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  He had killed his father.
  It wasn’t something he ever hid. In fact, Mercury was more than happy to boast to the world that he had killed the man. Marcus Black was known across Remnant as an assassin. The worst way for an assassin to go was to be killed by another one. But he hated acknowledging that Marcus had any impact on him. Marcus had been the one who trained him, beating every lesson into his body and then beating him more after he’d had too many drinks. In the moment, that rush as he took his father’s life, Mercury had never felt better.
  He wore his prosthetics like trophies. They were his pride and joy, and if they didn’t give him such an advantage in a fight by being hidden, he’d proudly show the world what a threat his weaponized legs made him. He worked on them himself, had learned every piece, every screw, every wire better than his own body. Yeah, his dad was the one who took away his legs, just like he took everything else from Mercury, but he had replaced them with something was purely his own.
  Mercury was more than just Marcus Black’s legacy. He was a fighter, a survivor… he was always only in it for his own gain, he reminded himself constantly. He didn’t feel guilt toward the lives he was ruining, or the lives he had taken. He was his own assassin now. He didn’t get that luxury.
  So why… damn why, was he always seeing that yellow arm in front of his eyes?
  Their attack on Haven had been derailed right from the start, but Mercury was never upset by that kind of stuff. He liked things to be exciting. He was an assassin but he also liked to brawl, and he’d been itching to pay Blondie back for the Vytal Festival. Sure, it had been their plan to trick her, but Mercury never expected she would use a round on him. Sure he had no legs to break, but she’d damaged his prosthetic enough to piss him off. Naturally he’d been all too enthusiastic to fight her when opponents started pairing off.
  Her name was Yang Xiao Long, and it bugged Mercury that he remembered it. But he knew why he did. At Haven, she gave him a match. Sure he got the upper hand on her, but it wasn’t an easy punch-out like he had been confident it would be. She was calm, more controlled. It was like fighting a totally different person who used her style, and it threw him off his game. She didn’t react to his taunts, didn’t throw her punches as predictably as before, moved quicker on her feet. When their fight shifted in tandem with Emerald and Little Red’s, Mercury had been sure they’d win. He and Emerald might not necessarily get along the best, but they fought pretty damn well together. He’d been wrong. Against the sisters, he and Emerald had been no match.
  Mercury let out a frustrated grunt as he came back to reality. He threw a punch into the bag he was standing in front of, full of power and fury.
  Damn it, he was even thinking about her now! What was wrong with him?
  But he knew the answer to that too. He knew exactly what was drawing him back to her over and over again. It was that moment, when the world seemed to slow down as he registered Ruby’s words, then realized Yang was going after Cinder and Raven. If only to protect his own hide, not because he thought Yang wouldn’t get her ass handed to her by the two older, much more powerful women, he lunged for her. His grip tightened around her arm, and he was prepared to toss her, kick her, anything to prevent her from going after his boss.
  But Mercury had stumbled. Yang got free, and jumped down the elevator shaft which the little Schnee princess then sealed up with ice so no one could go after her. He had certainly been in no condition to do so anyway, still absolutely dumbfounded as to how he hadn’t been able to stop her. His grip hadn’t loosened on her arm one bit. And then he realized what that had to mean.
  That didn’t lessen his shock when he looked down at the yellow automail in his hand.
  They were more alike than had even been previously pointed out by literally everyone, even Cinder and Emerald - not only did they fight similar, but they also both had lost parts of themselves. But the questions that had planted in his mind - how had Yang lost her arm? He was pretty sure she had both when they fought in the Vytal Festival, which meant it was recent, but when? - sunk into him, deep, and made it nearly impossible to stop thinking. His brain flickered a million thoughts at once, and it must have been plain on his face because no one attacked him when he had so obviously been open.
  But the thing was, he could’ve taken the arm. He knew how crippling it was to first not have the real deal, but then to have the replacement taken away. To be forced to experience the world without automail after having gained it back was also extremely difficult.
  Yang has it so much easier than you, he tried to tell himself. She can live without hers. You can’t. It’s different. Just take her arm and set back your enemy.
  What he did instead was drop it when Yang returned with the Relic. It might have been on purpose, or it might’ve been from shock. He didn’t remember. The only thing he remembered was thinking that the only  way the blonde could be standing there in front of them was for Cinder to be gone.
  But he did remember. That image of her, with one arm clutching the Lantern and the other ending at the sleeve of her jacket, made him sick. He couldn’t do that to her. He couldn’t do something to her that if done to him, would ruin his life.
  Mercury roared as Yang flashed in front of his eyes again, furious at his own traitorous mind. He tried to focus on his workout, but it was futile. He could see her, and her stupid smile, damn friends, and that fucking arm. That arm, that thing made him feel like he and Yang were the same. But they weren’t, because she hadn’t turned bitter against it all. She hadn’t been abandoned, forced to claw her way out of a shithole, forced to fight to prove her place in the world. They were the same, but at the same time they couldn’t be more different.
  “Damn it!” All his fury unleashed at once in that moment, fists slamming into the bag in front of him, harder and harder until he wasn’t even counting his punches anymore. It was a dangerous feeling, similar to how he felt while fighting his father. Furious to the point where he couldn’t even think, with underlying fear. He knew where the fear was coming from this time.
  Working for Salem was working for the personification of nightmares.
  Mercury slowed down finally, when his emotions just felt numb. Anger still coursed through his veins, but at this point he was becoming more and more tolerant to its effects. He had buried these feelings for some time, even told Emerald that he was right where he belonged when she started to waver. But it was the words of that freak who worked for Salem that brought all his own conflicting feelings back. 
  Oh yes, the world is mean, and I’m a big, bad man now just like the others.
  He threw more punches blindly.
 All you ever learned was pain and violence, and now you’re too afraid to leave it! Such a tragedy.
  Mercury only saw red.
  Your question is all wrong. “What do you want from this?” Children, please, if you’re not absolutely loving what you’re doing, than you’re in the wrong field.
  So what, are you saying we should just leave?
  Oh no no no no, you can’t do that!
  He could see that smug expression, the crazy eyes. Oh, how much did he want to rip that mechanical tail off one more time for mocking them…
  Do what makes you happy children… please? Mmhmhmhm… I’m begging you.
  Mercury slammed his fist once more against the bag, relishing in the pain from his strike. But the bag swung wildly; if it had been a real person it would’ve been much more hurt than he was. It felt damn good.
  Yes, he was raised in darkness. That was something he would never deny. Not only raised and nurtured by it, but also raised to never understand anything else. He was raised to kill people; why would he leave that when it was all he knew how to do? Nothing else in the world would ever accept him.
  But Yang hadn’t let what happened to her turn her to spite. She hadn’t even turned her back on Ozpin, she’d jumped right back into the game.
  Mercury gritted his teeth. “I am nothing like Yang!” He roared again, slamming his fist into the punching bag once again, somehow with even more power.
  “I don’t remember anyone ever saying you were.”
  Mercury turned, panting less from the workout and more just from how angry he was, to find Emerald standing in the doorway watching him. He glared at her. The expression she wore was of amusement.
  “What do you want?” He snapped.
  “Well, I stayed to check on you when I realized you were wailing on that poor thing,” she nodded to the punching bag.
  Mercury turned and noticed for the first time there was sand flowing out of it from several tears in the bag. He’d been so angry that he hadn’t even noticed.
  “Tsk, whatever,” Mercury went and sat down. He was still seeing red - or rather, seeing yellow - and he could feel the blood pounding in his veins.
  “You want to talk about it?” She asked with a cruel tone to her voice. She wanted to make fun of him and he could tell.
  “With you? Not really,” he said. “Just go back to your identity crisis, or plan your escape of this place, whatever. Doesn’t matter to me.”
  “What are you talking about?”
  He sneered at her. “All that stuff you said about, now that Cinder’s not here you’re questioning if what we’re doing is right. Duh, of course it isn’t? I might be an assassin Emerald, but you’ve caused people to die too. It’s like that scorpion freak said; you don’t like it, pick another life. Only, I’m not gonna stop you. The others might.”
  “Oh right, that,” Emerald laughed a bit. “I’m over that.”
  “What?” He couldn’t hide his surprise. “What the hell do you mean you’re over it?”
  It hadn’t been that long since Emerald had voiced her doubts, how could she have just moved on? Mercury remembered it because he’d told her about his father taking his semblance. Which was something he didn’t even like to think about.
  “I told you. Cinder is everything to me,” she said. “If Salem is going to take her back after she shows she is worthy of her service once again, then there’s no point in thinking over it anymore. And to be honest, we’re only safe when we’re with Salem.”
  “I told you that Cinder doesn’t care about you!” He exclaimed.
  “And I told you that I didn’t care if she did or not,” Emerald crossed her arms. “But that I would never leave her because I owe her everything. The situation really was much simpler than I was making it. When you told me not to have an identity crisis, you were right. So thanks, Merc.”
  “You just changed your mind? Just like that?”
  “Yeah, I guess I did,” she looked over at him over her shoulder. “What’s wrong with that? I came to the right answer, didn’t I?”
  Mercury realized for a moment that it was the right answer, and that he was looking really suspicious in questioning it. Why was he even questioning it? What did it matter to him whether Emerald stayed or not? Why was he surprised that she had chosen to stay?
  “Yeah,” he grumbled, and got back to his feet. “I’m going to sleep.”
  “Mercury,” she called after him as he walked past her, and he stopped but didn’t turn around.
  Emerald paused for a long moment before she continued with a threatening tone in her voice. “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but don’t make the wrong choice here.”
  His eyes widened, her uncharacteristic words and manner make a chill run up his spine. Mercury had relatively steeled nerves, so he surprised himself with this reaction. In fact, the only person who ever gave him a feeling like that…
  Well, he didn’t want to think of what that meant for his partner.
  He waved at her nonchalantly as he left the room. Like a true assassin, he buried his unease. “Don’t worry about me, Em. Like I told you before, I’m right where I‘m supposed to be.”

~


  Why hadn’t she turned to spite?
  He was laying in the meager bed Salem’s palace offered him, still better than the nights spent traveling before Cinder brought him there, and even better than the years he spent in Marcus’s house. It was one in the morning. He couldn’t bring himself to sleep, because a certain blonde was finding her way into his dreams as of late and it pissed him off. If he was going to think of Yang, it was better in a way that he could apprehend himself for doing so.
  That never really stopped him either, though. He remembered every fight he’d had with her, running through it in his head over and over again. Mercury told himself it was so he could beat her into the ground the next time they met. But even he knew he was lying to himself. Even he had to admit that Emerald voicing her doubts about Salem had pulled his own to the forefront, and that was when he had started thinking about Yang.
  Surely, her happy-go-lucky attitude from before meant that she’d had a pretty good life before Beacon Academy. He hated the world for giving him Marcus as a father, but that was how he had become who he was now. Even her eyes, soft and sparkling in the moments before their first fight, seemed to have darkened the last time he saw her. He wondered what it would be like if Yang turned to Salem, if she had given up on the world that had betrayed her. Would she end up like Tyrian, Hazel, or Cinder, driven mad by her desires? Or would she end up like he and Emerald - arrogant and eager to prove herself?
  Mercury found his thoughts slowly shifting to wonder what it would be like to be on the same side as her, whichever side that may be. To fight alongside her. The idea was not as repulsive to him as it should have been, and that scared him too. 
  Had the darkness encroached on Yang, or was her light burning him?
  Either way, the longer he thought on her the more Mercury felt himself compelled to her place in the world. Away from the suffocating eye of Salem, free to choose where she went - though he held no desire to find her.
  Mercury’s eyes widened as he realized the thoughts that had just passed through his head. He wanted to leave. A part of him had wanted Emerald to keep doubting, keep wondering, to tell him that she was going to leave too. And that was why he had been so bothered by their conversation earlier. He still wanted to leave, but she didn’t.
  The young assassin worked quickly after he came to this revelation. He wasn’t entirely sure if Salem slept or not, and he knew that if he ran into her while leaving that she would see straight through any lie he could cook up. Mercury wasn’t even sure he would make it out of the palace in one piece. For all he knew, by joining Cinder he had subjected himself to Salem’s magic, where she could always know where he was or what he was thinking. She could very well have been alerted the instant he changed his mind.
  He found no resistance at his chosen airship, the only answer to his defiant actions were the roars and shrieks of new Grimm as they crawled from the pools of death around him. None paid him any mind; Mercury smirked to himself, wondering how long it would be before his immunity from the creatures disappeared, and he’d have to get used to defending himself from them again.
  As the airship lifted softly into the air, Mercury felt multiple conflicting emotions stirring from within him. Relief floated up with his lift, like he had shed weights that were holding him down. Fear sunk in his gut, pulling him back down as he thought of Salem coming after him. And regret, that he had left Emerald behind.
  But there was one more that he tried to ignore. It overwhelmed him, deafening, silencing the other feelings by comparison. There was hope inside him, glowing gold. He didn’t need to see any images behind his eyelids to know it was her doing.
  Long into the night he traveled, the soft pinging of the airship the only thing interrupting his traitorous thoughts. There was no way that he was under Salem’s protection anymore, not with his intentions, so Mercury was surprised that he didn’t run into any trouble. Perhaps it was because he was so calm, despite the fear gathering within him, and the determination with which he guided the airship toward Anima which kept the Grimm at bay. 
  He had a plan. He’d disappear into the underground crowd of Mistral, the parts of the world where mercenaries and assassins like himself made a living. He’d jump to Vacuo if Salem ever caught wind of him; both places were ideal to disappear. Vale and Atlas on the other hand, he’d steer clear of completely. Mercury was on the run from both sides, but if he got caught by the kingdoms’ players he’d just be prolonging his death until the day Salem destroyed them and took over. His best bet at survival was distancing himself from it all. As long as no one from his past caught up to him, and he took care of anyone who recognized him, he’d be in the clear.
  Especially anyone from Blondie’s team, let alone the bimbo herself.
  Several hours and one partly crash-landed airship later, Mercury dropped from the ruined machine, grateful to return to solid ground. He spent no extra time near it, walking straight toward the civilization he knew there would be; he’d purposely landed close enough, but still a ways away, from the continent’s largest city. 
  Some time had passed when Mercury felt it, his whole body going cold. Somehow he just knew that Salem had discerned his intentions, and that his all-or-nothing game of cat and mouse had begun.
  “I’m right where I‘m supposed to be,” he repeated under his breath as he lost himself within the crowd of the dirty Mistral market street.

Chapter Text

   It wasn’t something she absolutely hated, but she shifted uncomfortably under the gazes bearing into her. Normally, going into bars were nothing to her. Maybe it was because this one was crowded with people she didn’t know. Maybe it’s because she wasn’t searching for her mother this time. Either way she was sure the faster she left, the better.
   Was it that obvious she didn’t belong here? Did they all think she was going to try to bust them? She was in the heart of the black market, but she wasn’t stupid. Any wrong move and there’d be seven knives and hatchets pressed to her back. Still, she thought it was pretty clear she was a Huntress and that none of them would be stupid enough to go toe-to-toe with her, but she didn’t particularly want to test it.
   She approached the bartender and sat down on one of the stools, resting both arms on the counter in front of her. Slowly, the older woman standing behind the bar cleaning glasses moved over toward her with an interested expression. The busty, crimson-lipped bartender gave her a once over and her smile appeared more amused as she tucked a loss strand of burgundy hair behind her ear.
   “Doll, aren’t you a little young to be here?” She asked with a sultry voice.
   “I get that a lot. Heard this is the heart of the town. Just here to ask something.”
   “You’ll get an answer depending on what it is you want, sweetie,” there was an ominous, daring tone to the woman’s voice now, and the hairs on the back of her neck stood up.
   Still, she knew to play coy. “I don’t know why everyone’s so suspicious of me. Just looking for someone selling a bike around here. Working condition, I don’t have time to fix her up.”
   The bartender looked her up and down once again, some coldness disappearing from her expression. “We’re just not very fond of people who come around carrying themselves as righteous as you do. But if you’re just here for the business, I think I’ve got something for you. Heard there’s a man on the north end of town who’s got his hand on a nearly brand-new motorcycle. No questions asked where he got it, and it’s yours. Provided you can pay.”
   “I don’t think that’ll be an issue. Thanks for the tip, Miss... uh... sorry, I never caught your name.”
   “Mathilda,” she answered with a smirk, a sultry gaze fixated on the young Huntress in front of her. “Mathilda Applegate. But don’t go thinkin’ just cuz you’re cute that you can name drop me all over town, sweetheart.”
   “Wouldn’t dream of it,” she saluted the older woman with two fingers as she got off the barstool. “Thanks for the tip, Mathilda. Hope I see you around!”
   With that, she took one final look around the bar before pushing the door to the outside back open with a bright yellow arm that caught the bartender’s eye for the first time.
   “That must be the Branwen Clan’s girl,” the older woman mumbled to herself as the door closed behind the girl with golden hair.
   Yang blew out a breath as the doors closed behind her, taking a moment to stretch before continuing on with the information the bartender had given her. If there was no bike, she was going to be really freaking pissed. The whole situation made her miss BMBLB more than anything. Though she could hardly say that she regretted the actions that had befallen her beautiful bike - running over a psychotic terrorist who had tormented her best friend for years and had caused her disability was wonderfully therapeutic - she did regret other things that this was reminding her of. Therefore, the faster she got a new ride, the better.
   Her scroll went off just as she had started her trek to the northern side of lower Mistral. Yang walked with a carefree attitude, but unlocked her Ember Celica just in case anyone thought it would be a good idea to jump her while she was distracted.
   “Hey sis, what’s up?”
   “Oh, nothing. Just wanted to check up on you. You’ve been gone for a bit now.”
   Yang laughed. “Ruby, it’s only been a couple days. I think I’ll be okay.”
   “I know I know, if anyone would, it’d be you,” her sister replied. “General Ironwood said he wants our ship to Vacuo leaving as soon as possible, though. He doesn’t know we’re only waiting on you.”
   “I mean, if he’s going to make a big deal about it, you guys can leave and I’ll catch up. Or just a few of you can go.”
   “You know we don’t want to split up again unless we’re forced to,” Ruby said with a downtrodden expression.
   Yang felt a sense of nostalgia and guilt twisting in her stomach at that. Though she was perhaps the only member of Team RWBY not to pick up and leave everyone behind after what happened at Beacon, Yang knew that mentally, she’d been gone. Ruby had left with Jaune, Ren, and Nora because Yang had not been ready to go with them.
   “I don’t want to split up unless we have to either,” she mumbled, before her expression became sunny again. “Listen, I think I’ve found a guy. As long as the bike’s in working condition, I’ll be back on the train to Argus by tonight! Doesn’t that sound great?”
   “Yeah, but Yang...” Ruby squinted her eyes on the small screen. “Where are you?”
   “In Mistral?”
   “That doesn’t look anything like when we were there before!”
   Yang glanced around herself before offering a sheepish smile. “I miiiiight be in the bottom levels of the city... where Qrow told us never to go...”
   Her sister’s eyes grew wide. “Yang! He told us not to go there because it was dangerous!”
   “I know, but where else was I gonna get a bike? Besides, I think I’m okay,” The tone of her voice portraying the actual meaning of her words, I don’t think anyone is going to mess with me, and I’m going to leave as soon as I get the bike so that I don’t test it.
   Ruby sighed. “Okay Yang, just... be careful. Please.”
   “When have I ever given you a chance to worry?” She offered in a sort of playful tone, watching as her sister’s expression darkened once again. There were plenty of times. Guilt sunk in Yang’s stomach again as she almost found herself sunken back into her memories. Before she could be completely swallowed, however, a sudden commotion behind her caught the blonde brawler’s attention.
   “Yang? What is it?” Ruby asked, though her sister did not hear her. Yang had put her scroll down to her side as she turned, where she saw a small group of men huddled around an alleyway. As she watched, one of the men raised a gun to the sky and fired off several warning shots.
   “C’mon kid!” The man was laughing. “If you don’t hand everything you got over, we’ll just have to take it from ya!”
   “Pretty boy shouldn’t have anything on the bunch of us,” said another within Yang’s line of vision, warming up his fists by hitting them together in a similar manner to her. When he did, she could see sparks from electric dust come off his bracelets.
   A familiar sensation made its way to the surface from inside her, of hitting thugs where it hurt when she was just starting out fighting. Of dueling her mother’s bandits on her search for Ruby and the others. Of being tricked and lied to, over and over again by people who just didn’t care about others. She remembered looking into the gray eyes of a man who had lied to her, who had used her, who had turned everyone against her and turned into a damn puppet and laughed about it the whole time. She remembered how much she really, really hated that feeling and her eyes went red.
   Were these guys some slimy Huntsmen? Or just low-lifes who got their hands on Huntsmen weaponry? Yang guessed to the latter, since this was the area of notorious black market deals of Mistral. That’s why she was here, after all.
   “Yang! YANG!” Ruby was still calling from beside her. She rose her scroll back to her face. Her sister looked concerned. “What’s going on?!”
   “I’m fine Ruby, but I gotta go! I have to help him!” Yang explained quickly.
   “Wait, don’t-“ she cut Ruby off by hanging up on her and stuffing her scroll back in her pocket. Taking off by letting out a blast from both her Ember Celica and the gun on her prosthetic arm reminiscent of the old days, Yang went flying at the men laughing and firing intimidation shots into the sky.
   So much for laying low, echoed in the back of her mind, but as Yang swung her fist at the first asshole she came up on, she remembered that laying low had never really been her style.

~

   It had been longer than 24 hours since leaving Salem’s palace, and what a quiet few hours it had been. Mercury wasn’t sure if that was a good or bad thing. In that time he’d bounced between taverns, keeping his ears open as he listened to the mumbling between tavern drunkards and sketchy shopkeeps for any jobs that caught his fancy.
   He had to start from scratch. He wasn’t going to ride on what he’d done for Salem and Cinder, and the idea of using Marcus for legacy left a bad taste in his mouth. That meant he’d need to take the dirtiest jobs he could find, the ones that not just any assassin would take. He figured becoming a regular mercenary wasn’t a bad idea either, since all he knew was how to fight and he saw no point in limiting himself further. Anything that gave him a new reputation and a neutral place in the world, and made it clear that no one could mess with him.
   Every voice that triggered a memory made him jump though, every flash of red, green, or gold made him freeze. He was so freaked out at the prospect of being recognized that he hadn’t been able to sleep. This was the life that he was leading now, and he knew he’d have to get used to it. A fake sense of freedom while he ran from everything he had left behind. Mercury was glad he’d remembered his money in his haste to leave Salem’s palace, after getting himself some food and restocking supplies of dust and ammo that he loaded into his greaves. An assassin caught without his weapons was a dead one, though he knew he could overwhelm anyone with his kicks he didn’t want to risk it. Especially with so many people after him.
   He was just leaving the shop, and glanced up toward the higher levels of Mistral along the side of the mountain when another familiar caught in his ears. It rattled in his head, causing his breath to catch in his throat.
   “Thanks for the tip, Mathilda!” Called the worst possible voice he could hear right now, even worse than Salem’s. “Hope I see you around!”
   Mercury whipped around, looking for the source of the voice. Had he imagined it? Was he literally so paranoid at this point that he was hallucinating? If he was going insane though, he could handle that. Anything was better than actually running into anyone. Than running into her.
   But then the flash of gold caught his eye. There she stood, a hand on her forehead to block the sun from her eyes as she looked around. Blonde hair just as wild and free as he remembered. Same clothes, with a purple bandana tied around her leg that should’ve given away that it was her. But what really convinced Mercury was the lemon-yellow paint job on her prosthetic arm.
   He stood, frozen, for some time, staring at her as if he couldn’t believe she was real. He was staring with his mouth agape too, and vaguely saw people giving him odd looks as they passed by. They probably just thought he was perverted or something, which was perfectly fine by him. Anything was better than being spotted by her.
   What was she doing here? Why was she in Mistral? The last thing he knew about her and the others, they’d been in Atlas. They had already gotten the Relic from Haven - he’d chosen to hide in Mistral over Vacuo for that exact reason. Because he knew they wouldn’t be here. What the hell was she doing here?
   Mercury finally steadied himself, and backed away slowly. He noticed she had started to walk in the opposite direction with her scroll up to her face, speaking to someone, and he breathed a sigh of relief. This was it, he thought as he watched her form moving further away from him, her golden hair getting swallowed by the crowd of loners and mercenaries. This was his escape from the old life.
   But you could ask her why.
   The voice was so sudden, so unexpected, that Mercury looked around himself, expecting someone to have crept up behind him and whispered in his ear. When he found no one, he realized that voice was his. The traitorous Mercury had returned, the one who had kept reminding him of her and her arm before.
   Before he could even wonder what it was that he wanted to know, it struck him. Before he could even think about what he was doing, Mercury was moving swiftly through the crowd toward. He shouldered people out of his way, just barely holding on to the last he could see of her golden hair. It was as if his feet were moving on his own as he drifted behind her. He couldn’t make out who she was talking to, but he caught some of the words.
   “-Listen, I think I’ve found a guy. As long as the bike’s in working condition, I’ll be back on the train to Argus by tonight! Doesn’t that sound great?”
   So she was in Mistral looking for someone, and the rest of the team was in Argus. What were they doing back in Anima though? Had Ozpin directed them there? If so, he was incredibly stupid. Going back to Argus was just as predictable as going to Vacuo. Salem would surely go after them there. At least he knew now to stay as far away from Argus as he possible.
   “In Mistral?” He heard her ask as he got closer, still keeping distance to prevent her from noticing him and to keep anyone from noticing that he was following her. He had garnered some of his senses by this point, remembering that he needed to be inconspicuous. The question sounded less like an inquiry, however, and more of an effort on Yang’s end to answer whatever the person she was talking to had asked; a coverup, if Mercury had ever seen one.
   Finally, he made out the voice on the other end of the call, and Mercury ducked into a nearby alley after realizing how close he was to her.
   “That doesn’t look anything like when we were there before!”
   Of course it was Little Red, the irritatingly hyper leader of their team and her younger sister.
   “I miiiiight be in the bottom levels of the city... where Qrow told us never to go...”
   He heard her sister begin to whine in protest, but Mercury was suddenly knocked to his knees from a blow to the back of his head. Stars covered his vision for a moment from the impact as his entire body was immediately on edge, sense of survival alerting him instantly to a group of people having now surrounded him. In a burst of adrenaline, Mercury whipped his body around so that he had a better angle to defend himself from. He finally shook the stars out of his eyes and faced the group above him.
   On instinct, he took them all in. Five people, four men and one woman holding what appeared to be a modified falchion. A gunshot went off in his ear, but no pain registered to him. Mercury looked down to his legs, but saw no bullet hole. Instead, the bastard with the gun was just standing there, grinning down at him with the barrel raised to the sky, smoking from his warning shot.
   “That’s an awful fancy pair of boots you got, sweetie,” the woman with the falchion purred. “Mind if I have a look?”
   “C’mon kid!” The first man laughed when Mercury didn’t reply. “If you don’t hand everything you got over, we’ll just have to take it from ya!”
   Mercury geared up into a fighting stance in response, glowering at the thugs from behind his messy gray hair.
   “Pretty boy shouldn’t have anything on the bunch of us,” spoke one of the other men, who slammed his fists together. The bracelets around his wrists crackled with electric dust, but what really got Mercury was how much that pose reminded him of the girl he’d been tailing. He shook his head though, pushing her to the back of his mind. This wasn’t about her anymore. This was about his survival on the streets.
   A warning shot, huh? What a group of morons.
   Mercury lunged forward at the nearest adversary, a third man holding a surprisingly vanilla knife. They were just a bunch of wannabes. They couldn’t hold a candle to the real deal. The knife collided with the armor covering his bicep, and all he could do was smirk at the dumb expression on the man’s face as Mercury swept his feet out from underneath him, and then spun around and nailed him in the cheek with his other boot. As the man went flying, he turned around to face the others.
   “You should’ve taken the shot and gotten the upper hand on me when you had the chance,” he mocked, lifting his leg into the air and cocking the pistol in his boot. Before he could take his own shot, a deafening, high-pitched yell echoed back from the main street and sent chills down Mercury’s spine.
   A flash of gold erupted in front of his eyes, brilliant and blinding and the combination of the worst possible thing he could imagine in that moment. Her own gauntlets went off as her fist collided with the man holding the gun, sending him flying in a similar manner to what he’d done to the man with the regular knife. Mercury didn’t really know why, but he froze when he realized she’d come to help him.
   “Hey, leave him alone you freaks!” Yang exclaimed, before turning her gaze toward where he stood in the middle of the group. “Are you okay ma-“ he watched her eyes grow wide, shock and fury increasing by the second as recognition fell over her. “Mercury?!
   Unsurprisingly, she had come to his assistance without knowing it was him.  He wondered if she was going to regret that punch in the long run. He sure was.
   Mercury lifted his chin up in her direction, offering her the same smirk he’d given her when they reunited at Haven Academy. He wasn’t quite sure what was possessing him, but he couldn’t stop smiling.
   “How’s it going, Blondie?”

~

   The wind that whistled through the valley and the cries of the nightmare creatures being birthed of the pools of tar around the castle were the only noises around as Emerald entered Salem’s throne room. She disliked the palace’s grand view very much, especially since Salem had never fixed the shattered glass windows. Her hair whipped around as she stepped forward, getting down on her knees.
   “You wanted to see me, your Grace?”
   The witch turned around when she spoke, looking down with indifference toward her pawn. No, at this point Emerald had become at least a Rook. Cinder was the Pawn now. And the loss of one of her Knights greatly displeased Salem.
   “I did, yes,” she spoke in that soft tone, the one she used when appealing to her conspirators’ needs. “I wanted to talk to you because it has come to my attention that Mercury has left. You two are rather close, aren’t you? Did he tell you where he was going?”
   Emerald faltered, shifting awkwardly. “No, he didn’t say anything to me. And we aren’t that close,” she looked down toward her feet. “We worked together because we both worked for Cinder. And then, you.”
   “I can tell when you lie, Emerald,” Salem sounded displeased, but not angry. “You care about him.”
   “Only because he’s some of the only family I’ve had. You and Cinder are more important to me.”
   “Good,” Salem’s voice came from right above her now. Emerald hadn’t even realized she had been walking closer to her. “I’m glad to hear you say that. Because I have reason to believe that our poor, dear Mercury left with the intention of running away from our cause.”
   Her eyes widened at her mistress’s words. “No... no, there’s no way! There’s no way he would walk away from this!”
   Emerald immediately flinched, years spent with Cinder instantly reminding her that to speak disbelief, to argue even with the older woman’s best interest in mind was inviting punishment. But Salem did nothing. When she looked up toward the witch, Salem was almost looking at her with pity.
   “I’m very sorry to be the one who tells you this,” there was no sympathy in her voice though. Salem, physically, didn’t have the capacity for such a thing. “But Mercury Black has fled. He not only forfeits his place in my world and the desires I would have gifted him, but he has also forfeited his life. I will not be sending you after him, as I have more important things for you to accomplish and I feel that my Grimm will find him soon enough, but you must understand Emerald... if you were to run into him out in the world of Remnant, you are to kill him.”
   There was another silent moment of horror as she took in Salem’s orders. She had worked with him, ended up trusting her back to him. He was some of the only family she’d ever had. But at the same time, the news of his abandonment burned an anger within her unlike anything she had ever felt before, even after she believed Cinder had died. When she had been doubting their allegiance, he had scorned her. Insulted her. And he’d constantly made fun of her for caring about Cinder all the while before. Now he had left her alone.
   Salem was right, she realized bitterly. Mercury was either with them or dead. He didn’t get a choice any other way.
   Emerald closed her eyes and bowed her head very so slightly. “Of course, your Highness.”
   Salem stopped at the tone of her voice, turning around toward the young woman with a smile.
   “Very good.”

Chapter Text

 He hadn’t changed a bit since the last time she had seen him.
  Silver hair, steely gray eyes that glittered like cruel gemstones to a thief. He was taunting her, daring her to make a move. So she did.
  “Whoa, there!” Mercury laughed out as he dodged her fist coming at his head. “Not the face, please.”
  While her intense, blinding fury had dissipated upon seeing it was him being harassed by a group of street thugs, a new, calm anger, a familiar feeling since Beacon Academy fell, washed over Yang. She did not lose herself, like she had done in the past. She was focused, smart, and she knew how to fight him and win.
  Mercury responded to her stoicism by fighting back, snapping like a bullet being fired from the barrel of a gun. His boot struck her with the deadly ferocity of a Deathstalker’s stinger, however Yang caught the motion and blocked the strike with her gauntlet. She pushed back against his boot but he answered with his own pressure, their strength nearly match for match.
   “You were following me,” she accused as she narrowed her eyes at him. When she had heard people mumbling around her earlier about a boy acting strange she’d honestly assumed that some weirdo or drunk from the tavern had been leering at her. It occurred to her now that it had been him. He had been surprised when she appeared to help, but he hadn’t been surprised to see her.
  “Maybe I was,” Mercury’s answer was smug, just as he always had been. Even before she knew who he truly was, when he was masquerading as a student, he’d always been that way. “You aren’t really sure, are you?”
  He kicked off to break their stalemate, launching himself into the air and causing her to stumble backwards from the recoil. Yang looked up and followed his arc, jerking her elbow back to get the ammo in her Ember Celica ready before throwing two shadow punches, firing glittering shells at where he was going to land. Mercury threw his arms up in front of his face to take the brunt of the shot, but the explosive shells made contact and knocked him back into the wall of one of the buildings surrounding the alley.
  Another gunshot went off suddenly and Yang gasped when a bullet hit her shoulder, her Aura protecting her from any injury but she still felt the damage reverberate through her body. She whipped around as her eyes switched to crimson, intense fury returning as she knew where the bullet had come from.
  “Bitch! We saw him first!” Yelled the thug who she’d sent flying, holding the smoking gun toward her. The group had reformed and surrounded once more, and their focus had now switched to her.
  Before she could even act, she noticed just as the woman flipped her curved sword around, the blade breaking up into the shape of a whip.
  “C’mere, sweetheart!” With an excited yell, the woman lashed out with her weapon. She caught Yang around the leg when she tried to dodge out of the way, pulling her balance out from underneath her. Yang landed hard on her ass as the small blades that made up the whip dug in, and she let out a cry as they dragged her closer. Though no cuts actually appeared, no blood spilled, she felt the sting of the blades slicing through her Aura. But Yang saw her opportunity and seized it.
  Bringing her arms around in front of her, she fired off two shots from both weapons to boost herself into the air. With all the strength and momentum she could muster, she brought her body into a backflip while at the same time kicking her leg back in a violent arc. The other woman let out a scream as she was pulled into the air, up and above Yang, before being thrown harshly back into the ground. Utilizing the extra damage done by doing that all with a bladed whip cutting into her, when Yang landed her hair ignited into flames.
  “Get out of here!” She yelled, slamming her fist into the man who’d shot her. The shockwave was so great that it caught up the rest of his thugs and knocked them all back several feet.
  Yang watched them all run with their tails between their legs the moment any of them recovered, turning back to the one she actually needed to fight when she heard his voice.
  “Always a pleasure with you,” Mercury spoke with his same cruel smirk, tipping his head to her. “That’ll be all.”
  She shot two more firecrackers at him, but Mercury anticipated the move and catapulted himself out of the way. He landed on the other side of the alley and instantly broke into a run. Yang’s eyes widened when she realized he was just trying to escape like that.
  Escape? That was the last thing the Mercury she had known, both the fake one and the one who worked for Salem, would do. He didn’t just run. Something was going on, and Yang only hesitated for a moment before chasing after him. She was going to make him talk.
  Mercury ducked back into the crowd, disregarding every person he shoved and even jumping over some to get away. Yang ran after him with a similar intensity, but instead of a shit-eating grin she wore an intense glare. She spun to avoid colliding with people in her way, attempting to not bowl anyone over but not being shy. She couldn’t lose sight him.
  She pushed herself to her limits to get after him, despite every muscle screaming in protest already. The fire that he ignited in her was more volatile and dangerous than anyone else, but it also made her feel stronger, an almost addicting high. She knew it was dangerous, but the adrenaline rush always reminded her of when she was learning to be a Huntress. She had to remember that every match against him was wagering life and death from now on. In another world, she and Mercury could’ve just been simple rivals, pushing each other further, perhaps even friends. And that only made her anger toward him burn even brighter.
  Yang saw Mercury make another attempt to fake her out by slipping into a smaller alleyway just as Yang slammed into a dense crowd of people. She gritted her teeth and roughly pushed past the few more people before following him.
  “Mercury!” She shouted at him, and emptied her weapons of spent shells in a defiant show of intent.
  He slowed to a stop, shoulders moving as he gave a very heavy sigh. “You just can’t get enough of me, can you Blondie?” He turned around to face her, and Yang was taken aback for a moment by how guarded his expression appeared now. That was also very uncharacteristic of the Mercury she had known, but she didn’t get a chance to inspect it any longer as the look in his eyes disappeared when his smirk returned. “Play your cards right and I might just give you what you want.”
  Yang rolled her eyes, but continued to try and read his intentions as she spoke. “What I want is information. Why were you following me? What are you trying to do? What is Salem planning?”
  “Ohhhh...” He tapped his chin, glancing at her casually. “Well, I’m afraid I can’t actually give you any of that.”
  “Oh, but I think you will.”
  Mercury looked thoroughly entertained by their banter. “Then you’re going to have to take it from me.”
  He stepped back into a fighting stance, holding his fists up in front of the smirk that had haunted her since their fight at Haven Academy, the first time she had truly seen him and confirmed he was on Salem’s side. Yang slowed her breathing - this was it, this was why she kept training harder and harder, why she had to keep getting stronger. To beat people like him, to prevent people like him from ever hurting her family again.
  And why she was going to uncontestedly beat him this time without her Semblance.
  Yang made the first move, propelling herself at him with her arm winding back for a very obvious punch. His response was exactly what she expected, and Yang caught the movement in her eyes an instant before Mercury’s boot would have collided with her head. He stopped her fist but the punch itself had been a feint, a point of rotation so she could throw her entire body at him.
  He gave a short gasp of surprise when her shoulder hit him square in the chest, knocking him back. Mercury recovered much faster than she would’ve liked, launching off while she steadied herself back to her feet. Yang threw her arms up to block his attack, fast and powerful enough to push her backwards a bit though her defense held strong. When he shifted back to his other foot she lashed out with her fist just as fast as him, striking him in the nose. Though she felt the pushback from his Aura, the attack was enough to throw him off balance and suddenly Yang had the advantage.
  She dodged his fists and got in close, quickly controlling the situation by separating his hands and exposing his body. That was the number one rule of their fighting styles, though hers were primarily her fists and his were his legs, they were both brawlers. You never let the enemy get inside your space, and you certainly never let them have control over it. As long as she had it she was going to make it work for her, because she was sure he’d figure out a counter soon.
  Yang threw one punch, two, three - getting in a total of five solid hits before Mercury interrupted her rhythm, pushing himself into an acrobatic spin and bringing his kick down on her from above. Finally getting a strike in that actually knocked his opponent off balance, Mercury was relentless in his assault. He was always like that, and once her defense was down against him she knew it was always hard getting it back up.
  Even in the relatively short time it had been since they fought at Haven Academy, he’d grown exponentially stronger. She felt it behind every strike, every movement he made had even more deadly accuracy than before. Sometimes she wondered if he had only thrown their match during the Vytal Festival. It was a strong possibility. In the beginning, Mercury had surely been leagues better. Yes, even with that, he’d become an even bigger threat.
  “But so have I!” Yang exclaimed, as she brought up her own side kick to block his strike with her own leg.
  There was a moment of shock that registered on his face before Mercury’s grin reappeared. “Well,” he said as he winked at her. “I can always appreciate a girl with a good set of legs.”
  Yang’s answer was to simply hold out her arm and fire off another round of bullets at him.
  Though he got her in the hip when he fired off his own shell to get away, Yang hit him several times in the shoulder. She felt her cold anger building up again as she pursued him, and as they clashed once more. Empty bullet casings littered the alley around them, wooden structures crumbling from missed shots. Was that a crowd forming? It wasn’t all that surprising, but Yang couldn’t divert her attention for one moment or else he’d get the advantage over her. Both parties deviated from their usual styles, Yang hitting him with everything she had in a blur of fists and kicks while Mercury ditched his speed for slower, stronger punches and a more defensive stance as each tried to beat the one person who matched them, who pushed them further past their limits than anyone else could.
  Their clash culminated into one big burst of energy when their weapons collided, just as they had at the tournament. The force pushed both fighters away from one another, and Yang took the opportunity to catch her breath. While she hadn’t expected her trip to Mistral to be quiet, she certainly couldn’t have imagined it would turn into a punch-out with a member of Salem’s followers, let alone the one who had come to blows with her more often than not. He had humiliated her over and over again, but aside from that he had hurt so many people that she cared about. Messing with her family... for that, she had resolved to make him, and all of Salem’s faction, pay. They’d all be history, starting with Mercury.
  She yelled as she ran at him again, moving first before he could. She went for the feint punch again, but Mercury wasn’t about to fall for that twice. When he caught her shoulder in his other hand, Yang adjusted and aimed her elbow up into his chin as hard as she could. He grunted and she took the opening to fire off a shell from Ember Celica at point blank. This time, there wasn’t an ounce of guilt; the jerk still had his Aura, after all.
  She was surprised, however, when this didn’t stop him. Suddenly Mercury had her grappled, one arm twisted behind her back and Yang cried out a bit. Her Aura couldn’t protect her from the pain that action had caused.
  “Are you still sure about this, Blondie?” He was almost purring the words out, right in her ear. Yang could hear the grin on his face. Cocky bastard. “I’m gonna make you regret this little fight.”
  Without giving her a chance to respond - though her response would’ve been to spit on him, as she was trying to figure out how to do so with how he was restraining her - Mercury shoved her forward. He didn’t let go of her arm though, and as quickly as he did, he pulled her back toward him. She saw that grin for just a moment before he landed a solid punch to her cheek, then slammed his knee into her stomach. He was completely merciless and in control as she doubled over, his boot coming up to strike her in the head several times.
  Yang felt a rage return to her, fury as she realized that Mercury was beating her with her own damn technique. He spun her around to keep her from steadying herself and form a counter, before letting go of her suddenly and sent her stumbling. More movement caught her eye, and Yang looked up just in time for Mercury to finish another acrobatic, and watched his leg sweep in a wide arc. Before she even recognized where he was aiming, a burst of yellow flashed in front of her eyes, followed by the feeling of horrible pain that spread across her lower back. Someone screamed. She realized it was herself.
  Yang fell forward onto her hands and knees, heaving. She couldn’t believe her Aura hadn’t fizzled out at that attack, though she knew it was very low. The burst of yellow had indicated she’d taken a lot of damage from that one strike. Yang realized that meant if she kicked out her Semblance right now, she could end it.
  Fury suddenly bubbles up inside her, but not towards Mercury; towards herself. She had sworn she wasn’t going to use her Semblance. Mercury still hadn’t brought out his, so she refused to also. This was going to be a brawl. She just had to win, there was no other choice.
  Yang got up to one knee and immediately blocked two kicks close to her face, one on the left and one on the right. He was driven, she had to at least give him that, refusing to give her any room to breathe. Then again, that was how she fought too when she had the upper hand. She got into her own spin and threw a kick at him. Though she missed, she was able to get back to her feet with a renewed vigor, hands in front of her face to show him she was ready to go again.
  Mercury had completely switched over now to his style of overwhelming, relentless attacks that were almost completely unpredictable, flowing more like he was dancing than fighting. She saw him wind back to take another shot and she threw another feint punch, this time instead firing off a round into the ground to launch into a corkscrew over him and leaping to his other side. Just as she’d done when fighting her mother’s goons, she figured on using her predictably full-on attacking approach to her advantage.
  Yang landed behind him and went for her best move, dropping quickly to sweep his leg out from underneath him. When Mercury tripped she twisted back up and threw a punch to slam him into the ground. Before she had even finished pulling her arm back she took another strike to the head, and then another before she finally got out of the way.
  Mercury had caught himself, legs flying in a deadly, sporadic arc of airflares that she remembered vividly but hadn’t seen since the Vytal tournament. A sizable amount of Dust bullets were already amassing around him like a cyclone, preventing Yang from going in to stop him without taking a heavy amount of damage. Damage that her Aura wasn’t going to be able to take. She was low, she could feel it, but Yang was pretty damn sure he was too. That had to be why he was going for such a trump card, because he needed to make sure he finished this now if he wanted to win.
  But she had to think of something fast, or else he would. She had never had the time to figure out how his cyclone worked before, and she wasn’t quite sure she could now. All she had to do was dodge it, which was a hell of a lot easier said than done. The Dust swirled around in tandem with his legs, going at about the same rate. Yang noticed a faint purple glow in his boots, and a smile widened on her face. Gravity Dust, of course. She didn’t have to watch his bullets, she had to watch his legs.
  When he swung and fired the dust at her, she was ready. Yang took a deep breath, and fired off several rounds from her gauntlets. A huge cloud of white Dust erupted around her. He probably thought she was out, but all it really did was conceal her.
  “YEAAAAAAAHHHH!” With a fierce, unyielding cry Yang rocketed out of the smoke, flying toward him loud and brilliant just like the firecracker she was. Mercury had his back to her as if he had just started walking away, and she saw him turn slightly, saw his eyes grow wide.
  She couldn’t believe she’d gotten him.
  She brought her leg down in a swinging arc, simultaneously knocking him down and paying him back for every kick to the head she’d had to take. As she landed directly on top of him, Yang anchored her knee into the middle of his back. As soon as he hit the ground, she grabbed his arm and pulled it back towards her. She then pushed her other hand into the back of head, holding him in place.
  “Stay down!” She barked at him. But as Yang watched, his silver Aura crackled, then faded, right underneath her fingertips.
  A new wave of high jolted through her body. Her heart was pounding, chest heaving as she was finally able to fully catch her breath. She could hardly believe it. I won. I beat Mercury!
  She heard Mercury groan with annoyance, and pressed her knee a little bit harder into his back. “I said-“
  “I know what you said,” he sighed, turning his head a bit so he could look at her. “Well Blondie, what do you want to know?”

Chapter Text

  The moment he saw her leaping out of the cloud of dust at him, Mercury had known he had lost. That didn’t make it any less frustrating, though.

  Yang dug her knee a little deeper into his back, just enough that it was noticeably painful. He could tell she was trying not to hurt him though, because if she was, she wouldn’t be holding his arm back at such a low angle as she had it. If it were him, he’d probably have the arm straight up. Dislocated shoulders were among the nicest things he’d learned to restrain someone with.

  “I said-“

  He cut her off, wanting to get this over with. “I know what you said.”

  Mercury looked around, in front of him - only what he could see, because she was mashing his head against the ground - and quickly deduced there was really no way out of this. Despite everything, he had lost to Yang. He could hardly believe it, save for the gravel in his mouth.

  He sighed deeply as he turned just enough to see her, where she was positioned on top of him. “Well Blondie, what do you want to know?”

  “You already know,” she growled, and pressed her knee into his back a little harder as she let go of his head to grab something from her bag. With such a fiery, easily flustered, and - admittedly - attractive girl like Yang restraining him, it was extremely difficult for Mercury to hold back the temptation to make any sexual innuendos of the situation. For now.

  And he was successful for all of two minutes; that was when Yang removed a pair of handcuff-like restraints from her belt, and pulled back both of his arms to lock them in place. A smirk found its way back to his face as she got off him and lifted him to his feet.

  “Never pictured you as that kinda girl,” his grin widened when she glared daggers into him. “Hey, hey, I’m not complaining.”

  She didn’t answer, but shoved him back into the wall of the alley. Mercury winced as he felt the impact in his shoulder. It wasn’t a particularly hard hit, only that it always took a minute for his body to adjust to pain in the outside world without the safety cushion of his Aura. Honestly if Marcus had been around even a little bit longer, he probably would’ve figured out a way to take that from him, too.

  Yang got into his face as she pushed him down on top of a barrel. He was just getting more and more interested in the way she was treating him - if he wasn’t absolutely pissed that he had ran into her barely two days since he’d been away from Salem. This was certainly not how he wanted to go.

  “I have no problem breaking your leg for real this time,” she snarled. Mercury watched as Yang got down on her knees and pressed them into his boots as she started to take off his greaves. He would’ve made another joke about what sorta things she was into getting on her knees like that, if it wasn’t for how much her words bothered him.

  “So you’re so much better than us, right? Even though I guess you’re just as willing to hurt people as I am,” his voice was so cold and bitter it almost surprised himself. Sure, he never would have expected Yang to be friendly and welcoming to him, and sure, she had no idea of the real reason he was in Mistral, but he had certainly expected more. He hadn’t expected her to remind him of Salem, of Cinder, even of Marcus Black. He had expected Yang to remind him of the reason he had ran.

  That hope he had felt while running, that hope that had been shining like gold.

  Yang was visibly disturbed by this, avoiding his gaze. “How do you take your greaves off?”

  He gave her an incredulous look. “What?”

  “I’ve gotta take your greaves off, now let’s just make this easy and tell me how to do it, okay?”

  A panic washed over him and Mercury incubated the idea of just attempting to run, but he already knew that’d be a terrible idea. “Or you can fuck off, how about that?”

  Yang rolled her eyes, seeming not aware of his panic. “You need to walk, and I don’t really like the idea of getting shot in the foot. I’d prefer to not have to chain up your feet and then carry you all the way to Argus.”

  Every word she said sunk deeper in his gut. “I’m not going to Argus,” He snarled.

  “Oh, that’s exactly where we’ll be going,” she answered, and Mercury was horrified by the sound of his greaves disengaging as Yang popped them off herself. “There we go. Guess your boots just gotta come off too.”

  “No!” Mercury snapped. “There’s a way to lock the guns. God, let me keep my shoes on, please.”

  Once that had been taken care of, Yang pulled him to stand again and guided him by the restraints out of the alley past the crowd of people who had gathered during their fight. Yang held up her scroll to the bystanders, identifying herself as a Huntress apprehending a criminal.

  Right, because that’s what he was. Mercury supposed that someone would’ve eventually reported him anyway - his face was everywhere because of what happened at Haven Academy - and that Yang had just gotten him first. Which was still pretty damn frustrating.

  “Let’s see... I guess getting you back to Argus before your Aura regenerates and you decide you can fight back again is top priority,” she wiped some sweat off her forehead. “Too bad. I had business I wanted to take care of here but I can always come back.”

  “You won’t get me past the station,” he grumbled.

  She scowled at him. “What was that?”

  “They wouldn’t let me on the train. Telling people you’re a Huntress might’ve worked on people of Mistral, but the police aren’t gonna care. You’ll be back to where you started, except beat up.”

  Yang groaned. “I hate it but you’re right. And you in police custody doesn’t help anyone but yourself. We’re gonna have to find another way to Argus.”

  “Or, you could just let me go and pretend nothing happened?” He sarcastically spat back.

  She glared at him again, but for the first time her fury had grown cold. He was used to her both metaphorically and literally being on fire. The cold anger sent a chill down his spine, it was so strange.

  “You’re part of a group that has hurt people, over and over again, just for your own gain,” her voice was even, controlled now. “You destroyed Beacon. You’ve brought Grimm against thousands of innocent people just to please some nightmare queen and her pawns. You’ve tricked and used people, like me. You’ve killed two of my friends. Most importantly, your fucking queen has gone after my sister. My sister. Let me make this very clear to you, Merc; I am never letting you go. And I’m going to make you tell me everything you know about Salem and her little group.”

  The flames from her words licked at his face, and he watched her blink and her purple eyes had turned to red. Somehow, this was the most angry he’d ever seen her, and yet she wasn’t yelling to the heavens. For a moment, he thought she might have a chance against Salem. Only for a moment though.

  “Fine,” he turned his face from her. “God you’re crazy, Blondie.”

  He heard her take a deep breath, and she raised her Scroll to her ear as she called someone. Mercury looked down at his greaves from where they were now jammed into her bag, and as he tried to concoct a plan to get them back, as if she could sense his intentions, Yang put a hand on them. He sneered and gave up for now. He’d just have to play prisoner for a bit and find a way to escape her later.

  “Hey, I’m sorry I hung up on you,” she said, and he assumed she had called her sister again. “Yeah, yeah, I’m fine. The guy’s... fine...”

  She cut her eyes toward him as she said that and Mercury was vaguely surprised to realize she was talking about him. She must have still been on the phone with her sister when she noticed the thugs who had surrounded him. He smirked to himself, wondering how her friends would all react when they learned she had “rescued” him.

  “Just... uh, some complications came up, and it’s going to take me a lot longer to get to Argus until I can figure something out. I’m serious, you guys can leave without me, but I know you won’t...” he watched Yang close her eyes and shake her head, though now she was smiling. “Okay. I love you too, Ruby.”

  He looked back toward her as she hung up. Yang let out a sigh, rubbing her face with her hands as if contemplating something. Then she slapped both of her cheeks lightly, and clearly forced a smile toward him.

  “C’mon, Merc!” She chirped, though her voice sounded tired. He supposed the fight was probably starting to catch up to her. “We’re going shopping.”

 

~

 

  Mercury shifted uncomfortably back and forth on his prosthetics, feeling them grow so stiff that he was afraid they would start creaking. He glanced toward the other side of the room, where Yang was still haggling with the vendor. He really had no idea what they were doing in a motor shop, she didn’t even have her bike with her.

  She’d taken off his restraints just for the moment, and while Mercury could have easily escaped, she still had his greaves and the key to releasing the locked barrels on his boots. Without either of those things, he wouldn’t be able to fight. If he couldn’t fight he couldn’t take jobs, which meant no money. Which meant he wouldn’t have any way of hiding from Salem. So he stayed.

  “At least let me see her first,” Yang said loudly, and Mercury looked up in confusion to her wording. Who was she here to see? He thought she needed to buy stuff.

  “I was told she was in pretty good condition, if I’m gonna be spending this much I wanna know it’s true.”

  Uh, what?

  The older man disappeared toward the back of the shop while Mercury stared at her. He had to have heard her wrong. There was no way someone like her would yell at him about hurting people, then turn around and condone some sort of-

  His trail of consciousness stopped when the shopkeeper rolled a whole motorcycle out of the back room.

  It was a moderate size, a bit bigger than her other bright yellow and orange bike from the best he could recall. Though a bit dirty, it had chrome plating and dark gray covers with black handlebars and dashboard. In fact what struck Mercury first was how much the bike reminded him of himself.

  Yang put her hands on her hips, whistling low as she approached it. “She’s a beauty. I’m certainly interested, but I’d like to see how she runs before I buy. You understand, don’t you?”

  Though he gave another exasperated sigh, the shopkeeper turned and went to go retrieve the keys. Mercury watched as Yang ran her fingers over the handlebars with a clear sense of longing. Or some kind of sadness. He didn’t really care, he just found the reaction to be strange.

  “I can’t wait to ride you,” she mumbled under breath, Mercury only just barely catching it.

  “What happened to your other bike?” He spoke up finally, not for the answer but perhaps just to get her to remember she wasn’t alone. It was a bit insulting honestly, because he felt like she had forgotten she’d even put him on lockdown.

  Yang jolted a bit, and her fingers curled tightly around the handlebar. “BMBLB went down for me. I needed a new one.”

  “Ah,” it was painfully obvious there was more to the story, but he really didn’t care. Just as long as she understood that she was being massively weird.

  When the man came back with the key and the silver motorcycle hummed to life with no issue, Mercury was unsurprised that Yang immediately slammed her money down on the counter. He couldn’t believe she had been carrying that much lien around. If Emerald had been here, that would’ve been gone two hours ago.

  A sickness sunk in his stomach as one of the people he’d been trying to avoid thinking about had rose to his mind so quickly. How had she reacted, when she learned he had left? Would Salem even tell her the truth? He had no idea of what Salem would do. That was the most frightening part about the witch.

  “Mercury? Mercury, hey,” he came back to the blonde in his face, tugging on his arm. “Come on, we’re all set here.”

  “Tch,” he made the most uncaring tone in the world to cover up his own behavior. “Whatever.”

  After also purchasing fuel for the bike, Yang jerked him after her as if to reprimand him for his poor acting skills - what did he care whether or not people knew she was keeping him as a prisoner? - waving to the shopkeeper the entire way out the door. With her sing-songy “Byeee! Thank you so much! Looking forward to doing business again!” Mercury concluded that he really did not fucking understand this girl whatsoever. He much didn’t want to, either.

  As soon as they got outside the shop, she snapped the restraints back on him, any smile that had been there before now gone.

  “Get on the bike,” she snapped at him.

  Mercury snorted, kicking his leg over the seat as Yang climbed on behind him.

  “What’s to stop me from jumping?” He sneered as her arms appeared on either side of him. “Or if I don’t just fall off.”

  “Good point, Merc,” she answered. He was surprised when she suddenly unlatched one side of the handcuffs, but then hooked it back to her own arm. “Now if you try anything I can just kick your ass again.”

  Annoyed with her tone and mildly humiliated with the accommodations, Mercury remained quiet as Yang started the ignition. As before, the motorcycle hummed to life with no issue, and continued performing as such as she sped out of Mistral toward the mountains.

  “Oh, listen to you purr, baby,” he rolled his eyes as she drifted off into her bike fantasy world again. “Oh yeah, we should have no problems getting to Argus.”

 

~

 

  They rode for a solid few more hours, out of the kingdom and into Grimm land. Mercury knew there were a few villages that survived on the edges of Mistral’s reach, and a few that they drove through, so he expected Yang to stop and spend the night there before continuing. To his surprise, she drove straight through as the sun began to set, only finally stopping when the sky was beginning to turn from reds and oranges to purple and dark blue.

  “Well, going through the whole night is just going to attract Grimm to the noise,” Yang said as she reached around to unlock the restraint, and hook both of his wrists together again. “So I guess we’ll camp here. I don’t care if you sleep or not, I’ll be taking my own watches.”

  He was silent for a while, debating whether or not to tell her about what his situation actually entailed. The real question was whether or not he cared if she got tangled up in it. “You’re pretty ballsy, camping in Grimm territory.”

  “It’s something we’re taught how to do well, because it’s almost guaranteed to happen at some point in a Huntsman’s career.”

  He gave a little bit of a sigh, as he felt that fear twisting up in his gut again. There was no way he couldn’t give her some warning. He was too damn nervous over his own safety. “Salem can see through the eyes of Grimm, you know.”

  Yang opened one eye, focusing her attention on him. “Well, shit,” she spoke more as if he’d just told her something mildly inconvenient as opposed to the fact that the literal witch who wanted to destroy the kingdoms could find them through any of her nightmare creatures. He wasn’t sure which he found more annoying of Yang, her strange optimism or her moments of indifference.

  Yang tucked her arms behind her head as she leaned back against her new bike and looked up toward the sky. “So, is she gonna come and try to rescue you?”

  Mercury gave another sigh. He couldn’t tell her what was really going on, that he was now running for his life from Salem. He didn’t need her preaching to him to join her cause - or her pity. “Something like that. ‘Night, Blondie.”