Chapter 3: Of All The Bullheaded Ideas

10 November 2014, Monday


Blake crossed her arms and stared at the empty studio with a sigh.

She was at least three hours early, since she expected that she would need to help set up the photo shoot. Blake hadn't realised she would end up being the only one to be there. Granted, Adam had warned her that the crew was typically sparse to reduce the chances for information leaks, yet this was simply absurd. Perhaps she had gotten the time wrong?

The freelance photographer pulled out her smartphone from her ratty trench coat's pocket and swiped the screen, deftly entering her passcode. When the phone unlocked, she tapped on the little calendar application.

Photo session – 10AM.

Her lips thinned. She was definitely right on time; to set up the background, lighting fixtures and adjust the camera and laptop would take a while, especially if she was working solo.

She ran a hand through her jet-black hair in exasperation. This was ridiculous. Had they really not hired anyone else? Or was the rest of the crew simply late? She shoved her phone back into her pocket in annoyance and bent down to pick up the equipment she had lugged along: her DSLR, its tripod stand, and her laptop, along with their various cables. Hefting them into her arms, she walked to the middle of the room and set them down on the floor, before glancing around in hopes of finding a sturdy table to safety keep her gadgets on. Spotting one hidden away in the corner, Blake strode to it and checked its stability by pressing her weight onto it. It passed her test with flying colours, and with a content smile, Blake hauled it back to the centre of the studio.

After she placed all of her equipment on the work surface, she dug out her phone from her overcoat and stuffed it into her jean pocket, before she shucked off her thick winter coat and tossed it aside so it wouldn't impede her movements. The studio was beginning to warm up anyway; the bright lights overhead she had turned on, coupled with the building's superb thermostat, made it so Blake felt as if she would have begun to sweat at any moment had she continued keeping her jacket on.

Once that task was complete, Blake proceeded to look around for closets or rooms that could house the rest of the necessary equipment she required. As she did so, she mulled over what – or rather, who – had wheedled her into this job in the first place. One of her old orphanage companions and surrogate elder brother, Adam Taurus.

Left at an orphanage in a town on the outskirts of Los Angeles at a young age, Blake Belladonna made fast friends with Adam, a boy five years her senior who had been dumped there recently after his parents perished in a car accident.

The citizens in the surrounding area either lacked the funds or responsibility to take in children, thus adoption was rare. Moreover, despite the kindly caretaker's efforts, the orphanage found itself constantly scrimping by on the measly sum donated by the government and occasional samaritans. The children there – Blake and Adam in particular – led a tough life growing up, creating a sense of dependency and trust between each other.

It was only when Adam turned eighteen, and thus became a legal adult within the eyes of the state, that their lives really began to change. Leaving the orphanage, Adam went on to experiment with various odd jobs he could find around the vicinity to pay for his living expenses. Any money he had leftover, however, he split between donating to the orphanage and giving directly to the orphans there so that they could pursue their ambitions. He specifically encouraged her to pursue a career in the arts, having seen the poetry and stories she crafted as they aged together, and acted as a benefactor for most of her teenage years.

In some ways, Blake thought, he was more of a father figure than anything else.

With the money, Blake was able to self-study and create beautiful pieces for her portfolio over the next few years. That, and her remarkable SAT scores in hand, awarded her a scholarship to one of the most prestigious liberal arts Universities within the state.

To save on bills, they stayed together while Blake went through school. And they would have still been living with one another, if not for the fact that Adam had suddenly up and left one day, claiming that he wanted to travel the world and reinvent himself.

By no means was Blake Belladonna upset about that. He was still paying his share of the flat, after all. Furthermore, she was glad Adam could finally live life for himself after all the unnecessary hardship he had put up with.

'But did he really have to accept jobs that he can't do and shoulder it off to me?' she thought in frustration, towing along the studio lights she had found stowed away in a closet back to the set.

She understood that the man was still looking out for her, as he always did, and she accepted that she did in fact need a well-paying assignment to pay this month's expenses; a relatively fresh college graduate – even from a reputable University such as her own – would struggle with finding a stable artistic career in the current economy.

However, the petulant part of her hated how Adam knew her so well, even through a Skype call. She hadn't even hint to the fact that she was job trawling before the man handed off information about one of his ex-client's photographers all falling ill, and how he was searching for a good temporary replacement. Adam then revealed that he had recommended Blake, and she started the gig Monday.

Which explained how she ended up here. But Blake admittedly still felt slightly infuriated that the man managed to manipulate everything in his favour. One day, she would exact her revenge. The time where she was successful enough to reject the assignments Adam offloaded to her was all too sweet a thought.

Nonetheless, at this very moment, she couldn't afford to turn down this task; not when it paid as much as it did for the work she had to do. It was a generous sum – five thousand for the whole shebang – and while editing would drain much of her week, she could live frugally off the earnings for at least another month or so.

That incentive in mind, Blake rolled up her turtleneck's sleeves and soldiered on, gathering the various equipment she needed and beginning the process of setting each one up alone.

An hour or so later, Blake finished hanging up the white muslin background and had moved onto distancing and angling her tripod for the shoot. She hunkered down next to the stand and fiddled with the knobs, deciding that she could fine-tune her camera's settings when she got the lights working.

Blake's perceptive ears detected rustling coming from the doorway, a sign that another person had finally arrived. 'About time,' she groused to herself. Out of the corner of her eyes, Blake became aware that it was a female blonde who had entered the room, munching on a croissant sandwich. Blake's stomach gurgled noisily, reminding the photographer that she had skipped breakfast that morning.

A blush lightly dusted her cheeks, but Blake powered on, hoping the blonde hadn't heard the noise.

Her plea went unheeded. Blake jumped, falling to her buttocks and almost knocking over her tripod stand in the process when she heard a chuckle right next to her ear. The photographer turned around to see the blonde – who she now noticed was not only beautiful but also very fashionably dressed – flash her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I didn't mean to startle you."

"It's fine," Blake replied quickly, trying to calm her racing heart.

The blonde grinned. "Why don't I make it up to you?" she offered, reaching into her tote bag to extracted a small white cardboard box.

Blake glanced at the container and then the blonde, confusion and uncertainty in her eyes. The blonde simply stretched her arm, almost pushing the box into the photographer's hand. "Take it!"

Blake hesitantly took the box. Slowly opening it revealed the remaining half of the enticing croissant sandwich. The photographer gulped, trying to control her salivating as she examined the luxurious breakfast choice; a thick layer of smoked salmon wedged between the two cream cheese slathered halves of buttery, flaky pastry.

"Are you sure?" Blake rasped, staring up in awe at who she deemed to be an angel in mortal clothes.

The blonde casually shrugged. "Why not? It sounded like you're hungry."

Still sat on the floor, Blake lifted the sandwich to her lips, taking a small, tentative bite. Chewing on the succulent morsel sent her tastebuds into overdrive, and the photographer subsequently scarfed down the gift as gracefully as she could.

The blonde squatted elegantly next to Blake. "So what's your name?" she asked with a bright smile. "I've never seen you around before."

Blake swallowed her food before introducing herself, "Blake. Blake Belladonna. I'm the replacement for whoever would have been the photographer."

"Ahh," she nodded, "I see. Then you must be pretty good!" the blonde exclaimed. "I'm Yang. Nice to meet you!"

Blake blinked, taken aback by the raw enthusiasm Yang projected. "Likewise." She cleared her throat. "So what–"

"Oh, right!" Yang blurted, ferreting through her bag. She pulled out a sealed bottle of Evian water and placed it in front of Blake. "Here!"

Freelancing never paid that well, Blake thought, mouth agape. Just who was this woman, and what did she do to be able to afford expensive bottled water so freely? "I can't take this," the photographer adamantly declined, trying to pass the bottle back.

Yang crossed her arms and stood up, a large grin plastered across her face. "Of course you can!"

The studio door flew open before Blake could get another word out. Both their heads swivelled to look at the perky pink-haired newcomer, whose eyes lit up when they met Yang's.

"Yang!" the new girl cried, bouncing up to the beautiful blonde.

Said blonde rested a hand on her hip. "Nora!" she greeted. "How are you?"

"I'm as super as ever!" she responded cheerfully. "But what about you, Yang? You're never early for a photo shoot! At least, not without being super cranky."

Yang's expression turned smug. "Well–"

Nora interrupted her sentence with a dramatic gasp. "Wait. You're early and not crabby. Is this a dream?" Her eyes sparkled with hope as she clasped her hands together and did a little twirl. "Does this mean I get to be the model?"

Yang faked indignation. "Hey, I didn't know you were eyeing up my job!"

Nora stopped herself mid-spin and snapped her fingers. "Drat, I've been found out."

They stared at each other for a moment before laughing boisterously.

Meanwhile, Blake recovered from an imperceptible wince; not only had she been terribly casual with her client, but she also gorged herself on said client's breakfast. Regardless, that didn't stop her from eyeing them cautiously as she got to her feet and broke the bottle's seal, taking a sip of water. After all, it would be a shame if the present went wasted, and she was parched. 'So Yang's the model,' she thought, 'That explains a lot.'

On hindsight, Blake also subconsciously thought that it was somewhat obvious, with how attractive and seemingly well-built the blonde was under all those layers.

When Blake snapped out of her reverie, she suddenly found herself staring into big turquoise eyes. She jerked away, almost spitting a mouthful of water out in the process, though she managed to save it with a desperate gulp. The photographer considered herself hideously unlucky when the drink went down the wrong pipe.

Nora tilted her head. "Who are you?" she inquired.

Blake couldn't respond, occupied with hacking her lungs out. Yang giggled and stepped forward, taking the initiative. "Nora, that's Blake," she said, gesturing to the woman who managed to subdue her choking to a minimal, "our new photographer. Blake, this is Nora, makeup artist extraordinaire."

Nora waved. "Hello!" She leaned in close to the coughing photographer and mock-whispered, "Make sure to take some sexy shots of Yang, okay?" She glanced up and pondered over her own words for a minute before she said, "Well, every picture Yang's in tends to be really hot…"

Blake flushed slightly as her coughing fit worsened. She was glad she had an excuse not to speak.

Yang grinned shamelessly. "What can I say? The camera loves me."

Nora twisted around and closed one eye, using her fingers to create a rectangle to frame the mischievous blonde in. "You betcha it does, dollface!"

As they shared another laugh, a swath of people began to stream in. Blake glanced at her watch. 8:26AM.

The makeup artist seized her arm and yanked it so she could look at the time. "Whoops!" she cried, releasing the vice she had on Blake's arm, "Would ya look at the time?" She reached around and grabbed Yang's hand, "C'mon, we gotta go make you look fabulous-er!"

They zipped off, leaving Blake to stare in befuddlement at their shrinking backs. However, the photographer couldn't stare for long; she was quickly approached by the influx of newcomers who voiced their admiration of her work ethics and apologised for not telling her in advance of their schedule. She sheepishly waved them off, but they would have none of it, insisting that they have the responsibility to carry out the remainder of their jobs. Blake didn't argue. After all, why bother fighting for more work? Her reputation certainly didn't hinge on this. On top of that, many promised they would put in a good word for her to the management. The photographer simply smiled gratefully. The gesture was unnecessary, since she didn't plan on pursuing this as a career, but sweet. Perhaps she could use this experience as a stepping stone.

With that settled, they wordlessly moved to finish arranging the rest of the fixtures, allowing Blake to tinker with her personal equipment.

After everything was readied and operational, some of the crew moved to dim the lights as everybody waited patiently for the star of the show to arrive.

The wait didn't take long. Doors leading to a long hallway Blake had traversed hours ago – and Yang and Nora left in the direction of – burst open, flooding the room with light so bright that Blake had to squint for her eyes to slowly adjust to the change. Nora flounced in, holding the door open with a flourish.

The Yang that crossed the threshold between hallway and studio made Blake's breath hitch.

Light brown stiletto thigh-high boots covered her toned legs, exposing a small strip of inviting skin between them and a pair of criminally short jean shorts that peeked out from under the baggy white wool sweater Yang wore. The simple yet enticing outfit was topped off by an embroidered black beanie that accentuated her lush blonde mane. On closer inspection, Blake noticed that the headgear was cat-themed.

Coupled with the blonde's charming megawatt grin and the effortless poise she held as she glided to the muslin background, Blake could thoroughly understand why she was a model; and gauging from the size of the photographer's paycheck, a highly successful one at that.

As the crew bustled about, performing the final preparations now that the model appeared, Blake hyped herself while pretending to fiddle with her DSLR's settings.

She was nervous. Legitimately 'butterflies in one's stomach' nervous. While Blake was no amateur, having earned multiple photography accolades for her University during a requisite module, she never had to work with a professional model before. What was she supposed to say? How was she supposed to direct Yang? Was she supposed to, in the first place? Would she be infringing on some sort of unspoken rule between renown model and stand-in photographer if she did?

Each tumultuous thought only whipped her further into a frenzy.

Thankfully, Yang seemed to detect her apprehension and unease. "Blake!" she called with a smile. "All set?"

Blake snapped out of her daze and nodded. The confidence Yang exuded imparted itself somewhat on the photographer, and after sucking in a deep breath, Blake hunched over and looked through the viewfinder.

Without any prompting, Yang's body skilfully twisted in a way that enhanced her busty features as she slipped seamlessly into a trance. Her smile suddenly softened into a small sensual smirk as she stared into lens with bedroom eyes.

Blake's heart was in her mouth as she suppressed a shudder. She unsteadily pressed down on the shutter button a few times, adjusting the zoom on her camera every once in awhile to capture different angles of the model.

Yang, showcasing her professionalism and expertise within the industry, constantly changed her position every few clicks; she smoothly transitioned from the first pose into one that hiked her shorts enough to give the illusion of her wearing nothing under her oversized sweater, before she switched gears entirely and faced the photographer, buckling her knees a little and resting her hands on her thighs as she bent forward. She held a finger to her lips, and then winked and blew the camera a kiss.

Blake's finger froze.

"Yang!" Nora yelled from the side, "This isn't a gravure or glamour shoot! Fashion for teens! Ixnay on the exysay!"

The blonde's body slackened, as if she had just woken up from a hypnotic state. She blinked a few times before grinning apologetically. "Oh, sorry about that! Had a lot of those gigs recently." She closed her eyes and inhaled deeply, regulating her breathing for a few seconds. When her eyelids flew open, Blake saw none of the passionate haze that clouded and darkened her eyes earlier. Instead, they were a bright shade of lilac.

Practically supercharged, the model immediately swung into high-gear; one of her legs lifted up so her calf touched the back of her knee as she gave the camera her signature grin, flashing it a peace sign. After a few seconds, she grounded her foot as her legs splayed themselves shoulders-width apart. Giving the lens a playful wink, Yang moved the hand with the peace sign to frame her open eye.

This momentum carried on for a couple of hours or so, though Blake would have sworn the duration that passed was much shorter. They occasionally paused for quick breaks, allowing Yang to change into a variety of different ensembles arranged by the brand they were hired by. That said, the shoot came to a close when Yang – now in fuzzy ankle-high shoes, a plaid black and white skirt, stylised t-shirt and hooded winter varsity jacket – flawlessly executed a jump with both feet.

Blake slowly leaned away from the viewfinder and glanced at her almost-forgotten laptop to stare at the latest picture. Eternalised in all her glory was an ecstatic Yang looking as if she were having the time of her life, framed perfectly in mid-air.

Blake exhaled. "I… think that's it," she muttered.

Nora, who over the course of the photo shoot shuffled closer to peep at the laptop, flapped her lips. "That's not how you end things!"

Blake's eyebrows furrowed with uncertainty. "Uh… That's… a wrap?" she tried.

The pink-haired makeup artist gave her a toothy grin. "Better," Nora replied.

Yang clapped, walking off the muslin backdrop. "Thank you for your hard work today, everybody!"

The crew joined in on the applause, returning the sentiment. However, while everyone else mingled and exchanged thanks, Blake switched her attention to her laptop. She scrolled through the bevy of photos, mentally marking the ones in particular that stood out to her, before she reached the initial few images.

As the photographer noticed Yang amble in her direction from her periphery, Blake couldn't help but call her over with a tentative, "Uh, excuse me, Miss Yang?"

"Woah," Yang said, walking up to the freelancer, "don't call me that, Blake. Just Yang will do! Anyway, what's up? Great job, by the way."

Blake scratched her jaw. "Thank you. I was just wondering, what do I do with the… earlier batch of pictures?"

"Hm?" Yang leaned over to peek at the screen. "Oh, those. You can keep them."

Blake started. "What? Why would I–"

Yang guffawed. "Don't look so shocked! I was joking." The model bent closer to scrutinise the photos. "Hmm," she hummed pensively, reaching for the trackpad. She scrolled through the handful of images they considered too sultry for the fashion magazine with a poker-face. A few tense beats later, Yang straightened her posture and crossed her arms. "These are actually really good," she praised, expression impressed as she stared at Blake.

"Tell you what," she continued, not letting Blake interject, "Why don't you send these to my manager? I think they'd look great on my portfolio." Without waiting for a reply, Yang proceeded to key her manager's email address into the photographer's laptop. "Oh, we'll pay you for them too! Don't worry."

Stunned by the expeditious pace Yang fired at, Blake could only manage to unsurely respond with, "No, I wasn't worried about that. I'll… be sure to send them over, then."

The blonde nodded happily as she finished typing the contact information. "So freelance, huh?" the model remarked. "Must be nice, having that sort of freedom."

It was Blake's turn to lean down and tap away at her keyboard. "It's rewarding, though you find yourself just barely scraping by, for the most part."

"I get that," Yang said, nodding sympathetically. "So what made you want to be a photographer?"

Blake's lips thinned. The photographer wondered if she should answer that.

Yang, seeing the hesitance, backpedalled. "I'm sorry, if you don't want to talk about it–"

"Desperation," the freelancer said honestly. "Photography's only a hobby that I use to get by on the occasions I find a decent-paying job. I'm actually a writer, but this city is choked full of aspiring hopefuls, so competition is stiff."

Yang's eyebrows shot up. "A writer? That's awesome! I can totally see you doing that stuff. So, scripts? Or novels maybe?"

A small smile worked its way onto Blake's face; rarely did people take a genuine interest in her profession, let alone a prosperous model. "The latter, though I've taken scriptwriting classes in University."

"Oooh, cool. So you're a University graduate?"

Blake nodded. "I graduated last autumn."

Yang pursed her lips, moving her fingers slightly as she calculated the photographer's age in her head. "So that would make you… twenty-one?" she guessed.

Blake nodded again.

The blonde smiled broadly. "That would make us the same age, then! Except y'know, I didn't go through University." She scratched the back of her head self-consciously. "Modelling takes a lot out of you, and since it's bringing home the bacon…"

The photographer canted her head. Did Yang feel embarrassed for not having pursued higher education? "What you do is incredibly admirable," Blake reassured. "It's not easy, being a model when you consider how this industry is run."

Yang's stance relaxed. "Glad you understand it. Not many people do, y'know?"

Before either could get another word in, Nora ran in-between them, vibrating cellphone in hand. "Yang!" she huffed. "Your manager!"

Yang sighed and motioned for the phone. When it was given to her, the blonde brought it to her ear and drawled, "You're late."

She rolled her eyes at whatever her manager had to say in response. "No excuses!" she proclaimed. "The next time I'm late, you have no right to complain."

After a few beats, her expression soured. She glanced out of the corner of her eye at Blake's laptop. "Now?" she asked reluctantly.

Judging from the loud groan that slipped from the model's mouth, Blake knew the reply Yang received was not the one she desired.

"Alright, alright," Yang grumbled, mouthing a hasty 'I'm sorry' to Blake and Nora as she slowly walked backwards towards the hallway. "Send me a– there's one out there already? You're such a slavedriver. Tell the driver I'll be out in five. And you better treat me to lunch." She hung up the call. Staring purposefully at Blake, she pointed a finger at the photographer. "Send us the pictures," she demanded before spinning on her heel to bolt for the changing room.

They watched her sprint away until she finally disappeared behind the double doors. Nora grabbed the distracted Blake's watching-wearing arm and wrenched it to eye level. With an exaggerated gasp, she shouted, "I'm late!" Then, she too ran off in the direction of the hallway. However, midway to her destination, the makeup artist turned back for a second and waved her arm earnestly. "See you around, Blakey!"

The dumbfounded photographer could only stare vacantly at her retreating form. When she also vanished from sight, Blake gradually recovered enough sense to shut her laptop and pack up her equipment.

Just what had Adam gotten her into?

AN: Every time I have to describe a scene – concerts, model shoots, etc – I always fear that I'll sound repetitive, or that I run the risk of failing to evoke the feelings I want to. However, FFTB kiiinda demands them, so… learning process.

Been feeling under the weather, so pardon me for the slightly delayed update, and for any mistakes or typos that I may have missed.

Teaser that may or may not be edited:

She laughed and attempted to cover the coffee stain with her arm, mortified that Ozpin still remembered their earlier episode. Ruby glanced up to look her new employer in the eye with a smart retort at the tip of her tongue, but instead of meeting keen browns, Ruby found herself staring into mesmerising ice-blue eyes.