, give her a pet.” Blake eyes the horse for a moment longer before she reaches out, setting a hand on its nose. The horse eyes her right back. Blake swears she sees suspicion in that equine gaze. She flexes her fingers, scratching the horse’s nose, and it lets out a snort.

Blake jumps back. The snort is loud, and wet—her forearm is definitely damp now. She has several perfectly good reasons to be startled.

That doesn’t stop Yang from laughing at her.

“That just means she likes you,” the man—Blake, against her will, is starting to think of him as John Wayne—says before Blake can turn to glare at Yang. “Let’s get you up on her back. C’mon, set a hand on my shoulder, you’re gonna want the support. Then put your foot—yeah, like that.” Blake lifts herself up onto the horse’s back with ease. Her foot only shakes a bit in the stirrup before she’s settled in.

“Alright, your turn,” John Wayne says, turning to Yang. Yang steps right up to her horse with none of the anticipatory nervousness Blake had acted with. She sets a hand on the horse’s nose, which accepts the gesture without protest, and then moves to get into the saddle.

Her first attempt ends in falling right back down to the ground. Blake, who has just been mocked for being snorted at, responds by laughing loudly. Yang makes a face at her, adjusts her grip on John Wayne’s shoulder, and tries again. She wobbles her way into the saddle this time, and once she’s stable, John Wayne walks back to his own horse.

“How the hell did you make that look so easy?” Yang says to Blake. “Have you actually done this before?”

“I did gymnastics for years,” Blake says. “I have good balance.”

“Alright, ladies,” John Wayne says, twisting on his horse’s back to face them. “We’re going on a scenic ride today. Your horses will follow mine, but I’ll keep a lead on you, give you some space. First stop is about a thirty minute ride, holler if you need anything.” He turns further, looking somewhere past Blake and Yang. “You boys good over there?” Blake looks over her shoulder and sees the camera crew, squeezed into one of the ATVs. The guy behind the wheel gives a thumbs up, and John Wayne quite literally tips his hat at them before turning to face forwards again. His horse starts off across the back lot, towards the place where packed dirt meets sand.

“Okay,” Yang says the moment he’s far enough ahead to be out of earshot. “That accent has to be fake, right?” Blake shakes her head.

“It doesn’t sound fake,” she says. “He’s a great actor if it is.”

“But nobody actually sounds like that,” Yang says. “And looks like that, and rides horses for a living, all at the same time.”

“It’s…definitely something.” Behind them, the ATV engine turns over, and their horses start to walk. Blake has to take a moment to get used to the movement; it’s a little strange to be carried by something alive. They ride without speaking for a moment, Yang clearly adjusting to the motion, too, and behind them, the ATV engines continue at a low roar, pacing the horses perfectly. Blake glances back and finds two cameras focused on them, in addition to the mic that she’d been outfitted with that morning and the similar one she can see attached to the collar of Yang’s flannel.

“This isn’t exactly how I imagined this,” Blake says to Yang, quiet enough to not be heard by the camera crew over the ATV engine, though the mic can pick up her voice. “I was hoping for something a little…quieter.”

“I know what you mean,” Yang says, mirroring Blake’s backwards glance at the camera crew. “Not exactly a pristine wilderness experience with a four wheeler following us everywhere.”

“Four wheeler?” Blake repeats, a smile tugging at her lips. Yang blinks at her.


“Nothing.” Blake lets the smile take over, unwilling to hide it from Yang. “You just sound like you belong here, is all.”

“Do other people not call them that?” Yang says. “Is that not normal?”

“It’s just not something you usually hear from people who grew up in, y’know, cities,” Blake says. “How many people live on Patch, anyway? I’d never heard of it before you mentioned it.”

“Not many,” Yang says. “My high school class was…I wanna say forty-five people?”

“Forty-five—“ Blake shakes her head. Not many. Way to bury the lede, Yang. “Yang, you grew up in a village.” Yang snorts.

“It’s not that small,” she says. “I mean, it’s not big, sure. I know a lot more people live on Menagerie, but—“

“Over a million people live on Menagerie,” Blake says. Yang blinks.

“Okay, like I said, a lot more.”

“Yang,” Blake says. “You’re a country girl.” Yang groans.

“Shut the fuck up,” she says. “I swear to God.” Blake cackles. “You’re the one who’s into it,” Yang says over Blake’s laughter. “So, if anything, this is more embarrassing for you.”

“No,” Blake says, pointing at her. “Absolutely not. This is a moment for you to be mocked, not me. You know what?”

“What?” Yang says.

“I,” Blake says, “was gifted a cowboy hat at a clothing store the other day. And when we get back to the hotel, I am going to make you wear it, and I am going to ask Pyrrha to get my phone out of the safe to take pictures. And I am going to make fun of you with them forever.”

As it turns out, most of the scenic locations in the Vacuan desert are rocks. Large, interestingly shaped rocks, yes, but rocks. Blake gets bored of them fairly quickly, and she might’ve ended up having a mediocre time on the date if it weren’t for Yang. Yang, apparently, has an endless appetite for interestingly shaped rocks, and she’s unapologetically enthusiastic as she tries to convert Blake to the same. She climbs the rocks, insists on Blake joining her atop them to be photographed, somehow figures out exactly what each one looks like and shares her observations. Blake’s personal favorite is the one that Yang describes as resembling “an ent, but, like, a young and sexy ent”.

The day wears on far too fast for Blake’s liking. She forgets about the ATV on their trail almost immediately, and John Wayne only slows down to speak to them when they’re about to make a stop. Most of the time, it’s just Blake and Yang, wandering farther and farther out into the desert, keeping their horses close enough to talk. There’s something about Yang that makes the time pass impossibly fast in her presence. Blake feels like they’ve barely gone anywhere when she looks up and notices that the sun is beginning to set.

“We’re gonna stop at this fire pit up here,” John Wayne says, and Blake looks away from the way the fading sunlight makes Yang’s hair look like fire—which she’s been staring at for several minutes now—to realize that he’s closed his lead on them entirely, guiding his horse just ahead of theirs. “I’ll build a fire for y’all and leave you to it. It isn’t too far back to the resort from here, so y’all stay as long as you want. Sound good?”

“Sounds good as long as there’s food,” Yang says, and Blake silently agrees. Lunch had been a very long time ago.

“Plenty of food,” John Wayne says. “It’s back with the camera boys, I’m sure they’ll be happy to share.” With that, he pulls his horse to side, off the poorly defined path they’ve been following for the last half hour or so. Beneath her, Blake’s horse follows, Yang’s close behind. They wander maybe ten yards off the trail, to a large, unremarkable rock. John Wayne leads them around it, and on the side opposite the trail, Blake spots the fire pit. It’s not fancy, just a patch of earth cordoned off by a metal ring with high sides and a grate over the top.

“Y’all sit while I get the fire going,” John Wayne says, hopping off of his horse. “Don’t fall off while you’re getting down, now.” Blake swings a leg over the back of her horse and slips down to the ground with only a mild stiffness in her legs impeding her usual grace. It’s not quite as soft a landing as she could make it with more practice, but it’s smooth enough. She glances over at Yang, who is twisting in her saddle with a frown on her face, as she has every time they’ve stopped and dismounted.

“Do you need some help?” Blake asks, raising her eyebrows. Yang spares a moment to scowl at her.

“I’ve got it,” she says. She swings her leg over and half-jumps, half-falls to the ground, stumbling on the landing. When she straightens up, looking genuinely proud of herself, Blake doesn’t have the heart to laugh at her.

“Let’s sit down,” she says instead, already headed for a patch of earth between the fire pit and the rock. She settles down, wincing as she bends her knees, and puts her back against the rock. She’s definitely going to be sore from this tomorrow. Yang sits down beside her, leaving a little more space between them than they typically have in the past, but Blake understands and shares the desire to not necessarily be touching right now. She’s stiff, and sore, and sticky with sweat from riding in the sun all day. She can’t imagine Yang is any different.

They sit quietly while John Wayne builds the fire. He’s clearly done it a lot; his movements are quick and assured, and there are flames licking high up into the air within minutes. He tips his hat at them as he stands up, then heads over to the horses and starts to gently guide them away, back around to the other side of the rock. One of the camera guys—who are very much staying on this side of the rock, lenses already focused on Blake and Yang—sets a cooler down beside the now-roaring fire and walks away without a word.

“Let’s see what we’ve got,” Yang says, going for the cooler immediately. “Let’s see, sausages, more sausages…canned beans, which I think is leaning a little too hard into the cowboy thing. Drinks.” She leans to the side, giving Blake space to reach into the cooler. Blake goes for one of the beers immediately, sitting back down to pop it open before she looks at the food. Beside her, Yang grabs a water, and at this point, it’s a pattern that Blake can’t help but comment on.

“You don’t drink,” she says. Yang glances up at her.

“I don’t,” she says. There’s a finality to her tone that tells Blake they won’t be discussing this tonight. Blake returns to the cooler instead, scanning its contents and discovering that her only viable option really is sausage. She takes one of the packages out, tearing it open and making a face at the wet plastic. Yang hands her a long, two-pronged metal fork, which the camera guys had delivered along with the food, and Blake wedges one of the sausages onto it before holding it out over the flames.

“I feel very stupid,” Blake says after a moment, glancing up at Yang. “I look like an idiot, right?”

“You’re burning your food, babe,” Yang says without looking up. Blake takes a moment as her brain reboots from the pet name, then she turns to look back at the fire, where—sure enough—the outside of her sausage has developed a nasty-looking char.

“Fuck.” Blake pulls her fork back out of the fire, frowning at it. “How did you know that? You weren’t even looking.”

“You stuck it right into the flames,” Yang says. “That’s not how campfire cooking works. You find a good patch of coals and hold it over that. Cooks slower and more evenly that way.”

“You’ve done this a lot?” Blake asks. She decides that the small charred spot on her sausage will be edible enough and returns her fork to the fire, though this time she aims for a bed of coals on one side that looks feasible.

“There isn’t actually a whole lot to do on my tiny country island,” Yang says. Blake can hear the amusement in her tone, and it’s a struggle to keep her eyes on her food instead of twisting around to look for Yang’s smile. “Me and Ruby camp out a lot. We used to go as a family when we were little.”

“You and your parents?” Blake doesn’t mean it to be a difficult question. A moment too late, she remembers the bittersweet tone Yang had taken the other night when she spoke about her family.

“Yeah,” Yang says. “More or less.” She stares at her food in the fire for a long moment. “Maybe we can talk about this after we eat.”

“You don’t have to tell me,” Blake says. She tries to echo the tone Yang had taken with her the other night back in Vale, tries to sound gentle and open and perfect. To her ears, it’s a shallow imitation, but Yang shoots her a small smile.

“I want to,” she says. “It’s important. It’s—our families are a part of us, you know? And I want you to know me. All of me.” She turns her sausage over in the fire. “Besides, if I get to hometowns, it’ll be a lot easier meeting my family if you know which wasp nests not to kick.” Blake feels a jolt of extremely preemptive nervousness at that, but she pushes it away.

“Let’s eat first, then,” she says.

“Sounds good,” Yang says. “You might wanna turn your sausage over if you want the other side to be warm.”

“So,” Blake says after they’re done, after they’ve eaten dinner and availed themselves of the bag of marshmallows John Wayne had slipped back around the rock to leave by their fire with a smile. She’s still sitting with her back against the rock, but the sun has slipped beneath the horizon, and she’s cuddled up against Yang’s side for warmth. Well, for several reasons, not the least of which is that Yang’s touch is addicting, but also for warmth. “Your family. More or less.”

“Yeah.” Yang’s arm tenses where it’s resting across Blake’s shoulders, and Blake reaches up, tangling her fingers with Yang’s. “My earliest memories of home are me and Ruby and Dad and Ruby’s mom, Summer. Ruby was born when I was two, so I don’t really remember anything from before that. Dad always tells me I was crazy excited to have a baby sister once I understood what was happening, and I guess I can believe that. I’m still excited about Ruby.” She smiles, and there’s such clear love in the expression that Blake can’t help but smile, too. “Anyways. Summer was technically my step-mom, I guess. But I didn’t find out we weren’t blood related until a lot later, so growing up she was just Mom. And she was, like, the best mom. She was kind, all the time. No matter what. She never made anyone feel stupid or silly or—just, she always made me feel seen.” Yang lets out a shaky exhale, and Blake’s heart sinks, knowing that this story is about to take a turn for the worse.

“Summer died when I was thirteen,” Yang says. “Ruby was eleven, and my dad—he just kind of checked out for awhile. He was depressed, I think, and he didn’t handle it well. He still worked, he kept us afloat financially, but from then on if we needed groceries or if Ruby had a problem or if something in the house broke, it was my problem or it wasn’t getting dealt with at all.”

“Yang,” Blake says. Yang lifts her free hand and rubs at her face, and when she lowers it, the glossy sheen in her eyes has been pushed away.

“I found out around the time I started high school that Summer wasn’t my birth mother,” she says. “I needed my birth certificate for some—I don’t even fucking remember, something or other, and I dug it out and saw that my mother’s name was listed as Raven Branwen. Which, fun fact, my uncle Qrow who I had always thought was just one of Dad’s college friends? His last name is Branwen. He was my actual uncle, and Raven was his twin sister.” Yang’s tone is changing. It’s slipped from childish nostalgia to decades-old grief over the last few minutes, and now it’s growing angry.

“I asked my dad about it, and he wouldn’t tell me anything,” Yang says. “Which pissed me the fuck off, obviously. And then I went to Qrow, and he didn’t just not tell me anything, he specifically told me not to go looking for her. Said he knew his sister, and that it would end badly.” Yang stops for a long moment, her jaw clenching. “So I didn’t, at first, but I was still mad. I spent a lot of high school doing dumb shit because of it. Not—not anything that could get me in real trouble. I couldn’t do that to Ruby. My dad was doing better by my junior year, but I didn’t trust him for shit when it came to her, and she looked up to me. So I mostly just smoked a lot of weed and skipped class. Painted the walls of my room one time when my dad was out of town hoping it would make him mad. Dumb shit like that.”

Yang quiets again for awhile, and Blake leans in, resting her forehead against the side of Yang’s jaw. Yang’s shoulders relax a bit at the contact, and she breaths deeply and slowly, like she’s breathing Blake in.

“I only met Raven a few times,” Yang says eventually, and Blake pulls back a bit, giving her room to talk. “That’s…a whole other story. But it didn’t work out. She ended up, um, ghosting me.”

Jesus.” Blake pulls away further so she can look Yang in the eye. “That’s horrible.” Yang shrugs.

“Yeah,” she says. “And that’s it, I guess. That’s my family.”

“God, Yang…” Blake tugs her fingers free of Yang’s and reaches up with both hands, framing Yang’s face with them. “How did you go through all of that and turn out like this?” Yang blinks at her. “You just—you’re still so kind. How are you still so kind?”

“I don’t know,” Yang mumbles. She sounds a little uncomfortable, and Blake realizes that at least a little bit of the confidence that pours off of Yang in every situation is bravado. She doesn’t seem like she can quite accept the compliment. “I just kept going.”

“I think a lot of people wouldn’t be able to,” Blake says. “I—maybe this is weird, but I’m…proud of you. Even though I didn’t know you.” Yang stares her for a long moment, eyes wide with an emotion that Blake can’t name. Whatever it is, it’s warm. “Is that weird?”

“No,” Yang says, her voice low enough to rasp. “Not weird. I appreciate it. Thank you.” Blake nods and slowly lowers her hands, leaning back into Yang’s side. She focuses her gaze on the fire, which is burning itself out now, flames replaced with a bed of coals that’s growing dimmer with each passing minute. “Besides, it’s not like it didn’t affect me. I’m fucked up, I go to therapy. I’ve got enough abandonment issues to pay for my counselor’s retirement plan.” Her tone is joking, but it doesn’t quite land.

“That, um.” Blake wishes they didn’t have to talk about this on camera. But she has to bring it up, because it’s important, and because she wants Yang to understand. Yang had said she wants Blake to know all of her. Blake knows what she means, and this is a part of her, even if it’s a part she’s trying her best to change. “That might make this hard. Us, I mean.” Yang looks over at her slowly, brow beginning to furrow.

“Why?” She says. “Are you planning on abandoning me, Belladonna?” The words could so easily remind Blake of Adam. It’s the kind of thing he would’ve accused her of, had accused her of on multiple occasions. But they don’t, because Yang’s tone is light without masking the trepidation behind it, and nothing about Yang reminds Blake of Adam. It never really has.

“I’m not,” Blake says. “But I can be…evasive. I get scared. I run from things. Weiss likes to tell me that I’m afraid of being happy.” She draws her knees up to her chest. “You know why I’m like this. You know about Adam. And you make me happy, and it’s—it’s big, and heavy and it scares me, and at some point I’m going to feel like I have to leave.” Yang says nothing for a long while. Blake almost worries that she shouldn’t have spoken, that she’s fucked up irreparably by giving her instincts voice, but Yang’s arm stays steady around her shoulders. She doesn’t move to pull away.

“Would you come back?” Yang finally asks. Blake fights back her natural urge to say yes immediately, to reassure, to placate, and turns the question over in her head. Would she? She has before, when it mattered. She went back to her parents, too late to completely fix their family, but she went back all the same, and she stayed. She’s still staying. She can return when it matters, and Yang matters.

“I would,” Blake says. Yang nods slowly.

“Do you think you could tell me, when you’re feeling scared?” she says. “Just so I know, and it feels less like…being left?”

“I…” Blake hesitates. She doesn’t like that. She doesn’t want it to be up to someone else if she can leave, and maybe that’s not fair if she wants to build a life with Yang, but she’s loathe to let go of the freedom to just vanish. “You have to promise you would let me,” she says. “You have to promise.”

Let you?” Yang repeats. Blake nods. “I’m not saying you have to ask my permission. That’s not what I mean. It just isn’t fair if you leave without telling me. It would hurt.” Her voice wavers. She’s speaking from experience. “I get that you need that option, Blake. Like you said, I know why. I’m just asking for, like, a window into your head. If we’re going to be together, I have to understand what’s going on up here.” She brushes her fingertips against Blake’s temple, and a moment later, that hand slips down to cup Blake’s jaw. Yang’s skin is warm, as it always is, and Blake leans her head into the contact. “But I’m not asking for control,” Yang says softly. “I don’t want to be in charge of what you do, Blake, I don’t want that. All I’m asking for is…dialogue, I guess. Just tell me if you want space.”

“Okay,” Blake says. “I can do that.” She doesn’t get into the fact that she doesn’t want space; her urge to run isn’t about what she wants, it’s about what her brain thinks will keep her alive. That’s a clarification for another time. They’ve shared enough pain with each other tonight. Blake just wants to sit here with Yang and watch the fire die out.

“Okay,” Yang says softly. She leans in and kisses Blake, short and chaste and unbearably gentle. “Do you want to start heading back now? It’s getting late.”

“Not yet,” Blake says. “We’re not doing anything tomorrow. We can stay out late. The stars are supposed to get brighter when it’s late.” Yang nods in agreement, and they settle back against the rock, finding as comfortable of positions as they can against the rough ground.

The stars do burn a little brighter by the time they pack up and leave. Blake doesn’t see any galaxies tonight, but on the ride back to the hotel, they keep their horses close. Blake tells Yang a few of the stories she heard growing up in Menagerie: a blend of local mythology, campfire tales, and urban legends, and for Blake, Yang’s grin flashing white in the dim moonlight is splendor enough.