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walk where the wild things grow

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I can’t believe you’re really gonna hike,” Sun says for the thousandth time, voice echoing through the scroll pressed against her ear. She watches mountains and farmland fly by the window of the train, serene and peaceful, like she’s looking at a still painting rather than a real landscape. “Like, I know you’re outdoorsy and shit, but it’s not an easy journey.

I can’t believe you willingly chose to move somewhere so far outside of the city,” Blake says, her automatic response at this point. “I’ve told you - I’m not hiking the whole way, just from the station before yours. It’s supposed to be a beautiful trail.”

It goes through Forever Fall, so, yeah, it’s pretty, but it’s still dangerous,” he says. “And I mean, it’s not that big a deal. I’ve lived in a bunch of different places, and Neptune was right - it’s, like, amazing here.

“How dangerous can it be?” Blake reasons. “Other people do it all the time, don’t they?”

Yeah, but they’re trained fighters and shit.”

“No they’re not.”

“Okay, no, but they can probably fight like, a little bit.”

“I know survival,” Blake says. “Isn’t that enough? Besides, this region hasn’t had a bad Grimm outbreak in years.”

Someone else’s voice interrupts in the background, words too muffled for Blake to make out; Sun laughs and responds, sounding much further away. She waits patiently, used to these kinds of interruptions. Sun says, “Sorry, Neptune swears he just wrote something that’s literally genius, so I gotta go read it and kiss his ass or something.”

“Not literally, I hope.”

Sun sighs; she can picture him rolling his eyes. “Blake, I’m not gonna tell you about our sex life, so stop asking.

Her jaw drops comically. “I’m not asking!” she squeals, and another passenger throws a dirty look at her for the volume of it. She lowers her voice, mimes an apology. “You’re such a jackass.”

You started it,” he says, laughing, and then his tone turns back to seriousness. “Look, just be careful, okay? We’ll meet you at the end of the trail at three. It shouldn’t take you more than like, two hours.”

“Okay,” Blake says. “See you soon.”

She hangs up, drops her head back against the seat. Bits of red start popping in and out of her view outside, the barest hint of the trees of Forever Fall glinting through. The train flashes its arrival warning across the screen, and she grabs her bag from the seat beside her, ties up her hair. Sun’s warning plays through her head again and she scoffs; it’s a two-hour hike, not like she’s camping in the wilderness. She’s looking for inspiration, maybe; something beautiful to set her on a path after Adam, after working years in a job she only realized she hated when she quit. Maybe she’s looking for herself, for the parts she’d given away before recognizing just how badly she needed them. Maybe she’s looking for a sign.

She sighs. It sounds so stupid, immature, running away to the middle of fucking nowhere to visit friends who seem to be happy in their instability, their always-transient lifestyle, their constantly-changing career goals. Like nature’s going to talk to her, put her life into perspective, give her the freedom she needs to be who she wants without complaint, without question, without control.

She’s pretty sure the only thing nature’s going to tell her is to grow up.

--

She’s an hour in and it truly is one of the most tranquil, picturesque landscapes she’s ever seen. The red of Forever Fall has given way to a myriad of other colors, yellows and oranges and greens, and it’s how she knows she’s officially over the border into the next town, Sun and Neptune waiting somewhere at the end of it. She makes her way around a small bend of trees, following the worn path, and falters on a step.

There’s a woman crouching in the dirt just ahead of her, her hand pressed against a large, wide patch of soil that looks a murkier, darker brown than the land around it; she seems to be studying it carefully, eyes narrowed, long blonde hair spilling over her shoulders. Blake’s so startled by the appearance of another person - especially in such a strange position - that she stops walking entirely, caught off-guard by the sight in front of her.

“Hm,” she hears the woman hum curiously to herself, and Blake doesn’t know what spell has her held to the ground, unable to move, to speak, to breathe; all she can do is stare at the way the woman digs her fingers into the dirt, takes them out, smoothes it over, and then--

The sunlight shifts, drips between the leaves, tangles itself in Blake’s hair, rests across her face; she blinks against the sudden glare, raising an arm automatically, and the woman’s on her feet in an instant, head whipping around like she’s expecting to find a threat, an ambush or attack.

Instead, she finds Blake, still standing there dumbly like she’s taken root in the earth, and apparently she’s decisively deemed unthreatening because the woman straightens, gaze zeroing in on her.

She actually looks to be around Blake’s age, and she isn’t at all dressed for the weather, which is the first intriguing thing about her; she’s wearing an orange shirt with a heavy green jacket over her shoulders - it seems to be a raincoat, which baffles Blake all the more, as it’s a rather warm, dry day - and denim shorts, plain black sneakers on her feet. Compared to Blake’s shorts and a t-shirt she’d decided she didn’t mind getting dirty, this girl looks like she’s on a hike to a different land entirely.

The girl seems to be observing her closely, waiting for a move to be made; her eyes trail over Blake’s attire, her legs, her arms, her chest, her neck, her face--

Her expression falls open, suddenly raw and vulnerable. “Oh,” she breathes out, lavender irises peering into Blake’s own gold, and the sound of her voice pours over Blake’s skin like melting wax. “You’re a much better surprise than the shit I usually run into in this forest.”

Blake, unable to process the bizarre situation, only blurts out, “Aren’t you hot?” and promptly flushes awkwardly upon hearing her own words.

“Always,” the girl respond instantly, winking.

“Your coat,” Blake contextualizes.

The girl stares at her for a second, like she’s debating not only what to say but if to answer at all. She says casually, “Well, I was visiting Weiss, and I really don’t like getting my hair wet. It’s best to let her throw her temper tantrums rather than fight back and waste the energy, so…”

Weiss. It’s a name that sounds like it has a meaning, or it should, but it doesn’t even hold water to Blake. She says, “Um,” not understanding a single word the girl’s just said.

The girl doesn’t notice her lack of comprehension, brushes right by the brief pause. “What’s a pretty girl like you doing in a place like this?” she asks. “And all alone?”

Blake raises a single eyebrow, more confused at the phrasing than anything else. “‘A place like this’?” she repeats, torn between flustered for being called pretty and annoyed for being assumed as unfit for wilderness. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

You know,” the woman says mysteriously, whimsically waving a hand. “There may be monsters lurking in the shadows…”

You’re the only thing lurking in the shadows,” Blake points out.

“I was definitely in the sun,” she argues mildly. She’s already in the running for one of the strangest people Blake has ever met, but in spite of this, Blake doesn’t feel as if she’s in any danger and continues engaging her.

“Okay,” Blake says.

“I was.”

“Right.”

“Look, it’s sunny - oh.” She cuts herself off, glancing around; a cool crawl of clouds have briefly obscured the light. “Hm. Well that’s no fun.” She tilts her face towards the sky, stretches out a hand lazily, almost like a wave, and Blake watches in confusion as the clouds don’t blow onward on their course, but somehow dissipate entirely; the girl smiles. “There,” she says. “That’s better.”

“Um,” Blake says brilliantly, furrowing her brow. “You didn’t do that.”

“I did,” she confirms. “I don’t normally show off for girls I’ve just met, but you’re gorgeous.”

“No, like, that’s impossible,” Blake denies, running through every other explanation. Freak evaporation, maybe. A higher gust so strong the clouds scattered the exact moment she blinked.

The girl frowns, studying her. She raises a hand to her chin like she’s thinking. “Where are you from?” she asks.

“Menagerie,” Blake says, violating every childhood rule she’d ever been taught about revealing personal information to strangers. The girl’s mouth relaxes into a smile at the response.

“Make sense,” she says, more to herself than Blake, and takes a step closer, extending a hand. “I’m Yang.”

Blake reaches out, grasps Yang’s fingers in hers. “Yang.” She repeats the name and hesitates at the weight of it, like it’s something important she can’t quite place it in her memory. “I’m Blake. Belladonna.”

“Blake Belladonna,” Yang says, dropping her arm. “Beautiful name for a beautiful girl.”

“Are you hitting on me?” Blake asks. It’s the third time Yang’s commented on her appearance, though Blake’s not sure why; she’s dressed plainly, her bow covering her ears and her hair tied up with a regular black band.

“Depends,” Yang says coyly. “Are you single?”

“Yes,” Blake answers, amused.

“Then yes.”

She doesn’t know whether to laugh or run away. She settles on a subdued version of the former, finally choosing to smile back. “That’s pretty forward of you.”

“What can I say,” Yang replies easily, shrugging. “I’m forward. And a little blunt, probably. I don’t ask a lot of girls out.”

“I never would have guessed,” Blake says. The wind rustles gently through the trees, toying with her hair. “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

“Just checking on things,” Yang says nonchalantly. “You know, make sure it’s all up to code.” She gestures to the off-color dirt. “Like that. That’s definitely wrong.”

“It does look...out of place,” Blake says, cocking her head.

“Grimm,” Yang says. “Sometimes their energy permeates the ground, kills what it touches.” She walks back over, resumes her original position, her fingers skimming across the surface of the soil, before--

She places her palm flat, shuts her eyes, and Blake watches the dirt bubble, like it’s being boiled underneath the surface; the color corrects, the corruption somehow draining from it, and grass begins fluttering up around Yang’s hand, matching the rest of the area. Blake gazes on in silence, lips parted in surprise.

Yang raises her arm, stands back up; grass unfolds from underneath her palm, and the patch looks pristine, untouched. Yang says, “We can’t let tainted areas grow. They kill what they touch and attract more Grimm, and that’s my Tuesday evening wasted.”

“How did you do that?” Blake breathes out, staring blankly at her.

Yang grins. “Magic,” she says.

“Seriously.”

“I’m being serious.”

“No you’re not,” Blake snaps, the pressure of unrelenting confusion finally getting to her. “Tell me the truth.”

Yang’s eyebrows raise at the demand, the tone, like people don’t often talk to her the way Blake’s talking to her now. She says, “You’re getting more interesting by the second.”

“Okay,” Blake says, adjusting her backpack on her shoulders and stepping around her. “I’m leaving.”

“Why?” Yang asks, following. “Because I can do magic?”

“No, because you’re making fun of me,” Blake says. “And I’m supposed to meet my friends.”

“I’m not making fun of you,” Yang says.

Blake spins around, and Yang stops just behind her, waiting expectantly. “Prove it,” she challenges.

Yang smirks widely, taking her hands out of her pockets. “Gladly,” she says. “Keep walking.”

“What?”

“Keep walking,” Yang repeats, “and I’ll prove it.”

Blake turns around slowly, eyeing Yang cautiously, waiting for a trick or a trap. Yang gestures her on. Blake takes a step, and a step, and another step; nothing changes in front of her, nothing shifts or moves: the sun still shines brightly down, the breeze sweeps through the trees, the path extends on in front of her. She can hear Yang still following behind, and so she stops, whirls around, and--

“See?” she starts, fully expecting more of the same, “you’re--” and her voice falls apart in her throat, eyes widening.

Behind her are outlines of her footprints, but they’re surrounded by a sudden spring of bouquets, flowers sprouting up and growing around every place she’d stepped. The furthest back boasts a five-foot tall sunflower, its stem twisting and arching towards the sunlight. Yang is grinning, entirely too pleased with herself, Blake’s reaction apparently exactly what she’d been aiming for.

“--not fucking with me,” she finishes, gazing at the petals of a rose unfurling.

“Nope,” Yang says cheerfully. “I’m not.”

“How?” Blake says, still in shock. “How do you - this is insane!

“It’s a long story,” Yang says, running a hand through her hair. “I don’t really have the time to tell it now, but I’d love to tell it to you over dinner sometime.”

Blake blinks at her, jaw still slightly unhinged, unable to respond. Yang seems to understand, pulls out her scroll, and shoots a quick text to someone before Blake finally answers, “Uh, I have to get out of here,” and turns on her heel, stalking away.

Yang laughs from behind her. “I’ll see you around, gorgeous,” she calls. “You’re in my neck of the woods now. Get it?”

Blake smiles without even knowing why, without realizing she’s doing it, and quickly snaps the expression away when she does, her heart tangling itself up in her chest. She throws a glance over her shoulder, but when she looks back, Yang is gone; in her place is a single lavender forget-me-not.

--

Sun and Neptune are waiting with drinks in their hands at the end of the trail, which pours out into a park; they’re sitting on a bench, talking animatedly about something when they see her approach. The town raises up behind them, the clock tower, the busyness of main street, the shops and bars and restaurants. It’s a quaint town, the kind where every patron is a regular, where not everybody knows everybody but knows enough. Sun wraps her in a one-armed hug, passing her a iced coffee. She takes it appreciatively, thanking them; she hadn’t realized how badly she needed the caffeine, though her go-to is usually tea.

Neptune tugs on her ponytail, grinning. “And what do you call this look?” he asks as they begin to lead her off.

“‘Tired of traveling’,” she says. “I’m thinking of getting into fashion.”

“I tried that,” Neptune agrees seriously. “It’s fun in theory, but the actual design...talk about a lot of work.”

“Especially when you can’t draw for shit,” Sun adds. Neptune bumps his shoulder, rolls his eyes.

“You wait until I get into painting,” Neptune says. “If writing doesn’t work out for me, that’s my next move.”

“Nerd.”

“Intellectual,” he corrects.

“Anyway,” Sun says, turning back to Blake, “how was the hike? You don’t look like you were attacked.”

“I wasn’t,” she affirms. “Although - I don’t know. Are your woods haunted or something? I met this girl--”

You?” Neptune asks, faking shock. “You talked to a girl?

“Shut up,” she says, and she thinks of telling them the truth but can’t. “I met this girl and she - I don’t know. It’s crazy. She hit on me, like, five times in the span of ten minutes. She asked me out to dinner.”

“Was she hot?” Sun asks.

“Oh, God,” Blake sighs without thinking about it, an automatic response. It’s all she’d reminisced on the last half hour of her hike, the almost unearthliness of Yang’s appearance, her otherworldly allure, her charm, her attraction. She hadn’t been able to focus on it at the time, hadn’t been able to quantify it, comprehend it, but the distance had given her clarity, and, well--“Yeah. She’s probably the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen in my life.”

“Do you know where she lives?” Neptune asks. “If she was on the trails, she’s gotta be from around here.”

“No,” Blake says. “She just said she’d see me around.”

“Oh, cryptic,” Neptune muses. “A gorgeous girl who will apparently find you when the time is right. I can work with this. But a guy, obviously.”

“Obviously,” Blake says dryly. “I’m glad my experience has been of some inspiration to you.”

“What was she doing?” Sun asks. “Hiking, like you? You’re soulmates, clearly.”

“No,” Blake says, gazing off at the opposite street corner, waiting for a glint of blonde hair in the crowd. “She was...just there.”

“Spooky,” Neptune says. “Did she seem normal, though? Like, she wasn’t out there burying a body.”

“He’s been reading too much mystery,” Sun explains. Blake laughs.

“Honestly?” Blake says, smiling to herself, thinking of daisies and roses and peonies blooming beneath her feet. “No. Not even close.”

--

Where r u? the text reads. Hurry up im very busy & important.

Yang rolls her eyes, steps out of the trunk of a tree and into a garden; it’s a place she and Ruby had made when they were younger, somewhere to escape to when it all became too much to bear at one time, when the pressure caved in on them. Their treehouse still grows just behind it, the bark and wood warped from the inside out without damage to create the rooms. She follows the stone path, breathing in the scent of lavender and mint.

The sky suddenly darkens ominously overhead, clouds gathering and rolling, electricity sizzling in the air. She sighs, raising her hood over her head; this is one she is prepared to fight.

“You’re late,” a voice calls, booming like thunder.

Yang glances up at the sky and scowls. “Ruby, I swear,” she threatens. “I already had to deal with Weiss’s fucking thunderstorm today. I’m not putting up with yours, too.”

The clouds dissipate entirely, save for one, and a red blur suddenly streaks to the ground, landing hard; Ruby stands up, cracking her neck from side to side, popping her joints into place.

“Levitating that long really takes it out of ya,” she says.

“Any reason for the dramatics?” Yang asks, pulling off her hood. “I would’ve kicked your ass if you’d made it rain on me again.”

“Weiss’s meltdown was that bad, huh?” Ruby infers, wincing. “She texted me, but I had a pretty wild day, and I couldn’t make it over to Atlas in time.”

“An undercover group of her father’s is trying to mine Dust,” Yang explains tiredly, finally steppings forward to hug her sister. “Weiss keeps having to cave in their tunnels so they don’t blow her kingdom up - they don’t realize how dangerous it is. They think they’ve evolved from the last time they tried it.”

“She’s not, like, hurting people, is she?” Ruby asks, concerned, taking a seat on one of the stone benches.

“No, no,” Yang waves away, sitting next to her. “That’s the reason she’s so pissed off. Waiting for the tunnels to clear is taking up a lot of her time. I told her she should either flood them or curse them.”

Ruby snickers. “We can’t curse stuff.”

“No, but we can make people think stuff is cursed,” Yang says, smirking evilly. “I’ve always wanted to start up a good ghost story, just for the hell of it. There’s a super old ruin in Shor that I’ve thought about, like, staking out to scare tourists.”

Ruby laughs louder. “I want in. Text me when you do it.”

“Sure thing.”

“Do they know it’s Weiss?” she continues. “Like, I’m sure Winter’s put it together.”

“I think Winter’s on Weiss’s side,” Yang says. “She tends to trust Weiss’s instincts. Thank God her fucking brother doesn’t have a say in any of this. He’s such a brat.”

Ruby pulls a disgusted face. “Ugh, yeah.”

“You should give her a call - stop by if you can,” Yang says. “She definitely would’ve preferred to deal with you over me.”

“Yeah, well,” Ruby says noncommittally. “Haven’s at the beginnings of an uprising - the class gap is just, like, insane in the inner-city. But all that negative energy - God, I’m exhausted.”

“Need any help?” Yang looks at her in concern.

“Nah,” she says, leaning back on her hands. “I’ve got it under control, and the guard takes care of what I don’t.”

“Okay,” Yang says. “Well, anyway, please go see Weiss. She’s too much for me to deal with. I don’t know how you do it regularly.”

“I will, I will,” Ruby says, grinning. “God, remember in our last life when Ironwood had just taken over the military and thought he could ignore her? He had plans for an oceanic military base or whatever and it would’ve totally destroyed the ecosystem.”

Yang laughs loudly. “Didn’t she literally snow him in his house for a week?”

“I think it was three,” Ruby says. “And she iced it over. Nobody could get to him.”

“She’s always so dramatic,” Yang says fondly. “Maybe that’s where you’ve started picking it up from. What is it about this life, anyway?”

Ruby shrugs. “I really don’t know,” she says. “I think it was always there. Like, even in the last one it was there, but we didn’t do anything about it that I can remember. I mean, we don’t retain everything though, so, who knows.”

“I met a girl today,” Yang reveals, smiling underneath the setting sun. Ruby glances over at her, surprised. “She was hiking the trail in Forever Fall, but far down the line, on the border of Idel. She was like, beautiful. She kinda freaked out over the magic thing, though.”

“What, really?” Ruby says. “That’s a weird reaction.”

“She’s from Menagerie,” Yang explains. “We’ve never been needed there, so she wasn’t...used to the idea.”

“Oh, gotcha,” Ruby says, and shoots her a sly look. “Look at you, finally having a crush after all these years. Go get her.”

“I want to die,” Yang declares theatrically, burying her face in her hands, Blake’s smile painting itself across the front of her mind.

Ruby laughs again. “Yeah right,” she says, eyes alight. “Like death ever solves any of our problems.”

--

“Here,” Sun says, pushing open the first door situated in the hallway, “this room’s yours. We’ve already put the rest of your shit in the closet.”

She blinks, somewhat surprised at the hominess of it, the charming decoration almost suited to her tastes; the bedspread is a shade of purple she’s sure they’d picked out for her, the furniture a little more modern than traditional. Sun continues, “Your bathroom’s through there” --he points to another doorway-- “and our room is at the end of the hall. Neptune’s study is the room next to yours. And we already passed the living room and kitchen, so that’s about it.”

Blake steps in, drops her bag near the foot of the bed; the house itself is quaint, but still bigger than she thought it’d be. Idly, she realizes they must be planning on actually staying put for awhile to splurge on property like this. She turns back to him. “And it’s really okay if I live here for the spring?”

“Absolutely!” Sun says, Neptune nodding agreeably beside him. “Spring’s the best season in Vale. Besides, think of this as a debt repaid for all the summers you spent entertaining us in Menagerie.”

“I don’t want to be a burden,” she says honestly, glancing between the two of them. “I don’t want you to feel like I’m disrupting your life.”

Neptune laughs. “Blake, our lifestyle literally revolves around disruption.”

“Yeah, ‘cause someone can’t choose a career path,” Sun says pointedly.

“I’ve chosen,” Neptune says. “I’m writing.”

“That’s what you said about photography.”

“That was a fleeting interest at best,” Neptune argues. “I need variety. I have to sample my options. How else will I know what I truly love to do?”

“How New Money of you,” Blake teases. Neptune’s wealthy upbringing had been so vastly different from hers that it’s become an inside joke between them. “Family expectations are so much lower.”

Neptune grins at her. “New Money doesn’t pressure me into a job I hate just to keep up appearances,” he says.

She sighs heavily. “And that’s one of the many reasons I needed to get away,” she allows. “Old Money sure does.”

“You people and your money,” Sun says. “Well, not Blake, I guess, since she actually held a job or whatever.”

“Please don’t remind me. I’m trying to forget about it.”

“Sheesh, really that bad?” Sun asks, leaning against the doorframe and crossing his arms, tail flicking aimlessly behind him.

“Worse.” Blake grimaces. “Politics didn’t exactly agree with me. Not the way Adam handled them, anyway.”

Sun and Neptune both exchange even expressions of disgust. Neptune rustles a hand through his hair. “Well, we’re both glad you’re out of that,” he says nicely. “And honestly, you can stay as long as you’d like.”

“Seriously, it’s cool,” Sun adds. “We actually like having you around.”

“Okay,” Blake relents. “But the minute you start thinking about how much nicer it was before I got here, tell me, and I’m out. Promise.”

Neptune actually snickers and pats her on the head affectionately, right between her ears. She grimaces at the gesture; it’s something he does when he’s teasing her, air of fake condescension about him.

“Oh, introverts,” he says loftily. “You’re always so in your damn heads all the time.”

“Is there somewhere else I’m supposed to be?” Blake calls as he leaves, Sun trailing behind him with a single wink thrown back, and the only response she gets is laughter.

--

They order in for dinner - Neptune says he refuses to cook for Blake when she isn’t awake enough to appreciate it - and wind up spread across the couch, eating pizza and watching a true crime documentary that only Neptune really pays attention to, Sun humoring him with questions every once in awhile. She drifts off for a bit listening to their voices, their jokes and jabs, and she realizes that if there’s anything she’s missed, it’s been simply having friends who care about her.

--

Yang’s sitting on a fallen log, waiting boredly for the all-clear from Qrow before going home for the night; there’d been signs of strange activity on the outskirts of Signal, but it wasn’t clear if they were human or Grimm related. She plays with vinework, growing visions of snakes and burning them, thinking about the only thing she’d been thinking about all day: Blake, her hair tied back and her lips in an arch, beautiful and sad.

“Aren’t you a pretty little thing,” a voice croons in Yang’s ear, knife sliding suddenly against her throat.

She blinks dazedly, sighs as he forces her up into a standing position. Well, that’s what she gets for dreaming about a girl with a pretty smile alone in the middle of the woods; she hadn’t even heard them approach over her own idle cracking of wood. “Seriously?” she asks, grimacing. The man’s hands are dirty, nails broken, calloused. Bandits, probably. “Though I guess better me than anyone else.”

“What?” the voice snarls, confused and annoyed. “What are you talkin’ about?”

Another man walks around front, looking her up and down, taking her in. His expression speaks to a fear the both of them should feel - an age-old instinct warning them of danger - but he’s clearly trying to push past it for show. He twirls a dagger between his fingers absently.

“What’s wrong?” Yang asks lowly, staring up at him. “Do I look familiar?”

He raises his eyebrows, swallows. “No,” he spits out, though she catches him shaking. “Why?”

She meets his eyes and smiles widely with her teeth, gleaming from the darkness; she raises a hand, curls her fingers around the other man’s wrist tightly. He starts in surprise, tugging his arm, careful not to actually slit her throat. Like he could.

The man in front of her takes a step forward, pointing his dagger at her, but she can see the hesitance, the warning too loud for him to ignore--

Her hand ignites, and the one holding her screams loudly, the skin of his wrist burning a shiny, raw pink. Her smile grows, the man in front of her stumbling backwards in shock, falling to the forest floor.

“Oh shit,” he whispers. “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit--”

The knife falls away, digging itself into the dirt. She turns around, fingers grasping the front plate of his armor and bending it like rubber, hoisting him up into the air. His eyes are wide, tears streaming from the pain of his wrist; he fights violently to get out of her grip but can’t.

“Do I look familiar now?” she asks sinisterly, irises a dangerous red.

“Oh, fuck!” the man on the ground lets out a strangled yell. “It’s fucking - it’s - fuck--”

“I’m sorry,” the one held aloft chokes out. “I’m - sorry--”

“I’ve had a long day,” she murmurs, every word sounding like the threat of death. “And if this is how you normally pick up women, I don’t think I’m going to let it slide.”

--

She tosses their bodies like ragdolls in front of the large wooden door, seething, steaming; the man and woman on guard watch her, terrified, fearful, and knowing better than to make a single move. She stares directly at the woman, her eyes burning with fire and flames, and says dangerously, “Tell mom that if she doesn’t teach her men some fucking respect, I’ll kill them all. I don’t care if they’re Branwens. That name means nothing to me.” She pauses, waiting for the words to make their impact. “Am I clear?”

“Y-yes,” the woman stammers, knuckles white around her sword.

“Good.” Yang glances disdainfully around the camp. “Because I’ll tear this whole fucking place apart if they pull a stunt like that again.” She nudges the closest one on the ground with her toe; he winces feebly.

“Understood,” the woman says.

Yang’s stare bores into the men on ground a moment longer, their bodies bruised and bloody. The front of the closest man’s armor still bears the impression of her fingers, warped and melted.

“Don’t think I won’t be watching,” she says menacingly, and turns her back to them all.

--

“Nothing like family,” Qrow says casually from a tree as she storms past.

“Ugh,” Yang says, lip curling disgustedly. Her eyes fade back to lavender as she looks up at him. Tree, of course, that’s what she should’ve done. “How are you related to that woman? How am I?

“Magic sure is a kick,” Qrow says agreeably. “Wanna tell me what’s wrong? That wasn’t a normal outburst from you, and we both know you’re not gonna kill anyone.”

She sighs. Qrow always manages to see straight through her into whatever’s underneath. She shifts the earth, ground rising to his level, depositing her right beside him on a branch; it falls back down, surface leveling out. She says, “Just like, seriously? I see her fucking tribe more than I see her. She didn’t want me, so why am I still dealing with her messes?”

“Are you still angry with her for abandoning you?” Qrow asks casually. “Even after all these years?”

Yang’s fingers dig against the bark; she kicks her feet idly, gaze averted down. “No,” she says at last. “Sometimes I’m angry with how much I understand. She just wanted a normal life. The life she’d been raised thinking she’d have.” She pauses, biting the inside of her lip, like she’s ashamed of what she’s about to admit. “Sometimes I wish I could have a normal life, too.”

That seems to surprise Qrow more than anything else; they’re always so historically suited to their positions, without complaint, without resentment. He says, “What’s prompted this outlook?”

She thinks of Blake automatically again, her heart pounding throughout her entire body, traveling down the roots and into the earth, running wild. Running away, or maybe running towards. “I don’t know,” she murmurs. “I guess I’m just...lonely.”

He rubs a hand against the top of her head and she winces; he knows she hates having her hair touched, but he’s not the best at showing affection. He says, “Yeah,” and takes back his arm. “I get that.”

She doesn’t say anything else; he glances down at her, studying the way her shoulders droop, her mouth in a slight frown. “I’ll deal with Raven and her followers for awhile,” he says. “Don’t worry about it. They’ll definitely pack up and move after tonight, anyway.”

She shrugs, but she’s internally relieved, tired of having to face her, think about her, hate her. “Okay,” she says. “Thanks, Qrow.”

“Hang in there, firecracker,” he says, and in an instant he is gone, wings brushing by in the wind.

--

Blake spends most of the next day getting to know the town, wandering up and down its cobbled streets, over its bridges and roads; it really is beautiful, somehow a step above every other place she’s visited, like a concentrated explosion of growth radiates from the center of it. She walks near the water for awhile, following canals and smaller boats and bikes, watching the way people go about their daily business. She memorizes the neighborhood, the street names, the quickest route to the town center and back, restaurants and bars and shops.

Sun has classes to teach until four - he’d walked her to his studio that morning, a plain, unassuming building where a gaggle of children were spread out on the mats inside, stretching; you’re gonna have to get used to living here, he’d told her before letting her go, it’s your space, now, too - and so she keeps herself busy, browsing stores, still not quite in the right mindset to sit down and think. About her goals, her motivations, all the things she’d run away from, all the people she’d hurt. She spies a ‘help wanted’ sign on a bookshop window and files it away for reasons she’s unsure of; she’s not planning on staying that long, but something about it sticks with her.

She meets Sun after his last class ends, and he’s toweling off his head, sweat over his forehead; he greets her with a wide grin and a one-armed hug, which she struggles to wiggle out of. “Oh, gross,” she whines, pushing away from him. “Take a shower first.”

He only laughs. “Sure,” he says, releasing her. “Ready to go?”

“Yep,” she says, and he swings his bag over his shoulder. A small boy runs up to him before he gets the chance to move, arms wrapping around his leg. Sun glances down, grins.

“What’s up, buddy?” he asks. “Did you have fun today?”

“Yeah!” the boy says excitedly, and points to Blake. “Who’s this?! Your wife?!”

Sun laughs; Blake fights against a grimace, disgusted at the prospect. He’s a little better of an actor than her. “No, she’s just a friend,” he says nicely. “I have a boyfriend at home, though. He’s way cooler than her. His hair is blue.

“Woah,” the boy says, mouth open, eyes wide. “That’s so cool.

“I know,” Sun agrees. “I gotta go hang out with him now, but I’ll see you on Friday. Sound good?”

“Yeah!” he says. “Bye Master Sun! Bye Sun’s friend!”

Sun turns away, catching her eye and sniggering as the boy runs off; Blake’s covering her grin with her hand. “Cute,” she says. “Master Sun, huh?”

“Shut up,” he says, nudging her shoulder lightly, pushing the door open. “They’re supposed to call me Master, but it feels so weird.”

“It doesn’t really fit you,” she says, “but it’s adorable.”

“What’d you do today?” he asks her. “Anything productive?”

“Totally,” she says. “I can now navigate the town center without the help of my maps app.”

“Amazing,” Sun agrees seriously.

She laughs once. “It’s not too big a place,” she says, looking fondly around as they walk. “It reminds me a little of Menagerie.”

“Yeah, it’s easy to get used to,” Sun says, automatically holding out an arm to halt her at a light; she’s long used to this, a habit he’s developed to stop Neptune from absentmindedly wandering out into traffic. “I actually love it here a lot more than I thought I would.”

“It is beautiful,” Blake says as they start to walk again.

“Yeah,” he says. “There’s like, something in the air. I don’t really know how to explain it. It’s just nice.

She thinks of Yang waving clouds away with the flick of her wrist, gardens springing from damp, empty earth, the way the wind always flutters perfectly through the sky. “Yeah,” she says distantly. “Maybe that’s it.”

--

Neptune does cook that night - he sears salmon with a garlic-lemon butter sauce, and clearly his one year at culinary school paid off - and she promises him she’ll take over the next night, so they’d better give her some recommendations. Neptune waves her away; as long as it’s because you want to, he says, and not because you feel like you need to.

She’s hit with the reminder again that they really do enjoy her company, care about her as a person, and thinks about telling him she loves him, loves them both. Her throat closes slightly. She doesn’t say anything, only smiles genuinely at him. He seems to understand.

She steps outside afterward to clear her head, put some space between herself and the walls of a place she’s not even sure she should be despite insistence otherwise. She recognizes where the influence comes from, why she’s her own opposition; it’s all Adam, his voice, his spite, his hatred. You’re a coward. She can still hear him shouting the words at her. You’re mine. She isn’t. She won’t ever be again.

No, she corrects herself; I wasn’t his in the first place, wasn’t anything to own. It’s almost a daily mantra, the reminder that she’s allowed to be hers.

She walks aimlessly along the road, passing by the neighboring houses, and absentmindedly follows a path leading off their street towards the treeline. The town’s famous for its landscape, scenic trails peppering every route out, and she doesn’t think much of it, doesn’t fear the darkness of the forest. Something about it comforts her, the broken canopy of the trees keeping her safe, slices of moonlight peppering her path. Sun had mentioned a type of border security around the actual town itself, anyway, so she doesn’t fear any kind of attack, the idea not even crossing her mind.

The trail eventually skitters out, empties into a lush clearing that seems to beckon her, emanating the kind of peace she feels so desperately missing from her life. She steps forward through the grass and exhales, head falling back, stare turning skyward.

The stars are more beautiful here, glittering across space like rings, necklaces, loose gemstones rolling through a jewelry box. She finds an empty, distant sort of calm in them, a presence that doesn’t have to tie her to the earth. She unclenches her fists, rotating her shoulders up and back, dropping tension.

The sounds are sweeter, too; the gentle hum of insects, the quiet buzz of the town behind her, the wind stroking the leaves, the grass. There’s a light brush against her ankle, and she glances down automatically, only to find--

Flowers are growing from around her feet, daisies, dandelions, natural enough to the landscape to make it look like an accident. She knows it’s not, and her gaze whips around the clearing, searching.

“Yang?” she calls tentatively, heartbeat fluttering.

“Yes?” a voice answers whimsically.

Blake’s eyes narrow. She can see perfectly in the dark, and Yang isn’t anywhere instantly visible. “Where are you?”

“Up here,” Yang says, and waves to get her attention; Blake automatically zeroes in on her, sitting casually in amongst the branches of a tall tree like it’s a normal, everyday occurrence.

Blake blinks, more taken aback by the sight than anything else. Yang kicks her foot lazily, leaning back against the trunk. “What are you doing up there?”

“Thinking,” Yang says. “I could ask you the same thing.”

“Are you following me?” Blake accuses, her brain finally catching up with her mouth. Yang merely rolls her eyes, something Blake can tell even from a distance.

“No,” she says. “If anything, you seem to be following me.

“Oh, my mistake,” Blake says dryly. “You’re right. I should’ve known you’d be here.”

Yang laughs and sits up, rests her hands against the bark, her other leg swinging over the side. Blake realizes what she’s about to do the second before she does it, and her eyes widen, arm raising, stangled yell sticking to her throat as Yang slips out of the tree--

She lands gracefully on both feet, almost like she’d floated down rather than fell, and Blake catches herself on a panicked step forward, mouth still open in a warning. Flowers spawn around her shoe. Yang shoots her a strange look. “What?” she asks teasingly. “Thought I’d hurt myself?”

“Most people can’t just leap out of trees,” Blake manages, her heart pumping away its fear; not of the apparently indestructible girl herself, with her bizarre abilities and possibly-stalking tendencies, but of almost seeing her hurt.

“Well, I’m not most people.”

“Obviously.”

Yang smiles, walking towards her. The jacket from yesterday is gone, replaced instead with soft, brown cardigan over a fern-green shirt, and she’s wearing dark denim jeans tucked into brown boots. A necklace hangs around her neck, and her hair’s in a loose, messy braid over her shoulder. She says, “What are you doing out here, anyway?”

Blake surreptitiously glances her up and down, but she looks as physically uninjured as she says she is; she also looks good, and Blake can’t stop herself from noticing. The only difference is in her eyes: gentler, kinder, sadder. Blake mirrors honestly, “Thinking.”

“About what?” Yang asks, turning her gaze to the patch of sky where Blake had been staring previously.

“What I’m doing here,” Blake says, the confession spilling out of her like a river. “I don’t know if it was the right move. But I didn’t have many options, and I’m not used to...having people to rely on.” She pauses, slightly startled by her own admission, and why she’s even telling Yang at all. “What were you thinking about?” she probes instead, eager to force the attention off herself.

But Yang only says, “You.”

Blake scowls, throwing a mild glare her way. “You’re making fun of me again.”

“I’m not,” she says, shrugging her shoulders like she’s recognizing she’s revealing something she shouldn’t. “I was thinking about you.”

It’s hard for Blake to doubt the admission when it’s uttered so accidentally. “Why?”

“Do I scare you?” Yang asks unexpectedly, and Blake finally meets her eyes, surprised. There’s a vulnerability in them she hadn’t expected to find, an uncertainty. “Seriously.”

Blake bites the inside of her lip, the answer pushing at the backs of her teeth. Yang waits patiently in front of her, wild blonde hair curling gently in the breeze, lavender of her irises so delicate of a color Blake gets the impression they may shatter into another at any given moment. Her mouth rests in a worried line, though it looks as if she’s trying to hide it, keep her expression neutral and unassuming.

That’s the thing, Blake thinks; the answer should be yes. Yang’s popped into her life twice in two days, seemingly serendipitous, with power Blake can’t even comprehend, let alone reconcile exists in the first place. The answer should be yes, but it’s not.

“No,” she admits, and Yang visibly relaxes, brushing off a weight she’d been apparently been angsting over. “You don’t. You’re - you’re strange, but I don’t feel like I’m in danger, or anything.”

Yang smiles cutely; the moon glows just a little brighter. “You aren’t,” she says, and adds cryptically, “You’re actually safest when you’re with me.”

“And why’s that?” Blake asks.

Her smile shifts in a way Blake can’t put into words, can’t peg down; not threatening, but not nice, either. It’s a sultry kind of knowing. “Because,” she says, “I’m the most powerful thing out here.”

Blake swallows, desperately fighting back against the sexiness of the statement; she digs her nails into her palm, stops herself from the brief, flashing instinct to grab Yang and kiss her, push her back against the tree, wrap her hands in her hair. Yang quirks an eyebrow, examining her expression.

“You okay?” she asks. “Did that freak you out?”

“No,” Blake manages, realizing she’d been staring, daydreaming. “It didn’t...freak me out.” Her tongue sweeps over her bottom lip. “I think I’m just tired.”

“It’s late,” Yang says, still a bit concerned. “You’ve been traveling, right?”

“Yeah,” Blake says. “I’m staying with friends for the spring.”

“That’s exhausting for anyone,” Yang reasons. “Let me walk you home.”

Blake doesn’t decline Yang’s offer, but she doesn’t accept it, either; Yang comes along of her own will - for her own peace of mind, she says - and the conversation flows easily like it’s natural, both of them talking openly and laughing. Blake can’t remember giggling so much, can’t remember the last time she felt so comfortable outside of herself, wasn’t afraid of being seen.

Yang doesn’t follow her right up to the door, just waits patiently on the pavement underneath a streetlight, watching her; she waves adorably when Blake unlocks the door, and Blake smiles over her shoulder. Her footprints are marked in the yard by outlines of flowers, the same as in the clearing, a little scaled down as to not attract attention.

Blake rolls her eyes, but secretly, she hopes they’re still there in the morning.

--

She dreams about Yang that night, a sea colored in lavender and the smell of fire over the shore, distant trees slipping up in smoke; the ocean recedes, raises high, and Yang stands underneath the towering waves with a smile and glowing red eyes. She walks to up to Blake standing on the sand, the sea waving behind her like a kite. Blake feels like crying, her throat shut tight and choking, her heart ramming itself against her ribcage.

Don’t worry, Yang says, and presses her lips to Blake’s ear. Nothing can stop me. Not while you’re here.

She wakes up to the taste of salt, and all she remembers is the color red.

--

“Up and at ‘em, princess,” Sun announces, knocking on her door; fortunately she’s already awake or she would’ve killed him mercilessly. “You said you wanted to join me on my morning run.”

“I’m coming,” she calls, tying her hair back into a ponytail. “One minute.”

“Meet you outside,” he says, and she hums in response. She leaves her room, passes by Neptune cooking sausage and bacon in the kitchen, bleary-eyed and still wearing his boxers and a t-shirt; he’s not really a morning person.

Sun’s stretching on the sidewalk, but straightens up and tosses her a water bottle as she exits the front door. She catches it, grinning. “Thanks.”

“No prob,” he says. “Ready? I usually run a little off the path, by the way; there are a few hills in the woods off of Argent that make for a good incline. It’s still marked, but we won’t run into as many people.”

“Yeah, sounds good,” she says agreeably, glancing subtly around the yard; the flowers are still there, though they’re not as noticeable in the sunlight, more natural.

“Just keep up,” he says, winking.

“Yeah, yeah.”

They don’t talk much during their actual run; they both have earphones in, streaming music they can forget about the burn of their legs to. She keeps pace with him perfectly, more out of determination than anything else; considering he literally works in physical fitness, his stamina definitely outstrips hers, though not by an overtly noticeable amount. Eventually they pause at the top of a hill, the trees sparse and flowing into an open field. A few benches litter the pathway, a water fountain marking a rest stop.

She wipes away the sweat on her forehead, resting her hands on her knees, bent over. “I’m out of shape,” she says.

“You looked great to me,” Sun says, refilling his water bottle. “The fact that you kept up at all is amazing. I thought I was gonna have to tone it down or something.”

She scoffs, straightening and stretching. “No way,” she says. “I’m not that out of shape.”

He shrugs, raises a hand to signal she toss him her own bottle; she does so, and he catches it, unscrewing the top. “I’ll train you, if you want,” he offers. “You can join my mid-level class.”

She laughs. “Oh, yeah? And what’s the median age there?”

“About eight to ten,” he says earnestly. “You’ll fit right in.”

“Jackass.”

“You love me.”

She doesn’t answer, still grinning at him. She does love him, but she’ll never tell him that, especially when he’s making jokes at her expense. She gives it up, stepping towards him to take her water bottle. He extends his arm, playful smile on his face, and then--

It slips right out of his hand, smacking against the dirt and rolling away. He doesn’t make a move to grab it. “What,” he asks, gazing at her feet, “is that about?”

She glances down, sighs heavily at the sight of tulips bubbling up around her. “Yang,” she calls grumpily, “knock it off.”

Sun stares, and stares, and stares. His eyes widen continuously, the effect somewhat frightening after a few seconds, like they may pop from their sockets at any given moment. Someone laughs in the trees, voice lost to the wind.

“Um,” he says blankly, his entire expression comically over-exaggerated. “What?

“It’s just Yang,” Blake says, more blasé with Sun around. “She’s the girl I ran into in the woods on my way here, and now I think she’s stalking me.”

Laughter rings out again. Sun glances around, mouth hanging open, searching for the source of the noise. He rests his hands on her shoulders, finally lowering his eyes to hers.

“Blake,” he says slowly, sounding vaguely terrified, “are you trying to tell me that you met the Spring Maiden?

“The what?” she asks, bewildered and a little uncomfortable at the weight of his intensity.

“Yang,” he says. “The current Spring Maiden. She watches over the Kingdom of Vale.”

“I’m not following.”

“She’s a legend,” Sun expresses vehemently. “She has magical powers.

“I’d gathered,” Blake says. “She keeps growing flowers wherever I walk.”

He shakes her suddenly. “The Spring Maiden!” he repeats loudly, like the words should mean something to her. “Yang Xiao Long! She’s like, an all-powerful being with ancient mystical abilities! What the fuck is wrong with you!? Don’t you know the story of The Four Maidens?! Do you listen at all when I talk!?”

She raises her eyebrows mildly, a spark coming to her at the mention. “Sort of,” she says, screwing up her face into an expression of concentration. “But Menagerie doesn’t have one, so, it wasn’t really like...a thing.”

“Oh my God,” Sun says dramatically. “I think I’m gonna pass out.”

“Relax,” Blake says, not really understanding his theatrical behavior. “Either way, she’s following me.”

“You dumbass,” Sun says. “She’s not following you. This is - this is all hers.” He gestures around him. “Vale owes her everything. She could wipe us all out if she wanted, but she protects us instead. Like Pyrrha in Vacuo, Ruby in Haven, Weiss in Atlas - the land is all theirs.

“Oh, come on,” a voice suddenly calls from the treeline. “I’m not a psychopath. I’m not gonna, like, kill a bunch of innocent people.”

Sun whips his head towards the source of the noise, starts to sweat profusely; Blake follows his gaze, and promptly rolls her eyes at the sight of Yang sitting casually on a tree trunk, grinning widely, legs spread and hands resting between her thighs on the wood. Sun gapes, jaw falling so slack Blake’s slightly disgusted by it.

“What are you doing here?” Blake calls. “Aside from butting in on private conversations.”

Yang laughs again, standing up and dusting off her hands. “Like he said,” she says, “this is my kingdom. So technically, you’re on private property.”

“Ha-ha,” Blake says sarcastically.

“Oh my God,” Sun manages, looking pale and hot, sort of like he’s getting sunstroke.

Yang ignores him, walks deliberately towards Blake; she’s a few steps away when the soil starts to shift around her, and a flower Blake recognizes vaguely as a type of lily croons up, bulb opening, petals curving around each other. Yang doesn’t look at it, but reaches out and picks it as she passes by, though even that wording isn’t quite right - it looks more like the flower cuts itself delicately and heals its stem, tosses itself into her waiting hands. She extends her arm to Blake, twirling the flower between her fingers.

“What’s that?” Blake asks, amused despite herself.

“It’s a Calla lily,” Yang says sweetly. “It’s for you.”

“I’m allergic to lilies,” Blake says, accepting the flower anyway.

Yang smiles. “You aren’t to anything I grow.”

“Oh, and why’s that?”

“Because I’m making them that way.”

“That’s impressive.”

Yang only shrugs, runs a hand through her long hair. “Well, what’s the use in being all-powerful and shit if I can’t grow an allergy-free garden?”

Blake giggles again, though every acknowledgment is somewhat against her will, like she doesn’t want Yang to know she’s genuinely enjoying her company in front of Sun. “I suppose that’s fair.”

“Oh my God!” Sun suddenly exclaims, like he’s just been slapped awake from a dream only to find he hadn’t been asleep in the first place. “Seriously?! It’s really you?!”

“Always happy to meet a fan,” Yang says. Blake snickers; it’s not often she gets to see Sun put in his place, though she’s still confused on the details. “I don’t tend to do autographs, but I’ll make an exception for any friend of Blake’s.”

“Holy shit,” Sun breathes out. “Oh my God. No fucking way.

“This is Sun,” Blake provides. “He’s apparently your biggest fan.”

Yang cocks her head to the side, examines him from top to bottom. “Hm,” she says. “That’s a little disappointing. He’s not really my type. I’d hoped you’d have that title by now,” she directs at Blake.

“I didn’t know who you were until literally five minutes ago, so I think I have some catching up to do before then,” Blake tells her teasingly.

Yang laughs, turns back to Sun. “No, I’m kidding. Hey, dude. Uh - thanks for your support, or whatever.” It’s clear she doesn’t spend a lot of time interacting with people who follow her; she seems more surprised at the reaction than anything, like she hasn’t put much thought into her public renown.

“This is so fucking cool,” he says, starstruck, and reaches for his scroll. “Hey, can I take a pic with you?”

“No,” Yang says apologetically, grimacing. “I don’t show up in photos. It’ll be you and a blur, spots of different colors. This isn’t my true form.”

Sun almost drops his scroll. “Woah,” he exhales, astonished. “Really?

“No,” Yang says, grinning, and Blake laughs loudly. “I’m just fucking with you. C’mere.”

She drags him in, arm around his shoulders, and throws up a peace sign. He snaps it quickly, ducking away from her and smiling. “Oh, dude,” he says. “This is great. We both look hot.”

“Let’s see,” she says, waving for the scroll. He hands it over, like she’s suddenly just another one of his friends and not a living legend. She examines it for a second. “Actually, you’re right,” she says appreciatively. “Text that to Blake.”

“What, why?” Blake asks.

“So you can text it to me,” Yang says, as if it should’ve been obvious.

“I don’t have your number,” Blake points out.

Yang fakes surprise, lifts a hand, tapping a finger against her chin like she’s thinking. “Hm,” she says. “I guess I’ll have to give it to you.”

Sun chokes on his laugh before it turns raucous, and even Blake can’t stop herself from joining in. Sun says, “That was the smoothest way of getting a girl’s number I’ve ever seen.”

“Not very subtle, though,” Blake adds, because she can’t just let her have this one.

Yang winks. “I told you,” she says. “I’m blunt.”

Blake digs her scroll out of her back pocket, opens her contacts, and hands it over to Yang, who quickly inputs her number like she’s nervous Blake’s going to change her mind midway through. Blake tries to hide her smile, doesn’t succeed; Sun glances down at her and smirks. Yeah, she’s never going to hear the end of it.

“There,” Yang says, handing her the device back. “Now you have my number. Feel free to use it any time.”

“I can’t believe the Spring Maiden is hitting on you,” Sun says, like Yang’s not literally standing right there. She seems amused by it more than anything else, though, so Blake doesn’t bother correcting his rudeness. “You, who doesn’t even know their names, let alone what they can do.

“Aw, it’s okay,” Yang says, reaching out and brushing Blake’s bangs away from her forehead, smiling sweetly. Blake’s pretty sure the touch lights her on fire, like a line of ash is about to fall from her skin, her breath getting lost in her lungs. “It’s different. I like it.”

Blake can’t respond, and there’s that feeling again, like she’s rooted to the ground, like she’s just another thing Yang’s growing from the earth, her face falling open; Yang’s expression shifts the barest hint, and for a moment, Blake swears she can see her, see into her soul, not like a book but like a window, a doorway, a home.

Sun says, “I think you killed her,” when another few seconds go by without a word.

“I hope not,” Yang says, but her voice isn’t as steady as it was previously. “Otherwise I can’t ask her to dinner again.”

“Um,” Blake says, oddly affected. “Maybe you can do that...later.”

It’s not a rejection, and Yang doesn’t seem to take it as one; she nods, taking a step back. “Sure thing,” she says casually. “I’ve got some business to take care of, anyway. Maybe I’ll see you later, Blake. Text me.”

“Definitely,” Blake says, her mouth dry.

“Nice meeting you, Sun,” Yang says nicely, a sentiment he echoes.

She turns, walking back towards the treeline. She rest a hand against the bark of a particularly large oak, and it opens in a way Blake isn’t even sure how to describe - it folds in on itself, almost as if creating a cave. Sun gasps beside her, fascinated. Yang throws them a last look back and a wave, steps through the archway, and then she is gone as it closes behind her.

They both stand unmoving, stunned. The breeze falters and dies; flowers still unravel against her calves.

“Dude,” Sun finally says.

“Yeah,” Blake says, preoccupied.

“That was fucking insane!” he exclaims, raising his hands to his head. “Holy shit! What the fuck! You’re dating the Spring Maiden!

“I’m not dating her,” Blake says, his yelling snapping her from her daze.

“You will be,” he says. “Dude. She’s hot. She’s out-of-this-world hot. How are you gonna say no to that?

She frowns, but not because he’s wrong; Yang seems to only get more attractive every time Blake sees her, like wildfire, thunder rolling around her heart in a warning sign. There’s something in her that can’t be contained, something Blake’s inexplicably drawn to.

She sighs. “I’m not,” she says, and shoves her earphones back in her ears. “But I don’t want to talk about it.”

He smirks broadly, following her lead, and they finish their run in silence.

--

“I’m here, I’m here,” Yang says grumpily, dropping to the chair beside Pyrrha at the table before Weiss can open her mouth to complain. “Sorry. Did you order already?”

Pyrrha wraps her in a hug. “No, it’s okay,” she says nicely. “We were all running a little behind today. We’ve only gotten drinks so far - that’s your mimosa.” She nods to a champagne flute beside Yang’s place setting.

“Oh, thanks,” Yang says appreciatively, clinking her glass against Pyrrha’s. She then raises her eyebrows, turns her stare to Weiss. “You were late?”

Weiss rolls her eyes. “Yes,” she admits, obviously irritated, taking a sip of her own drink. She’s annoyingly punctual; nothing gets under her skin like tardiness. “Ironwood’s developing something at his tech headquarters in Atlas - his team’s nervousness is causing a spike in Grimm activity. It’s becoming a nightmare.”

“Is it dangerous?” Pyrrha asks.

“It’s Ironwood, so probably,” Ruby chimes in. “I don’t know why he’s always trying to slip things by us.”

“Arrogance,” Weiss says, sneering delicately. “He likes to think he’s the most powerful man out there. Which is possibly true,” she adds as an afterthought, “as we aren’t men.

Yang smirks at her. “I’ll cheers to that,” she says, and Weiss offers her an evil sort of grin, allowing it. She and Weiss tend to be the most hot-headed, meaning they often agree the most but clash the most, too; Yang’s historically more relaxed, rolls with the punches and throws them when necessary, but Weiss is nothing if not born from pride, and her instinct is to defend it.

“Anyway,” Weiss continues, “Winter’s been updating me on the project - Ironwood doesn’t quite trust her enough yet for full clearance, so we’re working on something together. From what we know, they’re experimenting on aura.”

“Hm,” Pyrrha says, eyes narrowing. “I have to admit, I don’t like the sound of that.”

“Neither do I,” Weiss agrees. “I suppose I could always lock him in his house again, though I’m feeling as if more drastic action needs to be taken.”

“We were just talking about that!” Ruby says, laughing. “Yang and I met up the other night - oh, oh my God,” she interrupts herself, leaning forward. “Yang met a girl!

They all turn to look at her, staring with various expressions of surprise, save for Ruby’s gleeful one; fortunately they’re saved by the waiter, who approaches politely with a pen tucked behind his ear. “Ready to order?” he asks, pulling out his pad. He blinks a little hazily as he looks at them, like he can’t quite see that they’re there.

“Yes,” Yang says instantly. “I’ll have the, uh,” --she picks the first thing she sees on the menu-- “Banana Rum Waffles. Side of sausages. Thanks so much.”

“Breakfast tacos,” Ruby says.

“Salmon and bagel board.”

“I’ll do the eggs benedict,” Pyrrha finishes, smiling nicely and handing the man her menu. He writes it all down, turns and walks away without another word. All eyes dart back to Yang, very intensely now staring at her glass.

You met a girl?” Weiss asks, a cross between disbelieving and accusing.

“Maybe,” Yang says defensively.

“What’s she like?” Pyrrha asks. “Is she your - you know - is it her?

“She’s beautiful,” Yang says, “and smart, and sarcastic, and she treats me like a regular person. I got her number, so I’m asking her out later.”

“And the other question?” Weiss asks, gaze probing. “Is it her?”

“I don’t know,” Yang says, deliberately avoiding her stare. “I mean, how would I know?”

They deflate slightly at the answer, Weiss and Pyrrha exchanging a look they think Yang doesn’t see. Ruby only swirls the liquid in her glass, not saying anything, expression blank.

Weiss murmurs, “You’d know,” and the pity can’t keep itself from her tone. “You’d know.”

--

Blake gets home, steps right into the shower before Sun has a chance to pester her about what’d happened. She can hear him calling excitedly for Neptune, dying to finally recount the event; she turns on the water, shuts the door, and cuts his voice off. She runs her hands through her hair, wipes off her face, and she can only think of Yang’s smile, her fingertips sweeping across Blake’s forehead, how her touch hurt like a bruise, painful to press down on but in a good way, relief rushing after blood. She’s never felt anything like it. She’s never felt anything even remotely close, including when she thought she was in love, if that’s what she’d ever actually been.

She drops her head under the water, letting it run down her neck, her back, her legs. Sun’s right; she’s not going to reject Yang, not sure she even could, knows she doesn’t want to. But she’s not sure when the shift occurred, like she’s been talking to herself in her sleep and can’t quite remember the conversation.

Twenty minutes later, she walks out of her room, determined, resigned, compelled. Whatever it is between them, she thinks, is a different kind of magic.

“Okay,” she says, approaching Sun now lounging on the couch, chewing on a piece of bacon. “Tell me everything you know about the Maidens.”

He sits up with a speed that vaguely concerns her, tail waving eagerly behind him. “Really?”

“Yeah.” She might as well know what she’s getting herself into. “Everything.”

--

As it turns out, Sun doesn’t know much, and neither does Neptune when he finally joins in.

Not for lack of trying, though; information regarding anything beyond surface-level knowledge isn’t exactly publicly available. For obvious reasons, Sun says, rolling his eyes. Like, why would they ever reveal that kind of shit? Even people who’ve set out to study them can’t get close enough.

It’s a good point, one she hadn’t thought about; if they’re as powerful as they say they are, there must be people who oppose them, who’d die to know how to control their gifts. The most interesting thing, Neptune says, is that they’re apparently an odd mix of public figure and myth: “Weiss and Pyrrha are essentially celebrities - Pyrrha was on a cereal box at one point, and Weiss’s family was already famous when they had her,” he explains. “Schnee. Even you’ve heard of that name.”

She has; the Schnee name had arisen frequently in Menagerie, due to their treatment of Faunus employees and questionable business practices. “Yeah,” she answers, frowning. “The first day I met Yang, she said something about having been to see Weiss.”

“God, that’s so cool,” Sun says, starry-eyed again. “You’re getting, like, an inside-look at the most exclusive, secretive people in history.

“So Weiss has been in the spotlight since she was born, basically,” Neptune continues, interrupting. “And Ruby - well, thinking of when we lived in Haven, how would we describe her?”

“Kinda like a figurehead,” Sun provides, resting back against the cushions with one foot kicked up on the coffee table. “Like, people look up to her, but she’s more socially awkward than the other three.”

“Yeah,” Neptune agrees. “She’s more seen as inspiration in times of desperation. She’s a great leader.”

“And Yang?” Blake asks.

“That’s the thing,” Sun emphasizes, tapping his fingers against his knee, gazing off into the distance. “Yang’s like...she’s the most distant, I guess. Like, she’s not unapproachable or anything, and people here love her, but she’s just so removed from it all, you know?” He glances to Neptune for help.

“Yeah,” Neptune says, rubbing his fingers against his jaw. “It’s weird. She’s the most charismatic, but the most disconnected. She has fans more than she has followers - she’s different from Ruby that way. People are really into her. Probably because she’s so mysterious, unobtainable, and unpredictable.”

“And she likes you,” Sun adds to Blake, placing a weight atop the sentiment that makes her shiver. “Out of everyone in the world, she likes you.”

“This is unheard of for her, Blake,” Neptune says gently, watching her expression slip into a blankness he’s familiar with, a way of masking how she truly feels. “I’d think about that before getting involved with her, if you aren’t sure it’s something you actually want.”

That’s the thing, Blake thinks later, staring aimlessly out her window, arms resting on her knees. Somehow, wanting Yang is the only thing she is sure of.

She picks up her scroll, finding Yang’s contact details; she opens a text, and before she can stop herself, sends Yang the picture of her and Sun from that morning.

You’re right, she types, you do look good.

--

“What d’you feel like doing this time?” Ruby asks her, cocking her head. The two of them are standing on the outskirts of a destroyed, ruined wasteland, steel beams and stone rising behind them like the degrading corpses of a city that once flourished. A large pack of Grimm wander in front of them, oblivious. “Are we going physical, or magical?”

“Let’s do physical,” Yang says, rolling her shoulders. “I haven’t had a good workout in awhile.”

“Okay,” Ruby agrees, cracking her knuckles. “I’m gonna go with a scythe.”

“Weiss isn’t here to show off for, you know,” Yang teases her, and Ruby flushes. “I mean, I can give her a call--”

“Shut up,” Ruby huffs. “I’m just having fun.”

“Uh-huh.” Yang lets it go, watches Ruby extend an arm, red crystals conjuring and combining into a weapon with a long, curved blade protruding from the end. It’s not an uncommon choice for her, but it’s one of the first weapons Qrow had ever taught her to summon and use despite its difficulty, and she holds a sentimental attachment to it. “So we’ll clear this out, and figure out the source after. Shouldn’t be difficult. I think they’re in the caves.”

“Sounds good.” Ruby digs the end of her scythe into the dirt. “What are you gonna do?”

Yang smiles darkly, raising her hands in the air and curling them into fists, a flash of gold blinding Ruby’s sight for a moment; a yellow alloy wraps itself around her wrists, her forearms, winding around her knuckles.

“Gauntlets,” she says.

Ruby holds a hand up to her chest, fluttering her eyelashes, mouth in an ‘o’ shape. “How barbaric,” she says, mimicking Weiss’s voice, and Yang laughs.

“I’m telling her you did that.”

“Please don’t,” Ruby says, snickering. “She’ll kick my ass.”

“Yeah, right,” Yang says, rolling her eyes. “Let’s get on with it.”

There’s a subtle shift in the air, and a Beowolf’s head lifts, ears perking up, nose sniffing; it turns towards them, the rest of the pack following.

“Here, boy,” Ruby whistles, like she’s calling a dog. “Come and get it.”

Yang grins as they start to run; Ruby launches herself off the ground, but Yang only steps forward slowly, one foot after the other shoulders strong and spine straight. Her arm rears back, her fist connecting with the creature’s skull in a sickening crunch, cracking it cleanly in half; smoke feathers off, the body dissipating.

“Oh, yeah,” she breathes out, irises a brilliant red. “I really needed this.”

Another leaps at her from the right, and she raises her hand, waiting for the contact; she feels the force of bone against her palm and tightens her fingers, one thumb digging into the eye, the creature howling. A tar-like substance trickles down her wrist, and she only smiles, grabbing the scruff of its neck with her other; she pulls the two apart in a smooth motion, its head tearing like paper from the rest of its body and disappearing in an instant.

“Brutal,” Ruby calls, sticking out her tongue disgustedly, slicing one in half with efficiency rather than emotion.

Her scroll suddenly vibrates in her pocket; she blinks briefly, reaching for it as two more jump from a distance at her head. She shoots them a glare, like they’re suddenly inconveniencing her, and holds up a hand, fingers spread; they promptly collide into an invisible wall, falling to their feet unsteadily.

“Blake texted me,” she says, so surprised that she forgets herself, her veins warm underneath her skin.

“Yang--” Ruby starts, and Yang reacts just in time, slamming her fingernails into the chest of a Beowulf, digging in, in, in, reaching for a mass of dark energy, substance like melted rubber, congealed blood. Her scroll is held loosely in her other hand, her stance casual.

“Now, please,” Yang murmurs softly, her eyes glowing brighter than the Grimm’s, its tongue lolling, panting. “I have a very important message to answer.”

And she rips its heart out.

--

are u hitting on me? is the reply Blake gets, her scroll lighting up. She smiles, opening the text instantly.

Definitely not.

Blake watches her type back, strange lulls and pauses in between like she’s not sure what to say. uh huh. just randomly lettin me know how good i look?

I’m trying to boost your self-esteem. You’re clearly lacking in confidence, if the past few days have been any indication.

thank u its true. i am not admired nearly enough

Blake doesn’t really consider herself the coquettish type, but--Guess you’re gonna have to find someone to help you with that.

Yang’s even quicker, like it’s her natural instinct to lean flirtatious. fortunately i have just the candidate in mind

You’re pretty smooth for someone who doesn’t get a lot of practice, Blake answers, as if she’s not sitting there, blushing. She draws closer to herself, resting her chin on her knees, staring at her screen, waiting.

only with u

also i gotta go take care of some shit but can i see u tomorrow? we can finish our conversation

Okay, Blake types, already way in over her head. Where should I meet you?

oh im sure u will find me, Yang replies vaguely. goodnight gorgeous

Blake tosses her scroll behind her on the bed, buries her face in her arms, stomach tying itself into a knot. The statement should concern her more, should confuse her, deter her; instead, she remembers Yang’s laughter in the trees, the way they seem to cross paths without premeditation, like they’re drawn to the same places at the same times, and she thinks--

Yeah. She’ll find her.

--

It’s really a hunch Yang has.

Well, maybe it’s a little more than that; a hypothesis, accidentally tested and proven, three for three. She rests by the riverbank, lying on her back in the grass, staring up at the sparse clouds crawling lazily by. The tips of her fingers tingle, her bones shivering underneath her skin, her heart impatient and anxious. She closes her eyes, breathes steadily, attempts to quiet her soul. Just give it a minute, she tells herself; give it a minute--

“Hey,” a voice says from above her, behind her, sounding oddly unfazed.

Yang opens her eyes, blinking up at Blake’s face, leaning over her. Her mouth spreads into a grin. Four for four. “Hey,” she says, sitting up. “You found me.”

“I did,” Blake confirms, taking a seat next to her, leaning back on her hands. “Though I’m not sure exactly how.

“Fate,” Yang says ominously, but Blake doesn’t laugh like it’s a joke, and Yang didn’t mean it as one in the first place; she only smiles, legs stretched out, black heeled boots crossed at the ankles. Yang sneakily checks her out, her pulse already an earthquake in her veins, and fights to contain a sigh; Blake’s so beautiful that it’s almost a form of torture to have her close, especially looking like this - she’s wearing light denim shorts and a white shirt, loosely tucked in, an open floral short-sleeved top over, dusted with a pattern of roses on a black print. She’s wearing a few necklaces with symbols Yang can’t quite make out in the brief time she examines her, all gold, and a wide-brimmed black hat covers her ears.

Kiss me, Yang wants to say, wants to beg, wants to cry. Please, just kiss me.

“Magic?” Blake guesses dryly.

“Yeah,” Yang says, attempting to mirror her tone, mouth like a desert. “Magic.”

“You know,” Blake starts, staring out at the methodical current of the river, “for someone who protects the entire kingdom, you sure spend a lot of your time here.”

Yang looks over at her, mildly amused. “Well, I live here.”

The idea that Yang lives somewhere seems to strike her more than the idea of an otherworldly compass, and she meets Yang’s eyes, obviously taken aback at the revelation. “You do?”

“Yeah,” Yang says, biting back a giggle at her amazement. “What, did you think I just, like, had a hovel in the forest or something? Like a witch, or--”

Blake raises a hand and shoves her shoulder lightly. “No,” she laughs openly. “I don’t know. Maybe a little bit.”

“I live near the Olivine Canal, on the east side,” she says. “So like, past Main and Oxley, across the bridge, and I’m in one of the houses on Carmine that overlooks the river.”

“How do you - how do you manage that?” Blake asks, surprised. “Don’t you get noticed all the time?”

Yang winks at her. “I have my ways,” she says mysteriously.

Blake lets it go, lips fading back into a smile. The wind picks up the barest amount, the water lapping gently at the riverbank. She says, “So, what were you up to last night?”

“Working.” Yang digs the heels of her boots into the grass, her palms on her knees, resting her cheek against the back of her hand. She stares at Blake, grinning, and tells her playfully, “You’re bad for my focus, you know.”

“How?”

“I keep getting distracted in places I shouldn’t be distracted in.”

“What do you mean?”

“Like the middle of fights,” Yang says. “I was in Mountain Glen with Ruby when you texted me - it’s this abandoned city outside of Vale, and there’s always some kind of shady shit going on, so we have to clear it out often. Anyway,” she shakes herself off her tangent, “I was gonna try and get a workout in, fight physically, but I wanted to text you, so I resorted to magic half the time. Ruby kept making fun of me.” She grimaces.

Blake mimics her position, rests her chin her hand, her smile half-hidden behind her fingers. “And when else?”

“Hm?”

“You said you keep getting distracted,” Blake points out, “implying you’ve done it more than once.”

“Oh.” Yang sort of regrets letting that slip, though it’s too late for excuses. She admits, “The reason I was up in that tree the other night was so I could think about you without being attacked,” and she can almost see Blake’s mind doubling into overdrive, trying to process all the bits and pieces of information.

Attacked?” she repeats.

“Yeah.” Yang only rolls her eyes, still berating herself for making such a stupid mistake. “Bandits caught me alone the night we met - I was like, just spacing out; I was such an easy target. They’re lucky I didn’t kill them.” Her expression darkens slightly. “Though maybe I should’ve.”

“Have you?” Blake asks candidly, curiously. “Killed anyone?”

Yang raises her eyebrows at the intrigued tone, and hopes Blake can’t see the debate over whether or not to lie; she knows the question is answered before she even speaks. “Yeah,” she says truthfully. “But only people who don’t have the soul to return. There’s a point some get to where we deem it the best course of action.”

Everything she’s saying must be nonsensical to Blake, even if it’s fascinating; the desire for more is leaping from her eyes, her mouth, and Yang starts to plan. “‘The soul to return’?” Blake quotes.

Yang observes her for a moment, doesn’t answer; her lips twist up into a smile a second later, tone impish. “Interested, huh?” she asks. “Despite yourself.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ll make you a deal,” Yang says, leaning closer. Being in Blake’s space is enough for holding breath. “You go to dinner with me, and I’ll answer any question you want.”

“Really?” Blake asks, like she’s certain something must be out-of-bounds. “Any question?”

“Yep,” Yang agrees cheerfully. “No holds barred. Rapid fire. Essay questions. I’ll do it all.”

“Okay,” Blake answers easily; almost too easily, as if she’d never planned on saying no in the first place. “I’ll go to dinner with you.”

Yang smiles genuinely, her face relaxing into something softer; without realizing it, she’d been preparing for rejection. “Seriously?” she says.

“Seriously,” Blake confirms. “I’ll go out with you.”

Yang laughs a little breathlessly. “Oh, great,” she says, grin blowing wide, and then pauses, flashing with a spark of hesitation. “Wait, as long as you didn’t agree because you’re like, afraid of me now or something. I swear I only kill people who are like, evil--”

Blake giggles and raises her thumb to Yang’s lips, brushing over them and down to her chin, which she captures between her fingers; Yang stops speaking, enthralled at her touch, her heartbeat in her tongue, the entire sun gazing out at her from Blake’s eyes. “I’m saying yes because you’re beautiful, and funny, and engaging,” Blake tells her with a shy smile, “and I can’t seem to stop thinking about you.”

She drops her hand, releasing Yang’s jaw. Yang exhales, “Wow. Okay. Cool.”

“Won’t people recognize you?” Blake asks, looking for a true answer this time. “Isn’t it going to be like I’m out with a celebrity?”

Yang grins, still a little dazed. “No,” she says. “We can make ourselves...I don’t have the right word for it, but I guess invisible, at an aura level. At most, people will think I look vaguely familiar, but they probably won’t be able to place me until much later. Like we’re disorienting to be around, when we want to be,” she says, the right turn of phrase finally coming to her.

“Huh,” Blake says. “Even to me?”

The phrasing catches Yang off-guard. “Why wouldn’t it?”

Blake blinks, her cheeks going a slight pink like she hadn’t processed her own question. “I - I don’t know,” she says, stumbling over herself. “I just feel like - like I’d know you anywhere.”

--

Blake’s not sure why she says it, and even less why it’s something she actually feels; Yang only looks at her with a carefully-disguised shrewdness, and Blake swears the current of the river accelerates, like the rhythm of a drum, a heartbeat.

“Maybe you would,” Yang says finally, gaze falling back to the water; it quiets, calms. Her lips are tilted, and she drops a hand to the grass, fingers curving; a second later and a stem creeps up from between her thumb and index, bud enlarging, pink petals billowing out.

It’s a pink carnation; Yang plucks it from the ground, hands it to her abashedly. Blake takes it, lifts it to her nose, breathes. It’s more fragrant than she remembers, but she imagines anything Yang grows is probably the pinnacle of what it should be, the essence of the earth itself. It’s a way for Yang to communicate, she’s realizing; when perhaps she can’t say exactly what she’d like to.

“Is this because you’re Spring?” Blake asks. “The flowers?”

“Huh? Oh.” Yang rubs the back of her neck, flustered. “No. We all have the same abilities, with a few minor changes due to personal preference,” she says. “It’s just something I enjoy. And the climate agrees with it.”

“It’s interesting,” Blake says. She can sense it in Yang, the chaos, the confusion, the untamed wilderness of strength. “You don’t seem...exactly the type.”

“No,” Yang answers quietly, agreeing with her. “But I feel like...like I’ve seen enough destruction. Sometimes it’s nice just to watch things grow.”

They sit in silence for a moment, letting the sentiment settle between them. Blake says, “Yeah,” and a vision of Adam scourges her mind, burning everything he touches. “I know what that’s like.”

Yang doesn’t ask, doesn’t pry, and Blake appreciates her all the more for it. She says suddenly, “You don’t have to cover your ears if you don’t want to,” and her eyes flicker up to Blake’s hat. “I want you to feel like you can be yourself.”

Blake blinks, lips parting unexpectedly. “How did you--?”

Yang laughs. “Sweetheart,” she says breezily, “give me a little more credit.”

Blake contemplates her, her mouth in a line. “It doesn’t...bother you?” she asks. She’s used to the openness of Menagerie, but the kingdoms have always been in conflict; she’s not sure she wants to test it out on a first date.

“Bother me?” Yang echoes, uncomprehending, and then--“Oh,” she says, darkening. “No, Blake. It doesn’t bother me. And it sure as hell won’t bother anyone else if I’m with you.” She smiles again, but the undercurrent of her mouth is dangerous, threatening; Blake swears she sees her eyes flash red, but she blinks and it’s gone. “Trust me.”

Yang’s somehow more attractive when she’s simmering sinisterly inside of herself, the truth of her power waiting to be unleashed, and, well, now Blake’s probably in love with her or something.

“You say that like it’s nothing,” Blake says, grimacing, “but not everybody agrees with you.”

Yang hums pensively, tongue poking against the inside of her cheek; she says, “Well, if you’re nervous, why don’t you try it now?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like, take off your hat, and we can just relax for awhile,” Yang says. “Right here by the river. It’s not crowded, but people still take the bike trail. You can see if you feel comfortable enough for it later.”

It’s a sweet offer, thoughtful without being forceful or rude; it’s her way of saying trust me, but be at peace. Blake observes the landscape around them, and Yang’s right - it’s not that busy of a trail, but not out of sight, either. They’re low enough on the riverbank that they wouldn’t be approached naturally, but definitely seen. Yang is crafting a crown of daisies idly, their stems splitting and linking together, like it’s a passive habit.

“Okay,” Blake says, and grabs the brim of her hat, slipping it off her head. Her ears automatically flinch in the wind and then adjust, easing. Yang glances up, smiles, and lifts the braid of daisies, gently setting the crown atop her head. The action doesn’t cause her to ignite, but smolder, waiting for a spark, a flint, a flare.

“Is Tuesday okay with you?” Yang asks. “I don’t really get weekends, and I think I’m gonna be busy. Ruby’s dealing with a lot of turmoil in Haven, and some shit is always happening with Weiss’s father. He’s like, such an asshole.”

Blake smiles, stretches back out against the grass, wonders if Yang talks to anyone else with this same sort of simplicity. “Yeah,” she says. “Tuesday’s fine.”

Yang stays upright, turns to face her, cross-legged; she props her elbow against the inside of her knee, her jaw resting against her knuckles. The wind ghosts across her cheek, her lips, a deliberate caress.

“Don’t worry,” Yang says softly. “I won’t let anything happen to you.”

It sounds deeper than it should, breathes like a promise rather than an afternoon; your heart, Blake wants to say, I can keep that safe in return. She lets the sky lull her into tranquility, the lilac of Yang’s eyes washing over her in waves, cool earth below her an embrace instead of a grave.

Give me your heart, she wants to say, but somehow she feels as if she already has it.

--

Yang texts her intermittently throughout the weekend, random spurts and odd hours of the day, sometimes to the point that Blake wonders if she somehow needs less sleep than normal people; it’s a vague concern, but visible - if she’s facing as many threats as it seems like she is, she needs to be awake for them, doesn’t she?

no lol, she answers. i mean yea i need the same amount of sleep, sometimes i just get it at weird times

Well I don’t want to distract you

babe u do that literally just by existing

Blake actually throws her scroll to the other end of the couch, blood scorching her skin like she’s been set aflame; the suddenness of the action actually causes Sun to jump, panicked. “God,” he says, looking over at her in alarm. “What’s the matter with you?”

“She’s just, like,” Blake manages, collecting herself, “so...straightforward.

Sun pauses for a moment, deciphering, and then--”Oh.” He starts to laugh. “Are you texting her?”

“Yeah.”

“Lemme see.” He reaches for her scroll with his tail; she nods, allowing him on. He reads the message, laughter growing. “Damn,” he says. “You’re not kidding. She, like, totally doesn’t care.”

“It’s been like five days,” Blake says.

“So why are you going along with it?” he asks, tossing the device back to her. “If it’s freaking you out, just tell her.”

“That’s the thing,” Blake says, on the verge of frustration. “It isn’t. At all. It’s like - like I’ve known her forever. That’s what freaks me out.”

Sun shrugs, focusing back on the television; some martial arts match is on she’s not really paying attention to. “Maybe you have,” he says, only half-teasing. “Maybe you’re like, soulmates or whatever.”

“That’s ridiculous.”

“That’s what you said about magic,” he sing-songs.

“Oh, come on,” she dismisses. “Something’s gotta give.”

--

It’s always colder in Atlas, but that night is particularly frostbitten, the windchill bitter and burning. Yang only sighs, flares up the air around her, steam evaporating from her skin. It isn’t all Weiss’s doing - they don’t actually control the weather, only intervening when absolutely necessary - but it’s definitely influenced by her, a shiver, a whimper.

She unlocks Weiss’s door and steps inside, takes her shoes off and sets them by the front mat. Her house is small - I’ve always hated that fucking estate, Yang remembers her saying upon moving out - but in a quaint way, tastefully decorated and somehow warm despite her connotation. Yang shakes her hair out of her coat, checks her scroll, types out a quick message to Blake as she pads down the hall, littered with pictures of her and her sister and Ruby, and even a few of Yang and Pyrrha. She’s more sentimental than she lets on.

“Hey,” Yang says, when she finds Weiss sitting at her kitchen table on her scroll, the screen blown up in front of her, half-filled wine glass to her left. Weiss glances over, corner of her mouth twitching. Yang holds up her hands, already sensing the question. “Ruby’s busy, so you’re stuck with me again. Sorry, princess.”

Weiss rolls her eyes, but gestures for Yang to take a seat. “It’s fine,” she says reluctantly. “Winter prefers you to Ruby, anyway, so I suppose it’s for the best.”

“That’s flattering, but she’s not my type.”

“Ugh.” Weiss curls her lip disgustedly. “You know that isn’t what I meant.”

“Sure,” Yang says, leaning back in her chair, “but it was funny.”

“She’ll be here in about ten,” Weiss says, closes her scroll, the screen fading away. She finally stares over at Yang directly, studying her. “How are you?”

“Fine.” Yang shrugs; her life sometimes seems tame compared to Ruby’s and Weiss’s. Pyrrha’s more along her lines; Vacuo’s pretty relaxed these days. “I can’t complain. I’m going on a date tomorrow.”

Weiss falters the barest amount as she stands up, alerting Yang to her uneasiness; Weiss has never been one to hold a poker face. “With Blake?” she asks, trying to sound casual. “Also, would you like a drink?”

“Yes and yes,” Yang says as she opens the refrigerator. “Scotch, on the rocks.”

Weiss tosses her a beer. “Hopefully this will do, considering you’re the only reason it’s in my house at all,” she says. “Though if you’re serious about a nicer alcohol, I do have a good bottle of wine open--”

Yang grins; she’s almost too predictable. “No, thanks.”

Weiss sits back down, draws her own glass towards her, arms crossed against the tabletop. She’s giving Yang a look, scrutinizing, examining, probing. Finally, Yang says impatiently, “Spit it out.”

Given permission, she’s still more hesitant than Yang’s used to. She says carefully, “Are you sure you know what you’re doing?”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“With Blake.” Weiss allows a moment for comprehension. “Are you - is this really something you’re ready to handle?”

“She’s a girl, Weiss, not a monster.” Yang can’t exactly see where she’s coming from, like going on a single date is somehow going to send Yang spiraling over the edge, descending into chaos. “Last time I checked, you were dating a girl, too.”

“That’s different.”

“How?”

Weiss bites the inside of her lip briefly. “You can’t tell her anything, Yang,” she says quietly, actually regretful. “I’m not trying to be a bitch. I’m just...worried about you.”

Oh. Oh. “Why?” she asks, playing avoidance.

“Because it seems like you like her,” Weiss says delicately. “Perhaps more than you should, considering she isn’t...”

Yang shifts uncomfortably, planting her feet against the floor. “I’m fine.”

“Yang--”

“I said, I’m fine,” Yang snaps, turning on her, irises searing red. “I know I’m not allowed to tell her anything. Mind your own fucking business for once, Weiss.”

Yang can see her fighting the instinct to snap back, holding her tongue, biting down on words between her teeth. Her jaw tightens, lips tilting down; her eyes flash in anger. They both wait in heavy silence, unrelenting, furious, wanting the other to back down first. Yang hopes it doesn’t come to blows, but, well, that’s the only stress relief they manage, sometimes--

--but Weiss softens, tension dropping from her shoulders, fingers relaxing from fists. She says, “You’re right,” and sighs, reaching for her glass.

Yang only blinks, red fading. “What?”

“You’re right,” Weiss repeats. “It’s none of my business.”

Yang’s quiet for a second; her scroll vibrates in her pocket. “I’m sorry,” she murmurs, meeting Weiss halfway. “I know you’re just...trying to look out for me. But I promise it’s okay. Okay?”

It’s clear Weiss doesn’t really believe her, and she doesn’t have a reason to; there’s a knowledge she possesses Yang doesn’t have, age-old and ancient, a soul complete. But she says, “Okay,” and smiles.

“Anyway,” Yang says, taking a long sip of her beer, “what are we expecting from Winter?”

“Just an update,” Weiss says. “We were right - they are experimenting with aura, in a highly dangerous and frankly barbaric manner - and Winter finally accessed clearance for the details.”

“They still think she’s loyal to them?”

“They’d better, after all the public performances we put on to fuel that perception,” Weiss answers, irritated. “Ironwood’s inner circle does nothing but test my patience. I need her to remain where she is so that I don’t have to get involved until they’re too deep in to hide it any longer.”

“Atlas is so...dramatic,” Yang says, pulling a face. “Ironwood, your father--”

“Please, do not get me started.” Weiss raises a hand to her temple. “His company is an entirely different nightmare. I’ve thought about killing him more than once.”

“I’d support you.”

“You’d be the only one,” Weiss says, her head falling back. “Whatever. He’s under control for the time being. It’s Ironwood’s little science project I’m worried about.”

“Are the implications of his research that bad?” Yang asks, toying with the tab idly.

“Worse, I believe.” She taps her fingers against the wood. “Perhaps I’ll kill someone on his team to make a point,” she says thoughtfully. “It’ll set an example.”

Yang laughs, shaking her head. “Wishful thinking,” she says. “Unless you can ‘make a point’ of some soulless asshole.”

“Oh, it’s the military,” Weiss says, waving a hand dismissively. “They’re hardly clean. In a time of peace, the only reason for joining is power over people. It’s not like they help fight the Grimm.”

“What a lovely way to greet your sister, Weiss,” a cool voice drawls from the doorway, and whatever lingers from the previous conversation is gone.

--

The tap at her window comes not as a surprise, but an expectation. There’s no reason behind it, no preemptive knowledge other than a feeling; she’d been off for a few hours, anxious and on-edge, her heart flinging itself against her chest hard enough to bruise. Like it’s telling her there’s somewhere else it needs to be.

She pulls back her curtains, and Yang is standing outside the glass, expression sheepish. She lifts the window, leans out, her pulse already calming.

“Hey,” she says, instantly at ease. “What are you doing here? Are you okay?”

“Hey,” Yang says softly. She glances to the ground and up, like she’s afraid of meeting Blake’s eyes for too long, afraid of what Blake might find in them. “Sorry. I know we’re not - going out until tomorrow, but I just - I’ve had a really long day.”

I’ve had a really long day, she says. I’m so exhausted and you’re so beautiful. I look at you and I want to live forever. She knows the words sit underneath her tongue, lonely, lovely, buried.

Blake says, “It’s okay,” and reaches out, lightly brushes Yang’s bangs away from her forehead, and dips slightly down, over her cheekbone. Yang sinks into the touch; she lifts her arm, gently takes Blake’s hand in hers and presses it against her cheek, comforting. Her skin is warm beneath Blake’s palm, blood pooling in a blush. “Do you want to come in?”

“No,” she says, sounding like she wants to say the opposite, reluctant and regretful. “I mean, I do, but I - I’m tired. And I’m afraid I’d do something stupid.”

“Like what?”

She almost smiles, manages half an eyeroll; her fingers link between Blake’s, both their hands falling to the windowsill. “Blake,” she says quietly, “I think you know.”

Blake does, doesn’t need it said out loud. Her gaze falls to Yang’s mouth and back. “Yeah.”

“I’m okay,” Yang says, lips tilting up at the corners. “I just wanted to see you for a moment. I should go.”

“If you’re sure,” Blake says, observing her plainly. She isn’t getting the sense that anything is really wrong; Yang’s tired but at peace, content for now. The air is cool and night settles comfortably outside, everything as it should be.

“Yeah.” Yang steps back, away from the window. “Thanks.”

“I wanted to see you too,” Blake says before Yang can turn to leave. She utters it like a confession, something she should’ve kept hidden and couldn’t.

Yang raises her eyebrows, studies her; finally, she asks, “Why?”

“I don’t know,” Blake says, awkward and nervous at the admission. “I’ve just been feeling - anxious. But I knew I’d feel better if I saw you, somehow.”

Yang smiles, but it’s gentler, sweeter, on the edge of breaking. “Do you feel better?”

Blake thinks of reaching out again, thinks of dragging Yang back to her and falling against her mouth, thinks of her lips whispering the world into her heart. Her blood is quiet and her bones are content where they are. “Yeah,” Blake says softly. “I feel better.”

“Good.” Yang offers her a cute, clumsy sort of wave. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

I love you, Blake imagines writing to the sky, wondering if she’d see it, if she’d know. I love you like it’s always been there. Maybe it has.

--

In the morning, she assumes she must have been overwhelmingly tired to think such things, or drugged, or maybe she’d dreamt the entire encounter, anyway. She lies in bed, fingers curling around her pillow, staring at the ceiling. Love is a word that shouldn’t even have been forming in her mind, and there it’d been, waiting, unearthed. She shakes herself out of it, chalks it up to temporary insanity, and gets on with her day.

She and Neptune run errands while Sun teaches at the studio, and their morning is mostly uneventful; he tells her about the plot of the book he’s writing, his plans for a series, and she listens intently, captivated; it’s not totally up her alley - she’d rather read about, you know, girls rather than boys - but it’s interesting nonetheless. Internally, she hopes Neptune can actually write.

“Here,” he says, guiding her around the back of the bookstore with the help wanted sign and into a park, “this is a shortcut to the market district - we can avoid the lights over on Viridian.”

She makes it three paces down the dirt path when Neptune says, “Uh...”

She stops, turns around to find him stalled, staring; she glances down, knowing what she’ll find before she sees it for herself--

It’s the similar combination she’s used to seeing, petals of purple and pink and yellow sprouting up around her shoes, growing from her previous steps. She sighs. “It’s just Yang,” she tells him, though she’s internally more perplexed than the sight has made her previously.

Neptune glances around hesitantly. “Is she...here?”

“No,” Blake says, confident in the answer; it’s what’s fueling her confusion. She knows Yang isn’t near, can’t sense her at all, can’t feel her. “She’s not.”

“So why’s it happening?” he asks curiously, bending down to watch them grow.

“I don’t know,” she says, and continues walking. “But maybe we’d better stick to the roads on our way back.”

He laughs, following her. “Fair enough. Don’t wanna go arousing suspicion, now, do we?” He raises his hands, framing a headline. “‘Girlfriend of the Spring Maiden, Found at Last.’ You’ll be famous.”

“I’m not her girlfriend,” Blake points out.

Yet.

She bites down on her tongue, knowing any denial is definitely a lie; she isn’t one to jump to action, dive headfirst into spontaneity, but with Yang, it’s like it’s an inevitability rather than a choice. She’s struggling more with the existence of that fact rather than the fact itself, with predetermination, fate. It all seems so far-fetched, and yet--

“Do you believe in fate?” she asks him candidly.

“Yeah,” Neptune says, unfazed. “Remember those few semesters I was a philosophy major? I think destiny made up, like, sixty percent of all discussions. And I mean, I don’t believe in it for everything - as in, I don’t think every single thing we do is determined by fate somehow - but I like to think it exists.”

“Hm.” Blake considers the response. “How so?”

“Like, for people,” he continues. “I think it’d be nice if there were people we always found our way back to.” He gazes aimlessly out at the path in front of them, the bridge over the canal, the rushing water, the array of homes and shops and cafes littering the other side. She wonders if he’s thinking about Sun, wonders if what they have feels anything like what she does. “It’s comforting, I guess.”

“No, I know what you mean,” she says.

“What about you?”

She glances back to the flowers trailing her steps, following like her own shadow, and says, “I didn’t used to.”

Their feet hit the stone of the bridge and nothing grows. Neptune runs his fingers along the short wall idly, also lost in thought; people pass by in front of them, unconcerned, carefree, simple. He hums in his throat, and finally says, “Some things are just a little beyond explanation, aren’t they?”

“Yeah,” she says, more to herself than him. “I guess they are.”

--

Yang actually comes to pick her up at seven, knocking on the front door; she’s hurriedly searching for her wallet and calls, “Be right there,” hoping Neptune and Sun can play it cool for twenty seconds. She hears the door open, and then silence.

“Oh, wow,” comes Neptune’s voice. “Yeah, she’s doomed.”

Wow is right,” Sun says in response. “Damn, Yang.”

Yang’s laugh echoes out. “I’m barely dressed up,” Blake hears, just as she steps out of her room, running a hand through her hair.

She can only see the boys’ backs, blocking the doorway. Neptune cocks his head and says, “You don’t have to be. It’s just, like, a vibe.

“Trust him,” Sun says. “He worked in fashion for awhile.”

“That’s enough,” she says, moving between them, and her stare finally locks on Yang--

She falls silent, the world somehow narrowing in an instant, any reprimands dying on her tongue; it’s not like her mind goes blank, but as if it fills too quickly, expanding at the edges, everything that isn’t Yang becoming blurry and hazy and unimportant.

She looks good; she looks so good that Blake vaguely imagines dragging her inside, into her room, into her bed. She’s wearing tight black jeans and sneakers, a black shirt, and a varsity jacket with white stripes and buttons. Casual, she’d told Blake, who’s dressed in a white button-up with an olive green sweater over it, patterned with the imprint of a skull, ripped denim jeans disappearing into her heeled black boots.

“Oh, yeah,” Neptune says, smirking as Sun glances between the two of them. “You couldn’t be more Blake’s type if she’d dreamt you up herself.”

“Okay, shut up,” Blake breathes out, pushing by them towards Yang. “We’re leaving.”

Yang seems dazed as Blake takes her by the arm, leading her away; she manages a wave thrown back, and then she says, “Hello to you too.”

Blake furtively glances over her shoulder, making sure the door’s closed and they aren’t staring out the windows; she doesn’t see the signs, and so she stops at the street, relaxing slightly. She turns to Yang, smiling.

“Hello,” she says.

“Hi,” Yang says, enthralled. Blake’s hand slips from her elbow and down, brushing by her fingers before falling. “You look - you look--”

“You can do this,” Blake says seriously. “It’s just a compliment.”

Yang laughs once, eyes dropping to the rest of her body; her mouth fades into something more dangerous, held back and covered. “I can,” she murmurs, “but I probably shouldn’t.”

Blake shivers automatically, sensing the same desire she’d felt, the same longing and want, uninhibited. “Yeah,” she says, masking the burn in her throat. “So, um - we’d probably go.”

Yang only hums, refusing to say exactly what they’re both thinking; go before I drag you back inside, go before you take me home. Blake coughs, trying to ignore the warmth in her fingers, her pulse in her wrist. She takes one last look back at the house, and the yard, her footprints--

“Is this really necessary, by the way?” she asks suddenly, gesturing to her feet, the path she’s followed littered with tiny flowers. “It’s been happening all day. The moment I step in grass, or dirt, or whatever--”

“Wait,” Yang interrupts, blinking perplexedly at her. “What do you mean, ‘all day’?”

Blake mirrors her expression, equally confused. “I mean all day,” she repeats. “I thought you were fucking with me.”

Yang stares, gaze darting around behind her, the small violets, daisies, dandelions. “Oh my God,” Yang says, and raises her hands to her face, covering her eyes, her cheeks. She seems to be struggling to collect herself, embarrassed or ashamed; Blake can’t quite place the emotion. She mumbles something Blake doesn’t understand.

“What?” Blake asks, still befuddled by the reaction.

“I said,” Yang admits, dropping her arms, and Blake’s surprised to find that she’s actually blushing furiously, her eyes averted down, “that I’m not doing it on purpose.”

“Wait,” Blake says comically. “What?

Yang exhales loudly, turning slightly away from her, trying to hide her face. “I guess I’m just, like, thinking about you too much, or something. I don’t know,” she says, tone obviously mortified. “This has never happened to me before.”

“But the first few times--” Blake starts.

“That was supposed to be a joke!” she groans. “But - I don’t know!” She raises and drops her arms dramatically, turning back to face her. “I guess it stuck, somehow. I’ve been thinking about you all day. I didn’t know you’d actually be able to tell. Oh my God. I’m gonna die.”

The concept of that in itself - that some aspect of Yang’s power is so tied to Blake that she enacts it passively just by the simple act of Blake crossing her mind - is so unbelievably sweet and endearing that for a moment the only appropriate reaction should be to kiss her; she pushes the urge away, reaches out for Yang’s hand instead, laughing at the outburst.

“I can tell you’re embarrassed enough,” she says nicely. “I’m not going to make fun of you.”

Yang sighs again, her blush fading slightly, fingers curling back around Blake’s. “Is it at least, like, cute instead of weird?” she asks, eased.

Blake smiles, unable to ignore her earnestness.

“Yeah,” she allows softly. “It’s cute.”

--

You don’t understand, Yang thinks of telling her, not letting go of her hand. I swear I made this world for you.

--

Yang takes her to a ramen house on Main Street; she’s passed it a few times, but never gone inside. It’s cool, casual, dim; the atmosphere is vibrant and buzzing, and there’s a full bar situated against the back wall, people gathered around, chatting and drinking. The lights above are a type of hanging lantern, their bulbs flickering like flames, tables made of dark polished wood. Yang steps up to the hostess, who blinks oddly at her, smile faltering just slightly.

“Name?” she asks, tone strangely vacant.

“Blake,” Yang says smoothly, hands in her pockets. “Belladonna.”

The hostess looks down at the screen, still blinking like she’s trying to wake herself from a dream. “Oh, yes,” she says. “For two?”

“Yep.”

“Right this way,” she says, her smile set in place, glued and frozen. It’s a little unnerving - or it would be, if Yang hadn’t prepared her for it beforehand - to see people glance at them and then immediately away, faces going slack, blank for the briefest of moments. Disoriented, disarmed.

The hostess seats them upstairs by a window, walks away, and almost trips on a step, shaking her head. She doesn’t look back.

It’s much the same with their waiter, who strolls over to their table with a wide grin that doesn’t fade, but alters, like he isn’t quite sure what he’s staring at, who he’s talking to.

“Can I start you off with some drinks?” he asks as if reading from a script.

“Something fruity with tequila,” Yang requests charmingly. “Surprise me.” He nods, looks over at Blake, who says, “Margarita is fine, thanks.” He doesn’t card them, which Blake had slightly expected.

He heads off to the bar, and he has much of the same pattern as their hostess; he pauses, cracks his neck, continues on like nothing has happened. It’s a little creepy, Yang had said, but at least it allows us to live our lives normally.

“Well, that’s one question answered,” Blake says. Yang raises an eyebrow, hums curiously. Blake continues, “You’re of legal drinking age.”

“Oh.” Yang laughs, arms crossed against the table, one leg stretched out. “Yeah. I’m, uh, definitely legal.”

How legal, exactly?” Blake asks, leaning forward. “This is a make or break answer. If you’re like, a thousand years old or something, this goes from cute to creepy.”

Yang rolls her eyes, but her grin sits, amused. “I’m twenty-three,” she says. “Do I pass?”

“I’m older than you?” Somehow the information shocks Blake more. Yang doesn’t seem twenty-three; she seems heavy, like years sit on her soul that shouldn’t.

“How old are you?” Yang asks. “If you’re past twenty-seven, I’m leaving right now.”

“I just turned twenty-four.”

“Oh, that’s a relief,” she says, faking seriousness. “This could’ve turned out to be a disaster.” She pauses, like she’s just comprehended Blake’s response. “Wait, did I miss it?”

“No,” Blake says, finding her concern overwhelmingly adorable. “It was right before I got here. When’s yours?”

“In the summer.”

“We’ll have to celebrate,” she says without thinking, without remembering that her plan only lasts through spring. Like it’s become a given that she’ll be wherever Yang is.

Yang lifts her hand to her mouth, elbow resting on the table, covering her smile; she’s embarrassed by the comment, Blake realizes. “I’d like that,” Yang says, eyes averted down. “I don’t usually...celebrate my birthday.”

Their waiter returns, their drinks set in front of them; yours is blackberry and lime, he tells Yang, but if you aren’t a fan we’ll come up with something else; she takes a sip and waves him on, satisfied. He pulls out his notepad, takes their orders, and walks away again, not as unbalanced as the first time.

“Thanks for starting me off easy,” Yang says, her eyes bright and teasing. “Go ahead and get to the deep shit, though. What do you wanna know?”

“What do you all do?” is the first thing out of her mouth, curiosity overwhelming. She understands that they protect the kingdoms, but not to what extent, not how. “Like, I get that you keep us safe, but Weiss is basically a celebrity in Atlas, and Ruby’s like, a leader for the people - but what do you actually do?

Yang dips an eyebrow, deciphering her question. “Do you mean, like, day-to-day, or…?”

“Both, actually,” Blake says, somewhat surprised she doesn’t already know the answer to Yang’s daily life.

“So, I don’t know how much you know about the history of it,” Yang starts, twirling her straw in her glass, “and frankly, we can’t remember it, so we don’t really know, either. All we’re sure of is that the First War was made up of two sides - creation and destruction - and that somehow, we became the combination of both. Magic used to be much more common than it is now,” she adds. “Honestly, even the seasons as our names is sort of misleading - it’s just something that stuck over the years. We aren’t really based off of seasons. People love their poetry.”

“Sure.”

“Anyway, it’s not as if ‘evil’”--she places air-quotes around the word--“is gone, or anything. Energy like that can’t disappear entirely. It’s trapped away. Kind of like in another world. But when we let corruption grow - think like, when you first met me in the forest - it becomes a portal for that evil to fight its way back. And that’s what we’re trying to do. Keep it on the other side, otherwise it could take over. And the moods and motivations of the people either help or hurt that ambition.”

“Okay,” Blake says, enraptured. She feels like she should be writing this down for her own personal reference, but simultaneously, strangely, knows it’s something she isn’t going to forget, like the wick of a candle, relit. “That makes sense.”

Yang nods. “Right. But, anyway, daily shit is boring for me. Until you got here, at least.”

“I know I’m hot,” Blake teases her, “but please focus.”

Yang flushes, but grins, takes another long sip. Her tongue darts out, licks salt off her bottom lip, and Blake struggles to keep her sigh in her throat. Yang says, “We all have a guard. So, if there’s something that needs my attention that I don’t sense first - say, there’s a huge infestation somewhere and it’s attracting bigger Grimm, causing panic - I’ll go take care of that. If there’s a problem in one of the cities, like what Ruby’s facing right now with Haven and the class uprising, I may or may not intervene depending on the politics of it, and the effect it’s having on the Grimm population. Like, if someone in power is literally just killing their citizens, we’ll step in. So, it’s magnitude-based.”

Blake grimaces. “Ugh,” she says. “I hated working in politics.”

“So do I,” Yang agrees. “Ruby and Weiss have to deal with it way more than Pyrrha and I, though. What’d you do?”

“I was a political advisor in Menagerie,” Blake says, “to an asshole. Who also happens to be my ex-boyfriend.”

Both of Yang’s eyebrows shoot up, chin raising off of her palm. “Ex-boyfriend, huh?”

“Yep,” Blake says, pained. “It’s - definitely a regret of mine.”

Yang examines her for a second, tongue poking against the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. “Should I kill him?” she asks, and Blake chokes on her drink, not expecting it. She seems sincere, too, and for the barest fraction of time, Blake thinks of saying yes.

“He’s not worth it,” she says, sighing. “Though if he ever sets foot in Vale, be my guest.”

Yang’s eyes glitter red underneath the glow of the lights. “Name?”

“Adam Taurus,” Blake tells her, leaning forward on her chair, drawn to the threat of her smile.

Yang says cooly, “I’ll remember that.”

The subtle transformation of sweet to menacing is enough; Blake murmurs, “God, please stop,” and Yang crooks an eyebrow again. “That’s so - attractive.”

Yang breaks the moment, danger dying from her face, and the spell over Blake diminishes. She knows it’s not actually magic, knows herself well enough to understand exactly what about Yang is turning her on, has her on edge. Yang says pointedly, “Anyway,” but is interrupted again by their server, setting their bowls in front of them and smiling, not speaking a word.

“Thanks,” Blake says nicely, to no response. He turns and leaves as if in a trance.

“Anyway, that’s me,” Yang concludes. “Weiss mostly spends her time trying to control her dick of a father and Ironwood’s military programs. Ruby’s playing peacekeeper in Haven. And Pyrrha’s kind of along my lines - she has a boyfriend, so her time’s pretty occupied, and not much is happening in Vacuo these days, regardless.”

She picks up her chopsticks, stirring her chicken into the broth. Blake gives her a minute to eat between questions, as she’d already started while Yang was talking, absorbed.

“Aren’t you ever worried about people targeting you for your power?” Blake asks, genuinely curious. The Maidens’ existence isn’t a secret, but they still seem to keep to themselves barring special occasions; Blake’s not sure if it’s for their own safety or because they enjoy their solitude.

Yang only grins, shrugs her shoulders. “Not really,” she says dismissively. “It doesn’t exactly do anyone any good to get rid of us. Not like they actually can, anyway.”

“What,” Blake says, eyebrows raising high, “like you’re immortal?

“In a sense,” Yang says, considering her words. “Our powers are tied to our souls. It’s always been that way. When we die, we’re not gone for long; we’re just reincarnated.”

“Reincarnated?” Blake repeats, intrigued; she’d noticed Yang’s use of ‘we’ but hadn’t taken it down that road. “So, you’re you, but in a different body?”

“Kind of,” Yang says, pursing her lips. “Yeah, actually, I guess. There are never any big changes to our personalities or anything.”

“So do you remember it?” Blake says. “Being other people?”

Yang can’t seem to resist her earnestness; she crinkles her nose at Blake’s innocent, sincere lines of questioning, brushing her fingers lightly over Blake’s cheek with her free hand. “You’re cute,” she says, smiling. “And only one. We only retain bits and pieces of our most recent lives.”

“Huh,” Blake says, resting her chin in her palm, gazing at Yang in a form of awe. “That’s fascinating.” She pauses, a thought striking her. “But you, Weiss, and Pyrrha are all the same age, right?” she asks, and Yang’s expression darkens. “Ruby’s two years younger. But the three of you…”

“Astute,” Yang says, straightening her shoulders. “Yeah, there was...an incident, I guess. Makes sense they wouldn’t teach it in Menagerie.”

“What happened?” Blake asks, but she almost doesn’t want to know. She shivers automatically against the knowledge she doesn’t yet have. “If you don’t mind talking about it, that is,” she tacks on out of respect.

Yang takes her hand across the table, links their fingers like it’s a source of strength for her; Blake’s noticed that Yang’s an interesting cross of overly casual and intermittently awkward in her tactileness, a combination stemming from a lack of intimacy but a familiarity with it, like she’s done this before, done this with Blake. She starts, “We were much older, weaker. We usually live a little longer than the average, anyway, if we’re left alone. A woman thought she’d found a way to channel our powers - some kind of dark magic from the First War, a remnant of it, an echo. These things went how they always go - she wound up with a group of followers, people who wanted to disrupt the balance, take power for themselves. Darkness will always have an audience,” Yang adds grimly. “And she was able to strip us of our powers - as she killed us. She struck Pyrrha first, and then Weiss, and then myself.”

Blake breathes out, “And then?” and Yang actually laughs at her enthrallment, like she’s hanging on the edge of Yang’s every word, fingers dragging them out of her mouth. Blake flushes. “I know it was probably traumatic,” she defends, “but you’re here, in front of me, and apparently all Weiss does now is argue with her asshole of a father, and Pyrrha’s dating some boy, so I’m pretty sure it worked out alright in the end.”

Yang gazes adoringly at her, lips curled into a smile. She runs her thumb over the back of Blake’s. “It did, though it was a little more gruesome than anyone expected,” Yang says, continuing. “The powers are bound to us - so our bodies are built to adapt to them, our souls are already...wired, I guess, to contain that kind of power. And this woman tried to take all of it, from all of us.” Yang pauses, apparently trying to think of a less sickening way to phrase the conclusion. “Ruby’s the one who destroyed her, but she didn’t have to do much - the power was...eating her from the inside out. It didn’t belong there, and she couldn’t handle it. There was barely even a body left. Like it had turned her into acid, and fire, and poison. Ruby says she looked more like a Grimm than a person when she finally killed her. She says the woman didn’t have bones or skin, like she was made of ash and tar.”

Blake just sits, staring at her blankly, processing. Yang lifts her hand, fingers pressing underneath Blake’s chin and pushing her jaw back up, grinning.

“That’s insane,” Blake whispers, eyes still wide. “Oh my God.

“Apparently I’m a good storyteller,” Yang says, entertained by her reaction. She raises her glass back to her lips. “Maybe that can be my night gig.”

“So nobody else can actually wield your powers, even if they were to obtain them somehow,” Blake concludes. “Is that right?”

“Yep.”

“And there’s dark magic?”

“Not as much now, aside from the actual Grimm,” Yang explains, largely unconcerned. “It’s all just bits and pieces leftover from the First War, so it takes longer to harvest. And any enemies we have - who can harness that kind of power - don’t come back the same way we do, because it dilutes your soul. Can’t reincarnate something that doesn’t exist anymore.”

“But the four of you are still bound to this infinitely,” Blake says.

“We keep peace,” Yang says. “That’s our true purpose. We can’t leave humanity entirely to their own devices because they’ll do stupid shit and and blow themselves up or whatever, like Weiss’s dumbass father. That’s why the uprisings tend to take place when we’re in-between forms. And that’ll bring the Grimm, and things even worse than that, and we’ll have another war on our hands.”

“Well, thanks for your service,” Blake tells her seriously. “I don’t know where we’d be without you here, growing me flowers and taking me out to dinner.”

Yang laughs, her shoe knocking against one of Blake’s. She snatches her hand back dramatically and says, “Okay, shut up.”

Blake scoops noodles into her mouth unattractively, holding back a giggle, lips in a grin. Yang mirrors her, slurps one up jokingly.

“Any other questions?” she asks, and finishes the last of her cocktail.

“Only one,” Blake says. “Why didn’t you kill those men? The ones who attacked you.”

Yang’s eyebrows raise, the question not at all what she’d been expecting; she sets her glass down, looks at Blake as if she’s impressed by her, intrigued. She finally says, “I’m not technically...allowed,” and pauses, thinking. “We can’t really...get involved in human affairs like that, unless the people involved are totally soulless. We aren’t vigilantes. We can’t entirely stop people from hurting each other, killing each other, whatever - but we can stop it on the grander scale. Like I said before, it’s mostly a magnitude thing.”

“I get it,” Blake says, and adds coyly, “but if you ran into them again...?”

Yang smirks, her eyes flashing red for the barest of moments; Blake shivers, not out of fear but of want. “Oh,” Yang says dangerously, “I’d kill them.”

“I know this probably shouldn’t be so hot,” Blake breathes out, enticed, “but after working in politics, God, do I like to see people get what’s coming to them.”

--

They stay out for another hour after finishing dinner, opting to walk along the canals rather than endure any further interactions with regular patrons in the restaurant; though, she’d noted with satisfaction, nobody had looked twice at her ears all night.

Blake interlaces their fingers and Yang lifts her free hand to her mouth again, covering her smile, abashed and flustered. They talk and laugh and Blake tells her about her childhood, her life, her family. She finds it strange, the concept of having to explain any of it at all to Yang, like she should already know, like she should’ve been there.

Well, I wish I could’ve been, Yang says, her eyes dropping to Blake’s mouth and away.

Blake pulls her to a halt, tugging on her arm to bring her closer. It’s killing her, feeling the warmth of her body and listening to her voice and touching her skin, and not having any of those things belong to her. Yang steps into her space, her expression open, unguarded, almost disbelieving. Blake brings her hands to Yang’s waist instead, drawing in; Yang’s palms cup her cheeks, and then--

“I want to,” she whispers, her forehead pressing against Blake’s. “I’d do almost anything.”

“So why don’t you?” Blake asks, enticed by Yang’s breath, hot against her lips. The distance is nothing, a tilt of the head, an arch of the neck--

“I think...you have a lot to process,” Yang says slowly, trending the fine line between rejection and delay. “And I think I should give you time to, before I…”

She skims her bottom lip nervously with her teeth, unsure of how to continue, of how to end; before I kiss you, before I touch you, before I love you. She flutters her eyelashes as if she’s attempting to hold back the barest break of tears, and Blake understands; she’s afraid and it’s an emotion she’s unused to, like she’s in conflict with herself for even feeling it at all. She’s afraid Blake will walk away and see her for what she is and find herself repulsed, horrified.

Blake slips her fingers between Yang’s. She pulls back and says, “Okay,” and Yang releases a breath. “I’ll take some time.”

“I want you to be sure,” Yang murmurs. “I want you to know.

But she says know like there’s a story behind it, a secret Blake’s already in on and hasn’t put together. She says know like she’s waiting for Blake to catch up, and the fear stems from wondering if she ever will.

Know what, Blake wants to ask, but she thinks maybe that’s not a question she’s ready to have answered just yet.

--

Yang walks her home, watches her head inside, flowers following her to the porch. Blake doesn’t make a joke, doesn’t roll her eyes; she stands on the step and looks down at a single red rose, voluminous, vibrant in its color, overpowering in its scent. Love me, it says. Please, love me. Blake reaches for it, picks it, lifts it to her nose; she smiles cutely at Yang one last time, and then she is gone.

--

Yang goes to Pyrrha because she can’t take another pitying look from Weiss, and Ruby isn’t exactly known for her advice or empathy. Not that she isn’t sincere; more like she never knows what to say about it.

hey can i come over, she texts, already on her way. Pyrrha’s dependable like that.

Yes of course!

ok be there in a sec

It takes her more of a few minutes; she opens up a doorway in a nearby tree, and she steps through into the sun, blinking against the heat. Pyrrha’s already in the backyard, relaxing in a bikini on a lounge chair by her pool. She waves to Yang, lifting her sunglasses over her eyes.

“Hello,” she greets. “Have a seat. I left you a beer.”

“Thanks,” Yang says, taking off her jacket, bending down to unlace her sneakers.

“You’re the only reason I have it in the house.”

She laughs, stretching back in the other chair. “God, Weiss said the same thing,” Yang tells her, sighing. “I will drink other stuff, you know. Except wine.”

“Sure,” Pyrrha says. “So, to what do I owe the pleasure?”

“Well, it’s like ten in Vale, and my date just ended, so…” she cracks open the beer and raises it in a toast, grinning. “You’re my best option.”

Pyrrha smiles widely, her head rolling to face her. “How’d it go?” she asks. “I won’t tell Weiss that you came to me first, by the way.”

The sun beats down on them, hot and strong despite it being four in the afternoon; there’s nothing like Vacuo’s deserts, drenched in constant sunlight. Yang grimaces, already feeling the sweat on her lower back; she could expend the energy and cool herself down, but she’s had such a nice night of feeling normal that she doesn’t really want to end it. She sits up and says, “Hey, I’m taking my clothes off.”

“I have a boyfriend, Yang.”

“Yeah, and clearly he’s made you funnier,” Yang snarks back, and Pyrrha laughs. She slides her shirt over her head, her jeans following; the most she does is whip up a slight breeze, airing over her as she stretches back, clad only in her black underwear. “Oh, that’s way better.”

“Keep a bikini here,” Pyrrha says. “I’ve told you multiple times.”

Yang waves a hand lazily. “This is easier,” she says loftily.

“No lingerie,” Pyrrha observes. “So you weren’t planning on sex.”

Yang fights against the blood in her cheeks, her neck, her chest. “No,” she says. “I wasn’t. It was our first date.”

“Jaune and I had sex on our first date,” Pyrrha points out.

“You and Jaune have had about a thousand first dates, and I don’t even want to know the amount of times you’ve fucked over the years.”

Anyway,” Pyrrha says, deliberately ignoring the jab, “you’re avoiding the question. How was it?”

Yang opens her eyelids, settling on the bright blue hue of the sky rather than the glare of the sun itself; her scroll vibrates by her thigh, and she reaches over, grabs it. Blake’s name pops across her screen with a message that reads--

We should do this again sometime. I’m not going to change my mind.

Yang grins widely, lifts her other arm, dropping it over her eyes. She doesn’t hide the turn of her lips; Pyrrha waits expectantly.

“Incredible,” Yang says, her mouth as dry as the air they’re under. “Probably the best night of my life. Any life.”

--

Give it a day, Yang had said. Blake understands, but doesn’t need it. She sets an alarm for ten-fifteen the following evening, and spends the majority of her day cleaning; Sun and Neptune are actually pretty neat, as far as boys go, but there are a few random things they miss on - unpacking the dishwasher, actually pressing the start button on the laundry, and remembering to replace the trashbags. Yang flashes through her mind every other step, a fixture, a fire. No, not a fire, she corrects herself. Something that grows.

She does her own room from top to bottom; the windows look as if they’ve never seen a day of rain, and the rose sits in a thin, tall glass vase, blooming brilliantly on the windowsill, along with the lily, the carnation, every other flower Yang’s ever grown and handed to her; the hardwood floor shines underneath her feet. She glances down, catches the brown of it, and for a moment is startled when she doesn’t find flowers sprouting around her.

An idea strikes her suddenly; she pries her door open, rushes by Sun in the kitchen, cleaning out the refrigerator. He glances at her but doesn’t ask, only smiles quietly to himself like he’s following her plan.

She steps out front, furtively looks up and down the street - just on the crazy, off-chance this happens to work, she doesn’t want the neighbors catching her - and deems it clear, stepping off the porch and into the grass. She waits a second, and then--

Today they’re peonies, red chrysanthemums, and something she thinks is freesia; she watches them bud and blossom, her heart unfolding like their petals, and laughs.

--

Yang’s actually at home when she gets the text, an unusual occurrence for her; it’s not that she doesn’t enjoy being alone, but more as if she’d rather be alone with something beautiful. Something that can speak to her, flourish beneath her hands. It’s late, just after ten, but not late enough that she can’t justify going out again if the silence starts to eat at her.

Her scroll keeps vibrating, and she vaguely realizes she’s being called; it’s such a foreign concept to her that it takes her a moment of fumbling to answer, barely even checking the caller I.D. “Hello?”

Hey,” Blake’s voice echoes through the speaker. “It’s been a day. I haven’t changed my mind.

Yang smiles widely, teeth digging into her bottom lip, trying not to scream; her chest feels like it may blow itself open. She says, “Hey,” happiness evident in her tone, and then, “I’m coming over.”

Okay,” Blake says, voice betraying her excitement.

“Okay,” Yang answers, already slipping on her shoes. “I’ll be there in like, two minutes.”

She hangs up, nearly runs outside into the night, and she swears the grass is talking to her, the moon is laughing, every star is lit in an applause.

Blake is leaning out her window when Yang arrives, chin resting in her palm, elbow propped up against the windowsill. She smiles when she catches sight of Yang emerging from the trees, and Yang mirrors her expression, crooking a finger teasingly and beckoning her forward.

“Come with me,” Yang says.

“Where?”

“Does it matter?”

“No,” Blake says, already reaching for a sweater. “It doesn’t matter at all.”

--

“Where are you going?” Sun says accusatorily, keeping his voice somewhat lowered; Neptune is passed out on his chest. “It’s pretty late, Belladonna.”

“Nowhere,” she says, shoving her feet into her boots.

“Going to see your girlfriend?” he teases. She rolls her eyes.

“She’s not my girlfriend,” she says, clearly not having the time for him. “But yes.”

“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.”

Blake actually offers him a smirk at that. “That’s exactly what I’m trying to do,” she answers, and opens the door quietly, slipping out into the night. Neptune stirs as the door shuts, not as gentle as the unlock.

He yawns, adjusting his head slightly. “What’s going on?” he asks sleepily.

“You know, I think letting Blake live here was a smart move,” Sun says, his gaze focused back on the television, airing yet another murder mystery documentary. “We’ve probably got the safest house in the entire world.”

--

Yang takes her hand, leading her back through the woods behind the house, following a similar path to the one she’d followed the night after meeting Yang the first time. They empty into the same clearing, though in about half the time; Blake guesses she must’ve been weaving originally, bobbing through the trees.

Yang steps forward, Blake’s hand slipping from her grasp, and raises her arms, stretching. She exhales contentedly, peaceful, landscape extending serenely in front of them. She turns back, jerks her head to the side, gesturing Blake over.

“Come on,” she says. “You’ll love this. Take a seat.”

“It’s wet,” Blake points out, tasting the dampness of the air.

“I’ll grow you some nice new grass,” Yang says sarcastically, plopping down without a care. “Now take a seat, high maintenance.”

Blake scoffs, lowering herself down beside Yang. “I am not high maintenance,” she says. “I just did laundry; excuse me for caring if I get my ass wet.”

Yang snickers. “I love it when you’re feisty.” She wraps an arm around Blake’s waist, pulls her close until Blake’s back is half-resting against Yang’s chest. Blake sighs before she can stop herself, relaxing into her embrace automatically, head lolling back against Yang’s shoulder.

“Okay,” she says, instantly calm, soothed. “I’m waiting.”

Yang lowers her lips to the shell of Blake’s ear, starts to count. “Five,” she murmurs, Blake shuddering at the warmth of her breath. “Four, three, two…”

Tiny lights suddenly flicker up around them, in front of them, stretching out across the clearing; Blake’s lips part, subtly stunned at the sight, the ephemeral beauty of the shimmering glow popping in and out of existence. She rests her arm over Yang’s around her stomach, fingers splayed against the back of her wrist.

“You don’t have fireflies in Menagerie, do you?” Yang whispers. Blake shakes her head.

“No,” she says, awed. “It’s too warm.”

“Vale and Atlas are best suited for them here,” Yang says quietly. “Atlas’s are around sunset, only in the summer. But Vale’s last from the early spring until fall.”

“It’s beautiful,” Blake breathes out, extending a hand to one glittering a foot from their faces. “Wow.”

“I thought you’d like to see it,” Yang tells her, and as if she can’t help herself, drops a kiss to the side of Blake’s head. Blake’s fingers tighten around her wrist. “Sorry,” she whispers. “I couldn’t - I couldn’t help it.”

“It’s okay,” Blake says, thinks of turning in her arms and kissing her right then, lowering her back against the grass. She doesn’t. The sight in front of her is too precious to look away from, too fleeting to ignore. “I don’t mind.”

They lapse into silence, happy to sit together and watch the world glimmering around them like the stars are dripping from the sky, like floating lanterns without a cover, like each represents a wish.

“Actually, I thought of another question,” Blake says, tilting her head up, admiring the length of Yang’s eyelashes, the bridge of her nose, her jawline.

“Go ahead,” Yang says, only a hint of nervousness underlying her tone. She keeps her eyes trained in front of her, one hand curling against the grass, supporting her, the other still resting on Blake’s stomach.

“Why me?” Blake asks. “People literally worship you. You could have anyone. Why me?”

Yang’s quiet for a moment; she rests her cheek against Blake’s head lightly, pulls her closer. The tall grass sways lightly in a breeze that wasn’t there seconds previously.

“Blake Belladonna,” Yang finally murmurs, and smiles softly. “There’s just something about you.”

Blake doesn’t kiss her, and Yang doesn’t expect her to. It’s somehow perfect anyway.

--

Hey ive finally got some time off, Ruby texts her the next day; she’s sitting on her couch with the television on mute, playing a game on her scroll. Do u have time for ur dearest sister or r u busy with ur new gf

she isnt my gf yet and yes i do have time for u of course <3

“Great,” Ruby announces loudly from outside her living room window, “because I’m here.”

“Fucking shit,” Yang exclaims, jumping, heart pounding with adrenaline. “You know I hate it when you do that.”

“It’s a classic,” Ruby says, looking ridiculous as she solemnly speaks to Yang through the glass. “Let me in.”

“Let yourself in.”

“Okay,” Ruby says, walking around towards the front door. It unlocks a moment later, opening without being touched. “I was trying to be polite. Weiss keeps getting on my case for breaking and entering, or something stupid.”

Yang pats the cushions next to her; Ruby throws herself down, sprawled out. “Whose house are you breaking into?” she asks.

“Weiss’s.”

Yang rolls her eyes. “She’s so dramatic,” she says. “You’re dating her.

“That’s what I said!” Ruby exclaims. “She was just embarrassed because she was like, in the shower one time, and I scared her so badly she blew up one of her pipes.”

Yang stretches her legs across Ruby’s lap, laughing at the visual. “That’s fucking hilarious.”

“It was pretty funny,” Ruby agrees. “We fixed it in like, five minutes, but she was pissed.

“She’s always mad about something,” Yang dismisses, typing out a message to Blake. “Being angry is like, her version of happy.”

“I’m telling her you said that.”

“Be my guest,” she says, tossing her scroll to the side. “Want a drink?”

“Water, please,” Ruby requests as Yang gets up. “I don’t drink beer.”

Yang exhales loudly. “Okay, I don’t know why you’re all so convinced I only drink beer,” she says theatrically. “Like, what’s up with that? Pyrrha said the same thing two nights ago--”

“Don’t you remember buying us all a case?” Ruby asks, pushing herself haphazardly against the pillows. “You had some bad night because of Raven like a few weeks back, and you said you were taking a page out of Qrow’s book and becoming an alcoholic. You were, like, already drunk at this point, by the way.”

Yang pauses with the bottle halfway to her mouth, the memory flooding back to her. “Oh,” she says, water spilling against her counter. “Oh, shit. I fucking forgot about that.”

“How’s dear old mom these days, anyway,” Ruby says, obvious air of sarcasm about her; Yang had never liked her, and Ruby had never liked her for what she did to Yang.

“No idea,” Yang answers cheerfully, evaporating the water, dusting off the marble. “Qrow’s dealing with her now.”

“Nice,” Ruby says, and wiggles her eyebrows suggestively. “And how’s your new girlfriend?

“She’s not my girlfriend yet,” Yang answers, forcing her blood to cool. “But she’s great, thanks.” The sincerity, however, can’t drain itself from her voice.

Ruby smiles at her, genuine, heartfelt. “Yang,” she says, “I just want you to be happy.”

Yang understands the sentiment for what it is; an acceptance in spite of, a lack of willingness to judge. “I’m happy,” Yang tells her honestly, walking back over to the couch. “I promise. I’m really happy.”

Ruby pulls her in for a sideways hug, her chin against the top of Yang’s head. “Good,” she says softly. “Then that’s all that matters.”

--

It’s Saturday when she sees Yang again, though she almost misses the knock at her window over the pounding of the rain on the roof. She pulls back her curtains, lifts it just enough to hear her voice. She’s standing out there as dry and untouched as if the sun is shining down on her rather than the entire ocean falling from the sky.

“Come outside,” she says with a smile Blake would brave a flood for.

“I don’t really like the rain,” Blake admits through the window. “I don’t like getting wet.”

Yang only rolls her eyes. “Is that all?” she asks. “You’re fine. Come outside.”

Blake pulls a face. “Did you listen to a word I said?”

“Blake,” Yang says exasperatedly, hands against the windowsill, “trust me.”

“Absolutely not,” Blake says, glancing up at the ominously dark clouds. “You’re ridiculous.”

“Look,” Yang reasons, “I have to let it rain. It’s the start of rice planting season. But I can keep you dry.”

Blake bites the inside of her lip, considers her carefully. Yang puts her palms together and interlaces her fingers in a begging motion, even going as far as to throw in a pathetic pout. “Fine,” Blake says at last, giving in. Like she’d ever really planned on dismissing Yang for long, anyway. “I’m coming.”

She slips off her bed, makes a big show of pulling on her raincoat and lacing up her boots, and Yang only harrumphs loudly in annoyance. Blake smiles when her back is turned. “You’re not gonna need all that,” Yang calls.

“I’m not taking any chances,” Blake answers, heading out of the room towards the front door. Neptune catches her walking by from the living room where he and Sun are watching some romcom, raising his eyebrows.

You?” he says. “You’re going out in this weather?”

“Can’t your girlfriend lay off of the rain?” Sun asks, and Blake throws him a dirty look. “It’s been like this since last night.”

“It’s the start of rice planting season,” Blake says flatly. “And she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Sure,” Sun says sarcastically.

“Well, you can let her know that I like the rain,” Neptune says. “It’s exactly the mood I need to write. Melancholy, yet hopeful. You two always act like it’s the damn apocalypse or something. Rain doesn’t always signal the end, you know. Sometimes it’s the beginning.”

“Dude,” Sun says, smacking the back of his head lightly, “you’re afraid of water.”

“I’m channeling that fear into creativity,” he says.

“Oh my God.”

“Anyway,” Neptune turns back to her, “tell your girlfriend that I’m a fan of the current atmosphere.”

“She’s not my - okay, whatever,” Blake says, giving up. She knows they’re not actually going to stop. “I’ll pass the feedback along.”

They wave her off, and she pries the front door open, slipping out onto the porch. Yang’s leaning against the wall next to her, and she’s grinning widely, having overheard every word. Blake sighs. “Don’t you start.”

“Girlfriend, huh,” she says. “I didn’t know we’d made it that far, but I’m not against the idea.”

“I never would have guessed,” Blake says dryly. “You? With a crush on me? First time I’m hearing about it.”

“Okay, shut up,” Yang says, laughing, and Blake’s mouth softens into a smile; there’s something about Yang she can’t resist, something underneath her skin and muscle and bone that doesn’t allow for pessimism, regardless of how fake. “I never actually said I have a crush on you.”

“You keeping asking me on dates,” Blake points out. “You’re not very subtle.”

“Well excuse me,” Yang says, flipping Blake’s hood off her head. Blake scowls. “I don’t get a lot of practice at dating.”

“Who’d resist you?” Blake asks, and she means it to come across a little more mordant than it does; she internally winces at her own weak tone. She continues nonchalantly, “Just grow them a garden or something. Any flower they’ve ever received will look like a joke in comparison.”

“A garden, huh,” Yang repeats, stepping out into the rain. Something about the idea seems to amuse her. “Well, I’ll keep that in mind.” She glances back, realizing Blake isn’t following her. “What are you waiting for?”

“The clouds to disperse or something,” Blake says, still looking hesitant. The rain is nearly torrential, coming down in sheets. “This is a little much.”

“Some of the fields aren’t in naturally occuring floodlands,” Yang says. “I have to make up for that. It’ll be lighter the next few days.” She extends a hand. “Trust me.”

So Blake does.

She reaches out, interlaces their fingers, and steps to Yang’s side; she shuts her eyes automatically, waiting for the pelt of the water, but nothing happens. She blinks foolishly, and Yang’s watching her, grin slipping back across her face. The rain pounds around them, but doesn’t come within an inch of their bodies, like an invisible wall protects them both.

“I told you,” Yang says, rolling her eyes. “God. I have magical powers and a girl doesn’t trust me to protect her from a little rain.”

“First of all, it’s a lot of rain,” Blake argues mildly. “Second of all, magic is still a bit of a new concept to me. It’s a learning curve.”

Yang seems to give her that. “Well, when I say you can trust me,” she says, “you can trust me. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

“Sentimental,” Blake says, embers simmering underneath her heart anyway, her blood warm in her veins.

“You think it’s cute,” Yang counters, not falling for it. “I see right through you, Belladonna.”

Blake exhales, grinning. There’s no contesting the facts. “So where are we going?” she asks instead, trying not to focus on the fact that they’re still holding hands.

“Somewhere beautiful,” Yang says, tossing her a shy glance. “That’s why you came here in the first place, isn’t it? To find something beautiful?”

Blake grips her fingers a little tighter, taken aback by the observation; Yang keeps walking steadily, doesn’t mention the change in pressure, like she’s letting Blake have her moment. “Maybe,” Blake admits, and sighs to herself, hoping the sound is hidden underneath the rain. “But I think I already found it.”

Yang smiles, eyes averted down, her pulse fluttering in her wrist. She’s blushing slightly; the sight of it has Blake’s mind running wild, which is the way it always seems to run these days, wondering what that blush would look like if Blake kissed her. She doesn’t say anything more, just allows Yang to lead her on to a large tree situated behind the house.

Yang glances at her. “Okay, this might be a little weird, but it’s how I travel,” she says, and places a palm flat against the bark, and Blake watches as it caves in, like panels of a wall extending inward--

--but it doesn’t exit the other side. It seems to go on further than the tree itself, a pathway, a portal. Blake raises her other hand to the inside of Yang’s elbow, clutching at her, peering in.

“Wow,” she breathes out. “So you can get anywhere like this?”

“Anywhere there’s trees,” Yang says, nudging her on. “Come on. It’ll close behind us.”

It’s no different than walking down a hallway, except at the end of this one is a beach miles away from where they’d just left; it’s still raining, the sand damp and clumpy beneath their boots, patches of grass poking out. Yang guides her to the edge of the cliff overlooking the ocean, and out in the middle of the bay is an island, a storm swirling low around tall, ancient-looking trees.

Electricity crackles in the air; her mouth tastes like salt and copper, and there’s the flash of a dream, Yang standing underneath a towering ocean with a smile, her eyes a violent shade of red.

“What is this?” Blake asks, captivated. Lightning seems to be striking the island at random, quick intervals, like magnetism, gravity. Like the island itself is a conduit.

“Nobody knows,” Yang says, leaning close to her ear to be heard over the roar of the storm. “It’s too dangerous to study - the currents are super rough, and it’s impossible to fly; there’s no landing space. Plus, there’s something weird with the polarity of it, or whatever. So navigation systems don’t tend to work.”

“None of those things pose a problem to you,” Blake points out.

Yang allows a small smile. “No,” she agrees. “I’ve been over there. It’s...unsettling. I think - I think it’s magical energy. Leftover from some old battle.” She hesitates. “I think...I think it’s a grave.”

“Really?” Blake asks, staring out; the ocean seems to swirl around it like whirlpools, and the back of her neck tingles, her throat tight. “How can you tell?”

“It’s just a feeling,” Yang says, raising and dropping her shoulders in lieu of a true answer. “Magic, when it’s strong enough to be felt, is undeniable.”

Blake tilts her head at that, catches Yang’s eye, her hair whipping around her in the wind, her lips red from the slight chill of the biting air. “Yeah,” she exhales, angling her body towards Yang. “Somehow, I think I know what you mean.”

Yang looks at her then, really looks at her, doesn’t turn away or hide, doesn’t shrink nervously; she lets it be, lets Blake draw close to her with implication, expectation. Her irises reflect the steel of the ocean, mirroring a color akin to lavender under a sunset, and she’s staring at Blake like she’s giving up, like she loves her, like she’s handing her that sky. Take this, she’s saying, this clap of thunder, this wildfire waiting to start. Take this like it’s my heart.

“Oh, fuck it,” Blake murmurs, too close to stop now, too enthralled for sensibility. “Drop it.”

Yang raises an eyebrow curiously, mouth curled bemusedly. “Drop what?”

“Your - magic, or whatever,” Blake says, barely able to concentrate on her words. “This’ll make a much better story.”

“What?” Yang’s bewilderment only grows. “Don’t you hate the rain?”

Blake’s tongue darts out, sweeps across her bottom lip. “Trust me,” she says.

Yang stares at her a moment longer, contemplating, and then shrugs; the first droplet hits the top of Blake’s head, another sliding down Yang’s cheek, rolling off the sleeves of their coats, down their backs; Blake reaches out, fists Yang’s jacket in her hands, pulls her forward and kisses her.

It isn’t tentative but it’s gentle; her lips press softly against Yang’s for a brief moment, and then she pulls away and ghosts over her, mouths barely brushing until Blake works up the nerve to kiss her again. Yang seems to go slack from the shock, unmoving, but her eyelids flutter closed automatically; another second and her palms slip across Blake’s cheeks, wet and damp from rain, and then she’s kissing Blake back, lips tender and yielding. It doesn’t feel like a first kiss, barely even feels like a second or a third; there’s something painfully familiar about it, the way Yang sighs into her mouth, Blake’s fingers moving to tangle in Yang’s hair, how she tastes like mist and honey and seasalt, her heartbeat rattling like thunder.

The sky cracks open above them, lightning weaving through the clouds like a bridge from the island and never striking. Yang pulls her closer, keeps kissing her, and Blake barely notices the rain at all.