The music was in her blood.
It flowed through her, in through her ears and out through the tips of her outstretched fingers. Every beat was echoed by the pounding of her heart, her breathing perfectly aligned to every movement of her body.
Here we go, she thought as the music began to reach its crescendo. Tension built up in her waist, her hips, her calves as she prepared for the combination jump, completely immune to the sound of the crowd gasping and cheering when she landed. She moved into the step sequence, turning to the song, breathing it in, allowing her mind to go empty as she followed it where it would take her.
But when she began the last spin, just before her triple Lutz, a sharp pain went through her knee, startling her.
She was concerned, but she couldn't stop in the middle of a competition, so she continued as planned.
If she hadn't, perhaps France wouldn't have lost its most beloved ice dancer.
"Livi! How many times do I have to tell you?! Don't change the program in the middle!"
Livius rolled his eyes, reaching down to untie his skates as his coach went into one of his usual post-competition lectures.
"You could hurt yourself if you try jumps you haven't practiced! And if you screw them up, you're going to mess up your technical score!" Neil shouted angrily. His glasses were sliding down the bridge of his nose, but he was too upset to notice.
"Okay but I didn't screw up," Livi spat as he pulled off the skate, stretching his toes slightly. "I landed the triple, and everything else went fine, so quit being such a nag!"
Neil made a noise somewhere between a high pitched scream and a frustrated growl.
"WHY do you have to be so stubborn?!"
"Because I know I can do it!" Livi snapped. "And if I didn't change the program, I would have come in last! My PCS score is already crap, and that last guy had a quad!"
"If you get injured, it won't matter if you lose or not! Look what happened to Nike Remercier-!"
Livi groaned. "You always bring her up! I'm not her, okay?! She had a knee problem to begin with, she just screwed it up by landing on it badly!"
"Yes, and now her career is over! Do you want that, Livi?!"
Of course I don't, you stupid twat, he thought angrily as he packed his skates into his bag with excessive force. Why would I want to waste all the sweat, blood, and tears I've been pouring into this goddamn sport for the last eight years?!
"Fuck off, I'm going home," he spat, pulling his bag over his shoulder. He stormed out of the locker room, almost smacking right into one of his competitors.
"Hey! What the-" the boy began, but he went quiet as Livi glared at him.
"What the hell is his problem?!" another skater muttered, just loud enough to be overheard.
"He's always like that. They call him the German wolf for a reason..."
One of the coaches made an amused snort as he passed. "Hmph, you'd think he'd actually won something, with that attitude," she said loudly to her friend. "But fourth place isn't much to brag about..."
Ugh, shut up, hag... Livi clenched his teeth, his hand gripping the strap of his bag angrily as he kicked the door to the rink open.
It was cold outside, which was to be expected from winter in Berlin. His feet crunched through the snow, his hands shoved into his pockets sullenly as he walked.
Fucking idiots, all of them, he thought furiously as he made his way to the bus stop. What the hell do they know?! Do they have any idea what it's like, being Sheila's son?!
He bit the inside of his cheek, trying not to think about his mother. She'd died in a car accident when he was small, a tragedy not only for her family but also for Germany and Romania. Her home country had gone into a state of national mourning following her death, printing articles about her world records and beautiful performances, while German papers lamented the loss of their most famous pair skaters.
After all, Leonidas, Livi's father, had quit skating after her death. He'd never supported Livi's dreams to follow in her footsteps, either.
"She's dead, Livius! Stop disrespecting her memory, pretending that you can be like her! No one can ever be like Sheila was!"
Livi threw his pack down on the bench at the bus stop, a boiling pit of anger in his stomach.
I'll show him... I'll show them all! I'll honor her legacy if it kills me!
He cooled down by the time he arrived on his street. He hopped down from the bus, his body aching after the grueling competition. He had to admit that Neil had a point; pulling off jumps and stunts that he hadn't practiced put far more strain on his body that a normal routine, though it was too late now to take them back. He trudged up the sidewalk listlessly, dreaming about his warm bed and the cup of tea he'd put on as soon as he was home. Feeling slightly cheerier, he turned to go up the stairs into his apartment, only to find them blocked by someone sleeping on the top stair.
The person was wearing a thick woolen coat and a pair of scruffy looking slacks. They'd pulled their hood over their face, but strands of light brown or blonde hair were spilling out over the stairs, though Livi couldn't tell if they belonged to a man or a woman at all. A suitcase was pressed to their cheek, a grubby looking thing covered in stickers from locales around the world, but Livi could care less. All he was interested in was getting the hobo out of the way so he could open the door and get inside.
"Hey!" he said irritably. The person didn't seem to notice, their breath still shallow. "Get up! You're blocking the way!" he insisted, poking at them with his boot.
"Quite loitering in front of people's apartments, you damn hobo!"
"Juste un peu plus..." came the sleepy response. Livi felt his temper spike.
"Speak German if you're gonna be lazing around in Germany!" he spat, viciously kicking at the person's leg.
"Ow!" The girl (he could tell from the pitch of the voice that it was probably a girl, though he wasn't sure) cried out, sitting up suddenly as she reached to clasp her shin. A second later she looked up, and Livi saw a pair of oddly familiar green eyes glaring up at him. "Pourquoi jetterais-tu quelqu'un qui dormait?!"
"I don't speak French!" Livi shouted, furious to be having this conversation at all. "Can you move already?!"
She blinked at him, obviously confused. A second later her eyes lit up and she pulled down her hood. It took him a moment but he suddenly realized why she looked so familiar.
Nike Remercier?! What the hell is she doing on my doorstep?!
"Oh! It's you!" she cried in accented English. "You're Livius Ifrikia, aren't you?! Finally! I was starting to think you'd never come home!"
Livi wasn't sure how they'd gotten here. All he'd wanted to do after the competition was to hide beneath a pile of blankets and sleep for the next half-day, but here he was in his kitchen, begrudgingly serving tea to the youngest French skater to ever win a gold medal in the women's singles division. Neil was on his way, his frustration apparently forgotten at the chance to meet Nike, and she refused to explain her presence until Livi's coach arrived.
"Ahh, that feels so nice," she sighed as she took a sip of tea. Her cheeks were flushed now that she was indoors, and Livi found it hard to stop staring at her face.
She's a lot prettier in person than she is on television, he thought. Although, she's also a lot... shabbier. Plainer. I'm used to seeing her in sparkling costumes, not old slacks and a coat.
"I thought I would freeze to death," she said cheerfully, taking a bite from a biscuit Livi had half-heartedly provided.
"And you were sleeping outside my door because...?" Livi muttered in English. She merely waved at him.
"Non," she said, smiling. "We'll get there as soon as your coach is here. But if you must know, I was sleeping because I was waiting for several hours, and you never showed up."
"You can't expect me to be ready to receive guests when you never told me you were coming in the first place! Besides, I don't even know you!" he exclaimed, annoyed at her tone.
"I figured you wouldn't be too busy today, since the season is over," she said, shrugging. Livi just about blew a fuse.
"Yeah, international competitions are done, but local ones are still going, ok?!" he said, slamming down his spoon. "It's not like I'm sitting around on my ass all day!"
To his surprise, she laughed. It was very pleasant, somehow bell-like.
"You're as temperamental as everyone says," she chuckled, covering her mouth with her hand. "No wonder they say you're a wolf!"
Livi felt like he should have been insulted, but for some reason seeing her laugh was having a calming effect on him.
He didn't have much time to puzzle it out, however, because a sudden knock at the door announced Neil's arrival. He didn't wait for Livi to answer the door before he used his own key to enter.
"Where is she?!" he asked immediately, glasses fogged over. His gray hair was sticking up at odd angles, and he looked rather deranged. Livi gritted his teeth, embarrassed at his coach's behavior.
"In there," he muttered, and Neil scrambled past him.
"Nike Remercier!" Neil almost squealed with excitement as he entered the kitchen. She smiled and waved at him, and Neil took her hand, shaking it furiously. "I am a huge fan, Miss Remercier!" he said in his perfect British accent. "I've seen all your performances since your senior debut, and I was so sorry to hear about your injury-"
"Ahem!" Livi cleared his throat loudly, and both Nike and Neil turned to look at him. "You said you'd explain when my coach arrived, and he's here now, so hurry up and get this over with," he said.
Neil looked scandalized, but Nike nodded.
"Very well," she said, gesturing at the chairs as if she were the host and not the guest. "Let's talk."
"As you know, I retired last year after injuring myself at the Grand Prix Final," she said once they were all seated with a cup of tea. "My knee ligament tore during my free skate, and they couldn't fix it properly. I can't do jumps anymore." A sad look came over her expression, and even Livi felt a twinge of sympathy. "But a few months ago, during the German nationals, I saw you perform, Livius." Her bright green eyes turned toward him, and Livi felt his heart beat faster, for some reason.
"Yes, you were... how do you say in English..." she paused, thinking. "Absolutely awful."
Both Livi and Neil stared at her in disbelief.
"Wh-what the hell is your problem?!" Livi finally managed to ask. Infuriatingly, she laughed again.
"Well, it's true. You were like an awkward duck on ice. It was painful to watch. Your jumps were all great, and you had good technique, but all your movements were boring and jerky. It's like you weren't dancing at all."
"Maybe because I wasn't," he growled. "I was skating."
Nike stirred her tea.
"They call us ice dancers for a reason, you know?" she said calmly. "Many of us started with ballet."
"Well I didn't," he scoffed. "And they only call female skaters that, it's a stupid way to dramatize the woman's division."
Nike stared at him for a second, then stood up and pulled his cheek painfully.
"OW, WHAT THE FUCK?!" he cried. She gave him a cold look.
"You're an idiot, and a fool besides," she hissed. "You receive the most pathetic PCS scores at every competition and you think you have the right to belittle female skaters? You think we work any less than you, you stupid child?!"
Her attitude was so different that both Livi and Neil were caught off guard.
"M-miss Remercier!" Neil sputtered.
"Let go!" Livi demanded, trying to fight her off.
"Apologize," she said angrily. She pulled harder, making him cry out in pain.
"F-fine, you crazy woman! I'm sorry!"
She let him go, settling back into her chair.
"I would expect the son of Sheila and Leonidas Ifrikia to have more respect for our sport," she said coldly.
It's not like my father is ever around to teach me anything, he thought, but he kept his mouth shut, resentfully rubbing his cheek.
"So what, you came to Germany just to insult and lecture me?" he finally asked.
"No, I came to coach you," she sniffed.
It wasn't immediately clear if Livi or Neil shouted the loudest. The latter looked like he had been kicked in the stomach, but also like he'd won the lottery. Livi had no idea what to feel.
"Bu-but I already have a coach," he said blankly.
"Y-yes, while I greatly respect and admire you, Miss Remercier, I am still his coach and I'd be out of a job if-"
She shook her head, a small smile tugging at the corner of her mouth.
"I'm not here to replace you, Monsieur...?"
"Pearson," Neil offered.
"Monsieur Pearson, a pleasure," she said, nodding at him. "As I was saying, I'm here to be Livius' choreographer, not his full-time coach."
"My... choreographer?" he asked, perplexed.
"Oui. Like I said before, you're very skilled at the technical part of skating, but your performances are all soulless. If you ever want to become a champion, you'll have to learn how to dance, whether you like it or not."
Just like that, Livi suddenly found himself with two coaches and far less time to rest than usual. He couldn't remember actually having agreed to Nike taking over as his choreographer, though Neil was ecstatic to have her.
Every day began with ballet, and there were days when Nike didn't even allow Livi on the ice at all. She had him listen to music all the time, barking out bizarre orders about "feeling it in his soul" and "letting it carry him away," whatever those meant. Even his apartment was no longer a haven, because Nike had invited herself to stay on his couch.
"But you're a girl!" he'd sputtered when he realized she meant to live with him.
"So? If you know what's good for you, you won't even think about anything indecent," she'd said with a mildly threatening smile. "I might not be able to do jumps anymore, but I'm still perfectly capable of kicks." She didn't even wait for him to start a new line of objection before she began unpacking her suitcase.
She was, in a word, overbearing. Livi soon came to understand that while she was pretty and graceful on the ice, she was also stubborn and willful, and just as quick to anger as he was. She was also rather odd. She preferred to wear simple, worn-out clothing and ate a great deal without her figure ever changing. She was also somehow the clumsiest creature he'd ever known.
"There's nothing to trip on while skating," she mumbled when he pointed this out after she fell down the stairs for the fourth time.
But after a month had passed, and then another, and another, Livi grew used to her presence in his life. She was seventeen, three years his elder, but she didn't patronize him for his youth, and she genuinely seemed to care about his career. He began to think of her as something like a friend, rather than just a coach.
"Livi! Arms out, gently!" she called during practice in the summer. "Like you're floating!"
"What does that even mean?!" he shouted back, trying to follow the movements she'd taught him.
"Don't think, feel! Listen to the music!" She skated toward him, pausing the song with a touch of the remote. He came to a stop, frustrated.
"I'm trying, but I don't know what you want me to do!"
"Hmm," she stood thoughtfully, tilting her head back. Her hair was tied back into a long ponytail, though a stray lock was hanging by her ear. Livi found himself staring at it as he waited. "Well... I was the one who chose this song for your short program, right?"
"What do you think about when you listen to it?"
He frowned. "What I think about?"
"Oui, what do you imagine when you close your eyes and just listen?"
"I... dunno," he said.
"Then try it," she said, pressing play once again. "Close your eyes, don't think about the routine. Just let your imagination do whatever it likes."
Feeling like an idiot, Livi obeyed. The song was very different from anything Livi had ever tried to skate; it was whimsical, a pop song with odd violin pieces interwoven into it. He hadn't liked it much when Nike had shown it to him, but the routine she choreographed to it was very impressive, even if she couldn't do the jumps when she showed it to him. He had the impression that it was the sort of performance that would get the audience clapping along with ease.
"Are you imagining something yet?" she asked, reminding him that he was supposed to be 'feeling the music.' "Just breathe, don't think too hard," her voice came, far closer than he'd expected it to. His eyes snapped open in shock.
"Shh," she said, taking his hands. "Just close your eyes, and I'll lead you through the movements. Don't think. Feel."
His heart was in his throat, but he tried to do as she asked. Her hands were larger than his, though they were also softer. He found he had to swallow.
Concentrate, he berated himself, letting Nike lead them through the dance. Think. No, wait, don't think... Ugh this is so confusing!
But as he felt Nike's fingers entwined around his own, her gentle tugging in the right direction as they glided over the ice, he began to think that the song rather reminded him of her.
It's playful, but the lyrics are also serious, in their own way... It makes you feel relaxed and like running at the same time. It's not really the sort of song you normally skate to, but it doesn't feel wrong either... I bet she'd love to perform it, jumps and all...
When he realized it, it was already over and Nike was smiling at him, her eyes dancing in the reflection of the light on the ice.
"See? You can do it, if you let the music in," she said.
"I have no idea what you're saying half the time you open your mouth," he grumbled, though much more softly than usual.
"Try doing it like that, without me this time," she said, squeezing his hand gently before letting it go. "Then we'll do the free program."
The longer Nike worked with him and Neil, the more Livi came to realize that he enjoyed having her around. He liked hearing her voice in the mornings when he woke up to find her singing to herself in French; he liked the praise and corrections she threw his way during practice; he even liked the bizarre things she said about sentimentality. She laughed often, she was passionate and became angry at the drop of a hat, and she looked like she truly enjoyed everything life had to offer. It made him feel warmer, somehow. Like she'd lit a fire in his heart, after it had been frozen over for all the years he'd spent alone without so much as his father's voice.
The months flew by, and competition season began.
This would be Livi's final year in the junior division, and he was desperate to show something for it. His mother had won gold in the Junior Grand Prix before she joined the senior division, and he wanted a medal to prove he was her son so badly he could almost taste it. He'd never been a nervous competitor, but when the first qualifier began in China, he found himself staring at the wall in the locker room blankly, his palms sweating.
Neil found him ten minutes before he was supposed to perform, still in his warm up clothes.
"Livi! You're about to go on!"
Livi blinked. "H-huh?"
"Your turn is coming up! Hurry!"
He balked, rummaging in his bag for his costume. It was a simple one, a green vest and a pair of dark slacks, embroidered with sequins and silver thread. Neil helped him adjust it in record time, pushing him out of the locker room as soon as his skates were tied.
Nike was waiting for him at the edge of the rink, watching the skater before Livi. When he came up to her, she turned to look at him, a sad smile on her face. His heart skipped a beat.
"You look great," she said, looking him up and down. "Very handsome."
"Nike... you wanted to be out there this year, didn't you?" he said suddenly, without thinking. She averted her eyes.
"I guess so... I haven't missed a competition season since I was 7," she said softly, her accent blending the words together. He hesitated, then took her hand.
"I'll do my best today," he said nervously. "I'll show them the short program you put together, just for me. I promise."
"Okay," she said simply.
"And now, from Germany, Livius Ifrikia!" the announcer called.
"Bonne chance, petite danseuse," she said, embracing him tightly. Livi thought his heart might stop as he breathed in her now-familiar smell.
He couldn't hear the announcer or the crowd. All he could hear was the music, the song that Nike had so lovingly prepared for him. He felt her piercing green eyes on him, felt his heart pounding with nervousness and something else he couldn't quite place. He let the music lead him, as if it were her hands guiding him through every spin and sequence. The jumps had always been easy for him, but now his body seemed to glide into place perfectly, seemed to tie the separate elements of the routine together into a dance.
Here comes the quad, he thought vaguely, and when he landed he moved effortlessly onto the next combination, knowing that she was watching, knowing that she would be proud that he was enjoying it.
And he was.
When it was over, he breathed heavily in the final pose for a moment before turning to find her face at the wall. She was crying, but her eyes were on him.
"Nike!" he cried, dashing toward her. Something was building up in his chest, something hot and heavy and important. "Ich habe es gemacht! Ich verstehe jetzt! Ich liebe dich!" he shouted a moment before he crashed into her arms.
They were both crying.
"Ich liebe dich... Ich liebe dich," he repeated, but no matter how many times she asked him what he was saying, he couldn't find the words in any other language than his own.
As they headed for the kiss and cry to hear his score, he felt prouder than he ever had before.
Mother would have loved that performance. I know it. And one day, when I'm older, I'll learn how to say 'I love you' in French.
1) PCS Score: The presentation score, based on interpretation and aesthetics.
2) "Juste un peu plus...": French for "Just a little longer..."
3) "Pourquoi jetterais-tu quelqu'un qui dormait?!": French for "Why would you kick someone who is sleeping?!"
4) "Bonne chance, petite danseuse,": French for "Good luck, little dancer."
5) "Ich habe es gemacht! Ich verstehe jetzt! Ich liebe dich!": German for "I did it! I understand now! I love you!"
Look who's back to take over the Soreseka tag, now featuring my current obsession w/ Yuri on Ice!
I meant to throw in some dumb references, like Neil using a stripper pole at the GPF banquet, but the story just kind of did its own thing, so it's kind of serious. Not my best work, I know, but it was fun to write.
NB: The title "Âme de Glace, Herz des Feuers" means 'Soul of Ice, Heart of Fire' in French and German.