Maria’s skirt flared out from her hips in a glittering cascade of ombré fire as her partner twirled her around. Abandoned was the choreography she had spent months designing in preparation for the final dance; instead the thrill of improvisation overwhelmed her. What harm could it be after all? They were already disqualified from the competition. Completing the twirl, Maria snapped back into her partner’s arms and pressed her torso to his. She’d never seen this look in his eye before. Something about the way Emil looked at her through his lashes made her heart flutter. Emil ran his hand down the white lace on her side to rest on her waist, and her breath hitched.

Emil could barely breathe with the vision Maria made in her sparkling dress. The white lace on her upper body contrasted the deep tan of her skin, and her skirt blazed as it transitioned from crimson to orange to canary yellow. Her chocolate curls rested in a loose braid decorated with marigolds. In that moment, nothing rivaled her beauty. Emil began the dance with its steps in mind, having watched Maria practice and perform with her previous partner numerous times. He counted and swayed with the beat, and she followed his lead. When he spied the necklace she wore, however, he decided to damn the choreography. He spun her, and he could see the surprise in the arch of her brows, but she followed anyway. The stage lights caught the glitter on her dress, and Emil smiled. She was a fire meant to burn him, scorch him, and he wanted the audience to be consumed.

Maria could read Emil like a manuscript, the straightening of his spine like text highlighted on a page. She settled under his direction as the music vibrated against her skin. She let it soak in and move her, and Emil and she both succumbed to its desires. The slightest shifts of his body had her compensating and surging to match him. Emil’s hand moved to the small of her back to draw her closer as they remembered the way the other’s body moved. Emil’s own outfit glimmered in the spotlight. While Maria was the Sun, he was the Moon, contrasting her firestorm with icy blues, blacks, and violets. The distance between them was more than just physical. She was the Equator to his North Pole, and the distance between them was an ocean. Maria pressed herself closer, and a waft of peppermint brought on a fit of nostalgia. He had always smelled like this. She had thought it strange when they had first met, but now she caught her lip between her teeth to suppress a laugh. Only Emil would still smell like his favorite treat after all this time and all they had been through.

Her fingers glided across his exposed chest, down the embroidery on his sleeves and to his own fingertips, goosebumps left in their wake. His fingers hooked hers so she couldn’t escape, and he yanked her back almost desperately. Their bodies clashed with the same frenzy as tectonic plates, hands flinging out to the side and feet quaking the stage. Maria tossed her head back, arms lifting as her wrists twisted into the feathers of wings. Emil wrapped his arm around her middle and swept her down into a dip. When their eyes met, Maria lost herself in the deep blues of his. They reminded her of the road trip they had taken together around his home country. She’d never seen glaciers before that trip, but their color reminded her of Emil.

Emil swept her back up and around, holding her close. He lifted her by her hips and spun, her petite frame making it easy. A smirk taking hold of his lips, Emil tossed her into the air.  Maria gasped but hid it from the audience with a delighted smile. She twisted around midair with her arms poised to facilitate the spin. As she came down, her eyes clenched, and her jaw tightened.  Emil was there to catch her in a dip once again. Maria’s eyes popped open to see his face smirking down at her. Every time she fell, he would always be there to catch her. Returning the smirk, Maria hooked a leg around him as he straightened them both. The music picked up, and confidence radiated from Emil like the Northern Lights of his homeland. Having Maria in his arms gave him a strength he had never possessed before, and he never wanted to let her go again. He held Maria’s leg around him as he swept her around and backed up. Maria’s toe was a pivot point, and it dragged as Emil carried her back in long, confident strides. She leaned into him as they started their own tango.

The passion between them grew and bloomed with the upbeats of the melody, their movements painting the picture of young love rediscovered. Fire and ice swirled together, blending to create something more, something beautiful. They traveled and explored and grew together in ways neither could have predicted. In the dance, Emil became the framework, and Maria added the delicate flare. They were two worlds colliding, and they celebrated the union. Soon they raged on, their longing strained by tempestuous movements. They prodded and jabbed each other into a heated battle. Maria gripped her skirt in one hand and swished it violently as she danced with him.  Emil stood to his full height and dominated her twirls, lifts, and holds. Maria’s heels stomped the ground in challenge, and Emil matched her fury step for step, one arm around her and the other held to the side to welcome her confrontation. Their tempers engaged in warfare, their fuses lit and burned to cinders under the pressure of competition.

Pushing herself away, Maria hung her head. Her movements slowed to a sulking crawl, and she wilted, transforming from an inferno to the embodiment of La Llorona herself, forever weeping. Her sways mourned the loss of her lover. Her emerald eyes glistened with tears as she poured herself into her solo performance. No one could console the ache in her chest, how her heart and ribcage collapsed in on itself without Emil’s presence.

His own head lowered, Emil watched her express her sorrow. His heart lurched as he remembered what he said to her before the first round of the competition began all those months ago. He had hurt her, made her unsure of herself, made her seek another dance partner. Though he was her polar opposite, Emil was drawn to her still, just as he had been when they met, and he knew he needed to rekindle that love they’d shared. An invisible string tugged him over step by step to wrap his arms around her from behind. They were magnets, connected by an invisible yet powerful force. He spun her back to face him. He held her close to shelter the wounds he had caused. They rocked together, and Emil leaned down to rest his forehead against hers. As they moved, his hips whispered apologies against hers while her hands rubbed forgiveness into his biceps. Their lips brushed to seal the cracks in their armor. Emil pulled her up into his arms and off her feet, hand tangled in her hair, as the song ended.

There was only silence as their breaths mingled in the space between them. A moment later, the room erupted in applause, whistles, and cheers. Both their faces split into wide grins. They had just created something rare and magical, and it had only been made possible by sheer circumstances of fate. Maria cupped his jaw as he set her down, and Emil bowed his head.

“I’m so sorry,” he whispered.

Maria shook her head. He had nothing to be sorry for. “Why? Why break choreography?”

“You were wearing the lava rock necklace I gave you,” Emil said. He fingered the necklace, remembering when he had first given it to her as a token of his affection, when she had promised to never take it off. She hadn’t worn it since their fight, not since the competition started.

“I wore it for you. I still cared after all this time. It was the least I could do to thank you for coming today and dancing on such short notice. Even though the dance won’t count, I finally got to dance with the only partner I’ve ever wanted. You.”

Emil tipped her chin up to kiss her. “You’ll never have to dance with anyone else again. I promise.”

“Good. You’re all I’ll ever need.” Maria laced their fingers together as they prepared to face their disqualification together.