Today is Yang's birthday. She is five. Like most five year olds, she still finds birthdays to be special, exciting days that are to be treasured. If anything, she finds this birthday to be even more so – at least, the fact that she can still celebrate it. After all, only a few months ago, she was in a situation where she wouldn't have had any more days to enjoy (much less birthdays). Now, she sits at home once more, with an entirely new appreciation for birthdays – which isn't necessarily something a five year old should have, but then again, Yang doesn't tend to stick to the norm.
That can be seen in her long, bright blonde hair, her lilac eyes, her unlocked semblance. Ruby never stops talking about the latter, and how much she herself wants to find her own power. Yang, however, is fully aware of what caused her to awaken what will one day be her famous flame (not that she knows that, yet), and can only hope that Ruby will find her own semblance in a much happier setting.
Yang shakes her head, trying to clear away the unhappy memories. She steals a glance at the very person who saved her and Ruby that day – her Uncle Qrow, who leans up against a nearby wall, eating a slice of birthday cake. Ruby, predictably, has already demolished her piece, and is trying to steal some of Yang's. The older girl relents and slides her slice over to the silver-eyed toddler, who squeals in delight and demolishes the cake with an enthusiasm usually reserved for cult leaders and mass murderers.
As Yang attempts to dodge the pieces of flying dessert (with varying success) she steals another glance at her uncle, who quirks a corner of his mouth in a rarely seen smile. He jerks his head to the right, and Yang's gaze slides in the direction until it falls on her father, who sits watching his daughters. It has been a long time since he has spent any more than an hour outside of his study at once, and Yang doesn't know when it will happen again, after today.
So, as Ruby looks up at her with a wide grin, mouth coated in the remnants of her cake, Yang grins back, with a smile to rival the sun. It seems to brighten the room for a moment, and is instantly contagious; Qrow and her father both smile at the sisters' interaction, and in that moment, everything could be considered all right again. But Yang knows that it won't be, not for a long time – and so she is determined to smile as much as she can, especially for today. As though with her own smiles, she could make up for the ones that are missing from the room – as if somehow, she could fill in for Summer Rose. And so Yang tries, laughing along with her uncle and father as Ruby tries to dive for another slice of cake, and lands face first in it.
Later that evening, Yang's father will give her a gift, wrapped in white paper and a golden bow. Ruby will have already fallen asleep, worn out by the day's excitement and copious amounts of sugar. Even though the box gives nothing away, Yang knows what the gift is before she even opens it – and as she does, she vows to look after her sister, the source of her smile, with everything she has.
Lilac eyes opened to stare up at the familiar ceiling. Blinking the sleep from her eyes, Yang rolled over, trying to fall back into slumber. The sun streaming through the windows, combined with the annoying elderly habit of waking early, prevented her. Grumbling about the unfairness of the morning (it seemed some things never changed), Yang slowly sat up, yawning and stretching. Her joints cracked as she did, and she could practically feel her spine aligning. She stood slowly, trying to ease feeling back into her limbs – her muscles, no longer the strong ones from her youth, often got stiff in the mornings.
She turned to face the mirror, blinking sleepily at her reflection. Lines etched her face – framing the corners of her mouth, crinkling around her eyes, encompassing her features. Her hands showed age as well, her veins and tendons showing strong through the skin. Spots speckled her knuckles and the back of her hands, as if trying to cover up the small scars from her brawler days. Her hair, once her most prized feature, still shone bright. But it too had aged, replacing the blonde strands with grey – first streaked, then full. All in all, Yang looked like what she was – an elderly woman, her age showing in more ways than one.
Yang tromped down the stairs, albeit much slower than she used to. She'd always prided herself on the fact that she'd never needed one of the stair helpers, even if the stairs were a pain in the ass. Ruby had pointed out that even if she had gotten one, she never would have used it anyways (Yang begrudgingly had admitted that she was probably right). Still, helper aside, Yang made her way down to the kitchen, where a coffee machine sat, waiting to help her start her day. She waited for the dark liquid to spill into her mug, watching the sun peek over the tops of the buildings.
Coffee in hand and mind slowly starting to awaken, Yang got ready to face the day. She dressed slowly – it seemed to her that everything she did these days was slow – pulling on simple, comfy clothing. Breakfast followed soon after – toast, because she didn't have much of an appetite in the mornings anymore – and then she was at the front door, lacing up her boots. Her teammates used to joke that one day, she'd have to trade in her laces for velcro straps. Whether it was because of her stubbornness or just the fact that no one made boots with velcro larger than children's sizes didn't matter – in any case, Yang still had laces.
Yang stood, ready to leave – but before she did, she glanced at the photo that sat on a shelf beside the door. Her team smiled back at her, their grins frozen in a worn photograph, faded with time. The woman had grown accustomed to saying goodbye to it – it was a comfort thing, a habit it that truly made her house feel like home.
She pulled on her old leather jacket as she went out the door. Over the years, many things had changed and much of her old attire had left her (she was still mourning the loss of her ass cape) but her leather duster had stayed, regardless of age. To Yang's delight and comfort, it still smelled faintly of gunpowder, from her days as a huntress.
Stepping out into the street, Yang observed her neighbourhood – it had changed a lot since she'd first moved in, but it still remained a predominantly Faunus community. That had been the main reason her teammates had moved there from the start – for Blake, and because it was quite a bit cheaper. But mostly for Blake. Now, young families populated the area, which contrasted Yang in her age. It still felt like home, though, so she couldn't complain.
Yang made her way down the street, heading out on a well known path to the nearby mechanic's garage. She'd been heading there for years – first as a worker, then eventually just as an advisor. These days, she mostly went in to pick fun at the young owner – the grandson of Hei Xiong (or Junior, as she had known him). The descendant of her longtime adversary/tentative friend ran a local shop, which specialized in vehicle and weapon machinery. It was an odd mix, but the man who ran it was nice, even if his grandfather was a criminal. Yang made a point of calling him Junior as well, despite his name having no connection with that of any of his relatives.
Yang had once called a lot of people by nicknames. But those nicknames had been buried along with those who carried them – just another piece of the past, another reminder for Yang of what her life had once been.
Hours later, with the sun now finishing its arc across the sky, Yang made her way back home. She strolled along a side street, not really taking anything in, as it was the same it had been every other day. But, as she passed a small alleyway, something had changed – for the first time in Yang's memory, the alley was occupied.
Several children stood at the end of it, three boys crowding around a much smaller girl. Yang paused, knowing what the sight was immediately. She'd seen her fair share of bullying over the years, even faced some of it herself, on her behalf and Ruby's. Jaune and Cardin came to mind momentarily, but she shook her head, trying not to fall down that rabbit hole. She glanced back to the kids, noticing that the girl was standing up to them, shouting their words back at them.
Yang stood, watching, not sure what to do. She knew that stepping in would only make matters worse in the long run – the bullies would return another day, and the last thing she wanted was for them to tease the girl about needing an old woman to stand up for her. Yet, Yang couldn't move away. Something about the girl's bravery and refusal to back down struck a chord deep inside, though she couldn't quite figure out why.
Yang continued to watch, before she realized how it probably looked to have an elderly woman watching a bunch of kids fighting in an alleyway. Shivering off the connotations, she turned to leave, trying to tune out the shouts that were growing steadily louder. It felt wrong to turn her back, but the girl wasn't backing down, and it gave Yang some small relief against the guilt.
Then, something changed. In the alleyway, with nothing but the setting sun and the summer weather to warm the air, Yang felt the presence of something she hadn't had in years. It was so familiar, yet so unexpected that it took Yang several seconds to realize exactly what it was. She whirled, turning back to the kids – and immediately found the source. The presence rose with the volume of the young girl's voice, becoming increasingly more noticeable.
Yang took a deep breath before she began to walk away from the alley as quickly as she could. Shaken, she looked at her hands, taking in the faint scars of burns and battles from over the years. She stopped walking, then dropped her hands and looked to the setting sun. It wasn't that the presence was shocking, it was just unexpected, like running into a friend you hadn't seen for many years. For Yang, it had been a long time since she'd known that familiar feeling: the warmth of a fire semblance.
Today is Yang's birthday. She is seventeen. While the clock has just passed midnight, Yang still lies awake, staring at the ceiling of her Beacon dormitory. All around her, she can hear the sounds of her teammates sleeping – the soft whistle from Ruby, the occasional grumble from Weiss, and the steady breathing of Blake. She knows she should be getting sleep – after all, they have a test tomorrow, and Weiss will skin her alive if she gets a bad mark and lowers the team's average – but Yang just can't sleep, kept up by thoughts about birthdays.
The childlike wonder of the days has long passed for Yang, but they still hold meaning in her life. To her, birthdays are a reminder of the promise she made to protect Ruby, a promise she still keeps, even to this day. It's that same promise that has made her realize how grateful she is to have Ruby on the same team as her - as much as she'd love for her sister to meet more people and spread her wings a little, she's also worried about not being able to protect her the same way.
Yang laughs at herself a bit for that – she's become more of a mother than she thought she would. It's both a happy and sobering thought, that she filled in her mother's shoes so well. But not fully. Yang knows that no matter how much she acts like a mother, she'll never be one – never be able to take Summer's place. Still, Yang knows that she's the older sister and, mother or not, it's her job to look after Ruby.
Well, muses Yang, sitting up and leaning over the edge of her bed, I guess not just Ruby any more. Try as she might to deny it, Yang knows that over the past couple of months, Weiss and Blake have also become part of the family she's determined to protect. They've become sisters, in their own ways, and Yang knows that she'll do anything to look after them, as well.
It's safe to say that other people at Beacon have wormed their way into her family as well – perhaps not as close as Blake or Weiss, but still close, like cousins you see at every family dinner, or something. All of team JNPR, Velvet, and even Sun and Neptune – they've all become part of Yang's family. The more she thinks about it, the more she realizes that 'cousin' is the perfect title for them. That especially holds true for Sun and Neptune, who have somehow managed to become wrapped up in all their schemes, yet still belong to a team of their own.
Yang laughs softly, then falls back onto her pillow, golden hair spilling out behind her. Yang knows as well as all of them, if not better, that being a hunter or huntress can end terribly. It wouldn't be right to say she isn't scared – truthfully, Yang's afraid of a lot of things: Grimm, bad hair days, losing those she loves – but she also knows that the fear of losing her friends pales in comparison to her love for them. It's an odd, twisted sort of family she has now, but despite the fact that she'd worry less if she didn't know them as well; she knows it's not a family she'll ever be able to give up. And it's then, under the light from the shattered moon, surrounded by the peaceful sounds of her teammates' slumber (minus Ruby's occasional snore), that Yang knows that she now has far more to protect than just her sister.
Yang had never really been the type to believe in fate. She'd always kind of accept things as they were, not necessarily believing that things were 'destined,' but rather that they just happened. That being said, she wasn't a huge believer in coincidence, either. At least, not when things seemed far too preplanned. Still, Yang didn't really want to accept that the fact she kept seeing the girl around meant anything of importance. She resigned herself to believing that it really was a fluke, and because now that she'd seen the girl once already, she noticed her more.
The second time she'd seen the young girl had been in a neighbourhood nearby her own, a block or two away. Yang knew the neighbourhood well – it was also well known for being a Faunus area, and in it was Ren and Nora's tree (the hammer warrior had planted it after their first successful mission). The girl had been facing off against two other girls, both of whom looked to be several years older.
The third time Yang had seen the girl was in a parking lot down by the docks, which wasn't too surprising, as Yang's neighbourhood wasn't very far from central Vale. She didn't know who the girl was speaking to, as they were hidden from Yang's view, but it appeared to be yet another heated argument.
Every time Yang had passed by the girl, she'd lingered, trying not to intervene. It had been increasingly difficult, especially whenever she felt the warmth of the girl's semblance. While it had assuaged any doubts Yang had had over whether or not she had pegged the user correctly, it also brought on a worry over the use of it. Yang knew that semblances didn't awaken early very often – her case had been a rarity, brought on by an experience that had left her shaken for weeks. The fact that the girl had a semblance at such a young age, and a fire semblance to boot, caused Yang to believe less and less in their encounters being coincidences.
Still, despite never having talked to her, Yang had picked up on the fact that she was the abrasive type – the fact she was in a fight every time she saw her kind of gave that away. They were always against kids older and stronger than her, as well. Regardless, the girl had stood up to them each and every time, never giving in. To Yang, this was both stupid and brave – and remarkably familiar.
Yang's excuse of coincidence was destroyed the fourth time she met the girl. They crossed paths late one evening, when the streetlights had come on and the sun had almost completely set. The girl sat in a playground nearby the neighbourhood Yang had seen her at before, resting on a swing, her feet pushing herself back and forth slowly. Unlike the other three encounters, the girl was alone. She still showed signs of being in a fight, however – small scrapes and bruises, the start of a black eye, and scratches on knuckles that clenched the swing chains tight.
As Yang passed by, she realized the girl was muttering something – listening closely, she realized exactly what it was.
"Calm down, cool down, calm down, cool down…"
The familiarity of the situation hit Yang like a bucket of ice water – a young kid, trying to keep control of their semblance, still far too young to properly have a handle on it. It brought Yang back to her own childhood, and she could almost feel the chains in her own hands, knowing exactly what the girl was going through. Then, before she knew what she was doing, Yang was moving.
The girl's head snapped up, not having noticed Yang come closer. Her brow furrowed, eyes focusing on the woman in front of her.
"W-what?" she responded, both wary and confused.
Yang grimaced, cursing herself in her head. She was aware of how this must have looked to the kid – an elderly woman she didn't know, coming up and telling her to breathe.
"You have to breathe steadily," she clarified, "or else your semblance isn't going to cool down."
The girl's face cleared, expression of confusing replaced by one of understanding. She followed Yang's advice, breathing at a steady pace. Almost instantly, the warmth in the air dropped by several degrees.
"Good. Keep doing that."
After a minute or two of silence, Yang held up her hands in front of the girl, palms facing upwards.
"Focus on my hands," she said softly, "Try counting the lines in them."
The girl's eyes narrowed as she followed Yang's instruction, her mouth silently forming numbers as she counted in her head. As an afterthought, Yang realized she had no idea if the girl could count any higher than ten. Whoops.
Still, her advice was working – distracted by Yang's very wrinkly hands, the girl's semblance had dropped, the air temperature around them turning back to normal. Yang smiled slightly, dropping her hands and straightening up, joints protesting with cracks. She winced, then smiled back at the girl.
"See? That wasn't so bad, was it?"
The girl paused, as if only realizing that her semblance had faded. She frowned, then looked up at Yang and grinned widely.
Had Yang's semblance still been fully active, that would have been the sort of comment to send her hair into flames. As it was, any sign of a smile was wiped from her face.
"What?!" Yang cried indignantly, as if the statement was in no way true, "Listen here, you little–"
The girl interrupted her beginning tirade, staring at a cartoon watch on her wrist, as if just taking in the time of evening, despite the colour of the sky.
"Sorry, Granny!" she continued, rubbing salt in the wound, "I gotta go!"
The girl raced off, leaving Yang to swallow her irritation and turn to yell back at her.
"Wait!" she started, stopping the girl in her tracks.
She turned and looked at Yang, in slight confusion. Yang took a moment to find the words she wanted to say.
"Why are you always fighting?" she settled on, not sure how else to put it.
The girl's expression deepened in confusion, and Yang scrambled to clarify.
"Your semblance, I mean. It's triggered easiest by fighting, and you always seem to have activated it, so…"
The girl peered at Yang, confusion replaced by suspicion.
"Have you been… watching me?" she asked.
Before Yang could try and defend her honour against the accusation, the girl laughed and answered Yang's question.
"I fight so the bullies don't bother us, silly!"
With that, she turned to run off once more – but Yang called after her to stop again. The girl stopped, turned, and raised an eyebrow in expectation, waiting for Yang to speak.
"Yang," she said simply, giving her name.
The girl's face returned to bewilderment, clearly having no idea what that meant.
"My name," Yang clarified, exasperatedly, "What's yours?"
The girl replied, then sprinted off, not giving Yang a chance to call her back again. Not that the woman would have, though – the girl's reply left her feeling like the ground had disappeared from beneath her feet. She almost felt like falling back into one of the swings, and sitting like the girl had. It had only been a name, but it was one Yang had known all too well.
Today is Yang's birthday. She is ninety-three. There is no longer anyone left to celebrate the day with – not that she would have, because for Yang, birthdays have long since lost their meaning. Her friends, her mentors, and her peers have all passed on before her, leaving her promises fulfilled, with no one left to protect but herself. Now, birthdays no longer serve as reminders of those she looks after, but rather as a reminder of how much time has passed since she has gone without them in her life.
While there are no longer any cake or presents, Yang does take a moment to light herself a candle. She summons up a flame – which is about all her semblance can do anymore, the power fading with age. Candle lit, Yang withdraws three cards from the back of a drawer, where they stay hidden for every day but one, each year.
Each card is from a different birthday, from different people. The first is from Beacon, a recording of her friends singing a horrible, off-key, disorganized version of Happy Birthday. It sounds like a trainwreck, but Yang can hear each of her friends in their youth, laughing and attempting to sing. As it turns out, not even Weiss can sing the song perfectly in the company of their friends. The second card is similar, another recording – this one from Ruby, Qrow, and her father. Ruby's drawings from when she was seven cover the card, making Yang smile, even at this age.
The last card, while not a recording, means just as much as the other two. It is the card that came with Yang's gift on her fifth birthday, written on only by Summer. The last message Yang ever received from her mother.
And it is in this way, in the dark of the evening, with only the light from a small candle and the songs of people who have long left her behind, that Yang celebrates her birthday.