Two days had gone by for Elsa in the blink of an eye. So had the meetings she barely paid attention to. The nights, however – when she actually had time to herself to think, remember and maybe kind of feel….different – tended to drag on.
Drag on with tingled lips, a lot of big questions, a lot of surprising eagerness to answer those questions, and the requisite amount of fear. The death nightmares weren't back and the icicles in her room were pretty small – which sent another revealing, troubling and stomach affecting message through.
By the third afternoon, Elsa wasn't ready to have another night like this. She could conceal horrible, bleak, despairing emotions to herself for years, at her own expense. But these….emotions were harder to live with on her own.
For one of the few times in her life, Elsa wanted to talk about something emotional and unsafe. Not unsafe like in the old days….well, maybe unsafe in a different way, anyway. The old unsafe feelings never had this kind of upside, though.
Assuming the upside wasn't just good for the first time. Assuming she wanted more times. Assuming she'd want the other….first times that'd have to come later. Assuming she was even equipped to handle those times, in more ways than one. Or handle them going wrong, in more ways than one.
But if they didn't….
Great, the one time Elsa really needed to be rational, and she wasn't up to it. She'd just have to talk to someone who could take the job for a while.
That left Anna completely out. Kristoff could only handle so much emotion, like she could. And Robert….was utterly out. For now.
There were only two other people she was even close to. Who were playing right in the middle of the halls, where anyone could run into them.
Elsa had no time to scold them for that. Not with more important things to talk about than making sure no one tripped over them.
So this really was an emergency.
Two straight days had dragged on and on for Robert. And the nights were going by way too fast. It probably made the days drag on even worse.
At least during the night, he could imagine a world where he wrote out things like uncertainly, consequences, potential chaos and worst case scenarios. He could just drop himself into a world where everything was settled, he didn't have to avoid anyone or convince anyone to do….things, and he didn't have to be at war with himself about doing those things.
He just did them, enjoyed the results, and lived happily ever after. For what felt like only five minutes before he woke up. Then the reality of the only real world he had slogged on.
A world where he was a lowly blacksmith who kissed a mighty Queen, who had to freak out over whether she'd want to do it again – and whether she considered it worth the risk. Considered him worth it. And then there were his own feelings to deal with….
It was no wonder Robert wanted to skip the complexity and go straight into the fairy tale. But naturally, reality took its sweet time during work hours. Especially since he now had to pass his free time doing things other than seeing the royal family. And its leader.
Its leader who kissed him as much as he kissed her.
A leader who may or may not want to do it again. Like he had the guts to find out.
That's why he hadn't been by the castle. And it wasn't like she was making the rounds to his cottage.
Robert's heart nearly jumped out of his lungs when he heard a knock a second later.
Maybe some of Elsa's magic had been transmitted to him in those kisses. He didn't recall her being a psychic, however.
And that wasn't her at the door, either.
Instead of coming by herself, it seemed she got her sister and brother-in-law to take the job for her.
"Are we playing a special game, Aunt Elsa?" Christian asked. "Is that why we're in your room?"
"We're doing something special, all right," Elsa halfway confirmed. "Not much of a game, though. Not to me, anyway."
"What's going on?" Joan asked with some concern.
"Well, let's just say…." Elsa left hanging until she found the right words. "I need one final meeting with the love expert committee."
"So, you've haven't been by the palace lately," Anna told Robert as she came in the cottage. "Not according to Joan and Christian."
"And Elsa, right?" Robert figured. "And now here you are."
"You didn't call her Queen Elsa," Kristoff noted. "It took me years to break that habit."
"And I took the shortcut and made out with her. Is that the setup you were gonna use?" Robert assumed.
One slack jawed face from Anna later, Robert came to a much different conclusion.
"She didn't tell you, did she? That's not why you're here," Robert sighed. "You just came here because I didn't see the kids."
"Forget the kids! I didn't and look what I missed!" Anna yelled. "Well, no more!"
"You kissed Robert?" Christian asked incredulously.
"He did some of it too," Elsa halfway passed the buck. Christian still had a kind of grossed out look on his face regardless. "What? You guys were trying to help me find love! You knew there'd be kissing if it worked, right?"
"It's another thing to hear about it," Christian excused. "Your aunt kissing…." He stuck his tongue out before his stomach settled down.
"SHE KISSED YOU?!" Anna squealed, either out of anger or excitement. It was too loud for Robert to make out on the first listen, though. By the time it echoed in his head a sixth time, he figured he'd get it.
"She let me do some kissing herself," Robert added, not sure if that helped or hurt his cause.
"How did you know that before me?" Anna asked. "How do you know any of it before me? I'm her sister, I should have figured this out months ago! Am I losing my touch?"
"I guess you were just too good of a mom to pay attention to Elsa's love life," Kristoff tried to soften the blow.
"Well, what good does that do me now?" Anna sighed. "I was so focused on helping Joan, I missed my sister falling in love. 16 years of waiting and that's how it happens! Should have seen it coming."
"Hold on, where'd you get the L word?" Robert tried to say with an even voice. "You weren't paying attention, remember?"
"I was a few seconds ago! So I know it's obvious now!" Anna declared. "If I saw it back then, you'd probably be married by now. See what happens when your future sister-in-law stays in the dark?"
He wasn't dreaming, right? At this point, he couldn't rule anything crazy out.
"I know I'm still not getting married anytime soon," Elsa told Joan and Christian. "I'm not….the old self of some people I know. That's not what I'm daydreaming about. I've never even daydreamed of dating anyone! Not until…."
Elsa trusted Joan and Christian could figure out the end of that sentence on their own. Regardless, she went on with, "As much as I liked some of the suitors, I never went that far in….imagining that kind of time with them. That kind of intimacy. I don't think I imagined it with Robert until we kissed! But when we did….it still wasn't a huge shock. What does that mean?"
Joan and Christian were probably too young to totally get it. Not that being 37 made Elsa understand it any better.
"My life's already revolved around her for 16 years. Not in good ways, though. Not that it's her fault at all!" Robert said. "I never dared to think about her.…like that. As much as I admired her, it made me feel worse for building those shackles! That's not love!"
"You take it that personally for that long, it's gotta be something," Kristoff shrugged.
"It means simple human decency and guilt, not love!" Robert insisted. "Sure, I carried it around longer than any logical human would!"
"People in love do, too," Anna chimed in. Drat, she had him there.
Maybe if she had been aware earlier, they might….no, this is reality. In spite of Anna's best efforts to blur the line.
"It makes no sense," Elsa admitted. "If you hadn't been kidnapped, I never would have met him," she mentioned to Joan. "Then I'd be on the way to marrying one of them. Maybe even him," she growled.
"So it's good I got kidnapped?" Joan asked.
"No! Don't you ever say that again!" Elsa fiercely said. "It just makes it weirder, that's all. And harder."
She sighed and admitted, "Even if I go slow, and even if I want to date him….he's still a commoner. They let one princess marry a commoner already, but a Queen…."
"I guess I gotta give you tips on dating a royal," Kristoff told Robert. "Having a pet with a good fake voice helps. With the little free time you have left. You started too late to find a life-long pet and brother, so….maybe we start small. Like with a chameleon or something."
"One relationship at a time, please," Robert pleaded. "If that's what this is..."
"Do you want it to be?" Anna probed. "Take the whole queen, ice powers, kidnapping and making out outta everything! Leaving that aside, would you still wanna date Elsa?"
"I guess it comes down to….is he worth it?" Elsa went on. "Two months isn't long enough to know that, right? How could it be?"
Joan and Christian couldn't really answer. So Elsa tried to think of one for them. "If I felt this way after six months or a year, though, then…." She had to admit.
"How come?" Christian asked innocently.
"Is it just because he saved my life?" Joan asked. "I mean, that's a good reason to love someone. But you deserve a great one."
That bit of effortless, honest love from Joan cracked the tension around Elsa, just a little bit. But it was more than enough.
"I can't leave it aside," Robert told Anna. "Being a queen, having powers, her whole rotten childhood….it all made her who she is now. Seeing how wonderful she still turned out killed me back then. Seeing it up close now saved me."
"Everything about her….how she is with you, me, the kids, just how she is….my life already revolves around it. As pathetic as that sounds, I don't know how to give that up now."
"Yep, that's pathetic enough to sound like love," Kristoff concurred.
"No man's ever made me feel this way. No one other than my family's ever made me feel….admired, cherished and loved. Not like this," Elsa confessed. "Maybe I'm mistaking it for something more because it's so unfamiliar. I don't know. I should be terrified to find out. I was terrified when it came to the suitors."
But she admitted, "It's not like that this time. If it's that real, then I should be even more scared." Nevertheless, she realized, "I think I am anyway."
With that, Elsa sat down in front of her bed while trying to calm herself down. Joan and Christian helped by lying next to her. This did help give Elsa something else to do, as she put her arms around her niece and nephew and took their hands.
"I can live without falling in love. Or my own husband and children. At least I can with you and your mother," Elsa smiled slightly, tightening her grip on their hands. "Maybe I just don't want a taste of it, in case it's taken away from me."
She loosened her grip as she felt herself getting colder. "That's why I couldn't go play with your mother in….those years. Not even once. As much as I wanted to, I couldn't let her have what she always wanted, when I knew I'd just take it away from her. Then I would be a monster. But….maybe it'd make sense if that happened to me."
"No!" Christian insisted, squeezing her hand back. Joan followed suit pretty quickly.
Years and years ago, Elsa would have cringed and run away when someone touched her at a time like this. Even Anna – although she was the only human who tried back then.
But now, in spite of her cold and her uncertain emotions, she pulled these kids near her, and they weren't leaving her alone to doubt herself.
Christian braved it, just like he braved Devin. Joan braved it, like she braved being kidnapped. This wasn't close to those ordeals, but it did remind Elsa of their bravery. Under the most trying conditions.
And here Elsa was, being scared to ask out someone she might like.
Even after all the fears she overcame to get this far.
That was all the perspective she needed. Almost.
"If I try something with him and it doesn't work, I can count on you to do….stuff like this with me. Right?" Elsa asked.
"Sure," Joan confirmed, giving Elsa that last bit of proper perspective. "Can we keep doing this if it works too?"
A little pang went through Elsa's heart at the thought that Joan would have to ask this. If being the Queen wasn't enough to cut into their time together, having….someone new couldn't do it either. But she supposed Joan just had to be sure.
Be sure she'd still have her aunt no matter what happened.
Elsa merely kissed the top of her head a bunch of times for her answer. Joan looked embarrassed, but as usual, she wasn't too convincing at it. On the other hand….
"Now that I know this grosses you out….I guess I have to say sorry first," Elsa warned to Christian, then quickly kissed his forehead several times anyway.
"Aunt Elsa!" Christian called out, but he couldn't hide the giggle in his voice. So romantic kissing from her grossed him out, but this kind was still okay.
Satisfied, Elsa learned back with the kids still beside her in her arms. Despite choosing to talk to them by default, this was still the right choice.
Unlike Anna, they let her get a word in edgewise most of the time. Unlike Kristoff, they could keep up with emotional stuff for longer than a few minutes. Unlike Robert, Elsa had warm, gooey feelings for these kids that she could handle. That she loved having so much.
Is that what romantic love ultimately felt like? That would be a big point in its favor.
"Thank you," Elsa shared. "Thank you just for….being here. For loving me."
"You too," Joan thanked back. Elsa could have stayed here and soaked that in forever – or the next hour, depending on her schedule. Yet for once, there was one other more important thing to do.
"Do you guys mind taking a walk?"
"She's had 16 years and a whole family to help her love herself again," Robert recounted to Anna and Kristoff. "I'm still new at it."
"Then you've got the perfect love yourself experts to go easy on you!" Anna cheered.
"They let Kristoff slide dating a princess. Probably because they thought the Queen would be with royalty. Eventually," Robert figured. "They won't be so easy on me."
"Well, you'll probably have to learn to dance, dress up, talk good and not scratch itches with forks. That can be tricky when there's so many of them," Kristoff recounted. "But you can vent on me if it gets too hard."
"On the very, very off chance this works out….I could be more than Elsa's….I mean, I could be her…." Robert couldn't finish. "What do I know about….?"
"If they still let me be a princess, I'm sure you won't look so bad to them!" Anna tried to encourage. "Besides, you think any of us learned the whole royalty thing off the bat? Trust me, the ones who want it too much are the real killers. Well, they would have been if not for acts of true love, but you get it!"
"Kind of," Robert nodded. "But if wanting it makes it easier to be around her…."
"And that's why you wanna do it?" Anna checked. "You just got your old blacksmith life back, and you'd willingly sacrifice it for her?"
After a pause, she teared up and said, "I wish she had more people like you when she grew up. I mean, even if I still couldn't have been there…." She caught her breath and finished, "No one sacrifices for her as much as she does for others. I only barely count because I froze once! If you can really come close without dying….then I think we're good."
That was the closest thing to approval Robert heard so far. From the one person – well, second – whose approval mattered most. If he had Anna on his side, without even trying….then if he tried with Elsa….
God, he was really gonna try to date a Queen? The Queen? Elsa? The woman who….gave him his life back, absolved him from mistakes he couldn't absolve himself for, and who made him the first man she ever made out with? At least like that.
Maybe she kissed him because she was too pent up, like she said she was with Lanford. But that burned out quick and didn't end well, according to her. He didn't feel burned out – and she didn't look like it at the end either.
That was her first real….loving kiss. And she shared it with him. The woman who shunned all contact for years, and who still shunned romantic love after that….changed that because of him. And it wasn't because of some suitor search.
The most powerful, giving, warm, loving woman in the world went out of her legendary comfort zone, because she felt something for Robert.
It was so….validating.
But it went beyond feeding his ego – especially since he had such a lack of one for so long. It made him feel like he could do anything. Like he was worth anything. Like how Anna uplifted Elsa during those dark years – but on an even deeper level.
One he could experience more of. If he had the kind of guts Elsa gave him. And the more time he spent with her, the more guts he'd get. Right?
He at least had enough to get up and leave his home, so he could start finding out.
But he didn't have to go too far beyond that, as it turned out. In fact, he only traveled 50 feet before he saw her coming.
"Elsa?" Robert had to ask once she came towards him.
"Robert," Elsa refrained from being surprised, since she did come to see him. Apparently just in time.
"Mom? Dad?" Joan asked once she saw them catch up to Robert.
"Kids?" Kristoff was even more confused.
"Kids!" Anna laughed. "Elsa!" she expressed, then frowned and repeated, "Elsa," more warningly.
"Yes, you can pester me for gossip and kissing details all you want. Later," Elsa stressed. She then walked to Robert and continued, "Until then, I need a few minutes with him. Alone."
Robert's confidence had been fueled by adrenaline. Yet now that he'd been interrupted, and seen what adrenaline really looked like, he just followed Elsa back into his home at a total loss again.
When the door closed, the rest of the royal family was all alone. Anna looked at her children, took in how they were with Elsa…..on her way to Robert, and came to an easy conclusion. "So…." She started.
"We didn't know till now, we swear!" Joan jumped ahead. "Wait, did you know?"
"Don't you think I would have told you if I did? If I still had a voice by then?" Anna pointed out. "How did we all miss this? What kind of family and committee are we?"
"The kind of family that might want to see this," Kristoff pointed to the window of Robert's cottage, where Elsa and Robert could actually be seen. "I only say it because this is the kind of family that'd never forgive me if I didn't. So remember that next time I argue for privacy, okay?"
Anna, Joan and even Christian didn't even remember to thank him as they rushed to the window. Still, Kristoff joined them anyway, as they saw Elsa and Robert talking inside, but couldn't hear them.
Anna was about to try and fix that, until she watched them closer.
She couldn't hear what Elsa was saying, but she could see how determined she was. She could also see that determination fading. Before long, she was clenching her hands together and she was starting to look away. As she did in the old days, when she wasn't used to expressing true, hidden feelings and emotions yet.
But then Robert took her clenched hands in his own.
The family could see Robert stand up straighter as he talked – likely admitting some hidden things of his own. They saw Elsa's eyes widen, and saw her getting straighter and stronger again the more he talked. Yet just when it looked like they were on the same emotional page, Robert seemed to be coming down again.
Perhaps he was talking himself out of whatever bravery he had – for now and the future. At least he might have, until Elsa frowned and put her hand on his cheek, stopping him in his tracks.
Now the old ferocious Elsa was back, giving some kind of pep talk. When she seemed finished, she waited for a response, her nerves steadily coming back the longer it took. However, once he started to smile softly, she began mirroring it herself.
Robert took her hand while it was still on his face, leaning into it regardless of its temperature. Elsa looked nervous about it at first, but not after a few seconds. Not after he still looked ice free.
She then took both his hands and brought them down, then talked for a few seconds. It looked more like she was asking something, though.
He then seemed to only say one word in reply. Judging by Elsa's reaction, it was the right one.
The spying family though that would be their cue to kiss. Instead, they just held each other's hands and mirrored each other's smiles. Elsa spoke next, and whatever she said made him laugh with her instead of kissing her.
He then let go of her hands and seemed to go away, yet Elsa wasn't following. In fact, she stayed behind and seemed to keep talking to him, although he was in another room. Her family got impatient, waiting for the grand romance to start after all that buildup – even if Elsa wasn't.
Then Robert came back with two mugs in his hands. Judging by Elsa's reaction, there could only be one thing in them.
Once he handed her one of the mugs of hot chocolate, Elsa officially swooned. Anna, Joan and even Christian matched that look outside – and Kristoff even tried to match it, in case they broke away to check on him.
Inside, Elsa and Robert shared a toast and drank up. Outside, the love expert committee finally knew when they weren't wanted. Or really needed anymore.
"Our work here is done," Anna admitted, leaving aside how they did little work at the end. And how they missed every sign before today completely. And how they didn't even see a kiss to make up for it. And how Anna would need at least three sleepovers with Elsa to get up to speed and make up for lost gossip time.
But for this moment, they'd let her and her boyfriend off the hook and go away.
And thus, the last executive order of the love expert committee had been passed.