With the stress of the performance over, Fenlin felt like she was floating. She’d stayed to watch the other skaters, and winced as Missie slipped and fell. But she got back up again and finished the routine with Athim to loud applause. Falls weren’t strangers to any skater, and Fenlin had taken enough in the last few weeks to leave some truly impressive bruises on her hips.
“This is just a reminder,” one of the organizers was saying through cupped hands to the crowded hallways of skaters. “That the Gala party will be held in the conference hall next door. Food and drinks will be provided and thank you so much for participation. Thanks to you we’ve surpassed our goal for the Crisis help line!”
Fenlin applauded along with the others, and slipped into the locker room to change out of her costume and into the comfortable dress she’d brought for the party. It wasn’t as flashy as the ones she saw hanging up in the changing room. Without even looking at the gear they hung by, Fen could tell who’s was who’s. Missie had the pink ruffled chiffon cocktail dress, the sequined dress that looked like a mermaid’s scales was Shai Adaar’s, and the slinky black one belonged to the Tevene girl.
In comparison, Fen’s dress was overly simple. But she liked the way the soft jersey felt on her skin, and it was golden yellow, nearly the same colour as her eyes. She liked the way the sleeves were long enough to tuck her palms into, and that it was short but not stupidly so. The dip in the back was more daring than she’d thought she’d ever be able to wear, but a lot of things had changed since she started practice for the gala. Compared to the costume she was just in, the dress was almost modest.
“Oh Maker I’m so glad that’s over!” huffed Missie as she walked in, and flopped down at her corner. Fenlin glanced over, but didn’t answer. Rutherford wasn’t talking to her, to eavesdrop openly would be rude.
“Trouble in paradise?” asked Adaar, who was taking out her hair from the tight bun it’d been pinned into. “I thought you were soooo happy to be paired with Mister Heartthrob. What was it you said? ‘I could drown in those eyes’.”
“Yeah well,” Missie huffed. “He dropped me. In front of everyone.”
The changing room was quiet, and Fenlin could feel the others’ quiet disagreements. But no one said anything, because… well. That was Missie. She’d work harder than anyone but the moment something went wrong, she wanted it to be someone else’s fault.
“He didn’t drop you,” Fenlin said, surprising herself as she peeled off the costume and carefully zipped it back into it’s garment bag. “It was just an awkward throw. Happened to me dozens of times with Rahlen. He’d throw before I was ready and then I’d overcompensate and freeze and then bam, flat on my ass.”
She glanced over her shoulder at Missie who was staring at her, then at the other women who were nodding in agreement.
“Thank the Qun that our choreographer gave up on the lifts I was supposed to do with Trev,” Shai said, sitting and pulling off her skates. “The poor guy kept turning red and I expected him to pull a muscle.”
“He dropped-” Missie started. Fen, still flying high and more than a little giddy after the whole thing, put her tongue between her lips and blew.
“Thhhhbppppt.” Real mature, Fen thought to herself as the other ladies giggled and Rutherford turned pink.
“Yeah well we don’t all get six-four demi gods as our partners,” Missie huffed. Fenlin could feel the air sharpen. Had she made a mistake? She should have just stayed quiet. But, there was an odd adrenaline rush as Fen pulled her dress on and smoothed it into place.
Her mother used to tell her stories of the Halamshiral skating club, and how vicious it was. Growing up, Fen had never understood why her mom had stayed there for so long, but now… maybe. Just a teensy bit, Fen realised she was enjoying this.
“Hm. Well, that was literally the luck of the draw,” Fen said, slipping her feet into her heels and walking over to the mirror to clean off the stage makeup. “Also I would have preferred skating with Athim, so, hey. Next year just ask if you can skate with Rahlen? I don’t see what the big deal is.”
“Right, because you totally wouldn’t hog him to yourself-” Missie said. “You just want whatever I have, isn’t that it? Your routines are always shitty copies of mine then you have to go and try to steal Rahlen just because he and I used to date.”
Fenlin glanced over at the angry woman, before going back to fixing her makeup. She’d wiped away the dark lipstick, putting on a softer colour instead. The eyes… she’d left the eyes dark, she liked it. They looked like wolf eyes, and that made her smile.
“Right, well, he dates everyone,” Fenlin said, rolling her eyes. “But sure, I am the jealous woman oh no.” She tucked her makeup away into her bag and pulled on her coat. She’d have to stash her skating gear at coat check, but it was better than leaving it here where Rutherford could get at it.
“Yeah but I never expected he’d fuck a knife ea-”
“Finish that sentence and I’ll make sure that you have something to be angry about,” Fenlin said, looking at Melissa.
“Knife. Ear.” Melissa said, crossing her arms. “What are you going to do? Hit me? I’ll get your arse tossed into jail for assault. My Daddy’s the police chief here.”
Fen stared at the other woman for a long moment, the tips of her ears burning. Gritting her teeth, Fen grabbed her kit and yanked the door open to the hallway.
“That’s what I thought,” Rutherford called from behind.
Fen took a deep breath, shoving off the anger and shame from the changing room. Fuck it. She’d skated well and the stress of the exhibition was over and Fen was already thinking up the best possible way to make Rutherford cry. It involved working her ass off for the coming season and snatching every single title that the other woman had.
“You look…” Rahlen said, leaning against the wall by the doorway. “Both terrifying and great. Do I want to know?”
“Nah,” Fen said, shaking her head. “You didn’t go ahead? I thought you’d be starving.” Speaking of appetite, she’d lost hers to a roil of angry emotions.
“I thought I’d wait for you and see how Athim was doing. He didn’t look too happy after his skate with Missie.”
Fen had made another ‘Thhbbbpbt’ sound at the name before she could stop herself. Rahlen burst out laughing at her reaction. She shrugged, tucking her hands into her coat and looking over to see Athim walking over towards them. She bit the inside of her lip to keep from blurting out what had happened, but what was the point? She’d tell Athim later, maybe. He’d understand but Rahlen?
Fen looked up at him, then sighed and glanced at the door.
“Everything okay?” Rahlen asked, looking her way. “Not enough coffee.”
Fen smiled and shrugged her shoulders. “I think I need food, to be honest. Also I doubt Missie’ll want to walk with me. Is it okay if I meet you two there?”
She bumped her hip against the door, opening it before they had a chance to argue.
“Great! Okay bye,” let them think it was just her being socially awkward. If she didn’t get fresh air, Fen was sure she would try to stab Rutherford with her heel, and they were nice heels. She liked them, they were comfy and shiny gold. Mostly comfortable.
Large flakes of snow drifted down from the night sky, and Fenlin closed her eyes, pausing to take a deep breath of chilly air. It cooled the roiling in her belly, and as she let out her breath, she pushed out the anger and resentment. Tonight she was going to celebrate the lack of messing up and the fact that kids were going to have somewhere to call when things got bad. Good things, both good things. Then, tomorrow, she’d sort out what she was going to do next season.
The conference hall wasn’t far, and Fenlin was relieved to see an already sizeable crowd of skaters and benefactors mingling around with food in hand and more importantly: drinks. Fen ditched her coat and skating kit at coat check, and stamped the snow from her shoes before heading towards the bar.
“I should have said something,” Shai was saying, sitting next to Fenlin at one of the tables. The Qunari looked stunning as usual, but Fenlin wasn’t sure if she was being honest or not. She wanted to think so, but it was so hard to tell… “It’s not okay. Shit like that, it’s not.”
Fen nodded absently nibbling on some grapes and cheese. The world was a bit fuzzy around the edges, which was perfect. Unfortunately her glass was empty, she’d have to get it filled again once the uncomfortable apology session was over.
“It happens, people freeze,” Fenlin said with a small shrug. “I mean don’t get me wrong, it’d have been nice if someone said something but, it’s not like it was only you in that room. No one else said anything either.”
Shai nodded, but she was frowning.
“That doesn’t make it okay though. I’m sorry. I’ll do better from here on. I’m done with Missie’s shit. For all I know she calls me ox-woman behind my back. Everyone else was..”
“Shems,” Fen said with a slightly loose node. “Er, human. Yup. Hey, don’t feel too bad. If I could be six feet tall and gorgeous and intimidating like you, I’d be that in a heartbeat. Instead I’m this small angry … what’d Athim call me? Owl. I’m a small angry owl.”
Shai smiled at that.
“Well you flew tonight, that was for damn sure. Girl, if you don’t medal next year I’m going to kick your ass, you know that right?”
Fenlin opened her eyes wide.
“I know this…now. And am both suddenly motivated and fearful. But, I think I’m going to grab some more wine and a bit of fresh air. Catch you later?” Fen asked, standing.
“Sure,” the qunari nodded, and went back to her meal.
Fen wove her way through the crowd to the bar to get a refill of the tasty Rivani white. Spotting an unfortunately familiar blond head, Fenlin dodged around a cluster of actual pairs skaters and right into another blond.
“Shit, I’m sorry,” she said, catching Athim’s drink before it had a chance to spill onto his suit. “You okay? I was dodging pink shem-bitch over there.”
Athim blinked and snorted at her comment, trying to cover the laugh with a cough. “What’d you call her? That’s a new one…”
“Yeah well,” Fen said with a huff, reaching over to the bar and swapping glasses out for a full one. “It suits her. Sorry your skate wasn’t great.” She paused, biting the inside of her lip. “Rhyme unintentional but I’ll take it.”
Athim’s lips tugged into a small smirk, and he looked at her, reaching out to steady her by her elbow.
“You’re outgoing. Drunk, then?” He asked.
Fen pursed her lips, debating how honest she wanted to be with him. In answer she lifted a hand up with her fingers showing a pinch. “A bit,” she said. “Hey, do you have a moment? I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“Sure,” Athim said with a shrug. “Here?”
Fen shook her head, grabbed his wrist and pulled him after her out into a quieter corner of the hall.
“Shouldn’t you let Rahlen know that you’re dragging another guy into a secluded corner?” Athim asked with an arched eyebrow.
“…why?” Fen asked, frowning in confusion. “He’s the one talking to Shembitch. And, actually, it’s about her- I don’t…” she took a deep breath. “I don’t know if you two are close or not, but I thought you should know-”
“She’s been telling everyone I dropped her,” Athim said quietly with a nod. “I know.”
“No,” Fen said, taking a drink. “That’s not what I needed to tell you. I mean, that was part of it. But I said no you didn’t drop her, it was just a bad throw and landing, it wasn’t anyone’s fault-”
“Thanks, I think,” Athim said, leaning against the wall and watching her. “And we had a few dates, nothing serious. Why? Are you jealous?”
“Not anymore,” Fen said, rolling her eyes. “I mean, okay, I had the hugest crush on you when we were kids at that Skyhold skate camp? Like, abyss below, I was even more awkward than usual. Walking into doors and shit. And frankly you choosing to grow up looking like this,“ she said, punctuating her comment with a poke to his chest “Didn’t help things. But no, not jealou-” she stopped, head tilting.
Athim’s neck had turned pink, and it was spreading up to his face and ears.
“Are you… blushing?” she asked, squinting at him. This was a trick right? Rahlen and Athim didn’t blush. They were unblushable, unless their moms were embarrassing them. But moms had a special ability for embarrassment.
Athim cleared his throat. “No.”
“Right, well, you should get that rash checked out then, are you allergic to any food?” She asked, suddenly concerned. “There was shrimp on the table-”
“No, Fen,” Athim said, rubbing his face. “I’m fine. What was it you wanted to say?”
“Melissa called me a knife ear,” she said quietly. “I, the shems won’t always get it, even nice ones, but.” She bit her lip. “But you’re still sort of a friend so I wanted you to know. I’m sorry. At least your rash is going away?” she said hopefully, watching as the colour drained from his face.
He looked over to where Missie was talking to Rahlen and a handful of other skaters. She was laughing and leaning on Rahlen’s arm. Glancing over to where Fen and Athim stood, Rutherford seemed surprised, then hopped up onto her toes to whisper something to Rahlen.
“Shouldn’t you be like, breaking a chair over her right now for flirting with your boyfriend?” Athim asked.
“Boyfriend?” Fenlin asked, choking on her sip of wine. “What? What boyfriend?”
“Aren’t you and Rahlen…?” Athim asked, lifting his eyebrows. “The way you’ve been acting lately’s been pretty clear.”
“He’s my friend, Athim,” Fen said, staring at the other elf. “Also, like you, he dates literally everyone and also like you, it’s never serious. We had to spend time together because of skating and we became friends. Friends who maybe have benefits of a type and shut up I’m not blushing. But I’m not naïve enough to think I’m anything more than that.” She snorted into her glass. “I learnt my lesson, don’t worry.”
“That’s-” Athim started to say but Fen interrupted him.
“Though Missie doesn’t know that,” she said, tapping her fingers against the wineglass. “Which is probably why she’s trying to climb him like a ladder.”
“Are you always this foul-mouthed?” Athim asked, chuckling despite himself.
“Nope. Usually I’m worse,” she said. “Hey… change of topic,” she said, looking back at him. “Is the Skyhold club still taking applicants for members? I’ve realised something needs to change, and I don’t think I can become who I need to be at the Redcliffe club. Time to move on, y’know? Stretch my small angry owly wings.”
“Yeah, I think after tonight’s performance most clubs would find it hard to turn you away.”
Fen smiled, and impulsively leaned in to kiss his cheek.
“Thanks,” she said. “I’m going to go say hi, and thank Rahlen for not actually dropping me on my ass,” she said. “Wanna come?”
Athim gestured for her to go ahead. “I need to grab a bit of food first, I’ll meet you there.”
“There you are,” Rahlen said. He waved Fenlin over who was now at… n- number of wines. Four glasses? Five? The world was pleasantly blurry and she no longer wanted to stab Rutherford in the face, so all was well.
“Sorry, been trying to be social,” Fen said with a smile. “Hey, Rahlen, I wanted to thank you for being so great this month. Thanks for being there and stubborn and pulling me out of my shell. I needed that,” she said, clutching her glass of wine in front of her. “I’m a better skater now because of it and I wanted to let you know. Thank you.”
He hadn’t been expecting that, she could see it on his face. Which was why she plowed ahead, rather than stumble to a halt. The other skaters were listening, and Missie was practically clinging to him, but Fen shrugged that all off. Mostly thanks to the wine.
“So, yeah. Thank you, I thought about you asking why I’m not weird around people and why I try to hide it and I… I’m not going to anymore. I want to transfer to somewhere that’ll push me like you pushed me, and after tonight I know I can be the skater I want to be. I was just following the wrong path.”
She smiled, stepping up to his non-Missie side and kissed his cheek, hugging him with one arm. Then, gasped as something cold spilled down her front.
“Maker I’m so sorry,” Missie said, putting her hands to her mouth. She hiccupped, swayed and grabbed onto Rahlen. “I think I need to go, Rahlen can you drive me home? I had too much to drink.”
Glancing down at the red wine staining her dress, Fenlin looked up at Rutherford, then back to Rahlen who was pulling napkins from his pocket to dab at the wine.
“It’s fine,” she said, nudging his hands away. “Drive her home or call her a cab. She needs attention or she’ll die apparently.”
“Are you sure?” Rahlen said, looking at her. “How will you get home?”
Fen looked around the room. “There’s Shai who owes me a favour, Athim, there’s like ten people I can ask or I can call a cab. It’s fine.”
It had to end sometime, anyways, right? Fen thought with a small smile.
“And now I’m going to go find soda water for my dress and steal someone’s shirt,” Fen said, stepping out of the way for Rahlen and Missie. Rutherford was wearing some smile like she thought she’d won, but… Fen realised she actually didn’t mind.
Even if things with Rahlen ended, and she always knew they would, there wasn’t any negative feelings about it. He would still be a friend, you didn’t go through learning to catch people like that and not be friends just because a basic shem-bitch spilled wine on your dress.
Fen stepped out of the cluster of skaters, heading for the coat check. She had her warm up clothes, she could soak the dress in a ziploc or something and change into her sweater and leggings. She was more comfortable in those anyways.
<Hey, think I could catch a ride home?> she sent a text, and handed the ticket to the coat check attendant for her bag.
“I forgot… how thin the air… was up here,” Fen wheezed, hands on her knees after her morning jog around the picturesque town of Skyhold. “How do you breathe up here?”
“Through spite,” Athim said, jogging in place in front of her. “Mostly.”
“Good,” she said, breath silver in the late winter air. “I’m good at spite.” She looked up at the sun, starting to rise over the Frostback peaks. “Spite just needs a minute to catch it’s breath.”
“Uh huh,” Athim said. “I’m going to do another lap. See you back here, lady spite.” She watched him jog off through narrowed eyes. The phone strapped to her arm buzzed, and she pulled it out, swiping away from her fitness tracker.
<Hey, you get there okay? The rink’s weirdly un-angry without you here – R>
She straightened, tapping reply. Opening her phone’s camera, she pressed the button and held it, panning around slowly at the mountains.
<Yeah, sorry but the mountains are prettier than your forest. No regrets. See you at the Denerim Classic this spring. -F>
Hitting send, Fen tucked her phone back into the strap around her arm and took a deep breath, starting to jog forward again. The opening competitions were coming up in a month and a bit, she had a long way to go before she was in top fitness, and Fen wasn’t about to let some pretty-boy elf lap her.
Not twice in one morning, anyways.