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make a fool of death for me

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bo u nd, reads the remaining letters of the sign flickering brightly above the bar’s entrance, the vivid color of the full words having cracked and faded long ago. The red light coats the alleyway in a sick, twisted glow, warping shadows on cobblestone and turning rusted-over sheet metal into evidence from a crime scene. It’s raining, the street slick and oily, the water itself filthy and impure.

She keeps her hair tucked underneath her hood and her face down. It always rains this far south, but it’s the only lead she has, the only trail to follow.

The bar’s door is heavy and unsteady on its hinges, swinging open with a groan loud enough to alert the entire establishment to her presence. Or it would be, if there were enough people inside to care, but it’s only the bartender wiping down glasses with a filthy rag, a man drinking bourbon in a corner, and a group of three staring at a scroll in the middle of their table. None of them acknowledge her presence. The bartender never even looks at her. Sometimes it’s better not to.

She pulls off her hood, steps casually over to the man in the corner, and pulls the chair out across from him, the joints of it creaking underneath her weight. The man doesn’t even blink, let alone flinch. He’s staring at a paper spread in front of him written in a language she can’t read. He gestures at the unlit cigarette hanging between his lips, even though there’s a candle dancing on the right side of the table. She digs for a lighter in her pocket, pulls it out, flips it open, waits.

“Well?” the man says, sparing her a single, disinterested glance. “You’re here for information, yes?”

“Qrow Branwen sent me,” she answers, flicking the lighter; it grinds, breathes. “I’m here for accurate information.”

His eyebrows raise. “And you are?” he asks, not accepting the credential at face-value.

“Yang Xiao Long,” she says lowly, expecting the hint of recognition. She isn’t disappointed; it’s in his eyes before he can bury it. “Do we understand each other?”

He gestures her on again, slowly. She holds the flame to the tip of the cigarette. He inhales deeply, chest expanding almost uncomfortably, and nods once to signal his agreement.

“I’m looking for someone,” Yang says, digging her thumb into the grooves of the sparkwheel.

The man appraises her idly, judging how much her question might be worth. “Well,” he says, exhaling thick smoke, “this far out, they can only be in Paradise.”

--

Paradise is a city on the outskirts of the Wastelands, former capital of the kingdom once known as Vale until the war demolished its borders and the resources started to run dry. It’s a remnant of the Mechanica Revolution, littered with rusted-over warehouses, towering, defunct smokestacks, cantankerous machinery stalled in broken-down pieces like a graveyard for an unimagined future. The ocean used to serve as the city’s power source until advancements rendered the practice useless, too damaging to its ecosystem, too wildly expensive. It’s now the only thing keeping them from becoming barren desert, like most of the earth a mile out; the land isn’t green by any means, but the decline in pollution had saved the water, kept the ports viable, kept the sea alive.

Huntsmen and huntresses used to flock to Vale in droves, back when it served as their headquarters, even inhabiting the islands off the coast for small semblances of peace between missions, serenity without monsters. But this was before the war, before the reports say the huntsmen took it too far and the vampires finally fought back, slaughtered as many as they could before being overcome. Other recollections say the vampires had started their massacre long before the huntsmen stepped in, slowly picking away at the human population until it became a frenzy.

The truth remains buried. History is supposed to be written by its victors, but none remained to write it: the huntsmen and huntresses were dead or driven out, and the vampires responsible had their existence stripped from them by others of their kind.

Sometimes Yang strives for animosity towards it all, tries to drum up an anger for the past; would her life be different without it, would she have known a normal world, would her mother have stayed, would her other one have lived. Would Ruby be here, with her, not halfway across the continent because of an ability thought by most to be extinct.

The train hits a crack in the old rails, startling her from her daze. She shakes her head subtly, careful to keep her cards hidden. It’s a war that wasn’t hers, and because of it, idle arguments don’t matter; she remains as unconcerned as she’s always been. Vampires, huntsmen and huntresses, humans - all they’d wanted once the dust had settled was peace. And they’d found it.

Well, sort of. They’d found as much peace as they could find in a suddenly lawless world.

But at least in Paradise, the man at the bar had said, everyone pays for their crimes, one way or another.

--

Her train arrives just past midnight. She steps out into heavy mist, air damp and salty; a storm brews out at sea, past the ports, lightning illuminating the water. The other passengers barely look twice at her, faces covered, eyes staring out from underneath their hoods, and promptly scatter into the crevices of the city, into alleys and bars and basements.

Her first impression of Paradise is that it might’ve lived up to its name, once upon a time; the tall buildings give the impression of faded grandeur, the stone architecture intricately carved in places now broken and worn and poorly patched. Few of the houses have lights on, and the smokestacks protruding from each one of their roofs stay silent, unused, pipes criss-crossing in every direction over their walls. The Clocktower rises eerily behind the city like an omen, hands never moving, gears continuously turning regardless of results.

Her scroll buzzes; she pulls it out, finds a two-word text simply stating crow bar and rolls her eyes. She opens her location, pinpoints the new one easily enough; it’s only a few blocks away, situated in the Dust district. Well. Makes sense.

The establishment itself seems dingy from the outside - one of the windows is boarded up, and the doorknob feels alarmingly as if it might fall out of its socket when she grasps it in her hand - but the inside is warm and clean, strangely populated, people chattering animatedly at the various wooden tables.

She spots Qrow instantly; it isn’t hard to place him. He’s where he always is: drinking alone at the bar, his shoulders slumped and head somewhat bowed.

“Is it the egotism?” she asks blithely as she sits on the stool next to him, smiling at the bartender nicely to ease his curiosity. She’s new and she looks it. “It’s gotta be. Who else picks an inn they share a name with?”

He grins, red eyes peering at her from over the rim of his glass. “You’re a smart enough kid to know exactly why I picked this place.”

“I’m not a kid.”

“Well, in comparison…”

“Dust districts are always the safest,” she recites as if she’s noted it a thousand times before, lowering her voice.

Especially here,” Qrow says darkly. “You’ve heard what’s going on, right?”

Yang shrugs one shoulder. “Somewhat,” she says, and it’s the truth. There are always whispers, but without a global communication system, that’s what they usually remain as. “Was my information good?”

He briefly side-eyes her, the humor fading from him. “Yeah,” he says, gravelly and subdued. “Your information was good. But not good for us.

Her heart pulses once against her throat in a familiar spasm of fear, but she doesn’t let it show. She rests her chin in her palm casually. “Don’t leave me hanging.”

“The coven on the north side of town has her,” Qrow says into his glass, careful to keep his voice soft, lips barely moving. “Which means that this rescue mission of ours just got a lot more complicated.”

“How so?” Yang asks, not seeing the abnormalities, pitching her voice a similar tone. “We’re vampire hunters. It’s what we do, Qrow.”

“This isn’t just any coven, Yang,” Qrow says quietly, staring at the swirling liquid. She waits impatiently, tapping her fingers against the wood. He finally asks, “Ever heard of the White Fang?”

“The--” Yang starts, stops, starts again, struggling to process the information. She swears she can suddenly hear the thunder rattling over the sea like it’s cracking off of the inside of her skull. She watches her own knuckles turn sharp against her skin as she clenches her fist. “The White Fang is back?” she asks, the words sounding fake, hollow. “How?”

Qrow only nods once, almost imperceptibly. He slides his now-empty glass across the bar. “We think they’re copycats who stole the namesake,” he says slowly. “They sold themselves as activists, in a way, for their kind...wanting to undo the prejudices and biases. And it worked. This is the most vampire-friendly city west of Atlas.”

Yang clenches her jaw. “But…”

“But their leadership recently swapped hands,” he continues obediently, tossing a card across the counter to the bartender, signaling another. “A newer vampire took control, and their ideals changed with him. He doesn’t believe in equality. He thinks vampires are superior, and he’s doing everything in his power to prove it.”

“Starting with the last of the huntresses,” Yang finishes dully, the void of horror at the circumstances finally eating up her chest. “One in particular who naively revealed herself while on a mission.”

“Yeah. They aren’t going to kill her - not yet, at least - but we think they’re using her to draw the rest of out. They know we can’t afford to lose her.” Qrow rubs one of his temples briefly, clearly exhausted. “You understand what this means, don’t you?”

Yang doesn’t speak for a moment, trying to control her heartbeat, her nerves. The White Fang. The original coven of vampires were the ones responsible for the last mass-murder of huntsmen and huntresses, now apparently regaining power after centuries without it, after being shunned and punished for their barbaric crimes against humanity. The original coven, whose remaining members likely killed her stepmother decades later, must’ve sent her birth mother fleeing - their successor has now taken her sister.

“What do we do,” she says flatly, not like a question. She won’t ask for fear of a lack of an answer. He has to have a plan.

We,” he emphasizes, “don’t do anything. You, on the other hand…”

“I’m listening.”

“It’ll be dangerous,” he warns. “Extremely dangerous.”

“I don’t care.”

His second - third - sixth drink is handed to him, the bartender barely pausing for a thanks. He takes a long sip; the ice rattles. “We can’t handle them alone. This city’s crawling with vampires, but there’s only one other coven large enough and strong enough who might have a chance. And rumor has it that’s something they’re actively looking to do.” That bit of information causes Yang’s eyebrows to raise, and she glances at him in surprise. He continues, “The White Fang’s stepping out of line. Humans are going missing who shouldn’t be. Most of the vampires here don’t want to be hunted again.”

“Peace is fragile,” Yang infers, catching his brand of manipulation. “You want me to take advantage of that.”

He finally smirks, swallowing the remainder of the amber liquid, and turns in his seat to face her. “That’s exactly what I want you to do,” he says, slipping off his stool. “You have a room upstairs. I’ll text you the details. Start tomorrow.”

She watches him amble out the door, easily passing as a nobody, a random drunk stumbling home from a bar after a long night of drowning pain in alcohol. She gets the message loud and clear. She cracks her neck, orders a vodka tonic from the bartender before she can arouse suspicion.

Everything is part of an act. Play it well.

--

The thing about vampire-friendly cities, Yang notices, is that you can tell where the boundaries lie, where blocks twist and the buildings shift to accommodate a different kind of creature. The night scene’s huge here - it’s just starting to rise when Yang walks past the invisible border dividing the vampires from the humans the following evening, neon lights flickering on in windows, dim arrows pointing their way to clubs and restaurants and bars - and some of the patrons are already milling about the streets, utterly, dangerously beautiful, watching her pass with mildly curious looks, if offering her any attention at all. They can tell she isn’t one of them, but it doesn’t put her under threat, just makes her stand out.

The address Qrow had given her leads through the center of the district - likely on purpose, a good way to familiarize herself with the layout of the south side - and she allows herself time to be fascinated by the life they’ve cultivated here, hollowed out of what would’ve been working neighborhoods, buildings pressed almost too tightly together under a criss-crossing maze of dead machinery, rooms piled high in stacks. The pipes run through everything like the city’s skeleton, connecting to tanks and pumps, gears and wheels and coils, and there’s something about the order of its chaos she admires, how the twisting and turning of it all would’ve been the only thing keeping their world alive.

How novel, she thinks distantly. A city that used to breathe.

The nightlife never gives way to a quieter, calmer section of houses the way the human distracts do; instead, homes are tucked wherever there is space, bordered by whatever businesses are beginning to open their doors. She finds what she’s looking for between a bookstore and an old sacrificial cathedral, its stained glass windows vibrant despite being coated in decades-old soot, and approaches the door.

The house itself is more pristine that the ones surrounding it - whatever stones used to construct it are dark, like obsidian, and the accents are all tinted gold, as though its original owner soaked it in opulence before death. The knocker has the head of an archaic Grimm, its two heads curving in a circle to meet at the bottom. The sound echoes loudly, not that it would’ve needed to regardless. Vampires’ senses aren’t to be challenged.

It opens slowly a moment later; not from caution, but oddly because the weight of the door itself seems to be a struggle for the boy on the other side to hold. The entryway is dim, and all she can make out at first is that he’s blond, lanky, and oddly uncoordinated for a vampire--

“Hello,” Yang greets charmingly, pushing past her reservations, her smile wide. The boy looks bemusedly back at her, uncertain and unnerved. “I’m looking to speak to the leaders of your coven.”

He blinks, heaves the door open wider, and in an instant she identifies him as human; he lacks the eerie beauty and fluidity vampires normally possess, instead slightly awkward and nervous as he observes her with wide, blue eyes. He says, “Um, sorry - who are you?”

She extends a hand diplomatically, casually studying him for signs; he extends his own hand and his shoulder drops, revealing his neck: two puncture wounds are placed perfectly over his carotid artery where the pulse is most forcefully felt, and though her curiosity skyrockets at the sight of them, she keeps it all internal. “I’m Yang,” she says, shaking his hand firmly and dropping it. “I have something pretty important I’d like to discuss with - Weiss Schnee, is it?”

“I’m Jaune,” he says, still looking vaguely confused by her presence; he clearly spends a lot of time around vampires and recognizes she isn’t one, either, though she doubts there’s solidarity between them over it - not when he’s got those kinds of marks. “Come on in.”

“Not many enemies then, huh?” Yang asks, following him as the door slams shut; her eyes adjust quickly to the light, and she’s amused by the decorative torches lighting the entry walls, flames ever-burning against polished driftwood. It’s grander inside, with high ceilings and four pillars supporting it, marble floors and a spiral staircase leading up, up, up.

“Sorry?” he says. “You’ll need to wait here, by the way.”

“You don’t seem concerned about surprise attacks,” she points out, but stalls in place as requested.

He laughs. “Yeah, right,” he says sarcastically, opening a door to their left. She wonders if the supreme confidence is warranted. “Hang on a moment. I’ll go get them for you.”

--

“--Weiss, no,” Blake snaps forcefully, her eyes dropping away from the vast bookshelf to the woman left of her, standing behind a wide rosewood desk. “It’s reckless. I don’t care how prepared you think we are - we aren’t. They run their coven like an organization - they aren’t family. Any single one of them below Adam is expendable--”

“Right,” Weiss says indifferently, still unmoving by the window with her arms crossed, gazing out at the dark, dirty grey sky. “Perhaps it’s time we start proving that.”

“And how long do you think it’ll take for them to realize who’s fighting back?” Blake asks poignantly, watching Weiss’s brow furrow. “This isn’t a plan. It’s a suicide mission.”

“I’d like to see them try,” Weiss hisses, finally turning to look at her, eyes like steel sinking beneath water. “After what they did to you--”

A knock against the office door interrupts their argument; Weiss cuts herself off but she’s already said too much, and Blake holds her stare, suddenly understanding. After a moment, Weiss calls, “Come in,” and Blake gets the sense she’s grateful for the intrusion. Sentimentality has always sent her stoically back to ice.

Jaune pokes his head in. “There’s a woman here to see you,” he relays. “Her name is Yang. She said it’s pretty important.”

Weiss raises an eyebrow in a perfect arc. “I don’t know anyone by that name,” she muses. “Is she human?”

“I - I think so,” Jaune says uncertainly, shrugging. “I mean, she’s not a vampire. She looks about my age.”

“Did she say anything else?” Blake asks, though nothing about it really screams threat to her; there’s no way sending a human into a house full of vampires is a war tactic.

“No,” Jaune says. “But I’m pretty positive she’s new in town. Maybe she’s looking for protection.”

“Hm.” Weiss considers this for a moment, nods, waves him off. “You can go,” she says. “We’ll take care of it.”

He takes a single step back and lets the door shut quietly behind him, but the room is already empty.

--

 

Yang takes the silence to examine every detail of the entryway around her - it’s flawless, spotless, and completely devoid of information. No pictures, hardly any furniture, and entirely closed off from the rest of the house. They’re vampires who know what they’re doing, at least, and she respects that level of attention.

“Yang, is it?” a voice suddenly says coolly from behind her, and she makes it a point to turn casually, as if the suddenness hadn’t startled her at all. “Do you have a last name?”

Behind her is a white-haired woman, dressed simply in a white blouse half-tucked into her black pants, pastel pink overcoat draped around her shoulders as if she’d been about to head out for the evening. She stands steady on her heels, arms crossed languidly in front of her body, and she’s beautiful, of course, the way vampires always are. Her eyes are ice blue and remind Yang of fog hovering over the ocean. She looks about Yang’s age, though she knows it’s only the age she must’ve been when she was turned.

“Yang Xiao Long,” she introduces. “And you’re Weiss Schnee, I presume?”

“That’s correct,” Weiss says, unmoving from her position by the door Jaune had exited from. “What can we do for you, Ms. Xiao Long?”

Yang grimaces. “Please. Yang’s fine.”

Weiss’s lips quirk slightly. “Yang.”

“I’m here to offer my assistance to your coven,” Yang says cockily, because if there’s anything that piques the curiosity of vampires, it’s arrogance. “I think I have a few talents you may find...useful.”

She isn’t disappointed; Weiss’s eyebrows raise, but the woman who speaks next is decidedly not Weiss, and comes from somewhere behind her. “Oh?” the voice says, full of polite incredulity, and Yang suppresses her shock enough to hold steady. She doesn’t turn at all. The voice continues, heels now audibly clicking against the floor, “And what might we need your assistance for?”

Yang smiles, the hint of a snarl on her mouth. “Killing vampires.”

The step falters once before resuming, and a young woman brushes by her side, finally entering her field of vision; she idly examines Yang up and down, from her brown laced-up boots to her green jacket, grey shirt loose underneath, cropped just above her tight, ripped-up, black jeans; her gaze trails up her chest, neck, and stops at her face, where their eyes meet and she holds Yang’s stare just a second too long to seem casual.

Likewise, Yang has a similar moment of being stunned; she knows vampires are the inherent definition of beauty, knows they’re irresistible and otherworldly, but the one standing in front of her doesn’t even compare: she’s slender and elegant and graceful, black hair dripping over her shoulders and down her back, lips painted a dark cherry red, irises that look as if they match the gold accents of the house. Her throat is bare, no marks, no scars. She gives the illusion of presence, standing tall and refined and intimidating - anyone this gorgeous is inherently a threat - but she’s wearing black boots with a significant heel, so in reality, she’s probably a little shorter than Yang. Her jeans actually look similar to Yang’s, too, just as tight but not as ripped, and underneath her black coat with white stripes at the shoulders is a white shirt with a strange design Yang doesn’t recognize.

She isn’t just beautiful, Yang thinks distantly; she’s hot. And to Yang, that’s undoubtedly more dangerous.

“And you are?” she asks, enchanted, keeping her tone neutral.

The woman’s mouth tilts at a corner. “Blake,” she says, and Yang wants her to extend a hand, wants to take it, wants to touch her. “Blake Belladonna.”

Weiss breaks the odd tension before it has a chance to form again. “Explain.”

Yang somehow manages to tear her gaze away, finds Weiss’s instead. “Think of me as a vampire...assassin, I guess,” she says, though frowns at the term. “I’m not against vampires. Usually I’m hired by them, actually, to take out threats to their peace; you know, ones who’ve gone rogue, started killing humans by the dozens or something.” She suddenly grins arrogantly. “And I hear your coven might be in need of such a service, if the White Fang mean anything to you.”

Weiss raises an eyebrow delicately. “And where might you have heard that?”

“I’ve been doing this a long time,” Yang says vaguely. “I know the right people to ask for information.”

Blake’s lips peel into a rare smile. “You’re twenty-five at most,” she says, and Yang’s lavender eyes seem to glow brighter underneath the firelight. “I don’t think we have similar definitions of time.

“I know what I’m doing,” Yang responds, amused, “or I wouldn’t be here, alive, telling you about it.”

“Yes,” Weiss says, her eyes narrowing, and finally takes a step forward, studying her closely. “That is curious.”

Yang only shrugs. “I’m open to questions.”

Blake tilts her head thoughtfully. “What makes you qualified?” she asks, her arms crossed. The remark isn’t said with any bite, simply a veiled kind of misbelieving. “Vampire hunters aren’t rare, but most of them are stupid - why are you any different?”

Yang smiles, lifts a finger, crooks it as if to beckon her. Blake lifts an eyebrow mildly. Yang says, “C’mere. Try and charm me, or seduce me, or whatever the hell it’s called that vampires do.”

Blake and Weiss exchange an amused glance; Yang doesn’t miss it. The firelight flickers against the wall. Weiss says, “Oh, you’re one of those.

Yang’s grin stretches wider, teeth looking dangerous despite the absence of fangs. She knows the implication. One of those, tricked into believing they have the power of will by a subtle type of manipulation. One of those who thinks she’s invincible. “Come and find out,” she says, still meeting Blake’s eyes without a hint of hesitation.

Blake sighs in a way she doesn’t mean, steps forward, arms dropping by her sides. Yang doesn’t move; her expression remains cocky, hands in her pockets, stance entirely too casual. If Blake didn’t think she were crazy, she’d find her incredibly attractive. Well. It makes the demonstration easier to act.

She levels Yang with a look; her pupils contract, expand, and she watches the effect mirror in Yang’s. She raises a hand to Yang’s cheek, trails her fingers over the skin, her jaw, her chin, brushes a thumb across her bottom lip. Yang only watches, telltale signs of a daze slipping across her face; her breath catches, her lips part, and she’s suddenly unbearably, achingly soft, staring at Blake like it’s love that has her rooted to the ground, rather than a strange magic.

Yang raises one arm, scratching her nails against Blake’s scalp, through her hair, fingers tangling. She’s given in as if it were nothing, as if she’s been waiting for Blake to touch her her entire life. The fight is gone. Her lavender eyes are gentle and remind Blake of a storm she saw in a dream. She is gorgeous, Blake finally admits to herself, her mouth ghosting over Yang’s and down, pulse throbbing near the crook of her neck--

In the flash of millisecond, Blake finds her head snapped roughly back and the sharp point of a crystal digging into the skin above her heart; Weiss gasps audibly, takes a step forward and stops. Yang’s irises have been replaced by blood, the red of them so vivid and arresting that Blake feels the burn of hunger, desire, want. Her lips are curled dangerously, amusedly, having played Blake right into her trap.

With her lips still hovering an inch from Blake’s own, she murmurs, “I’m immune, I’m intelligent, and I’m lethal.” She waits for the words to sink in, fingers loosening in Blake’s hair to a gentle tug. “That’s what makes me qualified. That’s what makes me different.

Blake can’t speak, can’t think, can’t even pretend to breathe. Her hands have somehow fallen to Yang’s waist, and there’s no strength to her, no threat, no malice. Yang lowers the crystal entirely, but her smirk remains. She bridges the gap between them with her mouth, her lips brushing Blake’s in a kiss she can only describe as a performance, like she’s being made fun of, somehow; like Yang’s proving how easy it is to get underneath her skin.

Or that’s what it’s supposed to be, but the split second their lips touch, Blake’s entire body feels like it dissolves. The room disintegrates, oil dripping from a canvas, wax melting away from a flame. The void where her heart sits, unbeating and still, suddenly throbs, burns, aches like something tangible has its fingers around it, applying the barest hint of pressure. Her eyelids flutter shut, and the kiss that seems like it should’ve ended doesn’t: she parts her lips and kisses Yang back, needing to be consumed by her, wanting nothing more than to drift into dust and live inside of her veins.

The intensity catches Yang off-guard but she doesn’t pull away prematurely; she allows the kiss to slow, stall naturally, finding a strange sort of comfort in Blake’s mouth, like hers is the only one that belongs there. She’d only done it because she couldn’t resist, but maybe the feeling had been mutual.

When Yang opens her eyes, Blake is staring at her like she’s the first thing she’s ever seen in her life, her expression unguarded and raw. It’s almost unnerving, or it should be, but all Yang finds within herself is a sudden, consuming curiosity. That’s the only way she can think to phrase it. In an instant, with a single kiss, it’s like Blake’s taken up a strangely large amount of space in her brain, leaving her content to stand still for as long as it takes to unravel the look in Blake’s eyes.

Blake had thought Yang was gorgeous before, but looking at her now - now - she’s nothing short of enchanting, exuding the type of beauty that doesn’t need to ask questions about itself; she’s fully aware that she’s stunningly desirable, even standing in a room with creatures literally designed to be too beautiful to resist. Her hair reminds Blake of the sun before the smog settled inescapably against the sky, and her eyes - her eyes--

Weiss clears her throat, and only then do the two of them realize they’d been staring deeply at each other for an inordinate amount of time, unmoving. Yang breaks her gaze away first, slowly, finally meeting Weiss’s again with her eyebrows raised in obvious confusion. Blake finally mirrors her, arching her neck smoothly.

“Blake and I need to discuss this for a moment,” Weiss says coolly, and uncrosses her arms. She glares pointedly at Blake. “With me, please.”

It takes Blake a moment to move, like she’s locked into place, like it’s a struggle for her every step she takes. Yang’s fingers unravel from her hair, pulling away. Blake curls her hands briefly into fists, keeps them held by her sides, and obediently follows Weiss into the other room.

--

The heavy door shuts, doesn’t latch, and the parlor is fortunately empty; the others, Weiss knows, are all upstairs, in their own rooms or the living room, but there’s a pack of cards left out on the table, two empty glasses bordering it. Nora, she thinks scornfully, and probably Jaune. Blake comprehends nothing, stops just inside, looking like it’d been a miracle to even make it that far.

There’s no longer a conversation to be had, Weiss knows. There’s nothing to be done now. She’d like to move it along, catch the rest of them before they all head out for the night, settle the ground rules.

She tuts under her breath. “I can’t believe this,” she says, rolling her eyes at Blake. “Only you would be unlucky enough to bond to a fucking vampire hunter.”

The words settle against Blake’s brain slowly, piece by piece infiltrating the space that isn’t taken up by Yang, by her eyes, by her lips. “Oh, fuck,” Blake says blankly, glancing to the door and back. She opens her palms, spreads her fingers, closes them again; her skin buzzes, burns. “Oh, fuck.

Weiss has seen it before; she’s familiar with the time to process, knows to give Blake the air she needs to breathe again, knows her world has probably come crashing down around her in the space of a single drop of rain. Blake raises her hands to her face, covers her eyes, inhales, exhales. She doesn’t need to, but the act itself is soothing, calming.

Weiss examines her closely. “How do you feel?”

Blake drops her arms after another minute, and stares, and stares, and stares. Weiss can see the words working in her throat, her eyes wide and unassuming, still speaking to shock. She parts her lips, closes them, lowers her gaze down. She lifts a hand to her chest, fingers spreading against her skin, over her collarbone.

“Like I have a heart again,” she says plainly, observing herself in awe. “I thought - I thought I’d lost it all when I was turned. But it’s still - it’s still here.

Weiss frowns. “What is?”

“I think I forgot,” is what Blake answers instead, still caught up in revelations. She finally looks up and meets Weiss’s stare, and she’s entirely too raw, too broken and open, like if someone were to touch her she’d shatter like glass, fall like water. “I forgot what it felt like to be human.” She drops her gaze again, back to her hands, back to her heart. “Fuck,” she whispers quietly.

The statement is too overwhelming, too idealistic, too uncomfortably relatable; Weiss feels it like the syllables have barbs, poking and prodding at her, asking her the same question: Do you remember? Do you remember any of it at all?

She shakes the intrusiveness of the thought away. This isn’t her moment. “Are you going to tell her?” Weiss asks.

No,” Blake says vehemently. “No, not - not yet. Not now. I don’t want to scare her.”

“I’m not so sure you could. She kissed you, after all,” Weiss says, equal parts bored and thoughtful. “However, I’m not convinced she’s even human. Humans can’t do what she did.”

“So what do we tell her?” Blake asks, needing guidance. “You won’t--”

No, I won’t refuse her proposal,” Weiss interrupts, irritated. She rests a hand against a large globe beside the sofa, spins it lightly. “I wouldn’t have refused anyway. She’s right. We could use someone with her skill.”

“Okay.” Blake aims a glance behind her. “I’m fine. We can - I’ll be fine when we’ve accepted.”

I’ll be fine when I know she’ll be here, Weiss infers, I’ll be fine if I don’t have to see her leave. She only nods, and Blake’s posture relaxes, reaching back for the handle. Time to give fate something to work on.

--

Re-entering the room is like slipping right back underwater; not because the current is too strong, but because the weight of it causes her senses to dull and narrow, focusing in on a single, simple thing: it’s only Yang there, still waiting casually, and she finds Blake’s eyes as quickly as Blake finds hers. There’s something peaceful about the sudden lack of background noise, the clutter of her own thoughts. She sees Yang and she wants her, wants to belong to her, wants everything to do with her. That in itself is a certain kind of serenity.

“Okay,” Weiss says firmly, standing tall. Yang remains as aloof as ever. “We accept your proposal. I’ll have Blake fill you in on the specifics of what we’re up against.”

“Great,” Yang says, clearly never having thought she’d be dismissed.

“However,” Weiss adds firmly, “as this will undoubtedly be a long-term...contract, you are to reside with us during the process. Other covens will know not to touch you if we claim you.”

Yang snorts. “‘Claim me,’” she repeats, ruffling her hair. “Sounds loaded.”

“It’s an arbitrary term that can mean any number of things,” Weiss waves away dismissively. Bonded to being one of them, but she doesn’t have to know that. “The point of it is that you’re left alone.”

“It’s for the best,” Blake says, somehow feeling the strange twisting of Yang’s own heart. “Trust me.”

Yang looks at her, running her tongue briefly across her bottom lip. “I do,” she says, and seems surprised to realize it’s the truth. There’s more to it, though, more sitting in the pit of her stomach, more fear in her blood. “I trust you.”

Blake pauses, hesitates over herself, but can’t deny it’s there. “Why are you offering to help us?” she asks, taking a step closer, her body language much too forgiving. “What are you getting out of this?”

Yang stays locked in on her, line of her mouth suddenly worried, though it’s so subtle of a motion Blake doubts Weiss had even honed in on it. It’s as if she’d like nothing more than to fall straight into Blake’s arms and confess her soul, confess her time, confess her horror.

There’s a minute of silence; Yang doesn’t blink, doesn’t shy away, but her eyes grow steadily more removed. Blake thinks of weight, thinks of the marble cracking beneath their feet, thinks of pillars collapsing.

“They have my sister,” she says lowly, her eyes fighting against their angry red. “I want her back. And I’ll kill anyone that has anything to do with it.”

Weiss raises her eyebrows high; finally, Yang thinks with a dull whisper of satisfaction, finally an honest reaction. She smiles evilly, hopes Weiss feels the shiver in her spine, feels the heat in her veins. They’re dangerous. So is she.

“Why would the White Fang bother kidnapping your sister?” Weiss asks, almost rhetorically. “And is she in immediate danger?”

“No,” Yang says, but anxiety pools in the base of her skull anyway. “Best case, they’re using her as a lure. Worst case” --one she’s never brought to light until now-- “they’re experimenting on her.”

Weiss accepts the explanation, shrewd stare narrowing in; whatever she knows of the White Fang, this tactic must make sense to her. She probes, “What are you?”

“What do you mean?” Yang says, drawing it out for dramatism.

“Don’t play dumb,” Weiss snaps. “No human has an ability like yours, and now a powerful organization of vampires has kidnapped your blood. What are you?”

Yang actually laughs, running a hand through her hair again. “Oh, relax,” she says, and tosses Blake a wink; if Blake could blush, it’d be all over her face. “I’m a huntress. A real one.”

The silence rings; that’s an answer they hadn’t been expecting. “A huntress?” Weiss repeats, now examining her with a blatant curiosity; Blake’s expression is somewhat similar, though more uninhibitedly awed. “I thought they were mostly wiped out after the last war.”

“They were,” Yang says, and shrugs. “Mostly.”

Weiss purses her lips. “How old are you?”

“Twenty-four,” Yang answers obediently.

Blake steps forward again, drawn into her, and lifts a finger underneath Yang’s chin, directing her attention. She smiles, fangs barely exposed, points glinting menacingly. “And how old are you really?” she asks, sensing the truth yet unburied.

Yang’s smirk flickers dangerously under the firelight. “One hundred and fifty-four.”

--

She follows Weiss and Blake up the spiral staircase, studying Blake’s smooth, elegant movements with a curious interest; even though she’s seen vampires move thousands of times before, knows how graceful they are, how effortless, there’s something about her that draws Yang’s attention, forces her to watch. If Blake notices her staring, she never says anything, only tosses her a glance back with a neutral expression on her face.

Weiss opens a set of beautiful, ornately carved doors on the second landing, revealing an even more bizarre sight than anything she’s seen so far: six other vampires - and the boy who’d let her in - are spread out across an intricately decorated living room, laughing and chatting together about their plans for the evening. She isn’t used to seeing the innerworkings of covens: normally the vampires she’s contracted by are all attempting to maintain a low profile, keeping their numbers small, their bonds sparse. These vampires already have an atmosphere of exactly the opposite.

They pause the second Weiss and Blake enter, all eyes turning. Weiss’s gazes flits around quickly. “Where are the others?”

“Sun and Neptune are at Prayer,” a freckled brunette woman replies boredly, her hair in a high ponytail. She’s sitting in an armchair closest to them, one leg thrown lazily over the arm, the other foot planted on the ground, her scroll in her hand. “The guard are at the four corners tonight - Corsac and Fennec are skulking around again.”

Prayer, Yang thinks, wondering if it’s appropriate to laugh at the irony; Blake’s mouth quirks as if she’d said the thought aloud, and throws an amused look back.

“It’s the name of the club next door,” she explains, attempting to hide her smile. “The old cathedral.”

Yang only nods once, like Blake answering an unspoken remark is something to be expected. Everyone takes notices of her at exactly that moment, craning their necks, widening their eyes. Some of them move so fast in response that she’d be unable to keep track of them if her own senses weren’t heightened; all are now on their feet, the mood of the room equal parts fascinated and wary.

“This,” Weiss introduces her with a wave of her hand, “is Yang Xiao Long. She’s a vampire hunter.”

“Well, she came to the right place,” a cool voice drawls from the back of the crowd, standing aloofly. “There are plenty of vampires here if she’d like to slay us all. Where should we line up?”

A few of them snicker; Yang also laughs, something they seem surprised at. Weiss rolls her eyes. “Coco, enough,” she commands, impatient. “She’s not here for us. She’s here to help us take down the White Fang. She’s a vampire hunter, but she’s an actual huntress.”

The silence that follows the declaration must be what the inside of a grave sounds like; no creature can be as immovable, as still, as undetectable as vampires, and not a single one of them so much as blink at the revelation. A red-headed woman is the first to break the stalemate; she’s about Yang’s height, wearing a gold headband and emeralds dangling from her ears, a color that doesn’t do the vivid green of her eyes justice.

“A huntress?” she asks inquisitively, stepping forward without fear; Yang likes her immediately. “A true one?”

Yang raises her hands, smiling. “Flesh and blood,” she says, and stops suddenly, faking worry; her tone trips over apologies. “Oops. Should I not say the b word?”

“Oh, and she’s funny, too,” another woman says, laughing at her joke; the ease of interaction sinks into the others, and they start to relax despite the intrinsic threat that comes with having her in their midst. “Yang, huh? I’m Nora.”

They introduce themselves in turn, shaking her hand as if proving something to themselves. Jaune is the only human, and he’s followed by his girlfriend, Pyrrha; then comes Ren, Coco, Velvet, and Ilia, whose gaze keeps slipping to Blake and away. A few of them linger closely, examining her with interest. Many of them are pairs, their marks clearly visible on their necks.

“Oh, she’s beautiful,” Coco says appreciatively, and reaches out, running a finger from her throat down her sternum. Yang only grins candidly, entirely too at ease in the presence of so many vampires. “If I weren’t already tied down…”

Blake visibly tenses, fingers curling into fists at her sides. Weiss shoots her a warning look, but whatever’s set her off, it’s too late to stop.

Nobody,” Blake enunciates suddenly, “is allowed to touch her.”

Coco rolls her eyes loosely. “I wouldn’t anyway.”

“No,” Blake says forcefully. “This is not a request. It’s absolutely forbidden.” She waits for the words to settle around the room; a few confused looks are shot her way. Coco drops her arm, meeting Blake’s eyes over Yang’s shoulder, surprised at the threat of the statement. Only Pyrrha seems to understand, her eyebrows raising high. “Am I clear?”

“Yes, of course,” Pyrrha says immediately, intervening. “She’s safe with us.”

If Yang’s confused by any dynamics in the room, she does an excellent job of hiding it, standing there indifferently with her hands in the pockets of her jacket, surveying them with a look of expectation. Like she’s seen it all before, and is far too above it to ask questions.

“Good,” Weiss says, taking over once again. “I have some business to attend to tonight, but tomorrow, we’ll go over the details of our next steps given our new...addition.” She tilts her head, observes Yang impartially, appearing merely bored; Yang pinpoints the glitter deep within her irises, the excitement, the change. Her eyes shift. “Blake,” she says, “why don’t you show Yang to your room? The rest of you can continue with your evening.”

Blake nods, turns gracefully, and brushes by Yang without another word to any of them. Yang follows naturally, understanding her place and the intent behind it - Weiss hadn’t been trying to remove her from the situation; she’d been trying to remove them both. Together. Voices continue murmuring lowly behind them, keeping tone.

It’s only another two flights up when they reach a library; its doors are already standing open, candles lit along the walls a safe distance from the books, high ceiling held aloft with an ornate series of beams. There’s an unlit fireplace at the heart, surrounded by plush maroon velvet chairs and a sofa, small tables tucked between. Blake leads her through a door on the other side of the library and into a short hallway, and at the end--

The room she enters is stunning, somehow; she feels the urge to catch her breath suddenly, as if something’s just taken it from her, left her dry, panting. It has a similarly high ceiling, the walls stone, the floor a dark ebony wood that almost looks as if it was carved in one slab from a single tree. Lanterns hang down, their lights dim like the flicker of a flame, but Blake slides her finger up a clear panel and they flare up, bright, burning. Her bed is pressed against the right wall, the frame black and its pillars accented in what Yang suspects to be solid gold, metal vines criss-crossing to create the headboard. The sheets themselves are a deep purple, her pillows almost silver, grey, some kind of silk or satin.

Various packed bookshelves litter the room, like they’ve spilled over from the library down the hall, piled into whatever space was left; strange knick-knacks and artifacts sit in front of their spines, gemstones, loose gears, wooden and metal figurines, smooth bits of colored glass. She’s on a corner room, windows peaking out across the city, masked by heavy curtains; a large, metallic skeleton of a clock hangs on the far wall, its hands turning slowly, methodically.

What leaves Yang speechless is that the room feels instantly like coming home. It’s nothing like her old house in the Root, which was bright and airy and splashed with vibrant color, but the emotion sinking into her soul is entirely too easy to place, and it’s exactly the same. Like she belongs here.

She smiles genuinely, glancing at the girl in front of her now lighting candles on a dresser by the windowsill. Blake takes notice of the expression seemingly without even looking over, her own mouth curving in response. “What is it?” she asks, straightening up. “Too dark for you?”

“No,” Yang says, surprising herself with honesty. “It’s perfect. It’s very you.”

Blake’s eyebrow quirks bemusedly. “You hardly know me.”

Yang only shrugs, unconcerned by the observation. “Still.”

The smell of sandalwood drifts over the room; the candles must be scented, their flames dancing softly. Blake lets it go, moving on without pushing back. “I’m hoping you won’t mind staying here, then,” she says.

Yang glances around again, unable to curb her smile. “Not at all,” she says. It’s much nicer than her room at the inn. “Though I am wondering why you seem to have been tasked with handling me.” She shoots Blake a slyly pointed look.

“You’re important,” Blake answers, unaffected by the probe. “I’m Weiss’s...hm...I suppose this might sound silly to you, but she’s my best friend. She leads the coven, but she doesn’t do anything without running it by me first. I suppose she trusts me the most, is all.”

Yang takes a step towards her, idling like her intention is just to examine her surroundings. “Like you’re her second-in-command, or something?” she asks, stare poking around a large, old wooden chest at the foot of the bed.

“That’s too technical of a term,” Blake argues mildly, watching her progress with interest. “We’re family, not a division of the military.”

Yang tears her eyes away from a photograph hanging on the wall - it’s incredibly old, frayed at the edges, washed out - and meets Blake’s curiously. “Is that normal?” she asks, her hands still tucked casually in her pockets. “For vampires, I mean.”

Blake tilts her head thoughtfully. “In the cities, yes,” she says. “They’re more progressive. We have more resources, so it’s easier for us to band together, live comfortably. It’s not as if we want to be alone.”

Yang stops just in front of her, considering her response. Blake doesn’t seem bothered by the closeness. “I’ve never seen a coven like this,” she confesses. “Most of the vampires I’ve known have been more solitary, or lived in smaller groups.”

“You’re from the east, right?” Blake asks, and Yang can tell she’s genuinely invested in her responses.

“Yeah,” Yang says wistfully. “Technically I’m from Patch, which used to be an island just off the cost of here, but it flooded when I was very young and I don’t remember much.” Rain starts to patter against the windows; the sky has grown dark and black, as if answering her recollection. “I actually grew up in a town known as the Root. It’s surrounded by mountains and waterfalls. It’s sunny all the time.”

Blake averts her gaze briefly, flits it down and away. “You must hate it here,” she says quietly, lips in a strange smile, empathetic and sad.

For reasons she can’t explain, Yang wants it gone, wants her light, wants her full. She reaches out, brushes a thumb across Blake’s cheekbone, knuckles resting against her skin. She’s warmer than Yang thinks she’ll be, and her amber irises peak up at her from underneath her long eyelashes. She doesn’t seem unnerved by the touch, but relieved, like she’s craving it.

“Actually,” Yang replies softly, “I think it’s starting to grow on me.”

--

Downstairs, Velvet is the one to crack first, resting her chin on Coco’s shoulder, teeth worrying her lip idly. “I’m...not crazy, right?” she asks hesitantly, seeking confirmation. “Blake…”

It hangs low, like fog, like shadow. Nobody seems to know what to say, how to react; Ilia carefully avoids the others’ eyes, staring straight at the door. Pyrrha finally clears her throat.

“I don’t think...you’re wrong,” she says carefully, measuring Weiss’s reaction. “I’ve never seen her so…”

“...Emotional,” Ren’s voice picks up where hers leaves off. “It’s unusual to see her so spirited.”

Weiss’s frown holds, unmoving, but a small crease appears between her eyebrows, signaling her own trepidation. Finally, she sighs, her posture unwinding. “You’re not crazy,” she murmurs, and slips on her coat, pulling her hair over the collar.

How?” Ilia demands instantly, stiffening at the confirmation. “How could you let this happen?”

Weiss turns on her, eyes narrowing. “Excuse me?” she hisses. “‘Let’?”

Pyrrha chimes in reproachfully. “Ilia, that isn’t how it works. You know that.”

Ilia ignores her. “How?” she asks again, still trained on Weiss.

If a room could breathe, theirs would be holding its breath; Weiss straightens her spine, her irritation quieting even in the face of Ilia’s irrational blame. The street-facing windows rattle with the wind.

“I don’t have an answer for you,” Weiss says coolly, adjusting the sleeves of her coat. “It happened suddenly and unexpectedly, as these things tend to. You are surrounded by vampires who have experienced it, should you need their testimony.”

Ilia’s expression hardens, slants. She’s unsatisfied, but she recognizes a place that isn’t hers, a battle that can’t be fought. “Fine,” she snaps, wound unrelentingly tight.

“I’m sorry it couldn’t be you,” Weiss says bluntly before she leaves, masking her sincerity with straightforwardness, and Ilia’s jaw clenches.

--

“So,” Yang says, sprawling across the bed, “should I be worried? Is this all part of your plan? Get me alone, drain the life from me?”

Blake smirks at her theatricality, the absurdity of the question. “Oh, absolutely,” she plays along, sitting on the corner. “I’ve got you right where I want you.”

Yang raises herself up on her elbows, eyebrow raising. “In your bed?” she asks pointedly, fully aware of what she’s doing.

But Blake doesn’t pause, doesn’t stumble, doesn’t hesitate. “Yes,” she says, mouth twisting dangerously. “Vampires do tend to seduce our victims before we kill them. The attractive ones, at least.”

“Well, that’s a relief,” Yang says. “At least I’ll die knowing you think I’m hot.”

Blake finally breaks and laughs, hiding the sound behind her hand. “As if you needed me to tell you that,” she says lightly. “Look at you.”

“Look at me?” Yang echoes, sitting fully up, one leg hanging off the edge, the other foot curled underneath her thigh. “Look at you.

Blake shakes her head once, almost to herself. “Please,” she says. “There’s a reason your demonstration earlier worked - you’re stunning. Even Coco agrees,” she adds, though it churns her stomach to say so.

“So I’m vampire bait, is what you’re saying, and it’s not just because I’m full of blood.”

She laughs once again, somewhat breathless and unwilling. “Sure, we’ll go with that,” she says. “Though I’d prefer it if you never referred to yourself as ‘full of blood’ ever again.”

“Are you thirsty now?” Yang asks teasingly, and Blake rolls her eyes. “Is my mere presence driving you to the brink of insanity?”

“No,” Blake says, moderately amused. “Not because of that, at least.”

Yang raises an eyebrow. “Oh?” she says flirtatiously. “Because of what, then?”

Blake smirks, leans in, lifts a finger underneath her chin, tilts her head teasingly. “Oh,” she murmurs, understanding the game, “I think you know.”

Yang’s eyes darken, lungs skittering to a halt. The bed feels too big, too empty. Blake’s floor could be the place she leaves her clothes. Let’s open the windows to the rain, she thinks of saying. Let’s flood the room, let’s turn down the lights. Let me see you in the dark.

“Yeah,” she says lowly. “I think I do.”

--

Weiss doesn’t bother wearing a hood, hiding her hair, covering her face; she’s too recognizable in the city, too much of a public presence. Her heels click against the wet pavement, steps entirely steady, umbrella held overhead. Neon lights flash, smoke billows from chimneys, clouds hang darkly in the sky; she passes a group of vampires meandering outside a bar, lighting up cigarettes, laughing, shoving each other, but they stop and nod respectfully at her as she passes. She meets their eyes but doesn’t react otherwise.

Yatsuhashi is standing against the alley wall just past Inhuman, one of their district’s popular co-op clubs perfect for humans who don’t mind when vampires get a little rough. The bouncer is glancing at each face in line as they enter and stamping them on the appropriate hand.

“Schnee!” a male voice calls from the back of the line, too desperate for arrogance. “We ever gonna see you in here? Shit, I’d let you do whatever you wanted to me.”

Weiss finds the voice’s owner, smiles dangerously at him; she can see the way he shivers from where he stands, ten feet away. “What I want,” she says with a dagger to her tongue, “is you to never address me again. Understood?”

Some of the other men ooh at him, and she hears a dully whispered fuck before she moves on. He doesn’t push his luck. All of them know better, human or not.

Yatsuhashi is grinning when she approaches him, his arms crossed, drenched from rain. He’s holding a toothpick between his teeth, slowly shifting it up and down, but plucks it out when he sees her. “Weiss,” he greets, inclining his head. “Making an entrance, as always.”

She rolls her eyes. “One of these days I’m going to snap and kill one of them,” she says. “I think I’d be justified, don’t you agree?”

“I do.” He’s serious, too, looking at her with a mark of high admiration. “Sometimes death is the only way to learn.”

She laughs at the irony, and he smiles back at her nicely. “I always appreciate your philosophy.”

“You’re one of many,” he replies, and lowers his voice; anyone who might’ve been listening to the beginning of their conversation for information has moved on by now, shadows shifting, players darting on. He rests his head back against the wall. “Corsac and Fennec are inside,” he mutters, his expression unchanging. “It’s the third time in two weeks.”

“Doing what?” Weiss asks, keeping her tone neutral.

Yatsuhashi slips the toothpick back into his mouth. “Scarlet thinks they’re recruiting,” he says. “But we don’t know how. They never stay long, and they always leave alone.”

Weiss runs her knuckles idly against the bottom of her chin, thinking, watching oil snake through the water running into the storm drains. “Is it possible they’re simply unsuccessful?”

He shakes his head subtly. “It doesn’t seem likely,” he responds. “I believe they’re following a pattern. Sun and Neptune saw them at Prayer two nights ago, and Coco swears they were in The Graveyard the night before that.

“Two other co-ops?” Weiss asks sharply, rhetorically. He doesn’t reply. She repeats, “Doing what?

“Just talking to humans,” he relays, but senses the angle she’s getting at. “That’s all.”

“Any new blood?”

“Plenty.”

“They’re playing nice,” she muses shrewdly. “Their other members never set foot in the co-ops. It’s against everything they stand for.” She meets his eyes, cold, hardened, and gives him a nod. “Fill me in on any other developments later, should they occur.”

“Of course.”

She turns on her heel, throws the bouncer at the door an expressionless look, and Yatsuhashi can feel the desire in her to strut inside demand the truth for herself, can see her killing the two of them right there at the bar for refusing to tell her. But thunder cracks overhead, and he blinks the rain out of his eyes, and suddenly she is gone.

--

Blake slides her fingers down the same clear panel on the wall, the lanterns overhead dimming. Yang rests back on her hands again. “Mood lighting?” she guesses cheekily, pressing her luck like a button, and Blake wonders how long the two of them can keep this up: she can’t help herself, can’t stop, but Yang’s wild and unpredictable, pushing her without knowing there’s no resistance.

“Our eyes are sensitive to the light,” she explains patiently. “Our senses are all so heightened; we have similar reactions to smell, sound, taste.” Touch remains unsaid. There are too many hints laid bare as it is.

“I actually knew that one,” Yang admits, grinning sheepishly, “but I couldn’t pass up the opportunity.”

“I’d assumed as much,” Blake replies, much more comfortable in the glow of candles and faint flames. “You’d be a pretty terrible vampire hunter if you didn’t know the most basic facts about us.”

Yang bites the inside of her lip, still caught between sincerity and a mask. “Let’s pretend I’m a terrible vampire hunter, then,” she starts, gazing at Blake with the darkness of the night sky inside of her. “Let’s pretend I need the most basic of lessons.”

It takes every ounce of willpower Blake has into restraining her smile, knowing exactly what direction it’s all going in, knowing exactly where they’re both going to end up eventually anyway. “Anatomy?” she guesses dryly, and can’t keep the mirth from her tone.

Yang laughs, hearing the ridiculousness of it out loud and faltering. Blake feels the way her embarrassment flares up briefly before fading, too entertained to be bothered, too genuinely wanting.

“Yeah,” she says, allowing it with a smirk. “Anatomy.”

Blake observes her for a moment, eyes briefly flashing to the clock on the wall and back; Yang simply sits, waiting, as if recognizing the split edge of a decision, the thin line of all dark and dangerous games.

In truth, there’s less of an argument than there should be. Blake listens to the flutter of her heart, the thunder rolling overhead, and somehow both sound the same. The pull is too strong, her room compounding its own walls, forcing her in. Everything sinks, rises like the ocean.

She saunters forward slowly, in calculated, even steps. Yang’s smile slips, unable to bury her anticipation, her lust. Blake appreciates the truth of it, the recklessness; she belongs in Blake’s room, belongs lying in her purple sheets, hair spread across her pillows the way a storm breaks into sun. Belongs with Blake’s mouth on hers, dipping down her throat, working in between her thighs.

She stops when she’s standing right in front of Yang, who’s now looking up at her with a salacious type of greed, like she’s imagining everything Blake had just been thinking in more vivid detail. Blake touches a hand underneath her chin, lifts her head up as she bends down.

“Do you want me to kiss you?” Blake murmurs, sultry and seductive, feeling the earth rotate beneath her feet. They’re so close. Gravity corrects itself; space flickers anxiously in the distance. “Is that what you’re asking for?”

Yang swallows, lips parting, voice coming out breathless. Her eyes look more red than lavender. She whispers huskily, “I’m asking you for much, much more than that.”

She raises her arms, palms cupping Blake’s cheeks, drawing her in without hesitation; they’re past that, too revealed to fake uncertainty. Blake bridges the remainder of the distance with a sigh, resigned and forgiving, capturing Yang’s bottom lip and kissing her entirely too softly for what was offered. Yang sinks into her, eyelids fluttering shut, and opens her mouth with a gasp, her tongue darting out, sweeping over Blake’s; let me in, she’s saying, let me closer, let me harder, let me deeper.

But Blake breaks their kiss, straightens up, raises her arm; she’s holding the back of her hand to her lips, and as it falls away, she skims her knuckles, fingers. Her lipstick remains untouched, perfectly filled and curved; Yang wonders what her lips look like without it, if they’re more red than pink from the blood she stains them with. She thinks about finding that out for herself.

“Oh,” Blake sighs again, looking reproachfully down at her, “I shouldn’t have done that.”

“I disagree,” Yang says after unsticking her voice from the back of her throat. “Vehemently.”

Blake actually laughs, but it fades into another, longer exhale; her mouth retains the smile. “I’ll see you in a few hours,” she says, an emotion Yang can’t quite place lingering underneath. “You shouldn’t go back out tonight - it’s unsafe. In the morning, we’ll collect your things from...I’m assuming you’re at an inn?”

Yang nods in affirmation, still not trusting herself to form complete sentences. “Crow Bar.”

“In the Dust district?”

“Yeah.”

“Smart,” she says, idling with a hand on the doorframe. “The humans who live there aren’t huge fans of vampires.”

“They usually aren’t,” Yang says, and regains some of her spine, grinning. “I know my self-preservation instincts seem nonexistent, as I’m now residing in a house full of vampires, but I do have the intention of living through this.”

“Well, we’re definitely aligned there,” Blake says, fixing the collar of her jacket; the motion seems to stir a reminder, and her eyes fall to Yang’s attire. “If you’d like something to wear to bed, you can look through my dresser. I don’t mind.”

“Thanks.”

“Of course.”

“Hey,” Yang says, the second before Blake leaves and shuts the door; she peaks back in, small frown crossing her mouth like she’s adopted the change of mood on instinct. “We’re not gonna sit around for days and days, are we? Like, you’re all serious about this.”

Blake sharpens, somehow, and offers her a lopsided, dangerous smile instead; she runs her tongue over the point of a fang. “Don’t worry,” she says ominously, a void ringing underneath her voice, and Yang finally sees the layers to her that have yet to be unearthed. “Nobody wants the White Fang dead more than I do.”

--

“Is it true?”

The voice stops her from the parlor room on the first floor, just before her hand manages to connect with the front door handle. Blake pauses, processes, turns; she’d hoped to avoid this conversation so soon, hoped to spare casualties. There’s a phrase to be said here, she thinks, something about love and war and how their corpses ache the same.

Ilia’s standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame with her arms crossed, one ankle kicked over the other. She doesn’t sound angry, just defeated, her posture defensive and accepting simultaneously.

There’s no easy way to break somebody else’s heart. Ilia senses her hesitation. “Please,” she says quietly, on the verge of begging. The uncertainty is her own form of torture. “I need to hear it from you.”

Blake drops her shoulders, trying to find tension to release and instead finding old scars. The torches on the walls feel warmer than they used to, or maybe that’s her own skin, finally alive. She’d forgotten how it felt to have wounds that closed.

“Yes,” she says. “It’s true.”

“How do you...” Ilia starts, fighting for calm and against hurt, straightening up. “How do you know?

Blake glances around the entryway, thinks of how it felt to kiss Yang only an hour previously, thinks of how the world dismantled and built itself again from the ground up. She says vaguely, “You just know.” Ilia frowns, frustrated, but Blake continues on a tangent, “I still hate Adam for what he did to us, but I don’t resent what I am anymore.”

That remark uproots the balance more than anything else she could’ve said, and it’s the only thing the forces Ilia to reconsider her angle. “You?” Ilia repeats, aghast. “You don’t - you’re okay with what we are, now? Because of one girl?”

Blake finally looks at her, and there’s something ancient lurking in her eyes, distant, heavy, deathless; it speaks to a knowledge Ilia doesn’t have, can’t possibly comprehend. There’s no use. They’ve been around for hundreds of years. Sometimes it only takes a second.

“Yeah,” Blake says plainly, shrugging. “I suppose I was wrong.”

“About what?”

She turns back towards the door, fingers wrapping around the handle. “There are things worth living for, after all,” she says, and to Ilia, it’s a ghost who slips out of the house and into the night.

--

Yang doesn’t sleep immediately, despite her exhaustion; she takes time to examine each inch of Blake’s room, careful not to disrupt her organization and order, just staring, touching, and returning. She can’t explain why, but every facet of her life is fascinating: the rings sitting flashily on the dresser, covered in a thin layer of dust, untouched; the loose books piled high on her desk, dog-eared and worn like they’ve been read over and over again; her closet, which is deceivingly large and overflowing with reds and blacks and purples, tucked behind a door to the left of the bookshelves. She carefully digs through Blake’s dresser drawers, briefly toying with the idea of sleeping naked before settling on a strangely out-of-place tank top: it’s orange with a symbol of a red heart on fire, and it looks like nothing Blake would ever touch, let alone own.

She likes it, though, and walks into the bathroom to change out of habit, which is through a different door to the right of the bed. The same stone makes up the walls, and the pipes are gold like the basin of the sink, the showerhead.

She slides on the lights, which flare up on either side of the mirror, power flaring like a flame. It must be an old building, Yang thinks idly, running her hand over the marble counter; the bath is a similar stone, although like the floor, seems as if it’d been cut from a single slab and molded. It’s all very baroque, picked and placed with a great deal of thought, care; they’re vampires with a lot of time on their hands and an impeccable sense of style. Yang can get behind that.

She sprawls back out across Blake’s bed, and it’s surprisingly comfortable for something that likely doesn’t see much sleep, though it’s clearly nice for relaxing. She stares at the ceiling, watches the candlelight dance, and fights to stop the void of anxiety and fear welling underneath her heart: she imagines Ruby as a child instead, rolling happily across the grass while their mother watches from their kitchen window; remembers how she’d laugh at the way dandelions lost their seeds when Yang blew too hard on them, how she’d chase after them with her hands in the air. How she’d curl up on the floor in front of the fire with their dog and fall asleep in the winter. How she used to run screaming down hills, thinking she’d be able to fly.

They won’t kill her. She hears Qrow’s voice in her head, speaking the only comforting words she has on repeat. They won’t kill her. She doesn’t feel her eyelids close.

--

Blake’s somewhat surprised to see Yang so peacefully asleep when she returns home around four, stretched out on her back underneath Blake’s sheets. The lights are dim and flap with the air of wings, coalescing around her. She’s too bright for this room, blonde hair messily spread across her pillows, orange shirt contrasting vividly with--

Blake stops mid-step as she finally comprehends the sight in front of her, feeling a pulse, like a heartbeat without presence. The colors are strange and misplaced, blown up and boiled down; Yang almost looks blurry to her, like Blake’s eyes are still coated in rain, like she’s staring at a painting deliberately out-of-focus.

She steps quietly to the side of the bed, lowers herself down, sitting beside Yang carefully. She sighs to herself, reaching out and running her fingers gently through the loose strands of hair falling across Yang’s cheek, brushing them from her face.

She braces herself upon doing so - it’s probably a stupid idea to touch a vampire hunter in their sleep, considering they must subconsciously be on high alert for attacks - but Yang only blinks her lilac eyes open slowly, gazing blearily up at her, oblivious. Blake watches her body shift, muscles gliding underneath her skin, never tensing.

Neither of them speak. Blake continues tracing her fingers along the same path, her temple, her cheekbone, her jaw; Yang allows it, only watching with a bare sort of despondency in her eyes, like she can feel the loss of a weight that Blake won’t give her. Like there’s something she’s missing and she’s aware of it.

She lifts a hand, palm cupping Blake’s cheek, and her fingers curve automatically against the corner of her jaw, the shell of her ear. Blake takes her wrist, leans into the touch, and it’s all the sign Yang needs to gently coax her down, eyelashes fluttering.

Their lips meet again, and this time, all Blake feels is the way calm washes over her soul like foam settling into sand; she’s struck with visions of a cloudless blue sky, sunlight fissuring through leaves, a waterfall peeking out of the crevice of high cave.

Something inexplicable, she thinks. Somewhere they both could be. Together.

--

Nothing more had happened, after that; Blake had touched her too tenderly and said sleep, and she’d been too exhausted to resist. She isn’t sure what Blake had done; if she’d stayed awake and watched, if she’d picked up one of her worn-out books, if she’d returned out into the night.

But she’s there when Yang wakes up again, running a brush through her wet hair by the window, looking out at the street below; the sky’s still grey, but it’s a little lighter than normal, almost tinted green by the sun threading string through the clouds. She’s only wrapped in a towel, but remains largely unconcerned by this fact, her mouth curling into a smile.

“Good morning,” she greets, not bothering to look over. “We can go whenever you’re ready.”

“Okay,” Yang says, stretching as she sits up, her hair a wild mess behind her. “I’ll just...shower.” She says the word slowly, somewhat trailing off as she grasps just how uncovered Blake is, but more than that, she’s--

Yang slips out of bed, takes the few steps to where Blake is facing the window, and hovers behind her, judging. But there’s no doubt, and it’s something she’d known, anyway, but actually measuring it, being able to quantify it for herself--

“Yes?” Blake asks whimsically, methodically brushing out a knot.

“You’re so small,” Yang says, voice scratchy with sleep and surprise.

Blake sighs, but doesn’t pause her movements. “I’m not that short,” she argues mildly. “You’re just tall. You’re, what - five-nine?”

Yang takes another step, gaze darkening slightly, giving Blake every chance to dart away; she never does, only stands there, waiting, strokes slowing down as she watches Yang’s reflection grow clearer in the windowpane. Yang palms her hips, fingers applying the barest amount of pressure through her towel, her chest pressed against Blake’s back.

“I have to shower,” Yang repeats without answering her question, much too close to her ear.

“You’ve said that.”

“You can join me.”

Blake unwillingly smiles, smacks the side of her head with the back of her brush; Yang half-laughs, half-yelps in response, retreating playfully. “No,” she admonishes lightly. “I’ve showered. You missed your chance.”

“So I’ll wake up earlier tomorrow,” Yang says nonchalantly as she steps into the bathroom to the sound of Blake’s giggling, but her head pops back out a moment later, quizzical. “Hey,” she says, plucking at the tank top she’s wearing. “Why do you own this, anyway?”

Blake pauses, the laughter fading from her mouth, and a subtle introspection replaces it instead. “I don’t know,” she answers truthfully, taking in the way it clings to Yang as she runs her fingers through her hair. “Maybe I was looking for the kind of person who would.”

--

Yang’s torn between jumping her in the entryway and choking back a laugh upon meeting her downstairs; her hair’s loose and lightly curled over her shoulders, and she’s wearing a black floral-patterned, long-sleeved blouse that dips sharply in the middle and remains unbuttoned, revealing the outline of her black bra, lined in lace; it’s tucked into burgundy shorts, ankle boots keeping her tall. The only humorous thing about the outfit is her sunglasses, big with extremely tinted lenses. She’s wearing a brimmed hat, too, shielding her face even further from the light.

Yang stares stupidly at her, trying to figure out which reaction is winning, and if it’s appropriate, her mouth in a strange, bemused half-grin. Blake takes immediate notice of the expression and asks, “What?”

“Well,” Yang says without a filter, “I’m trying to decide if I’m more...amused, or turned on by this look.” Her tongue slips out, licks her bottom lip.

Blake allows the upward turn of her mouth, but Yang catches the minute hesitation, and she’s been caught flustered. “Let me guess,” she says, shutting the door behind them. “Hot, but hungover?”

“Nailed it,” Yang says, blatantly checking her up and down. “I think turned on is winning.”

Blake stops by the front gate with a laugh, shifting to face her. “Hm,” she says, and lifts her hand to her glasses, removing them in a smooth, quick motion, meeting Yang’s eyes, resisting the urge to squint against the sun. “How about now?”

There’s no way to explain this, Yang thinks, stunned into speechlessness by the gold lining her pupils; her smile is gently curved, like something soft, the way silk folds, the way wax melts. Yang can’t stop her stare from wandering; her skin is pale and there’s so much of it on display, all places Yang wants to rest her hands, use her mouth. Blake fits in darkness, that’s the thing, wearing the night like an accessory, the personification of the moon swallowed, still reflecting light, but in the brighter day--

“Yeah,” she says idly, struck, finding Blake’s eyes again. “Now it’s definitely winning.”

--

Sun raps quickly on the door of Weiss’s study, waiting for permission to enter; he hears a low hum in response and pokes his head in, finding her at her desk with her scroll in her hands, staring puzzledly at the screen. “Hey,” he greets. “Coco said you wanted to talk? Apparently we missed some crazy shit last night.”

She waves him in. “You did,” she confirms, sighing. “Where’s Neptune?”

“Grabbing a bite. I can pass it on.”

“Fine.” She doesn’t have the patience to wait. “We’ve accepted a contract with a huntress. Her name is Yang Xiao Long. She wants to help take down the White Fang.”

Sun only blinks at her, knowing better than to think she’s kidding; his wordless acceptance of the more fantastical parts of the explanation make her glad it’s him receiving it instead of Neptune. “Why?”

“They’ve kidnapped her sister,” Weiss reiterates. “Another huntress by the name of...Ruby, I believe. Yang’s skills will prove extremely useful.”

“Oh, cool,” Sun says, and plops down in a chair in front of her desk. “We can use all the help we can get. Where’s she now?”

“With Blake.”

Sun actually laughs aloud at that. “Yikes,” he says. “Really? That’s the impression you want to give her of us? Dark, moody, and brooding?”

Weiss feels her own mouth curl in response, the intensity of their first kiss coming to mind, how it filled the room, drowned her, but chooses not to reveal the truth. It’s not a feeling she has possession of to share. “Surprisingly,” she says, “they seem to have taken a liking to each other. I’m content to allow it.”

“Good for her,” Sun says. “Maybe she’ll get Blake to lighten the fuck up.”

That’s a remark she brushes past, settling into severity once again. Her scroll buzzes. “You and Neptune will wait for instructions tonight,” she informs him, gaze dropping back to her screen, stare narrowing in. “You won’t be in the guard, but there’s something else I’d like you to do.”

--

The walk takes about twenty minutes, mostly because Blake’s giving her somewhat of a guided tour along the way, pointing out places to avoid and embrace, which vampires from which covens are likely to be where, and which of those they trust as allies. It’s actually strangely charming in the daylight, clearly welcoming to humans despite the glass windows of stores being tinted, or curtains drawn, blinds closed. They pass smaller groups of vampires with sunglasses similar to Blake’s, ambling gracefully along with coffee cups in their hands, mouths stained red. Yang fights back a laugh in spite of it; Blake smiles like she’s expecting the reaction.

Midway through, Blake guides her into a deli on the corner of a quiet street called Fallow; rather than a bell, a bass thumps once when the door opens, signaling their arrival. The inside does what it can to be sharp without threatening; it’s more metallic than dark, brick wall smooth underneath the power boxes and lines, like dull red veins creeping up the stone.

It’s empty when they enter, but the second Yang blinks, there’s a man standing behind the counter with a welcoming smile. “Hey,” he greets, unfazed by her presence. “What can I get you?”

“Hey,” Yang greets the vampire warmly, her vision adjusting quickly as she scans the menu; understandably, all of the open establishments have muted lighting. “I’ll just do a smoked salmon bagel. Thanks.”

“No problem,” he replies agreeably, and looks over her shoulder at Blake. “Ms. Belladonna. Can I get you anything?”

“Sure,” she says, and Yang bemusedly crooks an eyebrow. “I’ll have the tofu spinach wrap.”

“Of course,” he says, his hands moving across the board and between the ingredients incredibly fast, and immediately hands them their food. “Ten lien for both.”

Blake tosses a card at him which he catches expectantly, tapping it to his forehead and away like a salute. “Thanks,” Blake says politely, and he nods his head in recognition. The bass thrums again as they exit.

“Uh,” Yang says pointedly, glancing down as she watches Blake take a bite, running a finger underneath her lip after. “What’s that about?”

Blake covers her mouth with her hand, still chewing. “We eat normal food sometimes, you know. Blood is just what sustains us. And tastes the best.” She pauses, reconsidering her statement. “Well, almost.”

Yang works on filing that information somewhere she can keep track of it. She’d seen it done in places where it was harder to get a steady supply of human blood, but hadn’t realized it was common. “Tofu and spinach,” she says, lightly disgusted. “You still eat human food and that’s what you’re going with?”

Blake laughs at her expression. “We like foods that are high in iron,” she explains, guiding Yang down a narrower street littered with open cafes, gelato bars, boutiques, liquor markets. It’s a calmer area, clearly more for mornings and afternoons than the thrill of midnight. There are more humans than vampires here, though they seem equally relaxed around each other, mingling in lines. “We don’t really eat too much, but sometimes we’ll have a random craving or two if we haven’t had blood in awhile.”

“So what’s better?” Yang asks.

“Hm?”

“You said blood tastes the best. Almost.”

“Oh.” Blake smiles guiltily. “Dark chocolate.”

Yang can’t help herself; she snickers loudly, shaking her head. “Chocolate,” she repeats comically.

“Yes, and?” Blake shoots at her. “Something funny?”

“No, nothing,” Yang answers teasingly as they reach the shops that signal the line of the Dust district, signs glowing faintly, crystals advertised in their windows. Cars roll by smoothly in the street, leaving the roads untouched. “I’m just trying to reconcile God’s Greatest Monster with a dark chocolate addiction.”

If Blake’s uncomfortable by the store displays, she does a remarkable job hiding it, giggling at Yang’s description instead. “Oh, please,” she says loftily, but cuts off any further playful argument by pointing a few buildings ahead. “Is that it?”

Yang starts; she’d been looking on the wrong side of the street, turned around by shortcuts, but the hanging metal words are unmistakable: Crow Bar. She nods affirmatively. “Yep.”

The host inside eyes Blake apprehensively upon their entry, but Yang holds up her keys, jingling them, and his frown settles grotesquely in his face; he can’t stop them from continuing on. Blake follows her up the stairs and into the small room consisting of only a desk, a nightstand, and a bed, where most of Yang’s things are scattered messily; a door that leads to a bathroom is standing open to the right. Yang snaps the red curtains shut, cloaking the walls in a muddy glow.

Blake slips her sunglasses off, blinking appreciatively, and the hunger pools in Yang’s mouth again at the sight of her face, unobstructed. There’s a bed, there’s a lock. Her heart hammers messily.

“Thanks,” Blake says.

“Sure.” Yang keeps her tongue where it is. “Sorry. I won’t take long.”

Blake only hums in response, apparently content to watch her shove a strangely large wardrobe into a single duffle bag. She picks up an old, pocket-sized square picture of Ruby she’d left sitting on the nightstand, examines it briefly, fingers touching the worn edges. It hurts too much to look at.

“You’re really worried about her,” Blake says softly from behind her.

Yang smiles sadly. “Yeah.”

Blake takes a step closer and says, “She’ll be okay, Ya--” but the remaining letters of Yang’s name fall out of her mouth, replaced with a vicious snarl and a sudden loud bang against the wall instead. Yang spins around, jolts at the sight waiting for her before instantly slipping into irritation.

Blake’s lips are pulled back, fangs bared, her fingers wrapped around Qrow’s throat; to his credit, he looks vaguely impressed by the attack, as if he hadn’t been caught off his feet in awhile. Yang hurriedly drops her bag, places a hand on Blake’s shoulder, not restraining her, just grounding.

“He’s fine, he’s fine,” she says annoyedly, eyeing the man. “It’s just my uncle. Qrow, meet Blake.”

Blake drops him immediately, expression torn. “I’m so sorry,” she apologizes profusely as he crumples to the ground, taking a step backward, shooting Yang a regretful glance. “I didn’t mean--”

“It’s okay,” Yang dismisses, much more kindly; “it’s not your fault.” She nudges his leg with her boot. “You should know better, Qrow. Sneaking up behind someone? That’s an automatic threat.”

He blinks dazedly up at her. “I was waiting until I was sure she was a friend of yours. She is, right?” he asks in lieu of a response, unsteadily getting to his feet; Blake suddenly realizes that he’s drunk, fumes settling over his skin like he has his own atmosphere.

“Yeah,” Yang answers blasély. “This is Blake. She’s my--” she pauses for a moment, pursing her lips; Blake picks up the slack for her with a smile.

“Let’s go with ‘vampire bodyguard,’” she supplies humorously.

“--Vampire bodyguard,” Yang finishes, agreeing with a grin.

He raises his eyebrows high, dusting off his pants. “That didn’t take very long,” he says. “I figured they’d need a little more convincing.”

“He’s the one who directed me to you,” she explains before Blake has the opportunity to ask. “He’s been here a few days longer than I have, scouting out the city.”

Blake looks over at him. “And?” she questions, as if taking on Yang’s burdens for her. “Have you found anything?”

Qrow eyes her oddly, leaning slightly away from the intensity. “What’s with her?” he asks, as if she isn’t standing right in front of him. “She’s serious.”

Yang snaps her fingers in front of his face. “Focus, Qrow.”

He removes his flask from the inside of his coat pocket, unscrewing the cap; the scent of bourbon assaults them strongly, and he brings it to his mouth, pausing. “There’s...a lot of them,” he says, lulls between words. “More than I’ve ever seen in one coven.”

“How many?”

“Forty? Fifty?” he guesses, trailing off to drink. “A lot of them are new. They’re taking up the entire north side, extending to the docks - their main compound looks like an old manufacturing facility.”

“Impossible,” Blake hisses, abruptly standing on edge, her entire body stiffening, coiling tight. “Fifty?

“Does that sound wrong to you?” Yang asks critically, Blake’s dread engulfing her like it’s sitting in her own skull. Fifty vampires in a coven. There’s no way to sustain that, hold those numbers without drawing attention to it.

“They were thirty the last time we counted a month ago,” she answers furiously. “Not including their followers, who only live on the north side, not in the compound.”

“They always travel in pairs, but they only ever border the perimeter of the south side, like there’s a line they don’t want to cross,” Qrow says. “Your territory, right?”

“We’re half-human,” Blake says. “Our population, I mean. Most of our humans are protected by smaller covens in the area. That’s normally where we get our crowds - they’re humans just looking to be taken care of.”

“I can’t tell where they’re keeping Ruby,” Qrow says, speaking hastily now that he and Blake seem to have reached a mutual understanding, “though they seem to have other prisoners - none I recognize. I saw a boy being brought into the warehouses yesterday. My guess is they’re being held in the same place, but I don’t know what they’re doing to them. I see the vampires bringing human food around a few times a day, thought, meaning they’re keeping them alive.”

“Fuck,” Yang exhales, lungs filling with relief instead of oxygen, and somehow it’s easier to breathe. “You’re sure?”

“I’m sure.”

“Okay.” She clenches her fists, spreads her fingers. “What now?”

“I need to talk to Weiss,” Blake inputs, already typing rapidly on her scroll. “She needs to know about their increase in numbers immediately.”

“You do that,” Qrow says. “I’ll send you a message if I get any leads. Tai still doesn’t know about this.”

“Good.” It’s the only exhaustion Yang finally allows. Blake’s fingers fluctuate temporarily, but resume her message a moment later. “He doesn’t need to.”

Blake’s mouth simmers in a thin line, sharp and pointed, and Qrow’s clarity has started drifting off. She remembers the grave of Tai’s eyes after Summer and refuses to become what she isn’t. She isn’t dead yet. She won’t lie down and act like it.

“I’m tired of warzones,” she says plainly, and Blake furrows her eyebrows, frown deepening unhappily.

“Yeah,” she says, her gaze glued to her screen. “So am I.”

--

It’s more of an uproar than it is a discussion upon arriving home; they’re all gathered in the upstairs living room, and it’s the first time Yang sees every member of the coven together at once. She can see instantly why they demand the respect they do, why they’re the ones Qrow had lead her towards; their anger comes from a place of love, rather than survival. They don’t want power. They want balance, peace, freedom.

They aren’t dead yet, either, and they won’t act like it. The thought jolts Yang into an uncomfortable place of consciousness, despite it being one she’d already known; there’s something clearer about it now, something clean repairing its edges.

“How are they possibly getting those kinds of results?” Scarlet poses rhetorically, one leg kicked up on the coffee table. “It doesn’t make sense.”

“I’d thought their ideology was gaining in popularity,” Yang says. “Like, twenty in a month is extreme, but if it’s a movement--”

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a new vampire who shared their ideals intensely enough to die for them,” Blake says shortly, though not meanly. “Their humanity is too fresh, their bonds too strong. We revere humans, you know; that’s the point. They’re what keep us alive. The White Fang’s philosophies regarding humans are unpopular at best.” She strokes her thumb underneath her chin, biting the inside of her cheek like she’s missing something.

“So where are they getting new members?” Yang asks, finishing the thought. “If humans don’t go into their territory, and they restrict themselves from yours…”

“And any vampires new to town would know better than to involve themselves in political alignments…” a man she thinks named Sage continues, working to connect the gears, fit the pieces.

“Corsac and Fennec,” Weiss says abruptly, turning away from the window, locating Blake’s eyes immediately. “That’s why they’ve been coming to our district, why we’ve been seeing so many unfamiliar vampires recently - they aren’t killing humans. They’re unlocking their auras.”

The words don’t mean anything to Yang in that order, but the rest of the coven prickles in agitation, spines straightening, gazes narrowing in; Scarlet’s foot slips onto the rug. “Oh,” Pyrrha whispers, and similar expressions of indignation flicker through faces across the room. “And they’re killing them after, hoping they turn.”

“That would explain the increase in human mortality as of late,” Ren says stoically. “Of course they wouldn’t all turn.”

“And they’re doing it in our territory,” Sun growls, cracking his knuckles aggressively. “They’re trying to make it look like we’re the ones who’ve snapped! The last place any of the missing humans would’ve been seen would be here--

“Son of a bitch,” Coco says furiously. “I knew we should’ve killed those fuckers when we had the chance--”

“Quiet,” Weiss snaps suddenly, reigning control over the room; Coco settles down, glowers, Sun mirroring her look viciously. The unrest is tangible, the color of dust. “I’m open to suggestions, not panic.”

“We can’t let them continue,” Velvet chimes in from the back of the room, her arms crossed. “This isn’t just dangerous for us anymore. This is dangerous for - for everything we’ve worked for.”

“Their numbers are growing too quickly,” Blake says, miraculously keeping calm. “Velvet’s right. We can’t trust new vampires around humans, especially if they’re being misguided by the White Fang. We need to get Ruby out of there, and we need to put a stop to this.”

“You need to make me seen,” Yang says quietly. “Make it spread. Make them talk. If Ruby knows I’m here, she can get a message to me without raising suspicion - trust me, she has a way - and we can form a plan of attack. We have the advantage of someone on the inside.”

Weiss takes it into account, debating silently with herself; ultimately it’s her decision, but she won’t enforce something they’re all against, either. There’s a reason she’s respected, and it’s because trust is something she’d worked to gain, not just demanded in dictatorship.

“Here’s what we’ll do,” she begins, chin held in her hand, stare darting between all of them as if mentally scratching x’s across a map. “Blake, Sun, Neptune - the three of you will take Yang out tonight. Make sure she’s noticed. I want them all talking, watching.”

“Oh, I don’t think they’re gonna have any trouble with that,” Nora says, snickering. “She’ll be the most beautiful human out there.”

“Yes,” Weiss agrees, her sober tone contrasting oddly with Nora’s upbeat one. “I’m counting on her being rather popular.” She shoots Yang a mildly appraising look. “No offense.”

“None taken,” Yang replies carelessly, holding up her hands. “Won’t be the first time I’ve used my appearance to fuel some kind of like, master plan. Obviously,” she adds to Blake with a grin.

Blake smiles back unwillingly, subtly covering her lips; Yang catches Neptune and Sun exchanging a glance, bemused. Weiss continues, “Word of mouth is how the knowledge of claiming tends to be spread, so - let her be approached, and step in when the time is right. Go to all the co-ops in our area; I’d even make it a point to linger outside the vampire-exclusive bars, let them get a glimpse of her.”

“Okay, so, Prayer, The Graveyard, Entity”--Sun ticks them off on his fingers--“maybe hang around Black Moon? We can stop for cigs - and Five Litre.”

“And Inhuman,” Weiss says sharply. “I want you seen there.”

Neptune raises an eyebrow. “Inhuman?” he repeats dubiously. “That crowd’s a little hard to control. I don’t want her getting, like, hurt.”

Yang smiles with her teeth. “Oh,” she says threateningly, “I’m really not worried about that.”

“The rest of us,” Weiss says, ignoring them, “are going to spread out along their border. I want reports. How many in, how many out, where do they go, do they come back alone. Stay as long as you can undetected, and meet me back here in the morning.”

“What do we do if we’re caught?” Nora asks.

Weiss’s lip curls, viperous. “Kill them before they kill you.”

--

Here’s the problem.

It isn’t that the moon is back in the sky where it belongs, or that the stars are suddenly in all the right places. It isn’t that they’re on the edge of summer, rain warring with itself over whether or not it’s finished falling. It isn’t that she’s a centuries-old vampire whose soul is tied to a woman so entirely the opposite of everything she revels in, too full of color and light and fire.

It’s that Yang comes downstairs for the night and she’s none of those things, dressed entirely in black: her long-sleeved crop top is completely sheer, blatantly displaying her bra underneath, the curves of her chest, her abs taking up the rest of the space between the hem and the edge of her tight pants. She’s also wearing stilettos, red soles vibrant beneath her feet, matching the color of her nail polish, the vivid crimson of her lipstick. Even Weiss watches her walk, so confounded by the transition that she can’t bring herself to turn away, her blue eyes unusually revealing.

Neptune whistles. “Ho-ly shit.”

She slips a leather jacket over her arms, straightens the collar, lets her blonde hair fall carelessly over her shoulders. “What do you think?” she asks, mouth set in an arrogant curve.

“Do what now?” Sun asks stupidly, like thinking is a process he’s never heard of before.

Yang only laughs, turning to Blake for confirmation, validation. She steps too close, smells like salt and rosewood, looks like the kind of sex that ends with Blake’s fangs sinking into the side of her neck, blood in her mouth.

Blake can only stare, her lips parted and her pupils too wide, her soul threatening to crawl out of them, unlatching windows and opening doors. There used to be locks, but she’s lost them. There used to be walls, but she’s torn them down. I want to see your veins, she thinks of saying, I want to live inside of you.

“Blake can’t talk right now,” Sun supplies helpfully. “She’s trying to remember how to work her mouth.”

“I could help her with that,” Yang pitches low, her irises seeping red, and Blake nearly feels the room spin.

“Get out,” Weiss interrupts, sexual innuendo finally crossing a line. Some things she just isn’t equipped to stomach for long. “There’s a purpose to this.”

Yang straightens suddenly, saluting Weiss with a playful seriousness. “Yes ma’am,” she says, taking Blake’s hand. “We won’t let you down.”

“Blake,” Weiss calls as they leave, focusing her with an emphasis. “Control yourself.”

It serves as both a threat and a warning. Yang curls her fingers through Blake’s tighter, and Blake swallows.

--

Prayer is colorful and pulsating and lively, ground vibrating beneath their feet and reverberating through their bones. The sound throws itself into the high, arched ceilings of the cathedral, creating an echo so haunting and ethereal that it reads as boundless, rushing, thumping. It reminds Yang of a heart, each bass note beating in time with her own. Maybe that’s the point.

Blake’s lips find their way against her ear. “We like bass the most,” she tells Yang, accounting for the noise; Sun and Neptune have already disappeared, wrapped up in each other as couples who are bonded tend to be. “It’s more enjoyable to hear, feel. Some higher notes are too - they’re too shrill and irritating.”

“I like it,” Yang says, watching the way bodies grind on the dance floor, imagines the heat, the skin, the sweat, thinks of pulling Blake against her, thinks of working a thigh between her legs, thinks of pressing her against the bar. She swallows; Blake shifts closer into her as if by magnetism, like Yang’s ideas alone are enough to influence her. “I need a drink.”

“It’s a full bar,” Blake says, wrapping an arm around her waist almost possessively. “Get whatever you want, babe.”

Yang turns to her, single eyebrow raised flirtatiously. “Babe, huh?”

“We’re putting on a show, aren’t we?” Blake points out quietly, smiling mischievously. “Everybody’s watching.”

“Get me noticed, but notice who I belong to?” Yang poses, dropping her own arm around Blake’s shoulders. Blake’s right, though; she can feel their stares, lingering on her chest, her ass, Blake’s hands on her hips. They don’t approach, recognizing the signs too easily, not bothering to test their luck.

Blake runs the tip of her tongue across her top lip, her teeth. “That’s one way to put it,” she says, and they’re no longer playing games; they’re in a cathedral and Yang can only think of sacrifice, of shattered stained glass slicing through her skin, of holding it to Blake’s mouth and saying drink. They’re in a cathedral much too soaked in sin to ever repent its past, and Yang can only think of contributing to it herself, making it irreparable.

They’ve made it to the bartender. She gives them a once-over, lingering on Yang’s chest appreciatively, leveling her with a wide smirk. “What can I get you?” she asks pleasantly.

“Tequila,” Yang says hastily. “Shots.”

“How many?”

“Three.”

Blake murmurs, “I’m not really into tequila.”

“That’s fine,” Yang says, slamming them back as they’re handed to her. “These are all for me.”

--

Entity and The Graveyard follow similar patterns, though their atmospheres don’t blend; Entity reminds Yang of every dark and twisted path, every cold and deadly corner. Its patrons mirror it well, shrouded in mostly purple light, wrapped so closely together it’s impossible to tell who’s vampire and who’s human. It’s all sex, all expectation, and the bass thumps even lower like it has its hands wrapped around her hips.

Blake fits in here better than at Prayer, and though Sun and Neptune look somewhat out of place it doesn’t seem to bother them; they hold Blake back at a table, gesture Yang on to the bar. “Good,” Sun says under his breath. “I recognize most of these people.”

“It’ll make an impact,” Neptune adds lowly.

Blake’s gaze is only tethered to Yang. “Someone’s going up to her,” she says, fighting her own instincts to snap; she watches a vampire tap Yang on the shoulder, lean in closely to speak to her, his smile wide and his teeth too sharp. A woman stands behind him, her arms crossed, blatantly examining every inch of available skin.

Sun sniggers. “Looks like she’s got a line, actually.”

“She’ll have a harem by the end of the night.”

“Shut up,” Blake snaps, unamused with their jokes, listening intently to the conversation taking place.

“...I’m actually with someone,” Yang’s answering charmingly, her body language relaxed and inviting, as if she’s somehow supremely comfortable with rejecting a creature that could kill her in an instant. “So I’ll have to decline your offer.

The few people surrounding her moan; one steps even closer and says huskily, “Well, I don’t see anyone. Where are they?

It’s what she’s waiting for. “Right here,” Blake says with a threatening smile, suddenly at her side, Sun and Neptune flanking her easily. They’d always relished the opportunity for a bit of theatre. She rests an elbow against Yang’s shoulder, aiming for distantly possessive. “Is there a problem?”

He widens his eyes, steps back unevenly, almost smacking into the vampire sitting on a stool behind him; she barely notices, also stunned by the appearance of the trio coming to verify the claim. Dozens of eyes turn to them at the subtle commotion, curious, cautious, afraid. Vampires don’t trip without a reason.

“N-no,” he says, inclining his head hastily. “Ms. Belladonna. No. Not at all. I’m so sorry, I wasn’t aware--”

“I heard her decline,” Blake says casually, examining her fingernails as if above him. “Was that not enough for you?”

“It - it was.” He’s almost cowering at this point, but flashes his eyes to Yang’s, bows his head deeply again. “I’m so s-sorry. Please, forgive me.”

Yang smiles unsettlingly, her arm winding around Blake’s waist. “No harm done,” she says, not knowing how close she is to a lie.

--

“Why was he so terrified of you?” Yang asks quietly, standing outside of Black Moon as Sun and Neptune buy cigarettes from inside; the establishment itself is very dim, quieter than the others, more of a pub than a club. She can feel the vampires watching her from where some of them sit at the outside tables, intrigued despite themselves, but none approach with Blake so close.

“We have very few laws,” Blake tells her vaguely, pulling her own cigarette out of a pack, “and death is a punishment that doesn’t take much to be earned.” She pauses before slipping it between her lips. “Do you have a lighter?”

Yang takes her heavy metallic one out of her jacket pocket, flips it open, snaps the wheel; Blake eyes it appreciatively as it sparks, leaning towards the flame. She inhales deeply, throws her head back, exhales; the smoke is thick and has a scent similar to dew on grass, upturned earth.

“Archaic,” Blake comments, glancing back to the device. “I haven’t seen a lighter like that in years.”

“It was my mother’s,” Yang says, strangely detached. “How old are you, anyway?”

Blake breathes in again; smoke unfurls from her mouth as she answers. “One-hundred and seventy-three. I was twenty-four when I was turned.”

“What happens when you turn?” Yang asks, staring idly at the flashing translucent screens on the inside of the bar she isn’t allowed to enter. “Earlier. You said we can’t trust new vampires around humans. Why?”

“Normally, it wouldn’t be such a cause for concern,” she says carefully, lowering her arm, the paper burning between her fingers. “But if the White Fang’s forcibly transitioning humans into vampires...there’s no way they aren’t being fed the lie that they’re superior, over and over and over again. And that sort of thinking is dangerous. It leads to hatred, and power, and fear, and retaliation.”

“And then we have a second war on our hands,” Neptune finishes from where he’s suddenly hovering beside them, lighting his own cigarette. “That’s what the White Fang want, you know. Just a single second of - of distrust between us.”

The sentiment stagnates, crumbles under pressure. “Peace is fragile,” Yang mutters, reciting the words that sound somehow decades old now, despite merely being days. “They want to take advantage of that.”

“Yep,” Sun says darkly.

“I wish it would end,” Blake says, sounding exactly the age she is, heel digging the bud into ash against the pavement. “Sometimes I wish all of it would.”

The pain Yang feels is visceral, physical, like an open wound she’d never dressed, content to let breathe. She reaches out on instinct, binds her fingers to Blake’s wrist; don’t talk like that, she wants to say, something is breaking in my heart. She can’t unravel her own emotion, too vulnerable and precipitous, but Blake’s expression becomes the most defenseless she’s ever seen it, the way snow sticks to the ground for the first time before it melts.

Sun and Neptune don’t speak, both looking away from a moment that doesn’t belong to them. Blake’s eyes search hers for an answer Yang doesn’t have, and eventually she softens, shaking her hand loose and tangling their fingers together instead.

“Come on,” she whispers, an almost unbearable tenderness. The ambient noise is nothing but a hum; all the color reflects like paint. “We’ll keep going.”

--

The bouncer guarding Inhuman takes a single look at her and shakes his head, reaching for her right wrist with his eyebrows raised. “Shit,” he says to her, clicking a button on a small, circular device and pressing it to the back of her hand; it comes away red, the outline of fangs marking her skin. “You ain’t gonna have any trouble finding what you’re looking for, sweetheart.”

“She’s with us, actually,” Blake says pleasantly with an edge, holding out her left hand automatically. The bouncer stamps her, but the mark is black.

He glances between them. “You better watch it, Blake,” he warns seriously, one of the few people Yang’s heard call her by her first name. “It’s been years since I’ve seen anything like her.”

“Oh,” Blake says haughtily, “I’m aware.”

He continues on with Sun and Neptune, his mouth now set in a smirk, and Blake guides her down the stairs, keeps her fingers against the small of her back possessively. Yang’s drunk and careless and beautiful, surrounded by vampires who take one look at her and hold there, stunned, and all she can think about is unbuttoning Blake’s jeans and falling to her knees. They all have their weaknesses, she supposes, and hers is death enchanted.

Blake turns around, signals something to the boys, before leading her to a few open stools near the end of the bar. Inhuman is strangely symmetrical, new-age, its countertops carved from white stone and its benches made of driftwood, which also decorates the walls. The crowd stares at her as she passes as if she’s something to both fuck and eat, likely at the same time, but she’s already too busy being someone else’s to care.

“Tequila shot,” Yang says seductively to the bartender, who momentarily looks as if he’d rather have a drink instead of serving them. “Just one.”

Blake clears her throat pointedly, knee pressing against Yang’s. “And you?” the bartender asks, taking an iced-over glass from a freezer automatically.

Blake nods at the implication, adding, “And a whiskey, neat. Thanks.”

He pulls out a dark bottle from the sealed display case behind him, pours a dark red, syrupy liquid into a glass. Yang only watches interestedly, slamming her shot back in a neat stroke. “Where do they get the blood?” she asks Blake, leaning a little too close to her under the guise of needing to be heard.

“Donated,” Blake shrugs, and lifts it to her mouth, but her lipstick’s too close a color and Yang can’t find a stain. “Or stripped from humans who die. It isn’t really a difficult process to preserve blood, anymore.”

“Does it taste different depending on the person?”

“Not the stuff in bars,” Blake says, frowning. “It’s all mixed together during the bottling process. People do, though. That’s what this place is sort of for...the humans here know they’re in for more than just sex.”

Yang taps her fingers against the bar. “You’ve been here before?”

Blake’s smile curves humorlessly. “It’s not really my thing,” she admits. “Though sometimes it’s...fun. Having control.”

Yang glances around at the couples, the groups, and picks out the discrepancies, the ones with throats on display and lips skimming a little too low, noses brushing skin. There are implications and actions. She thinks of Blake with somebody else’s blood in her mouth and shifts uncomfortably, jealousy winding its way around her neck.

“So you’d come here and just…” she indicates, grimacing before she can finish the sentence, though Blake picks up on the intention regardless.

“We’re not really allowed to drink straight from humans in formal establishments,” Blake says, gesturing to a couple clearly made up of a human and a vampire in the corner. “Not because of the mess - the blood stops flowing when we remove our teeth - but because it’s like bringing your own drink to a bar. It isn’t classy.” She adds thoughtfully, “Unless you’re sampling...that’s not as frowned upon.”

“And sampling would be…?” Yang probes, leaning with her elbow on the bar.

“The wrist, usually,” Blake says. “Only enough for a taste.” Her eyes flash down to Yang’s arm and up, though she keeps her expression neutral, hidden between diluted neon lights and her own masks.

Yang leans closer to her, curling her fingers, veins protruding in her wrist as she does so. She murmurs, “Is that what you want?” and skims her bottom lip with her teeth, catching. “Just a taste?”

Blake wraps her fist in Yang’s hair, lightly tugs her head back, exposing her neck; she runs her other index finger from just below her ear, across the edge of her jaw, down her throat. It’s slow and purposeful and sensual, and it might all be for show, but for a moment too long to pass of as an errant thought, Yang finds herself wondering what it would be like to replace Blake’s finger with her teeth, feel their sharp points sinking into her skin and sucking. She shivers automatically, unable to stop herself, the idea too strangely appealing, attractive.

“No,” Blake says, echoing their conversation from the previous night. “I want much, much more than that.”

Yang whimpers, and Blake pauses at that same moment, her pupils suddenly hungry, dark. They lock gazes, and Yang’s fully aware of what she probably looks like, throat unprotected and lips parted and wanting; there’s something almost dirty about it, and it only makes the desire worse, stronger.

“What are you thinking?” Blake murmurs quietly, her grip still tight, and her finger continues its path, tracing her collarbone, her sternum, the curve of her breast. Her eyes follow her hand, like she’s watching the way Yang’s skin reacts to being touched.

Yang swallows, finds it somewhat difficult to do, burns hotter. “A lot of things,” she says, embarrassed to hear her voice almost come out as a whine.

Blake drags her bottom lip into her mouth, fangs exposed, bites down gently. She trails her stare up and down Yang’s body, and Yang swears she hears the faintest groan low in her throat, covered by the crowd.

“Stop,” she says breathlessly, squirming agonizingly on her stool, her heart hammering, flames licking up the walls of her veins. “Stop. Please.”

Blake doesn’t outwardly react, but her fingers loosen ever so slightly, and their eyes meet again. “Why?” she asks quietly, concern flashing in her voice.

“Because,” Yang whispers, leaning towards her as if wanting exactly the opposite of what she’s asking, “I’m so fucking wet I can barely - I can’t fucking think, Blake. So you either need to stop, or you need to take me home and fuck me.”

Red light pulses over them. There’s a song playing, someone’s voice sultry and crooning about sex and death, both of which sound excellent to Yang if they’re done with Blake. Her irises are soaked in blood, long past any dreams about storms striking the ocean, and there’s something feral that rises in Blake at the sight of it, something primal, uncontrollable.

“Blake,” Yang says, looking at her from under hooded eyelids, “fuck me.”

--

“They said they were going to sit at the bar,” Neptune’s saying, guiding Sun through a thick ring of humans by dancefloor, all looking equal parts terrified and thrilled. “Are you really worried? I mean, I know it’s a rough crowd, but who’s going to touch Yang if Blake’s with her?”

Sun stops abruptly, tugging Neptune to a halt with him, lip curling above his fangs. “Uh,” he says dumbly, “Blake, apparently.”

Neptune raises an eyebrow at him, and Sun only jerks his head, prodding him silently to look; he follows Sun’s line of sight to the darkest corner of the bar, and his own eyes widen, jaw dropping comically.

Yang is now far past receiving the kind of attention they’d been tasked with getting, and Blake is the one giving it to her; she’s standing between Yang’s legs with her fingers buried in her hair, kissing her hotly, her tongue brushing erotically through Yang’s mouth. Not that Yang seems to be an unwilling participant; contrarily, one of her hands is absolutely on Blake’s ass, the other low on her back, and she isn’t giving Blake room to stop anytime soon.

Neptune looks back at him stupidly. “Dude,” he says.

Dude,” Sun echoes, unable to stop staring.

“That’s Blake!” Neptune exclaims, literally holding his arm out to her, gesturing.

“That’s fucking Blake!” Sun repeats, astonished. “What the fuck, dude!”

“What do we do?” Neptune asks rhetorically, awed, knowing there’s no answer. “I guess just tell them when it’s time to leave?”

“They look pretty ready to me,” Sun says, scratching the back of his head. “Shit. Now I get what Weiss meant when she said they’d taken a liking to each other.”

Neptune suddenly pauses, stare narrowing in as he glances around them; Sun tunes in, notices his stillness, the speed of his eyes flickering around the club. He takes Sun’s wrist, pulls him close enough to murmur into his ear. “We have to go. Look around.”

Sun casually mirrors him, looking between the crowds boredly, and immediately feels himself tense in response, tripping lights looking more and more like bullet trails. How, he thinks, how hadn’t they noticed this sooner--

“New blood,” he says under his breath, barely moving his lips. “A lot of it.”

“They’re all watching Blake,” Neptune says darkly. “I don’t feel good about this. This isn’t right. We need to get them out of here.”

Instincts aren’t something they ever dare to test, and Sun’s pushing through the throngs of people without another warning necessary, his hand on Blake’s back. She pulls away from Yang when she senses him, but her eyes are all bloodlust, untamed and wild. Yang, similarly, is a mess: her lips are swollen, red, eyelids hooded and heavy, and she’s breathing a little too quickly to keep casual.

“Time to go,” is all he says. “I think that’s enough of a show.”

--

Yang and Blake don’t hang around upon arriving back to the house, not that they’d been expected to, anyway; Sun can’t really blame them. He’d had a crush on Blake once, before Neptune; something about her had always smoldered in irresistibility. And there are more important matters that maybe they shouldn’t be a part of, anyway; matters they might’ve accidentally set in motion.

Neptune and Sun don’t follow them inside, pretending to hover by the gate, lighting up cigs. When the front door shuts, they’re instantly running in the opposite direction, searching for any hint of their own coven hiding out along the border between districts. Their speed means it takes them only seconds to catch a trail, but there’s a fouler stench in there, one of rot and rust. They know the combination. It signals decomposition of something long past human.

They find its source by one of the north side gates, tucked in a filthy alley between a boarded-up morgue and a closed locksmith, separated by a crude, sheet-metal fence, smeared macabrely in what looks like bits of flesh, ripped off and caught on the prongs. Like someone had dragged a body brutally across the wall.

“Oh, shit,” Sun breathes out, skidding to halt at the sight of the woman standing alone in the middle of it. “Are you okay?”

Weiss turns around slowly, her mouth in a sick, twisted smile, and it only takes a split second to see the cause of it.

Her right hand is caked in bits and pieces of a congealed, thick red substance, and centered in her palm is a black, rotting heart.

The vampire on the ground in front of her is staring up at the sky, eyes vacant and unseeing. The cavity in his chest where her fingernails had punctured looks more like a void than a wound, the skin neatly ripped away, the bone split in half.

She drops the heart beside him; it cracks against the pavement, a tar-like liquid oozing from the inside. “He was strangely eager to return to his master,” Weiss recounts disgustedly, flicking her hand delicately of the mess. “He ran right into me. Rather rude, I’d say.”

Though Sun wouldn’t put it past Weiss to murder someone simply for running into her, she isn’t so easily set off, not as likely to throw herself into conflict without a cause. He knows she’d slaughter them all if she could, have them line up and rip out their hearts one by one. “Leave him,” Sun pushes hurriedly. “I bet I know what he wanted to see his fucking master about. We fucked up.”

Her expression immediately contorts, more monster than human, shadows drawing angles against her skin. “Explain,” she hisses, all fury and ferocity.

“Some of the new vampires were at Inhuman,” he says, speaking fast. “They’re informants, Weiss; they had their eyes on us from the second we walked in, and we just gave them something huge.”

“I wish we’d known,” Neptune babbles, pacing in front of her. “Why didn’t you tell us? That Blake had bonded to her? We couldn’t have stopped it if we’d tried - forcing them that closely together all night--”

“What gave it away?” Weiss asks, seething, poorly masked panic underneath her tone. “How obvious was it?”

“I thought Blake was going to devour her at the bar,” Neptune admits helplessly. “Anyone looking at her could probably tell. Maybe not the ones who haven’t experienced it, but that wanting - shit. There’s no denying it.”

Weiss nudges the body of the dead vampire at her feet, lines of her face steeled, knifelike.

“I warned her,” she snarls under her breath, turning around. “I told her she needed to keep herself under control--”

“Weiss,” Sun interrupts purposefully, “Adam’s gonna know. They’re gonna tell him.”

She stops in place, shuts her mouth, thinks of hanging the man on the wall with his bones removed and piled at his feet, thinks of making an example out of him. She stares savagely down at him instead, lifts her heel, and drives it straight through his eye socket with a nauseating squelch.

“Well,” she says, reigning her voice back into indifference, “at least they’re down one.”

--

Yang’s the one who cracks first, shoving Blake roughly against the back of the bedroom door upon arriving to their room; it’s four-thirty in the morning and the alcohol is still in her blood, the hunger still in her bones, her pants too tight and uncomfortable and hot. She kisses Blake forcefully even in the presence of fangs, one hand curled against the back of her head, the other cupping her jaw. Blake seems surprised by her strength, pushing back instantly, and Yang remembers control, the way she’d murmured the word and smiled.

“If that’s what you want,” Yang breathes out, stripping off her jacket, mouth slanting open against Blake’s neck and sucking. “Control me.”

It’s everything and not nearly enough at once, too early, too soon, too many missing pieces: given permission, Blake forces her back against the bed, unbuttons her pants, lifts her own shirt up and off, and now there’s skin worth talking about, now there’s room for art. Yang wants rope, wants a hand around her throat. Hold me down and bury me.

Blake’s fingers wrap around her wrists, pinning them above her head, capturing her mouth in a frenzied, dirty kiss; her fang catches, sinks into her lip, blood pooling in her mouth. Yang’s moan is pornographic, but it’s nothing compared to the way it feels to taste her, warm and metallic and salty; the imprint is small, and the flow ceases immediately when she pulls away, her own mouth now smeared red. She runs a finger underneath the corner of her lip, slips her tongue around it, sucks and sighs blissfully.

“God damn,” Yang groans. “You’re so fucking hot like this--”

Blake leans in, her hand dipping between their bodies, and Yang loses the rest of her words; Blake picks them up, alters them, gifts them back to her. “It’s always the same with you fucking vampire hunters,” she whispers depravedly, sliding two fingers into Yang without warning. “You make it your fucking mission to kill us, when all you really want is us to fuck you.” Yang’s entire body convulses at the statement, tightens around her hand. Blake brings her lips to Yang’s ear, keeps her voice low, keeps her movements steady. “I could do it, you know. You’re so desperate to cum you probably wouldn’t even notice.”

“Oh, fuck, do it,” Yang begs, spine arching, head thrown back, sober enough for desperation, not clear enough for shame. She can’t explain the desire, only that she needs it, like her own fingers slipping inside of Blake aren’t enough; bleed me into you, she thinks of pleading, swallow me. She’s brazenly attracted to the threat. “Please. Bite me. Please.”

“I can’t,” Blake whispers, curling her fingers deeper, breathing into the crook of Yang’s neck. Her teeth hurt, her soul burrowing into her tongue. Her mouth waters in anticipation. “I want to, but I can’t. Not yet.”

Fuck,” Yang moans, and Blake covers her mouth with her other hand, muffling the noise. “Why,” she tries to ask, but can’t manage it with Blake’s fingers pumping in and out of her, pressing in exactly the right places, and her voice comes out as nothing but a whimper. “Why,” she tries to ask again, but Blake removes her fingers entirely and slides down onto her stomach, replacing them with her tongue. She’s done enough talking.

Yang twines Blake’s hair around her hands, cants her hips, fluttering and breathless; she’s dripping, smearing across Blake’s chin, sweet and tangy and relentlessly addicting. It doesn’t take long until she’s quivering forcefully, grinding against her mouth, nearly sobbing at the release of it. Blake doesn’t let her go her until she’s stopped, until Yang’s on the verge of shatter, lungs struggling for air, blood pounding towards the surface.

“How’d I taste?” Yang asks when Blake sits up, and the double entendre is clear; she’s panting heavily, her lip swollen, her thighs slick.

Blake’s tongue darts out, scrapes the side of her mouth, runs over a fang. “Good,” she murmurs throatily, and smoothly straddles Yang’s waist, hovering over her. Her heart is beating so violently Blake dreams of being smothered by it. “So fucking good.

Yang’s eyes glint even without light; she palms Blake’s hips. “My turn,” she says dangerously, nudging her up, and Blake steadies herself above Yang’s mouth with her head thrown back.

--

“...They’ve picked up another,” someone’s saying faintly in the distance, trying to keep quiet; Ruby keeps her eyes shut, head bowed as if merely asleep. “God, damn, was she something. Blonde, tall, beautiful. It was kinda sick, actually, the way the rest of them fell over themselves trying to talk to her before Blake got in the way…”

“Pyre said he saw them at Inhuman,” another voice mutters. “I dunno what it means. He said she wasn’t marked, but they weren’t...holding back.”

“So what’s the point?”

“Look, I know humans are worthless, but you shoulda seen this one...I’d do plenty of shit to her before I killed her.”

“Where’s Pyre?” one of the voices asks. “I wanna hear it from him. J, check on the kids for the night, and we’ll meet you in C Block.”

“Speaking of things I can’t wait to kill…”

Laughter. “Sure thing.”

The voices fade off; a single footstep hits the floor, and then the presence hovers in front of her cell, staring in. It’s all she needs; she’s been waiting for the signs, the whispers, the bombs. Anywhere there’s an explosion, there’s Yang. It’s how they operate.

In single burst of energy - too fast for the vampire checking on her to comprehend when he isn’t expecting it, instincts no faster than her magnified speed - Ruby reaches out through the red translucent bars and grabs his shirt, pulling him close with her teeth barred. He starts, but can’t manage to fight out of her grip, and in a moment of panic does the only thing he can think of doing: he levels her with a stare, his pupils expanding as if to influence her, and her own silver eyes mirror him intensely before her mouth curls into a smile.

Hers contract first, and his echo her instead, face going carefully blank as he waits for instructions. She says quietly, “You’re gonna find Yang Xiao Long, and you’re gonna pass on a message for me.”