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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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Hollow (noun): the concave groove that is ground into the bottom of the skate surface; the empty space between the blade's inner and outer edges where it touches the ice.

The first time she meets him, neither of them is happy about it.

The rink has been closed for the morning, as it is every other Tuesday. It’s ostensibly for maintenance, but as Hawke happens to be the daughter of the owner, she knows it’s actually the one time she’s guaranteed uninterrupted practice hours on the only decent ice in eighty miles. She’s in a foul mood already, which doesn’t help, and the only thing that’s kept her going through a torrential downpour at the bus stop three days running, a dog determined to eat every hat she has, and back-to-back double shifts at the bar is the knowledge that here, now—these precious hours will be her time, and only hers.

Which is why opening the great double doors to the sound of blade on ice, echoing on the high white walls painted with abstract families gliding through rainbows, puts her blood pressure nearly through the top of her skull. “How,” she says aloud, relishing the annoyance, and slams the deadbolt behind her before striding towards the glass wall overlooking the ice. Her fingers are so tight around the bag with her skates they ache.

A stranger is on her ice.

He knows what he’s doing, she’ll give him that. White hair and dark skin, a black long-sleeved shirt a little loose in the waist, black leggings, black skates. No music in the rink’s speakers, but he moves as if he hears it anyway, long gestures with his arms and quick spins to a silent beat. Then a long backwards glide on the left foot, his head over his shoulder, and a shift to the outside edge—and up, arms tight to his chest through the lutz—a triple—and down again with his leg extended behind him. Effortless, as if he were on the stage of the Grand Prix and not a tiny backwoods family rink constantly on the verge of bankruptcy.

Her rink, and her ice. He doesn’t belong here, and there’s only one way he could have come through without her knowing. She scans the stands, half of them pushed in to the walls now that they’re out of hockey season, until she sees—

Ah. Varric.

As quietly as she can, Hawke makes her way through the swinging doors across from the skate rental bar and down the long, curved staircase that leads to the ice level. Not that she’s ever been particularly subtle, but luck finds her for once, and she makes it without notice all the way up to mid-rink where Varric stands, feet planted, arms crossed over his chest, as he watches the mystery skater on her ice.

She’s already got her mouth open to tell him off when the man takes off again. Only a double axel this time, the spins looser and his arms not quite so disciplined, but the landing is still clean as a knife, and he turns without missing a beat into a double-toe-double-toe immediately after.

“Hm,” says Varric, obviously satisfied, and on the ice the man moves into a series of steps without design. They’re not of any particular technical difficulty, just turns and flips from front to back as the fancy takes him, smooth transitions from one foot to the other, the inside edge to the outside to the toe-pick and back again. There is no sound in the rink but the cut of blade through ice and the soft hushing of the white spray from his skate’s edges across the rink as he turns.

His face is still as stone. That’s what catches her eye towards the end, not the artistry, not the obvious skill. He looks like Carver had at their father’s funeral: his jaw so hard the muscles jumped, and his eyes so blank she could not read them.

“Varric,” she says at last, and has the rare pleasure of seeing her eminently unflappable coach fully flapped.

Hawke,” he says, smoothing a hand unnecessarily over his jaw. “Huh. Fancy seeing you here.”

“Well, you know. Tuesday.” She doesn’t try to keep the edge from her voice. “Fancy seeing you here. I thought you were out scouting talent.”

His eyes flick tellingly between the rink, Hawke’s face, and back again. She groans just as he starts to say, “So, no shit, there I was—” before a hard cut through the ice silences them both.

The stranger has come to join them, green eyes still just as hard under incongruously dark brows. He has facial tattoos too, Hawke sees, thin white lines that course down his chin and throat to disappear into the collar of his shirt. He’s shorter than she’d thought from the overlook, though still with a slight advantage over her, and she sets her bag on the ledge of the half-door separating him from her and Varric.

“You said this would be private,” the stranger says without preamble. His voice is deeper than she expects, faintly accented, smooth and heavy even through the veneer of irritation, and Hawke feels her own annoyance rise once more.

“Did he?” she offers, sweet-over-bitter as she’s learned surviving her mother’s society parties. “How interesting, as this isn’t his rink to offer.”

“Now, Hawke, as your coach—”

Varric,” she very carefully not-whines. “As my coach, you should know it’s the only time I get the ice!”

The stranger’s eyes flicker. “This is your facility?”

He says facility like another man might say cockroach, but this close Hawke can smell the cold metallic tang of the freshly smoothed surface, and she suddenly wants nothing more than to be out there herself, intrusion be damned. She toes her sneakers off, stretching briefly to put her palms flat on the floor, and then pulls her skates from her bag. White leather, old and cracked—nowhere near the hideously expensive works of art the stranger wears, but it’s been a long time since things like that bothered her. She knows what she can do, anyway.

“Yes,” she says, attention on her laces. “Well, my family’s. Hawke,” she adds belatedly, and sticks out her hand from her crouched position to shake.

He pauses, an odd tension in his full mouth she can’t quite parse, but takes her hand. His palm is warm and rough with calluses. “Fenris. I saw you at nationals.”

Fenris. The name is familiar, but she can’t place it. “Did you? When?”

His silence is answer enough. Hawke’s gaze slides to Varric, not quite accusing, but she has a sudden, nagging suspicion she knows what this is. “Hawke,” he wheedles in answer, palms spread placatingly.

“Varric Tethras has been my coach for six years,” she says instead, still looking at Fenris, “and sometimes he doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.”

“I begin to understand myself,” he says slowly. “I was looking for—he saw me standing outside. He said there would be no audience, but I see now that this promise was not his to make.”

“Any day but today, it would have been.” She stands, shaking out the weight of her legs with the skates on, and pulls open the door to the rink. “Look, I’ve never been one to mind sharing the ice with a handsome man, so if you don’t mind me playing a little music…”

He coughs into his fist, a faint flush coming high to his cheeks. Interesting. “I have no desire to intrude.”

“I asked him here for a reason,” Varric interjects, and Hawke pauses with one skate still on solid ground. “You said you were thinking about getting back into the scene.”

“You blasted—thinking! Considering! Pondering very thoughtfully, and certainly not committing to anything!”

“I do not skate pairs,” Fenris adds, shoulders high and tight. “And you told me it was an instructing job. I had no intention of coming here for an audition.”

“Come on, you two. Don’t you trust me?”

“No,” they say together, and as Hawke at last pushes through the door onto the ice proper, Fenris steps off it, away from her.

“Excuse me,” he says again, more curt. “I’ll be out of your way.”

And before she or Varric can say anything in response, he’s slipped his guards over the blades and disappeared into the far door.

There’s a long, pointed silence. Hawke does a few loops in place, more to break the quiet than anything, then looks at Varric. “Well?”

Varric sighs. “Look him up,” he says, and folds his arms over the top of the door to the rink. “Keep an open mind, and tell me what you think.”

“You said my mind was so open last week it might fall out.”

“Yeah, well.” He gives her a crooked smile. “Have I ever steered you wrong before?”

It’s a loaded question and they both know it, so instead of answering Hawke pushes off the wall. Varric hits the broken lock to the sound system’s cover until it pops open, and soon enough the strains of an old, jazzy trumpet begin to float through the arena. Good enough for a Tuesday, especially now that she has the ice to herself.

Odd, then, that she keeps thinking of Fenris long after he’s gone.

Fenris. That’s where she knows him, she thinks, watching the World’s standings flash across her tiny phone screen. He looks much the same, even three years younger in the video and with his hair much longer; he still keeps his brows low and hard, and his green eyes still warn everyone away, even the cameras. He’d skated for Italy then—that explains the accent—and as she watches him stretch before his long program, his thin, grey-bearded coach massages his shoulders and whispers something into his ear.

Fenris’s face doesn’t move, save a flick of his eyes to the cameras, but she sees one hand curl into a fist. Then he’s out on the ice, the commentators preemptively exclaiming over his natural talent, raw power, exciting new blood in a staid, jostling pack of mediocrity. He’s in white and grey this time, ostentatious with sequins and sheer tulle over his chest and back—somehow, she doubts the costuming was his choice—and then a hard concerto chord plays and he’s off.

He's good. He’s very, very good.

His quad lutz is flawless, his edges smooth and sure; one of the commentators holds her breath during a breezy triple combination and is teased by her fellows for it. He’s flexible, too; one of his toe spins is so flat, his forehead hard against his own extended leg, that she can see the outlines of his muscled back through the costume. The single significant error he makes is an under-rotated salchow that barely survives a two-footed landing, but even then he’s fluid as he steps out of it into the footwork section. It’s a superb performance from the start and it gets better as he goes along, the piece by Biret driving him hard into the finale. He’s spinning so fast his white hair whips into his own face, and then—

It's over. One hand above his head, one over his heart, his head bowed. The crowd roars, roses and stuffed animals raining onto the ice. But…

Hawke pauses the video, then backs it up a few seconds. The bus lurches through a stop, the rain sliding sideways down her window, and she shifts her jacket's hood more comfortably around her knotted hair until she can cover her cold ears again. She taps play, then brings the screen a little closer.

Even as he heaves for breath, he looks furious. A cold anger, though, not some sudden temper—is this because of the stumble?—but no, surely not. Any skater in the world would be proud of a performance like that. She props her chin in her hand, but…there’s no other word for it. Even the announcers comment on his obvious displeasure, and after a single short bow to the judges he leaves the rink without collecting any of the offerings still being thrown his way. He sits stiffly in the kiss-and-cry booth next to his coach, who wraps a thin, pale arm around his shoulders as they wait for the score. He does not speak to the cameras, does not thank anyone watching at home. The man beside him gives a coy little smile, nothing else.

Danarius, one of the commentators informs the audience. The legendary coach who plucked the ingenue from the streets of Italy, the diamond in the rough snared by his sharp eye, molded into a force of nature from the kindness of his heart. He squeezes Fenris’s shoulders a little more tightly and leans in to whisper into his ear.

It's just for an instant, almost too fast for the little screen to show, but the cold anger in Fenris’s face drops to fear.

He’s a late skater and his score is more than high enough for silver, but as they read off the individual components his fear slips back to anger. Danarius stands, smiles, waves; Fenris closes his eyes, and all at once Hawke remembers this next part from the news, from the gossip she’d cajoled from Varric while she’d been in the hospital. He’d won the silver at Worlds, and less than a month later he’d vanished from the scene entirely. No Grand Prix Final, no national competitions—not even so much as a glimpse at a local skating rink. Danarius had made Italian headlines begging for news of his student’s whereabouts—they’d said kidnapping, or ransom, or insanity—but as months passed with no changes, the story had faded into background noise and Fenris had been forgotten.

Until today, when he’d showed up at her rundown rink looking for a job.

“Varric,” she says aloud, and lifts her head to look out the bus window into the steady grey rain, “what in the world have you done?”

The lock on his apartment door is loose as a tooth, but Fenris throws the bolt anyway. He adds a chair under the doorknob for good measure, and checks again that the blinds are drawn and have not been disturbed, and when he’s satisfied that all is as he left it he pulls his laptop from under the mattress and sits cross-legged on the floor. It’s as shabby as the rest of the one-room apartment, the keyboard slowly dying and the screen cracked, but it’s one of the few things he owns outright and he’s determined to make it last. The money he stole from Danarius can only stretch so far, and he’s running out of time.

His H and W keys no longer work, which proves a frustrating barrier to his search for a few minutes, but soon enough he hits on the appropriate combination of “nationals,” “pairs,” and “fall” that he finds what he’s looking for. The video is poorly done, professional news coverage interrupted by homemade splash screens that proclaim “OMG!! Horrible ACCIDENT at NATIONAL skating competition!! GORY!!!!!” and subtitles that describe the exact actions taking place in the video, but it’s enough. His memories can fill in the rest.

Danarius had wanted him to watch the pairs event. One of the men had also been performing in the singles skates, and Danarius had wanted Fenris to study his technique on a particular entrance to his axel. He’d missed the beginning of the program, hadn’t caught the favorites’ names, but he remembers watching the woman in gold—Hawke—laugh as she’d skated out with her partner. She’d caught his eye and winked, then spun her way to the center as her partner had come up behind her and put both hands on her waist in their starting poses.

A tall, slender man, sandy hair tied back in a short tail, a long nose over a downturned mouth. He’d been older than most of the competitors, this Anders, but talented, and he’d skated well with Hawke. They’d been halfway through the long program, maybe a little more, when Hawke had gone up for a lift. A risky one, a backwards one-handed entry and both her legs extended high into the air behind them, but Fenris had seen them in practice before and it had always been smooth, then, unshaken.

Then Anders’s skate had caught. The video helpfully pauses, zooming in on the blurry footage to point out with garish circles the little three-inch glass rod sliding under his toe-pick, then zooming out to add blocky arrows to all the other rods scattered across this section of the ice. One of the frozen crowd in the background has both hands over her face in horror.

Fenris stops the video and closes the laptop, dropping the room into darkness. It doesn’t matter; the images play for him anyway. Anders trips, landing hard on the outside of one knee. His elbow dislocates as he tries to twist, to break his partner’s fall, but her momentum carries her too far in the other direction, and Hawke plummets ten feet face-first onto the ice. One arm crumples horribly under her, and then she doesn’t move.

The crowd had been so silent his ears had rung. They’d stopped the music too late, and it had echoed its cheerful guitar into the silence like a broken promise. Then Anders had screamed, scrabbling over to Hawke on his knees, one hand still limp, and everything had exploded into chaos. He remembers the medical team loading her onto the cart, the shoulder of her gold costume torn open, black hair come loose around her unconscious face covered with blood, Anders limping next to her with his fingers just as red; he remembers the crowd being herded out of the arena so roughly it had nearly started riots; he remembers one of the competition organizers in a three-piece suit plucking a little glass rod from the ice, his face white with shock.

He remembers catching Danarius’s eye across the rink, a single point of silence in the pandemonium, and watching him smile in unspoken answer. It had been slow. Triumphant.

And then all that had been left was a smear on the ice, wet and shining and scarlet.

Abruptly, his phone buzzes in the dark, and he startles hard enough the laptop slips off his knee. There aren’t many people who have this number, and fewer of them who should, and when he sees it’s unrecognized he almost deletes the text without looking. Still, just in case—

Hey, is this Fenris? This is Hawke from earlier.

He blinks, utterly thrown. It’s pause enough, though, and she continues for several more messages without interruption.

From the ice rink, I mean. I hope it was as memorable for you as it was for me or this’ll get awkward quickly. ;)

Varric gave me your number. Sorry about him. Sometimes he likes the idea of seeing how something will play out because he’s sure he knows best. Don’t let it get to you.

(He usually does. Don’t tell him that. Obviously not this time though)

Listen, I’m texting because he said you needed a job. I do need an instructor for the 10-14yos & he knows that. I have work when they’re out of school and it’s hard to get them in.

I can see you starting to type and deleting it. Haha. Don’t do it if you don’t want. Just thought I’d offer.

Hello? Is this the right number?

If this isn’t Fenris but you’re pretty and single I’m not doing anything tomorrow night ;)

Fenris pauses, his thumb hovering over the keys. The money won’t last forever. He can’t stay here long, not with someone who knows who he is in the same city, but the money won’t last forever, and he…

Her nose is scarred, now, a stripe across its bridge from where she fell.

This is Fenris. I will take the job.

Chapter Text

“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.

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

“Ooh,” says Isabela, “I like this one. Listen. ‘That twist was so high she should get frequent flyer miles.’ That’s the one in the second pass. I’ll take your compliments now.”

“It was Fenris doing the lifting,” Hawke retorts, though she grins as she says it. She rifles through the stack of magazines and fan mail scattered over her living room floor around her, then plucks one from the mess. “Look, here’s another. ‘Every line of his is so finished, so precise, you can’t even tell he’s been gone a week, much less three years. It’s like watching a master architect.’”

He shakes his head, stretching out his legs in a graceless sprawl where he sits on the rug beside her. They’ve already rewatched the footage a dozen times; he knows where he gave away the sharpness of his technique. His first formal competition in years and he’d forgotten how it felt to have a thousand eyes on him, waiting for the moment it might all fall apart. But every time he’d looked up Hawke’s eyes had already been on his, one brow lifted in challenge, and the training had taken over just like always to turn the morass of his thoughts into the cleaner press of raw instinct.

They’d known sectionals were theirs so long as they’d executed. Nothing risky, no quads for this program; clean triples only, and double combinations without doubt. The music had started, piano and a plucking guitar, and Hawke had spun around him in glittering, scarlet red with a dragon’s tail spiraling down her left arm, and she’d winked, and he had needed nothing else.

“I think we should add the quad throw at nationals,” Aveline says, drumming her fingers on the arm of the overstuffed recliner as she scans a clipping from Skate Today! “We could use the points.”

“And save no surprises for Worlds?”

“You’re assuming we’ll reach it,” she says tartly, but she’s smiling. “We can add a quad twist for Worlds.”

“Twist and throw?” Varric groans, throwing one arm over his eyes. “You’re killing me, Red. Why not a whole new short program? We can toss in some twizzles.”

Fenris makes a derisive noise, and Hawke laughs. “What, Fenris? No twizzles for a pairs skater?”

“No,” he says, dry as he can make it, and sets aside an article that calls Hawke a living flame in his hands. “Unless Varric intends to skate them himself.”

“Only if you want me to break every bone in my body. My knees weren’t made to bend like that.”

Hawke snorts, then pulls a larger, bulky envelope out of the little pile of fan mail. “Ooh, what could this be?”

Isabela leans back on the sofa and closes her eyes, long legs crossed at the ankles. “Well, don’t take too long with it. Zevran wants to meet to work on the shoulder of your costume again in half an hour.”

“That’s fine. I—ah.”

Fenris looks up sharply. He knows that voice; it’s the same careful blankness she’d used the first time he’d botched a twist and she’d slammed down hard on his shoulder, when she hadn’t wanted anyone to know she’d actually been hurt. It’s the same voice he’s heard in the interviews right after her accident. She’s staring down into the envelope, her fingers still frozen halfway through the tear.

Her face is white as chalk.

The others haven’t noticed, still chatting over their heads. “What is it?” Fenris asks, low and tight, and it’s enough that she gives a little ripple of motion in response. She reaches into the envelope with jerky fingers, and as she pulls out its contents, her living room falls to a cold, dangerous quiet.

A little glass rod, three inches long at the most. No note. None needed.

“Well,” she says with a bleak smile, “I guess there’s no going back.”

“It’s the sweetheart story of the decade here at nationals. Two veteran skaters, both thought to have careers brought to abrupt, tragic ends: one collapsing under the immense pressure of high-profile performance, and the other told she would never skate again after a terrible fall—and possible sabotage—at this very competition. An unrecoverable accident and an irreversible absence; but here they are together, three years later, an unlikely pair with an even more unlikely story.”

“That’s right, Harding. Not only are they an unusual physical combination—she’s only a few inches shorter than he is—but their paths through the sport have been almost opposing journeys. He was trained at the elite Plex in Italy, where the highest quality coaches and trainers are provided to hone every stage of a skater’s development. She grew up in a tiny town with only one ice rink—a facility owned by her family, in fact—before meeting her coach, Varric Tethras, at a local bar. She had to fight for every inch in her routines, and now she’s paired with one of the all-time elites from a world-class program.”

“What’s even more remarkable is that comebacks like this, with multiple year gaps between international competitions—they’re almost impossible. Taking a year off for injury is hard enough—you always feel a step or two behind everyone else—but both these skaters have been out of the scene for three years. They proved themselves at sectionals, but this is a much bigger stage, and we’ll have to see how they handle the pressure.”

“Right. Watch this. This is from sectionals last month. It’s astonishing—he looks even stronger than he did the last time we saw him at Worlds in the men’s competition. Watch this throw; it’s a mile high, and then she floats down like it’s an afterthought. Look at how still her upper body is on the landing. So graceful.”

“She’s not as technically gifted as he is, that’s true. But look at the emotion in his face here. That’s one of the few things he really struggled with in his previous programs; his interpretations were always very formal, very strict with the choreography. You never had the sense that he really bought into the character of the piece.”

“Not a problem now.”

“Not at all. They have a connection you can feel all the way off the ice. Look at how she doesn’t even have to turn around for his hand; they’re a recent pair, but they’re moving like they’ve skated together for years.”

“It’s amazing they’re skating at all. Everyone remembers her nightmare fall at nationals three years ago. Sensitive viewers may want to look away for a few minutes. Watch her partner—this was the Norwegian-born Anders, who actually has retired and has no interest in returning to the rink—skate over a foreign object on the ice. Investigations are still ongoing as to who might have wanted to injure the favorites for gold—ooh, and there she goes.”

“It’s so hard to watch.”

“Every time. Pairs figure skating is the most dangerous due to the risk of falls as it is, and no one wants to see the sport undermined this way. She spent months in the hospital and recuperating in physical therapy afterwards. Her family was always supportive, though, and encouraged her to get back into the sport as soon as she could.”

“Well, that’s a lie if I’ve ever heard one.”

Fenris glances over. Hawke’s standing in the open door of his hotel room, leaned on the jamb with her arms crossed, dark in silhouette against the brighter hallway behind her. “Oh?”

“Carver hated every minute of it when I was competing. He thought it was a waste of time and effort. Then he was mad when I got hurt, and when I started talking about getting back into it anyway he got even madder.” She lets the door swing closed behind her, then comes to sit next to him at the foot of the hard hotel bed. “Texted me this morning, though. ‘Good luck, you idiot.’”

He gives her a rueful smile, then turns his attention back to the broadcast. They’ve dug up pictures from Hawke’s recovery, photos from her hospital room and later from her therapy, both hands gripped white-knuckled on walking bars as she took her first unsteady steps after surgery. “You’ve shown me these before, but it is still…unpleasant.”

“I don’t even know where they got these pictures. My mother can hardly stand talking about it to me, much less a reporter.”

It took a community fundraiser to cover the travel costs and a new pair of skates for her, but they’ve made it to nationals, the most unlikely pair in the lineup. We’ll see how they do in a few days with the short program.”

“Oh, good. I do love being the underdog.”

“Better to keep your head low.”

“Cynic,” she says, and flops backwards onto his bed. Her black hair splays around her on the simple white comforter; her purple sweater is a shock of color in the otherwise beige room, and Fenris’s heart tightens.  

He wants to win. Not just here; he wants to win everything they can reach, not because he cares about the winning but because she does, because she’s fought tooth and claw for every step she’s ever made on the ice, and she’s trusting him now to take her where she can’t reach on her own.

He doesn’t know how he could possibly deserve that trust, but he’ll be damned if he won’t do everything he can to try.

“Hawke,” he says, and leans down to meet her, propped on one elbow above her head. “Varric is worried about you.”

“I know,” she says without opening her eyes. “So is Aveline. So is Isabela. So are you.”

Fenris is silent. After a few moments he reaches up and draws his thumb down the curve of her cheek, twists a finger into a loose lock of her hair. “You avoid that corner of the rink. You tense when we pass it.”

She cracks her eyes just enough to glare at him, slivers of brilliant blue. “The competition has a rotating location. What were the odds it’d be the exact same building?”

They both know the answer to that question, and Fenris doesn’t bother with a response. Instead he leans down and kisses her, carefully, still with the faint wonder that he is allowed this with her at all, and draws his other hand up her muscled shoulder. “I will not worry about you, then.”

One corner of her mouth pulls up in a smile. “I’m not calling you a liar,” she sing-songs, echoing the opening lines of one of their accompaniments, “but don’t lie to me, Fenris.”

“Never,” he says against her mouth, wishing it were true.

She laughs, soft and a little sad, because she knows him better than she should. Then she wraps both arms around his neck and pulls him back down for a kiss, and they do not speak about it again. The broadcast continues, quiet music overlaying footage of a years-younger Fenris, his eyes green and hard, skating across the ice alone.

It's the first time she’s really felt good practicing in the official facility. The modern jazz they’re playing over the loudspeakers has a great feel to it, upbeat and smooth in a way that makes her want to dance, and Fenris is in a great mood himself. There are only two other couples on the ice, both of whom are too young for Hawke to know outside of news coverage, and for once she doesn’t mind sharing the rink. She’s missed this, she really has.

It helps that Fenris is wearing her favorite warmup gear of his, the simple long-sleeved black that shows off every muscle of his thighs and makes the white tattoos striping down his throat and hands into a tantalizing promise. It helps that he’s brought out the rare smile today, the one that reaches his green eyes and lights up his whole face, and that they’ve hit the throw quad salchow every time they’ve practiced it in the last month. Even Varric is giving pleased nods from the rink side at every pass. It’s a good day.

And then it isn’t.

They’re practicing their easiest of the three lifts for the long program. She steps onto the brace of his thigh, both hands above her head as she arches back, anchored only by his arm around her waist; then one of her hands grips his as her other goes to his shoulder, and as he swings into a turn the momentum carries her legs up and around until they extend into position, one straight up, the other behind like a flag. His other hand is a solid anchor under her hip, supporting her like he might a waiter’s tray—and with just as little effort—and she releases his hand to reach back and grab her uplifted blade behind her head.

They’ve done it a thousand times. They’ve done it well a thousand times. And then for the first time ever since they’ve been partners, Fenris’s arm jerks under her weight.

It’s such an alien sensation she doesn’t know what to do. Then the smell of hair oil and orchids hits hard as a hammer, and the toe of Fenris’s skate catches for a split-second, and all the instinct she’s cultivated over uncountable hours of practice is—gone. She scrabbles for his other shoulder, a blind reach; he tries to catch her hand and gets her arm instead and her legs are in all the wrong places—this is Anders all over again and the world has inverted, too high and she’s plummeting the wrong direction, a hideous scream trapped in her chest—

The stop of the ice is almost a relief.

Not her head, this time. Not her nose, with that sick wet-thick choking in the back of her throat to keep her from breathing. The side of her knee only, not hard, and a graze over the front of her left shoulder. Fenris kneels beside her, ice dusted across his side; his arm still bands iron-hard over her stomach where he caught her. But his eyes—

Hard as the ice that caught them, and as cold, and fixed on a man on the side of the rink in a three-piece suit.

She thinks, suddenly, that Fenris is afraid.

Danarius only smiles. His beard is the same as the videos Fenris has showed her; his hands are still folded just so at his waist. Varric starts out from the other side of the rink to meet them, his brow furrowed in worry; a great fan somewhere kicks on, and she’s abruptly smothered in that same heavy orchid smell.

Fenris’s hand clenches into her back. Danarius’s smile widens, and then without a word he turns on his heel and leaves. The rink door swings closed behind him and clicks shut.

Fenris doesn’t move, breathing hard. It’s not until Hawke reaches up and turns his face with her hand that he blinks, and then his gaze sharpens on her, on the present, once more.

“Are you hurt?” he demands. His cheeks are pale with flushed, bright spots of color over his cheekbones.

“No. Not at all. Are you?”

His knuckles have gone white at her side; his voice trembles. “No. Hawke, forgive me. I thought—I was surprised. I lost my concentration. Forgive me.”

“It’s fine,” she says, startled to find that it is. Her worst fears made manifest: another fall in the same place, the same ice, from just as high; and nothing for it this time but a bruised knee and an odd, bubbling laugh that she can’t repress. “It’s fine,” she says again, earnest. “Fenris, I feel wonderful. Look at me. I’m serious.”

He’s looking at her like she might have hit her head after all, but he is looking, and that horrible paleness has begun to fade. “Hawke…”

“No. Listen. It’s all he can do here. That little intimidation show, a look, as if that matters. Ha!” And now she does laugh, uncaring of any cameras, uncaring of Varric who has reached them at last. She reaches up and cups his face in both hands. “Look at me. I’m fine. I’m fine, you’re fine, and whether he knows it or not we’ve both just walked through our worst nightmares without a scratch on us. What a fucking coward. Fenris, let’s blow this place apart.”

His breath catches. He hesitates; then he reaches up and covers one of her hands with his own, and his smile grows strong. “I am yours, Hawke.”

No fear in his eyes, now. None left in her heart. Hawke draws in a cold breath full of the comforting, faintly metallic smell of the ice, and when his forehead comes to rest gently against hers she smiles into the touch.

Good.

And of course, as we move into the short program for pairs figure skating this afternoon, all eyes will be on the new-old-comers of Fenris and Hawke. You may have heard they took a fall during a lift in practice a few days ago, right where Hawke had that devastating accident three years before. We already know stage pressure is an issue for half of this team; is this a sign that they’re getting inside their own heads?”

“It’s hard not to, Krem. There’s so much additional pressure on a team like this, and to have a fall like that right before you get back on the ice for real can throw off anyone’s poise. They both had tape along their shoulders and knees in practice earlier, possibly pointing to some soreness, some bruises. They got the lift up twice more without a problem, though—yes, there it is from practice earlier—so hopefully we’ll see them bounce back.”

“Certainly they’ve got a lot of people rooting for them.”

“Not everyone, of course, considering the competition. Fenris’s old coach spoke to the media yesterday; you know he always has a comment on something, and now we’ve all heard about these comments. He called Fenris his most promising student—and his most disappointing.”

“He wasn’t complimentary of his partner, either.”

“No, he wasn’t. It can be a problem when you’re used to these top-of-the-line megastructures that churn out quality skaters every year; there can sometimes be some snobbery about the people who come from somewhere more humble to fight for the same medals.”

“Well, he did remind us that nationals rink security has been significantly heightened since the last time Hawke competed, so hopefully she and her partner will be able to relax and just focus on the skate.”

“We’ll be cheering for them from the booth.”

“We will. Back to you.”

Hawke’s on the phone when he comes out of the hotel shower, her hair tied in a careless knot atop her head and the oversized t-shirt she sleeps in threatening to slide off one shoulder.

“No,” she says into the phone, and the strained affection and irritation in her voice on that one word is enough to tell him she talks to Anders. “We’re third after the short program. A close third. We just need to skate clean tomorrow.”

A pause. Fenris comes to sit behind her on the bed, and when she covers her eyes he reaches up and begins to rub the back of her neck.

“No,” she says again. Another pause. “I had a two-foot landing on the lutz. Fenris put a hand down on the triple loop.”

He scowls, even though she can’t see it. An uncharacteristic mistake, and one he will not repeat again.

“I know. Varric said…yes. Yes. He told me.”

He can’t make out what Anders says to that, but it’s long and occasionally impassioned, and Hawke’s mouth grows tighter and tighter. Fenris presses his fingers up to the base of her skull, then comes down and begins to work the place on her left shoulder that is always sore. She leans into the pressure, voiceless gratitude.

“It was never going to work, Anders,” Hawke says at last, and there is a profound silence on the other end of the line. “You always knew that. We had different ideas of what we were doing from the start.”

Another silence. Some one-word answer that makes her sigh and smile faintly. “Yes. It was, while it lasted. I’ll call you in a few days. Be careful.”

He hears Anders agree. Hawke hangs up, looking at her phone for a moment or two; then she tosses it to the covers and leans back into Fenris’s bare chest. “You smell wonderful,” she says.

“Your shampoo.”

“I have excellent taste.”

He huffs a laugh, then leans forward until his nose rests against the soft skin just below her ear. “You taste excellent.”

“Flatterer.” She reaches up to run her fingers through his damp hair, and he can feel her smiling. “I’ll go to the reporters if I need that. My body lines are elegant and beautiful, did you know? They said so, right on a small locally-streaming broadcast.”

He can think of other things to do tonight to the lines of her body, and the way her shoulders shake with laughter tells him she’s thinking the same thing, but tomorrow is big enough for the both of them, and they both know they should sleep.

But after tomorrow, after

No. Tomorrow is big enough. Tomorrow first, and then they will decide what comes next.

Chapter Text

“There,” says Zevran, leaning back in satisfaction. “No! Do not touch me. If you smudge—good, yes. Air kisses I will accept always.”

“You’re wonderful,” Hawke says, carefully touching her now re-lined eye makeup. It’s a strong look, but Hawke is strong enough to pull it off, and Fenris likes the appearance of the black, heavy eye, like soot smeared over her face for war. Her lips are red as blood, a match to her costume, and she purses them defiantly as Zevran pins back a loose tendril of hair for the fourth time. “I’m a lost cause, I know.”

Zevran tuts, but soon enough Varric and Aveline come to fetch them, and Fenris lets it all go. This part of the competition’s routine is easy enough: warm-ups to generic French rock, Hawke’s hand in his, the rest of the skaters in this last flight a thrown handful of insignificant colored glass. His legs are already loose and the ice is good, smooth, with that faint metallic scent that filters through almost every important memory he has. He does not look for Danarius. For the first time in his life, he doesn’t care.

The only thing that matters is standing beside him, smoke around brilliant blue eyes and scarlet lips curved in a grin. All that has, since the first time he saw her fly across the ice on her knees, strumming an air guitar like her life depended on it.

They are the second to go in their flight, but the time between warm-up’s last call and the end of the first pair’s skate takes no time at all. Hawke is practically vibrating with anticipation, the gold pins dotting her chignon almost succumbing despite the hairspray until Fenris stills her with a hand on her knee. Then—then—

The bell sounds, the gate opens, and the ice is theirs.

Fenris doesn’t remember the salutes. He doesn’t remember the circles into final position; in the instant before their music starts, he almost can’t remember their first steps. There is only himself in dark brown and silver, the stylings of an armored breastplate over his chest, feathered filigree at his knees and shoulders; and Hawke in matte scarlet, the dragon’s tail curled down her left arm, faint gold wings in glitter over her open back, a short asymmetric skirt of layered fire. One loop of that same fire around his right wrist, a nod to what she is and what he will become. Black hair paired with his white; pale skin against his dark. The hunter—the champion—

“Hawke,” he says, as she places one hand on his chest, the other flung behind her like a challenge. The crowd in the dark beyond the lights is silent.

Slowly, she looks up. Her eyes burn so bright his chest hurts. “Yes?”

“Trust me.”

A breath; then that slow, dangerous smile that makes his mouth go dry. “I trust you, Fenris.”

Then the first strains of their music drift over the ice, and they are moving, and the rest of the world vanishes.

The first pass is all footwork, artistry, the stage for roles they will play. Smooth lines, a dangerous tension between them as they test the other’s defenses. A twist on the second pass, all the muscles of his shoulders bunched; it’s so high the audience gasps, and then Hawke drops into his waiting hands and down to the ice again, both hands still above her head in graceful arcs.

She flashes a grin at that, is still grinning as they move through the side-by-side jump sequence, come out again in the same motion. She slithers in and out of his arms in the chase, catches his hands without looking, arches down into the forward-inside death spiral so low her chignon trails after her on the ice. He’s never had issues keeping up the speed in the spirals, even as he changes hands; here, just as a thousand times before, she’s up again as fast as ever, and Isabela’s choreography carries them seamlessly into the lift.

She’s ready, every motion without doubt. He can feel it. The step off his leg is effortless; she’s up as fast as flame rises, his hand at her hip, the other stretched out as if to say do you see what can be done? Her weight changes with the position shift into the carry across the whole of the ice, easy, so easy—he has no right to find this so natural—and then down again through the loop of his arms like the glance of light off water.

Now the quad. The crowd knows it comes—they must build up too much speed for it to be anything but enormous—and as Hawke gives the back of the hand around her waist a tight squeeze he squeezes back, then looses his breath and lets her go.

I don’t want to run. I want to fly.

The crowd roars. Hawke’s back leg sweeps out and up, perfectly extended; the other cuts a clean line through the ice where she’s landed, and her eyes are shining. Glorious.

She glides backwards and he follows after, reaching for fire and never catching. This is beyond automatic, beyond practice; this is the raw honest instinct he’d forgotten he had, awoken only by stepping into the rink with someone who still remembered how to skate for the joy of it.

More applause for the choreography, footwork alone; another burst for the second lift, just as easy as the first; a shout across the stadium at the throw triple loop in the bonus section, Hawke so high he thinks she might simply choose not to come down again. The music changes as he catches her from behind and pulls her into the last lasso axel lift, her head thrown back, her legs twining around his supporting arm, some proud ancient wonder run to ground at the end of his sword. He doesn’t even realize they’ve passed the corner of the rink—that corner—until they’re a dozen yards past it and Hawke twists down over his shoulder and around his arms, until he’s set her squarely on her feet and she sails backwards, steady as the sea, one leg extended behind her. His hand locks to hers to propel them both across the ice; her grin is wild and infectious as she flips forward again at the end of the curve, her fingers so tight around his he can’t tell whose heartbeat is whose.

Now she is his and he is hers, and with the dismount they turn together into the pair combination spin that marks the climax of the program. First position—second—third—the back of Hawke’s head at every spot, gold pins glittering in the light. Cheers echo from the rafters, an ocean rush over the final measures of their music.

Then she grips his hand one last time and he wraps the other arm around her waist, turning so fast around each other there is no point to follow in the world but the way her eyes hold his.

Hawke flings herself backwards over his locked arms, and the guitar strikes itself into triumphant silence.

There. That’s enough.

Fenris wants, inexplicably, to laugh. Wants more to breathe through the breathless knot in his throat, one that only grows as Hawke straightens, her chest heaving just as hard as his, to throw giddy arms around his neck. She’s laughing herself, or crying perhaps, he’s not sure, but her heart beats so hard he can feel it in her skin, and then she leans back just enough to take his face in her hands. The raucous audience is on their feet.

“I love you,” she says, fierce. “I will later, too, once the adrenaline’s worn off, but—I love you, Fenris.”

He can only smile, all his words tangled up in a joy he can’t yet trust. He presses his forehead hard against hers and shuts his eyes until all he can hear is the way her harsh breathing mirrors his own. Roses falling, somewhere, and Aveline pumping her fists into the air, and cheers that hardly matter…

The gold is a foregone conclusion. He trusts Hawke, and Hawke is with him. There was never a doubt.

Hours later, once the medals have been awarded and the media assuaged, they walk together through the quiet, dimmed hallways of the massive rink complex. Varric and Aveline have gone ahead for tables at the restaurant; Hawke had wanted a little more time to call her sister, and Fenris had not minded in the slightest. He likes the way her face changes when she speaks to her family, and when she has good news to give it is better still. By the time they have both showered and changed into jeans and coats there is hardly anyone in the building left.

Better this way. He’s tucked his hands into the pockets of his peacoat; Hawke has looped her arm around his waist in easy comfort, their gym bags slung behind their backs. It’s more natural than he’s ever allowed himself to imagine, which is why it takes so long for either of them to realize the shadow stretched between them and the vast glass doors of the building’s atrium is not thrown by one of the decorative pillars in their path but by the man behind it.

“Hello, my dear,” says Danarius, and the scent of orchids and pomade spreads around them like an oil slick.

An impossible meeting. He looks exactly the same, that thin pale face dotted with liver spots, grey eyes above a trimmed grey beard. That same faint disdainful smile, even now. Fenris should have known they would not escape untouched, but his blood still races with the shock.

Hawke makes a quiet, scornful noise. “No sledgehammer,” she murmurs, only loud enough for Fenris’s ears, and he gives a dazed huff of laughter.

Danarius’s eyes narrow. “A fine performance,” he offers instead. “I confess myself pleasantly surprised.”

Fenris waits. There is no response that isn’t a rise to Danarius’s bait, and after all this time—after all the running, after all the shabby, dingy apartments and coaching jobs lost every other month as he had to move on—a few more moments of patience here, here at the end of all of it, costs him nothing.

Danarius breaks the silence first. An infinitely small, infinitely crucial victory. “You’re very bold,” he says softly, “to come out like this again. I had begun to think you no longer needed my attention.”

“I don’t,” Fenris says. Hawke’s arm has not dropped from his waist; now she leans her head against his shoulder. “None of this was for you.”

“Wasn’t it?” Soft still, dangerous. “My dear, I made you everything you are. Everything you do belongs to me.

“You’re an idiot,” says Hawke with bald derision.

The snort that comes out of Fenris is entirely involuntary, as is the small smile that comes after. “Hawke…”

Danarius bears no such amusement. “And you. You think you know what he can do? You’re nothing but backwoods dross, an anchor to drag him down. What he could have become…” His mouth twists bitterly. “My little Fenris. I made you perfect.”

“You tortured him,” Hawke snaps. Her hand has fisted into the back of his coat. “I swear, if you ever try to talk to him again I’ll knock every tooth out of your skull.”

“How crass,” he says, his voice thin, but his eyes are on Fenris. “My dear boy. How much do you owe me? I can remind you if you need. My time. My hours, my buildings, my trainers, my home. My money,” he adds, eyes glittering. “Or do you no longer fear extradition?”

Fenris no longer fears anything at all. He digs in his pocket in answer and tosses the contents to Danarius: a glass rod, three inches long, clear and unbroken.

Danarius does not move to catch it. It falls at his feet instead, rolling a great half-circle before coming to rest against tile and Italian leather. His beard quivers in sharp disbelief. “Is this a threat?”

“A promise,” Fenris offers. Hawke is a steady heat beside him, thawing any doubt he has left. “Go home, Danarius. Ask direttore Pavus what he has found in your villa while you have been away.”

“What do you mean?” Shriller still, and two points of color blooming high and sudden on the pale cheeks. “Answer me. I demand it.”

Fenris scoffs. Once, a demand from Danarius would have had him stiff with fear, blood thundering in his ears as he threw himself forward to comply. Now…now the refusal comes so easily. “Fottiti,” he says instead, lazy with vindication. “You are no longer my master.”

What color is left in Danarius’s face vanishes. Unvarnished shock plasters itself across his mouth; then it slips into that soft, hated smile, the one that always preceded some new misery. “Fenris,” he says, so smooth, so cold, as he reaches up to curve long white fingers around the back of Fenris’s neck, “have you forgotten how you loved me?”

Fenris wrenches the hand away from him, bending the fingers backwards until Danarius gasps with agony, shoves forward in the same instant to bar his other forearm across Danarius’s throat. The back of his skull slams into the broad stone pillar with a satisfying thud.

Hawke is a granite fury beside him, practically alight with rage on his behalf. Danarius’s eyes bulge, the flesh of his neck blanched white under the pressure of Fenris’s forearm; the veined fingers scrabble at the woolcloth over Fenris’s elbow, his wrist, without yield. His strength had been made under Danarius’s tutelage, after all. He knows there is no weakness left.

“If you ever touch me again,” he snarls, “I will kill you. If you touch Hawke again, I will kill you for that, too. I will tear out your throat with my hands if that is what it takes to keep you out of my life. Do you understand?”

No response except a wet, slick gagging. Fenris curls his lip, pushes even harder with his forearm until Danarius’s chin lifts, stretched to the tips of his leather-clad toes under the iron shove. “Do you understand me?” he asks again, quietly, an echo of a thousand memories where he had no voice of his own.

Those grey eyes fix on his, bloodshot and blank with animal terror. Some deep part of him exults at that, a wild triumphant cry trapped in the back of his throat, but that must wait for another time. “I understand,” Danarius wheezes in a tight, reedy voice.

Fenris catches a breath behind his teeth. How easy it would be to keep his arm here a little longer, the pressure a little tighter, until Danarius’s breath ran thin and the life left his eyes—but—

Enough. He is no murderer yet.

Fenris sets his jaw, then releases the pressure of his arm before stepping back. Danarius’s breath rattles in his chest as he slumps against the pillar, one hand braced behind him as the other goes to his own neck. “My dear boy,” he rasps, nothing but an old man with a bruised throat. “My dear boy—”

“Let’s go,” Fenris says shortly, and Hawke turns after him with her jaw set so tight the muscles jump. Then suddenly—a fishboned hand fists around the back of his jacket collar, gives a hard yank down to unbalance him, stronger than Danarius has any right to be—

“Don’t turn your back on me, boy—"

“Fuck off,” shouts Hawke, and before Fenris can react she’s spun on one heel to punch Danarius as hard as she can, her whole body thrown behind the weight of it.

It’s a thunderous blow, her fist curled tight as a whip. Danarius’s head snaps sideways, his far temple cracking against the pillar; his grasp loosens as an afterthought from Fenris’s collar, and Fenris drags himself free as Danarius crumples to the polished tile floor. For a few moments he does not move, his cheek split above the bone and already blooming a glorious red; then the grey head lolls, and one hand lists up to his broken nose where blood has begun to smear. The stunned look does not disappear, but it ebbs enough the glimpse of raw, bland hatred shows through.

“Bitch,” he gasps, a slurry of red spattered over his teeth. “You bitch. You’ve ruined him. He was mine. What he could have been—”

“Go to hell.”

Fenris is forced to grip Hawke’s arm when it looks like she’d like to kick him on top of the rest. She subsides without complaint, though her eyes burn, and when Fenris wraps an arm around her shoulders she immediately tucks her own back around his waist where it belongs. Where she belongs. Danarius still snivels on the floor, his suit stained with his own blood, invective spilling from his lips as he tries and fails to rise.

Ah. What a small, pathetic man. What a useless beast. This is what he has feared for so long? This creature with wide wet eyes and fear in his mouth? So many years running from the tiger snapping at his back, and only now has he gained the courage to turn and discover a mewling kitten in its place. He could lay him level with another blow—Hawke would cheer for him—but now, here, her hand on his back and a victory to carry them forward, it hardly seems worth the effort.

“I should have realized sooner what you really were,” Fenris muses, and hears in his own voice the casual contempt, the indifferent curiosity. “Eri sempre così debole?

Danarius inhales, a sharp, shocked thing, and recoils back against the pillar. He starts to speak, is cut off by Fenris’s dismissive gesture; he tries again but chokes on the breath and spends it coughing blood into his palm instead. Fenris shakes his head, disgusted.

He will not waste another minute of his life on this shadow. There is too much light ahead.

“Hawke,” Fenris says instead, and when he steps forward she moves with him. A woman trained for pairs, who knows how to watch the shape of every line and match him without hesitation. A woman who loves him…

Effortless.

How easy it is to let him go. They leave Danarius behind, crumpled on the floor alone, and they walk together through the doors of the starlit atrium into the cold, clean night.

A stunning pair, aren’t they? They’ve fought through more adversity than just about anyone in the field, coming out of nowhere to sweep sectionals, nationals, and the World Championship back-to-back in an impossible comeback story.”

“That’s right. Their story has become an international sensation; her coach’s biography of their unlikely partnership has topped bestseller lists all over the world. A biopic based on their journey was just released this summer, and Vanity Fair dropped rumors last week of a Hollywood adaptation already in development.”

“A blessing and a curse, maybe, for a pair of skaters notoriously close-mouthed about their personal lives.”

“News organizations are already jockeying to cover their wedding next fall, though by all accounts it’s going to be a small family event. They say his sister is the one who designed Hawke’s wedding dress.”

“I can’t imagine it will involve Lycra.”

“Surely not! But that’s for next year; for now we’ll focus on them as the heavy favorites here at the Grand Prix Final. We’ve seen them grow in strength and grace as they’ve made the international circuit; what can we expect here?”

“Only more of the same. It’s obvious skating with Fenris has refined Hawke’s technical ability; her cross-cuts are sharper, her lines polished and finished in a way we never saw from her before her accident. She’s skating with a new poise and elegance that’s wonderful to see.”

“He’s more confident, too. We’ve already talked about their chemistry on this program, but when they step onto the ice it’s like she flips a switch inside him, and all that emotion he never used to show gets drawn out into the routine. He may have been impeccable before, but this is so much more fun to watch.”

“The change in coaches has a lot to do with that too, I’m sure. Aveline Hendyr has an unconventional style, but with this pair, she and Varric Tethras make magic.”

“And the coaching can make all the difference. We’ve all heard about how Fenris’s former coach was arrested late last year for the rink-side sabotage of Hawke’s pairs routine four years ago, along with a number of charges covering everything from child abuse to embezzlement. It’s a catastrophic fall after his decades atop the sport. It looks like Fenris getting away from his program when he did was the best career decision he’s ever made.”

“And pairing up with Hawke may be the best personal one. They’ve never been a traditional couple, but right now they look unstoppable, and they look like they’re having the time of their lives doing it.”

“And here they are entering the ice for the free skate. They’re in first after the short program. Look at that smile. Like this is all for him, and we’re just lucky enough to watch.”

“They seem so relaxed. They could be out for a walk instead of competing on one of the largest international stages in the world.”

“Oh, this should be good. There’s the music—”

“And there they go—!”

end.