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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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Hawke, their choreographer tells them, is to be a dragon. Fenris will be the warrior hunting her down to kill her, only to realize too late he has slain something beautiful that should have lived. Hawke, naturally, is delighted; Fenris, having danced worse, has no particular reservations. Not that their choreographer would have brooked them anyway.

Isabela is a beautiful woman herself, dark-skinned and full-figured, gold jewelry dotting ears, nose, mouth, and throat; moreover, she both knows she is beautiful and understands how to use it. Younger than he’d expected, she moves like a dancer, fluid in every gesture even through her fur-lined vest.

“Up!” she snaps, clapping, and a chagrined Hawke lifts her hand another few inches until it nearly brushes Fenris’s own above her head. “Up, up! Good. He’s got the length for you, kitten; don’t be afraid to use it.”

Hawke meets his eye over her shoulder and snorts. He shakes his head, a small motion, but can’t stop his own smile as Isabela resets them to the top of the section. “And you—you have the sexiest woman you’ve ever met in your arms. Try to look like it; your face is still enough to crack stone. Again, and with effort this time. Now. One, two, three—”

They breathe out together, and then they’re off, backwards crossovers around the back of the rink to build speed. A spread eagle into a triple-toe double-toe combination—Hawke singles out on the second but doesn’t break stride—and then into the artistry section he genuinely approves of, a careful tête-a-tête where he tests her defenses and she lashes back, twisting and graceful as he chases her across the ice. Then—a catch, a testing hold with one arm around her waist from behind, the other pulling her free hand up slowly above them both. She reaches high enough to suit this time—at least, Isabela does not stop them, though she does roll her eyes—and then forward strokes across the ice, changing at the last moment into the backwards posture for the throw salchow.

They’ve been slower on those elements: the throws, the lifts, the twists. Singles first on all of them; then careful doubles, and even those only when Fenris is fully certain in his own ability to execute. It’s been some time since he learned a new skill, but Hawke is right that he is a quick study, and the desire to please her—new enough he does not care yet to examine it—is impetus enough.

But today, three months into their partnership, they’re adding the triple to the throw. It’s the first time they’ve done this in routine; in isolated practice it’s gone well enough, but it’s always different the first time in sequence. The steps into the end are smooth, Hawke gripping his hand where it’s wrapped around her, and then she picks the toe and he throws—

It’s too high. It’s far too high, and she comes down with all her weight on the heel of her right blade. She windmills her arms but can’t save it, tumbling to her backside and skidding a good fifteen feet across the ice. Fenris lets out a sharp noise, disgusted at himself, and skates over to her.

“Too high,” calls Aveline from the boards, her arms crossed. Her husband Donnic sits a few rows behind her, conferring with the costume designer over the phone as he tallies up production costs. She’s not the most traditional coach he’s ever had, but anything is better than his last, and he trusts Varric’s judgment. And his pocketbook, as it happens, which does limit Fenris’s options. “The push—you’re pushing from your shoulders. Throw from the core, and let her own momentum help you.”

He waves in acknowledgement and extends a hand to help Hawke to her feet, but she’s pulled up her knees and rests her elbows on them, looking at him speculatively instead.

“Are you hurt?” he asks, surprised.

“Aveline,” Hawke calls, not looking away from him, “I want to try a quad.”

Fenris stiffens. “No.”

“No,” Aveline echoes. Varric, Fenris is alarmed to see, has an expression similar to Hawke’s. “You aren’t even doing the triple in sequence yet.”

Hawke sets her jaw. “We’ve got the triple, and I want to try it. Just once.”

“We’ll talk about the quad after sectionals. Don’t run before you can walk, Hawke.”

“I don’t want to run,” Hawke retorts, at last allowing Fenris to help her to her feet. She doesn’t let him go, however, and her grip is hard. “I want to fly. Give me the quad, Fenris.”

This is insane. He is insane for even remotely considering this, but there’s a burning in her eyes he can feel in his own chest, and Varric’s words ring in his ears. Some spark that comes out of her and sets the place on fire.

“One try,” he hears himself say aloud, and the slow grin that spreads across Hawke’s face starts an unwilling answer of his own. “The salchow?”

“Yes,” she breathes, and Aveline smacks both hands on the lip of the wall.

“This is a bad idea,” she says tightly. “Varric, tell them to wait.”

Varric shifts his shoulders. His gold earring winks in the arena’s glaring overheads. “It’s a harder throw than you think. More than what you just did. Hawke, you’ll have to finally tuck your elbows if you don’t want to break them.”

“Are you calling me sloppy?”

Varric!” cries Aveline, but they’re already resetting to the top of the section. Isabela watches them go, her eyes curiously opaque, but when they take their positions for the skate, she gives him a slow nod and a curved red smile. The breath. The tête-a-tête, the catch, the hold. Into the footwork and out of it again.

His pulse pounds in his ears. He catches Hawke’s eyes on every turn and it is the same pinpoint star-bright focus he feels himself, each step and curve and twist into the ice a single sound as they move together. One breath; one turn into the backwards cross. Hawke’s hand on his hand, strong, steady, sure in every way. The tense and the toe-pick—and the throw from his core, and he doesn’t even need to watch. He felt the way she moved.

Four turns, so fast he can barely count them, and the outside edge of her right blade cuts into the ice with all the surgical precision of a knife. Her left leg sweeps out and extends behind her, long and elegant and still marked with snow on her thigh. There is no sound but metal on ice, and then even that fades as Hawke comes to a stop and looks at him, her eyes shining.

Effortless.

“Yeah,” says Varric into the silence, satisfied. “That’s what I meant.”

“Well, well, well,” says a familiar, cultured voice. “If it isn’t the canary who ate the cat.”

“Good evening, Dorian,” Hawke says, amused, and begins without being asked to make his habitual mint julep. “What are you doing in this neck of the woods?”

Dorian Pavus slides smoothly onto a barstool across from her, his black-and-gold coat immaculate as always and gleaming in the decorative warm bulbs dangling over her bar. His hair is longer than last she’d seen him, though still styled in perfect taste, and he flashes her a white smile beneath his mustache as she hands over his drink. “Chasing the most interesting rumors. You wouldn’t happen to know if they’re true, would you?”

“You couldn’t just call?” Hawke glances down the polished oak bar, but The Hanged Man is quiet tonight, most of the patrons taking their drinks at their tables, and she settles back with her elbows on the liquor shelves behind her. “What if I feel like playing coy?”

“My dear Hawke,” Dorian purrs, “your non-answer is answer itself.”

She laughs. “It’s good to see you too, Dorian. You make this place more sophisticated without even trying.”

“Don’t try to distract me with your compliments. Tell me: singles, or have you found yourself a partner?”

“A partner. He came out of retirement for me.” Close enough. “It’s been…I missed it, I suppose. I hadn’t realized how much.”

“Do I know him?”

“You do,” Hawke says, and as if on cue the bell over the door tinkles as Fenris pushes it open. His scarf is pulled high around his ears, his face lost in thought, but as he approaches the bar those green eyes sharpen into a razor focus on Hawke’s own, and she can’t help the reflexive smile, or the little flare of pleasant anticipation in the pit of her stomach. She wiggles her fingers in a wave as he sets his bag down on the bar’s surface and looks to Dorian. “Ta-daa.”

Well,” Dorian says, obviously delighted, and now Fenris seems to realize Hawke’s company is not just another customer; his tattooed fingers tighten briefly to white on his bag’s strap before easing. “Now that’s a face I haven’t seen in—oh, years. Fenris, yes? Dorian Pavus. We competed against each other in Canada. Right before you—I hear you retired.”

“I remember you,” Fenris says evenly, though his handshake is cordial. “Your Worlds program last year was excellent.”

“My last, I’m afraid. I’m making the final pivot into coaching. The knee, you know. But I hadn’t heard you skated for pairs.”

“A recent development,” Hawke offers at Fenris’s sideways look. “My coach knew I was interested in a comeback, and poor Fenris here was available to be saddled with a washed-up B-level pairs girl with delusions of grandeur.”

“Hawke,” Fenris says, reproachful, and she winks. 

“Never fear. He’ll class me up.” She passes Fenris his glass of Aggregio; his fingers brush deliberately over hers in the process, and that warm thing in her stomach grows. “Regardless, it’s a night of lasts. I’m taking off here while we prep for sectionals. Varric’s already hired my replacement—I’ll make sure Merrill knows about your mint juleps.”

“Good. Hawke, I’m very pleased you’re skating again. It was never the same without you there with me to snipe at the rest of the competition. How goes the partnership?”

Effortless. Like the first full breath after a life lived in shallow water, never even realizing she was drowning. There had always been a strained edge between her and Anders—both physically and in the scope of their ambition—and they had used that where they could in the choreography, but when Fenris lifts her she might as well be braced off the earth itself. She doesn’t know how he packs the sheer density of his muscle onto his narrow build—not that she’s complaining—and she’s not lying when she says his technical skills have improved her own. She’s tucking her elbows now, at least. Hard not to when the twists float so high she’s worried about hitting the lights.

It's just—she and Anders had been good, she knows. Fenris throws her like he’s setting something free.

“Very well,” she says at last, and Dorian rolls his eyes at the half-smile she can’t quite smother. “Laugh all you like. Watch for us at the Grand Prix Final this time next year, see if you’re laughing then.”

“The Final? Aren’t you a bit new of a pair for that?” He takes a sip, considering. “Well, I suppose it isn’t unheard of. Your old coach is doing wonders with some new young genius in the Italian championship circuit.”

Fenris’s mouth twists. Hawke brushes a touch over his forearm, her fingertips dragging on his shirtsleeve. “Is that so?”

Dorian is many things, but foolish isn’t among them. His eyes flit from Fenris to Hawke and back again; when he speaks, his voice is softer. “I see the parting was not on the best of terms. My apologies.”

Fenris flicks an expressive hand between them, brushing away his own temper. “It is of no consequence. He…suffice it to say that whatever rumors you may have heard, the truth was most certainly worse.”

“Unfortunate,” Dorian murmurs. “You should know, then, that they’re looking into the rumors of his old student’s death.”

“Me?”

“No, the one before you. Felix Alexius. He was…he was a dear friend of mine. His death…” Dorian’s fist clenches, just slightly, around his glass. “I’ve had my suspicions for some time.”

Fenris gives Dorian a hard look. “Does your father still work for the government?”

“He does. Perhaps one day we’ll even speak to each other again.”

Hawke snorts, but before the conversation can turn too painful, Dorian’s phone buzzes from his pocket. He scans the text, mustache not quite softening the set of his jaw, and sighs. “Unfortunately,” he proclaims, “duty calls. I have a late meeting with a potential student of my own. Be careful, both of you.”

“You, too.”

“And Hawke—and Fenris. I’ll look for you at the Grand Prix Final, but I’ll be looking for you at Worlds, too. Please do bother to show up; I loathe being disappointed.”

“Good night, Dorian,” Hawke says, laughing, and he is gone.

They sit quietly after that, Hawke wiping down the countertop, Fenris finishing his own drink. A waitress comes with an order for a tableful of margaritas; Hawke makes them, passes them on, and refills Fenris’s glass of red wine. He thanks her and thumbs the rim absently, the lines around his mouth going deeper every minute. Hawke hates the sight of it.

“You could tell him,” she says softly. “If you wanted.”

“It I thought it might matter…” he starts, then trails off with a shake of his head. “Later, perhaps.”

Perhaps not, she hears, but she lets it go for now.

He has dinner at Hawke’s apartment the night before sectionals. She’s actually cooked for once—or at least heated up the sides while he tended the lamb—and as they eat next to each other her foot loops through his under the table. He smiles to himself, still surprised every time at this casual affection, and then Hawke says, “Are you worried?”

She knows he is, or she wouldn’t have asked. “Are you?”

“Only for you.”

He stutters on the inhale, but she’s so unusually sincere he cannot help believing her. “He may not notice. He pays little attention to any competition that will not challenge him.”

“It only depends on if he is looking for your name specifically, you mean.”

“Just so.”

“Well, let’s hope he isn’t, then.”

She’s idly tracing the pattern on her empty plate with her fork, and once again the weight of her nationals sabotage presses hard on the back of his mind. You have no proof, comes the voice again, a thousand times, ten thousand times, an endless circle. She will hate you. You will never know for sure. He is your enemy, not hers. If you’re wrong…

Her hand comes over his suddenly, pale skin striking against his dark. He looks up, startled, and she’s ducked her head to peek under his hair, her blue eyes dark with concern. “What is it? Are you honestly worried about him trying something?”

“Yes. No. Hawke…”

“Varric has copies of your visa in triplicate. You know that. There’s no charges filed on the money. Unless he comes at you with a sledgehammer and fishing net in a parking lot, he won’t be able to touch you.”

“He might,” Fenris says sourly, then sighs as he turns his palm to meet hers better. “Hawke, I must tell you something.”

“I’ve never had a good conversation in my life that started that way.”

He gives a pale snort. “Far be it from me to break that streak.”

“Oh, excellent.”

“I have no proof beyond my own suspicions. I may be wrong altogether.”

“Unlikely, knowing you.” She squeezes his fingers and props her chin on her other hand. “I’m listening, though. Jokes aside.”

He sighs. “Hawke, I was at nationals when you fell.”

“I know.” She’s gone quiet too, as she always does when the fall comes up in any serious context.

“Danarius was there as well. He wanted me to watch the pairs events, because there was a skater also in the men’s singles competition.”

“Ah,” Hawke says. Her voice is blank. “Anders.”

“He wished me to observe some facet of his technique. It should have been without remark, but at the time I did not question anything he asked me to do.” Danarius’s smile, slow, triumphant. “Hawke, he was there at the side of the rink where the rods were thrown.”

“Do you think he was behind it?”

He can’t read her tone; now he cannot meet her eyes. “I have no proof beyond his satisfaction when you—when Anders fell.”

“But you think so.”

“Yes.”

There’s a long silence. Fenris grits his teeth, ready for the abrupt collapse of all their months of partnership, a house of cards already stood longer than he had ever dared to hope; and when her hand withdraws from his it is like a blow has hollowed out his chest. He should have known. He should never have—

But then that hand slips to his face, and when he looks up in amazement Hawke stands over him, her brow creased. “Hawke,” he breathes, and she slides sideways into his lap to cup both her hands around his jaw.

“Fenris,” she says quietly, and her thumbs stroke over his cheekbones. “How long have you been holding on to this?”

It is a struggle to swallow through the tightness in his throat. “Since the day we met. I—am sorry, Hawke.”

“Fenris,” Hawke says again, and then she kisses him. No heat, only comfort. “I told you we were going as far as we can. That’s you and me, together. There’s no one else I want, on the ice or off.”

“Hawke…”

She kisses him again, stoppering up all his protests, and again, and again, every time he tries to explain how ill-suited he is for this in every way. He should leave. He should leave, and let her move on without the anchor of his existence.

“Fenris,” she whispers against his mouth, “if you walk out that door, I will break into your apartment and steal every pair of laces you own, and I will tie them all into one big knot and give the whole mess to Toby as a chew toy.”

He clenches his eyes shut against the sting. “There are so many reasons I should go.”

“Do you want to?”

“No,” he breathes, and feels her shoulders hitch.

“Then stay,” she says simply, and when she stands he lets her lead him by the hand into the gentle dark.