A/N - Special thanks to all the sweet people who left reviews on this last week; that was very encouraging, as I had a dreadful time getting this chapter going. I hope you enjoy it. :)
"I don't understand what the issue is. You're here all the time anyway." Anna takes a bite of her apple and looks at him appraisingly, eyebrows raised. "Itf realmy doemt make shense."
Kristoff opens his mouth to retort, then thinking better of it, opts to throw his own apple instead. It flashes half eaten against the sky, then falls in a long spiral of red: a blot of blood against March grey. From their perch on the bench of his sled they watch it come down, bouncing and sliding against the hardened tracks of old snow until it comes to rest, skin side up in a drift at the bottom of the hill.
"I don't mind staying at the Inn." He shrugs, and brushes imaginary crumbs from his shirt. "It's close, and it's, um, close." Anna rolls her eyes and begins packing the remnants of their picnic back into a woven basket.
"It's got to get expensive," she counters. "And trust me, I can always tell when you've opted to stay in the stables instead – you never get all the straw out of your hair."
"It's not that bad!"
"What, the price or the fact that you come back smelling like a horse?"
"The price, Princess Feistypants. And the smell?" He grins at her and scoots down, careful to get his balance on the smooth and densely packed snow. "That just comes with the territory."
Anna sticks her tongue out at him as she follows, bracing herself with one hand on the sled's wooden sideboards as she makes her way around to where he is unrolling Sven's tack. (Where had he gone off to, anyway?)
"Geez, it got slick," she says, experimentally attempting a pirouette. Her boots are some he helped her choose – fur lined and thick, too chunky for snow ballet – and she nearly stumbles.
Kristoff squints at the sky – it's too warm for real snow, and the cycle of freezing and melting has created a glassy crust on the ground. Still, the sun is ebbing further down the horizon – it's time to pack up and head back.
"I'm glad you suggested this," Anna continues, mincing her way past him to where their toboggans were propped against a tree. "If I had to sit through another afternoon of slush I was going to –" She raises her hands by her ears and shakes them, her face a comical grimace.
Kristoff laughs – it's true, this year the winter has lingered long past its due. Lately his visits to the castle had been punctuated by Anna prowling around the halls and dreaming up increasingly absurd activities to occupy the wet and dreary afternoons, until picking up on remarkably blatant hints from Elsa, he suggested an outing.
Their toboggans were hand carved – a labor of many quiet fireside evenings, the grain velvety and polished by oil and months of his hands smoothing over the surface, checking with sensitive fingertips for errant splinters. They had been intended as a Midwinter's present for Anna, but she had been ill, and – well.
Instead of whisking down light and powdered slopes, the toboggans had sat dusty in one of Elsa's closets, past Christmas, past the New Year, and he'd all but given up on using them this winter when a late frost at the castle signaled new snow in the foothills. Feeling more excited than he'd expected, the sleds were recovered and carefully loaded into the back of his sleigh, blankets and a picnic lunch stowed alongside and they'd made for the hills.
It is lucky, he thinks, that even this late in March the weather was, for once, cooperative. Anna's eyes grew wide whenever she pitched down a hill, and her braids flew, and for several hours the air rang with the sound of them laughing. Afterwards, warm and sweaty from climbing up and down the slopes all afternoon they sat on his sled eating cheese sandwiches and apples, and for the first time in months she glowed pink and fully healthy and unconsciously effortlessly beautiful, with her hair poking out from under her hat and eyes glittering with exertion and excitement. He could look at her forever like that.
"I think I want one more go,' Anna is saying, and she's already settling the toboggan down at the top of the run. Kristoff snaps back to the present.
"Anna, I really wouldn't. It'll have gotten a lot faster while we ate."
She gives him a look – the one he recognizes as don't tell me what to do Kristoff – and plops down anyway, feet tucked under the curved top, hands braced behind her.
"It'll be fine; don't be such a worry wart." And she pushes off.
He really hadn't imagined his sleigh being used for this. In all his imaginings of this scenario, the back of his sled had never featured as an option for her – their – first time (okay, that was kind of a lie, but he'd never considered that it might actually happen); instead he had pictured a warm bed and lots of pillows, candles maybe…the kind of things girls liked, or so he'd been told.
They had talked about it in the past, obscurely, using weird euphemisms like 'it' and 'when we you know' because although the year was scattered with moments stolen in the library or gardens, or occasionally behind Anna's closed bedroom doors – mutually agreed upon, happily partaken in –somehow the timing was never there.
His knees are pressing uncomfortably against a seam in the wood planks, and he can't help but think – even as Anna's hands wind their way under his shirt – just how much can change in ten minutes.
It was just the way of things then, the usual way of her (bold in all things, just like her fingers, what is she doing good god), that she'd gone down a trail he'd absolutely 100% told her was not a good idea (which was just like an invitation, he should have known better, it was Anna, after all) and flown over a bump and crashed and landed and had lain so still, terribly horribly heart crushingly still at the bottom of the run.
By the time he reached her she was fine, sitting up and a little dazed, but, awash in adrenaline and pure fear he'd yelled, arms waving and mad, and of course, she yelled right back.
You can't do this to me – not again, Anna, you can't –
There's nothing to be scared of!
Three times! THREE!
Kristoff, that doesn't even count. Calm down – I am right HERE.
He holds her cheeks in his hands and checks her eyes for signs of a head injury, but she puts her palms flat on his chest and there's a moment when they both freeze – one, two, three heartbeats and the scene changes.
Evidently nothing says 'let's make love' like being scared out of your mind and furious and relieved all at once.
She helps him with her buttons when he fumbles them, tiny pearlescent beaded things that they are. The laces of her corset come apart easily; he loosens them with eyes closed, lips in Anna's hair and against her ears and down her neck, fingers working against the ribbons until the garment is loose. Anna shrugs the fabric of her waistcoat from her shoulders and slips it off, naked to the waist.
Her skin flexes with gooseflesh and flushes with lust – Kristoff rubs her arms briskly, meaning to warm her, but finds the skin hot, and his hands slide down, down, to cup her breasts. She's giving no indication of feeling cold (frankly, he doesn't feel it either), but her nipples are pert, contracted and tight against his palm – he gives each a gentle squeeze and flicks his thumbs over them and Anna gasps, arching her back.
He knows already how nimble her fingers are, so it's not a surprise when he feels them pull at the waist of his pants, tugging them down, around his knees, off, and her cool hands pulling him to lie next to her on the nest of quilts and furs hastily thrown down in the carriage of the sleigh. Kristoff spares a moment to be profoundly grateful that he'd packed as many warm things as he could find, and with one hand tugs the edge of a heavy wool blanket over their shoulders.
There is so much more skin than he expected – although how that could have eluded him is a mystery – he did not anticipate how a brush of fingers along his lower back could make his toes contract, or how running his thumbs into the crease of her hips would cause her to twitch toward him.
Anna looks at him and smiles lazily, as if not noticing (or at least not caring) that his hands are trembling when they cup her face, when they ease over the curve of her waist. Her eyes are bright when she grasps him, they reflect her laughter when he shivers, part from chill and part from desire (because this is ridiculous, to be undressed in the mountains in March, but there's no way he's going to stop her now).
There's a break in the clouds, and low afternoon sun shines on them, curled around each other in his sleigh. It doesn't warm, but for a few brief minutes, everything glows gold and pink.
Touching her this way is so different – there's no hurry here, and in daylight he can see everything: the way her eyes flutter when he slides his hand between her legs, the way she bites her lower lip when he eases a finger inside, how the skin on her collarbone blooms when he kisses her breasts and lavishes his tongue against her nipples.
She squirms and moans and bucks her hips against him as he moves his hand against her, warm and wet and welcoming, perfectly and typically unrestrained; her voice is only muffled by his mouth on her hers.
Anna rolls against him, and his breath catches. There's a familiarity to the movements, practiced in a flurry of bodies and skirts against a stone wall, her bed – today when she does it, there's nothing between them. His eyes close involuntarily, lips part. The air is cold.
Carefully he moves, fumbles slightly and then recognizes the feeling of her against his fingertips – the small and firm bit of flesh that, when pressed, causes her to dig into his shoulder and to groan, movements erratic and abandoned.
"Do you want?" He asks when her shaking subsides, and above Anna's breathy gasping, his voice sounds strange and husky.
"Oh yes. Please."
She nods and pulls at his arms, and he hopes, shifting a little and bracing himself over her, that he can hold himself upright. Anna winks – she has, he's learned, little to no reservation in these matters – and reaches down to hold him, to guide him to her.
They freeze. Her eyes widen, and Kristoff can see the faintest inkling of surprise on her face. She looks, for the first time in this whole exchange, girlish; very faintly scared and wholly trusting. What his face says to her he has no idea – probably an equal mix of panic and excitement and love – he loves her, loves her loves her.
"You're okay? Do you want me to stop?"
"No no no…keep going. It's just…different. New."
He can't argue with her there, and scooping one hand under her hips, lifts, pushes, and there.
Together they move; Anna's expression flitters from twinges of pain to pants of pleasure, but her hands push against his back, his hips, his thighs, and her knees pull him to her waist, again and again, slowly then quicker, until he knows…
"Anna – I'm…"
She nods, nips at his shoulder and arousal, growing steadily in his abdomen releases; his eyes clench and hands clutch the blankets, nails scrape wood, Anna is soft around him, and everywhere is her.
For a long time after they lay propped up against Kristoff's packs and supplies, wrapped close together in the blankets and Anna cries a little and laughs a lot, and Kristoff marvels at how much it wasn't like he'd thought it would be at all, even with 15-something years of imagining it, how much better everything is because it's her, the only person he's ever wanted.
"Well, I guess it's sort of fitting, isn't it?" He says, one finger tracing the line between her shoulder and elbow.
"Near death experience. Snow. Love."
"It was not a near death experience, Kristoff."
"Hmm. Maybe not. But, I think – " he sits up, stretches, and considers her for a moment, draped in furs and adoring, nose pink with cold. "I think it's time to go…home."
She doesn't miss the inflection, and immediately straightens, clutching his shirt to her bare chest.
"You mean it?"
Kristoff bends and kisses her, languid and slow, and there's no hesitation, no nervous flutter when he answers.
Several days later, Kristoff slowly carries his packs up the long staircase towards Anna's room, (two under his arms, one on his back; they're all he owns in the world, which he's never thought twice about until now, surrounded by a clean sort of opulence in the richly polished wood, shining brass fixtures and perfectly clear glass) and each step is promise, and trepidation, and hope.
He passes a window and hears the spring birds calling, feels the lightness of late spring sunshine (again, warm but not quite), turns a corner and faces her door.
The green leaves and pink roses are bright, cheerful, and welcoming as ever.
Laying one knapsack at his feet he raises a hand to knock – an unnecessary formality, it seems, because just as he does, the door swings open wide.
Anna smiles at him inside the doorway. She's lit from behind by the light of her huge double window, hair blazing fire orange, and everything about her looks brilliantly warm. She doesn't say anything, but gestures at him with a huge grin and a formal bow; he rolls his eyes and steps over the threshold.
The door closes behind him without a sound.