They had been partners for three weeks and friends for almost as long (the exact duration changed depending on who you asked) when Blake first noticed the scarring on Yang's knuckles.
Blake considered herself to be an observant person— when entering a room she counted the exits, she noted high places, she watched for ambushes— but in this instance, she thought she could be forgiven. Yang wore gloves nigh-constantly, to school and to battle and around the town, and even when she put them aside at night, her hands moved as she talked, in a flicker like flames, as she acted out the battles of her tall tales, which all seem to involve fighting somehow.
It's not like Yang was hiding them. And it's not like scars were unusual, not when they all carried weapons and stood at the ready.
Blake knew better than to stare at scars; all three of them had been subject to at least one 'what are you staring at?', coupled with an icy glare, when their eyes caught just a little too long on the pucker of Weiss's eyebrow, or the marred uneven shape of her eyelid.
That scar is— it was different, a frozen terror in Blake's stomach as she wondered if someone she knew was responsible for it. She'd know, wouldn't she?
But Yang's scars were mundane, every day, common and ordinary and almost what one would expect from a warrior like her. So Blake didn't feel even an ounce of guilt as her eyes flicked down to Yang's hands, then back up to meet the other girl's gaze, eyebrows lifting in curiosity.
"Get in a fight?" she asked, voice dry, as if Yang hadn't started four fights since school began, as if the scars were new instead of old.
Yang looked confused for a second, glancing down at her hands before she understood. Then she clenched both hands into fists, the scarred tissue stretching pink-white over her knuckles. She grinned down at them with an expression that looked like pride.
They were getting dressed for bed, just the two of them because Weiss was busy finishing her homework in the library, and Ruby was busy hovering over her and trying to convince Weiss to let her copy.
Blake still changed in the bathroom. She didn't need Yang to see her scars. Yang had no such worries, and she barely checked the door was locked before stripping off her uniform jacket and vest, leaving them crumpled on the floor.
"That's right," she replied, striking a defensive pose, like there was something to fight in their dorm room. Blake realized that maybe she'd asked at a bad time; Yang was only wearing her pajama bottoms and her bra, and didn't seem to be bothered by this fact at all.
Just as Blake considered going back to her book and doing her best to ignore her, or at least until Yang put a shirt on, Yang added, "I won, of course."
At that, Blake couldn't help the soft laugh that escaped her, shutting her book but leaving her finger in between the pages to mark her place. "Still, if they managed to tear you up like that…"
The scars across Yang's knuckles were tiny, but Blake had seen Yang face down monsters the size of buildings and emerge without a scratch on her. In fact, if Ruby was to be believed, Yang took hits in a fight at her leisure, flipping the force back at her foe the way she always flipped situations to her own advantage, with pure determination and grim delight.
Yang threw back her head and laughed, that open laugh that made her shoulders shake and oh, maybe it's time that Blake go back to her book after all. But before she could read another word, Yang plopped down to sit next to her on the bed with a bounce, shirt forgotten, legs crossed. She offered her hand, palm down.
Blake hesitated, but took Yang's hand in hers. She recognized Yang's eager pose and expression from plenty of midnight story sessions, and she thought she might be about to hear how Yang got those scars after all. She angled Yang's hand so the scars caught the light, illuminating unnaturally deep cracks in her otherwise perfect skin. Yang's hand was warm, her tanned skin dark against Blake's.
"It was when I was a kid," Yang began, squeezing Blake's hand to get her attention, as if all of Blake's attention wasn't on her already. "For some reason, the village kids thought we were sort of, well, odd. I can only take being looked at wrong so many times before I gotta fight somebody."
She shrugged, and added with a chuckle, "They never knew what hit 'em. That was before Signal, of course, so none of them really knew how to fight. They just thought since they were bigger it'd be a snap."
Yang squeezed Blake's hand again, leaning over to grin at her, her eyes dancing in mirth. "It was a snap, alright, but not for them."
Blake's throat suddenly felt dry but she managed a laugh, which seemed to satisfy Yang, because she released her hand and clambered to her feet, stretching with a yawn. Her spine popped.
"Anyway, that's it! Not the most exciting tale, I guess."
Yang snagged her pajama shirt from her bed and hauled it over her head, heading for the bathroom to claim it before the other two came back.
When Blake looked down at her book again, she realized she's lost her place, and though that was frustrating, it wasn't the only thing that was bothering her.
An hour or so later, Blake was perched on the toilet seat, wiping off her eye shadow in the mirror. The other day, she had missed a spot and woken up with a purple smear across her pillow, so she was determined to get it all this time.
Next to her, Ruby was dutifully brushing her teeth. She was humming under her breath, and Blake suspected it was to keep track of how long she should brush. Brush until she reached the end of the song. It was a childish habit, but it grated on Blake's nerves less than she would have thought.
She was too busy puzzling over Yang's story to be annoyed anyway.
Yang loved telling tales of her escapades, complete with snappy comebacks and blow-by-blow commentary that always sounded too fantastic to be true. It was unlike her to brush something off with a laugh and a short summary.
"Ruby," Blake began slowly, pausing and looking down at the cloth in her hand, where her makeup had stained it purple like a bruise. "Did Yang get in a lot of fights when you were little?"
She'd been quiet for so long that maybe Ruby had forgotten she was there, because the small girl jumped in surprise, blinking over at her with huge gray eyes. Then she spat her mouthful of toothpaste into the sink so she could reply.
"Uh, I guess. I mean, I used to get picked on a lot 'cause they thought I was weird, and Yang always roughed them up for me. That was before Dad would let us learn fighting, so..." Ruby shrugged, baring her teeth in the mirror to see if she'd scrubbed out the last of the broccoli flecks. "She used to get pretty beat up and stuff, and Dad would get super mad! Then she learned to do her deflect-y thing so I think he didn't know for awhile."
Apparently satisfied with the result, Ruby went to wash out her toothbrush, adding over her shoulder, "But you can't tell her I told you! She'd be really embarrassed. She wants you to think she's cool, I think."
Plopping her toothbrush back into the cup, Ruby waved absently to Blake and excused herself from the bathroom.
Blake squinted at the door as it shut behind her. That didn't seem right either— there was no reason for Yang to want her to think well of her. But at least that explained why the story she'd told had seemed so out of place.
The two stories didn't quite match up, but Blake couldn't figure out why Yang would lie to her. It wasn't as though she'd changed it to make herself look better; sure, she'd made it sound like she'd won, but she'd also made it sound like she started the fights almost for fun.
Blake leaned over to wash the eye shadow from the cloth, rubbing at the purplish stains with her thumbs. But why?
The only thing that made sense to her was this; maybe Yang was trying to escape pity. Pity for failing, pity for once not being the thrill-seeking warrior they knew today.
It didn't entirely solve the mystery for Blake, but she thought she could understand. In some ways, pity burned worse than scorn. She kept her faunus identity a secret for more than one reason. Even if they weren't prejudiced-- and Blake had no hopes for at least one of her teammates in that department-- they would feel bad, they would look at her with sadness in their eyes when class covered any vaguely relevant topic.
Fine. Let Yang keep her secrets; Blake would keep hers.
But still, she found it hard to ignore Yang's scars.