Lise is a Norwegian name pronounced LEES-eh – like 'Lisa', but with a lighter vowel sound.
Huge thanks to FaerieTales4ever, for beta reading and being extremely helpful working out some of the kinks.
High in a castle suite, Princess Anna of Arendelle shot upright in her bed. Taking a series of shallow breaths, she clutched unconsciously at her sleeping gown, curling her finders into the fabric, searching for heat. She could feel the rhythm of her heartbeat hammering too quickly, adrenaline expressed in shaking hands and sweaty skin despite the chill in the room.
Her vision adjusting to the dim light of the room, Anna drew in a deeper breath and took a quick inventory. She was still in bed, though several layers of quilts and sheets had been kicked to the foot of the mattress; probably the reason she'd woken, she thought. There was just enough light coming from the window and fireplace for her make out the crags and valleys of bedclothes, Kristoff's sandy hair sticking out amidst them. She watched him for a moment, unconsciously matching his breathing as the bundle of fabric slowly rose and fell, then eased herself slowly out of bed.
Sliding her feet carefully into felt slippers, Anna shivered slightly as she slowly padded across the room. Kristoff was always careful to bank the fire in their bedroom in the evenings, but in Arendelle's deep winters, it was hard to escape the cold. Their room was large – long, with high ceilings traversed by painted beams – and the pocket of warm air from the fire shrank steadily as the night wore on so that they often woke chilled in their bed, with spirals of frost on the window and foggy breath. Standing in the small glow of embers, she could see the patterning on the rugs, the high polish on the carved feet of the nearby sofa. It was a room designed with comfort in mind, full of rich, colorful fabric, squishy furniture, and cheerfully polished wood that she loved in daylight. This late however, there was hardly any warmth to them; the slip of moonlight from the window looked like a path of ice cutting its way across the room, ominous and cold.
With a quick glance over her shoulder – Kristoff typically slept like the dead, but she didn't want to wake him, didn't really want him to know she'd been awake – Anna slipped the iron poker from its hook on the wall and stabbed at the coals, willing them into wakefulness. After a minute they began to burn brighter, coming back to life slowly and begrudgingly releasing heat into the room.
Anna sat down hard on the hearth stones, watching the light of smoldering coals ebb and flare, and held her palms toward the flame. In a flash of memory she could see them, frost licking the tips of her fingers, snaking down the back of her hands, hardening her into ice. In the firelight, they were pink. Curling them protectively to her chest, Anna pulled her legs close and rested her forehead on her knees. Renewed, the fire was almost too hot against her shins, and visions of flame licking the hair off her forearms rolled idly through her mind. In the pocket between her legs and chest, her breath was muggy.
"Hey." Kristoff's voice was close in the darkness, low and gravelly with sleep. "What are you doing?" Anna jerked her head up just as he slid down to sit next to her.
"Nightmare," Anna muttered, picking up the poker again and jabbing it disconsolately into the fire. "I needed to get warm."
"That kind of nightmare then." Although she couldn't quite make out his expression, Anna could imagine his face: brows pinched and lips pressed tightly together. She shrugged.
"You don't want to talk about it."
"Come back to bed then, princess." Kristoff's voice was a sigh as he stood, then stooped again, hooking his hands under her arms and helping her back on her feet.
"I think…I think I'm going to check on the baby," Anna said. "She's been quiet." Removed from the protective circle of the fire, she could feel the whisperings of cold again, the gloom clutching at her heels. A line of gooseflesh ran up the back of her arms and she rubbed them without thinking.
"That's good, Anna. Let her sleep while she's letting us sleep."
"You go," Anna gestured back toward the bed. "I just want to look in on her. I won't wake her up."
"I really think you should just sleep – or come talk to me, at least…" He laid a hand on her shoulder, guiding her back toward their bed, but she shrugged him off, face scrunched together in a grimace.
Then she turned, taking quick strides toward the back of the room and the adjoining nursery door, passing the fire and slipping into darkness.
Kristoff watched her shadow disappear from the room then slumped back into bed and pulled the mass of blankets up and over his head. The moonlight was in his eyes, and Anna's side of the bed was cold.
Breakfast started as a quiet affair.
At one end of the long table, Anna stared at her plate, stirring a grape aimlessly along the china pattern with her coffee spoon. In her other arm she balanced Lise, swaddled in knit blankets so that she resembled something more like a fat loaf of bread than a four month old baby.
From his adjacent seat, Kristoff ripped open a roll and began to butter it, surreptitiously watching Anna gently bounce and rock in a purely unconscious affectation of motherhood. She was lovely, with morning hair hurriedly braided into a messy plait, missing locks tucked behind her ears and a shawl tossed over her shoulders.
If he didn't know better, he might have mistaken the smudges under her eyes and pale skin for normal 'we have an infant' sleeplessness – he'd seen his matching set in the mirror that morning – except she'd been absent from their room that morning. He'd found her dozing in a rocking chair in Lise's nursery, one arm resting in the bassinette, the other holding a dressing gown and nursing quilt in her lap.
"Did you sleep at all?" He asked quietly, setting down his roll. Anna jumped, dropping her spoon onto the plate with a clatter. From inside her swath of wool, Lise began to fuss, and Anna bounced her more purposefully, patting her gently on the back. At the other end of the table Elsa took a long sip of tea, then opened and disappeared behind a newspaper.
"Oh, hang on…shush, shush…um, some. A little."
"You didn't come back to bed," Kristoff probed carefully, keeping his voice low. "Is everything all right?"
Anna's eyes caught his briefly, then darted quickly toward Elsa and back.
"Yes, it's fine, Kristoff. I just wanted to make sure her room was warm enough. There now," she cooed, shifting a protesting Lise into her other arm, "hush…hush…"
"Is she gassy? Does she need burping?"
"I got it, Kristoff."
Lise began to kick and squall, one small hand freeing itself from the blankets and swatting the air.
"Ouch!" Anna yelped. She stood, and the shawl fell from her shoulders, pooling to the floor. Kristoff could see two parallel red lines beginning to form on her cheek. "She scratched me." Standing next to the heavy wooden table, in the large dining room in her nightdress and stained dressing down, hair asunder, and trying in vain to calm the now shrieking infant, Kristoff was suddenly struck by just how small and tired she looked.
"Here," he said, rising and easing the baby out of her arms. "I'll take her. You should go back to bed."
"Kristoff. I can handle it – "
"Go back to bed Anna," he said firmly, hoisting Lise up against his chest. Almost instantly she began to calm, screeches dimming to whimpers as she nuzzled her face into his shoulder. He cupped one of his large hands over the back of her baby-bald head and dipped his head down to let his chin rest against the side of her face. Smiling happily, he turned back toward Anna just in time to see her expression collapse from exhaustion into defeat. A flush rose on her cheeks as her eyes grew over bright, and she caught her lower lip in her teeth, worrying it there for a long moment.
"Fine," she sniffed, bending to gather the shawl from the floor. "She likes you better anyway; I guess I'll go take a bath." Tossing her braid over her shoulder, she turned, hurrying from the room so fast in her stocking feet that she stumbled, clutched the doorframe and shot a pained look at him before disappearing into the hall.
"Oh, come on. You better not be making this…running off thing a habit!" Kristoff called irritably after her. In his arms, Lise began to cry again. "Oh no, Lise, I didn't mean it – " He winced, regret and embarrassment coloring his face as he patted her back, mimicking Anna's natural bounce and sway. "Please sweetie, shush…"
Paper rustled behind him as Elsa lowered her newspaper. Kristoff grimaced as she eyed him thoughtfully, clear and cool. She reached for the teapot and calmly poured another cup.
"Here," she said, tone pointed but kind, sliding the teacup his direction. "Have a drink. Then let me watch the baby and go talk to your wife."
Their bathing room was one of his favorite places in the castle. In Kristoff's informed opinion, the practice of bathing in streams and lakes was bracing, reasonably effective and incontestably refreshing, but it paled to the luxury of languishing in a large tub of hot water, with real, fine milled soap and air toasted by a small stove.
There were many things he found excessive about the castle life – four course meals, extra forks for salad, salad, balls, wearing a cravat – but a real bath…he still spent enough time drying himself off with a dirty shirt (or worse, straw) in freezing cabins to fully appreciate proper towels and a real source of heat.
When he cautiously opened the door to the room, humid air rushed out, hitting him in the face like a wet blanket. Thin sunshine poured in through high windows, but Anna had also lit two of the lamps and the fire, so that ambient light twinkled in every corner. She'd already drawn the water and gotten in, and though she was turned away from the door facing the wall, her red hair and knees poked out above the edge of the tub.
Kristoff stopped short, momentarily distracted by the sight of her: eyes closed, head resting on the thick round rim of the porcelain, limp and relaxed. The bath was sudsy, the slight sheen of soap limpidly curling around her body – softer and rounder now that pregnancy and childbirth had tamed the angles of her hips, elbows and knees – breasts heavy in the water, nipples pink and chafed and not quite covered by her long hair, which drifted, half submerged around her shoulders.
She was beautiful, coiled in the posture of sleep, ankles hooked together and legs drawn close to her chest, breathing deep and slow.
"Anna. Anna. You need to wake up; you can't sleep in the bath."
She blinked. Kristoff's voice, which in her dream had been a faraway whisper, was now close in her ears. Stretching her legs, she rolled her head over and squinted until his face came into focus. He was kneeling on the cold tile floor next to the tub, one hand caressing her shoulder (and getting his sleeve wet, she noticed) as he peered at her.
He still had the look of early morning on him – hair uncombed and creased where he'd slept on it, reddish stubble curving along his cheeks and jaw. Like most of Arendelle he was midwinter pale, but with an ever so slight papery appearance to his skin; the telltale sign of someone who has run low on sleep for more than a few nights.
She raised one hand out of the cocoon of warm water and traced the outline of his cheekbone with her finger, leaving a trail of bathwater running down his face like tears.
"I'm awake," she said softly. He smiled faintly, sitting down on the floor next to the tub and taking her hand, holding it in his under the water.
"Can we talk?"
"Sure, when I get out." She muttered, closing her eyes and leaning back until the water came up under her chin.
"No…now. Right now." Kristoff's voice was gentle but firm, and she looked at him with surprise.
"Tell me about the nightmares. Please."
She sighed, frowned, and rubbed a wet hand over her forehead. "I've been dreaming about Hans."
"Anna, that was six years ago."
"It doesn't matter. I dream about it. It's not going away.
"I dream a whole other life. One where it's not us" – she waved at the space between them – "but it's him. It's confusing because that's the last thing I want, obviously, but in that dream I'm so happy, but then I wake up, and I'm cold and I can't get warm because I just keep seeing him laughing at me for being wrong." The words were angry and bitter, and Anna spat them out, disgusted, covering her face with her hands in embarrassment and grief.
"You – you don't still think you love him, do you?" Kristoff asked so quietly, with his head tipped down and to the side, that she almost didn't hear him. He appeared to be focusing intensely on the embroidery on one of her bath towels, a feint of nonchalance betrayed by the clenched set of his jaw.
Anna gasped, heart sinking into her stomach in horror, and she lurched up to grab at his hands, soapy water sloshing over the floor.
"Kristoff." In her ears it sounded like a plea, and she swallowed hard around the lump that was growing in her throat. "Oh, Kristoff. No no no. It's not love. It's everything love isn't."
"I don't understand."
"That's the thing! You think, sure, love can hurt. You can lose love. You can fall out of love. It's not just some fairytale that didn't quite work out because the princess can't stand the way the prince eats, or because he doesn't like that she's bossy, or maybe because they fell in love with someone else.
"I didn't – I'm not sure I loved him anyway, but you see – it doesn't matter. I don't get any say. Now he just…waltzes into my dreams – when I don't have a choice, can't tell him no – he puts himself in my life whether I want it or not. I'm not even hurt by it anymore – not by the betrayal, not a broken heart."
She paused, took a deep shuddering breath and continued.
"The worst thing he ever did to me Kristoff – the worst thing anyone has ever, ever done – is make me believe that I was inadequate and stupid and naïve and weak. It's just this little niggling thing in the back of my head, that voice in my dreams that I'm not good enough, that I am a fool.
"I wake up, and I feel like it just happened. He's standing here in front of me, telling me how wrong I was about everything. I feel like I'm ice. Like I'm nothing."
Finally out of words, she stopped, fingers gripping the slippery edge of the bathtub, miserable and frustrated tears mingling with the water from the bath, pooling under her chin.
"Anna. You are so much more than nothing," Kristoff breathed, then in a rush pulled her to him, water splashing everywhere, to hold her trembling and wet against his chest. "You're everything."
They were still for a long moment, Anna breathing heavy not-quite sobs into his shirt, Kristoff with one arm tight around her shoulders and the other supporting her waist. Eventually she stilled, the horrid mass that had been clawing at the inside of his ribs melted away, and they broke apart, Anna easing back into the bath. She gave a watery giggle when he plucked at his wet tunic.
"Sorry about that."
He leaned forward, pressing a light kiss on her forehead. "Shirts dry. Don't worry about me."
She smiled lightly, fishing around in the water until it produced a washcloth, which she wrung out and began to wipe her face.
"I don't usually have dreams like that," she said, voice muffled. "It just happens…sometimes. When big things are going on." Kristoff cocked his head, confused, and she dropped the washcloth back into the water. "You know. New jobs: 'Am I going to accidentally start a war over what we serve at state dinners?' Marriage: 'Am I going to be a good wife, or will he stop loving me once he sees how I keep my room?' Babies." She gave him a pointed look.
"First of all," Kristoff said dryly, "I saw your rooms a long time before we were engaged, and I married you anyway."
"Besides," he added, "you said you feel like this whenever there's, what, a challenge? Come on – how does that usually turn out for you?" He chuckled, shaking his head.
"Elsa named you an Ambassador and Foreign Diplomat when you'd never been out of the country, and now you're on a first name basis with the monarchs and leaders of practically every country and kingdom within sailing distance, as well as their harbormasters, their chief of staffs and their palace cooks. You learned trick riding so you'd have something in common with the Spanish ambassador, for goodness sake."
"And princess," he said, and paused, fumbling for the right words, "you are a wonderful mother. Lise – look, I don't even know how you're doing it – just – don't worry about it."
Anna's eyes, wide, blue, and clear were locked on his face.
"Kristoff – she's got a good father t – wait. Hang on. Where is she, anyway?"
"Elsa's watching her."
"Elsa? Ohh boy. Come help me out. She'll be hungry, and even the Queen can't feed her like I can."
Kristoff laughed. "Alright. Up you get."
Taking her hands, Kristoff hoisted Anna carefully out of the bath, grabbed a couple of towels from a nearby stool and wrapped her in them as she giggled, peppering kisses on her face, shoulders and in her hair.
She beamed at him, rosy pink and looking happier and more relaxed than he'd seen her days. A familiar swell of affection bloomed in his chest, ran down his arms and legs, and finding himself unable to speak, he settled for swatting at her bottom as she turned out of the room.
Before closing the door behind them, he blew out the lamps and reached on arm into the now-cold bathwater. Finding the plug, he wrapped his fingers around the slim chain and yanked, watching with satisfaction as the water began to swirl and vanish down the drain – nightmares and old haunts flushed out like dirty bathwater.
That night, with Anna tucked securely against Kristoff's side, and a bassinet next to their bed, they slept soundly.