Notes: Warning for self-harm.
It's not until after her parents' ship sinks that Elsa discovers her powers can be turned on herself. It happens almost by accident the first time, a slash of ice across the inside of one arm when she curls up in on herself for another bout of sobbing. It hurts, but it feels good at the same time, and she stares at the wound in shock. Blood frosted with ice crystals.
She does it again the next day, and the next. All alone with nothing but her thoughts and her self-doubt, there's nothing else to do. She can't be crowned Queen of Arendelle yet, anyway. She doesn't want to be. She doesn't deserve it. Her mother and father did, but they're dead, and she can't help but blame herself. Maybe if she wasn't so wretched, so pathetic and sniveling, she could have saved them.
But Elsa can't even save herself. She keeps her sleeves long and her gloves firmly tucked into them, to spare herself any curious whispers or prying questions from the castle staff that see her, however infrequently. She doesn't let Anna see her at all, save in passing. She can see the grief glaze Anna's eyes, can see the tortured bow of her sister's shoulders, but it doesn't matter. She has to keep her safe now, more than ever.
The ice-encrusted red lines grow, day by day, week by week. She starts taking her baths by herself, too afraid to let a servant even come in to fill the tub for her. The water always grows cold, slicked with a scrim of ice on top, but she doesn't mind. The cold never bothered her, anyway. She picks at her food, gives listless answers to the Ruling Council when she must see them. It's all a sham anyway, she feels like the worst sort of fraud.
Then her sleeve slips, in front of Anna, and wouldn't you know it? Elsa can't hide the scars anymore, can't hide the glistening wounds of blood and ice and pain, and she runs away, runs into her room and locks the door. But Anna won't leave her be, and it's a shocked Elsa who watches Anna literally burst the door down with the help of a rather stout table that Elsa didn't know her sister could even lift.
"I am not leaving you alone anymore, Elsa," Anna says with determination glowing in her stubborn-as-always blue eyes. Elsa backs away, the carpet slippery beneath her boots.
"You have to," Elsa whispers, desperate. Snow begins to fall softly from the ceiling, unnoticed by either sister.
"Why?" Anna demands, advancing forward. She nearly slips on an icy patch and finally stops, looking around in shock.
"Because of me," Elsa replies, her voice ragged. "I have to save you from me, I have to keep you safe!"
"And who keeps you safe?" Anna asks, making her way carefully to Elsa's side. "I love you. You're my sister. You've always protected me, but let me help you, too. We can fix this. Together."
"I can't," Elsa says, but her voice is so unsteady, and she can't stop shaking, and for once, this time…she doesn't move away when Anna's arms enfold her.