That evening, as Elsa was plagued by relentless scenarios of what would happen if she could not win the bet with their mother, she decided to try her hand at laundry, to distract herself from her unpleasant thought processes.
She made a face of distaste when she entered Anna's room; her sister was amazing and wonderful and gorgeous, but her big vice was housekeeping. It wasn't as if Anna liked messes, but she was so scatterbrained that whenever the notion of cleaning her room popped into her mind, it would be dismissed with the same swiftness with which it had entered. Apparently keeping her room tidy was ranked as one of her lower priorities.
That wasn't to say that Anna never cleaned her room. Her tolerance for messes did have a threshold, though it was much higher than Elsa's. About once every two weeks Anna picked up the papers and clothing strewn about her room, if the maids hadn't done it for her by then, while Elsa always kept everything in pristine order.
It was a habit she'd adopted since she noticed that Anna would often stumble across the floor of their playroom and accidentally tread on a sharp piece of stray Lego, or she'd clumsily stub her toe on the leg of a desk that was slightly out of place. Anyway, Elsa's affinity for clean was just another adaptation she had acclimated to, to cushion Anna's inclination for accidents.
So she picked up all the clothing on the floor, automatically assuming that whatever was discarded was an object that needed washing, gathered them into the laundry room where she eagerly dumped the offending mass of fabric into the machine.
As she flipped a pair of pants that had fallen onto the ground from her pile into the mouth of the washer, something white fluttered out of the pocket, flying to the floor like the wings of a landing seagull. She bent over and reached for it. It was the pair of pictures that she had pilfered from her father's study. The first photo was the one she'd seen of Anna, and she turned her attention back to the task at hand for a moment.
And was suddenly struck with an otherwise disturbing realization: she had never done this before.
Well, how hard could it be right? Someone (most likely Mark, when he finalized the paperwork for her) had made sure to equip their house with items that were required for general living—toilet paper, laundry detergent and bleach, dish soap, clothing hangers, bath towels, and the like. Things that, were they on their own, would have been completely forgotten and overlooked, and they would have been stuck in a house with no toilet paper until the department store opened the next day.
The point is, there was a box of powdered Tide Ultra waiting for Elsa on a shelf above the washer, along with a bottle of fabric softener and bleach. The unfortunate thing though, is that, despite all of her higher education, Elsa didn't, for the life of her, consider reading the instructions on the side of the box.
She tossed open the lid and poured, white dust suicide diving into the mouth of an electric beast, the thumb of the hand that held the gray scale snapshots pushing aside the image of Anna and Olaf to reveal what was hidden underneath. The prints must have been stuck together for a long time; it was difficult to unlatch the top laminate from the bottom one, but she finally managed it with another nudge of her thumb.
And she stared. She saw a side profile of herself, sitting on a snowy leather bench in the music room of Arendelle Manor, fingers lightly paused on the ivory keys of the frosted grand piano before her. Her hair was curled into a braid that slid down her back, and though her posture was straight and rigid, her gaze was rested downward, silent and serene. When had this picture been taken? Elsa herself hadn't even known of its existence.
She grasped for an answer, testing different interpretations on her tongue—the photos had been stuck together since they were developed, and her father had never noticed the second one's life. Some random stranger slipped it into the frame one day. The frame itself was not his, and had been put in the study after his death. Each one was becoming more farfetched than the last, but she did not dare to allow her thoughts to collect on a certain reason—separating like water and oil in a lava lamp.
The box in her hand was empty now; she hadn't even noticed the lessening of its weight with her attention captured by the memories in her hand. Whatever; she shut the lid, the machine snapping shut like an alligator's jaws, and turned it on. The washer rumbled to life as it filled with water, a low hum travelling from its motor to where her hip contacted the silvery metal.
How dare he. How dare he leave evidence of something like that. What gave him to the right to deliver such mixed signals? Either show that he hated her, or he loved her, not both. That was cruel. Both was the cruelest. Let her believe that he hated her, so she could wholly hate him back. Let her believe that he loved her, so she could wholly love him back. Not leaving her lying abandoned and gasping for air somewhere on the railroad tracks in between.
And it was exactly what she couldn't do for Anna. She loved, but pretended she hated. She wanted, but pretended she didn't. And yet still it slipped through the cracks in her defense. She loved, one moment; she hated, the next. She hadn't been able to let Anna completely hate her, yet she hadn't been able to let Anna love her, either.
Something wet and slippery seeped through the fabric of her leggings, surprising her back to reality. Bubbly foam oozed from the lip of the washer, like a rabid dog frothing at the mouth. Panicked, she flicked her hand across the controls on the LCD screen, frantically searching for a stop button. The foam was to the floor now, pooling around her legs as it crawled across the hardwood floor.
"Stop!" She yelled, as if a verbal command would do anything to impede the production of soap bubbles. After a few random taps at the screen, the rotating agitator picked up speed, emitting a louder whirr as it digested its food.
"Elsa? Are you okay?" Anna called from the living room.
"I'm fine!" Elsa shouted, the volume of her voice trying to compete with the now-roaring washing machine. She slammed the door shut, and changed tactics, grabbing towels from the baskets nearby in an attempt to plug the gaps, preventing more foam from adding to the sea of bubbles on the floor.
Anna knocked at the door. "Elsa? What's going on?"
"Nothing! Everything's fine!"
Alas, the entryway to the laundry room was lock-less. Anna, evidently concerned (and with good reason, for her sister was, in fact, an idiot sometimes), pushed open the door and gasped at the sight that greeted her.
It wasn't the strange sight of the ground covered in frothy lather that made Anna laugh, nor was it the blatant anarchy that dominated the room. It was the look on Elsa's face that elicited an amused giggle from Anna's mouth.
She'd seen Elsa with all kind of expressions before—happily smiling Elsa, pretending-to-smile Elsa, pretending-to-be-okay Elsa, angry Elsa, pretending-to-be-angry Elsa, eerily-quiet-but-angry Elsa, annoyed Elsa, tired Elsa, sad-but-trying-to-hide-it Elsa, troubled Elsa, guilty Elsa. Guilty Elsa especially, Anna had seen the same look on Elsa's face countless times—mostly when Anna had done something stupid to hurt herself.
But this guilty Elsa. This, Anna had never seen before. In fact, she couldn't recall the last time Elsa acted anywhere remotely childish, but this—this guilty Elsa—was absolutely new (and so, so delightful) to Anna. The way Elsa was looking at her right now, sapphire eyes wide and panicked—a child caught red-handed with her hand halfway down the cookie jar—with the corners of her mouth turned down in a sheepish grimace.
Then it occurred to Anna that she had never seen pouty Elsa before. Even though she had expressed very clearly that she wanted to spoil Elsa, her offer had yet to be taken. This wasn't a surprise however, since Elsa rarely requested anything of Anna.
An image popped into Anna's head, one of Kristoff's dog, Sven, a German Shepherd puppy. When she, Rapunzel and Eugene had gone over to Kristoff's house for a project, as soon as they stepped over the threshold of his doorway, they had caught Sven urinating on the carpet with a deer-in-the-headlights look in his chocolate brown eyes.
This was Elsa right now, a puppy caught in the act of peeing on the carpet, so cute and innocent and adorable that Anna wanted to waltz right in front of her and seize her in a ferocious hug.
But she should probably help Elsa turn off the washer first; as much as Anna liked the magnificent layer of lather that almost reached her knees, she imagined that Elsa would have a heart attack soon if this went on for much longer, judging from the way Elsa was now assaulting the console of the poor machine with empty baskets in a desperate attempt to halt it.
She hiked over to Elsa, trekking through the forest of bubbles at her feet, and jabbed at a button. The background roar died down almost immediately, and Elsa just stared at her, astonishment dancing in blue irises.
"How did you do that?"
Anna considered how to answer. She could tease Elsa about what just happened, but she imagined that her sister was already embarrassed enough by this blunder, and she let out a soft chuckle. "There is a stop button right next to screen." Ariel was right; Elsa wasn't perfect. Even elegant, poised, perfect Elsa had moments where she was frantically stabbing at a washing machine, panicking in her attempt to turn it off as it continued to spew out foam.
"Oh." Elsa's platinum eyebrows relaxed in tentative relief, but still visibly unimpressed at her own blunder.
Even meticulous, careful Elsa occasionally made mistakes. Occasionally allowed her vulnerability to show. Mistakes, shmistakes. Just the prospect of Elsa making mistakes made her that much more perfect to Anna. That much more human, and that much more deserving of love. It was strange how Anna loved Elsa's imperfections as if it were perfection, but Anna imagined that somehow those flaws made Elsa even more perfect. Odd that any and all deficiencies contributed to an even more flawless image. Anna cleared her throat, trying to stop a smile from sneaking onto her lips. "So, uh, I see that you dumped the whole box of detergent into the washer." She gave in to the temptation to smile, and offered a lopsided grin as an escape route for Elsa's embarrassment.
She watched Elsa slide downward, curling into a slight fetal position on the sud-covered ground. Anna got to her knees in an unconscious reaction to be on the same level as Elsa.
She had no idea that Elsa took accidents so seriously. Or was it mistakes? This shouldn't even count as a mistake. That would just be silly. This was such a harmless thing that it was unthinkable for Elsa to take it so sensitively. They had a room full of soap and it looked fun. Like an artificial winter wonderland. What the hell did Elsa have to feel bad about? Anna scooped a handful of bubbles and blew them at Elsa. "I love what you've done with the place," she said playfully.
Elsa blinked. "Why aren't you angry with me? I've made such a mess."
The way Elsa was peering at her, as if she were genuinely surprised at Anna's lack of ire, was so innocent and trusting that Anna couldn't help but smile. "I'm not. Why would I be? It's hard to explain how I feel about this, but angry is the last thing it is." That…didn't quite come out right. It felt as if she were walking on air, because she was with Elsa in a room filled with soapy bubbles. A room filled with bubbles. Bubbles! She couldn't remember the last time she'd been in such a ridiculously silly situation with Elsa; their lives had since become filled with so much deceit and anguish that just sitting here with no lies between them was such a relief.
Apparently Elsa had taken her words to mean that Anna didn't like what was happening, for she muttered a soft, "Sorry."
The wistful note of the air did not belong in a bubble-filled room. "I'm not angry!"
"I'm not the best judge of that. I've learned that people say things that they don't mean, sometimes. And I see every reason for you to be angry. We're covered in detergent."
"But I'm not!" Exasperated, Anna threw a handful of foam at her, the soapy blob catching in Elsa's platinum blond hair.
Elsa brushed absentmindedly at it, and then ducked her head. "So you are angry."
Anna rolled her eyes. Elsa could be such a hamster sometimes. "No more lies between us, Elsa. I won't lie to make you feel better, if you promise to do the same for me. Besides, you read me like an open book. You know what I'm like when I'm angry. I'm surprised you can't tell."
Elsa shook her head. "Sometimes it's hard because people can lie." Then she straightened as she absorbed the rest of Anna's words, and her eyes softened. "But you wouldn't lie to me."
That statement could have been a question, but it wasn't. And the sheer realization of it made Anna's heart swell. That was the confidence Elsa had. Anna's grin grew wider. She pawed another clump of frothy detergent at Elsa.
Elsa batted it away with a skewed smile of her own, and the atmosphere quickly turned into one of lighthearted goofiness, accentuated only by giggles and surprised yelps as the girls flung balls of suds at each other, and suddenly they were in the snow, in the wintertime, young and childish. Carefree. A carefree that, Anna assumed, Elsa never had the luxury of exercising. Or maybe never had the permission to.
Well, Elsa had both now; Anna was determined to exploit every second of the time they had during their mother's absence, to repair the damage that their parents had wreaked, and to show Elsa how it felt to be loved. She dodged the glob Elsa had just thrown at her, and chucked herself at Elsa in retaliation. They landed on the floor, tossing up a cloud of soapy goodness.
"Is it just me, or are you assaulting me unusually often these days?" Elsa asked woodenly, voice muffled by Anna's shoulder.
Anna propped herself up on her elbows to stare at Elsa, slightly miffed. "'Assaulting' you?" Then a sly thought crossed her mind, and her smile turned devilish. "You won't know 'assault' until we've been in the same bed."
Elsa turned a bright crimson, and Anna watched the words sink in with smug satisfaction. Ah, so that was how to rattle Elsa's solid composure. Anna made a note to remember that for future endeavors as she basked in Elsa's unhinged expression. "Speaking of which," she whispered softly. It was the first time she was actively seducing a person, and she hoped it achieved the intended provocative effect, as opposed to making her look as silly as she felt. "Could we—"
"No!" Elsa almost squawked, turning a shade redder, as skittish as a startled hamster.
I am not comparing my sister to a rodent.
But she couldn't help that the only real hamster she'd seen (as in, not on TV) was at Rapunzel's house, and its fur was almost the exact shade of blond as Elsa's hair, maybe only a smidge darker.
Well, hamster Elsa was now fidgeting, albeit tensely, under Anna, and the movement made Anna also want to squirm. She tumbled off of Elsa before the tingle in her belly developed into a full-blown bonfire, settling with a muffled squish as she tossed up more foam. She looked over at Elsa.
Her sister was in the process of a facepalm, or so it seemed to Anna. A hand with its thumb and fingers rested at opposite sides of Elsa's temples, its palm over the bridge of her nose. Anna could still make out traces of a delightful blush on Elsa's cheeks, and she was suddenly trying not to snicker. Flustered Elsa was so cute.
Evidence of her effect on Elsa empowered her, and Anna leaned over to plant a kiss on the side of Elsa's jaw. "So, what made you dump out the entire box of detergent?"
"It could be that I'm just stupid and didn't read the instructions," Elsa replied slowly.
Anna scoffed. "Yeah, right." She fixed Elsa with a hard look, determined to burn holes in Elsa's hand, in order to see through to those ice blue eyes.
"Stop. I can feel you drilling holes with your eyes." Sighing, Elsa surrendered two photographs, and Anna received them curiously.
One was the picture of her with the square snowman, the one that she had seen in her father's study, the one that she tried to destroy. She was still contemptuous toward it, tempted to destroy it, but that would come after she inspected the other picture.
She stopped. It was Elsa, perhaps eight or nine years old, sitting in front of the grand piano, fingers expertly resting on a chord, brushing the ivory keys with practiced prowess. Elsa had always been proficient at piano; hell, Elsa was good at everything. She had been taught both the violin and the piano, but it was obvious that her natural talent lay in those immaculate keys.
But it was her expression that captivated Anna. The expression that she always bore while producing sweet music: sad. Even when Anna was small, she could tell that Elsa was always sad, especially when playing the piano. That was part of why the music Elsa delivered was always emotional, heartfelt, as if she understood the loneliness of the composers who translated their heartache into beautiful sound.
Anna had always thought their father had been proud of Elsa. And this was tangible proof.
Anna let out a long exhale. "He loved you, Elsa."
"He loved what I could do," Elsa asserted, carefully bitter. "Not who I was."
"Do you know what his favourite piece of music was?"
Elsa remained silent.
"I'll give you a hint; it's the same as mine," Anna whispered.
Then Elsa answered reluctantly: "Pachelbel's Canon in D."
"Right. You know why?"
"I'll wager it's something to do with the melody," Elsa countered warily.
Anna shook her head quickly. "Because when you played it, it sounded like harmony."
"That's why there are chords, Anna. For harmonizing."
"No," she negated impatiently. "I meant it sounded like peace. Like everything was right with the world, like there was no sickness, poverty, war, or anything. It was just you and your audience, no disturbances, no roadblocks. No challenges. I guess…it sounded like happiness.
"He'd always brag about how well you played," Anna continued. "Whenever he met with a business partner or some old acquaintance and they asked about us, he'd always tell them of your latest achievements. It was the most spirited he ever looked, was when he was talking about you."
She had meant to keep the envy out of her voice, because she was happy for Elsa, but it had seeped in unnoticed anyway. But she would be lying if she said she hadn't felt worthless whenever she watched her father talk about Elsa. This was unfair of her. This was about Elsa, not her. This was Elsa's chance to finally reconcile with her memory of their father.
It was curious how Elsa was oblivious about one thing, but acutely aware of another. Anna heard shuffling beside her, and soon Elsa was leaning over her, with a hand on either side of Anna's shoulders, kissing her.
It was also curious how Elsa could so easily make Anna forget about everything. Even before their lips met, when their eyes locked, Anna's breath hitched in her throat and her heart raced with impossible rapidity. She melted against Elsa's mouth, grateful that there was nowhere to escape to.
Again, Elsa pulled away (much too soon), and breathed, "How did that make you feel?"
"Unsatisfied," Anna grumbled cheekily, eyes flying open and glaring at the enticing pink lips that were not on hers.
Elsa kissed her again, and this time Anna wrapped her arms around Elsa's shoulders. That, with the help of gravity, kept Elsa tightly pressed against her, which excited certain parts of her body, and sent a pleasing tingle down her spine. Anna decided that kissing Elsa was probably one of the best things ever, and it made everything better. They could be kissing in a blizzard and Anna concluded that she would feel just as delightfully content as she was now. She could kiss Elsa in front of a crowd of people, the whole world even, and still feel just as comforted and reassured as she was now.
She weaved her hands through the base of Elsa's braid, and just as she worked them down to the collar of Elsa's shirt, a hand as solid as steel gripped her wrists and stopped them from digging under the fabric.
"I think you're missing my point," Elsa muttered breathlessly, face less than an inch away from Anna's, movement impaired by Anna's arms still around her neck.
"Then you'd better repeat it," Anna retorted, heart flopping in disappointment.
It was Elsa's turn to roll off, and she did just so. Anna immediately missed the warmth of Elsa's body on top of hers, and she couldn't prevent a pout from forming on her lips.
"Look at us. We're a mess," Elsa sighed, flapping her hands and tossing fluff up at the ceiling. "All because of a father who supposedly loved us."
"He did love you," Anna grunted, reaching for Elsa's hand.
"And he loved you," Elsa mirrored. "I guess it takes the two of us to see it for one another."
"We're so blind," Anna added with a smile as she felt Elsa's fingers fit perfectly between hers, like the other half of a puzzle. "Also, I noticed that the outfit Ariel got for me is not present in my closet."
"Yes, I had Gerda smite that abominable thing to oblivion," Elsa replied cynically. "Way to change the subject."
"Oh, you know me. It just came to mind since we're in the laundry room and I'm short one outfit to seduce you into bed with." Anna realized what she'd said half a second after she'd said it, and turned an unprecedented shade of red. But she'd long since understood that she would have to be the one with initiative in a relationship when it came to Elsa.
However, Elsa had already beaten her to the punch and flushed a purplish pink, giving Anna her best impression of a salmon, with her mouth opening dumbly and snapping shut, only to open again and repeat the cycle. "I'm not sure that's an appropriate topic for the state of our relationship," Elsa choked.
"'The state of our relationship'," echoed Anna, rolling her eyes. "Are you still under the impression that we only met a couple days ago? Because I think that line of Shakespeare you quoted is reserved for that kind of relationship."
"I've known you my whole life, Elsa. I know exactly what I'm getting."
"Do you?" Elsa's eyes narrowed into slits.
Was Elsa offended? "Is that what this is about? You think I don't know you? Are you scared you'll hurt me?"
And then a horrible thought occurred to her. "Are you scared I'll hurt you?"
Elsa sat abruptly up with her back to Anna, head turned away. "No, Anna, of course not."
Anna was reluctant to press the veracity of Elsa's answer, simply because, one, she was slightly afraid that Elsa was lying, and, two, someone rang the doorbell at that moment. Anna didn't know whether to be glad or disappointed at the missed opportunity. She and Elsa could run as smoothly as greasy car wheels, or they could produce enough friction to burn right through the rubber.
They jumped up at the same time, as if the shrill cry of the bell produced electric currents that pulsated through the air and shocked their spines into standing status.
"I'll…get the door," Elsa said, walking as though she had her vertebral column replaced with a steel pole.
"I'll…close this door," Anna mumbled, to no one. She shut the door to the laundry room, telling herself it was because she didn't want the foam to spill out onto the hallway, not because she wanted to shut out the latter part of their conversation.
The visitor was Gerda, carrying bags of groceries. "Hello dears, Ms. del Rey informed me that you girls might be starving to death, so I brought you some healthy food."
Elsa took them from her, "Thank you so much, Gerda. Anna has us living on watermelon and mango juice. You may have saved my life."
Anna tried to regain her usual liveliness as she leaned against the wall at the mouth of the hallway. Elsa was much better at acting than she was. To her credit, she did manage, "Watermelon is good for cardiovascular health." Then she grinned, but only succeeded in a grimace.
Gerda's gaze oscillated between the sisters curiously, and then her smile became assuming. "Have a good night, girls."
The slamming of the door seemed to jolt Anna's memory. She backpedaled down the hall.
"Where are you going?" Called Elsa from behind her.
Well, there was no escaping it now. Might as well be truthful. "I might have left something in your room." She opened the door to Elsa's room braced herself for a storm of wrathful fire.
An arm blocked her access. "My room? What were you doing in my room?"
At least Elsa didn't sound as angry as Anna expected. She sighed and gestured toward the bed. "See for yourself." Then crossed the hall and locked herself in her own room.
But Elsa's voice still permeated through the door. The voice that could pluck her up from heaven and plunge her right into hell. And vice versa. "Are you applying for a job?" Her tone was pure amusement at the moment, so far so good. Then there was a moment of silence where Anna could only hear the apprehensive pound of her heart in her ears.
A knock rumbled through the door. "Anna, open up."
Elsa sounded strangely neutral. Well, if Anna had pondered rationally about it, Elsa really had nothing to be upset about. She slid the door open a crack and cautiously peered through.
She watched her sister shake the papers in her hand. And lift a gorgeous eyebrow. "A 'cuddle' application?"
Anna groaned internally, for the teasing was definitely not far behind. "Look, I—"
"'Cuddler: Anna Arendelle', 'Cuddle-ee: Elsa Arendelle'," Elsa read, her eyes brushing the paper with their mirthful light, "'The skills and abilities that would make me perfect for this job:
"'I am a good cuddler.'
"'I have previous experience in cuddling.'
"'I am awesome.'"
Elsa smiled, and Anna couldn't find any trace of sarcasm or cynicism, "The best part? You wrote this with your royal blue crayon."
Because it had been Elsa's favourite coloured crayon when they were kids, so Anna hoped that it would play some part, no matter how miniscule, in swaying Elsa's decision.
When Anna remained in silent discomfort, Elsa pushed the door open wider. "I can't believe I'm saying this, but you never mentioned you wanted to cuddle."
"It was implied when I asked to sleep with you," Anna mumbled in a dejected response.
She should have known, but when push came to shove, Elsa never crossed boundaries set by precedent. Elsa never teased too much. "I might be a little confused, but what exactly did you mean by 'sleep'?"
Anna's toes dug into the rug beneath her feet. She watched them wiggle, wishing that she could be hiding under the carpet instead of standing on top of it. Which was probably no less conspicuous, but at least there would be some armour between her and Elsa's scrutinizing gaze. But Anna was known for her boldness in the face of adversity. "Are we girlfriends, Elsa? Is that what we are now?"
There was some shuffling of paper as Elsa crossed her arms and leaned against the doorframe. "If you want to put a label to it, I guess. You could also call us sisters, best friends, family."
"Then by 'sleep', I meant the kind that all of the above do." Then she bit her tongue when it tried to elaborate.
To her surprise, Elsa laughed. "Not tonight. But maybe we could start with the friend kind."
"Why not tonight? You said we could start—"
"Good night, Anna," Elsa said, still smiling, and that was how Anna knew that was the end of it.
"Good night, Elsa."
I don't want them meeting you.
By extension, Elsa had probably meant she didn't want Anna anywhere near those board members, a small voice in Anna's head chided as she neared the address that she had swiped a picture of from Elsa's laptop. But she didn't say that I'm not allowed to meet them, right?
But no matter how she tried to twist Elsa's words in a vain attempt to rationalize her decision, she couldn't manage to dispel the pool of dread that had formed in the pit of her gut as she imagined how enraged Elsa would be that she deliberately went out of her way to backstab her promise. Elsa never cut corners, especially when it came to Anna's safety—the thought was both fear-inspiring and heartwarming.
Yet, here she was, at the mouth of the tiger's den.
It's not like she enjoyed ignoring Elsa's request. But she wanted—maybe even more than Elsa did—for this dream to be realized, and there were two glaring obstacles in their way: Cruella De Vil and Shan Yu.
Enter, talk, exit. Enter, talk, exit. Go in, chat, go out. Go in, chat, go out. Rinse. Repeat.
But there was no way it was going to be that easy; Anna was not so naïve that she thought everything would be as simple as that.
Was she really so silly to think that she could persuade Cruella De Vil from the side of opposition? There was a voice in her head that was telling her absolutely not. If Elsa couldn't, what chance did Anna have?
Yet Anna would not be able to live with herself if she didn't die trying. She wasn't about to sit idly by, twiddling her thumbs as Elsa went about braving the stormy weather in her usual stoic manner. Gallant, yes, like Anna's own knight in shining armour, but she was old enough to know that even heroes had the right to bleed. That they could, and would. For she had seen evidence enough of that already.
And she knew at once that this would not be easy, as soon as she laid wide eyes on the towering office building that rivalled the height of Arendelle Corp's, pupils constricting as they adjusted to the bright summer sun. Her gaze oscillated between the extravagant glass doors and the rest of the humongous pride of modern engineering. If the size of the edifice was a testament to its owner's ego, then this was definitely going to be more complicated than Anna was anticipating.
Which was why, against her better judgement, she had enlisted the help of her friends. Anna guessed she should have expected that with a structure this big, with a woman that rich, even finding her way into Cruella's office would be a labourious struggle.
With Rapunzel, Aurora, Megara, and Merida trailing behind her, Anna confidently pushed open the heavy glass doors and strode toward the receptionist behind a tall marble desk in the front atrium. The man behind the counter (his nameplate read 'Jasper') looked at them, long nose scrunching in distaste as he surveyed the group.
"We're not buying any cookies," he said, almost a scoff, as he dismissed them by turning his brief attention back to the papers in front of him.
"We're not selling," Anna interjected, patience almost immediately exhausted by the sheer arrogance of this man. "We're here to see Mrs. De Vil."
He glanced up again, scrutinizing the group of ladies demanding his attention, and his acknowledgement dissipated again. "Invitation?"
Anna exchanged a wary glance with Rapunzel. Was this woman so important that she could only be reached by invitation? What happened to the good old days when all one needed was an appointment? "We don't have an invitation."
He waved them off, not bothering to look back up. "No invitation from Mrs. De Vil, no appointment with Mrs. De Vil. No appointment with Mrs. De Vil, no meeting with Mrs. De Vil."
Why was everyone involved in business a condescending bastard? Anna slammed her hands down onto the granite counter and leaned forward, "I need to speak with Mrs. De Vil," she insisted.
"No invitation, no meeting."
There was a thud as a body hit the ceramic tiles of the floor. Anna turned, but not before ensuring smugly that the noise had also attracted the attention of Mr. Snooty. Aurora had collapsed onto the ground, with a bewildered, albeit guilty-looking, security guard, and Megara hovering over her.
"What did you do to her?" Meg challenged, hands on her hips, acting (in Anna's opinion) extremely critical and accusatory.
The security guard held up his arms in frantic surrender. "I—I didn't do anything! I just brushed by her!"
Rapunzel glared at Mr. Snooty. "Do you have an emergency room? Maybe she could rest up there a while we figure out exactly what happened." When he opened his mouth to protest, Rapunzel added, "You wouldn't want Mrs. De Vil's precious reputation to be marred by the unjust treatment of minors, would you?"
The man named Jasper made an annoyed grunt and got up from his desk to stride over to Aurora's prone figure. "Follow me."
As soon as he left the desk, Merida slipped behind and with lightening speed, searched his drawers for the key card that granted access to the elevators. As soon as she found it, she waved it at Anna like a magic wand, and they crept to the elevator. Rapunzel and Megara did their jobs, blocking Mr. Snooty's line of vision from the medical office.
By the time he noticed—if he did, at all—that two girls were missing, Anna and Merida would be long gone, on the floor of Cruella De Vil's office.
If Anna had thought the top floor of Arendelle Corp's HQ was extravagant, it was blown out of the water by the intricate patterns of gold on the adorned walls and diamond-laced carpet that greeted her.
"Wow," Merida breathed, stepping out of the elevator with Anna.
Anna also hadn't expected armed guards lined along the walls, a miscalculation on her part. She guessed there may have been many people who did not harbour respectable intentions towards Mrs. De Vil.
"Halt," said a stocky man who approached them. His belly fat was almost bulging out of his suit, giving his body a more three-dimensional appearance than most people. "You don't have an appointment."
Anna gathered, from the egotistical appearance and the nameplate on his chest that said, 'Horace', that he was Mrs. De Vil's PA. "Yes, I do," she snapped, in an attempt to seem like Cruella's typical visitors.
"Look, I don't know how you tricked your way up here, but you must leave now."
Anna didn't see any way around this short, fat obstacle, as she took in her surroundings. There was only one office on this floor, and it was straight down the hall—the exact hall that was being blocked.
But she didn't have to come up with some clever diversion, or make up a lie because just then, Horace pressed a hand to the earpiece Anna hadn't noticed, and muttered, "Yes, Ma'am?—No, no one. It was just a mistake. What—are you certain? No, no, no of course I'm not questioning—yes, I understand." He turned back to them. "She will see you—" He pointed to Anna. "But not you," he finished, gesturing to Merida. "You can wait out here. Come with me…" He flung a glance at her.
"Ms. Anna," he finished, leading her toward the far end of the corridor. "I need to put you through a security check before I let you in, if you don't mind."
It probably didn't matter even if she did mind, his asking was just a formality—if she wanted to see Mrs. De Vil, then she would have to subject herself and her belongings to screening by the machine.
After making thoroughly sure that he was not allowing an armed criminal into his boss's office, Horace led Anna into the room at the end of the hall. It was similar to her mother's office, Anna realized, in the glass wall and the view—what was it with corporate leaders and towering over the rest of the city? Did they need the height to ensure that they were above everyone else?
As Cruella De Vil, clad in her long fur coat turned to face her, Anna suddenly grasped how far out of her comfort zone she was. This wasn't her thing at all. Talking—she barely made coherent words, her speech was gibberish most of the time, and it was a miracle that her friends and Elsa could even understand her—okay, she was getting sidetracked here. But this was Elsa's, not hers, and never had it been anything to do with her. Talking with people, presenting persuading arguments—that was never Anna's element. In fact, she actually had no idea where her strengths lay.
"Uh, President (was she supposed to be addressed as President? Anna assumed every business leader was to be address as President) De Vil…" Her mouth went dry as her face was repeatedly pierced by sharp, onyx eyes—just as solid and cold as stone. "My name is—"
"Ms. Arendelle, I am fully aware of who you are. President Arendelle's sister, and my dear friend Alana Arendelle's youngest," Cruella's temperament seemed mild, but her voice was as hostile as the jaws of a rabid dog. "Do not waste my time. Tell me why you are standing here uninvited, unwelcome."
Well, the sooner she got her point across, the sooner she could get out of here. Anna took a deep breath and began, "It's about my sister's proposal. I was wondering if you could let it slide without protest?" She could have worded that better. She definitely could have worded that better. She braced herself for the jaws to clamp on her head.
"Young lady, you are out of your mind. You think you can just come waltzing in here and telling me what to do?"
Yup, she really should have worded that better. This she had expected, though, and had appropriately planned for. "Not without a price," she said, trying to keep her voice steady. How did Elsa make it seem so easy? "I understand that for a benefit, there must be a price."
"And you think the price of my compliance is something you can pay, is it?" Cruella replied with glacial neutrality, although she was most likely annoyed—or worse, offended at Anna's presumptuousness. To be fair, who wouldn't be? Offending people seemed to be one of Anna's skills of late. "Do you realize the losses that the foundation could suffer if I allow that undisciplined sister of yours free rein? Even your family's fortune would not be able to cover it."
Insults to herself Anna could tolerate, but slandering Elsa's proficiency? Watching Elsa depreciate herself is enough; Anna didn't need it from others. She would gladly mutate into a rabid dog herself to defend her sister, if that was what it took. "I'm not saying to give her complete control. Just—just to be a little more tolerant of mistakes. Please don't threaten her position if she gets a single number wrong, or if she overlooks something. Help her, don't discourage her. Please."
"You're saying to be more tolerant of mistakes? Did your father not teach your sister to not make a single mistake?" Cruella took one of the beads of the pearl necklace dangling from her neck between her fingers, thoughtfully rolling it around the pad of her thumb. She looked at Anna expectantly. "It's because a single mistake could potentially ruin the company."
"Everyone makes mistakes," Anna managed to stutter. "I'm just saying it would be more beneficial to the company, and by extension, yourself, if you were to support my sister instead of criticizing her every move. She's a genius, a prodigy, and I know if you work with her you'd be benefitting yourself more than you know."
"You still haven't answered my earlier question," Cruella said. "The price is more than you can afford."
"Well, I was hoping I could do you a favour. And in return, you'd do me a favour."
Anna watched as Cruella tilted her head back in a callous laugh. "You? Do me a favour? Tell me, is there anything special about you that makes a favour from you so valuable?"
That was something Anna had been asking herself this entire time. There really was nothing Anna could do for Cruella that Cruella couldn't hire someone for. She chewed on her bottom lip, racking her brain for anything special, anything at all, that only she could do. Someone knocked on the door, and Anna could only assume that it was Horace.
"I think we are done here," Cruella De Vil declared, the corners of her lips turning down. Then she invited her PA in while dismissing Anna with a flutter of her gloved hand.
"Lars called," Anna heard Horace say, as she moved to exit the room. What choice did she have? She had become invisible already anyway. "Apparently money doesn't speak as loud as Ivy and Cecil. She quit."
Anna could sit herself in front of the office door until Cruella complied, but she imagined that would only succeed in getting her thrown out.
"So find someone else," Cruella snapped impatiently.
"Ma'am, there is no one else."
Anna hadn't realized that the command was directed at her until Horace put a hand to her should to stop her. She looked back. "Yes?"
Ms. De Vil was wearing a face riddled with disdain. "You are available for the rest of the summer?"
Anna nodded tentatively. She had no plans for anything this summer.
Cruella threw a glance at Horace, and he jumped. "Her, President? Are you su—" He was silenced by a pointed glare.
Anna looked at them curiously. "Is there a way in which I can be of assistance?"
The stout man spoke up. "The President has a niece and a nephew who need babysitting this summer. Unfortunately, they have scared away all of their previous caretakers. If you agree to this job, the pay is—"
"If you can last the summer, I'll grant your favour," Cruella interrupted. "I will need a criminal record check and a couple of documents signed, but you can start tomorrow."
Anna decided she was going to last this summer even if it killed her.
After all, they were just kids. How hard could it be?
"What happened to you?" Elsa asked, looking up from her laptop as Anna trudged into the condo with her hair horribly tousled, her face and clothes covered in flour, and her jeans soaked with mud. "Don't die before you graduate," she joked as Anna wandered wearily across the living room, toward the hall. "You're almost there."
Anna managed a half-smile, face muscles so tired from forcing smiles that it kind of hurt to even try now. Two kids. They were just two kids! A seven year old and a nine year old. How the hell did they manage to get the better of her?
Anna scratched her head, dislodging bits of flour and cookie dough from her hair and onto the floor of the shower.
Was it when they had set a trap for her in the garden of the De Vil mansion, and lured her into a puddle of mud that was knee-deep? What kind of puddle was knee-deep?! It had to have been dug in advance. Anna was just thankful that she had not slipped face-first into the murky water.
She gasped in relief at the sensation of clean water clearing away all the grime and dirt from her body.
Or was it when they sprayed flour and water all over the kitchen floor, when she tried to make them a snack, ignoring every single thing she'd pled of them? One of these days, she was going to convince Elsa that they were never going to have kids. Never. Ever, ever, ever. Not in a million years. If they did, it would be over Anna's dead body.
Two kids. More like twin tornadoes. Everything they touched turned to disaster. Now she could see why every babysitter they'd had before ran screaming from that mansion, why daycares were afraid to house them. That was what she wanted to do too: run screaming from that cursed house with her arms flapping in the air. And she was stuck with them for twelve hours straight. Twelve. Hours. For sixty more days. Sixty. Days. If she weren't so bad at math, she'd total how many hours that really was.
If she ever saw their faces again, she would punch out a wall. And she would have to see them every single day for the rest of the summer. Talking with those kids, reasoning with them, it was like asking a volcano not to explode. Impossible. She wasn't sure she would be entirely sane at the other end of the summer, if she even managed to cling to life that long.
But this was for Elsa, so even if it killed her, she would see it through.
She hadn't even remembered to ask Elsa about Ursula and Morgana.
"Where have you been these days? Don't you want to celebrate your birthday? I booked us a nice restaurant."
Sorry, Elsa. Too tired.
"Anna, ever since graduation, you've been so busy and coming home so tired every night. What's going on?"
I can't tell you, yet, I'm sorry.
"Anna, I'm a little worried about you."
One night, after Anna had come home from yet another long day of torture, Elsa finally asserted, "Anna, I'm going to appoint you bodyguards for the rest of the summer. I don't know why I didn't do this sooner, but I really should have."
"Elsa, I'm fine," Anna groaned. She could not allow Elsa to appoint guards. They would undoubtedly reveal what she had been doing, and she was sure if Elsa got wind of it, she would pull Anna out so fast that the jaws of a rabid dog wouldn't even have time to clamp shut. Anna needed to do this. She needed to do this. "Please, I don't need bodyguards. I'll be safe."
"Yeah, right," Elsa scoffed. "I see those scrapes on your knees and elbows every time you come home. I see the bags forming under your eyes. Whatever you're doing, Anna, I just want to make sure you're safe. Please."
"I'm not doing anything dangerous," Anna smiled, trying to look and sound convincing. "Just…"
"Playing with kids," she confessed. That wasn't too far from the truth, so she could calm the voice in her head that was viciously accusing her, shrieking at her, of lying to Elsa. It wasn't a complete lie, she told herself. It was the only way she could condone what she was doing.
"You promise that's all you're doing," Elsa said, narrowing her eyes doubtfully.
The screaming didn't stop. "Promise."
Then one night, when she came home tired and weary as always, she found Elsa by the kitchen counter, angrily butchering a watermelon. She could always tell when Elsa was angry; fury seemed to naturally come off of Elsa in red-hot waves. So hot that it was almost tangible.
"You were at the De Vil mansion," Elsa said slowly. It wasn't a question.
How did Elsa know? The answer came in the form of a horrendous realization. Elsa hadn't trusted her. "You had me followed." That wasn't a question, either. "You don't trust me?" She heard herself involuntarily asking.
Elsa glared at her, ruby rage burning through her irises. "You lied to me. You think I should trust you?" Her voice was dripping with outrage.
That was a fair point, but Anna's exhausted brain did not need this right now. "Please, Elsa," she said, "I know what I'm doing."
"Do you?" Elsa growled, "I warned you about Cruella De Vil, I warned you about how dangerous she was, I told you to stay away!"
"You don't even know what I'm doing!" Anna replied, her own indignity showing. The way Elsa was talking to her, looking at her—just like Anna was an ignorant little kid who still needed protecting—just like…just like a disobedient servant who poured skim milk instead of cream into her tea. Elsa…was accusing her of disobeying?
"Then tell me," Elsa snapped.
What was Anna going to say? I'm babysitting Cruella's nephew and niece, because I need her to do me a favour in return, because I want her to help you instead of stop you. Because Infinity might be more important to me than it is to you, because it's the only dream you've ever had.
Elsa would no doubt deem that insignificant and forbid her from ever going near the De Vil mansion ever again—Elsa never hesitated to use her condescending 'President' voice when she truly thought that Anna was endangering herself. There had only been a few occasions when Elsa really commanded her to do anything. But with Elsa, the difference between a command and a request was as vast as the Pacific Ocean to the west.
And she knew that Elsa wouldn't want her doing this. Was hurting Elsa now worth the help that they would obtain later, if Anna succeeded? She decided it was. "I—I can't," she said finally. "Can I tell you after I'm done? Can you just trust me, and let me go on doing this?"
"Let you go on doing what? Getting hurt at the De Vil mansion? Coming home every night half-dead with bruises on your arms and scrapes on your knees? No, Anna, I will not. You will stop going to the De Vil mansion, do you hear me?"
There it was. The command. Elsa rarely ever attacked Anna with these. Elsa rarely exercised her indisputable authority as heir and elder. And Anna hated every time Elsa did. She understood that Elsa was just trying to protect her, but this time Elsa needed to trust her. Like how Anna trusted her before, when the doors were closed.
So they were both shocked, when Anna declared, "No."
"Then I'm going to appoint bodyguards who will keep you away from that place," Elsa said, eyes cold. "I'm not going to let you keep hurting yourself, Anna."
"Elsa, please, just trust that I know what I'm doing."
But Anna should have known that believing in the unknown was impossible for Elsa, especially when she saw everything in frozen facts. Elsa based her decisions on logic, not emotion. "Why, Anna? Why are you doing this?"
"I…I want—to help you." That much was true, at least.
"Is that what this is about? Are you doing some dirty favour for Cruella De Vil so that she will refrain from giving me a hard time?" Anna watched as Elsa's fists balled at her sides.
Her own hands twitched at the mention of 'dirty favour'. Did Elsa think so low of her? What did she think Anna was doing? Not a shred of Anna's intentions were selfish, but the way Elsa spat the words out like they were poison made it seem like Anna was doing it all for her own benefit.
"I don't need you to meddle," Elsa continued, still livid. "Just go on with your own business, and stop sticking your nose in mine!"
The word 'meddle' was 'hitting below the belt', so to speak. Up until this moment, Anna was being as patient as her wired brain would allow, but the word 'meddle' was the bullet that shredded her tattered tolerance. "What gives you the right to talk to me like I'm still a little kid who needs you to clean up my messes? 'Meddling'. Is that what you think I'm doing? You think your business and my business, you think they're so distinct that I can separate one from the other?
"You still think I'm causing trouble for you, don't you? To you, I've always been the troublemaker, the one who makes messes for you to clean up. Is that right?"
Sapphire flints stared back at her. "You've certainly given me no evidence to suggest otherwise."
Anna flinched. "If I'm such a problem for you, why didn't you just let me drown, when I was eleven? Why didn't you let just Hans kill me?" She regretted the words the moment her mind conjured them, but she couldn't stop them from spilling out. She was crying now, crying because she was afraid that what she was saying was true. That Elsa really did see her as a nuisance, as a troublemaker, as a burden. And that was all she'd ever been, wasn't it, to Elsa? "It would have saved you all the trouble I'm causing for you now!"
She watched as Elsa's composure cracked as the cruel words found their mark, and she hated herself even more. Elsa walked toward her, eyes dark and angry, and for a second Anna was afraid that Elsa would strike her. But Elsa would never, and she didn't; she merely strode past Anna, the slight limp in her gait causing their shoulders to brush ever so slightly. Anna was frozen to the ground as she was hit with the wind carrying Elsa's scent, and she couldn't melt the ice around her until she heard the front door close with a faint click.
A/N: Anyone wanna guess which movie I ripped the laundry scene off of? :P
You'll get an imaginary cookie ;D