Blake doesn't like the boat.
Which isn't a terribly surprising discovery. It's one of those things she suspects she could have deduced without having to actually go on said boat. It rocks one way and she shifts another, but by the time she's found her balance, it's rocking back again and she's scrabbling to find purchase on the wooden deck once more—
Warm fingers close around her elbow, and instinct has her ripping it away, one pale hand already diving over her shoulder to grab Gambol Shroud—
"Easy," Sun laughs, and Blake blinks, haze of panic dispelling as the edges of his eyes crinkle with a smile. "It's just me."
She exhales a bit sharply. Sun just flicks his tail merrily as he turns to look out over the water. Ignoring—as always—her dark, distrusting disposition.
They stand in silence for a while—not awkward or cramped, just companionable, soft. Nothing needs to be said, necessarily. The breeze blows in off the ocean, and she's glad she shed her coat. The wind tugging on the ends of it would do her already fledging balance no favors.
"Ever been on a boat?" Sun asks eventually, voice light and warm—that effortless cheer and comfort that baffles Blake, no matter how many times she's exposed to it.
She nods silently, and when Sun raises his eyebrows in surprise, she levels a dubious look at him.
"I grew up outside the Kingdoms, Sun," she reminds him, voice low and chilled in comparison to his sunbaked tones. "Trains don't run that far, there are no roads…" she shrugs. "Whoever controlled the lakes and rivers controlled the whole area."
He purses his lips at this, considering.
"You?" she asks, finding herself genuinely curious. "Besides the odd stowaway act, of course."
He turns to give her a frown, but he's clearly fighting a smirk. It makes her lips twitch.
"Why do you always have to bring that up?" he demands. "It was one time!"
"I only saw you do it one time," she corrects him, smiling despite herself. She picks at the intricate crisscross of her top. "I'm sure you got up to plenty of things in Vacuo."
"I was an upstanding citizen of Vacuo, thank you very much," Sun returns, aiming an elbow at her ribs that she neatly dodges, laughing softly at his mock indignation.
The silence returns, and they listen as the waves lap up against the boat.
"So…" Sun scratches idly at the back of his neck, and Blake watches him warily. It always makes her nervous when she doesn't know where he's going with a conversation.
Preemptive suspicion, even after all he's done for her. A leftover habit she can't shake.
"Were you, like—" he glances up, and she can see his storm-gray eyes have a spark in them. Oh no. "—a captain? Of a boat?"
She gives him a withering look. "Be serious, please."
"I am serious!" he insists, and Blake rolls her eyes because, yes, he is being serious, and that's the problem. "Do you know how to, you know…" he trails off, miming a steering wheel. She lifts an eyebrow.
"Are you asking if I know how to drive a boat."
"Drive didn't seem like the right word."
Sun deflates slightly at her iciness, so she sighs, looking back to the water. Loosen up, dammit, she scolds herself. Only Blake Belladonna, the physical manifestation of a foreboding feeling, the queen of looking over her shoulder, the epitome of trepidation, could ruin the mood so well.
"I personally never steered a boat," she explains, lifting her pale hands to rest on the guardrail that rings the deck. She shrugs. "I was young, and while the White Fang did have a boat or two at their command—to use for trading or traveling or whatever the case may be—I never had much to do with them."
Sun bobs his head in agreement, and there's something in his demeanor—something that makes her feel safe, something that coaxes a bolder side out of her, pulls her out of the shadow and into the light.
"I…" she trails off. This is a bad idea. Sun is watching her curiously. She wets her lips, tasting her words. This is a bad idea. "I stole a boat, once."
Sun perks up considerably, eyes wide, grin breaking across his face.
"You didn't," he gasps, obviously delighted. "When? How?"
She smiles—his enthusiasm is catching—and tips her head back as she ponders the questions.
"It was for the White Fang, obviously," she explains. "One of my first missions. I think it was a shipment for the Schnee Dust Company." Her lips twitch with dark amusement. "It wasn't hard, really. I don't think they expected anything, and we were so fast." She swallows, the memory coming back clearer.
Sun is watching her. She can feel his gaze growing stormy.
"Yeah?" his tone is still light, but there's a cautious undercurrent to it now. "Who else is as fast as you?"
Blake swallows. She knows an out when she hears one. It would be all too easy to blow him off with a causal "don't remember" and he'd promptly let the issue drop.
She eyes him out of the corner of her eye. He can't not know. Sun always knows. It's the best and worst thing about him.
"Adam," she murmurs. The name tastes like bile—it dies in her throat, a pair of syllables lying like a carcass in her mouth. She swallows hard, wincing as she does so.
Sun turns towards her immediately, eyebrows pulled together in worry. "Blake, we don't have to talk—"
"I know we don't," she mutters, looking away, avoiding his concerned gaze with a stubborn tilt to her jaw. "I was just telling a story."
He grits his teeth, clearly unhappy.
"Relax, Sun," she tries to soothe, even though she herself is particularly riled. "It was a long time ago."
"But it wasn't," Sun grits out. "You're barely twenty-one, Blake, that's not—"
"He's a part of my life, Sun!" Blake isn't sure when she started yelling, but now it seems she can't stop. "I can't just not talk about him, that'd take away half my life!" She throws her arms wide, forcing down sadness and pain and hurt with pure, unadulterated anger. "Hasn't he taken enough from me?"
Sun steps towards her. "Blake, I didn't mean—"
"You think I want to talk about him? You think I like doing that?" She stares him down, golden eyes alight with hate. For who? Adam? Herself?
Sun just watches, realizing his turn to speak has passed, and waits to see what move she'll make.
Blake stares up at him, lips pulled back in a fearsome snarl—she gets so like a cat when she's cornered, a fact Yang used to tease her about mercilessly, all bristled fur and arched back and pinned ears—
She could leave. Go back to the cabin. Find Sage and Scarlet. Make sure they're still paying attention to the map, staying on course. Sit with Neptune for a bit while the poor boy throws his guts up. Anything but this. Part of her would rather just abandon ship entirely. She's a strong swimmer, they're not that far from the coast.
"I…" she breaks off, gritting her teeth.
How do you want to do this, love? he'd always ask, staring at her calmly from beneath the slits of his mask. How far are you willing to go? Because I guarantee I'll go farther.
If she pushed, he shoved back. If she threw a punch he'd break her jaw. Push and pull, give and take—only he was always pushing and taking and Blake was left digging her heels in uselessly, trying to resist what was already done. Trying to win a fight she'd lost hours, days, years ago.
"I didn't let him." Sun looks appalled that she'd even think that, or think that he thought that, but this needs to be said. How do you want to do this, love? She fists her hands.
Knockdown dragout. That's how they always did it.
"I never consciously decided. It's not like that. It's like…" she huffs out a breath, raking hair away from her eyes. "It's like when people ask how someone fell in love—" oh my god Belladonna you absolute travesty are you actually using that comparison how much more of an emotional wreck could you be "—and they can't always pin it on one, specific moment, right? It's a process. It's…a series of events."
She steals a look at Sun. He's staring resolutely back at her with a taut jaw and narrowed eyes.
"When," she sighs, closing her eyes, offhandedly amazed at how much she can honestly hate herself. "When you don't really know what a regular relationship is—when…when you're raised by, you know, extremists—even before the White Fang became what it became, I was still raised outside the Kingdoms, I was never, you know, sat down and told what to do when someone—when someone you trust starts telling you how useless and worthless you are and then in the next minute he's holding you like everything's fine and—"
She breaks off, drawing an unsteady breath. The words are spilling out of her and she can't make them stop.
"It becomes…systematic. Expected. You don't want it happen but you're confused if it doesn't." A cool rush of wind blows over her, and she hugs her arms to her chest, wishing for her coat. "It's learned. I'd mess up, he'd…" she flounders for a moment, unsure which instance to use as an example. What about the time he'd fractured her rib in a spar with the flat of his chokutō? What about the time he'd taken her out at the knees, left her to wallow in the rain and the mud after she'd knocked his mask off by mistake during a mission, revealing his identity to a man who promptly became a corpse? All those time he'd rage and she'd rage back—never one to take disrespect laying down—until his rage would consume the entire camp, scorched-earth style.
"We'd fight, he'd win." Blake stares at the water. "We'd make up and do it all again."
She won't look up to meet Sun's eyes.
"It wasn't always…he didn't always…he like, disguised it," she goes on, pale hands gesturing uselessly as she tries to explain something she herself only has a weak grasp of. "He never outright hit me, he'd just go too hard in a spar. He never openly criticized me, it was always in the context of a failed mission, he….it was like he…"
"He justified it." Blake can't place the tone of Sun's voice, and for that she's somewhat grateful.
"Kind of," she allows. "He also…I think I made it harder for me to recognize it too, you know? Like, I'd think you're right, I did mess up, I deserve this, and by the time I started to realize he was…being unfair—using me as an outlet for his own anger and shortcomings, I—I was three years younger, laughably unskilled compared to him…" she trails off. "I fought and he fought back and we'd just…it was just a mess."
"You made up," Sun supplies in that same dead voice. She wants to look at him—wants to read his expression—but she can't bring herself to.
She shrugs, uncomfortable. "He was my world for so long," she hushes out. "How do you extricate yourself from something like that? How…how do you untangle yourself from ten years of togetherness? And it's not like it was always bad!"
Why are you defending him?
I'm not, I'm defending myself—
How do you want to do this, love?
Sun's gaze grows hot. "Blake, that's not—"
"It wasn't!" she insists. "He taught me so much—way more than the White Fang lieutenants taught me—and he…he made me…when you live your whole life being despised, you—you'll take whatever you can get and he could be so…gentle."
The truth of her own words settle in the pit of her stomach like some obscene, ugly, weighty thing. She loved him. Goddamn her.
"I recognize it for what it is now," she offers softly. "Of course I do. But at the time…I mean, how do you point out what wrong in a world where everything was wrong?" Her eyes are unfocused, unseeing. Glassy gold locked on the waves. "People—humans—hated me, Sun. I saw it everywhere I went, was reminded of it all the time…how could I say what Adam was doing was wrong when he was the best thing happening to me?"
She finally lifts her gaze, and Sun's eyes are thunderclouds—wild and dark and swirling with emotions she knows are reflected in her own.
Silence falls between them—heavy and suffocating. Blake hates it.
"I didn't mean—" she begins, trying to backpedal, feeling suddenly starkly exposed.
"Don't apologize," Sun tells her quickly, voice sharp and quick. "You have nothing to apologize for."
They stare at each other, and Blake wonders if he's at as much of a loss for words as she is, when the doors behind them open and they turn to see a certain, redheaded swordsman sauntering towards them across the deck, her coat in his hands.
"You looked a bit cold, love," Scarlet remarks cheerfully, and she smiles softly as he drops to coat over her shoulders.
"Thanks," she murmurs. She draws it tighter around herself. Scarlet is either cheerfully unaware of the tension or is masterfully ignoring it. "I'm, uh…" she shifts away, slipping her arms through the sleeves. "I'm gonna go sit with Sage for a while."
Sun nods. "Good call."
Scarlet turns to the leader. "I think Neptune might actually throw up a vital organ if we don't get him off this ship soon," he states, matter-of-factly.
Sun rolls his eyes at this, and Blake turns to make her way to the stairs.
"Neptune's being overdramatic, okay? There is nothing—" Blake starts slightly as his warm hands catch her by the elbow as she passes, giving her a quick squeeze before dropping his hand, not missing a beat "—wrong with the ship, and he needs to get over it."
"I don't think you can bully a phobia out of someone," Scarlet remarks, arching a dubious eyebrow as he follows his leader down to the lower level of the ship.
Blake watches them go—arm still warm from his touch—before mounting the stairs.
How do you want to do this, love?
I don't. Not anymore.
I don't even want to get into the whole "Duchess you said you were done with RWBY you fake hoe" because yes, that was true, but that was before I knew Adam and Blake's relationship is canon-confirmed romantic and abusive and that's not something I can ignore.
At first I was going to try and fill these author's notes with my usual angry sarcasm. Sharp, stark one-liners just this side of scalding. "If RWBY mishandles this topic of abuse," I was going to say "I'll burn Stage 5 to the ground." I got more childish, more juvenile. "If they fuck this up," I even wrote this one out "I'll fly to Texas and stick Miles Luna's head in a toilet." Ruffling up my feathers to try and act tough. To try and act like this doesn't get to me as much as it undeniably does.
That's stupid. That's stupid and pointless and immature and, most importantly, it's not true.
If RWBY drops the ball on this delicate, complex, emotional, deeply upsetting, sprawling topic of abuse—if they swing and miss like they have with so many other things—I'm probably just going to cry. Because I love fiction—I love story-telling, I love fantasy, I love what I know RWBY could be.
And it hurts—in a special kind of way I couldn't articulate if I tried—to be hurt by things you love.
I explore the technicalities of Blake and Adam's abusive relationship in Runaway Queen, Prior, and Slow Fall. I always had a feeling it would happen this way, but having it canon-confirmed makes me feel ill. I hope, truly, they go all in on this. You can't do abuse by halfsies. Steven Universe did it beautifully. Legend of Korra depicted PTSD with a kind of delicate rawness. We will wait to see if RWBY will prove itself capable of writing a story arc on that level.
Have a good week, kids. Let's all do our best, yeah?