AN: Thanks Plucie, lesbinope, Hush Puppy, hMSC (admittedly, my brain is probably infested with images from the cake fic, which might've had a hand in what I wrote. Of course, it's nowhere near as good as the cake fic, so everybody should go read it, now!), GuesT (don't worry, anything other than flames make me really, really happy), Nayal, Supremacy of Chaos, Asha5267, 23deecy, Peace Sign Freak, and the guests for their kind reviews. I'm still running the poll on my profile regarding whether you'd like me to reply your reviews here in the author's notes or through PM, so vote if you have a particular preference. For now, I'll be replying those who left signed reviews through PM to keep the notes short. So, let's get going with this!
Courtship of the Grad Student
Choking on the same piece of cake twice was not the smartest thing to do, but that was Anna's predicament when she caught sight of Kristoff peering over her shoulder to look at the text message.
"Look, that's just rude of him to ask you to join some pity party when he knows you want to go to Elsa's colloquium."
After she managed to gobble down the oversized bite, she answered, "And it's rude of you to look over my shoulder at my personal messages!"
"Hey, I'm just trying to make sure my gullible friend doesn't get kidnapped, okay?"
"I'm not gullible! And I'm willingly going to see Hans. That's not called kidnapping!"
She said it. Now she couldn't turn back.
"You sure?" Kristoff looked at her with concerned eyes. What was he trying to get at, sheesh!? She knew what she was doing.
Elsa didn't really need her, but Hans did, so...
"You have no obligations to him, Anna."
But neither did she have obligations to Elsa, as much as she might've liked to.
"Whatever, just come back early. Elsa's up third for the twenty-minute talks, so you might catch it if you're quick."
She nodded and ran. Damn it all, the skies were a whirling grey with hints of upcoming rain, the wind slicing through her left chills down her bones. For once, she wished "their Starbucks" was the one next door, not the one left of the intersection uphill.
Shoving the door open, the loud chime drew everybody's attention. Luckily, it was a cold day and the customers longed for their coffee, so before the rush of heated air could fade from her body, they had already turned back to their hot, caffeinated drinks.
"Hey," Hans gestured from a corner. She quickly stepped forward, careful she didn't bump into cups of boiling liquid on her way there. He had already reserved her a seat, one she took with no hesitation, plopping down without even taking off her jacket first.
"Sup?" She said as cheerfully as she could. Hans smiled politely, but looked no less dejected from before.
"Didn't know you had a habit of cutting your words short, Anna."
Her jaw fell and it took a moment for her to collect them, "Oh, yeah, have been listening to too much rap lately. Sup, Yo! Chillax'in dude?"
"Doesn't sound like rap to me," he chuckled. She tried to join in, but noticed her laughter sounded somewhat artificial.
Oh, screw it. As long as he thought it was funny and didn't catch the drift that she was rather short on time. Now that wouldn't be too nice of her, seeing as they were supposedly dating...or at least she considered their relationship as such...maybe.
"Sorry for asking you to come even though this really doesn't have much to do with you," Hans continued. She shrugged it off.
"Don't worry about it. It's totally cool with me. I mean, you've always been so nice and helpful and awesome and wonderful it's only right for me to, you know, make sure you're alright when you run into trouble. Oh, of course I don't mean you are in trouble now. I have no idea what happened, but can't be the end of the world 'cause you're so smart nothing's gonna hurt you in the long run. Like, my mother said to me when I was a little kid that life's a road and when driving down, occasionally a moose would be cross'in and you'd have to slow down...wait, was it a moose or a reindeer? No, wait, why does that matter? God, am I rambling again? About my mother? Forget what I said, seriously...I'll just shut up now."
This was totally embarrassing. If she'd admit it, she was now feeling like a test-taker in the last minute of an exam, when the darned invigilator started counting down the seconds. Why the hell did they do it anyway? It made her want to rush through the last sentence and cram everything in before her pen was taken away, resulting in an onslaught of useless words and lack of necessary punctuation that only made her waste more time while contributing to the illegibility of her answer.
"Point taken. You're here willing to listen to me, that's all that matters," Hans said. It only made her more guilty to realize her right hand was clamped overtop her watch, forcing her eyes to remain on her friend's greens.
No need to rush, no need to rush, nothing important is coming up, I can sit here all day...
The hell, was he saying something? She totally spaced out and didn't even know for how long!
"So would you like to help?"
With what? I was totally not listening!
"Ugghh...yeah? Why not? I can be clumsy though so don't depend on me."
"That's great. I'm sure with your data, I can pass the retest."
"Umm...data? Like...my data?"
"As I was saying, my committee wasn't too happy about what I chose to blot, even when I told them it was the screen's top hit. They asked to see the other hits, and a model for how they would fit into a biochemical pathway."
Oh, the blot she did with Hans...of the hit from Elsa's screen!
But why did Hans include the blot in his committee meeting anyway? Well, she did help him with a lot of other experiments, but that one was just supposed to be him showing her how to do a Southern! Because it wasn't even his project but Elsa's!
He's probably desperate...can't blame him. I did say I'd help.
"Err...well...I can talk to Elsa about it and see what she thinks. I mean, it's her project after all...but I swear, she's the nicest person out there even though she seems a little weird. I'm sure she'd be fine with it if I ask politely."
This time, the guilt slammed her like a truck. Ask politely for Elsa to share her data? It was all her hard work, the work she'd come in earlier and leave later than everybody else to perform! Kristoff's words rang in her head. Did Hans deserve it? Hans might not be a lazy worker himself, but didn't change the fact those achievements were rightly Elsa's. She had no right to even ask her grad student to fulfill such a selfish request.
And when Hans opened his mouth to say something, only to decide to close it as a second thought, she felt even worse.
She couldn't face him. All this stupid guise of helping him because she self-proclaimed as his girlfriend...she wasn't even really helping, she was just going along with whatever he said because she couldn't even be honest enough to admit her focus just wasn't on solving his problems now.
"Sorry, Hans. Actually I have something important to tend to, so I've got to run," she decided to stand up and leave. Hans hung a bitter yet knowing smile. From the very beginning, this guy seemed to see right through her.
"I'm the one sorry here for holding you up. I know I'm asking too much, but you're all I have."
All he had...all she had.
Maybe the Hans she crushed on wasn't the handsome face that drew her attention the first time she stepped into the Winters Lab, but the mirror she saw behind his electric lime gaze.
"I promised to help, so I would. Whatever you need of me," she said, wondering if she was too deliberate about her vague pledge. Maybe Hans caught it too, because before exiting, she turned to hear Hans speak once more with a waving hand.
"Don't worry about the data thing. I just wanted to...collaborate...so we'd have something to share together."
Contrary to common belief, Elsa was not a bad presenter.
When it was her turn, she stepped calmly up the podium, shirt creased, jacket smart, shoes tidy but didn't sparkle, giving her a clean yet down-to-earth look.
Unlike how she usually wore her braid, over a shoulder or down her back, it was fashioned in an arc above her, shining in its crisp white gold. The ice blues that cast over the audience silenced them, and after the host's introduction, she began.
It was to no surprise she felt a distinct shift of feelings radiating from the crowd. It began with cautious curiosity, something animal trainers would teach you to look for in the repertoire of behaviours healthy animals exhibited. They were like mice that scurried back into their homes when you slipped your finger through the cage, but after a little while, they'd poke their heads out and come check you out eventually. As her talk progressed though, that slight distrust, yet unwilling desire to understand her faded to genuine interest in what she had to say. The excitement echoing in her veins told her as much, comforting her because she knew she had successfully drawn attention off herself. This was what she loved most about science, its objectiveness, its cold, hard, impersonal nature. There was no need for others to know her. They just needed to know her hypothesis, results, and conclusion. That was it.
But as her speech moved from the novel and absolutely massive functional screens she performed on some of the most exotic environments on their planet, drawing tangents to a prehistoric Earth where life itself first emerged from the primordial soup, to her bold attempts at directed evolution of diverse prokaryotic serine proteases that miraculously yielded enzymes with restricted, yet highly efficient activities for substrates of the human complement system, her audience was completely invested in the story. But she found, much to her shock, she herself was drawing back.
Into her conclusion on how this research had direct implications on the pathogenesis of certain disease-causing cousin strains of the species she found, and a more far-fetched claim that this might shed light on the ancient origins of serine protease families, she stuttered, her mind flashing over the bottle of champagne in her memory.
Dr. Winter's pride, her faraway parents' hopes, all coalescing with a voice filled with admiration once sounding on the other side of her door.
"...I missed you."
Anna wasn't here, she realized, and she missed her. She couldn't even believe it, but this was the void collapsing all the carefully-stacked bricks in her perfect stone tower of professionalism.
This wasn't a movie. Even if she refused to end her presentation until the girl appeared through the doors, it wouldn't happen. Besides, she didn't even recognize Anna. For all she knew, the warm feeling was just inexistent, and though she never thought the cold would bother her, it did.
So she didn't look at the door. She turned down to her remote and clicked for the next slide, the last acknowledgements slide.
"Here, I'd like to thank our funding agencies, Genome Arendelle and the AIHR for their generous monetary support, my committee members Dr. Weselton and Dr. Corona for their suggestions and the samples they kindly donated, as well as all my colleagues from the Winters Lab, especially my supervisor Brad, and undergraduate helper Anna. Thank you."
There. She felt it. The happiness. The joy. The tearful cry to her recognition.
Amongst the clapping crowd, her widened eyes swept to a latecomer standing near a pillar, the only spot she could find in the completely-filled hall. That was the first time they met, blues with teals, then she surveyed the rich braids of strawberry-blonde, tanned face adorned with adorable freckles, and that smile, that smile that just seemed to overtake her world.
The novel feeling making her heart pound was terrorizing her, but she couldn't let go of it. It was the first time she found a presentation so fulfilling that despite all fears, she wanted this to become stronger, to stay with her.
The rest of the questions session breezed by. She hardly remembered what it was about, what she even answered with, her senses, her mind, her everything completely devoted to something entirely different.
But with the final round of applause following and a content audience starting to file out the room, she came to her senses, just in time to avoid the girl who was starting to walk up to her.
No, no, I'm not ready for this yet...
"Sorry," she apologized to her fellow presenter who supplied the laptop, abruptly pulling her USB key out and darting for the back doors. Surprised by the sudden action, Anna nearly tripped over herself trying to turn back the other direction so she could intercept Elsa outside the hall. Damn it! She was almost sliding on flawless floorboards due to the puddles of water she was literally dripping all over them, having ran back from the coffee shop while it was pouring outside. Turning a sharp corner with an eardrum-ripping squeak, she managed to catch sight of the blonde, but still just short of reaching and grabbing her.
"Damn it, Elsa! How the hell can you be so athletic when you shut yourself in a dark room!?" She yelled after the quickly-fading figure, though she figured, she wasn't all that angry however.
Because she did see Elsa smiling.
By the time she made it back to the lab, the grad student was locked in once again. It was rather disappointing, but Anna swallowed it, plopping down against the door.
"You know I rushed back to see your presentation? In the rain? And I'm soaked as a result? You could've at least stayed and let me ask a question."
Chuckles sounded on the other end, and when they finally stopped, a very small voice started speaking, one she wouldn't have caught if she wasn't trying so intently to listen.
"What can you ask about when you only saw the acknowledgements slide?"
"Oh, I was gonna ask why you didn't put my name in bold comic sans font, each letter a different colour, because I'm so obviously special."
You are special, Anna.
Don't you know how hard I'm trying to ignore that? To ignore you?
Elsa paused against the door, hand shaking while trying to touch the knob. In the end, she still pulled back and just dropped to the ground.
I'm so scared.
I'm so scared.
"I'm so scared..." she whispered, but it was already enough for Anna to hear it. She couldn't understand, for there was nothing to understand, but for some reason, she felt like she did.
"I know," Anna ended up answering. It was funny, because what did she know anyway? Right, just that one day Elsa would open that door, and when she did, it would be for her. "I trust you. You will come out, I will wait."
It was sad, because Elsa couldn't promise anything.
If things stayed this way, at least this was the extent of what would happen between the two of them. Sure, parting would be difficult when it came time for Anna to graduate, but it wasn't irreparable. It wouldn't hurt for too long, for either of them, because Anna was just seeing a mirage of her, an image the younger girl projected to fill the missing pieces of their interactions. Anna didn't know the real her, the ugly, selfish, cowardly her who left others wounded and refused to treat them because she couldn't even get herself to acknowledge the deed.
She didn't deserve kindness, but just like any other human being, she yearned for it.
"Elsa?" Anna spoke up again, "Do you want to make a rainbow?"
In that split second, it just snapped for her.
"No," she answered firmly, with possession and hunger. Instead, Elsa sought direct contact with Anna's hand, gripping it under the door.
End of Chapter 5