Huddled in her warm up layers, Fenlin sat in the bleachers of the rink and munched on an apple. Since her car was still in the shop, she’d had to suck it up and call Athim for a lift. The car ride had been… ‘fun’.
“So…” he’d said, looking at her from the corner of his eye at one of way too many red lights. “How’s partnering with Rahlen hmm? On ice I mean. Unless you’ve been doing a bit of extracirricular dryland training?”
“Not as bad as I thought,” she said warily, eying him right back. She knew what he was doing. She’d watched him do it to unsuspecting women for years. Normally she wasn’t interesting enough for him to try it on her. “How’s little miss Rutherford?”
“Not as bad as you thought or just the right amount of bad?” Athim asked with an arched eyebrow and closelipped smile. “She’s very… energetic. Very fond of pink ruffles and sparkles. Both on and off the ice. You know…“ he said, glancing at her, “I’m surprised you two don’t get along better. Your routines have been all ice-princessy too lately.”
Fenlin rolled her eyes, choosing to stare out the window at the snowy road rather than rise to his bait. The morning was still dark, the snow orange from reflected street lights. She’d had half a coffee already, but Athim had shown up earlier than expected and she’d forgotten her travel mug on the counter in her rush to not keep him waiting.
“Fenlin,” Athim gasped, “Is that a bite mark? I guess he is the right amount of bad.”
Fen’s eyes snapped wide open and she looked over at Athim, clapping a hand to her neck… and the scarf that covered it. Wait-
“Aha!” Athim said, smirking. “Got you~~” he added in a sing-song voice.
“Ass,” Fenlin muttered, cheeks and ears red. She dug her chin and cheeks into her scarf, glaring towards the driver. “You’re lucky you’re driving.”
“And giving you a ride because I’m just that nice of a guy,” Athim said with a smarmy smile. “Unless you want to take the busses this early. I’m sure I could-”
“No, I appreciate the ride,” she said grudglingly, glaring out the window instead, still tucked into her scarf. “Also busses don’t run this early in the morning. I’d have to take a cab or walk.”
“Aw, you’re so cute when you’re huffy and angry, like a little angry owl who puffs up and tries to be scary.”
Fenlin muttered something unsavoury into her scarf and glowered to herself, praying the drive would be over soon.
“You look particularly grumpy today.”
Fenlin blinked, looking up from watching Athim and Rutherford on the ice to see Rahlen settle next to her on the bleachers. He held out a coffee, gloriously steaming from the cardboard cup, and smiled. He had one of his own in his other hand, and despite herself, Fenlin felt the bad mood start to melt away.
“I didn’t realise I was glowering,” Fenlin said, tossing her apple core into the nearest garbage bin. She took the offering gratefully and wrapped her hands around the cup, savouring the heat seeping through the paper. She sniffed the coffee and took a sip. Black with a bit of sugar. Awww yiss. Life was improving by the heartbeat.
“Well, I mean it is sort of your default expression when I’m not around,” Rahlen said, nudging her in the side before he took a sip of his own cup. “Why’re you here so early? Did your car get fixed?”
She shook her head, watching Athim and Melissa Rutherford start their routine over. They were both fantastic skaters, but they were having trouble skating in sync with each other. Athim would reach out for Missie’s hand only to find that she was just out of reach. Fenlin was absolutely not enjoying schadenfreude watching Athim struggle. Not at all. Nope. not. A single. bit.
“No,” she said, “I called Athim for a ride since he’s not too far away from my place. Everyone’s on vacation at the garage so my car probably won’t get fixed until after the Gala this weekend.”
Rahlen was quiet for a moment, and Fenlin was half sure she’d seen a slight frown on his face. But from the corner of her eye, it was too hard to tell.
“You could just call me, you know,” Rahlen pointed out. “We’re kinda on the same schedule for ice time.”
Fen shifted uncomfortably, looking down at her coffee. “Yeah but…” she trailed off.
“But?” He prompted, leaning his shoulder into her to get the answer out. “I don’t mind.”
“You don’t?” She asked, looking up at him. “I feel bad asking you all the time. Like I’m imposing. Besides won’t that look like …something it’s not? Us arriving together all the time?”
Rahlen blinked, then laughed, grinning down at her. Fenlin shrank into her scarf, narrowing her eyes.
“What’s so funny?” she asked, warily.
“Who cares what people think,” he said with a shrug, then pulled her into a hug, resting his cheek on the top of her head. “And hey, if you WANT to sleep over before hand, who am I to say no? Might as well enjoy what this ‘everyone’ thinks we’re up to.”
Fenlin found her cheek smooshed against his coat, a button sure to leave it’s indent on her skin. But, he was warm and he was kind of right. Why did she care so much? Why did Athim get under her skin this time when normally she could just be bristly and slap down his prodding questions. But since she’d opened up a bit to Rahlen, she was finding it hard to keep other people at bay. Stupid. Pretty. men.
“Fine,” she said with a weary sigh. One she didn’t entirely feel. “But I’m not staying over the night before the Gala.” She added, still smooshed in the hug.
“Why not?” Rahlen asked pulling back with a mock pout. “I’m hurt.”
“Because,” Fenlin said, using her extra space to take a sip of coffee around his arm. She tried to ignore the heat of her ears flushing, or the way her cheeks burnt hot. “I’m always a little uh, sore, after. So. No. Not before the Gala.”
Rahlen beamed, the tips of his ears turning pink.
“That’s a fair reason,” he said with a nod, turning to watch the ice. He winced as Athim and Missie mistimed another lift. They managed, but it was a little awkward to watch.
“Hey,” Fen said, picking at the plastic lid on her cup. “Thanks, for not being the ass I thought you were.” She took a sip of her coffee, watching the skaters on the ice start over. “That… didn’t sound like much of a compliment, but-”
“Nah,” Rahlen said, patting her on the back. “I’ll take it like you meant it. You’re just bad at words.”
Fenlin snorted into her coffee. “…thanks Rahlen.”
Bouncing from foot to foot to keep her muscles warm, Fenlin was trying very hard not to let the nerves get to her. This was all so new. Galas, exhibitions, the whole… routine and skating with a partner. It was one thing to skate with Rahlen in practice but what if she fucked up? What if she accidentally kicked him in his stupid pretty face and was responsible for irrevocable scarring and everyone hated her forever?
“You okay?” he asked, standing next to her. “You look… jumpy.”
“It’s just…” she said, gesturing at the rink they could see through the hallway.
“You’ll do great,” he said, pulling her into a hug. “And you looks amazing by the way,” he added.
“I look half naked,” she half-grumbled.
“Like I said,” Rahlen said with a laugh, dodging her hand as she swatted at him. “C’mon kiddo, we’re up. We got this.”
Fen slipped out of her jacket and handed it to Zevran who was standing by the door. The antivan gave a grin and hand squeeze of encouragement, and then Fenlin was stepping onto the ice and she heard the MC announce her and Rahlen’s name along with the rest of the information. Awards Rahlen had won, the choreographer, the song, the …
She’d stopped paying attention, because as she glided in a spiral to centre ice where Rahlen waited with his hand extended out for her.
“What is it?” he asked as she stopped next to him, taking his head. “You’re smiling. that’s… weird.”
“I can’t see anyone,” Fenlin breathed, a rush of relief flooding her body. She felt giddy. “I can’t see anyone so they’re not staring.” Striking the opening pose, Fenlin felt herself relax into the character Zevran had built for her.
Femme Fatale, dark lips and kohl rimmed golden eyes, her near-white hair was pulled into finger waves against her scalp and tucked into a bun at the back of her head. Black gloves reached up to her elbows, and the dress… she wasn’t really half-naked. It just was sleek and low-cut in the front. Even with the skin mesh holding it in place, she’d worried for days that it might shift. Black, glittering and cut with a slit up each side for ease of movement.
As the music began, Fenlin let her fingers brush over Rahlen’s shoulders as she skated backwards in a spiral around him, breaking the orbit as he followed just as they’d practiced. Only she felt different, in the costume, makeup and with the spotlight on her, Fenlin felt the lyrics and choreography in a way she hadn’t before.
He caught her hand, turning her to face him, and Fenlin smiled, touching a finger to his lips and broke away again for their synchronised jumps. Triple toe loop. Easy, it felt like she was flying, and Fenlin let out a breath as she landed cleanly, stretching out the landing in arabesque until she felt Rahlen’s hands find her waist again.
They pulled into a spin, simple for pairs, but they’d had trouble with it when Zevran had first made them try. Trust. Trust your partner. He’d been right.
They broke apart again, running through the footwork, a game of cat and mouse, with her always just a half-step out of his reach. The music built and with it the steps gained speed. Nearly at the throw now…
Fenlin took a deep breath as she felt Rahlen’s arms wrap around her. One on her waist, the other on her forearm. Was it really only weeks ago that she’d barely been able to stand letting him so close?
“Three,” he breathed in her ear. “Two…”
And then she really was flying, spinning with a hand overhead, the other tucked in tight. The world was empty, just the music, the ice, and her.
She landed, kicking her leg out and around as her pick sprayed ice, steadying her. The surprise on Rahlen’s face brought a grin to her face, and she was faintly aware of roaring in the distance. Tossing her partner a wink, Fenlin kicked forward, skating back towards centre ice.
Almost done now, she felt his hands catch hers, and she held onto him tight as he dug his pick into the ice. She arched back, entering the death spiral, drawing her free hand down along her body in a flourish before Rahlen pulled her up into a tight embrace, dipping her for the final pose.
Breathing heavily, Fenlin held the pose, realising the roaring was the crowd cheering. She… she’d done it. No falls. No skates slicing open her partner’s –friend’s?– face. Rahlen pulled her up and hugged her, laughing breathlessly.
“What the hell was that?” he asked, mouth by her ear. “Hand over head? What the hell, Fen.”
Pulling back, he took her hand and spun her before they took their bows.
“I do it sometimes in practice,” she said, cheeks hurting from the smile she couldn’t hold back. “I… I’ve never done it before in front of people. But,”
“But you can’t see anyone,” he said, glancing at her.
“Right,” she said, grinning back at him. They skated off to the side where Zevran and two stunned mothers were waiting.
“Babe you did it!” Milliara squealed, wrapping Fenlin up into a tight hug. “I’m so proud of you Da’fen, so proud.” Her mom kissed Fen’s cheek and pulled back smiling at her. Were those… it was too dark to see, but Fen was sure her mom’s eyes were watering.
Fen pulled her mom back into a hug, just as tight as the first one.
“Yeah Mom, I did it,” she breathed to herself.