A/N: Thank you to everyone who reviewed and followed and favourited, and thank you especially to the ones who helped me fix the language errors of the last chapter. Thank you all so much for bearing with me.
Neither of them said anything for a while, with Anna burying her face in Elsa's shirt as more tears rolled forth, and Elsa just stood there, processing.
She had never imagined such a reaction; after all, she was only hiding behind different languages. When searching for a way to make those words fully represent the magnitude of her feelings, she had chastised herself after settling upon this method. In the end, it was just saying the same thing over and over; why did a medium of different languages make it more special?
But Ariel had insisted Elsa follow through with it after she had confided in her, and Elsa, giving free rein to Ariel's better developed social sense, had agreed, albeit skeptically.
At least now, she knew she had made the right decision. That only left her to wonder if she could have done it better.
Elsa poked at the mess of red hair latched onto her front. "Should I have said 'I love you' instead? I got this angry call from Ariel early this morning about how I need to be more direct with my feelings. She was blaming me for disturbing her sleep; can you believe that? So I just wanted to clear up any ambiguity associated with 'I love you'."
"Oh? Ahaha," Anna blubbered.
Her face was still hiding in the crumpled fabric of Elsa's shirt, and Elsa could feel some sort of wetness seeping through. "Wait, are you crying?" Was this normal?
"You have no idea how long I've been waiting to hear that," Anna murmured thickly, vibrations shivering through Elsa's chest, sending her heart into a fit of pleasant flutters.
So she had done something right. For once. Well, good. "Oh, okay. But why are you crying?" Not crying, but almost sobbing, actually.
There was a sound, like a cross between a scoff and a chuckle, but it was subsequently muffled by sniffling. "I'm happy, you idiot."
"Oh, okay," Elsa said again, not any less bewildered. Happiness was never associated with tears in her world. In fact, happiness was the furthest thing there was from tears. Elsa (idiot that she was) had assumed Anna had been frustrated to tears when she had first started crying. She grabbed a tissue from the kitchen counter and began to lightly dab at any moisture that was not being hidden by her shirt. "But I don't—okay. Could you look at me, please, Anna?"
Anna did, lashes wet and fluttering, cheeks damp and red.
Elsa stiffened, and could not help but think of all the times she had made Anna cry.
There was the first time, when Anna was only four. The first time Elsa had witnessed magic.
She turned, just in time to see her red-haired sister barrelling toward her with the alacrity of a bunny, and none of the finesse. "What?"
"You're hurt!" And Anna bent down to where Elsa had scraped her leg over the stray branches of a thorn bush, eyes already brimming with tears. Her lips puckered out to blow on the reddening cut, and Elsa just watched in perplex silence. "Does it hurt?" Anna had asked, rubbing one of her eyes. "It hurts, doesn't it?"
Elsa leaned over to pull her sister back up, smiled, and said, "It doesn't hurt. I'm fine."
Then Anna looked her straight in the eye. That was when Elsa decided that tears did not belong on Anna's face, and never would. "That's not true."
She was taken aback, more by the confidence behind the statement than the truth of it, and even more because Anna was only four years old. Elsa was going to have to lie better. "It did hurt before, but now it's all better. You made it better. I promise." Strangely, it had been true. It had always been true. Magic.
And then, when Anna was five.
"Hey, sis! Daddy says that you don't want to play with me, but I know that's not true. I know you want to play! Come on! We can ride our bikes and steal chocolate and climb trees! It'll be fun!"
Elsa had been huddled against the foot of her bed, knowing that the worst had only just begun, feeling the anguish cut at her heart.
"Elsa, did I do something wrong?"
And after their father's funeral.
"Elsa? Please, can you let me in?" Her voice was shaking; Elsa remembered that very well. As if the vibrations themselves had been knives aimed at an invisible wound that would not heal. "You're my best friend. I-I don't know who else to talk to."
That was when Elsa understood that only one person could alleviate the feeling of loneliness that plagued them both. And that no matter how many people had been at the funeral service, offering their condolences, it wouldn't have made a difference. Because who they needed...was each other.
"What are you thinking about?"
Elsa flinched, as if she had just been prodding at a burn, and the insidious pain finally caught up with her. "Nothing." It was useless to think about all of that now.
Anna smeared a wet fist across her eyes, the action doing more to spread moisture than to wipe it away.
But Elsa took the opportunity; she ran the tissue over glistening tear tracks, fingers and thumb tracing the contours of her beloved sister's face as she committed every detail to memory, every freckle, every lovely curve, every inch of skin. This had always been her way of apologizing. "I was just wondering what it was about me that compelled you to hold me in such high esteem. Despite all the times I've let you down."
Arms encircled Elsa's waist and Anna pulled them closer together. "You really want to know? It's because you've never let me down, big sis. I don't know why you see yourself as a disappointment to me, when you've never, ever, failed me."
It was Anna's turn to shush her with two fingers to the lips. Teal eyes narrowed with conviction. "You were always there for me when I needed you."
"I don't know why you keep on insisting that I did, Anna, but I—"
"There was once, I was awake after a particularly bad nightmare."
Elsa froze, like a shameful secret had just been exposed. Which was completely opposite of the truth, since this had long been revealed.
"At first, I thought that that was a dream too, but the way it felt…and then you told me you did that for me…" A pause, then Anna looked at Elsa again, and Elsa felt like she was gazing into a pair of sapphires, as clear as the summer sky, as certain as ocean tides. "I realized that even though you pushed me away, you never really left me."
And Elsa could not come up with a single thing to say from any of her twelve languages. It was fortunate, actually, because she did not have to; as soon as Elsa opened her mouth to try, Anna's lips were on hers, soft but demanding at the same time, like Elsa had just shown her a reservoir of limitless chocolate and Anna would not even wait for an invitation to taste.
Though Elsa did not mind the impatience. She complied, with barely concealed eagerness, letting her fingers twist in the waterfall of star fire that was Anna's hair. Still, even now, she kept forgetting that this was permitted, at least when they were alone. That she did not have to keep hiding her overflowing affection for her sister. This inappropriate attraction, so strong that it threatened to remove all of her inhibitions with only a taste of its potency. Because by some miracle, Anna reciprocated these feelings.
So close. Elsa was so close to pushing her sister onto the kitchen counter, or maybe against the wall, or instigate an accident that would result in the two of them tumbling to the floor, to show Anna exactly how much love she had been trying to mirror with those twelve languages.
But she didn't, out of habit more than anything else. She was more than happy to let Anna take control and trap her against the kitchen counter for even closer contact. Elsa decided that she would never be able to get used to the feel of Anna's warmth, never be able to defend against the cloud of hunger to touch, to taste that almost overwhelmed all of her mental functions every time their bodies connected.
And Anna was relentless, hips pressing into Elsa's, forbidding any sort of escape (as if Elsa wanted to anyway). Hands tracing the length of Elsa's neck and chest, with trails of molten magma following their path, while lips strived to dominate the elder's into submission.
Meanwhile, Elsa was in heaven, blissfully relishing the feeling of Anna everywhere. Or maybe she was in hell, because it was so damn hot. Anna's breath hot against her mouth. Anna's midsection radiating heat through the material of their clothing, and Elsa suddenly wanted those barriers off. Away with. Really, it mattered not where Elsa was, as long as Anna was there with her.
Normally, Elsa would have pulled away before things became too out of control, but she was still being pinned to the counter and her palms were still glued to the small of her sister's back, smooth and heated. She let Anna's mouth explore the width of her neck, let her cheek rest against Anna's temple as she struggled to catch her breath. Her heart was ready to burst, like the sun, full of light and warmth.
"I love you," she whispered, shuddering when a balmy tongue found its way along the tendon to her collarbone. "Anna," she managed to gasp, pulse racing even faster.
"Elsa," Anna hummed, lips tracing the curve of Elsa's jaw before burning a course back to their spot back on Elsa's mouth. For once, she did not have to say it, because Elsa could hear it anyway: I love you.
Elsa groaned, mind almost boiling over with need at the fervor in the pit of her stomach.
The hands at her shoulders drifted downward, travelling the length of her arm, until they reached her ribcage, then her waist. Settled around the expanse of exposed skin at her hips, under her shirt.
A sensation, as chilling as ice, flooded Elsa's veins. This was not fair. Not fair to Anna, who didn't know what she was getting. "W-wait, Anna." Elsa could barely get the words out, her focus completely and utterly arrested by the awareness that Anna's fingers were now drifting up her ribcage with deliberate care that was remarkably unconventional for Anna.
"I want you," Anna growled back, nipping at Elsa's lower lip, and it was the most provocative thing Elsa had ever heard. "So much. You have no idea."
Elsa did have an idea, because she was feeling the exact same, melting into putty under Anna's inflaming touch. She raked together the last of her willpower, put one hand on the younger's shoulder to buy herself some distance, so that she could form coherent sentences. One look at her sister, teal irises gleaming with need, almost wrenched her control back into the abyss. "W-we can't," she stammered between breaths, hastily adding, "not yet," by way of explanation at the following bout of dejection that she received.
She struggled to find the right words. "It's compl—I just can't—I…" In the end, she settled for, "We just can't…yet."
That earned her a forlorn glance. "Am I not attractive enough for you, Elsa?"
Elsa did not have to look at Anna to know that the question was directed toward the ground. But. No. What. What. Why. What. The notion was so absurd that Elsa could not even find words to refute it.
So she leaned forward until their foreheads met, hands spanning the width of her sister's nape. "I just said I was in love with you, and the first conclusion you jump to is that I don't find you attractive? That's nonsense, even for you." She kissed the tip of Anna's nose, red from frustration, and then from crying. "The degree to which I find you attractive is actually devastating to my mental wellbeing, to be frank." The same admission at any other time would likely have embarrassed her, but the situation necessitated its truth.
A characteristic glint of mischief reappeared in Anna's eyes after a blink of comprehension. "Wait, what? 'Devastating to your mental wellbeing'?"
Elsa's face was suddenly burning. Why had she said that? Argh. She moved to hide herself away, perhaps behind the kitchen counter or inside the refrigerator, when she discovered that Anna's hands had reassumed their positions on either side of her waist, trapping her in her figurative hole. Instead, she averted her eyes.
"Elsa," Anna's voice was as sweet as candied apples, dangled in front of Elsa like irresistible bait. "Say that again."
Elsa wanted to squirm. It was almost jarring how the tables had flipped so rapidly. "I-I like you, okay? It's expected that—that I also like…like…" Her mouth went as defective as her brain when she considered what to put after that.
"All of me?" Anna prompted, as emboldened as a knight regaining their sword. Or a dragon reclaiming its gold, Elsa corrected, from the way Anna was looking at her, eyes mischievous and covetous at the same time.
But it was true. "Yes," she answered, just barely managing.
"I knew it!" Anna exclaimed, jabbing forth an index finger at Elsa's nose. "You were after my family fortune all along."
And then Elsa grinned, because even though she could see how much she wanted this reflected in her sister's eyes, she knew that Anna, despite being impulsive and rambunctious, would not overstep boundaries. Boundaries between them were always temporary anyway. "You forget who the heir is. Are you sure you're not after my position?"
"Goshdarnit, you've discovered my plan!" Anna proclaimed with brazen poise. "Ever since I was a fetus I plotted to usurp your position as heir by making you fall in love with me."
"You sneaky thing," Elsa retorted, faking a gasp and swatting away Anna's accusatory finger. "And how, traitor, are you going to arrange wresting my power from me, exactly?"
"Well, obviously, after you fall in love with me you're going to marry me," Anna said matter-of-factly, and performed her best imitation of a cackle. Which ended up sounding like a cross between a squawk and a grunt.
Elsa scoffed. "Dear sister, if you're waiting till we get married to follow through with this plan of yours, you're going to be waiting a long time. We've had a grand whopping total of two dates."
Anna's smile was almost too big for her face. "That's okay; I'm playing the long game."
Elsa endowed her with a flick to the forehead. "What makes you so sure I'm going to agree to marrying you? I'm still contemplating whether I want to be stuck with you forever."
Anna tried to glare at her indignantly, but ended up going cross-eyed instead, and Elsa had to stifle a laugh. "You kind of already are, big sis."
A contented sigh. "All the more reason for careful consideration. Who'd want to be roped to you for life, baby sis?"
Anna paused, blinking. "That doesn't bother you anymore?"
Elsa fell into a thoughtful silence. The real question was: had she ever? Well, in a sense, she had. But the problem stemmed from her rational mind hounding her about the sheer wrongness of it. The thing was this: logically, it was wrong. Objectively, impartially, stringently, this was wrong. And the strangest part was that it never felt more right. She could not refute the fact that her hand was made to fit Anna's any more than she could deny that the sun would rise the next morning. That her soul did not exist for anyone else but for her sister.
For Elsa, there had always been one intrinsic law that governed above all others. One that transcended right and wrong. One that dangerously eclipsed morals and ethics.
And as long as that law was fulfilled, nothing else mattered.
"No," she said finally, and her resolve turned into a diamond wall, closing off all doubt. "This is not…wrong. It's just different. We're just different."
"Is that bad?"
"No," Elsa asserted again, with a soft smile. "I wouldn't trade you for anyone else."
"Even if I'm plotting to take over your throne, President?"
At that, she tapped her chin with a forefinger and pretended to fall into deep thought. "Well, that, along with your chocolate-hoarding tendencies, I may have to reconsider. Don't think I'm going to forget how you swallowed the entire box of truffles. And then stole half of the last one from me."
Anna gave a sheepish grin. "I couldn't help it. You're too fun to kiss. I'll take any excuse I can get."
You don't need an excuse, was what Elsa was thinking, but instead, she quipped, "So what's the excuse for the latest one?"
In a flash, red spilled onto Anna's cheeks, and she ducked her head. And muttered something unintelligible.
"Anna, it's not like you to be embarrassed," Elsa teased gently, brushing back the wild locks of sunburned silk that draped forth. "You certainly weren't when you maimed the soil economy of the tulip community in the garden."
An indignant copper head swung up immediately. "I was only nine! And how did you know about that?"
"Who didn't know about that? The gardeners were ready to go on strike. I also recall the time you tore a chunk of canvas off one of the paintings and tried to fill in the hole you made with crayon."
"Hey, paintings are my friends! I did not do that on purpose!"
Elsa ducked what would have been a whack to the head, albeit a playful one. "Yes, I know that too, because you were predisposed to talking to them. Did you know that some of the maids were seriously worried about your sanity?"
"And whose fault is it that I was going mad with the silence, hm?" Anna bit back.
Elsa mentally slapped herself. She just had to go there, hadn't she? Digging herself into holes like a professional. "Yes, I know full well it's because I shut my door on you that you had to turn to Joan of Ark for small talk. My fault."
"Not all your fault, though. I could've just as well kicked down the door in a fit of rage and then you would have been left with no defenses whatsoever." With that, Anna drew back and crossed her arms, but she could not hide her smile.
This time, Elsa said what came to mind. "I have no defenses against you, ever. It puts me at a huge disadvantage. One that I probably shouldn't be telling you."
"What would I do with that knowledge, exploit it?" Anna asked, wrapping her arms back around Elsa's neck.
"No, of course not," Elsa said, feigning skepticism. "You wouldn't."
Anna leaned in for a kiss. "How do you plan to make it up to me, then?"
With the rest of my life. "Jet skis?" Elsa replied. There was something bothering her, like a thorn stuck at the back of her mind, like she should not have bothered with the things, but didn't Anna have a penchant for crazy things like this? She had taken all the precautions. Life jackets, life guard—there was even a professional on board who could ride alongside. So why did she feel like she was making a mistake?
The gnawing grew stronger when Anna did not react how Elsa expected. "Oh…that's—that sounds fun, Elsa. But I…"
It hit her with the force of a bullet train. Water. How could Elsa have been so stupid? All this time she had been dealing with her own fears, her own problems, that she had forgotten Anna has them too. After the frozen pond incident, Anna had avoided swimming pools. At first, even coaxing her into a bath has been a battle in itself. Not that Elsa had been around to help—another regret.
"Anna, I'm so sorry. It completely—that's not an excuse. Please, forget I even suggested it. What do you want to do? Maybe you can think of something that isn't utterly insensitive."
Surprising Elsa once again, Anna laughed. "Yeah, like you're the insensitive one. I'm fine, Elsa, really. I was just surprised."
"Really? You were screaming and kicking when Gerda suggested you take a bath. Like you were five again."
"Shush, insensitive fool," Anna chided. "Although there is something I would like to do."
"Uh-oh. I know that look."
"So I bought a yacht and was all ready to sail the high seas with you, but you bloody scoundrel, you, you want to go back on land?"
"Look, you mangy scallywag, there's something you have to do with me! And unfortunately, it has to be on land."
"At least it's not going to be around the halls," Elsa muttered with petty ease.
Anna grinned, like she was a laser and nothing could happen that would dampen her mood. "Annnnd, if you didn't want to, you wouldn't have ordered Captain what's-his-name to dock over at Stanley Park." Then she stopped when her brain was through processing Elsa's latest rejoinder. "Wait, you know what I have in mind?"
If Anna hadn't known better, she would have pegged Elsa's expression as a smirk. "You forget that you've had numerous conversations with yourself outside my door."
"I'd really rather have them to your face. You better not send me back there."
"You're not going back," Elsa replied in a voice as solid as concrete.
"So, what is on my mind?" There was no way Elsa could know, Anna decided.
"You want to go biking."
It wasn't a question. It wasn't even a damn question! Was Anna really so predictable? To Elsa's credit, they had been living together for the past…one, two…almost two decades, but still! Anna prided herself on being spontaneous and unpredictable—the one and only thing that she was better than Elsa at.
"Wrong," Anna grumbled back, feeling a mix of fulfilled and annoyed that Elsa had gotten it right so easily. Soon, very soon, said a voice in her head, Elsa was going to get bored of her antics and leave her. "No, you got it right."
"Anna," Elsa said slowly. "Is it your time of the month?"
Blush exploded on Anna's cheeks, and she didn't even know why. Reddening to the tips of her ears, she almost shouted, "No! Why would you think that?"
"You're particularly…" Elsa paused, as if she were testing each word on her tongue for how it tasted in the sentence. "Excitable."
Was it her fault that Elsa excited her, all day, everyday? Elsa probably excited everyone she walks by, everyday. Hell, the air got excited whenever Elsa moved. "Look, sister, it's not my fault that you're so—" Hot. "—Attractive. Sometimes I wonder how I could have possibly been so lucky to have you. As my best friend. Sister."
"Lucky," repeated the older sister, face scrunching up like she had just licked a lemon. "What are you talking about? I'm the lucky one. It's not every day that your sister's first word is your name, you know." Then she blinked. "You think I'm attractive?"
Here she goes, digging all the holes. Anna could barely sputter the words out. "W-w-well you-you know, you're a fairly good-looking child—lady—person!"
Elsa smiled at her, and the world melted away. "Well, you're 'fairly attractive' yourself."
Well, it seemed punctured communication ran in the family. "No, no. You don't get it. You're so…amazing and perfect and smart. And I'm just…me."
Elsa's thumb brushed the crevice between Anna's lips, slowly mirroring the movement of windshield wipers clearing rain and snow and sleet. "I think you've done more than enough to prove otherwise. Anna, you're unique—"
"Yeah, yeah, that's what everyone says when there's nothing special about th—" Her protest was cut mid-sentence by Elsa's forefinger and thumb pinching her mouth closed.
Her sister leaned closer, eyes emitting blue fire, "You're priceless, Anna. And I'll have anyone who says otherwise drawn and quartered. Come with me."
For once, Anna was being led by the hand down the corridors, staring blankly in bewilderment over Elsa's shoulders to collect an inkling of where they were going. They arrived at what Anna could only describe as a study, just as refined and exorbitant as the rest of the boat.
Elsa's hand was still holding tightly onto hers (which Anna had zero qualms about) as she flipped open her laptop and tapped at the track pad. She pointed a finger at the screen. "Do you see this?"
Anna's brain registered the number, and she nodded.
"That's how much Arendelle Corp is currently worth," Elsa said, almost angrily, and she slammed the laptop shut. "And I would not even blink if I had to trade it all for a fraction of you." She held up Anna's hand, thumb lightly tracing the shape of Anna's knuckles. "And this is worth more than the rest of the world combined.
"I've been a fool, Anna. There was so much that I couldn't see. I was so caught up trying to protect you that I didn't see how unhappy I was making you. I was so buried in my own pain that I forgot you were hurting too. And I was so absorbed in being who Mother and Father wanted me to be that I didn't even consider how that would have affected you.
"I may act like an idiot sometimes, but even I can see now how pressured you must feel to be like me. How…insignificant you must have felt when Mother and Father focused all their resources on me."
"Weird," Anna whispered, threading her fingers between Elsa's.
"When I sought out Cruella De Vil and Shan Yu, I wanted to stand out. I thought I wanted somebody to know me as Anna Arendelle, not President Arendelle's sister, or Josef Arendelle's daughter. I thought that would satisfy this gaping hole inside me, the one that was for praise, for recognition."
She looked Elsa straight in the eye. "But it didn't. Because you had already filled it. Because when you look at me, I know that you see me. Just me, not connected to anyone else." Anna let loose all of her jubilation in a wide smile and yanked Elsa into a bear hug. "And you're all the recognition I need."
"Can't…breathe…" Elsa wheezed into her ear.
"Good, you know how I feel around you all the time."
Elsa raised an eyebrow when Anna released her, but (thankfully) she didn't have to the time to press that statement because Mr. Captain what's-his-name informed them over the ship's PA system that they had almost finished docking.
"Why did I pick biking," grumbled Anna, and Elsa watched in silent amusement as Anna tried on a selection of different coloured headgears. "I forgot helmets are the most unflattering things ever. Are you sure I have to wear one?"
"You can't afford to lose any more brain cells as it is," Elsa deadpanned. "Of course you have to wear one."
Anna awarded her with a punch to the arm. "Stinker."
"Brat," she retorted. And then grinned.
The sound of bicycle wheels clicking caught Elsa's attention. She turned, cast a look at the bike. Then did a double take. "Wait, I'm confused. A tandem bike?" It was one thing to just ride leisurely by herself and let Anna run free, but if they were sharing a bike, she would no doubt be a liability to her sportier sister.
"I'm not irresponsible, Elsa," Anna stated with a smirk, stroking the shiny black handlebars of the vehicle. "If I let you ride by yourself, who knows what kind of havoc you'll wreak?"
"Oh, I'm the troublemaker, am I? Who rode happily into a suit of armour left by one of our knighted ancestors? Who knocked over Mother's mosaic vase and blamed it on the wind?"
Anna whacked Elsa with her white and gold helmet and then stuck out her tongue defiantly. "You've already established yourself as immensely knowledgeable of my childhood antics; you're not allowed to demonstrate any more because that's just showing off! Now come on, let's ride!"
Elsa sighed, and decided that if she did prove to be a burden she could always just switch the bike for singles. She pulled her own helmet on and fastened it in place, about to mount the thing when she caught Anna staring. She paused, and looked down at herself. "Is something wrong?"
Anna mouthed something that looked like 'no food', and Elsa cocked her head to the side.
"Not fair," Anna said, louder this time. "You can still look like a Greek goddess in a freaking helmet."
"Wait, what?" And then their conversation from earlier drifted back to the forefront of Elsa's mind. Right. Anna thought she was attractive. "Oh." She felt a smile spreading. "Which one am I?"
"Aphrodite," Anna replied swiftly, as if she had pondered this question many times before that she could reach the answer in seconds. "But better."
Elsa crossed her arms. "Really? So basically you think I'm going to be a female philanderer?" Then she reached out to tighten the straps on Anna's helmet. "You would be Ares. Impulsive and belligerent."
"Oh, good. Ares had an affair with Aphrodite," Anna retorted.
"I'm not even going to give you the satisfaction of a response."
Anna elbowed her in the side. "Hey, you're the one who named me Ares, God of War."
Elsa was one-third wrong. Anna was more like Ares, Athena, and Artemis all rolled into one. Five minutes after mounting the bike, Elsa's lungs were burning and her legs were burning and there was no location on her body that was without pain or some sort of soreness. The mid-afternoon sun searing her shirt to her back, she huffed, "Anna—" gasp "—wait—" gasp "—stop."
There was a creak as the bike reeled to a halt. Anna, in front (because 'I would be too busy staring otherwise'), sat back in her seat and twisted to face Elsa. "Too fast? Ariel told me you like to go fast."
What in god's name has Ariel been telling her? Elsa would have blushed, but her face was already hot from exertion. She took a moment to collect enough air, and noticed that Anna was still breathing normally. "I'm ill-equipped for this," she said. "I can't even remember the last time I did anything that was remotely considered exercise."
"You ran to the restaurant," Anna reminded her.
Elsa felt like a boiling frog. "And almost died on the way. Look, Anna, how about we go grab two bikes instead of a tandem? Then you could ride as fast as you want and I'll just follow at my own pace."
Anna made a face. "No," she replied, tone dismissing. "That defeats the point of 'together'."
"You haven't even broken a sweat. I don't want to hold you back."
Elsa received an expression that she did not see often. Anna wore a look of smugness like it was a brand new diamond ring. "Who, moi? You, mortal, will not be able to hold back the God of War. How arrogant of you to suggest so."
"Anna, be serious—"
"I am serious. You think I'm just going to ride off into the sunset by myself? Not a chance, sister."
Before Elsa had a chance to reply, Anna added, "Although it is tragic how out of shape you are. We're going to have to fix that."
"Are you sure—"
Anna reached out and squished Elsa's lips shut, just like how Elsa had done to her earlier. "Shush. You don't even have to pedal. Just stay with me."
That struck a chord inside Elsa, and she noticed herself nodding. "Okay."
"Okay," Anna echoed, turning back, kicking her feet off the ground. "Hang onto your handlebars and rest your feet on the pedals. I'll do the rest."
Elsa was close enough to her sister's back that she could measure the rhythm of Anna's breaths against the thundering beat of her own heart against her ribcage. She would have much preferred putting her arms around Anna's waist (which was dangerously close to her front) instead of the rubber grip of the metal bars.
Ocean, grass and asphalt whizzed across her half-closed eyes, and she leaned her forehead against Anna's back, finding it pleasantly warmed by the sun. Memories flooded her mind, a cherished slideshow of stills, as soft as the wind caressing at her arms.
There was a noticeable gap in those pictures as she flipped through her later recollections, and she caught herself wishing that things had happened differently. I wish I hadn't wasted all that time with you.
She drew back when Anna's breathing became shallower. "Hey, I think I should get off. You're getting tired."
Anna tilted her head back, "Don't you trust me?"
"What does that have to do with anything? This isn't some crazy trust exercise. This is about me making things hard for you and not liking it."
"You were having fun."
"That does not negate the truth of my statement."
The bike rolled to a halt.
Elsa smiled. "Good. Now let me get off—"
"I didn't stop so that you could leave me," Anna interrupted sullenly, hopping off to stand at her full height. "I stopped so I could spazz at you."
"Yes. Because you keep missing something very important."
The way Anna was looking at her made Elsa want to crawl into one of the groundhog holes in the grass beside them, which was disconcertingly strange because Anna never given her that expression before. Elsa fleetingly remarked that Anna would make a great mother someday, because the way Anna was glaring at her, hands crossly resting on hips brought Elsa back to the last time their mother had ever shown any concern for either of them.
Most of her earlier memories were with Anna, but there was once, in the wintertime, when they had been out in the front yard performing young Anna's Ritual of Snow Summoning, their mother had appeared from the mansion to supervise them personally.
Elsa could barely remember how her mother had looked, but she imagined it was close in reprimanding poise to how Anna was right now.
"Elsa, don't go near the pond in the winter, okay? Sometimes it freezes over, but the ice is thin and dangerous. You and your sister could get hurt."
Had she said 'don't go near the pond' or 'don't let your sister near the pond' or 'stay away from the pond'? Elsa couldn't recall exactly.
But it was the same there's-some-very-obvious-piece-of-information-that-you-need-to-know kind of expression.
"I didn't ask for this," Anna expelled.
"No, I know, and I'm sorry I can't keep up with you."
An exasperated sigh. "That's not what I meant. I don't want you to make things 'easy' for me. And I never said this was hard."
"But there is an easier way," Elsa protested.
"Since when do we go for easy?"
"Since easy isn't very common for us, and we should take an easy road when we get it."
Anna jabbed finger at her for the second time today. "I'm getting tired of this 'Anna's business is my business but my business is nobody else's business' thing you keep throwing at me. If you stopped trying to take the easy way out for my sake maybe we could work together to tread the harder one together."
"Why are you so willing to meet challenges head on?"
"Someone important once told me that it's better to face hardship than to cry about it."
Elsa was stirred by a sudden bout of anger that she could only describe as jealousy, and she could not stop herself from frowning when she asked, "Who?"
"You," Anna said, rolling her eyes. "You don't remember?"
Elsa blinked. "What? No."
Anna shrugged. "Basically, I complained about not having anyone to play with and you told me to suck it up."
"Excuse me? Was I impersonated by an alien for a day, because I do not remember that."
Anna was rubbing her arm. "I kind of deserved it; I was bothering you while you were working."
"My exact words were 'suck it up'?"
"No, I think you said something along the lines of 'we don't always get what we want. You just have to keep walking forward.' And then you told me to leave you alone."
Elsa sighed. "Hm, so I was not a very nice child that day."
"I don't think 'nice child' describes you at all," Anna chuckled.
"So you've known from day one that I was a mean person."
"No," Anna asserted firmly. "Doing or saying something mean doesn't make you a mean person.
"On a more serious note, though, I stand by my point." She lowered her voice, "I didn't fall in love with you because it was easier—actually I still don't know why—never mind. We chose this road, Elsa, you and I. That means we have to walk it together."
"So the lesson here is: even if there is a simpler path, we're going to take the hard one?"
Anna grinned and slung her arm around Elsa's shoulders. "Exactly."
"Doesn't sound like a very easy way to live."
Elsa heard a scoff.
"Easy is overrated. Let's get a move on. You're ruining this beautiful day."
It was indeed a beautiful day. The lofty cedars of the park stood guard for the birds and the squirrels, their lush canopies providing a sanctuary from the prying eyes of the sun, green over a cloudless blue sky like the earth on a canvas. Faintly in the distance, the laments of the ocean could be heard, crashing onto the shore, emptying into the bottomless white sand of the beach.
Children hollered, teens laughed, adults drank. As Elsa surveyed the expanse of lavish grass rolling before her, she got the sense that anyone could look like they belonged. Everyone belonged.
"A picnic. What is that?"
"Well, lookie here, Ms. Oxford. A word you don't know?"
"I'm going to Google it if you don't tell me."
"You're so cute when you're clueless. But then again, sometimes, it's also downright infuriating."
Anna was bounding toward her, in her hands a basket that had a corner with a white cloth hanging out from under the lid.
"Gerda was quick with that," Elsa muttered.
"Mhm," agreed the Anna who was already sprawled out on the large piece of blanket and tossing out food from the basket. "Gerda was also unimpressed that we're eating lunch close to dinner time."
Elsa spotted wrapped turkey sandwiches, a loaf of sourdough, a casserole dish with scalloped potatoes, a container featuring various greens mixed with tomatoes and cucumbers, and finally Anna pulled out a ceramic dish that had something wrapped in tin foil resting on it. When Anna finally undid the ball of aluminum, Elsa saw that it was a roasted whole chicken, and its succulent aroma hung provocatively in the air between them.
"Sit down," Anna said, patting the spot next to her.
"Are you sure it's sanitary?" Elsa asked, raising an eyebrow, and she noticed her sister's teal eyes rolling, exasperated, in their orbits. Sitting down, she grumbled blandly, "I'm only wondering because you're even more insufferable when you're sick."
"Says the person who gets delirious on cough meds," Anna retorted playfully. She picked up a sandwich. "Shoot," Anna groaned. "I forgot to tell Gerda I wanted mustard. I'll be right back; there's a concession stand right there."
Elsa looked up. "I suppose I can't tell someone to go for you because apparently we're taking the rougher path."
"Yup." And the younger girl took off, a spear in the wind.
To busy herself, Elsa searched for the napkins and utensils that Anna had not bothered to retrieve (because, most likely, 'only weaklings eat with forks and knives'). She discovered a couple bottles of water, orange juice, and…vodka?! What in the world did Gerda think they were doing, getting drunk and smoking on a beach?
This seemed suspiciously Ariel-esque. Elsa was not going to question how, because Ariel appeared to be limitless in both her wits and her resources. Adding that to her penchant for making Elsa's life a wellspring of entertainment ('that's what friends do, right?') gave a stench that could only be described as Ariel.
Before she could dwell on this further, she was interrupted by a voice. At first, she had not even realize someone was speaking to her.
"Why hello there. What brings you here? Hey, you!"
Elsa turned and stood to find an athletically built man wearing a red polo shirt, black leather pants and knee-high hunting boots strolling toward her. As he got closer, she could make out thick eyebrows and a cleft chin on a head with jet-black hair. In her peripheral vision, Alistair and the rest of her bodyguards, disguised in casual clothing, were moving closer as well, watching the man like hawks. She thought she might have seen one of them reaching for a gun.
"Hello," Elsa addressed him cautiously.
He stood about a head above her when he was finally within a few yards of her. "So, what brings a pretty lady like you here, all alone?" He inquired, tone daubed with honey.
"Would be a shame to have all this food and no one to share with," he said.
"What is this," he interrupted again, pointing to one of the sandwiches. "Chicken?"
"Turkey," she corrected, and wondered what the hell was going on.
"I used to hunt turkey, you know. Only when I was lad though, when I only ate four dozen eggs." He paused, and Elsa supposed that he was waiting for a reaction?
"Okay," Elsa hedged.
"But now I eat five dozen eggs, and turkey is much too easy a prey for me."
"Okay," Elsa said again, still clueless.
"Now I hunt deer and elk. Not one of those pretty antlers escapes the eye of this hunter. Not one pretty woman either, for that matter."
At this point, Elsa was fairly dumbfounded. She had no idea what to say or do. It was one thing to repeat customary greetings and regards at her meetings (which were really her only form of social, non-Anna, non-Ariel, interaction), but she lacked any inkling about how to deal with this.
Just asking Alistair to drag this man away seemed rather rude, and Elsa was nothing if not polite. But then again, she wasn't socially competent enough to utter any appreciable response either, which was also rather rude.
Luckily, she didn't have to bust her brain thinking of an appropriate reaction, because a flash of red later, Anna was between them.
"What do you think you're doing?" The redheaded girl—who was more than a head shorter than the man—demanded. "My sister's not interested, you hear? Who do you think you are?"
"Name's Gaston," Gaston replied coolly, arrogance spilling forth. "And your sister seemed mighty interested in my magnificent shooting techniques."
"Well, they aren't magnificent here. Get out and harass someone else who isn't interested," Anna seethed. Although she had her back to Elsa, Elsa could tell she was angry. Very angry.
Which confused her further. Why?
Gaston put a beefy hand on Anna's shoulder, "Relax—"
He didn't get a chance to say anything further because Elsa had snapped (how dare anyone touch her) right there and in a flash Alistair was beside them, the Russian man looking down at Gaston, hand curled tightly around his wrist.
"You can take your filthy hand off my sister in one piece," Elsa almost growled—screw her manners. "Or two."
Gaston seemed to realize the numbers were against him, retracting his arm immediately. "Nobody messes with Gaston." He may have meant it as a threat, but it came out as a whimper. A figurative white flag trailed behind him like a scrawny tail as he quickly slithered back to wherever he came from.
Elsa dismissed her guards, giving Alistair an appreciative nod before she directed her attention back to Anna. "Are you okay?"
"No," Anna grumbled, arms crossed and frowning at the ground.
Elsa paused. Was this sulking behaviour? She was still not close to understanding why Anna seemed mad in the first place. "You're angry with me."
"Why?" Anna parroted, glaring intensely at Elsa. "Why? How dare you—" She shoved at Elsa's shoulders. "How dare you let him talk to you! One look and you could tell that he was up to no good!"
Still confused, "What's wrong with talking?"
Anna was red with—and Elsa could only guess—indignation? "Everything! You're—you're my sister!"
Oh. Ohhhhhhhhhhh. Wait, was that what Gaston was doing? Well, he sure did a poor job of it. Elsa smoothed the wild locks of copper that were delightfully tousled from running, no doubt. "Don't worry; your position is secure. I am seriously doubting that Gaston would want to undergo a sex change to be sisters with me." Elsa pulled Anna into a hug. "In which possible way would he be a match for you?" She whispered.
"Wait, so Elsa did what?" Ariel was lying flat on her back, knees bent, feet kicking the wooden floor, howling with laughter.
"I'm serious! She just stood there while he hit on her!"
"And then she—" Ariel wiped a tear from her eye, "—still didn't get it?"
By now, Elsa was pretty sure Ariel was immune to death glares of all kind. She sat there, on the floor of her apartment, legs crossed, wallowing in humiliation, watching the moon rise above the clouds, while her friend and girlfriend shrieked with glee at her latest ineptitude. She suddenly wished for the ability to become transparent.
"My god, Elsa. How did you live to the age of 20?"
"Enough, Ariel. Now please tell us the reason for your impromptu visit and the reason for the bottle of Grey Goose I found in our picnic basket this afternoon."
Ariel snickered. "Oh, that was for Anna. I thought she might need it to put up with you."
Anna looked at Elsa. "Wait, there was vodka?"
Ariel clucked her tongue. "You didn't tell her?" Before Elsa could respond, Ariel reached into her bag and produced a bottle of Iordanov Vodka. "That's okay, I brought even better stuff."
"Ariel, you know how I feel about drinking…"
"Oh, relax, Elsa. It's not like a truck is going to be climbing the twenty flights of stairs it takes get up here. And unless I've misjudged the sizes of trucks, I'd say that it wouldn't fit in the elevator, either."
"Man, Elsa, I wish we could take your guilt and catapult it out the window," Anna said.
"Amen to that," Ariel followed, taking out three shot glasses and pouring one for each of them. "To you two dorks," she announced raising her glass.
"To guilt-free living," Anna added.
"To…never going back," Elsa smiled at both of them, and they drained their glasses.
"So, I actually came here to make sure the two of you weren't dead, namely Elsa, because as soon as you guys told me you were going biking, I was like, 'Elsa's not going to last'. How long did she last, Anna?"
"About five minutes."
Ariel poured out three more shots, and Elsa went to retrieve three glasses of water. "Ha, I knew it! There's no one on earth more physically challenged than your sister, Anna. Take it from me." She downed her liquor and turned to Anna. "You know, when we had our first time—"
Elsa was sipping her water, and she sucked in a breath so hard that cold liquid filled her windpipe and nose. She sputtered, hacking, trying desperately to end the conversation.
"Yeah, you know. She couldn't stay awake long enough when we first started—"
Elsa's coughs escalated into wheezes, then into gasps, then back into hacking.
"Woah there, is a whale dying in your nose or something? Anyway—"
"Wait," Anna said, while Elsa convulsed with more artificial coughs. "First time?"
Ariel froze at the same time as Elsa. "She…hasn't told you?"
"No," Elsa choked. Welp, she probably wouldn't make it to tomorrow now.
"First time as in…sex?" Anna prompted, eerily calm.
Both Elsa and Ariel descended into awkward silence, until Ariel stood up and dashed to the door. The death glare that Elsa shot her this time elicited a sheepish glance. "Well, I, uh, gotta go now. You guys, um, have fun!" And shut the door behind her.
Elsa's eyes were trained to the door because they had a mind of their own to not look at the wrath behind her.
Anna's voice was deceitfully light. "Elsa."