“Ugh, I hate snow!” Blake mumbled as she and Yang ducked into the nearest building – a modest looking diner – in order to escape the sudden snowstorm.
After dusting the atrocious white powder off her long white coat, arms, and from out of her long midnight hair, Blake gave herself a light shake to make sure that she removed it all.
Yang shrugged and countered as she dusted off her shoulders, “Compared to what we went through to get to Atlas this doesn't seem so bad, does it?”
She flashed that signature Xiao Long grin – the one that ignited her lilac eyes like glowing embers – and a slight shudder rippled through Blake's heart.
Blake allowed herself to momentarily get lost in those shimmering lilac pools, but when Yang gently wiped a bit of snow from her cheek – seemingly without thinking – she came crashing back to reality.
Yes, her face was now on fire. But the words spoken by her heart and mind were for Yang's robotic arm, which Yang had pulled back almost right away; to Blake, those mechanical fingers felt every bit as warm as flesh and blood.
The golden haired brawler froze, her eyes filled with confusion and concern that she had overstepped a boundary.
“You, uh, missed a spot.” She hastily explained her actions, grinning and trying to pass her sudden awkwardness off with a sheepish grin.
“O-oh. Thanks.” Blake offered a tentative smile of her own, her feline ears giving an appreciative twitch.
The two stared at each other, both doing their best to ignore the sudden tension building up between them after an otherwise simple and harmless gesture.
But Blake's thumping heart, the heat in her cheeks, and the fact that she could still feel Yang's hand on her face served as continuous reminders.
And not to mention the longer she gazed into those perfect, soulful lilac eyes the greater her worry that Yang could actually hear her pounding heart intensified!
Get it together! She scolded herself, taking in a quiet breath and slowly exhaling through her nose; this did not help her calm down in the slightest, though.
A gruff female voice snapped Blake out of her thoughts – for which she would have been grateful under normal circumstances.
Except that when she and Yang turned in the direction of the voice, she was brought a little too close back to reality when she noticed the obvious disdain in the face of the person attempting to get their attention.
“No Faunus allowed.” The middle-aged woman standing before them, dressed in an apron and with her graying brown hair pulled into a tight bun, bluntly said. Her eyes narrowed in disgust at the sight of Blake's cat ears. “You need to leave. Now.”
An uncomfortable twinge pierced Blake's heart – another feeling she was all too used to experiencing, despite having not felt it in quite some time.
But no matter how many times it happened, it hurt all the same.
From the moment their group arrived in Atlas, she felt them just about everywhere she went: The harsh, judgmental, loathing eyes of people who hated her simply for the fact that she existed.
But despite being used to this sort of treatment, and despite the blood boiling in her veins and her desire to tell this awful woman off, she decided it would be better to not make a scene; Atlas Police would latch onto any excuse to harass her kind, she had been warned by Qrow and others.
“I-I'm sorry.” She muttered, hating herself because it felt like she was apologizing for the “crime” of being born a Faunus. “We didn't – ”
Blake's ears perked up at the tone in Yang's voice, a tone she only heard on rare occasions. She glanced over at her partner, and gasped at the sight of the crimson-eyed glare which typically preceded something – or someone – being broken, set on fire, or in several instances, both.
Fists clenched, Yang trained that burning gaze on the waitress and said through gritted teeth, “You should apologize to my partner. Now. Unless this place and everyone in it has great insurance.”
The waitress balked and took a step back, clearly understanding that this was no empty threat and not wanting to be seared by the flames radiating off Yang's body in fierce waves.
“Yang, no. It's fine, really!” Blake placed a gentle hand on her partner's arm to calm her down.
“No, it isn't.” Yang did not take her eyes off the waitress. “Apologize.”
The waitress hesitated, casting an uncomfortable glance between the two young women – looking especially fearful of the brawler who had just promised in no uncertain terms to reduce this establishment to a pile of ash.
Then without looking in Blake's direction she offered a curt, “My apologies. Would you like a private booth...p-perhaps in the back?”
With these insincere words Yang's eyes returned to their normal lilac hue, her face broke into a jovial grin, and her burning aura simmered back to its natural coolness.
“There! That wasn't so hard, was it?” Even the brawler's voice returned to its usual lighthearted cadence. “Next time, why not try pretending to be a decent person from the beginning?”
The waitress didn't respond, but instead beckoned for the pair to follow her to the back of the diner.
Blake hesitated to step any further into the establishment: Even if that woman had been dealt with, she felt the eyes of the patrons upon her and it made her flesh crawl. They didn't want her here, and quite frankly she didn't want to be here – at least, not without her bow.
Her ears flattened again, as if attempting to hide themselves in her midnight mane – not that it mattered, since everyone had already seen them.
Yang's voice pulled her out of the churning waves of misery crashing against her brain, and a gentle squeeze of her hand brought her back to reality.
“It'll be all right.” Her partner said in her most reassuring tone, and Blake believed her. She winked and added, “Come on, today'll be my treat!”
Tears stung the corners of Blake's amber eyes, but she hurriedly blinked them away before she gave Yang any more cause for concern.
She sniffed and replied with a faint smile, “I guess there really is a first time for everything.”
“Hey! I pick up the check sometimes!”
“Yeah...but only to pass it to me, Weiss, or Ruby.”
They both laughed at Blake's poor attempt at cracking a joke.
As they followed the impatient waitress to the far end of the diner and moved to stand beside each other, Yang released her partner's hand; it took all of Blake's resolve to not ask if they could keep holding hands until they left this place.
The pair slid into the empty booth offered to them, opting to sit across from each other. Blake wished that her personal space heater would to sit next to her instead – a wish that she would rather fight a pack of Ursa Majors than speak out loud!
“What'll it be?” The waitress held her stylus to her scroll, ready to write down their order; she looked at and addressed Yang directly, ignoring Blake completely.
This did not go unnoticed by Yang, whose eyes narrowed and temporarily flashed red once more. But it passed as quickly as it came.
“Black coffee for me. And...” She looked over at her partner, and her awkward grin coupled with the expression in her eyes let Blake know that she didn't have much Lien on her.
“Um, hot tea please.” Blake ordered, keeping her focus on the golden haired beauty sitting across from her and not the woman who was quite literally being forced to serve her.
Without saying another word the waitress wrote down their order and shuffled away, muttering something – most likely something deeply offensive – under her breath.
The partners fell into silence after placing their orders. Not an uncomfortable one, but a palpable one nonetheless.
To be honest, this had been happening a lot between them lately.
Ever since that day, after freeing themselves for their seemingly unending shared nightmare and the embrace – and the vow – they shared afterward things had become noticeably different between them.
Awkward. Blake's brain oh so helpful brain provided the right word.
It became increasingly difficult for Blake to speak casually with Yang, to look her in the eyes for long periods of time without blushing furiously, and to simply be alone in the same room with her without feeling as if her heart was about to burst into feverish flames – in a good way, if that made any sort of sense.
Not only that, but everything about Yang Xiao Long fascinated Blake like never before: The way she walked, how she tilted her head to one side when she was lost in thought, every time she pushed a strand of those golden locks behind her ear. Each gesture great and subtle piqued Blake's interest, and she attempted to commit every single one of them to memory.
What's wrong with me? She sighed, lowering her eyes to the table.
Of course, she knew the answer. She wasn't naive, and couldn't pretend that these feelings were anything other than the word she dared not speak even within the relative safety of her own mind.
But, she didn't allow herself to explore them. She couldn't, not after what she and Yang had just been through – the ordeal that they hadn't spoken about since after explaining it to the rest of the team, not even with each other.
This was – in part at least – due to the biggest problem with traveling in such a large group: There was a distinct lack of privacy. Except when they were out on a mission or in their room they rarely had more than a few minutes alone together, which wasn't nearly enough time to discuss everything they both knew needed to be addressed.
Which was why today had been such a rare blessing: Ruby had abruptly announced that she wanted to go sightseeing with Weiss, refusing to take “Absolutely not!” for an answer; Jaune, Ren and Nora were out shopping for groceries and other supplies; and Qrow, Oscar, and Maria were in the middle of attempting to get an audience with General Ironwood.
Today would have been the perfect opportunity for the two of them to sit down and hash everything out in private, away from prying ears.
Especially about...our feelings.
Another hard, jagged lump formed in Blake's throat. Her chest tightened, and for a split second she chanced a glance at the woman who had become her own personal sun: Yang had her elbow propped up on the table, and rested her cheek against it as she stared out the window, her expression unreadable.
Her amber hued gaze fixed upon Yang's black and yellow painted robotic arm, to the hand that felt so warm and delicate it may as well have been flesh and blood. Her fingers twitched, wanting to reach out to take that hand, but she resisted this urge with every ounce of self-control she possessed.
Self-control which, she had to admit, she was running out of more and more with each passing moment she remained in the company of the fiery golden dragon who had saved her from the shadows.
She chanced another furtive glance at Yang, who remained steadfastly gazing out into the snowstorm.
What are you thinking about, Yang? Her ears flattened at the realization she could not read her partner as easily as Yang had always been able to read her.
There were so many things that might occupy Yang's thoughts these days: Adam's death, the nightmares which still undoubtedly haunted them both, what Salem and her forces might be plotting next, or perhaps even Raven and the undeniable fact that their group would eventually have to seek out and possibly face Yang's mother as an enemy sometime in the near future.
Surely, any of these thoughts took precedence over something as silly and fleeting as that embrace they shared, the vow Blake made to never leave Yang's side again, the true meaning Blake hoped had come across with those words, the way Yang held her afterward...or their last moment of intimacy aboard the airship.
Even if those moments had been the only things on Blake's mind lately, she did not expect the same of her partner. She didn't dare to get her hopes up such was the case.
I'd give anything to know what's actually on your mind. She sighed.
Hearing Yang speak her name right after she had that thought sent an electric chill down Blake's spine.
Crap! Did I say that out loud?
When Blake didn't answer, Yang turned in her direction. That tender smile felt like a punch to her resolve each time she saw it, and the warmth in those lilac pools whenever she looked at Blake was the finishing blow.
“Y-Yeah?” Heat rose in her cheeks again as she lowered her gaze to her lap.
Yang straightened up in her seat and turned the full force of her perfect gaze onto Blake, whose breath caught in her throat as she felt what little remained of her self-control crumble away.
“I...” The sunny brawler started, but her voice trailed off; Blake's sensitive ears picked up the subtle upswing in her partner's heartbeat.
Blake hesitated, took in a deep breath through her nose, exhaled, then looked up to meet her partner's gaze – and the rest of her walls crumbled to fine dust at the mere sight of Yang's sheepish, vulnerable, yet equally determined grin.
Do you even realize how cute you are when you get like this? Blake's ears twitched. You're doing this to me on purpose, aren't you Yang?
Several long seconds dragged on between them, then Yang's lips parted and she said in a voice filled to the brim with uncertainty, “There's...something that's been on my mind a lot lately. Something I wanna share with you...while we're finally alone...”
Blake's ears perked up; despite just reminding herself to not get her hopes up, she couldn't help herself! Was Yang actually about to...?
“Um, y-ya know, ever since we, um – ever since you came to me – I mean, us! Ever since Haven, or maybe even before then, I dunno...”
Yang's voice faltered, which she tried – and failed – to laugh off.
Blake's heart couldn't take much more of this; it had already sped up to dangerous levels, had several deep cracks running along its surface, and would either be healed or crushed beyond repair by her golden dragon's next words – and the sad part was that, in her mind, both outcomes were equally possible!
Yang's gaze shifted away from Blake and back out the window.
From the corner of her eye Blake noticed her partner's left hand start to tremble. She wanted to take it and assure her partner that she could speak her mind, that everything would be fine between them regardless of what Yang said next, and that whatever she wanted them to be going forward would be perfectly all right with her – even if this meant lying through her teeth, something she vowed she'd never do to her cherished partner.
But before she could make a move Yang steadied herself, shut her eyes tight for a second, then returned her warm gaze to Blake.
“Um, for a really, really long time now – maybe even longer than I realized, but it finally hit me seeing you again after being apart for so long – I've had – !”
“Here's your order.” The waitress cut off Yang's next words as she placed their drinks in front of them, adding unnecessary force to Blake's cup and spilling a bit of tea.
Yang's perfect features once again twisted into a furious snarl as she shot the waitress a murderous glare.
The waitress flinched and beat a hasty retreat, not even bothering to ask if they wanted anything else or to at least leave the check.
Once the woman was out of sight Yang turned back to Blake, the crimson anger melting once more into warm lilac pools. The grin tugging at the corners of the brawler's lips caused Blake's head to buzz with thoughts of varying degrees of innocence.
“Talk about a mood killer, amirite?” She chuckled.
Blake nodded, silently cursing the waitress not only for her overt racism but also for the fact that she couldn't have waited a few more seconds!
They fell silent once more, averting their gazes and occasionally taking sips. The atmosphere grew heavier with each passing second, threatening to crush Blake under its immense, awkward weight!
Say something, coward! She scolded herself, flinching at her own harsh internal words. Make the first move yourself!
But, what would she say? What could she say?
From the moment you burst into my life in your bid to help Ruby make a new friend, I've been drawn to your radiance like no one before you.
That day in the Emerald Forest, I specifically sought you out to be my partner, not understanding why back then but knowing that I wanted any excuse to be in your life.
The night of the Beacon Dance, all I wanted was for you to ask me to dance again, and to spend the rest of that night in your embrace.
When Beacon fell...and when your life and fate became intrinsically linked with mine in the most nightmarish way possible...it killed me to leave you.
Each moment we spent apart was agony, I thought about you every night, and the belief that you would never forgive me brought me to tears more times than I can count.
When our eyes found each other that night at Haven Academy, so much like the day we became partners, I finally understood exactly what these feelings meant.
And after that day, when we finally exorcised our greatest demon together, and when you held me afterward...I didn't want you to ever let go of me again.
Yang Xiao Long, my teammate, my partner, my best friend, my Golden Dragon who burns brighter than the sun, I lo...
“Hey Blake?” Yang's tender but noticeably self-conscious voice reached Blake's ears, bringing her out of her memories and back to the present.
Blake looked up, amber found lilac, and time froze.
This diner, the people in it who despised Blake's very existence, all of Atlas, even the looming threat of Salem – none of it mattered to the black cat and her golden dragon in this eternal moment.
Neither of them said a word. Yang's robotic hand reached across the table and found Blake's. Their fingers interlaced, and Yang gave an affectionate squeeze.
“So warm.” Blake breathed.
“Blake, I...” Yang's voice cracked. “I know there's still a lot we need to talk about and...and I don't want to rush anything and possibly ruin everything, but...I...”
Blake smiled and returned the squeeze.
The sunny dragon's eyes widened, and her fair cheeks flushed a light shade of pink just from the way Blake said her name, filled with more emotion than either of them could convey with words alone.
Neither of them said much after that, but they didn't need to: Somehow, without saying a word, each finally understood how the other felt.
By the time they finished and paid for their drinks, never once letting go of the other's hand, the storm cleared up and they exited the diner.
“Where to next?” Blake asked, not that it mattered as long as the two of them were together.
Yang flashed her usual beaming grin, which seemed to have a bit of extra brightness now, and said, “Well, we do need a new bike!”
“W-We?” Blake had no idea why this one word made her heart race and caused her cheeks to flush, but it did and she couldn't hide it.
Letting out a boisterous laugh that startled several passersby, Yang dragged Blake down the crowded city street to their next destination.
Despite not getting to say everything she wanted – and realizing that she might not get another chance to do so for quite some time – Blake felt lighter, and happier than she had since that day.
She now understood how this beautiful, radiant, infinitely loving golden dragon felt about her, and somehow had managed to let her know that she felt the same way.
And for now, even if neither of them was ready to say it out loud, that was all that mattered.