A/N: My free time has been quite limited lately, so I'd say updates will probably be about once a week. The wonderful responses and reviews certainly help to fan the fire of my inspiration for this story, so again, as always, thank you guys!
Margot was fitting a clean set of silk sheets onto to the princess' bed when the door opened and closed abruptly. Elsa swept into the room, her short heels clicking irritably against the floor. She pulled the pins from her hair that held it in a braid which wove into a tight bun, and threaded her slender fingers through it, untwisting the intricately knitted braids and tossed the hairpins onto her vanity. Her tapered eyebrows were pulled into an agitated frown and her blue eyes were a blizzard of angry intensity. She stood at her vanity with both palms on the surface, glaring at her reflection.
"The meeting didn't take a pleasant route, then," Margot prompted, resuming her task of dressing Elsa's bed.
Elsa, while unaware that Margot had been present in the room with her, answered her maid without hesitating.
"There was no meeting."
Margot looked up, smoothing the creases in the sheets. "Oh?"
Elsa turned so that she could lean back against the vanity and crossed her arms. "No."
Margot bent down to retrieve one of Elsa's plush, tassled quilts and began unfolding it. She made no further attempt to coax any more conversation from Elsa and the princess scoffed, turning her head sharply to glare out of the window across the room where sunlight filtered in through her blue curtains. Elsa punctured the brief silence after a moment, taking Margot's reserve as a reason to expand upon her short reply.
"It was twenty minutes of my father berating me for spending any amount of time with another human being from outside of these castle walls," she continued in a low hiss. Anger was such a rarely sparked flame for her and it burned uncharacteristically in Elsa's eyes, it fit too tightly over her skin. "He tells me it's for my sake that he hides me away unless a special occasion arises, but has no concern for me or my well-being. He's worried for his reputation and the judgment this kingdom will pass on him if they know what I am." Her gloved fingers dug into the insides of her elbows and her eyes closed. She inhaled deeply through her nose and her shoulders rose and fell with the movement. Margot could see the flame flicker, then douse before her eyes. Then, much quieter, she said, "He's so ashamed of me."
The wrinkles on Margot's face carved deeper into a distressed frown and she laid the quilt down at the foot of the bed, only halfway unfolded, and sighed, crossing the room to her princess. She curved her rough, weathered hand around the apple of Elsa's cheek and the princess leaned into Margot's touch, a tear tracing the curve of her face and disappearing into the palm of Margot's hand.
"Oh, Elsa, your father loves you so much," she whispered and Elsa drew in a sharp breath that coaxed more tears from her closed eyes. She shrunk inward on herself and small, tormented sounds squeezed from her lungs. Her own hand raised to cap her mouth, to quiet the weak noises her throat couldn't extinguish. Margot felt the ache of it resonate in her chest and her heart throbbed painfully. "He loves you so very much. It pains me to see the two of you at it like this. You've been through enough pain, the both of you. It's excessive to inflict more on yourselves and one another."
"He doesn't say it," Elsa murmured, the usual smoothness of her voice rough and patchy. "He doesn't give any indication that he thinks anything more of me than this unyielding lump of rock that he simply cannot carve into a queen."
Margot passed her thumb over the smooth skin of Elsa's cheek to clear the tracks of tears there. Elsa wanted to love her father without having to hate herself and she had never known one without the other.
"He lost his love, darling," Margot said gently. "Your mother's death is a heavy, heavy weight on him and he couldn't bear to ever lose you, too. Fear may drive him in the wrong direction at times, but he does it to protect you. I'm not condoning his choices," she amended softly. Margot always considered it cruel that Elsa had no companion, no long-term friends of her own growing up. The queen had thought it equally inhumane and she acted against her husband's wishes in secret at times. "But know he keeps you in mind with every one of those choices he makes and he makes them with the best intentions."
Elsa released an unsteady breath and her crystal eyes opened. The light caught the sharply cut varying tones of blue and they flickered back at Margot like the many faces of a diamond.
"She's good for me," Elsa whispered. "He doesn't see that."
Margot's solemn expression brightened at that and she smiled. "She's every bit of the girl I remember and more. A feisty thing, isn't she?"
Elsa laughed once and a brief smile crossed her face.
Margot had watched the king and queen fall in love with their daughter when she was no more than a swell of Her Majesty's stomach, and she had swiftly fallen along with them. She witnessed them become more and more smitten with her when she had been born, when she had first walked, first spoken. At the initial sign of Elsa's abilities, they had retaliated with a fierce protectiveness. Neither of them had fallen the least bit out of love with her, but they were afraid. Afraid of what the public would do, how they would receive her, if she would be threatened or potentially in danger. They would keep it a secret until it was wielded skillfully; only certain members of the staff were to be aware of Elsa's truth, and Margot was one of the first to know. There was little concern at first - Elsa's powers were weak and appeared rarely when she was young. She was restricted, but it was nothing compared to the prison that awaited her once she was on the brim of adolescence.
She had met the blacksmith's daughter when she was eight. A little red-headed girl who breathed a life into Elsa that she hadn't known she'd been choking without. Colors were more vivid and she had a newfound reason for rising from bed each morning. She'd always been eager to learn from her instructors, but she'd become eager to learn of a different craft from Anna. To learn a form of companionship she hadn't personally known yet.
Hardegin had come to Arendelle in search of work and requested the royal audience of the king and queen to ask for the opportunity to aid the supply of Arendelle's metal work. Clearly, trade partnerships would still carry much of the burden, but he could supply as much as possible locally. He'd expected a less than brief meeting with them and realistically, he expected a rejection. Pleasantly, he had been met with a dinner invitation from the king, which he quickly and politely declined. He'd recently lost his wife and had a five year-old daughter, he'd explained, who was too rambunctious to confine to a posh dinner table for a professional meeting and he knew not a soul in the kingdom yet, so he had no one to take her off his hands for an evening. The queen had encouraged him to bring Anna along; they had a daughter a few years older that could keep her preoccupied if needed. Hardegin had hesitantly complied at their kind insistence and his daughter eagerly anticipated the dinner, like it was the most exciting gift in the world for her to be in the presence of a real life princess.
Wide eyed and eager for even an ounce of friendship, little Anna had dropped into Elsa's life like a paint bomb, the colors splashing all around her and drowning the dull palette that had been her past.
Despite the age gap - three years wasn't much, but the current period of their lives made the divide an awkward one at first - they clicked instantly. They fit together as if they had been molded to do so. Elsa was enchanted. She shared her powers with Anna like a secret, something she was forbidden to do, but she was bursting to tell someone and there was no better audience than an enthusiastic little Anna.
On top of selling to fellow villagers and travelers alike from his home, Hardegin was deemed Arendelle's official blacksmith and metal worker (the king and queen likely would have deemed him so solely based on his infectious and kind personality, but he was also highly skilled in his craft) and he made consistent personal deliveries to the castle. Anna always tagged along to see her pretty princess friend and the king and queen formed a decently solid friendship with the blacksmith as well. Elsa secretly wondered if her father ordered more than necessary simply as a reason to have Hardegin and his daughter at the castle. Regardless, she was grateful and cherished her friend.
The euphoria didn't last. That vivid color was stolen from her by her own hands and the world went black and white again. It was nearly unbearable, to have such promise torn from her, to return to the familiar muffled tones of grey she had known before. Blonde streaked like a scar through Anna's red hair and leeched the color from it in a swift stroke from the roots to the tips. Elsa quickly learned to hate the platinum color of her own hair and the frosted tips of her fingers.
Anna had been swept out of her arms into the burly ones of the blacksmith and Elsa's hands went cold in a way that she'd never felt. She wept on her knees, feeling small in the enormous ballroom that choked her as though she were trapped in a coffin.
The incident left her without a friend and it buried a seed of hatred at the base of her own little heart. That seed grew and branched around the muscle in her chest, nourished by her own thoughts of self-loathing and the lines her parents fed her.
Elsa's mother shielded her daughter at close proximity while her father's approach was more distant. She kept Elsa safe from the loneliness, while he kept the kingdom safe from his daughter.
"He doesn't want either of you hurt, Elsa," Margot continued, sobering. She had always been fond of Anna, even now, when she was all but a stranger. "And he has reason to be apprehensive."
Elsa took offense to that and turned her face from Margot's hand.
"I have grieved that more than he knows how to. And the only way for me to quell this guilt is for me to -"
"Oh!" Margot exclaimed and Elsa jolted. "So this is about clearing your conscience? I think that's unfair, Elsa."
Elsa blushed and cast her eyes downward, a shadow falling over her face. "N-no, I -"
"I'm kidding, child," Margot waved a hand. "Such serious thing, you are. Now, your father is the king of Arendelle, and really, he's the voice of reason here. But being your maid, my allegiance swings your way under these circumstances," Margot said, a twinkle in her eye. Elsa looked up, a confused frown on her face as if she didn't understand. "What he doesn't know won't hurt him," Margot clarified and punctuated her point with a wink.
"Margot," Elsa said, both scandalized and impish. A sly grin took the place of her frown.
"You deserve a friend, dear," Margot said seriously, taking Elsa's gloved hands in her own. Her thumbs pressed into Elsa's palms and rubbed slow circles there. Elsa seemed to be deeply affected by it. "You weren't brought into this world to be alone. And she's a good girl, Hardegin has seen to that."
"She's dazzling, isn't she?" Elsa spouted excitedly, gripping Margot's hands in return. "Infectious," she added, recalling how contagious Anna's laughter was.
"She's wonderful," Margot agreed warmly, relishing in Elsa's outward reaction to Anna. "Now, when are you to see her again?"
- - x - -
"Tomorrow night!" Anna squealed, fingers balled up into fists. "We have a secret, romantic rendezvous in the forest."
The sun hung low in the sky behind her, dusk perhaps an hour away. Anna would be glad for the darkness; hopefully it would lift this hazy heat.
"In the forest? At night? Anna, you're not going out there by yourself after dark, it's dangerous!" Kristoff reasoned, and truthfully, he was still attempting to catch up with the happenings of Anna's afternoon.
"Pft," Anna dismissed him, kicking a pebble as she walked. "The scariest thing around here is your Sven voice. Besides, I'm not going to be by myself. I'm going to be with Elsa."
Kristoff blanched, offended, but recovered quickly, pulling down Sven's jaw to match the sound of his emphasized voice like a puppet as he responded with a protesting, "hey!"
Anna gave him a pointed look, one that Sven mirrored a second after, unimpressed.
"Whatever, we're not talking about me right now," Kristoff said, releasing Sven's chin. "If you're really going out into the woods after sundown, I'm coming with you."
"No way! You're not ruining me and Elsa's date with your paranoia -"
"And I can take care of myself, thank you very much," Anna finished, indignant.
Kristoff shook his head in an attempt to clear his head and move past the nonsense Anna had just spoken. "How do you know this isn't a trap or something? What if she's luring you into some kind of ritual and she's planning to sacrifice you to the wolves, or whatever?"
"Again, you are not ruining my date with your paranoia. And that's the princess of Arendelle you're bad-mouthing, mister," Anna wagged an accusing finger at him.
Kristoff scoffed. "Okay, fine. At least let me walk you there? So that I don't have to worry?"
Sven, bored of their argument, galloped ahead to the stables which were strangely absent of their caretaker considering the sun had yet to set, and buried his nose into a sack of carrots that hung off the edge of a bent nail pounded into one of the posts. Kristoff scrambled after him ungracefully and yanked the reindeer's face from the bag before he plucked a carrot from his mouth. It broke in half between Sven's teeth and Kristoff bit into his half.
Anna scrutinized him for a moment and debated his request, undisturbed by the display before her. Then, skeptically, "You promise you're gonna leave as soon as we get there?"
Kristoff sighed, crossing his arms. "Promise," he grumbled in agreement as he swallowed the last bit of carrot.
"'Kay, fine, worry-wart," Anna shrugged. "As long as you're out of sight the moment I meet up with her."
"What're you guys gonna do, anyway?" Kristoff asked as he grabbed a horse brush that had hung below the carrot sack, then began pulling the brush through Sven's coarse fur. Sven made a strange noise of pleasure at the sensation.
"I truly think I'm in love with her," Anna ignored his question and sighed dreamily, slumping against the stable post. An arm lay over her head and the other was a loosely clasped fist over her heart. She yearned, then and there, to break it from the cage between her lungs solely to calm the incessant fluttering that had not given her a break since that morning. Her heart was a restless bird in her chest and it tugged her toward the castle.
Kristoff, who was still tangled in a net of confusion - who was the old lady?, Leo-who?, Elsa, glasses, socks, volcano king? Anna, slow down - paused in the middle of brushing Sven's fur and his jaw swung low, unbolted. He frowned, the diagonal gesture of his eyebrows both disbelieving and incredulous, and Sven gave a protesting snort at the interruption.
"Whoa, whoa, you guys have spent one day together, Anna," Kristoff shifted the muscles of his jaw and managed to hinge it once more so he could speak. He resumed his strokes to placate Sven's petulant stomping. "You don't know anything about her."
Anna gave him a low-lidded, ludicrous look.
"You know what I mean," Kristoff rolled his eyes. Yes, Anna had been studying every curtsy, every dress, every shadow of a smile, every flutter of Princess Elsa's eyelashes since he could remember.
"I know enough," Anna said indignantly.
"You don't know enough to know you're in love with her."
"Kristoff, if it's true love, that's all you need to know."
"True lo-" Kristoff sputtered. This time, the brush clattered to the cobblestone ground and Sven made a noise of displeasure that landed in the crossfire between a 'moo' and a snort. Kristoff ignored him and bent down to retrieve it. "Anna, you can't truly love someone you've talked to twice."
Anna huffed and crossed her arms, taut.
"What's your problem? I've talked about Elsa loads, you've never acted like this was an issue before. On the contrary, if I'm not mistaken, you're Mr. Princess-Elsa-Is-In-Love-With-The-Blacksmith's-Daughter."
"I dunno, I mean, maybe because this is the first time the word 'love' has been used on your end," Kristoff replied, exasperated. He held a hand against Sven's snout at arm's length to keep his testy companion from headbutting him at the second disruption. Anna blinked, unperturbed."I kinda treated it as a joke, honestly. Like, you've talked about her and I knew you had a thing for her, but I'm just saying you have some unrealistic ideals and expectations. She's royalty, Anna. She has to get married and birth an heir and rule Arendelle and all that stuff."
"Ugh, please never use the phrase 'birth an heir' ever again," Anna groaned. Then, she unfolded one arm and aimed her pointer finger at a lanky teenage boy wearing a simple, yet worn tunic and trousers a short distance away who had a confused frown on his face. His frowned deepened as his gaze shifted from Anna to Kristoff and he broke out into a run. "Also, I think the stable boy is coming back."
Kristoff's eyes bugged and he hastily hung the brush back up on the stable wall, picking a single carrot from the bag that hung below it. He bit it in half, tossing Sven the other piece as he ran from the scene of his crimes. When Anna caught up with him, he shrugged and spoke around the carrot in his mouth and over the shouts of the stable boy in the distance.
"It's her duty. And it's not like you can give her that." He caught the hurt look in Anna's eyes and the stubborn swell of a pout on her bottom lip. "Wait - I didn't mean it like that, if you guys got serious I'm sure there's a lot of things you could give her, but she - wait what? Never mind. I'm done talking about this," his arms hung low at his sides like a gorilla and his back was arched forward to match. He made it a few more paces before he lifted his arms again, throwing them into the air. "Anna, you're fifteen!" he shouted, dragging his hands down his face and pulling on the subtle bags beneath his eyes. When he was met with a blank stare from Anna and a single, mindless blink, he recovered and straightened his slouched spine. "No, I'm done. This is way too weird and totally ridiculous. Plus, I'm just going to continue shoving my foot into my mouth and I don't feel like fighting with you. I'm tired."
Anna waved a hand dismissively, entirely unstirred, "Whatever to all that stuff. Obviously I'm not gonna be fifteen forever and I really feel like we have this crazy deep connection. I know I've spoken to her a total of two times at this point, but there's something there, Kristoff," she held her face in her own hands, subtly squishing her cheeks together. "Maybe we're soulmates." Kristoff would have sworn entire constellations twinkled inside the galaxies of Anna's large, innocent eyes.
"Maybe you're nuts," Kristoff murmured out of the corner of his mouth.
"I'm going to kiss her one day," Anna said quietly, her eyes far way. She stopped walking to properly visualize the moment. "I'm totally going to kiss her. And then one day I'm going to marry her and I'll let her do the decorating because she has amazing fashion taste and I'll pick the cake. And we'll write up the guest list together because she's got to invite all of her royals and nobles and I'll invite our friends -"
Anna looked up to see Kristoff had gone, then turned to Sven who gave her the best impression of a shrug a reindeer could offer.
"You believe me, don't you, Sven?" Anna bent down with her lips pursed, speaking to Sven like she would to an infant as she scratched behind his ear. Exactly the way Kristoff hated for her to speak to him. "I'll even let you be ring bearer."
Sven grunted enthusiastically and leaned into Anna's touch.
"I'm glad you have my back," her mouth spread into a smile and she kissed his nose.