Maine wasn’t exactly a welcome sight. Blake stared dismally out the window at the passing trees. Unlike on Menagerie, there were so many pine trees. She might have enjoyed the greenery had it not been so cold, so cloudy, so rainy, so damn wet.
Her parents had booked the cottage months ago, long before she finally left Adam for good. They were bringing her along out of pity, which she resented, but it wasn’t like there was anything else she could do. Leaving Adam-- leaving him to rot in jail back on Menagerie-- had also involved leaving her whole life behind. Her job, her home, the few friends she still had…
Now it was just her and her parents. She was as dependent on them as any kid, and she hated it.
Ghira was trying to speak to her. Hurriedly, Blake pulled an ear bud out. “Yeah?” she asked, not bothering to look in his direction.
“I said, we’re almost there.”
As they traversed the small road that led to the island of Patch, Blake was a little disappointed that she couldn’t see ocean through the thick trees. This was Maine. There was supposed to be ocean.
Yet even the ocean was a let-down. They crested a hill, and the sulky blue of the sea blended in too well with the gray sky. Even the water looked unsettled, with choppy waves turning to whitecaps and providing the only contrast of color out there. Blake stared dully at it. She was aware that her parents were talking, but she couldn’t be bothered with the conversation. Her body might be in a safe place now, but her mind was still trapped back on Menagerie.
The cottage wasn’t impressive, either. As her parents had booked the cabin with only themselves in mind, there was only one bedroom, meaning Blake was stuck on the sofa. She flopped onto it immediately, earbuds still in her ears.
“What? What was that?” she asked, pulling one out. Kali wore a slight frown as she exchanged a glance with her father.
“We… just wanted to know how you’re feeling,” she asked, her words in a rush. “You’ve been pretty quiet the whole way here.”
“Oh. Yeah, I’m good. I’m pretty tired, though, so I think I’ll turn in early tonight.”
“It’s only six,” Kali said, bewildered.
“Is it your ribs again?” Ghira asked anxiously. Blake’s cheeks burned as she shook her head.
“No. I’m just… tired. It’s been a long trip.” She shrugged. Still seeing the concern on their faces, she added, “I’ll be fine tomorrow. Promise.”
“At least stay up long enough to get some dinner?” Kali pleaded.
This could have turned into a power struggle. Everything was about power, after all, and Blake weighed her options. She wasn’t hungry, but she knew her parents would give her hell about not eating. And honestly, Blake was just too tired to argue. There was no fight left in her.
“Fine,” she sighed.
There was only one place on Patch that served food, and it was a tiny diner at the center of the island. It also served as a convenience store that, to Blake’s numbed astonishment, continued to rent out movies. Some of them were pretty old, judging by the yellowed covers. Blake studied them as her parents greeted the cashier.
“Sit anywhere you like!” he said with a wide smile, gesturing to the adjoining room. “You must be new here.”
“Just arrived this evening!” Kali, of course, was already making friends with the blond boy. Blake tuned out the conversation as she trailed a thumb over the cover of Castaway.
She was wondering about phone reception on the island-- was that why rentals were still a thing here?-- when she heard the bell at the shop entrance jingle.
“Jaune!” a laughing voice rang out. “Is our pizza ready?”
She watched the couple suspiciously, the red-headed girl giggling as she clung to the arm of someone who must have been her boyfriend. Blake sidled around the side of the DVD rack, wanting to stay out of the line of fire. The redhead looked too peppy, and Blake didn’t want to risk being pulled into that.
“I think so! Ask Ruby.”
“Ruby? Isn’t she racing tomorrow?”
“Yeah, but she wanted the extra shift.” They were deep enough in their conversation that Blake felt safe enough to slip around them toward the diner part of the building. “Sailing ain’t cheap.”
“--got cut off, remember?”
“Oh, yeah. Shit.”
Again, Blake tuned out the conversation. The diner was small enough that she found her parents’ booth immediately.
“It looks like they've got pretty standard stuff,” Ghira remarked, flipping to the back of the menu. “Oh, nice, they've got calzones.”
Blake started to put an earbud in, but Kali caught the movement.
Not now, her eyes pleaded. Blake sighed and slipped it back into her pocket.
“Just a couple more minutes!” a high-pitched voice whined from the kitchen. “You just called it in. Of course it isn't ready yet!”
“Just don't burn it again!” the redhead replied threateningly.
“They look about your age,” Ghira told Blake, his bass voice low enough to not be overheard. “Why don't you introduce yourself? You could make some friends here!”
Blake shook her head. “Maybe another day. I'm still pretty tired from the ride.”
One of the young women laughed, though Blake couldn't bring herself to care who had made the sound.
She wasn't in Maine to make friends. She was only here because there was no place else to go, and a tiny island was a safe place to lick her wounds in peace. It hadn’t even been a month since she'd moved back in with her parents, and the time she’d spent with them was barely a blip compared to the years she'd spent under Adam's thumb. Too much was different, and she knew they were still tiptoeing around her. She heard their hushed conversations whenever they thought she was sleeping.
Maybe they could try this therapist, they'd mutter. Or that doctor. This wasn't the daughter they remembered.
It wasn't like they would have expected her to be the same when she'd moved back home. They'd seen how she looked at the hospital; nobody could be the same after spending years with someone capable of that. But she knew her parents expected a little more from her, but Blake just couldn’t provide it.
Blake was a disappointment, as she always had been.
“You ready for the race?” she heard a male voice ask.
“Yep! Weiss said she was going to triple-check everything on Crescent Rose tonight. She gets so nervous.”
“I heard she nearly ripped Yang's head off this morning.”
“Yeah, well, Yang was pretty much asking for it. She’d just been clamming, and she tracked mud all over the deck! I thought Weiss was going to throw her overboard.”
“Like she could!” the red-headed girl chimed in, laughing.
Blake's eyes glazed over her menu, letting the conversation wash over her as white noise. She could only hope her parents wouldn’t want to stay here too long. The only thing she was eager to do on this godforsaken island was go to sleep.
Her parents’ appetites were big after the drive, but Blake could only bring herself to eat a bowl of soup. It warmed her stomach, but it did nothing for the ever-present chill in her heart.
That night, she thanked the god of Ambien as she drifted off on the lumpy sofa.
Kali was up bright and early the next morning, pulling the curtain. Sunlight hit Blake's face and she groaned.
“We're going to watch the race,” Kali announced. Her voice left no room for argument as she added, “And by we, we also mean you.”
“Sounds boring,” Blake grumbled.
“It's a nice day out. You're not staying inside all day.” Kali reached to her, as if to brush her tangled black hair out of Blake's eyes, but stopped, remembering that Blake’s aversion to touch.
“I guess.” Blake sat up, yawning, and reached for the mug Kali handed her. Tea in the mornings was always a calming ritual. Maybe it could help lessen her irritation with her mother.
“It’s a pretty fun race!” Kali went on, as if Blake was actually interested. “They do it down at the shipyard here. There’s a pier where people can watch. It might not be one of the biggest races, but I guess they usually have at least a dozen boats racing. It’s the biggest event of the year on Patch.”
“Not like that’s hard,” Blake muttered. “They’ve got, what, a hundred people here year-round?”
“Something like that.” Kali bustled back to the kitchen, and Blake pulled out her phone. It was new, but she still half-expected to see the usual dozen missed calls from Adam’s phone.
But he couldn’t call her anymore, she told herself. He was in jail. He didn’t even have her new number, anyway.
Paranoia had become a comfortable passenger in her brain.
There were too many people on the pier. So many fucking people. Blake folded her arms tightly across her chest, glaring at the bustle of the crowd. Ghira and Kali didn’t even seem to notice the chaos; this was their element. Hell, in the crowd, it almost seemed like they’d forgotten about Blake entirely. Ghira hoisted a laughing Kali into his arms. He said something to her that Blake couldn’t hear over the din, but Kali nodded with a happy smile. He hoisted the small woman onto his shoulders, where she balanced with a natural ease.
Both were laughing, so much more than Blake had seen in the time since she’d moved back.
She looked around again, then made her decision. She couldn’t be here, not in this crowd. Her breath was already quickening, and she’d broken into a cold sweat. She physically couldn’t be here.
Taking a deep breath, she broke free from the crowd, running back in the direction they’d come. With such a throng here, the rest of the island would be empty. There had to be other places to watch the race from.
She wove around the small buildings, making her way down to the rocky coastline. She was well above the tide line, safe from the waters, but the rocks were steep and unwelcoming. Blake frowned and narrowed her eyes in the direction of the starting line. It wasn’t a great view, but it was better than being stuck on the pier.
Blake leapt to another rock, always wary of the crashing waves not so far away.
To her untrained eye, it was difficult to tell one boat from another. Not that she knew if she was supposed to root for any in particular. The people at the diner last night had mentioned they were going to cheer on a boat called Crescent Rose, but even Blake’s good eyesight couldn't tell her which one that would be.
The high shriek of a whistle pierced the air, and Blake clamped a hand over her cat ears. If she had enough hands to cover her human ones, she would have done that as well. She glared in the direction the whistle came from; it wasn’t from near the pier. It was much too loud for that.
She found the source quickly. The figure’s orange tank top was conspicuous on the gray rocks. Blake stared.
The woman in orange stretched out her long arms, making as if to embrace the sky, blonde hair blowing in the stiff ocean breeze. She didn’t seem to even notice Blake, as intent as she was on the distant boats. A metal whistle dropped from her mouth to dangle on her chest. The look on her face couldn’t be called a smile. The quirk on her lips was too humorless, too smug, to be called something so simple.
And then the woman jumped, disappearing from sight as she dropped down.
Blake’s heart dropped, and without thinking, she found herself running in the direction of the woman. These rocks were dangerous. What if she’d gotten hurt? There were small crevices and grottos that Blake wouldn’t have trusted a blind jump, and her mind’s eye was full of that woman, leg stuck in a hole, and probably broken…
But the woman was fine. Her legs were all well-defined muscle as she hopped from rock to rock, moving down the coastline to a stretch of gravelly beach. When she got to it, she stopped, looking back over her shoulder to the boats. She tilted her head, as if thinking about something, then continued to bound along the rocky shore .
Blake couldn’t have been able to explain why she continued to follow the woman, but she did. She couldn’t move so fast-- her ribs still ached if she moved them too hard-- but she trailed along as quickly as she could. Despite herself, she was intrigued. Did the whistle mean she played some part in the race? If so, why was she ignoring the boats now? The woman crouched down for a moment beside a clump of seaweed, giving Blake enough time to get closer.
She clutched the sore spot on her ribs, panting slightly.
“You okay?” the woman asked, getting to her feet and turning to face Blake. She wore a true smile now, but there was a touch of concern to it.
“Yeah. Just-- sorry!” So the woman had known she was being followed, and the red that stained Blake's cheeks was no longer just from exertion.
The woman made an undignified snort. “For… what? For being too out of shape to follow me properly?”
Oh, how her cheeks burned.
“I-- I didn't mean--”
The blonde woman waved a good-natured hand. “No worries. I don't get chased by pretty girls every day.” She winked and Blake suddenly couldn't find her words. “So, you all right now?”
“I-- yeah.” She looked away, to ocean, to the boats, to anything that weren't those lilac eyes. “I was just… curious. That someone else was out here.”
“Why are you?” the woman countered. She craned her head to try and capture Blake's eyes again.
Reluctantly, Blake allowed their eyes to meet. “I don't like crowds. There were just too many people there.”
“Oh, I hear ya.” The woman shot a quick glance back over to the boats. “It's a better view over here, anyway. Down the beach a little more, at least. Wanna walk with me? I'll show you.”
Blake stepped back, watching the woman warily. She might have looked Blake's age, and seemed harmless, but the idea of being alone with a stranger still didn't seem right. The look on the blonde woman's face softened.
“You don't have to. I'm only asking since you were out here, anyway.” She opened her mouth again, as if to say more, but thought better of it. Blake was relieved that she didn't mention again that Blake had been following her.
The sunlight glinted off a patch of skin on the woman’s arm, a large expanse of puckered skin. Blake frowned.
“What's that?” she asked, pointing. The woman spared only the smallest glance at the massive scar.
“What's left of a bad decision!” she replied with a laugh. “I grew up on the shipyard, played on things I shouldn’t have played on, and bam! Now I’ve got this!”
“Oh… I’m sorry.”
“Please. It was years ago.”
Blake’s gaze lingered on the scar-- or, maybe not just the scar, she thought guiltily. The woman had some impressive biceps, as well.
“I’m gonna keep walking. My sister’s racing, and I don’t want to miss it.”
“Your sister?” Blake found herself following the woman, her worries dismissed in favor of curiosity. “She’s racing?”
“She’s pretty good, too!” the woman said proudly. “Crescent Rose is one of the fastest yachts I’ve ever had the pleasure to build.”
Crescent Rose. The boat that belonged to the girl in the diner? “You… built it?”
“Well, yeah.” The woman turned around, grinning at Blake as she walked backward, parallel to the shore. “Well, not just me. I’m not that good.”
Blake broke their eye contact to look back at the boats. “Which one is it?”
“That one.” The woman pointed a calloused finger. It passed close-- probably too close-- to Blake, but she followed along the point anyway. “The one with the red hull, and the black and white…”
“Oh!” Blake watched in fascination as the yacht rounded a buoy, just ahead of the others. “Is it winning?”
“Sure is!” Her grin was smug. “Crescent Rose is one helluva boat.”
Without warning, the woman darted ahead, and Blake followed, too deep in it now to let her get away without a proper dismissal. Alarm bells were going off in the back of her head, but it had been so long since she had been interested in something like this. This playful woman could have been a siren here on these deadly rocks, and Blake still would have followed.
The woman clambered up the face of a massive rock, seeming to already know the hand- and foot-holds. When Blake caught up, she grimaced at the idea of climbing. Perhaps this was a bad idea, after all…
“Here.” The woman got down to lay on her stomach, stretching an arm to offer Blake a hand. She eyed it suspiciously, still uncertain at the idea of touch. She looked back up. The woman’s eyes sparkled as she gave Blake a smile. There was something in those eyes, something soft. Warm. Her smile was kind. “I’ve got you. I won’t let you fall.”
Blake took a deep breath, then reached for the proffered hand. There was something… comforting in the weathered skin and callus. It had been a smooth, unblemished hand that had betrayed her so often in the past. This, though, was an honest hand, one that made a promise to not let you fall and would keep it. The woman pulled her up, and Blake’s feet found small ledges in the rock to step into on the way up.
“Wow,” she breathed. This view was much better than the pier. There was little between them, the yachts, and the vast blues of ocean and sky.
She felt eyes on her.
Blake turned back to the woman, whose smile hadn’t faded. “Told you this was a good spot,” she preened. Her eyes focused on the small fleet, searching out the familiar bright hull of Crescent Rose. Finding it, the woman brought the whistle back to her lips and blew before Blake knew what was happening.
“God! The hell was that for?” Blake groaned, rubbing the ears on the top of her head. The woman looked back over, surprised.
“What? Oh, shit, I’m sorry. Faunus have sensitive hearing right?”
“Why are you whistling?”
The woman’s expression turned sheepish. “It’s… sort of a tradition we have. When Ruby first started racing without me, she’d get nervous, so I told her I’d blow a whistle to prove I was still watching her.” She laughed. “It’s kind of stupid, considering she doesn’t even hear it most of the time, but y’know, it’s--”
“That’s very sweet.” The smile that twitched at the corner of Blake’s lips felt so unfamiliar, unused. “It sounds like a good tradition. If it wasn’t so loud, anyway.”
“It’s really hard to hear over the wind and waves,” the stranger admitted. “But that first day, Ruby swore she heard it. Then again, she’s told me she’s heard it even when I haven’t blown it, so there probably isn’t much point to it.”
She stepped ahead of Blake, standing close to the edge of the rock. On her left shoulder, Blake saw a small tattoo. She peered closer. An anchor.
“Yeah, Ruby’s going to win for sure!” she announced suddenly and decisively, interrupting Blake’s musings on the tattoo and causing her to jump. Adrenaline shot through her body and her heart thundered at the abruptness. On instinct, Blake’s shoulders hunched and her muscles stiffened. The woman turned back to face Blake, eyebrow cocked at Blake’s sudden change in posture. “Hey, you sure you’re all right?”
“Yeah.” Blake took a few deep breaths, angry at how quickly panic could seize control of her functions. She needed calm. There was no reason to freak out. The woman looked at her oddly.
“So, uh,” she said, showing the first signs of awkwardness Blake had seen thus far, “What did you say your name was?”
“I didn’t.” Blake took another deep breath. “It’s Blake.”
“Nice to meet you, Blake. I’m Yang.” She extended a hand, which Blake took reluctantly. “Are you just here for the race?”
“For the summer.”
“Oh! Nice. I’ll probably see you around the island, then. I live by the shipyard.” Yang’s smile was contagious, and Blake's lips quirked into one of her own. “Let’s get back. Ruby likes for me to wait on the pier for her.” She wrinkled her nose.
Blake watched with trepidation as Yang bounded down the rock with ease. On top, she could almost forget the trouble it had taken to get up in the first place. Getting down was another matter entirely. She took a deep breath and found her first foothold.
“Want me to help?” Yang asked, reaching her hands up.
Don’t touch me, she wanted to snarl, but Blake couldn’t find another ledge to place her foot, and her ribs were protesting the effort. Unhappily, she nodded.
She tensed as Yang placed one hand on the small of her back, and another hand took her own. She guided Blake one step further down. “All right, I’ve got you from here.”
Yang moved her hands to Blake’s waist. “Let go. I’ll catch you.”
“No.” Yang’s hands were too close, her body too high up, and panic reared up again. “Please, don’t touch me.”
“Huh? You’re gonna tumble. You don’t have a good grip.”
She cringed away from Yang’s hands, but she was aware the other woman still held them up, less than a foot away, ready to catch her.
“Listen, I’ve got you. Let me bring you down,” Yang said, her voice even. Blake’s ribs throbbed, as if in memory of what happened when people got too close. She pressed herself closer to the rock, clutching at it fiercely.
I can find my own way down, she thought desperately. I can do it.
She moved a foot, whimpering when she couldn’t find a place to put it.
“Blake. I’m right here,” Yang insisted, and Blake wished she would just shut up and let her find her way down. Her next words unsettled her. “Sweetheart, I’m not going to hurt you.”
In the end, she didn’t know if it was due to the fact that her ribs ached, or that she was losing her grip, or if Yang’s tone held just the right note of tenderness that made it easier to let go. Yang’s hands were back on her waist, and she let herself be plucked from the rock. She came back to earth slowly, Yang taking her full weight as she lowered Blake to the ground.
“See? Not so bad,” Yang told her warmly, but the anxiety and humiliation made her look away from Yang’s eyes.
“Thanks,” she muttered, pressing a hand against her aching ribs.
“Are you hurt?” Yang’s voice was suddenly serious, but Blake shook her head.
“N-No. It’s an older… thing.” She wasn’t about to tell a stranger that her ribs had been broken so recently. It didn’t matter if this woman had shown her a shred of kindness; Blake was finding it easier to pull back into herself, to hide behind her walls.
“Are you sure?”
“Yeah.” Blake shifted her weight uncomfortably. “I… should probably head back.” It dawned on her that she hadn’t told her parents where she’d gone. They were bound to be worried.
“Right.” The look Yang gave her couldn’t have been called suspicious, but it seemed to know something was up. She sighed. “I need to go meet Ruby, anyway.”
“Great. Nice to meet you,” Blake mumbled by rote, to which Yang only chuckled.
“Here. I found this when you were trying to catch up to me.” Yang extended her hand, palm-up. In it glittered something white.
Curiosity won again. Blake frowned, peering closer at it. “What is it?”
“Y’know how seaglass washes up on shore? I collect it. But this a piece of porcelain. I find some once in a while, though not very often.” Yang seemed to sense Blake’s interest, and that relaxed smile spread across her face. It was a small fragment, though Blake could see intricate blue lacing spread across it. “You can have this one.”
“I-- No. Why?” Blake narrowed her eyes at the blonde woman, who shrugged.
“I’ve already got some, and I can’t really do the same stuff with it as I do with seaglass. Still, it’s pretty.”
“Seaglass, porcelain… Do you have, like… a thing for pretty broken things?”
Yang stared at her a moment, smiling fading into a quizzical expression. She blinked, then shrugged. “They just seem to find me, I guess.” She cast a glance at the yachts. “Shit, I need to get back. I’ll see you around, though.”
Their eyes locked for the briefest moment, lilac on gold. Behind the smile, Blake could almost see something sad in the depths of those eyes. She must have imagined it, she told herself as Yang shot her a salute before making her way up the rocks. She was just reading too deeply into things.
She looked at the bit of porcelain in her hand, sliding a finger of over the smooth side with the lacing. A part of her wanted to hurl it back into the ocean, furious with herself over the way she’d acted while climbing down from the rock.
Her hurts went beyond bruises, scars, and broken ribs. Apparently, that had been obvious enough for even Yang to see, and she hated that they had been noticed at all.
She covered her eyes, shaking with shameful tears, a cavernous ache in her heart for all that was lost and all that lay bare.
Her parents, as she’d guessed, were worried by the time Blake made her way back to the pier, dry-eyed. She needed to take her time climbing back up to the crowd; she knew she’d overworked her injured bones. If only cell reception hadn’t been so bad, she thought with irritation, she could have just sent her parents a text. Instead, she got to suffer through listening to them complain about her wanderings. They knew better than to try hugging her, though she knew they probably wanted to. It also meant she had to come up with excuses.
“Sorry, the crowd was just too much,” she explained, folding her arms. She wouldn’t tell them about her excursions on the rocks; Kali wouldn’t be able to resist scolding her for going against the doctor’s orders. “I found another place to watch the race. Who won?”
“A boat called Crescent Rose came in first,” Ghira told her. His worry over Blake changed to excitement; he was probably excited that Blake had shown any interest at all in the outcome. “It’s a lovely boat.”
One helluva boat, she heard Yang say in the back of her mind.
Curious, she looked at the people still on the pier. Some people wore shirts in matching colors in solidarity with a favorite boat. Blake couldn’t remember what the girl at the diner (Ruby, she reminded herself) had looked like, but she was more intent on trying to locate the familiar blonde hair.
It was nowhere to be seen.
“Blake? Everything all right?”
“What?” She’d been so focused on looking for Yang that she hadn’t realized Ghira had continued to talk. He raised his thick, black eyebrows.
“What’re you looking at?” Kali asked, concerned.
“No one,” she replied quickly. Too quickly. She winced, then amended, “Nothing.”
Her parents exchanged a look. It was one of those looks that Blake was coming to hate. What’s wrong with her? it almost seemed to say.
Tentatively, Ghira began to speak again. “I was just saying… one of the girls who runs that boat is younger than you. It’s pretty impressive for someone so young.”
“She’s pretty small,” Kali agreed.
Again, Blake was only somewhat paying attention. She looked desperately through the crowd once more, but to no avail. She sighed. Maybe she’d dreamed up the whole thing.
But she hadn’t. She reached into her pocket, where she’d set the small piece of porcelain. It was smooth under the pads of her fingers. She remembered the gentle, but firm, way Yang had promised, Sweetheart, I’m not going to hurt you.
Even if she hadn’t quite believed the words, they’d been a balm on her soul, comforting just to listen to.
During the car ride back to the cottage, Blake couldn’t stop thinking about how safe those hands had felt as they pulled her from the rock. She didn’t like being touched, not since she’d been with Adam. But this… It didn’t mean she was ready for anyone to touch her, but maybe it meant there was some hope left in the sensation of touch.
Maybe there was still hope for her.