The snow crunched quietly beneath her feet, but she was hardly aware of it, protected as she was by the thick soles and sturdy leather of her boots. Nor was she aware of the tiny flurries that drifted down to slowly, slowly erase her footsteps. Her mind was elsewhere, focused on her destination, and on what - who - she hoped to find there. A full moon overhead lit the landscape clearly, making the snow seem to glow with a soft blue radiance. There was no need for artificial light to help guide her, but she preferred it that way. It seemed almost a crime to bring something so mechanical-- No, machines themselves were not the problem, but rather the lifelessness that most man-made things possessed. It would be wrong to carry something that was 'dead' on such a night as this.
She continued to trudge through the snow, carefully picking her way along a rocky, narrow path. The faint breeze picked up a little as she climbed higher, and she pulled her fur-lined coat more tightly around herself and the lumpy, paper-wrapped package that was the only other thing she had brought with her. Its contents would not be harmed by the cold... but she would feel better if it was kept warm, at least for now. At least until she-
Kalinka gave an involuntary start. When had she lost track of her progress up the hill? "Blues," she greeted, turning to smile warmly at the red- and grey-clad robot. "I was hoping I would find you here."
"What are you doing here, Kalinka?" He tilted his head to one side and studied her, eyes hidden by the dark shades of his helmet. Not that she could have seen his eyes, had they been uncovered. Blues had chosen to stand in the shadow cast by a large boulder, where the bright moonlight could not reach him. It was so dark there that Kalinka could barely see his helmet, much less the face beneath it.
"I... I came to see you," she admitted shyly. Suddenly, she was grateful for the darkness. It hid the blush on her cheeks.
"How did you know I would be here?" Blues asked. His voice was soft, quiet, but with an unmistakable hint of curiosity. Kalinka imagined that he was smiling. People sounded different when they smiled, and although Blues was a robot, she felt that it would be the same for him.
"I didn't," she answered simply. "I knew that you liked coming here sometimes to watch the stars. Wasn't that how you happened to be here that night I was kidnapped? I remember the things you said when you rescued me from Dr. Wily. You said them years ago, to calm a panicky child... but I still remember. Don't you remember, Blues?" she teased.
Even the darkness couldn't hide the grin on Blues' face. The question was absurd. Of course he remembered. He was a robot, after all. "How could I forget? You tried to use my scarf to wipe your nose!"
"I did not!" Kalinka protested indignantly, blushing hotly. "I was going to wipe my eyes, not my nose." She folded her arms and turned her head away in a pretend pout. "You were very mean, Blues. You wouldn't even let a little girl wipe away her tears."
"My scarf is not a snot rag," Blues responded blandly, leaning back against the boulder. "Not even for cute little girls in red dresses and fuzzy hats."
"I wasn't- Ooooh, you're impossible, Blues!" Kalinka tossed her blond hair over her shoulder and stamped her foot, barely resisting the childish urge to stick her tongue out at him. She was half tempted to throw something at him, but the only thing she had was the package, and she wasn't about to throw that. Instead, she stuck her nose in the air, turned her back on him, and said, "If that's the way you're going to be, perhaps I should go back home."
A hand on her shoulder caused her to turn. Blues had stepped out of the shadow of the boulder and was now standing beside her, smiling. "Not until you answer my question."
"Why should I?" Why did it have to be his eyes that he chose to hide? Why couldn't he hide his mouth, like a thief in one of those silly old movies? Why did he have to have such a nice smile?
"Because I asked."
"I already told you, I came here to see you." He really was a thief. He'd stolen her out from under Dr. Wily's nose, and now he was stealing her anger. Kalinka wondered what he'd steal next.
The hand on her shoulder gently turned her around so that she was once again facing Blues. She avoided his eyes by studying the yellow scarf tied around his neck. Kalinka knew it was several years old, but Blues had taken good care of it, despite everything he had been through. She wondered if he ever took it off, or if he somehow kept it clean enough that it never needed washing.
"Kalinka, look at me."
She fidgeted with the package in her arms for a moment, then looked up. He was smiling at her again, that same teasing smile he always seemed to wear when he was around her. She wondered if he smiled like that because he was always teasing her, or if that was just the way he smiled.
"Why are you here, Kalinka?" he asked, finally removing his red-gloved hand from her shoulder. A slight breeze sent his scarf fluttering behind him, and gave Kalinka a good excuse for the goose bumps that had raised on her arms while he'd been touching her.
She didn't respond for a few moments, collecting her thoughts and her courage, then shyly pressed the package into his hands. "To give you this."
Blues peered curiously down at the package, then lifted his head to give her a questioning look. It was odd how she could still read his facial expressions though half his face was hidden by those shades. Perhaps it was her imagination. Wordlessly, the red-clad robot tore away the paper to reveal the black fur of a Russian hat, a kolpak. He looked back up at her, at her head, which was bare despite the cold. "Why?" he asked.
So many possible interpretations of that one word! Why are you giving me a hat? Why are you giving me anything at all? And why your hat?
"Happy birthday, Blues," Kalinka murmured with a smile, an answer that would work no matter which question he was asking. She nearly laughed at his obvious surprise and confusion.
"It isn't my birthday."
"I know. But you've never told me when your birthday is, always dodged the question when I asked, so... I guessed."
Blues carefully lifted the kolpak out of the torn paper packaging and stared at it like it was a foreign animal. Had he never received a birthday present before, even from his own family? Or was it something else that made him look so uncertain as to what to do with the gift? "It's a hat, Blues," Kalinka teased him. "You're supposed to wear it on your head, to keep you warm."
The teasing was met with an amused smile. "I'm a robot, Kalinka," Blues replied, mimicking her tone of voice perfectly. "I don't need to keep warm."
"You don't need to keep warm," she responded smoothly, "but you wear a scarf around your neck."
He laughed. "All right, all right. I know better than to argue with a Russian."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means," Blues said as handed the kolpak to Kalinka, "that I concede the point. Thank you for the gift, even if it's not my birthday." He reached up to pull off his helmet, then set it down on a nearby rock, ignoring the unruly black hair that tried to fall into his eyes as soon as it was free. Then he took back the hat and put it on, only having to tug a little to get it into the proper position. "How do I look?"
How could she answer that? This was the first time she'd ever seen him without his helmet on. They were blue, or perhaps a shade of gray. She wasn't sure. There was only enough light to see that they were too pale to be brown or green. But she realized that maybe it had been a blessing, all these years, for Blues to hide his eyes from her, rather than his mouth. His smile could steal her anger, but his eyes... his eyes could steal her heart.
"You look," she finally said, "like a true Russian." Then she giggled. "From the neck up, anyway."
Blues grinned, moonlight dancing in his eyes. "I suppose that means the next time you think it's my birthday, you'll give me a trench coat or something to complete the look."
"Only if you tell me when your birthday is," Kalinka said, grinning impishly.
There was silence for a moment as Blues looked at her, seeming to decide what response to give her based on what he saw. Then he picked up his helmet and took a step closer, leaning forward so that his mouth was next to her ear, and Kalinka's heart leapt with hope. He would tell her. After all these years, he was finally giving in. He-
-kissed her cheek.
"I'll think about it," he murmured into her ear. He pulled back a little, just enough to meet her eyes, and gave her a warm smile.
Blue. His eyes were a clear, electrifying blue. Kalinka couldn't look away, feeling as though her whole body was frozen in place by the winter reflected in Blues' eyes. But that couldn't be right. This couldn't be winter she was feeling, looking into those beautiful blue eyes. Winter was never this warm.
Holding his helmet in the crook of one arm, Blues gave Kalinka a mock-salute before disappearing in a fiery flash of light. Kalinka touched her cheek, fingers lightly resting against the spot where he'd kissed her. A moment of dazed silence passed as she watched his teleporter trail vanish in the sky, then she smiled and turned around to go home.
No, not winter at all.
Author's Note: This has been one of the oddest writing experiences of my life so far. I like romance, to a degree, but I don't normally read romance fan fiction, let alone write it. I've tried to before, but I always get so caught up in the plot of the story that I end up neglecting the romantic relationships between my characters. So, writing a story that focused solely on the budding relationship between two characters was something of a challenge for me. I kept having to resist the urge to delete everything because the story felt so awkward without the action/adventure I prefer to write. ;)
Many thanks go to Syvia, my wonderful beta reader whose editing skills
made this story so much better than it would have been, and to Atreyu,
obsession with Blues/Kalinka is the reason I wrote this fic in the
first place. -grins-