The first time it's just the slip of it, a peek through the crack in the door over her head. He walked her up that evening, through the meandering corridors and past so many portraits and suits of armor that they all blend together, and he wonders how he's going to find his way out of this maze of wood and carpet.
In fact, it takes him no time at all; he's modest about his sense of direction, but the truth is that Kristoff could find his way out of an actual maze, blindfolded and drunk if he needed to, but he doesn't like to brag.
Anna's room is on one of the upper floors. The bottom stories of the castle are for business; its a near constant bustle of state rooms, ballrooms and parlors, the kitchens, galleries, the library. Upstairs is for living. Kristoff can almost picture what Anna meant when she talked about the emptiness, the lonely echoing hallways and musty drapes, but it's transformed now by glittering clean windows, freshly shampooed rugs, and cheerfully touched up paint along the doorframes and wainscoting. His first impressions of the castle will always be of Anna's wide smiles and Elsa's quiet, beaming contentment. He likes it best that way.
Certainly he's been upstairs before – for Sunday tea, for thick and sticky summer afternoons when it is too hot to do anything except read and nap (Anna and Elsa are both fiends for stories, can eat up whole days with them if left undisturbed) in one of the common rooms, for muggy evenings eating a casual dinner, the three of them cross legged on the floor next to the empty fireplace. Upstairs is relaxed, joking and living; downstairs is not unfriendly, but it is formal, so at the top of the staircase Anna and Elsa will fuss with their dresses and tuck in their hair, stand up straighter and become the Queen and the Princess. The first time he sees them do it he wants to bow.
Elsa can maintain the impression effortlessly – she is the Queen, no question – Anna's stateliness will last until something more interesting catches her attention, then she'll be off in a flutter of petticoats.
It happens that their actual sleeping rooms are in another wing, somewhere he's never been, an apartment to which even the title Ice Master and Deliverer does not grant you access. Kristoff assumed for a while that it was a propriety thing, an architectural design feature to deter would-be suitors or thwart potential thugs from finding the royal family, but when he mentioned it to Anna she just turned red and told him it was the quietest part of the castle.
Privately Kristoff considers himself a suitor of sorts (he avoids labels usually, but he and Anna haven't talked about it, not really, it just sort of is) so that night when she leads him in hand down the hallway, a little trill of excitement and curiosity runs up his spine.
Before he can spend too much time dwelling on it, he's standing outside her door. It's a nice door, as far as doors go, he supposes: painted carefully in green and pink florets, and tall enough to catch his attention, tall enough that he wouldn't have to duck passing the threshold.
There's no threshold passing this evening: just two young people standing outside a closed door. He holds her hands and bends to kiss her – carefully, always carefully – whispers "Good night, Princess", which is what he always says, just to hear her snort at the epithet. He's about to pull away, but Anna grabs his shirt and holds him closer, lengthening their innocent goodnight kiss long enough for him to wrap his hands around her and marvel at how his fingers span her waist.
The three months of their acquaintance has been punctuated with simple kisses, the brief touching of lips and lingering gazes in front of closed doors (but never behind them – she hasn't offered, he's too shy to ask, and what would they even do; the idea makes his stomach jump around and pulse quicken).
Kristoff was raised on fables of heroes and maidens fair; he's heard all of the faerie tales, he can recite poems about true love memorized from dozens of hushed bedtime retellings. Three months ago they were stories from his childhood, fantasies of nonsense whispered in the dark, the breath of creatures whose world is half magic and half dream. Kristoff prefers his feet on the ground, wants to know where he stands, likes the solid earth beneath his feet. His world is frequently hard as stone, and cold as ice; he'd given up on the tales of true love years ago. Skeptical ice harvesters need not apply.
Anna leaves him breathless late at night just from thinking about her, overwhelmed by the simultaneously wonderful and uncomfortable pressure of joy. She is becoming familiar like the castle's hallways and paintings: she's a tapestry whose story he is just beginning to unravel.
A minute later she breaks away, cheeks and lips pink. She grins without looking at him directly, opting instead to twine her hands into her skirt.
"Not that I'm complaining, "he says carefully, nervously smoothing the wrinkled front of his tunic, "but what was that for, again?"
"Um. I was just thinking, that I lo- that I love – you – coming to dinner. Right." Anna puffs out her cheeks, staring determinedly at a spot on the floor. "It's just, um, really…great."
Kristoff blinks, nonplussed.
"Yes. Wait. No. No." She shakes her head, looks him directly in the eye, and his heart leaps into his throat (he always thought that was a figure of speech, but he can't seem to swallow).
"I love you."
There's a moment of shocked silence because they've said it together: a voice in unison, eager, sincere and scared. Kristoff gapes at her, and she stares at him then slowly smiles, and he realizes after a second that he's grinning so largely that he can feel his teeth.
Anna kisses his cheek lightly, standing on tiptoe, balancing with her fingertips against his shoulder.
She's quick; one second he's gawping at her, trying to shape words (any would do), the next she's turned the knob and slipped behind her door. Over her head he has the passing impression of pink wallpaper and in the draft of new air, a faint whiff of something distinctly feminine.
The hallway is quiet, dim in evening. He lets out a full breath, even and slow, shakes his head a little then makes for downstairs, humming.
His chest is heavy again with a feeling full and warm and fantastic and confusing, but now it has a name.