TWENTY-SIX HOURS LATER
Elsa sat in Anna's bedchamber, silent and rigidly poised on the edge of one of the plush chairs she'd pulled up close to her sister. At her left, the crackling heat from the corner fireplace warmed the length of her and cast a flickering orange glow through the otherwise dark room. The glow extended over to the large canopy bed at Elsa's right, where its light danced across Anna's back as she lay tensely huddled beneath the sheets, facing away from Elsa and into the shadows.
With one hand resting neat but anxious in her lap, Elsa caressed Anna's shoulder reassuringly, trying to calm her own frayed nerves as much as her younger sister's. It had been a constant battle to remain tranquil, but she needed to stay. She needed to stay right where she was for Anna's sake, and it pained Elsa to know that because of her gift – no, right now it was her curse – she couldn't just comfort Anna like a normal person when her sister needed it the most. She had to focus on keeping her swirling emotions in check, so that her icy powers didn't end up freezing the room. The blazing fire helped, and unlike when their parents had died, Elsa was now armed with her meditation techniques and her knowledge that love was the key. She had been holding out so far. However, despite all the other whirlwind emotions Anna had spun through over the course of their very long day, she had yet to cry. Now, in the quiet of the night, Elsa feared that Anna soon would. And that would be the real test.
As if on cue, Anna gave the smallest whimper and a thin layer of frost immediately formed beneath Elsa's palm and onto her sister's shoulder.
Heart aching, the Queen folded her hands into her lap, closed her eyes, and took in a few slow, deep breaths. She heard her sister's voice in her head saying in through the nose, out through the mouth as she tried to override her building, swirling emotions with something more peaceful.
After a minute and despite her efforts, Elsa opened her eyes to see a snowflake hanging suspended just inches from her nose. Trying to not grow frustrated, she watched the frozen fractal of ice slowly rotate, almost gracefully, as it reflected the orange glow of the fire on its six elegant points and stubbornly refused to melt under the heat. Elsa had to admit that the snowflake was perfect in every way. Beautiful, even. But this tiny piece of ice served as a bitter reminder that the Queen had not yet fully mastered her gift.
Grief, it seemed, was not so easily controlled. Especially if it related to Anna.
I love and I am loved, Elsa reminded herself. It was her mantra. The one she and her sister had come up with for her meditations. I love and I am loved.
Slow, deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
She flicked a finger and the snowflake dissolved.
Feeling the slightest bit more in control, Elsa turned her attention back to her sister who still lay motionless on the bed. "Anna," she gently coaxed, going for a distraction. "You need to eat something. Would you like some chocolate?" A tray of food – fruit, meats, and a small mound of chocolate pieces – remained untouched on the nightstand beside the bed.
Elsa had tried to encourage her sister multiple times over the hours to eat and had yet to be successful, although she doubted very much that Anna had eaten anything in well over a day. Or drank anything. Or slept for even a moment. "You must be starving." And thirsty. And exhausted.
Anna just stared straight ahead, and her sister didn't have to look to know exactly where her gaze led.
Elsa was about to try another tactic when, from across the room, there was a clipped knock at the door.
Turning her head, Elsa wondered who it was. It couldn't be their physician, who was under orders to check on his patient every half hour. For one, Dr. Enstad wasn't the knocking type. The wiry man had burst in to make his most recent recording of temperature, pulse, and heartbeat, no more than two minutes ago. Then he had compared the data, pushed his spectacles back up his nose, and given Elsa a knowing look before mumbling still the same.
No, it was too soon for the doctor's next check in. Perhaps it was another one of the staff, come to stoke the fire and see how they all were fairing. Elsa appreciated everyone's concern, but their worried murmurs and anxious faces as they hovered over the bed set off ripples through her fragile tranquility.
"Come in," Elsa called, sitting tall.
The door opened and white light from the hallway stretched across the floor as Joris stepped into the room.
Ah, the captain.
He gave Elsa a stiff bow, looking every bit the tired, battle-weary soldier. "Your Majesty," he began, with a voice that matched his appearance. "How is..." Joris's voice faded away as his eyes drifted over to the bed.
Elsa shook her head sadly but kept her eyes fixed on Anna as she replied, afraid that the news would upset her. Although it wasn't like she didn't already know. "The same. There hasn't been any change."
Joris gave a pained expression before stepping further into the room, and approached her. Coming around the bed, he bent down on one knee before Elsa and bowed his head like a repentant sinner. "Permit me to again offer my sincerest apologies for what has transpired." His voice was strained and ragged with regret. He squeezed a fist. "I should have done more," he scolded himself. "I should have stopped him from - "
"Please, captain," Elsa interrupted. "I appreciate the sentiment, but I do believe you did everything you could." She placed her hand on Joris's shoulder and gave a reassuring squeeze. He tensed as if she'd struck him instead.
Elsa felt her throat constrict, and a small circle of frost formed on the captain's arm beneath her touch before melting from the fire's heat.
"Love is a powerful force," she continued. "It...it gives us the strength to do what must be done, regardless of the consequences." A memory of being weak with grief, draped against her sister's frozen body, flittered through Elsa's mind. For an instant, a wave of cold swept through the room. The fire crackled and spit in response.
Slow, deep breath. Eyes closed. I love and I am loved.
Everything still felt so raw, but Elsa pressed on after a heartfelt glance at her sister. "Anna understands a sacrifice for love better than anyone. No matter what happens, she knows that."
The captain nodded, then raised his head to meet her gaze. Elsa could see the deep bruises of fatigue below his haunted eyes. They matched Anna's, bruises and all.
"But will knowing that be enough?" he asked hoarsely.
Elsa didn't like what Joris was implying, and she certainly didn't want Anna to hear him.
"Please, try to rest," she said firmly, pulling her hand from his shoulder to signal the end of his visit. "You've had a very long few days. I'll..." her gaze fell to her sister, then followed Anna's unblinking stare to the figure she lay beside. "I'll let you know if anything changes."
"Thank you, my Queen."
Joris stood, bowed, then cast a forlorn look at Anna and Kristoff laying side by side in the bed. Elsa knew he saw their pale faces, the way Kristoff's bare chest shallowly rose and fell beneath the layers of blankets. The way Anna stared like her life depended on it.
After a moment of silence, Joris stiffly exited without another word.
Slow, deep breath. In through the nose, out through the mouth.
The Queen jumped to her feet. It was Anna, speaking for the first time in hours, and sounding just as broken and desolate as Elsa feared. Heart aching, she leaned over the bed and stroked her sister's tangled hair, biting back a swirl of anguish. "Yes, my dearest? What is it?"
Anna's face crumbled with unshed tears. "Joris doesn't think Kristoff's going wake up," she choked out. The distress in her voice was thick and palpable. "But you do, right? You do…?"
A wave of grief ripped through Elsa as ice coated her hands and a line of frost ran down her sister's braid. Reeling back, the Queen snatched her hands away as snowflakes began to fall, as if from the ceiling itself, and hung suspended in the space around them.
"Of course," Elsa insisted, clutching her hands to her chest. "Of course I think he'll wake up." She would do anything, say anything to take her sister's pain away.
When Anna didn't respond, Elsa sank helplessly back into her seat, gripping the arms of the chair for support. They coated in ice at her touch.
Her tranquility was cracking, but she would not leave. She would not leave Anna to face this alone.
Eyes closed. Slow, deep breath. I love and I am -
"Kristoff, please wake up…" she heard Anna whisper. Her voice was brittle with heartbreak.
Elsa's hands flew to her mouth to hold back a sob. She felt the frost spread across her lips.
I love and I am loved. I love and I am loved.
Elsa looked desperately at Kristoff who remained half alive and oblivious to it all. "Please," she whispered into clenched fists. "Kristoff, please don't do this to her." Elsa curled in on herself until her elbows touched her knees. More snowflakes were starting to gently fall. "You have to pull through," she begged. "You just have to."
Kristoff floated in a still, black sea, looking up at an endless night sky as it stretched into infinity above him. He didn't know how long he had been lying there, motionless. A small part of him felt like he had always been in this thick, murky water, so devoid of light that he couldn't even make out his own limbs. A small part of him felt like he had always been there, but the rest of him knew the painful truth.
So this is the afterlife, he mused. Can't say I'm too impressed.
He lay there, unmoving in the darkness and utter silence, for an undeterminable length of time. And very quickly, he grew bored. There was nothing to do, nothing to see, no one around in the endless dark ocean. The only thing Kristoff did was float. Float, and talk to himself. Although he wasn't really 'talking' because his mouth wouldn't move. Or his head. Or his arms, legs, or any other part of him, for that matter. He was completely immobile in the endless darkness which surrounded him. Immobile and completely alone.
Yup, definitely not impressed.
Kristoff lay there, asking the night sky for something to change, when slowly, dimly, there came a warbling noise from somewhere above him; above him, and lost in the unending darkness. At first, he couldn't distinguish what it was at all. The sound was just a muddled slush, like he was listening to it under water. And as far as he could tell, he was. The warbling gradually became clearer, however, and as sounds became sharper and turned into words, Kristoff realized that the endless night had given him a voice to listen to.
And not just any voice. He was listening to Anna.
"…Kristoff," she pleaded. Her words came through as strained and weak. He could practically hear her tears. "Please…I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry for everything..."
If he could have, Kristoff would have clenched his fists.
Hey - no. No, no, no, he begged the dark abyss. I changed my mind. I'll take silence. I don't want to listen to this.
"I should have waited," Anna's voice continued. "I should have listened to Elsa. This is all my fault. Everything is my fault…" She was starting to crack.
Kristoff tried in vain to cover his ears as the words crushed at his heart.
Stop it. STOP IT. I said I don't want to hear it!
Anna's voice was shaking and falling apart. "Please forgive me," she begged. "Please, please forgive me…!"
Kristoff felt angry frustration bubble within him, matching his growing heartache.
Why are you doing this?! he demanded the night sky. Isn't it enough that I'm trapped here alone? Isn't it enough that I'll never see her again?
There was the sound of a wracking sob, and Kristoff tried unsuccessfully to scream.
"Forgive me and come back," Anna's voice begged as it shook and heaved. "I'll do anything. Anything. Just come back to me, please!"
It was the most impossible, heartbreaking request in the world, and it made Kristoff furious.
Enough. That – is – ENOUGH. What did I do to deserve this? What?! TELL ME!
But the night sky was relentless and soon, Anna's voice dissolved away into sobs; heart-wrenching, spirit-crushing, uncontrollable sobs. Kristoff never got an answer, and the crying continued on. It filled the emptiness and ripped at his soul while he lay there fighting to move. Fighting to thrash and kick and yell and cover his ears to just stop it all.
But there was nothing he could do but listen as he lay there helplessly.
And Anna cried. And cried. And cried.
The room was cold as hundreds of snowflakes hung suspended in the air. Elsa was trying her very best, but she was losing the battle. Her sister's wracking sobs were breaking her down.
She gripped at her chair, encased in ice, and took in another slow, ragged breath. "It's going to be okay, Anna," Elsa pleaded. "It's going to be – "
"Enough…" came a gravelly voice.
Elsa froze, sure her ears were playing tricks amidst the sound of her sister's tears. Had she really heard…?
Heart pounding, the Queen jumped to her feet and raced around the bed to the only other person in the entire room who could be talking. She was still in disbelief. Could it really be…?
She reached Kristoff and immediately gasped. His eyelids were fluttering.
"No more…" he sluggishly moaned over Anna's sobs. His voice grew distinctly louder. "No more crying…!"
There was a strangled intake of air, and Elsa stole a look at Anna to find the gaze returned. Her sister's eyes were wide and blood-shot. Her cheeks were shiny from tears. She had heard Kristoff's near-conscious demand, and had bolted up on her arms.
"…Kristoff…?" Anna choked in disbelief. She seemed froze in place.
Elsa grabbed Kristoff's bare shoulders and gave him an urgent shake. "Kristoff! Kristoff wake up. Wake up," she commanded.
There was a heart-stopping pause, then all at once, Kristoff's eyes burst open and he focused on Elsa with a confused, disorientated expression.
"What the…?" he croaked.
"Kristoff…?" Anna's voice shook with fragile hope.
Elsa pulled away, clutching her hands to her chest in anticipation, as Kristoff weakly turned his head to her sister.
"…Anna…?" His confusion melted into heart-wrenching joy and he lifted a feeble, disbelieving hand towards her cheek. But then, as he gazed at Anna's wide-eyed and tear-streaked face, his trembling smile rearranged into bewildered horror, as if a terrible realization had just dawned to him. "You were really crying…?" he rasped, stretching his fingers towards her.
The moment Kristoff's hand cupped her cheek, Anna gave a choked gasp and threw herself on top of him to begin crying anew. His arms flew around her and for the next several minutes, Elsa watched with tears in her eyes as Kristoff did little else but hold Anna tightly against him, blinking back his own tears, as she clutched at his hair and sobbed with relief against his neck.
"Shhh…..everything's fine now," Kristoff finally muttered as he began to rub her back in long, slow circles. His voice was rough and husky. Elsa couldn't even begin to read all the emotions that ran across his features.
"You're safe, I'm safe, Sven's - " Kristoff stopped short, then his eyes shot open with sudden panic as he caught the Queen's gaze.
Elsa brushed away a tear and nodded reassuringly. "He's safe, too. Some of the ice harvesters found him on the other side of a stream and they were able to use their ropes to pull him back across." She watched as some of the tension melted from his shoulders and he smiled gratefully in relief. "Captain Ericksen is also well, though a bit guilt ridden," Elsa continued with a sympathetic look. "I'm not sure who feels more responsible for what's happened; him or Anna."
This seemed to trigger some memory in Kristoff's head, because he turned his attention back to Anna and raised her chin until their faces were just inches apart. Her tears had begun to peter out and she sniffed and stared back at him through glassy eyes.
He gently wiped her remaining tears away and fixed her with a serious look. "What happened back there wasn't your fault, and I want you to promise me right now that you won't ever say that it was. I made my own choices." He was unwavering in his demand. "Okay? Do you promise?"
Anna gave him a watery, bittersweet smile and there was a long pause as she seemed to consider his words. For a moment, Elsa thought she might even argue with him. Then, Anna gave a small nod. "I promise," she said softly.
"Good," Kristoff replied. Then he pulled her in those last few inches and covered her mouth with a slow, possessive kiss.
Elsa averted her gaze, wanting to give them at least some privacy. Busying herself with dispelling the hovering snowflakes, remaining ice, and tending to the fire, she was throwing on another log from the pile when the bedroom door suddenly burst open.
Spinning around, Elsa nearly laughed when she saw Dr. Enstad stare in shocked surprise at Anna and Kristoff. As comical as it looked to her, the Queen couldn't blame the poor doctor for his reaction. The princess was on top of his patient, and both had a guilty, embarrassed look about them.
"Right on time, Dr. Enstad," Elsa said smoothly. "I believe you'll find that Kristoff is well on his way to making a full recovery." She gave the lovers a mischievous smile, and both blushed even redder. Oh, it felt good to have everything back to a happy normal.
Dr. Enstad took off his spectacles and cleaned them, as if he expected it all to be a trick of the eyes. "Incredible," he murmured, after he'd put them back on.
Going over to the bed, he did his routine check of Kristoff's temperature, pulse, and heartbeat. He took notes, studied the data skeptically, then, without warning, he yanked back the blankets with a flourish.
"Whoa, hey!" Kristoff exclaimed as he reached to try and cover himself back up.
The doctor smacked at his hands. "Stop that. I'm having a look at you," he snapped.
Elsa smiled in amusement as Kristoff gave Anna a helpless glance of who is this guy?
Coming around to stand beside Dr. Enstad, the Queen watched as he poked and prodded at Kristoff's various bruises and his wounds wrapped in cotton gauze.
Kristoff turned his attention to Anna. "Okay, so – ow, watch it! – so what happened, exactly?" he asked.
Sitting up, Anna took one of his hands into both of hers and gave a squeeze. "Just as you passed out, Joris found us. He hadn't been able to get to us right away because he found the fourth thief on the road, and they started fighting but then the guy ran away and Joris had to chase him down then tie him up."
Elsa watched Kristoff process the news as the doctor scribbled some notes. The captain and the ice harvesters had already given her full reports.
"Vogel flew in next," Anna continued. "And all the ice harvesters were right behind him. Joris was so smart. He used the parchment in your sled to write them a letter, telling them what happened. They knew to bring medical supplies and sewed you back up right there. And one of them said that we had to give you lots of water with salt, so we crushed up some of the horses' salt licks and I fed you them, mixed with snow, the whole way back to Arendelle."
"Wait," Kristoff interrupted, looking incredulous. "You fed me snow and salt for…" he quickly did the calculation. "For ten hours?"
Anna nodded, suddenly appearing very tired. "It wasn't easy. I…I was afraid you would choke," she admitted. "But I had to try…"
Kristoff squeezed Anna's hands remorsefully and Elsa suspected that he was starting to get a clear picture of the emotional chaos that had been the past twenty-six hours. She herself had been shaken awake at 6:00 a.m. that morning to the news that her sister and Kristoff had returned to the palace, and that the latter was at death's door. Anna had been frantic, nearly hysterical.
It had been a very long day.
"It was good you did try, Princess," Dr. Enstad interjected. "I doubt Mr. Bjorgman would have made it back alive, otherwise. Not after the symptoms you described." The doctor gave Kristoff a measured look. "You're a lucky man. Very lucky indeed. In all my years of practice, I've never seen anyone wake up after being unconscious for that long."
Kristoff gave Anna a look that was so full of love, she actually blushed. "I had a good reason to."
"Yes, well," the doctor huffed, "once you were under my care, I continued the rehydration, treated for infection, and re-stitched your wounds." He clucked his tongue and shook his head. "Messy, so messy…" he murmured.
Elsa suspected Dr. Enstad was referencing the less than professional job the ice harvesters had done in the field.
"Thank you, doctor, we appreciate all your efforts," she said while motioning gracefully to the door. "Please rest now. And please make sure that the rest of the staff is made aware that Kristoff is awake and recovering. Especially Sven and Captain Ericksen."
Dr. Enstad gave a small nod of his head, then shook a finger at his patient. "Bed rest for you. Plenty of liquids. And no strenuous activity for at least week. I won't have you ripping my lovely stitches."
Kristoff made a face, and once the doctor had left the room, muttered "I don't like that guy."
"You don't have to like him," Anna teased as she pulled the blankets back over them and snuggled up close. "You just have to listen to him."
Kristoff gave a derisive snort as he kissed Anna's hair and held her tight. "So...you haven't told me what happened to the thieves yet."
His voice was casual, but Elsa could see an underlying darkness in his eyes. This needed to be done with some tact. "The four men that Joris tied up were brought back separately to Arendelle, to be dealt with under our laws," she explained. "Their trial is tomorrow, but I plan on finding them guilty of kidnapping royalty, theft, assault and battery, and attempted murder." Elsa smiled, not-so-secretly looking forward to the sentencing. "They won't be seeing the light of day for a long time."
Kristoff nodded, satisfied, but his eyes grew darker. "And what about their leader? Sem?"
"He was still unconscious when Captain Ericksen and the others found you," Elsa continued. "And I suspect that they were all so busy trying to keep you alive that he was forgotten for a time. The captain divided everyone into teams; some to look for Sven, and some to deal with the other thieves. The ones that were left to take care of the other thieves eventually went back to get Sem, but when they arrived, he was already gone."
Kristoff tensed. "Gone?" His eyes reflexively darted to Anna, already growing worried. "You mean he's still out there?"
Elsa hesitated, searching for the right words. "Not…exactly. They found his tracks leading deeper into the forest and…some other tracks as well."
Kristoff was visibly confused. "What other tracks?"
Elsa's expression darkened and she gave Kristoff a measured look. "The kind that wolves make."
"Oh," Kristoff said, putting the pieces together. "Oh."
There was a long span of silence, then he finally muttered "Good."
Although Elsa had spent a large part of her day imagining what she would have done to the thief if there had been the chance, she considered his ending nonetheless satisfying. "Agreed."
Deciding that it was time to go, Elsa reached a hand for her sister and Anna immediately grabbed onto it. "I'll leave you now," the Queen said. "Try and get some rest, while you can." She gave Kristoff a smile. "I'm sure you'll have a lineup of visitors in the morning."
Anna gave her sister's hand a loving squeeze. "Thank you for staying with me, Elsa." A look of guilt crossed over her face. "I'm sure it couldn't have been easy."
It hadn't been. Not even remotely. But Anna didn't need to know that. "Of course," was all Elsa said. "And Kristoff?"
"I'm glad you're going to make a full recovery, but don't ever break my sister's heart again or you will regret it."
Kristoff blinked at the underlying threat then pulled Anna tighter against him. "I'll… uh…I'll keep that in mind."
Elsa smirked and began to walk towards the door.
"Hey...Anna, I just remembered something," she heard Kristoff say. "Right before I passed out, you kept trying to say something to me, but I couldn't hear it." Elsa could hear the curiosity in his voice. "What was it?
There was a pause as the Queen put her hand on the doorknob.
"Isn't it obvious?" she heard Anna softly reply. "I was saying I love you, too."
As she walked into the hallway, Elsa turned and caught a glimpse of the two lovers, wrapped in a passionate kiss. Then she smiled and wondered what her future nieces and nephews would be named as she gently closed the door.
A/N: So, friends, that's it! Thank you all so very, very much for coming along on this journey with me. An extra big thanks goes out to the following people: creatorX33, xbecbebex, and zinfer for being my top reviewers, EvieArendelle for being my soundboard, and the awesome guy in my life who choreographed all the fight scenes with me in our family room.
To all of my readers, again – thank you for all the support. It's been a blast, and in the words of Kei$ha, your love is my drug. ;)
(And if you feel like this story was lacking in the smut department, fear not! You can check out my M-rated sequel "Surrender".)