“Good,” says Fenris shortly. “Again, now. One, two, and—”
The girl beams, her messy knot coming undone. On his cue she swings back into the spin, one skate lifting off the ice behind her as she leans back into a graceful arch. She’s young—eleven at the most—but talented and eager to work, and Fenris knows her mother works even harder to afford her lessons. Hawke keeps the classes cheap on purpose, uneager to extort their skyrocketing reputation, but the salary of a cleaning woman is meager in the best of years, and Fenris has seen her mother in the stands before during competitions, Iona’s blond hair braided away from her face and her eyes shining with exhausted pride as she cheers her daughter on.
“Enough,” he says, and she skids to a stop, breathing hard. “Good. Your arm is costing you speed. Watch, here—” and he shows all five students what he means, adjusting Amethyne’s arm this way and that as she repeats the turn more slowly, demonstrating how to keep the hand turned just so to create the line he wants. He’s nearly finished when he spies over Connor’s head a stranger, a man leaning both elbows on the rink’s wall to watch between two artificial holly wreaths. “Continue,” he tells them, voice curt, and waves at his assistant to take over. Orana is an older student in her early twenties, but she’s helped out at the rink since before Fenris knew Hawke, and inexplicably enjoys the company of children.
“Very good,” he hears her say cheerfully as he turns towards the stranger at the wall, “and again, just like that—”
The stranger doesn’t leave as Fenris approaches, though he does straighten from his hunch. A tall man, pale and gangly, ginger hair tied back in a low tail. His coat is ratty, the lines of his face haggard; the contrast is worse than it should be, given the festive bunting and garland Hawke’s family has draped over every surface in the building. He looks vaguely familiar, Fenris thinks as he nears, but he’s not a parent and certainly not a talent scout, and Fenris has little patience left after the trial for reporters. The ice makes a satisfying crunch under his skates as he cuts to a stop.
“The rink is closed,” Fenris says brusquely. “If you are not here with a student, you should go.”
“I’m sorry for intruding,” the man says. “I’m here to see someone. I didn’t mean to distract you from your work.”
“Neither they nor I are interested in idle onlookers.”
“I’m here for Hawke,” the man says, relenting, and sticks his gloved hand out to shake. “I’m Anders.”
Anders. Hawke’s Anders, her old partner, from the competition where she fell. He has never met the man before, has never felt a need to speak to the person who dropped Hawke ten feet to solid ice face-first. The one-sided conversations he has heard through her phone calls have been enough.
“Fenris,” he says belatedly, and takes Anders’s hand for a brief shake. It is harder than he expects to temper his tone. “I apologize. We were not expecting you.”
Anders’s answering smile is only a touch bitter, and Fenris suppresses a wince. He hadn’t meant that for a barb. “I’m only passing through overnight. I know it’s last minute, but if Hawke’s here…?”
Hawke’s voice carries easily through the arena, and Fenris turns in time to see her jogging out of the back hall with a brilliant smile, arms spread. Anders smiles himself as he wraps her in a tight embrace, the expression much realer than before, then holds her back to look at her at arm’s length. “Look at you. You look wonderful. What is that horrible sweater?”
Hawke grins, leaning back so he can see the red and green poms over the violent purple snowflakes. “Oh, I know. But Anders, you look terrible! Have you been sleeping? Don’t answer that.” She leans enough over the half-wall to loop one hand around Fenris’s elbow, pulling him closer over the ice. “You’ve met Fenris?”
“I have. He didn’t approve of my ogling.”
“Who would?” she asks, laughing, but Fenris catches the apology in her look to him. “How long are you in town for?”
“Just tonight. I’m sorry it’s short notice, especially at Christmas.”
“No, it’s wonderful. We were going out to dinner with my family tonight. Come with us.”
His smile is as strained as Fenris’s own. “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Hawke.”
“Bethany would love to see you.”
“And Carver would as soon drop me into a frozen lake.”
Hawke laughs again, a little quieter. “You’re not wrong. He’s been better since the trial—less angry, I mean—but I suppose Mother might appreciate it if we don’t incite violence on Christmas Eve eve.”
“As you know, her approval is very important to me.”
Anders says it lightly, but Hawke flinches before hauling a smile over the hurt. “Fenris, I’m sorry. We’ve interrupted your class.”
“We’re nearly finished.” And they are, only five minutes to the hour, and even as he turns he can see Iona in a heavy sweater and scarf making her way down the stairs from the overlooking lobby at the far side of the rink. “The ice will be free in just a moment.”
Hawke catches Fenris’s eye the moment he says it, and they have a brief, wordless argument. He loses these, always, but he does not like Anders and he hadn’t intended what she thinks with that statement, and—
And Hawke sets her jaw, and Fenris sighs. “Anders,” Hawke says, looking back to her old partner. “Do you want some time on the ice? Before you go, I mean, since you won’t have dinner with us.”
A brief flash of yearning in the man’s eyes, naked enough to startle. “I’m not warmed up. I haven’t skated in months, honestly. I didn’t even bring them with me.”
Hawke puts the back of her hand against her forehead. “If only there were somewhere in this public skating rink where you could rent a pair in your size. Alas, we’re lost.”
Anders throws back his head in real laughter, and for an instant Fenris can see the man Hawke might have skated with as a partner. “You’ll rent me public skates? What enticement.”
“I’m very enticing.” She waggles her eyebrows, then demurs. “I think there’s still a pair or two of your old boots in the back. You never came to get them.”
“That does sound like me,” Anders sighs, turning to watch the students filing off the ice to their arriving parents under Orana’s watchful gaze. Connor waves at Fenris before trotting over to his mother; Nia tucks her arm around her father’s waist as they walk off in matching puffy jackets. “Oh, fine, twist my arm.”
“Consider it twisted.” Hawke winks. “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”
“You don’t like him,” Hawke murmurs, just loud enough for Fenris to hear.
“I don’t,” he admits, and she leans her head on his shoulder in answer. His hands are clasped in front of him where they sit in the stands, his elbows on his knees, but she manages to wriggle her fingers between his until they’re properly linked. They’ve shut down the rest of the rink lights save a few over the ice, a dim spotlight in a rink gone to shadow and twinkling Christmas lights through garland. “But he is your friend.”
“So you’ll restrict yourself to icy glares and keep the cutting insults for another time. You’re so magnanimous.”
He chuckles despite himself. “As you say.”
“Mm.” They’re both silent for a while, watching Anders skate. He has good lines, Fenris allows, his legs a mile long in the workout gear he’d pulled from his bag, his hands shockingly graceful as he moves through the steps of an old routine to the strains of a lonely viola. Obviously out of practice, his jumps singles only and no real speed on the turns, but no significant rust that couldn’t be polished off with enough effort. He leans into a camel spin, forefinger hooked around the blade of his black skate, and reaches for something he cannot grasp.
“He still has strength in his legs,” Fenris admits at last, because it is true and because he knows Hawke can see it as well. “He is not so off as he claims.”
“Anders claims lots of things,” Hawke says ruefully, and when Anders waves up at her from the ice she waves back. “I think he wants me to come skate with him.”
“Do you wish to?”
“I’m decidedly mixed,” she says, and looks at him with an open honesty that makes his mouth run dry. The blue of her eyes shocks him every time. “Would you mind if I did?”
“No,” he says, surprised to find it true, and lets his hand curl around her neck as she leans forward to kiss him. “So long as you do not leave me partnerless next month.”
“No fear of that, lover,” she says against his mouth, the smile enough to warm him right down to his toes, before pushing up to her feet. “Stay here. Watch. Give us a score, or something. But go easier on me if you do.”
“Or something,” he agrees dryly, and watches as she bounds down the stairs of the wooden stands away from him, waving at Anders as she passes out of the shadow to meet him.
The routine is an old one, set to Brahms. Fenris knows it tangentially, can pull from the dregs of his inconstant memory an impression of green and white costuming and an impressive lift in the back half, but he has not studied it in any real depth. They do none of the risky elements, no throws, no lifts—a safer choice, for partners who have not worked together in years—but the choreography is beautiful, yearning and sweetly sad, and even with the gaps in the performance where the lifts should be they skate it well, and they skate well together.
In truth, Fenris is surprised to find he is not jealous. He feels as though he ought to be—his partner and lover skating with another man—but it is too easy to pull to the forefront of his mind the weight of Hawke’s head on his shoulder, the texture of her bare back under his callused palms, the sleepy affection in her eyes as she burrows deeper into him in their bed. He is not so weak as to doubt this. Not here.
Hawke comes the wrong way out of a turn and bumps into Anders. Not enough to disrupt the skate, but enough that the poms on her sweater tremble and her raucous laugh carries up to Fenris where he sits in the dimmed stands to make him smile. A moment more and she is back in sync with Anders, his long arm pulling her into his chest and spinning her away again, leading her in a merry chase over the ice. The music tumbles after them, violas cresting into a note more hopeful than the rest, and Hawke cuts to her scripted stop with a flourish of sprayed snow.
“Well done!” she calls, her cheeks flushed with exertion and excitement. Fenris stands himself and begins to make his way down to the rinkside. “You’ve hardly lost a step!”
Anders bows from his own place, his chest heaving, and adjusts one boot with his thumb before skating over to meet Hawke. “Only with you to lead the way. Even with you coming out of that turn wrong every single time, still, after all these years. You still make it better than it should have been.”
She shakes her head, smiling, and only Fenris sees the half-step backwards she takes, as if sidling out of the way of the compliment. “You know how I enjoy keeping my friends on their toes.”
“More dangerous with the blades on, I think.”
“Mm. Still determined not to come back?”
“I’d only come back if it were with you, Hawke.”
Fenris freezes, one foot still on the bottom step. Anders hasn’t even tried to lower his voice, hasn’t even tried to hide it. His eyes are soft and burning at the same time. Dangerous, Fenris thinks, and doesn’t know why.
“I’m taken,” Hawke says in the same tone, and crosses her arms. “In every sense. You know that. You shouldn’t have asked.”
“I wasn’t really asking.” Anders skates over to the door in the rink’s wall, fishes for its handle beneath a wayward Christmas garland, and steps off the ice without putting on his guards. “I’ve been done with this world a long time, Hawke. Fenris,” he adds, and looks to Fenris in the darkened stands. “I’m sorry. It wasn’t a real suggestion. One more in a long line of futile endeavors.” He laughs, low and sad. “Consider me a devotee of hopeless causes.”
“The clinic didn’t make it?” Hawke steps forward on the ice, her arms falling to her sides. “Anders, I’m sorry.”
“Ran out of funding last month. Please don’t worry about it. I wouldn’t let you help even if you offered,” he adds, holding up a hand to forestall whatever Hawke had been about to say. “I know trials are next month. You have enough to worry about. I’ll see myself out—I know the way.”
“Anders, be careful.”
He waves a hand over his shoulder, yanks off his skates in favor of his street shoes, and shrugs on his tattered overcoat. “I’ll call when I get there.”
“When I figure that out, I’ll let you know.” He shakes his head at himself, then looks over to where Fenris waits, arms crossed. “Fenris. It was nice to meet you. I apologize for…all this,” he adds, gesturing wryly at the ice.
Fenris nods, not trusting himself to answer, and watches in silence as Anders makes his way up the far, twisting stairwell, his skates dangling by their laces over his shoulder, still snow-dusted, until the lobby door clicks closed behind him.
There’s a long stretch of quiet, and then Hawke comes over to meet him at the wall, her blades making soft hushing slices through the ice. “He wasn’t always an asshole,” she says softly. “He could be very funny. We used to laugh so hard during practice Varric would run us out of the rink.”
“He got angry,” she sighs, and when she reaches a little tentatively for his hand he takes it in both of his own. “Even before the accident. He’s been working at a free health clinic for years, trying to make a difference.” Her eyes are distant, seeing something he cannot follow; then she shakes her head like a dog in a stream, throwing off the distemper with visible effort. “Fenris, come skate with me.”
“Why?” he says, not truly objecting to the idea but too mystified to acquiesce.
“Because.” She lets him go, pushes away from the wall in a large backwards circle with her hands on her hips. The purple of her sweater is vibrant even in the low light. “Because I love you, and I want to skate with you. Because it’s Christmas Eve eve and we have time.”
Fair enough. He smiles, because she loves him and because he can, and goes to pull his skates from the bag.
Hawke cuts off the rest of the rink’s overhead spotlights while he laces himself up, leaving them in the dimness of a thousand white Christmas lights twinkling across the rink. They reflect back from the ice beneath them in lovely echo, red and green draperies catching the light and softening it, tinting it a little more festive here and there between the branches of artificial holly. He watches as she sets up a playlist to go over the loudspeakers, old holiday classics and newer, jazzy versions he knows she likes better intermingling in the ricochet off the ice, and then she skates out to meet him where he stands in the center of the rink.
“Well, Fenris?” she says softly, just enough he can hear her over the crooning singer. “What do you want for Christmas?”
What does he want? Nothing at all, and everything at once; bewildered even now that he has joined a family that celebrates such holidays together without animosity; overwhelmed to have a lover who cares what he wants at all. He is not so removed from Christmases spent in frightened isolation to disregard this gift Hawke has given him.
Fenris slides his thumb over her cheekbone, lets his hand slip fully into her hair until he can tug loose the tie that holds back her ponytail. Her hair falls over his hand, heavy and dark and gleaming; her eyes shine speck-gold in the reflections of the little lights around them.
“This is enough,” he says, his voice rough, and then he takes her hand and pulls her after.
She comes willingly, her laugh low and warm, and for several minutes they skate simple laps around the rink like any public skaters might, speeding up and slowing down here and there, nothing strenuous, nothing difficult, only enjoying the company of the other and nothing else.
The music changes to a slow, beautiful carol medley, a pair of voices twined in duet over piano and guitar. Hawke breaks away into the lead, flipping to skate backwards so that she can face him; her eyes are dark and glad as she reaches out her hand and he speeds to follow, to catch her fingers tight as he can grip them. The metallic smell of the ice is hard in his nose, a familiar burn, good and strong as the way the ice cuts beneath their blades in mirrored sighs, as he feels Hawke’s muscles bunch and ease under his hold at her waist, as habit takes over with a few steps and they slip without speaking into one of the passages of their short program.
The music is wrong, the beats just a little off, but it hardly matters. Fenris moves across the pattern, inside-out and in again, Hawke’s grip finding his at every turn in effortless match. The man overhead sings longingly about being home for Christmas, and Fenris sets his weight as Hawke lines herself up. The throw is a double only, neither of them reaching for more in a dim starlit rink with no real plan, but she lands it clean as a knife and turns into the lutz afterwards without hesitation.
Oh, how he loves her.
They’re supposed to transition into another pass after this, matched triple toes in sequence, but before Hawke can build up the speed Fenris lunges to catch her, wrapping both arms around her waist from behind and burying his face in her hair.
She gasps his name, but he can’t bear it—after all this, after Danarius and the trial and the reporters and a thousand thousand eyes on every choice they’ve made for a year, it seems impossible to deny himself the simple pleasure of taking Hawke in his arms and keeping her there as long as she’s willing to be held.
Her fingers lace over his at her waist, and her other hand comes up to slide into his hair. His momentum has propelled them both along the ice; she strokes here and there to keep them both moving, idle patterns with no purpose, her breathing in time with his, and eventually when she shifts to turn and face him he can stand loosening his grip the slightest amount necessary to allow it.
“Fenris,” she says again, softly, and cups his face in both hands. “We’ll make it together. We will.”
“This year,” he says, his voice ragged, and shuts his eyes as she leans in to kiss him.
Her lips are cold and chapped, but the rest of her runs hot as a furnace, and when she wraps her arms around his neck it’s as if she’s reached into the heart of him to thaw it at last. He palms her back; she arches into it, presses further against him, and gives an encouraging hum when one thumb slips under the hem of her ridiculous sweater.
Still, this is neither the time nor the place—for all he knows Anders might still be standing in the lobby’s overlook—but he can’t stop himself from chasing her when she draws back at last, twice, three times, kisses as much a promise as pleasure. “Hawke…”
“There’s nothing left to stop us,” she whispers against his lips, grinning. “Do you know that? We’ve made it through everything and we’re still standing here, you and me.” She runs her thumb over his lower lip, kisses him one more time, and straightens. “I can bear anything so long as you’re here to share it.”
His mouth is so dry. “The same for you, Hawke.”
“Mm.” The strung lights glitter in her smile. “Even dinner with my mother and brother at the same table.”
“As you like.”
“Even dinner with Anders.”
“If you asked, yes.”
“Even dinner with my family and Anders at the same table, and the steaks are all cooked well-done.”
This hesitation is not entirely feigned, and Hawke throws back her head in laughter. “I love you,” she says, wiping away an errant tear. “Fenris, I love you so much. Merry Christmas, you handsome son of a bitch.”
He smiles himself, the weight falling from his shoulders like water, and takes Hawke’s hand to spin her away from him before she can protest. She laughs again, turning into the momentum of it until the lights gleam in her hair like stars; then she reaches back for him and he takes her hand, his callused fingers curling around her own, and he lets her lead him from the shining ice.