Breaking in Hannah

Chicago, Illinois, June 2002

Malcolm rubbed his eyes wearily as he walked into the temporary icebox that was the United Center. He had to swear off these trips back to Ambrose during the tour. Eric would say—and had said—that he was being a mother hen, constantly running back home to check on "his" ever-growing brood of skaters there.

Well, before, none of those remaining back home had been his—except in the way that he thought of all the skaters at Ambrose as "his". But now Ryan and Laurance were back, and had broken troubling news: their absence hadn’t been caused by study problems, as he’d believed. Their mother had almost died of cancer. She was well enough now that they’d come back to concentrate on their skating again, but still, Malcolm was unsettled.

They should have told him. He knew all too well about...

Perhaps that was why they hadn’t.

With a will, Malcolm set aside the crowding dark thoughts and looked around the venue. His students would practice later. For now, there were only a few skaters on the ice. One of those recently arrived European dance teams, and a dark-haired girl in black practice clothes whom he didn’t recognize at all.

Kenji was sitting owlishly halfway up the stands. Naturally. He lived in the rink on show days, watching every practice. Malcolm arched an eyebrow and climbed the steps to join him.

"Oh, there you are," Kenji remarked. Such a welcome, after Malcolm had been gone for three days—but the familiar, casual acknowledgement of a nearly lifelong friend was as warm in its way as an embrace.

"Good morning," Malcolm responded with equal aplomb, dropping into the seat next to Kenji.

"How are things back at the ranch?"

After deciphering the colloquialism, Malcolm shrugged. "Ryan and Laurance are happy to be back on the ice. Everyone else is busy with new programs, planning for next season or to join the tour." He glanced toward the ice, just in time to see the girl in black perform a backflip. She got impressive height on it, too. "Tell me, Ken. Who is she?"

"Ah, that." Kenji grinned rather wanly. "That, my friend, is my new project. Ever hear of Hannah Zahavi?"

"Zahavi." Malcolm's slight head shake suddenly turned into a nod. "Israeli champion, isn’t she?"

"Twice over." Kenji sighed. "It’s not a pretty story, Malcolm. Her father was killed before she was born… Those terrorists at the ’72 Olympics."

"I remember." The incident came during the height of Malcolm’s career, bringing concerns for security which affected even his little corner of the athletic world.

"Hannah spent her whole life trying to make it to the Games in his honor," Kenji went on. "In ’92 she was stuck with military duty. In ’94, an injury kept her from even qualifying. ’98 and this year, well… she just didn’t make it." He shook his head. "She knows it’s over. Now she’s cut loose her eighth—no, her ninth coach, and she's just making it day by day."

"She’s joining the tour?" Malcolm queried.

"Only after I insisted. She’s got her mother to support." Kenji paused, watching as Hannah performed a flawless triple-double combination. With her power, it seemed as if she could easily have made it a triple-triple.

She’d never again be likely to bother.

"She’s really amazing," he murmured. "Tough. Strong. She’s got some kinda spirit, Mal. As a pro, she could really give a lot more to the sport… with the right hand guiding her."

A peculiar feeling prickled along the back of Malcolm’s neck, and he turned to Kenji with a wary look. "Ken—"

"I’m not going to push any hard-luck cases on you, Mal. You do a good enough job of that yourself," Kenji interrupted. "If nine other coaches couldn’t do anything with her, maybe no one can. Maybe it’s not what she needs. But I do know she needs a friend."

The tour manager smiled weakly at Malcolm. "You’d be doing me a great favor if you’d just talk to her, Mal."

Malcolm looked long and hard at Kenji, then turned his gaze to the ice, where Hannah was performing a breathtaking footwork sequence. Finally he glanced back at Kenji.

"Perhaps I can at least introduce her to Eric," he said, standing up. "Ambrose’s resident Big Brother might do her a bit of good."

He made his way down the steps to the boards. Hannah was practicing a layback spin now… a rather sloppy one. Her free leg was raised too high, at too sharp an angle, and her arms looked as if they were defiantly crossed.

"That could be better," Malcolm remarked casually.

Hannah stopped spinning and turned to him with a disgruntled frown, looking him over with intense scrutiny. "Yeah, it probably could. And you care because…?"

Alright, then.

"Because I happen to be your new coach," Malcolm answered, with a steady, solid tone to his voice.

Her jaw dropped, but it quickly turned to a scowl. "Excuse me?"

"Let’s try that layback again," Malcolm ordered, in that wonderful way he had of commanding without raising his voice in the slightest. With a start, Hannah obeyed on instinct, moving away from the boards and slowly beginning to spin.

"Don’t hold your leg up so high. That’s it, turn it out a little more smoothly. Relax now, loosen up your arms. Yes. Very nice." Malcolm smiled, catching a glimpse of the little shadow of grace beneath the rugged exterior.

Hannah concluded her spin, and turned to give him a guarded gaze.

"Please forgive my manners. Allow me to properly introduce myself, Miss Zahavi." The coach extended his hand. "Malcolm Redgrave, director of the Ambrose Skating Club."

"British and World champion, coach of Olympic medalists, yadda yadda. I know who you are." Hannah slowly moved forward, and after looking down at his hand for a moment, took it in a light and cautious grasp. "I’m Hannah Zahavi, and I’m not an Olympic medalist, Mr. Redgrave. I’m not anything anymore."

"You are a two-time national champion with a fascinating style and an amazing ability," Malcolm corrected. "You’re someone who still has very much to offer, and who would be very much the better for sharing her talents with a public who would love to see her. And I for one have every intention of seeing you do what’s best for you."

Hannah’s hand slid out of his grasp. She put her fists on her hips, and very slowly, she smiled.

"You ride, Guv’nor?" she asked.

Malcolm blinked. "Ride?"

"Horseback riding. Equestrian sports. Animal husbandry." Hannah leaned on the edge of the boards, grinning darkly. "Somehow, I got an impression you had some experience at breaking in temperamental fillies."

"Ah. Well, I’m not quite so sure of that," Malcolm admitted, and smiled at her. "But I think that I could learn."

© 2002 Jordanna Morgan