"This is the coronation party we should have had," Elsa said, looking out at the happy townspeople skating and floundering on her homemade ice rink in the castle courtyard.
"It is your coronation party. The other one doesn't count." Anna grinned up at her sister as she gripped her arm. She still hadn't gotten the hang of this skating thing. And when she glanced at Kristoff and Sven, both facedown on the ice, her smile grew. It was obvious that they hadn't gotten the hang of it either.
"And this time, you don't have to dance with the Duke of Weselton."
"And yet I'm still falling down."
"You'll get used to it." Elsa smiled over her shoulder. "To moving on ice, I mean."
"I will, won't I?" Anna squeezed Elsa's arm. "We have a lot of it in our future."
Though she'd meant the words in reference to living openly with Elsa's powers, her eyes drifted back to Kristoff. She felt heat rise to her cheeks when he lifted his head and smiled at her, and she silently hoped that he was part of her future, too. They hadn't had any time to talk privately since their kiss- their first kiss, his, hers, and theirs- and just thinking about it made her breath catch and her heart beat faster.
Did he like it as much as she had? Had he felt the same tingly sensation in his arms and legs when their lips met? Had it felt as wonderful and right and perfect to him as it did to her? Did she do it right? And most importantly, did he want to kiss her again? Because she definitely wanted to kiss him. Again and again and then a dozen more times after that.
"Anna," Elsa said, her voice hesitant, "are you okay? You're not blinking."
"What? Oh. Yes. Sure." Anna shook her head, trying to escape from the very pleasant memory of being held against Kristoff's very broad, very warm chest. "I'm fine."
"I do like him, you know." Elsa laid her hand over Anna's with a knowing smile. "I think he's good for you."
"Really? Because you were totally right about the last one, and it's obvious that I'm not a very good judge of character, and-"
"Anna," Elsa said gently, "you're a kind, warmhearted, loving person. You expect everyone else to be the same, and sometimes, they're not. But you learned from that mistake, and I think you're right this time." She glanced at Kristoff. "He cares about you. And you need that. You can't waste all that love and affection on me."
"We have years to make up for," Anna reminded her. She still felt nervous around Elsa, unsure of what her sister liked or felt or wanted now. The last time she and Elsa had been close, they'd been children. This grown-up Elsa still felt like a stranger sometimes, but Anna knew that would change with time.
"Let's stay up late and talk tonight," Elsa said, "like we used to do when we shared a room. But this time, we'll have snacks and we won't have to whisper."
"Chocolate?" Anna asked hopefully.
"Of course. I am the queen, after all." Elsa loosened Anna's fingers from her arm and gave her a push towards Kristoff. "Go talk to him. If he stares at you any harder, I think the ice may melt."
Anna took a deep breath and wobbled towards Kristoff. She wished she could glide across the ice with her head thrown back, as graceful as her sister, but she was just Anna- clumsy, awkward Anna. One stumble later, she collided with the solid wall of Kristoff's chest, and he wrapped his arms around her and held her tight. When she finally looked up into his face, she smiled. He didn't look sorry that she was just Anna at all.
"Are you okay?"
"Of- of course," she said as one skate slid between his feet and the other slid back. She scrambled to grab onto his arms, blushing as she discovered that they were as strong and solid as the rest of him. "Just, you know, skating." She shrugged, trying to look nonchalant when all she could think about was kissing. Her eyes drifted to his lips and lingered there. She let out a little squeak when she realized she was staring.
But she wasn't the only one. Kristoff's eyes kept roving over her face, his expression soft and unguarded. He gazed at her as if he couldn't look his fill, as if she wasn't ordinary, boring Anna but someone beautiful and fascinating. When he looked at her like that, she felt warm and weightless, and so excited that she couldn't get the words out to describe it. This was what true love was supposed to feel like, she felt certain of it.
Kristoff's hands gently stroked her back.
"Anna, I-" He swallowed nervously, then glanced over her shoulder and flinched. "Your sister's trying to get your attention," he finished, his smile self-deprecating. "That's what I get for missing my chance."
Anna turned in his arms. Elsa was motioning for her, her face stiff and slightly panicked. She was surrounded by villagers, all eagerly talking and vying for her attention, and she looked completely overwhelmed.
"She's not used to being around so many people," Anna said, understanding immediately. "She's worried she'll say the wrong things and they won't like her."
"Go ahead," he said kindly. "She needs you."
This time, it was Anna's turn to flash a self-deprecating smile.
"For better or worse, I'm the talkative sister." She touched his chest, just over his heart. "Will I see you later?"
"Of course." He hugged her close and kissed the side of her head where her temple met her hairline. "If- whenever you want."
She pulled away reluctantly and wobbled back to help her sister. She didn't know that it would take hours, that a line would form, that nearly every person in the kingdom would have something to say to Elsa. Anna was enormously relieved that most of those words were nice, though she did ball her hand into a fist a time or two when someone made a snide remark about the weather.
Through it all, Elsa smiled and played the part of a gracious queen perfectly, but Anna knew from the stiffness of her posture and the frost on her fingertips that she was nervous. She relied on Anna to make the jokes, to smooth over the silences, to ask the right questions.
Sometimes, Anna would catch Kristoff's eye and wave or make a silly face. He always grinned or waved back, but the longer she spent at Elsa's side and the deeper the sun sank behind the mountains, the more worried he appeared, too. Finally, with the courtyard dark and the last of the skaters leaving for home, Anna turned and looked for Kristoff. He and Sven weren't in the place they'd lingered all day. They weren't anywhere at all.
"Elsa, have you seen Kristoff?"
"No, I'm sorry." Her sister smiled and threaded her arm through Anna's, looking not-so-secretly relieved to no longer be the center of attention. "I'm sure he'll turn up tomorrow."
Anna's shoulders slumped.
"You're probably right."
"Cheer up," Elsa said, squeezing her arm. "It's time for chocolate."
Anna really wished she had defined what "later" meant.
"It's been three whole days." She glanced out her bedroom window for what was surely the thousandth time and groaned. "What is wrong with me?"
Why did three days feel like three hundred? And why did it seem like the longer she and Kristoff were apart, the more he monopolized her thoughts? She couldn't concentrate on anything anymore, she was too busy listening for his voice.
"Why hasn't he come back?"
She flopped backwards on her bed and gazed up at the canopy overhead. She felt sick to her stomach. What if he was angry with her? Or worse, what if he'd changed his mind? What if he didn't love her after all? It wasn't as if he'd actually said the words to her, she was taking a talking snowman's word for it. He didn't even have a brain.
Anna groaned again and covered her eyes with her arm. She really didn't know anything about love. Her feelings for Kristoff seemed so different from every infatuation that came before, from childhood crushes on handsome servants to her disastrous engagement with Hans. But this was different. Kristoff was different. She'd dismissed her attraction to him at first, but now, their differences were one of the things she liked best - it made their growing relationship seem more real, more honest. They balanced and complimented each other. At least, that's what she'd thought.
She'd also thought that they had some important things in common. Like a need for love and affection and the chance to express it. They'd both lost their parents and grown up lonely - she'd believed they shared the same soul-deep wish to belong to someone and claim them in return. She was afraid of getting hurt and determined to slow down this time, but that didn't stop her from secretly knowing he was "the One."
"But wouldn't the One have wanted to see me again by now?"
She spent so much time daydreaming about kissing that she'd caught herself drooling in Elsa's company. It worried her that Kristoff didn't appear to be suffering from the same condition.
"What if he's hurt?" She sat up suddenly. "Or Sven's hurt? Or the sled broke?"
A knock on her door sent her into a flurry of smoothing her hair and clearing her throat. Maybe it was one of the servants coming to tell her that Kristoff waited for her downstairs.
"I just wanted to ask you about-" Elsa opened the door and walked into the room, trailing off as soon as she caught sight of Anna's face. "Well," she said, eyes widening, "don't look happy to see me or anything."
Anna buried her face in her hands. The stupid thing was that until she'd started second-guessing Kristoff's feelings, she would have been thrilled to see Elsa seeking her out. They'd spent more time together in the last few days they they had in years. And it was wonderful, it really was, but Anna couldn't help feeling like part of her heart wasn't in it.
"Let me guess." Elsa sat down on the edge of Anna's bed and wrapped one arm around her sister's shoulders. "He still hasn't come back."
Anna shook her head. Elsa sighed.
"If it's really bothering you, you should go to him. Tell him how you feel."
"I don't know where he is." Anna buried her head in the crook of Elsa's neck. "I don't even know where he lives."
"You don't know where your boyfriend lives?"
"Somewhere across the fjord," she said, "in the woods. But no, I don't know exactly where. And he's not my boyfriend. That is, he never asked me. We never talked about it. I have no clue what he's thinking anymore."
"All the more reason to find him and tell him how you feel," Elsa insisted. "I hate seeing you so torn up like this." She ran a comforting hand up and down Anna's back. "I know he's a bit of a loner, but isn't there anyone you could ask? Someone must know where he lives."
Anna sucked in a breath.
"You're right! I don't know why I didn't think of it before." She squeezed Elsa around the waist. "I need to see the love experts."
"I told you she'd be back." The largest of the trolls lumbered towards Anna before she'd even dismounted from her horse. He was quickly followed by the rest, at least fifty excited pairs of eyes on her face as she jumped down and stepped hesitantly into their circle.
"I made you a present!"
"You're not frozen!"
"Where have you been?"
They all seemed to be talking at once, the younger ones tugging on the hem of her skirt, and Anna didn't know who to answer or address first. Luckily, she was spared from making that decision as Bulda, the one who'd looked after Kristoff like a mother, pushed her way through the boisterous crowd and opened her arms.
Anna knelt down and gave her a hug.
"Bulda," she asked as she pulled back, "have you seen Kristoff?"
"He was here two days ago." The troll gave Anna a shrewdly assessing look. "The poor boy was all out of sorts and it's your fault."
"I knew I did something wrong," Anna said miserably.
"I didn't say that." She poked the center of Anna's chest. "What did we tell you last time? He's sensitive! Somehow, he's gotten it into his head that he's not good enough for you."
"Not good enough? But that's crazy! He's perfect for me, he's-"
"Have you told him that, dear?"
"Well," Anna bit her lip, "no."
"Maybe you should start with that," she said dryly. "He's inexperienced," she continued, "and already so in love with you that he's terrified of making a mistake."
One of the smallest trolls climbed up on Anna's back.
"How was the kiss?" he asked in a not-so-quiet whisper. The rest of the trolls looked on with interest.
"It was amazing," Anna said before her cheeks turned red as the crystals around some of their necks. "Did- did Kristoff tell you we kissed?"
"Oh, we know everything," the little troll said cheerfully, "that's how we knew you were his true love."
"I thought it was my strong teeth."
"I'll tell you the same thing I told Kristoff," Bulda said. She reached for Anna's hand and gave it an affectionate pat. "You need to have faith. True love is too rare and great a gift to give up for fear. You need to trust that each of you knows that and cares enough not to let go, no matter what. But first, you need to say so out loud!"
"Then I just have one question." Anna stood up and dusted off her dress. "Could you tell me where to find him?"
For the second time that hour, Anna slid off her horse and willed herself to be brave. She could do this. She could! She followed the trolls instructions and walked through the dense trees directly to her right, emerging into a small, meadowed clearing. And in the center of the clearing, a cozy-looking log cabin.
Before she could lose her nerve, she walked towards it. The cabin seemed quiet, and for a minute, Anna worried that Kristoff wasn't home. Then Sven lifted his head from the patch of grass he was lazily chewing and let out a happy-sounding noise. And she didn't think it was her imagination when the reindeer cocked his antlers towards the door.
"Thanks, Sven." She hurried the last few steps to the door. "It's good to see you, too."
Then she squeezed her eyes shut and knocked. Then knocked again. She heard a groan from somewhere inside the cabin, then the sound of heavy footsteps padding towards the door. Almost instantly, it swept inwards, and Anna stumbled back a step, face to face with a rumpled-hair, tired-eyed, very shirtless Kristoff.
"Anna?" His eyes widened, but she was sure hers were wider. "What- what are you doing here? I mean, hello. I mean, I'm glad." He rubbed a hand over his face as if he wished he could try the last minute over again.
"Oh." She felt self-conscious and more than a little dizzy. She'd never been this attracted to someone in her life and she didn't know what to do. "I mean, wow. No, I mean hello."
"I'm sorry. I mean, come in. Please. Come in." As she stepped inside, he fumbled around the cabin, clearly looking for a shirt. "I was asleep. I haven't been sleeping much lately."
"Why not?" She tried not to look too disappointed as he shrugged a shirt over his broad shoulders, all those muscles flexing at once.
To her surprise, he blushed. And she found that even more entrancing than his chest.
"I… missed you," he muttered, and her heart soared. "How did you find this place, anyway?"
"I went to see your family." She leaned back on her heels. "They told me where to go."
"You saw my family?" He looked happy, but he sounded anxious. "What… uh… what else did they tell you?"
Anna wasn't quite ready to make that confession. Instead, she lifted her chin and crossed her arms.
"If you missed me, why haven't you come to see me since- since the day we kissed?" She tried to sound brave, but her voice wavered on the last word. "I missed you, too. I thought I'd done something wrong."
"Wrong?" His head snapped up. "You? Of course not. Why would you ever think that?"
"Because you disappeared without telling me when I'd see you again." She walked deeper into the cabin and sat on the edge of his bed. She didn't see any chairs. "That doesn't exactly inspire confidence, especially after a girl's first kiss." She lowered her eyes to her lap, heart pounding hard, waiting.
For a minute, he didn't move. Then she felt the bed dip beside her and he reached for one of her hands. She was surprised to discover that it was shaking.
"I was afraid," he said grimly. "I saw you with all those people around you and I panicked. You looked so at ease, so happy and gorgeous and royal, and I-" He shrugged. "I panicked. I'm poor, I'm bad with people, I'm not a prince, I have a big nose-"
"I don't know what you see in me," he rushed on, as if she hadn't spoken. "You're kind and smart and funny and brave and generous and gorgeous. And a princess. You could do so much better than me. You deserve so much better than me," he added quietly, and Anna actually felt her chest ache.
"Please don't say you don't want to see me again."
"I can't." He let out a bitter chuckle. "I guess we can add selfish to my list, too. I want to see you every day, all the time. I've never felt like this. It's hard not to blurt it all out." He raked his free hand through his hair. "And that's another reason I've stayed away. I'm afraid I'll scare you or push you too hard after everything you've been through. But I can't help it. That kiss- I can't stop thinking about it. Did your limbs tingle? Because mine did, and-"
"Anna-" He trailed off, his voice strangely hoarse. And Anna realized that if she was going to get what she wanted, she'd have to meet him halfway.
"You're wrong," she said slowly, rubbing her thumb back and forth across the back of his hand. "I deserve you and you deserve me. At least, you do if you promise not to disappear again." She pressed her free hand against his cheek. "There's not one thing you listed about me that I wouldn't say about you. Except for the princess thing. And that's the least important. You actually seem to like me," she said with a shrug, "just for being Anna. I've never had that before, and I want you just for being Kristoff."
"Seem to like you?" He shook his head. "Anna, I love you." The blood drained from his face. "See? I told you. I blurted it out. I'm sorry. I'm so stupid. I-"
Before he could take it back, she wrapped her arms around his neck and silenced him with a long, heated kiss. It was even better than their first.
"For what it's worth, I love you, too."
"For what it's worth?" His eyebrow quirked, but he kept his arms around her.
"Well, I have bad judgment, remember?"
"This is different," he said immediately and lifted her into his lap.
"Because it's you this time?" She grinned as he buried his face in her hair and breathed deep.
"Because it is." He leaned back. "What's my last name?"
"What's my favorite food?"
"Best friend's name?"
Kristoff laughed out loud.
"Mmmhmm." She kissed the corner of his mouth, but he turned his head and moaned as her lips caught his again.
"Foot size?" he asked breathlessly.
"Big." Anna watched a slow smile spread across his face. "You're right. It is different." She was suddenly certain, with every atom of her body and soul, that this would work out. She would always belong to him and he'd always be hers. From the shining, hopeful look in his eyes, Kristoff knew it, too. And that was something worth celebrating with another kiss.
Hours later, they hadn't moved from the bed, but they had progressed from second kiss to second thousandth kiss, each one more wonderful than the last.
"Your family was right," Anna whispered. "It is true love."
Kristoff grinned and nibbled his way across her bottom lip.
"They always are," he said. "But I already knew."