A/N: Hello everyone!
While I was writing my other story, Through Ice and Shadows, I started liking the PitchxElsa pairing more and more. I thought about it for a long time, and then was hit with this bizarre idea. So I decided to run with it.
As it is a story celebrating Valentine's Day, please excuse the slight cheesiness at the end. I assure you it was done with the best intentions.
Story cover art by Anna Dittmann. Standard disclaimers apply.
If there was one thing Pitch Black loved more than fear, it was hatred.
It didn't nourish or sustain him, and it didn't give him the power that belief certainly did, but it calmed him. Hatred helped to clear his head and he relished the sensation, for it made things easier for him to work and to plan. Adults were worse than useless sometimes - they tended to try and dissuade their children about the reality of the shadows and monsters lurking around them - but they always had the emotion in spades. Children never truly hated anything, after all, and for that, Pitch endured the dull existence of their parents. Oftentimes, when he was done reaping the fear from a child, he lingered near the parents' room; he had found that there was a connection between the ease of scaring children and the amount of hatred their caregivers were suppressing, and he took advantage of that as much as he could.
Pitch was used to the shadows - he welcomed them, luxuriated in them - and so that night, when a particularly potent trail of hatred led him to a brightly-lit ballroom, he stopped short. In his experience parties were dull, monotonous things, absent of the attendance of children. Usually they came with dancing and good feeling, full of ghastly laughter and joy. He shivered involuntarily at the thought.
But the animosity was so strong inside that it made Pitch wonder if it really was a party after all. Through the pointed windows, he could see wavery silhouettes, all dressed in black. Perhaps it was some sort of gathering to honor the dead?
Well. Pitch thought, raising an eyebrow. It might be worth a glance inside after all.
He stepped through the door - purely an act of habit, since he could easily step through walls - and stopped abruptly yet again. The room was full of people: sitting, standing, laughing, talking, even dancing - but all were wearing black. Pitch scowled. The event did look like a normal party after all, except...
Except that in here, the enmity was almost overpowering. It hung in the air, heavy as perfume and just as fragrant. Pitch slipped into the throng, confident in his knowledge that he couldn't be seen, and glanced from side to side. Each person had their own special kind of loathing that added to the whole: a terrible rancor from the man with the twisted smile, bitterness from the woman with sad eyes, disgust from the girl with a dark jewel hanging at her throat - every single one of the attending guests had hostility brimming from their souls. Pitch smiled and inhaled deeply, savoring the way it crackled inside him, fueling his contempt. It was marvelous. To think that everyone in the room was feeling so strongly, so -
Pitch's head turned slowly to the right. There was one person there who lacked the same antipathy that pervaded the ballroom - just one who did not share in the overwhelming hatred. He followed the absence of malice - purity by comparison - weaving back and forth between the dancers with his focus entirely on that person, as if they were a beacon in a sea of scorn -
It was a girl. Pitch paused at the edge of the crowd and looked her up and down appraisingly. He knew now why this girl was so different. She had tried to fit in: she was wearing a black gown, just like the others, and beneath the gauzy scarf on her head, he could see a few locks of silvery blond hair. She was doing her best to look occupied, with her gaze shyly turned downward, but Pitch wasn't fooled. It was a creative disguise, but it couldn't hide her identity completely.
Elsa, the queen of Arendelle.
"What," he murmured, the corner of his mouth curling up in amusement, "are you doing here?"
Elsa looked up - almost as if she had heard him. "I'm sorry," she said, "but I don't dance."
And then she kept looking at him, and Pitch realized in dawning amazement that she was actually talking to him. The Bogeyman.
She could see him.
That isn't possible, Pitch thought. She's an adult. She can't believe in nightmares...
Elsa looked away, and Pitch raised his chin. Interesting. He stepped closer and clasped his hands behind his back thoughtfully. "Oh?" he asked casually, playing along. "I take it you've had many requests this evening?"
"Some," she admitted. "But I would be a terrible partner. I don't have much experience with dancing." She folded her hands together in her lap, and Pitch noticed the silk gloves that covered her hands.
"Yes," he said slowly, "I have the same sort of problem." He glanced toward the crowd of oblivious, condescending people. "I prefer to avoid touch whenever possible."
Elsa started. He saw her look up at him, but he only smiled.
"How do you..." she began.
"I know who you are," he murmured, and she started again. "You are a long way from home - and your suitor, your highness."
Elsa stood. She shot him a deep, searching look, then turned and strode from the room. Pitch chuckled. He knew that she meant for him to follow, but he was tempted to disappear and let her fret and panic. It was gratifying enough to see the shock on her face when he revealed her, and there were still a few children left in the city that he had not visited...
But she could see him. No one - no one - had been able to see him before. He had not spoken to anyone outside of the Guardians for centuries, and they always bored him with their do good and protect the world drivel. It had been so long since he'd had an actual conversation with someone - and an unprejudiced one, at that - and the thought of it was more alluring than he expected.
How could Elsa, Arendelle's young queen, see him?
Perhaps she will tell me, Pitch mused, and followed her out of the ballroom.
She was waiting for him outside on the veranda. There were trees and plants - none of which Pitch knew the names to, since he had never cared about flora and fauna - but they were all covered in a thin layer of white. Snow was falling lightly in little balletic circles, and as Pitch faced Elsa, the flakes seemed to radiate towards her, as if she was the center of their gravity.
"How did you know who I am?" Elsa asked.
"It wasn't hard to figure out," Pitch said smoothly. "The scarf around your hair was an obvious sign that you have something to hide. And with a power like yours, it's unsurprising that you'd still be nervous with complete strangers, especially in an environment where you're being auctioned off for marriage. You're afraid the ice under your command will go out of control and freeze the future king, though I don't think that would be too terrible a fate."
Elsa blinked at him in amazement. "You... you really do know who I am," she said softly.
"Your tale has spread farther than you'd think."
She nodded slowly. "Well, since you already know..." She pulled at the corner of her scarf and it slid off her head, revealing a long silver braid. "He's the fifth suitor I've seen in a month," she murmured. "He seems nice - they all do - but it's exhausting."
Pitch didn't answer.
Elsa looked over her shoulder, nodding towards the party. "I heard about the Black Hearts Ball this afternoon. One of maidservants mentioned it, and I thought..." She shrugged a little helplessly. "Well, it sounded different. So I begged weariness and sneaked out."
"Hardly the act of a queen," Pitch said dryly.
She hummed in agreement. "Yes, I think my sister might be rubbing off on me."
He sniffed derisively. Yes, he'd heard of Elsa's younger sister, too - Anna, the eccentric, overly-excitable girl who had fallen in love with a mere ice merchant. The idyllic nature of their unconditional romance would have enchanted St. North, but it made Pitch want to vomit.
Yet to Pitch's surprise, Elsa's lips tipped up in a smile. "I know," she said, "but at least she knew Kristoff for more than a few hours. And the engagement is lengthy, so that's reassuring - " She stopped and looked over at him thoughtfully. "Are you a citizen of Arendelle?" she asked.
Pitch spread out his hands. "I prefer to think of myself as a resident of the world, your highness."
"I see. Then you aren't... you aren't a potential suitor in disguise?" Her cheeks flushed with the ridiculousness of the question
He raised his eyebrows. Why would he want her? She had nothing that could tempt him. "No."
"I see," she said again, though he could hear the faint relief in her voice. She looked down at the scarf in her hands and slowly began folding it into a square. "So. Do you mind if I ask you a question?"
He fought the urge to break into a wolfish grin. She could ask, certainly, but he might not be entirely truthful. "If you like," he said carelessly.
"Why did you come to the Black Hearts Ball?"
Then Pitch did grin. "Because my soul is steeped in darkness and my heart is shriveled and cold," he said matter-of-factly. "Isn't that why everyone else is here, to share in their mutual hatred for all things related to romance and love?"
"I suppose they are," she said. She was staring down at the fabric in her hands.
"But you don't feel the same way." Pitch took a step forward, examining her face for any sign of her inner thoughts. "You still have faith."
"I did not come to mock love - you're right," Elsa said, looking up at him. "I came because the name of the ball attracted me, especially the first word: black."
Pitch slowed. "Really?" he said quietly. There was no lie in her face, and it piqued his curiosity. "And what do you know about the darkness?"
"Enough," she replied, equally quietly.
"Which is?" he pressed, stepping forward again.
She smiled slightly. "It is only in the darkness that you see the truth," she said simply.
Pitch stared at her. She was right, of course. He had discovered the reality of her words long ago, and was cast out from the realms of light because of it. No one, not even the Man in the Moon, was willing to believe him when Pitch tried to explain the brightness that shadows revealed, how everything could be illuminated, clarified -
But Elsa had seen that. She, of all people.
The young queen stepped around him, heading for the stairs at the far end of the veranda. "I should go," she said, glancing back to look at him. "I did not want to stay away for long, and I fear I will be missed."
Pitch put on his most dull expression. "If you haven't been already."
"Yes, I suppose that's true." She clasped her hands together, pressing her scarf between them. "Thank you," she said, "for tonight."
"For what, exactly?"
"For talking to me like a person instead of a sovereign," she said, smiling gently. "I'm grateful. If you ever find yourself in Arendelle, come to the castle. I would be pleased to speak with you again."
"Would you?" he asked in a bored voice.
For some reason, his disinterest only seemed to make her smile grow bigger. "Yes," she said, and nodded. "I would be happy to."
Pitch watched her walk away into the night and, very briefly, he considered following her. She hadn't explained why she could see him - in fact, she'd actually raised more questions than she'd answered. It made him want to drag her back and demand that she answer him.
Or even better, hide under her bed and pull the answers from her screams.
But did she fear him? That Pitch didn't know. She believed in him, certainly, but if she feared him, would she still talk to him? Smile at him? Ask him to visit?
Something had happened to the newly-crowned queen - something to make her see him. But what? When? He had heard what happened to her in the mountains, and what nearly befell her sister, when Anna turned to ice... but if something of a darker nature had tested Elsa, he hadn't heard.
It was interesting and intriguing.
It was something new.
Pitch pivoted on his back foot, turning sharply away. He walked away from the party, directly opposite from the direction Elsa took. Perhaps I will come visit, he thought, smiling. Soon.
He came to Arendelle a few weeks later.
Elsa was at her window, the enormous panes of glass pushed outward so she could better see the slow dance of the Northern Lights. It was cold in her room, though Pitch wasn't concerned with the temperature; shadows existed in both ice and burning heat, and neither seemed to affect him much.
His footsteps were silent as he moved out of the darkness. Elsa seemed entirely occupied with the melodic sighs of the aurora, and Pitch smirked as he stepped into the light. I have to admit, he thought, I'm a little disappointed. Maybe he'd just forgotten what it was like to be among humans again.
Then he saw her shoulders tense. Pitch skipped back as Elsa whirled around, her hands angled dangerously at his face and his chest. Perhaps not so oblivious after all, he conceded.
It took a few moments for the glare in Elsa's eyes to melt into surprise, then embarrassment. "Oh," she said, quickly dropping her arms. "It's - It's you."
"Did I frighten you?"
Her eyes narrowed. "I was startled. I did not expect a guest to appear in my bedroom after dark."
"Do you always act on the offensive with your guests?" he drawled.
"I do if they don't follow the rules of propriety," she said a little sharply, giving him a look.
Pitch only smiled lazily.
"Why didn't you come earlier in the day?" she asked. "I would have been pleased to welcome you in my court." She ran a hand over her braid, tugging it back over one shoulder.
"It's easier for me this way," he said. "Too many people otherwise."
Elsa's displeased frown slipped away. "Yes, that's quite true, I'm afraid. With Anna's wedding only a few months away, there's so much to plan: the food, the entertainment, the decorations, the gowns, the guests..." She sighed. "All I did today was try to narrow a list of the possible attendees to the wedding."
"Yes - Anna has invited every royal family member, dignitary, and ambassador she can think of - except for a few choice individuals that we mutually agreed weren't welcome. Her favorite phrase now is 'the more's the merrier!' and I suppose I shouldn't be surprised; she does enjoy big gatherings, especially if they're in her honor."
"Unlike you," he commented dryly. Talk about Elsa's younger sibling bored him - she was uncomplicated, unafraid, and unamusing, so Pitch frankly didn't care what Anna wanted. The doldrums of wedding planning did not interest Pitch either, but Pitch knew that if he made Elsa believe he was paying attention, he could manipulate her into telling him what he wanted to know.
There was much that he wanted Elsa to tell him.
"I don't hate them as much as I used to," she said, shrugging. The beads of ice on her powder blue dress sparkled in the moonlight. "But I do have to admit that the last celebration for me - my coronation - has put me off of one for a long time to come."
"You would rather be alone," Pitch said, glancing sideways at her.
"I grew up alone. Solitude comforts me, in a way: it's familiar, and doesn't demand anything from me, good or bad." Lost in her thoughts, Elsa began to pick at the ice trails that swirled and skimmed across the surface of her thin sleeves. "It's like a friend," she murmured.
Pitch stilled. Again, he thought - she has done it again.
He had been the one to befriend the silence of isolation; it was the first welcome he had received when he stepped away from the light and into the darkness, and when he first accepted his ability to wield - no, command the shadows that manifested around him. Silence had been his constant ally - a reticent accomplice in his strivings to dominate the fear that so enticingly lay at his fingertips every night.
He had never called seclusion a companion, but he knew what she meant. For many, many years - far older than the birth of her country, from before the foundation of the world - he had known it was true. Yet he had never articulated what Elsa had so simply stated.
How could she know?
Why did she know?
When Pitch didn't respond, she shrugged again. "Well, I couldn't do it, though. To be alone indefinitely, you have to be very strong. I thought I had that strength. I was going to test myself, and I knew I would pass, but..."
"Then why did you stop?" he asked, turning to face her.
She smiled a little. "I don't think I have it in me. Not now."
How odd, Pitch mused, looking at her. He opened his mouth to deliver a mocking response, but froze when his trained ear picked up the soft tread of footsteps on carpet. He stepped neatly to the side, into the shadow, and Elsa gave him a surprised look.
"Your highness?" The knock made Elsa jump a little. Pitch smirked at the annoyed flush that colored her cheeks. "I've arrived with the hot chocolate you requested."
"Thank you, Gerta," Elsa called. "Just leave it outside the door, please."
"I'm about to retire for the night," the maidservant called back. "Would you like me to turn down the bed sheets for you, your highness?"
Elsa glanced at Pitch thoughtfully. He raised an eyebrow in silent challenge - was she really thinking of letting her maid in? He wouldn't be discovered, of course, but if he were a mortal man, then Elsa's reputation would be ruined. To his amusement, Pitch noted that one of Elsa's eyebrows arched in response.
"No," Elsa said after a moment, "I can do that myself."
"As you like, your highness." There was the audible chime of a teacup and saucer being placed on the ground, then the soft whisper of feet padding away.
"I didn't know I was interrupting your pre-sleeping ritual," Pitch said wryly.
She laced her fingers together, looking a little uncomfortable. "Yes, I'm afraid you have," she said. "For the sake of decency, I must ask you to leave. Can you come by tomorrow?"
Pitch very nearly laughed. Oh, if only the young queen guessed who she was conversing with, then she would not dare to order him about. The Nightmare King did not bow to humans, especially to the mortal woman variety. "No," he said bluntly, and watched with pleasure as she took in his refusal.
"No?" she echoed, looking at him incredulously.
She spluttered for a moment. "Wait, let me see if I understand - are you telling me no, you will not come? Or no, you won't leave my room?"
Of course she would jump to that conclusion. "No," he exaggerated slowly, "I will not come tomorrow."
Elsa blinked at him. "But - "
"Perhaps I will come in one week or two. I will not stay." He was a creature of the darkness - of the earth. He could not be restrained, like the mastery of her power over ice, or told to go, like one of the many servants she retained. He was too wild, too clever, too dangerous for that.
It was amusing to watch her try, though. He applauded her, even though he knew she had no idea the sort of trouble she was trying to stir.
Elsa bent her head. "I'm sorry," she said. "I didn't mean - of course. I will not hold you against your will."
"Well spoken," he replied. He took a few steps into the darkest corner of her room, then paused. Elsa was looking at him, eyes wide, and Pitch wondered what it was she was seeing. Was it his eyes, which he knew could reflect light like a cat's, which Toothiana had once described as chilling? Or was it his teeth, bleached a bone-white during his empty years in the utter waste of the starless sky? Either way, she was staring directly at him, a frozen look on her face.
Perhaps she does suspect, after all, that I am far more than I seem, Pitch thought.
"You're wrong," he announced suddenly, and Elsa jumped again.
"What... what do you mean?"
"You do have the strength in you," he said, ignoring her question. "You've had it, all along."
Elsa looked at him. He watched as her blue eyes, which were nearly black as she faced him in the darkness, examined his face for any hint of the mild sarcasm that had been missing from the previous sentence. After a few moments, her face cleared and the corner of her lips curved up. "Thank you."
He had only been stating the truth, but the hint of her smile unnerved him. It made him wary; he, Pitch Black, did not give compliments.
- Yet it seemed as though that's what she thought the comment was. Pitch sniffed dismissively and turned away. Without bidding her farewell, he vanished into the shadows, leaving her alone in her room.
The next time he came, Elsa was ready.
"Good evening," she greeted him as he stepped out of the shadows. If he was taken aback at her lack of surprise, he didn't show it. "I wondered when you would come."
He gave her a cold look. "I suppose you have no one else to talk to about the tiresome plans for your sister's wedding."
Elsa looked at him. His words would have been offensive from any other person - and they did irk her, actually - but for the tone in his voice. Elsa had repeated their conversations in her head so many times that she thought she understood the difference between his intentional contempt and bored cruelty. "I suppose not," she admitted quietly.
That brought a satisfied smirk to his face. "Yes," he said, "and what is it to be this time? The food? Your gown? Your suitors?"
Her eyes narrowed. "You mock me," she said, turning away.
"Ah," he said, "so it is your suitors."
"Which you clearly don't care about," Elsa snapped. "Why did you come at all, if you expect a mundane conversation?"
Pitch's smirk melted away. Elsa crossed her arms and took a slow breath. She knew why she wanted to speak with him, but why he wanted to, she had no idea.
She had her suspicions, though.
"A fair question," he mused softly. "I suppose one answer is... that you fascinate me."
His choice of words wasn't comforting. Elsa could think of plenty of reasons why the queen of Arendelle would be fascinating to a normal man, but to a dark stranger who could walk in and out of her room at will - well, that part mystified her.
"I fascinate everyone," she said quietly, glancing back at him. "Most people don't want to come close enough to say that, though."
"You're talking about your suitors now," he said.
She sighed. He wanted to talk about that? Fine. "They're afraid I will lose control," she said, glancing at her hands. "The tale of my coronation is infamous now."
"They're afraid." His eyes gleamed at her in the shadows.
"Arendelle is a prize and the queen pleasantly eligible for marriage, but none of them wants to risk coming close, for fear of what I might do to them. Protocol of courtship demands flowery words and declarations of love, and they say it all perfectly, but..." She trailed off, unwilling to vocalize her dismay. Her disgust.
"The obligations of royalty," he said, and there was a smile in his voice. He was mocking her again.
Elsa pulled her shoulders back, straightening her spine. "Yes," she said as regally as she could manage, "I will never find real love with them, it is true, but that is not what I want."
"Then what do you want?"
"Freedom," she said, her voice a whisper in the shadowed room. "Fear once nearly destroyed this kingdom, and yes, it nearly destroyed me. But I can't help but think..." She caught her breath and swallowed. She made herself look into his face and said, "I can't help but remember that that was when I was truly free."
He stared at her in silence for a few moments. "Because of fear," he murmured.
"My people accept me and tolerate my powers, but I am still bound to the throne. Outside of Arendelle, I will always be distrusted and despised, even with my newfound control," Elsa said. She took another breath and confessed the one thing that scared her the most: "if they choose to imprison me - if their fear escalates until only a cage will give them peace - "
"Then you will give them something to be truly afraid of."
She swiftly glanced up at him. He met her gaze calmly, his hooded eyes unblinking. When she didn't respond, he said quietly, "if fear gives you freedom, then you should submit to no man. Use it, as you would your powers."
He didn't understand. There was too much he didn't know, too many complications she couldn't explain...
...but his words were a comfort, nonetheless. Elsa smiled.
Every time after that, she was waiting for him. She smiled when he stepped out of the darkness, as if she had been hoping to see him all day. Which, Pitch supposed, might be true; she told him in one of their meetings that she enjoyed his company, and when he asked why, she gave him one of her little looks. "Because you're like a secret," she murmured. She had immediately turned away and Pitch didn't press for an elaboration, but he supposed she was right: he was a secret from most of the adult world - except for her. She knew what no other person had learned for many, many years.
And she had learned it on her own.
Their relationship was an odd one - at least compared with normal ones, that other humans shared. To the Queen, he supposed he was a distraction from her duties as monarch and from the pressures of her sister's approaching wedding. To him, she was nothing.
No. Not quite nothing.
She was like a flake of snow in the dead of night: beautiful and cold, like cut glass, and unlike any other mortal he had ever beheld. She had a face like a porcelain doll, all purity and innocence, but behind it lurked a gravity born from suffering, wisdom, and clarity. She knew things - to what extent, he still hadn't been able to find out - but the knowledge that she did made him curious. It made him wonder.
And so he kept coming back. To her, yes, he admitted to himself, but just to learn more.
Just until I find out the truth. Then this pitiful charade will be over.
When they were together, Elsa talked of many things - her sister's wedding, her own pressures to be wed, the difficulties of rule - and yet, as Pitch considered all the things she had told him, he realized that she had actually told him nothing at all. Elsa had mentioned next to nothing about herself personally, except for three times: when she discussed solitude, when she questioned her own strength, and when she mentioned freedom through fear.
It was a cunning move; she was being coy with what she knew - with perhaps what she might have guessed Pitch wanted to know - and so she was leading him on, trying to determine exactly what he wanted.
She was testing him. And all this long while, Pitch thought, I did not know we were in a battle to out-maneuver each other.
It was exactly the sort of strategical move that Pitch would have done, were he in her place, and it impressed him.
He expected her to issue some sort of challenge to him; neither could remain in the sort of cat-and-mouse game forever, and since he had made the first move, it was her right to make the next. And she did, of a sort: she asked him to come to her sister's wedding.
"No," Pitch said shortly.
"It's in two days," Elsa said. The windows were open again, and she was leaning on the window sill, gazing at the snow-capped mountains far in the distance. "If you need to find a proper suit, then there's more than enough time - "
"No," he said again, thinly veiling the scorn in his voice. A suit? Of all the preposterous things... "I can't abide people, remember? Or have you forgotten?"
He thought he saw Elsa smile, but when he turned to look at her, her expression remained unchanged. "Yes," she said, "I remember. But I did not mean the wedding itself, or even the ball afterwards."
Pitch's eyes narrowed. "Then what did you mean?"
"I meant to see me," she said softly.
Pitch arched an eyebrow. "But not during the big celebration."
"No... after all that." She looked up at him. "Will you come?"
Of course he didn't want to - why on earth would he? This wasn't like the Black Hearts Ball, where the hatred would be thick in the air, and there wasn't a shred of annoying cheer to be felt. Even though the wedding would be over, there would still be far too much enjoyment saturating the city, and it always rankled him to be even near a place that held so much good feeling.
The words were on his lips to say no. He was going to, he wanted to -
And then he found himself saying yes.
"You will?" Elsa asked, and her eyes widened, joy making them sparkle.
Joy because of him.
No, he thought impatiently, pushing the idea away. "Perhaps," he said smoothly, watching with satisfaction as her smile wilted a little. "If the mood takes me."
She nodded, looking as though she had expected Pitch to take his words back. "Well," she said, "I hope you will."
"Hm," he scoffed, turning proudly away. "Don't hold your breath."
He told her he wouldn't come, but Elsa knew he was there. There was a shadow outside the window in the cathedral, a darker shade against the delicate panes of the stained glass than was normal. Elsa smiled, but she didn't let herself look his way.
Her younger sister was finally getting married.
Anna waved, her huge smile barely hiding her nervousness as the priest frowned disapprovingly at her. Elsa lifted her hand in return, smothering a giggle as Kristoff elbowed Anna and muttered something that sounded like "hey, this is serious, here. We're getting married, remember?"
Then Anna turned back to face the priest. He opened the enormous book in his hands and read the Latin words, his quavering voice carrying easily through the chapel. At his prompting, Anna and Kristoff exchanged their vows of everlasting love and put on the gold bands. The priest said a few more words, asking a prayer over their marriage. As soon as he shut the book, Anna squealed and leapt forward, throwing herself on Kristoff. He caught her with a grunt and grinned, craning his head up to give her a kiss.
The crowd aww'd and some people clapped. Elsa smiled.
The bride and groom greeted the guests while Elsa stood by, the same gentle smile on her face. Afterwards was a dinner and dancing, and even though Anna joked that Kristoff wouldn't be able to keep in time with the waltz, all those lessons paid off. Elsa herself was forced to dance at least once with every suitor that had come - eight in all, and she hated the way they glanced down at the gloves on her hands, as if they disliked to touch her even briefly - before withdrawing from the floor as early as courtesy would allow.
She stood by her throne, exhaling a sigh of relief. As she watched the dancers, she couldn't help but be reminded of the Black Hearts Ball and how, just a couple months ago, she had met him for the first time.
And he's still there, Elsa thought, glancing at the long pointed windows from the corner of her eye. The sun had set hours ago, so it was difficult to tell, but Elsa had much practice picking him out from the darkness. He's waiting for me.
As the Queen and the bride's only living family, she was expected to stay until the party ended. Long after midnight, when Kristoff swept Anna into his arms and lead her up the staircase, and as the servants busily herded the drunken and sleepy guests to their chambers, Elsa let herself out a side entrance and into the gardens.
It had been a beautiful spring day, but under the light of the moon the world was changed; each flower and tree were touched by silver moonlight, and the fjord glittered and sparkled, like tiny flakes of freshly-fallen snow. Elsa could almost make herself believe it was snow, and as she took a deep breath she could feel herself relaxing already. This was her element, where she felt most comfortable: with the ice and snow, in the stillness. Alone.
But she was not quite alone.
"Quite the gathering," Pitch commented as he slowly strolled toward her.
Elsa turned to face him, her crown glinting in the pale light. "You came," she said. "I wondered if you would."
"Only because I realized something." He linked his hands behind his back. Clearly she wanted him to come for some reason, and he intended to find out what that was. He was tired of their games. "At our second meeting, you asked me one thing..."
"To stay," she said, nodding, picking up the cue when he paused.
"But you haven't, ever since. Until two days ago."
Elsa nodded again.
Her throat worked as she swallowed. Her eyes darted away to the garden - empty except for them - and then back to his face. When she spoke, her voice was soft. "I know who you are."
Pitch stopped. He looked at her critically, his mouth curving into a frown. Could this be the reason she had never asked him his name, why she had never seemed afraid of him? "Do you?" he asked, matching her tone.
There was skepticism in his voice, and Elsa heard it. She raised her chin a little, the better to meet his gaze. "You're the shadow in the darkness," she said. "The night terror. The nameless horror. You're a king of nightmares."
Pitch's eyes bored into hers. He couldn't deny it, of course - he was all those things and more - but it astonished him that she knew.
"I know why you didn't tell me," Elsa said when Pitch didn't immediately reply. "You thought I would be afraid."
The idea that he would spare her the truth of his identity simply for such a paltry reason as that made him scoff. "Oh, you're gravely mistaken. I couldn't care if you were frightened." He gave her a dark look. "I'd prefer it, actually."
"No," she said, "that isn't what I meant. It's not that I would be afraid of you, but... that I would stop talking to you."
His eyes narrowed until they were slits of angry gold. He knew his glare was formidable - enough to make even North flinch back - but the young queen held her ground. "And I would care about that because...?" he demanded, his dry voice dripping with menace.
Her voice trembled. "Because... you've been alone for so long."
Pitch lashed out at her, his arm flying in a dark arc. Elsa dodged, barely, and turned her face away with a soft cry. "You think you know about me," he hissed, "but you know nothing. Nothing. Why would I be lonely when I have the entire world at my disposal?"
He heard her gasps, short and ragged. She hid behind her raised arm, her slim fingers spread wide to deflect a blow.
The sight of her cowering fed the fury raging inside him, and his words came out in a rush of blistering anger. "My joy is sorrow, my pleasure is pain, and my solace is anguish. And you - you know nothing of the darkness of my past, and of the eternity that lays before my feet!"
"I have been burdened by that fear before," she whispered. "The despair that nothing you do will change anything - "
" - is none of your concern!" he spat. "You're just a human. You think I want your company? You think I need someone who understands me?"
"You're the only one who understands me," Elsa said softly, her bright eyes peeking up at him over the curve of her forearm. Her voice was terribly sad and accepting, as if she knew he would spurn her, as if she knew he would scream at her again -
"To hell with you! Pitch roared. He sank into the ground and sped away, flying as far from her as the night would last.
She thought she knew him?
She knew nothing. Absolutely nothing. Nothing. Nothing.
Her knowledge of the darkness was minimal, limited. She thought she knew what it was to be feared? Oh, she barely knew the meaning of the word.
And she was a human. In all her years on the earth, she would never know the sort of isolation he had long been accustomed to -
The image of Elsa's expressive eyes came back to him.
Pitch retreated to his bolt hole underground, safe in the darkness, all alone, just as he had always been. And that's how it will always be, he thought. I don't need the company of another. It's excessive. Useless. A weakness.
I will not be weak.
But as he paced the floor of his bleak and shadowed domain, his traitorous mind kept playing her words back in his mind: you're the only one who understands me.
He hated her.
He wished he'd never met her.
And yet, as the gentle morning rays gradually lit the world above, he thought about the desolation he had heard in her voice, and the hundred times he had heard it before. If there was anyone in the world who had experienced a fraction of his seclusion, anyone at all who had the slightest understanding of what it meant to be feared, and to find the liberation in it -
Then Elsa did.
"So, when am I allowed to ask you what's wrong?"
Elsa blinked at her sister. Anna was sitting sideways on the sofa, her feet propped up on the armrest. She was looking at Elsa expectantly, as if the question wasn't really as random as it sounded."Nothing's wrong," Elsa said. "Why would you ask that?"
"Because you keep ignoring my question face." She scrunched up her nose and furrowed her eyebrows, making Elsa laugh.
"I didn't know that was your question face."
"Well, it is." She dropped her chin onto her fist and looked raptly at her sister. "So? Are you gonna tell me?"
"Tell you what?" Elsa returned. She offered Anna a cushion, who took it with a quirked smile. "I told you: nothing's wrong."
"Liar. Your pants are on fire." Anna gave her sister a you-can't-fool-me look as she stuffed the cushion behind her back. "I may be about to have a baby, but that doesn't mean I'm blind. Let's look at the facts, here: for one thing, you've stopped seeing any of your suitors."
"We talked about this, Anna - I can't accept any of them," Elsa said, turning away. "They're all afraid of me, of my powers. And besides, I couldn't see myself actually married to someone who I didn't love."
"Yeah, but you could have - "
"I know," Elsa said, "and I gave them a year to warm up to me, but it just didn't... happen." She smiled back at her sister. "But I don't mind. It just means that your child will inherit the throne, not mine."
Anna pouted. "Still. You've also been really boring the last several months - although I guess that's not a huge change - and you've been moping around when you think no one's watching."
Elsa crossed her arms. "I'm not moping."
"Are too," Anna said fiercely. The sisters stared at each other for a long moment before Anna's expression softened. "Seriously, though. Elsa, tell me what's wrong."
Elsa shook her head slowly. Had it been that obvious? "It's just been an adjustment," she said. It wasn't quite a lie, but it wasn't entirely the truth, either. "I guess... I just expected something different."
Anna frowned. "Yeah, but you kinda get what you give, you know? I mean, marriage means babies." She patted her growing stomach and Elsa rolled her eyes. "Hey, I saw that! And anyway, you knew what you were getting into: no suitors means a lonely life."
Elsa fought against the rough lump in her throat. Of course, she thought. That's what I was afraid of.
A lonely life.
Anna yawned and stretched her arms. "Well, now that I've told off the Queen and ruined the mood, I think I'll go to sleep."
Elsa laughed. "Do you need me to help you get to bed?"
"I'm not completely useless," Anna growled, sticking her tongue out at her sister. "I can take care of myself just fine, thank you! Besides, I'm gonna wait up until Kristoff comes."
"Alright," Elsa said. "Goodnight."
She turned back at the door to look at Anna and then paused, caught by the sight of her pregnant younger sister. Time passed so fast, she thought, smiling a little. Not so long ago we were both young and innocent. Where did it all go?
That's right. Elsa slowly shut the door behind her. It was just like this.
A door between us.
A childhood of loneliness.
There was only one thing that comforted her on evenings when her heart felt heavy, and sadness plagued her. Elsa went out, down the steep hill that led from the palace to the fjord, and stopped at the water's edge. A gentle snow was falling - the weather of the season, not her own doing - and Elsa took a deep breath, inhaling the crisp, cold air. She watched the snow swirling down around her amid the white sky, and tried to empty her mind.
She would be alright. She knew she would be - at least eventually. The plain truth was that she had hoped for too much. Without realizing it, she had began to wish for things that weren't possible, let alone plausible. Elsa just didn't know that letting go of her hopes would hurt so much.
She didn't know it would take so long for her to feel better.
It wasn't that she was heartbroken; she hadn't been emotionally attached enough for that, and she had known the danger of caring too much for a being like him. No, what bothered her were her memories: she remembered the look in his eyes when she talked about loneliness, and she thought she'd seen -
But clearly she hadn't.
Elsa stood in the snow for a long while, watching her breath puff out in the frigid air. She listened to the beautiful stillness that seemed to blanket the city and closed her eyes against the snowflakes that fluttered against her face. Much of the water in the inlet was already frozen over, and Elsa stepped onto the ice, remembering how, not too long ago, she had fled into the dark forest on the other side.
How different things are, now, she thought. She took one last breath and turned away.
A shadow caught her eye and Elsa froze, staring. A long form detached itself from the darkness and stepped onto the snow. "I realized something," he said, speaking so casually it was as if they had only parted just the other day. "Several things, to be precise."
Elsa forced herself to speak. "And?"
"When the darkness conquered you - when you realized the fear everyone felt for you was reflected in your own heart - then you believed in me.
"I knew you were real," she agreed, hardly daring to believe he was there, standing before her.
"Mm. And I see you haven't stopped believing, after all this time."
"I knew you were out there, somewhere." Her heart was fluttering so fast that it was hard to catch her breath. "In the darkness or the shadows, you were there. The king of nightmares was always there."
He tilted his head. "People tend to call me Pitch Black."
"Pitch," Elsa echoed. Pitch stopped before her, just a step away, and Elsa swallowed. "It... it has been several months..."
He looked back at her steadily. Elsa looked up into his familiar golden eyes and made herself continue. "I did not think you would come back.
"I wasn't planning to. But then I realized something else." He leaned toward her, and Elsa held her breath as his cheek brushed against her hair. "You," he whispered, "still fascinate me."
As Pitch straightened, Elsa reached up to touch his jaw. He stilled, his eyes darting to hers, and Elsa smiled. Before she lost the courage, she tilted her head up to kiss him.
For the few moments that it lasted, Pitch was utterly still. Then, when Elsa began to pull away, his hands flew up to cradle her head, holding her in place. When they did break apart a few minutes later, Elsa was breathing heavily.
"Hm," Pitch murmured, his long hands gentle on either side of her neck. "I think I've been persuaded that you're far more fascinating than I initially thought."
"And I'll continue to fascinate you," Elsa breathed, reaching up to pull him into another kiss.
He came to her in the darkest part of the night, as silent as a shadow. And every time, Elsa was waiting.
Elsa had been kissed before - it had been unavoidable, with some of her suitors - but none of them did it with as much unspoken seduction as Pitch. She loved the way his ash-grey fingers trailed up her arm, and the way he slowly pulled her closer. He always kissed her so softly, like a whisper, and the way he lingered afterward, savoring her. His long hands curved up her back, pushing her against him, and Elsa nearly lost herself every time.
He chuckled against her mouth. "You've changed your dress color."
She pulled back far enough that she could look into his eyes."Black ice," she said huskily. "I thought you might like it."
"I do." He wound his fingers into her hair. "It makes your eyes glow."
Elsa leaned into his touch. "Maybe it will help me blend with the shadows better."
His eyes flickered over her appreciatively, and Elsa felt a blush rise in her cheeks. "Not quite," he murmured, his hands tightening around her. He dipped his head until his lips were against her ear. "But the darkness will take you, anyway."