/Okay guys, here it is. Try not to read this in class or on the bus or in any other room where there are other people. Unless you can read sexy times without blushing, then go for it. Oh the first chunk of the chapter is fine btw. Like, no sexy times. Wait what's that? Stop talking? Oh ok.
It was just a kiss. A brushing together of lips, contact that lasted no longer than two seconds. I didn't wrap my arms around her, I didn't force my tongue inside her mouth, we didn't end up ripping each other's clothes off on the dance floor. It was just a kiss. Right?
Wrong. As soon as I pulled back from the soft kiss I felt the tension in the room cover me like a blanket. Not a soothing, warm and snugly blanket, but a very prickly and hairy one that your older brother would wrap you in for fun and just laugh as you would start crying, begging to be let out.
I slowly retracted my palm from Anna's face and lowered it to hers, softly wrapping our hands together. It was the only contact we had as I turned to the side, not ready and not willing to confront the hundreds of faces that were pointed our way. The ones that stood out from amongst all the others were Agdar and Idunn's. Agdar his eyes were dark and unyielding, where Idunn seemed to be caught in a wave of dizziness that threatened to knock her off her feet. Henry was standing next to the woman, holding on to her lower arm as he shot me an unnerved look. It seemed to tell me to run, but maybe that was just me.
What did you do. Oh my god. Please reverse time. This is not happening. Reality seemed to slow down until I wasn't sure what was real anymore. Anna's hand in mine felt real, but I couldn't feel the floor anymore. It made me wonder if what I was seeing was actually happening. Maybe if I willed it hard enough, I would realise that everything was OK and that I hadn't just wrecked my young career. Anna squeezed my hand. "Elsa you're going white, please stay with me. We'll be fine."
My jaw locked on itself as terror started settling in my limbs. Anna is right. Now is not the time. You're the CEO. This is not the time. Try to relax. Put it away. Conceal, don't feel. "Ladies and gentlemen," a voice sounded through the speakers.
I turned around, mostly forced by Anna - but she managed to hide my stiffness by sliding her arm through mine in a cordial manner. I'm sure we looked like quite a friendly pair to the outside world, just two good friends. If only I hadn't just kissed her in front of a crowd.
Andrews was up on stage, the microphone against his lips. "Will you please join me in an applause for these two wonderful dancers. I sure am jealous and if I didn't have a prosthetic hip I'd ask Miss Almstedt or Miss Shields to take me for a spin," he joked. Great, tell the whole room her last name. I was hoping some people didn't already know that I was dating my employee's daughter. There was a polite amount of applause however and Anna jokingly bowed to our large group of spectators. I didn't move, still doing my utmost best to ignore the amount of adrenaline amassing itself in my chest and arms. The skin on my arms felt icy and I was sure Anna must be feeling the icy spikes extending themselves like frostbite - but she just kept holding on to my arm, hugging it close to her.
"Now if everyone would please follow my wife outside, we have a fire show planned for you. The fireworks last year were a spectacle to behold, but just wait until you see these people." I kept standing there, frozen in place, with Anna squeezing my arm tightly. It's just adrenaline. You've felt it before. You'll be fine. Anna is here. I hadn't noticed the redhead had been speaking to me constantly so when the attention slowly turned away from us she pinched me sharply on my arm.
"Elsa. You with me?"
I blinked and looked to my side, unable to focus on Anna. The feeling in your face will come back. There are no insects crawling on your head, that's just the adrenaline. "What?"
"We'll be fine, Munchy. Just give them a minute and they'll forget all about it." You've been through this before. It sucks, yes. You'll be fine. Just remember that word. Focus on that word. Fine. Anna. Fine. The movement of Anna's hair told me she had glanced to the side. "My parents are coming. Just let me handle them, please." Oh shit, her parents. Don't hit Anna. Don't be mad at her. It's my fault. I kissed her. I felt a different set of hands on my other arm as Anna released her grasp on my other one. I tried to reach for it, hold on to it, but she moved away. No please don't leave me here, Anna. Don't...
The owner of the hands that were now grasping my arm led me to the side. I wasn't sure where we were going, all I could do not to fall was remember to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Where are my shoes? Who's holding on to me? Wait no let me go, I need to stay with Anna. The unknown touch on my arm felt like a vice, the places our skin touched seemed to be radiating fire through my skin and into my muscles. Let me go. I had the overwhelming feeling that I didn't want to be touched right now. I didn't have the clarity of mind to respond eloquently though, all my energy and focus was spent on trying to stay upright and not give in to the anxiety. Little did I know that I was already knee-deep into an attack. I need to get back to Anna. I need her.
"Elsa." I recognised Henry's voice. Is he the one holding on to my arm? I managed to glance up and indeed saw Henry looking down on me, his eyes filled with worry and distress. His face was darker than I remembered. Did his skin change colour? No that's not it. It took me a few seconds to notice my back was pressed against the wall of the ballroom, behind the pillars and the curtains that were covering us in shadows. It took me another moment to realise I was sitting down instead of standing. When did that happen?
Henry was still holding on to my arm however and that combined with the fact that I was sitting caused a flare of pins and needles to surge through my limbs. I tried scurrying to the side, away from the hands that were touching my skin. "Let go of me," I managed to force out of my throat as I swatted at the person squatting down next to me.
The boy let go and allowed me to create some distance between us. I tried to get up but tangled my legs in my dress. Where is Anna, I need to get to Anna. Henry moved in front of me, not touching me but prepared to catch me if something happened. "Anna is fine." I hadn't realised I had been muttering her name. Was I? I don't know. A new voice came from the side, a man. He had a faint Scottish accent and handed Henry a glass of water.
"My wife used to get anxiety as well. May I?" A glance in his direction showed me the faint image of a kilt, it was the man who Anna had dragged me away from. I was seeing everything through a haze though, and time seemed to be rather fluid - one moment the man was standing to the side, half a second later he was squatting in front of me with his hands on my knees. "Hello, Elsa." Stay away from me. No, please don't.
"Sir please, I don't think that's wise right now." Henry stood to the side, wringing his hands. My eyes shot between the two men. I managed to focus on the Scottish man's face in front of me. It didn't look worried or soft however. The man seemed to be enjoying himself.
Get away from me, get away. "Don't," I muttered. I had been so far gone that I had completely forgotten about my breathing. I now felt that my lungs were struggling and my ribs were sore.
"Relax, girl." The man put his weight on his other leg, bringing his body in between Henry and me. I was still sitting on the floor, trying to get the stars to leave my vision and trying to ignore the ants that were parading across my skull.
"Sir, I must ask you to leave. Now." Henry's voice sounded like it came through a thick cloud and I wondered when he had said it. As soon as his voice died away I wasn't even sure whether he had said anything at all. Just please leave me alone, everyone go away. Anna, where's Anna.
I don't know why I did it. Something inside of me told me to look up, look at the man squatting in front of me. I locked eyes with him. His eyes were a dark brown with a slight hint of light brown in the centre, almost yellow. I could see his eyes so clearly I saw the separate ridges in his iris, a small black spot that sat to the left of his pupil in his right eye. It was then that I felt a hand high up my leg, underneath my dress. It wasn't on my knee or thigh - I felt him touch the fabric of my underwear right on the hip bone.
A scream tore from my throat as I brought my hand out into his face and a second later the man was gone. I saw Henry hauling him up by his arms, tossing him aside like he was a ragdoll. Two seconds later I felt someone wrap their arms around my shoulders. I immediately tried to fight them, flailing my arms around as my vision started getting dark. Strong hands pulled me in however and as soon as Anna's smell filled my nose I let go of everything and felt my mind go blank.
"What's wrong with her?" The male voice clawed its way into my ear as I struggled to open my eyes. My eyelids felt like they were glued shut and I was sure there was an elephant sitting on my chest.
"She had a panic attack, that's all. There's nothing wrong with her." I recognised Anna's voice and it seemed to wake me up from a slumber I hadn't known I was in. I moved my arms and squeezed my eyes, breathing in deeply to try and get my bearings.
"She's waking up," another male voice said. The floor underneath my head dented, causing me to frown. No, not floor. Cushion. I opened my eyes and saw Anna sitting above my head, a worried but intensely affectionate look on her face. She cupped my face upside down with her hand and looked down on me.
"Munchy, are you okay? Feeling better?" Now that I was waking up I could hear the orchestra playing nearby. Okay so we're still at the formal, just in another room.
"What happened?" My voice sounded raw and an arm appeared into view, a glass of water in its hand. I followed it up to Henry's face, who was standing up rather rigidly. I let my eyes wander over the rest of the room as I took the glass from him. I didn't recognise the space we were in but it seemed rather empty, with bare walls and just the sofa as far as I could see. When my eyes found Agdar and Idunn standing near the door my breath hitched however and I dropped the glass. "Shit," I muttered.
"That's okay," Anna said quickly. When she saw I was trying to get up she helped me into a sitting position, one arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders. I felt something prick into my hip and frowned, but before I could say anything Anna spoke up. "You fainted. You hyperventilated and fainted. That's all."
"That's all!?" My eyes found Idunn, who was trembling slightly. I half expected Agdar to hold on to his wife but he didn't, he just leaned into the wall behind him.
Anna shot her parents a sharp look. "Yes, Idunn, that's all."
"Elsa, your PA grabbed one of your company's biggest clients and tossed him into the wall. What do you say to that?"
I frowned, trying to remember what exactly had happened. Everything since the moment I had kissed Anna on the dance floor was a blur to me and just thinking back made my throat clench up again. I didn't want to dig into that right now, but there was something about that man that made my insides churn.
Another sharp prick into my skin caused me to reach through the slit in my dress to my hip, not thinking about what exactly I was doing. "Elsa, what the fuck?" Anna's hand rushed to pull my dress back over my legs when I pulled my hand back out, a piece of paper in it.
"This was in my underwear..." I shook my head. Come on, remember. How did it get there again? It was completely silent for a full ten seconds, whilst Henry turned back to face me. He had looked away when I had reached underneath my skirt. Now that my mind was clearing up more and more, the fact that I had just done that made me flush slightly. "Sorry about that, I wasn't thinking."
Henry reached towards the paper. "Don't worry about it. May I have that?" I handed it to the boy, completely forgetting about Anna's parents. Anna's arm around my shoulders was way more important to me right now. I leaned sideways into the girl, looking for more comfort in her warmth. It was only a slight movement but Anna understood, squeezing my shoulder and taking my hand in hers. I put my head on her shoulder and closed my eyes, focusing on my breathing. She pressed her face in my hair, giving me small kisses whilst muttering soft words to calm me down.
I hadn't seen Henry pull out his phone and I was so focused on Anna that when he suddenly spoke up my eyes flew open and I lifted up my head. "Hello? Yes, I'm sorry for calling you at this hour but it's important. I'm Miss Shields' PA, Henry Lepidus." I frowned at the boy to my left, wondering who he was talking to, but then my eyes flicked back to the right where Anna's parents were still staring at us. I tried letting go of Anna's hand but she just squeezed it harder so all I could do was shoot a slightly distraught look at the couple. I thought I mostly saw confusion in Idunn's eyes, but Agdar's eyes were dark.
"We're at the Pinehearth manor. Yes, that one. We'll be here." Henry hung up the phone. "Masters is on his way."
"Lieutenant Masters?" I looked at the boy quizzically, wondering what the paper had said to make the boy immediately call in the cavalry.
"I don't give a bloody fuck about that piece of paper, or that guy in the ballroom." Henry, Anna and I all looked at Agdar, who was starting to turn an alarming shade of red as he stood against the wall, his fists trembling at his side.
"Agdar, please, can we talk about this later? I don't..." Anna made a very valiant attempt at calming her father down by letting go of me and stretching her hands out in a soothing manner, but her father didn't want to hear any of it.
"You shut up! I am your father and I will not have any of this!" I blinked, taken aback by the man's outburst. I wasn't expecting it from him at all. Maybe having the inkling that his daughter might be gay was all he could handle and seeing the reality in front of his eyes had pushed him over the edge.
To heighten my surprise, Idunn turned to face her husband. "Please dear, I don't think this is the moment. Look at Elsa, she's still white as a sheet."
"I don't care!" He pointed a trembling finger at me, a vein in his neck pulsing dangerously. "I trusted you," he hissed. "I thought you might be the good influence my daughter needed, but instead you corrupt her with your... with this..."
Anna jumped up and I grabbed the back of her blazer, partly because I needed her close to me to keep me calm and partly because I was afraid she might rush her father. "Don't you talk to Elsa that way, Agdar. It's me you're angry at, not her."
"I told you to shut up!" Agdar's voice lapsed, making him sound even more dangerous. Henry moved ever so slightly to Anna's side, facing me. He didn't exactly step in between Anna and Agdar but the movements his eyes made from side to side told me he was tensed up and ready to act if things escalated.
"You're abominations, both of you." Agdar lowered his hand but he was still shaking. Idunn tried grabbing hold of his arm but he shrugged her off.
"Agdar." The woman leant down ever so slightly, pleading with her husband. "This is our daughter, Anna. Please, we need to talk about this. Don't do this, she's our daughter. Please..." I saw tears running down her face and I hugged myself, feeling like an intruder into what was clearly a family issue.
I thought Idunn was the most religious one. I didn't expect this. I guess it's the quiet ones. Agdar's nostrils were flaring outwards as he looked from his wife to me, resting his eyes on Anna. "This is not what God intended."
I was proud of Anna for keeping her mouth shut this long, even though I had noticed she had started trembling in an uncanny resemblance to her father. "Doesn't the Bible say to love one another, especially your family?" She sucked in a shuddering breath.
Idunn finally managed to get a hold of her husband's arm and she squeezed it. "That's true, Agdar. We can work through this. We're a family first." I saw her hesitate for a moment. "The Bible isn't everything."
Agdar his eyes now fixed on mine and I was unable to look away. He shook his head, his teeth clenched together. His tongue then darted out to wet his lips, his eyes wide and slightly maniacal. "Monster."
My fingers lost their grasp on Anna's blazer when she surged forward, but luckily Henry was faster. He wrapped his arms around her chest, pinning her arms to her sides. The speed with which he had to intercept her caused them to both fall to the ground and Henry twisted so that he landed on his back, Anna sideways on top of him. "Let go of me," she growled as she struggled against Henry's arms.
I witnessed the scene and was highly surprised how little it did to me. Yes, I felt warm inside from the fact that Anna was willing to punch her father in the face over an insult directed at me, but the insult itself hadn't swayed me that much. Agdar only managed to make himself look like a fool, rather than making me feel bad about myself. Maybe I should thank him.
I looked up at Agdar, who looked a bit startled, and Idunn, who was staring down at her daughter with an expression on her face I didn't quite understand. She turned towards her husband. "Get out," she said. He looked at her, confused, but she crossed her arms in a sudden display of eerie calmness. "I said, get out. Leave."
"Idunn, what are you..."
"You do not get to talk about my daughter that way. Nor about the... the person she loves. Look at what you're doing to her." I saw the woman swallow and realised her resolve wasn't very strong. Any little push from Agdar might break it.
The man just shook his head and without any further comments or glances he strode through the door, slamming it behind him. Immediately the atmosphere in the room shifted and Henry quickly let go of Anna, who rolled off of him and jumped up. Henry was cat-like in the speed with which he was also back on his feet, his tux slightly wrinkled. He eyed Anna like she was a dangerous wild animal who could snarl and lash out at any second.
Instead, the redhead frowned lightly, an otherwise rather relaxed expression on her face and in her stance. "Well, that was bound to happen."
Idunn stood there, looking at her daughter. She had both her hands in front of her mouth and was still trembling slightly, but she too seemed to have calmed now that Agdar had left the room.
A silence dawned over the room, only broken by the music still drifting through the walls. There were also the occasional chattering voices when footmen or guests passed the closed door. I crossed my legs, unsure and rather confused as to why the situation had suddenly defused like that. Oh so now you're worrying about there not being too much tension? And where the hell are my shoes?
"So." Idunn rubbed her palms on her dress. Anna stood in front of her, her hands in the pockets of her blazer. Henry moved to sit next to me, apparently sure Anna didn't need any more restraining. I put a hand on his arm in a silent thanks for his intervention earlier as we both tried to look anywhere but the mother and daughter in front of us.
"So," Anna replied. Her hair was a bit ruffled from her tumble with Henry and I saw the button of her blazer lying to the side on the floor. I resisted the sudden urge to pick it up.
"You two. How long have you..." Idunn kept rubbing her palms on her dress in a very nervous and insecure manner, but she was trying. She was really trying.
"We've known each other for a while." Anna looked at her mom, a slightly worried look on her face. But there was also affection. Her mom was still here, and she was asking about us. She's really trying. "We met at a concert in a pub. Elsa got... she stayed over. She wasn't in a very happy mood, because work wasn't all that great."
Idunn looked at me. "When was this?"
I bit my lip. "The Friday before I called you to tell you about the sudden timetable shift in the takeover of your company."
Her eyes widened for a second, then she nodded. "Oh. That's not too long ago, I guess." To my surprise her mouth curled up in half a smile. "So at the dinner..."
I nodded. "You kind of backed me into a corner when you told me to bring my boyfriend. I knew you were religious, so I asked Kristoff along. He's a friend of both me and Anna."
Anna interjected. "She didn't know you were my parents, otherwise we would've dealt with it very differently."
Idunn then surprised all of us by laughing. It was half cynical, half shocked. "Well then. I must say it does explain a lot of things." She looked at her daughter. "I just... I don't understand."
Anna frowned. "What don't you understand?"
"This... gay thing." She raised her hands. "I just don't understand. The Bible clearly states that it's wrong but... It's not a choice or anything, is it?"
Anna shook her head. "It's not." She ran her tongue over her teeth, thinking. "Have you ever been in love, mom?"
I could see Idunn's eyes widen slightly when Anna dropped her first name. I wonder how long it had been since Anna had actually called her mother 'mom'. "Yes, I have."
"Butterflies in your stomach, can't stop thinking about that person, being all gooey when you see them... Just hearing their name makes you all warm and fuzzy inside. That kind of in love?" Idunn nodded and Anna smiled and shrugged. "Well you get that with men. I get it with women. I have that with Elsa." I felt my heart flutter up when she said that and Henry softly squeezed my arm.
"And not with men? Not at all?" Anna shook her head and Idunn nodded, clearly trying to process all this information. She looked really small as she was standing there at the wall so I reached my foot out and nudged Anna in the calf. She looked around at me and I nodded at her mom. 'Hug her,' I mouthed at her. Her eyes widened but she immediately stepped forward and wrapped her arms around her mother's shoulders, causing Idunn to stiffen and freeze in place.
"I'd be happy to explain it to you, mom. Anything." She giggled. "Well maybe not -everything-, but..." I rolled my eyes. Not now, Anna. Anna sighed and I saw and felt a lot of tension drain out of her and her mother. She kissed her mother on the forehead. "I love you, mom."
Idunn suddenly wrapped her arms tightly around her daughter's waist and pressed her face into her shoulder, sobbing loudly. Anna looked slightly startled but she pulled her mother in close, stroking her hair while she shot me a bewildered look. I just smirked and put both my thumbs up in the air. Henry suppressed a chuckle and I poked my elbow in his ribs. Nothing like someone else's drama to forget about your own.
The thought reminded me of my panic attack and I leaned into Henry. "Care to go for a bit of a walk so you can tell me what happened?" The boy nodded. Anna had heard me and smiled at us as we moved to the door, still allowing her mother to cry loudly into her shoulder.
Henry and I stepped out into the hallway. I didn't recognise it but it was exactly what you'd expect from a hallway in a mansion like this. A lot of wooden accents, white walls, green carpet and heavy wooden doors every other couple of feet. "Did you have a place in mind?" Henry asked. I shook my head so we just went left, both not sure where we'd end up.
"So, could you tell me what happened?"
Henry strolled next to me as we set off in a very leisurely pace. "From the moment you blacked out?"
"From the moment I kissed Anna, please." I frowned. "And if you could include where my clutch and shoes ended up."
Henry smiled faintly but looked a bit confused. "But you were there when you kissed Anna, why do you need me to tell you again? I was with you."
I shot a glance at the boy next to me. "Have you ever had a panic attack, Henry?"
He shook his head. "I can't say I have." He frowned and turned his gaze down a bit. "But I must say watching you go through one was rather terrifying. The sheer panic and dread in your eyes was..." He swallowed. "I guess you weren't really paying attention to anything then. Sorry I assumed without thinking."
"That's okay. I wish I wasn't such an expert on them either. This was my third and heaviest one up until now." Why was that though. I wasn't worried about losing Anna this time, was I? I shook my head. I guess it sometimes just doesn't make sense.
We rounded a corner at the end of the hallway and I looked out a window to my right into the dark gardens. We were at the back of the house and I could see several large trees, all with lanterns in them. There were a few paths criss-crossing the lawn and in between the trees and bushes, all of them also lit up. It gave everything a silver glow and was rather beautiful.
The orchestra was still going and had gone back to playing waltzes and slightly calmer music. I smirked. They probably won't play a tango again tonight. The wind through a slightly opened window made me sigh contentedly. The pine scent was lovely and a good distraction from the slightly musty smell inside.
Henry touched my arm. "Are you okay?"
I looked to the side. "Yes I'm fine." I smiled. "Just enjoying the smell and view."
Henry looked out of the window as well. We had stopped in our tracks and the boy opened the window completely, leaning onto the windowsill as a gust of wind played with the small lock of hair that had gotten loose from its gelled hold on top of his head. I leaned my shoulder against the wall next to the window. "I'd offer you a stroll through the gardens, but..." Henry sighed.
"What is it, Henry?" I cocked my head. "What did that piece of paper say?"
Henry glanced at me before looking back out the window. "Let me tell you what happened in the ballroom first." I nodded slowly. Please don't trigger anything again. I felt a lot better but as usual it would take me a while to be completely fine again. Although fainting was quite a good remedy.
"Well I think it's safe to say almost everyone in the ballroom was rather shocked when you kissed Anna." He smirked lightly. "Don't get me wrong, I absolutely loved it. You were dancing so intensely, it was an absolute joy to watch... it only made sense to end up with a kiss. Don't blame yourself for doing that. If you hadn't I might've just rushed the dance floor and yelled at you for not seizing the moment."
Henry turned and also leaned against the wall on the other side of the window, mirroring me. "I could immediately see that the Almstedts weren't exactly amused though. I didn't really care about the others, but even during the dance I could see Idunn was rather taken aback. She'd been drinking and well, I figured I might lend her a hand." He laughed. "You have to really hand it to Andrews though. He really saved your ass. Thanks to him almost no-one saw you break down."
He bit his lip. "That sounded rude, sorry."
I shrugged, crossing my arms. "Well that's what I did, I think." I tried remembering what Andrews had said and done, but I couldn't remember. But he made sure most people didn't see me. I need to thank him.
"Anyway, I went over and escorted you to the side as Anna got into a discussion with her parents. She has your clutch, by the way. And your shoes are somewhere in the ballroom." He shrugged. "Since you asked. Anyway, I didn't hear all of it but to me it sounded mostly like Agdar was being mad at her for making a fool of their family, so soon after the takeover and all that. Anna was more interested in making sure they wouldn't make things worse for you, being the new CEO. Something about 'keeping it professional' between you and them." My heart warmed a bit at that but I knew that I couldn't count on the Almstedts anymore. At least not on Agdar. I shivered slightly. That's definitely not an option anymore.
Henry took my shiver as a sign of cold so he closed the window and gestured down the hallway. We set off again and he continued his story. "The ballroom emptied rather quickly and by the time you were sitting down against the wall almost everyone had gone. Then this guy showed up wearing a kilt, holding a glass of water." The memory of a kilt flashed through my mind and I inhaled sharply, causing Henry to put a hand on my shoulder. "Okay that was definitely not you enjoying the smells."
Memories washed over me and I swayed on my feet, involuntarily bringing a hand down to cover my hip. "He put that piece of paper in my underwear."
Henry gritted his teeth as he gently moved me to the wall so I had something to lean against. "Yeah that's what I was afraid of. I didn't really see him do anything, he was in between you and me, but when you screamed I immediately tossed him aside." He leaned a hand against the wall next to my shoulder in a protective manner, using his other hand to cover his eyes for a moment. When he lowered it his eyes had turned sad. "I'm so sorry I didn't make him leave sooner. He seemed to just be worried about you. Had I known... I wouldn't have let him leave."
I took one last deep breath, finding steady ground again in the protected feeling Henry gave me. "Had you known what?"
"Elsa?" Ed Masters came walking down the hallway wearing a terribly cliché light brown long detective's coat, flanked by two uniformed police officers and the young footman Charles scurrying after them. Henry pushed himself off of the wall but kept standing close to me. Ed looked at him. "You're Lepidus?"
"Please, call me Henry. My forefathers had terrible taste in names. And you are a very fast responder." Henry immediately fell back in his role, baring his sparkling white teeth and holding out his hand. Masters only grabbed it for a short second before looking back at me.
"What's going on?" I in my turn looked at Henry, who gestured behind us.
"Please, let's head back to the other room. Anna will want to hear this as well." He walked ahead of the rest of us, Ed trailing alongside me with the officers and Charles in our wake. The boy was apparently adamant in keeping an eye on us, or he was just looking for gossip.
We rounded the corner again and Ed looked at me. "You look beautiful by the way, Elsa."
Henry snorted. "Don't even try mate."
Ed flushed a slight red. "Excuse me?"
The boy in front of us glanced over his shoulder as I bit my lip, trying not to blush too much. "She's just come out by kissing her girlfriend in front of an entire room of lawyery hotshots. You don't stand a chance."
Masters frowned. "Your girlfriend? You don't mean Anna, do you?"
I sighed deeply. "It's a long story. But yeah. Anna."
Henry held open the door for us and we walked back into the room to find Anna and her mother sitting on the couch, their hands entangled in their laps. It looked like Idunn would rather be sitting on Anna's lap, the way she was leaning into her daughter. It made my heart melt to see the usually strong woman reduced to such a state, but I was glad that she and Anna had at least made up.
Anna now looked up and raised her eyebrows at the group of people marching into the rather small room. Ed told the officers to wait outside the door however and when Charles tried to follow us Henry put his palm on the younger boy's forehead and pushed him back out before closing the door in his face. I heard a faint 'oh man!' come through the door and I smirked, but my smile quickly faltered when I saw Henry's serious face as he turned to the lieutenant. "Okay I'll give you the short version."
Ed looked at me and I nodded, indicating that Henry was allowed to speak for us. "The night was going fine. Elsa did her little speech as CEO and she made her rounds talking to everyone. Then she and Anna decided to dance, after which they kissed." Ed shot me another glance but I ignored him, sitting down on Idunn's other side. To my surprise the woman untangled one of her hands from Anna's and took one of my hands without saying a word.
"Elsa panicked when she realised what was going on. Hell I would've panicked as well if all those hundreds of people would've stared at me like that. Anyway, Andrews tactically emptied the ballroom and Elsa was sitting against the wall when this guy walks up and..." He shook his head, pursing his lips for a moment as he fished the piece of paper from his pocket. "The bastard put this in Elsa's underwear."
Anna shot up onto her feet, positively shouting. "He did what?!" Henry turned towards her and put his hands on her shoulders, then turned her around to face me. I got up and pulled the girl into a hug.
"Please, Anna. I need you to be calm for me right now. No more screaming." Anna immediately wrapped her arms back around me and pressed her face into my neck.
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry. If I'd have known I would've broken his face." I chuckled softly, but Anna pulled back from the hug and looked at me with a very serious look on her face. "I'm not kidding. I would have broken his cheekbones, his jaw, his nose... I would have literally broken his face in half."
Ed Masters cleared his throat and I saw he had the note in his hand. "I'll disregard that blatant description of aggravated assault, because we have more important things on our mind." He looked at me. "Did you know who that man was?" I shook my head and he sighed, opening the note back up to read it to us. "'We can get to you anywhere, anytime. Give up. Signed, Duff Killigan.'"
I squinted as the bottom dropped out of my stomach. "That was Duff Killigan? The man in the kilt? The man with his hand underneath my dress?"
Idunn looked confused. "That man is one of our biggest clients, Mr. McDougall. Not this Killigan you speak of." I had almost forgotten the woman was sitting there but the sight of a police lieutenant seemed to have sobered her up. Her make-up was smudged around her face but her eyes seemed alert.
"Mom, it's a very long story. I think it's better if you don't get involved right now." Anna sucked on her tongue. "Do you have any idea where Agdar went?"
Idunn shook her head, but then decisively got up. "No but I'll go look for him." Her eyes moved from me to Anna. "Be careful. I love you." She then turned her eyes at Henry. "I might need some help with my make-up, could your girlfriend help me out with that?"
I saw the colour drain from Henry's face as his eyes widened dangerously. "Oh shit, Cindy. I completely forgot about her."
Henry and Idunn left together. I shook my head, laughing softly. Anna looked at me. "How can you laugh? That was Duff Killigan, he was right on top of you." She made a very tense impression, flexing her fingers and rolling her shoulders. "Quite literally, I might add."
Ed held up his hands and we both looked at him. I snaked my arm around Anna's waist and I felt how tense her core muscles were. I tried softly squeezing them but it didn't have a lot of effect, other than that it seemed to make her ticklish. She did put her arm around my waist as well, pulling me close to her.
The lieutenant shot our arms a quick look before looking me in the face. "I'm afraid I can no longer keep this under the table. Not only will it be against my oath as an officer of the law, but my conscience wouldn't be able to cope with keeping this a secret any longer." He pulled a small notepad and a pen from an inside pocket of his coat. I didn't know they still used those. "You'll have round-the-clock company of a protective detail from now on. Officers will be stationed outside your house and office. Wherever you go, they go." He scribbled something onto his notepad. "You still live in that apartment building?"
I shook my head. "No I moved recently. As in, today." I let go of Anna and moved over to the man to write down my new address. "It might be worth mentioning that I'm living together with Mulan Shang, a martial arts instructor."
I turned back towards Anna when she spoke. "Yeah and we'll make sure that there's always one of us at her side. Me, Merida, Henry, Mulan." She scowled at me. "No more nights sneaking home alone when you think it's okay." I grinned sheepishly. Okay so she did know about that.
The lieutenant nodded slowly. "Well if you don't mind I won't waver the protective duty. The guns will probably help. But I appreciate the fact Elsa will have friends with her." He looked at me. "The coming time won't be easy. I wouldn't be surprised if they already know I'm here. As soon as I start looking into this they might double their efforts."
"I have some information concerning Killigan and the company that you might be interested in."
Ed nodded. "Tell me everything you know. Please."
The fire crackled and spat some sparks at us. They just fluttered down to the stone hearth and died there, a weak reflection of the large fire they had been a part of. I felt slightly drowsy from both the scotch and the heat of the fire on my skin. The whole room was filled with the lovely warm smell of burning wood.
Mulan took another large log from the large metal tub next to the fireplace and threw it into the flames. It made our faces light up brightly. Anna and I were sitting on the floor in front of the fireplace, me staring into the fire as Mulan used the cast iron poker to rearrange the log. When she was satisfied she sat back down next to me. Merida was also still there, sitting behind us on the couch with the eyes of someone who was completely withdrawn into their own world. The lights were off and it was hard to make her out against the dark backdrop of the couch and the rest of the room.
"Well seeing how I'm not paying you any rent I guess I can make an exception and offer my protective services for free." Mulan smiled faintly as she winked at me. We had just finished telling her and Merida everything that had happened that night. Idunn had found Agdar in the gardens and I had gotten Henry to drive them home, Idunn having had too much to drink and Agdar a crumpled mess of emotions. I hadn't seen him but according to Henry's texts I had received just half an hour ago he was a complete wreck. Serves him right.
I didn't really want to think about them anymore though. In fact I wanted to get the whole night out of my head. When we got home I had immediately showered and changed out of the dress and was now sitting in front of the fireplace in my grey sweatpants and a dark red t-shirt. I never recovered my shoes. Anna hadn't changed though and was now playing with the hole in her blazer where there had been a button before. "Well let's think about all the good things that came from tonight," she said.
Mulan and I looked at her, Merida apparently wasn't listening to either of us. Anna leant back onto her stretched arms, her legs crossed in front of her, and shot me a look that made my spine tingle. "Well I finally came out to my parents. And I finally got to show my dad how I feel about him."
"I'm glad Henry tackled you though. I'd rather have you here than in jail."
Mulan leaned forward and looked at Anna with raised eyebrows. "Excuse me?"
Anna looked grumpily at me before she turned her eyes on Mulan. "Nothing happened. He called Elsa a monster and said she corrupted me and..." She shook her head. "I wanted to walk up to him to shove him, but Henry stopped me. So nothing happened." Just shove him? I suddenly felt a bit bad for assuming she'd punch her own dad. Of course she wouldn't just do that, you twat.
"And you made peace with your mom," I added, trying to steer the conversation back to happier things. I also crossed my legs, sitting slightly further back from the fire than Anna. I absently ran my fingers up and down her lower arm, causing the hairs on her skin to stand on end.
"Yeah, I guess I did." Anna was quiet for a little while, staring into the fire, before she chuckled. "For some reason I thought my dad would've been more OK with it. Especially after what you told me on the dance floor."
"Yeah, same. I think that the faint idea and possibility that you were gay were already a lot for him to handle. When he then saw it however..."
"Me and you, their perfect little girl." She winked at me. "That's probably why he freaked. They've been so full of you ever since you met them. Maybe he felt like you were his last chance or something."
"Last chance of what?"
"A normal daughter, a lawyer like them."
I was tempted to ask about her sister, wasn't she normal? The moment wasn't right, however, so I just kept quiet. Mulan reached back and grabbed the bottle of scotch that was sitting on the coffee table. She refilled all four of our glasses, giving herself a royal amount. "I think I'll take this upstairs." I couldn't help but feel like we scared her off, but I appreciated that she wanted to give us some privacy.
As soon as her footsteps died out above our heads Anna straightened up again, grabbing her glass. She swirled the alcohol around and took a sip, smacking her tongue. "I don't often drink this stuff, but I guess I can get used to it."
I looked at her back. "You'd better, that's Dalmore 18 at a hundred dollars a bottle," I joked.
Anna frowned, staring down at her glass. I let my eyes wander down the part of her face I could see, illuminated by the fire. I shuffled a bit closer to her and rested my chin on her shoulder, leaning into her and wrapping my hands around her waist. She in turn put her hand on the inside of my knee, hugging it to her thigh.
She turned her head sideward and I caught her lips in a kiss. Despite the slightly awkward angle it was soft but intimate and when Anna pulled back to stare at the fire I felt a pang of disappointment. Anna set her glass down and rubbed her eyes. "I don't think I can finish all of this though."
I chuckled. "Says the girl who can down more vodka in one night than I could in an entire week."
Anna flicked my nose with her finger. "Well this isn't vodka, is it, Miss Shields."
I smiled mischievously when I dug my fingers into her side. "Oh I'm sorry, Miss Almstedt." Anna squealed and tried to get away from me but I latched on to her waist, my fingers running over her sides underneath her blazer.
"I-I'm so, so so-sorry," Anna managed to squeeze out in between hiccups of laughter. She turned towards me, her strong arms trying to grab my wrists. When she managed to get a hold on them she pushed me onto my back and dug her fingers into my sides. What followed was a rather wild struggle for dominance as we rolled from side to side, both wailing with laughter.
Anna was of course the stronger one and it didn't take her that long to pin me down, straddling my hips and pinning my wrists to the ground next to my head. We were both panting and rather flushed from our struggle, but the realisation of our current position seemed to hit both of us at the same time. Anna scrambled to get off of me just as I was planning an attempt to reach up to catch her lips.
"Sorry," Anna muttered as she stood up.
"It's okay, I didn't mind," I responded as I pushed myself up onto my elbows.
"I'll go have a shower." Her face was still flushed and I saw her biting her lip.
"Okay, my clothes are either in my wardrobe or in boxes in my bedroom." Anna nodded at me and moved off towards the stairs, leaving me lying on the ground with a very confused look on my face. What just happened? Why'd she stop? I suddenly realised and I let myself fall back onto the floor, rubbing my face with my hands. Of course, the panic attack and everything tonight. Killigan stuffing things in my underwear. She doesn't want to trigger anything.
Being around Anna only made me feel safe however and the thoughts that had been tumbling through my head when Anna had me pinned to the floor had had nothing to do with Killigan or anything else that evening. Perhaps maybe that dance. That was a good dance.
I got up to put the glasses in the kitchen and clear away the scotch. I used the poker to scatter the wood still burning in the fireplace. It was small enough for me not to worry about my new house catching on fire, but I still sat with it for a little while longer. I heard Anna's footsteps leave the shower and move over to my room, but I was still caught up in my own thoughts.
Andrews had been rather calm about the whole ordeal. He had seen that I had been distraught and when the police had arrived he had steered them clear of the crowd. According to him almost no-one knew about what had happened and he had even tried to reassure me about me and Anna before I left. 'Don't worry about those old geezers, they don't have anything to do with your personal life anyway.' I smiled faintly.
My mind now wandered back to earlier that evening, before things had gone downhill. I replayed the dance in my head, how Anna's hands had moved me across the dance floor, turning me in every direction she wanted me to go. How she had placed her leg in between or outside mine, brushing our thighs together during the twists and direction changes. I licked my lips, absently putting my hand on my back where hers had been during the dance.
My face flushed even further when I then thought back to how she'd pinned me down on the floor, or a few weeks ago when she had hiked me up on the desk. It also made me feel slightly insecure, however. I knew my body wasn't physically repulsive, but the idea of literally and figuratively baring myself to someone else so completely was terrifying for me. Anna had broken down almost the entire wall I had built around myself but that last brick was rather stubborn. I loved the redhead and I wanted nothing more than run my hands all over her, but the thought that she might do the same to me was... embarrassing. I'm sure she wouldn't mind. I rubbed my face. I trusted Anna completely but what if we got intimate and I did something wrong? What if there was something wrong with me? How could anyone ever want to touch me in that way?
I sighed deeply, pressing my palms into my eyes. If you keep thinking like that it'll never happen. Anna won't instigate it, she promised you that, so if you don't make a move, no-one will.
I tried driving the thoughts out of my head but I couldn't shake the arousal that had settled itself in my stomach and lower. The fire had almost completely died now and a slight chill ran up my spine.
"Ye should go to her." My heart threatened to leap out of my chest when Merida spoke up from the darkness behind me.
"Shit Merida, I forgot you were there." I paused, frowning and flushing again. "Like, I really forgot you were there. Sorry, that was a bit inappropriate."
"S just a tickle fight. S not like ye were rippin' the clothes off of each other. Not with yer hands at least... yer eyes kinda gave ye away though." I could tell she was trying not to laugh, even though I couldn't make out her face in the light of the dying fire.
I got up, the heat from my embarrassment driving out the chill from the room. Standing up I could make out Merida, curled in a blanket on the couch. I made a face at her and moved towards the stairs. She yelled after me. "Don't be too loud, I want ta get some sleep." I bit my lip and chose to ignore her, but my heart was beating a little faster nonetheless.
When I carefully pushed open the door to my bedroom I saw Anna lying in my bed on her left side, facing the wall away from me. She was lying on top of the covers and I wondered whether she had been waiting for me. She seemed to be fast asleep now however and she didn't respond when I closed the door.
I quickly changed into my dark blue pyjamas and stood next to the bed, the silky material nice and light but cold as well. I needed to get Anna underneath the covers or she'd freeze, but I didn't want to wake her up either. I bit my lip but then thought of a compromise. I snuggled up behind her, pressing my stomach against her back and pulling the covers up to cover us both, my right arm around her shoulders over the blanket. Like a wrap, I thought amusedly.
Instead of being caught up by sleep however, the feeling of Anna's warm back pressing against my stomach caused my ears to rush ever so lightly. My left arm was stretched right up underneath my own head and I was quite comfortable, but a different kind of unease settled itself in my stomach. I slid my right arm underneath the covers and put it around Anna's waist, as I had done before - but this time it was different. I was very aware of Anna's steady breathing, how her stomach expanded and retracted underneath my arm. She was wearing a large shirt and boxers again, as she usually did, but instead of it being endearing it suddenly filled my head with possibilities for the amount of room it left underneath the shirt.
Can I do this? She's asleep, I might wake her up. Would she mind? I licked my lips and repositioned myself slightly, leaning onto my elbow and supporting my head with my hand. I put my right hand on her side, slowly running it down towards her hip. I enjoyed the feeling of her muscles underneath her shirt so on my way back up from her hip I dared to slide my hand underneath her shirt instead of over it, breathing in sharply at how her soft skin rippled underneath my fingers. I then slid my hand forward onto her abdomen, wanting to feel the muscles there too. I had felt them before, but never like this. Running my hand over her skin while she was asleep felt slightly wrong however, although I was rather sure she wouldn't mind.
I sighed and pulled my hand back, but then I frowned. Hold on, is she still asleep? The girl's breathing had definitely changed. It was going slightly faster and was more shallow now, making her chest rise rather than her abdomen. I put my hand back on her side, over her shirt, and shortly ran my nails up her ribs. I felt her right arm and side tense up shortly at the touch and I smiled. Yeah okay, she's awake.
If there was one thing I was sure of it was that Anna would definitely not let me do anything she didn't want. The fact that the girl was awake and just lying there with her back pressed into my stomach, letting me touch her, made my head swim and I felt a tingling in my core. It also made me slightly unsure however. Okay, what do I do now? I internally scolded myself. Stop thinking, that's what you do.
I slowly brought my hand back underneath her shirt, caressing the redheads' stomach with my nails. It caused her muscles to tense and ripple underneath my touch and it made me feel strangely powerful, having her body react to my hand like that. I liked the feedback and wanted more, so I brought my face down and pressed my lips to the pulse in her neck. It elicited a sharp inhale from the girl, but otherwise she kept still. I didn't mind, considering the lack of protest as permission to continue for now.
I brought my hand back to her side, squeezing a little harder now. I got a handful of muscle and a very slight sound escaped Anna's throat, causing my breath to hitch. I ran my hand down towards her hip and back, now using my nails rather than my fingers. Can I touch her somewhere else? I was a bit apprehensive about continuing so my hand came to a halt on Anna's waist and I pulled my face away from her neck.
The girl now moved, turning her face up to look at me. She saw my face and brought her right hand up to caress my cheek. I looked at the slight glint in the girl's eyes. It was dark so it was hard to make out her expression, but she ran her finger across my jaw. "What's up?"
I bit my lip. "I'm just not sure what to do." Saying it out loud made it sound pathetic and I buried my face in the mattress behind her head, groaning softly.
Anna put her hand on top of mine, still resting on her side. She squeezed it and brought it back to her stomach. "It's okay, Munchy. I'll just be lying here, not doing anything." She turned her face to look at me over her shoulder. "Just... do whatever you want. Trust me, I'll let you know if you do something that's not OK." She moved to roll her head back forward but paused for one last comment. "And if you do something OK you'll probably notice," she said with a smile in her voice.
I sighed. My resolve was almost gone and I considered just rolling over and trying to go to sleep, but then I felt Anna's side rise underneath my arm again as she inhaled deeply. I clenched my jaw for a second before tentatively scratching my fingers over her stomach again, trying to make the muscles ripple again. My mouth pulled up into a grin when they indeed moved and I pressed my hand into her stomach, pulling her more tightly against me. Anna kept her promise and didn't do anything, but I didn't mind whatsoever. I had her permission to explore... so explore I would.
Leaning over a bit further this time I pressed a kiss to Anna's jaw where her neck reached her ear. I took her earlobe in my mouth and sucked it softly whilst continuing to gently massage her stomach and side with my hand. I ran my mouth down her neck and flicked my tongue out when I reached her clavicle. The shirt she was wearing had a wide neckline so I had access to her shoulder, which I gladly made use of.
Butterflies swam through my own stomach as I remembered our encounter in my office two weeks back and I bit down on Anna's shoulder, evoking a deliciously sharp inhale from the redhead. I quickly flicked my tongue out and kissed the spot where I had just bit her, my head swimming with arousal. I wanted more of her.
Bringing my mouth back up to her neck I brought my fingers in circles higher up her stomach until I was caressing the skin just underneath her breasts. A small sliver of doubt settled itself in the back of my head again but the heat in my own core won and I carefully pressed my palm against Anna's left breast, weighing the small mound in my hand. I started making circles, squeezing the remarkably soft tissue as Anna's breath quickened. I noticed she was tensing and moving her legs around a bit, probably slightly frustrated she had promised me not to move. I brought my right leg up and over hers, hooking her knee with my heel and pulling her leg back.
I saw Anna's mouth was hanging slightly open and her hands were clutching the covers we were lying on. The air inside our little cocoon was getting quite warm and I felt myself starting to sweat lightly, the places where our skin touched becoming hotter and hotter despite the layers of fabric still in between us.
The pressure in my own lower abdomen grew as I rolled Anna's hard nipple in between my fingers, causing the redhead to now clench her jaw shut. I alternated between licking, sucking and softly biting her neck and shoulder, intensely enjoying how Anna seemed to melt underneath my touch. You're touching Anna. Holy shit, you're touching her breasts.
Soft moans kept escaping Anna's lips as she visibly struggled not to move around too much. I contemplated telling her she could move and join in, but I was enjoying myself so immensely the way things were I just bit down on her neck. Anna yelped at the sharp sensation and I could see the covers underneath her hands move as she clutched down harder. I felt the heat in between my legs growing and I wondered whether Anna was feeling the same way.
Can I? I removed my hand from Anna's breast, causing the redhead to whimper softly. I ran it down her stomach until my fingers hit the edge of her boxers. I softly kissed Anna's neck and shoulder as I hooked my thumb underneath the elastic band, slightly nervous. My thumb hit a few hairs and my breath hitched. I brought my face up to look down onto Anna's form lying in front of me. I had never had my hands anywhere else than on myself, and even that had been on very rare occasions, never being able to give myself the release I had read about in a few of my books and on very singular web searches. Before I could bail out however I quickly reminded myself of Anna's words. I'll let you know if you do something that's not OK.
I slowly brought my hand underneath Anna's boxers, my fingers meeting slickness as they brushed over the hairs in between her legs. In a rush of confidence I brought my right leg in between Anna's knees and angled it so that my foot was on the bed, spreading Anna's legs to allow me better access. The sudden movement made Anna's breath hitch and I saw her glance at me, a heat in her eyes that set my own core on fire and told me she had absolutely no objections to my actions.
I ran a finger over the wet folds underneath my hand and Anna's eyes fluttered shut again. I explored carefully, down from her entrance up to the sensitive bud that made Anna's whole body tense up when I ran my finger over it. I decided to focus there and started circling it with two fingers whilst I brought my face back down to kiss Anna's shoulder and neck. I softly bit down on her skin as I felt her breathing become irregular, the muscles in her neck and jaw tense. I took her squirming as a very good sign so I sped up, the rubbing made easy by the fact my fingers were coated in Anna's wetness.
Anna leaned her head back against my arm, panting heavily, and I angled my face to caress the front of her neck. I licked underneath her chin, my right hand speeding up on top of Anna's core. It caused my forearm to cramp up slightly but I didn't mind, Anna's soft moans and heavy breathing enough reward for my still increasing efforts.
I watched how her posture continuously shifted over the next few minutes as Anna's breathing kept going faster and got more shallow and irregular. "Holy... shit... don't stop..." Anna moaned as she rocked her hips back and forth, pushing herself up against my hand. Sweat was beading on her forehead, glistening in the slight amount of moonlight coming through my drapes. I could feel her body start tensing up like it was building towards something and when it released Anna quickly brought her hand to her mouth, biting down on her knuckles. I kept rubbing, albeit a bit slower whilst Anna trembled against my hand, her hips jerking and her back rolling against my chest. After a few seconds she caught my hand and pulled it up and away from herself, entangling her trembling fingers with my slick ones. I felt her relax, taking deep breaths and hugging my forearm to her chest. I pressed my forehead against the back of her head, finally giving my cramped up left arm some rest from holding me up all that time.
After about a minute Anna turned around and rolled on top of me, pushing me onto my back. I was a bit taken aback but a different feeling replaced my surprise when Anna pressed her lips against mine, running both her hands through my hair. I ran my hands down her back as I slightly parted my lips, inviting her to deepen the kiss. She swiftly did so, running her tongue across my lips before pushing it into my mouth. She then sucked my tongue in between her teeth before pulling back from the kiss. In the dark I couldn't see her face but I knew she was looking down on me. "Now, will you let me return the favour please?"
/I like you people.