Disclaimer: I do not own Frozen or anything else recognizable in this work belonging to Disney. This work is purely fictitious and any characters resembling recognizable, real persons both living or otherwise is coincidental and unintentional.

Author's Note: Warning you guys that dark plot is still dark.


Pride

Inhale.

Exhale.

Ignore it.

Hans pressed his hands against the wood wall of the ship's cabin as the flood of emotion threatened to overwhelm him, the urge to break something or run away tearing into his chest. His fingers clawed into the panels, the sound grating into his ears. The musk of saltwater and sweat filled his nostrils, the remnant scent of fear of what hid behind sleeping eyes taunting him.

His hands formed into fists, pressing into the wall further, the veins in his arms popping and his knuckles scrapping into the splinters.

"You're fine," Hans said to himself. "You're safe. Everyone's safe. None of it was real."

After pounding a fist, Hans collapsed in on himself and knelt on the floor with his forehead resting against the wall, the sudden wave of terror that overcame him in the night waxing away. He squeezed his eyes shut, the copper taste of biting his own tongue a reality check.

He knew he was lying to himself. Everything was real.

He had killed all those people, guilty or not. He had died once and then came so close to death. Kristoff was gone. Pieter was still out there somewhere.

He tried so hard, and still he failed.

Maybe he should just stop trying.

A knock on his door.

"Hans?"

It sounded like Rasmus.

Hans didn't move or make a sound.

"If you don't open the door, I'll break it down," Rasmus said.

Ignore it. Maybe it'll go away.

"I'm coming in," Rasmus said. The door swung open without effort, and out of the corner of his eye, Hans saw Rasmus pocketed a key. He almost wanted to see Rasmus break down a door.

"I'm fine," Hans said.

Rasmus picked him up off the floor and onto his feet. "No, you're not, you're staying with me tonight."

"I thought it was Jakob's turn."

"Ib drank himself into a stupor, so Ian is watching over him."

"Too bad I didn't join him."

That one earned him a firm tug on his ear.

"I was talking about Ian," Hans retorted, rubbing at his ear.

"There's certainly something wrong with you if even I can tell if you're lying."

Hans sighed.

###

"New intel told me that we have to redirect our course to a merchant dock toward the east into a small port town," the captain told Queen Elsa.

"And who's this intel?"

"Smugglers, Your Majesty."

Elsa steepled her hands against her forehead with her elbows resting on the table, the discoloration of sleeplessness shadowing under her eyes.

She knew the voyage to the Southern Isles wasn't going to be as easy as it was the last time she was there. It didn't stop her from hoping a few months without having Pieter in control of the kingdom would allow for an eventless entry.

A small hope, at that. She knew better.

"Did they give any information about the situation?" she asked.

"They still have some open lines of communication for those that still show support to the Southern Isles royalty. The constable of the town has had to bend to the smugglers for help to ensure the people are content. Says it's easier to maintain order when there aren't too many hungry."

"What of the Order?"

The captain pulled out a newspaper from a nearby trunk and placed it in front of the monarch.

"It's all a mess," the captain said. "But at the very least the articles say the Order's activities were all a ruse. Before Prince Anders disappeared from the Southern Isles, it seems that he was able to send to the journalist his findings when the suspects appeared to have evidence of mind control and little else that pointed to the contrary. This is the latest the informants were able to give me. Most of it looks like analysis of events."

Elsa looked over the newspaper. She didn't bother to read any of it save for the headlines. There wasn't anything noteworthy that she didn't already know. At least it seemed that there were still people who held onto hope that the royal Westergaards would return to bring order and were't like Pieter. The anecdotes about Prince Anders worried her, however. The popular opinion expressed that he was being controlled by Pieter when the ransacking of the kingdom took place.

But the wording of the article title suggested that the seed of distrust of the Westergaards had sprouted.

Hopefully Prince Holger was up to the task of rebuilding their faith in the crown.

She knew fully well that her own people weren't faring much better, but at least they weren't close to rebelling against her.

The padding of heavy boots clunked against the ship's floorboards at the open doorway of the meeting room. Prince Anders knocked against the doorframe.

"Sorry to interrupt this meeting, Your Majesty," Prince Anders said, bowing before entering. "But I came to inform you that Prince Hans is now with Prince Rasmus, as I believed that you might have wanted to know."

Elsa nodded. She turned to the captain. "We'll make port upon the suggestions of the new intel. You may redirect our course, captain. You are free to go."

The captain bowed his head in acknowledgement to both the prince and the queen and left the room.

"Please shut the door, Prince Anders," she instructed.

He complied. "May I speak freely, Your Majesty?"

"You may. So what happened?"

Prince Anders adjusted his coat collar. "I left him alone in my quarters when I thought he was asleep and came back to find the door locked. I... decided to leave him with Prince Rasmus because Prince Jakob is... preoccupied at the moment."

"You... left him?"

Anders stiffened his back and held himself at attention, his eyes sticking to the floor. "I still have much to... come to terms with, and I needed to stretch my legs to get my mind off of it. I'm sorry, I should've let you known sooner, Queen Elsa. I'll remove myself from the rotation and —"

Elsa held up a hand to stop him. "I understand, Prince Anders. We all need time to rebuild ourselves after so much was taken from us with King – I mean – with Pieter's treachery. While the physical rebuilding has been dealt with, only time can allow the internal rebuilding to have the same treatment."

"Make no mistake, I'm still concerned for my brother," Anders said, not lifting his eyes. "He's much more open than he used to be, but he's... constantly preoccupied. More than what I deem healthy."

He didn't have to explain which of his brothers he was talking about.

"I think you should have a word with him," Anders said.

"I've tried in the past."

"And?"

"It's... become apparent that things are very complicated between us right now."

A loud thud from below deck.

"I'll try to speak to him again," she said.

###

"Hans, I think you should calm down."

A book flew across the room and slammed against the wall a few inches away from Rasmus' head. Rasmus didn't flinch and kept his arms crossed in front of him and stood stoic with analytical eyes.

Hans paced around the room and tugged at the roots of his hair, his eyes stinging from either dryness or crying. He hoped it was the former.

He expelled a strained grunt of a suppressed urge to scream as he hugged himself and crouched onto the floor, tilting his head onto his knees.

It was too much. His own unkempt emotions, the feelings of whatever Jorden was feeling at the moment, his own thoughts intermingling with Fate's and the disgruntled dragon-man thing he'd had to deal with for what seemed like forever.

He was ashamed to even tell anyone. He'd rather have a bruised ego and have his brothers watch over him as he "grieved" or something, than to admit that whatever mess he's gotten himself into this time was pulling at every inch of his resolve and his sanity. That would make them worry even more. They already had enough to deal with, what with going to the Southern Isles to help straighten up the mess Pieter made.

The thought of Pieter brought up Kristoff.

He shoved that can of worms closed before any of them could wriggle into his head.

Knock. Knock.

"You may enter," Rasmus said.

The door opened and Elsa stepped into the room with Prince Anders in tow. Rasmus gave a respectful bow as she entered.

Hans stood at attention and pushed aside whatever was tormenting him before greeting Elsa in a similar manner.

"Hello, Hans," she said.

He nodded in acknowledgement. "Queen Elsa."

The corner of her lips twitched downward, but otherwise her face hid her disappointment.

Hans still noticed it, however.

"I came to check on you," she said.

"Thank you, but I'm fine for now," he said. "My brothers are keeping an eye on me."

She nodded. "Please remember that I'm here for you."

"Yes. Thank you, Queen Elsa."

She pursed her lips and nodded again. She left the room, leaving Prince Anders and Prince Rasmus alone with him. The door clicked shut as Anders swung it behind him.

Hans glared at Anders.

"You put her up to that, didn't you?" he accused.

"She's concerned about you just as much as we are," Anders defended. "Besides, she was able to reach you in ways that we couldn't. She couldn't possibly make whatever you're going through worse."

Hans folded back into himself, sitting all the way to the floor this time.

"I don't want her involved in this," Hans said. "There's enough on her plate as it is."

"Hans, open your eyes," Rasmus said. "We're all royalty. There's always going to be things on our plate. And to be quite honest, I think both you and the queen have some unspoken tension between you two that needs to be resolved first."

"There isn't any."

"There goes another blatant lie, little brother."

Hans' lungs heaved once to ground him.

"Look, she and I were able to rebuild Arendelle over the past few months. No tension at all. What, you expect her to always converse at length with her subordinates?"

"Yes," Prince Anders said. "She seems the type."

Hans scowled.

"What happened to you, Hans?" Rasmus said. "Up on the North Mountain, it looked like you two didn't even want to let go of each other, despite the impropriety that I do not condone. Now it's as if you're spurning each other away."

"It's... complicated."

Anders grunted in displeasure. "She said something similar." He knelt to the floor and tilted Hans' chin, forcing him to look straight into his eyes. "I know when you're hiding something. Don't make me interrogate you."

Hans felt his face grow hot in frustration and he pushed away Anders' hand. "Save it. You don't need to get involved with this."

"We're just concerned about you. We lost you once..."

The youngest sighed. "We'll talk about this later. Right now we need to keep our kingdom from falling into anarchy."

###

Pieter was only toying with his mind. Nothing he said was true. Pieter couldn't possibly be trying to instill hope in him. There had to be an ulterior motive in his words.

Kristoff still fell for it.

The blond ran a rough tongue over his cracked lips, the sharp flavor of blood hovering over the new split formed from another two days without water.

"They're setting their sights on the Southern Isles," Pieter said in his weekly recounting of events, as was his new norm. "Their plan appears to be to take away my claim to the throne and give it to Holger instead."

And as always, Kristoff kept silent.

There was no reason to believe him after all he did. He was making up everything. Even the stupid story about him being responsible for his parents' deaths, or the made-up lie that the trolls were responsible for having Anna fall in love with him, or even that out-of-nowhere admission that Pieter was intended to be his "fairy godfather" or something: none of it could possibly be true.

Yet time and time again for the past few months of being stuck in the dark with this psychopath, he found himself entertaining all the lies.

Lie or not, the thought that Pieter was getting his political power revoked amused Kristoff. The cretin needed to have more setbacks in his life.

Pieter frowned.

"Oh, I forgot to give you water again, didn't I," Pieter said. He turned to the pixie beside him and nodded. "You know, you should be a better advocate for yourself. Speak up every once in a while."

Kristoff gave no response.

The pixie conjured a stein of water on the floor in front of Kristoff.

"I know we go through this so often," he continued. "But I do hope you take better care of yourself. It pains me to have to force you to do it all the time."

The pixie and Pieter disappeared from the lightless dungeon.

Instinct wanted Kristoff to take the mug of water for self-preservation. His dry mouth and limp veins called for sustenance. The pounding headache warned him of how dangerously close he was to blacking out.

Not like he would be able to tell if he blacked out. Darkness was all he saw.

His fingertips traced along the floor, weaving around the joints of mortar and stone, hesitating as they found the cup of water in the void in front of him. They traced higher and found the handle.

His body begged for mercy.

Kristoff hurled the water away from him. The cup clattered against chiseled rock, the slosh and drip of water ran down the wall on the far side of him.

Pieter needed him alive.

He wasn't going let it be easy.

###

Queen Elsa sat at the edge of her mattress and stared into the wood grain of the wall in front of her. She tugged on the sleeves of her dress, her hands feeling naked without their gloves despite not needing them for some time.

Her cheek tingled at the memory.

"I love you, too," she said.

It was only because they were scared. People say and do things that aren't necessarily true when they're afraid. Neither of them meant it.

No, you were only relieved, a part of her argued. You never got to say it, and you didn't care about what happened as long as he knew.

Did she, though? She did care about what happened, because now she couldn't stand to be in the same room as him. She was glad he was back, yes, but...

While she openly expressed her love for him, he didn't.

It hurt her.

She decided to let it be. It pained her to see all the turmoil brewing behind his eyes. She suspected that his brothers saw it come out more around them than with her. While a part of her found it infuriating and frustrating since she tried so hard to have him open up in the past, she rejoiced with the fact he felt free to do so on his own around his family.

He still worried her.

She couldn't rush time though.

Elsa kicked off her shoes and pulled her legs onto her bed and hugged her knees, the skirts of her dress ruffling around her.

"Elsa?" a voice mumbled beneath the covers of the bed beside hers.

"It's just me, Anna," Elsa said, placing a hand on her sister's forehead and brushing aside a lock of stray hair. "Go back to sleep."

"Kristoff built me a snowman," her sister murmured near-unintelligibly.

The mattress creaked as Anna turned over in bed, the blankets being tugged closer to the princess' face as she snuggled into them.

Elsa frowned.

Anna hadn't been able to sleep right for months; and the only night she was able to fall asleep on time, Elsa had to go around and ruin it.

"Keep strong, Kristoff," Elsa whispered into the night. "Anna's still waiting for you."


Author's Note: Welp, this is the beginning of the end, as they say. Fingers crossed that I am able to finish it. I'm really excited to show you guys what I have planned, but as usual, I can't unless I post them.