“Fenlin you need to trust your partner!” Zevran shouted from the side of the rink. “It is just like we practiced in dry land training!”
The wind was whipping stray hairs across Fenlin’s face as she held tight onto Rahlen’s wrist in a deathgrip. His hands were hot against her waist and forearm. They HAD practiced on dryland the last few days. But that didn’t mean she felt comfortable with what was about to happen.
“Relax, I’ve got you,” Rahlen said by her ear.
“Can’t I throw him?” Fenlin said a bit desperately. Rahlen snorted.
“You can’t even lift me up,” he pointed out, slowing their momentum and letting go. “But you’ve got quite the grip. Maker knows you’ve already left enough bruises on me.”
Fenlin felt her ears burn red and she turned to look at him. He was never going to let that go, was he?
“I said I was sorry! I thought you were going to drop me!” She sputtered.
“So you flinched and kneed me in the chest. Right,” Rahlen said, rolling his eyes. “You need to trust me, kid. You’re too… too… twitchy.”
Ever since she’d called him old, he’d called her kid. It- well. She’d mind it less if she didn’t deserve it, she could just put it down to him being an asshole. Thing was, cocky and self-assured as Rahlen was, he wasn’t an asshole the way she thought he’d been. Which meant that SHE was the asshole. That had just made her more awkward around him.
The fact he smelled good and his hands were so warm even through her shirt didn’t help either. Or the way his- ugh. UGH. No she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction of being right. She did NOT have a crush. ….godsdamnit. Stupid. Royal. Stupid handsome face. Stupid niceness. Stupid everything.
“You need to learn to trust each other!” shouted Zevran, hands cupped around his mouth. “And relax, it’s like watching two virgins on their first date.”
“He is not helping,” Fenlin muttered. Her ears were scarlet. There was a small cluster of skaters waiting for their ice time, and now they were laughing and talking to themselves about what Zevran had said.
“No, he’s really not,” Rahlen said, his own cheeks slightly red. Fen let out a long breath, forcing herself to admit that she was making this harder than it had to be, for everyone.
“Look, let’s start over with… with everything, okay?” she said, kicking off to skate towards the exit on the boards. “I’m sorry, for being an asshole. I didn’t give you a fair chance.”
“Come over for supper tonight, then,” Rahlen said, looking over at her as he glided along. “we can figure out all this… awkward stuff.”
Fen chewed her lip, then nodded.
“I’ll bring alcohol,” she offered. “Uhm. What do you prefer? Wine? Beer?”
“Wine. I’ll text you the address, come by for seven.”
“It’s a date,” she said with a nod. “I mean- not a date. It’s… a plan…” Damnit Fen.
“Don’t worry about it kid,” Rahlen said with a wink. “You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t awkward as a nug in boots.”
“I tried that with Schmooples the third once,” Fen muttered, stepping off the ice and wiping her blades clean of frost. “It didn’t end well.”
This was a mistake. The worst mistake. The worst of all worst mistakes she’d ever made. She’d over dressed, or underdressed. She shouldn’t have worn any make up or should have worn more and her hair was just in a loose bun and Fenlin wasn’t sure if that was too much or too little effort.
Long story short, Fenlin had been sitting in the car for the last fifteen minutes. She was parked near the townhome of the address Rahlen had sent her, staring at the porch light like it was the harbinger of some doom she hadn’t accepted yet.
At least the temperature had warmed up to something reasonable, she thought, finally opening the door to her car and climbing out into the fresh snow. She pulled her bag out after her, the bottles of wine clinking inside. She wasn’t sure if he’d wanted white or red so she’d brought one of both because what if she’d brought the wrong one? Closing the door, she locked it, and tramped through the snow up to the porch, triple (actually more like quadruple) checking that it was the right address.
Oh gods. What if he’d given her the wrong address on purpose? How did skaters live in houses? Wait, she remembered that there were rumours he modeled on the side, but that was just rumours and gods this was absolutely the wrong house. Fenlin squeezed her eyes shut and knocked on the door, certain that someone else would be the one to open the door. Gods if it was his mother-
The door opened and to her surprise, it was Rahlen. And he was smiling.
“I was wondering how long you were going to sit in the car,” he said, leaning against the doorjamb with a grin. “If you hit the twenty minute mark I was going to call you and see if you were okay.”
Fen opened her mouth, and shut it without saying anything. Her cheeks and ears were hot and she tucked her face into her scarf to try to hide the embarrassment.
“It’s okay,” Rahlen said, stepping aside and holding the door open. “I thought you were going to stand me up. I’m just glad you decided to come. I made way too much food for one person.”
Fen took a deep breath, stomping the snow off her boots before stepping inside. She had to admit that whatever he had cooked smelled good. Which, considering he was Ferelden, was sort of a surprise. Didn’t Ferelden cuisine not know about spices?
“I realised I didn’t ask if you preferred red or white so I got one of each,” Fen said, brushing snow from her hair before unwinding her scarf. “I went for dry wines since they tend to be a bit easier to pair with food, and I wasn’t sure what you were making so,” she was babbling. She clamped her mouth shut into an awkward smile.
“What for?” he asked, taking the bag from her so she could finish getting out of her coat which he then also took from her to hang up by the door. “Dry sounds great, and I didn’t tell you what I was making so if you did know which to bring to pair with it, I’d be worried you were stalking me,” he said with a wink.
“I’m not stalking you,” Fen said weakly, following as Rahlen headed in towards the kitchen. “Though in retrospect, sitting outside in my car in front of your house doesn’t help my case…” Tucking her hands into the back pockets of her jeans, Fenlin couldn’t help but look around, curious at the pictures that were hung on the walls. She’d have thought they would be of his successes, but it seemed to be family photos, or of Rahlen with friends -Athim was there in one- that were candid and warm.
“Not really, no,” Rahlen said with a laugh. “But it helps that you clean up cute. Between your hair and your eyes you look like some winter spirit.”
Fenlin snorted at that. What a line. Geez.
“Winter spirits are more black twigs and blue ice,” she said, poking her head into the small kitchen to peer at what was on the stove. “I like the fall spirits the best. All oranges and reds, smelling like spices and crunchy leaf piles. I mean I think that’s what they’d be like. If they were real.”
Rahlen had stopped stirring the vegetable and nug stir-fry, and looked at her with his mouth slightly open.
“…what?” she asked, looking up at him. “Am I being weird again?” She winced. “Sorry, this is why I don’t do well with people. I talk and then people get uncomfortable.”
“Yeah you were but,” he said, absently stirring the food as it sizzled on the fry pan. “I’ve seen spirits too, the winter ones definitely looked like that. I just didn’t think that-”
Fenlin lifted her eyebrows, waiting to see what he’d say.
“I didn’t realise you saw them too,” he said, looking at her with an expression Fenlin couldn’t place. What she wouldn’t give to be able to read faces the way her mother could. “There’s a big winter forest spirit down the road, after food do you want-”
“YES.” Fenlin said, eyes wide. “Yes please. I mean. Politely agreeing to go see the spirit.” She coughed awkwardly, though at Rahlen’s smile she couldn’t help smile back.
“Well, you know,” Rahlen said, “I’m not that hungry. I could wait to eat if you really want to go see-”
“I’ll get my coat,” Fenlin said, bounding down the hallway to where she’d left her winter gear. She yanked on her coat and scarf, bundling up and then pulled his winter coat off the hook and held it out for him.
“Stove’s off?” she asked, yanking the coat away just as he reached for it. He laughed, and leaned over, using his long arms to get a handful of coat.
“Stove’s off,” he agreed, grabbing his own scarf and bundling up. He paused, reaching into a basket by the door before he pulled free a toque, and tugged it down onto her head, careful not to pull it over her ears, but making sure he pulled it over her eyes.
“Hey,” she muttered, pushing it up with a mittened finger. “What’s that for?”
“So you don’t get frost bite, it’s a bit of a walk to get to the tree where he hangs out,” Rahlen said, pulling his own hat on. “C’mon, before the snow gets too heavy.”
He reached past her shoulder to unlock the door and Fen turned, eager to get out into the woods. The air was chilly, but with thick fluffy flakes of snow falling down, Fenlin would have put up with much colder to get out into the woods and she couldn’t help but catch a snowflake on her tongue as Rahlen closed the door and locked it behind them.
“You ARE weird,” he said, catching up to her. Funny, that time is sounded almost like a compliment.
“Well, I was raised traditionally until mom moved us back into Ferelden proper when I was eleven,” Fenlin admitted. “Hunting and gathering food and stuff. The first time I saw a city I thought that it had to be it’s own country.”
She tucked her hands into the pockets of her parka, looking over at him.
“So, while I’m pretty sure that I’m naturally awkward around people, that sure didn’t help.” She puffed at a snowflake that landed on her nose, and was unsuccessful at dislodging it. “What about you? Your parents are practically royalty when it comes to ice skating.”
Rahlen made a small face.
“Yeah, and it’s always getting in the way of my life. Don’t get me wrong, I love my family, but everyone I meet just wants to meet them, no matter how much I might impress them, there’s always someone who thinks that I don’t work as hard, because of who my parents are.”
Fenlin listened, hearing some of the thoughts she’d had herself said out loud and she looked down at the snowy road they were walking down.
“Is that why you work with you mom as a choreographer?” she asked. “Because she- obviously I guess- doesn’t want that? She’s just your mom.”
“Sort of,” Rahlen admitted. “It doesn’t hurt she’s legitimately one of the best in the business, and I get a family discount. But mostly, yeah. I’ve tried with other people but, it’s not worth it. You work with your mom too, right? She’s… intense…”
Fen snorted. “That’s one way to say it, sure,” she said with a grin. “Partially yes. She used to teach me tricks back when I was a kid on the ponds we’d camp by, and I feel comfortable with her. When she tells me how to improve something there’s not that weight of ‘oh gods I messed everything up i’m wasting money’ that comes with working with paid coaches or choreographers.”
Fen glanced over at Rahlen and nodded sheepishly.
“Even though he’s volunteering his time, I just feel like every time I fuck up I’m wasting everyone’s time. Even if people tell me I’m not. It’s just, brain chemistry or something. I don’t know.” She shrugged awkwardly, looking forward at where the street ended in a park, a steel gate opening up to the woods beyond.
“Well,” Rahlen said, “I’ve seen you in practice. You’re better than you think you are. If that helps any.”
Fenlin looked over at him.
“You’ve watched me practice?” she asked, “But I thought that the rink was empty.”
“I wanted to see who the new skater was that was making Marissa Rutherford nervous,” Rahlen said, smirking. “It’s too bad about last season, but I was actually kind of looking foward to working with you. Well until you said you didn’t want to skate with me.”
Fen let out a soft keening sound, shifting from foot to foot.
“Gods I’m sorry, I just- I thought you were kind of an asshole and there’s always rumours that you’re like, RIFE with herpes simplexes-”
“Wait what?” Rahlen asked, staring at her. His hand was on the gate, but he hadn’t pulled it open. Fenlin was on a roll though, and couldn’t stop to explain before she was done explaining the first part.
“But I was just, intimidated because I know you’re good and who your parents are and I didn’t want to like, accidentally kick you in the face with a skate blade and scar you forever.”
She took a deep breath, and it came out in a puff of silver.
“Uh. Cuz you date so many people, like… um. I didn’t think you did, just that you might try to be weird about the fact that it’s a pairs skating thing and get handsy or something.” But he hadn’t.
He’d gotten her coffee instead and invited her for supper and now she felt terrible.
“I could punch the girl saying that, if you’d like?” She offered, plucking at her mittens. She watched as Rahlen shook himself and opened the gate for her.
“Maybe. Only if I can watch though,” he said with a slight frown. “I don’t have it, in case you were wondering.”
“Neither do I,” Fen offered helpfully. “I mean, I didn’t think you did. Just, um. Anyways, so the forest spirit is which way?” She asked, cheeks red, but not from the cold.