Frozen is the property of Disney.
After the Thaw
She was awakened by the smell of smoke.
A thin haze filled the room, stinging her throat and filling her with fear. Leaping from bed, she ran to the door and threw it open, blinking and coughing as a thick cloud billowed in to surround her. Her legs moved without thinking, but even as she ran she was struck by the wrongness of her surroundings.
The corridors were strange and empty, twisting and branching in unfamiliar ways. She sprinted through the halls, taking turns that shouldn't have been there, passing doors that led to unknown rooms, and catching glimpses of windows she'd never looked through.
All else was forgotten when the first wall of flame leapt out to block her path. The crackling roar of fire filled her ears as she recoiled from the heat. Shielding her face with one arm, with a wave of the other she reached for her power. Fear turned to panic as the fire only danced closer to her, skittering across the carpet, consuming the fabric like a ravenous, mindless beast.
Why now? Trapped and powerless, a part of her was howling in frustration, but her gaze darted back and forth, searching for escape. She was hopelessly lost in the unfamiliar maze, but again her body seemed to move with a will of its own. She threw open the nearest door and dashed into the room beyond. Its furnishings were an indistinct grey jumble in the smoke, but somehow she found another door and emerged back into the hallway.
The passage split in two directions, but just as a fresh surge of panic seemed to stall her frantic run, the ceiling of the left hallway collapsed in the thunder of splintering wood and hungry flame. After another heartbeat of hesitation, she ran down the only open path. The fire pursued, surging along the wall beside her, impossibly fast. She ran faster. She tried to ward away the waves of heat, sweat stinging her eyes, floating embers searing her face and arms. She could feel her lungs burning from the oppressive smoke. She raced the fire towards the end of the hall. A window was there, its panes stained opaque with soot. For a second she feared her body wouldn't stop its mad dash and would go crashing straight through the glass, but she stumbled to a halt, her gaze turning to the door at the end of the wall, white paint peeling away in the heat.
With an audible roar, the fire surged past her, shrouding the door in flapping pennons of red and orange that licked the hallway from ceiling to floor. Its heat pushed her back with almost physical force. But through the mad cackling of the flames and the staccato snaps of smoldering plaster and burning wood, a new sound reached her ears. It was a cry for help, desperate and wracked by coughs, coming through the door.
Anna? No! Anna! She wanted to scream, but her voice would not obey. Nor would the rest of her body, as her gaze darted back and forth, searching for another way through, any way at all to reach the other side of the door that was blackening before her eyes. In a terrible instant of clarity, a stillness came over her, a frightening and purposeful calm that seemed to stop the world itself in its tracks. The flames writhing along the charred wood of the door seemed to slow to a crawl as she felt herself back against the opposite wall. The heat hissed at her like an animal, and she felt her eyes burning from the mix of smoke and sweat and tears. Without a second thought, she lowered her shoulder and charged.
She heard the weakened wood split under the strain. She felt a thousand claws tearing into her as the fire caught, grasping at clothes and skin and hair.
And with a scream, Queen Elsa of Arendelle awoke in her bed.
Her breath was coming in frantic gasps. The ghost of pain faded away, and she raised a shaking hand to the side of her face. The skin was smooth, cold with sweat and evening chill and her powers. A thin layer of frost encrusted her sheets and bed, radiating from her body amidst the twisted blankets.
It was a dream, she thought, struggling to rein in the rapid panting of her breath. But her relief was short-lived, interrupted by a thunderous pounding on the door of her chambers.
"Your Majesty?!" a voice shouted, muffled but urgent. "Are you all right?"
Elsa fought back against a fresh wave of panic. With a conscious effort she suppressed the impulse to hide, for years the only companion she'd had to the thought of someone at her door. "I'm fine!" she called, her voice cracking only a little. "Give me a moment."
The insistent pounding on her door stopped. With a brittle chorus of crackling frost, she threw away her thin coverlet and grabbed a robe from the corner of her bed. She padded across the room as she tied the sash, the pale skin of her feet seeming to glow in the moonlight. Resting her fingertips on the handle of the door, she let the coldness of the metal seep into her, grateful for the clarity of the touch. With one last steadying breath, she opened the door.
Her eyes grew wide, and she couldn't help the instinctive flinch at the sight of two men with unsheathed swords in their hands. When the guards recognized their queen, unharmed and dressed only in a nightgown and robe, they traded sheepish looks and put away their weapons.
"Apologies, Majesty. We heard a scream."
"I'm sorry to worry you," Elsa replied, successfully keeping her voice level. "It was just a nightmare."
The guards glanced past her to the glittering layer of frost that encased her bed, and traded another look. In the dim moonlight from the bedroom window behind her, Elsa could clearly see the expressions on their faces. She recognized the look, one she had seen on even the oldest servants, those who had stayed with the castle through the years of isolation imposed because of her curse. My powers, she corrected herself firmly. In the brief time since her return to Arendelle, Elsa and her subjects were still tentatively feeling their way around one another. They all had a lot to get used to. The only one who seemed impervious to the awkward newness of Arendelle and its recluse-turned-sorceress queen was Anna.
Elsa's chest tightened as a rush of memories from her nightmare surged anew. A wave of fear spawned a fresh layer of frost on the doorknob beneath her hand, and she pulled her arm back as if scalded. A dream. It was a dream. She took a calming breath, and the ice faded away.
The guards had taken a wary step back, but she chose to ignore that. "Please return to your duties," she commanded, her voice quiet but firm. "I'm going to look in on my sister." Without waiting for an acknowledgement, she strode between them and down the hall towards Anna's room. Unlike her dream, this was a path with which she was well-acquainted, from the patterns of the wallpaper down to the spot of chipped plaster nearly hidden behind the statue of St. Olaf. The familiarity was reassuring.
She hesitated at Anna's door. Elsa didn't know what she expected to find, but some part of the dream still nagged at her. A trembling hand moved towards the handle of the door, but she froze at a sound from the other side. Turning her head, she leaned towards the door, straining her ears. When Elsa recognized the sound, she almost failed to stifle a laugh. It seemed that Anna still snored.
Not wishing to disturb her sister's rest, she turned the handle ever so carefully. Cracking the door open, well-oiled hinges betrayed no whisper of sound. Elsa glided inside, bare feet silent on the carpet. She stopped beside the bed, gazing down on her younger sister's comically disheveled form. Anna had always been an… active sleeper, going back to the days when they had shared a bed as very young girls. A surge of warmth filled Elsa's chest, as welcome as it was unfamiliar. She reached out and brushed at one of the countless wild tangles across Anna's face. The girl mumbled drowsily, rolling towards the touch, which only served to dislodge a few more locks.
Elsa drew back with a smile, one hand trailing absently along the braid draped over her own shoulder. Only a handful of platinum-blond strands had made their way loose, despite her fitful rest, but even that small token of her newfound freedom reminded Elsa of just how much she owed to her sister's love and freewheeling spirit.
Elsa left the room as silently as she had entered, one hand clasped above her heart, as though she could cradle the warmth she felt there like a physical thing. The first pink hints of dawn were beginning to creep through the gloom outside the windows of the castle, and she strode with renewed purpose back to her own room to make herself presentable for the responsibilities that awaited her as queen.
The time for dreams and nightmares was past. A new day was dawning in Arendelle.