A/N: Again, apologies for the uber-late update. I only have time to write on weekends now, so please bear with me if there are inconsistencies through the chapters. We are on the home-stretch (I think).
I can't thank you guys enough for the patience and support that I'm getting, both on here and on tumblr. I assure you that I will finish this thing. I'm considering writing the rest of the chapters before I post again, so you guys don't have to wait a month between updates. Thoughts?
Anyway, I think I've made you awesome people wait long enough.
"Elsa," Elsa heard Anna say again, when she couldn't bring herself to turn.
How was she going to explain this? One of her options was to lie, lie, lie like she did with everything and say it was normal relationship progress after two weeks of dating, but then would Anna extrapolate from there and, god forbid, start comparing herself to Ariel? No, she wouldn't lie anymore. She might have been a coward and a perjurer, but those were habits she was determined to step on and scrape off her shoe.
Still, she was on the brink of panicking, her mind spinning like the spokes of a bicycle wheel going out of control, kicking up vagrant thoughts in sprays of dust. It was the feeling during the last minutes of an exam when there were still questions to be answered and every moment wasted would make everything worse.
Moves were unfolding before her as if she were playing a chess match; if she moved here, but then her opponent would—and every subsequent chain reaction would result in her loss. Checkmate, but then again, when had this ever been about winning or losing?
"If you want to go after her, you can."
Every circuit in Elsa's head screeched to a halt. More out of survival instinct than voluntary action, she turned to face this long-time adversary—the possibility of misunderstanding. "It's not what you think," she managed to protest dumbly.
"And what do I think?" Anna challenged, eyes narrowing so subtly that Elsa couldn't decipher whatever reaction Anna was hiding behind them. She imagined it was something along the lines of…hurt?...betrayed? Or angry, because Elsa had long since learned that roads which did not lead to happiness always led to anger.
But perhaps she needed to stop assuming that Anna would be irate with every mistake she made—after all, who was the only one to have loved Elsa through everything? Maybe that was what love meant. Forgiveness.
Elsa could only hope for that, but with what she had done, the ugliness of it all, did she really deserve forgiveness? "I'm not going after her." That, she could at least declare with confidence. "I might be an idiot with laughably blunted common sense, but even I can learn. I'm not running from this, Anna. Or you. And I was fool to think I could. Somehow, you always catch me."
"Maybe if we were a normal couple," Anna offered evenly. "You could have probably gotten away with it."
"Like if we had met as strangers on the street, or in a bar?"
"And you had to tell me your life story without me witnessing it for myself."
"I could edit."
"Exactly," Anna muttered, remaining faithful to her neutral demeanor, "that's why this is so real. Everything I know about you I learned for myself. And that's why I'm…"
"Hiding your ire behind a passively-aggressive mild tone?"
"…Somewhat miffed that you didn't tell me."
Elsa couldn't help but scoff at the uncharacteristic mellowness in Anna's voice. "Just miffed?"
"You want me to yell at you?"
She stared at the ground, tracing faint rings of age on the floorboards, representations of how long the trees had lived before they were cut down and processed—most likely much longer than Elsa's current lifespan, what with the absolutely amazing way she was handling the current situation. She put up a hand in resignation. "I…want you to have all the facts before you yell at me. If you want to listen."
"I will if you promise not to sugarcoat."
"I'm actually kind of good at that."
"You are rather blunt sometimes," Anna agreed, cracking a slight smile.
"I'm being generous. Enjoy it while it lasts."
"I'll take note of that," Elsa murmured, feeling sufficiently relaxed by the marginally loosened tension to cross her legs so that their knees were almost touching—mirror images. "Remember when I told you about the night you got drunk at that party?" There was no acknowledgment, because they both knew the question was rhetorical. "And you kissed me when I was trying to drag you to your room." Elsa paused—so far so good.
But this was the hard part, for some reason that was currently unclear to her. Maybe the hardest part. "That was my first kiss, too." This was news, apparently—Anna's eyes softened to a degree. Though Elsa wondered if Anna had ever really speculated on the subject of Elsa's first kiss—had she assumed that it was just with some random servant boy? Or did she just not care? And if that was this case, why was this a big deal?
Nevertheless, she pushed on. "It made me feel…strange. But a good strange. Like—like I wanted to do it again. And I knew it shouldn't have been with you, because, well, that was all kinds of wrong, wasn't it?" She managed a chuckle, but didn't feel right, even to her. Because now it was only all sorts of right. "At the time, at least," she corrected. "And you were only fourteen. But whenever I thought about it, about what happened, about how it felt…I would feel warmer, like the very thought of kissing you was lighting the fuse to a stick of dynamite.
It was the worst at night, because all I had was time. And under the cover of darkness, it was easier to let my mind wander. And guess where it always ended up? You," Elsa laughed again. "That in itself wasn't anything new to me, but it was the way I thought about you. I'd always catch myself thinking about how beautiful you were when you told me you could handle Hans, but not me being mean to you. How beautiful you always are, inside and out. And after that, it was so hard to be near you. So hard that I was almost glad I was going away to Oxford. Sometimes I almost gave in to it, you know? The desire to reach out and poke you. Pat your head. Give you a hug—all under the pretense of my 'big sister' act, any excuse to touch you."
"You don't need an excuse to touch me," Anna whispered absentmindedly, echoing Elsa's thoughts from that morning. Then she started, as if she had just realized where she was. "S-sorry! You were saying?"
"Gee, I didn't realize that my story was boring you so much you forgot you were sitting right across from me," Elsa grumbled sardonically.
Anna was rapidly shaking her head. "No, no! It's just—your voice. You rarely ever say so much at once! I usually do most of the talking. No, I was just reminded of when you read me bedtime stories, all those years ago."
"This is more of an M-rated bedtime stor—what are you doing?"
When Anna looked up at her, their faces were only inches away, because Anna was crawling into Elsa's lap, her reputation for unpredictability not unwarranted. "Oh, uh, I could tell this was going to be a long story, sooooo…" She settled herself into the space bordered by Elsa's pretzeled legs. "I'm getting comfortable? And making sure you don't run off in the middle."
Elsa leaned her back against the glass walls that gave clear view to moonlit ocean so as to support her sister's weight on her front. Cleared her throat, because she could do little else to deny the rush of adrenaline surging through her veins at the idea that Anna was sitting between her legs and a cheeky copper head was resting lightly on her shoulder. "Can I take this to mean that you aren't mad at me?"
Anna was tracing patterns on one of Elsa's palms, and the sensation was almost as distracting as the entire thing, so Elsa barely heard the response to her question. "Hm, don't think you're off the hook yet. I'm still deciding when I'm going to schedule your death. Might as well be comfortable at the same time."
Elsa couldn't help but smile. "Are you going to throw me off a cliff, baby Scar?"
"That could be arranged," Anna retorted, nestling further into the crook of Elsa's neck. "Maybe right now if you don't start telling the story."
"Alright, alright. Where did I leave off?"
"You wanted to touch me."
"Yes, but," Elsa started, unsure whether to be amused or wary, "you didn't need to make me sound like a complete pervert."
"You mean you're not?"
Elsa rolled her eyes and prodded Anna's flank, eliciting a shriek of surprise from the younger girl. "I'm going to pretend that bit of conversation never happened," she murmured, "And get on with my explanation."
"Story," Anna hummed, recovered from Elsa's impromptu assault.
"Like I said, I was almost happy to get away from all of this all the way up until the day I left. Do you remember?"
Anna made an irritated noise. "How could I forget? You didn't even give me a hug when you left. If I'd have known Mom wouldn't let you come home in the summer, I would've squeezed one out of you then and there."
Elsa sighed. "I was confused. So confused by what I was feeling. And even more than that, afraid of what it could be. It was a relief. To be away from you, for—"
"Don't say that," Elsa heard Anna—was that a whimper? "You don't know what that did to me."
"You didn't let me finish," she replied softly, closing her hand around Anna's fingers. "It was a relief for about three seconds. I was in love with you, Anna, even if I didn't know it then. And being away from you, well, the feeling of missing you was heavier than the weight of the entire Pacific—that was what I compared it to, at least. Like I was being crushed by an ocean made of everything that was missing from me.
"That was when I met Ariel. Someone so similar to you; even the colour of her hair was almost the same."
"So she was my replacement," Anna interjected sullenly.
Elsa couldn't help but chuckle at the hint of jealousy she detected in Anna's voice. "No. Heavens, no. She might've been difficult like you, but she most certainly wasn't you. Who else knows firsthand what kind of chocolate I'll love, or how stoned I get from cough syrup? Or how horribly atrocious my attempts at romance are, for that matter."
"Sorry," Anna grumbled. "Every time you try to talk to me about you, I somehow end up making it about me. And then you wind up comforting me." She sat up straighter, apology raw in those teal depths.
"So you realized that you're a needy brat?" Elsa teased with a lopsided smile. Then she reached to smooth out ruffled ginger bangs. "I think that's not really avoidable. Our lives are so intertwined that whatever affects me affects you, too." She froze, as though she were suddenly struck by lightning. God, had she really not realized that until then? Where had her brain gone? "And vice…versa."
"It's too easy to forget that," the younger girl muttered absentmindedly. "So did you love Ariel?"
"She didn't short-circuit my brain like you do, if that's what you're getting at. It's unfortunate; I don't think I could love anyone besides you—even platonically. You hog all the space."
"Sounds like me," Anna quipped. "Then why did you…agree to go out with her? Do you think she was in love with you?"
It seemed necessary to ponder this question carefully before answering. Just how deep did Elsa's relationship with Ariel run? Ariel may have been an omniscient snob, but she was human, too. "I think, like me, she was confused about what she wanted."
"That's what she told me, too," Anna said slowly.
This was news to Elsa. She stilled, opened her mouth, but then decided her next move would best be silent comprehension. From the very beginning, she had disliked the situation—even more so now, when they were on the subject of herself and Ariel. A question loomed between them, heavy like the impending avalanche of ash and hot rock during a volcanic eruption. It was only a matter of time. Which goddamn brain cell in Ariel's skull thought it would be a good idea to bring up sex in front of Anna?
"This is really awkward," Anna remarked neutrally when the reticence dragged on, fidgeting in her spot. "Like, even more than me-awkward."
Elsa could only respond with, "I know." In a borderline desperate attempt to move the conversation off of the eggshells, she added, "You have a talent for making awkward situations un-awkward, though."
"Is un-awkward even a word?"
She couldn't stop her smile. "See?"
"Could you not sit so stiffly? It's hard to find a good spot."
Elsa hadn't even noticed when her shoulders had squared and her back had tightened. Relief washed over her, simultaneous with relaxation. "You are in such a weird position right now, and I can't tell you how sorry I am."
Anna shrugged. "It's not like I haven't been in weird positions before. Wait, that came out wrong. I mean, now that I think about it, you and Ariel have been exchanging sexual innuendos right in front of me for the longest time. When—when were you going to tell me?"
"I'm not sure I wanted to," Elsa confessed heavily. "It's not exactly something that requires broadcasting."
Anna snorted, unimpressed. "Then are you at least going to tell me why you've abstained—and intend to continue abstaining—from…from…doing it with me, when you did it with Ariel less than two weeks into the relationship?"
Lying would be so easy. She could just tell Anna what she wanted to hear. She wouldn't have to show Anna how ugly she really was—how she had used Ariel, how she had lied and cheated two of the most loyal people in her life. But lying…lying would just create more wounds, more scars. And heaven knew Elsa understood the pain of a scar. She had lied enough, hadn't she? "I didn't."
"But Ariel said—"
"I didn't in those two weeks."
Watching Anna's expression as the younger slowly pieced together the facts Elsa had given her was like watching inky rain clouds splatter onto a clear horizon. It was insidious, almost sinister—the inevitability of it. But wasn't it about time Elsa started taking responsibility for her actions? Some truths may hurt, but all lies hurt more. And revealing this particular one, well, it was turning over a rock on a beach and exposing all of the gunk underneath.
"So it was before you came back."
Again, Anna appeared eerily neutral. And the only thing Elsa had dreaded more than telling the actual truth was giving the reason behind her decisions. Stupid reasons, now that she was able to reflect. She had wanted to forget. Wanted to hide. But some things could never be forgotten, never remained hidden and she should have known that particular principle better than anyone else because nothing, nothing, in her life ever stayed buried.
"Do you want me to explain?" Elsa proffered, neck under the guillotine.
"I'm still deciding," Anna said quietly.
Elsa was never one to fidget, but the suspense was killing her, so to speak. In lieu of shifting uncomfortably, she muttered, "Don't blow your brain," as a peace offering.
Of course Anna humoured her with a small twitch of her mouth, though she was half removing herself from Elsa's lap, one foot already dangling toward the outside. Elsa sat very still as Anna deliberated, and couldn't hold back her disappointment when cold air fell back on her folded legs. Anna had not gone very far; her back was still leaning against Elsa's arm, but it was as if she were preparing to leave, and the prospect of that hurt more than it should have.
"If this hadn't happened, you would never have even mentioned it to me, would you?"
Elsa braced herself. "No."
But Anna didn't reel on her, like she had expected. Instead, ocean held sky as evenly as the horizon as they looked each other in the eyes, and Anna nodded once. "I can't, uh, put my finger on it, exactly, but I feel like I get why you wouldn't. Strange, because I think you'd have less of a problem telling me if I were some random person you met in a bar. On the other hand though, if I met a stranger in a bar I wouldn't be too keen on listening to their sexual history either."
"I guess that means you want to hear it."
"You can't really blame me for wanting to know everything about you, can you? You spend so much time closed off from everyone else inside your mind that it drives me crazy."
"Most of the time though, you're in there with me." Elsa muttered, more to calm her own nerves than to console Anna, but did both equally well; Anna cracked a smile. Elsa took a deep breath and looked at her hands. She could do this. Deliver the facts. "It wasn't a one night stand or anything. We weren't drunk, or under the influence of drugs. Ariel suggested that we be friends with benefits, and I…agreed." When Anna remained silent, Elsa tentatively added, "If it makes it any better, we barely saw each other during exam periods and breaks so we've only done it a handful of times."
"Only a handful of times," Anna repeated, and Elsa could hear the sound of fingernails sliding against hardwood floor, ominously indifferent.
"You can hit me if you want," Elsa sighed, "If it makes you feel better."
She wasn't surprised when Anna completely ignored her (perhaps passive-aggressiveness ran in the family), instead asking, "Why did you agree to it?"
"It's not that hard to figure out, is it, Anna? I'm guessing you just don't want to see it."
Anna ignored her again. "So, your first time was with Ariel?"
Suddenly, Elsa was shoved to the side, and she landed with a thud on the cinnamon maple finish. Before she could react, Anna clunked down beside her in a flurry of ginger, arms and legs sprawled like a sea star's. "Hahhhhhhhh…" The younger girl exhaled. "I still don't feel satisfied."
Elsa was staring at the lights on the ceiling, feeling them burn into her irises. "With my answer?"
"Maybe. I don't know. I don't know how to feel about this. You've told me so much at once."
She dared to hope, "You're not mad at me, then?"
"I kind of am. And I'm kind of not. I don't know," Anna restated. "How do you feel about it? You failed to mention that."
"I regret it. So much," Elsa said, closing her eyes. "And I keep feeling like I wasted something. For both me, and Ariel. I shouldn't have agreed. Even though I knew it would be the first time for both of us, I let it happen because I didn't want to face my feelings for you. Because I thought it would distract me. Because that's who I am."
"Was," Anna corrected softly.
That caught Elsa off-guard, and she turned her head to search for any evidence of sarcasm, but found none. She couldn't even locate traces of anger on Anna's face. "You really think that?"
"If you were still that person, you would have left. Or lied."
Elsa smiled. "I could be lying right now."
Anna scoffed. "Don't flatter yourself. You're not that good of a liar," she whispered.
"Excuse me? I happen to recall you believing a lot of my lies."
"I saw through them all," Anna insisted. "And you slap like a cheerleader."
"Why am I in love with you again?" Elsa wondered aloud.
"Not everyone is as utterly charming as moi."
"Not everyone is as utterly incomprehensible," Elsa retorted. She reflected on the day's events from morning to night, and a smile formed out of reflex. "God help me, I might be falling in love with you all over again."
"Join the club," Anna grumbled, crossing her arms.
"You heard me, lovestruck fool."
"Say again, insufferable brat."
Anna whirled on her, leaning over her, and jabbed a finger at her nose. "You don't know how unfair it is for everything you do or say to make me fall more and more in love with you, okay? When you came onto the stupid deck of that stupid boat wearing a freaking tux, I thought I was going to die. And then you told me you loved me and I'm standing there flapping my lips like a goldfish because you ambushed me so unfairly and then you—"
How was that for an ambush? It might not have been the perfect moment, but Elsa could not help but take advantage of it nonetheless. And it was almost by instinct the way her arms hooked around Anna's neck, the way her body sought the warmth of her younger sister's body. The way her eyes slid shut, the way her lips immediately parted.
And Anna responded in kind, despite already short on breath from her spiel, mouth moving with Elsa's—it felt so familiar, like they'd done this a million times before, but at the same time it was new. Hands clutched feverishly at Elsa's shoulders, fingers threading through her hair, pulling apart her braid.
They had to part for air though, with Anna lasting much longer than Elsa expected, and while her little sister caught her breath, Elsa inclined her head to plant a kiss on Anna's chin, "I fell in love with you when you asked me to stay with you." Kiss. "When you held me the night of Ariel's accident." Kiss. "When you waited for me on the doorstep." Kiss. "When you refused to leave me alone."
"Don't think you can sweet-talk me into anything," Anna growled, eyes still glazed with residual desire. "And are we turning this into a competition?" She dipped her head and pressed her lips to Elsa's collarbone. "Because you're going to lose."
Elsa shuddered; she was not about to dispute it. In her current state of mind, she would have been ready to sell all the stocks to Arendelle Corp for zero dollars, if that was what it took for Anna to keep doing that. "That was unfair," she managed. What had they been talking about again?
There was a half-chuckle, half-giggle. "Serves you right. You ambushed me first. How rude of you. You wouldn't even let me finish—"
These were ambitious waters that she was treading, and Elsa knew it. Still, she couldn't refuse the call of the void when the reward was so gratifying. She was bolder this time, hands palming her sister's warm cheeks, tongue sliding along the crevice between Anna's lips to demand easier access.
"I like to think that I'm extremely well-disciplined," Elsa mumbled, barely getting her words out before Anna's hungry mouth enveloped hers in retaliation. The temperature in the room rose quickly (or maybe just the temperature under her skin), and even the cool hardwood floor did nothing to stop it.
"Infuriatingly so," Anna said, fingers flitting over the skin of Elsa's neck. She let loose a smirk, one that sent shivers down Elsa's spine. Leaning closer, "It makes me wonder if you're very, very, subtly challenging my ability to seduce you."
Elsa abruptly sat up, causing Anna to fall off her and plop onto the ground. "You still want to seduce me?"
"Oh, does that mean you want me to?" Anna bit back cheekily, rolling into Elsa's side, eliciting a half-squawk from the surprised elder.
When she had regained her bearings, she answered, "No, I thought—I mean, it's just—why aren't you…um...uh...?"
"My, my, my," Anna snorted, covering her mouth with one hand in an unladylike attempt at elegance, "Is President Elsa Arendelle at a loss for words?"
"I'm at a loss for thoughts right now," Elsa replied, after coming up with zero retorts. "What I meant to say is…do you understand what I told you?"
"You slept with Ariel multiple times because you wanted to forget me," Anna recited in monotone, as if she were giving a speech and making a mockery of it at the same time.
"And you understand what that says about me?"
Anna scoffed. "That you're a flawed human being with needs like the rest of us?"
Elsa felt her eyebrows knitting together, lips pressing together in a line.
Anna poked her shoulder. "Careful, sister. If you frown too much, your face will freeze like that."
"I used her, Anna!" Elsa blurted, despite herself. "The entire time. And even when I agreed to go out with her, I was just using her, manipulating her feelings for me, and then I threw her away when it was convenient for me—"
Anna silenced her with a kiss right then, but after she pulled away, Elsa couldn't help but continue the tumble of guilt and self-pity, "Don't you see what a horrible person I am?"
"Stop. You're ashamed of it," Anna murmured. "You wish you could take it back."
"Of course I am!" Elsa spat. She wanted nothing more than to eject that part of her past as easily as she had expelled the truth detailing it. If regret were an organ, she would have cut it out of her body so it couldn't poison her any further. If only it were that easy.
There was a ruffle of fabric as Anna sat up beside her, and when Elsa dejectedly turned to meet her sister's gaze (not gaze, but a glare), she was greeted with teal eyes burning with a conviction that she had never seen before. "Then all I see is a girl who's sorry for making a mistake."
Mistake. Of course it was. That was all she was good for, after all. Her entire life was a series of mistakes, a cascade of chain reactions that led to one wrong choice after another. She watched herself make the wrong decisions again and again, and she was powerless to stop it.
It was almost as if Anna could hear her thoughts, because her silence earned her a smack on the head. "Eesh, we all make mistakes, Elsa. And it's good that we do, because you know what? We're learning from them. You're learning from them. You've lied to me in the past, and now you've chosen to tell me the truth. And I, also," Anna said, her voice drifting to a mumble, "used Kristoff in a way not unlike how you treated Ariel. So I get how you feel about it, because I feel like crap, too. Neither of them deserved it. I used Kristoff," she repeated, for clarity, as if Elsa couldn't hear it the first time. "Tell me, Elsa. Does that make me a horrible person?"
And then Elsa realized that she wasn't the only one seeking solace from her sins. That when it rained, everyone standing in it got wet, not just a single person. That she wasn't the only imperfect person living in this imperfect world. That she wasn't the only one who needed to feel the sun's warmth, either. She could be both, she decided. She wasn't always cold like rainwater, and Anna couldn't always be as temperate as the sun. So she let herself reach for Anna's hand. "No. You just made a mistake."
It was as much a relief to say it as it was to hear it, perhaps even more. Like looking in the mirror, accepting who you were, and forgiving yourself. Forgiveness wasn't just a kindness to someone else. It was a kindness to yourself, too. Elsa cleared her throat, but something had occurred to her and refused to be redirected. She coughed once for good measure. "So, er, did you…you know? With Kristoff?"
"Did I…Jesus, Elsa!" Anna had turned bright red and huddled herself into an adorable fetal position that gave Elsa's pulse an extra loud beat. "No! God! No!"
"…Oh." She made an attempt to conceal her relief, "Hm." Long ago, Elsa had learned that the only way to avoid disappointment was to not have expectations, but if she were honest with herself (which she rarely was) she would have admitted that had Anna answered with an affirmative she would have passively nodded her acceptance and then most likely ordered Alistair to throw the boy into the Pacific. Wait, would that have been jealousy? No, she would probably have attributed that to an older sister's barbaric protectiveness.
Soon, the tables were turned on her. "Which is why I'm still kind of miffed that you would refuse to do it with me after being so…agreeable…with Ariel!"
If there was one choice that Elsa would defend to her last breath, it would be her decision to remain abstinent. There was never harm in waiting. "I was trying to keep you from making the same mistakes I did. I wanted you to be sure. You can't…come back from this."
"I am sure," Anna said, adamant. "Wait, when you get right down to it…are you trying to protect my virginity?" Then, as if she had just realized the words she had chosen, she slapped a hand over her mouth and flushed, even pinker than before.
Elsa would have laughed at her if not for the strange (albeit awkward) seriousness of the situation. Though she still almost choked—which was quite a feat for her since she didn't happen to be drinking anything—and wheezed while blood rushed to her face, "Well, if you put it that way…I guess so."
The direction in which this conversation was going was not helping either sibling return from tomato impression land. What Anna tended to do in these types of unfortunate circumstances was yell, like a Chihuahua yapping at strangers to gloss over its own anxiety. So Elsa shouldn't have been startled when she heard her sister cry, "Dammit, Elsa! You don't need to make me sound like a tramp who would just offer it to anybody!"
"I didn't mean it like that!" She couldn't help but call back; the blood pounding in her ears was making it hard to focus on anything besides how embarrassingly flustered she was. "But while we're on the subject of this, make sure you use protection if—"
"Oh! My! God!" Anna shrieked at her. "Stop it! Stop it right now! Tell me you are not having the sex talk with me, Elsa Arendelle, or so help me—"
"It's part of the job description, okay? Might as well get all the weird stuff over and done wi—"
"Gah! You're five years too late for sex ed!"
Elsa put her hands up in surrender. This was not good for her blood pressure. "Then why is this so awkward?!"
"I don't know! Why are you so bent on protecting my—my ch-ch-chastity?"
"Because…b-because I didn't with mine, okay?"
Everything reeled to a halt. With one sentence, the rolling snowball of embarrassment dissolved into thin air. All that was left was two furiously blushing idiots staring at each other in the heat of summer night.
"I…I get it," Anna stuttered.
"A-and also, you weren't planning to be sexually active five y—"
Anna shrieked again and covered her ears. "La la la! La! La! I'm blocking you out now! In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the li—"
"Don't you start chanting in African," Elsa teased gently. But she allowed herself a giggle and yielded, "Okay, okay, next topic."
"Next topic," Anna mimicked with a hint of mockery, "Wait, what's the next topic?"
"I received an email earlier this evening titled 'spooning application'," Elsa began, feigning skepticism. "Weird thing is, it was sent from Ariel on your behalf."
Anna cursed under her breath. Straightened her legs and crossed her arms, mumbling something unintelligible. "That was supposed to be for later."
Elsa had to stifle her laughter with the back of her hand, already feeling much lighter than she had earlier, and dared to hope that she could stay that way. "It's late. Should we try your 'cuddling' thing, tonight?"
Anna was eyeing the bottle of vodka Ariel had bestowed upon the floor. "I was actually considering a game of truth or dare to get you to spill the last of whatever is still bothering you, but I want you to tell me while you're sober, not trick it out of you."
Somewhere along the way, Elsa had gotten to her feet in a whirlwind of awkwardness, which she then remedied by hunkering back down beside her sister. The bottle was adorned with countless crystals that threw rainbows under the lamplight, and Elsa remarked briefly that it was a clever disguise for such an evil drink. "It would certainly make it easier," she allowed. "Some people call this truth serum, or liquid courage. It's almost a mild sedative—well, a depressant. And the feeling you get is like…like there's a pillow around your brain."
"I know. I've been there," Anna reminded her.
Elsa turned the bottle over in her hands. "Maybe a little past 'there'."
"I'm trying to decide whether I need it."
"But what it gives us is an illusion. It dulls everything and makes it seem surreal. And everything is easier when you don't believe it's real," Anna said.
Elsa stared wistfully at the ground. Stared at the vodka. The easy way out. Once upon a time, she might have taken it.
Anna nudged her with a foot. "Hey, Elsa, if I said I had a really, really, horrible secret and it was destroying me from the inside, and if I said I thought it would destroy me more if I told you because it would destroy you, too, would you still want to hear it?"
Could Elsa be any more transparent? Did Anna…did Anna know about them? Because Anna's convoluted in-a-nutshell question completely summed up Elsa's (recurrent) dilemma. Thinking back to what Anna had disclosed about alcohol, she concluded aloud, "I would want to hear it. Because if we ignore the bad and only accept the good, then…then it wouldn't be real, would it? And I've learned that I'm very greedy. I want all of you." She stood and extended a hand toward Anna. "Can't have life without both sun and rain, yeah?"
Anna took the offered limb and pretended to dab at her eyes. "My little girl's growing up," she mused, donning her best impression of the sniffles. "Where are we going? Ooh, are we going to your bedroom? I like this idea already."
There were still no mirrors in Elsa's room, and she wondered if Anna ever noticed that. She paused for a moment, held back by the sudden notion that if she couldn't handle seeing her own scars, how could Anna? Her pulse began to race, palms began to sweat, and then it was her father's study all over again—dammit! Why couldn't she keep herself together for one second?
In another futile attempt to shield herself from…well, herself, she let go of Anna's hand and her arms crossed protectively over her abdomen, falling back into her age-old regimen of trying to keep herself from shattering once again.
"Wait here," she heard someone say.
Hilarious. Where else could she have gone? This was supposed to be her haven, the one place where she didn't have to look somewhere and see the hideous thing her father created staring right back at her. The loathsome, ugly creature born from her, the same as her, the one she could never run from, no matter how hard she tried. Mirrors were its home, eyes were its accusations, and metal was its smile. A demonic oxymoron of a smile.
Something solid pressed against her lips, and when her hand darted out to swat it away, it brushed skin. Warm, smooth skin. Elsa opened her eyes to see Anna holding something out toward her, and the monster vanished, as quick as a bolt of lightning.
"Kiss," Anna whispered, and it took Elsa a ridiculously long time to realize that it was chocolate that Anna was offering to her. A thumb prompted her lips to part, and the piece of candy landed on her tongue, sweet and heavenly. Anna beamed at her. "Chocolate is the best thing in the world, isn't it?"
Next to you.
Elsa returned the smile with as much gusto as she could manage, but it was like squeezing water out of a fire—splintering and unfruitful. "Thanks."
Anna was already unwrapping the dark droplets of Hershey's Kisses and forcing them into Elsa's mouth with Olympic rapidity. When Elsa finally managed to dodge the onslaught of chocolate rain, Anna thrust the bag of sweets to Elsa's chest more aggressively than Elsa thought necessary. "Vodka might be liquid courage," she said, tone full of bravado, "but chocolate is…is…sugar," she finished tersely, last words washed away like underground runoff that was to be replaced by fresh rainwater. Still, unabated, "I used to binge-eat this stuff at night, after a nightmare or if I just missed you really badly.
I know my nightmares can't really compare with yours, but there's that moment right after waking up where you're kind of between two…realities, I guess, and you're not awake enough to distinguish what's real and not and I just feel like you somehow end up stuck there even though you're actually conscious. Except the line is more blurred for you and it's harder to wake you up because you're not actually asleep in the first place and I kind of wish I was a therapist right now with a PhD and a better way to bring you back to reality than stuffing your face with Kisses."
Elsa didn't know when a tear had drifted down her cheek until Anna reached out with a gentle hand to catch it on her index finger—blue diamond eyes uncertain, but she held onto the tiny piece of fallen misery, as if she couldn't bear to dash it away. Even the smallest bit, Anna bore it like a medal.
Elsa managed to swallow the last of the chocolate, the melted sugar moving down her dry throat at a painful pace. She tried to wet her lips, lick the sweet stuff off, but settled for swiping a finger instead. Despite her usual inclination to suffering solo, she was suddenly glad that Anna was with her, glad that she could hear the rambling, because even the bitterest foods had a sweet aftertaste, and Anna was hers.
"Stuff my face with kisses," Elsa repeated, although exhausted. It was good that Anna was not the type who lacked motivation. And for once, Elsa thanked the gods for Anna's gift of not thinking before she leapt.
The first time Anna climbed a tree, she fell to the ground with an unceremonious splat. Elsa remembered being rather occupied with heart attacks during Anna's spills, so much that she hadn't even thought to be amused by the way the preschooler thumped down on her behind over and over, like a beanbag, harmlessly on the soft grass.
"Dumb twee!" Anna cried, flailing her arms and legs and rocketing the vegetation around her into the air after what seemed like her twentieth tumble. "I not gonna be fwends 'neemore." Then she puffed out her cheeks and glared at the offending tower of foliage in her trademark Anna way.
After a quick check for injuries, Elsa leaned over, hands on her knees, until their faces were level. While she agreed that asking a tree for piggybacks was a futile exercise in itself, she hated to see her little sister's efforts go to waste—which they often did. "Poor tree," she remarked, ever the devil's advocate. "Maybe it just wants to be alone."
"Dummy," the younger child harrumphed. "The twee looks so sad 'cause it's lonely."
Elsa eyed the great willow thoughtfully, from its thick, bowed trunk to its weeping leaves. Beside her, Anna hopped up with renewed energy and clutched at the bark again. Shadowing her features was the ghost of determination, one that almost looked mature, out of place on her small body. "Not enough," Elsa mumbled absentmindedly to herself, just as Anna's fingers slipped from the gnarled wood again.
"Auuuugh! Stupid twee!"
"That's a bad word."
"Don' care," Anna muttered, crossing her arms.
"Are you giving up?"
The redheaded child nodded.
Elsa sat down beside her. "Are you sure?" She looked at Gerda, who was watching them from the edge of the field, clothed in black. Further in the distance stood a field of smooth stonemen, standing erect and vigilant, in front of a group of people also dressed in dark clothing. Elsa waved, and their caretaker gave a tiny wave back. "It doesn't look like Mommy and Daddy are done yet."
"Twee too big," Anna complained.
"But look," Elsa said, taking off her scarf and stretching a line of ebony fabric across the trunk, "This is when you started," and she raised the line as high as possible, "and this is how high you were the last time you fell. You know how you got that high?"
Anna shook her head.
Anna stuck her tongue out. "Don' like dat word."
"It's two words. Wanna know what it means?"
"Never giving up."
How strange it was that Elsa was the one who gave up first.
Her sister collided with her, knocking her backward, first against the wall, and then the dresser, until finally they landed on something soft and accommodating—the bed. Bottles of perfume, lamps, books, pillows lay in the wake of the destructive dust cloud of desperation. Neither one of them noticed enough to care; they were much too preoccupied with feeling the other as much as possible. Other sensations barely registered.
Anna had chosen to attack her bottom lip first, sucking and licking and biting, but somewhere in between she had moved from there to the corner of Elsa's mouth, and then her upper lip, until she got tired of the fine details and apparently decided to make good on her words, tongue swiping across teeth.
"I hope…" Elsa heard Anna huff breathily in between the kissing, "you didn't mean…the chocolates."
"Doesn't…matter," Elsa replied with great difficulty, and grabbed a hand that was starting to circle from her waist to her back.
"I'm still miffed, Elsa," Anna growled, a guttural sound driven by thirst and jealousy. "And I'm tired of waiting."
This wouldn't be the first time Anna won an argument against her, but it would be the first time Elsa didn't want to lose. Still, the last artificial wall between them had begun to crumble—or had they outgrown it? And as the first brick fell out of place, the rest followed, leaving nothing but a heap of memories and nightmares coated with lies. Elsa loosened her grip on Anna's hand, but neither girl moved further.
The younger girl propped herself up and brought her knees to either side of Elsa's stomach, "And I'm not an idiot. Sometimes."
Adrenaline still coursed unbidden through Elsa's blood, but now she wasn't so sure whether it was from the fact that her girlfriend was straddling her or that the last piece of herself, one that she hadn't even shown to herself in many years, would be released.
"You won't let me touch your back," Anna continued, the lust in her voice swept away and replaced with something sweeter, less destructive. "You're still terrified of hurting me. You've shown me that…that thing, back at the Manor. Scars on your psyche aren't the only things Da—…Father left you, are they?"
Elsa felt the tears this time, prickling like water made of knives at the backs of her eyes—the same ones she hated herself for shedding every time the subject resurfaced. And with them they brought the needles of shame and blame, each one piercing enough to hurt but not kill. Unable to bear the weight of truth any longer, she covered her eyes with a hand in a futile attempt to press those goddamn shards back to where they belonged, sealed inside her, before she developed full-blown sobs.
Her hand was pried from her face by gentle fingers. "It's okay," Anna said, leaning down to kiss her forehead. "Give them to me."
"I love you," Elsa whispered, throat suffocated by repressed whimpers. "I'm sorry I couldn't be stronger."
Anna pressed her forehead to Elsa's, and it was a weight that Elsa relished. One that she would gladly hold onto. "I'm sorry you had to try," Anna murmured back. "And…" She reached to brush away stray tears, smiled with watery eyes, "Thank you."
Those two little words burst the dam. Elsa cried, and for the first time in forever, it was not because there was something crushing her; those tears were made of relief, of freedom, of happiness. It was raw, unadulterated freedom. They came with no needles, no knives. Strangely enough, they were peaceful tears. Stupidly happy tears. Shining shards of liquid glass.
So this was what Anna had meant by 'I'm happy', Elsa recollected.
Anna kissed her, and Elsa eagerly reciprocated. This was real, she reminded herself for the millionth time. And now, what they had couldn't be more real. She had shown herself, had the courage to expose her unsightly self to someone else and for the first time in her life she had not been punished for it, she had been accepted. Her shadow, the one that she had feared, hated, rejected for years and years and years—
'We all make mistakes, Elsa. You're learning from them.'
And learned from, for years and years and years.
You taught me to fear, to hide, to run, to regret. To hate myself, and never forgive.
But you also taught me to love, to protect. You gave me eyes that could see the most important things.
You pushed me off a cliff so that I could learn to fly.
And flying she was, right now, eyes closed and lips softly exploring the contours of her sister's face. She tasted salt, and couldn't determine whether it was from herself or Anna; it was sweet on her tongue nevertheless. Her mouth traced a shapely nose, brushed delicate eyebrows and paused lazily on a smooth forehead, letting out a small gasp when she felt teeth nip at her neck, quickly replaced by a warm tongue, and then supple lips.
"Can I see them?" Anna hummed, breathing hard.
"I don't know, can you?" Elsa edged, a smile on her lips.
Anna raised her head and rolled her eyes defiantly. "You didn't major in English; you have no right."
Elsa answered, "Okay," because there was no more reason to decline. Her hand drifted to her chest to undo the buttons of her shirt, only to be stopped.
"Can I do it?" Anna asked quietly.
"You're asking permission to undress me? How very unlike you."
"This is important," Anna said—without a shadow of her habitual playfulness, Elsa noted when she stopped and did a double take.
For Anna, Elsa reminded herself, the hardest part was just beginning. "Okay," she replied, nodding.
She laid her head back on the pillows and watched as her sister's trembling hands worked to unbutton her shirt. Her eyes flitted upward to trace the outline of Anna's brow ridge, and then lower to number each fluttering eyelash on Anna's half-closed lids. She was going to have to let Anna grow, too, she warned herself, when the habitual urge to take over arose.
"You wear so many layers," Anna murmured when all the buttons were unfastened.
Her tone was one that suggested the comment did not require an answer, but Elsa could not help but try. "It keeps me armoured for when my extremely charming sister attacks me from out of the blue."
Anna humoured her with a smile, but it did not reach her eyes. Elsa sighed inwardly and shrugged out of the sleeves so that Anna could peel the fabric off her. Then it hit her that Anna was going to be seeing her topless soon, and she could almost hear the blood rushing to her face when realization set in. "Are you sure you want to do this?" She heard herself ask, over the forceful thumping in her chest. In all honesty, the question was directed more at herself than her audience.
The hands that were slipping under the hem of her tank top halted. "Are you still okay with it?"
"I'm worried about you," Elsa clarified.
"Well, I'm worried about you," Anna countered, with a trace of her usual cheekiness. Though this time, that cheek was pinker than usual as well.
"Get on with it, then." Elsa raised her arms to allow Anna to pull off her t-shirt and tank top together, leaving her upper body covered by only a lacey white bra. If she had known this was happening tonight, she would have (boldly) chosen something less plain…probably.
"Flip over?" Anna suggested hesitantly, shifting her legs so that Elsa had space for it.
Elsa buried her face in a pillow, her entire body racked with quivers as cold air settled on naked skin, the puckered flesh of those etched memories hypersensitive to changes in temperature. The unfamiliarity of it all, having those scars exposed to the rest of her world, made her fists clench around the covers and her teeth grit. She could hear the muffled sound of Anna sucking in her breath. The clicking of a loosened brassiere. Unfamiliar, but surprisingly not uncomfortable.
A finger made contact with one of the puckered lines on her back, and Elsa could not stop herself from flinching away from it any more than she could repress the broken cries that spilled forth, the death throes of a broken nightmare. She crushed herself further into the pillow, in hopes that it would dampen the pain in her voice—pain that she was supposed to, compelled to feel, but did not.
Remember this feeling, Elsa.
Let it guide you.
Let it teach you.
Had he said that? Perhaps he had and she just couldn't register it over the shattering sound of her screams. Since the only thing that reached her was the crushing inevitability of disappointment and the bitter taste of salt in her mouth. Though it had been pain first. Pain always came first.
And not just for her.
"I did this to you." Barely a sound, just a whimper. "I did this to you."
How could she forget again? She was never the only one hurting. Elsa lifted her head abruptly, dashed the wetness from her eyes and prepared to turn back over.
"Don't. Don't you dare try and comfort me."
While she yearned to hold her suffering sister in her arms and tell her that it was okay, because scars always make everything look worse, because they were a part of her and she had learned to accept them, because those wounds were healed, really healed, Elsa remained silent. After all, fires were destructive souls, but the ruin they left behind would give birth to new life—stronger and better than the last.
And pain, like a fire, would eventually burn itself out.
A small exhale was audible, and then Elsa felt something gingerly tracing the grooves stretched across her back. Warmer than the palm of hand, softer than the pad of a finger. Another exhale, but this time hot air blew against the sensitive flesh, eliciting another shiver from one end of her spine to another.
"Thank you," Anna whispered thickly, her warm breath tickling the skin of a shoulder blade, then that of a spinal vertebra. And she continued to brush every inch of those memories, until there was nothing left.
A/N: I think everyone knows what will be happening in the next chapter...