The steady bee-beep of Fenlin’s phone alarm pulled her from the depths of sleep, and she poked her nose out of the bundle of covers, squinting in the dark for where her phone was before reaching out half-blindly to feel around on the night table for it. Warm arms slipped around her from behind, and she felt Rahlen’s face nestle into her hair.
“Mmmnnno,” he mumbled, “S’too early. Stay. S’warm. You’re warm.” Fen found the phone, tilting it up to swipe on the snooze. Ten minutes of laziness were allowed, but while Rahlen was tempting, this was her last ice time before the short program that evening.
The familiar rise of anxiety hovered in her chest, fluttering and waiting to burst into a full blown attack. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and focused on the little sensations to help ground her. The warmth of Rahlen’s arm over her waist, the clean smell of the pillow her face was pressed into and Rahlen’s lazy breaths behnd her. Slowly the trembling anxiety in her chest eased and smoothed out to a regular heartbeat.
“You can stay asleep, It’s a short practice,” she said, flipping through her phone’s alerts as she slowly woke up. It was still dark outside and would be for another hour or two at least. “Turning on the light,” she warned, closing her own eyes before reaching out and fumbling to flick the little lamp’s switch.
Rahlen groaned, pressing his face tighter against her neck.
“I thought you were supposed to be the morning person,” Fen muttered, twisting to look over her shoulder at him. Well, the parts of him that weren’t pressed into her or covered by thick blankets.
“Technically,” he said, nudging at her shoulder for her to roll onto her back. As she did he shifted back to give her a bit more room. “I might as well get up. How bout I grab us breakfast for after your practice? There’s gotta be somewhere near the rink that would be open this early.”
Fenlin stifled a yawn, and jumped as the phone in her hand started to beep angrily again. This time she turned the alarm off, and pushed herself up to sit. As the covers slipped down to her waist, Fen sucked in a breath and goosebumps rose all along her arms and back.
“Cold?” Rahlen asked, runing a hand over her back to help warm her skin.
“No,” she said dryly, and reached over to rest a hand over the blankets on his belly. Grabbing a handful, she yanked the blankets off, baring all of Rahlen to the cold cabin air. He made a grab for them, hissing as the residual heat of the bed was sucked away.
“So mean,” he yelped, making a grab for her. Laughing, Fenlin dodged his fingers and hopped into the bathroom, almost getting the door closed before he caught it.
After practice, sitting at the cafe on main street, Fenlin had her hands wrapped around her coffee and her eyes on the people walking by.
“For you,” Rahlen said, setting down the plate of eggs and toast in front of her. “I’m surprised that you’re still on your first cup of coffee.” He sat across from her, his own plate piled with pancakes and bacon.
“They refilled it,” Fenlin said, sipping her coffee and hiding her smile behind the ceramic mug. “Cuz they know me.”
Rahlen rolled his eyes. “Of course.”
“So what’re your plans while I”m getting ready tonight? Did you manage to reach Athim?” Fenlin asked. “I can yell at him for you. He’s started seeing someone and he’s been a bit… AWOL lately.” She leaned over, glancing at Rahlen’s legs.
“Also aren’t you cold?” she asked, looking back up at him, eyebrow arched. “I mean I don’t even wear skirts in the winter. Unless it’s for a competition.”
“First off,” he said, holding up a finger. “It’s a kilt not a skirt. Different. Secondly, it’s wool and actually quite warm when it’s not windy, and thirdly I’ve heard back, I’ll be grabbing supper with him before the competition and we’ll be there in time to cheer you on.” Rahlen winked.
“You need your good luck charm after all.”
Fenlin made a show of rolling her eyes. Still… “Thanks,” she said quietly. “I’m nervous. It’s so different from every other time.”
“Fenlin,” Rahlen said, reaching out and giving her arm a squeeze. “You’ve got this. Go out there and Kick that shembitch’s ass. By the way I resent the implication that I’m quick. Aside from against the door.”
Fenlin’s eyes widened, the innuendo failing to get more than the tips of her ears pink.
“Athim told you about-” she said quietly.
“Athim told me,” Rahlen confirmed, smile disappearing into a frown. “And I didn’t want to have to drive her home, but you were right. She needed to go and no one else wanted to go near her.” He squeezed her arm and let go, reaching for his fork. “Want any fruit? I feel like we should get some fruit.”
Gold – Short Program
~ music: Gold by Kiiara ~
There was no spotlight today to block out the eyes of the crowd watching her as Fenlin skated around the rink in long strides. There was no Rahlen waiting at centre ice for her, hand out and smile on his face to calm her. But he was here, somewhere in the crowd, and she heard him shout out words of encouragement. It helped more than she’d ever admit to him. Just like the words Dorian whispered to her as he’d held her hands by the boards.
“They’re underestimating you. They’re expecting you to fall, to panic. Disappoint them.”
Shoulders back, wearing a shimmering golden dress beaded with the chevron pattern of the Dalish, Fenlin wore her hair in braids pulled back from her ears. Her eyes were rimmed with black and gold. It was starkly different from her previous seasons of soft pastels and romantic makeup.
Settling into her opening position, Fenlin closed her eyes and let out a long slow breath. With it she forced out the jittering anxiety that had lurked since morning. Gone. It had no place here, only she and the music were allowed on the ice. That was it. The whole routine was a risk, from the choreography to the music choice. But it felt far more comfortable on her skin than pink chiffon and piano music ever had.
The music started, the vocals staccato and spliced together in a jangled melody. Kicking off onto one foot, Fenlin spun into a twizzle sequence that carried her over the ice diagonnally until the melody smoothed into the more comprehensible verse. Stepping out of the twizzle, Fen built up speed before launching into her first jump.
Toe loop, an easy entry. The loop wasn’t there for points, it was for her. A confidence builder before she attacked the more difficult jumps later in the program. And it had worked every run through of her routine so far. It worked again tonight, speed carrying her through the air. She flew, landing easily on her edge, foot kicking out into arabesque and holding the landing until the shift in music.
So far so good.
Next was the tricky bit. Her feet emphasized the syncopated tempo of the music, bringing her across the ice so she could begin the the next approach and the first combination. A difficult entry into her axel. The jump she had missed most often in competition. She launched herself into it, knowing that there was no room for anything less an an aggressive entry. She landed, it, coiled and threw herself into the accompanying loop. Her skate caught as she landed, and she dipped low, holding on as her fingers nearly skimmed the ice.
But she’d done it.
Confidence or relief surged through her, and Fenlin didn’t question which. She didn’t have time, stepping into the long and graceful Ina Layback that would bring her into the first spin sequence. Contracting around her chest in time with the music, Fenlin pulled herself out of the layback, and threw herself into the layback spin. Catching her blade, she pulled herself up into a tight Biellman, foot arched up over her head. She felt the cold steel bite into her palm.
Letting go, she kicked out and around, spinning dizzyingly tight until she stepped out abruptly into her final position. Her palm was warm, and Fen knew she’d need to get it looked at after the kiss and cry. Heart thudding and lungs aching, Fenlin straightened, stepping into the customary curtsies and waves.
Whoops. No, Fen, wave with the uncut hand, she chided herself as a droplet of blood spattered onto the ice by her feet. Wincing, she turned and switched hands, balling her cut hand up to avoid dripping on the ice.
Striding towards the kiss and cry, she let the grin reach her face and explode out in impulsive giggles as the bundled up nerves were released out in go. Throwing her arm around Dorian, she kept her hand carefully away from her coach’s fine suit.
“You disappointed all of them,” Dorian said, hugging her tight. “Let’s see to that hand while we wait for the results hmm?” he said, motioning her towards the couch where a medic was waiting with gloves on.
Fen looked over to the side as Dorian sat her down and the Medic took her by the wrist to take a look at the cut. Rahlen was standing at the edge of the kiss and cry, holding a stuffed dog. Wait-
“Someone threw this on the ice,” he said with a wink and stepped around the medic, gently setting the puppy on her lap. The mabari pup hopped up to lick her face, too wiggly for her to control with only one hand.
“Oh, lovely,” Dorian said, lips tugging downwards under his moustache. “Ferelden courting rituals are so quaint.”
Hand finally bandaged and free, Fenlin wrapped her arms around the puppy and glared at Dorian.
“We’re friends,” Fenlin and Rahlen said at the same time.
Dorian raised an eyebrow at them then rolled his eyes. “Right.”
“Mister Bannwyn said that this one imprinted on you, kept trying to escape last night,” Rahlen said, sitting next to her. He looked up and nudged her in the side. “Scores are up.”
“Imprint- what?” she asked, confused. Rahlen took her chin and gently turned her to face the screen where her- “oh mygods.”
“That’s your personal best, isn’t it?” Rahlen said, grinning at her.
“That’s fiften points above her personal best,” Dorian said, patting Fenlin on the back. The puppy was still licking at her unbandaged hand as Fenlin stared at the screen. Had… there been some mistake? She was in first, with four skaters to go, but… still.
“Congrats, Fen,” Rahlen said, reaching out to rub the dog’s forehead.
“I can’t afford a mabari,” Fenlin blurted out, looking back at Rahlen. “They’re expen-”
“When they imprint, there’s not much of a choice in the matter. Besides, it’s taken care of. He’s all yours.” The puppy barked in agreement, too happy to sit still. The nub of his tail was wagging so hard his whole rear end was waggling back and forth.