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Another Year Older

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"What did you get me!?"
"You have to wait and seeeee!"
"No fair!"
Yang makes a grab at the bag but you’re already pulling back, anticipating the move. Luckily Nora gets in between the two of you and starts rambling about Argus, distracting your sister long enough for you to hide the bag and its contents away in your backpack. You really hope she’s going to like the gift you got her. With everything that’s happened since Beacon fell, you’ve found yourself clinging more and more to the little things in life; those small normal things that used to seem so huge, that help make this whole mess seem less bone crushingly massive. And one of those things is the birthday of a certain sister who’s now staring at the two men who’d approached your group with barely hidden disdain.
“Annnnd you arrree?” Nora chirps in. Trust her to just ask what everyone wants to like it’s no big deal.
“Why Dee and Dudley of course!”, replies one the men, gesturing to himself and then his partner in turn. “Argus Limited’s very own huntsmen. We’ll be keeping everyone safe as we pass through grimm territory.” Wow, these two seem sure of themselves.
“Buuut, for a generous tip, we can make sure your passenger car gets extra special attention,” cuts in second man, presumably Dudley. “Should things, get dangerous.” Eww, did he just wink? You don’t even bother to keep your emotions off your face as your patience with these guys officially just ran out. Lucky for you, a familiar voice sounds from off to your side.
“I got a tip for ya.” A smile appears on your face as everyone turns towards the source of the noise: Uncle Qrow. “Buzz off.” With one glance at Yang, the both of you start making faces at the two huntsmen as Qrow continues on. It feels so natural to be goofing off with her; with the way you’d left before you were worried what was going to happen to her.

~~~

“So what do we do now?”
“You can do whatever you want. I’m gonna lie here.”
“Yang...”
“Just...leave me alone”
“...I love you”

It been about a week since you tried to talk to Yang. In that time, the door to her room had remained stubbornly closed. Your dad had made several attempts to get her to come out, or at least talk with one of you, but nothing he did seemed to get through. Yet, maybe today. The hand you raise shakes a little before you manage to knock on the door, and then count: one, two, three, four, five, six… A puff of air escapes as you lower your hand and turn away. The walk down the kitchen seems to take forever and no time at all. You sink into one of the chairs at the table.
“Sorry, kid,” comes the gruff voice along with a ruffle of your hair. Uncle Qrow drops himself into the chair next to you, pulling out his flask as he does so.
“Maybe she’ll feel up to it later,” pipes in your dad, sliding a plate of pancakes in front of you. Yeah, that’s not likely, and he knows it. If Yang isn’t even going to yell through the door at you on your birthday, you doubt she’s going to appear magically in the kitchen, now or later.
Yang had always been the one to wake you up on your birthday as far back as you could remember. Those early birthday memories were filled with the smell of charcoaled cake, presents covered in rumpled wrapping paper by burnt fingers, and a smile plastered to her face as she sang happy birthday to you. Over the years the cake and the present got better, and once Uncle Qrow showed up and got your dad out of his slump more voices joined that happy birthday song, but that smile always stayed the same. Having it missing this year had that feeling, that knot that had been sitting in your chest since it all happened, tightening so much it threatened to break you.
It’s that knot that has you laying in bed that night staring at the ceiling. Uncle Qrow told you the day you woke up where you needed to go...well not directly but he’s never been one to make things easier on you. If Haven is where the trail leads, then there’s no way you’re not going. And there’s no way you’re not leaving until you’ve done all you can here. Shoving off the blankets, you grab paper and head over to the desk. Ever since the CCT went down, letters have been more reliable, and you need this information - this question to be clear. It doesn’t take long to write down what you know, and you suppose that’s not a good thing, but at least what has to be done is clear. With that sorted, you flip over another sheet of paper and start sketching. It’s always been easy to fall into a rhythm with this, and tonight is no exception. By the time you get up from the desk, happy with what’s in front of you, the sun is starting to rise. Sliding the letters and sketch work under your mattress to hide them for the moment, you collapse back into bed, mentally ticking off all the components you’ll need to pick up later. For now, you settle back to sleep, your chest a fraction lighter than before.

~~~

The snow crunches under 4 sets of shoes as you and team JN...the remains of team JNPR walk along. The silence from the ever excitable Nora and the ever rambling Jaune would normal be unnerving, but today it’s almost comforting: the companionable quiet and unspoken understanding between each of you. The common knowledge that all of you are more than a little broken right now, but when you’re together that’s ok.
Cold hands hold the box between them. It’s light but so strong - you made sure it would be - so there’s no danger of dropping it, but you still hold it like it’s the most fragile thing in the world, like it deserves the best treatment Remnant has to offer. It’s all you can do when the one it’s going to won’t accept that care from you. You hope it’s enough.
Jaune’s voice cuts through the slowly building storm in your head.
“We’ll head back and come by tomorrow. Give you time to finish packing.” He knows you don’t need it, knows you’ve been packed since the day his letter arrived at your door, but you appreciate what he’s really offering, what he really means. He’s been so strong, so determined through all of this. Py...she’d be proud. You know she is.
A different type of silence coats the house after you shut the door, one that leaves you feeling colder than the weather outside. Each footstep, each creek of a floorboard, each breath is almost violently loud. A thud is audible as you walk past Yang’s door. She’s taken to pacing around the room during the day when she thinks no one is home. You suppose it’s progress. She doesn’t leave for meals, doesn’t talk in more than monosyllables, doesn’t do much more than pace, but it’s progress.
Letter writing is quickly becoming second nature to you. Words spill out onto the page faster than you were prepared for, but you suppose that’s what happens when they’ve been left unspoken, shoved down for so long. It doesn’t take long to put down what you feel has to be said, and even less time to tuck the note under the string holding the box shut. The second note is shorter, though written just as quickly. That one will be left on the bed in the morning. For now, it seems like everything is ready. So in the morning, you guess you better be.

~~~

“It’s for you,” she says, like it’s nothing big. Your tiny sister is standing there, her oversized cloak hood dripping down over her eyes, holding a small cardboard box covered in crayon scribbles; her trademark red and your favourite yellow side by side. You gently take the box from her hands and she starts bouncing up and down next to you. Removing the tiny bit of tape holding the box shut reveals its contents: a bag with a few cookies inside, and a couple bits of paper. Pulling the first one out you find a drawing. Much like the box, it’s mostly scribbles, but you can make out one stick figure drawn in yellow, a big smile on its face. Next to it is a smaller one drawn in red. The other piece of paper is coated in similar scribbles, one of which is your name, written in big wonky letters, followed by a familiar script.

Hey Firecracker. The pipsqueak wanted to make something for you for your birthday. I think she tried to write a note as well but as you can see that bit didn’t go as well. Anyways, happy birthday kid. Uncle Qrow.

~~~

“Yang!” Ruby flies into you as you head out to the shed. Ever since her semblance kicked in she’s been zipping around the place faster than even you thought possible. In the time it takes for you to register the collision she’s spun you around and is trying to shove you back towards the house. “You can’t be out here yet, it’s not done!”
“What’s not done? Come on Rubes, I wanna see! It’s my birthday, you gotta let me!” You start fake pouting at her, then grin wildly as she sighs, slumping her shoulders and giving up on trying to move you. You bounce back towards the shed, then glance back at her - or at least where she was a second ago because she’s zipped back in front of you.
“You know maybe this is a bad idea. Yeah, I’ve just decided this entire thing is a horrible plan, we should go back inside.” In two seconds you have her in a headlock, and are shoving the shed door open as she gives out squeaks of protest. Sitting in the middle of the shed is a motorbike, one side missing its side panels with the various inner workings on show. Yellow paint is splashed on bits of floor, with a tiny tin of red sitting popped open off to the side. Stepping further into the shed you can see the workbench covered in various cogs and springs, all messily laid out in a way that makes no sense but you know she remembers where ever bit goes and what needs to be done to it.
“Dad and I saw it about a week ago and he knows you wanted something to get around faster without relying on him and the truck. It was a bit bashed up so we got it cheap and I’ve been fixing it. Just...remember it’s not finished yet so if it doesn’t seem that great then that’s why and-” The on-going ramble is cut off by a grunt as you wrap her in a bear hug.

~~~

“So what do we do now?”
“You can do whatever you want. I’m gonna lie here.”
“Yang...”
“Just...leave me alone”
“...I love you”

She’s gone.
Like your mom.
Like Summer.
Like your dad and your Uncle Qrow when Summer died.
Like Blake.
She’s gone and she didn’t say goodbye.
She’s gone and all she left was a note on top of a box.
She’s gone and it’s the same as all the others, but so much worse.
Because she knew you were hurting and she went anyway.
Because she knew you weren’t ok and she went anyway.
Because she said she said she loved you and you didn’t even respond.
It’s your birthday and you’re sat in bed.
Like yesterday.
Like the day before that.
Like most days since your world was cut to pieces.
The difference is today the box is sat on your legs. The note is in your hand - wrong wrong, still feels wrong - crumpled by the number of times you’ve read it. The box below is pristine, the same condition it was in when your dad brought it into your room from hers.

Yang. I’m sorry I’ve got to go. You’ve always been there for me. When mom died. When dad shut down. When I struggled in combat school. When you were going to Beacon and I wasn’t. You’ve been there for every moment and now I’m not even sure if you want me around. But this isn’t about that. I need to go. I don’t want to. I need to. But I wasn’t going to leave without getting you something for your birthday. I know it’s not the real thing. I know it’ll never make up for all you’ve done for me over the years. But it’s what I could do.
I love you.

A flash of your signature yellow is the first thing you see as you open the box. It takes a second to get the lid fully off, and once you push it to the side you pause. Yes, there’s your signature yellow, making up one long arm and five fingers at the end. In between, in the spaces where you can see the joints and pivot points, the metal is almost black. It’s only as you lift it up and the light catches it that you see the red shine to it.
She couldn’t resist putting a hint of red in there.

~~~

“Where are you going?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, despite asking him numerous times not to, I know that Qrow told you where your mother’s been at these days. I know how much you want to see her. I’ve stopped you in the past. I won’t anymore. And we both read the note. We know your sister’s headed to Mistral. So. Where are you going?”
You wonder why he even had to ask. You’re going to where you’re wanted. You’re going to the one who cares.

~~~

“Ooh.”
Bumblebee pulls through the portal slowly and you hit the brakes just in front of your uncle. Weiss is still gripping to you even as you stop, so you don’t get off just yet. You have to admit, you never in a million years thought you’d find her at the bandit camp, but gods if the surprise wasn’t welcomed. Qrow’s eyes seem to dart back and forth, taking in the entire scene in front of him. They linger on your new arm for a second longer than they did anywhere else. There’s a smile on his face when he finally meets your eyes again.
“Nice to finally have you back Firecracker. I see you brought Ice Queen Junior along.” Weiss’s indignant shout is cut off by your laugh, as you slip off the bike and pull Qrow into a hug.
“Not that it’s nice to see you again Old Man, but Weiss and I were hoping you’d be able to take us to a certain short, excitable, red cloaked girl. I’ve got some things I wanna say.”

~~~

Qrow yells the minute the door is wide enough for the sound to make it through. “I’m back!”
“Be right there!” The return call comes from the kitchen. The sound of her voice makes you pause. She sounds the same as you remember and yet slightly different. Maybe it’s just because it’s been too long. Maybe it’s because she’s a little older. You aren’t sure but there’s one thing that is sure.
You want to see her now.
“Hey, uh, Ruby?” Maybe the urgency is visible on your face, maybe it’s noticeable in how quick you are through the door but your uncle seems to want to help speed up the process. A part of your mind notes the need to thank him later.
“I’m coming!”
Ruby rounds the corner carrying a tea tray, her eyes down focused on not dropping anything off of it. She looks different and you know for a fact that this time it’s because she’s older. But there’s something else too. She’s carrying herself differently, more sure of herself but also like she’s got more weight on her shoulders, more to think about. And now you’re ready to help her with it.
“So we didn’t know how many people were coming, so we just cooked all of it-”
Finally she glances up and the tray between her hands slips out of her grasp, eyes widening with shock. She brings her hand upwards towards her chest, and then tilts her head down, and suddenly she’s the sorry little kid you caught stealing cookies from the jar after she was meant to be in bed again.
You take a few steps towards her as she shuffles her feet around then pause as she starts speaking.
“Yang! I-...I’m so sorry! I- I should’ve stayed, and I should’ve talked to you more! I’d- I just...I wasn’t sure if you wanted me around and-”
It all becomes too damn much, and the next thing you’re aware of is both your arms around her; one old and a little battle scarred, with rough fingertips from years of cooking failures as you learned, little scratches in places from battles with grimm and house chores alike; the other still new and shining, yellow and that almost black red, a gift that you’ll never be able to thank her enough for. There’s only one thing left to say, the end of a conversation that you both had what feels like forever ago, something you should have said at the time and have regretted since she went.
“I love you.”
You pull her tighter into the hug as she finally gives into the tears that have been threatening to fall the entire time. Her head thunks into your arm.
“I love you too.”