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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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“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.