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Slight of Cold Hands

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           A gloved hand rapped on the wood three distinct times.

            There were stories, hushed whispers throughout town that something extraordinary happened within those walls. Something inexplicable. Some called it witchcraft; others called it a trick of the light.

            A young woman cracked open the door, just enough for her freckled face to peak through.

            “Anna Arendelle?”

            “Yes?”

            He plucked his hat from his head and held it to his chest. From where Anna was standing, his hair seemed to shimmer in the sunlight. Auburn, she noticed. Just like hers.

            “I would like to see your sister, if I may.”

            Immediately, her face fell. “I’m afraid she’s not taking visitors.” She moved to close the door and he stuck his foot out to stop her.

            “Please. I would like to discuss something with her of great importance.” He leaned towards her, voice hushed.

            “What could be so important?” Anna’s face scrunched, skeptical.

            “I hear you’re in search for a job.”

            Her eyes widened in horror. “We have no need for the kinds of positions you’re offering, thank you very much!” She moved to shut the door again, this time with much more force. Again, he stopped her (despite the growing pain in his left pinky toe).

            “You misunderstand. I only wish to make use of your sister’s incredible talents.”

            Her hands loosened their grip on the door and he smiled.

            “Talent?” The voice did not come from Anna’s mouth. Instead, a soft, feminine voice sounded through the door. Anna froze and whipped around.

            “Elsa I—”

The door was pulled opened fully, revealing a frail-looking woman. Her eyes were a cold blue and her skin was pale—almost sickly. She wore two patched gloves on her hands. Her hair was stark white in a loose braid. Side by side, it was obvious they were sisters; Elsa looked as if someone had slapped all the color out of Anna.

            “You think I have a talent?” Elsa asked again, stepping out in front of Anna.

            “Well, if what I hear is true, then yes. I do.” He reached to take Elsa’s hand and she recoiled. Behind her, Anna stiffened. “I would love the opportunity to see you at work.” He persisted, giving the pair a bow.

            Elsa pursed her lips. “You would give us employment? Paid employment?”

            “Of course. That is what I have come for.”

            The sisters shared a look before Elsa took a deep breath and slipped her hand out of her right glove. She touched the doorframe. Slowly, frost began to curl around her fingertips and seep into the wood, making it glitter and shine.

            The man stood for a moment, taking it in. Then, he did something incredible.

            He laughed.

Anna thought it sounded warm and inviting. To Elsa’s ears, it sounded like madness.  

            “Wonderful! Absolutely unique.” He leaned closer to Elsa and she could smell his cheap aftershave, sweet and thick. “I must have you.”

            She doesn’t like that, the concept of “having” her. It sent chills down her shoulders and made her stomach flip.

            “What would you have me do Mr…”

“Everyone calls me Hans.” This time he reached for her hand and she allowed him to take it. As he kissed her knuckle, it felt as if his lips would stick to it like ice. However, when he leaned up to speak, they left her hand unscathed. “I would have you perform, Ms. Arendelle. Show off the beauty you possess. In exchange, I would give you food to eat, a place to live and a decent salary.”

            She thought for a moment, allowing her hand to stay in his. No one had ever dared to kiss her, let alone her hands. If he was foolish enough to try, then was either incredibly brave, stupid or desperate. Perhaps all three.

            “What of my sister?” Elsa asked, nodding behind her. Anna looked up and wrung her hands.

            “Hm. What of you, Anna?” Hans asked. “What can you do?”

            “Nothing.” Anna’s eyes fell to her shoes. “I can do nothing.” Hans frowned. Elsa jumped to her rescue.

            “She’s a fortune-teller. She reads tea-leaves at times.”  A memory of the two of them having afternoon tea, giggling over their cups flashed through her mind. It was never taken seriously but it wasn’t a lie, per-say.

             He settled. “Of course Anna would be given a spot to perform.” He smiled.  Anna glowed.

            “Then that’s enough for me.” Elsa held her gloveless hand out to him.

            He grasped it in his own. His palm swallowed hers and they shook.

            Hans almost didn’t notice the harsh bite of frost twisting around his knuckles. He didn’t flinch.

            “When would you have us?” Anna peaked her head from behind Elsa’s stance.

            “How soon can you gather your things?”

            “Today,” Anna said. Elsa started to protest but Anna continued. “We can leave most things. It will take only a few minutes.”

            Hans’ smile only grew wider. “Wonderful. I’ll be here when you’re ready.”

            Elsa closed the door.

            Then, she was a hurricane around the room. She began shoving things into a nearby bag. Anything she could find; Sacks of flour, a dress, yarn. She pushed the back window and it swung open.

            Elsa held out her hand for Anna to follow.

            Only to find her sister with her own bag, standing by the front door.

            Elsa deflates with confusion. “What are you doing?”

“I…think maybe…possibly…we should take the offer.” The statement shocks Elsa like a slap to the face. It floats in their tiny cottage and through their empty shelves before striking her in the chest.

            “I…” Anna swallows and flexes her hands. “I think that if we keep running, soon there will be no place to run to. We’re out of food, out of money.” She takes a step towards Elsa. “Out of options.”

            Silence hangs in the air and, for a moment, Anna is terrified. She’s terrified that Elsa will yell and argue. Terrified that they’ll move on “one last time”. Most of all, she’s terrified that Elsa will turn around and run without another word.

            She doesn’t.

            “Do you trust him?” Elsa asks, closing the space between them.

            “Yes.” Anna’s surprised to find the simple word drop from her mouth. She doesn’t know Hans. But for some reason, she feels as if he means what he says.

            Elsa takes in the image of Anna by the door. Thinning, hungry Anna. With her patched dress and fraying knapsack.

            “Alright. Alright if you think so. Then, I think so too.”

            Anna’s grin threatens to split her lower lip but she couldn’t be bothered to give a damn.

Only when the three of them pile into Han’s carriage, does Anna realize that she has no real idea of where they’re going.  

And that she can’t actually read tea leaves.

Chapter Text

He stumbled and, for a moment, the world spun.

His wallet was emptier than when he had entered the bar. One last drink called to him but his brain protested somewhere in the back of his skull. Thank god for that little guy.

“Sir.” Some asshole was calling his name. “Sir!” Kristoff grunted and shouldered him to get by. The man was thrown off his feet with the force of it. He landed in the dirt, ass first.

            “Ah, geez.” Instead of the flush from alcohol, hot shame tickled the tips of his ears. He held out his hand to the stranger. “I didn’t mean to-I-sorry.”

            The man grasped Kristoff’s hand and hauled himself to his feet, grinning. Kristoff frowned, off put by the other’s cheery demeanor.  

            “It’s alright. Boy, you are a bear of a man, aren’t you?”

            “Uh...I guess.” The man was still holding his hand. Wait, not holding it. Now they were shaking hands. This was weird. What was with his sideburns? Ever hear of a razor?

            “You guess? Look at you! That must make carving the ice so much easier, you could simply break it with your hands if you pleased! You’ve got a real talent, there.”

            Oh, so it was another aristocrat wanting to book something. “It’s a hobby.” Kristoff rubbed the back of his neck. “Did you want to commission or…?”

            “In a way, yes. Would you be interested in making sculpting your main source of income? They call me Hans, by the way. Wonderful to finally meet your acquaintance.”

            “Kristoff.”  Would this guy ever stop shaking his hand?

            “Let’s go inside. I’ll buy you a drink. You drink, don’t you Kristoff? Well, obviously. Look where you walked out of!” Hans broke off into a hearty laugh and patted Kristoff’s chest. It looked microscopic compared to the vast expanse of Kristoff’s upper body. There was so much information being thrown around. What was his name again? Was he trying to sell something? Was the bar still open?

            “Barkeep! Two, please. Neat.” Suddenly there was a shot in front of him of God-knows-what. “I love a good whiskey. You’ll have plenty if you stay with us, Mr.Bjorman.”

            “Sounds nice. Where am I staying exactly?” He didn’t remember telling this Hans guy his last name.

            “Oh! Forgive me.” Hans let out another one of his laughs. It was deep and unrestrained. Kristoff wasn’t a fan. “I’m searching people with talent. And you, sir, have got it. I’d like you to travel with a few friends to explore what you were blessed with. Friends with similar talents. We’ll put on a show for the masses, traveling from land to land.”

            “A Circus.” Kristoff finished.

            “Yes.”

            Kristoff took a glance around the room, scanning the waxy surface of the bar. The soft glow of the fireplace. He knocked back his shot. “Thanks, but no.” He got up to stand and jumped when he felt a hand grip his shoulder. He sent a glare towards its owner. Hans stared back but didn’t flinch.

            “Aren’t you tired of being miserable?”

“Excuse me?” Kristoff shoved Hans’ hand off and took a step back. “Coming from a guy whose main income is tickets and peanuts. Nice meeting you.” The sarcasm rolled easily off of Kristoff’s tongue and he made his way towards the door.

“Being an ice harvester is a lonely, dangerous life, Mr. Bjorman.” Kristoff froze, his hand on the door.  “The Winter months don’t pay well. Do you really think you’ll be able to stay afloat with selling those sculptures alone?”

            Kristoff flexed his hands. He should knock Hans out where he stood for that comment. He wasn’t really a fighter, though. He gritted his teeth,“I’d be a joke. The guy who ran off to make pretty statues and join the circus.” Kristoff scoffed but made no move to push through the door. His hand twitched on the door handle.

            “Do you have any friends to poke fun of you for that?” The way Hans phrased it didn’t make it seem like an insult but Kristoff’s jaw clenched even tighter with frustration.

            “How much?” Kristoff spun around and began to walk towards Hans. Slowly, one foot in front of the other.

            “Double the salary you’re making now.” Hans slid another shot to Kristoff’s side of the bar. A challenge. He downed it and took another step forward, whiskey burning his nose.

            “Nice try. Not sure you know how much I make—it’s not much. I need at least twenty a month.” Kristoff flicked a coin on the table and two more shots were dispensed.

            “Stingy. Ten.” Hans took his without flinching.

            “Cute. Eighteen.” Flinching was no longer an option. They might as well have been drinking apple juice.

            “Twelve.”

            “Fifteen.” They paused for a moment, then. Hans frowned, causing an unattractive crease to form between his eyebrows, which made Kristoff smug. They held each other’s gaze. Then, they drank.

            “You’ve got yourself an ice-harvester.”

            “Ice sculpture.”

            “Who cares?”

            Hans was beginning to rethink his choices. Kristoff was too gone to rethink his decision—or anything at all for that matter.
“Oh, and one more thing.” Kristoff finally pushed the door open. A cool breeze flew into the bar in a blast, pleasantly hit his face and he smiled. “I need a place for my buddy, Sven.” 

            Hans sneered, resting his cheek on his fist. “Sven?”

            “Yeah.” Kristoff looks over his shoulder mischievously. “Hope you have carrots and hay. You’re gunna need it. He’s a big guy.”

            “A horse?”

            “Close.”

            The whiskey fuzzes over his actions. Only when Kristoff wakes up in an unfamiliar place does he feel the weight of his decision.

Chapter Text

 

            The tent was huge and billowed whenever the wind hit it. With the breeze came the scent of spun sugar and hay. She guessed she would have to get used to that.

            She was quick to make friends with everyone on the team. Hans called it that. A team.

            First, there was the woman with eyes that flashed gold. She could talk to snakes and make them do things. They would twist and slither in and out of baskets. Anna tried to ignore the way their tongues flitted from their mouths. She bit down her panic when they twisted around the woman’s arms. It was only polite.

            Next to the Snake Woman’s trailer was the clowns. Anna was never really sure how many there were, it changed all the time. She liked them, though. One always gave her a daisy.

            No Daisy could ever compare to the acrobats, though. They were her favorite. The way they spun and flew in the air made her heart flutter, sporting flashy leotards in bold colors.

She wished she was neighbors with them instead of The Mountain Man.

            “What are you doing?” She peered over his shoulder. For the first few weeks, she had barely gotten a glance of his face. She knew that he ate carrots, as he grabbed a handful from the food cart most mornings. She also knew that he spent a great amount of time alone in the mountains before he came to work for the circus. Lastly, she knew that he kept to himself.

            “Nothing.” The Mountain Man grunted, shrugging her off. He had propped up a huge, square chunk of ice. He used a chisel to shape it in front of his trailer, brow creasing in concentration. It didn’t even look as if he enjoyed it.

“If you wanted to sculpt in private, you would have gone in your trailer. Why out here?”

“Better lighting.”

“I guess that’s true.” Anna orbited him, catching every nook and cranny of the block. “You can really see the ice and stuff shine. If you need more, Elsa can always make some. That would be kind of cool. Cold, I mean.”
            “Shush.” He mumbled.

“Slush?” Anna winked and gave a little huff of a laugh.

“No. Shut up.”

Her nose wrinkled and she crossed her arms. He was always like this. The only one he ever talked to was his reindeer, which was annoying. Would it really kill Mountain Man to treat her the same? She certainly smelled better than a reindeer.

“You’re grumpy. What, did you miss your morning carrot?” She waited for a response but it never came. Instead, he continued to chip away at the block, back hunched and head ducked. Her shoulders drooped in defeat. “Fine.” She turned on her heel and climbed the steps to her own trailer. Elsa and Anna shared one. She supposed her talent wasn’t unique enough to warrant her own trailer. It wasn’t so bad, though. Besides, she like being with Elsa, even if it got cold sometimes.

“I’m home!” Anna called as she pushed her way through the door.

“Welcome back.” The voice that replied was deep and masculine. Sitting atop of Elsa’s bed was Hans, red hair and all. Her stomach fluttered and she pressed her hands to her middle to ease it.

“You’re in my trailer.”

“Ah, yes. That is the problem that brings me here, my dear.” He stood and she blinked. He never visited the performers like this. At least, not hers. She regretted not making her bed. “This isn’t your trailer. It’s your sister’s.”

            “Well, we share it.” Anna spluttered. His tone formed lumps of dread in her chest.

            “Do you? You’re not very believable as a psychic, Anna.” Her heart sank as she realized his angle. She was being sacked. “Your tips are pitiful. I dare to say you’re not pulling your weight around here.”

            “I can do other things. Clean the stables, sell popcorn…” She wrung her hands.

            “I have enough of those. Besides, those employees don’t get trailers.” He stuck out a gloved fingertip and skimmed the rim of a nearby teacup. It was from Anna’s morning tea, sweetened with a pinch of cotton candy floss.  “I don’t take too kindly to stowaways, Ms. Arendelle.”

            Anna’s breath caught at the word “Stowaway”. “I’m not—“

            “You’re living a paid life under a false job.” Hans was suddenly much closer and it made her head spin. “At the risk of sounding harsh, I run a business, Anna. We sell talent, of which you have none.”

            “I’ll learn something. Soon.” Her mouth barely moved enough to let the words out. It felt as if he was squeezing the air out of her body.

            “What will you learn? There’s no talent in you. Pack your things.” Hans pushed the tea further towards the center of the table before opening the door. “Again, I run a business. Try not to take this the wrong way.”

            He let the door slam behind him.

            Anna’s hands fidgeted at her side. Well, they gave it a shot. The thought of having to tell Elsa made her heart wrench. She sucked in a breath. Well, better get on with it. The door squeaked when she opened it.

            Mountain Man was still out there. Strangely enough, he was no longer hunched over his ice. He was facing her but his eyes were trained on the sky. She followed his gaze and saw the clouds turn a pleasant shade of orange, allowing herself to take a slow, deep inhale. There was no rush.

            “Show starts soon.” His voice startled her. He had never tried to start a conversation with her before. The timing seemed ironic. Maybe he knew she was leaving.

            “It does…Right, I better, uh, prepare.” Anna stuttered. She always tried to make conversation with Mountain Man but now that she had, it made her squirm. He said nothing as she briskly made her way inside the tent.

             Anna stopped at the entrance. Elsa was already dressed and practicing, standing on the side of the huge ring in the center. She looked stunning. Anna could never truly bite down the jealousy of the beautiful dress Elsa was gifted; an icy blue gown with intricate lace sewn into the back. Anna received a gaudy velvet robe and headdress that didn’t fit right. It was only fair, she supposed. Elsa’s talent was real.

            Real and beautiful, Anna noted. Frost spread across the floor where Elsa stood. She spun and snowflakes were formed in her wake. She leaped and ice of different designs followed her, a gentle smile on her face.

            She never looked so happy. The realization struck Anna in the chest and left her eyes stinging.  

There had to be a way she could keep this job.

Chapter Text

 

            Kristoff wouldn’t call himself the type of guy who eavesdrops. He didn’t like other people in his business, so why should he pry?

It was just that she had decided to have the conversation right next to his performance ring. So, in reality, it was probably her fault.

“A month.” Anna’s voice came out firm and clear. It was a demand. Hans had his back to her, counting and sorting tickets. “All I need is a month.”

Kristoff’s gloved hands skimmed the surface of the ice before using tongs to adjust the block. A sizable crowd had formed around him, mostly families. A little girl with soft brown eyes gazed up at him. Little girls liked rabbits, right? He mentally shrugged before he began carving the ears in slow, deliberate scrapes.

“This conversation is going in circles, Anna. You just don’t have the talents I’m looking for.” Hans’ voice carried just as much as Anna’s. Kristoff’s blade dug deeper in the ice. Maybe he should just break out the chainsaw and drown them out.

            “Elsa does. We’re a packaged deal. A month is all I need. If you give me a month and I’m still…” Kristoff saw Anna’s mouth quirk up as she searched for the words, “…talentless, I’ll leave without Elsa. I won’t tell her. She’ll stay.”

            Kristoff yanked the chain and it roared to life, drowning out any other noise. The brown-eyes little girl jumped a little and it pierced his heart with guilt.

            He shaped and shined. The body formed and the girl pointed and shouted in awe. He smiled, redeemed.

The rest of the performance went as planned. The sun set and crowds filed out. The people appreciated the pieces that were animals, which was nice. It meant more tips. He had a good thing going. Which was why he wasn’t going to screw himself over by getting into the redhead’s business.  

            So, when he walked into the tent in the middle of the night, he absolutely was not going to acknowledge the fact that she was teetering on a rope fifteen feet in the air.

            Absolutely not.

He might allow himself to watch, however. He had originally come in because he wanted some of the leftover hay. She hadn’t noticed him come in, so there was no need to greet her. Digging a pitchfork into a fresh pile and moving it into a barrel, he realized he could watch and work at the same time. There was nothing creepy about that, right? It wasn’t like she owned the tent.

His eyes followed her footsteps and he tried to fight down a sense of panic.

She had no idea what she was doing.

 He watched her balance at the top of the ropes, teetering and spinning her arms. Anna slipped and his heart lurched. She found her footing as he found his breath. She took another step forward. Her teeth gleamed in the spotlights in a forced smile. He could vaguely see her lips part and her jaw move. Was she talking to herself?

Her bare foot missed the tightrope completely and he felt himself jerk forward. The next few moments were filled with hay, red hair, and pain.

He had awkwardly caught her by her upper back and one of her legs. The result was a botched bridal style. Still, it seemed he had protected her neck and spine. He considered that a victory.

For a moment, they both breathed heavy, saying nothing. His eyes focused and he realized their faces were uncomfortably close. She seemed surprised at most, as if slipping off tightropes was a daily occurrence for her.

“You, um. You can put me down.” Anna cleared her throat, nodding her head towards her single leg sticking in the air. Kristoff suddenly felt a flash of annoyance.

“You’re welcome, matchstick.” He just barely resisted the urge to drop her. Instead, he tipped her so she landed on her feet. He wasn’t necessarily gentle, the balls of her feet slapped against the ground as he did so and she stumbled forward as she lost her balance.  

She whipped around, a hand coming to grip one her braids. “Matchstick?!” Was she seriously angry at him right now?

“That’s right. Matchstick.” He poked at her other braid and her face lit up with fury. “What’s with the acrobatics? You’ve got a death wish?” Why was he asking? His instincts told him to turn around and leave it. Don’t engage with the girl who just fell fifteen feet out of the air.

“No.” She crossed her arms, nose wrinkling.

“Then you should probably stick to balancing on the ground.” He went back to scooping hay, eyes falling back to his work. He needed something for his hands to do.

“What do you know about balancing?” She huffed.

“I’m Mountain Man. I climb Mountains. Climb being the keyword, Copper head.”

“You know, you should really stick to one mean nickname at a time.” Anna’s hands relaxed at her side and he spared a glance at her. “You’re going to run out of material.” She didn’t seem angry anymore. The little line between her eyebrows had relaxed and disappeared. Stray hairs stuck to her face and neck. Little strands of hay jutted out from her clothes. He hummed.

“Sure thing. I’ll keep that in mind next time I save your life.” He punctuated the sentence by stabbing the pitchfork into a nearby pile of hay.

“Right.” She toed the ground, bringing her hands to clasp behind her back. “Mind doing that again?”

His face twisted in disbelief and he turned to face her. “Excuse me?”

“Look, I’m in a tough spot.” She shrugged. “I saw you looking over when Hans and I were talking. You know that I only have so much time to find a talent. I figured I could try tightrope…ing? Tightroping.” She blinked her large blue eyes, lashes flittering. Kristoff was unmoved. “Maybe you could teach me balance and make sure I don’t fall and die and stuff. Please.” She bit her lower lip.

Kristoff blinked down at her.

“No.”