A/N: happy mermay, everyone ! it's been forever since i've written a mermaid au. this ended up a lot longer than i anticipated, but i'm pleased with the outcome :))) big thanks to CaptainReina for editing this for me !
for reference: yang is a tiger shark and blake is a mix between a catfish & coral catshark
The first thing that catches Yang's eye is the billowing flow of silky black hair.
The second is the gleam of yellow amongst the field of thin seagrass.
She doesn't stalk so much as she skulks. She weaves through the tendrils of plant life that sprout upwards from tufts of seagrass, flowing with the same languid rock of the water, the shining spotlight of the sun high above. It's much calmer against the seafloor, with the gentle brush of seagrass against the smooth expanse of her tail and the slow grind of sand along the curve of one fin.
What draws her is curiosity more than anything - it isn't often that a visitor strays this close to her hunting grounds. Well, it isn't Yang's , per se, but very rarely does competition emerge near the surface, and it's even rarer to see anyone that isn't family. She's following the paper-thin tips of fins that flow, flick, beckon; there isn't a thing about this newcomer that doesn't sing, not a single movement she makes that isn't as fluid as a nighttime melody.
It's at a thick bed of seagrass that Yang nearly loses her. It's almost instantaneous, the change in pace, how she transitions between a languid flow to a frantic rush. Yang follows immediately, trailing after scales that shimmer in the hazy sunlight, a feral simper spreading on her lips once she breaks free from the field.
A thin school of fish rushes past. Pitiful, really, but she's far more interested in the newcomer than she is in a weak source of food. The woman she meets is haloed in sunlight, her pupils drawn to thin slits, the yellow of her irises brighter than any field of coral Yang has ever come across. Her hair cups her face, masking the beginnings of whiskers that flow down past her shoulders.
The small fish that's crushed between her jaws comes loose once she unhinges them. Her canines are long, razor sharp, coming free when a pale hand reaches up to grasp the spoils. Her lip curves, not quite a sneer, and slowly, it registers to Yang as a warning. It's been a long time since anyone has ever dared bare their teeth at her.
The sight draws her closer.
"It's mine," the woman tells her.
Her fangs are dipped in something alluringly treacherous. Her voice is drenched in boredom. Her fins are thin, as diminutive as the rest of her, lined in scales that shimmer and sing, betrayed only by the fangs that are bared, the claws that curve and sink into her catch.
Yang has never met someone so dangerously lovely.
"All yours," Yang agrees, placatingly raising her hand. "Just isn't often I see someone hunt so close to the surface."
She sees how the woman's gaze trails lower, lingers, drags slowly back upwards. It's a struggle to prevent the smirk that tugs at her lips. Those eyes meet hers once more, and her gills stutter, her breath catching for a brief moment, thrumming wildly between her ribs. Her look balances on a fine line between a challenge and a taunt, as alluring as it was daunting.
What's more astounding than the confidence is the way she rolls her eyes and turns away. The rippling glitter of sunlight that erupts from her hips to the thin end of her tail is mesmerizing, igniting the dull patterns, illuminating the flawless stretch of scales that sing a melody of their own. Yang is nothing, just as she is nothing - an equal match, as it were.
"Right," she says.
She sounds bored. Yang wants to chase her down until the enigmatic front she presents shatters.
"You know, you'll find bigger fish just a little ways down," Yang calls after her.
Thrillingly enough, she pauses for the briefest moment. Turns her head just a bit, grip faltering on the fish that was still clenched in her hand. Something close to a scowl finds its way on her lips, and she glides smoothly forth. She moves like a melody; she weaves into the approaching seaweed like the bleeding transition between one song to the next.
It's a struggle, but Yang doesn't follow.
Yang doesn't try to run into her. It sort of just happens.
(Or at least, that's what she tells herself.)
That isn't to say she's particularly upset - the first few times she spots the woman hunting, it's purely by accident. As much as Yang tells herself not to, she can't help but watch her. Every movement she makes is strikingly meticulous, from the chase to the eventual snap of her maw, the fluid lull of her coming to a gradual stop a lovely sight to behold.
And every time, like she always knew, she would glance back over her shoulder. Something predacious would lurk in her eyes when they met with Yang's. A smirk would tug on her lips for just a moment before she flitted off into the abyss, dipping low over the cliff and far out of Yang's reach once more.
Every time, Yang lingers just a little bit closer.
Every time, the woman's smirk grows wider and gaze drags longer before she vanishes.
It doesn't take much whining on Yang's end for Ruby to finally lose it and shove her out into the reef with giddy words of encouragement.
So that's how she ends up emerging in the field of seaweed with an albacore tucked under her arm. It wasn't a guarantee that they would meet; she sort of just hopes, with Ruby swimming frantically at her side while they hunted, that the woman would be there. She hopes it's as easy as Tai would frequently say it is, whenever he peers far off into the water and talks idly about Ruby's mother.
If her gills stop working at the metallic shine of scales and the billow of hair and whiskers alike, that's no one's business but her own.
Those stunning eyes glance sharply at her, pausing for a few tantalizing moments, and then they drop to the albacore. Somehow, Yang manages not to sound as weak as her joints felt when she says, "Funny how we keep bumping into each other, isn't it?"
The woman's whiskers twitch. The surprise that etched itself onto her countenance is gone, replaced only by a sneer that drips nothing but danger. "What, are these your hunting grounds then?"
"Come on, I'm not that full of myself." Tentatively, she lifts the albacore, then says, "It's for you, actually."
Again, surprise flashes briefly on her demeanor before it vanishes, dissolving into the water as quickly as her descent into the deep. She looks at the albacore, and then back to Yang, the faintest hint of a flush emerging high on her cheekbones. She curls her fingers inwards, picks idly at the curved ends of her claws.
"You don't have to hunt for me," she murmurs.
"I know I don't." There's a hint of wonder in her eyes when Yang says, "I just wanted to."
In the few moments of silence that pulses between them, Yang can only hold her breath, endlessly entranced by the woman's calculating stare. Slowly, as if reaching out to something that was foreign to her, she takes the Albacore from Yang's hand.
". . . Thanks," she says.
Her voice is soft. The heady beginnings of a purr that she can't seem to stop laces through the pleasantness of her tone. Yang wishes desperately to hear more of it. To glide up smoothly against her and feel the vibrations of it on her skin from where it reverberates deep in the woman's chest.
"I'm Yang, by the way."
The woman glances downwards towards her lips. Halts there for a moment, then comes back upwards. There's nothing but intrigue in the yellow that swims, nothing but unabashed want in the gold that smoulders. Yang's pulse thrums wildly in her jugular.
"Blake," she responds.
Yang spends a long time in the few following days stalking fish by the reef, waiting to pounce on the biggest ones she can find.
What drives her crazy is the apparent insouciance that Blake accepts each one with. Past the initial shock, there's nothing but a grin on her face, one that oozes mirth and muted satisfaction alike. She acts like she's too good, like she's doing Yang a favor , her fingers brushing over Yang's own, her tone dipped low when she purrs her thanks.
Truth be told, it just makes Yang want her more.
Blake never sticks around for very long. She doesn't seem to mind, necessarily, but she also isn't willing to stay. It isn't that she's inclined to - the mutual craving is tangible, thick in the water, heady in Yang's sinuses. Blake has never smelled sweeter, drawing close every time she accepts Yang's offers, mere inches apart before she's far out of reach once more.
There's always something that seems to hold her back. It weighs on her shoulders, stalks her from the bases of the seaweed, stands thick and unmoving in the void at the bottom of the nearby dip. Yang wishes desperately she could follow after her, through the dark and into the suffocating pressure, wonders how far she can go until she can't anymore.
At some point, Yang gives up on hunting albacore. There isn't a single one she deems worthy enough to bring Blake, and the schools of fish some ways from home didn't look all too promising, either. She returns to the field empty-handed, instead choosing to perch in a dip on a nearby wall and watch.
Gods, does Yang want.
She watches as Blake cuts through the water with stunning precision. Watches how she snaps at the targeted fish, has it crushed between her jaws in no time at all.
She really, really wants.
Blake glances idly around before she finally slinks off. Yang doesn't catch the clicking whine in her throat in time; she wishes she could reach out already. Intertwine their tails, weave their fingers together, nuzzle up against the column of her throat. She wonders how the vibrations of her purr would feel under her lips, how frantically her gills will flutter when she sinks her claws in deep.
Albacore stops being so fulfilling to catch no matter their size. It takes a while, but eventually, after no small amount of encouragement from Ruby, Yang decides to sing.
She isn't good at this - the whole courting thing, or whatever Tai calls it. But this is something she can do. She can bask in the heady sunlight, stare down below, and just sing . It's a wordless tune that she hums out into the water, soft in her chest, high in her throat, confident and absolute in all the ways that gift giving never was.
It gets her point across well enough.
Vaguely, Yang remembers the stories that Tai told her about her mother. About how stubborn Raven was, how important the tribe was to her, how she and Qrow both would frequent the surface before she left. He would talk softly, as if entranced once more, of the song she would sing.
About how her eyes would glower, how her voice held an allure that no human was capable of denying.
It's uncommon, but it's also no secret what Yang's eyes hold - what her voice holds. The lure is no myth, the song is no mere story. There is only terror in beauty and allure in danger.
Yang never quite understood what that meant until she met Blake.
Given, it's different, but the sentiment is the same. The way Blake hunts is captivating. She's grace in the form of fangs and claws, she's divine in the way she tears into fish like they're nothing. She's ethereal in how she pauses and waits, almost instantly finding Yang, something remarkably soft on her expression for the few moments it takes for Yang to finally begin.
She lounges with her chin propped on one hand and sings a tune that flows as strongly as the pound of her heart against her ribcage. Blake merely watches, her tail flicking idly in the water as the fish caught between her teeth starts to thrash once more.
Her jaw tenses, locks. The fish seizes, falls still. Yang's eyes flash red, but her song doesn't change; she languidly continues onwards, stretching long and unhurried like the endless sink in the ocean did. It elucidates everything she doesn't have the courage to say; it paints the picture that she doesn't have the skill to craft.
Blake stays for a small while after her song ends.
Blake has never been all that interested in surface cuisine. Or their drinks, really, but she isn't about to loiter. She runs the tip of one gloved finger in slow circles against her glass, tracing the rim, its contents largely untouched. The bar around grows dark over the course of the evening, illuminated only by the hanging lanterns that were strung up to the ceiling alongside a string of tacky ornaments.
Conversations fall into a dull murmur in her ears. Her questions have gone by largely unanswered - whether people genuinely don't know where Ilia is, or they're just really good at keeping their mouths shut, she doesn't know - and she is quickly growing weary of the crowd.
At this point, Ilia is all she has, and she's not any closer than she was weeks ago in finding out where she is.
The sun outside the window has already set, leaving naught but a pink haze along the bumpy horizon, succumbing quickly to the navy blue of the night. Inevitably, her mind wanders away from the task at hand and back to Yang.
Something in her chest races, but it isn't fear. Not anymore, as least. The element of fear had long since washed away after Yang showed an amount of self-restraint that Blake genuinely didn't expect. She never once chases after her despite how hungry her gaze is; she never tries to sink her teeth in despite how her tongue runs along her pointed teeth, never once tries to tear with her claws despite how obviously she itches to reach outwards.
Yang is danger covered in stripes, peril shrouded in messy blonde hair that falls to her waist. She's the thing that lurks in the trenches that Blake returns to at night, the shadow that dances in the corner of her eye when she disappears into the deep. Blake knows how she watches. Knows how she settles on a bed of algae, in a tuft of seagrass, watching ever so closely, but not once does she start the chase.
It's strikingly enticing.
And Gods, her voice. That's the one thing that Blake thinks about the most. She'd call it invasive if she didn't crave so badly to hear that song again.
It also doesn't help that Yang is absolutely stunning. Skin smoother than leather, gliding like silk in the water, weaving like the soft threads of a bandage through algae and seagrass. Stripes along her skin, at their largest at her tail and hips, trailing off and fading once they reached her shoulders and biceps. They never fail to catch Blake's eyes. They're a statement, a beacon, a call in the night.
If Blake lets herself be found every time she hunts, she will never admit it.
Whether it be hunting or skulking, she knows where Yang is. She's aware of how Yang watches, as always, and yet still, she never pushes.
Blake likes that. Likes that Yang can take her apart in a heartbeat. Likes knowing that Yang never would, unless she allowed it. It's a dangerous thought, weaving itself through the capillaries under her skin, mapping out the stretch of muscle and bone until all she can do is want.
Want to drag their meetings on longer, maybe even stay. Want to sing a song of her own. Want Yang.
The thought is dangerous, and somehow, that makes it all the more alluring.
She's keenly aware of the man that chooses to pull out the stool next to her instead of one of the many others available. It's a struggle to suppress the annoyed growl that bubbles forth.
"Hey there! I don't usually see people traveling alone to a small town like this," he says, his voice lilted, the length of his forearm pressed against the countertop. "Business, is it? Vacation?"
Blake spares him a glance. The smile he wears is just as bright as his eyes, the deep blue of them striking, shadowed under the mess of blond hair that he didn't bother to tame before approaching her.
"Traveling alone obviously means that I'm not looking for company," she deadpans.
"But I'm a delight!" he insists. Upon seeing her glare, he continues, "I'm also something of a tour guide, if I do say so myself." He scoots in closer, their knees brushing, and it takes a strength Blake almost doesn't have to refrain from removing her gloves and tearing into the muscle of his forearm. With an unctuously sing-song hum, he says, "My name's Sun. And you are . . . ?"
Blake doesn't bother hiding the annoyance in her tone when she snaps, "Am I supposed to care?"
Infuriatingly enough, he doesn't shy away. "Touchy, touchy," he hisses out as if he'd been burned, but even then, he sidles closer still. "Say - doesn't it get lonely? Not like there's much to do around here, anyways -"
He comes to an abrupt stop when Blake clamps down on the hand that had slowly been reaching for the coin purse at her side. His smile falters, flickers, but then it's back again, ridiculously sheepish now. Blake rolls her eyes.
"You're not as smooth as you think," she says.
Sun struggles for a moment before he halts and stares. He looks from one eye to the other, frantically as if searching for something. A look dangerously close to realization passes fleetingly over his face, and then he smirks and glances pointedly downwards at the hand that's crushing his own.
He lightly asks, "Little too hot out to be wearing gloves, isn't it?"
Blake scowls and lets him go. "Why do you care?"
She pushes out her stool to leave. "I just think it's interesting," Sun quickly says. At the sour look she throws his way, he grins and hums, "Hey, don't scowl so hard. Your fangs show when you do."
Blake can't help the instinctual urge to glance around at the passersby and bartender. Sun only sits there looking disgustingly smug, his arm propped against the counter, the honeyed light of the hanging lanterns igniting the mirthful gleam in his eyes. It's then that Blake finally recognizes it - the flash of fanged canines, the sheathed beds of curved, recently trimmed claws.
It's different from being found out by a human, but nevertheless, her pulse jumps, her stomach twists. Ilia was the only other person - other mer - who recognized her on the surface.
But now Ilia's gone, and all that's left are rumors of her last whereabouts that Blake has yet to find the source to.
"Okay." He quirks a brow upwards at the guarded prompt; slowly, as she settles back down in her seat, she asks, "If this isn't about money, what is it?"
He swivels to face outwards into the rest of the room. He leans back, melting into a languorous slouch, thankfully lowering his voice as he continues, "It just isn't often that I see other mer wandering around here. Why try to hide it, though?" He glances briefly at the gloved hand that's fisted over the glossy countertop. "It's not like anyone here actually notices anything, unless there's someone in particular you're worried about."
Blake resumes tracing the lip of her glass. "That's none of your business."
"Yeah, okay, I know it isn't, but hear me out: that whole tour guide spiel wasn't exactly a lie. I sort of just know people and the places they hang out at." Carefully, as if stoking the smouldering embers of a fire that refuses to catch, Sun offers, "I can keep an eye out for whoever it is you're looking for."
He speaks with enough confidence to be convincing, straightforward enough for her to chance the thought that he isn't lying. Perhaps if it was weeks ago, when she had freshly arrived at Mantle, she'd refuse. If it was the first day that she spent in a bar, suspicious of every stranger she spoke to, she would spit and hiss and stalk off into the night.
Except weeks have passed, and she still hasn't heard a word of Ilia. Weeks have passed, and she knows that she isn't the only person who would go looking for Ilia in the meantime. She left Adam countries behind, oceans away, thousands of miles stretching far between them, and yet still, she knows that he will follow.
"Don't act like you're doing this out of the kindness of your heart." She straightens and turns, and to her annoyance, Sun seems delighted at the attention. "What do you want?"
After a long, thoughtful hum, Sun says, "Dinner sounds nice." At the withering glare Blake pins him with, he quickly says, "No, seriously! It's the food I'm looking out for." He has the audacity to look sheepish when he adds, "I'm . . . kind of broke at the moment. . . ."
It takes Blake a small moment to process the admission before she snorts. Sustenance isn't the problem, here. "Nothing's stopping you from hunting," she tells him.
Tentatively, Sun agrees, "Well - no. There isn't. But -"
"So you're spoiled, is what you're telling me."
Sun breaks into another grin, the glint of his sharpened canines a silent promise of their own. If there was a more sinister meaning laced in the spaces between his words, it was thoroughly shattered, replaced only by the light that dances in his eyes. He lightly quips, "I consider it a luxury worthy of information."
Blake rolls her eyes. She supposes it could be worse.
Yang finally gives in and follows Ruby past the reef. It dims after a long while. Not unlike Qrow's territory by the cliffside, but the hue of the water is darker. The sun doesn't shine as brightly here, faintly illuminating the large tufts of algae that taper off from the dwindling edge of coral.
Moss-ridden gravel decorates the sand, leading them to the blossoming field of salmon-colored grass where Weiss waits. Starfish of many hues spur into motion at their passing before settling back onto smooth rock to lounge. It's been quite a while since Yang last talked to her, prompting out of the travel as of late whenever Ruby invited her. She doubts Weiss would be all that upset - what time she doesn't spend cultivating the pinks and oranges of fauna and flora alike in her domain is spent with Ruby, and Yang images they are content to be left alone - and, stretching further, she highly doubts Ruby went on the past few weeks without mentioning Blake.
Weiss is nestled in a patchy field of sargassum that she no doubt has collected herself, dotted with delicate flowers Yang is positive can't be from the area. Her tail curls around her, pillowing her in the ridiculous mass of her fins, which provide a lovely contrast against the bed of grass she rests in. At the sight of the two, Weiss perks up, uncurling her tail, stirring the long, pearly stretch of her fins with a delicate flutter.
"It's about time," she tells them, moving to sit upright, the veil-like tendrils of her tail flicking idly at her side. "You two always make me wait."
Yang tilts her head. "You were expecting us?"
"Ruby told me you were looking for the perfect gift for the girl you met," Weiss says. She's a bit reproachful, her arms crossed, and Yang can only laugh. "Come on. I've been dying to know more."
Ruby settles down next to Weiss. "Yang told me everything," she teases.
Weiss rolls her eyes. "You don't have to rub it in my face." She curls her tail inwards, draping her fins over Ruby, her head butting lightly into Ruby's shoulder. Turning to Yang, she says, "So. Tell me something. At least what she looks like! You can't give her something that doesn't compliment her."
Her first thoughts settle on the patterns of Blake's tail. They fall still at the thought of how the light shines on each scale, how the gradient paints itself, how they taper off high on her stomach and pepper her shoulders. She thinks of hair that billows and whiskers that sometimes twitch, as expressive as her eyes, flowing as easily as the thin tips of her fins in the water. She's suddenly aware of how her gills refuse to work anymore.
"What wouldn't compliment her?" Yang wistfully asks, more to herself than anything.
Weiss exchanges an amused look with Ruby, then says, "You have it bad."
"It's bad bad , " Ruby laughs.
As much as Yang hates to admit it, Ruby isn't wrong about that.
Yang's song shifts after some time.
It's more of a croon than a fleshed out melody, softer on her lips than ever before, and if Blake hadn't been skulking nearby, it probably would have gone by unnoticed. Her tail hangs over the edge of the cliffside, thumping idly against its uneven face, the nebulous waters below lurking ominously at the tip of her fin.
Eventually, Blake slinks closer. This is the first time she's approached Yang rather than watched her from afar. Yang doesn't know what it is that curls in her gut, giddy and impatient, boiling up to pound in her chest as she rolls the shard of sea glass that she's been holding between her fingers. It was one of the first ones that Weiss pointed out to her.
The yellow of it is opaque when cradled on her palm, igniting quickly into something that pulses and flows as thickly as honey when held up to the light. It was the first thing that Yang was drawn to, the color reminiscent of Blake's eyes; it's smooth, rounded, kept glossy and impeccable even as she fumbled clumsily with it for the past few days.
She's never had an excuse to approach Blake, but now she isn't the one chasing. Now she isn't the only one watching from afar, waiting for that alluring gaze to turn to her, pin her to the sand, leave her gills flaring and struggling to filter while she watches Blake leave. Her song comes to a stop when she hears the scrape of Blake's fin against the sand, hardly there, a mere whisper that's breathed out into the heavy silence.
Yang cocks her head to the side, resting against her shoulder, and luxuriously drawls, "Fancy meeting you here."
"I hunt here often." She melts into a grin, thin and knowing, and says lightly, "Though it's not like you could've known."
There isn't much Yang wouldn't give for the opportunity to glide up against her and slot their lips together. She clenches and unclenches around the sea glass that she's still holding on to, suddenly very aware of the way it burns and seethes on her skin. It waits just as Blake does, her eyes expectant, as if she knows about the gift Yang has yet to give.
There isn't much Blake doesn't notice, and something about that is strikingly heady. Like Yang isn't the one who closely follows the glimmer of her scales, like Yang isn't the one captivated by every movement she makes. There's something so delectable, so thrilling, about the fact that she isn't the only one who stares, either.
She isn't the only one so hopelessly enthralled, isn't the only one who feels like the ocean currents have suddenly changed their course. She lifts herself from the ledge, and slowly, to allow Blake the chance to escape if she wishes to, she drifts closer. Sidles into Blake's personal space, not quite touching, but she can almost taste Blake in the thin space between them.
She's sweet, something faintly unfamiliar in her scent, clinging to her from a land far from the territory Yang and her family encompass. It's delightful, the quick dilation of Blake's pupils, the way her whiskers twitch behind the hair that frames her face. It isn't until Yang lifts her hand that Blake finally notices the sea glass.
"I brought you a little something," Yang says. She speaks softly, a mere murmur on her lips, but the anticipation is glaringly obvious.
Blake's lips part, a soft sound bleeding into the water, but she doesn't say anything. She snaps it back shut, a hint of wonder dancing in her eyes as she tentatively takes the sea glass in her hand. Their fingers brush, and idly, almost imperceptibly, the flowy tip of one fin glides along Yang.
She doesn't know when they drifted closer. She doesn't know much beyond the blood that thrums with sheer, unabashed want , pounding through her veins, flaring in the depths of her irises. Blake stares for a small while before she finally catches herself.
"Finally trying to bribe me, then? Get me to terrorize someone else's hunting grounds?" Blake teases, but she sounds like she can't catch a breath.
Her other hand comes down to rest on Yang's hip, and gods, she can't think. "Well, fish didn't work," Yang manages to say, shocked at the lack of a stutter in her own voice, "so I had to upgrade to shiny things."
Blake squeezes her hip, and the pinprick of her claws has Yang closing the distance between them. Something reminiscent of a chirp leaves Blake's throat at the force of it, and her gaze falls to Yang's lips. Finally, she says, "Tell me. Do you sing often?"
She isn't from these parts, Yang knows, but she supposes the sentiment is universal, both the songs and the sea glass. It's simple enough, more for Blake's comfort than anything, begging the question of exclusivity; it's a tentative reach, unsure of this game Yang plays, a shot in the dark to hopefully pin down the thing that pulses between them.
Something in Yang preens, this possessive part of her that urges her to lean in and sink her teeth into the stretch of Blake's neck. The thoughts that follow are frantic, and she nearly salivates, swallowing thickly around the knot that's stuck in the back of her throat. Blake sharply follows the twinge in her throat, and faintly, Yang can hear her low purr.
It's quickly becoming insurmountably difficult to behave - there's no way Blake doesn't know, and that in itself makes the chase even more exhilarating. She responds with the low rumble of a growl, "Only on special occasions."
Blake smirks at that, lopsided and fervently wicked, and her hand drifts lower. Yang's breath seizes in her chest as Blake hums, "For special people?
"Just the special someone," Yang tells her. She feels how Blake's thumb begins to trace one of the stripes low on her hip, back and forth, sinuously slow and deliberate. "You might've seen her around. Black hair, pretty whiskers - she's kind of difficult to forget."
It's cheeky and just a bit petulant, but regardless, Blake plays along. "Keep on singing, then," she says. The look she wears is far too heavy to be innocuous; there's a certain heat to her eyes that digs under Yang's skin, a predatory flicker that lurks in her blown-out pupils that bites deep into Yang's bones. "I'm sure she loves it."
Blake finally pulls away from her then, and it takes everything in Yang not to reach out and yank her back in. Slowly, with a steadying breath, she holds back the frustrated whine that threatens to tear out from her chest. Instead, she watches as Blake passes the sea glass from one hand to the other, endlessly fascinated by the gleam of it.
Helplessly, before she can stop herself, Yang asks, "Where do you disappear off to?"
Blake doesn't seem upset by the question. She easily answers, "I've been looking for an old friend of mine on the surface."
The fascination that follows is similar to that of the kind that erupts under her skin whenever Qrow would allude to his misadventures on the surface. It always seems like a fantasy, always spoken about as if it's just another one of those stories that he used to tell her and Ruby when they were younger. Some faraway land that they would never hope to reach, some impossible destination that was nothing but a folktale to keep them entertained.
Yet Blake isn't recounting a story. She isn't averting Yang's eye, isn't dodging the question, and Yang can't help but ask, "How's it like?"
Blake blinks once, twice, as if she can't fathom the question. Then, she taps at the sharp cut of her jaw, humming thoughtfully before she says, "The sun burns. The air feels too light, like you can't get enough of it. Everything's louder. And clearer, sometimes."
"Doesn't seem all that appealing to you," Yang points out. The smile that gets her is both guilty and amused, and with a hopeful flutter in her chest, she says, "You could stick around here for a while instead."
Blake folds her arms over her chest. She quirks her brow, pins her with a glare that's almost skeptical, but the lecherous fire that burns deep in the golden ring around her pupils says otherwise. "Just for you?"
Yang's tongue runs over her lower lip, and to her delight, Blake tracks the movement like it's prey. "I can be very convincing."
When their eyes meet again, it's heavier. There's a heat that Yang feels all the way to her core, tingling in the blood that rushes under her skin, sparking when Blake purrs lower than before, "Tempting." Suddenly, she's back in Yang's space, and her lips brush the shell of Yang's ear as she murmurs, "We'll see about that next time."
Then Blake pushes past her, gliding the length of her tail long and deliberately firm against Yang's side as she goes. The slide of her scales over Yang's skin is sublime , and she whirls around to watch as Blake slinks off. She presses her fingers against her hip, the skin there still searing with the ghost of her touch.
The sight of Blake leaving is delectable, but fuck , did it make Yang wish desperately that she could follow.
"Anything interesting happened lately?"
It isn't the first time that they've tucked themselves the way at a corner of the inn that Sun retires to. She finds that it's more discrete there - louder, of course, but that only serves as a decent distraction from any conversation they may have. It also isn't the first time that Sun's kept her waiting.
He looks up from his plate to regard her with an inquisitive look. Then, he grins and offers, "Well. There's this fancy police squad that got sent down from Atlas recently. Ironwood's dogs, you know how it is."
There's no way he's ignorant enough to believe that irrelevant news is what she wants. Though at the same time, as she sits there shuffling a deck of cards while she waits for him to finish his meal, she can't say she's all too upset about it. With a disinterested hum, she says, "I don't."
His grin shifts into something that doesn't quite meet his eyes. "Well, I think it's interesting. You don't send your best to a small town like this for no reason." He picks at something on his plate for a bit before he adds, "That's kind of relevant, though. Neptune's heard some things. About that lady you were looking for. Ilia, right?"
Blake glances sharply up at him. She abandons the deck on the tabletop and leans in closer to demand, "What about her?"
"So a buddy of his by the pier knows of an Ilia that likes to travel -"
"Where is she, then?" Blake interjects. At the odd way he quickly averts his eye, then returns to her with another hollow smile, she presses, "What? Is she not home yet? Is she at Mistral or something?"
She doesn't fully understand the sense of urgency that curls in her gut and lurches at the mention of Ilia. Before, it was easy; Ilia knew how to disappear, how to let go, and that was the one thing Blake wanted. She knew how to leave, how to run, how to live amongst the humans while simultaneously never being more than a few feet away from the ocean.
Except at the thought of lilac eyes and a dangerously jagged smile, the instinctual urge to run isn't so prevalent.
Gradually, it stopped being about running and bled into something like a craving for familiarity.
"Well, that's the thing," Sun tells her. "Her boat's still here, and her crew's hanging around, but she's . . . not. Last he saw, she was dealing with some weird tradesman."
She hates the way her lungs seize, how her ribcage refuses to accommodate, how her throat tightens. "What did he look like?"
"Beats me. Some new guy in town, I hear. But . . ." Rarely has she ever seen Sun genuinely uncomfortable in the short few times that they've talked; he scratches at the name of his neck, then continues lowly, "I wonder what kind of tradesman he is if he's so discrete."
The implication muddles thick and heavy between them. It's the cursed trade that very few willingly speak of; it's pinned irises and tooth necklaces, jewelry forged out of scales and fins and bones that were too large, too solid, too different to belong to any standard aquatic animal.
"It's really freaking Neptune out," Sun says, a laugh in his voice, but it lacks the mirth, the spark, the familiarity.
"I need you to keep an eye out for a guy named Adam Taurus," Blake says. Sun tilts his head, raises his brow, but she only says, "Him, and whoever that tradesman was. I have a feeling he's involved."
Sun gives her a mock salute. "Can't promise results, but I'll tell you when I find out."
Blake doesn't return for the next few days.
Yang can't stop herself from drifting further into the deep. She settles on sinks in the wall and tufts of algae along the terrain, crawling ever so slowly towards the void of the ocean, but Blake is never there. She sings the song she always does, until her throat feels raw and her eyes start to sting, and still, Blake doesn't respond.
There's a weight on her chest that sears through her skin, tearing through flesh and bone alike, gnawing deep into the space between her ribs until she feels like she can't breathe. It isn't that she doubts Blake will come back - it's that she hasn't the slightest clue what she might have done.
At the bottom of the yawning cliffside, far below where the light barely reaches, she hums idly while she waits. The water is silent where it looms overhead, suffocating where it lurks behind her, disturbed only by the small chirp that Yang instantly catches. She snaps her head upwards, and she can see that familiar figure approaching, weighed by a tension that hisses and bares its teeth.
The sway of her tail is tentative more than it is languid. One hand settles on her elbow, curling further in on herself, and all Yang can do is stare. She acts as if she's been wounded, approaches Yang as if all the confidence she's shown before was a lie.
"Hey, you," Yang calls out. It's a wonder how her voice doesn't quake. "It's been a minute."
"Yeah." Blake's eye shifts from the cracks in the wall to the spotty bits of algae and moss that litter the uneven ground. The pause that follows is damnably suffocating, seizing in Yang's throat until Blake finally starts, "Have you ever. . . ?"
Yang cautiously nears her. There's a wave of relief that crashes through her when Blake meets her eye, allowing her to come closer, unfolding her arm to welcome her when they join. She tentatively presses, "Have I ever what?"
She purses her lips for a few moments, time crawling by ever so slowly, until she finally says, "Lost someone. Or something." Blake finally regards her residual limb with a mirthless laugh, "But that's pretty self-explanatory, isn't it? And insensitive."
Yang merely shrugs. "I guess so, but that was years ago, and it isn't as sore as it used to be." The nonchalance of her answer has Blake letting out the breath she'd been holding, the hesitance in it almost tangible where it lingers and then dissipates between them. "But to answer the other part of your question - yeah. I did."
"How did you deal with it?"
"I'm . . . not sure. It never really stops hurting." Yang glances back upwards, following the thin rays of sunlight, their highlights against the rocky cliffside. "It's not just getting used to it - it sort of just stops bothering you so often.
With how Blake's tail brushes against hers, Yang can think of nothing but how badly she wants to lean in and press her lips to Blake's. She notices how those lovely eyes drop to her right bicep, and with a small huff, Yang asks, "Wanna know the story behind that one?"
A flush burns high on Blake's cheekbones, but nevertheless, she says, "If it isn't so touchy."
Touchy isn't the word she would use. Touchy is the thing that weighs on Qrow's demeanor whenever she would pester him about the whereabouts of her mother. Touchy is the way Tai speaks of Raven with a smile on his lips and a white-knuckled grip. Touchy is how her eyes burn and her voice distorts, falling on deaf ears, on nothing but empty water and vacant ridges of the reef.
"I went looking for my mom. She left me and my dad right after I was born. Duty calls, or whatever," Yang mocks, but there's no real fire that rages behind the words like it used to. "All I knew was that she went . . . deeper. Far away from the surface. The humans. Far enough that none of them would ever be able to reach her or her tribe. And . . . after a few years, I decided to follow her."
She doesn't know what to call the silence. Not apathy - that implies that she doesn't care. It's more active than indifference, as well. Maybe it's the beginnings of acceptance. Maybe it's more than that.
"Took my sister with me, too. Her name's Ruby. She was still too young to really know what was going on, but that didn't really matter to her." Blake leans in closer, the graze of her scales along Yang's skin a croon, a murmur. "There's bigger things out there than either of us. I didn't realize that at the time. I'm lucky my uncle's so good at tracking people down."
Blake nods slowly, nuzzles into the crook of her neck, and Yang thinks frantically of the fangs that Blake bares, the fleeting touch of her lips when she says, "I ran away from home, too. Sometimes I think about going back, but . . ."
"They wouldn't welcome you back?" Yang guesses.
"I know, realistically, they would. That's just how my parents are." She pauses. Her gills flare, her throat twinges, and in a voice smaller than Yang has ever heard, Blake tells her, "They're too good to me."
That's one thing Yang can agree on - personally, at least. Tai is too good, too tolerant, too patient despite all her frustration when she just couldn't get her balance together and her hunting as efficient as it used to be. Qrow is too good, letting her believe that the surface is a far-fetched story, that Raven was far beyond her reach.
Briefly, she wonders how well Blake would get along with Tai.
And, further yet, she wonders how the waters of Menagerie fare, what Blake's parents would be like.
"I want to meet them someday," Yang admits.
She feels how Blake's fingers nudge against her own. Slowly, they intertwine, her fingers fitting perfectly between the webbed spaces of Blake's own.
"I might just let you."
Yang loses track of how long she sings.
She loses track of how long Blake listens, as well.
This is the first time that Blake refuses to approach right away; the melody shifts after a while, dips into something heady, flows smoothly into something far too soft to permeate very far into the ocean. It's hummed more than sung, a delightful shudder, an intimate croon, and while she doesn't see Blake, she knows that she isn't alone.
This deep into the abyss, schools of fish were no longer present, and the coral dwindled and tapered off into the low dip of gravel and algae. The outcrop she perches herself on is pliant, brushing gently along the smooth expanse of her tail, her underbelly pressed firmly against its swaying base. The sun still has yet to dip over the horizon, but it comes close - the ocean starts to dim, the long, unending stretch ahead of her steadily becoming too nebulous to see far into.
She drifts onto her back, her tail swaying, her throat fluttering in the delicate warble that calls to Blake just as Blake calls to her. She hears the slow chirp emerge some ways off, hidden in seagrass, muffled in tufts of algae that reach up far into the water.
Just as her song comes to an end, she hears Blake say, "I brought you something."
Yang looks fleeting over her shoulder. Something jumps in her wrists, her thumbs, her throat, but she keeps her voice steady as she delightedly asks, "For me? You shouldn't have."
She doesn't see what the gift is until she leaves her perch and approaches Blake in the seagrass. Blake seems unsure of herself, her eyes averted, her hands cradling a shell between them. Its face presses against her palms, its curved back smooth and glistening, its milky surface streaked with brown stripes that varied in sizes.
Yang swears the fins at her sides are uneven, that the one on her back is no longer present to steady her, that the ocean itself tips and spins and sinks fast enough to swallow her whole. She stares for an embarrassingly long time before she finally reaches for it, gingerly holding it between her fingers as if the slightest bit of pressure would shatter it.
She feels how Blake settles in, brushes their tails together, her lips pressing lightly to Yang's forehead. It isn't a kiss, but the sentiment is the same; slowly, like the gentle touch of the late evening sun, Blake's lips brush against her skin as she prompts, "Well?"
"It's -" Yang's voice cuts off, and she laughs, holds it tighter. "It's perfect. It's - it's beautiful, Blake."
Softly, uttered just a notch above a whisper, Blake admits, "It reminded me of you."
Yang pulls back just a bit, but Blake only follows. It's the pull of gravity and the squeeze of pressure that finally draws them together, whole and absolute; Blake tilts her head, and Yang meets her halfway, their lips pressed gently together, the simple touch of it enough to send Yang's head spinning.
For the first time, Yang doesn't watch Blake leave. She doesn't think her heart can handle it if she did.
When Qrow finally visits, Ruby's entirely off the charts.
Yang's supposed to be the mature one, but if she circles Qrow just as excitedly, clings to his other arm and pokes at one of the many rings on his fingers, he definitely doesn't complain about it. He says he's looking for their father - business, as he puts it, and leaves it at that - but that doesn't stop him from settling somewhere in the coral with them.
Qrow always tells them stories. Less so about the surface anymore, but still, he recounts his stories long into the evening, even after he speaks to Tai once he returns from his hunting trip. Qrow wears a couple of necklaces of different lengths that Yang doesn't remember seeing the last time he visited. There's also a few new rings on each finger, bands of silver that glisten, engraved with different patterns and varying in sizes.
They're all from the surface, Yang knows, despite how he jokingly assures Ruby that they are, in fact, from the depths of the ocean. Sometimes, she wishes she knew what it was like. Sometimes, she wonders how Qrow can seamlessly weave between both the surface and the deep, how he can return with trinkets and jewelry and speak of it as if it was nothing.
Sometimes, she thinks of taking a look for herself, if only to catch a glimpse of what Blake keeps returning to.
She still has the shell in her hand. The first day, she left it in her den, but with how often she came back to it, drawn by its promise and swathed in its simple allure, she decided to just take it with her. It wasn't very convenient, but that doesn't stop her from holding it close. From rubbing her thumb across its back and thinking idly, as she stares off into the schools of fish that soar past, about Blake.
She's always thinking about Blake, it seems.
Yang's suddenly aware of how Qrow's staring at her when he asks, "What you got there, firecracker?"
Ruby's snicker doesn't help at all. Yang curls in on herself a bit, her face burning, and she reminds him, "I still don't know what that is."
Which was true. The odd nickname Qrow's always used for her was something she's never heard anyone besides him speak about. But that doesn't stop him from pressing with a knowing grin, "You're avoiding the question."
She squeezes it lightly as if to steel herself, then admits, "It's a shell."
She means to leave it at that, but then Ruby nudges at Qrow's side and none-too-subtly whispers, "She never puts it down."
"Shut up ," Yang groans. At Qrow's questioning glance, she holds her breath, then mumbles out quickly, "Someone gave it to me."
The look her first gives her is soft, shifting between her eyes and the shell that she opens her palm to reveal. Then, he points out with a small laugh, "That's not very practical when you've only got one hand."
"Well - yeah," Yang helplessly splutters. "I - I know, but . . ."
Qrow holds his hand out. Yang almost clings tighter to it instead, the possessive rush that burrows deep in her bones almost forcing a growl from her chest. Except it's Qrow, not some stranger - and despite his teasing, there isn't the slightest trace of judgement on his expression. Yang slowly places it in the center of his palm, and he brings it closer, shifts to hold it between his fingers, treats it as delicately as she did when she first received it.
With a small hum, he says, "I can have this made into a necklace for you. How does that sound?"
Ruby's practically vibrating in her seat. It never takes much before Yang starts to leech off the energy, as well; she melts into a toothy smile, one that makes the corners of Qrow's eyes crinkle, and she says, "That sounds pretty awesome to me."
"All right. Well," Qrow straightens to glance up at the rapidly dimming sunlight, then says, "I think it's time I should be going, then."
"But Uncle Qrow!" Ruby immediately protests.
Her pout only fades once he reaches out to ruffle her hair. "I'll stop by soon," he promises, to Yang more than Ruby this time. To the both of them, he says, "Remember to take care of Tai for me."
As always, they nod and reply, "Yeah, we know."
The sun has long since set over the horizon by the time Blake says, "I think I want to stay."
She doesn't need to clarify what she means; it's not like Yang is a secret. Sun looks up from his hand, then picks out a card and places it on the stack between them. "Finally taking that first step, huh?"
There's a smirk on his lips that she chooses to ignore. "Yeah. You know, this -" She draws another card. "wasn't too bad."
That smirk widens, and he goads, "Admit it: you love me."
"That's a strong word," she deadpans.
"Come on! My ego could use the boost."
"You're no fun," Sun grumbles. He falters for a bit, seemingly debating between two cards, until he finally says, "Speaking of which - Neptune and I are probably gonna leave soon. He's a little paranoid about that hunter lurking around, and honestly, so am I."
Blake would be taken aback by the mere mention of a hunter if she hadn't been mentally preparing for it. They came to the mutual agreement that it was a topic they wouldn't speak of, as if the mere mention of said hunter would lure him to where they hid. Then again, all of their agreements were coming to an end.
"So is this goodbye?" Blake prompts.
Sun taps his chin with a small hum. "You know what, you should meet us by the beach tomorrow night before we leave. Neptune's buddy got us a ride to Mistral."
Sun waves a dismissive hand at her skeptical glance. "Something about the embargo or whatever," he explains. "It wouldn't be the first time a ship gets intercepted for supplies."
"I'll think about it," she eventually tells him.
He seems pleased enough by the answer despite how ambiguous it is. And with how often Blake wins that evening before she leaves, she supposes it's only fair to indulge him.
Roaming ever so closer to the cliff that disappears into the abyss, Yang lounges on another bed of red algae and sings. It's the first thing she does after Qrow returns with her newly made necklace. She doesn't remember when she started to stray from the field, only that Blake drifts further away from it as time goes on, and all she can do is chase after her.
After a short while, another voice joins hers.
Yang quickly locates the source of the voice, lurking deep in a cave that's carved out of the uneven cliffside. It's softer than hers, harmonizes with the same ease of a receding tide, creates a melody that makes Yang feel like the lazy sway of the ocean can whisk her away at any moment. She catches a glimpse of yellow hidden down below, peeking out from the ledge, hidden just behind the leafy tendrils of kelp that erupts from an unknown source deeper below.
Blake lingers for only a moment before she twists and slinks into the cave. Her voice never wavers, merely drifting further off, a crooning beckon, a lilted call. Yang finds herself lurching off the edge, cutting through the water, following Blake's voice into the unknown. The apprehension that accompanies the void melts away, replaced only by the whispers of the sea that wipes the thoughts from her mind.
Now, there is only Blake, sharp in her sinuses, searing in her veins, leading her further into the cave until she reaches the other side.
The void is no longer thick and suffocating, just barely lit by the dying rays of sunlight that fight to stretch further towards the bottom. There is nothing but gravel and sand, oddly shaped rocks that jut outwards to scrape her fins, shelled creatures that scatter at the mere whisper of her movements - there is no familiarity outside of Blake, her voice a comfort, the piercing gleam of her eyes a beacon.
Blake drifts through archways, slinks through tunnels, weaves through a thin patch of kelp before delving even further. After a few fleeting glances back, Yang catches the silent prompt and resumes her own song. It's an agony in the silence of the ocean, shattering through the pressure that pounds in her ears. They create the loveliest melody, coalesce to form a single voice that pounds in her chest, thrums through her wrists, swells in her lungs.
They come to a stop just above the jagged mouth of a trench, pitch-black and unmoving. The light is a mere haze, far too faint to see clearly in, but she drifts closer, adjusting the best she can, drawn to the eyes that beckon her closer still. She smells the sweet-tinged hint of Blake amidst the unfamiliar waters, sees the faintest definition of her features when they're finally within arm's reach of each other.
Yang has never been both further and closer to home.
"Luring me into the deep," Yang teases once Blake falls silent. Her voice is deafening in her ears despite how softly she speaks. "You didn't tell me you had the voice."
Blake crosses her arms over her chest. She tilts her head, her whiskers twitch, her lips curl into something that's almost a smile. "Don't pretend that you didn't want to come here."
"Maybe I didn't want it to end," Yang says. "I like playing this game with you."
It's mesmerizing, how quickly Blake's slit-like pupils dilate, lined by a thin ring of gold that shimmers. "I happen to like this game, too." Yang drifts closer until they're mere inches apart. With a purr that reverberates from the pit of her chest, Blake says, "And maybe I don't want this to end, either."
Faintly, Yang can see the pearly edge of Blake's fangs, unveiled by the delectable curve of her grin. They're close, closer than ever before, closer than the world above, closer than the unknown that's mere inches away from swallowing them alive. She craves to lean in and shove her face into Blake's throat. Sink her teeth in, tear until she tastes blood, lock until Blake writhes, keens.
Frantically, she wants Blake to do the same.
Until it's virtually impossible to tell either of them apart by scent alone.
One of Blake's hands comes up to smooth out over the leathery stretch of skin at Yang's hip. The other thumbs lightly at the shell that rests in the center of Yang's chest. She stares for a long moment before she glances upwards and is met by Yang's simper.
"D'you like it?" Yang playfully asks. "Had it custom made and everything."
The heat in Blake's eyes is intoxicating, the silvery tone of her words a poison that flares in Yang's veins when she says, "I do. I like it a lot ."
Blake punctuates the word with a deliberate squeeze, her hand falling to rest on Yang's other hip as well, both thumbs tracing the stripes on either side. Yang pushes in closer, slotting them smoothly together, their tails intertwining, her lips ghosting over Blake's. She feels the telltale pinprick of claws that dig into her skin, the pressure of it mesmerizing, but it doesn't break skin. It isn't nearly enough to, and yet still, Blake tries.
Tries to sink her claws in and hold her tighter. Purrs like she's trying to muddle the glasslike stillness of the waters around them, clenches hard like she's trying to bring Yang closer somehow. Like she's trying to rip Yang apart and pull her back together. Tear her to shreds, then mould them both into one.
Yang has never wanted anything more.
"I could eat you alive," she breathes.
Blake's simper is the thing that hides itself deep within the surrounding caves, the flash of her fangs the terror that resides in the dark underbelly of the approaching trench. Her touch sparks a rush under Yang's skin like that of a tidal wave, searing through every vein, jumping wildly between the bones of her wrists.
"You'd have to catch me first," Blake taunts.
Yang's irises spark red. "You think I can't?"
With the same intoxicating thrill of a hunt, she watches the tongue that comes out to trace the fangs that leer at her. Blake then lets her go, pillowed in her hair, trailed loosely by her whiskers. Yellow flares in thin ovals around her pupils, dark and all-encompassing, as deep and unrelenting as the abyss below her that quickly swallows her whole.
Sinuous on her lips and velvety on her tongue, Blake says, "Come get me, then."
It's unclear what time they finally come to. This far from the surface, the sunlight just barely pierces through the water, dim and hazy, shining only in patches across the gravelly floor.
Yang stirs once Blake does; she watches as Blake drifts off towards the mouth of the cave. The weak sunlight is an alluring kiss to her scales, igniting them in the faintest gleam of silver, iridescent around the patterns that weave into the large expanse of scales over the back of her tail. Blake shifts, her whiskers and hair cascading down the smooth curve of her back.
She drifts off towards the entrance of the cave, passing by the shard of yellow sea glass that was placed on a slab as if on display. Something tugs at Yang at the sight, this unspoken bond that they've created, this thing that pulls them together like the weight of gravity that holds all things to the earth. It's a bridge forged in songs, in promises, in slowly healing wounds that speak the words they cannot.
Yang watches the marks that remain on Blake's neck like they're prey. They litter each side, just shy of her gills, engraved into the crooks of her neck, littered over her collarbones. She stays firmly in place despite the urge to reach forwards, tug Blake back, keep her close, keep her where it feels right.
Blake is the warmth of home, the embrace of her bed on a tranquil night; she's the allure of the surface, the call of the abyss, a simultaneous shove and yank that leaves Yang's chest aching. She is patience just as she is agitation, a lure to her that Yang can never resist, an enigma that shatters the moon and blankets the sun.
"There's something I have to wrap up on the surface," Blake tells her. "Will you . . . ?"
Yang yawns into the crook of her arm. "You'll know where to find me."
Blake pauses. Then, low under her breath, she murmurs, "I wish I could stay a little longer."
It's breathed out into the water, barely a whisper, nearly imperceptible where it melts into the bed of algae that she's pulled herself away from. Yang's fingertips slowly trace the many sharp indents that cover her own skin. They stop and press against the deepest ones that dug into the crook of her neck.
They will heal and scar with time. They're a declaration - a call and a beckon, a scream and a sigh, forever matching with Blake's.
"I wish I could follow," she says.
Blake lingers for just a bit longer before she leaves. She will return, Yang knows, but that does nothing to soothe the ache.
Blake doesn't return that night.
She doesn't for some time.
It takes a long while, dragging far into the day, but eventually, Yang makes it to the small stretch of the oceanside where her uncle resides. His small compass of territory ends once the coral does, the water still vaguely light with the rose-tinted hues of yellow and purple that glimmer from the reef. No matter how many times she visits him here, she still struggles to find him amongst the rocky cliffs; she finds him tucked away between two moss-covered rocks, lounging on a patch of seagrass that erupts from the gravelly floor.
One hand pillows his head while the other holds an odd trinket up to the light. It's lined in silver, filled in with a bright green that glows in the sunlight, the back of it flat save for the oddly sharpened point that juts outwards from the metal. She doesn't know what sets it apart from the veritable hoard of golden trinkets and colorful glass surrounding him in the little cave he calls home, but he doesn't care to lower it even as she approaches.
"What's happening, kiddo?"
Qrow's voice is rough around the edges, undoubtedly drowsy, the sway of his fin against the grass languorous in the warm embrace of the sun. She glances upwards to where the surface beckons, the sky just barely visible, the world above where she knows Blake has disappeared off to waiting ever so patiently for her.
Carefully, Yang prompts, "Dad says you visit the surface a lot these days."
The look he throws her way is reproachful, but his attention quickly draws itself back to the metal he holds. It wouldn't be the first time that he gently snuffs out the bubbly mentions of the surface whenever she or Ruby prods him with them. It definitely wouldn't be a first for him to pretend as if he'd never told them stories of the surface.
Except the allure of the surface is no longer tied to the sky, to sand that clings, to breaths that sear until the water dispels itself from her lungs. All that remains are the promises on her skin, etched in a yellow-hued red around her neck, engraved in purple around her waist.
"Maybe I do. And?" Qrow lazily glances over to her once more. His gaze trails just a bit lower, pausing at the marks around her neck and the shell that rests against her chest before he drawls, "None of those came from a human."
Yang smirks and points to the small trinket that he's still gingerly holding between two fingers. "No, but that did."
He finally lowers it from the sun, instead cradling it in his hands as he rolls over onto his side. There's mirth that dances in his eyes for a second, and incredulously enough, he says, "Okay. What about it?"
Blake doesn't stray very far from the beachside.
She lurks near an outcrop of slippery gravel that's hidden in a dip along the cliffside. Moonlight shines over the expanse of her scales, their glow tinged in silver, the wet glimmer of them impeded by the tide that hisses back into place. Water pools around her waist, coming up to lap over her shoulders, and she crouches lower, until her chin dips just below the waterline.
Neither Sun nor Neptune approaches her for a long time. She doubts she missed the departure. Then again, it's odd that a boat departs at night, even with the fiasco that is the Atlas embargo going on.
It's also odd how silent the beach is, all things considering.
Soon the water recedes, draining rapidly enough to expose her tail back to the biting air of Mantle. It's then that her whiskers twitch, and her gills flare, and there's something sour in the air that she can taste, something distinctly sharp that she immediately registers on the back of her tongue. A few rocks are dislodged from the hillside that dips low into her hiding spot.
She scrambles frantically, flipping onto her back, but the water is too far away to whisk her away. The ocean is an eternity away, stretching long out of her reach, disappearing over the dark, star-streaked horizon. Wire loops over her head and tightens like a vice around her neck, digging into her skin, gnawing into her gills, and she writhes, thrashes, hisses.
Her chest heaves. Her gills flare and flutter. She watches, with a waterlogged slowness that drags the earth down to a miserable crawl, as the human clasps the iron rod with both hands and hauls her further away from home. His face is obscured by a white, embroidered mask, but she doesn't need a face to recognize the hair, the voice, the stench.
"Blake," Adam asks, "where have you been all this time?"
She thrashes in the grip of the wire, hisses out between her teeth, "Where are they?"
Adam pauses. Ponders. He sounds oddly curious when he asks again, "They? The mer that were sneaking around here?" Blake's head spins. Her eyes sting. He only pulls her closer and sighs, "What were you getting yourself into while you were away, love?"
The skin around her neck sears where the wire digs and bruises and eventually draws blood. She clicks, chirps, but she isn't sure who she's calling for.
The first breath of air is a roaring agony.
The second is a wrench in her gut and a shudder in her chest.
The third is riddled with guttural coughs.
The fourth onwards, once the water finally dispels itself from her lungs with a searing howl, is remarkably exquisite.
Her lungs are light when they fill and pitifully desolate when they retract. Her diaphragm is an unsteady weight in her chest, expanding with a rush that is reminiscent of a fierce riptide that threatens to whisk her away into the deep. She ignores the sand that sticks and cakes the leathery expanse of her tail, clings and laps over her arm and collar, and simply breathes .
She closes her eyes after they start to sting. Opens them, repeats the motion, rolls onto her back and stares up at the sky. She breathes, and the stars that dance and shimmer high above breathe with her. Her lungs expand just as the cosmos does, unrelenting and never-ending, a natural pull that continues onwards with the same rush of the twinkle that streaks past.
Qrow doesn't even flinch as the water in his lungs rushes forth and regurgitates with a small flutter of his gills. It spills down the stretch of his neck, dripping past his clavicles, spotting the patch of sand that he lounges on. His chest rises. Falls. Fills, empties. Yang presses her hand over her own chest. She's suddenly aware that it does the same.
She stares back ahead of her. What Qrow calls the moon stares back at her. It doesn't sway, doesn't distort, doesn't watch her with the same hazy glow that the sun holds down below.
It's shortly after Qrow dips back into the abyss that Yang smells it - something delicately sweet, painfully familiar, tinged lightly with hints of copper. She hones in on the scent for a moment before she's drawn back away from it when Qrow emerges once more with a clumsy splash. That's something she'll have to investigate later.
There's a splutter, a cry, waterlogged coughs and trembling breaths, and then Ruby's at her side. She watches how Ruby stares with the same awe, presses a hand to her chest with the same troubled furrow in her brow. Qrow settles next to them with the next yawn of the tide, the water rushing inwards to lap over their skin, quickly washing off the sand that cakes itself on their tails.
"Not what you expected, huh?" Qrow asks.
His smile is a comforting sight amidst the unforgiving air that simultaneously lifts and sinks deep in between her ribs. Everything is louder here, his words spoken with a sharp, glasslike clarity. His voice is still rough like gravel, deep like the sigh of a trench, more apparent now than ever.
Yang lets out an incredulous laugh. The sound is foreign to her, as well.
It's only been a week, but the actuality of the time spent outside the ocean doesn't quite matter when it stretches on for an eternity regardless.
There's a stillness about the air that Blake can never grow accustomed to. That was one of the many things that drove her away from the surface - this suffocating tranquility, the weight of her hair bearing down on her neck, the frequent cramps in her legs from where she'd curl in on herself and sit unmoving for hours. She will never understand other mer and their longing for the surface.
There is only a heavy atmosphere and even heavier burdens.
Adam speaks with a finality that deafens the room they're in. The ocean has finally calmed, and the storm that wracked Mantle has long since quieted, and he's grown unbearably agitated since he first caught her. His crew is long gone, scrambling to prepare somewhere near the shoreline, readying their boat for the next few weeks' journey across the ocean.
It's a risky game, he knows; Blake has yet to be entrusted privacy. He keeps an eye on her, curled into the oversized shirt she wears, burying her nose into her arms to lessen the stench that seeps through the fabric. It's like he knows that she'll run, however futile the attempt is.
It's like he knows that, given the chance, she'd cross cities and countries and oceans alike, if only to rid herself of the smell that permeates the air.
Blake watches in bitter satisfaction as Adam flinches from the pressure he applies to one forearm. They're both wrapped in bandages, tight to stem the flow of blood, but it's still there, seething into the fabric, roaring in every thread. They match the patches that are plastered to his chest, his collarbones, also marred in red, also screaming at the slightest movements. They're deep enough that they will scar terribly when they finally heal.
To anyone, they're imperceptible, but Blake isn't just anyone.
That is the one scent she focuses on the most. That is the single comfort there is, knowing that she's left him worse for wear.
One of the few things that she retains outside of the water are her claws. They're bandaged, now, to prevent another disaster, and she flexes her fingers. Clenches, unclenches. Presses and waits. The faintest tears are evident, piercing only in her ears while Adam continues on speaking into his Scroll.
Another noise hisses into the night. Rattles, quakes. She stops. Like the sound of breaking glass, the salt of the ocean fills her sinuses. There's seagrass in her nostrils, blood headier than honey still tingling on her tongue. She glances at the door some ways off to her left. Her pulse jumps between the bones of her wrists, pounds in her thumbs.
Adam seems to notice - not the scent, but Blake's reaction to it. He hangs up and sets his scroll aside on the counter, and she doesn't need to look at him to know that there's a reproachful curl in his lip when he says, "What're you planning now, love?"
"Stop calling me that," Blake murmurs.
Her jaw clenches. Her lungs feel heavy. The growl that would otherwise simmer and click dies in a throat that wasn't designed to warn, threaten, challenge. She wishes desperately she could chirp. Hiss. Whine, even. She knows what will attract the attention she wants. She knows what will get her message across to the only ear that will listen.
She knows what will warn Yang of the danger that is wrought from an agitated human.
"You've caused a lot of trouble, you know," Adam says, not for the first time that night, aching just as badly as it had days before. "All this running. You still don't know what you're -"
His voice comes to an abrupt stop. It's then that Blake hears it - a flutter in the wind, a whisper in the night, a salty breeze amongst the length of a receding tide. She recognizes the voice instantly. It's lovely in her ears, clearer now, airy and sweet when it was once heavy and heady. She snaps her attention back to the door, her jaw dropping, incredulous as the song continues on, soft and unhurried.
Adam does, as well.
"Wait," Blake gasps. "Adam, wait -!"
She jumps out of her seat, only to stumble to the ground from the rope that still binds her ankles together. Blood pounds in her head, rushes in her ears, simultaneously white-hot and frigid; what Yang is thinking, she doesn't know, nor does she care for much besides intercepting Adam.
She pauses when she notices that Adam isn't listening to her, anymore.
She then realizes that the song isn't meant for her.
Slowly, as if caught and drawn by a hook that pierces through his jaw, Adam approaches the door. The melody never wavers, the voice never halts. It's lovelier than the wind chimes that Sun used to point out to her at the inn; it's more perilous than the waves that crash and roar against the cliffside amidst a storm.
Blake can't help but be drawn, as well - not as wholly by Adam by any means, not swayed and swathed and sinkered, but still, she can't help but listen. The light of the city no longer registers. The bustle outside Mantle ceases, the flicker of the candle halts.
There is only Yang, as all-encompassing as the vast stretch of the ocean, as deafening as the splinter and shatter of a boat being ripped apart in the heart of a storm. Yang, who sits on the bed under the window, one long, slender leg crossed over the other. Yang, whose skin glows in the moonlight, whose necklace shines with a wet glisten. Yang, whose lips form impeccable sounds, who sings the most ethereal song Blake has ever heard.
The lilac that swims in her irises is no longer present, replaced only by a bright, pulsing crimson that seethes hotter than blood. She rests her head on one folded hand, faint stripes curving over her bicep, matching those of her legs. She sings the song that Blake has only ever heard stories of; she breathes a melody that Blake has only believed to exist in myths alone.
The door creaks slowly back shut behind Adam. The song continues, unending, unwavering, ringing in the air, thickening the atmosphere. Blake meets Yang's eye for a brief moment before the door clicks shut once more. She smiles. It's soft, almost apologetic.
Then, to Adam, the smile widens. The corners of Yang's mouth twitch further, then curl, stretch, twist. It extends far too long, hitches far too high up her face. Her maw shudders as it parts. Unhinges. Her teeth have never looked sharper.
Yang is the means to an end, the mouth of a cave, the jagged lip of an ocean sink; she's the promise of a beginning, the root of a seed that splits and spreads, the leafy stretch of kelp that disappears overhead without a trace. She's dangerous, overtaken by the shadow that follows the backwards swing of the door into place. She's treacherous, swathed in the embrace of pearly moonlight before she disappears from sight.
She's absolutely stunning.
Watching Blake weave through the long, winding tendrils of seaweed has always been mesmerizing.
She swims just ahead of Yang, the sway of her fin a beckon, the shine of her scales a gentle murmur. She no longer hides low in the field of seagrass, head held low as if to ready a pounce, eyes keen and narrowed everywhere she glanced. The many schools of fish that circle and rush past one another part in a wide berth at their presence.
Some time passes before Yang finally brings Blake home. Ruby's at her side, speaking vividly about Weiss, the reef, the schools that never seem to dwindle, the ruins of a ship that they all used to frequent as children. Just over the hill, they drop down into the reef, and Yang watches with a pleased simper as Blake abruptly stops.
The glimmer of the coral shines in Blake's eyes. Sunlight above filters through, reaching down into the winding patches of coral that flourish, igniting the technicolor field that bleeds out into the water. She glances back to Yang, something close to wonder in her eyes.
Yang surges forth to take her hand. Ruby's already racing down the stretch of coral, spiraling as she reaches the spindly archway, and Yang can't help follow her lead. Ruby's enthusiasm has always been contagious. With a giddy rush in her chest, she lets Blake go, and she watches in delighted awe as Blake slinks ahead of her.
They find Tai at the bottom, still tending to a small patch of coral that was steadily regaining its color. Before Yang has the chance to catch up, something emerges out of a cave of spindly coral at her side, cutting through the water like a whisper in the dead of night.
Qrow catches her wrist. She glances up at him, quirks her brow, and he only says, "Let's talk."
It isn't often that he addresses her without some sort of odd nickname that she doesn't understand, that he speaks without a rasping yawn or a playful lilt. She realizes very suddenly that he isn't wearing any jewelry on his wrists or waist. His countenance remains impassive. His gaze bleeds with a displeased scrutiny that makes her skin crawl.
"What's going on?"
Qrow folds his arms over his chest. Yang becomes distinctly aware of the oddly shaped indents that mar his neck and collar. "So." Her attention snaps back up to his eyes. He prompts, slow and meticulously punctuated as if he were explaining some unfathomable concept, "There's rumors up on the surface going around. A man found dead in his home covered in teeth marks. Ones that could never belong to a human."
She clenches her jaw. Avoids his eye. There's a lurch in her gut, simmering until it bubbles up to burn her throat, threatening to sear right through her tongue. Blood no longer stains her teeth, the gore that once caked the spaces in her gums long gone, but still, she can sense it - the tang of copper, the kiss of flesh, the slick warmth that she spat out desperately against the floorboards.
Tai used to tell her and Ruby long ago that there are necessary evils in this world. He never warned them that those evils would be so rancidly alluring. He never told her that it would be difficult to wash the taste, to mask the scent.
"Rumors like that draw attention from the wrong kinds of people," Qrow warns her. A growl clicks in his chest, skulks dangerously low in his words. "People that aren't all too intimidated by us down here. Do you understand that?"
Quietly, with a tone that bleeds nothing but guilt, she starts, "Uncle Qrow -"
" Yang. " Her mouth snaps back shut. His eyes spark a few treacherous shades darker as he slowly asks, "Did he deserve it?"
Her mouth opens, falters, then clicks shut again. Fleetingly, she glances over to Blake. She's still entertaining Ruby, one hand threading through her hair, the sway of her whiskers just barely peeking out from over her shoulders. Her lungs feel like they're full of air again, both lifting and sinking, her gills struggling terribly to filter the oxygen she needs.
The heartbreak of disappointment was nothing compared to the heartbreak of loss. The glare that Qrow pins her with is nothing compared to the glance that Blake spares her. It's nothing in the wake of the small, nearly imperceptible smile, glistening as beautifully as the patterned scales of her tail did. Nothing makes her blood rush, her voice melt, her eyes burn.
"Yeah," she bites out. "He did."
She supposes it's more accurate to say that there are necessary sacrifices rather than necessary evils. Following Blake into the surface and bringing her home with marks that weren't hers wasn't the evil; tearing out the jugular of the man with ambiguous intentions wasn't the evil, either. Not on her part. Not on Blake's.
It was necessary. It was a given. It was a sacrifice that Yang would make again if she had to.
She isn't the only one, either; she recognizes the look on Qrow's face when he follows her line of sight. His glare softens into something vaguely reminiscent of understanding, of empathy . When their eyes meet again, the furrow in his brow is gone, replaced with a melancholic sort of serenity. There's disapproval that remains, of course, but it's necessary.
Qrow unfolds his arms and clasps a hand on her shoulder. "All right," he sighs. He squeezes gently, then lets go with a brief twinge in his throat. "All right," he says again, softer this time, more to himself than Yang.
Yang perks up a bit at the acceptance. "So . . . are you gonna hang around here for a while?"
"Would if I could, firecracker." In the wake of the odd nickname, she smiles brightly, the weight that bears down on her shoulders finally lifting with the same ease of a shell that sinks into the all-encompassing abyss. He sounds deceivingly aloof when he explains, "I was just leaving, anyways. Places to go, people to see, and all that."
Yang glances briefly back down at the marks that were just barely visible on Qrow's skin. They were flat, crescent-shaped, inflicted by teeth that aren't capable of breaking their skin. Pointedly, she asks, "People, or just the one?"
Something dances in his eyes. Instead of answering, he musses her hair, earning an indignant noise.
Yang finds Blake outside by the coral after she wakes up alone.
The search doesn't last long. Blake lingers at the technicolor mouth of the cave they retired to, the rose-tinted yellows and purples of the surrounding coral contrasting sharply with her scales. She doesn't turn to face Yang.
Slowly, Yang asks, "Are you leaving?"
The silence that follows drags on torturously slow, until Blake finally says, "No."
Yang doesn't recognize the thing that aches in her chest, burning fiercely until it wraps tightly around her neck. Throat inexplicably tight, she guesses, "But you want to."
"No," Blake repeats, not missing a beat, the finality of her answer enough to loosen the vice-like grip that had settled around Yang's neck. "I just . . . don't know what it means to settle. I don't know what it means to not have to keep swimming until I can't anymore." She doesn't resist when Yang reaches out to weave their fingers together, allowing herself to be pulled close into a loose embrace. Softly, she says, "It's different. And it doesn't go away - the fear that I'll be found, somehow."
Yang remembers Qrow's words, harrowing in their own way, almost more so than the blood that seared her tongue, glued it to the roof of her mouth. "I understand," she says. She soothingly passes her hand over Blake's bicep, stopping for a brief moment to trace the few scales that are scattered at her shoulder. "For what it's worth, I'll keep an eye out."
"I don't need you to do that," Blake murmurs.
"I know you don't." Yang lightly presses her lips to Blake's temple. "I do it because I want to, not because I feel like I have to." Because I fucked up , she would say, but she doesn't. They both know well enough. There is never comfort in dragging out what has already been addressed. "Just like how you'd look out for me."
Blake dips lower to nuzzle into the stretch of Yang's neck, her lips ghosting over the marks there. She breathes out against Yang's skin, "You're really something, you know that?"
Yang croons out against the crown of her head. It's a noise that embodies the words that are stuck in her throat, a sound that elicits a similar call that only Blake can match. It expresses the swell in her chest, the thing that burns fast and runs deep through every vein in her body, and faintly, she manages to say, "You are, too."