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Dream Theory

Chapter Text

This time of day, the police station was busy. Petty criminals waited for processing. Concerned civilians reported crimes or suspected crimes. And that constant foot traffic was on top of the stream of patrol officers, detectives, and lab techs heading in or out of the double doors at the entrance of the building.

The work never stopped, but that was one of Yang's favorite parts about her job. Something always needed to be done and, if she ever finished all of her cases, someone else always needed a hand. This afternoon, however, she was dropping off work for someone else.

"This way," she said, tugging her handcuffed friend towards the left-hand side of the lobby. The right of the room was reserved for non-criminal visitors only, which, unfortunately, this young boy didn't qualify as anymore.

Finding an unoccupied officer serving their turn at the intake desk, Yang led her charge over and caught the woman's attention.

"Hey, Jez. Can you book this one in?" she asked, nodding towards the kid who'd led her on quite the footrace a little while ago. "Attempted armed robbery."

"Arm robbery, you say?" Jez joked while taking the boy by the elbow for processing. "At least he didn't get away with it."

"Ha ha, very funny." Freed of her culprit, Yang lifted her right arm and formed a fist. The mechanical fingers curled into a tight, unyielding ball of reinforced fury that no one wanted to be on the receiving end of. Unfortunately, it was something of a station hobby to make as many arm jokes as possible when she was around.

"Can your arm do this?" she asked, waving the back of her hand across the scanner and seamlessly downloading her body cam videos to the computer for analysis. "Oh, and here's the holomask he was wearing." Setting the mask on the desk - the small device nothing more than a rectangle of silver that fit over someone's ear - Yang grinned and patted Jez's arm before heading further into the station.

"Why are you doing our job, anyway?" Jez called after her, but she smiled and waved the question off instead of responding. She hadn't meant to do patrol's job. The opportunity just kind of...presented itself. And she wasn't one to pass up an opportunity.

Before she got too far, sliding glass doors prevented her (or anyone else, for that matter) from accessing the interior of the station without permission. Made from reinforced, blast-proof glass and secured by scrolling keycodes, palm scanners, and constant video surveillance, the doorway was probably one of the most protected in the city. Her arm served as her keycode, and, with a simple wave across the scanner, the doors slid open to allow her through.

Having a mechanical arm hadn't exactly been in her life plans, but Ruby made sure it was always loaded with the latest gadgets and upgrades. The end result? Most of the time, she considered it a cool, useful accessory that helped her do her job better. It stored videos, took voice recordings, snapped photos, and cracked locks. But it also held a small holo-projector, holo-scanner, and some crazy strong sedative darts if she ever needed them. She'd rather have two real arms, but she had to admit that this one was pretty...handy.

Internally groaning at the pun, she turned the corner and found Ruby standing in front of the wall of computers in her office. As usual, she looked like she was puzzling something out, as if the different screens of code and video somehow made sense to her.

Normally, Yang wouldn't interrupt such a concentrated expression, but it was almost the end of the day and she wanted to say 'goodbye' before Ruby left for the evening. Two soft knocks tore Ruby's attention away from the screen, and she smiled the instant she saw Yang walk into the office.

"Hey Yang!" Leaving the computer behind, Ruby walked over and gave her a hug. "Heard you chased someone down today."

"You know I did." Lightly ruffling Ruby's hair, Yang laughed when her sister made a disgruntled noise and ducked away. "Can I just tell you...I love when they run. There's just something so satisfying about it..."

Rolling her eyes, Ruby walked back to her wall of screens and raised her hands to sort through the images.

"You just like showing off," she replied, using the mechanical glove on her left hand to manipulate the data displayed in front of them. After sorting through several pictures - flipping through them so fast Yang couldn't even tell what they were - Ruby stopped on a video and made it large enough to cover several screens. She then pressed play, and Yang quickly realized that the footage was captured outside the convenience store where she'd spotted her most-recent takedown.

"I think this one goes in your top five," Ruby added while the scene unfolded. The two of them watched the young boy brandish a weapon towards the store clerk before spotting Yang, in uniform, walking past the front door. He immediately bolted through the back entrance, and the clerk flagged her down and alerted her to what just happened.

The camera view switched to the alley, where the perpetrator had a solid fifty-yard lead by the time she burst through the back door. She was faster than him though, closing in with each stride as they sprinted down the alleyway. Realizing this, he threw a trash can in her way, which only slowed him down while she effortlessly hurdled it and caught up.

When they rounded the corner onto the next street, the view switched to a camera that must've been on the nearby bank. It took about ten more yards before she caught up and tackled him from behind. A perfect tackle, too - wrap up his waist, drag him to the ground, roll over and pin his arms behind his back.

"Ok, that was pretty good," she agreed, knowing she could be a little vain in Ruby's presence. "But how awesome are you? You put this together in like five minutes."

"That's nothing." Ruby waved her gloved hand, which served as a gesture of modesty while also sending the video to Yang's data drive. "Just a little video editing. I could probably do that in my sleep."

"Which is why you're the expert." After patting Ruby's shoulder, Yang backed towards the office door. "You're probably heading out soon, right?"

Ruby glanced at the time on the screen, squinting her eyes to see the small numbers, before nodding. "Yeah, guess I should. I have plans tonight."

"With you-know-who?" Yang asked, grinning when Ruby nodded.

"And she doesn't like when I'm late, so I should wrap up."

While Ruby started closing her applications, Yang headed towards the door.

"Have fun! I'll see you tomorrow."

After catching a wave from her sister, she doubled back towards the front of the station and walked into her own office. Compared to Ruby's cavernous space filled with technology, her office was more like...well, like a regular office. It had a computer with two monitors (versus the twenty or so Ruby had), plus a few file cabinets for ongoing cases, a desk with a couple of chairs for visitors, and that was about it. But it was more than enough space for her to do her job, and that was really all she asked for.

When she sat in her chair and fired up her computer, she sighed as the events of the day caught up to her. The foot chase might've looked cool and taken a budding criminal off the streets, but she hadn't planned on spending the end of her day writing up an arrest report. Even though her bodycam recorded the footage, she still had to write down what happened as if there wasn't any video evidence. Time of day, address, surrounding circumstances - she hated this part of the job, but it was procedure.

Deciding to get that out of the way, she started typing down everything she remembered while letting her mind wander.

Technically, arrests were left to the patrol officers, and she'd been promoted from patrol officer to detective several years ago. But she still logged some arrests every once in a while because, somehow, the trouble just seemed to find her.

Like today, she was only out searching for leads in a case - witnesses or hidden cameras that might lead to a breakthrough. After striking out everywhere she looked, she was on her way back to the station when the dumb kid decided to make a horrible life decision. He seemed young though - hopefully, he would learn from this and become a more useful member of society. If not...then they'd see each other again.

Thankfully, the law offered some leniency for first-time offenders. So, after recommending remediation instead of incarceration, she sent the file to the higher-ups, leaned back in her chair, and sighed.

"Detective."

Looking towards the door, she smiled when she found Officer Collins waiting for her.

"Hey Casey," she breathed out while motioning him forward. "Come on in."

"Just wanted to see how you're doing." With a sense of comfort gained over their time working together, Casey walked in and took one of the seats across from Yang. "Heard you got into a bit of a scuffle."

"Word travels fast around here, doesn't it?" She shook her head at the rhetorical question, already aware of how fast the officers disseminated information - especially regarding recent arrests. "But I'm fine - he got the worst of it."

"Oh, good." He smiled at the response, and Yang found his concern endearing, even if a little uncalled for.

"You realize I ran beat for years, right?" she added. "Just because I moved to detective doesn't mean I can't still run with the best of them."

"Guess it's easy to forget when we see you behind a desk more often than not," he teased, knowing that the implication would rile her up.

"Hey, I'd like to see you file all these reports without a desk," she retorted. The response only made him smile and laugh, which went a long way in lifting her spirits.

Tall, dark-haired, and handsome, Casey was surprisingly easy to get along with due to his calm and jovial nature. She'd had concerns when he first joined the force - worried he would goof off too much - but he'd turned out to be a great officer and a great friend.

When his expression grew serious, however, her smile fell.

"What's up?" she asked, knowing he might not say anything if she didn't ask. With permission to speak his mind, however, he leaned back and set his hands on his knees.

"It's...just...I know I give you a hard time about the desk job, but...I've been thinking I might put my name in for detective."

"Really?" Sitting back in her seat, she shook her head at the unexpected news. "But they just put you in charge of your own team!"

"I don't know if Red and the Bro-Bot count as a team…"

"More than I ever had," she pointed out. When he shrugged, she decided to take the matter a little more seriously. "What about Red?" she asked, but Casey waved off the concern for his only human partner.

"He said whatever I want to do is fine with him. He'll join another team or go solo."

"He actually spoke?"

"He talks all the time! To me, at least."

Yang laughed at the idea of Red talking constantly, finding it almost as surprising as Casey's desire to leave patrol behind. Mostly because Red was notoriously quiet. Most of them didn't even know his real name - they called him Red because of the color of his hair.

"Anyway…" Casey looked at his hands before meeting her gaze again. "I was hoping you could help me. I know the test is really hard, but I thought you might have a secret or something. You must, right, since you passed it?"

"Ha ha." She shook her head but smiled at the joke. "But yes, even though you're making fun of me, I'll help you study."

Her acceptance was instantly rewarded with a big, warm smile.

"Thank you," he said with a nod of appreciation. "I owe you so much."

"Not yet you don't."

Still smiling, he stood up and gave her another nod.

"Still, thank you," he repeated before backing towards the door. "I'll see you tomorrow?"

Yang didn't know why he always posed that as a question - they worked together, of course they would see each other on workdays - but she still nodded.

"Of course. See you tomorrow."

Satisfied with that answer, he left her office and headed towards the lobby. While watching him through the glass walls of her office, she sat back and sighed.

Should she feel guilty about helping him study? She'd taken the test just a few years ago, so she probably remembered a good portion of it. Plus, he was her friend. Shouldn't she help him if she could?

If he'd asked a year ago, she would've felt no hesitation helping him. But now, things were...complicated.

That was an argument for another time, however. Because now, the day was over. And, while most people greeted the end of a workday with zeal and gusto, she had the opposite feeling.

Work gave her something to do. Its chaotic and fast-paced nature kept her mind occupied, which prevented her from thinking about...the rest of her life. It gave her a way to carry on what looked like a happy, normal existence.

Pretending to be happy all the time was exhausting, but everyone wanted her to be 'fine.' It made them more comfortable when she was 'fine.' So she hid the cracks, plastered on a smile, and pretended that everything was normal - just like someone who was 'fine' would do.

Only Ruby knew what was really going on. Of course Ruby knew. The last time Yang was able to hide something from Ruby, they were still in high school.

These days, Ruby was more intuitive and cunning than Yang ever expected her to be, which meant she picked up on Yang's emotions with little-to-no difficulty. But besides Ruby...no one else knew. They couldn't know. Not even Casey, who'd offered his shoulder time and time again, understood the depths of what Yang was going through.

All they knew was that she went through something awful - that she'd suffered a great loss - but now she was 'fine.' And they liked it when she was 'fine.'

They didn't see her when she reached the end of the day and her mind slowed down. They didn't see her in these moments, when the ever-present sadness, anger, and helplessness showed up - rearing their heads from their resting places not far beneath the surface of her skin.

Honestly, she was surprised she could even work with all of this happening, but a part of her wondered if her job was the only thing keeping her going. What if she didn't have the station to come to every day? What if she didn't have the pile of cases waiting to be solved? What if she didn't have the sense of community and togetherness that came from working towards a common goal?

She didn't even want to think about it…

Instead, she thought about the moment that had haunted her for months - the unsolved mystery that had ripped a hole in her heart and torn her world apart.

Tapping the screen in front of her, she opened the case file that she never closed. It lived on her desktop, waiting for moments like these - waiting for the world to slow down so she could throw herself into the agony once more.

As usual, the first item that popped onto the screen was a news article from the day after. In bold, blocky letters, it declared 'PROMINENT DREAM THEORIST AMONG THE DEAD' for everyone to read. Below the headline was a photograph of the attack - plumes of black smoke billowing from the transit terminal while emergency responders rushed in.

The picture alone was enough to make her close her eyes and try to swallow around the lump growing in her throat. She remembered it like it was yesterday. Hearing the alerts come over the radio, watching every officer in the building sprint out the doors, catching a fraction of the chatter before flying after them. By the time they arrived, the roof had already collapsed, making the search for survivors that much more difficult.

And she just knew. That sinking feeling - like someone had just stolen her breath while kicking her in the stomach. She looked at the wreckage and knew.

She flipped through the next few articles - each going through recaps of the number of people killed and the damage done - before theories about the source and purpose of the blast appeared. By now, she had every theory committed to memory, no matter how outlandish they seemed. Depending on the day and her mood, she believed all of them, or she believed none of them.

When a memorial to the dead popped onto her screen - complete with photos and messages from loved ones - she quickly minimized the tab and stood up. Some days, she could handle it. Some days, she couldn't. There were legitimate reasons why she wasn't allowed to work on the case - this feeling brewing in her chest was certainly one of them.

Instead of continuing down that path, she left her office in favor of a more informal update - something quick that she could more easily stomach.

Turning away from the lobby, she headed towards Detective Saffold's office - the more-senior detective in charge of this particular case. She made it only a few steps, however, before a familiar face turned into the hall up ahead of her.

Long, white hair...way-too-expensive suit...flanked by paralegals that looked frazzled and tired - Weiss Schnee was business as usual while stomping out of the precinct. The mere sight of her made Yang tense up, knowing that someone was in trouble if Weiss was here - or about to be in trouble.

She was, in a single word, a shark. A very pretty, very wealthy, very successful shark.

But she was also one of the best defense attorneys in the city, if not the country. As such, their paths crossed more frequently than most of the precinct would like - usually when Weiss showed up to break her clients out of prison with some well-placed claims of 'broken procedures' or 'lack of evidence.'

Altering her path ever-so-slightly, Yang maneuvered closer to Weiss as the two of them reached a passing point in the middle of the hall. When one of the paralegals broke away to make room for her to pass, she pretended she was going to step out of Weiss' way. Instead, she stepped into Weiss at the last second, giving her a 'friendly' bump that made her shuffle a step to the side.

It broke her aura of invincibility, and for a moment, she looked almost confused by what just happened. When she noticed the small grin on Yang's lips, however, she scowled.

"Watch where you're going, Detective," she snapped before stomping away, holding her head high while leaving the station behind.

Chuckling at the response - which was about what she'd expected - Yang carried on down the hall and ducked into Detective Saffold's office.

"Knock knock," she said while tapping the doorframe to announce her presence. The older woman sitting at the desk looked up at the noise and frowned when she saw Yang.

"Detective Xiao Long," she said, putting her hands together and watching Yang sit down across from her. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"

"You know exactly what I'm here for, Detective," Yang replied with a sigh, silently wondering if they had to go through this routine every time. "Anything new yet?"

For a moment - just a split second - her hope returned, only to be dashed by a shake of the head.

"I promised I'd tell you as soon as we found anything."

"And I promised I'd ask every day anyway."

From the way Detective Saffold shook her head and frowned, she found Yang's persistence annoying or aggravating. Not that Yang particularly cared. If she wasn't allowed to work on the case, she would at least stay informed of what happened.

"Then no, we haven't found anything new."

The answer was expected, so Yang didn't know why it still hurt. But she tried not to let her smile fall more than a little bit - she needed to be 'fine,' after all. And Detective Saffold was now looking at her as if she might not be.

"Detective?"

"It's ok," Yang quickly replied, slapping her knees and forcing a smile while standing up. "Thank you for the update. Have a good night."

Without waiting for a response, she hurried out the door and rushed back to her office to gather her belongings. There wasn't much use in staying here any longer, not when the night shift was starting and most of the other detectives and lab workers were on their way home. If they were heading home, she might as well too. If only for the sake of keeping up appearances.

She lived a short train ride from work - a short train ride that included a passing view of the new transit terminal under construction. Estimated completion wasn't until next year, but the transit authority hoped to have parts of it operational before then. For most of the city, that would be a relief. The re-rerouted train schedules were, as she overheard multiple times on her way to and from work, a 'pain.'

Feeling a spike of annoyance, she reminded herself that her personal tragedy wasn't necessarily one for the people inconvenienced by the bombing. Most likely, they hadn't been affected at all other than suffering through wasted time. Honestly, she might feel the same if she were in their position. Today, however, she just wished she could trade lives with them.

Instead, she squeezed out of the train car as soon as the doors slid open and hurried across the street to her apartment building.

She used to stop and talk to people. She used to say 'hello' to the elderly couple running a small flower shop on the ground floor of the building nearby - a store she'd stopped in more than once to buy fresh flowers to bring home with her (an apology for being late, more often than not). Now, she rushed by with nothing more than a cursory head tilt before jogging up the steps to the lobby of her building and letting herself through the door.

Was it the pity she couldn't stand? Or was it something else...something in the way they looked at her, or talk to her, or treated her?

Maybe she just didn't like being the bearer of bad news - the one that made them remember. Because, if it wasn't for her, they would've moved on by now. If it wasn't for her, they wouldn't have to remember that horrible moment that touched so close to their lives.

After hurrying up a couple flights of stairs, Yang pressed her hand to the keypad by her apartment door and tapped in the code that hadn't changed in years. She was the one who'd insisted on living on the third floor or any low-level floor that made exiting through the window a livable possibility. Ruby thought the idea was silly - which was why she lived on the top floor of her own building - but Yang was overly cautious. Fat lot of luck that got her.

As soon as she stepped inside and closed the door behind her, she sighed and dropped her bag on the entryway table.

"I'm home…" she whispered to the empty room.

It used to be their living room. Still was, she supposed, but she hardly used it anymore. Two small sofas faced each other in the middle of the room, creating a comfortable seating area that was nice for holding a conversation or just sitting. The wall opposite the front door was mostly windows with a cozy reading chair and reading table situated in the perfect spot to catch the afternoon sun. And the walls separating the living room from the bedroom and kitchen were covered in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, because Blake loved to read.

Thinking Blake's name felt like an icepick plunging into her heart, but Yang tried to ignore the feeling while walking further into the apartment - their apartment.

She hadn't moved anything since that day, and she had no plans of moving anything soon. And so it remained...the perfect time capsule of their lives together - her stuff mingled with Blake's, Blake's stuff mingled with hers.

She never understood why their relationship worked so well. It just...did. Everything about it felt effortless and easy, from beginning to...well, she didn't want to say end, but...until their time together stopped.

Blake was incredibly smart, incredibly sexy, and always had a way of keeping Yang on her toes. A sense of mystery perpetually surrounded the girl - so much so that even when Yang felt like she knew everything she could possibly know, there was still more to learn. In all likelihood, that feeling probably stemmed from how much time Blake spent in her mind - a place Yang always wished she could step into, just once. She'd settled for glimpses and long, deep conversations held in this very room.

Leaving the memories behind, she walked into the kitchen - the most lived-in room over the past few months. Flipping on the video screen, she found a station playing the nightly news and turned the volume up a couple of notches. With the news anchors serving as background noise and a subtle sense of company in the quiet, she set about making dinner for herself.

Surprisingly, she found it more difficult to cook for one person than for two. Somehow, she always ended up with leftovers, which wasn't altogether a bad thing - at least she had lunch for the next day. A silver lining, as Ruby would say. Yang's life was all about silver linings these days...

"In other news, the new system from Dreamscape releases next week -"

The word drew Yang's attention away from the stove, and she watched with far more interest as the screen showed the inside of one of the Dreamscape stores downtown. Like usual, it crawled with shoppers testing the newest environments and presets. One full corner of the store, however, was marked off with a floor-to-ceiling screen that would be dropped on release day.

" - is promised to be more customizable than the original Dreamscape, with more functionality and better visitation features. And, most importantly, the ability to sequence at any time of day."

The camera then cut to a single person - a tall, almost too handsome man with perfectly-kept black hair and an expensive black suit.

"The Daydreamer system is the future," he proclaimed in a powerful, assured tone. "Our dream theorists have created the most advanced, most customizable machine ever known to mankind. Just like the Dreamscape before it - Daydreamer will change the way we view our lives and our dreams."

With his spiel over, the camera returned to the news anchors, who shuffled blank papers on the desk in front of them while flashing perfect smiles for the viewers.

"That from the founder of Dreamscape Industries - Taven Bishop," the female anchor explained before turning to her co-host. "What do you think, Jay - have you pre-ordered your Daydreamer yet?"

When Jay chuckled, Yang tuned them out and carried her dinner to the dining table.

All anyone could talk about these days was the new Dreamscape - how awesome it would be, how customizable it was, how - as Taven Bishop said - it would 'change the way they thought about dreaming.' Yang knew it was marketing fluff meant to drive up sales of an already-popular product, but she also remembered how excited Blake had been about the new system - and if Blake was excited about something, then it must be pretty spectacular.

Yang hoped, however, that the general public behaved themselves after getting their hands on the newest tech. Unfortunately, thefts would probably increase until supply caught up with demand. Plus, there would definitely be more calls about 'my spouse sequence-cheating on me' - those were always fun. Thankfully, she didn't have to answer those calls anymore.

Starting her dinner, she picked up her phone and sent Ruby a text. When she didn't get a response within the minute, she remembered that Ruby had dinner plans, which was the only way to get her phone out of her hands. Otherwise, she was always connected to technology in some way, shape, or form.

Without her sister serving as a distraction, Yang decided that she'd do more sleuthing while finishing her meal. Unfortunately, this had become something of a routine for her - working while eating. It wasn't like she had anything better to do - either she hung out with Ruby, or she devoted her free time to finding clues as to what happened on that fateful day.

Stretching across the table, she grabbed the file folder stuffed with papers she'd brought home some time ago. Hard copies were outdated nowadays (Ruby about died when she saw the sheets of paper spread across the dining room table), but Yang liked physically moving the pages back and forth in front of her - like moving puzzle pieces. Of course, Ruby pointed out that she could do the same thing on a computer, but that didn't have the same tactile feedback as paper did.

Flipping open the cover and picking up the first piece of paper on the stack, Yang shook her head. It was a list of possible motives, and it was as flawed as it was incomplete. From political agendas to assassination attempts to science experiments gone wrong, nothing stuck out as plausible or even probable.

The next few exhibits were photographs of random objects found in the area closest to where the blast originated. Most of it was charred or shredded beyond recognition, making it unusable and unhelpful except as a reminder of how powerful the explosive had been.

Turning another page and finding a list of known casualties - some of them never recovered - she sighed. Even if this hadn't impacted her personally, a crime of this magnitude would bother her the longer it went unsolved. How could someone get away with something like this and leave no shred of evidence? No witnesses, no video, no nothing.

In defense of Detective Saffold and the other detectives working the case, the destruction in the terminal hadn't made it easy to collect any evidence. If it wasn't buried in thousand-pound blocks from the ceiling and walls of the building, it was destroyed by the initial blast or subsequent fires that broke out. Not helping matters was the sheer volume of activity the transit center saw on any given day. And when the explosion occurred at peak commuter travel time, the results were rightfully called 'catastrophic.'

Picking up a video file from the folder, Yang tapped it on her arm before flicking her wrist to toss it onto the projector in place of the news. Once the clip loaded, she tapped her thumb and forefinger together and watched the foot traffic heading in and out of the terminal minutes before the explosion. A timer in the bottom left corner of the screen counted down to zero - letting her know how close she was to the blast - and a small map on the bottom right showed where in the terminal the camera was located.

Every time she watched this video, the enormity of their task pressed on her heart like a heavy weight. Identifying everyone could take years, and that didn't even include compiling histories to see who might be a plausible suspect.

Still, they searched, and she searched on her own, hoping for a miracle. A hunch that might blow the case open.

So far, progress was...non-existent, to put it mildly. All she knew was that Blake was at the transit station, traveling for a work conference. The blast happened, and Blake didn't come home.

Once the video ended, Yang wound back to the beginning and started again, this time focusing on a different section of the screen while watching the crowds of people pass through ticket counters and security checks. Even though she'd memorized everything by now, she studied every face as if seeing them for the first time, hoping for something to jump out at her.

As usual, there was nothing. Nothing but thousands of strangers going about their lives, trying to get wherever they were headed as quickly and easily as possible.

When the video feed ended a second time, Yang turned off the screen and put her head in her hands. Discouraged was one way to describe how she'd felt the past few months. Downtrodden. Beaten. Desperate.

She needed to find whoever was responsible - she couldn't stop until she did.

Rubbing her eyes and looking up, she checked the time and sighed. Between work and keeping herself somewhat-operational, there was only so much she could do in a day. And there were only so many times she could watch the same videos and read the same hypotheses before her mind turned into a pile of paranoid mush.

After flipping the file closed and shoving it across the table - to the semi-permanent spot she hardly moved it from - she took her half-eaten plate of food into the kitchen and stored the leftovers before cleaning everything up.

Once the kitchen was exactly as it was when she got home, minus the new container of leftovers in the fridge, she headed into the living room and walked through the doorway to the bedroom on the other side.

The bedroom was her least favorite room in the apartment. It used to be her favorite, for both obvious and not obvious reasons, but now...she used it to sleep, and not much else.

Glancing at the time again, she hurried through her nightly routine so she made it to bed on time. If someone told her years ago that she would one day have a bedtime she'd actually stick to, she would've asked what medications they were taking. Flash forward and here she was - making it to bed around the same time every night.

Sleep, unsurprisingly, was a nightly escape she looked forward to, and tonight was no different. As she changed into her pajamas and walked to her side of the bed, a sense of relief crept into her veins, easing the strain she unwittingly carried through the day.

This part of her day was the most cathartic, as she sat on the bed and removed her bionic arm. It unclasped with a small twinge before falling free, becoming nothing more than a heavy weight she set on the bedstand.

Gently rubbing the spot where the cuff attached, she sighed in relief. Sometimes, her arm felt sore after wearing it for an extended period of time, or after using it too much. She missed the days when Blake would massage it for her, gently kneading and prodding the soreness away. It seemed like a silly thing to miss, especially in the way she missed it - a deeply-rooted yearning for what she once had - but she couldn't really help it.

Sighing again, she looked at the Dreamscape sitting on her nightstand. The small device was, like most else in the apartment, a reminder of Blake. It was Blake who bought it for Yang, after all. Showed her how to use it, explained how it worked…now, it was the last connection between them.

Grabbing the small, silver disk from atop the Dreamscape (the 'Dream Disk' as the company called it, and they replaced more than a few lost versions), she stuck the little piece of metal to her temple before finally laying down in bed.

When the Dreamscape was first invented - she couldn't remember how many years ago - she thought it sounded like a bunch of made-up marketing fluff. 'Live your dreams, escape from life' - what was that even supposed to mean?

Billions of units sold and worldwide ubiquity later, she understood that the technology was revolutionary. Live your dreams...escape from life...both sounded like exactly what she needed to do right now. So, after pressing the small button on the Dream Disk, she closed her eyes and went to sleep.

Chapter Text

A room. Four walls and a floor.

Oh, and a ceiling.

No, that was just a box - a very claustrophobic box. But if Yang added windows…

The moment a window appeared in the wall of the box, she sighed in relief - until she noticed that, since she wasn't sure what time of day it was, it was black outside. And, now that she thought about it, how was there any light in the room when she hadn't imagined any lights?

"Oh great…" she muttered when she suddenly found herself standing in pitch darkness.

For someone with a lot to dream about, she sucked using the Dreamscape. Maybe she just wasn't creative enough to hold the environment together in her mind, or maybe her sleep-state wasn't stable enough to let her build while she slept. Either way, this was the perfect example of why they sold prefabricated environments for people to dream in. The beach, lakes, yachts, malls - all great places to have a dream and far easier to use than trying to come up with everything from scratch.

Yang, however, liked to do things the hard way, which was why she found herself in a dark box in the middle of who-knew-where. Blake had warned her not to start up the Dreamscape without having at least a foundation in mind, otherwise she could fall into a nightmare but...well, her life was pretty much a nightmare right now anyway. Adding one more wouldn't be a big deal.

"Ok," she mumbled while trying not to let the darkness affect her. "Just like she taught you. Focus on something...start with the biggest pieces."

The ground was probably the biggest thing, and that was easy to fill in - grass. Like a meadow - taller grass that swayed under a gentle breeze.

Looking at the field of gently-waving grass surrounding her, Yang did her best to hold that image in her mind while continuing to the next biggest piece. The 'sky' was still black, after all - it should be blue - blue with a couple of clouds. When she focused too much on the clouds, however, the green beneath her feet began to fade. So she scratched the idea of clouds and went with plain blue instead - a clear, blue sky with gently-waving grass.

Taking a deep breath and looking around, she smiled at the rudimentary environment she'd crafted. Even though this was basically the bare minimum that someone could accomplish, it was still...breathtaking, in a way. So lifelike, so realistic, and it was all in her mind, from her mind.

"You're getting better at this."

Spinning around at the silky-smooth voice, she immediately lost her focus when she saw the person walking towards her. Slender and lithe, with long, flowing black hair and piercing amber eyes, Blake was a dream in-and-of herself. That's exactly what Yang had thought on the day they met, and that's exactly what she thought now as well.

Fortunately, Blake took over the dream as soon as Yang lost focus. The grass swayed in a more realistic way - ribbons of wind bending some sections but not all at once. Wisps of clouds flowed across the sky, matching the gentle breeze perfectly, while tall trees sprouted in the distance. Birds started chirping, flowers sprang up amongst the tall grass - thousands of white and yellow daisies adding cheer and brightness to the landscape.

A path formed underneath Blake's feet as she walked towards Yang - first concrete, then pavement, finally settling upon small cobblestones that spread to Yang and beyond. Lampposts appeared every few dozen feet, even though they weren't needed this time of day, and several benches appeared at various points around what was now a legitimate park.

It was gorgeous, but none of it compared to the girl standing in front of her.

"Blake…" Yang breathed the name like a dream - because this was a dream, and because Blake was her dream.

Tilting her chin up, Blake caught Yang's eyes and smiled.

"You didn't wait long, did you?"

Still caught up in the beauty before her, Yang managed to shake her head at the question, which made Blake nod to herself.

"Good. Want to take a walk with me?"

When Blake motioned past Yang, she turned and found that the pathway led across the meadow before disappearing between the trees beyond. And, as usual, she was powerless to say 'no' in Blake's presence - not that she wanted to say 'no' anyway. If she wanted to do that, she wouldn't have turned on the Dreamscape, to begin with.

Instead, she followed Blake along another unfamiliar path together. For the first few minutes, she couldn't keep her eyes off of the girl beside her - who was, still, one of the most beautiful and effortlessly-sexy people she'd ever met. Something about Blake's walk, her voice, the slight tilt of her lips in a smile, filled Yang with an incredible desire to be closer - to be as close as they once were.

Unfortunately, they could share the same sights and sounds in this brief space together, but that was as far as it went. Holding hands was out of the question. Hugging was out of the question. Kissing was way out of the question. The best Yang could do was marvel at Blake's beauty and remember the good 'ol days.

It wasn't until Blake caught her staring that Yang turned away, opting instead to admire the serene environment surrounding them.

"You're really good at this," she said, but Blake waved off the compliment.

"It's my job. At least, it was."

They both caught the slip-up, but Yang let it slide. Blake didn't like to talk about her job when they met here; she said they didn't have enough time together as it was - why waste it talking about work?

"Anything exciting happen today?" Blake asked instead.

"Oh, you know, the usual," Yang replied with a laugh, not failing to notice that they talked about work anyway - only, her work. "Ruby doing awesome stuff. People doing awful stuff."

"That does sound like the usual," Blake mused, her eyes following a small, blue butterfly as it fluttered across their path. "But I'm sure there was more to it than that."

Yang wasn't sure if Blake asked for details because she was interested in Yang's day, or if she asked for details so that she wouldn't have to provide any of her own.

"Chased down a would-be robber," Yang added, opting not to try to figure out the motives behind Blake's decisions. "Got him in a nice tackle."

"No injuries?"

"Not a scratch."

Yang held out her arms to show that she was uninjured, although the gesture was meaningless. Her injuries wouldn't show in a dream unless she willed them into being. Considering she was hardly capable of dreaming a basic meadow on her own, adding injuries probably wouldn't happen anytime soon. Regardless, Blake looked at Yang's uninjured arms and smiled.

"Good," she said with one of those satisfied smiles Yang had always loved. "What were you doing chasing down robbers anyway?"

"Ran into him by mistake." When Blake resumed walking, Yang fell back into step by her side. "I was looking for leads on a case, and he decided to rob the store I was standing in front of."

"Unfortunate for him," Blake replied with a short laugh. "What case are you working on?"

Catching the glance Blake sent her, Yang shrugged and tried not to make it too obvious that she was always looking for leads about the bombing. For obvious reasons, Blake didn't like talking about that day, and she really didn't like the idea of Yang becoming too involved in the investigation. Fortunately, Yang had plenty of other cases to talk about.

"Still searching for whoever broke into the art museum last month."

"They must be quite the thief if you're still looking for them."

"I'll find them," Yang replied with a confident nod. "No way they're getting away with it - not if I have anything to say about it."

When Blake chuckled at the response, Yang realized she might've gone a little overboard with the confidence.

"I have no doubt you'll catch them." Pausing in the middle of their walk, Blake turned towards Yang and smiled. "You're one of the most talented and dedicated detectives I've ever met. If you say you'll find them, you will."

The compliment made Yang's heart swell with happiness and pride. During her rookie years on the force, there were plenty of moments when she questioned what she was doing and why. Everyone told her that feeling was normal, especially when particularly stressing events happened, but no one had a magic answer as to how to get through it.

Thankfully, she found her answer - Blake. Blake believed in her when she didn't. Blake supported her when she didn't believe she deserved any support. Blake listened to her on the worst of days and somehow convinced her that she was strong enough to move forward.

"I'll let you know when I do," she replied, flashing a grin that grew when Blake smiled back at her.

"Please do." After sharing that smile for a few more seconds, Blake looked away. "Do you want to sit down?" she asked, motioning to a bench that hadn't existed seconds prior.

"Do you ever think about erasing my seat while I sit?" Yang asked in lieu of an answer while the two of them sat on the bench.

"Of course not." When Yang gave Blake a look of disbelief, she smirked. "Not anymore, at least."

The honest response made Yang laugh and shake her head. It was impossible to ignore the warm, upbeat feeling Blake filled her with. Even with simple conversations like these, she felt better than she had all day. More like herself, less like the person deserving pity from all who knew her.

"What was the weather like today?" Blake asked, looking at the sky above them.

"Sunny for most of the day. Warm. Only a few clouds."

While Yang answered, she watched the sky shift - the clouds clearing away and the sun shining brightly. The grass, if someone looked close enough, gained a shimmer of sunlight that looked not quite real. Well...it wasn't real.

"How's that?"

"Pretty good," Yang replied, leaning closer to Blake. Out of instinct, she reached for Blake's hand but stopped herself when she realized it wouldn't do any good. Hoping Blake hadn't noticed, she set both hands in her lap and focused on the space in front of her.

Tuning out as much as possible, she thought about a flower - a single rose - and watched it come into being above her hands. It was red, because that was the color for love, with a green stem and a small green leaf sticking out of the side. As for the flower itself, it had lots of velvety-looking petals that scrunched together to look...somewhat like a rose.

"You're getting better at this," Blake said, smiling as she plucked the rose from the air and lifted it to her nose.

While Blake examined the rose, Yang kept her eyes trained on it for as long as possible so it wouldn't disappear. It wasn't until something materialized within Yang's hand that she turned away and found herself holding a gorgeous sunflower.

"Not good enough," Yang replied with an amused huff, lifting the flower so she could better see the detail put into it - from the dozens of yellow petals that were creased and wrinkled in unique ways, to the feathery leaves and slight dust of pollen in the center.

"It's all in what you can imagine," Blake replied. "The better you can visualize something, the clearer it becomes. You also need a great deal of concentration to hold it together in your mind."

"Probably why I suck at it - I'm too distracted by the pretty girl."

When Blake laughed - her eyes lighting up with delight that matched the sound - Yang felt a huge smile spring into being. More than anything in the world, she loved making Blake laugh. There was something so...satisfying...about the normally-stoic intellectual giggling like a schoolgirl.

Once Blake's laugh faded, the two of them lapsed into a comfortable silence broken only by the sound of the breeze and birds chirping in the distance.

"I've always loved the challenge," Blake added, drawing Yang's gaze her way. "Only bound by the limits of my imagination...it's a freeing feeling, isn't it?"

While she spoke, Blake cast thousands of stars above the meadow in front of them. She then sorted through them - making them bigger, smaller, brighter, darker - before shrinking them down into a small galaxy. The galaxy was then duplicated, and duplicated again - creating an entire universe that was small enough to fit into the palm of Yang's hand.

Playing along, Yang imagined a little dragon and watched it flutter to life in front of her. The creature looked more like a kid's drawing than anything else, but it flapped its wings and managed to fly over to Blake's masterpiece, where Yang made it look like it was going to eat the stars.

"Are you trying to destroy my universe?" Blake asked, watching Yang's dragon with an amused smile.

"More like trying to eat it."

Letting the dragon disappear with a laugh, Yang watched Blake shrink the entire orb of the universe until it fit into a small, clear rock on top of a silver ring. Blake then pushed the ring towards Yang, letting it hover in the air as if held up by an invisible string.

"You're my universe," Blake said, her lips twitching up with a smile when Yang reached out and took the ring. Upon closer inspection, she saw the specks of individual stars inside, still moving around in their respective galaxies.

It was gorgeous, just like the person who'd created it - the person Yang loved more than anything in this world or in the universe.

"Come home," she suddenly said, lowering the ring and glimpsing the flash of pain in Blake's eyes.

"Come home," she repeated, knowing she was already too far down the rabbit hole to back away from the request now. "I miss you."

"I miss you too..."

"Then why don't you come home?" she asked, reaching out to gently touch Blake's cheek only to withdraw her hand when she realized she couldn't. Blake turned back to her anyway, wearing a sad, exhausted expression.

"Yang…"

"Just tell me where you are, and I'll come get you. I can protect you - we can. Me and Ruby."

For a second, Yang felt a false sense of hope - as if Blake might actually listen this time - but that feeling disappeared when Blake sighed and leaned forward as if to touch her forehead to Yang's.

"But I can't protect you."

"What? What do you mean?"

"Yang, please," Blake replied, shaking her head and giving Yang a beseeching look, silently begging her to let it go. But how could she let it go when they were still apart?

"Why can't you tell me what you ran from?" she asked, feeling some of her built-up frustration slip through. "You're keeping me in the dark to 'protect me,' but I'm a little tired of living through dreams. I want my life back. I want you back."

This time, Blake sighed and hung her head.

"I wish I could come back, Yang," she whispered. "But I can't yet...not until I figure out a way to keep everyone safe."

"You realize I can help with that, right? I work for the police -"

"This isn't something the police can help with."

The comment had such an air of finality to it, Yang scoffed but didn't bother a response. As usual, she didn't understand. It didn't help that Blake spoke in riddles and refused to give any information about who or what she ran from. Something scared her - something sent her into hiding.

Yang knew it had to do with the explosion at the transit station, which happened at the exact time Blake was supposed to board a train for a work conference, but that was it. Blake refused to give her anything else to help.

"Can't we just...be grateful that we have this?" Blake asked, reaching out for Yang's hands before stopping herself. "That we can still talk every night?"

Yang shut her mouth to keep the 'no' from slipping out. Sometimes, it was hard to explain how unsatisfying this felt. For years, Blake had been right by her side. Now, she was forced to live through dreams for a reason she didn't know or understand.

Maybe it would be different if this had been planned. Maybe it would be different if this had an end date. But, as far as Yang knew, this was never-ending. This was how it would be from here on out. Considering what they'd had before everything fell apart...she didn't think it was unfair to want 'normal' back.

"I just...miss you…" she mumbled towards her hands. She understood that her request had been denied, once again. Blake wasn't coming home anytime soon. They could still see each other every night - like they'd done for months now - but that was it. Outside of the Dreamscape, Yang would still be the sad, unfortunate detective who lost her girlfriend in a tragic crime. She would still be the one pretending everything was fine.

This wasn't fine.

"I miss you too...more than I can ever describe…"

Hearing the pain and sadness in Blake's voice, Yang finally sighed and looked up. For as much as this hurt her, she knew it was difficult for Blake too. Sometimes that was just...hard to understand when Blake was the one who made this decision.

When Blake gave a hopeful smile, however, Yang attempted a somewhat-reluctant smile in return. Blake quickly took the reassurance and scooted closer. She then tapped the ring still clasped in Yang's hands, and suddenly the meadow was gone, replaced by the cosmos itself.

"You are my everything," Blake whispered, the light of nearby stars reflected in her eyes. "I'd never leave you unless I had to."

When Yang sighed at the words, which always had a way of melting the annoyance away, Blake smiled.

"I love you," she added, glancing over her shoulder when the light became brighter, signaling the end of their time together.

"I love you too."

As Blake faded from view, Yang made sure to smile one last time. And then she woke up, blinking her eyes as the ceiling came into focus above her. Sun crept through the self-regulated window tinting now, adding a sense of warmth that hadn't been there when she went to sleep last night.

"Save dream sequence?" an automated voice called out to her.

"Yes."

After rubbing the remnants of sleep out of her eyes, she sat up with a sigh.

Blake was right, in a way. At least they had the Dreamscape. At least they could see each other and communicate in some way. But it never felt like enough. Not when they used to talk for hours on end, sometimes staying up into the night discussing anything that seemed of importance to them at that time. It didn't matter if it was one of Yang's cases, a book Blake just finished, or an advertisement they'd seen on the train - they loved to talk and laugh and spend time together. Compared to that, the shortened night in the Dreamscape might never feel like enough.

Pulling the Dream Disk off her temple, she set it on top of the bed stand before grabbing her arm and fitting it in place. As soon as the device powered up, she set her palm on top of the Dreamscape and waited for a soft beeping noise.

"Transfer complete," the automated voice told her once the sequence file saved on her arm. With that done, she ran a hand through her hair and got out of bed.

Part of her refused to accept that this was what their lives would be - that couldn't happen when something could always be done. Another part of her was resigned to the fact that this was what it was - there was nothing she could do about it except carry on as she had been. What she couldn't figure out, however, was which part of her would give in first.

A change of clothes and stop in the bathroom later, she hurried into the kitchen while placing a call to Ruby.

"Hello?" Ruby mumbled, still groggy with sleep.

"Hey," Yang said, grabbing an apple for breakfast before leaving her apartment behind. "I'm heading over now. Don't know if you wanna call Weiss."

"Got it," Ruby mumbled before Yang heard the sound of covers rustling. "Weiss -"

"Oh, she stayed over there?" Yang asked, making sure to pull the door closed behind her before heading to the stairs.

"Yes, Yang," another voice answered. "See you soon."

"Cool - see you."

Ending the call, she jogged downstairs and shoved open the lobby door standing between her and early-morning daylight. The day had just begun, and her little section of the world was waking up slowly. A couple of runners hurried past, several other early-risers headed to work or breakfast, but the hustle and bustle of the evening was nowhere to be found.

The quiet suited Yang just fine. It meant fewer people crowding the streets while she headed towards the train terminal, fewer people waiting on the platforms, and fewer people crushed inside the metal tubes serving as the lifelines through the city.

"Morning," someone muttered to her while stepping off the arriving train and hurrying away.

"Morning," she replied with a nod before walking aboard and grabbing an empty seat near the exit. When the doors slid shut and the train smoothly accelerated away from the platform, she took a bite of her apple and settled in for the short ride ahead.

Ruby's apartment was only four stops away from hers - the perfect amount of time to eat an apple if she didn't get caught up in conversation with someone. Thankfully, that hardly happened when the train cars ran nearly empty at this time in the morning.

Four stops later, she dropped her apple core into the waste bin on her way off the train and away from the station. Ruby's neighborhood was nearly as lifeless as Yang's, which made the couple blocks a breeze to walk.

For reasons Yang would never fully understand, Ruby chose the tallest apartment building in the area to live in. A good twenty-or-so stories high, it towered at least five floors over its nearest rivals. And of course Ruby's apartment was on the topmost floor of the building.

Which meant Yang had to wait for an elevator.

Smiling at a young man in a suit while he hurried through the lobby and disappeared outside, Yang tried not to let her impatience show - but she was impatient.

Ding.

As soon as the elevator doors opened, she slipped inside and jabbed the button for Ruby's floor. A few more seconds of waiting, and she was finally on her way, lifted into the sky by a series of pulleys and cables hidden out of sight.

The elevator slowed to a stop and let her out on the top floor, where she headed down the hall and rang the bell by Ruby's door. Of course, because this was Ruby's apartment, ringing the doorbell by itself did exactly nothing. First, she rang the doorbell. Next, she set her hand on the palm reader and waited for it to scan her handprint. Once that was done, she said: "Eagle One checking in."

Once her voice confirmed her identity, several automated deadbolts slid out of place while the door unlatched itself. Without waiting for anyone to greet her, she stepped inside the apartment and closed the door behind her. The scene in front of her made her smile while a feeling of contentedness washed over her.

Ruby sat at a dining room table covered in gadgets and bits of hardware. Weiss set a plate of toast in front of Ruby, then briefly rested a hand on Ruby's shoulder before walking to the stove to heat up some water.

"Morning, Yang!" Ruby greeted her before taking a big bite of toast and making a noise of delight.

"Morning, Ruby." Walking over to the table, Yang pulled out her customary chair and sat down.

As dumb as it may be, this was part of her morning routine, and it was one of the few things keeping her sane while this endless nightmare continued. Ultimately, she knew this would have to stop eventually - there had to be a limit on how long Ruby and Weiss would tolerate the intrusion on their mornings - but until then...she was grateful they humored her for now.

"Guessing you have another video?" Ruby asked between bites of toast.

"You know it." When Yang lifted her hand - where the data was currently stored - Ruby grabbed her plate and motioned for Yang to follow her to the wall of computers taking up most of what should be the 'living room.'

Where Blake had her books, Ruby had her technology - an entire room filled with the latest and greatest gizmos to play with. Overall, it felt very similar to the setup she had at work, with what felt like way-too-many screens all in use at the same time.

"Load it up," she said, gesturing towards the data pad before pulling a glove over her left hand. Yang tapped her palm to the pad and watched a small screen pop up in front of Ruby, who immediately grabbed the file and moved it onto the middle screens.

"Good morning, Yang."

Turning to the side, Yang smiled and accepted the cup of coffee Weiss offered her.

"Good morning."

"Have something good for us today?" Weiss asked, taking a sip from her mug while watching Ruby expand the screen and pinpoint the moment Blake entered the dream.

"Honestly? No." Shaking her head, Yang sipped her coffee and watched the screen as Ruby pressed play.

The meadow sprang into existence on the screen, and Yang watched the most recent dream sequence she and Blake had shared play out a second time. Heard the words, watched the minor miracles Blake worked into the environment...and searched for clues.

It was no secret that emotions and thoughts could slip into a sequence if someone wasn't paying enough attention. What Yang hoped to find was a clue - some hint as to where Blake was hiding or why. Anything that brought her home sooner…

By now, Yang had learned not to be embarrassed by playing her dreams for Weiss and Ruby to see. She'd given up on the idea of doing this on her own - she needed their help and, most importantly, she needed their support.

"How the heck does she do that…" Ruby muttered when Blake created the universe of stars hovering above the meadow. Yang smiled at the compliment but kept her eyes glued to the screen in search of anything she'd missed while taking part in the dream. Was there anything out of the ordinary? Anything that seemed not quite right, even if it was only for a miniscule amount of time?

When the end of the video arrived with no results, her disappointment grew.

Not done yet, Ruby started a variety of programs created specifically to interpret dream sequences. Or, at least, programs meant to take apart and analyze unexpected events in dream sequences. The programs ran quickly, drawing on the massive processing power Ruby had installed in the apartment.

"She's too good at masking," Weiss mumbled, standing near Ruby's shoulder while the results appeared.

"No kidding...but look at this." Scrolling through the results faster than Yang could even read the first page, Ruby rewound the video and pointed to the screen as it played in slow motion. "You surprised her when you asked her to come home. A normal person would've lost focus, but look -"

Still pointing to the screen, Ruby zoomed in and showed them the very edge of the map.

"This is the only thing she showed."

Yang couldn't even tell what Ruby was talking about - it looked like nothing. It was just the trees at the edge of the park Blake had created.

"Did you see it?"

"Uh…" Turning to the side, Yang was moderately relieved to find that Weiss looked just as lost as she felt.

"Watch it again."

Replaying the video, Ruby drew a red circle around what she was referring to. Only then did Yang see it. Not that 'it' was much at all.

"The leaves stopped moving?" she asked, still unsure if that was the right answer.

"Right. The leaves froze for a split second. But that's it." Sitting down in her chair, Ruby sighed and waved towards the screen. "You need to throw her off somehow - like really surprise her. Maybe then she'll let something slip."

"That's a good idea," Weiss agreed. "You need a big reaction from her, much bigger than anything we've seen so far."

Pursing her lips and crossing her arms over her chest, Yang stared at the screen rather than make eye contact. The last thing she wanted to do was throw a wrench into the situation, but Weiss and Ruby were right - Blake was too good at masking her emotions. If they continued like this, they'd never learn anything.

"I'll think about it," she muttered before finishing her cup of coffee and setting the empty mug on the desk. She loved Blake's ability to use the Dreamscape - it demonstrated her intelligence in a tangible, visible form. These days, however, Blake's expertise only served to keep Yang out, preventing her from gathering valuable clues that might help her figure out where or why Blake went into hiding.

"Not much else we can do." After letting the video run through to the end, Ruby saved it to a file filled with similar videos and closed the screen. "Just...keep trying, I guess."

Yang didn't see another option. Either she kept trying, or she admitted that she was stuck here alone until Blake came back on her own. Fortunately, Yang wasn't the type who went down without a fight. Unfortunately, she was starting to feel tired and...worn out...by the constant questions with no solution in sight.

"I think...maybe it's time we consider that her reason for not coming home is that she can't."

Confused by the comment, Yang tilted her head and looked at Weiss.

"What do you mean?"

For someone who normally didn't hesitate to speak her mind, Weiss suddenly looked rather reluctant to explain herself.

"Maybe," she began, glancing at Ruby before finally meeting Yang's eyes. "Maybe she can't come back because she did something. Something bad enough that it forced her into hiding."

Understanding where Weiss was going with the cryptic comments, Yang shook her head.

"No," she said plainly. "She would never do something like that."

"Think about it from another perspective." Keeping her voice calm, Weiss motioned with her coffee cup in what was probably supposed to be a non-confrontational way. "A crime occurs, and suddenly someone disappears - they don't just disappear, but they're more than happy to be pronounced dead and are unwilling to return. I believe any detective would at least call that a lead."

Listening to the reasoning, Yang still shook her head and paced the floor in front of Ruby's computer screens.

"She wouldn't."

"Then why won't she tell you what's going on?" Weiss asked, keeping that same even-keeled tone. "You, of all people. She should trust you. Why won't she tell you what happened? Unless she can't tell you what happened because she knows how you'll feel about it."

"She wouldn't do that." Hearing the anger in her voice, Yang took a deep breath and ran a hand through her hair in an effort to calm down. "I know you never met her, Weiss, but she's not that type of person. She'd never hurt innocent people. Never."

"I'm only mentioning it because I think it'd be wrong for us not to consider every possibility."

"That's not a possibility," Yang replied, knowing the answer to be more than true. Weiss looked like she wanted to argue - probably by mentioning that anything is a possibility - but instead, she sighed and shook her head.

"I'm with Yang, Weiss," Ruby added, gently picking up Weiss' hand to garner her attention. "Blake's not that type of person. Secretive, sure, but not malicious."

"Ok." After smiling at Ruby and squeezing her hand, Weiss turned back to Yang. "Ok," she repeated, using the word to calm the rest of Yang's agitation. "I believe you. But that means we're back to grasping at straws."

Feeling her composure return, Yang immediately regretted her reaction. Weiss was only trying to help, and sometimes that meant pointing out what Yang and Ruby missed due to bias. But Yang couldn't believe that Blake had anything to do with the explosion. Something like that would be...unforgivable. It went against the type of person Blake was - or at least, who she pretended to be.

"It's hard to believe this was just random occurrence though," Weiss mused to Ruby. She then straightened her posture and crossed her arms over her chest, looking much closer to the version of Weiss that Yang knew from work. "If we assume that, out of all the people who died and potentially could have died, Blake was the sole target - then why? Why kill a dream theorist?" Narrowing her eyes, Weiss looked at Yang as if she somehow held the answer. "You're positive she didn't have any enemies?"

"Not that I know of." Yang shook her head and racked her brain for an answer to that question one more time. In the days or weeks leading up to the explosion, had Blake mentioned anyone out of the ordinary? Anyone bothering her at work? Even just minor annoyances or transgressions?

"She never had any issues at work," she added with a sigh. "She liked her coworkers, and they all seemed to like her."

"Was she working on something important?"

"Of course. She couldn't talk much about it, but she seemed excited to tell me eventually."

After pursing her lips and furrowing her brow for several more seconds, Weiss shook her head.

"It doesn't make sense," she concluded. "She got along with her coworkers, Dreamscape doesn't have any competitors, and her personal life was fine. Then why run?"

That was the question they kept coming back to, even after working through this same thought exercise at least a hundred times. Unfortunately, only Blake knew the answer, and she refused to give them so much as a hint.

"You hate this, don't you," Ruby teased, nudging Weiss' leg while she continued to stare at the screen.

"I hate not finding the answer," Weiss grumbled. "There's always an answer."

Yang agreed with that - there was always an answer. Sometimes it took more digging to find, but it was there somewhere.

After the three of them stared at Ruby's computer for another few minutes as if a solution might appear on the screens, Weiss finally sighed.

"I should go to work. Or, I should head home so I can go to work."

"You won't be late, will you?" Ruby asked, grabbing ahold of Weiss' hand in a silent protest of her decision to leave.

"My first meeting isn't for a few hours, so no." Smiling at the concern, Weiss leaned over and pressed a long kiss to Ruby's lips. "I'll miss you," she whispered before finally pulling away.

When the affectionate moment ended, Weiss smiled and patted Yang's shoulder before heading towards the door.

"Oh, and Yang?" she said, turning back to the room with her hand resting on the doorknob. "Next time you bump into me in the hall, I'll have to berate you a bit."

"Noted," Yang called back, flashing a thumbs up while Weiss smiled and fit a holomask around her ear. Before she opened the door, her long, white hair shifted to a dark auburn with a hint of curls, her icy blue eyes flickered to deep green, and her features softened. Slipping on a pair of glasses that concealed her face even further, she disappeared into the hall and closed the door behind her.

"Did you make that one for her?" Yang asked while swiveling back to Ruby, whose attention was still glued to the screen in front of her.

"Yeah."

"She looks good as a brunette."

"She looks amazing with any hair color," Ruby corrected, finally turning away from her computers and smiling. "But yes, I like this one a lot. That's why we've stuck with it for a while now."

"The parade of gorgeous women coming to your door has finally stopped?" Yang joked. Leaning out of the way when Ruby tried to slap her in the arm, she laughed. "If only we could all be as lucky as you. Ruby Rose - tech-extraordinaire and wooer of all the beautiful ladies."

"You're one to talk," Ruby retorted. As soon as she said the words, however, her smile disappeared and she looked like she wished she hadn't said anything at all. Determined not to let the conversation get uncomfortable, Yang forced a smile and rustled Ruby's hair.

"The only beautiful girl I'm seeing is in my dreams," she replied. "I should probably get going too, but I'll see you at work."

"I'll be there soon!" Ruby called after her while she headed to the door.

Without pausing, Yang waved over her shoulder and let herself into the hall. Her next stop was the elevator, which was busier now that the building was waking up. Once she made it downstairs and stepped outside, finding the sidewalk far more crowded than when she'd arrived, she hesitated on the stoop.

There was only one beautiful girl for her - and she'd already found her. Unfortunately, she'd already lost her too. Now, she needed to find Blake a second time around.

The second time hurt more. Maybe because Yang knew what she'd lost. Maybe because they'd become so bound together that separation was excruciatingly painful. Or maybe her heart just knew that it was missing its better half.

Hanging her head, Yang jogged down the steps and hurried towards the train terminal. After another fruitless morning searching for answers, it was time for work to distract her from the aching hole in her chest.

But, if anyone asked, she was still fine.

Chapter Text

Leaning against the intake desk in the lobby, Yang observed the station while waiting for Casey to get back to her. She only wanted to see the check-ins over the past few months - following a hunch that the person she was searching for had already been booked in - but apparently the log file was missing.

It wasn't exactly the best look for a police station to lose track of something, but files were misplaced or moved all the time. That was, unfortunately, the result of so many officers working in the same systems at the same time. Plus, some of them were shockingly bad at keeping cases and logbooks organized.

"Coming through!"

As soon as Yang turned towards the voice, someone howled with rage and shoved the arresting officer into the nearest desk. The tank of a man, who was suddenly freed of an escort, looked wildly around the lobby before making a break towards the front door. But he didn't make it very far before four other officers descended upon him - herself included.

The two patrolmen in front of her grabbed the man by the shoulders and dragged him to the floor before piling on top of him. The man roared with anger and nearly tossed the two patrolmen right off of him while trying to regain his feet. That's when Yang and another patrolman arrived, falling to their knees by the man and using their leverage to push him back down.

"Backup to the lobby," someone spoke into a radio while they subdued the perpetrator on the floor.

"Woah there, buddy," Yang said, pressing down with all her weight while he struggled against them. "You'll rack up more felonies like that."

He didn't heed her words - not that he seemed capable of comprehending anything while his eyes frantically searched for an escape.

"What's he on?" she asked the arresting officer, who'd regained his feet and was helping hold the man in place while waiting for extra help to arrive.

"Everything."

"Everything?"

"Caught him selling in the park. Genius swallowed everything he had to avoid a possession charge."

"Damn." Looking in the man's eyes - whose pupils were as big as she'd ever seen - Yang shook her head. "You're in for quite a trip," she told him, although he didn't seem to hear her.

Two more officers rushed into the lobby at that moment, and Yang waited for them to get in position before stepping away and letting them lift the man to his feet. A pair of electric cuffs immediately went around his ankles, preventing another escape attempt while he was marched into the back for processing and probably a medical evaluation.

Dusting off her hands and returning to the intake desk, she made it there right as Casey returned from the back.

"Is it just me, or are they making those guys bigger and bigger?" she joked before motioning for him to talk. "Tell me you have good news."

"I found it." While Yang clenched one fist in success, he slid a copy of the file across the desk to her. "Someone moved it to the folder with all the lunch menus."

Pressing her palm to the tiny slip of metal and downloading the data, Yang shook her head and scoffed.

"Those lunch menus are very important, Casey," she said in a playfully-serious tone. "If we don't know what we're ordering for lunch, how will we survive the day?"

"Damn right," he replied with a smooth smile before running a hand through his short brown hair. "Oh, that reminds me - I was wondering if, maybe, we could get a drink or something after shift? I owe you like...infinite drinks for agreeing to help me study."

Caught off guard by the request, which sounded like more than a strictly-friendly invitation, Yang felt her mouth open but no words came out.

"Or, I dunno, we could hit up a Dreamscape tonight or something? I've got a new prefab that's pretty cool."

She flinched at the second offer, and he suddenly looked horrified that he just asked.

"Uh, thanks," she said, struggling to find a response that wouldn't hurt his feelings or make things awkward between them. "But I...I just haven't felt like going out recently -"

"Right," Casey cut in with an understanding nod and embarrassed smile. "That's right. Your, uh, your -"

"You can call her my ex."

Internally, Yang grimaced at the word, but she couldn't think of a better term at the moment.

"Right." Looking like he wished he'd never broached the topic, Casey shifted between his feet and brushed his hand across his hair a second time. "She was like, the master dreamscaper, huh. You probably saw some crazy ones."

"I did," Yang replied with a sad smile.

"I heard some people got the new system already." Latching onto the subject change for dear life, he finally broke out one of the smiles Yang had grown accustomed to seeing. "Got them as 'thank you' gifts for help on a case."

"Really?"

"Yeah. I'm so jealous...Tina in Evidence has one - she'll tell you how awesome it is."

As soon as Yang felt the conversation return to normalcy, she backed away, hoping to escape before that question showed up again. Not that Casey looked willing to make a second attempt down that path.

"I'll go see her if I want to be jealous for the rest of the night," Yang joked before turning and waving over her shoulder while leaving him behind. It wasn't until she passed through the security doors, however, that she sighed and felt her shoulders slump.

Apparently, an invisible timer was up, and she was available for dating again.

Honestly, she should've seen Casey's request coming from a mile away. The two of them had been harmlessly flirting for the past couple of months - light-hearted teases here and there. To Yang, it was just a little flirting - it made her feel normal and gave her a good laugh or two throughout the day. But she should've paid more attention to the subtle advances he made - the subtle suggestions that he'd like to see her outside of work. And now that she'd agreed to help him study for the detective exam…

She could keep it professional. She would tell him a flat-out 'no,' if she had to. But she also needed to realize that she was no longer protected by the shield of being 'off the market.'

When she was with Blake, she could flirt and everyone understood that it was just for fun. Now, it would become harder to explain herself as time progressed. And she really didn't want to lead anyone on, because flirting with her would lead nowhere. Her heart would only ever belong to one person.

Besides, she couldn't dream sequence with anyone else. For one thing, it would be too painful to experience that with someone other than Blake. For another, Blake had made it very clear that she didn't want Yang sequencing with someone else.

Blake normally didn't issue orders like that, and Yang normally didn't take orders like that, but she understood the sentiment. Sequencing with someone else would be akin to cheating, especially with how closely the machine was tied to their relationship. Besides, that was the only time they could spend together now, and no way was she missing a single night.

Hurrying back to her office, she reminded herself that everyone just wanted her to be fine. They wanted her to be so fine, in fact, that they wanted her to start dating again. She knew all of the excuses they'd make for her. She was still young; she had her whole life ahead of her; the explosion happened a lifetime ago.

It happened a lifetime ago, yet the aftereffects still drove her life.

Realistically, if Blake really was gone, Yang wasn't sure she'd ever date again. Not that anyone would want to date the emotional wreck she'd be...

Fortunately, if there was anything to feel fortunate about in this situation, she could always hide behind the excuse of not wanting to date anyone from work. That should buy her enough time to...well, it should buy time. She wasn't entirely sure what she was buying time for - for old age to creep up to her? For the next ice age to arrive, in which case Blake might finally deem it safe to come home?

In the meantime, Yang would sit at her desk and move through her cases like usual, all while wishing for the good 'ol days when she was firmly and loyally taken. Things were less complicated then. 'I have a girlfriend' was all she needed to say to end the conversation. 'I had a girlfriend' felt slightly less persuasive.

"You still kind of have one," she muttered to herself while unlocking her computer and pulling up the list of check-ins she'd been searching for. "You just...don't know where she is."

Feeling the familiar twinge of sadness at the edge of her mind, she shook her head and focused on the names in front of her. Her culprit was somewhere on this list - she knew it. Or at least, she felt it. She could be chasing another wild, unfounded hunch though.

"True detective work," she mumbled while reading the names. If she was Ruby, she'd create a program to scan the list for exactly what she was searching for. It would take her about fifteen seconds and then she'd be done.

But she wasn't Ruby, so she did this the old-fashioned way - reading one name at a time.

She was only halfway through the list when two quick knocks interrupted her concentration. As she looked towards the door to her office, it opened and Casey poked his head inside.

"Detective," he said, giving her the same smile he always did. Yang had only a second to feel relieved by the normalcy before she recognized the person standing by his side - someone she hadn't seen in quite some time.

"You have a visitor," Casey continued while Yang stood up to greet her guest.

"Lyla," she said with a warm smile, walking over to meet the petite young woman. Taking the greeting as permission for her to stay, Casey gently closed the office door and returned to the front of the station without further interruption.

"Hi Yang," Lyla replied with a smile of her own. Aided by a cane, she took a couple of steps to meet Yang in the middle of the office. Each step looked labored, but she didn't complain while resituating the cardboard box tucked underneath her other arm.

With straight, sandy-blonde hair and a fair complexion, Lyla was the type of nerdy-pretty Yang would expect to find in a laboratory. Which was perfect, because that's exactly where Lyla worked.

"How are you?" Yang asked. "I haven't seen you since…"

Words trailing off, Yang tried to remember the last time they'd seen each other.

"The Christmas party two years ago," Lyla replied with a small nod. "It's been a long time."

"It has." Noticing the way Lyla leaned away from her bad leg, Yang quickly moved aside and gestured towards one of the chairs in front of her desk.

"Please sit -" she offered while pulling the chair closer, but Lyla waved off the offer.

"I don't want to take up too much of your time. And today's one of those days where...if I sit, I'll take up too much of your time." Patting her bum leg, Lyla gave an apologetic smile.

"I don't mind." Leaving the chair nearby just in case, Yang didn't press the issue. Instead, she glanced at the box Lyla carried and asked, "What brings you here?"

It seemed like the next logical question, and it probably was, but Lyla's eyes clouded as she looked at the box.

"They finally went through everything," she whispered before extending the box to Yang. "They were going to mail it, but I thought...it would be better to deliver it personally."

Understanding what Lyla had just gifted to her, Yang swallowed against the lump growing in her throat.

"Is this going to make me cry?" she asked, feeling the first pinpricks of tears while holding the box in both hands.

"Depends. Do you cry at pictures of yourself?"

It was the perfect response at the perfect time, allowing Yang to laugh rather than focus on her pain.

"Sometimes!" she joked with a nod. "Really depends on what my hair's doing that day."

When Lyla laughed as well, Yang felt a little better, for now.

"I tried to get some of her notes for you," Lyla explained, leaning against her cane for temporary support. "But she did this weird thing where she wrote about work in work notebooks. It was deemed too classified to leave the building."

Smiling at the small joke, Yang raised the box in front of her but didn't dare look inside.

"Thank you," she said before setting it on her desk. "I'll go through it later, when no one's around to witness my vanity."

Fortunately, Lyla nodded and willingly dropped the subject so Yang didn't have to focus on it any longer.

"I believe I just met your sister in the lobby," Lyla said instead.

"Ruby?"

"That was her." Lyla nodded at the name and broke into a smile. "She has a wonderful energy about her."

Yang laughed at the description and leaned against her desk.

"That's one way to describe her."

For a few seconds, the two of them lapsed into silence. Lyla glanced out the glass wall of the office, where a pair of officers hurried past, before returning her gaze to Yang.

"How's it going over here? Have you made any progress finding...who did it?"

Yang sighed and shook her head at the question.

"I'm not on the case, for obvious reasons, but I'm sure they'll put together an announcement if they ever have something to say."

"Ah." Reading the context in Yang's non-answer, Lyla nodded and didn't pry any further.

"What about you though?" Yang quickly asked. "You have the big release soon."

"We do." Briefly turning to the side, Lyla sighed. "Honestly, I'm ready for it to be over. Then we can start fixing the bugs and move past the craze."

"I hear ya there."

When Yang chuckled, Lyla smiled.

"You wouldn't happen to want one, would you? I'm sure I can get you one as a...a token of appreciation, at least. Blake's work is an integral part of the Daydreamer."

Yang was so unaccustomed to people saying Blake's name aloud, she actually flinched when Lyla did. But, surprisingly, it didn't fill her with pain like she thought it would. If anything, it was...nice...that Lyla said it - that she actually acknowledged Blake's existence rather than tiptoeing around the name like it might summon a ghost.

"That'd make me the most popular person in the station," Yang joked before shaking her head at the offer. "I appreciate it, but I'll pass. I can't really use it anymore. Not since…"

Thankfully, she didn't have to finish the sentence. Lyla already understood, and she nodded to signal as much.

"If you ever change your mind…"

"I know where to find you." Smiling at the kind offer, Yang waved her hand in a friendly manner. "Anything I can help you with while you're here? Any crimes or mysterious occurrences to report?"

"Fortunately not. I only stopped by to drop off the box." Lyla nodded towards the box on Yang's desk before motioning towards the door. "But I should probably head back to now."

"Sure." Standing from her perch, Yang followed Lyla to the door. "I'll walk you out," she offered while pulling open the door and waving Lyla through first.

"Thank you," Lyla replied before the two of them stepped into the hall together. "How are you doing?" she asked as they headed towards the lobby. "With...everything."

Taking care to match Lyla's slow pace, Yang lowered her gaze to the floor.

"I'm just...taking things one day at a time."

"That's really all you can do."

Even though Yang sighed, she knew Lyla was right. That's the same advice everyone gave her in some way, shape, or form. But it was hard to take things one day at a time when she wanted to skip to the resolution, when everything was fixed and she could find her happily-ever-after.

"I wish there was a faster way through this," she admitted while the two of them walked into the lobby. "Fast forward to the end, you know?"

Pausing for a second, Lyla looked at the space surrounding them - various officers coming and going while civilians waited and criminals-to-be were led through. Her eyes lingered on Casey - watching him speak to Red at his desk. He must have felt the observation because he looked their way and, as soon as he met Yang's gaze, smiled and waved. Yang waved back before turning towards Lyla, who smiled at the interaction.

"She would want you to be happy."

The statement was so heartfelt and simple, Yang felt another wave of tears threaten to spill over. Thankfully, Lyla shifted her cane in her hand before shuffling towards the front door.

"It was nice seeing you again, Yang. I'm glad you're doing well - at least, as well as you can be."

"You too, Lyla. Take care of yourself, ok?"

With a nod and parting smile, Lyla walked through the lobby doors and headed back to Dreamscape Industries.

For what felt like the longest time after Lyla's departure, Yang stared out the doors and tried to make sense of her emotions. It felt like the universe was trying to tell her something today, but it wasn't something she wanted to hear.

Move on? Move on without Blake in her life? That was impossible because Blake was still in her life.

Lyla was right though - Blake would want her to be happy. The biggest question then became...was she happy?

Hearing a set of snickers from the officers sitting at the desks nearby, she finally turned away from the door and found their attention directed elsewhere.

"What's going on?" she asked, searching for the source of their entertainment. She didn't see anything especially funny - she only saw a distraught-looking woman speaking to one of the other detectives at the far side of the lobby.

"This lady's back again," one of the officers explained. "Lost her son a few months ago - poor kid passed away in his sleep - but she keeps going on about conspiracy theories and murder and such."

"Has anyone looked into it?"

"Nothing to look into. We took her statement, but the coronary report was clean - heart attack in his sleep."

"Know what she needs," the other cop said, elbowing his buddy before smirking at Yang. "She needs a bleeding heart. Wonder where you can find one of those nowadays?"

When they chuckled, Yang rolled her eyes and walked across the lobby. 'Bleeding heart' made it sound like she went out of her way for everyone who crossed her path. She wouldn't say that was true, but she was willing to spare a few minutes of her time for a grieving mother.

"You don't understand," the woman was saying when Yang joined the conversation. "I have something to add - I found something important."

Unfortunately, the detective was clearly only interested in getting her to leave as soon as possible. Yang couldn't exactly blame him. They heard dozens of cases like this every month - mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers - all convinced that their loved ones were taken from them by conspiracy rather than a random act of nature.

Over time, Yang had learned that this was a typical, human response. They'd rather believe in a conspiracy because random acts couldn't be controlled, mitigated, or hidden from. From her own experience with loss, she knew what it was like to have no one believe those feelings. She didn't even know if she needed someone to believe - she just needed someone to listen. To listen to her crazy thoughts and not call her crazy.

"Robby." Tapping the detective's shoulder, Yang gestured with her head for him to leave. "I'll take it from here."

A look of relief crossed his face before he excused himself from the conversation and disappeared from the lobby.

"Good afternoon," Yang said, smiling at the woman. "I'm Detective Xiao Long - would you like to sit with me for a second? We can talk about your son."

From a simple sentence, an immeasurable look of relief crossed the woman's face.

"Yes," she replied with a nod. "Yes, of course. I found something that I need to show you - I think it could help."

"Sure, we'll take a look at it. Follow me." Leading the way towards the security doors, Yang rolled her eyes at the grins the other officers sent her way.

She didn't care if they thought she was wasting her time. Their job was to keep the peace, but she also considered helping others to be part of their responsibility. If she could help this woman feel even slightly better about the loss of her child, wouldn't that be a job well done?

"Sorry if I need you to explain everything for me again," Yang said while holding open the door to her office and motioning the woman towards a chair. "I don't have your case in front of me at the moment."

"That's ok, really."

Before Yang sat down, she cleared the box of mementos off her desk to make room. She then sat down and pulled over a pen and pad of paper like she was going to take notes.

"From what I've heard, you have concerns about your son?"

"Yes," the woman replied, nodding once and sitting straighter in her seat. "Greyson."

"Greyson," Yang repeated, writing the name at the top of the paper. "And I'm sorry, but what's your name?"

"Ellie. Ellie Sawyer."

"Ok, Mrs. Sawyer. Please start from the beginning. What happened to Greyson? Give me as many details as possible."

Again, a wave of visible relief crossed the woman's face. Because all she wanted was to tell her side of the story. She might sound crazy, but she needed to be heard. She needed to say the words out loud.

"Greyson was incredibly smart," she began with a proud smile. "Top of his class through school and university. He spent his free time on the computer learning the ins and outs of dreams. He'd tell me - 'my dream is to work with dreams.'"

Smiling at the adage, Yang nodded for Mrs. Sawyer to continue.

"When he graduated, he was selected for an internship at Dreamscape Industries." The company name instantly perked Yang's attention, and she sat a little straighter while listening to the rest of the story. "An internship is one of the only ways to get a job at the company, and they're very competitive. I remember how thrilled he was when he was accepted…"

For a moment, Mrs. Sawyer paused and smiled, reflecting on the memory with a bit of happiness.

"When did he start?" Yang asked, pressing her pen to the paper in preparation of writing down the answer.

"About a year ago. It was a yearlong internship - he was supposed to find out if he'd be offered a full-time position soon, but…"

When the woman's eyes filled with tears, Yang tried to steer the conversation in a different, less painful direction.

"How did the internship go? Did he like it?"

"He loved it," Mrs. Sawyer replied. For a split second, her expression filled with joy, but then her smile disappeared and her brow furrowed. "At least, at first. He loved the challenging work, but the hours were long and he grew more and more exhausted as time went on. I remember his eyes were always so dark...I asked him if he was getting enough sleep, but he always said he had too much work to do."

"I've heard that the interns can be really cutthroat," Yang added as a means of reassurance. "They'll push each other too hard if left unchecked."

Blake had told her some outrageous stories about the interns. When there weren't enough full-time positions to go around, some of the more...dedicated...resorted to extreme measures in hopes of nabbing the top prize. Backstabbing was common. Working themselves to exhaustion was even more so.

"He was a fighter though. He wanted to work there as much as anyone else. But one day, out of the blue, he asked me to meet him for breakfast - said he needed to tell me something in person. I thought he was finally going to quit - the way they work them over there isn't healthy - but when I got to his apartment…"

Words trailing off, Mrs. Sawyer bit her bottom lip when it quivered with emotion.

"He gave me a key," she explained, her voice heavy with tears. "When he didn't answer, I let myself in. And that's when...when I found him...in his bed...looking like he was asleep..."

The first tear fell then, and Yang offered Mrs. Sawyer the box of tissues that always sat on the desk. While the woman pulled one out and dabbed at her eyes with shaking hands, Yang waited for the emotions to settle before posing her next question.

"The doctors said it was a heart attack," she said gently. "If he was under so much stress, wouldn't that be a possible explanation?"

"Yes," Mrs. Sawyer replied, surprisingly reasonable in accepting that possibility. "I know that could have happened, but he was healthy. His doctor was surprised that this happened, even with the amount of stress at work."

Yang wrote the word 'healthy' on her pad of paper and underlined it twice before looking up.

"Let me ask you something," she began, shifting in her chair. "What do you think happened?"

The question was an open invitation to spill all the conspiracies the woman could muster, and Yang was prepared to listen to them all. It was the least she could do. Didn't Weiss and Ruby offer her the same relief?

"I think...he got involved in something," Mrs. Sawyer began. "I think he got involved in something that he shouldn't have, and he paid for it."

"Like a gang or shadow group?" Yang asked, but the woman shook her head.

"I'm not sure who or what, but it was something bigger than he could get himself out of - even with his brilliant mind..."

"And why do you think that?" Yang pressed. "Besides the fact that he was healthy and suddenly passed away - do you have any evidence that makes you suspect foul play?"

Asking for evidence was usually the death knell to conspiracy theorists, who had only newspaper clippings and their imagination to string everything together. When Mrs. Sawyer reached into her bag, Yang expected much of the same - maybe an entire scrapbook of articles related to Dreamscape Industries. Instead, Mrs. Sawyer pulled out a small device and set it on top of the desk - a small device that looked much like a cufflink: small, round, and shining silver.

"A holomask?" Yang asked, picking up the device and looking it over with mounting curiosity.

"I finally got around to cleaning his apartment," Mrs. Sawyer explained. "I...I couldn't right away." Pausing for a second, she dabbed at her eyes again before regaining her composure. "I found that stuck underneath one of the drawers."

"Almost everyone has a holomask these days," Yang pointed out while spinning it around in her fingers and thinking through the situation. "So why hide it under a drawer?"

"That's what I asked myself," Mrs. Sawyer replied. "And before you ask, Greyson was a good man. He'd never get involved in anything illegal. At least, not voluntarily."

The response was expected. Everyone believed that their children were angels while everyone else's were to blame for the stories on the news. If Yang had a dollar for every parent who was surprised by the antics their children got into, she'd be living in a penthouse in the Gold Quarter instead of an apartment downtown.

In this case, however, she was almost inclined to believe Mrs. Sawyer. Call it a gut feeling or just...a hunch.

"Maybe a costume?" she suggested.

"Maybe. But he wasn't the type to dress up or take part in frivolity. He hardly left his computer."

He sounded a lot like Ruby, or a combination of Ruby and Blake. Neither of them saw the allure in using a holomask as a part of day-to-day life, but both understood the uses and importance in having one around. In a world where identity was fleeting, the option of taking on a different one - even for a short period of time - was invaluable.

Starting up the device and holding it to her ear, Yang took a quick scan of the last mask used. It was a man, mid-thirties, dark hair, dark eyes - rather nondescript.

"Ever seen him before?"

"Never."

Turning off the screen and tapping her fingers on the desk, Yang thought about what she wanted to do next. While holomasks were once notoriously used by criminals, that wasn't the case anymore. Everyone had one these days - even she carried one with her all the times in case she needed it. Greyson probably felt the same - his mother just didn't believe it.

But it wouldn't hurt to run some scans and see what he was up to, just in case. With the technology they had these days - and with Ruby at her disposal - it wouldn't take much time and could go a long way in convincing Mrs. Sawyer that sometimes a perfectly-healthy heart gave out for no reason. It wasn't fair, but life wasn't fair.

"I'd like to get this to analysis," Yang said, looking across the desk for permission to hold onto the device. "If we can match it to something, maybe we can figure out what he got into."

"Thank you." Her eyes filling with tears, Mrs. Sawyer stood up and extended her hand to shake Yang's. "I really appreciate your time and...everything you do."

"Don't mention it." After setting the holomask on the desk and shaking the woman's hand, Yang smiled and motioned to the door. "Let me walk you out?"

When Mrs. Sawyer nodded, Yang led the way back to the front of the station. The early-afternoon crowds had disappeared by now, but there were still a few civilians waiting in the main lobby.

"It could take a few days to get through everything," she said as the two of them approached the exit. "But I'll let you know if we find anything. Even if we don't, I'll get back to you."

"Thank you, Detective." With a relieved smile and quick nod, Mrs. Sawyer left the station behind, leaving Yang to sigh as the front doors slid shut.

With her personal tragedy consuming so much of her life, she sometimes forgot that she wasn't the only one suffering. Hardship was everywhere, and her job brought some of the most downtrodden souls into her office - a reminder that even though her life was difficult, she still had something to be grateful for.

In this case, at least Blake was still alive - somewhere. At least Yang still had the chance of bringing her home.

"Hey Yang."

Finding Casey pulling on a jacket while walking towards her, Yang smiled.

"Hey Casey. You heading out?"

"Yeah - meeting up with some people to watch the game tonight. You wanna come?" As soon as Yang opened her mouth, Casey rushed forward. "Just as friends, hanging out," he added with a reassuring smile.

"Thanks, but I've got some work to catch up on." When she gestured towards her office, he nodded and backed towards the door.

"Just thought I'd offer. See you tomorrow."

"See you." She returned his wave as he left the station then hurried towards the sanctuary of her office.

In another universe - one where Blake never existed - maybe Yang would feel differently. An attractive, sweet, funny guy who didn't try to force a relationship? Those weren't exactly a dime a dozen these days.

In this universe, however, she couldn't even consider it.

As soon as she walked into her office, her gaze went to the box on the floor by her desk - part of the reason why she'd never consider anyone else.

She'd known it was coming. They told her it would eventually show up, but then they got busy, and time passed, and she forgot.

She didn't know why the personal effects in Blake's office were quarantined like they might contain top secret information, but given Blake's position in the company...well, Yang could understand. Realistically, maybe it was better to get everything now. Or maybe it would've been better to get everything when she was still crying herself to sleep at night. It would've been just one more thing to cry over.

Pulling the lid off the box, she looked inside and felt her heart thump painfully in her chest.

The first picture, laying right on top and looking up at her, was of her and Blake on their two-year anniversary. She'd planned the whole night out, from dinner to dessert to dancing. Someone had snapped the picture while the two of them were dancing, leaning close to one another while wearing goofy, love-struck smiles.

Lifting the frame out of the box, she sighed when she saw the photograph beneath it - this one from when the two of them went on a boat ride in the harbor. It had been really windy that day so their hair was blowing all over the place, but somehow Yang managed to snap a good picture while they leaned against the railing.

The trip down memory lane was too much for her heart to bear right now, so she put the pictures back in the box and replaced the lid. Sitting down with a sigh, she put her head in her hands and tried to shove those happy memories back where they belonged - in the box she'd created for them in her mind.

She'd take the box home and go through it later - or she'd take it home and let it sit somewhere, to be opened in the distant future.

Glancing at the clock on her computer and finding it was time to call it a day, she grabbed the holomask that Mrs. Sawyer had left behind and stored it in the locked box in her desk. She shut down her computer next and then opened the drawer where she stored her personal belongings.

Again, this was the worst part of the day. Leaving work meant she was in for another quiet night alone in her apartment - another quiet night thinking and worrying about Blake.

"Hey Yang!"

Turning towards the sound of her name, she threw on a smile while Ruby stopped in the doorway.

"Hey Ruby - what's up?"

"Wanna get dinner with me tonight? This new fusion place that just opened and, apparently, they make everything with an old-school blowtorch."

The request made Yang laugh.

"Sure, that sounds...fun."

"And maybe we can watch a movie after?" Ruby added. "You don't get to pick though - not after the last one."

"I thought it'd be interesting!" Yang protested, earning an eyeroll from her sister. "But yes - count me in."

When Yang smiled at the unexpected but pleasant change to her evening plans, Ruby grinned and tapped the doorway.

"Awesome! Give me a second to get ready. Meet you out front?"

Without an answer, Ruby rushed back to her lab to gather her belongings. In her sister's absence, Yang leaned back and sighed - this time in relief. Her evening of brooding alone had been delayed by a few hours, and that was just fine with her. After her day, she needed a distraction.

And what better distraction than watching someone cook her dinner with a blowtorch?

Chapter Text

Dinner with Ruby ran longer than expected, mostly because the blowtorch restaurant turned out to be extremely popular. Waiting for a table was entertaining in and of itself though, especially when one of the blowtorchmen accidentally charred someone's fish into oblivion. The margin of error when cooking by blowtorch was miniscule, it turned out. But, thankfully, their dinners were cooked perfectly.

Making their night even longer, the movie Ruby picked was so confusing that they had no idea if the ending was happy or sad. Not ones to be left in the dark, they scoured online for explanations to their lingering questions before finally calling it a night.

The evening was filled with jokes, laughter, and a sense of levity Yang hadn't felt in a long time - or hadn't allowed herself to feel in a long time.

By the time she walked into her apartment, however, she was acutely aware that it was past her regular bedtime, and Blake could already be waiting for her. Knowing this, she dropped the box of memories in the living room and rushed through her nightly routine as fast as possible.

It wasn't until she placed the Dream Disk on her temple and swung her legs into bed that she remembered she needed to think about the dream before closing her eyes. At the very least, she needed a landing pad so she didn't end up in a box like last time.

Trying to come up with something original or creative was out of the question because she was neither of those things. She could be those things with time and effort, but tonight she decided to be boring and use the living room. It was simple, small, and easy for her to imagine while she closed her eyes and let the dream take over.

But something wasn't quite right about her version of the room...

Standing near the sofa, she turned in a full circle and tried to figure out what it was. It looked mostly like the living room, but something felt...off. That probably meant details were missing somewhere, because it was the finer details that separated life-like dreams from amateur, obviously-dream dreams.

The finer details were also the hardest to keep in focus, which was why she struggled with it so much. If she practiced, maybe she'd get better at it. But she never felt the need to practice when Blake was so damn good already.

"I like what you've done with the place."

Turning towards the voice, Yang smiled when she found Blake standing there with a small smile on her lips.

This moment happened every night, and every time Yang smiled like it was their very first date. It was impossible not to smile when her heart did a joyful hop in her chest and her mind fired off all sort of signals reminding her of how beautiful Blake was.

These days, there was a bit of pain and sadness mixed in with the joyful feeling of reunitement, but Yang shoved those feelings aside as best she could. Being unable to hug, kiss, or touch in any way gnawed at her, but...there wasn't much they could do about that.

"Blake," she said instead, feeling the need to say Blake's name out loud just to prove it was her.

"Yang," Blake replied with another smile. The smile suggested she understood why they were greeting each other only by name, and she was in agreement with Yang's decision.

The room wavered then, flickering from view when Yang's concentration drifted solely upon the girl in front of her. The lapse drew Blake's gaze, and she smiled when Yang grasped onto the environment at the last second.

"You should practice with places you're familiar with," Blake suggested while walking to one of the bookcases and running her hand along the edge. And Yang suddenly realized what felt wrong about the dream - none of the books had titles. The spines were blank, probably because she didn't remember any of the titles to begin with.

"May I?"

When Blake motioned towards the bookcase, Yang nodded.

"Please."

Blake seamlessly took control of the dream then - not shoving Yang aside, but gently removing the responsibility that Yang willingly gave up. As soon as the world was under Blake's supervision, titles appeared on the books resting on the shelves, the room widened, the furniture arranged itself in a more familiar location, and a skyline was added outside the window.

Once Blake finished, the room was a spitting image of their apartment.

"You remember it perfectly," Yang whispered, feeling a strong tug on her heart at the thought.

"Of course I do." Trailing her fingers across the back of the sofa, Blake looked around the room with longing in her eyes. "It's home."

The comment hurt more than Yang thought it would, and it left her biting her tongue to keep an uncalled-for remark at bay.

Apparently, this was the only way Blake would come home - in a dream.

"Sorry I'm late," Yang said instead, drawing Blake's gaze and an understanding smile.

"That's ok. I figured you had...plans."

"Hanging out with Ruby," Yang explained, feeling the need to clear up any potential misunderstanding. "We went out to dinner then watched a movie at her place."

"Oh. That sounds like fun."

"It was. It's nice to get out of the house sometimes."

The response came out a little more accusatory than Yang intended, and she immediately regretted it when hurt flickered through Blake's eyes. Before she could apologize, however, Blake regained a smile.

"Well, in that case..."

The next second, the apartment disappeared. The walls lowered while the room grew larger and larger - the space becoming much more cavernous. Clean, white tiles replaced the hardwood flooring, and the general silence of the apartment building was disrupted by a crowd of voices blending together in one constant drone. Most noticeably, the two of them were no longer alone.

"The mall?" Yang asked, stepping to the side when a pair of shoppers brushed past her.

Seeing as how the environment was a carbon copy of the mall they used to frequent together, right down to the positioning of the stores and placement of the benches, the question was unnecessary. Blake, however, still nodded and motioned down the wide hall lined with stores.

"Want to window shop with me?"

When Blake gave a hopeful expression, Yang smiled and moved to her side. Shoulders nearly brushing, the two of them walked down the right side of the hall while following the unhurried pace Blake set for them. In the meantime, Yang marveled at the dream Blake was creating - the stores advertising sales in their front windows, the various clothing and accessories on display, and the people.

"How do you do this?" Yang asked, posing the question for probably the thousandth time. Blake's response was the same as always - a modest smile and shake of her head.

"Lots of practice, lots of daydreaming."

"And a good amount of skill," Yang added, immediately nodding when Blake shook her head. "Yes, you're skilled. Don't deny it! I could practice just as much as you and never be anywhere near as good."

"I don't know about that…"

"I do. You're naturally talented at this."

From the way Blake's brow furrowed, Yang knew that she wanted to deny the compliment. And she could try to be modest, but Yang knew the truth - there were few people as talented as Blake when it came to shaping dreams.

"Ohhh my god." Abruptly stopping in the middle of the hall, Yang felt her jaw drop while staring at the jacket displayed on the mannequin in front of her. "How did you remember?" she asked, shooting Blake a look of dismay before hurrying into the store to take a closer look at the rack of jackets.

The first one she picked up was her size, so she threw it over her shoulders and tugged it into place. It fit exactly like it did when she tried it on in real life - and looked just as good, if not better.

"It looks great on you."

"Yeah?" Spinning around, Yang found a nearby mirror and gave herself a good look. The tan jacket was a perfect complement to her hair, which was why she'd liked it in the first place. Plus, it fit her perfectly, all while finding a way to accentuate her...more positive assets.

Finding the price tag attached to the sleeve - the dealbreaker the first time around - Yang flipped it over and laughed when she saw the price.

"Must be my lucky day," she said, looking up at Blake. "It's free."

"That's fortunate," Blake replied with a smile. "And you look fantastic."

Yang felt her heart warm at the compliment, and she smiled while looking in the mirror once more.

"You know, I think you're right." Her smile grew when Blake laughed at the joke, both of them knowing that she was only being teasingly immodest. "Can I take it with me?" she asked, earning a nod and "Of course," in return.

Pleased with the addition to her ensemble, Yang grinned and followed Blake back into the hallway of the mall.

"Too bad you can't do this in real life," she teased while they continued their stroll.

"I could, but it would be called stealing."

Laughing at the response, Yang moved out of the way when a man hurried past. Once the path to walk was clear again, she returned to Blake's side and raised her arms, only to discover that the price tag on her new jacket had disappeared. When Blake removed it, Yang would never know - it happened as seamlessly and fluidly as the rest of the environment around them.

Again, she was awestruck by how real it felt. The people passing by had distinct faces - likely from Blake's memories - and they carried on as if they had their own agendas and places to be. Not only that, but they didn't just walk in straight lines - they stepped to the side of the hall to take phone calls, sat on the benches to tie their shoes, and sometimes dropped their bags on the floor while trying to carry too much at once.

'A perfect dream is imperfect,' Blake would say, and she was right. Dreams could be perfect, but that destroyed the realism. Because life wasn't perfect, especially not with people involved.

"Anything exciting happen today?" Blake asked - the same as she always did.

"Pretty much the usual. More arresting, more sleuthing."

"There's always more to it than that," Blake prodded, glancing at Yang while they turned the corner and continued their easy stroll through another busy section of the mall.

While Yang always felt a little put off that she was the only one providing details of her day, she didn't feel like bringing that topic up again. Instead, she thought through her time at the station and picked out the moments that were most notable. One, in particular, would be of interest to Blake.

"Someone you know dropped by today."

"Oh really?" When two ladies pushing strollers cut in front of them, Blake briefly stopped and looked at Yang. "Who was it?"

"I'll give you one guess," Yang replied with a teasing smile. "She was your partner in dream-crimes."

"Lyla?" Blake asked, her brow rising in surprise.

"Yup!"

Hearing a soft yelp, Yang turned around and chuckled when a teenage boy tripped over a trash can and tumbled onto the floor. Fortunately, the fall wasn't hard enough to cause anything but rampant embarrassment, especially when his friends laughed while he picked himself off the floor. After dusting off his pants and righting the trash can, he took off towards the food court with the rest of the group rushing to catch up.

While it might seem pointless, little instances like that made the environment feel alive. Random events, Blake called them - the difference between an amateur and professional-level dream.

"Lyla..." Blake repeated as they resumed their walk, heading in the direction the boys had gone. "How's she doing?"

"She seemed ok. But she didn't stay long, so I didn't get to talk to her much."

"Her leg?"

"Eh…" Shrugging at the question, Yang tried to put Blake's worries at ease. "She had her cane but that's it."

After 'hmm'ing to herself at the answer, Blake glanced at Yang.

"What'd she come see you for?"

Remembering the box sitting in the living room, Yang dropped her gaze to the floor while they approached the balcony over the food court.

"She...uh, she dropped off some stuff from your office." Feeling Blake's gaze, Yang hurried forward to keep the conversation from dwelling here. "You had a lot of pictures of me."

After forcing a smile, Yang looked to the side and caught Blake's eyes, which searched hers for several seconds before a smile finally appeared.

"That's why I had the most beautiful office in the building."

Yang laughed at the response, which was the perfect combination of a joke and compliment to keep them from focusing on less-favorable topics.

"That was a smooth answer."

"You've taught me something, after all," Blake teased in response, recalling their ongoing argument about Yang having nothing worthy of teaching Blake. Blake always refuted that notion and insisted that she learned far more from Yang than the other way around. The argument would probably never have a winner or loser, but that was just fine with both of them.

"Want to sit down?" Blake asked then, motioning towards a small, empty table that sat near the railing overlooking the food court below. It was one of only a few such tables, where people often sat to rest their legs rather than eat, but it offered an excellent view of the commotion below without descending into the madness.

"Sure."

Sitting across from Blake, Yang sighed and allowed her eyes to wander. While she might never understand how Blake held everything together, she'd never stop marveling at the attention to detail put into every dream. She still remembered the very first dream Blake showed her - that was the moment she realized how exceptional Blake was.

Blake wasn't just intelligent - she was brilliant. And beautiful, and playful, and caring - everything Yang could ever hope for wrapped up in one wonderful person.

While the two of them sat in comfortable silence, someone passing behind Blake caught Yang's attention. The slender brunette had some serious swagger, swaying her hips back and forth while a small smirk lifted her lips -

"Yang."

Spotting Blake's amused expression, Yang realized she was just caught staring at another woman - another woman in a dream, no less.

"What?" she asked, feigning innocence. It didn't work - Blake rolled her eyes and left the table behind to continue walking.

"You had the same reaction the first time you saw her."

Jaw dropping at the offhand remark, Yang stood and hurried after Blake.

"One, I like brunettes." She added a wink with the comment - earning another eye roll - before continuing. "And two, that's entrapment! You walked her right where I'd see her!"

"I just wanted to see your response," Blake replied, feigning a bit of innocence herself. When Yang laughed, Blake smiled, her amber eyes sparkling with delight and mischief.

In moments like this, it felt like everything was normal. Like they were still a functioning couple hanging out at the mall together. Unfortunately, reality was never too far behind, and often dumped over Yang's head like a bucket of ice-cold water.

This time, reaching for Blake's hand reminded her that none of this was real. The only thing real about it was their minds connecting through the Dreamscape, allowing them to communicate even though they were worlds apart.

Somehow, Blake sensed Yang's sudden dose of reality and responded with a hopeful smile.

"Anything else happen today?"

Embracing the subject change, Yang picked another moment of interest from her day.

"A lady came in - her son died of a heart attack, but she thinks there's some foul play involved."

"That's sad…"

"Yeah, but I told her I'd look into it. He was actually an intern at Dreamscape."

"Was he?" When Yang nodded, Blake shook her head and sighed. "Guess it's not surprising he died young then. The interns run themselves ragged in hopes of getting a permanent position."

"You didn't have to run yourself ragged though, did you?" Yang asked, suddenly thinking that maybe that's what Blake was trying to escape. But the idea was dashed when Blake shook her head again.

"Thankfully, no. But I was one of the fortunate ones."

"Is that your way of saying you slacked off?" Yang asked.

"Not at all. I just...found a way to keep work from consuming my life."

"And what was your secret to success?"

While Yang posed the question as a tease, Blake returned her gaze with a heartfelt smile.

"You," Blake answered, holding Yang's gaze for a long time before finally turning away. "I used to love getting lost in dreams, but when you came into my life...I discovered I'd rather get lost in you."

The response hit Yang's heart like an arrow, filling her with an overwhelming amount of love and longing for the girl walking beside her. Blake loved using her mind and imagination, so for her to admit that she'd rather spend time outside of the Dreamscape with Yang…

There was no easier way to make Yang feel special - treasured, even. But when she reached for Blake's hand, wanting to express only a fraction of how much she loved Blake in return, she was again confronted by the limits of their existence.

To put it bluntly, it sucked that they couldn't touch through the Dreamscape. Some days, it was a nuisance that failed to register. On the worst days, however, it left Yang without a way to express her feelings.

How different would their separation feel if they could hug every night? What if they could kiss and hold hands like they once had? Would that make this any better, or just that much worse? It still wouldn't be real; it still wouldn't be Blake.

At this point, Yang would accept just about anything - any form of contact would be reassurance that what they had was still there, buried somewhere. But maybe she was the only one craving physical touch. Maybe this was acceptable to Blake, although she couldn't understand how. How was any of this acceptable?

"What's wrong?"

The question jolted Yang out of her thoughts, and she quickly realized she'd been staring at the floor for quite some time.

"What do you mean?" she asked, trying to play off the silence as nothing more than a lapse in attention.

"You seem...upset."

As usual, Blake read Yang's emotions like a book. Being in the Dreamscape did that, somehow. That, or Blake was really good at deciphering Yang's emotions regardless of the circumstances. It could be either, considering how close they were before...everything.

"It's nothing," Yang said, looking away when Blake raised her brow at the response.

"Yang."

The interior of the mall suddenly faded away, morphing into the park near their apartment. The voices disappeared, the walls folded flat into green spaces and paved sidewalks, the benches transformed into the outdoor variety and were paired with lamps, and the crowds of people became nothing more than a few joggers or walkers in the distance.

Just like Blake recognized Yang's lie, Yang recognized the change in scenery as Blake's way of focusing more attention on the conversation at hand. She appreciated Blake's attentiveness - she really did - but sometimes she wished Blake would let it go.

Knowing that wouldn't happen, Yang sighed and stuck her hands in the pockets of her new jacket. She didn't want to get into this right now because she knew it would make her upset and that would, in turn, upset Blake. And she didn't want to do that. She tried hard not to disturb the relative peace between them.

But maybe that was part of the problem. Instead of saying what she thought, she did her best to tiptoe around the sensitive subjects, choosing to keep those thoughts buried inside. If she was ever going to throw Blake off somehow, and possibly gain a glimpse into what was actually going on, maybe she needed to speak her mind.

"I just...don't understand why you're doing this," she said, watching Blake's brow knit together like it normally did when this subject was broached.

"I told you…"

"That you're trying to protect me," Yang interrupted. "What if I told you I don't care? That I'll accept the danger if it means you'll come back?"

"I can't let you do that…"

"Why not?"

When Blake turned away, Yang stepped in front of her.

"Aren't I allowed to decide what risks I take?" she pressed. "Every day at work, I have to take risks - my life is in danger - why can't I accept one more?"

"You're trained for those risks, Yang," Blake replied, looking like she wished she hadn't brought up the conversation. "You're given the tools and support necessary to protect yourself, and you're experienced with keeping yourself safe."

"So this is something I'm not trained for?"

When Blake sighed and turned away again, Yang didn't let her.

"What type of risk am I not trained for, Blake?" she pressed, grasping onto the first 'hint' she'd received in months.

"It's nothing. Please drop it."

"How can I 'drop it' when you won't come back?" Yang asked, throwing her hands in the air. "Am I just supposed to not care that you're gone? Just go about my life like it doesn't matter that you left me here?"

When Blake met Yang's gaze, it was with the same resoluteness as yesterday, as last week, as the week before that. That look hurt more than Yang ever let on.

"Is this like...the world's slowest way to break up with someone?" she asked, hearing her pain slip into her tone.

"Of course not -"

"Then what are you doing?" she demanded, anger and frustration finally bursting out. "I thought that we -" Shaking her head and swallowing the words, she went down a different path. "This isn't a relationship, Blake. For all I know, you're off sleeping with everyone you know -"

"That's not what's happening and you know it."

Blake's anger at the insinuation made Yang feel better in a way, but also worse.

"How do I know that? I haven't seen you in months; you never tell me what you're doing -"

"So that means I'm sleeping with someone?" Blake asked, her voice rising in indignation.

"What am I supposed to think, Blake?" Yang knew she was stepping close to a line, but now she was upset - and now she just wanted a reaction. Some type of response that proved there were still feelings there.

"Everyone assumes I'm single now," she added. "I mean, why wouldn't they? As far as they know, my girlfriend died almost a year ago."

"Are you sleeping with someone then?" Blake cut in, her expression contorting in pain and rage. "Is that what you're trying to tell me?"

"What if I was?" Yang shot back, waving her hand through the air. "Would you even care?"

Feeling a rumble pass beneath her feet, Yang looked down in surprise before watching Blake close her eyes and clench her fingers into tight fists.

"I know what you're doing," she said, opening her eyes and giving Yang a sad look. "Yang -"

Blake took a step closer as the sky lightened, signaling the start of a new day and the end of their time together. Looking over her shoulder with a sigh, she turned back to Yang with those sad, tired eyes.

"I love you," she whispered. "And you know that."

The dream ended then, and Yang opened her eyes only to close them again and let out a long sigh.

Her heart hurt. It was a different type of pain than what she'd felt in the days and weeks following the blast, but...it hurt all the same.

"Save dream sequence?" the automated voice asked her while she sat up and swung her legs out of bed. Putting her head in her hand, she tried to keep the tears at bay.

"Do I?" she whispered to the empty room, wishing someone was there to answer her.

"Save dream sequence?" the voice called out again, prompting her to sigh and stand up.

"Yes."

After re-attaching her arm, she collected the data file and shot a glance towards the other half of the room. The quick look only amplified the pain in her chest when she found it exactly the way Blake left it. A book sat on the nightstand, a purple bookmark sticking from the top to mark Blake's place. A pair of reading glasses sat on the cover, folded up and ready to be used whenever called upon next. Which...who knew how long it might be before that happened.

Sighing one last time, Yang ran a hand through her hair and headed into the bathroom to get ready for another day.

There was something so unsatisfying about waking up and still having no idea where Blake was or when she was coming back, but what could Yang do besides keep trying?

"You could stop trying…" she mumbled to herself, drying off her face with the hand towel and then shaking her head at the thought. She wasn't the type to give up, especially not on those she cared about. Plus, deep down, she felt like she might be the unreasonable one. Shouldn't she be more understanding? Something scared Blake enough that she left her life behind - shouldn't Yang be a little more compassionate?

Ultimately, yes. Maybe. But she worked for the police. Literally, it was her job to track down and put bad guys behind bars. Why wouldn't Blake let her do her job?

After throwing on some comfortable clothes for work, she headed into the kitchen but found there were no more apples for breakfast. Grabbing a granola bar instead, she opened the wrapper and took a bite while heading out the door. As soon as she locked the apartment behind her, she pulled out her phone and dialed Ruby.

"Hello?"

"Morning, sunshine!" Yang said, smiling at Ruby's groggy, sleep-filled voice. "I'm on my way over. Think you can drag yourself out of bed?"

"I can try…"

"Good! I'll see you soon."

Taking a few garbled grumbles as acceptance, Yang hung up and shook her head. Ruby's sleep schedule was sporadic, to put it lightly. If she got on the trail of something, she'd stay up the entire night trying to find the answer. The same could be said if she found something particularly interesting, noteworthy, or funny.

Fortunately, Ruby operated best on little to no sleep. At least, that's what she always said, and Yang believed it so long as it meant she could drop by in the morning like usual.

She made it to the train station right as one pulled up, a bit of luck and perfect timing that would hopefully carry through the rest of the day. With plenty of empty seats inside, she took one near the windows and slumped against it while the doors slid shut and the train pulled away from the station.

While the pain of last night's sequence had faded, she still felt an ache in her chest that wouldn't go away anytime soon. Arguing with Blake was one of her least favorite things to do, and it was worse when they couldn't just kiss and make up. Instead, she had to wait for the entire day to pass before they could speak again, which was a long time to dwell on what she said.

It felt like this was happening more frequently - raised voices and pointless arguments - probably the result of her frustration boiling over while Blake's stubbornness remained. Eventually, something had to give, but she was afraid to think about what would happen then.

If there was a silver lining in their most recent fight, Yang was more confident than ever that Blake wasn't seeing anyone else. She hadn't thought so to begin with, but it still begged the question - what was Blake doing with her time? How did she fill her days? As long as there was no one else, Yang should be happy...right?

Hopping off the train and hurrying across mostly-empty streets, she was only a block from Ruby's apartment when a sleek, silver car pulled to the side of the road in front of her. Seeing as how there was hardly any traffic at this time of day, the vehicle immediately got most of Yang's attention. When the door opened and woman with dark, auburn hair stepped out, Yang grinned and hurried to catch up. Once she was close enough, she whistled - drawing the woman's instantly-annoyed gaze her way.

"Why hello there," Yang said, earning an eyeroll while the two of them walked towards Ruby's building.

"It's too early for this," Weiss grumbled.

"Never too early when there's a beautiful lady involved." When Weiss responded with a sigh, Yang chuckled and held the door so they could head inside. "How 'bout you and I grab dinner tonight - and then breakfast tomorrow morning, if you know what I mean."

Yang winked at the playful offer while Weiss pressed the button to summon an elevator.

"Your sister is probably watching, you know."

Laughing at the response, Yang turned and waved towards a small camera hidden in the corner of the lobby. While she did that, the elevator arrived and Weiss walked in without waiting for her, forcing her to stick her hand between the door to keep it from leaving without her.

"You got here fast," Yang said while the elevator rushed skyward.

"I was already on the way."

"Ah." After standing for a few seconds in silence, Yang glanced at Weiss and grinned. "You know, you didn't have to come all the way over here just for me."

"That's quite the assumption you're making," Weiss replied, flipping her dark hair over her shoulder. "But I didn't come over here just for you."

As soon as the elevator doors opened, Weiss led the way to Ruby's apartment while Yang chuckled at the prickly response.

"But you kind of came over here for me," she teased, watching Weiss unlock the front door with an ease suggesting she'd done it many times before.

"You're a convenient excuse."

Enjoying the banter, Yang laughed as the two of them walked into Ruby's apartment together.

"Ruby?" Weiss called out as soon as the door closed behind them. On cue, Ruby bounded into the entryway - still wearing her pajamas - and rushed over.

"Good morning!" was all she said before pulling Weiss in for a kiss.

A long, long kiss.

First, Yang averted her gaze from the display of affection. But after a few seconds of that, she cleared her throat in hopes it would separate the two. When that didn't work, she sighed - loudly.

"Seriously," she said, which finally ended their good morning kiss. Ruby held Weiss' hand and giggled, not at all ashamed of the greeting, while Weiss removed her holomask and looked very much like she wanted to continue the kiss in private.

"I am just an excuse for you two to see each other every morning," Yang said with a fake-hurt tone, raising a hand to touch her heart while Weiss leveled her with an impassive look.

"You are."

"Not!" Ruby immediately added, bumping Weiss' arm and somehow getting the girl to smile. "You are not. We're here to help you."

Yang knew Ruby's words were true - and she knew Weiss loved to tease her otherwise, just for the fun of it. She was secretly grateful for the teasing because it made everything feel a little less...serious.

"Good," she replied with a smile. "Because I need your help."

"And I need coffee," Weiss replied, kissing Ruby's cheek before heading into the kitchen to make her morning coffee.

While Weiss did that, Yang dropped the dream sequence onto Ruby's computer and stood back to watch Ruby work her magic. Her hands flew through the air, manipulating the screens and programs in ways Yang could hardly track.

If dreaming came easily to Blake, computers came easily to Ruby. It had been this way ever since they were little, when Ruby started taking apart their dad's computer 'for fun.' It wasn't long before she ruled all the technology in their house, and that's when things got interesting. Hidden security systems they never knew about, automated check-ins for nearly every situation, and computer-driven robots designed for the craziest of tasks.

Her talent with computers made her a natural fit to work in the lab at the department. With how technology-driven the world was, they needed her help on essentially every case crossing their desk, and she almost always delivered.

"You look like you could use this," Weiss said as she joined them, pressing a cup of coffee into Yang's hands.

"Thanks." Taking a sip and sighing at the familiar taste, Yang watched Ruby retrieve the video file while completing several other tasks at the same time. "Just a heads up, the ending's a little...contentious."

Ruby and Weiss exchanged glances at the forewarning but said nothing while the video loaded on the screen. For her part, Yang had learned long ago not to feel embarrassed about sharing her conversations with them. In the beginning, she'd tried to figure this out on her own and gotten nowhere. She needed their help. And, more than help, she needed their support.

How sad was that? She needed their support. She needed someone else to see what she was going through - to tell her that she wasn't crazy for doing what she was doing. Just like Mrs. Sawyer, she needed anyone to listen to her and believe her, even if it was only for a few minutes every morning.

The closer the video got to the ending, however, the more fixed her eyes grew on the screen versus anything else around her. And when the ripple tore through the dream, she steadfastly avoided the glance Weiss sent her way.

She was fine.

Sure, she accused her girlfriend of sleeping around when she knew that wasn't true. And sure, she made it sound a little bit like she might do the same in return. And yes, she didn't mean or want to do any of those things, but...well, at least she got a reaction, and hopefully something would come of it.

"Anything?" She hardly wanted to ask the question, but she needed to know the answer.

"Look," Ruby said, pointing to the screen. Whatever she wanted them to see passed too quickly, so she rewound and slowed down the speed.

"Right there," she said, putting her finger nearly on the screen. "See that?"

At a much slower speed, it was possible to see a small flash of something when Blake got upset.

"What is that?" Leaning closer, Weiss squinted her eyes in an attempt to bring the object into focus.

Clicking again, Ruby zoomed in on an object hidden in the fabric of the dream. At first, Yang was hopeful that it was a clue - then she saw what it was.

"It's a safe," she said, rubbing both hands over her face before shaking her head. "It's a freaking safe."

"Apparently," Ruby answered, sitting in her chair and staring at the screen. "Whatever Blake knows, she's scared of you finding out. She literally locked it away from you."

"Great."

Turning away, Yang ran a hand through her hair and sighed. Deep down, she understood that Blake wouldn't come back until she finished whatever she was trying to accomplish. And within the confines of the Dreamscape, she was too talented to let anything slip. So why was Yang even trying? Why did she spend every night hoping she'd find a clue, a breadcrumb leading her to Blake?

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, she turned and sighed again at the compassionate smile Weiss was giving her.

"We'll figure it out. It might take some time, but we'll figure it out."

"I don't know if I believe that…" Yang admitted, fighting against the lump of emotion growing in her throat. "I used to, but now…"

"Ruby is the most talented decoder on the force," Weiss replied, her expression daring Yang to argue. "If anyone can help you crack Blake's defenses, it's her."

Thinking about the words for a little bit, and deciding she couldn't dwell on this any longer without breaking down, Yang broke out a smile instead.

"If you know she's the best decoder around, why do you spend so much time trying to discredit her on the stand?"

The question was meant to be a tease - instead, Weiss' eyes clouded as her gaze fell to the ground.

"Because that's my job…" she muttered before turning to Ruby, who granted immediate forgiveness with a wide grin.

"Remember that time Weiss called me a freshman in high school?" Wrapping her arms around Weiss' waist, Ruby pulled her close and nuzzled her ear.

Yang laughed at the memory, but Weiss scoffed.

"That's because you looked like a freshman in high school, at the time."

"Skipped several grades," Yang pointed out, holding up a finger to count the ways in which Ruby was exceptional. "Youngest head of tech in the history of the department. Certified genius at anything plugged into an outlet or connected online. And your strategy was to call her a child."

"It was a solid strategy," Weiss refuted, although her argument was half-hearted, at best - the result of being held in Ruby's arms. "I couldn't dispute the results without resorting to crack scientists, so I needed to diminish her status in the eyes of the jurors - hope they thought of her as too young to offer opinions."

"Instead, you made her look like a prodigy."

Not at all upset at the memory, Weiss swiveled around and beamed at Ruby.

"Because she is," Weiss said, raising a hand and running it through Ruby's hair. The gesture was so intimate and affectionate, Yang considered turning away. But the moment passed when Weiss laughed.

"Do you remember when I tried to pay you to leave the force and serve as my firm's expert witness?" Weiss asked, speaking to Ruby now while still playing with her hair.

"I do," Ruby said with a smile. "You offered me a lot of money."

"I still think you should've taken it."

"And done what? Got super wealthy helping bad guys skip prison?"

"I help innocent people too, you know."

"Oh really?" Ruby asked in a teasing tone.

"Ok lovebirds," Yang cut in before the conversation devolved into further cuteness. "Ruby, see you at work?" When Ruby nodded, Yang reached out and patted Weiss' shoulder. "Weiss, see you whenever."

Leaving the two to enjoy the rest of their morning, Yang hurried out of the apartment without giving another glance to the computer screen displaying the remnants of her dream from last night. Disappointed was one way to describe how she felt while waiting for the elevator to arrive at the top floor. Discouraged was another. Disheartened. But not willing to give up. Not yet.

After stepping outside a few minutes later, she tilted her chin towards the sun and closed her eyes.

She used to think she was a good detective. She used to think that with enough effort, she could solve anything - find anyone. But when it came down to it - when she really needed to find some clues - she came up empty-handed. How could she call herself a good detective when she couldn't find her own girlfriend after months of searching?

Shaking her head, she started off for the train station at a fast walk. The image of the safe in the dream wouldn't leave her mind...serving as a constant reminder that, despite all her efforts, Blake was still locked away from her.

It didn't make her feel any better knowing that Blake was the one with the key.

Chapter Text

Collapsing into her chair, Yang put her head in her hands and tried to remember why she ever thought joining the police force was a good idea. Because it wasn't. It really wasn't. In fact, it was probably one of the worst, most nauseating, scarring, and nightmare-inducing ideas she'd ever had.

"Detective."

When two soft knocks followed the word, she lifted her head and forced a smile. It probably came out more like a cringe, but she tried.

"Hey Casey - what's up?"

"Going to grab lunch. Want anything?"

Making a face, Yang waved him away.

"Thank you, but no. I'm never eating again."

"That bad?" he asked, scrunching up his nose while she nodded.

"Let's just say…yes." Unable to come up with anything wittier than that, she shook her head and added, "Yes, it was bad."

Chuckling at the response, Casey lightly tapped the doorframe and edged back into the hall.

"I won't ask for details. But let me know if you need anything?"

"I will. Thanks."

With a parting smile, Casey left Yang's office behind, and she watched him head off to pick up lunch from one of the many restaurants surrounding the station. Once he disappeared from view, she turned back to her desk and shuddered.

Parts of her job were great. She helped people, which was always rewarding. She solved mysteries, drove cool cars, used the latest gadgets, and wore an awesome uniform every once in a while. But those perks weren't without drawbacks - mainly, witnessing some of the grossest and most horrible feats mankind was capable of.

Determined to wipe the memory from her mind, she searched her desk for something - anything - else to work on. Write-ups, expense reports, even cleaning the station's toilets would be better than what she just went through.

Instead of finding something boring or tedious, however, she discovered the holomask Mrs. Sawyer had dropped off yesterday. While a potentially dead-end case wasn't exactly high on her list of desired pursuits, she'd promised to look into it, and that's exactly what she'd do.

First, she needed to pull the mask history off of the device, which was easy. All she had to do was set it on her computer's chip reader and...

"Woah."

Leaning away from the screen, she watched a series of numbers and letters scroll across a window that popped up. At first, she worried that she just downloaded a virus that fried her computer. Or worse, a virus that fried everyone's computers. Thankfully, the scrolling stopped after a few seconds and remained static while a small, flashing cursor prodding her for an entry. Seeing as how this was already beyond her level of expertise, she touched nothing and buzzed the lab instead.

"Yeah?" Ruby answered.

"Hey...when you have a second, can you help me with something?"

"Sure! Give me a minute."

"Take your time."

With help on the way, Yang leaned back in her chair and stared at the jumble of letters on the screen. It blew her mind that Ruby could make sense of this, seeing as how it was basically a foreign language - and a complicated one, at that. But that's why Ruby was the pro, and Yang had it on good authority that her sister was well-compensated for that expertise.

They'd better pay Ruby a lot of money. If they didn't, they risked losing her to private practices willing to back up a truckload of cash to lure her away from public service. Weiss' firm wasn't the only one who'd made an offer guaranteed to set Ruby up for life, but she constantly turned down those overtures.

A part of Yang couldn't understand why. Why not be paid a king's ransom for a skill set that very few people in the world could duplicate? But another part of her understood why Ruby stayed put - because she liked helping people, but mostly because she'd always wanted to be a cop to follow in her mom's footsteps.

And if Ruby wasn't leaving, Yang wasn't leaving. She loved working with her sister. It was like having her best friend just a hallway away.

"Hey!"

Turning away from the screen, Yang smiled when Ruby walked into the office.

"Thank god - the cavalry's here." Standing up, Yang motioned for Ruby to take the chair so she could work at the computer.

"What's going on?" Sitting down, Ruby connected her glove to the screen and cleared away some excess windows.

"I'm trying to get the history, but this came up instead."

When Yang gestured towards the screen, Ruby leaned closer to it. Her lips moved while reading the lines of code to herself while she seamlessly opened additional windows filled with additional lines of code. After a few minutes of analysis, she sat back and chuckled.

"That's so funny."

"What is?" Yang asked, moving closer to see what Ruby found.

"It's funny you thought I could do this on your super old computer!" Ruby replied, bending over to look at the machine tucked under Yang's desk. "How old is this thing?"

"It's only a couple years old!"

"A couple years makes it a dinosaur." After standing up, Ruby shook her head to 'straighten' her hair then blew a breath of air through her lips. "We need to do this on my computer," she said while collecting the mask from the reader. "Follow me!"

Doing as instructed, Yang trailed Ruby into the hall and headed towards the tech lab.

"Sorry for making you walk all the way over here."

"Naw, it's ok. I need a break every once in a while. Plus, if I spend too much time in there without leaving, my skin starts tingling with static." Yang made a face at the comment, but Ruby just nodded as if it was true.

"That sounds like something you should have checked out…"

"I'm sure it's fine." After waving off the concern, Ruby broke into a huge grin. "Maybe I'm becoming one with the mainframe - that'd be pretty cool."

"We have different definitions of 'cool,'" Yang teased as they turned the corner, and she immediately smiled at the sight headed straight towards them.

Apparently, Weiss had decided to bless the department with her presence today, swooping in to 'save' one of her unfortunate clients from the indignity of a jail cell. As usual, paralegals flanked her while she strode down the hall looking very much like she owned the place. Which, considering her record against the prosecutor's office, she might as well.

"Here comes trouble," Yang whispered out of the corner of her mouth, nudging Ruby in the side while Weiss neared them.

Having been warned not to provoke the girl or risk a scolding, Yang kept her elbows and shoulders to herself. Instead, she sent multiple glances between Weiss and Ruby, wondering how the pair would play off this unexpected meeting in the middle of the hall.

But when Weiss reached them, she did nothing. Her eyes flicked towards Ruby, but that was it. She walked by without a trace of acknowledgment - no nod, no 'good afternoon,' not even a hint of a smile. For as much as she went out of her way to shower Ruby with affection this morning, now it felt like nothing separated Ruby from the next poor schmuck in the hall.

It was cold and unyielding - everything Weiss had proven herself to be through the courtroom. But with Ruby?

"Jeez, how do you deal with that?" Yang asked, turning around and watching Weiss walk away. When she didn't even look back, Yang shook her head and checked Ruby's reaction.

"It's just...how it is."

The response didn't have Ruby's typical layer of happiness to it, which was enough to make Yang frown. Even though she hadn't been entirely receptive of Weiss and Ruby's relationship at first, it hadn't taken long to realize that they were perfect together.

Outside of work, Weiss melted when Ruby was nearby. And Ruby...Ruby lit up whenever Weiss was around. It reminded Yang of when they were little and their mom would pick Ruby up and swing her around in the air, eliciting endless giggles and laughs of glee. The fact that Weiss, of all people, could bring out that side of Ruby...well, Yang could be nothing but grateful to see it again.

These days, she supported them completely. Unfortunately, her support didn't amount to much when their relationship couldn't be made public. With their positions on opposite sides of the law, any fraternization would discredit Ruby's work and vice versa.

But the two of them still made it work somehow. Yang didn't know how - she couldn't imagine how it felt to be ignored by someone she cared so much about. Especially when Weiss made it look so easy...

But Yang suspected it wasn't nearly as easy as it looked. She'd witnessed how the two greeted each other after the day or week was over, with gusto and desire built up over time. And with a sense of apology for all these little moments when they couldn't even send each other a smile.

They both knew what they were getting into when they started dating, but Yang still wished it was easier for them. She wished everyone else could see how in love they were. And, most importantly, she wanted everyone to see how the courtroom tiger that was Weiss Schnee turned into a kitten whenever Ruby batted those silver eyes of hers.

"Guess this is why we don't date defense attorneys, huh," Yang teased, bumping Ruby's shoulder and watching a small smile sneak onto her sister's lips.

"I'll try to remember that next time."

When Yang laughed at the response, Ruby finally broke into one of those beaming smiles she was somewhat-famous for.

"Don't let her hear you say that," Yang joked while the two of them walked into Ruby's lab. "What's she here for anyway?"

"No idea."

"Really?"

"Yeah, we talk about work as little as possible. We don't want to unintentionally influence each other."

Considering how much Yang and Blake talked about work, the answer was surprising. Not a day went by without Yang bringing up some crazy story or talking through a case to see if Blake had any genius ideas. If she had to, she could probably keep that all to herself - the only question was, would she want to?

"That's...really mature of you."

That was the only way she could describe such dedication and self-restraint. But Ruby merely shrugged at the response and connected the mask to her computer.

"Sometimes, you have to make sacrifices."

While Ruby logged in and started moving screens around, Yang watched her little sister, who wasn't so little anymore. Gone were the days when Ruby needed Yang's help or advice. Now, she was a grown-up, independent, self-sufficient young woman, who was also extremely successful, confident, and possibly better at being in a relationship than Yang was.

Maybe Yang should think more like Ruby and Weiss did. While she hated being apart from Blake, and she hated not knowing where Blake was or how to help, maybe she needed to accept that remaining in the dark was a sacrifice Blake was asking of her. If Blake needed this sacrifice, then shouldn't Yang be willing to grant it?

She wanted to say 'yes,' but she also wanted to say that the situation was different. Ruby and Weiss still saw each other every day - sometimes multiple times a day, depending on whether or not they stayed over at each other's places. And they knew where they stood with one another. There didn't seem to be any secrets between them, nor any mysteries. In fact, they were a regular couple minus the cloak and dagger in public.

In that sense, the sacrifice Blake was asking of Yang was bigger than the sacrifice Ruby made for Weiss. Did that mean Yang couldn't make it? At one point in time, it was a foregone conclusion that she would do and could do anything for Blake. Now...she wished that answer was still so easy.

Shaking her head to clear away those thoughts, she focused instead on Ruby's hands flying through the air while the screens moved and flashed with a rhythm only Ruby could follow.

"You know, they're making these even better," Ruby mused while she worked. "Soon, they'll be good enough to fool a human up close - no more haze around the edges or lag between talking and the lips moving."

"That's...scary."

"Yup. Our job's about to get even harder." Somehow, Ruby kept working while holding the conversation, hardly pausing her hand gestures as she unscrambled the holomask. "Can you imagine questioning someone and not even knowing they're wearing a mask? Literally, someone could pretend to be me, and the only way you'd know is if they didn't act like me."

"That makes me want to retire," Yang said, scrunching her nose at the idea of holomasks good enough to fool the human eye up close. It was bad enough they tricked cameras, but at least she could sit across from someone and immediately tell they had a mask on. What if she sat down from someone and had no idea they weren't who they pretended to be?

"Where'd you get this from, anyway?"

"Distraught mother." Leaning against one of the lab tables behind Ruby's computer space, Yang crossed her arms over her chest and shrugged. "She thinks it's a clue about what happened to her son."

"Was he a crook? Because they're some of the only ones encrypting these things."

"She doesn't think so."

"Ah. One of those."

When Ruby shook her head, Yang chuckled and shrugged again. She was about to comment about how she'd probably feel the same as Mrs. Sawyer if someone accused Ruby of something, but the thought vanished when an entire screen filled with masks.

"Woah." Taking a step back, Ruby scrolled down to show that there were even more previously-used aliases at the bottom. "That's a lot."

"Send them to me," Yang said. "I know you're busy; I'll look through them on my own."

"You sure? I can probably write a program to scan all of these at once -"

"I'm sure," Yang interrupted with a laugh. "If you do all the work around here, I won't have a job anymore."

When Yang patted Ruby's shoulder, Ruby smiled and tapped a few buttons to send the information to Yang's computer.

"You could always pretend to work, like Tina in Evidence."

"My acting sucks - you know that." Heading towards the hall, Yang laughed when Ruby nodded without complaint. "Thanks for the help. You're a lifesaver."

"It's no big deal. Just had to unscramble the encryption and recode the memory to stop blocking external access." Ruby shrugged as if it was no big deal, but Yang scoffed and shook her head.

"You're amazing," she said while walking through the open doorway and throwing a wave over her shoulder. "See you later!"

Ruby returned the wave as Yang left the lab behind - destination: back to her office.

Having Ruby around made Yang's job a lot easier than it would be otherwise. Because, realistically, how many people could decrypt a holomask in a few seconds? And how many of those could unlock it without accidentally erasing everything? Ruby made it look effortless. And for Yang, instead of being stalled trying to retrieve the data, she already had the information and was on to the next part of her search.

After making it back to her office, she sat down and pulled up the data file waiting for her. As soon as the file opened, she counted the number of masks to see how much work she'd signed herself up for.

Thirty-seven. Thirty-seven aliases used in the past month.

"You promised you'd help," she reminded herself while scrolling through the list. If she hadn't said she'd look into it, she'd probably punt this task to one of the younger, less-experienced detectives. The newbies were always searching for a case to cut their teeth on, and an unsolved mystery could always link to a bigger conspiracy at hand.

Every junior detective wanted to take a normal case and blow the lid off a massive government conspiracy or some other cover-up. She would know - she was the same way when she started out. Over time, however, she learned that being a detective wasn't about the prestige.

"Definitely not about prestige…" she muttered, making a face when she remembered her horrible house call from earlier that day.

Now that the holomask had given up its secrets, however, she took the most-recently-used alias and plugged it into the police database. From there, she selected a somewhat-comprehensive search program that used data feeds from public cameras and squad cars around the city.

Like just about everything else they used around here, the search functionality was Ruby's creation. Rather than use multiple different sources to acquire this 'free' data, she created these little things she called 'scrubbers' that searched every possible source at the press of a button. Yang didn't quite understand how it worked - all she knew was that when she pressed 'scan,' it scanned.

While it wasn't the most thorough or comprehensive program they had at their disposal, it was the easiest to run without jumping through some legal hoops. Seeing as how this was mostly a favor to a grieving mother, she wasn't exactly in the position to request access to those more inclusive systems anyway.

"Alright Greyson," she muttered while waiting for the results on the first mask to come back. "Let's see what you were up to…"

As soon as the results appeared on the screen, she knew she was in for a long day. Apparently, Greyson Sawyer wore a holomask everywhere. At least, that's what it looked like from the list of videos in front of her. Most were short clips - a few seconds that could be nothing more than a squad car passing by on the street. Others were longer but, for all she knew, were nothing more than him going to the grocery store.

"Save results."

After the list of videos saved to a file on her desktop, she repeated the process with the second mask. Then the third. And the fourth. But, because she had other work to do and didn't want to waste too much of her time on this, she stopped after the fifth mask was complete.

That seemed like a fair amount of investigation to do - a few hours parsing through videos stretching back over a year. If anything in these files gave her reason to believe some type of foul play was responsible for Greyson's death, she'd go through every single mask. But for now, her work was cut out for her.

"You want her to sleep better at night," she reminded herself while grabbing a viewing tablet and sliding five files of videos onto it. Keeping that goal in mind, she leaned back in her chair and opened the most recent video.

As suspected, it was nothing more than a glimpse of the mask-wearing Greyson stepping off a train. Beyond that, there wasn't much of use in the three-second clip outside of time and location of the train station. If a full investigation was being built, they'd use every clip to generate a timeline and map. For now, she'd just see what other data came up.

The next video was yet another glimpse - this time a camera on the library caught a split-second view of Greyson through the window of a passing train. Slowing the video down to a fraction of real-time, Yang zoomed in on the train and tried to find any other clues. Was he traveling with someone? Carrying anything with him?

No and yes, but it was only a black shoulder bag. Nothing suspicious there - everyone had one of those these days. Yang even had one, although she didn't use it. Supposedly, they were hack proof, but she bet she could bribe Ruby with a package of cookies to figure out a way to break them.

Moving through the videos in a steady rhythm, she learned more and more about Greyson - where he shopped, what train he took to work, what day he did his laundry - but she saw nothing that suggested something more sinister. Admittedly, publicly available feeds weren't the best way to search for someone, especially not with the amount of feed-spoofing going on these days, but it was the best Yang could do without having some evidence on her side.

Unfortunately, the first mask only proved that Greyson Sawyer was an average, run-of-the-mill guy with a busy but normal life.

Once Yang reached the bottom of the list, she sighed and opened the second file filled with videos that were probably repeats of the first. Still, she made herself comfortable in her chair and resumed her careful examination of every second he appeared on the screen. The further she got through the list - finding more boring, mundane trips to the store or on the train - the more she wrote this off as a lost cause.

Maybe Greyson was a genius. Maybe he was exceptionally talented and an up-and-coming dream theorist. But, from what Yang saw, none of that made him a target. None of that made him a suspect either.

And his supposed 'brilliance' didn't show through these clips. It could be because they were short, but he often seemed lost or confused. More than a few times, it looked like he'd gone the wrong way or couldn't decide what train to take. Of course, maybe his lack of directional awareness was due to his intellect - one of those 'super smart in some ways, super lacking in others' type of people. By the time she finished the second file of videos, however, she was convinced that he should've carried a waypoint with him everywhere.

By the time she reached the videos from the fifth mask, relief and disappointment stirred in her chest. Telling someone that their son died young 'just because' wasn't very fulfilling. She liked finding answers - it was her job to find answers - but she'd learned long ago that life was random. Life was unfair. And sometimes bad things happened 'just because.'

Nearing the end of her foray into Greyson's life, she paused when the universe decided to remind her of her own 'just because' moment.

The last video on this mask was from the old transit center.

Curious, she checked the date on the file and immediately dropped her feet from her desk and sat up in her chair. Setting the screen in front of her, she blinked and checked the date again, wondering if her eyes were deceiving her. But it was the right date - the same date burned into her mind and engraved on the fake headstone she thought was real at the time.

Greyson was at the transit center on the day of the bombing.

That wasn't impossible - tens of thousands of people had been in or around the area at the time - but he was leaving the building right before the blast occurred.

Survivor's guilt immediately became a plausible cause of death, and mental trauma could explain his forgetfulness in the months following. But Yang needed to know why he was there, and what happened while he was there. Did he see something? Hear something?

Did Greyson know something?

Pulling over a pen and pad of paper, she wrote down the exact time of the video, which was about five minutes before the explosion. Next, she replayed the video - first at full speed, then several times at slower and slower paces.

The camera on the outside of the transit center barely caught him leaving. The system recognized the mask for just two seconds before it faded into a crowd of other pedestrians leaving via foot, taxi, or private transportation.

From what Yang could see in the video, it looked like Greyson left by foot - and he was walking fast. Not suspiciously fast. Not 'get the hell away from me' fast. Just...fast. Fast enough that he passed people with ease, but slow enough that no one glanced his way.

Spinning back to her computer, she pulled open a series of video files from that day - the same files she'd gone through thousands of times by now. Always without purpose, always without a clue of what she was looking for. This time, however, she grabbed the mask data and set up a private search like Ruby had taught her. The computer searched locally this time, taking the image she fed it and scouring the files she provided.

And came up with nothing.

Frowning at the results, she sat back and drummed her fingers on her desk.

Granted, the result wasn't surprising because the video files collected from that day were incomplete. The placement of the cameras in the transit center also created huge blind spots no one noticed until they needed those views. And, most importantly, several of the cameras had been corrupted for years without anyone realizing.

So...what? Greyson somehow slipped past detection or through the corrupted zones before leaving the building behind? That answer didn't cut it for her - she needed to know why he was there.

Turning back to the tablet, she searched for the next video only to discover that there were no more - that was the first time this particular mask was used. Hot on the trail, she shoved aside the videos from the transit station and pulled up the list of masks Ruby had sent her. Grabbing the next mask - mask number six - she ran it through the same search function and impatiently waited for the results. As soon as another list of video clips popped up on the screen, she played the first one.

The timestamp put it fifteen minutes earlier, taken from a train station just outside the city center. In it, Greyson boarded a westbound train that would take him to the main transit terminal, but that was about it.

Using both screens now, she looked between the two and searched for a spark. The rational part of her knew she was grasping at straws, trying to make something from nothing, but the irrational part of her - mostly, her heart - told her to follow this trail until she could recreate Greyson's path step-by-step. To do that, she needed a good reason to dive into private data files.

Holding the tablet up to the screen so she could look at the videos side-by-side, she confirmed that he was wearing the same outfit. Same nondescript shirt, pants, shoes, backpack…

As soon as she spotted the inconsistency, her heart started racing.

Greyson wore a backpack while heading to the transit center. He didn't have it when he left.

And it wasn't the same shoulder bag he normally carried. It was a full-sized, black backpack strapped around both shoulders. From the video, she couldn't tell if it was heavy or not, but it didn't look empty.

Backpack in, no backpack out, explosion minutes later. Could this be the person they'd been searching for?

"Sorry, Mrs. Sawyer," Yang muttered, quickly saving the files to her arm and standing up. "Greyson might not be the angel you thought he was."

After tapping off her computer, she made a beeline for Detective Saffold's office. After all those times asking for a progress update, she was the one with an update - and a potentially huge break in this case. A huge break that somehow, by sheer luck, dropped into her lap.

She didn't want to get her hopes up, but this was the first somewhat-legitimate lead she'd uncovered. If they could prove that Greyson did it, they were one step closer to bringing Blake home.

Maybe Weiss was right. Maybe they could do this. It would take more time without Blake's help, but they could do it. Once they arrested the people behind this, the danger would be gone, and Blake would feel safe coming home.

"Detective," Yang said, knocking once on the open doorway before walking in. Detective Saffold turned away from the report she'd been reading and nearly sighed when she saw Yang. Nearly, but not quite - apparently, Yang hadn't worn out her welcome just yet.

"It's only been two days -"

"I'm not here for an update," Yang interrupted. The buzz of excitement grew as she hurried over and sat in the chair opposite the detective. "I have something for you - something I think you can use."

That response caught Detective Saffold's full attention, and she raised her brow.

"Oh?"

"It's dumb luck I even got this." Reaching over, Yang set her palm on top of the chip reader to drop the two conflicting videos onto the computer. "But I think it could be something. Something big."

Curious now, Detective Saffold opened the files and played them in order.

"What am I watching?" she asked, sending a glance at Yang after the first playthrough.

"A woman came in yesterday." Sitting on the edge of her seat, Yang could hardly contain her energy while explaining. "Mrs. Sawyer - her son died recently under mysterious circumstances."

"Uh huh…"

"I agreed to look into it, and she gave me a holomask she found in his apartment. Pulled the masks, ran a quick screen, and found this -" Yang gestured towards the screen. "The kid heads to the transit center using one mask, wearing a backpack." Leaning forward, she pointed out who she was referring to. "A few minutes before the blast, he's ditched the backpack and switched masks."

With her brief explanation over, Yang leaned back and watched Detective Saffold study the screens.

"He was an intern at Dreamscape," Yang added, her mind racing with the implications of Greyson's involvement. "This has to be connected to them somehow…"

"Has to be?"

"I guess it doesn't have to, but what else could it be?"

"An overworked, stressed intern finally breaking?"

Even though the theory made sense, Yang scrunched up her nose.

"Maybe. But if this was planned by Dreamscape, then they were after Blake. That explains...everything."

Knowing the entire situation, Yang felt that was the best theory they had. Blake knew something - something she shouldn't know - and someone decided to get rid of her. They could've done a targeted attack, but that would've brought the police to this point that much sooner. Because the attack was so catastrophic, Yang couldn't say that they were after Blake. Now she could.

"Yang."

Pulled from her thoughts, Yang returned her attention to the detective sitting across from her.

"You know you can't work this case," Detective Saffold said, her expression firm while Yang sighed.

"I know -"

"No, I don't think you do. You can't work this - not with your...attachment. Anything you find won't hold up. Do you really want to jeopardize locking these people away?"

Grinding her teeth together at the mere thought, Yang shook her head. "Of course not."

"Good." Leaning back in her chair, Detective Saffold gave a strained smile. "Then we're going to forget this conversation happened, and we're going to remember how I spoke to Mrs. Sawyer when she came in, and she handed the mask to me personally."

The day after the explosion, Yang had demanded to be put on the team in charge of finding whoever was responsible. Unfortunately, her 'request' had been met with a firm 'no' from the chief of police. Emotionally compromised, biased, vengeful - all phrases used to justify her status as a bystander. As time passed, she understood that the optics of that scenario would look bad, at best, and had come to accept this new position.

"Got it," she agreed with a single nod and smile, accepting that stepping out of the way gave them the best chance of success.

"Good." Looking relieved by Yang's easy agreement, Detective Saffold motioned to the screen. "No one else knows about this, right?"

"Nope." Yang shook her head. "Didn't want to bother Ruby with the extra work."

"And you don't have another copy of this anywhere?"

"Not on my computer," Yang replied with a wink. "At least, not in a few minutes. And the mask will be in your box this afternoon."

Standing up to complete her new tasks, she smiled again.

"Just...catch these guys, will you?"

"We all want to find them," Detective Saffold replied while turning her attention back to the screen. "For you," she added as Yang backed towards the door.

Appreciating the sentiment, Yang smiled one last time before walking out the door. Feeling Detective Saffold watching her walk away, she did her best to hold her head high and keep her emotions from showing through.

Right now, she was as excited as she was worried. What if this was more false hope? What if it was just a coincidence? She'd seen more improbable coincidences than this before.

"One thing at a time, Yang," she muttered to herself while walking into her office.

As soon as her computer started up, she deleted the holomask files and associated videos. Next, she stuffed the mask into an envelope, wrote Detective Saffold's name on the front, and added a tamper-proof seal. Once that was done, she leaned back and sighed.

It had been a long time since she felt this jittery energy - the energy that came with cracking a case, with breaking open a mystery that had eluded her for so long. Unfortunately, she wasn't allowed to follow her lead any further. At least, she wasn't officially allowed to, but if she did a little digging into this kid's background at home...

The thought hardly crossed her mind before she grabbed her things and headed out the door.

"Leaving early?" someone asked as she rushed past them in the hall.

"Got something to do!" After sending a wave, she hurried to the mailboxes, dropped off the mask for Saffold, then rushed outside.

For the first time in forever, she was excited to get home. Her knee bounced with energy while sitting on the train, and she slipped through the doors as soon as they opened at her stop. Today, she hurried across the street because she had something urgent to do, not because she didn't want to see her neighbors' pity for her.

After letting herself into her apartment, she went straight to the kitchen and turned on the video screen. Next, she pulled out her tablet and dropped it on the table before reheating some leftovers for an early dinner. Her excitement far outpaced her hunger at the moment, but she knew better than to skip meals when she felt like this. If she didn't maintain a veneer of normalcy, the hunt for clues could easily consume her life.

With dinner in hand, she sat at the table, muted the video screen, and typed 'Greyson Sawyer' into a basic search field. Finding his social media accounts was easy and, as luck had it, he hadn't locked any of his profiles. That was, according to Ruby, one of the easiest ways to find your face on the news - another stolen identity that would be nearly impossible to get back.

In this case, however, it worked in Yang's favor. And, from the level of Dreamscape references she found, Greyson's use of public accounts had everything to do with his internship and the horror that was 'networking.' A relatively simple perusing yielded the date he started at Dreamscape. Non-disclosures prevented him from posting information about exactly what he did, but he seemed to enjoy the work. At least, that was the front he put up with the other interns in his cohort.

The data online could be used to build a more detailed timeline of events as well as a web of acquaintances. Because, somewhere between his start date and the date of the explosion, something happened that convinced Greyson to commit a horrible crime.

Possibly. Maybe Yang was just jumping the gun here. Maybe he hadn't even done it. Maybe he didn't know what was in the backpack. Maybe his only instructions were to drop it in the transit center and get the hell out of there. In that case, his crimes were being oblivious and naive.

Stumbling upon a picture from several months ago, she marveled at the size of the most recent class of interns. At least a hundred young men and women from across the globe, each of them with above-average intellect and skills when dreaming or diving into their subconscious.

Using an intern to break the law was perfect. With the sheer quantity of temporary workers moving through Dreamscape Industries' personnel files, the police department likely wouldn't consider them prime suspects. And, from the outside looking in, the interns appeared to be one big, happy family. Only those that worked at the company - and people like Yang, who were close to people working there - heard the stories of fierce competition that went on behind the scenes.

Young, impressionable minds fighting for coveted full-time positions, of which there were very few - it was a recipe for disaster. Or at least, it was a recipe for people to backstab one another and do whatever it took to get ahead. But did 'whatever it took' include murder?

Once Yang reached the period of time marking the end of the internship, she scoured through several different accounts piecing together which interns were offered full-time jobs. Through a lot of clicking back and forth and stumbling upon congratulatory posts (and more than a few posts filled with complaints), she determined that only three interns made the final cut, and Greyson wasn't one of them.

That didn't mean they didn't offer him a position. Maybe they did, and he declined. Maybe his conscience caught up to him, and he decided he'd rather not work at a place that didn't care about people's lives.

With an entire afternoon and evening of methodical research, she created a basic timeline and network of acquaintances. It was nothing compared to what she could accomplish if she was officially on the case, but she was pleased with the progress regardless. If Saffold didn't move forward fast enough, maybe Yang could find a way to pose a few questions to some of Greyson's 'friends.'

When she glanced at the clock, however, she decided to leave that problem for tomorrow. She didn't want to be late again, which meant she needed to get ready for bed now.

Leaving the table and her research behind, she set her used dinner plate in the sink and hurried to the bedroom. Methodically moving through her nightly routine, she forgot about Greyson and remembered the sequence from last night.

In her quest to rile Blake up, she'd said some things she regretted. And tonight...for the first time, she wondered if Blake would show up at all. What if Blake was angry and decided they needed some time apart? The response wouldn't be uncalled for, but the thought of not seeing Blake sent a stab of pain through Yang's chest.

The feeling wasn't as sharp as it used to be, however. If Blake decided to give Yang the cold shoulder, then that was her decision. Just like staying away was.

Maybe Yang was finally accepting that she could control herself and her actions, but she couldn't control Blake. Not that she wanted to control Blake. That wouldn't be a relationship, and that's what she really wanted - their relationship back. To do that, she needed to press forward, and she needed to apologize.

Sitting on the edge of her bed, she removed her arm with a sigh of exhaustion and relief. After setting the device on the bedside table, she grabbed the Dream Disk and laid down.

It used to be so easy - they went to sleep together, woke up together, and spent the rest of their day squeezing in as much time together as possible. Now they had so little time together, she hoped the words she said hadn't wasted some of those precious few moments...

Chapter Text

Before closing her eyes, Yang imagined her office and did her best to recreate the space she practically lived in when away from home. The desk, the computer, the old-school bookshelves and cabinets along the wall, the chairs for visitors. When the Dreamscape kicked in, she found herself in that room.

At least, it sort of looked like her office, but something felt off. Details were missing again, but she couldn't figure out which details while maintaining focus on the greater aspects of the room.

Sitting at her desk, in a chair that felt less comfortable than it usually did, she noticed smaller details appear the longer she looked at the space in front of her. Her computer, several knickknacks, her drawers - it all looked pretty close to the real deal. Unfortunately, the more she focused on what was directly in front of her, the more the world beyond her desk faded away.

It was a balancing act, of sorts. Part of her mind maintained the greater world while another part created the details. In the midst of that, a third part of her brain needed to keep herself operational. But that was all high-level theorist stuff. For a common Dreamscaper like herself, focusing on one thing at a time was her objective.

For now, she wanted to get her desk right. Start small, then expand outward - that's what Blake told her a long, long time ago. She never took the Dreamscape seriously though. When Blake was the master of creating environments, why would Yang exhaust a ton of effort to learn when she would still be only a fraction as good as Blake? Plus, she liked when Blake took charge of their dreams. It made her feel pampered, in a way.

In her own dream, she got the details on her computer screen to solidify at the expense of the hallway becoming nothing more than a blank, grey set of walls. Still, the computer looked realistic, which made her happy.

Maybe she should cave and buy a prefab like everyone else did. Digital scans of any room or area she wanted, stitched together and loaded into her Dreamscape. Then, before she went to bed, she could select a location and not worry about the details. But what fun was that?

Deciding to really test her abilities, she stared at the top drawer of her desk for a few seconds before pulling it open. The contents were a jumbled mess because she couldn't remember exactly what was inside, but there was one object in particular that caught her eye.

The small, black box was exactly as she remembered it. It even felt exactly as she remembered it - velvety and smooth to the touch. It opened with a satisfying snap of the hinges, revealing a sparkling diamond ring inside.

As her mind focused on the ring, she removed it and set the box aside. While relatively simple, she thought it was beautiful and fitting for the person it was designed for. Not too flashy, but radiating charm and elegance.

She'd spent so much time selecting every little detail, she could see it clearly. From the cut of the diamond, to the color, to the small inscription inside the band - it looked exactly like the engagement ring she'd bought almost a year ago.

At the time, Ruby wanted to know how Yang would ask the question. She said she wasn't planning anything special - she'd just wait for the 'perfect' time, be that after dinner, while watching a movie, or when sitting on the sofa together.

In hindsight, she'd waited too long for the 'perfect' moment to appear. Now, the box sat in her drawer - an unused reminder of what they once had.

"Detective."

Her gaze shot up at the voice, and she quickly dropped her focus on the ring in favor of smiling when Blake walked into the office. The hallway outside was now fully formed, complete with several officers passing back and forth on their own agendas.

"I have a crime to report."

Yang almost laughed at how seriously Blake made the statement. Instead, she played along - motioning for Blake to continue while reaching over to grab a pen and paper.

"What type of crime?" she asked, prepared to write it down.

"I was robbed."

"Robbed?"

"Yes. Someone stole my heart."

This time, Yang did laugh while writing the words on the page. "That sounds serious."

"It is," Blake replied. Somehow, she kept up the facade without cracking a smile, but Yang could see amusement sparkling in her eyes. "I need my heart to live, you know."

"Ah, yes." Jokingly, Yang wrote 'heart = important' on the paper before looking back to Blake. "Can you tell me who stole your heart? Name? Or a description?"

"l don't know her name, but she was tall, blonde, with stunning lilac eyes and an amazing physique."

"You're telling me she's hot," Yang teased, her heart fluttering from the compliments. "Do you really have a problem with a hot girl stealing your heart?"

Pursing her lips, Blake thought about the question for a second because deciding on her response.

"I need your help with something else," she said.

"What's that?"

"I need your help finding someone."

When Yang burst out laughing, Blake finally smiled.

"Let me guess...she's tall and blonde, with purple eyes?"

"Exactly."

Once Yang's laughter trailed off, she looked at Blake and smiled. In just a few sentences, the tension and uncertainty from the night before had faded away. They weren't going to talk about it, content to live in this mirage where things were the same as always. But Blake wasn't upset about what had been said. And if Blake was willing to let it go, Yang was too. It was easier this way. They could both pretend that everything was...fine.

"How was your day?" Blake asked, picking up a top and spinning it on Yang's desk.

When Yang thought about the question, her nose wrinkled with an unpleasant memory.

"Uh, well, something super gross happened."

Blake's brow raised, but Yang quickly shook her head.

"I can't even tell you. I don't want to scar you too."

Blake laughed at the response - the light, happy sound making Yang smile.

"I'm suddenly grateful you aren't as good with the Dreamscape," Blake teased.

"Like I'd ever want to recreate that." Faking a shudder, Yang smiled when Blake laughed again.

If there was anything in this world that made Yang feel normal and sane, it was the sound of Blake's laughter. Something about it lifted her heart and lightened the weight pressing down on her shoulders. At the same time, however, it opened an aching hole that hurt if she thought too much about how they used to laugh and tease each other at home. How she used to wrap her arms around Blake's waist and tickle her sides while she giggled and tried to squirm away.

Before Yang got too wrapped up in what used to be, Blake sat forward and rested her elbows on top of the desk.

"I had an idea for tonight, if you're willing to go someplace new with me?"

Blake looked at Yang like she might actually say 'no,' but when was the last time she told Blake 'no?'

"Of course."

With permission granted, Blake rapidly changed the environment. Yang's office and its furniture disappeared. The walls disintegrated and the ceiling evaporated, leaving the air open and the sky above. The sun shone brightly and, laying before them, was a sparkling, blue bay. Sunlight reflected off the water, which rippled as if blown by a soft wind. Encircling the peaceful cove was a ring of white, sandy beach and - just beyond that - tall palm trees hemming in the environment with a green hue.

It was a tropical paradise. And the best part? They were the only ones around.

"Wow." Walking onto the sand, Yang looked around and smiled. The sun, the water, the gently-rustling palm fronds - the scenery was so tranquil, she wanted to sit down and lounge for hours.

"I don't think you're dressed appropriately."

When Yang turned to the side, her eyes widened and her heart did a rapid stutter-step in her chest. Because while she was busy checking out the scenery, Blake had changed her outfit. Changing mid-sequence was something only the best could do, which was why Yang always went with the default outfit she'd built for herself. Blake, however...now wore a swimsuit, and Yang probably wouldn't stop staring anytime soon.

"Wow," she repeated, noticing a smirk creep onto Blake's lips. "Are you - uh...trying to seduce me?"

"Depends. Is it working?"

With her dark purple, bordering on black, bikini revealing a heavenly amount of soft, smooth skin, Blake had to know the answer to that. She looked like a freaking supermodel. If there was an award for 'world's hottest dream theorist,' she'd win every single year - and it wouldn't even be close.

Yang, meanwhile, couldn't decide which emotion was more prevalent in her mind right now. Surprise? Delight? Lust?

"Uh, yeah, it is," she said, licking her lips and nodding once.

"Then yes," Blake replied with a pleased smile. "I'm trying to seduce you."

The answer didn't bother Yang in the slightest. How could she be upset about her super-sexy girlfriend bearing some skin for her personal pleasure? Of course, the situation would be better if they weren't in a dream, but...beggars couldn't be choosers. And she was definitely a beggar at the moment.

"What about you? Black or yellow?"

"Um...yellow?" Yang wasn't exactly sure what the answer was for, but it made Blake smile.

"Excellent choice."

When Blake's gaze drifted lower, Yang looked down and found herself wearing a bikini of her own - this one yellow and, for some reason, even more revealing than Blake's.

"I should've known you can change my outfits," Yang remarked. "Does this mean you could remove my clothes?"

"I think you know the answer to that." When Blake gave Yang another slow once-over that made her skin tingle, she raised her arms and looked down at her new outfit.

"Guess I should be grateful you gave me something to wear at all," she mumbled to herself. Noticing that the bows holding together her bikini bottom were suspiciously loose, she re-tied those so as to avoid any unfortunate 'accidents.'

"Are you coming?"

Looking up, Yang found that Blake had taken several steps towards the water but had stopped to smile back at her. And the image was, in a word, beautiful. Blake, the bay, the sand, and that smile - so picture perfect, Yang's heart thumped with longing and love.

"Of course." Spurring her feet to motion, Yang moved through the sand to Blake's side. Once they were together again, they walked side-by-side towards the sparkling expanse of water in front of them.

"So...what's the special occasion?" she asked after a few quiet seconds passed. She knew it was the wrong question when Blake's pace faltered, and then she turned towards Yang with a nearly-hurt expression.

"Today's the seventeenth…" As soon as Blake said the date, Yang cringed.

"Oh crap. I'm sorry -"

"No, it's ok," Blake cut in with a flimsy smile. "It's not super important or anything. I mean, it's not like it's our five-year or anything…"

The response tried to absolve Yang for her forgetfulness, but she didn't feel at all exonerated - not when guilt and confusion swirled in her chest.

"I'm sorry," she repeated. "It's just been...really busy and chaotic recently."

"I understand." Turning towards Yang, Blake found a smile that was a little closer to normal. "Don't worry about it, really."

Sensing that Blake was determined to play this off as yet another non-event, Yang gave up arguing and sighed instead. Regardless of Blake's response, she felt terrible. Once upon a time, keeping track of their anniversary dates was second nature to her - she prided herself on never missing the day. But tonight, she walked right into the dream without remembering it was their half-year anniversary. Four and a half years...and she forgot.

Why was she so bad at this now? It felt like their separation was eating away at her ability to be a good girlfriend - something she never thought she'd have issues with.

"Let's try out the water," Blake suggested, turning away from Yang and walking calmly into the crystal-clear water. Sighing once more at her most recent failure, Yang followed Blake into the gentle waves washing onto shore.

"Is this a real place?" she asked as they waded out into the water.

"No. It's stitched together from pictures I've seen, with a healthy amount of imagination thrown in."

Standing in the water, Yang marveled at the cove one more time. Considering she had difficulty creating spaces she was intimately familiar with, she couldn't fathom constructing an environment based on photos and imagination alone.

"You never cease to amaze me…"

"I hope I never stop."

Movement caught Yang's eye at that moment, and she looked down to find a school of brightly colored fish swimming around her feet. In the crystal-clear water, they sparkled and flashed as they swam individually and as a group. Spreading apart, grouping back together - their motions looked almost too natural to be a dream.

Spinning around as the fish darted behind her, Yang found herself looking out to sea, where a large, gleaming-white yacht now sat anchored in the bay. Letting out an amused-scoff, she shook her head and looked at Blake.

"I doubt you ever will."

She fully believed her answer, because she was always surprised by the depth of Blake's intellect and ingenuity. Even outside of the Dreamscape, Blake was the type of person who had a solution to any problem. If she didn't immediately have an answer, it wouldn't take her long to think of one.

"Let's check it out?" Blake prodded, gesturing towards the boat gently rocking some distance away from them.

"How do we get out there? Swim?"

"We can do that. Unless you have another suggestion?"

From the way Blake's eyes sparkled, Yang knew she was supposed to offer a challenge.

"You mean like, we could ride sea turtles or something?"

Feeling a gentle bump against her side, Yang looked down and laughed when she found an honest-to-goodness sea turtle drifting in the water beside her.

"You're kidding me." When the turtle raised its head and bumped her again, she reached out and touched its shell. "You're so cute," she cooed, watching its leathery limbs wave up and down in the water.

"Ok, now you're just making me jealous."

Pulling her hand away when the turtle playfully snapped at her fingers, Yang watched the creature dive underneath the surface and swim away.

"I guess we're swimming then," she joked, walking further into the bay and stopping when the water came up to her stomach. "Think I can breathe underwater?"

"Why don't you try and find out?"

A gentle wave rolled past, lifting Yang up as it swept towards the beach.

"Because I'm a little scared of choking," she admitted.

Smiling at the response, Blake dipped her hand into the water and splashed some Yang's way.

"If you think you can, you can - if you think you can't, you can't. It's all up here." Lifting her hand, Blake pointed to her temple.

"Mind over matter," Yang said, to which Blake nodded. "It's not like I could drown anyway, right? Can't die in a dream."

"That's true. You'll just wake up." For a second, it looked like that was the end of Blake's response, but then she continued with a more serious expression. "But there are ways...very difficult, obscure ways...to lose yourself, if that makes sense."

"Lose myself in a dream?" Yang repeated, feeling another temporary lift under her feet as a wave rolled past. "Like my mind never wakes up?"

"More like...you lose track of reality." With a wave of her hand, Blake swept the topic away. "But it's nearly impossible to do these days, not with the advances that have been made. The only instances of it happening were back when Dreamscape was in the initial test phases."

"Why haven't I heard about this before?"

Leveling Yang with a serious gaze, Blake gave a rueful smile.

"Would you feel safe using a Dreamscape if you knew about the trials that went wrong?"

"Guess not…"

"It's the same with any technology - or medicine, or means of transportation - we all feel better not knowing. Just tell us it's safe, and we'll use it."

Thinking about the explanation, Yang knew Blake had a good point. How much research had she done on the Dreamscape system before using it? The answer was none. She'd taken the device's popularity as assurance that it was safe and hadn't hesitated when putting the Dream Disk on her temple that first night.

"How about, instead of swimming, we do something a little faster?" Blake asked, moving on from the subject.

"What do you have in mind?"

"Close your eyes."

Doing as instructed, Yang closed her eyes and felt the waves disappear from around her.

"Open them."

The moment she opened her eyes, she smiled. The world had shifted, and now she stood on the deck of the yacht looking towards the beaches rather than standing in the water just off shore. The boat rocked gently but the sensation was nothing more than a reminder that they weren't on solid ground anymore.

"Maybe we should buy one of these," she joked, turning to the side and feeling another jolt of surprise when she saw Blake.

The purple bikini was still in place, but now Blake wore a sheer fabric cover-up tied loosely around her waist. She looked exactly like the type of woman Yang would expect to find on an expensive yacht like this - gorgeous, high-class, and tempting.

"Are you planning on coming into a lot of money?" Blake asked while leading them to a small table and cushioned bench near the railing overlooking the cove.

"You never know. Maybe one of these days I'll find a suitcase full of gold."

"And then you'd immediately return it," Blake replied, giving Yang a knowing smile.

"Probably…"

When Blake softly laughed at the answer, Yang smiled and looked towards the water, which now reflected a vibrant set of colors as the sunset cast across the surface. In the distance, a pair of dolphins leapt out of the water before falling back in with hardly a splash. A few seconds later, they surfaced again - graceful and elegant as they headed towards destinations unknown.

Leaning against the cushions, Yang sighed and absentmindedly picked up the glass Blake had put on the table in front of her.

"It's so peaceful," she whispered. When no response came, she looked across the table and found Blake lost in thought while staring towards the dolphins.

"What's up?" Yang asked, drawing Blake's gaze her way.

"It's nothing," Blake replied, moving to shake her head before stopping and sighing instead. "It's just...I'm...I'm really sorry..."

The remorse in Blake's expression pulled fiercely at Yang's heart, but Blake continued before she could respond.

"For everything, but mostly for…" Trailing off, Blake took several seconds to compose herself before meeting Yang's gaze. "I don't want to be away from you, Yang," she whispered. "I want to come home, but I just…"

"You can't," Yang finished for Blake, having heard the answer thousands of times now.

"I could," Blake corrected. "But that would put you at risk. And I don't want to do that - you're too important to me."

Again, Yang wanted to argue that it should be her call - that she should get to choose what risks she would and wouldn't accept. Instead of pointing that out for the hundredth time, however, she bit her tongue and nodded.

"I know you're doing what you think is best."

The answer was as unsatisfying as it always was, and Blake seemed to feel the same. For the briefest moment, it looked like she was going to reach out for Yang's hand - instead, she clasped her hands on the table in front of her.

"Do you remember when we started dating, and that strange guy looked like he was following me to work every day?"

Knowing exactly where this story was headed, Yang sat back and sighed.

"He was following you to work."

"Because he lived nearby and worked at the office next to mine," Blake pointed out. "But I didn't know that at the time, and neither did you. Do you remember what your solution was?"

Working her jaw back and forth, Yang didn't want to answer that question. She didn't need to say anything, however, because Blake carried on anyway.

"You insisted on accompanying me to and from work every day for two weeks straight. I told you it was unnecessary but...you didn't want me in harm's way. Even when we didn't know that the threat was real."

"I overreacted."

"I'm not saying it's a bad thing," Blake quickly replied, again stopping herself before reaching for Yang's hand. "I think that time together helped solidify our relationship, actually. What I'm trying to say is...we didn't even know if he was a threat, and those were the steps you took to mitigate it."

Reading between the lines, Yang narrowed her eyes and tapped her fingers on the table.

"You know there's a real threat."

"Yes. But giving you that information only puts you more at risk."

Again, Yang wanted to argue - like she always did. Instead, she thought about what Ruby said earlier that day about sacrifices. Sometimes, sacrifices had to be made. In Yang's case, she sacrificed knowing what was going on, where Blake was, what kind of danger she might be in, or what type of threat she was hiding from.

Unfortunately, the detective in Yang wanted answers to those questions. She wanted to bring Blake home - which reminded her of a breakthrough she'd made today.

"Remember the woman I met yesterday?"

"The one whose son passed away?"

"That's the one." Remembering the videos she'd discovered, Yang felt her energy return. "I looked into the holomask she found in his apartment, and...I think he's the one who bombed the transit center."

Blake's expression clouded, but Yang rushed forward with her explanation.

"He had a backpack going in and no backpack when he left. Maybe it's a coincidence, but - he was an intern at Dreamscape, Blake. They were after you. I always thought maybe they were, but why? Why were they after you?"

"Yang - you need to stop looking into that case."

"What? After all this time, we have a lead on the bastards -"

"You need to stop looking into it!" Blake replied, her voice rising as her eyes flashed with an emotion Yang couldn't read. "Who did you tell about this? Who knows you made that connection?"

"I told Saffold." Confused by Blake's less-than-enthused response, Yang frowned and shook her head. "She'll pick up the ball and run with it."

"You need to forget about it," Blake repeated, giving Yang a serious look. "And you need to stop looking into the bombing. Just let it go - you'll only get yourself into trouble."

For a second, Yang stared – stunned by how forceful Blake was being.

Yang thought she'd done something good for once - something that brought them a step closer to being back together - and this was the response she got?

"Why should I?" she asked, feeling defiance creep up. Defiance or frustration with being told what to do and never being told why.

"Because -" Taken off guard by the response, Blake shook her head and clenched her fingers into fists. "Just...do you trust me?"

"Of course I do -"

"Then you need to stop," Blake repeated. "You need to forget all of that and move on."

Those two words hit Yang like a hammer.

"Move...on?"

"You know what I mean -"

"Yeah, I know what you mean," Yang interrupted as her frustration grew. "People keep telling me to move on - that's about all they're telling me recently. 'Move on, Yang.' 'It's been months, Yang.' 'It's time to start a new life, Yang.'"

When Blake didn't have a response to that, Yang leaned forward and held Blake's gaze.

"Do you want me to move on?" she asked, speaking about more than just the investigation now. And Blake stared at her for a long time, long enough that she knew she'd get an honest answer.

"No." For a second, Blake looked on the verge of tears, but she quickly cleared her throat and shook her head. "Of course not."

"Then I can't let this go," Yang replied, willing Blake to see reason. "Either you come back, or I stop whoever's behind this so you can come back. I'm not giving up until you're home."

It looked like Blake wanted to protest but, after several tense seconds of silence, she hung her head, looking physically deflated by the answer.

"Then you need to be careful," she whispered, looking up and silently pleading Yang to heed her words. "Because if I lose you, then...all of this was for nothing."

The response was so heartfelt and genuine, Yang immediately felt guilty for leading them into yet another argument. She knew Blake loved her. She knew that they would make this work, somehow. And she still believed that they'd find their way back to each other, eventually. It was just...hard. But it was hard for both of them, not just her - she needed to remember that.

She understood Blake's fear, but she also had confidence in her ability to protect herself if needed. She'd be more careful though - maybe keeping her findings to herself until she was certain about who she could trust. That seemed like a fair compromise to make.

"Well, I'm not going anywhere." When Blake looked up, Yang forced a smile and shook her head. "I dunno if you've heard, but I have a reputation for staying way past my welcome."

The relief that passed through Blake's eyes matched what Yang felt in her heart, both of them ready to move on from the topic they both hated talking about.

"Is that so?" Blake replied, arching her brow while Yang nodded.

"Oh definitely. I'm the type you ask to dinner, and I'll want breakfast the next morning." When Blake laughed at the response, Yang kept that train of thought going. "When I'm invited to a party, I'll stay the entire weekend. And don't even try inviting me on a trip."

Yang beamed when Blake laughed - the two of them reclaiming, for just an instant, a fraction of what once made them so great. Once Blake's laughter died off, she leveled Yang with a somewhat-serious, somewhat-playful gaze.

"And if I ask you to move in with me?"

The question immediately brought up the memory of that day, and Yang's heart warmed as a rush of happy feelings soared through her. Holding Blake's gaze - which was as expressive as it had always been - Yang briefly let go of her struggles and frustration with this situation. Instead of focusing on the negative, she focused on reassuring the person she'd fallen in love with years ago that she was still very much in love.

"In that case...I'll never leave." She meant the words in every conceivable way and, fortunately, it looked like Blake understood the implied sentiment.

"Good thing I already did that then," Blake replied, her smile looking far more relaxed and assured. "Locked you up before someone else beat me to it."

"You make it sound like there was a line or something." Yang chuckled at the thought, but Blake nodded.

"I believe there was. I got messages from at least five different people expressing some version of 'surrendering their quest' for your heart."

The response made Yang laugh harder - mostly because she knew she didn't have five other suitors at the time she and Blake met, which left one other possibility...

"Are you sure those were real people? Or Ruby spoofing numbers to make me look like an incredible catch?"

Freezing at the response, Blake looked at Yang with wide eyes.

"She would do that?"

"She has done that!" Yang replied with another laugh. "Something about how 'winning' makes people value what they've won even more."

For several seconds, Blake said nothing while working through the logic behind Ruby's way of thinking. After eventually figuring it out - or giving up - she smiled and shrugged.

"I did feel special," she admitted, her gaze drifting towards the sunrise in the distance. "That out of all the people in the world, you wanted me."

"I do." When Blake's eyes returned to hers, Yang smiled and leaned back in her seat. "I mean, I especially want you right now." When she gestured towards Blake's outfit, she noticed a soft blush dusting Blake's cheeks.

It looked like Blake had something she wanted to say to that but, after opening her mouth, she gave a small shake of her head instead.

"I'm glad you like it," she replied, leveling Yang with a gaze that sent a shockwave of desire through her. "But you're looking even better tonight."

Feeling a blush of her own, Yang cleared her throat and briefly looked away. But that lasted only a second before she felt compelled to turn back and meet Blake's gaze. She sensed the direction the conversation was potentially headed, which made her acutely aware that other people would be watching this later. She could always say there was no need to analyze this particular night, but that was as good as a signed admission to what the sequence contained.

"Thanks," she replied, opting for a joking route. "My, uh, super-hot girlfriend picked it out for me."

"She has good taste."

"She does." When Blake looked quite smug about the answer, Yang blushed again and forced some playful bravado. "I mean, she should. She chose me, after all."

Fortunately, Blake's eyes lost some of their hungry gleam when she laughed.

"I'm pretty sure anyone with a pulse would trip over themselves for you, Yang."

"That explains why people trip around me all the time…"

Again, Blake laughed - her expression brightening with joy and levity that lifted Yang's heart right along with it. Unfortunately, the sky lightened then, drawing their gazes before Blake hung her head and sighed.

"I don't want to wake up either," Yang admitted, ducking her head so that Blake would meet her eyes. "But I love you."

Smiling at the words, Blake crafted a red rose and set it on the table in front of Yang.

"I love you too," she whispered.

With that, the dream faded away - with the rose the last object to disappear from view.

The moment Yang left the Dreamscape, she knew something was wrong. Her body stiffened, her adrenaline started pumping, and she opened her eyes to find an uncapped phaser pointed right at her chest.

If the phaser itself wasn't a clue that she was in trouble, the five masked figures staring down at her were. Each wore an identical mask - which she recognized, and recognized as even more trouble.

"Save dream sequence?"

She didn't dare move or speak while her eyes darted from one masked figure to the next, waiting for one of them to do something. The room was deathly silent, but her heart pounded in her ears while she searched for a way out of this situation.

The intruders didn't look well-trained with their weapons, but that hardly mattered when there were five of them and only one of her. And without her arm…

Her eyes flitted to the nightstand, but there was no possible way she could get her arm without being shot at least ten times.

"Save dream sequence?" the Dreamscape asked again.

"Yes."

The voice came from the intruder standing closest to the door, who walked forward and looked at the machine beside Yang's bed.

"Detective," they greeted her, placing a memory device on top of the Dreamscape to collect the file. Yang watched, helplessly, as they tucked the sequence into their pocket and leaned closer - close enough that she clearly saw the haze around the edges of the mask.

"We have some questions for you."

Chapter Text

"Save dream sequence?"

"Yes." After rubbing the sleep from her eyes, Blake raised her hand to stifle a yawn. Hearing the familiar beep of a successfully-saved file, she swung her legs out of bed and winced when her feet touched the cold floor.

No matter how high she turned up the heat, the floor stayed cold. The obvious solution was to put rugs around the hastily-rented apartment, but...buying rugs felt like something someone did when they moved into a new home. This wasn't her home - and she didn't want it to be. Her home, and her heart, was halfway across the globe, left behind in a haste that hadn't even given her the chance to say goodbye.

Ultimately, she'd rather suffer from cold feet than feel like this was where she would spend the rest of her life. This was temporary. Eventually, she'd leave all of this behind and return to her real home.

Looking around the sparse room, with its cracked paint, cloudy window, and nothing more than a couple of dime store novels as a means of decoration, she sighed and headed to the kitchen to start some water for tea.

Every morning - and this morning was no exception - she thought about the moment her picturesque life turned upside down, and the reasons why she woke up cold and alone instead of enveloped in warmth and love. If she hadn't been so eager to share what she'd discovered, and if she hadn't been so careless with who she trusted, none of this would have happened.

Now, she wished for ignorance - as dark of a wish as that was. If she hadn't followed her curiosity - if she just let it go - she would still be by Yang's side. She wouldn't feel the crushing loneliness of an empty apartment, an empty dining table, an empty bed, day after day after day. She wouldn't spend her days searching articles, scholastic journals, and any dreams she could find in pursuit of something - anything - to erase what she'd done.

From her spot standing in front of the stove, watching the blue-black flame flicker where it met the teapot, she sighed again. There wasn't much more to her existence than this - waiting for her morning tea, waiting for answers, waiting for Yang, waiting for the day she could go home.

Once the water came to a boil, she poured some into the only mug she owned before mindlessly steeping a bag of tea. When that was done, she carried the mug to the small, wooden dining table and sat down with yet another sigh.

Breakfast used to be one of her favorite times of the day, filled with laughter and sweet gestures as she and Yang got ready for work. Their conversation never seemed to end, flitting smoothly from one subject to another while never feeling overbearing or forced.

These days, however, there was no conversation or laughter to speak about. There was only her morning cup of tea and the tablet she used to pull up the latest dream sequence the two of them shared.

While the video loaded, a growing knot of worry twisted in her stomach, leaving her concerned and apprehensive about what she'd learned. The feeling had plagued her mornings more frequently as of late, but this morning was worse than ever before.

She wasn't naive - she knew Yang would search for the culprits. She knew Yang would use every skill at her disposal to find someone to blame for the disaster. What she hadn't expected was for Yang to get so close.

As soon as the video loaded, she skipped to the section of the sequence where Yang brought up the suspect. First, she watched the clip at full speed and searched for anything she might've missed while taking part in the dream.

Keeping her emotions out of the environment took a great deal of effort, especially when something caught her off guard. In this case, Yang's discovery shocked her so much that she nearly lost grasp of the edge of the dreamscape - losing focus on the palm trees hemming them in.

This morning, however, she was freed from having to maintain their surroundings and could dissect the dream in further detail. Most importantly, she searched for clues Yang didn't realize seeped into the environment while she spoke.

In dreams, as in life, Yang was open and free with her emotions. Her subconscious added indications of how she felt without her realization. Sometimes, it was as small as a slight glow emanating from her skin. Other times, the flecks of gold in her eyes sparkled extra brightly. It took someone who knew Yang well to find these small cues, but, fortunately, Blake knew Yang very well.

Watching the conversation unfold a second time, she picked up the eagerness and enthusiasm pouring from Yang in waves. Excitement and determination radiated from her skin and the sudden sheen in her hair. Whatever evidence she found, she was confident in it, which was easily readable in her eyes.

Yang mirrored with her eyes fairly often, subconsciously altering their color to match something about the person she was thinking about. In real life, her eyes possessed the same quality, changing colors as her emotions did, although in a far less noticeable way than in the Dreamscape.

From bright, cheery violet to a stormy, grey-tinged lilac, Yang's eyes were windows into her thoughts and emotions. Those who knew her well could pick up the changes, with one of Ruby's favorite lines being 'stop being so raspberry' - a reference to the reddish-tinge that appeared when Yang was angry or especially annoyed.

In the case of last night's dream, when Yang mentioned the missing backpack, her eyes flashed from light lilac to a nearly-black shade of purple that matched Blake's swimsuit.

The connection had to do with Blake - and Yang was certain of it.

The best Blake could hope for was that Yang was wrong. Unfortunately, history wasn't on her side in making that wish. Yang was an excellent detective with unrivaled intuition and a knack for being in the right place at the right time. Of all the possible people that holomask could've gone to, of course it ended up in Yang's hands. And of course she found the clue hidden on it.

The most worrisome part was that Yang told someone.

Blake's life was proof that few could be trusted - even fewer now that watchful eyes were on the lookout. If the wrong person caught wind of this and thought Yang knew more than she actually did...then she'd be in the type of danger Blake had tried so desperately to hold at bay.

"You can't do anything about it right now..." she reminded herself before taking a sip of tea and watching the rest of the sequence. The end of their conversation left her with a smile but horrible sense of longing in her chest. More than ever, she wanted to go home. She wanted to explain everything and beg for Yang's forgiveness. But she was too far into this now, so far that her only choice was to continue her research and hope she found a breakthrough like Yang had.

Easier said than done when homesickness crippled her desire to do anything at all. But her determination - whatever remained of it - compelled her to finish her tea before taking a quick shower and finding a change of clothes.

After completing her morning routine, she went back to the kitchen and grabbed a bite to eat. Only then did she sit down and begin her day, which would consist of more research and more stumbling through a web of possible solutions. To do that, she needed her tablet and the growing stack of notepads sitting on the edge of the table.

The notepads were a relic from days past - hardly used anymore except by those with a longing for 'the good old days.' The light blue lines, faded-yellow color, and thinness weren't especially nice to look at, but she found the smooth, tactile feedback nice to the touch. Ordinarily, she would use the e-notebooks provided at work, but without Ruby's technological know-how, she didn't trust her ability to encrypt her notes and keep them away from prying eyes. So, hard copy it was.

Today, her first order of business was identifying the intern - something she hadn't thought to do when Yang initially made his passing sound unfortunate but unimportant. Now that the connection had been made, Blake needed to know who it was.

Unfortunately, it only took one search to confirm the boy's identity.

Greyson Sawyer was the most eager, most dedicated amongst 'Class 152,' as the group referred to themselves. Becoming a theorist was his lifelong dream, and, on more than one occasion, he claimed that he would do 'anything' to make it come true. Ambition was his undoing - a weakness that made him susceptible to forces he wasn't prepared or warned to fight against.

Another name added to Blake's growing list of innocent victims.

Would this ever stop? Hadn't she already suffered enough? It was one thing that her own life was ruined - that she spent every hour of every day lonely and longing - but did others have to suffer, as well?

Keeping an eye on the time, she moved away from Greyson's memorial page and searched for details on senior management at Dreamscape instead.

She needed as much personal information as possible, which often left her waiting for new articles to be released to the public. Fortunately, Daydreamer's release coincided with an influx of interviews and product pitches that gave her access to more data than she'd found in a long time. It was as if the entire company had been forced to give an interview, which made sense given the new system's cutting-edge technology and widely-proclaimed goal of moving society 'to the future.'

Unfortunately, Daydreamer's impending release meant time was running out. If she was going to find a solution, she needed to use the information she'd gathered over the past few weeks and figure one out soon. Otherwise...she didn't know what would happen, but she knew it wouldn't be good. The moment Daydreamer went into almost every household in the world, everyone would be susceptible to far more than they'd bargained for.

Despite recent progress, she was losing hope. Not only was she fighting against time, but also the power and resources of the largest company in the world. And, deep down, she understood that the only reason such candid interviews were being made public was because it was too late - the wheels set in motion by her own recklessness couldn't be stopped.

That wouldn't prevent her from trying, but eventually she had to make a decision - if Daydreamer released and she wasn't close to a solution, should she give up and go home? Spend whatever time was left with Yang, not in a dream but physically together. Maybe the two of them could run away, live a simple life someplace free of technology.

Of course, the real world would catch up to them eventually, as it always did. But until then, they could be together. They could make up for lost time.

Finding a new interview posted on the Dreamscape website - this one from another theorist she was passingly familiar with - she watched the file out of curiosity rather than necessity. The older gentleman spoke on the science behind the new system, but he used such generic, public-friendly terms that it didn't provide any information to her. She already knew how Daydreamer allowed for a more frequent, 'on-demand' type of dreaming. She already knew how the expanded cranial integration increased the ability for customization. And - the feature no one stopped talking about - she already knew how it provided the ability for dreamer-on-dreamer touch.

This wasn't the information she needed. Still she watched, not knowing when a kernel of data might spark an idea.

Clicking away from the Dreamscape page, she searched the news outlets for any recent articles mentioning Daydreamer in any way. Product reviews were showing up - all extremely positive - while live demos were happening at Dreamscape's physical stores. Excited future buyers posted videos with their reactions, pundits uploaded their thoughts about how it would change society, analysts crunched numbers on how the company would profit from the system's success.

Most of the time, it felt like it was her against the world. It was, in a way. Everyone else was excited. Everyone else was eager. Everyone else couldn't wait to upgrade their Dreamscape to the Daydreamer. She was the only one wary, which made her feel like the outcast she was.

It was a terribly lonely feeling - one that made her consider, daily, going home and returning to normal society, danger be damned.

So many times, she nearly caved. So many times, she was minutes from packing her meager belongings and leaving this place behind. So many times, she actually packed and was minutes from stepping out the door - or already out the door, or in the back of a taxi on the way to the transit station.

So many times, she wanted to give up on what increasingly felt like a hopeless endeavor. She wanted to let Yang take care of her - protect her, like Yang always promised. She wanted to stop worrying and let Yang take fix everything, but she couldn't. If something happened to Yang...it would be her fault, and she couldn't live with that.

Plus, what would Yang think if she discovered the truth? What would she think if she figured out Blake's role in this? What would she say when she realized the situation Blake put them in - not just the two of them, but everyone?

Those questions kept her here, alone, while she did everything in her power to clean up her mess and keep Yang safe in the process.

When a loud banging noise suddenly sounded from the hall, Blake jolted in surprise and knocked her knee into the bottom of the table.

"Dude, wake up!" someone shouted before more forceful knocks hit the door across the hall. "It's already noon!"

Realizing the sound was only her noisy neighbors and not masked intruders coming to drag her away, Blake took a deep breath and tried to calm her rapidly beating heart.

The boys living across the hall were loud, but they left her alone. In her search for privacy, that was about all she could ask for. Once, they'd asked her why she always wore a holomask. When she stated it was personal preference - a subtle way of reminding them it was none of their business - they assumed she was a spy and swore to protect her location with their lives.

Not that anyone would think to look for her here, in a relatively-rundown apartment building on the far side of the globe. The hallways were dirty and perpetually smelled like old smoke. The rooms were small, and the bathrooms were outfitted with fixtures from another century, but the landlord rented without verification. As long as the monthly payment was slipped under his door or pinged to his account by the fifth of the month, he didn't care what went on or who lived in the building. Which meant that the collection of tenants included poor college students, ex-cons, current cons, those that were down on their luck, and...those who were 'officially' dead.

If her situation didn't change soon, she'd have to come up with an alternative means of paying for the roof over her head. She was fortunate that she had a brief period where she still had access to her savings, which she used to pull out nearly every penny and hide it in various places. As time dragged on, however, her savings dwindled. She really didn't want to be in the position where she had to ask Yang for money, but...that was a bridge to cross if absolutely necessary.

It wasn't exactly a life she was proud of, but she didn't have many other options. From a respected dream theorist to a suspected spy hiding in one of the places society forgot...it was quite the fall.

When a soft alarm sounded, she glanced at the time and silenced the reminder. Setting down the tablet, she left the kitchen and headed back into her bedroom.

The Dreamscape she'd purchased from a secondhand store had seen better days, but it still functioned perfectly - that was something she could be proud of, as she'd insisted upon several design changes to protect the internal mechanisms from harsh treatment.

After looking at the clock by her bed, she laid down and settled into the covers. Before trying to fall asleep, however, she focused on her breathing and tried to put her mind at ease.

The Daydreamer lessened the dangers of induced sleep, but she didn't have access to one at the moment. Instead, she relied on her experience as a theorist to mitigate the peril of forcing herself into a dream when her mind wasn't ready. For those less qualified than her, however, there was a real risk of falling into a type of waking dream-state that was impossible to get out of.

After taking several deep breaths, she closed her eyes and allowed her mind to drift - not daydream, but drift away from herself and into a state somewhere between consciousness and sleep. Finding the Dreamscape on the nightstand behind her, she connected and moved through the device - a feeling she could only describe as spreading her mind as thin as possible before slipping into a dream.

On a normal night, Yang created the sequence, and Blake was invited into it. Not officially invited...more like, always welcome. But there was another side of Dreamscape that not many understood or even knew about.

Dreaming without a purpose - a search-like state that surrounded her like a sea of blackness that invaded every corner of her mind. The darkzone, as theorists called it. It was an infinite void that, to those who didn't understand what was happening, felt claustrophobic and terrifying. Most people would run from the sensation, which either woke them up or dropped them into a nightmare.

To Blake, the darkness was calming. A blank slate - her mind at rest. There were no dreams here. She didn't need to focus. She didn't need to be creative or convincing. She didn't need to be anything. It was...black, and that's all it was.

It was in this space that she searched outside of herself, releasing her hold on her subconscious while scanning for another's.

Seeking out other dreamers was a learned trait, and a difficult one at that. Very few theorists figured out how to let go of themselves, probably because the entire course of their training focused on maintaining a clear sense of who they were.

Once Blake let go, however, she embraced the dark void and found an entire universe of dreamers sparkling around her - the sleeping minds surrounding her like thousands of stars in the sky. Individual dreams shone brightly when she looked directly at them, but faded in luster when her mind drifted away.

She wasn't looking for any random dreamer today. Through the research she'd done over the past few weeks, she felt confident in approaching someone new in search of information - this time, a Dreamscape employee named Martin Kaid.

His official title was Senior Vice President of Marketing, which meant little more than he'd worked in the marketing department and accumulated a fair amount of years at the company. Blake had no idea what type of work he was capable of, or what type of work he'd accomplished in the past - she was far more interested in what work he had access to.

Focusing on what she knew about Martin - a recent photograph, a recent interview, a video clip taken at a Daydreamer unveiling event - she passively explored the darkzone until a doorway presented itself.

The doorway wasn't a natural occurrence, but rather her mind offering an understandable way for her to enter this foreign realm. And, as expected, the door was locked - this one with a rudimentary sliding lock that took nothing more than a glance to undo.

The moment she passed through the barrier, she was officially trespassing in Martin's subconscious, but he was none the wiser to her presence - and she meant to keep it that way.

Through her research, she'd surmised that his capability with dreaming was minimal, and the pre-fabricated environment that greeted her confirmed her suspicions. Everyone seemed to have one these days, not realizing or caring that the process of creating a prefab surrendered vital details about their livelihoods for storage at Dreamscape's main headquarters.

No one considered the risks. Instead, they did whatever it took to make their dreams better - and easier - so that they could invite their friends and family to see the 'amazing' things they could create when not tasked with holding together an environment at the same time.

In this case, Martin's use of a prefab made Blake's entrance into the scenario that much easier. She didn't have to fight for control of the environment or blend her existence into it. Instead, she stepped onto the periphery of a pre-built scenario and hid in the background, refusing a more-mortal form in favor of gathering her surroundings.

Sharing a dream with a stranger wasn't something to be taken lightly. Entering someone's space uninvited was akin to strolling into their home unannounced. Some might respond by politely asking the intruder to leave, but some might respond aggressively the instant they recognized a trespasser.

Even though very few dreamers had the skill necessary to harm her, it was an unpleasant experience for everyone involved. For this reason, she never snuck or forced her way into another's dream. Instead, she used a far easier method - knocking on the front door and convincing the dreamer to invite her in.

Masking was important. Distractions were important. But, most of all, the dreamer needed to feel a sense of comfort or familiarity with the situation or the person standing on their doorstep.

In this day and age, with nearly everything available online, faking familiarity was surprisingly easy. From a series of searches, Blake had uncovered family photos, family videos, a family calendar, and - through a trail of gossip discovered on a Dreamscape chat page - a secret that Martin would surely like to remain that way.

Unfortunately for him, Blake had a detour planned for his midday spin of his new, company-issued Daydreamer. To put her plan in motion, she concentrated on the woman she'd seen in at least seven different photo albums online.

Tall, lean, with emerald-green eyes and straight, blonde hair that flowed all the way down her back. Impeccable fashion sense that included the latest in advanced accessories - energy rings, lighted earrings, and an array of 'chic' multi-use bracelets. And, last but not least, a handbag that probably cost more than the rest of the ensemble combined.

Taking on the identity of Veronica Kain - a well-connected socialite whose interests included posting photos of herself and spending her husband's money - Blake stepped onto a small platform she created for herself before regarding the prefab hanging in the dream in front of her.

The prefab was limited to the interior of the townhouse, so she expanded it - bolting on pieces to create a wider, more expansive environment that lived outside the building's walls. Since Martin wasn't controlling the environment to begin with, she didn't need his consent to make such sweeping changes to the exterior of his world.

After the sidewalk outside the Kain's home rolled under her feet, Blake glanced around the street to ensure everything looked exactly as it had in the recent street camera footage she'd found the other day. The polished street lamps, the benches on the sidewalk, the brick townhomes across the street - even that broken-down vehicle that didn't look like it had moved in years - every element was an important piece of the puzzle. Without one piece, the picture would be incomplete, and a dreamer might sense that something wasn't quite right.

Once satisfied that nothing looked out of place, she nodded before walking up a short set of stairs and knocking on the front door. As soon as the sound filled the air, she felt Martin's confusion sweep through the dream - like a gust of wind, only less tangible. His subconscious questioned why something unexpected just happened, but then the feeling disappeared and he decided to do nothing.

After several seconds passed, Blake knocked again.

This time, confusion swirled several loose leaves in the middle of the street, and Martin decided to figure out what dared to interrupt his 'alone time' with the other dreamer occupying this sequence.

Hearing footsteps plodding down a flight of stairs before approaching the door, Blake increased her focus on her identity, ensuring she had enough detail that even the woman's husband wouldn't suspect anything wrong.

When the door opened a second later, Martin's eyes immediately widened in surprise.

"Sorry," Blake said, brushing past him while digging around in her expensive handbag. "I can't find my keys…"

"Veronica? You're...home?"

"What? Of course." Playing the part, she flashed a smile before moving away, taking care not to move too close to his space. "Just dropped the kids off with the Tyler's. Did you order your suit for the Mullen's wedding yet?"

Without waiting for a response, she opened the door of the hall closet and hung her bag next to a slew of others.

"Remember, you have to order it before the end of next week. Otherwise it won't arrive in time, and you'll be stuck wearing the same suit you wore to the Locke's. I refuse to be photographed with someone wearing last year's style."

Turning away from the closet, she found Martin staring at her as if she had two heads.

"What?" she asked. The question snapped him out of his stupor, and he shook his head before plastering on a nervous smile.

"Nothing. Nothing at all. I just can't believe...you're here."

Sensing his struggle to unravel the wrinkle in his dream, Blake walked away, keeping him guessing by constantly moving out of his space.

"Of course I'm here," she huffed at the same time. "I told you I'd be home early today."

Before he responded, a noise sounded from upstairs - a noise of Blake's creation. Tilting her head to display curiosity, she glanced that direction before turning back to Martin.

"Do we have guests?"

When she moved towards the staircase, he jumped in front of her.

"No!" he cried out, waving his hands in front of him before flashing a worried smile. "I mean, something probably just fell over. I was rearranging things."

While Blake furrowed her brow at the obvious lie, Martin struggled to regain control of the dream. Blake wasn't a part of the environment that he could control, but his skills were so minimal that he couldn't figure out where the dream ended and she picked up. This also explained his reliance on reasoning rather than forcing the unwanted deviation out in the sequence - if he was capable enough, he'd erase his wife easily. Instead, he used words in an effort to convince his subconscious to leave him to his dalliances - a fool's hope, indeed.

Pressing the man closer to 'panic' territory, Blake looked at the staircase again, drawing out the suspicion for a little longer before shrugging and giving him a thin-lipped smile.

"Ok," she said simply. "I'll go change then."

When she headed up the stairs, Martin lunged for her arm to stop her - and would've foiled her plan if she hadn't erased the step under his foot to make him trip and miss.

"Wait," he said, regaining his balance and hurrying to catch up. "Why don't we go out to lunch? Someplace special - just you and me."

Glancing over her shoulder, where unfamiliar waves of blonde hair trailed down her back, Blake flashed another smile.

"That sounds nice. But I'd like to change first."

Before he could protest, she strode across the upstairs landing and pushed open the door to the bedroom. As soon as she saw inside the room, she froze - staring at the scantily-clad woman sitting on the bed.

"Who's this?" she demanded, raising her voice to mimic outrage.

After taking one look at Blake - or the person Blake pretended to be - the woman scoffed and looked at Martin.

"Seriously? You're dreaming about her?"

"I'm sorry! I don't - I'm not trying to!"

Hearing the confusion in Martin's voice, Blake spun on him in anger.

"Who is she?" she demanded, jabbing a finger towards the woman, who sighed and disconnected from the sequence. Left alone to battle his demons, Martin looked very much like he'd like to wake up now.

"Honey, I can explain," he said instead, falling into the trap every dreamer fell into when pressed too far. He knew it was a dream, but it was too lifelike to fight against. Instead of taking control of the situation, he played into it, feeling like he could explain it all away.

It was a dangerous situation - one in which he could easily lose his grip on what was real and what wasn't. The longer this went on, the harder it would be for him to accept his 'real' reality. Fortunately for him, Blake didn't expect this to last much longer.

"Then explain."

Crossing her arms over her chest, she glared at the man and waited to hear the lie he would come up with.

"She's - she's just a friend."

Blake's scoff was genuine as she shook her head and turned away.

"Do you really expect me to believe that?" she asked, adding layers of sarcasm to her tone.

"I swear!" he replied, doubling down on the nearly-insulting lie. "She's a friend from work, and we were just - discussing work things."

Without much manipulation, Martin provided the perfect opening for Blake to broach the topic she wanted to discuss.

"Oh really." Using even more disbelief, she shook her head. "I don't believe it for a second."

"It's true! She works at Dreamscape - we have a lot to do for the launch, so we were...going over those things."

From Blake's research, she already knew the other woman worked at Dreamscape, also in the marketing department. Her position was irrelevant, however - it was Martin's information that Blake was after.

"Prove it."

When he looked confused about how he could do that, she nodded towards the computer and gave him a look that dared him not to comply. Internally, she held her breath waiting for his response, but breathed a sigh of relief when he acquiesced and unlocked the computer - all while she made note of the password he keyed in.

"We're working on the new Daydreamer ad," he explained while pulling up his mail account and logging in - using the same password in both places. "And she was dressed that way because...we're thinking about taking a more mature route. Appeal to an older audience."

While he rambled and searched for his 'proof,' Blake rolled her eyes and wondered if he actually believed this argument would work on anyone, let alone his wife.

"Here!" Opening a window and moving away from the screen, Martin gestured for Blake to look at whatever he'd found. When she leaned forward, she discovered an email chain between Martin and Ms. Holt from several days ago. Seeing as how something like this was outside the scope of the prefab, Martin was creating the email on his own - and the effort was obvious.

First of all, the message was platonic to the point of being catatonic, with the two of them exchanging robotic sentences that were only a few words each.

Second of all, the screen flickered while he did his best to maintain the email under a great deal of emotional duress.

Fortunately for him, Blake already had everything she needed, so she flashed a smile and watched relief flood through his eyes.

"You've been working so hard recently," she said, watching him soak up the sympathy. "Maybe we should go on a trip soon? We could go back to the islands - you loved it there."

"Thanks, Sweetie, but I have so much work to do until launch day. Maybe after?"

From the way Martin smiled, he felt some amount of vindication that he just won over the dream-version of his wife. She walked in on his philandering ways, yet he talked himself out of trouble. Now, he could keep his attractive wife and his attractive mistress - win, win.

Real life wasn't like a dream, but Blake had no reason to meddle in his life anymore. Instead, she smiled one last time and added a soft "that sounds nice" before reaching outside of herself and forcing him out of the dream. Somewhere across the world, he would wake up - hopefully, none the wiser to the intruder in his subconscious - while Blake found herself back in the darkzone. From there, she focused on bringing her mind and subconscious back together before opening her eyes and sitting up.

Rubbing the sleep away, she got out of bed and returned to the stack of papers on the table. Grabbing her tablet from atop the pages, she logged into Martin's profile using the information he'd willingly provided in the dream.

"This is why you bio-encrypt everything..." she muttered under her breath while pulling up his account. Bio-encryption took an obscene amount of time to set up and was sometimes a pain to monitor, but it prevented remote breaches like this. Ruby had forced Blake and Yang to switch years ago, and it was probably one of the best security features they'd spent their time on.

"There we go."

Leaning away from the screen showing pages and pages of emails, Blake sighed and rolled her shoulders before diving into her new source of information. Now that she was in, she searched for any communication regarding Daydreamer's launch - shipment quantities, final system changes, estimated delivery routes, anything.

Ideally, she would log directly into Dreamscape's system and pull up the information she needed. Unfortunately, doing so was far too dangerous, not to mention nearly impossible without being onsite or in possession of a security beacon. As a result, she worked through proxy, finding as much data as she could through documents and data attached to emails.

With patience learned through repetition, she started with the most recent email and worked backwards. Each message chain was scanned for information, and each attachment opened before being saved for later review.

From the first few pages, she didn't see what she was looking for - although she knew finding exactly what she needed was extremely unlikely when working through the marketing department. Marketing had no reason to be parsing through the inner workings of Daydreamer, but on the off chance someone included Martin for some reason…

Pausing when a new set of numbers and graphs filled her screen, she checked the headings before realizing she'd found a recent revision of pre-order numbers. Demand was...high, to put it lightly. So high that upper management worried about supply constraints pushing back delivery dates - Taven had to be throwing a fit about that...

Thinking about the imposing man who used to be her boss, Blake shook her head and typed his name in the search field to find any message that included him.

Deep down, she knew that working through the lower levels of management gave her a slim-to-none chance of success. She needed to get to Taven, somehow. But without the right information, he'd notice her immediately. And if she was discovered, how long would it be before another explosion happened? Maybe it wouldn't even be an explosion this time - maybe it would be a car crash, or a train crash, or an apartment fire.

She couldn't take that risk...not yet. She would stick to her original plan - start near the bottom and work her way up. With every layer of management she traversed, her plan grew riskier and more difficult to execute. There might come a point when she should just bite the bullet and face Taven directly, but that was a measure of last resort, and she didn't feel prepared to use it yet.

Until then, she would hope for a miracle while sifting through emails - from the marketing department, of all places.

She just needed the final or close-to-final data for Daydreamer.

'Just.' She 'just' needed one of the most closely-guarded company secrets in the world. She 'only' needed to see the exact programming for the most highly-anticipated new technology of the past decade.

Hearing her stomach grumble, she looked down and finally set aside the screen. She also needed to eat something - a far more achievable goal, considering the circumstances.

Taking a break to make herself a late dinner, she went through the motions of preparing a meal for one while her brain sorted through the new information she'd found.

It wasn't much, and it didn't seem very useful for her mission. Not that her mission was very clear, either. If it was a puzzle she was fitting together, she couldn't even tell what the image was yet. She hoped that if she found Daydreamer's final specifications, she could find and fix its vulnerability. Or at least, find a way to prevent others from exploiting it.

With a quick meal prepared, she sat at the table and took note of the time. Once she finished eating, she could set all of this aside and see Yang again, which she looked forward to far more than any of this.

Sighing for no particular reason, she put her head in her hands and wished that this nightmare would end. It could be worse - she could've gone through the terminal like she was supposed to. But she'd felt like something was wrong. Something was...off.

Yang always told her to trust her instincts. That feeling like something was 'off' was actually her body's way of alerting her to something different - something her senses picked up that her brain hadn't processed.

So she'd abruptly turned around in the middle of the crowded hall leading towards the check-in lobby. She pulled out the holomask Yang made her swear to carry at all times, more out of fear of stalkers than a situation like this. After putting the mask in place, she'd ducked into the adjoining hallway filled with afternoon commuters rushing out of the terminal. As soon as she stepped outside, she pulled out her phone to call Yang. She was going to ask Yang to pick her up right away - and that's when she heard the explosion.

Felt the explosion might be more accurate. It was like an earthquake - a shockwave that roared under her feet. And then the noise came, like nothing she'd heard before. Hopefully, like nothing she'd hear again.

Her phone was in her hand - the devastation playing out before her eyes - and suddenly she understood.

At first, she thought it too vain to think this was all about her. But the thinly-veiled threats, the power plays at work, then a sudden cease-fire - an olive branch extended in the form of this trip. She'd known that this could get ugly, but the innocent lives...so ruthlessly thrown away…

At that moment, she couldn't see another option. If this was how innocent lives were treated, what about Yang? What about Ruby? What about anyone who'd ever meant anything to her?

So she didn't call Yang. She ran. She ran as far away as possible.

She let Yang believe that she died.

That was the worst part - one of the hardest things she'd ever done in her life. But she knew that whoever did this would watch Yang, so Yang's reaction needed to be real. She needed to actually believe that Blake was gone.

For the longest time, Blake worried that Yang wouldn't survive the heartbreak...that she'd do something reckless, something that got her hurt or worse. Thank god for Ruby. Like a guardian angel, she stuck by Yang's side and made sure she pulled through the worst of it, until what Blake considered a safe amount of time had passed.

The more she thought about what Yang went through - what she put Yang through - the more she believed that she didn't deserve Yang back. Her only argument was that all of this was in Yang's best interest, trying to keep her and her sister safe from forces they weren't trained to fight against.

But the recent turn in their conversations made Blake worry. Before this happened, they'd been as madly in love as anyone could be. She would've sworn that they could weather anything, but now...it felt like Yang grew more restless by the day.

Ultimately, Blake was selfish. She would fight for Yang's forgiveness. She would spend the rest of her life making this up to Yang in any way possible. She just needed to fix this first, then figure out a way to keep Yang safe.

But that would have to wait until tomorrow, because her favorite part of the day had finally arrived.

Chapter Text

Once upon a time, Blake lived a full life - a life where her waking hours were just as good, if not better, than the time she spent exploring the limits of dreams. Through work, she found personal fulfillment and thought-provoking challenges. Through Yang, she found an unending stream of love, laughter, and support.

During the time when they were together, dreaming came easy. Once a lifelong obsession, it became more of a perk, a luxury, and a bit of fun to be had as she and Yang focused on each other.

Now, dreaming was an escape. Like so many others who dove into Dreamscapes with every bit of their being, Blake craved the sensation of letting go of herself, of her life. She wanted to be somewhere else - she wanted to be someone else. The Dreamscape sitting by her bed allowed her to do just that, and, most importantly, it allowed her to connect with a piece of the life she wanted: Yang.

With another day of endless searching coming to a close, she laid in bed and pulled the covers over top of her. She missed the sheets at home, which always felt cool to the touch yet still kept her comfortably warm. But maybe it wasn't the sheets that kept her warm...maybe it was the person who'd once slept beside her.

When longing spiked in her chest, she closed her eyes and sighed. Every night was the same - the same loneliness, the same heartbreak, the same regret. But she didn't want to bring those emotions into the dream with her, not when this was the only time she and Yang could be together. This was a time they should enjoy - not a time for them to cry over their separation.

Before reaching out to the Dreamscape, Blake took a moment to come up with a scenario for their night. Contrary to Yang's insistence that she 'was just amazing,' it took a bit of forethought to construct the environment she wanted. That wasn't to say she couldn't build a full-fledged landscape whenever she wanted - she could. What she'd found, however, was that if she decided in advance, focusing on Yang became that much easier.

That's what these nights were about - focusing on Yang. Focusing on each other. Pretending that this cavernous distance, which only seemed to widen as time progressed, wasn't keeping them apart.

Yang seemed to enjoy the beach from last night, but that probably had more to do with Blake's outfit than the scenery. She wouldn't mind baring more skin for Yang's...benefit...but she preferred when the environment supported the clothing choice. However, she'd willingly wear a bikini in a crowded marketplace if it made Yang happy.

Deciding against that idea for now (she didn't want to ruin the effect, after all), she thought it would be nice to revisit the park near their apartment instead.

They used to take a walk through the park every evening after dinner. It was their chance to catch up on the day while also getting out of the apartment, and it became a cornerstone of their relationship - something they made time for regardless of how busy their day was. Maybe they could recapture a bit of that feeling tonight, as if this was just another day in which work kept them apart for too long.

With that scenario in mind, she went to sleep far more peacefully than she had earlier in the day. As her consciousness moved to another plane, she drifted for several moments before finally coming into being. Her thoughts spread through her mind, jumping from topic-to-topic until she reigned herself in and entered the darkzone.

As calm spread through her subconscious, she searched for Yang amongst the dreamers. When no sense of familiarity tugged at her mind, however, she brought together a room instead, surrounding herself with four walls and a ceiling before stepping onto the thinly-carpeted floor and looking around.

With time to spare until Yang entered the Dreamscape, Blake continued the memory, filling the room with neatly-arranged chairs that faced a small, raised stage. A podium stood on the center of the stage, with a thin microphone sitting on top. To the right of the podium was a slowly-spinning holographic image of a human brain.

The people were gone, the hustle and bustle was gone, but this was it - this was where they met.

Walking to the podium, she tapped the microphone and heard a peel of feedback cut through the silence, just as it had on that day. Her notes appeared in front of her, arranged in several numerical lists so she wouldn't get sidetracked from the main points she wanted to make.

The topic was 'How Dreams Impact the Mind - And Why We Want More of Them,' and it was the first fully-booked lecture she'd ever hosted. In the beginning, she was a little nervous, but eventually she settled into the comfort of discussing a subject that meant a great deal to her.

Dream theory was her life. Ever since she was a child, diving into daydreams and reading every dreaming book available, she'd wanted to change the world by making dreams come true. Dreamscape presented the opportunity to fulfill that goal, while also giving her a platform on which to keep learning and advancing their connection with their subconscious.

She wanted everyone to experience their dreams, and she wanted that experience to motivate the dreamer to chase those dreams in real life.

Filling the seats with attendees - substituting the faces with stand-ins because she couldn't remember everyone there on that day - she smiled as they talked amongst themselves and left the conference room behind. They seemed excited by the information she'd just provided, which hopefully meant she'd done a good job.

While most of the attendees filed out of the room, she glanced at her notes only to be immediately distracted by a tall, grey-haired gentleman walking up to the podium.

"Very intriguing," he said, his voice fast and clipped - as if he didn't have time to speak with her even though he was the one seeking her out. "Is there a reason you left out the research being done on dreams-as-life?"

"You mean the concept of foregoing real life in favor of living in a dream?" she asked, to which he nodded. "From what I understand, the ramifications of such extended exposure aren't fully understood yet, nor will they be for quite some time."

"But technologically-speaking, it's possible," he prodded her.

"It is," she answered. "But the Dreamscape isn't built to simulate an entire life, so the dreamer would have to take the reigns themselves. Obviously, that type of control requires an above-average dreamer, if anyone even wanted to put that much pressure on themselves."

"Theoretically though, Dreamscape Industries could program a sequence of dreams to simulate any life the dreamer wanted."

Understanding that the man - who must be a member of one of those 'forever dreamer' groups - wasn't giving up anytime soon, Blake shook her head.

"We aren't working on that at the moment," she told him flatly. "The science could be there, but first we need to solidify a co-dreamer's form, don't you think?"

Fortunately, he understood from her tone that the conversation was over and gave a forced smile in return.

"Yes, I agree. Thank you for your time."

Letting the man disappear shortly before he reached the exit, Blake shook her head and went back to collecting her notes. Even though she knew what would happen next - even though she controlled what would happen next - her skin prickled with anticipation while she put her belongings into her bag.

"Excuse me."

When Blake looked up, she broke from the memory and smiled. It was hard not to smile though, especially with what came next.

"Yes?" she asked, straightening her posture and smiling again when Yang prepared her line - the first words they would share.

"Sorry to bother you. But are all dream theorists as gorgeous as you?"

This time, Blake laughed at the question. In the moment, however, she'd been unimpressed. She remembered suppressing the urge to roll her eyes, with only manners preventing her from doing so. But then Yang surprised her - the first of many surprises she would experience over the next few years.

"I mean, I love the point you made about how dreams connect our consciousness and memories in imperfect ways. Do you think that connection could ever have an application in the field of law, or are we too good at convincing ourselves we're better than we are?"

At the time, Blake was shocked by the question.

That wasn't entirely true. It was a good question. What she was most surprised by was the person who asked it.

"As a means of…?"

"Evidence," Yang replied with a flicker of a smile. "Proof of intent. Could we, at some point in the future, have technology advanced enough that arrests can be made based on dreams alone?"

While the dream version of Yang waited for an answer, Blake smiled.

"This was the moment I knew you were something special," she whispered, resisting the urge to reach out for Yang's hand before recalling what she'd said next.

"That's a rather big leap...the technology needed to separate fact from fiction could be decades away, if it's even possible," she said instead, stepping back into her role and putting Yang back into hers. "Why do you ask?"

Yang then lifted her hand - displaying the mechanical arm Blake hadn't noticed yet - and flashed her police badge.

"I'm a detective, and I'm working on a case that's...somewhat related. I came to listen so I could learn as much as possible about Dreamscapes. Thought I'd ask about the future because...well, gotta stay ahead of the curve, you know?"

Since childhood, Blake had been more curious than most. That was why she read so much - absorbing every bit of knowledge she could get her hands on. And now, her curiosity was peaked again. This time, by a young, attractive detective who seemed more intelligent than her looks portrayed.

What case was she working on? How did it relate to dream theory? And what was the story behind her arm? Her life?

Besides her rampant curiosity, Blake couldn't shake the feeling that she shouldn't just let Yang walk away. People walked in and out of her life on a daily basis, but something about Yang was different. Maybe Blake was just fooling herself - maybe she just found Yang attractive and wanted to continue the conversation. Maybe she, like so many others, was enticed by an authority figure.

Whatever the reason, she did something she'd never done before, and that she'd never regretted since.

"If you have time, we can grab lunch and discuss in detail? There's a nice deli a couple of blocks from here."

"Tavo's?" Yang asked before breaking into a bright smile. "I love that place - and I'd love to have lunch with you."

Blake stopped the memory then, with Yang standing in front of her wearing one of those smiles she'd fallen in love with almost immediately. It was hard not to love that smile, which was genuine and uplifting. In a world increasingly focused on fabrications and imitations - from holomasks to dreamscapes to the AVR rooms popping up on every block - it was disarming to meet someone so...real.

With a heavy sigh, equal parts longing and sadness, Blake leaned close and rested her forehead against Yang's chest. The moment she felt a hand lightly brush her cheek, however, she quickly stepped away and shook her head to regain control of her subconscious.

As much as she wanted Yang's comfort and reassurance, it felt unfair to pretend this was real. This wasn't real - this was Blake fooling herself. Most of all, it wasn't fair for her to take comfort in Yang's embrace when Yang couldn't do the same.

With her resolve wavering, Blake let Yang fade away - and with it, the temptation to seek more affection and solace. Left in the empty room, she wrapped her arms around herself and sighed again.

Dreamers couldn't interact with other dreamers. At least, not directly. The boundaries of their minds prevented them from projecting a more corporeal form within the realms of a dream. It was, without a doubt, the single biggest 'complaint' users had about the Dreamscape. Daydreamer solved the problem through a variety of subconscious workarounds, but it still wasn't the same as interacting with 'real' pieces of the dream environment.

Blake didn't have access to a Daydreamer - nor would she use one even if she did - but she could project a clone of herself into a dream with Yang. And - unlike co-dreamers - Yang could interact with a figment of the environment without restriction.

Many times, Blake considered presenting the option but, ultimately, was too jealous to even bring it up. Too jealous to let Yang have even that level of comfort. But as time ticked forward and very little progress was made, she might have to learn how to control her jealousy. It would be her, in a way, even though it wouldn't be her at the same time.

She didn't even know if Yang would consider that an acceptable solution...

The Dreamscape always made her question what was an acceptable alternative to real life. Could a dream ever substitute for the warmth and comfort of another person? She used to think so. She used to believe that the future would have very little social interaction while Dreamscapes took precedence over the day-to-day grind of real life.

After this separation from Yang, however, she knew she was wrong. Nothing could replace the reassurance and comfort of being held by the person she loved. No matter how far technology advanced, no matter how 'real' dreams looked or felt, it would never be real. If she'd never fallen in love, she probably wouldn't know the difference, but…

Looking around the room, with its neutral wallpaper interspersed with remarkably-vanilla photographs, she tried to keep her guilt at bay.

But, ultimately, this was her fault.

Maybe she should just give Yang more information, if only to dislodge the wedge that secrecy had driven between them. But information came with danger attached. If the wrong people discovered that Yang knew something, they'd go after her just like they had Blake. And while Blake didn't doubt Yang's ability to keep a secret, she did doubt Yang's ability to not look into the matter. Even now, after months of Blake begging her to let it go, Yang continued searching for whoever was responsible for the explosion at the transit station.

Blake didn't know the right answer.

With another sigh, she let the conference room fade away and surrounded herself in the darkzone once more. Elevating Yang to the forefront of her thoughts, she searched for a star that shone brighter than the others. Her star - the light of her life - was out there somewhere.

At least, she expected Yang to be out there somewhere. It should be around the right time for them to meet. Of course, just because they usually met at this time didn't mean Yang had to be here now. Maybe she had plans with Ruby again, or maybe she had plans with someone else - Blake had no way of knowing.

Communicating once a day was better than nothing, but it paled in comparison to what they once had. Their jobs prevented them from keeping up a never-ending stream of communication, but they still reached out to each other multiple times over the course of the day before spending their entire night together.

If Yang made plans after work, she would immediately message Blake to let her know. That way she didn't worry when Yang wasn't home on time. Now, however, the midday message was impossible, which left Blake in the dark more often than not. Not that she minded the dark, but...sometimes being the last one to know made her question her importance in Yang's life. A misguided and self-inflicted problem, she knew, but a problem all the same.

Waiting in the darkness, she lightly touched upon a few other dreamers surrounding her. Nothing more than a cursory glance - a brief 'who are you?' to keep her boredom and curiosity at bay. After a few more minutes passed - 'minutes' being subjective within the Dreamscape - she searched again. But again, she found nothing.

Even though she didn't know the exact time in the real world, she knew that enough time had passed that Yang was now far later than she'd ever been.

What if she didn't show up tonight? What if she was so frustrated by Blake's continued secrets that she skipped the Dreamscape altogether, forcing Blake to wait another day for a chance to talk?

She wanted to say that Yang would never do that. That, no matter how frustrated she was, she'd still show up because she knew how much their time together meant. She'd never stay away without at least giving Blake a warning - a quick 'I don't want to talk tonight' or something of the sort.

Searching again and finding nothing, Blake's thoughts spun to worse explanations while worry grew in her mind.

Maybe Yang went out after work with her coworkers. Maybe they stayed out later than expected. Maybe they were still out partying right now, drinking and having a merry time while Blake waited here.

The thought annoyed her more than she expected. But why? Yang could spend her free time as she wished. But Blake knew that certain members of the department were interested in Yang as more than friends. Of course they were - Yang was beautiful, smart, funny, and compassionate. As far as Blake was concerned, there wasn't another person like Yang in the world - she was perfect.

Or, worse than that, what if something happened at work today? What if Yang was hurt? What if she was in the hospital right now? It wasn't as if anyone would call Blake to inform her - she didn't even have a working phone anymore.

Maybe she should look for Ruby…

Before Blake altered her search, a star popped up near her, glowing with a familiar light she would never grow tired of seeing. Relieved that the wait was over, she wasted no time focusing on that particular dream, watching it grow clearer as it received more and more of her concentration. Eventually, it absorbed her reality and became her reality.

As soon as she stepped into this new world, however, she knew something was wrong.

Yang was using a prefab. She never used prefabs - she was needlessly prideful in that way, determined to create the environment on her own.

And, even though this was Yang's dream, Blake didn't see her anywhere.

"Yang?"

Taking a step forward, Blake looked around the scan of the downtown library. The bookshelves, checkout counters, tables and reading chairs were all where they should be - a perfect replica of the giant building boasting one of the world's largest selections of historical books. The paperbacks and hardcovers couldn't be borrowed anymore, but patrons could still read them within the building. Mostly, people just came to marvel at the sheer amount of paper and ink that went into creating each little tome.

Blake had no interest in the shelves of books, however. Instead, she tried to figure out where Yang was. It wasn't like her to hide, but maybe she wanted to see how long it took for Blake to find her.

Seeing as how this environment was easily manipulated, it wouldn't take long at all.

Expanding her thoughts, Blake grabbed ahold of every corner in the library and lifted up. The effect was simple, raising every bookshelf and piece of furniture into the air. With the furniture out of the way, she easily spotted Yang standing in the far corner of the library, near the water fountains and meeting rooms. The floating bookshelves caught her attention and she turned towards Blake, only to turn away as soon as their eyes met.

The reaction was the opposite of what Blake expected. On a typical night, Yang broke into a warm, loving smile whenever they laid eyes on each other. The smile always sent Blake's heart stampeding through her chest while she silently rejoiced in their reunitement.

Her heart didn't stampede tonight. Instead, she frowned and made her way across the library. Passing underneath the bookcases and furniture, she lowered everything back into place once she walked by, letting the Dreamscape regain control over those items so she didn't have to think about them anymore.

"Yang?" she called out when she was closer, but Yang didn't acknowledge her name. Instead, she squared her shoulders and walked away.

"Yang?" Blake asked again. When she still didn't receive a response, confusion swirled in her chest, and she picked up the pace to catch up.

Did Yang want to show her something or...what? It didn't make sense for her to walk away without so much as a greeting first…

Making it to the wide staircase leading upstairs, Yang jogged up the steps without looking back. She had to know Blake was following her - that's why she kept her eyes trained straight forward - yet did nothing to acknowledge Blake's presence.

"Yang."

Foregoing the stairs, Blake created a disc of wood underneath her feet and raised herself to the second floor of the library. This level looked more like a 'typical' library, with learning stations, holoscreens, and e-readers filling the space. Rotating holoscreens near the walkways advertised the newest books available for instant download. In the middle of the level was a large, circular help desk that Yang was nearly past already.

"Yang, what are you doing?"

This behavior wasn't like Yang at all. If she was mad at Blake, she would say she was mad. If she was hurt, disappointed - any of the emotions she might be feeling - she would let Blake know before acting like this.

Tired of the chase, Blake raised a brick wall in Yang's path while hurrying to catch up. When Yang turned to the right to move around it, Blake formed a second wall - and then a third when Yang turned to the left. With her escape blocked, she turned and stared at the wall rather than look at Blake.

Yang's clear avoidance of her hurt, but Blake was far more determined to figure out what was going on than to feel hurt at the moment. She heard Yang muttering something under her breath, but it wasn't until she was closer that she could make out the words.

"She's not real, she's not real, she's not real -"

"What are you doing?" Blake asked again.

"What does it look like?" Yang directed towards the wall. "I'm ignoring you."

That was the obvious answer - what wasn't obvious was why.

"What did I do?"

"You know exactly what you did."

Taking a step away, Blake felt a shudder run through her.

Yang couldn't know, could she? Had she found out somehow? Had she investigated Dreamscape further? Had she somehow stumbled across Blake's secret? That didn't seem possible but...what if it was?

"Won't you let me explain?" she asked as desperation clawed within her. "I can explain."

When she moved the wall and tried to step in front of Yang - trying to meet Yang's eyes - Yang again turned away.

"She's not real," Yang whispered. And something about the way she said that sent a chill down Blake's spine.

Of course Blake wasn't 'real' in a typical sense - the Dreamscape only mirrored her subconscious and allowed her to project an image of herself in an imaginary realm. But she was real in the sense that she still had her own thoughts, her memories, her free will.

Yang knew this.

"Yang…what do you mean I'm not real?"

"You're not real," Yang repeated more forcefully this time. "You're not real. You aren't Blake. None of this is real."

Shocked by the response and confused as to what was happening, Blake didn't move a muscle while Yang prowled back and forth in front of her, looking very much like a lion trying to get out of its cage.

Something wasn't right. This wasn't Yang. It was, but it wasn't. It looked exactly like her, but everything about her persona was wrong. Her behavior was...hostile and distrusting.

"Yang," Blake tried again, hearing the pleading edge in her voice. "I know it's not real - it's a dream, remember? We're in the Dreamscape?"

Thinking that the confinement was agitating Yang, Blake let the walls fall away and held up her hands in surrender, still hoping Yang would look at her.

"Yang, it's a dream, but...I'm really confused, so can you please tell me what's going on? Whatever you're upset about, just tell me. I promise I won't care what it is."

For several long seconds, Yang said nothing - she just stood there, her fists clenched while her jaw worked back and forth. After what felt like too long had passed, Blake crept closer, trying to close the distance between them.

"Yang -"

"Leave me alone!" Yang shouted, turning on Blake with a wave of fury. Blake stepped away from the anger, her eyes widening when she saw the red seeping into Yang's.

"What? Yang -" On instinct, Blake reached out for Yang's hand, but Yang jerked away from her.

"Don't touch me," she snapped at the same time, the words causing Blake even more confusion.

Yang knew that Blake couldn't touch her in a dream. She knew that Blake only did it out of habit and the desire to be closer. Dreamers could only interact with elements created within the Dreamscape - Yang knew that...

"Yang?" Blake inched forward but stopped when their proximity only made Yang more upset. Alarm bells rang in Blake's mind now, screaming at her that something was very wrong.

"Yang, tell me what's going on -"

"I won't tell you anything," Yang snarled back at her, hostility coming out into the open while her eyes blazed red. "You're a lie."

The words hurt, but Blake tried to let them go. Something else was going on here, and she needed to figure that out first.

"What do you mean?" she prodded. When Yang began pacing again, Blake felt her worry grow.

"You know exactly what I mean," Yang muttered towards the floor while shaking her head.

"I...don't though."

Yang looked Blake right in the eyes then - with a look of fury unlike anything she'd seen before. It was a look so powerful and loathing, Blake shrank away from it.

"Get out of my head. Let - me - go."

Ice flowed through Blake's veins, and the words froze her to that spot on the library floor. Her heart pounded in her ears, and she suddenly found it difficult to speak, but she knew she needed to say something.

"Yang, I -"

Her words cut off the instant she felt something that shouldn't be there - a third presence in a dream built just for two. Eyes widening, she looked at Yang and tried to figure out what the feeling was.

"Did you let someone else in?" she asked right before the presence lashed out at her.

Yanking herself out of the dream, she woke with a gasp and sat straight up in bed. The cold air of her apartment made her shiver, but she was already bolting out of bed.

"Save dream sequence?"

"Yes!" she shouted, impatiently waiting for the file before grabbing it and running into the other room. Her fingers shook as she dropped the sequence onto her tablet and pressed play as soon as it was ready. The library, Yang walking away, refusing to look at Blake.

Rotating the view on the video, Blake focused on Yang's expressions and demeanor - the way her eyes flitted around the environment as if looking for an escape. Once trapped, the way her eyes changed color rapidly, broadcasting a flurry of emotions ranging from anger and fear to confusion and betrayal.

'Don't touch me.'

'Get out of my head.'

'Let me go.'

The words made no sense. They only made sense if -

Her pulse rose while a sense of foreboding crept through her. She watched the end of the sequence and searched for the presence - the third dreamer. With every second that passed and she found nothing in the environment - no one on the first floor, no one on the second, no one on the third - her fear grew wildly. She scanned every inch of the library and saw nothing - nothing - suggesting someone else entered the dream.

She felt it. She knew someone was there. But if she couldn't find them, that meant...whoever it was, they were skilled enough to mask themselves into the environment. And she only knew a handful of theorists that skilled.

Putting her head in both hands, she yelled as fear and pain tore through her.

She didn't want to be right - she needed to find something, anything, that proved her wrong. But after watching the video a second time, she slammed her hand on the table and resisted the urge to throw the tablet across the room. Standing up instead, she turned and shoved her useless research onto the floor before holding the back of the chair to keep herself upright.

Breathing was difficult. Thinking was difficult.

All of this was to keep Yang safe. And she'd failed - that was the only explanation. That was the only explanation for the sequence - Yang's reluctance to make eye contact, her combative nature, her belief that everything Blake said was a lie, that Blake herself wasn't real.

Tears springing into her eyes, Blake raised a hand to cover her mouth as nothing but gasps for air came out. Crouching down, she put one hand on the floor to hold herself steady while pain and sorrow wracked through her. She could see it clearly now - the signs of paranoia and suspicion that came with being emotionally manipulated. Yang didn't believe that Blake was real because...because other versions of Blake had already been used against her.

This was Blake's worst nightmare, and it just came true.

Before she thought about what she was doing, she gathered the notes scattered across the floor. Once she had those and her tablet, she raced into the bedroom and shoved everything into a bag along with some other essentials.

Her mind was in turmoil. Part of her shouted that she couldn't go back - doing so risked everything she'd worked on all this time. Another part of her - a much larger part of her - screamed that none of that mattered anymore. The only thing that mattered was Yang, and Yang needed her help.

What if it was a trick? What if this was some master plan concocted just to bring her home? Yang knew Blake would react this way - she had to know that. Maybe she decided that she no longer wanted to stay in the dark.

No sooner had the idea popped into Blake's mind did she dismiss it. While Yang loved a good prank, she wouldn't make Blake needlessly worry. And right now...she was far past worry. She was panicked.

Once her bag was packed, she grabbed her well-used holomask and fixed it behind her ear while throwing open the door. In her haste to leave, she nearly ran into one of the boys exiting the apartment across the hall.

"Woah there!" he said, raising his hands before flashing a smile. "Someone's in a hurry - important mission?"

"Yes."

She only briefly caught his shock as she flew towards the stairwell and shoved the door open so hard that it banged against the wall. The inhabitant in the corner apartment started yelling at the noise, but she paid no attention to him while racing down the stairs and out into the low evening light. Without a second glance towards the building that had served as her home for the past few months, she hurried towards the transit terminal.

The shadow of a life she'd built for herself no longer mattered. She thought she had more time, but everything was different now. She couldn't stay here and continue her slow, methodical quest. She couldn't wait for a miracle - she had to take action now.

As soon as the next train arrived, she hurried on board and took the seat nearest to the exit. Once the doors closed - sealing her into this decision - she exhaled a long breath and tried to still her jittering knee.

Yang was her weakness. Yang was the only thing she was willing to go home for. And Yang needed help. The longer this went on, the worse it would be - the harder it would be to bring her back.

Blake wouldn't let that happen. This was her fault and her responsibility to bear.

These were her demons, and it was time to face them head-on.

Chapter Text

It could be a trap.

That thought was the only thing preventing Blake from rushing through the doors and up the stairs to the home she and Yang once shared.  Someone could still be in the apartment. Someone could be waiting for her to rush home, knowing it was the first place she would search.

They were right.  This was the first place she knew to look for answers.  If someone took Yang from here, it was possible they left clues behind.  That was her only hope of ending this without going back into the Dreamscape, which was too risky now that her ‘death’ had been unmasked.

Shifting on the uncomfortable bench in the park across the street, she briefly touched the taser hidden in her front pocket for reassurance.  It was a small, uncomplicated device - and the only form of protection she had. If she needed to use it, she could. But if she was up against more than one person, or someone with a lethal weapon…

Trap or not, she couldn’t waste more time.  If what happened in the Dreamscape was real, Yang needed help.  The longer Blake dawdled, the longer Yang was forced to live through multiple sequences, being pressed for information or god-knows-what.  

This was exactly why Blake hadn’t given Yang any information, but would anyone believe that?  When Yang came off as a strong, courageous person, would anyone believe that she truly knew nothing, or would they assume she simply refused to give it up? 

What would they do to break her will?

As a list of possibilities flitted through her mind, Blake stood up.  But she took only a single step away from the bench before freezing and watching a police car stop in front of the building.  Two uniformed officers - both looking vaguely familiar but unidentifiable from a distance - got out of the vehicle and looked up at the building before rushing inside.

The situation kept evolving - changing before Blake came up with a plan to move forward.  With a pair of officers in the building - a pair of officers she didn’t want to accidentally run into and risk being questioned or identified - she returned to her seat and set one hand on her jittering knee.

Was it a random occurrence that the police stopped by today?  Were they here for another call? A random check? Or were they already aware that Yang was missing?  

If Yang had been reported missing, then Blake’s false hopes were exactly that - false.  This wasn’t an elaborate hoax. Yang wouldn’t be hiding in the apartment waiting for Blake to rush in.  She wasn’t out of harm’s way.

Trying to look casual while waiting for the officers to leave, Blake pretended to check messages on her phone.  The good news, if there was any, was that police presence meant there probably weren’t any attackers lurking inside the apartment.  If there were, the officers should find them.

Unfortunately, the pair re-appeared a few minutes later, empty-handed and shaking their heads while jogging back to their car.  Assuming that response meant they found nothing, Blake watched with a heavy heart as the vehicle pulled away and flew around the next corner.  When she could no longer hear the sound of the engine roaring off in the distance, she finally stood up and crossed the street.

Even with her holomask firmly in place, she avoided eye contact with anyone who crossed her path.  While it would be impossible for them to recognize her underneath this disguise, she didn’t want to attract suspicion for wearing a mask in the first place.  If the rest of the neighborhood was aware of Yang’s disappearance - an almost certainty if the police asked for witnesses - then everyone would be on edge about strangers.  And she was definitely a stranger today.

As soon as she slipped through the doors of their building, however, she didn’t feel like a stranger.  She felt like...someone coming home after a long, long time away.

The lobby was nothing special - just a small room housing an always-broken information terminal and access to the elevator or staircase.  Today, it brought tears to her eyes.

Not wanting to be caught in the enclosed space, which would make it too easy to tell that she wore a mask, she hurried into the rarely-used stairwell.  For some reason, Yang always insisted upon using the stairs instead of the elevator. Blake never complained - well, she teasingly complained sometimes - but she actually enjoyed the extra alone time together.  With everyone else using the elevator, the two of them often walked to and from their apartment by themselves.

Today, however, the stairwell didn’t echo with the sound of Yang’s voice or their shared laughter.  Instead, Blake’s hesitant footsteps thumped softly against the steps while she did her best not to alert anyone to her presence.  

When she made it to the third-floor landing, she pulled the door open only a crack and peeked into the hallway.  Finding it empty, she slipped inside and hurried along the path she knew by heart.

Even though she knew it was foolish, her heart beat faster the closer she drew to their door.  The rational part of her knew that Yang wouldn’t be there, but that didn’t prevent her from wishing that she was wrong - that this was all just a horrible dream.

By the time she reached the door, her pulse pounded in her ears and her fingers trembled with both hope and fear.  Again, she touched the taser tucked into her pocket, making sure it was still easily accessible, before looking at the security pad attached to the wall beside the door.

Compared to most of the other tenants in this building, their security features were considered ‘advanced.’  In actuality, the handprint scanner with a series of numbered keys underneath was relatively basic in terms of the type of technology available today.

With a trembling hand, Blake pressed her palm to the glass.  When the scanner turned green, she held her breath and keyed in an eight-digit passcode.  

Hearing the deadbolt unlock, she sighed in relief.

The logical part of her scolded Yang for keeping the same keycode all this time.  The illogical part of her - mostly, her heart - agonized over the reason why Yang did it.  Because she was waiting for Blake to come home. And Blake had come home, but too late for a warm welcome.

Knowing she shouldn’t linger in the hall, she pushed open the door and walked into the apartment before someone discovered her.  As soon as the door locked and closed behind her, however, she stared at the room in front of her while a rush of emotions swept over her - from heartache, to longing, to grief, to a serious sense of deja vu.

Everything was exactly as she remembered it.  The look, the feel, the smell in the air - it was all the same.   In fact, it looked like Yang hadn’t moved anything. Not even a single book was out of place.

When Blake imagined coming home - the many, many times she’d daydreamed about the moment - she surprised Yang with flowers and an enormous apology.  Then she would explain everything. Everything that happened, everything she wished she could tell Yang but was too scared to. Everything she did wrong, and everything she did to fix it.  With the problem in the rearview mirror, no stone would be left unturned. Instead, her problems reached home before she did, leaving her with nothing but an empty room filled with memories.

Removing the taser from her pocket, she held it carefully in one hand while making her way into the bedroom.  The room was empty, and the bed unmade.  

It was possible that Yang left the bed unmade, but normally she threw the covers back in place before leaving.  That didn’t seem to be the case today, with the comforter and sheets tossed almost fully onto Blake’s side of the bed.

When she noticed something familiar laying on Yang’s nightstand, Blake felt a terrible ache in her heart.  

Yang’s arm...it was still here.  It shouldn’t still be here - Yang never left the apartment without it.  At least, not by choice...

Understanding what happened, Blake closed her eyes while a wave of anguish washed over her, threatening to bring her to her knees.

They took Yang from here - from right here, in her bedroom.  Somehow, they got into the apartment while she slept, and they took her right from bed.  Without her arm. Which meant...which meant that wherever she was, she was defenseless. Not completely defenseless, but...Blake would feel much better if Yang had her most trusty sidekick with her.

Picking up the arm, Blake intertwined her fingers with the heartachingly familiar feeling of cool, smooth metal before storing the contraption in her bag.  Once that was done, she checked the Dreamscape sitting on the nightstand.

She always had the suspicion that Yang saved their sequences, but - after keying through several menus she’d helped design years ago - she found the memory empty.  Either Yang deleted the sequences every day, or someone took the files. If the latter answer was correct, it would become blatantly obvious that Blake was very much alive - but it would also become obvious that she didn’t give any information to Yang, which would hopefully help.

Quickly searching the rest of the room and the bathroom, she found nothing of note other than everything of hers was exactly as she’d left it.  

“Oh Yang…” she whispered with a sigh, running her fingers across the cover of the book she’d never gotten the chance to finish.  It still lay on the nightstand, looking ready for her to pick it up right where she left off.

This was her fault.  Somehow, she wasn’t careful enough.  Somehow, she alerted someone or gave someone reason to suspect that she hadn’t died in the blast.  And then they did exactly what she’d tried to prevent this entire time - they went after Yang.

Leaving the bedroom behind, Blake walked through the living room and into the kitchen.  The room was tidy, clean, and empty. But, while the other rooms of the apartment looked hardly used, the kitchen had a definite ‘lived-in’ feeling to it.  From the dishes by the sink waiting to be put away, to the tablet and stack of papers sitting on the table, to the overwhelming scent of home, it was clear Yang spent a majority of her time here.

Walking to the table, Blake flipped open the folder of papers only to find a picture of herself lying on top.  After turning a few more pages, she realized that - regardless of what she’d said - Yang was doing a great deal of research into the blast anyway.  Of course she was. Did Blake really think that Yang would just let it go? She wasn’t that type of person, especially when it came to the people she cared about.

Blake didn’t have time to go through the folder right now, so she stuck the entire thing in her bag and walked back into the living room.  Looking around the space, which used to be the happy place she loved coming home to every night, she closed her eyes and tried to hold the tears at bay.

Of all the things she regretted, she most regretted not having time for a proper goodbye.  She still remembered the morning they said goodbye before leaving for work. She’d just finished her tea when Yang strolled out of the bedroom wearing one of those oversized tees she somehow wore like a supermodel.  They’d kissed goodbye - one of those lingering kisses that hinted at more - and Blake promised to call as soon as she made it to the hotel for the conference.

Then her world fell apart.

Opening her eyes, Blake walked over to the bookcase nearest to the door and looked up at it.  If memory served her right, what she was searching for was on the top shelf tucked within a copy of one of Yang’s old training books.

After finding the right book, exactly where they put it years ago, she stepped on the bottom shelf and tested the sturdiness before pushing herself up to grab it.  Once she had it, she dropped back down, opened the cover, and breathed a sigh of relief.

The camera was still active.  The power light indicated that it still had battery and was recording as she held it in her hands.  Removing the tiny cable from within the hollowed out portion of the book, she connected the device to her watch and downloaded the files from it.  Once that was done, she set it back on the shelf to continue recording and sent up a silent thanks that Yang convinced her it wasn’t a stupid idea to install a hidden camera in their apartment.  ‘You just never know’ hadn’t been the best argument, but it turned out to be prescient.

If Blake was right about Yang being taken from the apartment, the videos should prove it.  And, hopefully, she could figure out exactly who was here and where they’d taken Yang. To do that, however, she needed access to a computer secure enough to analyze the files without allowing third parties to download the data.  Fortunately, she knew someone with a setup more secure than most governments, and they happened to live nearby.

After making sure the door locked behind her, Blake hurried back to the transit stop and caught the next train to Ruby’s.  While the train rushed towards her destination, she took a deep breath and tried to stem her burgeoning nerves.

She hadn’t spoken to Ruby since the day before the explosion, at a dinner the three of them had shared.  Through Yang, she knew that Ruby was doing well, but...she wished different circumstances were bringing them together again.  Not seeing someone for months and then showing up at their door asking for a favor wasn’t exactly in the best taste, but it was for Yang - and Ruby would do anything for Yang.

Blake wasted no time heading to Ruby’s apartment building, which towered above the others in this area.  Every time she and Yang visited, Yang commented on how Ruby picked the top floor so that taking the stairs was impossible, which felt especially uncomfortable today when Blake walked into the elevator with three other people.

Each of them gave her a look out of the corner of their eyes when she pressed the button for the top floor, and each of them gave her another look when they left the elevator before her.  Fortunately, they probably felt no more than a wary curiosity about her identity before writing her off as yet another tech junky running around these parts.

Once the elevator reached the top floor, she stepped into the hall and walked to Ruby’s door.  Even though she knew that she probably set off at least three different alerts by this point - entering the building, pressing the button for the top floor, and exiting the elevator on the top floor - she rang the bell by Ruby’s door and waited for an answer.

“Hello?”

Hearing Ruby’s voice sent a spike of anguish through Blake’s chest while long-buried emotions bubbled to the surface.  After all this time, she was home. And one of the people who made this place home was right on the other side of the door, separated from her by nothing more than an inch of metal.  

Reaching up, she turned off the voice modulation on her mask.

“Ruby,” she whispered.  “It’s me.”

The door flew open a second later, and Ruby stood there - her hand still on the handle while staring at Blake like she was a ghost.  Which...she kind of was.

“Blake?”

As soon as Ruby said her name, Blake stepped into the apartment and removed her holomask.

“Please tell me you know where Yang is,” she said while Ruby closed the door behind her.  The moment she turned around, however, she found her answer written in the dark circles under Ruby’s eyes.

For some reason, Ruby’s exhaustion hurt more than Yang’s empty apartment.  Because if Ruby was already looking for Yang and hadn’t found her…

“Please tell me this is all just an elaborate plan,” Blake pressed, hearing the plea in her tone as she latched onto one last gasp of hope.  “Something the two of you cooked up to force me back here. Please tell me it’s not real.”  

When her voice cracked with emotion and fear, she stopped trying to speak. 

Honestly, she’d prefer if she was right.  She’d rather be angry at Yang. She’d rather Yang risk their lives by playing this game than for her life to already be in danger.  But whatever hope she held onto was dashed when Ruby shook her head.

“I don’t know where she is…” she whispered, biting her lip and looking on the verge of tears.  “I’ve been looking for her all day...” 

When Ruby motioned towards the wall of computer screens across the apartment, Blake saw dozens of camera feeds from across the city.  

“They broke everything…” Ruby muttered, folding her arms across her chest and frowning at the screens.  “Physically broke everything, and I...I missed the alert. By the time I noticed, they...”

Ruby hung her head and sighed, looking beyond despondent at what happened.  And, suddenly, the situation became very real. The dream from last night, the video from Yang’s apartment - it was all real.  Yang was missing, and she was in danger.

Blake needed to stay calm.  Even though she wanted to sit on the floor and cry until she had no tears left, she needed to stay calm.  Stay calm and focus on finding Yang as fast as possible.

“I went to her apartment,” she said while setting her bag on the floor.  “I have something you need to look at.”

When Blake raised her wrist, Ruby grew curious and hurried over to the monitors.

“What is it?” she asked while motioning for Blake to drop the files onto the memory reader, which she did by tapping her watch against it.

“Videos from a camera hidden in the bookcase.  We put it up years ago; she never moved it.”

“The ones with a battery?”

“Yup.”

“Those things are genius.”  Grabbing the files when they appeared on the screen, Ruby threw them together as a carousel then navigated to the past couple of days.  “Self-contained, non-network storage - virtually unhackable. Also inconvenient, but pretty useful right about now.”

Before Blake could respond, Ruby let out a small, strangled noise and pulled one of the videos from the carousel.  After expanding it to take up an entire screen, she pressed play and the two of them watched in silence while a group of intruders walked into the living room of Yang’s apartment.  Each of them wore holomasks and all black. And, with every second that ticked past, Blake felt her horror and panic increase.

Six intruders, all armed with phasers.  One of them checked the kitchen before motioning that it was empty.  As soon as another nodded, the group slipped into the bedroom.

Several minutes passed - several long minutes of watching the empty room, her eyes glued to the screen waiting for them to reappear.  The moment they did, a vice tightened around her lungs and threatened to strangle the breath out of her.

Two of the intruders dragged Yang out of the room by her arms, her head bowed forward and her limbs limp.

“Unconscious,” Ruby whispered, as reassurance to herself or to Blake.  “Just unconscious.”

How Yang lost consciousness was unclear, but from the way one of the kidnappers held their side and another limped, there must’ve been a scuffle.

Of course there was a scuffle.  Even outnumbered and overpowered, Yang would take an opportunity if one presented itself.  Especially in this instance, when the intruders’ intentions were unknown. Unfortunately, there were just too many of them.

“I missed it...” Ruby whispered while the group pulled Yang out of view, anguish clear in her voice.  “I missed it…”

The last person in the apartment looked around the room one last time, as if searching for any evidence they might’ve left behind.  Finding nothing, they nodded and turned towards the door to leave.

But suddenly, they stopped.  It looked like something caught their eye, then they walked over to one of the bookcases.  A framed photograph sat on the shelf, and as soon as the intruder picked it up, Blake’s breath caught in her throat.

The longer the person studied the picture, the greater her alarm grew.  Then they pulled out their phone, snapped a picture, and set it down. With that done, they disappeared from view of the camera, and the apartment fell still once more.

“What’s the photo?” Ruby asked, rewinding the clip and enlarging the image.  The frame tilted away from them and the video quality was grainy, but Blake didn’t need to see it to know what it was.

“We need to go,” she said, grabbing her bag and trying to pull Ruby away from the computer screens.  “Ruby, we need to go - now.”

“What?  Why?”

“That’s a photo of you and Yang.  We need to get out of here -” She stopped speaking when a lighthearted buzz sounded from somewhere in the apartment.  

“Someone just entered the building,” Ruby explained while pulling up a camera from downstairs, which showed a group of six people walking through the lobby before stepping into the elevator.

“Ok...a lot of people just came in.”

“Erase it all,” Blake ordered.  “Take what you need and let’s go.  Now.”

“Hold on.”  Slipping her arm out of Blake’s grasp, Ruby motioned with her hands while code flew across the screen.  “I’ll stop the elevator.”

The camera view switched to one in the elevator, which lurched to a stop somewhere near the tenth floor.  The passengers inside jolted at the sudden stop before looking at each other in confusion.

“See?” Ruby said, her hands never ceasing their movements.  “That’s why you live on the top floor - people won’t take the stairs.  Instead, they get into the electronic deathbox.”

Watching the video feed from inside the elevator, Blake noticed one of the passengers speaking on the phone while another pressed a button to call for help.  Almost immediately, another light popped up on Ruby’s screen, and the lobby camera showed two more people walk inside. These people - also wearing masks - took the stairs.

“That’s less good...”  

“Leaving - now,” Blake said, again trying to pull Ruby away from the screens. 

“Ok, ok.” 

Still refusing to budge, Ruby quickly moved her arms while different windows flashed across the screen.  With every second they waited, Blake’s concern grew. The intruders in the stairwell were moving quickly - already several floors up and not stopping.

Seconds later, the screen turned black and Ruby raced into the kitchen to grab her phone and holomask.

“Guess we’re taking the stairs,” she muttered while putting on the mask and motioning Blake out the door.  Blake put on her own mask and followed the newly-minted blonde into the hall before taking a left towards the stairwell.

“Isn’t there another one?”

“Nope.”

The response filled Blake with more worry, but Ruby hurried into the stairwell without pause.  They were on a collision course with their pursuers now, but she assumed Ruby had a plan.

“You have a plan, right?” she whispered while they flew down flight-after-flight.  

“Of course.”

Without further elaboration, Ruby looked at her phone every other second for the next minute before raising her hand for Blake to slow down.  When Ruby held a finger to her lips before motioning towards her ear, Blake heard it.

Above the sound of her slightly-labored breathing, footsteps plodded up the stairs towards them.  Her heart shot into her throat, but Ruby again gestured for her to stay quiet before waving towards the door leading to the tenth floor.  

The keypad on the wall was red, but it flashed green as soon Ruby held her phone in front of it.  After opening the door only enough for them to slip through, she pulled Blake to the floor right on the other side of the stairwell door.  

Blake no longer needed explanation for what this ‘plan’ was.  Quite simply, they were going to wait right here - within reach of whoever was trying to find them - and hope they weren’t spotted.

Back pressed against the door to the stairwell, Blake held her breath and hoped that they weren’t looking through the windows very closely.  She also hoped that no one on this floor decided they wanted to use the stairs right now, because there wasn’t another place to hide in the clear, empty hall.

Using her phone, Ruby pulled up the video feed from the elevator.  The larger group of intruders was still stuck, fortunately, but who knew how much longer that would last?

Hearing muffled footsteps through the door behind her, Blake scooted closer and drew her knees in as close as possible.  The sound grew nearer and nearer, as did the soft sound of labored breathing - the side effect of hurrying up nine flights of stairs, with many more to go.

They were close and getting closer.  A few more seconds, and they should pass the door and continue up the next flight of stairs.  Once they made it another flight or two, Blake and Ruby could slip back into the stairwell and hurry to the lobby.  All they had to do was wait -

The instant she heard the door handle turn, her adrenaline started pumping and she nearly bolted - she would have bolted if Ruby hadn’t grabbed her arm and held on tight.  Once the ‘flight’ mentality ebbed, she stayed in place and Ruby released her before typing like crazy on her phone.

The keypad beeped, and the door handle turned again, but nothing happened.  Someone cursed from behind the door before trying to unlock the door a second time.

Meanwhile, Blake searched frantically for an escape - any means of leaving the building or hiding from the pursuers right at their back.  All she found were closed doors to other apartments and a window at the other side of the building. Maybe there was a fire escape outside of the window, but making a run for it would definitely be noticed by the people on the other side of the glass.

They could stand and fight?  Two versus two - although the intruders probably had weapons.

When Ruby suddenly grabbed her by the arm, she jumped in surprise before following Ruby’s direction and sliding to the side of the hall.  

Lifting her phone in the air without standing up, Ruby waved it in front of the keypad of someone’s apartment before opening the door and pulling Blake inside with her.  The moment the apartment door closed behind them, Blake heard the sound of the stairwell door opening and two people walking past.

Sitting back against the apartment door, Blake almost breathed a sigh of relief.  Instead, she stopped breathing when a young girl walked into the foyer, looked at them, and froze.  Her eyes widened, her posture stiffened, and she opened her mouth to - 

“Wait!” Ruby called out in a hushed whisper.  The instruction surprised the little girl enough that her scream disappeared, bottled up until she was given a reason to use it.

“We’re playing hide and seek,” Ruby explained.  Her words fell out in a rush, but she somehow managed a smile that eased the girl’s fear.  “We’re hiding from our friends - they’ll never find us here, right?”

While the little girl didn’t understand why strangers were in her home, she understood hide and seek.  And she understood that being found meant they would lose. So, instead of screaming, she hesitantly nodded.

“We even tricked them,” Ruby kept explaining.  “They thought we went to the elevator - look.” Holding out her phone, Ruby motioned for the girl to take a look.  She did so warily, but her expression relaxed when she saw the video from the elevator. Sensing that the tide had turned in their favor, Ruby smiled and tapped several buttons on her phone.

“Now I’m going to start it up and send them to the top floor,” she muttered to herself before smiling at the girl one more time.  “Thank you for helping us win.”

The little girl smiled as Ruby grabbed Blake’s arm and pulled her back into the hall.  With the coast temporarily clear, they rushed into the stairwell and hurried down the last few flights of stairs.

“I should’ve known they’d get their friends,” Ruby chided herself.  “That was stupid of me.”

Blake wanted to argue, but she needed all of her breath to run down the stairs as fast as possible.  The elevator should reach the top floor any second now, then the group would try to get into Ruby’s apartment.  How long would that take? What would they do when they figured out Ruby wasn’t there?

After jumping the last few steps, Ruby held the door for Blake before both of them rushed through the lobby and burst outside.  Without speaking, they made a beeline for the park across from the building. It was only when they joined the steady stream of joggers and afternoon dog walkers that they slowed to a normal pace to blend into the crowd.

Blake’s pulse still pounded in her ears, and her mind raced too fast for her to fully comprehend what just happened or how they made it out undetected.

First Yang, now Ruby.  But why would they try to take Ruby?  Because they knew she was searching for Yang?  Or was she just another pawn being removed from the board?

Whatever the reason, both of them needed to disappear until they figured this out.  Until then, they had targets on their backs, and there was no telling who they could trust.  Anyone could be looking for them. Their closest friends, their ‘allies’ - there was no way of knowing who might’ve turned against them.

“Who were those people?” Ruby asked after several minutes of silence passed.

“I don’t know.”

With the identical masks, the identities of the intruders were unknown.  Blake had her suspicions - and even more now - but she couldn’t say without unmasking each and every one of them.

“Well they suck at bypassing tri-level security systems,” Ruby replied, looking at her phone while walking.  “They’re still trying to get in.”

Glancing over Ruby’s shoulder, Blake saw that the group was indeed still trying to get into the apartment, and they weren’t being at all subtle about it.  They’d torn apart the keypad and connected to it directly, but were being stymied by the security features Ruby had in place.

“Wait.”  Ruby abruptly stopped walking and held the phone closer to her nose.  “No…”

When Ruby started frantically typing on her phone, Blake walked back to see what was wrong.

“What...?” she began to ask, only to understand Ruby’s concern when she saw the screen.

“They’re going to set the building on fire!” Ruby exclaimed before flipping the screen sideways and projecting a holoscreen in front of her to work with.  Lines of code filled the air of the park, drawing more than a little attention their way, but Ruby didn’t notice or care.  

“I need to set off the alarms,” she mumbled while navigating the system.  “Dammit, why are those hardwired? Ok...got ‘em. And the fire department’s on their way.  Now the sprinklers...”

Ending the holoscreen, Ruby flipped her phone around and went back to the video of the hall, which was now empty minus the smoldering fire eating at Ruby’s door.  The sprinklers were on, but their effect only slowed the pace rather than extinguished the fire completely.

“I don’t even care,” Ruby muttered while scrolling through the other cameras in the building.  “As long as no one gets hurt…” 

Fortunately, it looked like people were heeding the alarms and hurrying down the rarely-used staircase towards the exit.  

Hearing sirens, Blake looked up and saw several fire tanks roar through the skies while two trucks raced past on the street.  Other walkers in the park noticed the commotion and pointed towards Ruby’s building as thick, black smoke billowed into the air.  With the fire tanks already there, however, the blaze should be under control in no time.

Finally lowering her phone, Ruby looked up at the sky and sighed.

“Did they really have to set it on fire?” 

“Yes,” Blake answered, her mind racing as she tried to fit these new pieces of the puzzle together.  

“But why?  What good did that do?  I wasn’t even there.”

“It doesn’t matter,” Blake answered, motioning for Ruby to follow her away from the park.  “They’ll tell Yang you’re dead anyway.”

“Why?”

“To break her.”

For several seconds, Ruby walked beside Blake in silence.  There was no destination other than ‘away.’ Away from anything they might be attached to.  If they wanted to survive, they needed to disappear and regroup. Most importantly, they needed to find Yang.

“When are you going to tell me what’s going on?” 

Ruby’s mask made her expression difficult to read, but Blake sighed and shook her head.  She couldn’t keep Ruby in the dark forever, especially after what just happened, but now was not the time or place.

“We can talk.  We just need someplace safe.  And private.”

Crossing into one of the night districts, Blake tried to think of a place to go.  Yang’s apartment might be monitored, and Ruby’s was no longer an option. They could go to a hotel, but the surveillance would be high - unless they searched out one of the notorious ‘camera-free’ locations.

“I have a place,” Ruby said, tapping Blake’s shoulder before gesturing in the other direction.  “Follow me.”

On foot, the two of them left the boisterous nightlife in favor of quieter streets lined with houses that grew larger by the block.  The lack of activity put Blake on edge, making it hard to blend into the environment when they were the only ones around. Ruby, however, seemed at ease on the lonely streets, and even pulled out her phone to shoot off a quick message while they walked.

“You probably shouldn’t use your phone,” Blake said, eyeing the device while Ruby put it away.  “They can track it.”

“If someone can track my phone, I’d like to meet them.”  Ruby sent Blake a grin with the comment, reinforcing her confidence in her ability to mask her information.  And Blake had no reason to believe that Ruby’s confidence was misplaced. From everything she’d ever heard or personally witnessed, Ruby had proven herself capable of amazing things with a phone in her hand or computer at her disposal.  

After spending so long without that type of knowledge or protection, Blake wasn’t used to using technology so freely.

“Right,” she replied with a forced smile.  “Sorry.”

“It’s ok.  Just letting her know.”

The offhand comment drew Blake’s attention, and she hurried to catch up when Ruby turned off the sidewalk and headed towards the gate of a large home set back from the street.  It wasn’t exactly the type of place Blake imagined when she wanted a place to hide, but maybe that was Ruby’s thinking - pick someplace flashy, someplace in plain sight.

“Letting who know?” Blake asked, taking care to follow the same path Ruby took along a strip of the driveway that the lights didn’t reach.  The path took them to a wrought-iron gate separating the front of the house from the back, which Ruby used her phone to unlock before passing through.  

“Whose house is this?” Blake added, her curiosity growing when Ruby led them out of the shadows and straight to the back door.

“It’s Weiss’ house.”

“Weiss?” 

The name sounded familiar, but Blake couldn’t immediately place it.  Instead, she watched Ruby set her palm on the scanner beside the door and heard it unlock.

“Weiss Schnee.”

Blake’s eyes widened in recognition, remembering horror stories about the ruthless attorney who loved terrorizing the police department.  Through recent conversations with Yang, she was aware of Ruby’s new relationship - new secret relationship - but she’d never met Weiss personally.  And she had no reason to trust someone she didn’t know, especially when it seemed a little too coincidental that someone so confrontational would suddenly pursue someone so close to Yang.

And, ultimately, the home of a prominent defense attorney seemed like the last place they should try to hide.

“Ruby, we shouldn’t be here -”

Blake’s complaints fell on deaf ears as Ruby opened the door and stepped inside, leaving her with no choice but to follow or stay outside.  She didn’t necessarily want to follow, but she needed Ruby’s help if they were going to find Yang.

So, even though she didn’t want to, she walked through the door and found herself standing at the back entrance of the exquisite manor.  The hall they stood in ran the length of the home, stretching high above their heads while the front door lay just ahead. A staircase to the second story was positioned on their right, while several open doorways led to rooms just out of sight.

“Weiss?” Ruby called out while moving further into the house.

Seconds later, a petite, slender woman with long, white hair flew around the corner and caught sight of them.

“Ruby!”

Chapter Text

Visibly relieved by Ruby's appearance, Weiss rushed over and pulled her into a kiss that felt like comfort and nerves rolled into one. It was the type of kiss that only ended because of more pressing matters - in this case, by Weiss holding Ruby's shoulders and making sure she was unharmed.

"Are you ok?" Weiss asked while searching for visible signs of injury. "Are you hurt? I can take you to the hospital - right now. We can leave right now -"

"I'm ok, Weiss."

"Are you sure?" From Weiss' expression, she didn't believe it was true. Only when Ruby nodded did Weiss sigh and draw her into a firm hug.

"Thank god. I tried to call you - your apartment -"

"Kinda burned down, yeah." After returning the hug, Ruby stepped away with a concerned look. "Everyone got out ok, right?"

"The news reported no injuries and only one missing - you." Not content to let Ruby get away, Weiss pulled her in for another hug and burrowed into her neck for comfort. "Thank god you're alright. I thought - I thought - I was just worried."

"I'm fine," Ruby replied while gently rubbing her hand up and down Weiss' back. "We made it out before they got there. Or...we made it out while they were trying to get there."

"What happened?" Weiss asked, suddenly pulling away from Ruby with a huff of anger. "Who did this, and why?"

When Ruby raised her hand in Blake's direction, Weiss finally acknowledged Blake's existence - and her expression immediately fell into a scowl.

"You've got to be kidding me," she said, crossing her arms over her chest. "Yang goes missing and Ruby's apartment burns down - of course you're back."

"Nice to meet you, too," Blake replied, feeling a frown tug at her lips. The way Weiss glared at her wasn't exactly welcoming, but she wasn't expecting a warm welcome from anyone - nor did she need one. She needed to find Yang, and this...stranger...wasn't going to help with that.

"Ruby…" she said, catching Ruby's attention and motioning away from the back of the house. "We really need to keep searching..."

"For Yang's kidnappers," Ruby immediately explained to Weiss. Blake flinched at the added detail and turned towards Weiss for damage control.

"Sorry for barging in on your evening, but Ruby and I need to discuss something in private. If you wouldn't mind giving us a minute."

Scoffing at the response, Weiss reached down and grabbed ahold of Ruby's hand.

"It's funny that you think Ruby and I have secrets. Whatever you need to tell her, you can tell me."

Blake sighed as Weiss provided more reasons why they shouldn't have come here to begin with. Better to risk life and limb in the more-questionable districts than walk right into the lion's den.

"Listen," Blake replied, figuring that honesty was the best policy. "I don't know you, so I don't exactly trust you."

"Really? After all the time I've spent helping Yang, you don't trust me? Well that's just rich…" Adding a roll of her eyes, Weiss turned away from Blake and moved closer to Ruby's side. Even though she didn't say it aloud, her demeanor clearly wanted Blake to stay away - from Ruby and herself.

"How am I supposed to know what your intentions are?" Blake asked, earning another scoff. "Maybe you're only trying to get closer to Ruby and Yang to figure out what they know."

When Ruby looked at Weiss - her eyes wide with surprise - Weiss' expression darkened with rage.

"For your safety..." she snarled. "I hope you didn't just imply what I think you did."

From the look in Weiss' eyes, she expected Blake to back away from the accusation - to apologize or try to make amends.

"I didn't survive this long by trusting strangers," she replied instead, hearing a hardness in her tone as the weight of those words rested upon her.

"No, you survived this long by isolating yourself from the people who care about you."

"Weiss."

Weiss instantly defused at Ruby's voice, straightening her posture and leveling Blake with another glare but no response.

"Blake," Ruby said, giving Blake an exasperated look. "You don't have to trust Weiss, but I do. So did Yang."

Hearing Yang's name felt like hot coals pressed to Blake's skin, and the triumphant smirk on Weiss' lips did nothing to soothe the burn.

Arguing against that response would be arguing against Yang's choice in friends - Blake wasn't willing to do that, even though she knew Yang trusted too easily. That wasn't an argument for now, however. Right now, she had to accept that even though she didn't trust Weiss, Ruby and Yang did.

"If I was going to turn you in," Weiss added, still leveling Blake with that stern gaze. "The police would already be here." With a flip of her hair, Weiss put on a smile that looked genuine despite its inherent fakeness. "Besides, I could've had the police searching for you months ago if that's what I wanted to do."

While the response rattled Blake - she hadn't known anyone beside Yang and Ruby knew she was alive - she hid the emotion away as fast as possible.

"What do you mean?" was all she asked in an attempt to learn more. Her attention turned away from Weiss when Ruby sighed.

"Yang asked for help…she was trying to find you. When the two of us couldn't crack the dreams, we brought in Weiss as a third set of eyes."

A rush of emotions flew through Blake at the disclosure. Embarrassment, annoyance, and frustration, among others.

"I wasn't aware…" she muttered while turning away from prying eyes.

The response was a half-truth since she'd suspected that Yang recorded and analyzed the dream sequences - on her own. Blake hadn't expected her to share those with anyone else. Maybe Ruby, because Ruby and Yang were close, but a stranger? An outsider? Those were personal conversations...personal experiences...and she showed them to Weiss. Someone Blake just met had more information about her than she'd ever willingly provide on her own.

It was off-putting, to say the least.

"Well, now you're aware."

Again, Weiss' curtness rubbed Blake the wrong way, but she couldn't determine if that was merely Weiss' personality or some other emotion slipping through.

"And I'm guessing you know what happened to Yang," Weiss added.

With a single sentence, Weiss spurred Blake into motion and reignited her sense of urgency. Before answering the unspoken question, however, she sent Ruby another look requesting reassurance that this abrupt, demanding person was really the one they wanted to entrust with helping them. When Ruby nodded, she sighed and acquiesced.

"Someone kidnapped her," she explained. "They broke into her apartment and kidnapped her."

For some reason, she expected a reaction from Weiss - widened eyes, a gasp, or any indication of surprise. Instead, Weiss' glare never wavered while she waited for Blake to continue.

When it became obvious that was the only reaction she would receive, Blake resumed the explanation she hadn't finished at Ruby's apartment.

"As you're both apparently aware," she began, shaking her head at the reminder of their unknown involvement in her life. "Yang and I have been meeting using the Dreamscape, but last night...she was late."

Thinking about yesterday, she closed her eyes and fought the growing regret over taking so long to figure the situation out. If she'd noticed earlier, she could've started searching earlier. Maybe she would already have an idea of where Yang was or an idea of how to get her back...

"She eventually showed up," Blake continued. "But when she did, something was...wrong."

"What do you mean?" Ruby asked, her expression far more inquisitive than Weiss' hard glare.

Closing her eyes again, Blake replayed the dream from last night and felt another wave of guilt and fear wash over her. The way Yang ran from her - hid from her - suggested that her likeness had already been used, and not in a positive way. The longer that went on...the harder it would be to undo.

"She wasn't herself," she answered in lieu of going into detail. "She acted like...like she was being manipulated in some way - through her dreams."

"Isn't that what you've been doing this entire time?"

Blake frowned at the hostile response, but Ruby reached out for Weiss' hand.

"Weiss…" she whispered, and Weiss clenched her jaw before continuing in a less-attacking tone.

"If they're manipulating her through a Dreamscape, why get you involved?"

The answer to that question seemed obvious to Blake, but most people didn't live with the level of paranoia she'd endured for the past year. Most people would write off coincidence as coincidence, but not her. Not anymore.

"They want me to know they have her," she replied, believing the answer with every fiber in her being. Weiss, however, didn't lose an ounce of her skepticism.

"Why would they do that?"

Blake sighed at the incessant line of questioning, but knew she had no choice but to respond when Ruby also waited for the answer.

"Because they knew I would come back for her."

And now that she was back, they could search for her in earnest. They could scour the city, or just wait for Daydreamer's launch and seek her out then. Either way, they had her close at hand to witness the unwanted beginning of her creation.

"Well perfect," Weiss replied with a casual wave of one hand. "Then we hand you over and get Yang back - problem solved."

The response was so dry and sardonic, Blake couldn't tell whether it was a joke or not. And when she narrowed her eyes - trying to get a read on Weiss' intentions - she found nothing but an annoyed, slightly-angry frown aimed back at her.

From first impressions, she should have pushed harder for a different hiding place. She'd had no reason to trust Weiss before walking into the house, and now she had very legitimate reasons not to trust her. Maybe Weiss hadn't called the police yet, but it didn't feel like she opposed the idea of removing Blake from her life as quickly as possible. Fortunately for their quickly-souring relationship, Ruby spoke next.

"But why go through all the trouble just to get you back here?"

"I have some theories," Blake said, her brow furrowing when those theories bubbled to the forefront of her mind. Each had to do with power - control - and the need to remove her knowledge from the picture. With her out of the way, it could take months or even years for anyone to find Daydreamer's true purpose. By then, it might be too late to reverse the damage.

"It doesn't matter why they want me back," she concluded with a shake of her head. "What matters is that they have Yang, and they're already putting her through god-knows-what in the Dreamscape. Prolonged exposure can warp her reality. It could make it impossible for her to determine what's real and what's not." Pausing for a second, Blake let the weight of that outcome sink in before adding, "We need to find her. Soon."

After sharing a glance with Weiss - who nodded almost imperceptibly - Ruby gave Blake a small, tired smile.

"What do you think we've been doing? As soon as I got that alert, I..." Walking to the side of the hall, Ruby sat on the entryway bench and sighed. Weiss immediately followed and sat next to Ruby before running a hand up and down her back.

"This isn't your fault," Weiss whispered, low enough that Blake almost didn't hear. The words seemed to help, as Ruby sighed again but eventually looked up.

"I've combed all the cameras I can find, but they flat out destroyed a bunch of them. The ones still working are so messed up, it'll take time to unscramble them."

"How long?"

"A while. And I dunno if you noticed, but they just melted my stuff. That kind of slows me down a bit."

"What do you need to work here?" Blake asked, desperately seeking a means to continue their search.

"A lot. And it's not the type of stuff you can buy all at once without raising some serious questions."

As her frustration and worry boiled over, Blake ran a hand through her hair - a nervous habit picked up from Yang - and started pacing.

"Can you work on your phone?" she asked, sparing Ruby a glance.

"Some stuff, but not enough. I can go to the department -"

"No." Blake shook her head at the suggestion, then turned back to Ruby and shook her head again. "We don't know who's behind this, and we don't know who's helping them."

"You think someone at the department is in on this?"

"Yes. Yang found a clue that might help find the transit center bombers. She told someone, and now she's missing - connect the dots."

"Who did she tell?"

"Does it matter?" Panic gripped Blake's chest the longer she was forced to stand here and do nothing. "Someone has her, and we need to find her now."

"You don't think that's what we're doing?" Weiss cut in, looking affronted that Blake dared raise her voice at Ruby. "We want to find her just as much, if not more, than you do."

Interpreting the response as another dig at her intentions, Blake gritted her teeth and muttered, "That's unlikely," before letting it go. If the purpose of these comments was to get under her skin, it was working, but she didn't want Weiss to know that.

"Anyway." After giving Weiss a look, Ruby met Blake's gaze. "If I don't check in with work, they're going to assume I'm 'dead by fire.'"

"That's exactly what you should do."

Scoffing at the idea, Weiss sent Blake another withering glare.

"'Playing dead' might be your modus operandi, but there are better ways of handling things."

Clenching her teeth, Blake bit back her first response in favor of something more diplomatic.

"Then what's your suggestion?"

"Ruby reports what happened then uses her lab to track down Yang. Once she finds a location, they send in tactical to get her."

"Someone just set Ruby's apartment on fire," Blake countered. "What if someone's been instructed to get rid of her? What if they're waiting for her to show up at work?"

"Who is it, Blake?" Ruby asked again. "Who did Yang tell?"

"Whoever's in charge of the transit center case."

"Saffold?" Eyes widening, Ruby looked at Weiss, who ground her teeth together and frowned.

"You could've said any other name," Weiss began. "And I wouldn't have believed you. But Detective Saffold is a snake - she tries to sell out the department every chance she gets."

The response increased Blake's fears and confirmed her suspicion that Yang trusted someone she shouldn't have. That was just like her though - always seeing the good in people or the situation. By now, Blake knew better.

And, from how unhappy Weiss looked at the turn of events, she knew better too. Sighing at the circumstances, she shook her head while Ruby attempted a smile.

"So...guess I'm 'dead,' huh?"

"Technically, only missing," Weiss corrected before reaching for Ruby's hand - the gesture looking like a habitual and subconscious search for comfort. "And only until we find Yang. If someone's after you, I don't want you walking right into their trap."

"Well, I could skip into it. Or like...flounce." When Ruby earned a stern expression for the joke, she cleared her throat and grew more serious. "Right, so I'm not checking in or going to the department - that still leaves the issue of a computer though. We can't exactly just go out and buy one. I can try to use yours, but that old thing might die in the process."

Gently rubbing Ruby's back, Weiss looked at her for a few thoughtful seconds before sighing.

"Then I guess I'll give you your gift early," she muttered before looking at both of them. "Follow me."

Without waiting for a response, Weiss stood and headed towards the front of the house. After sharing a glance, Ruby and Blake followed - the quick walk giving her the opportunity to see more of the mansion Weiss called 'home.'

Everything was neatly organized and decorated in the same style - ornate, yet not too flashy, which was surprising given Weiss' status and likely wealth. Contrary to what Blake would've expected, nothing screamed 'self-righteous,' 'greedy,' or 'pretentious.' Instead, the entryway exuded warmth and liveliness - from the plush carpets rolled out over wood floors to the coat rack with several colorful jackets hanging on it.

One of the doorways led to a well-used living room with several white sofas and armchairs situated around an AVR system built into the coffee table. Real bookshelves lined the walls, each shelf filled with rustic novels that gave Blake reason to pause. She thought she was one of the few left who indulged in a physical novel, but did Weiss do the same? Or were those only decoration?

On the other side of the hall, at the foot of the staircase, lay the kitchen. From the size of the room and grandeur of the appliances inside, Blake had to assume Weiss actually cooked - or, at least, she had enough money to pretend like she actually cooked.

Their path led into the kitchen, past the island and dining table, and to a locked door leading back towards the rear of the house.

"This was supposed to be your birthday present," Weiss explained, unlocking the door with her palm before pushing it open. She didn't walk inside, however, and instead gestured for Ruby to go first.

As soon as Ruby walked through the doorway, motion-detecting lights illuminated a large room filled with more hi-tech machinery than Blake had seen anywhere outside of Ruby's lab or Ruby's apartment. Screens covered the far wall, creating a large, tile mosaic that could be used individually or as one. A memory pad sat at the corner of a desk, along with a shimmering red tech-glove with black lines tracing the circuitry. Various boxes and towers surely had other purposes that Blake didn't even know about, but one thing was certain - every piece was powerful, new, and expensive.

"Oh my god."

Racing to the desk, Ruby knelt on the floor and peered over several pieces of equipment stored underneath. While she did that and Weiss walked further into the room, Blake lingered by the door and examined Ruby's new 'gift.'

"This is exactly like my setup at home!" Ruby exclaimed while slipping on the tech-glove and flexing her fingers. "Only better! This stuff is brand new!"

Blake glanced at Weiss, who wore a small smile that only belied a fraction of how pleased she was at the success of her present.

"I've been buying the parts piece-by-piece," she explained. "Every time I went to your place, I made a note of another piece or asked you about it. Then I ordered it."

"Seriously?"

"Yes." Nodding once, Weiss' smile grew when Ruby turned on the computer and gasped at the startup screen. "I know you don't like to leave your office behind, so I had a replica built here. I thought that maybe then...you'd feel more comfortable staying over longer…"

Though Weiss looked embarrassed by the admission, Ruby turned away from the computer and beamed.

"You got that right!"

"Will it do what you need it to do?" Blake asked, interjecting herself in the conversation to get them back on track. "Can you use it to find Yang?"

"It's just what I need." After pausing for a second, Ruby raced over and kissed Weiss' cheek. "And you're perfect for getting it for me."

When the two girls shared a look of utmost love and devotion, Blake felt a pinprick of jealousy. Fortunately, the feeling faded when Ruby rubbed her hands together and turned her full attention to the screens.

"This is why you backup copies in remote locations around the world," she muttered while flying through the setup process. "Then, if someone destroys all your stuff, you just pull everything down and…"

Taking a step back, Ruby grinned as an assortment of graphs and video feeds loaded on the screen, looking exactly like the computer she just left behind.

"Voila!" she said with a wave. "Just like home!"

"Now you can find the kidnappers," Blake said, feeling a wave of relief when she noticed the video from the hidden camera was still open on the screens. This was just like Ruby's other computer, which meant they might finally be on their way to finding the culprits.

"That's first and last on my list." When Ruby grabbed the video and enlarged it across multiple screens, however, Weiss reached out to pause her work.

"Before you do that…" Wearing a firm expression, Weiss turned towards Blake. "You need to tell us exactly what's going on. Why do these people want you? What are they after? What do you know?"

When Ruby stopped working and turned towards Blake, she did her best not to sigh at how relentless Weiss was. After all this time jumping through hoops to keep the information hidden, she wasn't keen on spilling it to a relative stranger. Nor did she feel Weiss had any right to know. If anyone deserved to know, it was Yang - and Yang didn't know for a reason.

"That doesn't matter right now," Blake tried to deflect with a shake of her head. "We need to find Yang."

"I think it matters plenty," Weiss retorted, refusing to budge on the topic. "Your secrets were fine up until they got Yang kidnapped. Now, you either tell us what's going on or do your searching elsewhere."

Blake didn't appreciate the tone or the thinly-disguised accusation, and she didn't appreciate receiving demands from someone she just met. It seemed like Weiss and Ruby were close, but she wasn't willing to take chances. Any information falling into the wrong hands could be deadly, and she had no way of knowing who Weiss might tell - or who Weiss would tell.

Unfortunately, if the choice was giving them information or not having Ruby's help, she knew what she had to do. But she would only give them the tip of the iceberg - nothing more than necessary. Hopefully she wouldn't regret the decision later...

"It's Dreamscape," she answered, watching surprise flicker through Weiss' eyes while Ruby more openly displayed the emotion. "Someone at the company blew up the transit center when I was supposed to be there."

"The company wants you dead?" Ruby repeated. "But why? What'd you do?"

Blake didn't want to get into this right now, but she needed Ruby's help. Her options were to get this conversation over with as quickly as possible, or use her limited resources and even more limited computer savvy to search for Yang one block at a time. Considering the time investment of that second option, going through a quick explanation was likely worth it.

"Years ago, Taven Bishop created his master plan - a Dreamscape that could be used virtually anytime, anywhere. His vision was to put a Dreamscape in every room of every building in the world, allowing quick and easy access at any time of day. So we created the Daydreamer."

Internally, Blake flinched at the name, but continued her explanation when Weiss and Ruby said nothing.

"It was an ambitious goal, but we created exactly what he wanted. Daydreamer pushes the bounds of dreaming to another level - an as-yet-untouched realm of subconscious. When we got into fine-tuning the system, however, something changed. A special team was created and given top clearance to the entire company. Their goal was shrouded in secrecy, but it had to do with building a system so immersive that dreamers wouldn't be able to tell reality from dream anymore."

Thinking back on that time in her life, Blake briefly closed her eyes and sighed.

"'Project Daydream' they called it. That team changed Daydreamer and, by the time the final details came across my desk, it contained a substantial flaw."

"What type of flaw?" Weiss immediately asked. Sighing at the question, Blake shook her head.

"It's...complicated."

"Try me."

Seeing the confrontation in Weiss' eyes, Blake shook her head again rather than get into that conversation.

"An exploit, of sorts. A weakness that could be used by someone skilled enough. I'll explain the technical details later - all I know is that I found a flaw, and when I tried to stop it from going into the finished product, someone set off a bomb in the transit station. In the same terminal I was supposed to be waiting for the unscheduled and impromptu work conference they sent me on."

Taven decided that she should go on the trip. He told her about it personally. He gave no indication that it was anything but his idea and his decision to send her, of all the employees who could've gone.

She'd replayed that conversation in her mind thousands of times since then. Was anything about it unusual? Off? Did it really seem like his decision, or had someone convinced him it was a good decision?

It sounded like a conspiracy, which was exactly why Weiss frowned and looked like she didn't want to accept the explanation.

"What you're saying is that the largest company in the world - and the richest man in the world - wants you dead."

That wasn't precisely what Blake said, but she nodded anyway.

"Yes."

Again, Weiss looked like she didn't want to believe it, as her eyes narrowed and she observed Blake's every move. But, eventually, she scoffed and turned away.

"No wonder you ran."

"Why didn't you report it to the police?" Ruby added. "To me. Or at least Yang -"

Blake shook her head, but Weiss answered the question first.

"Taven Bishop isn't someone you arrest - he's not even someone you threaten to arrest. That's why the case with his son is such a big deal, remember? No one can believe the police had the gall to charge a Bishop with a crime, not when they're wealthier and more powerful than any other family in the world."

Ruby stared at Weiss for a long time, her mind clearly working through the situation before forming a conclusion.

"But...you're representing his son."

The question confirmed Blake's intuition not to trust Weiss - she was already in Bishop's pocket - but Weiss responded by pursing her lips and looking incredibly unhappy with the situation.

"I am."

"Then...can't you get in a ton of trouble if you're...you know, investigating him?"

Looking even more unhappy, Weiss unfolded her arms and nodded once.

"I can."

After shooting a glance towards Blake, Ruby moved closer to Weiss and gently touched her arm.

"Then maybe…"

"No," Weiss said, cutting Ruby off. "I'm helping. I don't care - I just want Yang back."

The determined response tilted Blake's perception away from her initial assumption, and a thread of guilt wove through her chest. Of course, this could all be a setup - maybe Weiss didn't care about her job because she was doing her job by getting information out of them. But she seemed to genuinely care about Yang's well-being…

"Are you sure?" Ruby pressed.

"I'm sure. I'll do anything that needs to be done to bring Yang back. I'll drop the case - I'll retire if I have to."

"Retire?" Ruby yelped. "Like, stop working?"

"Yes." Brow furrowing, Weiss nodded and thought through the situation. "Burnout happens all the time - it wouldn't surprise anyone. Plus, I've already been laying the groundwork to step away."

"You have?" Ruby asked, and Weiss gave her a soft look.

"Yes," she replied, reaching out to hold Ruby's hands. "Because I'm tired of keeping this a secret," she explained, clutching Ruby's hands closer. "I want to take you out for dinners, and take walks in the park without worrying about who might see us - I want to be a real couple."

"Weiss…but what would you do?"

"I don't know." Weiss let out a small laugh and smiled. "But I don't care. I just want to be with you."

With how touching the conversation was, Blake found it even more difficult to not believe Weiss' words were true. She seemed to care - to truly care - about Ruby and Yang. Was her only crime circumstance and timing? What if she and Blake met before everything fell apart? How would she feel then?

When Blake shuffled her feet, Ruby leaned forward to kiss Weiss before moving away with a smile.

"We'll discuss later. But first -" Turning to the computer screen, Ruby pulled up the video Blake downloaded from the camera in Yang's apartment. "We have a sister to find."

While Blake and Weiss watched, Ruby moved screens and windows in some order that she, and only she, understood. From there, she opened window-after-window of video feeds from around the city. Many were locked, as they should be to avoid prying eyes, but the level of encryption was hardly enough to pause Ruby's progress.

"This is what I was doing earlier…" she mumbled while staring at one video at a time. "Trying to piece together a timeline. With your video though, we know the exact time…"

After pulling up gridlines marking the times on all of the videos, Ruby scrolled to a very specific time on the first one and pressed play. The video showed the sidewalk down the street from Yang's apartment, but the resolution made it nearly impossible to make out more than the largest details.

Long after Blake wrote off the point-of-view as worthless, Ruby kept staring. Going through the video one frame at a time, she searched for clues that only she would find. To everyone else, it was an endless span of nothing, nothing, and more nothing. And to Blake, it was too slow - too tedious - and too time-consuming for her not to get restless.

"We have their masks," she pointed out, motioning to the screen. "Can't you just track those - see where else they showed up?"

Finally ceasing her intent scanning, Ruby turned around.

"Do you really think it's that easy?"

"When we have their masks, yes." Blake knew it was the wrong answer the moment Ruby scoffed and Weiss shook her head.

"Notice anything strange about this?" Ruby asked while pulling up a still image from the hidden camera. When Blake looked at the screen but didn't immediately respond, Ruby said, "Here, look closer." After enlarging the picture and fixing the resolution, she drew circles around the kidnappers' faces. "How about now?"

Now that Blake could see the faces clearly - all five the same portrait - her heart sank.

"Did you think they were just quintuplets or something?" Ruby asked, looking at Blake while she shook her head and ran a hand through her hair. "Sure, it'd be nice if they all chose unique masks - that'd make my job super easy - but they're all using Jace-Face, Blake. You know what Jace-Face is, right?"

"Yes, I know what Jace-Face is," she mumbled while Ruby turned back to the computer. After several rapid hand motions, she pulled up a larger window.

"Ok, then you know how hard it is to track." Taking a step back, Ruby gestured towards the screen. "Here are the facial matches from the night Yang was kidnapped."

The number of orange dots on the screen must have approached a hundred.

"And that's just a few blocks." Moving her hand in another intricate gesture, Ruby moved the view out even further, which revealed hundreds more orange dots. "Here's the district - and you don't even want to see the city."

Looking at the screen made Blake feel helpless and lost like nothing else could.

"Every criminal in the city uses Jace-Face," Ruby concluded, sounding exasperated that she even needed to explain this. "Combine them with people who just bought a new holomask, don't know how to use a holomask, and kids who think it's funny to run around with the default image, and you have thousands of hits at any given moment."

"There has to be a faster way," Blake mumbled, pacing again while her mind raced. Those were too many leads to track quickly, which meant finding Yang would take even longer, which meant she'd be in the Dreamscape longer, which meant...

"There isn't. The only thing we can do is search for another way to find them - the masks aren't helpful."

Blake ran her hand through her hair in frustration. Every minute - every second Yang spent in those nightmares was a step closer to losing her for good. If Ruby couldn't find her soon, Blake had to go back into the Dreamscape and find her, which might be a better or worse solution based on Yang's willingness to accept her.

And, realistically, she wasn't sure if that was a dream she would wake up from.

"We don't have time for this."

"I know, Blake. But this isn't like having a magic lamp or something. I can't just ask it where Yang is and get it to spit out an answer."

"We don't know what they're doing to her," Blake said, her heart pounding at the thought. "For all we know, she's already -"

The thought stopped her cold.

"Just find something," she finished.

"Don't talk to her like that," Weiss immediately snapped, crossing her arms and standing by Ruby's shoulder.

"It's fine, Weiss," Ruby muttered, minimizing the map of holomasks and getting back to work.

"No, it's not," Weiss said before turning back to Blake. "You don't get to storm in here and boss people around. Not after what you've done."

"What I've done?" Blake asked, tilting her head and scoffing at the accusation.

"You're the reason we're here, aren't you?"

Gritting her teeth, Blake avoided the trap argument.

"We're here for Yang."

"Yes, and Yang wouldn't be in trouble if it weren't - for - you."

Blake hated the way Weiss emphasized the words. Most of all, she hated that Weiss had a point. This was her fault, but she didn't need someone to point that out to her. She was already fully, painfully aware of her responsibility.

"You don't understand the type of danger she's in."

"If only someone would enlighten me," Weiss replied, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "Oh, that's right. You won't. Because you refuse to help us."

"What does it look like I'm doing right now?"

"Covering up mistakes."

Blake scowled at the insinuation, which Weiss made without a fraction of regret or consequence.

"Ok! Both of you - cut it out."

Blake stopped her rebuttal as both she and Weiss turned to Ruby.

"I can't think with you arguing in my ear," Ruby said. "So out - take it into the hall or somewhere I don't have to hear it."

For a second, it looked like Weiss didn't know what to do with such an instruction. After digesting it, however, she gave Blake a blistering look before stomping towards the door.

"Weiss," Ruby said when Weiss' hand barely touched the doorknob.

"Yes?"

"Come here a second?"

Weiss brushed harshly past Blake, who opened the door to let herself out. When she turned around, however, she caught a glimpse of the kiss Ruby gave Weiss. Another pinprick of jealousy appeared in her chest, but she clenched her jaw and left the room behind. Weiss joined her seconds later - fury tempered but still very much alive.

"Ruby has never kicked me out of a room before," she snapped, straightening her shirt before giving Blake a disdainful gaze. "Just one more thing I can thank you for."

"Did I do something to you?" Blake asked, her annoyance finally bursting through.

"No. You did something to someone I care about."

The comment deflated Blake's anger, which made it impossible for her to think of a harsh response. Weiss, however, took the silence as tacit agreement with the words.

"I don't trust you," she added, giving Blake yet another glare while stepping into her space. "All this time, you wouldn't come home. You wouldn't even tell Yang what was going on. Now you're back and ready to be a knight in shining armor?" Weiss scoffed and shook her head at the idea. "You're not telling us something, and if Yang or Ruby get hurt because of it, I'll make sure you pay."

Straightening her posture, Weiss flipped her hair over one shoulder and gave Blake a withering gaze.

"Feel free to make yourself at home. In my home, where I'm only letting you stay because Ruby and Yang think so highly of you. Although I can't see why."

With that last insult issued, Weiss spun on her heel and stalked away.

Blake wanted to be angry - she wanted to hate Weiss for the comments - but instead she just felt...tired. Sitting down at the kitchen table, she set her head in her hands and sighed.

If Ruby couldn't find anything soon, she would use the Dreamscape and connect with Yang again. It would be a trap, but she would walk into it with hopes that her skills were enough to get her out. If not...well, hopefully Yang would be safe if Blake was actually dead.

But first, she would hold out hope that Ruby found something...anything...

Chapter Text

Blake hated feeling helpless, but that's all she'd felt since the dream with Yang in the library. Helpless, useless, out of her depth, and guilty. She could go back into the Dreamscape and hope Yang was still there - leaving clues, somehow - but she knew she would be discovered as soon as she closed her eyes.

She waited while Ruby searched for answers, but, if they didn't find something soon, she would use the Dreamscape anyway - risks be damned. Until then, she sat at the kitchen table hoping for something to happen while her knee bounced up and down. Weiss had returned to the kitchen several minutes ago, and opted to sit across from Blake while reading and responding to messages on her constantly-buzzing phone.

They hadn't spoken a word since Weiss stormed off earlier, and that was just as well with Blake. She didn't want to argue; she didn't want to start a fight. All she wanted was to find Yang and find a way to protect everyone going forward.

Now that the situation had changed so drastically, however, she wasn't certain she could protect anyone anymore. Her cover was blown. Yang's shield of ignorance was destroyed. The only thing she had left was the carefully-guarded knowledge she refused to give anyone.

"You know," Weiss said, finally breaking the silence while laying her phone on the table. "I've met the woman who replaced you. Dr. Webb."

Blake looked up but didn't respond, which Weiss took as her cue to continue.

"She's very smart - very capable. From what I heard, they were worried about launching Daydreamer without you, but she stepped in and kept everything on track. She's accomplished some amazing things as well."

From Weiss' neutral expression, Blake couldn't tell if she was being insulted or merely informed of how her replacement was faring. Based on prior interactions, however, assuming the worse didn't seem unreasonable.

"She was always very capable," she replied. "I'm not surprised she's done incredible things."

The answer felt adequately diplomatic, but Weiss examined Blake for a few seconds before gesturing with one hand.

"I believe this is where you say you taught her everything she knows."

Like before, the words were openly confrontational. The incessant prodding would eventually make Blake lash out - to say or do something without a filter in place - but that might be the purpose. Unfortunately for Weiss, she had ample experience keeping her thoughts and emotions in check - that was, after all, the essence of being a dream theorist.

"I taught her a great deal of what she knows," she replied calmly, not shying away from Weiss' cold gaze. "But you already knew that."

While the two of them stared each other down, Blake weighed her options as to what she wanted to say next. On the one hand, she didn't have any interest or desire to get into an argument with someone she just met. On the other hand, Weiss was intentionally provoking her, and that wouldn't stop until she made it clear that she wouldn't tolerate it.

"Weiss!"

Ruby's voice immediately ended their staring contest, and both of them spun towards the door while Ruby stuck her head into the kitchen. Spotting them at the table, she waved them over.

"Blake - you gotta see this. I found something!"

Without a word, Blake and Weiss rushed into the computer room, where Ruby returned to her position in front of the screens and gestured towards one of them.

"Look at this," she said, drawing a circle around whatever it was she wanted them to look at. "See it?"

Enlarged on the screen was an image of one of the kidnappers dragging Yang out of the apartment - the image so jarring and fear-inducing that Blake's first instinct was to look away. Resisting that urge, she focused on what Ruby was trying to show them: a small spot on the front of the kidnapper's shirt, only visible when their jacket moved out of the way.

"A...stain?" Weiss guessed.

"Bingo!" Ruby zoomed in on the area within the circle, where Blake saw what looked like a small, red stain - not exactly a map to Yang's location.

"How does that help?" she asked, not understanding how a sloppy shirt led them anywhere.

"Because who wakes up in the morning and puts on a dirty shirt?" Ruby replied before waving her hands. "No one! Well, some people do, but most people don't. And if most people wouldn't put on a dirty shirt in the morning…"

"Then the stain happened at some point during the day," Weiss answered with a nod.

"Exactly!" After grinning at Weiss, Ruby turned back to the screens and brought forward windows upon windows of additional camera feeds. "It's reddish-brown, right?" she asked while working. "So I figured ketchup, BBQ sauce, or - you know - blood. But I started with any restaurant serving either ketchup or BBQ sauce."

Ruby quickly showed them a map with about a thousand dots marking various locations around the city.

"It's...a lot," she said before continuing. "But I pulled the feeds for as many as possible, then wrote a program searching for people making 'mistakes' with their condiments." Ruby spun a carousel of video clips on the screen, each one showing some poor soul spilling sauce on themselves.

"Then I told it to only look for people wearing white shirts," she explained as the carousel shrank to only a few videos. She then grabbed one and expanded it to play full screen. "And bingo."

In the video, a young man with short, well-groomed hair ate a hamburger in one corner of a busy restaurant. When he took the first bite of his meal, however, a big glob of ketchup slipped out and dropped onto his shirt. Setting his burger to the side, he grabbed a napkin and wiped it off as best as he could, but a stain was left behind.

Freezing and enlarging the video, Ruby circled the stain.

"Look familiar?"

Pulling up the video from Yang's apartment, she put the two pictures side-by-side.

"I can't believe it…" Weiss said, staring at the screen for several seconds before turning to Ruby. "You just tracked a ketchup stain."

"You know it!" Beaming at the accomplishment, Ruby returned her gaze to the screen and opened several tabs containing more photos and information about their prime suspect. "He's an intern at Dreamscape - started a few months ago. And…here's everywhere his phone has been in the past few days."

Another map appeared, this one marked with locations the boy frequented. Several spots glowed brighter than the others, likely because those were the places he visited more often. Blake recognized one of them as Dreamscape's headquarters, while the other was probably his home. Besides those two points, there were a handful of other spots he'd visited less frequently.

"People are so dumb…" Ruby commented while parsing through video files from each location. "They wear a mask but carry their damn phone everywhere. They don't realize that if you crack the mask, you nail them with their phone."

"Then you found her?" Blake asked. When Ruby pointed back to the screen, Blake felt a flicker of hope ignite in her chest.

"I think I did, but the views from these two locations are super scrambled. It'll take some time to unravel them, but these are the only two that make sense."

As soon as Ruby highlighted the two locations, Blake's worry worsened.

"She's here." Stepping forward, she pointed to the dot in the bottom right of the screen.

"How do you know?" Ruby asked while zooming in on the location. And, as more distinguishing features came into view, Blake grew more assured that she was right.

"Because that's the old Dreamscape lab," she explained, her heart growing heavy from the words. "We used it until the new building was completed. Now, it's mostly storage."

Storage and a place to hold a hostage. And with the amount of lab equipment left there…

"I'm going to get her," she said, spinning away from the screen and heading towards the door.

"'I'm going to get her'?" Weiss repeated. "What does that mean?"

"It means I'm going to get her," Blake repeated, giving Weiss a look that dared her to argue. Of course, Weiss didn't shy away from the look in the slightest.

"That's an idiotic idea," she snapped back. Crossing her arms over her chest, she stepped between Blake and the doorway to block her exit. "We're calling the police - they'll get her."

"The police?" Blake scoffed and shook her head at the idea. "You don't understand. We can't just send cops rushing in there to pull her out - we don't know how she'll react to that."

"I'm sure she'll react just fine to being rescued."

"What if she thinks she's in a dream?" Blake retorted. Explaining everything was irritating, but Ruby and Weiss clearly didn't understand the gravity of the situation.

"Why do you think they took her there?" she asked, motioning towards the screen while Weiss glared at her. "Because they have the equipment to force her into dreams, and we don't know what types of dreams they put her in."

When Weiss and Ruby just stared back at her, she sighed.

"The theorists I worked with are the best out there - they can put her in a dream so lifelike, she won't know the difference between that and reality. What if, in that dream, her friends are now her enemies? What if the department turned on her? What if she's running from them? What if they've threatened her life? What will she do if the tactical team suddenly breaks down the door?"

Scrambling someone's sense of reality created confusion and fear - the perfect emotions to cause knee-jerk reactions in search of self-preservation. With Yang's training...she could potentially hurt someone before they subdued her. And what if they had to use force to subdue her?

Fortunately, Weiss and Ruby seemed to understand the situation now, as evidenced by the worried look they shared before turning back to Blake.

"And what makes you think they haven't poisoned her against you?"

In a continuation of what seemed to be a trend, Weiss easily zeroed in on the root of the issue.

"I don't," Blake replied with a frown and stabbing pain in her heart. "But...I think that no matter what, she'll give me a chance to prove myself. If the police run in guns blazing...I just don't want her to do something she'll regret."

When Weiss pursed her lips but didn't respond, Blake knew her argument was at least partially accepted.

"We can call Casey," Ruby suggested. Blake flinched at the name, but Ruby continued unaware. "He'll help us. Yang trusts him, and we can trust him."

"You can't trust anyone, Ruby."

When Ruby and Weiss shared another look - taking far too long with this decision - Blake lost her patience and brushed past Weiss.

"Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get Yang."

"With what expertise?" Weiss asked while following Blake into the kitchen. "I don't know if you noticed, but the people who took Yang carried very real weapons."

"I'll figure something out."

"I'm coming with you," Ruby said, rushing to catch up to Blake near the front door.

"No, you're not."

"Yes, I am," Ruby repeated more forcefully. "I went through the academy just like Yang did," she pointed out while again blocking Blake's exit. "Sure, I don't do that stuff all the time anymore, but that doesn't mean I'm incapable. Plus, I'd like to see you bypass a tri-level security system without me."

Ruby had a point, and she knew it. For as knowledgeable as Blake was about the Dreamscape and crafting dreams, she knew very little about the inner workings of computers and security systems. Plus, she didn't have the police background that Yang and Ruby did - the only times she'd fired a weapon were the few instances Yang dragged her to a range to learn for self-defense.

"No."

Blake sighed at Weiss' interjection, knowing all of this back-and-forth only delayed her further.

"Weiss…" Ruby said, but Weiss shook her head.

"No, Ruby. This is a job for the police - and I realize you're part of the police," Weiss added, raising her hand to stop Ruby's complaint. "But rescuing someone is a job for the tactical team, not the tech whiz and a dream theorist."

Surprised by the response, Ruby looked at Blake as if asking what to do. Blake, however, was done with the discussion. Instead, she reached for the handle of the front door.

"James, lock the front door," Weiss said. The handle immediately stiffened under Blake's grasp, refusing to budge when she attempted to turn it. Irritation flaring up, Blake spun towards Weiss and glared.

"Unlock it."

"No," Weiss replied while crossing her arms over her chest. "I'm doing you a favor - now you'll live to see another day."

"You're keeping me from saving Yang."

"I'm keeping you from doing something stupid."

"How about this -" Ruby cut in, lifting her hands as she stepped in between them. "We'll check it out. If there are armed guards and those scary robot dogs, then we'll collect as much info as we can and get the hell out of there. But, if it looks like we can sneak in, we get Yang out as fast as possible."

When Ruby turned to Blake for approval, she reluctantly nodded. At this point, she was willing to accept anything that got her one step closer to Yang. Weiss, however, continued to look unhappy with the situation.

"And what do you propose I do?" she eventually asked.

"You stay here and watch the camera feeds just like I taught you. That way you can warn us about anything we don't see."

Arms still crossed, Weiss thought about the solution for several long seconds before sighing.

"You'd better not try to be a hero," she said, directing the words to Ruby only.

"I won't. We'll be smart." Ruby glanced at Blake out of the corner of her eye before adding, "I'll be smart."

The corrected response probably wasn't meant a dig at Blake's intelligence, nor did she take it as such. She knew as well as Ruby that her emotions were compromised, but for good reason. Every second they waited was one more second Yang spent in a dream. And every second Yang spent in a dream was one second closer to her mind accepting an alternate version of reality - probably one where Blake was an enemy rather than friend.

"Take my car," Weiss added, walking away from the front door while Ruby dutifully followed.

"Should we really take a car from here?" Blake asked, following the pair towards what was likely the garage.

"Sure, why not?"

"Because it can be tracked? How secure is the surveillance field?" When Blake motioned towards the walls of Weiss' house, she earned a scoff.

"Very secure."

"Extra secure," Ruby corrected. "Around-the-clock facial masking, time splitting, and enough event pieces that it won't loop for five years."

Pausing by a closed door, Weiss looked at Ruby in genuine surprise.

"When did you set that up?"

"You don't remember? That night you wanted to read that book? You hung out at my place, and I asked if I could upgrade your surveillance stuff."

"Oh." Looking part impressed and part unsure of how to respond, Weiss eventually smiled and placed her palm to a scanner beside the door. "Well, thank you."

"You're welcome," Ruby replied before casting another glance Blake's way. "Yang wouldn't let me do the same for her…" she added before shaking her head and taking a deep breath. "But yes, we can take a car - I can scramble the feeds on the way."

"Of that, I have no doubt," Weiss replied, squeezing Ruby's shoulder and offering a smile of consolation before turning slightly away. "James, unlock the garage."

Blake heard latches slide out of place as the AI driver followed orders and unlocked the door. Weiss then led them into a large garage with a sleek, silver car parked inside. The vehicle looked very much like something a high-powered attorney would drive - flashy, expensive, and sure to draw attention from both passerby and surveillance fields across the city.

As Blake watched, however, the paint shimmered to jet black before her eyes. The windows darkened to a level of tint no one on the outside could see through, with camera reflection built into the glass. And, as Ruby tapped several buttons on her phone, the license numbers scrambled and reorganized into a different set entirely - something only someone with special access or a high degree of coding confidence could do.

"That should do it," Ruby muttered before pocketing her phone and turning to Weiss.

"Be careful," Weiss immediately said, the words sounding like a cross between a demand and a plea.

"Don't worry." Pecking Weiss on the lips, Ruby smiled and opened the passenger door. "We'll be back before you know it."

Opening another door for herself, Blake slipped her holomask around her ear and stepped into the vehicle without a word. She felt the icy glare aimed at her back but ignored the feeling while settling into the spacious cabin.

Without a doubt, this was the nicest car she'd ever ridden in. From the leather seats to the stocked workspaces and full-sized video screen taking up the front of the vehicle, it was outfitted for someone who took their work everywhere.

Hearing a second door close, Blake looked over as Ruby slipped into the seat across from her. As soon as Ruby settled in and situated her own holomask in place - her brunette hair lengthening and gaining a red hue, she tapped several keys on her phone and turned around when the garage door opened behind them. With another push of a button, the vehicle came to life - the cabin lighting up with various electronics - before smoothly shifting into reverse and moving out of the driveway.

"God, I love this car," Ruby sighed as the garage door closed behind them. Once the vehicle reached the street, it seamlessly shifted into drive and set off on the route programmed into the computer.

"How long?" Blake asked, much more interested in how far they were from Yang.

"Not long. Maybe ten minutes - taking us a few long ways to avoid the camera alleys."

Accepting that answer with a nod, Blake stared out the window as the streets moved past.

Using private transit made her edgy. Even though she knew Ruby would mask their identities and locations as much as possible, a personal vehicle provided fewer means of blending into the crowd. Especially when the only ones driving themselves around these days were the police and the wealthy...they were sure to draw eyes.

"Yang calls it the 'bitchmobile'..." Ruby said, looking momentarily downcast at the mention of her sister before shaking her head. "Says only someone like Weiss would drive something like this - that she uses it to intimidate people."

"That sounds like Yang…" Feeling a lump of emotion appear in her throat, Blake looked at her hands and tried not to cry. She needed to stay strong. Yang needed her to stay strong.

"Don't worry. We're getting her back."

When Blake looked up and saw Ruby's encouraging smile, she quickly went back to staring out the window.

"I hope so..." she whispered, feeling both undeserving and unwilling to accept Ruby's optimism.

Without context, Ruby couldn't understand how easily someone's mind could be turned against them. As human beings, they inherently wanted to believe what they saw - what they felt. By manipulating the universe and constantly changing the rules, a person could be trained or conditioned to accept alternate realities. Or worse, they could develop a long-lasting paranoia that they were always dreaming. Right now, Blake's only hope was that Yang's experience in the Dreamscape allowed her to pick up what was real and what was fake.

As the car turned the next corner and drove beneath two streetlights, Blake clenched her hands in her lap while regret reared its ugly head.

She should have prepared Yang for this. She should have done more explicit training so that Yang had the skills to combat the environment. Instead, she concerned herself with maintaining the integrity of their relationship. If they didn't talk like they used to - if she forced Yang to prepare for some unknown threat instead - could they have lasted this long?

At the time, she was willing to take the risk. But she chose wrong. That seemed like a common theme, these days...

"I'm gonna drop us off around the corner," Ruby said, lowering her voice to a whisper even though no one could conceivably hear them inside the vehicle. "That way no one sees the car."

Blake responded with nothing more than a nod while watching the streets grow more familiar by the second. This used to be the way she traveled to work every morning - via the transit line on the left side of the street. While time and weather had worn down many of the buildings, the lack of light only added to the sense of abandonment and isolation surrounding them.

"Weiss?"

When Ruby said the name and turned towards the front of the vehicle, the video screen came to life and showed Weiss standing at the computer they just left behind.

"I'm here," Weiss replied, her eyes flitting to Ruby before returning to the screens in front of her. "Where are you?"

"Just circled on your screen - near the convenience store." Putting her phone away, Ruby turned towards Weiss. "Do you see anything on the cameras?"

"Nothing abnormal. A patrol car went past a few minutes ago though."

"Which direction?"

"Towards downtown."

"Good." Taking one last look at her phone, Ruby nodded and took a deep breath as the car slid to a stop. "Then we're out."

"Be careful."

With that last urge of caution sending them on their way, Blake and Ruby left the car in favor of the chilly night air outside.

"Remember," Ruby whispered while they walked towards the sprawling building. "Armed guards or robot dogs - we go to Plan B."

Even though Blake nodded, she knew there was no Plan B. At least, there wasn't a Plan B that she approved of. She wouldn't force Ruby to help, but she wasn't leaving this place without Yang.

"Lights are on," she pointed out as they approached the massive block of land that used to hold Dreamscape's first combined research and production campus.

"Doesn't mean much…" Pulling out her phone, Ruby lazily tapped the buttons as if sending a routine message. "Most places keep the lights on to deter thieves."

While the answer was somewhat reassuring, it also meant they would have to 'sneak' into a building bathed in artificial light. There would be no cover of darkness, and turning off the lights would provide a clear sign that something was going on.

"You worked here, right?" Ruby muttered after they passed a pair of college students hurrying home from the nearby campus.

"Years ago, yes." Glancing to the right, Blake searched for signs of life inside the building while also trying not to look suspicious. Ruby was much better at it than she was, but Ruby had the benefit of looking immensely at ease whenever she fiddled with her phone.

"Then you know which entrance we should use?"

If the layout hadn't changed, Blake had a good idea of where Yang might be...if Yang was here at all. At the center of the building was a large atrium the size of a sports field. 'The Brain,' they called it - it was there that research and development of the original Dreamscape was undertaken, and it was there that most of the old research equipment remained.

If Blake wanted a quiet, secluded location with everything she needed to bend someone's psyche...this was the perfect place.

The front door was closest, but it was also probably the most heavily secured. Fortunately, a myriad of secondary entrances littered the sides and back of the building. Some were used for deliveries, but most were for staff to access the plentiful green spaces provided to help them 'de-stress.'

"This way." Leading them around the side of the building, making sure to keep to the sidewalk for now, Blake kept her eyes peeled for signs of life but found nothing. Nothing besides the steady light emanating from inside the building.

"That door there," she said, looking with her eyes but not gesturing towards the entrance tucked underneath an awning on the other side of what looked like a miniature park. Small areas like these littered the exterior of the building, serving as rest areas but also sources of dream details. It looked like the neighborhood had claimed those areas as their own after Dreamscape's departure, as evidenced by the group of people barbecuing at the far end of the campus.

"Ok." Stopping on the sidewalk, Ruby checked her phone one more time before putting it away. "Our eye in the sky says things are clear. Let's take a closer look."

Without hesitation, Ruby walked towards the building while Blake hurried to keep up. She didn't understand how Ruby looked so calm under the circumstances, but she walked as if she belonged here, with her hands in her pockets and her head held high. Blake, however, tried not to look over her shoulder every other second, and felt her heart beat louder and her palms grow clammier the closer they drew to the door.

"Too bad we couldn't call the department…" Ruby muttered on the way. "Then they could just thermal the building and see if she's here…"

Blake understood Ruby's frustration, but she wasn't sure what Yang would do under those circumstances. Plus, she needed to know everything Yang remembered, and she didn't want to risk the wrong information getting into the department's hands before she had the opportunity to interpret it. So...they were doing this the hard way.

"What do you think?" she asked when they reached the park and Ruby slowed down. Blake still felt her nerves flying like live wires through her chest, but Ruby calmly sat at one of the picnic tables before motioning for Blake to sit across from her.

"This place is a lot less cobweb-y than expected."

"Dreamscape still owns and maintains it," Blake explained, glancing towards the street before chiding herself for the look. "They store equipment marked for breakdown here, but they only staff it during the week."

"And use crazy security on the weekend." Ruby held up her phone to show a labyrinth of data filling the screen. "Motion detectors, sound detectors - I've already spoofed a dozen sensors that would've picked us up on the walk over. Can you pretend like you're talking?"

"Uh...yes?" Confused by the request, Blake nonetheless tried to comply. "Uh, we...we used to have competitions over who could recreate these rest areas most accurately. It encouraged people to focus on work even when taking a break."

"Bet you won all of those, huh."

"I won plenty. While I was allowed to compete, that is."

"They disqualified you?" Ruby asked, looking up from her phone long enough to catch Blake's nod. "Same thing happened to me," she replied. "Used to win all the hacking challenges at school, then they said I couldn't participate anymore - to make it fair for everyone else."

Ruby turned back to her phone and typed for a few seconds before a small holoscreen appeared in front of her.

"Why punish the kids who excel?" she mused while moving a complex series code into different positions. "I almost quit, but Yang wouldn't let me. She came up with challenges on her own and used her allowance to buy prizes I could 'win.' She made it fun again."

Ending the holoscreen, Ruby grabbed her phone and stood up.

"We have ten minutes of looping video running through this feed," she said while heading to the door. "So we need to hurry."

Before following, Blake glanced towards the group of barbecuers some distance away, but they were too busy with their music and food to pay much attention to anything else. Feeling somewhat assured that no one had noticed them, Blake caught up with Ruby at the industrial door leading into the building. As soon as Ruby saw the lock beside the door, however, she gasped and held her phone up to it.

"Oh my god...it's a Codemaster 8000. Do you know how expensive these are?"

"Probably pretty expensive - can you open it?"

Ruby scoffed at the question while typing on her phone.

"Can I open it..." she muttered before a green light appeared seconds later, along with the sound of locks sliding open. "Apparently, I can!" she added before pushing the door open and slipping inside. Blake was quick to follow but paused when she saw the familiar hallway looming in front of her.

Years ago, employees filled these halls. The walls buzzed with excitement and anticipation - everyone aware of the impact their work had on the world and their future. The building never slept, and the employees hardly slept either.

That feeling was long gone. Left behind was an eerie emptiness and overwhelming sense of foreboding. The foreboding was probably of Blake's creation, but the feeling only amplified when she heard the locks slide into place behind her.

"Easier to lock it than keep fooling the system," Ruby whispered. The explanation made sense but offered no assurance of a quick exit. And Blake wanted to leave this place as fast as possible, with Yang in tow.

"Do you know where to look?"

"Yes." Without questioning her decision, Blake led the way towards where she suspected Yang to be.

Heading further into the building meant they'd be further from the exit. It meant they could easily be surrounded or trapped by any number of different tactics. Still, she pressed onward, ignoring danger in favor of following her determination to get Yang out of here as quickly as possible.

She used to hate the color of the walls - a sterile white that reminded her too much of a hospital. Their only redeeming quality were the embedded video screens located every few feet. The screens ran all day long, playing a range of media from the daily news to nature documentaries. All of it was meant to stimulate their minds and keep them thinking even while walking from one room to the next. New environments, new presets, new features - whatever the content inspired them to create, Dreamscape would use with impunity.

Without the video screens bombarding them with visuals, the walls were just...barren and white. The lack of distraction made the 'decorative' sheets of reflective material in every corner all the more obvious, and Blake cast a wary eye at the first one they passed, wondering if the authorities were already on the way.

"Don't worry - I got 'em."

With Ruby's reassurance that the cameras were dealt with, Blake quickened her pace and hurried towards the room she once considered home as much as her apartment. The main laboratory made up the entire center of the building, and the room was responsible for nearly all of the early advances in dreaming. She'd spent many late nights and early mornings using the testing bays and coming up with new theories, but she'd never rushed towards the room feeling anything but excitement before.

Today, she felt nothing but anxiety while rounding the corner and finding the lab filling the view in front of her. The outer wall of the room was glass, with glass doors providing clear visibility of the room beyond - old desks, old computers, old testing bays, and...

The moment she saw Yang - unmoving and strapped to one of the test bays - she lost all sense of caution and broke into a run. She heard Ruby running beside her, the two of them making it to the door at nearly the same time before forcing it open and flying into the room beyond. Within seconds, they were at Yang's side.

"Yang," Blake said first, reaching out and touching Yang's shoulder to see if she would wake. With her head rolled off to one side, Blake's first thought was the most heartbreaking - and she would've succumbed to the despair right then had she not noticed a small lock of blonde hair move when an exhale passed Yang's lips.

Relieved beyond measure, Blake quickly set about loosening the straps holding Yang in place.

"Why did they leave her?" Ruby asked while helping with the straps around Yang's ankles. Blake didn't have an answer for that, so she just hurried to release Yang from the booth. They could figure out the rest later - right now, they needed to get Yang out of here.

She was alive and breathing, but looked like she'd been through hell. Scrapes and bruises covered her arm, with several cuts deep enough to require sealing to stop the bleeding. Those now shimmered with a sheen of bioseal while dark red, jagged lines showed underneath.

It didn't look like the injuries were intentional, although Blake wasn't an expert on anything related to this field. But they looked like the result of a fight - or, more likely, the result of Yang fighting back.

Pushing the hair out of Yang's eyes, Blake found more cuts and bruises, including one on her forehead that looked particularly painful. Besides the injuries, a Dream Disk sat on her temple, which made Blake hastily search for an operating Dreamscape.

"Ruby, look for anything that's running," she said while checking the cabinets and workstation nearby. Everything looked powered down, but that didn't mean Yang wasn't still dreaming.

"Dammit." Checking several more cabinets and finding nothing, Blake felt her alarm grow as their time ran out. If she couldn't find the Dreamscape, she didn't want to remove the Dream Disk and risk tearing Yang out of a dream.

"Leave that on her," she finally said. "Let's get her out of here."

Once they were far enough away, the Disk should lose signal strength and trigger the internal wake-up procedure. That would prevent any negative side effects...hopefully.

Ducking underneath Yang's arm, Ruby held onto her sister and stood upright.

"She's...kinda heavy..." Ruby huffed, struggling to grab something from her pocket while also keeping Yang upright. "Here," she said while holding a small, square piece of metal out to Blake. "It goes on her neck."

Blake accepted the device and stepped behind Yang, but held it up to the back of Yang's neck with a bit of hesitation. She'd never used one of these before - she'd only ever seen them used on television or in movies.

Turns out, they were fairly simple. As soon as the piece of metal touched Yang's neck, a beam of protective sheeting dropped to the floor, and a soft humming filled the air.

"There we go," Ruby muttered while ducking out from underneath Yang's arm and prompting the hovercart to lay flat. With the blue-grey material holding Yang securely, Ruby took a step forward and nodded when the device followed her.

"You got her?" Blake asked, earning another nod.

"Yup." Before moving, however, Ruby pulled a second holomask out of her pocket and slipped it around Yang's ear. Once Yang's identity faded away, Ruby nodded. "Let's get out of here."

As Ruby started towards the exit, Blake was about to follow when her attention caught on a phone sitting on the desk nearby. Picking it up, she tried to unlock it and was surprised when it accepted her retina scan. The shield wallpaper confirmed it belonged to Yang, so Blake pocketed it before hurrying after Ruby.

"Why did they leave her?" Ruby whispered, her eyes moving to Yang every other second while they rushed out of the lab. "Blake, why did they just leave her?"

"I don't know. Maybe...I don't know."

There was no one here - why was no one here? Why did they leave Yang's phone right where she would find it? As soon as she woke up from whatever drug they gave her, she would have released herself and called for help - but why? Why kidnap her only to let her go?

Doing her best not to let her emotions overrun her, Blake squeezed Yang's shoulder and tried to gain reassurance from her presence. It didn't work. Seeing Yang so vulnerable only added to Blake's rampant fear of what was happening.

"Makes no sense…" Ruby muttered, her brow furrowed when she glanced at Yang and tried to solve that riddle. But now wasn't the time to solve riddles, not when they still needed to make it out of the building.

"Do you remember the way?" Blake asked, trailing behind Ruby so that she could stay closer to Yang.

"Yes."

They quickly made it back to the hall, which was still empty and abandoned. Part of Blake couldn't believe that the building was empty - why would it be empty? - but she pushed the questions aside in favor of following Ruby at a near run. The exit wasn't far now. Just a few more hallways to cross, and they'd be there.

While crossing one of the hallways, however, Blake caught sight of something out of place and stopped. Unaware, Ruby hurried ahead.

"Wait," Blake called out, staring down the adjoining hall while Ruby rushed back to her.

"What are you doing? We need to leave."

"I'll be right back," Blake replied, leaving Yang and Ruby and hurrying down the hall.

"Blake!" Ruby hissed after her, but she had to solve this mystery.

Of all the doors in the hallway, only one was open - the door to her old office. Under ordinary circumstances, she might assume it was a coincidence. Under these circumstances...

Pausing just outside the door, she listened for sounds of life before poking her head inside.

The first thing she noticed was that the computer screens on the wall across from her were on, and -

She didn't know what she expected to find, but what she read sent a wave of ice through her veins.

'DON'T SLEEP'

Typed in a blocky, black font across a white background, the words served as a warning - a notice that they knew she was back. They knew she was alive, and they would stop at nothing to hurt her or the ones she loved. Yang and Ruby weren't safe anymore. No one she cared for was safe, not even if she ran again.

Swallowing against the panic brewing inside of her, she ran out of the office and made it back to Ruby and Yang as fast as possible.

"Hurry," she said while heading towards the exit at a faster pace than before.

"What was it?" Ruby asked while jogging beside her.

"Nothing. Someone just left the screens on."

Ruby opened her mouth to ask a follow-up question, but a soft beeping suddenly broke the silence of the building. Eyes widening, she grabbed her phone and looked at the screen.

"Oh shit. Let's go!"

Blake didn't need a reason - she broke into a sprint as soon as Ruby did.

"Someone called the cops!" Ruby explained while they tore through the building, the sound of their rapid footsteps bouncing off the walls. "Drone's already dispatched!"

"Can't you call it off?" Blake asked, her breath coming in short gasps while trying to keep up with Ruby.

"Not fast enough!"

Accepting the answer, Blake pushed her legs to their limit. Besides her elevated breathing and their footsteps, she thought she heard another sound added to the building. A far-off buzzing or humming...

"Ever been stung by a police drone?" Ruby asked while they ran.

"Of course not," Blake huffed. She definitely heard it now - the sound of rotors spinning while a drone flew through the halls in search of them. The sound grew closer by the second, far outpacing them as they sprinted towards the exit.

"Can't we hide?" she asked when the droning became loud and unmistakable.

"It follows heat signatures - we need to get the hell out of here!"

Mumbling an expletive, Blake pushed her legs as fast as they would go. The exit was just around the corner - Ruby already had her phone out and was somehow typing while she ran, trying to unlock the deadbolts before they got there. The drone closed in on them all the while, inching closer and closer in pursuit.

Ruby got to the door first, and focused on her phone while the keypad remained red.

"And…dammit," she muttered while Blake stopped beside her.

"Ruby -"

Looking behind them, Blake saw the drone round the corner and immediately spot them. Its lights flashed red, but that was all she saw before Ruby grabbed her arm and shoved her outside. A siren sounded as Ruby got Yang outside and slammed the door shut behind them.

For an instant, Blake thought they would have to sprint all the way back to the car. That was, until she saw the jet-black vehicle tearing across the manicured grass towards them. It screeched to a stop in front of them, and the passenger doors automatically popped open.

"Go," Ruby urged her. When they reached the vehicle, the two of them lifted Yang from the hovercart and maneuvered her into one of the seats. As soon as that was done, they both dove inside, and the doors hardly closed before the car sped away from the building.

"Weiss?" Ruby asked, tapping a few buttons before Weiss showed up on the video screen.

"Thank god. You're ok? Is she ok?"

"Yes. Yang." Turning around, Ruby removed Yang's holomask and tapped her forehead in an attempt to wake her up. Yang's eyes fluttered in response, but then her head tilted over in sleep. "Damn, they dosed her good," Ruby muttered, letting Yang's head rest on her shoulder while the car made it back to surface streets. "Weiss, do you have any of that No-Doze stuff?"

"I don't think so…"

"I think I put one in that emergency kit I gave you," Ruby replied, calmly taking Yang's pulse while speaking. After counting silently for a few seconds, she nodded - which Blake took as a good sign. "Can you check?"

"I'll find it. Are you almost here?"

"Yeah, we'll be there soon."

When Weiss hurried away from the camera to complete her assignment, Ruby checked each of Yang's injuries for their severity before applying pre-medicated bandages to the worst ones. Blake hadn't even thought to bring bandages - why hadn't she thought to bring medical supplies?

She knew the answer to that question, and she was suddenly extremely grateful that Ruby insisted on coming along. And that Ruby could think clearly under high stress and emotional duress.

After every injury was checked, Ruby nodded and turned her attention to her phone while Blake gently held Yang's hand. Warm, calloused, and strong - just like she remembered...

"Now to erase that drone..." Ruby muttered. A holoscreen appeared in front of her, which she used to manipulate string after string of code before eventually sighing and pushing everything back into place. "Wiped its memory," she explained while the vehicle raced around a corner. "Now I'll switch the video feeds. If anyone tracks the car, it's driving downtown instead of to Weiss' - using video from test files last night."

Blake never understood how Ruby did these things so easily, but she knew by now to trust in Ruby's genius. So, while a less-skilled pair of capers would probably be picked up by the police by now, they made it back to Weiss' house and pulled into the garage without flashing lights following them.

"Let's get her out," Ruby said as soon as the garage closed and the car turned off. Hurrying to the door nearest to Yang, the two of them struggled to lift the still-unconscious girl from her seat. Ruby ducked under Yang's arm and shouldered most of the weight, but Blake helped as much as possible by wrapping her hands around Yang's waist and lifting.

Weiss hurried into the garage right as they got Yang clear of the car, and moved out of the way so they could carry her into the house.

"To the kitchen," Ruby huffed while struggling inside and down the hall. Blake struggled right along with her, but reached up and removed the Dream Disk from Yang's temple - to be destroyed later.

"James, lock down please," Weiss said while rushing into the kitchen ahead of them and pulling over one of the chairs. Between Ruby and Blake, they lowered Yang as gently as possible into the seat and kept her upright. As soon as Ruby let go and Yang's head drooped to one side, Weiss handed over what looked like a small bottle of perfume. After giving it a good shake and pulling off the cap, Ruby held it under Yang's nose. The device let out a tiny spray, and Yang jolted awake.

"Woah there," Ruby said, holding Yang's shoulder to keep her from jumping right out of the chair. "Calm down - you're ok. You're at Weiss' house."

The words calmed Yang slightly, but her eyes still shot frantically around the room - searching and searching until her gaze fell on Blake and stayed.

So many emotions ran through Blake at that moment - happiness, remorse, and disbelief, to name a few - but her heart swelled with love and longing. They were finally back together, and she stepped closer, wanting to be as close as possible to the person she'd missed more than words could describe.

Yang watched Blake's every step, eyes never leaving hers.

"Yang," she whispered, tears stinging her eyes while she reached for Yang's hand.

The instant their hands touched, however, Yang jerked away. She then looked at Blake with an expression unlike any Blake had seen before - part fear, part hate.

"Stay the hell away from me."

Chapter Text

The words hung in the air like knives that just plunged through Blake’s heart.

“What?” she asked, drawing her hand away as if Yang’s skin had burned her.

“Stay the hell away from me,” Yang repeated, her expression hard and unyielding. The anger radiating from her was enough to make Blake do as requested, taking a step back to put space between them.

“Yang…” Blake heard the pleading in her voice, but Yang didn’t respond to the appeal. Instead, she clenched her jaw and shook her head, unwilling to break that forceful gaze.

Deep down, Blake knew she deserved this. After all the time apart - after all the secrecy - she deserved to be treated this way. She deserved to be hated and reviled...but it hurt more than anything she’d experienced in her life.

“Yang?” Ruby asked, glancing at Blake before turning back to her sister. “What’s wrong?”

“I know what you’re doing.” Even though Ruby asked the question, Yang spoke directly to Blake, never turning that firm gaze away. “This isn’t real - you’re not fooling me again.”

The comment hit Blake like a train, knocking the air from her lungs while confirming her worst fears.

“What do you mean?” Weiss asked with a deepening frown. “Of course this is real.”

“It’s not.” Shaking her head, Yang kept her eyes on Blake rather than acknowledge anyone else in the room. “It’s another trick.”

While Weiss and Ruby shared concerned looks, Blake struggled to keep her emotions in check while her mind raced to find a solution. She thought this might happen, and it had - getting upset about it would be useless. She couldn’t fix the past, but she knew what she had to do - what her research and past experiences had taught her.

But the words on the screen in her old office were emblazoned in her mind.

Don’t sleep.

She didn’t want to, but she had to. She had to use the Dreamscape to convince Yang this was real. It was counterintuitive, but seeing really was believing - and she could show Yang memories no one else could ever duplicate.

But if she used the Dreamscape, someone might be waiting for her. Maybe she could mask the environment and keep it out of view. Or maybe she could move fast enough that no one would notice. She was willing to take the risk if it meant Yang stopped looking at her like she was right now.

“You’re not in a dream,” Blake said, keeping her voice even and calm. “You’re awake, Yang. This is real.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“I can prove it.” The comment drew Yang’s eyes back to her, and Blake immediately wilted under the hard gaze. “I can prove it,” she repeated in a softer tone. “If...you’ll go into the Dreamscape with me…”

Yang scoffed at the idea and turned away.

“No.”

“Yang, please,” Blake begged. “I can prove that it’s me. You just have to...let me.”

When Yang said nothing in response - opting to glower at the wall instead - Blake turned to Ruby and Weiss for support.

“If she doesn’t want to, we’re not making her,” Weiss huffed while folding her arms across her chest.

“But Weiss…” Ruby whispered. “If she thinks this is a dream, that means she thinks we’re part of the dream too.”

For a moment, it looked like Weiss would insist she was fine with that reality so long as it spited Blake. After moving her jaw back and forth for several seconds, however, she shook her head and acquiesced.

“Why does she have to go into the Dreamscape then?” she asked Blake. “Can’t you just answer some questions or something?”

“I can…but it will be easier if I show her.” Realizing she was talking as if Yang couldn’t hear the conversation, Blake turned towards her. “It will be easier if I show you,” she repeated, feeling another spike of nerves when Yang caught her gaze. “That way, you’ll know I was there - that they’re memories only I would know because I experienced them too.”

Yang didn’t immediately say ‘no,’ which was a good sign. Instead, confliction swam through her eyes while she thought about the choice presented to her. Having a choice was important - she needed to feel in control of her life and her decisions again - but they also needed her to agree. Blake could answer as many questions as Yang could think of, but the answers wouldn’t hold the same weight as seeing them take form. She needed to see to believe, even though she knew that sometimes seeing wasn’t worth believing.

After several more seconds and still no response, Ruby reached out and set her hand on top of Yang’s. Although Yang flinched at the touch and gave Ruby a wary look, she allowed the contact to happen.

“I’m not a dream either, Yang,” Ruby said, her tone soft and gentle while giving her sister a small smile. “We need you to believe that...can you believe just by us telling you?”

Yang’s eyes always softened when Ruby was around, and this was no different. Even though she was confused, suspicious, and fearful, she loved her little sister too much to believe Ruby meant any harm.

“I...I don’t know…” Yang whispered, looking distraught by the realization that she didn’t know what she could believe. The expression tore at Blake’s heart, and she wanted to rush over and wrap Yang in a hug, but she kept her distance. Anything she did right now would be judged with the harshest severity, and she didn’t want to push Yang too far, too fast.

“Maybe...if you use the Dreamscape again...Blake can prove she’s real.” Still holding Yang’s hand, Ruby scooted closer and smiled. “She came back, Yang. She came back for you. If you go into the Dreamscape with her, you know she can show you. She’s so good at recreating memories, remember?”

When Yang’s gaze softened even further at Ruby’s request, Blake felt a glimmer of hope appear.

“Ruby…” Yang whispered as tears shimmered in her eyes. “Your apartment...the fire…”

“I wasn’t there.” Ruby shook her head and squeezed Yang’s hand for reassurance. “Blake showed up, and we got out in time. I’m fine - everyone’s fine. No one got hurt.”

“But I saw…”

When Yang raised a hand to run through her hair, it shook like a leaf. The sight stirred a strong reaction in Blake’s chest - anger at those responsible, anger at herself, and determination to never let Yang feel this way again.

“Yang,” she said, stepping closer and kneeling on the floor - still far enough away to not be viewed as a threat. “Whoever took you, they put you through sequences over and over again, right?”

Looking down at Blake, Yang bit her lip and eventually nodded. Blake wanted to reach out and hold Yang’s hand so badly - to provide some measure of comfort or stability - but she balled her fingers into fists instead.

“They did that to confuse you,” she explained. “They convince you that something is real only to take it away once you start to believe. Because then, when you are in reality, you act in ways you wouldn’t otherwise.”

She couldn’t tell if the explanation had an impact, but she silently willed Yang to believe her.

“I can prove that I’m the real version of Blake,” she continued. “I’m the one that accidentally gave you a bloody nose when you tickled me. I’m the one who accidentally spilled my tea all over you on our fourth date. And I’m the one who convinced you to watch that corny romance movie that made us both cry all night.”

The examples eased Yang’s expression considerably, giving Blake the confidence to edge closer.

“Please give me one more chance,” she asked, never losing Yang’s gaze while making her plea. “Please let me show you that I’m real. Please don’t be scared - I’d...I’d never hurt you.”

Conflicting emotions swam through Yang’s eyes, but she was relenting - her fighter’s spirit giving her the courage to go through hell one more time, for Blake.

How many times had Yang gone through this situation already, or one similar to it? Blake didn’t even want to know...she didn’t want to know how many times her persona had been used to betray the person she loved more than anything in the world. She just needed to fix it...to make it better.

“Ok,” Yang finally whispered, nodding to Blake before sparing Ruby a tiny smile. “I’ll do it.”

Yang’s acceptance filled Blake with so much relief, she nearly leaned forward for a hug. Fortunately, she stopped herself and settled for a simple nod instead. She didn’t want to push her luck, not when she was so close to proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that she was who she said she was.

Taking a deep breath and letting it out in a long, slow exhale, she came up with her plan and turned to Weiss.

“Do you have a Dreamscape here?”

“Upstairs,” Weiss said, observing every action with a slight frown that voiced her opinion loud and clear.

Yang sighed at the response and pushed herself to her feet, but she immediately wobbled - still suffering from the after-effects of the drugs given to her - before Ruby quickly steadied her.

“I gotcha. Don’t worry.”

Accepting the support, Yang leaned against Ruby’s side and gingerly made her way out of the kitchen. Blake wanted to help too - she felt that it was her responsibility to help. Instead, she followed the sisters and Weiss into the hallway and up the flight of stairs.

Plush, immaculately-white carpet greeted them on the second-story landing, muffling their footsteps and the shuffling sound of Yang dragging her still-uncooperative feet across the floor. All three girls turned right at the top of the stairs, already knowing where they were going while Blake saw this portion of the house for the first time.

A set of double doors sat at the end of the hall, which Weiss opened into the master bedroom - a sprawling, well-decorated space that looked torn out of a magazine. A four-post bed took up a majority of the room, constructed in the same wood as the matching dresser and nightstands nearby.

One of the nightstands held a Dreamscape and accompanying Dream Disk, while the other was covered in a variety of odds and ends that didn’t look particularly in Weiss’ taste. That didn’t seem to bother her, however, as she sifted through the trinkets before picking up a second Dream Disk and offering it to Yang.

“Never thought I’d get to sleep in your bed,” Yang joked, sitting on the edge of the mattress and giving Ruby a grateful smile for the help.

“We can move to another room, if that makes you more comfortable.”

“Naw.” Glancing at Blake, Yang shook her head and took the Dream Disk from Weiss. “Let’s just get this over with.”

Not exactly the vote of confidence Blake would hope for, but Yang still laid down on one side of the bed and placed the small device on her temple. Only then did she give Blake one last look - part wariness, part hope.

“See you on the other side, I guess.”

Blake didn’t know how to respond to the lukewarm comment, so she merely nodded, forced a small smile, and focused on setting up the Dreamscape with Yang as the primary dreamer. When Yang closed her eyes and let out a long sigh, Blake picked up the second disk and laid down on the other side of the bed.

This wasn’t at all how she’d envisioned her and Yang’s reunitement to go, but life had a way of throwing a wrench in her plans. At least Yang agreed - that made this a little easier. But these had to be the best dreams Blake had ever crafted. They needed to be as close to memory as possible, and she couldn’t forget any glaring details. If she did…

She wouldn’t think about the possible repercussions, because she refused to let them happen. She was bringing Yang back to them if it was the last thing she did.

“Good luck,” Ruby whispered as Blake placed the Dream Disk on her temple, closed her eyes, and released her hold on consciousness.

The Dreamscape took over with a pulling sensation that grabbed the edges of her mind. Under ordinary circumstances, she shrugged off the grasp of the device and moved to the darkzone. Tonight, however, she surrendered to the feeling and let it take her to Yang’s dream.

Which was...turmoil.

It had no rhyme or reason. Walls, windows, doors, and other pieces of furniture were strewn everywhere. Some defying gravity, some upside down, some sticking in the midst of each other. And there was no floor to speak of - instead, everything ‘floated’ amidst a sea of misplaced dreams.

This space - this disorganized, fragmented space - reflected Yang’s mental and emotional state. It was as expected, but...it hurt to see Yang this way. She was the strong one. She was the one capable of handling the most difficult, taxing, horrible things her job threw her way. And they got to her - shook her this much.

Not for much longer, if Blake had anything to say about it. Even if they found the dream somehow...she was bringing Yang back to reality.

Normally, she took control of the dream without asking permission - she had implied permission from Yang, who didn’t mind when she took charge. This time, however, she refused to make such an assumption. Instead, she stepped over a chair stuck halfway through a wall then walked up to a ceiling that abruptly fell away into nothing.

“Yang,” she called out, finding the girl standing on the other side of two walls. Yang recoiled from her, but this time Blake extended her hand and waited for Yang to try to take it.

Patience was key. No matter how long it took, no matter how frustrating it was, Blake couldn’t show impatience. Doing so would undermine any inkling of trust or goodwill Yang still held for her.

So she waited with her hand outstretched, watching reluctance in Yang’s eyes and posture.

This was the easiest test to pass, although she knew it wouldn’t sway Yang’s opinion completely. But if Yang tried to grab Blake’s hand, she would see that she couldn’t. And if she couldn’t, that added some measure of proof that this was a dream, and Blake was Blake.

But Blake still waited, and waited, and waited some more. It was, in some ways, like convincing a timid animal to come closer.

Eventually, her patience paid off, and Yang reached for her hand. As soon as their arms passed through each other, Yang’s eyes widened, and Blake felt the tide turn in her favor.

“It’s me, Yang,” Blake said when Yang looked at her for confirmation. “I’m in the dream with you now - we’re at Weiss’ house together.”

“But…”

“I came back as soon as I knew you were in trouble,” she explained. “I found Ruby, and Weiss, and they helped me find you. We just got you out and brought you home.”

When Yang’s brow furrowed, a nearby chair toppled over and fell out of sight.

“I can prove it,” Blake added, feeling more relieved now that Yang hadn’t reacted negatively to the initial news. “Can I take the dream?”

As soon as she asked the question, a shudder rumbled through the environment.

“Ok.” Raising her hands in a non-threatening gesture, she smiled and made sure she didn’t accidentally manipulate their surroundings. “It’s ok. We can stay here.”

When Blake slowly lowered her hands, Yang looked around and frowned.

“Wherever this is…”

“You’re confused,” Blake explained, softening the words as much as possible. When Yang turned that downtrodden gaze upon her, she smiled. “It’s ok, Yang. Just focus on one thing at a time - like first, turn this chair over.”

Motioning to the upside-down chair beside them, Blake nodded encouragingly when Yang looked unsure about making the attempt. Eventually, however, she focused on the chair, and it slowly turned itself right-side up.

“Good.” Breathing a sigh of relief, Blake stepped to the side and tapped a wall stuck halfway through the floor at an odd angle. “Now, can you lift this and make it a little straighter?”

A soft chuckle drew Blake’s attention back to Yang, who shook her head and finally cracked a smile.

“You know it’s hard for me to make things straight.”

“Then as straight as possible,” Blake replied with a smile of her own before motioning for Yang to move the wall. Her smile grew when the wall moved into place, and two additional walls oriented themselves correctly, and the superfluous furniture either disappeared or righted itself.

Soon, they stood in a room that matched Yang’s normal creations rather than a mismatched nightmare.

“Good,” Blake repeated. Giving the room another once over, she nodded to herself. “Do you feel better?”

Their surroundings flickered when Yang’s uncertainty again reared its head. The response only made Blake feel worse, because she understood what these reactions meant and why Yang was having them. She’d gone through this before - she’d been lured into a false sense of security before, only to have her world turned on its head.

“I won’t make you do anything you’re uncomfortable with,” Blake added. “You can ask me questions - questions only I would know the answers to. Or I can show you. Or we can just stand here. Whatever you want.”

Blake knew that, no matter what, she couldn’t force Yang to do anything. Yang needed to regain her sense of self, which meant she needed to regain control over her thoughts and actions - beginning with this dream. Blake could only help if Yang ceded control, and Yang would only cede control if she had reason to believe that what Blake said was true.

“Show me.”

Blake raised her brow at the response - she hadn’t expected to win acceptance so easily.

“Are you sure?”

“I’ve already lived through enough nightmares, Blake. I can live through one more.”

The response broke Blake’s heart, but the look in Yang’s eyes filled her with determination unlike anything she’d felt before.

After everything Yang went through, she still had courage left. She still had strength left, and Blake loved her all the more for it.

“I promise this won’t be a nightmare,” she whispered before assuming control of the dream as tenderly as possible. Once she felt the environment settle upon her mind, she took a deep breath and picked out several memories to revisit. Intimate moments - moments very few would know about - with details no outsider could conceivably know.

She knew she could prove herself. The only concern was if Yang still had the capacity to believe...

Shaking the doubt from her mind, she focused on the first memory and watched it form.

“After Tavo’s, the next time we met in person was here,” she explained, gesturing towards the room expanding around them.

It was Dreamscape Industries - at least, the early years of Dreamscape, shortly after moving to the campus still used today. They stood in the middle of the largest theory lab, which bustled with activity while theorists, technicians, and interns went about their tasks with haste. Several theorists were having a heated conversation near a wall of computer screens to the left while a group of interns scribbled rapid notes watching the monitors of the test stations to the right.

In the center of the room, Blake motioned for Yang to follow her.

“I tried to explain the science behind Dreamscape in a way you could understand,” she recalled while they walked past a row of complicated monitors. “I wanted you to see how we did our testing and the data that came out of the experiments.”

Glancing to the side, Blake noticed that Yang was looking at everything closely, undoubtedly searching for clues that exposed this as a farce. Her intent observation added to the stress of making everything accurate, but Blake felt a swell of pride in Yang’s ability to maintain a cool head given the circumstances. With Yang being logical and calm, Blake knew she had enough information to prove who she was.

When they reached a row of testing stations - small beds attached to a myriad of machines, similar to the station they pulled Yang out of earlier - Blake paused in front of the screens displaying results.

“You weren’t taking notes,” she commented while watching the lab technicians rush from one station to the next. “I thought the information wasn’t relevant to your case, but then I noticed your hand.” Turning towards Yang, Blake nodded towards her arm, which had appeared in the dream even though she currently lacked it in reality. “Your hand never stopped moving, and that’s when I realized you were drawing shorthand in the air.”

To this day, Blake found Yang’s arm fascinating - because of the capabilities hidden within it but also because of how it shaped the person Yang was. What started as avid curiosity, however, was now fondness and...comfort.

“This is where we shared our first dream,” Blake continued. Moving to the empty machine in front of them, she gestured towards the panel filled with graphs and numbers. “I asked you to pick something - anything in the universe you wanted to experience, and I would create it for you.” Thinking about Yang’s request, she chuckled and shook her head. “You wanted to see where I grew up.”

Focusing on that memory, Blake let go of the lab and brought together the front yard of her childhood home.

“I was disappointed,” she admitted while the front yard appeared under their feet. “To me, this was just about the easiest dream you could have asked for.”

While Blake spoke, Yang stepped towards the house. Her eyes moved from the grey roof, to the clear windows with light blue shutters, to the matching, light blue door. She looked like she wanted to go to the front door and walk inside; instead, she spun in a slow circle absorbing as much as possible.

“I wanted to impress you,” Blake said, smiling when Yang’s gaze made it back to her. “But you wanted to learn more about me.”

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

Blake’s heart swelled with love at the simple sentence, and the meaning behind it.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about you either,” she whispered. “Which is probably why we spent the next few weeks constantly finding ways to see each other.” Bringing her memories back into focus, she ‘scrolled’ through the many locations they’d met at, all under the pretenses of working on Yang’s case. A coffee shop, library, another diner for lunch, the park - before landing in a fancy restaurant.

“Do you remember this place?” she asked as a busy restaurant surrounded them. Yang’s eyes held the answer - a mystified, light purple of seeing a place she never thought she’d see again.

“Come on,” Blake said, motioning with her head for Yang to follow her. “I think our table is ready.”

With Yang trailing behind, Blake led them to the back of the restaurant, to the same table they sat at on that night - which was currently empty and waiting for them to sit down once again. Glancing over her shoulder, she watched Yang look at everything, trying to spot flaws in the dream.

“We came here after you wrapped up your first case,” Blake explained while taking the same seat she’d taken on that night. When Yang sat across from her, she smiled. “That case was the reason we met - the reason why you came to my lecture - and you caught the culprit.”

“I did, with your help.”

Blake smiled at the answer and directed their server towards them.

“What can I get you?” the man asked with a friendly smile.

“You ordered the filet,” Blake answered. “I ordered the salmon. It was actually very good.”

“It was,” Yang agreed, looking down when the plates appeared on the table in front of them.

“And for dessert…” Blake said before someone at the front of the restaurant slammed a glass down on top of the bar.

“Time for shots!” the boy yelled for the restaurant to hear. His buddies cheered and pressed more drinks into his hand, which he quickly knocked back before climbing on top of the bar. While the group caused a ruckus, Yang turned back to Blake.

“We decided to skip dessert.”

“We did.” Letting the restaurant disappear, Blake focused on another location instead. The people faded away, the walls moved closer, the space grew more comfortable, more intimate.

“My old apartment,” she said while Yang watched the living room take shape. The same bookcases they owned today, a different sofa, the same reading chair sitting near a large window reflecting the city lights.

“You walked me home after dinner.”

“It was dark out,” Yang explained, walking to the window and looking outside.

“It was, and I appreciated your company.”

Joining Yang by the window, Blake looked at the view that had greeted her every day for years. The 24-hour diner across the street, an old-fashioned library hidden around the corner, and more than a few tech booths hawking the latest and greatest in technological advancements.

While Yang searched out those landmarks and more, Blake leaned closer and lowered her voice to a whisper.

“You were relieved...because you finally felt like you could do this - that you could be more than just a cop who was ‘good at tackling people.’ That you could be a detective, and a great one.”

When Yang turned towards her, Blake took a step closer and placed her hand near Yang’s arm - she couldn’t actually rest her hand on Yang’s arm like she had that night, but...this was close enough.

“I want to help you,” she said, raising her eyes and watching a flurry of emotions rush through stormy seas of lilac.

“With what?” Yang’s voice was hardly a whisper as she fell back into her role, reciting the conversation only the two of them knew.

“With anything. With everything. I just want to spend more time with you.”

As soon as Blake said the words, Yang gave in. Her suspicion disappeared, and relief flowed through every inch of her being.

“Do you remember what happened next?” Blake whispered, drawing Yang’s eyes to her.

“Blake?” Yang asked instead of following the memory forward. Her eyes shimmered with unshed tears now, and she attempted a wavering, hopeful smile. “You’re really back?”

“Yes.” Emotion clouded Blake’s eyes while she tried her hardest not to let the dream fade. “I came back...as soon as I knew you were in trouble. I’m with you at Weiss’ house, in Weiss’ room. That’s real.”

Letting out a sigh, Yang stepped forward and raised her hand to touch Blake’s cheek only to quickly remember she couldn’t.

“Can you wake me up now?” she asked instead.

Relieved beyond measure, Blake nodded and gently pushed Yang out of the dream, leaving herself standing alone in her old apartment. After giving the familiar space one last look, she focused on her subconscious and gradually pulled herself back to consciousness.

As soon as she opened her eyes and saw the white ceiling above Weiss’ bed, she sat up and turned towards Yang, who immediately pulled her in for a kiss. The moment their lips touched, an incredible, indescribable feeling swept over Blake. Relief, love, and pure, unbridled happiness at being together again. Finally.

Finally.

Feeling Yang’s hand weave through her hair, Blake pressed closer and placed her hand on Yang’s cheek. She loved the way Yang smelled, how warm she was, and how much emotion she poured through her lips.

Blake accepted all of Yang’s feelings and tried to return them. She had so many feelings she needed to give Yang - so much apology she needed to express.

“Ok, if you’re going to do that, you need to get out of my bed.”

Ending the kiss with a laugh, Yang leaned her forehead against Blake’s and smiled.

“I can’t believe it’s you,” she whispered before kissing Blake again - a shorter kiss this time before she stood up - still slightly wobbly - and hugged Ruby. She hugged Weiss immediately after before pulling both of them into a group hug.

“I knew you’d find me,” she said after letting them go, beaming all the while. “No one outsmarts my genius little sister.” She ruffled Ruby’s hair with the statement, but Ruby was too happy to care.

Meanwhile, Blake removed the Dream Disk from her temple, returned it to the nightstand, and stood up.

Right now, she felt lighter than air. She knew there could be lingering effects. She knew that someone could have noticed them, but at this moment...Yang believed. And when Yang looked at her, it was without suspicion or worry. Plenty of surprise, a bit of confusion, but no suspicion. Under the circumstances, she couldn’t ask for more.

“Do you know who took you?” Ruby asked, glancing at Blake when she stood up and joined them.

“No.” Touching the bump on her forehead and flinching, Yang shook her head. “All Jaces.”

“Do you know what they wanted?” Weiss followed up.

“Or why they left you?” Ruby added.

“No...I remember waking up, and they were in my room. One of them hit me in the head, and then…” Yang glanced at Blake before closing her eyes and turning away. “And then I remember a lot of things, but I don’t know if any of it was real.”

“You should tell us everything you remember,” Weiss replied while Ruby nodded. “We’ll parse through the data and separate fact from fiction. Then we can build a theory on what their plan is and why they left you to be rescued.”

While Weiss spoke, Blake watched Yang’s reaction - and Yang looked more exhausted by the second. The last thing she wanted to do was detail her experiences, which were probably more horrible than any of them wanted to hear.

“Maybe we should do that tomorrow,” Blake suggested. “It’s late, and it’s been a long few days. We should get some rest - it does no good if we work while exhausted.”

She knew it was the right decision when Yang’s eyes flooded with relief.

“That sounds good,” Ruby quickly agreed, giving Weiss a nudge to erase the concentrated furrow of her brow. “Right, Weiss? Let’s let Yang get some rest first.”

After a second of careful deliberation, Weiss smiled- a smile unlike any Blake had seen so far, relief and caring rolled into one. “Yes, please get some rest. We’ll talk in the morning.”

Remaining suspicious of Weiss’ intentions was difficult when she did things like this. From everything Blake could see, Weiss truly cared about Yang and Ruby. She was relieved that Yang was safe, but she had close ties to Taven Bishop and Dreamscape. Just how good of an actress was she?

“You can stay in ‘your’ room again,” Weiss added before sneaking a glance at Blake. “Do you want me to show Blake to the guest room?”

Blake wanted to be offended by the assumption, but, again, found it hard to be annoyed or offended when Weiss’ offer came from a place of caring. Even she wasn’t sure if Yang wanted to stay in the same room with her. Offering another option - to keep Yang comfortable - was a reasonable and appropriate thing to do.

“It’s ok,” Yang replied with a grateful smile and soft squeeze of Blake’s hand. “She can stay with me.” As soon as she said the words, she looked at Blake. “I mean, if you want to?”

With a single question, Blake understood that they still had a lot to discuss. It should’ve been obvious that she wanted to stay wherever Yang stayed, but...time and distance had worn down their certainty with each other.

“Of course I do,” she replied with a smile that hopefully restored some of Yang’s assuredness. Whether it worked or not, Yang nodded and gently pulled Blake towards the door. It quickly became apparent from Yang’s gait, however, that she still needed some support to keep her steady.

When Blake moved closer, she felt another wave of relief when Yang accepted the silent offer and leaned against her. When they made it into the hall, Ruby and Weiss followed, probably heading back downstairs before turning in for the night.

“Let us know if you need anything,” Weiss said, and Ruby sent a big grin Yang’s way before wrapping her arms around Yang’s shoulders for a long, tender hug.

“Anything at all,” she added before pulling away and following Weiss. “So glad you’re safe...”

“Yeah, me too.”

Once Ruby and Weiss made it downstairs and headed into the kitchen, Yang sighed again and nodded towards a closed doorway on the opposite side of the landing. Taking the instruction, Blake moved that way and opened the door to reveal a well-decorated guest room, far smaller than the master suite, but spacious and comfortable for anyone staying short term.

As soon as they walked inside, Yang dropped Blake’s hand and went over to sit on the bed. While Blake closed the door behind them, she watched with concern while Yang put her head in her hand and gently rubbed her eyes. She looked both physically and mentally exhausted - the effect of being forced into dreams for longer than ever recommended.

“Do you need anything?” Blake asked, knowing she didn’t have much to offer, but needing to ask anyway.

With a heavy sigh, Yang looked up.

“I think I’m ok for now,” she replied with a tired smile. “Thank you.”

Accepting the response, Blake nodded and sat down beside Yang - close but not close enough to encroach. After everything that happened - not just in the past few days, but the past few months - she wasn’t sure where they stood, and she didn’t want to push too hard right away. Well, she wanted to - she wanted to show Yang just how much she had missed her - but the air between them felt...more strained than she remembered.

“Do you want to go to sleep?” she asked, still making sure to let Yang control her own decisions.

“Yeah.” Nodding once, Yang then sighed and nodded again. “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea.”

While it wasn’t what Blake wanted to do, she accepted the decision, sat down on the other side of the bed, and waited to see what Yang did next. When Yang laid down and pulled the covers over her with a sigh, Blake followed suit with much more caution than probably necessary.

“James, turn off the lights,” Yang muttered before the room was cast into darkness.

The strained silence that followed only further highlighted the distance between them, which somehow felt much further than the handful of inches separating them on the bed. Blake’s heart ached for more, but she kept a respectable distance. Right now, this wasn’t about her and what she wanted. This was about making Yang comfortable so that she could rest, recuperate, and come to terms with being back in reality.

“Good night,” Blake whispered before rolling onto her side and letting out a long, silent sigh.

This wasn’t how she’d expected her homecoming to play out, but recent events had taught her to appreciate any moment with the person she loved. Yang was right here beside her, safe and relatively unharmed - that was more than enough.

That didn’t stop her from thinking about the goodnight kisses they normally shared, nor did it stop her mind from racing, wondering what was going through Yang’s head right now.

Things weren’t the same - she could already feel that. While Yang was relieved, there was reluctance in her actions. Almost as if she didn’t want to get too close. If that was due to her recent experiences in the Dreamscape, it should fade over time as reality set back in. If it was due to something else, however…

Once this was over, they could talk about everything. Until then, Blake would do her best to assure Yang that her feelings hadn’t changed. She still loved Yang with all of her heart. She still wanted to spend the rest of their lives together, just like they always talked about. Her recent decisions might make that a little harder to believe, but it was still true.

After a few minutes of silence passed, Blake shifted under the covers and stared at the dark ceiling. The words in her office crept to the forefront of her mind, reappearing in black, blocky font.

Was it a threat or a warning? An attempt to help or an arrogant comment they knew she could do little to prevent?

Whatever the answer, she’d already planned on sleeping as little as possible until this situation was resolved. Either they found the culprits in reality, or she finally gave in and ended this in the Dreamscape. Considering how tired she was...it would be over soon.

The thought of the end approaching scared her, because she didn’t know whether or not she could succeed and what that would mean for the future. Part of her wanted to give up - to spill her secrets and let Yang protect her - but she knew that was impossible. As much as she wanted to rest, and as much as she wanted Yang to take care of her, there was still more to be done. Still more for her to do.

“Blake?”

The soft voice snapped her away from her thoughts and back to the room.

“Yeah?” she whispered back. When the room lapsed into silence, she turned onto her side and found Yang also staring at the ceiling. Her eyes glimmered in the low light of the room, casting a slight sparkle while everything else looked like nothing more than shadows.

As the silence stretched longer and longer, Blake thought that Yang might not finish whatever she’d started to say. Eventually, however, she faced Blake with hesitant, uncertain eyes.

“I’m afraid to go to sleep.”

The admission felt like another knife plunged through Blake’s heart, and she immediately reached out and pulled Yang into a hug. Yang stiffened at the contact - and Blake nearly pulled away - but she slowly relaxed and wrapped her arm around Blake in return.

“It will be ok,” Blake whispered, her heart pounding in her chest when Yang clutched her tightly. “It will be ok, I promise. I promise it will be ok.”

“But...how will I know it’s still you in the morning? How will I know this is still real?”

Hearing the tears in Yang’s voice broke Blake’s heart completely. Like everything else, this was her fault. Yang wouldn’t feel this way if it wasn’t for her. Yang wouldn’t be scared if it wasn’t for her - which meant she needed to fix this, somehow.

Even though the last thing she wanted to do was let go Yang right now, she did so only to sit up in bed.

“Can you turn on the lights?” she asked while Yang propped herself up as well, looking tired, scared, and completely unlike the Yang that Blake knew and loved.

“James, turn on the lights,” Yang whispered. Both of them blinked when the room was bathed in bright light, but Blake refocused on Yang as quickly as she could.

“Do you believe this is real?” she asked while reaching out for Yang’s hand. “Right now?”

After meeting Blake’s eyes, Yang haltingly nodded.

“Yes.”

“You hesitated,” Blake pointed out, in an informative rather than confrontational way, as Yang sighed and hung her head.

“I just...feel a little shell-shocked, I guess…”

“That’s ok.” Squeezing Yang’s hand, Blake smiled and racked her brain for something only she and Yang would know. “As proof...when you were in the Academy, they ran you so hard one day that you accidentally puked in your -”

The rest of Blake’s story came out muffled when Yang lunged forward and covered her mouth.

“Shhhh,” she said before releasing Blake and breaking out a smile. “No one ever figured it out - it was the perfect crime.”

“Perfect accidental crime.”

Yang shrugged but still smiled - a smile that held a bit of the bright, cheerful energy Blake was accustomed to.

“You’re the only one I ever told - I’d die of embarrassment before telling anyone else. That, and I think they’re still looking for who did it.”

“Now do you believe this is real?” Blake asked again, relieved when Yang nodded more confidently this time. “And do you believe we’re alone in this room? Like, no one’s watching us?”

“Uhh…” After looking at the windows, which were set to their maximum opaqueness, Yang nodded. “Yeah. I mean, unless Weiss has cameras in here, which I wouldn’t put past her.”

“Good enough.” With those pieces of the puzzle in place, Blake got out of bed and searched the room for a pen. After finding one in the drawer of the desk, she sat next to Yang and held it out to her.

“Here.”

“What’s this for?”

“I want you to write or draw something somewhere I can’t see, and that a camera won’t see.”

“You mean like…”

“Somewhere I’m always covered up, yes.” Turning around, Blake gestured towards her back. “In the morning, it should still be there, so you’ll know.”

Looking over her shoulder, Blake watched Yang think through the solution before finally nodding. Relieved that this might work, Blake turned around and waited.

The moment Yang’s hand slid underneath her shirt and lifted up, goosebumps rose on her arms. Trying to ignore the reaction, she held her shirt in place while Yang tenderly trailed her fingers down the small of Blake’s back. Her eyes fluttered at the sensation, and she breathed out a sigh that contained more than just longing.

“Please don’t write something inappropriate,” she joked, attempting to lighten the mood while her mind and body pulled her in another direction.

“But if only I can see it -”

“Yang…”

“Alright, alright.”

For several seconds, the cool, metal tip of the pen moved against the skin on her lower back. She tried to pay attention to the motions, but they were too fast and too small for her to make an informed guess on what Yang wrote or drew. Once the pen disappeared, Blake dropped her shirt, but Yang ran her hand back underneath, moving up to Blake’s shoulder and giving it a gentle squeeze before doing the same with the other.

Again, Blake’s eyes fluttered, and her breath quickened while Yang methodically ran her fingers across Blake’s back, making sure not to leave any inch untouched. The contact did nothing to stop the fire in Blake’s chest - a fire that burned hotter and brighter with each passing second.

By the time Yang’s hand moved away and Blake turned around, she could hardly fight against her rapid breaths and the insatiable desire deep within her.

“Think you can go to sleep now?” she asked, hearing the breathless tone in her voice while watching Yang’s eyes for an answer. When Yang shook her head, however, Blake felt her surprise return.

“Not tired yet.”

“You should get some sleep,” Blake replied, but her resolve wavered when Yang leaned closer. “You need your rest...especially with your injuries...”

Blake motioned to the cuts and bruises dotting Yang’s arm all the way up to her neck, but Yang shook off the concern.

“They’re just scratches.” When Yang scooted even closer, Blake unwittingly moved forward and tilted her chin up. She saw the desire in Yang’s eyes - or was that her own desire being reflected back at her? - and her body reacted in kind, heating up while her long-buried wants rushed to the surface of her skin.

“Still...I don’t want to risk your recovery,” she mumbled, although the argument sounded half-hearted, at best.

When Yang reached out and tenderly pushed several strands of hair behind Blake’s ear, she knew she lost the dispute. Ultimately, she would do whatever it took to make Yang feel better. And if this was what Yang wanted...well, she wasn’t going to protest. She couldn’t protest, not when she also wanted it so very, very badly.

“I’ve missed you.”

As soon as Yang said the words, their lips crashed together for a desperate, greedy kiss. Blake quickly slipped her hands underneath Yang’s shirt, craving the feeling of her soft, smooth skin while their kisses grew hungrier. When she pushed forward, Yang moved back in kind, allowing herself to be pressed into the bed while Blake moved on top of her.

“I missed you too,” Blake whispered between kisses, her heart pounding with adrenaline and anticipation while Yang pulled her shirt over her head and waited for Blake to do the same. Eagerness and excitement hummed in the air - like an electricity that still flowed between them. While Blake wanted to savor their time together, to draw it out and enjoy it as long as possible, she didn’t know if she was capable of doing so.

“Blake...”

The sound of her name urged her forward, pulling her shirt over her head before recapturing Yang’s lips for a long, drawn-out kiss.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” was the last thing she whispered before losing herself in Yang’s kisses.

Chapter Text

Yang expected nightmares.  At the very least, she expected more of the abrupt, sucker-punch-to-the-gut reveals she’d lived through for the past couple days.  The ‘this is real, I swear’ scenarios followed by cruel announcements that everything was a lie all along.

Instead, she slept well.  Peacefully, even. She had dreams, not nightmares, and they were as mundane as could be.  In one of them, she went around Weiss’ house locking windows. From room-to-room she walked, latching one window after another.  James scolded her once or twice, but eventually he buzzed off and let her make her rounds.

It didn’t take a dream interpreter to deduce that she didn’t feel safe in her current environment.  Weiss’ house was as secure as they came - with the internal A.I. and Ruby’s added security measures - but whoever kidnapped her was still out there.  Not knowing who they were, or what they wanted, meant she wouldn’t feel safe until she locked them behind bars. Preferably after giving at least one of the punks a good punch in the face.

After spending so much time in the Dreamscape, however, she woke up disoriented and foggy.  Her mind felt sluggish and slow - although that could also be the drugs still dragging down her clarity of thought.  Assuming they gave her a prescription-level sedative, it should work its way out of her system in the next day or two.  Until then, she was bound to be a bit groggy.

‘Groggy’ was the perfect description of how she felt when she opened her eyes and stared at the ceiling.  Her entire body booted up slowly, from her mind, to her limbs, to her senses. Processes that normally started all at once switched on one-by-one this morning - first her eyes, then her ears, then her fingers and toes.

When someone stirred underneath her arm, however, every sense she had fired into overdrive, and the events of yesterday crashed to the forefront of her mind.  Waking up - Blake being there - believing it was a dream - agreeing to the Dreamscape anyway - Blake’s proof - 

Blake was still here, in Yang’s grasp, the two of them spooning as if they’d never spent a night apart.  It felt like it always had, like they somehow fit together or melded into each other in a way that seemed too perfect to be real.

As soon as that thought popped into Yang’s head, her heart beat faster and a thread of panic reappeared in her chest.  Maybe it wasn’t real. Maybe this wasn’t real. Maybe it was just another trick - another trap meant to lure her into a sense of security.  

Before reacting out of fear, she took a deep breath and recalled her training - she needed to use her mind instead.  She needed to analyze the situation and make an informed decision. Which brought her to last night...

Last night was real - it had to be.  Not even Blake, probably the best dream theorist in the world, could’ve created a night like that.  There were too many implicit likes and dislikes that no one besides Blake could possibly know. Too many moments where Blake played Yang like an instrument she’d memorized long ago.  No one else could know that, not without years of being together like they had.

And, as additional assurance, Yang believed no one else saw what she drew on the small of Blake’s back.  So, instead of pulling away, she leaned back and tugged up the bottom of Blake’s shirt. Relief and happiness replaced the panic when she saw the set of small hearts exactly where she left them.

Dropping the shirt and moving closer, she pressed her nose into Blake’s hair and inhaled.  Her heart answered the familiar scent with a few heavy beats while she exhaled and rubbed her cheek against soft waves of black.  If this was another dream, it was a good one - one she wouldn’t mind staying in for a long, long time.  

When she burrowed her face in the crook of Blake’s neck, content to absorb as much of the familiarity as possible, Blake stirred from her slumber.  First there was a sigh, then a rustle, and finally she looked over her shoulder to see what Yang was doing.

“Yang.”

The soft voice was like music to her ears, and Yang burrowed even closer, clutching Blake as close as possible.

“Yang…” Blake repeated, this time with a hint of humor in her tone while spinning around in Yang’s arms and returning the hug.

“I hope you realize I’m never letting go,” Yang murmured before pressing a kiss to Blake’s neck.

“Fine by me.  Although it will be hard to move...”

“We don’t need to move...we’ll stay in bed all day and pretend no one else exists.”

Blake’s laughter reverberated through Yang’s lips, adding a smile as she trailed kisses across Blake’s neck.  If she paused long enough, she could feel Blake’s pulse - a steady beating that underscored their closeness.

“How about…” Blake began while weaving her hand through Yang’s hair, eliciting goosebumps in the process.  “When this is over, we won’t leave the apartment for however long you’d like.”

The reminder of their situation felt like a bucket of ice water dumped over Yang’s head, dousing the embers of happiness with a dose of reality.  She hoped Blake didn’t sense the change brought about by the subject but, knowing Blake, she probably had.

Loosening her arms and pulling away, Yang forced a smile that she didn’t quite feel anymore.

“You drive a hard bargain, Doctor,” she joked.  “I just might accept those terms.”

After searching Yang’s eyes for a few long seconds, Blake also moved away and smiled.  Sensing that no response was imminent, Yang decided it was time to get up and get on with this mystery.

“How are you feeling?” Blake asked, hurrying out of bed and to Yang’s side as if she might need help standing up.  She didn’t, thankfully, although she swayed a little more than usual before getting her legs underneath her. “Do you feel ok?” Blake added while moving closer to Yang’s side.  

The question was more serious than Yang needed, as was the concerned expression and somewhat-hovering presence, but she understood the cause for worry.  She had just been kidnapped, which was a little embarrassing, actually.

“A little groggy, but ok,” she answered honestly, feeling a feeble smile appear that did nothing to ease Blake’s concern.

“And these?”  Blake lightly touched the bandages on Yang’s arms and shoulders before brushing the bump on her forehead.  “We should probably re-dress them…”

“I think they’re ok for now  Plus, there’s someone else I’d like to re-dress right now.”

The line flowed easily - far easier than Yang would’ve expected.  Even Blake looked surprised by the forwardness, which Yang downplayed with a casual shrug and glance towards the floor.

Last night, they proved they still had their spark, but at the same time...it felt like they weren’t on the same wavelength yet.  Talking was easy but a little...stiffer...than before. Almost as if Yang couldn’t comprehend that Blake was suddenly back in her life, just like that.  But, while she hadn’t yet determined how exactly to behave, she still wanted to be as close as possible.

Basically, she didn’t know what the hell to do right now.  She wanted to shower Blake in love and kisses, while also sitting across a table for a long, long talk, while also walking away to gather her thoughts.

“Uh, how did you sleep?” she asked, trying to inject some normalcy into the morning.  As soon as she asked the question, however, she noticed the dark circles under Blake’s eyes.

“I slept ok.”  The answer was clearly a lie, but Blake quickly looked away and changed the subject.  “Oh, that reminds me.”

Leaving Yang’s side to grab a bag sitting by the door, Blake briefly searched inside before pulling out Yang’s mechanical arm.

“I grabbed it from your apartment,” Blake explained while dropping the bag on the floor and walking back. 

Relief flowed through Yang while looking at the piece of herself she’d missed the past couple of days.  If she’d been wearing her arm when the kidnappers broke into her apartment, she could’ve taken out all five easily, or at least given them a better fight.  Without the contraption, she was much more...defenseless.

“Thank you.”  

Instead of reaching for the device, she turned so that Blake could cuff it into place.  It was a privilege of sorts that only Blake was allowed to do, making it something of an intimate interaction that had everything to do with Yang’s lingering insecurity surrounding the device.

She still remembered how awkward and ashamed of it she was when they first started dating, but Blake quickly persuaded her otherwise.  It was nothing to be ashamed of - not when Blake treated it like it was the most normal thing in the world. She treated it like Yang did - as a part of her that just happened to detach when needed.

“There,” Blake whispered, locking the arm in place before watching the power restore itself.  While Yang flexed the fingers, rejoicing in the confidence it gave her, Blake trailed her hand down the metal plating and smiled.  When their fingers naturally intertwined, Yang felt her heart do another strong double beat of love.

There was so much she wanted to say - so much she’d planned for when they were finally back together - but her mind was too much of a mess to make sense of it all.  The nightmares she went through were hard to forget, especially Blake’s role in them. Objectively, she understood that they were just dreams - that someone had manipulated her into believing they were reality - but they felt so real...

“Let’s head downstairs?” Blake suggested after several seconds of silence.  “Find something to eat?”

“Yeah.  Yeah, that sounds good.”  Still holding Blake’s hand, Yang headed towards the door with Blake right by her side.  She couldn’t escape the feeling of being both relieved and on high alert after recent events, and the high alert side of that equation grew stronger when they walked into the kitchen and found Ruby and Weiss already at the table.

The two girls huddled over a portable screen discussing something, their hushed voices suggesting it was secret or private.  The way their conversation stopped as soon as they spotted Yang and Blake only solidified that suspicion, but both were quick to smiles.

“Finally awake,” Weiss teased while Ruby hopped up to hug Yang.

“You feeling ok?” Ruby asked once she pulled away, keeping both hands on Yang’s shoulders until she nodded.

“My brain’s firing a little slow, but other than that, I think I’m ok.”

“And your brain firing slow is nothing new,” Weiss replied with a dismissive wave.  “I guess we can expect a full recovery.”

The light-hearted tease worked wonders in injecting normalcy into their morning, even though this morning was far from their usual routine.  For one thing, they were at Weiss’ house instead of Ruby’s apartment. For another thing...Blake was here.

Blake was here - would that ever stop feeling surreal?  One day, she was living who-knows-where. The next day, she was back in Yang’s life.  Her abrupt and unexpected arrival explained some of the awkwardness in the room, but there was something more than awkwardness creeping about.  The atmosphere felt almost...strained.  

“So...what’d I miss?” Yang asked, trying to ignore the feeling while dropping into a seat at the table and watching Blake sit beside her.

“Well, you were kidnapped, someone burned down Ruby’s apartment, and - somewhere in the midst of that - Blake showed up out of the blue.”  Finally sending a glance Blake’s way, Weiss was quick to return her gaze to Yang. “The department is in disarray trying to find you and Ruby, and my office is a bloodbath of attorneys trying to move up any case where Ruby’s a key witness.”

“What??” Ruby yelped, spinning around in her chair while Weiss walked behind her.  “But that’s not fair!”

“You know I work with sharks, Ruby.”  Setting her hand on Ruby’s shoulder, Weiss leaned down and kissed her cheek.  “They’ll do anything to win a case.”

“You’re supposed to be a shark too,” Yang pointed out.

“Weiss is like a minnow,” Ruby answered with a grin.  “Small and cute and no biting!”

When Weiss arched one brow, Ruby’s grin grew.  

“I mean, some biting.”

Weiss’ response was a light snap of her teeth, which made Ruby giggle while Yang scrunched up her nose.

“It’s too early for this,” she muttered while grabbing a piece of toast from Ruby’s plate.  She couldn’t remember the last time she ate, or if her captors were kind enough to feed her, but she was starving.  “Can I have the rest of that?” she asked, gesturing to Ruby’s plate before shoving the last of the toast into her mouth.

“I made you some.”  

Turning to the side, Yang smiled while Weiss set two plates on the table - one in front of her and another for Blake.

“Wow, look at you being all...domestic.”

“Do you want food or not?”

“Yes,” Yang said, playfully pulling the plate closer so Weiss wouldn’t take it away.

“That’s what I thought.”

“Thank you,” Blake said quietly, earning a soft huff of acknowledgment while Weiss returned to Ruby’s side.  

“Do you want anything else?” Weiss whispered to Ruby, who shook her head and smiled.  For whatever reason, the response made Weiss beam - and Yang grinned before devouring the scrambled eggs on her plate.  

Widely known as a tiger in the courtroom, Weiss was nothing more than a kitten in Ruby’s presence.  The transformation was so night-and-day, it was almost alarming - but Yang loved seeing it, all the same.

“This is pretty good, Weiss.”  Done with the eggs, she moved on to the homemade hashbrowns.  “Where’d you learn to cook?”

“Where do you think?” Weiss asked, leveling Yang with an unwavering gaze.  “Cookbooks.”

Chuckling at the straightforward response, Yang glanced at Blake to see what she thought of breakfast.  From the way she picked at her food, however, it seemed like she wasn’t very hungry.

“You ok?”

Blake looked up from her plate and smiled - a small, tired smile that didn’t quite make it to her eyes.

“I’m not very hungry,” she admitted, glancing at Weiss as she spoke.

“At least one of us isn’t,” Yang replied with a small laugh.  “I’m starving.”

She grinned while sticking another forkful of hashbrowns in her mouth.  As she finished that bite, however, a heavy wave of exhaustion passed over her.  It was so heavy, her eyes fluttered and she felt herself briefly sway in her chair.

“Yang?”

Blinking the feeling away, she found Blake holding her shoulder while staring at her with more than a little concern.

“I’m ok,” she said before anyone asked.  After shaking her head a few times to wake herself up, she smiled and picked up her fork from where she’d dropped it on the table.  “I’m ok,” she repeated when she noticed everyone staring at her. “Just ate too fast or something…”

She saw the worried look Ruby and Weiss shared, and she felt the concern radiating from Blake, but she felt fine now.  Perfectly fine. She probably ate too much though, so she pushed the plate away and leaned back with a sigh. Feeling Blake’s hand still on her shoulder, she turned to the side and Blake immediately withdrew with an apologetic expression.  

The response was unnecessary...she hadn’t minded Blake’s hand on her shoulder.  She just wasn’t used to the contact, but...it was too late to say anything now.

“Now that everyone’s awake and fed…”  Letting her sentence trail off, Weiss looked at Ruby for permission before continuing.  “Can you tell us what happened? Any details you remember? Maybe they’ll help us find whoever’s behind this.”

Yang sighed at the request, which she’d known was coming yet hoped to avoid for as long as possible.  If she could erase the past couple of days from her memory, she would in a heartbeat. Instead, she had to relive them.

“I woke up with five phasers pointed at me.  Tried to get the drop on them, but one of them knocked me out.”  Raising her hand, she gently touched the reminder on her forehead.  “I woke up in the department, in my office. I didn’t remember getting there, but I thought the kidnapping was just a nightmare or something.  Then…”

That’s when the nightmares started - one after another.  She ‘woke up’ from each one only to find herself in another - another temporary calm that lured her into a sense of comfort and familiarity before pulling the carpet from beneath her feet.

Feeling a hand cover hers, she looked over and found Blake’s kind, patient gaze.

“I don’t think they let you wake up,” she said softly.  “I think they kept you asleep until Ruby and I found you - unless you remember waking up in a lab surrounded by Dreamscape equipment?”

Racking her memories for that type of environment and coming up empty, Yang shook her head.

“Didn’t think so,” Blake replied before looking at Ruby and Weiss.  “That’s what the sedatives were for - to keep her from waking up, that way they never risked compromising their identities.”

“Then what was the purpose?” Weiss asked, studying Yang with an intensity that suggested she just became one of Weiss’ cases.

“To scare her.”  Blake squeezed Yang’s hand then, probably knowing she was about to protest the implication that she’d been scared - even if the words held a bit of truth.

When Weiss and Ruby seemed to accept the explanation, Yang felt immeasurably relieved.  Not that she enjoyed the idea of being knocked out for a couple days or that she’d been tormented with nightmares only to scare her away from sleeping, but at least it meant she didn’t have to go into detail on what she’d lived through.  Even if it was only for informational purposes...how much could they gain from learning the myriad of ways her captors killed the people closest to her? Blake must know, or at least understand, what Yang went through. That’s why she created an exit.  That’s why she convinced Ruby and Weiss to move forward without the information.

A soft chime broke the temporary quiet in the room and, immediately recognizing the sound, Yang searched for her phone.

“Oh, Blake grabbed it last night,” Ruby explained while grabbing the device from the counter behind her and handing it to Yang.  “I grabbed the data but don’t know how useful it’ll be. They broke the tracking software so I couldn’t get the location. Other than that, seems to work, and no bugs.”

Accepting the device, Yang discovered a host of activity she’d missed in her slumber.

“Damn - that’s a lot of missed messages,” she muttered while scrolling through the list of people who’d called or texted multiple times over the past few days.  “Guess I should let them know I’m ok -”

As soon as she moved to type a message, a hand appeared over hers to stop her.

“You probably shouldn’t do that…” Blake said, gently pushing the phone down while Yang looked at her in confusion.

“What?  Why not?”

“Because we don’t know who kidnapped you,” Blake explained.  “If you reach out, they’ll try to trace you. It’s probably best to lay low for now.”

“Ok…”  For someone who’d never hidden from anything before, the plan didn’t make much sense.  But Yang was new to this situation, so she would have to trust Blake’s advice for now. “What you’re saying is we’re all ‘dead’ now.”

“It’s only temporary,” Blake hurried to add.  “Once we get everything sorted out, you can go back to your lives.”

The conspicuous exclusion of Blake from that response peaked Yang’s concern, but there were too many other issues to worry about right now.

“If we’re all dead,” Yang continued, meeting Blake’s gaze and refusing to look away.  “Then you have no reason to hide anything from us anymore. We’re in this together now.”

Yang watched a range of emotions flit through Blake’s eyes - from surprise to fear to uncertainty - before a knowing expression settled upon her face.  Because, even if they weren’t in a Dreamscape, Blake knew what Yang would ask next - and Blake knew she didn’t have a reason not to answer.

“Why did you run?” Yang asked first - the question she’d spent hours upon hours trying to answer in Blake’s absence.  Blake’s eyes flicked towards Ruby and Weiss, likely not as comfortable with them overhearing as Yang was, but answered regardless.

“I told you...because I was afraid someone would try to hurt you or Ruby.”

“That doesn’t explain why,” Yang was quick to respond while a familiar wave of frustration washed over her.  “That doesn’t explain what you’re hiding from.”

Again, Blake’s eyes went to Weiss and Ruby before lowering to the table.  Clearly conflicted about what to say, she opened and closed her mouth several times while nothing came out.  Meanwhile, Yang’s impatience and confusion grew. She didn’t understand why this was so difficult - it seemed like a simple matter of putting everything out into the open, finally.

“Oh just tell her,” Weiss snapped after several more seconds of silence.  “Tell her about Project Daydream.”

After glancing at Weiss, who looked openly annoyed by Blake’s reticence, Yang turned back to Blake.

“What’s Project Daydream?”

Again, Blake opened her mouth then closed it.  Her eyes flitted towards Weiss and Ruby once last time, almost as if she wished they weren’t listening to the conversation, before returning to Yang.

“Project Daydream was a special unit created by Taven Bishop,” she finally answered, her voice steady and emotionless.  “No one knew what they were tasked to do, except add a new feature to Daydreamer. Whatever they added, it created a dangerous final design that...it was just...dangerous.  I brought it up, was told it would be taken care of, then scheduled for an unrelated conference across the world. You know the rest.”

Somehow, Blake answered the question without actually answering the question.  Yang had already guessed that Blake knew something or saw something that she shouldn’t have.  That didn’t explain the type of danger they were up against - it only confirmed that Blake was the target because of her knowledge.

“What did you find?”

From Blake’s sigh, she didn’t want to go into details but, as far as Yang was concerned, the secrets stopped here.  If they were all in danger now, they deserved to know from what. Fortunately, Blake seemed to understand that and responded.

“The Daydreamer is supposed to be the greatest invention since the original Dreamscape,” she explained.  “It makes everything about dreaming easier - building custom environments, dreamer-on-dreamer interaction, dreaming at any point in the day even if it’s only for a few minutes at a time.  But somehow...the Project Daydream team made it too easy.”

“What do you mean?” Yang asked, watching Blake clutch her hands together and sigh again.

“The new design has a flaw.”  When Blake said the word, she finally met Yang’s gaze.  “It allows users to circumvent the Dream Disks and locate consciousnesses based on proximity.”

Furrowing her brow at the response, Yang glanced at Ruby and Weiss and found varying expressions of confusion on their faces.

“Uh, what does that mean?”

“It means that...if someone is capable enough, they don’t need a Dream Disk,” Blake explained, exasperation evident in her tone.  “They don’t need the second party to have a Dream Disk either. They can step into the subconscious of anyone near a Daydreamer, without permission.”

For several seconds, Yang stayed quiet and tried to comprehend what Blake meant.  Because it sounded an awful lot like people could be pulled into a dream at any time without realizing it.  When she looked across the table and saw the shock on Ruby and Weiss’ faces, she realized that Blake was saying exactly that.

“Are you serious?” she finally asked as her incredulity grew.  “How is that even possible? They’re supposed to be safe - consent is one of the biggest concepts Dreamscape sells.  You’re telling me they designed a product that takes away our ability to consent to a dream?”

For several long seconds, Blake held Yang’s gaze and said nothing.  Then she tilted her head a fraction of an inch.

“Yes.”

“What you’re saying…” Weiss added.  “Is that I could walk past one - I could walk past a building that happens to have one - and someone could force me into a dream.  Or a nightmare.”

Even though Weiss asked the question, Blake didn’t look away from Yang when she answered.

“Yes.  That’s what I’m saying.”

After spending the better part of the last year searching for possible explanations behind Blake’s disappearance, Yang hadn’t even come close.  Corporate espionage, embezzlement, stock manipulation, witness to an assault or bigger crime - nothing she’d thought of even remotely captured the scope and scale of the real issue. 

“The entire world pre-ordered one of those things, Blake!” she said while waving her hand towards the window.  “Kids, grandparents, politicians - people are already waiting in line to pick theirs up. You’re telling me that all of those people are at risk?  Not only them, but anyone even remotely close to them?”

“Yes,” Blake repeated with a simple nod.  “Not only are they at risk, but most of them don’t have the training to protect themselves from these types of...attacks.  Like what you went through, only they don’t have to break into your apartment. They just wait for you to walk to work, or go out to dinner, or sit down at the library.”

Suddenly feeling exceptionally restless, Yang stood up and paced the kitchen floor while trying to wrap her head around this news.  

This wasn’t just bad - this was the next level of bad.  This was if ‘bad’ had an older brother who just got out of prison after ten years type of bad.  She wouldn’t wish what she went through on her worst enemy, and now everyone could be subjected to that cruelty at any moment?  With no way to protect themselves?

“How could you not tell me this??” she demanded as she turned back to the table.  “This puts everyone in danger - literally everyone.”

“I couldn’t say anything!” Blake argued.  “Not without putting you and Ruby at risk.”

“So instead you just left the rest of the world at risk.”

“That’s a choice I was willing to make.”

Yang couldn’t believe what she was hearing, couldn’t believe what Blake was saying.  Maybe she never woke up. Maybe this was still a dream. If it wasn’t, she now wished it was.

“What’s the purpose?” Ruby asked, the question earning a nod from Weiss.  “What will they do with it?”

“I don’t know…”  After shaking her head, Blake turned back to Yang.  “Most likely, use it for money. The longer people dream, the more information Dreamscape has.  And the more information Dreamscape has, the more money it makes.”

Ruby looked at Yang with wide eyes, both of them likely running through the gauntlet of horror this ‘feature’ would have on their jobs.  After experiencing a taste of the future Blake was describing, Yang knew it would be difficult, if not impossible, to protect people from such an intrusion.  It would be equally impossible to prove that crimes were happening - if they could even categorize that type of manipulation as a crime, since current laws didn’t cover anything that happened within a dream environment.

“Our minds are like sponges,” Blake added, looking exhausted by the conversation.  “We want to believe what we can see. That’s why one of the most important security features in the Dreamscape is cognizance.  Knowing that you’re in a dream keeps you grounded, helps you maintain a sense of direction and prevents your mind from absorbing the landscape as truth.”

“But if someone blurs your reality, even a little bit, you can lose track of where you are.  You can go to sleep and wake up in a dream. You can go to work in a dream, you can log in to your computer in a dream, access your personal safe in a dream, discuss confidential information in a dream - all without realizing someone is creating and monitoring the environment for you.  Then you’ll go to sleep in a dream and wake up the next day having unknowingly provided who-knows-what information in your sleep.”

The room fell into silence while Blake’s words sunk in, and the three of them came up with probably thousands of ways this was horrible news for the rest of the world.

“We have to tell someone,” Weiss suddenly concluded, to which Ruby and Yang immediately agreed.

“We go to the news -”

“No editor will run that story,” Blake interrupted, shaking her head at Yang for the suggestion.  “You know they won’t - not after the Riots.”

“Then we go straight to the public - blast an announcement that everyone gets on their vid screens, phones, everything.”

“I can do that,” Ruby said, nodding at the idea.  “All I’d have to do is tap the emergency alerts system and upload whatever we want.”

Looking between Yang and Ruby, Blake shook her head.

“And who will believe you?”

“It should cause some uproar - get people calling for Bishop to answer questions.”

“And what happens when the chief of police issues a statement that everything is ok?” 

Blake’s question was so serious, Yang glanced at Ruby and Weiss and didn’t respond.

“And when the governor agrees with him?” Blake added.  “And the DTA? Product testers? Dream theorists themselves?”

“What do you mean?” Weiss asked, her eyes narrowed while she tried to figure out the answer.

“Over the past few months, free versions of Daydreamer were given to hundreds of the most influential people around the world.  They’re already using them.”

“How do you know?”

This time, Blake sighed and rubbed her forehead.  “I watched them come online.”

“There has to be a way to prove this -”

“There isn’t.  Even if someone combs every piece of data Dreamscape has, they won’t find it.  It’s all been erased by now. And even if you had people try to prove it using a Daydreamer, no one would be able to - only a handful of people are capable enough.”

“But you are,” Yang said, giving Blake a pointed look.

“Yes.  Me and a few other theorists.”

The more details Blake provided, the worse this sounded - both for them and for everyone else they knew.  To Yang, this ‘problem’ was bigger than anything their combined abilities could solve. They needed every reinforcement they had to combat it.  Which was why it made no sense that Blake tried to tackle this on her own - why not find help as soon as possible?

“So, basically, the entire world is at risk, and you didn’t tell us.”

“The less you knew, the better.”  When Yang scoffed and turned away, Blake reached out for her shoulder but stopped just short of touching her.  “If they thought you knew anything, they already would have gotten rid of you. And Ruby. And anyone important to either of you.”

The statement made Ruby glance at Weiss, who frowned and crossed her arms over her chest.

For her part, Yang didn’t know how to feel.  Over the past few months, she’d come up with thousands of reasons for Blake’s absence, from secret government experiments to gang involvement.  Knowing the actual threat made everything that much more real, that much more tangible, and she was only hearing about it now. 

“This is what we do,” she said, waving to herself and Ruby.  “We save people from things like this. That’s our job.” 

“Yang, you can hardly hold together an environment on your own.”

Huffing at the response, she turned away.

“I’m sorry you don’t agree with me,” Blake continued.  “But this realm is out of your expertise. And I know the department doesn’t have anyone more capable.”

“Yes, but we could question every employee Dreamscape has,” Yang argued.  “We could comb their histories, their online presence - everything - and figure out what they’ve been up to.”

“And how long would that take?” Again, Blake reached for Yang’s hand, but this time Yang moved out of the way.  When she looked into Blake’s eyes, which implored her to see this the way Blake did, she felt nothing but disbelief and hurt.

“Yang...I brought up the problem, and the next day my world fell apart.  How fast can you interview everyone without putting yourself at risk?”

Yang didn’t have an answer to that - not one that countered Blake’s logic, at least.  Such a massive undertaking would take a long time. First, they needed permission from the company to bring in the employees, and there was no guarantee Dreamscape would cooperate.  Most likely, the higher-level executives would be barred from speaking. The department could go to the courts and request permission, but they would need evidence of wrongdoing.

It would take too long.  Whoever was behind this would have ample time to hide their crimes and erase any tracks they’d left behind.  Still, that knowledge didn’t erase the gnawing in the pit of Yang’s stomach.

“Then how do we fix this?” she asked, shoving that feeling aside and focusing on solving the problem instead.

“I’ve been trying to get the final Daydreamer designs,” Blake replied, her eyes lingering on Yang for a few more seconds before finally turning away.  “With the final designs, maybe I can come up with a way to block that capability. Or at least add some type of security protocol to it.”

“How do we get the final designs?”

“They were removed from Dreamscape’s servers - for security, so that no one could steal or change them going into the launch.”

“Then where are they?”

After staring down at her hands for several long seconds, Blake finally sighed and met Yang’s gaze.

“He did the same thing for the Dreamscape launch.  Taven - he removed the code so no one could touch it before launch day.”

“I know where he hid it,” Blake hurried on while the three of them stared at her.  “I can convince him to give me the information.”

“But...?” Yang asked, knowing something else followed that sentence.

“But...I need to create an environment good enough to trick him.”  When no one said anything, Blake looked at Yang and apologetically shook her head.  “Which means I need a very detailed, very recent layout of his room.” 

For a brief moment, Yang couldn’t even comprehend what Blake was asking - it was that far outside the realm of possibility.  To get a recent layout of Taven Bishop’s room, they had to get into his room somehow.  Which was probably super easy to do, considering he was one of the richest and most powerful people in the world.

“Ok, this just became a heist or something,” she grumbled while turning away from Blake, unable to even look at her right now.

“I can try to hack Dreamscape’s servers and pull his prefab for you?” Ruby offered.  “I’m sure he has several.” 

“Unless those were made yesterday, they aren’t new enough.”

“Let me get this straight,” Yang interrupted.  “You need the final designs to fix this problem.  To get those, you need to steal them from the wealthiest man on the planet.  But first, you need to break in and scan his room so you can trick him into giving you the information in a dream?”

“...yes.” 

Yang huffed at the succinct response.  

“Great.  That sounds real easy.”

“Our other option is searching for the people who took you, figuring out who’s giving them orders, and convincing them to stop.  Meanwhile, Daydreamer launches in a couple days - and they’ll come after me as soon as they have the network set up. Once the entire city is covered, there will be nowhere to hide.”

What Blake meant was that they didn’t have much time, and they didn’t have much information - which made their lack of time even more pressing.  At this point, their options were to believe that the threat was imminent, or write this off as nothing and move on with their lives. Considering how much time Blake already put into finding a solution, however, Yang had no choice but to believe the threat was real.

“Let’s check this guy out then,” Ruby said, hopping out of her seat and waving for them to follow her into a room attached to the kitchen.  While Ruby managed to sound upbeat about the situation, Yang reluctantly followed and sent a glance at Blake that wasn’t returned.

It wasn’t until Yang walked into the room and saw the wall covered in computer screens that her mind was drawn away from Blake.  Looking around the rest of the room, which was filled with more equipment than she’d seen anywhere outside of the supply shops and Ruby’s apartment, she let out a low whistle. 

“Wow, Weiss.  Didn’t realize you were into computers too.”

“I’m not.”

“She built it for me!”

Surprised by the response, Yang turned and found the most adorably-delighted grin on Ruby’s face.  She then glanced at Weiss, who looked at Ruby as if she was the most valuable thing in the world.

“You bought this for her?”  

The question broke the spell and brought Weiss’ gaze her way.

“Yes.  I thought she’d like another place to work when not at home.”

“Exactly how much time is she spending over here?” Yang asked, narrowing her eyes when Weiss glanced away.

“Way more now,” Ruby replied before waving her gloved hand.  “Check this out.” The screen showed the satellite image of a house - a very, very large house.  “Now this is a house,” she muttered while zooming in.  “Let’s see what kind of security he has…oh, here we go.”

Pulling out a container of code, Ruby broke it apart and scrolled through it.

“Look at this,” she said, pointing out a particular set of tech garble only she understood.

“Is that...something to do with faces?” Weiss asked while gesturing to a specific set of lines.

“You’re such a fast learner!” Ruby gushed.  After giving Weiss a sideways hug and nuzzling her hair - just enough affection to make her blush - Ruby turned back to the code.  “And you’re right! This -” Grabbing a small section and pulling it towards them, Ruby spun it around so they could all see it. Not that they needed to because Ruby was the only one who understood it - well, Ruby and Weiss, apparently.  

“This is what all the rich people are doing these days - installing super-expensive scanners looking for facial deviations.”

“And that means…?” Yang prodded.

“It’s what we have at the department, Yang.  You can’t wear a mask past this thing.” Turning back to the screens, Ruby flipped the code into the background and pulled the satellite image closer.  “This thing.”  With a flick of her finger, she drew a circle around a small, nearly invisible piece of black hidden amongst the landscaping.  “Oh, and this thing. Here’s another. Wow, he went a little overboard.”

Folding her arms over her chest, Yang narrowed her eyes at the house and tried to find another answer.  One of those scanners pointed towards every possible entrance to the home, which made wearing a holomask impossible.

“Let’s see what else he has…”  Parsing through the code, Ruby suddenly giggled.

“What?” Weiss asked, looking over Ruby’s shoulder to see what she might’ve found.  

“It’s nothing.  I just know who built this.” 

“You do?” 

“Yeah!  Well, not personally, but I’ve seen their stuff before.  They do everything the same way.”

“Which means you already know how to get in, don’t you?”

Ruby beamed at the vote of confidence.  

“I have some ideas.  And it means I get to use my ultra-secret, way-overpowered, security buster!”

“You built another one?” 

“Oh, this one’s even better.”  Grabbing something from the bottom of the screen, Ruby pulled it out and stood back to show them her latest masterpiece.  “I call it...The Hugger.”

Yang tilted her head at the name, which was not at all what she’d expected, but Weiss flat out gigged - giggled.  Weiss Schnee, the master of an icy glare meant to kill, broke down in adorable, delighted giggles.  And, from the grin on Ruby’s face, that’s exactly the reaction the name was created for.

“Why ‘The Hugger?’” Blake asked, looking more curious about the logistics than amused by the name.

“Because that’s what it does.”  When none of them had immediate ‘a-ha’ moments, Ruby explained further.  “These days, most people try to sneak their way in, but not The Hugger. It wraps all the code in a big bear hug and squeezes until something breaks.”

“Ok, that got a little morbid,” Yang muttered with a shake of her head.

“It works.  I think.” Turning back to the screen, Ruby dragged her program on top of the code controlling the house.  “If you stress test everything at once, at the highest level it’s ever seen before, something’s bound to give…”

“You’re doing this now?” Yang asked when a convoluted set of rapid numbers and letters swirled around the screen.  “From here?”

“Sure, why not?”

Yang could think of a hundred reasons ‘why not,’ but she looked at Weiss instead of replying.  And Weiss didn’t look at all concerned about Ruby trying to break the security system of the most powerful man in the world from her house.  It could only be traced back to her, but apparently she had that much faith in Ruby’s capabilities.

So the four of them watched the numbers and letters as they spun and changed in front of them.  Processes were being checked and double checked, security protocols butted up against, and loopholes searched for.  Suddenly, after a small flash of red, Ruby nearly tripped herself while leaping forward.

“Gotcha!” she said, grabbing a page of code and turning the rest of the system off.  Dragging the information over to the screen, she looked through it and smiled.

“The lights,” she muttered while she worked.  “Always the lights. He put in those snazzy ones that turn on and off automatically while you walk.  Fancy, but they can’t withstand The Hugger’s power.”

“So...now you control his lights?”

“Yup!”

“How’s that supposed to help?” Yang asked, glancing at Blake and finding they were both curious about the possible answer.

“I don’t know yet, but it’s a start of something - I can feel it.”

“Great.  This just went from really easy to super easy.”  Yang couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her tone, not when Ruby just proved that their goal was, in fact, impossible.  If Ruby could only gain control of the lights, no way were they getting anywhere near that guy’s house unless they had a warrant.

“Actually...maybe it is easy.”  

The comment drew everyone’s attention to Weiss while she calmly tapped her fingers on her arm and puzzled through the situation.

“If you’ve forgotten, I’m working on a case for Taven’s son.  We don’t need to break into his house - I can just go over.”

“You can get into his room?” Blake asked, at which point Ruby turned to Weiss with wide eyes.  

“Can you get into his room?”

When Weiss’ answer was to turn away, Yang laughed.

“No way you can.” 

The disbelief brought Weiss’ gaze to her in a hurry.  

“You think I can’t?” 

“Uh, yeah, cuz you’re too gay for that.” 

After staring at Yang for a long time, Weiss turned away. 

“I can do it.”  With a nod, Weiss finally looked at the rest of them.  “The three of you are unofficially or officially dead - you can’t exactly be caught in public.  Besides, I work with him. I can show up on short notice to discuss the case. Then I’ll find a moment to slip away.”

“But what if something goes wrong?” Ruby protested.  “What if he tries to hurt you?”

“We hope he doesn’t.”

When Ruby sent Yang a look begging for help, Yang jumped to the rescue. 

“New plan,” she said before Weiss could argue.  “I’ll go with you.”

“That’s a horrible plan.” 

“No, it isn’t.  Since you’re such good buds, you can distract him while I slip off to do some sleuthing.”  When Weiss opened her mouth to protest, Yang hurried on. “That way -” she said while giving Weiss a firm look.  “Someone’s around to help if you need it.” 

“How nice of you to assume I’ll be the one needing help,” Weiss retorted before motioning to the bandages along Yang’s arms.  Ignoring the implied insult, Yang focused on the plan forming in her mind.

“I’ll dress like one of your assistants - he’ll never notice me.  But this way, if you need help, I’ll be right there.”

A flicker of relief passed through Weiss’ eyes, but the emotion disappeared just as quickly as it appeared.

“Yeah…” Ruby interrupted.  “There’s just the small problem of the police bulletin.”

Before Yang could ask, Ruby had the files on the screen - Yang’s name, photograph, last known location, and instructions to call the department if spotted.

“Shit…” she breathed out.

“It’s kind of a big problem.”  Ruby’s hands moved in a series of intricate motions while code flew across the screen.  “The police missing and wanted info feeds into systems around the city. And -” Stepping back, she showed them another section of code.  “It feeds directly into his surveillance system. So you can’t wear a mask, and the cameras will alert everyone that you’re on the list.”

When Blake sighed and shook her head, Yang frowned.

“There’s gotta be something…”

“Oh!”  After a few seconds of work, Ruby smiled.  “Nevermind. Problem solved. I’ll just change the police database photo.  Then the cameras won’t know to look for you. I can’t wipe people’s memories though…”

“So a disguise.”

“That’s not a holomask,” Blake pointed out.

“Sounds more like a costume…”

“While you three figure that out,” Weiss interrupted while pulling out her phone.  “I’ll call Betty to see what his plans are tonight.”

“Betty still works for him?” Blake asked while Weiss walked out of the room.

“Yes.  She runs his life - appointments, travel, scheduling - she makes sure he gets where he needs to be at the right time.”

“So we convince her to let us in?” Yang asked.

“She’s easily bribable,” Weiss answered.  Noticing the glances they gave her, she shrugged.  “We bribe her for his schedule, figure out when he’s at home and - hopefully - show up right before a big meeting so he’s distracted.”

“How do we bribe her?”

Weiss sighed at the question while typing something on her phone.  

“How is anyone bribed these days?  Money.” Unperturbed by the shocked look Yang gave her, Weiss rolled her eyes and pulled the door closed behind her.  “I’ll call her right now. Give me a minute.”

After the door closed, the three of them heard Weiss’ muffled voice coming from the hall.

“Am I the only one who finds that attractive?” Ruby asked before looking at Blake and Yang for support, but Blake politely turned away while Yang shook her head.

“Pretty sure you are,” she joked, watching Ruby smile and sit down in her chair.

“You guys are missing out,” was all she said before turning back to the screen.  Yang and Blake looked at each other after the comment, but both of them looked away just as quickly.  

An uncomfortable energy settled across the room while Ruby worked and Weiss spoke on the phone right outside the door, but Yang couldn’t think of anything to say to make it disappear.  Instead, she waited in silence until Weiss stopped talking and the door opened once more.

“What’d she say?” Ruby immediately asked, spinning around in her chair while Weiss walked inside.

“We’re lucky - if you want to call this luck.”  Walking over to Ruby, Weiss only continued once she was holding Ruby’s hand.  “He’s hosting dinner tonight - a celebration for some high-powered officials in advance of the release.”

“That’s perfect, right?”  

“He should be moderately distracted, which means he might not notice a wayward assistant getting lost for a few minutes in his home.”

“We’re doing this, then?” Ruby asked, directing her question mostly to Weiss.  “We’re sneaking into his house?”

“I wouldn’t call it sneaking, but...yes.  It doesn’t sound like we have many other options.”  When no one disagreed with Weiss’ assessment of the situation, she turned towards Blake.  “Assuming you’re telling the truth, that is.”

Yang watched uncertainty pass through Blake’s gaze before she set her jaw and nodded, locking them into this course of action that could be extremely dangerous, career ending, or both.

“We either do this,” Blake said, meeting Yang’s gaze with an unreadable expression.  “Or we run to the farthest reaches of the planet and watch the world fall apart.”

When put like that, it didn’t sound like much of an option at all.

Chapter Text

“Ruby…”  After sparing one last glance in the mirror, Yang turned towards her sister.  “Do you know why Weiss has a real wig?”

With holomasks being all the rage these days, wigs were relics from a lost era.  Yet Weiss just so happened to own one - one made of long, wavy, brunette hair that fell to the middle of Yang’s back.

“We thought it’d be neat to see the real deal,” Ruby replied, leaning almost too far back in her chair before leaning forward again.  “Aren’t they cool? Can’t hack that!”

“I mean...technically you can…”  Lifting up the individual strands of the wig, Yang gave them a good inspection before tossing them over her shoulder.  “Just need some scissors.”

Hearing a short chuckle, she beamed at Blake.

“What do you think?” she asked while striking a pose.  “How do I look with brunette hair?”

The question invited Blake to check her out, but Yang hadn’t expected the intensity behind that gaze.  Amber eyes, which spoke volumes more than Blake said aloud, started at Yang’s new hairstyle before moving downward at a slow, deliberate pace that made Yang’s skin tingle.  Eventually reaching the floor, Blake’s eyes snapped back to Yang’s while a smile appeared.

“You look amazing, but that’s not surprising - you always look amazing.”

Feeling a blush at the uninhibited compliment, Yang turned back to the mirror only to meet Blake’s eyes in the glass. 

“I’m glad you think so,” she muttered before removing the wig and running a hand through her real hair.  “You’re sure he won’t notice?”

“Please - I can hardly tell the difference and you’re my sister.”  Ruby waved off Yang’s concern with a grin. “Just don’t get it caught in any doors or anything.”

“Because I planned on doing that,” Yang replied with a roll of her eyes.

“Oh, and here.  Gotta add these.”

When Ruby handed over a pair of eyeglasses, Yang slipped them on without question.

“There’s a built-in camera,” Ruby explained while Yang looked around to see if they impaired her vision.  “And they’ll work in super low light, so you don’t need to turn on the lights when you’re sneaking around this guy’s room.”

“Really?”  Glancing at Ruby, who nodded, Yang smiled and checked out her new glasses in the mirror.  “That’s useful - you just built these?”

“Yup!  Repurposed a pair of Weiss’ reading glasses.”

“Reading glasses and a wig,” Yang said with an amused scoff.  “Weiss is so old school sometimes.”

“How are reading glasses old school?”

Cringing at the question, Yang shot Ruby a look before turning to Blake.  “With all the vision correction options these days, who wears glasses for anything but fashion?  I mean, except for you, of course. But I love your reading glasses - they’re adorable.”

Yang threw on a smile that she hoped absolved her of her transgression and, fortunately, Blake rolled her eyes while letting the conversation drop.  Yang forgot that Blake also wore reading glasses from time-to-time, but it was an honest slip-up. Definitely wouldn’t happen again!

“Can you see the bruise though?” she asked while returning her attention to the mirror.  To her, evidence of the cover-up was clear as day, but she knew to look for it.

“It’s not noticeable.”  Standing by Yang’s shoulder, Blake looked into the mirror with her.  “Most people will assume you hit your head on something, if they even notice.”

“Good.”  Breathing a sigh of relief, Yang next turned her attention to the myriad of cuts she’d somehow collected.  “And these won’t show under long sleeves.” Just looking at the cuts made her itchy. She tried her best not to scratch them, but they were at the stage of healing that itched like hell all the time.

“Don’t scratch,” Blake reminded her as soon as her arm inched upward.  Laying a hand on top of hers, Blake smiled while pushing it back down. “Let them heal, or they’ll scar.”

Doing as instructed, Yang couldn’t help but smile while her heart did several extra-loud ba-dumps in her chest.  Moments like these reminded her of the best parts of their relationship - the caring and never-ending support that came with being there for each other through thick and thin.  Somewhere along the way, she’d grown accustomed to leaning on Ruby and Weiss for that feeling, but this...this was different than anything she could ever find with someone else.

Hearing a soft chime preceding the front door opening, she broke away from Blake’s gaze as Weiss walked into the room.

“How was your meeting?” Ruby immediately asked, spinning around in her chair with a bright smile on her face.

“Exhausting.”  After giving Ruby a kiss, Weiss dropped a small bag on the table.  “But I got what you asked for.”

“Because you’re the absolute best.”  While Weiss had no response for the glowing compliment, Ruby grabbed the bag and pulled out a package containing what looked like two tiny sections of wire.  Removing the wires, she carefully plugged them into the contraptions she’d spent the afternoon working on.

“And I got you a suit,” Weiss added while handing a clothing bag to Yang.  “Because those aren’t fitting into anything I own.”

When Weiss nodded towards Yang’s chest, she laughed and accepted the new clothes.

“I hope it’s not super ugly.”

“I wouldn’t know.  I just told one of the assistants to buy something.”

Curious (and a little concerned) about her outfit for the evening, she opened the garment bag and found a reasonably-fashionable outfit inside.

“I can wear this,” she determined while pulling out the black blazer, skirt, and white-collared shirt.  After holding the pieces up to check the size, she nodded to herself.

For an instant, she considered changing right there in the kitchen - because why not?  Then she remembered Blake was there. Not that Blake’s presence normally prevented her from shedding clothing - the opposite, usually - but she suddenly felt a little...modest.

“I’ll be right back...” she mumbled before hurrying into the other room to change.  She felt Blake’s gaze follow her out, but shook off the feeling as she ducked into the living room and slipped into her new outfit.  Once done, she straightened the sleeves, pulled the jacket tight, and headed back to the kitchen. Blake returned to her side as if nothing about that sequence of events was abnormal, but remained at the close-but-not-too-close distance they’d kept since this morning.

“Looks good.  Fits you perfectly.”

“It’ll do,” Yang replied with a small smile.  Her heart still didn’t know what to do in Blake’s presence, and instead found itself caught somewhere between hammering with love and stuttering with uncertainty.  All this time, she thought their reunitement would be the easiest part of this. Turns out, Blake coming home was only the beginning of moving on - especially with the new wrinkle added to their lives.

“Annnnnd done.”

Tearing her eyes away from Blake, Yang watched Ruby set down her tools and dust off her hands.

“What are they?” Weiss asked, leaning over Ruby’s shoulder to look at the small items on the table.

“Our communication for today.”  Picking up the tiny devices, Ruby hid them in the palm of her hand and grinned.  “What’s something women can always wear and get away with?” 

“Jewelry?” Weiss guessed before Yang even grasped the question.

“Jewelry!” Ruby repeated while unfolding her hand and displaying two sets of diamond earrings.  “Sorry, Weiss. I’ll get you new ones later.”

“That’s ok.  I’m sure I’ll like these better.”  

Beaming at the response, Ruby picked up one set of earrings and handed them to Weiss.  “Targeted sound is all the craze these days,” she explained while Weiss removed her current pair and put on the new earrings instead.  “You use dampeners to channel a direction and eliminate dispersion. The end result?”

Walking over to the computer, Ruby whispered something into the microphone.  Weiss smiled at whatever it was, but the rest of them hadn’t heard anything at all.

“See?  Plus, they’re really small microphones.  Even if you whisper, we’ll hear you.”

“Hear that, Weiss?” Yang added while gently nudging Weiss in the side.  “Keep your insults to a minimum.”

When Weiss rolled her eyes, Yang chuckled and slipped on the second set of earrings Ruby handed over.  Diamonds weren’t quite her style, but they worked with her outfit.

“I made these because he has this cool thing that picks up hidden tech.  It’s awesome, but it can’t pick up something it’s never seen before!”

After staring at the second earring in her hand for a long time, Weiss turned to Ruby.

“You literally just invented these from scratch?”

“Not from scratch.”  Leaning forward, Ruby kissed Weiss’ cheek.  “You got me the wires!”

“Yes, but...you’re incredible.”

“Save it for when Yang’s not around,” Ruby replied with a playful wink and adorable squeal when Yang tried to smack her shoulder.  “Oh! I want to make one more adjustment.” Taking the earring from Weiss and setting it on the computer scanner, Ruby pulled up the programming to tweak one last thing.

“While you do that, I’ll get dressed,” Weiss replied.  Before she walked away, however, Ruby grabbed ahold of her arm.  

“But you’re already dressed!”

“You think I can show up at Taven’s wearing this?” Weiss asked, gesturing towards her work clothes - a nice blazer and skirt.

“Uh...yeah?  You look fantastic.”

For a second, Weiss just smiled at Ruby.  Then she leaned forward and kissed Ruby on the lips.

“You’re very sweet,” she murmured before pulling away.  “But no. I can’t wear this.”

While Weiss headed upstairs to change, Ruby shrugged at Yang and Blake.

“She looks nice,” she repeated, as if convincing them that she wasn’t crazy for thinking so.  She then turned back to the computer and opened the codebase. After making a few swirling changes that Yang couldn’t even track, she closed everything and gave them a thumbs up.  “Even better.”

“Awesome.”  

Yang expected Blake to add a response of her own, but instead she gave nothing but a small smile before looking towards the floor.  She seemed nervous or...something…

“What’s wrong?” Yang asked and, as soon as Blake glanced towards Ruby, knew she wasn’t getting an honest answer.  

“Nothing’s wrong,” Blake replied with a tiny smile.  “Just thinking about...everything we’re trying to do.”

The response created more questions than answers, but Yang didn’t have time to ask them.  Instead, she turned towards the door when she heard footsteps headed their way.

“Ok.”  Walking into the room, Weiss drew everyone’s attention as she picked up her bag from the table and searched through its contents.  Satisfied with what she found, she nodded and held the clutch by her side. “I’m ready now.”

From her demeanor, she thought nothing of the outfit she wore, which was...professional...but in a...flashy and revealing way.

“You’re wearing that?” Ruby asked, motioning towards the low-cut top, slim-fitting blazer, and ultra-short pencil skirt.  Combined with a pair of heels that made her nearly the tallest in the room, she was dressed to draw some serious attention.

“Yes.  Is there something wrong with it?”

After giving Blake a look, Yang huffed in amusement and shook her head.  Weiss had to know the reason behind Ruby’s consternation yet asked the question anyway, either to force Ruby to admit her reservations or because arguing just came naturally to her.

“Uh...it’s like...super revealing,” Ruby replied.  “I don’t like the idea of him...you know...leering at you.”

Yang didn’t know if that was the answer Weiss wanted or expected, but she took Ruby’s hands and gave her a tender, loving smile.

“It will help - believe me,” Weiss replied before glancing towards Blake.  “I’m sure Blake agrees with me.”

When Blake shuffled her feet, Yang straightened her posture and felt a tug of displeasure in her chest.

“Uh...what?”  She directed the question to Blake, who suddenly refused to meet her gaze.  

“It will help,” Blake agreed, speaking only to Weiss while Ruby and Yang exchanged dumbstruck expressions.  Without a word spoken between them, Yang knew that her sister felt the same mixture of emotions she did - indignation, anger, and a lot of desire to punch a rich sleazeball in the face.

“Ok.”  Clapping her hands together, Ruby flashed a smile.  “New plan - we hack his bank accounts and take all his money.”

Brow raised, Weiss gave Ruby a curious look.

“You can do that?”

“It’s not exactly legal, but yeah.  And I think he deserves it - don’t you, Yang?”

Yang nodded her approval of this plan, but Weiss gave her only a half-second glance before narrowing her eyes at Ruby.

“Does that mean you can look into anyone’s bank account?”

“Uh…”

Weiss folded her arms across her chest at the non-answer.  

“Does that mean you looked into my bank accounts?”

“No!” Ruby replied before immediately backing away from the answer.  “I mean, yeah kinda - but that was before we started dating! When I met you in the hall, I was super curious and wanted to know more about you.  So I pulled up everything I could find, and your bank accounts just happened to be part of it. And then I realized, ‘Holy crap why am I looking around Weiss Schnee’s bank accounts?’  But I couldn’t help myself! Because you’re so pretty and smart and I was just like, hooked, you know?”

The longer Ruby rambled, the more Weiss’ pretend-annoyance morphed into something closer to adoring-amusement.

“I don’t know whether to be upset or love you even more,” she eventually replied.  Evidently, she chose the ‘love’ side of the equation, because she leaned forward and kissed Ruby’s cheek.  

“And stealing his money will accomplish nothing,” Blake added.  “It will only make him mad, and he’ll make it all back in a couple of days.”

“Yeah, but then we’d be super rich too…”

Smiling at Ruby’s response, which was clearly meant to be a joke, Yang put on her new glasses and made sure her earrings were firmly in place.

“Ok, think I’m ready too,” she said to get them back on track.  She had her glasses. She had her snazzy new earrings. She had her work-appropriate outfit.  She had her wig. “Guessing weapons are out of the question,” she said, turning to Ruby for an answer.

“Yup.  Oh...and your arm…”

When Ruby gestured towards Yang’s bionic arm, she held it up and frowned.  “What about it?”

“How many people have those, Yang?”

“I’ll cover it up -”

“A thousand different scanners will see it.”

“Then...what?  You want me to go without it?  Isn’t that equally obvious?”

Before answering, Ruby turned back to the computer and pulled up photos - lots and lots of photos of Yang.  In every one of them, she had her arm on. Which wasn’t surprising since she went through great pains to always wear it out of the house.  Not only was it more useful than any other tool she owned, but it allowed her to blend in and pretend she was ‘normal.’

“If they remember the photos, they probably don’t remember that you’re lacking an arm.”

“Plus, it’s perfect,” Weiss added.  “No matter who a person is, they’ll avoid acknowledging your defect -”

“It’s not a defect.”

Eyes widening at Blake’s terse response, Yang turned and found her frowning at Weiss.

“Factually, it is…” Weiss replied, treading lightly with her reply before looking at Yang.  From her expression, she was concerned that she might’ve offended Yang somehow, but Yang shook her head.

“It’s ok.  It is.” Reaching over, Yang held Blake’s hand in hopes the contact would instill some level of calmness.  She appreciated the protectiveness, but it was unnecessary with Weiss, who clearly meant no harm with the comment.  

“So I go sans arm,” she concluded.  “That’s…”

Trailing off, she tried to decide how she felt about leaving her trusty sidekick behind.  She knew how to fight with one arm. She knew how to do a lot of things with one arm. She was just...much better with two.

“That’s doable,” she concluded with a nod.  “If something happens, I’d still rather be there than not.”

She wouldn’t have a powerful ally if things went sideways, but she’d figure something out.  She almost always did.

The doorbell rang then - the sound so sudden and unexpected that the four of them looked at each other before doing anything else.  It was Weiss who moved towards the entryway first, but Ruby quickly caught her hand to prevent her from getting too far away.

“Let me see who it is.”  Making a few hasty swipes through the screen, Ruby pulled up a camera feed from the front of the house, and Yang immediately did a double-take.

Two uniformed officers stood on Weiss’ step, with a third leaned against a patrol car idling on the street behind them.  

“Is that Casey?” she asked, moving forward to identify the tall man standing on the step.  “And Saffold - what the hell are they doing here?”

“Oh for the love of god,” Weiss muttered, pulling her arm free of Ruby’s grasp and heading towards the door.  “I’ll deal with them. Stay here and be quiet.”

Weiss closed the door behind her, leaving the three of them in the computer room listening to the sound of her footsteps approaching the front door.  Ruby made several more motions on the computer and suddenly they heard the sounds coming from outside - the two officers muttering to each other before the door opened.

“Officers,” Weiss said, her voice coming through the speakers clearly as she stood in the doorway of the house.  “To what do I owe this unexpected pleasure?”

Her tone oozed annoyance, which the officers definitely heard but didn’t react to.   

“Sorry to bother you, Miss Schnee,” Casey replied, although he didn’t appear the least bit apologetic about the intrusion.  “May we come in for a minute?”

“Do you have a warrant?”

Casey and Saffold looked at each other before Saffold shook her head.

“Well, no…”

“Then no,” Weiss answered shortly.

The two officers shared another glance before deciding that they would ask their questions on the stoop instead of trying to get into the house.

“Fine.”  Straightening his shoulders, Casey met Weiss’ gaze without an ounce of intimidation.  “You may have heard that two of our own went missing recently -” He was probably trying to garner sympathy with the words and his expression, but Weiss’ response was a heavy sigh.

“I have a lot of important work to do, Officer,” she replied, touching her temple as if the conversation hurt her in some way.  “I don’t have time to keep track of your internal issues too.”

“Detective Xiao Long went missing several days ago,” Saffold pressed on.  “Her sister, Ruby Rose, disappeared not long after.”

“It sounds like you should be looking for them.”

“We are,” Casey responded.  “That’s why we’re here. Have you seen or heard from either of them in the past few days?”

For a few seconds, there was nothing but silence on the front stoop.  Then Weiss laughed.

“Excuse me?” she asked as her laugh subsided.  “Two members of the police force go missing, and you think I know where they went?”  After pressing her hand to her chest, she waved it through the air as if brushing the entire conversation away.  “I can’t believe you wasted your time coming here when you could be following other leads. No, I haven’t seen or heard from either of them - not that I’d even want to.  I already see enough of the so-called ‘police’ as it is. Now, if that will be all?”

After the two officers glanced at each other and nodded, Weiss wasted no time shutting the door in their faces.  Making a shushing noise, Ruby pointed towards the officers as they turned away.

“What a bitch,” Saffold mumbled.

“It was a long shot.”  Glancing over his shoulder, Casey gave the house one last look before turning away.  “Come on - let’s see if the others found anything.”

Watching two of her coworkers - two of her friends - hurry away, Yang clenched her jaw and shook her head.  Ultimately, she understood the advantage that being ‘dead’ afforded them, but it felt wrong to let her friends worry when she was perfectly fine.  

How had Blake done this for so long?

“Are you ok?” Blake whispered, touching Yang’s elbow to bring her back to the present - where the police car pulled out of the screen and Weiss walked back into the room.

“I’m fine,” Yang replied with a forced smile.  Blake didn’t look like she believed the response, but Yang made a point of turning away so the conversation ended.  She didn’t want to get into how wrong this felt. Or how she couldn’t imagine doing this for months or even weeks to someone she cared about.  

“What a bother,” Weiss grumbled as she returned to Ruby’s side.  The interaction clearly perturbed her in some way, but she lost her frown when she noticed the way Ruby beamed at her.  

“What?” she asked with a smile pulling at her lips, suddenly looking nothing like the surly woman who’d forced the police away.

“You’re cute.”

Blushing at the simple statement, Weiss looked down and picked an invisible piece of lint from her sleeve.

“I don’t know how that was cute...” she mumbled before clearing her throat, erasing her Ruby-induced embarrassment, and meeting Yang’s gaze.  “At this rate, you won’t be able to stay ‘dead’ for long. At least, not in the city.”

“Sounds like it’s time to get this show on the road then,” Yang replied, glancing around her group of co-conspirators and earning nods in return.  Ruby was anxiously ready, Weiss was coolly ready, and Blake was...unwillingly ready.

Regardless, everyone was ready.

“You know what this means.”  As soon as Yang said the words, Weiss sighed and Ruby grinned.  “To the bitchmobile!”  

When Yang pointed towards the garage, Weiss grumbled something Yang couldn’t hear, and Ruby giggled at whatever it was.  Together, the four of them left the kitchen and headed that way. From the sudden silence, it wouldn’t be unfair to guess they were headed to a funeral.  From Weiss’ outfit, however...

“Yang,” Blake suddenly said, catching Yang’s elbow when Ruby unlocked the door to the garage.  As soon as Yang looked down at Blake’s hand, Blake let go and moved further away. Her gaze then fell to the floor, and Weiss sent them a long, searching look before ushering Ruby along.

“What’s up?” Yang asked after several seconds passed and Blake remained silent.

“I just wanted to say…”  Pausing with her mouth still slightly open, Blake thought about her response for quite some time before shaking her head.  “Please be careful…he won’t take kindly to someone sneaking around his home, and I wouldn’t put it past him to take the justice system into his own hands.”

“I don’t plan on getting caught,” Yang replied with a grin.  “I’m sneaky, remember?”

The question was supposed to be a joke, but Blake responded with worry.

“But you’re not…” she whispered before looking at her hands, clasped together in front of her.  “If you get caught…”

It looked like Blake had more to say but decided against it.  Yang understood the concern, however. Sneaking around some billionaire’s home was a good way to meet his private security, but she didn’t plan on taking unnecessary risks unless Weiss needed help.

Leaning forward, she kissed Blake’s cheek before backing away with a smile.

“I’ll do my best to stay safe,” she promised before adjusting her glasses and flashing a smile.  “How do I look?”

“You look like...Yang in glasses.”

“Perfect!”  Yang smiled at the response, but, from the serious expression on Blake’s face, it looked like she wasn’t planning on smiling anytime soon.  

“Come on,” Yang prodded, extending a hand to see if Blake would accept it.  She did, which somehow made Yang feel relieved and anxious at the same time.  But together, the two of them left the house and found Weiss and Ruby waiting near the expensive silver car parked in the garage.

“Guess I’ll leave my arm here...”  After gesturing towards one of the cabinets, Yang reached up to uncuff her arm, but Blake beat her to it.  Gently working her fingers against the clasp, Blake got the arm to release through the fabric of Yang’s blazer and undershirt - an accomplishment that made Yang tilt her head and smile.

Apparently, Blake hadn’t lost her touch, even after all this time apart.

“Thank you,” Yang whispered while Blake laid the device on top of the cabinet, using a level of care that implied the piece of metal was worth far more than what it was made of.  Once that was done, Blake returned to Yang and rolled the sleeves of her shirt and blazer into a fashionable cuff - another action she’d done more than her fair share of times. To the unfamiliar, the outfit looked natural.  At least, as natural as clothing for a person with one arm could look.

“Please be careful,” Blake whispered in return, her eyes imploring Yang to heed the plea.  

Before responding, she kissed Blake again- this time lingering for several seconds to enjoy the moment before pulling away.

“We’ll be back in no time.”  Using a small smile for additional reassurance, Yang turned to find Ruby and Weiss sharing a similar moment of their own.  “We’ll be fine,” she added when Weiss walked towards the car and Ruby sent her a worried look. “That’s why we’ve got you looking out for us.”

Ordinarily, Ruby would agree or offer a vote of confidence, but today she simply nodded.  Her posture gave away her concern, just like Blake’s eyes gave away her worry while Weiss and Yang slipped into the waiting vehicle.  

As soon as the doors lowered and the engine started, Ruby raced back to her command station.  Blake, however, lingered a while longer, holding Yang’s gaze until the windows tinted to black.  Only then did she hang her head and slink inside.

Something about Blake’s aura filled Yang with questions, but she didn’t have time to ask them right now.  She didn’t even know if she could put her concerns into words. All she knew was that something about Blake’s behavior sent tendrils of worry through her veins.

“You need to talk to her.”

Tearing her eyes away from the door to the house, Yang found Weiss watching her closely.

“What makes you say that?”

It looked like Weiss already had the answer on the tip of her tongue, but she hesitated.  She even shook her head once, as if arguing with herself, before finally responding.

“Because...she’s been gone a long time.”

Yang wanted to ask why that, of all things, mattered, but the sound of the garage door opening cut her off.

“Hey guys,” Ruby’s voice said over the headphones in their ears.  “This is Team Lead checking in - can you hear me?”

“Loud and clear,” Yang replied, giving Weiss one last glance before buckling herself in.

“Perfectly,” Weiss added.

“Awesome!  I’ll be listening in, obviously.  Oh - actually, I can set this to speaker so Blake can hear too.  There - say something?”

“Something.”

When the two of them said the word in unison, Yang gave Weiss a look of surprise.  The moment Ruby giggled, however, she understood how the uncanny jinx came to be.  

She’d been so focused on her search for Blake, she hadn’t noticed how much time Ruby and Weiss were spending together.  From little behaviors like this...it must be a lot.

“‘K we hear you,” Ruby answered.  “So I guess we’re ready to go.”

With that statement, the car spurred to life and rolled out of the garage.  After reaching the street, it accelerated to a comfortable pace and navigated towards the outskirts of the city.  Ruby’s computer controlled everything about their route, from their path, to their speed, to the climate control. The lack of responsibility gave Yang and Weiss the chance to iron out the details of their plan.

“Ok, so what do I need to do?” Yang asked while the city slid by outside her window.  “Besides get to his room and look through everything. How do your paralegals act when they’re not looking terrified of you?”

“Talk as little as possible,” Weiss replied with a slightly dismissive wave.  “Don’t stare or meet his eyes too much. Try not to make any superfluous noise.  Basically, do your best to become invisible.”

“Gee, is that all?”

“And you’ll need this.”  Pulling a memory chip from her bag, Weiss handed it to Yang.  “It’s your excuse to slip away, so don’t give it to me the first time I ask for it.  You’ll have to ‘go back’ to the car to get it.”

“That’s it?” Yang asked, pocketing the device somewhere she would remember.

“Yes.  While you find his room, I’ll do my best to distract him.  That won’t work for an excessive amount of time though, so please be quick.”

If Weiss was nervous, it was impossible to tell.  Everything about her persona - from her slightly-bored tone to her perfect posture - suggested this was just another day, just another meeting.  

If this was just another day, Yang didn’t want to see what one of Weiss’ ‘exciting’ days looked like.

“It’s important not to raise his suspicions,” Blake added in their ears.  “If he thinks something’s wrong, he’ll move the designs.” 

“Or he might try to hurt you…” Ruby mumbled.

“Right.”  Leaning forward, Yang put her hand on her knee and caught Weiss’ gaze.  “If you feel like something’s up, or if you think you need my help, just say so, ok?  How about we use code word?”

“And what do you suggest this code word to be?”

“How about...say you’re in a ‘rush’ for something.  Like a rush to leave.”

After thinking about the suggestion, probably trying to find a way it could go wrong, Weiss nodded.

“I can do that.”

“Good.”

Ultimately, Yang didn’t know how much help she’d be if all hell broke loose, but she felt reasonably confident that between her and Ruby, they could at least get Weiss out of there.  As for herself...well, she’d take her chances, arm or not.

“Damn these houses are big,” she commented while leaning back and looking out the window.  The crammed, almost-claustrophobic feeling of the city had faded away, leaving only giant buildings sitting on massive plots of land.  In a time when the city bent over backwards stacking in as many people as possible, the egregious waste of space oozed the smell of money.  

“How the other half lives, huh,” she added while they passed expensive gates and perfectly-manicured lawns.

“You haven’t seen anything yet.”

As the car carried them onward, Weiss’ words became more correct.  The houses grew bigger, and bigger, until each sat on its own block of real estate.  And, just when Yang didn’t think the homes could get any larger, the car slowed down in front of one of the largest buildings she’d ever seen.

“Holy shit…”

“Ok, first test coming up,” Ruby said as the vehicle entered a long driveway blocked off by a guard-patrolled gate.  “If they won’t let you in, don’t force it.”

“Because we were planning on strong-arming our way in,” Yang muttered while they approached a sizeable guard station sitting near a metal gate even Weiss’ fancy car wasn’t getting through.  Two openly-armed guards stepped to the side as the car slid to a stop and the windows untinted for them to see inside. After doing a quick scan, one of the men walked to Weiss’ side of the vehicle while the window opened.

“Good afternoon, Miss Schnee.”

“Good afternoon.  I’m here to see Mr. Bishop.”

“Do you have an appointment?”

“No, I don’t have time for an appointment.  This is important - about his son.”

“Of course, Miss.  I’ll call him right away.”

Without complaint, the guard returned to his post to make the call while the other remained near the car.  After a few seconds in the booth, the first guard returned to Weiss.

“Mr. Bishop has a few minutes to see you.”  

“That’s all I need.”

When the gate opened and the guards stepped out of the way, the car moved onto the property.

“Wow.”  Staring out the window, Yang felt her awe grow when she saw rolling hills of perfectly-mowed grass combined with armed patrols.  “You must be more important than I thought.”

“I heard that…”

The entrance to the property was only the tip of the iceberg in terms of extravagance.  The paved drive was smoother than any street Yang had ever felt in her life. The sprawling lawn could support an entire city on its own.  Then the house came into view.

“Damn…”

She couldn’t think of a better word for the building laying in front of them, which dwarfed the size of most buildings she’d ever set foot in.  Three levels, at least twenty sets of windows across, superfluous columns in front - it was the picture of excess.

It was at this moment that the magnitude of their mission struck her.  They weren’t just breaking into some rich guy’s mansion - they were breaking into the rich guy’s mansion.  If this was the amount of money he threw at building something no one could reasonably live in, who knew what type of security measures he employed to keep people like them out.

“Weiss,” Yang whispered while the car glided up the drive.  “Don’t be a hero - got it? If anything feels off, find a way to leave - preferably without drawing suspicion, but do it if you have to.”

“If I didn’t know better, I’d think you actually cared about me,” Weiss replied before giving Yang a smile and nod.  “Thank you.”

“I agree with Yang,” Ruby added from afar.  “And in about three seconds, we’ll know if her disguise worked or not.”

Taking a deep breath, Yang let it out while silently counting to three.  When three seconds passed and no alarms went off, she smiled.

“Guess we’re good.”

“Fooling computers is easy with Ruby around,” Weiss replied, still looking like the model of poise seated across the vehicle.  “Fooling a person is more difficult - you know that.”

“Yeah, yeah…”

Yang wished she had a better argument, but Weiss was right.  That, and the car stopped in front of the towering entrance of the mansion at that time, leaving no time for extra conversation.  Marble columns, each one probably weighing a ton and costing more than Yang would earn in a lifetime, crowded the front entryway.

“You weren’t kidding about him being rich…” she mumbled while two uniformed butlers hurried towards them.  In a continuation of what seemed to be a theme, the two men went to Weiss’ door first, helping her out of the vehicle before doing the same for Yang.

“Miss Schnee,” one of the men said, sticking near Weiss’ elbow while she strode towards the front door as if she owned the place.  “Do you need anything while you’re here?”

“No, thank you.  This shouldn’t take long.”

Nodding at the answer, the man merely glanced at Yang before both men hurried ahead to open the front door in unison.

Now...Yang wouldn’t say she needed to be the center of attention, or even that she needed attention at all, but the way these people treated her was just plain weird.  It felt like they were going out of their way to ignore her, but why? To enforce Weiss’ importance over her own?

Whatever it was, she’d be glad when it was over.  For now, she zipped her lips and tried to keep her staring to a minimum.  Through work, she’d seen nice houses before - enormous mansions, sprawling estates - but the owner of Dreamscape Industries took ‘excessive’ to another level.  Every surface sparkled with what she had to believe was real gold and silver. But the ancient metals weren’t even the most impressive feature of the massive entryway they walked into - that title belonged to the cleverly-concealed lines of technology threaded through every inch of the house.  Like living veins controlling everything from the lights to the doorways to the tile underneath their feet, the house was alive just as much as they were.

It was, in a nutshell, Ruby’s dream home.  

“They already scanned you guys,” Ruby whispered, as if feeling the same pressure that was building in Yang’s chest.  “They matched Yang with the profile I built, just like we wanted.”

The answer should have been a relief, but Yang felt less relieved by the second, especially when the butlers left them in the foyer with a kind-but-firm “Please wait here.”

This probably wasn’t the best time to realize how dangerous and impossible this was, but this was dangerous and impossible.  The opportunity to back out disappeared, however, when a tall man with immaculately-groomed hair and a perfectly-creased suit walked out of the nearest doorway.  His persona was as imposing as the house he lived in, but the smile he greeted Weiss with suggested friendliness - or, at the very least, familiarity.

He looked just like the person Yang had seen on television - the man promising to make the world a better place by making their dreams a reality.

“Showtime...” Ruby whispered in their ears as Taven Bishop approached them.

Chapter Text

"Weiss." Greeting her by name, Taven strode over and smiled while shaking her hand, clasping both of his around hers as if they were close friends. "It's a pleasure to see you."

"You too, Taven," Weiss replied with a warm, seemingly-genuine smile. "I'm sorry for stopping by on such short notice -"

"Don't be. If you've come to see me personally, it must be important. I'm afraid I'm hosting a dinner this evening, but I'm all yours until then."

"This shouldn't long," Weiss assured him with that same smile still in place. And, when his gaze finally flitted to Yang, Weiss gave a dismissive wave.

"This is Elizabeth."

"Nice to meet you," he said while hardly giving Yang a second glance. She nodded but didn't bother responding because he'd already turned back to Weiss. Being 'invisible' wouldn't be difficult if he only had eyes for Weiss...

"Can we speak somewhere private?"

"Of course. Follow me."

As Taven led them further into the home, Yang looked at everything she could get her eyes on while trying not to be too obvious. A giant living room on the right, a giant kitchen on the left - with three home chefs hard at work preparing for the dinner to be hosted soon. The next room was a dining room, where several maids arranged plates and silverware on a long dining room table.

Beyond that, they turned down a hall and walked into a comparatively-small sitting room with several large chairs set around a coffee table. Floor-to-ceiling screens covered the walls in recent news, the weather, traffic conditions, and a constant market update. The moment Taven walked inside, however, the screens switched to a panoramic view of the ocean instead.

"Would you like to stay for dinner?" he asked while motioning for Weiss and Yang to sit across from him. Or maybe for just Weiss to sit across from him, but Yang took the invitation and sat out of his direct line of sight.

"I'd love to, but I need to work tonight."

"Ah, that's quite alright. Maybe next time I can interest you in a more intimate occasion - just the two of us?"

Yang did everything in her power not to wrinkle her nose at the question and the tone it was posed in. She had no idea how Weiss didn't even flinch.

"I'm sorry, Taven. As I've said before, I have very strict rules with clients."

"I'd argue that my son is your client, not me."

"Will he be paying the bill then?"

After briefly considering the question, Taven smiled, looking amused by the quick banter Weiss provided.

"In that case, I'll no longer be a client once you've cleared the charges."

"I guess we'll revisit this then," Weiss replied without pause, showing no hesitation rebuffing his advances. Then she crossed her legs - an action that drew everyone's eyes before Yang pointedly turned away.

She wanted to be amused by the situation - a wealthy, older gentleman heavily pursuing Weiss' affections - but she knew Weiss was only doing this for their benefit. Plus, it felt…dirty and wrong...for Weiss to sell herself out this way. Funny how, not too long ago, this image would perfectly align with the type of person Yang thought Weiss was.

"Fair enough." Sitting straighter in his seat, Taven made no effort to lift his gaze from Weiss' legs while Yang felt a burning desire to pummel the man where he sat.

"Thank you," Weiss replied before casually running her hand through her hair. "Now about your son - I mentioned that I had suspicions about the 'witness' testimonies, so we re-interviewed everyone at the party that night. Funny how testimonies change when the cops aren't involved…"

"Of course." Finally looking away when Weiss uncrossed her legs, Taven gave a good-natured laugh at the department's expense. "Everyone's out to please the police these days. Too much power, if you ask me."

"Precisely," Weiss agreed. "Implied intimidation. Even if not intended, they still influence the information they receive. So, when we started the second round of interviews, we found something...interesting."

Without looking at Yang, Weiss extended her hand and gestured for something. Sensing her moment had arrived, Yang spent several seconds searching her pockets, and several seconds more after both of them turned her way. Once she felt like her scrambling was believable enough, she gave them an embarrassed smile.

"I...uh…I think I left it in the car."

When Weiss sighed and looked extremely disappointed, Yang jumped to her feet.

"I'll get it right now! It will only be a few minutes!"

After shooting Taven a look to gauge his reaction, who seemed amusement more than anything else, Weiss sighed again.

"Yes," she said, sounding just as exasperated as she looked. "Go now."

Sensing her exit, Yang wasted no time rushing out of the room. But she hardly made it through the door before she heard Weiss' voice through her earpiece.

"I'm so sorry about her. She's new and...I don't think she's going to cut it."

"I completely understand," Tavon replied with a light laugh. "Finding capable help is difficult. I've gone through more than my fair share of incompetent employees in my time."

"I can only imagine. It's rather ironic how I thought her...impairment...would be what held her back. Turns out it's her lack of intelligence that's worst of all."

When Taven laughed, Yang rolled her eyes and ducked across the hall. The master suite was most likely upstairs, which meant she needed to find a staircase without one of the butlers, maids, drivers, or any other hired help spotting her. Probably about as easy as it sounded...

"It's equally frustrating when you lose the few good ones you find," Taven continued in his steady, confident voice. "I'm sure you remember the theorist we lost last year?"

Yang's pace faltered at the question, earning herself a curious glance from a pair of maids who'd just walked into the hall. Shaking her head and sending them a forced smile, she carried on towards the front door while paying even closer attention to the conversation she just left behind.

"Yes, I remember seeing the news," Weiss replied with no hint of recognition in her tone. "She led the team that created Daydreamer, correct?"

"And the original Dreamscape, yes. One of the most competent employees I've ever found." A short, weighty pause filled the air before Taven continued. "What happened to her was unfortunate. Luckily for Dreamscape, we employ an entire team of the best theorists in the world."

Clenching her fist at the marketing bravado, Yang briefly considered heading back and letting the pompous man hear her thoughts about that statement.

"Yang, focus," Blake's soft, guiding voice urged her. "You don't have much time."

Heeding the reminder, Yang took a deep breath and walked over to the next butler she came across.

"Excuse me?" she said to get his attention, doing her best to look extra innocent and naive. "Can you tell me where the restroom is?"

"Yes, Miss." Raising his right arm, he gestured towards a small hallway nearby. "It's the first door on the left."

"Thank you." Hurrying in that direction before he offered to escort her, Yang made sure to look like she knew exactly where she was going. Which, technically she did...and it wasn't to the restroom.

But she still turned towards the right door and reached for the handle as if she would go inside. Before opening it, however, she glanced to the side and discovered that the butler had disappeared, carrying on whatever task he had for the party tonight.

Immediately backpedaling, she hurried in the opposite direction and looked everywhere for a staircase or anything she could use to get upstairs. There was the massive staircase in the entryway, but using that was asking to be caught.

Another well-dressed butler stepped into the corridor in front of her, giving her approximately one second to duck down another hall to avoid being spotted.

"Ruby, there's like a million butlers here…" she whispered while hurrying away. At this rate, she'd make it precisely nowhere before someone noticed she was missing.

"Can't you sneak around them?"

"Trying…"

"Have you reconsidered my offer?" Taven asked, his voice coming through Weiss' microphone to Yang's ear.

"Yes, and I still have no reason to leave my firm -"

"I'd give you ten million different reasons," he interrupted. "Plus, you'll only have to defend Dreamscape and our top employees, no more of the wealthy riff-raff you deal with."

Turning down yet another hallway, Yang felt her heart jump into her throat when a security guard appeared in front of her. Before he turned towards her, however, she pulled open the first door she found and stepped inside...a really large linen closet.

"If I ever change my mind," Weiss replied. "You'll be the first to know."

"Yang," Ruby whispered in Yang's ear while she held her breath to avoid detection. "When you get back, please punch him in the face."

Yang couldn't respond while listening to the sound of footsteps drawing closer to the door. She hoped he hadn't seen her duck into the closet - he hadn't seen her, right? If he hadn't, why was he walking up to the door so slowly?

"If there's something else you had in mind to...sweeten the deal...please let me know. I doubt you could find a request I won't agree to."

"Ugh! I can't stand this guy. I'm turning off his power."

The next second, the lights shut off.

"What -?" Yang heard Taven say through Weiss' microphone while the security guard froze in the hall.

"Hmm...power surge?" Weiss suggested.

"Someone check the control room," the guard said into his radio before running past the linen closet and around the next corner.

"You have thirty seconds until the system reboots itself," Ruby instructed Yang.

Not wasting a moment of it, she burst out of the closet and listened to the sounds of people rushing around while talking in fast, worried tones. After determining that no one was nearby, she hurried back the way she'd come - towards the entryway and the obvious staircase she hadn't wanted to use. By the time she made it there, it was devoid of life - all of the butlers, guards, and maids off trying to solve the problem that threatened to ruin their evening.

"I'm sure they'll fix it soon," Taven said while Yang took the stairs two at a time and quickly made it to the upstairs landing.

The master bedroom was easy to find. After looking both directions, she jogged towards a set of double doors that dwarfed those surrounding them in both size and intricacy. The lights came back on as she pressed her ear to the wood, listening for sounds before turning the handle and slipping inside.

As it turned out, the first set of doors led only to a large sitting room. On the other side of the room was yet another set of double doors - and to the right of those doors was a keypad more advanced than anything she'd ever seen.

"Uh...Ruby..."

"Holy crap."

Staring at the device, Yang waited for instructions. Which were hopefully coming any second now...

"Can you unlock this or something?" she asked before glancing over her shoulder to make sure no one had walked into the room behind her.

"Not remotely. You have to do it from there."

"With what tools?" she asked, looking over the box more urgently while her internal timer screamed that she had to hurry.

"I'll walk you through it! Don't worry - it's super easy. Just do exactly what I say."

"Like I'd do anything else…" she muttered.

"You'll need to move fast. Pull off the metal cover now though - that'll expose the chips inside."

Doing as instructed, Yang lifted the cover off of the device and found way too many colored wires and other computer components stuffed inside.

"You need to enter '1658' on the keypad - that's the factory reset key. When you hit the last number though, you need to pull out the yellow wire at the same time."

"Pull out the wire while typing the code?" Yang repeated, again glancing over her shoulder before looking at the device and scoffing. "How many hands do you think I have?"

"Oh. Damn -"

"I'll figure it out."

She could still hear Weiss and Taven's banter in her ear, but just barely. The sound of her heartbeat drowned out their words while she carefully loosened the yellow wire from within a bed of them and memorized the location of the numbers on the keypad.

"One-six-five-eight," she muttered to herself while moving closer to the device. Seeing as how she was down to one arm, she'd have to make up for the lack in appendages how she normally did - by lieu of her mouth.

Taking one last look at the keypad and setting her fingers on the numbers, she bit down on the yellow wire while pressing the buttons. As soon as she hit the eight, she pulled with her mouth and felt the wire come free. Several beeps sounded, but they didn't sound like really-mad alarm beeps - at least, not to her.

"Ok, now push the yellow wire back into place," Ruby said while Yang hastily complied. "And press a star-shaped button on the screen. That will pop up the password override - perfect. Don't press the override button! Ok, now you need to hack into the program."

"Seriously?" So many numbers and letters filled the screen, Yang could hardly make heads or tails of them. "Who do you think I am?"

"Weiss can do this - you can too!"

"Weiss has two hands…" Yang grumbled while taking a closer look at the override panel.

"This is easy, ok? Just think of it like your fingers are dancing across the screen - dancing fast though, because you won't have much time."

"Just tell me what to do."

"Ok, the beginning of the program is a set of dashes. The end is also dashes. You'll work with everything in between."

Scanning through the code, Yang found two sets of dashed lines, just like Ruby said.

"Found them."

"Perfect. Now find a line that starts with 'JRDI' and erase the entire thing."

As soon as Yang erased the line of code, the system flashed red.

"It'll get really mad at you," Ruby added after the fact. "So quickly type in 'TFW1658' and push enter. That should open the old password reset - find the code that's already there, now press the red button and enter that passcode."

Yang followed every instruction as Ruby gave it, pressing buttons and typing without thinking about what she was actually doing. It was only when the screen suddenly turned green and she heard a set of deadbolts slide into the door that she realized they'd actually done it.

"Holy shit," she said as the door folded inward without her guidance, revealing the gigantic master suite beyond.

"I can't believe that actually worked," Ruby laughed while Yang crept inside the room.

"Are you kidding me..." she muttered at the response, but the lights suddenly turned on and she blinked several times as her eyes adjusted.

Everything reeked of money, from the bed to the curtains to the multiple chandeliers hanging overhead. Several additional doorways led off of the room, each a double set made of the same expensive wood as the entrance.

"Do you need to see what's behind the doors?"

"Yes. We need to see as much as possible," Blake whispered in her ear. "The layout and any small details - pictures, knick-knacks, open the drawers, everything."

"No problem...totally have a ton of time…"

Starting at one corner of the room, Yang began a fast but methodical route along the periphery. Knowing that the video was being recorded, she made sure to look at everything, scanning from floor to ceiling before moving on. Whenever she made it to a piece of furniture, of which there were many, she opened and closed every single drawer to see what was inside. An entire dresser filled with watches. Another filled with women's jewelry. If she was actually a thief, she would have a field day grabbing as much as possible.

"I'm sorry to intrude on your evening," Weiss said, maintaining a comfortable conversation while Yang scrambled around the room. "It looks like quite the dinner you're hosting tonight."

"It's more of a celebration," Taven replied with that same proud, arrogant tone he never seemed to turn off. "The Daydreamer series launches in a few days, so I decided to host a party toasting its accomplishment."

"A little premature, don't you think..." Yang muttered while opening a door and discovering a walk-in closet the size of her apartment.

"We have the final product here tonight," Taven continued. "Would you like to see?"

"Actually, yes, if you don't mind. That sounds very interesting." Hearing the sounds of motion, Yang guessed Weiss just stood up to follow Taven out of the living room.

"Every guest will leave with one of their own. It was, unfortunately, a grave oversight not to add you to the invite list. Please feel free to stay as my personal guest."

"Thank you, but I really do have a mountain of work to catch up on tonight."

"At least take one home with you," he offered, apparently not one to be rebuffed. "My treat."

"Don't take it," Blake suddenly said over their headsets. "Weiss, don't take it."

"I appreciate the offer," Weiss replied, still with that sickly-sweet tone. "But you know I can't accept gifts from clients."

"Only you and I will ever know -"

"But these boundaries are set to establish a relationship of trust," Weiss reiterated a little more firmly. "If I accept this from you, you'll know I can be swayed. But I can't - which is how you know you can trust me."

A long silence permeated the line, and Yang froze with her hand on a dresser drawer while her heart raced in her chest. But then Taven laughed, and she sighed in relief.

"I like a woman of character."

"Which is why she'll never work for you, scumbag," Ruby retorted.

"Legal counsel has a certain...reputation..." Weiss replied instead. "My goal has always been, and always will be, to be the best while also holding myself to higher standards than those around me."

"Yang -" Blake prodded.

"Right." Spurring back into motion, Yang checked the rest of the drawers before moving to a massive desk.

"Check it closely," Blake whispered in her ear. "If this is someplace he uses often, we need to know exactly what's here."

Doing as instructed, Yang spent extra time searching through the desk drawers before looking at every little item. Picture frames displaying a rotation of family photos, expensive-looking pens, a pair of discarded e-links, a holomask, and stacks upon stacks of memory files and paper files alike.

After lifting the papers to see what was underneath, she set everything back where she'd found it and moved to the sleeping area.

"What's that?" Beside the bed sat a small, oval device that looked like nothing more than an old-school mouse or paperweight.

"That's Daydreamer," Blake replied. "Yang, you need to hurry."

"Shall we head back?" Taven asked, his bragging apparently done for now.

"Yes." After a brief pause, Weiss sighed. "Elizabeth must've gotten lost. I swear, she can hardly find her way through a door without instruction."

"I can have the butlers search for her."

"It might be necessary if she's not in the living room when we return..."

Taking that as her cue to leave, Yang hurried to the exit but didn't leave without first pausing by the door and taking one last glance around the room. Only then did she return to the master suite's living room and slip back into the hall.

"Ok, going to get myself lost," she whispered, making a break for the staircase after a pair of maids walked past. Now that the lights were back on, everything had returned to normal in the mansion. Which, unfortunately, included the presence of far-too-many workers rushing about their tasks.

She needed to at least make it downstairs - that was the only way 'getting lost' sounded like a legitimate answer.

Making it to the upstairs landing, she confirmed it was momentarily empty and made a break for it without a second thought. Her feet might as well have been on fire - that's how fast she flew down the steps before choosing a random direction and heading that way.

"Miss."

She froze at the word, which she knew was directed to her. Throwing on what she hoped looked like a genuine amount of frazzleness, she turned around and found a butler striding towards her.

"Oh thank god!" she said before he could speak. "I'm trying to find the sitting room - I'm supposed to get this to Weiss Schnee as fast as possible, but I got turned around somewhere..."

Pulling the memory file from her blazer, she held it up for him to see and flashed a hopeful smile.

"It's really important," she added when he narrowed his eyes at the small device. "It's regarding…" After looking both directions to make sure they were alone, she leaned closer and lowered her voice. "It's about his son's case."

Even if this man knew none of the specifics, he'd surely heard of the younger Bishop's widely-publicized arrest. And he surely understood the importance of the information in Yang's hand - especially its importance to his employer.

Any suspicion he'd held about her presence disappeared as he gestured for her to follow him.

"This way."

"Thank you," Yang replied with a sigh of relief. "This place is such a maze...she's seriously going to kill me for taking so long."

When he didn't respond, Yang shut her mouth and followed him at his brisk pace. A couple of turns and a few minutes later, he stopped beside the door of the sitting room and gestured inside.

"Good luck," he whispered as she hurried towards the pair sitting in the chairs inside.

"I'm so sorry -" she began to say, but Weiss instantly silenced her with an icy gaze. Shutting her mouth, she handed over the memory drive without another word.

"Thank you. Now wait outside."

The terse response sounded very much like an order, so Yang hurried out of the room just as quickly as she'd hurried in. Once in the hall, she made her way to the front door as fast as possible.

This wasn't how she'd expected the end of this to go, but she understood what Weiss was doing - getting her out of there to minimize the chance of recognition. If she was needed, she'd be just outside the front door. Although getting back inside might be a bit of an issue...

"I don't want to keep you from your dinner," Weiss said while Yang nodded to the butlers by the door and headed outside. "But I have an important update, and I thought it'd be best to deliver the news in person."

"If it was important enough to bring you here, I'm sure it's worth canceling my dinner entirely."

"Flattering," Weiss replied with a soft laugh. "But not quite that important."

"I swear to god…" Ruby grumbled while Yang stood on the front step of the house and waited.

"Regarding your son," Weiss continued. "The bar manager claimed your son started the fight. Supposedly, he assaulted Mr. Xavier for spilling a drink on him."

"As opposed to the manager instigating a fight that my son had nothing to do with, yes."

"Exactly - and that's where the second interviews come in." Another pause, and Yang imagined Weiss opening the memory file to show Taven whatever was on it. "We now have a signed statement from a witness who saw the fight break out and hid in the restroom, where they found your son...shall we say...ridding himself of an excessive amount of alcohol."

"You're kidding."

"I assure you, I'm not," Weiss replied while Yang's mind worked overtime.

"Wait, is that true?" she whispered, recalling the file and the names of the victims. All of the witnesses claimed to have seen Taven's son directly responsible for instigating the brawl. "Ruby, is that true?" she asked when Weiss didn't answer.

"I don't know. I thought everyone said he did it…"

Being sent out of the room made more sense now, as Weiss had just shown Taven information no one in the department had access to. So much for a 'foolproof' case against the Bishops...this was going to be a huge black eye for the police force once the news broke.

"Incoming," Ruby suddenly said. "The first guest is about to get there."

"Who is it?" Yang whispered before smiling at a butler when he stepped through the front door.

"Hold on, let me just…there. Nabbed a satellite. It's...uh...some bigwig marketing guy and his slutty date."

Turning away from the house, Yang watched a sleek, black limousine head up the drive. When the vehicle stopped in front of the house, two butlers rushed over to open the door and help out the guests. An older man wearing an expensive suit was first to exit, followed by his much younger, scantily-clad date. She actually looked like a model Yang might have seen somewhere before, but she didn't want to be caught staring as they headed into the house.

"Come on, Weiss," she muttered under her breath when a second limousine appeared at the end of the drive.

"Dreamscape VP and his wife," Ruby announced while the vehicle approached. Several more butlers stepped outside the doorway, prepared to handle the influx of guests headed their way.

"If you'd like to come back later tonight, I can certainly make time for you."

"That's it," Ruby spoke up over the headset. "I'm bankrupting him."

"Ruby," Yang hissed towards the ground, taking the moment to turn away from the second couple walking up the steps.

"I'm sure there are lots of underprivileged kids who'll benefit from his money -"

Hearing Weiss clear her throat, the two of them shut up.

"Thank you for the offer, but I really need to work on a few cases." After a pause, Weiss added, "But thank you for humoring me this evening. I wanted you to be one of the first to know - you can let your son know that it's almost guaranteed the charges will be dropped."

"And an apology issued by the police?"

"I think that can be arranged," Weiss replied with a soft laugh. "It's the least they can do for the trouble they put you and your family through."

"Perfect. I'm glad your boss convinced you to add another case. You've been worth every penny."

"Keep that in mind when you get the final bill," Weiss joked. "I'll let you greet your guests now - thank you for your time."

"The pleasure was all mine."

"Uh...Dr. Webb just arrived."

Yang instantly perked up at the name.

"Lyla's here?" she whispered towards the ground before spotting yet another limousine on its way up the drive.

"You need to get out of there," Blake replied, her voice reflecting the urgency suddenly coursing through Yang's veins. "Taven might not recognize you, but Lyla will."

Searching for a way out, Yang found nothing. Weiss' car was still parked somewhere, waiting for her to return, and the limousine carrying Lyla was already moving past the gates. Wig or not, Lyla would definitely notice Yang's lack of an arm.

The instant Weiss walked out of the house, Yang hurried over to join her.

"Let's go," Weiss snapped, maintaining her demanding demeanor while striding down the steps and away from the house.

"Miss Schnee," one of the butlers said, following them to the drive. "Let us get your vehicle."

"Sorry, no time. We'll see ourselves there - thank you."

The man stared at them while they hurried away on foot, but his attention was soon drawn to the new guests arriving for the evening.

"Backing up to you," Ruby said. "Stay off the road."

Sticking to the sidewalk, Yang barely glimpsed the sight of silver rushing towards them before a wave of exhaustion crashed over her. The onslaught was so sudden and unexpected, her knees buckled while her head drooped and her eyes shut.

The feeling snapped away when Weiss grabbed her arm and struggled to keep her on her feet.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Blinking repeatedly and regaining her feet, Yang glanced around and noticed Weiss' car now stopped beside them.

"Get in," Weiss ordered, although her actions were far kinder than her words as she helped Yang into the vehicle first. No sooner had the door closed did the car head down the drive, taking them away from the mansion and the party just getting started.

"What the hell was that?"

Leaning back in her seat, Yang clenched her fist and sighed. The exhaustion had already lifted, but that did nothing to erase the concern in Weiss' eyes.

"I just...got super tired," she tried to explain. "I dunno. I feel fine now."

"Are you guys ok? Are you both ok?"

"It looks like it," Weiss replied after giving Yang another long look.

"Awesome! Let me turn these off - we'll hop on the vid screen in a second."

As soon as the vehicle passed the guard post stationed at the exit, the windows tinted black and Ruby's route sent them on their way home. With the sudden silence in the cabin, Yang removed her earrings and glasses and held them in her lap.

"You're a good liar."

Weiss scoffed while flipping her hair to the side and removing her own earrings.

"I'm an attorney."

"Still...should I be concerned?"

The question actually gave Weiss reason to pause.

"You mean for Ruby?"

When Yang nodded, Weiss briefly looked hurt, but the expression quickly disappeared.

"You know what one of our first meaningful conversations was?" she asked instead. Even though she wasn't expecting an answer, Yang shook her head anyway. "We got delayed at court, and both of us ended up waiting in the hall near each other. She asked me how I was doing, and I said 'fine.' Then she looked at me, tilted her head like she does when she's trying to figure something out, and said, 'Why would you lie about something like that?'"

After giving Yang a small smile, Weiss looked at her hands.

"I love her...I would never lie to her, even if I could."

At such a simple and genuine statement, Yang could only smile and reach over to squeeze Weiss' shoulder. She'd never expected Ruby to choose someone like Weiss, but...now she couldn't imagine Ruby with anyone else.

"Did you really flip a witness?" she asked when the video screen at the front of the car flickered on, announcing Ruby's imminent return to the conversation.

"Yes." Sitting back in her seat, Weiss gave Yang a smug smile. "You can't believe every sob story that walks through the doors, Yang. Sometimes 'victims' are only wolves in sheep's clothing."

The comment immediately brought Mrs. Sawyer to mind - the woman who'd served as a catalyst for all of this. If she hadn't been convinced of conspiracies...if she hadn't dropped off the holomask...none of this might've happened.

Luck? Or circumstance?

"Can't believe that's how you decided to tell us…" Leaning against the seat, Yang shook her head and smiled. Weiss, of course, looked pretty damn pleased with herself. And why shouldn't she? Once again, she found a trump card to win herself a case.

"You know, maybe you should become a detective," Yang added. "You'd be good at it."

"Please." After shaking her head, Weiss leveled Yang with a kind yet playfully-arrogant look. "I make more in a month than you do in five years. Why would I ever give that up?"

"Uh...for the warm, fuzzy feeling of putting bad guys behind bars?"

"I get the warm, fuzzy feeling of helping innocent people go free," Weiss replied, turning to the side and waving her hand as if she just won that argument.

"Is that actually a warm, fuzzy feeling?"

Weiss shrugged - a gesture straight out of Ruby's repertoire.

"I don't know. It's hard to care when the funds clear my bank account."

When a small smile tugged at Weiss' lips, Yang laughed and shook her head. She'd missed this - joking and talking as if their lives weren't being threatened by some unnamed entity, and they weren't stealing information from the world's most powerful person in order to solve that mystery.

"I hope you use some of that hard-earned cash to buy Ruby something nice," Yang joked as Ruby rejoined their conversation.

"Of course."

"She does!" Ruby agreed with a giant smile. When Weiss smiled at the answer, it was a smile devoid of any arrogance or self-righteousness, and one reserved almost solely for Ruby. "You did great, Yang," Ruby continued. "I'm rendering the room right now so Blake can go through it - doesn't look like you missed anything."

"All thanks to Weiss." When Yang lightly slapped Weiss' knee, Weiss rolled her eyes. "Who knew she'd be so good at keeping his attention?"

When Weiss scowled, Yang laughed and sat back in her seat. It was only then that she noticed how quiet Blake was.

"You doing alright there, Blake?" she asked, meeting Blake's gaze through the video screen and watching a cascade of emotions pass through her eyes. Eventually, Blake settled upon reticence, and a demure aura that was unlike anything Yang remembered.

"I'm fine. Just...waiting for you to get back."

With a single sentence, Yang remembered that Blake was actually waiting for her. That they'd be back together - physically together - soon.

The realization filled her with excitement and longing, but another emotion lingered in there somewhere. Something she couldn't quite put her finger on. Anxiety, tension...some type of unease surrounded the idea of seeing Blake again.

"We'll be back soon," she said before turning away and sighing. Weiss immediately caught her gaze and mouthed 'you ok?' to which she quickly nodded.

It wasn't worth bringing up right now, but Weiss was probably right - Blake had been gone a long time, and they needed to talk. But first, they needed to fix Daydreamer before it put others at risk. Her personal relationship would have to wait.

Chapter Text

By the time the car pulled into the garage, Yang was ready to move on to the next phase of this ‘master plan, which explained why her nerves and restlessness reappeared as soon as the vehicle powered down and the doors opened.  Either that, or her body was reacting to Blake’s proximity in a not altogether positive way.

Following Weiss inside, Yang removed the wig, shrugged out of the blazer, and tried to ignore the growing worry that Blake wouldn’t be here.  She would be here. She would. She had to be, because she was the only one who knew how to fix Daydreamer.  And it would be her - the real her.  Not...not the other versions of her.

Yang’s rapidly rising concerns disappeared in a wave of relief when she walked into the kitchen and saw Ruby and Blake sitting in the new computer room.  As usual, Ruby never stopped moving while working on something only she understood. And Blake...Blake was still there, capturing Yang’s heart while pouring over a tablet.

With Weiss immediately walking over to Ruby for a kiss, Yang pulled over a chair and sat beside Blake.

“Hey.”

The greeting seemed woefully inadequate compared to the impassioned kisses being shared by the other couple in the room, but Yang couldn’t think of anything better.  Was a kiss appropriate? Had Blake worried enough to warrant a kiss of relief or...something? Were they even at the point where they could kiss like that?

“Hey.”

Blake’s response and subsequent smile said everything Yang needed to know.  Apparently, she wasn’t the only unsure about their current relationship standing...

“Did I get enough?” she asked instead of addressing the awkwardness.  She knew the question swept their problems under the rug, but...there were bigger problems to deal with first.

After briefly studying the tablet in her hands, which displayed a model of Taven’s room, Blake nodded and returned her gaze to Yang. 

“Yes,” she said with a small smile.  “This should be more than enough.”

“So...what’s the plan now?”

As soon as Yang asked the question, she felt Weiss and Ruby’s attention from across the room.  By now, all three of them were wondering the same thing - how would this work? What would Blake do?  How could the image of someone’s room help fix this?

“I’ll use this to recreate his room within Dreamscape,” Blake explained, her eyes drifting to the screen once more.  “Once his dinner is over and he logs in, I’ll join his sequence and trick his system into giving me access to the designs.”

“And you’ll get into his dreams using the very loophole you’re trying to close,” Weiss pointed out.

“It’s...necessary.”  Sighing at the screen, Blake set the tablet down and looked at Yang - her eyes seeking an ally to her plan.  “This is the best chance we have - we need to risk it.”

Foolish or not, Yang trusted Blake, and trusted that this was what they had to do.

“What do you need us to do?” she asked, ready to get this over with.

“I need you to join the Dreamscape with me.”  Blake met Yang’s eyes and didn’t look away. “If you’re willing.  You were in his room, so you should notice anything wrong with the ‘feel’ of it.”

The idea of going anywhere near a Dreamscape sounded horrible, but Yang wasn’t going to chicken out just because of what she went through.  She knew she could, if she needed to. The look in Blake’s eyes said as much - that she could choose not to participate if she was scared.

Maybe she was scared.  Maybe she was a little terrified, actually.  But she wasn’t a coward. Not today, at least...

“I can do that.”

“Thank you,” Blake replied with a small smile.  “We can set up now?”

“Guess that means we’re sleeping in Weiss’ bed again.”  Throwing on a grin to hide her sudden nerves, Yang turned and caught Weiss’ eye roll.

“Let’s move it right now.”

“Awe, don’t be like that,” she joked while following Weiss out of the room, grabbing her mechanical arm from the table as she went and quickly fitting it into place.  Having her better half back made her feel better, but that didn’t stop her palm from sweating while she trailed Weiss upstairs, where she waited on the landing while Weiss retrieved the Dreamscape and carried it into the hall.

“All yours.”  

Yang didn’t want to touch the thing, but she didn’t have a choice when Weiss’ phone rang and she quickly emptied her hands to retrieve the device.  After glancing at the screen, she gave them a curt “I need to take this” before heading back downstairs.

“Guess it’s just us,” Yang joked while walking into the guest bedroom with Blake and Ruby.  She gave the Dreamscape to Blake, who quickly hooked everything up before sitting down beside it.

“You’re going to record, right?”

“Of course.”  After setting up the system, Blake handed one of the Dream Disks to Yang and gave a hesitant smile.  “Are you ready?”

“Are you?” Yang asked in return, and her confidence wavered when Blake looked at the floor rather than meet her eyes.  

“Ready as I’ll ever be…”

Giving Blake a sidelong glance - because that was not at all the response she’d expected - Yang nonetheless laid down and sighed at what was to come.  Before closing her eyes, however, she smiled at Ruby.

“Keep an eye out?”

“You know it,” Ruby whispered, looking a little too concerned for Yang’s liking but still managing a smile.  “Just like old times.”

Ruby’s presence was reassuring enough that Yang closed her eyes and tried to fall asleep.  Or, at least, tried to calm down enough that the Dreamscape could take over. Normally, it wasn’t difficult to do.  Tonight, however, her mind fought against the notion of going back into a dream - because what if something happened?  What if she ‘woke up’ but never really woke up?

“It’s ok, Yang,” Ruby whispered while setting her hand over Yang’s.  “You’ll be with Blake, and I’ll be right here the whole time. No one’s going to get you.”

That was the crux of her worries, wasn’t it?  Someone breaking in while she was asleep and vulnerable.  That’s why she wouldn’t be sleeping without her arm anytime soon, but Ruby’s words also served as reassurance - enough so that Yang took one more deep breath and exhaled her anxiety away.

The next second, she found herself standing in Taven’s room.  Or, at least, a mirror image of Taven’s room. Blake was already there, standing in the center of the room and slowly taking in every inch of her creation.

“How does it look?” she asked, her eyes flitting to Yang before returning to the dream.

“I...I can’t tell the difference.” 

With a soft hum of approval, Blake walked slowly around the perimeter of the room.  Every piece of furniture, every picture, every memento received a long, thoughtful expression before she moved on.  All the while, the room shifted. 

The changes were slight - so slight that Yang would miss them if she didn’t stand still.  But, if she focused on where Blake was looking, she could see or sense the miniscule changes as they occurred.  The bed moved an inch closer to the left wall. The color of the wood frame deepened ever so slightly. The metal instruments on the nightstand found a nice gleam - bright, but not too bright under the light of the chandelier above.

A lot of small, unnoticeable changes.  Together, however, they made the room feel more...real. 

“How about now?” 

“I still don’t understand how you do this,” Yang remarked, finally drawing Blake’s gaze to her.

“Just like I don’t understand how you walk into a crime scene and come up with theories on what happened.  Practice, experience, and intuition.”

“Still…”  Looking around the room, Yang tried to differentiate it from the room she’d walked through today.  Was anything different? Was anything out of place? “It looks perfect,” she concluded, to which Blake nodded and let out a small huff.

“I’ll go alone from here -”

“I’m coming with you.”

The words flew out of Yang’s mouth before she thought them through, but the idea of Blake continuing without her didn’t feel acceptable anymore.

“This isn’t your world, Yang,” Blake replied with a shake of her head.   “You might be able to run down a criminal and put them in cuffs, but that’s not how it works here.”

“This isn’t a negotiation,” Yang retorted as her resistance grew.  “I’m not letting you do this alone.”

“Yang...Taven might not be a dream theorist, but he’s skilled enough to know when something or someone doesn’t belong.”

“You’re one of the best theorists in the world, and you’re saying you can’t mask me into a dream or something?” 

Blake stared at her for a long time, thinking through the question before responding with a slight nod.  

“Maybe I can, but it will take more focus and seems...ill-advised.”

“Isn’t it also ill-advised for you to be the only one with all the information?”

The question came out harsher than Yang intended - a fact reinforced by the flash of hurt in Blake’s eyes - but it was true.  While the rest of them had only a vague understanding of the situation, Blake held all the cards. That was no way to solve a problem of this magnitude.  They needed to work together, which meant they all needed to be on the same page.

“Ok,” Blake finally agreed, looking reluctant to agree but also reluctant to argue.  “I’ll do it, but you have to stay calm no matter what you see.  If you start affecting the dream, I’m going to force you out.  Ok?”

“Ok.” 

Blake nodded but looked less-than-pleased with the direction this plan had taken.  Yang, however, felt energy and anticipation pour through her veins, similar to how she felt before interrogating a suspect in a big case.

“So what do we do when he gets here?” she asked, if only to break the silence.  “Ask him questions? Trick him into giving us the details?” 

“Hopefully, we won’t see him at all,” Blake explained while leaning stiffly against the dresser.  “I’m going to bolt this room onto whatever dream he’s having and try to trick Daydreamer into giving us access to his personal safe.”

“How’s he not going to notice that?” 

“Do you know what’s going on outside this room right now?” Blake asked in return.  When Yang’s brow furrowed, Blake gestured to the nearest wall. “What’s happening beyond this wall?  Do you know?”

“...no.” 

“And neither does he,” Blake answered with a small smile.  “Dreams are infinite, Yang. We can be anywhere, do anything.  We’re bound by nothing except the limitations of our imagination.  Yet so many of us are content to dream in boxes, never looking outside the walls we build around ourselves.”

“Now I’m wondering what your dreams look like when I’m not around…”

Blake smiled at the response and shook her head.

“You probably don’t want to know.” 

“What if I do?” Yang asked, earning another head shake from Blake.

“It might be a lot for you to handle.” 

“Haven’t I handled a lot already?”

For several long moments, Blake stared at Yang with a hint of a smile - pride emanating from her in waves.  She’d always loved it when Yang pushed to try something new, and Yang always loved the challenge. Regardless of whether or not this was ‘her’ realm, she wouldn’t back away from learning more about Blake’s work.

“Wait.”  

Suddenly standing straight, Blake turned towards the window and briefly disappeared.  She re-appeared seconds later and moved towards the center of the room. “He just logged in.” 

Yang’s adrenaline immediately returned full bore, and increased when Blake leveled her with a serious gaze.

“You can’t say anything, do you understand?”  Her eyes gave away the gravity behind the instruction, and Yang didn’t hesitate to agree.

“I understand.” 

Accepting the answer, Blake took a deep breath and attempted a smile.  Unfortunately, Yang could read the concern in Blake’s eyes, which only increased her stress.  But she couldn’t stress - she had to stay calm. She needed to trust in Blake’s ability the way Weiss trusted in Ruby’s - totally, completely, without hesitation.  Even if they’d been apart for a long time, even if Yang wasn’t sure about their current relationship, and even if ‘Blake’ had literally and figuratively stabbed her in the back more than a few times, she would trust in Blake’s ability. 

Because as long as Yang did her part of this, Blake would get them through.  She was that good. The best to ever set...mind...in a Dreamscape.

Still, Yang’s heart hammered in her chest while waiting for something in the room to change.  

Nothing did, except Blake suddenly disappeared.  The action sent a spike of concern through Yang’s chest, but she quickly got the emotion under control.  

She knew Blake could appear and disappear at will.  This was all part of the plan. Blake needed to be somewhere else, and that was ok.  Yang would wait, and she would do her best not to move. If it really did take more effort to mask her inclusion in the dream, she didn’t want to make it more difficult than necessary.

When Blake abruptly re-appeared, Yang couldn’t help but feel relieved.  She felt much better when she could see Blake, even though she realized that played into everything Blake had told them about falling victim to a dream.

“Has to be here somewhere…” Blake muttered to herself while sweeping through the room, searching high and low for something Yang couldn’t see.  After passing every possible surface, Blake started again, faster this time. 

It wasn’t until she walked towards the bed that she stopped.  After standing motionless for a second, she stepped backward and tapped her foot on the floor.

Yang’s heart jumped into her throat when Blake suddenly disappeared and Taven appeared at the door.  Every part of her wanted to call out, or move, or in some way hide from the man, but - miraculously - she kept herself from reacting.

He walked through the doorway with the same intimidating posture Yang had witnessed earlier that day.  His hair swept the same way, he wore the same outfit, down to the same watch.  

When he walked over to where Blake just stood, Yang realized he was actually a figment under Blake’s control - yet another example of how the general public barely scratched the surface of dreaming.  How many people could create lifelike copies of a human being? Yang could hardly create a chair, let alone something this complex and realistic.

Blake directed Taven to that particular spot on the floor, where he knelt down and pressed his palm to the wood.  As soon as his hand touched a specific piece of the panel, the room changed - as abruptly as flipping through two photos taken on separate days. 

An identification panel now stood by the bed, complete with a retina scanner attached.  Without hesitation, Taven pressed his palm to the panel then let the scanner read his eyes.  “Open Dream Safe,” he added in his smooth, tenor voice, and suddenly, numbers and letters filled the room.

“Welcome to Daydreamer,” a voice said while fragmented code surrounded them, littering the air with bits and pieces that had no rhyme or reason.

To Yang, the experience was overwhelming - the values swirled in the air around her, looking so twisted and convoluted that she would have no idea where to start.  

When Blake re-appeared, however, she walked into the center of the room and looked around.  She looked right at home in this strange place, which Yang should have expected. Blake and dreams had always mixed very well.

“Blake Belladonna,” she spoke aloud, and the code suddenly changed color - from light orange to a deep purple that bordered on black.  Some sections disappeared from view only for others to take their place, but the room still swam with letters and numbers jockeying for position.

“Open Project Daydream.”

As soon as Blake said the words, the room shifted and disappeared.  In its place was something so indescribable, Yang couldn’t even begin to put it into words.  She could barely even comprehend what she was seeing - a vast, black void that was somehow empty and filled to the brim at the same time.  There was so much yet so little. Everything yet nothing.

“Welcome back, Dr. B-”

As soon as consciousness returned to her, Yang opened her eyes and sat up.

“Are you ok?”  Standing up from her seat by the door, Ruby hurried over to the bed and looked at Yang with worried, anxious eyes.  Yang, however, frowned and looked at Blake, who was still locked in the Dreamscape doing whatever it was she needed to do.

“I’m fine,” Yang muttered when Ruby started to look worried by her silence.  After removing the Dream Disk from her temple, Yang tossed it onto the side table and tried to figure out what she was feeling.  Frustration, confusion, concern.

Project Daydream.  That void - that was Project Daydream.  Blake knew exactly how to get to it, exactly how to open it, and then she kicked Yang from the dream before it welcomed her back.  That’s what just happened...right?

But why?

“What happened?” Ruby asked.  “Did you find it? Why’s she still in there?”

“We’ll have to ask her when she wakes up…”

Yang couldn’t give a better answer at the moment because she didn’t know.  She was still in the dark, just like the rest of them, and she was tired of it.  She’d fought against the idea that Blake was hiding something from her, but now couldn’t get the thought out of her head.  Something didn’t add up, and Blake needed to explain why.

Standing up, Yang paced in front of the bed while waiting for the sequence to play out.  Out of curiosity - or following a hunch - she walked over to the Dreamscape and checked to see if it was set to record.

It wasn’t.

“Figures…” she mumbled under her breath while resuming her pacing.  Fortunately, she didn’t have to wait long. Several minutes later, Blake sucked in a deep breath and opened her eyes.

“Did you get it?  Is it done?” Ruby instantly asked, hardly waiting for Blake to sit up before pelting her with questions.  Removing the Dream Disk, Blake set it on the table and carefully avoided Yang’s gaze.

“What happened?” Yang asked when she realized Blake wasn’t going to volunteer the information.

“You panicked - the system started to recognize you -”

“Why did it greet you?” Yang added before Blake finished the lie.  “It knew your name.”

“I helped design the Dream Safe,” Blake answered, briefly rubbing her eyes to remove any effects of the sequence.  “Of course it remembers me.”

When Blake refused to make eye contact, Yang set her jaw and clenched her fists.

“Is that your final answer?”

The question finally drew Blake’s gaze, but when she opened her mouth and said nothing, Yang shook her head and stalked out of the room.  Ruby gave her a baffled look while she passed, but she just shook her head again and walked into the hall.

“Yang, wait.”

“Why are you lying?” she asked, turning around when Blake followed her out of the room.  “You knew exactly where to go, and that thing greeted you by name.  Why would it welcome you back? And why didn’t you want me to see it?  What are you hiding?”

Looking miserable at the questions, Blake opened her mouth but said nothing.

“How about that she was the head of Project Daydream?”

Turning in surprise, Yang watched Weiss walk up the stairs before tossing a memory chip her way.  While she transferred the file to her hand, Weiss crossed her arms and glared at Blake.

“Betty was more bribable than I thought,” Weiss explained while Yang projected the file.  “She pulled this from Dreamscape’s records. You’re listed as the lead theorist on every single project they’ve had over the past four years, yet you led us to believe that Taven set up a new team and didn’t put you on it.”  Moving closer to Ruby’s side, Weiss scoffed and shook her head. “If you left out that little piece of information, I can only imagine what else you aren’t telling us.”

“It wasn’t relevant at the time.”

“Seriously?  That’s your defense?  How is that information not relevant?”

Blake had no response to the question, as Weiss seemed to have expected from her resounding scoff.  Meanwhile, Yang hastily read the files in front of her before looking at Blake. The question was unnecessary, but she had to ask anyway.

“Is it true?”

A long moment of silence settled over the upstairs landing, where no one seemed willing to move before hearing an answer.  Eventually, Blake looked down and nodded.

“Yes.  I was in charge of Project Daydream.”

Weiss shook her head and turned away.  Ruby’s brow shot up in surprise. But Yang could only stare while confusion, betrayal, and anger swirled through her.  

All this time, Blake pretended to be the victim, but from what she’d told them about Project Daydream...

“Why didn’t you say anything?”  

Yang’s question was nothing more than a whisper, but Blake heard it.  And she took a deep breath before meeting Yang’s gaze.

“About a year ago, I figured out a way to reach other dreams without permission - essentially, how to hack into someone’s subconscious.  I thought it could be used to reach coma patients, kidnapped children, people who needed help. We could find them and communicate with them, learn where they were and bring them home.”

That didn’t sound like a bad goal, and didn’t explain the guilt radiating from Blake right now.

“I’m the one who created Project Daydream,” she admitted, dropping her gaze to the floor and shaking her head.  “I developed the linking system and integrated it into Daydreamer.”

“But...what about Bishop?  I thought he told you to create it,” Ruby said, to which Blake gave a dry laugh.

“Taven doesn’t have the faintest understanding of dream theory.  He’s nothing more than a rich figurehead who goes on TV and promotes the products.  He offers vision and publicity, nothing else.”

“So you weaponized the Daydreamer,” Weiss replied.  Blake balked at the statement, but she didn’t argue against it.

“It should have been fine,” she insisted instead.  “It would have been fine, but I…I…”

Taking a deep breath, she met Yang’s gaze and didn’t look away.

“I taught someone else how to do it, Yang,” she whispered, her lip quivering before she wrapped her arms tightly around herself.  “I thought I could trust them and...I was so wrapped up in changing the world, I never even saw how it could be used for evil.”

Silence returned while they digested the information.  Ruby and Weiss exchanged glances, but Yang never turned away from Blake.  She couldn’t turn away from Blake - Blake, the person she loved with all of her heart, who’d refused to be truthful until this time.

“Who was it?” Ruby asked, breaking the silence.  Sighing yet again, Blake looked at her feet.

“I taught Lyla...”

“You’ve got to be kidding me…”  Running her hands through her hair, Yang tried to figure out what to do or how to feel about this information.  “Let me get this straight,” she said while turning back to Blake. “You figured out how to hack people’s minds without them connecting to the Dreamscape.  You taught Lyla how to do it, then the two of you took turns brainwashing interns?”

“That’s not how it went.” 

“Then what, Blake?” Feeling her frustration boil over, Yang threw her hands in the air.  “What was it then?”

“They volunteered.  They wanted to be a part of something big -”

“You know that’s bullshit,” Yang interrupted.  “You know those interns will agree to anything.”

“They still agreed,” Blake argued.  “We told them what we were trying to do.  At least, I did…”

“And then you convinced them to kidnap people?  Build bombs? Commit murder?”

“I didn’t do anything like that!”  Blake reached for Yang’s hand, but Yang pulled out of reach and ignored the pain in Blake’s eyes.  “Everything I did was documented and analyzed like we’re supposed to do. The experiments were small and controlled - the only purpose was to test the connection.  But Lyla...took it a step further.”

“She brainwashed them.”

“She manipulated them,” Blake corrected before sighing.  “I was so caught up in the research, I didn’t notice for months.  Not even when one of them got arrested for trying to rob a store, even though it was completely outside of their personality.”

“How did you not notice that?” Ruby asked.  It was the same question on the tip of Yang’s tongue, but Ruby posed it in a much kinder, less sarcastic way than she would have.

“There was so much going on, and I was making such great strides of my own.  I found someone’s long-lost sibling. I helped another communicate with a parent suffering from failing memory.  I thought we’d broken through to something good. Something...amazing.”

For a moment, Blake looked at the floor and dwelled on the memories of that time.  After a few seconds, however, she shook her head and looked up, but avoided anyone’s gaze.

“While I was doing that, Lyla figured out how to control them.  She hijacked their dreams and their realities. Pretty soon, they couldn’t tell which ‘reality’ was their own.  Their behavior became erratic...and aggressive...and in some cases, they just stopped coming to work altogether.”

The truth was hard for Yang to accept.  After a year searching for the culprits - for the people responsible - Blake shared some of the blame.  Blake wasn’t the victim here. Instead, she was the mastermind who let her creation grow out of control.  She was the scientist trying to play god, only to find out that there was a reason why some realities were never tested.

“Why would you ever share that information?” Yang asked.  “Why wouldn’t you test the hell out of that first?”

“We were coworkers.  We’d worked together for years - I thought I could trust her.”

“Yeah, just like I thought I could trust you.”

She regretted the words the instant they left her lips, but she couldn’t take them back now.  Nor could she remove the hurt from Blake’s eyes. But Blake had lied to her.  Or, at the very least, purposefully misled her - all of them.

“Just...tell me you fixed it so no one else gets hurt,” she mumbled, unable to meet Blake’s gaze.  

“Yes.  I fixed it...for now.”

“What does that mean?” 

“It means I need to come up with a permanent solution once it’s released, but it’s fixed for now.”

“Guess that’s good enough.”

After sharing a quick nod with Weiss and Ruby, who seemed to feel the same, Yang turned and walked downstairs without another word.

“Yang.”  

She heard Blake follow her but didn’t slow her pace heading into the entryway.  After all this time wishing for the truth...now, she wished she hadn’t learned it.

“Yang.”  Reaching out, Blake grabbed her arm to turn her around.  “I’m sorry -”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” she demanded, feeling hurt at having been left in the dark all this time.  “You could have told me.”

“I was scared of what you’d think of me.”  Letting go of Yang’s arm, Blake wrapped her arms around herself instead.  “I thought I changed the world - I was excited to tell you once we had a reveal.  Turns out, I only changed the world for the worse.”

“And then you ran -”

“To protect you.”  Blake immediately looked up at the response.  “I knew she’d watch you to make sure I was gone.”

“And when you came back?” Yang asked, feeling her anger return.  “You said nothing.”

“I was ashamed.  And guilty, and scared, and I just wanted to fix everything so that you’d never look at me the way you are right now.”

Blinking at the statement, Yang felt guilt erode her anger while she stepped back to put more space between them.

“You’re perfect, Yang,” Blake continued, her eyes shimmering with tears.  “You always make the right or moral choice, no matter how hard it is. How am I supposed to keep up with that?  I tried - I really tried. And I was so excited to show you what I discovered. Instead...all I did was prove that no one can be as good as you.”

“You think this is a competition?” Yang asked, dumbfounded that that was Blake’s excuse.  “You think I expect you to be perfect?  Because I don’t. I expect you to be my partner.  The person I can trust no matter what - who always has my back.”  

Hearing the anger in her voice and feeling it in her chest, she quickly shook her head.

“I just...need some time to think,” she said before walking away.  And she didn’t know if she felt better or worse when Blake let her leave - just let her walk away to stew on her hurt.  It was probably better this way. Otherwise, she might say something else she’d regret.

Unfortunately, she couldn’t leave the house without risking a camera picking her up, which meant her options of anger rooms were limited.  So she walked into the living room, with its comfortable, white sofas and chairs and a desk littered with files and paperwork.

Knowing Weiss would fleece her if she sat at the desk, where ‘sensitive’ client information was in plain view, she sat by the window instead.  It was late, and she was exhausted, but no way was she falling asleep now. Her mind was running too fast to take a breath. And her heart hurt too much to relax.

She’d never expected this.  Never in a million years would she have expected this - that Blake pulled the wool over their eyes while hiding her mistakes.  That her mistakes included creating a monster that could change life as they knew it.

They were safe, for now.  But who knew what the future held, especially this future where the worst possibilities became reality.  Having experienced just a taste of that future firsthand, she could say it was something she never wanted to experience again.

Hearing someone walk into the room, she stared at the tinted window and refused to acknowledge whoever it was.  If it was Blake, she wasn’t ready to talk yet. She needed more time to sulk and sort through the torrent of mostly-negative emotions she was feeling.

When Ruby sat on the sofa beside her, however, she looked over and caught a small smile.

“Hey,” Ruby said while pulling her legs up onto the cushion.  Even though she said nothing more than that, Yang knew she’d come to talk about what just happened, and what they just learned.

“Hey.”  

Remembering the look in Blake’s eyes when she admitted what she did, and the experience in the Dreamscape...where Project Daydream welcomed Blake home like an old friend...Yang sighed and shook her head.

“Thought we knew who the bad guys were, right?  Turns out, we should’ve been looking in our own house.  Isn’t that great? Isn’t that just...fucking fantastic?”

When Ruby said nothing, Yang took the silence as permission to vent.

“Why didn’t she tell me?” she asked, raising both hands in the air.  “I mean, what did she think I would do - tell her good luck and throw her out on the street?  Or, I dunno, break up with her? ‘How dare you invent some unbelievable advance in dream science?’  Why the hell would I do that? Am I that type of person?”

Sighing at the question, she dropped her head into her hands.  That was the most hurtful part of this - that Blake didn’t trust her to accept a mistake.

“She handled this so wrong…” she muttered before wiping her eyes and looking up.  “She probably couldn’t have handled this any worse, actually. Instead of coming to me, or to you, and asking for help, she decided to take this all upon herself.  Like...just...why?”

With another heavy sigh, Yang hung her head and tried to think of a reason - any reason - for Blake’s actions.  Did Blake not trust them at all? Have no faith in their capabilities? What drove her to make those decisions? To Yang, it made no sense.  It was important to lean on others for support, not push them away and try to make it on your own.

After several long seconds of silence passed, Ruby finally shifted in her seat and spoke.

“Can I tell you something?”

“More top-secret confessions?” Yang joked, expecting Ruby to crack a smile but receiving a thoughtful expression instead.

“Kind of.”  Surprised by the response, Yang gave her sister a concerned look.  Ruby, meanwhile, wrapped her arms around her legs and stared towards the window.  “So...some people don’t like Weiss.”  

“You don’t say,” Yang replied with a light chuckle, finding that statement hardly surprising given what she knew about Weiss.

“They really don’t like her,” Ruby added.  “They hate her, actually. They hate her so much that they’ve threatened to...make her go away.”

Yang lost her laughter at that.  When Yang turned to the side, Ruby furrowed her brow and searched for what she wanted to say next.

“This one guy was really angry because she refused his case.  Because he had no case - he straight-up stabbed someone with twenty cameras watching.  But he had money so assumed she had to help him.  When she turned him down, he threatened to kill her.  I was worried he might actually try, so I...I kind of retasked a satellite to keep tabs on him and everyone he talked to.  Hacked every security camera in the city to track their whereabouts. Flagged bank accounts. Voided and declined travel requests.  The works.”

“Uh...are you allowed to do that?” Yang asked, watching Ruby frown and shake her head.

“No.  Well, not legally.”

“So you broke the law for her - that’s sweet.”

“I didn’t just break the law, Yang.  I was ready to fabricate a report and send a tactical team after him.  I would’ve gone after him myself if I had to. I honestly would’ve done anything to keep him away from her.”

Stunned into silence, Yang stared at Ruby and tried to figure out what to say to such a disclosure.

“You...never mentioned this before.”

“I didn’t want you to worry.”  After pausing for a second, Ruby sighed and shook her head.  “And I thought you would...judge me. Or tell me I was crazy.  Or worse - tell me to stop.”

“Or I could’ve put the hurt of the century on this guy.”

“It wasn’t your fight…” Ruby replied before finally meeting Yang’s gaze.  “I’m not trying to say that what Blake did was right. What I’m trying to say is...when it comes to protecting the people we love, you’d be surprised what we’re willing to do.”

“Like retask a government satellite?” Yang joked, feeling the mood lighten when Ruby finally smiled.

“And not be honest about how scared we are?”

With the present problem dumped back in her lap, Yang sighed and hung her head.  She only looked up when Ruby reached over and squeezed her shoulder.

“To us, it looks like she messed up - big time.  But when you’re in that moment...it’s really hard to see it as ‘messing up.’  All you know, and all you care about, is making sure the people you love are ok.  If it was you or Blake in danger, I’d do the same thing in a heartbeat - I wouldn’t even think twice about it.”

Turning away, Yang fell silent and tried to figure out how she would’ve responded if Ruby told her about this situation while it was happening.  Would she have supported such extreme measures to keep Weiss safe? Possibly. Or she might’ve told Ruby to let private security do their job - which was the issue, wasn’t it?  

Maybe she didn’t understand the situation as well as she thought she did.  From here, it was easy to say Blake should have done things differently, but how hard would it be to make those decisions in the moment?

“And I’m not saying you should forgive her or anything,” Ruby added.  “I’m just saying...try to put yourself in her shoes.”

Thinking about the advice, Yang stared at her hands and frowned.  It was easy for her to feel hurt and betrayed, but she would probably do something equally reckless if Blake, Ruby, or Weiss fell in harm’s way.  If there wasn’t time to go through the proper protocols...if there wasn’t time to call for help...she might take everything upon herself - for better or for worse.  But she’d never been in that type of situation before, so...she really couldn’t say.

“I guess you’re right...” she mumbled before looking over and finding Ruby picking invisible pieces of lint off the leg of her pants.  “When’d you get to be so smart?”

“Pretty sure I’ve always been this smart,” Ruby joked with a smile that grew when Yang laughed. 

And when Yang laughed, she felt better.  Not fine, but better.

“Just...remember that she loves you a lot,” Ruby added gently.  “We can fault her decisions but not the motivation behind them - she did what she thought was best for you.” 

With that last piece of wisdom, Ruby pulled Yang into a sideways hug and kissed the top of her head before leaving the room.  Alone once again, Yang stared at her hands and stewed on her thoughts for a long time - long enough that the automatic lights turned off and left her in darkness.

Ruby was right.  Sure, it hurt. Sure, she felt betrayed.  Sure, she wished none of this had ever happened.  But Blake’s heart was in the right place. That just seemed like such a small consolation right now...

When the automatic lights suddenly kicked on, Yang raised her head and found Weiss walking past the entrance to the living room.  Sensing the motion, she glanced over and caught Yang’s gaze.

“What’re you doing in here?” she asked, stepping inside and looking around the empty room as if it held the answer to that question.

“Testing your lights,” Yang joked before looking towards the ceiling and nodding.  “They work.”

“They should.  It cost a small fortune to get them running properly.”

“Money well spent.”  

When Weiss sat down on the sofa, Yang smiled and pulled her into a sideways hug.  While Weiss initially stiffened at the contact, she quickly relaxed - a night-and-day reaction compared to when they first started spending time together.  If Yang had pulled a ‘stunt’ like this then, she might’ve lost an eye. Instead, Weiss was gradually warming up to it.

“How are you feeling?” she asked after settling into the hug, and it didn’t take Yang long to think of a response.

“Really mad, really hurt, really...confused.”

“Sounds about right.”

Initially, Weiss didn’t seem to have much more to say, but after a few seconds of silence, she spoke again.

“You know, I don’t want to like her.  After everything she put you through, I’d really like to hate her.  Unfortunately, she seems to genuinely care about you.”

Seeing Weiss’ furrowed brow, and the way she looked honestly upset by the realization, Yang smiled.

“I appreciate your concern,” she replied, lightly squeezing Weiss’ shoulder before sighing.  “I know it must’ve been hard for her to do what she did and finally admit to it, but...it’s just...how do I trust her now?”

The question was a serious one, because she needed an answer.  If Blake was willing to lie about this, what else might she lie about?  

Weiss, however, frowned while thinking through the question.

“Trust is something you build day-by-day...one breath of honesty at a time.  Unfortunately, it’s not a switch you can just flip. It’s earned, not given.” 

“So just...try again?”

“Your other option is not to trust her at all,” Weiss replied.  “In which case, you don’t have a relationship and might as well break up now.”

Yang cringed at the bluntness of that response, and her heart protested the idea of breaking up with Blake at all.

“I don’t want to do that.” 

“Then you have your answer - give her the chance to earn your trust back.  If you’re not willing to do that, or if she’s not willing to try, then you’re both just fooling yourselves.”

Thinking about the candid advice - which hurt, but at the same time gave her some amount of hope - Yang finally smiled.  

“Since when are you the master of relationships?” she teased, pulling Weiss closer and gently poking her in the side.  

“Since I met Ruby.”  Smiling at the response, Weiss finally stood up and dusted off her pants.

“That means you trust Ruby then?” 

After straightening her hair, Weiss looked at Yang and scoffed.

“Most days, I trust Ruby more than I trust myself.”

In the midst of a nod, Yang paused and tilted her head.

“Huh?”

“I don’t know.  It sounded good in my head.”  

When Yang laughed, Weiss smiled and patted her shoulder before leaving the room behind.

Even though her heart still ached fiercely, the fog of anger had lifted.  She could still feel it there, somewhere, but it was more of a memory than a current state of being.  

Which meant...maybe it was time she faced Blake.  

After pushing herself to her feet with a sigh, she left the living room and walked upstairs to find Blake.  It felt like cement blocks were tied to her ankles, but she forced herself to carry on. They couldn’t avoid each other forever, not that she wanted to do that.  She just wanted...reassurance, or something. Like what Weiss said - she wanted to know that Blake was willing to try, if given the opportunity.  

Walking into the room they’d stayed in last night, she found Blake sitting in the chair by the window, hugging her knees to her chest and staring off into space.  She looked over when Yang closed the door, and it was immediately obvious that she’d been crying.

The remainder of Yang’s anger dissolved at the sight, which she could only consider to be her fault.  She’d once promised never to make Blake cry - look how well she’d done with that promise...

“Hey,” she said, sitting across from Blake while amber eyes never left her own.

“Hey,” Blake replied with a brief, forced smile before they drifted into silence - a weird, unusual silence that neither of them seemed to know what to do with.  Once it grew long enough to become unbearable, Yang grasped onto anything to say and gestured towards the tablet laying in front of Blake.

“Do you think you can fix it?  Like, permanently?”

“I think so,” Blake directed towards her hands.  “But it could take some time. They integrated it more fully than I expected.”

Unsure of what to say next, Yang nodded and felt another uncomfortable silence fall over them.  There was an elephant in the room, but neither of them seemed willing to acknowledge it, which meant she needed to do it and get it over with.  Bandaid approach - get all the swearing out of the way and move on.

“You lied.”

That felt like the crux of the issue, and brought Blake’s eyes back to her in a heartbeat.

“I did,” Blake admitted, her eyes again growing moist with tears.  “At the very least, I intentionally misled you.”

“Then...how am I supposed to trust you?”

The question needed to be asked, but Yang regretted it the moment she did.  The hurt that crossed Blake’s face wounded her more than she could’ve imagined.

“I...I don’t know,” Blake whispered, looking lost while her eyes swam with tears.  “I guess...I don’t know.”

Sinking further into her chair, Blake clutched her hands and bit her lip while staring pointedly at her lap.  

The sight made Yang feel worse than she already did.  She wanted to pretend that everything was alright - that everything could just spring back to the way it had been - but her mind wouldn’t let her do that.  Her heart refused to let go of the pain she’d lived with for what felt like years now. Pain that was, to some degree, of Blake’s own doing.

“We’ll figure it out,” she finally said, attempting a smile when Blake looked up at her.  “We’ll figure it out,” she repeated with a little more certainty, although she felt none of it right now.

From Blake’s weak smile, she felt the same way.

“Yeah...we will.”

Blake didn’t add what Yang felt left unspoken - ‘I hope.’  

They both hoped it would work out - that was a start, right?  It wasn’t a solution, but...they could at least try.

Feeling a sudden wave of exhaustion after the events of the day, Yang leaned back in her seat and briefly closed her eyes.  The stress of Tavon’s house plus the unexpected secrets lurking in her own life had worn out her energy, and now she just really wanted to go to sleep.

Once the feeling ebbed ever so slightly, she opened her eyes and motioned towards the bed.

“We should probably get some rest.  There’s more sleuthing and problem solving to do tomorrow.”

“Right.”  Standing up when Yang did, Blake looked at the bed and frowned.  “I can sleep downstairs,” she suddenly said, but Yang grabbed her hand before she walked away.

“You don’t need to do that.”  

When Blake looked at their joined hands, Yang let go - then immediately questioned why she did.  Even if she didn’t know what their future held, she knew she still loved Blake more than anything.  That’s probably why it hurt so much - because she loved Blake so much. But, even if she felt wounded, she wanted Blake nearby.

“Are you sure?” Blake asked, looking at Yang with an expression still filled with regret.

“I’m sure.”

Though Blake looked hesitant to agree, she eventually nodded and moved over to her side of the bed.  From her posture, and the way she stared at the floor, Yang felt the urge to say something - anything that lifted Blake’s spirits from where they currently were.

When no obvious response emerged, however, she sighed and got ready for bed herself.  It was late, and she was exhausted. After getting some rest, she would feel recharged and better suited for making progress tomorrow.  Right now, she just didn’t feel emotionally or physically capable of helping much.

By the time she got into bed, Blake was already under the covers with her eyes closed and her back towards the center of the bed.  The way she curled towards her heart projected her anguish, and Yang...Yang didn’t know what to do about that. Normally, she would try to comfort.  Tonight, however, she got into bed, turned towards the door, and sighed.

This wasn’t how she imagined Blake’s homecoming to be.  She always thought they’d celebrate through the night, rejoicing in each other’s company for weeks on end.  Instead, she was...confused, hurt, and scared about what their future held.

They loved each other.  Was that enough?

Chapter Text

As soon as Yang woke up, she knew something was wrong.

The room was dark, in large part due to the window tinting preventing the moon from shining inside.  The air was cold, but not too cold - the perfect temperature to sleep in. The house was quiet, as everyone slept after a difficult, eventful day.  Yet still, she felt like something was wrong.

Rolling onto her side and pulling the covers closer, she suddenly sat straight up.

“Blake?” she asked while looking at the empty bed beside her.  Turning towards the bathroom, where she expected to see light peeking under the door, she instead found the door open and the light off.

“Blake?” she called out again, anxiously searching every corner of the room before pressing her hand to the sheets beside her, only to find them cold.  

Blake must have gotten up some time ago, but why?  If not to use the restroom, where did she go? Why leave in the middle of the night?

An overwhelming feeling of foreboding rushed through Yang when she remembered the look in Blake’s eyes before they went to sleep - an expression filled with regret and repentance.  And now Blake was gone…

Throwing the covers aside, Yang was in the hall pounding on Ruby and Weiss’ door in no time.

“Ruby!  Weiss! Wake up!”

Without waiting for a response, she hurried downstairs to see if Blake was still in the house.

“James, lights,” she called out while rushing through the hallway and quickly checking the rooms. 

The kitchen was empty.  The entryway was empty. The living room was empty.  The entire downstairs was empty.

It was empty.  No one was here.

“What’s going on?” Ruby mumbled, covering a yawn while padding downstairs in her slippers.  Weiss was right behind her, looking tired and annoyed at having been woken in the middle of the night.

“Blake’s gone.”  Running her hand through her hair, Yang tried to quell the panic bubbling in her veins.  “I just woke up, and she’s gone.”

“What?  Why would she go anywhere?”

“I don’t know.  I don’t know. I think…”  Trailing off, Yang shuddered when a clamp tightened around her heart, making it difficult to breathe.  “I think...she thinks we don’t want her here anymore.”

That was the furthest thing from the truth, and Yang could attest to that now.  No matter what Blake did or lied about, Yang still wanted her here. Somewhere safe.  Somewhere they could take care of each other. Not this. Not again. Blake couldn’t leave her again.

“Why would she think that?” Ruby asked while Yang paced back and forth in the foyer.

“I don’t know!”  Throwing her hands in the air, Yang tried to think of where Blake might’ve gone so they could find her and bring her back.  “I wasn’t exactly very nice last night, but...”

Tears stung her eyes when she realized that she was right back where she started - wishing for Blake to come back, wishing for the chance to work things out.  But she’d had that chance, and she wasted it being upset about Blake’s lies.  When Blake needed acceptance and forgiveness, Yang turned her back.  She said ‘maybe tomorrow, maybe next week, maybe never’ and figured Blake would accept that.

This was her fault - all her fault.

“We have to find her.”  Trying to swallow back her growing panic, she walked over and clutched Ruby’s arm.  “She can’t have gotten far. You can find her, right? Track her on cameras?”

“I can try.  If she left in a hurry, she probably didn’t mask well.”

“Then we have to do that,” Yang replied while pulling Ruby towards the computers just off of the kitchen.

“Maybe you should let her go.”

The suggestion sent a stab of pain through Yang’s chest, but Weiss didn’t back away from it.  Instead, she stood in front of them so they couldn’t complete their goal.

“Maybe it’s time you let her leave, if that’s what she wants.  This was never our fight anyway - maybe it’s better this way. Let her fight her battles, and we’ll fight ours.”

For a long time, Yang stared at Weiss and had no idea how to respond.  As far as she was concerned, life without Blake didn’t exist. She needed Blake, even if not romantically, in her life in some way.  After the bombing, when she’d been confronted by a reality without Blake all those months ago, she’d hardly survived.  

“Maybe Weiss is right…”

Ruby’s gentle agreement was enough to bring tears to her eyes.  Ruby was the one who got her through those dark times. Ruby never wavered from her side.  Ruby was her rock. But if Ruby felt the same...

“I can’t…” Yang whispered, willing Weiss and Ruby to understand her decision.  “I can’t just let her go. Even if we’re not together anymore...I need to know she’s ok.  I...I love her too much to let go...” 

Weiss shared a look with Ruby and sighed, but neither of them attempted to persuade Yang further.  Which was good, because she wouldn’t be persuaded to let this go - she wouldn’t let this go. Even if they thought she was crazy, or thought she was making the wrong decision, she had to see this through to the end.

“Then let’s start looking,” Weiss said, prompting Ruby into motion with those simple words.

“Right!  I just need a computer and -”

They froze when a chime sounded throughout the front entryway, its gentle tune welcoming and unnerving at the same time.  In near unison, the three of them turned towards the front door, but no one moved towards it.

“Who’s here in the middle of the night?” Weiss asked while Yang’s heart sped up with hope.

“Maybe it’s Blake.”  The response hardly made it through her lips before she hurried towards the door.  “Maybe she came back; she just can’t get back in.”

“Wait - Yang.” 

Ruby tried to grab her arm, but Yang pulled away and continued towards the door.

Maybe Blake changed her mind.  Maybe she decided that she couldn’t leave again.  Maybe she came back. Maybe this time she would stay.

After grabbing the handle and pulling the door open, Yang felt her heart slam into her chest when reality proved her wrong.

It wasn’t Blake standing on Weiss’ front step.  It was Ellie Sawyer.

“Mrs. Sawyer?”  Poking her head further out the door, Yang looked in either direction as if Blake might be hiding somewhere behind the woman.  But there was nothing except dark streets and dark trees and -  

“How did you -?” she began to ask, but the woman cut her off by holding up the cardboard box in her hands.

“I brought you something important.  I think it will help find the people who hurt my son.”

When the woman extended the box, Yang inched forward to look at it.

“What is it?” 

“I was hoping you’d know.”

Yang took a step closer, her heart racing and her mind screaming at her not to look.  But she had to know what it was - if it had anything to do with Blake leaving, she had to know.

Giving the woman one last glance, she carefully pushed the flap of the box out of the way and looked inside -

And then her heart stopped beating.

“That’s a bomb,” she whispered, taking no more than a cursory glance before turning on her heel and sprinting towards Ruby and Weiss.  “Run - now!”

Neither of them hesitated - they turned and ran.  The back door wasn’t far. If they had time - 

A blast of hot air suddenly ripped through the house, tossing Yang like a ragdoll while tearing through brick and wood like tissue paper.  She slammed into something hard - something immovable - before something equally hard tore her mechanical arm free. Chaos erupted as chunks of concrete crashed from the ceiling - the house folding in on itself in a cloud of dirt and debris.

Once the world stopped spinning, she found herself staring through a new hole in Weiss’ ceiling, where the moon now shone through unfiltered.  The house was still settling, made evident by nearby crashes of further destruction, but her section of the house was already fully destroyed.

Her mechanical arm was gone - that she already knew - but it wasn’t until she lifted her head and brushed several pieces of wood and plaster off of her that she saw the blood.  So much blood, spreading around the broken metal pipe sticking through her chest.

Crying out in pain, she searched for a way to free herself, or move at all, but a heavy section of wall lay across her legs.  No way could she move it with her human arm, even if she could bend down to reach it.

With one shaking hand, she reached up and nearly touched the pipe before losing the resolve.

“Ruby!” she yelled, cringing in pain before listening for the sound of her sister.  “Weiss!”

When she didn’t hear a response, she looked down and summoned the courage to gently touch the pipe protruding through her.  The slight touch was enough to send a wave a searing pain through her, convincing her not to attempt any sort of removal.  

She couldn’t move with it in her, but she didn’t have the strength or the fearlessness to pull it out.  Even if she somehow removed it, she would almost immediately die of blood loss with a gaping hole in her chest.

Groaning in agony, she touched the blood soaking through her shirt and brought her shaking fingers away red.  Just looking at it made her light-headed and panicked, but there was nothing she could do to stop it. If no one found her soon, she’d die of blood loss anyway.  And, even if someone found her soon, the pipe might be the only thing keeping her alive. Maybe she was already marked for death, but granted a few more minutes to survive with a metal pole pinning her in place.

Feeling another wave of heat and hearing loud crackles, she craned her neck - pain tearing through her from the effort - and found a fire raging where the kitchen once was.  Another wall crumbled and fell on top of the fire, only adding fuel to help it grow.

“Ruby!” she tried one more time, hearing fear and desperation in her voice.  When she heard nothing but the fire in response, she laid her head back on the ground and grimaced.  

There was nothing for her to do but wait.  Wait for her heart to slow while her blood steadily left her.  Wait for her mind to grow calm and foggy as her brain shut down.  Wait...and accept either of the two ends approaching her.

She wasn’t an idiot.  She’d been to enough crime scenes and seen enough victims - she knew which ones made it and which ones didn’t.  She knew which wounds were fatal and which ones left a fighting chance.

It didn’t matter as long as Ruby and Weiss made it out okay.  They were closer to the back of the house, so hopefully...hopefully, they were far enough away that they hadn’t gotten trapped.  She knew they’d get help, but...help might be too far away. Even if a rescue drone made it here in time, how long would it take to find and reach her?  And what type of rescue was possible for someone with a pipe sticking through their chest?

She was still afraid.  Even though she’d faced death so many times at work, it never caught her until now.  She didn’t feel ready to face the unknown - not alone. She didn’t want to go into this alone, without even the chance to say goodbye.

Hopefully, Ruby and Weiss were ok.  And thankfully, Blake had already left…

Feeling another wave of pain, she closed her eyes and felt the first tears fall.  This wasn’t how their story was supposed to end. They were supposed to have time to work it out, to find their happily-ever-after…or at least, figure out how to stay in each other’s lives...

“Blake…” she whispered, closing her eyes as more hot tears fell.  She heard the fire creeping closer while her adrenaline wore off, allowing her to fully feel the pain shutting down her body.

At least it wouldn’t be long...

“Yang!”

Her eyes flew open at her name, and the world suddenly shattered into a million pieces.  Weiss’ house, the wood and concrete and fire - everything splintered apart and fell to the ground like broken panes of glass.

“Yang!” Blake called out again, appearing out of nowhere and kneeling by Yang’s side.  Her eyes were wild - scared - as she reached out for Yang’s hand only to pass right through it.  “Yang, you’re in a nightmare - you’re dreaming. You’re only dreaming.”

“What -?”

Disoriented by the abrupt change of events, Yang looked down and found that the wall no longer trapped her legs, and there was no longer a pipe bursting through her chest.  All of it had disappeared just like the fire and remnants of Weiss’ house.

She wasn’t dying - she was fine.

“It only hurts because you think it does,” Blake reminded her while she pushed herself to her feet and delicately pressed her hand to her chest.  

There was no hole, there was no blood.  It was like it never happened.

“Remember your arm.”

As soon as Blake made the comment, Yang looked down at her hands and found her mechanical arm back in place.  Whether she or Blake put it there, she didn’t know.

“What’s going on?” she asked.  Blake opened her mouth to answer but looked up as the sky above them split in half.  The next second, the ground lifted up and shoved Yang to the side an instant before a lightning bolt struck where she’d just stood.  She hardly regained her balance when a fierce wind swept her off her feet, and she hit her chin on the pavement with a painful crack before being dragged away.

She didn’t make it very far before the wind abruptly disappeared.  

“Blake!” she called out while scrambling to her feet.  Her eyes immediately caught a flash of movement to her right, but she hardly turned towards the threat when everything froze.  The sky, the wolf lunging towards her arm - everything around her caught in time.

Blake reappeared in front of her then, looking sad and tired at the same time.  But Yang couldn’t even begin to put in words how relieved she was to see her.

“You didn’t leave.”  

It was the first thing Yang could think to say, and Blake shook her head.

“Of course I didn’t.”  Stepping closer, Blake met Yang’s eyes with an expression of pain and sorrow.  “But we don’t have much time.”

What felt like an earthquake shook the environment, rumbling under Yang’s feet while Blake closed her eyes and clenched her fists in concentration.  Once the feeling passed, she met Yang’s gaze and didn’t look away.

“I’m sorry,” she said, her voice heavy with emotion.  “I’m sorry that I tried to hide this from you, that I didn’t come to you right away, that it ever even happened.  You deserve better. Everyone deserves better.”

“Blake...” 

Blake shook her head to cut off Yang’s response.

“I’m going to fix it, ok?  I’m going to make sure she doesn’t hurt anyone else, but...but that means I have to go now.”

“You don’t -”

“I do.  I’m sorry, but this is what I should’ve done a long time ago.”  Smiling sadly, Blake lifted one hand as if to touch Yang’s face.  Instead, she pulled her hand away and presented Yang with a ring - the same ring made of galaxies that she created all that time ago.  “Please don’t be sad, and remember that I love you. You’re my everything.”

Yang woke up with a gasp.

“Oh jesus, finally!”  As Yang sat up in bed, Weiss grabbed her shoulder to steady her.  “What the hell is going on?”

“Wake her up!”  Rolling to her side, Yang found Blake still sleeping beside her.  There was no Dreamscape, no Dream Disk, but when she shook Blake’s shoulder, nothing happened.

“Wake up, dammit,” she muttered before giving up and turning towards Weiss and Ruby, both of whom looked shocked and confused by what was happening.  “There has to be a way to force her awake.”

“Yang, you know how dangerous that is -”

“We can’t just leave her in there!”  Jumping out of bed, Yang searched for anything that looked remotely like a Daydreamer.  If she’d been pulled into a dream somehow, there had to be something nearby - but where?  

“How do we wake her up?” she asked no one in particular while panic raced through her veins.  Something about that dream wasn’t right - something about what Blake said wasn’t right. Whatever she planned to do, it sounded like she wouldn’t come back from it, which meant Yang needed to wake her up now.

“We need to figure out how to wake her up.”  Yang hurried towards the hall to keep searching, but her knee buckled halfway there, causing her to stagger while trying to keep her balance.

“Are you ok?” Ruby asked, moving closer when Yang swayed.  Blinking as exhaustion suddenly grabbed ahold of her, she shook her head in an attempt to clear the cobwebs.

“I’m just...really groggy...”

“Yang!”

Her legs gave out, and suddenly she was falling.  The ground rushed up to meet her - thousands of feet away but growing closer by the second.

“Welcome back,” a voice called out to her, coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

“Leave her out of this, Lyla!”

A net appeared and caught her before lowering her to a platform in the midst of a dark, cavernous space.  It was so dark, she couldn’t see anything. Not Blake, not Lyla, not even the platform under her feet.

“Blake!”

As soon as she shouted Blake’s name, bright lights blinded her.  She raised her arms to shield her eyes and barely caught a glimpse of something flying at her out of the darkness.  In that single moment of vulnerability, she was unable to defend herself - and she gasped when something sharp plunged into her side.

With her eyes still struggling to adjust to the light, she looked down and found a sword impaled through her abdomen.  The accompanying pain caused her to stagger and drop to one knee to keep herself upright. Blood quickly soaked through her shirt, forming a dark circle that grew by the second. 

Her hands shook like mad when she reached to grab the hilt.  She intended to pull it out but, while she did that, she noticed more motion - and glints of silver as thousands of swords flew towards her.  She raised her hands - as if that would somehow protect her - only to be showered in silver confetti as they disintegrated before reaching her.  The next second, Blake appeared on the platform beside her.

“She’s bringing you back somehow,” Blake said, the urgency in her voice doing nothing to calm Yang’s panic.  “You need to find it.”

Gasping for breath, Yang opened her eyes and saw the ceiling - the ceiling in Weiss’ house. 

“Yang!” 

Ruby and Weiss were on either side of her, and the two of them together dragged her back to her feet.

“What’s happening??” Weiss asked, wrapping an arm around Yang’s waist to keep her steady.

“Lyla,” she said while staggering towards the door.  “She’s pulling me into the dream -”

An invisible force grabbed at her consciousness then, dragging her towards sleep while she struggled to get downstairs.  They needed to search the house, which meant Ruby needed to get to her computers. She could work with James and find the intruder - hopefully...  

Yang’s heart jumped into her throat when her foot slipped down several steps.  She might’ve fallen the entire flight if Weiss hadn't been holding on to her waist.

“Careful,” Weiss urged her, but she kept moving as fast as possible.

“Need to wake her up…”  

They finally made it downstairs, but Yang was still fighting against the feeling of impending sleep.  Fighting only made it stronger...impossible to resist - 

“Sit -” 

Ruby shoved a chair underneath her right when her legs collapsed.  She struggled to stay awake, but her eyes started to close, and her head felt like it weighed about a thousand pounds.

“Ruby, work with James,” Weiss’ voice said from somewhere - somewhere that sounded further and further away.

“On it, but what about her?”

“I’ll watch her.”

While the two of them spoke around her, Yang raised her hand to hold up her head.  Then she caught sight of the cuts on her arm and froze. The longer she stared at them, the more they looked like incisions rather than scrapes...

“The cuts -” she said, her voice slurring from the effort of staying awake.  “Dream Disk...” 

Her arm fell to her side as her eyes closed.  

She immediately ducked when a full-speed train roared above her, nearly taking her head off.  

“Yang.”

She spun around and froze when she saw Blake standing in front of her.  But something about this version of Blake made her pause - made her wary.

“Did you miss me?”

Before she could respond, something powerful clamped onto her arm, making her cry out in pain before she was pulled right off her feet.  There was a splash before water surrounded her, preventing her from breathing while a great weight dragged her towards the depths.  

Her first instinct was to pull her arm free, but that did nothing.  Whatever held her was strong and immovable.

Her lungs started to burn, and her desperation grew in tandem.

“It’s all in your mind,” Blake whispered from somewhere.

The pressure disappeared from around her arm, and Yang kicked towards the surface while her lungs screamed at lack of oxygen.  But no matter how hard she swam, she never grew closer - the shimmering reflection of the sun above her stayed the same distance away.  There were disturbances all around her - ripples and currents that rattled the environment - but the surface, and freedom, always remained too far away.

“Yang, please…”

She was reaching the end of her struggle - the end of her oxygen supply.  Her mind slowed as it was deprived of oxygen, but she heard Blake’s voice.  Heard the pleading.

This was a dream.  Even though she felt the water, felt it lifting her with its ebbs and flows.  Even though she felt it stinging her eyes, and felt the burning in her lungs, and felt the fading at the edge of her mind, this was a dream.  And what did she have to lose?

Stilling her limbs and calming her mind, she accepted that she could breathe underwater.  She could breathe underwater. She could.

And then she did.

A deep, wonderful gasp of air filled her lungs.

Snapping her head forward, she nearly knocked into Weiss.

“I think found it,” Weiss said, ignoring Yang while holding onto her arm.  

“Are you sure?” 

“As sure as I can be without an x-ray.  Get me a knife and tweezers.”

Weiss had one hand wrapped around Yang’s arm, her thumb pressed to one of the cuts that had itched like mad over the last few days.

“I’m going to remove it,” Weiss explained while they waited for Ruby to rush back with the requested supplies.  “You need to sit still.”

“Remove it?”  Shaking off the force trying to drag her back to sleep, Yang met Weiss’ eyes and blinked.  “You’re going to cut my arm open?”

“Technically, I’m only severing the seal.  It’s unlikely your skin has healed yet.”

The invisible force wrapped itself around Yang’s conscious yet again, beckoning her to sleep while she did her best to fight it.

“Awesome…” she said, and forced her eyes open when she realized they were closing.  Ruby rushed back into the room, and Yang barely glimpsed the blade in her hands before her head tilted forward.

“Hey.  You need to stay awake -” 

She dropped into darkness, then gasped awake and wiped her nose.  The No-Dose stung like hell, but she was awake, for now.  

“Hold still,” Weiss ordered while holding Yang’s arm flat on the kitchen table and grabbing the knife Ruby brought over.

“Think I’m gonna be sick...” Ruby muttered, and Yang’s adrenaline fired full steam when Weiss bent her head closer to the clear, slightly-glistening medic seal holding the cut closed.  And when she raised the knife in her hand, every instinct told Yang to pull away.

She couldn’t even think of a joke to lighten the mood.  Instead, she watched in a combination of horror and fascination while Weiss calmly pressed the tip of the knife to her arm and drew the blade across the seal.  A thicker, darker red line appeared in its wake, revealing the initial cut that was just starting to heal.

Putting her fingers on both sides of the wound, Weiss pushed in opposing directions to open it and look further inside.  And there - hidden inside the flesh of Yang’s arm - was a flash of silver that must be the Dream Disk.

“Wow,” Weiss muttered while Yang stared at the intruder in her body.  A piece of metal buried in her arm - a piece of metal her body was trying to make part of itself in order to heal.

When Weiss picked up the tweezers and lowered them into the wound, Yang turned away and took a deep breath, trying not to imagine what was about to happen.  She winced when a sharp twinge of pain shot through her arm, then exhaled in relief.

“Got it,” Weiss announced, dropping the tweezers and Dream Disk onto the table and quickly pressing together the cut on Yang’s arm.  Holding the cut with one hand, she grabbed a container of med-seal with her other and carefully sealed the wound back together.

While Weiss did that, Yang picked up the Dream Disk with her other hand and crushed it in her palm.  As soon as she did that, she felt infinitely better, like she’d regained control of her mind. The pressing exhaustion disappeared - so did the shadows grabbing at her conscious.

Now they needed to get Blake out of that nightmare.

“All good,” Weiss whispered, patting the top of Yang’s arm before moving away.  Yang immediately stood up and found Ruby.

“We need to find Lyla.”  

The words hardly left Yang’s mouth before Ruby raced into the computer room, grabbed her tech-glove, and pulled up several search screens.

“It might take a while,” Ruby said while flying through search functions and video feeds.  “She’s probably not at home.”

“The lab?” Weiss suggested.

“Maybe, but that seems too easy.  Also, she has to know anyone would check there first.”

While Ruby worked, Yang held up her arm and looked at the newly-resealed cut running across it.  They put a Disk in her, which meant they had access to her whenever she was near a Dreamscape, right?  They could see her dreams?

They could see what she and Blake did in Taven’s Dreamscape?

“Ruby -” Yang said when her impatience doubled.  Everything they’d done was compromised, and Blake needed to know.  She needed to know that their enemies might have more information than expected.

“What are you even going to do?” Weiss cut in.  

“What do you think I’m going to do?  I’m going to break down her door and wake her up!  I just need to know where she is -”

“I’m trying!” Ruby answered without looking away from the screen.  “She goes a lot of places, and she’s masking every damn one of them!  I just need time to narrow it down -”

“We don’t have time, Ruby - we need to find her now.” 

“Ok, ok, then you start looking.”  Grabbing several addresses off the screen, Ruby pushed them onto the memory drive in Yang’s arm.  “I’ll send updates, but start there.”

“Take my car,” Weiss said, but grabbed Yang by the arm before she ran off.  “Please don’t do anything stupid.”

After the two of them shared a look, Yang nodded and raced towards the garage.  She hardly made it to the kitchen door, however, when she hesitated and looked upstairs.

“I’ll stay with her,” Weiss offered, leaving Ruby’s side and heading towards the staircase.  “I’ll let you know if something changes.”

Relieved that Blake wouldn’t be alone, Yang nodded to Weiss before flying into the garage.  She didn’t have the technical know-how that Ruby did, but she didn’t need it. Through her police training, she was one of the relative few who still knew how to manually operate a car.

Jumping into the front seat and flipping it around to face the windshield, she switched the computer from automatic to manual mode.  Once the pedals, steering wheel, and mirrors locked into place, she revved the engine and waited for the garage door to open. As soon as the path was clear, she floored it down the drive and spun onto the street.

“Navigate to first address,” she spoke towards the computer while swiping her palm across the memory reader.  Once the heads-up display turned on, it outlined the path towards her first destination, highlighting the street in front of her before turning right at the next corner.

Blowing through a traffic light, she slammed on the brakes and spun the wheel while tearing around the corner.  As soon as she cleared the bend, she stomped on the accelerator - the sudden speed pushing her back in the seat.

Blake made it sound like she wouldn’t come back, and Yang couldn’t let that happen.  She couldn’t let Blake sacrifice herself on some misguided thought that it would make everything ok.

“Found three more,” Ruby spoke through the car’s microphone before three additional addresses popped onto the screen.  “Sorry - I’m trying to narrow them down, but it’ll take time.”

“Goddammit.  Weiss? Any changes?”

“Nothing.  Still sleeping.”

Flying around a slow-moving delivery truck before swerving back into her lane, Yang swore under her breath.  She needed ten of herself to check all these addresses. Otherwise, it would take an entire day just to make it to all of them, not including the time it would take to find a way in and conduct a thorough search.

She couldn’t do this alone.

“I’m calling in backup,” she said as soon as the thought popped into her head.

“But we don’t know who might be helping Dreamscape!” Ruby protested.

“I know.  But we have to take a leap of faith.”

People always told her she trusted too much, or too fast, but she didn’t see another way.  If they didn’t trust each other, then...what? They all looked out for themselves and no one else?  They all helped themselves and no one else?

That’s not what she believed in, and that’s not how she would live.

“Call Casey,” she told the computer while pushing the vehicle even faster, gripping the steering wheel tighter while adrenaline charged through her.

“Hello?” 

“Casey, it’s Yang.” 

“Yang?  Holy hell - we’ve been looking all over for you!  Where are you? Are you ok?”

“I’m fine.  But I need your help.”

Chapter Text

“Hmm…”

As Lyla’s soft thought permeated the environment, Blake combed the darkzone for another vivid subconscious.  She knew Lyla was here somewhere, hidden amongst the minds of the city at rest, but she found nothing other than the stars of other dreamers.

“She must’ve found it...” Lyla mused, projecting her voice while hiding herself.  “A shame. This would’ve been more fun with her here.”

The instant Blake stumbled across a piece of the blackness that didn’t belong, she focused with all her might and pulled it towards her.  The effort should’ve torn Lyla out of the ethereal space she existed in - instead, it dropped Blake into a frozen tundra. Wind whipped across the horizon, blowing drifts of snow and ice that would sting if she believed it was real.

This wasn’t real, but the never-ending expanse of white made it difficult to see.  Fortunately, sight was the least important sense to rely upon in a dream. And now that they were out of the darkzone, it would be easier to pinpoint Lyla’s location.

Allowing her mind to wander in and out of the space around her, Blake searched for a presence she had no control over.  Everything else responded to her touch - the snow, the wind, the icy-lake in the distance - but one piece stood out above the rest.

With one surge of thought, she erased the snow and altered her location to appear right beside the uncontrollable presence.  Before it could react, she latched onto Lyla’s mind and dragged her out of the shadows, forcing her more-physical form to appear in the dream, complete with a scowl set in place.

Unlike reality, this projection of Lyla stood straight and tall, and had no use for a cane to help her walk.  Instead, she looked strong - healthy - like she would have had she not been born with such a degenerative illness.

“Nice to see you, Blake,” she snarled before whipping shards of ice in Blake’s direction.  Blake ignored the pointless attack, which flew through her without leaving a mark.  

“Why are you doing this?” she asked instead.  “I know you can’t hurt me - why do you keep trying?”

“Guess I’m just used to it by now.”  Unbound by the laws of gravity, Lyla lazily drifted with the icy wind and smirked.  “From working with Yang, you know.”

Blake had promised herself she would remain calm no matter what happened in this sequence, but that single sentence lit a fire in her chest.

“Don’t ever say her name again,” she hissed, her anger rolling through the snow like a frozen tidal wave before dissipating in the distance.  The reaction did nothing to erase the smirk from Lyla’s lips - if anything, it only increased her self-satisfaction.

“She’s quite...expressive...isn’t she?  It didn’t take much persuasion to learn everything - her sister’s ‘forbidden’ relationship, her nightly sequences with you, her...romances at work.”

“She doesn’t have any romances at work,” Blake said through gritted teeth, her anger growing at the insinuation.  Lyla, however, shrugged and waved her hand while the sun suddenly appeared in the sky above their heads.

“How would you know?  You’ve been gone for a long time, haven’t you?  Left her behind while you tried to cover up your mistakes…”

“While I tried to stop you from hurting more people,” Blake interrupted, blinking to adjust to the new light when the sun abruptly fell from the sky and the space turned dark.

“So you hurt her instead?” Lyla retorted, laughing as the sun appeared once more.  “It doesn’t surprise me that she wanted to move on.”

The longer Lyla spoke, the angrier Blake became.  She knew the truth - she knew that Yang would never do something like that, and she hated the insinuation that Yang was that type of person.  Yang would break up with her first.

Honestly, she deserved that.

“I’m not here to listen to your lies.”  Steeling her emotions, she stared Lyla down and refused to look away.  “You know that.”

“Of course not.  You rushed in here to save her, just like I knew you would.  Because now you’ve decided to play ‘hero.’  After all that time hiding in your pathetic corner of the globe, you finally decided to save her.  How romantic.”

The sun fell from the sky yet again as Lyla waited for Blake’s response.  Clearly, it was her way of painting Blake as the villain when in reality, the situation was far more complicated than simple ‘good’ and ‘evil.’

“My intent was always to protect her -”

“Which is why you left her, obviously.”

Tired of the sun and moon nonsense, Blake grabbed ahold of the celestial bodies, broke them into thousands of pieces, and scattered those across the sky above them.  The action created a patchwork of yellow and white that cast a surreal glow over the environment, but it was Lyla’s pleased laugh that said that she just reacted too genuinely to the provocation.

“You should’ve seen the look on her face the first time you turned on her,” Lyla added with a sneer.  “I’ve never seen such a pure look of betrayal...it almost made me feel bad. Would you like to see it?”

Blake didn’t bother responding, because she knew Lyla would force her to watch regardless of what she said.  Instead, she set her jaw and felt a horrible ache in her chest when a copy of Yang appeared in front of her.

The copy was as good as any she’d ever seen or created.  Everything looked right - from Yang’s hair to the light freckles dusting her cheeks.  But this version held a hand over her abdomen, where blood seeped through her fingers and poured onto the ground at her feet.  Confusion...pain...betrayal filled her eyes while she blinked repeatedly to maintain consciousness.

“B-Blake?” she gasped.

Something cold and hard pressed against Blake’s hand, and she looked down to find a phaser hanging in the air in front of her.  From the glowing-orange barrel, it had been recently fired.

“Why?” Yang asked as she fell to her knees.  The look in her eyes was so unbearable, Blake turned away and bit her lip to keep it from trembling.  She hadn’t pulled the trigger - she would never hurt Yang like this - yet she felt an insurmountable wave of guilt threaten to wash her away.

“Well, why don’t you take it,” Lyla prodded, stepping to the side and bumping the phaser into Blake’s hand another time.  “Why don’t you finish the job?”

Blake didn’t know if this was actually one of the scenarios Yang went through or if Lyla just made it up, but her chest filled with sadness...and rage.

“Lyla -”

When she turned around, she had no time to react to the metal rod shooting towards her.  It plunged right through her chest and, for a split second, she staggered. For a split second, her mind flashed with pain while the hot feeling of blood seeped from her skin.

But a split second later, she clamped down on the growing panic and straightened up - the piece of rebar still sticking through her heart until she calmly removed it.

“You’ve lost your touch,” Lyla’s voice called from the distance before laughter filled the air.  “That, or she’s your weakness. Probably the latter, which was a mistake - you know you’re not supposed to bring weaknesses into a dream.”

Taking a deep breath to collect herself, Blake expanded her mind and ignored the carpet of grass rolling across the environment.  Trees sprouted every few feet - trees that grew so thick and tall they blocked the sunlight from above. Bushes and moss covered the ground as a lifelike jungle surrounded her, but she knew better than to fall for the new environment.  

Instead, she ignored it completely.  She knew this game, and it was built upon catching her off guard, on convincing her for just a second that this was real.  Over time, it would grow harder to ignore, especially as her mind fatigued and her reactions slipped. That’s when this became a life-and-death situation, but she’d expected nothing less.

“Stop this, Lyla,” she called out, leaving her material form behind in favor of searching the skies for her former colleague.  With the environment still in place, she knew that Lyla was here somewhere. She couldn’t return to the darkzone and keep this projection alive, but where was she?

As soon as Blake felt a disturbance along the forest floor, she appeared at that location and ducked when a panther snarled and leapt towards her head.  Forming a cage around the beast, she shoved it into the trees and stalked over to Lyla.

She hated Lyla’s expression - one that suggested this situation was nothing more than a game.  Nevermind that it had turned her life upside down or caused her to lose the most important person in her life - none of that mattered to Lyla.

“Stop?  But I’m just getting started.”

No sooner had the words left Lyla’s mouth did a series of black ropes latch onto Blake’s shoulders and yank her backward.  She erased them as fast as possible but more appeared - hundreds, thousands of strands tying her down and locking her in place.

“Give me what you took from Daydreamer,” Lyla demanded while Blake created an invisible buffer around herself to stop the onslaught of tie-downs.

“Why would I do that?” she asked, finally regaining her feet and struggling to figure out how Lyla created such forceful threads in the dream.

“Because if you do, I’ll only kill you.”

Even though Blake scoffed, part of her actually considered the offer.  And, if she knew she could trust Lyla, she might even take it. It would be penance for her mistakes and absolve Yang from ever having to forgive her.  Unfortunately, with Lyla so fixated on erasing her from existence, removing Yang was probably next on the list regardless of the answer.

“I’ll take my chances.”

“That’s unfortunate…”  Shaking her head, Lyla looked almost disappointed by the news.  “I hoped you would see reason - for their sakes. But I guess no one will miss a couple of young cops and a defense attorney.”

As soon as a ripple of rage tore through the dream, Lyla looked at Blake and laughed.

“They are your weakness, aren’t they?”

The moment Lyla tried to fade into the background, Blake folded the sky on top of them and re-invented the forest as a gymnasium.  The rapid shift forced Lyla to re-learn the dream - a delay that gave Blake time to flip their surroundings again - this time turning the gym floor upside down and pushing them into a damp, creaking basement.

“They have nothing to do with this,” she said while moving them onto a boat in the middle of the sea.  “Your fight is with me.”

“That’s where you’re wrong.  You brought them into this by bringing them into your life.”

The dream tore away from Blake, and she suddenly found herself standing on the ledge of a towering skyscraper.  No sooner had she identified the new dream did a weight slam into her back, easily knocking her off the side of the building.

But in order to fall, she had to believe she could fall - which she didn’t.

“They know nothing!” she called out while standing in midair outside of the building.  “Hurting them accomplishes nothing.”

“I don’t believe you.”  Appearing in the air nearby, Lyla waved her arm and sent a powerful gust of wind through the air.  “You’re a liar,” she snarled. “Even Yang knows it now. You only hurt those closest to you.”

Even though Blake knew that Lyla was only trying to get under her skin, it worked.  She didn’t consider herself a liar, but is that what Yang thought of her now? Had she destroyed every last shred of trust they had?

“See?  You can’t even deny it.”

“Lyla…”  Watching Lyla prowl the air in front of her, Blake felt a strong pull at her heart when she remembered the others affected by her actions.  “What did you do to Greyson?”

“I didn’t do anything to him.”  Swirling a tiny ball of flame around her finger, Lyla shrugged and feigned innocence.  “Poor kid just...perished in his sleep.”

The response filled Blake with sadness and revulsion - sadness for the life that was needlessly lost, revulsion at how apathetic her long-time coworker was about ending that life.

“They trusted us,” she replied, extinguishing the flame so that Lyla stopped looking at it.

“No, they used us.  They wanted our knowledge - our jobs - yet they weren’t capable enough to avoid falling into a trap.”

Blake scoffed at the response, which was as much manipulation as it was a lie.

“What’s one of the first lessons you learn as a theorist?” Lyla continued, circling Blake like a lion stalking its prey.

“To let go of reality -”

“And not believe what you see.”  Pausing for a second, Lyla raised her hands as the skyscraper disappeared and a train station surrounded them, complete with travelers streaming around rather than in between them.  

“Yet they so easily believed everything they saw.  Not just believe - they embraced it.  They wanted to be heroes.  They wanted to change the world.  I gave them a means of pursuing that goal.”

“You expect me to believe that?  That you’re some vigilante fighting for justice?”  Keeping tabs on the travelers in case of an attack, Blake looked at Lyla and shook her head.  “You exploited them, Lyla.  You created slaves who had no choice but to follow your orders.”

“I think I did them a favor.  They wanted to be theorists - I proved they weren’t cut out for it.”  Glancing at the clock on the wall of the station, Lyla smiled and shrugged.  “If anything, I think Taven owes me a raise. Weeding out interns is hard work.”

Part of Blake still couldn’t believe what Lyla was saying.  Part of her still wanted to believe that there was goodness left in the colleague she’d trusted for years.  But another part of her - the part that learned the hard way how quickly power went to someone’s head - knew better than to search for any redemption in Lyla.  If Lyla had any shot at redemption, it wouldn’t be in this life. Not after what she did.

“Oh, here he is now.”

When Lyla gestured over Blake’s shoulder, she turned and saw Greyson Sawyer hurrying towards them.  His eyes hardly left the ground while he rushed across the middle of the terminal, only lifting to dart towards the exits before returning to the floor.  The backpack over his shoulders looked heavy, but he held the straps as if worried someone might take it from him.

Blake knew this wasn’t real, and might not even be how it happened, but her anguish grew for the young man who’d held more dreams than the rest of his class.

“He thinks he’s saving his family,” Lyla explained while the two of them watched Greyson walk past.  Stopping by an empty bench in the corner of the room, he sat down and finally took off his backpack. After setting it by his feet, he pushed it underneath the bench and stared at his hands.

“He’s a good person...” Blake whispered.  And her heart broke for the young man, who looked scared, nervous, and determined all at once.  “He would have been a great theorist…”

“We’ll agree to disagree.”

After taking a deep breath, Greyson stood and hurried towards the nearest exit without ever looking back.  He quickly disappeared amongst the rush of travelers, making his escape without anyone noticing his presence.  Meanwhile, the backpack remained under the bench, unseen and unnoticed by the people passing by.

Blake knew what happened next, but she still flinched when an explosion rocked the building.  Flames enveloped her and Lyla - the sudden blast of power throwing everything, living or not, out of its path.  People screamed. Giant pieces of stone fell from the ceiling and crashed to the floor. Bodies and luggage littered the ground.

For a second time, the blast didn’t touch Blake like it did these people.  Instead, she watched the destruction with tears in her eyes.

“How could you do this…” she whispered when the dome of the building collapsed in on itself, burying whoever managed to survive the initial blast.

“Technically -”

“Stop lying, Lyla!” Blake shouted as her anger boiled over.  Ripping away control of the dream, she erased the destruction and moved them to a blank space - a floor and little else.  “You did that,” she said, pointing towards Lyla’s chest.  “You convinced Greyson to do it.  You forced him to do it.”

“I suggested it, was all.”

Shaking her head at the answer, Blake struggled to calm her emotions.  That scene rattled her more than expected, but she couldn’t let Lyla know that - she couldn’t let this control her reactions.  If she had any hope of making it out of here alive, it was by keeping a cool head and ignoring provocation. Easier said than done when facing the person responsible for all of the bad she’d lived through for the past year.

“We could have done so much good,” she said, trying to reach the person she once viewed as a friend.  “Helped people - saved people.”

“That’s what you don’t understand, ” Lyla replied, her lips curling with annoyance.  “Why is ‘good’ constrained to helping kids and the infirm? Why don’t we help society - right the wrongs done to us?”

“To you, Lyla.  You want to right the wrongs that have been done to you.”

Feeling something try to grab ahold of her subconscious, Blake focused upon her mind and walled the sensation out.  No sooner had she done that did Lyla smirk and start pacing.

“‘Limping Lyla,’” Lyla directed towards the floor while she walked.  “‘Lame Lyla,’ always hobbling around, always slowing everyone down.  It was only in here -” Reaching up, she tapped the side of her head. “Where I was equal.  More than equal - I was better than anyone. Smarter, more creative, more adaptive. And now, we can use Daydreamer to make the world a better place for people like me - the ones society wants to pretend don’t exist.”

Expanding the simple environment, Lyla bolted on rooms upon rooms occupied by strangers suffering from various ailments.  All of them wore a Dream Disk on their temple and had a Daydreamer on their bedside table.

“Pretty soon, everyone will be equal.  Dreams will merge with reality - everyone will live by proxy within the realms we create.  We will control everything, and everyone.”

The number of rooms kept expanding, stacking on top of each other in a tower that reached higher than Blake could physically see.  The sheer scale of the still-growing environment filled her with awe and worry.  

Lyla had always been an exceptionally-talented theorist...but the two of them had never gone toe-to-toe like this...

“You know what’s funny?” Lyla asked, turning back to Blake with a serious look.  “I actually felt bad that you wouldn’t be around to see your creation. Then I felt worse when I saw what your death did to Yang.”

The environment disappeared in the blink of an eye - the rooms and their inhabitants ceasing to exist when Lyla moved back to the darkzone.  Blake immediately followed, surrounding herself in the minds of people at rest only to be roughly grabbed and dragged into another environment.  Before she even started to struggle, the feeling abated and left her staring at what looked like a giant movie screen - with a video of Yang playing.  

Yang was crying - sobbing - curled up in a ball on the sofa in their apartment.  In the next clip, she sat in the chair by the window, staring outside with a blank, hollow expression.  Then she cried some more. She stood at Blake’s ‘grave’ with a bouquet of flowers. She cried on Ruby’s shoulder at the funeral after everyone else had left.

“So much heartbreak...” Lyla sighed while a highlight reel of Blake’s biggest regret played for her personal viewing.  “It was hard to watch her suffer like this - so hard that I almost regretted it. I’ve always liked her, you know. She understands what it’s like to be different, for people to look at her and judge her based on her ‘imperfections.’”

The movie screen shut off, and Lyla appeared in its place.

“She cried over you for a long time - longer than you deserved.  That’s when I decided that you must really be gone and moved forward with the plans.  Imagine my surprise when I dropped off a box of photographs from your office and discovered that you were still out there.”

“How?” Blake asked, her voice breathless and heart still aching from what she just watched.

“A lie.”  Pausing for a second, Lyla let out a small laugh.  “She told me she couldn’t use the Dreamscape since you passed, but records showed her using it every night.  Can you believe it? Something so small and inconsequential…”

Blake couldn’t fault Yang for the answer, nor could she imagine this situation playing out any way other than this.  The ‘could have been’s or ‘should have been’s didn’t matter - all that mattered was that she came back. She got access to Daydreamer’s code, and she hid part of it where no one would find it for a long time.

“It worked out,” she replied, to which Lyla scoffed.

“Only because you pushed her out of the dream before you stole the link.”  When a piece of Daydreamer’s code appeared in the air between them, Lyla spun it in a circle and glared at Blake.  “That was a miscalculation on my part - I wanted you to show us Daydreamer’s weakness.”

That answer explained the sensation Blake felt in the dream - the feeling of being watched even though the only person there was Yang.  It was so unnerving, she’d decided to continue alone. Now she was glad she had, even though the additional secrecy had only added to Yang’s suspicion of her.

“Like I said, it worked out,” she repeated, not backing away from the confrontational response even though Lyla scowled.

“Would you really call this ‘working out?’” Lyla goaded her.  “You know you’re not leaving here alive. You know I’ve always been better than you.  I don’t know why they didn’t see it until you ‘died’ - they were too blinded by the prodigy you were.  They even chose that damn bombing because they had so much ill-begotten respect for you.”

Suddenly realizing that Lyla wasn’t speaking about just herself, Blake felt her worry return.

“‘They?’”

“I suggested something small and targeted,” Lyla continued without a response.  “Heart attack, allergic reaction, even a random mugging on the street - I thought Yang would enjoy that.  But they didn’t want to raise any suspicion. They didn’t want to risk it being traced back to you.”  

After contemplating the error for a few seconds, Lyla shook her head.

“You know what they say...hindsight is twenty-twenty.  We should’ve chosen a path that ensured your death. Look what happened because we didn’t - you somehow lived, and that decision came back to haunt us.  Now we have to fix Daydreamer before moving forward.”

“Lyla, who are you working for?” Blake pressed, but Lyla merely ‘tsk’d and disappeared.  Blake immediately followed into the darkzone, trying to keep tabs on Lyla while also staying out of reach.

“This ends here,” Lyla said from a nearby dream, only to flit away the moment Blake searched that direction.  “I’ll fix Daydreamer myself, we’ll move forward with our plans, and I’ll never have to hear about the great Blake Belladonna again.”

Something powerful lashed out of the darkness, latched onto Blake’s mind, and dragged her towards the nearest star.  The next second, she crashed through a ceiling and hit the floor beside the resident dreamer and his muse. She didn’t acknowledge him while whipping out of the room and finding Lyla already racing back to the darkzone.  

Blake followed - she had no choice but to follow or risk losing Lyla’s location.

As soon as the dream disappeared, she seized the first thing she found that didn’t belong.  When she felt a struggle, she focused her mind and clamped down as hard as she could. When the struggle grew fiercer, she realized that she couldn’t hold on much longer.

Left with no other option, she held on and shoved them into the closest environment.  She had Lyla by the collar the moment they dropped into the dream - the girl sneering at her and fighting to get away while they fell.  And fell, and fell, towards the ground thousands of feet away.  

Blake refused to let go while doing her best to contain Lyla in a smaller and smaller space.  If she could box Lyla in -

A weight slammed into Blake’s side, breaking the two of them apart before they steadied themselves in the air above a giant arena.  Two dragons were in the midst of a ferocious battle beneath them, but Lyla wasted no time grabbing control and turning both creatures their way.

The first dragon swooped towards Blake at an incredible speed before opening its jaws and snapping at her.  On instinct, she dodged to the side, then steeled herself when the second dragon appeared in her face with a breath full of fire.  The flames did nothing before dissipating, but the first dragon was already looping around for a second attempt.

While tracking the creatures Blake tried to take control of the dream, but Lyla’s grasp was too strong - and growing stronger by the second.

Maybe she couldn’t control the dream, but she could add to it.

Instants before the dragons reached her, two giant phoenixes joined the fray - screaming from the skies as they latched their talons into the beasts and dragged them towards the ground.  While the creatures fought amongst themselves - and before Lyla had time to adjust - a third phoenix appeared and snatched her right out of the sky.

The second Blake heard a sound of distress, however, she loosened the bird’s claws - only to feel the object torn from her mind.  The next second she was thrown out of the dream, into the darkzone, and straight into another dream. She hardly had time to process the rapid change before she landed with a splash in a dark, murky swamp.

The moment she touched water, she shot into the air and barely avoided a resounding snap of jaws shutting where she’d just been.  Launching a counterattack, she formed miles and miles of ribbons and threw multiple strands Lyla’s way.  When Lyla easily dodged and laughed at the simple attack, Blake left her form behind and re-materialized out of Lyla’s view.

In the brief second Lyla failed to notice she was looking at nothing more than a shadow, Blake sent another flurry of ribbons that latched on and held tight.  Lyla’s surprise created a lapse - a brief flicker of shock that gave Blake the opportunity to regain control and force Lyla to the sidelines. While the dream continued on below them, Blake tightened the ropes - with Lyla fighting her the entire way.  

The longer she held on, the more vulnerable and accessible Lyla’s psyche became.  She could almost feel it now - Lyla’s resistance strangling away as the ropes pulled taunt.  If she held on a little longer - 

Then something unexpected happened.  The background suddenly collapsed in on itself, the sky folding into the swamp while everything else disappeared with a loud ‘pop.’  With no notice, the dream was destroyed, and the dreamer kicked out of the Dreamscape while the two of them were forced into the darkzone.

The unforeseen change made Blake pause, and Lyla instantly slipped away.  Where she went, Blake couldn’t tell, so she searched but did nothing else.  The effort of holding Lyla’s mind had exhausted her, and it hadn’t worked. Lyla was too strong to box in, and if she couldn’t do that...

She was running out of options.

When something lashed out from the shadows, she reacted too late.  Whatever it was, it latched into her subconscious and pulled - hard.  Her mind registered pain before she fell into another dream - this one nothing more than a blank, white canvas waiting to be painted.

The feeling subsided, but she felt the urge to curl up on the ground and hold her head.  It pounded now, as if mimicking what her heart would do in real life.

“Tired yet?” 

The question came from somewhere within the white, but she found nothing out of place.  Absorbed within the space herself, she tried to shake off the pain while also finding Lyla.  She didn’t know what Lyla did, but it hurt in a way it shouldn’t have.

When the environment began shifting colors - from white to blue to purple to green - Blake realized that she only had one option.  One trick up her sleeve - one more chance to make it out of here and put this fight to rest. It was dangerous, and it might not even work, but...she had no choice.  She wouldn’t survive this onslaught for much longer.

Focusing with the last of her energy, she created an image of Lyla - a copy that was as close to the real thing as possible, cane and all.  Then she created another one, a second copy just like the first. And then a third.

The color stopped shifting at an orange-yellow that looked like the sun.

“What are you doing?” Lyla asked, appearing near her clones before scowling when Blake created yet another.

She didn’t respond while creating as many clones as possible.  They agitated Lyla - especially their slightly hunched posture that reflected what others saw in real life.  They agitated her so much, she tried to take control over them - which was exactly what Blake wanted.

“I didn’t teach you everything.”

Lyla hadn’t yet digested the words when Blake shoved control of the clones into her hands, but not without first putting every single one of them into a dream.  The moment Lyla grabbed control - of herself, essentially - her eyes widened with realization, and Blake shoved away from the dream as hard as she could.

The effort tore her subconscious away from Lyla while pushing the girl into harmony with her duplicates - into a dream within a dream.

Jolting awake, Blake sat up and placed a hand over her hammering heart.  Her mind reeled from the sequence, and it would probably be quite some time before it slowed to a normal pace, but...she was out.  She was still in Weiss’ house, and Lyla was nowhere to be found.

“Are you ok?”

Looking over at Weiss, whose brow was furrowed in concern, Blake nodded and tried to put her thoughts into words.  She hadn’t even been sure it was possible, but it worked. And now, with Lyla trapped, they had time to find a permanent solution before someone went in to wake her up - if they ever decided to do that.  

“Where’s Yang?” she asked, noticing Yang’s conspicuous absence from the room.

“Where do you think she is?” Weiss responded in that dry tone she had.  Blake only needed to think about the question for a second before realization crept through her veins.

With Blake stuck in the dream, what was the first thing Yang would do?

“She went to find Lyla...” she whispered, her suspicion confirmed when Weiss nodded.  And, somehow, the knowledge only made her feel worse.

Of course Yang rushed off to save her.  Of course Yang sprang into action as soon as she was needed.  Of course...because Yang was the hero. She never thought twice about risking her life for others, even when the recipients didn’t deserve it.

“Might not matter now,” Blake muttered while rubbing her eyes and attempting a smile that felt half-hearted, at best.  

The mood of the room wasn’t celebratory.  Rather, Weiss and Ruby exchanged long looks before turning back to Blake.  They probably wanted a more detailed explanation than that, but she didn’t feel up for it at the moment.  What mattered most was that it was finally over. With Lyla trapped, they could sort through the damage she’d done and fix the mess Blake had created.

Before any of that happened, however, she needed to talk to Yang.  Things between them were strained, at best, and repairing their relationship was her number one priority.  But first...maybe she would finally rest. It had been months since she’d had a peaceful night’s sleep, and she was just...tired.  Her mind still felt spent from the sequence with Lyla, and she could still feel the remnants of pain from whatever Lyla did to her.

“I’ll let Yang know.”  Pulling out her phone, Weiss pushed a button before holding it to her ear and waiting.  Hardly a second passed before she said, “She’s awake.” After a short pause, her eyes flicked to Blake before moving away.  “Yes. Ok, good.”

Hanging up the call, Weiss put her phone away and looked at Ruby.  

“She found Lyla.”

Chapter Text

Yang didn’t return to Weiss’ house after finding Lyla, opting instead to head directly to the police station and start straightening everything out.  Ruby was quick to follow her sister back to work - the sense of duty never faltering in those two - while Weiss rushed to the office to ‘catch up on things.’

Faced with staying at Weiss’ house alone, Blake was relieved when a message from Yang finally arrived.  In the quick text, Yang told her to head to the department whenever she was ready, and that they’d see each other soon.

She still wore a holomask when she left the house and hurried to the nearest train station.  She didn’t know if she would ever leave home without one again, especially not when she didn’t know who Lyla was working for or what their resources might be.  While it was unlikely they had another theorist as talented as Lyla, they could have a wealth of very real, very dangerous employees at their disposal.

So, even though part of the nightmare had finally ended, she stuck to the shadows and kept her head down while making her way towards the train headed downtown.  Part of her had good reason to believe she would spend the rest of her life hiding, but another part of her hoped that the feeling would eventually fade away. Just like her intermittent shaking would hopefully fade away. 

She couldn’t tell if it was nerves, anxiety, or pent-up stress leaving her system, but small shudders passed through her every few minutes.  Maybe a part of her couldn’t believe it was over. All this time, she’d avoided meeting Lyla in the Dreamscape because she wasn’t sure she would survive the confrontation.  Now that it was over...now that Lyla was temporarily trapped within the confines of her own mind, she wasn’t sure how to feel.

Letting out a long, slow exhale, she curled her shaking fingers into fists while the train pulled away from the station.  This line would take her directly to the police station, where she and Yang could discuss the steps they’d take from here.

Honestly, she had no idea what to expect from that conversation.  She knew she had a lot of explaining and apologizing to do, and she wasn’t sure if Yang was willing to forgive her right now.  If not, she was ready and willing to spend the rest of her life re-earning Yang’s trust. But then the question became...did she deserve it?  

She wanted to think so.  Even if Yang forgave her, she would spend the rest of her life proving that this was nothing more than an anomaly.  Whatever Yang needed her to do to rebuild their relationship, she would do it. But it all started with this conversation.

When the train stopped at the station, she took a deep breath and watched the other passengers disembark before following them out.  A familiar sight greeted her just outside the doors - the always-lively entrance to the city’s largest police department.

Before meeting Yang, Blake never would have expected to spend so much of her life in a police station.  Of course, she also didn’t expect to fall head-over-heels in love with a detective who had a penchant for horrible lines and bad timing.  Ultimately, she loved visiting Yang at the department - not only to see her at work but also to absorb some of the frenetic energy she dealt with during the day.  The realm was completely different from Blake’s, but she enjoyed it nonetheless.

Today, the department loomed in front of her like another piece of the past she alternatively was and wasn’t ready to reclaim.  But, like so much else that had happened over the last few days, it didn’t matter if she was ready or not. All that mattered was the moment was here, now, and she had to move forward.

After joining the stream of people crossing the street, she split away from the crowd and walked through the sliding glass doors of the station.  Before entering the main lobby, however, she paused in the small holding area advising her to remove her holomask. For good reason, masks weren’t allowed inside, along with a host of other potentially dangerous or identity-obscuring technologies.  

She briefly considered asking Yang to meet her outside, but...eventually, she would have to move forward with her life.  Eventually, she would have to step out of the shadows, even if only for a few minutes at a time. So she took a deep breath, reached up, and removed the holomask from around her ear.  After slipping the device into her pocket, she walked inside - for the first time in a very long time - as herself.

Commotion and restless energy greeted her on the other side of the doors.  Patrolmen, detectives, and civilians walking in and out. A steady buzz of conversations - some held in whispers, others in raised, angry voices.  Everyone had their own reason for being here - be it by circumstance, by bad decision, or by sheer, dumb luck.

Fortunately, she chose to walk through the doors, and she chose to walk over to the front desk.  As soon as she recognized the familiar face behind the thick plate of glass, she knew this experience would be a taxing one.

“I’m here to see Detective Xiao Long,” she said, speaking clearly while wide eyes of recognition greeted her.  Although the woman looked like she wanted to comment on the ghost who just walked into the lobby, she merely nodded and stepped out from the reception area.

“She’s waiting for you.”

Motioning for Blake to follow, the woman moved over to the perpetually-locked door leading into the heart of the station.  This door, as Yang once bragged, was one of the most secure in the city, built to withstand any manner of explosions or hack attempts.  Rightfully so, as whoever walked through was that much closer to case evidence, supply lockers, and the holding cells for temporary arrests.

Ruby had designed and programmed the keypad, which was probably the most unhackable piece of equipment on the planet.  When the woman used it, however, she raised one hand to cover what she entered - an old, outdated habit meant to prevent Blake from learning how to access the system.  It was unnecessary and ineffective, but she said nothing while waiting for the door to open.

She knew the way to Yang’s office by heart but matched the woman’s leisurely pace for the sake of not appearing overzealous.  Although she wasn’t sure if overzealous described how she felt right now, as her pulse crept higher and her palms grew clammy.  Those weren’t symptoms of zealousness - those were symptoms of nerves or anxiety.

The moment they reached Yang’s office, she realized that she was nervous - and seeing Yang standing inside only amplified the feeling.  Yang’s back was turned to the door while she sorted through a stack of equipment behind her desk, but her attention quickly shifted when Blake’s escort knocked twice.

“Detective.  Your visitor is here.”

After briefly locking eyes with Blake, Yang turned towards the woman and smiled.

“Thanks, Jez.”

Saying nothing more, the woman left the office and closed the door behind her.  Her exit left silence in the room while the two of them stared at each other, neither seeming to know where to start.

“Hey,” Yang said first, the effort behind the word looking almost too much for her to bear.  That was all Blake needed to understand just how strained things were between them - the result of spending too much time apart with too many secrets stuck in between them.

“Hey,” she replied with a forced smile.  “How are things going here?”

“It’s...crazy.”  Shaking her head, Yang collapsed into her chair and gestured for Blake to sit across from her.  “Between Ruby and I coming back from the ‘dead’ and Dreamscapes gone wrong...no one knows what to think.”

“But you got her, right?”

“In processing as we speak, but it’s kind of hard to process someone who’s basically in a coma.”

Blake felt a small amount of relief at the answer, but that feeling flitted away when Yang’s expression grew uneasy.

“I don’t know if we have enough to hold her, Blake,” she said, her voice edging towards a whisper.  “I grabbed whatever was on her machine, but…‘dream crimes’ aren’t exactly a thing. I don’t think we can use anything she admitted to while dreaming.”

Just like that, Blake’s fear and worry returned full force.  

“Maybe she left something linking her to what happened?” she offered.  “Phone records or conversations or...something?”

“Ruby’s already working on it, but we might need to prepare ourselves for her not being charged and just laying in the hospital until she wakes up.”

Sitting back in her chair, Blake tried to think of a solution to the problem that had always tickled at the back of her mind - proof.  What proof did she have? Lyla never participated in the crimes directly, opting instead to send her unwitting minions to do the dirty work.  The only thing she did was create and test a new technology with the help of a group of interns - that was it.

“It’s ok,” Blake replied, trying to convince herself as much as Yang.  “She shouldn’t wake up unless someone finds her in the dream and knows how to wake her up.”

“She’s a vegetable until then?”

“Essentially.  We have a bigger problem though - she was working with someone, and I have no idea who.  Whoever it is, they’re powerful enough to convince her to go along with their plans.”

Taking a few seconds to digest that knowledge, Yang sighed and rubbed her eyes.

“We grabbed her phone and every piece of equipment she had with her.  Hopefully, we find some answers after scrubbing through it.”

It was a start, and it was more than Blake had to go off of.

“What about the Daydreamers?”  When Blake stilled at the term, Yang carried on.  “They won’t work, right? You broke them so they won’t work?”

For a second, Blake considered glossing over the answer.  But when she and Yang were already on thin ice in the ‘withholding information’ department, it didn’t feel right to keep even more knowledge from her.

“I developed a section of the network link without anyone’s help…” she explained while slightly fidgeting in her chair.  “That’s what I removed. Without it, Daydreamer can’t connect the way they want, and it should take a while before anyone can recreate it without my help.”

“You mean ‘remove’ like you deleted it?  It’s gone for good?”

“I deleted it,” she replied.  When Yang raised her brow, Blake nodded in confirmation.  “It’s gone, completely. I’m the only one who should remember it.”

Leaning back in her chair, Yang sighed and nodded once.

“Good.  At least that’s one less thing we have to worry about.  For now, I’ll try to stall processing and keep Lyla here as long as possible.  Eventually, they’ll transfer her to the med center, where we hope no one knows how to wake her up.”

Ideally, they would put Lyla in a cell where, even if she woke up, she couldn’t get out.  Releasing her to the general hospital meant that anyone could visit and potentially figure out how to break her out of the dream.  Unfortunately, it sounded like Blake would have to accept that future and the risks that came with it.

“Thank you...I know you’ll do your best.”

“That’s the most I can do,” Yang replied with another tired smile.  

With their plan of action settled, a temporary silence settled over the room - silence that further underscored the issues between them.  And, now that they had a few minutes to breathe, maybe it was time to acknowledge those problems rather than sweep them under the rug.

“Before we do that,” Blake began, feeling her anxiousness return but knowing she couldn’t avoid this much longer.  “Can we talk?”

“About?”

“About...us?”

Yang’s sigh wasn’t a good sign.  Neither was the way she shook her head and leaned away.

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

“I guess...tell me how you feel?”  At this point, Blake needed to know what was going through Yang’s head - how else could she alleviate worries if she didn’t know exactly what Yang was worried about?

“I don’t...I don’t know how to feel.  This entire thing has just been…” Trailing off, Yang’s gaze unfocused for several seconds before she shook her head and looked at her hands.  “After everything that happened...how can I trust you?”

“I was trying to protect you...”

Blake knew it was the wrong thing to say when Yang looked up with an exasperated gaze.

“By leaving me?  Lying to me? Only coming back when my life was in danger?”  Yang shook her head and scoffed at the sequence of events. “You never trusted me - why should I trust you?”

For a second, Blake just sat there - stunned - her heart cracking when the words had their intended effect.  She’d known she was making a hard decision and that Yang would be mad at her, but she tried to make the most of a bad situation.  She thought Yang would understand that…

“I’m sorry…”  That wasn’t the first time she uttered the apology, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last.  “I’m sorry you feel like I didn’t trust you with this. I trust you more than anyone else in the world, Yang.  You’re the most important person in my life, which was why...why I couldn’t bear the thought of losing you.”

She’d hoped the words would have an impact, but Yang still looked uncertain and unhappy while staring at her hands.

“Yang, I love you,” Blake added, leaning forward and willing Yang to look at her.

“I…I love you too, but…”

As soon as Yang said that one, tiny word, tears sprang into Blake’s eyes and pain overcame every bit of her.  When she reached for Yang’s hand, desperate for reassurance from the person she loved, Yang pulled away, clearly wanting no type of connection between them.  

After all that time apart, Blake thought she understood the agony of losing someone she loved, but she didn’t.  Not even close. She always thought she would have a chance to win Yang back - to prove that she was better than the mistakes she made - but now…

“I think maybe...it’s best if we...take a break.”  Yang refused to meet Blake’s gaze while knocking the air right out of her lungs.  “Just…gain some perspective. Figure things out.” 

“What?”  The word fell past Blake’s lips in a single breath while her mind raced and her heart pounded in her chest.  “You...you want to break up?”

“Not…”  Taking a deep breath, Yang clenched her fists and shook her head - still refusing to meet Blake’s eyes.  “I just think...we should take some time and...figure out how we feel.”

To Blake, that sounded very much like a breakup.  At least, that sounded like the perfect, non-confrontational way to lead to a breakup.  How could she earn Yang’s forgiveness and trust if they weren’t speaking? She couldn’t.  Surely, Yang knew that.

Before Blake could even attempt a response, two knocks on the door preceded a tall, handsome officer walking into the room.  Without so much as a glance at Blake, he rushed over to Yang - who stood to greet him and was immediately wrapped in a big hug.  After lifting Yang’s feet right off the floor, he eventually set her down and smiled at her.

“I’m so glad you’re ok,” he said while gently rubbing Yang’s arm.  “Do you need anything?” 

“No,” Yang replied with a small smile.  “I’m good. Just...ready for this to be over.”

Seeing the two of them together, Blake felt another emotion join her disbelief and heartbreak - jealousy.  That feeling only grew when Yang glanced at her and finally moved away.

“Blake, you remember Casey, right?”

“How could I forget?” Blake replied, hearing the pain in her voice while looking at the two - the perfect couple.

Of course she remembered Casey - Officer Collins - the attractive new officer who looked like the picturesque version of a man in uniform.  He was the boy next door - the sweetheart any girl would die to have.

She knew his intentions the first time they met.  She saw the way he looked at Yang - the way he gravitated towards her and did anything to make her smile.  She never worried because she trusted Yang completely, but now…what if Lyla was right?

“Give us a second?” Yang asked, giving Casey another small smile when he nodded and walked out of the room.  Blake noticed the gaze he cast in her direction when he passed, and found it incredibly ironic that he was the one wary and suspicious of her.

“Is that the real reason you want to break up?”  

Blake heard the hurt in her voice but did nothing to conceal it.  Standing up and straightening her shoulders, she tried to swallow around the lump of emotion growing in her throat.

“He has nothing to do with this,” Yang replied, raising her hands as if at a loss for what to say.  “He’s...helped me. Through your ‘death,’ through trying to scrape together some semblance of a normal life…”  After taking a deep breath, Yang finally looked up. “He’s been a good friend to me,” she whispered as tears grew in her eyes.  “Don’t try to blame this on him. He’s not the one who ran away instead of telling me the truth.”

“You think I wanted any of that?  You think I wanted to leave you - my life?  I didn’t have a choice.”

“There’s always a choice, Blake.”

When Yang looked down and wiped her eyes, Blake tried to make sense of what was happening.  Her heart felt like it was bleeding - like someone just stabbed her and left her to die. This wasn’t how this was supposed to end...they weren’t supposed to end.  That’s what they promised each other time and time again - forever, eternity, no matter what life threw their way.  Not...not this...

“Yang...you know I love you.  You know I’d do anything for you -”  

When Yang crossed her arms - another barrier in between them - Blake stopped talking and heard a small, strangled breath slip through her lips.  She didn’t want to cry in the police station, but the way Yang avoided eye contact and lightly clenched her fists...

“Leave, Blake,” Yang finally said, looking up with tears and determination in her eyes.  “Just leave.”

Just like that, Blake felt her own tears spring into her eyes while she gasped for breath.  She didn’t want to believe this was happening, but it felt like her heart could stop beating right then and there.

“Yang -” she tried one last time, begging for another chance to prove that everything she did was because she loved Yang so damn much.  But when Yang shook her head, unyielding in the face of her tears, she realized that she had no choice but to do as instructed. There was no point in pleading her case for the hundredth time.  Not when it was clear that forgiveness wouldn’t be granted, no matter how hard she was willing to work for it.

“Ok,” she whispered instead.  Looking at the floor, she wiped her eyes and tried to compose herself enough for the walk out of the station.  Before she left, however, she looked at Yang one more time - praying for any shred of hope. Instead, she found perfect lilac eyes telling her to go.

Turning towards the door, she knew that the look would haunt her for the rest of her life.  Perfect lilac eyes…

Spinning around, she found Yang still staring at her, still on the verge of tears.  And her eyes were still the same shade of lilac they’d always been.

The exact same shade...

“No,” Blake said, her firmness growing with every second Yang’s eyes didn’t change their hue.

“No?”  Yang tilted her head as her tears quickly faded and annoyance flitted across her face.

“I’m not leaving.”  Expanding her mind, Blake breathed a sigh of relief when she found the edge of the room and confirmed her suspicions.  “Because this isn’t real. Nice try, Lyla.”

The game was up, and Yang scowled.  Blake tried to pull the rug out from under the nightmare, but control of the environment immediately tore away from her.  

Yang drew her weapon at the same time Blake upended the desk and ducked.  Phaser fire burned past her ear before she locked a heavy vice around Yang’s hand - the weight of which dragged her arm to the floor before the vision of her disappeared.

“You should’ve just gone into the transit center, Blake.”

Another copy of Yang appeared - this time behind Blake - and swung a metal-enforced fist towards her head.  The fist met a floating section of brick wall, which crumbled under the force. Withdrawing her arm, Yang brushed pieces of crushed brick from her knuckles and snarled.

“You should’ve just died when you were supposed to.”

Knowing that Lyla was using Yang as a distraction, Blake grabbed control of the environment and flipped the office upside down.  Everything - Yang included - toppled towards the used-to-be ceiling, only to be sucked out into space when she removed the walls and created a vacuum.  With the room empty, she searched for Lyla. She could feel her nearby...

A metal arm suddenly lowered in front of her face and tightened around her neck.  Out of instinct, she grabbed at the arm and tried to relieve the pressure cutting off her ability to breathe - that’s when she felt the too-smooth plating under her fingertips.

Textures were always hard to get right, and this was no different.  She knew Yang’s arm like a piece of herself. She knew every scratch, every dent - and she knew that this wasn’t Yang.

Focusing her mind, Blake flashed ten feet to the side - leaving Yang hanging onto nothing.  Visibly annoyed, Yang dropped her arms and stalked over.

“Give up, Blake,” she said, her tone sounding just like Yang while her expression was unlike any Blake had ever seen.  “You know you can’t beat me. I surpassed you years ago.”

Blake ignored Yang to the best of her ability - a difficult feat when Yang’s presence was more distracting than most.  When Yang reached her, she moved aside as another fearsome blow whipped past her head.  

Then she found Lyla, hiding in the background while watching the show play out.

Grabbing ahold of Lyla’s mind, Blake tore her from the shadows and forced her into the open.  As soon as that happened, Yang disappeared and Lyla appeared in her place with that same scowl set in place.

“You really thought I didn’t know that one?”  Unperturbed by being removed from her hiding place, Lyla shook her head and gave Blake a pitying look.  “I figured that out ages ago. A dream within a dream - how would the dreamer ever escape? Too bad it doesn’t work.”

“Yes, that’s too bad,” Blake answered, watching Lyla pace back and forth while trying to figure out what to do next.  

If that theory hadn’t worked, what option did Blake have now?  Lyla was better at creating and controlling environments. It wouldn’t be long before she crafted something so ingenuitive, Blake fell into the trap and perished.  She couldn’t let that happen. If this was the end for her, she had to take Lyla too. Lyla was too dangerous to be allowed into anyone else’s mind ever again.

“One last chance, Lyla,” she said, knowing the words were a bluff but hoping Lyla might fall for them anyway.  “Tell me what your plan is and who you’re working for, and we’ll both leave here alive.”

Her bluff was immediately called when Lyla scoffed.

“We have the capability to spend an indefinite amount of time in a dream, and you think I want to leave.”  Lyla shook her head.  “I’ll leave once you’re dead.  I’ll re-write the network link myself, then I’ll create the future of our miserable world.”

While Lyla spoke of the future, Blake searched for a weakness in the dream - any chink in the armor that she could exploit - but she found nothing.

“You’re making a mistake.”

“Says the one on the losing side of this war,” Lyla spit out.  “I’ll be the one creating heaven for those who deserve it, and hell for those who don’t.  Guess which group your merry band of followers belongs in?”

Blocked at every turn, Blake finally realized there was no way out.  Lyla was too strong, too capable, too determined.  

Deep down, Blake had always suspected it would come to this, but she’d hoped for another answer.  After months of fruitless searching, she was right back where she started - a solution that would put Lyla away for good, at a great cost.

She didn’t even know if it would work, but she knew she had to try.  The only option was this, or...there wasn’t another option. She wouldn’t let Lyla out of here to hurt Yang.  She wouldn’t let Lyla get close to Ruby or Weiss. Even if that meant she never saw any of them again.

With the decision made, a stream of acceptance flowed through her veins.  She should’ve done this earlier, but her selfishness stood in the way of making this sacrifice.  She wanted to reclaim her life with Yang. She wanted to carry on as if she’d never created a monster.

Lyla was her monster.  And, instead of ending this immediately, she ran to the farthest reaches of the globe and hoped for a magical solution that kept her life intact and cleaned up her mistake.  Her absence only allowed the problem to fester - to grow unchecked, wild, and out of control.

This ended today.  And she was okay with the outcome.  Because Yang deserved better. She deserved to live a long, happy life with someone far better than Blake.  Someone who didn’t make such horrible mistakes. Or, at the very least, someone who owned up to them.

Reversing course, Blake stopped searching for a way out.  Instead, she dove into the dream. She buried herself deep within the layers creating the thin walls around them, surrounding herself in the concept of being before pressing more and more layers down upon them.

This wasn’t a dream - this was everything.  The weight of it was real. The textures were real.  The sounds, the smells, the sights - she believed them to be real, and kept adding and adding to the pile growing on top of them.

Sensing the change, Lyla grimaced and looked at the ceiling, which bowed under the weight pressed upon them.  But Blake kept on building. Nothing but nonsense. Nothing but slabs upon slabs of irrelevant material with no purpose except to keep them here.

“What -”

The environment grew dark and heavy.  Moving felt like molasses. Her mind protested - like a brain being deprived of oxygen - but she pressed even further.

She accepted this end.  She accepted that she deserved this.  She accepted that this was real - the air was real air.  The walls were real walls. And the exit...well, there was no exit, but that was ok.

“What are you doing??” Lyla shouted, struggling against the oppressive weight bearing down on them.  

Still, Blake didn’t stop.  She threw herself into the emotions she’d held at bay for so long, allowing them to overcome her and spur her onward.  This was what guilt felt like. This was what sorrow felt like. And this was where the two of them would remain for the rest of their lives.  There was no escaping this, because there was nothing to escape.

This was real.

Finally letting up, Blake breathed a sigh of relief and looked around the world - dark and dreary - before finding Lyla.  Lyla no longer had control over the dream, because it wasn’t a dream. And she looked ready to spit fire at the sudden change in power.

“What did you do?” she demanded once again.  Smiling at the question, Blake closed her eyes and sighed.  She felt horrible and free at the same time.

“I buried us.” 

Knowing they had all the time in the world - or, at least, all the time that was left - she elaborated on the answer.  

“I’ve accepted that I’m never leaving this place.  This is my new reality - and it always will be. Unfortunately, that means you’re stuck here with me.  Because I’m not dreaming anymore. And if I’m not dreaming, there’s no way for you to get out.”

For a second - shock.  Then sparks of anger flashed through Lyla’s eyes.

“You - did - what,” she got out through gritted teeth.

“I trapped you here.”  Looking around again, Blake sighed at the oppressive weight and dreariness.  “I trapped both of us here.”

When Lyla looked at an utter loss for words, Blake shook her head and smiled.  

“I thought you always wanted to live in a dream, Lyla.”

That comment pushed Lyla over the top, and she screamed before turning around and fighting against the environment holding her in.  

Watching the tirade, Blake felt a small measure of success.  Her theory had been right. She’d always wondered but kept it to herself for fear that the interns would try it themselves.  If only she’d been so careful with her other findings...

“Why would you do this??” Lyla yelled.  “Now you’re never going home!”

“You made it clear that I wasn’t, anyway,” Blake pointed out.  “What did I have to lose?”

“You’ll never see her again.”  

Lyla didn’t need to use a name - Blake was already well aware of who she was referring to.

“She’ll be just fine without me.” 

Surprisingly, Blake smiled at the thought, because she knew it was true.  Yang was resilient in ways that few gave her credit for. From her arm, to her job, to her family, she persevered when others crumbled.  She would make it through this just fine, and be all the wiser for it.

Yang was now Blake’s dream, not her reality - as it probably always should have been. 

“You gave up.”

“No,” Blake replied with a shake of her head.  “I finally made my decision.”

After spending so long trying to find a way out of this mess, she’d accepted the inevitable conclusion.  She’d wanted so badly to reclaim the life she once had, but that could never happen. Trusting Lyla was an error in judgement that deserved this ending, and holding onto Yang was greedy and selfish.  Blake had to let her go.

“You realize this will only slow us down,” Lyla replied in a huff.  “It won’t stop us. They’ll find someone else who can break in just like I did.  It’s only a matter of time before the Daydreamer network is up and operational.”

“That sounds like a problem for everyone else.”

Lyla looked so taken aback and shocked by this sudden change, Blake almost felt bad.  But...she also knew that no one deserved this more than Lyla Webb.

“What’s the first thing we learn about dream theory?” 

“Not to believe what you see -” 

“Before that - what’s the very first thing we learn?” 

When Lyla had no response, Blake sighed and shook her head.  

“Be careful,” she said, repeating the instructions of the first instructor she’d ever had.  “Our minds are exceptionally powerful, and exceptionally fragile. You may think you have control, but you never do - and you never will.”

A dream wasn’t the place for cockiness or hubris - both of which Lyla possessed too much of.  Control was one thing, but power was another beast entirely.

Still at a loss for words, Lyla stared at Blake for several long seconds before turning around and stalking away.  Blake watched her go, knowing there was nothing out there but nothing, nothing, and more nothing. But good luck to her and whatever she hoped to find.  While she railed against her new reality, Blake was content to stay here and wait for the end to arrive.

It could be weeks, months, or years, but she knew it would feel even longer while trapped here.  For two people used to utilizing their minds in a million different ways at once, the sluggish, dull void was relieving and torturous at the same time.  But...eventually, it would be over. Eventually, they could both rest.

She never thought she would be so at peace with this decision, but she was.  After grasping at straws trying to claw her way out of this mess, everything ended up as it was meant to be.  

Even though she fought as hard as she could, it was still just her and Lyla at the end.  The two of them had launched the technology of dreaming into a new realm; it made sense that finding another capability would be the last thing they ever did.

The only wish Blake had was for Yang to forgive her.  It didn’t have to be today, or tomorrow, or even this year.  But hopefully, one day, Yang would realize that Blake did what she felt she had to do.  If there had been another option - one that allowed them to stay together - 

Well, it didn’t matter very much now.  

The nightmare was finally over.

Chapter Text

“What do you need my help with?”

Gripping the steering wheel so hard that it creaked in protest, Yang eased up her grasp and tried to explain the situation in a way Casey could understand.

“Long story short - one of Dreamscape’s theorists hacked the system and is brainwashing people.  She got a bunch of interns to kidnap me, and now she’s trying to kill Blake in a dream.”

“...what?  Brainwashing people?  Wait - Blake? But isn’t she -?”

“Really no time for this.”  After hitting the breaks and sliding around the corner, Yang floored it down the next street.  “I’m looking for Dr. Lyla Webb - early thirties, light brown hair, green eyes, walks with a limp, but is extremely dangerous around a Dreamscape.  We need to find her as soon as possible.”

“We can put out an APB -”

“No,” she interrupted.  “I’m not sure who to trust right now, which is why I only called you.”

“Ok…”  

The pause on the other end of the call gave Yang reason to worry.  He probably thought she was crazy. Maybe he was calling her in right now -

“Yes.  Of course I’ll help - Redd too - just tell us where to go.”

Breathing a sigh of relief, Yang felt a pinprick of hope appear.  With Casey’s help, maybe they had a chance. Maybe they could end the sequence before something bad happened to Blake.

“Ruby will send you some addresses.”  Accelerating around a line of cars stopped at a traffic light, she blew through the intersection and spotted her first location up ahead.  Nothing more than a regular apartment building, but she didn’t expect Lyla to hide somewhere conspicuous.

“Ruby’s with you too??”

“Long story - just radio me the second you find anything.”

“You got it.”

After the car screeched to a stop in front of the building, Yang jumped out and sprinted into the lobby.

“Ruby,” she spoke towards the microphone in her hand while racing into the stairwell.  “I’m at the first address. Send some of the others to Casey - he’ll check them out.”

“You got it.”

Two flights of stairs later, she found herself in front of apartment thirty-seven.  Against her better judgment, she rang the bell and waited.

And waited.

Just as she was considering breaking down the door, she heard slow footsteps padding towards her.  A few seconds later, a young man pulled it open while rubbing the sleep out of his eyes.

“Hel...lo.  Wow.” Blinking several times, he rubbed his eyes again before smiling.  “Uh, hi. Is this my lucky morning or what?”

“Depends - are you going to let me in so I can look for someone?”  When Yang flashed her digital badge from her arm, his eyes widened.  “It’s very important and very time sensitive,” she prodded when he didn’t immediately respond.  Fortunately, he quickly stepped aside and motioned her through the doorway.

“Hot and a cop?”  Following as she rushed into the apartment, he seemed to have no issues with her searching every room.  “Maybe someone did slip something in my drink last night…”

Ignoring his rambles, Yang swept the apartment as fast as possible.  The living room was a mess, the kitchen was a mess, and the entire apartment reeked of alcohol.  Another young man was asleep on the sofa, so deeply asleep that he didn’t even stir when she hurried past him towards the bedrooms.

“You’re probably looking for my roommate,” the first boy commented while Yang quietly opened a bedroom door and found another sleeping boy and accompanying girl asleep inside - no Dreamscape.

“He’s always in trouble...wouldn’t surprise me at all.”

Yang checked the second bedroom, which was empty.  As was the third.  

Out of bedrooms, she flashed a smile and rushed back to the door.  

“Nope, not him.  Thank you.”

She didn’t bother closing the front door while sprinting back to the staircase and hurrying down to the waiting vehicle.  It unlocked when she got close enough, allowing her to jump inside and immediately set off for the next address.

“First one’s a dud,” she told Ruby while racing through the streets.  Traffic was picking up now that the day was beginning. Pretty soon, most of the city would be awake and heading to work, making this search even more difficult.

Receiving a second call, she glanced at the caller before tapping her fingers to answer.

“Just got the first address.  No one here but an elderly couple.” 

“Dammit.”  Nearly missing her turn, she slammed on the brakes and jerked the steering wheel left to cut between two opposing lanes of traffic.  “Try the next one.”  

“On it.”

“Ruby,” Yang said as soon as Casey dropped off.  “You need to narrow these down.”

“I’m trying!  I can’t just snap my fingers, you know.  This stuff takes time!”

“We don’t have time,” Yang stressed before swerving around a car backing onto the street in front of her.  With hardly a pause, she accelerated and continued her path. “Weiss?” 

There was too much traffic, or the addresses were too far apart, or both.  This was taking too much time. Time they didn’t have.

“Weiss?” she asked again when she didn’t get an answer.

“She’s still sleeping,” Weiss finally replied.  “But...something’s wrong. Her breathing is really shallow, and her hands are getting cold.”

Fear raced through Yang’s veins while every alarm she had started ringing - loudly.

“Can you take her pulse?” 

“I have.  It’s low and slipping.  I don’t know what it is - she’s fine, but she’s fading.”

Yang didn’t need more explanation than that.  It shouldn’t be possible, but dream theorists constantly made the impossible possible.  And with two theorists as talented as Blake and Lyla…

If Lyla won - if Blake died -

Yang regretted every doubt she voiced in Blake last night.  She regretted not fully embracing Blake’s return. She regretted everything, everything she did that wasn’t telling Blake how much she loved her.  Because she loved Blake so fucking much - it couldn’t end this way.  It wouldn’t. Not if she had anything to say about it. 

Spotting the abandoned building occupying the next address, her adrenaline doubled while she coaxed the engine even faster.  

Empty, rundown street.  Very few pedestrians. Broken streetlights.  Taped-over cameras. If she was looking for a spot to hole up with a Dreamscape and go after an ex-colleague, this was it.

But the building was dark, and it looked like no signs of life had been here for quite some time.  Still, her pulse quickened when she stopped the car and hurried to the front door.  

One of the windows was broken, but the door was locked - a rudimentary lock that she snapped off with a twist of her wrist before tossing it into the bushes.  With the door now open, caution won out as she pushed forward and snuck inside.

“Light,” she whispered, clenching her fist before a beam of light came from the palm of her hand.  Aiming it ahead of her, she swept the entryway just like she’d been trained, searching every corner for signs of life before continuing further into the building.  Normally, she’d have a phaser in her free hand, but that wasn’t an option today. Instead, she remained on high alert, realizing that any attack meant she would immediately lose her source of light.

The entryway and two rooms branching off of it were empty.  Empty of life but overflowing with trash, forcing her to choose her steps carefully to avoid making too much noise.  The staircase leading upstairs, however, would be impossible to traverse silently. 

The building must be a relic from the old times because its wooden interior was rotting out to match.  Several of the steps already sported broken boards, and the rest looked one step away from snapping underfoot.  

Sticking close to the wall, she scurried up the steps, keeping her footsteps as light as possible to minimize the duration of the creaking.  As soon as she made it to the upstairs landing, she again searched every corner for life.

Then she heard something.

Nothing more than a shuffle of fabric sliding across the floor, but in the silent house it stood out like a shout.  The hairs on the back of her neck stood on end while she crept towards the sound, which had come from behind a partially-open door on one side of the landing.  Kneeling down right outside, she held her breath and listened.

Soft, small movements.  Shallow breathing. But not much else.  And she didn’t have time for more reconnaissance than that.

Shoving the door open and striding inside, she pointed her light in the direction of the sound while her muscles coiled in preparation of a fight.

The junkie lying on the floor groaned and covered his eyes when the beam of light hit him.  The other two occupants of the room didn’t even acknowledge her presence. From the stack of spent cartridges on the ground, she understood why - they were all stoned out of their minds.  

Ignoring them, she searched the rest of the room, found nothing, and hurried out.  She didn’t bother silencing her footsteps anymore while racing through the other rooms and finding nothing but more garbage and more evidence of drugs.

“Ruby, there’s nothing here.”  

Spinning in a circle in the last room, Yang searched for anything worth mentioning.  Empty, empty, empty. Another dead end. With nothing else to see, she raced back to the car and tore off for the third address.

“Send in a tip on that location,” she said while racing through the streets.  “It’s a drug house.” 

When Ruby swore under her breath, Yang did her best to remain calm.  Or as calm as possible. She couldn’t drive any faster. Ruby couldn’t work any faster.  They just had to pray Blake could hold on long enough to give them a chance. She had to give them a chance.  Somehow.

A soft chime announced the arrival of an audio clip, which she immediately played.

“Just got to the second address - no one here.  Heading to the third location now.”

Desperation clawed at her chest, but she did her best to breathe normally.  She reminded herself that Blake was one of the best dream theorists out there.  Regardless of how good Lyla was, Blake could hold her own.

Still, she couldn’t escape the feeling of dread that Blake’s last words had instilled in her.  She knew, deep in her soul, that Blake would sacrifice herself to end this, to ‘repent’ for her wrongs.

Yang couldn’t let that happen.

“Ha!” Ruby suddenly exclaimed, making Yang jump in surprise.  “I hijacked some drones! I’m sending them to the other locations now - starting at the bottom working up.”

However small, the words were a relief.  Any extra set of eyes would help. Plus, the drones could tear through the skies a lot faster than Yang could tear through the streets.

Still, she made it to the third destination in no time, skidding to a stop in front of another apartment building that looked no different from the first.  Wasting no time running inside, she found the right apartment on the ground floor and rang the bell.

The first clue that this wasn’t the right place was the childlike voice coming from within.  Still, she had to check. She had to make absolutely sure that Lyla wasn’t here.

When a young girl, no more than seven, opened the door, her heart sank.  But she threw on a smile and knelt down so they were at the same eye level.

“Hey there,” she said, trying to slow her rapid breathing from the sprint here.  “My name’s Detective Xiao Long - I work with the police department. Are your parents around?”

“Violet?”

The little girl turned around as her mother walked towards the door.  Standing up, Yang smiled again and flashed the badge Ruby built into her arm.

“Detective Xiao Long,” she repeated.  “It’s - uh, it’s important that I check your apartment really quick.  I’m just - looking for a...friend.”

With the little girl watching closely, Yang didn’t want to raise alarm if she didn’t have to.  Fortunately, Violet’s mother caught on quickly, pulling her daughter close and motioning Yang inside.

“Please stay here,” she said before hurrying into the living room. 

A child’s cartoon show played on the video screen, and a set of blocks were arranged on the floor.  Spotting nothing of interest, she poked her head into the kitchen and saw nothing but some dishes on the table before heading towards the bedrooms.  There were three doors - two open and one closed.  

The rooms with open doors were empty, but she put her ear to the door of the third room before quietly turning the knob and pushing it open a crack.  The room was dark, but the light of the hallway illuminated a bed and a single person sleeping. A Dreamscape sat on the nightstand, but in the bed was a teenage boy - not who she was looking for.

“Ruby,” she spoke into her hand while rushing back to the front door.  “She’s not here either.”

“I’m trying to narrow it down, but she’s scrambled everything.  Doesn’t exactly make it easy to track her.”

“Thank you,” Yang told the woman standing by the door.  “Everything’s ok - nothing’s out of place.”

Once the woman looked relieved, Yang flashed another smile and hurried outside.  With each subsequent address revealing nothing, her hopelessness and sense of defeat grew.  She knew that, if given enough time, she and Ruby could find anyone.  It didn’t matter how well they covered their tracks or how much their masked their identity - they would be picked up eventually.

The problem was that they didn’t have time.  In a life-or-death situation, every second mattered, and they were wasting far too many seconds chasing dead ends.

“Wait,” Ruby suddenly said while Yang set off for yet another address.  “Every Dreamscape has a backup energy source, right? So they run even if the power goes out?”

“I think so,” Weiss answered, her tone sounding far too worried for Yang’s liking.  “A failsafe to prevent sudden disconnects.”

“So if the power goes out, I should be able to pick up any Dreamscape still running.”

“Ruby...please tell me you’re not about to do what I think you are.”  Silence took over the call - Ruby too busy following her idea to answer.  

“Ruby,” Weiss repeated in a firmer voice.  “You said you don’t know what it will do.”

“Yeah, but…”

When Yang turned the next corner, everything suddenly went dark.  The street lights went off. Lighted signs flickered to black. Even the cars on the street went into safe mode before coasting to a stop.

Before panic set in, however, everything lit up again.  The only evidence that anything out of the ordinary happened were the pedestrians looking around and actually taking time to talk to one another to confirm their eyes hadn’t just played a trick on them.

“What just happened?”  Regaining control of the vehicle, Yang sped around several cars that were slow to start back up.  Weiss’ answer was a heavy sigh.

“She just EMP’d the city...” 

“Did not!  I power cycled a few neighborhoods, and now I have a map of every Dreamscape that’s currently on.  Just need to cross reference...” A second later, a location pinged on Yang’s map. “There! That’s her - she’s got to be there.”

“Are you sure?” Yang asked, glancing at the address before focusing on the road.

“As sure as I’ll ever be.”

That was good enough for her.

Slamming on the brakes, she jerked the wheel hard to the right, throwing the car into a slide before stomping on the accelerator and booking it in the opposite direction.  She hardly saw the buildings and cars flying past, her eyes always trained forward while following the highlighted path.

“Do you realize how illegal that was?” Weiss scolded Ruby while Yang cut through the streets, driving as if her life depended on it.

“Yeah, but...I know a good attorney.” 

“You’re going to need one...”

As soon as Yang saw the next address - an apartment building in a burgeoning tech hub - her adrenaline and anxiety kicked into high gear.  The streets in this neighborhood were already redone, with lights embedded in the pavement, while every storefront glowed with the promise of the ‘next great thing.’

This was where Lyla decided to hide - Yang could feel it now.  Everything about it made sense. The concentration of both people and technology minimized suspicion because everyone behaved suspiciously here.  Holomasks were the norm. Voice modulation was prevalent.  Even the stores accepted those untraceable credits created to keep buyers ‘off the grid.’

Leaving the car one more time, she rushed towards the front entrance while dialing Casey. 

“I think we found her - meet at my location.”

“Got it.”

As soon as she ended the call, she sent him the location of her beacon and ran through the door - only to be immediately stopped by a security bot.

“Identification, please.” 

Instinct told her to shove past the barrier, but she knew the inconspicuous-looking bot packed enough punch to knock her out if she didn’t comply.  So she stopped and flashed her holobadge in its face.

“Detective Xiao Long,” she said, and the machine backed down and moved out of her way.

“What can I assist with, Detective?” 

“I need access to Apartment Seventeen.” 

“I’m sorry, but that tenant has specifically requested no visitors, regardless of credentials.”

Gritting her teeth at the response, Yang pointed to a spot on the floor.

“Stay here and wait for my backup,” she instructed before running to the staircase and up to the third floor.  As if she needed more confirmation that Ruby found the right place - denying police entry was an offense in and of itself.  The renter of this apartment really didn’t want to be disturbed, and she was about to find out why.

The locks on every door were more advanced than most of the buildings she visited, but the one outside Apartment Seventeen had been upgraded.  Fingerprint, retina, passcode, probably voice check and secondary authentication via memory chip. Whoever was here really didn’t want visitors.

Unlike with the lock in Taven Bishop’s room, however, she had more than enough assistance with her - in the form of the coding overrides Ruby had programmed into her arm.  Like having a mini-Ruby right there beside her, she set her hand on the lock and watched her palm glow red while Ruby’s work set in motion. A hundred million different algorithms analyzed the device and located its weaknesses, then systematically overrode the security or, if that didn’t work, pulled it apart.

The instant the lock screen flashed green, she tore the door open and rushed inside.  Quickly scanning every corner of the entryway, she found no threats or signs of life. Same was true of the living room and attached kitchen - clean and orderly, but empty.

The furniture matched the bare, white walls.  Fresh flowers sat in a vase on the table. The lights were on, but there were no personal effects of any kind.  No dishes left in the sink. No slides or memory chips discarded on the countertops. It looked exactly like the advertisements for spec apartments rented out by the day - fully-furnished getaways for those looking for a short-term place to stay.

It was also quiet, with not a sound to be heard outside of the pounding of her heart in her ears.

After confirming the living room and kitchen were empty, she crept down the hallway leading to several rooms.  The first door was open - the restroom, again without any personal effects. The second door was also open - an empty bedroom that didn’t look like it had ever been used.  The third door was nearly closed but not quite latched.

Taking a deep breath just outside, she knelt by the floor and listened for sounds.  Again, nothing. At least, nothing she could hear. While staying low to the floor, she pushed the door open and peeked inside.  

Her heart raced through her chest the instant she spotted Lyla laying on the bed inside.  A cane rested against the wall by the bed, and a Daydreamer sat on the nightstand, but it was her - she was here.

“Ruby,” Yang whispered into her hand.  “She’s here. Make sure Casey’s on the way.”

Without waiting for a response, she stood and walked over to the side of the bed.  Lying here like this, Lyla looked peaceful and at ease - Yang could only imagine the nightmares playing out in her mind.

She needed to wake Lyla up, but Lyla wasn’t wearing a Dream Disk.  With the Daydreamer, she didn’t need one - so how did the sequence end?

Her next thought was to pull out a cord or something, but the Daydreamer had no cords running in or out of it - how was it even on?

“Lyla,” she called out, but there was no response.  “Shit. Ruby, how do I pull her out?”

“That’s a question for Blake, not me.”

“Dammit.”  

Looking between Lyla and the machine sitting beside her, Yang tried to figure out the best course of action.  She didn’t know what type of trouble Blake might be in, so she had to assume the worst. Blake’s life was in danger, so she would act appropriately.  She had to end the sequence now.

Grabbing Lyla’s shoulder, Yang shook her to see if that did anything.

Nothing.

“Wake up!” she shouted, hoping the words might somehow reach her subconscious.  Again, nothing.

For a normal person, that would work.  A normal person would wake up. But not Lyla - not if she was determined to stay in the dream.

Giving up the hopeless acts, Yang searched for anything to help.  There was no instruction manual for the Daydreamer. There was no button on the machine to forcefully stop the sequence.  There was nothing - nothing to end this quickly.

She could destroy the machine, but chances were that did nothing.  Blake and Lyla’s subconsciouses were probably far from here right now, and destroying it could prevent them from returning without side effects.  If the Daydreamer served as a portal, she needed to leave it open just in case.

Spotting Lyla’s bag sitting on a chair by the door, Yang grabbed it and dumped the contents on the bed.  A phaser fell onto the bedspread, which she snatched out of instinct before a thought crossed her mind. After determining that the weapon was operational, she glanced at Lyla and felt her heart leap into her throat.

“Weiss, how’s she doing?”

“She’s hanging in there, but...her breathing is really slow, Yang.”

Yang immediately looked at the phaser in her hands, then away.  It was always a matter of last resort, but if it meant saving Blake’s life…

She would do anything to save Blake’s life.

“Ruby, look up what happens if someone dies while using a Dreamscape - what happens to the dream?  Does it end?”

Silence on the other side of the line.  

“Ruby.”

“You can’t be serious,” Weiss replied in Ruby’s place, her tone filled with disbelief.

“Neither of you need to know why I’m asking, but I need to know.  Ruby?”

Again silence, and Yang was about to ask again when Ruby finally answered.

“Based on recent articles, Dreamscape put in security features...the sequence will kick any co-dreamers out.”

As expected, Dreamscape thought of everything.  Blake thought of everything.

“Thank you.”

“Yang,” Weiss cut in, her voice now pleading.  “You know the law here as good as anyone - you know I can’t get you out of this.  She’s still breathing; you still have time. Please, please find another solution.” 

Yang’s hand shook with adrenaline and nerves, but she took a deep breath and tried to think.  She didn’t have much time, but she had time. Seconds, maybe, but sometimes that was all she needed. 

Looking at Lyla once more, she stuck the weapon in her pocket and ran into the living room.  She felt frantic now - desperately searching for anything that might circumvent Lyla’s determination to remain dreaming no matter the external factor.  If Lyla refused to wake up when someone shook her or yelled at her, there had to be another way - something she hadn’t thought to protect herself against.  A natural, human reaction that she would never expect to happen while she was dreaming.

The moment Yang’s gaze fell upon the vase of flowers sitting in the living room, an idea appeared.

“What the hell.”  

Grabbing the vase, she pulled out the flowers and tossed them aside while rushing back to the room.  As soon as she reached the bed, she turned it over and threw the water in Lyla’s face.

Lyla gasped awake, sitting straight up in bed and sputtering while wiping the water from her eyes - a reaction any human being would have.  It was several seconds before she cleared her eyes and noticed Yang - with the phaser pointed right towards her chest.

“Don’t move.”

For what felt like the longest time, Lyla stared.  Her eyes searched Yang’s before finally looking down at the phaser and back again.

“Save dream sequence?” an automated voice called out to them, breaking the silence and drawing their attention.  

“Yes.”

Keeping her eyes on Lyla the entire time - even though Lyla didn’t look like she wanted to move anytime soon - Yang moved over to the machine and set her hand on top of it to collect the memory file.  Even after it was saved, Lyla still stared.

“Is this real?”  Lyla’s eyes swept the room another time, looking suspicious and wary of everything in it.  That’s when Yang heard heavy footsteps in the hall, growing closer by the second.

“This is very real,” she replied before gesturing with the weapon in her hand.  “But if you want to test it out, just try me.”

The instant she felt a tugging sensation on her mind, she slammed her hand down on the Daydreamer, crushing it to pieces and forcing the feeling away.  After looking at the destroyed machine, Lyla gave Yang a smug smile.

“You’re finally learning.”

“And you’re not.”  Putting the phaser away, Yang pulled Lyla to her feet and looked around for something to bind her hands.

“How did you pull me out?”

“Yang!”

Hearing her name from the living room, Yang called out “In here!” before turning back to Lyla.  Seconds later, Casey and Redd rushed into the room followed by their assistant bot.

“I don’t think it takes a detective to figure that out,” Yang replied before releasing Lyla to Redd.  He already had a pair of cuffs out, which fit around Lyla’s wrists and tightened until she couldn’t possibly hope to use them.  Next, a techblocker went over her head, preventing any attempts to access unseen technology without them knowing it.  

The bot was already collecting Lyla’s belongings for processing and scanning the room to be recreated in court.  The broken Daydreamer, her bag, her phone - everything went into a safe container for transport.

“Lyla Webb,” Casey said, standing in front of Lyla once she was ready for extraction.  “You’re under arrest. Charges to be determined within twelve hours.”

“I think you’ll have a hard time proving anything,” Lyla replied, although her confidence seemed thin at best.

“We’ll see about that.”  When Casey took Lyla’s arm to lead her out of the apartment, she leaned away.

“My cane,” she said, gesturing towards the cane leaning against the wall.  “I can’t walk without my cane.”

When Casey shot Yang a look, she grabbed the cane and held it up for closer inspection.  She’d never thought about it before, but what features could be hidden in a cane?  

The answer was probably similar to the features that could be hidden within a prosthetic arm.

“Sorry, Lyla,” she said while handing the cane off to Redd.  “If you need help walking, Officer Collins is more than strong enough to carry you.”

Faced with that decision, Lyla scowled and straightened her shoulders.

“No, thank you,” she quipped before being led out of the apartment.  

Yang glanced at the bot, who’d already wrapped up the bedroom and moved on to scan the rest of the apartment, before hurrying after them.  A police cruiser and transport were parked in front of the building, drawing several news drones and plenty of pedestrians behind the temporary barrier, craning their necks in hopes of catching the drama firsthand.

Jogging down the steps, Yang caught up to Casey as he motioned for Lyla to get into the back of a transport and closed the door behind her.

“Book her as extremely dangerous,” Yang said, watching him key in the codes to fully tint the windows and shut down every piece of technology in the backseat.  “And don’t let her anywhere near a Dreamscape.”

“Got it.”

With Casey securing Lyla for transit to the department, Yang ducked away and immediately called Ruby.

“Please tell me that worked,” was the first thing she said.

“It worked.  I’m up. I’m...ok.”

Hearing Blake’s voice, Yang felt tears of happiness prick at her eyes while waves of relief washed over her.

“Thank god,” she breathed out.  Her hand still shook with adrenaline, fear, and desperation, and she realized she still had Lyla’s phaser tucked in her pocket.  Taking it out, she looked it over and felt a chill run down her spine.

She understood what she almost did, and she understood the repercussions of that decision.  That was the scariest part - she knew exactly what would have happened to her - and she’d been willing to do it anyway.

Were she and Blake really that different?  When push came to shove, they were both willing to do anything...for each other.

“Weiss?” Yang said, watching Casey give an explanation to a news drone before waving the machine off.

“Yeah?”

“Thank you.”

She couldn’t think of anything better to say than that.  How could she adequately thank Weiss for being the voice of reason at a time when she was ready to throw reason off the table?  Weiss just saved her life, in a way.

“You’re welcome.”  

The brief answer suggested Weiss wanted to discuss it as little as Yang did, and that was just fine - for now.

“Hold on.”  Spotting Casey opening the door of one of the squad cars, Yang flagged him down and walked over.  

“I’m coming with you,” she told him when he gave her a curious look.  “I’ll charge her.”

“Are you ok?” he asked instead of responding.  His eyes flitted to the cuts on her arm before returning her gaze.  

“I’m fine - just a few scratches, nothing major.” 

“Is Ruby ok?” 

“Yeah, she’s fine.  She’s at -” Before Weiss’ name slipped out, Yang stopped herself and shook her head.  “She’s hiding out somewhere safe.” 

Visibly relieved by the answer, Casey nodded and managed a smile.

“And...Blake’s alive?” 

Yang felt a flurry of emotions at that statement, both from the surrealness of Blake’s return and the turmoil surrounding their latest brush with Lyla.

“Yes.  She is.”

After nodding one more time, Casey straightened his shoulders and put on a determined expression.  

“I’ll take care of Dr. Webb.” 

“Casey, we don’t know who might be involved in this -”

“Do you trust me?” 

That word…

Trust was hard to earn and easy to lose - but what role did she play in making it that way?  Couldn’t she try harder to trust someone? Or try harder to understand someone’s mistakes? 

Sometimes, wasn’t it worth taking a leap of faith?

“I do,” she replied with a nod, feeling even more relieved when Casey looked newly determined in his quest.

“Then let me take care of this,” he repeated.  “I’ll charge her with instigation, attempted kidnapping of an officer, attempted murder of an officer, destruction of property, endangerment -” 

“Jesus, Casey.  You know half of those won’t stick.” 

“But it’s a mandatory four-day hold, minimum.  Not even Weiss Schnee could get her out early.” 

For a long time, Yang just looked at him, struggling to understand why he would do this.  Was he really going to risk his career for her?

“Take the day,” he added, his eyes pleading her to accept the offer.  “Make sure Ruby’s ok, spend time with Blake, and come in tomorrow ready to claim all the glory.” 

When Yang hesitated - still unsure she wanted him to stick his neck out for her - he lightly nudged her away from the police cruiser.

“It’s not a negotiation, Detective,” he added with a grin.  

Finally smiling, she gave him a fake salute before hurrying back to Weiss’ car.

“And where’d you get the car??” he called after her.

“A friend!” she replied before jumping into the vehicle and firing up the engine.  Her heart was speeding up again - this time with anticipation as she flew away from the building.

“Blake?” she asked, knowing the call was still ongoing.  “Stay there, ok? I’ll be back soon.”

“I will.”

“Good.”  Turning the next corner, Yang gripped the steering wheel as the most incredible feeling flowed through her.  Relief, freedom, love, and longing.

“I love you,” she added, feeling the word with every fiber of her being - stronger than she’d felt it in a long time.

“I love you too…”

Hearing the words in return, Yang smiled and felt tears of happiness sting at her eyes.  Nothing lifted her spirits faster than hearing Blake say those words, because Blake wouldn’t say them if she didn’t feel them.  That, more than anything, assured her that they could work things out. They could reclaim what they once had and return to the lives that had been abruptly put on hold.  

She might not know what would happen next - scratch that, she definitely didn’t know what would happen next - but she knew that she loved Blake.  After what she just went through, she’d never been more certain of anything in her life.

Loving someone meant finding a way to forgive them for their mistakes.  So that’s exactly what she was going to do.

Chapter Text

After the events of the past few days, Yang couldn’t wait to get back to work.  Not that she had a problem going to work on a typical day - she liked her job, and she liked the sense of purpose it gave her.  But this morning, after a full day to decompress, she felt reinvigorated and ready to go back.

Though she’d argued at first, Casey was right that she should go home and be with Blake instead of rushing to the station to clean things up.  It was in her nature to get right back on the job, but sometimes...everyone needed a little break. Plus, she trusted his ability to keep an eye on Lyla.  Blake had been a bit more wary about that but, after whatever she went through, was ready to accept the help.

The result of that decision was this morning - the two of them relatively rejuvenated and ready to finish what they started.

“Isn’t it weird…” Yang mused while watching the buildings pass by outside the window.  “While we were trying to figure this out and fighting for our lives, the rest of the world just...continued?”

“That’s how I’ve felt the past year...”

Looking at Blake, whose smile didn’t quite make it to her eyes, Yang reached over and squeezed her hand.  

Separation had taken an emotional toll on their relationship - an issue that went unnoticed through the Dreamscape as the days slowly marched past.  Now that they were back together, however, some of their insecurities and mistrust became obvious. The events of the past few days hadn’t helped, especially with the sequences they’d been subjected to, but Yang was determined to show Blake that they were still meant to be together.

Intertwining their fingers, she gave Blake’s hand another squeeze and smiled.

“But we still have each other.”

To her, that was the most important lesson of this.  They had each other. They loved each other. Life threw a wicked curveball sometimes, but the two of them could bat anything.

“We do,” Blake replied, her relief showing in another smile - this one closer to what Yang was used to seeing.  The smile disappeared, however, the moment the train slowed down.

It was their stop - the train station across from the police department.  To Yang, this was nothing more than her second home. To Blake, however...well, her nerves were readable to those who knew her well.

Yang understood Blake’s apprehension and, honestly, she would feel the same.  After a year in hiding - a year on the run - Blake was stepping out into the light.  She was reclaiming her life and standing up to those who tried to erase her. They both knew the risks, but they’d decided - together - that they would take them.

“I won’t leave your side.”  Standing up once the train came to a complete stop and the doors opened, Yang kept hold of Blake’s hand and smiled in encouragement.  She meant the words in more ways than one, and she hoped Blake understood that. She would reassure Blake constantly, if she had to.

“Thank you,” Blake replied, her voice soft and her gaze drifting to the ground as they left the train behind.  The crowd of people exiting with them clearly made her nervous, so Yang did her best to lead them away from the group as quickly as possible.

Just across the street was a sight for sore eyes - the department, in all its glory.  A remarkably plain building in the center of the city, it contained a level of chaos understood by very few.  One of its trademarks were the sliding glass doors in front, which accepted anyone and everyone who walked through - some people being accepted rather unwillingly.

Once she and Blake walked through, greeted by the familiar blast of cold air, she paused in front of the second set of doors.

“You’ll need to take your mask off,” she said while gesturing to the large, very noticeable sign stating ‘NO holomasks past this point.’  If she could get an exception, she would, but the rule applied in all instances, no matter what.  Either remove the mask or the scanners just inside the door would detect it and immediately flag the wearer for a low-level misdemeanor.

Blake seemed to understand that there was no other option.  After looking at the sign, she ducked her head and removed the mask from her ear.  As soon as she did so, sandy-blonde hair shimmered to a dark, shiny raven that was much more eye-catching.  Light green eyes flickered to beautiful amber. Her nose and lips grew more pronounced, more beautiful, but as she slipped the mask into her pocket, she met Yang’s gaze with a hesitant smile.

“There you are...” Yang whispered, raising one hand and brushing her fingers across Blake’s cheek.  The mask was a stranger to her - someone she’d never seen before - but this...this was the person who made her heart beat.  

But Blake looked uncomfortable in her own skin, especially now that they’d left the ‘safety’ of their apartment behind.  As she’d explained to Yang, she still wanted to hide in the shadows - out of sight and out of mind - but she also understood that she couldn’t live her life that way.

“We’re not hiding anymore,” Yang reiterated from their conversation last night.  “We’re in this together, and we’re not going to hide. We’re sending a message to whoever’s behind this - that we’re not scared, and we’re coming after them.”

After thinking through the words, Blake nodded and reached out for Yang’s hand.  Together, they walked into the department.  

At this time of day, everything was in full swing.  And, as usual, it was controlled chaos - officers rushed to and fro, civilians loitered in the waiting area, and a wide range of voices filled the air.  The atmosphere always felt like it teetered on the edge of falling into complete pandemonium, but somehow it never did. Somehow, and Yang wasn’t exactly sure how, they kept everyone in check.  Most of the time. 

Most people loathed coming here, but she loved it.  This was her realm, her area of expertise, so the mayhem had a comforting rather than stressful quality.  And today, she definitely needed some comfort.

“Hey Jez,” she called out, throwing a wave towards the reception desk.  The woman standing behind a solid sheet of glass shook her head and smiled.  

“Always causing trouble, aren’t you?”

“You know me.  Don’t know what to do if nothing crazy happens.”

When Jez laughed, Yang searched the lobby for a familiar face.  Not finding who she was looking for, however, she turned back to reception.

“Dr. Webb’s still here, right?” 

“She’ll be here a while.  They gave her a seven-day hold.”  When Yang’s brow shot up, Jez nodded.  “I know. We have some pissed off attorneys here.  Something about how she has an important work event coming up, but I haven’t heard anything about that, have you?”

“Doesn’t sound familiar,” Yang joked.  “But whatever it is, I’m pretty sure it’s not more important than completing a thorough investigation.”

“Nothing is.”  Chuckling once more, Jez gestured towards the back of the station.  “The higher-ups want to see you when you’re free.” 

The news was expected but still deserved a heavy sigh.  

“Figures...I’ll talk to them later.”

“I’ll let them know.”  Nodding once, Jez finally turned to Blake with a warm smile.  “You had to come back from the dead to take care of this one, did you?”

Laughing at the question, Yang squeezed Blake’s hand and waited for her response.

“It got a little boring having a predictable afterlife,” Blake replied with a smile that grew in confidence when Jez laughed.  “Decided to come back and see what trouble she could get into.”

“Well, we’re happy someone else can look after her now.”  After sending another glance towards Blake, Jez shot a wink Yang’s way.  “Glad you’re both ok - and it’s nice to see you again, Blake.”

“Nice to see you, too,” Blake said with a polite smile and nod.  

“And I can totally take care of myself,” Yang added, earning an eyeroll from Jez while she waved them away.  With one greeting down, Yang motioned for Blake to follow her through the heavy glass doors leading to the inner workings of the building.

“I hope you’re prepared for a lot of that today,” she said after passing the security protocols and walking into the hallway beyond. 

“It’s to be expected...” was Blake’s murmured response while her eyes swept back and forth across the corridor.

“Seven days though,” Yang added with a low whistle.  “That gives us plenty of time to verify at least one of the charges and hold her long-term.” 

“And if you can’t?” 

Reading the worry in Blake’s expression, Yang gave a reassuring smile.  

“Ruby’s the best for a reason.  Seven days is plenty of time for her to work her magic and find the evidence we need.”

“Detective Xiao Long.” 

Cringing at the tone her name was spoken in, Yang turned around and forced a smile.

“Heyyy...heard you missed me!” 

“What the hell were you thinking?” Detective Saffold asked while stalking up to them.  “Going after Dreamscape’s top theorist right before they launch a new product?”

“Technically, she went after me,” Yang pointed out, which earned her nothing more than a scoff while the woman crossed her arms over her chest.  “I didn’t realize I was supposed to check the corporate calendar before going after someone who had me kidnapped.”

“Your actions put the company’s future at risk, which puts the department at risk.”  When Yang made a noise of disbelief, Detective Saffold jabbed a finger towards her chest.  “We’re already on thin ice since some idiot patrolman decided to arrest Bishop’s son. How much rope do you think we get until he comes after all of us?”

One, Yang really didn’t enjoy someone jabbing a finger at her.  It made her want to grab it and break it a little.  

Two, everything about Detective Saffold’s persona was wrong - from her posture to her scowl to her tone.  They were on the same team; she should have Yang’s back on this. She shouldn’t be worried about what some company would do.

“It’s a good thing we don’t work for Dreamscape then.”

Holding Detective Saffold’s gaze, Yang watched a wave of emotions pass through.  The woman knew she couldn’t argue without implying something she really didn’t want to imply, especially not in this day and age.  Instead, she worked her jaw back and forth before dropping the hostility in favor of a more measured response.

“You don’t understand what you’re getting into.  This will put you on a list you don’t want to be on.”  Glancing at Blake, Detective Saffold straightened her posture and attempted a smile.  “On a more positive note, that holomask I found led us directly to the person responsible for the attack on the transit center.” 

“So Greyson really did it?” Yang asked, and felt both relieved and heartbroken when Saffold nodded. 

“We’ll put out a press release in the next few days.”  This time using a more natural smile, Detective Saffold clapped Yang on the shoulder.  “Thanks for the lead.” 

With that, she turned and walked away.  

Yang watched her go with a frown, replaying the conversation and wondering what the woman meant by a ‘list’ she didn’t want to be on.  Intuition told her something was off, but she didn’t have enough information to formulate any theories. She certainly didn’t have enough reason to suspect her colleague of more serious matters.

Seeing Blake’s troubled expression, she realized that she wasn’t the only one who disliked that interaction.

“I’ll keep an eye on her.”

She had hoped the response was reassuring, but Blake still looked concerned by the recent conversation.  And, when she walked into Yang’s office, her mood grew even more somber.  

Sensing the change in demeanor, Yang gave Blake a long look before closing the door and walking over to the desk.  The way Blake looked around the room implied that something was wrong. It wasn’t a casual glance - it was a slow, methodical dismantling of every piece of furniture and knick-knack Yang owned. 

“What’s wrong?”  

The question brought that amber gaze to her, where she was then the subject of just as thorough of an inspection.  Finding whatever she was looking for, Blake eventually turned away.

“I’m just...remembering the dream Lyla put me through...”

Blake didn’t need to say anything more for Yang to understand.  Walking into their apartment last night had been the same thing - a flash of horrible memories that never happened.  That did nothing to remove the way they felt, or the way they stayed in her mind even after she understood it was all a trick.

But she was determined to move on, so she squeezed Blake’s hands and smiled.

“It wasn’t real.”

Looking down at Yang’s mechanical arm, Blake gently brushed her thumb against the metal plating before relaxing.

“You’re right.  It wasn’t real - this is real.”

“As real as it’ll ever get,” Yang joked before pulling Blake over to the desk and motioning her towards the chair.  Once Blake sat down, Yang took her own chair on the other side of the desk and sighed at the stack of memory chips waiting for her explanation of recent events.

“Looks like they already cut out my work for me,” she muttered while shoving the chips aside.

“I’m sorry...”

“Hey.”  Catching Blake’s gaze, Yang shook her head.  “No more apologies, remember? We’re done with apologies.  We’re focused on moving forward, not making up for the past.”

From Blake’s expression and posture, she knew it was a difficult request to make.  Blake wanted to repent, grovel, or punish herself for her mistakes, but Yang wasn’t having any of that.  They’d already been through enough - more than enough. Now, it was time to move forward. To heal and rebuild what they once had.

“From now on, we’re focused on being honest and open, not on apologizing - ok?”

After a long, searching expression, Blake finally nodded and found a hint of a smile.  

“Ok,” she agreed.  “I’ll do my best.”

“And I’ll do mine.” 

When they finally shared a real smile, Yang relaxed and felt her inner sun return.  She knew they had a lot of work to do, but that wouldn’t stop her from giving her all.  No relationship was perfect, and no person was perfect. What mattered most was that they loved each other, and they’d already proven that they were willing to do whatever it took to protect one another.

“On the topic of moving forward,” Yang added.  “We need to figure out how to mark you as ‘not-dead.’”

“Oh...yeah, I suppose that would be important, wouldn’t it?” 

The dry response made Yang chuckle, taking comfort in the subtle humor Blake had perfected over the years.

“I think you probably need to go through the court or something...maybe Weiss can help us figure it out.”  As soon as Yang said the name, she felt a wave of reticence from across the desk. “I’m sure she’ll help,” she added as reassurance.

“I know, I just...don’t think she’s very fond of me.  I’d rather not burden her any more than I already have.” 

“You won’t be burdening her - I will be.” 

“But it’s for my benefit...”

Tapping her fingers against the desk, Yang looked at Blake and - trying out one of the new skills she needed to learn - actually listened.

“You’re saying you want to figure this out without Weiss?” 

“If that’s ok with you,” Blake answered.  That was nearly the end of it, but then she added, “I don’t think I’m comfortable asking her for anything more at the moment.”

The additional explanation was unnecessary, but Yang smiled regardless.  With that simple sentence, Blake proved her effort to be more forthcoming.  And nothing could convince Yang more that they made the right decision.

“Then that’s what we’ll do,” she said, noticing Blake’s clear relief at the answer.  “She’s not that bad though,” she added. “She’s kind of horrible if you meet her here at the station, but she’s pretty nice otherwise.”

“I can see that.  But I’d like to form a friendship with her that doesn’t involve her always helping me, or me getting her girlfriend’s apartment burned down.”

“Like she minds that one bit,” Yang replied with a chuckle.  “She swooped right in and offered Ruby a place to stay, and I wouldn’t be surprised if she makes sure Ruby’s apartment never gets rebuilt.”

“I don’t think Ruby would mind very much…”  Pausing mid-sentence, Blake raised her hand to cover a yawn.  

“Sorry I kept you up so late.”

Before Yang finished the apology, and before the yawn finished, Blake shook her head.

“Don’t be.  It was...nice.”

From the flicker of emotions in Blake’s eyes, Yang felt a flurry of adoration swirl through her chest.

“It was nice,” she agreed with a smile that grew the longer Blake gave her that look - that look of love and longing rolled into one.

‘Nice’ couldn’t even begin to describe what it felt like to spend the night together in their bed, in their apartment, after so much time apart.  It didn’t matter that they were exhausted, both physically and emotionally, from the events of the past few days - they stayed up through the night anyway.  

It was one of the best conversations they’d ever shared.  They’d always had great talks together, but this one...it felt like nothing stood between them anymore.  Everything, and Yang meant everything, was out in the open.  Secrets, insecurities, fears...they left no stone unturned in rebuilding their foundation.

“So…” Blake eventually said, glancing towards the stack of files on Yang’s desk.  “I should probably let you work?”

“Why don’t you hang out?”  Grabbing the first chip off the pile, Yang popped it into her computer and motioned for Blake to stay seated.  “I’m pretty sure you already know most of the details from this case.”  

Even though it was against protocol, Yang opened the file and showed Blake the first picture from a set of them.

“She didn’t have much with her,” she explained while flipping through the photos one-by-one.  “Daydreamer - that I might’ve smashed a little, her ID and three fake ones, two holomasks, two phones, her cane, and some weird cards with numbers on them.”  Yang tilted her head to look at the skinny ‘8’ on what looked like a playing card, then shook her head and pushed the images off the screen. “But we’ll go over that once Ruby finishes her analysis.”

Her mind was too fried to come up with any theories at the moment.  She would let Ruby comb through each piece of tech and pull as much data as possible.  Once they had that information, their investigation could begin in earnest.

“In the meantime, we could use your side of the story.”

“Oh.  Right…”

“Don’t worry.”  Reaching forward, Yang set her hand on top of Blake’s.  “You just need to explain what happened as best as you can.  With your testimony, the sequence I pulled off her Dreamscape, and whatever Ruby finds, we should have a good case.”

“It’s just...going to take a while to explain everything.”

“If you want -”  After grabbing a pad of paper and pen out of her drawer, Yang pushed the materials across the desk.  “You can start writing things down.”

“You’re still using paper,” Blake teased while pulling the pad towards her.

“You know I’m old school like that.”

“Yet you make fun of my glasses…”  

When Blake playfully shook her head, Yang smiled and watched her start writing.  

It was hard to put into words how much she’d missed this.  Spending time together, even if it was writing down their stories after a stressful series of events that had them breaking into Taven Bishop’s bedroom, hijacking Daydreamer’s code, and flying around the city searching for Lyla.

They were better for it.  At least, that was Yang’s hope as she opened the first situation report and started adding her feedback.

The two of them worked in comfortable silence for quite a long time - Blake writing line after line about what she went through while Yang struggled through detailed justifications for every decision she made.  It wasn’t until inaction caught her attention that she looked over and found that Blake had stopped writing. Now, she stared at the notepad with a frown.

“What’s up?” Yang asked, drawing Blake’s gaze her way.

“It’s…”  For a split second, it felt like Blake was going to say it was nothing.  She stopped herself, however, and shook her head. “It’s just that...writing this down is reminding me of how much I put you through.”

Seeing the sadness in Blake’s eyes, Yang forgot about her work for now.  Instead, she walked around the desk and knelt in front of Blake’s chair. Looking up into those remorseful eyes, she smiled and grasped Blake’s hand.

“You did what you thought had to be done.  Maybe there were other options, but sometimes...sometimes you don’t see them right away.”

She immediately thought back on that moment in the apartment when she seriously considered ending someone’s life.  Maybe Lyla deserved it, but it wasn’t her place to make that decision.  

“We’re moving forward, remember?” she added.  Lifting her hand, she gently brushed several strands of hair behind Blake’s ear and smiled.  “We’re not going to let our mistakes define us.”

Blake thought about the response for a long time before nodding.

“We’re not,” she agreed.  And then she leaned down and captured Yang’s lips in a kiss.

Yang kissed back - at first tender and sweet and filled with every bit of love she felt tingling through her.  As the kiss continued, however, longing raced through her veins while Blake reignited the fire within her. Standing up and setting one knee on the chair by Blake’s thigh, she pressed forward and deepened the kiss.  

Blake invited Yang into her space - she welcomed Yang in her space - and Yang wanted to be there just as much as Blake wanted her there.  She felt it in the way Blake’s hand wrapped around her neck and tugged her closer. The way their lips moved together without pause or separation.  The way they breathed the same air and created sparks from nothing -

“Knock kno - oh.  Uh, sorry -”

Breaking away from Blake, Yang looked up and found Casey awkwardly backing out the door he’d just opened.  The office was suddenly a hotbed of embarrassment, as Casey stared at the floor, Blake straightened her hair and looked anywhere but near Casey, and Yang felt her cheeks threatening to burst into flame at any second.

“It’s - uh -”  Not knowing what to say other than ‘sorry, she’s hot,’ Yang shook her head and started over.  “Hey, Casey. How’re you doing?”

“Been better.”  He met her eyes for a second before running a hand through his hair and looking at the wall.  “Been a lot worse too.”

“Don’t worry.  I’m sure Ruby can back up at least some of the charges.”

“I’m not worried about that.”  After shaking his head, he finally met Yang’s gaze.  “How are you though?”

“Tired but ready to bail you out of that hole you dug yourself.”  When he finally smiled, Yang shook her head at him. “What were you thinking, giving her so many charges?”

“I was thinking...get her off the street as long as possible so that you can figure out a plan.”

The response was sweet and thoughtful, as expected.  When Yang glanced away from Casey, she found Blake observing him closely, likely trying to figure out if she trusted his intentions or not.  He put his job on the line trying to keep them safe - that was good enough for Yang. Blake, however, was a little harder to convince...

“Thank you,” Yang replied with a grateful nod.

“Don’t mention it.”  After waving off her gratitude, he motioned towards the front of the station.  “But there’s a Mrs. Sawyer here to see you. Want me to bring her back?”

Yang’s first response was a sigh.  She didn’t feel prepared for the emotional conversation to come, but she nodded regardless.  No point delaying the inevitable. If a press release was already in the works, the woman deserved to know before the rest of the world.

“Sure, I’ll see her now.”

Casey nodded and took a step towards the door before turning to Blake.

“It’s good to have you back.”

After looking up at him for a second, Blake nodded and said, “It’s good to be back.”  It sounded like that was all she had to say but, when he turned to leave, she reached out to stop him.  “And...thank you.”

She didn’t elaborate on what she was thanking him for, but he nodded and smiled before heading off to fetch Mrs. Sawyer.

“I should talk to her for a bit,” Yang explained.  “Let her know what we found. At least, as it pertains to her son.”

“I’ll wait in the hall.”  Gathering her pen and pad of paper, Blake stood up but paused before leaving.  “If you can...please let her know that he was exceptionally brilliant - the best in his class.  His only failing was that he believed too much in the power of dreams.”

“I’ll tell her.  The first part, at least.”

With a relieved and somewhat sad smile, Blake walked into the hall and sat on one of the benches on the far side of the hall.  She’d barely settled in when Casey reappeared, escorting Mrs. Sawyer to the office door before gesturing her inside.

Even though Yang knew it was only a dream, she was relieved to find that Mrs. Sawyer carried nothing but a small purse with her.  No boxes.

“I’m sorry to bother you again, Detective,” she said while extending her hand for a hasty handshake.  “But when I heard they arrested Dr. Webb, I had to know if it had something to do with Greyson.”

From the unconcealed hope shining in the woman’s eyes, this conversation would be harder than Yang thought.  Regardless, she motioned for the woman to sit across from her desk before sitting in her own seat. Once Casey closed the door, granting them privacy from any passersby, she leaned forward and tried to come up with the best way to phrase what she needed to say.

“Let me start by saying...this won’t be easy for you to hear.”  When Mrs. Sawyer’s expression fell, Yang took a deep breath and wondered if maybe she should gloss the situation over.  But the woman clearly wanted answers, and she would hear the news in a few days once the press release went public.

“I’m sorry to tell you this,” Yang said.  “But Greyson was responsible for bombing the transit center last year.”  When tears instantly sprang into the woman’s eyes, she rushed forward to stem the tide.  “But it wasn’t his choice.”

The added sentence caught Mrs. Sawyer’s attention.  

“What do you mean?” she asked, her voice quivering with hope while her eyes swam with unshed tears.

Sighing at the question, Yang glanced into the hall and found that Ruby had arrived and was now talking with Blake.  Blake’s gaze flitted to Yang every few seconds, however, most likely checking to see how the conversation was going.  

“Mrs. Sawyer,” Yang said, lowering her voice and leaning across the desk.  “You’re going to hear a lot about your son in the next few months, but I want you to listen to what I have to say, because this is the truth.  But I need you to keep this information to yourself - at least, until we wrap up our investigation and send out another release.”

Even though Mrs. Sawyer looked confused by the request, she was determined to figure out what happened to her son.  And when she nodded, Yang continued.

“Greyson was responsible for the blast,” she repeated.  “But it wasn’t his decision. He was manipulated into it - brainwashed through his dreams.  He wasn’t in control of his actions at the time. That doesn’t change the circumstances, unfortunately, but when the news tries to paint him as a villain - know that it isn’t true.”

“He was...brainwashed?  But...how?”

“It’s...complicated.”  Thinking about the Daydreamer and the information Blake had shared about how it worked, Yang didn’t feel confident explaining the situation accurately.  “It happened through the work he did at Dreamscape - cutting edge technology that fell into the wrong hands. I think we’ve caught the person responsible - I know that doesn’t bring your son back, but...I hope that’s at least some consolation...”

After she trailed off, unsure of what else to say, the two of them sat in silence for the longest time.  

At first, it looked like Mrs. Sawyer didn’t want to believe it.  It looked like she might storm out of the room or yell at Yang for speaking such unfathomable lies.

Instead, she raised one shaking hand, wiped a tear from her eye, and met Yang’s gaze.

“Do you know why?”

“Because he was brilliant,” Yang replied with a sad smile, feeling her heart break when another tear was brushed away.  “Because they needed someone with his mind. I’m sorry...but please know that your son wasn’t a bad man. He was just...an unfortunate pawn in a much larger game.”

Mrs. Sawyer nodded, then let her gaze drop to her lap and remain there.  Yang heard the sniffles and watched the teardrops fall, but she waited for the woman to respond.  Whatever Mrs. Sawyer needed, she would try to help with. She understood that this would take time to digest, and even longer to accept, and she was willing to wait for any questions.

“He always said he wanted to change the world…” Mrs. Sawyer whispered before looking up, and Yang’s heart broke a little more when she saw the woman’s eyes swimming with tears - tears that would only fade with time.  “If he was used...and that’s what cost him his life…” Pausing when her lip trembled, Mrs. Sawyer hastily wiped away a tear before taking a deep breath and straightening her shoulders.

“I’m glad no one else has to go through this, and I know he would be glad too.  The pain ends here.”

In a single sentence, Yang felt the resiliency of the woman sitting across from her - a mother who’d lived through what no parent should have to live through, but whose focus was now on ensuring no one else experienced what she had.

“The pain ends here,” Yang repeated with a small nod.  The weight behind the statement reverberated through her chest as Mrs. Sawyer nodded once, clutched her bag in her hand, and stood up.

“I appreciate everything you’ve done, Detective.”  Offering Yang one last handshake, the woman shook it with determination and finality.  “You believed me when no one else would.”

“It’s...kind of my job…” Yang replied, but Mrs. Sawyer shook her head while heading to the door.

“I’ll never forget the kindness you showed me.  Thank you - for everything.”

With a parting smile, she turned and hurried towards the exit of the department.  A uniformed officer quickly joined her side to escort her out, but she hardly gave them a glance.  She kept her eyes forward and her head held high.

While Yang followed to the door and watched the woman walk out of her life, inspiration blossomed in her chest.  The result of this particular case might not have been what either of them wanted, but seeing that strength and resiliency made it worth it.

“How did she take it?”

Turning towards Blake, Yang let out a shaky breath and attempted a smile.

“Pretty well.  I think...she’ll be ok.”

Blake’s guilt was palpable at the moment, but Yang took her hand and gave it a squeeze.  Once they had some privacy, they could go over Blake’s feelings about the situation. For right now, however, she turned towards Ruby and remembered their other pressing matters.

“Tell us you have something.” 

“I have something,” Ruby teased before elaborating.  “She thought she was smart using a second phone, but instead she created a trail linking everything together.  There’s a ton of encrypted messages to go through, and I haven’t even started on her cane yet.”

“What’s in her cane?”

“The question is what isn’t in her cane,” Ruby replied with a shake of her head.  “High-grade tranquilizers, medications, and what I think might be a modified version of a Dream Disk.”

Blake raised her brow at that discovery.

“Really?”

“Oh yeah.  Built right into the handle.  I’m totally stealing some of the tech for your arm,” Ruby told Yang before continuing.  “She also had a ton of files saved on it, and I’m guessing some of them are pretty important.  And I’m basing that off of the deci-level security on top of some crazy rotating passcodes and this awesome cipher that changes every time you guess wrong -”

Realizing she was getting too technical, Ruby waved her hands.  “Basically, I can already prove instigation, so we’ve got her on one charge.  Plus, I have a treasure trove on her cane to sort through, and that’s without getting the interns involved.”

Yang sighed in relief at the response.  With Ruby confident in at least one of the charges, Lyla was facing some very real jail-time.

“You’re getting the interns involved?” Blake asked, her brow furrowed at the idea.

“She communicated with them frequently, so yeah.  At least one of them has to have information that will help.  Plus, don’t you think they deserve to know their lives got royally messed with?”

When Yang and Ruby looked at Blake, she haltingly nodded before looking at the floor.

“If you need someone to explain what happened...in terms they might better understand…”

Blake didn’t fully expand upon the offer, but she didn’t have to.  She was offering to stand in front of the people she’d lied to, used, and put in harm’s way.  She was offering to take responsibility and face the people whose lives were changed as a result of her actions.  Doing so would take a tremendous amount of courage, but she was willing to do that because she wanted to make this right.

Nothing made Yang more certain that this would work - that they would work.

“We’ll let you know,” Ruby said, glancing at Yang before smiling at Blake, who still wasn’t ready to make eye contact with them.  “I haven’t found anything on who she might’ve been working for though. Still lots to go through, but nothing’s sticking out.”

“That’s why you’re getting round-the-clock security for the foreseeable future,” Yang added, kissing Blake on the temple while Ruby nodded.

“Definitely.  I’ve already flagged you as extremely important, so don’t do anything illegal - eyes will be on you everywhere.  And we’ll send support home with you.” Ruby grinned at the comment and elbowed Yang in the side. “Plus, I’m upgrading that super old lock you have so no one bypasses the security again.  I can’t believe you went so long with the same lock - you didn’t even change the passcode!”

Blake finally looked up at the comment, and Yang glanced that way out of the corner of her eye.  

“I was...waiting.”

“Yeah, well, don’t wait anymore,” Ruby huffed.  “I upgrade my security every week.” 

“Yeah, well, you’re a little nutty,” Yang teased, smiling when Ruby rolled her eyes but didn’t argue.  They all knew Ruby went overboard when it came to security, but her job forced her to see all of the different ways people scammed each other these days.  Honestly, Yang was surprised she managed to keep the same keypad as long as she did without Ruby pitching a fit. Unless Ruby had known the reason why she never changed it...

The thought disappeared the moment she spotted a familiar face approaching them.

“Incoming.”  

Nudging Blake’s side, Yang nodded down the hall, where Weiss had just turned the corner and now strode towards them.  As usual, two paralegals flanked her - looked flustered and harried beyond belief - while she put the ‘power’ in ‘power skirt.’  The other officers in the hall gave her a wide berth, knowing better than to get to close and risk a vicious scolding.

Unlike usual, however, Weiss caught Ruby’s gaze and smiled.  Then she broke away from the paralegals, who continued down the hall without her.  And next, to fully break from their normal routine, she walked over to Ruby and kissed her in the middle of the hall.

“Woah.”  Stepping away from the sudden display of affection, Yang shared a surprised glance with Blake and then laughed when several other officers whistled at the pair.  It was only then that Weiss released Ruby and stepped away, but only a half step while reaching down to hold Ruby’s hands.

“Uh, hi?” Ruby asked with a silly grin on her lips, confused but thrilled by what just happened.

“Hi.”  

The response was simple, but the two dorks couldn’t stop beaming at each other.

“Is this ok?” Ruby finally asked while clutching Weiss’ hands.

“Yes, because I just resigned.  My cases were reassigned - I’m done.”

Yang’s brow shot up at the revelation, which was just about the last announcement she would ever expect to hear, but Weiss beamed as if it was the best news in the world.

“Are you serious??” Ruby asked.

“Yes.  I’m not spending another second pretending I’m not madly in love with you.”

This time, Ruby threw her arms around Weiss’ neck and pulled her in for a kiss.  When this one quickly grew longer and more passionate than the first, Yang stepped away to give the two some space.

“Well damn,” she said with a delighted laugh.  “I did not see that coming.”

But Ruby looked happier than Yang could ever remember seeing her.  And Weiss looked like she couldn’t get that coat hanger out of her mouth, even while Ruby kissed her.

“Yang.”

Feeling a hand on her shoulder, Yang turned and smiled at Blake.

“They’re cute, right?”

After glancing at Ruby and Weiss, Blake nodded, but her eyes said she had heavier topics on her mind.

“What is it?” Yang asked, forgetting Ruby and Weiss entirely while focusing on Blake.  First opening her mouth, then closing it once more, Blake eventually shook her head and smiled.

“I just wanted to tell you...that I’m really grateful.  For you and Ruby and Weiss, but mostly grateful that you’re willing to give me a second chance.  I don’t deserve it…”

“Wait,” Yang interrupted, holding up a hand to stop the incoming apology.  “I just want to hear one thing.”

While Blake waited, Yang took a deep breath and said the words she’d held inside for so long.

“I love you...more than anything.  And if something like this happens again, I don’t want you to be afraid to tell me.  I don’t care how big of a mistake you think you made, or how dangerous you think it might be.  I’d rather face death together than spend any more time apart. So...can you promise me that, no matter what, we’re in this together?”

After looking at Yang for several long seconds, Blake nodded.

“I promise.”

Accepting the words and the genuineness behind them, Yang pulled Blake into a firm hug.

“Good,” she whispered in Blake’s ear while weaving her hand through long, black hair.  Feeling Blake return the hug - the two of them melding together in the way they always had - Yang melted into the sensation and heard a content sigh slip past her lips.  

“I’ve missed you so much...”

“I’ve missed you too,” Blake replied, pulling Yang tighter.  “I’m never leaving you again, I promise.”

After all they’d been through, Yang still believed.  She still believed that they were meant to be together, forever.  And she still trusted that Blake felt the same way.

“You guys!”  Finally pulling away, Yang found Ruby gesturing towards one of the video monitors in the hall.  “Check it out.”

The four of them regrouped in front of the monitor, where the newscast played a recap of Lyla’s arrest.  The drone footage showed Casey and Redd marching Lyla out of the building and putting her into one of the police transports while Yang trailed behind.

“Hey, I look pretty good on TV,” she said, and grinned when Blake laughed at the comment.  Weiss rolled her eyes, of course, but seemed to have difficulty coming up with a biting response while Ruby’s arms were wrapped around her waist.

Immediately following the video of Lyla’s arrest, however, came an excerpt issued by Dreamscape Industries.

“Wait, Ruby, turn it up.”

Weiss made a soft noise of protest when Ruby hurried over to the screen, but Yang paid her no mind while listening to the official statement.

“ - is no longer employed by Dreamscape Industries,” the announcer read as the written statement appeared on the screen.  “This was an isolated incident, and we’re fully cooperating with police to ensure justice is served. In the meantime, Daydreamer will launch as planned.”

As soon as the statement ended, the video cut to shots of excited kids waiting for their new devices and a montage of new environments available for download.

Ignoring the rest of the broadcast, Yang turned towards Weiss.

“Are they doing what I think they’re doing?” 

Thinking through the situation, Weiss frowned at the screen for a long time before finally nodding.

“They’re throwing her under the bus.  Next, they’ll cut all ties, downplay her role, and make her seem less powerful than she was - anything to make sure the public doesn’t turn on them.”  After pausing for a second, Weiss shook her head. “This will make holding her easier though. You won’t have Dreamscape’s attorneys breathing down your neck.”

“But if they were behind this...why abandon her?”

“Because she got caught,” Blake answered with a frown.

The answer made sense.  If there was some bigger conspiracy, their goal wouldn’t be sacrificed to save one person, especially if Lyla had already served her purpose.  If Lyla hadn’t just tried to kill them, Yang might actually feel bad that ‘the cause’ had abandoned her so easily.

Holding Blake’s hand, Yang sighed - in relief, since the day had gone better than she could’ve hoped for.  Blake was back, and Lyla had very little chance of leaving.

“So...what do we do now?” Ruby asked. 

“I’m going to try to find a way to better protect Daydreamer.”  Blake turned towards Ruby with a hopeful expression. “I might need your help finding a way to implement any changes.”

“Happy to help!”  Ruby probably wouldn’t stop smiling for the next month - not with how thrilled she looked to be holding Weiss’ hand in the middle of the hall.

“I guess I’ll...figure out what I want to do next,” Weiss added, looking confused more than worried about her next great endeavor.

“I can help you with that too!”  Leaning over, Ruby kissed Weiss’ check before pulling away with a smile.

“And you?” Blake asked softly, meeting Yang’s gaze with a smile.

“I’ll do what I always do - catch bad guys.”

“I can definitely help you with that,” Ruby replied while giving Yang a high five and big grin.

“Basically, Ruby helps us with everything,” she joked.  She expected Weiss to protest that claim - instead, Weiss looked at Ruby and beamed with pride.  

“That sounds about right.”  Turning fully towards Ruby, Weiss held her hands and smiled.  “But even heroes get hungry sometimes. Can I take you out to lunch today?  Or are you busy?”

“Never too busy for you!”  When Weiss raised one brow in disbelief, Ruby shook her head.  “I mean, sometimes I’m kinda busy, but lunch sounds awesome! Wanna go right now?”

“Sure.”  While Weiss stepped towards the front of the building, Ruby turned back to Yang and Blake.

“We’ll see you guys later!  Message if you want us to bring you anything.”

With Ruby and Weiss walking away, hand-in-hand, Yang shook her head and chuckled.  

“This is a big step for them.”

“They deserve it.”  After watching the pair turn the corner, Blake nodded.

“How are you feeling?” Yang asked, realizing there was so much more they needed to go through.  Blake seemed to understand the situation too, and thought long and hard about the question before answering.

“Relieved, for now.  But I know they’ll come after me eventually.”

“And we’ll be ready for them.”  Yang felt confident in her response, and in their ability to prepare for whoever was still out there.  With her, Ruby, Weiss, and the entire department on Blake’s side, they would catch the mastermind behind this plot and bring them to justice.

Thankfully, Blake also seemed to believe.  At least, that’s how it felt when she smiled at Yang.

“I’d rather prepare here with you than spend another second apart.”

The response filled Yang with happiness - because she believed it.  She felt Blake’s determination to include others on the thoughts and worries running through her head, and she believed Blake’s intention to never run again.

“That’s good,” she replied with a grin.  “Because it sounds like Ruby assigned me to be your personal security for the foreseeable future.  I’m not leaving your side.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

With a nod and a smile, Yang extended her hand to Blake, who willingly took it.  “I hope you’re ok hanging around here for a while. Looks like I’ve got a lot of work to do.”

When Blake laughed and leaned closer, Yang willingly accepted the familiar, warm presence in her space.  She knew they had a long way to go and a lot of details to figure out, but this felt...normal. At least, as normal as their lives would ever be.  She could choose to focus on the past - to stew on the mistakes and ‘bad’ decisions that were made - but that wasn’t who she was or who she wanted to be.

They had the ability to forgive, forget, and rebuild trust in one another, and that’s exactly what she planned to do.  Because at the end of the day, they were all human, and the best they could do was shake it off, put on a smile, and keep moving forward.

Chapter Text

"Can you think of anything else? Anything at all. It might seem insubstantial, but the smallest clues still help."

Pausing for a moment, Yang watched the couple sitting across from her share glances. The woman, who'd clutched her husband's hand this entire time, bit her lip as it again quivered with tears, while the man furrowed his brow in thought.

"I can't think of anything…" he said while his wife shook her head in agreement. "Just...I can't stress enough that Ervin was a good kid. He'd never do anything like this…not unless he was forced to. Or tricked into it."

"Even then," his wife added. "He just...he wouldn't. He wasn't the person everyone's saying he is."

"From what you've told me, it seems unlikely he'd be wrapped up in something like this." Grabbing a memory chip with her contact information on it, Yang passed it across the table to the couple. "If you think of anything else, please let me know. Don't hesitate to message - in an investigation like this, every little bit helps."

"Thank you, Detective," the woman said while her husband accepted the chip. "And thank you for taking the time to talk to us."

"Of course." Standing up and following the pair to the door, Yang opened it for them and smiled. "Happy to help."

As they headed to the lobby of the police department, she walked back to her desk, sat down, and sighed. Another day, another set of parents searching for answers. In this instance, another child who'd acted outside of their normal personality. These cases held the ire of many amongst the police force, mostly due to the propensity for parents to ignore the flaws in their children. But she wanted to believe the best in people, which meant she wanted to believe that these kids were as good as their parents thought.

Smuggling drugs into the city though...it would be difficult to prove Ervin was forced to take multiple trips in and out of the city. Once, maybe. Twice, possibly. But several times per week over a period of months? The likelihood of that being a fluke seemed slim-to-none.

What drew her attention to this particular family, however, was Ervin's heavy and consistent use of a Daydreamer in the months leading up to his death. It could be nothing - drug addicts regularly jumped into sequences while under the influence to see what type of trippy dreams they would have - but she harbored a deep mistrust for the machines after what she went through.

"Hey Yang!"

Looking up from the information on her desk, she smiled when Ruby strolled into her office.

"How's it going?" Ruby added before collapsing into a chair. "How was your meeting with the drug parents?"

"'Drug parents?'" Yang repeated, raising her brow at the term. Ruby shrugged and grabbed a pen off the desk so she had something to play with.

"It's how I remember things."

"Ah. Well, I think the meeting went good. They have a lot of theories about what happened."

"Of course," Ruby replied with a chuckle. "Another wild goose chase for you?"

"Most likely. When did I become the expert on these?"

"No idea!" After leaning back in her seat for only a second, Ruby leaned forward again and laughed. "Actually, I know exactly when you became the expert on these."

While Ruby laughed and went back to twirling the pen around her fingers, Yang shook her head and smiled. She had a bit of a reputation now - one where she took any 'grieving parent' case that walked through the doors. But it had worked out for her once, and it worked out for her several times after that as well.

"Did you need something?" she asked. "Or did you stop by to chat?"

"Stopped by to chat!" Ruby answered, pulling her feet up on the chair to make herself more comfortable. "You and Blake wanna hang out after work?"

"What're you thinking about doing?"

"Dunno. Maybe a movie? Maybe dinner? Maybe dinner and a movie?"

Yang chuckled at the suggestions, which sounded mellow on the surface but were probably anything but. Her sister could turn 'dinner and a movie' into a fast-paced, overly-exciting event with fire, knives, possible explosions, maybe a high-speed chase, and more - and that was before the movie started.

"Sounds like fun," she agreed regardless. "I'll ask her."

"Cool! What's she up to, anyway?"

"At the moment? Still looking for ways to 'fix' Daydreamer."

"But we already patched the heck out of it!"

"I know." Yang shook her head but smiled regardless. "She'll probably always be working on it to some degree. As for actual work...she actually mentioned that she might've found something, but she'll tell me more if any details firm up."

"Wonder what it'll be…" Furrowing her brow, Ruby thought about the quandary for a few seconds before shaking her head. "How's she doing though? You know...mentally."

The question confirmed what Yang already suspected - that Ruby was more aware of Blake's struggles than Blake would want. She put up a good front most of the time, especially in public, but...she needed more time to 'reinsert herself into reality,' as she put it.

"She's a lot better now that Lyla's off the streets for a while," Yang answered honestly. "Plus, that thing you built her really helps."

"Does it?" Ruby lit up when Yang nodded. "I'm glad! I call it 'Ruby's Incredible Keepsake' - it's probably one of the coolest things I've ever made."

"And it makes her feel safe," Yang added. "Couldn't ask for anything better."

Ruby smiled at the news and sat back in her chair. As always, all she wanted was to help - just like Yang. If they could make life easier for the people they cared about, then...mission successful.

"I should totally go into the private security business," Ruby mused, to which Yang laughed and nodded.

"You should. You'd make so much money."

After considering the idea for another half second, Ruby made a face.

"Meh. I don't need more money."

"Not when you're living with Miss Moneybags."

Ruby smiled at the tease, which Yang had made more than a few times since Ruby and Weiss decided to make their 'temporary' living situation permanent. As expected, the moment Ruby's old apartment went under construction, Weiss asked her to stay for good.

Ruby then offered her 'old' apartment to Yang and Blake, but what business did they have living in one of the most high-tech places in town? Plus, taking the elevator every single day - multiple times a day - sounded like a drag.

"How're you and Blake doing?" When Ruby nearly dropped the pen but jerked forward to catch it, Yang smiled and leaned back in her chair.

"We're good," she replied, the answer flowing easily and honestly from her lips. "We've settled into a new normal, and…"

Dare she say that they were happy?

"And it feels like things are back to how they used to be," she added instead, opting not to jinx herself and regret it later. She considered the response to be the truth, so Ruby's laugh surprised her.

"'How they used to be?'" Ruby repeated before shaking her head. "I disagree. You guys are doing that telepathic speaking thing much more often than you used to. It's driving Weiss crazy."

Yang laughed at the comment while Ruby smiled and returned her attention to the pen in her hands. With her third-party perspective, she would be a better judge of Yang and Blake's current level of 'telepathic speaking,' but Yang felt like it happened more frequently now, too. A lot of times, she didn't even need to look at Blake to know what she was thinking. Or a quick glance would reveal Blake's mood and she would adjust from there. She couldn't say how or why it happened, but she guessed it had something to do with their communication being off the charts amazing at the moment.

As Jez walked by the office and gestured towards them, Yang motioned the woman inside to talk.

"Hey guys," she said after opening the door and sticking her head in. "Chief wants everyone in the conference room now. We're having a quick meeting about something."

Curious, Ruby looked at Yang and raised her brow.

"We'll be right there," Yang replied, after which Jez nodded and headed off to deliver her message to the rest of the detectives.

"Wonder what it's about…" Ruby said while the two of them left the office and headed to the conference room.

It looked like most of the department had received the memo before them because patrolmen, detectives, and internals already packed the room. Since there weren't any seats left, the two of them stood in the back and waited for the meeting to start.

From the chatter, no one knew what the impromptu meeting was about, which only made Yang more curious. It wasn't like them to have department meetings during the day. Department holiday parties, yes, but the Chief did his best to let them work while they were on duty.

"Maybe we're all getting a big, fat raise," Ruby guessed, and Yang scoffed.

"I thought you didn't need more money."

"I don't, but you probably do."

When Ruby stuck out her tongue, Yang laughed and rustled Ruby's hair. The action earned her a disgruntled huff, but she knew that Ruby secretly enjoyed it. Probably.

As soon as the Chief of Police stepped through the doorway, the room quieted with respect and a healthy amount of curiosity.

"Good afternoon," the towering man called out in his deep voice. He walked with a limp after an arrest-gone-wrong - a story of legend that had him subduing anywhere between five and fifteen armed thugs with a piece of steel rod stuck through his leg.

"I won't take much of your time," he added while standing in front of them, straightening his shoulders and clasping his hands behind his back. "The reason I called you here is to introduce our new lead prosecutor - she has a few words to say."

When he raised one hand and nodded towards the open doorway, everyone leaned forward to see who it was. The instant Yang spotted white hair, she looked at Ruby - only to find that Ruby was just as shocked as she was.

"Thank you, Chief Ironwood," Weiss said, taking his spot in the center of the room after he moved to the side.

"Did you know about this?" Yang whispered to Ruby, but Ruby continued staring up front with wide eyes.

"We don't...talk about work…"

"I'll keep this brief because I know we all have better things to do," Weiss said, looking around the room with a stern gaze. "Quite simply, I'm here to make you better. I wasn't the winningest defense attorney in recent memory for no reason - your work is sloppy, you bend the rules, or don't even know the rules. Selfishly, I'd like my record to stand for a very long time, which means I need this department to build ironclad cases that even I couldn't get through."

"Jeez," Yang muttered to Ruby.

"I know..."

Spotting the gleam of attraction in Ruby's eyes, Yang wrinkled her nose.

"Don't look at her like you want to jump her right here."

"I would if you'd all leave."

"Detective Xiao Long."

Abruptly called out, Yang looked at Weiss while the rest of the room looked at her.

"Uh, yes?"

"Do you have something to add?"

While Yang's instinct was to shake her head, she stopped halfway and grinned instead.

"Yeah, actually. Did you leave your whip at home, or...?"

When the officers in the room laughed, Weiss gave a thin-lipped smile.

"Ruby can answer to that," she quipped. The room roared with laughter when Yang wrinkled her nose, only to be goaded by the officers near her. That's when Weiss finally smiled.

"In all seriousness, there's a lot of work to be done. It will be difficult, and I guarantee you won't like most of it, but I promise that you'll see more success at trial." Looking around the room, Weiss took stock of the officers in front of her and nodded. "So let's do clean police work. I'll meet with each of you individually to go through some suggested changes - thank you."

With the meeting adjourned, everyone talked excitedly amongst themselves as they filed out of the room, sending second or third glances at Weiss before heading back to work. Yang and Ruby, however, lingered behind, and Weiss walked over to Ruby with a somewhat-hesitant smile.

"Surprise," she said. "I hope this is ok?"

"More than ok!" Her excitement bursting forth, Ruby kissed Weiss on the lips before squeezing her hands. "I've always wanted to work with you!"

And, just like that, Weiss' worries disappeared.

"I have to. And it will be a new experience to be on this side of the law. Probably a challenge, with some of the people working here, but I like a challenge."

When Weiss looked at Yang while saying that, Yang raised her brow.

"I'm so ready for you to critique my work," Ruby said, looking a little too excited about that.

"You're already perfect." After giving Ruby a quick kiss, Weiss turned towards Yang. "You, on the other hand...I'd like to talk to you about your methods."

Yang laughed at the obvious joke but quieted when Weiss didn't crack a smile.

"Wait - are you serious?"

"Yes. Right now, if you have time."

Heaving a sigh, Yang shook her head at Ruby.

"At least you're happy about this," she grumbled while they walked out of the conference room.

"So happy!" Bouncing in front of them, Ruby took Weiss' hands in her own. "Once you're done with Yang, come see me? I'll show you the stuff I'm working on!"

"I'll be right there," Weiss replied, and smiled when Ruby rushed away with wings on her feet.

"Well, she's happy," Yang commented while the two of them headed towards her office.

"She's not the only one." After several seconds of silence, Weiss looked at Yang and smiled. "She always wants to show me what she's working on. I'm excited to finally see what goes into her process."

"Only you would want a closer look into Ruby's mind," Yang joked, shaking her head at the mere thought of peering into that jumbled mess.

"I do. More than that though - I want to spend the rest of my life with her."

The unexpectedly-forward comment stopped Yang in her tracks. Turning towards Weiss, she discovered that the words weren't flippant or casual - Weiss actually meant to imply what she'd just implied.

"Are you serious?" Yang asked anyway.

"Yes," Weiss answered without hesitation. "I want to ask her to marry me, and I'm hoping you'll give me permission to do so."

For a second, Yang thought she heard wrong. And then she thought she heard right, but that Weiss was playing some sort of well-thought-out prank. The entire time, Weiss waited patiently for a response. Her eyes said more than her words did - that she was determined, earnest, and sincere. That this was what she wanted, and she was resolved to see it through in a way that Ruby would approve of.

"You really want to be my sister-in-law?" Yang finally asked, and her heart grew twice as big when Weiss smiled.

"Of course. I'd love to be your sister-in-law."

The sudden rush of happiness short-circuited Yang's mind, and she wrapped Weiss in a big hug right in the middle of the hall. For once, Weiss didn't try to squirm away - not even when Yang lifted her right off the floor and spun her around before setting her back down.

"Of course you can!" Yang said, giving Weiss another hug before holding her by the shoulders. "I'm so happy for you two!"

"I'm happy too," Weiss replied with a smile. "And it's all because of her."

The words warmed Yang's heart, and she knew Weiss meant them as honestly as anyone could. To think that she'd once questioned Weiss' intentions…now, it was impossible to think of Ruby being with anyone else.

"Oh my god," Yang gasped when another thought occurred to her. "When are you going to ask? How are you going to ask?"

"I was going to set up something elaborate and expensive," Weiss began, surely noticing that Yang hung onto every word. "But then I thought...what am I waiting for?"

"And?" she prodded when Weiss didn't fully explain. "What are you waiting for?"

"I was waiting for your approval," Weiss replied with a smile. "I want to ask her as soon as possible, like tonight after dinner."

"Holy - jesus, you move fast."

"I think you, of all people, can understand that time is our most valuable asset. If we found the person we want to spend the rest of our lives with, why wait another second?"

Maybe Yang shouldn't be so surprised. Weiss was the type of person who threw herself into every endeavor with everything she was capable of. Whether it was work or her relationship with Ruby, she gave it her all - which apparently meant she was ready to pledge herself to Ruby for life.

"And so you don't have time to get nervous, huh?" Yang joked, wrapping an arm around Weiss' shoulders while they resumed the walk to her office.

"I'll admit that's also a factor, but a small one."

Laughing at the admission, Yang shook her head and said, "I can't believe my sister ended up with Weiss Schnee, of all people."

"We don't know that she'll say 'yes.'"

"Oh please. I know she'll say 'yes.'"

Pursing her lips, Weiss took several steps in silence before shaking her head.

"I'm trying not to get my hopes up."

"Then let me help you. Consider this my pre-wedding gift." Pausing for a second and holding Weiss' shoulders, Yang ducked slightly to meet her gaze. "Ruby has never liked someone the way she likes you. She's never been this happy with anyone else, and she never stops telling me how much she loves you. So yes. She will say 'yes.' And then you'll be stuck with me forever."

For a long time, Weiss held Yang's gaze and thought over the encouragement. And then she smiled - a genuinely happy smile - before leaning into Yang's shoulder to continue their walk.

"You give quite the pep talk," was all she said, but Yang knew it had worked - Weiss was somewhat reassured that Ruby would say 'yes.'

"People have told me that before," Yang replied with a laugh.

She understood why Weiss was nervous - it was a big step - but it was also so obvious that Ruby would say 'yes.' Yang wasn't even going to worry about the alternative. She was going to keep being amazed by the fact that her sister was marrying the terror who'd stalked these halls for years now.

"Can't believe you jumped the fence, too."

"I'm actually excited about it," Weiss replied. "I can't wait to go up against some of my former colleagues."

The response and accompanying smug smile on Weiss' lips were enough to make Yang laugh and shake her head. At least Weiss' ultra-competitiveness was on their side for a change. Defense attorneys everywhere had to be losing their shit when they heard the news.

"Is that what you wanted to talk to me about?" Yang asked, internally praying Weiss didn't have a laundry list of protocols she'd been unwittingly breaking. The last thing she wanted was for Ruby's soon-to-be fiancée to join their side of the law and instantly harp on her for doing her job wrong.

"That, and one other thing. With Daydreamers becoming so prevalent, the potential for abuse is high. I thought it would be important for the prosecutor's office to bring on an expert - someone well-versed in how dream theory works."

"That sounds like a good idea." When Weiss paused in the hall and smiled at her, Yang tilted her head. "What?"

"Meet the newest member of our team," Weiss replied while nodding towards the office. "Although I believe the two of you have already met."

Turning in surprise, Yang felt her eyes widen when she found Blake standing inside, clasping her hands together and giving a small, nervous smile.

"Are you...serious?"

Still smiling, Weiss leaned forward and said, "Meet Ruby and I at the lab when you're done" before patting Yang's shoulder and heading off to find Ruby. Left alone, Yang hurried into office and held her arms out as soon as she and Blake were close.

"Is this for real?" she asked while Blake took hold of her hands and gave them a squeeze.

"It is," Blake replied with a nod. "I hope you're not upset. I didn't want to keep it from you, but Weiss really wanted to surprise both of you."

"I'm not upset." Kissing Blake on the lips as reassurance, Yang breathed in the scent of her shampoo before moving away with a smile. "But thank you for thinking of me. This is great though! Are you happy about it?"

"I...think so." When Blake furrowed her brow, she looked just as confused and surprised by the unexpected job as Yang felt. "I didn't think I wanted to accept, at first. Dreamscape has caused so much happiness and sadness in my life. But Weiss convinced me that it was a good opportunity to use my knowledge to help others."

"She's good at convincing people," Yang replied, smiling when Blake shook her head in disbelief.

"She really is. And I told her I couldn't keep it a secret from you. Not after -" Without going into detail, Blake simply motioned with one hand before moving on. "But she promised to plead my case if you got upset, so I figured my chances were pretty good."

"With her record?" Yang asked with a scoff. "I'd say so. Ruby's the only one who could consistently beat her."

"Is that true?"

"Oh yeah." Taking the temporary detour in the conversation, Yang held Blake's hands and thought back on that time in her life. "She tore through cases before we realized Ruby was her weakness. Then we started rearranging dockets to make sure they paired up together. Didn't realize it would have quite the effect it did..."

"You mean the two of them dating?"

"Yeah." Thinking about the situation and everything that came out of it, Yang shook her head and laughed. "Guess Weiss found out how to conquer her demons, huh?"

"By sleeping with them?" Blake asked with an amused smile.

"Exactly. I mean, I wouldn't mind conquering mine that way." The moment Yang winked and set one hand on Blake's side, Blake rolled her eyes and lightly touched Yang's hair.

"Then you shouldn't have any demons left by now," she replied in a low, sultry whisper that fanned the flames in Yang's chest.

She wanted to move in for a kiss - and she knew Blake wanted to move in for a kiss - but she also knew that neither of them trusted themselves to stop at a decent time. Seeing as how one wall of Yang's office was entirely made of glass, and they'd already embarrassed themselves enough the last time, she kept her distance and cleared her throat.

"This is awesome though!" she said, opting for a subject change. "Now we get to work together! Well, not together together, but pretty close."

Blake returned Yang's smile with one of her own.

"That factored heavily into my decision. Just like Weiss felt with Ruby...after what we've been through, I want to spend as much time with you as possible."

Very little could stop Yang's grin at that statement, and she pulled Blake forward for a quick kiss before moving away.

"I want to spend as much time as possible with you too," she replied before pausing to think about how Weiss and Blake's new positions affected her at work.

Theoretically, they would see each other all the time, especially when their cases intersected. Even when they worked on separate cases, they could use each other for help or second opinions. In a lot of instances, they would work closely together and depend on each other for information - similar to what she and Ruby had done for most of their lives.

"You and Weiss must be getting along better now."

"Not having much to do while you and Ruby were at work helped. Neither of us were used to sitting around all day doing nothing."

Yang couldn't help but laugh at Blake's response, which was both adorable and true. She'd come home more than a few times to find Weiss hanging around working on something with Blake. It seemed like an unlikely friendship, especially considering the rough start, but the two of them actually shared much in common. And their intellectual arguments blew Yang's mind.

"I'm still not sure she completely trusts me," Blake admitted, looking at her hands and sighing before picking herself back up. "I still have work to do to earn her trust. Then again, I still have work to do with everyone to earn their trust back."

"I already trust you."

The words flowed easily because they were true. If anything, Blake was almost too trustworthy now. She told Yang everything, save for a little surprise Weiss planned. She answered Yang's questions before even asked. And she went out of her way to express her emotions in some way, shape, or form.

"And I love you," Yang added with a smile that grew when Blake smiled back.

"I love you too." After giving Yang a kiss, Blake leaned away and shook her head. "And I know you don't think so, but I still feel like I have more work to do."

By now, Yang knew better than to argue with Blake's feelings. Eventually, Blake would see that she had done more than enough to earn a second chance. Until then, Yang would just keep reassuring her, and waiting for the day she left this great weight behind.

Realistically, that day would probably coincide with bringing the ones behind the Daydreamer plot to justice. That trail had gone cold long ago though, which meant it could still be a while before Blake came to terms with what she created and how it impacted the lives of others.

"Speaking of work," Yang said while gently tugging Blake towards the door. "Let's go see what Ruby and Weiss are getting into."

As the two of them walked into the hall, still hand-in-hand, Yang smiled at another set of officers who nodded to her before hurrying past. With Blake's reappearance in her life, the pitying looks had, thankfully, disappeared. People no longer walked on eggshells around her, or lowered their voices to whispers, or used that tone - the one that suggested she might start crying at any second. Now, they treated her like normal - and she felt normal, too. Finally.

"Weiss is going to propose," she commented as soon as the thought flitted through her head.

"I'm not surprised. She's madly in love with Ruby."

"Isn't that crazy though?" Thinking back on some of the unfortunate interactions she and Weiss had shared, Yang chuckled and shook her head. "She's a different person with Ruby."

"It's funny how you can find someone like that. Suddenly, everything else in your life is second priority, and they're all the matters."

"Sounds like you're talking from experience," Yang joked, and smiled when Blake looked her way.

"I am. That's how I feel about you."

Yang didn't know how to respond to the comment other than to smile like mad. In just a short amount of time, Blake had changed. She was more open with her thoughts and feelings than she had ever been. Sometimes she struggled, but the effort was clearly there. And Yang appreciated every bit of it.

"By the way…" Blake added as they turned the corner. "What color is Weiss' shirt?"

Yang grinned - both at the question and at the fact that she knew the answer.

"White."

"Very good," Blake replied with a smile. "And what fabric is it made of? What cut is it? Which button did she stop at? Rolled sleeves or no?"

Eyes widening at the follow-up questions, Yang tried to think about Weiss' outfit only for her mind to go blank.

"It - it was a white shirt with sleeves."

Chuckling at the answer, Blake shook her head and squeezed Yang's hand.

"Your observational skills are better than I gave you credit for, but you still need to think beyond color. Otherwise, your dreams will keep lacking texture."

"Got it," Yang replied with a nod. "Just wait. One day, the student will become the master!"

Even though Blake laughed, both of them knew Yang would never be the better dream crafter. Fortunately, their purpose in using the Dreamscape again was only to increase her proficiency - not to make her an expert like Blake. For so long, she'd been content to let Blake lead, but now they recognized the importance of her having at least some competency.

Her training often included Blake asking about random things like the color of Weiss' shirt or the eye color of the person who just passed them on the street or where the empty cup on top of the garbage can was from, and expecting Yang to answer. It was, in a single word, hard. Remembering some details wasn't too difficult, but remembering enough to recreate a passable imitation took a different skillset than she normally used.

If this taught her anything, she would learn to be more mindful of her surroundings.

As soon as they could see Ruby's lab, Yang laughed. As expected, Ruby was talking a million miles a minute and waving her hands while dozens of windows flashed across the screens of her computer. Weiss didn't seem to be paying much attention to what Ruby was showing her. Instead, she was too busy smiling at how excited Ruby was to show off her work.

"There's your new boss," Yang said as she and Blake entered the room, ending Ruby's chatters and earning an eyeroll from Weiss.

"Don't ever call me that," Weiss told Blake before holding Ruby's hand now that she'd stopped moving.

"Blake!" Ruby exclaimed, not at all perturbed by the interruption. "I heard you're working with Weiss now, so you're working with us too!"

"I am, yes."

"That's so awesome! We're like, the dream team."

Laughing at Ruby's overflowing excitement, Yang looked at Weiss and remembered Blake's questions. Narrowing her eyes, she did her best to memorize every detail - every wrinkle - in Weiss' shirt. Of course, Weiss noticed the increased observation.

"What are you doing?"

"Memorizing your shirt."

"...why?"

"So I can recreate you later, duh."

The answer seemed straightforward enough, but Weiss stared at Yang for a long time while thinking it through.

"Please don't do that," she finally said before moving closer to Ruby's side. Ruby instinctively wrapped an arm around Weiss' shoulders and waved a hand towards her computer.

"How about this place for dinner?" she asked when the webpage appeared.

The first thing Yang noticed were the green and blue faces staring back at her.

"Now hear me out!" Ruby said, holding up a hand to cut off Yang's protest. "It's an interactive alien diner."

"What does that mean...?" Blake asked, glancing at Yang before staring at the screen.

"Basically, what it says. You eat food, but all the employees are dressed in alien costumes! The menus are in a different language, and they all speak a different language, so you have to figure out how to order without knowing anything. I've heard that they make a huge fuss if you don't finish your plate, and some of the dishes are kind of...still living...so choose wisely."

Aliens. The restaurant legitimately featured employees wearing custom 'alien' holomasks.

Before Yang could even put into words how she felt about this newest adventure, Ruby turned towards Weiss and kissed her on the temple.

"Sounds fun, right?"

"Absolutely," Weiss replied without hesitation, and Yang narrowed her eyes at the fast answer. She couldn't even remember Weiss looking at the screen. Did she already know about this new restaurant, or was she so willing to do whatever Ruby wanted, it didn't matter what it was? Or was she starting to feel the nerves of what she planned to ask after dinner?

On the cusp of making a joke about Weiss' easy acceptance, Yang paused when someone rushed into the room.

"You guys," Casey said while hurrying over to them. "You need to see this."

When he dropped a file onto Ruby's computer, she quickly pulled it onto one of the screens. As soon as the video loaded, Yang's eyes widened and she leaned closer.

"Is that -?"

"Mr. Bishop," Casey said to the man seated across from him in one of the interrogation rooms. "Can you tell me where you are?"

"Why don't you tell me where we are," Taven Bishop snapped back before looking around the room with equal parts disdain and suspicion. Compared to when Yang saw him last, he looked haggard. His suit was dirty, his crisp white shirt untucked, and the stubble on his chin suggested he hadn't shaved in a few days.

"You're in an interrogation room at the police department," Casey answered. "Do you know why you're here?"

Finally returning his gaze to Casey, Taven laughed.

"Nice uniform. Where'd you get it - the bargain rack of a costume store?"

In the corner of the room, Redd crossed his arms and frowned. Casey, meanwhile, remained unphased by the insult.

"You were arrested for disorderly conduct," he explained in a calm, steady voice. "Charges include disturbing the peace, making multiple threats to civilians, and failure to submit to law enforcement. Do you understand these charges?" When Taven said nothing, Casey pressed forward. "Would you like to call an attorney?"

Taven laughed at the question.

"Sure," he said, his voice dripping in sarcasm. "I'll call my attorney."

Lifting his hand from the table, he mimed holding a phone and pressed several buttons. He then held his hand to his ear and waited. "It's ringing," he said before motioning for Casey to wait. "Hello," he said a few seconds later. "Yes, I'm at the police department, come get me." He then pretended to end the call and throw the phone onto the table.

"There. Now you can march my attorney in here. Go ahead."

"Sir, these are legitimate crimes. I must advise you to call an attorney."

"These aren't legitimate crimes," Taven shot back. "Because this isn't real."

Yang's heart stopped the moment she heard the words.

"Mr. Bishop, I assure you this is real -"

"Right. Of course." Taven waved his hand in an amicable manner before slamming his palms on the table. "You're not fooling me, you worthless piece of shit. These mind games don't fool me - I know what you're doing. And I'm not telling you anything."

Casey looked at Redd, both of them taken aback by the outburst.

"Sir, I don't know what you might have taken -"

"This isn't real!" Taven shouted in Casey's face. "You think I don't see it? Here - I'll prove it."

When Taven suddenly lunged across the table for Casey's weapon, Casey jumped out of his seat while Redd rushed forward to help.

"Get out of my head!" Taven screamed when Redd grabbed his arms to hold him back. "You think you'll get away with this? I'll bury you! You won't even know what forever means when I'm done with you!"

"Jesus - tranq him!"

When Taven threw Redd off of him in a fit of rage, Casey scrambled forward and stuck a tranquilizer patch on the man's neck. The sedative kicked in almost immediately, causing his eyes to roll back in his head as his body went limp. Casey grabbed him by the arm and gradually lowered him to the floor before pulling Redd to his feet.

While they called in backup, Ruby muted the video and looked at them with wide eyes, reflecting the feeling they all had at the moment. The room was silent - dead silent while what they just saw sank in.

Taven Bishop, owner of Dreamscape Industries, suspected doer of evil, was having a fit that sounded exactly like what would happen if someone was being manipulated in their dreams.

"Did someone else figure it out?" Yang finally asked as she turned towards Blake. Blake stared at the screen with an expression that held shock, confusion, and worry, but nodded.

"It sounds like it…"

Dozens of questions flashed through Yang's mind - from how to who to why to when and in between. Instead of asking them all right now, however, she took a deep breath and clenched her fist.

"Know what this means?" she asked, pausing for a second while the four of them exchanged glances. Weiss nodded. Blake set her jaw. Ruby bounced on her toes in anticipation.

"Time to get to work."

"Blake, you're with me," Weiss immediately said, tapping Blake's shoulder while the two of them spurred into motion.

"Is he still here?" Yang asked Casey while pointing to the screen. When he nodded, she said, "Good. I'm going to talk to him. And Ruby -"

"Looking up everywhere he's been over the past few days!" Ruby replied, her hands already flying while multiple windows appeared on the screens. She turned her cheek and smiled while accepting a kiss from Weiss, who headed towards the door immediately after.

Blake moved to follow, but not without stopping by Yang's side and kissing her goodbye. Yang smiled when she saw the emotion in Blake's eyes - some concern, some worry, but determination and excitement as well.

"We're getting them this time," Yang whispered. With a nod, Blake turned and followed Weiss out of the room.

As the two hurried back to their office and Ruby lost herself in the search, Yang motioned for Casey to lead the way to wherever Taven was being held.

This was it - the beginning of another chase, another mystery waiting to unfold. This time, however, she had some extra help solving the puzzle, and she couldn't wait to put all of their skills to the test.

While she rushed off to start her own search, a little voice in the back of her mind reminded her to be careful. Because this felt too easy. Taven Bishop delivered right to them, full of paranoia and missing his bodyguards? A sudden lead on a trail that went cold long ago?

Just last night, she and Blake discussed that little voice - a voice of doubt they both shared. They decided it was natural, especially for those who'd tested the limits of what their minds were capable of. After seeing that - experiencing that - and coming back, it was impossible not to have suspicion lingering day and night - suspicion that followed her through the halls while she raced towards possible answers.

She didn't like to think about it, because thinking about it gave it credence - gave it power. But sometimes she just couldn't help wondering...

What if this was all just a dream?