They’d been walking for a little while, but the majesty of the forest with it’s beautiful snowflakes eased Fenlin’s lingering awkwardness. The world was quieter out here, softer. It made breathing easier and Fenlin couldn’t help but grin as she glanced over at Rahlen from the corner of her eye.
Whatever had been bothering him earlier had slipped away and his lips had pulled back into a small smile. Fenlin would never tell him, but the sight of it made her hear thud against her ribs. He looked more alive, more relaxed and more approachable than she’d ever seen him. As full of himself as he could be, smiles and winks and that cock-sure attitude, Fenlin got the feeling that this quiet comfortable Rahlen was the real one.
“You’re staring at me,” He said, glancing over at her from the corner of his eyes. “Is there something on my face? Or did you just finally admit you have a cru-”
Fenlin panicked, and kicked the tree next to her. A large pine tree, the assault on it’s trunk sent a shudder all the way through it’s branches and made the snow caught on it’s needles fell down onto both of them, to startled gasps.
“Why’d you do that?” Rahlen gasped, reaching to the back of his neck with a gasp. Fenlin herself had squawked as snow fell down against her own neck.
“Reasons!” she laughed, scooping up a handful of powdery snow and throwing it at him. They both watched as it dissipated into a cloud of white, none of it reaching it’s intended target. “Uhm.” She said, as he looked up at her from where the snow had fallen. He smiled.
It was not the kind of smile that boded well for her. Fenlin leapt forward to try to get out of range before he had a chance to act on that dark smile of his. She, unfortunately, underestimated his reach. She felt fingers catch on her coat’s belt, then another hand grab her waist. She had enough time to gasp before she felt him lift her, and she found herself falling towards a pristine snow bank near to a large oak.
“I deserved that,” She gasped, looking up at him from her dent in the snow bank. She lay where he’d tossed her for a moment or two, looking up at him. “Also I forgot that cold snow doesn’t clump.” She frowned slightly as Rahlen grinned at her then squealed as he fell forwards, flopping half on top of her.
“Oh no,” he said dramatically. “That last snowball you threw, I think it took out my knee!”
“It didn’t even take a shape!” Fenlin protested, pushing at him. But he’d been right earlier. She couldn’t lift him. Even if she tried. “It didn’t touch you!”
“It crippled me,” he said with a sigh, looking at her, the back of his gloved hand to his forehead. “I can’t walk. What ever will I do now?”
“I think we just wait until the wolves eat us,” Fenlin said with a laugh. “You’re right I can’t lift you. Point made.” But she kind of didn’t want him to get up. That was… an issue. She knew his reputation. Everyone knew his reputation.
“I can see the headlines now. ‘Promising figure skater and son of famous skaters both eaten by wolves because she crippled him with a snowball,” Rahlen said, grinning down at her. Fenlin mad a face at him, wrinkling her nose and sticking out her tongue.
“It didn’t ever take the shape of a ball so you’d be-” her words caught, and she swallowed hard. Something had moved over them. Something big, and something that was in the in between of the worlds.
“Was that it?” she breathed, pointing upwards with her nose. Rahlen rolled to the side, looking up to where she’d pointed.
Above them was a hooved creature, it’s fur made from icicles and clinking delicately with each step. Frost coated it’s fur, and plumes of silver curled up from it’s nostrils, the stag’s head swinging around to look their way. Antlers grow from it’s crown in black naked twig-like forms, with frost and ice covering each small branch.
“Is that-” Fenlin breathed, holding onto Rahlen’s coat.
“Yeah,” he answered. “That’s him.”
She watched as the massive spirit sniffed at the tree nearest to them, then lifted it’s head and let out a braying call in silver breath. Scree-eee-eee. She watched with wide eyes as it tilted it’s head, waiting for a reply. One came, though it was faint, barely caught by her pointy ears, and surely lost by Rahlen’s flat ones.
Lowering it’s head, the spirit wandered through the clearing towards a game trail, disappearing from view shortly after.
“He’s so big,” Fenlin breathed, eyes still fixed on the trail that the spirit had taken. Both she and Rahlen were still laying in the snow, holding onto each other’s jackets. “The last time I saw one so healthy was… I must have been in the Kocari forest. When I was much younger.” She looked over at him, eyes still wide.
“Yeah, that’s him,” Rahlen said, smiling despite the snow caught on his hat and eyelashes. “I sneak out here when things get too stressful. Being out here-”
“Keeps the stress in perspective,” Fenlin said. Rahlen winked, reaching out to brush some snow from her hat. His hat, that he’d put on her.
“Yeah, exactly. You know, if you have trouble with the city, you’re welcome to come out here,” he offered. “I can’t imagine going from a tight clan to a busy city. Especially when you can see spirits.” He chewed at his lower lip watching her with those blue eyes of his. They might as well have been ice.
“You’re sure?” she asked, hesitantly.
“Yeah,” he said with a nod, pushing himself up to rest on his elbow. “Now that I know where you came from, your awkward makes sense.”
Fenlin wrinkled her nose again, and reached up to tap his nose with a snowy mitten. “You’re not great at compliments, you know,” she said. “But, thanks.”
“I mean,” Rahlen said, dipping to an inch away from her face. “I could say that your eyes are like amber and your hair like moonlight, but I get the feeling that would fall on deaf but elegant ears.”
Fenlin stared at him, feeling her cheeks get hot and her ears even hotter. Her body screamed at her to sit up a few inches and find his lips with hers, but the constant doubt in her mind whispered that if she did so, she’d only find disappointment. His reputation preceded him. Just as her awkwardness preceded her.
“Hah,” she said weakly. “You’re…. uh…” she paused, trying to think. Even half buried in snow, she should be able to think more clearly, less affected by those damn blue eyes and half smirk. “We should food. I mean. We should eat.” she said, nodding slightly, head still cradled by the snow.“
He arched an eyebrow, but nodded, pushing himself up to his feet and holding out a hand to her. She took it, pulling herself to her feet.
“If it makes a difference,” she said, brushing the snow from her pants and coat, “I trust you more now. But being thrown across several meters of ice and landing after spinning is different, you know? It’s like, jumping is one thing but trusting someone to throw me high enough that I can spin is another.” Not to mention his hands were always so warm on her skin and it was distracting and how was she supposed to focus when he smelled so good?
Fen glanced up at him, and was relieved to see Rahlen nodding.
“Us guys are lucky. We just need to be strong enough to lift you up,” Rahlen said, waiting until she was ready before starting to head back. “I can’t imagine relying on someone else to get you the height and rotation you need to spin-” he paused, thinking. She watched him, tucking her hands into her pockets. Now wasn’t the point to interrupt, she knew.
“I can see why you were hesitating,” he said, looking over at her. “I should have figured that out earlier, but I was just frustrated that you wouldn’t try the throw. I’m sorry.”
Fenlin nodded, trying to figure out words to say that wouldn’t insult either of them.
“Dry land is different to try, but ice, when we’re moving? It’s scary, you know?” she said with a half-shrug. “I want to try, and I mean to, I just had this wrong idea of who you were. That didn’t help.”
Rahlen smiled and Fenlin felt her stomach turn all gooey and warm. She swallowed hard, pushing that warmth down, for the time being at least.
“So, now that we’ve seen the giant spirit, you promised food?” she asked, nudging him with her shoulder.
“Yeah, it’ll take a bit to heat up once we get back though,” Rahlen said with a wink. “Food then we can sort out the nature of spirits and the world.”
Fenlin stood in front of the mirror, her hair still in the messy bun at the back of her head, but now she was in leggings and an oversized shirt that smelled like the man it belonged to. Spicy and warm and the kinds of thoughts she shouldn’t be having.
“Food’s almost ready,” Rahlen called from the kitchen, a floor below. Fenlin looked at herself one last time in the mirror of the bathroom, the black knit shirt hanging off one shoulder and baring the other, despite how much she tried to get the shirt to sit on both shoulders. She had been lucky to have leggings in her car, but she’d needed to borrow the shirt. Needed to, though once she’d pulled it on, Fen knew it would be difficult to give back. It was warm, smelled good and she felt comfortable in the extra fabric that hung from her shoulders.
“Coming,” she said through the door, checking her hair one last time before hanging her own snow-soaked pants and sweater over the shower curtain to dry.
“Thanks again for the shirt,” she said, jogging down the steps to the main floor where he (already changed) was re-heating the stir-fry. Fen tugged at the hem of the shirt slightly as he looked over his shoulder, and the smile on his face caught her off-guard. It was warm, and there wasn’t any hint of that smirk or cocky shit that she was used to seeing.
“What” she asked, tugging at the shirt’s knitted collar. “You’re big. It doesn’t fit.”
But on the other hand, it was a minor relief to know that he didn’t have a stash of women’s clothing on hand. Fenlin, however, was trying not to investigate WHY that was so reassuring. Another day, when she wasn’t surrounded by his aftershave smell.
“Nothing,” he said. “I just forgot how cute and small you are.”
Fenlin felt her cheeks get hot and she scowled to try to cover for the shyness. She wasn’t cute, she was a jerk and awkward and made people uncomfortable. There was a difference!
“Want me to pour the wine?” she said, instead of arguing.
“No,” Rahlen said, eyes wide. Fenlin grinned, nodding as she gestured with her free hand. They were sitting on his couch, each with a glass of wine in hand. The stir-fry had been tasty after all, though how they’d ended up on a couch was beyond Fenlin’s memory.
“Yes!” she said with a grin. “Okay so there’s my auntie, mortally afraid of bears only my mom doesn’t tell me right? She just encourages the whole spirit projection thing, especially as an animal. She even tells me to show my auntie! She’s so proud-”
“Oh Maker,” Rahlen laughed, a hand to his mouth.
“YES. So Auntie Fiowyn Freaks the Fuck Out. The full ‘frozen’ then runs away shit, like she’s in a horror movie. Course my uncle thought it was hilarious, he’s been trying to bribe me to astral project as a bear into her dreams ever year since.”
Rahlen grinned, leaning towards her with a conspiratorial glint in his eyes.
“Did you? Have you?” he asked.
“Look,” She said with a laugh, sipping her glass of wine. They’d finished the bottle of red and were now onto the white. “You don’t know my family. There’s diminishing returns on scaring them, right? Eventually Auntie Fi threatened to have my cousin return the favour. And when you’re cousin is an adopted Qunari-”
“Yeah, not worth it,” Rahlen said.
“Right?” Fen giggled, hiding her grin behind the glass of wine. “Creators, you know, I always kind of thought you were full of yourself because of your parents.”
“Oh?” Rahlen asked, arching an eyebrow. “Go on.”
“Yeah, okay, but you’re not? You’re just full of yourself because you’re good at skating but that’s different?” Fenlin said, finishing her glass of wine. Things were a bit blurry at the edges, but that just made talking easier. She’d have to wait a while before she drove, but otherwise she’d be okay. She was sure.
“Un huh,” Rahlen said. “And how’s that different?”
“Well I mean like you said in the forest while looking all handsome,” Fenlin said, setting the glass over onto the coffee table that was still in reach. “You’re confident based on your abilities, not like because of who you were born to be. How many people in your situation would be okay with trying to make their own path?” she asked, looking at him.
He didn’t seem to have an answer, so she kept going.
“It’s different, it’s one thing to be proud of what you can do, another to be like ‘oh maker I’m the best at what I do because my parents were good at it’,” she said. “Besides, you’re different, you care about what YOU mean, not what your parents mean.”
She shifted, picking up her glass again and going to sip from it, only to find that it was empty. Squinting at it through one eye, Fenlin sighed, moving to set the glass back onto the table. To her surprise, Rahlen picked up the bottle of white wine and poured her another half glass.
“I won’t be able to drive if I keep drinking,” she said, looking at him.
“I have a spare room,” Rahlen countered. “If you want to keep drinking.” He winked.
Fen picked up the glass and took a slow sip, keeping her eyes on him. A spare room sounded fine.
“Hey,” he said. “Can I ask you something? If you had a choice, would you be here, or back out in the wilds, with a Dalish Clan?” Fen finished her sip, letting the glass fall from her lips as she thought about that.
“Honestly, if I could I’d be halfway between both,” she answered. “I like the convenience of being in a city, but at the same time, I like the privacy of being in a clan. If I could have half of each I’d be happy, but until then I just try not to have a meltdown in front of people,” Fenlin said, rubbing the back of her neck.
He was watching her, and Fenlin looked down at her glass instead of meeting his eyes.
“Why do people make you so nervous?” He asked, but there was a softness to his voice. Like he actually wanted to understand. Fenlin wasn’t sure if she should answer honestly, or make something plausible up. She let out a small breath, remembering how he’d shown her the Spirit of the Forest.
“I don’t know, honestly,” she said, looking up at him. “It’s just, so many people give elves crap just for the pointed ears and weird eyes, then add on the dalish bit and it’s like, there’s no way to possibly be accepted by anyone who isn’t part elven themselves.” She pursed her lips, looking away, first at her glass then at the window beyond him. Snow was still falling heavily, covering everything in a fluffy blanket of white.
“It’s bullshit,” she said, surprising herself.
“It is,” Rahlen agreed. When she looked back at him, the intensity of his gaze caught her mid-breath. Gods, this man was dangerous.
“I should-” she said, half standing up.
“Go?” he asked. “In this weather after you’ve had a half bottle of wine? I don’t feel comfortable with you driving. I have a spare room, Fen.”
Fenlin hesitated. This wasn’t a plot, or plan. She’d have smelled that otherwise. He wasn’t offering for her to share his bed. He was just. Being considerate. Like he had with the coffee. Like he had, showing her the spirit.
“I wish you were an asshole,” she said, staring him in the face, before leaning in and pressing her lips to his. Warm, soft, and tasting like the wine that waited in her glass, Fenlin savoured the sensation, no matter how brief. She expected him to pull back. To shove her away.
When she opened her eyes, lips an inch from his, she was surprised by the dark look within them. hungry. She shivered.
“We shouldn’t-” he mumbled.
“Drunk,” she agreed, nodding half-heartedly.
They stared at each other, and Fenlin wondered who would be the first to break the stalemate. She swallowed hard, then swallowed again.
“I’m not that drunk,” she said, quietly. “Are you?” She sucked on her tongue, waited and tasting the pulse of her heart until he answered.
“No,“ he said quietly. “I’m not.”