It starts off simple: Kristoff gets sick.
Not bad sick! Just cold-sick, sneezing a lot straight up to lunchtime, blowing his nose all huge and honking into his handkerchief and then stuffing it back into his pocket which, okay, ew? "You're gross," Anna tells him, singsong. "Totally gross. The king of gross. I'm never holding your hand again." But actually she holds it when they walk together to go meet Elsa in the study overlooking the courtyard, the one with the great big windows and the bright blue shutters, and his fingers are hard and hot and so, so gentle twined through hers.
Kristoff doesn't sneeze much during lunch, but flushed red wings flare out over both his cheeks even though there's no spice in the soup. His eyes are a little glazed and his breath comes rumbly and rough out his chest, like some of it's still stuck in there. He rubs at his forehead—he's sweating, his skin's shiny.
At last Elsa puts down her spoon. She frowns at him.
"Are you all right, Kristoff?"
He flinches, and Anna hides a smile behind her napkin. Kristoff looks at the queen under the low bower of his lashes, his shoulders scrunched up like two mountains shaking hands, his chin wrinkled. He's still afraid of Elsa, or in awe of her—maybe both. It's ten different kinds of cute. "Fine," he says, "I'm fine, really."
It's been months since Hans. Since the ice, the sword, the big reveal, since Elsa's magic stopped being a secret and started being celebrated as the special, wonderful thing it is and yeah, Elsa's still shy about it, still scared. She has bad days where she stays in her room and curls up in the corner, her head between her knees, her tears pattering over the carpets and floorboards in little pearls like hail. Anna always sits with her, those days. She touches Elsa's hair, combs it, sits shoulder to shoulder with her sister and holds her and tells her how much she loves her. Sometimes Elsa shakes so hard Anna's afraid for her, afraid something in Elsa might break the same way a windowpane will if the wind batters it enough, but then she shushes up that fear by telling herself, well, a broken windowpane can be fixed and if Anna has to learn to fix it she definitely will, no problem, and she'll be better at it than she is at metaphors. For sure.
So, it's been months since Hans, and Elsa still has bad days. But today she's okay. She's great, in fact, she's resplendent, and Anna's chest swells with fierce, prickly pride when Elsa reaches out, actually reaches out and touches Kristoff's wrist with the tips of two fingers. She jerks her hand back just as quickly, her eyes wide blue marbles in her face, but that doesn't change the fact that she touched him in the first place. Anna wants to cheer. Kristoff, on the other hand, looks like he wants to crawl into the nearest cupboard and die. For all that he's a gigantic wild reindeer man he's also vying for the title of the shyest person Anna's ever met, and she spent most of her childhood talking to a door.
"You sound stuffy," Elsa says to Kristoff.
"Oh, yeah, um. Change in the weather, probably." Outside the snow's starting to melt, the treeline across the fjord greening up more and more with each new sunrise. Kristoff pulls at his vest. His neck's flushed too, Anna notices—and so does Elsa. "Allergies, maybe…"
"You're sick," Elsa says, and Kristoff opens his mouth and closes it again with an audible snap because hey, who contradicts a queen?
Elsa bites her lip. Then she pushes back from the table and stands up, fetching the napkin out of her lap. She folds it in two. Soft blue sparks spread across the cloth. Elsa could freeze it in less than a second if she wanted, but she lets it frost over slow because Anna's here and Anna loves watching, loves seeing Elsa's magic knit ice from nothing. A swoop of indrawn breath from Kristoff says he feels the same. His chair creaks. He's leaning to look.
When the napkin's cold and stiff with fresh ice, Elsa presses it to Kristoff's forehead.
He groans appreciatively and closes his eyes. "Yeah, wow," he says. "Thanks. Uh. I mean—I, um"—his eyes fly open again—"thank you. Thank you, Your Majesty, you're very kind and I'm very rude—"
"Charming," Elsa corrects, and tweaks his nose. Anna beams. Elsa's having a really good day. "Headache? Sore throat? Relax, Kristoff," Elsa adds, and he gives her a small, tentative smile that says holy tundra the queen just touched my face and nods.
"We should take him to the infirmary!" Anna says.
"Infirmary? What, no! I'm fine!" says Kristoff, not that he makes any move to peel the napkin off his face. "Just give me a little while and I'll go home, okay? My family makes great hot pebble and lichen soup. It's fantastic for colds. I'll be better in a week."
There's a pause. "Hot pebble?" Anna echoes.
"Lichen?" says Elsa, strained.
"Hey, hey, don't judge." Kristoff flips up a corner of the napkin to peek out at them. "Trolls might look like rocks but they're really smart. They almost always know how to fix problems with people." It's funny, but something about that statement hits home for Elsa, because she nods absently like she knows for sure what Kristoff's saying is true. Anna chalks it up to Elsa being a huge bookworm. She's probably ultra-familiar with troll lore, she reads so much.
Kristoff's saying now, "It's more like tea than soup, actually. And it works!"
Anna goes around the table to stand next to him too. "I'll bet it does. But wouldn't trekking all the way back up into the mountains in the wind be a little, I dunno, counterproductive in this situation? Got a little something just here, by the way. Mucus. Yellow." She prods the skin beneath her own nostrils.
"Geez!" Kristoff goes grabbing in his pocket for his handkerchief again.
Anna meets Elsa's eyes over his head. Elsa smiles, the scrunch in her cheek silver for the light falling through the window. "Infirmary," they say together, and haul Kristoff up by the underarms. They frogmarch him straight out the study doors and down the palace halls, his feet going clomp clomp clomp on the plush carpets. His protests ring to the rafters counterpoint to their laughter, and when they pass a mirror Anna sees their reflections thus: Kristoff's hand in hers and Elsa with both her arms threaded through Kristoff's elbow, leading them both along behind her in a wobbly, mostly willing chain. Anna puts that picture behind her heart where all the other precious things go, and Elsa says, "Kristoff, stop dragging your feet or I'll ice the floor, see if I don't."
The visit to the infirmary results in Kristoff getting lots of medicinal tea foisted on him, not to mention strict orders not to go outside until his fever's been gone a few hours. "You'll likely get worse before you get better," the physician tells him. "Stay indoors."
That decides Elsa. "There's an empty room near mine and Anna's," she says. There's empty rooms everywhere, actually, scattered throughout the castle under a sizable slant of dust. But that's beside the point. Anna goes still in breathless, desperate hope as Elsa says, "We'll make it up for you."
"That's—" Kristoff flounders, not protesting, just shocked, and Anna remembers the second time she met him he was cozied up in a stable—illegally!—with straw in his hair. "That's really nice, but I couldn't—"
"No, no—you can, you will, this is perfect!" Anna squeezes his hand, presses her thumb to the meat of his palm and rubs circles over the rough skin there. Both Kristoff and Elsa look at her, Kristoff with something akin to panic. Elsa blinks curiously and Anna says, "We are going to have the best sleepover ever."
They totally have the best sleepover ever.
Not that Kristoff makes it easy. Come late evening he has to borrow pajamas from one of the larger butlers. The pants don't make it past his shins. This Anna and Elsa can tell by his silhouette in the folding screen, and he makes aggrieved reindeer noises and shuffles and fusses until Anna throws up her hands and says, "Geez, come out where we can see you!"
"No I won't! This is—it's just—" More reindeer noises.
Anna turns beseechingly to Elsa. "Make him come out."
Elsa agreed to keep them company, but she brought work with her. She's sitting with her back propped up against the headboard of the bed they made up for Kristoff, a stack of papers on the bedside table, an old globby quill in her hand and another tucked behind her ear. Her nightgown glitters in the firelight, and her spectacles flicker when she turns her head. Until what happened after the coronation, Anna hadn't known Elsa even needed them.
"How am I supposed to make him come out?" Elsa glances at Kristoff's shadow on the folding screen, smiles, and looks down at her papers again.
"You're the queen! Make it a decree!"
"A kind and benevolent ruler doesn't decree unless it's absolutely necessary." The papers rustle.
"It's absolutely necessary that we see Kristoff in those pajamas. And c'mon, Elsa, are you really that benevolent?"
Elsa's quill pauses in its scribbling. She glances up a second time and there's a glint in her eye, a shard of summer sunlight. "Kristoff." She has the grace to be gentle about it—and she doesn't decree. She only says, "Please?"
Kristoff's shoulders slump. Dutifully he troops out from behind the folding screen.
The pajama shirt's too tight. He turns to face them and one button pops off it and goes sailing into the fireplace. Anna whistles through her teeth—how could she not?—and Elsa, hiding a broad smile behind what's probably a treaty, says, "Thank you. Could you—could you spin for us?" She paddles the air with her quill.
"You're a tyrant," Kristoff dares to tell her. The pajamas are a pale, powdery shade of lilac. "Trying to be all nice with your ice powers, throwing parties, making rinks and skates for children—it's a sham, you're a dictator. Anna, your sister's a dictator."
Anna pulls a face. "She's also the queen. Better do what she says."
"Spin!" Elsa agrees, more forcefully. She sits forward, laughing soft under her breath, and some of the papers spill forgotten off her lap. "Spin!"
Kristoff spins. The shirt's strained at the seams of his shoulders but it's too big in the waist. The hem flutters like the most dear springtime skirt. His stomach's showing, strong and sleek, marked by a line of hair down low. Anna and Elsa consider that line together. Anna says, "Heeey," and Elsa says, "Hm!" and Kristoff sits down on the carpet in a hurry, huddled up into himself, his cheeks aflame.
Anna plunks herself next to him and wraps him up into her arms, or at least she wraps up as much of him as she can reach. She's surprised but not displeased to see that Elsa's gotten off the bed to sit with them too. The papers sprawl out behind her in a line that doesn't even have the decency to be disorderly. She touches Kristoff's knee.
"I'm sorry," she says. "That was an abuse of power."
Kristoff's cheeks stay flushed. Part of it's the fever and part of it's the hands on him, Anna knows. She slides her palms down the far side of his ribcage and hooks her fingers there, letting his heartbeat reverberate up through her clutch. She kisses his neck too, his jaw where it folds up under his ear. Elsa's watching and that's—that's okay, it's only Elsa.
"If that's the worst abuse you ever, uh, commit," says Kristoff, "you're probably doing pretty okay. As far as dictators go." Anna kisses him again, lower, the spot on his throat his pulse throbs hardest under the skin. If he was going to say anything else he forgets to, or the words die on their own. She watches him, looking up under her lashes, and she sees his eyes dart from her face to Elsa's hand on his knee to his—his lap, his—
Well, look at that. The pants are tight too.
Anna thinks Poor Kristoff! and struggles not to go into a laughing fit. Mostly she succeeds except a few giggles eke out, then a snort, and darn there she goes, hanging on him like a jacket on a coatrack and braying helplessly into his neck. And because she's not benevolent at all, not ever, she scrapes her teeth delicately against the jut of his collarbone, just once. He squirms and hisses, "Anna!" and his pants, wow, they really just don't leave much to the imagination at all—
"Maybe I should go," Elsa says, and Anna stops and Kristoff—well, he stiffens. Stiffens more.
"Please don't," Anna says the same time Kristoff sputters, "No, no, you don't have to," and when they look Elsa's got red splashed high up along either side of her nose behind her spectacles and she's chewing her lip, worrying it between her teeth, and her hand—that's the tell, that's another precious thing Anna slots into the space behind her heart.
Elsa's hand is still on Kristoff's knee.
"I should," she says. "You two—you're. You," she tries, and her other hand comes questing over the carpet, spreading fine filigreed frost. Anna reaches for it unthinkingly. She takes Elsa's cold, cold fingers and squeezes them, rubs them, and Elsa jerks and says, "I should leave," without any real conviction, any real want.
"Stay," Anna says. Kristoff opens his mouth. Closes it. Nods.
Quiet creeps in between the crackles of the fire and Kristoff's cloggy breathing. They all pretend at first not to look at each other. They give up pretending almost at the same time, and then Elsa's looking at Anna's hand as it edges toward the lump in Kristoff's lap, and Anna's watching the flush creep up her sister's neck and Kristoff's just staring between them, his eyes so, so wide.
Elsa sits up a little straighter, suddenly, like she's come back to herself. She licks her lips. She says, "Kristoff," and he flinches until Elsa brushes her palm against his knee, strokes it, smoothes the fabric flat. "Kristoff, kiss Anna."
Kristoff blinks. "Wait. What?"
Elsa hesitates—sucks in a breath, squares her shoulders. She says again, "Kiss Anna," and twists her fingers out of Anna's only so she can take Anna's chin in hand instead. She tips it up to Kristoff. She traces her thumb over Anna's lips and says, "Here. Kiss her here unless she says no."
Anna doesn't say no. Kristoff lowers his head. He pauses and there's another brief instant where they all look at each other, and a smile starts on Anna's mouth and Elsa's so intent, so focused. She clenches her hand in the fabric at Kristoff's knee and says, "Now."
Kristoff kisses Anna. He tries for chaste and Anna says, "Haha, nope!" into his mouth because seriously, Kristoff? Seriously? She bites at his lower lip the way he likes it, nibbles it: he shudders over her and then she's licking into him and pff, so much for chaste. His hands find her hips and fold there. They knead. There's another pressure too, not so much physical as just tangible: Elsa's eyes on them, heavy, hungry.
"Anna," says Elsa. She's back to holding Anna's hand again. She brings that hand up to her mouth, kisses each fingertip. "Touch Kristoff where he wants to be touched. Unless he says no."
Kristoff's eyes were nearly shut but now they snap open again, and Anna grazes her fingers higher up his thigh. His throat works. The only thing he says is, "Anna," and she curls her hand around him. The pajamas are thin and he's hot and he's hard, and his hips stutter once, helplessly. She squeezes. His head rolls forward between his shoulders, his hair a sheaf over his eyes, his mouth open. He pants.
Elsa says, "Kristoff, undo Anna's top."
That's—Elsa wants to see? Anna's heart crowds up into her mouth and Elsa's looking at her, looking at her with just as much desperation as is in Kristoff's fingers fumbling at her buttons one by one. His big, broad hands are shaking, and Elsa notices and says, "Slower, Anna," so he can get the last few on the first try. When Anna's shirt's undone Elsa says, "Pull it back," and he does and Elsa looks, she's looking at Anna, Anna's bare breasts with their freckles and the shiny scar higher up over Anna's heart where the curse cut her going in. Elsa's seen it before, all of it. They dress together in the mornings, sometimes, or sleep in the same bed with their knees touching and their clothes thrown off—Elsa's seen it but she's never looked, not like this, not with her mouth parted and her face so red.
She swallows. "Lick her," she says to Kristoff, and her voice shakes and it sounds like she wants to. "Kiss her. Suck."
They shift. Anna leans back until her head's in Elsa's lap. Kristoff bears down over her, his knees on either side of hers, and Elsa reaches out and fists her hand in his hair and guides him to Anna's breast.
"Do as I said."
His tongue's so warm. Anna murmurs her approval, arching into him, the press of his hips: and she doesn't forget him! She cups him through the pajamas and rubs her thumb over him and laughs when he groans all snuffly and hoarse, his face in her ribs. Elsa cards quivery fingers through her hair. She leans down to kiss Anna's forehead too, right between her eyebrows. Anna turns her face up—
But Elsa's leaning back, sitting straight. She says, "Anna, wrap your legs around him. Touch her, Kristoff. Your hands." Anna watches Elsa brush Kristoff's hair back from his face, watches her tuck a springy lick of it behind his ear again and she aches, she wants and—
Kristoff slides his fingers down the scoop of her belly. He tickles her. She shrieks at the indignity and he laughs and Elsa beams at them, and then Kristoff settles his palm between Anna's legs and grinds the heel of it down. Anna's laugh hitches, bubbles up through her nose. She drops her head back. Elsa's fingers flare over her cheek and she's leaning down again. They brush noses. Elsa peppers her face with helpless kisses.
"Use your teeth. Just a little," Elsa says next. "She likes it. No—lower. Yes, there. Anna, harder." Kristoff's trembling. He's breathing in great swooping gasps and Elsa says, "Kiss him, Anna, take him, take care of him," and Anna does, and he thrashes over her and presses up into her hand and comes, saying her name, saying Elsa's.
"Ssh," Elsa says when he's done. "Ssh—Kristoff, you're okay? You're okay. There." She looks at Anna and Anna nods.
"It's okay," she says, "it's fine, I'm golden, let's hang back a sec," and Elsa lets her go. Anna helps Kristoff get up off his knees and ushers him to the bed, sweeping away the papers, yanking back the quilt. "C'mon, big boy, in you go."
"That just happened." She swats his shoulder and shoves him down on the mattress. "I didn't dream it," he says, looking up at her—looking at Elsa too, who's gone across the room and come back with a basin and a cloth. "That totally happened."
"So totally happened," Elsa agrees. She wets a cloth and gives it to Anna, then settles on the bedside with her own cloth in hand. She sets about wiping Kristoff's face with it, his throat, his chest where it peeks through the ill-fitting shirt. She asks him, "Did you have a good time?" and she barely even stammers, and Anna kisses him all over his slack, wondering mouth and wipes the rest of him clean.
His eyes are hooded by the end of it. His face is hot like the stones in the mountains get, the ones where the trolls live that spit off steam in winter. The fever. Anna finds his gross handkerchief in the pile of his old clothes behind the folding screen and loves him enough to hold it up for him, saying, "Blow your nose," making gagging noises when he does.
He drops back on the mattress, nearly asleep. He watches them both, one on either side of him. Anna knows him—she's gotten to know him alongside getting to know her sister again, and she's learning still, she'll be learning awhile, but she recognizes the little wrinkle at the corner of his mouth that says he's working up the courage to do something. That something turns out to be taking both their hands. He picks up Anna's fingers with the ease of having done it before, having done it lots. Elsa he touches as ginger as he can, sliding his hand under hers to lift it on his palm.
Then he puts Anna's hand with Elsa's. He says, "I could be way out of line here, but… I, um, I—I kinda think you both want this too, and that's—if. If you do, you should. I mean. Yeah."
Anna kisses him again. She kisses him until his chest shivers under her hand, and yet all the while she's looking at Elsa and Elsa's looking back at her.
Elsa finds her feet. "Anna," she says, all quiet and trembly, and Anna slides off the bed and walks around it. Normally she'd just crawl over Kristoff but he's sick and he's out of it, hey, wonder why—she throws her arms around Elsa when she gets to her, hugs her so close. Elsa's nightgown scrapes at her skin and she remembers she's bare, belatedly, remembers her own shirt's hanging open like curtains.
"You don't have to," Elsa's saying. "You don't, I—" and she's still talking when Anna goes up on her tiptoes and presses her mouth to Elsa's.
Elsa tastes lots like cool peppermint tea and a little like quill nibs, mostly because she's prone to licking those between letters. She goes still under Anna's fingers when Anna feathers them in her hair and she goes even more still under Anna's mouth, and the fire makes sibilant little snk-snk noises and Elsa breathes out, long and slow. Her lips part. Her hands come up as hesitant stars, and she gets so far as to press one to Anna's collar and feels the scar there, and then she stops and says, "I love you," and kisses Anna back, so careful, so scared. "I love you"—she says it like she's afraid once wasn't enough and the rest never will be either—"I love you, Anna, I love you."
For all her magic, when she touches Anna it burns, stinging sweet as the peppermint tea on her tongue.
They don't make it far: too soon, too shy, Anna flushed all over and clinging even if Elsa could make herself do more than kiss her. The fire eats away the kindling and dwindles down low, and they climb into the bed with Kristoff because it's big enough and because they can.
Anna's in the middle. She fits her back to Kristoff and her front to Elsa, and when she sticks her heels to his legs he grumbles out, "Cold," and Elsa says, "Wasn't me this time," all serious and solemn. There's a flicker of silence before Kristoff stuffs his fevered face into the pillows to muffle his snorts and Anna's giggling in sleepy little swells. Elsa's laughter threads soft between theirs like bells on the wind, like warmth seeping in, and she reaches down under the quilt in the dark, after. She clutches both their hands tight.