Today is Summer's birthday. She is seven. The day has been long, filled with laughter and excitement, the sun already setting down beyond the horizon. It has been a day of celebration for the young girl and her family, but the festivities aren't quite over yet – no, one thing remains, Summer and her sister sitting and waiting eagerly for it.
Scarla and Rowan are out of sight in the kitchen, but not quite out of hearing range – the girls can hear their parents muttering to one another, a quiet conversation interspersed with moments of laughter, the soft chuckles of their father, the louder cackle of their mother. It's a familiar sound, hearing the pair laugh – for all of their little arguments, there isn't a day in Summer's memory when she doesn't hear her parents laughing with one another. She is young, and might not have a lot of experience and wisdom beyond her years, but even she knows how lucky she is to hear it.
A small sound beside her catches the young girl's wandering attention – Summer turns to see her sister clambering up onto the seat beside her, little arms pulling her weight upwards. The five-year-old has only just begun to lose her baby teeth – her two front ones, making Summer laugh every time she sees her sister grin. Autum finishes her ascent onto the wooden chair beside her sister, trying to find her balance atop the stack of phone books placed on the seat. The young Faunus isn't exactly of large stature – in fact, without the help of the books, her nose barely brushes above the tabletop.
Wide eyes latch on to Summer, before a wide, toothy grin crosses the Faunus' face. Summer laughs openly, reaching out a hand to ruffle her sister's hair – Autumn's face crinkles in displeasure, her nose wrinkling as she bats Summer's hands away. Within moments, it turns into an impromptu competition – Summer trying to muss her sister's hair, Autumn trying to keep her from doing so. They giggle, hands batting one another away, until Summer's hand catches one of Autumn's ears.
Her sister gasps in surprise more than anything else, ears swiveling and slightly flattening against her head. In an instant, Summer's hands are hovering nervously around Autumn's shoulders, unsure of whether or not she should comfort her, or call for help. The nervousness builds as seconds tick by – after a minute or so, Autumn's ears perk up again, her grin returning.
"I'm okay!" she says happily, pointing at her ears, "'m tough like that."
Summer laughs, relief spreading through her body. She smirks at her sister, raising an eyebrow at the younger girl.
"Tough, huh?" she replies, her tone mocking, "I somehow recall you crying last week because you poked your mouth too hard with your toothbrush."
The reaction is instantaneous – Autumn's face changes immediately from happiness to opposition, her cheeks puffing up in irritation and her expression becoming that of an annoyed pout. While intended to be confrontational, the expression is almost comical on the young girl.
"It hurt!" she protests loudly, causing her sister to giggle.
"Sorry, sorry," Summer answers amidst laughter, her mirthful apologies causing Autumn to hit her sister's arm in annoyance, which only prompts the older girl to laugh even harder.
Autumn's whine carries into the kitchen, catching the attention of Scarla, who pokes her head through the doorway, a eyebrow cocked in question.
"Are you girls behaving in there?" she asks, receiving two heads bobbing in rapid succession.
"We're almost done!" Rowan's promise floats into the room, he himself still out of sight, "Autumn, you ready to sing?"
An excited affirmative comes from the younger sister. Scarla smiles at the response, ducking back out of sight to join her husband. The moment she disappears from view, Autumn whirls back towards her sister, glaring menacingly at her. Of course, the sight of it nearly sends Summer into a fit of giggles again.
They sit in silence for a moment, the sisters well accustomed to one another's presence. Summer's eyes fall on the room around them, the light considerably darkened than from earlier in the day. There are lights, but no one has bothered to turn them on yet, knowing that they'll be unnecessary for the upcoming situation. As a result, the objects around them are simply dark shapes, details lost in the dim light.
Boxes are piled around them, cardboard boxes that aren't yet unpacked, untidy writing scrawled on the fronts of them. The family had only recently moved – and was, unsurprisingly, nowhere near completely settled in yet. They'd taken recently to simply rummaging through boxes to find what they needed in the current moment, instead of putting everything away and being done with it all. It was easier for all, but definitely more disorganized – and had, more often than once, led to very interesting outfits for Summer and Autumn. There isn't a lot of clothing synchronization when your choices are the first things pulled out of boxes.
Summer studies the boxes absent mindedly, trying to decipher Scarla's messy handwriting. Her mother is really the only one who knows what's in each box – between her poor organizing and terrible scrawl, no one else in the family has any clue where anything is. Her musings come to an end shortly, as Autumn breaks the silence by pointing to a darkening bruise on Summer's arm and speaks aloud.
"How'd ya get that?" she asks, eyebrows furrowing in curiousity and confusion.
"Fell down the stairs," Summer replies, the answer rolling off her tongue easily – it's one of many excuses in her repertoire of replies. Truthfully, she got it from a fight a few days ago, when some of the local kids decided she stood up to them a little too much. It's not the first fight she'd gotten in ever since they'd moved, nor would it be anywhere near her last – Summer had a thing against bullies, and had made it her own personal goal to ensure they never went after her sister again, even if it meant fighting every kid in the city. Autumn had been bullied back in their old neighborhood, and Summer had sworn to never let it happen again.
At the memory of the fight, and the thought of Autumn being bullied, Summer can feel something rise up within her – it's not the first time she's felt it, but she still has no idea what it is. A feeling of warmth seems to fill her bones, spreading from her heart all the way to her fingertips, as if being sent through her veins. It's not something she can control, but it doesn't hurt at all – if anything, it just makes the air around her feel several degrees warmer.
Autumn, for her part, notices Summer's sudden silence – and, with a degree of wisdom no five-year-old should ever have, reaches out to place a hand on Summer's forehead. The sudden movement causes Summer to jerk back, caught off guard by the outstretched hand. Her sister out of reach, Autumn loses her balance, tipping forwards and flailing as she heads towards the floor. In a flash, Summer's hands are outstretched, grabbing onto her sister's arms and pulling her upright again.
The gesture helps, but the heat running through Summer's hands does not. Autumn winces slightly, the pressure from her sister's fingertips and the unexpected warmth causing a reaction that Summer notices immediately. Hands withdraw in an instant, wide eyes watching for anymore signs of pain, waiting for a reason to call for help. After a moment of confusion over her sister's sudden withdrawl, Autumn's face clears with understanding, and she shakes her head quickly, hair ruffling everywhere.
"'M okay, Summer!" she says, reaching out for her sisters hands, even though the older girl pulls them back, "you di'nt hurt me, 'm okay. Just surprised!"
Summer smiles at that, her freckled cheeks rising slightly in relief. She lets her sister grab her hands, feeling the heat slowly fade from her fingertips, the adrenaline and memory dissipating with it. Autumn, however, isn't quite as intent on letting it go.
"Muuuum!" she hollers, before Summer can stop her, "Summer's warm again!"
At this, Scarla pokes her head out of the kitchen, concern furrowing her brow.
"She's warm?" she repeats, making her way towards her daughters, leaning over slightly as she reaches them.
A large, soft hand lays itself on Summer's forehead before she can protest, the lines in Scarla's face deepening as the temperature registers in her palm. Summer's smaller hands come up, batting her mother's hand away from her forehead, leaning back with a disgruntled expression.
"I'm okay, Mum, really," Summer protests, her expression fading from one of annoyance to a small grin.
Scarla purses her lips, clearly not fully convinced, but the sound of matches rattling in a box draws her attention away. After a moment, she sighs and straightens back upwards, fixing her daughters with a thoughtful stare.
"Hopefully it's not a fever starting up again," she says quietly, almost to herself, then raises her volume for the second part of her statement.
"That would mean you wouldn't be able to eat the cake!"
At Summer's rapid protests that yes, she is fine to eat the cake, Scarla smiles and rejoins her husband in the kitchen. Summer whirls to glare at the tattletale sitting beside her – Autumn scrunches up her nose at her. The older sister retaliates by sticking out her tongue, before the sound of a match being struck catches her attention.
Seconds later, Rowan and Scarla emerge from the kitchen, holding a cake with candles that glow in the darkened room. They strike up a key, the familiar song Summer hears every year beginning to be sung. Autumn joins in immediately – as well as slightly off key – and the room is quickly filled with the sound of singing, three voices, two young and one old, combining in celebration. The song ends just as the cake makes its way in front of Summer, candlelight reflecting in the young girl's eyes.
The cake is handmade, icing spread smooth with several crumbs mixed into it, a smooth hand having lettered the words "Happy Birthday, Summer" on it. The seven candles placed across the surface glow warmly, flickering slightly, wax dripping slowly down the striped candles. For a moment, Summer can only stare, before her mother's voice softy startles her back to awareness.
"Well, Summer," Scarla says quietly, "make a wish!"
"Yeah, Summer, make a wish!"
Autumn's echo prompts a chuckle from all of them, and draws Summer's attention towards her younger sister for a moment. The younger girl looks happier than Summer's seen her in the past couple of weeks, eyes bright and Faunus ears perked. And it's then, in that moment, that Summer knows what she wants to wish for – the same thing she's asked for as long as she can remember.
Truthfully, there's a lot of things a seven-year-old can wish for for their birthday – new toys, new friends, lots of snow this winter, whatever. There's more sobering things they could wish for, as well – for their parents to spend more time with them, for their old neighbour to get more company. But Summer doesn't wish for any of those things; instead, she wishes for something that she herself can make happen.
Neither Summer, nor Autumn, nor her parents know how the future will play out. They will learn, in months to come, that Summer's sudden bursts of heat are actually her semblance beginning to show, but for now they simply see it as a fever that refuses to go away. They don't know that the bullies will fight Summer, and that she'll continue to fight back, until someone knocks some sense into her. They won't know that Summer's semblance will cause her to be a terror in the neighborhood, at least for a while, and that she'll continue to struggle with it as she grows even more. And none of them know that on one completely normal day, an elderly woman will introduce herself, and offer to teach the eldest daughter.
They know none of that yet, and so Summer doesn't even dare to dream of wishing to change that. Instead, she closes her eyes, makes the same wish she always has, and blows out the candles with a puff of air. The smoke quickly disappates into the air as the company in the room laughs, Scarla and Rowan clapping and Autumn cheering loudly. As the candles are plucked from the cake, a knife picked from the kitchen and starting to slice the cake, Autumn leans towards her sister, bouncing in her seat excitedly.
"Well, Summer? What'd ya wish for?"
Summer only smirks, picking up an abandoned candle and poking into her sister's mouth. She laughs at the surprise on Autumn's face, and the irritated expression that follows it, continuing to giggle even as she wards off Autumn's own retaliating candle attack. Rowan's gentle chastisments fill the room, before Scarla comes over and plucks her own pair of candles, shoving them into her own mouth to impersonate a walrus. Within minutes, three girls with candles hanging from their upper lips are slowly moving towards Rowan, the man laughing at his wife and daughters.
The merriment will continue, a fitting end to the birthday. Summer will crack jokes, and Autumn will laugh loudly – unknowingly filling the same wish Summer had just made, and the same one she'd made every year.
The wish that, no matter what, her sister would always be able to keep laughing.
Flames licked the surface of the ground, singing the edges of the leaves gathered there, dancing across pebbles and the warm pavement. Summer giggled as she twirled, watching the fire follow her movements, a spiral of endless warmth. The young girl stopped spinning, letting the flames find their way back to her hands, tickling her fingertips before at last going out in a puff of smoke. In a mixture of surprise and glee, wide eyes found their way to their mentor, focusing in on Yang.
The elderly woman watched her pupil with a faint look of pride, sharing the same sense of wonder that Summer was feeling. In the months that had passed since Yang had began sharing her stories, Summer had progressed far past the point of simply summoning flames, instead learning to control them. The level of control she had reached in some ways blew Yang away – the brawler herself had taken years to reach that point in her semblance. Summer, on the other hand, picked up on things much quicker than Yang had – which led them to where they were at today.
Yang watched Summer study her hands, watching her expression change as she took in just what she had accomplished. It was no small feat to control the flames in the way the young girl just had – Summer knew it, Yang knew it; anyone with a fire-based semblance knew it. Fire was a tricky thing, tangible but troublesome, hard to change in its path. Yet the young girl had already grasped the concept – and, if Yang were to be honest, had all but mastered it.
The awe-filled silence was finally broken, interrupting the woman's thoughts.
"Did you see that?" Summer continued, her words tumbling out of her mouth in a rush, as though she couldn't say them quickly enough, "the flames followed me! I was spinning, and they spun too, and I burnt half the leaves on the ground, but they actually followed me–"
"I saw, I saw!"
Yang replied with a laugh, the laughter lines deepening in her skin as she smiled at her student's enthusiasm. Summer had returned to staring at her palms as her teacher approached, the former blonde reaching out a wrinkled hand and ruffling Summer's hair. The girl didn't even react as she usually did – sputtering and shoving the hand off her head, before retaliating and trying to jump to reach Yang's own hair – instead looking up at her mentor with an expression of astonishment and glee. Yang laughed at the sight, turning and walking back towards the swings.
"Job well done, kiddo," she said, sitting herself down with a creak (of the swings, not her bones), "Want to try the shield before we call it a day?"
Summer nodded enthusiastically, hair bobbing around her face with the motion. Yang grinned, reaching into her pocket and withdrawing the same rubber balls they'd begun training with – though by now, they were scorched, blackened by heat and flame. The brawler nodded towards the girl, who smiled and closed her eyes in concentration, before snapping them back open and summoning more flames.
They wrapped around her hands before extending outwards, creating a shield like shape before her body. The sight was a welcome one, and one that had taken a while for Summer to get used to – at first, the flames wrapping around her hands made her incredibly nervous, understandably. It had taken her a while to grasp the concept that her own flames wouldn't burn her, but Yang had helped her get past that (whispering "they can smell fear" hadn't really helped matters much, but the former blonde had done it anyways). Now the flames were well within control, able to be manipulated at a moments notice.
Yang gave the girl a second to prepare herself, before pulling her arm back and throwing the ball straight at Summer. The young girl held her hands up immediately, palms facing in the incoming projectile – willed by her motions, the flames spread between her hands, creating a wall of fire between her and the ball. The rubber didn't stand a chance. It melted on contact, creating a missile of molten elasticity – one that Summer knew by now to dodge. And dodge she did, letting the former rubber ball miss her and land on the ground with a pathetic sort of splat.
Yang flashed the girl a thumbs up as she let the flames go out once more, clearly satisfied with the results of their training. The "shield" was something Yang had discovered about a month ago – all users with elemental semblances tended to either use their powers offensively or defensively, and their control abilities changed depending on their preference. Yang had always had an offensive tendency – it was why her punches were always feuled by flame, her anger further propelling her to fight.
Summer, on the other hand, was of the opposite mentality. They'd accidentally discovered her shield technique when Yang, wanting to get back at Summer for the slew of age-related puns she'd unleashed earlier that day (Hey, Yang! Your back goes out more than you do!). She'd snuck up on the girl, who was concentrating on the flames dancing across her palms, making sure they didn't go out – and had reached out to ruffle her hair, startling Summer. In a flash, the girl had whirled around to defend herself – and the flames had followed, tagging along with her hands to catch Yang in the act. They'd gone out a moment later, but the action had shocked both Yang and Summer into realization, and had set them on another path.
Now, weeks later, Summer had the shield under control. It was only a basic movement, keeping your flames in synchronization with your actions, but it was one that could lead to much more powerful moves. A solid foundation went a long way – that was a lesson Yang knew well, and Summer had mastered that basis.
Yang lowered her hands as the last of the flames went out, smiling at the girl with a mixture of pride and sadness. She was, without a doubt, proud of her student – the level of control the girl had mastered was far more than enough for her to continue living without any problems. But that mastery meant one thing for Yang – the knowledge that Summer had, at last, reached the end of her training. The girl might not have known it, but Yang had nothing left to teach her – well, nothing that wasn't meant for combat, which was knowledge Summer did not yet need to learn. In fact, unless she set herself on the path of a huntress, she'd never need to know it.
Summer sauntered over towards Yang, her feet kicking up the singed leaves as she did so.
"Are we done for the day?" she asked, looking both excited and relieved.
Yang nodded in reply, watching Summer's face split into a wide grin at the answer.
"Awesome!" she cried, pumping her fist in the air before turning to leave, "guess I'll see you tomorrow, then."
"Hold on a second, Summer," Yang interrupted, standing up to follow the girl, "I'll come with you. Have to talk to your folks about something."
"I'm not in trouble, am I? Also, no one says folks anymore, Yang. Get with the program. Get some new knees while you're at it."
"Who says I want to get with the program? For all you know, I'm starting a new trend."
"That's not a trend, that's a flashback!"
Yang rolled her eyes, ending the banter that would have gone on forever otherwise.
"Well, forgetting that, no, you're not in trouble."
"Then what do you need to talk to my folks – wait, no –"
"That doesn't count! You kept saying it!"
The pair continued to argue, Summer's question lost in the pointless battle. They were an odd sight to those who saw them – two very different ages, both acting remarkably young. Most of the neighbourhood, however, was used to them at this point, "Summer and her elderly friend" being a conversation topic for the particularly nosy in the area.
Summer and Yang rounded the corner, stepping into the alleyway they'd gone through many times before on the way back to the young girl's house – the same one Yang had first spotted her student in. Unlike the previous times they'd passed through it, however, it was occupied. Several children were playing in it – Yang recognized them as the kids she'd seen Summer fighting, once upon a while ago.
The elderly woman had heard from Scarla that the fights had stopped, and that Summer had quit standing up to the bullies without reason. However, she still had yet to make amends to them, leaving a bit of a rift between herself and the other kids. Part of it was from the fighting, Yang knew, but she was willing to bet that more of the reason was due to the fact Summer had her semblance – and that the other kids didn't know she had it under control.
Summer herself had stopped beside Yang at the entrance to the alleyway, stiffening as she saw the kids. Several moments later, they noticed her as well – immediately, they exchanged looks, and turned to run away. Yang, however, stopped them in their tracks.
"Hold on a second," she called, watching as the kids froze where they were. Regardless of their fear of Summer, they knew that Yang deserved some respect.
Yang herself knelt down beside Summer, for once the pops in her joints going without comment from the young girl. Summer looked apprehensive, almost afraid, but Yang reached out to take hold of her shoulder.
"Remember what I told you about fire hurting people?"
Summer nodded, her eyes flicking back and forth between the bullies and Yang.
"And how it can also bring warmth?"
The girl nodded again, this time keeping her eyes on her mentor, wary but trusting.
Yang smiled encouragingly, taking her hand off her shoulder.
"Then go show them how neat fire can be when it isn't a danger to them."
Summer's brows furrowed, worry coming across her face once more – but Yang merely nodded, letting the girl know it would be okay.
With a deep breath, Summer turned back to her former bullies – they'd stayed, as Yang had told them to, but looked just as scared as Summer did. The girl took a few steps forward, but enough to still keep a safe distance from them. Shutting her eyes tight, she let the flames come to life, prompting several startled shouts from the kids before her. Worried, she turned back to Yang, who gestured for her to keep going – the kids, though they had taken a few steps back, had yet to flee.
Summer turned back to them, giving them a small, timid smile, before she spun on the spot. Instantly, the fire flared up around her, light flooding the alleyway and casting shadows that danced on the wall. The heat spilled from around her twirling figure, warming the faces of those who watched – Yang, in contentment, and the kids, in wonder and surprise. Summer spun once, twice, three times more before slowing to a stop, facing the kids again. Opening her eyes revealed the crimson glow of her pupils, but the fear of them was overtaken by the wonder of the flames, which swirled around her feet like the fabric of a dress. After a moment of stillness, Summer let the flames go out, extinguished in a burst of smoke.
The alleyway was immediately cooler, the warmth of the summer evening nowhere near the heat of the flames. The kids were looking at her curiously, Summer watching them back with uneasiness, Yang observing both groups carefully. Eventually, one of the kids in the front spoke up, his voice quiet in the silence.
"Can you do that again?"
Yang watched as they crowded around Summer, nervous questions starting out slow and spaced out, until their unease faded away and was replaced by excitement, questions brimming from their mouths like water over the edge of a dam. Summer, for her part, answered them all as best she could – the worry on her face slowly gave way to happiness, as the bridge she'd literally burnt between the other children began to rebuild itself.
Yang watched happily, a vague sense of nostalgia returning to her. She knew from experience how exciting it was to have a semblance when those around you did not – kids always wanted to unlock their own, and were often awed when their peers succeeded. But more importantly, Yang knew how important it was when something others feared became something they admired – in this case, Summer's semblance. The very thing that had set them apart was now bringing them back together, past mishaps already left behind.
Summer's question shook the elderly woman from her thoughts, her attention brought back to the current situation at hand.
Summer turned to the other kids for a moment, waving her hand dismissively.
"Short attention span," she explained sagely, "it's what happens when you get old."
"Hardy har, you little genius," Yang shot back, evidently unamused, "what was the question?"
Summer sighed, but repeated it anyways.
"The flow of the flames is fed by emotion, right?"
"Yup," she clarified, "the steadier the emotion, the smoother the flow. If your emotions are all out of whack, then your fire is, too."
"Did you teach her that, Granny?"
Yang resisted the urge to punch out the kid next to her, instead sighing exasperatedly before nodding in reply. Almost immediately, a chorus of 'can you teach me' and 'how do you unlock your semblance' rose up around her. Yang waved her hands in an answer, warding off the sudden requests.
"I can't teach you guys much," she explained, "for one, semblances unlock themselves; there's no definite way of getting them to show. Secondly, I'm a heat based semblance user – if you guys don't have that as your semblance, like Summer does, then you're flat out of luck when it comes to being taught by me."
At the looks of dejection on their faces, Yang continued.
"But don't worry," she said, noting the way they perked up at her words, "you'll unlock them someday, and when you do, there'll be a lot more people around to teach you how to control them. Summer just unlocked hers a bit early, so there wasn't anyone besides me to teach her."
Summer muttered some comment about 'not her first choice,' which Yang shot her a dark look for.
"Anyways, until you guys unlock your semblances, you can all ask Summer questions about what it's like to have one."
And with that, the attention returned back to Summer, curiosity and enthusiasm mingling with the young voices that echoed in the alleyway. Yang waited until the last of the questions were answered, and the former bullies left for their own homes, wishing Summer well. The girl in question looked happy, but there was something in her expression Yang couldn't quite place.
"You alright, kiddo?"
Summer shot her a look.
"I told you to stop calling me that."
"Yeah, well, you introduced me to all your newfound friends as "Granny," so, tough."
For once, Summer didn't continue their banter, instead looking down the alleyway where the other kids had disappeared to. Yang waited, knowing better than to force Summer to speak what was on her mind.
"I'd always wondered," Summer began after a moment, "what it would be like to be accepted by them."
Ah. Yang paused, giving herself a moment to find the right words.
"You know," she said, drawing her student's attention to her, "I didn't get along with some of my closest friends at first."
"Well, Weiss, for one," Yang said simply, shrugging at the mention, "we didn't see eye to eye for a long time. It took a couple of life or death situations before we really accepted one another as friends, and even then, it took us a long time to be as close as we were at the end of her days."
Summer didn't interrupt, now listening intently.
"I used to wonder," the brawler continued, "how it would have been if we'd gotten along from the start. What would it have been like, to not have fought over every little thing, to not have teased each other as much as we did? Would things have been better? Would it have changed our lives later on?"
Yang shrugged again, turning to look at Summer.
"And you know what I one day realized?"
Summer shook her head. Yang smiled warmly in return.
"That it didn't really matter either way."
There was a pause, before Summer replied, her brow furrowed in confusion.
"It didn't matter?"
"Nope!" Yang answered, grinning, "because either way, we still became friends. Either way, we became close, and either way, we were there for each other when we needed to be. I still listened to her complaints, she still helped me fix the things I broke, and we both laughed at one another's bad haircuts."
Yang's smile turned sadder, but still affectionate, a nostalgic look to the expression.
"Maybe in some universe, Weiss and I would have been closer from the start – and who knows? Maybe we would have been better friends for it. But this is the life we were given, the one we fought in. And at the end of it all, those fights made us understand one another more, made us better friends for it.
"I don't know what would have happened if we never fought. I guess I'll always be doomed to wonder, and never know – but I also know, that at the end of it all, we were still friends. It didn't matter how we became them, how much we fought beforehand, because it ended the same either way.
"It'll be the same for you, Summer. You may have started fighting with them, but you can become friends with them now. And who knows? Maybe someday you'll look back on these fights with fondness, because they were what led you to find some of your closest friends. But Summer? None of that will happen if you worry about how things used to be. What really matters is what's happening now – the fact that you have a chance to be friends with them. And you can be, if you let it happen."
They stood in silence once Yang had finished, neither having the words to continue. For once, Yang didn't let herself dwell on the story she'd shared with Summer, instead simply waiting for the girl to reply. Eventually, Summer turned to look at Yang – and the brawler startled for a moment, seeing the depth in the young girl's eyes.
"Thanks, Yang," she said softly, her voice quiet in the evening air. Yang smiled in reply, reaching out and softly ruffling her hair, a giggle slipping out from smiling lips.
"No problem, Summer."
They reached Summer's home not long after that – the young girl raced inside to tell her parents about her day, about her new friends, about what had happened in the alleyway. She didn't tell her parents about her training – she'd decided to keep her progress a secret, so she could surprise them by showing them how far she'd come – but she told them everything else, before racing off to find Autumn.
Yang stood in the threshold of the home, watching the exchange between parents and child. Scarla and Rowan stood for a moment after Summer had left, looking at one another with a mixture of shock and happiness. Then they turned to Yang, who'd been mentioned in the story, attributed to starting the interaction between Summer and her former bullies. Yang shrugged, not really sure what to say to the pair.
Scarla stepped up to face Yang, her eyes belaying the gratitude that her words could not. After a moment, the younger woman reached out, wrapped her arms around Yang's shoulders, and pulled her into a hug.
They stayed like that for a moment – Yang caught between surprise and acceptance, knowing the reason why Scarla was hugging her, but startled by the action. Then, slowly, she moved her own arms up to hug the woman back, returning the gesture. They pulled away after a moment, Scarla wiping tears away from her cheeks, the smile on her face too bright to be quenched by the tears. Rowan hugged Yang next, bending down slightly to do so.
When he withdrew, Yang faced the pair, studying the parents as she did so. In the time it had taken her to teach Summer, she'd come to know the girl's entire family – and, in some ways, almost saw them as a family of her own. In some ways, Autumn even saw her as some sort of free spirited aunt – a really old one, who occasionally dropped by.
How far things had come since their first meeting, Yang mused, looking at Scarla and Rowan. The young mother had nearly slammed the door in her face when they'd first met, yet now thanked her every time they spoke. Rowan, though he hadn't been quite as abrasive as Scarla at first, had also welcomed Yang with open arms.
Yang smiled at her own thoughts, scuffing her feet against the floor, before she sent her grin to the pair.
"You're welcome," she said softly, the answer to the words that had been spoken hundreds of times before.
Scarla and Rowan laughed, the sound returned by Yang. They then began to speak, Yang suggesting something to the pair, who quickly agreed. Plans were set, times arranged, and then Yang was waving goodbye to them, letting herself out the door, and making her way back home.
The next day brought Summer to her door, as opposed to the usual way of Yang coming to greet the girl in her own home. She knocked on the door in rapid succession, a small tune formed in the sounds. Yang rolled her eyes at the juvenile action, but went to open the door anyways.
"Heya, Yang!" Summer greeted happily, entering the house and standing on the mat, prepared to head back out immediately, "ready for training?"
Yang chuckled, turning and heading into the kitchen for a moment.
"You can take off your shoes, Summer," she called, her voice floating to the girl back at the door, "we're not doing training today."
The confusion was evident in Summer's tone, making Yang smile in spite of herself.
"Then what are we doing?"
Summer's voice became clearer as she rounded the corned, coming to meet Yang in the kitchen. The former blonde didn't reply immediately, her back turned to her student, looking out the small window into the street.
"I need your help with something today," she said at last, her voice quiet, yet filled with emotion.
Summer tilted her head, her action closely resembling that of a cat.
"My help?" she repeated, intrigued, "with what?"
Yang turned back to face her, stifling a giggle at her appearance.
"Come with me," she answered, striding past Summer out of the kitchen.
"Oh, sure, now you play the mysterious card," the girl sarcastically replied, following her mentor out of the room and up the staircase, "you tell me not to act all coy, but when the moment presents itself, you're the one who acts all…"
Her voice petered out as the pair came to a stop in front of a familiar door. The solid, dark wood was closed, but it was a room Summer wasn't going to forget any time soon – the room at the end of the hall, filled with remnants of Yang's past life.
The young girl looked at the door with a mixture of confusion and worry, before glancing up at her mentor, to find her staring straight at the door.
"Yang…?" she began, not really sure of what to say.
Yang breathed out heavily, closing her eyes, before looking down at her student.
"It's alright, Summer," she said, though her voice shook slightly, "it… It just…"
Yang startled at the unexpected comment, staring at Summer as she continued.
"It's like a bandaid that you need to rip off. It's healed, but…"
The girl looked back up to Yang, eyes filled with a wisdom beyond her years.
Yang nodded, words temporarily lost. Summer looked down for a moment, then reached out and took the woman's hand, glancing back up at her.
"It hurts," she repeated once more, "but you don't have to do it alone."
Yang smiled slightly, though the action hurt her heart, then nodded. Summer smiled back, before tilting her head towards the door.
"You have to open it," she clarified, "I did last time, so now it's your turn."
Yang snorted, but complied, wrapping her palm around the cool metal of the doorknob. For a moment, she paused, unsure of how to move forwards. Then, out of nowhere, she felt a slight pressure squeeze her other hand – Summer's silent support. Yang took a deep breath, turned the handle, and pushed the door open.
The smell of gunpowder and roses hit her before the sight did, her eyes taking a moment to adjust to the darkness. Summer took a small step across the threshold, entering the room, her hand still wrapped tightly around Yang's. She looked back at the elderly woman, who was staring forwards, sorrow and nostalgia making their way across her expression.
With a gentle tug, Summer pulled Yang's attention back to her, her gaze shifting to fall on the young girl. Yang looked at her student, who stared back with an expression of encouragement, waiting for Yang to take the first step. Shaking herself from the wave of emotions, Yang looked at her feet, still frozen to her spot in the hallway. She hesitated once more, but another soft squeeze gave her the courage she needed, stepping forwards into the room.
Another step, then another, brought her inside completely. Summer still didn't let go of her hand, acting almost as an anchor to the woman. Yang didn't know if the girl fully understood how much she was helping, but she was grateful nonetheless. Her eyes adjusted to the dark, taking in the pictures and framed certificates, the articles of clothing hung around the room, the unloaded weaponry that still shone bright, despite the layer of dust on everything.
Another tug on her hand drew her attention back to Summer, who gestured with her head towards the windows, covered with thick black curtains. The young girl's eyes studied her own, waiting for permission, before Yang nodded, allowing herself to be pulled gently towards them. They each took a side, Summer finally letting go of Yang's hand, reaching out to grab a fistful of the thick fabric. Yang copied her motion, glancing back to the girl.
"We'll do it on three, alright?" Summer asked, watching Yang carefully, "we'll do it together."
Yang nodded, listening to the girl count down.
On three, they pulled on their own curtain, and the light poured in. The curtains shook up dust, which spiraled in the light, dust motes floating through the air. Light spread across the room slowly, spilling in and across surfaces that hadn't seen the light of day for many years. The room came to life, the darkness lifting to reveal colours and details that couldn't be seen before. The weapons shone brighter than before, the glass on photographs and frames reflecting as well. The clothing came to life as the vibrant colours returned to them – the jackets and scarves, the sashes and shirts, the cloak in the corner.
Yang took a deep breath at the sight – it hurt to see it all again. It was an ache in her chest, as if her heart was crying out, but in some ways, it was almost good to see the things again. While it reminded her of so many things she'd lost, it had never seemed right to hide the relics of her past away in the dark – and now, seeing them in the light once more, she realized that they weren't fit for the darkness at all.
A sound of movement drew her attention to the girl at her side, Summer was literally shaking on the spot, restrained excitement causing her to quiver. She was watching Yang, waiting for permission – which the brawler gave with a small nod of her head. Summer giggled and took off, sounds of awe and glee echoing in the room as she raced around, taking in all the sights at once. She stared at pictures, at clothing, but her true delight lay in the weapons, which she studied intently, mouth wide open in shock.
Yang smiled, a small giggle slipping out at Summer's reaction. It drew the girl's attention back to her, and Summer raced up to her side, grabbing her hand once more and pulling her forwards. They moved towards a cabinet in the corner, in which hung Myrtenaster, polished bright. The dust chambers had been empty, but remained filled with colour, stained and dyed from years of use.
"What is that?" Sumer asked, pointing towards the sword.
Yang chuckled before answering.
"That," Yang replied, "is Myrtenaster. It was Weiss' weapon."
"Weiss used that?"
At Yang's nod, Summer squinted at the weapon, then at the brawler, then back at the weapon.
"Well," she said after a moment's contemplation, "it suits Weiss far more than it suits you."
Yang snorted, rolling her eyes, before Summer's next question came.
"Which one is your weapon, anyways?"
Yang lifted any eyebrow, before she pointed to a corner cabinet, on which rested Ember Celica and Gambol Shroud. Summer giggled and took off towards it, coming to a stop and leaning in close to examine the yellow gauntlets.
They were scuffed and worn from years of use, blackened at the edges from her semblance and shotgun bursts, but still shone bright. Yang came up to stand by Summer, reaching out a hand to grab hold of the right gauntlet. Engaging the switch, it slowly creaked back into bracelet form, prompting a sound of delight from Summer.
Yang knelt down, gesturing for Summer's arm – the girl immediately thrust her hand out, giggling with barely restrained excitement. Yang slipped the bracelet on – loose didn't cover it – and kept hold of her arm as she reengaged the gauntlet. The weight pulled on Summer's arm, and she gasped at the sudden heaviness, but Yang kept it from falling to the floor. Once the girl had gotten used to the weight she let go, letting Summer move her arm every which way, examining how the grossly oversized gauntlet looked on her.
After a couple of minutes of examination, Summer pushed her arm back to Yang, who laughed at the movement.
"Getting heavy?" she asking, smirking.
Summer scowled, but nodded in reply.
Yang removed the gauntlet carefully, slipping it back onto its stand. Summer had already moved on, examining Blake's weapon. She reached out a hand, nearly pushing the trigger – Yang yelped, grabbing her hand before she could properly execute the action.
"Ever gone to a museum?" she asked her student, who nodded in confusion, "Remember what they tell you?"
Summer thought long and hard for a moment, before realization lit up her face, and she turned to grin at Yang.
"Don't touch anything?"
"You're no fun," Summer replied, pouting slightly.
"Oh, I'm plenty fun. I just don't enjoy being nearly beheaded by a suddenly engaged weapon."
"But that's the best part!"
Yang rolled her eyes as Summer laughed, keeping an eye on the young girl as she continued to explore the room. They continued in this way, talking animatedly as Summer asked questions, and Yang dutifully answered them. They covered the items in the room methodically, team by team. Sun's pendant and shirt, Neptune's jacket and goggles; Velvet's box, Coco's sunglasses; Pyrrha's sash, Jaune's sweater, Nora's gloves, Ren's jacket. Summer, predictably, loved team RWBY's items the most – Blake's vest, Gambol Shroud; Weiss's jacket and hairpin, Myrtenaster; Ruby's belt, cloak, and Crescent Rose.
As Yang went through everything, slowly explaining the items and what they meant, she felt the pain lessening, easing up slowly until it was nothing more than a dull ache. They covered the items of the teams, then moved on to more miscellaneous things she'd collected over the years – including one of her most prized possessions: one of Roman Torchwick's stupid bowler hats.
Eventually, they ran out of items to cover, and Summer moved on to the photographs and articles on the wall, studying each of them intently. Yang watched her from the corner by the window, attention lifting when a question rang out across the room.
"Is that Velvet?"
Yang got up to look at the picture Summer was pointing at, then laughed loudly when she realized which one it was.
"Yup," she replied, giggling mirthfully, "that's Velvet."
She reached out to pull the photo gently off of its hook, smiling at the sight. It was one of her favorite photographs – Velvet, Coco, and herself all sat at a bar, grinning wildly as they lifted their drinks. They were in their twenties, candid and grinning, a timeless snapshot of their life. Summer smiled at her reaction to the picture, standing on her toes to look at it.
"It looks like there's a story to that one," she said, grinning up at Yang, who laughed in reply.
"Oh, there definitely is," Yang answered, sitting down with the picture, Summer taking a place beside her, "Velvet, surprisingly, could hold her liquor better than anyone else I knew. Coco and I always used to get her into drinking competitions at local pubs – no one would believe she'd win until she'd outdrunk the poor sucker by a ton. I only ever saw her drunk once – and that was after she'd outdrunk half the bar. Swore like a sailor, scared the crap out of Sun in doing so."
Yang smiled at the memory, tapping the frame as she spoke.
"This photo was actually taken not too far from here," she said, "this big famous hunter had come to the city and, well, he had quite the ego. Coco and I didn't like him very much, and Coco really wanted to teach this guy a lesson, so she bet that Velvet could outdrink him. The guy was so hung up on himself that he bet if she beat him, he'd buy all the drinks in the bar that night."
Yang smirked, glancing at Summer, who listened with wide eyes.
"We certainly had a lot of free drinks that night."
They shared a laugh at that, before Summer reached out to take the photograph from Yang. They sat in silence for a moment, the young girl studying the picture intently, lost in thought. Then, out of nowhere, she spoke a question that made Yang pause to think.
"Will you tell me about them?"
Yang frowned, turning to raise an eyebrow at Summer. The girl wasn't looking at her, instead focusing her gaze on the picture. After a moment, Yang replied, confusion thick in her tone.
"I have told you about them."
Summer had begun shaking her head before Yang had finished her sentence.
"No, I mean…"
Her words trailed off, the girl clearly unsure of herself. Summer bit her lip, as if afraid to finish her statement. Yang reached out to place a large, warm palm on top of the young girl's hand. Summer's gaze met hers, a nervous gaze meeting an encouraging one.
"Just tell me," Yang said softly, "I won't get mad. I promise."
Summer stayed quiet for a moment, before she looked up at Yang and began to speak.
"You've never really told me about them," she explained, her voice steady, "I mean, you tell me a lot of stories, but they're all about events. They're about fights, or meetings, or other things that happened. But… you've never told me about the people. I know Weiss' favorite form of attack, but I don't know her favorite colour. I know the stories of these people, but I feel like… I know nothing about them."
Yang was quiet for a moment, letting Summer's words sink in.
It made sense, it really did – Summer was, in many ways, right. It wasn't like Yang intended to withhold that information, but rather that she avoided having to, because that just reminded her of the people more than the stories they were involved in. It hurt to bring up the events she'd lived through, but it hurt more to bring up the people she had lived through them with.
But, Yang supposed, maybe that was what hurt her the most – and maybe that's what she had to change.
"There's a bandaid," she began slowly, Summer looking towards her, "and then there's the wound."
Confusion passed across Summer's face, but she said nothing, letting Yang keep talking.
"Both hurt, in some ways. Bandaids hurt to take off, when we leave them on too long. Wounds hurt, but they heal… or, well, they usually do."
Yang paused, glancing at the photographs.
She looked back at Summer, who stared back.
"It's hard to explain," she said, "but in some ways, you have to choose between those two pains. Whether you cover up the wound, and face the pain later when you have to pull the bandaid off, or if you just let that wound hurt all the time, and heal.
See, when you lose people, that pain never really goes away. It's a wound that never stops hurting – and maybe if you left it open, it'd eventually heal, but it hurts too much to do that. So you cover it up, and leave the bandaid on so long you forget about it. Because that helps, in some ways – it'll still hurt sometimes, but it's better than always feeling that pain.
That's why… that's why I don't talk about them. It's why I can't talk about them. Not because I don't want to get over the pain, but because it's easier to just pretend it isn't there. When I tell stories about them, about their lives, about who they were – that's the wound. And that hurts a lot, because they're no longer here. But when I tell stories about the events they were in, that's a little easier – it still hurts, but not nearly as much. It's the bandaid."
Yang stopped, lost in her own analogy. Summer looked even more confused than before, and glanced up at Yang.
"But… if you don't cover a wound, doesn't it get an infection?"
Yang sighed exasperatedly at the question.
"Alright, just… okay, screw the bandaid analogy. It was pretty crappy to begin with."
Summer nodded in agreement; Yang looked unamused with the girl's affirmation. There was silence for a moment more, before Yang continued in a low voice, deciding instead to simply be honest.
"It's just… It hurts. It hurts to talk about the people I've lost."
The question caught Yang off guard, derailing her thoughts momentarily.
"Why?" she repeated, looking confused.
"Well, I guess… because they're no longer here," Yang explained after a moment, "because talking about them reminds me that they used to be such a large part of my life, and now they're gone. Because it reminds me that no matter what I do, or say, or how I act, I'm the last one here. I'm the one who has lost everyone I grew up with, everyone I loved. I'm the one who's left behind to remember everyone who's gone. And it hurts to talk about them, because it always reminds me of that fact."
There was a long silence, before Summer spoke out tentatively.
"But… if you talk about them… then doesn't that bring them back?"
Yang looked at her curiously, Summer seeming unsure of herself. The silence seemed to tell Summer it was alright to continue, so she did, her voice filled with a tone Yang had never heard her speak in before.
"It's just… I mean, it seems like talking about them hurts. Well, I know it does – you just told me that. But it also seems that in telling me about them, you kind of bring them back?"
Summer pointed back to the photo of Velvet, Coco, and Yang.
"When you talk about them, you seem… happier. And sadder, all at the same time. I guess you're both remembering how much you loved them, and how much you've lost, but it seems to me like they're almost alive again.
"I don't know Blake, or Velvet, or Weiss, or Ruby, and… and I never will. But when you talk about them, I feel like I do. I feel like I was there to hear them laugh, to see them wave their hands when talking, to hear them yell about things they're passionate, to see them smiling. I feel like they're still alive, but I just can't see them. Like they're in another room, or something."
Yang was without words, looking at her student with an expression of sadness, wonder, nostalgia, and understanding, all at once. Summer swallowed, finishing her tirade.
"I-I don't know. I'm not you. But I think that if I feel like they're alive, and I've never met them, then… you must too. You must feel like even if it hurts, it also feels good to remember who they were, to remember them even when they're gone, because it almost makes them seem alive again."
There was silence, as Summer stopped abruptly, as if afraid to get her last few words out. She paused, took a deep breath, then finally spoke.
"And Yang? Maybe… if you tell me about them, then… we can remember them together."
The quiet returned, Summer at last out of words. Yang looked at her student, words and thoughts and memories rushing through her head. She had no words, no reply for the wisdom Summer had just given her – wisdom far, far beyond the girl's years. And so, without words, Yang turned to the one gesture she could think of to convey how she felt.
Thin, but strong arms wrapped around smaller shoulders, photo frame pushed aside as Yang leaned forwards to hug her student. She felt the small, tentative hug back as Summer reached up to hold her teacher, returning the gesture. They sat in silence like that for a moment, Yang allowing her arms to say what her words could not. Then she grinned, and squeezed Summer even tighter, clenching her in one of her famous bear hugs.
Summer yelped, trying to tap out, as Yang laughed heartily before letting her go.
"Geez, woman, are you trying to kill me?"
Yang roared with laughter before answering her back.
"If I really wanted to do that, there's a sword in that cabinet over there."
"Well, for all I know, you're a famed serial killer who strangles people to death – the suffocater!"
"That sounds more like a really bad wrestler's name!"
The pair laughed for a moment, until eventually their giggles petered away, leaving the same silence as before.
"You're right, though," Yang said softly, Summer looking back up to her, "about it feeling like they're alive again."
She looked at her student, seeing in her eyes a comforting expression.
"Back when Pyrrha and Weiss were alive, it wasn't so bad, talking about old friends. Because even if they were gone, sharing stories about them did always seem as if they were just somewhere else, out of sight. Talking about the dead with someone who knew them always did help… it just never seemed to work with those who didn't know them at all."
"Pyrrha and Weiss… they were the last of your friends to, um, pass away, right?"
Yang frowned in confusion.
"How'd you know that?"
"You just… you talk about them the most. Well, about them in the later years of your life. You've never mentioned how any of your friends… died, so I just guessed."
Yang hummed, the noise an indication of the slight impression she felt over Summer's deduction.
"Good guess," she said, "yes, they were the last to pass away. Weiss, then Pyrrha. They're the ones who made me this room, actually."
"Well… yeah. After Ruby died, I put away all of my pictures, and hid them in boxes in this room with the rest of the stuff I still had. Weiss eventually found out and pestered me about it, but I think she realized that I couldn't go through it all, not without breaking down. So, she and Pyrrha snuck into my house to put it all together when I was away one time. Neither of them told me about it, though – I think they wanted me to find it on my own."
Yang smiled sadly at the memory, shrugging as she said her last words.
"I didn't find it until after Weiss had passed away. Never really went in here – never thought to, either. I wish I had, though… then I would have been able to thank Weiss for it."
"Thank her for setting up a room you never went into again?"
Yang shot Summer a look; the girl held up her hands innocently.
"I'm just saying," she clarified.
Yang rolled her eyes, but nodded eventually.
"I guess you've got a point there," Yang admitted, "but it always did hurt far too much to come in here alone. It's one thing to stumble across a memory, but to walk into a room filled with them all? It's too much at once."
"Is that why you reacted the way you did when I came in here without permission?"
Yang nodded, remembering the incident. Summer was quiet for a moment, before she called out her mentor's name.
The woman in question quirked an eyebrow at her pupil, who repeated an earlier question.
"Will you tell me about them?"
Yang smiled this time, lines in her skin deepening as she did so.
The elderly woman rose slowly – Summer didn't follow, but instead watched her actions. Yang walked slowly around the room, selecting photographs and articles from around the room, leaving patches on the walls where they had once been. She made her way back to Summer with an armful of frames and glass, and sat herself down in front of the young girl, setting down the objects.
Crossing her legs, she sat back, and pulled the first picture off the pile.
"Velvet Scarlatina," she said, pointing to the Faunus in the frame, "one of the brightest dust mages our school has ever produced – minus Weiss, of course."
"Of course," Summer echoed, grinning.
"She was kind, and forgiving – when we were at school, she was bullied by this real jerk, Cardin Winchester, up until third year."
"What happened then?"
Yang smirked, remembering the memory fondly.
"He got his ass kicked by a Nevermore. His team was gone, and he was about to die, when Velvet came out of nowhere. With her hearing, she'd heard him getting beaten, and came to rescue him. I asked her about it a couple of years later, why she'd chosen to save him – and she told me that even if he was the most despicable jerk she'd ever met, he was still a life, and as a huntress, it was her job to save him."
Yang shook her head, smiling over the words.
"I could live another hundred years, and I still don't think I'd ever be able to be as kind as she was. Or drink like her."
Summer laughed, her finger tracing the edges of the face in the photo. Then she paused, looking concerned.
"How did she die?"
Yang took a deep breath, not having expected the question.
"You don't have to tell me if you don't want to!" Summer clarified immediately, worry in her tone, "I just… I heard that a lot of hunters and huntresses died in the line of duty."
Yang shook her head at this.
"Velvet didn't die in the line of duty," she said softly, "but the rest of her team did."
Summer looked back up at Yang, wide eyes filled with sorrow.
"There was… a plan, when we were about forty. There was some big plot, some idea that gathering tons of Grimm together and killing them all at once would solve the problem of them forever. I think it came from an old fairy tale; either way, it wasn't a good idea. That many Grimm at once... it was amazing nothing happened sooner. CFVY found a holding cell for them at one point, before any of us really knew about the plan. They did their best to destroy it, but there were a lot of Grimm, and..."
Yang paused for a moment, holding back the painful memories, the day she'd first received the news.
"Velvet was the only team member who managed to get out of there alive."
She looked back to find Summer's eyes filled with tears.
"Hey, hey, no… It's… It's alright. It was a long time ago. It was hard for us then, losing that many people – it was really, really hard on Velvet, losing her entire team. But they protected a lot of people – not only in killing as many Grimm as they did, but also by finding out about the plan and keeping Velvet alive to let everyone know. Without that, we never would have known about it, and a lot more people would have died. They died as heroes."
Summer nodded, though the tears didn't go away.
"And Velvet?" she asked.
"Velvet…" Yang smiled sadly, "there was a disease that hit Vale about twenty years ago or so. Faunus were really susceptible to it, and Velvet… Velvet was the first friend we lost to it."
Summer was quiet for a moment.
"That's really sad," she said, her voice thick with tears.
"What did you expect?" Yang asked, chuckling softly, "I'm talking about my dead friends."
Summer threw a light punch at her teacher, before she moved Velvet's photograph off to one side. The next picture on the pile was of Sun and Neptune, arms across one another's shoulders, grinning widely.
"Whoa," Summer breathed, "check out those sideburns."
Yang laughed heartily at this.
"That," she said, still grinning widely, "would be Sun. The blue haired dork is Neptune. They went to a different school, but they were always getting mixed up in our schemes, and fought with us on a lot of missions."
She pointed to Neptune's goggles in the photograph, then to the ones hanging over on the wall.
"We always used to tease Neptune about being nerdy; he'd correct us by saying 'intellectual.' But he was always really helpful in strategy situations, so we let up on him eventually. Sun was the prankster in our group of friends – we joined forces a lot, especially against Weiss, until she joined up with Nora and took us both down. He never did like wearing shirts – Coco always tried to beat him to death with her handbag for it – but he was a pretty swell guy. Always energetic, but super level-headed in combat situations."
She smiled at the picture, tapping her finger on it.
"Sun died in battle," she said, shaking her head slightly, "Neptune was never really the same after it. He went on to teach a lot of the time – but he got ill when he was eighty. Never really recovered from it; died from a heart attack at eighty two."
The photo went to the side, revealing underneath a picture of a man holding his school portrait – the adult Jaune with his former, baby-faced self.
"That's Jaune, isn't it."
It was more of a statement than a question – Yang couldn't hold her chuckles back over it.
"Yup, that's Jaune! Our own beloved lady-killer wannabe."
Summer laughed at this, as if the photo itself told her of all the stories of Jaune's flirting attempts.
"Seriously," Yang continued, "he asked out Weiss so many times at Beacon – well, at least until Weiss kicked his ass for it, then handed him over to Pyrrha to lecture him on treating girls well. He was a kid a lot of the time back then – and he wasn't as good as everyone else at Beacon, at least in the beginning. But he worked harder than any of us, and was equal by the time we graduated."
She paused, smiling faintly at the picture; Jaune looked distinctly unamused by the setting, whereas Nora could be found in the background, laughing hysterically.
"We really did tease him a lot, but Jaune might have been the most heroic out of all of us."
This caught Summer's attention, and she looked up at Yang curiously.
"After CFVY died in battle, minus Velvet, we all got together to figure out the plan, and stop it before all the Grimm could get together. Took us a while, but we eventually found the main den they were keeping them all in, and went off to destroy it. Jaune was seriously injured in the fight, as was… as was Ruby, but both of them recovered. But Jaune always had a limp after that, and couldn't run as quickly anymore – so his team made sure to take on easier missions, until one of them got complicated, real fast.
They were up in this old village, when suddenly an underground nest of Grimm broke out onto the surface – Jaune had plenty of aura, and healed up his teammates, before making them finish the evacuation of the village while he held them off. He received three awards for his bravery – making him the most highly decorated Arc in his family history."
Yang smiled, shaking her head.
"It's just a pity he wasn't around to see it happen."
Summer nodded, moving Jaune aside, but not before taking a moment to study the man in the picture.
Nora lay underneath, a snapshot of her leaning on her hammer, grinning and mock saluting the person taking the picture.
"Nora," Yang clarified, grinning widely at the sight, "one of my favorite people at Beacon. We got in a lot of trouble together – in fact, Glynda Goodwitch, the headmistress, banned us from being within a five meter radius of one another. Made group work really hard sometimes. But we got along great – whenever we fought together, we had this double attack to clear out wreckage and take down armoured Grimm – our attack power together was insane. We figured out how insane one time at Beacon during a training session – blew out half the building by accident."
Yang laughed at the memory as Summer chuckled.
"I think you would have liked Nora," Yang said, drawing Summer's attention back to her, "you probably would have gotten along together very well, at the expense of half the neighbourhood."
"Really?" Summer exclaimed, laughing as she returned to studying the photo.
"Yup," Yang answered, smiling at the sight, "She would have liked you a lot. Probably would have called you the "freckle buddies" or something."
Summer laughed again. Yang waited for it to peter out before finishing her story.
"Nora died protecting her own home village," she said softly, "but I know that there was no other way she would have wanted to go out."
Summer traced the edge of the frame, before she quietly asked Yang a question.
"How old was she?"
Yang hummed, taking a moment to remember.
"Pretty young, if you compare her to me. So was Jaune, now that I think about it. Old for the profession, but then again, we all were. Nora was sixty-four, Jaune was fifty-two."
Summer nodded, moving the photo aside. Yang squinted slightly, confused over the nature of the question.
Summer didn't reply for a moment.
"I wanted to know how long you'd been without her."
Yang didn't reply, instead letting Summer move on to the next photograph.
Yang smiled sadly, moving the finger placed on Nora to the figure that sat beside her.
"Ren," she clarified, "Nora's other half."
Summer looked up at this, not really quite sure what Yang meant. The brawler sighed, then smiled at the girl.
"Ren and Nora were friends since they were young. None of us were every really sure how young, but they were inseparable, despite being complete opposites. Ren was quiet, contemplative, and didn't speak much. Nora, on the other hand, was crazily exuberant, loud, and spoke her mind nonstop. Yet they got along perfectly, and fought together great, too.
"I knew Ren well enough to know he didn't know anyone as closely as he ever did Nora. So it makes sense that when Nora passed away, Ren was… well, he was never quite the same. I never thought he could get quieter, but he did – he was always kind of off after that, as if he'd lost everything. Which, I guess, he had – or at least, his other half."
Yang tapped his picture, drawing Summer's attention back to it.
"I don't think anyone is particularly happy when someone dies," she finished, "but when Ren fell into a coma, then passed away in his sleep, we all hoped that wherever he had gone, he was back alongside Nora. Maybe making pancakes in the afterlife, or something."
Summer giggled at the last part.
"So he was the one who made all those really good pancakes?"
"That's him," Yang affirmed with a chuckle, her giggles continuing as Ren and Nora slid off to the side, Summer's fingers tapping them both.
Pyrrha Nikos lay below, in the most ungraceful photo Yang owned of her. She was mid snort, when her laughter had gone out of control after something Blake had said – her hair was frenzied, her eyes twinkling with mirth, her face scrunched up, frozen in laughter. It was quite possible Yang's favorite photo. Summer, on the other hand, seemed confused by it, squinting at the unflattering expression on her face.
"Isn't this the Pyrrha Nikos?" she asked in confusion, looking back up to her mentor, who smiled warmly.
"Nah," Yang answered, only deepening her confusion, "it's just Pyrrha Nikos."
At the clear lack of understanding on Summer's face, Yang laughed and clarified.
"Pyrrha was always seen as this incredible, perfect goddess of a woman. And don't get me wrong, she kind of was – but she was also human. She made mistakes, she didn't always know the answer, and she definitely didn't look perfect in every photograph."
She pointed to the picture as she stated her last words, then frowned. Pyrrha actually didn't look that bad in it – if there was such a thing as an attractively ugly expression, Pyrrha had perfected it.
"Anyways," Yang continued, "that's why I always chose this photo of her. Pyrrha wasn't perfect, and hated it when people put her up on a pedestal – so I made sure I never did. Even goddesses can have ugly pictures."
Summer laughed, finally getting the concept.
"So she asked you to use the worst photo you had of her?"
"Well, not exactly," Yang admitted sheepishly, "but it never felt right to use anything else. Pyrrha was great, and I always admired her, but I never looked up to her. I looked right at her – never believed we were on different levels like so many did. So I always showed this photo of her – and believe me, she always showed a terrible one of me, too."
Summer looked around immediately, trying to find it.
"I burned it," Yang clarified, stifling a chuckle at Summer's visible deflation, "as best a friend as Pyrrha was, that was the worst photo in Remnant of me."
Summer pouted, clearly displeased with her mentor's decision.
"In any case," Yang continued, "Pyrrha was amazing, but she was also one of my closest, greatest friends. The fact she lived almost as long as I did helped."
"Really? She was that old?"
"Yes," Yang replied, ignoring the quip about her own age, "Pyrrha passed on when she was ninety. She wasn't in the line of duty as a huntress anymore, but rather as a teacher – and when one of her students got trapped in a fire, she went in to save him. She made it out just fine, but her lungs didn't last long after that. Stopped breathing in her sleep, but not before telling me that she was sorry for leaving me to be the last one."
Summer was quiet after Yang stated that – in fact, the brawler had a feeling she might have known how Pyrrha passed away. But as the photo moved aside, all thoughts about knowledge of friends was quickly pushed aside – Blake was in the next photograph.
Summer heard her sharp intake of breath, looking up at her mentor in time to watch Yang's expression change from shock, to sorrow, to happiness.
"Blake," Summer said simply, watching Yang nod in return.
"Blake," the brawler repeated, smiling at her partner's photograph, "my partner in crime for so many years."
She shifted on the spot, a hand coming up to touch the black ribbon on her arm.
"She was a Faunus, like Autumn. She hid it from us at first, eventually the truth came out, even if it wasn't pleasant. We resolved it though, and Blake told us about her past – she used to be a member of the White Fang, before it turned into the terrorist organization people remember it to be."
Summer looked confused over that – Yang realized that she might not have known the White Fang at all. They'd dismantled it as a team, taking out the leaders, and at last bringing peace to the organization that had truly fallen years beforehand. But that had been a long time ago – and Yang wasn't even sure that the current generation knew of the troubles of the past.
"Do you know who the White Fang used to be?"
Summer nodded, dispelling Yang's doubts.
"Yeah, but… I didn't know they had good people in it."
Yang smiled, shaking her head. It figured that when history was said and done, only the bad remained for the defeated.
"They weren't bad at first," she said, "I wasn't there, and I'm not a Faunus, so I can't really say exactly how it used to be. But Blake told us all that they were once a peaceful organization, and it was only under new leadership that they became dangerous. She left when that happened, then helped to destroy what had become of her past allies.
"That was always one of my favorite things about Blake – her passion to do what was right. She once told me she wasn't always sure what was right – and honestly, that definition changes depending on the situation and who you were talking to – but Blake always stuck to her own beliefs, and helped those who needed it. She believed in defending the innocent, and she always did, even if it meant becoming guilty herself."
Yang smiled, feeling tears in the corners of her eyes.
"I was often called the light," she explained, "because Blake was the shadow. Unseen by many, but helping all. I just… I wish I could have helped her when she needed it most."
Summer looked up at her, her own eyes shining with unshed tears.
"Why couldn't you?"
"No one could have," Yang clarified, "she… she got sick too, like Velvet. There wasn't really a cure back then, and… and all you could do was say goodbye and wait for it to happen."
Summer looked back to the photo, and with her finger traced the ears upon Blake's head.
"Did it hurt?"
Yang smiled, the answer to that question welcome.
"No," she said simply, "that was the one thing we could be thankful for."
Summer nodded, before handing the photograph to Yang. The brawler startled, taking it as she looked at her pupil, who watched her with saddened eyes. Yang looked down at the photo, smiling sadly at the partner she'd trusted her life with many, many times over again. The Faunus sat staring out the window, her chin resting on one hand, the other placed on the book in her lap. It was so familiar, so much like the past that Yang couldn't help but smile wide in spite of the sadness filling her at the sight.
With a deep breath, she moved the photograph to her side, finding Weiss looking back at her.
"Aha!" she laughed loudly, causing Summer to jump slightly, "the ice queen returns!"
Summer snorted, giggling at the nickname, despite having no idea the meaning behind the name.
"Seriously, Summer," Yang chastised, "you couldn't have figured out her favorite colour? Not only does she wear it nonstop, her name translates to it."
Summer grumbled as Yang laughed heartily, before settling down and speaking again.
"But yes, we did always call Weiss the ice queen. Or, "Weiss Cream," if I was feeling particularly brave. That joke often ended with a frozen limb or two. But despite our differences, Weiss and I got along pretty well later in life. It just took us a while to find common ground, like I told you earlier."
Summer nodded, focusing back on the picture.
"So she inherited the SDC?"
"She was supposed to," Yang clarified, "but chose to be a huntress instead, and left that behind. She returned to it later, once her sister had basically destroyed the company, and fixed a lot of things. Weiss didn't like to admit that she was wrong, but she was once, in a while. The good thing about her was that when she was wrong, she'd immediately look for how she should change, so she wasn't in the wrong anymore. It was one of the likeable things about her, alongside her endless bank account."
Summer chuckled, glancing at the wall, to where a familiar hairpin was placed beside a white jacket, emblazoned with a well known crest.
"Did she get sick, too?"
Yang shook her head, smiling.
"No, actually. We always used to tease Weiss that nothing would dare "ruin the image of a Schnee." We generally meant pimples and such, but when she got really old, I began to tease her that it related to death, too. That nothing would dare take out Weiss Schnee, the great and terrible. And that became kind of true, too."
Yang grinned, her sadness trumped by the satisfaction of a joke come true.
"Weiss passed away in her sleep, simply of old age. Her heart gave out, I think. Like I said, nothing would dare take her out, except the one thing she couldn't avoid – old age."
Summer giggled, shaking her head. She gave the photo of Weiss to Yang as well, who was ready for it this time – she happily accepted the picture of the former heiress, reaching out and gently flicking her friend's forehead, chuckling as though she could hear the reprimanding replies even now.
They'd come to the final frame of the pile – a picture of a woman who reminded Yang so much of the first Summer she'd come to know, it almost hurt to look at it. Ruby sat before the pair, posing with her scythe over her shoulder, flashing a peace sign and a wide grin to the person taking the picture. Summer studied it for a moment, before looking up at Yang and speaking a single word.
Yang nodded, words not quite with her. Summer turned her attention back to the photo, taking in the image of the young woman before her.
"She has Autumn's smile," Summer muttered, prompting a chuckle from her teacher.
"Technically," Yang corrected, "Autumn has Ruby's smile. But yes, they do look similar."
She shifted as she spoke, shaking her head.
"Kinda freaks me out every time I see you two together."
"Because she reminds you of Ruby?"
"Not just Ruby," Yang clarified, "of myself, too."
Summer wrinkled her nose at this, clearly displease with being compared to her teacher.
"Hey!" Yang cried indignantly, leaning forwards and flicking Summer's forehead, "don't make that face. And I didn't mean that I thought of you as myself, you moron. I just meant that you two are sisters in the same way Ruby and I were."
At this, Summer stopped rubbing her forehead, looking back up at Yang with a mixture of confusion and intrigue.
"What do you mean?"
Yang sighed, dropping back into her usual sitting position.
"Ruby and I weren't full sisters," she said, her voice growing quieter, "we had different mothers. Mine disappeared when I was little, and Ruby's mom, Summer, took care of us both."
The young girl looked up at the name, brow furrowed.
"Her name was Summer too?"
Yang nodded, chuckling softly.
"You're actually not the first Summer I've met," she said, "but the second. It's why when you first told me your name, I nearly had a heart attack."
"Well, it's a good thing that didn't happen. Then I wouldn't have had anyone to tease about being a grandma!"
Summer held up the picture as a shield after her comment, warding off Yang's incoming hand. The brawler sighed, pulling it back.
"Well, anyways," she continued, "as I was saying, Ruby's mom took care of us both. And when she died, I looked after Ruby, and we were really close. It's why when I see you too together, I'm reminded of how we were at that age."
Summer nodded, placing the photograph back down on her lap.
"How did she die?"
It wasn't the first time Yang had heard the question in the last hour, but it was the first time she'd taken as long as she did to answer it.
"Ruby always told me it wasn't my fault."
Summer's head snapped up at this, worried eyes focusing in on her mentor.
"But I never got over feeling like it was. When we took out that den I told you about, the one that killed team CFVY, Ruby got injured in the fight. We were tag team fighting it – Blake and I, Weiss and Ruby – when Blake and I got ambushed by a larger group. I managed to get Blake out of there just fine – pretty much threw her overtop a pack of beowolves, telling her to find Ruby and Weiss, then faced the horde by myself."
Yang's voice lowered, and she looked down into her lap.
"I fought them off for a long time – killed most of them too. But I missed the Deathstalker behind me, and it would have killed me, had Ruby not gotten in the way."
She left out the details, knowing better than to frighten Summer, but couldn't help the way her voice shook.
"Ruby survived, and was okay after that – but it took her a long time to heal, and her huntressing career was over. I know it wasn't my fault, but I always felt like if I had been more careful, she wouldn't have had to hurt herself to save me. I was the big sister, I was meant to protect her – not the other way around."
"But she was okay, right? I mean, she healed afterwards."
Yang smiled, shaking her head sadly.
"She was fine for a couple of years," she clarified, "but Deathstalker venom makes the body susceptible to infections. Ruby was alright for a while, but then…"
Yang's voice trailed off, leaving the silence to fill the room.
"It wasn't your fault."
Yang's head rose to look at her pupil, tears slowly making their way down her face.
"Ruby said herself, right? It wasn't your fault. You couldn't have known that would happen."
Yang smiled, wiping the tears away from her cheeks.
"I know that," she said.
Summer looked confused, as though she'd expected Yang to argue back.
"I've had a long time to come to terms with it," Yang explained, "I know it wasn't my fault, that I couldn't have seen it coming. But there will always be that guilt, always be that worry. What the mind knows the heart won't always accept."
Summer nodded at this, before holding out Ruby's picture to her teacher.
Yang took it with shaking hands, smiling at her sister, who would always return the grin. She placed it in her lap, the picture of Weiss on her left, of Blake on the right. Back with her team once more.
"Did it help?"
Yang looked up at the comment, confused.
Summer looked down at her feet, seemingly embarrassed.
"Did talking about them help?"
Yang paused, thinking about it. It still hurt – but it always would, and she knew that. It was an ache that filled her heart, spread to her bones, and did indeed remind her of what she had lost, of what she could never reclaim. She looked around the room, at the relics and reminders of people and places, of times gone by. It hurt, but at the same time, she could feel herself moving on. She wasn't forgetting the past, she was bringing it with her into the future.
Glancing down at her lap, Yang realized that it had helped. Talking about them, telling Summer had hurt, but it had helped. And in that moment, Yang felt the world around her change. It was as if, for a moment, the sun brightened, as though the air cleared of dust, as though standing in the room were the people she had lost long ago.
As if laughter shook the rafters, knocking the dust down onto them. As though the chatter of voices filled the room once more, the sounds of her friends filling the air. As if around her was her family, laughing and sharing memories. As though friends surrounded her, talking loudly and telling jokes. As if around her stood her team, giggling and teasing one another.
As though everyone she'd lost was still there, still laughing, still smiling, just in a place she could not see. Out of sight, but never out of mind.
Then the feeling faded, leaving behind the empty room, but for her and Summer. The light seemed to grow dim, though that could be attributed to the setting sun. The quiet returned, a comfortable silence that was common around the teacher and her student.
Yang sighed, before looking back at Summer. The young girl was watching her with uncertainty, eyes studying her face closely. Yang smiled warmly, sadness and happiness mixing into the expression.
"Yeah, Summer. It helped."
The girl returned her smile in tenfold, the grin splitting her cheeks.
"I'm happy about that," she said earnestly, shrugging slightly, "I was afraid it'd just make you sadder."
Yang giggled at that.
"Oh, it did," she clarified, "but it also helped. So thank you, Summer."
The girl smiled back at her.
"Thanks for telling me about them."
Yang grinned at that, then stretched, feeling the joints in her back pop. Ignoring the giggles emanating from her student, she looked at the darkening sky, realizing just how long they'd been sitting in the room.
"What do you say we get you home for dinner, huh?" she asked, standing up slowly. Summer, with the energy appropriate for her age, bounded up to her feet.
"Sounds good," she said, with a wide grin, "let's go!"
"Hang on," Yang said, collecting the photos up and returning them to their spots on the wall. She took a moment with Ruby's, before it too was hung back up. Summer waited in her spot, rocking back and forth on her heels.
"Lead the way," Yang said, gesturing to the door.
Summer made a noise of happiness, grabbing her hand and pulling her towards the door. As Yang reached for the handle on their way out to close the door behind them, Summer smacked her hand away.
"Nuh-uh," she reprimanded, pointing her finger at Yang threateningly, "you gotta leave the door open. It's all stuffy in here."
The words were out before Yang could stop them.
"Leaving the door open won't really fix that," she shot back, "the windows would let in better fresh air."
Summer's eyebrows shot to her hairline, but she didn't say anything in return – Yang had made the suggestion, after all. Internally groaning at herself, Yang turned to walk back towards the windows. Once she reached them, however, she hesitated, then turned to look behind her.
Summer stared back, saying nothing, letting the brawler reach the decision on her own. Yang's eyes fell on the clothes, the weapons, the objects scattered throughout the room, the dust motes swirling in the air. Then her gaze shifted to the windows, to the last barrier between her past and the outside world. She took a moment, breathing in, then cracked the window open.
She moved methodically from one window to another, letting the warm summer air rush in. When they were all open, she took a step back, and it was then that the wind rustled the papers and fabrics, stirring a familiar scent into the air. The faint smell of roses and gunpowder, of familiar perfumes and colognes, of clothes and old books filled the air, bringing with it memories. It hung in the air for a moment, Yang breathing it in, and then it was gone, whisked away into the evening air.
The sound of the world outside filled the room, and Yang turned back to face Summer, who was watching her with a proud smile on her face. The girl beckoned with a tilt of her head, then left the doorway, waiting for Yang to follow. And follow Yang did, leaving behind the empty room.
The pair retreated down the hallway, their banter filling the air – Summer already asking for her own weapon, the sound of Yang knuckling her head, telling her it'd be a long time before she needed one. The sound faded, leaving behind the quiet silence in the open room, empty, yet filled with a world discovered once again.
Today is Summer's birthday. She is nine. The day is warm, the sun shining down on the people below. It's later in the afternoon, relief from the heat sought out in the shade, shadows pooling below houses and fences, trees and porches. On one such porch sits a familiar family, their laughter filling the backyard, drifting to the neighbours over the tops of fences.
Scarla, Summer, and Autumn sit at a small wooden table, cards scattered across the surface, edges dampened by sweating glasses of lemonade. Rowan stands nearby, manning a barbeque, the smoke and smell wafting over to the three girls. The pair of daughters sit giggling as Scarla attempts to guess their card – a feat that isn't too hard, considering that half the deck is visible on the table, but she gets it wrong either way, causing a wave of giggles to come from her girls.
As Summer and Autumn squabble over which card to have their mother guess next, the woman in question rests her head on her hand, glancing out at their empty backyard. Years before, in birthdays previous, friends and neighbours would have filled the space – now, the only ones present to celebrate her eldest daughter's occasion are her immediate family, faithful to the last. Neither Scarla nor Rowan like to bring up the lack of people, lest they remind Summer of what had driven them away in the first place – a troublesome child, always with a temperature about average, always getting into fights.
Still, something prompts Scarla to address Summer, pulling her daughter's attention away from the papers in her hands, momentarily.
"Why didn't you invite Yang, Summer?" she asks, studying the girl's reaction to her question, "I'm sure she would have appreciated the invite."
Summer shrugs, already returning to the cards.
"I don't know her all that well," she explained, "and besides, she probably would have said no, just like everyone else."
The simplicity of the statement does nothing to mask the truth of it. Scarla looks back to her husband, who has turned to watch the conversation unfold with worried eyes.
"You don't know that, Summer," Rowan interjects, voice calm and comforting, "she doesn't live far, so I'm sure she would have stopped by, even for a little bit."
Summer looks up at her parents, who stare back with worry in their eyes, even if it doesn't show on their faces. After a moment, she nods, stealing a glance to her sister, even though the young girl hasn't caught wind of the situation.
"Alright," Summer replies, trying not to react to the obvious relief that passes across her parents faces, "I'll invite her next year."
Satisfied with that answer, Rowan nods and turns back to his cooking, Scarla leaning over the table, a hand outstretched to grab a card.
"Ready for me yet, girls?" she asks, laughing at Autumn's giggles and rapid-fire denials.
Summer, on her own part, leans back in her own chair, out of her mother's reach – Autumn then yelps and tries to catch her sister, worried that she might fall. Summer giggles at this, tilting her chair back to an upright position, reaching out to tap Autumn on her nose.
"I'm alright, silly," she says, holding her arms out as if the gesture confirms it, "I didn't fall."
Autumn giggles at that, smiling up at her older sister. Then she frowns slightly, reaching up to her nose.
"Summer," she mumbles, "you're all warm again."
Summer blinks at that, glancing at her hands – she doesn't feel the warmth spreading through her veins, heating her fingertips, colouring her eyes. Scarla, however, laughs.
"Autumn," she interrupts, drawing both daughters' attention to herself, "I don't think it's Summer's warmth showing up. I think it's just warm outside, that's all."
The little Faunus' face breaks into a grin at this, laughing as she apologizes to her sister. Summer giggles in return, telling her it's alright. What Autumn says next, however, will remain with her for a long time after the rest of the conversation fades away.
"I don't mind either way," the younger girl admits, looking at her older sister with admiration in her eyes, "I like Summer's warmth!"
Scarla smiles at that; Rowan too, though none of his family can see it. Both had been worried over Autumn's reactions to Summer's newfound – or, rather, newly named – semblance, but they were certainly pleased with the result. Summer had been worried as well – in fact, far more than she'd ever let on. Neighbours and classmates could fear her, that she didn't mind. But for her own sister to dislike an important part of herself – Summer was far, far happier than her parents that that reality hadn't come true.
As her sister continues with the tough decision of which card to pick next, Summer lets her thoughts drift – and drift they do to Yang. She doesn't know the elderly woman very much at all, not yet; she knows that the woman always smells faintly of a lit firework, and that she has off-limit rooms in her house, but that's about it. But still, despite not knowing much about her at all, Summer knows she trusts Yang.
Part of it comes from how they first met, and part of it is the fact Yang had come to seek her out first. But most of it, Summer knows, is that the elderly brawler knows what she is talking about. Scarla had, hestitantly, mentioned her being a huntress before – and while Summer doesn't really know too much about that, she knows that it means Yang had fought with her semblance, and therefore had it under control. That, combined with the wisdom of years, and the confidence that found its way into Yang's voice whenever she was teaching, gives Summer the trust she needed.
That trust in her teacher led to trust in her training – which, eventually, had taught her not to dislike her semblance as much. She still had times when she didn't like it – particularly, the times she couldn't get her emotions under control – but there were times when it did make her happy, make her proud. The fact Autumn liked it helped a lot, as well.
Though Summer hasn't yet heard Yang speak about her semblance in great detail yet – nor the comment on how it both harms and helps – the young girl has started to see her semblance as something other than a burden. And that knowledge, though faint, and not fully believed in, will go a long way in helping her believe in herself.
Summer's musings are interrupted then, loud giggles and shouts of glee coming from the sister beside her. Lost in thought, Summer hadn't even noticed Autumn finally pick a card – but it appears that Scarla has finally guessed correctly, naming the card clenched in small hands. The queen of hearts smiles up at them all, sharing in their moment of delight and laughter.
With a loud laugh, Summer joins in, and the trio chuckle together until Rowan, smiling at their antics, gives a call to clear off the table. Minutes later, once the glasses are pushed to the side and the cards are stack in a relatively straight (depending on who you ask) pile, Rowan sets down a large plate of food, roasted to perfection.
As Summer steals a glance at the barbeque they'd come off of, she catches sight of the small flames flickering through the bars, licking the metal. Autumn traces her sister's sight to them, then giggles and claps her hands excitedly, an idea coming to her.
"Hey, Summer!" she exclaims, bringing the attention of all to her, "do you think you can do that?"
A finger pointed at the barbeque explains to Summer all that she needs to know – and to her parents, as well.
"Autumn," Scarla chastises gently, knowing how jokes about Summer's semblance usually go over.
This time, however, Summer surprises them all by laughing, gesturing to the food on Autumn's fork.
"Let's give it a shot!" she says happily, watching the food hover over her hand. She closes her eyes, gives an exaggerated noise of concentration, and pops them back open a moment later. The same food sits before her, completely unchanged. Unfazed, the girl shrugs, hands up in a gesture of defeat.
"Guess I'm not quite there yet," she admits, glancing at her sister, who giggles in reply, "looks like we'll have to try again next year. And if I can't do it then, I'm sure Yang can!"
At her joke, her parents and her sister break into laughter – none of it mean, simply going along with the punch line. Summer feels herself break into a wider smile, knowing for once how it feels for her semblance to be a topic of laughter, instead of worry or anger.
That feeling will stay with Summer for the rest of the afternoon, fading into the evening, when at last her cake appears, topped with glowing candles. And as Scarla sets it in front of her, Summer will watch the flames dance, flickering atop their wicks, hot wax slowly making its way down the candles. Nine flames, nine years – and as Autumn laughs and claps her hands, calling for her sister to make her wish, Summer realizes that, just maybe, her semblance isn't such a bad thing after all.
And it's then that her wish will change for the first time since she started making them – she wishes that she can protect Autumn's laugh for as long as she can, with her own two hands.
Summer's training finished on a hot day, one with a warmth surrounded people instead of stifling them, like a familiar blanket, or warm hands around a cold one. Yang and Summer agreed to meet in the same playground they'd first met in four seasons ago, but this time, they weren't alone.
Yang laughed at the look on Summer's face when she realized they weren't training just by themselves – the young girl had been the last to arrive, told to run an errand on her way over, to give her family time to beat her to the playground. It wasn't just Scarla, Rowan, and Autumn, either – several of her neighbours were gathered there, smiling at Summer's surprise. Yang had recognized one of them instantly – it was in fact one of the neighbours who had slammed the door in her face when she'd gone looking for Summer, all those months ago. The woman had offered apology after apology, but Yang had brushed them all away with a laugh.
Now the reason for that apology stood before her, breathing heavily as though she'd run the distance to the park, holding in her arms a white box, tied with a thick yellow ribbon. Summer glared at her mentor, catching her breath before she stalked forwards, thrusting the package over to Yang.
"Here," she growled, still slightly panting, "your package, madam."
Yang laughed, dramatically curtseying in reply (she also silently thanked all the gods she knew of that her knees didn't crack over the action). Summer scowled at the movement, crossing her arms angrily.
"Did you really call my mom and ask her to tell me to go pick up that box," she asked, though her tone phrased it as more of a statement than anything else, "just to give everyone time to get here before me?"
"Give the lady a prize!"
The crowd around them laughed at their antics, especially at the part where Summer tried to tackle Yang about the knees, the former brawler holding her back with a firm hand planted on the girl's head. The sound drew Summer's attention back to them, and finally the realization that she wasn't going to be training alone kicked in.
The girl backed away, her expression changing to one of confusion and apprehension. Yang dropped her hand, watching her student fold her hands together, twisting her fingers together with nervousness. The elderly woman knelt down to her level, poking her gently in the forehead to bring her attention back to her.
"Hey," she said, though she already knew the answer to her question, "what's wrong?"
Summer didn't reply for a moment, before wide eyes sought out her teacher's, anxiety in their depths.
"Are all those people going to watch my training?"
Yang nodded, gauging the girl's reaction.
"Nervous?" the brawler asked, receiving a small nod in reply, "that's understandable. But Summer? You shouldn't be."
The young girl looked at her, listening intently, confusion furrowing her brows. Yang smiled warmly, encouragement in her own expression.
"I have nothing left to teach you," she explained, raising her voice enough to drift to those nearby, "as of our last lesson, you finished your training. The reason everyone is here today is to show them how far you've come; to show them what you're capable of."
She dropped her voice then, low and steady, so that only the girl in front of her could hear her following words.
"You're no longer the little girl with the out of control semblance, Summer. You've come so far from that; you've gotten your semblance under control, and you can even do some pretty impressive things with it, too."
Summer's worry had faded from her eyes – a bit of it still lingered deep within them, but for the most part it was gone, replaced by anticipation and steely resolve.
"You can do this, Summer. I know you can, and you know you can."
Yang reached out a finger, gently prodding her student's chest.
"Now it's time to make them know it, too."
Summer smiled, all traces of apprehension gone. Yang returned the grin, the expression now a familiar one around her student. Then she smirked, closing her eyes and willing the small flame inside her own heart to grow.
With a quick movement, she reached out her hand, snapping her fingers in front of the young girl's face. Sparks leapt, causing Summer to blink, but she didn't flinch away, nor did her eyes grow red. Instead, she shot Yang an irritated glare, before reaching out her own hand and snapping it before her mentor's face, a flame flickering to life, whisked out a moment later.
Yang laughed at the reaction, ruffling the girl's hair. The traces of the girl who Yang had first met nearly a year ago were gone, replaced by someone with her powers under control, but her snarky self remaining. Summer, predictably, made a noise of displeasure and tried to bat Yang's hand away. The former blonde laughed, pulling back her hand.
"Don't call me kiddo," came the reply, then, "but yeah. I am."
Yang chuckled, straightening up to address the crowd.
"Family and neighbours," she began, catching their attention, "we are gathered here today–"
"What is this, a marriage ceremony?"
Yang shot her student a glare at the interruption, ignoring the giggles that came from those watching.
"Fine," Yang replied, turning back to the crowd, "We are gathered here today to see the fine progress of the girl who terrorized your neighbourhood, lit things on fire, and beat up your children."
She turned back to Summer, who didn't seem bothered by the commentary in the least.
Summer stuck out her tongue in response, causing more laughter to erupt from their audience. Yang rolled her eyes.
"In any case," she continued, "I called you all here so that you could see, with your own eyes, just how far Summer's come in the past year. As many of you know, I took to teaching Summer once I realized that she had the same semblance as mine – and, like me, unlocked it at a very young age."
Behind Yang's back, Summer blinked at that news; Yang probably didn't realize it, but while she'd let Rowan and Scarla both know that information, it had never made its way to Summer. Yang continued, unaware of her student's reaction.
"I offered to teach Summer, and we've come a long way from the girl who all but burst into flames at the merest spark of anger."
The neighbours chuckled at that, Scarla and Rowan exchanging an amused look.
"It's taken us a while, but Summer has gotten to the point that I have nothing left to teach her – and for the time being, she has nothing left to learn. You'll find that the fights have stopped, the temper has faded, and that all of your flammable items are safe once more."
She paused in her words, turning to look at the freckled girl, who was shaking her head in amusement and slight vexation over her teacher's words.
"But I can talk all I want, and it won't make nearly as much an impact as seeing it for yourself. So, here we are."
The elderly woman reached into her pocket, pulling out the same scorchened balls that had seen the playground many times, holding them up so her student could see them.
With a nod, Yang grinned, and the heat began to rise.
They went from the basics upwards, methodically working their way through the lessons Summer had learned – from controlling her emotions, to letting the heat rise and fall, all the way up to summoning the flames. At each successful action, the crowd oohed and aahed, Autumn clapping and cheering loudly. When they reached the shield technique, and the last of the rubber balls became smears on the pavement, everyone had reached the point of applause, the sound filling the playground that until that point had only heard the laughter of elder and child.
Yang grinned at the crowd, then back to Summer, who stood waiting for the next command.
"One, final show," the brawler said loudly, giving her student a nod, "go for it, kiddo."
The girl grinned in response, casting her hands out, letting her fingertips catch alight. As the flames spread to the floor, she began her dance, shadows and light flickering across the faces of all those who watched. When the last swirl and spiral had finished, she let her semblance go out, the last of her flames disappearing into a puff of smoke that drifted into the air, dissipating into nothing.
Yang smiled contentedly as Summer showed the largest grin she'd seen from the girl, the sound of loud applause and cheering washing over her.
Summer's training was over.
Autumn reached her sister first, launching at her with a squeal of delight. Summer caught her with a laugh, spinning her around as she hugged her close. Scarla and Rowan reached her next, hugging both of their daughters together, pride apparent on both their faces. The neighbours swarmed them next, offering up their congratulations, holding out hands for high fives.
Yang watched the celebration from a bit away, knowing that it was Summer's turn for the attention, the applause. Autumn, however, didn't think the same. The young Faunus' attention had drifted from her sister, who was rapidly explaining her semblance to attentive neighbours, and over to the elderly woman who stood off to the side, watching the display with an expression of contentment.
The call caught the woman's attention, who looked down just in time to react and catch Autumn before she could slam into her legs. Kneeling down to the girl's level, Yang grinned at Summer's sister.
"Hey, Autumn," she said, "how'd you like that?"
Autumn didn't reply with words. Instead, she all but threw herself at Yang, wrapping small arms around the brawler's shoulders. Instinctively, Yang returned the hug, holding the small body close. Though Autumn spoke softly, Yang caught the words, the girl's mouth beside her ear.
"Thank you," Autumn whispered, "for helping my sister."
Yang blinked back the tears that were threatening to show, replying with a squeeze of her arms, ignoring Autumn's sudden giggles and protests.
The call caught Yang's attention, pulling her to the girl who stood before both of them, arms crossed in a threatening display (which was about as threatening as Ruby's puppy eyes, but Yang wasn't about to tell her that).
"What are you doing to my sister?"
Yang grinned and stood up, taking Autumn off the ground as she did so, ignoring her protesting bones as she swung the light girl up onto her shoulders.
"I'm taking her home with me!" she replied, narrowly holding back a snort at Summer's overly dramatic reaction, "she's far too cute to live with the likes of you!"
"More like you want to steal her youth for yourself!"
The argument fell into its usual pattern, playful banter, Summer chasing Yang across the playground, albeit slowly. Autumn enjoyed her position high up on Yang's shoulders, directing her with soft tugs on her hair. Yang vaguely remembered a time when she would have punched anyone who did that through a wall; but now she allowed it, moving in the direction of the small tugs.
After a time of this she felt the weight lifted off her shoulders suddenly, Rowan snagging his daughter with ease as she went by, Autumn squealing as she was lifted into the air. Summer yelped and chased after her father, Yang instead turning to sit on the swing, trying to catch her breath. A chuckle beside her drew her attention to Scarla, who had taken a seat beside her.
"Out of breath?" the younger woman teased, acting just like her eldest daughter.
Yang took a moment to reply, pointing at the swing on which Scarla had sat.
"You know," she answered, "there's a reason Summer and I always leave a swing between us when we sit here. She threw up on that swing in our third lesson."
Scarla yelped, jumping up from the swing as Yang half laughed, half wheezed. Scarla brushed herself off, then shot Yang a look, raising an eyebrow in her direction.
"I see now who Summer gets her humour from," she said, cut off by Yang's sudden wagging of a finger."
"Nuh-uh," the elderly woman shot back, "don't blame that one on me. I might have taught her how to use it, but you gave her that weapon in the first place."
Scarla simply laughed at that, shaking her head in defeat. Their conversation was briefly interrupted as neighbours came up to them, offering words of gratitude to them both, as well as congratulations. Yang accepted them with handshakes and nods of her head, Scarla doing the same. When the last of the neighbours had trickled out of the playground, leaving behind Yang and the family she had come to know so well, Scarla sat down on Summer's usual swing.
"You know," she began, drawing Yang's attention to her, "you really have done so much for us."
Yang groaned softly, rolling her eyes at the reappearance of Scarla's gratitude, but the younger woman cut her off by raising her hand.
"I know, I know. We thank you every time we see you. It's just… I don't know how to put into words just what you've done for us. It's been far more than just teach Summer."
Scarla's gaze fell on her husband and her children, the three of them playing together, Rowan somehow having turned from an airplane into a jungle gym at some point.
"You didn't just help our one daughter," Scarla continued, "but really, you've helped all of us. Summer's semblance was never something we knew how to fix on our own; it put us at odds with our friends and neighbours, even with each other sometimes. But then you showed up, and helped us with it. Yang, you helped us become a family again.
Rowan smiles a lot more now, and I find it easier to laugh – before, with the stress and not knowing how to fix things, it was hard for both of us to enjoy the good moments, knowing they'd be followed up by the bad. And Autumn? Autumn has always loved her sister, but Summer had a hard time with her for a while – I think she was convinced she'd hurt her sister with her semblance, so she tried to keep her distance. But that hurt Autumn just as much as any physical pain."
Scarla sighed, pausing, but Yang waited for her to continue.
"You fixed all of that. You brought back our laughter, you fixed our relationships – you even gave Summer friends."
At Yang's attempts to deny that fact, Scarla shook her head.
"I know my daughter, Yang. She's brave, and she's stubborn, but even she wouldn't have been able to show those kids what she did without you there to encourage her to do so."
Yang shrugged at that, looking back to Rowan and the kids.
"We thank you a lot, I get it. But there aren't words we can use to truly express how much this has meant to us. You didn't just teach our daughter, Yang. You gave us our life back. You…"
Scarla trailed off, looking at her hands folded in her lap.
"You gave us our family back."
They sat in silence for a moment.
"I can't say it was only for Summer."
Scarla looked up at Yang, who was still in the process of gathering her words.
"It was also for myself, in some ways."
Lilac eyes met Scarla's, a smile working its way across the elderly woman's face.
"Summer reminded me so much of myself. She still does, in many ways – she hates to admit it, I kind of hate to admit it, but it's true."
Scarla smiled at that, her own freckled cheeks rising with the grin.
"When I saw myself in her, I just couldn't let her go on without any help, any support. I went through that; for the longest time, I struggled with my semblance on my own. And I couldn't let Summer do the same.
"I'd love to say that this whole time, I've been doing it just for her. But I haven't. I've been doing it for myself, as well – for the young girl I see in Summer, the one with the temper and the one who stands to protect her younger sister, even at the expense of her own life."
Yang paused, shaking her head slightly as she smiled sadly.
"I've been doing it for the family I see in you all – the family I never got to have."
A hand rested on top of hers, then. Yang looked at Scarla to find the woman staring back, tears pooled in the corners of her eyes.
"You're part of our family, now," she said, shaking her head at Yang's chuckle, "I mean it! I think Autumn views you as some sort of weird aunt, and you've spent so long with us that you kind of seem related to us anyways. It's an odd thing to say, I know, but I mean it. You've become part of our family."
Yang laughed, her voice thick with her own tears, though she refused to let them show.
The women sat together, listening to the laughter emanating across the playground, before Scarla asked a question.
"I know this seems like something my daughter is more inclined to ask, but how are you so old?"
At Yang's laugh, Scarla shot her a suspicious glare.
"You aren't really using children's youth to prolong your own life, are you?"
Yang let her laughter fade out slowly before answering.
"No, no," she answered, waving a hand in denial, "to tell you the truth, I've been trying to figure that out for a while. I know Weiss and Pyrrha were too, before they passed away. I've got no idea why I'm the last one to go; dust knows I wasn't anywhere close to the healthiest one of us."
She paused, watching the family interact.
"I just think it's something life decides for you."
Scarla nodded, taking in the woman's sagely advice. Then, before she could reply, Rowan gave a cry from across the playground.
"Alright, kids," he called, "sic 'em!"
Summer and Autumn turned, looks of childish evil on their faces, and sprinted towards the women on the swings. Yang rapidly pointed at Scarla, Scarla rapidly pointed at Yang, and both got a fast moving child launched at them.
They all swung back and forth, laughter filling the air, as Rowan came up to them, out of breath. Scarla smiled up at her husband, holding Autumn in her lap.
"Need a break, hun?" she asked, laughing at her husband's tired nod in reply. Glancing down at the child in her lap, she addressed both of her daughters.
"How about we go home, hmm?"
Autumn cheered and leapt off, racing towards the entrance of the playground. Scarla stood, brushing her lap as she did so, Rowan already following Autumn. Summer slid off Yang's lap, but stood beside the brawler as she stood, scuffing her feet against the pavement. Scarla paused halfway to the gate, turning back to look at her eldest daughter.
"You coming, Summer?"
Summer nodded at her mother, then jerked her head in Yang's direction.
"You go on ahead," she said, "we'll catch up in a minute."
Scarla looked back and forth between the pair, then nodded, turning to catch up to her husband and other child. The trio left, rounding the corner with laughter and loud conversation, until they were finally out of sight.
Yang and Summer stood in silence, the former waiting for the latter to speak, figuring she had a reason for keeping the two of them behind. Summer seemed to be fighting with herself, trying to build up the courage to say or do something. They stood in silence for one minute, then two, and by the third minute, Yang was ready to ask. Just before she did, however, Summer moved into action.
Arms wrapped around her middle, and Yang found herself being awkwardly hugged by her student. Blinking in confusion, she knelt slightly, allowing Summer to properly hug her, before she returned the embrace. They stayed like that for a while, teacher and student, elder and child. Then Summer let go slightly, leaning back so she could speak freely.
The words were expected, but were quiet, and filled with more emotion than Yang had ever heard her speak with before. It wasn't the first time she'd been thanked by Summer, not the first time she'd been thanked that day, but this was the apology that brought tears to her eyes, for reasons she couldn't even place.
Yang leaned back, keeping her hands on Summer's shoulders as she did so, keeping eye contact with the young girl.
Summer smiled wide at the reply, before launching back to hug her again, knocking the brawler backwards. She landed in a sitting position, chuckling with her student as they hugged again, albeit for much shorter. This time it was Summer who pulled away first, stepping back and rocking back and forth on her heels, waiting for Yang to get to her feet.
The brawler did so, slowly, and Summer turned to race towards the way back home – but Yang called out to her, telling her to wait for a moment. Jerking her head towards the swings, Yang made her way over first, Summer sauntering over after, a curious expression on her face.
They sat in their usual spots, Yang reaching around to grab the package Summer had brought when they'd first met up, a box wrapped in white paper, tied with a yellow ribbon. She turned back to Summer, and held it out.
The girl took it tentatively, before pulling it into her lap. She looked up at Yang, waiting for confirmation, who granted it with a smile and slight nod of her head. Hesitation gone, Summer made quick work of the ribbon, ripping off the paper with the usual glee of a child opening a gift. Below it sat a plain white box – Yang took in a deep breath as Summer reached for the lid, then lifted it slowly.
That was the first thing that filled both their visions, folds of yellow fabric, neatly nestled in the box. Summer reached out slowly with small hands, grasping hold of the cloth, lifting it gently from the box. The fabric spilled out around her hands, falling into shape as she pulled it out.
Summer held a yellow cloak, identical to the red one that hung in Yang's huntress room, albeit much smaller, ideal for a child. The colour was bright despite the years of age, years of being hidden away – the same colour Yang's hair had been, back in her prime.
Summer studied the cloak, shifting the fabric this way and that, watching the way the hood tilted back and the fabric shone in the sun, soft in her hands. Yang smiled as she watched the girl's ministrations, knowing that had she opened the gift all those years ago, she would have done the same. Eventually, Summer's eyes fell on the tag sewn in by the collar – one than made her frown in slight confusion, the name familiar, yet perplexing.
Made with love from Summer.
The second Summer Yang had come to know frowned, looking at her teacher in confusion, who simply chuckled at the look on her face. The elderly woman held her hands out, taking hold of the yellow cloak as it was passed to her. She studied the tag herself, running a thumb across it, feeling the soft fabric underneath. She glanced back to Summer, who was still looking at her in confusion.
"Not you, obviously," Yang admitted with a laugh, raising the cloak slightly to indicate what she meant, "this was from the first Summer I knew. Ruby's mom. The woman who raised me."
Summer's expression cleared up, and she smiled, taking the cloak that was handed back to her. She studied it, then looked back up at her teacher.
"Why are you giving it to me?"
Yang smiled, then leaned back on her swing before she began to talk.
"Summer gave that to me for my fifth birthday," she began, "but she was no longer to actually give it to me. She… she'd died by then."
Summer's expression turned sorrowful at that, and she looked back to the cloak. Yang chuckled at the response, at the sadness that filled a girl over a woman who only connected to her through their namesake.
"It was a long time ago, if that helps," Yang continued, "once she'd made Ruby a cloak, I pestered her nonstop to make me one. She did, of course – but by the time it was ready to be given to me, she was gone. My dad gave it to me instead, but I knew who it was from all the same, and I always knew what it was, despite having never opened it."
Summer startled at that, surprised over the information. Yang grinned at the reaction.
"Yup, you're the first to open it! That's even the wrapping Summer gave it to me in."
The second Summer looked guiltily at the ruined wrapping around her, but Yang only laughed.
"Don't worry, I would have done the same. At least one of us did."
Then she smiled, folded her hands in her lap, and studied the ground before her.
"Summer wasn't my real mom, like I told you. But even though she wasn't, and even though I always call her by her first name, she really was more of a mom to me than anyone else ever was. She meant a lot to me; she never considered the lack of a blood relationship to mean she wasn't my mother. And when she died, I…"
Yang paused, swallowing.
"I knew I had to be to Ruby what Summer was to me. I had to look after her in Summer's stead. I wasn't nearly as good at it, but I tried, and it turned out okay!"
She looked back at Summer, who studied her intently, listening raptly.
"It was on that cloak," Yang explained softly, "that I promised to look after my sister. I never opened it – I always knew what was inside – but it was what I promised on; Summer's final gift to me. And over the years, that promise spread to Blake and Weiss, and eventually to all my friends."
Yang felt a tear slip down her face; she ignored it, took a deep breath, and pressed on.
"I promised myself I would look after them as long as I could, in any way I could. And I kept that promise through my entire life, until everyone I had made that promise for was gone, and I had fulfilled it."
She reached out a shaking hand, and tapped the cloak gently, finger slightly indenting the yellow fabric.
"But it all started with this cloak, and a promise to look after my sister."
Summer smiled at her, looking between the cloak and her mentor. Yang took a deep breath, and finished her explanation, reaching out her hand to tap Summer on the chest once more.
"That's why I'm giving it to you. I kept my promise – I looked after my sister, even to the end of her days. I spent my life caring for my family and my friends, and this cloak always reminded me of that fact. Whenever I lost my way in life, and even when I began to lose the friends I cared about, I would find this gift, and remind myself of the promises I had yet to keep."
She pulled her hand back, wiping away the tears that now fell freely.
"You don't have to dedicate your life to looking after everyone else; that's what I chose to do, but in no way does that mean you have to do the same. But I know you look after your sister with your entire heart, and I know how much she means to you."
One final breath, and the last of the words spilled out.
"So I'm giving this to you, so it can remind you of that fact every time you see it. So that later in life, down the road, when you face a tough spot, you can remind yourself how much she means to you – you can remember that no matter what, you always have your sister."
The silence that fell between them was different from the rest; one that followed emotion in the same way smoke follows a flame. Summer was watching Yang, understanding in the depths of her eyes. She broke the eye contact a moment later, turning as she lifted the cloak again, studying for the second time the tag that held her name.
Then she lifted it, twirled it around herself, and fastened it. It hung off her – still slightly large; Summer always did make them to grow into – and bunched up on the edges of the swing, falling down behind her like a cape. Yang smiled wide at the sight, tears collecting in the corners of her upturned mouth and dripping down from her chin. She wiped the last of them away with weathered palms, opening her eyes once more to see Summer standing in front of her, yellow draped across her shoulders.
Yang smiled at her, giving her a small thumbs up – Summer laughed in reply, lifting the folds of the cloak before dropping them and looking back at her teacher with an expression of concern.
"Is it really okay for me to wear it?"
Yang laughed, nodding repeatedly.
"Of course it is," she replied, "it's yours now, after all."
Then she paused and frowned slightly, as an afterthought came to her.
"Just maybe don't wear it when you're all sweaty."
Summer giggled, then reached into her pocket, pulling out the yellow ribbon that had been tied around the gift. She leaned forwards and, before Yang could protest, wrapped it around the brawler's head, tying it tight into a bow.
"There," she said amidst rapid giggles, "now you can pretend you have blonde hair again!"
Yang scowled in response, but her snappy retort was cut off before she could say it, by a meow that emanated from the nearby bushes.
Their eyes focused on it as a black cat came out, meowing affectionately before weaving through Summer's legs, brushing up against them. The young girl giggled, reaching down to pet its soft fur as it made its way over to Yang, who reached down to scratch its ears. The elderly woman paused a moment later, before giving a sound of delight and snatching up the cat, who gave a surprised yelp.
"Well, I'll be damned!" Yang shouted, examining the cat's front paw.
"Language!" Summer chastised, before laughing at Yang's unamused glare in return, "what's up with the cat?"
Yang grinned and turned the cat to face Summer. After a moment of silent study, Summer quirked an eyebrow to Yang, still not getting what the point was.
"I used to feed a cat," Yang explained, words tumbling quickly from her mouth, "or, well, Blake did, and I did once she died. We had this one cat with six toes – she stayed around the longest, so I'd always wondered what happened to her once she stopped appearing."
She thrust the cat out again, and Summer this time caught the six toes on the front paw, laughing as she realized what Yang was getting at.
"Looks like you found her son!" Summer exclaimed, before frowning in contemplation, "wait, how long ago was that cat? Is it her grandson? Great-grandso–"
"Hilarious, you joker," Yang replied, before standing up and holding the cat out to her student, "here, have a cat."
Summer took him, holding him much like a baby. The cat didn't seem to mind in the least, starting to purr as she giggled and pet his ears. Yang smiled at the sight, before Summer spoke softly.
"Mum always did want a cat."
Yang grinned at this.
"Well, then, take him home!"
Summer's head shot up in confusion.
"Yeah," Yang replied, shrugging, "if you guys really can't take him in, I will."
She paused, looking thoughtful.
"Also, tell Autumn he's a gift from me. That way I won't get in trouble for giving you a gift, and not her."
Summer laughed, but rolled her eyes.
"Fine," she agreed, "but you have to help me name him."
"Fine," Yang consented, rolling her own eyes in response, "got any ideas?"
Summer made a noise of consideration, before her entire face lit up and she grinned wide.
"How about Blake?"
The words were out before Summer had even finished her sentence, Yang having anticipated the suggestion. Summer pouted dramatically, but Yang didn't relent.
"Still no. Try again."
"How about just Bella?"
"You've hit a tangent here, haven't you?"
Summer laughed, before she glanced back down to the cat, who stared back up at her with wide eyes.
"What about Noire?"
Yang's eyebrows shot to her hairline, before realization hit and she narrowed her eyes.
"Changing the language does not change what it translates back to!"
Summer giggled, but Yang rolled her eyes and relented.
"Fine, I can live with Noire."
A cheer met her consent, as well as a cat lifted high into the air, eerily similar to an action from a movie.
"Whoa, watch the cat! Cats have claws!"
Summer laughed at this, continuing to hold out the cat, who apparently was a saint in its past life, and still possessed the patience to prove it.
Yang batted paws away from her, before sighing and glancing at the sky. Summer followed her eyes to the cloudless blue, glancing back at her teacher.
"Doesn't look like it's going to rain, regardless of what your bones tell you."
Yang glared at her – just because she was accustomed to the jokes by now didn't mean she had to like them. Summer only giggled, before she realized how long they'd been in the park.
"Oops," she said, "guess Mum's wondering where we've gone…"
Yang laughed, reaching out and tugging Summer's hood down over her eyes – she protested, spluttering, and nearly dropped the cat in her actions to pull it back up. Noire abandoned ship almost immediately, and this time, Yang scooped him up, waiting for Summer to finish struggling with the garment.
When she'd finally pulled it back, she sent a glare to her mentor, who stuck her tongue out in return. She sauntered over to the pile of paper, collecting it and returning to her teacher's side, glancing up at Yang.
"Ready to head home, kiddo?"
"Anytime. Also, don't call me kiddo."
They set off, one with an armful of paper, the other with an armful of cat, squabbling the entire way. Hipchecking one another didn't do much to help, either – the size difference only added to the hilarity for the watching passerby.
"Careful, Yang, you'll break your hip!"
"Can you even reach my hip?"
"I'm not that short!"
"Uh, hate to break it to you, Summer, but I think if the cat stands on his hind legs he'll be taller than you."
"Well, whatever. You know you're still wearing the ribbon right?"
"I'm aware. In fact, I think I quite like this new makeover."
"Yeah, but no matter what you do, it's still not going to bring back your blonde hair. Can you at least tie the ribbon around Noire? You look like someone trying to be cool."
"Oh, I'm sorry, does this embarrass you?"
Their conversation continued, laughter punctuating teasing and not-so-scathing comebacks as they retreated down the street. Eventually, they turned the corner, out of sight of the playground where they had first met.
The swings still moved back and forth slightly, reminiscent of those who had sat in them not long ago, as their laughter echoed down the street, fading into the afternoon air.
Today is Yang's birthday. She is ninety-four. At least, she would be, were she still around to celebrate it. The sun beat down on Beacon's memorial field, warm and welcoming in the day's afternoon. A light breeze blew, tossing about hair and grass and leaves about, rustling the golden cloak of a girl who sat in the field alone. There was no one else around her, the time of day unusual for guests and visitors.
Summer sat before a row of four, the weathered planks speaking their ages – the fourth, the one directly before her, newer than the rest. The golden fabric around her hung across her frame, less and less large on her each day, as she grew into it. The young girl grew more and more each day, though if she were honest with herself, Yang still would have told her she was far too short to think anything of herself yet. But Yang, of course, wasn't around to actually say the comment, so Summer continued telling people she was growing taller every day.
Regardless of her self-proclaimed growth, however, the cloak was still a bit big on Summer, extra cloth pooling around the girl's ankles as she sat in the warm sun. She held in her hand a sunflower, the colour of the petals matching the fabric, matching the colour her teacher's hair had once been. Reaching out, she lay it before the fourth plank, taking a moment to study the flaming heart engraved into the wood.
On her left sat another three, each engraved with their own symbol, each with a flower placed before them. Summer always brought flowers for Yang's team – occasionally she did for her other friends, as well, but more often than not, she simply brought them hellos. Today was one of those days, with Summer making sure to say hi to everyone else in the field – Pyrrha, Sun, Velvet, and many others – before she sat down in front of Yang and her team.
She's never met any of them, not in person, but Yang had showed her which planks to look for the first time the woman had brought her to the field. Ever since then, with Yang beside her or not, Summer had made sure to greet all the people she knew – she'd never know them in person, but she knew of them, and that was reason enough to say hello.
But it is with Yang she sits with the most, Yang's spot that she spends most of her time in the field. Occasionally she'll talk to Ruby, or Weiss, or Blake, but more often than not it's the woman who taught her that she speaks to, the woman who told her about the rest. Her teacher, her mentor, her friend.
There's no specific conversation topic she has whenever she visits, so Summer tells Yang about whatever comes to mind – about school, about her family, about the neighbourhood. She mentions Scarla and Rowan, talks about how their real free-spirited aunt came to visit (Autumn asked if she was sisters with Yang, much to the woman's confusion). She mentions the former bullies at school, and how she goes to the library with them on Thursdays – and especially mentions that she found a bunch of Blake's books in the library, donated a long time ago, but with "B. Belladonna" neatly written in the covers.
She talks about Autumn, how the girl has started school, and how she's already made lots of friends, to her delight. She mentions the neighbours, the park, Yang's house, and the cat – the cat who, apparently, loves tuna more than anything else. She mentions how everything in Yang's huntress room was given to museums, to Beacon, to Signal, as the brawler had intended – their class is even planning to go see the new exhibit.
But most of all, Summer just shares things about herself – what she's done, what she's accomplished. She talks about her semblance sometimes, but often shares just everyday things. About how she's not sure what she wants to be someday, but how Autumn speaks highly of hunters and huntresses.
She never does know if Yang is listening or not, but she always feels like she is – the air grows a little warmer, the sun shines a little brighter. There's always a warmth that passes, like the feeling when you put your hand in a patch of sunlight. So Summer talks and talks, sharing her life with the woman who can't reply, but might hear her all the same.
Summer finishes talking, closing her story with a wild gesture of her hands, giggling at the memory. Then she sits in silence for a moment, before reaching into her cloak and rummaging around, before she pulls out three familiar items. A card with a five year old's drawings on the cover, a card with neat, elegant handwriting in it, and a card that sings an awful rendition of "Happy Birthday" whenever she opens it.
She then pulls out a candle, small and striped, and calls up the flame inside her, feeling it come to life with a spreading warmth. The fire at her fingertips lights the candle, and she makes sure to keep it away from the other objects – careful as she might always been with her semblance, there's always a sense of caution that arises when using fire in the middle of a field of wooden planks.
Keeping the candle held tight in one hand, she reached out with the other, opening the three cards in quick succession – a practiced movement, to keep everything in synchronization. A moment later, words come flooding out from the card, in a familiar tune – and, for the first time in a very, very long time, another voice joins in.
Summer sings along, alone in the field, but not in song. The voices of those gone before she could meet them sing along with her, the sound drifting across the open field, adrift on the breeze, mingling with the warm air. It's an odd sight, an odd sound, but it's one that is welcome.
And in the field, with the sound of laughter and song, Yang's flame continues to burn on, in Summer.