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A Partner's Present

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It was the weekend and Winter was quietly working away on her academy assignments at her desk. She was alone in the room.

In fact she had been alone since this morning. She had even woken up to a note beside her pillow telling her that her partner will be back around noon.

She reached for her scroll and sighed. It was already some time past noon. Maybe whatever Cassie was doing took longer than expected.

But Winter didn’t mind. Because as much as treasured and loved her partner, today of all days she simply wanted to be left alone. Just as the thought had crossed her mind she felt how her partner was about to materialize behind her.

One of Cassie’s arms moved around her shoulder and her head dropped on the other side.

“Winnn-teeeerrr.” She was cheerfully humming her name.

“What do you want?”

Winter was a little irritable today and she really wasn’t in the mood for any of her games.

“Aw, don’t be like that.”

Cassie chuckled and nuzzled against her.

“Here.”

She moved her other arm around Winter to place something on her desk. In surprise Winter had slightly backed into the chair and her partner whose arms had remained loosely around her shoulders.

On her desk Cassie had put a thin rectangular box. It was dark blue and a thin white and silver colored ribbon was elegantly wrapped around two of the edges.

“Happy Birthday.” her partner’s voice was soft.

Even more surprised now Winter’s eyes had widened as she turned her head to look at her partner.

“How did- ?” Winter was baffled and Cassie simply giggled.

Winter never liked her birthdays or rather she had always hated the party and the pretense that came with them, which is why she had always made it a point to never mention the date to anybody. Even now that she was no longer at the manor.

Now that she was finally be able to do whatever she wanted on that day Winter was perfectly happy doing nothing at all and being in peace.

And it’s not like she was interested in going out to party and drink with friends to begin with. Even if she was now legally allowed to so.

She hated the smell of alcohol and she was also sure that she couldn’t handle being around any drunk strangers without getting agitated.

Besides, deep down she also felt like she owed it to her younger sister to keep her own birthdays low-key and to not ‘go out late and have fun’.

Winter’s birthday parties may have been unbearable, but nothing she had to endure could measure up to Weiss’ tenth birthday, when everything finally broke loose between their parents...

“I saw it in your student records.”

Cassie’s reply to Winter’s half-question was rather casual. It didn’t really answer it however and Winter frowned.

“We got to look at them at the beginning, Winter! When we first partnered up.”

Cassie was shaking her slightly.

Oh, right. Winter now actually remembered something like that or rather she remembered that there wasn’t much information that had interested her in her partner’s file since she hadn’t attended another combat school before.

Back then Winter had therefore just tossed it aside after reading her aptitude test results for Atlas Academy. Results that Winter now also remembered being just as high as hers.

“Now that I’m remembering those…you never went to another combat school before, right?”

“No.” Cassie shook her head.

“There wasn’t one anywhere near where I lived and I didn’t want to leave grandma on her own or have her pay for me being able to stay near or in one. And….I also don’t think I would have done well at one of those when I was younger…What about you? I don’t remember reading something like that in your file. I guess you were training at the manor?”

“There...are company buildings that are equipped for this sort of training and fighting Grimm, so it wasn’t exactly the manor....and my grandfather would mostly tell me about the glyphs and our semblance.”

“Oh, I remember reading something about how your grandfather used to do a lot of fighting in the mines when he was younger, right?”

“Much more than my mother ever did, yes…”

Winter’s voice trailed off and she felt Cassie’s thumb gently rubbing over her collarbone. It was a simple gesture, but it let Winter know that she had been heard and Cassie wasn’t going to pry that particular wound open.

“So hold on for a bit, your grandpa taught you about your semblance and you were fighting Grimm inside of company buildings? Is it even...legal to, well, keep those in there? It can’t possibly be legal.”

Winter snorted.

“You mean to say you’re still surprised by my father’s lack of morality?”

“Well, no…but he’s a moron too?”

Winter cracked up at her partner’s genuine bafflement and cheered up again.

“Anyway, do you really remember my birthday from just reading the file back then?”

She suddenly felt a little guilty for not having paid the same attention to her partner’s personal information.

“Why, yes, ‘tis easy for someone as big-brained as I.”

She raised her chest in exaggerated pride and it brushed against Winter’s head. And while Winter rolled her eyes at her, she also blushed ever so slightly at the touch as her partner chuckled.

“Now, open your present.” She nudged her slightly.

A present. Winter looked at the dark blue box in front of her. If her partner gave her a present on her birthday, shouldn’t she do the same?

“Cass, when’s your birthday?”

“Mine?”

“Yes, I want to get you something as well.”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. Besides it was already two months ago.”

Winter lowered her head in disappointment, but that’s when she realized...

“Wait...you’re older than me?!”

She turned her head to look at her partner in surprise.

“You know, some people would consider that amount of disbelief rude.”

Cassie poked Winter’s cheek while Winter turned her head to pout slightly.

“Well, we were still born the same year, so we’re the same age in general, a month or two won’t make much of a difference.”

“Two months. Not one, Winter. Twooo.”

Cassie was now full of glee and held two of her fingers in front of Winter’s face.

Of course her partner had to rub it in. Although Winter’s reaction to begin with was most likely to blame for it.

“So, not only are you shorter, Winter. You’re also younger than me.” She patted her shoulder.

Winter opted for quiet sulking. She wasn’t going to bite and surely there wasn’t any more her partner could tease her with.

“Don’t be mad, oh, tiny one, I’ll buy you some ice cream and cotton candy later.”

And with that Winter’s resolve broke.

She reached for her partner’s face to pull that smug grin out of it, but Cassie had already let go of her and dodged backwards, cackling happily along the way.

Winter summoned a glyph on the ground, Cassie slipped and within seconds Winter was on top of her pushing her down.

She wasn’t actually mad at her partner, but she still wanted retaliate and so she pulled her cheeks a little.

“I’m sorry, oh, tiny young one. If only I had been wise enough to not invoke your great anger.”

Winter stopped.

“You’re a pest.”

She was still pouting, but when she heard her partner’s chuckle, she sighed.

She looked at Cassie, who was still smiling gleefully at her.

And after a few seconds Winter simply lowered herself on top of her. She put her hands below her partner's shoulders and nuzzled into her. Cassie put her arms around her.

“You didn’t have to buy me a present.”

Winter whispered timidly against her partner’s collarbone. She didn’t know how to actually react to being given a present so sincerely.

“I wanted to.”

Her partner’s voice was full of warmth and Winter burrowed her face into her.

“So, surprise successful?”

“Yes.”

“Nice.”

“Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.”

They lay there for a few minutes until Winter felt her partner shift a little underneath her. That’s when she remembered that they had been on the floor this entire time and that Cassie must be extremely uncomfortable by now. She sat up.

“Uhm, sorry...your back must be hurting on the floor like that.”

Cassie waved her off.

“No, it wasn’t too bad actually. But the floor heating suddenly kicked higher and it surprised me a little.”

She scratched her cheek. Winter looked at her in disbelieve.

“I’m really not lying. Check.”

Cassie took Winter’s hand and she placed it on the floor. She was right.

Something dawned on Winter and she dropped her head against her partner’s shoulder.

“It’s probably only now reacting to the cold of the glyph.”

Cassie laughed.

“What’s with that delayed reaction? We would have frozen to death if that would have been an actual temperature drop.”

“Well, I guess the automated heating mode isn’t really perfect.”

“What? Who is this charlatan in charge of the heating grit? Can’t they make something that works properly?”

Winter giggled. Her partner was very well aware of how the Schnee Dust Company was in charge of the heating grit all around Atlas and Mantle and she appreciated the stab at how things were currently run there and Jacques.

“Let’s get up. Come on.” Winter stood up and lend her partner a hand.

“I should...also probably open up the present, since you went through all of the trouble of getting me one...”

Shyly she looked at her desk and her partner nodded.

“Yes, please.”

She sounded nervous as Winter walked towards her desk to take the box.

Winter leaned with her back on her desk so she could face her partner and carefully removed the ribbon and then the lid.

“That’s a…” her eyes widened in surprise.

Inside she could see an elongate silver colored thin piece of metal. It was on top of some cushioning and part of a fabric strip were folded behind it.

Winter recognized it to be very similar to one of the magnetic sword holsters she had been looking at a while ago. She looked at her partner, who immediately avoided her gaze.

“You didn’t order one together with your new sword back then...you know, after you came back from the manor and lessons started again...and I saw you looking at some of these again when we went to pick it up…”

Her partner’s words were shy and she still avoided looking into Winter’s eyes.

“I was looking at some of the holsters, yes...I thought I’d probably wait until I actually have the sword and tested it out some more...I figured I can still get a new one anytime later...but I never got around to it...”

Winter was still baffled. She didn’t think that Cassie had been paying that much attention to what she had been doing back then.

She had been only casually browsing through that section of the academy’s catalog thinking about how she would have to get a new holster for her new weapon soon as well, but it wasn’t anything urgent.

The sword itself was more important to her. She already had plans for it, but with her return after the holidays and a renewed incentive, Winter had decided to use the academy’s resources to finally get it. She was hesitant at first, but it was her partner who reminded her about the fact that she should just think of it as a reward for her good grades.
Especially since this was also one of the reasons she could even try and ask for a little more of the customization she wanted. Still Winter was indeed very surprised when her request had been approved almost immediately by General Ironwood himself.

Cassie however didn’t seem too surprised, apparently he had also just as quickly approved spare parts for her weapon and she had even gotten those the next day, since they were only parts.
When Winter told her about how things like these aren’t usually something a military leader and headmaster would take care of himself, they started to get a little suspicious. Once he might have had a slow day and decided to check in on the requisitions, but twice? Was he perhaps paying extra attention to them?
Maybe they were simply imagining things however. Either way it’s not like they were planning to burst into his office to complain about possible special treatment. It’s also not like he was proclaiming it all over the place.

Winter who had to begin with been hesitant about getting a new weapon was then sort of hesitant to buy a new holster, unsure about how she was actually allowed to keep the new sword and claim it as her own. Maybe it was also one of the reasons Cassie had now gotten her one. Winter looked at the new sword holster and back at her partner.

“You’re still using one of your old ones, but I thought that wouldn’t be good in the long run since your new combined saber is a bit heavier than the single swords were.
But the ones you were looking at were all already attached to a belt though, so I figured it’d be cooler if you could choose the belts yourself depending on what you’re wearing. So this one has a strap and you can put it on any type of belt you like. The academy didn’t have those, so I got it somewhere else and I went to pick it up this morning, so you wouldn’t accidentally find it before it was your birthday today.”

Cassie’s nervousness had cracked through and the words were pouring out of her partner’s mouth.

“Cass.” Upon hearing her name however she suddenly froze.

Winter once more looked at the present in her hand and then she looked at her old belted holsters. Even though she only needed one of them now, she was still wearing them both out of habit. Now however without giving it any further thoughts she removed both of them and placed them on her desk.

She clipped open one of the other belts she was currently wearing loosely around her waist, the one that held her dust pouch on her back.

Maybe at some point she would get rid of her habit of possibly wearing one or two belts too many. Even though she was still trying to convince herself that they all had their use.

Winter threaded the belt through her new holster and started to walk towards her still tense partner as she clipped it close again and slid the metal to her side.

When she reached her partner Winter put her arms around her waist and Cassie relaxed again and leaned into her.

“I’ll always wear it.”

Winter pressed close against her partner only to quickly loosened her hold again and move back slightly. Emerald eyes looked at her intently as she stopped for a moment to try and make up her mind.

Maybe, maybe this was the right moment…maybe it was okay to risk it...

Winter inhaled and raised her hand. She tried to keep it steady but she couldn’t help but to shake a little as she placed it on her partner’s cheek.

Cassie tensed up and it almost seemed like she had stopped breathing. Actually, Winter herself had only just then remembered to exhale again…

Winter took a new deep breath and closed her eyes. She would have to move closer again and slightly raise herself on tiptoes. She was in her heels, but still a little shorter...she opened her eyes again for a moment...

But as she wanted to take the step forward Winter’s legs wouldn’t move.

Her courage faltered and she froze.

Winter lowered her head in dismay and closed her eyes, she was too afraid to look at her partner and heat started to rise up to her face. She had started to remove her hand from her partner’s cheek when her forearm was grabbed.

She opened her eyes again and shyly looked towards her partner who had just stopped her and moved Winter’s hand back to her own cheek.

Cassie’s face was a little flushed, very much like Winter’s and there was a flicker in her eyes that Winter had never seen before.

“Finish what you started, Winter.”

The words themselves were demanding but as Cassie let go of her arm again, Winter could see her hand shaking slightly.

Could it be that her partner would have been completely okay with Winter taking their relationship a step further like that? Was she maybe just as anxious about it? Had they actually really been the same all along?

Winter laughed a little as all of her nervousness left her immediately.

“There you go trying to sound all cool, but still shaking.”

Cassie opened her mouth, but she only closed it again without saying a word and she turned her head to the side. She was bright red now.

Her hand still on her partner’s cheek Winter raised herself a little, closed her eyes and timidly placed a kiss on the cheek facing her.

For now this will do. Winter had teased her partner and she didn’t want to be greedy after that.

“Thank you for the present.”

As Winter was about to let go Cassie turned to face her again and held her in place. She was still slightly blushing, but there was determination in her eyes.

“You’re...welcome.”

Cassie pulled her closer and lowered her head slowly. Winter gulped as their noses touched gently and her partner’s lips stopped only a breath away from her own.

Anticipation had her heart beating fast and fearing that her partner might have frozen just like she had earlier, Winter gently moved her hand into Cassie’s hair and pulled her in.

Their lips pressed together. A few seconds passed and they parted again.

They had kissed and Winter was looking into her partner’s eyes.

A few silent seconds passed...suddenly it was like something snapped and a fire had been ignited.

They almost jumped each other to press their lips together. Winter’s hand didn’t dare letting go of her partner’s head and she was clinging to her back as she was almost desperately pressing against her. Cassie’s hands were wandering over her hips, waist, ribs and back, wanting, almost needing, to take in as much as she possibly could.

As they more and more frantically started to move both, their lips and bodies, against each other they stumbled over each others' legs and unceremoniously dropped on the floor.

Slightly breathless, they looked at each other.

Cassie was the first to crack up giggling and smiling but still mostly containing her own laughter Winter moved to sit on top of her partner’s lap and wrap her legs around her. She took a deep breath and sighed in mostly relief.

Winter ran her hand through her partner’s hair and over her ears as Cassie put her arms around her waist, placed a timid kiss on her neck before nuzzling into it.

“Hey, Winter.”

“Yes?”

“See, I’m thinking I love you and I’m kinda getting the distinct impression that you feel the same.”

Winter laughed out loud.

“How can you be a shameless flirt and really not have an ounce of romance in you at the same time?”

Cassie only chuckled. “What? Not good enough for you?”

“Could be better. But it’ll do for now.” Winter smiled as she teased her.

“Oh, really? So how about you show me then?”

Her partner raised her head to look into Winter’s eyes. She had a cheeky smile. She knew that Winter herself was much worse at verbally communicating her feelings and she was goading her.

It was however her clumsy way of asking for a clear declaration on their relationship now. And since she was the one who basically initiated it all, Winter wasn’t going to deny her that.

“Cassie.”

“Hm?”

Winter closed her eyes to take a quick breath and opened them again.

“I...I love you...and I even think that I have been falling for you from the very beginning...when...you approached me just...just for me...and no matter how...harsh...I have been...you always stayed by my side to support and care for me...and you have been, actually, you still are my closest friend...”

Her partner’s expression softened and she blushed a little and Winter felt her own body getting warmer and warmer, but she continued.

“I’m….not really good at expressing my feelings...and I don’t think that I’ll ever truly be...and it took me a long time to realize it, but...I know that I want to be with you and…if you’ll have me...I want us to be….something…more significant?”

Winter turned bright red. This was about as much as she could handle. Her partner only laughed warmly and ran her fingers through her hair as Winter dropped against her shoulder.

Winter felt a kiss being placed on her head.

“I love you too, Winter. Very much so. And I’m an idiot for not admitting to it sooner...”

Cassie was drawing slow circles on her back as she nuzzled against Winter’s head to place another kiss on her temple. She had always been affectionate, but Winter never would have thought that she could get as gentle as this.

Actually, no. Thinking back, she had been just as gentle with her when she had melted down in tears. Had Cassie maybe already loved her back then? Winter burrowed her face in her partner’s shoulder.

If back then Cassie would have told her that she loved her, Winter probably would have immediately reciprocated her love. It only now occurred to her how easily her partner could have taken advantage of her and Winter would have accepted her.

But if she had done that Winter would have by now also probably been agonizing about whether or not she truly loved her partner after all or whether she had only clung to her in a moment of weakness.

When she realized just how much more respect than she already thought Cassie had shown her during these moments, Winter got a little emotional. She nuzzled closer and her hand tightened to grip onto her partner as she continued to speak.

“...but I promise that I will always treat you well and with respect. I want you to be happy, I want us to be there for each other and support each other.”

Winter didn’t reply immediately, her face was buried in her partner’s neck. For once in her life she had somebody who she truly loved, somebody who respected her and felt the same way about her.

Yes, she always had Klein, Weiss and she still believed in Whitley, but this was different. This was something she that was truly hers. Hers and her partner’s.

It was something that from the get-go she had chosen herself.

The moment she had agreed to turning around and her eyes met Cassie’s, she had autonomously started their relationship, even though she didn’t know where it would lead the two of them. She smiled.

Winter raised her head to look once anew into her partner’s eyes.

“Much better already…” she timidly went for teasing her partner.

Cassie chuckled. “I’ll put that down as a job well done then.”

Winter put her hands on her partner’s cheeks and straightened her back.

She moved in for another kiss. Cassie pulled her closer and leaned into it. Their lips kept parting and meeting again. They were innocent, gentle and slow kisses.

Now that their first rush had calmed and the pent-up tension had dropped, they took their time to explore, lips passing, hands carefully moving around each others’ bodies to shyly get used to the newfound intimacy between them.

Winter flourished with every kiss and every touch. And she grew more confident the more she noticed how fully her partner as well was enjoying being touched and kissed by her.

Cassie leaned and smiled into every touch of hers and while both of them were still a little clumsy, Winter couldn’t help but to revel in how strangely in tune they already were. Maybe all of the combined combat training translated to things like that as well.

Winter didn’t really know for sure but several minutes must have passed as they simply snuggled and kissed all over while any last reserve between them slowly melted away.

And who knows how long they would have remained still sitting on the floor, if it hadn’t been for Cassie’s scroll suddenly going off. She groaned a little into Winter’s lips not wanting to check the message or reply. Winter giggled and nudged her a little.

“Just check it quickly. It might be important.”

Cassie sighed as she pulled out her scroll. She laughed a little and turned it to show her the picture of the sender.

Tobias Hyatt. Winter recognized him as one of Cassie’s few friends she had been hanging out with whenever Winter was busy with something or she had classes with him.

Winter however hadn’t spoken all too much to him. For the most part because she simply didn’t have any shared classes with him.
She really only ever met him and his partner whenever she went to pick up her own partner for something and they had been together. But she knew that Cassie was fond of him and that alone was enough for her to tolerate how loud he was whenever she would see him.

“He wants us to join his team for lunch. Seems like they’re bored and want to try out a new place. Wanna go?”

“Lunch?” With all that had happened Winter had completely forgotten about lunch.

“Let’s go. I’ll even buy you the kid’s birthday menu.”

Cassie chuckled as Winter play-hit her shoulder.

“You really are lucky that I actually love you.”

“Don’t I know it.”

Cassie smiled as she nuzzled into her neck and Winter blushed a little at her partner’s sincere response.

“If...if they’re going now, we should get up and get ready.”

“I’ll send him a message to ask where to met up. Speaking of Toby, I think I might actually owe him one, maybe a little at least.”

“How so?” Winter was a little curious about what had occured that would put her partner into his debt.

“I’ll tell you on our way. But promise you won't bite if he tries to be all smug about it.” She chuckled.

Winter was puzzled, but she simply stood up and stretched her hand towards her partner to help her.

“You’re always so gallant.” Cassie giggled as she took her hand and stood up as well.

“Flatterer.”

Still Winter couldn’t help but to blush a little, somehow her partner’s tone was a little different to the one she usually had whenever she would flirt with her or anybody.

“I mean it.” Cassie put her arms around her waist and kissed her cheek.

“Well,...thanks then.”

Winter’s reply was timid. She might still have to get used to how Cassie was now her…? In fact what was she going to refer to her from now? She furrowed her brow.

Calling her ‘girlfriend’ seemed a bit childish and silly and Winter felt like it didn’t quite express her feelings towards her...her ‘significant other’, maybe?

She tilted her head slightly. Maybe in a formal setting, but for general use it just seemed like a mouthful...her…'lover'? Winter felt heat rising up her body...that might be a bit too…much too early...

Winter’s thought process was interrupted when she heard a chuckle.

“That was a lot of different facial expressions in a short time. What are you in your head about, Winter?”

“I…” Winter was a little shy about it now. “I was...what do I refer to you as from now on?”

Cassie tilted her head in confusion.

“What do you refe-…? Oh, I get it...hmm...I...uhm, what would you like me to call you then?” A nervous laugh escaped her.

“I have no idea.”

Winter dropped her head against her partner in embarrassment.

“Doesn’t….doesn’t ‘partner’ still work fine though?”

Winter raised her head again at her partner's words.

“I…guess, it does, doesn’t it?” She chuckled. “The word just gained more meaning.”

“A lot more meaning.” Cassie moved in to meet Winter’s lips for a kiss.

And they probably would have continued kissing if it wasn’t for Cassie’s scroll once more interrupting.

“We really should get ready now.” Winter tore herself away.

“Probably, they’ll be at the main gate in 15 minutes.”

Winter started to walk towards the bathroom to freshen up when she stopped at the door to turn around.

“Thank you, Cassie.”

“Hm? What for?”

“This is already the nicest birthday I ever had.”