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The Respite Hollow (or, The Ice Was Cold and So Were Their Hearts Until They Fell in Love)

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“You’re early,” Hawke calls from across the ice. Her music is so loud it hurts his ears, but he likes the tune—something smoky and sad with a heavy saxophone line—and Hawke abandons the triple toe loop for a single before skating over to him at the side of the rink. Her black tights and red tank are marked with flecks of snow; she must have tried for the quad again. “What, miss me already?”

Fenris snorts. Four months in Hawke’s employ have taught him she is an irrepressible and entirely unserious flirt, and he no longer fears her overtures. “Since yesterday? Hardly, Hawke.”

“Well, I’m like a bad penny whether you want it or not, so I guess it’s good you don’t ache when I’m gone. Is that lunch?”

“It is lunch for me.”

She doesn’t quite pout, but her eyes are huge and limpid as she leans both elbows on the door between them and cups her chin in her hands. “You know that that restaurant, of all the restaurants in all the world, makes the best fries I’ve ever had, and you know that I love those fries more than life itself, and you went there by yourself and you didn’t bring me any of them.”

Fenris holds her gaze, level as he can make it, and then pulls a small packet from the bag and hands it to her. “Merrill sends her regards.”

“You do love me,” Hawke says, and shoves three of them in her mouth at once. “I’m not giving up the ice yet, though. I have another hour before my time is done.”

“As you like,” he sighs, longsuffering, and settles onto one of the benches outside the rink as Hawke moves back to the center of the ice. He does not respond to her deliberate shimmy as the song changes; nor does he allow himself to reflect on the choices that had taken him to her favorite sandwich shop in the first place. He’s been here long enough. Too long, already. But he has been careful; there will be time enough to leave without pain yet.

He eats his own sandwich quickly and neatly, then balls up the trash and sets it aside. He did not need to be here so early. Even with lunch, even with the odd jobs he has taken here and there to supplement Hawke’s more-than-generous pay, he has no reason to be here when he knows Hawke will be skating alone for another hour.

And yet.

She’d broken her arm in three places, dislocated four ribs, split her nose open like a tomato. One of the fine bones under her eye had snapped and required surgery to fix; two of the ligaments in her right ankle had torn. It had taken months for her to walk again.

None of it shows. She moves like water over the ice, sinuous as a snake—if a snake were to laugh at him every time it passed—and when she steps into a triple loop it’s as easy as breathing. There’s not a hitch in a step, and even if it’s not technically perfect, Fenris knows himself well enough to understand why he comes early these days to watch her.

The music swells into a key change, and Hawke laughs, delighted. There’s no method to her dancing—and it is dancing now, the edges of her blades tipping in and out and carving sweeping flowers through the ice—and when she throws herself into a triple axel and comes down one-footed, smooth as the saxophone accompanying her, she pumps a fist in artless joy and spins to face him. She gives him a sweeping bow that carries her across half the rink, grinning, before flipping back to her path and building up speed for another turn.

It’s skating for the pleasure of skating, and for an instant Fenris’s heart lodges in his throat.

The footsteps behind him, when they come, are not even enough to alarm him. Varric has a unique gait, quieter than most but loud enough Fenris thinks it is deliberate, and he comes to stand behind Fenris with his arms crossed. They’re silent for a few minutes, watching Hawke in a camel spin in the center of the rink, and then Varric says, “They both stopped skating, afterwards.”

It doesn’t require an answer, but… “Understandable.”

“Anders wouldn’t touch the ice again. He was furious. Wanted to be involved every step of the investigation, wanted to kill the man himself. And then it turned out to be some poor schmuck in the maintenance crew with blackmail hanging over his head, and he never got the justice he wanted.”

Danarius’s eyes, triumphant. “I… had not heard of this.”

“The investigation is technically still open, though I doubt they’ll find whoever was behind it. The ICU isn’t exactly the FBI.”

She’s abandoned the spins now and has settled for air guitar, strumming wildly to something modern and pop as she slings herself to her knees across the ice. Fenris shakes his head. “And Hawke?”

“Wanted to. Couldn’t. Physical therapy ate up most of her winnings, and then her father died. Couldn’t afford the travel after that. Her mother’s got some trust fund money from her grandparents, but it’s tied up in legal and they can’t get at it. They keep this place afloat—barely—and they have enough to keep Hawke’s sister in medical school. Everything else…”

There’s something in his voice, some thought in the back of his head that Fenris shies away from. “She would like to compete again?”

“She’s Hawke. She sees setbacks like that as a personal challenge. She’d be offended I ever even questioned it.”

“Hm.”

“Fenris.”

He blinks, then glances at Varric. The man’s amber eyes are serious, his jaw set. “Fenris,” he says again, “I’ve watched Hawke do this for a long time. She’s good. She knows what she’s doing. But when she skates alone, she’s missing something—some spark that comes out of her and sets the place on fire. She’s good alone. But if she could get a partner she could trust, she could be—they could be great. Once in a generation.”

He nearly laughs at the idea. “I am no suitable partner for Hawke.” For anyone.

“No? I’ve seen you skate too, remember. I was at Worlds when you won.”

“That was—” His fist clenches involuntarily, the smell of hair oil and orchids suddenly heavy in his nose. “That is not—an enjoyable memory for me.”

“Maybe not. But I know you skate here alone too, when you think no one’s here, and I know Hawke stands on the overlook and watches until you finish.”

His head swings around, but Varric’s face is open and entirely serious. “I know your history with the sport isn’t exactly smooth. Hers isn’t either. But you two are two of the best skaters I’ve seen in a long time, and I think it’d be a hell of a shame if you didn’t try.”

Fenris says nothing. His eyes are back on Hawke now, the music changed to a slower, sadder song, and he watches as she follows some invisible gust of wind with her fingers, her arms, before sweeping into an old routine he half-recognizes from nationals. No partner, though. Half a routine. Half a memory.

“Think about it,” says Varric, softly, and leaves Fenris alone with his thoughts as Hawke skates circles with her own shadow.

There’s nothing remarkable about the day it all changes. It’s cold outside, blustery and bleak, and she’s been on the ice not twenty minutes when she sees the door at the top of the stairs open and Fenris emerge. She doesn’t stop moving, though her smile grows, and as the music lifts into a graceful violin solo she pulls her ankle up behind her head and spins until the world goes white. She doesn’t bother to properly spot, so the rainbow-mural walls spin a bit longer when she’s through, but by the time it stills again she can see Fenris sitting on the bench just outside the door to the rink, lacing up his skates.

He's in his gear, she realizes: that same dark long-sleeved shirt, the black leggings, his fine black skates. He does not wait for her invitation. Instead he opens the door, his green eyes steady on hers, and as she passes him on the next lap, slowly, intrigued, he steps out and follows in her wake.

The violins are joined by a cello, and as the tempo picks up so does she, and Fenris follows with her. He’s not a pairs skater, she knows, hasn’t been trained like she has for years in how to read the breath of a partner, how to watch the shape of a line and match one’s own to it, but he’s a damned technical genius and he learns faster than she ever did, and when she flips backwards he does in almost the same moment. He speeds a touch ahead so he can watch her lead, and as they finish a turn she says, “Double salchow, on the cue.”

His eyes narrow, a faint smile at the corner of his full mouth. She feels more than sees his weight shift to the back left, and then—the key changes, the music lifts, and they’re up—and down again, and she’s done a triple because she can, and as she meets his eyes they’re brighter than they’ve ever been, laughing at her, and she realizes he’s done a triple too. There’s a laugh of her own caught tight in her chest, threatening to explode in sunlight; she’s on the same foot he is with the other extended smoothly and they’re breathing together, in sync, and for one brilliant moment it’s like she never had to leave. They weave in and out, backwards now, now moving in the same instant and the same blade back to a forward skate, turning with the curve of the rink into each other and away. Even with Anders it had never been—never been this effortless—

“Here,” she says, giddy, and reaches for his hands.

Fenris lets her take them, tattoos and warm calluses and all, and he’s not trained in this but he learns fast—so fast—and to have a partner who knows how to read the shift of weight and move with her without having to speak is so intoxicating she almost can’t bear it. She shows him a pattern for a backwards, paired footwork section, nothing flashy, nothing difficult; in two passes he has it mastered, and on the third he spins her in surprise reverse and adds a flair with his toe-pick that suddenly has her breathless with paired jealousy and joy. He’s watching her like she’s the only thing that matters in the world, and as far as she’s concerned, it’s gone the same damned way for her.

“Bastard,” she says, partly teasing, partly lightheaded with the sheer impossibility of this whole situation, “I’ll have to show you the lifts.”

Fenris lets out a slow breath, and without speaking they ease the pace along with the cello and the violins. His hands slip free of hers, move somehow to her waist and linger there. She lets them, gliding backwards without effort, propelled by Fenris’s blades alone through the ice; she rests her forearms over his shoulders, links her fingers behind his head, and leans this way and that, meandering a path through some wordless dance she never wants to end. The violins are soft now, sweet.

“I’m serious about this.”

He looks at her when she says it, direct and quiet, and her heart jumps at the small, dry smile he gives after. “You, Hawke?”

“I know, it’s hard to believe. If we do this—if you stay—I want to go as far as we can. I want to try, if nothing else.”

His smile disappears. His gaze drops over her shoulder for several moments, then returns, and this time there is a new light behind the green: hard and, she thinks, a little afraid. “There are some things I need to tell you, Hawke.”

“Whatever you need. Always.”

“Somewhere else. Not here.” He shakes his head, white brushing over her eyebrows. When had they gotten so close? “It’s not a brief story.”

“Come over, then. My place isn’t far.” Her heart is pounding. She’s such a fool, but— “My dog’s staying with my mother this week, so I’ll make dinner. Or rather, I’ll order in and put it on plates and say I did.”

He huffs a laugh, then rolls his shoulders like a warrior preparing for battle rather than dinner. They’ve stopped at some point, standing motionless in the center of the ice, but his hands still rest on her hips. “That sounds tolerable enough.”

“Good. I’ll get Italian.” And—because she is feeling bold, still riding the high of that unexpected duet, Hawke adds cheekily, “This is a date, right?”

He winces—and then he smiles, just a little, and doesn’t say no when he meets her eyes. “I’ll see you tonight, Hawke.”

Dinner is good. Odd, in some ways, seeing him dressed like a normal human being with nary a blade in sight, but she can admit she very much likes the sight of him this way too, his navy button-up rolled up to his elbows, his black jeans fitting all the way down. The plates have been relegated to the sink, the table cleared, and they’ve moved to her couch with the wine he brought and the only pair of nice wineglasses she owns. She’s lost track of the number of glasses they’ve shared—enough that she’s pleasantly blurry at the edges—but he’s just as far or farther, and she tucks her feet under her on the couch as he leans forward, elbows on his knees. The lines on his arms glint softly in the dimmed light.

They’ve talked about all sorts of things, more than she’d expected. A little of Italy, a little of her own hometown; more of her family than his. Restaurants, books, even a movie or two; she’s learned he can’t stand fish and he’s a snob about his vintages. He’d made her laugh so suddenly she’d spat wine all over her plum-colored sweater and had to dab it away. Not much about skating at all, and she hasn’t missed it. Fenris is enough to unravel on his own, more to them both than their profession, and not once had there been a pause that had lingered too long. She’s glad for that.

But the mood has shifted in the little silence, the candles lower than they were, and as he lifts his head to look at the blank TV across from them she sets her glass aside. He says, “Hawke,” and drags in a breath.

“I’m here.”

He relaxes a bit at that, though he doesn’t look at her, and slowly, haltingly, he begins to lay out the pieces of his past that have led him here to her. Some of it she’s known, the story the media has presented of the orphan boy raised high above his hopes to international stardom; now he tells her of the sister he’d left behind, the mother dying by inches in a hospital they couldn’t afford as he begged and stole what he could to keep them alive.

He’d been twelve and picking up trash for a local skating rink for a fistful of euro. The owner hadn’t liked him, but let him rent a pair of skates for half-price every few days and didn’t care if he skated for a few hours after the rest of the customers left, so long as he locked up after. He’d been there only a few months, mimicking some spin he had seen on the news a few days prior, when the door opened and the owner and another man had come in. A tall man, thin, with a grey beard and a smile he had not liked.

But the money had been impossible to refuse. He’d sold himself for his sister’s sake, and his mother’s, and his world had become gyms and ice rinks and dinners at a long, silent table with a man who told him in soft, smooth tones what he would eat, what he would say, how he would be redesigned in every way into the prodigy he knew he was capable of becoming. The tattoos had come later, starting when he was fifteen. His hair had gone white by twenty. Danarius had approved, pleased by the contrast with his skin.

She knows him well enough by now to tell he hasn’t given her everything, but she can read between the lines. One hotel room when they traveled. A lock on his door at Danarius’s manor, but no mention of a key. The look as Danarius had squeezed his shoulders at Worlds…

Fenris falters. Without thinking Hawke unfolds her arm behind him on the couch, letting her fingertips come to rest on the back of his neck. His eyes close without flinching; encouraged, she trails her fingernails gently up into the nape of his white hair and back down again. He gives an almost-there smile that clenches around her heart and continues.

“It would not have been enough,” he murmurs. “Even the silver. Even gold. That was when I knew it. To pay him back would take the rest of my life, and I—all at once, I could not bear the thought of it.”

“And your family?”

“My mother was dead.” Flat, no emotion. “My sister disappeared when I turned twenty-one. I wondered…”

“You wondered?”

He gives an irritated shake of his head. Not at her, but enough to hide his eyes. “If he had paid her to do so. Or for someone else to make sure she did.”

“He’d go that far?”

“He has before.” Now he cuts a look at her, a bitter twist to his mouth. He begins one thought, then abandons it with a wince for a second. “There was another favorite before me. He ran, also, and was found dead in the River Tiber with his feet flayed to the bone.”

 “Well,” Hawke sighs, and when he does not object she runs her fingers fully into his hair. Softer than she expects. His eyes flutter again as she traces her nails over his scalp; he leans back into her hand. “That’s horrifying.”

“He has more money than any man could hope to spend, friends in powerful places.”

This traitorous lump in her throat. “They always do.”

“I would kill him if I could.”

She can only nod. Useless to say she’d like to as well; impossible to say she understands. “I’d hold him down for you, if that helps.”

One corner of his mouth turns up. “It does, Hawke.”

“Have you seen him since you left?”

“No. Only calls every few months when he finds my number. The feeling sometimes that I am being followed.” Fenris sighs, then turns to look at her. “I have never stayed in one place long.”

“Except here.” Her heart is racing; has the room always been this warm? “Why?”

Now his face changes, a deeper uncertainty filtering to the surface, like a line has drawn some treasure out of water not yet ready to be breached. His hand is tentative too as it lifts to touch the tail of her black hair where it falls over her shoulder, trailing up its strands to the line of her jaw: quick, careful motions, as if at any moment he expects he might be thrown back in scorn.

Well. Time to disabuse him of that notion.

Hawke tips her cheek into his palm and smiles, something slow and dangerous and real like she hasn’t wanted in years. His eyes fall to her mouth; his breath catches. “Why?” she repeats, low, and his fingers slide to curve around the back of her neck.

“I enjoy watching you,” he admits, and isn’t that the most unfair thing she’s ever heard, because his voice has dropped and his thumb is stroking along her cheek and the sentiment alone would have been enough to turn her to jelly, but to add in how he’s looking at her on top of that…

“Hm,” she says, adding just the slightest pressure to bring his face closer to hers. “Do you? Well, I am very watchable. I’ve been on TV, you know.”

He chuckles, a soft breath that she can feel against her mouth. “Have you, Hawke? I have, as well.”

“Mm. Did yours involve a handsome man in skin-tight Lycra, dramatic music, and practically vibrating sexual tension between—”

Fenris kisses her, and Hawke gives a sudden, bright laugh before wrapping both arms around his neck. He tastes good, like wine and salt from dinner, and his mouth fits just as well against hers as she’s spent six months imagining. One of his hands comes to the small of her back; she arches in response, delighted, then comes back to suck on his bottom lip. He lets out a quiet groan as her teeth graze over his skin, and Hawke laughs again.

“I like this lip,” she murmurs against his mouth, and when he almost compulsively reaches for her in answer she slings one leg up over his lap. His hand clenches around her knee, then drags up along the outside of her jeans. Good. “Always have, ever since I first saw it.”

 “Charming,” he says between kisses, voice dry, but she can feel how fast his pulse runs in his throat.

Shit, he feels good against her. His shoulders are wonderfully broad, so much stronger than they look under the button-up; his hands are warm on her back, her thigh, even through her clothes. Good with his tongue, too, as she cups his jaw in her hands and coaxes his lips apart. His eyes are closed, his brow furrowed with total concentration; she gives a full-body shiver of anticipation before falling completely into the moment.

Everything is so hot: her face, her skin, her stomach, some bright little coals settling there and flaring with every stroke of Fenris’s hands. At some point his fingers had slipped under the hem of her sweater, splaying over her spine; and she’s found the top two buttons of his shirt in response, though she has to abandon it soon enough to get one hand back into his hair. He’s a quiet kisser, quieter than she’d expected—though she’s more than enough for both of them in that regard—and when one particularly good, slow, deep kiss knocks the breath right out of her the noise she makes surprises them both.

He laughs, startled; she can’t help but laugh at him in answer, and for better or worse, it’s enough to crack the intensity. She kisses Fenris twice more, because she wants to and because he’ll allow it, and then she redoes one of his buttons and slides her weight from his lap. Leaves the leg, though. She likes the way he’s absently stroking it.

“It is probably for the best,” he says into the silence. They’re both breathing harder than they should.

Hawke snorts. “Then the best is rotten. Give me my instant gratification and be done with it.”

He laughs noiselessly, but there’s a tension growing at the corners of his eyes. “This is work, what we do. The risks—”

“Are worth the reward, and don’t even try to sell me otherwise.” She taps the side of her nose at his look. “And I know a little something about risk-taking.”

Fenris shakes his head, but he doesn’t argue again, and when she kisses him one last time to test the waters he lets her, though the fire from before has ebbed. “You walk a dangerous line, Hawke.”

“Only with skates on,” she murmurs into his mouth, and smiles to herself when he laughs.