Chapter 1: black abyss
Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news
But I've been all around, I've seen the globe from upside down
There's no bearded man on a fiery throne
With angels blowing trumpets below and calling out his judgment sounds
If God exists in a place like this then
Where else could a god or goddess be if he or she is not trapped inside?
What if it's all just a black abyss and lips that kiss you
When you're sick or feeling just a little out of touch
[The Sun by Jukebox the Ghost]
Yang’s lungs hurt, as though there’s too much air in them and not enough at the same time. A result of the dead sprint, she’s sure, but the panic doesn’t help; it picks up the rate of her breathing just a notch more as she weaves in and out of the various beings littering the only decent spaceport on Sorgan, her hands pumping at her sides. (Gripping the handle of the vibrodagger belted to her thigh usually manages to calm her down — something about the gentle hum of the generator in the hilt rarely fails to soothe — but speed is more of a concern than her own comfort, and so she presses on.)
The ship is powering up. She knows this even though she’s unable to see over the heads of those around her; the whine of the heavy engines of the YT-2400 pierce through the port, as distinctive to Yang as moss green color of its hull and the subtle etchings of nova crystals on the plating. With each pitch in frequency, as its launch grows closer, Yang’s fear spikes and so does the throbbing in her chest. Her brain tells her that something inside her might explode — her lungs or heart or both — if she presses on like this.
(She’d once been told that fear was natural, that it was inevitable, and it wasn’t fear itself that was harmful, but what you did while you were in the grasp of it. That it could only hurt you if you let it. It’d been a dramatic conversation to have after Yang had fallen out of her toy podracer and scraped up her arm, but it’d involved getting to sit in Summer’s lap and eat cookies, so Yang hadn’t complained.
You can’t turn off fear, Yang, Tai had said, his voice softened by the presence of Ruby in his arms, fast asleep with her thumb stuck in her mouth. And even if you could, you probably shouldn’t. We’ve known people who got a little too good at shutting down emotions and it never went well for them.
If you’re talking about Raven, she was only ever attempting to do what she was taught. Summer’s voice had always been warm, but never more so when Yang was tucked against her chest — when her arms were wrapped around Yang’s small frame — curled up on the couch with a blanket tucked around the both of them. And she was never as good at it as she pretended she was. As you thought she was.
Summer, Tai had begun, forehead pinched tight, mouth puckered in the way Ruby’s did when the toddler was trying not to cry.
You’re going to have to tell her more about her mother eventually, Tai.
And Yang is more than double the age she’d been then, but she still remembers frownin — remembers snuggling closer to Summer — because she’d known everything she needed to know about her mom from the way her arms tightened around her whenever Yang wanted them to.
But not today. It can wait.
Summer had shaken her head, but not argued further, only leaned down to kiss the spot just behind Yang’s cowlick.
Ignoring your fear doesn’t do you any good in the long run, her dad had continued. It’ll just come back later and make you do things you’ll regret, Yang.
Good advice. Summer’s tone had been light, but still pointed. And that applies to more than fear, doesn’t it, Tai?)
Yang heeds the warning now. She thinks of the worst case scenarios — thinks of the ship taking off, of her not making it in time, of losing the only important thing she has left — and pushes the terror into her legs and lungs, and wills them to hold out just a little longer, to work just a little harder. It works, because when she reaches the freighter, it’s not all that far in the air and the loading ramp hasn’t retracted all the way and it’s really not that hard at all for Yang to leap onto one of the cargo drones and then jump — without any hesitation at all — and catch the edge of it with her right hand, to pull herself up and through the closing door before the pilot fully engages the thrusters.
It’s slightly more challenging to keep herself from crashing into one of the freighters walls as soon as that does happen, which is why Yang doesn’t manage it at all, and ends up being thrown against the metal with enough force to cause a commotion that couldn’t have been missed by anyone on board. Worse, it causes a sharp pain to blossom through her ribs, and it’s that pain that keeps her mostly prone for the next several moments, until footsteps heavy enough to rattle the grating startle her out of it, pushing her to scramble upward and draw her vibrodagger with her right hand, clutching her side with her left.
The sight has to be a pitiful one to the man that appears then. Yang knows this even in her bravado. Her frame — already the slight one belonging to a twelve-year-old human girl — is further diminished by the hunch her injury causes. And her weapon — though surely impressive in its prime — no longer held the same threat it once did, the vibration that typically gave the blade its ability to cut through organic tissue with ease was now erratic at best, and entirely absent at worst. Right now, it’s the latter, nothing more than a chipped blade that Yang doubts could manage to puncture the thick, green coat of the mudhorn of a man that now stands before her, taller than any human she’d ever seen (and doubly as muscular, to boot).
But Yang thinks of the things that matter, sucks her fear into her chest, and holds.
“Where’s my sister?” she asks, voice trembling only a little.
The man waits, longer than Yang thinks he should for what’s surely a simple answer.
“It’s only me on this ship, girl.” His voice is low, rumbling, but not unkind. “But you went through a lot to get on board, so maybe you know something I don’t.”
“She’s here.” There’s no uncertainty present in her voice or any other part of her. “I saw her get on.”
(She doesn’t mention how. Doesn’t add that she dreamed of it. She’d learned that declarations like that were always met with disbelief or excitement, and she had no respect or need for either.)
“Well, then. She must be here.”
The man doesn’t say or do anything more, only watches, eyes on Yang’s face rather than her vibrodagger. Yang isn’t stupid; she knows modified YT-2400s like this one were used mostly by smugglers, knows that this man could kill her without any effort on his part whatsoever, knows he would suffer absolutely zero repercusions if he did. But still, she trusts him enough to close her eyes and focus.
“Ruby,” she calls, no louder than a whisper. “Come out.”
She doesn’t have to wait long.
The sound of the grate clattering to the floor — pushed out by the young girl small enough to crawl through the vents — startles the man more than it does Yang, but only slightly; his only change in countenance a barely discernible lift of his eyebrows and a quiet grunt.
“Yang!” Her eyes leave the man’s form once more, only to briefly check over the girl who has leapt out of the vents and collided against Yang’s (uninjured) side, but upon finding no obvious injuries, they return with speed and suspicion. “I’m so sorry! I saw he had an electromagnetic plasma cannon mounted to the main servo turret and had to see how it was wired, especially with all thirteen weapon emplacements used. He’s using hypermatter to power a separate ion drive that’s just for the guns! It’s totally custom!” Ruby, heedless of the potential danger coming from the man whose ship she was gushing over, hops in place and clasps her hands together. “But anyways, I was looking at that and lost track of time and then he came back and I got stuck in the engine room and then the ship started powering up and I didn’t know how to get off without him seeing me! But I knew you’d find me because you always do, so it’s okay, right?”
She’s used to the rambling, but the man looks — for the first time — slightly overwhelmed. It’s almost reassuring, in its own strange way, and Yang nearly smiles as she pats Ruby’s back gently.
“Yeah, Rubes, it’s okay. We’re fine. I’m sure he’ll understand that all of this was a big mistake and let us off at the next port, right?”
The man hums and rubs a hand along the brown hair covering his jaw, clearly weighing his options. If Ruby’s seen his engines and weapons, it’s not a stretch to imagine she’s seen the rest of the ship, and all the cargo that Yang is nearly certain isn’t legal. That alone would be enough to make a common smuggler gut them without a thought, but there’s something more to this man, even if Yang’s not yet sure what it is. It makes her modify her previous statement almost immediately after, to the surprise of even herself.
“Or,” she continues. “Maybe he’ll even hire us.”
Brow lifting high yet again, the man drops his hand to his side, lips lifting into the smallest of smiles (or maybe a grimace, but Yang prefers the optimism). “And why would I do that?”
“Because this is a YT-2400 light freighter, heavily modified. And if you’re the only one on board, that means you’re running short on crew, since this thing normally flies with three.”
“Plus,” Ruby chimes in. “No one’s maintaining your engines. Your hyperdrive motivator is clogged up and probably only has about two jumps left in it, if you’re lucky. If you’re not, the hypermatter will leak and this whole ship will probably…” She makes a loud exploding noise, peaking out from around Yang to add to the audio with a visual representation that involves spreading her fingers out wide and shaking her hands with erratic jerks.
“Ruby could fix that,” Yang says with confidence. “And I can do anything else. I’m good with people. No one ever suspects me. I’m a good pilot too; fastest podracer on Theron, and you can look that up. And I’m strong. You saw me get on your ship, didn’t you? I think you were impressed.”
The last one is a guess, but the man nods, as though it wasn’t a stretch at all.
“How old are you?” he asks, his rumbling tone giving nothing away.
“Sixteen,” Yang lies (but only a little).
“And your sister?”
“Two years young than me,” Yang says, honest this time, because telling even one lie to this man seems like a foolish venture, and throwing in another would be really pressing her luck.
Whether or not he believes her, Yang couldn’t say, but the man nods again.
“Maybe you haven’t realized what I do. But it isn’t for ones as young as you.”
“You’re smuggling,” Ruby chimes in again, her high voice the exact opposite of the man’s gravely tones. “For anti-Republic movements, I think. You’re not with the Trade Federation, but definitely not with the Senate. You’re probably working with some of the Outer Rim systems to avoid taxation on both sides, but I think it’s more than that too, because some of the weapons you’re transporting are heavy duty enough to be used in a war.” She turns to Yang. “I can’t remember, is there still a war?”
“Not now. Not yet.” Yang considers all this. “We don’t really care about all that, though I think the Republic and the Trade Feds are a bunch of big heads who don’t care about anyone out here. Anyone other than the people that make enough money to matter.” She does her best to straighten, despite the pain. “Point is, we’ll do whatever you need to do, no questions asked, and you won’t have to pay us nearly as much as you would someone older than us, who wouldn’t even be as good as Ruby with ships or as good as me at getting information. We just need enough to get by. To save up enough to make a home somewhere away from all the junk going on between people who are too greedy for their own good.”
The man hums again. “You are both clearly…. gifted. But I won’t involve children in a venture as dangerous as mine. I’ve seen what that results in. I will take you back to your family, though; no harm will come to you under my temporary care, I can promise you that.”
It’s only then that Yang puts away her weapon, sliding it into the sheath strapped to her thigh. Truthfully, she’d hardly noticed she was still holding it, but it seems like a good idea to put it away now, when she’s so close.
“We don’t have any family. We don’t have a home. We’ve been moving from one gig to the next, with people way worse than you. If you drop us off at the next port, we’ll make do — we always have — but it won’t be putting us in any safe space, like you seem to think.”
Her words have the intended effect; there’s some sympathy to be found in this man, and it leaks through now, even if it’s typically all but hidden by his lack of expression and strong build.
“There’s… no one?”
Yang thinks of Summer, dead but never found; of Raven, purposefully lost to the abyss of space; and of Tai, who she’d last seen curled up in the corner of Ruby’s bedroom, unresponsive to the girl’s high wails as she tried to rouse him.
“We’ve only got each other,” Yang says, and means it.
“And why don’t you tell me again. How did you know your sister was on board my ship?”
There’s something in the nearly blank face of the man; a small twitch of understanding or perhaps sadness, like he recognizes something in Yang and is saddened by it. Yang can’t begin to guess what that might be, and sticks to her earlier answer.
“I saw her get on.”
In the long pause that follows, Ruby takes her hand and squeezes it tight.
“Right,” the man grumbles. “I’m Hazel.”
Yang knows she’s won then, before he turns away and waves them further into the ship.
“This is the Gretchen,” he says, without any fanfare. “I’ll show you around.”
— 2 —
Hazel teaches them about much more than smuggling, mainly because Hazel is loath to teach them anything about smuggling. They learn all the tools of the trade, regardless, but always in a roundabout way: through the people they meet or the experiences they find themselves in (though Hazel does his best to limit those to the reputable). Ruby deepens her tech skills by taking apart and putting back together anything in reach, which — onboard the Gretchen — just so happens to mostly be weapons. Yang’s vibrodagger finally gives out while she’s helping Ruby sort through junkyard scrap, so she pulls a pair of wrist blasters off of a busted battle droid she finds nearby, and Hazel just so happens to have ‘business’ with a Mandalorian a few days later. (Ruby manages to get him talking about tech — as Ruby always does, even with the most tight-lipped people — and learns about whistling birds; after a few weeks of muted curses coming from the workshop, she’s added her own version of the mini rockets to Yang’s new cuffs.) Handwritten journals with trade routes meticulously charted end up in Yang’s room, schematics of freighters find their way to Ruby’s, and each of these topics pop up in dinner conversation on a regular basis. Hazel ends up with a wrapped wrist after a meeting he doesn’t let either Ruby or Yang attend, and sticks Yang in the pilot seat for a mundane sublight flight; she shows off and Hazel lightly berates her, but rarely flies the Gretchen without her after that.
Especially when compared with Ruby (or even Yang) Hazel’s hardly talkative, but he’s always fair, never straying towards an excess of praise or criticism, never drawn to extremes (with a few, exceedly rare exceptions). He never reveals much about himself directly, but doesn’t lie when asked a question directly. (Though many questions he simply refuses to answer in a way that satisfies either Ruby or Yang’s curiosity, like why do you hate the Republic? or why did you start smuggling? or when are you going to take us on a real mission?) With wages, Yang suspects he’s more than fair, helping Ruby and Yang set up an account to save funds for their ‘home away from this’ as Hazel puts it, and neither of them have the heart to tell him they are thriving in the exact environment he finds so repugnant for them.
Because flying around the universe in a well-outfitted ship? Finding ways around the rules and regulations that don’t suit them? Avoiding pirates and authorities and sticking it to the people that don’t think anything of stepping on the people that can’t fight back? Yang can’t picture anything better than that. Sure, there was danger, but there were ways to avoid pissing off the wrong people; with the way Hazel operated, the worst they’d ever see was a fine or a tiny bit of prison time.
With the way Hazel normally operated, at least.
At the start, Hazel had been careful to leave Yang and Ruby out of his business dealings, even the legitimate ones he took within the Trade Federation, but after three years under his care, that line had been blurred to the point of nonexistence. (Even Hazel had to admit — after a time — that a teenage girl could sometimes get more information than an eight-foot tall, burly man, especially a teenager as guileless as Ruby or as adaptable as Yang.)
But today is different. That’s apparent from the start, when Hazel has them double — and then triple-check the weapon systems, shielding, and thrusters without any explanation, quite a while before their typical waking hour. It’s doubly apparent when he slots an upgraded (and weaponized) Verpine shield — a project he and Ruby had been working on for the past year — into his bracer. And when he sits them both down in the small living suite they typically only used for meals, there’s no doubt left in anyone’s mind.
“I have to meet with someone today. Yang, you’re going to fly us to Ammon IV and then you two are going to keep the thrusters and shields engaged. If anything happens to me other than exchanging a few cordial words with this fellow, you’re going to leave.” Armed with knowledge borne from experience, he holds up his hand for silence before either Yang or Ruby get a word out. “This is not a debate. Not this time. If you don’t both give me your word, I will go on my own. Understand?”
Ruby and Yang exchange a glance; a world passes between them, full packets of information in each twitch of the brow or cheek.
“Can’t you tell us who you’re meeting up with?” Yang asks after, and Ruby nods. “And why you’re losing your druk over it? If you’re meeting in sight of the ship, we’ll just fire up the turrets and blast him to hell if he tries anything.”
Hazel’s hand slams onto the table. Ruby jumps in her seat. Yang’s shoulders tighten.
It’s a few long moments more before anyone continues, but when Hazel does, his voice is calm once more.
“I need your word, Yang. Ruby.”
Yang folds one arm over the other. “I don’t like this.”
Hazel grunts. Waits.
“Fine,” Yang sighs. “First sign of trouble, we’ll take off.”
“First sign of trouble, you blow him to Hell,” Yang says, a few hours later, sitting in the cockpit of the Gretchen, hands tense on the controls. “Seriously, I don’t care what Hazel says. We’ve got turrets and you’re gonna use it. I’ll give you the signal if I need to.”
Ruby shifts from one foot to the other, peering out of the transparisteel viewpoint, her concern clear.
“Who do you think’s coming? And from where? All I see is sand.”
“I dunno,” Yang grumps. “But it better be someone in a freaking Juggernaut, laser cannons blazing, with all the fuss he’s making.”
“A sarlacc bursting out of the ground!”
“A drooling rancor with sharpened claws!
“A Mandalorian with a bounty puck with Hazel’s face on it!”
“A... ” Something in the air shifts and Yang catches it first, but Ruby isn’t far behind. Yang had always gotten hunches, ever since she was a kid (her dad had always called it ‘creepily accurate intuition’), but Ruby was nearly always as fast as her on the uptake, simply by reading Yang’s mood as well as Yang read the smallest signs in the world and beings around her, the ones that most other people missed. “... Boring grey shuttle.”
“Not as boring as whoever’s flying it wants you to think.” Ruby leans in and points, her normally-wide eyes narrowed in concentration and concern. “Look at the thrusters. And the torpedo launchers. They’re hidden but you can see the latches on the hull. See?”
The feeling that comes over Yang isn’t easy to describe. Typically, her hunches are clear, concise, simple; a bad feeling or a good one, without any room for interpretation. But this isn’t like that at all. Her throat feels tight, mouth dry, and she’s overcome with the sensation that whatever’s on that shuttle will have an impact that will reach beyond what Yang could possibly imagine.
Summer would sometimes say the universe willed things. Like it was a purposeful drive, that the stars themselves could push — just a little — to make something so. It’d always seemed like a fairy tale to Yang. And to Tai, who’d always laughed and told Summer to stop spreading Jedi nonsense to their children.
Watching the shuttle land, she’s overwhelmed by the idea that she’s been missing something enormously important, all this while.
“Go man the turret, Ruby.” Her voice doesn’t shake, but that’s a relief more than a given. “But don’t fire. We’re getting out of here as soon as Hazel is onboard. Not a second longer.”
“Yang, what’s — ”
Two figures step out of the shuttle, both in dark cloaks. Yang can see nothing of their faces or forms — not even enough to say whether they’re human — but she knows she wants to riddle the one in front with blaster holes just as much as she knows she has no fucking clue what she wants to do with the second.
(Bring her on board, run away and never look back, rush out to meet her, bash her own brains into the ship’s controls until she loses the memories currently forming and taking hold, grab her hand and fuse their palms together so nothing in creation could ever tear them apart.)
“It’s fine, Ruby.” She would spare a comforting glance back if she could, but her gaze is locked in place. “Come on. We’re doing what Hazel said. Go.”
Ruby leaves, but with clear hesitation (and a soft squeeze of Yang’s shoulder). Yang hardly notices. Hazel’s speaking to the figure in the front, the tall one who pushes back his cloak and reveals a shock of red hair and an ugly white mask. The smaller one — though she’s slightly taller than anyone would first suspect, due to the hunch she curls herself into — hangs back, as though the space is a relief, as though she’s never allowed much of it. When the man steps forward, towards Hazel, Yang forgets to be afraid for her captain, so caught up in the elation of the girl being even a single step further from the redhead who she clearly fears.
“Run,” Yang finds herself whispering, something deep inside her pushing the word out, willing the girl to hear, despite all the impossibilities behind the notion. “Run before he kills you.”
Even from the distance, the girl stiffens.
Worse, so does the man.
Impossible or no, both reactions are clear, even to Hazel, who follows the man’s stare when he turns and looks directly at Yang. From this angle, it’s easy to see flash of metal at the man’s hip, the hilt of a lightsaber glinting in the sun. Suddenly, Yang understands why her thoughts might have been picked up, and why Hazel had been so cautious about this meeting. What she doesn’t understand is why — even with the full fury of the man’s masked gaze on her, and the danger of attracting such attention from a user of the Force — she only cares for the reaction of the girl beside him.
She narrows her focus and repeats her thought, unconcerned if the man hears as well.
“You should run.”
Hazel begins to speak again — with more urgency — and it’s enough to pull the man’s attention back to him. But not the girl’s; that, Yang holds for a moment longer. She’s unable to see any of her features — can barely tell she’s a girl at all — so maybe Yang imagines the nod, but she clings to it anyways, a fraying safety tether that’s the only thing keeping her from spiraling off into the abyss.
Three minutes more and Hazel is stepping away, sure steps carrying him back to the Gretchen, and Yang lifts the ship off the ground before he’s fully onboard. The girl on the ground holds her stare until the hull blocks her view and Yang — for what feels like the first time in hours — sucks in a deep breath.
The Universe pushes.
It’s patient and slow and Yang knows she’s powerless against its inevitability, even as she speeds away.
“That girl was in trouble,” Yang says later, once she’s able to speak again (once she’s sure she won’t sound as shaken as she is).
Hazel, who never lies, doesn’t disagree. “Not as much trouble as she would have been with someone else.”
“With the Jedi, you mean.”
It’s a dangerous word to use in the presence of Hazel; the one topic that he refused to indulge with a sort of forcefulness that was far removed from his typical calm. But Yang has to know. She has to know.
“Because both the people you met today had lightsabers. They both had powers. But they weren’t Jedi. That man… he definitely wasn’t a Jedi.”
The sound of cracking wood breaks the silence that follows; Hazel’s fingers have curled around the edge of the table with enough force to partially splinter the material underneath.
“A lesser evil,” he growls. “At least the Sith are honest about what they hope to achieve.”
“I don’t know about that.” It doesn’t occur to Yang to be tentative, even now. It never does. “I don’t know about any of that. But — ”
“You don’t know.” The split deepens, cracks spreading. “You have no idea what the Jedi do. The children they steal. The families they break. The lives they throw away without consideration. There’s no choice. No option to say no. They take and they brainwash and they kill. And all with a smile and the approval from a corrupt batch of politicians who are caught up in their own scramble for power.”
It’s not difficult to connect the dots. In the silence following, Hazel’s ragged breathing filling the air, Yang doesn’t have to guess.
“Gretchen. She was a Jedi.”
“She was a child!”
The table splits completely, the edge breaking off when Hazel stands and pulls it upwards. It occurs to Yang only then that she should perhaps have something to fear, but when she moves out of her chair and stands as well, it’s without any of the aggression she would display with nearly anyone else, and ten times the patience. Perhaps it’s these things that eventually calm Hazel down, at least enough for him to turn away, tossing the broken-off pieces of wood to the side of the lounge.
“And so are you,” he continues, little more than a snarl.
“Just like the apprentice of the man you’re so ready to partner up with. Right?”
It’s all a guess — pure conjecture — but it’s accurate enough to stop Hazel in his tracks (physically, if not mentally).
“That man is not a Sith Lord, only a follower of one,” he calls back roughly. “And the girl… merely an adept. You don’t understand the nuance of the situation.”
“Or maybe you’re adding it in because it’s easier.”
Hazel doesn’t respond to that one, only resumes his heavy walk away.
It’s the first time they fight.
(It will be nearly a decade before they do so again, though in all that time, the topic doesn’t change.)
— 3 —
If Hazel is disappointed the day they come to him — about a year later — and declare they’ve found the perfect home, the one they’ve been saving up for all this time, he doesn’t mention it. The same can’t be said for when they show him the home they’ve settled on: a Baudo-class star yacht that some rich asshole had smashed to the point of being nearly unrecognizable, while somehow managing to not blow it up entirely.
“It’s flashy,” Hazel grumbles, which is the first and only time anyone in the universe would say such a thing about what looked like a heap of scrap metal.
“He wants fifty thousand credits,” Yang says, because she know it’ll distract him, and it does.
“For this heap of junk?”
“Which one is it?” Ruby pops up from within the bowels of the ruined ship, and pushes her goggles up onto her forehead. “Is it too flashy or a heap of junk.”
“Too flashy once you two are done with it. A heap of junk now.” He turns, heads towards the office where the owner will surely be found. “I’ll get him to go down.”
Hazel ends up being right on two fronts: after ten minutes, he gets it down to twenty-five thousand. And after a year and a half of Ruby and Yang working on it nearly full-time, it’s flashy as hell: bright red and sleek curves and full of all the modifications a bona fide smuggler could want.
They name her the Crescent Rose.
Parting from Hazel isn’t especially easy, though they all know the moment is overdue. On they day they launch the Crescent Rose, he tells them he’s lined up a new crew (loaners, he calls them, from a friend) and everything about the way he says friend tells Yang he’s stepped deeper into the world of conspiracy that involves the Sith with red hair (and the girl in the cloak the Yang had tried — and failed spectacularly — not to think or dream about since). She considers telling him to stop, toys with the idea of screaming, until her lungs burn, about how he won’t find anything good down this particular path, but in the end, settles on a handshake and terse be careful, her stare as pointed as she can make it. (And then, much softer, a whispered thank you.) Ruby is less restrained (as always) and throws herself into a mostly one-sided hug with the man. Yang has never thought to describe Hazel as loving or affectionate, but in the face of a hug like that, even he crumbles, just a little; a small smile fits into place and he — gently, very gently — pats the top of Ruby’s head.
“Stay out of trouble. You’ve made some legitimate contacts. Why don’t you try to use those?”
Those words come back to Yang years down the line — after endless modifications to the Crescent Rose and picking up a fair bit of notoriety around the Outer Rim; after Ruby’s lost an eye and Yang’s lost an arm in almost (but not quite) unrelated incidents; after they’ve gotten into scrapes with pirates and traders and a Trade Federation investigator or two — and she wonders if maybe they should have listened.
“Something’s off, right? I’m totally right about this. Eighty percent sure.”
It’s chance they’re there at all; a random stop at a random refueling station in the Agoliba-Tu system. On a normal day, they would have been there for a half hour tops. But a normal day didn’t involve a small fleet of Schnee Mining Company ships with a crew that looked less like the standard SMC techs and more like a small army of mercenaries forced into clothing too tight for their frames.
“Something’s off,” Ruby agrees, pursing her lips in concentration as her eyes flit over the scene — her mechanical one allowing her to see with far more detail than Yang can manage without electrobinoculars — though her focus is clearly on the ships rather than the men. “They’re not carrying thorilide or any kind of crystals; the clearance is all wrong. Isn’t that what SMC normally strip-mines for?”
“Anything they can get their grubby hands on, I think.” She taps the metal of her fingers against the hull of the ship, soothed by the rhythmic ringing that results. “Yeah, I’m ninety percent sure.”
Ruby glances away from the ships; it’s meant to be a quick check-in, probably, but she catches sight of the look on Yang’s face and immediately groans.
And okay, it’s not like they’re thieves. (Various governments and organizations would argue that avoiding fees and taxation and customs was its own form of theft, but Yang vehemently disagreed, at least when it came to the corrupt institutions they so often avoided dealing with officially.) Or. They weren’t thieves often. Not usually. Not from anyone who would notice. But Yang had a feeling. And clearly, Ruby knew exactly what that feeling would result in.
“Whatever’s on there has to be good, Rubes. And probably illegal. So it’s not like they’ll be able to report us afterwards.”
“I don’t think the Schnee Family reports things in the first place.” But her eyes flicker back over towards the ships, giving away her own curiosity. “Don’t they kinda deal with things ‘in-house’?”
“Well, sure, but we’re just a tiny ship in a big universe. And they’re a disgusting monopoly that doesn’t give a damn for the people dying in its mines or breaking their backs on their asteroids. They probably make like, a billion credits every three seconds. They’re not going to care that much about one little shipment. We can pick off the shuttle that falls out of line, pump in some of that gas you cooked up with Ren, and get away with the goods before anyone sees anything.” She eyes the line of ships and points out one in the back, absolutely unremarkable from the others in every way. “That’s the one. I’ve got a good feeling about this, Ruby.”
“Sometimes I’m not sure if I like your good feelings or bad ones.” But still, she perks up on viewing the ship that Yang’s pointed out. “But I did notice a weird whine in one of the engines of that ship. I was going to tell one of the guys about it, but they got real tense when I walked in their direction, so… I didn’t. But I think there might be something wrong with one of their conversion models, near the lateral stabilizer. Nothing major, but it might make them a little slower on the jump. A second or three. And I’ve really wanted to test out the interdiction field that could — in theory — be created by the mini gravity well projector I installed last week.”
“Well look at that.” Yang folds one arm over the other, and doesn’t bother to hide her smugness as she leans against the far cockpit wall. “Seems like luck’s on our side, huh?”
Ruby snorts and tosses the remnants of her pepper pretzel at Yang’s head. “Yeah. What a change for you.”
Luck, it turns out, is a little too on their side.
The delay, the gravity well, the gas, the boarding, it all goes perfectly. And the cargo is — even at first glance — worth hundred of millions.
Easily worth that, because every single crate on the ship is full of top-of-the-line and extremely illegal weapons and munitions.
“So when you said you had a good feeling….” Ruby prompts. “You meant a good feeling that one of the most powerful privately-owned companies in the whole universe was funding a war against the Republic, right? Because those are a lot of experimental electrostaffs and the only thing they’re good for is fighting Jedi. Also that? Over there? Is a nuclear missile, so…”
“Fuck,” Yang says again.
They don’t have time to stand around and do nothing, but Yang allows herself another moment before she rolls her shoulders and cracks her neck, preparing for the sort of battle that, regrettably can’t involve her firsts.
“Alright.” She sighs. Then nods. “We can’t leave this stuff with SMC. And it’s too dangerous to sell. But I’m not about to trust any government that we could potentially turn it into; we’d be locked up and they’d use the stuff anyways. So what’s the plan, Ruby?”
“I think…” Ruby nudges one of guards with her boot, but gently, almost absently. “We’re going to have to blow it up.”
Yang opens her mouth. Then closes it. It’s not like she has a better plan.
“Okay, then. Let’s get moving.”
It’s not like she’s looking forward to getting to create a massive and nuclear explosion for the good of all mankind, but Yang’s a little disappointed when the plans don’t play out. But that might have more to do with the fact that the interruption comes in the form of an angry Schnee heiress, who manages to disrupt their engines, dismantle their security, lock them both in the cockpit, and board their ship, all before either Ruby or Yang know she’s there at all.
Yang is furious; Ruby’s impressed.
“It was the backend on the firing computer, wasn’t it? That’s how you got in? Nora told us that was a weak spot that someone could infiltrate, but — ugh! — upgrading was going to cost tens of thousands of credits! Tens! Of! Thousands! Nora said most people wouldn’t even know about that flaw anyways!”
“I,” says Weiss Schnee, as she steps through the cockpit door, electrosword drawn, white cape billowing out behind her, “am not most people.”
Yang rolls her eyes; Ruby lets out a high pitched squeak.
“So cool! Is that electrosword custom? Why did you go with the rapier shape? What’s the control box fo— oh can you switch between the effect? Electro or vibro or whatever? Can it stop plasma? Would it work against a — ”
“Ruby,” Yang groans. “She just hijacked the Crescent Rose. Maybe don’t talk shop with the person trying to kill us and probably take our ship?”
“What use would I have for this hunk of scrap metal?” Weiss sniffs.
“Hey!” Ruby, finally, draws her blaster from the worn, black holster strapped to her thigh; insults to her pride and joy usually resulted in similarly aggressive actions, even when the culprit wasn’t trying to kill them.
“And I’m not here to kill you. The goods you stole are the property of the Schnee Mining Company.” She cuts her sword to the side; as far as Yang can tell, the action is only meant to dramatically punctuate her words with the slight hum of the electric blade slicing through the air. “I have been tasked with retrieving them. And bringing you to justice.”
“Oh, right,” Yang drawls, crossing her arms. “Because you’re gonna let this go through the proper channels. You’re gonna go on public record about everything your ships were carrying. You’re gonna take us to court.”
“And why wouldn’t we? We’d barely have to hire an attorney. There are literally boxes of evidence all over this ship.”
“Hmm.” Yang rubs the cuff of one of her fingerless gloves against her chin. “Which boxes? Can you be specific? We’ve got a lot of stuff we transport through one hundred percent legal channels.”
The electrosword slices through the air again. “The boxes with the Schnee Mining Company logo stamped on every surface.”
“Uh huh. Right.” She nods slowly, the picture of patience (if not for the weapons, probably). “Well. Maybe we just like your boxes. Did that occur to you? We put a bunch of other stuff in them. Medicine for sick and underprivileged children, stuffed animals with googly eyes, food and water for refugees…. things like that. Stuff for the good of mankind that you probably wouldn’t recognize. We just shove those good ‘ol Schnee boxes full of all of it!”
“They’re very sturdy,” Ruby chimes in.
Weiss’s lips twist into an odd shape, flattened but curved at the same time. “So that Schnee Mining Company box right there, right next to your scruffy boots isn’t — ?”
“Um, excuse me, these are made from genuine gundark leather. And I killed the gundark myself. Do you know how many claws they have? Do you?”
“Six. Teen,” Ruby’s enunciation, her absolutely perfect use of pause and drama, means Yang has to offer her a quick fist bump, which gets returned with enthusiasm.
The woman holding them at sword-point is less than impressed.
“— Isn’t full of unrefined thorilide crystals?” she continues, as though she hadn’t been interrupted at all.
“Um.” Yang blinks, exchanges a look with Ruby. “No, actually. Wait, do you not even know what was on your own ships?”
“Hah!” The sword lifts, points in Yang’s direction. “So you admit these came from Schnee Mining Company ships? That you’re responsible for the theft of personal property? Honestly, it’s almost sad how easy it was to find you, and now corner you in your own lies. I’d heard you were smugglers of some repute when I looked into this heist. Apparently that was incorrect.”
“Whoa, okay! Let’s not get nasty, alright? We are incredible smugglers.”
“Free traders,” Ruby corrects. “We prefer the term free traders!”
“We are incredible free traders,” Yang continues smoothly, taking the substitution in stride. “Did you ever hear about the three thousand kilograms of chak-root that made it safely from Eysthes to the middle of Galactic City? How about the four dozen R2 units that were slipped out of Coreillia? The basic foodstuff that the people of Naboo got despite the blockade on the whole system? Yeah. All of that was us.”
“Allegedly!” With a skip forward, Ruby nudges Yang in the side none-too-gently. “Totally allegedly.”
“I find all of these…. alleged feats hard to believe, given it took me a day and a half to track you down with minimal effort,” Weiss sniffs, still waving her sword about like a snooty ringmaster. “A call to the last place our ship was seen, a five minute conversation with an attendant who noticed a bright red, heavily modified star yacht that obviously belonged to smugglers — one of whom was a woman with a needlessly flashy prosthetic — and I knew everything I needed to know. Honestly, have neither of you heard of subtlety? It’s insulting I was called on to bring you in. A waste of my talents.”
Yang scoffs. “Ever heard of a trademark, lady? Putting your stamp on things? Ever heard of Robyn Hill and the Happy Huntress? You think her emblem isn’t all over that ship and her crew? There’s a reason for that.”
“I actually just really like red.” Ruby says, like she isn’t currently wearing a red shoulder cloak, red boots, red gloves, red-tinted glass on the goggles around her neck, and pants with red stripes and patches woven into the black cloth.
“Ever heard of synthskin?” Weiss shoots back, ignoring the interruption. “You could cover that yellow and black monstrosity with it and maybe not get picked out of a crowd from a hundred meters by an eldery woman with failing vision.”
“It’s a look, princess. And besides, not all of us have a basement full of credits that we can swim around in and spend on silly cosmetics. What’s your excuse with the pretty little scar running through your eye? Or was that a touch you asked your personal surgeon to add in to make yourself look less like the pampered socialite you are?”
A flash of anger crosses Weiss’s face — cold and far different from anything she’s displayed thus far — and it’s with surprise (and interest) that Yang notes it isn’t really directed at her at all.
“No,” Weiss says shortly. “It’s a reminder. Now stop stalling. Kick that box over or I’ll come get it myself.”
Yang lifts her wrist blasters again, having let her arms settle at her side in the middle of all the bickering. “Okay. Come and get it. There’s two of us and you have a sword. Who uses swords? Seriously!”
“While I’m quite confident I would come out as the victor in this particular match, let’s avoid it entirely; a single move towards me, and my ship — which has remotely operated cannons — will decimate your transparisteel.”
“And then you’ll get sucked out into space along with us. Please.”
Ruby snickers. “We’re not that dumb.”
“But you are somewhat moronic?” Weiss lifts a brow. “I agree. Note the magno-grip abilities of my soles. And that I might create a bubble respirator around my mouth whenever I wish.” She demonstrates both with a few quick taps against the control panel slotted into her gauntlet. “I’ll ask again; kick the box over.”
“Okay, see, if you knew what was in this box, you really wouldn’t want that.”
The words come out instinctively — something to say just to say it, no matter how true it night be — but her mind is focused on the woman in front of them rather than any potential quips that might be shared. Weiss had been easy to discount when she’d first entered; the ridiculous white cape and boots and braided hair, the thin sword that looked like it might break at first use, the nonsensical SMC logo plastered on each arm of her structured, almost militaristic jacket, and the delicate features of the woman herself; all of it combined gave off a particular vibe that Yang was suddenly doubting was especially accurate. There was a sharpness present, a hunger underneath it all, but none of the starkness that so often came from a lack of empathy. There’s something more to this woman, Yang realizes then, but it’s covered by an awful lot of bluster. The realization makes her want to dig.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Weiss sneers, in a way that makes Yang nearly forget her so-recent revelation.
“It means that you think there’s raw minerals in here. But Daddy Dearest has been up to a lot more than that.”
Weiss frowns, and gestures at Ruby with her electrosword with no small amount of hesitation. “Put down the blaster and bring the box over, then. Slowly.”
Ruby doesn’t hesitate, only glances at Yang to offer a smile of reassurance as she hands over her weapon, and carefully lifts the box (strain in the muscles of her arms evident). Throughout the whole of the 15 steps she needs to take, Weiss watches her through narrow eyes, but Ruby gives her no reason to worry; when she’s placed the box at Weiss’s feet, she backs away slowly, hands up.
“Be careful,” Ruby warns, with genuine concern that seems to extend to Weiss rather than just the two people in the room who would also be vaporized if the woman didn’t heed their warning. “We kept this one up here to make sure it wasn’t jostled.”
“I’m not sure what the two of you hope to achieve with this nonsense, but — ” She hits the release on the cargo container with her boot (and enough force to make both Ruby and Yang flinch). It’s clear she means it to be a victorious moment — the box opening and revealing nothing more than innocent crystals — but the nuke inside definitely puts a halt to her plans.
“What — what is this?”
“A G179 Nuclear Missile,” Ruby supplies helpfully. “Please don’t touch it. They aren’t super duper stable. I don’t know what your dad was thinking, transporting it in a container like this.” Ruby pauses. “Probably so it wouldn’t actually look like a nuclear missile. Since they’re super illegal.”
“You — you put this in here.” Yang almost feels bad for the woman (the look of distress on her face is clearly genuine), but only almost.
“Right, because we totally have access to nuclear weapons. People just send those out with smugglers — ”
“Free traders!” Ruby interrupts again.
“People just send those out with free traders all the time! Especially those who have a limited reputation. Still a good reputation, obviously, but also not as widely known because they’re sort of just starting out.” She tilts her head as she watches Weiss consider this, her thought process practically displayed like a hologram above her head. “You really didn’t know anything about this, huh? Aren’t you the heiress to this whole conglomerate mess? To all the Schnee holdings, even the ones they don’t stick their name on? What are you gonna tell us next? That everyone killing themselves for five credits a day in your mines is getting a fair wage? Not to mention the slaves you bring in.”
Weiss stiffens, her face closing off as she slowly looks away from the storage container. “All of our employees receive compensation that’s in line with the law.”
“The law’s a bunch of druk,” Yang cuts in, face hardening. “As long as you use mines outside of Republic juristiction, even slavery is a-okay. Ever been to Mos Espa, princess? I heard the Schnees buy a lot of labor there.”
“That’s — those are rumors started by our competitions. We don’t use slaves. And while I agree conditions could be better in our mines, I — ” Weiss falters, strong stance slipping away, both verbally and physically. “I’d always planned on… making changes. Once I was in charge.”
Yang snorts. “So a little exploitation of hundreds of thousands of people is fine for now, huh? Tell me, do you walk through the halls of your mansion with your eyes literally closed? Because you say you don’t know about the slavery — which isn’t a rumor, by the way; we have been to Mos Espa, unlike you — and you don’t know about your company funding some kind of Separatist nuclear war, so… kinda seems like you’re missing a lot.”
“Yang.” Ruby’s voice is softer than it should be, and Yang knows right away she’s about to do something stupidly kind. “She didn’t know. Look at her. She didn’t know it was this bad. Maybe now she’ll want to help us. To make things right.”
“Want to — ” Yang sighs, pressing her fingers against the spot in between her eyebrows and rubbing gently. “She still looks about ready to try to strike us down with that ridiculous knife. Actually, hey, could you maybe put that thing away already.”
To everyone’s surprise (Weiss very much included), she does, sheathing it in the (of course white, of course completely unscuffed) scabbard at her belt without even a second’s hesitation. Afterwards she blinks, staring down at the hand that had completed the action, and releases the hilt with far more hesitance. And when she looks up at Ruby and Yang — eyes flickering between them — the confusion is plain in the deep crease along her brow.
“Help with what?”
It’s not an opening she was expecting, but Yang will take it.
“Help with destroying a bunch of illegal weapons. Obviously.”
Weiss gets in touch with them a couple weeks later through the Crescent Rose’s holoprojector, broadcasting her full image into the longue of the ship, though neither Ruby nor Yang gave her their comm digits.
“You were right,” Weiss says, without any preamble.
It’s a very different version of the woman they’d seen before, the same cold facade still present, but thinned dramatically, cracks in the projection multiplying. She’s no longer in her pristine Schnee uniform, but instead wears a cloak of dark blue and a simple, grey, high-necked blouse underneath. The dramatic braid is gone as well: the sides are cropped short and her bangs left long, sticking up every which way under her hood. But more than anything else, there’s something new in her eyes, and Yang recognizes it immediately for what it is: defiance.
“Hi, Weiss,” Ruby says, like they’re already the best of buddies. “Does this mean you’re going to help us detonate some nuclear missiles in a way that doesn’t hurt anyone and also doesn’t bring the full weight of SMC on top of us?”
Weiss nods sharply. “I’m going to help. But we’re going to do more than simply depose those weapons.” She pauses for dramatic effect, and honestly? Yang can respect it when it’s aligned with her interests. “We’re going to bring the whole Schnee Mining Company down.”
“Um.” Yang searches for the right words for an extended moment, but comes up empty. “What?”
“Also, I may have caused a bit of a scene and I’m no longer the heiress to the company and also my father has framed me for embezzlement and so I’m presently on the run.” She sucks in a short breath. “How quickly can you get to Alderaan?”
“Um,” Yang says again.
“”Fourteen hours!” Ruby shouts, already scrambling around looking for her boots. “Send us the coordinates; we got you, Weiss!”
“Great. And Yang?” Yang, still slightly stunned by the whole turn of events, turns to the hologram wordlessly. “No more mind tricks. It won’t work on me again. My sister is a Jedi and I’m well aware of all their maneuvers.”
“Um. Okay?” It comes out as a question, mainly because she has no idea what the hell Weiss is talking about. “Sure.”
The transmission cuts out soon after that, and Yang is left wondering what she’s just agreed to. On literally every front.
As though Ruby is reading her thoughts, she slaps Yang on the shoulder, grins wide, and summarizes the whole of the situation quite effectively:
“We’re getting a new crewmate!”
There’s more enthusiasm in the declaration than Yang can muster.
— 4 —
When Yang sleeps, she often dreams. Sometimes, it’s nonsensical; shapes and colors and sounds. Other times, the figures and scenes are exact, every face clear and indistinguishable from real life. Tonight, it’s different; a memory. Or something like it. Something tangential to it, but with details peppered in that she couldn’t possibly know. (But still believes.)
Gold eyes are all she remembers when she wakes, but an odd insistence remains, the press of the universe feels as obvious as any other physical force: gravity or air resistance or friction, and it’s enough to get her to roll out of bed, bare feet curling against the cold metal of the floor as she stretches the last remnants of sleep out of her system. The ship is cold at night, a preference of all three of them (though they deal it in different ways: Yang with an unnaturally high body heat, Ruby with enough blankets to coat the surface of a small planet, and Weiss with the resistance to the cold that came from growing up on an ice world), but Yang’s only wearing a sleeveless tunic, and goosebumps form on her bare arms as she heads towards the lounge. Or more specifically the galley, where Weiss typically had a not-so-hidden stash of spice cake waiting. She’s halfway through a slice when the feeling doubles down in intensity, and she nearly groans when she gives into the sensation and hops down off the counter.
“Fine,” she grumbles (at no one in particular other than the push of the stars). “But I’m taking the cake while I look.”
The Crescent Rose isn’t especially large — it was built to be a rich man’s pleasure cruise for himself and seven friends, though Yang and Ruby had repurposed nearly all the suits for more practical purposes — and it doesn’t take her long to check each of them on the top floor. They’ve docked for the night at a worn-down depot in Bothan Space (where long-term stay was permitted for a nominal fee), which makes the search of the cockpit, circuit bays, workshops, and medical bay a lonely pursuit, no Ruby or Weiss to be found in their typical places, filling up the ship with exclamations or rebuttals or bickering. But the feeling shifts dramatically as Yang makes her way downstairs; the goosebumps reappear and it has little to do with the temperature. She places her plate and fork — only crumbs left — atop one of the crates in cargo and slots her hands on her hips, cocking her head and listening for a single sound that would validate the prickling feeling at the back of her neck. She comes up empty.
“I know you’re here,” she calls out anyways, because intuition has always served her better than logic anyways. “Come out. I won’t hurt you.”
There’s a beat of silence, but only one.
“That,” returns a low voice from the back of the hold. “Is not so much my concern.”
The room is too dark to make out even the outline of the figure, or at least it is until a vibrant purple beam lights up the air around it, and the cloaked being holding the hilt it originates from.
“Fuck,” Yang says, and takes one large step back, calmly opening up comms with a single touch to the screen embedded into her prosthetic. “Weiss? Need you down in cargo. You’re always saying your fancy electrosword can withstand a lightsaber, right? Because I’ve got one down here and it’s not being used by your sister coming by for a quick ch — ”
The figure steps forward again, the distinctive sizzle of their saber as it passes through the open air deafening in distinctiveness if not volume; Yang’s as brave as they come, but she’s not ashamed to take another leap backwards, raising her arm and engaging her prosthetic’s targeting. She’d left her wrist blaster in the room, because it’s the middle of the standard night and her ship is secure and she hadn’t exactly been expecting a lightsaber wielding intruder when she wandered off looking for a snack. So. The solo blaster will have to do. She’s not sure that doubling her firing power would have any effect on the figure anyways, who certainly isn’t dissuaded by Yang’s current display of force, continuing their forward movement until…. she stops.
She, because it’s suddenly very apparent that she knows the woman in front of her.
In a way.
(In her dreams that felt like memories. In the tug of the planets around them and the distant pull of gravity, just out of reach in the vacuum of space.)
She knows her.
“Yang?” Her comms flare to life; Weiss, panic in her voice. “Did you say — I’m on my way. Ruby is too. Run if you have to, do you hear me?”
The woman makes a soft sound beneath her cloak; her expressions aren’t visible — not in the purple glow of her lightsaber and certainly not when she turns it off — but Yang understands the sigh is born in deep weariness.
“Perhaps I’m the one who should run.” Her voice is exactly what Yang expects: soft and low and oddly warm. More than anything else, it’s familiar. Or, not familiar itself, exactly, but closely related to something that is.
Yang shakes her head. Lowers her arm. “Not this time.” And then she swallows heavily, because she doesn’t understand anything about this (doesn’t care if she does). “Please.”
There’s tension coiled in the folds of the woman’s cloak, transferred from the frame underneath, so prepared to escape. There’s no question as to whether Yang would be able to stop her physically, so words are her only choice.
“Please,” she says again. And, though it can’t possibly be true, “I know you.”
The woman holds still.
The Universe holds its breath.
(Yang does too.)
They’re both left disappointed; the moment shatters, as though the blaster bolt that suddenly streaks between them hits a mirror rather than the blade of the woman’s saber, flaring to life a split second before the plasma energy can reach its intended target. It doesn’t reflect away as is typically the case (with blasters other than those made by Ruby, uniquely designed as they were), but instead is absorbed by the lightsaber, and the force of it has the woman taking a half-stumbling step back as the lights in the cargo hold all turn on at once. In all the movement, the woman’s hood falls off, and Yang’s breath flies out of her in a rush.
People had told stories about the Jedi and Sith for eons, fairytales passed from generation to generation until the myth felt awfully far from reality. And sure, Yang had her own personal connections to the legendary warriors — had even run across one or two in the wild, on the rarest of occasion — but to her they had always felt removed, distinct from sentient emotions or struggles or realities. The Force (and everything that went with it) seemed an ethereal, distant thing that a smuggler like Yang had no real use for when simply feeding her small family (living another day, lining up another gig) was of far more concern.
But on this woman’s face, she sees emotions that are real: stark disbelief, a flash of anger, lingering despair. She is raw and mortal and relatable and scared. And yet. She is breathtaking. Power flows around her like a current — as tangible as a blackhole or pit of quicksand — that somehow is matched by the woman’s beauty: long, dark hair that curls around her face, sharp lines in along her jaw and cheeks, and eyes lit up with a color that Yang’s been drawn to the whole of her life. It takes a second, but the reason for all those emotions so clearly on display finally comes back to Yang, mainly because Ruby decides to shout all about it.
“There’s more where that came from if you don’t get away from my sister! I don’t care what you can do with your fancy light-up sword, we will take you down!”
The dual thumps that follow are Yang’s only warning that more is coming, but she still manages to reach out an arm and catch Weiss’s front, her forearm knocking along the woman’s collarbone, wrist twisting so she can curl her fingers back around Weiss’s shoulder and hold.
“Yang, what the hell?” Weiss strains against her grip, and even the clearly capable Force user in front of them senses the danger contained in the small form that Yang can barely hold back. Interrupted mid-sleep, Weiss is wearing nothing but a long tunic, and that — combined with the disheveled hair and fury in her eyes — makes her look more than a little unhinged. “Did she use a mind trick? I’ll kill her. My sister’s a Jedi, you chuff-sucking leech; she taught me how to take one of you middling Sith apprentices down in my sleep.”
“Whoa, slow down, princess. Relax!”
The woman has to deflect another blaster bolt from Ruby — grunting softly with the impact — but makes no move to retaliate, only blows a wayward strand of black out of her face, gold eyes narrowing in the process.
“Ruby, stop, it’s fine. Come down here. We know her.” She can feel the way Weiss shifts out of her aggression, shoulders slumping against Yang’s arm until she’s released. “Just relax, okay. I didn’t realize — everyone just relax.”
“What do you mean we know her?” Ruby leaps over the railing, much as Weiss had, and moves closer, skepticism all over her face (though her blaster has been lowered ever since Yang first gave the word). “We don’t know any — ohhh.” Ruby nods. A lot. “Okay. You’re the girl from the shuttle with the torpedoes. The one Yang almost punched Hazel in the face over. The one she has those weird dreams about. Yeah, okay. We saw her like five years ago, or something.”
“I’m sorry?” Weiss finally drops the point out of her weapon, more out of incredulity than purpose. “Yang met this girl half a decade ago, lost it completely, and now it’s completely fine said girl broke onto our ship?”
The heat hits Yang’s face like circuits frying, an engine overheating, a kilogram of thermite catching a spark. She feels it spread across her cheeks — imagines her freckles disappearing under the bright red — and down her neck. Worse, Weiss notices immediately, and her objection from approximately one second prior is apparently no longer quite as pressing.
“Nevermind,” she says with a smile that Yang has never seen before and finds at once endearing and infuriating. “Yang’s matching the color of the hull of our ship in a way that’s entirely unprecedented. I find I’m delighted. Please continue.”
“That’s not — ” Yang stumbles over her words for a few moments. “We haven’t met. Not exactly.” She turns back to the woman, whose face is almost but not entirely blank, placidity given away by the smallest curve at the corner of her lips. “I don’t even know your name.”
The woman extinguishes her saber and clips it to her belt.
All three of them wait for more, but nothing follows.
“Okay. Well. I’m Yang. This is my sister Ruby — ”
“ — This is Weiss, our resident killjoy — ”
“ — And this — ” She gestures at the hold around them and more broadly at the walls and ceiling and floor. “ — Is our ship, the Crescent Rose.”
“Our ship,” Weiss reemphasizes. “So perhaps you ought to explain to what nefarious purpose you illegally hacked your way on board.”
“Of course,” Blake says softly. “I can certainly expl —”
“Nah, no need. I get it.”
Three sets of eyes turn to focus on Ruby intently, with various degrees of disbelief; she waves them all off with a quick flick of her wrist. Somehow, Ruby looks the most put together of them all; she’s still in her clothing from the day before, though she’s removed the cape and cloak, and her shirt is gaping open at the neck. But It’s the boots that really do it, Yang figures; next to Weiss and Yang’s bare feet, the boots add a certain element of authority.
“You… get it,” Weiss repeats slowly. “I’m sorry, but you get why this woman broke into our ship and threatened your sister with a lightsaber?”
“I wouldn’t say threatened,” Yang mumbles and Blake’s mouth twitches again.
“Yeah! I totally get it!” For a moment, it seems as though Ruby isn’t inclined to elaborate, but looking around her, she picks up on the stares of expectation, and sighs. “Alright. So. Blake was with that psycho guy with the red hair and the creepy mask for a while and she was all about like, the whole general vibe of what he was all about, but then he lost it — or maybe he’d already lost it way back but it became more obvious to her? I don’t know — either way, suddenly, he was working with major evil people and doing some real bad stuff and she was like, whoa I just wanted to learn how to use a lightsaber and maybe take the Republic down a peg — we totally get that, by the way. Does anyone trust Chancellor Momba at this point? That lady is taking power like it’s water and she’s been wandering the deserts of Tatooine for days before finally finding a moisture farm, right? — And so Blake is like, this take-over-the whole-galaxy thing is not what I signed up for! So obviously after that, she runs and now she’s still running and that’s why she’s here, trying to stowaway or steal our ship, just so she can put a little more distance between herself and that crazy Sith guy as possible.”
By the end of the explanation, Weiss has dropped her sword completely, Yang is nodding, and Blake’s eyes are wide enough that every fleck of gold and yellow (and all the variations in between) can be clearly seen.
“That… is accurate,” she breathes.
“Cool!” A thumbs up maybe isn’t the most traditional choice for the situation, but it’s what Ruby goes with nevertheless. “Then it’s settled.”
“Ruby,” Weiss begins, tone warning, and Yang doesn’t hold back her grin.
Some of the surprise has left Blake’s face, but it’s obvious she’s still confused by the situation; her eyes roam between the crewmembers of the Crescent Rose (but always come back to Yang, always get stuck there in the end).
“What have you settled?” There’s wariness on top of the confusion, winning out in the end.
“You’re coming with us! Obviously!” Ruby beams, taking a step towards Blake, more as a result of her own enthusiasm rather than due to any particular purpose. “ We travel all over the place and don’t really set down roots, so it’ll be nearly impossible for that bantha-brain to keep track of you. Plus, you can help us out and make some credits while you wait for things to die down, so it’s a win-win!”
“Ruby!” Weiss stomps her foot once. She appears to regret the action immediately, given her bare feet and the metal flooring. “She’s a Sith!”
“Not… technically,” Blake murmurs.
“Yeah! Not technically! And anyways, so what? Pretty sure she’s just trying to get away from a bad situation. Kind of like you needed to, Weiss. Besides — ” She waves her blaster about, imitates the sound of firing it. “We can take her if she decides to get feisty. We’re awesome.”
“It’s true your weapons are impressive, but — ”
“Ruby modded them!” Yang cuts in, as excited as she always is to highlight her sister’s talents. “Basically gutted the circuitry of all of our stuff. Even Weiss, though it took her awhile to trust Ruby to do it, since the finest minds on Coruscant developed her fancy little multi-sword. But check this out.”
She lifts her prosthetic and taps a few buttons on the control pad to lift the plating, revealing the wiring and mechanical components underneath. Just in front of the motorized ball-joint of her wrist, a small wristcannon pops out from the other components, revealing a soft, green glow just underneath the standard components of a blaster.
“That… is not a kyber crystal.” Blake doesn’t sound completely certain, however, and lifts an arm out of the folds of her cloak — seemingly transfixed — reaching for the small crystal tucked within the circuitry of Yang’s arm, before shaking her head and pulling back sharply.
“It’s synthetic. I’ve always wanted to mess around with the structure of a typical amplification material — like a prismatic crystal — to try to better match the effect of kyber crystals. No one really knows how they work, because the Jedi don’t exactly advertise the abilities of the thing that makes their magical weapons not explode into a million pieces, but I thought that if I could match some of the properties of Kyber — ”
“Not that anyone on this ship knows anything about the properties of kyber,” Weiss cuts in. “Given that it’s a particularly guarded secret of the Jedi. And if a member of the Jedi order were to explain more about how lightsabers work to someone outside of the Order — even if it was only in an effort to better educate a close family member, for example, about how best to fight a lightsaber user should the need arise — that person would be in tremendous trouble.”
“What was that you said about us not being subtle, way back when?” Yang mutters.
Weiss crosses her arms, glares at Yang, and then shifts her stare to Blake, seemingly as a matter of principle. “Shut up.”
“Anyways,” Yang continues. “Basically, Ruby made synthetic kyber that’s way better than anything anyone else has made ever, because it actually works and doesn’t explode. Two really helpful things when it comes to weaponry! Especially when that weaponry is right in the middle of my arm.”
“I was… curious.” It’s an admission more than anything else, and Blake looks hesitant to reveal it at all. “Typically blaster bolts reflect off the blade of a lightsaber, and hers did not. I could also — the impact could be felt. It was fairly unpleasant.”
“Good,” Weiss sniffs. “Because I still don’t understand why we’re sitting here revealing information about ourselves and inviting you on our ship when you just snuck on board, most likely to slaughter us in our sleep and then fly away, no one the wiser.”
Locking her arm back into place, Yang uses it to shove Weiss backwards towards Ruby, who catches her in the small of her back and nudges her forward again.
“You’re outvoted, Weiss, give it up.”
“And that wasn’t my plan,” Blake offers, as hesitant as she’d been throughout the majority of this conversation. “I was only hoping to make my way to the next sector.” The smallest of smiles slides over her face. “Just my luck that I’d try to stowaway on a force adept’s ship. A failed venture if I’ve ever heard one, and from the very start.”
A crease appears in Yang’s brow, and her lips purse in a frown. “Who? Do you mean Weiss? Because of the whole sister-being-a-Jedi thing? I don’t think she’s actually all Force-using or anything. And also she’s our newest member, so I’d hardly call the Crescent Rose hers.”
More confusion, this time spread amongst the three people now looking at Yang with degrees of exasperation or good-humor mixed it.
“Shut up, Yang,” Weiss grumbles, rolling her eyes. “You can’t joke about this sort of thing to an actual Force user.”
“I’m not — ” She looks around at Ruby, who offers her a sympathetic smile. “What? I’m not joking.”
“It’s kind of a… difficult topic,” Ruby explains (in a way that makes absolutely no sense to Yang) over Weiss’s subsequent groan. “We try not to talk about it much. Yang’s mom was a Jedi, but then things got… complicated.”
“Wait. Stop. What?” Her hair — hastily tied up in a ponytail before she’d fallen asleep — nearly hits her in the face with every sharp turn of her neck, focus shifting between Weiss and Ruby in a rapid-fire. “Why are we talking about Raven? She has nothing to do with anything.”
Ruby blinks. “She — I mean, that’s probably where you inherited it from? That’s how it normally works.” She pauses, looking at Weiss. “Right?”
But Weiss doesn’t return the look, focusing instead on Yang, her eyes narrowed for a long moment before some sort of revelation hits her, and they widen once more.
“You…. absolute laserbrain,” she finally shouts, balling her free hand into a fist and socking Yang directly in the shoulder. “You void-breathing swamp rat! All this time… you really meant it. I thought you were joking whenever you made some smartass remark about luck. Like you do with your arm — like when you told me you lost it to a rabid herd of porgs!”
“That could have happened.” Yang’s still wholly confused, but not about to let her good name be tarnished. “That totally could have happened.”
“How about when — a week later — you told that bartender that you lost it saving three orphans and an eldery Twi-lek from a gas explosion?”
“That also could have happened. In theory.”
Weiss then breaks out a long string of words in a language that Yang can’t understand, but gets the gist of anyways. (The gist is this: Weiss is extremely unhappy.)
“You want to know how I really lost it?” Yang asks, leaning in towards Blake (and thoroughly ignoring Weiss’s tirade).
“There I was,” Yang begins in a hush. “Stranded on the white sands of Abafar, right in the middle of the Void. The only thing standing between Darth Salem and a Sith superweapon of unimaginable power was me, a sharpened fork, and my pet monkey-lizard, Miss Reggie Mortimer the Third.”
“By the abyss, I’m going to strangle you!” Weiss finally bursts out, a long-dormant geyser erupting. “How can you not know you’re force sensitive, Yang?”
“Um, because I’m not?” Yang laughs. “You’re the one who can use a lightsaber, princess.”
“That was through hard work and extensive training, and I’m still only barely proficient! Do you know how long it took me to learn the fifth form? Seven years. If I had any of my sister’s aptitude for the Force I would have come far further in my studies, but as it is, I am limited by the fact that my connection to it is no more than that of a plant’s. And here you are, with Force sensitivity in spades and you think — ”
“How do you know about Salem?”
It’s the first time (since she was stalking towards Yang with her lightsaber extended) that Blake has seemed particularly aggressive, and the harshness of her tone manages to shock even a mid-tirade Weiss into silence.
“We’re smugglers.” Yang smiles, as though it’ll lessen both the blaze tone and the contents of the (short) statement. “We pick up a little of everything, especially when a big war’s going on. It helps to know about the different big players on each side.”
“We don’t know who she is — no one does — but after the Battle of Geonosis last month, everyone knows the Separatists are being backed by Cinder,” Ruby explains with a small frown. “And we hear that Cinder is the apprentice, not the master.”
“Cinder told Master Ozpin that she served a greater power.” Weiss — recovered enough from her annoyance to speak on a subject which she knew more about than most — taps her foot impatiently, the soft slaps echoing throughout the room. “The Jedi Council is investigating this Darth Salem now.”
“I’m guessing your old mentor is aligned with them,” Yang offers, somewhat tentatively, like the words might hurt (and, judging from Blake’s small flinch, they do). “Because that’s the only reason I can picture Hazel working with Sith; he wants the Jedi destroyed more than he wants anything.”
“You aren’t still — ”
“No.” Yang takes a step closer, keeping her voice low and her stare earnest. “We haven’t heard from Hazel in quite some time. Though he did warn us to be careful. A few months back, before they officially started calling it a war. Between his comments then and the things we’ve heard from Winter… we have enough to piece things together. Which we use to stay out of the way, for the most part. We take from the people supplying the Separatists — mainly Weiss’s dad, who’s running for senator by the way, isn’t that a fucking joke? — and help people who are caught in the crossfire, once everyone with a lightsaber has left the area.”
“And you could help us,” Ruby says with a smile. “If you keep that hood up and use a staff instead of a saber, no one will know who you are. And we’ll be planets — if not systems — away from wherever the Republic and Separatists are fighting.”
“I think you are underestimating Adam’s rage,” Blake murmurs, eyes downcast. “Even in the middle of this war, he will make finding me — punishing me — a priority.”
“All the more reason to stay in a place he’ll never look. A random smuggling outfit in the Outer Rim isn’t exactly an obvious fit for a runaway with a lightsaber.”
She’s overcome with a staunch belief that if she doesn’t convince Blake now — if she lets her walk out of this cargo hold and down the boarding ramp — the galaxy will fall into an irreparable state of wrongness. And in the moments that follow — as they all watch Blake shift her gaze between each of them, never remaining on one person for long — the very molecules of the air around them seem to condense on themselves, until it carries the pressure felt on a planet with a far stronger gravitational force. She thinks Weiss and Ruby might pick up on it too — feel the tension that comes with the universe teetering on a precipice that even Yang cannot possibly begin to understand — and maybe that’s why Weiss’s objections (to so many things) fade away and Ruby continues to offer her most encouraging smile and why they both follow Yang’s lead in barely breathing for fear a too-loud exhale will send Blake running, this time without any encouragement from Yang (this time with the exact opposite from Yang).
The room (the space around them, the stars above) sucks in a great inhale, and the tension bleeds out with it. Blake even smiles.
“I will… journey with you all. And help to the best of my ability,” Blake continues, and if her stare waves from Yang’s, Yang doesn’t notice. “Thank you.”
“Good.” Ruby smiles and clasps Yang on the back. Weiss — in her typical fashion — huffs, but — counter to it — says nothing more. “You’ll be paid fairly and have a room on the Crescent Rose for as long as you’d like.”
Forever, Yang thinks (tells her). Stay forever.
And maybe Blake hears this too, just as she had those five years ago, because she smiles in a crooked sort of way that reminds Yang of the twists of fate.
“I won’t overstay my welcome.” Blake nods, and there’s an air of finality to it, a shiver in the air around them as the promise settles. “I will not allow any harm to come to any of you on my behalf. If I ever become a danger to any of you, I will be sure to take my leave.”
Yang can’t say where the certainty comes from, but she smiles with the knowledge that that day — if it ever arrives — will be too far in the future to matter.
(Another part of her thinks — despite the impossibility — that it will never come.)
Break me with that truth
Take on my fractions
Shaping something new
Out of the fragments
Light up this old soul
I was broken
Now we're golden
[Fractions by Juniper Vale]
— 5 —
After a year and a half, that day — the one where Blake ups and leaves in the middle of the night (and Yang has to spend the rest of her life looking for her) — has not come. Neither has the one in which Weiss forgives Yang for the theft of her spice cake on the very same night that Blake had decided to stay. (She’d discovered the plate — only crumbs left on the ceramic — shortly after Blake had made her declaration — and had sworn to never forgive Yang for it. So far, she’d held almost impressively strong on the vow.)
“I have to get some —”
“Spice cake, I know.”
Time has led to many changes when it came to Blake, but Yang’s very favorite is on display now: her wide teasing smile and the way she leans in towards Yang while she flashes it. She still wears her cloak (though in a rich purple, rather than black, which Weiss had purchased on Blake’s behalf after getting tired of her ‘sulking around in a tattered rag’), still keeps her lightsaber on her person (though in a small pouch at the small of her back that allowed for concealment and quick-release that Ruby had put together), and still avoids drawing attention to herself in any public setting. But in private — amongst the four-member crew of the Crescent Rose — she’s likely to let bits of herself shine through. Like now, as she hits Yang with that low drawl that makes it extremely difficult for her to focus on the mission at hand.
(And maybe this is Yang’s favorite change; the fact that Blake was liable to offer things — things Yang could now envision perfectly well — without mentioning them at all.)
“How long are you going to be punished for this particular offense, do you think?”
Yang taps her lips in a show of careful consideration, and a promise of her own, which Blake — eyes following the motion with interest — doesn’t miss. “Are you asking me how long Weiss can hold a grudge? Because I don’t think the universe has been around long enough for me to say.”
It’s windy on Arkania, and the next gust takes Blake’s soft laugh with it. And if Yang shifts slightly — angling her shoulders just so — to block any subsequent squalls from doing the same, no one will be able to prove it. Even Blake, who smiles in a way that’s a little too knowing. Granted, it’s not like she minds; that’s clear as a sunny day on Lothal when she tucks in a little closer herself, happy for the excuse.
“Information first?” Blake asks, lifting a brow. “Or spice cake?”
“Hopefully both at the same time. Though I can’t say I trust the drinks or food when they combine it all in one place like this.”
“And when they add in rooms for rent, you know they’re asking for too much.”
“But,” Yang counters with a conspiratorial wink. “Hopefully that means Weiss’s cake won’t be any good at all and she’ll stop demanding I bring her back some at every place we visit.”
“We live to dream.” Given the deadpan, Blake doesn’t have much hope. Yang can’t blame her.
“Prospects are bleak, but the mission must be done. I am but a servant.” She presses her fist to her chest in mock salute, and Blake rolls her eyes in mock anything-other-than-fondness.
“I’m not sure that’s the first word I’d use to describe you.”
“No?” Her smile widens, twists. “Would you like it to be? In certain settings I can be whatever you want.”
“Yang,” Blake begins, tone warning (but lips twitching into a grin). “The real mission first, maybe.”
“Right. Spice cake. Got it. And,” Yang continues, after Blake swats her in the stomach. “Information. Obviously.”
The bar where their contact (or, more realistically: their contact of a contact of a contact) works isn’t anything fancy, but Yang runs a hand down her slacks and brushes any potential build up of dirt or sand off the sleeves of her bright gold shirt. The rest of her runthrough is more performative than anything; the way she shakes out her hair, widens the opening of her shirt by undoing another button at her chest, and rolls her shoulders to make sure the fur of her vest collar is perfectly level, these are all for Blake. As is what she asks next.
“Alright. How do I look?”
Blake doesn’t take the bait, at least not in the way Yang expects.
“You look fine,” she says, even as her fingers press into the gold clasp of Yang’s belt — slung low across her hips — and then trail upwards, catching on the soft fabric of Yang’s shirt until she reaches the end of the buttons. Her fingers curl in the opening and tug, until one more button comes undone. “Absolutely fine.”
Yang’s not too proud to hide her heavy swallow, or the way her mouth drops. (She isn’t capable of hiding it either, but that’s besides the point.)
“Right,” she breathes. “Great. I’ll… talk to the contact. And you — ”
Blake steps back, pulling her hood back up and tucking her hair into her cloak. “Will go for a more subtle approach. As always. I’ll be done with her room in ten minutes at most. If she doesn’t give you the name of the fence Jacques has been working with, I’m sure I’ll find something upstairs. Think you can keep her occupied for that long?”
Regaining a bit of her swagger, Yang gestures towards her newly unbuttoned front. “With these? Please. Give me a challenge.”
“Maybe later.” Another step back and Blake twists, cloak flaring out behind her in a way that Yang can’t help appreciate the drama of (even if it did always tend to hide certain assets). “If you manage to impress me.”
As far as motivation goes, it’s really top-notch.
Fifteen minutes, four drinks, two winks, and one lingering touch later, and Yang has a name and a general address for their quarry. She also has a few more free drinks lined up on her table, which she doesn’t touch, lest it diminish her ability to brag to Blake about her success (in more ways than one).
“You should be more careful with that, you know.”
As always, Blake ignores the common pleasantries around greetings and conversation, sliding into the seat across from Yang without any alert to her presence until she’s already there, mid-sentence. They’d all gotten used to it after a while, though Weiss had spilled her moof juice all over one of her pretty, white blouses just last week when Blake had dropped down into the galley from the ceiling. Still, such incidents were becoming less and less common (much to Yang’s disappointment; she’d laughed for a good ten minutes over the large orange splatter on Weiss’s shirt, and sworn looked exactly like a Wookie with both its middle fingers up), and Yang barely blinks when Blake appears before her now, without any of the standard warnings.
“Drinking from open containers?” Yang guesses, sliding one of the drinks over to Blake and pulling one (of a particularly vivid yellow) towards herself. “Come on, I have a full-fledged Force user watching over me. Can’t you just tell if someone slipped something in one of these just by looking at it? A… Force-y sense? That’s a thing, right?”
“You know it’s not.” Blake sniffs the concoction now in front of her, before taking a delicate sip. “I finished up before you did. I saw you talking to that woman.”
“No need to be jealous, sweetheart,” Yang says lowly, waggling her eyes. “It’s all for the mission.”
“You were using Suggestion.” The emphasis placed on the word gives it extra significance, beyond the typically, mundane meaning.
“I was being suggestive.” She lowers her voice, using some of it now. “There’s a big difference. You would know.”
She holds her drink up to her lips, watches Blake over the rim. There’s a little exasperation in the woman’s expression, but no judgement (or indignation, like Weiss always seemed to project whenever Yang’s supposed “Force sensitivity” came up, which seemed to be more and more often).
“I do know,” Blake says simply, instead of playing along. “Which is why I can see what you’re doing. It’s hardly a full-fledged mind trick, but your words… they carry power, Yang. You remaining stubbornly unaware doesn’t mean that the Force isn’t responding to your desires.”
“I don’t know why everything has to be about the Force,” Yang groans. “Some people are just lucky. And talented. And charming. And attractive. And… should I go on?”
“Yang.” Blake sighs, but doesn’t let up, though her voice softens. “Admitting that you have these abilities wouldn’t lessen your own talents. Or… attributes. No one is denying that you’re any of those things. But you could do even more if you simply believed.”
It’s Yang’s turn to sigh, though she adds both length and drama to her own. “Look, Blake. I’m just… a normal person. Not some fancy Jedi or scary Sith. Sure, I’m incredible, obviously. But if I had some super-special secret power, I’d know, right?”
“You’d know.” Blake places her hands on the table, spreads her fingers out in a lazy stretch that’s precisely the opposite of her intent gaze. “Which is why I think you do know. Deep down. After all this time, after everything you’ve done, do you really believe you’re untouched by the Force?”
It’s a question Yang has avoided for some time, even before Blake had so blatantly brought up her supposed abilities when they’d first properly met. She wishes she could avoid it now, but Blake’s stare is focused and disarming and hard to deny.
“It’s easier to,” she begins hesitantly, lowering her eyes to her drink. “I’d rather ignore it than trust some mystical power that’s only ever given me grief. It’s easier to go with the flow than admit that there’s something controlling me that I don’t want. Something that came from someone that never wanted anything to do with me. Something that’s always made people — ”
Leave, she thinks, but doesn’t finish the thought. She’s pretty sure she doesn’t need to, even if Blake’s never heard the story in full.
She shakes her head, fitting a smile into place that she wishes she felt more than she actually did. “We’ve got a good thing going, that’s all. I wanna keep it going. Just like it is.”
For a long moment, Blake only watches her, giving nothing away. It takes some effort, but Yang manages not to fidget throughout it. (Something about those damn eyes; sometimes she swears they can see into Yang as well — if not better — than her own.)
“Okay,” Blake says finally, quietly and with a small smile to reassure. “Of course.”
She nearly sighs in relief, but instead, latches onto the clearing of the tension to snatch something she’s far more comfortable with, to drag forth a tension of another sort.
“It’s obvious you’re not convinced, but Blake — ” Yang downs the rest of her drink and leans across the table, holding Blake’s gaze. “ — I really am just that charming.”
It’s meant to be a distraction. Blake knows that as well as Yang.
That, however, does not mean it isn’t effective.
“Is that right?”
“Mmhmm. That’s right.”
Blake takes a larger sip of her drink, licks the remainder of it off her top lip.
“Alright then,” she breathes. “I suppose you can try to convince me.”
Yang’s standing before Blake’s finished with her thought, offering her hand before Blake is all the way through.
“Sweetheart, I’ll do a hell of a lot better than try.”
Hours later, panting from exhaustion, sweat coating her dark skin in a light sheen, Blake finally admits Yang has a point.
(It’s not the first time they’ve done this. It’s not even the second. Or third. But every time, Yang hopes it won’t be the last.)
“I’m — coming around to your point of view,” Blake pants, nails digging into the skin where Yang’s prosthetic ends, leg hooked around Yang’s shoulder. “And — fuck — don’t make a joke about coming.”
Yang might’ve, if her mouth hadn’t been otherwise occupied between Blake’s thighs.
Still, she thinks the point is made well enough without her saying anything at all.
— 6 —
“We’ve got three more coming in, Yang. Same plating for all five total.” Ruby sounds exhausted, a feeling to which Yang can relate; sweat has her shirt sticking to both the skin of her back and the leather of the pilot’s seat, and even in the midst of being shot at by several fighter ships (with the heaviest shielding Yang’s ever seen), it’s an uncomfortable sensation. “We can’t take much more of this.”
“If you have any suggestions, I’m listening,” Yang calls back, through the comms. “With them locked onto our hyperspace routes, there’s only so much I can do.”
She pitches them into a sharp dive, spinning the Crescent Rose enough times to make Weiss grunt in annoyance (or maybe it’s due to the general peril; sometimes it’s hard to tell). The move gives Ruby — manning the dorsal turret — a clearer view of one of their pursuers, and she lands a barrage of hits that do frustratingly little to the integrity of the ship’s hull.
“These are Adam’s men,” Blake murmurs. Her voice is quiet and calm, and if Yang were able to look away from the controls of her ship, she knows she’d find only placidity on Blake’s face as well. It’d be a lie, but a comforting one. “I know we’re all well aware of that, given the White Fang emblem plastered all over the ships, but it means they’re aiming to take out the engines rather than kill us.” She pauses, considering. “Well. Take out the engine so they might board, kill all of you, and capture me alive, but my point stands.”
“Very reassuring,” Weiss drawls, or tries to, but the slight waver in her tone gives her away. “This is bad, Yang!”
“We’ve had bad before.”
Another shot lands, shaking the whole of the cockpit; it doesn’t help with Yang’s case.
“This is worse!”
Yang started flying when she was four years old, sitting atop Summer’s lap, her pudgy fists gripping the yoke like there wasn’t a pair of comforting — and far more experienced — hands on top of her own. She’d learned about pitch and roll and yaw, about the thrusters and repulsors, hyperspeed and acceleration and speed brake, and in all of it, she’d learned what it meant to be taught with gentleness, compassion, and love. And somehow, flying itself became all those things, each time she was in the cockpit, every time her fingers curled around the throttle.
Not so much now.
“There’s one option.” Ruby’s voice cuts through the tense silence born from concentration, as hesitant as Ruby ever sounds, and Yang knows exactly what she’s talking about, almost immediately.
“We haven’t tested that at all, Ruby.”
She slides them into a barrel roll, then reverses course with a cut to the thrusters; it’s not a pleasant move to experience, not for the ship or anyone on it, but it gives them a little space while the fighters regroup.
“Tested what?” Yang can hear Weiss’s suspicion, but has little time to spare for it. (A tragedy, given that teasing Weiss was about as much fun as a girl could have, regardless of the topic.)
“You’re not going to like it,” she warns.
Weiss scoffs. “We’re about to be shot out of the sky; I don’t like any of this!”
“Yang and I have a theory,” Ruby begins.
“A theory? Is now the time for theories?” Weiss’s fingers curl around the co-pilot controls, a warning in her tone. “Why does this already sound terribly dangerous?”
Yang, of course, ignores her. “Basically, if you wanted to break out of lightspeed early so you could — oh, I don’t know — let’s say you wanted to get away from a bunch of heavily-armoured ships that have your coordinates locked, you could use the gravity of a planet or large mass to rip your ship out of hyperspace. Kind of like a natural gravity well.”
“That… is absolutely fascinating, but not especially dangerous, in theory,” Blake muses, as though they aren’t currently spiraling around space like a child’s spinning top. “But currently, we’re being actively tracked; how would disengaging from hyperspace early stop that?”
“It wouldn’t.” Despite the situation, Yang grins. “Unless we did one of these microjumps in an area where they’d regret following.”
“Now that sounds dangerous.” There’s a smile in Blake’s voice, and it takes a fair amount of willpower to not turn to see it. “But what planet would fulfill those conditions? A ship could merely dip into the atmosphere, even if there were rings or mines or any other obstruction I can think of.”
“In this case, a planet wouldn’t really work,” Ruby admits, the sound of the turret firing amplified through their comms. “Unless we used a blockade?”
“Or we don’t use a planet at all.” Her grip tightens on the yoke, gloved palms firm on the metal. “You know the rockfield in the Subterrel sector? The one that used to be a planet?”
“Oh, for the love of — ”
“I take it back. Dangerous was too mild,” Blake interjects, as calm as Weiss is distressed (breaking into expletives from various languages, as is her custom).
“Well, sure. But none of the ships following our exact jumps would make it through that. Not only would going into Subterrel take us out of a standard hyperspace lane, but… well, there would be a billion asteroids right in the target zone. They’ll probably phase right into one.”
“And we wouldn’t?” Weiss’s hair looks more haphazard than ever, as though reflecting her emotional state. “Yang, you’re talking about pulling out of hyperspace into an asteroid field and hoping you can sense when the gravitational pull is exact enough that you can come out of it without merging us directly in the middle of a piece of space rock?”
“Okay, it sounds bad when you put it like that, but… yes?” She studiously avoids Weiss’s stare. “And I need Ruby down here to help course correct once we pull out of it, so ditch the turret, Ruby.”
As always, Ruby is unphased. The firing stops as she leaves the tower, and the silence that follows is heavy with Weiss’s building outrage stacking atop itself, like cracking bowls made of a cheap ceramic.
“Are you out of your goddamn mind?” She shatters, not five seconds later. “That’s — that’s impossible, Yang! No one could do that! Not even a million scientists working in tandem to calculate the exact coordinates that you would need. Not even if they — ”
“Weiss.” In contrast to Weiss, Blake’s voice is a balm, swooping in and lifting every point of tension with a single word. It’d snuck up on Yang, the friendship between the two, but somehow, Weiss and Blake had become counterpoints to each other, but only in the bewildering way that came from both of their experiences being oddly similar, underneath it all. “It’s not about coordinates. It’s not about numbers. Do you understand?” The question is gently more than mocking. “If Yang does this, it will be completely and utterly instinctive.”
Out of the corner of her eye, Yang watches Blake move towards Weiss (tense and irate in the co-pilot’s seat) to place a gentle hand on her shoulder, to give it a careful squeeze.
“Yang can do this,” she continues, “Because she possesses everything she needs to do it. No outside calculations necessary. Right?”
It’s more than a pep talk about Yang’s skills, but Yang doesn’t take the time to argue the semantics of it. Blake isn’t wrong, even if she’s implying it’s more than it is, as usual. And when Weiss takes a deep breath and nods, when she stands up and brushes her fingers carefully across the top of Yang’s head in something that might be an apology, Yang knows the words have touched on something that Weiss needed (something that Yang never would have been able to give her).
“Okay.” Weiss takes a breath, seems unable to hold her next words back. “May the For— ” She regains herself quickly enough, shaking her head, and moves further to the side just in time for Ruby to come barreling into the cockpit, skidding into the co-pilot’s seat. “You have everything you need, but... good luck, Yang.”
“Of that, I’ll take all I can get.” Yang blows air out of her lungs, a quick burst. “Ready, Ruby?”
“Nope!” her sister returns cheerfully, intensely focused on the controls under her splayed fingers. “Love you!”
“Love you all.” Yang grins. Tightens her grip. “Even you, Weiss.”
“What’s that supposed t— ”
They’re not far from their intended destination — not when traveling at lightspeed — and they cut through the hyperspace lane to the system one leap over in a matter of minutes, dipping out briefly — where Yang catches sight of the five ships, already firing as they return to realspace — before engaging the hyperdrive again, this time without the coordinates typically needed for such travel.
It’s in that brief moment — between the two jumps — that Yang feels the weight of the galaxy around her. Not in a bad way, not in a way that feels unpleasant. The weight of the universe isn’t heavy in the way she would have expected; it’s shared by too much — too many things — for it to be truly burdensome. For her part, Yang only carries with her four distinct souls, and (curiously) each of them lifts rather than drags. They are substantial — massive in their meaning — but in a way that’s rather like the warm and heavy blanket her father would place over her and Ruby when the nights got too cold and they bundled up together to sleep.
Its presence stirs, but doesn’t wake her.
There’s no time for even a ‘ready?’ but Yang has everything she needs.
They hit hyperspace with a bump, pull out of it with a jerk, and then there’s solid, grey rock in front of them, there in the blink of an eye and too close and too large and Yang pulls hard and up on the yoke before they’re even out of the jump because she knows, she knows, she knows, and the Crescent Rose screams with the pull of metal and the scrape of rock against the hull, but it’s just enough and —
Then they’re free. Still in the midst of asteroids, but free, with enough space in the field that Yang can fly through it in her sleep, easy twists and turns that — combined with the sound of explosions behind them, five in quick succession — feels like a victory lap. Or maybe that’s the cheering, because Ruby jumps up — co-piloting be damned — and throws her arms around Yang, and then there’s another body colliding into her back, and then another and Yang is so, so full of everything in the universe, every single moment of joy and happiness and triumph that any being through the existence of time itself has ever, ever experienced.
“You magnificent, moronic space-slug,” Weiss is saying, her arms wrapped completely around Yang’s neck, face pressed into her shoulder. “I could have killed you, pulling a stunt like that.”
“Like you haven’t done worse,” Blake scoffs, and her breath flows across Yang’s lips, an inevitability with her face right up against Yang’s cheek as it is. “We all remember last week when you — ”
“Me? We’re talking about me?” Weiss pulls away in a flurry of arm movements and what sounds a little like a persistent sort of squawking, but might instead be her repeating her last words several times. “When Yang just pulled us out of hyperspace with the gravitational force of an asteroid field and didn’t kill us all? Obviously it’s time for a countdown, Blake. Honestly.”
Blake disentangles herself with less violence, and not even completely; she keeps her fingers threaded in the blonde curls alongside Yang’s left ear, nails scraping gently at the spot that always makes Yang shiver, just a little.
“Hard to argue with that logic. Top three for the sake of time?”
“Fine,” Weiss sighs.
“We do have a ship to repair,” Ruby reminds them gently, still fully hanging off of Yang, arms locked tight around Yang’s prosthetic. “Skip a few systems and then slip into Wild Space. If there was ever a reason to use the safehouse on Indoumodo, this is it.”
Yang nods, lips twitching in amusement, but doesn’t speak for fear of interrupting what’s become a weekly ritual for Blake and Weiss. She hadn’t enjoyed the activity much at first, given the contents, but over time had grown to appreciate it for what it was: two of the people most important to her (in the whole of the galaxy) kicking back and bonding at her expense. She’d take the silly accusations any day if it meant seeing Blake smile like she does not, seeing Weiss do a dweeby little drumroll atop Ruby’s head.
“Number three this week in our Top Moments of Yang Xiao Long Displaying Force Sensitivity,” Blake begins, with rare panache. “Is obviously the podrace on Kergans. To pick the winner of the race, that’s lucky. To pick the top five racers and win — what was it again?”
“Forty-two thousand one hundred and seventy-six credits,” Ruby pipes in.
“And win forty-two thousand credits?” Blake echoes, shaking her head. “Statistically improbable. The Jedi have contacts at gambling outfits around the galaxy for this precise reason, you know. They like to keep track of the people they didn’t catch early enough for training.”
“Or,” Yang counters, sliding them out of the asteroid field and heading back towards the hyperspace channel. “I just know a hell of a lot about podracing. Since I used to do it? It’s easy to see which racers have what it takes in terms of skill and equipment.”
Weiss reaches across Ruby to swat Yang (gently) on the head. “Number two this week in our Top Moments of Yang Xiao Long Displaying Force Sensitivity is obviously the waterglass incident.”
“Oh, please,” Yang groans. “I told you it was — ”
“A seismic shift would not have accounted for the directional movement of that glass!” Weiss insists. “There was a shake, yes, I’ll give you that. Shu-Torun is a volcanic planet. The whole place is awash with lava and it’s miserable for everyone involved.”
“Except for the Shu-Torun royal family, who seem to be doing quite well with their connections to now-Senator Jacques Schnee and Supreme Councilor Momba… or are we calling her Emperor Momba now?” Blake quips, popping out a hip to emphasize the tone.
“Any day now, it seems like.” Weiss’s voice dips down into something darker, but with a shake of her head, she clears the mood away with no small amount of force. “Point being, Yang pulled a glass of water full across the table.”
“Mm, I would say half-way across the table,” Ruby disagrees with all the pomp and circumstance she can manage, tapping her head against Yang’s shoulder gently. “And I did feel some movement from the other items at the table. I feel I must contest this one. Officially.”
Weiss grumbles out a few profanities. “Fine, switch two and three.”
For a long moment, Ruby considers this, while Yang nudges the Crescent Rose back into hyperspace. “I accept. But with the caveat that I require an honorable mention to make up for a weak entry.”
“Of course.” Blake accepts the terms gracefully, like she always does. Yang rolls her eyes, but gets a flick to her earlobe for the trouble (though Blake immediately soothes it with a rub between her thumb and forefinger. This time, when Yang shivers, everyone most certainly notices). “Number one is indubitably what we all just witnessed, so I’ll put forth a somewhat unusual — but nevertheless indisputable — honorable mention.”
Weiss looks wary and she has every right to be; when Yang glances back she recognizes the sly smile on Blake’s face very well.
“I’m not sure if either are you are familiar with a technique called the Force choke, but when we were on Shu-Torun and the royal family graciously gave us lavish rooms to stay in while they contracted Weiss’s father on the side, Yang and I got a bit of alone time and it was that bit of fancy telekinesis that pushed me right over the edge for an incredible orga — ”
“Absolutely not!” Weiss shouts, slamming her hands over Ruby’s ears and shutting her own eyes tight, as though the latter would be as effective as the former, but for her instead of Ruby.
“I’m twenty-two!” Ruby whines, swatting at her. “I’m two years younger than you!”
“This has nothing to do with age. This is me taking a blaster bolt for you, don’t you understand that? I’d have covered my own ears to prevent myself from having to hear even another syllable of this. Blake has sullied the good name of Top Moments of Yang Xiao Long Displaying Force Sensitivity and I won’t stand for it.”
“At least this time you got the top part right,” Yang drawls, but loses her swagger pretty quickly when Blake’s gentle scratching turns (pleasantly) painful.
“In this particular instance, fine. But in others…” Blake trails off, brow lifting high.
Weiss groans. “For the love of every holy being worshiped in this galaxy, please stop.”
“Alright, alright.” Yang lifts a hand away from the controls to wave them all off. “But you guys do realize that everything you’re listing has once again been matched by feats that the non-Force users of this group accomplished?”
Finishing her switch of the Crescent Rose into autopilot, she twists her chair around, humming a little as Blake keeps her hand in place, nails scraping through Yang’s hair with the movement and ending up on the opposite side from where they started.
“Like how after that podrace, when we were walking back to the hotel, Ruby noticed that sniper from three thousand meters away and blocked the shot with a mini deflector shield that she threw in front of me. And — lest any of us forget — she fired back and hit that sniper in the shoulder, so we could catch up and get information out of her.”
“Poor Ilia,” Blake murmurs, to the rest of their groans. “She’s just — she’s confused.”
Yang sighs, her tone suddenly droll. “Blake, sweetheart, she tried to kill me.”
“And that was bad!” Blake agrees, a little too chipper. “But it wasn’t really a killing situation, Yang. She used a tranquilizer shell. Which, I might add, she was not ordered to do. And she gave us the information we needed.”
“Okay, okay.” Yang allows it with a roll of her eyes. “You’re right. I’m diluting my main point. Cut to Shu-Torun, when the royal family royally screwed us over and called in those reinforcements and those two Sith guys with lightsabers attacked us in the middle of the night. Like, seriously? You all are mentioning all this stuff I did without talking about Weiss disarming one of these guys and using his lightsaber to take out the other one? Hello?”
“How many times do I have to tell you?” Weiss sighs. “My lightsaber abilities were only learned through — ”
“Hard work and extensive training,” everyone says at once, and Weiss crosses her arms and pouts.
“See! This is precisely the sort of disrespect I was talking to Winter about the other day, and do you know what she said?”
“Stop contacting me in the middle of a giant fucking battle to whine?” Yang guesses.
“How’s work at the modest-but-profitable and also totally legitimate shipping outfit you work for but never talk about?” Ruby suggests, smile twitching.
“No! I talk about it! And…. it was hardly a battle.” She shifts from one foot to the other, and only barely avoids reaching up to run a hand through her already-mussed hair. “There were only a couple of droids. Only five of them were surrounding her. Six if you count the sniper on the ledge. She was fine.”
“Uh huh,” Yang drawls, jutting brow showing precisely what she thinks of all that. “Anyways, if Weiss gets to use that as an excuse, I do too. We’re all just awesome, as I’ve clearly demonstrated in these two examples of many that I could have pulled from this week and — ” She pauses, realization hitting her quite suddenly. “Actually, we’ve had a really horrible week, haven’t we? Someone has tried to kill us a lot more than usual.”
That sours the mood in an irreparable manner, but it’s an important point, nonetheless. Yang consoles herself by leaning further into Blake’s touch, and thinks — given the twitch of a smile that lifts the woman’s frown, if only briefly — that the action has the same effect on Blake as well.
“Adam,” Blake says. “He’s getting closer. Putting more resources into finding me. That’s what all these incidents have in common; him. Maybe it’s time that I — ”
“Don’t even say it.” Weiss objects before even Yang can, but a quick glance around the cockpit shows all of them are firmly united on this particular front. “If I hear you say you should take off on your own one more time, I will lose it. You’re not running. And… maybe we shouldn’t either, anymore.”
Yang nods slowly, slouching further into her chair, legs spreading out with the motion. “Maybe we shouldn’t,” she agrees. “If he’s sending fighters like those and using technology like hyperspace tracking, he’s going to catch up with us eventually.”
“Probably.” Ruby — who’d stayed in place as much as Blake had, despite Yang’s shifting — leans a bit further into Yang, mainly to reach around and give Blake’s knee a soft, little pat. “You have a plan?”
“Sort of?” Yang spreads her hands wide, stretches back to fit them behind her head. “Mainly, I say we face him on our terms.”
— 7 —
Yang’s lungs hurt, as though there’s too much air in them and not enough at the same time. A result of the dead sprint, she’s sure, but the panic doesn’t help; it picks up her breathing just a notch more as she runs towards the wreckage of their speeder. It feels familiar and it should, because she knows that if she doesn’t make it in time, she’ll lose — not the only important thing she has left, not anymore — but certainly one of them.
Needless to say, things hadn’t quite worked out the way she’d hoped. The way they'd all planned. But then, maybe it would have gone to plan, if they’d actually had a chance to enact the whole thing.
If the whole galaxy hadn’t gone to hell.
It’d started with a holo call, with Winter — nearly unfamiliar to most of them, if not for the features they saw so similarly reflected in her sister — running, shaking the imagecaster gripped tight in her left hand. Even with the poor quality, they’d seen the fear in her face, the blood trickling down from a deep cut at her temple — surely an eventual match for the scar that already crossed the bridge of her nose, should she make it out alive — and the torn shreds of cloth at her shoulder, where the skin was severely burned underneath. Even in her panic, Winter held to what they’d all grown to expect from a Schnee: a neat summary of the situation. It went like this: the Republic — no longer much of a republic at all — had turned on the Jedi; every troop they had fought with was now hellbent on destroying them, every war they’d fought had been part of a game of dejarik where they hadn’t been able to see the board. And Weiss? She needed to run. She needed to get very far away from Winter and the Jedi and any airspace the now-Empire controlled, because Winter couldn’t be sure they wouldn’t be coming for everyone connected to the Jedi as well, just to be thorough.
Naturally, Weiss had found a crew that happened to be in the same system as Winter, and called in every single favor they’d ever collected as a crew to convince the fellow band of smugglers — the flashy, but acclaimed crew of the Happy Huntress — to pick-up and hide her sister until the Crescent Rose and its crew could get there.
Maybe that plan would have worked too. Maybe it would have been fine. If not for Blake convincing them she should stay in the safehouse, just in case Adam was still tracking her somehow. If not for her telling Yang she would be perfectly alright, that Weiss needed both her and Ruby, and Blake would lie low until they got back. Maybe it all would have been absolutely, one-hundred percent a-okay if Yang hadn’t listened to her and left. If Adam hadn’t been watching.
And now Yang is running, because right before she’d been ready to make the jump to hyperspace, she’d known things had gone wrong, and Ruby had known it too because she’d seen it on Yang’s face, and Weiss’s voice had nearly shook when she’d told her to turn around, to take them back to Indoumodo, and Yang couldn’t do that (couldn’t make her chose one family over another), and had come down here herself. So she’s running. Running towards the smoke of what she knows is the remnants of their speeder, to where Blake is sprawled out on the ground, Adam towering over her with his lightsaber extended, the red of it burning against the backs of Yang’s eyelids when she has to blink.
She doesn’t think, really, doesn't pause to consider the strategy that might work best; she reaches down to the sheath at her belt, finds the handle of her electrodagger, and throws, hardly breaking her stride. His attention is locked on Blake — Blake’s guaranteeing it, yelling something at him that Yang can’t pick up over the sound of her heartbeat pounding in her ears — and that’s why they nearly catch him off guard, why the dagger nearly hits its mark. But instead of burying itself in the back of Adam’s neck, he jerks away at the last second, throwing his body to the side just enough for the blade to crack against the edge of his mask, smashing apart the shining plasteel and sending Adam reeling backwards, spinning violently to the ground. It’s enough, because Blake is able to scramble upwards — lightsaber in hand once more — by the time Yang reaches her. And her palm finds the curve of Blake’s elbow immediately, in a move that would be ill-advised if not for the fact that merely touching Blake made a shock of relief flush through her system.
“That’s the last time I ever leave your side,” she gasps, breathing labored by the sprint. “Because running back to it is miserable. See these muscles? I’m a strength person, not a cardio one.”
“Yang,” Blake half-groans, half-laughs. It’d be more convincing if there wasn’t so much relief in the whole of it. “Not the time.”
Not the time, because Adam has pulled himself up again, the reason for his mask now apparent in the angry, red burn that cuts across his face from the corner of his lip to the opposite temple. Yang recognizes the mark. She’d seen burns just like it on Lothal, right before she and Ruby had taken care of the man wielding the Zygerrian slaver whip that had caused them. Sympathy doesn’t come though, not when Blake is standing beside her, coatless in the thick, humid air of the jungle planet that had been a brief safe haven for them. (Yang had seen the smoking remains of her black duster on the mossy floor — a few hundred meters back — and the cuts to the cloth had only spurred her on.)
“Yang,” Adam repeats, the name coming out as an ugly sort of laugh. “All these years later and here you are again. This is what makes you say you’re not alone, Blake?” He laughs again, and reignites his blade. From a distance, Yang hadn’t been able to tell, but here, she can clearly see the ragged nature of the normally smooth plasma blade; it sounds wrong too, as though the unstable vibration disturbs the air around it. “A girl with a connection to the Force no more impressive than that of the trees around us? Pathetic.”
“Hey!” Yang shouts, instinctively, before she actually catches onto his meaning. “Okay, well, that’s what I’ve been saying for years, but for some reason I really hate having to hear it come out of his smarmy mouth. You know?”
“You literally heard me calling for help while you were in space.” Blake lets out a long sigh. “Without a comm, since he blocked all those.”
“What was that about not the time?” Yang asks, though she can’t say she doesn’t enjoy the way Adam’s head jerks back and forth between the two of them, his pupils constricted in his fury, lips separated in a snarl.
“Enough!” he shouts. His lightsaber throbs in time with his words, as though responding to the anger behind them, like it’s a living thing. (From what Weiss has told them about the kyber crystals that power every saber, that might not be far from the truth.) “I’ll take care of the meddler first.”
Yang’s fists raise at the threat, though her fingers stroke up Blake’s arm on the way there. She feels the way Blake settles into her touch, the slightest lean, even as she lifts her blade in unison.
“You can try.” She pauses, considers the weight of the statement, and realizes it’s lacking. “Asshole.”
Satisfied with the addition to the all-important battle banter, Yang rushes in first. It’s probably not the smartest move (again), given her lack of melee weaponry, but when the first bolt from her wrist blaster hits Adam’s lightsaber with discernible force, he’s startled enough that it’s easy to dodge around his blade, throw another bolt his way, and scoop her electrodagger off the ground, while Blake nearly lands a hit behind her. The sound of the two weapons clashing is a distinctive one. In the past, Yang’s taken it as a warning sound, rather than something she ought to rush towards, but that’s all out the window now, and she does exactly that, firing bolts from her blasters and diving in to divert a hit or divide Adam’s attention.
Because really, that’s her best role here; Yang has never once doubted her skills in combat, never has had any trouble with forcing her way out of precarious situations. But this is something different; this is a battle between two Force users who know precisely how to use it. And she’s seen Blake fight before — has always admired the grace and smoothness of her movements — but watching her now is something entirely new. This is Blake in her element, and it’s a beautiful thing to behold. The purple glow of her saber lights the sharp planes of her face, highlights and complements the gold of her eyes, and Yang wishes they weren’t fighting for their lives so she might appreciate it all the more. As it is, Blake’s twists and turns, her effortless blocks of Adam’s far more direct strikes, look like a dance — still beautiful, but with utmost practicality — and Yang does her best to anticipate her needs, to throw bolts that Adam has to absorb at just the right moment.
It’s easy, too. Easier than it should be. Blake spins around, slashes low, and Yang knows — before Blake even begins the action — that she should dart in and strike high. She brings her electroblade down in a way that forces Adam to twist furiously, to open himself up to a kick in the knee from Blake that sends him stumbling to the side. When Adam presses hard at Blake, his red blade bearing down on Blake’s purple one, Yang knows exactly when to fire a bolt into the plasma of Adam’s weapon, to shift him off-balance at just the right moment for Blake to push, to relieve the pressure of the weapon that had been moving dangerously close to her face, and return to the offensive. And at the exact moment Blake flips over Adam’s height, Yang knows to throw her electrodagger once more, to graze Adam’s shoulder with it, and to be there for Blake’s next strike; Yang runs, slides, and slips her hands under Blake’s already lifting back foot, digs in to the every-muddying ground under her feet, and pushes, using the reverse action of her wrist blasters to add to the force with which she sends Blake forward.
The result is a blur of purple light that Adam only barely manages to catch; the two blades collide once more, this time with a crash like the angriest of storms, loud enough to hurt Yang’s ears, and bright enough to leave spots in her vision. Adam yells, thrusts out his hand, and Blake is sent flying backwards once more, with the same speed as she’d attacked; she crashes into one of the trees surrounding the clearing, her back cracking against the trunk. Some sort of noise leaves Yang’s throat — ripped from it without her permission — though she can’t be sure of the nature of it (a scream, a cry, an expletive). Nothing else matters after that, but her focus is broken when — as she tries to run towards Blake’s prone form — Adam steps between them, twirling his blade in a fashion that can’t be anything other than mocking, especially when combined with his cold laugh.
“She’s alive. Don’t worry.” His smile cuts the air more effectively than his saber. “I made a promise to her, after all.”
She knows he wants her to ask, which is why Yang doesn’t. But it occurs to her, suddenly, that she’s once again thrown away the one weapon she has that’s able to stop a lightsaber from cutting her in two; maybe a little conversation — a little bit of stalling — wouldn’t hurt.
“And you’re such a stand-up guy, huh? Never broke a promise in your life.”
She steps to the side, closer to Blake, hoping Adam will allow the circling, allow her to put herself between him and the woman on the ground, but he only mirrors her movement, sneer knowing.
“This one was special, Yang.” She moves again, one foot crossing over the other, but this time, Adam steps forward, unstable blade sparking with light. “Are you going to ask what it was?”
He thrusts his lightsaber forward in a jab; Yang has to jump back, further from Blake, but she keeps her face calm, removed from all the ire and anxiety she feels.
“Are you sure?” He throws his hand out behind him, fingers splayed, and Blake’s body lifts from the ground and slams back into it. Some of that calm slips away pretty quickly, though it’s soothed by the soft groan Blake lets out at the violence (a welcome sign that she’s alive, if nothing else). “Are you still sure?”
She can’t help the snarl, or the way her rage pushes her to surge forward, and it puts her close enough to feel the heat radiating from Adam’s blade.
“What did you promise her?” she grits out. Her hands are balled so tightly she can nearly feel the cut of her nails through the leather of her gloves.
“See?” He crosses his weapon across his body, tracing a lazy arch through the air. “Was that so hard?”
“Not as hard as answering it apparently is.” Adam lifts his hand again — a clear threat — and Yang, though it pains her to do so, pulls back her pride and anger. “No. It wasn’t hard.”
“Cooperative when you’re on a leash, aren’t you?” He waits for her to say more, to make a mistake, and when she remains still and silent, he seems almost disappointed, dropping his hand with a sigh. “After she ran — after she listened to you — I promised Blake that when I found her again, I would make sure she suffered.” His smile twists, curls into something far more nasty. Anticipatory. “And I would do that by killing every single person she loves. Right in front of her.”
Yang’s jaw tightens. “Well, you better wait, then. Looks like you gave her a fucking concussion. Should we meet back up in a week, so she can be fully aware when you move on with your promise of emotional trauma?”
Behind Adam, Blake groans again. Her fingers twitch.
“Is that… a joke?” Adam sneers. “Do you attempt humor to cover your lack of skill?”
“Do you think your fancy light-up sword means you don’t need to have a personality at all?” Yang fires back, figuratively, and then — for good measure — literally as well, throwing a blaster bolt from her wrist; Adam absorbs both without a flinch.
“I can think of a way we can test one of our questions.” Adam lifts his blade, red highlighting the deep burn across his face. “Will you still be laughing once I’m through with you?”
Yang lets out a slow breath, tries not to shake when she raises her fists and takes several steps back.
“Yeah.” Adam’s smile grows. “I don’t think so either.”
She charges first — as always — and the distance isn’t great enough for her to pick up much speed, but when Adam swings his saber, she’s still able to slide under it, to get closer to Blake. Adam is fast — too fast — and he blocks her rapidfire of plasma with a fancy twist; she has to roll away again to avoid his next strike. And then again. And again. The next time, it comes too quickly to dodge, and Yang feels metal in her left hand, feels an unfamiliar buzz, and she lifts it to block his attack and —
Purple meets red. The familiar sound of crossing lightsabers rings in her ears.
Adam’s eyes are close, close enough to see just how they widen when he realizes he’s been blocked, and how. It takes Yang just about as long, but instinct carries her through; the weight and handling of a lightsaber is entirely unfamiliar to her, but she’s strong, and trained in electroblades (she’s grateful, suddenly, for Weiss’s forced-upon lessons). She pushes Adam’s blade away and kicks, hard enough to send Adam sprawling into the mud, flat on his back. He scrambles upwards and Yang stalks forward, a strange power surging in her blood; there’s something about the weapon in her hand that feels familiar, a warmth she recognizes. Like something in it is her own, but not… quite.
Not quite, but enough when combined with the feeling racing through her; the rage she feels watching Adam ready himself, the concern she feels watching Blake push herself onto her elbows (and the love she feels always, everytime she looks at the woman, even if it’s never been said). Yang may not have Adam’s flashy twirls or Blake’s fluid grace, but she has enough. Her next strikes are simple — absolutely basic — but full of everything inside of her; each one sends Adam further back, has him scrambling to raise his saber in time to block the next powerful swing. He doesn’t fully manage it on the fourth hit; Yang slams Blake’s lightsaber into Adam’s, hard enough that it slides down and slices through Adam’s fancy black coat, skimming just along his side. The next overhead attack does worse damage, cutting down into the top of his shoulder before he’s able to force Yang’s blade away.
The hilt of Blake’s saber burns in her hand. She knows it — she almost knows it — and it’s almost enough. Until it isn’t.
With an angry yell, Adam rushes towards her, one hand on the trembling hilt of his lightsaber, the other spread out in front of him, and it’s the latter that ends up being the danger, because Yang lifts her left hand to block with her blade, but it gets stuck, like the air around it has hardened into ferrocrete. She’s unable to raise it, and Adam is starting his swing, and… she lifts her right hand to block instead.
The shields on her prosthetic hold longer than they should. Long enough for her to catch Adam’s blade against her wrist, long enough for her to push it aside a crucial fourth of a meter, but Ruby’s synthetic kyber can only do so much. She feels the crystal give out, feels the overload race through her prosthetic and into her upper arm, and that’s where the pain comes from, not so much the long, jagged slice that gets taken out of the metal when the shields fail. That, she barely feels at all. The rest, though, that hurts enough for the whole of it.
Her right arm spasms and then her entire body and every muscle clenches and she sees white and she forgets who she is and what she’s doing and she’s screaming, screaming, screaming and that’s all, that’s it, there’s nothing else.
She’s kneeling in the mud when it comes back to her. Sounds first (the sizzle of lightsabers) and then smell (something burnt, probably her), and then sight (glowing lights, hazy but nearby, and then — looking down — the wreck of her prosthetic, the entire top layer cut away and lost somewhere in the mud and grass, revealing the fired wiring underneath, the overloaded circuits, the shattered crystal at the center of it, like the shell of a bomb). Her right hand twitches, her control over it lost, and she reaches into the guts of it with her left, pulling out the remaining shards of the synthetic kyber, the sharp green flakes cutting into her fingers. She hardly feels it. She hardly feels anything at all.
Until Blake screams.
And then she feels everything again.
Blake’s lightsaber is hers again, tight in her hands, knuckles white underneath the mud splattered down her arms. But she’s lost herself in something (the daze of her earlier hit, maybe, or her rage at seeing Yang struck down) and her movements aren’t her own; they’re too harsh and fast and angry, and it ends as poorly for her as it had for Yang; Adam’s blade slips past her defense, it slashes across her hip and through the skin, wound cauterizing itself and leaving a long, angry mark.
Blake’s saber drops. Yang tries to stand (and fails. Tries again and fails; her legs won’t work, won’t support her weight). And Adam laughs. Instead of the easy killing blow, instead of striking Blake down (from where’s she’s curled up on the forest floor, her hands around her sides), he jerks his blade into the ground, cutting through the extinguished hilt of Blake’s lightsaber. To add to the finality, he kicks the pieces aside, halfway across the clearing. The remaining bits of metal flash in the light of the setting twin suns, but not nearly as much as the bright purple crystal that rolls to a stop in the middle of all the durasteel. In the midst of everything else, the color is distracting (calming), untainted by both the strike that had split everything around it and the mud now surrounding the unassuming piece of kyber.
“How does it feel, Blake?”
Fury makes his voice quake. Yang tries to stand again, manages to get one foot underneath her. It’s not enough. Adam extinguishes his blade and crouches down next to Blake, and bile rises in Yang’s throat. The jungle behind them — never still — is impossibly silent, and she can hear every word across the whole of the clearing.
“How does it feel to know you’ve lost? Running for so long and for what? For me to have more people to destroy? For you to have more people to watch die?” He sucks in a breath, as ragged as his blade. “You did this! I gave you everything! And you ran? From our life? From the power we worked so hard to get? We were going to remake the world, Blake!”
He watches as she struggles to push herself up — onto her elbows and then hands and knees — still clutching her side. He does nothing to help or hinder, but there’s nothing impassive about his expression. There’s only spite.
“And now you’re nothing,” he spits.
“No.” Yang can imagine the pain (feels it herself), but Blake doesn’t make a sound as she struggles to sit up further, makes it to her knees. “That’s what you always wanted me to believe. It’s what I always did believe. But without you around any more, I know it isn’t true.” She looks up, breathing heavy, but words clear. “I guess the only part of me that was worth nothing was always just you.”
For a moment, Yang thinks Adam might slap Blake, and the brewing anger at even the thought has her lifting herself off the ground, a runner getting ready for a sprint. But Adam’s hand stays at his side, his only movement a slight twitch of the fingers gripping the hilt of his weapon and the subsequent flash of red as the plasma stretches to its height.
“I want you to remember, Blake.” He murmurs, voice quiet in volume if not tone. “Everything that happens now is your fault.”
Blake lunges for him when he turns, but he kicks at her face, almost dismissively. It’s not the final straw — that’d happened years ago, before Yang had ever met the man — but it does add a certain sense of clarity. A somewhat unfamiliar calm. She knows what she has to do, though she’s not entirely sure how she’s going to do it. But — looking across the clearing, her eyes finding Blake’s — she’s not sure she has to know. Only trust. And maybe Yang’s never found comfort in the mystical forces outside of her control, the ones that held sway over the universe or were the universe or maybe a little bit of both; maybe she’d never held a lot of faith in this thing that was inside of her, that came from the most unreliable source that she knew. But she did trust Blake. Trusted her from the first moment she’d stepped off that shuttle. (Trusted her since the first time their atoms collided in some way, at the beginning of time. When the Universe first pushed them together and then never stopped.)
Yang doesn’t yet know how to believe in the Force, but she believes in Blake, and that’s more than enough.
Wait, Blake seems to tell her. Stay calm. We have everything we need.
Adam is striding towards her, pace slow and confident, drawn out for the drama of it. Blake is coming to her feet, finally — her expression determined — brave and sure even in the face of her pain. And Yang — Yang closes her eyes and thinks of the things that matter. She thinks of the things that she believes in. She focuses on them (those people) when a foreign weight settles in her left hand. Thinks of Ruby when she slots it into the power network of her prosthetic; thinks of Weiss when she hears the buzz of a lightsaber blade frying the air around it as it arcs toward her; and thinks of Blake when her right hand darts up to catch it, fingers curling and holding the plasma in place.
When she opens her eyes, there’s a purple glow around her, the very same color of Blake’s lightsaber now coating the durasteel of her right arm in the thinnest line of plasma she’s ever seen. It’s impossible, she thinks, almost absently, but she’s holding the blade of Adam’s saber — keeping it in place, close enough to her skin that the heat is uncomfortable — and the fact that she’s alive is a fairly impressive counterpoint to the notion of impossibility.
“That’s —” Adam doesn’t tug on his weapon. Doesn’t step back. He remains exactly where he is, wide eyes focused on Yang alone.
Which is precisely why it’s so easy for Blake to finish what Adam had insisted on starting.
“Get fucked,” Yang tells him, right before Blake plunges a half meter of yellow metal through his back, and into the center of his chest.
The light from his blade disappears as he stumbles to the side, though the hilt remains in his hand. Yang watches — nearly in a daze, still half-kneeling in the mud — and the purple plasma shield surrounding her prosthetic extinguishes as well. There’s no doubt as to the fatality of Blake’s strike, no need to follow it up with any further action, but when Adam finally collapses — dropping his saber first and then the whole of his body — the relief that washes over Yang is palpable, a physical wave that knocks her back, until keeping herself even half upright feels exhausting. Blake must feel similar, because as soon as Adam falls, she does too, dropping to her knees with a shaking sob that has Yang forgetting her own fatigue and scrambling forward, heedless of the dirt that sticks to her hands and legs, heedless of anything else at all.
“Hey,” she breathes. “Hey. I’m — I’m here.”
Blake’s hands are both balled into fists, clenched tight in front of her and shaking, but it’s easy to see the damage that’s been done, even before Yang reaches forward and gently uncurls them, showing the deep, red line through the center of each, the origin of the blood smeared now across the entirety of Blake’s palms.
“I didn’t see where your dagger landed,” she explains in a breath. “I couldn’t — I grabbed what was there.”
Yang doesn’t need to glance away from Blake’s eyes (blown pupils limiting the gold present) towards the prone body behind them. She knows she’ll find the long shard from the metallic coating of her prosthetic buried there. Knows she’ll see Blake’s blood along the sharp edges.
“It worked just fine.” The enormity of the situation hits her unexpectedly, the weight of it falling in place, and Yang nearly collapses with the loss of adrenaline, all the pain and exhaustion hitting her with renewed strength. “We’re okay. We’ll take care of those cuts when we get back to the safehouse and take the shuttle a system over and — ” She takes a deep breath, shifts her hands to Blake’s face, cups it in both hands. “You’re okay.”
The typical sounds of the jungle return, like the gentle murmurs of a crowd after an extended moment of silence.
“And Weiss and Ruby?” Blake asks. “Will they be alright without you? I know Weiss’s sister — ”
“Will be fine.” It’s a gentle interruption, further softened by Yang tapping her forehead to Blake’s, careful and fleeting. “We’re all fine.”
Blake glances away, but only to turn her head further into the touch and kiss Yang’s left palm. “Thank you.” Her exhale is warm. It curls around Yang’s skin. “For coming.”
The pad of Yang’s thumb strokes along Blake’s cheek, dips down to the corner of her lips. “You told me you were in trouble. You think anything could keep me away?”
Blake’s expression — a curl of her lips and brightening of her eyes — tells her that Blake thinks she’s giving something away, admitting to something she hasn’t before. Yang can’t find it in herself to care, not when it means Blake’s smiling (brief and small, but still clearly there).
“Well. Thanks for listening, then.”
For you? Yang thinks (tells her). Always.
The corners of Blake’s mouth lift again, higher still, and this time, they stay in place for some time.
It doesn’t take them long to pack up the now-compromised safehouse, load the essentials into the shuttle, and head to the closest system, where Yang knows a friend of a friend who manages to find them a place to lie low for a couple of days. On the way, they both shower, change, and tend to their wounds, small and large. Yang wraps both of Blake’s hands with care, but there’s little to be done for the line across her abdomen; it’s already scarred, already found a place of permanence on her skin. (When Yang’s fingers brush against it — overly gently — Blake shivers, but doesn’t pull away.) The most obvious damage on Yang is mechanical, and Yang places a temporary seal over the exposed wiring, but leaves the rest for Ruby. Neither she or Blake mention the purple kyber crystal still contained in the mechanics — after everything, it’s simply too much to process — and instead focus on the effects of the electrical shock. There are burns around the skin where the prosthetic ends (the explosion of the synthetic crystal far too much for the failsafes to handle), but nothing that a simple medical cream can’t soothe. Blake’s hands — the applicators of choice — certainly don’t hurt either, her touch is soft, careful along the rounded edge of where Yang’s skin ends and the prosthetic typically begins.
By the time they reach Thune (an unassuming brown and blue planet with a capital city large enough to get lost in), both of them feel far too much fatigue to do anything more than find their lodgings, shuck off their clothing, and fall into bed. Which is why when Yang’s comm sounds off — just as she’s about to follow through with the last step in the process — she groans loudly, falling forward and resting her head on the mattress in a way that’s incredibly over-dramatic, but perfectly warranted. Blake’s fingers thread into her hair, her slow movements that of a person on the verge of sleep, and there’s nothing Yang wants more than to ignore the call and curl up in bed with the person whose side she never wants to leave again.
But the call is coming through one of her secure lines, which means it could be Ruby, and that’s not a conversation she can miss. She leaves Blake tucked under the covers, her bandaged hands curled under her chin, but only after the woman presses a kiss to her lips that — despite the overwhelming softness — Yang thinks she’ll feel for days (or, far more likely, the rest of her life).
Door to the bedroom closed behind her, she slumps onto the small couch and throws her holoprojector on the small coffee table, flicking her fingers at the device to answer the call. She’s ready for a quick update from Ruby, her words already prepared to tumble from her lips in as rapid a manner as possible so that she can keep things blissfully short. But the figure that flickers into existence — the small replica of his large frame colored blue — stops any and all of those words short.
“Thought you might have closed this channel by now,” Hazel says, his low rumbling tone coming through surprisingly clear, and Yang scrambles for a follow-up.
“I guess... I forgot who could get a hold of me through it.”
Even when miniaturized, it’s easy to read Hazel’s disbelief in his slow blink. “You don’t really do that.”
Yang scoffs, shaking at her head at the almost-compliment. It’s an honest reaction, but a bit of a stall. In the years since they’d left Hazel, they hadn’t heard from him much — once or twice in all the years that’d passed — and never for longer than a few minutes. (However long it took him to issue a cryptic warning and leave.) Yang doesn’t expect this to go much differently.
“Can we make this quick? I have to get back to — ” She cuts herself, internally berating herself for the slip. “I’m busy.”
“Get back to the Sith girl.” He blinks again, crosses his arms over his broad chest. “I know. We saw she was injured in your fight with the Taurus boy.”
“She’s not a Sith,” Yang shoots back, instinctive ire causing her to jerk forward — face moving closer to the hologram — before she processes the rest of Hazel’s words. “What do you mean you saw?”
Hazel sighs, but doesn’t answer the question.
“You need to get out of this while you still can, Yang. They don’t care about the girl. None of us do. That was always Adam’s pursuit. But you’re on the verge of angering the wrong person.” His shoulders lift and lower with his next breath. “And that person — the people she controls — you won’t be able to best them like you did that boy. He was barely an apprentice. But one wrong step, and you’ll anger a true master.”
Yang feels hot. Ill-tempered. Her right arm throbs with what might be aftershock pains, but feels like something else. A gentle reminder from something within.
“What are you talking about?”
“The world is changing.”
“No shit, Hazel,” Yang bursts out. “We’re an Empire now. You think I haven’t heard the news? So what if Empress Momba can snap her fingers and everyone in the galaxy will come after us? If anything, she owes us a favor. We stopped a known Separatist conspirator; sent in all the evidence we had on Jacques Schnee ourselves. And now we’ve killed a known Sith. She should be giving us medals.”
With a slow shake of his head, Hazel sighs again. “Things aren’t what you think. The Separatists… they never mattered all that much.”
“Why don’t you explain it to me, then?” She’s tired enough that she doesn’t particularly mind sounding like a petulant child, and choses to lean into it, throwing herself into the back cushions of the couch with a soft huff. “Since you’ve got it all figured out.”
“Who’s the winner in all this, Yang? This whole war between the Republic and the Separatists?”
She’s more than a little too old for Hazel’s lessons, and past the point of exhaustion, besides. She shakes her head and answers as simply as she can. “The Empress, obviously. And you.” Her lips twist into a snarl. “The Jedi trying to take down the Empress in the midst of this whole mess lead to exactly what you always wanted. You and — ”
Yang trails off, brow pinching as she sorts through the implications.
“Mmm.” Hazel grunts in the quiet way he always had when either Ruby or Yang had started to work their way through a tricky problem. “Interesting, isn’t it? The final result. And how the Sith Lord behind the whole series of events never made an appearance, even when the Separatists were at their end. And now we have a bunch of dead Jedi. And one person with all the power in the galaxy.”
“Momba,” Yang murmurs. “She — ”
“ — Prefers Salem. Or so she tells us.”
There’s a long pause. Yang only realizes halfway through it that she’s lost her relaxed posture entirely, her mouth open in disbelief.
“Why would you tell me — ”
“No one will believe you,” Hazel says, cutting her off once again. “I don’t think it would matter if they did. The memory of man is short and Salem… she’s much more than a man.” He rolls his shoulders, cracking his neck by moving his head side to side. “Stay out of this, Yang. Keep your head down. You and your sister… I always tried to keep you out of this. I always wanted you far away from this world. Salem doesn’t care about a couple of smugglers. But people who control the Force will always be on her radar; like the Sith you’ve rescued, the Jedi that Ruby and the Schnee girl saved.” His exhale is long, even tempered. “And you. Whether or not you’ve decided to accept it or not. If you keep at this, you’ll be more than a minor inconvenience to Salem. And when things move beyond that, I’m the one she sends to take care of things.”
Yang laughs, a sharp bark without any humor. “So that’s what you are now, huh? A lackey to some Sith psychopath who wants to take over the whole galaxy.”
“Mmm.” He sounds tired; it annoys her that she still cares. “Justice always has a price.”
“Right,” Yang returns, tone sharp. “No regrets, then? All of this — you having to kill me and Ruby if we step out of line — that’s all worth it for you?”
It takes Hazel a moment to respond, but when he does, she knows it’s the truth.
(Hazel always did tell the truth.)
She nods, eyes darting away from the hologram on the table in front of her. (This annoys her too, that the finality of the word manages to hurt.) She fires back with the only thing she has left.
“You think your sister would be proud of you, Hazel?”
This time, he doesn’t take as long to reply.
“No.” His shoulders are tight, spine straight. “But she’s dead. If you were smart, Yang, you’d try to avoid the same fate.”
The hologram blinks out.
Despite her exhaustion, Yang finds she spends the whole night awake.
— 8 —
Sleep doesn’t come easily the next night, either. Or the ones after that.
Being back on the Crescent Rose helps, once Weiss and Ruby return, though it’s sans Winter. After Hazel’s warning, they’d all figured it was best if she’d kept her distance; Robyn had agreed to see her favor through and house Winter on her ship for a time, until they could find a more permanent solution. (Approximately zero people were happy about the arrangement, Winter and Robyn least of all.)
Sharing her bed with Blake helps even more. They’ve been sleeping together for some time, but after Adam, there’s no more unspoken uncertainty about the permanence of the arrangement, no need for the pretense of being too tired to go back to their own beds. Now, when it’s time for everyone to turn in, Yang tugs on Blake’s wrist and pulls her into her quarters (or Blake laces their fingers together and does the same) and sometimes there’s sex and sometimes there isn’t, but there’s never any distance between them when they curl up together and try to find sleep.
Maybe that’s why she dreams of Blake every night — dreams with her, really — the physical proximity rubbing off. Or maybe it’s just that she never stops thinking of the woman. But that’s been true for the past several years.
It’s always the same. The two of them sit under the night sky — or maybe within it; the bright lights seem to surround them on all sides, though the ground underneath feels solid enough — doing nothing but talking. Blake tells her about the planet she grew up on — covered nearly entirely by water — and the village flotillas that struggled to survive amongst the larger ships run by corporations, always looking to exploit the rich minerals found undersea. Yang talks about Raven, how she left by choice; talks about Summer, how she was taken away. Blake spins stories of the Sith, the Jedi, the secrets she’s carefully collected over the years about both. Yang admits to the feats she can’t explain from her childhood, the missing pieces she’d left carefully unimagined.
When she wakes, Yang can never bring herself to ask how much of it was based in reality; it feels like accepting a truth she’s not ready to verbalize yet.
Blake — always patient — never pushes.
But tonight, things are different in a way Yang can’t fully understand, not until Blake stands and offers her hand, pulls Yang to her feet, and the dark shadows around her gain dimension with the changing perspective.
“We’re — ” It’s rock under her feet and all around them, dropping from the ceiling and rising from the floor in spikes. And embedded in each surface — winking like suns from distant systems — are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of crystals. “ — In a cave.”
“Mmm,” Blake says, as though she realized this weeks ago, when the dreams first started, and, honestly, she probably had. “Do you know where we are?”
Blake stays with her as she turns slowly in place, their fingers intertwined. She’s pretty sure she would remember having been in a cave with billions of sparkling gems, but she somehow still feels uncertain when she responds.
“No?” Her eyes have adjusted enough to take in Blake’s face, the unusually awed look on her face as she looks around. “Should I? Do you?”
“No.” Glancing away from the shimmering walls, Blake corrects herself with a slight smile. “Well. Not precisely. But I recognize it. You do too. Look.”
She follows Blake’s nod, towards one of the many points of white light, and when she gets closer to one, it seems to throb with color that’s felt rather than seen, a small fiery core of gold that Yang — without thought, without consideration — reaches out to touch.
(Familiar. It belongs to her and it’s hers to give.)
She jerks back at the sensation. It’s something she’s not sure she’s ready to bear.
“I know. It’s a lot to ask of someone,” Blake murmurs, squeezing her free hand as she responds to Yang’s concerns, the ones Yang hadn’t been able to put into words even for herself, even internally. “But you are ready. You know that.”
Yang sighs, but doesn’t deny it. “I don’t want it. I’ve never really… wanted it.”
“I know,” Blake says again. “I think that’s why it’s pulling so hard.” She tugs on Yang’s fingers, pulls her close enough to brush her hand along Yang’s jaw. “We’re not going to get any rest until you go where it’s directing you.”
“Right.” Yang feels she’s perfectly justified in her grumbling. “Here. A cave full of kyber.”
Blake hums, a smile curling into place. “You do realize people have killed to acquire a single one of these things, let alone a whole cavern-full.” Her lips flatten out, implications crushing the curve. “There are tales of the cave where the Jedi take their younglings; they say it tests them, teaches them lessons they’ll need to learn to properly harness the Force. That’s probably destroyed by now. This one may soon follow. We shouldn’t delay any longer.”
“Fine,” Yang sighs, crossed arms and glare meant for the Universe as a whole rather than Blake, and she directs her next words to the ceiling. “Are you going to show us the way, then? Or keep being all pointlessly mystical?”
She doesn’t expect a response, but the crystals spark in a distinct pattern, a series of groupings of stars that Yang recognizes from her travels, as clear as any star chart. She’d thought something so unnaturally clear would have been a relief, but she finds herself as annoyed as ever. From the slant of Blake’s mouth, her mood is obvious (and amusing).
“Any further requests? While the Universe is listening?”
Yang doesn’t dignify the question with a response.
The kyber cave is an exact replica of the one in her dreams except for one thing; the crystals sing.
They find it easily enough, following the star charts that had flashed across the cave walls, and then dropping onto the planet at a random location that ends up being a stone’s throw from the cave itself. Apparently, the Force is done with subtleties and has decided that the only forward course of action is beating Yang over the head with a series of incidents that even she can’t wish away as coincidence. It’s annoying mostly because it’s working. Even Weiss doesn’t bother to add commentary once they land, merely gestures towards the obvious outcropping with a roll of her eyes.
“We’ll wait here,” she says, instead of I told you so, which is a bizarre bit of gracefulness from Weiss Schnee that Yang will gladly take, and more than that, reward (which she does by dropping a quick kiss on top of Weiss’s head).
“We won’t be long,” Yang promises, mussing Ruby’s hair as she walks past. “Apparently we know exactly where we’re going and exactly what to expect.”
And they had. Except for the singing. That apparently only Yang could hear.
(No cause for concern there at all.)
“Seriously?” Yang asks, face screwed up in annoyance. “No high-pitched ringing in your ears? Not even a little?”
Blake doesn’t laugh, but from the look on her face, it’s a near thing. “The Jedi claim those who are meant for a crystal will hear its harmony. It seems I’m not the one meant for any of the crystals in here.”
“It’d be nice if it was a bit quieter about what it wanted, then,” Yang yells, and is surprised when the noise settles into something far more pleasant, a soft hum that drops her shoulders, soothes the tension in her neck.
“Maybe it was tired of being ignored.” Blake reaches out to take her right hand — something of an apology for the bluntness of her words — and runs her fingers along the repaired metal.
Ruby had outdone herself, really. With Weiss’s help, she’d acquired stacks of both osmiridium and mullinine, and melted both down to create a new outer layer for Yang’s prosthetic. The bright yellow-gold of the former needed no painting, especially with the sharp, black lines of the latter running through it — aesthetic and structure in one — and Yang had left it as is: a bit less flashy than before, but without any loss in appeal. Blake, certainly, seemed to like it, given the way her fingers often found their way to the cool metal. (But then, they’d been finding their way to Yang with more and more frequency lately — drawn with magnetic force, and without any of the hesitation she’d sometimes shown in the past — and Yang wasn’t about to complain.)
“Maybe, I wouldn’t ignore it if it wasn’t so smug,” Yang grumbles, only realizing how ridiculous she sounds after the words are already out. She tugs Blake forward, further into the cave, where she can hear her crystal going off in the distance. “Did yours do this?”
“Mm, no.” When she looks up at the sparkling ceiling of the cave, there’s a wistfulness to her words and expression, and Yang slows her pace instinctively. “The Sith don’t hold such sentiments when it comes to kyber. Or anything else. It has nothing to do with being chosen by the crystal for them. They subjugate it instead. It’s what gives their blades the red color; the crystal bleeds.”
The thought makes Yang frown, and her fingers curl further around Blake’s, thumb brushing gently over the back of her hand. “But you never did that.”
“No,” Blake agrees, voice soft. “I was… fortunate. I found my kyber a very long way from where it originated. Or at least, I have to assume so, since Kyber isn’t found anywhere else on Mengeria.”
“The Force works in mysterious ways,” Yang drawls, though the mocking loses a bit of its bite given she’s currently in a cave of Force crystals, which she found by following the signs shown to her in a Force dream. “How did you find it?”
“I was very young at the time; it was back when my father was the chieftain of our flotilla, before we were indebted to any of the ship corporations. Before I’d even met Adam.” In the pause, Yang listens for her crystal and adjusts their course accordingly. She also moves in closer to Blake, squeezes her hand once more. “It was a challenge to make enough to support the flotilla, and even children were expected to help. I was diving for ore — the ocean floor on Mengeria has all sorts of valuable metals — when I found the kyber. It was right there, just sitting in the sand, a tiny rock made of the prettiest color I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think about the length of my air line or the currents or anything else, I just… went for it. And when I touched it, I felt — I felt safe. Strong. In a very particular way I didn’t feel again until over a decade later.” She smiles, not shy or hesitant, but gentle, like she knows it might be too much for Yang to take. “When I met you.”
Yang sucks in a sharp breath. “Blake…”
“I didn’t know what it was,” she continues, shaking her head once, and Yang bites her lip to silence any further interjections. “But I knew it was something special. Anything we found belonged to the flotilla, so I took it to my father to be appraised. I think I might have prayed to… something, that it would be found to be worthless, but he knew right away. At the time, I thought he was merely being kind, letting me keep it, making me a little pouch so I could wear it around my neck. Now, though, I know he could have sold it for an outrageous amount, enough to support our village for a year, so I suppose it must have been something more.”
“Your parents are…” Yang swallows, unable to ask the question.
“Alive,” Blake finishes, though her smile is sad. “But I haven’t seen them for many years. We lost the flotilla eventually, and had to join one of the shipcorps. I met Adam then, and he… encouraged me to take a different path from my parents. He was also the one to recognize my kyber crystal for what it was, all those years later.”
They reach a high ledge and Yang scrambles up it, pulling herself upwards and over with a grunt. When she moves to offer her hand to Blake, she’s already leapt up without Yang’s assistance, bouncing between the perpendicular rock faces to ascend. It makes Yang laugh, despite the conversation, and Blake follows suit, dispelling some of the heaviness that had settled around them.
“I’m glad yours isn’t red,” Yang says simply, the smile brought on by the levity lingering in place. “Like, from an aesthetic point alone; I’ve always liked purple more.”
Blake’s amusement softens, eyes crinkling at the corners as her brow lifts. “That makes sense, seeing as the kyber I found was always meant to be yours.”
“It — ” Yang jerks to a stop, and Blake turns to look back at the abrupt pull on her fingers. The expression on her face — encouraging and understanding — has Yang’s thoughts spinning in place until they catch on the simple meaning. “Oh. Right.”
She looks down at her arm — where Blake’s kyber rests, powering her arm and providing a shielding that even Ruby hadn’t been able to understand — and thinks, of course. Of course it’s hers now. Of course this part of Blake was always meant to be hers.
And vice versa.
Her crystal is near now, singing of possibilities, promising to be worthy of the unspoken trade.
“The Jedi believe that the kyber crystal that calls to them is a part of them. A piece of their soul.” Blake steps closer, fits her free hand to Yang’s hip, even as her lips curl in a slightly self-mocking smile. “It sounds dramatic, I know, but lately, I’ve been thinking that they weren’t entirely off the mark. And that maybe it can apply to people outside of their little Order. Because I’m certainly not a Jedi.”
The closeness is a comfort, as it always is. It occurs to Yang then — with clear, obvious language — that the times she feels most at peace is when she’s at Blake’s side.
“So what are you, then?”
Blake tilts her head, like the answer to this, too, is obvious. “Yours, I think. Not — not in a belonging sense. Not really. But I think… if the Force connects all things, if every piece of matter is somehow intertwined, then sometime long ago, we were right next to each other in that chain, so close that we took a piece of each other. Because that day we met? When you called out to me, I recognized something in you that was… mine. Something that hadn’t been ruined by Adam and everything that he — ” She cuts her own words short. Yang brings their hands — already connected — in between them, rests Blake’s palm against her chest. “I knew I could run, like you told me to. Like I wanted to. I knew there was still hope to be had, and that I’d find it again in myself. And in you.”
“That’s a lot of trust to put in a feeling.” Her tone is lighter than the words (the meaning behind them), but Blake isn’t fooled.
“Is it all that different from what you say you do? Relying on intuition and luck?” There’s no unkindness in the question, nothing ungenuine in Blake’s curiosity. “What makes the Force all that different?”
“Luck is… ” She trails off, searching for the answer. Nothing comes immediately, and she disentangles herself from Blake slightly, only so that she might resume their slow pace through the cavern and give her mind something else to focus on. “It’s a bonus more than anything else. Not a crutch. And it’s impartial. Luck doesn’t have a motive; it just is.”
“I’ve heard many say the same thing about the Force.” Yang shoots her a look, but Blake just smiles. “Some believe it’s simply power to be taken, nothing sentient about it. Do you think differently?”
“I know differently.” She’s grumpy again, but they’re getting closer to the crystal and it’s the most beautiful sound she’s ever heard — just out of reach — and resent builds up in her, a last bastion. “It wants things.”
“And you can’t trust anything that wants something?” Blake lifts a brow. “What about me? I always want you.”
It’s a comment designed to make Yang laugh, and it works. Fondness wells up as a result, any resentment forced back down due to the limits on the number of emotions she can process at once. (So often these days, it seems Blake is more and more able to push out anything unpleasant, simply by being around.)
“Right now, huh? Pretty sure the Force wouldn’t approve of me taking you against the wall of its Holy Crystal Fortress, or whatever.”
“What about the other way around?” Blake winks, a rare enough sight that, when combined with the words, Yang nearly trips over the uneven floor. “Would the Force be into that?”
This time, Yang’s laugh comes with a sharp tug that’s designed to get Blake stumbling, but she merely skips closer to Yang, looking wholly unperturbed and a little bit smug (Yang has a brief moment where she wonders just how much the Force would actually mind either of those two scenarios they’d put forth).
“Okay, new worst case scenario: the Force is sentient and perverted.”
They stop again, Blake suddenly looking almost unbearably earnest as she lifts her eyes to catch Yang’s. “It’s not that bad, is it?” Yang opens her mouth, but Blake quickly cuts her off, realizing her mistake at once. “Not the perverted bit. But… to have something in this universe that wants something good? Something that wanted you and Ruby to explore every stretch of space? That had you stealing from a random transport and meeting your best friend? That wanted us to find each other so badly that gave us a piece of each other?”
Yang sighs and leans forward — just past Blake’s right ear — to pick a crystal off the wall. It’s no different from any of the others, not at first glance, but its music, the color she can see (not in the kyber itself, but all around it, radiatianting lines of a bright, obvious tint), the warmth of the crystal in her hand, everything tells her that this is hers. (And hers to give.)
“Because the thing that wants me to have this — ” She holds up the kyber, feels it vibrate when placed between the two of them. “— gave power to the man who made your life hell, let one woman take over the whole galaxy, and fucked up the woman who was supposed to be my mother so much that she thought running away from it was more important than being with her family. And I just — ” She’s holding the kyber too tight, tight enough the edges should cut into her hand, but when she releases it, there’s hardly a mark. “I don’t trust something that does things like that.”
“Okay.” Blake’s hand settles on Yang’s cheek. Her thumb strokes underneath her bottom lip. “So trust me instead.”
And maybe it is that simple.
If the Jedi can think of the Force as a holy power, if the Sith can think of it as a wild strength to master and control, if Blake can think of it as a winding and difficult path leading to some kind of goodness, then maybe Yang can also pick and choose.
And if it meant making life for Ruby among the stars, pulling Weiss into the family she’d always wanted and always deserved, and loving Blake enough to split her soul into pieces she can freely share, then Yang can get behind it.
She can trust in the Force if it just means loving the people she already wants to love.
“Okay,” she says, and brushes her lips against Blake’s, acceptance and love in one.
It’s as simple as that.
Blake makes her lightsaber hilt with Ruby’s help; she picks the same metals as Yang had used in the modifications to her prosthetic, but switches the main and highlight material, so that it’s a deep, coal black, with gold accents throughout. Constructing the outer shell is simple enough, but the inner workings add a bit more complexity. Weiss frowns as Blake plainly lays out the techniques she’s learned over the years — all of which are most certainly close guarded secrets by the (former) Jedi Order — but hangs on every word, and asks nearly as many questions as Ruby. Yang, for her part, asks far less, but that has nothing to do with a lack of interest and everything to do with the way Blake answers with a mixture of patience, knowledge, and excitement, and how Yang finds herself caught in the way Blake glows as she does.
“Last but not least,” Blake is saying now, reaching around Ruby — who’s draped across the workbench in the way others might laze in a recliner — to grab a magnifier. “We triple check that the emitter matrix isn’t inverted, because otherwise — ”
“The power grid could backfire,” Weiss finishes, bright and attentive at Blake’s side, slipping the magnifier out of Blake’s hands so that she might check herself. “Everything seems in order.”
“Good. Then all that’s left is — ”
“The kyber!” Ruby rolls off the bench and bounces upwards. There’s grease smudged across her nose and her goggles are askew atop her head and her mechanical eye is contracting and dilating rapidly in the way it always does whenever she’s particularly excited about something, and Yang smiles, thinking about how so much and so little can change, all at once.
“Unless Yang has thrown it out of the airlock, for good measure,” Weiss drawls. “She’s been strangely silent in her typical objections over her own use of the Force. Finally giving in, Yang?”
“Yeah.” It’s all she needs to say, because in the same moment, she opens her hand, and the kyber crystal — carefully stored across the room — lifts out of the case, soars through the air, and lands neatly in her palm. “I guess I am.”
She takes a great deal of satisfaction in Weiss’s open-mouthed shock, and winks at her as she leans in between her and Blake to drop the kyber in Blake’s hand. For good measure, she kisses Blake, too, nudging Weiss further out of the way as she does, and it’s this that pulls Weiss out of her surprise, announced with a loud scoff that has Yang smiling against Blake’s lips.
“So cool,” Ruby squeals. “You’re going to be even more awesome now that you know when you’re doing it.”
“Or ten thousand times more unbearable,” Weiss grumbles. “If you use the Force to flirt, Yang Xiao Long, I swear I will build my own lightsaber, just so I can stab you with it. Honestly, the fact that you’ve managed to incorporate kyber into those godawful fistcuffs is bad enough — I’ll never be able to teach you proper blade form now — but if I have to witness you summoning flowers across a room or hear anything about your Force sexcapades, I will — ”
“Force sexcapades,” Blake repeats loudly, though her tone is one of careful consideration. “Now that does sound interesting. Do you have some tips for us, Weiss?”
Weiss turns the color of a Sith’s blade, and stumbles away from the workbench sputtering.
“I never know whether to be disgusted about the stuff I have to learn about my big sister or enjoy Weiss’s distress when it comes to these conversations,” Ruby muses aloud. “I guess both?”
“It can be both,” Yang reassures, then kisses Blake’s cheek and steps back, giving her a little space as she fits the kyber into the chamber at the top of the hilt.
“It could be neither if you two would stop being such incorrigible flir— ”Weiss cuts herself off, ice blue eyes flicking to the lightsaber hilt, seemingly complete once Blake seals the compartment with a hum of satisfaction. “Wait. Are you done?”
“With the flirting or the lightsaber?” Blake teases.
“Either would be a relief,” Weiss sniffs. “But I meant the latter.”
Blake twirls the hilt in her hand, flips it around the back of her hand and into her palm. It’s made for her grip (literally) but more than that — the design, the colors, the weight — all of it combined suits Blake so well that Yang can hardly imagine seeing her without it.
“Yes,” Blake says simply, and ignites the blade.
From the first moment she’d dreamed of the crystal, Yang had known the exact shade of the blade it would eventually produce. She’d seen it glowing at its heart; been drawn to the color for the whole of her life, fit it into her clothes, her childhood bedroom wall, her first podracer; and had since seen it everyday for the past several years, in the eyes of the woman she loves. But somehow, the gold that erupts from the dark hilt of Blake’s weapon still has her taking in a deep breath.
“Perfect,” she murmurs.
The color warms the room, lights up Blake’s face, and no one present is inclined to disagree with Yang’s assessment. Weiss’s eyes are wide with an appreciation Yang can easily relate to, Ruby’s grin stretches across her face in a way that looks nearly uncomfortable, and Yang falls a little deeper for Blake, impossibly so. It’s only when Blake extinguishes the blade that normalcy settles back over the three of them, and even then, Weiss clears her throat twice before continuing.
“So.” She stops. Tries again, pinching her face in concentration. “Two force adepts and two sisters of one, all in one ship — flying around the galaxy and making trouble for the Empire — while the maniac in charge of our government hunts down anyone who so much as breathes on the Force a little too loud. That’s our plan, then?”
Yang exchanges a look with Ruby and then Blake.
“Got a better one?”
Weiss sighs. “Not really, no.” She sighs, but her smile gives her away. “Where to first?”
“Funny you should ask,” Yang begins, grin spreading as she takes in Ruby’s thumbs-up, Blake’s curving lips, Weiss’s fond exasperation. “Because this morning, I had this feeling...”
1. Credit to The Mummy Returns — the greatest adventure movie of all time — for the “we’ve had bad before” quote. Iconic moments in cinema.
2. Thank you to Sofia Powerbottomblake for reminding me of what’s really important in a Star Wars AU: sexy Force choking. Please stay tuned for the E-rated one-shot. (I'm kidding. Probably.)
3. There’s obviously a lot of untold stories in this universe, since this sort of ended up being a specific overview of Yang’s journey to accepting her own abilities. My plan now is to gently convince my friends to write within the same universe, so hopefully more tales from this AU will pop up eventually. Stay tuned!
4. As always, thanks for your lovely comments. It's been an interesting couple of weeks, so please know that every kind word really helps. <3