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Fear of Falling

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“Try these on,” the girl behind the counter said cheerfully, handing Xion a pair of ski boots. He took and joined his brothers on the bench, trying to ignore the sinking feeling in his stomach.

He really didn’t want to go skiing, but his family had insisted on taking them all during their respective winter breaks. He had, in fact, tried to come up with an excuse to stay in his dorm and avoid seeing them altogether, but had been unable to find any reason to do so.

So here he was, at Iceberg Resort, trying to ignore the strange looks everyone gave him when they realized he was related to his three, hulking, older brothers.

“Ready for your first slope?” Fohsa asked him.

“Go down the black diamond first,” Tahlus called, leaning around Fohsa. “It’s the easiest.”

“Don’t listen to him, Xion,” Fohsa said, shouldering Tahlus out of his face, “black diamond is the hardest.”

“Listen, Xion,” Mahteret said, moving to Xion’s other side and clapping him hard on the back, “You don’t need to go to a beginner’s class if you stick with us. All you have to do is learn how to break and you’re golden.”

“I think I’ll go to the class, but thanks,” Xion muttered, finishing pulling on the boots as quickly as he could and moving away from his brothers. Thankfully, they soon were too busy chattering excitedly about the day ahead to notice him withdraw.

When they left the lodge, Tahlus yelled, “Last one down the black diamond buys drinks tonight!” And they all sprinted through the snow, skis and poles in hand. Xion saw that his parents were distracted with reading the map of the slopes and slipped away into the lodge again, headed for the restaurant, which was called The Tip. He sat at the empty bar and leaned his skis next to him.

“It’s a little early to be drinking,” the boy behind the counter noted.

“I’m not drinking, I’m too young anyway,” Xion said.

“Well good, I’m too young to serve you alcohol.” The boy went silent, and Xion glanced towards the door. “Are you hiding from the slopes?”

“Yeah,” Xion sighed, “and my brothers.”

“Figured, a lot of people do their first time here,” the boy said. “I promise its not as bad as it looks. Do you want anything?”

“Hot chocolate, please,” Xion answered. He took off his jacket, the heat in the room getting to him suddenly. The boy returned and Xion glanced at his nametag. “Thank you, Pera.” Pera smiled and Xion stared at his face for a little longer than he meant to before looking into his hot chocolate, his face red.

“So, St. George’s Catholic High School,” Pera said, peering at Xion’s shirt, “Isn’t that the military school in the valley?”

“Yeah, this is my brother’s shirt,” Xion said, “I never went there. My father wanted me to follow in my brothers’ footsteps but I’m not… the most physically capable person.”

“Well, physical strength isn’t everything,” Pera said, pulling the stool from behind the cash register over and sitting down across from him.

“You’re one to talk,” Xion said without thinking, looking at the boy’s biceps. Oh my God why is he wearing a tank top it’s 10 degrees outside, he thought, glancing away again and hoping he didn’t seem rude.  “Anyway, Mahteret has a sports scholarship and both Fohsa and Tahlus are in the corps of cadets at their colleges which lowers your tuition and I... didn’t get a single scholarship. So my parents aren’t exactly happy with me.”

“That sucks.”

Xion shook his head and gripped his mug tightly. “I’m sorry, I just sorta dumped that on you and I don’t even know you.”

“Well,” Pera said, “We can change that. My name is Pera Rivers. What’s yours?” He held out his hand, a playful grin on his lips.

“Xion Praeten.” He took his hand.

“Well Xion, it’s very nice to meet you,” Pera said. At that moment, a group walked into the restaurant and Pera stood up quickly. “Listen, I’ve got to get back to work, but if you want to learn how to ski without your family watching, come back after we close tonight, okay?”

“I’ll think about it.” Pera nodded and hurried over to the customers, leaving Xion alone with his drink.

He hid out for a couple more hours in the restaurant before deciding to fake being sick and head back to their cabin. Pera was at the cash register when he went to pay, and held up his hands when Xion tried to hand him money.

"That hot chocolate was on the house,” Pera said.

“But-“ Xion began to protest, but Pera grabbed his hand and pushed it away from him.

“No buts. Just… come back tonight, all right?” For the first time since they’d been talking, Pera looked nervous. This guy really wants me to learn to ski.

“I will,” Xion promised, shoving his money back in his pocket, and Pera grinned triumphantly.

“Later, Xion!” He called as Xion left. Xion turned around and waved awkwardly, nearly colliding with a family as they came into the restaurant.

            

Xion’s family accepted his ruse without hesitation, and left him alone for the evening. Not wanting to explain where he was going, and knowing that he wouldn’t be missed, at 9pm when the slopes closed Xion locked his door, turned out the lights, and climbed out of his window into the backyard of their cabin, and walked through the bitterly cold night towards the lodge.

He went to the door of The Tip and found it locked, but as soon as he knocked a pig in a sweater came skidding from the back and shoved its nose against the door, little tail wagging. Followed behind her was a short, blond-haired guy in a long puffy coat. He grabbed the pig’s collar and opened the door, keeping her from jumping up on Xion.

“Hey, you must be Pera’s friend! I’m Dorro.” He held out his free hand and Xion took it.

“Xion. Are you the guy who does the announcements here?” Xion asked, recognizing his voice from the speakers that scattered the slopes.

“Yep! I’m the DJ. And this is Oinkers, she’s Torrvic’s.” Xion hesitantly held out a hand to the pig, who rubbed eagerly against it.

“Not to be rude, but isn’t it a little unsanitary to have a pig inside a restaurant?” Xion could’ve sworn that Oinkers rolled her eyes and huffed at him.

“Well, now you’ve insulted her,” Dorro said, “Oinkers here gets more baths than anyone. And besides, Pera doesn’t clean this place until after she leaves for the night. Speaking of our resident waiter, he and the rest of the group are getting skis. Follow me!” He took off towards the ski rental, the pig hot on his heels, and although Xion’s legs were much longer than his he barely kept up with him.

Pera was on the bench, pulling on a battered pair with boots, along with a guy with a beard he didn’t recognize and the girl who’d given him his boots earlier. When she saw him, she pouted.

“Dammit, Pera, why do you get all the cute guys,” she exclaimed, and Pera blushed scarlet.

“Actually, I’m not g-“ Xion began to stutter, but he was interrupted by the other guy the bench, who’d let the pig jump into his lap.

“C’mon Rina, there’s plenty of fish in the sea. What about that girl you talked to earlier?”

Rina groaned and covered her face. “Wayyy out of my league.”

“You’ll never know until you talk to her,” Dorro pointed out. He gestured for Xion to come forwards. “This is Xion. Xion, this is Torrvic, our resident drunk, and Rina and our resident ‘too bisexual to function.’” Rina threw a glove at his head, which he dodged easily.

“Ex-drunk,” Torrvic complained. Xion swore that the pig in his lap nodded proudly.

“Nice to meet you all,” Xion said awkwardly. Rina handed him a pair of boots and Xion was surprised to see that they were the exact pair she’d given him that morning. He sat down on the bench next to Pera.

“I’m glad you came,” Pera murmured as the pulled their boots on side-by-side.

“I promised I would, didn’t I?” Xion glanced over at him. “Is that really all you’re gonna wear?”

Pera looked down at the sweatshirt he was wearing and shrugged. “I don’t get cold that easily, and besides, skiing makes you get pretty warm.” Xion shivered just thinking about going outside without a coat, but as they made their way out of the lodge Pera seemed unfazed by the chilly air.

“Let’s get some real music going,” Dorro yelled, running over to the shed with the sound equipment inside and plugging his phone in, “None of that family friendly shit.” He turned on the mike, put his lips on it, and whispered over the speakers, “Y’all ready for some fun?” He started playlist and ran out of the shed. Torrvic and Rina whooped and took off towards one of the black diamond slopes, Oinkers on their heels.

“What exactly does the pig do out here?” Xion asked Pera.

“Oh, she’s got her own snowboard. She’s actually better than me,” Pera said, and Xion genuinely could not tell if he was joking or not. He led Xion over to the training area.

“Okay, first things first,” Pera said, “I’ll show you how to put those on.” He led him through moving around on the skis on flat ground, and Xion followed his instructions easily. The small slope was much less daunting than the actual trails, and he went down it a couple times without falling before Pera said, “You ready to try a real slope?” When Xion didn’t answer right away, he continued, “I won’t make you do anything I don’t think you can do. Do you trust me?” Xion stared into his deep brown eyes for a moment.

“Yeah, I do,” he decided, and they glided over to the top of the first green slope together.

“This is much shorter than other green slope,” Pera said. “But you can still get a good head of steam going. Don’t go straight down if you aren’t comfortable with that.” Xion looked down the slope, swallowed, and nodded. “I’ll be right next to you.”

He pushed towards the slope with his ski poles and began sliding slowly down it. Okay this isn’t so b- and then the slope got a lot steeper. “Oh God-“ he said without meaning to as he sped up.

“Turn sideways if you want to slow down,” Pera reminded him, and Xion panicked as he continued to speed down the hill. He spun towards Pera, threw his weight uphill, and… face-planted into the snow. “Are you okay?” Pera said, and Xion heard him crouch down next to him.

“Yeah, m’fine,” he said, his voice muffled in the snow. He was almost glad he was face-first so Pera couldn’t see how embarrassed he was.

“Hey, everyone does that the first time they try to slow down,” Pera said, and Xion flipped over on his back. “C’mon, let me help you up.” He held out a hand- how on earth does he have bare hands right now-  and pulled Xion to his feet.

“I’m glad no one else was here to see that,” he muttered.

“Well, that’s one of the many perks of getting private lessons,” Pera said playfully. “Are you ready to try again?”

Xion answered honestly. “No, but I will anyway.” Pera handed him his poles and he started down the slope again, this time at more of a diagonal. His first try at turning also landed him in the snow, but he managed to get down the slope in one piece.

“Not bad, city boy.” Pera glided over to the ski lift and switched it on. It rattled to life and Xion looked at it suspiciously.

Is it supposed to make that noise?” He asked.

“She’s old and she sounds bad, but I promise you she’s reliable.” He patted the edge of the shed it was housed in lovingly and motioned for Xion to come closer. “It’s pretty easy to get on, much easier than it looks. And this one is much smaller than the one for the other slopes, so it’s good practice. You have to chase one chair into the loading area, then put both ski poles in one hand and look behind you to sit in the chair behind you, and put the safety bar down. Then, to get off at the top, just stand up when you reach the flat area.”

“That sounds… complicated. And a lot at once.” Xion watched the chairs go by.

“I’m right here, okay?” Pera said, grabbing his hand and then releasing it when he saw Xion freeze. “Sorry. But the promise still stands. I’ll make sure you get on and off safely.” Xion wished that he hadn’t let go of his hand. He nodded. “I’m going to count down, and when I say go, we’ll go into the loading area.” He watched the lift intently. “3, 2, 1, go!” He pushed in between the lift chairs, with Xion close behind. “Now, quick, put both poles in one hand, and look behind you.” Xion nearly dropped his poles as he did as Pera said, and before he knew it they were airborne. “Not to bad, right? Move your arm so I can put the safety bar down.”

“Yeah, not too bad,” Xion murmured, looking out over the slope they’d just gone down as they climbed through the air.

“We’re reaching the top.” Pera’s voice was urgent but calm, and it broke Xion out of his trance. “When we get closer I’ll put the bar back up, and then when your skis hit ground you’ve just got to stand up and glide away.”

“Okay.” Xion’s heart beat faster and faster as they neared the top. But the sight of the boy next to him, watching him with a careful expression, steadied him and he managed to get off the lift and out of the way before falling.

“Hey, not bad for your first time!” Pera exclaimed, holding out his hand. Xion took it and let him pull him to his feet. “Ready to go again?”

Looking down the slope, Xion realized he wasn’t scared of it anymore. “Yeah, let’s do it again.”        

            

They went down the small slope a few more times until Xion felt completely comfortable, and then moved on to the bigger slope. Dorro and Rina hopped off the larger ski lift as they approached.            

“Ready to try a bigger hill, Xion?” Dorro called out and Xion nodded.

Rina leaned on her ski poles, a nostalgic smile on her face. “I remember the first time I went on that hill. I hit a tree head-on and broke three bones.”

“Rina!” Pera scolded. “Don’t scare the new guy!”

“Right. Sorry.” She looked a little sheepish. “Don’t worry, Xion, I was very young, I left my parents behind and no one had told me how to break yet. You’re in much better shape than I was.” She and Dorro glided away.

“Well that was comforting.”

“Ignore her, you’ll be fine,” Pera insisted. “I’m right next to you, just go as slow as you need.”

The slope was not nearly as bad as Xion expected, and when he fell halfway down he grabbed a handful of snow and chucked it at Pera. It hit the unassuming boy square in the face and Xion got up and continued down the hill before he could retaliate.

“That was a mistake, city boy,” Pera called from behind him, and Xion giggled as he tried to get away from him. Pera was (obviously) much faster and adept at skiing than him, and soon caught up to him. He turned at just the right moment and sprayed snow all over Xion.

They continued to chase each other down the hill. Xion was a lot less effective than Pera was, but the game got his mind off of how scared he was.

Which meant that he sorta forgot how to break, or really to break at all. And this caused him to bowl Pera over at the bottom of the hill.

“Sorry,” he said quickly, propping himself on his hands in the snow.

“It’s alright.” Pera smiled underneath him and Xion forgot to breath for a moment, looking at Pera’s dark curls spreading out over the snow.

“What?” Pera asked gently, breaking Xion out of his trance. He struggled for words before realizing that that’s not what he needed at that moment. Dropping onto his elbow, he kissed him cautiously.

The kiss felt like a ray of sunlight poking through storm clouds, and Xion pulled away quickly, a guarded question on his face.

Pera answered with an emphatic yes in as few words, grabbing Xion’s scarf and pulling his face down to meet his again. They were cut off short by their skis getting tangled together, and Xion rolled onto his back in the snow, laughing.

“I thought you said you were straight,” Pera giggled, sitting up.

“I guess I’ve changed my mind.”

On the ride back up the mountain, they shared another, longer kiss, and Xion decided that he was going to like skiing a lot more than he thought he would.