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Fractured Ribs and Horsehair

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“Xiao Long!” The surname had heard its share of uses. Shouted across a hay field, slurred in the saloon, grumbled through the sheriff's office. But Yang still wasn’t used to it being used in a terrified screech, even after a good two years of being deputy.

Thankfully, the elderly shopkeep didn’t seem to want her to stop and chat. Holding his bleeding arm, the man frantically pointing towards the end of the street. The ragged group of five faunus, each laden with a bag of dust and bandannas pulled over their mouths and noses, were desperately trying to get onto their horses before she could reach them. Which would be very, very soon - the golden half-draft mare below her stretched into a gallop, kicking up gravel and dust in her wake. Yang reached for her holster, and she heard a panicked yell from one of them.

She tightened her grip as the tallest faunus in the group turned. Even at the distance she was at, she could see the blood around his fingertips - like he’d raked a set of claws across, say, a shopkeeper’s arm or a sheriff's forehead. The hysterical boy that had come running into the sheriff’s office to get Yang hadn’t spared any details about the bandit group that had burst into his grandfather’s shop. While Yang usually had an amount of patience for bandits - a fact that most folk knew better than to bring up - she had zero patience for ones bold enough to attack civilians in broad daylight. And even less for those that attacked her fellow lawmen any time of day.

Yang could see the young, stupid faunus meet her eyes. His went wide at the sight of her barreling down on them.

She cocked the revolver, leaning over Celica's neck as she took aim.

She didn’t even need to fire a warning shot. The pale youngster kicked his horse’s sides, and the whole pack took off towards the end of the street. Yang exhaled, sliding the six-shooter back into its holster. As annoying as chasing the band through the underbrush would be, she really just wanted to get them off the street. A firefight was far easier to have once there were no townsfolk to get caught in the crossfire.

She looked over her shoulder. Nora was right on her tail, grinning ear to ear as her mount caught up to Celica. Ren, steering Sunflower with one hand and leading a tall red stallion with the other, was stopping in front of the shop that Sheriff Nikos was already emerging from. Yang watched her wipe at a blood trail on her forehead, and reach to take her horse from Ren.

As they passed the end of the street, Yang turned back to Nora. “Think we’ll catch ‘em before Pyrrha catches us?” She called out over the sound of thundering hooves.

“We’d better! Magnhild’s ready to break some legs!” Nora hollered back, thumping the thick red roan neck for emphasis.

Yang snorted, turning back to the field they were tearing through. The bandits were still visible, heading down into a gully, ripping through the evergreen trees and down rocky slopes. She and Nora turned at the same time, slowing to a manageable pace as they headed for a gentler slope into the valley.

“Gotta be that new band, mm?” Nora snorted, guiding the heavily built stallion down the hill. “They’re gonna break their own legs tryin’a get down that hill.”

“Yeah. Gods, I hope they move along soon, gettin’ sick of chasin’ the dumbasses down.” Yang grunted. Every now and then a new group of bandits would drift by - usually they would continue on their way after a few days. For a small farming town, Beacon’s sheriff was surprisingly competent and her team well trained and efficient. It usually wasn’t worth the time for bandits to try to rob the town, at least not for long. This group, however, had clung on for the past two weeks. Long enough that Yang had caught a glimpse of the real leaders - a tall bull faunus and a slender cat faunus, both secretive and hard to catch sight of. No one seemed to know anything about either one, and Yang had a bad feeling about them. Especially the bull.

Ever the optimist, Nora reached over to lightly punch her shoulder. “Hey, more fun than dealing with whatever shit Cardin’s gotten himself into.”

“That ain’t much of a contest.” Yang thumped her back anyways, before they reached the bottom of the hill and conversation became difficult again. Both horses picked up speed, Celica’s golden coat and white mane shining in the sun. Pretty to look at, but not exactly subtle. Sure enough, she heard the faunus hollering to each other, splitting up now that they had managed to pick their way to the bottom of the gully. Yang felt the back of her neck prickle as she glanced up at the tree-covered hills that loomed over them, bordered by a shallow river. It would be difficult to pick out an observer in the trees, and she suddenly suspected that perhaps the five youngsters had fled here for a reason.

Nora passed her, firing one round into the air from her pistol. The young faunus immediately scattered, three of them turning to follow the treeline, while the other two plunged towards the river. Nora split off after the three, glancing back at Yang before disappearing into the trees.

Yang set her jaw, focusing on the two youngsters ahead of her as they splashed into the river, Both horses, heaving and sweating from the sudden run, plunged their noses into the cool water, ignoring frantic cries from their riders.

Adopting an unconcerned air, Yang slowed Celica as she approached the river. “Ease up, idiots, let y’ horses drink.” Both faunus - not even grown, really, boys with wide eyes and shaking hands - stared at her as the muscular, golden mare plodded up and delicately sipped from the river as well. Yang leaned over the saddle horn, eyeing the two lazily from under the brim of her hat. “Now... I’m gonna need those bags of dust back, boys. Are we gonna be civil about that?”

“Will you be?” The voice was quiet and deafening. Yang’s head turned.

On the other side of the river stood a slim, rugged black horse. It stood straight and tall, tacked as though for some kind of show. Perched atop it was an equally slim, oddly elegant woman. She was dressed in old, but surprisingly decent clothing: dark canvas pants, scuffed high boots, a plain white blouse, and a leather duster that was ripped at one sleeve. A pair of sleek cat ears stood at attention atop a head adorned with long, flowing dark hair. Piercing golden eyes locked onto Yang’s lilac ones, peering out from above the black bandanna that hid her mouth and nose.

Yang had never seen her this close before. Didn’t have a name to link the face to. But she knew danger when she saw it, crackling like the air before an approaching thunderstorm.

Slowly, fully aware that every twitch of her body was a move on a chessboard, Yang leaned backwards. “...I’m only uncivil if I’m forced to be.”

The golden gaze pointedly flicked to the revolver on Yang’s hip, then back to her.

“Not lookin’ for no bloodshed, just the dust back.”

The woman tilted her head. “And if we don’t wish to return it to you?” Her speech was just like the rest of her - elegant, but with a roughness beneath that suggested she’d known more hardship than anyone else in the clearing.

It was a roughness that Yang, reckless as she was, did not want to tangle with today. But she didn’t let the woman see that, instead meeting her gaze steadily. “I’d prefer if we talked this out before gettin’ into uncivil territory, ma’am.”

A pair of feline ears flicked at the title, as though uncertain how to process it. Yang couldn’t imagine her being called by anything else.

A splash beside her. Yang’s eyes flicked sideways. The two boys, almost forgotten, had let their horses finish drinking, and were very slowly trying to sneak across the river. Her revolver was in her hand before the boys could fully turn to look at her. “Nu-uh. You two stay put while I chat with your boss.”

Both of the boys stopped, turning. Then both went white as sheets, staring in her direction with round eyes.  Yang glanced over at the dark haired woman - and found her staring over Yang’s shoulder with a similar expression of fear.

Behind her, a deeper voice growled. “You may have to turn around for that.”

Yang slowly turned in the saddle, already not liking what she was going to find.

The bull faunus leaned over his horse’s neck as they approached the river, black horns glinting against his bright red hair. A bandanna was pulled up over his mouth and chin, same as the others. Yang had no idea why he’d bothered, because the instant she saw his face she knew there was no way she’d ever forget it. A brand was seared across the left side of his face, reducing the eye to a bloodshot, lifeless corpse. The right eye, however, drilled into her her with an electric blue gaze, narrowed as though the hidden mouth was smirking. “Deputy Xiao Long. Good to meet you face to face.”

Yang was a brawler. She’d brought down men twice her size in two hits. She feared no man, woman, or child.

But she knew danger when she saw it. If the dark haired woman was the danger of an oncoming thunderstorm, this man was the danger of a wildcat’s hunting scream seconds before it ripped into prey.

“Hardly fair that you know my name, stranger. I don’t have even a whisper of one for either of you.” Yang nodded behind her, to the cat faunus that she desperately hoped was at least half leader of this gang.

That hope was fading fast, as the man chuckled and continued to stare her down. “It’ll stay that way, deputy. Besides, you won’t be needing to know any names for much longer.”

Celica had turned to face the oncoming horse, ears pinned. Somehow, that scared Yang more than anything else - it was a running joke that Celica would probably ask the Devil himself for a treat and kind word. “I ain’t no bandit, but pickin’ off the deputy to cover stealing some dust seems a bit like curing fleas by killin’ the dog.” She kept her voice light as she trained the revolver on him, disguising her racing mind. Even if she shot the man right now, she wouldn’t get ten feet before one of his three followers put a bullet in her back. Talking people down wasn’t her strongest suit, but it was the only play she had - at least, until Pyrrha reached them.

The tall bay horse stepped into the river, showing zero interest in the water even as the sound of the other horses splashing through the river reached them. Its rider slowly pulled a glinting, dark rifle from its holster on his back. “Depends on how badly you want the fleas gone.”

He looked her dead in the eye, cocking the gun. “Or how badly you want the dog dead.”

Yang’s grip on the revolver tightened.

A dark blur in front of her, and she jumped, grabbing the reins as Celica started backwards.

The black horse was smaller than it had seemed on the riverbank. It wrung its tail, pawing and sending water up around them, soaked from its sudden charge across the river. The woman on its back was just as soaked, but she did not so much as flinch as the water her mount was kicking up reached her. She sat perfectly positioned between the two of them, so that any shot would have to travel through her in order to hit Yang. Her back was to Yang, preventing her from seeing her face, but her ears stood straight and tall, framing the bull faunus between them.

For a moment, all three were still.

The bull slowly lowered the rifle. Then the remaining eye focused on the woman between them. Yang watched his brow lower, watched something darker than the threats he’d just given pass behind his eyes.

Slowly, the defiantly pricked ears lowered, then flattened. The woman who was ten feet tall only a moment ago was suddenly little more than a child.

CRACK

The warning shot grazed over their heads. Yang’s head whipped sideways.

Miló was roaring towards them, head low and ears pinned. Even across the field, Yang could see the blood trails running down Sheriff Pyrrha Nikos’ face, and how she was casually ignoring the wound on her forehead in favor of training her rifle on the faunus.

Yells and splashing filled Yang’s ears. She turned back in time to see the terrified boys flee into the treeline, the bull and the cat racing out of the river to follow them. Just before they hit the trees, Yang saw the girl turn back to look at her.

The golden eyes were just as piercing, but the authority that had once oozed from them was gone. Now, Yang could hear her screaming, screaming with everything but her voice.

Then all four of them were gone.

“Yang?! Yang!”

A hand landed on her shoulder, making her jump. Pyrrha’s green eyes frantically scanned over her. “Did they take a shot at you? Are y’ hurt?”

Her voice took a moment to come back, “No, no I’m fine, I-” She looked back at the treeline. No movement. “-think we figured out who leads that gang.”

“I’d say so.” Pyrrha’s worried gaze stayed locked on her. “Gods, Yang, that was too close.”

“I ain’t arguin’.” Yang pulled her hat off, scratching at her head. “...sorry. I was tryin’ to talk the kids down, then that... the woman. She showed up, kinda haughty but she seemed reasonable. Then the bastard walked in and it all went to hell from there.”

“Was he threatenin’ to kill you? Looked like it from where I was.”

“I tried to make a joke about how it was like curin’ fleas by killin’ the dog. I get the impression he was pretty interested in killin’ the dog anyways.”

“Gods.” Pyrrha rubbed her face with one hand, trying to rein in Miló as he crowhopped and snorted with the other. “‘Course we get the lunatic.”

Yang slowly steered Celica towards the riverbank, holstering the revolver. “...I’m more worried about his followers. Don’t imagine he tolerates failure well.’

Pyrrha kept pace with her easily, still controlling Miló’s anxious prancing with one hand as she stowed her rifle away. “They got away with at least two bags of dust, five if Nora didn’t catch the other ones. Don’t think I’d call that failure.”

Yang turned in the saddle to look at her. “How would you react if I jumped ‘tween you and a bandit that you’d lured out into the open?”

Pyrrha raised her eyebrows, reaching up to wipe dried blood away from her eyes. “...I admit, I’d want to have a long chat with you afterwards.”

Yang nodded, feeling a strange sort of anxiety gnawing at her gut. “Yeah. Don’t think I’d like what his definition of ‘a long talk’ is.”

Chapter Text

Blake wanted nothing more than to pull Gambol’s rein, make a sharp turn, and run into the woods. She was at the back of the small group, it would take Adam a moment to realize she was gone, they could be over the hill and shrouded by underbrush in a minute’s time. Even if Adam found her later, she could at least have a moment of quiet to herself. She could actually ponder the sight of the golden deputy. The way her cotton plaid shirt had been rolled up at the sleeves, the muscles that had rolled beneath and suggested a life of hard labour. The way her lilac eyes had easily met Blake’s, the diplomatic tone she’d used, the fact she’d addressed her with respect.

Maybe she could figure out why it had suddenly given her the strength to stand up to Adam.

But, just like always, cowardice got the better of her. The punishment she'd have to endure wouldn't be worth the moment's peace. The thought sickened her - not disgust at Adam, but at herself. After years as a revolutionary, the amount of men she'd fought off, the amount of sheer talent she possessed, and she couldn't even convince Adam to let her carry a gun this morning. Damn failure. Wouldn't even be in this mess if I could just tell him off when he's in a mood.

She lowered her eyes, quietly reaching down to stroke Gambol’s sweating neck as they ran. At least she was brave.

The White Fang camp had been set up in the skeleton of a ranch. At some point the elements must have driven out the former owners - not a living soul was left on it. Grimm were rare in the area, but the few that did call the area home were particularly dangerous. Blake was willing to bet they had some kind of a hand in the empty homestead.

The three other members of the raiding party - could you even call it that? - were already walking in, their horses sweaty and snorting. Blake bit her lip as she realized that there wasn’t a bag of dust between them.

Adam, already in a foul mood, dismounted with a louder ‘thud’ than necessary. “One of you better be hiding those bags on the other side of your horse.” He snarled.

The oldest out of the three, Russet, tapped his bloodstained claws together nervously. “The crazy woman on the pink horse caught up to us. We tried to hang on t’them, but her partner came in, we had to drop ‘em to get away.”

Blake slowly dismounted as Adam stormed forwards, looming over the boy. “And you didn’t think to maybe take a shot at either of them? Scare them into letting you go? You just ran off, like a scared puppy?”

Russet flinched. “Sir, she was real ready to fire back.”

Adam tensed, and for a moment, Blake was sure he was going to hit him.

Instead, he turned. “So.” His voice was venomous as a rattlesnake, each step he took towards her shook the ground. “You just sit there and let me take my anger out on a fellow faunus... but you jump in front of me to protect a human . I’m beginning to think you’ve forgotten your own cause, Blake.”

Sensing danger, the younger faunus darted further into the camp, horses in tow. Blake took a step back, clutching Gambol’s reins. “I wasn’t protecting her, I was stopping you. Killing the deputy would bring the full wrath of the town down on us, we don’t need that.” It wasn’t completely a lie, which allowed her to keep her voice steady. But it wasn’t completely the truth either, and she could not afford to think about that.

“You’re not listening.” He towered over her, pulling the bandanna down to reveal the snarl twisting across his mouth. “You could have told me that at the time. You could have walked up beside me, told me to stop. I would have been reluctant, but I would have listened.”

"No. You wouldn’t have." It was true, and that alone gave her the strength to say it. He would have laughed, shot the golden haired deputy, and then left her to bleed to death in the river. And they would still be having this conversation, because Adam wouldn’t understand why Blake would be upset about it.

A hand flashed out, grabbed her wrist. Blake jerked back automatically, but Adam dragged her forwards, until they were nearly nose to nose. His good eye stared straight into her soul. “This is serious, Blake.” His voice was calm now, the deadly sort of calm that had always come before the worst things he’d done to her. “I need to know if you’re still loyal to this cause. Can I trust you?”

Gambol’s reins were tugged out of her hands. She let them go. Hooves shuffled anxiously behind her.

“Yes. Always.” She knew the words were born out of fear, not truth.

His eyes narrowed, and her entire body shrunk as she realized he knew it too. “I think you’re lying to me.”

Blake felt her body and soul separate, leaving both halves paralyzed. Unable to move, unable to think, unable to defend herself. She’d been here many times before. She knew that despite her training, her anger, her talent, all she could do was watch what was about to happen and hope that there would still be two functioning halves once she was able to pull herself together again.

For an eternity, Adam looked her up and down. She could see the gears turn in his head, deciding how best to punish her, how to assure himself that he had her loyalty back. He opened his mouth, a smirk starting to show.

That was the moment that Gambol fired into Blake’s vision, driven by the kind of rage known only to a mare whose patience had been tested too many times, and bit down on Adam’s shoulder.

He yelped, releasing Blake’s wrist. Blake staggered backwards, grabbing at Gambol’s reins on sheer instinct, trying to drag the small black mare away. She was still frozen, disconnected, but terror was capable of moving both halves at the same time. Gambol didn’t seem to be interested in seeking further revenge for the treatment of the girl she had adopted, and heeded Blake’s cue easily. Both of them stumbled backwards, two pairs of eyes and three pairs of ears locked on him.

Adam rubbed at the offending spot on his shoulder for a moment. Then, slowly he looked up. His eyes were narrowed and dark, like they had been in the river. Wilt flicked his tail idly, and behind him, Blake saw the stares of the faunus they led, watching with a mixture of interest and horror as they watched the scene play out.

The icy gaze moved to Gambol.

In her chest, Blake felt something snap. Felt her halves abruptly shove back together, felt her mind kick back on. She realized that this was what she had felt in the river. A moment where everything made sense again. Where she knew that she had to change the events that were playing out, because she couldn't live with what would happen next.

She knew that this moment was going to lead her into even more trouble than the last one.

Blake Belladonna turned on her heel, grabbed Gambol’s saddle, and swung herself up. The moment her seat contacted the saddle, Gambol was moving. Adam shouted something. She saw his hand pass by, not fast enough to grab them.

She didn’t look back. Didn’t attempt to stop the tears streaming down her face. Blake crouched over the shoulders of her sprinting horse and stared straight ahead as the field passed, trees flashed by, fences ducked below, and time both sped up and disappeared altogether.


 

“Pyrrha Nikos, if you don’t let me put in one more stitch, I swear to the Gods I will let you bleed to death next time.”

Yang leaned back in her chair, trying not to burst out laughing as she watched the scene play out. Nora and Ren had brought back the dust they'd managed to get back from the bandits, then elected to retire for the evening. But, not before Ren let slip that he'd told the town's doctor about Pyrrha's injury during the scuffle in the shop. Now, Dr. Jaune Arc had Pyrrha all but cornered at her own desk, brandishing a needle and suture. Meanwhile, Pyrrha was doing her best to fend him off with logic and a letter opener. “Jaune, you said yourself that it was a clean cut, you didn’t even want to give me any meds for it!”

“That don’t mean it’ll heal on its own! Come on, you let me do the first five, what’s one more?”

“You’re not the one gettin’ your head sewn together by a man who can barely patch his own pants!”

Jaune desperately looked over his shoulder, searching for support. Yang held up her hands, “I ain’t gettin’ involved in this one.”

“Can you at least just distract her for a second?”

Yang glanced at Pyrrha. The green eyes narrowed. “...sure, why not.”

“I’m gon' fire you, Xiao Long.” But Pyrrha grit her teeth and placed the letter opener on her desk as Yang approached. “Walk me through this whole faunus theory you have.”

Yang leaned against the desk, watching Jaune dip the needle in the freshly boiled water. “My sister sends letters from out east every now and then. She’s been talkin’ about how her partner has trouble with this big faunus group... The White Fang, they call themselves.”

“I’ve heard the name bef- aaaaaaaaaugh - before. Justice for the way faunus get treated.”

Yang shrugged. “Or somethin'. Sounds more like they just stir up shit to get noticed.”

Jaune piped up as he pulled suture through the cut. “Most groups that are lookin' to change things will do that anyways.”

“Yeah, fair point I s’pose. Ruby tells me that they spend a lot of time focusin’ on the Schnee Dust Company. Stealin’ dust, blowin’ up railroads, attackin’ guards and such.”

Pyrrha frowned, earning a hiss from Jaune. “Makes sense. They certainly ain’t the friendliest folk towards ‘em. So, you’re thinkin’ that our band of idiots is part of the White Fang, then?”

“Mm.” Yang scratched at her head. “I’m not sure. But I think so. The woman I saw today? Too well dressed for a member of a bandit faunus gang out in in the middle of the sticks. Same with the man - good clothes, good weapon, good horse. Both talk like easterners, too. Thinkin’ they’re from a bigger group with better funds.”

The distraction was certainly working - Pyrrha didn’t flinch as Jaune pulled the stitch tight, her eyes locked on Yang. “...question is, why are they here? There’s a Schnee dust mine a few miles west, but it’s closer to Forever Fall. Why wouldn’t they be there?”

“I recognized two of the kids they had with ‘em - seen ‘em when they were younger, part of a family that lives out in the bush. They didn’t come with the group, they grew up here. I think they must be recruitin' local faunus as they go.”

Jaune finished the stitch and finally backed off, gathering his supplies. Pyrrha sat up, blinking quietly. “...not sure if I like the sound of that.”

“Me neither.”

“Neither do I, if you two are gon' insist on either gettin’ shot, or gettin' your heads clawed open.” Jaune glared at both of them, but he chuckled, sitting down in a chair next to Pyrrha’s desk. “...speakin’ of which. Yang, you mentioned the girl saved you, yeah?”

Yang shifted her weight, a little uncomfortably. “...not sure if she was savin' me or just makin' a statement. But, yeah. She got between me and the bull when he started threatenin’ me.” In all truth, Yang had been thinking about that moment all afternoon. The way her ears had twitched when Yang called her ‘ma’am’. That gorgeous, flowing dark hair. The way she’d gone from steel to splintered barnwood in an instant. Those eyes, so full of fear as she fled into the woods.

The sound of Jaune snapping the doctor’s bag shut pulled her out of her thoughts. “Do you think she was tryin' to get on your good side, maybe? Tryin' to get an in with the sheriff’s office?” He raised an eyebrow.

“Mm. I’d bet Celica that her gettin’ in front of me wasn’t planned. He gave her one look and she just... shrunk. Like a dog that knows it’s gon' get kicked but tries to steal off th’ table anyways.” It wasn’t exactly the most polite comparison, but it was the closest one she could think of.

Both Jaune and Pyrrha seemed to pause at that, glancing at each other. Pyrrha broke the silence first, shifting her weight. “...Yang, I ain’t going to stop you if you want to go lookin’ for the girl.”

Yang blinked, abruptly yanked out of her thoughts. “Sorry?”

Pyrrha sighed, leaning back in her chair. “You’re starin’ off into space - you do that when your head’s locked in on something. You’ve been doin’ it ever since we got back. She saved your life, and you think she’s in danger. If you need to get out there and look for her, I understand.”

It was easy to forget that Pyrrha was exceedingly good at reading the people around her; it was part of why the red haired woman had excelled at being a sheriff in the two years she’d been on the job. It was also, according to Pyrrha herself, why she had chosen Yang as a deputy. The hot tempered blonde was well known to be the bastard daughter of a reclusive rancher and a notorious bandit, and the choice had certainly raised some eyebrows at the time. No one thought that Yang would actually listen to Pyrrha - but all it took was some respect and a willingness to go along with Yang’s stubbornness instead of fighting it. It was at times like these that Yang remembered why she held Pyrrha in such high regard, and just how much she owed to the other woman’s ability to read her.

“I... think I do.” She admitted, quietly. “T' be honest, not even sure why. She’s probably not even in any trouble, 'least as far as she’s concerned. But, s’pose I at least owe her one attempt at helpin’ her, if she helped me.” That wasn’t quite the truth, but it was close enough. And Yang didn’t really want to get into the odd ache in her chest that was getting stronger every time she thought about those golden eyes.

Pyrrha stood, stretching. “Sounds like a plan - though, if it’s all the same to you, I might tag along. If these two really are from some hotshot group out east, I may as well know about it.”

If the exchange had happened a year ago, Yang would have argued and demanded to go alone. In fact, she remembered exactly that happening, in a very different context. Now, she knew better and she chuckled. “Lies. You’re just hopin’ a good run will tire out that goddamn horse of yours.”

Jaune groaned as he stood, collecting his equipment. “I think I could stay in business as the town doctor even if I only saw you two.” He pulled a small leather bag out of his doctor's kit, and tossed it onto Pyrrha’s desk. “Next time, you two can just patch each other up.”

Chapter Text

The shadows were long on the forest floor, and Gambol was starting slow down. Her breath was coming in heavy snorts, her sides soaked with sweat, and Blake didn’t have the heart to ask her to keep running. She gently tugged on the reins, slowing the dark mare to a walk, following a deer trail up a moss-covered hill, the pine trees creaking softly around them. Truth be told, Blake had absolutely no idea where she was going. She’d been in this area for little more than two weeks - long enough to be familiar with the trails they used often, but not enough to have explored other options. She wasn’t as far away from the White Fang camp as she’d like to be, but it wasn’t worth it to push her horse too hard and end up stranded.

Now that quiet was enveloping her, Blake’s mind was finally starting to process what had just happened. What she’d done was starting to feel less heroic and more like a betrayal. The deputy had managed to capture Blake’s attention with something as small as a respectful tone. But she’d be like all the rest - smooth talking and compassionate to start out with, but she’d turn. She’d remember that Blake wasn’t a human, not worthy of respect or recognition. She probably thought that Blake had tried to save her out of some kind of instinctual loyalty to a past human master, or something equally insulting.

On top of that, she’d sworn to Adam that she’d never leave his side. Given, he didn’t treat her all that well, but he took care of her. He made sure they were both safe, he didn’t let anyone hurt her.

No one besides him, anyways.

She shook her head. “No.” She muttered out loud. “I’m done. This has been a long time coming, and he doesn’t deserve my loyalty.” The faunus did, but the faunus didn’t demand her to be faithful only to them, didn’t make her feel small, didn’t punish her for trying to stand up for herself. She’d find another way to serve her people.

Still her traitorous mind, the corner that Adam had bewitched long ago, started to recall the rare moments of kindness and softness that they’d shared. The way his eyes had softened when she told him that he looked better without a mask. His laugh when she swore in front of him for the first time. The same voice reminded her that she’d believed in him for so long, that he was broken and damaged and that was why he did the bad things he did. That it wasn’t fair to just give up on him, not after all this time.

Not for the first time, Blake tiredly wondered which voice was more insane - the one that was convinced that she and Adam were meant to stay together, or the one that was convinced he’d kill her one day. Her gut tightened as it occurred to her that the two weren’t necessarily mutually exclusive.

The grinding of Gambol's jaw as she chewed reached her ears. Blake wasn’t sure how long they’d been standing still,  with her staring into nothing as Gambol grazed. She sighed, looking around. The trees obscured any useful information that her eyes could provide, but her ears were harder to fool. She could hear a deer (maybe an elk?) moving through the bush somewhere behind her. Thunder rumbled in the distance as an evening storm gathered. Cattle faintly bellowed as they moved back in from the fields for the night.

The thought of her and Gambol holing up in a barn or a cattle shelter seemed promising enough. Maybe if she hid her ears she could convince some farming family to spare her some food.

Once again, the thought of going back to the camp and begging for forgiveness crossed her mind. She let out her breath in a long, slow huff. Not yet.

Besides, maybe if she roughed it for a few more days, Adam might have time to decide he missed her and welcome her back. Maybe he’d apologize for every terrible thing he’d ever done to her, and change into the man she once thought he was.

Or maybe she could turn around and never think about him again, walk into the sheriff’s office, look the gorgeous golden deputy in the eye, and thank her for having some decency. Maybe she’d thank Blake for saving her life in turn, and maybe she’d let Blake sit and talk to her for hours.

Blake let out an audible, hollow laugh. Both situations were a fantasy, each about as likely as the other. Adam would laugh about her crawling back to him, and later that night he’d convince her to follow him to his bed. Deputy Xiao Long would arrest her for her crimes and send her back to Mistral in handcuffs, maybe with an apologetic word if she was lucky.

Gambol moved from one patch of grass to the next, swishing her tail. Blake leaned down and idly stroked her neck. “Maybe you and I should just keep running. Travel the world. Sooner or later we’d find someplace that likes us, mm?” The mare, of course, didn’t answer, and Blake quietly rested her head against the soft black mane, inhaling the scent of horse. It settled her twitching stomach, relaxed the tense muscles in her back. Not fixing the problem, but it made her feel a bit better and that was close enough.

The wind shifted, blowing up the hill towards them. Blake closed her eyes, listening to her horse take a deep breath through her nose.

Then was nearly unseated when Gambol’s head shot up, jumping sideways, snorting.

Blake bolted upright. A gunshot cracked through the air before she could look behind her, followed immediately by white-hot pain searing through her abdomen. She dropped the reins, instinctively choking back a scream as she clutched at her left hip. Gambol pitched sideways, half-rearing, and Blake couldn’t follow her fast enough. The saddle fell away, and Blake’s world spun as she her body collided with the ground.

Time slowed. She watched one of Gambol’s liquid brown eyes turn to focus on her, the whites visible all the way around her eye. She saw her turn, following the long-embedded training to return to her fallen rider.

Blake heard a high-pitched, inhuman noise leave her throat as a second gunshot rang out, and blood sprayed from Gambol’s shoulder.

The mare staggered. Her ears pinned, then pricked up. She focused on something Blake couldn’t see, further down the trail.

Her fist closed around a handful of rocks in front of her. With all the strength she had left, Blake hurled them at Gambol’s hindquarters.

The extra sensation of the rocks hitting her was all the persuasion Gambol needed. With a panicked snort, the mare turned and bolted up the trail. Blake broke into relieved sobbing, watching the lithe mare tear through the trees, over the hill, and out of sight.

As her hoof beats faded, a second set grew louder. Much louder.

Blake realized far, far too late that the hooves weren’t slowing down.

Wilt passed over her at a full gallop, giving her no time to even protect her body, much less move out of the way. A scream ripped from her as one of his hooves grazed her ribs, sending cracking pain across her chest. Her eyes squeezed shut as the hoof beats faded, stopped, then approached again at a much slower speed.

A sigh reached her ears. “Why do you have to hurt me like this, Blake?”

If she let go of her wounded hip, the bleeding would get worse. But she had to get off the path. She tried to reach forwards, tears leaking as pain flashed through her chest. Blake curled tighter, her own heartbeat deafening. Her eyes opened. Wilt’s hooves were picking their way down the path towards her.

“I like that horse. Remember when I got her for you? You fell in love with her when we saw her in the pen at the harbor. She let you pet her, and then she tried to bite me.”

Blake’s hands were sweating. Her hip and ribs burned every time she tried to inhale. Her mind and body were separate again, both knowing that she could barely even breathe, let alone run away or defend herself.

“Never understood why she always hated me so much, but I hope someone nice finds her. She deserves better than a coward like you.” His voice hung in the air, directly above her. The hoof beats stopped, Wilt chewing his bit mindlessly.

“Are you going to kill me?” She could barely hear her own voice over the sound of her heartbeat.

He snorted, the sound sending a chill through her body. “Gods, no. Don’t know what I’d do without you. But, you’ve made it clear you need a break from me, and I thought about it while I was chasing you down. I’ve decided that I’m all right with that. We have a stressful calling, after all, it’s easy to get discouraged.” There was a pause, a rustle as he dismounted.

Blake fought back a whimper as his hand cupped her jaw, forcing her to look up at him. “So, you can have some time away, and get a nice little refresher on why we’re in this fight together. Let’s see how much the good deputy appreciates you trying to help her. Crawl into town, ask for refuge from your violent gang, and see for yourself just how caring and sweet the humans can be to an injured faunus.” His eyes were narrowed, the a slight tremble beneath his words giving away how truly furious he was, before his voice softened into a mockery of a caring tone. “And when you’ve seen enough, I’ll come and get you, and we can go back to our war.”

The air around them was still. Her golden eyes were wide, locked on the cold blue and dead grey of his. She could feel her body shaking. Beg. Beg or you die. The words tasted horrible in her mouth, but she still tried. “...please. A-Adam, I’m sorry-”

“No you’re not. Not yet. We’ll talk once you’ve learned your lesson, Blake.” He dropped her jaw, standing to walk back to the still horse. Blake mutely watched him mount up, turn Wilt, then look down at her.

For a moment, there was something almost regretful about his eyes. It only made her chest ache more - he knew that he was leaving her injured and alone in the woods. He knew that she might die of exposure before she even reached the sheriff. He knew that even if she made it, they’d likely just arrest her.

Yet he still picked up Wilt’s reins and walked straight past her, not paying her a second glance.

Blake stayed still for a long few minutes. Wilt’s hoof steps faded completely, replaced by the faint rumble of the approaching thunderstorm. Every breath and movement sent shocks up her torso. But a numbness had settled over her that blanketed the terror and betrayal, let her take her focus off it. If she stood now and started moving, she could find shelter. Everything else, she’d figure out as she went.

I’m not dying tonight.  The blood pooling underneath her disagreed. Blake squeezed her eyes shut, set her jaw, and pushed one elbow underneath herself. She bit back the wave of pain-fueled nausea as she slowly sat up, pulling her knees underneath her. She remembered countless robberies, humans she had easily defeated, and the horse that she had started under saddle completely on her own.

He won't be the one to kill me.

Tears streamed down her face, her hip leaked fire, her ribs smoldered, but Blake got to her feet. Vicious resolve hardening every movement, she begin to limp towards the faint sound of cattle.


 

The sun was setting, but the pretty orange and pink hues it usually brought were being choked by grey and dark purple. Yang frowned at the clouds gathering above them, heavy with with the threat of hail and rain. “...that’ll hit before nightfall.”

“Yeah.” Pyrrha eyed the storm with the same mixture of defeat and dread. They’d been searching for the better part of two hours - the band had been smart enough to avoid being tracked by running their horses in the river for a short stretch. In a way, it was pointless anyways. If the girl was at the camp with the rest of them, she didn’t need any help. And if she did need help, she would be out on her own.

Even less comforting were the two faint gunshots that had rung out half an hour ago. Could just be a rancher taking shots at coyotes, as Pyrrha had halfheartedly pointed out. But something about the sound had made Yang’s guts coil up like an anxious rattlesnake.

The wide clearing that she and Pyrrha were passing through offered exactly zero answers, Still, Yang’s head stayed up, eyes darting back and forth, looking for any sign of distress or trouble. She could feel Pyrrha’s eyes on her, could hear her deciding on the best way to tell Yang that they had to pack it in, head back to the town.

She’s not wrong. Yang quietly reasoned with herself. She probably doesn’t need help, and even if she did, she’d probably be heading to town. Where you need to be.

With an exhausted sigh, Yang reined Celica to a stop. “Might as well start headin’ back. Don’t think we’re gon’ find much.”

A quiet, relieved sigh behind her. “Think you’re right. Besides, this ain’t far from where you heard the gunshots. Might find somethin’ on the way back.”

“Maybe.” There wasn’t much hope in Yang’s voice as she moved to turn the palomino mare around. Then frowned and looked down when the mare didn’t respond.

Celica’s ears were pricked forwards, head raised, staring at the treeline that ran alongside them. Yang felt her legs move as the mare inhaled, taking in whatever scent had caught her attention. Beside her, Miló turned his own head towards the trees, snorting and shivering in his excitable way.

Pyrrha and Yang traded confused glances. Miló could be panicked by a bee buzzing at the wrong frequency, but it took a force of nature to startle Celica.  “...y’think they smell a Grimm?”

“Nah, they’d be bolting by now.” Yang tugged on Celica’s reins, trying to catch her attention.

The mare still held her ground, unmovable as a statue. She drew breath and gave a loud, sharp snort, ears flicking back and forth. Yang found herself searching the treeline, feeling her pulse in her own neck. A faint drumming reached her ears.

She recognized the sound of hooves tearing through the underbrush seconds before a black horse erupted from the wall of evergreens in front of them. All four reeled backwards as the animal tore past, soaked with sweat.

Yang’s heart sank into her gut as she recognized the eastern-styled tack. “...Pyrrha-”

“Yeah.” The sheriff was gone before she could say another word, Miló leaping after the riderless horse - probably at least partially out of desire to flee from whatever he thought it was running from. Celica only required slightly more encouragement, whirling and hurtling after the pair of horses, kicking off an odd sort of game of cat and mouse.

Miló was tall, built for speed, and - despite two hours of walking and trotting - hardly sweating, every step bounding with energy. The black horse was significantly shorter than Miló or Celica, but what it lacked in leg length it made up for with agility, cleverness, and complete disinterest in being caught. Yang watched Pyrrha easily catch up to the fleeing horse, reach for a rein, then have to pull Miló back as it abruptly switched directions, or jumped over a bush. Meanwhile, Celica lacked both speed and agility, and Yang found herself lagging behind no matter which way the two went. The infuriating chase seemed to drag on for an eternity.

Just as Yang considered hollering at Pyrrha to give up, Miló cut off the feral-looking horse just as Celica finally managed to catch up. Yang heard a panicked snort, watched the horse - a mare, she realized - spin around and leap forwards in an attempt to escape, nearly colliding with Celica. With a grin, Yang snatched the thin leather rein as the mare flew by her.

Then realized, a second too late, that she may as well have tied herself to a moving train.

She was yanked sideways and out of her saddle before she could even form the idea of letting go. By a mixture of experience and miracle, Yang managed to land on her feet. Years of experience took over, and Yang grabbed the mare’s saddle with her free hand and cramming one foot into a stirrup. But instead of trying to mount into the saddle, Yang pulled back on the rein welded to her hand, yanking the mare’s nose to her hip. One brown eye hung a foot in front of her, the whites visible all the way around, panicked snorting surrounding her. The girl and the mare turned in tighter and tighter circles, Yang pressed against the mare’s soaked shoulder, barely managing to keep her feet away from the flying hooves, the mare unable to run full speed with her head turned so far around.

Contrasting sharply with the violent dance taking place, Yang’s voice came out as soft and gentle as a mother crooning to a child. “Hey, lady. Calm. Easy. It’s gon’ be okay, lady. Breathe, lady.”

An ear flicked back, hooves slowing. The panicked brown eye blinked.

“Eaaaaasy. Laaaaaady.” Her voice turned sing-songy as the mare broke to a trot, Yang able to unhook her foot from the stirrup and jog with her instead of hanging from the saddle. Slowly, gradually, the crazed tango faded into a waltz, until the mare finally stopped, nose still pressed against Yang’s hip, breath coming in heavy puffs.

Yang slowly released her hold, letting the sweating black neck straighten back out. Fearing that the mare would immediately panic again, she released the saddle and ran her hand up the mare’s neck. She flinched away, and Yang followed her, drawing tiny, light circles with her fingers along the base of her mane. The mare stopped, ears flicking back, chewing at her bit as the light circles worked up her neck, behind her ears, to her jaw. Yang was rewarded with a slow blink as she moved across the horse’s head, smiling as the horse heaved a huge, exhausted sigh. “There y’ are.” Her fingers drew circles between the mare’s eyes, dancing up and down the bridge of her nose, slowly working the noble head lower and lower.

Her eyes flicked up to the browband of the horse’s bridle. What she’d initially thought were cuts in the leather now became letters, stretching out below the horse’s ears. GAMBOL.

“Gambol.” The black ears flicked towards her. “Fancy name for a wildie.” The slang term for a wild horse was somewhat insulting, but now that Yang could really take in the mare she knew exactly what it was. Sloped face, light body, with strong, feathered legs and wide hooves. All of it contrasted sharply with the well-oiled eastern saddle, and neatly combed mane and tail. “Your ma knows a good horse when she sees it, I reckon.”

As if in response, there was a loud snort behind her before a heavy head rudely shoved her. “Yeah, yeah, you’re good too.” Yang glanced backwards to see Celica standing behind her, having patiently followed along as Yang and Gambol danced.

"Gon' need to tell Tai 'bout that one. Reckon he'd be proud." Pyrrha chuckled as she walked over, a puffing Miló’s reins in one hand and Yang’s hat in the other. Her eyebrows knit together, staring at Yang’s side. “That your blood?”

Blinking, Yang glanced down and blinked at the massive crimson stripe painting her side from ribs to shoulder, turning the faded orange plaid to red. “I.. I don’t think so.” She turned and scanned over the mare. Coated in sweat, but no-

Her eye caught on a black and red circular mark, on Gambol’s withers. Her breath hissed out as she realized that the wetness over Gambol’s shoulder wasn’t sweat. “Shit.” Yang walked in a quick circle around the horse, finding no more wounds, then led the mare forwards. She didn’t seem to be favoring the leg, at least, but the wound would most certainly need attention. “Think Velvet’s still up?”

“The sun ain’t even set yet, she’ll be up.” Pyrrha glanced between Yang and the mare. “...Yang, findin’ a shot horse with full tack on-”

“I know.” Yang ran a hand through her hair. The image of the faunus girl, bleeding out somewhere in the forest, danced in front of her eyes. She probably wasn’t far away. Maybe if they followed the mare’s hoof prints, they could find her.

Or find her body with her killer standing over it, like bait in a trap.

Rain began to tap her head, and Yang knew that she was running out of options. If she was going to take the mare to the town's veterinarian, she had to go now. She could ask Pyrrha to take the mare while she kept searching - and potentially have to face whoever had taken a shot at the horse alone (not that the identity of the shooter was any kind of mystery). Not only that, but the rain would mask any trace of hoof prints or footprints before long. 

She glanced up at the sky. The dark grey and faintly purple clouds hung above her, the rain moving from a sprinkle to a downfall. On the horizon, she could see pale sheets of hail falling around the hills south of them. Pyrrha's green eyes stayed on her, but she didn't speak, waiting for her deputy to make her own decision. 

The memory of an old argument with Tai echoed in her ears. "You can keep chasin' things like a rabid dog if y' really want to. But do it smarter - go around things, not through 'em. Make the world work with you, not against you."

Her father wasn't the wisest of men, not by a long shot. But he'd had a point then, and it had only grown sharper with time.

Yang’s shoulders sagged. Pyrrha’s gaze fell, not needing to ask her deputy to explain. “...I'm sorry, Yang."

"Ain't your fault, Pyrrha. 'Sides, we been looking for hours. We ain't gonna find her before the hail starts, and she might be fine anyways." A long, uncomfortable silence stretched out as Yang accepted her hat back, plunked it down on her head, led Gambol over and mounted back up onto Celica. “Right. Let’s get back before we get caught in the hail.”

Pyrrha’s gaze flicked back and forth between Yang and the black mare that she was now leading alongside her own horse, slowly raising one eyebrow.

Yang shrugged, lightning flashing on the horizon. “I’ll pay whatever Velvet charges to get the wound stitched up. Call me an optimist, but if the girl’s alive, she’ll want this horse back.”

It's the least I can do, she silently thought to herself as they trotted towards the treeline. 


 

Extra author's note: I have an image that I drew for this chapter to promote it on my tumblr blog. You can find it here if you'd like to see a very, very rough illustration of Blake and Gambol tearing through the forest.

Chapter Text

The relentless pounding of hail on the tin roof had finally eased, making conversation possible. Yang slowly blinked, leaning against the wooden wall of the barn as she watched Velvet Scarlatina finish taping a square of gauze to Gambol’s shoulder. The mare’s head hung nearly to the ground, tied loosely to the metal rail of a stall door. Yang wasn’t sure if the posture was entirely from the sedative drugs that Velvet had injected before starting - it had been a long night for everyone involved.

The veterinarian turned to face her, paused, then plucked the cotton wads that she’d stuck into her rabbit ears to protect them from the deafening hail earlier. She shook her head as if to clear it. “Gods, that’s better. Right... I’ve cleaned away all the damaged tissue. The shot didn’t go terribly deep, but it’s too wide for me to stitch. So we’re just going to keep an eye on her and let it granulate by itself. Change the bandage every day for the first three days, then every other day until it’s healed, use the ointment I’ve left for you, and bring her to the clinic if it’s not healin’ or your bandage supply runs out. I have some antibiotics hidden away, but they aren’t cheap to get in from Atlas.”

Yang nodded, memorizing the instructions as they were relayed. “Easy enough. Think we’ll manage. Y’ want to spend the night here? Still rainin’ Grimm out there.”

“As fun as spendin’ the night on a jail cot is, I think I’ll pass. Besides, I promised my sister I’d come over and watch the baby for her, don’t think she’s slept for three days.” Velvet bent to pick up the metal bowl at her feet, extending it her. “You want to see?”

Her spine cracked as Yang stretched, yawning and plodding up to blink down at the bloody bullet in the bowl. It lot bigger than she was expecting, certainly larger than the rounds from pistols and hunting rifles that she was used to digging out of people and animals alike. “...damn, that a fifty-two?”

“Looks like it.” Velvet looked between her and the horse, ears twitching. “When Pyrrha told me that you two found a loose horse, she didn’t mention that it was wearin’ eastern tack, with a bullet that probably came from a military rifle in its shoulder...” Her tone was still as polite as ever, maybe even joking, but there was an edge underneath when she added, “...or that it was the same one I saw a White Fang leader riding three days ago.”

That woke her up. Yang nearly jumped, staring at the vet. “The White Fang approached you?” The words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them, silently cursing at herself. She and Pyrrha had agreed to keep their thoughts about the faunus band private for the time being.

Velvet sighed, raising an eyebrow. “Yang, I know I’m the only faunus in Beacon that actually spends time in town, but I do have a family. I hear things.”

“...right.” Yang shifted uncomfortably. “Apologies. Any chance you’d tell me about it?”

“It’s a wonder you lot get any information at all, if this is how you interrogate people.” Velvet chuckled, waving a hand, clearly aware that this wasn’t an interrogation. “But, yes, I can. A man and a woman approached my parents three nights ago while I was over for dinner. They said they were from the White Fang, wanted us to join their cause. The man did most of the talkin’. Polite enough, but I’d trust him about as far as I could throw him. Didn’t have anything good to say about my choice to work with humans, but the girl was making a good effort to keep things friendly. Thankfully none of my brothers or sisters were home, and my parents weren’t interested, Ma sent them on their way with some food and general well wishes.” She sighed. “...think they had more luck at other households. Recognized some faces when the robbery happened yesterday.”

Yang leaned backwards. Velvet was an interesting, unusual, and invaluable member of the community. Years of education in Atlas had left her with an encyclopedic knowledge of medicine and an odd mix of accents. When she surprised her family with returning home to practice her new, advanced medicine in Beacon, her identity as a faunus had caused some strife here and there, but Yang suspected it was nothing in comparison to what she’d gone through as a faunus in Atlas alone. The dust had settled over time, and most townsfolk had nothing but good things to say about her. All the same, Yang knew better to even consider the idea of making Velvet a potential informant on the distant faunus community, and she knew exactly how precious the information that had just been shared with her was. “...thank you. Pyrrha and I had a brush with ‘em already. The woman was civil, the man... wasn’t.”

The tips of Velvet’s ears drooped slightly. “...makes it so much harder for those of us that actually try.” She muttered, a bitterness rarely heard from her seeping into her voice. “Spend half my life convincin’ humans to trust me, I finally get feel like I’m gettin’ somewhere, and then another robbery happens and half my appointments for the afternoon cancel.”

Yang gently pushed her shoulder. “Hey. They’ll come back. Y’ the only half-decent vet within ten miles, they have to.” She added with a smirk.

“Thanks for your undyin’ faith, Xiao Long.” Velvet replied dryly, but she smiled back at her.

“Thanks for not givin’ up on we stupid humans, Gods know we’d be sunk without y’ here. Ah, speakin’ of which, how much do I owe you?”

“We can settle up once I get back in the clinic and calculate how much I’m out by - I’ll just charge you enough to cover my instruments and the bandage material.”

Yang frowned, “Velvet, I’m gon’ pay for your time-“

Velvet held up a hand, silencing her. “You, Ruby, and Tai were some of my first clients. You always treated me well, I’ve been meanin’ to pay you back. Besides...” she glanced back at the horse. “...I liked the girl. Couldn’t shake the feelin’ that things weren’t right between the two of them.” Yang watched her stare at the gunshot wound for a moment before the brown eyes fell. “Now I wish I’d said somethin’.”

Yang shifted her weight from one foot to the other. “...I’ll let y’ know if somethin’ happens.”

Velvet chuckled. “As secretive as your bunch tries to be, I’m sure I’ll find out if it does. Still... thank you. Hope she’s okay.”

“Yeah. Me too.” She said quietly, watching as Velvet packed up the last of her equipment. She held the barn door open as the vet unhitched her own horse and headed out, bidding each other good night as they passed, Velvet pushing her own hat down against the pouring rain.

Settling Gambol into a stall only took a few minutes. There were only four stalls in the small barn, and they were rarely used. She doubted that Gambol was accustomed to living inside, but the mare seemed too tired to notice the surroundings, staggering into the stall like a drunk and ignoring the hay and water set out for her. Yang carefully stowed the tack away in her own corner of the tack room they shared, and turned the knob on the little electric dust lamp that had faithfully shone for them for the past few hours. Slowly, she made her way into the sheriff's office.

She didn’t bother lighting a lamp as she walked in, finding her way by memory and the occasional flash of lightning outside. Pyrrha had long since gone home to Jaune, with the promise that Yang could wake them at any point in the night if she needed something.  She passed her own desk, finding herself walking into the empty holding cell - specifically, the cot inside it. She kicked her boots off and flopped down, closing her eyes. No sense in going home, she reasoned. Not with the storm raging outside.

Even so, sleep was very, very slow to reach her. While the lightning and thunder didn’t startle her anymore, the wide, golden irises that hid behind her eyelids relentlessly pulled at her mind, forcing her to think, to worry, to wonder how different things might have been if she’d returned to her old stubbornness and gone alone into the rain.

I’m sorry, she silently whispered to to the wide, frightened gaze, curling up in an attempt to soothe the anxiety biting at her chest. I’m sorry I didn’t find you.


Yang wasn’t aware that she had finally succumbed to sleep until a furious banging forced her to awaken.

She jerked upright, blinking. The office was just as dark as she’d left it, but now silent, moonlight silently streaming through the windows in place of the tapping rain.

Well, mostly silent. The pounding on the door returned, relentless this time. It took her a long moment to remember why the sound might be significant.

Mouth dry, Yang staggered to her feet, fumbling around for her revolver before approaching the door. A mixture of hope and dread gripped her as she turned the handle. Opened the door a crack.

Then sighed, opening it the rest of the way. “Evenin’, Cardin.”

The moon was much brighter outside, and she could easily make out the powerfully built man in front of the doorway. He shifted his weight uncomfortably, the usual bravado of a young, cocky man working on his Pa’s ranch gone. “Xiao Long. I, uh... I got a problem on the ranch.”

“Arright.” Yang fought the urge to yawn, lifting her hat to scratch at an itchy spot on the top of her head, swallowing quiet disappointment as it welled up. “It couldn’t wait ‘til morning?”

“Think it’ll bleed out ‘fore then. Figured I should come get you while it’s alive.”

Yang stopped, eyes snapping back over to him. He could be talking about a stray dog. Or a mountain lion. The logic didn’t ease the shaking in the pit of her stomach, threatening to give way. “You gon’ tell me what ‘it’ is, or we gon’ stand here guessin’ all night?”

“Found a goddamn faunus hidin’ in th’ toolshed. Barricaded it in there for now, but I ain’t draggin’ the thing out myself.”

The bottom dropped out of her stomach and acid flooded her gut. “...what’d this faunus look like?”

Cardin blinked at her, frowning in confusion, but he answered. “Uh... girl. Black hair, cat ears. Didn’ see any claws, but I didn’ get too close.”

His confused frown broke into a relieved sigh as Yang whirled, propelling herself back to the cell to grab her boots and pull them on. “I’m gettin’ Celica tacked up. Meet me there.”

Cardin leaned forwards, looking at her from the doorway. “...this one of them bandits that hit the dust shop yesterday?”

“Cardin, get on y’ damn horse.” She grabbed the leather bag off of Pyrrha’s desk and shoved him out of the way as she nearly ran through the door.

Thankfully, that got rid of him. As Cardin hauled himself onto his horse and trotted back towards the ranch, the blonde deputy was scrambling into the barn to grab her tack. Yang hauled her saddle straight into Celica’s paddock, not even bothering to halter her as she swept the worst of the dust off her back and tossed the saddle on. The golden mare yawned and eyed her bemusedly as Yang frantically went through the motions of tightening the cinch, but accepted the bit like a treat like always.

As Yang pushed the gate open, she glanced over at the small window into Gambol’s stall. A dark head was visible inside, ears pricked, watching Yang’s every move.

She wanted to draw little circles on the Gambol’s face again, tell her that her rider was going to be okay. She wanted to ask her why was she was drawn to the faunus girl like a bird flying south.

Instead, Yang swung herself up into the saddle and Celica took off down the street, steel horseshoes sending up sparks against the damp gravel.


The trees around them smelled like the storm had taken its time to wash each branch. Normally, she would have taken a moment to appreciate the smell that Ruby had always insisted was the second best in the world. Tonight, all she could focus on was the path up to the ranch, and her thrashing gut.

Cardin’s horse was tied to a fencepost, beside a dirt path leading down to a weather-beaten toolshed. Cardin himself was pacing nervously as Celica trotted the last few steps up to them. Yang didn’t wait for Celica to stop before dismounting, landing at a jog, keeping her voice low. “Right. You said she was injured?”

Cardin threw his hands up, voice barely above a whisper. “Look, I jus’ got up to check on th’ calves, went to go get a lamp, and found it in the corner - didn’ ask it for the time of day, for the Gods sake. Can you jus’ go in there and drag it out before it robs me blind or kills me in my sleep?”

“Take a big breath in, Cardin, I didn’t ride over here at this hour just t’ chat with you,” Yang grunted, tying Celica to the next fencepost. “Answer the question, I need t’ know what I’m walking into.”

The answer seemed to soothe him, but he still eyed the shed nervously as he answered. “Yeah. Looked pretty roughed up. Lot’a blood. Fuckin’ hissed at me when I opened the door.”

So scared, stressed, and badly hurt. Despite girl’s actions at the river, Yang knew better than to think she was completely safe walking into the shed. She tapped the leather pouch in her jacket pocket, ensuring it hadn’t fallen out during her ride, then pulled out her revolver, reaching for the bullets kept in her belt.

Cardin kept shifting his weight, watching her load the chamber. “Do... you need to wait for backup?”

“Why would I? You’ll come in and save me if I start screamin’, right?” With that, Yang started down the gravel path, ignoring Cardin’s nervous sputtering. A shovel had been wedged across the door’s handle, barely doing a passable job as a ‘barricade’. Yang unwedged it easily, leaving it in the mud as she gently pushed the door open.

The inside of the shed was deathly still. The moonlight streamed in through the single window, painting the wooden shelves in a faint blue light, glinting off metal and glass. Yang let the door close behind her, standing still for a moment, letting her eyes adjust to the gloom. She could see a workbench, shelves full of various tools, and a butchering chain hanging from the roof, but everything else remained hidden in the darkness. Rather than stepping forwards, into the unknown and a possible ambush, Yang stayed put, one hand falling to her holster.

“Where are you?” She mumbled, more to herself, as her eyes searched the shadows.

The answer came as a sudden, vicious collision with her shoulder.

Yang staggered, automatically turning. Her attacker, still concealed by shadow, had an iron grip on her coat, pushing her back. Simultaneously, a leg appeared between hers, yanking her knee forwards, and something cool pressed against her neck.

Yang was no stranger to sparring. Nor was she to improvising. As she lost her balance, one hand snatched a handful of the thin, damp fabric of a blouse, the other clamped down on the wrist it found near her shoulder. She forcefully pulled both towards her as she let herself fall. A startled squeak in her ear; Yang’s lip turned upwards.

The smirk disappeared as they crashed to the floor, into the moonlight, and a body thunked against hers. Wet hair fell across her face, and there was a faint, but unmistakable crackling sound as their ribs met.

An ear-splitting squeal echoed through the shed.

Instinctively, both of Yang’s hands released their grip. One clamped over her attacker’s mouth, muffling the scream, while the other burrowed into the soaked hair at the back of her head to try to keep it there. The moonlight finally caught the girl’s face at the exact same time as Cardin’s panicked voice reached her through the wooden door. “Xiao Long?!”

The faunus froze solid, eyes going wide, staring down at Yang as if she was only now processing who was in front of her.

Yang opened her mouth to tell him to leave. Then her eye caught on something bright, gleaming, just below and to the left of her chin. She tilted her head very slightly, eyes straining to look down.

The hard contact against her throat was a butcher’s knife. And that knife was in the unstable grip of the hand whose wrist she’d just released.

Slowly, her eyes flicked up. Gold turned to pale yellow in the moonlight, the girl’s wide eyes fixed on hers. Her lower lids glittered with tears, her skin cold and clammy. Yang could feel the knife shaking against her skin - the flat of the blade, not the cutting edge.

She looked into the girl’s terrified eyes and Yang could hear her screaming, screaming with everything but her voice.

“Deputy?!”

Yang drew breath. Panic flashed through the faunus’ face, but Yang had already hollered back. “I’m fine! We just startled each other, don’t come in!” The girl was still frozen, but panic was fading to a shocked confusion. Yang, however, was more preoccupied with looking her over for the details. Her blouse sported a massive, dark stain over her left hip, a hole visible in it. Her breath was coming in haggard pants. “...run back into town and wake up Dr. Arc. Tell him I’m bringing a patient.”

A disbelieving snort echoed through the door.

Yang didn’t have much patience for Cardin even on a good day. Even when she hadn’t had to listen to him call another person ‘it’ multiple times. Even when she wasn’t being talked to like a nanny that would clean up a mess for him.

Anger flared, like it so often did, but Yang had no intentions of tempering it tonight.

Her strength was betrayed in how easily she sat up, ignoring the girl straddling her chest, releasing her hold on the girl’s head and mouth in favor of pushing the a knife just far enough away. Knowing full well that her irises had turned a deadly shade of red, Yang looked over the girl’s shoulder at the door and roared, “CARDIN WINCHESTER, I swear to the GODS, do not make me come out there and tell you AGAIN!”

Silence outside. For a long moment, she contemplated options on what she would do to him if the threat was ignored. Then she heard gravel crunch under Cardin’s boots, heard his horse snorting, and heard hooves clatter away.

Silence rung through the shed. Yang slowly glanced back over at the girl, belatedly remembering that, according to Jaune, she bore a striking resemblance to a Grimm when angry enough. On top of everything else, questions about her eyes were the very, very last thing she wanted to get into right now.

Surprisingly, the girl had only retreated to the edge of the moonlight on the floor. Her eyes were wide, wincing with every movement, and the knife was still clutched in her right hand. Her gaze stayed locked on Yang - suspicious, nervous, but not fearful. She didn’t move to attack again, nor try to creep backwards and disappear into the shadows. Not that she would get far - Yang’s eyes had finally adjusted enough to let her see the jacket resting in a soaked heap in the corner, and the bloodstains that decorated the wall beside the door’s hinges. She must have been waiting for Cardin to come back through the door, knife in hand. If there was any doubt that Cardin’s reaction to finding her huddled in the toolshed had been more dramatic than he’d let on, it was gone now.

Yang calmly kept the eye contact, slowly blinking once. A pause. The girl returned the blink, sluggishly, exhaustedly, breaking the illusion of danger.

“That was you today. In the river.” A confirmation, not a question.

The faunus nodded, the tension seeping out of her back, exhaustion clinging to her every movement.

“What do I call you, ma’am?”

Her ears twitched slightly, the same way that they had at the river. Yang opened her mouth to suggest that she could just keep calling her that, but then the voice came, unsteady but stronger than she’d expected. “Blake.”

It wasn’t a name Yang was expecting, but it fit better than any of the half hearted guesses the back of her mind had made. “Blake. I’m Yang.”

“Yang.” Her name sounded much, much better in Blake’s voice than she would have thought, even when slurred with exhaustion. “Deputy.”

“Yeah, I’m the deputy.” Yang shifted her weight, pulling her feet beneath her into a kneeling position. “How long have y’ been in here?”

The golden eyes stayed sharp, even as everything else about her dulled. They scanned her face, over and over again, as she spoke. “...sundown. Hail hit. Jus’ needed... place t’ sleep.” Her voice faded in and out as she struggled for breath.

Gods, she was looking worse with every second. Yang watched the girl’s already bloodstained hand press to her hip. “How badly are y’ hurt?”

Blake eyes went hazy and unfocused, and even on her knees she swayed slightly.

Mouth dry, Yang instinctively moved towards her, fumbling for the pouch in her jacket. Blake’s eyes sharpened again, and she flinched away, ears pinning and the knife raising slightly. Yang paused, then slowly tugged the pouch into view. She pulled out a roll of gauze, showing it to her. “Just want to wrap y’ hip - it’s still bleedin’. Will you let me do that?”

The golden eyes and limp ears flicked between Yang and the bandage material. For a moment, she stayed coiled, ready to strike, looking exactly like the vicious bandit that she’d been this morning. Gold and lilac locked onto each other, both women holding their breath without realizing it.

Then Blake slumped, knife falling to the floor, eyes closing, barely stopping herself from falling flat on the floor. The nod was just a slight inclination of her head.

Even with permission, Yang edged towards her slowly, talking in a low, calm tone. “Okay, Keep sittin’ the way you are now. Tell me if I’m hurtin’ you, or you feel like y’ gonna fall over.” Blake didn’t respond, didn’t flinch away as she pressed the gauze against her hip. Truth be told, Yang didn’t exactly know what she was doing. But she knew that pressure had to be kept against the wound.

Then she went to wrap around Blake’s hips, came to her back, and realized that there was more than one hole in the shirt. For a moment, she stared, dumbfounded, at the hole over the back of Blake’s hipbone, this one much larger and just as bloodstained.

“Sorry, but I need t’ see what I’m dealin’ with.” Yang slowly untucked the blouse, watching carefully for any sign of resistance. But Blake made no attempt to stop her, letting her lift the hem of the shirt.

Slowly, the red and white fabric was moved out of the way, exposing the vicious wound beneath. Yang’s breath hissed out as she stared at the unnaturally straight path carved into the woman’s side. It ran from the back of her hip to the front, barely half an inch deep but more than an inch wide, pale at the back bottom edge and darkest near the front. Technically, the bullet had grazed her, but this was unlike any graze she’d ever seen - this was like looking at a through-and-through bullet wound from the inside. Blake inhaled again, and Yang watched damaged muscles attempt to move at the front of the wound, more blood oozing from them. Nothing moved at the back of the gash, and her stomach rolled as she realized the pale material she’d noticed earlier was part of Blake’s hipbone, the flesh covering it ripped away.

Yang shook her head, focusing on the task at hand rather than the gory image, starting to roll the gauze around her hips again. Blake’s skin still felt too cold, clammy even where the jacket had prevented the rain from reaching her. She nervously covered the exposed bone with the white material. “What in the hell shot you?” She muttered out loud, careful to keep her bare fingers away from the wound. Even as she said it, she was thinking about the fifty-two in Gambol’s shoulder. A bullet that size, fired at close range, could easily do this kind of damage.

“Adam.” She hadn’t been expecting a response, and blinked at Blake. Her eyes were closed, voice slurred as if she were drunk. “Ran ‘way. Caught up. Didn’ hear ‘im.”

“...Adam.” The name tasted coppery, like blood, like rage. ”’S that who tried to shoot me in the river?”

Blake froze, eyes flying open. “...no.” She felt a tremble in the girl’s back.

“Okay, different one. Got it.” Yang kept wrapping the gauze around her hips, keeping her tone disinterested. The trembling eased, but Blake didn’t fully relax, probably aware that Yang was just playing along with the attempt at a lie. But, eventually, she gave in, sighing - and then immediately wincing again. Yang glanced over her, noting the hunched posture she seemed unable to leave. “...y’ ribs are in bad shape too.”

“Mm.” She gave another half nod.

“Which side?”

Blake seemed to think for a moment, tilting her head as if trying to put herself back into a past position. “...right.”

So Adam took a shot at you, missed, then beat you while you were down. And you’re so scared of him that you panicked when you accidentally let his name slip. Yang pulled the gauze a little tighter than necessary, securing it with a pin. “Good to know.” It was surprisingly easy to make her voice sound soft, like she wasn’t thinking about snapping a spine with a barstool. “Okay, that’s as good as it’ll get ‘till we can get you to th’ doctor. C’mon.” Yang stood, offering a hand to the exhausted faunus.

The golden eyes focused on her hand. Then, slowly, turned up to lock eyes with her. It had been easy to focus on the tasks at hand, on the girl herself, but now all of the distractions fell away and Yang was forced to think about those eyes. How they looked straight through her. How she felt like she couldn’t look away. How her own lilac eyes were trying to stare though the gold, trying to see the soul beneath.

“Why are you helping me?” The exhausted slur now only affected Blake’s tone, as if she was forcing herself to pronounce the words as clearly as she could.

Because you saved me. Because it’s my fault you’re hurt. Because I’m the deputy and it’s my job. Because I should have found you sooner. Because I’ve never felt this obligated to help someone before. I have no idea.

Yang settled on the simplest answer. “Because you need me to.”

The dark eyebrows raised slightly at the inside corners. Blake’s face softened, the defensive crinkle in her forehead and set of her jaw fading away. For a moment, Yang could see past the mask. She could see the confusion, hear thoughts racing, feel the longing to believe her.

Yang felt her own face soften, lips turning upwards into a smile that was more of a surrender, an offer, a question. She watched Blake’s eyes turn analytical again, studying Yang’s face, seeing the same glimpse into Yang’s own confusion, her relief, her worry.

I don’t know why I want to trust you, but I do.

It hung in the air between them for a long, long moment. Then, an eternity later, Blake’s gaze fell to Yang’s hand again. She shifted her weight, reached up with her left arm, and grabbed Yang’s outstretched hand.

The contact was warm and firm as Yang hauled her up to her feet, and let go of her hand in order to gently place an arm around her waist, guiding her towards the door.

Celica’s ears perked up as the door opened, and the two girls slowly made their way towards her. Yang could feel the smaller woman leaning against her more with every step, her breath coming in slower pants. “Blake? I know y’ tired, but stay awake ‘till we get to the doctor.”

“Trying.” Her voice was barely a whisper, and Yang moved them both forwards a little faster.

The reins were swiftly pulled free from the fence and swung back over the golden neck. Celica eyed them as Blake weakly got her foot into one stirrup, Yang grabbing her other leg to boost her into the saddle. Despite everything, Blake easily balanced herself in the saddle, taking her foot out of the stirrup to let Yang get on. Which she promptly did, swinging herself up to sit behind Blake, wrapping her left arm around her waist in an attempt to keep the bandage from riding up. With her right hand, Yang grabbed the reins and guided Celica back down the gravel road.

Blake’s hand weakly brushed Celica’s mane, and Yang suddenly remembered a crucial detail that, in all the chaos, had yet to be shared. She tilted her head to speak next to Blake’s human ear. “Found y’ horse before the storm hit. She’s okay.”

Blake’s entire body stiffened. Then, abruptly, she went completely limp, falling backwards against Yang’s chest, head rolling into her jaw. Yang heard a single choked sob that she expected to lead to more crying.

Instead, silence rung in her ears. She glanced down to find Blake’s eyes rolling back in her head, eyelids fluttering shut, face even more pale than before.

Celica jumped forwards as Yang’s spurs rolled up her sides, carrying the two down the dark road.


 

Chapter 4 promo artwork here, for those who would like to see it!

Chapter Text

Jaune and Pyrrha’s house was the only one with a light on. Even though electric dust had been around for years, the actual method of harnessing it to provide light was somewhat new. Between Yang and Jaune, however, they’d figured it out and got it working so that Jaune could have adequate light to treat his emergency cases in the middle of the night. At the time, Yang had jokingly promised to bring him something complicated to stitch up at three in the morning to test it.

Now, flying down the path towards the sturdy home, an unconscious faunus pressed against her chest, she didn’t even want to think about the joke.

Pyrrha came flying through the front door as Celica slid to a halt in front of the porch, hind legs digging long tracks into the mud. Yang slung one of Blake’s legs over the saddle horn, letting her slide out of the saddle and into Pyrrha’s waiting arms. “How long she been out?”

“Fifteen minutes - she’s breathin’, but she’s goddamn pale. Worst bullet graze I’ve ever seen in my life on her left hip, bone’s exposed at the back. Broken ribs on her right side.” Yang swung out of the saddle, staggering as she landed. “Wrapped her up soon as I could, but she’s been bleedin’ since this afternoon.”

Pyrrha didn’t wait for more explanation, sweeping Blake’s legs up into something of a bridal carry and turning towards the house. “Go turn Celica out.” She called over her shoulder as she pulled the door open. “Start runnin’ a pot of water when you come back in.”

Yang nodded, mouth dry, as the door shut and she and Celica were left standing in front of the house, both soaked with sweat and puffing for breath. She exhaled, the energy that had been driving her all night abruptly fading, leaving her feeling nearly light-headed with exhaustion.

Celica turned her giant, hammer-like head and violently rubbed against the shoulder of Yang’s bloodstained shirt. For once, she didn’t try to shove her away, instead just allowing herself to be used as a scratching post. The big mare had spent the past fifteen minutes moving as fast as the terrain would allow - dropping to a lope around curves in the roads, trotting down hills, and then immediately bounding back into a gallop as soon as she could. Yang was fully aware that those fifteen minutes of complete willingness from her typically lazy mare were a gift, and she gave the mare’s thick neck a tired, affectionate scratch.

“Y’ look tired.”

Yang barely lifted her head, realizing that Cardin had been on his horse, slightly off to the side, watching the entire time. “No shit.” She replied, trudging past him. “You gon’ head home?”

“Was just about to when you came racin’ up.” Cardin paused, and for a moment Yang wondered if he was going to ask how Blake was doing, or even thank Yang for answering his request in the dead of night. Instead, he asked, “So, that one of the bandits?”

Yang gritted her teeth. “Can’t talk ‘bout ongoin’ investigations. Even if I could, ain’t exactly in the mood.” She hauled open the gate to the paddock that had been long since designated as Celica’s ‘guest room’.

“Sounds like a yes.” It was amazing, really, how a voice could sound sleepy and infuriatingly smug at the same time. “Still wonderin’ why y’ botherin’ to try n’ save it. It came after me with that knife, y’know.”

“And I’m wonderin’ if you still call y’ Pa to save you from spiders at night, if you felt the need to call the deputy in the middle of the night just to shoot a faunus hidin’ in y’ shed.” Yang sent a glare over her shoulder. “Was she too big t’ put a jar over and scoot her outside?”

He threw his hands up, a sleep deprived crankiness in his own movements. “Just sayin’. Don’t seem like a good idea.”

“Do the town a favor and leave the decisions to the sheriff.” She growled, leading Celica into the pen and closing the gate, pointedly turning her attention away.

There was a clatter of hooves as Cardin presumably turned his horse to head down the road. Then, barely audible past the hooves, Yang heard a mutter. “Fuckin’ Xiao Longs and their bandits.”

Her head jerked up, suddenly wide awake. But Cardin was already loping down the driveway, moving at a casual pace that suggested he had no idea she'd heard him.

Yang stared at the back of his fading head, knowing that from this distance, she still had a decent chance at shooting him clear off his horse.

Warm, hay-scented air blew past her face.

Yang blinked, suddenly aware that her knuckles had turned white on the metal of the gate. Celica’s nose pushed on her shoulder, lips wiggling in an attempt to grab the collar of her shirt.

She blew the air trapped in her lungs out through her nose. It did nothing to ease the rage trapped in her gut, but allowed her to give Celica’s jaw a scratch. “Rude.” It could pass for a light-hearted comment, if it weren’t for the shake in her voice.

The anger faded slowly as she untacked Celica. Miló paced on the other side of the fenceline, nickering eagerly at the familiar blonde mare. Celica flicked a disinterested ear in his direction as Yang pulled the saddle off and let her loose. Yang snorted, patting her neck with a soft mutter. “Good girl. Ember’d be proud.” The white tail swished as the heavily built mare walked off, taking the time to give Miló’s nose a single sniff before walking off to her favourite patch of grass, ignoring the stallion’s anxious pawing.

Her saddle was heavy over her shoulder as she hauled it back to the house. She left it, her bridle, her saddle pad, and the mud-covered boots on the porch, rubbing her face as she entered the house.

She could hear Jaune’s voice echoing from deeper within the house. Stressed, focused, but not panicked. Remembering Pyrrha’s command, she turned and walked to the familiar kitchen. Pulled a pot out from underneath the sink, filled it with water, and plunked it down on the stovetop. A quick glance into the stove itself told her that a fire had already been started, and she slowly turned to the small kitchen table that rested near the window. She collapsed into one of the chairs, blinked, and found it difficult to open her eyes again.

Footsteps. Yang blearily looked up to find Pyrrha in the hallway. “He’s startin’ with the bullet wound. You were right, nasty goddamn shot. Good news is it doesn’t look like the bone itself is damaged, just exposed. He doesn’t think he can stitch it all, but he’s gon’ try to at least cover the bone back up, and try to cauterize whatever won’t stay closed.”

Yang exhaustedly nodded, too tired to be anything other than drained. “Right.”’

“I’m goin’ back to help him. Bring that with you once it starts boiling.”

“Mm.”

Pyrrha’s footsteps walked back down the hall, and a door closed. Yang could hear voices echoing from down the hall, but they were too muffled to understand. Walked back to the sink. Washed her hands and arms as well as she could. Dried them back off. It felt like sleepwalking, like she was detached from everything around her. Even the worry about Blake had faded into a sleep-deprived, exhausted haze. She stumbled back the stove, dragging one of the chairs away from the dining table as she did, intending to flop down on it while she waited for the pot to boil.

A crash split the air. Then a scream, so loud that it could have come from right beside her.

Yang’s hazy brain snapped to attention, eyes opening wide, dropping the chair and jumping from a stumbling walk to a sprint. More voices joined the screaming, but Yang didn’t take the time to process them, instead flying down the hallway, skidding to a halt, and throwing open the door into Jaune’s medical office.

The first thing she saw was an empty metal stand, kicked over in front of the door. Jaune had backed away into the corner, keeping his clean gloves and instruments away. Blake’s bloody blouse and makeshift bandage were laying off to one side. Then she processed the blurs of motion that were Blake and Pyrrha in the middle of the room.

The contrast was almost comical. Pyrrha, always the level head amongst chaos, was still and deadly calm, one forearm firmly pinning Blake down to the cot as her other hand attempted to redirect some of the hits being aimed at her, speaking in a soft tone. Meanwhile, Blake, her torso now bare save for a tattered black bra, was fighting to fly off of the cot with all the strength she had. Blood leaked from her exposed wound, ears flat against her skull, viciously lashing out with fists and nails, eyes feral with fear, clearly not absorbing a word Pyrrha was saying.

Yang bounded forwards, not bothering to try and dodge the limbs as they struck out. She grabbed Blake’s head with both hands, staring her dead in the eye. “Blake. Blake, it’s okay. Blake.” The wild golden eyes locked on her, and Yang knew that Blake wasn’t actually seeing her yet, still stuck in a terrified delirium. She gritted her teeth, waiting for the rain of fists pelting her body.

It never came. Blake’s breath was coming in sharp pants, but the flailing limbs paused. Confused but encouraged, Yang kept talking, mindlessly running her thumbs over Blake’s cheekbones. “Breathe. It’s okay. Y’ alive, y’ made it here, y’ safe. Breathe.” Those golden eyes blinked, and Blake shakily inhaled, wincing. Yang remembered hanging off of Gambol’s saddle, watching the soul slowly return to her eyes. “...Hi, Blake. Can you hear me now?”

Slowly, the head between her hands nodded, eyes still wide but comprehending.

Yang’s breath hissed out. “Okay. Good. Gon’ let go of you now. Please don’t jump off the table.”

Blake’s body was starting to shake slightly, but she made no attempt to move as the callused hands slowly left her face, each breath she took seemingly causing more pain than the last. Yang could see Pyrrha out of the corner of her eye, silently watching, still holding Blake down with one arm. The golden eyes darted up, down, and across Yang’s face, as if trying to decide if she was real or not. “Don’t leave.” It was barely a whisper, pained and desperate.

Yang instinctively opened her mouth to promise she wouldn’t. Paused. It wasn’t really her promise to make. Glanced sideways, back at Jaune.

Jaune just shrugged his shoulders with a sigh. “Stay on the opposite side of the bed from me and throw on a gown.”

Yang turned back to her, exhaling. “I’ll stay right here. You keep breathin’ and stay still while Jaune patches you up.”

The terror had ebbed from Blake’s face, revealing exhaustion as she wearily nodded. Pyrrha, in turn, lifted her weight away from Blake before turning to grab a clean medical gown off the wall. Jaune turned back to his instruments, pouring a thick liquid from a bottle on the counter into a metal bowl full of gauze.

Yang watched as Blake’s eyes slowly fell to her exposed side, to the wound that was leaking blood across the cot. Her eyes widened, already white face going a shade paler.

She didn’t know it was that bad.

Before she could stop herself, Yang stepped forwards again. “Hey. Look at me.” Blake didn’t immediately respond, and Yang’s fingers found their way to her jaw, turning her face to look at her. “Jaune’s gon’ fix it. Keep lookin’ at me.”

Blake’s eyebrows furrowed slightly, eyes wide again, as if to ask ‘How?!’ But she didn’t voice the fear, maybe as afraid of the answer as Yang was. The two kept eye contact as Pyrrha tied a Yang into a gown, then kicked a stool over for her to sit down on. The red haired woman then flashed around the corner, disappearing down the hall.

Jaune slowly nudged the stand with his tools over. Blake automatically pulled her head over to look at him. Yang let her break the eye contact, keeping her fingers on the far side of her jaw. “Hi, Blake. Sorry for scarin’ you so badly the first time ‘round. I’m Dr. Arc, the poor bastard that the sheriff and her deputy crawl to every time they’ve gotten themselves shot.”

Yang fully expected the joke to go straight over the faunus’ head. But even as Blake’s eyes suspiciously tracked Jaune’s every movement, she was full of surprises and gave a weak, pained snort. “Busy man, I ‘spect.”

“My Gods, finally, someone understands my plight.” As if unaware of Blake’s narrowed gaze, Jaune chuckled as he kicked his own stool over. Yang felt the jaw under her fingers unclench slightly as he carefully sat down near Blake’s side, dark blue eyes as soft and calm as his voice. “I’m gon’ clean and debride this, then we'll work on closin' it up. When Pyrrha comes back, I’m going to have her draw up some painkillers for you before I get started.”

As he spoke, Yang intently watched Blake’s face. Watched suspicion fade to a resigned sort of peace, then to exhaustion. She didn’t respond, her head tilting towards Yang’s side of the bed, eyes closing.

Jaune paused, glancing up at Yang. “...did she lose consciousness again?”

She frowned, moving her fingers to Blake’s neck. A slow, steady pulse thrummed below her fingertips. “...think she might just be asleep. Her heartbeat’s pretty strong, but it’s slow.”

“Keep your hand there, tell me if it gets weaker or slower. Still gon’ have Pyrrha give her those painkillers.” Jaune focused in on the gaping wound in front of him, and in turn Yang moved her focus to Blake.

In the quiet that followed, Yang indulged in just looking over the girl. Her hair was pitch black, curled here and there, tangled in places as it lay strewn across the cot. Her skin was soft but littered with dozens of tiny scars, forming constellations across the lithe, muscular body. Vicious bruising bloomed over the right side of her ribcage. Yang remembered the ferocity she’d seen in the shed, the way that Blake had stood her ground despite the pain and suffering that she could now see as clear as day.

Her mind, made unruly by lack of sleep and an undercurrent of worry, pushed a voice to the surface. I’ve stared Death in the face over and over again, and every time I’ve spat in that face and survived-

The door squeaked, mercifully interrupting the memory. Yang blinked, shaking her head, looking up. Pyrrha briefly met her gaze as she poured the freshly boiled water into the metal bowl full of surgical soap and gauze. They both looked away, Pyrrha discussing painkiller choices with Jaune and Yang focusing her attention back on Blake’s pulse.

From there, all three settled into a routine. Pyrrha walked back and forth, pulling up drugs from little bottles, finding Blake’s veins and injecting into them with a skill that spoke of spending entirely too much time helping Jaune. Yang watched Blake’s face, kept her fingers pressed to her neck, counted her breaths as they slowed and grew deeper. Jaune finally set into work, cleaning the wound with the soapy water, pulling and snipping, muttering to himself under his breath. Every now and then, Blake’s fingers twitched and Jaune would pause, but the woman never moved, never gave any indication that she was aware of what was happening, sunk too far down into a drug-infused haze.

Before long, Yang’s own eyelids grew heavy, lulled by the feeling of Blake’s pulse under her fingers.

A gentle touch on her shoulder. Yang blinked, realizing that her forehead was resting on the edge of the cot. Pyrrha gently squeezed her shoulder. “Yang. Get some sleep. I’ll sit with her.”

Yang sighed, lifting her head. Blake hadn’t moved, her heart steadily beating along, Jaune pulling suture through the wound. Only a small portion of the bone was visible now, obscured by the flaps of flesh and muscle that Jaune had pulled to cover it.

“Said I’d stay.” Her voice was slurred, rubbing at her eyes.

“She’ll need you in the morning. Get some sleep.” Pyrrha’s tone slipped into the commanding, no-nonsense voice that could stop a rampaging Nora in her tracks.

Still, Yang’s legs didn’t straighten right away. A strange anxiety that had nothing to do with her promise to Blake burned at her gut. Something linked to Cardin’s snide comment, to the commanding, cold voice that kept rising out of her memories. To black tangled hair and the image of a woman who just kept surviving. The instinct to push the fear away and to seek comfort wrestled with each other, the battle tearing at her chest.

“...’m an idiot.” Her voice came out, quiet and desperate, too tired to think about the fact she was saying it out loud.

The hand on her shoulder squeezed once, harder than before. “Y’ a lot of things. ‘Idiot’ ain’t one.” Pyrrha’s voice was soft, contrasting with the grip.

Yang exhaled, shakily. “...watch me. Make sure I don’t...”

“Breathe, Yang. I’ll watch. I’ll stop you if I see somethin’ you don’t.”

Her eyes stung, and immediately she felt a need to distance her, to flee to somewhere private. She stood, carefully backing away, pulling her gown off. Pyrrha let her go, settling down on the metal stool. Yang watched as Pyrrha’s hand took Yang’s place on Blake’s neck, her touch soft and careful. “Oh - Yang. Don’t sleep in that shirt, grab some of my clothes.”

Yang blinked back the tears that wouldn’t go away. “Okay.” She choked out. “Thanks.” She turned before she could see Pyrrha look back, offer a comforting smile that she couldn’t handle right now, and stumbled towards Pyrrha and Jaune’s bedroom.


 Yang’s footsteps grew fainter, fading into quiet.

A long pause. Then a sigh. “Y’know, if you keep adoptin’ grown women like this, we’re not gon’ have room in this house for children.”

A woman’s voice chuckled. “I can worry about her a little.”

“You worry about every livin’ soul in this town. And you just got one more added to your flock.” Another pause. “...Never seen her like that.” The doctor sounded more musing than suspicious. “She’s good-hearted, sure, but racin’ out in the middle of the night to find this girl... know she stuck her neck out for her, but this is...”

“Odd?”

“Mm. I’m still not convinced there’s not somethin’ else goin’ on with this girl. Gods forbid Yang gets her heart broken twice.”

The silence that followed was thick, full of thoughts and silent judgments. Finally, the woman’s voice returned, laced with quiet conviction. “She ain’t Raven. That much I know. Past that, we’ll see.”

“How can you possibly know that?” Despite the wording, the doctor’s tone held more genuine questioning than dismissal.

The fingers on Blake’s throat shifted. “Because the feelin’ ‘tween them is mutual, whatever it is.”

“Again, how d’you figure that?”

Sheriff Nikos’ laugh was quiet, but genuine. “Jaune, how many times have you seen someone wake up in a panic on the table? And of those other times, how many of those people were calmed back down within five seconds, by someone they just met a couple hours ago starin’ them in the eye and sayin’ their name a few times?”

Another long, long pause.

Blake, lucid but comfortably intoxicated by the drug induced haze, considered the idea of speaking, telling the two humans that Yang had turned her world upside down. That she’d shielded Blake from the human rancher that would have hurt her, even while Blake had a knife to her throat. That she’d tended to Blake’s wounds with a sort of tenderness that she hadn’t felt since childhood. That they’d locked eyes, and Blake couldn’t find anything but honesty in the lilac irises. That in the span of a few minutes Yang had become the first safe haven she’d known in years. That the last of her desire to keep her distance, keep her thoughts guarded, had completely shattered when Yang revealed that Gambol was okay. That the sight of the lilac eyes and blonde hair had settled her body before her mind could recognize who it was. That the only reason she wasn’t trying to escape the room now was because she knew Yang was somewhere outside. That she’d listened to the last few words with confusion and fear, unable to imagine that anyone could hurt the beautiful woman, horrified that they thought she might hurt her too. That she could feel her soul leaking out of her body, weaving its way into the golden locks and ripped plaid shirt, wanting to hold her as badly as she wanted to be held.

That she was starting to think that Adam was wrong about the kindness of humans, and she hadn’t questioned that for years.

But she didn’t want to talk, because even under the influence of the painkillers, she knew that the thoughts and feelings running wild through her head were dangerous and shouldn’t be voiced. The buzz was calling her, promising a comfortable darkness. Blake let it pull her down towards the true sleep that she’d been evading, enduring the pain because she wanted to feel Yang’s hands on her skin, keep experiencing this strange kindness that was ripping her soul open.

As the world started to fade, she heard Dr. Arc - Jaune - speak again. “Where did that come from, by the way? Yang askin’ you to watch her.”

“Ah. We can thank Cardin for that.” The sherriff’s voice turned into an irritated grumble. “Had the window open while you were scrubbin’ in. Idiot said somethin’ about ‘Xiao Longs and their bandits’ as he left.”

A slow, disbelieving whistle.

“Yeah. I’m amazed Yang didn’t shoot him where he stood.”

Even half asleep, Blake’s anger flared at the thought of the man - the same one who’d cornered her in the shed and only retreated (with a rather satisfying scream) when Blake had grabbed a knife - poking at some dark and painful corner of Yang’s mind.

A slurred growl escaped her lips. “Fuckin’ spiderroach.”

She felt both the doctor and sheriff jump, turning to look at her, but Blake had already faded away.


 

Chapter Artwork can be viewed here!

Chapter Text

Sunlight streamed through the window, and the tiny cot was wide as hayfield with only one body in it. Blake’s nerves awoke faster than she did, her stomach curling into anxious knots before she’d even fully realized that she was awake. The blurry, wooden room around her, with all the warmth that the mid-morning sun was painting it in, was unfamiliar and still.

The silence, the silence was the problem - no grumble of young faunus crawling out of their tents, no chirping birds, no snorting of horses. No skin pressed against against her back and shoulders, no arm tight around her chest. Instead, the quiet hung heavy around her ears, foreign and confusing, broken only by a muffled scrape of metal on metal.

Fear slowly reached out of her gut, into her chest. Something had happened, that much she could remember, but the details were fuzzy, clouded by sleep and possibly something else.

Breathe, idiot. Blake closed her eyes again, feeling the cool morning air rush in through her nose as her mind probed at the blurry memories.

Her eyes flew straight back open as the right side of her chest burst into flames as it was forced to rise. As if triggered by the pain, every memory from the past twenty-four hours came rushing back.

For a long moment, Blake was immobilized by both pain and fear, breathing turning into short, pained pants. The painkillers from last night had dulled both, let her settle into a sort of peace. But they had long since worn off, and now Blake was full of sharp edges.

Suspicion and defensive anger were the first emotions to reach her. Instead of screaming in blind fear and trying to leap off of the bed, like she had last night, Blake stayed still, eyes darting around her surroundings. Wooden logs formed walls and a ceiling around her, the room bare save for a battered dresser and the bed she was in. A bedroom, maybe intended for a guest or child. The sheets slipped over her chest as did her best to breathe, unfamiliar cloth covering her torso and legs. Relief that she was, at least, wearing some kind of clothing immediately faded as she realized that bandages were lying underneath, constricting around her chest and her hip. The latter, she realized, was aching in a way different from her ribs. Not sparking with pain, but instead slowly burning with a constant dull ache.

An undercurrent of fear tugged at her. She’d only caught a couple glimpses of the wound - once in the shed, when it was dark and all she could see was a dark gash in her side and she’d been relieved that Adam had missed. The second time, she saw it in full light while in the doctor’s office - her own bone had looked back at her and she’d known that Adam hadn’t missed. She’d also known then that it was too wide to suture closed. She still knew it. The wound pulsed underneath the bandages, daring her to guess what kind of shape it was in.

The window offered a welcome distraction, and Blake turned her head, ears slowly swiveling forwards. Long grass shifted slightly in the breeze as a red roan horse contentedly grazed upon it. Further back, pine trees that the morning’s light had yet to reach through stood on the other side of a wooden fence.

On a better day, Blake might have appreciated the safety of four walls and no living soul in sight. Right now, however, the world was full of claws and gunpowder, and she was exposed and alone.

Yang Xiao Long suddenly returned to her thoughts, swirling around like a question, a fear, a hope. She’d asked her to stay, but she could remember exactly the moment she’d left. At the time it hadn’t bothered her, sunk too deep into a drug-induced haze. Now it bit at her, made her picture how many different ways leaving her alone with two strange humans could have gone wrong. Yang was human, just like the rest of them, she told herself roughly. A faunus would never be a true equal in her eyes, in no one’s eyes. The shock and pain must have addled her brain, forced her to misplace her trust in the first friendly face she’d found. The unnatural amounts of comfort that the blonde hair and lilac eyes had brought her were a weakness now, proof that Adam had been right to cast her out.

Adam.

“And when you’ve seen enough, I’ll come and get you, and we can go back to our war.”

Her breath stilled. What would he do if he instead found her enjoying the human’s company, letting herself trust them?

She knew exactly what he would do. The urge to run seeped into her bones, overcoming pain and logic. If he found her out in the woods, injured, she could convince him that they had tried to take advantage of her and turn her against him. He would believe it, he would welcome her back. She could even leave Gambol, he wouldn’t know she’d survived, she’d find a new home with a braver, better rider. The pieces fit together so well that she almost felt proud of herself for coming up with the plan so quickly. All she had to do was get out of the damn bed.

Blake forced her spine to bend, curling one arm underneath her. Her ribs sparked again, and she was expecting it. However, she wasn’t expecting the dull ache in her hip to explode the second she tried to sit up.

A faint whimper that did no justice to the agony sparking from her body escaped her lips. Blake shook, but she did not fall back to the bed. Instead, she pushed her arms underneath her, lifted herself up until she felt her shoulders touch the headboard, then collapsed against it. She panted against the pain searing through her side, eyes sliding shut. But at least she was upright now.

A slow, admiring whistle. From her immediate right, where she hadn’t looked yet. Blake’s head snapped over.

Blue eyes. Red hair.

Everything stopped.

The eyes blinked, face tilting. Two eyes, not one, both a paler shade of blue. The hair was more of a dull orange than a deep, unnatural red.

Slowly, Blake’s vision unfocused, allowing her to see the rest of the room’s corner. The eyes and hair belonged to a woman, leaning backwards in a wooden chair. A white stetson hung off the back of the chair, its presence clearly missed by the ruffled, messy hair that just reached to her shoulders. A dark button-up shirt was undone and untucked, exposing a white undershirt with a messily stitched pink heart over her chest. Her legs were lazily crossed, clad in torn jeans, but the holster and the pistol within were visible over her left hip. Between them, a small bedside table held a small metal tin and an open jar that was filled with water.

Blake remembered Russet, feebly telling Adam about a crazy woman on a pink horse. Memories from before that slowly rose, stories from the young faunus they’d recruited about Nora Valkyrie, one of the three lawmen who worked under Sheriff Nikos. Stories of brutal fights and broken limbs. Usually the tales were linked to underestimating the woman’s strength or sanity. Or to attempts to withhold vital information from the Sheriff.

The woman that Blake assumed had to be Nora Valkyrie locked eyes with her. Her gaze was piercing, not quite aggressive but not friendly either. She uncrossed her legs, resting her elbows on her knees. Laced her fingers together, leaned forwards to rest her chin on them, blue eyes narrowing. Without speaking a word, it became abundantly clear that this was an interrogation, and that she expected Blake to cooperate.

She would have laughed if it weren’t for the splitting pain on both sides of her torso. There weren’t enough unbroken bones in her body for the lawwoman to drag any information out of her. Adam was a bastard, even she wouldn’t defend that, but he was still Adam and her loyalty to him ran deeper than her loyalty to the White Fang. She would die before revealing a word about him, or his plans.

Her resolve wavered as she remembered spilling his name to Yang the night before. She internally cursed herself, wondering when, exactly, she’d become so weak and soft. No matter. Her jaw tightened, and she took a breath to-

“Do you eat pancakes?”

That... wasn’t what she was expecting. The tone was genuine, as if Nora was offering a guest her choice of breakfast, but their eyes stayed locked together like the antlers of two dueling bucks. Blake’s suspicion clouded. Some kind of odd interrogation tactic? A distraction? Her ears slowly pinned.

As if they weren’t staring each other down, Nora continued in a more patient tone. “Pancakes. Flour, water, milk, throw ‘em on the stovetop, eat ‘em in the mornin’. You had that before?”

“..yes.” In her mind, the answer was cold and indifferent. Instead, her voice shook traitorously as her chest sparked in protest at the slightly bigger exhale necessary to form a single word. She winced before she could stop herself, breaking the staring match they’d been locked in. Instinctively, Blake shrunk down slightly, waiting for Nora to pounce onto the exposed weakness.

“Yes, you know what they are? Or yes, you eat them?” The tone didn’t change, staying in the grey area between cold and genuine. Blake dared to glance at the blue eyes to find that they also hadn’t changed - staring her down, sizing her up, looking for something other than a weakness.

Finally, the scared suspicion lifted; not out of a probably misplaced desire to trust, like it had with Yang, but out of sheer confusion. A real answer fell out of her mouth before she could think it over. “Both.”

For one moment longer, Nora examined her.

Then, as if Blake had passed some kind of test, her face broke into a friendly, toothy grin. “Great. Ren’s makin’ some right now, should be ready in a few minutes. Jaune said you need to eat somethin’ this mornin’ too, so no excuses. Think you can walk to the kitchen, or should I bring them here?”

Blake wondered if she was in some kind of drug-induced delirium. “I... I don’t... what?”

Nora sighed theatrically, leaning back. “If you think y’ confused, consider that Ren and I just walked into the sheriff’s house to find out why no one showed up to the office this mornin’, and found the doc stumblin’ out to see a patient, and the sheriff, deputy, and a faunus I’ve never seen in my life all still out cold.”

“...so ...you made breakfast?”

She shrugged, “I’m hungry.”

Nothing about this situation was making sense, yet Blake could feel some of the tension unwrapping from her gut. Yang was still in the house. Blake silently cursed herself, because the knowledge shouldn’t make her feel better, not after how she’d resolved not to trust anyone only moments ago.

As if reading her thoughts, Nora eyed her, some of the coldness coming back to her eyes. “Pyrrha’s up now. Said that y’ the faunus that got ‘tween Yang and the asshole yesterday. Said she found you overnight and brought you back to get patched up.”

Her gut twinged. Blake turned her head, finding the window. The pink horse was still grazing nearby, the trees waiting outside just as tall and dark as they were before.

“Why’d you stop him?”

Blake looked back, and found the real interrogation waiting. All the suspicion swirling in her head was now reflecting back at her from Nora’s furrowed eyebrows. The blue gaze seared through her, as if she might find the answer she was looking for printed on the back of Blake’s eyes. There was suddenly no doubt in Blake’s mind that if this had been planned, if she’d intended to save Yang to cozy up to the sheriff's office, if Adam’s brutality had been a cover to get her on the inside, if Blake was taking advantage of Yang’s hospitality, Nora would see through it. She would waste no time in hauling her out by the scruff of her neck, throwing her straight back out into the woods. Blake was well versed in spotting the danger simmering behind irises by now; this was a very different beast than what lurked within Adam, but it was no less dangerous. It was a beast that demanded the truth, and nothing less.

The resolve she’d had only moments ago faded. This wasn’t about the White Fang, or Adam, this was about Yang. And despite all her suspicion, her fear, her anger, Blake knew that she didn’t want to hurt her. It suddenly seemed important that the possibly insane woman sitting in front of her know that too.

Her hands silently tightened on the covers. Her eyes and Nora’s were locked again, but this time it was communication rather than a duel. Blake let the mask go, let her eyebrows relax and her jaw loosen. Nora’s gaze tightened, staying locked on as Blake felt all of the uncertainty, confusion, and terror of the past day rise to the surface, let it tighten in her throat, let it shorten her breath.

She let herself remember the moment before she and Gambol had plunged into the river, and the moment that she’d ran away from the White Fang camp. The snap she’d felt in her chest on both occasions, the resolve to change the course of events. The terror that came with the thought of what would happen if she didn’t.

The thought of Gambol’s demise at Adam’s hands was easy to understand.

The thought of Yang floating face-down in the river...

Nora’s eyes shifted, the same way a thunderclap fades into a rumble. She leaned back, breaking the eye contact to run up and down Blake’s slender, broken form, sitting up in a bed that wasn’t hers, in clothes she didn’t own. Blake lowered her head, closing her eyes, gritting her teeth as she tried to breathe, to regain the composure she’d lost.

“You regret it?”

She exhaled, wincing again. Pain shocked up and down her torso as she forced herself to take deeper inhale. She was alone in a world she didn’t understand, and everything she’d known before was crumbling before her eyes. If she had done nothing, she would be in the White Fang camp right now, pressed against Adam’s chest, looking at the wall of their tent. Remembering lilac eyes and the word ‘ma’am’.

Blake couldn’t open her eyes to meet the blue gaze again. She shook her head.

Another long pause, as Blake slowly stuffed all her fears away, then tried to find a corner to shove the pain into. The chair squeaked as Nora stood. “Jaune said he tried to stitch up the big wound on y’ hip. Got the important parts - whatever that means - but some of it was too wide. He cauterized that part and wrapped it up with some honey, seems to think it’ll scar over with enough time.”

Her ears slowly flattened, quietly relieved that she’d answered the question Blake was too afraid to ask. “...okay.”

A rattle on the bedside table; Nora pushed the metal tin towards her, along with the jar of water. “Take both of the pills in there. One’s an antibiotic, the other’s the same painkiller he gives to me n’ Yang when we get roughed up.  If y’ not out in a few minutes, I’ll bring you a couple pancakes.”

And with that, the strange woman picked up her hat and walked out of the room, spurs jingling, closing the door behind her with a muted thud.

The quiet pressed in on her. The panicked voices that argued in Adam’s favor were silent now, maybe too shocked to speak. So were the angry, suspicious ones, leaving her with nothing but exhaustion, confusion, and the shattered remains of the plan that probably wouldn't have worked anyways.

Blake’s ears slowly perked, focusing on following Nora’s footsteps down the hall instead of her own swirling thoughts. She heard the scrape of metal on metal again, imagined the soft flap of batter being flipped on the stovetop. Nora’s voice was muffled by the walls but easily caught by her feline ears. “Make at least two more of those, Ren.”

A quiet male voice. “Didn’t hear screaming.”

“Turns out, if you don’t wake a lady up by takin’ off her shirt, she doesn’t try to kill you.”

Pyrrha’s voice, muffled and slurred with sleep, piped up. “Give Jaune a break, he felt awful.” A pause. “...So?” There was a short, expectant silence, as if the two other people in the kitchen had been waiting with baited breath for some time.

The scrape of a chair on a wooden floor, a heavy ‘flump’ of someone sitting down. “Not a plot. Not sure why the White Fang is hangin’ around, but whatever it is ain’t involved with this.”

Blake could barely hear Pyrrha’s relieved sigh. The confused, pondering tone that followed, however, was easier to hear. “Then why did she-”

“She’s got no idea, and it scares the shit out’a her.”

A long silence followed. Long enough for Blake’s pride to sting at just how well the human had read her. She leaned forwards, staring at the dresser ahead of her, ears low and tired. For once, she didn’t want the quiet around her. She didn’t want to hear her own thoughts, didn’t want to think about her next step, didn’t want to think about ‘why’.

Another metallic scrape, and the calm male voice returned. “We’ll worry about that later. Someone should wake Yang up.”

“Nah, leave her. Knowin’ Yang, she’ll be mad we woke her up with no food on the table yet.”

“Might not be a bad idea to wake her up anyways, her back’s gon’ be sore. She’s on the floor in my room right now, nearly stepped on her when I woke up. I think she went in and checked on Blake durin’ the night, she was on the bed when I fell asleep.”

Blake felt her body curling, knees rising to her damaged torso, elbows crossing over top of them. She was tired. So tired. She was tired of constantly calculating the odds, playing her cards close to the chest, keeping herself away from the rest of the world, looking for danger in every face she could find, countlessly replaying every memory to glean information that could keep her alive.

But her mind didn’t like unknowns. The problem kept flashing up in her face, demanding her attention, demanding that she fill in the blanks. Blake closed her eyes and gave in, replaying the moments of vulnerability she’d experienced while in Yang’s company. She shoved her emotions aside, focusing on the facts, what she knew was true.

She instinctively wanted to trust the human. There was a strange but undeniable connection between them. She had prevented Yang’s death. Yang had prevented hers.

Perhaps this was a simple return of a favor. Perhaps Yang didn’t feel the same connection that Blake did.

The thought was comforting and horrifying. Blake found herself tiredly probing at her memory yet again, searching for any of Yang’s behaviour that couldn’t be explained by the new theory.

Yang’s shaking voice, right before she left last night. The sheriff and doctor’s conversation. The name “Raven”. Together, they suggested that Yang was as nervous about a connection as Blake herself was.

The talking in the other room had faded into mumbled conversation, the smell of food cooking now reaching her. They hadn’t woken up Yang yet.

Guilt nibbled at her gut, but her mind was made up. She needed to talk to Yang before the others woke her, and judge for herself what might be happening.

Slowly, every movement a shock up her spine, she forced herself to turn, to hang her legs off the edge of the bed. She shook, but she fumbled for the metal tin on the bedside table. Twisted off the top, and tilted out the two pills into her hand. One was small and white, the other longer and green tinged. They both looked like every other pill she’d ever seen.

Blake closed her eyes, and shoved them both into her mouth, swallowed them with a mouthful of water before she could lose her nerve. Closed her eyes, and pinned her ears.

Her legs, in theory, were fine. She kept repeating it to herself as her bare feet touched the wooden floor, as she slowly placed weight on them, as she forced herself to stand. Her vision blurred and her head spun, one hand pressed flat to the wall, the bandage both supportive and constricting around her chest and hip, doing little to stop the blazing pain sparking from both places. But she’d made up her mind, and pain was a familiar enemy that Blake knew how to fight. One step, then another, careful to stay quiet as she opened the door.

She could see the kitchen at one end of the hallway. A tall man with long black hair had his back to her, focused on the stovetop. Nora and Pyrrha’s voices echoed, discussing something about the office, out of sight. The other end of the hallway had two doors - one was open, and she could see a familiar counter and sink in it. The other, across from it, was closed.

Blake hobbled towards it, supporting herself against the wall, blinking to keep her vision straight. As she reached the door, hesitation gripped her. Maybe she should just let Yang rest. Maybe she didn't want to know if this world-destroying feeling was mutual. But she’d come this far, and she steeled herself before silently turning the metal knob.

This bedroom was larger, though not by much. Blake’s sensitive eyes swept around it, soundlessly closing the door behind her. A simple dresser stood in the corner, a wardrobe off to one side, and a wide, empty bed pushed towards the middle.

And in the middle of the room, Yang was laying on her back, a single pillow under her head, her tattered brown hat tilted down so that the brim covered her eyes. For a long moment, Blake allowed herself to just look at the woman. She was still wearing most of the clothing that Blake had last seen her in - faded denim pants, scuffed brown leather boots, and a tattered belt. The bloodstained orange plaid shirt had been tossed into the corner with the leather holster and boots, and instead she wore a simple, thick red shirt, not unlike the black one that Blake had found herself in. The long, golden hair spilled out around her, tangles shining in the sunlight. Her hands were callused, scars running across her fingers and knuckles like script. She looked like she was carved from leather and forged from gold; she reminded Blake of the worn carvings of dragons that had decorated temples in Mistral.

One of her hands twitched, and Blake was suddenly acutely aware that she was frozen in place, staring at Yang’s sleeping form. She blinked rapidly, trying to clear her head, and realized she had no plan for how to awaken her. She hadn’t really even though about it, but standing there, every move forcing her to wince, she realized that if Yang was as easily startled from sleep as Adam was (or Blake herself was, for that matter), Blake would not be fast enough to move out of the way.

Blake bit her lip, hobbled slightly closer. Slowly, hesitantly, she reached out with her foot and gently prodded at one of Yang’s legs. Nothing. Blake focused on her chest, relieved as she saw it rise and fall. The same nervousness clinging to her every move, she tried to very, very gently kick at the same leg. The foot moved easily, but the girl on the floor did not rouse.

Apparently nothing she did was working today. Her breath came out in a frustrated exhale - triggering an immediate whimper. “Fucks sake. ” She hissed under her breath, wishing to beat her own misbehaving body into submission.

“Good mornin’ to you too.”

Yang’s hat tilted slightly, exposing a fully open lilac eye. An amused smile pulled at one corner of her mouth as she regarded the frozen woman standing by her feet.

“...how long have you been awake?” Blake felt her cheeks burning, a bit betrayed.

The smile grew as Yang sat up and pulled the hat off, turning sheepish. “Not long. Heard the door openin’, wanted to see what you were up to.” Dark bags hung below her eyes as they darted up and down Blake’s form. “How y’ feelin’? Didn’t expect to see you on y’ feet so fast.”

“Feel like being alive hurts.” She answered dryly, a tired smile of her own fighting to surface though the constant wincing from the pain shooting up and down her torso.

A chuckle. “I can imagine.” Yang slowly stood, stretching, before looking her over. It hadn’t really occurred to Blake until now just how tall Yang was - with neither of them wearing boots, Blake’s eyes were just level with her nose. Yang slowly tilted her head, looking at her with a mix of curiosity and concern. To a mixture of her horror and amazement, Blake felt the anxiety slipping under her gaze, giving way into the same content that she’d blamed on drugs last night.

The plan. The plan to see if Yang was in the same strange boat she was. Right. Blake shifted her weight. “I... I came in here to tell you that the others are making breakfast. They were going to wait and wake you up once it was ready, I... thought I’d come in sooner.”

Yang’s head tilted, the curious look deepening slightly “...thank you.” Blake averted her eyes, let the silence become awkward. She could hear Yang’s clothes rustle as she shuffled. “...you’d be welcome to eat with ‘em, if y’ feel up to it.”

“Are animals allowed in the kitchen?” Her tone came across as dryly amused. In reality, she let her eyes sneak in Yang’s direction, trying to quietly read her response. Awkwardly try to pass off the fact that usually faunus weren’t welcome in eating environments, deny that the other humans would have a problem with her, acknowledge the divide between them in some way.

Instead, Yang snorted. “No, which is why Cardin didn’t get an invitation to spend the night.”

Blake blinked. Before she could stop herself, a genuine laugh bubbled up and escaped her mouth - then immediately forced her to lean against the wall, cringing as her chest painfully shook.

“Oh, shit.” Yang’s softly amused face snapped to anxious in an instant, reaching for Blake’s shoulder. “Y’ alright?”

Out of instinct born of a thousand unwanted touches, Blake moved to intercept her, but Yang’s hand found her first.

Warmth, gentle pressure, just like last night when Blake was too exhausted or scared to really comprehend it. Today, she knew her mind was as sober and sane as it could be, despite her half-hearted hopes otherwise. She was fully aware of the way the warmth seeped through her skin into her bones, the way the muscles she weren’t aware were tight eased.

Something twitched in her gut. Something that she couldn’t define, couldn’t explain. Like if the hand lifted, she would fall apart.

She saw Yang’s eyes move from her face to the half-raised hand that had moved to stop her. Saw her wince, thinking she’d crossed a line. Felt her hand start to lift away.

Faster than either of them could blink, Blake’s hand flew the rest of the way to Yang’s. She felt it twitch as hers touched it, as if struck by an electric shock. Yang seemed to freeze for a heartbeat. Blake wasn’t sure if she pulled the hand back to her shoulder, or if she just followed it there, but the warm contact appeared again, chasing the tension away from her body.

The lilac irises darted back up, met Blake’s. Wider than they should be. Eyebrows knit in bewilderment. Blake realized that her own expression was identical at the same time as a flash of recognition lit Yang’s own.

“Yang!”

Both women jumped - one cursing immediately after - involuntarily breaking contact as their eyes turned to the closed door. Nora’s voice echoed from the kitchen, muffled as though full of food. “You’ve lost one pancake already, Ren’s not gon’ make more!”

“Gods, Nora!” Yang snarled with a little more force than necessary, running an unsteady hand through her hair, shaking her head. Blake’s mind grabbed at the details, storing them away. This... wasn’t how she’d planned on finding out if Yang shared the connection, or if she was as worried about it as Blake was. But it was proof, solid and tangible, that something was there, and Yang wasn't comfortable with it either.

The flash of triumph faded quickly as Blake realized she had no idea if the revelation was good or bad.

Blake’s eyes moved to the floor, desperately reaching for something, anything, that could explain what was happening, give her mind some rest, make the ground stop moving under her feet-

“Hey.” Her eyes flicked up. Yang nodded towards the door - she still looked uncertain, off-balance, but slightly more composed than before. “Look. I... let’s eat somethin’. Then we gon’ talk.”

A statement, not a question. The idea of actually discussing what was happening in her head was foreign and intimidating to Blake, but then again, so was everything else. So she nodded, and followed as the blonde woman shouldered the door open.


Chapter artwork featuring Scary Nora can be viewed here!

 

Chapter Text

Most people would assume that Adam Taurus didn’t feel much for fear, or insecurity. Unfortunately for him, those people would be wrong.

The long prairie grass rippled in the breeze, brushing against Wilt’s legs like waves against a ship. Adam gritted his teeth, focusing on sweeping the mud and dust away from the shining red coat instead of how heavy his eyelids felt every time he blinked. Or the way that molten rage sloshed around in his chest, threatening to burn straight through his ribs and seep out onto the ground.

His good eye flipped upwards. The cloudless sky stretched above him, the dawn’s faint light bouncing off the skeleton of a barn beside him. The tall horse swished his tail, showing no interest in the grass at his feet. Adam threw the brush at a fence post, wood bouncing off wood with a satisfying ‘tock’ and thudding to the ground. He pulled a metal hoof pick from his back pocket. Wilt picked up his foot as Adam gripped his foreleg. No words or ear flicks were exchanged between the horse and rider as he dug out the dirt and stones from the hoof, as usual.  

Rage splashed against the inside of his chest again as his sleepless night came back to the forefront of his mind. Remorse wasn’t something that came easily to him. But even so, at one point during the night he’d considered going back and looking for Blake. As furious as he still was, her absence had become very real when he returned to the camp. It had been easy enough to explain it to his followers and the younger faunus that they’d recruited - “she needed some space to clear her head, so I gave it to her” .  But with every hour that passed, it became harder and harder to convince himself that she had even made it to the human that she seemed so convinced was worth her time and efforts. He’d spent the entire night tossing and turning, cursing Blake’s name over and over, torn between the desperate need to have her body next to his, the stubborn resolve to let her suffer in her own solitude, and a faceless anxiety that, at times, had swallowed everything else and left him paralyzed in his own bed.

But, like always, it all came back to the same frustration and rage. 

Blake had always gotten it easy. She’d always avoided the worst of the hurt by running away or exploiting the weaknesses that humans had for small, cute things. Letting him vent his anger to her was not a steep price in comparison to what the two of them had been through, what he’d taken for her in the past. Besides, everything he did had a purpose - to teach her to move faster, to think smarter, to show respect, to recognize when she was outmatched. And yet, apparently she was still too spoiled and naive to recognize just how good she had it with him, to see how much effort he’d put into her.

So, despite his unending torment, Adam had not gone out to find her. He’d stayed in the camp, soothed only by the knowledge that Blake would be suffering too. She wouldn’t die - she just had a bullet graze and broken ribs, he’d survived far worse - but she would need to recognize just how badly the world had it out for them. It had been a very, very long time since he’d left Blake on her own, but in the past it had worked well to bring her back to reality. He needed her loyalty and drive to be strong again.

Deep down, he knew that he needed her beside him. She could bring him back down from a boil, she could breathe sanity and logic back into his ear. He knew he could survive a few days alone again. But he knew that the longer she was gone, the more unstable he would become. And that, if anything, just deepened the lake of fury inside him - because she knew that she had a duty to him. She knew that his sanity was her responsibility. And yet here they were, with her threatening to abandon her cause, and him being forced to remind her what her disloyalty might bring out of him.

As little as the two seemed to care about the other to the untrained eye, both horse and rider were well tuned to the other’s body language. Even through the thoughts swirling in his head, Adam felt the leg in his hands stiffen. He immediately dropped the hoof and whirled, gripping the hoof pick as if intending to use it as a weapon.

Russet, dark bags visible under his own eyes, slowly raised his hands in a clear show of submission on the other side of the fence. “...’pologies, Leader Taurus.”

Adam swallowed a snarl, instead forcing his voice into a cool tone. “Nothing to forgive. What is it?”

The younger faunus visibly relaxed, shuffling his feet. He was the oldest out of the lot that Adam had recruited in the area, and decidedly the least annoying out of them. “Jasper came back from watchin’ the train tracks early this mornin’.”

“And?”

“Same as last week - quarter after three, twenty small cars, all SDC.” Russet clicked his claws together. “If y’ man is right about the mine in Forever Fall having a huge breakthough, they’re keepin’ it back and only shippin’ small bits at a time. They gon’ have a huge overstock if they keep doin’ it like that.”

Adam felt himself smile. “Excellent.”

Russet paused. “...another thing. Jasper said she heard some humans on her way back. Went out once she told me, found some footprints near the camp - couple of them, bigger feet. I’m thinkin’ humans.”

The rage simmered. “Lawmen?”

Russet was already shaking his head. “Nah. They would’a just hit us in the night when everyone was asleep, they ain’t the type for spyin’. More worried about bandits... there’s a group in the area, but they usually don’ care as long as y’ not tryin’ to move in on the supply lines they...” Russet’s eyes moved to look behind him, concern suddenly passing his face. “Is... is the horse okay?”

Adam looked over his shoulder. Wilt was standing right where he’d left him, repeatedly stomping the foot that Adam had dropped. The stallion’s hide bounced and trembled, head raised and eyes fixed ahead of him. Adam grunted, recognizing one of Wilt’s... episodes. He opened his mouth to give some kind of excuse to shut the kid up, not wanting to bother with explaining.

Wilt’s head abruptly jerked to the side, nostrils flaring, eyes bulging. Shit.

Adam leapt over the fence exactly as the horse exploded upwards. Unnatural screeching left the horse’s mouth as he sprung backwards and sideways, head weaving, snorting with uneven breaths. Russet scrambled backwards, swearing as the huge body collided with the solid wood fence between them, sending a crack through the air and one of the wooden planks.

Both faunus scrambled out of the way, but Wilt did not attempt to jump the fence. Instead the horse moved in jerky, uncoordinated circles, head high, nostrils wide with the effort inhaling one huge breath after another. His ears stayed as still and dead as ever, turned mildly backwards as the rest of the stallion panicked.

“What in the name of Darkness i-”

Adam cut the younger faunus off with a sharp swing of his arm, slinging his rifle off of his back, knowing that there was only one smell that could send Wilt into this much panic. As if in response to his thoughts, a howl cut through the air, echoing from behind the barn beside them. “INTRUDERS!”

Russet swore, turning and bolting towards the tents. Adam was already moving, sprinting past Wilt’s paddock and skidding around the barn, the faint sounds of the rest of the camp rousing faintly reaching him.

The first image he processed was that of a human man with long dirty blonde hair shoving a young faunus to the ground. The second was of the other five humans that stood behind him, all with guns drawn. He glared at Adam before flashing a grin that was missing one tooth back down at the girl. “Didn’ even have to ask you to take us to y’ leader.”

The short woman snarled, baring pointed teeth as she got to her feet and slunk backwards as Adam approached. He kept his rifle raised, his body made still and calm by the overwhelming volume of fury that surged within him. “State your business, human.”

Missing Tooth continued to smile. “Just a friendly visit, from one bandit to the other.”

Adam’s eyes narrowed, feeling his followers catching up and forming rank behind him. “We’ve been in the area for two weeks, this is the first you've bothered to stop in.”

“Oh, we’ve been around. We tend to leave the town be, most of ‘em ain’t got so much as two shiny sticks to rub together.” None of the humans seemed intimidated by the faunus gathering, all five focusing on Adam as Missing Tooth continued to talk. “We’ve been toleratin’ you lot for a bit, but my leader’s patience is startin’ to wear thin.”

“Is it, now?” His voice sunk into a deeper, calm tone.

A short, slender woman with short brown hair seemed to sense the danger, tilting her head, examining his face with pale blue eyes. Missing Tooth clearly didn’t, continuing in the same cocksure tone. “Mm. She’s asked us to deliver a friendly message - you got a week to find a different town to play with. After that, we’ll have a problem.”

“We already have a problem. We’ll be staying here for two weeks longer. No more, no less.”

Missing Tooth snorted in disbelief. “Look, you got spirit but you don’ get who y’ talkin’ to.”

“Neither do you.”

Adam let the silence stretch, let it vibrate with tension. The humans met his glare easily, but with varying degrees of suspicion and hatred. Wilt’s screaming had stopped, but the occasional snort still broke the air.

He lowered the rifle. “But, I’m willing to discuss the matter.”

Pale Eyes raised her eyebrows. Missing Tooth, on the other hand, smirked. “Smart choice, boy. And we’d prefer to discuss it where there ain’t a bunch of animals shovin’ guns in our faces.”

The polite smile was foreign and dirty on his face. “Of course. This way.”

As he turned, he could see the confusion on the faces of the younger, newly recruited faunus’ faces. However, his five long-time followers kept their own faces the same as his - calmly polite, rage betrayed only by the occasional flick of an ear and twitch of a finger, watching his back carefully as the humans followed him along the side of the barn.

The shadow of a pacing horse stretched long ahead of him, its source blocked by the barn’s wall. He slowed his pace slightly, looking over his shoulder with his good eye. “Does your group make a habit of chasing every other group out of the area?”

“Nah,” Missing Tooth yawned, unconcerned, while Pale Eyes watched intently but still did not intervene. “Just the ones that annoy us enough to move ‘em along.”

The dawn’s light splashed across Adam’s face as he walked out from the barn's shadow, turning around. “Likewise.”

He saw Missing Tooth step into the light, his brows lowered as he processed Adam’s response. He heard a snort. He saw Missing Tooth fall into shadow again.

Wilt came straight through the fence, shattering splintered wood like glass, screaming like the Grimm. A massive red and black head collided with Missing Tooth’s neck, mouth snapping shut, rearing to lift the screaming man entirely off the ground, then slamming back down with horrific force. Both human and faunus scattered, scrambling to get away from the gory scene unfolding before them. Only Pale Eyes, Adam, and two of Adam’s eldest followers, a short man with boar tusks and a muscular woman with lop rabbit ears, remained still.

Pale Eyes locked her gaze on him through the flurry of motion and violence between them, expression cryptic. He kept his own face blank, bellying the savage pride that was sweeping over him, removing his shirt and folding it lengthwise. Adam didn’t have to wait long for the screams to fade, Wilt falling into a stock-still, stiff pose, eyes locked on the limp body at his feet, waiting for any sign  of life. Keeping his own movements relaxed, Adam stepped forwards. In one smooth motion, he threw his jacket over Wilt’s eyes, pulling it tight beneath the horse’s jaw, and pushed the velvety, blood-soaked muzzle into his shoulder. Wilt jerked, inhaling, then exhaling slowly Adam’s familiar scent drowned out the stench of human.

Careful to keep the blindfold intact, Adam stepped forwards, leading the horse with him. The other humans raised their weapons unsteadily, only to slowly lower them as the real leader of the group held her hand up. Pale Eyes regarded him, eyes analytical as Adam towered over her. “Tell your leader that we will leave in two weeks. Our mission serves a much greater purpose than your petty territory squabbles, and we will not be impeded by human arrogance. Do I make myself clear?”

Pale Eyes raised an eyebrow. Her voice was low, rough, and amused. “You’ve made y’self clear. I’ll pass y’message along.”

“Good.” Adam turned away, tightening his grip on Wilt’s blindfold as he led the horse away. “Take your corpse and get out.”

He didn’t wait to see if the humans would comply, walking past the camp to the small stream that ran alongside the old farmhouse. However, he did listen to the faint rumbling of voices as his older followers did their best to settle the probable horror that the newer ones were expressing. He knew they were probably explaining what they knew about the situation. Sometimes he liked to listen to their theories. Maybe Wilt and Adam were abused by the same human master, and that was why they both harboured such a deep hatred of humans. Maybe Adam had trained Wilt to attack humans, and after spending so much time only with faunus the horse had become sensitized to the scent of human. Maybe they were both simply insane. Usually, all the different stories amused him, made him feel like the two were young gods, their mythology just being forged.

The adrenaline and sadistic pleasure of watching Wilt’s massacre had faded into a sort of drained, empty feeling. As he led Wilt into the stream and took the blindfold off, he just saw the truth. Wilt was just a racehorse, deaf and broken from a head injury that had killed his soul and left his body alive, reacting only to occasional fits and reminders of the many, many humans that had failed to help him. Adam was just a stable boy, half-blind and broken from the sum of a hundred injustices, full of disembodied rage that would eventually consume him. Blake was just a lost girl that hid in the hayloft and promised to keep him from boiling alive in his own anger, but kept running away when he needed her most.

He gritted his teeth, soaked his shirt in the cold water, and started wiping the blood away from the motionless muzzle.


 

“Yang Xiao Long, y’ ain’t gon’ make it home tonight.”

Yang’s teeth bared in a savage grin, quickly swallowing the last of the stolen pancake fragment as Nora’s blue eyes drilled into her soul. “Bold talk from someone who ate a sleepin’ woman’s food.”

“Bold talk from someone who ain't ever beat me in an arm wrestle.”

“You kicked my chair out from under me!”

“Nothin’ in the rules sayin’ I can’t.”

Ren gave a long, slow sigh, looking over at a silent but amused Blake. “If you’re wondering, yes, they’re like this all the time.”

In all honesty, the banter was comforting. Yang’s world was still skewed and warped by the events of the past day, but the anxiety burning in her gut eased with every death threat thrown between her and Nora, while Pyrrha and Ren pointedly ignored them in favor of discussing something about the town’s train station. There was one pocket of silence around the bustling little kitchen table, and Yang kept finding herself looking sideways towards it. Blake sat beside her, ears occasionally twitching as she listened to Pyrrha and Ren’s conversation. Yang only caught sight of her eating once or twice, but to her relief the woman got through one full pancake, chopping off tiny bits at a time with the side of her fork.

Yang saw Blake’s ears twitch upwards. Seconds after, the front door swung open and Jaune tiredly plodded in. “Did anyone save any food for me?”

Nora and Yang hesitated, glancing towards the empty plate. Ren, on the other hand, neither hesitated nor looked up. “Yours are hidden inside the stove.”

Jaune stooped to grab the covered metal pan out of the oven, sighing in relief. “Y’ a godsend, Ren.”

“No, just intelligent.” Ren’s face was just as neutral as ever, but Yang could see the faintest ghost of a smile as Nora glared at him. “But I think it’s probably time we headed back into town. The town’s sheriff should really show up at her office in the morning.”

Pyrrha groaned, stretching. “Isn’t that why I pay you two?”

“No, you pay me for muscle and him for brains.” Nora chortled, but stood when Ren did, tossing over her shoulder. “We’ll go see how many fires need to be put out.” A quiet sort of silence settled in the kitchen as the two left the house, closing the front door behind them. Jaune slunk into one of the empty seats to pore over his own breakfast.

Finally, Pyrrha turned her green gaze to Blake. Yang felt the faunus tense more than she saw it, her whole body growing still. “...we need to talk about what we’re gon’ do from this point on.”

Blake’s ears slowly pinned back, and her golden eyes flicked to Yang.

Pyrrha spoke again before Yang could respond. “I’m not sayin’ you need to work with us. Or join us. Or even like us - I get the feelin’ that you ain’t had many happy experiences with humans, and I respect that.” Blake’s eyes slowly slid back over to Pyrrha, but her ears stayed flat against her skull. “But, fact is, y’ not gon’ back to the White Fang for at least a little while. I’m happy to discuss an arrangement where you stay under our care for some time.”

“And what’s stopping me from going back?” Blake’s voice was quiet, but authoritative. A threat compromised by the fact that her every exhale shook with pain.

Jaune spoke up before Pyrrha could. “The gapin’ wound in y’ side and y’ broken ribs, for starters.” Blake winced at that, but Jaune continued anyways, picking away at his food. “It’ll probably take two months for the ribs to completely heal. Durin’ that time, you need to stay quiet. The more time you spend runnin’ around, the more you’ll re-injure yourself and the longer the healin’ process will take. The wound on y’ side will be somewhat stable in to two weeks if everythin’ goes perfectly, but the only things standing between y’ pelvis and the outside world are seven stitches, a thin muscle layer, and a bandage that needs to be changed once a day. I have enough antibiotics to give you five days worth to protect you from whatever you might’a picked up yesterday. I don’t have enough supplies or funds to treat a real bone infection. So, if those stitches go-”

“I will be dead. I understand.” Her voice was small, deflated.

Jaune sighed, putting down his fork. “That said, I think you’ll heal up fine as long as you don’t push y'self. Which is why I say listen to her.” He nodded towards Pyrrha. “You need to lay low for at least two weeks. They can help with that.”

Blake’s eyes slowly turned back to Pyrrha. The red-haired woman didn’t seem fazed by the suspicion in the other woman’s face, tiredly leaning forwards. “Look, Blake. I will offer you shelter with my team for that amount of time. After that, you may have y’ choice of where you want to go, and what you want to do. However, I’d like you to consider the idea of defectin’ from the White Fang.” Blake’s ears pinned again. “This isn’t an ultimatum. I will allow you to remain here with my team while y' healin' regardless of what you choose. If you still want to go back to your gang at the end of that healin' period, I won’t stop you. I’m just askin’ you to consider it.”

With that, Pyrrha stood, picking her hat up off the back of her chair. Blake’s eyes fell to the table, while Yang leaned back, “I’ll be there in a bit, Pyrr.”

“Take y’ time.” The redhaired woman dismissively waved her hand as she walked out. “I might still be tryin' to saddle that stupid horse of mine by the time you get out there.”

Jaune yawned, standing and scooping up the plates. “You want a hand?”

“No. For the love of the Gods, Jaune, get some damned sleep.”

“Yes ma’am.”

Yang’s eyes flicked up at the title. Instinctively, they slid towards Blake - and saw the other woman glance at her out of the corner of her eye. Unaware of the silent exchange in front of him, Jaune rubbed at his eyes as he placed the dishes in the sink, and Yang finally stood. “Jaune, I’ll get the dishes. You should sleep.”

“Gods alive, Yang Xiao Long offerin’ to help around the house?” But Jaune gave her an appreciative smile before glancing over at Blake, “Try to get some rest too. It’ll help.”

Blake nodded, and Jaune slunk away to the end of the hall, leaving the two alone in the kitchen.

For a long few minutes, Yang focused on running the water into the sink, finding the soap, swishing it around in the water. Blake had her head tilted towards the hallway, ears pricked. After a few minutes - Yang presumed she was waiting to hear Jaune’s snoring - Blake finally pushed her chair out and got to her feet, making her way over to the kitchen counter.

Rather than prod her, Yang turned her eyes back to the dishes. Blake wordlessly reached for a towel and began drying the dishes as Yang washed them, neatly stacking them beside the sink.

When she handed Blake the last dish, Yang finally broke the silence. “Think you’d be more comfortable living with me for those two weeks, instead of here?”

The slim hands paused just as she finished drying the plate. Blake slowly nodded. “...I’d appreciate it.”

“I’ll talk to Jaune once he’s up - I don’t think it’ll take much convincin’.”

Blake’s brow stayed furrowed, eyes locked on the plates. Yang could feel something bubbling within the other woman, rising to the surface. “...I can’t defect.” Her voice was small. “I understand why it was offered. I think it’s from a good place. But... I can’t.”

Yang’s stomach fell, even as she mentally reasoned that she wasn’t surprised.

She must have let out a tiny exhale that betrayed her sinking stomach, because Blake suddenly tensed, eyes screwed shut. “I’m so sorry. I owe you my life, and I know that, but - but I -”

“Blake. You don’t owe me anythin’.” She forced a smile onto her face. “‘S okay, I understand.”

She regretted it immediately, because Blake’s eyes narrowed the second she looked up and saw the fake smile. Shit. Yang let the smile fall, suddenly far more afraid of losing the trust that had been placed in her. “...that was a lie. ‘S not really okay. But I do think I understand.”

For the longest second of Yang’s life, Blake looked her over with narrowed eyes. Then she exhaled, and the suspicion faded from her eyes, replaced by an exhausted sort of sadness. “...I want to. It scares me. Don’t know if that helps or not.”

“...it sort of does.”

A weak laugh, immediately followed by a wince. “At least you’re honest.” Her voice wobbled, and she turned her head.

Yang hesitated. Then, slowly, she reached out and gingerly placed her hand on Blake’s shoulder.

The contact was as warm as had been last night, as it had been earlier this morning. She felt the muscles under her hand loosen, relax, felt warmth extend up her own arm.

A slender hand reached up to lay on top of hers, and Blake turned to look at her. Her eyes were wide, still glittering with unshed tears but the exhausted sadness had fled, replaced by utter confusion.

“What is this?” She whispered, and her voice was full of fear even as Yang watched the tension seep out of her spine.

“No idea.” She heard the same confused, nervous tremble in her own voice as the comfortable warmth sunk into her own bones. Yang wasn’t a fan of small talk, or beating around the bush. Usually, she could just get straight to the bottom of a conversation. This, however... this was a different animal entirely, and she found herself struggling for words. “It’s... strange.”

It sounded flat in her head, and even worse out loud. But to her surprise, Blake rewarded her with a tiny exhale of a laugh. “Sums it up.”

“Look, I ain’t great with words.” Yang couldn’t lift her hand from Blake’s shoulder, no could she stop her thumb from rubbing the skin slightly, but she could avert her eyes and hope that it would stop Blake from noticing the burning sensation in her cheeks.

“Yes, you are.” That caught her attention. Yang glanced over to see Blake’s gaze cast to the floor, eyebrows scrunched slightly. She inhaled, wincing, seeming to summon the strength to speak. “We’re strangers.”

“Mm.”

“We have nothing in common.”

“Not much.”

“We don’t know each other.”

“‘M told that’s what ‘strangers’ means.”.

Blake rolled her eyes. “Point is, neither of us should give a damn about the other. Correct?”

“S'pose not.” Yang tilted her head, now being careful to look Blake in the eye as she continued to rub the spot on her shoulder. “But I know I give a damn about you.”

The little black ears folded backwards. “...you shouldn’t. You know you shouldn’t. You’re not that naive. You know that taking in an injured bandit isn’t going to lead to anything good.” Her voice turned desperate, golden eyes flicking back and forth across Yang’s face.

Yang knew she should say something comforting. But a piece had clicked into place in her brain, a question had been answered, a hope confirmed, and instead her thoughts slipped off her tongue. “... you give a damn about me, too, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.” Yang had expected her to deny it, surprised instead by the desperation and fear in the other woman’s voice. Blake seemed to struggle for words, eyes locking back to the floor, jaw silently working. It all said what she seemed unable to voice - I care, and it scares me.

Yang sighed, and finally gave in. She pulled Blake towards her, very gently wrapping one arm around her shoulders, the other around her waist. For a moment, the shorter woman was stock still, as though startled by the hug. Then, slowly, Yang felt her melt. Her forehead thunked against Yang’s shoulder, arms wrapped around her waist, and nearly slumped into her arms. Yang rested her chin against the sleek dark hair, sighing.

It felt real, even though she knew it wasn’t. She knew that Blake would be gone in two weeks, back in the hands of the man that had tried to kill her. But none of that mattered at the moment.

For right now, Blake was soft and comfortable in her arms, and Yang wanted the moment to last forever.


Chapter artwork for both Chapter 7 and 8 can be found here!

 

Chapter Text

“For the love of the gods, Gambol!” Yang’s voice just barely fell short of a scream as the black mare planted her sturdy hooves into the gravel bank, staunchly refusing to follow Celica into the treacherously half-inch deep water of the stream. “Y’ a wildie! I saw you almost swim two damn days ago!”

Gambol’s ears neatly laced backwards, and she took a single step forwards. As if to prove a point, the mare lowered her pitch black nose to the water’s surface, loudly snorted at it, then jumped backwards again.

Yang slowly exhaled through her nose, grip tightening on the lead rope wrapped around the saddle horn as it pulled taught. She’d stayed with Blake until the exhausted faunus had finally fallen asleep, then had a quick, quiet conversation with Jaune. True to her suspicion, he hadn’t taken much convincing, and he had agreed that, depending on how Blake did overnight, she could stay under Yang’s watch starting tomorrow morning. That settled, she’d hauled herself to the sheriff's office. To her surprise, she’d found it rather quiet - aside from a moody mare kicking the walls next to them, the calming effect of the painkillers apparently wearing off. While no one had complained, the relief was palpable in the air when Yang had offered to move Gambol to her own property instead. All three of the other lawmen had immediately agreed that Yang’s presence wasn’t needed for the rest of the day.

It had worked out perfectly at the time - the afternoon would also give her some time to set up a place for Blake to sleep. And to calm her own strained nerves, not that anyone needed to know about that particular detail.

Her nerves weren’t exactly being calmed by the series of events before her.

Gambol leaned backwards, nearly sitting down against the pressure on her halter. Gritting her teeth, Yang pulled backwards on the reins, Celica obediently backing up through the stream, pulling the rope taught. Gambol’s hooves dragged forwards through the gravel.

Then, as if a switch had been flipped, the mare abruptly stood, calmly walking forwards to the water’s edge. Yang blinked, staring.

Then swore as the black horse took two steps of a run and jumped clean over the water.

Celica barely dodged as Gambol flew towards them, landing on the gravel bank as gracefully as a deer clearing a fence. Flicking one ear towards Yang, the mare strode by as casually as though she had walked through the water, and pulled towards a patch of grass.

“Goddammit.” Yang muttered under her breath, tightening her hold on the mare’s rope. Then jumped as a snicker rang through the air.

She whirled, and groaned before she could stop herself.

“Aw, now that was just rude.” Grey was starting to rival the blonde in his hair, and the bags under his eyes had deepened, but Taiyang still looked more like an overgrown teenager than the old rancher that he’d become. Her father shook his head, riding up next to her on a small, wide-eyed grey colt. “And here I was thinkin’ that you might actually be happy to visit with y’ old man.” He chuckled before she could respond, not giving her a chance to clarify whether she was actually happy to see him or not. He tilted his head at Gambol, who was now staring at him from behind Celica. “Tell me you didn’ go out and rope yourself a wildie. I got enough to worry about with Ruby bein’ in Atlas.”

“Gods, no. That look like my tack?” Yang snorted, clearly referring to the saddle that she’d strapped onto Gambol simply to avoid carrying it. “Little mare, belongs to a-”

A bandit. That I accidentally befriended.

Yang’s breath stopped in her throat. “...Ah.”

Tai’s blue eyes flicked to her, eyebrow slowly rising.

Yang settled on a watered-down version of the truth. “...it’s tough to explain. ‘S an injured girl that Pyrrha and I stumbled ‘cross. She’s stayin’ with the sheriff office ‘till she heals up. Horse was rippin’ the stall apart at the office, figured I’d try her at home.”

“Huh.” The rancher leaned over his saddle horn, looking the mare up and down. “...easterner, I’d wager.”

Yang rolled her eyes, nudging Celica into a walk and heading for the path. “Nah. Just likes to pretend she’s a racehorse.”

Tai laughed, apparently unconcerned by her sarcasm. “Wouldn’ last long, not with legs like that.” He turned his horse to follow her, trotting up alongside her. “...you gon’ come over for dinner this weekend?”

Yang kept her eyes on the trail. “I’ll try.”

He leaned back in the saddle. “Y’ can bring along Pyrrha and Jaune if you’d like. I got enough food for a few people, y’ easterner friend could tag along.”

“I’ll ask ‘em.” The thought of Tai seeing Blake twisted her stomach even further. Yang distracted herself with looking over the shivering young horse that he was riding. “Don’ recognize that colt. You gettin’ new horses again?”

“Nah, just one of Winchester’s two year olds. He had trouble breakin’ this one, spooked of his own shadow.” Sure enough, the smaller horse was snorting at everything around them, wide-eyed. “Good prospect, though, just needs more time.”

Winchesters. Yang remembered the conversation from last night - Gods, was it only last night? She kept her voice casual, looking over at him. “Anything new with the Winchesters these days?”

Tai shrugged, yawning. “Rufus is his usual self. Cardin’s a spoiled brat but he’s startin’ to come ‘round.” His voice raised slightly at the end, giving away that perhaps he didn’t fully believe the words he was saying.

Yang remembered Cardin’s muttered stab at her father’s history, and knew that he would turn the boy inside out if he knew. She was almost sad that she couldn’t tell him about it. “Mm. Still a bit of a brat if y’ ask me.”

“More than ‘a bit’, to be honest with y’.” Tai laughed. “This colt was supposed to be his to start. Apparently it was ‘impossible’, and the horse is ‘crazy’.”

Yang found herself smiling, looking over the nervous colt, snorting but following Tai’s cues as they walked through the trees. “Cardin must’a hit the ground one too many times.”

Tai leaned towards her conspiratorially. “Thinkin’ he hit the ground one too many times shortly after bein’ born.”

Yang burst out laughing before she could stop herself. Tai joined her, and after a while the two fell into a comfortable silence as they came to a bend in the trail. It soothed her nerves, in a way that she wasn’t quite able to place.

Celica perked her ears as they rounded the bend, and a small home came into view. It stood near the edge of a small clearing, constructed of carefully stripped wooden logs and planks. A wooden fence encircled the modest property, a carefully carved heart surrounded by flames carved into the gate in front of them.

Yang didn’t bother getting off of Celica, instead reaching down to pull the chain out of place. Tai leaned back, watching. “...you need help settlin’ that horse in?”

“Nah. I’m just gon’ set her up in the little pen by the house for now, think she should be fine.” Yang straightened, one hand staying on the gate.

“Yang.” She looked up, finding that Tai’s joking expression had faded. “Please come for dinner this weekend.”

Her stomach twisted uncomfortably, not used to seeing him look serious. “Said I’d try.”

He exhaled, forming a faint sigh. “Y’know it’s been a month, right?”

Yang sighed, and there was nothing faint about it. “Look, Tai, I’m sorry. It’s just-”

“Hard without Ruby there?”

Her stomach knotted, and she focused on Celica’s neck. “...I’ll be there this weekend.”

“Yang-”

“I will be.” She cut him off before he could continue with why he thought she didn’t want to come home. “I might bring Pyrrha, don’ know if she’s got the time. But I’ll be there.”

She could feel Tai looking her up and down. For a moment, she wondered if he was going to prod further. But, thankfully, he settled for a simple, “Arright.”

“Arright.” She muttered, but Tai had already turned around.

For a long moment, Yang looked up and watched her father trot back down the path. His shoulders were straight, head turned forwards, not a trace of emotion or uncertainty in his posture.

Yang had learned at age seven that everything about it was a lie.

She turned her eyes away, gripping the top of the gate. She expertly maneuvered Celica and Gambol through the gate, then turned and leaned down to replace the chain behind her.

Awk.

Yang’s eyes darted up.

A large raven ruffled its feathers, sitting on a fencepost ten feet away. It tilted its head, bobbing in a manner one would completely expect from a bird. It was too away for Yang to see what colour its eyes were.

Without even a second of hesitation, Yang yanked a single round out of her belt, gripped it in her palm, and threw it at the bird with all the force in her arm.

The bird burst into flight as the bullet casing smacked into its wing, taking off through the trees with a startled croak.

She didn’t exhale until the sound of wings had faded completely. Gambol’s ears pricked up, looking at her with a mildly startled expression. Yang set her jaw, pulling the chain back into place with more force than necessary, then turning Celica towards the house and pointedly stopping herself from thinking about what had just happened any further. Thankfully, Gambol seemed to have settled after her fit of stubbornness at the river, and walked alongside the taller mare easily as they traveled the short distance to the house. After dismounting and doing a quick check to make sure the bandage had survived its brief flight across the stream, Yang led the mare into the small paddock that stretched back into the trees behind the house. The mare patiently waited for Yang to remove the saddle and halter before walking into the trees, ears perked, waiting until she was nearly hidden by the forest before she began to graze.

Celica, on the other hand, had already wandered off to pull at the grass around the porch. Untacking her only took a couple more moments, but the extra time allowed her mind to wander. Tai was just being friendly, trying to repair some of the frayed relationship between them. And, though the thought made her stomach prickle, he was probably lonely without both of his daughters at home.

She pulled her saddle off of Celica’s back and a hardness came to her stomach and jaw before guilt and sympathy could take hold. She knew how it felt to be alone too, and he hadn’t always been there when she wanted him to be either. He’d survive if she didn’t make it home to have dinner every single weekend. He was lucky she came home at all, she thought to herself as she guided Celica’s bridle off her head and left the mare to wander the property, nudging open the little shed beside the house and storing away her own saddle, then Blake’s.

The sight of the little eastern saddle made her pause. Eventually, Rufus Winchester would mention something to Tai about Yang pulling the faunus bandit out of a shed on his property. Knowing how fast gossip spread in a small town, Yang knew it was only a matter of time before Tai connected the small black mare that belonged to ‘an injured easterner’ to the story about his daughter ‘arresting’ an injured faunus.

It really wasn’t the thought of Tai disapproving of Yang’s strange bond to the girl that unnerved her. Really, he had absolutely no right to judge her for anything she’d done.

If anything, she was far, far more worried that he would like her.

Yang closed up the shed and dragged herself through her front door. She and Tai had built the cabin on a corner of the sprawling ranch some time after Ruby had left to go to Atlas for schooling, when it became clear that Yang needed her own space. It was just barely large enough to be considered a house - it had a kitchen, a compact eating and living area, two small bedrooms, and an attic. One of the two bedrooms was currently being used as something of a storage corner, but a small bed had been set up in it. Originally, it’d been intended so that Ruby or Tai could sleep over. But it would work well for Blake, at least for the time being.

Despite her best efforts, her mind pulled back to the worry nagging at her brain, the fear that something familiar lurked in her connection to Blake. She really shouldn’t be comparing herself and Blake to what had happened to Tai, she reasoned as she walked into the kitchen and scanned through the shelves. It wasn’t like the connection she had to Blake was...

Yang stopped, staring into an empty cabinet as her mind abruptly ground to a halt.

She’d spent a considerable amount of the past twenty four hours pondering the connection between her and the faunus girl. She’d felt anxiety when Cardin had pointed out that her family had a history of trusting bandits with too much, only to end up empty-handed.

Yet, somehow, the idea of her feelings for Blake being romantic had never crossed her mind.

The truth was, Yang knew that she didn’t know shit about romance. The most exposure she’d had to it was watching Pyrrha and Jaune’s awkward courtship, Nora and Ren’s steady partnership, and the occasional romance novel that she’d read on the rare nights when no one else was home. She’d never had time or interest in the idea of love while growing up, far too busy trying to raise her sister where her father fell short, and working with constantly changing horses for whatever client had paid her father to start them. The combination had led her to grow into a woman that was far too independent and strong for the average man. And while a woman taking a wife rather than a husband wasn’t unheard of, it was unusual and no woman had drawn her eye any more than a man had.

At least, until now.

Yang’s heart beat uncomfortably hard as she remembered the way her chest had contorted at the sight of Blake’s terror. The way she’d grabbed the girl’s face in her hands to calm her down.

The way that warmth shot up her arm when Blake touched her. The way that her heart had lifted when the slim woman had desperately whispered that she did, indeed, care about Yang.

Somehow, though, it didn’t feel right. Labeling the world-ending, soul-stopping feeling with something as simple as ‘attraction’ was almost insulting. No book she’d ever read, no description that a flushed Pyrrha had ever told her about late at night, nothing came even close it.

Yet, a voice in the back of her mind traitorously wondered, if just hugging Blake had melted her bones, what kissing her might do.

Before she could stop herself, the idea turned to an image. Soft skin against hers, the slim arms wrapping around her, just like the hug this morning. But this time, golden eyes locked on hers, so close that she could feel breath on her lips. Her gut trembled with something that wasn’t anxiety. Something cracked in her chest, warmth flowing into her hands as if spurring them to grab something that wasn’t there. For once, she actually recognized the feeling as longing.

Oh. Oh-

Panic split through her with all the speed and violence of a lightning strike, knocking the air clean from her lungs. Yang stumbled backwards, barely catching herself on a chair.

No. That’s not what this is. It can’t be, because she’s going to be gone in two weeks. She’ll be gone forever and that can’t be what this is.

She kept repeating it, eyes locked on the trees outside of her window. But all she could see was a memory of sweet, silver eyes, and a soft voice reassuring her that everything would be okay as a monster reached through the bedroom window.

Then of a disheveled blonde man, his eyes dull and dead, walking straight past her as tears streamed down her face.

Then of forcing a smile onto her face as she watched tears streamed from another pair of silver eyes, feeling her own heart break as she heard herself say that it was okay, that Ruby needed to find her own path, that she would promise to write her every day.

Then of tangled black hair and disapproving red eyes, standing over her before turning and disappearing into a rush of feathers, screams of panic and betrayal splitting the air and drowning out the mind-numbing growling.

Yang’s fist slammed down onto the table.

The sound alone made her jump, brought her back to reality to find her body shaking, a white-knuckled grip on the back of the chair beside her. She rubbed at her face, only to find that her hand could barely curl with any force.

Something else. She needed something else to do.

Yang turned and staggered out of the kitchen, breath still catching in her throat as she nearly ran to the second bedroom, shoving open the door. Books of all shapes in sizes - some bought, some brought home by Ruby when she came to visit, some collected from various places, sat on shelves, the floor, and the tiny bare bed in the corner. Yang started scooping them up and shoving them away with an amount of force that could have been comical to the outside eye.

It took far too long for her breathing to slow and her mind to untangle itself. By then, all of the books had been returned to a place on the shelf, sheets and a blanket had been thrown over the bed, and she’d agreed with herself that she could use some kind of friend. Blake’s presence would be temporary, but the slender faunus needed a friendly face as badly as Yang secretly did.

And the disastrous mental image of her lips meeting Blake’s could stay locked away in the back of her mind, where it belonged.

Looking over the room one more time, Yang slowly walked out. She glanced at her own bedroom, the unmade bed alluring to her heavy eyes. But she knew that laying still for any amount of time would send her mind tumbling back into chaos,

So instead, she hauled herself back outside. Celica had moved to graze in the shade near Gambol’s paddock, but didn’t move away as Yang hauled her saddle back out of the shed. “We’ll just go n’ see if they need us at the office. Then we’ll go n’ see if Jaune will let us bring Blake back.” She mumbled to the tall, golden mare as she plunked her blanket, then saddle on.

There was a cruel irony to it, really - Blake was absolutely the reason behind Yang’s slow crumble, the destruction of all the careful walls and supports she’d built to shield herself. Yet, Yang knew without a shadow of doubt that if no one slept in the house with her tonight, the world would fall apart entirely.

Blake was mysterious, she was fascinating, she was mesmerizing, but she was temporary. If she saw Yang crack, crumble, spill, then it would be kept between them. She wouldn’t need to deal with anxious glances from her friends, prodding from the singular family member she had left, or people she barely knew making well-intentioned but clumsy attempts to help with a problem they thought they understood from two words of gossip.

Gambol walked out of the trees, ears up as Yang continued to tack up the mare. Her hands slowed as Celica stretched her neck outwards, the two mares meeting noses. Even though the two had technically been around each other for hours already, Yang still tensed. They hadn’t exactly exchanged pleasantries like this, and mares could be.... loud in their disagreements.

To her surprise and relief, however, no squealing or striking was had from either mare. Instead, Gambol lightly nipped at the bridge of Celica’s face, drawing a toss of her head.

“You two ain’t allowed to be friends, dammit.” Yang grumbled under her breath.

Both suddenly tensed, Gambol’s ears pricking up as Celica’s flipped backwards. In the moment of silence, Yang heard hoofbeats drumming down the path and sighed. Tightened Celica’s cinch, then bridled her just as a dark horse turned the corner. Sighing, Yang mounted up and trotted towards the gate as Ren pulled his horse to a halt.

“Did Pyrrha and Nora miss me too much?” Yang laughed, hoping she looked more stable than she felt.  

Ren didn’t laugh. “I just found a body.”

Yang stopped dead in the middle of undoing the gate. Her head snapped up. Ren’s eyes were wide - not truly afraid, but certainly unnerved. “Who is it?”

“Don’t recognize him.” He backed Sunflower out of the way as she maneuvered Celica back out of the gate.

Yang pulled the chain back into place and straightened. “Show me.”

Ren turned and loped back down the trail, Yang clucking to Celica as they followed. She felt her stomach sink as Ren split off of the path to follow the creek that Gambol had refused to cross.

Sure enough, it only took a few minutes of travelling upstream before Ren began to slow Sunflower to a trot. He turned towards the sound of trickling water, and wove through the slender saplings standing before the raised bank.

Yang followed his lead, stopping and dismounting when he did, leaving Celica to graze. “Faunus?”

Ren shifted his weight. “I don’t think so.”

The uncertainty made her stomach roll. Biting her lip, Yang walked towards the edge of the shallow cliff overlooking the stream.

All of her breath hissed out as she reached the edge, and the water below came into view.

The body was neatly wedged between two rocks jutting out from the center of the stream, and that was the only tidy thing about it. The entire upper body was broken and mangled, crushed beyond recognition, blood still fleeing from it to head downstream, barely visible in the calmly flowing water. But the face, while ruined, still had just enough features visible.

Distantly, she felt Ren’s presence beside her. “Grimm?”

Yang’s body grew colder and colder as she stared at dirty blonde hair, unseeing blue eyes, scruff clinging to his chin, and a missing front tooth in an otherwise spared mouth.

“Yang?”

Yang blinked, inhaling. She forced her eyes back to the mangled torso. “Nah. Grimm would’ve eaten him.”

Ren’s gaze stayed on her, nodding. She could see his brows furrow out of the corner of her eye, and she understood his confusion. Not many other natural forces could cause this much damage and still leave a body behind.

She squinted, forcing the shock away from her chest and limbs. “Think he was trampled.” She took another step forwards, crouching and swinging her legs down, hopping down to the riverbank below, looking up and down at the damage. “Saw somethin’ like this when my Pa and I got horses from a wrangler. One of his hired hands got it into his head that he wanted a foal from an old wild mare that he found. He survived, but his arm looked pretty similar.”

Her eyes lingered on the neck, stomach turning as she recognized a crescent-shaped pattern of thin, flat marks past the purple and red flesh. “If it was a Grimm, it had horse teeth instead of fangs, and hooves instead of claws.”

Ren exhaled, still standing on the bank above her. “Not a Grimm, then.”

“Not likely.”

“Maybe he tangled with the wrong wild horse. Got knocked into the stream and ended up here.”

“Maybe.” Yang subconsciously rubbed at her throat. She'd seen stallions grab each other below the jaw while sparring, but never even heard talk of one doing the same to a human. But, she supposed, it was possible.

She could feel Ren’s gaze, still locked on her, and knew he could see the lack of color in her face. “...you think you know him.”

For a long moment, Yang considered lying. Instead, words slowly worked their way through her teeth. “I know I do. Name was Shay.”

Ren looked between her and the pulverized body, eyebrows raised. “...impressive.”

“Not really.” She pointed. “I knocked out that tooth, ain’t something you forget in a hurry. Real bastard, ain’t too tore up about him bein’ dead.”

When she finally allowed her eyes to meet Ren’s, she could see him working through the situation, decrypting Yang’s response and tone, digging through her memory. His eyes widened, and Yang knew he’d come to the same conclusion that was sending ice through Yang’s veins. “Is he...?”

“Branwen Clan?” The name twisted out of her mouth like barbed wire off a spool. “He was when I knew him.”

“Shit.” Ren ran a hand over his eyes. Yang had heard him curse exactly three times in the time she’d known him.

“Pyrr’s gon’ have a damn stroke if they’re movin’ back into the area.” It sounded so casual coming out of her mouth. As if her guts weren’t trying to slither out of her body, as if her heart wasn’t oozing blood all over the inside of her chest, as if her already cracked world wasn’t crumbling around her.

Ren was looking at her again. “...I’m sorry.” It was quiet, genuine.

“Ain’t y’ fault. Better I know now than later. Explains why Gambol wouldn’t walk through the damn river on the way here.” She forced a laugh out of her mouth, standing back up.

Ren’s voice was soft still, but mercifully had lost the concerned tone. “...think the White Fang’s involved? Can’t see them getting along.”

Yang’s mouth pressed into a tense line. “...doubt it. He’d just be shot if it was.” Despite her own words, Yang was already analyzing the situation. After years of not seeing a hair of the notorious bandit clan within a square mile of the town, they found a dead clan member the day after another bandit group pulled off a successful robbery.

A dead clan member that would recognize anywhere, she realized, neatly tucked between two rocks in a stream barely a hundred feet from the edge of Taiyang’s ranch, on the specific corner that she called home. 

On the same day that she had found a raven waiting at her front gate.

“Ren,” she said “How’d you find him?”

“I was coming to get you. Jaune had stopped by the office, wanted us to tell you that you could bring Blake over here tonight if you wanted to. Sunflower didn’t want to cross the creek. Unusual for her.”

He paused, long enough to make Yang think he’d had finished talking. But when he continued, it was with an uncharacteristically pained tone, fully aware of what he assumed was a cruel irony. “I saw a raven circling the area. I went to look.”

Yang’s flicked upwards before she could stop herself. Scanning for glossy black feathers and unnatural red irises.

The branches of the trees on the other side were dark and foreboding, keeping any secrets hidden away.

Yang turned away before Ren could ask, grabbing the edge of the riverbank and hauling herself back up the short drop. “Let’s go get Pyrrha. ‘S probably an accident, he could've left the clan years ago. But I don't like coincidences.”


 Chapter artwork for both Chapter 7 and 8 can be found here!

Chapter Text

Blake trusted the doctor enough to listen to his advice, enough to take the medications that he was insisting she took. She understood why the bandages needed to be changed. She trusted him just enough to let him talk her through changing the bandage around her hips, though she kept a close eye on him and insisted that she do all the actual wrapping herself.

That trust had abruptly run out when he suggested changing the wrap around her sore ribs.

Her fingers bit down on the back of the chair. A pile of bandage material sat on the table between them, now contained within a cloth satchel. Jaune was ignoring her for the moment, focused on writing out instructions on a little piece of paper. Her fingernails tapped against the wood - it could have been mistaken as idle, mindless, had it not been for the sharp glare she had Jaune locked in. The scratching of the pencil against the paper mixed with her soft tapping, filling the terse silence between the two.

Jaune’s end of the noise came to an abrupt halt as he finished writing and slid the paper towards her. “The bandage on y’ hip needs to be changed at least once daily. The wrap around y’ ribs could wait a day, but it shouldn’t be left longer than that, and you will need help with that one. Continue with the painkillers and antibiotics until both are gone. Understood?”

Blake neatly captured the paper under her index finger and pulled it towards her. “Yes.” She said, without reading it.

The blue eyes narrowed very slightly. But he turned away.

Some faint corner of Blake’s mind prickled with guilt, knowing the doctor was probably nursing some wounded pride after Blake had flatly refused to let him help her change her bandages. She suspected that he was having Yang come and fetch her tonight for that exact reason.

She’d tried to be civil for a while, at least.

As if on cue, the door swung open, and Blake’s ear twitched as she heard boots heavily clunk against the floor.

Her irritation and defensiveness instantly broke when she turned and saw Yang. Not due to the earlier reasons, however - the blonde was dull eyed, the usual light that seemed to radiate from her dimmed. “Sorry ‘m late.” She mumbled.

Jaune responded before Blake could, standing. “No trouble. Y’ alright?”

She leaned against the doorway. “‘M fine. Ren, Nora, and Pyrrha are investigatin’ a body that Ren found in Stifle Creek.”

Jaune’s eyebrows immediately knit together. “Who-”

“Not townsfolk.” Yang didn’t seem willing to discuss past that, her gaze instead falling to Blake. “We goin’?”

Blake wordlessly nodded, getting to her feet.

Jaune hesitated. “Yang, can I speak to you?”

Blake didn’t break stride, walking straight past them and outside. Yang’s horse pricked her ears as Blake passed through the doorway, closing it behind her. Not that it did anything to stop the sound.

“These are instructions for her bandages. The hip one is done for today, she’ll need help with the ribs tonight or tomorrow.”

“Didn’ do it already?”

“‘S why I called you back. She won’t let me help her change them, but she can’t get them tight enough on her own.”

The palomino mare seemed to shine in the setting sun, and she chose to focus on that instead of the conversation behind her. Blake slowly and gingerly made her way down the stairs off the porch. Celica offered a wide nose, and Blake found herself running her hand over the warm, velvety skin that she found there.

“You think she’ll let me help her.” Yang’s voice wasn’t necessarily asking a question.

“I figured if it was gon’ be anyone, it’d be you.”

A sigh. “I’ll see what she’ll let me help with.”

The soft nose suddenly moved to nudge into the crook of her neck. A wide brown eye looked down at her, lips wiggling against her collarbone. The mare exhaled, and the scent of horse and alfalfa sunk straight to the bottom of Blake’s gut, relaxing everything it passed. Her hand slowly moved on the bridge of Celica’s noble head.

“...Yang, whose body was in the river?”

“No one. A bandit with no one to mourn him.” She answered harshly, and Blake could feel her footfalls reach the door. She pulled herself away from Celica’s nose, stepping back as she heard the door clunk open. Yang passed through with something like authority, had it not been for the exhaustion that seemed to pull at her like gravity as she made her way down the stairs. “Anythin’ else you need from the house?”

Blake mutely shook her head.

“Let’s go, then.” Yang passed her, mounting up onto Celica before pulling her foot out of the stirrup and offering a hand to Blake. She really had no choice but to take it, pointedly ignoring the warmth that reached up her arm, and hauled herself up behind Yang. Blake’s movements were slow and painful, but no less experienced. After a moment’s hesitation, she wrapped an arm around Yang’s waist to steady herself as the blonde reined Celica away from the house.

Sundown wasn’t all that far away, and Yang didn’t seem to want to take any chances. Her free hand was never far away from the holster on her right hip as they stepped off of the road and into the woods, head quietly turning to keep the world in focus.

Blake, on the other hand, was finding it increasingly difficult to distract herself from the pain spiking though her hip and ribs. With every step Celica took, she was grinding her teeth and trying to keep from whining.

She didn’t want to resort to thinking about potentially dangerous topics, but her mind went to the mention of the body anyways. A bandit. Had Adam started punishing members of the White Fang?

The thought ate at her gut, until finally she was given no option but to confront it. “...Yang?”

“Mm.” Despite her lack of words, she felt Yang’s body tense, felt her torso twist slightly to glance backwards.

“The bandit you mentioned to Jaune.” Her body tensed even further, and Blake felt her stomach writhe. “...was it White Fang?”

A sigh, and a slight release of tension in the muscles underneath her. “No. Was a human, not one of yours.”

Blake’s eyes closed, the fear leaving her gut and escaping her mouth in the form of a sigh.

She felt Yang turn back towards the path. But the tension didn’t leave entirely, still there below her abdomen. But this time, Yang broke the silence. “You encounter any other bandit groups when you were settin’ up camp?”

“...we heard stories. R- one of the kids that joined us. He talked about a clan of bandits that lived in the area. But he figured they wouldn’t be a problem, we were too far away from their usual hunting grounds.”

Yang nodded, like it was information she already knew. “But you never saw any y’self?”

“No. Never.” Blake lifted her head to watch the back of Yang’s head. “...you think your body was one of that clan, though.”

A slow nod. “Yeah.”

Blake chewed her lip. “...can I ask how he died?”

“Not murdered, far as I can see. Trampled by a horse - might’ve gotten in over his head with a wildie, or just pissed off the wrong old mare.”

Her lungs painfully expanded with one huge rush of air. Ice coated her gut and ran up her spine. Blake was suddenly very far from her body again, floating above it. She felt Celica stop, hear Yang’s now anxious voice, but her mind had already run wild with the information.

For a moment, the scent of blood and burning flesh bit at her nose, while metal hooves and screams rang against a stone floor.

“Blake??”

She jumped, exhaling harshly then wincing. Yang’s hand was locked on the arm still around her waist, turned as far around as she could go in the saddle to stare at her.

“I- I’m fine.” She shook her head, trying to inhale enough to fill her lungs. “Just- just remembered something.”

Yang’s eyebrows lowered, compressing over her eyelids. “Y’ paler than a Grimm’s face.”

“Hip hurts a lot.”

The brows lowered even further, making her fully aware that Yang hadn’t bought the excuse. But, for some reason, she didn’t push it, instead releasing her grip on Blake’s wrist. “Best get home, then. The less time you’re up here, the better.” Celica began to walk forwards again, jostling her slightly and making the excuse slightly more true.

A canopy of pine trees filtered the sunlight, creating rays across the mossy ground. Blake wanted nothing more than to just quietly appreciate it. Instead, she was pondering the information she’d just been fed.

Wilt had to be responsible for the wounds that had just been described to her. It was possible that it was a coincidence, but not likely. What mattered more was why. Had a fight broken out? Had Adam just wanted to make a statement?  Why was the human bandit group only making a move now?

Celica’s hooves splashed through a shallow creek, drawing her attention back to the present. She felt Yang’s head turn to look upstream. Her voice was quieter than before when she spoke. “You know somethin’ about that man bein’ dead.”

Blake felt her eyes squeeze shut. It wasn’t really like she could deny it, not with the reaction she’d had.

“Do you think the White Fang’s involved?”

The trees were massive, looming over her. Judging, full of ears and whispers. “I don’t know.” She lied.

Yang didn’t speak.

Guilt bit her no matter which option she chose. So, weakly, she added. “If they were, it would have been because the bandit clan threatened them. They react to threats, not make new ones.”

She felt the blonde head nod. “Most small groups do.”

She could hear Yang’s thoughts moving, and knew they were both working on the same puzzle from opposite ends. Blake chewed her lip. “...I. I can tell you that I’ve never seen another human bandit in this area before. Whatever happened, it must have started after I left.”

“Mmhm.” Celica’s ears pricked up as they rounded a bend in the trail, and a gate came into view. “Just hopin’ whatever’s goin’ on don’t involve the town.”

“Likewise.” Her voice was soft, almost under her breath. But she knew Yang had heard it from the way her head turned very, very slightly. But she didn’t say another word, instead focusing on opening the gate from Celica’s back and passing through it, closing it again behind them.

Blake looked up to see a small log cabin, lit in oranges and yellows by the low sun. She didn’t get to spare another thought about it before a nicker split the air, and her heart stopped.

The orange light of the sunset threw her into a halo-like relief. She was standing on the other side of a fence beside the small house, ears pricked, eyes as focused and strong as ever. Gambol tossed her head as they moved closer, her throat vibrating with the deep calls she was making across the field.

Blake’s own throat had closed. Her mouth pressed against Yang’s shoulder, ears flattening sideways, feeling tears run down her cheeks as she choked back one sob after another, unable to look anywhere but the black mare that was waiting for her on the other side of the fence.

She felt Yang glance backwards at her. She felt tension ebb from the other woman’s back, but right at the moment she didn’t have the energy to process it.

Celica came to a halt just before the paddock. Blake didn’t care that her hip spiked with pain as she swung off and hit the ground, didn’t care that her ribs ached as she half-ran, half-hobbled to the fence, didn’t even care when Yang growled something that she didn’t catch as she ducked through it.

Gambol’s head pressed into her torso, her arms folded around the strong jaw, the scent of horse and alfalfa filled her nose and lungs, and all was right in the world. Her forehead flopped into the silky black mane, and the sobs finally came freely, dragged out from between her broken ribs. The mare tolerated the hug for slightly longer than usual before moving her head away, lifting her nose to drag in long sniffs over Blake’s torso and face. Her eyes caught on a small bandage that was taped in place over the mare’s shoulder, and her gut twisted.

Something heavy flopped behind her. She glanced back in time to see Yang rest her saddle on the porch, not far away from the paddock, Celica already walking off to find grass. Her eyes turned back to Gambol, but one ear stayed on Yang, listening to her walk closer to the fence, hearing the faint creak of wood as she leaned against it. “She’s only got the one wound.”

Blake finally tore herself away from the mare’s head to limp around her, running a hand over her shoulder, staring at the bandage secured over the mare’s shoulder. “How bad was it?”

“Not as bad as it could’ve been.” Not as bad as what you got, her tone seemed to imply.

Not that Blake cared. She continued her tour around the mare, carefully surveying every inch. True to Yang’s word, the rest of the horse was pristine, not so much as a scratch to show for the past few days. As always, Gambol shied very slightly when Blake touched the right side of her neck, before relaxing again.

Which... reminded her.  

She glanced back up, finding Yang leaning against the fence. “How did you catch her? She’s... she’s never been easy to handle.” She hadn’t had much time to consider the mystery of how, exactly, Yang had managed to get Gambol back into town. The clever mustang could be difficult for Blake to catch some days, let alone a complete stranger. Adam was better with horses than anyone else she’d ever met, and even he couldn’t get within a square foot of her if she didn’t want to be touched.

Yang shifted her weight, looking a bit sheepish. Deep down, she felt a ripple of resigned anxiety. She didn’t want to have to think about Yang having to toss a rope around the panicking mare’s neck - there weren’t many ways to catch a bolting horse, and she knew that Gambol wouldn’t have gone quietly. “Not easily. Ended up just catchin’ her reins. She dragged me a little bit ‘fore I got her stopped.”

“...how?” Blake knew she was openly staring, disbelief probably apparent in her expression. But even she couldn’t always stop Gambol when she started running.

The blonde slowly shrugged. “Just held on and pulled her nose back to one side. Makes ‘em run in a circle ‘stead of straight ahead. Saved my ass more ‘n once. Wasn’ hard to calm her down once she’d stopped, just rubbed some circles on her head ‘n she was okay.”

Slowly, Blake tilted her head, letting the information soak in. Yang was describing something that she’d been taught was an ‘emergency stop’ for bolting horses. But the rubbing circles on her head... that was new.

“Can you show me?”

Yang blinked, looking slightly taken aback for a moment before she bent and slipped through the fence. Gambol flipped her ears forwards as the taller woman approached, then pinned her ears and threw her head once. Blake hissed, flicking at the mare’s jaw to catch her attention and walking in front of her. Gambol’s eyes travelled back to her as she pinned her own ears back. “ Behave.

“S’ okay, she’s just protective of you.” Yang had stepped slightly sideways but didn’t break stride, approaching the left side of Gambol’s neck, ambling as though she had all the time in the world. “See that with mares sometimes, usually fine so long as you respect it.”

“All fun and games ‘till someone gets bit.” She muttered under her breath. Her mind flashed back to Gambol sinking her teeth into Adam’s shoulder before she could stop herself. “She isn’t a guard dog. I don’t want her to think she has to attack anyone for me.”

“Mm.” Gambol’s hide twitched as Yang gently laid her forefinger on her neck. “She ain’t a dog. Dogs don’ get protective, they get possessive. They see their people as somethin’ to guard from others, so they bark and attack anything that comes too close. Stallions get that way sometimes, so does the odd geldin’.”

So do men, Blake thought to herself, reminded of the way that Adam had always pushed everyone else away from her right from the very beginning.

Yang’s finger traced a small, clockwise circle on Gambol’s neck. “Mares? They get protective if they decide y’ a foal or a herdmate. Usually it’s just small things like this - pinnin’ her ears every now n’ then, maybe shovin’ herself between someone and you if she don’ like what’s happenin’. ‘Don’ you dare hurt my baby, I’m her mama and I’ll kick y’ ass.’” Blake watched as the finger traced small, looping circles up Gambol’s neck.  “Doesn’t usually get to the ‘fightin’ stage, ‘cause most folk recognize what that is and back off. It’s only when some idiot doesn’ get the idea, or feels cocky enough to think they can get past her that a mare will bring out the teeth and hooves.”

“You sound like you have experience.” Blake commented, distracted by the sight of Gambol’s slowly falling head. “Celica prone to the same thing?”

Yang laughed, the sound bright and bubbly even with exhaustion plain on her face, and Blake’s ears perked up to catch as much of it as she could. “Gods, no. ‘S the other way ‘round with that one. I raised Celica from a foal - lazy as sin, but she’s got a lot of heart.”

There was a long, comfortable silence as Yang’s fingers traced unending circles up and down Gambol’s neck.

“Her mama, Ember,” Yang’s voice was soft, thoughtful, sad, “she was the protective one.”

Her ears slowly turned, watching the lilac eyes unfocus slightly. “Was my old man’s wagon horse, he got her way back when my sister and I were small. Gentle giant, right up until she decided somethin’ might be dangerous. Probably the smartest buy the man ever made in his life.”

Blake almost asked what had happened to her. But something about the faraway gaze, the way her voice had turned uncharacteristically quiet, the way her hands had slowed, stopped her. Her eyes fell back to the small circles she was drawing, how she had worked her way up to Gambol’s jaw. She watched, fascinated as the tension ebbed from Gambol’s neck, her head slowly drooping down further and further.

“There you go, lady.” Yang murmured. She smiled and Blake blinked in utter disbelief as the horse let out a huge sigh and began to chew. Then she gave one long stroke with her palm down the mare’s neck, and Gambol’s head dropped completely, leaning sideways to cock one back leg, breathing slow.

Blake stared. “Is... is she asleep?”

Yang tilted her head at the quiet horse in front of her. “Maybe.” She turned to give Blake a small, lopsided smile. “Does happen sometimes.”

A awestruck laugh left Blake’s mouth. “Gods. Do that to me sometime.”

Yang’s movements abruptly stopped, eyes flicking over to her, and Blake realized far, far too late what she had said.

You idiot.

“I- I mean. I. I have trouble sleeping. Or relaxing. Sometimes. Not often. It would be nice to. You know. Be able to do that.” She tripped and stumbled over her words, desperately looking anywhere but at Yang. “...apologies.” She added as a weak mutter.

“None needed.” She slowly, reluctantly looked over to see that Yang’s expression had relaxed into an amused smile. If her cheeks seemed redder than usual, it was just the light of the setting sun. That was what Blake told herself, anyways. “Know the feelin’, wish it worked on myself.” She shifted her weight, looking up at the treeline before them. “We should head inside. I’m gon’ find somethin’ for us to eat, then we’ll get y’ settled. And we’re gon’ talk about when we need to change the bandage ‘round y’ ribs.”

Blake didn’t verbally agree, but when Yang walked past her and opened the gate, she followed. She continued to follow up the porch stairs and into the home, glancing back at the peaceful, relaxed mare as she passed through the doorway.

It was smaller than the previous home she’d been in, but after months of living in a small tent, the enclosed space felt far more comfortable to her. A kitchen, a small table, a very beaten up, ancient couch, and two doors to the left.

Yang hissed, “Evernight save me, Tai .”

Blake glanced over, and tilted her head as she realized a pot of some sort was sitting alone on the kitchen counter. A small scrap of paper was neatly pinned beneath it, with letters messily scrawled across it.

Don’t forget dinner.

Yang lifted the lid, sighing as the alluring scent of cooked meat and vegetables wafted out. She glanced over at Blake. “My old man.” She shrugged. “Y’ good with stew?”

“Yang, if it’s edible, I’m interested.”

“Y’ goin’ out on a limb with that. Least there’s enough for two.”

Despite the insult, the stew was warm and filling and Blake was already tired before the food settled in. Yang looked barely conscious, but she still stood, nodding to one of the doors. “C’mon.”

Blake wearily followed along. However, the tired haze abruptly faded as the door opened.

A bed had been shoved into the corner, blankets thrown over it. But her eyes completely skipped past it in favor of the far wall of the small room. A large bookshelf had been shoved against it, and every one of the shelves was stuffed full of books.

Yang turned. Her face fell slightly as she looked at Blake’s, “...’s small but-”

“No, no no no this is...” She gestured a bit wildly, lost for words, her voice shaking very slightly. “...I wasn’t expecting ...may I read some of those?” Her voice shrunk into a hopeful, tiny tone, half expecting to be told that they were valuable or otherwise out of her reach.

“Oh.” Yang’s face cracked into realization, then a weary smile. “Darlin’, you read as much as you want. Ruby brings a lot of ‘em back from Atlas, I’ve gotten through most of ‘em.”

Overwhelmed, Blake could only stare and wonder what sort of undeserved heaven she’d been thrown into.

Yang gently nudged her shoulder, voice still tired but a little softer. “There’s some shirts in the dresser, you can wear any one that fits. Was supposed to help y’ with that bandage, we could do that now if y’ ready.”

Blake nodded, glancing over at Yang. Her hair was tangled, eyes heavy, but right now all she could see was gold and a voice and touch that could melt away fear. Faintly, a memory of a human voice echoed in her mind, claiming that Adam was better with the horses than any human he’d ever seen. He’d never been able to touch Gambol. At the time, she’d thought that the mare was just like him - angry, suspicious, protective.

Now, looking at the nearly asleep mare and the nearly asleep human, she wondered if Gambol had just been a better judge of character.

But she was nearly swaying on her feet, and Blake gave a weak smile. “No offense, Yang, but you look like you need to sleep for a few weeks. The bandage can wait, let’s sleep and discuss it tomorrow.”

Yang nodded, blinking slowly, too exhausted to argue. “Righ’. Have a good sleep, then.”

“You too.” Blake watched as she nudged open the door beside them, heard the clunk of a holster being dropped on something, and then a loud squeak as a heavy body immediately collapsed onto a mattress.  She could hear slow, regular breathing by the time she’d found a long shirt that looked like it might fit her, carefully untangled herself from her own clothing, and then carefully curled underneath the blankets. Despite her excitement at seeing the books, Blake knew she could barely see straight, let alone read anything.

Once her eyes were closed, though, the thoughts that talking to Yang had repressed came creeping back. Adam had let Wilt kill someone. Something was happening.   She curled tighter as the memory she’d fought back earlier came creeping back as her ribs and hips started to ache again. This time, she just let it wash over her, curling slightly tighter as her mind whirred away,  pulling old memories like drawings from a sketchbook.

She was thirteen years old, dragging a half-conscious teenager into a luxurious stall with the windows boarded over and the name ‘Wilting Rose’ painted in delicate script on the door. The dull eyed stallion stirred as she dragged Adam past him, snorting as blood dripped across the clean straw. Her arms shook with the effort as she sat the much heavier boy up against the wall. The stall seemed bigger in the darkness, when she was sitting inside it and not above it, laying on her stomach and talking to a horned boy as he brushed dust away from a shining, twitching red pelt. Her gut turned as one blue eye desperately stared at her, the other no longer visible past blood and charred flesh.

“Aw, damn, if this just isn’t the sweetest thing I ever did see.”

She didn’t have energy to run, to defend herself or him. She just looked over her shoulder in time to see a human walk up to the stall door that she hadn’t closed. His face was unfamiliar, bearded and lined by age and weathering, but the voice was one she’d heard many, many times, echoing through her hayloft as he bellowed at the faunus working below. The stable master smiled at her - the sort of smile she imagined a hound would have right before it ripped into a fox. “So that’s why he started stealing food. Wish I’d met you before, my dear, we could have spared that boy an awful lot of pain. He’s valuable, you know, he’s the only one left that can handle this horse. I would have prefered to keep him in one piece.”

Adam’s hand tightened on her arm. A horseshoe struck against the wooden floor as Wilt pawed over and over again, unable to smell what was in front of the stall door past the reek of burnt flesh.

“Why don’t you step out of there, kitten? I’m sure there’s a way to make sure you don’t go hungry.” He gestured, and she saw how careful he was not to extend his hand into the stall.

Blake felt herself shrink down, as if in hopes that the golden straw might swallow them both.

The lined face hardened. “I said-” Temper won out over caution, and this time, when he pointed at her, his hand crossed the boundary of the doorway. “- get out here, you cowardly little-”

Blake didn’t close her eyes fast enough. She saw Wilt charge the moment he saw the hand. She saw teeth close on it. Saw the man frantically try to pull his hand free, instinctively try to back away. She saw Wilt follow him out of the stall.

When her eyelids did close, the vision of a man’s body, pummeled to ruin by hooves and teeth, was seared into the back of them.

Years later and hundreds of miles away, Blake pulled the blanket over her face and curled tighter. She owed him. She would always owe him.

But now there was the memory of blonde hair and tired eyes, and maybe that was a reason to walk away.

She was too tired to ponder it for long. Sleep reached for her, and she was more than happy to succumb.

Chapter Text

She could fall asleep five minutes before dawn, Yang thought sourly, and still find herself awake just as the sun came up.

The room was still blue and dim around her, dawn throwing a faint gold stripe across the wall. The sight was comforting and familiar; the knowledge that another woman was sleeping on the other side of that wall was not.

Yang had fallen asleep before she could spend any time pondering Blake’s presence in her home. She was paying for that blessing now - unwilling to rise from bed just yet and unable to distract herself with anything else, Yang could only feel her stomach twist and curve itself into unnatural shapes as she replayed every moment from last night. Blake’s face pressed against her shoulder, trying not to weep when she saw Gambol. The look of fascination and awe as the mare settled under Yang’s careful touch.

Her stomach tied itself in a complete knot at the next memory. Do that to me sometime.

Blake had embarrassed herself then, blushed and turned away and stuttered. And Yang was more thankful for that than she’d ever been for anything, because it meant that Blake hadn’t seen past Yang’s eyes to the image of fingers dancing across bare skin.

“Fuckin’ Xiao Longs and their bandits.”

Yang’s palm smacked against her forehead in an attempt to drive the misbehaving thoughts away, and the mattress traitorously squeaked beneath her. She froze, biting down on her own breathing, listening to hear any indication that Blake might be awake.

Nothing but the faint chirps of sparrows outside met her ears, but Yang knew that didn’t mean a thing. Not when she knew the other woman in the house had ears far, far more sensitive than hers.

No sense in staying in bed anymore. She rolled sideways off of her cot, getting to her feet. The floorboards faintly creaked under her bare feet, erasing any hope that Blake might not be aware of her being awake. With a sigh of defeat, she abandoned her attempts to keep silent and fell into the old routine. Got the fire inside the rusted stove going, filled the iron coffeepot with wellwater that ran from the sink, and dug out coffee grounds from the cabinet. She blearily dumped a long-memorized amount of the grounds into the pot, and placed it over the coals with a faint metallic clang.

Yang eyed the bag of bandaging supplies on the table as she turned. That... that was another thing. She hadn’t missed the frustrated hiss in Jaune’s voice at Blake’s unwillingness to be re-bandaged. In many ways, she wasn’t surprised - Blake had been suspicious and nervous in the company of every other person she’d met so far. She was certainly more trusting of Yang than the others, but that didn’t mean she trusted her entirely. She doubted that Blake would be pleased about Yang needing to help her with the bandage.

Plus, she had a suspicion that there was another reason that Blake was unwilling to allow anyone to see her bare torso. And it was bringing her blood to a rolling boil.

At least something was boiling, she internally grumbled as she checked coffeepot. She probably had enough time to throw some hay to Gambol and Celica. Sighing to herself, she pushed off of the counter.

Yang paused, halfway to the door. Then, slowly and quietly, she stepped towards the slightly ajar door to the second bedroom.

Barely any light had streamed in yet, casting most of the room into shadows. She could make out the faint form of a curled body on the bed, covered by blankets. She paused, feeling her brow furrow on its own. She should really be awake. There was no way she could have slept through that racket. She could just be feigning sleep, but...

She felt her pulse speed up. Her eyes locked onto Blake’s faint form, wide and searching for any sign of breath.

For one long second, nothing. Then a faint, faint rush of air as the blanket moved slightly over her chest.

You’re a damn fool, she told herself as she slowly slunk backwards, unable to fully stop the relieved sigh that slipped through her throat.

Yang turned, pulling her boots on before walking out into the crisp morning air. Gambol was already standing at the fenceline, watching closely as Yang made her way behind the tack shed, to the hay bale that stood in its own fenced circle, barely protected from Celica’s greedy mouth. She pulled the pitchfork out of the mound, forking out a small amount to throw towards the golden mare that had already trotted up, ignoring the green grass around her in favor of eyeing the dried, dusty hay. With an absolute intention, Yang hurled the clump of hay at the mare, snorting as Celica attempted to grab it in mid-air and received a mane full of hay for her efforts. Yang barely managed to separate an amount for Gambol before the blonde mare was hounding her again, greedily trying to pull strands away as Yang pitched it over Gambol’s fence. Gambol wasted no time in delivering a scolding nip to the palomino mare as she reached over the fence, sending her sulking away as the darker mare dug into the dried plants.

As she climbed the stairs again, she thought she saw a quick flicker of motion on the other side of the open doorway. Sure enough, as she crossed into the threshold, the bag was gone from the table.

Yang hesitated for only a moment before slowly approaching the door, now completely closed. “Mornin’. You drink coffee?”

A pause, long enough to think that somehow Blake had managed to fall asleep once more. “Not usually.” The voice was low, grumbled, and could have easily been passed off as early morning grumpiness. Unfortunately, Yang heard the tiny shake underneath the last few words.

She chewed on her lip, then tried again in a slightly teasing tone. “Should’a known, damn easterners. Might have some tea somewhere, you want that?”

“No. I’m good.” There was an edge to her voice now.

She quickly decided to heed it. “Offer stands. Let me know when you need help.” Yang stepped back from the door, turning away.

The coffee was still not quite boiling yet, to her annoyance. She slowly sat down at the table, sighing, resting her chin on her palm. Sooner or later, she was going to have to actually go in and help, but it would have to be when Blake was ready. And while Yang wasn’t sure exactly what was going on on the other side of the door, she was not ready now. Nor was Yang, though for very different reasons.

Her fingers tightened on the edge of the table. No, no she was definitely not ready to see Blake’s bare skin again. She was honestly angry at herself for seeing Blake without a shirt to begin with. It had been the last thing on her mind at the time, but now the memory was firmly in place, despite her current attempts to exile it. In a way, Yang hoped she would be able to do it by herself. She didn’t need to see something she liked under the bandages. Not when she knew that its presence was temporary, that nothing she did would be able to stop it from leaving.

The closed door muffled noises, but not quite enough. She heard a faint grunt, and slowly, she turned a head to look over. “...You alright?”

“I’m fine, Yang.” She was much faster to reply this time.  

She didn’t believe the statement for a second, but she believed the tone. Yang stood, turning her eyes back to the coffee pot. Nearly boiling, finally. Yang pulled a bowl from the shelf, starting to fill it with cold water.

A yelp cut through the air, and Yang’s head shot up. She’d turned the sink off and was halfway across the room before she could even process what the problem could be, and had a hand on the door before she could remind herself that Blake hadn’t exactly been friendly so far. “Look, it ain’t worth y’ hurtin’ y’self worse.” She tried.

“You don’t need to help me with everything! ” There was nothing subtle about the venom she’d injected into her words, the way they hissed through the door full of defensive anger.

Part of her reeled, a little hurt at the sudden snap. But Yang knew everything there was to know about anger, and the rest of her nearly laughed at it. “No, y’ not. If y’ really want to re-break y’ ribs and spend even more time ‘round us humans, you can be my guest.” She should have stopped there. But her voice kept going, spurred on by her own frustration and fear. “But if you really want to go back to y’ dear bandit friends and darlin’ boyfriend, you ain’t doin’ it with shattered ribs.”

The silence was somehow louder than any reply Blake could have made. Yang felt herself slowly sink as her own voice echoed in her head, every repeat louder and angrier.

The mattress springs abruptly screeched, nearly drowning out the faint ‘thud’ of a fist smacking into something soft. She fully expected Blake’s voice to follow, to whimper or to snarl. But instead a silence returned, this one with an undercurrent of faint, unsteady breathing.

Yang didn’t want to wait this particular silence out. Biting her lip, she inhaled. “Look. How far’d you get?”

“Did the hip already.” Blake’s voice was almost too quiet to hear.

“No luck with the ribs?”

“What do you think?” Some of the edge had returned, but there was a tremble to her voice that didn’t quite match up to the tone.

Yang nodded, shrugging off the abrupt reply. “Right. Finish up whatever you need to, then I’ll come in and help when y’ ready. Fair?”

Blake didn’t reply, but there wasn’t really much choice. Yang quietly pushed off the doorway to go back to the kitchen. Watched the coffee grounds boil, the water rolling back and forth. She turned her eyes backwards to the door. Nothing. She fetched the abandoned bowl of cold water, pouring it down the spout and around the sides of the pot to settle the grounds, then putting it off to the side to cool. 

Still no sound from the door. Yang slowly walked back to the doorway, leaning back against it.

She waited, but no permission to enter came.

Impatience started to bite. Blake needed the damn bandages changed, and Yang had to get this gut-torturing event over with. “...Blake?”

No movement, no protest, no sound at all.

Irritation ebbed, replaced by anxiety. “Gon’ open the door in a sec. Cover up whatever you need to, or yell at me and I’ll get out.”

Still nothing.

Yang’s fingers hesitated on the handle, trying to decide if the silence was permission or not. She needs help, whether she admits it or not. Something still didn’t feel quite right.

She shut her eyes before cracking the door open with a squeak.

Nothing. No roars at her to leave, no whine of pain, no embarrassed mutter. Now Yang did open her eyes, and dared look.

The sunlight had just barely reached into the room, lighting a strip across the floor and bed, but little else. Blake was sitting up against where the bed met the corner of the room, pressed as far back into the corner as she could go. The bandaging material was strewn out across the bed, along with a dark shirt that Yang recognized as her own. To her intense relief the bandage was still in place, covering everything between her shoulders and abdomen, but Blake’s arms were still firmly crossed over them. Her denim-clad knees were pulled as close to her chest as they would go, cat ears invisible from where they had pressed flat against her head.

But it was the eyes that made Yang’s stomach drop, that made the entire situation change.

They were wide, pupils tiny despite the dark around her, golden irises striking and glassy. She didn’t even glance at Yang, instead staring straight ahead, through the wall, to something that only she could see.

Screaming, screaming with everything but her voice.

“Blake?” Suppressed panic shook her words, made them tumble out rougher than she’d intended, as she stepped forwards. “Blake, can you hear me?”

Still, the other woman didn’t move, but now Yang could see that her eyes were in fact tracking her, but with an unfocused look that made it difficult to tell if she was actually looking at Yang or past her. That just made things even more unsettling. It was if she’d been frozen in place, fully aware of her surroundings but unable to react.

Yang had never seen anything like it. Her gut bounced and rolled, every instinct yelling that Blake was in danger, that something was attacking her, that something was wrong .

She was moving before she could think, reaching for the bare shoulder. As her fingers grabbed bare skin, she remembered Pyrrha struggling to hold a screaming, panicked woman down.

Blake jumped, huge eyes snapping to her. Yang released her, fully aware that it was already too late.

A hand snatched her arm before she could jump out of the way. Strength that didn’t match the woman in front of her pulled, as another hand shoved her opposite shoulder backwards.

The truth was, Yang probably could have resisted. She probably could have shoved Blake back. She probably could have escaped the grip. But she was caught somewhere between surprise, fear of accidentally harming the woman, guilt, and an oddly calm curiosity.

Yang made no attempt to fight back as Blake spun her sideways and brought her crashing down onto the cot. She immediately regretted it as a knee planted itself across her abdomen, a hand wrapped around her throat, and their bodies were suddenly far, far too close.

For a long, long second, warm breath puffed across her face. Blake’s dark hair fell in chaotic waves around them, eyes shining with shocking ferocity. Her body was just as still as before, barely visible in the dimly lit room, but now there was a violent energy radiating from her, everything focused squarely on her. The few times anyone had looked at Yang like this, like a predator staring down its prey, she’d easily broken it with a fist or sharp word - yet that was the last thing she wanted to do right now. She realized that this was what Blake would have looked like in the shed, both decades and days ago, had she not injured herself during their struggle. Deadly and beautiful, like mountain lion, like a she-wolf.

Gods, I’m a dead woman.

The thought floated by, unbidden, and Yang knew it had nothing to do with any physical danger.

Yang realized that she wasn’t breathing. Instinctively, she inhaled and her chest traitorously coughed past the weight on her throat. Blake’s ears shot up, her eyes blinked, and the predatory stare disappeared into a sudden panic.

“Sorr-”

Yang’s apology - why was she apologizing? - didn’t escape her tight throat fast enough. Blake had already released her arm and her throat, trying to scramble backwards and sideways. Unfortunately, she had clearly forgotten that they were on the bed, and that the space she was trying to escape to was just air.

Yang moved before she could think. One arm neatly caught Blake by the waist, using her momentum to swiftly roll the faunus underneath her and back onto the bed instead of crashing to the floor. The other arm came up as Blake hit the pillow with a faint squeak, forearm crossing over her shoulder and pinning her against the mattress before she could swing at Yang again.

Blake stared up at her, dark hair strewn across the pillow, smooth skin and lithe form now lit by the dawn streaming through the window behind them. Her wide eyes were locked on Yang’s, one hand wrapped around her arm. She exhaled, her expression less afraid and more... startled. Her face had gone slightly pink.

Yang quickly realized that she was straddled over Blake’s hips, and this was worse, this was far, far worse.

She clumsily retreated to sit at the far edge of the cot, turning away from Blake, desperately hoping her face wasn’t as red as it felt. “Shit. Sorry. Was trying to stop you from fallin’.”

Blake cut her off, voice small but firm. “Don’t. It’s okay. I attacked you. I’m-” Yang dared peek sideways. She was still laying on her back, a hand rising to cover her eyes. “I’m sorry. You didn’t deserve that.” Something... something wasn’t right with her voice. It was shaking and frightened, but as she continued, Yang could hear the fear draining, leaving a sort of dull, hopeless tone.

Suddenly very, very afraid that she was falling into the same prison Yang had found her in, Yang slid up the bed to sit directly next to her. Blake startled with a sharp inhale at the motion, attention snapping back to her. She pulled her elbows underneath her, struggling to sit up.

Yang raised her hands in something of a surrender, knowing that she was breathing too fast, staring at Blake too desperately. “It’s okay. I ain’t angry at you. Nothin’ bad is gon’ happen. Don’ go back to wherever you were. You can be angry, or scared, but stay here . Okay?”

The golden eyes turned back up to her as her knees tucked back up against her chest, resting her chin on them. She looked tiny. Like she’d been crammed into a box and now her body had forgotten how to straighten back out. But the eyes were sharp and clear, and her movements, while shaky, were still fluid.

Yang slowly exhaled. “Do... you alright now?”

She gave a weak sort of shrug of her shoulders. Every motion seemed to take every ounce of her energy, and Yang’s chest ached. “Gods, Blake. What was that?”

“Attacking you? Or freezing?”

“Freezin’. Y’ attacked me because I grabbed you, that’s fine.”

Blake opened her mouth, then stopped at Yang’s second statement. Slowly tilted her head, staring at her incredulously.

Yang threw her hands up, internally cursing herself. “We can talk about you attackin’ me later if you want to, but you scared me shitless when I opened that door.”

That, thankfully, seemed to catch her attention and hold it. Blake bit her lip, looking down again, eyes darting back and forth as though trying to find the words. “...happens sometimes. It always passes eventually, or I break out of it like today, it’s not dangerous.”

“I’ve never seen anythin’ like it.” Yang said quietly after a moment, gaze never leaving the fragile, bruised woman on the ground. “It was like you couldn’t hear me.”

“I could. Just... feels like I’m far away. Like my... my mind and my body leave each other. I can hear things, I feel things, but I can’t move and it’s hard to speak.” Blake shifted her weight, ears flattening slightly. The quiet mumble that followed was barely audible, but the words it carried shattered everything they passed. “Happens if I know I can’t stop or run away from something that’s coming. My body stops moving and I just... wait for it to pass.”

All of the air left in Yang’s shattered chest hissed away, the weight of realization leaving her staring in horror at the woman, covered in scars and bandages, who couldn’t quite seem to look at her. Had she frozen when Adam attacked her? Forced to watch and unable to flee while her body broke and bled?

Yang’s mouth dried out completely as another thought occurred to her. She'd been able to talk before Yang's angry outburst. It was after that that she'd started to go quiet. “I... today. Was that... did I do that to you?” She’d meant to ask calmly, but the horror still seeped into her voice.

She hunched slightly, but shook her head. “Wasn’t your fault. It was already starting. I was stupid. I did it to myself.”

It wasn’t ‘no’. Yang slowly shifted her weight, feeling her heart sink. “...can you tell me?”

Blake paused, chewing on her lip. She gestured to the bandage on her ribs, still not looking at Yang. “Knew you had to help take it off and change it. I... I didn’t want it to happen, knew it had to. Hoped I might be able to do it myself. Got the bandages, got my hip done, and I...” She waved at the shirt, still on the bed somewhere behind Yang. “Took everything I had just to get that off. Knew I couldn’t do it.” Blake gave a shuddering exhale and looked up. Her eyes were glassy and red, dulled by exhaustion and defeat. “‘S stupid. Not that I don’t trust you, I do, it’d be worse with anyone but-”

She stopped herself, eyes widening slightly. But Yang spoke, hoping to be told she was wrong, hoping to be snarled at, hoping that the pieces had fallen into place in the wrong order. “- with anyone but Adam. And then I ribbed you ‘bout goin’ back to him, and it pushed you over the edge.”

“It’s not your fault.” She whispered, still staring her down, and Yang wasn’t sure who she was trying to convince. “You didn’t know, and I provoked you. You had a right to be mad, I just... thought you were angrier than you really were.”

She'd thought Yang had turned on her. Her chest was gone, obliterated by guilt and horror. “What I meant don’ mean a damn thing. I still scared you that badly.”

“Of course it means something, you didn’t mean to scare me.” The edge was coming back to her voice now. “Besides, you had a point and I know it.” Yang’s head slowly tilted, listening and watching as Blake looked away. “...stupid, going back to him. After this. I’m not blind, I know I should just run. Her arms tightened around her knees. “...there’s a lot no one knows. About me, and about him. I’ve... I’ve known him since I was twelve years old, he’s the only reason I’ve survived until now, he’s broken me but I - I broke him worse.” She inhaled, and it became a sob. “I know it’s stupid. I know I should leave. But...” A tear escaped, ran down her face, and Yang couldn’t watch anymore.

She reached out, wiping the liquid away with her thumb. Blake leaned into the touch before she could tense up, eyes darting back up. “Blake, I brought up you goin’ back because I was bitter, not to make a point. I...” Spit it out, idiot, she deserves to know. “...I went back to someone I knew better than to trust. I didn’ even get to leave - I got abandoned, n’ left to die.” The golden eyes sharpened, all of Blake’s attention suddenly focusing on her. Her gut wiggled uncomfortably, but at least it was a distraction from the faint pain in the back of her chest. “I’m not bringin’ it up because I think it’s the same thing you went through. It’s not. But... but I know how it feels to be the horse runnin’ back into the burnin’ barn. You don’ have to explain, not to me.”

It wasn’t the whole truth, but the whole truth was too big, too twisted, too full of dark magic, red eyes, and feathers. Even the quiet, personal truth was too much for the moment. If she brought up the fact that she’d been left too many times, and that the thought of Blake leaving too was sending a railroad spike through her chest, that would be the end of her. And she couldn’t bring herself to face the idea of Blake feeling guilty, feeling obligated to stay to repay her kindness.

Not that it mattered, she suddenly realized, if Blake somehow pieced it together on her own. It was easy to forget just how sharp and quick the woman was when she was broken and crying, but now she looked like the outlaw that she was. Even wide-eyed with surprise and sympathy, something dark was flashing behind her eyes. Something that looked more like anger.

Yang suddenly wondered if it was the same face she’d had when Blake had spoken about Adam.

“... you give a damn about me, too, don’t you?”

“Of course I do.”

Blake slowly uncurled, hanging her legs over the side of the bed and scooting sideways into Yang. She pressed her head against her shoulder, the contact sending warmth and electricity through Yang’s body again, reinforcing the fact that she was, indeed, doomed. “...I’m sorry.” She mumbled. “I’m sorry that you know what that feels like. You don’t deserve it.”

Yang had to bite her lip, glad that Blake couldn’t see her face, as she wrapped her arm around the slim woman’s shoulders, pulling her in with slightly more strength than necessary. “No one does.”

They stayed like that for a while. Too long, Yang realized, but she felt like the tears that had gathered in her eyes might fall if she actually let Blake go.

Thankfully, it was eventually Blake that spoke up, reaching up to squeeze Yang’s arm. “Guess we should probably change this stupid bandage.” She muttered, defeat clear in her voice.

Yang sighed. “No.” Blake glanced up at her, pulling away slightly. Yang reached to the corner of the bed, grabbing the baggy shirt that was hanging off of the end of it. “If the thought of changin’ it scared you that much, we ain’t doin’ it right before I go ridin’ away to the sheriff's office and leave you by yourself. We’ll do it when I get back.”

She didn’t miss the relieved exhale, or the way Blake seemed to soften as Yang extended the shirt to her. “...okay. I’ll have accepted it by then.”

“Hope so, because Jaune will murder us both if it doesn’t happen.” Yang managed a weak laugh, standing. The room looked different, felt different. Everything did.

“...are... you going to be okay?”

Surprised, Yang glanced backwards. Blake’s eyes were still locked on her,fiddling with the hem of the shirt, uncertain but concerned. “...ain’t I?”

Blake hesitated, ears flicking back and forth. “...you’re a little... quieter.”

Oh gods, she’s worrying about you now. “I’m fine. Just ain’t had my coffee yet. Which you are still welcome to have.”

“Yang, energy is the last thing I need right now.” Blake winced as she slowly eased one arm after the other into the shirt, then dropping it back over her head.

“...fair. I’ll cook you an egg or somethin’, then. I got plenty of time before I need to get into town.” And with that, Yang stepped out of the room, back into the kitchen, back into reality. Blake did follow her, but that even felt a little more normal, less intimate, less like the world was about to end.

One thing remained clear, as she joked, as she drank the coffee that Blake complained she could taste from across the room.

She would help Blake heal. She would not make Blake stay with her. She would not prevent her from choosing a future.

But Blake was not going to go back to Adam.

It rung in the scrape of Blake’s chair against the ground, the way she laughed softly at Yang’s jokes, the way Yang’s shirt covered her broken torso and made it look smaller.

Yang would die before she let him take her.

Chapter Text

Pyrrha had a lot to worry about. With the discovery of the dead Branwen tribe member, she now had to worry about the bandit tribe potentially settling back in, after years on the outskirts. On top of that, she apparently still had to help settle property disputes instead of mulling over maps and trying to figure out what both groups could be up to. She had the patience to listen to the two quarrelling families, at least. It had quickly become clear that the squabbling neighbors just both wanted someone to listen to each of their concerns, and Pyrrha felt like she had barely spoken through the entire encounter, both of them more or less figuring out the solution on their own.

One problem gone, one problem added, she thought to herself as she looked sideways at Yang. Her deputy had been more or less silent through the encounter, listening but not entirely present, lilac eyes unfocused. Pyrrha hadn’t asked any questions on how the night had gone - unlike Nora, who had immediately bombarded with Yang with questions the moment she’d entered the office this morning. Of course, Yang had fired back with smart remarks of her own, revealing nothing.

As they finally exchanged a pleasant farewell and excused themselves from the resolved argument over a tree stump between property lines, Pyrrha’s own curiosity remained on the forefront of her mind, patient as always. She knew exactly how to properly extract information from Yang - much like leading a horse to water, she had to be led to an opportunity to share the information, then make her own decision.

She waited until they were well away from the two houses, headed down a beaten-down path through a stand of birch saplings, Miló prancing and Celica plodding along like always. “...so.”

Yang glanced at her. “So?”

Pyrrha raised her eyebrows. “So, Blake.”

Yang slowly looked around, as though expecting to see someone following them, eavesdropping. Seeing nothing, she dramatically groaned, flopping over Celica’s neck. “You failed me, Pyrr. I’m gon’ die, and it’s y’ fault.”

A smug grin cracked across Pyrrha’s face. “One day and y’ already waitin’ for death?”

“I told you to keep me from doin’ somethin’ stupid.” Yang moaned. “You didn’ even try .”

“Details, darlin’, details. How stupid is my poor deputy?” She snapped her fingers, feigning impatience.

“Real stupid.” Yang turned her head to look at her, still flopped forwards on Celica’s neck. Despite the pose, some of the playfulness faded from her face. “Ended up havin’ a... an accidental heart-to-heart with her this mornin’. Think she wants to stay, but she’s scared to. And I’m gettin’ too damn attached.”

“Can’t imagine why’d she want to stay, gettin’ cooped up with you.” Pyrrha turned away, voice mockingly aloof.

“Ouch, Pyrr, that one almost hurt.”

“For the sake of the Gods, Yang, I’m messin’ with you. Y’ probably dote on her like she’s a day-old foal, why wouldn’ she want to stay?”

“Y’ ain’t the one that almost got strangled this mornin’.”

Pyrrha’s head turned so quickly that her neck cramped. “What?!”

Yang had already raised a hand in something of surrender. “It wasn’t her fault, I-” She paused. Something flicked by her eyes, and when she spoke again, her voice was careful. “...she had a - a moment, and I grabbed her to snap her out of it. Same as what happened in Jaune’s office, she startled badly and, ah. She pinned me, realized who I was and panicked, I caught her before she fell off the bed, pinned her, and we were both real damn embarrassed. No harm to either side.” She was avoiding Pyrrha’s eyes.

Her concern didn’t really fade at all - Yang wasn’t in the safest of places already, much less with a potentially dangerous new figure entering her life. She doubted that Blake would maliciously harm her, but Yang had been abandoned too many times already.

But Pyrrha had other ways of keeping an eye on her deputy, and while she had misgivings about Blake, no one would argue that Yang deserved to have more people in her life. She’d had a quiet conversation with Nora and Ren yesterday morning, before Blake or Yang had awoken. All three of them had quietly agreed to keep an eye on Yang, and Nora had more or less volunteered to interrogate Blake, but they’d agreed not to interfere otherwise. Pyrrha had spent too many nights beside Jaune, quietly guilty that Yang wasn’t experiencing the same bond she was, pitying the curiosity in Yang’s sheepish questions. Yang had never gotten this close to someone before, never been this focused on someone (at least, not in this context) and Pyrrha had no intentions of feeding the insecurities that she knew were already plaguing her. Really, all that was left to do was to watch them closely, and to confirm if her suspicions were, indeed, correct.

So she leaned forwards, studying Yang’s face inquisitively. “Hmm. I think there’s more ways to stop someone from fallin’ off a bed than pinnin’ ‘em down.” Yang’s shoulders came up, she looked away, and Pyrrha tasted blood. “...so, was she prettier on top of you or below you, Deputy?”

“...go eat a stingin’ nettle, Sheriff.” Yang glared at her, but didn’t quite hide the way one corner of her mouth twitched fast enough.

Pyrrha was normally somewhat reserved, put together, always professional and calm. Had this happened in the office, she would have grinned slyly and promised - or perhaps threatened - to discuss it further later. But in the privacy of an open grassland with no one but the horses around to hear, the young sheriff outright roared with laughter.

A swift shove to her right shoulder nearly unseated her, but Pyrrha continued to giggle. “Oh my GODS, y’ hopeless. Hopeless.”

“And y’ the worst friend in history. Seriously, Pyrr, this ain’t good, she’s gon’ leave eventually!” Yang threw a hand up, real anxiety seeping into her voice.

It was enough to sober Pyrrha up, at least a bit. She wiped at the tears that had gathered in her eyes, biting back snorts. “You said it y’self - she don’ want to go back to him.”

“I mean I don’ think she’s gon’ stay here. She ain’t gon’ stay with a bunch of backwoods humans that gawk at her ears and don’ treat her like an equal. But she ain’t goin’ back to him.” Yang was staring straight ahead, her jaw set, and there was a certainty in her tone that unnerved Pyrrha. 

Pyrrha intended to mention that they could find a place for Blake in the sheriff’s office, that they’d find a way for it to work. Instead, she found herself remembering where the conversation had started - the ‘moment’ Yang had mentioned. “...Yang, why did she attack you this mornin’?”

Her eyes flicked downwards. “I tried to change the bandage on her ribs. She didn’ want me to, turned into us talkin’ through a closed door. She snapped at me, and...” Yang grimaced, shame and guilt clear on her face. “...I told her she wasn’ goin’ back to her boyfriend with broken ribs.”

Pyrrha winced. “Yang.”

The woman shook her head, guilt clear in her closed eyes and tense shoulders. “I know, I know, I felt horrible the second I said it.”

“So, you didn’ startle her, you pissed her off?”

Yang paused again. “No... no, I did startle her. She didn’t get mad. I... I felt bad, I told her to just get whatever she needed done and then I’d come in. She didn’t say anything, I got nervous and went in. She’d... I don’ know what happened to her, really. We talked about it after, but when I walked in she’d just frozen on the spot. Scared me, I grabbed her and it spooked her pretty bad.”

Pyrrha tilted her head. “...froze?”

“Like a deer in lamplight. Never seen anything like it. I asked her about it once everythin’ had settled down, she said it happens to her if...” Her eyebrows came down, and Pyrrha watched as Yang’s temper flicked behind her face, “...if she thinks something is comin’ that she can’t get away from. Said it’s like her mind and body leave each other.”

“Oh.” That... that had an implication that Pyrrha didn’t like.

Yang, even though they always joked about Pyrrha being the mind reader out of the two, was not exactly unobservant. Her eyes flicked across Pyrrha’s expression. “You seen that before?”

“Not exactly, but Jaune’s talked about somethin’ like it.” Miló spooked at a what she assumed was a suspiciously shaped bush, and Pyrrha was grateful for the distraction, taking a moment to word the description Jaune had given her as she reined Miló back. “When he was in school in Atlas, he helped treat an orphanage that had an outbreak of some kind. Most of the kids cried or yelled when he gave them a needle, then would calm down afterwards if he stayed and talked. But there were two or three that didn’ flinch when he did anything, but just stared off into space and didn’ talk, no matter how long he stayed. But he’d see them later, playing with the other kids and talkin’ like normal.”

She didn’t need to ask if it was similar to what Blake had done - Yang was sitting up now, totally focused on every word Pyrrha had said. “Did he find out what was wrong with ‘em?”

“...in a way.” She shifted her weight in the saddle, mind running ahead of her mouth, trying to form her words as best she could. “He asked about it, they all had a real damn bad start to life. He didn’ think it was an illness, it was probably just that they’d learned to just stay still when they were scared.” All three of the children had something else in common - one very specific, horrific trauma that they’d suffered at the hands of an adult that they must have once trusted - but she didn’t have the heart to voice it. Not when it would invade whatever privacy poor Blake had left, not when Yang was already pained at imagining her suffering, and most certainly not when she knew about the quick scuffle they’d had afterwards.

Speaking of which - Pyrrha glanced over to find Yang glaring downwards, lost in what was clearly a chain of furious thoughts. “...Y’ gon’ burn a hole in Celica’s mane with that stare, y’know.”

Yang blinked, shaking her head. “...ugh. Anyways. Ain’t my business, I s’pose.”

Pyrrha chewed her lip. “...one more question.”

“Shoot.”

“The.... scuffle you mentioned. She froze before that, right?”

“Yeah. She told me it wasn’ my fault, but I think it was.” Yang mumbled, gaze falling.

Pyrrha, however, was thinking of something else. “She didn’t freeze after that? Or during?”

Now the blonde deputy looked at her, confusion starting to show on her face. “No. Well - a little. She started apologizin’ for attackin’ me and I thought she was gon’ do it again, I kept her talkin’ and she didn’.”

“What did she do when you pinned her down?”

“I... stared at me. Blushed a tiny bit. I realized what I was doin’ and cleared out before anythin’ else happened.” Pyrrha felt a tiny, relieved smile pull at her face, and Yang frowned bemusedly at her, worry starting to seep into her face. “You think I made it worse?”

”Nope.” Pyrrha felt her smile turn sly again, watching Yang’s expression change from worried to embarrassed. “I think she was just fine with you doin’ that.”


Blake couldn’t remember the last time she’d been able to lose herself in a book. Every now and then, she’d been able to pick up a new one from a stolen bag and spend an hour or two reading before Adam found her and either started making fun of her, or chastising her for wasting time. With no one in the house but her, the books, and her aching ribs, that worry was no longer an issue. Blake picked out one that claimed to tell the story of four mercenaries hunting down a mysterious, powerful woman, and quietly settled in.

The book easily held her attention for the first few hours, distracting her even from the constant, throbbing pains in her side, but before long the words just sort of fell from the page as Blake read. The images they’d conjured in her mind faded away as she was distracted by the rouge thoughts swirling in her head.

Oddly enough, it wasn’t the fears and insecurities that had haunted her through the night and morning that were reaching her through the words. Not the thought of Yang finally losing her patience, finally realizing that Blake was worthless. Not the thought of Adam finding her, convincing her that all was forgiven just so he could turn it around and convince her that everything was her fault again. Not even the memory that had briefly surfaced and paralyzed her this morning.

No, it was the image of Yang that would not give her peace. The memory of golden hair, caught in the sunlight as she pinned Yang beneath her, a hand locked around her throat. A pair of lilac eyes staring into her soul with something that was not fear.

Then she’d coughed, guilt had struck Blake like lightning, and she’d tried to retreat.

An arm had grabbed her before she could fall, the world flipped, and Yang had appeared above her. She had been glowing and golden in the dawn’s light, stronger and more beautiful than anything Blake had ever known.

Her gut twisted as she remembered Adam sitting in the same place, looking down at her with hunger and smug confidence.

Yang’s face had been filled with something like awe, something like reverence, something that made her look like she was looking up at Blake, not down.

Thunder grumbled, somewhere far away. Blake finally admitted defeat and closed the book, leaning forwards to hug her knees.

Blake knew she was a coward. She ran away from every fear, every pain - she even ran away from her own damned body, leaving it to face the pain that she was too scared to experience. She had no right to be looked at like that by anybody , much less Yang.

Lightning flashed, and Blake jumped, yelping involuntarily as her ribs and hip protested with a spike of agony. The thunder boomed, much louder this time, and she realized that rain was tapping on the roof and window.

Yang would probably be back once the rain let up, she realized. She hadn’t exactly been doing a good job of keeping an eye on the sun’s position in the sky before the afternoon storm had blotted it out, but it had to have been a while. And she was curled back up on the bed, exactly where she had been when Yang had panicked.

Gritting her teeth, Blake forced herself to unfold and slowly leave the bed. She focused on the fact that her ribs hurt much, much more than they had this morning or yesterday. By comparison, her hip barely twinged as she sat up and reluctantly stood, wincing. You should have let Yang change that bandage.

Beating a dead horse, she tiredly reminded herself as she stiffly walked to the kitchen, eyeing the bag of bandaging supplies that Jaune had packed. She could save some time by getting everything out, she reasoned as she eased herself into a kitchen chair. The house flashed bright with lighting as she sorted through the contents of the bag.

Tap-tap-tap.

Blake blinked, looking up. The sound could have easily been mistaken for hail, but the placement of the sound was wrong. For a moment, she stared at the door. Had she missed the sound of Yang riding up?

Tap-tap.

Her ears flicked to the window over the kitchen sink, eyes following.

A massive raven was sitting on the windowsill. A pair of blood red eyes stared through the glass at her, face pointed straight at her in a way that was very, very wrong for a bird.

Then the head bobbed, turned sideways to examine her with one eye, and the bird gave a faint, pathetic croak. At the same time, Blake realized the bird was soaked to the bone.

She stood, walking around the table to the sink. She fully expected the bird to spook and fly away as she approached, but instead it fluffed out its feathers, trying to stay warm. For a moment, Blake stared at it, torn. This was stupid. It was a wild bird, it would be fine on its own. She hadn’t forgotten the stare she’d just been fixed in, either.

But it was soaked, it was cold, and Blake knew both of those feelings too well. She pushed the window open with a reluctant growl.

The raven hopped into the house without even a moment of hesitation, shaking itself and spraying water across the countertops and Blake. It seemed to pointedly ignore her swearing and swatting, before settling to perch on the edge of the sink as Blake closed the window again. The raven seemed even larger now that it was on this side of the window - it would easily outmatch a hawk in weight, beak as long as her fingers. The red eyes stared at her with a casual sort of ease, entirely too at home in the small kitchen.

Blake pinned her ears back at it, grumbling, “Fine. Dry up, then get back out.” She turned, digging a small rag out from under one of the cabinets.

Ruffling its feathers again, the raven fluffed up, bobbing and tilting its head to examine her. Blake tilted her head back, eyes narrowed as she started drying the water that the raven had thrown everywhere. “If you’re here to warn me about my impending demise, you’re a bit late.”

Awk . The raven shook out its feathers with another deep croak, closing its eyes as though planning to sleep.

Blake frowned, but turned her own eyes downwards. Raven.

“She ain’t Raven.”

“Idiot said somethin’ about ‘Xiao Longs and their bandits’ as he left... I’m amazed Yang didn’t shoot him where he stood.”

Pyrrha’s voice returned to her ears from the night she’d spent in Jaune’s medical room, blurred by drugs and exhaustion but still intact.

Yang admitting to being taken advantage of and abandoned had hit Blake hard. The idea that anyone could hurt her had spurred a feeling of protective rage somewhere deep in her chest. Yang was worth hundreds of her, how could anyone even consider the idea of causing her pain?

She glanced over at the raven perched on the sink, finding it innocently puffed up, eyes closed as though sleeping. The connection to the figure in Yang’s past was a little too coincidental to ignore entirely. As was the unsettling fact the apparently wild bird had no fear of her whatsoever.

But the person that had hurt Yang was not a literal raven, and she wasn’t going down that particular road any further. Her sanity had enough to focus on without entertaining the legends of shapeshifters and magic that some of the locals they’d recruited told each other around the campfire.

“You know something about a bandit called Raven, bird?” She tiredly spoke aloud anyways, passing by the bird to wipe at the water on the other side of the sink, trying to think of anything other than her own fears. “I’m led to believe she hurt Yang, and she never fully recovered.”

No response from the bird, of course.

“I’ve been hurt by people. I’ve been beaten and screamed at and left to -” Her breath hitched. “- left to face my fate alone. But those were all consequences for my mistakes. She’s doesn’t deserve that.”

She should have just left it there. Should have focused on wiping away the water, not thinking about the fear pulling at her gut. But her mouth moved without her, and the bird didn’t cut her off as she hesitantly rambled to no one. “Nothing about her and I makes any sense, bird. She shouldn’t give a damn about me. I shouldn’t be worried about her. But she cares too much, and I’m not worth it .” Blake gripped the fabric, desperation slipping into her voice. “She’s been abandoned before, and I’m not strong, I’m not brave. I’ll get caught up in my own head, Adam will talk me into believing him, and she’ll be alone again. I’m not a good choice, I’m going to hurt her. I think she knows it too, but I’m so, so scared that idiot’s gone and fallen-”

She cut herself off, exhaling. She was breathing too hard; her ribs ached with every inhale. No. She hasn’t. You’re not worth it and she knows that. She has to know that.

Blake glanced sideways - and jumped backwards with a shriek as red eyes met hers, beak barely an inch from her face.

The raven blinked innocently, standing on the counter as she painfully hobbled back, ribs and hips alike complaining from the sudden movement. “You meant to scare me.” Blake hissed out loud before she could question what, exactly, she was accusing the bird of.

It croaked, and this time it sounded truly amused. It turned its head to look at her, and the motion was too fluid for a bird. It looked like it was smirking at her.

“Right, Bird, you’ve outstayed your welcome.” Blake shoved the window open, pointing out into the pouring rain. “Go and hide in the trees, like a proper wild animal.”

The bird gave a very deliberate look up at her ears, then back to her face.

Had someone been paying attention outside, the scene would have been absolutely hysterical. A scuffle, an insulted squawk, and then a dark bird was thrown out of the open window and into the rain.

Blake watched it take flight and dive into the trees, ears still pinned against her head. ...did you just let a bird offend you?

She closed the window with an angry huff. Then she glanced upwards, ears flicking.

A familiar, golden horse was walking towards the house, the rider’s head bowed against the rain.

“Gods, Yang, why are you coming back now? ” Blake whispered, hurriedly wiping away the last of the water and shoving the rag back below the sink. She hobbled to the door, throwing it open and stepping out onto the porch.

Celica snorted as Yang dismounted directly in front of the wooden stairs. “Have you been told that you’re insane already?” Blake hollered to be heard over the rain pounding above her.

Yang looked up, pulling Celica’s bridle off and hanging it over her shoulder. “It’s been mentioned a time or two.”

“Clearly not enough.” Blake crossed her arms, shaking her head disbelievingly. “Were you afraid I’d burn your home down if you didn’t come back as soon as possible?”

Yang pulled the saddle off, Celica trotting away to find shelter amongst the trees. “I’d be impressed if you managed to do that in the rain.” She tipped the saddle up to rest beside the house, safe from the pouring rain, and shot Blake a wicked grin. “Were you standin’ at the window waitin’ for me to get home?”

“Lucky coincidence.” Blake huffed, making a split-second decision to keep the strange raven’s visit to herself, turning to walk into the house. “Was getting the bandage material out so we could get this over with as soon as you got back.”

“Ah.” Yang closed the door behind them, throwing her coat and hat over the simple wooden pole that was nailed to one wall. “You want to do that right now?”

“Yeah.” Blake slowly sat down at the kitchen table, biting her lip. Fear was starting to burn at her gut again, forcing her fingers to tap on the edge of it.

Yang’s eyes traveled to them, and Blake forced them to stay still, mentally cursing herself. “Blake, we-”

“No, we need to do this.” She winced slightly, “I... they really hurt. The ribs. I should have let you do it earlier, I don’t think this wrap is helping anymore.”

“Oh.” Realization dawned on the blonde’s face, and she moved forwards with a little more haste, scooping the bandage roll off the table. Both of them hesitated, Yang slowly looking her up and down. “...should we do this in one of the bedrooms?”

Blake bit her lip. “I think here might be better.”

“Okay. Maybe... maybe sit backwards in the chair. Rest your arms on the back of it, it’d be easier for me to wrap.” Yang started going through the bag, turning her back to Blake. Giving her privacy to take her shirt off - not that it mattered, she’d seen her with just the bandages anyways.

She reached to unbutton her shirt. Hesitated. “...Yang?”

Yang looked over her shoulder, eyes focused and attentive. “Yeah?”

“Does... does that door lock?” She pointed to the front door.

Yang nodded, eyes slowly softening. “...you want me to lock it?”

“Yes.” Blake barely heard her own voice.

Yang walked to the door without a hesitation, shifting a deadbolt into place. Then she returned to the table, sitting down and facing the other way without a word, looking through the bag.

Blake wanted to cry, because she didn’t deserve it. She didn’t deserve the softness, the attention, she didn’t-

Just take your damn shirt off.

It was too long of a process, and she almost asked for help twice, but the shirt came off and was placed on the table between them. Blake turned in the chair, like Yang had suggested, crossing her arms over the back of it.

No going back now. “Okay.” She mumbled, screwing her eyes shut.

It was loud enough to catch Yang’s attention, anyways. One of her ears followed Yang around the table, heard her sit in a chair behind her, felt her move closer.

Blake forced herself to breathe slowly. It’s Yang. She won’t do anything. She couldn’t quite stop her ears from pinning back as she waited. The first touch would be the worst part, everything would be okay after that.

“You read anythin’ while I was gone?”

Blake’s eyes blinked open. “I - yes. M-”

Yang’s hand pressed between her shoulder blades, and she jerked, inhaling sharply.

Focus. She’s trying to distract you. Let her.

“M-Maiden Hunters. I started there.”

“Good choice. Ruby sent it to me because she thought I’d like it, I almost yelled at her for readin’ it before I realized she’s old enough for that now.” Yang chuckled, and there was an unsteadiness to it.

Blake felt the pin come out of place, felt the top of the bandage come loose. “Used to hiding books from her?” She swallowed, screwing her eyes shut again.

“Comes with the territory. She was always a hellion for gettin’ into things she shouldn’t. Otherwise a good kid.” Yang was being careful, she was being delicate, but Blake could feel the bandage slowly coming away, revealing the skin beneath, and it was getting harder and harder to breathe.

Desperately trying to distract herself, Blake blurted out, “I liked Kaijot. Absolute son of a bitch, but he was well-written.”

There was a snort of laughter that sounded more surprised than anything. “Really? Thought you’d like Ash more...” Her voice trailed off as the last of the bandage fell away.

Her ears pinned back. She gritted her teeth, not wanting to picture Yang staring at her bare skin, every second she was exposed worse than the last. “Did they re-break?”

“No. No, don’ think so.” Yang’s voice wasn’t steady. “Bruise grew.”

“It’s a bruise. They spread, it’ll heal.” Blake fought the urge to shiver.

“I know, but it...it really grew.” She trailed off. Blake opened her mouth to beg her to just wrap them up again, but Yang spoke in the quietly horrified voice that she was getting too accustomed to. “Blake, what did he do to you?”

She realized that Yang had never asked her what had happened. She’d never been told to give specifics, to describe why she’d left or how she’d ended up in the shape she was in. Everything Yang knew about the incident was from what Blake had mentioned or let slip.

But right now, she could barely breathe, tears were starting to collect in her eyes, and the cold pressing on her skin was forcing her to remember unwelcome hands on her torso. Her voice fell from her mouth before she could think about it.  “Yang, I promise I will tell you everything you want to know. I will tell you everything, but please, please put the wrap back on first.”

Her voice cracked and shook on the last sentence, but Yang was already wrapping. Her hands were warm, but her skin was crawling already, confusing the past with reality. The bandage was firm and supportive, which should have helped her. But Yang had to reach in front of her to pull the roll of fabric back towards her with every wrap, entirely too much of their skin was touching, and her hands were nearing the top half of her chest.

She felt the fabric unroll across her back, knew the next time it was brought forward it would be across her breasts. Her heart beat wildly, as if trying to escape.

Yang reached in front of her again, somehow managing to avoid brushing her skin. Took the roll from her other hand.

Blake sucked in a breath, held it there despite the pain in her chest. It’s just Yang. It’s just Yang.

A hand appeared on her shoulder, Squeezed, one thumb moving in a small, light circle. Blake focused on it. Focused on the warmth seeping through her skin, the thumb sliding over bone.

Then it was gone, the fabric was rolling across her back again, and somehow the wrap had already gone across her breasts.

Blake let out one shaky breath after another as the wrap continued, ended below her arms. She felt Yang fumble a pin into it, securing it into place, and heard a sigh. “Done.”

The strength sapped from her spine, and for a moment Blake just rested against the chair, focusing on breathing. We have to do this every two days. I’m not going to survive.

...and I told her I’d tell anything she wants to know.

Something brushed against her back, and Blake’s head jerked up, looking over her shoulder.

Yang draped her shirt over her, eyes avoiding hers, being careful to avoid touching her bare skin as she backed away, turned back to the kitchen and rolled up the bandage she’d pulled off of Blake.

Blake’s chest twinged. For a moment, she shoved away her insecurities, her memories, her fears, and inhaled. “...Thank you. For everything.” I don’t deserve you.

Yang looked back over her shoulder, and her face was soft, her eyes warm. “You’re welcome. Now, come help me figure out what we’re gon’ eat.”

Blake let her eyes fall, and focused on doing up the buttons on her shirt.


The rain didn’t let up for quite some time, though that mattered little when you flew under the treeline. The raven easily soared between the tree trunks, familiarity with the path betrayed by the ease in which she avoided every obstacle.

A woman with her hair cut nearly against her head came into view, seated on a long-legged chestnut and holding the reins of a dark stallion with feathered legs. She leaned back in the saddle, watching with a bored expression as the raven drew closer.

It cut behind a tree, wings flapping to slow its approach. But instead of a bird, a woman with long, tangled black hair walked out from the other side of the trunk, grimacing as she wrung out her soaked hair.

Vernal didn’t bat an eye as Raven approached, only holding out the riderless horse’s rein. “So?”

She tossed her wet hair back, giving her horse’s massive, dark head a stroke as she took the reins. “You were half right - Taurus’ second is alive.”

“Told you Yang wouldn’t have that horse for no reason.” The pleased hum was adorable, in a smug way. “We should move in on her now. He’s gon’ be missin’ her still, he’ll cooperate better with less time passed.”

“Settle down, I said you were half right. From what I could gather, she was either beaten and exiled, or escaped an attempt on her life. I doubt her life means much to him.” Raven focused on untying the hat and leather slicker jacket from the back of her saddle.

“Oh. Shit.” The younger woman rubbed at her forehead, pausing as Raven pulled the jacket on over the intricately patterned shirt. “...Nikos is no fool. She wouldn’t be hanging onto her if she didn’t have a reason to.”

“And she would already be negotiatin’ if she thought Taurus held the girl in any kind of value.”

“Mm. She could be lettin’ him think the girl is dead, and tryin’ to get information from her.”

“Either way, we need to move quicker.” Raven hauled herself up into the saddle, silently cursing the way her joints ached more in the cold forest air. “I don’t need Sheriff Nikos getting involved and complicating this any further.”

Vernal tilted her head. “...Maybe we could convince Yang to hand her over to us before she gives up anything useful on what the White Fang is doin’.”

“Yang already throws rocks at every raven she sees. She won’ listen to me, much less hand over the girl. We’ll continue with the plan, and keep an eye on the sheriff. With any luck, they might focus on the White Fang and take care of them for us.” Raven secured her hat onto her head, tilting it to ensure it would shed rain from her head appropriately, watching as Vernal followed suit. In many ways, she was grateful for her second-in-command’s reverence for her. She didn’t question Raven’s stranger and more secretive habits. Like checking in on her former husband and estranged daughter, dumping Shay’s body near the Xiao Long ranch, or her reluctance to make the (admittedly strategic) move to snatch the girl that so obviously doted on her daughter.

Raven had long since passed the point of questioning her own motives, and she relished the lack of anyone else doing it on her behalf.

Both riders turned, trotting deeper into the misty underbrush.

Chapter Text

Three days had passed, and Yang still hadn’t asked Blake to make good on the fear-fueled promise to tell her everything.

It was driving Blake insane. Yang was proving to be an absolute sweetheart of a woman, honest and good-natured even if she appeared rough around the edges. She’d found tea for Blake to have in the morning, for the Gods sake. But Blake knew better than to fully trust things that seemed too good to be true. She’d allowed herself to fall into a comfortable routine, to trust Yang more than she’d allowed herself to trust anyone, but a part of her mind still waited, chasing its tail, waiting for Yang to slip up and reveal that she wasn’t who she seemed to be and start interrogating her about the White Fang.

The worst part was, Blake wasn’t even sure if she wanted to guard the information anymore.

Yang had hesitated this morning, breaking her usual routine of getting the usually cranky and sleep-deprived Blake to talk and function. “Pyrr, Ren, Nora, and I usually get drinks on Friday evenin’s.” She’d hesitantly offered, “You want to come?”

She shouldn’t have even hesitated. It was a terrible idea - she could try hiding her ears, but if anyone caught on, she would be a target. On top of that, saloons and pubs were dark, they were loud, they smelled of sweat and smoke and alcohol.

Instead, she’d paused long enough for Yang to add that she could think about it, and she’d come back after working at the sheriff’s office. If Blake felt like coming, she could come along. If she didn’t, Yang would head back in.

The sun was low in the sky, peeking between dreary clouds, and Blake was still curled in her room with her nose buried in a book that she wasn’t paying attention to. The truth was, she did want to go. As much as she enjoyed Yang’s company, and as much as she loved the time alone, she was used to being surrounded by other people for most of the day. Helping train new recruits, working on strategies, talking Adam through something. The silence was starting to eat at her, make her antsy.

Not only that, but a saloon meant alcohol. Blake had rarely consumed it, but she knew that when she did, she was usually rewarded with a dreamless sleep. The morning afterwards was less fun, but... the nightmares were getting out of hand.

Yang had changed the bandage again last night. It hadn’t been any easier than the first time, as careful as she tried to be and as much as Blake had tried to play off her own fear. Once she’d fallen asleep, Blake’s dreams were filled with voices that whispered of debts, of cowardice, of tasting her own medicine. Voices turned to rooms with no doors, pressure against her chest and neck, hands that she couldn’t ever seem to find to push away, faceless figures appearing everywhere she tried to run, reaching for her. Then, worst of all, apologies in a voice that had only ever made one once, and hands that were trying to be gentle and failing.

She was so, so tired of it all. Maybe the risk would be worth it, if she could actually sleep for a single night.

A knock on the door dragged her out of her thoughts. Blake clumsily rolled off the bed, clothed in one of the nicer shirts and jeans that Yang had offered to her. She unlocked the door, throwing it open. “You’re early, w-”

Her voice died in her throat as Pyrrha Nikos gave a sheepish smile. “Hello again.”

“I- sorry, I thought you were Yang.” Her heart stopped. “Is-”

“She’s fine, sorry, I didn’ mean to scare you.” The tall woman gestured behind her, to her own antsily dancing horse. “She ended up talkin’ to a couple folks longer than she thought. I offered to ride down n’ see if you wanted to come tonight.”

“Oh. Good.” Her mouth had dried out, suddenly faced with a surprisingly daunting task of talking to someone who wasn’t Yang.

Pyrrha tilted her head. “...you feelin’ up to it?”

Blake set her jaw. She needed to get out of here. Needed to get out of her own head. “Yes.” She said, stepping out onto the porch. “Need to hide my ears somehow.”

“Figured.” Pyrrha reached into the pocket of her jacket as she walked down the stairs alongside Blake, pulling out a faded yellow square of fabric and offering it to her.

Blake took it with a raised eyebrow. “Will... will that actually convince anyone?”

“The folk at the saloon generally ain’t the thinkin’ sort.”

“...fair.” Blake sighed as she tied the bandanna around her neck, flipping it over her head and tucking it behind her ears with a familiarity that suggested she’d done it many times before. She winced slightly as her arms raised over her head but continued adjusting. The fabric pressed down on her ears, forcing them to flatten and muffling some sound. It wasn’t terribly comfortable, but it would do.

Pyrrha tilted her head. “You look like y’ ribs ain’t botherin’ you as much.”

“We’ve been keeping the wrap on, seems to help.” Blake walked around to Gambol’s fence, stroking the gleaming black head as the mare leaned in to sniff the offending fabric over her owner’s ears. She hesitated. “...Ah. How many people ride in eastern tack here?”

“No one. Yang has an old saddle that she used for startin’ colts; it should fit y’ mare.”

Blake exhaled. “Okay. Good.”

She could feel Pyrrha’s eyes on her. “Blake, I’m sorry, but I have to ask.”

Blake tensed immediately, eyes flashing towards the sheriff. “Does it involve the White Fang?”

The redhead leaned against the fence, watching her carefully but not staring her down. “Not exactly. What do you intend to do once y’ healed?”

Shit. Blake’s eyes fell back to Gambol.

The silence spoke for her, apparently, because Pyrrha sighed. “I know you have a lot on y’ mind right now. And I understand, believe it or not-”

No, you don’t.

“-so, I’m not going to push you.” Blake blinked. Pyrrha stood up again, walking towards the shed. “But just so you know - if you decide that you want to stay in Beacon, there’s a place for you here.”

Blake glanced over her shoulder, turning. “...how? I’m a faunus, and an outlaw. How could there possibly be a place for me where anyone would trust me?” She half-laughed as she said it - exasperated, tired.

Pyrrha stopped. Looked over her shoulder. “...how good are you at keepin’ secrets?”

Her eyes narrowed, but she tilted her head, examining Pyrrha. “...really good.”

“Yang was an outlaw for a while.”

Blake stared, feeling her jaw open slightly. “...you’re not serious.”

“Serious as death and taxes, love.” The tall woman shifted her weight. “She was already workin’ for me at the time, we got into an ugly disagreement over it. She left to join the bandit clan, and I didn’t see her again for four months. When I did find her, she was half-dead, broken, barely half the woman I’d known. She thought I was gon’ put her behind bars. Instead, I gave her the job back. We told Mayor Ozpin that I’d sent her into the band as a spy, and I lied to anyone else I had to - includin’ her father - to cover up what’d happened. She’s never given me a reason to regret that decision, even for a moment.”

“...why are you telling me this?” Blake’s voice came out small, confused, completely broadsided by the image of the sunny, powerful blonde as anything but the shining example of good.

“To tell you that I know potential when I see it. And I ain’t as by-the-book as people seem to think I am.” Pyrrha gave a half-smile, green eyes warm. “If you want to come in, I will make a place for you. And, honestly... bein’ a faunus in this town ain’t easy. But from what I can see and hear, y’ life ain’t easy already. I think you’ll find the hardships you might face won’t compare to what you’ve already lived through.”

Her fingers tightened on the rough wood of the fence, Gambol's breath blowing through her hair. “...I’ll consider.”

“Thank you. That’s all I wanted to hear.” Pyrrha turned, heading towards the tack shed. She paused. “Oh - don’t tell Yang I told ‘bout you that. Ain’t my story to tell.”

“I’ll keep my mouth shut.” Blake softly rubbed Gambol’s head, eyeing the bandage on her shoulder. “...you think Gambol’s shoulder will be okay? To walk into town, I mean.”

Pyrrha chuckled, muffled by distance and the fabric pressing down on Blake’s ears. “Yang walked her out here. And she tried very hard to destroy her stall at the office and didn’t damage her shoulder then. I think you’ll be fine. Now, come here and get this bridle - no, don’t look at me like that, I’m takin’ this saddle. My dear husband worked real hard on y’ ribs, I’ll be divorced by mornin’ if I let you damage them now.”


“Nora, you are going to drown yourself.”

Nora cheerfully tilted her head even further back, draining the glass of beer completely. Ren sighed, looking over at Yang. “If she collapses, you’re putting her on her horse.”

“If she collapses, I’m tyin’ her ankles to the saddle horn and Magnhild can drag her home.”

“Y’ both idiots - this is only the first one, and I can drink y’all under the table.” Nora lifted the empty glass with a wicked grin, standing. “I’m gon’ get another round. Pyrrha should be here soon.”

Yang’s fingers traced a circle on the table, eyes falling as Nora swaggered away, approaching the bar without the slightest hint of unsteadiness. Ren leaned back, and Yang could feel him looking at her as she took a huge gulp of her own beer, then sighed, “I should’a gone home. Blake ain’t gon’ want to come anyways, and she definitely won’t go with Pyrr.”

Ren raised an eyebrow.

“It ain’t Pyrr’s fault. Blake’s been an outlaw for Gods knows how long, she don’ like humans, much less lawmen. And she ain’t gon’ want to sit in a dark, smoky saloon full of humans either. I don’t even know if she drinks beer, some Mistral folk don’.”

“What strange ways those Mistral folk have.” Ren commented dryly, sipping his beer.

Yang nearly choked on her drink, coughing and wiping her mouth. “Dammit. Sorry. Forget sometimes.”

“I thought my accent would’ve given it away.” But Ren was smiling, clearly amused. It really was easy to forget that both he and Nora had originally hailed from Mistral. Nora had taken no time at all to start talking in the drawl that came with the area, but Ren still spoke with the same clear, carefully pronounced lit that the easterners all carried. They had all joked that it was probably because he just never spoke. But such was apparently not the case tonight, as he sighed and continued his thought in a rare continued speech for Ren. “If you’re so sure that Blake won’t enjoy this, why’d you invite her?”

Yang shook her head with an exasperated sigh. “Don’ know. Worried she might feel cooped up in the house, I s’pose. No one for her to talk to but me, and we all know how that gets tirin’ eventually.”

“Mm.” Ren tilted his head. The saloon door squeaked open behind them, and Yang checked over her shoulder before she could stop herself. A group of ranch hands passed in, laughing and joking with each other. Nora swept past them, three glasses of beers clutched between her hands, plunking them down on the table.

Yang glanced at her own half-full glass. “...you expectin’ me to down this all right here?”

“Naw, this mine, and this is for Pyrr, and this is for Blake.” Nora threw back her beer again.

The saloon door squeaked again, and Yang sighed, resolving not to look this time. “So, who gets it if she don’t come?”

Nora stared over her shoulder, and Ren chuckled. “Doesn’t matter.”

Yang whirled around, searching the saloon. She didn’t have to look far - Pyrrha easily cut through the small crowd, hat still pulled low over her eyes. And behind her, golden eyes carefully surveying the throngs of humans, faded yellow bandanna pulled over the top of her head, was Blake.

An involuntary smile pulled at Yang’s mouth as she kicked the chair beside her away from the table. “So, how’d it feel to ride y’ own horse again?”

A smile crept over Blake’s face, “Incredible.”

“Lies. She grumbled about the saddle and her ribs the entire way.” Pyrrha gave a long-suffering sigh as she flopped into her chair on Yang’s other side, pulling the beer towards her.

“You were the one who told me to let you know if they hurt, then made me ride in a saddle older than I am.” Blake’s voice still had a guarded edge to it, but there was an amused smile on her face as she slowly sat down.

“You were the one worried ‘bout someone recognizin’ y’ horse and tack.”

Blake shrugged and took a sip of her beer, swallowing with ease. So, she does drink. Yang stretched, grinning despite herself. “Aw, lookit you two, bickerin’ like an old married couple. Warms my heart.”

“That’s the alcohol, Yang.” Blake responded faster than Pyrrha could, and Yang could see a tiny suppressed smirk in the corner of her mouth.

Nora grinned, pointing across the table at her. “I bet y’ a fun drunk.”

“Down, Nora, we’re not here to destroy the saloon or Blake’s ribs.” Pyrrha took a bigger swig of her beer. “Someone tell me something that’ll make me laugh.”

Yang rested her chin on her hands. “Saw Jaune on the way here. Glynda’s kids drew a moustache on him with charcoal and he can’t get it off.”

Pyrrha involuntarily spat out her beer, coughing as Yang roared with laughter. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Ren raise a glass to clink against Blake’s, and heard a faint, “Strap in, they only get worse.”

The sun finished sinking below the horizon, but the five continued talking and visiting long after. Nora and Yang completed their customary weekly arm wrestle (Nora won with a well-timed kick to Yang’s shin), Ren diluted everyone’s drinks with water as often as he could, Blake took bets on whether she could eavesdrop on conversations even with the bandanna muffling her hearing, and they all learned far too much and lost too many coins in the process. Most of the other patrons had left by the time Nora admitted defeat and threw the last betted coin in Blake’s direction.

Even through alcohol and general merriment, even past Blake’s half-smile and the fluttering in her chest that she was having a harder and harder time ignoring, Yang was too good at recognizing things. Too smart for her looks, too smart for her upbringing, too smart for her own good.

And so, the night was ruined by a roar of “Barkeep! Three shots of whiskey!”

The room spun slightly as Yang looked around, searching for the voice she’d recognized. Three men continued from the doorway to the bar, unaware of the alarm that had been set, laughing and jostling each other. The first man was tall and gangly, a dark hat pulled low over his head, throwing his suntanned face into shadow. The other two men were younger than Yang, their faces unfamiliar. All three were dressed in garb that had likely once belonged to wealthy travellers before being stolen, with shining pistols on their hips.

The bartender hesitated, clearly recognizing the danger in three bandits bold enough to walk into town and order drinks. Yang couldn’t hear the conversation from her spot at the back of the saloon, but she could see him shift his weight uncomfortably, trying to make up a reason to refuse service. The tall, dark haired man that Yang had known as Obi pulled some coins from his pocket, pushing them towards the bartender with a self-assured smirk. Reluctantly, the bartender turned to start pouring drinks as the two youngsters leered, young and full of confidence in their own power.

“Pyrr.” Yang growled, the alcohol’s influence fading as her mind and body prepared for battle.

“Yeah.” Pyrrha’s voice was equally tense, and Yang could hear the chair behind her squeak as the sheriff turned to eye the door. Blake, just visible in the corner of Yang’s vision, had turned her back to the newcomers, hunching down as though to avoid detection.

Obi stretched, taking off his hat and scratching the dark, curly hair that had been beneath it, looking around. His eyes met Yang’s from across the saloon, and he grinned. Raised a hand and waved, as the two youngsters behind him eagerly downed the whiskey that was handed to them, leering at the other patrons that had begun to scuttle towards the exit, whispering to each other.

Ignoring the antics of his two followers, Obi strode over, grinning. “Xiao Long. ‘S been too long.” He chuckled at his own joke.

Yang glared, not dignifying the greeting with a response. The air had quieted significantly now, the saloon now containing only the bartender, three bandits, and the five at their table, and a scattered handful of folks that were either too tired or too drunk to care.

Pyrrha’s chair squeaked behind her as she stood. “Thinkin’ it’d be wise if you boys left.”

He raised his hands. “‘Pologies, Sheriff Nikos. Been a long few days on th’ trail, thought I’d show these two boys a good time at this here fine establishment. We ain’t done nothin’ wrong.”

“Give it five minutes. You idiots’ll find somethin’.” Yang finally spoke, staring into the lined face as though attempting to blast it backwards with her gaze alone.

Obi threw his head back and laughed, stepping closer yet. “C’mon now, we ain’t the worst thing in the woods right now.” He was standing barely a foot away from Blake now, and she had turned to look at him, eyes narrowed with barely restrained anger. Yang could feel her pulse jumping in her throat.

“Do elaborate.” Pyrrha’s voice was low, her usual drawl gone and replaced by a clipped, dangerous tone.

He raised his eyebrows, still snickering. “Y’all ain’t that blind. That pack of nutcases settled down on the old Cerulean ranch and won’t leave. Dunno what the animals want, but it ain’t nothin’ good. We’s tryin’a help y’all out, here.”

Yang didn’t dare look over at Blake. Instead, she kept her eyes on Obi, watching his stupid grin, watching the two younger members slowly approach, bored with the nearly empty saloon.

“Thoughtful.” Pyrrha’s tone stayed dry, disguising any interest she might have had in his last sentence. “But leave the sheriff duties to the sheriff.”

Something had shifted. The arrogant, alcohol-addled smile didn’t leave, but something in his shoulders tensed, something in his face tightened. “Gon’ admit, I don’t understand y’ methods, Nikos. S’pose you got y’ reasons...” His eyes moved to Blake, for the first time since he had walked over. Blake’s shoulders came up, she leaned away slightly, and something that looked far too much like suppressed panic flashed behind her eyes. “...but I would’a thrown this here critter behind bars.” A hand landed on the yellow bandanna.

Her chair shrieked as it flew backwards. Blake’s hand raised to slap his away, but Yang had already shoved him back towards the bar, the force nearly knocking him over completely.

Both youngsters jumped forwards as Obi staggered back. “Get out. All three of y’.” Her voice rumbled, heat rising to her face from her chest. The lighting in the saloon had changed tint very slightly, and the two newcomers went slack jawed, staring at her face.

Obi, however, regained his balance quickly. He rolled the shoulder that Yang had pushed, all traces of humour gone from his expression. “Not yet. I got a message for Nikos - was plannin’ on some small talk first, but here we are.”

“Speak while you got a voice, stranger.” Nora’s voice was considerably higher pitched, but no less lethal than Yang’s.

The two youngsters circled, eyeing the table as Obi’s eyes narrowed. “Raven Branwen sends her regards and informs you that the clan will be stayin’ in the area for roughly a week n’ a half. We’ll stay out of y’all’s way, provided y’all stay out of our way.”

The red tint to Yang’s vision was a haze now. She could feel fury vibrating in every fiber of her body.

“Yang. Nora.”

She turned her head.

Blake was staring, wide-eyed, at Yang’s face, Ren was resting his chin on his crossed hands, and Nora was already on her feet, blue eyes up and focused. Pyrrha stood tall beside the table, fingertips resting on its surface. Her deadly green eyes locked with Yang’s burning red ones, then turned to the three ill-fated bandits. “Minimal damage to the saloon, please.”

Yang’s gaze snapped back forwards, feeling a vicious smile crack her face.

Behind her, Nora cackled. “No promises.”

Obi’s hand twitched towards the pistol, and Yang surged forwards.

She grabbed his wrist as he pulled the gun, slamming his hand against the bar. The gun clattered down, and she kicked away, following as Obi yanked his hand away and sidestepped away from the bar.

His fist collided with the left side of her head. Her vision blurred. She returned the blow to the right side of his ribs. Then repeated, three times in rapid succession, each one driving him further back and drawing her further forwards.

A missed punch grazed off her back. A squeal, then the solid clunk of wood against flesh momentarily drew her attention. She glanced back to find one bandit on the ground, and the other desperately trying to figure out how to hit Nora past the sturdy wooden chair that she was swinging at him. Behind her, Pyrrha was still standing, hand on the pistol at her side, Ren drinking the remainder of his beer, and Blake was still staring at Yang.

A hand seized her unprotected throat. Dammit. Yang furiously drove her fist into his gut as the hand squeezed down with surprising force, Obi raining hits to the side of her head and ribs with his free fist. One arm instinctively rose, blocking as much as she could. The other locked around the front of his coat.

Inhaling as much air as she could, Yang hooked one leg through his, dragging one forwards as she lunged.

His eyes bugged as the two fell through the saloon door and tumbled down the short stairs into the dark street. Yang ripped his hand away, coughing as her throat cleared again, and finally drew the pistol that had been waiting on her own hip. Obi shook his head, trying to clear it - then slowly raised his hands as he saw the gun pointed between his eyes.

“Why is the Branwen Clan here?” Yang coughed; voice hoarse but no less furious. “What’s Raven after?”

His eyes darted sideways, then back to her. He tried to smile, opened his mouth. “Y’ can’t kill me. She’ll-”

Yang fired a shot straight up, drawing a frightened jerk out of the man. Her voice sunk into a barely audible hiss as the barrel pointed back to his forehead. “I’ve watched her leave her most trusted followers to die for not reactin’ fast enough. What makes y’ think she’s gon’ avenge a worthless shit like you?”

Obi’s eyes narrowed, staring into the eyes that Yang knew were identical to his leader’s.

Behind her, she heard a pause in the commotion on the other side of the door, followed by the squeak of the saloon door. Nora’s voice hollered, “Yep, she’s good!” and the sounds of a fight continued.

Slowly, reluctantly, he spat. “Schnee Dust Company’s hit the jackpot. Three tonnes of lightnin’ dust. They been shippin’ it out slow, but they got deadlines and they got about two tonnes left. They’s gon’ ship the whole thing out at the end of next week. The best spots for hittin’ the train are ‘round here.”

Yang’s eyes narrowed, her breath catching even through the rage - lightning was the new technology in Vale. Most of the dust that Atlas produced, it tended to jealously keep for itself. Some had found its way to Vale, but it mostly only showed in lamps and the occasional electric lights. Jaune had paid through his nose for the bright, efficient lights in his medical room. She knew there was a dust mine in Forever Fall, but as far as anyone had known it only produced sub-par fire dust. No one would ever suspect it to produce anything of that kind value. “She’s gon’ take what she can and sell it.”

“Guess so. ‘Til y’ forest friends started messin’ around.”

Yang stared. “...the White Fang?”

“Naw, the Grimm.”

The pistol cocked.

Obi glared. “...yeah, the White Fang. Raven said she caught ‘em monitoring the train in the spots we’re lookin’ to hit it on. Vernal and a couple of the boys tried to run them off four days ago. She came back a man short.”

“Shay.”

Obi’s eyes narrowed, out of confusion rather than anger this time. Yang’s teeth gritted - Raven’s minions hadn’t thrown the body into the river. She had been sending a message.

Yang forced herself to exhale, feeling her own fury eb, distracted by the information running through her head. “...how did the White Fang know this was happenin’, when even we didn’ know?”

“Ask y’ cute ‘lil bandit friend. Bet she knows.”

Yang felt her lip curl. Then she jumped as the saloon door clattered behind her, and a boy came flying clear over them, landing and rolling to a halt with a groan.

Yang pushed herself up and off him, turning. Nora dragged the other boy out by the back of his jacket, tossing him out on the street and throwing Obi’s pistol onto the ground beside him. “Well, folks, that was a real great time. But it’s gettin’ late, and y’all should be gettin’ on home.”

Obi stood, slowly holstering the gun and sulking towards the three horses that were tied to the rail, pointed not looking at Yang. She holstered her gun, watching with narrowed eyes as the younger bandits slowly picked themselves up, limping after Obi and pulling themselves into their saddles with great difficulty.

The saloon door squeaked again, revealing Pyrrha, flanked by Blake and Ren. She descended the stairs with the grace one would expect of a queen, not the sheriff of a tiny backwoods town. Chin up, she eyed the three men coldly. “Tell Raven that her clan’s presence in this town ain’t gon’ be tolerated. If she wants to discuss that, she’ll have to do it face-to-face.”

Obi bared his teeth in an attempt at an intimidating grin. “Careful what y’ wish for.”

Pyrrha stared straight back, unfazed. “I am.”

The tall bandit didn’t seem to have a comeback for that. He stared ahead as he directed his horse towards the darkened road, and all three trotted away, their forms fading away as the light from the saloon’s windows failed to reach them.

The silence rung for a long moment. Yang sighed, rubbing her face.

“So?” Pyrrha stepped forwards, her own face falling into a tired expression. “What’d he say?”

“Raven’s hittin’ a train.” She grunted, voice hollow. “Lightnin’ dust, the Forever Fall mine finally delivered.”

“...shit. Shit.” Pyrrha ran a hand through her hair, breath hissing out.

“Yeah. She’d make a small fortune, and she’s the last person I’d want to have it.” Yang’s eyes darted up to the doorway before she could stop herself.

Blake was stock-still, outlined by the light from the saloon.

Pyrrha’s voice came again, distracted, clearly trying to input the information she’d been given. “He say anythin’ else?”

Don’t. Her wide eyes pleaded.

“...nothin’ that matters right now.”

Pyrrha nodded, eyes still pointed away, completely missing the fact that she’d been lied to by someone who had never lied to her before. “Right. We should all call it a night. Discuss this in the’ mornin’.”

“Mm. Lemme get my hat.” Yang wearily placed a foot on the stairs, then stopped. Blake passed it to her, their shoulders brushing as she passed her. For a second, Yang’s mind cleared entirely. Then she violently shook her head, plunking the hat on her head and turning. “...never mind. We’re off, then.”

Pyrrha rubbed her forehead again, sighing as Nora and Ren looked at Yang, then back at each other. “We’ll talk more tomorrow.”

Blake slowly turned back to Gambol, hauling herself up into the saddle before Yang could move to help her, pulling the bandanna down and around her neck the second she was out of the light.

Yang hurriedly dragged herself up onto Celica. A hand landed on her thigh, and she jumped.

Pyrrha’s smile was tired, but genuine. “Hey - didn’ get a chance to say.” She whispered. “She’s a bet I think you can make.”

Yang knew exactly what she meant, but she was too tired, too caught up in a whirlwind of emotions to do anything but nod. She turned Celica and nudged her into a trot, tearing after Gambol.

She caught up without much trouble, but the two didn’t speak for a long few minutes. Darkness fell, the moonlight lighting the ground around them. A thick fog waited outside of the town, cloaking the woods around them in a blue haze, and Yang found herself distracted by surveying the surrounding woods. Grimm were rare, but if one was to encounter one, it was generally at night.

“Thank you.”

She hadn’t expected a voice, and she nearly jumped, glancing at Blake. Her eyes were down, on the reins and Gambol’s mane. “I heard what he said from the saloon - ended up near the door to get out of the way. I know what he told you.”

Yang slowly exhaled. “...Blake, I’m gon’ have to tell her tomorrow. I can’t keep somethin’ this big from her. I ain’t never even lied to her before today.”

Blake’s ears slowly flattened. “I understand.”

Yang closed her eyes, managing to bite back a sigh of relief. She loved Pyrrha almost as much as she loved Ruby - besides that, she knew they had to strategize. But she wasn’t sure if she could have argued if Blake had pleaded her not to reveal the information. She opened her eyes again and found that Blake was still staring into the distance, chewing on her lower lip. She didn’t look scared so much as confused. Questioning, afraid of the answers she was trying to find. “Did... did you know that he was planning this?”

Blake shook her head before Yang had even finished talking. “No. I mean, yes. I mean... I knew he was planning on attacking the train. I thought it was a political statement, he never... he never mentioned what they were shipping.”

“Do you think he knows? Is this just a coincidence?”

She tiredly looked over at Yang. “We crossed the damned ocean to hit this specific train. I thought it was to make the White Fang heard in Vale, to give the faunus working in the mines some hope. But there are mines on every damn continent in this world, and faunus working in every single one. This isn’t a coincidence - someone had to have known.”

“Fair point, I s’pose.” Yang turned her gaze back to the road. There was more she wanted to ask, but knew that Blake was too tired, to buzzed to really give any kind of good answer. All the same, they floated in her mind - how long had this been planned? How had they found out about it? Would they sell the dust, or destroy it?

Would Blake be tempted to return to Adam, now that she knew what was at stake, and share in the spoils?

“...Yang?”

Yang nearly jumped, looking over at her. “Yeah?”

The golden eyes had turned back to her. “In the saloon. Your eyes changed color.”

Uh oh. Yang felt her shoulders come up. “...they do that.”

It wasn’t really an explanation, and Blake’s raised eyebrow told her that she was fully aware. “I saw it in the shed when we first met, but I thought I was seeing things. That’s... not something that happens. It shouldn’t be possible.” Her voice sounded less frightened and more curious.

Yang slowly raised her hands. “Was born with it, happens when I get real, real pissed off. I ain’t never gotten a straight explanation from anyone. I’m sure it’s somethin’ interestin’, but I don’ have the slightest idea what it’d be.”

She was on a roll with lying today. Blake looked suspicious, but she didn’t push it any further, instead just tilting her head to look at her sideways. She’d opened her mouth, with a look that suggested that she was going to make some kind of dry comment.

Instead, both of her ears flicked backwards, and she suddenly turned her head, looking behind them.

“You hear somethin’?” Yang followed her gaze, squinting at the fog that cloaked the road behind them.

She frowned. “...yes. Hooves.”

“Mm. Could be Pyrrha followin’ us. She lives further up this road.”

“No, this horse is heavier than hers. Not a draft, but bigger than Celica.” She squinted, ears tipping forwards. “I hear... singing?”

A chill seeped into Yang’s gut. “Woman?”

“Yes.”

Yang pulled Celica to a halt and completely turned around. For a long moment, she thought that she wouldn’t be able to hear anything over the sound of her own heart. But, faintly, she heard it.

“Grave digger, grave digger, slowly fill my grave....”

The hoofbeats came in a steady three-beat rhythm, the low female voice weaving through footfalls to form a melody. Both the song and the voice that carried were as familiar to Yang’s ears as the snapping of Grimm jaws.

Blake had turned to completely face her, face pale, ears up and focused on her. “Yang?”

“...whisper to your God, allow me to be saved.”

“Move.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, whirling and spurring Celica into a surprised lope and steering her off the road, darting into the woods. She pulled the mare to a halt again just behind a tall stand of bushes, flattening herself down against the saddle, hoping that the branches would be enough to hide Celica’s shining coat from the moonlight. They were still barely ten feet from the road, but it would have to be far enough - any further and they wouldn’t be able to get out of sight fast enough.

Blake sided in next to her, Gambol barely visible in the darkness. She could see Blake’s pale face easily enough, however, eyes wide. “Yang, who i-”

Yang clapped a hand over her mouth, head turning.

“Grave digger, grave digger, pray for my lost soul...”

Odachi’s silhouette came into view, tall, dark and unearthly in the moonlit fog. His head was low and relaxed as he loped down the road, pace barely faster than a trot, moving as though he and his rider had all the time in the world. Faint sparks flew with every scrape of horseshoes against gravel, lighting the flowing hair that grew from his pasterns and cannon bones.

“...release me from this earth, allow me to grow old.”

Raven Branwen’s voice was low, breathy, and deceptively mournful. She sat straight on her horse’s back, slack reins in one hand, the other steadying a rifle across her lap. As they drew closer, Yang watched her head turn slightly, felt her own stomach fold up and tremble as the red eyes passed over the stand of bushes they’d hidden in.

There was a pause, a missed beat in the song. But Raven’s eyes didn’t catch on them, moving forwards easily as the song picked back up.

“Save me if you can, the time for me has come...”

Odachi gave a single snort, picking up speed as Raven’s leg moved. The pair continued straight down the road and into the wilderness, until there was no trace of them but hoofbeats and a fading final verse.

“...let me be the one that... got... a-way...”

The night quieted again, but Yang stayed put.

Something touched the back of her hand. She jumped, turning her head.

Blake gently tapped the hand that was still clamped over her mouth, raising her eyebrows.

Yang lifted it away, wincing, then turned her head again, listening for either hoofbeats or wingbeats.

A long minute passed before Blake whispered, “She’s gone now, Yang.” Yang almost told her to be quiet until she knew for sure, but stopped herself at the sight of Blake’s own ears, pointing towards the darkness that Raven had disappeared into. “I can still hear the horse, but they’re far.”

“Ah. Good.” Yang still found it difficult to steer Celica back onto the road, and still found herself checking over her shoulder as they started to continue home.

Blake’s eyes darted between her and the road. “...was that...?”

“Raven Branwen. Leader of the Branwen Clan, the notorious bandits of Vale.” Yang grumbled sourly,

Blake fell quiet after that, keeping her ears perked, carefully scanning the road ahead of them. She didn’t even glance at Yang with anything that looked like a question. No questions about why Yang was reacting the way she was. Why she was still looking around like a scared fawn. Why she’d flown off the handle in the saloon.

Betrayal pulled at her chest. “...Pyrrha told you, didn’t she?”

Blake’s ears slowly turned backwards. “No. She didn’t say anything. I saw how angry you got in the saloon when they mentioned Raven. I know someone hurt you. And... I heard you mention to the asshole outside that Raven had a history of leaving people for dead. I assumed.” A pause. “It’s... it’s not my business either way. I won’t pry.”

She didn’t know. Or at least, she was pretending not to.

Celica’s footfalls were heavy against gravel. Her mane shone bright in the moonlight.

“Raven Branwen is my mother.”

Blake whirled in the corner of her eye, ears suddenly up, eyes suddenly locked on her. The honesty in the shocked reaction brought a slight smile to her face, slightly easing the pain of having to voice it. Well, at least I don’t have to yell at Pyrrha now.

She thought that Blake would ask why Yang would have such an immediate reaction to seeing her mother. Why her mother seemed to be such a frightening figure. Why Yang seemed so intent on avoiding her.

But instead Blake fell into a soft silence, turning her ears ahead to focus on the road again.

A small sigh of relief escaped her mouth, and Blake was kind enough not to acknowledge that either.

The two continued down the road in silence for a while, turning off to follow the small path that would lead them home. Yang’s shoulders stayed tense, her stomach tight, her eyes darting back and forth. Watching for Grimm, watching for feathers.

They were nearly to the stream when Blake spoke. “Why that song?”

Yang had heard a similar question before, in a slightly younger version of her own voice. She shook her head, purposely dropping her tone into a low grumble. “Sings it when she rides alone. Says it keeps her from startlin’ a bear or mountain lion. Lot of folk sing or talk when walkin’ or ridin’ alone for that reason.”

“I know - I was taught to do the same if I had to scout by myself. But I was always told to sing something happy. How is she not attracting Grimm?”

“She is.” Blake’s ears twitched, and Yang heard a faint gunshot. “But she don’ care.”

Chapter Text

Yang wasn’t okay.

She was doing her best to downplay it, but Blake could see her tension as they finally crossed through the gate. They untacked both horses in near silence, Yang quick to show up behind her and sweep Gambol’s saddle off, tucking it away in the tack shed as Blake followed along with her bridle.

Her shoulders were tight, her brow knit, and Blake didn’t know how to help or even what to say. She’d expected to hear that Raven was a trusted ally, an old friend, maybe even an ex lover. A mother was the very, very last relation that she was expecting to hear.

In a way, the strangeness was almost a relief. She was in over her head, that was for sure, but at least that meant that Yang wasn’t alone in being over her own head in Blake’s issues.

Yang headed straight for her bedroom as they entered the house, head down, eyes focused on something Blake couldn’t see.

Blake drew breath, only to find nothing to say. “...night.” She tried, her voice sounding flat.

Yang spared her a short glance. “Night. Wake me up once y’ up.” With that, she stepped into her room and closed the door, leaving it open just a crack.

Exhaling, Blake plodded into the room that was more or less hers. Closed the door, changed into the shirt and ripped trousers she’d taken to sleeping in, and crawled beneath the blankets. Once she was completely still, she found that her head was still spinning from the alcohol's influence. Still, her mind raced.

On top of everything else, she’d seen the blood red eyes as the dark figure rode by - the same unnatural shade that Yang’s had turned to in the bar. Her mind kept going to the folk tales that Russet and his little group of local faunus had shared over a campfire. A legend of the spirit walker, a shapeshifting magic user so rare and powerful that only one could exist at a time. Russet claimed his family had handed down the story for generations, that no one knew who the current spirit walker was but that he ‘had some ideas’. She and Adam had rolled their eyes while the youngest members pressed him for more details and returned to more important duties.

Now she was thinking about an oversized, unnatural raven, and wishing that she’d stayed for the rest of the story.

She rolled onto her side, closed her eyes, and prayed that the alcohol would at least grant her a dreamless sleep.

Instead, no sleep at all came. Blake tossed and turned, shoved her head under a pillow, but her mind still moved along, pondering questions both old and new. Between Raven and Adam, there was just too much to worry about.

Some of the fog outside of her window had begun to clear when she heard the first stick break.

Blake jerked in her bed, sitting up. Faintly, she heard grass being disturbed, as though being walked through.

Then a low, heavy exhale greeted her ears. Celica must have woken up. Blake rubbed her face, sighing.

A whimper reached her ears, this time inside the house, and she twitched.

Nothing but the crickets outside for a long moment. Then, the sound of a bed shifting, and another soft whine.

Blake’s feet contacted the wooden floor, and she was up and out of her bedroom before she could think about her actions. The front door was still securely locked, erasing any worry about a potential intruder. She glanced at the clock sitting on the wall above Yang’s table - quarter past one. They’d only been in bed for an hour and a half.

Yang’s door still hung open a crack. She hesitated, hand on the handle. The bedroom was still forbidden territory - not because Yang had forbidden her from entering it, but because crossing that threshold would lead them into uncharted territory.

The bed groaned, and she heard Yang’s voice break into a sob.

The door opened with a tiny squeak. Yang was still asleep, stretched across her cot. But her eyebrows were knit together, hands and legs twitching. Nonsensical, but venomous murmurs left her lips, as though screaming at someone in her dream.

Blake hesitated. The last time she’d ‘woken’ Yang up, it had gone easily (because she hadn’t been asleep). This was a different beast entirely. Yang would not be thinking straight when she woke up, and Blake had now seen first-hand exactly what the other woman was capable of. Blake, truth be told, wasn’t terribly concerned about her own safety. She knew she could take a few hits, even with injuries. But she had a sinking feeling that Yang would blame herself if she woke up to find a freshly bruised Blake in front of her. It would be safer to just leave her.

But as she watched Yang’s body curl tighter, listened to her heart race faster, Blake knew that she couldn’t.

Footsteps light, she circled the bed, looking over the twitching woman. The night was warm, and Yang had decided to sleep on top of her covers rather than above. Legs seemed like the safest place to start. Carefully, she reached out, poised to dash out of the way, and shoved one of Yang’s legs.

Immediately Yang’s foot fired out, Blake barely dodging it, punctuated by a startled yelp. She exhaled, then groaned out loud as realized that the blonde woman was still curled into a ball, making soft, whispering whines. “Yang. Wake up.” She tried. Her arm moved, her eyebrows scrunched harder, but Yang didn’t wake.

Frustrated, Blake glanced around the room. Then paused.

The wall across from her glowed with a faint red light, as if by a setting sun. Blake blinked rapidly, instinctively pricking up her ears.

Air shifted outside of the house as lungs much larger than hers exhaled, and she realized that the light was coming through the window on the other side of the room.

Slowly, with a calm air that she didn’t feel, Blake turned around.

Red light gleamed from a bone-white face. A bear skull the length of her forearm grinned at her, maw open slightly, bone gleaming in the dull light. The Ursa Grimm didn’t move to break the window, merely following the trail of fear and distress that had led it to the house. The ‘eyes’ that were just demonic light shining from its eye sockets were trained on Yang’s twitching body, mesmerized by the fear radiating from her, but not quite aggravated. Yet.

Yang’s body jerked, and Blake knew that would change if Yang started screaming. Her arms locked around her head, as though to block an attack, then began to violently shake. The Grimm’s red gaze shifted.

All her fears were silenced, cautions were silenced. Blake strode forwards, staring at the creature outside of the window. I do not fear you. The Grimm seemed well aware, still focused on Yang, seemingly oblivious to Blake’s presence. She hopped onto the bed, grabbed the shaking shoulder with both hands, pushing down. As calmly as she could manage, she spoke directly into Yang’s ear. “You need to wake up. Right now.”

This time, the lilac eyes did fly open.

Immediately, Yang attempted to bolt upwards. Blake held her down, wincing as her ribs complained, but kept her eyes locked on the window. The Grimm was still, watching Yang thrash, like a cat watching a mouse.

“B-Blake?” Her voice shook, groggy but waking up fast.

“Yang,” She said, calmly, eyes never leaving the window. “Do you own a gun that can kill Grimm?”

She felt Yang turn, felt the way her lungs emptied when she saw the window. “I- my pistol is on the dresser.” Her voice took on the same unnatural calm, contrasting with the racing heart that Blake could clearly hear.

“Might not finish it with one shot. Is there a rifle?”

“...under the bed. S’ old, but it’ll work.”

“Loaded?”

“No. Ammunition is the box under it.” Blake released her, slowly sliding off the bed and falling to her knees beside it. True to Yang’s word, the box of shells sat beside a long, elegant-looking rifle. She pulled both out and began loading it.

The bed squeaked as Yang shifted, rolling to look at her. In the dull shine of moonlit fog outside, she was pale as a ghost. “What do I do?” Her voice was calm, but the Grimm was still fixated on her outside.

“Stay where you are and stay a little scared. It’s focused on you. I can bring it down if it doesn’t catch on.”

Yang nodded, sitting up. Blake could feel her eyes on her as she hefted the rifle and silently moved out of the doorway.

Her eyes and ears lent her a distinct advantage at night. Blake could see the world around her with absolute clarity, and she knew for sure that her turning of the deadbolt and opening of the door was silent. Her bare feet curled against the cold wood as she descended the stairs and carefully worked her way to the corner of the home. With familiarity born of practice, Blake pressed her back to the wooden wall, and eased her head just past the corner.

The Ursa was far more impressive outside. Bones projected from shoulders that stood as tall as Blake did, darkness flowed from its body. Its jaw was still pressed against the window, fixated on the storm of emotion within.

Gritting her teeth, she rolled back and raised the rifle, tucking it into the crook of her right shoulder. Paused. That’s your bad side. She awkwardly switched to her left shoulder, resting her finger on the trigger as she looked back around the corner. The Grimm was still focused on the window, facing slightly away from her, weaving its head as though trying to get a better idea of where the source of its interest was. Blake was used to Mistral, where the Grimm were far more plentiful. She’d killed plenty before, but right now she had healing but still less than reliable body. It would be far safer to kill it with one shot - possible, but best accomplished when the Grimm was facing her. Which would involve getting its attention.

At least she would have no trouble invoking the emotions that would do the trick.

Blake inhaled as much as she could, then pushed off the wall and rounded the corner. As predicted, the Ursa didn’t so much as twitch in her direction, too focused on Yang. She lined up the rifle, and slowly began to exhale.

Adam towers over her. The scars across his eye are healed, but the scars behind them aren’t. The adoration she’s held him in for years is fading, but it isn’t gone. She hasn’t learned to fear the rage yet, and she’s glaring back at him.

“You always run off!” His voice cracks as he yells. “You always get away, and I always take the hit! What do I have to do to teach you not to be such a damn coward?!”

A mixture of guilt and fear seeped into her chest, leaking from her racing heart. That had to do it. Instead, as Blake watched, the Ursa raised one paw and scraped claws against the wood. Apparently whatever fear she was harbouring hadn’t quite matched what Yang had experienced in the nightmare.

The significance of that rung in her ears for a moment.

Blake felt her ears pin back. It needed to look at her. She knew how to make sure that it did.

When she exhaled this time, her chest shook.

Behind her, the smuggler’s tunnels echo with faint yells and footfalls. In her hands, a bag of dust that Sienna had entrusted her and Adam to steal. In front of her, a wooden ladder that leads to the surface.

She skids to a halt, grabs a rung. Then the squeal of metal freezes her blood.

Later, he’ll deny that he heard her. He’ll say that he thought she was ahead of him, that she’s usually faster than him. He’ll say that he didn’t realize she was still in the tunnels until he got out and didn’t find her waiting. His voice will shake when he tells her how sorry he is and begs for her to forgive him. She’ll question her own memory, her own sanity.

But every time she’ll dare to recall the moment, it will happen the same way.

She looks up and catches a flash of a blue eye, staring directly at her, as the iron trapdoor slams shut.

“...Adam?” Panic flashes through her chest when she doesn’t hear him call back. She scrambles up the ladder, throws her shoulder against the unyielding metal. “ADAM!”

Cruelly, the echoes of her own scream drown out her pursuers catching up to her. She’s old enough to know not to panic, but too inexperienced to be able to calm herself in time.

She hits her shoulder too hard and yelps. A chuckle echoes from behind her, and Blake whirls.

The taller of the two smugglers, a human man with hands that are too calloused and fingernails that are too long, shakes his head as he closes in on the ladder, his partner’s footfalls racing towards them. “You poor thing.”

A growl reverberated in her chest. Blake blinked back into a welcome reality, finding her gaze and rifle lowered. The Ursa had turned, two burning red sockets locking onto her.

Experience overtook fear. The rifle swung back up, automatically nestling into her right shoulder, her cheekbone resting on the cool wood of the handle. In her mind, she drew an X, connecting the Ursa’s ears with the corners of its eyes.

The Ursa took a lumbering step towards her. Blake exhaled. Pulled the trigger.

The recoil hurt far, far worse than she thought it would. Blake staggered back, letting out a snarl of pain. But the Ursa had already crumpled, skull shattering, demonic light flickering and disappearing. The entity collapsed into a cloud of dark smoke, twisting as the wind swept it away, leaving a slightly bent woman with a lowered rifle, oversized shirt askew and pants damp from the wet grass around her.

Blake tried not to wince as she pulled in a long inhale, then firmly focused her attention on the woods around them, listening for any sign of more Grimm. Thankfully, none came, and she turned, hung the rifle strap over her shoulder, and started back towards the porch.

The door squealed open before she could reach it. Yang flew down the stairs, feet not touching a single plank, skidding through the wet grass. “Did y’ re-break anything?!”

“Don’t think so.” She mumbled, drained. “I’m fine, don’t w-”

“Naw, I am gon’ worry as much as I damn well please.” Yang’s eyes were wild, flicking up and down Blake. “Gods, Blake, y’ didn’ need t’-.”

Maybe she was bone tired. Maybe she was desperate to focus on anything but what had just occurred. But Blake’s patience waned far faster than usual, and she found herself dodging around Yang. “I needed to do exactly what I did. You’ve done too much for me already, I wasn’t going to let some Grimm eat you.”

There was a pause behind her as the stairs groaned under Blake’s feet. “... I’ve told you, you don’ owe me a thing.”

“Yes, I do.” Her voice had more edge to it than she’d intended, nudging her way through the ajar door and placing the rifle down on the table. “I owe you everything, n’ you know it.”

The planks of wood creaked slightly louder under Yang’s weight, and a hiss crept into the other woman’s tone. “That all I am to you? A bunch ‘a favors that you owe?”

Blake’s head spun at the speed she whirled around. “Don’t.” She snapped, “Don’t go there.”

“Why not?” Yang’s eyes locked with hers, anger rising like smoke. “Is it true?”

Exhaustion clouded her judgement, made it hard to see the fear that the anger was rising from. Blake shoved Yang backwards, forcing her to catch the door to keep herself upright. “NO!” What was supposed to be a firm tone broke into yelling. “Of course, I don’t! I don’t understand why! Why would you keep me around?! Why would you let yourself get attached to me?! Why would you risk your neck for me?! What can I ever give you that would make what you’ve done worth it?! What do you want from me?!”

Anger cracked in Yang’s face. She slammed the door shut, and her voice ricocheted off the walls. “I want you to stay!”

The silence was louder than any noise either of them could have made. The anger bled out of Blake, leaving her motionless and wide-eyed. Yang’s face fell from furious to horrified, eyes suddenly pulling away from Blake’s.

Yang did have feelings for her. It was a stone falling into the pit of her stomach, one more piece of the puzzle that she’d known was there but was too afraid to slide into place.

Blake’s voice left her throat. “...I didn’t mean to yell. I-”

Yang’s eyes flicked upwards. Not angry, not sad. Tired.

“...I want to. Stay, I mean.” It sounded too flat, too weak, but Blake couldn’t bear to say it if she didn’t know was the truth. She risked meeting Yang’s eyes, hoping to see anything like a smile.

Instead, the blonde sighed, straightening. “Blake, did y’ go to sleep when we got back?”

Her hand wrapped around one of her arms, acutely feeling how heavy the bags under her eyes were. “No.”

“When did y’ last sleep?”

Blake squinted at her, unable to tell where the questions were leading. “...last night?”

“How long?”

She shifted her weight. “...around three hours.”

Yang closed her eyes, sighing. “Blake.”

“I’m a cat faunus, I sleep less than humans.” She lied.

Yang snorted, shaking her head, and Blake realized just how exhausted she looked. “I’ve grown up with barn cats, I know that’s a damn lie. If anythin’, you’d sleep more.” But a weak smile had appeared on her face, and Blake felt herself unravel. “That why y’ always so tired in the mornin’? Y’ don’ sleep?”

“Appreciate you calling it ‘tired’ and not ‘an outright bitch’.” Blake tried to match the smile, but felt it fade as Yang kept watching her. “...I have nightmares too. They keep me up sometimes.”

Yang nodded, face softening. “It always like that?”

“...been worse. Lately. I’m... I’m not used to sleeping by...”

“...by yourself.” Yang finished.

Blake’s gaze fell. There was a long, long pause.

Then Yang moved, walking towards her room. Blake stayed where she was, feeling her ears flatten, cursing herself for being unable to shut up, for being so raw and exposed.

“Blake.” Her head jerked up. Yang was standing in the doorway, back still to her. “If y’ can’t sleep on a normal night, y’ sure as shit won’ sleep tonight. Neither of us, not after that.” She wasn’t sure if she meant the yelling match or the Ursa, but knew she had a point either way. “I’m gon’ go back to bed and try’n sleep. If you think sleepin’ in th’ bed with me might help, y’ welcome to join.”

Yang didn’t look back, just walked into her room. For a long moment, Blake stood stock still, both unable to think and unable to do anything but think.

She heard Yang’s blanket rustle and thought of the nightmare that had taken one of the worst moments of Blake’s life to drag the Grimm away from.

Her feet made slightly more noise against the wooden floor, but Yang still started when Blake sat down on the bed behind her. Blake didn’t look at her, still too raw and guilty, but she pressed her back against Yang’s as she curled on her side. “...thought I heard you go into y’ room.”

“You did.’ Blake curled her arm around the pillow she’d dragged off her bed. “Didn’t want to take your pillow away.”

She could feel the tension in Yang’s back, knew she was looking over her shoulder at her. But, slowly, she relaxed and laid her head back down, breathing slowing.

Blake, on the other hand, still stared at the wall. The tension had bled out of her muscles, soothed by the warmth against her back and the sound of a heartbeat. But she hadn’t forgotten the anger in her own words, or the anger in Yang’s. It wasn’t fear that was plaguing her, but guilt and worry. She wanted to stay. Truly, she did. But the same fears ate at her, made her doubt her own resolve, doubt her abilities, doubt what she even wanted.

And there was Adam. Always, there was Adam. He would never truly let her rest, let her have peace. He’d return for her eventually.

He’d never had a rival for her affections, she realized, sinking further into the mattress. He’d never had to deal with her eyes straying to another. And this was more than a rival, more than wandering eyes - this was Blake finding another life, another soul.

He would punish Blake, certainly. But it was Yang who would pay the ultimate price, not her.

“Y’ not sleepin’, huh?”

Blake almost jumped, looking over her shoulder at the blonde head behind her. “I- no. How’d you-”

“I can feel y’ heartbeat, and even if I couldn’, I can’ sleep either anyways.” Yang’s voice was almost amused. She rolled, falling onto her back, and tilted her head to look at Blake. Her eyes were no less tired, but there was a concern to them again. “...’d like to talk to you a bit.”

Her stomach twitched anxiously, but Blake rolled over to face her. “Before you do - I’m sorry for yelling at you. Earlier. I didn’t mean any of it.”

Yang’s lip turned into a small smile. “Thinkin’ you did mean it.” She corrected, softly. “You just didn’ mean it in that tone.”

“...you’re smarter than you give yourself credit for, you know that right?”

A chuckle. “Not just a pretty face. But, that’s like what I wanted to say. I...” She closed her eyes, inhaling. Yang’s voice was much quieter when she spoke again.

“Look. What I said earlier. With stayin’. I meant it when I told you that everything I’ve done is freely given. I ain’t done a single thing for you that I don’ want to do.” Her eyes opened, and her gaze turned intense, focused, staring straight into Blake’s soul. “I expect the same outta you. I don’ want you to do a damned thing for me that you don’ want to do. If you think you might be able to sleep if y’ next to me, I want you to try it. But if y’ don’t want to, for any reason, I want you to get up and go back to y’ own bed. Same with...” Her eyes travelled upwards, to the ceiling. “...with stayin’ here. Y’ a faunus. I don’ give a shit about that, but I know other people do. And I wouldn’ blame you if you wanted to get away from here the second y’ able. I...” Her voice slipped into something that was barely a whisper. “I like havin’ you around. I want you to stay here. Not a lot of people do.”

Blake felt something in her chest that was not her ribs crack, break.

Yang’s eyes turned back to her before she could say a word, and suddenly the intense stare was back. “But the last thing in this world that I want is for you to stay somewhere where y’ ain’t happy. I ain’t takin’ that choice away from you. And I’ll be damned if I let you stay here out of some sense of owin’ it to me. That make sense to you?”

She nodded. It was all she could do, really - there was something in her throat blocking her voice.

Yang nodded back. “Good.” She flopped back, looking back up at the ceiling. “Only other thing I wanted to say is thank you for savin’ my ass from the damn Grimm. And that y’ a damned good shot with that rifle.”

A smile flickered on Blake’s face, and she swallowed, clearing her throat. “You’re welcome.” She managed, a little hoarsely. “...it was a good shot, wasn’t it?” A rare hint of pride flickered in her voice. While she usually found herself using knives instead, Blake knew she had plenty of skill when it came to aim.

“Once my heart started goin’ again, yeah, was a great shot.” There was a begrudging, but genuine admiration in her words, and Blake felt the flicker of pride grow into a flame. “Scared the damn Light out of me when it turned towards you. Why didn’ you take a shot earlier?”

She shifted, keeping her eyes on the way Yang’s hair was gleaming in the dull, muted moonlight. “Figured I needed to bring it down in one shot, I’m not in any shape for a fight. So, I made it turn towards me. Took longer than I thought.”

Yang slowly tilted her head. “...it was real focused on me.” There was a question there, an unspoken understanding that the Grimm were attracted to painful emotions, and even if the original target’s emotions fear faded, their focus only tended to change when a new victim with equal or worse fear drew near.

“I know.” There was an answer, and she knew Yang would be able to find it.

There was a long pause. Blake found herself gazing at the crook where Yang’s neck met her shoulder, wishing she was brave enough to nuzzle into it.

“Blake,” Yang’s voice cut through the silence, “can I try somethin’?”

“...try what?” It wasn’t suspicion so much as confusion in her voice.

“Sit up for a bit.”

Hesitantly, Blake followed the suggestion. She rested her elbows on her knees, drawing her legs close, listening as Yang sat up. Despite everything, she still jumped when Yang touched her shoulder, immediately shooting a wide-eyed glance towards her. “Yang?”

She was already meeting her gaze, expression soft and calm. “Gon’ try the same thing I do on th’ horses. Might help you get t’ sleep. But if it ain’t workin, just tell me to stop, right?”

Blake found herself remembering how Yang had put Gambol’s fear to rest with her touch. She remembered asking for the same to be done to her and embarrassing herself.

Now, in the dark with both of their hearts still racing, the reality of that happening loomed over her.

Blake nodded, and slowly leaned forwards again, hugging her knees. The fingertip pressed against the fabric of Blake’s shirt again, pinning it between their skin, and drew slow, counterclockwise circles across her shoulder. They continued across her back, and she couldn’t hold back a shiver as the contact circled over her spine before continuing to her other shoulder. It wasn’t quite having the effect Yang was hoping for, she thought; she could feel her dissatisfaction in the increased pressure her finger, in the short sigh she gave. Blake opened her mouth to tell Yang that it wasn’t her fault, that these sorts of things didn’t tend to work for her anyways.

Then Yang’s finger slid above the collar of the shirt, onto the back of her bare neck.

Blake’s voice died in her throat as Yang’s finger left a trail of fire across her skin. Sparks shot down her spine, spreading out across her back, breaking the taut muscles apart.

“There we go.” Yang murmured, and the low, breathy tone made everything so, so much worse.

Her eyes closed involuntarily. “Gods.” She whispered as Yang’s fingers worked up her neck, circling one bone at a time. At the same time, a hand landed on her shoulder, creeping up to the hem until a single thumb could slip onto her bare skin, rubbing on the furthest border of her shoulder blade. Her chin fell onto her knees, feeling her ears twitch. Her heart was beating harder than ever - not faster, but with more force. Or maybe she was just more aware of it.

The fingertips reached the base of her skull, into her hairline, and Blake began to shiver, eyes closing. Her body was light, loose, like she’d been bound up like a hay bale and Yang had cut the twine binding it all together. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt anything like this,

Then, without warning, her hand lifted. Bewildered, Blake glanced back over her shoulder, a noise of protest halfway out of her mouth.

Yang was sitting cross legged behind her, golden hair falling in a disorganized mess over her shoulders. The lilac eyes shone in the moonlight, a smug smile playing across a pair of lips that Blake had never been more focused on. “Damn, y’ain’t asleep. Maybe I should try somethin’ else.” She teased, and the jab nearly went over her head.

A smirk tugged at the corner of Blake’s own mouth, disguising the way her heart was pounding, how dry her mouth was. “Maybe you should try harder.”

The fingertips appeared against her bare skin again. “That a challenge, ma’am?”

“Yes.” Her world was already destroyed, in pieces on either side of the bed. There was no use for pride or distance now.

Yang, apparently unaware of the chaos she was causing, chuckled as she rubbed again. “Well, how can I say no when y’ ask so nicely, miss...” She hesitated, a frown creasing her brow.

“What?” Concerned, Blake tilted her head, momentarily distracted from her unnaturally light body.

Yang turned, blinking at her. “Realized I don’ know what y’ last name is.”

“...Oh.” For a moment, Blake hesitated. Her mind raced ahead, unbidden. Was that something she should say? She looked back, finding soft lilac eyes and shining golden hair, and knew that she didn’t care. “Belladonna.”

Yang blinked; eyebrows raised. “...Blake Belladonna.”

Something about the name in Yang’s voice, the way those eyes were so focused on her, the fact that Yang’s fingertips were still gliding along her neck as she spoke, made her gut tremble.

The blonde woman shook her head and gave a soft laugh that sank into Blake’s chest. “’Course you’d have somethin’ like that. You even sound pretty.”

Blake, up until now, still had some resolve. Some need to keep herself somewhat distant, to protect Yang from the pain and dangers that lurked in Blake’s past and present.

She felt like she could see it break in front of her, shattering under the weight of Yang’s words, the way her eyes stayed attentive to Blake’s skin. All she could think about now was Yang. How she might taste, how she would sound, how different it all would be.

Oh, Yang was going to regret inviting Blake into this bed. Or, worse yet, maybe she wouldn’t.


Yang couldn’t help but feel smug as she felt Blake’s body melt under the careful circles she was drawing across it. It wasn’t the same as the horses, and she’d known it wouldn’t be, but it seemed to be having a similar effect. The woman was nearly limp, barely keeping herself upright, and now Yang knew that faunus couldn’t purr, because if it were possible then Blake would be doing it now.

Despite her general cluelessness with any kind of romantic or sexual feelings, Yang wasn’t totally blind to what was happening to her as she worked Blake’s tension away. Her gut was growing tighter and tighter, and an embarrassing amount of body parts were getting increasingly warmer. Every time Blake let out a whispering, groaning noise, the feeling got worse.

But there was still no guarantee that Blake felt the same, or even if she did, that she would be able to return those feelings. So, Yang kept her attention on Blake’s skin, doing her best to keep her thoughts from running too far away and sharply calling them back when they started to wonder about giving the same treatment to other areas.

She waited until Blake couldn’t seem to relax any further before lifting her hands again. This time, Blake didn’t protest - but she did look over her shoulder. The warm, gold irises were hooded now, something flickering behind them.

Yang’s gut jerked as she realized she might be in danger. “... think y’ as relaxed as you’ll get, darlin’.” She offered a warm smile that she hoped did not feature reddened cheeks or lips. “Better try’n sleep.”

A smile pulled at Blake’s lips, and she swiveled in place. Suddenly, she was sitting directly beside Yang’s thighs, one arm stretched across Yang’s lap to steady herself, and her face was barely inches from Yang’s. Her hand came up, pushed Yang’s bangs away from her eyes, and Yang felt her heart skip a beat. “Maybe. But I think I want to try something now.”

They were close. Too close. Breath was washing across her face and it was electrifying, every sensation overstimulating her mind and body. Despite it all, worry clung to her. “Blake. We just talked ‘bout this. Everythin’ I do is freely given.”

Blake was still staring into her eyes. Her brows moved upwards; her lower eyelids crinkled. Something behind the golden irises snapped.

Then Blake’s hand slid to Yang’s jaw and burned what was left of the world to the ground.

“So is this.”

Her fingers tightened behind the curve of Yang’s jaw, and there was suddenly no distance between them at all. Smooth skin, cool from the night air around them, pressed to her lips. Lightning shot through her, set off wildfires in every corner of her body, left her frozen in place.

Then the contact disappeared. A golden eye came back into light. Her face was far more flushed, blood collecting in her cheeks. Her eyes scanned across Yang’s face, and she seemed to shrink, eyes flicking away, her mouth opening.

Yang knew it was to apologize. For what, she didn’t know, but she knew it was for something that wasn’t Blake’s fault.

This was dangerous, this would be the end of her, but Yang could see her life in front of her and she wasn’t letting it go.

Fast as a rattlesnake strike, her hand flashed out, sank into dark, smooth hair. She didn’t pull her in, afraid of what memories it might pull back. Instead, she steadied Blake’s head as her lips surged forwards to find hers again.

Yang had absolutely no idea what she was doing, and she knew it was obvious in the way that their lips crashed together, and in the desperation in her grip. For one terrifying second, Blake was still.

Air rushed across her cheek, a pair of arms appeared around her shoulders, and her mouth moved against Yang’s. Blake pushed against her; Yang’s back hit the mattress. Hands slid across her skin, sparks wheeling out in their wake. A lip appeared between her slightly parted teeth, and Yang instinctively nipped at it. She was rewarded with a rasping moan, vibrating in the chest that was pressed against hers. The world was ablaze; so were her insides, her fingertips, her lips, her thoughts.

Her lips pulled back and Yang found herself breathless, head spinning. Her eyes opened, slowly, the dark room much brighter than it had been before. Blake was draped over her chest, one of Yang’s hands still in her hair. Her face just as flushed as Yang’s felt, pupils blown wide, irises shining in a ring around them. Her head tilted as she took in the woman below her, eyebrows gently rising.

Yang’s thumb moved, stroking her cheekbone, and her chest cramped as Blake’s eyes fluttered closed, leaning into the contact with a tiny sigh. “We,” Yang’s voice rasped and cracked into a helpless laugh, “are ass deep in trouble, ain’t we?”

“Yes.” Her eyes half-opened, gold shining out from hooded eyelids, expression softening into a fond smile. “But I prefer this trouble over my usual kind.” Her voice was teasing, but the words were steeped in emotion. So were the shaking fingers that ran through Yang’s hair.

Yang rubbed Blake’s arm with her other hand. “Don’ think about that. The only kind of trouble y’ can be in right now is my kind.”

Blake smiled, pressed her forehead against Yang’s. “Same for you. No trouble but this kind.” She murmured.

Yang’s chest was both molten and stuffed full of soft down feathers, and she desperately wanted to bring those lips back against hers. But she could see Blake’s eyelids pulling downwards, see how every blink was slower than the last.

So, she sat up slightly, and pressed a kiss against Blake’s forehead. “Baby,” She murmured, and watched Blake’s ears twitch. “We need to sleep now.”

Blake finally, reluctantly nodded, falling sideways off Yang’s chest and landing curled against her side. Yang pulled a pillow beneath her head as Blake nestled into the crook of her neck, inhaling deeply.

This time, they both drifted before either could ask the other anything about the current state of things. Yang fell asleep wondering if the world would be standing again when she woke up.

Chapter Text

Her bedroom was bright, the air was quiet, and neither of these things were familiar when Yang blinked awake. The empty bed, however, was.

Yang’s eyelids drooped even as she sat up. The sun had rose well above the horizon; she couldn’t remember the last time she’d slept this far past dawn. She rubbed her forehead, trying to remember if she’d drank too much the night before. Her other hand landed on the bed beside her and found the fabric surprisingly warm.

At the same time, Yang remembered a pair of red eyes outside her window and a pair of golden ones above her.

Her breath hissed out. A dream, maybe. Biting her lip, she leaned sideways, hanging off the edge of the cot to look below it. No rifle, and no shells. Not a dream.

Yang sat back up, then looked over her shoulder to the empty, warm patch of the bed next to her. She’s woken up next to someone who wasn’t trustworthy for a long time, she reasoned, she must have wanted space.

The logic should have been comforting. It wasn’t.

Outside, Celica nickered. Of course, she’d slept in, the two mares would be hungry. Yang rubbed her head again, sighing and preparing to get out of bed. Then the faint mumble of a voice reached her through the wooden walls.

Yang swung her legs over the side of the bed, stumbling slightly as she moved to the window. She moved to the corner, struggling to see around the corner to where the tack shed was.

Blake Belladonna’s ears were pinned back, brow furrowed in a grimace as she struggled to lift a forkful of hay over the edge of the fence. Celica paced, trying to reach through the wooden bars towards the bale, ignoring the hissing and swatting from Blake. She tried to straighten up and Yang saw her wince, one arm moving to her left hip. Darkness. Light. Whichever one of you cares. Please don’t let her have busted them stitches. And if she did, protect me from Jaune.

As Yang watched, spellbound, Blake looked at the pitchfork, threw her hands up in a frustrated gesture, bent, and simply dragged an armful of hay away from the bale and stuffed it through the fence. Celica eagerly accepted the food being offered to her, ignoring Blake as she pulled another armful of hay away from the bale and slipped through the fence, heading towards Gambol’s paddock.

Something in Yang’s throat swelled. It would have been just as easy for her to wake Yang up, and then made a coffee or something similar if she’d wanted to make some kind of nice gesture. Yang would have appreciated it just as much. But she’d gotten up herself when Celica started fussing, and left Yang to continue sleeping.

Of course, the worry in the back of her mind whispered that Blake still thought she owed Yang. But a different suspicion was occurring to her. Something that connected the way Blake quietly tried to help with anything she could, the way she jumped in without hesitation. The way it was so familiar to Tai bringing her dinner, or Pyrrha wordlessly helping her look for a wounded faunus.

She bit her lip. Part of her wanted to run outside and crush what was left of her ribs in a hug. The rest of her, however, wanted more proof.

Yang turned and climbed back into bed. She flopped onto her back, arranged her limbs as close to how she’d woken up as she could remember, and waited.

After a few minutes, the front door clicked open, then shut. She marveled at how hard she had to concentrate to hear Blake taking off her boots and shaking hay out of her clothing. A pause, broken only by near-silent footfalls, then a whisper of a creak as her door was pushed open.

Yang continued breathing, slow and deep, and waited for Blake’s footsteps to continue to her own room.

Nothing. Then floorboards, softly creaking as weight passed over them. Yang’s breath stopped as the bed dipped slightly. Warmth appeared beside her, so slowly and gradually that she didn’t need to control her reaction to it. A head softly nestled onto her bicep, smooth hair flowing against her skin, and her back pressed to Yang’s side. Then Blake gave a soft, whispering sigh, her cheekbone rubbed into Yang’s arm, and the tension in her back eased.

The lump in her throat expanded, and Yang could not hold still any longer.

Blake gave a short, surprised squeak as Yang rolled in a sudden whirl of motion, arms locking around her torso and pressing her against her chest. “Mornin’.” She said cheerfully, as fire roared in her chest and stomach.

“Gods, how long have you been awake?” Blake sputtered, struggling to roll over and face her.

“Just woke up now.” Yang loosened her grip just enough to allow her to turn, feeling a smile pull across her own face as Blake’s came into view. She wanted to brush her bangs away from the bright eurs, but her arms were firmly wrapped around her waist, and she wasn’t about to let go. So, instead, she pressed her lips to the spot just behind the corner of Blake’s jaw. “How long you been up?”

Blake’s sharp inhale sent a chill up her spine, then her fingers wound into Yang’s hair and sent fire back down it. “Not long.”

“Good.” Yang murmured. She still had no idea what she was doing, guided only by her own instincts and the memory of many hushed, giggled conversations with Pyrrha and Nora. But Blake’s fingers were scraping against the back of her scalp, there was a light hum of content vibrating her throat, and that was all the encouragement she needed. She tried to kiss just below Blake’s ear, accidentally rolling her onto her back in the process. For a second, her weight rested on Blake’s chest, and the hum became a hiss.

Yang instantly released her grip, resting her weight on her elbows and examining her face worriedly. “Shit, sorry, y’ good?”

She’d expected to see a grimace of pain and a weak excuse. Instead, Blake’s eyes were wide, staring at her. For a split second, Yang panicked. You scared her, shitshitsh-

Two hands rested on either side of her jaw, sending her gut into a spiral and pausing all thought. The golden eyes were still wide, but now she realized they were softer than she’d ever seen them. Her jaw moved slightly, as though she’d intended to speak and couldn’t. Yang waited, patient, as Blake seemed to struggle with her own thoughts. “Yang,” she finally managed, “I’m fine. I’m better than fine. I- you can do whatever you want with me. I...” She trailed off, staring into Yang’s eyes as though searching for something.

Yang hoped it wasn’t experience that she was looking for, because she wouldn’t find it. Truth be told, she had absolutely no idea what to do with the information that was being given to her. She wanted to press her lips against Blake’s again, she wanted to find the destination that they seemed to be tumbling towards, but she had no idea where to even begin, let alone how to get wherever her lips and fingers desperately wanted to go.

But she could see the same lost look reflected at her from Blake’s eyes. She was still flicking back and forth from Yang’s eyes to her mouth, as though she had an idea of where to go but not sure if she was going the right direction.

Confessing was far easier than she’d expected it to be. “Blake, I got no goddamn clue what I’m doin’.”

Blake was still for a moment. Then a soft, relieved sigh escaped her. “Neither do I.”

“At least you know how to kiss someone. I’m just makin’ this up as I go.” Yang snorted, a little weakly.

Blake’s lips quirked upwards in one corner. “I know you’ve done it at least twice.” Her face went hot, and it only got hotter as the little smirk grew. “And you did just fine both times.”

“Y’ flatterin’ me, Belladonna.” Yang returned the wry smile past her own burning cheeks, enjoying the way Blake’s eyes had gone soft and warm. “‘Pro’lly for the best that I ain’t bothered kissin’ no one before. Don’ think it’d compare to this.”

The warm look faded, a wistful sort of sadness taking its place. “...I wish I had nothing to compare it to.” She admitted, quietly.

Unbidden, visions of Blake’s lips pressed to someone else’s flashed through Yang’s mind. The thought made her skin crawl - but not as much as the thought of Blake trying to draw away from a touch and not being able to.

The raging fire that had flared in her chest must have shown behind Yang’s eyes, because one of her index fingers tapped just below Yang’s temple. “Don’t.” She whispered, voice firm. “I’m happy now.”

Normally, Yang would have agreed, might have even pressed her lips back against Blake’s and attempted to override whatever ghosts that she might have had. But now, she found herself remembering the ways that Blake wasn’t happy now. The way she flinched away from unexpected touches, the way her breathing turned uneven when her skin was exposed. The way she froze entirely when she got too scared.

“Blake,” Yang said, watching the way her hair spilled across the pillows like ink, the way hundreds of tiny scars shone in the sunlight. “Can I ask you ‘bout y’ past?”

Blake blinked. Her hands fell away from Yang’s face, and she pushed on one of her shoulders. Yang rolled away from her without a moment’s hesitation, letting her sit back up. She almost apologized and backed down, but an odd sort of resolve had seized her, and she settled into a cross-legged sit, facing her. Blake mirrored her pose, eyes focusing on the blanket between them.

Yang waited.

Her eyes closed. When they opened, they were focused back on Yang. “Only if I can ask about yours.”

It was a contract, of sorts, one that she didn’t think either of them were completely happy about. But, like gravity, Yang kept coming back to the same gut instinct that whatever they both had hidden away needed to be at least glimpsed by the other. Hidden wounds would not heal.

So, she nodded. “You can ask first, if y’ like.”

Her lip twitched slightly, eyes softening. “How long have you known Pyrrha?”

At least they were starting off easy. Yang leaned back, sighing. “Known Pyrrha for ‘bout seven years. Met her when I was sixteen: Tai and I were helpin’ her train Miló, she’d just bought him off the track, idiot only knew how to run and turn left. We started talkin’, ended up pretty friendly with each other.”

The woman across from her smiled slightly, as though imagining a younger version her - then stopped. “Wait. Isn’t the horse Pyrrha has now named Miló?”

“Same horse.”

“What?!” Blake stared at her, dumbfounded. “I thought it was a two-year-old!”

“Hon, that horse is ten years old.” Yang snorted as Blake’s jaw dropped. “Y’’know what’s even worse? Four years ago, we had the bright idea to breed ‘im to Tai’s plow horse to see if we’d end up with somethin’ with a brain and speed. But we got Celica instead.”

Blake slowly shook her head incredulously. “...you’re lucky she has a brain at all.”

“Eh, he’s ain’t dumbest horse I ever worked with. He’s just sensitive as a sunburnt Atlesian.”

A very undignified snort escaped from Blake, followed by a barely suppressed chuckle. “Okay. Your turn.” Even fighting back laughter, she could see the tension in Blake’s shoulders and hands.

“Mm.” Yang tilted her head, already knowing what she wanted to ask. “Where’d you grow up?”

Blake blinked, as though caught off guard, then shook her head and seemed to collect her though. “Menagerie.”

“Oh.” Yang had read about the island before - a tropical paradise inhabited solely by faunus. The woman in front of her didn’t exactly look the type to be scaling palm trees and fishing in the ocean. “Not Mistral?”

“My family ended up spending more time in Mistral, so it might be fairer to say I grew up there. But I have fonder memories of Menagerie.” A smile pulled at her lips. “It was always hot, and beautiful. When it wasn’t pouring rain, at least.” Yang almost opened her mouth to ask if she wanted to go back one day - then realized that it was no longer her turn, and Blake’s gaze had turned back to her. “What about you? Did you grow up in Beacon?”

“Yeah. Grew up on Patch Ranch - Tai’s ranch, this property is on a corner of it. Tai gave it to me a little while after I became a deputy.” Blake tilted her head, but Yang didn’t have anything else to say about it. “Y’ parents still in Menagerie?”

Blake shrugged, gaze turning slightly dull. “Probably. Haven’t seen either of them for years. Did Tai raise you and your sister alone?”

Yang sighed. Here come the hard questions. “In a manner ’a speakin’. Raven left when I was a baby. Ruby’s ma, Summer, raised me ‘till she was killed in a Grimm attack when I was seven.  My uncle, Qrow, tried to help out but he was passed out drunk more often n’ not. Tai tried his best, but he got real distant after she died; was a good night if he remembered to cook for us.” She snorted, as if either of them found it funny. “I did more raisin’ Ruby than he did. She was a good kid, at least, she wasn’ hard to please. If all I could feed her was half-cooked dough and an egg, she was happy.”

The black ears flicked; eyes soft. “...you didn’t really get to have a childhood.”

“I did. Just wasn’ real long.” There was too much sympathy in the golden eyes, and Yang found herself changing the subject entirely. “How long have you known Adam?”

She looked away - not out of discomfort, but concentration. Her eyes narrowed, as if counting years. With every second of the pause, Yang’s nervousness grew. “Eleven years, I think. We met under... strange circumstances.”

That... that couldn’t be right. She’d thought that Blake had to be close to the same age as her. But if she was, that would mean...

A mixture of anxiety and fury was rising in Yang’s chest, and she tried to pass it off with a chuckle. “He’d look real awkward at twelve, I think, ‘less I’ve gravely misjudged y’ age. Horns pro’ly weighed his head down.” It was a question, even though she hadn’t technically phrased it like one.

“Don’t worry, you got my age right. And, well, probably,” Blake snorted, but the smile was uncomfortable now, her shoulders rising. “But I wouldn’t know. He was sixteen.”

Sixteen. She’d been twelve.

All the anxiety fled from her chest, leaving only a cold fury that had burned into stomach.

Blake must have smelled smoke emanating from her, because she held her hands out in a gesture that was probably intended to be comforting. “Before you ask - no. He didn’t show any kind of... interest in me until much later.”

It didn’t help enough. If he’d met her at that age, and he’d cared about her, he should have become her big brother. He should be protective, supportive, caring. Yang shook her head, trying to clear away the flashes of the huge bruise and vicious wound she knew were hiding underneath the worn black shirt. “I’m gon’ let that one go for now. Think it’s y’ turn now, right?”

Blake nodded, her eyes still scanning over Yang’s face. She chewed on her lip. “You said Raven left you for dead.” Yang’s jaw tightened, but Blake was going a different direction. “Were you part of her band?”

“Yeah.” Her voice came out rougher than she’d intended. “Got my question - what’d Pyrrha tell you, really?”

She flinched. “...said you left and ran with Raven’s band for four months; she took you back on as deputy after.” Her voice was weak, nervous. “That’s it - said it wasn’t her story to tell.”

Yang’s breath came back out in a sigh. Truth be told, she wasn’t angry. More just... irritated. Defensive, maybe. That particular corner of her past was not one she wanted to deal with now. But Blake was half curled, nervous, and that was somehow worse. “‘Preciate you askin’ first. I don’ like talkin’ ‘bout it, but that ain’t y’ fault.” Carefully, Yang reached out and gently placed a hand on her shoulder. Blake’s muscles slowly relaxed, her gaze staying on Yang’s, a small smile appearing on her face as Yang offered an apologetic, weak smile of her own. “It ain’t the ‘bandit’ part I hate ‘bout it, by the way. I made shitty choices while I was with her. Least the White Fang has good intentions - Raven just cares ‘bout herself and her clan, nothin’ else.”

Blake blinked. She’d gone still, and that caught Yang’s attention more than anything else. Her jaw worked, silently, as though she was searching for words. When she found them, they were not at all the words Yang expected. “Remember when I promised you that I’d tell you anything about the White Fang that you wanted to know?”

Broadsided, she blinked but nodded. They were straying into dangerous territory, and she watched Blake carefully as the slender woman bit her lip but continued to stare back at Yang. “Why haven’t you asked?”

Yang remembered exactly the moment Blake had choked out the panicked promise. Broken, blood blooming below translucent skin, curling as small as she could as Yang stared at her, bandage in hand. “...I can’t.”

Blake blinked, confusion sweeping over her face. “...what?”

“What y’ said to me wasn’ a promise. You didn’ want to tell me, you wanted to be safe again. So, y’ tried to bargain the only thing you thought you had to make it stop. I- I ain’t the kind of person that can take advantage of somethin’ like that. Not when it’s you.”

Blake’s gaze never left her, but Yang could see her attention wavering back and forth, forming words, turning them over in her mind. “Yang,” Her voice was raw, hoarse, giving away that something huge was happening behind the glassy golden eyes. “Ask me where the White Fang is.”

For a moment, Yang couldn’t move. A part of her screeched and clawed for the knowledge, for herself as much as for the town. But everything else hesitated. “Blake-”

“Please.” Her voice was barely more than a whisper, yet Yang could hear the ground beneath them cracking open beneath it. “I want to get it out of my head.”

Are they really on Cerulean ranch? It should have been easy to ask. It should have felt like relief.

Instead, she whispered. “If y’ want to get it out, why aren’t y’ just tellin’ me?”

Blake’s eyes widened, glittering with the threat of tears. Her ears were laced back, black hair tumbling down and framing her pale face. Her fingers shook, gripping one of her arms. “Just ask.” She pleaded. “I can’t... I’m such a damn coward, I can’t just...”

As much as it hurt Yang, as guilty as she felt, as much as she wanted to burn the bridge connecting her to the White Fang, she knew that this wasn’t the way to do it. She reached out, gently cupping Blake’s chin and staring her straight in the eye. “Y’ not a coward.” Her voice wasn’t angry, or commanding, but very, very serious. “Y’ the bravest woman I’ve ever known in my damned life. But if y’ need me to drag the information out’a you, you ain’t ready to tell me. So, when y’ ready to tell me, I’ll sit and listen, but I ain’t gon’ ask you for it. I respect you too much for that. Understand?”

Tears slipped down her face as she stared at Yang. Her fingers wrapped around Yang’s wrist, and her brows lowered. Swallowed. Steadied herself. “The asshole from the saloon last night. He was telling the truth ‘bout the ranch. ‘Bout where they were.” She shook. More tears escaped as she blinked, body violent shuddering. “I think... I think that’s all I can...”

She understood - there was no true danger to her. Obi had told her and Pyrrha where the White Fang was, not Blake. All she was doing was confirming information. But still, Yang pressed her palm to Blake’s face, biting back tears of her own as Blake leaned into the touch, tears continuing to silently trail down her face.

They stayed there for a long moment, before Yang reached out, intending to guide Blake back into her arms. Blake moved, as if to follow.

Then, quite suddenly, she stopped. Her eyes flicked up. “Yang.” Her voice was still unsteady, but markedly more sober. “The asshole from the bar last night. He knew who I was.”

Yang blinked. “...Must've spied on you. We figured that you and Adam led the group just from catchin' glances.”

“But we knew you were watching. Between all the members of the group, there are a lot of very sensitive ears, eyes, and noses watching the camp. It’s very, very hard to spy on a faunus band without them knowing. And no one ever mentioned a bandit clan in the area. So...” Blake’s eyes had grown wider, nervous, “How’d he know I was a faunus, or that I related to the White Fang at all?”

It was a decent question. Yang chewed on her lip. Maybe they’d seen some part of Blake’s exile, while she was too distracted by Adam. Maybe some information had been exchanged between the two groups, though that seemed unlikely.

Yang remembered seeing a raven on her fencepost, watching her bring Gambol in through the gate. The bottom dropped out of her stomach entirely.

“Blake,” Her voice was barely a whisper, yet it echoed in the silent room. “Ever noticed a big raven with red eyes hangin’ 'round?”

Chapter Text

She’d known that the raven had been bad news. She’d known that her encounter with it had been strange. She’d even suspected that the Raven that she’d seen so eerily loping through the mist last night was more than she’d seemed.

But, somehow, the way that all the colour drained from Yang’s face when Blake described the way the raven had looked her in the eye for a second too long caught her off guard. As did the accompanying rush of movement as Yang rolled off the cot, darting towards her dresser, offering only a blunt “Get dressed, we’re goin’ into town.”

Rather than press Yang for more details, Blake’s years of hurried wake-ups and calls to battle kicked in. She rushed to her room, pulling off her thin trousers, hurriedly grabbing the pill vial that sat on her nightstand, rattling out the morning dose and swallowing it. Then, as she looked into the bottle, realized that it was the last.

Five days worth. Then the only thing standing between your bones and the outside world are seven stitches.

Yang was pulling on her boots outside the door, still rushing. Blake knew she needed to catch up with her. Her hip was steadily throbbing, reminding her that even though she tended to forget about it in favor of the constantly complaining ribs, it was far more likely to kill her than the fractured bones.

Gingerly, she lifted the edge the bandage. The skin below was redder than it had been yesterday morning - but she could see all seven stitches, still holding the slowly healing wound closed.

Huffing a relieved sigh, Blake pulled on the thick canvas trousers and hurriedly buttoned up a black blouse, limping out the door. She could properly change the bandage later.

Yang was already halfway out the door, but she held it open as Blake rushed to catch up with her. She didn’t insist on tacking up Gambol for her, and that was how Blake knew that something was truly wrong. Thankfully, Gambol held still as she ate, waiting patiently as Blake worked to get her saddle onto the mare’s back. She had Gambol tacked and clambered into the saddle just before Yang did, quietly satisfied that she could finally do something by herself. There was a flash of concern in Yang’s face as she looked over Blake, perhaps realizing that she should have helped, but by then there was nothing to do but ride off.

It wasn’t until they reached Beacon that Blake realized that they’d forgotten about something else.

Her ears burned as she saw people milling in the street, too far away to see her yet.  She dropped Gambol’s reins, reaching up to hurriedly pull her hair over the flattened ears. Yang glanced over, and immediately hissed, rubbing her face. “Oh shit , I didn’-“

“It’ll be fine. Just don’t draw attention to us.”

Yang grimaced. “Ain’t just y’ ears. Y’ ridin’ with eastern tack, too.”

So that was why she had been able to tack Gambol up by herself. Blake audibly groaned, watching as a man sweeping his front porch stopped to squint at the pair as they passed. “When the angry mob comes, I’m blaming you.” Her words were deceptively lighthearted - her heart was beating out of her chest, and her palms were sweating as she picked the reins back up.

“Worst come to worst, I just arrested you.” Yang grumbled sourly, clearly disliking the idea. “Otherwise, I’m escortin’ you. Got it?”

Blake nodded, feeling her mouth dry out as Celica and Gambol walked into the town.

Thankfully, the sheriff's office was on the edge of Beacon, but that didn’t spare them from sideways glances and mutters. Blake could feel her hands shaking and the hair on the back of her neck stand upright as unfamiliar eyes locked on her. No one attempted to stop them, though, and when Yang turned Celica towards the small stable that sat beside the sheriff's office, Blake heaved a small sigh of relief.

“Gods almighty, it lived.”

Blake’s ears snapped up faster than she could suppress them, head whirling to look behind them. A man with powerfully built shoulders leaned over the neck of his horse, casually plodding up the road. His face had been more angular with moonlight glinting off it, days and years ago in a shed, but the voice hadn’t changed.

“Move along, Cardin.” Yang growled, moving to put Celica between the two.

Cardin pulled his horse to a stop, glaring at the blonde deputy. “Sheriff must trust you an awful lot, lettin’ you keep that thing ‘round.”

Some passersbys had stopped when they heard the exchange. Instinctively, Blake swung off of Gambol, half hiding behind her neck, but it was far too late. She could hear the suspicious murmurs, could feel the net around her tightening. Past the edge of Gambol’s nose, she saw a man with an overgrown white beard peer at her, brow furrowed. She recognized him as the shopkeeper that the White Fang had robbed, leading to her and Yang meeting in a river. There was a bandage covering his forearm. Guilt welled up in her chest.

Yang didn’t let up, raising her voice just enough to have authority. “I can’t say anythin’ other than it’s a Sheriff matter. Y’ want more n’ that, y’ can talk to Nikos after I’ve had a chance to. That clear?”

Cardin’s eyes narrowed. But he turned his horse and headed up the road.

Blake let out a shaky breath and turned, leading Gambol into the stable. She could hear Celica’s heavy hooves behind her, and she kept her ears pinned back. She’d heard it all before. They just aren’t used to seeing a faunus. They just don’t know better. They were just taught that way. They’ve just had bad experiences. Faint echoes in her father’s voice and in the voices of the few humans that had spoke to her before. None of it changed anything.

To her surprise, however, Yang didn’t attempt to excuse anything. She stood quietly, untacking Celica and throwing her in a stall while Blake pulled Gambol’s bridle off. Blake didn’t try to stop her from taking the saddle, placing it neatly on a stand beside her own. As Blake passed, she gently caught her arm.

Fear was still circling behind her eyes, but Yang did her best to give her a weak, reassuring smile.

It wasn’t her fault the world wasn’t fair. Blake returned the smile, gently squeezing her arm back, and followed her though the door.

The wide, wooden room was empty, save for the red haired woman sitting on the edge of a desk, staring at a map pinned up on the wall in front of her. Pyrrha didn’t even glance at them, sighing. “Didn’t think I’d see you both this morning.”

“Raven knows about Blake.” Yang's words came out in a tumble, as though she'd been saving them.

Pyrrha blinked, turning. “...wh-”

Yang rubbed at her face, exhaling, and Blake finally saw some of the fear she’d been fighting all morning flicker through. “To make a long story real damn short, Blake caught her spyin’ on her four days ago, didn’ realize who it was until this mornin’. So, she knows who Blake is, knows she’s injured, and knows she’s stayin’ with me.”

Pyrrha looked between the two of them, green eyes slowly narrowing. “...think she’s worried about the White Fang sabotagin’ her plan?”

Yang stopped, very clearly connecting what she’d said with the fact that she hadn’t actually shared a vital piece of information yet. She looked at Blake, expression somewhere between apologetic and nervous.

It was bad timing, with the fresh memory of human eyes locked on her, filled with disdain and distrust. But her foot was already in her grave now, and she knew Yang would have told Pyrrha anyways.

“It... might be the other way around.” Blake watched Pyrrha’s face turn to her, watched her expression change from confused to alert, listening to every sound Blake made, watching her every movement.

Yang took mercy on her and spoke before she had to. “That was the other thing that Obi told me last night. White Fang is hittin’ the same train.”

Pyrrha slowly leaned back against the desk. Everything felt like it was in slow motion, like Blake was watching a fire burn out of control. “...so that’s why they’re in the town and won’ leave.” She didn’t seem angry at Yang for holding the information back, but she glanced at Blake for a moment too long. “...wonder which group figured it out first.”

“Bettin’ the White Fang did.” Yang leaned against the metal bars of the holding cell, as Blake slowly moved to sit on the desk beside her. “Raven wouldn’ have contacts in the dust mines, but she’d be keepin’ an eye on any bandit group in her area. The White Fang would have contacts in the mines, but I doubt they’d be trying to spy on a human bandit group with nothin’ to do with faunus.” She glanced over at Blake.

Blake exhaled, flicking her ears in the tiniest form of agreement she could manage. This was okay. She could just sit here and listen. She wasn’t giving any information, just... telling them if they guessed right.

She could feel hands on her throat already.

Pyrrha stood, approaching the map again and mercifully distracting Blake. “Well, this changes things.”

Yang snorted. “Speakin’ of - Raven knows about Blake.” She bounced her head off of the bars. “Y’see why I’m concerned now?”

Pyrrha stopped in her tracks, blinking.

Blake almost pointed out that perhaps she should be filled in on the secret, then stopped as well as she put the pieces together. Her heart sank to her ankles, and she suddenly understood the panic that had flashed through Yang’s face this morning. “You think she’s planning to use me to get Adam to back off.”

Yang’s fingers were tapping on her crossed arms. “‘Think’ ain’t really the right word. She’s gon’ do it.”

Pyrrha slowly turned  to face them. “First - Yang, don’ tell me you dragged her all the way to town and didn’ explain why.”

Yang shrunk slightly, wincing. “...Was in a hurry.”

A sigh, then Pyrrha turned back to Blake. “Second - who’s Adam?”

There was a moment of stunned silence, as both Blake slowly looked at Yang, who was examining the map with great interest. You never told her.

With some difficulty, she cleared her throat. “The. Ah. The leader of the band. His name is Adam.”

“Oh.” Pyrrha nodded, as though it wasn’t of any interest, but Blake didn’t miss the flash of a supportive smile that Pyrrha shot her before turning back to the map. “If she’s planning on a hostage negotiation, she should have moved already. Every second she lets the White Fang plan, gather resources, and pour more effort into the robbery, her chances of gettin’ it for herself get lower. Why hasn’t she moved? Just hasn’ had the right chance?”

“No, she’s had plenty of chances. I got no idea why she ain’t moved.” Her response was far from comforting - nor was the tiny shake in her voice that Blake could just barely detect. That’s why she was so frightened. She realized that Raven could have taken you at any point in the last three days. Sympathy for Yang panged in her chest far more than any kind of fear for her own safety.

At least she had an answer. “She hasn’t moved because she knows there’s no point.” Both Pyrrha and Yang glanced at her. “If I’d run away, I’d probably be a perfect target for that. But I was exiled - she probably figures that I won’t hold much sway over him.”

“How would she know y’ exiled?”

“The fact Adam hasn’t burned this office to the ground trying to get me back is probably a good hint.” Blake commented dryly. “Or the fact that you aren’t already trying to use me to negotiate with him.”

“...fair.” Pyrrha chewed on her lip, shifting her weight.

Yang, on the other hand, had focused on Blake again. “If she ain’t gon’ use you to get to him, what’s her play?” She seemed to be talking to herself more than to Blake, but their eyes still met.

“I’m worried ‘bout the fact she’s out in the open.” Pyrrha shot a look over her shoulder. “She had a great element of surprise goin’ for her. Why tell the White Fang she’s comin’? Why tell us she’s here? Sounds like the only thing she didn’ want anyone to know is that she’d found Blake.”

Yang’s brow had lowered, chewing on her lip. “...almost feels like she’s posturin’. Playin’ defensive, lettin’ them make a move first. Ain’t like her.”

Pyrrha nodded, mirroring the same concerned sort of confusion. “Yeah.”

Blake focused on the patch of map that Pyrrha had circled and labeled with ‘ Cerulean Ranch’. Her eyes followed the trails she’d taken while scouting the ranch, the ones that patrols had circled. Finally, they lingered on a blind bend in the train track, directly below a sheer rock face. She and Adam had spent hours on it, watching the train below slow to make the turn. There were other places that they could attack it. But, in a rare moment of reason, Adam had agreed with her that it was the best option.

Now she was sitting in a human sheriff’s office, watching the pieces fall together, realizing that she only had one move to make. And there would be no coming back from it.

“She’s using you.” Both Yang and Pyrrha stared at her, but Blake had already gotten to her feet, grabbing the pencil off of the desk. “She’s betting that you’re going to focus on the White Fang, not her.” She circled the ranch again - but unlike Pyrrha’s uncertain loop around the area, Blake outlined the rough perimeter of the fence, as closely as she could remember. She kept talking, distracting herself from her own pounding heart. “She probably knows you’re both too smart to take her word for it, so she had one of her men take a couple youngsters to the bar and let slip that both her band and the White Fang are going for the train. She knew you had contact with a former member, and you already had problems with them robbing the town. Not to mention the townsfolk would be more antsy about faunus bandits than human ones.” The last sentence was hissed under her breath as she started outlining where the fallen buildings had been. “She’s giving you a more attractive target, and getting rid of two problems at once. She can’t lose - either you stop the White Fang and leave the way clear for her, or you cripple them and make it difficult for them to pull it off.”

She felt Pyrrha walk up to stand beside her. “...so you’re suggestin’ we try to go after Raven instead?”

Blake bit her lip. She should say yes. Point them the other way. Take the heat off of the group.

Yang’s silence was deafening behind her.

“No,” She mumbled. “I don’t think Raven will leave any loose ends behind. I’m not even sure how she’s planning on pulling it off if her plan does work.”

“I do.” Footsteps echoed behind her, and Blake felt warmth directly behind her back. “She’s not hittin’ the train.” Both Blake and Pyrrha turned, finding Yang staring at the White Fang camp with a lowered brow. “ If we don’t stop them, she’s gon’ let them stop the train and get the dust into the open for her, then take it from them. If we do, the dust will stay at the mine and she’ll have more time t’ make her own plan.”

The bottom fell out of Blake’s stomach. Pyrrha turned back to the map, running a hand through her hair. “Then what should we do ‘bout it?”

All three women fell into silence, staring at the map for a long, long moment. Blake felt a hand brush her arm, and wanted to turn around and bury her face in Yang’s shoulder. Instead, she jabbed at the rail yard, just south of Beacon. “Your bandit friend said they had to have everything gone by the end of next week. The SDC likes to switch up when they ship things every week or so, in the past we’ve checked the train yard ahead of the attack point, and get an idea of what arrived when. You’d be wisest to send someone there tonight. We need to get out ahead of them, force them to make a mistake. A lot of Adam’s followers are just local kids, they won’t be hard to scare off. If they choose the wrong train to hit and the dust gets through, neither Raven or Adam will get a shot at it.”

She could feel Pyrrha’s eyes on the back of her neck. “Blake, understand that I’m gon’ need to arrest these kids if we catch ‘em.”

Blake’s gut rolled again, feeling invisible hands squeeze down on her neck. But there was no going back now. “If Yang’s right about Raven’s plan, they’ll die in the crossfire anyways - Adam will let them run to their deaths before he admits he's been beaten." Her eyes rested on the crudely mapped camp, thinking of Adam's older followers who still followed her command, and the youngest ones that were still bright and full of enthusiasm. "This is the best shot I have at saving them.”

As though to prove her wrong, three sharp bangs echoed on the office’s front door.

All three of the women jumped, scrambling. Blake instinctively ducked around Yang, who had already thrown an arm out, free hand resting on her holster. Pyrrha reacted with slightly more optimism, taking a step towards the door - then groaned. “Winchesters.”

“For the love of Light, did he really go cryin’ to Papa?” Yang whirled, eyes darting around, then landing on the holding cell. “Blake, ’m sorry, but-”

“On it.” Blake was already jumping into the holding cell, gritting her teeth.

Yang closed the door with the quietest rattle she could get away with, locking it just as the front door squeaked open.

“NIKOS!” A tall, barrel-chested man had already barged through the door before Pyrrha could reach it, blue eyes casting around the room, Cardin following behind like a kicked dog.

Pyrrha leaned back against her desk with a patient smile. “What can I do for you, Rufus?”

Initially, the huge man didn’t respond, too busy looking around the office. His eyes landed on Blake, innocently seated in her cell, and he let out a huff. “Y’ can start by tellin’ me why the Evernight there’s a faunus still alive in that there cell.”

“Ask y’ son.” Pyrrha gestured to the slowly shrinking boy behind him. “He was the one who asked Yang to come and get her in the middle of the night.”

“I’m well aware.” He growled. “I was... surprised that y’ fine deputy didn’ put a bullet ‘tween its eyes right then ‘n there, but I didn’ make a fuss. Figured you might get somethin’ outta th’ thing. But this? Three damn days and it ain’t even out of town? Are you askin’ the rest of its pack to come ‘n burn us all t’ th’ ground?”

Blake entire gut had packed itself into a tight bunch, leaving her muscles tight and twitching. Her knuckles were white on the edge of the metal cot. Yang had taken a single step forwards, placing herself just between the cell and the pair of men.

Pyrrha, clearly aware of how tight a rope they were all walking, gave a deceptively light-hearted chuckle. “Rufus, y’ never fail to make me smile.”

He whirled, staring at her. “Young lady-”

“First,” She cut him off, smoothly, standing. “My name is Sheriff Pyrrha Nikos, and I expect to be addressed as such. Second, I’m happy to discuss y’ concerns ‘bout the girl, on the condition that y’ sit down and discuss them with me civilly. Third, if you have problems with how I run this office, you can take those concerns directly to Mayor Ozpin, as it was his decision to appoint me to this position.” Pyrrha met his gaze evenly, with only a slight amount more respect than the glare she’d fixed the bandits in last night. “If you can’t abide by that, Deputy Xiao Long will show you both the door if you can’t find it yourselves.”

Silence rung in the small office. Cardin’s face had gone red, but Rufus was eying Pyrrha with something that almost looked like respect. “I admit, had my doubts when Ozpin hired you on. But y’ got a spine, I’ll give you that.”

“Most folk do.” Pyrrha replied, just as pleasantly as always. “Now, are you leaving or talking?”

Blake hoped he would turn around and leave. But, instead, Rufu neatly sat down on one of the chairs, lifting one with one hand to move for his son to sit in. She bit back a groan, leaning against the wall. Yang glanced over her shoulder with an expression that was almost as pained as Blake felt, before reluctantly sitting down at the desk beside the cell.

“To put it civil-like,” Rufus’ voice had changed to a calm, oddly collected tone, “I’m concerned about the consequences of keepin’ a ‘wild’ faunus in th’ town.”

As Blake started looking for something to throw at him, she heard a barely whispered hiss. “Holy shit, s’ th’ longest word I’ve ever heard him say.” She bit her lip, trying not to give Yang away by smiling or laughing.

“I was unaware there was a ‘domestic’ kind.”

Now Blake had to move. She hopped off the cot, curling against the far wall, facing away from the desk so her snorts of laughter or suppressed rage alike would not be visible.

She heard the man sigh. “Don’ get all smart with me. Y’know what I mean - these ain’t like that lil’ Velvet character that does the vet work. Least that one don’ cause no problems, good with the critters.”

Velvet. She knew that name - she and Adam had stopped into a nice older couple with their adult daughter when they were out recruiting. Blake turned very slightly to look at Yang. “Rabbit faunus?” She whispered.

“Yeah.” Yang was barely mouthing the words, but Blake could still hear the sound. “She stitched up Gambol.”

“-point is, that there critter that y’ had the sense to lock in a cage? She ain’t like that. She ain’t never gon’ be trustworthy - s’ like a dog that grew up on the street, they don’ know no law but th’ law of nature.”

Blake’s hand curled into a fist. She heard Yang’s pen tap against the desk.

“Rufus,” Pyrrha sighed, “I understand why y’ worried. Really, I do. But I think y’ confusing holding a key witness to a crime with trying to tame an animal. She ain’t done nothin’ but get injured and seek help.”

There was a long, heavy sigh. “Sheriff.” He said, calmly, as though speaking to a small child. “ It  is an animal, and you’d be wise t’ remember that. It’s gon’ turn on you.”

Her heart was pounding in her ears. She could feel her hands shaking. Slowly, she turned, just able to see Rufus sitting at Pyrrha’s desk, offering a sympathetic smile.

Yang’s voice sounded, nearly casual, as though pondering to herself. “How have you gotten away with callin’ Velvet ‘it’ for this long?”

Rufus turned, and she saw the man’s gaze flick from Yang to her, realizing that the dark haired faunus was staring daggers into him from across the room.

Come over here, and I’ll show you a damned animal.

That was the precise moment that the door swung open, and a voice boomed through the office.

“Eeeeeeeeeey!”

Yang’s entire body jerked as a blonde, middle-aged man bounced into the office with all the enthusiasm of a teenager, ruffling Cardin’s hair and slapping a hand onto Rufus’ shoulder. “Damn fine luck findin’ you both here! I got that lil’ grey colt polished for ya, finally!”

“Aaah, Tai.” Rufus shot him a friendly grin, returning the thump on his shoulder with force that made the newcomer stagger. Blake stared - even if she hadn’t recognized the name, there was a very familiar curve to the man’s smile. “Didn’ give ya too much trouble, I trust.”

“Aw, Rufus, he was th’ biggest pain in th’ ass y’ ever sent me.” That sent an even bigger grin across Rufus’ face. “But I got him nice n’ started for Cardin to work with now.”

Cardin looked like he’d been praying for any excuse to get out of the office, and he wasted no time in scrambling to his feet. “Sounds dandy, Mr. Xiao Long, meet ya outside.” He tossed over his shoulder, scrambling out.

Rufus, on the other hand, rolled his neck, eyeing the girl inside the cell one more time before standing. “Good timin’, I think I’d said all I need t’ say. Thank y’ for y’ time, Sheriff.”

“Thank you for y’ concern, Rufus.”

With that, the huge man turned, heading towards the door. Tai grinned as he trotted after him, “”S actually turned out t’ be a pretty promisin’ prospect,” He turned as Rufus went through the doorway, locked eyes with Yang, and mouthed “DINNER TOMORROW” before turning back around and continuing “Think he’d make a great lil’ ropin’ horse for th’ ranch-”

The door slammed, and the voices faded almost immediately.

The change in expression in the room would have been outright hilarious had it been a different situation. Pyrrha leaned so far back in her chair that it shrieked, both hands covering her face. Yang went the exact opposite way, her face colliding with the desk. Blake just stared straight at the wall and clenched and unclenched her hands.

Yang recovered first, standing rushing to the door to unlock it, shoving it open with a loud shriek. “Well, at least we found somethin’ that Senior is good for.”

“At least he’s lookin’ out for you.” Pyrrha said dully. “I think Rufus genuinely thought he was givin’ me good advice.”

Blake said absolutely nothing, instead just standing and walking out of the cell to then lean against the wall. Yang’s eyes flickered over her, expression immediately turning to concern. “Pyrr, you mind if we take off? Think we’ve both had enough of humans today.”

Pyrrha waved them off, hand still over her face. “Please. I’m gon’ give the Wild Bunch out there a few minutes to clear out, then I’m gon’ go find Jaune. He’s out driving Crocea ‘round somewhere.”

“Good plan. We’re gon’ tack th’ mares up and head out th’ back way.”

That was all the signal that Blake needed. She turned on her heel and wrenched the door open, moving outside faster than Yang could follow. Without breaking stride, she grabbed her saddle and hefted it towards the stall, ignoring the stinging in her hip and constant aching of the ribs.

She could feel Yang’s eyes on her as she pushed the door into Gambol’s stall open. Swung the blanket on, then the saddle, Her hands were trembling, and she hissed in frustration as a buckle on her saddle fell out of place as she tried to fasten the girth. She fumbled with it again, pulling it too tight in her anger and earning an irritated swish of Gambol’s tail. Straw splintered at the front of the stall, and Blake whirled, voice rising to the top of her throat, primed to spit back angry retorts at whatever excuse Yang was about to give for what she’d just heard.

Instead, she found the blonde woman standing in the entrance to the stall, hands tucked into the pockets of her jeans, shifting her weight uncomfortably. Her lilac eyes were soft, focused on Blake. Waiting for her to speak, not trying to speak to her.

She was so used to having to swallow her thoughts and emotions. Maybe it was for that exact reason that she knew she couldn’t.

“What makes me so different?” She threw her hands up, throat suddenly tight, eyes suddenly stinging. “What makes faunus so different? Extra ears? Claws? Tails? I walk and talk and dress the same way they do. I think like they do. I feel like they do. What makes having a few extra body parts so important that it outweighs that?” She wiped her eyes furiously. “I know he’s probably been burned by faunus bandits before. I know violence turns people against us. But human bandits were in the town just last night, and they’re just as dangerous as we are at our worst. Why aren’t they more scared of them? I don’t understand how - how...”

Yang’s eyes were still so soft, so full of pain. So full of a sympathy that she wasn’t used to.

Blake’s tone became unsteady. “How can a human stick a brand into a faunus boy’s face for keeping food for himself, and still be considered a person?” She watched Yang’s eyes close, watched her look down. She inhaled. “Or... or the human who caught a teenage girl stealing three crystals of dust from him, and forced her to bargain for her life?” Yang’s head shot up, all of her attention suddenly focused entirely on Blake as words that had never tasted outside air escaped her throat. “O-or the human who watched it happen, and laughed at her when she begged for help?”

The lilac eyes went wide with a mixture of shock and horror. The stable around them was distorted around the edges, blurred by tears.

Her voice cracked, leaving nothing but a sob. “Why am I the animal, and not them?”

Straw crunched, and suddenly Blake was surrounded by warmth and a familiar scent. She buried her face in it, hoping to drown, hoping to lose herself, hoping to find something to hang on to.

Yang’s head moved slightly, and one cheek brushed Blake’s ear, she felt tears streaming down her face. The arms around her tightened, rocking her very slightly back and forth. “I’m takin’ y’ home.” She murmured, and it sounded suspiciously like a suppressed sob. “And we’re goin’ back to sleep.”

Her arms wound around Yang’s chest, pressing her head against her collarbone as though hoping to hear the answers echoing there. But there were no answers, and she could settle for comfort.

A thought crossed her mind, distracting her from the painful thoughts rattling through her head. "Yang?"

"Yeah."

"Raven was the bird, wasn't she?"

Yang was still for a moment. "...yeah. She was." 

There was a long, long moment of silence as Blake struggled to process the information that, deep down, she'd known was true but couldn't accept. Finally, she simply shook her head. "Guess I'm even with her. I told her to go and ride out the rain in the forest like a proper animal." 

The snort that came out of Yang's mouth was completely involuntary, and despite the fear, the confusion, the knowledge that she'd officially stepped over a boundary that she could never cross again, Blake's mouth pulled into a smile as a kiss was planted on the top of her head. "Gods, Blake. I don't want you to ever meet her again, but if you do, I want t' be in the room."

Chapter Text

The map stretched in front of them had undergone a lot of very rapid changes recently. Adam gritted his teeth as he stared at the snaking railway line. The chaotic scribbles across the page only made the pounding in his head worse. From looking at the three faunus in the tent, an observer might have thought it was well past midnight instead of early in the afternoon. All three sported dark bags below their eyes, along with an assortment of cuts and bruises. But none of them brought up the fact that the rival bandit group had been putting the pressure on them. Midnight attacks, harassing patrols, damaging lookout posts - but all were annoyances, nothing that would actually stop the White Fang from its goal.

The weight of the bags under his eyes begged to differ. So did the rapidly shrinking fuse to his temper.

A clawed hand tapped on the railyard, south of town and circled with a messy charcoal line. “Thinkin’ we should send some people down there tonight, if y’ thinkin’ that we gon’ need to move sooner. Ain’t gon’ be a good place to steal nothin’, but we could at least see if SDC is shippin’ anythin’ worthwhile yet.”

The muscular woman seated at the other end of the map twitched a long lop ear, continuing to sharpen the hatchet across her lap. Adam slowly exhaled through his nose before speaking in a voice that was far less sarcastic and angry than the one in his head. “Good job, kid. You’re catching on to the plan that already existed.”

Russet deflated slightly. “...didn’ know.”

“Of course not.” Both men involuntarily glanced sideways. Lilly’s voice was rarely heard in the camp, but her presence was difficult to miss. She leaned forwards on callused elbows. “You were called here to be given orders, not guess what they are.”

Russet shuffled his feet, brushing mousy hair away from his eyes and mumbling an apology. Adam, however, kept his gaze on the hardened brown eyes that were meeting his. He knew that the rebuke wasn’t intended for the younger man, and the disembodied rage that swirled in him at all time boiled, threatening to overflow and seep through his pores. “Your orders,” He managed, in what he thought was a calm tone, “are to let me think for five damned minutes.” 

Lilly rested her chin on her crossed hands, turning her eyes back to the map and letting her calico-like mottled ears shield her face from him. Russet slowly sat down on the half-broken stool across from her, following her lead. 

Adam let quiet fill the tent for a long moment, surveying the map. But he knew that he wasn’t focused. His mind was running in circles around him like a spooked colt, tangled in hundreds of thoughts that he couldn’t sort out. And to his intensifying annoyance, Blake kept rising to the top of them all. He could blame his disorganization on the human bandits all he wanted, but he knew he’d experienced worse before. But usually he could vent his confusion and anger to her - usually it would be enough to settle him down enough to be able to catch his breath and sort him out. She was a safe place to let himself break, let himself be weak. He knew that she would remain loyal to him no matter what he became in his fits of rage. 

Or, at least, he used to think it. Now she was gone, and even after four days, there had been no sign of her. He’d intended to go looking for her two nights ago, but the bandits had launched an attack only minutes after he’d started tacking up Wilt.

That was the center of his thoughts, the post that his exhausted, frantic mind was tied to, endlessly circling and getting no closer to an answer. He knew better than to worry about her being imprisoned - he knew that she could escape the binds of any confinement. Of course, she could be dead, but Adam knew she wasn’t. After all this time, after how close they’d become, he was confident that he’d have felt it if she died.

So, why had she not returned yet? Why was she being so goddamned selfish? Why was she abandoning him?

A heavy rush of air rattled the tent, and a shadow passed over them, forcing Adam to blink and look up. Russet nearly jumped out of his chair, stopping when Lilly held up her hand. “...you expecting Yuma?”

The splash of someone landing in a mud puddle and skidding to a halt echoed through the thick fabric. Adam’s hand slowly uncurled from the rifle hanging from his chair, standing. “Yes.”

He didn’t move as a muscular arm batted the entrance open and a man walked into the tent, though both Lilly and Russet tensed. Yuma didn’t acknowledge either of them, instead focusing on the Adam and carefully folding his wings along his back. “Leader Taurus. Apologies for flying here in the daylight.”

Adam waved his hand with a laid-back air that he didn’t feel. “Just share what information you bring.”

Yuma rolled his shoulders, sighing. “First shipment's gone, as expected. I was told that they would move the second one a week later, and the third a few days later. But, the workers have told me that they’ve already been ordered to load both the second and third shipments into train cars.”

Adam felt his stomach drop. Ignoring the bemused look that Russet was giving Lilly, and the hushing motion she gave him, Adam stood, staring down at the map with a suddenly clear head. “They got spooked.”

“Maybe. Or maybe they just decided this was more efficient. Either way, we only have one chance to hit it now.” 

Fury mixed with stress, swirling in his chest. “How long?”

“At least three days - it’s a large load of dust, and it needs to be secured. After that, I don’t know. They might hang onto it for longer, or they might send it out right away. I’ll do my best to tell you when, but you may not get much warning.” Yuma was quiet for a long moment, as Adam’s eyes darted over the map over and over again. “I also found the other information you asked me for.”

Adam’s eyes darted up. “Well?”

Yuma leaned against the old windmill support that the tent had been set up around. “The bandits harassing you are members of a ‘Branwen Clan’. I followed three members out of Beacon last night and listened to them for a while.” He paused, long enough for a troubled expression to settle across the rough features. “They know about the dust shipment - and they told the damn deputy. So we can assume that Sherrif Nikos also knows about it.”

He could see Russet and Lilly staring out of the corner of his eye, and he knew why. It was rare that Adam felt completely broadsided, and he imagined even rarer that he obviously looked it. But the realization hit him like a runaway horse, leaving him unable to disguise the shock in his face.

“How?” He managed, voice hoarse. No one knew about the dust, save for himself, Yuma, and Lilly - though he'd only told the latter for the sake of having one person in the camp know what the real goal was, and she'd been the best option. And he'd always met Yuma to discuss it in secret, under the cover of night and far from the camp. No one would have heard, not unless the fat raven he'd seen a few times was making a habit of learning to talk.

Yuma shook his head, expression offering no answers. “Thinking they’d discovered it themselves, and it’s a bad coincidence. From what I could hear, they’re very annoyed that the White Fang isn’t just leaving. But they’re not usually in this area either - they came in for this.”

“That explains it.” Russet’s voice cut through the air, drawing all eyes to him. He stepped forwards, eyes flicking nervously between Adam and Yuma. “Branwen clan used to be a real big problem here, years ago. Then they moved off, maybe ten years ago. They show up every now n’ then, but never for real long. Last time anyone heard anythin’ of ‘em was two years ago. Leader’s called Raven Branwen, real piece a’ work. We was all real nervous when her bastard dau-”

Yuma cleared his throat, and Russet stopped immediately, eyes flashing to him. “All respect, son, but there’s something else I need to report.” Adam slowly felt stress morph into something between dread and rage as he watched Yuma hesitate, the gesture alien on the usually calm and collected face. “...Blake Belladonna was in that saloon too. Having drinks with the Sheriff and her deputies. The bandits were talking about a faunus that was with them, and I caught sight of her horse tied outside the saloon when I first flew over.

Cold cracked down his limbs, as though lightning was surging through him. “...in the saloon.” He said in a voice that bellied the tornado rampaging through his chest.

“Mm.” There was nothing casual or flippant about Yuma’s tone, or the fact that he was watching Adam’s face carefully. “Had her ears hidden, and the deputy nearly took a bandit’s arm off when he tried to pat her on the head.”

Lilly’s eyes were boring into him from across the room. She’d been with him the longest. She knew what this meant.

“Yuma.” His voice wasn’t his own. “What was the horse doing?”

“...the horse?”

“Gambol. Was she pulling to get away from the rail? Trying to untie the lead?"

“Ah...” The bat faunus blinked. “...no. No, seemed settled. Was tied up next to a huge palomino that was grooming her neck, looked half-asleep when I saw her.”

Even Russet seemed to pick up on the significance of the statement, stared between Adam and Lilly with a look of confusion. The small black mare was notorious for being ill-tempered and neurotic, and the only other horse she’d seemed able to tolerate was Wilt. For Adam, it was confirmation.

Gambol must have spent the past four days with Deputy Xiao Long’s horse. Which suggested that Blake had spent the past four days with Deputy Xiao Long.

The tornado had exploded, picking up the fury in his gut and spreading it through his body like wildfire. Adam straightened, shoving it down as best he could. “Russet, set up a tent for Yuma. We’ll need eyes in the sky for tonight.” He could hear his voice shake. “We’re going ahead with scouting the railyard - all four of us, and maybe one or two extra hands. Expect both the Sheriff and bandits; if they know what we’re doing, they might guess what our next move is.”

Russet nodded and all but ran out of the tent. Yuma followed in step, not voicing any objection to the sudden order to stay in the camp.

Lilly waited for the two men to leave the tent before slowly looking over at Adam. “....it’s been four days.”

Adam had already turned away, starting to pace back and forth. “I’m aware.” His voice was starting to crack into a snarl, and he knew he wasn’t going to be able to hold himself together.

“She’s never been gone for that long.” He could feel her gaze burning through him, even and calm as ever. She’d been with the White Fang - specifically, under Adam’s command, for nearly as long as he’d been part of the organization. She knew there was no comparison to this situation.

“I said, I’m aware of how long Belladonna’s been gone.” He spat out her name like it was a curse. “Right now, I’m more concerned with what she’s been doing.”

Lilly’s eyes met his. “I’m far more concerned about why she left in the first place right now, Adam.”

“I told you - she needed space, I gave it to her. She’s made her own choice.”

“Don’t bullshit me.” The sudden directness snapped him out of his own head. Adam stopped, looking back up to find Lilly staring him down. “You can spin whatever story you want to the youngsters to keep them settled, and I won’t question it. I won’t even question why you didn’t tell the rest of the group why we’re really hitting that train. But don’t tell me that you just let Blake run off into the night. Either you exiled her, you couldn’t catch her, or you tried to kill her. Which was it?” 

Silence fell like a stone. His belly boiled, and had Lilly been Blake he would have struck out at her. But she wasn’t. She stood at Adam’s height, skin and furry ears alike adorned with countless battle scars, eyes devoid of emotion entirely. Not questioning him, but not supporting him either. And, also unlike Blake, he knew that her loyalty wasn’t necessarily to him. And he knew that she was just as respected by their followers as he was. He needed her support.

Words slithered out of his throat, drenched with rage. “I wounded her and told her to go seek help from the humans. Told her I’d come back for her once she’d had enough.”

Lilly’s gaze narrowed very slightly - not anger, or even irritation. Like she was considering something. “You didn’t think she’d had enough after four days?”

His gut writhed, and he would have told any other member of the group to shove their own tongues to the back of their throat. Instead, he shouldered past her. “Haven’t had a chance to go find her, with the damned humans breathing down our necks.”

He felt Lilly’s eyes on the back of his neck. “...you thought she’d come back on her own.”

He didn’t dignify that with a response, returning to his pacing, trying to organize his thoughts once more.

She spoke again, and now there was a volume to her words that suggested frustration. “You’ve given them a spy, Adam.”

As suddenly as if she’d lit a fuse, Adam rounded back on her. “You and I both know that most humans wouldn’t hesitate to rip her apart the second they found her.” He spat. “She used to know better than to trust them. I needed to remind her.”

“And look how well that worked out.” Lilly stared at him, shaking her head, disbelief spilling into her voice. “She was having drinks with them . Either she’s trying to play some kind of long game, or she’s turned on us.”

Adam snorted theatrically, covering the way his chest was cracking apart and leaking. “No. She’d die before she turned her back on us.” He spoke with a certainty that would have convinced most. “She’s playing them. Maybe she’s trying to slow them down, buy us time. I don’t know. But she hasn’t turned.”

Lilly’s stone face cracked as she gave him a dry look. “You of all people know it wouldn’t take much to push her over the edge.”

He didn’t need her that badly. Adam felt his lips twist into a snarl. “You’re out of goddamned line, lieutenant.”

“Hardly.” Her gaze met his evenly, an exasperated sort of calm contrasting sharply with the rage now emanating from him. “I’ve kept my distance from you and her for years. I’ve never intervened, or even asked either of you about a damn thing. But now this involves me, and those kids you’re leading. If the sheriff is there tonight, I need to know what I’m up against.”

He couldn’t attack her. He couldn’t explain himself either. So Adam drew himself up, and imagined pulling his old mask back over his eyes. “You don’t know her like I do. She needs us. Needs me . If she didn’t, she’d have left a long time ago.” He turned before Lilly’s face could change. The truth was, he knew that Blake had plenty of reasons not to come back. He knew he didn’t treat her well. There were some things that he truly did regret, and others that he was able to explain to himself. 

But he always came back to the fact that she was still there. Something still bound them together. She needed him. Usually, that was enough to justify whatever he needed to himself. Had she still been in the camp, it would have been enough now. 

But she wasn’t in the camp. She was with the humans, and that was throwing everything that Adam had thought he knew into the wind.

Lilly spoke again, her voice notably quieter. “If any of us find Blake tonight, what do you want us to do?”

His jaw tightened. He remembered the deputy, and the way Blake had thrown herself between them.

“Tell her that it’s time to come home. If she refuses, kill her.”

If there was any discomfort with the idea of murdering one of her former leaders, it didn’t show. The tall, burly woman gave a single nod, left the tent, and Adam was alone in his thoughts. 

Perhaps it was ironic that she showed no difficulty with the instructions, and yet Adam’s chest was trying to knot itself into a ball. If she’d turned on him, that was it. She was gone. She’d finally snapped and left him alone.

He traced the rail line with one finger, watching it shake. His eyes trailed up his fingers, to his hand, and found it was shaking too. 

In a flurry of movement, he grabbed the already cracked and worn stool that Russet had been sitting on, and threw it to the ground. It bounced pathetically, then wood groaned as he stomped down on one leg, and grabbed another with an uncontrollably shaking, but viciously strong hand. 

With a thunderous crack, Adam ripped the damaged leg clean away from the stool, then kicked the splintered remains across the tent. 

For a long moment, nothing moved except for his chest. Pain weakly flashed from his hand, from where a splinter had embedded itself into his thumb. He sat back down heavily, feeling his heart beat out of control, his limbs shake, his vision blur.

“This is your fault.” He hissed at twitching black ears that weren’t there. “You did this to me. Don’t you fucking dare leave me now.”

Of course, there was no response but a faint raven call and thunder rumbling in the distance. The pain in his hands grew until Adam had to sit down, picking wooden fragments out of his flesh and watching the shaking slowly decrease. 


“Yang? Does it look like Gambol’s limping?”

Yang turned, eyes falling back down from examining the dark clouds gathering over the hills. Already untacked, Celica was trotting off towards the small stand of trees, the light rain just starting to fall around her. She placed the small sack of vegetables and a parcel of meat on the porch and walked over. She’d at least had the foresight to grab something to cook for dinner before they left town. 

Blake’s eyes and ears were focused on the horse she was leading, walking backwards in order to watch the slim black mare as she led her forwards. Indeed, the mare’s right front leg was hitting the ground with more force than her left. But Yang’s eyes quickly strayed, realizing that her rider was also favoring one leg very slightly. “...y’ both are.”

“I’m just sore from riding back, nothing to worry about.” Blake ran her hand over the bandage on Gambol’s left shoulder, ear twitching as rain fell onto it. “Do you think her wound’s opened back up?”

Oh, I’m going to go ahead and worry. But Yang kept the thought to herself, walking over. Placing a reassuring hand on Gambol’s shoulder, she gently caught the edge of the bandage, peeling it back just far enough to see the wound below. A few spots of blood decorated the edges of the gauze patch, but the scab was still in place. 

Then an ear blocked her vision as Blake slid in front of her, anxiously trying to peek under the bandage for herself. “Oh. That’s not too bad. Why is she li-”

Blake abruptly stopped talking as Yang’s hand fell on top of her head, resting between her ears. “Because we’ve been takin’ her with us instead ‘a leavin’ her at home to heal. Muscles got damaged - she needs to use ‘em, but little bits of ‘em at a time, not all of ‘em at once.” She didn’t turn around, but her ears slowly flattened. “She’s just sore, it ain’t too big a problem.”

“...That’s good.” Blake sheepishly replied, but still seemed anxious, flattening the bandage and looking up and down Gambol’s shoulder. She didn’t seem to notice that Yang was untacking Gambol until the saddle was completely gone, blinking over at her bemusedly. “I can get th-”

“I know y’ can, but I was standin’ there.” Yang glanced over at Celica, grazing under the cover of a stand of trees. “...maybe leave her out with Celica. Thinkin’ it’s gon’ storm pretty bad tonight, there’s more cover out here than in her paddock.” 

Blake nodded, unfastening a buckle and pulling Gambol’s bridle over her ears. The dark mare turned and trotted off to join Celica. Yang bit her lip - the limp was far more pronounced at a trot, despite her enthusiasm. You should have left them both at home today.

Warmth at her elbow. “...you mentioned that your father has horses. Think he’d have one I could ride while she heals?” 

“I - maybe? I’m goin’ over there tomorrow night anyways, I could ask him.” She hefted Blake’s saddle over her shoulder, heading towards the tack shed. 

Blake followed, still watching Gambol. But Yang’s eyes stayed on her, watching with increasing worry as the limp became more and more pronounced. “I’d appreciate that. I don’t want to push her too far.”

She placed the saddle on the little outcropping of wood, stepping to one side so that Blake could hang the bridle off the end of it. “Worried we already have.” 

The golden eyes flicked to her, then blinked as she saw that Yang was looking at her, not the dark mare that had now reached the stand of trees. “...I’m talking about the horse, Yang.”

“I ain’t. Y’ limpin’ pretty damn bad, Blake.” 

“I told you, I’m just sore.”

Yang chewed her lip, trying to word the thoughts weaving through her head. “Can... can I see it?”

The smaller woman squinted at her, “...What, now?”

She broke into a small laugh, and Blake’s expression relaxed slightly. “No, not right now. I’m gon’ help you with th’ ribs tonight anyways - can I look at the hip wound while we’re doin’ that? I ain’t seen it since Jaune stitched it up. Just want t’ see it for myself and make sure it’s healin’.” 

“I keep my eye on it.” She was slightly too quick to reply. “Just checked it this morning, all the stitches are still in.”

Yang gave a smile that was more of a wince. “Hon, y’ a damned smart woman and tough as nails. But it could be seepin’ pus and I ain’t sure you’d even complain ‘bout it.” 

She had a point, and Blake seemed to know it. But her eyes still fell, her ears pinned back, as though trying to find an argument.

“Blake, please.” 

The golden eyes flitted up to her, and Yang watched as they slowly softened. “...okay.” She muttered, in a voice that didn’t sound as annoyed as it might have been meant to be. She turned on her heel, walking back towards the house as Yang followed along. 

Neither one of them had brought up anything about Blake’s outburst at the sheriff's office since leaving, but it was far from out of Yang’s mind. Truth be told, she didn’t know what to say about any of it. Rufus’ gut-turning ‘advice’ had been bad enough, but the knowledge that Blake’s past was haunted by more than Adam was another monster entirely. 

What was she supposed to say? That not all humans were like that? That it’d all be okay? That she was sorry? She hadn’t liked any of the options, so she’d just stayed quiet, keeping a watchful eye on the dark haired woman as she faded back into a quiet of her own.

On top of that, Blake being sensitive about having her bandages changed, about anyone laying eyes or hands on her bare skin, suddenly made a nauseating amount of sense. She knew she’d have to be careful - the hip wound would be new, unfamiliar territory. Blake already had bad memories at the forefront of her mind. Really, Yang should have just backed off and let her deal with it.

But as Yang watched her slowly climb the short flight of stairs into the house, she knew that she couldn’t just let her keep all the pain to herself. She grabbed the food from the step and followed her in. At least she could at least distract her for the time being. 

It didn’t take any convincing to get Blake to help her cook, and the two easily settled into a relaxed sort of routine. Blake immediately designated herself to chopping up vegetables, dryly commenting that Yang should only let her near the stove if she wanted the house to burn down. Yang, in turn, worked on cutting up the meat and covering it with various spices, then tossing it into an iron pan on the stove, watching it carefully as she poked it around, occasionally glancing out the window as the sky darkened and the rain began to pour.

Yang kept finding her eyes wandering, however. She always caught herself before Blake did, but her level of anger at herself rose every time she found herself watching Blake’s slender, muscular arms moving under the rolled-up sleeves, the collarbone that was occasionally peeking out from below her shirt collar, the way her hips moved as she shifted her weight.

Not right now. She furiously told herself, training her eyes back on the pan. Probably not even tomorrow. She has feelings for you, sure, but that doesn’t mean you have a right to her whenever you want. She’s been through enough of that already. And you had better be more professional than a damn doctor when you change her bandage tonight - one wrong touch, and you’re just as bad as any of the men that have hurt her.

Thankfully, Blake didn’t seem to hear the echoes of her thoughts bouncing through the kitchen, and they settled into a busy silence.

They had added the vegetables and were listening to the mixture sizzle when Blake finally spoke up. “You’re going to try to go to the trainyard tonight, aren’t you?” 

Yang bit her lip, oddly grateful for the distraction even if it was something that increased the anxiety in her chest. “Thought about it.” She focused on stirring around the mixture of meat and greens around the pan. “Pro’lly wait ‘till tomorrow though, let Pyrrha form a plan of some kind.” It wasn’t totally a lie - it was a better idea to wait. But Yang couldn’t lie and say that she hadn’t seriously considered the thought over the entire ride home.

“You’re having dinner with your father tomorrow.” 

Yang rolled her eyes exaggeratedly. “I don’ have to stay there all night.” 

Blake didn’t falter, watching her face. “...I want to go with you.” 

Now Yang did hesitate, glancing at her. “Blake, if the White Fang’s there-”

“If they’re there, then Branwen Clan might be too.” Blake’s eyes were on the stove, chewing on her own lip. “...they don’t know what they’re up against. They probably think that they’re just getting harrassed because the bandits don’t like them hanging around. I just... some of them are just kids, Yang. Kids that Adam and I convinced to tag along with us.”

There was guilt on her face now. Yang exhaled. “...ain’t y’ fau-.” 

“Yes it is. Yes it is, Yang.” Her eyes locked with Yang’s, resolved and hardened. “Adam had the plan, he’s great at rallying people around him, but so am I. I was the one who convinced the ones that were scared. I told them we’d have their backs. I told them that it was worth the risk. They believed me.” Despair crept into her voice, eyes turning glassy. “I have to warn them, Yang. They won’t listen to a human. I’m - I’m not even sure if they’ll listen to me now, I don’t know what Adam told them. But I have to try.”

Sizzling meat was the only sound in the kitchen for a long, long moment. 

Yang turned, pulled the pan off the stove, and started pushing the mixture onto two plates. “Eat first. Then I’m gon’ take a look at that hip of yours and make sure it’ll hold.”

She doubted that the compromise would soothe either of their nerves. Sure enough, dinner was a short, quiet affair, but she did feel a pang of pride as Blake’s reluctant first bite quickly turned to enthusiasm. At least nearly raising herself had left her with some decent cooking skills.

Yang focused on her own food with slightly less enthusiasm, praying that she’d be able to pull off the next task with enough grace to keep Blake healthy and not scare her half to death.


The food was better than it had any right to be, and before long, the plates were empty, they had wordlessly washed the dishes (both taking more time than necessary), and there was nothing but an empty kitchen and the sound of rain on the roof.

Blake was very intently studying the clock on the wall when Yang finally turned, giving a shaky sigh that betrayed the fact that she was as nervous about this as Blake was. “Okay, hon. Go grab the bandages, I’ll get a lantern.” 

Blake blinked. “...why a lantern?” The colors in the cabin were a bit muted from the overcast sky, but she could see everything well enough

Yang slowly raised an eyebrow, smile tugging at one corner of her mouth. “...Human. ‘S dark in here right now with th’ storm.” 

“Oh. Right. Okay.” She heard a tiny chuckle as she scurried off to the second bedroom, cheeks flushed. The bag of bandaging material, thankfully, was still sitting on her neatly made bed. She eyed the empty pill vial on her nightstand again. Don’t mention it. She’ll just worry more.  

Blake walked out of the doorway just in time to see Yang pass into her own, lantern in hand. “...are we doing this in your room?”

“Figured there ain’t much point in doin’ it in the kitchen now.” She had a point, and the enclosed space of the bedroom did feel much safer. Yang plunked the lantern down on her bedside table, bending to fiddle with it. 

Mirroring her, Blake set the bag down on the edge of the bed, digging through it and placing the rolls of fabric beside her. Put the rest of the bag on the floor, then glanced up at the woman fussing at the nightstand beside her.

Warm light washed over Yang’s face from the lantern as she adjusted the knob to the right amount of light, while a cool, faint blue seeped over her back and hair through the window. The mixture of light danced across her face, highlighting the faint freckles born of multiple sunburns across her nose and cheeks, the bags under her eyes, the places where scar tissue had knit together to close countless little wounds and nicks. Her eyebrows were still slightly knitted together, focused on the lantern in front of her, her shoulders still tense.

For a long moment, Blake was unable to look away. She’d thought she didn’t deserve Yang last night. Now, she realized that the world itself didn’t deserve Yang.

Then Yang glanced up, their eyes met, and Blake realized too late that doing this in Yang’s room was a very, very bad idea. 

She quickly moved her gaze, pulling at the bandage around her waist, edging her jeans lower. “Let’s get this part done first.” She mumbled. “Think it’ll be easier if I stay standing up.”

“...yeah.” She felt Yang shift her weight. “Let me, ah. Know when I can look.”

Blake stopped. Glanced sideways, and found Yang had turned her head to very pointedly stare at the bed. “...I’m not taking my pants off. You can look.”

“I know, I know, just... givin’ you privacy. Y’know.” Her cheeks were turning an extremely noticeable shade of red.

Her head slowly tilted. “...you’ve seen me without a shirt on.”

“I looked away as much as I could for that too, remember?”

We were kissing on this bed last night, Yang.

Yang’s shoulders drew upwards. “Ain’t about that. Blake... Blake, you just told me ‘bout what humans did to you in the past. I- I ain’t like that. I ain’t gon’...” She gestured, words apparently failing her. “Just because y’ lettin’ me kiss you don’t mean I own you. ‘S bad enough that I’m makin’ you let me look at that wound, but I ain’t gon’ sleep tonight if I-”

Her voice stopped as Blake’s hand flashed out, grabbed her chin, and forced her to turn her head. The moment their eyes met, Blake knew there was far, far more at play than Yang’s worry about frightening her. Her pupils were too wide, her cheeks too red, too willing to be guided by Blake’s touch, too quick to lean slightly closer. And, as Blake stared into her eyes, her walls were too easily broken down, the anxiety fading into a different look entirely.

Bad experience was still experience, and Blake knew what she was looking at. If anything, she was surprised she hadn’t seen it sooner, too wrapped up in her own thoughts while helping Yang prepare dinner. She’d had the same look last night, just before she’d closed the distance between them - something focused, hungry, not like the usual gentle softness she’d come to expect. Like she was starving, staring at something that she wasn’t sure if she could eat or not. Adam used to look at her like that, when the rules were still unclear and he wasn’t sure how to carry out the thoughts that she could see playing out behind his eyes. But he’d always just surged forwards, pressed his lips to hers, let his hands wander, assuming that she would speak up if she was uncomfortable. Then, later, she suspected just not caring, as entitled to her body as he was to his own.

But Yang didn’t move a single muscle in her direction. She let Blake’s eyes stare through her own, the longing clear but easily restrained. Just like it had always been, she realized. Not because Yang didn’t know what to do, but because she didn’t know what would hurt and what wouldn’t. So, rather than risk hurting Blake, she’d just kept it all inside and waited. Waited to be told she could step forwards, always ready to stop, to step back, to let Blake breathe. She’d seen it that morning, when Yang had backed off immediately at the slightest hint of discomfort. She’d thought she was afraid of hurting her.

But this wasn’t fear, she realized. It was respect. Respect for Blake’s privacy, her body, her right to decide what she didn’t and did want.

She was the most beautiful thing to ever exist, inside and out.

“You,” Her voice was quiet and foreign to her ears in the setting of a bedroom filled with tension, “are not like anyone I’ve ever met. Human or faunus.” 

Yang’s lilac eyes stayed on her. Hopeful, but silently waiting. 

So Blake closed the distance instead, rising onto the balls of her feet to press her lips to Yang’s.

The kiss was somehow much, much different from the ones last night, or this morning. Those had been blind and passionate, more like a collision than an embrace. This was very much the latter - a meeting, an understanding, an acknowledgement. Her heart was shaking in her chest, nerves in her hands and fingers sparking like wires, and Blake suddenly felt much younger, lighter. Like she was experimenting, not following, or being led.

When she drew back, she watched Yang’s eyes. Looking for guilt, for worry, for the fear that Yang always seemed to have that this might not be genuine.

It wasn’t there. Yang was staring at her in something between wonderment and hopeless adoration. One corner of her mouth was pulling back in a helpless smile.

Relief flooded Blake, and her weight thunked back onto her heels as her breath came out in a wordless, heavy sigh. Yang nearly jumped, steadying one of Blake’s shoulders before relaxing slightly, realizing that she wasn’t about to fall over.

Silence stretched between them. Morphing, slowly surging up like a rogue wave, hurtling towards them from the horizon. 

Yang’s eyes changed slightly - not afraid, but perhaps sensing the enormity of what was coming. “I should change that bandage now.”

“Yes,” Blake immediately agreed, hands moving to the half-unwrapped fabric around her hips. “Yes, you should.”

Yang took a single step back as she finished pulling the bandage off, revealing her bare hips. She saw the way Yang’s lips twitched, but the blonde woman’s expression went somewhat serious, sitting down on the edge of the bed, pulling the bandaging towards her. “Turn a 'lil bit.”

Blake nodded, moving slightly closer to her, rotating so that the wound was thrown into the light.

Immediately, she watched Yang focus, eyes running over the long gash along her hip. One hand came up, fingers resting just below it. 

She touched her skin, and fire immediately radiated from her fingertips and shot up Blake’s spine. She bit back sharp inhale, the contact on the skin that she’d forgotten was so sensitive catching her completely off guard. 

Yang’s eyes flicked up, and the sight of her looking up at Blake, so close to her hip, did not help matters at all. “Y’ okay?” 

She nodded, maybe a little too quickly, and Yang’s gaze moved back down. The lighting in the room must have really been faint for humans, she thought, because otherwise there was no way she could have missed how red Blake’s cheeks was. 

“...looks okay.” She remarked, quietly. “Jaune’s stitches are hangin’ in there.”

Her thumb moved slightly, and Blake considered the idea of knocking her straight backwards onto the bed. “G-good.” The stammer brought more heat to her face.

What was worse was that Yang didn’t seem affected at all, focused completely on the wound as she grabbed the bandage material. “Kinda inflamed, though.”

You have no goddamn idea.  

"If y' really bent on comin' with me to the railyard, just promise me y' won't push y'self. Okay?" Her tone had changed very slightly - not less serious, but more... genuine. Concerned.

"Promise." Blake focused on the sight of rain hitting the window, trying not to shake. A warm hand pressed to her good hip, pinning the fabric between her skin and Yang’s thumb. Her bones themselves were on fire, and she’d twitched before she could stop herself. The tension that the silence had brought was both gone and all around her, and Yang was just calmly wrapping the fabric around her hips, like nothing was happening, while Blake was burning from the inside out-

“You sure y’ okay?”

Blake opened her mouth, looked down - and stopped dead in her tracks.

Because Yang’s mouth was pulling into a smirk that she couldn’t hold back any more, lilac eyes flashing with mischievous energy. Now that Blake was staring at her, she realized that her face was, indeed, flushed, but she’d been hiding it by keeping her gaze elsewhere. Her thumb, its position completely intentional, rubbed the hipbone below it, slid slightly lower.

She knew exactly what she was doing.

“Oh my Gods, you bitch.” It escaped Blake’s mouth before she could stop herself. Yang threw her head back and outright cackled, grinning in a way that was somehow both sheepish and incredibly proud of herself. “You said you didn’t know anything!”

“Not really a lie - I don’ have much experience myself,” Yang snorted, still nearly giggling, continuing to wrap around Blake’s hips, though there was now a slight tremble to her fingertips and a flush to her cheeks. “But that don’ mean I don’ ask questions. Or read. Or keep track of what feels good for myself.” 

Of course. She was inexperienced, not blind. Unlike Blake, apparently. “I take it all back, you don’t get to come within fifteen feet of me ever again.” She was already countering her own words, sinking her fingers into Yang’s hair.

“Mm, that’s a shame.” Yang carefully pinned the end of the fabric, running her thumb under the edge of it - straight across her navel, coincidentally. “Good luck with them ribs.”

Blake gave a huge, long-suffering sigh, poorly disguising the shiver that ran across her body. But an odd sort of energy had infused her. This was... this was familiar, and yet so, so different. This was playful, like a game, like they were evenly matched, like it didn’t really matter who won because that wasn’t the point.

Flirting, she realized. She was pretty sure this was what flirting was supposed to be. 

But, that wasn’t all that was happening between them, and she was suddenly reminded of that as Yang stood up. She was used to seeing the lilac irises as soft and comforting. Now they seared into her, sparking and crackling like the lightning outside the window.

The air had turned into a tidal wave again, looming over them as Yang calmly turned on her heel, walked to the window, and pulled the blind shut.

Her bare footsteps rung in Blake’s ears. It was Yang’s turn to curl her fingers under Blake’s chin, the contact sending sparks through her jaw, down her spine. 

“So.” Breath washed against her lips. “Wrap them ribs, then call it a night?” There was a tremble to her voice that gave away the fact that the anticipation was killing her just as much as it was Blake.

“If we have to.” Blake grinned back her, and hands found the hem of Yang’s shirt, pulling it free from her jeans. She ran her hands up the smooth skin, loving the way that she could feel Yang choke on her own breath as fingers traced over scars. A lot of scars, she realized. Long scars that trailed all the way down her-

Lips pressed to hers. “Later.” Yang mumbled, and Blake listened, smoothing her palms against the uneven skin.

Hands appeared at the bottom of her own shirt. Technically, it was supposed to be buttoned up and unbuttoned, not pulled over her head. But that would have taken too long, and the shirt was far too large for her anyways. Yang pulled the hem up, Blake ducked and twisted slightly, and the shirt was quite suddenly gone, lost to the floor somewhere in the room, and her face pressed back to Yang’s, a chaotic bundle of lips and teeth and tongue. She was distracted, losing track of where her hands were or what they were doing, and suddenly crashed back to reality as she realized she was pushing Yang’s unbuttoned shirt off of her shoulders, the last of the bandage was falling away from her chest, there was skin pressing directly against hers, and the bedframe was pushing against the inside of her knees.

She pulled back slightly, and the effect was as immediate as pulling on a rein. Yang stopped entirely, hands still on her waist. Blake realized she was panting, realized that her eyes were focused on the bare, toned body in front of her. This was real, this was what was happening, and her head was spinning. She swallowed, looking up.

Yang tilted her head, lightning and an emotion that Blake couldn’t quite read flashing across her face. Her eyes stared through her - starved and almost shaking with a mix of overstimulation and want. But even in a vastly new, vastly unfamiliar territory, she was still patient, waiting. Blake was exposed, her torso bare, pants undone and barely hanging on, and yet somehow she didn’t feel any kind of need to cover herself up.

“Blake,” Her voice was quiet, unsteady despite the stare that was burning straight into her soul. “Y’ sure?”

Blake couldn’t look away, couldn’t move. All she could see were Yang’s gorgeous lilac eyes, and all she could think was that if she said ‘no’, Yang would immediately back off, and that she’d never had that kind of certainty before. 

“Yes.” She barely heard her own voice.

Thunder boomed, like a warning, like a promise. The storm was on them now, the wave that had been looming the whole time crashing down around them. Yang’s eyes narrowed slightly, examining her, watching her. “Good.” Her palm slid to the small of her back, as her forehead pressed to Blake’s, completely clearing any coherent thought she had. “Gon’ need y’ help.”

“With what?” 

In a low tone, Yang ruined what was left of Blake’s world. “Makin’ y’ forget every touch but mine.”

Chapter Text

The rain pounding on Yang’s roof had finally faded to a light patter, the room around them dark as the night outside. She closed her eyes, exhaled, and again wondered if she should just go back to sleep and let them both sleep through the half-made plan. Instead, her mind wandered again to the encounter that had only occurred hours ago.

She’d been told that the first time was always awkward, confusing, full of starts and stops - and that was usually between two people that had been courting for a great deal of time, not a love stricken pair that had barely known each other for a week. She was also fairly certain that most of those stories did not involve making love to a partner with broken ribs - which was exactly why she’d pulled Blake on top of her, for fear of accidentally crushing her against the mattress.

No one, however, could have prepared her for the unexpected knowledge that intimacy had brought. Every hesitation Blake had, every tiny flinch away from a sudden movement, the way she’d stared into Yang’s eyes as though to keep herself from looking down when Yang’s hand had skimmed lower; every single one had driven a spike through her chest. Oh, the encounter had indeed been full of starts and stops, but most of them had nothing to do with Yang’s inexperience. She’d been careful to go slow, to keep her fingers only where Blake guided them. But the reminders still bit. They spoke of scars that had healed on the outside, but were still infected and festering below the skin. There were years worth of trauma and terror, written across the back of her eyes and blooming under her skin with the bruises.

But, she felt a mixture of pride and joy swell in her chest as she closed her eyes and let a smile that was more of a smirk cross her face. Somehow, against all odds, she’d managed to make good on her word. Poor Blake hadn’t fully expected it, she thought. She had started out by guiding Yang’s hand, mumbling words of soft encouragement. But Yang had taken very, very little time to catch on. 

The exact moment where the tables had turned stayed stuck in Yang’s head; Blake’s eyes widening above her, mouth open slightly, a confused question dying in her mouth as a smirk pulled at Yang’s. Whispering, “Y’ okay, ma’am?” with a smirk and deviously innocent voice as warmth soaked her fingers. 

In a way it was as heartbreaking as it was satisfying. Yang, even with her inexperience, even with the slow, hesitant start to their lovemaking, hadn’t even had to try very hard to make Blake collapse into a shaking, whining mess. And Blake, even though she could barely hoist herself up to look at Yang, gave herself less than a minute to recover before she’d looked up and Yang saw her golden eyes turn deadly. Quick and strong fingers sought her out than Yang could stammer out that Blake owed her nothing, and the world became considerably smaller. All that mattered was Blake, a smile playing across her lips, as she leaned in to delicately kiss her lips while her fingers shattered Yang into a million pieces.

A soft noise brought her crashing back to reality, finding her face and groin entirely too warm. Yang shook her head to clear it, and sighed. She wasn't going to be getting back to sleep anytime soon.

The slender figure laying on her chest didn’t stir as Yang halfheartedly reached for her bedside table, and turned the dial on the lamp. A dim flame sprouted from it, sending a faint orange glow through the room and forcing Yang to catch her breath as she glanced back.

Blake’s head was resting on Yang’s chest, curled on her side, legs neatly tucking underneath Yang’s raised one. Past the messy, dark hair, her brow furrowing slightly. An ear twitched, and a tiny little whisper of noise escaped her mouth.

A lump rose in Yang’s throat. She fought the urge to reach out and clear the strands from her face, a softness spreading from her chest out to her limbs. I don’t understand why anyone would want to hurt you. But I’ll never let anyone hurt you ever again. 

Which... brought her back to her current worry. She’d almost forgotten about the rail yard, and Blake’s insistence that she wanted to go with her. Right up until now, when she found herself awake long after sundown. 

Just go back to sleep. She won’t know. She’s not in good enough shape to ride right now anyways, and neither is Gambol. 

But guilt prickled at her gut, because she knew Blake had wanted to go. And she had a feeling that the fact she wanted to go before Pyrrha could form a plan wasn’t a coincidence. 

Blake twitched again, drawing Yang’s eye. One of her hands curled into a fist, and her jaw tightened. She wasn’t actually sure when the dark haired faunus had fallen asleep, but she definitely needed more of it. But, now that she was watching, she suddenly wasn’t sure if this was the kind of sleep that Blake needed. 

Another tiny noise escaped her mouth, and this time she knew it was a whine of fear. 

Dammit . She wasn’t going to let her suffer alone, at least. Yang gently pushed at her shoulder, whispering. “Blake?”

She regretted it almost immediately. Blake jumped, half sitting up, eyes snapping open. “Wh-” Her eyes fell to Yang, blinking.

Yang hoped that she’d be quick to remember why, exactly, the two of them were curled up in the nude. “Sorry. Thought you were havin’ a nightmare.”

She slowly exhaled, expression fading into a tired sort of calm. “...it’s okay. I was.” Blake slowly laid back down, stretching, apparently not interested in discussing it further. “What time is it?” 

Morning. You slept through the night. We can’t go. “...prob’ly ‘round midnight. I ain’t been awake long.”

Blake yawned, then winced, and Yang’s chest twisted. “Better get a move on, then.”

“...Blake. I-” Her eyes flicked to Yang’s, and Yang fought to inhale. “It’s just stormed. ‘S gon’ be muddy and miserable out there. And, ah... we. We may have pushed them ribs kind of... hard. Already.” Blake’s eyebrows slowly raised, and Yang fumbled for words. “Look, I’m just tellin’ you that goin’ out there tonight ain’t a great idea. We don’ even know if they’ll be there.”

Blake’s eyes fell slightly. “That’s... why I want to go, Yang.” She said, softly, rubbing at her face “It’s still early. They probably only have a couple scouts going out to the yard at night. I want to catch one of them and warn them that they’re being sabotaged. And, if we go now...” She bit her lip. “It’s... it’s unlikely that he’ll be there. The closer we wait to the end of the week, the more likely it is that he would be going too. If I can convince one of them to tell him that they just overheard some bandits discussing a plan, it might be enough to make him call it off, or at least change his plan. It might throw Raven off enough that she wouldn’t get her hands on it, either.”

Yang slowly exhaled, wishing that Blake’s plan made less sense. “...at least let me wrap y’ ribs again.” 

She smiled, and Yang stared, desperately trying to lock the soft expression into her memory forever. “Suppose I could allow that.” 

It didn’t take enough time to wrap her back up, and it seemed like it took no time at all before Blake was sitting up, pulling her shirt back on, and Yang was reluctantly following her lead. Then Blake stood - and immediately leaned against the wall, hissing. 

Yang jumped to her feet, rushing over. “Hip?”

“No. Ribs.” Blake exhaled, straightening up with a wince. “It’s okay, they’re just sore.”

“Blake, this is a real, real bad idea.” 

The dark haired faunus sighed, looking up at her. “What if we go tomorrow, and he’s there?”

What if we go tonight, and he is? But Yang didn’t voice that fear, biting her lip. “...just. Swear to me that if somethin’ goes wrong, y’ gon’ turn on y’ heel and run.”

Blake nodded, quietly. “I promise.”

Yang sighed, because it didn’t help. “Okay. Let’s get goin’ now, so we can get back to sleep.” She paused, then crouched, dragging the rifle out from under the bed and handing it to a bewildered-looking Blake. "And take this. Might soothe my nerves a bit."


Celica’s horseshoes rang against gravel, then clunked against wood as as they stepped over a solid plank of wood that had been laid over a cattle gate, allowing the horse to cross over it. Moonlight shone in a clear sky above them, throwing the rail yard ahead of them into sharp relief. 

Blake’s arms tightened around her waist as Yang steered the tired horse down the short road. “...I don’t hear anything right now.”

“Good. We’ll leave Celica here.” She muttered, pulling Celica to a halt just beside the beginnings of a fence that surrounded the property, before it turned to the long strands of barbed wire that ran its length. “We go in, you send y’ message, we get out. Yeah?” 

“Yeah.” Blake dismounted first, ears flicking back and forth as Yang followed suit, already scanning the yard. Yang haphazardly tied one rein to the rail, barely having time to finish it before Blake started off into the yard, and she had to quickly follow. 

“You can stay with Celica if you want.” Blake offered, keeping her voice low.

Yang snorted. “With both the White Fang and Branwen Clan potentially lurkin’ around? I ain’t lettin’ you out of my sight.”

Blake flicked her ears, a weak smile appearing on her face. “These faunus haven’t had great experiences with humans, Yang. Promise me you’ll stay out of sight if I get a chance to talk to one.” 

She sighed, but she nodded. “Promise.” 

The smile she got was worth the worry, then Blake turned forwards again and Yang focused on keeping up with her, and staying just as silent.

The latter task proved more and more difficult with every step they made. The lot was composed of damp earth, gravel, and puddles. The latter two were far louder than the former, and both women had to take long detours around the loud ground that might give them away. As they finally ducked alongside a rail car, Yang saw Blake tense, flicking her ears. She changed direction, sliding over the connector between two cars, and Yang hurriedly moved to follow her, trying her best to keep her footsteps silent.

Ahead of her, Blake peeked around the last rail car in the line, and stopped dead in her tracks. Yang immediately pressed her shoulder to the rail car, then took a step forward to peer around her.

Four figures stood beside a large, metal car, barely lit by the moonlight. A slender boy was working on dismantling a lock on the door, while the others watched. A short woman was anxiously shifting her weight back and forth, while a much taller woman with drooping rabbit ears leaned against a train car beside her. And in front of them, a tall man paced. Even from yards away, and only ever having seen him once, Yang instantly recognized his horns, glinting in the moonlight.

Blake had gone still. Yang’s gaze flicked between her and the faunus. If she freezes...

The lock fell open with a heavy ‘thunk’. The boy stood back, triumphant. “There. Ain’t hard, just tricky.” 

Adam’s voice cut through the night air, hissing, “Nothing’s hard when you’re standing still and no one’s watching. We’re going to need to do five, and we need to do them in less than two minutes, while the train is moving .” 

The short woman took an angry step towards her leader’s back, only to be cut off by the rabbit woman’s forearm, gently guiding her backwards.

The tall boy fidgeted, scratching his head, and Yang’s heart sunk as she recognized the claws and floppy hair. Russet - the boy who had led the raid on the store in town what felt like years ago, who had clawed open Pyrrha’s head, who had family south of town. “...doable.” He finally said, and a deaf man would have known he was lying.

“Good.” Adam wasn’t even looking, already walking towards the front of the line of cars. “Close that one back up, start working on more. I’ll check for guards again.”

They began to move, and Yang grabbed Blake’s shoulder, pulling her back. Blake came easily, turning on her heel, moving almost a little too fast. “We’re leaving.” She whispered, eyes wide. 

Relieved, Yang nodded. She easily kept up with her as the two quickly darted between tracks. It seemed to take much less time to cover the same ground. Yang looked up, eyes searching for Celica’s pale hide near the entrance to the yard - and found an empty rail where Celica had been tied.

Yang bit back a groan, Blake already having seen the problem and looking around. “You go that way.” She whispered, pointing towards the end of the yard that the faunus hadn’t been on. “I’ll double back and make sure she didn’t follow us.” 

She opened her mouth to protest, but Blake was already hurrying across the yard, skillfully avoiding puddles and muddy holes. But, she’d started to limp again.

Yang bit her lip, reluctantly turning. She moved as quietly as she could - this side of the yard was older, but getting re-built. Gravel surrounded the tracks, and she stuck to the outside of it, eyes darting around, looking for a palomino hide

A nicker reached her ears, and she moved faster. Then started jogging as realization hit her. Of course, the White Fang must have rode here. They would have horses of their own. Celica must have smelled them and decided to trot over for a visit. 

Finally, she came around a corner and found a small group of horses, tied to an ancient-looking boxcar. Celica was standing at the very edge, sniffing noses with a tall, slender horse that was tied to the opposite end of the boxcar.

Grunting under her breath, Yang walked towards them. “Celica, I swear to the Gods, next time I’m leavin’ you.” 

As she approached, she realized that something was wrong. The horse wasn’t actually sniffing Celica back or even acknowledging Yang’s approach, standing deathly still. It was hard to make out details in the moonlight, but she could see the eastern saddle on its back. It could easily be the same horse that Adam rode.

Get Celica, find Blake, and get home. She set her jaw as she reached for Celica, and grabbed one rein.

The horse jumped, startling Yang, and whipped its head sideways. Its ears stayed sideways, unfocused, but she saw a pair of eyes, gleaming in the moonlight, suddenly blink to life and focus on her.

She didn’t even hear footsteps. Just a sudden collision with her side, knocking her backwards into Celica’s neck.

Blake was breathing faster than a panting dog, trembling hands pushing against the bridge of the horse’s nose. “Hi Wilt. It’s okay, boy. It’s okay. You’re okay.”

The horse snorted, loudly. His ears still didn’t move, unlike any other horse that Yang had ever met, but his eyes focused on Blake. Her hand rubbed up and down his head, the sweat from her palms spiking hair where she rubbed against the grain. She still spoke, but in a shaking, low voice that seemed to be more for her than the horse. “It’s oookay, Wilt. Yang, take Celica and run as fast as you can. Good boy, Wilt. It’s just me.” 

Yang, following the frighteningly calm order, started to slowly back up, pulling Celica with her. 

Slowly, his head lowered, the tight muscles in his face relaxing slightly. An odd, flat nicker sounded from deep in his throat. Then Wilt took a step forward, pressed his nose to the crook of Blake’s neck, and inhaled.

Instantly, his entire body tensed. He sniffed again, as though confused, and even in the darkness Yang could see his eyes darting back and forth over the girl. 

“Wilt. It’s  me .” Blake’s voice shook.

The dead ears suddenly pinned back. Yang lunged, grabbing Blake by the rifle's strap slung across her back. 

She barely yanked her back before Wilt reared, screaming like a Grimm and striking out with his front feet. The hooves barely missed them, Celica snorting in alarm, jumping backwards and dragging both girls with her. Yang’s heart jumped into her throat, watching in mute horror as the horse continued to flip back and forth, eyes wild, settling for striking out at the boxcar in front of him.

A hand gripped her arm. Celica’s rein pulled her backwards. Yang followed without question, dragging Blake along as she ran alongside the palomino mare, the sound of wood splintering filled the air. Her mouth went dry. The memory of Shay’s ruined corpse came back to her mind, and she realized that she had a very, very good idea what happened to him.

Idiot .” She barely heard Blake’s tiny hisses as they ran, “I smell like you now, of course , I’m so stupid-

“HEY!”

The commanding yell cracked over both of them. Yang’s head jerked up, trying to find it. No one behind them. But the hand on her arm suddenly tightened, pulling her to a stop, and Blake’s other hand grabbed Celica’s rein.

“Get down. Hide. ” Blake hissed, desperately pushing Yang forwards. Making a snap decision, Yang dove underneath the skeleton of a rail car beside them, barely able to turn herself back around. At first, she was only able to see the ankles of Blake’s boots and Celica’s pasterns as Blake pulled Celica to a halt.

Then, within seconds, the sound of feet crunching closer through gravel reached them, barely audible past the snorting and pawing from Wilt. 

“You must reek of human to spook Wilt like that, Belladonna.”

Yang flattened herself to the ground, just barely able to catch sight of the tall, muscular woman with floppy rabbit ears as she calmly walked down the alley, Russet clambering over the connection between two cars to follow her. She stared at Blake with an unnervingly straight, blank gaze. 

Blake was still panting for breath, and Yang’s gut twisted as she realized it had become a familiar wheezing. “Lilly. I- I don’t have much time, I need you to -” 

“Funny. Need something from you too, kid.” The woman didn’t so much as blink. “You want to tell me what you need first?”

Blake’s boot took a slow step backwards, fighting to slow her breathing with gulps of air. “...Adam’s going after a big lightning dust shipment. It’s a trap. There’s a human bandit clan bearing down on you right now, and they know about it - they told the sheriff.”

Lilly didn’t speak, still staring her down. Russet tapped his claws, hesitantly speaking. “We know. Mean, not everyone yet, but Adam, Lilly, ‘n I know.”

“...you do?” The shake in Blake’s voice reverberated in Yang’s chest.

The woman slowly cocked her head. “...he really didn’t tell you.”

Russet kept talking, nearly babbling, oblivious of the tension stretching between the two women. “Found out this afternoon, Yuma was keepin’ an eye out, said Branwen Clan told Nikos ‘bout the trains. Bandit’s been harrassin’ us since day after you disappeared, told us to back off at first, but they been real persistent ever since.”

Lilly shifted her weight, revealing a hatchet on her hip, and Yang reached for her pistol. “Since that seems to be all that you had to say, what did you need me to do?” She asked, in a voice that was less than caring, or helpful.

“You need to convince Adam to call it off.” Blake’s legs shook, very slightly, but she held her ground. “The clan is just going to steal the dust the second it’s out in the open, and leave the White Fang hanging with the blame and the fallout.”

Russet’s eyes widened. Lilly’s did not. “Tell him yourself. He might actually listen to you.”

“I can’t, Lilly.”

Lilly’s expression didn’t change, but the silence did. It hung, dead still, as if afraid of what might happen next. She took a step forward, gravel crunching. “You need to tell us where you’ve been, Belladonna.” 

Yang’s heart was in her throat. Blake’s boot landed squarely in front of her, and she knew it was a signal. Stay down. “With the Sheriff's office.” She hissed, derision dripping from her words. “And no , before you ask, I have not told them a damned thing.”

“I hope you’ve got something more convincing than that.” Yang could feel danger emanating from the woman, from her too-calm voice, from her too-still body. “Because the last time anyone saw you, you were trying to explain yourself after you stopped Adam from shooting the deputy.”

Blake moved, her weight changing, wheeze in her voice suddenly much more obvious. “You want convincing? How about the broken ribs I’m trying to nurse? Or this?” Yang heard her shirt rustle, and saw Lilly’s eyes fall to focus on what could have been Blake’s hip, while Russet’s entire head immediately snapped away. Another rustle, as though a bandage had been pulled slightly down, and Lilly’s expressionless face finally cracked as her eyebrows raised slightly. “This is from a gunshot that blew the flesh clean off of my hip. Those seven stitches are the only thing keeping my damn bones away from the world. If one of them goes, I’m dead.”

Silence rung again. Russet’s voice came first, unsteady and wavering. “So, y’ain’t turned. Y’ layin’ low and healin’ with the humans.”

“Yes.” Blake’s voice sounded exhausted, relieved. “I stole the deputy’s horse and rode here so that I could tell you what I’d heard about the Branwen Clan. But I can’t stay. They’re treating me okay right now, but Nikos wants me to start spilling information on the White Fang. They think I'm just a kid tangled up with the wrong sort, they don't know who I am. They’re not going to take kindly to it if they find out I’m playing both sides.”

“Still don’t see why you can’t tell Adam this yourself.” Lilly’s voice was infuriatingly neutral.

For the first time all night, Blake’s voice rose into a true snarl. “Who the fuck do you think shot me?!”

Yang coiled, ready to spring out from under the boxcar and defend her. But, to her surprise, the woman raised a hand. “Russet. Go back to the group. Tell them that Wilt reacted to a couple bandits, and I’m chasing them off. Tell them they went that way if they ask.” She pointed to the other side of the yard, then turned to face him. “And do not breathe even one single word of this, do you understand?”

The tall boy reluctantly nodded, moving back between the boxcars. Both women stayed still and silent until he was well out of sight. 

The moment his footsteps faded, Lilly whirled back to Blake, expressionless face shattering into furious irritation. “Of course I know that the oversized toddler shot you! Of course I know what’s been going on for years! Of course I know!” She snapped, voice still barely above a whisper. “But that doesn’t change a damn thing, because I’m the only one left in the damn camp that sees through his bullshit, and he knows that. And, unlike you, the bastard won’t listen to me.” 

Blake’s weight shifted. “...He’d probably listen to Brun. And Russet mentioned Yuma-”

A hoarse laugh. “Brun barely thinks for himself, and we both know Yuma would probably just egg him on more. You’re the only one he sometimes stops for, and you can imagine how well that’s been going with you gone.”

Blake’s entire body flinched, and Yang’s fingers curled into fists. That ain’t her fault. Don’t blame her for that.

If Lilly noticed, she didn’t show it, rubbing her face and continuing to snarl in frustration. “Yuma told us today that the SDC is moving that shipment sooner than he thought. We’ve got a minimum of three days.”

Three days. Yang blinked, momentarily distracted from her anger, stowing the information away as the woman continued to pace.

“Adam’s losing his damn grip on reality. He wants the kids to unlock the doors from the side of the train, while it’s moving, and he’s just getting frustrated when anyone tries to point out that it doesn’t work. And on top of that, the bloody humans are circling like a pack of vultures. If they’re trying to sabotage the plan, it’s working.” Blake was still, watching motionlessly as Lilly inhaled, closing her eyes, as if gathering her thoughts. Then, finally, she looked back up. She looked a little more human now - tired, frustrated, but still eyeing Blake with something other than compassion. “Kid, I’m under orders to kill you if you refuse to return.” 

Yang’s heart stopped. Then sped up, beating harder, as though driven solely by the fury and terror rising in her body. Blake leaned, as though reaching for the rifle on her back, and the woman held up a hand with a sigh. “I’m not going to hurt you, Belladonna. At the very least, not tonight. I understand that you can’t come back right now. But we need to figure out how to fix this, because he’ll get every single one of us killed if we don’t.” 

It was taking every fibre of Yang’s being not to crawl out from under the train, gun drawn and screaming that Blake owed her nothing. But it would draw attention to them, it would blow Blake’s fragile cover story, and it would likely get them both killed. So she stayed still, every muscle in her body tight as a drum, every passing second increasing her terror that Blake’s next words would be ones of defeat.

When she finally did speak, her voice shook in a way that Yang hadn’t heard from her before. “...tell him who the information is from. That I need time to heal, but I’ll do whatever I can to feed him information from the Sheriff. It might be enough.” Lilly opened her mouth, and Blake cut her off. “I can’t speak to him. Not tonight. Please.” 

Lilly slowly nodded. “I need some kind of proof that you were here, then.” 

Blake stepped closer, allowing Yang to finally see the rest of her. Her shoulders had sagged, her expression exhausted, Celica following her, uncharacteristically quiet. She reached up, yanking a few strands of hair from her head, and handed them to Lilly. “He complains about my damn hair getting into everything all the time. I’d hope he can recognize it by now.”

“That’ll do.” The woman carefully coiled the hair, placing it in a pocket. “...kid-”

“Just go tell him that. See if it’s enough. And for Light’s sake, don’t let him send Yuma to follow me, you may as well carve ‘Lies To The Sheriff’ into my back.”

“I was going to ask if the deputy actually realizes what you did for her.” Her tone was... not quite cynical, but nor was it warm.

Blake turned on her heel, walking Celica back towards the entrance, towards Yang. “Yes. She does.”

Lilly didn’t move at first. Then, slowly, she turned on her heel and began to walk back the way she’d came. 

Blake flicked both ears back, listening, her defensive expression falling from her face. A pair of eyes that were more white than gold locked on Yang’s. 

She held up a hand, knowing that Blake could both see and hear her. “Ride to the cattle gate, I’ll meet you there.” She whispered. It wasn’t what she wanted to say. She wanted to scream, to tear after Lilly, to sweep Blake into a hug. But none of that could happen now.

She saw Blake nod, stop, and clamber into Celica’s saddle. A shuffle, a grunt, and then Celica’s legs trotted past her.

Yang forced herself to stay still a moment longer, heart beating wildly, knowing that the other eyes, ears, and noses in the yard were far, far more sensitive than her own. Biting her lip, she carefully scooted out from below the metal chassis, and stood. 

A rush of air above her. Yang jumped sideways, pressing herself to a boxcar, looking around wildly. 

Nothing. No Grimm, no raven, no thrown weapons, no movement.

Gods, this night needs to be over.

Heart pounding, Yang swallowed, and kept moving. Ducking behind boxcars, doing her best to keep silent, keeping her ears open for even the slightest hint of trouble. 

Which was why, as she reached the far edge of the yard and finally saw her dark woods on the other side of the barbed wire fence, she heard the sudden footsteps, and a muffled yell. She dropped into a crouch, half-hiding behind a car, the last one before the yard dipped into a short field. The footsteps were fast, moving at a run. Her heart pounded, as if sensing the danger. Then, another yell cemented it. “BLAKE!”

Shit. Shit shit shit. Could she make it across before he got there? She looked up, and her heart stopped. 

Blake and Celica were on the other side of the fence. Blake must have seen Yang and started her way to try and pick her up before the treeline. Now she’d stopped, gaze snapping to focus on the space between two unattached cars, only three up the line from where Yang was crouched.

Her ears flattened, her eyes went wide, and Yang knew true horror.

Adam exploded out from three cars ahead of her. He skidded to a halt, focused on the frozen girl in front of him, separated from him by only a rickety barbed wire fence and ten feet of grass.

For an eternity, they stared at each other. He was taller than she’d thought, but slim, his jaw sharp now that it wasn’t obscured by a bandanna. The gleaming black rifle was still on his back. Slowly, she drew her revolver.

He sighed, too loudly, cracking the silence open. “Lilly told me. I just wanted to see that you’re alive. Is that too much to ask?”

Celica shifted her weight, chewing on her bit, the closest to antsy that Yang had ever seen her. Blake didn’t move at all, face pale as a ghost in the moonlight.

He waited, as if expecting her to speak. Then, losing patience, he grumbled, turning. “Look, just... come back when you’re done. We’ll talk.” Started to walk back. Stopped. 

Then, a mutter set Yang’s vision, body, and entire soul on fire. 

“I forgive you.” 

The clatter of hoofbeats sounded in her ears, and she knew that Blake and Celica were running away. But she couldn’t look. All she could see was the tall man with horns that was standing in front of her. She saw it when he smiled to himself, heard the relief in his voice when he grunted, “Knew you weren’t going to leave.”

Yang didn’t realize she’d raised the pistol and aimed it directly at his head until her eye caught it gleaming in the moonlight.

She could put a bullet into his temple before he’d even realized she was there. She could be gone before the White Fang found him. She could tell Pyrrha that there had been bandits around, that one of them had shot him. She could even give Blake credit, if she wanted it. He wouldn’t be the first man she’d killed.

But he wasn’t looking at her. He wouldn’t know what hit him. It would be murder. He deserved it, but it was still murder.

“if you leave ‘em alive, they’ll just come back for you later. Don’ call it murder - think of it as preventative self defence, if you need to.”

The memory of unwelcome advice rang in her ears, and Yang’s pistol lowered slightly. He still hadn’t walked away. If he turned, even slightly, he’d see her - crouched beside the boxcar, pistol drawn, eyes burning through him.

Turn around, she silently begged. See me. Try to draw your rifle. Give me an excuse to kill you. 

But instead, Adam stepped over the rail track, and his boots crunched across the gravel.

Her hands didn’t stop shaking. Not when she finally stood up, walked to the fence, and squeezed between the wires. Not at any point while she marched through the woods, heading towards the cattle gate, forgetting to watch for Grimm in her fury-induced haze.

But she stopped paying attention to them when she saw a riderless palomino horse standing beside the road. Celica’s head was low, ears focused on the woman sitting on the ground. Her back was pressed against a fencepost, knees pulled to her chest. Yang ran the last few feet, falling to her knees in front of her.

Blake’s head raised before Yang could speak, a flood of tears glinted in the moonlight. “You were right.” She choked out, rubbing at her face with one sleeve. “This was a terrible idea. W-we shouldn’ve left the cabin.”

Yang agreed with her whole, entire heart, but now wasn’t the time. Her words exploded out, held in her throat for far too long. “Blake. That woman - Lilly. You forget every damn word she said. You don’ owe ‘em that.”

“I do, Yang!” Her words broke into a sob. “I know I’m the only one who can make him focus. It’s always been that way, he’s always needed me. I doomed them all the second I ran off, they’re going to get hurt, it’s my fa-”

Yang’s hand clapped over her mouth. Blake stopped, eyes wide and focused on her. Yang knew why - she was staring with an intensity that she’d never held before, even last night. She could feel herself shaking, barely holding together, and knew her eyes were still red, still simmering with fury. “No. No, it ain’t y’ fault. You ain’t their mother. They can leave him. They can overthrow him. They can kill him, if they really needed to. They don' need you to control him. You ain’t his goddamn pet, and if he really can’t control his own damn mind, then it ain’t y’ fault that some idiot decided he should lead that group.” She forced herself to inhale in a long, shuddering breath. “She said she watched - she knew what was happening to you. And she didn’t help you. You don’ owe her a damn thing. And I ain’t even gon’ touch him . Fuckin’ ‘forgives you’. Gods alive. I would’ve killed him if I could.”

She should have left it there. She should have just picked Blake up and headed home. But something changed in Blake’s eyes, and her ears flicked up. Listening, seeing the cracks forming beneath the surface. Yang’s voice slipped from her throat, starting to hoarsely ramble. “Almost did. He was right there. He didn’ see me. I could’ve- Damn idiot. I wanted to. I just - I just... I couldn’t.” She could feel herself shaking, could hear the memories of teasing voices, of disapproving glares. It wasn’t that she was ashamed of not being a killer. But this wasn’t an innocent bystander. This was a murderer, an abuser, a man who didn’t deserve mercy. “Couldn’t shoot him in the back . He deserved it. But - but I couldn’t...” 

A hand pressed to her lips. She slowly let her own hand fall, watching as Blake took a deep breath of her own, adjusting her weight, rolling so that she was kneeling in front of Yang. Tears were still falling, shining on her face and highlighting her face in the moonlight, but her eyes were set, focused, firm. “If it were you trying to convince me to come back, he would have killed you. He wouldn’t have hesitated, and he wouldn’t have given you a chance to turn around and see him.” Her breath shook, but her tone didn’t. Her thumb moved against Yang’s cheek. “But you’re not him.”

Her own eyes were stinging. “Gon’ get me killed one day.” She gave a weak chuckle past the fingers on her lips, trying and failing to mask the finality in her voice. But even the attempt at a joke faded as Blake’s wide eyes stared through her, and her voice shrunk to little more than a whisper. “Don’ want to be him. Or my mother. But... can’ be weak either. ‘S... ‘s already almost killed me once.” She blinked, felt liquid slide down her face, and her voice cracked. “I- I don’ want you to get hurt... b-because I couldn’t...”

Blake’s gaze flickered to just below her eyes. Her ears flattened, she bit her lip, then suddenly dove forwards, throwing her arms around Yang’s torso, a hand sinking into her hair. “You’re not too weak to act, Yang.” She whispered, her grip tightening around her, her voice unsteady. “You’re strong enough to stop yourself.”

The words, the distinction, echoed in her head, like crashing metal, like snapping leather. 

Yang, for once, let her forehead fall into Blake’s shoulder, wrapped her own arms around Blake’s waist and let the slender woman hold her as her shoulders shook.


 

The two girls held onto each other for a long few minutes, Belladonna running her hand through the human’s blonde hair, sobs slowly fading. “Think we should get home,” Deputy Xiao Long’s voice was muffled, her face still pressed against Belladonna’s shoulder. 

“Yeah.” Belladonna seemed slow to release her grip, running her fingers along the human’s jaw as she sat back up. “...I’m sorry, Yang. I-”

Xiao Long shook her head, cutting her off. “Blake. Don’ apologize. You wanted t’ try. Maybe it’ll work, and they’ll back off.”

Belladonna bit her lip, ears flopping slightly. “Hope so.”

Then Xiao Long leaned in, her fingers skimming Belladonna’s jaw. And Blake Belladonna closed the distance and kissed the human’s lips.

Gods damn you, Belladonna.

Yuma didn’t move as the two embraced, still hidden in the branches of a tree, where he’d hidden to watch Belladonna as she fled from the train yard. He hadn’t been entirely surprised when the deputy appeared - it was too plausible that Adam’s once trusted second had been swayed by kind words and promises of safety. But, as the two had talked, comforting each other in a way that was far too intimate for a human and faunus that had known each other for less than a week, he’d realized that the situation was far more complex than he’d realized. 

As he watched them draw apart, watched the way she smiled as Xiao Long pressed her thumb to her chin, he knew that it wasn’t just the White Fang that she’d betrayed.

The two stood, Xiao Long taking the time to fuss over the bandage on Belladonna’s hip, then mounting back onto the heavyset palomino, helping Belladonna up to sit behind her. 

He didn’t pursue the two as they rode off into the woods. Truth be told, he wasn’t even entirely sure what to do with the information he’d just discovered. He’d been nearby when Belladonna had spoken with Lilly, with Adam. He knew just how deep the lies ran now. 

He wasn’t completely without empathy. Adam wasn’t the easiest person to deal with, and while he’d never seen him treat her badly, he supposed it could easily happen. Though, even at his worst and most impatient, Yuma had always seen Adam’s side. He was a man under a lot of pressure, and he had an incredibly important role. If anything, he was more annoyed with Lilly’s impatience with him than Adam’s impatience with the young, incompetent members. Still, he supposed that it wasn’t exactly the same thing if what he’d just overheard from Lilly and Belladonna’s conversation, and again from Xiao Long, was true.

But, any empathy for Belladonna abruptly stopped the second she let a human kiss her. As far as he was concerned, she wasn’t one of them anymore. Even if her intentions were good, even if she was trying to help, she’d crossed a line from which there could be no return.

The heist was too close now, though. Adam’s attention would be focused with the illusion of Belladonna still on his side. If the warning really was true - and he was growing doubtful of that - then they needed him at his best to pull it off.

He’d keep it close to the chest for now, he reasoned. But as soon as the heist was over - or as soon as it became a problem - he’d tell Adam the truth. Belladonna didn’t deserve to get away with a betrayal like this.

Yuma rolled his shoulders, spread his wings, and launched himself into the night.

Chapter Text

“Yang!”

Her eyes widened, darting back and forth. Darkness pressed in on her, filling her mouth and nose. Still, she fought through it. Faint cries pressed on the inside of her skull, dragging back memories of numbed emotions, watching things that she couldn’t stop. This was bad. She could hear Blake, they needed to leave, they needed to get out...

“Yang...” The voice cracked into a sob. 

Yang frantically turned, her limbs heavy. Where are you? She tried to call, but her tongue was heavy, unresponsive. 

Red eyes. Long, thin, horrifying fingers-

“UP AND AT ‘EM, GIRLS!”

Cold splashed across her face and Yang jerked, a wordless yell exploding from her throat. Weight across her back jumped up with a familiar yelp that abruptly cut off. The nightmare was gone but her frayed nerves were not, and Yang rolled, one elbow supporting her weight, the other instinctively throwing itself between Blake and-

Both fear and fury died in her throat as Pyrrha Nikos raised an eyebrow at the two women, a freshly empty cup in one hand. “Mornin’.” 

“Light sake , Pyrr.” Her voice came out as a gravelly rumble; even she was unsure whether it was from lack of sleep or irritation. “Why-”

“Long past eleven, thought I’d best wake you up.” The redhead responded coolly, leaning against the wall. “Care to explain why I had a panicked railroad boy babbling ‘bout faunus on my doorstep last night?”

Her memory wasn’t slow enough to awaken to save her. She could recall bits of the slow, half-awake ride home. She did remember collapsing face-down across the mattress the moment she saw it. And she most definitely remembered Blake murmuring something in her ear as she flopped across her back, nesting her head against the back of Yang’s neck.

Yang slowly winced as she glanced backwards, and realized that both of them were still clad in mud-streaked clothes, and hadn’t bothered to pull so much as a blanket over themselves. Blake had sat up, pale but expression sheepish rather than scared. Her clothing was mussed, hair rumpled, and this was absolutely not the time to be thinking about it.

“...no one got hurt.” Yang mumbled, fully aware that she’d gone red as she turned back to Pyrrha, and fantasized about crawling under the bed.

Pyrrha’s expression changed. Almost like she was trying not to speak. Or trying not to smile.

Then a slightly deeper voice boomed from the doorway. “Xiao Long, you’d best pray that’s true.” 

Despite his height, or the lean sort of strength he’d gained with age and experience, Yang never would have described Jaune Arc as frightening. Yet, looming in the doorway, eyes narrowed and arms crossed, Yang wasn’t sure if she’d ever been more afraid of any man in her life. Though, perhaps not for the reasons one might expect.

Blake shrunk behind her as Yang sat up, grinning in the same way that Tai’s ranch dogs used to when they knew they’d done something wrong. “We checked, stitches are fine. Swear they are.”

“Oh, good. Stitches are holdin’, must mean that the woman with broken ribs and an incredibly fragile hip wound is perfectly fine to go out n’ play in the mud with the bandits.” 

Blake’s voice weakly floated out from behind Yang’s back. “Was my idea, she came with me to make sure I didn’t hurt myself.”

“Oh, I ain’t even started on you yet.” Despite the genuine irritation in Jaune’s voice, his posture softened and he let out a short sigh. “Right. Get out here so I can make sure y’ not gon’ die of infection.” He turned, stalking back out to the kitchen, still grumbling. Pyrrha followed him, but her expression was considerably more amused as she glanced back at the two women.

Yang rubbed at her still damp face with her sleeve, wondering how the water could possibly still be there when her face was hotter than a stovetop. Blake didn’t move to follow them, and she turned, just enough so that she could catch a glimpse of the tense face. “It’s okay.” She whispered, gently nudging her. “He’s more mad at me for not stopping you.” Her expression didn’t change, but Blake slowly slid off the bed, gingerly standing. Yang cringed and Blake’s ears flattened even further as she limped out of the room, obviously far more sore than she’d been last night.

Jaune pulled a chair out, grumbling. “Put your arms over this and stay standin’.” He threw a plate of what looked like scrambled eggs on the table in front of her. Yang blinked, looking up, and stared as she realized that there was, indeed, a pan full of eggs on her stovetop. “Did... you two cook breakfast?”

“It’s lunch now, but yes.” Pyrrha leaned against the counter, “We got here ‘bout a half hour ago. Neither one of you woke up when we came in, figured you’d be hungry once you did.” 

Yang glanced at Blake, and found her  already staring back, wide-eyed. The front door hadn’t even been locked, she realized. They’d both slept straight through what could have been anyone coming into the house. The mildly panicked exchange was cut short as Jaune heavily sat down in a chair of his own, turning to face Blake’s hip and starting to unwrap it. The slender faunus winced, but turned her focus to the plate of food in front of her, leaning forwards to grab a fork and half-heartedly pick at it.

A plate clattered in front of Yang, and she jumped. “Seriously, Yang. What in the Darkness were the two of you doin’ in the railyard in the dead of night?”

“...I’m sorry.” Yang sheepishly folded herself into a chair, taking the fork that Pyrrha offered her. “We should’ve waited-”

Pyrrha tiredly waved her hand, leaning against the counter. “Don’t worry ‘bout Jaune, he’s been waiting t’ yell at you since last night. I got more questions than anythin’ else.”

Ignoring the huff that came from the other side of the table, Yang bit into a mouthful of eggs, intending to answer once she’d swallowed. Instead, Blake took mercy on her and spoke up. “Yang went with me to watch my back. We thought they had until late this week to set up for the heist. I thought that if I went to the yard last night, I’d be able to catch a couple of the young scouts and warn them about Branwen Clan. Was hoping that it’d be enough to get Adam to call off the heist and back off, if he realized that a human band was going to hijack his plan.”

She’d half expected Pyrrha to scoff, but her voice stayed soft. “I’m guessing by all the ‘thought’ that it didn’ go as you hoped.”

“Not exactly.” Yang spoke up, letting Blake turn her eyes back to her untouched plate. “Found four of members of the White Fang. Adam, a big woman named Lilly with floppy rabbit ears, a younger woman, and Russet. They were practicin’ pickin’ the locks on some SDC cars.” 

Pyrrha’s breath hissed out. “Shit.”

“It gets worse. Blake tried to talk to one of ‘em while I hid. Caught a few things. Plannin’ on hittin’ five cars, within two minutes, without stoppin’ the train. Adam, Lilly, and Russet knew ‘bout the lightnin’ shipment, but they ain’t told the rest of the group ‘bout it. And the timeline got moved up - they only got three days before it might show up.”

The green eyes widened, Pyrrha’s mouth falling slightly open. “...five cars, without stoppin’ the train? In three days?” She looked to Blake. “...are they actually capable of pullin’ that off?”

Blake didn’t look up, watching Jaune’s hands carefully as he finished unwrapping her hip. “Without bandits harassing them? Maybe. I’m more worried about what happens after the heist.”

“Yeah. Gon’ try and send a telegraph to the Forever Fall post office tomorrow mornin’, but I don’t know if it’ll make much difference. It might not even get to the mine in time, and even if it does they may not take it seriously.” Pyrrha rubbed her face, groaning. “I could live with the White Fang gettin’ it, if it meant that they’d head home after. But, if Raven gets it...”

Jaune spoke up, making all three women jump slightly. “You’re all forgettin’ that Raven’s been runnin’ that bandit clan for years. This could be her retirement - split the haul between herself and the rest, send them off on their merry ways, she lives comfortably for the rest of her life, and we have one less problem.” He raised his eyebrows, looking up. “I ain’t sayin’ that I like it. But, might be in our best interests to just let Raven take it.”

An uncomfortable silence fell over the cabin. Instead of outright yelling her disagreement to the idea of even letting Raven smell that much wealth, Yang slowly glanced at Blake, who was staring straight down at her full plate again. Pyrrha, uncharacteristically, was also looking straight through the wall with lowered eyebrows.

“Well.” Jaune let his arm flop onto the table, turning his attention to the leather bag on the table. “Now that I’ve brought the mood back down, let’s just keep goin’. The stitches are holdin’, and it’s healin’. But, not as fast as I’d like, the wound itself looks inflamed, and I don’t have more antibiotics to put you on. So, we’re goin’ old-fashioned.”

Blake squinted at him, watching as he rifled through the bag. “...meaning?”

He thunked a glass jar full of amber gel in front of her. “Meaning that y’ gon’ be real attractive to any bees in the area for a while.” Blake sighed in what sounded suspiciously like defeat, watching him twist the lid of the jar and pull what was probably just a very clean spoon out of its case. “And don’t give me that look - I know it ain’t the best medicine in the world, but it’ll help.” 

“I know it will, I’ve - ow!” She cringed, but held still as Jaune spread the honey across her wound. “-I’ve used it many times. Didn’t realize that it was the best option.”

“It’s the best one that I have access to and I know will help.” Jaune’s gaze turned to Yang before she could speak. “And you. If y’ gon’ insist on lettin’ her ride around with you, talk to your Pa about findin’ her a smooth horse to ride’.” 

Pyrrha’s head jerked up, cutting off an insulted noise from Blake. “...wait. Tai. Y’ goin’ over there tonight, right?”

Her heart dropped into her abdomen, reacting to something that had nothing to do with horses. “...guess so.” Yang looked at her plate, pointedly eating another bite. “I can ask him ‘bout a horse, he’s got a couple nice ones. He won’t mind.”

Jaune didn’t speak, and Pyrrha’s gaze didn’t leave her. “What if-”

“No. He ain’t gon’ know a thing.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blake’s ears prick up, brow lowering as she examined Yang’s face.

The sigh that followed was far from reassuring. “I wouldn’t bring it up if I had another idea.”

“Get thinkin’, then.” 

“Yang.” Pyrrha’s tone slipped into the no-nonsense, commanding tone that Yang knew all too well. “He’s the only person aside from you that might have an idea about how to distract Raven. Or even just where she might hide the dust once she’s taken it.”

It wasn’t enough. Yang glared back at her, feeling her teeth grinding together as she forced words past them. “He ain’t gon’ know, Pyrrha. And I don’t talk to him ‘bout her.”

Green and red-tinged lilac met. Then Pyrrha blinked, looked away. “Very well.” She said, calmly, evenly, like nothing had happened. But Yang knew what she was doing. She was letting Yang’s anger fade, letting her see the facts on her own, letting her come to her own conclusion. And she hated the fact that it was working. 

Mercifully, if somewhat awkwardly, Jaune shattered the tense silence. “Well, regardless. Smooth gaited horse. Make that happen.”

Blake must have been waiting for an opportunity to meet that particular insult, or to distract from the argument that had just occurred, because she turned on Jaune far too quickly. “Gambol is smooth gaited. I’ve ridden her for hours with no problems at all, even when I was injured.”

“Yeah? What about the obvious limp on her front end that I could see from across the field this mornin’?” Blake’s face flushed, and Jaune sighed, finally looking her in the eye with a somewhat tired expression. "Look, gon’ have to meet me halfway. I ain’t made of lien, here, I can’t give out antibiotics left and right.” 

“...Right.” Blake’s eyes slid sideways, her ears flattening. 

Yang could see the apology welling up - I’m sorry that you’re wasting supplies on me, I’m sorry for wasting your time.

The counter behind them creaked as Pyrrha straightened, sighing. “Yang, can you help me with Crocea? We let her wander to graze for a while, I’ll need to get her hooked back up.” 

Part of her bristled. But the rest settled, knowing that Pyrrha and her needed to discuss the entire matter. “Yeah.” But Yang’s gaze didn’t leave Blake. She reached out, gently poking at the arm closest to her. Blake’s ears and eyes flicked up to her. “Try to eat some of that.” She nodded towards the scrambled eggs on her plate, giving her a sort of half-smile. “Gods only know what Tai’s gon’ shove down our throats later. Might need it.” 

She returned the half smile, but her ears stayed flat, and her eyes stayed locked on them as Yang followed Pyrrha out the front door.

The long grass danced in the breeze, Jaune’s medical cart resting in front of the porch, harness and bridle hanging from the cab. Crocea was nowhere to be seen, probably happily grazing somewhere amongst the trees. As the door swung closed, Yang rubbed her face. “Look, I’m sorry-”

“Don’t apologize. I know that subject ain’t easy for either of you.” Pyrrha commented mildly, stepping down the stairs with her. “But we need somethin’. Even just somethin’ Blake can feed to the White Fang to give them a slight advantage over Raven.”

She was right, and Yang knew it. She blew air past her clenched teeth. “...I’ll see if he knows anything. But I ain’t pushin’ it.” 

“Thank you.” Her voice was soft and genuine, and it was far too comforting.

“Y’ too good with workin’ with stubborn assholes like me.” She mumbled, looking around for Jaune’s ancient mare. 

“Gift of too much experience, I ‘spose.” She could feel Pyrrha’s eyes focusing in on her. “By the way... got another question for you.”

“Arright. Shoot.” Yang gathered up the bridle sitting on the seat, struggling to remember whether or not she’d thrown Celica some hay before falling asleep last night.

“So, how long you two been sleepin’ in the same bed?” 

Yang’s entire body rooted to the spot, eyes dragging themselves sideways.  “Couple nights.” She tried, casually, cursing the heat spreading across her face. “She gets nightmares real bad. Sleeps better if she sleeps with me.”

“Bet she does.” Pyrrha rested her chin on the palm of her hand, leaning against the cart, sly smile unfurling. 

The heat spreading across her face had turned into an inferno, but she wasn’t about to pass it off a chance to catch Pyrrha off guard. Or to distract herself from the dread welling up in her gut. Yang turned with a sly smirk of her own. “No idea what y’ talkin’ ‘bout, Sheriff.”

Pyrrha’s eyebrows shot upwards, eyes widening slightly. Her eyes darted to the house, back to Yang, then mouthed, “Did you-“

Yang slowly turned her palms upwards, a helpless sort of smile crossing her face, and hoped that Blake couldn’t see or hear the exchange. 

Pyrrha stared for a long second, a strange mixture of shock and delight flooding her face. Her hand clamped down on Yang’s forearm, hurriedly dragged her towards the stand of trees where a swaybacked, scarred gray was grazing alongside Gambol.

The second they were out of earshot of the cabin, Pyrrha started excitedly pushing at Yang’s arm. “Start talkin’, deputy. Did you kiss her? Did you do more than kiss?” 

Despite the embarrassment that was now burning her face clean off, it was hard not to smile at the unusual amount of enthusiasm shining from Pyrrha’s green eyes. It was a relief, in many ways. “Ah... arright. So.” So much had happened, there were so many details, and yet all she could think about was the privacy of the girl in the cabin. “...I ain’t gon’ share details yet.”

“I understand, Blake wouldn’t be comfortable.” Despite her words, she was staring at Yang, almost twitching with barely restrained excitement.

“She kissed me. Night before last.” The green eyes lit up. “We’ve... kissed a couple times since.”

Pyrrha let out a loud whoop of hysterical laughter, shoving Yang’s shoulder. “Finally!”

“Huh, expected you to rib me more. Ain’t even been a full week that I’ve known the girl.” The reminder twisted her stomach slightly. It really hadn’t been enough time to feel as connected to Blake as what she did. 

“Yeah, it’s fast.” Pyrrha was still grinning, pushing a runaway strand of red hair out of her eyes as they reached the heavily scarred, ancient mare. “But I ain’t surprised. You two ain’t taken your eyes off each other since you met. If anything, surprised you ain’t done more than kiss.”

Yang’s traitorous face burned.

Pyrrha nearly choked. “Yang. You did not. You did not.”

Yang couldn’t quite hold back the guilty smile that was cracking her face open, even as she turned to grab Crocea’s halter and pry her away from the grass. 

The red haired sheriff’s mouth fell open. “When?!”

“...last night. Just kind of happened.”

The shocked stare was abruptly cut off as Crocea shoved her head between them, rudely searching Yang’s pockets for treats. She didn’t bother trying to reprimand her - Crocea was one of the very few horses that Yang truly believed might be as smart as a man. Or, perhaps as self-destructive as one. In the many years that the Arcs had kept the mare, she had never required blinders to pull a cart, and had never spooked or bolted even with children hanging from her tack. But, her cracked hooves had sent countless wild animals and Grimm to their graves. Not even Ember had outright attacked an oncoming Grimm with the kind of fury that drove the once-gorgeous dapple grey mare. How, exactly, the old mare was still alive was a mystery, though Jaune often said she likely ran on pure spite.

Pyrrha’s green eyes appeared over the top of Crocea’s neck, interrupting Yang’s . “Wait. Did y’ go to the train yard right after...”

Yang winced. “...wasn’t right after. Let her sleep for a few hours.”

Now the green eyes looked much, much more concerned than happy. “...Yang-”

“I know, I know. I didn’t like the idea either. But she was set on it, and I wasn’t gon’ let her go by herself.” She turned, easily leading Crocea back towards the house.

“Not what I was gon’ say.” Pyrrha fell into step on the other side of the horse. “Did they attack Blake, or try to make her join back up?” 

Ah. Yang chewed on her lip. “...they tried. Lilly, the woman she spoke to. She said she had instructions to kill her if she didn’t come back and-” Be Adam’s emotional support. Her hand fisted on Crocea’s halter and she continued, calmly. “She wiggled her way through it. Told ‘er that she’s layin’ low with the humans while she heals, made it sound like she’s halfway ‘tween a patient and a prisoner. Said that y’ pressin’ her for information and she ain’t given anythin’ up yet.” Her own voice trailed off as a thought occurred to her. They think I'm just a kid tangled up with the wrong sort, they don't know who I am. Of course, she knew that Blake had to be the co-leader of the group. But... something about the tone she’d used. 

Pyrrha sighed, distracting her. “Clever girl. Double crosses are risky business, but there ain’t a better way to do it right now. They bought it?”

“Yeah. We... Adam caught sight of her. Before she got away. He seemed to buy it.” She hissed through gritted teeth. They’d reached the cart, and she turned Crocea around, the mare easily backing up between the two familiar poles.

“...what did he do?” Of course, Pyrrha could probably smell rage radiating off of Yang at this point.

Her knuckles turned white on Crocea’s halter. “Ain’t just him. It’s all of it. They... both him and that woman, Lilly. Both of them talked to her like she has a duty to control the damn man. He told her that he forgave her. After what he did to her, he-” She bit down on her tongue, forcing herself to stop.

Pyrrha’s voice had faded back into the soft, careful tone, slipping the large, heavy yoke over Crocea’s head. “She okay?” 

Yang nodded, taking a strap of leather as it was passed to her. “Yeah. Found her sobbin’ in the woods after, but she listened when I talked her through it. She knows it’s all bullshit - I think she feels guilty leavin’ the youngsters there, though.”

“Yeah.” Pyrrha’s voice was heavy as she adjusted the harness around the mare’s scarred shoulders. “Didn’t want to say anythin’ in there. But those kids from the robbery... I went down to the faunus homestead yesterday.” Yang glanced up. For once, the sheriff kept talking, nearly to herself. “Big family, brother and sister settled down with their spouses and the two families work together to run the farm. Most of them didn’t want to talk to a human, but the oldest lady, Agate, let me ask a few questions.” Pyrrha’s gaze focused on a set of buckles in front of her. “...she described Blake and Adam coming to the farm and asking for their help. She turned them away, but the next morning five of the older kids were gone. Russet Hickory, Jasper Hickory, Basil Maple, Clay Maple, and Heather Maple. Oldest is seventeen, youngest is thirteen.” Her gaze turned back to Yang. “She begged me to bring her grandchildren back safe, Yang. I got no idea where to even start.”

Yang didn’t have an answer for that one. For a long moment, the two worked in silence, both turning the situation over in their heads. 

The door opened, and both women’s heads shot up. Jaune walked down the stairs, hefting the leather satchel over his shoulder. “Ribs ain’t re-broke, but they ain’t healin’ as fast as I’d like.” He added darkly. “Smoother horse and some time might be enough, but in the meantime, take it easy. You’ll need to re-wrap her ribs once y’ back in there, but y’ at least doin’ the wrap right.”

Yang winced, weakly saluting him. “Yes, doctor.”

Pyrrha looked between the two of them for a long moment. Then she sighed, gently pushing Yang’s shoulder. “Don’t push the poor man too much, or yourself, but let me know what he thinks.”

The dread in her stomach was back, entirely too quickly and easily, but she gave a single business-like nod

Jaune eyed her as he hauled himself into the cart, Crocea shaking her roached mane and impatiently pawing the ground. “By the way - she’s lookin’ a lot healthier now. Just please, for the love of the Gods, keep her ribs and hip quiet and let ‘em heal too.” 

Pyrrha’s hand appeared on her shoulder, giving her a gentle shake and hissing in her ear. “Have fun introducin’ her to your old man.”

Yang blinked. Then blushed furiously and shoved her back. Pyrrha grinned back at her, hopping onto the cart as Crocea began to trot off, ears perked and eyes darting ahead. 

A long pause stretched between her and the quiet footsteps on the porch behind her as Jaune steered the medical cart back down towards the gate. Pyrrha got out to lock it behind them, waved one more time, then headed back down the road.

Blake leaned against the railing, setting off a faint squeak behind her. “Thank Gods, I thought he was going to insist on watching.”

Yang snorted, turning and walking up the stairs to follow Blake back into the house. “Nah, think he knows better.”

Blake’s shirt was undone but still pulled tight across her chest. Yang closed the door, and she let out her breath in a slow huff, gingerly pulling the shirt off, turning away. The massive bruise that splotched across her ribs was only slightly lighter, the edges green and fading.

“...I’m sorry.” She mumbled.

“Not your fault.” Blake sat back down and leaned forwards onto the chair’s back, sighing. She was quiet for a moment, as Yang rolled the fabric back up, preparing to unwind it back around her torso. “I’m sorry Jaune’s angry at you.”

“Nah, he ain’t mad. More worried than anythin’ else, I think.” She ran her hand over Blake’s good side, letting her adjust to the touch before continuing. “You were okay with him lookin’?”

“Didn’t love it.” She grunted. “But at least I know he’s trustworthy.” Yang’s hand climbed slightly higher and her expression froze for a moment. 

Yang paused, watching her. “...you okay?” 

“...yeah.” She shifted her weight, exhaling. “Just... was easier when it was darker out.”

She didn’t have to explain past that. Yang could feel her skin shivering under her touch, exposed in the wide open space of the kitchen. She bit her lip. “...turn around? Might be easier if you can see me doin’ this, rather than just feelin’ it.”

Blake nodded, turning, and Yang had to actively try not to stare. She’d been beautiful and mysterious in the flickering lamp light of last night. She looked smaller in the daylight, more broken, her scars far more visible. But, no less beautiful. She focused on the wrap, carefully covering more of her skin as Blake’s arms rested on her shoulders.

However, her eyes drew themselves to her bruised ribs as Blake inhaled, and she saw for herself how one part didn’t move quite like the rest, how her breath caught slightly. “...no more crazy midnight runs, arright?’”

“Agreed.” She mumbled, her forehead falling slightly forwards to rest against Yang’s, momentarily clearing her thoughts completely.

Her eyes momentarily slipped back down, watching as she carefully covered Blake’s chest with the bandage, and remembered how badly Blake had shook the first time they’d tried. Now her forehead rested against Yang’s, tense but soft, trusting. She swallowed, focusing on finishing the wrap, pinning the end into place.

She wasn’t expecting Blake to break the silence, in dryly amused voice. “...I’m realizing I’m about to meet your father, less than a day after destroying your innocence entirely.

Yang nearly choked on her own laugh, pinning the last of the bandage and straightening. “Yup. You fiend, corruptin’ this poor, innocent virgin. Ought to be ashamed of yourself.”

Blake tossed her shining, dark hair over her shoulder with an exaggerated flair, a smile pulling at one corner of her mouth. “Shame that I’m not ashamed in the slightest.”

She knew it was meant to be a joke. But Blake was gorgeous, and there was nothing to stop her from moving closer. “Can’t say I am either.” 

The slim arms looped around Yang’s neck again as she leaned in, planting a gentle kiss on the smaller woman’s lips. Then a hand came up, cupping Yang’s chin, and the corners of her eyes crinkled as Blake chuckled. “Might need some shame; we’ll end up in trouble in your father’s company.”

“All due respect, ma’am,” Yang murmured, pulling her closer. “I’d prefer not to even think about that yet.”


Blake wasn’t sure if she’d ever felt Yang so tense. Her back was ramrod straight, eyes focused ahead. She’d been increasingly tense in the hours leading up to leaving for Tai’s home - the two had opted to simply nap and attempt to catch up on what little sleep they could get, but Blake could tell that the blonde hadn’t slept at all.

They passed under a wooden arch, ‘PATCH RANCH’ carved across the top. Through the trees, she could make out a single, tall house nestled into a hillside. A barn stretched out to one side, with multiple small paddocks neatly fenced alongside it. A tall black horse paced in the closest paddock, pawing as Celica passed. 

“Harbringer.” Blake glanced over, looking up as Yang’s expression hardened. “Belongs to my uncle, Qrow. He’s in Atlas with Ruby right now, so we’re keepin’ him in the meantime.”

The horse looked entirely too much like the one they’d seen Raven ride, but she bit her tongue. Yang obviously had entirely too much on her mind at the moment.

Celica tiredly snorted as they reached the barn. A loud clang sounded inside, followed by “Just a minute!” Then, a cacophony of barking froze Blake’s gut.

Yang twisted in the saddle, feeling Blake’s grip tighten around her, “Relax, it’s just-”

A grey and white dog came barreling out of the barn. It had markings like a wolf, ears perked at attention. Teeth flashing in the sun as it barked again. Then, the hysterically stumpy legs sprinted towards them, tongue lolling out of its mouth.

“...Zwei.” Yang finished, a grin flashing across her face as the dog reached them, entire hind end wiggling as it yelped excitedly. “Ain’t much of an attack dog.” 

“My ankles hurt already.” Blake replied dryly, leaning forwards to watch the short dog spin in circles as Celica leaned down to sniff the excitable ball of fur. 

“They should.” Yang swung her leg over Celica’s neck, sliding out of the saddle. The small dog wasted no time in leaping up into her arms, then wiggled towards Blake as she slowly dismounted, then stepped back. 

Yang watched her back away from Zwei quizzically, then opened her mouth. Blake flicked her feline ears pointedly. Yang closed her mouth. 

Another crash echoed from inside the barn. Blake started to fuss with the bandana that she’d insisted on wearing around her neck, then stopped as Yang waved at her. “Don’ bother. Tai won’t care.”

As though in response, a voice boomed from the barn. “Son of a bitch, you actually showed.” Tai emerged with a wide grin, dirt streaked across his face. “And here I was, losin’ hope.”

Yang sighed. It was meant to be teasing, but Blake could see the real tension in her back. “We ain’t even late.”

Tai ignored her, deep blue eyes resting on Blake. Despite Yang’s reassurance, her ears instinctively flattened. If he noticed, he made no mention of it, extending his hand. “I’m Taiyang, and my apologies for whatever horrors my daughter and the sheriff must be puttin’ you through.”

His skin was callused against hers, but Blake gave it as firm of a shake as she could manage, answering in a cool tone. “Blake. And apology accepted.”

Yang rolled her eyes theatrically, but Tai’s face broke into a grin. “Oh, I like you.”

“No hugs, Tai, her ribs are broke still and she’s got a real bitch of a hip injury. Blake’s a witness for a case that Pyrrha and I are workin’ on, she’s livin’ with me while she heals up.”

Tai’s eyebrows shot up, and for an uneasy moment Blake thought he’d seen straight through the lie. But, instead, he gave her a truly sympathetic look. “I am so, so sorry that y’ bein’ forced to live with her.”

Yang bristled, “Arright.” She growled.

Tai had already started laughing, waving his hand. “Relax, Junior, I’m teasin’. Y’ probably the best choice to live with by far. You two go turn Celica out, I’m gon’ go set out the plates.”

“Gon’ quickly cook somethin’ and pretend you spent all day on it?” 

“Hush, y’ gon’ give my secret away.” He gave Yang’s shoulder a friendly push as he passed, cheerfully adding. “Nah, gon’ make sure the stove didn’ burn the house down.” 

The blonde woman closed her eyes for a moment while Tai walked away. Then blinked, shaking her head and putting Zwei back on the ground. “He’s gon’ deserve it if he does burn the house down.” She muttered.

Both Blake and Zwei followed as Yang led Celica towards an empty pen alongside the barn. She could see the stress in Yang’s spine, her shoulders, in the way her eyes darted around slightly too quickly as she looked around. But Blake wasn’t exactly sure what to say about any of it. Tai seemed harmless enough, yet Yang looked more on edge now than she had in the train yard the night before. And she hadn’t forgotten the way Yang’s eyes had dulled when she talked about the childhood that she’d spent raising her younger sister. She bit her lip. “Hey. You okay?”

Yang didn’t look up from the gate she was opening. “Yeah. Be better once we’re home.” 

Blake leaned against the fence. “...healing is a tiring thing. I might start falling asleep halfway through dinner and we might have to go home early.” She raised her eyebrows.

That drew a snort from Yang as hefted Celica’s saddle off. “Don’t tempt me.” But as she set it on the fence, she shot Blake a quiet smile. “I’m fine. I just ain’t been back for a while.” 

She nodded, not entirely convinced. Then jumped sideways, hissing. Zwei wagged his stumpy tail at her, following her and trying to jump up on her leg again. 

Yang laughed, ducking between the wooden rails to grab the dog. “C’mere, rat.” She tucked him under her arm, Blake following along as they walked towards the house. 

The house was larger than Yangs, but really only in that it was taller. A few sunflowers grew alongside the weathered log walls, surrounded by weeds and overgrowth. Yang held the door open for her, setting Zwei on the ground. The dog immediately raced into the house, and Blake couldn’t quite hold back a sigh of relief as he headed straight for a wooden bed full of fabric in the far corner of the living room.

“Tai? Need a hand?” Yang called, heading into the kitchen.

Tai’s cheerful response was nearly drowned out by as the clanging of pots and pans filled the air. “Nope! You can set the table if you want.”

Blake was much slower to enter the kitchen than Yang was, and even then, she quickly decided to lean against the doorway and watch rather than entering. Yang had set herself to laying plates out on the table, while Tai was cutting up pieces of a rather large steak, a bowl of mashed potatoes beside him. Something smelled... amazing, and familiar, but Blake couldn’t quite place what it was beneath the smell of steak and seasonings.

“So, Blake?” Tai glanced up. “If you don’t mind my askin’, why’d the good Sheriff and Deputy throw you in that jail cell?”

At least she could actually tell the truth for this one. “We were talking, Rufus surprised us. Cardin’d already made some... comments about me earlier. Didn’t think either would take kindly to me being out in the open.”

Tai rolled his eyes theatrically. “Honestly, was wonderin’ if you were stayin’ in there for your saftey or for theirs. From what I overheard, I would’a blamed you had you taken a swing at old Rufus.”

“I nearly did.” Yang grunted.

“Sometimes I think you should. Pro’lly too late for Rufus, but Cardin might have a hope of gettin’ sorted out by a good ol’ rattle to the skull.” 

“Ain’t you the one that told me to go ‘round things, not through ‘em?” 

“Everythin’ in moderation, includin’ sanity.” Tai goodnaturedly responded, turning and placing the plate of meat on the table.

Yang’s shoulders relaxed very slightly. Blake felt a small, relieved smile pull at her lips as she watched the woman sit down, and quietly moved to follow her lead.

“Oh, right, damn. Nearly forgot...” Tai bent, pulling the stove door open and reaching inside with a comically heavy mitten. All of Blake’s thoughts cleared completely when a metal pan came out, containing a neatly prepared filet of fish. “Went out fishin’ last night, figured I may as well include it. You eat fish, Blake?”

Blake was momentarily speechless. It had been so long that she’d forgotten what her favourite food smelled like. Well, perhaps not her favourite - she’d always loved the fish that came from the ocean more than from ponds or rivers. But she hadn’t eaten fish in what felt like years, and the fillet of trout being placed on the table in front of them may as well have been an entire tuna.

A soft snort reached her ears. “Gon’ go out on a limb here and say she does.”


Predictably, Blake had eaten most of the fish by herself, but the steak and potatoes were almost as good. Between the three of them, not much food was left over. Yet, Tai stood to neatly sort the leftovers onto a remaining plate as she and Yang lazily rested against the table, comfortably intoxicated by the amount of food they’d consumed.

“Glad you didn’t bring Pyrrha or Jaune,” Tai chuckled as he placed the plates in the sink. “Wouldn’ve been much food left over.”

Yang tilted her head, eyeing him. “...who you savin’ for, anyways? Ain’t gon’ keep long.”

“Ah, just one of the ranchands ‘s gon’ be stoppin’ by the house later tonight. Needs to pick up some of Winchester’s tack that I didn’t send along with that poor grey colt.” He covered the dish with a lid, then wrapped a small towel around it, sitting back down easily. “Oh - speakin’ of. I’m assumin’ you ride that dark wildie mare that I seen at Yang’s cabin, mm?”

Blake nodded, only relaxing when she remembered that Tai had dropped off a pot of stew on her first night at Yang’s. He must have seen Gambol then. 

“Ahh, thought so. Beautiful mare, wager she’s a handful ‘less she likes you. Looked like she was a lil’ lame on the front end though.”

“Actually,” Yang broke in, probably just remembering it. “Wanted to ask you ‘bout that. Gambol’s recoverin’ from a gunshot wound. But, wouldn’ mind havin’ a horse around that Blake could ride if needed.”

“Oh?” Tai’s entire posture changed. Eyes brightening, he swiveled to look at Blake. “Y’ used to eastern ridin’, yeah?”

Blake tilted her head. “...I can ride western.”

A grin pulled at one corner of his mouth. 

Yang groaned. “Tai, please, she needs something she can ride without hurtin’ herself worse.”

“Of course, of course.” Tai nodded, blinking innocently. “You want to go have a look at the ponies now? Gettin’ late out already, wager you girls will want to be headin’ home soon.”

Blake glanced at Yang, who blinked in confusion, before clearing her throat and speaking. “...might be best, yeah. I can go get Celica tacked up in the meantime.”

“Sounds like a plan.” The boyish energy was back, and Tai stood up, trotting towards the door, Zwei appearing from nowhere to follow right at his heals. “Come ‘long, Blake, let’s go see the girls.”

Blake hesitantly stood, glancing over her shoulder. “...expected him to want to talk more.”

“Me too.” Yang got to her feet, eyeing the doorway with a mixture of confusion and releif that was quickly giving way to stress. “...go see whatever horses he’s gon’ show you. Then I’ll talk to him while we’re gettin’ whatever one you choose tacked. And please,” She added, suddenly staring in Blake in the eye. “For the love of both Gods, pick a safe horse.”

Blake nodded, innocently, and quickly followed through the doorway.

The second that she caught up to him, at the bottom step of the porch, Tai whirled, eyes bright and shining. “Okay, kid, what do you like in a horse?”

As much as she knew Jaune was right, as much as she didn’t want Yang to worry, the spark of mischief looked too fun not to play along with. “Quick and surefooted.” She answered, guiltily thinking of Gambol, alone at Yang’s cabin. “Something that’s smart enough to think for itself, but will still listen to me in a pinch.”

Tai, to her surprise, shook his head as they turned away from the barn and out towards a wide, fenced pasture. “Hon, I’ve seen that wildie mare of yours, and I’m sure that’s exactly her.” He checked over his shoulder, watching a suspicious-looking Yang head towards the paddock where Celica was waiting. “Y’ horse ain’t dead, just out of action. Think about what would work well with her, not replace her.” 

“I... I’m not keeping a horse, just borrowing it.” 

“Don’t mean that you shouldn’t have one that you could keep.” He shot her a knowing look. “Now, Blake, think - what do you need ?” 

That did, indeed, get her thinking. Blake tilted her head back, frowning. She chewed her lip. Then, quietly. “...I need a horse that can outrun and outmaneuver an ex-racehorse.” Tai blinked, watching with renewed interest. “But, Yang’s right, it really does need to be smooth gaited. Or at least well broke. I don’t care much, I started Gambol under saddle by myself - I can handle an unbroke horse. But Yang’s got enough to worry about.”

Tai tilted his head. “...I like you.” He said again, but with a quieter, more thoughtful tone. But he turned his gaze towards the fenceline before Blake could put much thought into it.

Four horses were grazing in the pasture, paying no attention as they drew closer to the fence. All four looked somewhat similar - stout, with muscular hindquarters that stood just slightly taller than their shoulders. A chestnut with long stockings, a black splashed with white, a swaybacked buckskin, and a blue roan. “These are the girls. I keep ‘em 'round as broodmares, but I ain't had the time to put into breedin' lately. The sorrel and the buckskin ain’t sound, but the other two I ride all the time.” 

She squinted, leaning against the fence. They were healthy, certainly, but she doubted that any of them could outpace Wilt at a walk. But, she knew better than to voice that doubt out loud. "They look..."

"Fat?" Blake felt her cheeks go hot, and Tai burst out laughing. "They don’ look like much, I know. Especially not-” He grunted as he ducked through the fence, grabbing a halter and lead rope off the fence as he passed, "- in comparison to what I figure y' used to. But these girls are ranch horses - they can sprint faster n' any horse you'll meet."

Blake followed him, wincing as she carefully maneuvered her sore body through the wire fence. She flicked her ears back, looking over her shoulder, and found Yang about a hundred yards away, watching as she secured Celica’s saddle again.

"So, you got y' choice between these two." She quickly turned back as Tai rubbed the neck of the painted mare. "Magpie here can stop and turn on a coin. She's had a few foals, but that ain't slowed her down none, and she's solid as the ground with anythin' I ask her to do."

Hot air whooshed into Blake's left, feline ear. She jumped, turning, and large black nose raised to her head, snorting.

"Ay!" Tai swatted at the blue roan's shoulder, barely drawing a twitch out of the muscular mare. "Sorry, she probably ain't seen a faunus before."

"It's fine." Blake slid her palm over the bridge of the mare's nose, bringing her head down. A pair of large, liquid brown eyes blinked at her. "...she's pretty."

"Talented too. Only have her because she was born at the exact wrong time. One of Rufus Winchester's lot, born just after his wife died." Blake glanced up. Tai's attention was focused on the buckskin nudging at him, Magpie snorting as Zwei zoomed past, barking at a squirrel. "Pitch black filly, born to her favourite mare less than a day after she'd passed, and Rufus ain't never been one to think clearly when he's upset. Convinced himself that the foal was bad luck, refused to do a damn thing with her, and begged me to take her the second she was weaned off her dam. Ranch hands called her Shroud."

"Shroud." The refined, dark ears flicked forwards.

"His loss. Damn fine mare, born and bred for sortin' cattle. Quiet, level-headed, smart enough to think for herself and sensible enough not to get into trouble. But, more like a dog than a horse when she’s with cattle - she locks eyes with 'em, cuts 'em off, got a nasty habit of takin’ a patch of hair off if they cross her. I tried my hand at sortin' with her a few times, and once a stray got away from us. I ain't never felt a horse take off like that since, she had it back into the herd before I realized what she was doin'."

Chase. Not run away. It wasn't what she had been thinking of, but something about the idea sat well with her. "Don't imagine I'll be sorting cattle anytime soon." Despite that, Blake ran her gaze over the muscular, stout body with renewed interest. Gambol was built for endurance, lith and slender with sturdy legs and wide hooves. Shroud was nearly the opposite -  her slim legs and dainty hooves contrasted sharply with the muscles that rippled in her haunches and chest.

"Believe me, there ain't a horse alive that's gon' catch her when she takes off." Tai ran a hand over Shroud's back, then glanced back at her, as if he’d forgotten to mention something. "Oh - and she's got a bit of a funny gait that she does sometimes, halfway 'tween a walk and trot. Ain’t fast, but real nice to sit.”

Blake dropped her hand from the mare’s muzzle, staring at him incredulously. “Are you joking?” 

Tai broke into laughter, but shook his head. “Nope. Rare in these horses, but she ain’t the only one I got that has a gait like that. Gon’ be honest, knew exactly which horse I was gon’ offer the moment Yang spoke up. Just offered Mags for the sake of havin’ a choice.” He patted Shroud’s rump and passed the halter to Blake, moving around her to undo the gate. “Toss that on the girl and lead her up to the barn, I’ll find some tack for her.”

Blake bit her lip as she looked up, and found Yang standing at the entrance to the barn, shifting her weight in the faint orange light. Waiting. “Okay,” She slipped the rope halter over Shroud’s nose. “Meet you up there.” 

She expected to hear the gate squeak, and footsteps to trail away. Instead, silence greeted her ears. Blake looked over her shoulder to find Tai watching her her. His face and shoulders had tensed, not enough for apassing eye to notice, but more than enough to alarm Blake.

He raised his eyebrow slightly. “...you like my daughter, mm?” 

A very, very different type of alarm washed over her, and Blake felt her face heat up. “Uh.” Brilliant. “Yes. Of course. She’s a lovely woman.” That was the truth. That didn’t need to imply that she thought anything else of her. Or that she’s done anything with her.

Or to her.

Tai tilted his head. The deep blue eyes stayed focused on her, expression ominously neutural.

Blake’s ears flattened, and her voice fell out in a much more nervous and honest way. “She saved my life, and she let me stay in her home with her while I’m healing. She’s a very kind, strong woman.”

A smile cracked across his face, and Tai chuckled. To Blake’s intense relief, all of the tension seeped out of his stance. “Good answer. Sorry to scare you, couldn’t help myself. Noticed that she ain’t taken her eye off you since we got down here, and you keep glancin’ up to check on where she is. And you seem to be more worried ‘bout worryin’ her than you are for your own health.” Despite his more relaxed stance, his eyes still hadn’t left hers.

“I’ve... been through a lot.” Time for some more half-truth. “She knows I’m not... completely comfortable with humans sometimes. I’m fine tonight, but I think she tries to keep an eye on me.”

“Ah.” He nodded, and for a moment Blake thought he’d bought it completely. Then something that was uncomfortably close to a knowing smile played across his lips. “You must be real good friends.”  

Blake didn’t trust herself to open her mouth.

“Bring ‘er up to the barn, I’ll meet you there.” With that, Tai turned on his heel and left the pasture, leaving a very red-faced Blake in his wake. Shroud nudged her shoulder, and Blake quickly moved again, leading the mare out of the pasture and carefully closing the gate behind them. 

Faintly, she heard Yang gave a slightly forced chuckle. “Thank Gods, I thought you were gon’ try and pawn Harbringer off on her.” 

“Nah, I only push that thing at folk I don’ like. Shroud’s reliable, should be good for her.” 

Her ears were a blessing and a curse, and even from her distance away, she heard Yang speak, and could even hear the dread in her tone. “Hey. Before we go - need to ask you somethin’.” 

Tai must have been able to hear it too, because he stopped and examined her. “...sure. What’s goin’ on?”

Yang nodded into the barn, and they both disappeared into the darkness. But, their voices did not. As she and Shroud trudged across the grass, she heard every detail.

“...I. I need to ask you ‘bout Raven.” A pause that rung out like metal bashing against metal, that Yang uncomfortably broke again. “Her band’s popped back up.”

“I heard.” His tone was distant, almost aggressively so. “Coupl’a idiots in the saloon on Friday night, right?”

“Yeah. Look... know you ain’t spoken to her in years. I don’t want to talk ‘bout it any more than you do. But Pyrr and I are tryin’a figure out a way to throw her off, and we’re comin’ up empty.”

Blake hated that she was eavesdropping, but she kept her ears up as she tied Shroud to one of the fenceposts. She didn’t want Yang to have to explain what had happened.

“She contact you?”

“Not directly. She sent a message with the buffoons in the saloon tellin’ us to back off.”

“First,” Tai’s voice slipped into an odd, clipped tone. “Is it a robbery y’ lookin’ to stop?”

“Train robbery.” Yang’s own tone turned quiet, guarded. “Her and another bandit clan are goin’ for the same prize. Think she’s gon’ let the smaller band do the leg work, then swoop in and steal the prize once they’ve got it out in the open. They only got three days to pull it off.”

"Blake's a part of that band, ain't she?"

No response. Blake quietly winced as she pulled a hoof pick out of Yang’s saddlebag.

“Arright. Second - assume she’s already figured you’d try and stop her, and she’s got a plan to account for any plan you’d make. Don’t try and stop her. You won’t win. Y’ gon’ be better off to mimic her strategy. Let her take it, then track it and stop her from sellin’ off whatever she’s stolen.”

Yang’s voice rattled with frustration. “Tai-” 

“Around it. Not through it. Remember?”

Shroud easily picked up one leg as Blake pressed on her leg, letting her distract herself with prying rocks and mud from her hooves.

“Kind of want to go through her, if I’m honest.” 

His voice rumbled slightly. “She’s your mother, regardless of what she is.”

“No.” Blake was close enough to the barn now to hear leather shift as Yang grabbed something off the wall. “Summer was my mother. Not that selfish hag of a woman.”

“Yang-”

“No. NO. You goddamn leave it. She had a chance to be my mother, and she set that chance on fire and kicked it off a cliff. She ain’t gon’ get no second chances from me.”

The sound of debris falling from Shroud’s hooves was the only noise for a long moment.

Tai’s voice sounded much duller when he finally broke the silence. “This saddle should be good for ‘em. Let me know if she’s having trouble.”

”’Kay.” Yang hefted something up.

Another pause. This time, neither of them broke it.

Yang left the barn, saddle balanced on her hip, expression blank. Tai walked out behind her, gave a single curt nod in Blake’s direction, and then he was gone, headed towards the house, Zwei still on his heels. 

Yang handed her a brush as she passed, placing the saddle on the fence. Blake wordlessly began to flick the dust away from the sleek coat before her.

It took another long moment for Yang to speak - probably waiting for Tai to be out of earshot. “How much did you hear?”

”Everything.” Blake mumbled guiltily, pushing her hoof pick towards her.

”Good.” Yang took the misshapen scrap of metal, storing it back into the saddlebag. She still didn’t look at Blake. “I’ll talk to Pyrr tomorrow. Hate the idea of lettin’ her go, but there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it right now.”

Blake stepped back as Yang brought the saddle blanket over, unable to think of anything worthwhile to say. But, as she adjusted the patterned cloth, Blake could see how Yang’s eyes looked too dull, how her posture was slumping. 

The silence had stretched far too thin now, and Blake bit her lip. “He... seems nice.” She tried, her voice falling flat even to her own ears.

“He is.” To her surprise, Yang was quick to answer, flopping the saddle onto Shroud’s back. “Really. He’s a good man, he means well, always has. He’s just...” She sighed, quietly and through her nose, as she fastened the cinch around Shroud’s belly. “...sort of an overgrown child. Least, when you need him not to be.” Her voice faded to a mumble.

Blake glanced over her shoulder. No sign of Tai. She turned back, and carefully wrapped Yang into a hug, bunting her head beneath her jaw.

“You explain if he sees this.” Despite that, an arm wound around her waist, drawing her closer.

“Easy. I’m cold, you’re warming me up. Friends do that all the time.” She gently squeezed Yang’s ribs. 

Her chin fell onto Blake’s head, and Yang didn’t immediately respond. Instead, she squeezed Blake closer, her arms holding her just slightly tighter. “Thanks, Blake.” She mumbled.

A lump formed in her throat at the thought of Yang feeling even half of the comfort that she’d brought Blake over the past few days. Blake nuzzled closer. “You’re welcome.” 


The house echoed back at him as the front door swung shut. Tai’s boots tracked mud across the floor that he’d worked for hours to clean this morning, Zwei’s panting following him. But, he didn’t immediately return to his bedroom, like he usually did. Instead, he stood off to the side, watching out the window as Yang gave the smaller woman a soft, tender hug. He kept watching as they finished tacking up the roan horse, then headed back down the road.

Zwei growled.

Out of the corner of his eye, Tai saw the dog jump up and charge towards the kitchen, bristling. The growling abruptly stopped. He exhaled through his nose as he listened to Zwei yelp and whine in excitement, nails skittering across the kitchen, then tapping as he jumped up at something. 

Tai turned, and walked into the kitchen. 

He did not look at the table. He did not address the silence sitting on the once vacant chair, as he scooped up the fourth plate that he’d set aside and started unwrapping the cloth from it.

Tai turned and slid the plate down the table, not bothering to look up when the clatter of ceramic against wood abruptly stopped. “Tell me y’ not gon’ use the faunus girl as some kind of pawn.”

A slightly hoarse, low voice responded. “You didn’t need to cook for me.” 

“Should’a just given it to Zwei. He might’ve appreciated it.” It took a conscious effort to look up. Her hair was tangled and wild as ever, an oddly elegant bandana sweeping it back from her face. An intricate black and red shirt folded around her torso. His voice didn’t shake. “Answer my question.”

Her eyelids slowly closed, then opened, bloody irises staining his vision. “I thought about it. But, no. I don’t intend to.” She picked up the fork, metal clinking against ceramic, and took a bite of the meat in front of her. “What did you learn?”

Tai gritted his teeth. “Nothin’ good. She didn’t give details, but sounds like the White Fang’s movin’ in less than three days, and there won’t be a second shipment. Knowin’ Nikos and Yang, they’ll probably try and contact the mine directly.”

“...damn.” Raven frowned, swallowing. “Was worried that might happen.”

“That a problem?”

“No. Plan’s well in motion, it doesn’t matter when the Whie Fang moves, I’m ready.” She ate another bite, faster and more enthusiastically. “And Beacon’s telegraph ain’t been workin’ since late Friday evenin’. Not that anyone knows that yet.”

Tai leaned against the cabinets, hating every word leaving his mouth. “Yang’s catchin’ on. She was askin’ me for ideas on how to stop you.”

Raven rolled her eyes, grunting. “If the girl could just think logically for a damned second, she’d know that she doesn’t want to.”

“Careful.” His voice deepened into a growl. “Besides, I ain’t feelin’ sorry for you. Why’d you tell them that y’ involved? You know that was a stupid idea as well as I do.”

“And you know as well as I do that she was gon’ figure it out all on her own. I thought if she knew what was at stake, that she’d have the sense to stay out of the way and let me deal with it.” Her fork clattered against the plate. “She has a way of surprisin’ me at every turn.”

The skin over Tai’s nose bunched into the start of a feral snarl. “Y’ gon’ have a surprise from me if you don’t start watchin’ your damned tongue. Don’t forget y’ end of this.”

Her chin tilted down, shadow falling across the irises still locked on his. “‘Yang has no involvement in my plans, and I will prevent her from becomin’ a part of it.’ Those were my exact words to you. I won’t go back on them. Are you satisfied?” Her voice was calm, smooth, and dripping with threat. 

“No.” He didn’t move, didn’t break gaze. “Y’ draggin’ her in.”

The chair screeched and Zwei scampered away as Raven stood. “I am doin’ you a favor, Tai.” 

Tai stared back at her, imagining searing straight back through the crimson gaze, tunneling to the atrophied heart that he knew still existed. “I didn’t ask for y’ help.” His voice rumbled through the small kitchen.

He knew that, really, he had nothing to bargain with. Raven Branwen would do whatever she wanted to do, and he wasn’t nearly foolish enough to believe that he could intimidate her. But that wasn’t the point. 

“Oh? You want to give up your share, then? The clan ain’t gon’ complain.”

Tai snorted, his voice carrying more confidence than he felt. “Think we both know it ain’t my share. And you ain’t gon’ take it away, not now.”

A tense silence fell between them. Zwei pawed at his leg.

“You said you wanted me to keep her safe. She needs to know what’s going on in order to be safe.” Her voice was significantly quieter, as she turned on her heel. The air around her rippled, Tai blinked, and a large raven stood on the counter, eyeing him. “I’ll keep her safe. You let me know where Yang is with her investigation. Everything will work out.” The voice was still hers, but sounded hauntingly wrong when coming from a raven with an open beak.

“Careful, ‘s dark out there. Don’t get mobbed by owls again.” With that, he turned his back to her.

She blinked, grunted, and with a flap of her wings she was out of the window and into the night.

Tai took the plate from the table and placed it on the floor. Zwei excitedly dug into the barely touched food, stumpy tail wagging happily, and Tai finally dragged himself towards his bedroom.

Chapter Text

“Gon’ admit, was really hopin’ Tai was gon’ be more helpful than that.”

Blake quietly huffed, offering another nail. “Think that makes five of us.” 

Yang tried to smile back at her, turning her eyes back to the wooden plank fence in front of her. Shroud had turned out to be perfect for Blake’s healing body, and she hadn’t woken up sore that morning. Reluctant to leave her at home, Yang had agreed to bring her to the office with her - it made sense anyways, they’d both reasoned. Blake was supposed to be spying on the sheriff, and Yang was supposed to be watching her.

But that didn’t quite make the sideways grin that Pyrrha had given them any less embarrassing. 

It hadn’t taken long to bring Ren and Nora up to speed on the state of affairs, and, blessed with a quiet morning, the five’d taken advantage of the time to discuss the robbery. Pyrrha had tiredly pointed out that the postman had gotten into work that morning to find the telegraph broken, cutting off any hope of contacting the SDC directly. Even if one of them rode out to Forever Fall that day, they probably wouldn’t get there in time. They’d reluctantly agreed to all just keep their ears to the ground, and wait to see if any changes happened before Tuesday night, when the shipment would officially be ready to leave.

Blake had quietly offered to send a message to the White Fang that the sheriff was backing off. Pyrrha had agreed, and sent her and Yang to figure out how, exactly, to get that message across.

Which was why Yang was currently repairing a damaged fenceline, just along a section of property that Blake said the White Fang often patrolled near. Which, Blake muttered, was probably why the fence was damaged.

“Is fixing fences part of the deputy’s job?” She asked, watching and handing Yang a nail. 

“Not usually - but the lady that lives here ain’t really able to fix it on her own. I’m used to it, did a lot of fixin’ on the ranch growin’ up.”

Blake sighed. “Starting to get real concerned that Tai was employing you as child labor at a young age.”

She snorted, and it wasn’t entirely a laugh. “You ain’t far off.”

There was a pause. Slightly too long of one. Yang glanced up, and found herself watching as Blake’s ears twitched, giving away the mind that was whirring underneath. “Yang... can I ask about what happened between you and Raven?”

Yang‘s hands stopped. “I...” 

“You don’t have to.” Blake added, nervously shifting her weight. “But I can see it eating at you, every time someone mentions her. I just... I don’t like seeing you hurt. And... it’s not like we have anything else to do right now.”

“No, no it’s okay.” She swallowed. “I can tell you, it’s not... it’s just a long story. And it’s... well. It ain’t real happy one either.”

Her voice was soft. “I’m not going anywhere.” 

Pointedly shoving away the lump in her throat, Yang inhaled. Might not be a bad thing, she reasoned, she hadn’t told anyone the whole story. Blake was as good of a place as any to start. 

She picked up another plank, and fitted it into place. “Found out 'bout Raven when I was nine - overheard Qrow and Tai talkin’ one night. Was a... bad time, for me. Tai was almost useless, spent more time sleepin’ than awake, and when he was awake he wasn’t really there. ‘Round the same time, I burned my hand on the stove while he was takin’ his boots off. I made this big yelp like a kicked dog and Ruby came runnin’, but Tai just walked by like he hadn’t heard a thing.” 

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Blake’s eyes widen. “...Gods. Was he... was he sick?”

“In the head? Yeah, think he was.” Yang focused on the nail in her hand, tapping it into place. “Qrow tried to help, but he was drunk more often ‘n not. Between the two of them, felt like I was the only adult in that house. And I was gettin’ damn tired right around the time that I found out about Raven. Started sneakin’ out on Ember at night to ask anyone who’d listen ‘bout her. Didn’t take long to find out she was a bandit queen that used to terrorize the town, and that all the townsfolk seemed scared to death of her. Realized that they all seemed a little scared of me, too.” She gritted her teeth, hitting the nail with more force than necessary. “It hurt, y’know? Was already pullin’ more than my share of weight at home, thought I might have a chance at gettin’ a mother back. And all of a sudden, I was seein’ that no one would look me straight in the eye. Learned that they’d always whispered behind my back. Thought it was because of her, started hatin’ her before I’d even met her.

“Eventually, someone told Tai that I’d been askin’ around. He waited ‘til Ruby was asleep, then asked me if I’d been looking for her. Turned into him scoldin’ me, and me yellin’ at him. Lookin’ back, think he was just tryin’ to do the right thing, and I just wanted someone to listen to me.”

She could feel Blake’s soft gaze on her. Unable to look, Yang continued, hammering the second nail into place. “First time my eyes went red. Scared us both half to death. We... ended up just makin’ a deal. I made him promise to stop sleepin’ all the time and actually help more. He made me promise to stop lookin’ for her, and to never talk ‘bout my eyes to anyone.” A memory of Tai’s wide blue eyes flashed by. “Think... think it woke him up a bit.

She held out her hand for another nail, and soft skin and metal brushed her palm. Yang forced herself to inhale. “We started gettin’ along a little more. No one in town was comfortable with hirin’ me to do any kind of work - in all fairness, was real young - so Tai taught me how to start horses under saddle. We started makin’ more money. He started smilin’ and laughin’ a bit again. I met Pyrrha, turned into the first real friend I’d ever had. Didn’t take long to meet Jaune, then Ren and Nora. Found out that Ruby was savin’ whatever money she had to go to a school in Atlas. Took a few years, but Tai and I got enough money to send her. At first, she tried to say no, she wanted us to keep it. I told her to go.” She bit her lip. “Wanted her to get a chance. Then Pyrrha surprised the Darkness out of everyone and offered me a job as Deputy. No one in the town liked the idea, but she wasn’t budgin’. That convinced Ruby to go, think... think she wanted to make sure I’d be okay without her. Ruby left, and I just started throwin’ myself into work. Townsfolk finally started seein’ me as Tai’s daughter, not Raven’s. My eyes still turned red every now and then, but I convinced myself that it was just a trick of the light. Thought I’d made it.”

“And then, a year ago, she turned up. Her band hit a stagecoach just out of town, killed a man and left a kid missin’. I was out too late at night lookin’ for the kid - was one of the first times I had Celica out on her own, she was just barely green-broke. Found an Ursa eatin’ the body. I...” Yang rolled her shoulders uncomfortably, and thickly muttered. “...I’m scared of Grimm. Have been since I was a kid, when Summer-” She shook her head. “Anyways. Panicked instead of shootin’ at it, and Celica froze instead of runnin’. Raven came out of nowhere, got in front of me and shot it down. Had never seen her before, but knew exactly who she was. Then she turned ‘round and said, ‘Don’t expect me to save you again.’”

She glanced up in time to see Blake’s jaw fall open, something between anger and shock sweeping over her face.

Yang snorted, humourlessly. “Yeah. That’s... that’s probably what I looked like. All those years, and that’s all she was gon’ say? Pissed me off so bad that I took a swing at her. And she turned into a raven in front of my damn eyes, perched in front of me, and asked if my eyes turned red often.” Blake’s eyebrows disappeared behind her bangs. “Shook me to my damned bones. She told me that if I wanted more from life than my little town and badge, I could find the band in Mountain Glen, a little ghost town in the hills. Then she flew off.

“Didn’t know what to think. I went back and told Pyrrha about the kid, and that I’d found Raven.” Her jaw tightened. “...she yelled at me, at first. Couldn’t understand how I’d let Raven off the hook, after she’d killed a man and let a kid die. Was bad timin’. I didn’t know she’d just spent hours tryin’ to reassure the kid’s Ma that we’d find him. She didn’t know how sick I was of lookin’ after everyone else instead of myself.

“Pyrrha told me if I was gon’ defend her, I was no better than she was. I threw my badge on her desk and walked out.

“Was still the middle of the night. I tried to ride Celica, but she was too scared, she kept pullin’ towards the ranch. So I rode her home, switched her saddle onto Ember because I knew the old girl didn’ care about ridin’ out alone at night, and I took off without leavin’ so much as a note.” She could still hear Celica every night, barely two years old, desperately calling out as the only two mothers she’d ever known disappeared into the bush. “Found the entire band in a ghost town called Mountain Glenn. They tried to chase me off at first, ‘till Raven stepped in.” 

“So, after all this time, you’ve finally come to visit me."

Yang gritted her teeth as she lined up another nail, feeling Blake’s increasingly worried gaze burrow into her neck. “Poured me some tea, and answered every question I asked. Told me that we held some kind of old magic that passed itself down from mother to daughter. It’s a bit like dust - useless, unless you know what to do with it. She’d figured out how to use hers to take the form of a bird. Mine just shows up in my eyes when I get pissed off, she figured it’d take years to figure out how I’d use it. I asked if we were meant to do somethin’ special.” She snorted. “She said there ain’t no meanin’ in the world. She’d heard legends about immortal beings and curses and old wizards in huts, but at the end of the day we’re born into a life, we live it, and then we die. Sometimes it’s a good life, sometimes it’s not, and the Gods don’ give a shit either way.”

Blake’s eyebrows slowly lowered. “...real motherly speech.”

Yang tonelessly chuckled, disguising a wave of nausea that bit into her. “Oh, we’re gettin’ there. I ended up spendin’ four months with them. Pyrrha had turned me out, and I’d broken my promise to Tai. The only person I had left to care ‘bout was Ruby, and I realized that I was gon’ make more money as a thief than I ever would as a horse wrangler, or a deputy. So, I stayed. Most of the band hated me, but no one was brave enough to say it outright. Thought I was spoiled and naive, kept throwin’ me into ‘tests’ to see if I deserved to be there. One woman, Vernal, she was always on my back. Think she saw me as a threat, she was ‘bout my age and she’d lived her whole life in the Band with Raven as her mentor. I didn’t give a damn. I grew up learnin’ what was right, but I was sick to death of always havin’ to be a good kid. So I stole from people, I fought dirty, I used every trick I knew, and I learned everything I could. Only thing I wouldn’t do was kill someone. Raven kept gettin’ frustrated about that; told me that if I wasn’t willin’ to put a bullet in a man’s skull, then one would eventually find it’s way to mine. But I kept my line - made me feel in control, like I wasn’t completely bad if I had a rule.”

She paused, struggling to find words that wouldn’t bite as hard as her memories. “I didn’t have many weaknesses after a while. Fought better than anyone else there, good with horses, followed Raven’s orders without question. Me and Vernal were both contendin’ to be Raven’s right hand at the same time. I was blood, I had talent, and by then I’d won some respect, but I still wouldn’t kill no one. Vernal was kind of the opposite - she had a real vicious streak and she’d been a bandit her whole life, but she wasn’t nearly as strong or tough as I was. And we were both scared of Grimm still. 

“One night, Raven sent us both to collect a debt from a thief that’d been givin’ her shit. Said she'd been looking for him, finally found him just after sunset that night and couldn't deal with him herself. She can't stay out as a raven at night, she gets mobbed by owls. Sowe rode out, found him holed up in this old shithole shack in the dead of nowhere.” Her voice dulled. “He was lazin’ around in a chair while his kid cowered in the corner. Looked too much like Tai at his worst. Said he was done runnin’, went on whinin’ ‘bout how we should just kill them both, he didn’ have the money to pay us back. My head kept hurtin’, and Vernal was just leanin’ against the wall watchin’. Knew I should have been angry, or disgusted, or sympathetic, but I wasn’t. Just wanted him to shut up. ”

Yang’s breath hissed out, and her voice wavered. “Shot him dead in front of his kid.” A nail still stuck halfway out of the fence, and she focused her attention on that. “Was... was real quiet all of a sudden, realized there’d been some kind of hummin’ that had stopped. Felt - felt this wave of emotion, like it’d all been drained away and then came pourin’ back. Kid panicked and screamed, and a bunch of moanin’ started up in the root cellar. Put the pieces together pretty quick - poor bastard had holed up right on top of an Apathy nest.”

She could feel Blake’s eyes, staring into her, but she didn’t dare look up. “Vernal bolted before it could hit her. Don’t think the Apathy works on kids the same way it does with adults, because I was numb again already and he was screamin’ his lungs out. They started crawlin’ up from under the house trying to get at the kid, I got spooked and turned. Looked up and saw Raven in the doorway, wavin’ at me to get movin’ and follow her while they were distracted.”

She’d long since stopped trying to put nails into the fence, her arms heavy and vision slightly blurred. “I... I... stupid. I couldn’t stop lookin’ at that kid. All I could think about was me burnin’ my hand on the stove, and Tai walkin’ away. Snapped me out of it. Ran right at the fuckers and grabbed the damn kid out from under ‘em. Think... think he was dead before I even got to him. Didn’t even get six feet away before one got its claws into my back.”

She could smell blood and decaying wood. She could feel the white-hot agony in her back as she was dragged backwards. She could hear screaming, and even her memory couldn’t distinguish whether it was her or the Apathy. She could see the way Raven’s eyes closed as she turned, and disappeared into a rush of feathers. But she couldn’t voice any of those details, for fear of her voice bringing life to the memories again. 

Finally, Yang dared look up, expecting horror and sympathy, expecting to have to voice what had happened. Instead, a pair of golden eyes were staring into her, bleeding with raw pain and rage. Blake’s voice shook. “Raven left you there.” It was a statement, but the way her voice raised at the end suggested that she was desperately hoping to be told wrong.

Yang closed her eyes and rested her head against the rough, wooden fence. 

“...why?” Her voice was barely above an unsteady whisper.

“I-” Her breath choked, and finally broke into a tiny sob as a lifetime’s worth of heartbreak, self-doubt, and confusion broke out from her chest. “I don’t know, Blake.” 

Skin suddenly appeared on either side of her jaw, bringing her head up. Blake was kneeling on the other side of the fence, both of her hands on either side of Yang’s head, eyes wide and still full of the raw, swirling emotion. 

She never wanted to see hurt like that in those eyes again. 

Yang forced a breath in, rushing her way through the last of the story. “Only alive today because Ember came racin’ into the house when she heard me screamin’. Remember a lot of noise and a lot of things fallin’ - think she knocked a wall down on her way in. She fell at some point, I managed to grab the saddle and hang on when she got back up. I don’t... really remember what happened after that. But Jaune found me just outside Beacon the next mornin’, layin’ beside Ember’s dead body with three miles worth of a blood trail behind us. Woke up with an army of stitches in my back and Pyrrha sittin’ next to me. Expected her to cuff me, instead she told me that if I could forgive her, she’d find a way to get me back as deputy. The three of us came up with some stupid, elaborate lie about how it’d all been planned, none of it really matters anymore. I don’ give two shits about why my eyes turn red anymore. The only family I care about are Ruby, Pyrrha, Jaune, Nora, Ren, my father, and my uncle. And you.”

Smooth, dark, wavy hair framed glassy eyes, focused completely on Yang. But instead of weeping, or offering the same apologies that she’d heard from Pyrrha, from Jaune, from Tai, Blake’s hands moved in her hair, one palm coming up to cup her cheek. “That’s where you go. When you have nightmares. That’s what called that Grimm to you.”

Yang dipped her head down, letting her forehead touch Blake’s. “Yeah.” She felt a hand move against her scalp. For a moment, Yang just closed her eyes, allowing herself to draw rare comfort from the fingers gently running though her hair, usually off-limits to any other soul. Then a thought occurred to her, and Yang’s mouth moved before she could think. “...but you got it’s attention anyways.”

Blake paused. “...I did.” She mumbled, quietly.

For once, Yang heard the twigs snap too. Blake nearly jumped, looking up as Yang straightened, forcing a breath into her lungs as she focused on the nail again. “Patrol?” 

“Can’t see yet.” Yang pretended to measure where to put the next nail, giving Blake’s ears a moment to search the air. “...Yes. I think it’s one of the youngsters.” She whispered.

“Okay.” Yang drove the hammer against the nail again, hammering it down into place. 

Blake tilted her head, looking down into the tin can. “You want more of these?” Her voice was toneless, bored. Fighting back disgust, maybe. 

“Yeah.” Yang followed suit, tossing her hair over her shoulder. “Got more in the saddlebag, can you be a darlin’ and bring them over?”

“Sure.” Blake shrugged, and limped back down the fenceline, disappearing in the trees.

Now that she was alone with them, Yang’s thoughts whirled. Of course, some unwelcome old memories and insecurities were skimming below the surface, but now she was thinking about scars and bruises that had been painted across the slender body that seemed so small in her arms. Blake had always dodged questions as best she could, but... 

She quietly resolved to just ask Blake if she’d ever told anyone about it. She was sure that she had - with all the scars across Blake’s body, there had to be some kind of confidant, some kind of friend that knew her pain . Yang had Pyrrha, sort of - she hadn’t told her everything, but she knew the basic outline of her pain and trauma.

For the moment, she focused on getting the last nail into the fence, then standing, waiting for Blake to return.

The first minute was easy. She had to quietly pass along a message. She needed some time for that.

The second minute abruptly became torture. Yang fidgeted in place, looking down the fenceline. It couldn’t take that long, even with a limp.

By the third minute, her heart was starting to race. It’d been long enough now that it’d make sense that she’d be worried, right? “Blake?” She called out, feigning boredom. “You stuck in the fence?” 

No response.

Her mouth went dry. “Blake?” She tried again, louder this time.

This time, she thought she heard the faint snort of a horse.

Instantly, a nightmarish image swept past her eyes. Blake finding a trap instead of scout, Adam waiting for her, rifle in hand.

Or Raven waiting, with a gunnysack ready to throw over her head.

Yang’s legs propelled her forwards, heart leaping into her throat, ice shooting through her veins, one hand reaching for her-

She skidded to a halt as a familiar silhouette broke back through the underbrush, sighing. “Don’t get y’ britches in a twist, lawman.” Her voice carried a mocking version of Yang’s drawl, shaking the now-full tin of nails for emphasis. Despite her laid back tone, her eyes widened slightly, mouth turning into a silent wince. Sorry. She mouthed.

Yang let out a slow, shaky breath. “Remind me not to let you go anywhere alone ever again.” She growled theatrically, hopefully disguising the way she had to lean against one fencepost as relief swept through her.

“You’re no fun at all.” Blake leaned back against the fence, handing Yang another nail, and immediately glanced back up, scanning the trees behind them. Yang glanced over her shoulder, and caught a glimpse of a horse trotting away before it was obscured by the bushes entirely.

She knelt, lining up another nail. She waited a long, long moment before she spoke again, keeping her voice low. “Who was it?”

“Jasper. Russet’s little sister, wolf faunus.” 

Yang exhaled. “Yeah, I know her. She have anything to say?”

“A bit.” Blake leaned against the fence,  “Adam’s still going ahead with the plan. He’s trying to account for Raven sabotaging him.”

“That ain’t gon’ help.”

“No,” Blake agreed, heavily. “I sent my message along. We’ll see what they do.” Yang glanced up. She was heavily draped over the fence, resting her chin on her crossed arms. “...sorry I took so long.” She added, quietly.

Something was off. About her posture, her stare. One of her feet was tapping slightly against the ground, her eyes slightly too large. 

Yang slowly set the hammer down. “...Blake, what’s wrong?”

She stopped moving entirely. “I- nothing. Why?”

“Something’s buggin’ you. What’s goin’ on?” Blake curled inwards slightly, gaze slowly dragging towards her. “Just... doesn’t feel real. What I’m doing.” She mumbled. “Turning on them.”

“...you’re not. You’re trying to help them.” She softened her voice, staying knelt on the ground, watching her.

“I’m not talking about the faunus themselves.” Her voice was barely above a mumble.

A fool could have guessed what Blake might be talking about. “Blake - when you were talkin’ to Lilly the other night, you mentioned that you ain't ‘just a lost kid’.” She kept her voice soft, gentle. “Y' not just an average member of the White Fang, are you?”

A quiet, regretful smile pulled at one corner of her mouth. “No. I’m not.” She heaved out a long sigh. “...My parents were the original two High Leaders, before they... they left. And I didn’t.” 

Yang felt her eyebrows rise. An odd thought drifted past; they were both daughters of fearsome bandits. It settled between them for a long moment. 

“...it’s funny. Really, I created the current White Fang. It was by mistake, more or less, but... all the same.” She chuckled, quietly, humourlessly.

Yang didn’t laugh, watching how her shoulders were bowed, as if there was a physical weight crushing them. She stood, the hammer and nails forgotten on the ground. “Blake... I know a lot has happened to you. You don’t have to tell me anything. But... have you told anyone ?” Yang searched her face, hoping to hear her admit that she had, that there was some friend in Mistral who had seen her pain, who knew about the suffering. 

Instead, a heavy silence settled around them. 

“Hon. I...” Yang bit her lip, choosing her words carefully. “You don’ have to say a word. But if you need someone to know, I’ll listen. And I swear on Summer’s grave, it’ll stay ‘tween us.”

Blake didn’t move, even to look away. Yang thought, for a very long moment, that she would just keep her secrets.

She almost didn’t hear the start of the story.

“When I was twelve, I was travelling with the White Fang across northern Anima. We were on the outskirts of some big plantations owned by Atlas folk near Argus - my father was... a diplomatic man at heart. He was approaching the owners, trying to educate them on faunus and treating us correctly - my mother was less trusting, but she was supporting him. One night, some human bandits attacked our camp in the dead of night. I still don’t know if they were looking for me, or if I just got unlucky, but a pair of humans dragged me out of my tent and threw me into a wagon during the chaos. They probably were just going to hold me ransom for a sum of money, or they’d been paid off to get the White Fang to leave the area. But I was stubborn, and I didn’t want any part of whatever they had planned. I waited until we passed a corn field, slipped my binds, and jumped. They couldn’t see me in the dark, and I ran until I found a stable. Climbed into the hayloft, and found a place to hide in a corner. Thought I’d just hide until my father visited the plantation, then run out and join them.” Her fingers had started moving back and forth across the wood, as though trying to distract herself. “Figured out in the morning that I wasn’t on a plantation at all - I’d managed to find a racehorse stable owned by a high-ranking official for the Schnee Dust Company. There weren’t many other faunus, and I was too scared to approach the few that did work in the barn. I’d heard a lot of talk about the Schnee Dust Company, I knew they didn’t treat their workers well. I hoped that my father would show up anyways.”

Yang bit her tongue, thinking of Ruby’s best friend in Atlas. She was one of the Schnee family, basically royalty. But there was no doubt in her mind that Blake would not take kindly to the news, and she kept it down.

Blake’s fingers kept moving on the wooden fence. “He never came. I found out later that faunus were killed on the night I was kidnapped. My father led the survivors back to base camp, while my mother tried to hunt down the men who took me. She came close - she found the place where I’d jumped out of the wagon. But she had to give up the search after some Grimm tried to attack her.” She bit her lip, regret flashing through her face - mourning a lost future, maybe. “I stayed hidden for three days. I ate apples and handfuls of beet pulp that I stole in the dead of night, drank from water troughs, used the outhouses when no one was around. But I didn’t eat or sleep enough, and I started feeling tired all the time. I accidentally fell asleep in plain sight one night, and I woke up to a teenage bull faunus covering me with hay before a human came up - big, burly man that ran the stables. Think he was looking for an old trophy blanket. The boy stayed up there, and then he went back to work once the coast was clear.” 

Yang’s chest ached, but she didn’t speak.

“He started leaving food for me. Just scraps, nothing that anyone would miss. It wasn’t much, but it kept me going. He worked with one stallion named Wilting Rose, and I found a hole in the hayloft floor right above his stall. I started spending my time there, talking to him when no one was near him. He said his name was Adam, he’d worked in the fields for as long as he could remember, he got to work in the barn because he was the only person left that could handle Wilt. He was ornery as the horse he worked with; I saw him get into fights all the time, with other faunus and with humans, and he didn’t really have any friends. I think everyone just assumed he was either insane or talking to the horse when they caught him talking to me. I told him my name, where I’d come from, who my parents were. He was so excited - he’d always wanted to run away and bring change, and get revenge on people that hurt him. Said we were meant to find each other.” 

“I stayed there for two months, planning a way to escape with him.” Her voice started to crack, the fingers on the fence tightened. “I was tired and scared and alone, and he was so charismatic and handsome. My birthday passed, and I mentioned something about it to him. He snuck me a pastry from the house the next day. It felt like something out of a book. I had so many opportunities to leave, to jump on a wagon and stow away, find my way home. But I didn’t want to leave him behind. It felt like destiny.”

Yang’s swallowed the wave of nausea welling up in her throat, and reached for Blake’s fingers, gently twining her fingers between them. Blake slowly blinked. “I didn’t know he was stealing rations to feed me. I thought it was just scraps that he’d found. One evening, two of the humans grabbed him and dragged him away just when he was starting to walk up to the hayloft. I... I panicked. I tried to jump down and follow him, but they dragged him out in front of the rest of the faunus. They’d been branding calves all afternoon, there was a big fire with a brand in it.”

Horror slowly dawned on Yang as she remembered the ugly webbing of scar tissue that covered Adam’s left eye. 

“I figured out pretty quickly what they were going to do. I was trying to figure out if I could - if I could throw a rock, or scream, or do something .” Her voice cracked, and for a moment Yang could hear the despair and panic. “I thought they’d make some kind of a big speech about what he’d done wrong, and give me time to distract them. But they just shoved a brand into his eye, and then told everyone else not to steal food.” 

It took her a moment to continue, her fingernails digging into the wooden fence as Yang softly rubbed the back of her hand. “...I had to wait, Yang. I had to sit there and watch him... watch him scream, and cry, and beg. Once everyone left, I dragged him back to Wilt’s stall - I thought it might be safe in there. But, the stable master was still there. Think he must have suspected that Adam was hiding someone, and he followed us. He tried to convince me to come out of the stall and talk to him.

“I wouldn’t have hid in the stall if I'd known how bad Wilt was. I knew he’d spooked in a starting gate and hit his head really badly. Knew they’d tried really hard to fix him, but he was already bad-tempered and he just started getting harder and harder to handle. I thought he’d just scare everyone away, give me time to come up with a plan. But the second he caught sight of the man, he lunged. It was late, and he was fast. No one came to help. By the time Adam had come to, the man was dead and I had no idea what to do.”

Blake’s jaw quietly worked for a moment. “Adam panicked more about Wilt than about himself. He talked me through bandaging his face for him - we decided to wrap his eyes completely and pretend he was blind, but I left a slit open so that he could see a little bit with his good eye. I found a saddle and bridle, Adam got Wilt calmed down, and we tacked him up and took off.”

Yang stared. A half blind teenager, a barely adolescent girl, and a deaf racehorse. “...how in the Darkness did you make it?”

Blake chuckled tonelessly. “An ungodly amount of luck. Wilt was barely broke, but didn’t care about what was happening, or that he was leaving home, so he wasn’t hard to control. I got us back to the White Fang camp, but it was long deserted. Only place I could think of to go was Mistral. Adam said all he wanted was to fight for freedom now. So, we set out. 

“Started out simple. Adam and I would beg for food and money in the towns we passed during the day, then retrieve Wilt from wherever we’d hidden him and travelled the roads at night. Wilt was fast enough to outrun any Grimm that we encountered. Didn’t take long for us to start seeing wanted posters with his name on it - horse theft and murder. I started begging alone during the day, then sleeping at night while he rode Wilt. His face healed, but we kept the wrap on. He started getting quieter. I...” Blake sighed, slow and shaky. “...I figured he blamed me for what happened. I already did - If I’d distracted the men before they could brand him, or I’d been able to stop Wilt, we might have been okay. But he never said anything out loud, and I was too scared to mention it.

Yang’s hand moved to her shoulder, desperately hoping that Blake couldn’t hear the way her blood was boiling.

“It worked for a while, until a pair of faunus attacked us, looking to get their hands on the bounty for him.” She slowly exhaled. “...that was when I realized what Adam could do with his words. He talked them out of attacking us - took off the wrap, showed them his face, explained that he’d gotten it while protecting me, and he was escorting Blake Belladonna, daughter of the High Leaders of the White Fang home. It saved us - one was a mercenary, but the other was actually a former member of the White Fang that had been kicked out for using violent methods. Her name was Sienna Kahn. The other was Lilly.” Her eyes fell. “I was scared, but I felt... powerful. Like I was helping recruit more people for our cause. Had more faith in Adam than ever - I thought he could talk his way through anything.

“We covered more ground after that. Sienna and Lilly took it upon themselves to teach us how to fight and shoot as we traveled. Practiced on Grimm that we found on the road. I  was an excellent shot right away, and Adam ended up being pretty good with hand-to-hand. None of them had much patience for diplomacy - after everything I’d seen, I guess I didn’t either.

“I hadn’t seen either of my parents in six months by the time we got to the White Fang base in Mistral. I cried, so did they. Sienna was pardoned, and Adam and Lilly were welcomed into the group.” There was a haunting lack of joy in her voice. “Adam was still a wanted man. My parents hid him well, but eventually rumour traveled that the White Fang was harboring a dangerous fugitive, and lawmen started sniffing around. My father wanted to try and reason with the lawmen - it wasn’t actually Adam’s fault, after all.  But my parents started coming up with excuses for me not to see him. Train with someone else, have dinner here, don’t go out tonight. I heard that he wasn’t getting along well with the other faunus. He was getting into fights again. I was worried - so I snuck out to see him one night. He said he was scared they were trying to take me away from him. He told me that he couldn’t think straight when I wasn’t with him anymore. Said I was all he had. It should have terrified me, but I... I felt so important. I wanted to help him.” 

She inhaled. “I swore that I’d never leave his side again.”

Yang watched, sensing a storm brewing behind her eyes, in her chest. Blake was too still, and when she spoke her voice was barely audible. “When I got home, my parents were waiting. They sat me down, and explained that they had to turn Adam in. It would be a peace offering to the humans. And they’d seen how he talked, how he acted. He was dangerous.” All the life seemed to bleed out of Blake’s spine and shoulders, leaving her resting limp against the fence. “...think we all realized that the woman that came back wasn’t their daughter anymore. I stormed out. I told Sienna and Adam everything. Sienna already had a bit of a following from her original days in the White Fang. All it took were a few yells about how Ghira and Kali Belladonna were turning their backs on their own kind. In the end, Sienna didn’t even have to stage a coup - they stepped down voluntarily. My mother tried to convince me to go with her. She was crying, begging me to listen, to see reason. And I told her that she was dead to me.”

She didn’t give Yang a chance to speak - Yang didn’t think she could manage anything intelligible anyways - before drawing another shuddering breath. “The White Fang became a bandit clan overnight. We stole from people that deserved it, we trashed caravans from companies that took advantage of us, we hurt those who hurt us. And it worked - suddenly humans were getting out of our way, lawmen weren’t even trying to touch us, and we could walk around in broad daylight without getting harassed. Adam and I didn’t leave each other’s side, and he started calming back down. Didn’t take long for the two of us to become Sienna’s most trusted soldiers. Adam became Sienna's second in command when Lilly turned it down. She accepted that the two of us were a unit, and never asked us to separate. I... I think she must have questioned it once the years went on, and it became obvious that we weren't really just friends. But she never said anything about it. No one did.

“Sometimes I wanted to suggest doing something peacefully. But I’d seen that my father’s approach didn’t work. Didn’t want my parents to be right. Felt like I belonged, like I was fighting for something, like I was more than the leader’s daughter. And... I was the one who brought Adam there. And Sienna. I knew everything that happened was because of me." An outraged grunt died in Yang's throat, cut off by a motion of Blake’s hand. “No. Don’t... let me finish.” She inhaled, her breath ragged now. “I... Adam. It’s... it’s the same with him. I’m the reason he’s the way he is.”

Yang couldn’t hold her tongue. “Blake, no. He would have-”

“When I was sixteen, we got into a big fight.” Blake held eye contact with her, eyes desperate in a way she hadn’t seen before. “He was... he was mad because I kept running off and letting him take the hit. I made a mistake, and I yelled back, I told him that I didn’t ask him to help me. I told him to stop trying to defend me. He stormed off, but the next day he acted like everything was fine. I forgot about it.” She was rocking back and forth, very slightly. Yang stared, dread welling up in the pit of her stomach.

“...two days later, we were stealing dust from human smugglers in a tunnel system below Mistral. He got out before I did. Trapdoor closed. I couldn’t open it.”

Her hand found its way back to Blake’s, and found it trembling. 

“I... I escaped later, through a different exit. Walked home alone. Found him in a panic - he said he hadn’t realized it’d closed. He didn’t know I wasn’t behind him until he got out and didn’t find me. He said he was sorry. Had never said that before.” She inhaled, shakily. “I would have been shaken, but I would have forgiven him. But I saw him look me dead in the eye when that trapdoor closed. He meant it.”

Yang’s entire world skidded to a halt. “...he-”

Blake gave one, terse nod, still staring straight ahead. “Spent years denying it. Thought I remembered wrong. But I know what I saw. I... I honestly think he regretted it. I think it was a snap decision. I should have blamed him, screamed at him, left the White Fang entirely. But I didn’t want it to be real. I let him get away with it.” She inhaled. “For a while, things were normal - he was more careful with me, if anything. Then... he started getting pushier. Started nitpicking. Started demanding things. Started pointing out that I owed him. That I’d promised him. That he needed me.” She was rocking back and forth again, as if trying to comfort herself. “At first, I pushed back, but I could never win any arguments anymore. I thought about telling other members, but Adam was very high-ranking by then. I thought about running, but I’d sworn not to. I thought about going back to my parents, but I’d told them they were dead to me. 

“I didn’t realize how deep I was until I started drowning. I tried to go out on my own for a night, to clear my head. I found a faunus my age - stowaway on a ship. We walked around and talked for a long time. He was handsome, and funny, and I just wanted to relax for a bit. I didn’t do anything with him - Adam and I weren’t... weren’t really a couple. Not in the normal sense, at least, I’d kissed him once but nothing more. But I couldn't bring myself to do anything more than laugh at his jokes. Still, he seemed content with that, and it was a fun night.

Her jaw tightened, and Yang’s heartbeat began to race. “I came home sober and actually happy. He was waiting. He’d followed me. He told me that if I wanted that kind of a relationship, I should have just asked.”

Nausea and horror welled up in Yang’s throat, blurring her vision.

“I froze. Was only the second time it’d happened, and... and I wasn’t really paying attention to it the first time. Couldn’t run away. Couldn’t even yell for help. But it gave me time to realize what was going on, what I’d become. I’d let him attach to me, let him grow into a monster, and I was trapped with him. He bought Gambol for me a few days later, and I let myself believe that he might get better, he might go back to the person he was when I first met him. But he’s just gotten worse.” 

The golden eyes turned back upwards. “Your demons were born with you, Yang. You never asked for them, and you’ve always fought against them. I invited my demons into my home and fed them until they started to eat me.”

The world blurred. Yang ducked through the fence, and clamped her arms around Blake’s body, moving with so much force that she nearly knocked her backwards. Her face fell onto Blake’s shoulder, feeling Blake’s face burrow into hers, her hands fisting in Yang’s shirt. 

It’s not your fault. It rang out in her grip, the desperate tears that were escaping from her eyes, but not her voice. Now she knew why Blake never seemed to believe it. She blamed herself for so much, for so long, that she’d become steeped in it. Guilt and fear was woven into her mind. Adam had figured it out, and he’d used it to control her. The knowledge was igniting her gut, sparking rage throughout her body, lashing out at people and places that she’d never met, never spoken to. Why had no one helped her? Why had no one intervened? Why had no one...

A pair of arms locked around her waist, and she felt wetness smear across her collarbone. “...Y-Yang?”

“Yeah. M’ here.” 

“...I know you’re angry at him. Don’t... please don’t go looking for him. He has a lot of reasons to hate you, and... he. He’s good at making people hurt. I don’t want him to hurt you.” 

Her hands tightened on Blake’s shirt. Normally, she might have joked about a loophole in promising not to - ‘what if I hurt him first?’ - but the fire raging inside of her chest quickly made any kind of humor impossible. “...I won’t go lookin’ for trouble.” 

Blake nodded, buying the half-hearted promise with heartbreaking ease. She managed a rattling inhale, pulling away. “...do we need to keep working on this fence?” 

Yang reluctantly let her go, looking down the fenceline. “Not really, but... think we could both use the distraction.”

“In that case, I may as well go and bring Shroud and Celica closer. Not like we have a reason for me to leave sight again.”

“Yeah. Good idea. I’ll... I’ll wait here, if that’s okay.” 

Blake nodded, shooting a slightly worried look over her shoulder as she turned and started back down the trail.

Yang’s insides were coiling, writhing like a furious rattlesnake with nothing to lunge out at. But she waited, gritting her teeth, until she could hear Celica nickering at Blake and knew that Blake was far enough away that she wouldn’t easily hear her.

Then Yang turned, snatched the hammer off the ground, and grabbed the tin of nails with a wildly shaking hand.

When Blake rode back, riding Shroud and leading Celica, Yang’s breathing had slowed and her smile was back. Still, she prayed that she wouldn’t notice the collection of holes in one of the fenceposts - as though someone had driven a nail into it only to yanked it back out, over and over again.


 

Adam, looked better than he had all week. The dark circles under his eyes had begun to recede, he was keeping his temper in check, and he was actually taking the time to refine his plans rather than barreling ahead. It was amazing what reassurance could do. 

But, as Lilly’s second husband used to say; fixing one problem just gives you time to find two more. 

Even with Adam’s current mood improving, the effects of his prior temper tantrums were still obvious around the camp. Most of the White Fang members were quiet, stressed in their own private ways. Older and more seasoned faunus were buckling down, keeping quiet and carrying out their orders with single-minded intensity. Most just seemed focused, but one in particular had caught Lilly’s attention.

Yuma had hesitated for a moment too long yesterday morning, when Adam ordered him to fly back to the mine to check on the shipment. Adam, of course, hadn’t noticed that Yuma couldn’t quite seem to meet his eyes. But the winged spy had met her own eyes with ease, and Lilly would have had to be blind to miss the split second of a smirk before he took off.

Of course, Yuma often knew something that they did not, so the expression was hardly out of place. That fact did absolutely nothing to soothe her nerves.

However, Lilly’s attention was currently occupied with a very different worry.

The young faunus led her snorting horse past, glancing up at the darkening sky. Unaware of the woman standing only feet away from her, she tapped her jacket pocket.

“What’ve you got?” 

She kept her voice soft, but Jasper still jumped, whirling. “Darkness Alive, warn me!” She hissed, oversized canines flashing in the dying light. 

“I did. Answer my question.” 

The shorter woman exhaled, body tense as a drum as she tied the horse to the rail before her. “Got a message from Belladonna.”

Lilly slowly cocked her head. “...what were you doing so close to town?”

“My job, patrollin’.” The irritated grumbling and eye roll didn’t quite disguise the way her hands shook. “Besides, she wasn’t anywhere near town.”

Lilly’s fingers snatched her wrist before she could pull away completely. The teenager froze, eyes widening as the powerful woman leaned closer. ‘You patrol a lot, kid.” She raised her eyebrows, voice falling into a low hiss. “Tone it down.”

“Fine.” She hissed back, worming her wrist away from Lilly and turning to head for the tents.

Lilly fell into pace beside her, tone moving back to her usual, disengaged one. “What’s the message?”

“Got it written down, but in a nutshell - Sheriff’s backin’ off. We’re on our own with Branwen Clan.” 

Lilly slowly huffed. “Adam’ll be happy.”

“Yeah,” Jasper grunted, looking over her shoulder as they walked towards the camp. “‘I got rid of the least dangerous thing y’ dealin’ with, y’ welcome.’ I mean, she’s livin’ with the bastard daughter of the damn lea-”

“Jasper. Shut your mouth.”

Jasper stared. “What? It’s common knowledge in town, he's probably already heard it from Russet.” 

“Trust me - we'd know if he'd found that out. And we're not telling him. Let’s not give him something else to have a tantrum over.”

Jasper eyed her, but she fell quiet as they crossed into Adam’s tent.

Lilly stayed still and quiet, like she always did, as Jasper relayed the message, as Adam read over Blake’s message again and again. His smile was smug, self-assured, and stomach-turning.

Fixing one problem just gives you time to find two more, and Lilly was getting tired of being the maid.

Chapter Text

The end came with sundown. 

Adam wasn’t watching it, of course. He was poring over a sketched map, examining a bend in the river, pinned between two large hills. The railroad followed the same bend - it wound around a large rock face, then followed the river for only a hundred feet before turning again to cross a tall, narrow bridge.

It was too perfect, Blake had once commented dryly while they looked down on the train passing below them. Someone clinging to the side wouldn’t be seen by the conductor until they reached the bridge.

His hand tightened on the pencil in his hand. You should go and get her. He thought, not for the first time. The plan’s set, there’s no need for her to stay with the humans any longer. One of these kids must know where Xiao Long lives. Besides, she must be nearly healed by now, it’s been more than a week. Knowing she was still on his side had soothed his nerves considerably, but her presence would soothe them far, far more.

“Adam.”

Brun’s rough voice broke through the silence in his tent, footfalls heavy. He glanced up, in time to see the tent flap open. Brun’s jaw was tense, tusks bared in the dimming light. “Yuma’s back.”

His face said everything else. Adam gave a sharp nod, exhaling through his nose. “How long do we have?”

“Four hours. Train’s loaded, left two hours early.”

His stomach turned, and he wasn’t sure if it was nerves or excitement. “More than enough time.” He spoke casually, calmly. “Start preparations and pack up camp. We leave in an hour or less. And send Yuma in.” He added, almost as an afterthought.

Brun nodded, brushing back through the tent flap, and only then did Adam exhale again. He turned, starting to roll up various maps and drawings to stow them away. 

“Leader Taurus.” Yuma’s voice was gravelly, tired.

“Yuma.” Adam didn’t bother looking up. “Is our woman out of Forever Fall?” 

“Yes. She was on a ship back up to Atlas this morning. Said she marked the crates. Conductor and engineer are armed, and there’s one armed guard in the caboose. But, she doubts he’d even be awake by the time they reach Beacon.”

“Perfect.” Adam straightened, eyeing the bag that held Blake’s belongings. They didn’t compose of terribly much - clothing, a couple books, and a ribbon that she used to tie up her hair and hide her ears sometimes.

Shoving the thought away, he picked it up, and passed it to Yuma. “I need you to go and get Blake. She’ll be at Deputy Xiao Long’s home - one of the local kids will probably know where that is. Tell her the robbery is tonight, and take her to the meetup point. Lilly and I will meet you there.”

Yuma didn’t answer right away. Adam glanced at him, finding his brow lowered, expression oddly tense. “I...” He looked up, and for a moment Adam saw uncertainty flash across his face. “...I need to wait until dark, we don’t need humans seeing me. But I’ll see to it that we’re both there on time.” He pulled a bag from inside his jacket, handing it to Adam, expression as neutral as ever. “This is the package you asked for.”

Adam wasn’t a fool. But he had bigger things to worry about than Yuma, and the two traded bags. Yuma turned without another word and left the tent.

Adam placed the smelly, squishy bag in the corner, and returned to packing away the various bits of maps and equipment. 

Despite himself, visions danced in front of his eyes. Visions of going home a hero, no one aware that he’d come home with more funds than he’d left with. Slowly accumulating power, connections, weaponry. Finally overthrowing Sienna, and claiming his rightful place as High Leader. Leading the White Fang to battle. Burning down everything that was left of the Schnee Dust Company, and the dark, wretched pit of a ranch that he’d grown up on.

And then, finally, with the world ablaze and the humans bowing down, reclining on his throne with a pair of black, twitching ears beside him. 

This world is ours now, Blake.

He had whispered it to her once, while they were stood high on a rooftop, watching panicked humans scramble away from the shop they’d lit ablaze below. She’d looked at him in a mix of awe and fear.

He wanted that look back.


Right from the moment they’d first met, Yang shone with strength. Head always high, confidence in every movement, certain that she could face whatever life threw at her, 

But Blake worried anyways.

Since the talk at the fenceline, Yang had grown quieter. Not silent, of course - she still made the same jokes through the evening, still cracked the same smile when Blake made some kind of dry remark. She’d been more somber, but so had everyone else in the sheriff's office that morning. If Lilly had told them the truth, today was the last day the White Fang had to prepare, the last day that they knew the train definitely wasn’t coming. Chances were, the robbery would happen tonight.

But Yang’s silences were deeper than the ponderous and worried silences from the others. She’d caught Yang watching her all through the evening, always with an oddly resolved look. Like she’d made some kind of promise to herself.

That scared her more than anything else. 

Now her head rested against Yang’s neck, arm lazily stretched over a rising and falling chest. The sun had long since disappeared behind the horizon. Usually the darkness didn’t bother her, but her mind was dreaming up shadows, playing a morbid version of puppets on the walls. 

Yang was both the daughter of his enemy, and the lover of the woman who he’d lost. She was in so, so much danger, and yet here she was, soundly asleep. 

Blake forced herself to lay her head back down, nestling underneath her chin, and told herself the same thing she’d repeated for the past two days. He doesn’t know. And he’s not going to find out. I’ll find a way to lie. I’ll feign my own death if I need to. He’s not going to find out.

She’d lost count of how many times she’d repeated it by the time she started to drift to sleep. But she wasn’t quite asleep when she heard it. A heavy ‘thunk’ on the roof. Or, at least heavy to her ears; Yang didn’t so much as twitch.

For a long moment, she considered just ignoring it. It’s probably an owl, she reasoned, closing her eyes.

Or a raven.

Her eyes opened. Slowly, soundlessly, she slipped off the bed and crept to the doorway. The old rifle that Yang had more or less given her was hanging from the coat rack, and she slung it over her good shoulder. The lamp was on the railing, but she didn’t bother turning the dial, hefting the rifle up to her shoulder as she looked to the roof. 

She was prepared to see an owl. Or Raven. Or even a Grimm.

She was not prepared to see Yuma, crouched on the roof above her. His eyes narrowed, one hand coming up in a mocking wave.

It was amazing, in a horrifying way, just how fast the fear came flooding back. “I told Lilly not to send you.” Her voice rasped out, shaking, clutching the rifle.

“Why?” Yuma slid down, landing in front of her. When he straightened, his gaze was deadly. “Afraid of what I might see?”

She hadn’t frozen since the incident the day after she’d gone home with Yang. She’d come close at the trainyard, but she’d managed to keep moving. But she was close now. Her world was starting to spin, everything starting to feel far away. He knows. He knows. “Afraid you’ll blow my cover.” She managed to lift the rifle, pointing it at him. She knew she didn’t look convincing anymore.

He smiled. Not a smirk. Not a real smile either. An upturn of lip that didn’t quite reach the eyes that were coldly staring into her. “Belladonna, you blew your cover about twenty feet away from the railyard, when you kissed that human.”

The ground was gone. She was floating, floating facedown. Her ears rung past the sound of her heart racing in her ears. 

“I haven’t told him.” 

She exhaled, relief pushing her back to reality for a moment. 

“Not for you.” He added, eyes narrowed. “I don’t know what to say. But, you have a chance.”  Yuma moved, unslinging a bag from his shoulder. It looked familiar, but it wasn’t until he’d extended it to her that Blake realized it was hers. “They’re hitting the train tonight.” Yuma’s expression didn’t change, a taste of disgust clinging to his words. “I don’t want to be the one to tell him any more than you want him to know. So, get on your horse, follow me, and we’ll pretend this never happened. You can go back to your life, I can get on with mine, and he never has to know.” 

The fabric of the bag was ripped and familiar. A faint, faint fish pattern was barely visible, worn from age. She knew there were exactly three shirts, two pants, and one ribbon neatly folded inside. There was also a toothbrush, and two books. One was about faunus history. The other had a cover claiming to be the story of a man with two souls - it was actually a sappy romance, about a girl who ran away from home.

Blake stepped backwards.

Yuma’s brow lowered. He stepped forwards, mirroring her. “Blake. Don’t be an idiot.” She couldn’t respond, mouth dry, as his expression grew more incredulous. “You’re a faunus. She doesn’t love you. None of the humans do - you’ll always be an animal to them. The faunus need you.”

The world was still far away. She could barely hear her own voice over the ringing in her ears and pounding of her own heart. But Blake spoke anyways. “The faunus don’t need me, Adam does.”

“And the faunus need Adam. Therefore, they need you, whether they like it or not.” His tone turned biting, stepping closer to tower over her. “Shut up and get on your horse, traitor.”

Her feet were suddenly back on the ground. Her gut burned, no longer with fear but anger. Metal cut into her skin. 

He knew. Adam didn’t know yet. Keep Yang safe.

“Well,” her own tone sunk into an unsteady snarl. “If I’m already a traitor, then I may as well just keep digging my grave.”

Blake raised the rifle, and pulled the trigger.

CRACK

Yuma had already moved, and the bullet tore through his wing instead of the chest she’d aimed for. But it wasn’t enough; he launched forwards, the world spun, and she shrieked. An arm clamped down on her sore ribs, sending sparks of pain through her chest, and her short scream cracked into a gasp.

“Was really hoping you’d just cooperate.” His voice growled, somewhere above her. “At least you’re light enough to carry.”

CRACK

Yuma yelped, and the vice grip on her chest loosened. The rifle was in her hands, moving on instinct, head jerking up.

He was staggering back. The lamp was shining from the cabin now, illuminating his wings, the second hole clear as day. For a heartbeat, he stared at her, face contorted with pain and anger. Then he was running, and even as Blake desperately shot at him again, he took flight. Her eyes were good enough to see him for a split second, barely silhouetted against the dimly lit sky.

Then he was gone again, carrying her secret with him.

Footsteps, then hands on her shoulders, turning her around. Yang’s eyes were wide, pistol still in her hand, mouth open, probably asking her if she was okay. 

Blake couldn’t hear her over her own hysterical rambling. “He knows. He knows about us. He knows, he’s going to tell Adam, it’s tonight, he’s going to find out, it’s over, he’s coming, we’re...” She was still talking, but the words weren’t making sense anymore. The world had collapsed, everything around her a blur that she couldn’t decipher. Something warm was pressing against her. Noise in her ear, frantic but soothing. 

Blake wasn’t sure how much time had passed before the noise turned into a voice, and the voice turned into words.

“...Blake, baby, come back. It’s okay. You’re okay. He’s gone. Adam’s not here. You’re with me. Blake, come back.” The voice cracked into a sob. That got her attention. 

She blinked. She was sitting on the step to Yang’s cabin. Her face was pressed against soft skin, and she could hear a heartbeat racing past the ringing in her ears. Blake inhaled, smelling horsehair and gunpowder. Blonde hair wove through the black that had fallen in front of her face. A loud, deep snort to her left, then air blew through across her face. She turned her head very slightly, and found Celica was standing over them, head lowered to stare at the spectacle. Behind her, she could barely see Gambol, pacing back and forth, snorting and tossing her head, searching for a danger that wasn’t there. 

“Blake? Can you hear me?” Yang pulled back slightly, enough for Blake to see her pale face. 

Blake forced herself to inhale. “Y-yeah. I can. Did I...”

“Yeah. Yeah, you were gone for a bit.” She inhaled, shakily, squeezing Blake’s shoulder. Gods, she was so, so pale. Her eyes were red - not her irises, but the skin around them was reddened, her eyes too glassy.

You were crying. “I’m s-sorry.” 

“Ssh. You ain’t done a damn thing wrong.” Yang’s brow lowered, making her look far more desperate than angry. She glanced over her shoulder, back at the spot where Yuma and Blake had been. 

Blake bit her lip. Careful. Don’t scare yourself again. “Yang.” She managed, forcing in another breath, trying to slow her own racing heart. “I... Yuma knows. He saw us, at the trainyard. He was here to take me back, he said he wouldn’t tell Adam if I cooperated. I didn’t. Adam’s going to find out.” She stared into the lilac eyes, desperately hoping that Yang would understand just how dire their situation was.

Yang’s tense brow slowly rose. Then, abruptly, furrowed again. For a long moment, Blake was terrified she’d laugh, she’d say she wasn’t scared of him. Instead, she stood, gently moving Blake with her. “C’mon. We’re gon’ sleep in the sherrif’s office tonight. Least then there’s people nearby if somethin’ happens.”

Blake wordlessly nodded, unsteadily following along as Yang picked up the worn bag from the ground and headed for the tack shed.


The moon had waned enough to dim its light. A human would have struggled to see the train tracks twenty feet below, snaking its way between a riverbank and sheer rock face. But for the ten faunus on the hill, it was more than enough. And for the one faunus with only one functional eye, it was adequate.

Adam heard the train long before he saw the light shining through the trees, slowing down to approach the sharp ‘S’ turn and bridge that he’d pored and obsessed over for so long. The steam engine chugged into view, exhaling smoke like a lazy metallic dragon. Adam stepped slightly closer to the edge, watching as it passed below them. He didn’t bother to count the small SDC cars - he knew there would be twenty, like always.

Just as expected, halfway down the line were five cars that didn’t quite fit in. Their sides were too new, the damage on the sides too perfect, and the metal he could see shining below the wood nailed to the cars too impenetrable. Not cars intended to carry the usual shipment of equipment, coal, and occasional crate of sub-par dust.

Adam raised one hand. The company around him tensed, watching as the cars below him pass. He, however, kept his eyes locked on the engine, watching it slow even further, approaching the turn. Agonizingly slowly, the metal beast turned around the sharp rock face, inching away until it disappeared behind the bend in the rock. He glanced back down the rail. The caboose had rattled into view, its windows lit by a single lamp inside. He could make out the shape of a motionless figure, slumped against the window.

He closed his hand. The faunus launched forwards. 

For half a second, he let them pass him, and looked over the train, out to the river. There was a wide, flat section of the riverbank on the other side, just before where it turned out of sight. 

His gut uneasily turned as he saw no sign of Yuma, or Blake. 

They might be hiding. He set his jaw, and started down the rocky face.

It was easier to run down a rock face if you didn’t try to plan. Adam focused on his feet, leaving footholds as quickly as he found them, and he quickly outpaced Brun and Lilly. But he was no match for the five youngsters. Their familiarity with the terrain allowed them all to fly ahead of him at a breakneck pace, surefooted as mountain goats. Jasper was down the rock face first, rolling out of her landing to sprint to the train.

Rocks rattled beside him, catching his focus, and a half second later, Brun slid past him, grunting in pain. Adam let him go, watching the burly man simply let himself fall, rolling out of it in a similar fashion and jogging after her. Behind him, he heard Lilly growl. “Impatient fool.”

He ignored her, instead watching as the pair of brothers reached the bottom and jumped for their own train car, one watching while the other picked at the lock, hanging on to the slowly moving train. Then the smallest youngster, their sister, was boosted up to the train by Russet, closely followed by a pair of silent deer faunus that had followed Adam for years, their matched antlers shining in the moonlight. 

Which left the last car for him and Lilly. He gritted his teeth, leaping the rest of the way to the ground with a grunt, and sprinting after the train. They both jumped up, holding on to the moving train, pressing themselves to the metal and catching . Adam hoisted himself up further, watching Lilly grab the other side of the door, then work her way onto the door itself, arms flexed in the moonlight. He raised his head, eyes narrowing at the silent caboose, as Lilly began to pick at the inner workings of the lock. 

He glanced up. No sign of wings above him. Yuma, where the Darkness are you?

The squeal of metal caught his attention. He looked back watching as the cars ahead of them turn around the corner. The twins were already climbing into their car in front of them, and he caught sight of Clay and Basil frantically working on theirs as their car left sight behind the rock wall.

Lilly gave a satisfied grunt, and the chain fell. Adam barely caught it, his hiss of annoyance covered by the squealing of metal against metal as their car began to turn around the corner. Lilly clambered sideways, hauling the door open, and Adam jumped in. 

The car was hardly the pile of riches that he might have expected, had he been younger and more naive. The car consisted of assorted crates, all identical. He knew that most were probably filled with low quality fire dust, unsuitable for anything but matches in homes.

Lilly cracked her neck beside him. “Three gouges?”

“Mm. Take the left side.” He set to looking over the crates, scanning for damage.

It didn’t take long to find the right ones - two heavy crates, both labeled with three perfectly placed gouges in one corner. “Well done, Ilia.” He muttered under his breath, hauling one towards himself. He pulled the heavy metal bar from his belt, and cracked the top off.

A mound of crystals glittered back at him. He licked his thumb, and tentatively brushed one.

Immediately, a shock of pain hit him. He yelped, jumping as light sparked in the enclosed space, shaking his thumb and swearing under his breath. 

Lilly raised an eyebrow, standing on the other side of the crate. 

“Right kind of dust.” He muttered.

“Oh good.” She grunted, shoving the crate closer to the door. 

The next crate, they didn’t open. Instead, he pulled the small sack out from the inside of his jacket, and began rubbing the contents of it into the tiny cracks between wooden planks. Lilly sighed, holding out her hand, and he slapped a mound of animal fat into it. Between the two of them, it took little time to cover the five sides of the crate with it, then flip it onto one side and cover the final side. Moving at a feverish pace, they stood back up, shoving the crate to the doorway. Then Adam hung himself out of the doorway, looking up the line of cars.

He caught a glimpse of Jasper, staring in his direction out the front of her doorway, waiting. Clay and Basil’s door was open, finally, and he could see the brothers struggling to shove an open crate to the edge of the car. Russet was panting, three crates just barely visible from Adam’s spot, Heather bouncing beside him. And Azura and Turq were shoving one crate to the front of the last car. Then they all began to disappear from view as the train began the final turn. Adam ducked backwards into the car, knowing that the conductor would be able to see them soon. 

They were making good time, and Adam exhaled, letting a smirk cross his face as he glanced at Lilly. “Told you they’d pull it together.”

She rolled her eyes. “Lucky that the guard was asleep.” She muttered.

“Cheerful. You taking your share?” He nodded towards the open crate.

Lilly tapped her jacket pocket, unevenly shaped lumps clearly visible in it. “Already did. Grabbed for Yuma and Rouge. You should grab something for Ilia and Blake.”

He shrugged, grabbing a handful and shoving it in his pocket. It wouldn’t hurt - though he would soon have far, far more.

The ground below him began to fall away as the tracks stretched onto a bridge. Moonlight rolled and boiled on the river’s surface, a small but still dizzying drop below him.

Adam’s heart pounded, his mouth dried. Almost there. After all this time, almost there.

Lilly placed one hand on the crate, her eyes narrowed, waiting. 

Outside, the riverbank flashed, as if lightning had struck below them.

“Now.”

Both faunus threw their weight into the first, open crate. It screeched against wood, tipping over the side.

His face broke into a wide, childish grin as light exploded across the water.


The river had come to life, lighting the surrounding cliffs and trees. Cracks rang out through the air as a tiny, violent thunderstorm erupted below the surface of the water, forming a gorgeous, if unnatural light show. 

Two horses stood motionless, less than twenty feet away from where the faunus had been minutes ago, ears perked at the sight unfolding below.

Vernal’s voice, hoarse and disbelieving, rang out beside her. “The idiots opened the crates. It’s lightning dust, it’ll discharge into nothin’ before they ever fish it back out of the water!”

“This is the White Fang - they care about makin’ big statements and defying human rule, not robbing trains in tiny towns far away from their home base. They don’t care if the dust is viable or not, as long as the SDC doesn’t get it. Or us.” Raven absent-mindedly flipped Odachi’s mane between her fingers, watching as more crates began to fall from the train, tumbling to the river below and continuing to erupt into chaotic bundles of light. “Besides, you didn’t really think that thirteen faunus were really plannin’ on carryin’ two tonnes of dust back to Anima, did you?”

The silence drew a small, amused smile. When Vernal finally spoke, her voice held an irritated bite that didn’t quite cover her embarrassment. “If you knew they were just gon’ destroy the shipment the whole time, why are we even here?”

“Because it don’t matter how holy anyone claims to be, human or faunus,” Raven leaned forwards, eyes narrowing. A black speck tumbled from the train, barely visible against the pulsating light, and she grinned at the faint, boring splash it made. “We all get greedy in the end.”


Adam only exhaled when he saw the dark splash as the final crate hit the water. Lilly’s eyebrows raised. “Damn. I would have bet that wouldn’t work.”

“You never had much faith in me, did you?” He was grinning deliriously.

Lilly just shook her head, and muttered. “Adam, I’ve had far too much faith in you.”

He almost asked her what she meant, but faint yelling had reached his ears. “Conductor's caught on.” He snickered, watching as the end of the bridge drew closer. But the train would take too long to stop now - and in the strange, flashing light it would be almost impossible to even see the faunus leaving the train, let alone aim with any kind of accuracy. 

He watched as Jasper and Brun jumped, racing down the slope and ducking underneath the bridge. Car by car, the faunus followed and to Adam’s delight, no shots at all rang out.

The ground appeared back under his feet, and Adam jumped, skidding downhill again. The group huddled under the bridge was silent, but nearly vibrating with excitement. He could see various bulges in jackets and pockets, revealing the handfuls that they’d grabbed for themselves as they went - the only payment they would receive, but already probably more wealth than any of them had touched before. Still, they patiently waited for the silent caboose to pass before racing for the trees.

Curiosity got the best of him. Adam paused, walking back up the train track as the rest of the group ran for the horses hidden in the trees. The train had sped up now, but he had just enough to catch sight of the interior as the unsecured door swung ajar.

For a moment, he saw the blood-spattered wall, and the body slumped in the cab, before the door swung closed again.

The self-assured confidence wavered. Adam turned on his heel, jogging towards the trees. 

Most of the White Fang had already swung up onto their horses, the guard they’d left behind happily taking his share from Lilly. No sign of anyone attempting to steal horses or the wagon of equipment. He’d intended to make some kind of speech, tell the five youngsters that their contribution was invaluable, give them a choice between going home and accompanying them to Mistral, then give them about a hundred reasons why the latter was a better idea. Partially true, and partially to waste enough time for Yuma and Blake to fish the waterproofed crate out of the river.

But Wilt was snorting and pawing at the ground. Adam stopped, unease now biting into his gut. Lilly paused beside him, glancing between him and the horse

Adam turned, eyes darting across the river.

They were little more than shadows. But Adam saw the massive black horse galloping down the riverbank, rider bent low over its neck, lit by the lightning beside it.

He swung up onto Wilt in the blink of an eye, snapping a branch out of his way as Wilt powered forwards. “Go back to camp!” He bellowed to the blur that he barely recognized as Brun. 

Trees flashed by, and the wide riverbank stretched under them like a rocky racetrack. Snorting and thundering hooves echoed in his pounding ears, barely able to see his opponent in the dimming, but still blinding flashes of light. The crate was still ahead of him, still bobbing in the deadly, flashing water, but nowhere close to the bank that he’d intended for it to hit. The shadowy figure had a head start, but he knew he was faster. And he knew there was a sure way to slow someone down. 

Wilt was stretched out at full gallop, wind racing past them, and Adam pulled the rifle from his back. Aimed.

The waterlogged lightning gave a violent flash, and for a moment he could see his opponent, clear as day. 

She was a black haired woman, astride a black horse. A bandanna was pulled over her mouth and nose. She stared back at him, something like smirk crinkling the corner of her eye.

His rifle dipped before his brain processed it. No. Her hair was too long, the horse was too big, it wasn’t-

Adam realized that the flashing light was coming from behind them now, rather than the river between them. 

He hauled Wilt’s head back to his foot, whirling in his saddle, gut already falling.

The crate, along with the broken remains of its companions, had stopped mid-river. The water sparked and crackled as they slowly migrated towards the opposite bank, as though summoned by an invisible force. 

For a long second, he stared, unable to understand. Then he caught sight of a slim man standing on the bank, hauling something towards him. A rope. No. A net.

They’d stretched a net across the river. They’d known he was going to dump the crates in the river, and had aimed to just scoop up what fell.

He looked back. The dark haired woman was walking back. Her mount was snorting, but calm, contrasting sharply with Wilt’s frenzied, tiny circles. She pulled the bandanna down, and he saw the smile.

He let Wilt’s head go and fired a shot. She’d already moved, impossible to aim at in the crazed light. He didn’t see her reach for a weapon, but a returning crack sent a bullet whizzing over his shoulder.

Hissing, Adam backed Wilt up, moving from his last position. The crate was being pulled onto land now. Faintly, he heard the screeching of metal on a track, and the jingle of a horse-drawn wagon. His heart pounding, pulsing rage through him in place of blood, as he caught sight of the ‘wagon’ sitting on the tracks - the remains of an old train car, hooked to four horses, standing exactly where he had hopped onto the train just minutes ago. They must have been on a rip track, waiting for the train to pass and race to catch up. No one had seen a thing, too focused on the train.

No. He remembered the dead guard in the caboose. One person had seen them.

One of the men jumped up, more running from the wagon to help drag the crate up the riverbank to the waiting wagon. Then they scattered, yelling. A shadow flashed over the small group. Yuma. Finally. 

CRACK

A flash of light from the treeline above. Yuma banked sharply across the river, his flight unusually haphazard, barely skimming above the water before crashing into the earth above the riverbed.

Adam stilled, now fully aware that any motion could earn him a bullet in the chest. Wilt balked at the water’s edge, crackling light still searing through it. 

He looked up, and found the woman that he knew had to be Raven Branwen standing directly across the river from him. The flashes of light had faded, but between it and the moonlight, his one good eye could make out details. 

He’d thought she looked like Blake from a distance. But now, up close, she looked familiar for a different reason. Her hair was too dark. Her eyes were red instead of purple. There were some wrinkles where there hadn’t been before. But those were the only differences - they had the same nose, the same jaw, the same calmly defiant expression.

He’d seen that face before, in a different part of the same river. 

“Go home, boy.” She said. A voice that quiet shouldn’t have echoed across the valley. 

The horse snorted as she turned away, confidently exposing her back, knowing full well that her gunner would shoot Adam off his horse long before he could point his rifle at her.

Desperation mixed with frustration and fury. The river stretched between them, the lightning having died down into an occasional spark, but Wilt still balked, snorting at the unnaturally bright water.

For the first time in his life, Adam took his rifle and swung the barrel against his horse’s haunch. 

Wilt snorted, and jumped forwards. One hoof landed in the sparking water.

An unearthly scream cut through the air. Wilt leapt upwards and back, then reared, screaming. The world tilted. Adam threw himself clear of the saddle, and Wilt flipped, crashing against the gravel and sand. His focus shifted, Adam scrambled sideways, trying to get to the horse even as he clambered to his feet. Wilt thrashed, sides heaving, eyes wide, but got to his feet as Adam reached him.

Adam grabbed rein as it passed him, pulling the horse’s head to the side, forcing him to stop. No burns, no limping, just shaking. It had just frightened him.

Shaking, he looked up. The men had finished loading the train car. Wheels were beginning to squeal against the rails.

Raven Branwen was still, watching him, expression blank. Then she turned, her horse trotting away as the makeshift chuckwagon began to move, the four horses easily hauling the one complete crate and remains of the rest away. He caught sight of a rider turning away on the cliff above, darting through the trees above.

Below the thunder of hooves, screech of metal, and the snorts of horses, he heard a woman’s voice, raised in a mocking melody.

“Grave digger, grave digger, send me on my way...”

Then the bandits were gone, racing down the train tracks and into the night.

The darkness swallowed him, the river’s light slowly fading back to its natural black. He could hear hooves crunching through the gravel, but his attention turned to the shadow stumbling out of the long grass first. “How in the Darkness did you not see a net ?” He snapped, heat rising to his face.

Yuma’s wings hung limp, and for a moment the other man didn’t speak, panting. “I... I just got here, Adam.”

“Where were you? You were supposed to be getting Bl-”

He stopped. So did everything else.

“Yuma.” His voice was quiet now. “Where is Blake?”

Yuma didn’t meet his eyes. “...she and the deputy put two holes in my wings. That’s... that’s why I was late. I ran half the way.”

Adam stared, barely aware of Lilly halting her horse beside them. Russet’s voice piped up somewhere behind her, pulling on Adam’s strained nerves. “Gods, that looks bad. Can you still fly?”

“Before? Yes, just not well. Now?” He gestured to a third hole in the other wing. “Not for longer than a couple minutes for a while.”

Adam shook his head, inhaling. “How did they know our plan?” He asked, gritting his teeth, looking between Yuma and Lilly. “They knew exactly where to put that net.”

Yuma shook his head, eyes wide. Lilly did not speak at all, brow slowly furrowing, looking slightly to the left.

Russet, on the other hand, continued to ramble. “I mean, Raven’s got connections. If Blake told the sheriff the plan, she might have heard through them. The deputy’s her bastard daughter, after all.”

Adam’s head shot up so quickly that he felt a crick form in it. Russet shrunk back slightly, then stopped when Adam held up his hand. “Which deputy?”

The slender faunus shuffled his feet again, and Adam was too focused to be annoyed. “Deputy Xiao Long. Ain’t a sure thing, but my family used to talk ‘bout it all the time. Her old man’s a real good horseman, had great horses and a nice ranch, but every time they raided the town his property was always untouched. Then all of a sudden he had a little girl, wouldn’ tell no one anything about her mother, and the Branwen clan wasn’ hangin’ out in town no more.”

Silence blanketed the riverbank. Yuma had gone still as a statue, mouth slightly open. 

Adam watched Lilly slowly blink. She looked at him, and for a split second, he saw her freeze as she realized Adam was staring at her.

“You knew.” The words snaked from his mouth. 

“Yes.” Her voice was quiet, but she met his stare. “Jasper told me a few days ago.”

His voice fell into a rumble. “You didn’t think I should know about that?”

“What difference would it have made? He said bastard daughter, not darling daughter. We could have killed the girl and it probably wouldn’t have prevented this from-”

“‘Probably’?” He spat, stepping closer, teeth bared. “You don’t know that. We could have leveraged her.”

“...Adam.” 

He turned, about to tell Yuma to shut his mouth.

He stopped.

Adam knew what bad news looked like. Yuma’s expression was usually carefully blank, if anything maybe a bit arrogant. Now his expression was hauntingly open, exposing fear, regret, and - to Adam’s confusion - anger. “I’ve kept something from you too. I was intending to tell you tonight, once Belladonna was present, but...”

His heart beat harder in his chest as he hissed, “Spit it out.”

Yuma sucked in a breath. “You asked where Belladonna is.” His words were sharp as an executioner’s axe. “Right now, she’s probably in bed with Deputy Xiao Long.”

Silence. Adam squinted, certain he’d misheard, ignoring the way his pulse was accelerating. 

Lilly’s voice was the one to break the silence, and that was perhaps more frightening than anything else. “That’s... that’s an odd choice of cover, but the woman knows how to act. How do we know that she’s not just playing a part?” 

Yuma didn’t even glance at her. “The night at the train yard, when she claimed she came to warn us? She didn’t steal that horse. Xiao Long was with her the entire time, hiding under train cars. Belladonna broke down crying in the woods, Xiao Long caught up and comforted her.” His eyes stayed locked on Adam’s. “I watched Belladonna embrace that human and kiss her. She’s not one of us anymore.”

His ears were ringing. The world was crumbling down, every wayward thought he’d had since Blake stopped him from shooting the deputy crashing to the front of his mind. Images he didn’t want to see played out in front of his eyes. And, worst of all, not one fiber in his body thought it might be a lie. Because he knew it wasn’t. He’d known, somewhere deep down, what was going on the moment he saw Blake staring at the golden deputy in the river. 

He just didn’t want to believe that she would ever look at someone else the same way she used to look at him.

“Why the fuck didn’t you tell me?” His voice was hoarse, trembling.

Yuma’s gaze faltered. “...I was going to wait until I had her here.” He mumbled. “I wanted Belladonna to face her actions.”

“You knew I’d blame her if she was in front of me, not you.” Yuma flinched. But Adam had already turned, looking at Lilly. “And you. She lied to you, and you believed her?” 

The situation had flipped, and now Lilly was the dumbstruck one. She stared between Adam and Yuma, slowly shaking her head. “How would I have ever guessed that?

Adam stood still for a long moment, slowly looking between his two once trusted lieutenants. Yuma had shrunk down, as though trying to avoid being seen. Lilly met his gaze, but the tired look in her eyes suggested she was simply more prepared for whatever was coming.

“Russet.” He said. “How sure are you that Deputy Xiao Long is Raven’s daughter?”

The young faunus’ voice shook. “Was before my time, but my Ma was part of a robbery once. She always said that Yang looks jus’ like Raven Branwen, but blonde and a lil’ taller.

“...Yang.” The name tasted coppery, like blood, like rage. “That's her name?”

Russet slowly nodded. He was still on his horse, leaning slightly forwards to let it graze on the grass fifteen feet away. Maybe three feet higher than Adam’s eye level. His hair moved slightly west in the faint breeze. His claws were nervously tapping together.

Adam’s face broke into a wide, almost soft smile. “Thank you, Russet.” 

Faster than any of them could blink, Adam’s rifle came up and he pulled the trigger.

The horse jerked up as the crack exploded around them, but Russet had already tumbled from the saddle. The horse bolted, revealing the slender youth sprawled in the grass. One hand came up, claws unsheathed, and rolled. For a moment, it looked like Russet was trying to get to his feet. Then, slowly, his arm gave out, and the boy slumped into the grass.

Adam turned. Yuma hadn’t moved, watching him with wide eyes, injured wings shivering. Lilly was rooted to the spot, eyes locked on the corpse in front of them.

“You two,” His voice shook. “Saw Raven Branwen and her band attack us. She attempted to scavenge from our heist, and was enraged when she realized the dust was all ruined. The four of us stopped her from pursuing us further, but she killed Russet before we could get to him. It was a statement, to try and intimidate us. And if either one of you ever keep something from me ever again, you will also be statements. Do you understand?” 

Both silently nodded, in very different ways. 

“Good. Yuma, take his horse, get yourself back to the camp. Tell the others what happened, and inform them that Lilly and I are planning our retaliation.”

Yuma shakily nodded, turned on his heel, and jogged after the spooked gelding. 

Lilly was still staring at the body, at the blood seeping down the bank towards the water. Adam grabbed her chin, forced her to face him. 

“And you. Are going to help me fix this.”

Lilly’s eyes tightened. She yanked her face out of his grasp, and her voice sunk into a familiar rasp. “Happily. Where do we start?”

His eyes narrowed. He was no fool. He could hear the hatred seeping through her teeth, the anger swirling behind her brown eyes.

But it was no match for the fury and humiliation pulsing through him, lighter than blood but agonizing as fire. 

So he answered, walking up the bank and hefting Russet’s corpse onto his shoulder. “Yang Xiao Long. We start there.”

Chapter Text

The sheriff's office wasn’t exactly built for night shifts. Ironically enough, the only halfway comfortable and safe place to sleep was the jail cell. And, after the ride into town in the dark, alternating her focus between leading Gambol and keeping an eye on a silent Blake, sleeping was the last thing on Yang’s mind. 

Apparently, it wasn’t just her. The jail’s cot squeaked above her, and Yang opened one eye. She could catch the faint outline of Blake’s as she rolled over to dully stare down at her. “You’re not asleep either.”

“Nah.” Yang pushed her hat off of her face, sighing. “Must be almost dawn by now, anyways.”

“It’s half past midnight.”

Right. Blake could see the clock on the wall. Yang sighed in defeat. “Damn. Well, try the floor, might be more comfortable. I’m gon’ try and work.”

Blake blinked at her as she stood, stretching. “Work? You’ve slept for maybe ten minutes tonight, Yang.”

“And you ain’t slept at all. I may as well do somethin’ useful if I’m gon’ be awake.” 

She could hear Blake’s soft footsteps, following as she flopped into her chair. “...anything I can do?”

Yang glanced up. Blake had stepped into the faint light streaming through the window, lighting up her features well enough for Yang to see them. She still looked shaken, her face pale and eyes bagged. But, her eyebrows were scrunched together, biting her lip with a look somewhere between pity and pain. 

Stop worrying about me. Sleep. Eat. Heal. Gain weight. Forget Adam ever existed. Stay in Beacon with me forever. Never freeze again.

She reached sideways and dragged the chair from Nora’s desk. “Sit and talk to me ‘til one of us falls asleep?”

A small smile crossed her face, and Blake made her way over to the chair. She curled against the wooden back, drawing her legs up to rest her chin on her knees. “...can you actually read that in the dark?”

”Yeah.” Yang pulled the piece of paper towards her, sighing at Pyrrha’s faint writing. “...well. A bit.”

“Here.” The chair squeaked against the wooden floor. Warmth skimmed over her bare arm, and Yang’s breath caught involuntarily, her heart tripping over itself. Blake leaned over her, apparently examining the papers on her desk. “Something about property lines?”

“Mmm.” Yang squinted at the paper, trying to ignore the heat against her skin, silently amazed that Blake could still stop her heart just by brushing up against her. Not now. She’s scared, she’s hurting, she doesn’t need something else to think about. 

Or, maybe she did need something else to think about.

Yang shook her head slightly, trying to think. “Yeah, pair of neighbors that Pyrr and I talked to last week. All resolved now, I just gotta sign it and file it.”

“Sounds fun.” Her words twisted with amusement.

“Sorry to break it to you, but my life ain’t all bar fights and horse chases.” Yang replied dryly, managing to scrawl a looping signature on an empty line.

“No?” Yang looked over as Blake leaned back in her chair. Something... something had definitely changed. She couldn’t see her well enough to read her face, but her shoulders were relaxed instead of hunched, her head tilted backwards slightly. “How about sweeping women off their feet? Do deputies do much of that?”

For a moment, the game lapsed as Yang stared, putting the pieces together too late. “You heard my goddamn heart skip a beat, didn’t you?”

“...it didn’t skip a beat. Just sped up.”

“Woman, at least go n’ turn a lamp on to make this fair.”

Blake stood, the scrape of her chair not quite drowning out a soft chuckle. Her boots clunked against wood as she looked around the office, then pulled a small lamp off of Pyrrha’s desk and carried it back. She gently set the lamp on the desk, turned the knob, and soft, orange light filled the office. In a way, she looked worse than before - her fingers still shook very slightly, dark circles clear around her eyes, and she staggered very slightly as she leaned against Yang’s desk. 

But, her eyes flicked to Yang’s, and the air in the office changed. She stared into Yang with the intensity of a hunting wildcat, danger in every line of her body. “You look tired, deputy.” For a moment, Yang remembered the morning she’d found herself underneath a panicked Blake, a hand on her throat, watching with more fascination than fear as wild gold eyes stared her down. 

She also remembered flipping the scene on its head, and the sight of Blake underneath her, hair spilled across her pillow like oil. 

Yang leaned back in her chair, bringing up one elbow to rest on the back. “With all due respect, so do you, ma’am.” She’d intended to break eye contact and lazily size her up, but there was far more to read in her eyes than her body and Yang kept her focus square in the middle of the wide pupils. Silently beckoning her closer, using nothing but her eyes and her tone. 

A board creaked as Blake began to slowly circle around the desk. “Are you insinuating I don't look good?”

She kept her body still, careful not to break eye contact, ignoring the way her heart was pumping blood and arousal through her. “Never. You always look gorgeous.”

“Mm,” Three slow strides brought her in front of Yang. She fought back a shiver as a leg neatly slotted between hers. A pair of half-closed eyes glittered in the lamp light, as Blake neatly captured the brim of her hat, lifted it off of her head, and placed it back down on her own head. “Do I look as gorgeous as you now?”

The battered hat sunk low on her head, and somehow the golden eyes seemed to glow in the darkness from under her brim. "...that hat looks better on you than it's ever looked on anyone." Yang barely managed to speak at all.

"Unlikely, but maybe." A smirk crossed her lips, and Blake leaned closer. "Bet it'll look better on you in a minute."

Her lips pressed against Yang's before she could respond. For a long moment, she was more than happy to just return the kiss, feeling hands slide down, untuck her shirt. But the memory of a wide, blank stare was still fresh in her mind. She gritted her jaw, already hating that she would have to step them away from the edge that she desperately wanted to plunge over. When Blake broke away, she neatly slid her hand onto her collarbone, stopping her. “Blake.” She kept her voice soft, low “Don’t even think it’s been an hour. Are... are you sure y’ gon’ be okay?”

Her irises shifted, the eye contact that they’d been holding wobbling. Blake’s lips parted slightly. For a heartbeat, she thought she saw the faraway, blank gaze. Then her jaw tightened. “No. I’m not sure.” Air swirled in front of her lips, “I’ve only been sure about one thing in my entire damned life, Yang, and that’s you.” 

Before she could form the words, Blake moved. Weight landed in her lap. Knees squeezed her hips. Lamplight caught her face, her eyes, as Blake’s mouth stopped just short of Yang’s, rising slighly above her. “I could crawl back onto that cot and spend the rest of the night trying and failing to think of how to stop him. I could have nightmares about him finding you, if I sleep at all.” Yang’s breath caught as a hand skimmed below the hem of her untucked shirt. “Or, I could spend the night only thinking about you. I think I can guess which option you’d prefer.” Desperation bled into her gaze, making Blake look less predatory and more starving. 

There was too much to unpack, to think about, and it was all swirling around with the sight of her hat on Blake's head and the pressure against her lap. An odd sort of emotion had flickered to life, seeping into her gut and her hands. A force within her was already lunging for the woman in front of her. Lust, longing, but... hungrier. Vicious, violent hunger, like she was preparing for a fight, but with a softness pulsing at its heart. She wanted to shatter her, listen to her gasp for breath, feel her fall apart. And then she wanted to fit their bodies together like a splint against a fracture, as though she’d heal in the right place again.

Yang could not agree with her more - Blake wasn’t going to waste any more of the night worrying about Adam.

“In that case,” She whispered back, boldly meeting the void in her pupils. “This chair ain’t quite the right place.”

Confusion swirled through Blake’s face as Yang leaned past her, neatly sweeping the stack of papers completely off her desk with one arm. Then her eyes widened as Yang’s other arm gripped her waist.

The chair grated against the wooden floor as Yang pushed off it. A surprised squeak echoed in one ear as she lifted Blake, only to set her back down on the polished wooden surface of the desk, the hat tumbling off and falling onto the desk. Her lips eagerly pressed against Blake’s, stroking her tongue deeper. Blake’s hands ran up into her hair, her legs tightened against Yang’s hips. 

She pulled back, eyeing Yang balefully as she panted. “I had plans for that chair.” 

“I’m sure it’ll forgive you.” One of her hands trailed down to Blake’s thigh, grinning as she felt the body pressed against hers shiver. Her grip tightened, and she pressed another kiss to the sharp collarbone as she carefully sidestepped, circling and dragging Blake with her to place them both at the short edge of the desk. 

Her waist was smooth under Yang’s hands, the flesh yielding easily as she gently pressed down with her thumb. Then sharply yanked her hips closer.

Blake tipped backwards, a short squeak escaping her lips as she caught herself on one elbow. Her hair spilled across the wooden surface as she eased herself down, breathlessly snickering as Yang fiddled with the button on her jeans. “Careful, almost landed on my bad side. Jaune’d be furious if you bruised my ribs now.” 

“Mmm.” Yang hummed, unwrapping herself from her legs long enough to pull Blake’s jeans lower. She didn’t attempt to undress her any further, instead slipping her hand under the waistband of her underwear. Blake’s breath caught, eyes widening. “Think he’s gon’ be a lot more angry ‘bout what I’m ‘bout to do to your hip.”

Hot, damp flesh met her fingers before Blake could reply. Just like the last time she’d tried, all Yang had to do was move her fingers in a quick, circular rhythm, and Blake’s lithe body jerked, inhaling and fighting to speak. “-s-so that was your- your plan all - all- Yang let me talk! ” Her fist thunked against Yang’s shoulder.

Yang tilted her head, a delirious snicker bubbling in her chest as she pulled the panties down her legs and away, then boldly stepped back against her. “You sure? I’d have to stop for that.” Her voice sunk into a rough purr, bending over the table to brush her lips over Blake’s neck. As she slowed her fingers into gentle strokes, exploratory rather than stimulating, she whispered directly into her ear, “But I could.” Her tone was playful, but the sentiment behind it was not. Yang had avoided being on top of her for several reasons; worry that Blake would see another face instead of hers had been the most frightening by far.

Fingers sunk into her hair and shirt, and a mixture of excitement and relief pulsed through Yang’s body as air rushed by her own ear. “Don’t.”

As if she’d been barely holding herself back, waiting for the exact moment to move, Yang turned her wrist and sank two fingers into her. 

A strangled, suppressed yelp in her ear. Yang drew back, startled. “Shit, you o-”

Blake’s hand, already tangled in her hair, yanked her back down. Their lips collided, and Yang felt Blake moan more than she heard it, the sound muffled. She’s scared someone will hear her. But she could feel warmth tightening around her fingers, could feel how soaked she was, could feel the way her hips were moving slightly. 

Yang carefully rested her weight on her elbow, slipping her tongue past Blake’s lips as her fingers began to curl and stroke against the tight walls around them.

In a way, Yang was almost thankful for her inexperience - she was paying very little attention to what her fingers were actually doing in favor of focusing on Blake’s reactions. Shivers, breaths, spasms, and the occasional hoarse “there” or “lower” were all she needed to steer her in the right direction. 

But, still, it wasn’t quite enough. She wasn’t... building. Yang’s thumb was brushing the sensitive flesh above her entrance as her fingers worked inside, but not with enough coordination to start pushing her towards the edge. Of course, Blake wasn’t complaining. The dark haired woman was all but whining into her mouth by now, hips constantly moving as though to bury her deeper, and Yang could catch flashes of her eyes rolling back and closing. It felt amazing, clearly, but Yang wasn’t satisfied. She could slide her fingers out and focus on getting her closer, but something about that felt... cheap. 

It took Yang a moment to realize that there was a corner of her mind that was perpetually snarling at the man who’d hurt the perfect being below her so badly. And it wanted nothing more than Blake to come to a mind-shattering climax with Yang’s fingers buried in the space he’d so carelessly occupied.

Blake’s lips disappeared from hers, and for a moment Yang’s heart stopped, wondering if she’d somehow heard the thought bouncing around in her head. Instead, her teeth grazed Yang’s ear, then dragged her tongue down her neck. Shivers erupted down her spine as the warm, wet touch-

Wait.

Ideas formed as fast as her memory could dredge up information, confirming from snippets of books and conversations that what she was thinking of was, indeed, an option.

“Yang?” She’d slowed, too deep in thought, and Blake drew back to examine her. Her cheeks were flushed, but her eyes were sharp as ever, scanning Yang’s expression. 

“S’ okay, had... had a thought.” Yang pressed a quick kiss to her lips, then straightened. “Gon’ try somethin’, bear with me.” 

Blake pulled her elbows underneath her, watching with a mildly concerned expression as Yang kissed her abdomen, fingers staying firmly buried. Yang watched her carefully as she knelt, and pressed a kiss to one thigh. Blake jerked, her breath caught, but...

But her brows were lowered. Something was wrong. Not frightened. Not uncomfortable, even. 

Worried. 

Yang hesitated, still watching. “You don’t want me to.”

“Yes. I mean, no, no, I...” She chewed on her lip for a moment, as though to think about her words. But they tumbled out anyways, disorganized and hurried, as if trying to get it over with. “Doing that for a man is... not pleasant. I don’t know if it’s the same between women, but...”

It took a moment, but Yang understood. Her jaw clenched, for half a second. “Let me try.” She said, because it was the only thing she could say that didn't involve promises to rip apart certain people. “If it ain’t fun, we’ll try somethin’ else.” 

Blake nodded, still biting her lip. But, as Yang pressed her lips against her, the worried expression didn’t last long. 

She collapsed against the desk almost immediately, her hips instinctively grinding against Yang’s lips and tongue, clenching down on the fingers curling against her. Her movements were clumsy but she was getting the job done - tension was already building in the flesh around her, an increased urgency in the noises Blake was trying to suppress. 

Truth be told, Yang had no idea how long she spent on her knees, losing herself in Blake's movements and noises, figuring out what would send her further and repeating it until she found something that pushed her further. She had no idea if what she was doing was a typical experience or not. But she knew that this was absolutely better than what Blake had been through before. 

A particularly desperate whine caught her attention. Yang glanced up, and found her hand was curling against the desk.

Instinctively, she reached up with her free hand and laced her fingers through Blake's.

The contact seemed to startle Blake, even on top of everything that was already happening. She looked up, her face flushed, chest heaving, eyes wide. Yang locked eyes with her, tongue pressed against her, fingers working against tense warmth, and hummed contentedly. 

To her immense satisfaction, she actually saw the exact moment Blake shattered. Her eyes widened, her breathing stopped, and then she flopped against the desk with an alarmingly loud ‘thud’. Her back arched sharply, walls clamping down on Yang’s fingers. One hand flew up to cover her mouth, not quite in time to suppress a high, keening moan. Her hips thrashed in small, constant motions, and Yang felt her thigh tremble uncontrollably against her shoulder. Slowly, the thrashing eased, but the shaking spread, until Yang could feel her hand shaking against hers.

Yang didn’t realize she was still pushing, still licking and sucking and strumming her fingers, until Blake gave a weak whimper and her hips tried to twitch away. Even then, she was slow to pull her mouth away, soaked fingers reluctantly sliding back out of her. It took her a moment to stand back up, and she had to pull herself up by the edge of the table when she did, panting as she looked down, wiping her face on the back of her hand.

Blake had gone limp across the desk. Her shirt had bunched up, exposing the uneven rise and fall of her abdomen as she took one long, deep breath after another. Her eyelids fluttered, head lolling to one side. Her fingers were still laced together with Yang’s, and as Yang’s hand shifted, her grip tightened. 

Yang’s chest collapsed inwards, flooding with muddled, unrecognizable emotions. Tears threatened to flood her vision, even as a delirious sort of smile pulled at her lips.

She softly leaned forwards, keeping their hands together, and pressed a kiss against the base of one of Blake’s ears. It twitched, Blake groaning and blinking as she came back to her senses. 

“You taste amazin’.” She murmured.

Blake’s chest fell, all of her air escaping in one slow exhale as she stared at Yang. Words seemed to fail her, and instead she grabbed the front of Yang’s shirt, dragging her back down into a kiss. 

“Next time.” She managed as their lips parted. “I’m fucking you in that chair. While wearing your damn hat. Like I intended.”

“Well, damn.” Yang grinned at the very real, but exhausted, danger in the golden eyes, speaking in a mockingly mournful tone. “You should'a just told me if that was the plan, I would'a let you do it.”

Blake sighed in clear defeat, shaking her head. "I can't even be angry at you. It's pissing me off."

That was all it took to break Yang into delirious laughter, and to her delight the sound of Blake's tired laughter quickly followed.

It took both of them to get Blake back into a sitting position, her body still weak and shaking. Yang had to reluctantly leave her for a moment to grab a clean rag to clear the worst of the mess from Blake’s groin and her own fingers before helping pull her underwear and jeans back up. Then, after a long moment of deliberation, Yang just dragged the blanket out of the jail cell and threw it on the floor behind her desk. 

Unsurprisingly, Blake was asleep the moment her body hit the blanket, breath coming in slow, easy breaths. Yang was only slightly slower to follow, her hand following the curve of the body pressed against hers, a mixture of tiredness and contentment luring her to sleep.

Maybe it was a trick of her mind, or a violent storm somewhere in the distance. But as Yang reluctantly sat up to turn the knob on the lamp and plunge them back into darkness, she saw a portion of the sky light up past a distant hill. But, though the light pulsed and shook like lightning, the hill seemed to light from the bottom upwards, as though the lightning was coming from below it.

She didn’t give it any more thought, curling back up against the slender form beside her and closing her eyes.


 

The knock at the sheriff's door jarred Yang back out of a dreamless sleep, blinking and inhaling. The sheriff's office was no brighter than what she’d last seen it, dawn barely a glow on the horizon outside of the window. Hours before any sane person should be knocking on any kind of door. 

Her head jerked up, finding Blake already sitting up and staring at the door, ears flattened. 

“You hear ‘em?”

She shook her head, eyes wide. “I woke up when I heard horses outside. Haven’t heard anyone speak.” 

Yang clambered to her feet, grabbing at the holster she’d slung over a coat hook last night, slinging it back over her belt.  “Hide.” She heard Blake fluidly move behind her as she slowly moved towards the door. Then saw her pop up beside her, rifle in hand, pressing her back into the corner behind the door. “Blake-” 

Blake glared at her, pressing her back against the wall. “I am hiding.” She replied, cocking the rifle.

Yang sighed. Then opened the door, hand on her holster.

A pair of long ears twitched. ”Morning, Yang.” 

She released the gun, her breath whooshing out. “Gods Velvet, you scared me. The Darkness are you doing out at this hour?” 

Velvet gave her a tired smile. “Same as you, I’d wager. Working - was at the Winchesters’, helping with calving. I...” Her voice cracked, and Yang’s entire body tensed. Velvet wasn’t one for emotional outbursts. She seemed to struggle for words, then just stepped back instead.

Yang’s eyes flicked up, and her voice died in her throat. 

Velvet’s sturdy chestnut gelding uneasily shifted his weight, tied to the hitching post in front of the office. Next to him was a paint horse, clad in only a saddle and halter, chewing contentedly as a slender girl focused on braiding a section of mane, her tufted feline ears limply folded back. 

There was a body draped over the paint’s saddle. She could see the blood-soaked hole protruding through the back of his chest. One hand hung down on the other side of the horse, just visible past the paint’s neck.

His claws were still unsheathed, outstretched as if still trying to rip at an unseen attacker.

Yang’s entire mouth dried out. “...Gods. What-”

“I don’t know.” Velvet kept her voice quiet, shoving her hands into her pockets. “I found them heading down the road, no other faunus in sight. Heather just said she wanted to talk to the sheriff.” Her voice was quiet, her ears slowly leaning backwards. “...I was planning on just taking them home. I know their parents. But I saw Celica in the stable, thought you’d want to know anyways.”

Yang was already nodding. “Yeah. Yeah. I’ll ride back with you, give me a mo-”

“No.” 

She turned, and her heart splashed into her gut.

She’d forgotten Blake was there. And now she was standing in the doorway, rifle slung back over her shoulder, pale as a sheet but face set into a weary mask. “I will.”

Yang opened her mouth, and abruptly shut it as a flurry of motion flew between her and Velvet. Heather darted past, wrapping her arms around Blake’s waist and burying her face into her shoulder. “Miss Belladonna.” Her voice was hoarse, as if from disuse. “I missed you.”

Blake’s hands slowly folded around Heather’s shoulders, her chin resting on top of the pinned ears. “Hi, sweetheart.” She mumbled. “I’m so, so sorry.”

Yang’s breath hissed out as she watched Velvet’s eyes fall. Blake had only been gone from the White Fang for a week - but the kids had been missing for longer than that, and she’d been a leader as much as Adam had. And now, watching the young teenager cling to her, she realized that Blake would have been far more approachable out of the two.

“It’s okay.” Heather took a step back, inhaling, rubbing tears away from her eyes. “We... we knew you didn’t run away. Adam said you did and you were gon’ come back once you had some time to think, but Jasper said he’s full of shit. She thinks everyone’s full of shit, but Clay and Basil figured she was right on that one.”

A smile broke across Blake’s face. One that suggested she was trying not to cry. “Yeah. She wasn’t far off.” Blake’s eyes flicked up to the horse, and Russet’s body. 

Yang couldn’t let her be the one to ask. She cleared her throat, and Heather’s ears perked up, swiveling to look at her. “Heather, can I ask you ‘bout what happened?” She kept her voice soft, sympathetic.

Heather’s eyes slowly moved down, biting her lip. Yang didn’t know much about her from before the White Fang - a polite girl that smiled back, but never spoke. At least, not to a human.

Blake’s voice followed, softer than before. “Yang saved my life when I was exiled. She’s a good person, I promise.”

The soft blue eyes glanced sideways. There were bags under her eyes, too. 

“Hold on.” Yang turned, walking back into the sheriff's office, grabbing two chairs from in front of Pyrrha’s desk. She hefted them back out, placing one in front of Heather, then her own a short distance away. “There. Little more comfortable.” 

Slowly, hesitantly, the girl sat down, mirroring Yang. Behind her, Yang saw Velvet drag two more chairs onto the porch, placing one down behind Blake. Then, for a long moment, she placed a hand on Blake’s shoulder, her ears folding back and offering a tired smile. Blake’s ears pinned back, but she bit her lip and nodded, mouthing ‘thank you’.” 

Yang turned her gaze back to Heather as the two women got their own chairs settled. “Start wherever you want to. I’ll listen.”

Heather didn’t speak for a moment, her eyes pointed down, ears flicking as though processing everything going through her mind. Then, finally, her soft voice spoke up. “Branwen clan and the White Fang been fightin’ all week. They keep interruptin’ patrols, scarin’ us at night, makin’ it hard to... to plan.” She fidgeted, biting her lip.

Yang remembered Blake’s reluctance to share any information. “...was the plan to rob a train?”

The young girl shook her head, to Yang’s surprise. “No. Just destroy things, not steal ‘em. Leader Taurus said there wasn’t anythin’ valuable on the train at first, it was just about teachin’ the big rich humans a lesson ‘cause they’re so mean to faunus in the mine. Then Russet said that there was a bunch of more valuable dust on the train, and Leader Taurus told us we could take a little bit for ourselves if we wanted, but we was gon’ destroy all the rest.” She paused. “We... we did steal from the shopkeeper in town, though.” She added, quietly. 

Yang remembered the wide-eyed youngsters, racing away from the dust shop what felt like years ago. “...why did the White Fang want you to steal from that shop, if you were going to get dust from the train later?”

“We didn’t know ‘bout the dust yet, but it wasn’t to sell it or nothin’ anyways. Leader Taurus wanted to make sure we knew what we were doin’. That we wouldn’t get too scared durin’ the real heist. And Russet-” Her breath caught, but she kept talking. “...Russet was still mad at the shopkeeper, he’d wanted to work for ‘im and he kept sayin’ ‘no’. He didn’t mean to hurt the sheriff, he felt real bad, he just... got scared. We all felt bad - Basil and Clay and me, anyways. Jasper said if we were gon’ be bandits, we shouldn’t feel bad about doin’ bandit things.” She hesitated again, biting her lip, wiping her hand against her eyes.

Yang opened her mouth to ask where the rest of her family was, and the words suddenly spilled from the girl like waterfall. “W-we hit the train last night. Went perfect. Shoved all the boxes off the train into the river, looked - looked amazin’. Like a thunderstorm in the water.”

A thunderstorm in the water. She remembered the flashes of lightning she’d seen last night, just before falling asleep.

“Right after, Leader Taurus saw someone ride by on the other side of the river and took off. We rode for camp, but we heard gunshots and people yellin’. Lilly and Russet took off after him.” Her voice cracked. “...Yuma came back after. Said... said Branwen clan was there. Got mad that we destroyed the dust. Must have been hopin’ to steal it from us afterwards. Said... said Leader Taurus and Raven Branwen herself fought. Russ... was tryin’ to help...” The young girl’s voice broke completely, staring at the ground, sniffling and wiping at her face. She took a huge breath. “Raven Branwen shot him.”

Yang’s heart sank into her gut. Her heart pounded, her mouth dried. No wonder she was scared of you.  

Velvet’s hand appeared on Heather’s shoulder, squeezing it. Blake scooted closer, to press her shoulder against the girl’s. But her eyes stayed on Yang. 

The touch seemed to give the girl some courage, and she started speaking again. “Clay and Basil were... they wanted to stay with the White Fang. Want to make Branwen pay. I... I wanted to take Russet home. He liked Grandpa, I... I thought he should be buried next to him. Leader Taurus said that was okay, and Lilly said she’d help me get to town. She walked with me until we heard horses, then she went back. Told... told me to come here first, tell the Sheriff or the Deputy what happened.”

Blake blinked, glancing at Yang with clear confusion. Yang bit her lip. Nothing about this felt right. Adam didn’t seem like the type to just let his followers abandon him. And, as much as Lilly had turned her stomach at the time, she’d seemed focused on the well being of the kids in the group. Why had she walked the girl into town, and not home?

At that moment, Yang realized that there was a name that hadn’t been mentioned. “...what about Jasper?”

“Dunno.” She said, tonelessly. “She... right after Leader Taurus split, she said she dropped her knife under the bridge, rode off to go look for it. Wasn’t back yet when I left.” 

Yang blinked, confused by the sudden apathy. “...weren’t they worried?”

“Goes off on her own a lot. At home, she said she was checkin’ on cattle. In the White Fang, she said she was patrolin’. We figured she gets tired of everyone and wants to be alone for a while. But she always comes back.” Heather shrugged again, looking drained after the long speech. 

Yang, on the other hand, felt her mind race. Russet was Jasper’s older brother. She must have seen the shooting. “Did... is there any chance Jasper went after Raven? If she saw what happened?”

Heather slowly shook her head. “I... she would have been mad as Darkness if she’d seen it happen, yeah. But Raven was on the other side of the river, Yuma said that was why they got away. They’d shot his wings and they couldn’t get across the river with all the lightning dust in it. Only way to follow ‘em would have been over the bridge, and you can’t ride a horse ‘cross it. Too narrow and too high up, would spook right away.”

It took her a moment for Yang to realize that all three faunus were watching her - two with a focused stare, and one that was looking more to the side, face pale. She coughed, shaking her head, eyeing a distant-looking Blake worriedly. “Okay. That’s... we’ll deal with things later. Let’s get you home.” 

Heather nodded, managing a small smile as she stood, Velvet guiding her back down the steps.

“Give me a moment to tack up Shroud.” Blake’s voice didn’t... quite sound right. Yang glanced up, catching a blur as Blake turned on her heel

Yang was already following her before she even realized that she was moving too quickly, her face too green. Even injured, Blake easily outpaced her, darting through the office and into the barn, closing the door behind her. 

She heard the retching before she opened the door. It took everything she had to wait, but Yang waited for a second of silence before opening the door and swiftly ducking through. 

Blake was doubled over, leaning against the wall, dry heaving, shoulders shaking as she fruitlessly tried to clear out her already empty stomach.

Yang raced to her, quickly clearing her hair away from her face. “Blake, breathe. She’s okay, we’ll get her home, and I’ll fuckin’ kill Raven myse-

“It wasn’t her.” Blake wiped her the back of her hand across her mouth, giving a weak cough. “I saw that wound. I’ve seen people shot by Adam before. Unless Raven has the exact same rifle as him, it wasn’t her.”

Yang was already shaking her head, trying to lead her away from any conclusion that might point to Blake as a guilty party. “She’s got a real damn powerful rifle, Blake. It didn’t look much different than the people I’ve seen her kill.” 

That seemed to make Blake pause, giving Yang a moment to focus on rubbing her back. “She... I don’t know her. But you make her sound ruthless, not sadistic. If it was her, why did she bother shooting a kid instead of Adam?” 

Yang chewed her lip. “...Adam did kill one of her men. Could be just an eye for an eye.”

Blake nodded, eyes unfocused. “Maybe... but. Yang. This... this is something he’d do.”

“What? Shoot one of his own followers?”

“It... it might be a message. To me. If Yuma told him. This is... this exactly what he’d do. Call me a traitor and make it my fault, and manipulate his followers into hunting us both down.” She looked up, and for a moment Yang saw a delirious and terrified woman in a dark shed again. 

Yang shook her head, desperately trying to pull Blake back. “If that’s what he’s doing, why did Heather not blame you? If... if he wanted to make you out to be a traitor, wouldn’t he have told her some version of what happened?”

Blake paused again, chewing her lip. “...yes.” She seemed to realize, her voice confused instead of desperate. “...he would have.” 

Good. Good, come back. Yang kept rubbing her shoulder. “Maybe with everythin’ that happened, Yuma kept it to himself. He didn’t tell Adam right away - maybe it’s the same now. Seems like Adam’s the type to shoot the messenger, if Raven really did shoot the kid than he might’ve figured it was more bad news than what they could handle.”

“...maybe.” She still looked doubtful, eyes darting back and forth.  

Yang’s mind flicked back to the missing faunus. “Blake... Jasper. She wasn’t with the group when the shooting happened - she might’ve seen it happen. We need to find her and get her home anyways, but if we find her first, she’d be able to tell us what happened.” 

Blake chewed on her lip. “...I don’t know. It’s... a lot of things don’t add up, Yang.”

“I know.” She rubbed at the back of her neck. “I know.” 

Silence stretched between them for a long moment. She heard Shroud paw at the ground in her stall, snorting. She inhaled. “Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll go with Heather and Velvet and find out as much as I can about Jasper. You wait for Pyrrha to get here and fill her in on what’s gone on.”

Blake shook her head. “No. Other way around - I’ll go with Heather and Velvet, you stay here.” 

“Blake-”

“Yang. I was the one who talked those kids into joining us. The best chance I have at ever earning forgiveness from that family is if I’m the one who brings their children home.”

That stopped her. She was... not wrong. And Blake’s brow was set in a hard line, meeting Yang’s gaze head-on. She knew a brick wall when she saw one, and Yang nodded tiredly. “Okay. Just... if it goes bad, come home. Okay?”

Blake nodded. Her ears flicked slightly, as if thinking. Then she took another step and wrapped Yang in a tight hug. 

Before Yang could think of a response, she released her, and grabbing Shroud’s bridle. “I can get Shroud tacked by myself, my saddle's light. Help them secure Russet to the saddle, none of us will be able to get him back on if he falls.”

“...yes ma’am.” She answered softly, watching Blake’s ear flick as she headed back into the office, grabbing a blanket intended for a horse on her way by.

Velvet watched her carefully as Yang emerged back out of the office, rope and blanket in hand. “I’m just... gon’ make sure he won’t fall. Blake’s gon’ ride there with you two.” 

Heather nodded, unconcerned, returning to braiding the paint's mane. Velvet fell into step behind Yang as they ducked around the other side of the horse. “Is Blake okay?” She asked, voice barely above a whisper.

“Not really.” Yang muttered back, carefully tossing the blanket over Russet’s body. “But she’s dead set on going. Blames herself.”

Velvet nodded, wincing. “Poor thing.”

“Yeah.” Yang glanced over at her. “...do me a favor?”

“I’ll make sure they don’t rip into her, Yang. I don’t know a thing about the situation, but I can already tell you this isn’t her fault.”

Her breath wooshed out. “Thanks Velvet.”

“Anytime.” Velvet moved to tuck the blanket around one arm, then stopped. “Hey. Yang, look at this.”

Yang glanced over, watching as Velvet extended his arm. A folded piece of paper dangled from his wrist, secured by a few long, black strands of hair that had been tied like some kind of bracelet.

Yang’s stomach turned as she remembered Blake plucking a few strands of hair from her head to give to Lilly, to prove to Adam that she was alive. 

Mouth dry, she plucked it off his wrist, easily breaking the hair. Velvet met her gaze for a moment, then pointedly glanced up, working on securing Russet’s body with the blanket and rope. 

She unfolded it with unsteady fingers. The details were hard to make out, but between the dully brightening sky and the lamp on the porch, she could make out that the paper was a fragment of map - a bend in the river, the edge of Beacon just visible on a torn edge. She blinked, examining it. Odd spotted markings decorated the paper, making distinguishing landmarks somewhat difficult. She tilted her head.

Her heart started to pound harder as it slowly dawned on her that the stretch of river was a very specific one. In fact, a rough, penciled circle marked the exact spot where she and Adam had stood, with a defiant Blake between them.

Then she realized the ink markings were not actually from the map, but bleed-through from something scrawled on the other side of the paper. With growing dread, she turned the paper around.

WHORE.

Yang could feel her entire gut spilling through her abdomen, falling to the gravel below. 

“Leader Taurus wanted me to make sure Blake read that, and no one else did.” Yang jumped, finding Heather standing beside her. Her eyes were sad, tired. “Lilly said not to tell her and throw it away. I... thought I’d leave it, but not tell her.” She said, looking down, guilt seeping into her voice.

Yang exhaled, shoving the note into her pocket. “Heather.” She said, hoping her voice wasn’t shaking, and bent so that she was slightly shorter than the teen. “You’re a very, very brave woman. I’m gon’ get your brothers and your cousin home. Yeah?” 

Heather nodded, a little unsteadily. Her eyes were glassy, as she inhaled as if to answer. Then blinked and looked away.

The crunch of hooves on gravel startled her. Yang jumped upright, turning to find Blake riding Shroud towards them, looking tired but resolved. “Do you want to ride on Shroud with me, Heather?” 

She nodded, and Yang easily boosted her up to sit behind Blake. Shroud didn’t bat an eye at the extra weight, the eastern saddle already far lighter than the saddles she was used to.

Yang paused, placing a hand on Blake’s leg. “...be careful.” 

“I will. See you soon.” Her voice sounded far away, Yang’s attention focused on the way Blake’s hair was moving in the breeze, the tired golden eyes, the way her lips moved into a tired smile.

“See you soon.” She echoed as Shroud walked away, picking up into the smooth pace, carrying Blake away.

A snort behind her, and Velvet’s hand on her shoulder. Yang jumped, and a very serious pair of brown eyes stared down at her from her place on the saddle. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I saw what was on that paper. Don’t do anythin’ stupid.”

She nodded, already feeling the burn of a fury that would make a liar out of her. “I won’t.”  

Velvet’s eyes narrowed, but Shroud was already halfway down the street. She watched Yang carefully as she gripped the paint's lead rope, trotting down the street to catch up with Blake.

Only then did all of the air escape from her lungs. The false calm she’d be clinging to shriveled and burned into ash, and a flood of molten rage seeped into her chest.

She told herself that the stable, her saddle, and even Celica were all tinged red because of the dawn. The way her hands shook as she tightened the cinch was harder to explain, so she ignored it.

But she kept her promise to Velvet. The moment Celica was tacked, she threw her an extra flake of hay and shouldered her way back into the office. Carefully moved the chairs back in, one by one. Folded the blanket she and Blake had slept on and tucked it away. Stacked the papers she’d flung off the desk and placed them back in their proper spots. Then she returned to the porch, and began to pace. 

She wasn’t kept waiting long. Her thoughts were shattered by a loud snort, announcing Pyrrha trotting down the road, eyes focused on the sight of her restlessly pacing deputy. To her surprise, Nora was following along close behind.

Miló danced in place as Pyrrha pulled him to a halt, Yang walking out to the two riders before they could dismount. She started in the same place as she had in the dozens of times she’d rehearsed it in the past few minutes. “Blake and I got a visit from a White Fang member last night, trying to get her to come back.”

“Gods.” Pyrrha stared. “Are you-”

“We’re fine, chased him off. Came here to sleep just to be safe. Velvet showed up on the doorstep at dawn, found Heather Maple walkin’ into town. Told me they hit the train last night - never intended to steal the damn dust, they just destroyed it all. ”

Pyrrha exhaled. “So Raven didn’t get it after all. Smart move, destroying the dust instead of stealing it.” She examined Yang, and tensed, reading in Yang’s tight jaw and still body that the story didn’t end there.

Yang spoke before anyone could ask her to. “Branwen clan came running in and there was some kind of standoff between them and a few White Fang members. She didn’t see it actually happen. But they came back with Russet Hickory’s dead body. Said Raven shot him.”

Now she had Pyrrha’s entire attention. The worried look had disappeared, fading into the sharp focus she had when she realized her action was needed. Behind her, Nora was only slightly less focused, eyes running up and down Yang’s body, probably reading her posture and rumpled clothing.

“Adam let Heather come back to take his body home to be buried. Blake insisted on goin’ with them, they left ‘bout fifteen minutes ago.”

Pyrrha's breath caught. But she didn't initially move, staring Yang down. "Does Adam know who you are?"

"What, that I'm a depu-"

"Yang." Her voice wasn't quite a yell, but loud, commanding. "Does Adam know y' Raven's daughter? Does he know about you n' Blake?"

She shook her head, not sparing either question a moment's thought past the fury swirling in her chest. "Not as far as I know."

"Stay here. I'll be back." She whirled, and Miló jumped into a run, tearing back down the street. Yang watched her go, a pang of guilt reaching her through the anger. In any other situation, she would have obeyed. She wasn't blind, she could see the danger well enough - even if Raven had killed the kid, it wasn't out of the question that Adam would lash out at the woman who'd refused to come home, or at the one who'd taken her in.

But Raven hadn't killed the kid. Adam had. And he was expecting Blake to come back begging for him to spare Yang.

“Which one was a lie?”

Yang turned, blinking. 

Nora was staring her down, blue eyes narrowed. “Y' a good person, Yang, but a kid comin’ home dead ain’t enough to turn y’ eyes red.”

Yang stared back at her for a moment. "Why are you even up this early?" She grumbled, hoping to distract her and convince her to either go home or follow Pyrrha, and give Yang enough time to get on Celica and start riding.

"Because I had a nightmare about the town burnin' down, wanted to reassure myself." She leaned over her horse's neck, staring straight through her in that way she was prone to. "If y' gon' burn something, at least invite me to help."

Yang gritted her teeth. She could lie to Blake, or Pyrrha, but apparently not Nora. No one could. Her own pulse rang in her ears as she stepped towards the heavy roan horse. 

Nora’s eyes didn’t leave her as Yang pulled the scrap of paper out of her pocket and offered it up to her. “Found this tied to Russet's wrist. Heather said that Adam told her to make sure Blake read it, and no one else.”

The dawn was far, far too red around them as Nora’s eyes flicked over to the page, then back up at her, brows lowering and a fury of her own crackling behind her eyes.

“Nora,” Yang’s tone could have been casual. But her voice shook, distorting like air above a raging fire. “Wanna break some legs?”

Chapter Text

A cloud had descended into the valley below them. Blake couldn’t quite stop herself from staring as Shroud picked her way down the path. It was just fog forming over to the river in the cool air, but the pink-tinged cloud looked surreal in the dawn’s light. 

She would rather ponder mystical explanations for the sight than think about what she was riding towards. Or away from.

Heather’s arms tightened slightly around her waist. Blake winced, but didn’t complain. Her ribs and hip alike were sore already, thanks to Yang’s misbehaving the night before. She wanted to smile at the memory, but a cloud hung around her thoughts, shrouding everything in guilt. She still wasn’t convinced that Raven was responsible for Russet’s murder - it was far too coincidental that he’d been killed in the same night that Yuma had flown away with her secret. But if it had been Adam, he should have acted by now. He would have. 

She almost wished he had done it. The gut-wrenching guilt would be better than the uncertainty and fear that she was missing something.

A snort beside her pulled Blake out of her thoughts. She glanced over, and found Velvet slowly blinking, leaning to one side of her horse, still ponying Russet’s horse along. Of course, she had been helping with calving all night. She had to be exhausted. 

Blake opened her mouth to offer to take the horse instead and let her head home. Before she could form the words, Velvet jumped, whirling around, ears pricked.

Blake tensed. “Horses?”

“Just one. Comin’ at a good pace, though.”

She pricked her own ears, listening, and caught the familiar drum of a galloping horse. Her mouth dried. “...run. Now.”

Instead, Velvet held up a hand. “Wait. I know that horse.”

Blake stared, but stopped. Velvet’s ears were longer, trained on the path behind them and twitching intently. She knew that most prey faunus had sharper senses than her own.

To her relief, she heard a faint, familiar voice before the horse and rider finally emerged through the trees. Miló snorted and puffed as Pyrrha desperately tried to slow him to a walk, sighing as she drew closer. “You didn’t get too far.”

“We weren’t movin’ at half the speed ‘a sound, Sheriff.” Velvet yawned. “Didn’t I tell you to rest that horse’s joints?”

Pyrrha sighed as she finally stopped alongside them. “You try restin’ this horse, tell me how it goes.” She rubbed her face, giving the three faunus a tired look. “...ladies, I appreciate the thought, but it... it should be me that breaks that news. It was my responsibility to bring him home, and I failed.”

Blake didn’t blink, staring her straight in the eye. “I got them into trouble in the first place, Pyrrha.”

The arms around her waist squeezed slightly. But Heather didn’t speak up.

“Not by yourself, you didn’t.” But Pyrrha seemed to back off, glancing over at Velvet, who was already yawning again. “...Velvet, you should go home n’ get some sleep. It should... probably be me n’ Blake that go.”

Velvet glanced between them, Blake sending her a quiet nod. She sighed, offering the lead rope. “Thank you. Get some rest too, Heather.” Blake nodded back, turning to head back down the trail. Faintly, she heard Velvet hiss, “Promised Yang I’d keep them from chewin’ her out. You up to that?”

“That’s my job.”

Blake bit her lip, looking away. Poor Yang, still trying to watch her back from a distance. She felt a prickle of guilt again - she should have told Yang to come along instead. She didn’t like being separated from her, and she knew Yang herself had to be twitching with nerves. Not to mention that they still didn’t know what had happened. Gods, I shouldn’t have left Yang by herself-

The arms around her waist gently squeezed her, catching her attention. “Blake?” Heather barely whispered in her ear. “Is the sheriff... like Deputy Xiao Long? Is she nice to faunus?”

“…Yeah.” Blake nodded, slowly. “Yeah, she is.”

The thought echoed in her mind, even as Heather’s attention moved to watching the trees around them. All three deputies and the sheriff had been accepting of her right from the beginning. Only now was it occurring to her just how odd that was.

She waited until Miló was walking alongside them before glancing sideways. “Pyrrha? I know Yang grew up in Beacon. Did you as well?”

“Not exactly. Born in Mistral, my family traveled here when I was a girl.” She shrugged, unconcerned.

Blake’s brow furrowed, her confusion only deepened. “You, Yang, Nora, and Ren. You’re all from different places, have different upbringings. Why do all of you see faunus as people?”

That seemed to catch Pyrrha’s attention, turning to blink at Blake. “...you are a person. Ain’t hard to catch on.”

“But there are many, many humans that never ‘catch on’. Like that rancher, Rufus; he genuinely believes that I’m some kind of animal. So do most humans I’ve met, even ones that were kind to me. I can tell the difference between a kind-hearted person that’s suppressing a hateful belief, and someone who doesn’t hold that belief at all. The latter is very rare, in my experience. So, how can there possibly be four of them in one backwoods town, in the same sheriff office?”

Pyrrha was quiet for a long, long moment, chewing her lip thoughtfully. “...I have an idea, but after I talk about that, remind me that I want to ask you somethin’.”

Blake nodded, eyes still not leaving her.

Satisfied, the sheriff leaned back in her saddle slightly. “I did grow up with that thought. My mother was wise enough to teach her children to judge others by actions, not appearances, but I saw how faunus were treated. I assumed that there had to be a reason for it, and I was wary of them until I was a teenager. Was actually Taiyang Xiao Long that pointed me in the right direction.”

That caught her attention, flicking her ears up slightly.

“I was fifteen, and I’d just bought Miló. Tai and I had an agreement that he’d help train him if I helped out on the ranch while we were trainin’ him. One mornin’ I was helpin’ Yang and Tai re-fence a pasture, and a kid came ridin’ up the road. Couldn’t have been more than eight years old, ridin’ bareback with a rope tied around the horse’s snout like a bridle. Looked Tai dead in the eye, and said she wanted to buy a proper saddle and bridle off him. Didn’t realize she was a faunus until she started talkin’ - had long teeth, like a wolf. Scared me at the time.” She shot Blake a regretful smile. “Expected Tai to turn her away. Instead, I watched him spend a full hour fittin’ a saddle to the horse and negotiatin’ prices. Barely had any lien, but she had a rucksack full of fresh vegetables, leather scraps, and pelts that she ended up throwin’ in. He talked to her like she was any one of the ranchers in town - not kind, really, but straight and fair. Sent her on her way and told her where he’d last seen the sheriff so she could avoid him - he was real suspicious of faunus, always convinced they were stealin’ somethin’. I hadn’t seen anyone talk to a faunus like that in my life, and I was an obnoxious child that needed an answer for everything. So, once she’d rode off, I asked him about it.” 

Pyrrha paused for a moment, as though recalling exact wording. Blake didn’t care - her entire attention was focused on the red haired woman, only to flicker slightly when she realized Heather had also turned, her own ears pressed forwards to listen. 

“He said that it’s real unusual for a faunus to approach a human like that, and when it does happen, most of ‘em get shot down. People get spooked by the idea of someone they think should be below them gettin’ bold. He figured it might’ve been the first time that girl had ever spoken to a human - she was gon’ remember that moment forever either way, and she could learn one of two things. Either that humans are to be feared and hated, or that humans are capable of respectin’ her, and she’s worthy of bein’ respected. Said that sometimes it only takes one or two moments like that to set someone on the right path in life.” Pyrrha glanced over at the two faunus, both watching her in silence. “Lookin’ back, I think Tai feels guilty about a lot of things he’s done wrong in his life, and he tries to set people onto good paths to make up for it. Think he was tryin’ to teach me a lesson as much as that girl. It worked if he was; realized that faunus were people as much as humans were, and that most of them are wary or angry with humans because they’ve been taught to be. Spent a lot of time trying to do what he did, hopin’ to at least convince the faunus in town that the sheriff ain’t a threat to them, even if some of the townsfolk are.” She cast a slow, sad eye towards the horse plodding along beside her, and the body slung over its saddle. “People remember the bad more than the good, though.”

Blake slowly turned her own eyes away.

“Which... brings me to what I was gon’ ask you. Why do you believe me?”

Blake blinked, caught off-guard. “Huh?”

“I don’t know much ‘bout y’ past, but I’m willin’ to bet you’ve had more bad experiences with humans than most. I imagine many of the faunus you came here with would never accept that I mean well or see them as an equal, no matter what I say or do. Even faunus that I’ve known for years don’t. I understand why - they have a right to be distrustful.” Pyrrha’s green eyes stayed on her, soft but quietly searching. “You said that even the humans that were kind to you still saw you as an animal. Why are you willing to accept that I don’t?”

For a long moment, Blake didn’t have an answer. She trusted Yang, and Yang trusted her. But this wasn’t about trust, when she thought about it. Adam didn’t see humans as... equals? People? She’d never tried to put words to it, because he’d always been right. Humans were greedy, they were selfish, they would sink a knife into your back as soon as it was exposed. So, why had she been so quick to believe that Yang was just like her? 

A memory drifted by; a wisp of a deep, rough voice, holding a lesson she hadn’t realized she’d learned. “We’re not like them, Blake. We are them, and they are us. We’re all scared, we’re all hurt, and we’re all confused. The world would be a better place if more faunus and humans remembered that.”

Her eyes stung. “My... father was a leader of the White Fang. He believed we were the same, humans and faunus, but we just didn’t understand each other. He wanted to talk through our differences instead of using violence. His methods didn’t work in the end, and he was overthrown eventually. I thought I stopped believing him, but...”

A pair of gorgeous lilac eyes, meeting her gaze steadily. “I’d prefer if we talked this out before gettin’ into uncivil territory, ma’am.”

“When Yang and I first met, in the river, she talked to me like you said Tai talked to that kid. I think... I think it woke me up.” Emotions clogged in her throat, threatening to choke her completely, but Blake forced herself to inhale. “I was never able to figure out why I stopped Adam. But... I think I realized she was what my father had always said humans could be. Us. I was so scared afterwards that I couldn’t think about it. But that’s why I was able to trust you, Nora, and Ren so quickly. And-”

-why I fell in love with Yang on the spot.

Now her voice really did stop, clogged by her self-control now. That word was for no one but Yang. 

Pyrrha’s voice was soft, barely louder than the rustling of their saddles and the earth underneath hooves below them. “...we hold on to what we learn when we’re young. Good and bad.” 

“Yeah.” Her voice sounded rough to her ears, thinking of her own upbringing, of Adam’s, of the young faunus they’d recruited. “We do.”

A long pause stretched between them as the three horses picked their way down the hillside and into the fog. Heather’s arms had tightened around her waist again, but the girl didn’t speak - probably processing the story that she’d just heard.

“I didn’t answer your question.”

Blake turned back. “Mm?”

Pyrrha gave her a quiet smile, like something had already been answered or decided. “Why all three of my deputies are the same way. When the last sheriff stepped down and Mayor Ozpin appointed me, I knew I wouldn’t have the power to change laws myself, but I could make sure they were enforced fairly. And, as sheriff, I get to pick and choose who I hire as my deputies. You can imagine I kicked up quite a stir when I chose two orphans from Mistral and a horse trainer, instead of the previous deputies or any of the local favourites. But I wanted people that could walk in other folk’s shoes. Who saw the people of the town as equal, no matter who they were, what they looked like, or how many sets of ears they had. I knew Yang did already, and Nora and Ren had proved they could long before I took power.”

Blake shook her head slowly, eyeing the remarkably intelligent woman in front of her. “…smart move. Mayor wasn’t going to let you hire a faunus anyways, so you may as well have humans that would treat them fairly.”

“Oh, I think Ozpin would have let me hire one if I’d made a case for it. Just hadn’t found one that shared that quality until now.”

Blake stared, but Pyrrha had already walked past, leading the horse along and letting Blake draw her own conclusions.

Heather’s arms squeezed her middle again. “Blake?”

“Yeah, hon?” She flicked an ear back, turning slightly as she nudged Shroud back into the ambling pace.

The girl seemed to struggle for words for a moment. “…are you stayin’ in Beacon?” She finally said, with a tone that suggested she’d intended to ask something else.

Blake sighed, her hands tightening on the reins as the path began to descend down the hill and into the fog before them. “Yes. Yes, I am.”


 

Danger emanated from everywhere Yang looked. It swirled in the fog that had settled around them, so heavy that the dawn’s light was struggling to pierce through it. It creaked in the barbed wire stretched between fence posts. It had vibrated in Gambol’s throat as she whinnied to Celica, watching the pair of riders disappear into the dim light.

On a different day, she would have heeded the warnings. She might have had the capacity to feel nervous, or anxious.

Her breath unfurled in front of her in a wisp of white vapor, like smoke. She thought of a painting she’d seen as a child; a dragon bearing down on a blood-spattered knight, fire spouting from its maw and eyes wild with fury. She wondered how, exactly, the knight had invoked the dragon’s rage. She wondered if the blood spattered across his armor was his own or not. 

She wondered if she actually voiced the frustrated, protective rage in her chest, if it might turn into flames too.

Nora’s voice reached her through the dull hum. “Y’ sure he’s gon’ be there?”

“No. But I bet he will be.” Her voice sounded odd to her ears. Low and grumbly, like she had a cold. “Note was pretty specific.”

“The note was map with a cuss scrawled on the back.” 

“That stretch of the river is the exact place Blake saved me. He meant for her to get that note - I’m bettin’ he wanted her to meet him there. She would’ve begged him to leave me out of it, and he would’ve her into comin’ back to him.” 

“Hope you got a plan, there, hero.” Her voice was dry, but Nora didn’t leave her side, watching Yang closely as the two horses waded through the stirrup-high grass.

Yang forced herself to inhale. “Chances are, he’ll be alone - plan is for me to show up instead of Blake. If he don’t start shootin’ right away, I’m gon’ give him a chance to pack up the clan and start headin’ for Mistral.” She kept her voice low, eyeing the faint treeline through the fog. 

Nora’s eyes narrowed. “Really? Y’ gon’ try and talk?”

“He ain’t gon’ listen.” She replied flatly. “When he tries to attack me, I’ll shoot him. If it goes south, you start shootin’ and distract him long enough for me to finish it. Either way, it’s justified.” Yang knew truth was that she was going to give him an opportunity to murder her, so she had an excuse to murder him. Something in her gut twinged with guilt at the thought, but she shoved it away. Her mind was set now. He wasn’t going to go away, and Blake would be in danger as long as he was around.

“And if he ain’t alone?” Nora’s voice interrupted her thoughts.

“Take a quick loop ‘round and make sure there ain’t no one waitin’ in the trees. But, don’t think there will be. Don’t think he wants witnesses for what he was plannin’ on doin’ to Blake.” Yang replied in a dark tone, feeling the leather of her reins bite into her hands.

Nora eyed her for a moment, then glanced up with a frown. “...I’d best start that loop now, then, we ain’t far from the river. I’ll cross here, walk up through the hillside, then come back down and cross back through to the field downstream.”

Yang gave a stiff nod, feeling her gut work itself into a ball. “I’ll start talkin’ if I see him.”

Nora returned the nod, turning Magnhild away. Then, she glanced over her shoulder. “Keep y’ head on straight. He’ll probably try n’ wind you up. Don’t let him.”

He’s already wound me up. But Yang just watched her ride into the fog, Celica tossing her head but making no attempt to follow the solid red roan. She exhaled as she heard hooves splash through water. If any faunus were around, they would have heard that. She waited for a long, long moment before continuing on, following the curve of the river from memory rather than sight.

The silence gave her too much time to think. This was a bad idea. She knew it was - the logical thing to do was wait for Pyrrha at the office, then share what she’d learned. But, then they would need to wait, to form a plan, to figure out a way to corner Adam before he hurt anyone else. And Blake would know about the note. She would know that she had been right. 

Blake talked so much about owing things, but always about what she owed and never what was owed to her. After all she’d been through, she at least deserved to not have to be the one to pull the trigger. Adam was a madman, but he was a madman that she was tied to, either by fate or bad luck. 

Neither fate nor bad luck could pull a trigger. But Yang could.

The fog was beginning to lift, and Yang fingers curled around her holster as she recognized a familiar stretch of riverbank. Past the muted rushing of water, she heard bushes rustle. She kept one hand on her revolver, and set her jaw. 

Celica’s hooves clattered against the rocky bank, then splashed into the shallow water. Just like before, she dipped her head to sip from the rushing water below them. Yang’s eyes darted through the dull orange light that the mixture of dawn and fog had surrounded her with, waiting for movement. 

He was so obvious that she nearly missed him entirely. 

A single bright blue eye cut into her from less than ten feet away. The tall bay stallion stood deathly still, hooves inches from the surface of the water, and Adam Taurus reclined in his saddle. “Morning, Deputy.”


 

All three fell into silence as the horses picked their way around the roots and stones lining the path. Blake had only made the trek to the faunus homestead once, and it had been from the other direction and in broad daylight. But Pyrrha seemed to know exactly where she was going, even through the choking fog that had surrounded them. Before long, a gate slowly came into focus, marked with an intricately carved antler. Blake remembered being told about it when she and Adam had first visited - it was a shed from the elderly caribou faunus that served as the matriarch of the home. She’d carved it herself. Basil had wanted to try something similar with his own antlers, when they finally shed in the upcoming winter.

Ahead of her, Pyrrha’s shoulders rose as she drew in a long breath and straightened her spine. Blake mirrored the move, swallowing a mixture of emotions as she looked over her shoulder. “…should I call out that we’re here?”

Heather shook her head, ears pricked up. “Nope, they heard us comin’ down the hill, they’re comin’. Just wait a minute.”

Blake nodded, bringing Shroud to a halt outside the gate. Even Miló seemed somber, standing on all four feet instead of prancing on the spot, ears pricked towards the faint buildings on the other side of the fence.

A figure emerged from the mist within a minute - a stout, muscular man with a thick mustache and curled horns. He was holding a rifle, but quickly lowered it as he approached. His eyes went wide, staring over Blake’s shoulder. 

“Hi, Pa.” Heather’s soft voice trailed over her shoulder.

For a long moment the man didn’t move, face utterly blank. Then he was moving faster than Blake could follow, pulling the latch on the gate and swinging it wide open. He still didn’t speak, until Heather swung off of Shroud and he nearly knocked her over in his hurry to wrap her in a hug. Then, an unsteady baritone voice muttered. “Welcome home.” 

Blake slowly dismounted as the two embraced, trying to keep her gaze away. Pyrrha had done the same, removing her hat and waiting to bring the worst of the news.

The ram faunus looked up after a moment, inhaling. His eyes flicked between Blake and Pyrrha, then to the third horse between them. Blake felt sick as she watched realization dawn on his face. “…who?” He asked, quietly.

Pyrrha opened her mouth, but Heather spoke first. “Russet. Happened last night. Clay and Basil are still with the White Fang, Jasper ran off. I wanted to bring him home - Sheriff Nikos and Miss Belladonna said they’d come with me.“

His face didn’t change as he surveyed the two of them. Blake could feel her ears lay flat against her head, even as she did her best to keep looking him in the face. She expected him to start brandishing the rifle. Instead, he spoke in the same deep, but unsteady voice. “Need to tell ‘em first.”

“Of course.” Blake’s voice didn’t sound like her own. “Take as much time as you need.”

The man nodded, but didn’t immediately move. His jaw moved and he looked over at Pyrrha again, then back to Blake. “…thank you. For bringing my girl home.”

Don’t thank me. I probably got your nephew killed. Thank Yang for talking to her or Pyrrha for not arresting her. She dipped her head in acknowledgment instead. 

Heather watched her for a long moment, mouth slightly open as if waiting to say something, but her father quickly swept her alongside him, and they disappeared into the fog. Then she slowly, reluctantly pricked her ears up to listen.

“You don’t have to listen.” Pyrrha’s voice was barely above a whisper, fully aware that she was surrounded by ears far more sensitive than her own. 

“Yes I do.” 

The sheriff didn’t argue, and Blake almost wished she had. She wouldn’t have had to hear knocking on doors, cries of relief, followed by soft murmuring.

She waited for a wail of anguish. But none came - instead, she heard a multitude of voices, words muted by distance and walls. Louder, then soft. Several talking at once, than only one talking. 

“Blake. Remember that this ain’t y’ fault.” 

Her hands tightened on Shroud’s bridle. She opened her mouth, then shut it as footsteps crunched though the gravel towards them. 

Neither woman moved as a pair of figures appeared in the dim light. An elderly woman cut through the fog, a pair of decorated antlers easily marking her as Agate Maple, the matriarch of the family. A tall, slender woman walked alongside her, sharp features focused on Blake. She didn’t know the second woman’s name - the last time she’d been here, Adam had been talking to a silent crowd and Blake carefully studying faces - but she recognized Russet’s mother. 

Agate spoke first, looking up at Pyrrha with a long, weary sigh. “I wish I could say I was happy to see you, Sheriff Nikos.”

Pyrrha bowed her head. “Wish I could say I was happy to be here, ma’am.”

The sharp faced woman’s eyes hadn’t left Bake. A long, feline tail slowly swished back and forth, and a pair of brown eyes narrowed at her as she met them. “Miss Belladonna.” Her voice was quiet, in the same way that cocking a rifle was quiet. “I’ve heard y’ been stayin’ with the sheriff and deputy for the past few days. That true?”

“Yes.” She didn’t dare look away.

Her mouth asked, “Why did you leave the White Fang?” Her expression asked, Why did you leave my children behind?

Miraculously, her voice came out steady. “I stopped Taurus from attacking Deputy Xiao Long. In turn, I was exiled.” She could feel Pyrrha’s eyes on her, waiting to intervene. “I’ve attempted to reach them a few-”

“If you’d been there,” The brown eyes stared through her. “Could you have saved my son?”

Her gut writhed, guilt biting like a rabid animal. 

A voice spoke, somewhere in the back of her mind. If Adam pulled that trigger, then this was his fault. Not yours. His alone. It sounded like Yang.

Her eyes stung, but she didn’t blink. An odd sort of resolve seized her, forcing her twitching stomach to settle and her spine to straighten. Blake let her guilt, her sadness, her vulnerability rise to the surface. She felt her eyes crinkle and brows scrunch as repressed emotion molded them, and voiced the only truth she knew. “I would have tried.”

For a long, long moment, the mother just looked at her. No longer staring, but observing with a blank expression. 

Then she turned, grabbed the paint’s lead rope from Pyrrha, and led the horse away, blanket still neatly wrapped over the body in the saddle. 

Blake’s breath hissed out, leaning against Shroud as an oddly light feeling claimed her. Not my fault. Tears threatened to escape from below her eyes, but she blinked, forcing them back. Not now. Later, probably with Yang. She needed to get back to her.

Agate sighed, and the small chimes hanging from her antlers caught the light as she shook her head, providing a welcome distraction. “Poor Mar. Doin’ better than I thought; Russet was his Ma’s boy, he was.”

“We know Basil and Clay are still with the White Fang. Jasper’s been missin’ since last night.” Pyrrha spoke, softly. “Heather told my deputy that Raven Branwen was the one who shot Russet. Jasper might have seen it happen - you have any ideas where she might go to hide?”

The elderly woman stared for a long, long moment. “...y' missin' something. Tell me what she told you. Exactly as you remember it.”

Hesitantly, keeping her voice low, Blake recounted the story Heather had told them. Destroying the dust on the train, Branwen clan attacking, Russet attempting to help and failing. Through the entire thing, the old matriarch kept her eyes narrowed, slowly blinking and frowning here and there.

As Blake finished the story, Agate slowly closed her eyes. “I saw the 'lightnin’ in the water' last night. Was far off in the hills, but I saw the light flashin’. Hard to watch without blindin’ y’self.” She opened her eyes again, and immediately locked gazes with Pyrrha. “Ask y’self - could Raven Branwen shoot with any kind of accuracy in that sort of light?”’

Pyrrha hesitated. “…it likely happened afterwards. The light would have been much dimmer.”

“And Raven is a human. We faunus tend to forget just how bad humans see in the dark, especially after seein’ a bright light. She wouldn’t be able to see ten feet in front of her. Faunus eyes adjust much quicker; if there was any sharp-shootin’ that night, I can guarantee there weren’t no humans behind the trigger.”

Blake’s pulse pounded in her neck, as Pyrrha’s eyebrows slowly rose. “Ma’am, y’ ain’t suggestin’ -”

“That a member of the White Fang killed my grandson? Yes, Sheriff. That is exactly what I’m suggestin’. And…”  Agate paused again, but this time she slowly nodded, as though carefully choosing her words. “Sheriff, you must understand, my only loyalty is to my family. But… but know that what I am about to tell you is true, and don’t question how I know it is.”

Pyrrha gave a single, curt nod.

“If Jasper saw Raven Branwen murder her brother, she would not be missin’. She would have showed up on my doorstep last night, cryin’ and lost.”

Blake blinked, glancing at Pyrrha, her brow furrowing in confusion.

Agate didn’t give either of them a chance to ask a question. “Don’ bother tryin’ to find Jasper. She’s been runnin’ away since she could run, she’s found shelter already. Focus on convincin’ the boys to come home, they don’t have the smarts to see danger comin’ yet.” The elderly faunus inhaled, and extended a hand to Pyrrha. “Thank you, Sheriff. For bringing my grandchildren home.” Pyrrha shook her hand, but her eyes began to dart back and forth the second the elderly woman turned to Blake. “And you too, Miss Belladonna. I’m… I’m aware how difficult this must be for you. I appreciate that you rode with Heather, she would have needed it.”

She wondered if Agate could feel how sweaty her palm was as she took her hand. “I’ll - we’ll be back with the rest of them. Alive.” Her voice sounded hollow, as though she was trying to convince herself.

Agate gave her a sad smile. “Good luck, my dears. Get ridin’.” 

With that, the woman turned on her heels, decorations chiming on her antlers as she slowly strode back through the fog.

The second she was no longer visible, Pyrrha whirled. “Would Adam-”

“Yes. Yes he would have.” Blake was already scrambling into her saddle, mouth dry. “We need to-”

“WAIT!”

Blake’s head jerked up. 

Heather was sprinting through the fog, eyes wide. She skidded to a halt in front of Shroud, ignoring the mare’s startled snort and stared at Blake with flattened ears. “I-”

“Heather, it’s not your fault.” Blake understood the feeling of guilt too well to ride away, no matter how much panic was starting to rip at her chest. “Adam’s-”

The girl was already shaking her head, panting for breath. “No. Ain’t that. I - I was tryin’ to tell you on the ride over. But I - I didn’t think he’d…” She inhaled, and Blake realized the girl was shaking. “I lied. I lied to the Deputy.“

“Lied about what?” Her own voice floated around her ears, distant, removed from the panic growing in her chest.

“I- there was a n-note tied to Russet’s arm. I n-never saw what was on it. D-Deputy Xiao Long found it. Leader T-Taurus told me to make sure she read it, but t-tell her it was for you instead.”

The entire world stopped.

Unaware of the fact that the sky was falling around them, Heather sobbed as she continued. “I thought... H-He walked most of the way with us, but he split off on his own near the river, then Lilly told me to get rid of it, but then she had to run back and I... I was hopin’ he just wanted her to help him find Branwen Clan, but I think Lilly knew it was bad, and Yang looked real angry when she read it, and I should’a told her, I’m s-sorry...”

The air had been kicked out of her lungs. She was floating. But, somehow, she leaned down, and grabbed the sobbing girl’s shoulder. “Heather. Thank you for telling me.” She was almost proud of herself for sounding so calm when her entire world was in the middle of falling apart.

And then Blake was moving. Pulling backwards on the reins, Shroud scrambling backwards through the open gate. Pyrrha had swung into the saddle, following as Shroud rolled back on her hocks and sprung into a run, back the way they came. For a moment, she glimpsed Heather as they raced away, still standing at the gate, ears pressed flat.

Words fell from Blake’s mouth as Miló drew even with her, “What was Yang doing when you left? Did she say anything?”

“She told what’d happened, I asked her if Adam knew about you and her, or if she was Raven’s daughter.” Pyrrha yelled above the drumming of hooves, face pale. “She said she didn’t think so, I left her with Nora.”

“She lied. He knows about us.” Her body was full of live electricity, white hot and searing with terror. “Were her eyes red?”

Pyrrha’s stare was the only response she needed. Even if she had spoken, Blake doubted she would have heard it. Her ears were ringing too loud, her heart pounding too hard. 

Trees whipped past her as she steered the powerful mare down a vaguely familiar trail, Milo hot on her tail, and prayed to both Gods that she would find Yang before she found Adam.


 

“You’re early.” Adam’s tone was nearly friendly, his posture relaxed, not even attempting to reach for the rifle slung over his shoulders. He looked far too comfortable. Like he’d been expecting her to show up instead of Blake.

The world around her faded. The fingers on Yang’s left hand tightened on the reins, her right hand already anchored to the handle of her pistol. “Y’ note didn’t specify a time.”

“Mm. Guess it didn’t.” He nodded, almost to himself. Still he didn’t reach for the rifle, instead cuing Wilt to step forwards and enter the river. The tall horse took half a step forward, then balked, snorting at the water’s edge.

Rather than backing away, Yang’s leg moved on Celica’s sides. The mare slowly stepped through the river, closing the distance between them. “My apologies, Blake wasn’t able to come along. It’d be my pleasure to pass ‘long a message, though.”

“That’s fine. I’m just as happy to speak to you.” His eyes narrowed as Celica stepped out of the river, only feet away from Wilt. Yang caught a glimpse of uncertainty before the mismatched blue and grey hardened back into barely restrained aggression. “Would have sworn your eyes were purple.”

“You noticed? That’s cute.” She squeezed her mare’s sides once more, and Celica’s shoulder collided with Wilt’s. The bay stallion jerked, Celica stomped a hind hoof, and the two riders began to circle. Her leg pressed against Adam’s, turning her stomach. But she knew that being this close meant that Adam wouldn’t be able to draw his rifle on her. At least, not faster than she could draw her revolver on him.  “If you don’t have a message for me, than I got one for you.”

He tilted his head. “I’m listening.”

Her voice sunk into a rumble, bile and unbridled fury rising in her throat. “Y’ done what you came here to do. The SDC lost a bunch ‘a valuable dust. Blake Belladonna is done with you. You ain’t got nothin’ left in this town. Now leave. While you still can.”

Adam snorted with laughter, teeth exposed in what looked more like a snarl than a smile. “You have no idea why I’m here, human, or what my plan ever was. I’ll leave your shithole town when I’m done with it.” He leaned far too close, breath clogging her nose. “And if Blake really is done with me, then why are you here instead? Trying to scare me off? Keep her all to yourself? She doesn’t even know about the note, does she?”

Yang clenched her jaw, fighting the urge to either flee or knock him clean off his horse. “We ain’t fightin’ over a maiden’s hand, asshole. Y’ leavin’ town and y’ ain’t comin’ back. Only choice left is whether y’ doin’ that sittin’ up in the saddle, or draggin’ from the stirrup.”

Wilt tossed his head, snorting, ears flat as he tried to bite at the back of Yang’s saddle. “If you really think that,” Adam’s voice finally shook, staring dead into the center of her eyes. “Then shut up, get off your horse, and make me leave.”

An incredulous laugh escaped her throat, disguising the half of her soul that was baying for his blood. “I ain’t an idiot. I know exactly what that horse is gon’ do to me the second I hit the ground. And you know as well as I do that I can paint the river with y’ blood before you’d ever get that rifle off your back. Is that what I need to do?” Her thumb clicked the safety off of her gun.

Adam stared straight through her. “...You know, I met your mother last night.” He said, tilting his head, tone abruptly changing to distant. “Strange coincidence, that the daughter of Raven Branwen would find a bandit with long black hair and immediately claim her as her own.” One blue eye lazily looked her up and down. “You got some momma issues, there, deputy?” 

Breathe. He’s trying to piss you off. The fury boiling in her chest didn’t care. “Comin’ from the man who trapped a sixteen year old girl in a smuggler tunnel? Nah, Adam, if I really had momma issues, I’d be fuckin’ you.” She spat, venom and fury oozing from every syllable.

“Really? Now, that’s interesting.” He tossed his head, cracking his neck, and a ghost of a smile passed by his face. “Did ol’ Ma leave you behind too, Yang? Tell me about it. Maybe it’s the same reason I closed that door on Blake.”

The mist swirled around her, as though warning her to stop listening. 

Darkness himself burned in the icy blue iris, and Adam’s voice fell into a snarl. “Were you a spoiled brat that needed a taste of real pain too?”

Yang couldn’t inhale. It was like her chest couldn’t expand, already filled with molten, billowing fury. In a far, quiet corner of her mind, the last rational thought left in her head decided that she’d given Adam more than enough chances to leave. 

Her gun cleared her holster. 

Adam’s form blurred. A viciously tight grip appeared on her throat and her arm. Instinctively, she pulled the trigger, knowing it was at least close to his head. The pistol roared, her ears rang, Adam yelped, but the hands were still there, squeezing as though to shatter bones.

She saw the river, over his shoulder. She remembered how Wilt had shied away from it.

Yang’s spurs dug into Celica’s sides. She felt the powerful mare leap forwards, and she frantically grabbed for Adam’s throat as his eye flicked sideways. Skin met her palm, and Celica shoved Wilt out of the way and jumped into the river. Wilt stopped dead. Adam did not, dragged out of the saddle by his own grip on Yang.

She knew where their next destination was. She knew she wouldn’t be able to hold him up. 

Instead of letting Adam drag her out of the saddle, she jumped out of it, and they both careened into the river.

The cold water hit her like a train, knocking her breath clear from her chest. She heard a gasping yell, felt Adam’s grip loosen. She knocked the hands away, staggering backwards and scrambling to her feet.

Water rushed around her shins, but Yang stood as still as a statue, watching as Adam slowly got to his own feet. The soaked red hair laid flat against his head, fully exposing the curled black horns. He turned his head slightly. 

The tip of his left horn was broken, dangling from the rest of the horn by a few warped shards of material. Blood oozed from the exposed, rough edge, seeping down the side of his head, his shoulder, into the water flowing past her. 

Her waterlogged gun felt heavy in her hand as she slowly returned it to its holster.

His eye locked onto her. Darkness was there with them, swirling with the freezing air on her skin and running with the blood in the water, the promise of murder swelling between them.

A short, blood-curdling scream of pain fractured the air around them.

Yang jumped, her eyes flicking up. Through the mist, she caught the outline of red roan horse rearing as his rider tumbled from the saddle, a hatchet protruding from her shoulder.

Adam charged, but Yang’s vision had already cleared. Gone was the fury that had driven her, the thoughts of vengeance, the lust to break and destroy. The world had narrowed and sharpened until there were only two goals left. 

Get Adam on the ground. Get to Nora.

She caught Adam’s wrist as he threw the first punch. The water slowed her feet, forcing her to hold her ground and shove her weight against his chest, forcing him back. Yang drove her fist into his ribs once, twice, almost three times before he twisted free. She lifted her arm to block. Not fast enough. His knuckles collided with the side of her head, snapping her sideways, and she saw spots and stars flash around her. A shove; she staggered.

For a heartbeat, she caught sight of his face. Both his eyes were wide, one wild with fury, the other dully staring straight ahead. His teeth were exposed in a savage grin, mouth open in a wordless yell. He wasn’t going to stop swinging until she wasn’t moving anymore. 

She let herself fall. 

The cold seared against her skin again, rocks painfully colliding with her arm and side. But that wasn’t important. Her hand, frantically searching through the rocks below her, was. 

A hand on her shoulder, pushing her down, trying to shove her head under the water. 

Her fingers tightened around a rock that was too small, but would have to do. 

Yang rolled, grabbed Adam’s arm, yanked him towards her. A hoarse roar broke from her throat as she swung with all the force in her arm, and the rock neatly collided with his left ear. 

Adam fell immediately, with a scream that would have been far more satisfying if she’d been thinking about him at all. She scrambled past him, stumbling over the rocks and her waterlogged boots. Nora. Get to Nora.

Celica was already surging away through the field, following a riderless Magnhild trotted away through the stirrup-high grass. No sign of Nora. Yang’s heart pounded, frantically scanning the field as she clambered towards the riverbank - then froze.

Lilly was standing exactly where Yang had seen Nora fall. Nora must have seen her and Adam fight and tried to take a shot, only for Lilly to cut her off. She gripped a bloody hatchet in one hand, staring the grass below Magnhild. As though looking for something dragging on the ground beside him. 

His saddle, Yang realized, was pulling to the far side, as though something was hanging from it. 

Then relief nearly knocked her clean over as a hand flew up to grab the saddle horn. Nora Valkyrie swung back up into the saddle from where she’d been clinging to the side, hidden by the bulk of her horse and the long grass, shotgun still slung across her back, blood spattered across the front of her shoulder. Her face turned, leaning back, starting to steer Magnhild towards her. 

Yang shook her head, waving her arms, and hollered back. “GO TO JAUNE’S! I’M RIGHT BEHIND YOU!” Adam could wait. 

She saw Nora’s faint nod, saw her turn, saw Magnhild speed back up, heading towards the woods and the hill that would lead him back up to town. Celica had stopped at the sound of her rider’s yell, slowly walking back across the field. Yang shivered, gritting her teeth and preparing to run for her horse. She glanced sideways, and found Lilly staring at something behind Yang, eyes wide and mouth slightly open.

A cold wind blew across Yang’s soaked skin, as though trying to push her back across the river. Half a heartbeat later, a snort cut through the air behind her.

She’d heard the sound countless times throughout her life. Yet it sent every hair on her body standing on end, and plunged ice into her gut.

Yang turned.

Adam was struggling to his feet, one hand still on the side of his head. He was completely unaware of the fact that his horse had been pacing the water’s edge, fear of the water warring with hatred of the human scent, coming increasingly close but still unwilling to attack a target that was within the rushing water.

But now Yang was on dry land, the wind was blowing her scent straight to him, and Wilt was staring into her soul with all the focus of a fifteen-hundred pound predator.

She didn’t dare move, afraid that the slightest movement might be enough to convince him that the ten feet of shallow water was worth leaping over. The hope died as Wilt leaned backwards, and one front hoof left the ground. Exactly the same way Gambol had, centuries ago, across a comically tiny stream.

Yang whirled, trying to sprint as time slowed. Celica was trotting through the grass, ears pricked up as she read panic in her rider’s face and body. Lilly was running, yelling something Yang couldn’t process. Neither would reach her in time.

A grunt. A splash. And then the drum of hooves against rock and earth, thundering towards her like Death itself.

The thought that went through Yang’s mind was not the one she expected to have.

If I die, Blake loses everything.

It sunk into her chest, stilling every emotion, clearing her mind. Then, resolve overcame her. Like anger, but focused, rallying every fiber of her body together.

I can’t die.

The plan that formed was less a plan and more a series of instincts. Yang’s right arm came up as she turned, throwing itself between her head and the open mouth surging towards her. Her other hand opened, ready to grab at whatever it could. 

Nothing could have prepared her for the moment Wilt hit her. She’d worked with her horses her entire life. She’d been bit, kicked, stepped on, and dragged. This was different. 

The impact expelled every ounce of air from her chest, Wilt’s teeth clamping down on her sacrificed forearm, her feet disappearing underneath her. Yang managed to grab a fistful of his mane and the poll of his bridle, right behind his ears. She pulled herself up, pressing her head to his forelock, curling her legs upwards as he attempted to strike at them. Pain shot up her right arm, her left arm was pulling her through a tornado. 

Wilt shook his head, snorting furiously, and reared. Her stomach flipped as they crashed back to the ground, and she realized that they were still moving forward as grass whipped at her back and legs. Wilt leapt up again, the impact rattling her bones. Her grip on the leather slid, her hand wet from the river and sweat, fingers numb from the cold.

Her heart stopped as the weightless feeling returned. This time, when he hit the ground, Yang’s hand finally slipped.

Had she been able to breathe, the impact probably would have knocked the wind out of her again. She’d expected Wilt to keep running, but he skidded to a halt as she tumbled to the ground, blotting out the sun. 

Don’t die.

Yang’s vision swam as she rolled and scrambled backwards, her lungs managing to haul in a breath of air. Wilt pinned his ears back and half-reared. 

Instinctively, her right arm came up to block the blow.

Both hooves came crashing down, narrowly missed her head, and brought Yang’s right arm crashing down against the earth.

Agony cracked through her like lightning, and the hard-earned air in her lungs came pouring back out as an inhuman scream.


 

“Blake! Down there!”

Her eyes shot up at Pyrrha’s yell, turning her head to look down the hill they were racing alongside. A red roan horse was puffing and snorting as it climbed up the slope, his rider sitting up but head lolling forwards. Pyrrha jumped ahead of her, Miló clumsily tripping as they descended the hill towards them. Shroud followed with only slightly more grace, but Blake was barely even paying attention, her mouth drying as she realized that Nora’s front was soaked with blood. 

Pyrrha pulled Miló to a halt, grabbing Nora’s shoulder to hold her upright. “What happened?! Where’s Yang?”

“Two White Fang. One startled me, threw a hatchet at me, I ain’t dyin’, just bleedin’. Yang was fightin’ Adam, but she’d knocked him down, yelled at me to get to Jaune. She’s right behind me, was just grabbin’ Celica.” She slurred, but the blue eyes blinked with increasing awareness as she looked at Pyrrha. “...right? She’s behind me?” 

Blake’s eyes and ears scanned the fog pressing on them. No hoofbeats, no snorting, no breathing. 

Pyrrha didn’t ask her if she heard anything, able to see the answer in her face. 

Nora tried to steer Magnhild back towards the fog. “Shit. She’s - she’s by the river. We were goin’ to the same place Blake got ‘tween her and Adam. I’m not hurt bad, I can-” 

Pyrrha cut her off, looking to Blake. “How far is it from here?”

She shook her head, trying to think. “I... not far, we’d be able to see it if it was clear.”

“Okay. You ride with Nora to Jaune’s and-”

Then a sound floated out of the fog, shattering Blake’s focus on anything Pyrrha was saying. It was faint enough that she couldn’t be sure the humans heard it, but loud enough to be crystal clear to her.

She had never heard Yang scream. But the instant she heard the keening, agonized cry, she knew who it was.

Blake yanked Shroud’s nose sideways, dug her heels into her side, and screamed a wordless command into her ear. The mare’s ears were already perked, and she launched herself fearlessly down the side of the hill, half sliding and half running.

She heard Pyrrha scream her name, and deep down she knew she’d made a bad choice. Pyrrha was a better fighter, she cared about Yang, she would have fought to the death to save her. The rational decision was to help Nora get to Jaune and let Pyrrha chase Adam off.

But she was past logic now. She was past plans.

Shroud hit the bottom of the hill and leapt back up to a gallop, snorting and pricking her ears as though listening for a herdmate. Blake grabbed her mane and let the fog swallow them both, sprinting towards a danger that she couldn’t see or hear. It didn’t matter.

Yang was screaming for help, and even if she’d been able to think straight, she wouldn’t have been able to stop herself from answering the call.


 

Yang’s world had faded into a blur of pain and cold, but she still scrambled away when a shadow moved above her. Stay alive. Something struck a rock as she blindly scrambled backwards into the long grass, her shattered arm cradled against her chest. Get up and run to Celica. She tried to get her feet underneath her, and fell backwards. Get up. 

Air rushed over her, and the resolve finally broke as Yang realized she had nowhere left to flee to. A loud, solid thud as a hoof landed next to her head. She curled, screwing her eyes shut and finding the golden irises that were waiting on the inside of her eyelids.

“I’m so sorry.” She choked out, curling into a ball and praying that she might survive what might follow. 

Silence.

Something soft and warm touched her jaw. A huge, long inhale. Then air washed back out across her face, carrying the scent of hay and horses. Yang dared open one eye, hoping that Celica had somehow managed to silently kill Wilt and was waiting in front of her.

Instead, she found Wilt’s nose pressed against her jaw. One wide brown eye hung above her, staring down at her as he blinked, as though trying to process something. Then his nose moved, pressing under her chin, to where her pulse was hammering against her neck. 

Where Blake had been pressed against her as she slept, she realized as the horse gave another long, slow inhale. Where she’d been sleeping for days. Where the river hadn’t been able to wash her scent away completely, too ingrained in Yang’s skin and clothing. 

Wilt had spooked when he’d smelled Blake in the trainyard, and found an unfamiliar scent on her. But now, when he’d expected to find the scent of a foe, and found that of a friend instead...

Yang lifted an uncontrollably shaking hand and placed it on the bridge of his nose. The horse flinched, and her heart stopped. But he didn’t move to strike again, staring at her, nose still pressed to her neck.

“I love her.” Yang’s voice trembled as she pleaded with the enormous animal standing over her, drawing tiny, messy circles on his face. “Please let me go back to her.”

His face moved slightly with her motions, eye still focused on her. Then, so quietly that she barely heard it, she heard a low, flat nicker.

Then his head jerked up, responding to something she couldn’t see. A pair of boots appeared in front of her, grabbing his reins and pulling him back, and Yang collapsed, sobbing in relief as the horse disappeared.

“Gods save my broken soul, that was too fucking close.” A hoarse female voice, somewhere above her.

“Yeah.” A boot landed next to her head and Yang jerked, looking up.

Adam glared down at her, blood still seeping from his broken horn. “Here I thought I could at least depend on Wilt to get the job done.” 

She still had her gun. Yang didn’t hesitate, her good hand flying to the other side of her hip, drawing her soaked revolver. In a blur of motion, she pointed it at him and pulled the trigger. 

Click.

“Funny. I thought you tackled me into the river because you knew some water would stop us from shooting each other.” A smile tugged at his lips as he pulled a knife from his belt. “Was it worth a try anyways, Yang?” 

She bared her teeth at him, fantasizing about his head exploding into ruin.

“Adam.” The woman’s voice was back, out of sight but clear. Lilly. “She’s more valuable alive than dead.” 

Adam exhaled through his teeth. “Thought I told you to stay out of my damn way.” He locked eyes with Yang, the smile widening as she slowly moved one arm as if to start crawling away.

“You told me to help you fix this. This is not going to fix it.” 

“It’ll fix something.” He snarled, and took a step towards her.

Lilly appeared faster than Yang could try to scramble away, bodily pulling Adam back, one hand clenched on Wilt’s bridle as the horse pawed at the ground. “Do you want to hurt Raven, or humiliate her?”

Adam rolled his eyes. “She said it herself - the bitch don’t care much ‘bout her pup.” He drawled mockingly.

Lilly didn’t move, even as Yang crawled further into the grass. “Russet told you she’s Raven’s daughter. He didn’t tell you that she was part of the gang at one point. She knows their names. Where they’ve set up hideouts. It doesn’t matter if we ransom her or interrogate her, we can get the dust back instead of just striking at her for taking it.” 

Yang listened, realization slowly dawning on her. He must have tried to save one crate. And Raven must have…

A nicker cleared her thoughts. Yang looked up. Celica was only ten feet away, eyes locked on her fallen rider. Gritting her teeth, Yang slowly rolled her weight sideways, getting to her knees.

“Thought I told you not to keep anything from me.” His voice was far too quiet.

“I did tell you, when we were walking Heather back. You weren’t listening.” Lilly didn’t falter, but Yang could see how one hand twitched slightly closer to her hatchet. Suddenly, she had no doubts at all that Adam had killed Russet in a fit of rage. “My point still stands. Even if Raven doesn’t give a shit about the kid, she’s useful to us.”

Celica hesitantly stepped closer. Wilt snorted, watching the mare draw closer, but both faunus weren’t paying attention. Adam had stopped entirely, eyes narrowed. His head slowly tilted as he returned the knife to its place.

She’d done this before. She could do it again. 

Yang jumped upwards, arm pressed to her chest, and sprinted towards Celica. She heard a yell, but she’d already shoved her foot into a stirrup and grabbed the saddle horn with her good hand. She dragged herself into the saddle, gritting her teeth to keep back the nausea. Celica scrambled backwards as Yang hunched over her shoulder, then turned. She’d run for home. All Yang had to do was hang on. She’d get home. She’d get to Blake.

Celica jerked, rotating sideways, jumping. Panic. She hadn’t heard a shot. Had he managed to- no. She was rearing. Something had her reins. Caught on a fencepost, or-

A calm, smooth voice reached her. “Calm down, sweetheart. Everything is going to be okay. Shhhhh.”

Her head lifted, and her stomach dropped. 

Adam ran his hand down Celica’s forehead as she crowhopped, his other fist firmly clenched on her reins, following her motions easily. “Good girl.” He hummed in a bass tone, and Celica’s movements slowed, ears pricking up. “Here, you must be hungry.” He reached into his pocket, offering a small apple. 

Celica snatched it without hesitation, chewing messily past her bit. Yang’s hands shook. She could jump off and run. The world was tilting, but she might get far enough for someone to find her. Blake had made it to Winchesters with broken ribs and a gunshot wound. But Blake hadn’t had two people running after her.

Adam stooped to grab something off the ground, then chuckled as the massive palomino nudged at his pocket. “You’re not the brightest, are you? That’s okay.” His gaze traveled to Yang, blood running down Celica’s golden shoulder. “Clever girls just get themselves into trouble. Don’t they?”

Yang inhaled, intending to tell him exactly where he could go and what he could do once there.

Then a faint yell cut through the air, shattering her thoughts. “YANG?!”

Her head jerked up. Oh Gods, no no no! “BLAKE! RUN A-”

Adam’s arm blurred. She caught sight of a rock clenched in his hand. Then pain erupted behind her ear and the world flickered out of sight.


 

She knew that screaming Yang’s name into the fog was a terrible idea. But Shroud was puffing underneath her, her heart was in her mouth, and was desperate for any reassurance that Yang was still alive.

Somehow, the response just made things worse. 

“BLAKE! RUN A-”

She wasn’t far. Blake bundled her reins into one hand, and slung the rifle off of her shoulder. She hadn’t missed the plea for her to turn and run, but the idea of obeying was far, far away. She wasn’t going anywhere but directly to Yang’s side.

She did, however, lean back and slow Shroud to a canter. She knew exactly who was threatening Yang, and she had no intentions of galloping directly into him. Even if the slower pace made her teeth grind against each other, her heart threatening to break out of her chest completely.

Slowly, the obscured landscape around her became more familiar. Blake swallowed as she caught sight of a familiar stretch of river. Her eyes darted around the field, finding nothi-

No. Wait. 

Blake felt her heart pound as her eyes caught on a flash of gold in the trees ahead of her. A mare, trotting away, rider bent forwards as they disappeared into the bushes. Celica. She almost sprung after the horse. And would have, had it not been for a clatter that she involuntarily glanced sideways to find.

Wilt landed on the other side of a thin stretch of river, twenty feet behind her, from where he’d been hidden behind a stand of trees. 

Adam Taurus stared straight through her. His eyes were wide, nearly unhinged. One of his horns was broken, the tip hanging by a thread. 

Then he turned Wilt to face her, and time slid to a halt.

One of his arms was clamped around Yang Xiao Long’s waist. Her eyes were closed, her body limp, resting in front of him in the saddle. Her right arm was bent just below the elbow, blood seeping from the unnatural joint.

The world narrowed. Darkened. As though she was seeing through a tunnel.

Adam rested his chin on the blonde head in front of him. “I’ll admit,” He called to the frozen woman, “She’s pretty, for a human.” 

Her chest expanded, filling with cold air. The field, the fog, the blood, it all snapped back into clear focus. 

She didn’t feel herself kick at Shroud’s sides. She wasn’t aware of the fact she’d raised the rifle. But Blake most certainly heard herself scream, “GET AWAY FROM HER!” as she pulled the trigger. 

Adam was already moving, but she heard a screech of pain and saw the remains of his broken horn fly off entirely. Wilt snorted, racing into the brush. Shroud powered through the river like a runaway train, sending water flying around them and hitting the opposite riverbank at what felt like a dead run.  

Her heart pounded in her mouth as she lowered the rifle in favor of focusing on steering Shroud through the trees. She had to catch up. She had to get to Yang. She couldn’t let him get away. She frantically dug her heels into Shroud’s sides, and found out that they had not been moving at a dead run at all.

They exploded out of the foggy forest and into a field as Shroud powered off of her hind limbs like a hare. Wilt was ahead of them, but not by much as Shroud’s powerful, short strides narrowed the distance, not needing Blake's direction to follow the galloping horse. Blake had no idea what, exactly, she would do once she actually caught them, but it didn’t matter. Neither did the aching in her ribs, the sharp pain in her hip, or the panic and fury driving her forwards.

All that mattered was Yang.

Adam kept glancing over his shoulder as the two drew closer, continuing through the field. As she gained ground, she realized he didn’t seem angry she was catching up. In fact, he was… slowing down?

Movement. Three riders, racing towards them from the other side of the field. She recognized Brun, howling as he passed Adam and leveled a rifle of his own at her. “TRAITOR!” Her heart fell into her toes as she realized he was flanked by Clay and Basil, both brandishing weapons of their own. All three wore similar facial expressions - a mixture of anger and betrayal. 

Adam told them all. Or - no. Yuma. They must have let Heather go first and then… 

Shroud’s ears flicked up as a shot cracked past them, jumping sideways with a frightened snort. She wasn’t used to gunfire so close to her. The sudden movement forced Blake to cling on as the mare ground to a halt. 

Brun’s face twisted into a mixture of anger and disgust as he pulled his own horse to a halt. “You’re not welcome here, Belladonna." He yelled across the short distance between them. "I’m only giving you one chance to turn back.” 

So close, and so far away, she saw Yang’s head lift slightly. She saw lilac eyes, dulled with pain and disorientation, focus on her and widen.

Time slowed to a nightmarish crawl. She’d be shot if she attacked. Or she’d hurt one of the three faunus in front of her. 

Yang is all that matters. Get her out.

She started to lift the rifle.

Clay was faster. The boy fired another warning shot, this one whizzing much closer to her. Shroud squealed, rearing up. 

Past the ruckus, her sensitive ears heard a tiny, weak croak. “Blake. Run.” 

A mixture of fury, fear, and agony swelled; her heart cracked in her chest. She didn’t want to obey the plea - but it was out of her hands.

For a split second, she locked eyes with Adam. The victorious smirk faltered in the face of pure, utter hatred.

Shroud turned on her hocks and bolted. Another shot echoed over her head. She barely heard it over the unearthly, agonized wail echoing through the fog around her. 

It took her a long moment to realize it was her that was screaming.

 

Chapter Text

A light rain had filled in where the fog lifted, and the damp ground held hoof prints like writing on a page. Pyrrha would have preferred not to read the story they told. 

The battle at the riverbank had been gut-wrenchingly easy to decipher, even from the back of an antsy racehorse. A clear imprint in the soft ground had greeted her almost immediately, formed from someone curled on their side, bleeding from either an arm or torso. Hoof prints and footprints littered the ground around it, with two sets of tracks taking off in different directions. The first set of tracks had been left by wide hooves, ambling into the bush at a trot. The second trail, however, was formed by two sets of hooves galloping away from the river and into the woods, one with a stride nearly as long as Miló's, the other leaving gouges in the mud from the pure force of its sprint. Celica’s tracks were unmistakable, but she knew Yang wouldn’t leave Blake to pursue Adam alone, and Blake wouldn’t have left a wounded Yang behind.

Even if she’d had any misgivings about which tracks to follow, the faint gunfire and haunting scream made the decision much easier.

That had been only a minute ago, but she’d heard nothing but the hiss of rain on the trees and the frantic pace of her own thoughts since. Miló snorted and yanked at the bit, but she kept him at a slow lope, eyes searching for hoof prints in the dirt and horse hair snagged on branches. 

The trees thinned, leading into a small clearing. Miló  snorted in frustration as she dragged him to a halt, but Pyrrha was more focused staying under the treeline, scanning for any sign of life.

Awk.

Her eyes darted upwards, and her breath caught at the massive black raven circling above. One raven didn’t mean much, but the scream hadn't been long ago. It was possible that-

No. She cut herself off, silently pleading with the carrion bird . You haven’t found a body to eat. Go away. Keep flying. You haven’t found anything.

She watched the small black head turn, examining the ground below. Then the bird banked and headed north with a few quick beats of its wings.

Pyrrha’s breath slowly hissed out. She hadn’t realized she was holding it.

Faintly, the drumming of hooves and a snort reached her. Pyrrha’s head jerked up to look over her shoulder, hoping that Blake had somehow circled around her. 

Instead, she saw Sunflower weaving between the trees, easily falling to a trot as Ren leaned back in his saddle. She exhaled, feeling a pang of relief. Ren had met her and Nora in town and taken her to Jaune himself, letting Pyrrha return to the chase. He wouldn’t have left her if Jaune wasn’t certain she’d be okay. But, as Ren drew even with her, she asked anyways. “How’s Nora?”

“Angry and scared, but okay. She ordered me to follow you instead of accompanying her and Jaune.” Worry still knit his brows together as he examined the ground.

Pyrrha shook her head, answering a question he hadn’t asked. “I heard some gunfire and a scream a few minutes ago. Haven’t heard anythin-”

“Pyrrha.” His eyes hadn’t moved from the ground - but ahead of them, in the clearing, rather than directly below.

She looked, and her breath caught as she saw the torn grass and mud in the center of the clearing. She nudged Miló to a walk, circling away from the messed ground as the red stallion chomped at his bit. Ren copied her motion, swinging around to examine the patch from the other side. 

“… three trails come in from the south.” She called after a moment, staring down at a set of hoof prints that tore away from the trampled earth. “They were here for a minute, then four leave.”

 “Five leave.” Ren replied, stopping to look down, near their own trail. “Shroud ran east.” 

“With or without Blake?” It would have been a tough question for someone less experienced at tracking. But Pyrrha was well versed by herself, and Ren could put her to shame any day of the week. 

Ren trotted alongside the tracks, looking up and down for a moment before calling back. “With. Or, at the very least she had a rider, she wouldn’t be running this straight without one. We must have just missed her.” He added under his breath.

Pyrrha grimaced as her eye caught on a shell casing, glittering in the mud. “Think I know why she was runnin’.” She chewed her lip, lost in thought. The imprint of a body on the ground was conspicuously absent here, and all four trails seemed to leave at an unconcerned, if quick pace. 

“Nora said Yang tried to confront Taurus.” Ren halted beside her again, his usual calm giving way to concern. “This… doesn’t look good.”

“You don’t say.” She snorted before she could stop herself, then shook her head. “Apologies.”

“None needed. What is Taurus doing?” He asked, almost to himself.

Pyrrha responded anyways, but her own voice was low, as though talking to herself. “They fought back at the river, things must’ve gone south after Nora ran. I just don’t know if they killed Yang and took her body, or…”

“Or they took her alive.” 

“Why?” Pyrrha finally voiced the worry that had been prickling the back of her mind. “Why take her body? Why take her ? If he was tryin’ to use her to control Blake, why did he let her run away?” 

Ren spoke up after a moment, his voice calm as ever. “...Nora didn’t tell me anything past ‘Yang took off after Adam Taurus’. What’s happened, exactly?”

Oh. She winced. Poor Ren. “I’m sorry, should’ve started there. Heather Maple showed up at the office this mornin’ with Russet Hickory’s body, Yang and Blake spoke to her. The White Fang hit the train last night. She said that they destroyed the dust instead of taking it, then Branwen Clan attacked an-” 

She stopped mid-sentence. Heather had said they attacked out of anger, and killed Russet as a statement. But Adam had killed Russet, not Raven. 

Pyrrha blinked, her thoughts running wild as she slowly continued the summary. “...the girl told them that Branwen Clan attacked out of anger. Killed Russet as a statement. Then once we got to the house, she said there was note that Yang read. Taurus told her to make sure Yang read it, but to tell her it was meant for Blake. On top of that, Raven couldn’t have made the shot with lightin’ dust dischargin’ all over the place.’

Ren’s furrowed brow echoed Pyrrha’s own thoughts. “Why would she attack if the dust was gone?”

“...she wouldn’t.” Pyrrha stared at Ren, her mind whirring like a new clock. “Raven would not have bothered with them if the dust was destroyed.”

“Then the dust wasn’t destroyed.” Ren slowly tilted his head back. “Why would he lie about that?”

“Because he wasn’t gon’ share it. That’s why the bastard killed Russet, he needed an excuse to strike out at Raven. She has the damn shipment.” She could be wrong, but the pieces were fitting together too well. Normally, Pyrrha would have felt some kind of joy at solving the riddle. But riddles weren’t a matter of life and death, and her heart pounded at the inside of her ribs as she looked at the beaten ground below them. “He set a goddamn trap for Yang, and he’s gon’ ransom her for the dust.”

Ren blinked, and for the first time a look of true fear passed his eyes. “Pyrrha, does Raven care enough about-”

“No.” Pyrrha’s mouth was dry as she wheeled Miló back around. “She doesn’t.”

She didn’t have to explain further. Ren gathered up his reins, straightening with a mask-like expression. “What do you need me to do?”

“Scout Cerulean Ranch. Stay downwind and out of earshot, I need to know what we’re up against.” Pyrrha forced herself to take a breath. Yang was smart and strong, and they needed her alive. She had some time. And Blake would be alone, scared, and likely wracked with guilt. People in such a state usually automatically headed for somewhere where they could feel comfortable and safe, at least until they could pull themselves together. And the list of places where Blake felt safe, at least that Pyrrha knew of, was extremely short. “I’m gon’ find Blake.”

“Tracks go this way, Pyrr.” Ren called as she began to trot directly north, ignoring the tracks that had moved east.

“I ain’t followin’. I know where she went.” She set her jaw, finally releasing the reins and letting Miló leap to a dead gallop.


The wooden gate hung ajar in front of them, rusty hinges squeaking as a breeze shifted it. Blake could barely hear it - even the sound of Shroud’s puffing and the stabbing pain in her hip seemed distant. 

At first, Blake had just steered Shroud into the trees and started carving a wide circle, intending to make her way to Cerulean Ranch under the cover of the woods. What, exactly, she’d do once she was there was another matter, but all that mattered was getting to Yang.

Her hip had been aching since the morning, but with every step she’d taken, it grew to a sharp, stabbing pain instead. When she finally looked down, t he spreading bloodstain at the hem of her shirt didn’t leave her with many options.

She mirrored what she’d seen Yang do countless times and leaned down, shoving the gate open with the palm of her hand, focusing on the roughness of the wood. She didn't bother to close it behind her.

The cabin looked smaller. Darker. She was already regretting coming back to it - it was just going to be empty and lifeless. But she needed to sit down and dress her wound, and the list of places she could go had only gotten shorter the longer she thought about it. Again, a voice in the back of her head hissed that she needed to turn around, run back to the Ranch. Her hip could rip itself to peices. It was nothing in comparison to what might be happening to-

Stop. Adam would have already killed her if he intended to, and you're no good to her dead. Take a minute to see how bad it is. Make a plan that might actually work. Then get back out.

She staggered as she landed back on the ground. Shroud was soaked with sweat, trembling even though they’d been walking for the past fifteen minutes. Blake bit her lip, stroking the mare’s neck. Gambol wouldn’t have run from the bullets. But, they might have shot her in front of Yang if Shroud hadn’t spooked. 

“It’s okay.” She mumbled to the exhausted mare as she pulled her bridle off. “It wasn’t your fault.” She left the saddle on, loosening the girth and crossing her stirrups over the back before letting Shroud wander off, grazing on the wet grass. 

Blake limped up the stairs, wincing with every movement. She wondered if she’d finally managed to blow a suture, after a week and a half of managing to keep the wound in check. Or, maybe the cauterized part had given way. Neither felt like a real concern. She reached for the handle and opened the door. 

In the back of her mind, something asked if the door should have been locked. 

Blake shouldered her way into the cabin anyways. She hung the bridle on the coat hook absentmindedly, pointedly not looking around. She didn’t want to see the cabin cold and empty.

She was almost at the bedroom door before she realized it wasn’t.

Blake stopped her in her tracks as a wave of disembodied vulnerability hit her. Like her back was exposed. Like she was being watched. The hair on the back of her neck stood on end. 

A quiet exhale behind her.

The emotion-induced haze snapped away, and years of being a silent, lethal shadow came flooding back. The rifle was still on her back. There were knives in the kitchen. Find the intruder. If they were close, draw the gun and use it as a club. If they were on the other side of the room, draw the gun and fire. If they were armed, pretend to surrender and grab a knife.

Blake carefully turned her head to look over her shoulder, and all three plans evaporated.

For one cruel moment, she recognized her jaw, her nose, her unnaturally red irises, and almost sobbed in relief. 

Then she saw the wild black hair, and joy instantly became fear.

She was leaning back in the kitchen chair, one boot resting on the seat of the chair opposite her, still as the air before gunfire. There was no weapon visible on her, yet a nameless threat hung in the air between them. 

Raven Branwen’s voice was low, hoarse, and froze the entire cabin solid. “Blake Belladonna. Pleasure to finally meet you.”

Her breath stuck to her ribs, but every second that passed turned the silence darker, uglier. “We have met.” She blurted out the first thought she encountered. “I threw you out a window.”

Raven blinked. Then the corner of her mouth twitched. “Yang must trust you.”

Yang. Her name, spoken so casually while the world was shattering around them, snapped the world back into focus, kicked her mind back into motion. This wasn’t a coincidence. Raven must have seen what happened.

And yet, she was here instead of sending a bullet through the back of Adam’s head. 

Miraculously, she managed to speak in a collected, formal tone rather than the screaming and howling echoing in her head. “I’m going to assume it’s not a coincidence you chose today to introduce yourself.”

Raven’s eyebrows quirked, something like amusement flitting across her face. “That’d be a safe assumption.”

“Would I be correct to assume you saw what happened?”

The older woman shifted her weight, taking her boot off the chair and kicking it away from the table. “I saw Adam Taurus ridin’ off with my daughter.” She gestured to the empty chair. “And I saw you fleein’ from his followers.”

Blake ignored it, forcing herself to breathe and not scream. “And why, exactly, did you follow me and not him?”

The look she received was almost amused, in a dry way. “I would have been a lone raven dive bombin’ four well-armed faunus, in broad daylight. How do you think that would have ended?”

“I’m sure you would have had someone that could shoot for you.” Blake let her eyes narrow. You’re the leader of a goddamn bandit clan. Don’t bullshit me.

“Miss Belladonna.” Raven leaned forward, resting her elbows on the table. “I understand why y’ angry.”

That was all the push she needed. Blake’s voice snarled through her teeth, shaking from the force of her pounding heart alone. “Do you, now? Do you understand why I might be angry about the fact that I tried harder to save your own daughter than you did?”

Raven stood. 

The motion itself wasn’t all that threatening; Raven wasn’t much taller than Blake was. The glare she’d locked her in, however, curdled her blood. There was no guilt, no sympathy, and certainly no compassion reflecting back at her. Only a cold threat that if Blake didn’t comply, there would be consequences. 

“Sit down before you fall down, girl.” 

She didn’t blink until Blake reluctantly moved sideways and more or less collapsed into the chair. Despite her best efforts, she couldn’t help but wince as a shock of pain crossed her hip.

If she noticed, Raven didn’t acknowledge it. The older woman exhaled as she settled back into her own chair, more tired than threatening now. “For the record, y’ right. I saw you chasin’ them, you put everythin’ you had into tryin’ to get her back. More than what you had, actually.” She added, nodding at Blake’s hip. 

Blake followed her gaze, and bit her lip. The bloodstain was larger than what it had been before. 

“Which is why,” Blake looked up to find Raven pulling the familiar leather satchel out from under her chair, setting it between them. “I flew here ahead of you and took the liberty of findin’ this. That was already bleedin’ when I caught sight of you.”

“How thoughtful.” Blake commented dryly, pulling it towards her and turning away slightly as she untucked her shirt. 

Raven averted her gaze, calmly standing to wander to the kitchen. “Take y’ time; I need you alive.”

So that’s what she was up to. Blake chuckled humorlessly as she began pulling the bandages away, keeping an ear flicked towards the figure that was now peeking through cupboards. “Adam isn’t going to trade her for me, if that’s your plan. If he wanted me he would have used Yang as leverage to make me follow him. I don’t know what he wants.” She added under her breath, keeping the despair and confusion that formed the words out of her voice.. 

“I do.” Raven frowned at the inside of a mostly empty cabinet, closing it and moving to the next. “That’d be the crate of dust sitting in my camp.”

Blake’s hand paused. A crate of dust. But they'd destroyed them all, according to...

...to Heather. Who Adam had already lied to.

“That greedy bastard.” She whispered. Even as she said it, she knew it couldn’t be the whole truth. Adam had never had an interest in wealth itself, only in the power it could buy him. Lightning dust wasn’t a good choice for weaponry, he must have intended to sell it. But why lie to the rest of the White Fang?

Raven snorted, interrupting her thoughts. “Greedy ain’t quite the right word, from what I’ve been told. Just ambitious.”

“How do you know that?” It was meant to be muttered under her breath. But, as Blake spoke, she realized that there was far more bundled in that question. She raised her head, and found Raven looking over her shoulder, expression somewhere between expectant and exasperated. “How did you know about the shipment in the first place? I didn’t even know about it, let alone that he was planning on saving some for himself. Yuma only ever met him when the sky was dark enough for him to avoid being seen, and Yang said you can’t fly at night.” There was no way Raven could have discovered everything by accident - not when she seemed to know so much.

Raven sighed and waved her hand. “That’s a long story, and we’re pressed for time. How does that wound on y’ hip look?”

Suspicion flared in her gut - the world was even more shadowy than before. But she pulled the last bandage away, and glanced down. Immediately, her breath caught.

Most of the wound was in more or less passable shape, though irritated and bleeding. Most of it had only been cauterized, too wide to stitch back together. The healing tissue was already far enough along to withstand the forces involved in her frantic chase. But, the flesh that Jaune had managed to pull stitch together to cover her bone was in more trouble. 

One stitch had broken - the first in the line, put in just to help hold the wound together. No bone was exposed, but the next in line behind it would reveal some if it gave way as well. Blake stared at the fragile-looking thread holding her together. “It’s not bad.” She said, in a voice that was slightly too high-pitched.

“I have to wonder what you see as ‘bad’.” The jar of honey thunked onto the table in front of her, making her jump. “But I feel safe sayin’ that you ain’t got all that much time before that turns into it.”

“Honey isn’t going to stop this from getting infected.” Blake took it anyways, unscrewing the top and wincing as she spread the thick gel across the wound. 

“No, but this will.” A familiar rattle.

Blake’s head shot up. Raven raised an eyebrow as she pulled a small metal container from a pocket in her jacket, opening it and tilting it towards Blake. Her mouth went dry as she recognized the small pills inside. “How-”

“Miss Belladonna, I’m the leader of a bandit clan. I’ve had more than one follower return with life-threatenin’ wounds. I know what I need to keep a supply of.” 

Blake reached for the pill vial. Raven abruptly jerked it out of reach, tilting her head slightly. Of course you’re not going to give help freely. Blake set her jaw, reaching for the bandages instead and focusing on wrapping her hip instead. “So, what do I owe you in return for your generosity ?” She growled.

“I have found myself in an... awkward situation. I am not willing to give up the dust. But I cannot allow Yang to die, or serious harm to come to  her.” She sounded more annoyed than concerned, though for a brief moment Blake saw something that wasn’t quite as cold as the rest of her flick past her eyes. “You obviously care very deeply about her. You know Adam and the White Fang better than anyone else. And I’ve just lost my informants within the White Fang.”

Blake’s hands paused on the bandage. “Your... your what?”

Raven sighed, shaking her head. “You asked how I knew about the dust - I’ve had someone inside the White Fang for some time now. Didn’t plan on interferin’ at first, just watch and make sure you didn’t get comfortable. But, another member of the group approached my woman two weeks ago and ordered her to arrange a meetin’ with me. I was told about the plan and offered a deal - if I can steal the dust out from under Adam’s nose and keep it away from him, it’s mine to use as I see fit.” 

Shock erased every suspicion, every theory, every thought that Blake had. That was how Raven had always stayed ahead. She’d been watching from the beginning, and one of Adam’s followers had turned on him. “Who-”

Raven cut her off with a slice of her hand, eyes growing cold again. “You need to make a choice first. I will answer y’ questions, provide you with whatever you need to heal, and help you get Yang back. In return, you will come with me, provide whatever knowledge you have on the White Fang, and assist me in runnin’ them out of my territory. If that involves killin’ Adam Taurus, you will help as needed. Once Yang is safe and the White Fang is no longer a threat, the deal is complete and you may do whatever you please. Do you understand?”

Blake did understand. Maybe more than what Raven thought she did. She understood the gravity of the deal, the fact that Raven was only going to make the choices that served her best, the fact that at any moment Blake could be cast to the side and left to die. But she also understood that Yang was in pain and alone, that Blake could not save her by herself, and that Adam would not stop until he was dead. “I understand.”

The heartbreakingly familiar red eyes narrowed. “Then, do we have a deal?”

“Do I have a choice?” 

Raven gave a short, harsh bark of laughter. “You always have a choice. One decision is just significantly stupider than the other.”

Blake had gotten used to hearing intruders approaching long before they actually reached her. Which was why the sound of the door flying open nearly sent her flying off the chair. The short yelp of surprise died in her throat as she turned.

Jasper Hickory looked horrible. Mud streaked her round face and dark hair, exaggerating the redness around her eyes and the clean trails where tears had fallen. Her mouth opened as she gasped for breath, revealing her long canine teeth. “We got a problem.” She panted, eyes locked on Raven. “Sheriff Nikos is comin’ down the road. She didn’t see me, my horse is hid behind the house, but she’s gon’ be here in a minute.”

“If Jasper saw Raven Branwen murder her brother, she would not be missin’. She would have showed up on my doorstep last night, cryin’ and lost.” Heather’s indifference towards Jasper’s disappearance. How no one seemed surprised that she’d run off - as though she was gone all the time anyways. 

She stared at the teenage girl, heart sinking as she realized exactly who Raven’s original spy was, and why she couldn’t give information anymore.

“Dammit, Nikos.” Raven muttered, running a hand through her hair. “Probably makin’ her own plan to get everyone killed.”

“Let me talk to her.” Blake’s voice didn’t waver, but her hands felt unsteady as she hurriedly finished wrapping the bandage around her hips. “I can convince her to back off and keep out of the way.”

Raven eyed her. But Jasper was frantically looking between them and the open doorway, and Blake met her gaze steadily. You don’t have much of a choice either.

The older woman gave a short, annoyed exhale. “Make it fast.” She turned to teenager beside her. “Hide, then ride with Belladonna to the corner of Patch Ranch. I will meet you there.”

Jasper nodded, turning on her heel and scrambling back outside.

Raven turned, and her expression didn’t change as she opened the pill vial, shook one into her hand, and placed it on the table in front of Blake. “Nikos is, understandably, not fond of me. Tellin’ her about this deal would be unwise.” The bloody eyes glittered with a silent threat.

Blake took the pill and dry swallowed it, wincing but not breaking eye contact. “Understood.” 

“Good.” Raven Branwen extended her hand. “Welcome to the band, Blake Belladonna.”

Her hand was rough and callused, not unlike Yangs and yet completely unlike Yang. Blake shook it anyways, swallowing the bile that rose in her throat. Then the woman turned, and her form rippled and distorted like a disturbed reflection. Blake watched in a mixture of fascination and disbelief as the raven took form mid-air and left the house with a quick beat of its wings.

The silence that followed left her fully aware of her rolling gut and the faint drum of hoof beats. Blake unsteadily rose, checking her bandage once more, and exhaled. What did I just agree to?

You agreed to save Yang. That’s all that matters.

“Blake?!” The call shook with suppressed panic, and a mixture of guilt and pain bit at her gut.

“I’m here.” She called back, voice hollow to her ears.

Pyrrha raced into the house before Blake could reach the doorway. “Oh Gods, are you okay?” Her green eyes scanned her form, catching on her hip, sh. “Oh sh-”

“It’s okay. I just re-bandaged it, it’s fine, just annoyed.” The lie fell from her mouth too easily, but Blake found herself struggling for what to say next. 

It was easy to forget that Pyrrha was the whip-smart lawman that she was. In an instant, the woman’s head had tilted, eyes narrowing as she studied Blake, seeing her rigid, frightened posture. Her eyes flicked to the table with chairs pulled away from it, the open cabinet doors, and the mud tracked through the front entrance. “Blake, what happened?” Her voice held equal amounts of concern and dread.

Blake swallowed. Then mouthed ‘Raven.’

The green eyes widened. “Is-“

Blake sliced with her palm. ‘She might be listening.' Her voice picked back up, and continued in an exhausted voice that really wasn’t a lie. “Adam took Yang. I didn’t get there in time.”

“I know. I saw the tracks, figured it out.” Pyrrha slowly nodded. She sounded genuinely scared, but her voice paled in comparison to the worry in her face. “Did they threaten you?” 

“No. Just chased me away.” She knew ‘they’ didn’t refer to the White Fang. She bobbed her head in a ‘sort of’ gesture. “I... Adam’s after something. I think he’s trying to strike back at Branwen Clan.” ‘Dust,’ she mouthed, her voice just audible to her own ears, keeping her motions slow and clear, ‘Raven has the dust.'

“I was wonderin’ about that.” She said, and her face screamed that she’d already figured that out. 

“Yeah.” Blake inhaled, steeling herself. “You need to let me go on my own. The White Fang will never trust a human, but even in exile they might listen to me. Give me three days. I’ll get her back.”

Pyrrha’s eyes flicked over her face, pain seeping from her eyes. “...Yang and my husband would both kill me if I let that happen.” 

Blake gave a weak smile. “They don’t have to know. You can say I ran off and you couldn’t catch me.”

She snorted. “All my horse has goin’ for him is speed.” Despite the tone, Pyrrha looked nearly frantic, as though trying to figure out a way to get Blake out from the situation she’d landed in. She didn’t even know the situation, but she was trying to help.

Blake bit her lip and desperately tried not to cry.

After a long moment, Pyrrha sighed, her tone becoming somewhat tired, contrasting sharply with her pale face. “Very well. Godspeed, find me if you need anything.” Then the tall woman stepped forwards, wrapped her in a hug, and began to hiss into her ear, barely audible. 'There’s a lookout near Cerulean Ranch. Ren or I will be there just after sundown every night for a few hours. Meet us there when you can. Is there anything else?'

Blake fiercely hugged her back, nodding into her shoulder. “Thank you.” She spoke in a nearly formal tone, before whispering, 'Yang’s arm is broken, Jasper is with Raven, and there’s a spy in Adam’s camp. I’ll send word if I find anything else. Take care of Gambol.'

A low sigh. “No. Thank you.” Pyrrha muttered, one hand rubbing her back. Then, just as quickly, she backed away, turning and heading back out the door. Blake heard the faintest whisper as she left. ‘Be careful, Blake.’

It was too late for that, she thought as she listened to the sounds of Pyrrha clambering back onto her horse and riding off. Then she turned and headed into the bedroom. 

She quickly found a satchel under Yang’s bed, and started throwing in clothes, the brush Yang had lent her, ammunition for her rifle, whatever she thought she might need. After a moment’s hesitation, she grabbed a bra that looked like it might have been for Yang’s sister. It looked like it would fit her. Her hip might have been in bad shape, but her ribs hadn’t ached at all. It was time for the bandage to come off.

After some moments of fiddling, the bandage came unraveling off. She hurriedly pulled the bra on as she heard footsteps approaching the open doorway, then cough from the kitchen. “Sheriff's gone, Belladonna.” Jasper grunted. 

“My name is Blake. And don’t come in, I’m getting rid of a bandage.” Blake’s voice came out sharper than she’d intended. She pulled her shirt back on, inhaling, feeling her torso move unconstrained for the first time in more than a week. 

“Okay.” The younger woman’s sounded dull. “Raven’s gone too. Grabbed y’ horse, she’s tied up outside.”

“...thank you.” Blake bit her lip. She’s just a kid, and she just lost her big brother. “I... I saw Russet. I’m so sorry.”

A snort. “For what? The fact that my idiot brother believed all the lies Adam was peddlin’ right up until the bastard shot him?” 

Blake replied before she could stop herself. “For getting your family into this mess in the first place.” Her own voice wavered.

There was a moment of silence. When the voice returned, oddly raspy for a teenager, it was even duller than before. “Don’t be. Just... let’s get out of here and get back to Raven. She’ll figure somethin’ out.”

“She’d better.” Blake hefted the bag over her shoulder, and inhaled as she left the bedroom. Jasper was leaning against the wall, staring something she couldn’t see. Blake paused in the doorway. “...Jasper? Who was the other spy?”

The girl gave her an incredulous look as she pushed off the wall and left the small cabin. “Ain’t it obvious?”

Blake bit her lip as she followed. “...yes. Yes, I suppose it is.”


Yang had been woken from unconsciousness before. Once, when she’d fallen off a young horse and hit her back too hard, and had collapsed from the lack of air. Then again, after too hard of a hit to her head. She’d always come back the same way - disoriented and panicked, with the sensation she’d been somewhere else for years and was only now being dragged back to reality.

Today was no different.

Cracking pain in her arm dragged Yang back into reality, yelping and gasping. The world was distorted and strange around her, like she was underwater. Her vision was slow to clear.

Grey, weathered wood. Straw pricking at her legs. Dust and smoke in her nose. Throbbing pain behind her right ear. Movement beside her. “Quit complaining. You’re lucky you can feel anything at all.”

Her memory came rushing back. The note. Confronting Adam. Wilt. 

Blake, eyes wide as she clung to a rearing Shroud, a bloodstain spreading over her hip. 

Yang slowly lifted her head, prepared to swing her good arm at a smirking blue eye.

Instead, she found two brown eyes, framed by scarred ears and stringy dark hair. Lilly crouched beside her, wrapping strips of fabric around her arm to bind it to a thin wooden board. Behind her, Yang could see the interior of what looked like an old barn. They were in a box stall, which looked to be the only thing in the entire barn in decent repair. Shafts of light from the dreary sky cut through the spaces in the wooden walls, and even the faint light was enough to make her headache flare.

She let her head droop again, and winced as another scrap of cloth was tightened around her forearm. “Lilly.” Her voice sounded rough, more like cough than speech.

The faunus’ head jerked up, expression turning sharp. “How do you know my name?”

“Train yard.” She swallowed, coughing again. “I was there.”

Lilly stared for a long moment, then sighed, running a finger under the cloth binds, then setting to loosening one. “So I was told, I suppose. How’s your head?”

“Hurts.”

“You got hit with a rock upside the head, I’m not surprised.” The woman rolled up onto her knees, lightly touching the back and sides of Yang’s head. “What’s your name?” 

Yang stared at the ground, pointedly silent. 

An exasperated sigh, then the woman sat back down in front of her. “I’m interrogating you to see how bad your concussion is, moron. What’s your name?”

“Yang. Yang Xiao Long.” She inhaled, locking the woman in a venomous glare. “Why’d you let Adam hurt Blake for so long?”

“...never mind, your head’s fine.” Lilly growled, shifting her weight to rest by Yang’s arm and looking back down at it. “Flex your fingers for me.”

Her arm rippled with fire as the woman picked it up. Yang curled her fingers into a fist and snarled out the words anyways. “Answer the question, you miserable hag.” 

Lilly looked up at her, expression blank, and for a long moment Yang braced for her to twist the arm in her hands. 

Instead, she spoke in a low tone, “Understand something, Xiao Long. I have killed more men, women, and children in my lifetime than anyone else in this camp. Out of those, only two were people that I believe deserved to die.” One floppy rabbit ear twitched, the lamp catching on the collection of tiny scars along its margin. A chill went down Yang’s spine as she realized how perfectly they were spaced, every fifth mark a fraction longer than the rest. “Ask yourself - would such a person really lose sleep over the fact that she’d allowed a girl to suffer?”

“Probably not.” She growled, staring at the woman and wondering if she could cause serious damage before anyone heard her screaming.

“Well, you’d be wrong.” Lilly bluntly muttered, ignoring Yang’s blink of confusion and lowering her voice to a whisper. “Now, shut up and listen. Adam’s getting his own head and horn tended to right now, but he’s going to stomp in here before the sun goes down. He’ll pretend to interrogate you for information on Raven’s band, but the reality is he’s angry and wants to hurt you. I will try to distract him when I can, but it will be easier if you give him information he’s interested in.”

“I don’t know anything about Raven’s damn band.” She managed, unsteadily pulling her aching arm in closer. “I ain’t had nothin’ to do with-”

“I said listen .” Fingers grabbed her jaw, forcing her to look directly at Lilly. Her eyes narrowed, voice lowering to something that was barely a whisper. “They’re still in Mountain Glenn. I assume it’s the same camp that you were part of. There’s twelve people total now, only eight could be called ‘fighters’. She usually has more, but the Grimm attacks were bad in the mountains this year. You don’t know how Raven found out about the dust, you didn’t even know about the plan until you had a fight with three morons in the bar and she wasn’t even in town when the White Fang came in. You figure she encountered someone who did know. The Forever Fall mine isn’t that far from here, it’s conceivable she found out on her own and figured out what the White Fang was up to. You got all of that?” 

Yang’s shock slowly gave way to realization as she stared at the lop-eared woman. “...yeah.” She nodded, slowly, heart pounding. “She... stops to check in sometimes. That’s the only reason I know.”

Lilly gave a single, businesslike nod, releasing her chin. “Good. You’re on your own if he asks about Blake.” 

“Understood.” She gritted her teeth, watching as Lilly stood. “...why?”

The woman shook her head, making a slicing motion with her palm. “Not now.” She turned on her heel and slipped out of the stall, pulling the heavy door back into place as she did. She raised her voice to a normal volume, eyeing the girl with the same distant, unfriendly expression that she’d given Blake in the trainyard. “Brun will be along to guard you in a minute. Do yourself a favor and don’t piss him off. Plenty of us would jump at the chance to strike out at the human that turned Belladonna against us.” Then she turned, walking out of the barn with a low sigh. 

The silence was not welcome. Yang slowly let out a breath, letting her eyes dart around the stall and at the low ceiling above her. With two good arms, climbing out would be easy. With only one, it would probably be possible. With one arm, no gun, and a group of angry faunus outside, she knew better.

She focused on one hole in the ceiling that looked wide enough to accommodate a body. The space above it was just as dark as the barn around her - probably a hay loft. She might be able to hide for a while.

Her gut twisted as she remembered Blake’s past, her story about hiding in the hayloft for days. Adam would know to look there.

Yang slowly rested her chin on her knee. Lilly was involved with Raven, somehow, that much was clear. Raven wouldn’t care about saving her, not when there was a full crate of lightning dust on the line, and Lilly’s motives were unclear at best. She wasn’t going to depend on either one for help. She flexed the fingers against the crude splint again, ignoring the way her arm throbbed, and thought of Blake again. She must have gotten away. Pyrrha would have found her. They would be thinking of a plan to get Yang out, and Jaune would be tending to Blake’s hip. 

Neither one of them would stop trying to save Yang, for anything. And that was a problem just as much as it was a comfort.

Yang exhaled, slow and through her nose, and began to measure the distances between her stall and every possible escape route in the barn.

Chapter Text

Woods were not supposed to be silent. At least, not like this. No birds, no twigs snapping. Nothing but Jasper’s quiet grumbles and the scrape of metal as she dug a rock out of her gelding’s hoof, and the soft snorts from the massive bay stallion tied to the corner fence post that Blake recognized as Raven’s mount from her eerie encounter in the fog.

Blake kept flicking her ears back and forth, looking for sound as she watched the sunlight glint off of the intimidating rifle strapped to Raven’s saddle. Partially out of a desire to stay alert, but also in need of a distraction. The sun was hanging above them now, too much time had passed. Yang would be almost certainly awake by now. 

Had they tended to her arm? Were they mocking her? Hurting her? Had Adam-

Something crunched to Blake’s right. 

Her eyes and ears snapped to attention, and she scanned the woods. Nothing. No sound, no movement through the trees.

Beside her, Jasper shifted, the scruffy gelding below her chewing at his bit contentedly. “...thought I heard somethin’.”

“You did.” Blake forced herself to exhale, glancing down. Shroud’s ears were pricked up, but she didn’t move from the relaxed posture she’d taken. Beside them, the massive bay stallion snorted as a breeze wafted past them, directly from wherever the sound had come from. “...nothing dangerous.” She exhaled, rubbing her forehead. “How long is Raven going to be?”

“Dunno. Said she was gon’ do a fly-over of the ranch, but she tied Odachi near a water trough for a reason. Can’t imagine she’d take much more time now, though.”

Blake glanced up at the younger woman. “So, do all of her followers know she can turn into a bird?”

“Nah. Just Vernal, me, and the old guy that cooks for them as far as I know.” 

“Why do you know? You’re new to the band, right?”

“I’d run across her when I was a kid. Pops told stories about shapeshifters when he was alive. Never believed it ‘til then.” Jasper didn’t seem to want to explain past that, staring down at the hoof in her hands, grunting as she tried to pry the offending rock away. As Blake watched, she realized her hands were shaking.

She bit her lip, then carefully swung off of her own horse. “Here. You hold the hoof, I’ll unwedge the rock.” 

“I got it.” Jasper muttered, but she didn’t try to stop Blake when she took the pick and began to wiggle the rock out of place. Up close, she could see how pale the girl was, how she was blinking slightly too slowly. 

The rock finally landed on the ground, and Blake watched as the girl put the horse’s hoof back down. She seemed to hesitate to take her hoof pick back from Blake, watching her feet, then looking up and anywhere but at Blake. 

She expected a sullen ‘thank you’. Instead, Jasper muttered. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay, you’re just tire-”

“No. You don’t... It’s my fault Yang’s in trouble. I’m sorry.”

Blake stopped entirely, ears pricking up. “...How?” 

“I saw what happened after the robbery. I was s’posed to stay with the White Fang, but I saw Adam bolt after Raven in the dark. Humans can’t shoot for shit in the dark, and I’m the only faunus in the band. So, got my horse ‘cross the train bridge. Told ‘em I could.” A hint of pride tinged her words. “Hid in the trees, fired off a shot at Adam to keep him back and shot Yuma’s wing out when he was flyin’ past. I waited a bit after Raven split, didn’t want them to see me followin’.” 

Yuma can’t fly. Blake filed that away with the rest of the information, but kept quiet as Jasper shakily inhaled. “Adam was real pissed off, yellin’ at Yuma and Lilly about how Raven knew exactly what the plan was. Russet opened his stupid mouth and said that the deputy was her bastard daughter, then Yuma opened his big coward mouth and told him that he’d caught you kissin’ the deputy.” Her breath shuddered out. “Adam got real quiet and...” She gestured, and Blake flinched, understanding. “...t-told Lilly and Yuma that they were gon’ say it was Raven, and if they kept shit from him again they’d be next. Then Yuma took off on Russet’s horse, and Adam and Lilly left with Russet’s... Russet. He... he told Lilly they were gon’ start with Yang. I should have started runnin’ after Raven right then. She might’a gotten to you and Yang in time. But... but I wanted to... I followed them for a while. I was gon’ shoot Adam as soon as I had a clear shot, and I fuckin’ lost them.”

Blake stared, watching as the girl stared at the ground, teeth gritting together, choking back what sounded like a sob. “Figured I was bein’ stupid and I turned around, but it took too long to catch up, it was almost dawn when I got to Mountain Glenn and Raven was the only one still up, she had to ride her horse instead of flyin’ because it was too dark, then the house was empty, and it was all foggy, and Raven went flyin’ around to look, and I heard screamin’, and... I’m s-sorry.” 

Maybe, if she’d been different, if she hadn’t lived the life she’d lived, Blake might have been angry. Instead, she reached out and placed one hand on her shoulder. The girl jumped, then stilled as Blake’s eyes met hers. “This is Adam’s fault. No one else’s. Okay?”

Jasper slowly nodded, blinking and wiping at her face. “Yeah. Yeah, I... We’ll get her back. Basil and Clay too.”

“Yes. We will. One way or another.” Blake’s voice came out a bit rougher than she’d intended, and she turned back to Shroud.

“Hey. Uh.” Jasper quietly spoke up, stopping her. “...guess it ain’t y’ biggest problem today. But, everyone seemed mad ‘bout it, and, uh. Look, I think it’s nice that y’, uh, kissin’ Yang or whatever. Ain’t weird that she’s a human.” She muttered, cheeks turning red as she scratched at the back of her neck. “Dunno why Adam’s gotta be such a son of a bitch about everythin’.”

Something in Blake’s chest cracked. Tears welled up in her eyes even as a laugh shook itself loose from her throat. “You’ve got quite a mouth, kid.”

The wolf-toothed teenager shrugged. “Ain’t swearin’ if it’s what he is.”

Blake had begun to reach out to wrap her in a hug when another branch cracked. This time much louder, and from the opposite direction. Jasper jerked up, looking over Blake’s shoulder. Instantly, she went pale, eyes widening.

She whirled, and inhaled.

Grimm weren’t supposed to come out in the day. Yet, ten feet away, darkness emanated like smoke from an animal that was not quite a wolf. It paused, still crouched low to the ground as though to blend in with the forest.

All the fear and pain that had been following her since dawn paused, shoved down by years of practice. Blake pulled the rifle from her back without a second’s hesitation, and leveled it at the creature in front of her.

The beowolf gave a gutteral snarl, and tilted back its head to howl. Blake pulled the trigger first.

It wasn’t quite as smooth of a shot as the one she’d killed the Ursa with, days ago outside of Yang’s cabin, but the rifle shot seared through the bottom of the Grimm’s skull, instantly silencing it. The creature staggered, fell, and collapsed into a wisp of smoke.

“Damn. What is that doin’ out in the daytime?” Jasper’s voice shook, somewhere behind her.

Blake startled more at the second voice than she had at the Grimm. “Must have sensed somethin’ it liked.”

She already had the gun back up as she turned, then had to force herself to lower it. Raven raised an eyebrow at her, stroking one hand down her mount’s neck as he nervously danced in place. Blake set her jaw, doing her best to ignore her heart accelerating. “What did you find out?” 

“Not much.” Raven grunted, eyes darting over the trees. “I caught sight of Vernal and Obi headin’ towards the trapper’s settlement, we’ll set up camp there while we settle this. You two get on y’ horses and start headin’ there.”

“Is Yang alive?” 

Raven’s eyes closed for a moment, and Blake’s heart nearly stopped. “Yes.” She growled, as though Blake had revealed some kind of secret. “I was able to catch Lilly away from the band for a moment. Says she needs painkillers and antibiotics, but she’s in one piece. You didn’t tell me her arm was broken.”

She was okay.

Normally, Blake might have made some kind of smart remark about how she’d been more concerned about whether Yang’s neck was broken or not. But relief had flooded her entire body, her vision blurred, and it was suddenly very, very difficult to keep herself from crying.  

Jasper awkwardly cleared her throat. “Does someone need to run to the camp and get more meds?”

“Yes, and I’d be grateful if you could do that for me. But get Blake to the trapper’s cabin first.” Raven’s tone still sounded somewhat sour, her eyes darting back to the trees. “I’ll catch up with you in a moment, gon’ make sure there ain’t a pack followin’ us.”

Blake nodded, blinking rapidly as she pulled herself back into Shroud’s saddle, being careful not to put too much weight on her hip.

“Belladonna.”

She looked up, fully aware that her eyes were too red and glassy.

Raven gave one slow nod, her face blank. “Most folk in Vale don’t know how to handle Grimm. That was a nice shot.” 

Something about the compliment gave away that it was probably a very, very rare occurrence. But Blake was already averting her eyes, rubbing at her face as she desperately nudged Shroud into a trot, following Jasper into the trees.

Yang was alive. She was alone, and probably afraid, but she was alive. Lilly was watching out for her, too, in a strange twist of fate. Blake didn’t exactly trust her motives, but motives didn’t matter now. She had time to get Yang out, somehow.

Blake heard the faint speech past her own thoughts, but it was enough.

She pulled Shroud to a halt, her ears training backwards. Another noise, but the details were lost to the shuffling of Shroud’s hooves. She bit her lip, then jumped off.

Jasper turned, mouth opening then closing as Blake gave a slightly more exaggerated inhale. “I just... I need a minute. To compose myself.” She wiped at one eye.

The girl slowly nodded, turning her horse back onto the path. “I’ll wait a bit further ahead. Yell if a Grimm comes or somethin’.”

She waited until Jasper had dissapeared. Then she looped Shroud’s reins over a tree branch and limping as quietly as she could through the trees.

It was faint, but Blake recognized Tai’s voice. “So. When were you gon’ tell me, huh?”

A growl. “I’m working on it, Tai.”

“You ever have trouble sleepin’, knowin’ you only have one child to worry ‘bout and you still manage to fuck it up? At least I can say I’m stretched thin with two.”

“Says the man who can’t afford to keep payin’ for his daughter to keep goin’ to school.”

Blake’s mouth went dry as she pressed her back against a tree, and peered around the trunk. 

Taiyang Xiao Long was standing on the other side of the fence, face twisted into a furious snarl. “Is that the real price I’m payin’ back to you?” He spat at the woman who looked like she’d paused in the middle of tightening her horse’s cinch. “Sacrifice one daughter so the other one can have a good life?” 

Raven let go of her horse entirely, and even from a distance Blake could see the anger in her face. “Do you see me givin’ up?! Do you see me sayin’ she’s dead?!”

“She shouldn’t even be in trouble to start out with!”

“She did this to herself! She makes the same damn mistake every single damn time, Tai, she sticks her neck out for people and puts herself in danger. I tried to teach her that she needs to put herself first if she’s gon’ survive. She’s got so much potential to be more than I ever was, but she won’t listen! She’s just as bad as Summer, she’s gon’ get herself killed for-” She stopped.

“For what , Raven?” Tai’s voice rumbled. “For trying to save her own family? Or for not being as cutthroat as you?” 

A silence stretched between the two, giving Blake a moment to realize that her ears had pinned against her skull again, and one of her hands had clenched into a fist.

“Think Yang’s already more than you ever were.” Tai’s voice was quieter, but just as bitter, just as derisive. 

“Maybe.” Raven grunted, turning away. 

“So, Miss High-And-Mighty, to what does Yang owe the great deed of her own mother tryin’ to help her? Since y’ clearly ain’t in it because you love her.”

“I promised you that I’d keep her safe. I’m respectin’ that. Yang will come home safe, and Ruby will get to finish up her schoolin’ in Atlas.” Raven swung up onto the dark bay stallion. “Just keep the damn Sheriff out of my way. You stay away too; a pack of Grimm is the last thing I need right now.”

Tai flinched, so slightly that she barely saw it, then narrowed his eyes. “So you do feel guilty.”

“Go and find Zwei, Tai.”

Blake realized the conversation had come to a halt a moment late. She scrambled backwards, unhooking Shroud’s reins from the branches and grabbing the saddle horn. Hoofbeats crunched behind her. Blake hurriedly shoved one foot into the stirrup, forgetting to pull herself up with her arms in her haste and jumping up to the saddle instead.

Fire exploded below the bandage. 

Blake’s foot landed back on the ground as her forehead fell to the saddle. For a moment she could only gasp for breath, shivering and watching black spots flash in front of her eyes.

Crunching. Then a huge sigh. “If you just blew another stitch, I might have to kill you myself.”

Blake slowly lifted her head. Raven’s half-lidded stare bit into her from across the saddle. She looked far more exhausted than angry, but a growl found its way out of her mouth anyways. “Could always just leave me to die.” 

Raven rolled her eyes with a snarl of irritation. Odachi neatly sidestepped to stand alongside Shroud, ignoring the mare’s insulted squeal, and in a blur the woman grabbed Blake by the back of her shirt. She yelped, but Raven had already yanked her up and across her saddle with shocking strength. Blake instinctively threw her leg over the saddle as she was hauled up, and to her surprise the woman let go. Raven narrowed her eyes at her, now barely inches away from her face. “If you want to accuse me of somethin’, girl, you’d best get it over with right now.” 

It was odd, really. Raven’s narrowed eyes and the simmering anger behind them weren’t terribly different from the looks Adam had given her to make her stop arguing. 

Yet instead of shrinking down and breaking eye contact, Blake’s shoulders straightened and her chin lifted. “Very well. I was told you left your own daughter to die to a pack of Apathy. I find the thought offensive.” Pain forced her voice to waver very slightly, but that was the only fault to it whatsoever. Even to her own ears, Blake’s cold tone could have passed for royalty disciplining an advisor.

Raven blinked, anger cracking into surprise. Then she nudged Odachi back towards the path, grumbling under her breath. “Guess I’m gon’ have something to talk about while stitchin’ you back together.”

“Guess you will.” Blake replied, wincing as Shroud hurried to pace alongside them.


Yang splashed a bit of water onto her face, and thought that being a prisoner of the White Fang wasn’t the worst thing she’d experienced. But Lilly’s warning was far from out of her mind, and as she glanced up, she surveyed her escape options yet again.

The pain in her arm had receded slightly since Lilly had splinted it, but it still moved between ‘dull ache’ and ‘fighting back tears’. She was careful to keep it away from the water as she drank another mouthful, and looked around again. There was a hole in the back of the barn, in the hayloft, that she thought she might be able to fit through. The trick would be getting up to it.

The faunus beside her, slightly shorter than her but all hulking muscle with boar tusks, shifted his weight. She obeyed the wordless command and stepped away from the water pump, then walked ahead of then as they headed back towards the barn. He had made no attempt to speak to her, but this was the second time he’d hauled her to the outhouse behind the barn, and the second time he’d let her drink from the water pump on the way back. Not friendly, but not outright cruel either.

She looked up as the camp came into view, a short distance away from the barn. From here, it seemed deserted - tents had been set up between the rundown buildings, but it looked like most had been taken down and then hurriedly thrown back together. She wondered if they had intended to flee after the train heist.

Celica nickered at her, fenced in alongside the other horses. She judged the distance again - no more than paces away from the barn. Maybe twelve if she stumbled. Yang weakly waved at the heavyset palomino before her guard pushed her along, and pulled the door open with a characteristic screech. He nodded into the dark space, and Yang reluctantly shuffled back inside.

Dust fell around them like tiny snowflakes as the faunus pushed her towards the one remaining box stall with four walls. Fading sunlight streamed in from various holes around them, but none that would offer a particularly easy escape. Except for the one above her, in the hayloft. There was a hole in the ceiling directly above the stall that led into it, but there was no obvious spot to hide and the boards that formed its floor were already cracked and unstable. Nowhere easy to hide, even if she managed to haul herself up. Instead, she carefully judged the distance between the ladder up to the hayloft and the door as she was pushed back into her stall. Four paces. Getting up the ladder with only one arm would be almost impossible, but maybe with the splint she could make it.

But none of the thoughts escaped through her mouth or expression. She settled back into her corner, and turned her eyes back to her arm. The wound on it was small, probably from Wilt’s hoof rather than the bone beneath, but it had at least dried. The arm itself, however, was obviously swollen. That concerned her more - she doubted the White Fang had any antibiotics or painkillers lying around.

One more reason why she had to escape tonight.

The faunus outside was finishing locking her into the stall. Yang licked her lips. “...can I ask somethin’?”

The faunus man looked up, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Didn’ think so.” She leaned back against the wall.

The deep voice surprised her. “Yes. But I will ask one in return.”

Yang shrugged, wincing as her arm flared. “‘S fair. What was Blake like when she was here?”

The man blinked rapidly. Something between anger and irritation flashed across his face, but it was gone as fast as it appeared, hidden behind a blank mask. “Quiet. Focused. Good leader, good fighter. Like a shadow when she fights, hard to block. Good with knives, deadly aim.”

Yang nodded. You knew her as a warrior. You had no idea who she was as a person. But she swallowed that particular thought, and met his gaze instead, waiting for the promised question and bracing for whatever she was going to be accused of.

It wasn’t what she expected. “You ever work with faunus before we came to town?”

She blinked. “...not many, but yes. There’s a veterinarian in town that I’ve been takin’ my horses to since she started workin’, name’s Velvet. Did her schoolin’ in Atlas, smart as a damned whip and tougher n’ nails. ‘Side from that, I’d done some tradin’ with Agatha Maple’s lot, but they started steerin’ clear of me once I started as a deputy.” 

The man slowly tilted his head. She thought he was going to ask something else, but instead he turned and plopped back down on the hay bale. Yang chewed her lip, shifting her weight uncomfortably as her arm flared.

A metallic screech pierced the air. Yang’s head jerked up as light flooded into the barn, and a tall shadow passed through the entrance. Her heart jumped into her throat, then sank to her stomach. 

A pair of wings folded tightly against the tall man’s shoulders as he walked into the light. “I’ll take over for the evening, Brun.” He didn’t look at Yang, and she was thankful for it. If he had, she might not have been able to stop herself from trying to attack the man who had tried to drag Blake away from her, then sold her out to Adam anyways.

“Mm.” Yang watched as the stocky man - Brun - stood. “She’s been quiet. How’s Taurus?”

“He’s fine. The twins have the stew going, get over there if you want some.”

Brun stretched, cracking his neck. Yang bit her lip - as clueless as he’d been to Blake’s pain, he at least seemed honest. Yuma, on the other hand, she knew would do nothing to interrupt Adam if he were to try something. She watched him pass through the door and felt her heart sink into her stomach as the barn door rolled half closed.

The silence between her and Brun had been strained, but peaceful. The one stretching between her and Yuma crackled with tension. Yang’s fear ebbed as he finally turned to face her. There was anger simmering in the tension in his shoulders, his narrowed gaze. As she watched, he stretched his wings very slightly, revealing a large, jagged hole in one. Not the one that she and Blake had shot, she realized as she did her best to keep her eyes on his face, as if she hadn’t seen it. You can’t fly with that.

An idea flickered to life. Yang gritted her teeth, and forced a pleasant smile onto her face as she stood. “How’s y’ wing doin’?”

He blinked, obviously surprised by her lack of fear. “Hurts like Darkness.” He growled, clearly trying to recover. 

So he was pissed off at her. Yang bit back a smirk as she slowly wandered closer to the door. “Damn, that’s rough. Hope it’s almost as painful as my arm.”

Yuma’s eyes narrowed, and he leaned against the door, slowly matching her approach. “You think it hurts now? That’ll change.” 

Yang snorted, ignoring a twinge of fear in her gut as she leaned against the wall, within arm’s reach. “That sounds threatenin’. You plannin’ on settin’ me straight y’self?”

He wasn’t a fool, at least. Yuma glared at her, but made no attempt to open the door. “I wouldn’t want to get in Taurus’ way.”

“There’s a good lad.” She grinned, in a way that was much closer to baring her teeth. “Wouldn’t wanna make the bossman angry, would we?”

“You’re on thin ice, Xiao Long, I hope you realize that.”

“Yeah, but I’m bettin’ you are too.” It was a gamble, but Yang felt like it was one she could make. “You told Blake you’d seen her and I at the train yard - but you didn’t tell Adam ‘til last night. Bet he wasn’t too pleased ‘bout that.”

She’d expected him to get angry, or deflect it. Instead, he leaned closer to the door, a smirk of his own crossing his face. “You know, Belladonna was set up for greatness here. Adam will take power eventually, she could have ruled at his side. He’ll never forgive her now.”

She disguised fury with a dry snort, “Huh. Tragic.”

“You’ve ruined her.”

A smile had pulled at her mouth before she could stop it, muttering under her breath. “You got no idea.”

Of course, even faunus without extra ears could hear a little better than humans could. Yuma stared at her, then his lip curled in disgust. “You really want me to come in there and - what did you say? - set you straight, don’t you?” 

Open the door, you bastard. “Nah, I want you to get pissed off, fly off, and get Adam so we can get this over with. Oh,” She pointedly glanced at the holes in his wings, and then forced her face into a sad, pitying mask. “Sorry. Guess maybe not the flyin’ part.”

His eyes narrowed into slits. A motion, the sound of metal falling out of place, and Yang fought to keep from grinning as the stall door rolled open. 

She didn’t get long to celebrate. Yuma jumped at her the moment the door was wide enough to open, reaching to grab her good arm. 

To his eyes, it probably looked perfect. Her eyes widened, as if she hadn’t actually intended for him to come racing in. She stumbled backwards, letting him grab her good arm.

And then she swung the splint at his head with all the force she could muster.

Yang barely saw Yuma stagger past the explosion of pain, but she didn’t need to see. She just needed him down. 

She yanked her free arm away, and locked her fist onto the front of his coat. Then in a simple, familiar move, Yang hooked one leg through his, dragged it forwards, and shoved with her arm. Yuma toppled against the stall wall. A loud, metallic bell pealed through the air as his head struck a metal bar, and the faunus slumped into the straw. 

Her breath came in harsh, ragged pants. Tears of sheer pain blurred her vision. She needed to run. But to her immense fear, her legs ignored the order to move as she stared down at the limp man at her feet. 

Run, you idiot! She pleaded with herself, even as her eyes frantically scanned for signs of life. There’s nothing you can even do if he’s- 

She saw his chest rise and fall. Relief flooded her chest, and Yang turned to bolt, scattering straw as she scrambled past the stall door. Her plan flashed through her mind. Four paces to the ladder. Up, then through the hole in the wall, then -

A hand caught her wrist, neatly avoiding the wood it was tied to.

Yang knew, even as it happened, that she should have been slower. She should have checked her surroundings before careening out of the stall. She should have realized that the barn door had been left ajar for a reason. But she realized all of these things exactly as she hit the end of her own arm, like a dog against the end of a leash.

Yang felt the moment her damaged bones pulled away from each other. 

Then she was hauled backwards, slamming to the ground with a scream of sheer agony. Tears clouded the barn around her, forcing her to curl around the offending break, shaking. Her vision slowly began to clear as the initial agony faded, leaving her with sharp sparks of pain floating up her arm and a sense of horror. 

Yang didn’t realize what, exactly, she was afraid of until her eyes pulled upwards.

He hadn’t moved from where he must have been waiting - crouched in front of the stall, hidden by solid wood. His left horn was still bandaged, a bruise clearly visible behind his ear. An untrained eye would have seen a relaxed, unconcerned man despite his injuries. But as Adam shifted his weight to kneel beside her, she could see the fury burning somewhere between ice blue and dead gray.

All of the moisture from her mouth had fled to her palms. But her voice found its way out of her throat, the words almost comical in the shaking tone they’d been forced into. “Evenin’, Adam.”

Adam seemed amused by that, tilting his head. “Evening, Yang. That looked like it hurt.”

“Nah.” She felt tears escape when she blinked, still instinctively curled around her bad arm.

Out of the corner of her eye, Yang saw Yuma stumble out of the stall, hand pressed to the back of his head. “Wasn’t expecting the bitch to try and crack my head open.” He snarled, eyeing her balefully.

“Warned you not to underestimate her.” Adam didn’t so much as bat an eye, focusing on her. “Go close the door and then go and get patrols moving. I’ll meet you outside when I’m ready.”

Yuma sullenly shuffled away to secure the barn. She inhaled, gritting her teeth, turning her eyes to the smug, damaged face hanging above her. “Would’a been easier for you to just interrogate me in the stall without the dramatics.”

“Interrogate you? Yang, I was just coming here to check on your arm.  If you hadn’t pissed off Yuma, you’d still be nice and comfortable right now, and we wouldn’t have to re-set your arm again.” Adam shook his head, chiding her with a half smirk. “And if you’d had the sense to just leave Blake alone, you wouldn’t be in this mess at all.”

Her gut twisted. Something whispered at her to shut up. But anger overwhelmed sense, and Yang snarled. “This what you did to her? Bait her into makin’ a mistake, then blame her for it?”

The blue eye hardened, even as the smile grew. “That reminds me...” He shifted his weight, pulling a long hunting knife from his belt.  “You mentioned something about... how did you put it? Ruining Blake.” He examined the reflective surface, ignoring Yuma’s grunt as he pulled the barn door shut behind him. “Care to elaborate on that?”

Yang wanted to grin at him, and elaborate in excruciating detail exactly what she had meant. 

But as he slid the knife between her skin and the fabric holding the splint in place, she realized she and Adam were completely alone and the true danger of her situation had sunk in. “The reality is he’s angry and wants to hurt you.”

Blake’s terrified eyes, staring into her as her soul slipped away. “It’s over, he’s coming...”

“I was tryin’a get Yuma to open the door.” It wasn’t really a lie, she told herself as she stared back at the monster looming over her. “I’ve kissed her a couple times. She sleeps in my bed when the nightmares get bad. But I ain’t done nothin’ else with her. She’s too scared. And I don’t make no one do nothin’ they don’t want to do.” She let the anger boil into her words as she met his eyes. 

The mismatched eyes narrowed. Yang held her stare, praying that he would assume the fear swirling behind her eyes was of him, and not of what he might do.

He smirked. “She’s kept a tiny bit of sense after all.” It was suddenly very easy to hide her relief behind rage, as he focused on cutting through the fabric holding the splint against her damaged arm. “Now that that’s settled - shall we discuss that mother of yours?”

Yang gritted her teeth. “What do you want to know?”

“Where she is, how many humans she’s got with her, where she’d keep a crate of dust. Simple enough.” He almost sounded bored, more interested in the arm he was slowly freeing from the splint than her answers.

“Mountain Glenn. Old ghost town in the hills.” No sense in pretending to hide the information. “Been more n’ a year since I’ve been there, but she set her camp up in the town itself, ‘s easy to find. Usually has a couple dozen folk, this year she’s only got twelve. They use a bank to store valuable things, ‘s probably where she’s got y’ dust.” The mix of old and new information rolled off her tongue easily enough.

Adam gave her something of an incredulous look. “No loyalty at all, mm?”

“I got plenty, for someone who deserves it.” Yang grunted. “She checks in me every now and then, that’s the only reason I know anythin’ at all about her.” 

“What if I was to ask you about the sheriff?” He tilted his head. “Would you give me anything about her?”

He’s trying to find a goddamn excuse. She snorted, trying to pass off the anxiety growing in her gut with every touch of her pounding arm. “Nothin’ that you couldn’t find out from Clay and Basil, I think.”

“Do they know where she lives?” There was no mistaking the threat in the sentence.

But she wasn’t buying it. “Yeah. They do.” She growled. “Same as how they knew where I lived, I assume.”

Dust floated between them as Adam eyed her with something that looked sickeningly like frustration as he cut through the last bind and pulled the splint away completely, and tucked the knife back into his belt. “Damn, you really did a number on yourself, didn’t you?” He remarked, then threw the wood against the wall with far too much force, never breaking eye contact. 

Yang’s heart pounded in her chest. “I’m cooperatin’ with you, here.”

“Have you? I think you’ve lied to me.” He growled, voice uncharacteristically quiet as he stared into her soul. “Because, now that I’m thinking about it, Blake’s been in close contact with humans before. But she’s never spooked Wilt like Yuma and Lilly said she did in the train yard. You sure all you’ve done is kiss, Yang?” Her name sounded like a curse in his voice.

“She’s been livin’ with me for a week.” She whispered hoarsely. 

His eyes narrowed. “You mentioned smuggler tunnels.” He raised his eyebrows, all traces of sadistic humor fading from his eye as he slowly, excruciatingly, began to twist her arm. “Wilt didn’t even spook at Blake after that . Explain how else she could possibly smell that much like you.” 

Agony pouring from her arm collided with the rage swirling in her chest, clouding her thoughts. “You’ve known since the damn train yard.” She hissed.

Wait. Her heart stopped, seeing the lie too late. Adam would have never let her leave if he....

“Actually, Wilt’s spooked at her after every time she’s met with a human. So no, I didn’t know.” The sly smile didn’t touch the murder swirling in his eye. “But now I do.”

A wave of pain, terror, and fury washed over her, all mixed into a single, driving thought.

Don't die.

Yang moved faster than she’d expected to be able to. In the blink of an eye, she had her feet underneath her, and slammed her good shoulder into his chest, left hand reaching for his hip.

Her arm twisted. The world faded again. But not before her fingers closed around the wooden handle of the knife.

Her vision blurred, her stomach rolled, and a scream that was equal parts agony and ferocity rang out as Yang slashed at him. A yelp, then fingers around hers, pulling the knife clean from her grasp. “You little-”

Yang kicked out with all the force in her leg, colliding squarely with his abdomen. 

A winded cough, and he fell back. She yanked backwards. Her wrists came free. He was sprawled on the ground, groaning, knife still gleaming in his hand.

All he has to do is twist your arm. Don’t fight him. Run.

She scrambled to her feet, turning. Ladder. Four paces. Up. Out. Celica. She collided with the ladder more than she ran to it, grabbing onto one rung and pulling herself up. Steeling herself, she swung her bad arm at the ladder.

Weight slammed into her back. A hand grabbed her right wrist, pulling it out until the break rested directly on a ladder rung.

Scorching breath in her ear, then a voice that was too loud, too uneven. “Did you fuck her with your right hand, Yang?” He didn’t wait for an answer. 

Adam wrenched her right arm down, a grisly crack cut through the air, and Yang’s definition of pain changed.

The barn disappeared, collapsing into a cold void. Her ears rang, drowning out the air rushing through her throat. 

Roughness pressed against her cheek and shoulder. 

Low noises. Coherent thought began to fight its way through the fog surrounding her. A faint need to run away. Desperation. 

Golden eyes. Help me.

More noise, louder this time. Then a sharp blow to her head, and Yang’s eyes finally opened again, gasping for breath.

She was on the floor beside the ladder, shaking uncontrollably as her mind fought for control over her frantic body. She caught sight of her arm. It wasn’t pointing the right way. Faintly, she could hear horses snorting, hooves knocking against earth. Bile rose in her throat as she dragged her eyes upwards.

“You know.” Bars of orange sunlight cut through the dusty air as he stood over her, lighting the spreading bloodstain from where she’d raked his own knife across his chest. “I think I understand. I stuck my neck out for her once, too. I found her hiding in the hayloft, and I thought she was cute. So I fed her. I got her talking to me. I had hope that she’d lead me out of my shitty life. You know what I got for it?”  She couldn’t speak, tears blurring her vision and stealing her air. But she watched as one of his hands came up, tracing the ugly brand around his eye. “She expects a lot of you. I gave an eye. You’ve given your arm. When will she ever give back for either one of us, huh?”

Fury reared in her chest like a wild horse. Through tears, she hissed. “She g-gave everythin’ to you, n’ you broke her.”

He smiled. “No. If she’d given everything, she’d be here right now. Don’t worry, though. I only chased her away this morning so you and I could visit. I’ll make sure she comes and joins us soon enough.” His foot connected with her gut before she could react, drawing a weak cough and whine. “Funny thing is, I really just needed to make sure you were in pain all night, so you’d attract Grimm. You people are useless with them, knew I would need to worry about bandits or the Sheriff if they’re hanging around. I was just going to twist your arm a little bit and let you cry all night. But, you had to go and try to run away. She’s rubbing off on you, I suppose.”

A metallic screech. “Adam, your horse is- Oh Gods, what have you done?!”

Adam didn’t so much as twitch in the direction of the door, even as footsteps thudded towards them. “Lilly. Good timing. Our friend decided to try and take off up the ladder, and caught her arm on a rung on the way down.”

A pair of knees hit the ground beside her. She saw a hand reaching for her arm and flinched away, a whimper tearing from her throat. “Gods, Adam, she’ll go into shock-”

“No she won’t, that bleeding won’t take long to stop. What were you going to say about my horse?”

An arm snaked below her, lifting her away from the ground. “He’s in hysterics. So is her mare, mine hasn't done a thing but I just got here. No Grimm that I can hear, I thought it was from the scream, but-”

Adam turned on his heel. “It’s not the screaming. Not for Wilt.” Yang craned her neck, shaking, and watched as he finally turned through the door and disappeared entirely.

The second he was gone, she collapsed against the ground, clenching her jaw and scrunching her eyes shut. Faintly, she heard rustling as Lilly moved around the barn, looking for something. It all felt far away, disconnected. The only reality left was the agony in her arm, and a wordless fear that had settled into her bones.

She felt Lilly lean her back against the wall, carefully crossing her ruined arm in her lap. A hysterical laugh left her lips as she felt her arm rest back against the splint. “That arm ain’t healin’.”

“You don’t know that, and it’ll hurt slightly less if you can’t move it.” Lilly’s voice was even more clipped than usual as she ripped strips of fabric off the end of her shirt. “Bend your fingers for me.” 

Yang obeyed, letting her head flop to one side. 

“Yang, I know it hurts, but you gotta try.” There was an odd edge to her voice.

“I am bendin’ ‘em.”

A long, long silence, quiet enough to let Yang heard the panicked pacing of the horses outside. Then Lilly shifted, lifting her torso off the ground. "Get your feet under you. Let's get you back into that stall.

Yang let her head flop as she was lifted, closed her eyes, and imagined being at home, in bed with Blake. Watching her golden eyes shine in the sunlight, a smile hesitantly breaking across her face.

She inhaled, and set her jaw. 

I’m not leaving you.


The sky was painted with dark blues and bright oranges by the time Tai reached the sheriff's office. Poor Nikos had barely been able to smile at him when he’d finally caught up to her just outside town, simply nodding her tired gratitude when he offered to take Gambol to the ranch with him instead of keeping her cooped up in the barn.

He could already hear the banging inside the stall as he swung off of Magpie, hitching her to the post outside. Zwei panted, perched in his usual spot behind the saddle, and settled down as he hissed, "Stay." Tai threw the barn door open, wide as he could, and grimaced.

Gambol had put dents into the stall around her, splintered wood splattered across the floor from the force of her kicks and strikes. The mare herself was trotting in tight circles, drenched in sweat. A halter was hung on the outside of the stall, but he already knew he wasn’t going to get within three feet of her.

The mare slowed slightly as Tai reached the stall, briefly perking up her ears before pinning them back against her head and resuming her pacing. Up close, he could see the sparse grey hairs in her mane and tail and the slight sway to her back, so subtle that he doubted Yang or Blake would have noticed. “You aged like fine wine, didn’t you Wildie?” 

The mare ignored him, kicking out at the outer wall as she passed.

He chuckled hollowly. “Can always tell a boss mare from the crowd - don’t take orders from no one, always watchin’, always listenin’. Wager y’ only listen to Blake because you decided she’s part of y’ herd.” Tai rested his head against a thick metal bar and watched the dark pelt flash in the dim light. If he opened the door, she would bowl him over faster than he could raise a rope. If he left her there, she would continue to pace and kick out until either the walls or her body broke.

“What would happen if I just let you go, Wildie?” He asked, his voice soft in the dark barn. 

He knew the mare didn’t understand his words. But her ear flicked his way, and he pretended that she could. 

“Would you head for Cerulean Ranch? Grimm wouldn’t bother you none. You know the way. Y’ girl ain’t there, but mine is. She’s smart, and she’s tough. There’s some damn smart people workin’ on gettin’ her out, and I can’t do nothin’ but get in the way.” He swallowed. “But people are stupid. They get scared, or hurt, and they forget what they should be carin’ ‘bout.”

He remembered Yang when she’d finally come home from her time with Branwen Clan, wrapped up in bandages and full of tears that she tried so hard to hide. It’d only taken a few overheard nightmares to figure out that Ember had gone back for Yang when her own mother left her to die. He was still angry, but guilt had come up to bite as well. Tai hadn’t been so different, when Summer’s grave was fresh and his mind retreated into a dark corner where his sadness couldn’t reach the Grimm. It had taken him far too long to realize his daughters couldn’t reach him in the darkness, and then even longer to figure out that Zwei could balance him back out. Ruby had forgiven him, and he’d spent every waking moment since trying to earn that gift, but he knew Yang never could. 

Gambol slowed. She didn’t stop walking, she didn’t look at him, but one ear stayed on him. Tai watched the wild horse toss her head, and thought of a different mare - larger, slower, but with the same hard gleam in her eye.

The metal under his hands was cold as Tai lifted the metal bar holding the stall door shut. Gambol’s hooves finally stilled as she whirled, ears pricked.

Stormy blue met leathery brown. “Find y’ girls, Gambol.”

He jerked the door open, and the dark horse roared past with all the fury of a tornado. Her shoulder collided with his and sent him staggering back. He caught a glimpse of Gambol as she leapt out of the barn, gleaming black coat painted in orange and blue from the sunset, tail flying behind her like a banner.

Then all that was left of her was a snort, the drum of hooves against gravel, and faint yells of surprise as the few townspeople left on the road scrambled to get out of her way.

Tai slowly let out his breath, and began to slowly walk back to the alarmed Magpie, Zwei nervously whining from his place on the saddle.

Chapter Text

The sunset bathed the small camp in yellow and orange light, revealing that the ‘trapper’s cabin’ wasn’t actually a single cabin. Blake took another bite of the jerky that a half-awake Jasper had passed her she crested a hill behind the other two riders, letting her eyes dart over the collection of small buildings. The camp consisted of one larger, older cabin, two smaller sheds, and a campfire. The larger hut had probably once been intended for weathering out storms and snow, but at some point it had been added on to. The feather carved into a tree beside her gave her a good idea to whom had converted it.

Raven let out a low, long whistle as they approached. Blake swallowed the last of the jerky, wincing as Shroud stumbled over a root. Maybe she really had ripped another suture.

A woman with short, dark hair and bright blue eyes poked out of one of the smaller sheds, a pack of some kind slung over her shoulder. The rest of her body only followed after she’d caught sight of Raven herself. Blake immediately remembered the woman Yang had mentioned, back at the fenceline. Her rival, Raven’s other daughter in upbringing rather than blood. “Want to bring me up to speed?”

“White Fang grabbed Yang early this mornin’ and Belladonna’s joining up with us until we get things settled.” Raven walked straight past, towards the hitching post in front of the cabin. “That explain enough for you, Vernal?”

Her name resonated in Blake’s memory, confirming that she’d guessed right. She gripped her reins slightly tighter as she steered Shroud over to rest beside Jasper’s scruffy gelding. 

“...that about does it, yeah. He holdin’ her hostage, or is this just an eye for an eye?”

“The former. Ain’t heard nothin’ from him, but she’d be dead already if this was just revenge.” Raven grunted as she swung down from Odachi. “Someone’s gon’ need to make a run back to the camp. Yang’s arm is broken and Belladonna here has ripped herself to shreds, I got enough material for stitchin’ here but we’ll antibiotics and painkillers.”

Jasper, who was nearly sideways in her saddle and blinking to keep her eyes open, growled. “Said I’d go.” 

“Either y’ horse will drop dead or you will before you get halfway there. Can Backdraft can make it back before nightfall?”

Vernal gave a short, amused huff. “He can. But he doesn’t need to.” She unslung the bag from her shoulder. “Took the liberty of bringin’ y’ medical kit. Figured if you were runnin’ out of the camp at full speed before the crack of dawn, you were probably gon’ need it. We’ll need more, probably, but Obi’s slow-ass pony can get it in the mornin’.” She jerked her thumb over her shoulder as a black haired man appeared with a yawn. 

He looked shorter and paler in the light, but Blake recognized the man that Yang had fought in the saloon. This deal just gets better and better. She ground her teeth together and carefully swung off of Shroud.

“Perfect. Then we’re ready to say hello.” Raven grunted, adjusting the cinch around Odachi’s belly. “You and Obi go and check in on the ranch while I repair Belladonna’s wound. I’m assumin’ Taurus let her go so she’d bring word to us, but I’d rather know what the asshole is up to before I come saunterin’ in.”

“Yes ma’am.” Vernal paused. “...crate’s still nailed shut at the camp, I didn’t open it to bring any dust with me. Should someone go back n’ get some?” 

“No point. Dust ain’t changin’ hands regardless of what happens.” Raven’s words fell like a stone in Blake’s ears, and her head shot up. The bandit leader took the sack from Vernal, and shouldered into the larger cabin. “Belladonna, follow me. Jasper, get into the shed and fall asleep while you can. We’ll wake you up after nightfall.”

“Yes ma’am.” The girl mumbled, giving her horse’s neck a stroke before shuffling across the yard.

Blake knew she shouldn’t have been surprised. Of course Raven wasn’t going to give up the dust for Yang - she’d already said it, back in the cabin. Even if she did, it probably wouldn’t save her anyways. But that didn’t stop anger from swelling in her chest as her eyes pulled back down to check Shroud’s tie to the hitching post. 

Even past the emotions pushing her thoughts around, Blake felt a prickling on the back of her neck as she started to walk towards the cabin. Out of habit more than conscious thought, she turned to look behind her.

A pair of bright blue eyes cut into her, forcing Blake to jump away from the woman she hadn’t realized was only a half step behind her. “So. You’re the girlfriend.” 

Blake felt her ears pin back. “I am.” 

Vernal began to slowly circle around her, and Blake slowly turned her head to watch her movements. About her height, slightly heavier. Pistol on her left hip, knife strapped to her right. The toe of her left shoe scuffed the ground slightly with every step.

Behind her, Obi snorted, stepping closer as Jasper walked past him. “Wish you had ears like that, Vernal, would make it loads easier to tell if y’ in a mood or not.”

Without missing a beat, Jasper turned and punched him in the shoulder. “Hey. Fuck off.” Obi massaged the spot, grumbling as she disappeared into the shed. 

Vernal continued to close in on Blake, eyes running up and down her frame as Blake’s gaze darted over hers. “Hmm. Y’ cute, but not cute enough to explain all the trouble. Yang always did like animals more n’ people; maybe that’s got somethin’ to do with it.”

Blake didn’t have as short of a temper as Yang did. Even when it did flare up, it was usually easier for her to tame back down. But it still took every ounce of Blake’s self-control, and the dull pain in her hip, to not kick Vernal’s legs out from underneath her. 

Instead, she tilted her chin up and returned the cold look. “Think he’s right - a pair of dog ears might suit you.”

To her credit, Vernal didn’t react to the thinly veiled insult or Obi’s roars of laughter behind her. She tilted her head with a smirk, and finally came to a stop in front of Blake. “You can run y’ mouth just as well as she could, I’ll give you that. Doubt you can fight half as well, though.” 

Blake forced her face into a sweet smile, but let the threat stay in her eyes. “I’m afraid I wouldn’t put up much of a fight right now. Try me again in a week or so.” 

“Lookin’ forwards to it.” Vernal smiled back.

“Vernal!” Raven’s voice ricocheted through the yard, drawing an involuntary jump from both Obi and Vernal. Blake didn’t bother with turning to look, instead watching with some satisfaction as both bandits backed off like half-feral dogs. “Both of you get gone.”

“Yes ma’am.” Obi scurried ahead, but she could see Vernal watching out of the corner of her eye as Blake slowly turned to walk into the cabin.

Raven gave an irritated sigh as Blake limped past her. “Before you go pickin’ fights - I only broke that up because I ain’t got the time or skill to stitch more of you.” 

“How kind of you.” Blake grunted, surveying the inside of the small cabin. Had she stumbled across it on her own, the cabin looked like it had been abandoned for years. But Raven had already pulled up a loose floorboard, a metal box full of bandages and suture sitting open next to it, and a fire was starting to roar to life in the fireplace. She cautiously unslung her rifle from her back, leaning it against the wall and dumping her jacket on the ground beside it. “Emergency shelter for y’ band?”

Raven pulled a rattling bottle out of the bag, pulling a pill from it. “Mm. Ain’t a bad idea to have one this close to town. I’ve used it more n’ once. Take this.” She shoved both the pill and her waterkin towards Blake. “Painkiller. It’ll make tonight easier.”

Blake soundlessly swallowed both the pill and a mouthful of water, then handing the waterskin back to the older woman. She focused on the Raven’s back as she dumped the contents of her waterskin into a small metal pot, and hung it above the fire. “...so, you really have no intention of negotiating to get Yang back.”

“You knew that already.” Raven didn’t turn. “Gon’ be easier to just steal her than negotiate anyways. If it helps, I gave my word I wouldn’t let the dust fall back into Taurus’ hands.”

“Did Lilly make you promise that?”

Now she’d caught her attention. Raven looked over her shoulder. “...Jasper mentioned her to you.”

“Not directly. But you let it slip when you said Yang was alive.”

Raven blinked, a rare flash of surprise flitting across her face. Then she rolled her eyes, grumbling as she gestured to the cot she’d pulled to sit near the fire. “Start unbandagin’ y’self while I get this boilin’.”

Blake slowly settled her weight onto the cot, reluctantly unwrapping the bandages. She didn’t really want Raven within three feet of her bare skin, but she wasn’t going to be any help with a gaping hole in her side. 

As she watched, she found herself thinking about the White Fang, and Lilly. She had been sabotaging Adam all along, she realized. But... that didn’t make sense. She’d always spoken up in his defence in the earliest days, when she and Sienna had taken the two runaways under their wings. Even if she’d finally realized what he was, why not kill him? “...did Lilly say why she didn’t want Adam to get the dust? Was he was planning something?”

“No idea, and I didn’t ask. Ain’t my business, she just gave Jasper information to relay to me. I’m lucky I managed to catch sight of her today.” Raven poked at the fire, watching the pot begin to steam.

Blake pulled the last of the bandages away, glancing down. To her relief, it looked about the same as it had at Yang’s cabin, if a bit more irritated. She bit her lip, remembering the angry exchange between her and Tai, and remembered that Lilly and Jasper weren’t Raven’s only spies. “How long has Tai been in on this?”

“Since Lilly approached me. He gets a cut of whatever I get for the dust.” Raven muttered, her eyes fixed on the surface of the water. “Nikos’ got no tolerance for my band anywhere near the town, and Yang throws rocks at every raven she sees. Needed someone who could give me a heads up if they were startin’ to close in. Don’t need to waste my time and resources breakin’ men out of jail. He was able to tell me that the robbery had been moved up before Jasper could. He was also the one who told me that Yang had taken in an injured easterner with a black mare.”

Blake stared, betrayal cutting into her. “...he went behind Yang’s back just for the money?”

“Ain’t just money. I keep an eye on him where I can - the man attracts Grimm in hordes if he don’t have the dog with him. Noticed he was startin’ colts again, didn’t take long to figure out that he’d run out of money for Ruby’s schoolin’. After Lilly and I cut a deal, I offered him a take if he kept me informed on the sheriff's progress.” Raven pulled out a curved needle and strung suture onto it as the water began to bubble. “Told me he’d do it as long as I kept Yang out of it.”

Blake slowly raised her eyebrows, struggling to process what she’d heard. “...well-”

“Well aware I didn’t keep that end of the bargain, girl. Part of Lilly’s deal was that she was supposed to conceal Yang’s identity as my daughter - she knew that the kids they’d hired might blab it to Taurus, she said she could keep ‘em quiet. That didn’t end well either.” Raven turned to her, glancing over the wound. “Gods are real after all, you didn’t rip that more. Lay down on your back, won’t take long for this to sterilize.” She pulled a clean green rag from the box and tossed it over the cot, then turned back to the pot. 

Blake didn’t immediately obey. “Why protect her now? You...” The red gaze flicked to meet hers, and Blake chose her words carefully. “...Yang told me what happened to her. You didn’t care about her then. What changed?”

Raven’s eyes stayed on her for a long, uncomfortable moment. Then she raised her chin, as though pondering her own thoughts. “There’s a lot you need to understand about her and I both to understand that.” As Blake watched, she deftly gripped the needle with a pair of forceps, and dipped both the needle and suture into the boiling water.. “Lay down, and understand that what I’m about to share with you is for your ears alone.”

Blake slowly obeyed, turning her face to watch the older woman as her back touched the old cot. 

For a while, Raven didn’t speak at all, instead watching the water boil as she gently moved the suture back and forth. When she finally spoke, her voice was quieter than before. “All I know about my bloodline is pieced together from old books, an old faunus that lived outside of beacon, and my own experience. I know it’s very old magic - as old as humans themselves, maybe older. I know it passes from parent to child, but it skip generations sometimes. I know that each user shapes the magic to their likin’ over time. When Yang came to me and asked me questions about our bloodline, I told her all of that.” She pulled the needle and suture from the pot, neatly laying it on the sheet-covered stool next to her. “Didn’t tell her that it’d probably already been shaped.” 

Blake blinked, watching Raven pull out another two rags and dip them both into the boiling water. “...how so?”

Raven gave her a rueful smile as she gingerly patted her hands with one of the hot rags, then sat down next to Blake’s hip with the other. “Pretty incredible coincidence that I happen to take the form of a raven, isn’t it?”

“I thought-” Blake involuntarily hissed as the fabric pressed against her, heat mixing with pain. “I thought you chose it.”

“Not quite. My father gave Qrow and I pet birds that he’d caught when we were young - at the time, he said he wanted us to train them as spies for us. After a few years, we figured out who the real spies were supposed to be.” She chuckled, her tone a note too dark, as she continued to gently clean the wound. “Nowdays, don’t think we’re born with any ability at all. Suspect we’re all that’s left of what humans and faunus both came from. We steal some form of magic - maybe just a bit of their soul - from an animal when we’re young. Always seems to be an animal that had a big influence on y’ life, who you are. The others of its kind see it inside you - they treat you differently than a normal human. Ain’t like you can talk to them, but if you scream for help, they hear you. But, more importantly, you take on their qualities. I’m more clever than the average human, I never forget a face or voice, and, if I channel it, I can always find someone I - I know.” Her eyes moved away at that, as though uncomfortable.

Blake blinked at her. “...and you shapeshift.” She said, raising her eyebrow in an incredulous fashion. “That seems to be fairly important.”

A huff of a laugh, as Raven picked up the needle and carefully draped the suture onto the bed. “Yes, suppose it is, but that ain’t common. Inhale.” 

Blake barely had time to inhale before the needle sunk into her flesh. The painkiller dulled the sensation, but Blake still had to set her jaw against the ache. She flicked an ear towards Raven, letting her know that she was still listening.

“Ain’t many of our line that ever achieved it, and the few that did only did because the animal they’d chosen was the same size as a human or smaller. You can hold extra energy inside you, but you can’t conjure more than what y’ have. My raven form is very small and takes little energy to hold, but it still took me years of practice to hold it longer than a minute. But that don’t mean that some folk who bonded with somethin’ large they don’t have power. they manifest it in different ways. My father couldn’t take the form of a wolf; but you could hear his voice for miles when he used it, and he was far stronger than any other human.”

Her tone lowered, her brows lowering as she pulled the suture tight and began to tie a series of knots. “When I met Yang again, I saw her eyes turn from lilac to red. Of course, my father, brother, and I all share that colour, but I’d never seen or heard of eyes changin’ before. Didn’t know what to think of her at first. When she followed me to Mountain Glenn and I prodded her a bit, she said her eyes had done that since she was a child. She didn’t say a word about animals, or magic, or changin’ forms, and I didn’t ask. But I knew she’d already made a bond with somethin’, and whatever qualities she’d gained were strong. You could feel it radiatin’ off her.”

Blake was having a hard time sorting out all the information past the aching in her side. “Why didn’t you tell her that?” 

“Ain’t always a lovin’ bond that binds you. My father bonded to a wolf that hunted him for days when he was a child.” Raven raised her eyebrows. “I presume Yang told you how Summer died.”

“...yes. She was killed by-“

Blake stopped.

Grimm. 

Grimm with burning red eyes. Grimm that hung around Yang’s window, transfixed by her emotions but didn’t attempt to kill her. 

Raven gave a hum of agreement as she trimmed the suture, examining the wound. “She was there when it happened. Saw everythin’. See why I might’ve been a bit nervous about bringin’ it up?” 

“That... that doesn’t make sense.” Her gut twinged away from the thought. No. That couldn’t be right. Yang was the embodiment of light, there was no way she could be anything like the monsters. “They aren’t animals - they don’t even have a soul to bond to.”

“There’s an old tale I found about woman who went mad and ran into the woods when her husband died. She came back with red eyes and the ability to control the Grimm. The rest of the story was about as made-up as they come, but it was enough for me. All the pieces fit - her strength, how she’d survived the attack that killed Summer, and those damn eyes of hers. Would’ve put my own head through a stone wall if I’d realized how simple those eyes turned out to be. Gon’ put in one more stitch for good measure.” Raven didn’t give Blake a chance to protest or approve the idea before sinking the needle back into her flesh and forcing her to bite her tongue. “At first, was more concerned she’d summon a pack and kill my entire camp if I told her. Then, when I thought about it, I realized what, exactly it would mean if she could. Like I said  - I can call ravens to me, I can convince them that I’m one of them. If she could call Grimm to her? If she could command them who to attack? Who not to?” She shook her head, with a bitter laugh. “On top of all of that, she wanted nothin’ more than to please me. She would’ve been an unstoppable force, and she would‘ve been mine alone to weild.”

Blake’s gut rolled at the thought of Yang being little more than a weapon to use at Raven’s disposal. “And you still didn’t tell her?”

“She had weaknesses. She was terrified of Grimm, for one, didn’t think she’d take to the knowledge well. She was stubborn as a hound when she decided she did or didn’t want to do somethin’. And she wouldn’t kill anyone. Grimm exist solely to destroy humanity. The change would have been... damagin’. I needed her to take baby steps. Teach her to kill, then ease her into the rest.” 

You almost turned your own daughter into a monster. But she held her tongue, sensing that more was coming.

She shrugged one shoulder as she began tying the suture again, moving as if it pained her. “Was out searchin’ for a theif that owed the clan money, found him in a run down shack with a starved lookin’ kid. I knew...” She paused. For a moment, Blake watched as something that was almost remorse passed Raven’s face. “...I knew Yang had known hardship. She’d seen Tai at his worst. But he’d always cared, even if he couldn’t show it. This man couldn’t care less about the kid, and Yang’d always seemed protective of children. I thought to myself, ‘if she’s capable of killin’ anyone at all, it’ll be this man’. So I flew back to Mountain Glenn, and I sent her and Vernal after him. The two of them never saw eye to eye, and I thought between bein’ annoyed at her and bein’ furious at him, she’d finally have to put her foot down.” 

Blake didn’t speak as Raven looked away. She knew how this story ended. She knew Yang had killed the man, and the Apathy had struck barely moments later.

“In hindsight, I should have put two n’ two together.” Raven spoke, a certain bitterness to her voice. “He’d been razor sharp once, wasn’t like him to just huddle down and wait to die. I knew what Apathy were, but I wasn’t at the shack long enough to start feelin’ the effect. I’d followed them - hate flyin’ at night, but I wanted to be there. I didn’t think anythin’ was wrong until I saw Vernal runnin’ for her life. Ran in, found Yang frozen in the house, watchin’ the Apathy tear into that kid.” She paused in the middle of tying the last knot on Blake’s side. “...At first, I hoped they might not attack her - your bonded animal isn’t supposed to see you as prey, or as a threat. They did. I tried to make her run. Kid was already dead. She needed to let go. Instead, the stubborn fool fought the Apathy, ran into the pack, and got pulled down in seconds.”

A deafening silence fell in the cabin, broken only by the anxious shuffling of horses outside.

“Realized two things in that moment. Either she hadn’t bonded to Grimm, or it didn’t work the same, and she’d never be able to control them. My plan was dead, but that didn’t matter that much. She still could have been useful. But, she’d done somethin’ else that night - she’d been given a choice between savin’ herself and gettin’ herself killed. She chose the latter.” She trimmed the last of the suture away. “I ain’t blind. Knew the Apathy was affectin’ me. But all I could see was the same fool that had raised her, who got herself killed to save a child that wasn’t even hers.” Raven’s brow pulled into something that wasn’t quite a frown, or a scowl. “Knew even if I tried to wrench her out of their claws, she’d just end up with teeth in her skull from another stupid mistake. I was angry. I was tired.”

Blake forgot about the pain in her side, drowned out by disbelief and anger. Of course, she’d know the truth, but hearing the woman actually say it out loud...

She watched in a mixture of mute horror and disgust as Raven turned away and tossed the needle into the pot, guilt spilling into her words. “Truth be told, thought she was already dead when I left. Quite the damned shock when I figured out she’d survived.”

She screamed for you, you horrid-

A squeal cracked through the air, immediately followed by the shuffling of panicked hooves.

“Stay there.” Raven growled, grabbing her rifle and standing. Blake unsteadily stood and grabbed her own rifle as the older woman approached the doorway, looking back and forth. For a long moment, she just stood in the doorway, confused. Then, she turned back to Blake. “...c’mere.”

Blake hurriedly limped forwards and ducked under Raven’s arm - then blinked.

Shroud yanked at the end of her bit as she reared, eyes wild, nostrils flared. The sunset’s orange light reflected off of her coat, painting her as a panicked silhouette against the sky as she frantically pulled back and forth, fighting to free herself. It took a moment to realize that the other horses were only shifting back and forth with faint unease.

Blake took a step forwards, only to be cut off by an arm in front of her. “Don’t. Wait for her to settle.” Raven glanced down at her. “This mare prone to spookin’?”

“I - I haven’t had her long, Tai loaned to her me. But no, not that I’ve seen.” She shifted her weight, watching as Shroud continued to hop in place, snorting wildly. But she’d slowed, and Raven didn’t stop her when Blake ducked under her arm. “Shroud.” She hummed, catching a rein and gently pulling it towards her. 

Up close, the mare looked even more panicked. Her eyes were rimmed with white, snorting and heaving as her pelt trembling. But she let Blake reach her head, and stood still as Blake tried to rub small circles across her head and neck. The shivering lessened very slightly, but the mare still heaved for breath, hooves shuffling back and forth. A distant corner of her mind wished that Yang was there to settle-

Everything stopped. 

“Best get back inside.” Raven eyed the darkening woods around them. “Wrap y’self back up, we’ll need to move once Obi and Vernal come back.”

Blake mutely nodded, letting her hands fall as she followed Raven back into the cabin. Her mind was racing, putting together pieces that had been miles apart only moments ago. She paused in front of the cot, and chose her words very carefully. “...Yang said she remembered screaming. When you left her.”

She hadn’t expected Raven to react. But the woman turned back around with startling speed. “I remember every detail from that night. Yang didn’t make a damn sound. I thought she was dead the moment the Apathy ripped into her.” Raven’s eyes narrowed, drilling into her with newfound interest. “What else did she say?”

Maybe it was the way that Raven’s eyes were narrowed with something other than concern. Maybe it was the fact that Blake knew that Raven’s desire to protect Yang was driven by guilt, not love. Maybe it was the fact that too many things made sense.

Blake kept her tone low, as though swallowing anger. “Doesn’t remember anything aside from seeing you walk away. Thinks her horse spooked and crashed through a wall, gave her time to grab the saddle.”

Raven watched her for so long that Blake thought she’d seen through to her thoughts. But she turned her gaze back to gathering the materials in front of her. “Lucky girl. Just as well - she seems happier livin’ out her days with Sheriff Nikos. And she sure as hell wouldn’t listen to me anymore, even if she did have the ability I thought she did.”

“What about her eyes?” She prodded. “You said it was something stupid.”

A long, slow sigh. “Plucked up my damn courage and found my rat bastard of a father, some time after that. Told me that the magic’s often tied to emotion. Pretty typical that our eyes flash red when we get mad enough, but most our line is born with red eyes already. I just hadn’t seen it.” She grunted. “All it means is she’s got the gift.”

Blake had already come to the same conclusion, but she kept her voice even, as though confused. “...do you know what she bonded to?”

“No. Don’t care either - don’t matter much at the end of the day. Whatever it is was strong, but stupid.” Raven muttered to herself, and started to sort through the sack Vernal had given her.

She wasn’t completely wrong, Blake thought as she turned her eyes to wrapping a bandage around her hips, disguising her racing thoughts.

“Only alive today because Ember came racin’ into the house when she heard me screamin’ . Yang’s voice had rippled with sadness as she said it. Like she was talking about her mother, not her horse. 

“Always seems to be an animal that had a big influence on y’ life, who you are.” 

She’d been able to settle a panicked Gambol into a trance with her touch, on the first day she’d met her. She didn't know what had happened to break Yang's arm, but if Wilt'd had something to do with it, she could count the amount of people that had survived an attack on one hand. And even if he hadn't attacked her, he’d let Adam put her into his saddle.  

“The others of its kind see it inside you - they treat you differently than a normal human.”

Yang’s vicious devotion to protecting the people she’d bonded to. Her quick temper. Her stubborn streak. Her unwavering loyalty.

“You take on their qualities.”

Outside, she could hear Shroud snorting and pawing, searching for a danger that did not exist.

“If you scream for help, they hear you.”

Ice seeped into her veins. If she was right, then the last time Yang had called a horse to her it had been because she was about to die. That had been a horse that could not have been more than a few feet away. 

She and Shroud had to be at least a mile away from Cerulean Ranch.

Bile and terror rose in her throat. He’s killing her. He’s killing her right now.

Her stomach rolled, and Blake was just barely able to disguise the gag as a tiny cough. Raven didn’t look up, thankfully, but Blake’s hands shook as she hurried through wrapping her hip. Breathe. Keep thinking clearly. He needs her alive. And she needs you. Breathe. The new stitches weren’t nearly as neat as Jaune’s, but they looked like they would hold as they disappeared beneath the bandage. She kept thinking about that. Not Yang screaming.

The rattle of pills drew her ears, and Blake glanced up to find Raven opening a tin of pills. She carefully fished out one pill, and dropped it into a vial where another was waiting. “...those for Yang?”

“Mm.” Raven gave a single nod, tearing pieces of cotton from a bag and shoving it into the bottle, disguising the tell-tale rattling.

“...you still haven’t told me what the plan is.” Her words sounded flat, even to her own ears. But she couldn’t think of anything else to say without spilling knowledge that Raven didn’t deserve, or betraying the nausea still rolling her gut.

“That’d be because I’m still polishin’ it.” Raven glanced sideways at her. “But, fair play. Gon’ have you accompany me into the camp, and start negotiatin’. While Taurus and the rest are focused on us, Vernal will get Yang out of the barn while Obi and Jasper watch for Grimm or scouts.”

Blake’s twisting stomach went deathly still. “...I’d be better as a scout.” She croaked. “Vernal and Obi can’t see or hear as well as faunus can.”

“No, but you’ll catch Taurus’ attention. He won’t be thinkin’ about keepin’ his guard up if y’ with me.”

She was right, and from the outside, it wasn’t a bad plan. But Raven didn’t know Blake well enough. She didn’t know that the sight of Adam - smirking at her while Yang bled in the background - would be more than enough to render Blake useless. 

Heart in her throat, Blake opened her mouth and was abruptly cut off by the snorting and shuffling of hooves outside. Her head shot up, mouth dry, terrified that Shroud had spooked at an unknown horror again.

Instead, a thud as someone dismounted, then three knocks at the door. “Yes.” Raven grunted. 

Vernal swept into the room, not acknowledging Blake with so much as a blink. “We had to turn back. Stupid amount of Grimm hangin’ around the ranch. Caught sight of a couple patrols millin’ around, they must have been expectin’ it.” There was a grim undertone to her voice that reverberated in Blake’s ears. They’re hurting her. Adam’s using her as bait.

Breathe. She needs you. Breathe.

Raven’s brows twitched together, unaware that the woman beside her was fighting a losing battle. “Wake Jasper up. We’re goin’ now. You and Obi take her and head for-”

“Send me and Jasper instead.” Blake cut in, a little too quickly.

Raven eyed her, but it was Vernal who spoke, snorting with laughter. “You enjoy gettin’ stitched up?” 

She didn’t dignify that with a response, staring straight at Raven. “I see well at night, I hear better than most of the faunus in that camp, I don’t fear Grimm, and Yang will follow me anywhere. I promise you, I will be more useful in that barn than I will trying to negotiate with Adam.” Her voice shook. Her gaze didn’t.

Raven still didn’t speak, leaning against the table. Her posture was just a tiny bit too relaxed, watching Blake with something that looked like interest rather than sternness. 

Beside them, Vernal’s dry voice split the air. “Aside from the fact you ain’t fit to defend yourself, you mean?”

Her head tilted slightly, and her eyes flicked to Vernal and back. Prove it, then.

She’d spent the past week in relative comfort, not having to use or fear violence from those around her. But that didn’t mean Blake had gone soft.

She turned on her heel, and locked eyes with Vernal. “At least I can aim a damned rifle at something that needs to be shot, instead of running back to Momma.” She spat. 

It worked just a hair too well. Vernal’s face flashed with anger. Her form blurred as she lunged, one hand falling to the knife on her belt.

But Blake was waiting. 

She caught Vernal’s wrist as the knife came up, squeezed down on the pressure point in the center of her wrist, and nearly ducked under her arm. Vernal whirled to follow her, but Blake had already twisted her arm behind her back, and easily followed along. She dragged her left foot. She kicked the back of her left knee, and Vernal hit the ground at the same time as her knife did. Hissing with fury, Vernal rolled, hand on her pistol - and stopped as she realized Blake was already above her, and her own knife was pressed below her jaw.

“The night I was exiled from the White Fang, Yang found me in a shed. She startled me, and I attacked her. I had broken ribs. I’d been bleeding for hours. I was soaked to the bone from walking a half mile in a hailstorm. I still knocked her over.” A slightly feral grin crossed Blake’s face at the shock in Vernal’s, and as she leaned closer she let the storm of emotions creep into her voice. “I’m faster, smarter, and deadlier than you ever will be, and I will stop at nothing to get Yang back. Do you really want to get between me and her?”

Vernal’s eyes narrowed slightly. But Blake’s stare didn’t waver. 

Somewhere above them, a low sigh reminded her that they weren’t alone in the cabin. “You’ve made y’ point. Let her up.”

Despite the fear still swirling in her gut, Blake had to bite back the triumphant grin as she stood, and offered a hand to help Vernal back up. She ignored it, glaring balefully as she got to her own feet. 

Raven rolled her eyes as though exasperated, as though she hadn’t all but ordered Blake to attack her second in command. “Vernal, Obi, and I will approach the camp an hour after nightfall. You and Jasper will get into the barn as soon as they’re distracted, lay low, and figure out a way to get her out without being detected. Don’t try and move her until we’ve left gone. If there’s a problem, you leave Jasper in the barn to watch and report back to me. Understood?”

Blake gave a single, curt nod.

Raven glanced at the window, then at her bandage, then at her. She took the pill vial off the table, and threw it to Blake. “Wake Jasper up and head for the south edge of the ranch. Don’t move before my signal.”

The south edge. Where the ridge overlooking the ranch was. Where Pyrrha would be waiting, just after nightfall. Blake stuffed the pill vial away, blinking as though in simple acknowledgment. “...your signal?”

“You’ll recognize it. You and Yang ain’t as good at hidin’ as you think you are.” Raven smirked slightly, then hummed a familiar tune under her breath as she turned away.

Blake’s gut twisted uncomfortably as she stepped backwards, then turned, grabbing her rifle on the way by. She didn’t look at Shroud as she rushed past; she didn’t want to know yet. 

Jasper had sprawled out across a thin cot on the ground, but was already stirring as Blake shouldered her way into the shed. “Mm. S’ it time?”

“Get dressed and meet me outside.”  She didn’t wait for Jasper’s response before backing out of the shed. 

She inhaled as she approached the hitching post, purposely looking at the horizon instead. Nothing left of the sun but an orange glow.

Blake set her teeth and looked at Shroud.

The mare was standing on all four feet again. But she had backed to the far end of her reins, ears up, eyes focused in the direction they were about to ride in. As though whatever had called to her was still there.

Blake took Shroud’s bridle, gently turning the mare’s face back to her. “Can you still hear her?” Her tiny whisper cracked as her vision blurred. “Is... Is she alive?”

Shroud’s brown eyes, of course, told her that she was scared and nothing else.

Blake gently the mare between her eyes, closed her eyes, and forced herself to take a deep breath as she waited for Jasper.


“Kid? Kid? Yang!”

Yang jerked awake to a world of black and faint silver, not realizing she’d fallen asleep. Her arm had settled into a constant throbbing ache that was almost bearable, as long as she didn’t move. She grimaced, looking up to find whoever had disturbed the little amount of peace she’d gotten.

She caught the faint outline of Lilly as she shook her head, dropping into a crouch. “Don’t fall asleep, kid. You’ve still got a nasty hit to the head.”

A faint gunshot rang through the air, drawing a startled jerk from Yang. Grimm, she told herself as she grimaced at the pain searing through her arm at the sudden movement. “Gods forbid I have the nerve to die before y’all are finished with me.”  

Lilly replied with a tired snort. “Laugh while you can. Adam’s ordered me to spend the night here, specifically to make sure you stay awake.” 

“Oh, joy.” Yang grunted, but she inhaled, trying to find a comfortable position again. Deep down, the part of her that she would allow to cry whimpered for a familiar touch, a familiar voice. "When do I get to ask for a painkiller?"

"If I had one, I would have already smuggled it to you."

Yang felt her heart sink with some surprise. Apparently you could still be disappointed even without getting your hopes up. "In that case, are y’ gon’ answer all my questions to keep me up?”

She’d expected a sarcastic remark in response. Instead, the straw next to her moved, joints cracking as Lilly slid down to sit next to her. “Why the Darkness not?” She muttered. “I know exactly what you’re going to ask anyways.”

“...Arright.” She was right, and Yang had no intentions of disappointing her. “You said you knew what he was doin’ to her. Blake probably didn’t even know, not really, not back then. Why did you never say anythin’?” 

“Why do you think?” Not mocking her, not evading the question. Genuinely asking.

Yang blinked, thrown off guard. “I... I think you were tryin’a teach her to stand up for herself. Or you just didn’t care.”

“No. I know she’s strong. It had nothing to do with her. Never did.” 

“Why, then?”

Clothing rustled beside her as Lilly shifted her weight. “You known your sheriff for long, Yang?”

Irritation flared at the change of subject, but she was too tired and her arm was aching too much. “...yeah. Old friend, helped my father and me train horses.”

“Do people dislike the fact she’s in power?”

“Some do. There’s a...” She stopped herself for a moment, then spoke anyways. “There’s a couple old ranchers that would’ve liked their sons to be sheriff instead.”

“Mm.” She caught a glimpse of Lilly’s face as she turned towards her, expression blank but... searching. “Suppose one of them wanted to be sheriff, more than anything in the world. You’ve known him for years, and you know he’s got potential. He could be great. You like him, deep down. But you’ve seen his kind before - he just wants the power, and you know even if you make sure he doesn’t become a deputy, he’ll find another way in. Wouldn’t you rather have him in front of you, not behind you?”

Yang could see where this was going, and she gritted her teeth. “Cut the bullshit - Blake told me how she met Adam, Sienna, and you. I know Adam’s only the second-in-command because you didn’t want to be. Why’d you let him take power if you knew he was gon’ be dangerous?”

Lilly was quiet for a long moment. Another gunshot, somewhere in the distance, but neither of them reacted this time. “There were two reasons. First one is more straightforward.” Her head rolled back, softly knocking on the wood. “I spent a while with Adam, before Sienna overthrew the White Fang and the Belladonnas were trying to keep Blake away from him. He and I weren’t all that different - we both only have one loyalty. It ranks above our morals, above everyone around us. One focus, one purpose, one reason why our heads are on our shoulders and not splattered across a back field in Anima. His is to himself. What do you think mine is?”

She almost answered ‘the Faunus’. But the air was too silent around them - as though Lilly was holding dead still beside her. The questions about Pyrrha floated back to the forefront of her mind. 

“Sienna.” She realized. “Y’ loyal to Sienna.”

The faint light caught the edge of her ear as she nodded. “It’s much easier to keep an eye on someone when they don’t see you as a threat. And Adam has never been good at looking down. So, I let him take power. The fool can’t see past his own head, I knew he’d assume Sienna rejected me in favor of him. I knew it was only a matter of time before he turned on her - and I made damn sure that, when he did, it would be me that he would turn to for help.” 

“Why didn’t you just kill him? He couldn’t have had many followers back then. You could have gotten away with it.”

“Why didn’t you? You’ve had chances.”

Yang hesitated. 

“Once you’ve taken lives, it either becomes very easy or very difficult to take more.” A pause. “I presume you’ve taken a life you’ve regretted as well.”

“...One.” Yang mumbled, pushing away memories that she didn’t want to relive. “Low-life that kept tellin’ me to shoot him. Was an Apathy pack below me. Didn’t know.”

Lilly smiled again, like she understood but didn’t want to. “Apathy is quite a feeling, isn’t it? You can tell you’re supposed to care, but you can’t reach it. You only act when you absolutely have to, and when you do you’re always choosing an easy way out. You watch yourself do things you know you’ll hate yourself for, but you don’t stop yourself because you’re just too damned tired.”

Yang’s mouth went dry, remembering the exhausted irritation she lifted the gun. “You’ve fought ‘em before?” 

“No. Never met an Apathy Grimm in my life.” A coldness sank into her gut as Lilly stared her dead in the eye. “That is the second reason I turned Sienna down, why I never helped poor Belladonna, and why Adam Taurus is still alive. Think the person I was born as might have made a good leader, but she died as a child. I’m just a tired husk that doesn’t like having to feel emotions anymore. And I...”

A long pause stretched between them. Yang heard a soft thunk, as though Lilly had let her head fall against the wooden wall. “I just didn’t want to kill him, kid. I envied him at first - he still had his spirit, he wanted to change the world and he had the talent to do it. I wanted him to do the things I couldn’t. I could see the danger, but I liked the damn fool, and I just wanted it to be easy for once. I wanted Adam to settle in, become a good second-in-command, and help Sienna gain the respect and power she’d always wanted. He could rally a crowd, he could talk anyone into his pocket, and he was an asshole but we all are. And he was... he was was always better when he was with Blake. She always seemed to see the same person I had, it made me hope that he was real. Yes, I noticed when she began to flinch every time he raised his voice. Yes, I noticed when she had bruises in places where he thought they’d be hidden. By then I knew how much he wanted power, and I told myself that if I intervened, I’d lose control of him. Told myself that even if I managed to kill him before he killed me or Sienna, even if we weathered the shitstorm his followers would rain on us, there would be another asshole just like him in another month or two and I’d have to start over.” Her voice was dull, betraying that even she didn’t believe her words. “Even when the damn fool brought me on board for his little heist and I knew he’d finally gone too far, I reached out to the local human bandits to undercut him instead of doing it myself. I wanted to get him back to Mistral - the only person more influential than him is Sienna herself. I knew if I could get him in front of her, if I could prove he’d betrayed her and unmask him as a goddamn madman, he’d fall. That was why I needed Blake. Knew she was the only person that had a hope of making him calm long enough to get home, and keep his eyes off me. But, of course, by the time I found her in the train yard, she was miles ahead of me.”

Yang closed her eyes, gut shifting in a mixture of pain and unknown emotion, as the battered mercenary continued in a low voice. “Just didn’t want to believe that man was dead, if he’d ever existed to begin with. Took Russet dying to convince me, and by now it’s too late to do much more than what I’ve already done. I’ve already let so many suffer, all for nothing.” She chuckled in a way that sounded like it was her way of trying to sob. “Still can’t bring myself to put an axe through his neck. Even after what I know he is. What I know he’s done. Even if I could, I know Brun, Yuma, and the twins would rip me apart for it. Dying isn’t much of an issue on it’s own, but Sienna still needs me and I’m no use to her dead.” Lilly inhaled. “I don’t regret my reasons. But... I’ve come to regret my decisions.”

Yang still didn’t pity the woman. She’d let Blake suffer, she’d let so many things happen, all because she just couldn’t act. But, an odd sort of emotion settled in her chest as silence stretched between the two women, and she remembered how hard she’d tried to pull her own trigger on Adam.

“Can I ask you for a favor, kid?” Yang looked up. Lilly was little more than the outline of her ear and cheek in the moonlight. “When you get out of here, tell Blake that it was never her burden to control him. It was mine, and I failed her.”

“...that’s the real reason y’ helping me, ain’t it? Y’ tryin’ to make up for what you did to her.”

“No.” She replied, harsh in the darkness. “What I’ve done can’t be made right, and shouldn’t be forgiven. I’m doing this because that girl’s had everything she loves ripped away from her, she doesn’t deserve to have to-” She cut herself off, suddenly falling silent.

Yang lifted her head. She almost asked what Lilly had heard, but held her tongue. 

The straw rustled as Lilly stood, cursing under her breath. “Stay put.” 

Yang almost laughed at her as the stall door squeaked open, then closed. Where, exactly, could she go? 

The silence pressed in on her as the barn door squeaked closed a moment later. With nothing to distract her, Yang realized just how cold the barn felt, despite the jacket over her shoulders. She felt like she was spinning, and she couldn’t see enough of the room to tell if she actually was or not. But as long as she held perfectly, perfectly still, she could at least think past the ache in her arm.

She closed her eyes again. She wasn’t supposed to sleep, she thought, but the reasons why were getting harder to remember. It wouldn’t hurt if she was asleep. She could hear voices, somewhere near the camp. Lilly, ordering someone to do something. Beneath the faint voices, Yang caught a rustle. Outside. Behind her. 

Warm air rushed through the crack in the wall. 

When Yang opened her eyes, she expected to see red light seeping through the cracks and onto the straw in front of her. 

Instead, she found only moonlight. Yang gingerly turned her head, pressing an eye to the wall. 

The world was only slightly brighter outside, revealing only a hint of delicate whiskers around a wide nostril. But moonlight caught on the horse’s shoulder, revealing the scarring across it.

Her mind raced. Had Blake ridden her here? Was she hiding somewhere nearby? But she couldn’t see any tack, and Blake had been riding Shroud when she’d last seen her. Had she escaped her stall? 

The mare tossed her head, pressing her nose back to the wooden wall between them. Yang threaded a finger through the crack before she could stop herself, and found Gambol’s warm, velvety muzzle. Another loud exhale sent warm, alfalfa-scented air across her face as Yang stroked the skin with her fingertip. Tears sprung up in her eyes. She wanted nothing more than for the mare to come straight through the wall and press her muzzle to Yang’s face. 

CRACK

Gambol’s head jerked up as a gunshot shattered the silence., ears pricked. Then the dark mare whirled, disappearing into the darkness as fast as she’d appeared.

Half of Yang sighed in relief. The other wailed at the mare to come back.

Instead of either, the deputy leaned back against the will, gingerly trying to keep her arm still. Despite her best efforts, she felt herself drift as she listened to the faint murmurs from the camp.


As it turned out, Vernal hadn’t been exaggerating about the Grimm. 

The camp should have only been a fifteen minute ride from the cluster of cabins. But Blake and Jasper had been forced to constantly maneuver around the monsters, and by the time they’d reached the ridge, the sun had long since disappeared past the horizon. None had stopped to examine either one of them, but it wasn’t the danger to their safety that was putting Blake’s teeth on edge. She’d intended to run to the lookout first, to tip Pyrrha off about the incoming danger. But the Grimm hadn’t left them with enough time.

As they finally reached the last stand of trees, Cerulean Ranch came into view. In the distance, she could see the orange light of the campfire, and the outlines of the buildings and tents around it. She didn’t care about any of it. Instead, she stared at the barn - dark and skeletal in the night, exactly the same way it’d always been. In the faint darkness, she caught sight of Yuma, pacing along the side of the barn, watching the faint red lights in the trees opposite him. No other scouts patrolling this side of the camp that she could see.

Shroud anxiously shifted her weight below her, but didn’t pull towards the barn. Please be alive. Please be alive.

Jasper’s saddle creaked next to her as they both halted, staying in the stand of trees. “...don’t hear nothin’ yet.” 

“She said an hour after nightfall. It won’t take long.”

“Mm.”

She glanced at the younger girl, and found her pale as a sheet, staring into the darkness. “...are you okay?” The question almost made her laugh - of course she wasn’t. None of this was.

Jasper hesitated. “I...”

Blake jerked, ears pricking up as a faint melody reached her ears. “ Grave digger, grave di-” The melody stopped abruptly as Blake heard a screech of surprise. Someone had probably just gotten the scare of their life. 

She turned back to the pale teenager. “That was the signal. We move as soon as Yuma’s distracted. Jasper, are you okay?”

“I don’t want to see... y’know. Him.” She finally said, in a tiny voice. “Not after what I saw him do. Didn’t want to come. ‘S why I wanted her to let me run to the camp.”

Oh. Of course, it would have been more surprising if she hadn’t been scared of Adam, after what she’d seen. Blake bit her lip. “...It might be better if you stayed on watch while I-”

“I’m fine. I’ll go. I’ll watch y’ back. I just hope we don’t...” Jasper stopped, squinting. “...is that a horse?”

Blake turned, lifting her head. A shadow was making its way across the yard, weaving between the rubble and broken remains of fencing as voices stirred up in the camp on the other side of the barn. Her heart dropped into her stomach as she recognized the slight limp. Instinctively, she moved to nudge Shroud forwards. Adam would know something was wrong if he saw -

The mare stopped beside the barn. Her ears pricked up, lowering her head to sniff at a portion of the wall. 

Blake stopped.

Gambol went still. Tossed her head, then pressed her nose to the wall of the barn, ears flicking forwards as she focused on something. For a long moment, she stayed still, head moving slightly. As though someone was trying to pet her nose through the spaces between boards.

Her heart pounded. Yang.

CRACK

Blake jumped and Jasper squeaked, both instinctively pulling their horses backwards. Blake’s wide eyes scanned the yard. She quickly found two beowolves- one a heap of dissipating shadow on the ground, the other snarling and pacing. A second later, she found Yuma, standing at the far corner of the fenceline, hiding behind the ruins of a shed as he reloaded a rifle. If Blake ran before he killed it, he wouldn’t see her.

Her gaze jerked back to the barn, just in time to see Gambol bolt back through the ruined buildings. 

She swung out of her saddle as quickly as she could, hands shaking as she threw the reins over a branch. “Give me your waterskin. I’m going now, while he’s distracted.”

Jasper nodded, handing it over and inhaling, obviously trying to find the nerve to follow.

“You’re not coming with me.” 

The girl blinked, a sigh of relief escaping a split second before she tried to stop it. “Wh - no, I have to, you need -”

“Pyrrha Nikos is at the lookout right now, waiting for me.” Blake grabbed the pill vial in her pocket, reassuring herself it was still there, and peeked back around the tree trunks. Yuma had finished reloading his rifle; her window was closing. “Run there as fast as you can, tell her Yang is alive and badly hurt, and I’m getting her out.” She watched Yuma raise the rifle.

Jasper sputtered, but Blake was already running.

Her hip burned, her ribs ached, but the painkillers had already dulled the worst of it and she didn’t care. Blake sprinted across the field, waterskin held flat against her shoulder to muffle the sound of the water sloshing. Her ears stayed to the side, listening for the slightest noise, eyes wide and searching for any other sign of a scout she’d missed, a danger that she’d forgotten. She wasn’t sure if she would have stopped running even if there had been.

A gunshot cracked through the night again, and then night returned to silent and still. She caught a glimpse of the beowolf shattering into darkness, but she was already past them. Blake fought to keep her breathing quiet as she finally skidded to a halt beside the barn, falling to her knees in its shadow. 

Yuma turned, hefting his rifle, and continued walking, eyes darting along the treeline. Blake didn’t dare move until his footsteps crunched over stones instead of the lush grass around the barn. 

Between the silent gasps of air, she scanned the barn wall, finding the large gap she’d noticed long ago. The hayloft wasn’t stable, but there was no escape or entrance on the ground that she could use. 

Besides, she had plenty of experience navigating haylofts.

Blake bit her lip, slung the waterskin over her shoulder, and reached up for the most stable-looking board. She carefully gripped it, hauling her slight body upwards, hooking her good foot onto the edge of it. Exhaled. Then sprung for the edge of the hole in the barn, fingers just hooking over the rough wooden edge. She bit back a whine as she pulled herself up, feeling splinters embed themselves in her hand. Not a problem right now. 

Blake carefully, silently, pulled herself into the barn. Her breath caught in her throat as she looked up and found the silent hayloft waiting for her.

It was smaller than the one still sketched on the back of her eyelids. Old, broken, in disrepair. But the moonlight cut through the cracks in the roof in exactly the same way.

Her ears pinned back, and Blake swallowed the bile in her throat as she began to pick her way across the treacherously aged wood. 

She immediately moved to the side she’d seen Gambol approach, and quickly realized that her options were more limited than she’d remembered. Only one stall still had four walls and a door, and it was all the way at the front end of the barn. Blake carefully made her way across, avoiding placing her weight on anything that looked questionable, testing every foothold before placing her weight on it. Her stomach rolled as she caught sight of an open hole in the floor, exactly above the last stall.

Not now. She pushed away faint memories as she reached the hole, and settled on her knees beside it. She inhaled. Then leaned over it, looking down.

At first, she only saw straw. Then she heard a rustle, and her eyes flicked to the corner of the box stall.

Her breath left, her body stilled, and the world around her stopped.

Yang Xiao Long was huddled in the corner, her weight resting limply against a wall. One of her arms had been bound into a crude splint, and both the wood and the straw it was resting on were dark with blood. Her head was bowed as though under some kind of weight, her breathing uneven.

She remembered being told to wait until Raven was already in the camp. But Blake had already slipped through the hole in the ceiling and dropped soundlessly to the straw below. Not painlessly, as she winced at her hip and ribs. The straw quietly rustled as she made her way through it, kneeling in front of her.

“Yang?” Her voice sounded small, even for a whisper. 

No response.  Her heart was trying to escape her chest and her hands shook as she reached out, laying a hand on her shoulder.

Yang’s eyes shot open, her head flying up. For a moment, her eyes were wild, filled with distrust and fury.

Blake didn’t so much as twitch away.

Yang blinked. Her eyes widened, pupils darting back and forth as though trying to find her in the darkness. “Blake?” She croaked.

“I’m here.” Tears blurred her vision, and Blake’s whisper turned to a sob. “I’m so sorry, I’m here, we’re going home, I’m -“

A male voice, outside. Not nearby, probably at the campfire. “She said it sounded like singing. Far away, no one else heard it.” Brun. 

A hand appeared on her arm.  “Run.” Yang’s eyes were wide, still trying to find hers. “If he finds you...”

She was right, and she knew it, but... “I’m just going back up to the hayloft. I promise, I won’t lea-”

“It’s the bitch. She can’t sneak in, so she’s just going to walk in like she owns us.”

This voice, she instantly recognized. But any thought about Adam disappeared as she watched Yang.

The moment his voice rang out, her hand clamped down on Blake’s arm as though clinging onto her for dear life. Her wide eyes stopped darting around and stared straight ahead, pupils constricting despite the darkness. Her shoulders twitched upwards, and her entire body leaned backwards, as though instinctively trying to hide.

Blake felt her heart shatter, scattering shrapnel through her chest.

“Give me a second to check on the pup. We’re going to wait at the gate for her.”

Yang blinked, and her eyes began to dart back and forth, searching for Blake in the darkness again. The grip on her arm loosened, reluctantly, but failed to hide the fact her palms had already started to sweat. “Go. Go right now.” She hissed, as if unaware that Blake could see the tears gathering in her eyes. 

Footsteps crunched through the gravel. She could make it, if she jumped right now.

“Blake, go.” Her mouth desperately whispered. Please don’t leave me. Her eyes screamed.

Blake inhaled. Then ducked, rolling onto her side. 

“Wh-” 

“Stay where you are.” Blake shoved herself into the straw, curling into a tight ball against the corner. Yang’s good arm moved, and the rest of the world disappeared as she swept straw over the rest of her. Not that it mattered much - Adam’s eyes weren’t much better than Yang’s in the dark. 

The door squeaked, and Blake felt warmth against her legs as Yang leaned back against the wall. Her breathing sounded slow, as though asleep or in some state of relaxation, but her skin trembled.

Footsteps. Breathing, then an amused snort. “I know you’re not sleeping.”

Blake’s mouth went drier than the straw around her, and it was suddenly very easy to hold completely still.

Yang grunted back, her tone unsteady. “Ain’t anymore.”

“Good. Look alive, your mother’s coming to visit.”

Footsteps again. A door sliding shut. But Blake held her breath until his feet crunched through gravel again, and she heard a rumbled command at Yuma to follow him. 

Their voices faded, and she couldn’t stay still any longer.

Blake sprang back up out of the straw, drawing a surprised squeak from Yang, and grabbed for the vial in her pocket. “Both of those.” She whispered, her voice cracking as she opened the vial and poured them into Yang’s palm.

She heard the sob of relief as Yang recognized the pills in her hand, and immediately swallowed them. Blake pushed the waterskin into her hands anyways, and bit back the sob in the back of her throat as she watched Yang down its contents. “I’m not leaving. I promise I’m not going to leave you.” She spoke the moment Yang finished drinking. She could feel tears streaming down her face, and didn’t bother holding them back. “He’s not going to hurt you ever again. I’ll pr-”

Yang’s good arm found her waist, and pulled her closer. The light streaming in from outside caught on her face, and Yang’s eyes finally focused on hers. “You don’t need promise nothin’. Not to me.” She whispered, tears welling up in the lilac eyes. “I love you.”

The words hung in the night air. They should have been huge. They should have been frightening. But Blake’s sob as their foreheads touched had nothing to do with fear. “I love you too.” 

She was going to have to hide again. They needed to find a way back out of the barn. But none of that mattered right now. All that mattered was the warmth pressed against her and the breathing in her ears, reassuring her that they were both alive, and they were together.