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white knight syndrome

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white knight syndrome


white knight syndrome meaning:

a person with an attraction to 'endangered' women, usually women with emotional issues or ones who have histories of abuse, trauma or addiction issues. The 'white knight' frequently has an overly idealised and romanticised vision of the women he focuses on and sees himself as impossibly good and pure.



Gimme love, gimme dreams, gimme a good self-esteem,

Gimme good and pure, what you waiting for?

Marina and the Diamonds, Blue


i


"Are you nervous?" A voice asks.

Lifting her blue eyes away from the screen of her assigned computer, Elsa pauses mid-click with her right hand and her left hand stops fiddling with the lanyard linked around her neck. Turning to her friend, Fa Mulan, Elsa answers, "Am I that obvious?"

Mulan manages a soft smile while looking at Elsa. There's a motion of a half-heartedly quirk on the blonde's lips. Elsa's attempting a small, shaky grin but it's unconvincing, it's the opposite of a winning smile.

"I wouldn't say it's 'obvious' but … you're not exactly concealing it." Mulan notes, pushes herself from her own desk then spins a 360 circle in her swivelling hair.

Maybe it's to pass time, maybe it's to give her words another think. Or maybe it's to let the tension die down a little. But, either way, Elsa doesn't say anything back. She only stays mute and watches the dizzy action – Elsa waits for something to happen. Maybe for Mulan to stop spinning and say more or for maybe something worse, something irrational; maybe for Mulan to fall sideways, hit her head and –

Subconsciously, Elsa squeezes her eyes close. Don't be stupid! She tells herself, feeling her fingers curl and her fingernails dig into her skin. One of those things … one of those things won't happen! You're being stupid!

"Elsa?" Mulan stops turning after three rounds.

"Y – Yes?" Her head is spinning.

Mulan places a small hand on her desk, steadies herself and opens her mouth to add another say, probably not noticing Elsa's mini moment due to her own world spinning. Either way, Mulan doesn't manage anything because another voice enters the conversation – it's loud and energetic and, if it could be described as a colour, it would be pink. Bright, shocking pink (and everything that Elsa isn't; Elsa's a pale sort of fading blue).

"Hi, sugars!" Rings a Southern drawl voice. Attached to that greeting is none other than Charlotte La Bouff, who smiles and waves, bright as the early sun in the sky.

"Hey, Lottie." Mulan waves back, now looking at the bubbly Southern blonde.

Something about Lottie's big personality just spreads over the room and immediately calls all eyes on her. Usually, no one hesitates to give Lottie the attention she shamelessly demands. However, Elsa finds her gaze slipping and shifting slightly to the left before looking at Lottie in the eyes. Blue against blue. Elsa's always thought of herself to be the type of person who's terrible (absolutely terrible) with loud, energized people (or maybe just people in general).

"Good morning, Charlotte." Elsa answers politely, trying to meet Lottie's eyes.

"Oh – 'Charlotte'? Now, now, Elsa, honey, I've told you to call me 'Lottie'. It rolls off the tongue better, doesn't it? There's no need to be so formal. Besides, we're friends, aren't we? It's only natural for you to call me so." Lottie says, smiling like her usual chipper self.

There is no force behind Lottie's words, no malice, no ill intentions whatsoever, but Elsa can't help but feel bad. Can't help but feel her heart race and sense a tinge of disappointment behind Lottie's speech. It's small, oh-so small, but this dip sends Elsa into a panic. Her anxiety tells her she's already messed up this simple morning routine and there's no way to redo it (even though there always is another way).

Her pale hands shaky lightly, along with her lips. Get yourself together! Elsa scolds herself in her head. God, why am I like this?

Lottie waits for an answer and Mulan stares too.

Elsa hates this part about herself. Hates how she's always been afraid of ruining things – from simple recipes to arts and crafts to blooming friendships and important projects – and then freaking out when things don't go as planned.

"I –" Her lips shake further.

Looking at the two, Elsa and Lottie mirror each other a lot – both criminally blonde hair, both possessing eyes that are irritatingly blue; so bright and sharp, both skinny young ladies – but the resemblance stops there. It's only there. That's just about it, only on the surface.

'We're friends, aren't we?' Lottie's question thunders in Elsa's head, pulling her back to reality, as she tries to not let the pause linger.

Kicking herself on the inside – again – Elsa scolds herself for not mulling over her words before speaking. And then, while feeling a lump in her throat, something Elsa swallows down several times a day, she finally answers Lottie's question after careful consideration, "W – We are friends."

"Then calling me 'Lottie' will do. There's no need to be shy, darlin',"

Elsa resists the urge to fiddle with her lanyard again. In her head, this is a do-over, a 'try again' chance. "Good morning, Lottie." She says shyly, almost in a childlike manner, like hiding behind her mother's long skirt and curtains.

"Aw, ain't you a precious one? Good morning to you too!" Lottie hollers, glossed lips now spread into a familiar wide smile. It gives Elsa some reassurance before Lottie turns to a new topic and thankfully buries the small hiccup, "Have any of y'all seen Tia?"

Mulan shakes her head, answering the question (something Elsa is grateful for because this just means less spotlight and mistakes on her end), "No. Have you tried the break room? Maybe Tia's gone to grab some coffee?"

"I've already looked." Lottie muses then looks at Elsa for some kind of answer, it makes her stomach flop.

She's giving you another chance. Elsa thinks and tries not to disappoint the blonde again.

"O – Oh, uh," Her voice quivers. This time, Elsa does fiddle with the lanyard around her neck, touching the smooth plastic edges of her clipped ID. "Maybe Tiana's printing things?" Elsa suggests, using Tiana's full name. It's so difficult for her to loosen up. "Tiana said something about photocopying some documents."

"Gosh, that old thing?! It's as slow as molasses! I swear it gets slower when it senses urgency." Lottie quips then brightens. "Thanks, hun, you're so smart, I wouldn't even guessed Tia was there! I'll go take a peek and see if she's there, then I'll drop an e-mail to whoever's in charge of that old thing and make sure it's replaced."

"Good idea!" Mulan chimes. "I think I once spent twenty minutes standing there just to print five pages. Ten out of ten wouldn't want to do that again."

It's easy banter but Mulan's words fly over Elsa's head. Instead, Elsa focuses on Lottie's statement. It sticks to her like glue. "You – You'd do that?" Elsa asks but immediately wants to slam the words back into her mouth when Lottie's face shifts.

"What? E-mail the higher ups?" Lottie asks back. "You bet cha! I mean, why not?" There's a twinkle in her blue eyes.

'Why not'? Elsa thinks, eyebrows furrowing, worrying. 'Why not'? Because –

"The worst they can tell me is 'no'!" Lottie continues talking before Elsa can finish that destructive thought. "I know we're just interns but I don't see any problem in asking! If it works out then we get a new printer! If it doesn't then we're just stuck with the same old thing, no harm done! Besides, The Southern Isle is loaded."

"She's got a point." Mulan nods her head.

"Right? I bet a new printer won't cost much compared to what the company spends on –" Lottie stops bobbing her head along to the conversation then gasps. Elsa gasps too but doesn't get to react, not for long, at least, before Lottie snaps her fingers suddenly like she remembers something. "Right, Tia!" Lottie utters then bids a "I'll see you girls later! I gotta tell Tia some juicy gossip before the day officially starts! Maybe we can catch up during lunch?"

"Yeah, sure, Poster-child!" Mulan calls, a teasing nickname for the block Lottie and Tiana are in – the creative graphic designers (something Elsa's always wanted to do but backed out last minute to study business and accounting instead).

"Number nerds!" Lottie jokes back then turns into a section of the office building.

Elsa stares at for what seemed like forever, watching Lottie's pink skirt swish, forgetting what she was even doing before Lottie came.

"Tiana's making friends fast, isn't she?" Elsa says, letting her tongue slip for the second time today. She can imagine Tiana smiling at Lottie once the pink loving-blonde finds her by the printer and linking arms before saying 'Let's go, Lottie!' They've only known each other for a month!

"Hmm," Mulan hums. "You better do the same; make friends, I mean. I won't be here for long."

Elsa turns her head, angling her chin in a way that doesn't allow Mulan to see a true sadness behind it. Elsa responses with a somewhat teasing voice, a mask, "Only because you started earlier than Tiana and I."

"True." Mulan smiles.

Mulan had started her internship a little earlier, decided to write her resume in advance and receiving news about the internship shortly after. Tiana and Elsa followed about a month later, but – like Elsa said – it seems Tiana was making quicker friends than Elsa despite the fact that both girls had started their internship the same time.

"But, you know me, Elsa," Mulan chimes, making Elsa think, Do I? "I had to start working. Imagine if I didn't!"

Elsa does consider this. "You would have probably turned into a couch potato."

"See! You do know me!" Mulan nods. "I would have totally turned into a lazy glob. I'd probably skip going to the gym altogether and just binge watch a series on Netflix or something. I heard Riverdale is good, apparently, they burst into song? And, oh – my parents, gosh – they would have kicked my butt, call me 'useless' and threaten to make me to pay rent."

A sharp feeling twists in Elsa's stomach at that. She knows Mulan is just exaggerating but she can't help but worry. Elsa wonders if anyone feels like she's a burden.

Mulan then chooses this moment to turn to the original topic they had earlier, of are you nervous?, "By the way, are ready to meet the thirteenth prince?" Mulan even laughs a little at this like it's an inside joke.

Honestly, this office is just full of nicknames. Everyone is so casual with each other but Elsa can't help but remain firm and uptight. She feels like the black sheep of the company.

Knowing that she can't lie to Mulan – they've been good friends since first year – Elsa says, "Uh, maybe." Though she really wants to say 'no'.

Because Elsa knows nothing of the person she's supposed to shadow – Johansen Westergaard, the thirteenth successor (or 'prince' as the office likes to joke) of The Southern Isle. Elsa's resume was impressive to the point that the company had decided to let one of the Westergaard sons mentor her personally, from time to time, at least – he is a busy man; only managing just enough time to squeeze moments to her under his wing or whatever. Unfortunately, 'the thirteenth prince' was out of the country when Elsa had started her internship. But he's coming back this week – today, actually – and Elsa has already managed to get one month of working experience under her belt, so hopefully she wouldn't drag him down (too much).

Mulan quips, sensing her friend's glum demeanour. "Come on, don't let the gossip get to you! They're just rumours!"

"Really?" Elsa asks because – oh yeah, the rumours! Elsa completely forgot about that! A big part of her wants to worry about that now. She feels her gut twist with anxiousness. She hadn't even considered the rumours but … There's a reason that man's dubbed the 'thirteenth prince'. Many reasons, actually.

"Probably." Mulan answers, back-peddling a bit. Mulan's always been on the fence about things, she likes knowing both sides and considers everyone's opinion, the middle person.

Elsa likes that part about Mulan though, she's always so open minded, never just black and white.

Mulan continues, "I mean, the rumours about him can't be all true!"

"Y – You think so?"

Mulan waves a hand nonchalantly, "They're mostly exaggerated –" then sits on the fence again and adds, "– maybe!"

Maybe.

Maybe.

After all, the Southern Isles company would be in scrambles if any of their successors were rubbish so –

So … the rumours can't all be true. Just maybe a teenie weenie it, a small part of it. Johansen is just said to be … easily distracted. Which, isn't, or can't, be all that bad. He just has … this tendency to go the extra mile for some things, for that extra spark, to the point where he may or may not have damned himself in terms of budgeting. He has a spending problem (so much so that he's 'unofficially' appointed an accountant by his side – hence, Elsa). He's also known to be quite rude when he doesn't get his way but … everybody gets snippy when they don't get what they want but he has reasons, right? For all his spendings? His efforts must be recognised, if not, why would anyone trust him and hand him so much cash? Therefore –

Therefore …

"Just, be careful." Mulan adds, hands clasping together like a prayer.

Elsa feels her chest swell. Be careful.

"O – Of course."

Elsa can't really think of any defences for the man she has to shadow. She doesn't even know him. Never met him. Hasn't met him. But there's also some positive light shed on him when he's talked about. He … likes pretty things and surely, surely, someone who like such pretty things can't be vicious and horrible, right?

.

.

.

She walks right into someone – literally. Her blue eyes were busy roaming out the free skies as her thoughts were, and her fingers were playing with her ID card. And by the time she noticed him, this smartly dressed man, she had partly slammed into him before stumbling back.

"Oh God," Elsa gasps, feeling her head overloading with shouts of horror and accusation.

He had tried to reach out and steady her but wasn't able too. Not after she had instinctively avoided and sidestepped his touch; only taking more steps back, more willing to snap her ankles than accept a stranger's help. She's too busy freaking out. So much so that she doesn't notice the expensive rings curled around his fingers and the nice watch strapped around his wrist. If she had, if she did, then maybe she might have realised who he was and how significant he was to her.

"Oh my God." She says again, hand over her heart, studying his face in fear– flaming red hair paired with a bright emerald gaze. She's never seen him around the building but he looked important and almost familiar and handsome. An automatic apology immediately crawls up her throat before she can stop herself, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, I was just trying to – I didn't see where I was going – I won't do it again, I won't – I – I'm sorry."

Emerald green eyes squint back at her. She thought he would tell her to 'slow down', to 'take a deep breath', maybe even calm herself because 'it's alright, no harm done' like in the past. Like all the other people who's seen her freak out and deemed her a fragile, little thing.

But he doesn't. No. Instead, he responses by grabbing her ID card, pulling her a little closer to him as he tugs on the lanyard around her neck. She's so shock by his boldness that she clams up.

"So –" He says, an accusing tone behind his words. "– you're Elsa." He says this like he's heard great things about her (or maybe her fuck ups).

"Y – Yes. And, and you are?" She squeaks like a mouse.

His expression chances; a leering smirk twists on his lips and she suddenly notices the freckles on his face as his mouth moves and he tells her, "I'm Hans."

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


Like a river that don't know where it's flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going

Bruce Springsteen, Hungry Heart


ii


"I'm Hans." His voice dips at the introduction, proud and strong. All chalked up to arrogance from the way he stared at her with that smirk and the way he held onto a part of her. It was –

.

.

.

It's too much. Elsa thinks, mind already in a whirlwind of panic. She's just met this man; doesn't know him, much less understand him and he's already confounding her. He's acting like he's expecting her to know something about him but she doesn't. She's the outsider of the company, remember?

Her blue eyes blinks at his green ones in confusion, fingers curling and uncurling, and he waits. Oh, does he wait. One beat. Two beats. Three be – his smirk drops.

"Did nobody tell you about me?" He asks slowly with his right hand still holding, still touching, pulling.

"... Um, I ..." Elsa mumbles and immediately feels at fault.

It's my fault. The words echoes in her head. Her chest tightens and constricts any oxygen from passing, she feels incredibly bad about not knowing who this 'Hans' is. Her mind races. Come on, Elsa, you're supposed to be smart! She tells herself, own thoughts dripping with harshness.

Not being able to stand any eye-contact for too long, she stares off to the side, somewhere to the left of his face and thinks thinks thinks. Is he supposed to be someone known to her? Because he looks important, now that she's noticing his clothes; designer and polished and, ah umm, and – and she's messed up yet again, hasn't she? Not even a minute of coming into contact with this guy and she's already smacked straight into him and unknowingly insulted him by not knowing his existence.

"I …"

He's still looking at her, oh God. God, she's going to puke. She can feel her stomach churn. She's trying but she comes up empty-handed.

"I don't." She finally replies truthfully. Talk about anti-climatic. Her inner demons taunt.

His red eyebrows scrunch together and Elsa presses her lips thinly. She thinks to herself, What's with that look he's making? Is it … frustration? Wait, no. It's … annoyance. Mild annoyance … I'm annoying. Fear strikes her, she never liked being a nuisance. Oh, crap, he didn't like her answer, did he?

Elsa opens her mouth, wanting to profusely apologise once more but he lets out a low shaky sigh before she can squeeze out a word. She watches his expression changes like something just clicks in his clever brain and he lets go of her lanyard.

"Um, I'm sorry." She says hurriedly. And although Elsa is glad that his annoyance now seems directed elsewhere, it doesn't dismiss the fact that – her gaze flits upwards, she sees his face – he's still looking at her.

"You really don't know who I am, do you?" He double-checks, maybe giving her the benefit of the doubt, and adjusts his expensive-looking vest, now that his hands are free.

She can only shake her head. His face twists again, this time, the expression he's making speaks more than the actual words tumbling out of his mouth. The expression makes her feel like she's slow. He's making her feel stupid. Like she's always been; a burden, useless –

"The company probably referred to me in a different name, but –" He says after licking his lips, still close, "– I'm Johansen Westergaard."

Oh.

Oh.

.

.

.

"So you're Elsa." He says, sounding playful yet dangerous. Sounding so smug that it makes Elsa's stomach flip.

Oh, that didn't sound good!

.

.

.

"I'm Johansen Westergaard." Your boss.

That sounded worse!


Elsa knows that she can be 'shy' at times, a term she's trying to associate herself with because she refuses to believe she is anything else – a mess, a wreck, neurotic, irrationally depressed. No. No. None of those. No. She is not a disaster of socially awkwardness, not like before; she's doing better now, in small groups, and with family and close friends, but not with strangers and not in situations where things aren't planned ahead so –

So, this is … this – This isn't something she prepared herself for.

"You're coming with me." Johansen – no, Hans – tells her like he's got the power and authority to. He's acting like he's going to drag her off to a lonely prison cell and lock her up.

"W – what?" She mutters. She hates how mousy she sounds but it's too late, already out in the air.

Don't get upset. Elsa tells herself but can't help do just that.

She tells herself not to feel. But how can she not? Especially after the behaviour, 'the attitude', Hans has presented to her for the past week. Elsa's been, well, she's been getting 'a little' irritated with her boss lately because, it feels like he's not holding his end of the bargain. She's supposed to be shadowing him, she's supposed to be learning but she hasn't learned squat! Since that 'faithful day', since literally smacking into him, all he's has been doing is giving her this look like he's trying to read her without getting to know her; taking in her pale face, bunhead and dreary coloured clothes.

Every. single. time. she comes to drop off some files, all he does is look up from his phone and stare. He doesn't speak, doesn't flinch and doesn't even bother to get his feet off his desk.

And because there were no words exchanged, really, all there was to rely on was eye-contact and body language. When Elsa does manage to muster up some bravado and she silently makes an expression that asks 'What is it?', he would respond back with this gaze that seemed to say 'Just looking,' and then there'd be this dreaded tension and silence. It never failed to make her frown, and he would do the opposite. She would catch him smirking at her with a sort of leering repugnance, making her shiver and making her own gaze flit to the ever-growing files on his desk.

Does he even work? She thinks every time.

"You're coming with me." Hans says with the same slow pace as the day he asked her did nobody tell you about me? He's repeating himself and she doesn't like it, he's making her feel like a silly child.

Stop making me feel incompetent. She seethes but only ends up stuttering like a fool.

"I'm sorry, but – what are we doing?" Elsa asks, the files gathered in her arms – the ones filled with numbers and T-charts and words like 'assets' and 'liabilities' – feels hopeless and heavy like a sinking stone. "Sir?" She adds just for good measurement, to be formal and polite and respecting, but immediately wants to take it back when Hans looks at her straight in the eyes. He's giving her his full, undivided attention; something Elsa finds herself scurrying away from. Her stare would drop to her ballerina flats if her files weren't blocking the way.

"We're going out." He answers, not bothering to straighten the piles and piles of paperwork on his desk.

Elsa just stands there while he twirls around, ready to leave his private space. She asks stupidly, "Out of the office?"

"That's what 'out' means, my dear." Hans says sarcastically.

"For?" She continues asking, firing blindly.

"Work." He answers shortly though there is still some sarcasm laced in his voice, so Elsa doesn't know if she can trust his answer.

She can't help but think, Isn't the office for work?

And as she juggles with her files, Hans moves. Starts moving. Starts this motion while she is still glued to her spot; past her and towards his door; already tucking his wallet and keys, and grabbing his jacket.

"T – To meet people, Sir?" Elsa continues stuttering, slipping yet feeling frozen. She's not prepared for the answer but still finds herself turning to face him despite wanting to look away from those eyes. She starts wondering why he's dragging her along because why else would he want to bring her; an inexperienced, shy intern.

Hans sounds annoyed at the mention of that slip-up, that title of 'sir'.

"Maybe." He hums like it's something he'll decide on the way and she despites his uncertainties. She wants answers. Right now. Right. this. instance. before her anxiety eats her up.

"For, ah, a meeting?" Elsa manages, swallowing because she can do nothing but swallow.

"No. Brunch."

What? She resists the urge to point out that it's only eleven thirty AM and, andUnbelievable! He could have just told me what he wanted, there's no need to make me feel like a stumbling mess! This whole situation would have been easier to understand if he had just said what's in his head! No miscommunications or judgement! Not that I wouldn't judge him for wanting to leave the office already, after not doing any work! Why would he – Why –

"Why?" The single word escapes from her loud head.

"Elsa, can you stop asking me so many questions?" Hans clips, and she shrinks, anger smothered by meekness once again. He seems to says, 'I'm your boss, aren't I? Don't question what I say'. He makes her feel so small.

A noise at the back of her throat gets stuck, something like a snarl or, perhaps, a whimper. She doesn't move, doesn't even breathe, just seethes. She tries to think of something positive before she collapses.

Friends. Think of your friends. She tells herself and Mulan immediately pops into her head. Funny, loyal Mulan; who's leaving the company in a few weeks because she had started earlier, because the three-month internship was ending. Dread pools in her belly. No! Elsa didn't want to think of that! She didn't want to remember how she's getting abandoned –

"Don't just stand there." Hans tells her, cutting through her thoughts.

Elsa gaps, feeling the files in her hand slip. She tightens her grip before they can fall (like her).

Lunch, right. Or, was it, brunch? Same thing, the only difference was the over-priced selections on the menu, designed by and for fancy, stuck up elites. Elites like Hans.

Lunch lunch lunch. The word echoes in Elsa's head, how many times has her head drifted off? She doesn't want to have lunch with her boss, it sounds weird. She wants to have lunch with her friends, with Mulan and Tiana and Lottie, which, now that she thinks about it, will be cancelled. It looks like Elsa will have to text the group now and tell them about the news. It's really a shame, Elsa was really looking forward to it too, Tiana makes the best decisions for places to eat –

"Are you coming or not?" Hans snips, though his question sounds more like a demand. His patience is thinning. And the tone he used, it was authoritative, told Elsa there was no way out, no other choice. An almost polite threat; do as I say, or else.

Elsa swallows, feeling bile rise into her mouth. That's the third (? fourth? she's lost count) time he's pulled her out of her thoughts.

.

.

.

Elsa walks behind Hans.

She follows behind him without protest and with her hands folded, fidgety and uncertain. Her blue eyes glancing around the parking lot from time to time before it lands the back of his flaming red locks and stays there, the entire time.

Elsa wonders to herself, What on earth are we doing? Well, she knows what they're doing – having some luncheon or whatever. But the question is, why her? Is Hans … secretly afraid of eating alone? Because Elsa remembers a time when she denied to eat with someone and got a snippy reply of 'So you're just going to let me eat alone like a loser?'

However, that seems impossible for a person like Hans. Elsa's fairly certain he's got a whole line of people he can dine with. It's easily attainable, with the snap of his fingers, or in this case, a press of a button; legit, just call someone.

She can't help but think once more, this time, changing her question, What am I doing?

Well, she knows Hans had fished out his car keys but she doesn't know if he wants her to drive him to their destination or if he would allow her to sit with him in the front or if he preferred for her to sit at the back. She doesn't know anything – apparently, or this is what she tells herself when Hans doesn't even bother to turn and look at her through the entirety of the quiet walk.

When they do get to his car, the kind that is shiny and expensive and so-very-red, after all of her over-thinking, Hans opens the driver's door without a hint of hesitance.

"Um, Sir?" Even then, Elsa feels heavy. Even with her empty hands and arms that are free from all the files she's abandoned on Hans' desk.

He sighs. "Yes, Elsa?" He finally looks over his shoulder and at her, to make sure she's still here, to make sure she's as observant and as smart as he hopes she is.

Elsa doesn't speak, only pressing her lips together in a thin line. Well – well – "Nothing." She utters then decides that she can't just stand there. Not again. She may as well reach over and sit in the passenger seat behind him.

"No." He stops her, gruff voice booming in the silent parking lot, and her hand immediately snaps to her side.

Oh. Oh. Elsa squeezes her eyes shut, ready to be yelled at. She scolds herself in her head while waiting. She's messed things up, over and over and over again. This is the fifth time today. This is the final straw that someone can handle her mistakes. This is the –

"Sit in the front." Hans says, forcing her to open her eyes and look at him. His face is unreadable. "I'm not your driver."

'I'm not your driver.'

Her eyebrows knit together in a way she doesn't understand. She gets that it's insulting but she doesn't know why. Regardless, she does as she's told and walks around, still wordless even when she sits in the passenger seat and clicking the seatbelt (something, she notes, that Hans does appreciate after tipping his chin ever so slightly). Elsa continues to stay mute even after the car roars to life and Hans fiddles with his radio, settling on Bruce Springsteen who sings 'Like a river that don't know where it's flowing, I took a wrong turn and I just kept going.'

"Is this okay with you?" Hans asks, something Elsa wasn't expecting, her posture straightens.

"Yes." Elsa answers and doesn't add something cheesy like 'I love this song' but manages a polite smile.

Being the paranoid person that she is, Elsa's already made a check-list, what not to say to Hans. The few questions and conversation starters tucked at the back of her skull, all related to work so that she doesn't overstep her boundaries. But (and that's a big 'BUT'), she simply must say it now that things aren't going to plan.

"Um ..." Elsa starts, resisting the urge to fidget nervously as he reverses his car. She loses her nerve and trails off.

He lifts a brow, it's the same way as when they had first bumped into each other.

Then she regains some confidence, "Um, I want to apologise, again, Sir." He flinches at the mention of that and she knows that she needs to stop being so formal, it's getting irritating, but she can't help it. "I'm sorry for not knowing who you were when we met."

"It's ..." Hans trails in an almost similar fashion. Elsa expects him to say 'it's alright' or just not finish his sentence but then Hans picks himself back up and replies, "It's expected. You're new."

"Do you tell everyone to call you by your nickname?" She asks because most people go, 'My name is X but you can call me Y for short', not jump straight to nicknames.

"Nobody except my family calls me 'Johansen'," He tells her.

"Ah, I see …"

Okay … Okay, what is she supposed to say to this? She didn't prepare herself for talks about his family, about her chain of bosses. Elsa can't help but fight the urge to nod awkwardly and look out the window to spare Hans from any of her gracelessness but then –

Hans keeps on talking, exceeding her view of him – yet again. She really doesn't know anything about him. He says after a moment, "I don't like it."

'You don't like your own name?' Elsa wants to ask but doesn't.

Again, it's not in her list of icebreakers. And she doesn't think she has the right to asks such a thing. Especially after he turns his green eyes away from the road and looks at her with the same expectation from before, giving her full eye contact. It's still too much, still strange.

Then the burning gaze is gone.

Moving his two decorated hands on the steering wheel, Hans fills up the silence that falls in his car, "Anyway, I started telling people to call me 'Hans' after –" He pauses, thinking. "After deciding I've had enough of that stuffy old name. I want people to know me as 'Hans'. Not, not as 'prissy, thirteenth prince Johansen Westergaard of the Southern Isles'."

Oh, She thinks, still as mute. So he's already making a name for himself? How old is he? He looks fairly young, maybe twenty-three.

"Do you think you can call me that, Elsa?" Who? Me? You're asking me? "Do you think you skip the formalities and just …" He trails off like he's asking for the world. "Just see me as I want to be seen?" A part of him silently tells her he's tired of people calling him something he's not, even if it's something like 'Sir' and 'Mister Westergaard' because there's already more than a dozen of those.

Anxiously, Elsa bites her lower lip – no, chews – and the soft muscles make a small crunch sound that she hopes only she can hear. She's always been so scared to cross her boundaries, to assume she can say whatever's on her mind and – and – Those damn rumours, the ones that say the thirteenth prince is so horrid. The ones that tell her she needs to be careful. They play in her mind, screaming and blaring and telling her something is fishy despite her boss not doing anything except looking at her in the eyes and smirking knowingly and talking to her when she can't and –

"Yes." Elsa finally answers, leaning into her seat. "Yes, I can do that. Okay."

"Okay?"

"Okay –" She nods then says for good measurements, to fix herself, "– Hans." And doesn't make a peep after that.

.

.

.

They kept driving and neither of them turned back.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


iii


It had started of small. So small that Elsa didn't think it would affect her until it did, until she had this moment, this realisation of – Aha! That's how he did it! That's how it happened; how he squeezed under my closed door!

It was on a busy morning with chattering business men buying cups of coffee, and people rushing in and out, and them at a café instead of at the office – yet again. And they were just waiting.

Well, Hans was and Elsa was counting backwards in her head because the place was too crowded and so stuffy and too noisy. She felt like she couldn't breathe. She wants to go back – back to the shiny, well-organised The Southern Isle building where everyone spoke in polite, hushed tones.

"You have nice hands." Hans compliments out of nowhere, breaking Elsa out of her panic spell.

It stuns her, causing her posture to straighten from leaning against the counter. They can't even find a place to sit because it's so crowded. Her head spins and her fingers curl, hand laying on top of her constricting chest. She can't think of a word to say so she just blinks at him.

Thank him, you silly girl! A voice shouts in her head, but she doesn't. Because Elsa thinks, Hans doesn't mean it, he's probably just saying that because he's bored of waiting (for his order, for her to open up, for something to happen). Elsa holds her breath and waits for his attack, any kind of attack.

"You should do something to make them stand out." There it is, the strike, never a clear-cut compliment, just a cut. "You should paint your nails a different colour. Red would look good on you."

He touches her for the first time, skin to skin, his fingertips brushing under her palm without warning. He had reached out and is now holding her hand without saying anything, his thumb stroking over her nails. If this was a Fairy Tale, this would be the part where he goes in for a gentle kiss on the hand, Mister Prince Charming – but this is reality (and it's ugly at times).

Her nails are painted in the palest of blues – four costs because it was thin and almost transparent to the point that it looked like glass or ice; it was glitter-based too, sparkling like it held some magic in them. At the time of the application, it looked like effort and patience, but now it just looked chipped and childish.

"Red?" She asks, resisting the urge to take back her hand, so she stares at the side of his face, catching red locks in her sight.

"Yes." He hums, strong and confident.

Then he looks up and she eyes run away from meeting his, simply staring at his hand now; the one holding hers, silver rings decorating his fingers – there's one ring that stands out among the others, the one that has an emerald encrusted into it.

Why does that look so familiar? Elsa can't but think, staring a little longer at his hands before losing herself in thought. She'd rather daydream then look at somebody in the eyes. She dislikes eye contact. She could barely hold Lottie's beaming ear-to-ear grin or Tiana's pleasant smile.

"So, do you have anything to tell me?" Hans asks, pulling her away from her distraction, releasing her hand.

There's still a trace of his warmth then she subconsciously puts her hand over her heart. Elsa's face morph into a confused one as she asks a question to his question, a vicious cycle, "About?" Me? Do you want to talk about me? Are you asking to get to know me?

"Well, I was away from the office for a couple of months. I feel like I've missed a lot."

Ah … Elsa things, blinking then – Wait! "Are you –" … Is he … "Are you asking me about office gossip?" She stutters, forgetting her nervousness for a moment.

"Yeah, it's fun to know these things." There! That damn infamous smirk is on his face once more!

Fun? She thinks. Fun?! What are you talking about? You're the boss – or one of them, at the very least! Shouldn't you be thinking more about – Elsa doesn't even finish that thought. She pauses, thinking. She can't get mad at his curiosity, especially since she's the type to ask a hundred and one questions before settling on answering something.

But, Elsa's always been the kind of person to mind her own business, like she said, she's the type that's too worried to be thinking about others. Unless, that is, it's gossip of what people thought of her, about her. Regardless –

She clears her throat and asks, "Do you … want specifics about someone's love life?"

He gives her a look, something between a want to laugh and a jeering mock, though there holds no humour behind it. "It doesn't have to be someone's love life. It can be any form of gossip. But, to be honest, I don't understand why people do that."

"Do what?" Stop asking so many questions! She kicks herself in her head.

"Date co-workers." Hans chimes with this new leering grin she's never seen him pull. Is he … serious?

"What?" She says for what felt like the millionth time. What does he mean by that? People date because – "It's because they have chemistry, a connection, love –"

"Love?" He snorts. "Okay, yeah, sure." Hans cuts her off. "But when they fall out of 'love' and a break-up happens, things always blow up. It's the worst. I'm just saying; don't shit where you eat." He swears and Elsa can't help but bite her trembling lip.

He – He's … terrible! How did the conversation go from Hans complimenting her to him insulting people's love lives? Elsa opens her mouth to defend someone in the office – anyone – but then a girl behind the counter interrupts their 'well-meaning and deep conversation' by setting down Hans' fancy order that's wrapped to go.

"Order number thirteen." The staff member had said and Elsa saw Hans smirk then charm the girl with a sort of delightful 'thank you' before Hans steps away and left the girl with a visible blush.

"Let's go." He tells Elsa, smirking like he had won a small victory.

Elsa would have rolled her eyes then – should have. But she was distracted but the confusion that is Hans. And that's when it started, how it started. That's when it hits Elsa and she learns, discovers, the superficial part of Hans Westergaard.

It started with this crepe cake thing. The cake that is 'pretty with an alcoholic layering', 'feather-light' and 'delicious' – according to Hans – but Elsa didn't really know the difference or cared because she's always been too worried to notice these little things. She means, she can't even tell apart expensive cars.

But Elsa doesn't ask. Doesn't think she can with all the questions she's spewed out earlier. Hans simply urges her to follow him and she does as she's told – once again, she doesn't know anything, not even where he's taking her.

Somewhere along the walk, the new direction he was pulling her towards, Hans had turned away from the street they were walking on. With his decorated hand holding onto his dessert that's wrapped in a pretty box, he looks at Elsa in the eyes, expectedly for what seemed like the billionth time today (she thinks she's getting use to his stare) and says, "Here, hold this."

Okay. She thinks and takes it. It's as light as Hans had said it is, and Elsa almost forgets that she's holding anything but Hans remind her of this new importance by making sure they walk side by side.

It doesn't work though, not for long. It's only five minutes later that she's reminded of the cake, subconsciously, she had started swinging the box in her hand, only for Hans to grab her wrist in this strange gentle manner. She almost flinches away from his touching. She didn't let him touch the first time she crashed into him or the second time at the casual café and she doesn't exactly consent to him touching her now.

"Don't do that." He warns her, a new serious tone. And then he explains himself when he notes the panic and confusion written on her face, "The box will hit someone."

That's … considerate of him. She relaxes.

"And, I haven't taken a picture of the cake yet." He adds.

For a moment, Elsa blinks at the statement before she realises, This must be one of Hans' projects, isn't it? (Or, the company's projects?) The rumours swim in her head, reminding her how Hans has this 'tendency' to add his own aesthetics to something – so he's going all out? Is he inspired, ambitious? The sky is the limit to him, isn't it?

And then everything is green. Green as far as the eyes can see. They're at this park where light falls perfectly on everything and the sun feels nice on Elsa's skin and the wide lands are free from any big crowds. Elsa immediately appreciates it.

"Stop gawking, have you never been outside before?" Hans snips when he notes her pausing to look around.

"S – Sorry."

Elsa continues following him, her grip now steady. She finds herself walking behind him again, staring at the back of his red head again and then they stop. And this time, she waits instead of him as he takes the box from her hands with such gentleness that she can't believe this is the same Hans who had spat out the mockery of 'Don't eat where you shit'.

Hans opens the box, sighs in relief, signalling to Elsa that it's still intact. It takes a second. Only a second, but it's drawn to Elsa then. It clicks to her, that the gentle act from before, his hand on her wrist, was meant for the cake and not her. Apparently, Hans hadn't wanted Elsa to destroy such a delicate thing (so now Elsa wonders why hadn't he just held it himself? Would he have destroyed it too if he had held onto it longer?) but doesn't voice it out. She just expects him to throw her a smile for being a good girl, for not messing up, but he doesn't.

She waits for ten minutes, ten minutes in silence, while the cake is photographed and then …

And then … the cake is left untouched?

"Hans?" She calls, smoothening out her pencil skirt now that they're sitting on a bench, under the cool shade of a tree.

He hums back in reply, clearly distracted by his phone. She feels weird just sitting with him like this. The day is nice and everything but – what about work? Does this count as her trying to control his expenses? Has she failed already?

"Aren't you going to eat the cake?" Elsa asks.

"No, I hate sweet things." He tells her and pushes the cake towards her.

She first flinches at the word he uses – 'hate' – then stares at the dessert before lifting her gaze to his face. He doesn't look back at her.

"Erm," She can't possibly think what he means, right? Wasting food? She knows she can't be rude to her boss but, really, how privilege can he be? What?

"You have it." He tells her before her thoughts can overwhelm her. Not 'you can have it' but a sharp 'have it' as in 'take it and stop bothering me'.

'For me?' Elsa wants to ask because what exactly is this guy's angle? If he knew he hated these things to begin with then why did he …

"You're not going to make me pay for it, are you?" She asks instead.

"Of course not." Hans answers and then adds, "I brought you specifically along with me just for the cake."

"Wait, what?" Did he really bring her along just for this occasion? Did he honestly drag her here just to give her free cake? It's … a nice gesture but … the execution is terrible. "So, you're treating me?" Really?"

"Are you surprised?" Hans genuinely voices and she turns to face him since his gaze is elsewhere, not penetrating, not burning, emerald eyes still glued on his phone – Ah! That's why his ring looked so familiar!

Yes. Elsa thinks but she answers, "Maybe?" She's always so uncertain.

He tips his chin then pushes the cake towards her once again. 'Take it' He seems to say – and she does after hesitating for the second time today.

Elsa senses the conversation ending but she wants, needs, to understand whatever 'this' is. Him, even. Hans needs to explain, satisfies her curiosity with some reply. Okay, so Hans likes pretty things, and therefore, maybe … just maybe …

"Was the picture … for work? For some kind of inspiration? An ad maybe?" She can't stop asking questions, feeling annoying.

He hums in a similar manner. "No, it's for my Instagram."

And at that single sentence, Elsa thinks she aged by three years. Um, what? Her curiosity flies out the window and her need for answers plummets to the ground. She never thought she'd want to take back the truth more in her entire life! She thought –

She thought they were maybe getting somewhere with him asking her to call him by his nickname, something she never does with anyone. Suddenly, the rumours start buzzing in her ear again

Calm down, Elsa. Calm down! The blonde thinks to herself then digs into the cake. She chews softly and tries not to be a bother. Tries to eat at a normal pace. Tries to ignore the rumours devouring and filling her brain. She ignores it, hoping that maybe, hopefully, this is a one-time thing.

.

.

.

But, it only gets worse. She only learns more about him; that he cares too much about looks and image (and maybe nothing else).


"Hello ...?" Elsa mumbles, reaching over and pressing her phone against her ear. Her toes curl and she buries her sleepy face deeper into her blanket. Her bed is warm and her curtains are still shut closed.

"Elsa?" The voice answers back.

Oh shit –! Blue eyes widen and Elsa sits up, feeling herself gasp and her messy hair fall in her face. "Hans?"

He asks, "Where are you?"

Oh crap, did she oversleep? What time is it? Anna wouldn't have woken her up but maybe Gerda might have! Elsa's tempted to rush around her room, thrown clothes one and pretend she's stuck in traffic or something but there's no chance that Hans would believe her.

"I'm at home." Elsa answers like it's a reasonable response. She knows her excuse sounds weak and lame but, at least, she's being truthful. She hopes she doesn't get in trouble. Should she also add a 'I'm sorry'?

She hears Hans inhale sharply then say, "I need you to come over. Now."

"Now?" She swallows bile rising up her throat and takes in Hans' urgency. You've fucked up! You've fu – "To the office?" Elsa asks and feels stupid for saying such a thing. Of course, the office! Where else would your boss want to see you, you stupid girl?

"No, let's meet up somewhere else." Hans stops her toxic thoughts. "Are you sure you don't have anything planned today?"

"Um ..." Wait, what? 'Meet up'? Not 'Why are you asking so many silly questions? Why aren't you at work'? "What?"

"Let's meet up. Today." Hans says in the same tone that told her she had no choice.

Despite this, Elsa answers with an uneasy "Let me check my planner?" because now her head is swimming and she's trying to get her bearings. And this thought is bugging her, prodding her with some logic. Isn't today … isn't it –

Shifting out of her bed, Elsa ignores the fact that she had just rolled over a pack of highlights, ones she had used last night to highlight bits of scenes she liked in her copy of The Great Gatsby. She also ignores the fact that she almost trips on some clothes left on her floor. Though, she does yelp, but, it could have been worse, she could have stepped on a pencil due to her habit of drawing on the ground. She's kicked her sketchbook many times in the past, it's almost a habit at this point.

"You're slow." Hans notes on the other line, making her flinch.

'Mess room means messy head.' She hears her dead mother's voice chimes in when Elsa almost slams into her desk.

Should I lie and say I'm sick? She wonders then says, "I just woke up ..." She doesn't even hide her croaky voice.

Elsa then hurries to grab the planner on her desk, quickly flipping through the pages, looking at the crossed-out dates. As she stares at the words and numbers, a question arises out of her voice. "Isn't today …?"

"Hm?"

"It's ..." Tired blue eyes stare longer at the page of her planner. She knows she's never skipped the habit of crossing out a date after the day is over so ... "It's Sunday today." She notes. Her statement sounds like a question, something asked to be sure.

"Yes, it is." Hans answers. So Elsa was right. She's right! It's her only day off so why –

"Then why …?" Her question slowly trails off as she spins to look at her room. Glares at herself in her vanity, a puff of haphazard blonde hair, before looking elsewhere; at the books on the floor, the ones that couldn't fit in her overflown bookcase; at the clothes pushed to the corner from hurried mornings to work and the teacups stacked on her desk, slowly piling on her desk. It's not like Hans can see how messy everything is anyway.

"Is there a problem with that?" He asks.

"It's Sunday ..." Is all she can repeat.

There's a small pause on his end of the line before he says, "Should I call you back in an hour? You sound disoriented."

"What ...? No ... It's just ..." Running a pale hand through equally pale bedhead hair, Elsa asks, "It's Sunday and I don't know what you want me to do."

"Work." Hans answers, sounding almost serious, the exact same answer to when Elsa had files slipping out of her hands.

But she doesn't believe it. She almost wants to laugh – what part of their dynamic is even work? They just – hang out? Eat food? He runs his mouth and talks shit and she asks questions like an uneducated –

"On a Sunday?" She says again, she's sounded like a parrot with a limited vocabulary.

"Is that odd?"

Yes, do you not have a life? Elsa thinks but doesn't say it. Just like a lot of things, Elsa keeps her thoughts to herself.

"Do I have a choice?" Is all Elsa manages despite knowing the answer, Hans will probably say 'no' in that same commanding voice.

Only, he doesn't. He doesn't say anything. He only laughs, strong and true, like he doesn't believe she's asking him such a thing. Like this is one big joke on him. It makes her heart jump in her chest, settles the bile that's threatening to rise up her throat.

So Elsa changes her sentence instead, "Even if I get paid overtime, I can't." She could feel him smirking from the other line. "Because, I –" She looks at her planner, there's something written, something important and in bold and circled, SPEND TIME WITH ANNA. "– I have this engagement with my sister and I can't –" And Elsa can't break her promise with Anna. Not again. "– I can't miss it."

Hans stays quiet, Elsa almost suspected he had put his phone down and not told her until he hums, "I might have something in mind."

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


iv


So … how … how would Elsa put this?

How would she even phrase her words? To Anna, her baby sister, her only sister? Because telling her, 'My boss wants to hang out with us on our days off because apparently money can't buy friends' isn't really an explanation? That's not something Elsa can say to Anna! That's not something she can say to anyone!

And yet – here they are.

"Move it there," Rapunzel says, lively green eyes shining as the long-haired blonde hunches over Anna's shoulder and points to something on the strawberry blonde's phone screen.

Ariel shakes her head and points somewhere else on the screen. "No, move it here."

The two squabble while Anna's preoccupied, eyebrows knitted. Elsa doesn't say anything, and neither does Hans as they sit two feet apart, arms folded. Well, this isn't awkward at all! Nothing weird! Just a group of five: two co-workers and three besties, brought together for this 'lovely' hang out.

Although Elsa's not embarrassed by Anna's friends, she can't help but marvel over their closeness. Ariel's really interested in Anthropology and has a large family that could rival against Hans' while Rapunzel is practically an art prodigy and is an only child. Anna couldn't have gotten a weirder mixed bag of nuts.

"Girls, please, you can't just tell me what to do. You have to go into the game with an objective." Anna says, swatting their fingers away.

"Objective? That's a lot of analyses for Candy Crush." Hans says under his breath. She can tell he's getting bored.

"Let them have fun." Elsa bites but then wants to take it back because it feels like just yesterday that she was mocking Hans over his version of what 'fun' is.

At this, Hans' green eyes sweep over to Elsa, making her squirm. He eyes her and her outfit of the day – dressed in comfortable joggers with pockets deep enough to swallow her entire hand up to her wrist while his is stylish and his pockets are little, can't even hold his phone, just a couple of second-hand dreams.

With her chin propped on her palm, Elsa's blue eyes darts to Hans clothes, dressed to the nines with a collared shirt, designer vest on top, nice slacks, polished shoes; before she lets herself look at Anna and her friends. Rapunzel is wearing her paint-stained shirt and overalls, Ariel has a second-hand dress from one of her many sisters and Anna's Pentatonix shirt dates back from three years ago.

Elsa wonders why Hans is hanging out with her, her sister and her sister's friends to begin with when he looks like belongs in a classy magazine.

He's a slave to fashion and trends. Elsa notes when comparing things then she looks away and at her hands. She'd rather do that then spend her time staring at his emerald eyes. She hates eye contact!

"Let's do something." He huffs, coaxing her to send him a look.

"We are doing something." Elsa says, almost snippy. It's her day off, she's not working. She refuses to let him ruin the day.

"Something else."

"You said you were okay with tagging along, well – this is it!" I'm sorry that we're boring.

Besides, Elsa only has one sibling while Hans has twelve brothers, shouldn't he be hanging out with them if he's bored?

"We can play a card game, if you want." Rapunzel speaks up, making Hans' face light up. Elsa swears she saw Anna and Ariel exchange looks.

Are they ... swooning over him! Elsa thinks. Why?

Okay, he's handsome. Very handsome, but –

He's hanging out with her sister and her friends, and Elsa can't help but find it odd but like a snowball, it just kept expanding and expanding and expanding. It started out with Candy Crush to Rapunzel pulling out a pack of cards from her bottomless bag and then the five of them playing the card game Bullshit.

Anna has fortunately mastered her poker face from all the years of playing with Elsa. Ariel is hell bent of destroying their friendship by declaring that she's going to win, it's understandable considering the fact that Ariel was raised with six older sisters, competitiveness is a trait in a large family. Rapunzel ... not so much, she keeps laughing every time someone even looks at her and ends up staring at her cards the entire game. Elsa's gathered all these facts quickly by round three but …

The only person Elsa couldn't figure out during the game is Hans.

Every time she looks at him suspiciously to read if he is lying to her or not, he sends her this devious grin – with his chin jutted out and green eyes squinty and mouth wordlessly daring her to do it and 'call me out on my bullshit, Elsa, try me'. And she cannot tell if he telling the truth or not when he grins like that. But she calls him out anyway, and each time, it's never a lie.

"One five."

"… Bullshit?"

Hans smirks and turns his card upwards. It's a five. Elsa groans and grabs the stack of cards while Ariel crackles like a sea witch. Man, the redhead girl really wants to win. But she doesn't get too, Hans does.

"What?!" Ariel slams her hands on the table, making things jump (including Elsa). "How did you do that? How did you win? I was keeping track!" Ariel groans and Elsa fears for a second that Ariel will flip the table from frustration.

Hans explains casually, "I only took chances in big numbers, I was putting down more cards than I said I was. Every time I said I was putting down three or four cards, I was actually putting down more. You just didn't notice because I kept my cards in a stack instead of having it all spread out like a fan." Hiding in plain sight, but also not really.

"You're sneaky! Sneaky as hell! A sly fox!" Ariel sings in praises then slaps her forehead like she's just been bestowed knowledge by the heavens. "Alana's going to lose her shit when I use this move on her next game night! You're the freaking devil – but thank you!"

Ariel cracks another laugh that sounds like she's a sea witch and Hans exchanges the gesture with a pleased look. Maybe redheads truly are born from hellfire?

Now Elsa looks at Hans, expecting him to show her more tricks up his sleeve. But he just gives her that same grin; the same sneaky, proud, 'call me out on my bullshit' grin and she doesn't know what he means by that look.


"So, how was today? How are things?" Elsa asks Mulan on Saturday, just as they're about to finish up work.

From the corner of her blue eyes, Elsa glances at Mulan who's casually scrolling on the computer. Elsa had expected cliché coffee runs and being piled up with work nobody else wanted but ...she didn't expect Hans to drag her around town to and sightsee everything. Leg day has never felt more real, a part of her wonders if she'll have strong legs by the end of the Summer.

(Strong enough to kick her boss's ass, maybe?)

God, Elsa wishes she could talk to Mulan more about this insufferable man but Mulan is leaving in the two weeks she doesn't want to ruin their lovely dynamic. And speaking of dynamic, Tiana and Lottie are in a whole different section of the building and Elsa thinks it'd be so weird for her to just walk over there and start up a conversation. She means, Lottie could do it but she's not Lottie. She could never be Lottie; chipper and nicely commanding attention and loudly proud –

"Fine." Mulan answers with a nonchalant shrug. "Things are just fine. Why?"

"F – Fine?" Elsa chokes, confused. "Aren't you swamped with work?"

"No. It's actually pretty slow." Mulan answers. "Like the other day, I finished work around three PM and spent two hours taking Buzzfeed quizzes. Did you know Layla from Winx had her name changed to 'Aisha' and that her power is to control water? I never would have guessed, I just knew her magic was pink but the quiz apparently told me she's the fairy I identify with the most. Weird though, I always thought I was Bloom."

"Ah," Elsa echoes before her voice trails off. She stares at Mulan's profile. Elsa remembers when she had first met Mulan, she had lovely dark hair that fell down her back like a river. But now Mulan's hair is cut just above her shoulders, making her look more sophisticated than girly. It makes Elsa think what she herself would look like with short hair.

"So how is the thirteenth prince treating you?" Mulan questions, now fully facing Elsa, cheek in hand.

Elsa takes a deep breath, thinking of where to start before she unleashes everything. It takes longer to say everything than she thought.

"Gosh, what a jerk!" Mulan exclaims, she had started spinning in her chair again while Elsa had talked and now there was this worrying feeling at the pit of Elsa's stomach. She will never stop worrying, will she? Never stop having anxieties. "So he's been really doing all that? Dragging you everywhere? Throw a chair at him!" Mulan suggests, never once referring to Hans as 'Hans', just titles.

Elsa can only squint at her friend in reply. If Tiana was here, she would have been the voice of reason. "Wha – I can't throw a –! Wait, didn't you throw a chair at Shang?"

"Yeah, and it worked out fine." Mulan smiles after she stops spinning, leaning against her seat.

"Because he became your boyfriend later on." Elsa answers and doesn't even want to consider that she may potentially end up in a similar position. Hans is insufferable and that's that!

"Yeah, but, Elsa, Shang wasn't my boyfriend at the time, he was like my fitness coach!"

Pinching the bridge of her nose, Elsa sighs. She loves her friends to bits but sometimes Mulan can say the darndest things! "That's not the same." Elsa laces her hands together, shaking a little. She can't even fathom willingly touching Hans, must less battering him.

"It felt like it! I had paid a membership to be in that gym so technically, Shang held some power and I could have lost so much money if I had been kicked out!"

"Hans is not going to tell me 'you fight good' if I throw a chair at him. Hans is not on the same level as Shang." Elsa utters, still trembling a little.

In fact, Hans has been more critical lately, giving her 'advice'. 'Fashion tips' – if one could call it that – telling her what colour to paint her nails and how to dress like the kind of skirt she should be wearing and how to style her hair – wait a second! She was thinking of cutting her hair earlier because of something Hans had said to her! Drat! She can't believe she was considering it! She can't believe she's letting his words dig into her! God, now she's trembling from rage!

"Well, yeah, I know but I'm just saying." Mulan replies, pulling Elsa from her furious realisation.

"Hans is practically our boss. He can get us fired and blacklisted from the company if he heard you tell me that."

"Hmm, maybe he has a sense of humour?" Mulan attempts to dodge the reasonableness behind Elsa's words, fluttering her short lashes and smiling mischievously.

Elsa groans, "You just said he was jerk and told me to throw a chair at him!" Her voice rises from the excitement of the banter. "You can't go back on your word and say he's funny now."

"So … he's not funny?" Mulan quips, seemingly innocent.

"Mulan!" Elsa scolds, running her fingers under an eyebag before she presses her blue nails against a cheekbone.

"Okay, I'm just saying – everything is not what it seems. Remember how Tia thought Naveen was such a flirt before they started dating?"

"He was a flirt," Elsa points out.

Mulan says, "Yes, 'was'. Past tense, but then he changed and now he's the most loyal man on earth. I don't even think he's made solid eye contact with me since he and Tia started dating."

Elsa's face twists and she angles her chin, "Why are you eyeing Naveen?"

"I'm not! Don't say it like that, I swear Shang's just brawns sometimes, bless him and his stupid six-pack, but I would never – it's just eye contact, Elsa! You can't stare at your feet every time someone talks to you."

"I don't stare at my feet." Elsa utters, feeling both embarrassed and defensive.

"But you don't stare at their faces either." Mulan reasons, leaning near Elsa's desk.

"I just – I'm scared that I might seem creepy. What if I make too much eye contact?"

"I – Okay, eyes are windows to the soul and whatever but, you need to work on that. You know what? We'll get to that later, let's just get back to the main topic." Mulan huffs. "The point I'm making is, sometimes people are more than just how they present themselves. Like, I'm 5'3 and a lot of people expect me to be nothing but tiny, and yet I can easily flip a 6 foot guy."

Elsa pulls a face. "Yes, but – that's different, Mulan!"

"How?" Mulan dares to ask.

"How?" Elsa echoes back.

"Yes, 'how'," Mulan crosses her arms. "Explain it to me."

How?

Well … well –

Elsa swallows and closes her mouth, pressing her lips together. "I – I don't know?"

"Then how will you know if you don't know? If you don't try?"

"Instinct?" Elsa tries but Mulan merely shakes her head, making her shoulder-length hair sway.

And now, now, all Elsa can do is make this pensive expression. She … doesn't get it. Elsa doesn't understand Hans (or Mulan or Lottie). She doesn't think she can. In fact, she doesn't understand any of this.


"Hans?"

"Hm?"

"How many independent projects do you have planned?" For us? Elsa asks on yet another day out, resisting the urge to look at her wristwatch or tap her feet or hug herself – self-hugging, something she does when she's nervous.

"A lot." He answers, not providing her with a clear answer, making her want certainty.

She feels ... stranger. Well, stranger, following Hans here and there, visiting parks and coffee shops and now malls. Shouldn't they be back in the office building, editing and designing and moving a font slightly to the left? "Shouldn't we be back at The Southern Isles? Actually working?"

"What makes you think what we're doing isn't work? Do you have somewhere to be?" Hans asks cheekily, with that smirk plastered on his face. She almost wants him to give her that grin she hated about a week ago.

Pushing the thought aside, Elsa concentrates on the conversation at hand. Specifically, the way he says his words, it makes her feel stupid. It's a silly question to ask her because she knows the answer; it's a 9AM-5PM job. Elsa's not supposed to be anywhere important except at work. Which she isn't even at (technically). Elsa's just irritated that this all seems more like a waste of time rather than actual work experience. Rotten luck, that's what she has. This internship is turning out to be a bust!

Regardless, she doesn't tell him any of this and only shakes her head at his question.

"Would you rather be someplace else?" He asks a second time, it sounds taunting. "At a stuffy office, perhaps?"

Better than the outside of a cafe with cigarette and car exhaust smoke blowing in my face! She says loudly ... in her thoughts. Because Hans was still technically her boss.

Elsa only shrugs.

"Come on, use your words." He presses on, literally, with a flat hand against her straight back.

Hans has been really … touchy lately. But in a sort of gentleman way? Just her shoulder and the inside of her wrist and gently by the elbow. He's always doing this when he's leading her somewhere without an explanation.

He's also been condescending too, like now as he says this, and she'd rather be eating lunch with Mulan and Tiana and Lottie than have fake croissants with Hans (he doesn't even eat them because I hate sweet things). It's free lunch for her, but, still – Mulan is going away soon and the blonde wants to spend time with her friend! Hans isn't her friend! Not even if he paid her!

But Elsa only holds her tongue and walks forward as they arrived at an ascending escalator. Careful careful careful. Elsa thinks as she waits for the perfect step so she doesn't mess up and fall flat on her face. Anxiety is a bitch, heavy in her heart and stomach and mind, always weighing her down.

"Well?" Hans voices, bringing her out of her focus.

"I'm waiting for the perfect step." She explains, slightly irritated but still nervous.

Hans shakes his head, making her eye the way his hair falls in his face. "There's no such thing as 'perfect',"

Maybe to you, there's not. Elsa thinks. He didn't have to be the perfect girl all his life. Then she resumes in trying to get some distance away from him, even if it's just climbing up the stupid steps but he has his warm hand on her elbow. She almost yelps.

"What?" She asks. Even when she's threatened, she asks questions, double-checks, is too worrisome and careful. "What is it?"

He's growing impatient even though he knows where they're already heading. "I'm not referring to you and the escalator, I'm referring to a place you have in mind. If you don't want to go then don't." He lets go of her elbow (and she almost misses –).

Elsa pauses, letting the perfect step go, letting his words sink in. "No, I don't have someplace else in mind." She answers, and after a beat, finally gets on the escalator.

Unknowingly, he was pushing her to the direction he wanted. He follows after her like it's a fun game of chase.

She is quiet and busy over-thinking until they reach this point where Elsa turns to him, on those tiny escalator steps, and asks, out of politeness, out of habit, "Where do you suggest we go, Hans?" Fake croissants?

But, suddenly, it happens – she turns to talk to him and notices something. She notices how he was frowning at her. She notices how she was several inches taller than him, being that he was on a step lower and her the higher. She notices how he eyed her and their height difference and, and – Why is he frowning? She's lost count of the number of times he's made her feel bad, he can't just act all hurt after her small bark!

But something kicked her in the stomach. You're playing with fire! She yells in her head because – yeah, she prefers that stupid grin over him frowning any other day.

And after wrapping her arms around herself, self-hugging once again, Elsa steps down from her step and onto the same step as him, making herself smaller than him once again.

"Anyway," She says, licking her lips. "What were you saying? About the croissants?"

She lifts her eyes (eye contact) and sees him staring down at her, she doesn't get that grin. No. She's settled with a smirk decorated his face as he opens his mouth and speaks pretty. Sneaky! Sly fox! Devil! He is truly the devil.


"So, anything new at work? How's Mulan?" Anna starts the conversation as the strawberry blonde places two cups and a plate of biscuits between the two on the dining table.

"She's good, her internship will be ending this month." Elsa says, reaching for a biscuit as the hot chocolate needs some time to cool off. "I'll have to find Tiana in the next quarters and force her to have lunch with me so I don't eat alone." Elsa says this as a joke because she could never imagine herself doing that.

"Hmm, but then Lottie will be there too, right? Do you think you can handle Lottie?"

"I never said I couldn't, I like Lottie." Elsa answers truthfully and then mentally pats herself on the back for not calling Lottie 'Charlotte'.

Anna only raises a brow at takes a sip of her drink, not minding the burning feeling. "Yeah, but you also said she talked too much and that you couldn't keep up."

"I just don't have a lot to say and I don't want her to find me boring. I don't mind just listening to her talk." Elsa answers, biting into her biscuit even more.

"If you say so." Anna answers and sips her drink even more before reaching for a biscuit. Then she asks, "How's your gorgeous Prince Charming boss guy treating you?"

"You mean Hans?" Because 'your gorgeous Prince Charming boss guy' is a mouthful. "You should really stop calling him that." Elsa replies, sighing.

"I know what I said. And I'm sticking to it." Anna only says, but there's a playful smile on her freckled face. "But, seriously, how's he treating you?"

"He's been …" Elsa tries to block out all the red flags. She needs to suck this up. "… okay."

"I sense hesitance."

"He … he's been telling me to change my look … for a few …" Days? Weeks? "… awhile now."

"Image is everything to him, huh? He's dolling you up like you're some kind of Barbie doll or pretty princess."

"You could say that." Elsa says, now reaching for her own hot chocolate.

"He's not overloading you with work or anything, is he? I kind of found it strange when he hung out with us last week. He has – what? – twelve brothers? Why did he decide to hang out with an intern and her sister and her friends? Unless, he has zero friends and he thinks because he's paying you then you're his friend or something."

Elsa shoves the last bits of her biscuit into her mouth. "That's …"

"Really sad?" Anna offers. "I know, but it just came to my head. You know what? Never mind, don't answer that. I kind of like the idea that he's your hot single boss that likes to hang out with girls he doesn't know. Adds an air of mystery – like those romance novels. Except you're the mystery."

'You're the mystery' – Elsa's mind immediately reels, her mouth suddenly feels dry, her hands clench and dig into her skin. She'll vomit or cry or pass out or all three in some sort of order if Hans finds out about her secrets. About her parents and Anna and why she's such a wreck –

"Anyway, what did he ask you to change this week?" Anna talks on. "You mention clothes then the haircut, right? But what was the first one again?"

Glad that Anna had decided to sweep this fact under the rug, Elsa answers, "He told me I should do my nails."

"Your nails? Like, those fake long nails? Man, that's so annoying, how are you supposed to do anything like wipe – wait! Is that why you asked me if I had any red polish laying around?" Anna asks.

Elsa's face colours, the same shade as her nails – and it's not from the wipe statement. The blonde clenches her hands yet again, hiding her fiery coloured nails and getting crumbs all over her palms. "Maybe ..."

"Elsa!"

"It's better than getting a haircut that will take forever to outgrow or buying new clothes." Elsa reasons.

"That's –! Okay, that's very true. But, Elsa, you don't have to change yourself for him." This time, Anna is the one sighing.

"I – I'm not changing." For him. "This isn't The Devil Wears Prada, it's just an internship. I'll be fine, Anna." Elsa says, urges then repeats it so that she herself will believe it, "It'll be fine."

.

.

.

(But will it really?)

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


v


It was a nightmare.

Or, at least, she was having a nightmare.

Elsa thinks – believes, mostly – because she wakes up in the dark with sweat clinging onto her like second skin and her heart racing and her hands resting over her beating chest like it's permanently frozen there.

She swallows and pushes down the feeling of perpetual doom in her stomach. She tries to block out that horrid memory – fresh, red blood on her hands; her little body trembling; the sound of crying. A small four year old crying, her little sister crying. The guilt still consumes her after all these years. Thirteen long years. Elsa swears, if she were to ever to choose to acknowledge it, she will surely crumble, go still and silent. Maybe even die.

Reaching for her phone, she plugs in her earphones and raises the volume of a song she's recently started liking – 'Everybody's got a hungry heart, lay down your money and you play your part, everybody's got a hungry heart!'

It's three AM, on the dot. And, like any horror story, Elsa will be saved the moment the sky wakes up and the sun touches the day with gold blinding light. She just has to wait a bit more, only alittle further. Patience is key, isn't it? Until the sun rises and the birds chirp and the monsters in her head goes back to sleep.


"Is Pepsi okay?"

Hans makes a face which, Elsa thinks, the waitress definitely caught. Is Monopoly money okay? His expression seemed to ask sarcastically.

"You know what, I'll have water. Cold water." Hans says instead, snapping the menu all dramatically.

Well, Hans is in a bad mood, he's not even bothered to flirt with the waitress. But Elsa doesn't point out the sourness in the redhead's voice. Anyone can tell, so Elsa just squirms in her seat and meekly says, "Water for me too."

The waitress nods and takes away their menus.

Resisting the urge to drum her red painted nails on the table, Elsa sucks on the inside of her cheek and tries to focus on something else. Don't panic. She tells herself, accepting the awkward silence and immediately thinking of the negatives of the day.

You know, when Elsa had finished her second-year exams early – literally the second week of May, leaving her with four-plus months of freedom before third year comes knocking on her door – Elsa didn't think she would have this much to lose. Elsa had thought – Hey, I have plenty of time! And that, an internship honestly didn't sound like a horrible way to spend her Summer, despite her known anxiety attacks and teetering mental health. To be perfectly honest, it actually sounded eventful and progressive and good for her. But now … Elsa can't wait for this blasted internship to be nothing but a distant memory, or a simple icebreaker of 'Guess what I did last Summer?'

"Do you have somewhere to be?" Hans asks, snapping Elsa away from her thoughts.

"What?" Elsa blinks, catching her foot tapping against the table stand. Huh.

"Would you rather be somewhere else? Another place?" He clicks his tongue in annoyance, rearranging his question slightly differently this time. It's the same question he had asked her about a week ago at the mall when she had decided suck it up, steps on an escalator without waiting for the perfect step and get those fake croissants. "You seem impatient today." He observes, squinting his emerald eyes at her.

Elsa chews on her lower lip and yanks her blue eyes to his face, as if to challenge him. But it doesn't last long and soon she's looking away. "I – I sort of have this thing."

"And that is?"

"Lunch." Elsa says truthfully, then adds, "With a friend."

Hans snorts. 'Boyfriend?' The words seem to leak from the edge of his mouth. But Elsa presses on before he can dig into her personal life.

"Mulan's going away ... leaving, today. It's her final day at work." Elsa explains, it's important to her.

They're throwing a small go away party for Mulan. Apparently, older staff members of The Southern Isles do that with all their interns. Maybe it's just to encourage interns to come back after re-evaluating their other options? Or maybe it's just a reason for the whole section of the company to go have lunch together outside the building? Either way, Elsa wants to make it on time. But here she is, having brunch again.

(Or, in this case, only a drink on such a hot day)

"I see." Hans hums, pulling out his phone just as the waitress comes back and hands them their glasses of water.

Hans doesn't speak after that and Elsa takes it as a sign to clam her mouth shut. She guesses … she won't be able to make it to the lunch-party? God, that sucks.

Elsa contemplates on bringing it up again, lips parting and closing. Her hands clench the entire time and she worries herself so much – on the risk of getting a 'no' – that she thinks she may pass out. Her stomach is doing flips and her heart has dropped to her ass out of fear.

Then her attention shifts to the blue hue of Hans' phone light against his face. She watches the light reflect and give Hans' skin a different kind of glow. From this angle, she can see the shadows under his eyes, the pointiness of his royal nose and the deep frown on his face.

He looks … stressed. Elsa thinks after realising that she's been spacing out, staring at her boss.

Her toes curl in her new shoes. And, for a moment, Elsa wonders what Hans would even be stressing about. It doesn't seem like he has a lot to worry about; he's got the money, a stable job and perhaps a business degree. His life is pretty set and, dare she say, perfect?

Okay, sure, everyone has problems but … what's his? Why is he like this? What's his story? She wonders if it's the spending problem? Is he in this weird retail therapy phase? There must be some form in his madness, right?

Clearing her throat, Elsa asks a question to fill out the time tick-tick-ticking away, "Doesn't anyone ever ... question about your whereabouts?"

"That bad, huh?" Hans side-steps her question. Now his shoulders are squared, and his green eyes meets her face. He's smirking but Elsa doesn't believe he's all that happy that she brought up this topic. "You really want to go back to The Southern Isles, don't you?"

"Wha –"

"Don't answer me with another question." Hans cuts, words like a knife.

But – ! But he just did! He did it to her! What a hypocrite!

"I," Elsa chokes. "Maybe?" Even when it's an answer, her words are still uncertain. "I mean … why isn't anyone worried?"

Elsa phrases her words carefully despite knowing the danger of her curiosity. The blonde thinks, maybe, a part of Hans owes her that much. He's been dragging her out of the office for all these shenanigans for … three weeks now? She means … well, he isn't obligated to tell her everything about the Westergaard family but … shouldn't his family at least ask what his plans are even about? Even a brief schedule of his day? It feels like Hans is simply jumping from project to project without even giving it too much thought. The Southern Isles is a big company, but Hans is acting like it's nothing but a small test-drive.

A sigh escapes his lips. Shifting in his seat, Hans now looks uncomfortable. And it's not just from the Summer heat or the sweat gathering at his neck.

Elsa thinks – Hans can avoid her question, if he wants to. Elsa has seen Hans dodge things many, many times. His tongue is his weapon, and his words are pretty and smooth. He's very good with closing one's eyes and distracting. In fact, Elsa's lost the number of times she's found herself side-tracked. So … she expects it. She expects Hans to avoid answering her.

But, he doesn't. Hans doesn't avoid her curiosity. He does, however, takes his sweet time; gripping onto his glass of water, rings clinking against the cold surface. Hans takes big gulps before telling his tale.

"There's … There's only one person who cares. My brother, Lars." Hans replies and his face morphs in a way that tells Elsa that Lars could possibly be the only person Hans trusts. But then the expression is gone in a flash as seriousness laces in his tone, "I know what you're thinking, Elsa. But it's not like I'm not doing anything for the company." Suddenly, there's a defensive streak in his voice and Elsa almost fears that she crossed the line. "Lars gave me this position so it's not just something to do; it's hard work, there's nothing idle about it. It's … the job's just not … that important as the other positions in the company."

Elsa swallows, not really knowing how to respond or what to say. Hans has pretty much confessed why he's been dragging her here and there while still remaining ambiguous. She can only manage a "O – Oh," while looking away again.

"Anyway," Hans mutters, lifting the sudden blanket fallen on her. He's shifting the conversation. "I don't think that I'm all that odd."

"I, I never said you were." Elsa squeaks. If he had said this to her weeks ago, she would have asked, 'Aren't you? 'Working' on weekends and all?'. But Elsa can't ever muster saying that to her boss. So, she chooses to look under the table and at her feet. Mulan was right, she does have that bad habit.

Hans only hums, a strong firm sound. The phone on the table beeps but he ignores it. He doesn't even bother reaching for it. God, God. She's really upset him? Hasn't she? Now she wants to dig a hole and lie in it.

"Let's pick this up another day." Hans tells Elsa instead, drawing her attention back to him. She snaps her blue eyes to meet his gaze but he's busy staring at his glass of water – half full or half empty?

"Pardon?" She shutters.

"Since you're cancelling on me today."

Elsa flushes. What? Cancelling? Then it draws to her that Hans is referring to Mulan's lunch-party. The moment this realisation hits her though, irritation oozes and fills her entire body. Don't get Elsa wrong. She is grateful that Hans is letting her go but she won't allow him to talk about her friend like that. He doesn't even know Mulan!

She insists, "I'm not cancelling."

His eyebrows draw together at her small act. "Of course, you aren't." Then he downs his drinks and places it back on the table. A wet ring is the only trace that the glass was once full. "Let's go." Hans says, standing up to his full height before Elsa can even protest.

"Wait –"

"You don't want to be late, right?"

"R – Right." Elsa trips over that single word. She hadn't even drunk her water. Oh, well. What a turn of events, and to think she came all this way and wore the wrong shoes.

.

.

.

By the time she gets back to the pleasantness of The Southern Isles, the side of her feet hurt, and her pinkie toes are bright red. Since when had she started dressing so impractically?


Elsa was right, the lunch-party was an excuse to eat somewhere other than the office's break room. Her co-workers have already ordered and sat down with their own circle of friends, talking merrily and laughing at inside jokes.

Mulan tucks a lock of dark hair behind her ear and looks at her friends sitting around the table. She teases, "I know you girls will be lost without me."

Elsa manages a smile and looks at Tiana who rolls her brown eyes playfully. A part of Elsa is glad that Tiana and Lottie manage to join their little event. It wouldn't make sense if they hadn't been able to. They are friends after all, and the lunch-party's not just exclusive to the accounting section of the company.

"Of course, Mulan, how can we ever will without you?"

"You'll manage." Mulan responses to Tiana's sarcasm. "Make sure you take care of each other, you hear?" Mulan says, still wanting to maintain that joking front despite knowing she's feeling incredibly sentimental now.

"We will." Elsa speaks, pausing from her meal.

"We'll miss you, Sugar, but we'll try not to miss you too much. I'm sure you've got lots to do." Lottie says, smiling that same bright smile. She almost looked dreamlike with that genuine grin.

Elsa thinks she sees Mulan's eyes tear up a little, but the short girl quickly blinks it away and digs into the cake that Tiana had baked for her. "Yeah, Riverdale is calling my name. I can't wait to binge watch an entire season in one sitting." Mulan utters with her mouthful.

Once again, Tiana rolls her eyes while Lottie doesn't say anything but continues smiling. Some part of Elsa's chest aches yet also fills itself with a warm glow of fondness. Work won't be the same without Mulan by her side. Elsa knows Tiana and Lottie are only minutes away but they're at another section of the company and … Elsa doesn't know. It just won't feel the same.

'Take care of each other, you hear?' – And although Elsa knows it's just banter, Elsa could have sworn she felt Lottie's blue eyes never leave her after those uttered words.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


 vi


"You'll figure it out, Mother – you're a smart woman." Hans says into his phone and for some reason, that single line almost made Elsa smile in a sort of impressed way. It was … truly otherworldly, coming from Hans. It sounded too genuine from somebody like him.

Pretending not to eavesdrop, Elsa checks her e-mail on her own phone while low-key watching the redhead man walk in circles while holding a conversation. Elsa thinks, she should leave, shouldn't she? It's incredibly rude to stick around and eavesdrop, right? But … Hans did ask her to come to his office to do … something? Go out again, most likely … only to get a sudden phone call, and now she's just waiting for him to end his call.

(Honestly, when did she start waiting for him? She doesn't know)

But, she'll wait, she guesses. There's nothing much she can do about it.

And just like any person on the phone; Hans starts walking, pacing up and down the room; picking up and touching things with his free hand; letting his eyes roam out the window and in the room and at her. There were moments where Elsa could see him from the corners of her eyes; leaning against a wall, left hand deep in his pocket, posture straight. It was a little distracting because Hans was actually – stay with her on this – smiling all the while (not smirking or grinning mischievously or anything malicious). And Elsa didn't think Hans of all people would have such an animated conversation with his mother.

There was even this glint in his eyes. And if Elsa was brave enough, she would have even tried to catch his gaze (because she can't help herself). If she double-takes, it really looks like Hans is – if she can call 'it' this – 'smiling with his eyes'. If she didn't already know how green his irises were, she would have tried to sneak a glance and guess the colour of his eyes.

But, anyway, Elsa wasn't that interested, so she just settles with staring at him when his back was turned; admiring his broad shoulders, fiery hair and tallness, and – Wait, what? What's wrong with her? Anna's 'boy-crazy' tendencies must be rubbing off on her.

Then Hans turns away from a window and to her, startling her. He asks, hand already on a chair, "Are you using this?"

Oh, so he remembers that she's here.

"No." Elsa says shortly, now choosing to focus on the task of straightening the overflowing files on his desk. They don't seem to have been touched and it's a getting –

"Can I take it?"

She bites the inner of her cheek. There's literally a sofa he can sit on, she doesn't understand why he would want to take this chair specifically. But she voices none of this and answers, "Yeah, sure."

Hans does so, dragging in behind him on the soft carpet. Elsa thinks it's all over until Hans positions his chair in an angle where he's sitting across her, emerald eyes looking straight at her while he's on the phone and for some reason – this perplexes her because, it's like he's watching her or something.

And from this, Elsa crosses her legs, feet pointing at him, and pretends that this sudden shift doesn't bother her. Gosh, she just wants to get this over and done with. Yet, here she is, eavesdropping on her boss on the phone while he low-key watches her.

Yanking her gaze back to the task at hand, Elsa pretends not to be bothered. The blonde supposes she doesn't mind the work; she's used to sitting behind a desk, typing wordy paragraphs and sorting out documents, printing things. But, she will admit, it was starting to feel boring. A little too repetitive. So, maybe …

Maybe that's why she's still here. Because being with Hans means getting out of the office and it was … a nice change? Or maybe she's just bored without Mulan (Elsa really misses Mulan and her friend's small habits like pushing back her shoulder-length hair behind her ear, speaking her mind and writing reminders on the insides of her wrist) and Hans, despite being anything but a good boss, is serving as some kind of distraction.

"Yes. Yes, Mother, thank you."

He's even thanking his mother? What? Who is he and what has he done with the real Johansen Westergaard?

Then Elsa looks up from Hans desk, a little impatient at waiting for him and catches the sight of Hans turning his head to the sky, soaked in sunlight. The Summer sunbeams seem to magnify the redness of his hair, pointing out his dull freckles, his profile, and the sharpness of his strong jaw. God. God. It should be criminal to be that –

"Elsa?"

"Y – Yes?" Elsa chokes, almost knocking over the piles of paperwork she organised.

Did he catch her staring? Because if he did, she would die – right there and then. She knows Mulan had told her she needed to work on her inability to keep eye contact but Elsa has the common sense to know that being caught staring at someone shouldn't be rewarded with a maintained eye contact (or a smile).

With his chin tipped, Hans ends his calls and then smirks. Damn him. "Let's go." Is all he says, standing from his seat then swipes his car keys and wallet like the first time he dragged her out on some unknown activity, some 'adventure'.

She swallows, "Where?"

"Out."

"Why?"

"Again with the questions, I see." He clips. Though, there is something new behind his taunt.

Her mouth immediately clams shut, hands brought to her side.

"Are you going to ask me who I was on the phone next?" He asks, an almost playfulness in his voice. But Elsa knows Hans – her boss – would never be playful with her. He's just teasing her. No, making fun of her. That should be the correct term used.

"N – No." She squeaks.

He keeps his gaze on her, holding something against her maybe. Then his voice drops, sounding almost soft. "It was my mother, if you're curious."

Well, what does he expect her to say after that – 'how is she? your mother, I mean'? Despite this, a tiny part of her (a tiny, tiny, tiny part) wishes to ask, 'do you like her? do you like your mother?' because she's certain his answer would be 'I adore her', because she's a little spellbound by this side of Hans.

But, she says none of these things. She doesn't say a thing. She only manages herself, looks up from her (aching) shoes. When did that happen? When did she start staring at her feet?

Elsa asks instead, "S – Shall we go?" Questions after questions after questions. She cannot command, only ask.

The 'softness' he displaces vanishes in an instance and is replaced with his usual arrogance. "Yes."

.

.

.

"But, don't you think they're wasting your time and vice versa?" She asks, gnawing on the bottom of her lip, trying to press herself into the passenger seat. She wants to sink and disappear.

He taps his fingers against the steering wheel, rings clicking once again – one, two, three – Elsa's grown accustomed to his habit and she doesn't know if he knows that she finds counting soothing. Especially when she's having an episode. She thinks, she needs it. Deserves it even, after having to listen to some saleslady talk for fifteen minutes straight after Elsa had muttered, 'No, thank you.'

"I don't mind." Hans admits, eyes staring straight ahead. He swallows, Adam's apple bobbing. And for some unknown reason, Elsa is drawn to his voice. She just likes how he carries his words, so smooth and confident unlike her jumble up questions. It sounds like Hans is ready to confess something crazy. "I know most people hate salespersons, hate how they take up your time and trap you. I know it feels dreadful; the moment a salesperson makes eye contact and walks up to you. It feels like a slow death, but with a commercialised smile. Their talking seems endless, jabbering on about a product you don't need but insists it's good for you but I … I just don't mind." He shrugs. "Actually, I like it."

What?

"I don't hate socialising with a salesperson. I walk into those stores with an expectation. Call me crazy, but I want them to persuade me. I want them to impress me with their charm. I want to witness the power of their charisma, stare at their dead, practised smiles and listen to lies they themselves don't believe in. I usually don't buy anything, but, God, do I want them to dazzle me."

Elsa can only stare and counts – one, two, three – as a new kind of sparkle dances behind Hans' eyes.

"Manipulation is all around us, Elsa, and it fascinates me." A look takes over Hans and suddenly, he's giving her that grin. The one he showed her in that card game, the one that she could possibly stare at for forever and not understand what it means. Something whispers 'I need it'.

He's really got the soul of an interpreter. Or, maybe just someone social, not that she knows what being social really means.

Staring down at her hands (not shoes – this time), Elsa mutters, "What did they teach you in business school?"

At this, Hans snorts, eyes on the road. "I didn't go to business school." He clears his throat, "Obviously, my family had the money for it, but, it would have been stupid for me to choose it."

At first, she cringes at the word – 'stupid' – because she's taking a joint degree of business and accounting, and it sounds like Hans is looking down on anyone decided of use of such a degree. But then, confusion fills her lovely face. "So you … You don't have a degree in business?" She asks.

He gives her a fleeting glance that tells her she doesn't know anything about him. "No." Hans shakes his head. "There's no point when five of my brothers already chose to have that degree. Having another would be overkill. The others choose things like accounting and law. I got stuck with economics."

"Economics?"

"Yeah, I hated it."

He's really throwing a lot of feelings at her today. 'Like'. 'Hate'. What next? 'Love'?

Dragging her blue eyes to the side of her window, Elsa lets herself think; ignoring the feeling of the sun's heat, AC blasting and the hum of the expensive car's engine.

She didn't expect him to tell her things about himself despite her endless questions. She means, well, she did compile all those ice-breakers to be as pleasant and polite as possible. Made that check-list of conversation starters that she swore would never overstep her boundaries but ... to be deep and attached and holding some meaning ... Elsa didn't intend any of that.

"Elsa,"

Not that ... Not that Elsa is attached to him or anything. But spending five and a half days (six, if you must) a week, for an entire month, with Hans would sort of reveal some things about themselves.

"Elsa?"

Like, for instance, how he knows that her favourite season is Winter (Hans hates it, by the way, because 'over-played, annoying' Christmas songs are unbearable to him – scratch that, Christmas in general is unbearable to him); she hasn't owned a Facebook profile since she was twelve (and that was solely used it to play Pet Society until it got boring and she deleted her profile altogether); how she's never posted a single picture on her Instagram page and there it lays empty since she made the account at age seventeen; she's deathly afraid of crossing the street (especially if done alone at an unfamiliar street) because, what if she miscalculates, what if she's not fast enough, what if she acts but it's too late and the consequences are too heavy for her small hands to carry and –

"Elsa."

"I, I'm sorry, what?" She snaps out of her trance. When Elsa turns her head, sees his face, she notices how Hans is watching her in a strange way. Like he's concern. No, he would never be. Maybe. No, definitely. He definitely looks scared of her. What did she do? What did she do? All she did was space out, it's not her fault. It's not her fault that she can't control her mind –

His deep sigh drags her out of her episode again.

This time, Elsa decides not to lose herself and focus on Hans. "I'm sorry." She squeezes that same apology.

He drags his tongue on the bottom of his teeth and thinks before saying, "I asked you a question."

Did you? Why? "I – " She swallows. "I didn't catch it. Sorry." God. God, why is she like this? "Can you repeat it?"

"I said – I asked –" Hans takes another deep breath and sighs again. Somewhere along that expression he's making, Elsa thinks Hans is holding back the urge to pinch the bridge of his nose and call the day quits. "Never mind."

'Never mind'? Something in her stomach flips. She insists, "N – No, tell me." Ask me, since I ask you so many questions.

"You're not in the right mind to answer." Everything about him, straight down to his mannerism changed. His eyebrows plucked together, creating a crease on his forehead. And he refused to break eye contact when he said this, which is bad. And, it's not because she can't handle that much staring but because he was driving and –

"What's that supposed to mean?" Elsa bites out, anxiety kicking her for sounding so needy. "Just – Just ask." Please?

"Trust me." Trust him? "You don't want to know. I take it back." Hans says but, Elsa thinks, maybe what he means is 'it's not a good time' but she never gets to ask since he asks something else, "Do you like business? You're a … second year, aren't you?"

"Third next once the Summer is over." Elsa corrects, trying to control her reeling mind. "And I …" Her lips quiver. "I don't hate it but … I don't like it either."

"So, just accounting? Do you like just that?"

She shakes her blonde head, feeling her bun hair-do press against her neck like an uncomfortable swell. "Neither."

"Ah," Something in that single word reeked of understanding.

A moment passes Elsa tries to keep her mouth shut but she's been staring at the road for the past few minutes, reading road signs and passing unfamiliar buildings. She's tried her best not to but ... (She's curious, like he said), "Where are we going now?" Elsa asks.

"My house." He answers simply, rings clicking, fingers squeezing the steering wheel.

"Your ... home?" She echoes.

"House." He corrects like he refuses to acknowledge the place as his home. "The Westergaard Manor." He adds and Elsa notices the clip in his tone. "I need to drop off and pick up a few things."

This morning's memory – the conversation on the phone – immediately hits her in the face. And because Elsa is the way she is, herself, she asks a question.

"Is your – Will I meet – I mean, will your mother be there?" Elsa shutters to ask such a question. She knows it's none of her business but she knows the other Westergaard brothers are at The Southern Isles.

She watches him the entire time, suddenly feeling embarrassed and guilty and even fearful. And behind that, his face shifts – Hans blinks his eyes in some rapid motion like he's trying to erase an irritating presence.

"No." Hans finally answers, shaking his head. "No, she doesn't live in the Manor. My parents are divorced."

Oh.

(And, she thinks – she ruins the moment, just like many other things she still blames herself for)

Shut up! Her voice screamed at her. Shutupshutupshutup but her mouth keeps moving, "She's –"

"My old man's fourth and last wife."

And for some reason, a tiny part of Elsa's brain whispers, Fourth, unlucky just like the number thirteen.

"I'm, I'm sorry." Elsa immediately says.

His emerald eyes wander back to her just as he presses a button to open large gates. "It's ..." ... not alright, not your fault either. "It happened a long time ago." Hans shrugs.

And it's … strange. It's so strange that he's being open to her. She barely knows him, and he her. But he's telling her all these little things and she doesn't know what to do with it. If her life was a movie, someone in the audience would shout, "What the hell was that? It's really all over the place! This makes no sense!"

.

.

.

He brings her over to his house – the Westergaard Manor – which looks as fancy as it sounds. And, after internally oh-ing and ah-ing at his well-decorated living room and spacious halls and grand stairs, Elsa finds herself standing in his room. Hans' room. Just –

Just looking around and noting how this was in fact his room … but it didn't feel like his. There were neatly lined bottles of branded cologne on his wooden dresser, branded clothes all tucked away in a walk-in wardrobe and polished shoes tucked away; rows and rows of books, a globe of the world by his desk, an expensive painting above his bed.

There were no half-dirty clothes piled on a chair, no trash tossed carelessly, no clutter on his desk. The furniture was obviously picked by someone older, cologne influenced by social media and books given by his brothers. Everything around this room just screamed expectations and high-end money but there was nothing personal. Nothing felt real.

Surely, that can't be it. Surely, Hans is more than just materialistic and superficial! This can't be it! After learning all those things, after knowing what he can be like; sometimes spoiled like the youngest child that he is, arrogant, rude and –

'Empty room means empty soul –'

"Disappointed?" Hans asks, voice breaking through her angry thoughts.

She was alone, then she wasn't. Not anymore. Elsa turns to face him. "What?"

Hans simply stares and after a beat, he asks her a different question, "Are you disappointed at how bare bedroom is?" Like my bare soul?

He grins and, again – she doesn't know what he means when he looks at her like that. Who really are you, Hans?

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


vii


Elsa hates seagulls.

Honest to God hates them, those birds are the devil in another form – wreaking havoc, stealing food, gawking angrily and shitting on people who stroll by the sea.

Stupid seagulls. Elsa thinks shuddering, trying not to walk too closely to Hans and use the redhead man as a human shield. Well, she says she's trying not to use him as a human shield, but also the exact opposite, you know? Just in case a seagull does decide to swoop down and snatch her ice-cream.

If Elsa remembers correctly, that had happened once when she and Anna were kids, feeding ducks and ducklings by a pond. It had been a pleasant and dandy day until a seagull came out of nowhere, plucked a duckling mid-air and swallowed it whole. To say it was horrifying wouldn't have done it justice. It was scarring and Elsa doesn't remember much after that. To be honest, Elsa thinks she had probably suppressed that memory (like many other things) – but Elsa also thinks that she remembers some part of it. Like how fragile a baby duck's neck can be, how easy it snapped that way, and of how Anna's tears sounded fresh in her ears. She hasn't heard Anna cry since –

Squeezing the straps of her shoulder bag, Elsa shoos her thoughts away and concentrates on something else, like the lovely seashells on the sandy ground. She's tired of over-thinking and calls out, beginning a conversation, "Hans?"

"Hmm?"

"What are we even doing here?" She asks.

She's trying to piece the puzzles together. The puzzle known as her boss. She's still lost from a few days ago. And she wants to understand, she wants to find out answers because Hans is confusing and nothing matches up. Elsa knows life doesn't make sense most of the time (look at her, for example) but she refuses to let things be. Is it bad that she wants to undercover everything? All this information? Information that she doesn't know what to do with or what the use of it will be for?

"I like the sea." Hans simply says with ease, walking beside her.

'And you couldn't go alone?' Elsa wants to ask but hesitates because, by the way he had said it, it almost felt vulnerable. Colour had rushed to his cheekbones and the freaking sea breeze had flown through his red hair so effortlessly like he belonged to the sea himself.

From the corner of her blue eyes, she watches Hans closely. She catches Hans eyes soften, for a moment – a small flash – moving from being hard like an emerald stone to calming like the waves washing ashore. In this light, his eyes almost reflected the ocean, sea green –

"Earth to my personal intern." Hans' voice booms, snapping his long fingers in front of Elsa.

Silver rings swim in her vision before she blinks the sight away and turns to him fully. Her pale face twists and her mouth forms into a sharp downward curve. Elsa swears she's going to get wrinkles from all this frowning.

"I'm not your personal intern." Elsa snaps lightly. Maybe it was the weeks of frustration or the fear of seagull poop threatening to fall from the sky, but Elsa was having none of Hans' bullshit today.

Amusement washes over his features. Is he surprised that she's voicing out her opinions? She almost crushes the ice-cream in her hand.

Hans tells her with a twinkling look, "Say that again." I dare you.

"I," Feeling sweat gather at the back of her neck, Elsa tries not to stutter. "I'm not your personal intern."

"Uh-huh, then why were you tidying my desk the other day like it was your job?" He asks back, smartly and a little proud. He's too smug.

Fuck you. She thinks, looking away, thinking he's annoying. If she had continued staring at him, she would have noted him rolling his eyes.

"Okay, rephrase –" Elsa turns back to face Hans as he says this to her. "– you're shadowing me, aren't you? So, in a way, it's a little like having you as a personal intern." Hans says with a snort and this time, she does catch him rolling his emerald eyes.

Elsa didn't think it was possible, but her mouth dips lower into a deeper frown. "Do you even know what 'shadowing' means?" She holds back the urge to tell him all they've done is hang out and eat fancy lunches.

"That's some attitude. I didn't think you had it in you to be this snappy. Did you wake up on the wrong side of bed?" Is he mocking her?

"No." She says shortly and resists the urge to turn away from him once more.

Honestly. Honestly?

Why are they here? Why the beach? It's not that Elsa hadn't gotten used to being dragged everywhere but she had figured their 'outings' would be restricted to work days. She hoped that that one Sunday was just a one-time thing. But, the thing is, just like many things about Hans Westergaard, nothing is a one-time thing, it's a repetitive cycle. A habit, even.

It's Sunday and she's with Hans – again. This insufferable, impossible man. He hasn't taken up her Sunday since that other week!Okay, so he did say she kinda 'owed' him a day after she 'bailed' on him for Mulan's going away party. This (whatever 'this' even is) is an improvement from the first occasion, he did 'warn' her beforehand. But, to take up the one free day she has – it was still bothersome.

What's his motive? What. is. it, damn it?

As Elsa's waist deep in thought again, a strong breeze comes by, blasting sea salt into her face and pushing her into Hans. Elsa swore she almost tripped and mashed her ice-cream into Hans' shirt. His very expensive shirt, and she won't lie – she would cry if that happened. It's not something she can afford.

"Do you want to sit down somewhere?" Hans asks her after steadying her with his free hand. His occupied hand doesn't touch his dessert. If Elsa didn't think he was strange before, she thinks he's stranger now – he asked for ice-cream in a cup. Not a cone. A cup.

'Can I just go home instead?' Elsa wants to ask instead because, not to be Anakin Skywalker, but sand stuck between her toes isn't the best feeling. It isn't pleasant. Her Summer in general, isn't pleasant. But doesn't say any of those things. She just nods at his question.

A shiver runs down Elsa's back as Hans' hand stays on her shoulder. She feels the heat of his palm and the feeling of her shoulder bag wedged between them.

Thinking to herself, Elsa wants to argue that she doesn't need him holding onto her like this. She wants to say that she's not that brittle. A part of her wants to say 'don't touch me so freely' but another part of her doesn't want to explain anything so she settles with this weirdness and lets him guide her to a place to sit. She's so uncomfortable (and confused).

Regardless, Elsa feels grateful that he's not touching her bare shoulder, no skin-on-skin contact, she's bundled up in a hoodie (thanks to the memory of how chilly the sea breeze can be and that one time Anna thought it would be a great idea to wear a skirt to the beach only to have constant Marilyn Monroe moments of trying to tame her flying skirt). Speaking of tame, Elsa really wished she had brought a hair-tie, the wind is really messing her hair. Her overgrown bangs are pushed back by her favourite blue headband but the rest of her hair is stuffed into her hoodie and she doesn't look as nice as Hans.

There had been a brief moment where the question of 'what are you wearing?' danced on her tongue when he picked her up, because she could never imagine him in anything other than his office attire but here he was. Well, he was still dressed in a very Hans-way – with the sleeves of his button up rolled up his elbows. But it was just so casual and she could see a black shirt peeking from under his button up because the first two buttons were left undone, he's wearing jeans and … sandals? Like … Elsa just had a sense that these two worlds should not align. Unless those sandals were Gucci. He's supposed to be made of money, isn't he? With all his retail therapy and –

"Oh fuck!" Hans exclaims, rising from the bench. Somewhere along the way, he had let go of Elsa's shoulder and she had decided to shake the sand off her feet.

"What? Did you forget something in the car?" Elsa asks, not taking the hint and easing into the seat.

"Elsa, wait, nonono don't –!" He went to grab her arm but it was too late.

"What?" Elsa asks but her question is immediately answered when she sat down – the stone bench felt like it was a barbeque grill. "Oh my God –!" She jumps up too and her ice-cream drops forward at her motion and into the sand.

They both stare and look down at her Mickey Mouse theme slippers, one in disappointment and the other with a blank face. Elsa sighs. She guesses the day was shitty from the start. What a load of – God, could this day get worse? Will a seagull come and attack her next?

"Do you want me to buy you a new one?" Came Hans question. Unexpected but also not really.

"No." Elsa says, sounding beyond irritated at her luck. Not everything can be bought over or paid back with money. But then she remembers to add some politeness to her speech and adds hurriedly, "No, thank you."

"You can have mine." He offers then. Though, it sounds more automatic now that Elsa knows some part of Hans.

"I ..." Her blue eyes drag itself to his untouched ice-cream, melting in its cup. It's ... She has been eating his food for arguably a month now but ... "I'd rather not." She says, not looking at his eyes or his handsome, freckled face.

Something shifts, he looked almost offended, "I haven't touched it." He replies.

"I know." Elsa answers then a crease existed between her brows. She knows he would never eat his ice-cream, he hates sweet things.

"Do you?" He challenges. Why does this sound like an argument? Why is he an ass one minute then a probable gentleman the next? What is this?

"Yes." She sounds defensive as she says this, staring at his offer.

Wordlessly, the damn thing remained in his hand, all melted and wasting away until Hans puts it aside. Elsa watches him shrug off his (expensive) button up before placing it on the bench. He sat on it without much thought then gestured for her to do the same.

(See? A sort of gentleman act!)

But Elsa doesn't move. She remained standing with her arms now crossed, bag pressed under her armpit, staring down at him quizzically. "I don't understand."

"Understand what? It's just a shirt."

She says, still referring to the previous conversation, "No, I mean … Why you do what you do. You already knew you don't like these things yet you put up with it." Elsa's mostly referring the frozen dessert but maybe she means more. Because, truly, she just doesn't understand him all that well.

His green eyes meet hers before he gestures to the spot beside him again.

Elsa swallows, sets down her bag then sits at the very edge and prepares herself to say more. "It's not that I'm not ... grateful –" Is that even the right word? "– for your ... hospitality –" Again, that sounded wrong. "– but I, I can't take things you don't want. I'm not ..."

I'm not some scrap taker or trash collector, I can't pick up things you want to throw out. I'm not a person you go to get broken things thrown away. Elsa finishes in her head.

"I have standards, Hans."

His face puckers. "I never said that you didn't. But, okay, I get it, you think it's strange." He dismisses.

There should have been a silence that followed after that, with only the sound of the crashing waves and seagulls squawking, but Elsa doesn't let it. For some reason, there's this pulling feeling in her chest. Like a jumpstart and she wants to settle it.

"N – No."

"No?"

"No. I don't think it's strange." Elsa states, hands planted on her lap. The sun is burning her thighs. Maybe she shouldn't have worn shorts? "It's a waste, sure, but, just so you know – know. You told me you don't like sweet things."

This time, there is a silence that follows … and amusement filling his face once more.

"I did tell you that, didn't I?" Hans asks,

Pausing, Elsa tries to put things together. The blonde thinks she can read his emotions better now (well, somewhat) but she's not there yet. Murmuring softly to the ground, at her fallen treat, she says, "Yeah, you did."

"And you remembered?" Hans continues, still sounding surprised.

What's that supposed to mean?

Opening her mouth, Elsa says, "W – Why wouldn't I?" But the second those words left her mouth, she felt like kicking herself. It feels like she's showing off, telling him things about himself. Today has been more than a little off. "I mean, unless … is that …" Pushing back blonde hair, Elsa tries to smother this new atmosphere. She wished the wind would stop threatening to turn her hair into a disaster. "… not something you want?"

"I …" Hans pauses too. "I'm not used to it," Hans hums.

"You're not used to people listening to you?" She questions. It's always with the questions. He nods and she found it odd. Elsa sucks in a breath, "But, you're …" … so charismatic. "… one of the bosses."

"I suppose so." He laces his hands together, places his elbows on his knees and leans down on his knuckles. His perfect, straight posture is broken. "But, I'm also a person."

Right …

"Want to hear a fun story?" Hans chuckles – chuckles – then corrects himself. "Actually, it's not fun. Maybe a little funny but … you know how we Scandinavians have an absurd amount of birthday songs?"

"You know that I'm Norwegian?"

"I told you I read your resume, didn't I, Elsa? It's impressive that you know five languages –"

"O – Oh, thank you."

"– I only know four." Of course, the conversation would circle around to stroke his ego. "Anyway, back home, um, in Denmark, I mean," Hans licks his lips and Elsa thinks this is the first time he's talked so fondly about home. "there's three versions of the 'happy birthday' song. And usually, as a kid, the best part – besides the presents and cake – is getting to choose which version you want to be sung at you and which instrument to accompany the song with and all that jazz. Well," Hans laughs again. "my brothers never let me have that. It would be a complete disaster, just a mash of all three versions with all the instruments. It was always off-key and horrible."

Where is he going with this story? Is this related to her question? Because, this isn't funny.

Clearing his throat, Hans speaks up, "Actually, I think I started hating cake because of all those failed birthdays. And … it might have spiralled after that. I think … that's why I hate sweet things."

Wait – huh?

That's really shitty. And it's sad that it explains a lot. She can't believe he just told her all these things. Elsa really doesn't expect him to but … "What about Lars? Or your mother? Didn't anyone try to handle your brothers?" Elsa found herself asking.

A flash of emotion appeared on Hans' face. Something that looked like it wanted to ask 'you remembered?' again before it disappeared. "My mother had her hands full and Lars … was also a dick back then. Not that I blame him. I was too. Everyone was … bad. But, at least, Lars grew up, but the others …" Hans shook his head slowly, not finishing his sentence.

Elsa chews on the bottom of her lip. Now she feels bad.

"So, um, to answer your question," Hans blinks, thinking. "Yeah, I thought 'hey, let's try some ice-cream'. I mean, why not? The sun is blazing today and I," I don't know? "I thought I could give it a second go. I thought, maybe I'd like it again."

Something grabs a hold of Elsa, filling her with curiosity. Was Hans always this talkative? This open?

"Did you? Do you?" She couldn't help but ask.

Lifting his chin from his laced hands and straightening his posture, muscles stretching under his shirt. Hans lets once more chuckle escape from his lips before he admits, "No." It rolls off his tongue so easily. "God no. I still hate it. Second chances don't exist."

Wow, there he goes again. Just ruin the moment, why don't you? Wait –

"You said you didn't touch it. If you didn't try it then how –"

"So, I licked the spoon and there's this thing called 'lying',"

She will strangle him. She swears she will. Elsa will channel everything in her to –

"I threw the spoon afterwards so if you had decided to eat it, it would have been really awkward and super funny to see you eat it." Hans snorts. He's so cruel. Who does that? "I promise I'll send you home soon, I see you're starting to get irritated. But, be honest with me." Hans says suddenly. "if you weren't spending today with me, what would you be doing?

Shifting in her seat, with Hans shirt under her weight, Elsa almost wants to rewind time. Back to when it wasn't just them, back to where there was Anna and her friends, and lunch that Hans says he's paying for.

"Reading." Elsa answers because she's not all that ready to say 'drawing'.

"Reading?" He echoes like it's a laughable matter.

Sounding frustrated, Elsa grabs her bag and pulls out a thick book. Not to whack him with, mind you. But wouldn't that be grand? She almost sasses out 'Yeah, ever heard of it?' but bites her tongue instead.

"Here. Do you want to give it a go too? Borrow it or something?"

Then he stares at her. Stares for the longest time because she knows he's made of money and he doesn't have to borrow anything. He could just buy it and never read it if he wanted to.

"You could. But you have to take care of it. I really like this book." Elsa continues and the trust in her voice just baffled him.

As a breeze picks itself up again, sending sand everywhere, he asks back. "Have you finished reading it?"

"No."

"Then how do you know you really like it?" He doesn't understand her words and yet they talk like there's something to say.

"I just do." Elsa answers and suddenly, it just made sense. "So do you want to borrow it or not?"

His eyes flutter to look at the cover of the book briefly before his gaze turns back to the sea. "I've read it." Hans replies shortly.

"You have?"

He gives her a curt nod then starts ticking his fingers. "Four – No, five years ago. The Summer I was eighteen, I think. I haven't picked up a book since."

'Since'? That's a long time. But, Elsa's not that surprise a man like Hans would do just such a thing. Not when he's constantly glued to his phone and visiting pretty places.

"Well, a good book, that is." Hans corrects himself. "I had to do a lot of reading for my studies. I think I burned myself out getting my degree, haven't enjoyed reading since."

"Ah." Elsa says and understands. She did pick accounting and business as a joint degree when she really wanted to pursue an art degree. Sometimes she feels like giving up – reading something you don't want to read, especially when you know you won't like it, can be such a chore. "Why don't you give it another try then?" She asks when what she really wants to do is insist.

Hans asks back, quirking a brow, "What? Reading novel books?" For fun?

"Yes."

"I'll pass –"

"You just said it was a good book."

The argument in his mouth drops off and his green eyes soften. "I did, didn't I?" He murmurs. He's been asking a lot of questions lately. Answering them too. "It does hold a special place in my heart."

'You have a heart?' Elsa wants to ask but simply nudges the book towards his hands.

He hesitates at first, then touches it gently. "Thank you." Hans says.

And Elsa pretends not to notice the new shift; something that's more than just arguments and ambiguity and questions that goes round and round.

"Can I go home now?" She asks politely.

He smirks, lips twisting into that familiar grin and he rises from the bench. "You're really an introvert, aren't you?"

"I ..." Elsa shrugs, getting up too. "I just want to be at home. With my sister."

His yanks to gaze at her for what seemed like forever, pulling his button up his arm, then asks, "Anna, right?"

Elsa nods. "Anna."

"What is she to you?"

'What do you mean?' Elsa wants to ask but then thinks over her words. "She ... Anna's like what Lars and your mother are to you." Elsa says slowly, fiddling with her hands.

Hans' face morphs into something unreadable.

"Anna's my favourite person." Elsa says, stepping forward, bag now lighter.

"Ah," Is all he tells her. His grip around her book tightens.


Driving with Anna, Elsa realises (or chooses to forget), is not as smooth as a normal car ride. It's rocky and full of hesitation. There are times where Elsa lurches forward and even holds back the need to grab onto something to steady herself. It wasn't scary, per se. Elsa's anxiety is a weird thing, linked more towards new people and crowds and uncertainty. But, with Anna, it was familiar. Even if it was a little bit reckless.

"Is that light turning red or green?" Anna asks, turquoise eyes squinting behind her sunglasses.

"Um –"

"Never mind, it's green!" Anna says and presses her gas peddles. "Oh, I feel like I shouldn't be in this lane. Should I?"

"Anna – " Elsa bits her lower lip. This isn't the most spontaneous thing she's done; deciding to go out with Anna to get three things from the grocery store. But it's certainly a little unplanned.

"Should we maybe fill up my gas task? If I do that then maybe we could stop by that little shop to grab some lunch or – oh! We should get McDonald's on the way back!"

"Anna –"

"No, no, you're right. We shouldn't. Gerda's probably making food as we speak! Don't get distracted, Anna, don't. Just get groceries then go home." Anna says, now speaking to herself.

Elsa sighs, a slow smile spreading at her sister's nature.

"So what did you do this morning? I woke up around noon and Gerda told me you went out. I didn't know how long you would be out, and I couldn't wait, so I watched Dumplin' without you! I'm so sorry about that, but lemme tell you, it was great! Two hours well spent! I'm totally up for watching it again – We should watch it tonight!" Anna's cheery words hangs in the air between the two.

And despite the intensity of things – the irritating glare of the Summer sun, Marina and the Diamonds singing on the radio, Anna's mad driving – Elsa felt somewhat serene in the beat-up car with her sister.

Elsa smiles, "It's okay, Anna, I understand. Something …" More like someone. "… just came up."

"Ah, what was it? Was it good? Bad?" Anna starts firing questioning.

"Well, Hans picked me up."

Anna pushes her sunglasses up the bridge of her nose. "Uh-huh, so work stuff?"

".. No."

"Weird lunch hangouts?"

"Not exactly."

"Then …?"

"He … He's been ..." Elsa swallows, wishing she had sunglasses to shield her eyes like Anna. "… telling me things?"

"More fashion tips?" Anna raises a strawberry blonde eyebrow. "Ugh! Can he shut up about that? All that talk about your hair and clothes and nails – don't think I haven't forgotten, by the way – because I haven't! I notice things too, you know! Like, I've noticed that you haven't repainted that red coat, it's chipping away so I guess you don't really care about what he thinks. Do you? Wait, don't answer that. Of course, you don't! But, anyway, I think you're fine the way you are, Elsa!" At this, Elsa smiles more. Leave it to her baby sister, her favourite person in the whole world, to make her smile like that. "I mean, know everyone needs to grow, I'm sure you want to get better –" And for a moment, Elsa thinks of her anxiety and depression. "– as a person, but forcing change is ridiculous! Tell me you didn't listen to his dumb advice!"

"I ... I try?" Elsa answers, hands balling.

"Elsa! I, no pressure but maybe try to shut him out? If not, um, maybe we could find a way?"

"Like what?" The platinum blonde asks. Saying 'no'? Because she's tried that.

"Erm, intimidation? Can you maybe get some muscle?" Anna answers.

"Are you suggesting we get Kristoff to –"

"No! No! Kristoff would never hurt a fly! I meant, someone else's boyfriend, Mulan's maybe?"

"Anna! We're not getting Shang into this –"

"I know there's no such thing as an eight-pack but he could be an exception –"

"We're not getting Shang to beat up Hans!" Elsa insists, cutting her sister off like how Anna had done to her. They're close but they don't exactly have a meeting of minds sort of relationship. They're sisters, not carbon copies.

"Okay, then, what if I punch him instead?"

"No!"

"He'll never know –"

"He's seen your face! He knows you! Remember?" Elsa closes her eyes. She's getting a little car sick. "Hans doesn't – He isn't – He's not forcing me to sell my soul for nice Prada shoes or whatever, he's just –! He's just telling me things about himself. Like the one brother he likes and his mother and – " His room "– uh the sea?" Elsa still remembers the seashells tucked in the pockets of her shorts. "I, I don't know?"

"Oh! Oooh!" Anna chimes. If her freckled hands weren't gripping onto the steering wheel, Elsa was sure Anna would have used them to slap her forehead."Elsa, I completely misunderstood! Then that's not really anything annoying. He's just telling you stuff!"

Pale brows knit together. Elsa echoes, "Stuff?"

"Yeah, stuff." Anna nods. "Bonding, you know? I still stand by that he's a jerk after everything you've told me – even though I do think he has dreamy eyes, but, you know I – Is that a pink car or is that just the sun in my eyes?"

"That's a pink car." Elsa confirms, blue eyes watching the cute thing zoom away.

"Oh, imagine if Lottie was behind the wheel, wouldn't that have been a hilarious coincidence and – Wait, what was I talking about again?"

"You misunderstanding Hans?" Elsa replies.

"Oh, right!" Anna smiles. "He's just trying to get to know you because he has no friends ... maybe? Mulan told you to give him a chance, right?"

Elsa's eyebrows scrunch together. "She also told me to be careful."

"Mulan is very in the middle of things, isn't she?"

"She doesn't like picking sides. She dislikes anything conflicting."

"Ah, well, there's gotta be a peacemaker in your circle of friends. I know Punzie is when Ariel and I get into heated debates, like the other day about free will –"

"So Hans?" Elsa cuts in before they reach their destination and forget all about the current topic.

"Hmm? Oh, yes! So I was about to say, he's just trying to get to know you. It's normal. You just don't feel comfortable because he's a guy."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"It means what it means, you're shy, Elsa." Anna says and Elsa thinks, no, she's worse. But Anna talking over her thoughts help her bring herself out of it. Anna asks, "Remember that one time when Kristoff got drunk and got a cab to our house?"

"Yes?"

"I remember telling you to watch him while I went to fetch him some water. Then he started talking to you and you told me 'wow, Anna, Kristoff sure is talkative when he's drunk!' then I was like 'what are you on about? He always talks this amount'–" Anna says and Elsa doesn't know how Anna can do this; multitask well. Usually, it's overwhelming for Elsa. "– and it turns out you just didn't know it because you don't talk to Kristoff as much."

Elsa asks Anna, "Your point being?"

"You're not used to it, talking to guys, that is."

The car lurching forward the grocery parking lot and Anna's quick throw of 'sorry!' hides the blush crawling up Elsa's cheeks.

"Look, Elsa, I'm not saying you're obligated to tell your boss things about yourself just because he tells you stuff. I also don't think you should let the rumours about him get to you, despite most of them being true, but he's opening up to you in some way." Some confusing way.

Elsa's eyes sweep over the large area. "I … I guess?"

"Right? But, I don't think you should over-think it." Anna advised, backing up into a parking spot. "Your internship expires soon, yeah? You have … what, less than a month left at the company?" Anna talks the entire time she parks. "So just, let him talk to you. Who knows? He might be really helpful in the future! Like polishing up your resume or offering a place at The Southern Isles after you graduate."

Uhh … "I'd rather not." What's she going to learn from him anyway?

"Understandable." Anna chimes. "He's a jerk face. Or, he could maybe offer a spot at another place? Can that happen? Is that how the business world works?"

Elsa doesn't answer, not knowing the answer too and Anna shrugs, unbuckling her seatbelt, then fumbling for her purse. Elsa takes this as a sign to get out of the car and start talking about something else until –

"So, here's the thing, I forgot my wallet."


The memory of Elsa staring at her feet burns into the back of Hans' mind. It's clear and crisp, like Autumn air. And Hans can't help but look down at Elsa's copy of The Book Thief, the very thing he denied, yet it's in his handsLike a sudden strike of inspiration, Hans starts remembering why he liked the book, the origin behind it, his favourite character that never did quite make it. Such a pity, he was such a nice man. Too good for the world, unlike him.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


viii


"Why are you holding your phone like that? Don't you have pockets?" Hans asks Elsa. There's this itch in his voice. His brows are raised and his strides are long.

They're walking somewhere. Someplace fancy probably, Elsa can't remember anymore, none of these expensive places has any significant meaning to her.

Gripping onto her phone, Elsa shrugs. She's trying not to let him get to her, she's tired of always being nervous around him; it's exhausting. Being around Hans is exhausting. He always asks too much from her. (Does he even know her mental state?) Hans is every introvert's nightmare; he drags her along to crowded places, makes her socialise without people she has little to no common interest with then lets silence stretch when she wishes for some noise.

Is this some sort of test? Because it feels like it. Elsa's pretty certain if she were to ask him that, he'd snap at her, say something along the lines of 'You're too old to be so shy' or 'You need to stand on your own two feet'. However, Elsa's pretty certain he knows she has horrible anxiety, the very idea of talking to an absolute stranger who would judge her makes her head spin dizzily and –

Has he ever heard of 'personal bubble space'? Because he's invading it; all the damn time.

"I do." Elsa answers shortly after they cross the road. "But my pockets are full. Purse on the right and keys left." She explains then thinks, Plus, you're the one who told me to get this dumb office skirt (though I'm the fool who bought it).

"You're going to get robbed if you just hold onto your phone like that." He says simply.

It makes her a little anxious until she realises if anyone's going to get robbed, it's him, dressed to the nines in his every day three piece suits.

"What do you suggest I do then?" Elsa asks but it sounds like a challenge.

For a moment she thinks he's going to say something like 'Let me hold your phone for you' until he lifts a shoulder nonchalantly and says, "Stuff it in your bra like most women."

Now, this should have been her cue to give him a look. Any look, disgust; horror; repulsion. But, Elsa doesn't think much of it. After getting used to girl pockets barely being a thing, Elsa's adapted to the circumstances. Plus, she's seen Anna and Lottie do it so many times that she's not even phased by it anymore.

But then half-way through the action, Elsa freezes and realises it's really awkward to just stick her hand in her shirt in front of her boss.

"Um, maybe not." Elsa backpaddles and looks to Hans like she wishes to embarrass herself further by seeing how he would react to her hiccup.

She knows she's been stared at a lot of time, mostly because people think she's too timid for her own good, but usually when she stares back after catching any wandering eyes, the other person would look away immediately. Like a defence or a deflect or a sign of embarrassment. But the thing she notices with Hans is that; he never looks away. He's always looking. And she wants to ask him about it. She's about to.

Until his serious gaze turns and Hans begins snorting. A wide grin stretches on his freckled face like he finds it funny how flushed she is. He's breaking out into laughter in the middle of the sidewalk like a maniac. This jerk has been toying with her for ages. The birthday backstory incident probably isn't the first, however, Elsa doesn't want to recall any of the other instances now. The ice-cream without a spoon was another thing. He's just out to make her uncomfortable.

"Stop laughing," She stutters, holding her phone in front of her chest now.

"I'm teasing you." He answers back, wiping away a tear from his eye.

"No, you're making fun of me." Elsa replies knowingly. "Stop."

"What if I don't? What will you do about it?"

Does she really have to resort to threatening him to make him realise some error in his actions? She thinks for a moment, then says to him, "Stop or I'll take my book back."

Hans stops immediately. "I haven't even gotten a chance to read it yet."

"You've read it before."

"Elsa." Ugh, she hates it how easily her name rolls off his tongue like that.

Her eyebrows knit together. "It's been a week." Elsa reasons.

"I've got a lot on my hands." He reasons back then there's a shift in the air. Just like that. Like a snap of a finger. "You're really hard to warm up to, you know that, Elsa?" He changes the topic.

She only stares at him funny because she never really wanted to be closer to him. Hans is good with words and getting away with what he wants, but Elsa still finds his lingering gaze and random touches on spots like her shoulder and elbow uncomfortable (though she will admit she misses the heat).

Regardless, she's on defence mode now. She knows she can be difficult, her neurotic tendencies tends to do that to her, but she's not always wound up tightly or on edge. Just often. Nonetheless, she really does want him to explain; she doesn't like being kept in the dark like this.

Elsa feels herself frowning. "And what about you?" She asks him.

"What about me?" He asks back. They're just going in circles, aren't they?

"You're always just staring at me. And when I catch you, you don't look away and tell me 'I'm just looking',"

"Is it bad that I like looking at you?" He tells her smoothly.

Don't make me hurl. Elsa thinks as she rolls her eyes. "It is if you don't give me a reason. It's like you're studying me." Like some science lab rat.

"I'm just looking."

Ah, there it is. That repeated excuse. Nobody just stares at somebody without a reason. There's always intent. Especially if it happens more than once.

"But why?" Elsa asks. God, she needs to stop with the questions. He hates this part of her, doesn't he? "Why are you 'just looking'?" Why? Why me?

His jaw set and she almost swore he swallowed back the answer of 'I don't know'.

Then she emphasizes, "What are you looking for?"

His face twists. "What am I looking for?"

Elsa echoes, "Yes, what are you looking for? What is it? Because you look a little lost to me." Like a sailor lost at sea. And I am not something you can navigate with.

"Lost? I – I'm not –" He stumbles like he's offended she'd say such a thing. He's looking but is he going to do something about it?

She waits, and he doesn't.

And now he's gotten a little moody about it. This isn't a fight but it isn't a debate either. It was some weird argument.

"I'm working on it." Hans grounds like he hates that he's behind.

"On what?" She asks, prodding for an answer.

He doesn't say. He doesn't give her anything. Just silence. And Elsa doesn't tell him, 'You're impossible.'

But this is normal, isn't it? To them, at least? They're always picking and prodding and asking of one another. Elsa often feels that Hans is insufferable, and he thinks she's ...? She doesn't know what he thinks of her. He doesn't tell her. She just doesn't understand why he even stays close to her. Why he likes looking, likes watching and drinking up her every movement.


"Elsa."

"Oh!" The said blonde jumps, almost spilling her tea all over the break room's floor. Elsa lurches sideways, pulling away from Lottie as a new voice enters the conversation.

She's falling!

Lottie's concern hands shoot out to steady Elsa while a hand does the same, a reflex. But she doesn't make it.

He beats her to the punch, Hans gets there first.

"Jesus, Hans, you scared me." Elsa hisses when she realises who it is, teacup teetering dangerously and ready to stain.

"You're too jumpy." Is all he says. And the minute his hand touches Elsa's waist and she doesn't pull away, he knew that she would never be the first to leave his side.

.

.

.

(And Lottie notices this too)

.

.

.

"So if we follow this spreadsheet, things should go as plan." Elsa points out, blinking and moving her desktop for Hans to see.

"You think so?"

"Maybe." If you stick to it. Elsa chews on the bottom of her lips. "Uh, what do you think?"

"Hmm," Hans hums and moves closer. Uncomfortably close, with one hand on the back of her chair while the other at the edge of her desk.

He's boxing her in. Elsa feels squeezed in. Actually, she feels a little confined. Trapped even. His face hovering just over her right shoulder (and if she were to turn her head suddenly, she might accidentally land a kiss his cheek). So she leans to the left instead and adjusts herself in her seat.

A part of Elsa even wanted to clear her throat, but she never manages too, because someone else does.

"Elsa? Sugar?" A familiar voice sounds, calling Elsa precious nicknames.

Both Elsa and Hans turns towards the voice.

"Oh, Lottie. Hi." Elsa answers back, and there stands the Southern blonde.

"Hiyya, sweet-pea." Lottie says to her friend.

Elsa's blue eyes immediately flits to the stack of paper is clutched between Lottie's dainty hands. It's hard not to when the Southern belle's striking manicure stands out against the plain white paper. Lottie must have returned from a printing errand. And judging by the jagged format of the print, Elsa guesses Lottie didn't manage to solve the 'slow as molasses' issue.

Then without missing a beat, Lottie addresses Hans, looking him straight in the eyes. "Hello, Mister Westergaard." Her pink lips spread into a cheery smile. The gesture isn't as sugary sweet as it normally is though, instead it looked reserved and maybe even guarded.

Hans straightens his bent position and stands tall, hands moving behind his back, hiding them. "Miss La Bouff." He tips his chin at her, a tight grin is exchanged.

"I hope I'm not botherin' y'all or anythin'," Lottie says, wrinkling her button nose.

"Not at all." Hans answers, spine still straight as a pole. Such a forced, robotic reply.

"Is that so?" There was doubt in Lottie's voice.

Then there's this shift. And Elsa caught the look behind Hans' emerald eyes, the small twitch, the sharp inhale. It was all calculative.

At first, Elsa figures it has something to do with the name. It must have been the way Lottie had addressed Hans, 'Mister Westergaard', since Elsa remembers how Hans hates when people address him formally. But then she sees past that ignorance. Sees that Hans wasn't all that pleased being in close-proximity with her friend, Charlotte La Bouff. He didn't like her. He didn't like her questioning his motives and authority.

Something about the conversation didn't sit right with Elsa. And she couldn't help but let her gaze flit between the two.

"That's great then, isn't it?" Lottie carries on the talk with ease, inserting a rhetorical question. "I wouldn't want to be a bother." Then she turns and looks directly at Elsa while still addressing Hans, "I just wanted to ask Elsa if she wanted to have lunch together." Lottie continues. She presses her printed paper closer to her chest as she claps her hands together like a prayer. Her baby pink nail polish stood out even more at such a gesture.

Hans doesn't answer, only humming in response.

Then they're both looking at Elsa for an answer. The timid blonde should have felt uncomfortable at the sudden spotlight. But unknowing, Elsa had answered the question by looking at Hans as if asking 'Do we have any lunch plans today?'

This earned a raised eyebrow from Lottie. "Tia and I are lookin' forward to eatin' with you again, hun. It feels like forever since we've last had lunch with you." Lottie even bats her eyelashes for effect, silently pleading.

Elsa doesn't answer immediately, still unaware that she had subconsciously turned to Hans for a response. It laid undetected to her but Hans noticed it.

He licks his lips, feeling the pressure of Lottie's blue eyes now on him. She's caught on too. "You should go." Hans replies after a moment.

The expression on Elsa's face twist. Easily readable to 'I should?'

Hans continues, "I'll be busy."

"You will?" Elsa asks. She's still unconvinced and confused.

"I have a few things to attend." He clips shortly. His face hardens and Elsa did not want to cross him.

Lottie shifts slightly, reminding her blonde friend of her presence but Elsa doesn't acknowledge it. Instead, she blinks and utters an unsure, "O – Oh, okay."

And with that, Hans leaves without further discussion, hands still behind his back. Blue eyes never leave the outline of the wrinkle of his back. And those eyes did not belong to Elsa.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


ix


To understand a person like Johansen (Hans) Westergaard is not easy. He is not easy to read, easy to pick apart or easy to sort out into a box. Figuring him out would take time; perhaps years, because days and weeks and months are not enough time.

Everything Hans says is a thing of coloured speech; vibrant and matching. Every word, every sentence, every phrase he says is rehearsed, plucked out from the many files in his head – all organised, labelled and colour-coded for convenience. Lottie will not say she understands this man entirely, but picks up on this specific factor fast because, for as long as she remembers, she's been around businessmen all her life. She knows how they act, how they speak and how they think. The only thing is; her friend doesn't.

"Now, sugar," Lottie says, standing over a sink, staring into the tiny mirror in the women's' bathroom. For the first time in forever, Lottie is not yelling or shouting or exclaiming her words, instead, it lays soft and hushed. "First off, I'm sorry that I have to drag you off to some corner like this. It feels almost silly. But I have to talk to you in private without Tia or anyone else in our business so I appreciate that you're doin' this."

"It's – It's fine." Elsa answers back, feeling herself blush. Lottie's such a sweet person, thanking her like this. It's such a simple gesture but it means so much for someone like Elsa who's got issues to sort out.

Elsa's blue gaze flickers between her reflection and Lottie's. The mirror, that tiny thing that Elsa thinks couldn't possibly fit Lottie's big personality, shows the too many gaps in her reflection.

"What did you want to tell me?" Elsa asks, standing just a little to the side.

Lottie doesn't turn to face the other blonde. She stands still and tall. A look of consideration crosses her face. "Darlin' –" She says. "– you need to be careful." Lottie touches the side of her mouth where lipstick never, ever bleeds.

"What?" Is that a threat?

"It's about Mister Westergaard." Oh, so it's not a threat, it's a warning.

"Hans?"

Lottie nods. The bathroom no longer feels like four corners of a safe place. Elsa starts wringing her hands together.

"Elsa, honey … I've heard things about him. Bad things."

"Bad things?" Elsa echoes just as Lottie turns to face her friend. "You mean the office rumours?"

"… Yes and no." Lottie shifts. "I know Mister Westergaard is one of our bosses, and I know you're shadowin' him which makes things difficult, but, you need to pull away from him."

What?

"Mister Westergaard is very ... commanding, isn't he?" Lottie asks, lovely face plucked with concern.

This time, Elsa finds herself nodding. She watches her own reflection crumble and flash with a stricken expression.

"He's tellin' you to do things and you aren't even questionin' it." Lottie continues.

That's ...

That's not completely wrong. They're talking about the same man who told Elsa to stick her phone in her boob and she almost complied without much thought. She's so used to him telling her what to do that she barely considers his demands anymore. Honestly, Elsa doesn't know if it's a bad thing or not.

Nevertheless, it's not like Elsa follows Hans' 'advice' down to the T, it's just … he's always looking so put together with his suit; polished shoes; fingers decorated with silver rings and a glimmering emerald stone. It makes Elsa feel underdress, feel the want to strive (even if she argues about it most of the time).

"You used to be so cautious." Lottie admits, face still looking worried. "You used to ask a lot before you did anything. But now … it's lookin' like you don't even think before you leap. That's dangerous."

Yes, but. Elsa can't help but think. Over-thinking is bad too.

As strange as it sounds, Hans straightens her thoughts when her toxic mind tells her to over-evaluate everything. She knows it's bad to not mull over consequences but … maybe it's best that she shouldn't be alone with her thoughts?

"I still ask questions." Elsa says, her voice low.

"You do, sweet-pea, but not as much. You're awfully quiet now. I'm just scared you're not bein' yourself."

Well, Elsa doesn't like herself all that much.

But, because Elsa was … well, Elsa, she asks. Because she needed to understand, needed to know. "Can you tell me more, Lottie? How did you even hear about these 'things'? There rumours?" Elsa says, swallowing her anxiety.

The pinched expression on Lottie's face tells Elsa she may be asking too much.

But, there's this one thing Elsa likes about Lottie above everything else in the Southern bells' pink, girly character. Admires, even. And that is: Lottie finishes her sentences. It may sound silly but ... Elsa admires how Lottie says everything that's on her mind. Even when the conversation is leading to another. Lottie doesn't trail off when someone talks over her, not letting her words go or get forgotten, never letter her opinion get drown out. She'll say it, even if there's an air that says 'this topic has been going on for too long' or 'we're moving on to the next big thing' or 'why are you still talking about this?' Lottie doesn't let her words hang unfinished, she's brave.

"I don't know if we're talkin' about the things. I don't regard the things I heard as rumours. I'm not sayin' you're wrong; you say 'potato' and I say 'potato' but, um, since you're curious, I heard them through Big Daddy." Lottie answers.

Elsa blinks. "Who's that?"

"Oh, that's my daddy, Eli La Bouff." Lottie starts explaining. "Big Daddy's well-known. He's a gentleman with connections and knowledge about the higher up folks. The La Bluffs are not a small family name. We're not as well-known as the Westergaards, but our name still means somethin' and because of that … I've caught wind of these … 'rumours'." Lottie says though she didn't sound comfortable in saying the word 'rumours', it sounded fake to her.

"O – Oh." Elsa mutters. There's this pause like Elsa is considering. She's almost scared to ask. "Is there more I should know?" More about Hans?

"Ah, I – I shouldn't say any more, darlin'. I've already said too much, I wouldn't want you to think ill of Mister Westergaard. Just because I don't think of him as the bee's knees, doesn't mean I want you to think of him the same way." Lottie answers, voice still serious, "But, just know, he's an ambitious one. Too ambitious, if you ask me, and I'm afraid he might dry you out, doll. He's working you too hard."

Working her too hard? Shouldn't it be the other way around since Lottie's the one in the office; typing out Word Documents, sorting out files and editing?

"So you think I should avoid Hans?" Elsa asks, wringing her hands once again. She doesn't break eye contact with Lottie.

"Not avoid, per se. You can't really with him flutterin' over you. Maybe you could say somethin'? Mean business when you say you want some space to yourself? Build a gap. Whatever you two have …" It ain't healthy. "… I want you to be careful."

A feeling sinks to Elsa's stomach then stays there like a rock. "I …" I don't know if he'll let me go.

Reaching out, Lottie pats on Elsa's hand. "I know I may be askin' too much. You don't have to do it now but, at least, think about it."

Elsa pauses for a second, doing just that – thinking. Then she answers, "Okay."

"Good. That's good." Lottie offers a reassuring smile.

Elsa gnaws on her lower lip, looking down at Lottie's hand still on hers. And Lottie reads the mood.

"Let's – Let's not dwell on this too much, huh, hun? Let's put this aside for now." Lottie tells Elsa, trying to lighten the mood. "Come, let's go have lunch together. Tia and I miss you." And when Elsa's gaze shifts with uncertainty, Lottie says, "Just tell Mister Westergaard how you want some girl time, he won't completely understand but he won't cross you either." Lottie says and Elsa suspects a part of the Southern belle leaves out, 'Especially if I'm involved'.

"I … I'll see if he says anything." Was the only response Elsa gave. Her blue eyes watches her reflection in the mirror follow, mouth moving, lips quivering.


And then she waits. Wait and twiddle her thumbs and thinks of every excuse in the book to not be around Hans when he pounces.

But he never does.

She was intending to avoid him.

But he ends up avoiding her.

He never even comes for her.

.

.

.

(Oh, how the tables have turned)


The first few days were eventful; with Lottie and Tiana telling Elsa about the office gossip she missed while being preoccupied with Hans. It was nice catching up and feeling like she was part of a group again (instead of a sidekick) but then it got a little ... what's the word ... mundane? Elsa almost forgot how boring and slow work can get. No wonder Mulan started filling out Buzzfeed quizzes during her last few weeks into the internship.

(Also, is this why Lottie was concern about Elsa working 'too hard'?)

Elsa missed the small freedoms she had outside the building; even if Hans' idea of fun was strange. She missed the big open spaced park Hans would sometimes drag her too when he thought his workspace was too stuffy. Even if no words were exchanged, nothing but a simple walk. It was nice, just strolling without purpose. She missed the blooming flowers, trees growing, the scent of life and the glaring sun against their backs.

(She missed the moments but isn't sure if she misses him in general)

But she remembers. Oh, does she remember. Memories can be so bittersweet sometimes (it almost feels like he's suddenly dead to her and she can't help but reflect on the nostalgia).

She remembers him telling her a story about himself again (sometimes he's really self-absorbed. He needs to deflate that ego of his). And she remembers looking up. Remembers the exact moment she looked up, because the sun had been filtering through his flaming red hair and bringing out his freckles. He was taking so freely like nothing had ever tainted his soul and he wasn't afraid to get his shoes dirty by walking off the pathway. It was so different from the Hans she knew (and she liked it more than she would ever admit or say aloud).

He was wearing sunglasses because the Summer sun had been so strong that day and Elsa really wanted him to take those ridiculous things off. At that moment, she wanted to see those emerald eyes, wanted to see if she could see him sneaking glances at her just as she was with him. She honest to God wanted to lift her shy gaze from her feet to his face, wanted him to look her in the eyes, wanted to exchange a glance. She's slowly getting used to this eye contact thing, Mulan would be proud of her.

But, on the other hand, Elsa's thinking – what's wrong with her? When Hans couldn't keep more than ten feet away from her, all she wanted was for him to get away from her. They couldn't go a day without some conflict of interest but that didn't mean she hated him entirely, he was just irritable at times. And now that he's missing in action, she sort of misses his shenanigans.

(Oh, maybe she does miss him in general)

Stupid! Elsa scolds herself.

Now that Elsa's thinking about it, she even misses his 'sense of humour' which was never all that funny to begin with. All his tales were always so cruel and involving his family's upbringing, it made Elsa's years isolation and ignorance of Anna feel like nothing.

("When I was six, my brothers managed to convince me that the staff found me in the clearance section and took me home." Elsa remembers Hans telling her once. "In a way, my brothers were trying to tell me I wasn't worth much and the only reason my parents 'kept me around' was because I couldn't have made any significant loss even if I tried."

Then he laughed but she didn't. No. Only a single thought had entered her mind, and that was, Wow, the Westergaard family really centres around money.

"Um, my sister was convinced she was kissed by a troll as a child." She had told him.

"Trolls don't exist."

"Aren't you familiar with Denmark fables? Didn't you grow up with fairy tales?"

"Funnily enough, I wasn't entirely a spoiled brat growing up. I was deprived of some things, a lack of bedtime stories included.")

The sound of food unwrapping brings Elsa back to her senses. Back to the girly lunches and chattering and office break room.

"Travis has been askin' for a date, I keep tellin' him 'later' but what I really mean is 'never ever'. Why doesn't he understand my disinterest?" Lottie asks, biting into her lunch, then she sighs.

Tiana begins smiling and her busy hands stop peeling the tangerines laid across a napkin. "Just tell him, Lottie."

"I have!" Lottie exasperates, waving her arms around like her energetic-self.

"Tell him those exact words."

"You mean 'never ever'? I wouldn't wanna crush his heart, Tia." Lottie reasons.

"Hmm, well, you're sort of givin' him false hope by draggin' the possibility of this 'date'," Tiana answers then says, "Right, Elsa?"

"What? Uh, y – yeah." Elsa answers, she wasn't exactly listening.

"Elsa, are you okay?" Tiana asks, she passes half her tangerines to Elsa. Tiana's solution to almost any crisis is good food.

The blonde subconsciously took it without question. "I – I'm fine." Elsa mutters and eats a small piece of the fruit. She's really got to stop eating other people's food. "I'm just …" Her eyes flit to Lottie who looked worried. "… thinking. You know how much of a space head I am."

"You do think a lot." Tiana admits.

"Uh-huh." Elsa offers a slow spreading smile. She knows it's not enough to dismiss her behaviour completely so she says, "So … about this Travis guy? What's going on?"

And the conversation falls back to its dull moments.


After another tedious half-Saturday, Elsa arrives home to finds her sister sitting in the dining room, eating biscuits dunked in hot chocolate. Judging by the faces Anna was making, the strawberry blonde's getting frustrated at today's game of Sudoku.

"Tough time?" Elsa asks, picking up a biscuit and drinking it in Anna's drink. She'll make her own cup soon.

"The newspaper says it's easy but it's not. I keep crossing the numbers off." Anna replies, a frown pressed on her lips before her turquoise eyes slide up to meet Elsa's face. "How was work?"

"Well," Elsa says slowly, chewing as she takes a seat. "I'm no longer getting paid to sit at cafes and critique people."

"Haha, doesn't that sound like a dream? But, hey, at least, you were paid."

"Internships are more for experiences."

"Hmm, so what have you been up to if not critiquing people's venti soy lattes? Dreamy boss drag you somewhere else?" Anna asks, handing over her pen to Elsa. She's had enough of Sudoku for today.

Elsa turns the newspaper towards her and starts reading the hints for the crossword puzzle before answering, "I haven't gone anywhere with him."

"What? Did his feet fall off? Car get towed? By the way you described your boss, it makes him sound like he hates The Southern Isles and wants to do everything in his power to get away from it." Anna exasperates, now sipping her drink.

"I haven't seen him actually." Elsa says. She fills out two words quickly. "Hans hasn't stepped into the office for days now. It's like he disappeared."

Anna's turquoise eyes blink back in response. She puts down her cup. "Can he do that?"

"He's the boss. He can do whatever he wants, it's his money, it's his building." Elsa answers, trying to shrug nonchalantly.

"Isn't it like a joint ownership or something? What about his brothers? He has – what – a baker's dozen? Twice as much as Ariel's older siblings. Don't they care about him? I know Ariel's siblings would."

A pinch expression paints Elsa's face. "How should I know?" She says when what she really wants to say is 'not really'.

"I forgot how irritating you thought he was."

"Hmm," Elsa hums. She did voice her displeasure to Anna. All the places Hans took her didn't add up. None of the locations made zero sense aside from it being populated and filled with folks who were willing to throw around their money for aesthetics' sake. Social media does weird things to people.

"Well," Anna leans against her chair and blows a raspberry. "At least, you won't feel like you're wasting your time anymore. You can finally gain that experience you want by doing office-y things like … reading e-mails and printing?"

Elsa gives her younger sister a strange look in which Anna just picks up her mug and drains it.

Anna says, "Meh, it's better than discussing pretentious theories with your boss for hours on end."

"I suppose." Elsa answers and taps the pen against a spot on the newspaper. She can't find the right word.

"I'm going out with Ariel and Punzie tonight." Anna says, filling Elsa on her plans for the day in case her sister asks about her whereabouts.

"What time will you be back?"

Anna lifts a shoulder. "Uh, before midnight hopefully? I might sleepover if I'm really tired. I'll text you."

"Okay." Elsa only sighs but doesn't object. Anna's old enough to make her own decisions.

"I've also told Kai and Gerda that they can go home early, I hope you don't mind." Anna adds.

"It's fine. I'll just have a quiet night in." Elsa replies, already thinking of what to do. It's either a cross of watching something on Netflix or reading the growing piles of books she hasn't gotten to or maybe even drawing.

"Why don't you hang out with your own friends?" Anna suggests instead, tilting her head.

"I saw Tiana and Lottie less than an hour ago. There's really not much to catch up from that."

"What about Mulan? You haven't seen her in forever."

"I think Mulan's still on vacation with her parents and grandma. They're visiting their relatives in China, remember?"

"Oh yeah, I forgot about that." Anna says, then stands up with her mug and walks to the kitchen. "Do you want me to make hot chocolate for you while I'm in here?"

"Yes, please." Elsa answers though there's a frown pressed against her mouth. She stares at the crossword puzzle. Ah, she still can't find the word.


It's a quiet night alright.

So quiet that Elsa swears she can hear a pin drop. So when she hears the sound of gravel crunching in her driveway, she's a little alarmed. Anna has made it a habit to text her big sister moments before coming home. Even if the strawberry blonde's phone had died, Rapunzel and Ariel had Elsa's number. And Kai and Gerda would give Elsa a ring too. So who –?

Then Elsa pulls back her curtains, looks past the childish snowflake stickers on her window, and sees his face.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


x


She opens her door to him.

.

.

.

Finding her slipper-clad feet thundering down her stairs, Elsa resists the urge crawling up her throat, the one telling her to yell at her boss's face. Elsa throws the front door open with a great force; like a raging blizzard is pushing behind the damn thing. The warm Summer night air hits her as soon as she steps out. She pays no mind to the heat, she's too busy glaring icily at the bright red car and its owner.

For a moment, she wishes it was a dream until she blinks and realises it's all too real. He's right there alright, behind glass and grinning at her with this stupid smug look and – Is he freaking waving at her?

Well, she's not going to wave back!

With her back as straight as a pole, Elsa walks towards him and Hans rolls down his window like he's afraid she might beat him to a pulp for the stunt he pulled.

The first things that comes out of her mouth is a question, which is not a surprise. Nonetheless, it should have been something furious like 'What the hell?' or demanding like 'What are you doing here?' or just anything accusing in general, but it isn't. Instead, she asks "Where have you been?!" like she's been expecting him to come back all along.

This should have infuriated her. It should have felt like some cosmic joke or some kind of backfire from giving her address to him when he offered to pick her up to go to the sea, but it doesn't feel like any of those things.

"Where have you been?" She repeats again once she's closer, hissing loudly.

He looks her up and down, and she doesn't even care that she looks nothing but comfy (and angry) – with a deep coloured purple robe thrown over her blue pyjamas; her arms are crossed against her chest and a scowl etched on her beautiful face.

Through his now open car door, Hans says nonchalantly, "I told you, I was busy."

"And you couldn't tell me in your spare time?" Elsa asks, still standing a foot away. She peers at him. From where she was standing, the angles are all strange with Elsa being the one standing taller and regal-like, her robe resembled a cape fit for a Queen; all swishy and elegant, while Hans is squished and compacted into his car. She notes how his clever hands never leave the steering wheel. Well, isn't he determined to go somewhere?

"What? Were you worried about me?" He teases her.

She only sulks in reply, not in the mood to answer him.

It clearly shows because his proud smirk softens by a bit. He tells her, "I didn't have time to say anything. I was away but I read your book when I was free."

Is that supposed to make up for his absence? A subtle way of saying 'I never called but I was thinking of you'.

Elsa stays quiet until her arms uncross, her silent tantrum is over. Then she says, "I haven't seen you all week."

"I had a deadline to meet." He explains but it's not enough. He looks like he's swallowed a lemon as these words tumble out of his mouth. The way he says it tells her 'You don't want to hear about it' then there's a pause.

Elsa plays with her hands for a moment, a habit that feels long forgotten. She hasn't really fiddled with anything since Hans told her to stop wearing her lanyard, he said it made her look ridiculous but it's his company policy and she's the one with barely functional pockets, remember?

This 'deadline', she knows it's a bitter thing to talk about, but it piques her interest. "Did you?" She says after a moment.

His fingers tap against the steering wheel. "Did I what?"

"Did you meet the deadline." She repeats. "Is that why you're here? To tell me your good fortune?" Because you have no friends to tell or anyone else to share this with? "Are you celebrating?"

Hans looks at Elsa in the eyes, emerald green still as bright as ever. It's a holding gaze. It takes Elsa a moment, in the darkness of her driveway, before she notices how Hans is only dressed in jeans and a simple green shirt. Wait, where's the three piece suit? Okay, what's going on? She's already raising a brow, about to ask.

Then the redhead man barks out a laugh at her question; strong and humourless. "Did I meet it? Ha! I haven't been able to meet any of my deadlines in months. Honestly, I don't even know why I try."

What?

"But, I suppose it's the least I could do." He continues, just making Elsa even more confused.

Again, what?

"Considering how …" Hans paused, thinking. "Lars asked me to help. He's one of my favourite persons, did I ever tell you that?"

Um, wait, what?

"You've hinted it." Elsa answers slowly. Her hands are now by her sides. She doesn't know what to do with them.

Hans hums, a content expression painted on his face. Then he sighs, "This deadline shouldn't have made any difference though, but it does." Then he corrects himself. "I mean, it did. But it's done now so who cares?"

What does that mean?

"Come!" Hans gesture to the shotgun seat of his car. "Let's celebrate my failure!" He says, oddly cheerful. He's probably accepted his faith.

Elsa gives him a strange look. "Is this … a pity party?"

"Ding, ding, ding! Get dressed, put on your dancing shoes!"

She starts shaking her head slowly, letting her blonde hair fall down her shoulders. Elsa tries making up some kind of excuse. This is sudden. "Y – You didn't even ask me if I was busy or – or doing anything."

"You're obviously not. I notice that all the lights in the house are out except the one in your room and your driveway is empty so I'm assuming you're home alone." Hans utters briefly then points to her outfit. "Plus, you're in your pyjamas."

Oh wow. He … He's not wrong but …

Needless to say, Elsa's not just going to say 'yes' just because she's 'free' tonight. She's not …

Her head's saying one thing and her heart's saying another. It's all so very confusing. Lottie's words are ringing in her ears like warning alarms. The same goes with Mulan's on the fence, ambiguous one. Elsa should really keep her distance. But she sort of misses him, not that Elsa would ever admit that out loud.

In an instant out of pure defence, Elsa almost wants to tell him to 'Go home, Hans, stop bothering me' but she knows it won't work because she knows him. She knows he came here for a reason and Hans can be stubborn when he wants something. Then Elsa tries to think of something else, maybe if she does something crazy like yell 'Go away! Leave me alone!' with everything that her young heart can manage then he would do just that, but she can't imagine herself doing anything crazy. The same goes with her screaming at him like a maniac to 'Get out!' because all he'd say is 'I'm not even in your house'. He'd just rebuttal her.

So Elsa settles with a lame, "I, I'm – I'm not going with you."

And as she pushes these words out, Lottie's words blare loudly in her brain again, making her head and skull hurt. Great. Just great. So much for a peaceful night.

"Well?" Elsa asks when she looks Hans in the eyes. "Go –" away? Just for tonight, go away. "– party or whatever without me." Sweat gathers at the back of her neck and Hans is … quiet?

His silence is almost scary, he chooses to only click his tongue at her response. The night echoes with sounds of crickets and owls and the hum of his running engine. She's avoiding him. It's clear that she is by the way she's hesitating. He's not stupid, he noticed and now he thinking of ways to pry her out of her shell (again).

Then he reaches over and pops open the glove department. Elsa catches sight of something white – a pair of white gloves. She can't believe someone like Hans even uses the glove department for actual gloves – before Hans pulls out her copy of The Book Thief. The brown cover barely stands out against the shadows and darkness of the night, unlike his bright red hair.

"Not even if I hold this as a hostage?" He asks, holding on the passenger's side, away from his open door.

You little –! She can't even finish that thought. He's driving her mad!

"Give me that; it was a gift!" Elsa extends her hand, face now flustered.

"I want something in exchange." He tells her, pulling his arm away further.

What is wrong with him? Elsa screams in her mind then yells out loud, "I lent that to you!"

"I don't care."

"Is this how – You're being childish!" She half tempted to march over and open the passenger seat, but a part of her is afraid he'd do something maddening like reverse out of her driveway once he's got her trapped in his car.

"Just for tonight." Hans says to her like he's asking for the moon. "For one night and one night only. Come out with me. I won't ask anything of you ever again."

'For one night and one night only'? What is this: a magical Cinderella night? Hans will never stop wanting more!

"I told you: I'm not going!" If she wasn't afraid of how expensive he is, she would be pulling him by the collar but she's pretty sure he'd sue her.

"Then I'm going to keep it if you don't come with me."

No! He can't! He can't!

This is not just a book, God damn it! That day; that day when he told her they were going to the sea, she had brought that book with her for a reason. She thought she could finally summon the courage to read it, to face some reality. But, she couldn't. So she gave it away for a little while because she was tired of staring at it on her bookshelf, but Hans can't just take it. He can't! It was –

"It was a gift! Give it back!" Elsa finds herself yelling before she can even register it. Now she's not afraid to show him what she can do with her hands. If she has to resort to extreme actions, she will. "Hans, I mean it!"

The expression she makes and the distress in her voice breaks him out of his taunting behaviour.

"Okay, okay, I'll give you back the book. I'll leave you alone, take it, I'm – I'm sorry. I just thought, I figured we could ..." Hans trails off, not finishing his words, and passing the paperback over.

She snatches the book out of his hands before he can do anything further. She doesn't even care if she reacted like a crazy person. He can't do that.

"You can't do that!" Elsa holds her book close to her heart like a shield.

"I said I'm sorry."

"I don't – I don't care if you are sorry! I don't want an apology from you!" She's never spoken to him like this. Never been this mad.

Usually, in a situation like this, he'd try to calm her down. Touch the inside of her wrist, pull her away from her thoughts but there's a storm going on in her head and Hans isn't sure if he's the right person anymore.

"Okay," Hans says slowly, raising his hands in surrender. "Okay, I'll leave."

"G – Good." Elsa stutters.

"I'll leave you alone and never talk to you again, alright?"

Wait, never? What about seeing him on Monday at work like a normal person? She doesn't want him to ignore her existence entirely. That's not what Elsa wanted. She just wanted some space to think. She just wanted some distance because he's always confusing her and she's a mess but she doesn't want him to disappear from her life all over again. She just wanted him to stop being a jerk, stop using her book as a hostage, stop everything.

She's so caught up in her head again that she doesn't hear Hans shutting the door close until her vision comes rushing back to her and Hans is halfway down her driveway, reversing back from where he came from.

"Wa – Wait!" Elsa finds herself gasping. Pathetic. She feels pathetic with her clinginess and indecisive attitude and stupid demons. She jogs after his car that's now on halt. He rolls down his windows. "Where did you say you were going again?" You just got here.

Hans looks at her like he's surprised that she's not pleased with him leaving. "I didn't. Um, I'm going to see my friends." He says to her, genuinely glad that's she's calmed down a bit.

It takes her a moment to process this information. "You have friends?"

A chuckle rumbling from his throat and digs deep into her ribs, she can feel it. He must have found it hilarious that she's reacting this way to his news.

"Yes." He laughs, not even hurt that she's implied that he's a lonely man with nothing but a large ego and money. "Would you like to meet them?"

With her book still acting like a shield, all Elsa can do is look at Hans.

"If you do," He suggests slowly like he's completely forgotten that she had shouted at him moments ago, then his green eyes land back on her clothes. "I suggest you have a quick change. Nothing too formal. Dress casual yet presentable." Oh great, he's already handing out fashion tips again. Back to their old ways.

"Do you always have to tell me what to you?" Ah, yes. Back to the question.

"People see what they want to see, Elsa."


"Do you want to meet them?"

.

.

.

Translation: I know you're scared but it's okay if we aren't completely alone, right? It's safe.

.

.

.

Yes, Hans Westergaard is her good with his words.


(The ponytail was something different.

The look still pulled her hair out of her face, still showed off her cheekbones and long neck, and still required minimum effort but it felt new. It wasn't her usual formal work bun or messy-beach-day-tucked-in-hoodie hair. It made her look playful and told the world how good she looked in it because he reaches over and cups her dainty chin, tilting her face in different angles.

He really does like looking at her.

(And she really wants to slap his hand away. Don't touch me –)

"Remember when I told you to change your hair?" He asks her, staring at her profile.

"Yes?" Irritation sinks into that single word. If he's going to tell her to change it, she will leave this car and tell him to go away.

"I take it back, you should keep your hair long, it suits you better." Hans tells her, offering more than a sideway glance. "You look good with a ponytail. You should do your hair like that more often."

She resists the urge to roll her eyes. The truth is: she never liked putting her hair in ponytails. It flops everywhere and tickles the back of her neck and slaps people by accident when she makes sharp turns. This compliment should have annoyed her.

But it doesn't.

And when he pulls his hand back and drags his wrist across the steering well, she just looks out the window and fights a smile.) 

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


xi


"Hold this." Is the first thing Hans says to Elsa as soon as they step out of Hans' flashy, red car.

Elsa doesn't even hesitate and grabs the handle. A sense of nostalgia washes over her, it feels like déjà vu with Hans asking Elsa to hold a pretty box containing an alcoholic cake. Except, this time, the bag is heavy. She holds it close to her chest with both hands, scared to drop it on the pavement and smash it into a billion pieces.

Her blue eyes watch Hans subconsciously reach out to tug his vest only to grasp air. He realises a little too late that he's not wearing his three piece suit. It's a small hiccup but it makes Hans almost seem human. Elsa still thinks it's so odd seeing Hans dress in something other than collared shirts, smartly fitted vests and slacks. It's different but not bad.

"So what's in here?" Elsa asks, referring to content she's cradling.

"Our ticket into that bus." He answers.

"… Bus?" Elsa looks up from trying to take a peek inside the bag. Are they travelling somewhere? She didn't sign up for this. She almost stops walking.

"Come." Hans says casually, one hand now on her lower back.

Hans guides her towards a bus that's lit up with crazy colours and booming with music. Near the door is a brunette man, distracted, face illuminated by his phone. A bouncer maybe? He's a little too lean to be so but …

"Um," Elsa chews on the bottom of her lip, her grip around the bag tightens.

"Relax." Hans says slightly into her ear then he yells "Flynn!" which makes Elsa flinch.

The man leaning against the side of the bus looks up from his phone then gaps at the two of them. "Well, look who finally decided to show up!" The brunette throws up his arms in greeting and pulls Hans away from Elsa, patting the redhead on the back. "How have you been, Hansy?"

"Awful." Hans answers.

"You're as depressing to hang out as ever." That was a joke.

All the while the conversation happens, Elsa just stands there, unable to move. Oh, welp, she guesses this is happening. Putting on a polite smile, Elsa waits for somebody to notice her and introduce one another. Well, she could do that herself but … she'd rather not.

"Elsa," Hans says while he beamed brightly. Hans is smiling! This is officially weird. "This is Flynn Rider." He gestures to the brunette. Up close, Elsa notes how Flynn has a goatee and mischievous brown eyes. "Flynn, this is Elsa."

Flynn finger-guns her hello.

"H – Hello, Flynn." Elsa would offer a wave if she wasn't still holding onto the heavy bag.

A glint shines behind Flynn's eyes as he looks at Elsa. "You can call me 'Eugene'. Unlike Hans, I actually like it when people call me by my real name."

Hans chuckles good-naturedly, bumping his fist against Eugene's (or Flynn's?) shoulder. "You didn't when you made that name up." The redhead says.

"I was seventeen! … Or was I eighteen? Somewhere there. I thought I needed a fresh start that wasn't college!" Eugene defends himself. "Plus, you've made some stupid choices too."

Elsa finds herself looking at Hans and his emerald eyes flit elsewhere. Does he feel … embarrassed?

Eugene continues, "Like those sideburns for example –"

"Shut up! I'm keeping them." Oh, Hans is definitely embarrassed!

"Is that the only thing you're keeping?" Eugene asks and there's a new glint in his brown eyes.

There's an insinuation that Elsa never got an answer to because Hans smoothly overlooks it like it's no big deal. "So, how's life on the road?" Hans asks instead.

"Oh, you know," Eugene says like he's talked about this a hundred times. "I feel like a hippie most of the time but we both know it's the life-style I wanted; travelling, fast food, not paying rent. I'm surprised you haven't followed me, the two of us never could stay in one place for too long, we get restless, that's why we're friends." Eugene explains, but it sounds more for Elsa's ears than just light story-telling.

"It's a rubbish life-style." Hans snorts.

Eugene points to Hans. "Hey, you wanted to live on a boat and sail around the world like one of the dad's from Mamma Mia!"

And suddenly Elsa recalls a somewhat-empty bedroom that Hans called his own. Specifically, the globe set at a corner. Elsa figures it wasn't so empty after all; there was something of sentimental value in his there.

"How is that dream any different from my bus?" Eugene's whining, pulling the blonde out of her thoughts.

Letting out a chuckle, Hans began laying down the facts, "Well, for one, it was a luxury yacht which is bigger and better than your tiny, second-hand bus –"

"Okay, I'm going to stop you right there because (a) no one talks smack about my bus and (b) I think you're only mocking my beautiful home because you're jealous." Eugene utters, crossing his arms across his chest.

Raising a brow, Hans asks, "Jealous? Of a smallsweaty bus?"

"Partly." Eugene says, earning a snort from Hans. Elsa only watches the exchange. "Mostly –" Eugene continues. "– you're jealous that my dreams are a reality while yours aren't."

And Hans' reaction was priceless.

Maybe the men had forgotten that Elsa was there but a small chortle escaping from the back of her throat brought their gaze to her.

"Sorry," She says, cupping her free hand over her mouth, but she has to admit, Eugene got Hans good. She doesn't understand the difference either, of how living on a boat was a more luxuries accommodation when living in a bus customised for the same life conditions to be in a hobo-ic manner. They're the same thing in terms of travelling.

Eugene shrugs, not even caring how Hans would react. "It's fine, Elsa. We'll catch up on my adventures some other day when my tales are appreciated." He says dramatically then turns to Hans.

Thankfully, Hans composed himself by the time the attention was back on him. Again he tried to straighten his vest and again, he failed, before Hans says to his dear old friend, "Don't make me take back my house warming gift, Ryder."

"Is it money?" Eugene asks which causes Elsa to make a face.

"Close." Hans replies like he had no qualms handing out stacks of notes. "It's two of your favourite things: luxury and alcohol."

"It's wine, isn't it?" Flynn guesses, contemplating on whether to Hans into his party after the redhead had insulted his home.

"Close. Champagne."

"Oh wow, I think I love you."

"No." Han's answer came as fast as a lightning strike.

"You didn't even consider my feels!" Eugene blanches, obviously kidding.

"Your what?"

"My feelings! We could be goals, Hansy! True love! I'll come up with a hashtag our forever name! All I ask for is more champagne."

"No. Just let me into your bus before I leave with my gift."

Eugene fakes hurt for a moment, even offering an expression that was probably a smoulder, before grabbing the bag from Elsa. He doesn't want Hans taking it back. "Oh well, this bottle alone is good enough, hop on board, friends!" Eugene waves his arm in a gesture for Hans and Elsa to follow him. With a pull, the door swings open and music immediately blasts Elsa in the face. "Let's party!"

Eugene only makes it two steps up before a woman, also a brunette, blocks the way. Elsa notes that she's pretty, with her long dark hair pulled into a high ponytail, Greek nose and sharp purple eyes.

"Sup, Johansen." She greets, eyeing Eugene who passes her without even looking. It seems Eugene is more preoccupied with hiding his expensive booze than talking.

Hans' face breaks out into another smile. That's two in a span of fifteen minutes. Wow.

Elsa says nothing while this exchange goes on. Truthfully, all Elsa can think currently is: Hans, you have friends? Actual friends? What the hell?

Elsa thinks there's a moment until Hans says "Nothing much, Megara" with the same playful tone he used with Eugene. It's clear that he's purposely teasing this 'Megara' person.

Megara breaks their lovely reunion with a sharp, "You know I hate it when people call me that. What happened to calling me 'Meg'?" She's correcting Hans and pulling a frown.

Hans' face remains the same, unconvinced and amused. "You started it."

Eugene comes back just in time to steer Megara (Meg?) away before Hans can say something more.

"Eugene, you need to ban Hans, he's being annoying. He'll kill the party!" Meg says, causing Hans to snort.

"No can do, sweetheart, Hans got us champagne." Eugene shakes his head.

"Oh, never mind then. Well done." Meg offers a slow clap.

Hans does a quick little bow just to humour them.

Elsa doesn't say a word while the trio talk. She feels in a strange cross between being ignored and messing with a dynamic. Like that person who has to walk alone behind the others on a crowded sidewalk.

"The champagne will be saved for later, I want you all to enjoy yourselves because I spend a good hour making my party's playlist and the night –! It isn't even young, it's premature!" Eugene guides Meg back up the steps by the shoulders all while being the voice of reason to Hans and Meg. "I don't want to see none of this anymore. That's enough, you two need to stop picking on each other. You're friends –" Hans doesn't even try to hide his eyeroll. "–and it's been years since the whole shenanigans, grow up, the both of you!" Eugene rants, now at the top of the steps with Meg, then adds, "So are you coming or not, Hansy?"

Hans lets out a little huff but regardless follows the two brunettes. He doesn't even throw a look behind to see if Elsa's following.

And suddenly Elsa feels small and almost invisible like that first day she followed him out the office doors.

Mag, however, has to have the last say because her head pops back into the scene as she calls, "Don't forget to bring your little girlfriend, Joe!" Is that another cutesy nickname for 'Johansen'?

Those purple eyes didn't leave Elsa and, if it was possible, Elsa's actually changed her mind! Shrinking into oblivion and becoming invisible doesn't sound so bad!

"Meg, I swear if you call me that again, I will kill you." Hans says, not phased.

"Sound lovely." Meg clicks her tongue. She's about to disappear around the corner when Hans grumbles something under his breath. It sounded like 'weak ankles' and Meg's head pops up yet again. She really wants to have the last say. "I dare you to say that to my face!"


It's 10 PM and the fact that Elsa's still dressed in jeans at this hour makes her feel like asking 'Is there any other bigger tragedy?' She should be in bed, dressed in her pyjamas and under layers of blankets, but instead, she's here, mingling. Eugene's dancing with Meg, they're singing along to Super Truper but it's the version sung by Meryl Streep. Hans has disappeared – again. It's something that seemed impossible given the size of the bus but he's out of sight and that's all Elsa can think about.

With her blue eyes glued to the sticky fold up dining table, Elsa tries not to panic among the bodies of people. She's left alone in a jam-packed space. God. Good God, what is she even doing here? Why did she agree to come? She feels so alienated.

Absent-mindedly, Elsa begins braiding her hair to do something. She starts thinking, starts blaming the situation on herself. Her fault for being awkward and bored out of her mind. Damn demons in her brain making her feel horrible about herself.

She's a logical person but it's so hard dealing with anxiety. It sucks.

Sure, okay, yes, it's true that she did get dressed and hopped into Hans' car. So it could be blameworthy on her but it could also be his fault. Was tonight even willing? … Maybe? But, she did all this for a reason, didn't she? Her night was so slow and quiet. And Elsa … secretly deep down to her toes did admit that she missed the small adventures Hans dragged her into. Yeah, maybe she did miss that part of her life but she's not –

She isn't that deprived of Hans to come all this way to a party where she knows nobody, right?

"I love this song!" Meg hollers, her voice yanks Elsa's gaze towards the brunette and her pretty purple dress. It matches her eyes. Meg points her microphone to Eugene who's really having a go at his solo.

Okay, not nobody. Elsa knows two people here but …

Great. Great. The only people Elsa's acquainted with just so happens to be the loudest people here. Elsa almost forgot the misery that came along with these adventures.

Closing her blue eyes in frustration, Elsa comes to a realisation that she is in fact that desperate. And also, she has to admit why she's succumbed to this desperation because she has missed Hans and she's willing to be here, dragged to this good awful death trap. What has this man done to her?

"JOE!" Meg yells.

And as if on cue, Eugene pulls a now visible Hans to his and Meg's side. Hans tries to shake Eugene's hold off him but it's difficult when the redhead's holding two drinks in his hands. It looks like the brunettes are trying to persuade Hans to sing with them. Even from a distance, Elsa hears bits of their enthusiastic shouts and pieces their conversations through words like "Sing with us!", "You suck!" and "Square up, ginger bitch!"

It seems like their whole friendship dynamic is mocking each other and pure sass.

At some point, Meg breaks out into hysterical laughter and must have tried to shove her microphone into Hans' full hands or something because a static sound echoes around the bus.

Elsa lifts her head higher to get a better view but it's hard considering the mass of people. What's going on? Honestly, Elsa does not understand the madness. But Elsa guesses Hans must have hit Meg back with the microphone or spilled one of the drinks of Meg's lovely purple dress because Eugene is suddenly a human shield and Hans is openly taunting at Meg's frustration. Is Hans even drunk as he does this or is this just the side Elsa's never seen?

Elsa is still staring and wondering when she sees Hans slip away from the chaos. Eugene is still holding Meg back and Hans is beaming at Elsa, hands now empty.

Elsa doesn't smile back. She freezes because of the way Hans is grinning. Hans is beaming at her the same way he does when he's near Eugene and Meg. It's a reflection of how happy he is when he's around his friends, when he speaks about Lars, when his mother calls. Hans has this sort of smile that told Elsa he was happy to see her. She doesn't know, something melted in her chest. It just –

It just felt really nice to have someone's first reaction of her to be a happy one, where the reason behind his smile is her; because he's glad she's there. And it occurs to Elsa how she doesn't even remember when Hans started smiling around her, let alone laugh openly, but it was nice.

That, however, doesn't stop her blue eyes from immediately yanking itself away.

.

.

.

She doesn't even realise she was smiling back until it's too late.

Something's changed lately. Elsa can't tell what. Can't put a finger on it. Maybe it was her? Maybe it's him? Hans has been … softer?

Acting soft, at least. More joking and open after her withdrawal (or his disappearance), that is. And although some part of Elsa knows why, the other doesn't. And she doesn't know if she wants to understand. Is he ... changing? Because Elsa doesn't think she's influenced Hans by the slightest. She thinks she's the least influential person ever.

.

.

.

Whatever it is, it's going to be a long night.


She's still trying to wrap her head around it.

It's a party but on a bus. Small enough for maybe twenty people to squeeze in and dance and drink and make out. And Elsa never imagines him – the Hans Westergaard – of all people, to be associated with people who are not elite, who carry themselves with this 'I don't give a fuck' attitude because everything about Hans is usually so calculated and restrictive and well thought of with zero errors.

The whole event feels like a private thing thrown for a tightly knit group of friends. And because of this, Elsa feels out of place. She's only here because Hans is. Because he's convinced her. Because he's good at that; good at using his words and coaxing her and pretending like he knows her better than anyone she knows.

And soon she finds herself downing a few drinks. Mixing with a flurry of people, mixing words and mixing drinks because she still hasn't moved past vodka and soda, and that's a little embarrassing.

She's drunk.

And how can Elsa not be after they had that drinking game? The one where everyone and anyone pretty much asks ever basic question available to get each other hammered.

"Never have I ever ..." Meg rolls her tongue, thinking for a moment. Her thick ponytail swishes as she looks around the room, purple eyes dilated. "... braided my hair."

A majority of the girls either groan or rolls their eyes, someone's getting blackout drunk, before taking a sip of their alcoholic beverage. From the corner of Elsa's eyes, she sees Hans act defeated then mimes taking a shot. She can't help but snort at his stupidity and catches him smirk at her for reacting to it. That little –! Who knew he could be funny?

Eugene did end up opening that champagne bottle. He pops it like he's in a music video, and soon everyone has a glass in their hand.

Elsa makes a face when she takes her first sip. Um –

"Doesn't taste as nice, does it?" Hans asking, suppressing himself from laughing in her face. The tables have turned yet again. This time, her reaction is priceless to him.

"No, it's awful." Elsa admits. Would it be rude of her to just hand it to someone else or chuck it away? It's expensive but –

"Just because something's worth a lot of money, doesn't mean it's good." Hans says. Is he referring to himself because it sounds like an accurate description? Elsa doesn't get an answer. Doesn't even get to ask because Hans picks up her glass and downs it without a second thought.

She just stares at him. Wow, Hans is really set on 'celebrating' now.

.

.

.

He has another drink and gets lost in a place he likes to call 'them'.


God.

God, Elsa's so drunk.

She's just sat there and can do nothing but stare at the people around her. New friends, maybe? Or just acquaintances. They're mainly Hans' friends and – and, he really knows some lively people; mostly sarcastic and sassy and no-bullshit. They're all dancing on every available surface possible; on tables and long sofas. It's funny though because some of them there are too tall and have to have their heads hunched over.

Ah, at least Elsa's settled down now. She's not as nervous as she was hours ago.

"Are you okay?" Hans asks, squeezing between three people. He hands over a cup to her.

Elsa slurs something at the table. Is the whole bus spinning or did moron decide to drive the damn thing in circles around the empty parking lot? Either way, she can't be bothered to answer so she just bobs her head then takes the cup from Hans, thinking it must be water.

"Great." He says. Hans takes this as an invited to nudge his way into her seat.

If she felt claustrophobic and compressed before, now she feels even more so, pressed between him and the window. But she doesn't tell him this.

Elsa only takes a sip of her new drink before wanting to spit it back out. It's bitter.

"It's gin and tonic." He tells her, right in her ear because of the closeness, and she realises she must have said that thought out loud thanks to her loose tongue.

"Why would you give me more alcohol? I thought this was water." Elsa holds cup moodily.

Alcohol makes her feel lazy. If the table wasn't so sticky she'd just plan herself and doze off. Her thoughts are flying all over the place. Thinking thinking thinking. What was Hans' logic, anyway? He asked if she was okay, it's only reasonable for a glass of water to be followed after, right? Why would he give her more of this crap –

"Well, aren't you a chatterbox, tonight?" Hans jokes. Oh, did she say that all out loud? "I gave you gin and tonic because I thought it'd be funny."

Of course.

The bright colourful lights are distorting her ability to tell what's what. But, annoyingly – Hans' bright red hair still stands out, still remains red. Elsa thinks, in this light, her blonde hair might look a hideous hue. Maybe toxic green?

"You're so mean." She reaches out and palms his face. "I don't want this." Elsa tells him, handing him back his drink, which he downs in one go, sipping at the exact place her lips had been seconds ago and –

She shouldn't –

"Oh my God." Elsa gaps. Something, a feeling, strikes her in the gut and she tries to palm Hans away further.

"What – ? Can you – Stop that." He tries to catch her hands. How is he so much better at acting sober while drunk? He drank so much more than her.

"No." Elsa pulls her hand back.

No. She will not be charmed by his face and his fancy champagne and – and his weirdly normal attire for tonight.

"You – "

She would knock her fists against the table but they're sticky and now she's paranoid and intoxication is a bitch. Why is she like this? She shouldn't like how she's watching Hans so closely. She shouldn't like how comfortable she feels around him, how his leg is casually pressed against hers, how she's just freely touching his face. This is so –

"Move." She says.

He blinks at her. "What?" She knows he's not saying this because of the loud music.

"Move." Elsa repeats. "I'm gonna – I, I need to sober up. I'm going … I'm going to get water." She slurs while trying to add some logic to her words for good measurements. This is bad.

She stands. And just when she thinks he won't – move, at least – because maybe, she thinks, he wants to keep her as a hostage and trap her in, he does. He does moves.

He stands by her side and waits for her to leave.

Elsa has this confused look for just a moment before it draws to her that Hans may think she's about to puke her guts out. So she takes this opportunity to get as far away from the seat next to the window and him.

But it doesn't work out.

It turns out the bus was indeed moving and the vehicle lurches, everybody falls sideways.

Hans finds himself falling into an empty seat while Elsa doubles over him, slightly hovering, face shoved between the crook of his neck. Her blue eyes widen and her breath hitches, and he ... he laughs, strong and true, hands already stretched out and grasping her shoulders to steady her.

Her face is burning red. An apology crawls up her throat, "I – I'm so –"

"You've definitely had too much to drink." Hans says to her, cutting her off and ignoring what just happened; her literally falling for him, the alcohol spilled on his expensive shoes. "Go get your water. When the bus stops, we'll get out of here and sit somewhere so you can sober up properly."


They don't make it far because they're stupidly drunk and can't even walk a straight line without looking at each other and bursting out into laughter like little children. They do, however, make it far enough for Eugene's blasting party music to sound like a faint hum.

Now that Elsa can see Hans walking, she knows damn well that he's is hammered. Elsa bets he's so drunk that he would make out with a bush for a dare. But then again, she's intoxicated too and might do something wild. She doesn't know what but there's always a possibility of something happening.

They end up sat on a curb and talk like there's something to say.

"I like The Southern Isles." Elsa ends up blurting out while nursing her fourth cup of water.

"You do?" Hans hums. He sounds genuinely surprised but too buzzed to emphasise on it.

Elsa nods. "It gets a little boring at times, but it makes me feel safe."

"Safe?"

"Safe." She nods a second time. It's the alcohol talking but damn does it feel good to not hold her tongue all the time. Elsa can't even remember the last time she spoke so freely without feeling afraid. "It's so formal and professional and … I mean … sometimes work is slow and you and your brothers are kind of mean for not giving Lottie that printer she wanted –"

"Well, we couldn't." Even when he's drunk, he speaks so formally.

"Whaaat?" She slurs. She bets she could reach into the pockets of his jeans and steal his wallet now. Probably wouldn't make it far enough to a store that sells fancy office printers but – Alcohol makes her funny. Look at her thinking of the people she cares about when drunk, she's probably going to end up like those people who send 2 AM 'I love you' texts to their friends. "It's not like the printer's just for Lottie, it's just for that certain floor of the office –"

"I know."

"– I'm not saying get everyone an individual printer, that's asking for too much, I, I know my limit, but I'm just saying – I'm saying – I'm rambling."

He blinks his dark lashes at her slowly. "Yes. Yes, you are."

"What was I talking about?" Elsa pats her knees for a moment, thinking. Where did her cup go? She spilt it on the ground. Oh God, the ground! It's spinning and she's not even standing up, she's sitting. This is a shit show. She hates this!

"Printers." Hans faintly recalls. He's drunk. She can tell by the way he rolls his head on her shoulder and by the pink painted on his cheekbones. His emerald eyes are dilated too, going in and out of focus.

"Why?" Elsa asks. And just like that, she forgets about Lottie and the Southern belle's warnings.

"Who knows?" Hans answers then lifts his heavy head from her shoulder.

He turns to her and Elsa blinks her blonde lashes back at him in return. He's looking her in the eyes, holding her gaze, guiding her like a lighthouse for lost sailors. Or maybe drawing her in to drown like a sweet siren.

Then he places a decorated hand under her chin as he did just hours ago.

"Oh, Elsa –" He says. He's still smiling but something doesn't feel right. "– if only –"

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


xii


She feels like she's wasting her time, but she also feels like she can't do anything but sit and wait. With her pretty blonde head in her pale hands and her world still spinning, Elsa waits.

Waits to do something.

Honestly – honestly – what is she even doing? Did she just waste a lovely night? For him? Because of him?

(Of course, she did)

Just when Elsa thinks she gets him – gets Hans – understands his preferred styles, designs and colour-coded schemes, Hans changes, like the seasons, like a chameleon; changing completely just to blend in. He's keeping her at arm's length, letting her see just a tiny peek through the door, not even a crack but a small keyhole. And she hates it.

Loathes this game while counting down the hours, minutes and seconds for Hans to call her and tell her to do something with her life. He's done everything up to this point, and she's just trailing behind. It's pathetic, she knows.

She's sick of following. She's sick of waiting.

"Hey, um, Elsa, right?" A familiar voice asks.

Elsa looks up from her shoes and the concrete road. Her head still feels heavy but not as heavy as before. Blinking, Elsa replies. "Yeah."

"Do you remember me? Do you remember my name?"

Elsa nods. "You're … Meg?"

"Yup. That's me." Meg smiles and takes a seat next to Elsa.

If the blonde wasn't so intoxicated, she would have avoided eye contact and started fiddling with her hands. But liquid courage is a thing and her anxiety can't get worse so why not just let it go?

Letting her head turn, Meg sweeps and scans the parking lot with her sharp purple eyes. The person she's looking for is missing. Even if it's dark, he shouldn't be that hard to spot. Where the hell is he?

"So," Meg says, making small talk as she combs a hand through her thick hair. "I don't mean to pry or anything, I usually hate to stick my nose in other people's business, but … what are you doing sitting here alone on the curb? It's kind of dangerous. Um, I mean, you're clearly intoxicated and I feel like someone should be looking after you. Where's your date?"

Elsa could barely catch all of that. Her mind's a little distorted. She only catches the last bit. "… My date?" Elsa echoes.

"Yeah, where is he?"

Elsa touches her temple, it's … She doesn't remember much except that she's drunk and everything felt sluggish. "I … I don't know who you're talking about. I'm just … I'm … I'm waiting." And she doesn't know why.

Mg sighs. This is going to be a difficult conversation. "Did he ask you to call him by that ridiculous name he made up himself?"

Elsa can only squint in confusion.

"I tell people all the time to call me 'Meg', I shouldn't be the one to judge but I'm judging – hard." Meg continues and when Elsa can't answer her question, the brunette starts trying to remind Elsa of their one mutual friend. "Y'know exactly who I'm talking about: the person you came here with."

All Meg gets in reply is a shake of the head.

"Doucheface? Unlucky thirteen? Ginger bitch?" Meg lists all these outrages nicknames, making Elsa even more confused. "Joe. It's Joe, I'm talking about Joe." Meg says and hopes Elsa doesn't confuse the person they're talking about with another person like celebrity Joe Jonas. Then Meg says his full name, "Johansen Westergaard!"

Elsa's face immediately drops. Oh. Hans.

"Remember him?" Meg asks. "Red hair, freckles, uh, I don't know, blue eyes?"

Elsa doesn't bother correcting the brunette on that. "I know him." Elsa says softly, hands now wrapped around her arms. She's starting to self-hug herself.

"Yeah, where is he? Where is that jerk?"

Something clogs in Elsa's throat. She has to push herself to answer. "... He left."

"You're telling me he just went home?"

"I don't know where he went." Elsa confesses.

Meg's face shifts, her mouth drops and her eyes snap wide. "What?" She says, softly at first but then she asks again in a louder tone, "What?! Elsa, are you joking?"

"Um, no, I'm – I'm not joking." Elsa shutters, feeling her anxiety churning. Oh, just when she thought it would leave her alone. "I'm just … I'm waiting for him to come back and get me –"

"Why are you waiting for him?" Meg snaps slightly, not at Elsa but at the missing redhead. "He left first, didn't he? He ditched you!" The weight and truth hits Elsa all at once. "I can't say that I'm surprised that he just up and left –" What? "– but I can't believe Joe did this! You're drunk and he just left you alone in an unfamiliar place with people you don't know!" There's a fire in Meg's heated words. "I don't even know you, Elsa, but I am furious for you, I will kill him. I promise you that I will murder him with my own two hands the next time I see him! I've been kidding around about calling him a jerk all this time but Joe's a real jerk now – He's –!"

Meg immediately stops when Elsa lets out a sniffle.

"Oh my God." The brunette whispers in horror. "Oh my God, are you crying? Please don't. Please, I – I don't know how to deal with human emotion. I hang out with douche-y guys for a reason, they're too proud to cry. Please, I'm sorry. Don't cry, Joe's not worth anyone's tears." Meg says, hands hovering awkwardly around Elsa's shoulders. "Get a grip, girl, it'll all be okay."

But Elsa only continues making wet sounds. "I'm sorry, Meg." Elsa croaks. Her voice stains with sadness.

"Oh, you have nothing to be sorry about." Meg answers, hands now awkwardly patting Elsa on the back. The caution in her action is like she's fearfully touching delicate glass. "How about I get you home, hm?"

"Home?"

"Yeah, home, doesn't that sound nice? Let's just get you home and into bed, you'll forget everything by tomorrow morning." Meg replies, stalling from the tears.

"How?" Elsa blinks her wet lashes then looks at Meg. "Your dress has no pockets."

Meg makes a face.

"I live far away and you can't walk me home." Elsa continues.

"Um, oh." The logic clicks. "It's true, I don't have any pockets, good observation for a drunk person. You're really smart." Meg praises, hoping it would lighten the mood. "I literally showed up to the party without even bringing my purse or phone because I don't trust my drunk self to keep any of those things but Eugene is the host of the party, remember?"

"Eugene?" Elsa sniffs.

"Yeah," Meg nods. "I'll tell him about our situation, he'll help us. Eugene can be responsible when the time calls for it. I would make him drive you home in his stupid bus house –" This earns a small smile from Elsa. People just can't stop mocking Eugene's life choice. "– but there are too many drunk people still inside so I think an Uber is the best option."

All Elsa can do is nod her head back. That makes sense.

"I'll make Eugene pay then I'll ride with you, okay?" Meg adds, giving a small smile to Elsa.

"You – You'll ride with me?"

"Yeah, I can't just leave a girl crying alone."

Elsa knows she's in a disastrous state but that doesn't stop her from feeling guilty. "Are you sure you want to leave the party?"

"It's late, I was heading home anyway. I may as well go with you." Meg reasons. "Just … don't cry, alright? Everything will be fine." Meg answers, voice suddenly amplified with some sense of determination to help Elsa.

"T – Thank you." Elsa dries her face with the swipe of her wrist. "I'm sorry for troubling you."

"It's no trouble at all." Meg answers, meaning it then helps Elsa to her feet as they head back to the bus to find Eugene and force him to fork over his money.


"Oh, Elsa, if only ..."

.

.

.

"If only you could have just hated The Southern Isles as much as I do."

.

.

.

"Don't come to work on Monday."


She spends the majority of Sunday in-between two emotions; crossed that Hans had left her stranded with people she didn't know – he was her ride, damn it – and worried.

Worried about herself, not him. Worried because what the hell is all this supposed to mean? Did Hans seriously just fire her? Did he bring her all the way to some party only to have a few drinks and work up the courage to fire her on the spot? It sounds ridiculous and cowardly!

She calls him the moment reality sunk in. She calls and he never picks up. It got her furious, blood boiling, she left several messages after that. Just the same thing over and over again – Call me. Pick up the phone! Answer me! And finally, Where are you?

Elsa begs him in her head, Just tell me something. Anything. Say it!

She wants an explanation but what was she going to do about it? Drive to his house and demand answers? Yes, she's been to the Westergaard Manor but only once! And, to be honest, she wasn't exactly paying all that attention to the directions on the accounts that she was having a mini-panic attack at the new sights and difference. Even if she did somehow work up the courage to go there, the Westergaard Manor isn't exactly an address anyone can find on the internet.

She's so frustrated! At herself and Hans! Why can't she just do something? You'd think she'd be used to stepping out of her personal bubble by now but no. No, she's not ready. She doesn't think she'll ever be ready because she'll always be a mess and an embarrassment and –

Stop. Don't panic. Control what you're feeling. She tells herself.

Elsa paces and over-thinks and tries to make sense of it all.

On one hand, Elsa thinks Hans was so out of it that he might not remember sacking her in the first place. She tells herself she should just show up to work like normal and pretend nothing happened. But, on the other hand, what if Hans did remember firing her after all? It would be very awkward for Elsa to walk into the office only to be sent back out later.

He won't pick up her call, he won't answer her texts, he won't give her anything. So by Monday morning, Elsa's still left in a muddle. She's up and dresses and eaten but ends up waiting – again. Waiting for him to call her. Waiting for him to explain himself. She waits an hour, then two.

.

.

.

She waits to do something.

.

.

.

And that's all she does until her phone rings.

.

.

.

But it's not from Hans. It's from Tiana.

Or, at least, Elsa thinks so until the voice on the other line booms loudly.

"Elsa, sugar, where are you?!" Lottie's voice rings out, proving that the call was on loud-speaker. "Are you still in the buildin'?!" What? 'Still'? What's that supposed to mean? "I can't find you!"

"Find me? What's wrong? I'm fine." Elsa replies, confused. What's going on?

"You're 'fine'? Are you really? I'm worried! You're not having a panic attack in the bathroom stall, are you, honey? I'll come and get you!"

"Panic attack? No. No. Really, I'm fine." Elsa answers and feels moved by this sudden declaration. Oh, bless Lottie for being concern about her.

"Where are you?" Tiana asks this time, worried about her friend's whereabouts too.

"I'm – " Elsa chews on the bottom of her lip, staring at her empty cups of tea. How is it that mere minutes ago, she felt like she was drowning herself but now felt like she was empty? Something doesn't feel right. It feels like dread. "I'm at home. I didn't come to work today." Elsa says, then she pauses before asking, "Why?"

Elsa hears Lottie breath out a sigh of relief before Tiana takes over the call, "Brace yourself, I've got some news." Tiana warns which Elsa appreciated greatly. "So, um, we are now officially unemployed. Everyone's lost their jobs."

Elsa's eyes widened. Suddenly, her pathetic state didn't seem so sad. "Wait –! 'Everyone'? You mean everyone in your department?"

"No, sweet girl, everyone in the buildin'! Everyone in The Southern Isles!" Lottie answers for Tiana. "The company's gone bankrupt!"

"What?!" So apparently Elsa's not the only one who got fired. From what she's gathered, the Westergaard brothers has broken the news to everyone. The only difference is, Elsa's 'resignation' is just more personal because Hans had done it himself – face to face, just them.

(But why?)

"I know right? I'm shocked too!" Tiana answers. "If I had known earlier, I wouldn't have spent forever rearrangin' the supply closet."

"Is that what you've been doin' when I can't find you?!" Lottie shrieks. "You've been doin' that in your own free time?!"

"It needed organisin', have you seen that place? It was a mess." Tiana reasons.

"Who cares about the supply closet!"

Tiana brushes off her blonde friend's overreaction. "You're only sayin' that because you weren't surprised when the Sirs told us the company fell apart."

"You weren't surprised?" Elsa asks Lottie.

"No, I wasn't." Lottie answers, her voice sounding serious. "I saw it comin',"

Chewing on her lip, Elsa asks, "How?"

"The printer. They never granted it. I thought it was strange since it was important. It got work done but our bosses didn't seem to care about progress. Yet, they flaunted their wealth like nothing was wrong. It got me suspicious. And then I asked Big Daddy and he told me."

And suddenly, pieces fell together – the slow work days; the free time co-workers had time to take stupid Buzzfeed quizzes; the lack of organising and mess; the absence of seriousness from Hans himself, who was one of the bosses; "You and your brothers are kind of mean for not giving Lottie that printer she wanted." "Well, we couldn't."

"I didn't see it." Tiana says, breaking Elsa's train of thoughts for a moment. "I didn't see any of it." And Elsa seconds that. "I had to sit down to take everythin' in while everyone was streamin' out of the buildin' in tears and with boxes of their things. I thought our company was cool peoples."

"The company is dead, forget them, Tia!" Lottie brushes off facts about The Southern Isles. It was truly dead to her. "Elsa, sugar, let's talk about you! Why didn't you come to work?"

"Yeah, are you sick, Elsa?" Tiana's voice asks, laced with concern too.

"N – No. I'm perfectly healthy." Elsa reassures, still taking everything in.

"You are? Oh, the perfect day to call in sick!" Lottie says, sounding like her usual chipper self.

"It wasn't my choice."

"Wasn't your choice?" Tiana utters and Elsa can imagine Lottie on the other end trying to encourage Tiana to make Elsa say more.

"I didn't … I didn't call in sick. I just … I was told not to come today. It was Hans. He – He told me not to come to work today." Elsa answers and doesn't add 'I think he personally fired me'.

"What? Did he know about this, love?" Lottie's voice comes back at the end of the line.

"I," Elsa swallows, gripping onto her phone tighter. "I don't know. He just said not to come in so I – I waited –" for him to call and tell me something "– and I don't – " And I don't know when I started listening to him. "I don't know what happen but …"

"That doesn't sound right." Tiana says.

Elsa can almost picture her friend making a face at this statement. And just as the blonde's about to add more, her phone makes a sound, scaring her a little. "Ah,"

"What is it, darlin'?" Lottie's concern voice comes back on.

Elsa pulls away and squints at her phone screen. "I have another incoming call." And it's not from a number she knows of.

Lottie hums. "Oh, you should answer it. Tia and I just wanted to make sure you were okay."

"Yeah, we're glad to know that you're fine. We collected your things for you, by the way. Just say when and we'll pass it to you." Tiana says.

"T – Thank you." Elsa replies. Looking back, Elsa's relieved that she befriended both Tiana and Lottie. She can't believe once upon a time, she was so afraid of Lottie's confidence.

"You're welcome. Just answer your new call, we'll be here if you need us. We have all the time in the world now since we're unemployed." Lottie says, sounding too nonchalant for someone who had just lost her job. Elsa guesses Lottie isn't the type to get hung up or care about the past. Even if it happened less than an hour ago. She's really keen on moving on. "See you later, doll!"

And with that, the call ends.

.

.

.

She didn't mean to pick it up. She shouldn't have answered the phone call in the first place. It wasn't from a number she recognised. The call could have been a scam from some bogus insurance company or some psycho or a waste of her time.

But she answers it anyway. Elsa answers it.

And with her phone pressed to the shell of her ear and the thought of her friends out of her mind, Elsa waits for a voice on the other line.

"May I speak to Elsa Arendelle?" The person says. Not even offering a polite 'hello'. His voice is deep and older sounding.

"This is she." Elsa answers after swallowing, her stomach doing flip flops as her clammy hands clutch onto her phone. God, she wishes she could just rub the sweat away as easily as her anxiety.

"This is Lars Westergaard."

Oh.

Oh.

"Have you seen Johansen?" Lars asks.

"What?" Why are you asking me? Why are you asking about – "Hans?" Her mind reeled. "I, I should be asking you that, Sir." Elsa says. Especially since Hans is the one that has been avoiding her since Saturday night (Sunday morning?)

Lars inhales sharply. "He's not with you?"

"N – No." Elsa shook her head then stops herself when she realises Lars can't see her distress. She heard him swear on the other line. Oh, that can't be good. "If you don't mind me asking, Sir." She says politely, Lars isn't one of her bosses anymore but he may still have some power. "Why are you asking me of all people?" Elsa croaks, licking her lower lip.

"I thought he'd be with you. You're his personal assistant or something, aren't you?"

Or something. Elsa muses in her head. "I – I'm not, Sir. I'm an intern." She answers.

"Intern or not, Johansen spends most of his time with you." Well … that's true. But still …

"And because of that you assume I just 'know' him?" Elsa asks, feeling her stomach clench at this bold statement.

There's a pause on the other line. Something pooled in her stomach, building slowly, up up up her throat. The suspense is killing her. Then Lars says, "No, I assume this because Johansen has told me about you. He seems very fond of you."

Elsa resists the urge to snort; 'fond' isn't the right word.

"When my brother is with you, he's different." Lars says, not even bothering to stop and consider his words. He knows what he's talking about. "Johansen has changed because of you."

"Because of me?" She echoes. This time, Elsa pauses. She thinks, Bullshit! because Hans doesn't believe in change or second chances.

"Something clicked when you started working with the company." Lars says.

"Sir?"

"I know this is a terrible justification but it's true."

Hell yeah, it's a terrible justification. It's barely an explanation itself and Elsa doesn't know why she's holding onto the conversation. She should be mad at Hans right now. He personally fired her then didn't even bother to tell her why. Elsa had to find out herself! Bankruptcy! Honestly! Yet, here she is, talking to his brother of all people for some sort of extra puzzle pieces. She's grasping at straws here!

"Listen," Lars continues. "Johansen is still missing and I don't know who else to call."

Elsa chews on her lips then speaks, "Have you tried reaching out to Eugene?"

"Who's that? Did he work at The Southern Isles?"

"No, Eugene is – ! Hans has been friends with Eugene for years. He also goes by the name 'Flynn Rider'?"

"I've never heard of him."

Elsa doesn't know why much irritation oozes from her voice. "Don't you know anything about Hans?"

And because Lars didn't like the sharpness in Elsa's tone, he says, "Look, Miss Arendelle, I love my brother very much, but I don't know a thing about him. He never lets anyone in, he doesn't show, he doesn't tell."

Or maybe you just don't look! Maybe you just don't listen! Elsa counters, once again in her head. She's lost count of the number of times Hans has talked about himself endlessly.

"I'm not the only one concerned about him. His mother is worried sick about him too." Lars continues, cutting Elsa's thoughts off.

"His mother?" Not 'our mother'? Ah, Lars must be a child of either the second or third ex-wife. There's an obvious gap. Something more than just age.

Closing her blue eyes, Elsa thinks. Thinks and tries not to panic. Where could this egotistic fool be? With the money he has, he could have secretly bought a ticket back to Denmark and just not bother to tell anyone (but wouldn't he have made his first priority to see his mother? Wouldn't he have told her?).

"You really don't know anything about Hans, do you?" Elsa says slowly, eyes now fluttering open.

"Not enough. No." Lars answers, a small voice.

Sighing, Elsa feels her anger simmer down. "How long has Hans been missing?"

"Johansen's been missing for two days now."

"Two days?!" Elsa chokes. Hans could be dead in a ditch at this point! "Why did you take so long to call then? You say you're worried about him but are you really?" She asks furiously while her thoughts yelled, You're one of his favourite fucking people! Is the affection not returned?!

"Of course, I am but this isn't the first time he's just left. He's fond of running off and doing his own thing." Lars says. "Just last week, he disappeared off the face of the universe."

Wait, what? Elsa thinks. So that wasn't planned? Or work related? I thought he was trying to avoid me solely.

"And what's different this time?" Elsa asks, not knowing how to feel.

"Johansen usually leaves a note saying he wants to be alone but he didn't this time. I've tried reaching him, he hasn't answered."

God, this is a mess! Hans could definitely be dead at a ditch; robbed for his expensive possessions then killed for that 'smart' mouth of his. Why is this happening now? Why? Why? Why?

"I'll find him." Elsa vows, she doesn't know why she's saying this but she means it. "I don't know how but I'll find Hans."

"Please do."

She doesn't even bother saying good-bye, she just ends the call, grabs her car keys and drives.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


xiii


Elsa drove her car like she stole it. All clumsy like Anna and reckless like that drunken person, the one behind the wheel of the night involving Eugene and Meg and a strange bus party. Her hands shake the entire time and she truly feels like she's about to die.

She drove to places Hans could just blend in: The Southern Isles and the big, green park, that stupid crepe shop they first visited together, those crowded, fancy cafes she never felt like she fit in and even more crowded malls. She drove and drove and must have taken a wrong turn at some point but didn't look back because how can she?

"Where are you, Hans?" Elsa says aloud to herself. It felt like hours, may as well been. Elsa thinks this is the longest hours ever spent worrying about someone.

She's just about to call him for what felt like the hundredth time (and would without a doubt go straight to his voicemail for the hundredth time) when her phone rings.

She gets her hopes up for one second before she sees the name flashing on her screen. It's Anna.

"Hello?"

"Elsa, where are you? Lottie and Tiana stopped by earlier to drop off your things. They told me what happened. Why didn't you tell me? You lost your job? What the hell's happening?" Anna says.

"Sorry. Sorry." Elsa bites her lower lip. Her mind is still reeling.

"I'm not angry. I'm just worried. Where are you?" Anna repeats.

"I ..." Elsa looks around. Her tank has been flashing red for a while now so she swerves into a gas station. She reads off the sign of the gas station. It wasn't a name she was familiar with; the place looked old and run-down, probably owned by a family, something passed down for generations or just poorly taken cared of.

"What? Where?" Anna asks, worry laced in her voice. "Hold on. I'm on my laptop, let me Google it." The sound of keyboards clicking can be heard. "Oh, that's a far way from home. When are you coming back?"

"I, I don't know." Elsa answers. And now that she's noticing things, the sun is setting. "I'm looking for Hans."

"Hold on – What? Why? Because he fired you? You don't have to drive miles and miles just to give him a piece of your mind. Just leave him a voice message or something."

"No, it's not that." Elsa shakes her head. She can't sit in her car forever on the phone. This is a gas station. Something will cause a spark. A fire might start. "He's missing."

"What?" Anna's voice sounded alarmed. "You mean someone kidnapped him?!"

"N – No. No, he's just lost."

"Uh, what?" Anna utters, confused. "Elsa, unless you're secretly an undercover spy agent person, it's not your job to look for him. From what Lottie and Tiana have told me, you're literally unemployed. His family should call the police or something. Put up missing flyers or make a post online for mass media to spread."

"No, you don't understand."

"I honestly don't." Anna says. "You've been complaining about him from the minute you met him. I don't … Why?"

Elsa feels her chest constrict at such a question.

"Why are you putting up with him?"

"I …" Elsa inhales deeply. How is she supposed to say this? It was like explaining the whole scenario of when Hans wanted to hang out with her and her sister and Anna's friends. "It's just … the way he sees me." Elsa explains slowly.

"The way he … sees you?" Anna echoes, trying to wrap it around her brain.

"Whenever he was around," 'Was' – past tense. Like he's left her already or is dead. "I've always felt …"

"Yes?"

"I mean, he treats me harshly at times and he's mean, but, at least, things weren't ..."

"Bad?" Anna guesses.

"N – No. I mean, yes? Well, not really. It's sort of … I guess … He just doesn't treat me like I'm ..." Fragile like glass. "He doesn't treat me like how everyone else does."

"What do you mean?" Anna asks.

"I mean … I …"

Then without waiting, Anna says, "Do I treat you like everyone else?"

"No." Elsa says hurriedly. Maybe too fast. "No, you've never." Never given her concern looks or uncertain glances or talked to her like she was small. Maybe that's why she stayed by Hans' side? Because there was some familiarity, as sick as it sounded. "I don't – I don't know how to explain it, Anna. If I tell you, I'm scared you might think I'm mad."

"Elsa, I'd never. You know I wouldn't."

"I know. I know." Elsa answers.

"Then why? Why are you looking for your douchebag ex-boss?"

Trying to find her words, Elsa says, "With Hans, it's …. complicated. I've always ... I, I just wanted him to go away. I always felt that way. I didn't like how he touched my elbow or told me fashion advice – any advice, actually – or spent time with me. And now that he's gone, I – " She swallows, sounding not like herself. "I – I – I – " Her voice clogs.

Her words were incomprehensible and she was really hating how broken she sounded. Even her thoughts were incomplete, Now that he's gone, I … I think ...

"I don't know, Anna. I don't know why I'm like this."

It sounded so stupid because she knows he's been an absolute nightmare. At least to her. But she can't help but reminisce on small moments where she did enjoy his company.

"Elsa, honestly, I'm worried about you. You're stressing yourself out. I know your boss is missing and he means something to you, but you should put yourself first. I think you should come home now."

Elsa pauses, taking in Anna's words and letting it sink into her skin. "You're right." The blonde says after a moment. "You're right, I think I will head home. I've been driving for hours. I don't even know where I'm going. I'll admit, I'm really lost."

"Oh, Elsa."

"No, don't worry about me. I'll be home but it may take a while. I'll … I just need to refill my tank first, okay?"

Anna goes quiet, considering her big sister's words. Then after a moment, Anna sighs. "Okay." The strawberry blonde answers, her voice soft. "Okay, I'll see you soon. It's no hurry, though, I just want you to be okay. Don't rush when driving."

The advice comforted Elsa, she never did like being reckless.

"Be safe." Anna adds for good measurements.

"I will." Elsa says and ends the call.

.

.

.

But Elsa doesn't leave, not yet. She fills up her tank then sits at the side of the curb so she doesn't block the pumps. The last thing she wants is to get yelled at. She doesn't have time for that – not today.

She sits, listens to music play over the old speakers and is harsh on herself, a sad per usual. It feels nostalgic, especially since Elsa found herself in a similar situation just days ago; with her head in her hands.

Elsa tries to breathe, tries to think straight, tries to find out what to do next. Anna was right: Elsa was unemployed, she has all the time in the world, what the hell is she doing searching for Hans? Maybe she shouldn't have done this crazy stunt all alone. Maybe she should have invited someone else. Anna or even her own friends.

Oh, whatever, there's still time to turn back. Get her life back on track. Save the day.

Maybe Elsa can have a small meet up with Lottie and Tiana, that would have been nice – a quiet game night or movie night. And knowing Tiana, Elsa knows her friend wouldn't have passed cooking a nice home cooked meal. Gumbo would be nice. Very nice, actually. Especially if they can rope in Mulan. Elsa feels like she hasn't seen Mulan in forever. The Fa family decided to take a trip after Mulan finished her internship but they should be back by now.

Yeah, Elsa should be doing something else like enjoying her Summer, hanging out with her friends and family. But, not this. No. Gosh, she shouldn't be bothered by some egotistic, maniac man. This is so stupid. How many hours has she spent?

Frustrated, Elsa starts looking through the contacts of her phone. She should contact Mulan first, fill her in on all the mayhem and chaos her friend missed while she was away in China.

Attempting to find Mulan's number, Elsa scrolls all the way down, past all the other alphabets – H, I, J, K – then freezes when she passed the letter 'L' and looks at the names saved under 'M'.

The name stares at her just as she stares at it.

A moment passes, the ID flashed, Elsa's head spins.

.

.

.

Then there was a call.


Meg (Eugene's party)

Elsa completely forgot she had Meg's number! Maybe she was too drunk to remember. Or devastated. Either way, Meg had told Elsa, after punching in her number into Elsa's blue phone, 'Text me when you get home, okay?'

Elsa doesn't expect Meg to answer. Not immediately. After all, Meg didn't have Elsa's number and Elsa honestly doesn't think someone like Meg would answer a phone call blindly. Plus, Elsa hated phone calls. Hated making them, she thinks everyone who isn't an introvert does too. So her expectations are low.

But then, Meg does the opposite.

She answers.

And Elsa must swallow the anxiety building in her stomach from an unprepared conversation.

"If this is a scam, I suggest you put the phone down now." Meg's irritated voice says.

Elsa doesn't hesitate. She cannot pause or Meg will probably put down the phone and block her number. "Um, hi, Meg? This is Elsa."

"Elsa?"

"F – From Eugene's party?" Elsa shutters. God, she hates phone calls. "The one in the bus?" The blonde adds because this is hard enough as it is and she cannot sound insecure.

"Oh. Oh!" Meg's voice raises, sounding cheery now. "Hey. I was wondering if you got home okay. The last time I saw you, you were stumbling up your driveway, I was scared you'd fall sideways and break your ankle. How are you? Why are you calling?"

"Um," Elsa bites her lips. "First of all, I just want to say thank you for everything you did that night."

"Oh, no problem."

"And, erm, I need to – I need to ask you something."

"Yeah, sure, fire away." Meg replies with confidence Elsa doesn't think she could ever muster if someone told her they needed to question her.

"M – Maybe it's not really asking, I, I – need to talk to you about something. Someone. I'm calling about Hans," Elsa says and she hears Meg's scoff. The tone Meg makes ebbs Elsa's bravado for this spontaneous call. "He's missing." Elsa says with an urgency.

"And?" Meg asks, sounding indifferent.

And? What does she mean 'and'?

"And ..." Elsa bites her lower lip again. "I need your help finding him."

"Nah." Meg answers without a beat. "No, I'm not doing that. Sorry."

Elsa's taken aback. Wait, what? "I – Pardon?"

"No." Meg repeats. "I'm not going to waste my time looking for Joe."

"But he's missing." Elsa says with the same urgency earlier.

"Have you met the guy? He disappears all the time. You're fussy over nothing."

"N – No. No, I'm not. It's different this time. It's –" Elsa doesn't finish her words, a thought goes through her head.

She's picking up a recurring theme. Meg didn't seem all that surprised about Hans going MIA. Lars had told Elsa about Hans' disappearance and voicing a concern, but now that Elsa's really thinking about it, Lottie didn't seem all that concern either when Elsa has told the Southern blonde about Hans this morning. If Elsa thinks hard enough, Elsa wouldn't be surprised if Eugene had voiced it out too when they had met, 'Well, look who finally decided to show up.'

"Elsa," Meg calls, noticing the silence. "Are you still there?"

"Y – Yeah."

"Look, I'm glad you called me. You didn't have to thank me or whatever. But, all this worrying about Joe, it's … It's really unnecessary. He' not worth … Fuck, where do I even start with that guy?" Elsa hears Meg sigh loudly. Inhaling deeply, Meg says, "Do you know why Joe doesn't like me calling him 'Joe'?" Meg asks.

"Because he likes being called 'Hans'?" Above everything else.

"Yes and no."

Elsa raises an eyebrow at this.

Meg continues, "It's mostly because there's a taunt attached to that nickname. You ... You've probably noticed how Joe is. He strives for things. He's a hungry man. He really wants to prove a point that he's worth something. Reinvent himself or whatever, hence the name change. He doesn't want anyone to define him. And I think everyone notices this. What I'm doing, I'm adding salt to his wounds by literally calling him an average Joe."

That's ...

"He wants to be special. But he ..." Meg trails off. Elsa can picture Meg shaking her head as if to say, 'He can't be special'. "He can't be the person he's oh-so desperately striving to be – 'better'; even if he wants to be better than everyone else in an egotistical way. He has to change if he wants to prove he's worth something. Grow as a person. And, right now, he's just being a pompous, bitter dickhead. He's not going anywhere in life with a mindset like that, he's just being a nuisance."

"But –"

"No. No. I'm going to stop you right there. Get a grip, girl. I know Joe, okay? He never makes a lick of sense. His actions? Yeah, some of them are unjustifiable." Meg speaks in a tone that sounded like she's been in the situation Elsa is in currently. Like she's saying, 'I'm a damsel but I'm not in distress. Not anymore'. Meg doesn't give Elsa time to react and continues talking. "Joe's a lot of things and he wants to be a knight in shining armour but he's not. He's not going to ride on a white horse and save the day. God knows that he wants to but …" Meg exhales out a frustrated breath. "It's best you let him go, okay?"

Instead of answering, Elsa gnaws on her lower lip instead, eyebrows drew together. She's avoiding answering.

"Elsa?" Meg voices, a sneaking suspicion in her tone.

"I –" Elsa's lips trembled.

"You can't be serious, Elsa. You still want you look for him?"

"Meg, I can't just …" Elsa doesn't finish her words, instead turning an empty palm upwards.

"No. No. He's awful. I'm allowed to say this because I've known Joe much longer than you and I'm saying he's not worth it. Like he's fun sometimes but he …" Meg groans like she's tired of talking about Hans. "I'm not like Eugene, I live here. Like, in this area. I've lived here for years but even I rarely see Joe. For fuck's sake, Joe's exceptionally good at disappearing off the face of the earth when he doesn't want to be found."

"But –"

"No, buts."

"He came back." Elsa says hurriedly so Meg doesn't cut her off again.

"He – Wait, did you just say 'came back'? So he's just ghosted you before?"

"It was … only for a week."

"Unless he's trapped on an island without cell reception, I don't care. I need you to say it, Elsa. I need you to say 'okay'. You need to face the facts." Meg says like she wants the blonde to promise her to walk away now. "You need to let him go."

"Meg, I, I can't –"

"What do you mean? I – I took the liberty to warn you. He's a guy. He's – Anyone but him, Elsa. Anyone."

"I don't –"

"You might think you know him, Elsa. Maybe because he tells you things or maybe because you think listening to him might mean something, but if you really knew him, then why are you asking me about him? Why don't you know where he is?"

Elsa can't find the words to say anything back.

"We're not doing this, Elsa. I'm not doing this. I'm not having this conversation with you. I don't want to. I'm going to end this call here. Right now. I'm sorry. I'm sorry, Elsa, I can't do this." Meg is only human and it's understandable that she's angry.

And just like that, another phone call ends and Elsa is left back at square one.


You're a fool. The demons in her mind say. Why did you even try? Why bother? Where else could he have gone?

She feels pressure building from behind her eyes. "Why do I care?" Elsa asks herself aloud.

Bruce Springsteen sings and just like that, she a spark ignites within her. This must be a cosmic sign or something else because now she's thinking. Thinking beyond her whirlwind, panicked mind. Over the million voices that are yelling at her. Her heart is racing and she's seeing stars as she connects the dots. This is the first time today that Elsa is actually taking a moment to just breathe.

The familiar voice calls for her and she answers.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


 xiv


 I like listening to you talk. It's kinda like Stockholm syndrome. At first, it was a little terrifying, but now it's sorta comforting. Like, the world could be ending, but I could come to work and you'd be talking like it's your duty.

– Bo LarsonDumplin'


 She finds him by the sea.

The smell of the salty air and the sound of waves crashing are comforting. And even though his back is towards her, it's hard for her to look away. It's like watching a conductor in full force, like he's in the middle of leading an orchestra and a symphony is playing intensely. There is an ease in his usually knotted shoulders.

It's him!

It's him!

She's in awe at how the setting sun makes his red hair glow – it reminds her of the long walks on green grassy fields.

But then, the view snaps her to her senses. She realises it's getting late. She realises all the hours left in the day. She hadn't noticed it until now; that he had taken up every inch of her mind. In her frantic state of finding him, panic had fueled her, but now she's crashing. With a sudden hit of lethargic, she feels the ache in her hands, the hours spent gripping onto the steering wheel. She furrows her brows as the emptiness of her stomach kicks her. Ah, she had missed lunch.

Elsa approaches Hans slowly, at first feeling tongue-tied; with her heart hammering in her chest. She brings her hands towards her lap, squeezing anxieties and the insides of her wrist.

Then she speaks.

"Hans?" She says with a softness she never knew she could muster.

Elsa expects him to react. Be somewhat surprised.

But Hans doesn't even jump. He is undemanding and sluggish, taking his sweet time to face her. The slow tilt of his head and shoulders turning feel almost mocking, especially after she's dedicated so much of her time trying to find him. She had been so worried, wondering if he was safe, breathing, and here he is, without a care in the world.

His eyes land on her. "Elsa." He says, then lets out a laugh at her name like she's the last person he expects.

Elsa doesn't say anything back, drinking the sight of him in. His expensive shoes are off and sand is between his toes. He is idle. And he looks more and more like a person without a home as each second passes.

She notes that his emerald eyes are dilated, then she takes notice of the crushed beer cans around him and on the stone bench he's sat on. She recognises the brand. It's cheap beer, the kind that either tastes like a weird mix of expired water and piss. He's absolutely wasted, even more than the night at Eugene's party.

Hans sways lightly. Elsa's anxiety tells her irrationally that if he were to lean forward then he will stumble and collapse, and her small hands will not be able to do much. He'll fall and there will be absolutely nothing she can do about it.

His hair's been tossed by the wild winds and sweat has gathered at his neck from the Summer heat. Whatever's happened to Hans, it's the opposite of what happened to Cinderella, it's riches to rags. He looks horrible. And she tells him this.

"You look horrible."

"Thanks," He answers sarcastically. He has the audacity to joke, "I tried living in my car like Flynn, it's not my thing."

"What are you even doing here?" Elsa asks, carefully taking a seat at the very edge of the bench.

Hans doesn't answer immediately, playing with the open beer can in his hand. He turns back to the view, watches the waves beat and knock against small unattended sailing boats, the sound of the hollowness lulls him. It is a familiar sound.

Then he shrugs, "I dunno,"

"You don't know?" She repeats.

"I don't." He echoes. "I just …" He shrugs again, not finishing his words.

Elsa gnaws on her lower lip. It feels strange, wrong even. Hans usually wants to have the last say in every little matter, so, for him to leave things unsaid is …

Elsa doesn't add anything to their failure of a conversation; she's put off, too anxious, twiddling with her thumbs. She lets him finish his beer and stare at anything but her; at the sand, at the vast horizon, at some fallen dream.

When he finally sets his empty drink aside and bumps his chin into an open palm. Hans blinks, but doesn't turn to face her, and says, "This is crazy. I can't believe I'm here. I can't believe I …" His voice drops, low as a whisper, like he doesn't want anyone listening. "I can't believe I came back."

And a part of her wants to ask, 'Do you always come back?' but doesn't want to ruin the moment.

She doesn't want to admit everything's a disaster until she has to. She thinks if she stays still, if she doesn't move, then she can sit in this moment together with him. Not forever, but possibly for long enough. If she doesn't admit it's real then maybe he won't notice and it'll never end.

But then it does.

It ends.

His rueful expression grabs her attention. He asks her, "How did you know I was here, Elsa?"

Elsa passes a look at his profile. She wants to tell him, 'You told me. You told me you liked the sea, didn't you? And I listened.' But she doesn't say any of that, she simply stays silent and hopes he's too intoxicated to care if she answers him or not.

And he doesn't.

He doesn't care. He continues talking, blabbering on as she had hoped.

"I turned off my phone." A mumble through his lips.

I know. She thinks and now wonders about all those embarrassing voice messages she's left.

"I made sure nobody could find me." He says with a tone she can't fathom.

This time, she cannot stay quiet. She only comments, "Well, technically no one's found you yet."

"No one?"

Elsa nods, "Everyone is still looking for you."

A rueful smile decorates his face. He doesn't like her answer. So he asks her, "Are you 'no one' or 'everybody'? Don't exclude yourself, darling. Weren't you looking for me too?"

"I," Elsa licks her lips. "I didn't come here for you."

"Oh?" Hans hums, amusing himself, chin still topped on an open palm.

When did you become a liar? Something in her asks.

"I came here for another reason." She continues lying, adopting a bad trait, so unlike her. He's rubbing off on her. It's all wrong, and she swallows. Her blue eyes look downwards and she kicks a bit of sand with her shoes. Her excuse comes tumbling out clumsily, "Believe it or not, I like the sea."

He yanks his gaze away from the sea to rolls his eyes, a flitting smirk stretching on his lips. "I don't believe you, you're such a bad liar, Elsa." You can't lie for shit. "Weeks ago, you looked terrified when I told you I was taking you to the beach."

And yet, you still took me, even when you knew I was scared. Elsa thinks but doesn't say it.

"Just tell me the truth. There's no point pretending." He tells her.

Her mouth pulls itself into a frown. Like he's one to talk. He hasn't exactly been honest. He's no saint.

But she tells him anyway, her words sound like a confession.

"Okay, so I looked for you." Elsa admits. Her back straightens, and she says the next line almost breathlessly. "I looked everywhere for you."

There's a bit of soul in her words, a bit of feeling, but Hans is not moved.

"Well," He clicks his tongue, looking towards the waves. "Here I am." In flesh and blood and self-hate. "Did you take a wild guess?" He asks. "Is that how you found me?"

Many wild guesses, actually. She answers in her head. Also …

"I listened." She replies, blurting out the honest truth, then lets her arm sweep over the scene. "I just didn't think that you would do this."

"What? Disappear?" Ah, how cruel, the way he's worded it. "It's nothing new."

She opens her mouth to say something, then doesn't. Not yet. She lets a moment pass and tries to catch his attention but his gaze is averted; green eyes watching the sea while her blue ones are watching him. She's noticed that he's been avoiding eye contact for a while now. He's been glancing at her direction, but he hasn't been looking at her. It's frustrating.

Elsa finds herself making the first move, reaching out to touch him; lily white hand landing on his broad shoulder, making sure he's real and not something her mind has made up.

(Though, he fits well with the demons in her head)

"Are you okay?" Elsa asks in a voice that reminds her of a worried Anna and her concern friends.

His breath hitches, something flashes in his eyes.

"Why?" There is anger in his voice. "Why would you ask me that?" Hans grounds and the creases under his eyes deepen. He snaps lightly, "Do I look okay?"

And because she's already looking at him, she knows. She knows the answer. She tells him, "No." No, you don't. Not by the slightest.

The muscles in his jaw jump, he holds his tongue. He is oddly quiet. She doesn't withdraw her hand, doesn't flinch or fold like a chair. Elsa feels his movements under her palm as he inhales deeply. He's (barely) collecting himself after the outburst.

Finally, he says in a small voice, "Then I'm not okay."

She offers a shoulder to lean on, a listening ear. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Are you a therapist now?" He snaps.

This time, Elsa flinches. But she's more bothered about the topic than his temper.

"Hans –"

But the redhead dismisses her with a shake of his head. "Why did you look me?" He asks her.

Her mouth barely forms a small 'o'. "I –" She can't push out the words. "I don't know." No, that's another lie. So she corrects herself. "I suppose – I guess, it's because ..."

He's staring intensely, reading her.

"Because ..." She swallows. "Because I felt like I needed to."

"Needed?" He repeats this specific word like it brings a sudden epiphany. He lets out a howl of laugh that startles her, yet also rattles something deep in her chest. "So you felt like you needed me?"

Her brows furrow. What a selfish, egoistic man! She argues, "I never said that."

"Yes, you did." He argues back. "In a way you did if you spin it the right way."

Is this the right way? Elsa thinks.

But she doesn't get the answer to that question because Hans isn't in the mood.

The nasty side of him returns. He shakes – maybe with anger, maybe with another unknown feeling. Maybe it's the alcohol in his veins, making him act this way. He looks like a mad man, jumping between unstable emotions, grumbling one minute then laughing the next. Insane! It's like he's already accepted that he's hit rock bottom and there's no going up. He's disappointed; by his sorry state, by the fact that he's not okay and his uselessness and –

"You shouldn't have looked for me." He says hurriedly like he wants to get rid of her.

It makes her think, Was this all for nothing? A waste of time?

"You should go." He continues and brushes her touch away like it's a nuisance.

"Why?" The question slips out from her mouth and it feels like they're about to hit a wall of disagreements.

Something deep in her chest pulls her. There is a want, a need, to comfort him. She just wants to take his face in her hands and make him look at her. She wanted to make him feel okay. But how is she supposed to do that when he's acting impossible? All he does is walk away like it's the easiest thing in the world!

"Is it because you think I can't handle the seagulls?" Elsa challenges. She's willing to face her fear if that means dragging him somewhere better. Anywhere better.

"This has nothing to do with you." He tells her and she can sense his voice rising. "I just – I just need to be alone right now, okay?" His hands shake as he reaches for another drink. He will indulge himself and grimaces at the taste.

"No." She stands her ground.

Elsa swears she sees red flash in his eyes as he glares at her, but she's not having any of this. She's not going to put up with his ridiculous show or leave him alone.

She stands, wipes the sweat on her pants then extends it towards him, "Come on, let's get you back home."

"Home?" He spits the word out and recoils. "The Westergaard Manor is not my home. It won't ever be my home." He says hotly. "No, I'm not going back. I can't go back."

Why do you have to be like this?

"People are worried about you." She tries to coax him.

"No. No, they aren't. I disappear all the time! It's such a recurring thing! I could vanish to thin air and nobody would notice!"

Elsa gaps at him. "No, that's not true!" Did it even cross his mind that Lars or his mother had told her about his disappearance and was worried sick? Did it ever cross his mind that she was worried?

"It is true!" He bellows but doesn't stand, doesn't try to make himself tall. "Nobody cares about me!"

"You're just saying that because you're drunk and angry!"

"Damn right I'm angry!"

"And that's why you don't mean it!" Elsa reasons like the little voice in her head. The nice one that wants to see the best in everyone. "It's done! We've lost our jobs, there's nothing we can do about it!"

Hans doesn't reply, opting to shake his head, perhaps too intoxicated and a little dizzy to answer. Maybe he thinks she's wrong.

"Look, if you don't want to go home, that's fine. Let's go somewhere else. I'll drive and you choose. We can go find someplace to eat, okay? Let's get some food in you, you'll sober up." She doesn't add that she hasn't eaten either. "You'll feel better."

"What's the point in feeling better?" He asks, spewing all this folly, telling her things she does not want to hear.

"Hans. Hans, please." Elsa tries pleading.

But he isn't listening. He doesn't want to listen, he wants to be a drama queen! He's just as bad drunk as he is sober, if not worse!

"Nobody cares if I'm dead or alive." Hans barks.

"Are you 'no one' or 'everybody'? Don't exclude yourself," His earlier words taunt her.

She feels her nails dig into her skin and she yells, "I – I care! I care about you!"

"You? You? How can you say that?" He speaks with a harsh truth in his voice like he can't imagine why she'd say that.

He's so angry, and for one moment, Elsa thinks he's going to throw his drink and his whole pack of beers into the sea.

But, he doesn't. He doesn't because he loves the sea too much and ends up just crushing the aluminium thing in his bare hands, spilling dark liquid all over the place.

"Hans –"

"How can you care about me when I don't care about myself?!" He says while hitting his chest, emphasizing every word.

Elsa hopes to God this is the alcohol talking. She hopes because she will not rise for that bait.

He. doesn't. care. about. himself? Ha!

What a liar. That's a lie! That's utter bullshit! He's all he ever talks about. He always focuses and thinks and tries to benefit for himself. He's so selfish and she wants to say it, but someone has to be reasonable in this sudden argument. She doesn't want to start anything. She wants to put a stop to it. She wants to drag his sorry ass back but doesn't know how to do it. What's she to do? Propose an idea of going back to the way things were? She's already done that. She's already said she's fine with him dragging her around.

God! God!

She's found him! She found him, and now what? What should she do? It feels like everything's said, like they've got nothing more to talk about, until Elsa blurts whatever's going on in her mind.

"I," She fumbles around. "I should call Lars and tell him I found you." Elsa utters to Hans and pulls out her phone from her pocket.

His gaze sweeps over to her immediately, and after a beat, Elsa thinks Hans is going to grab her phone out and smash it. But, Hans only turns away like he's tired of it all.

"Don't bother." He mutters.

She tells him, "Lars is worried about you." And so is your poor mother.

"You say there's nothing that can be done, yet you still …" He's talking about The Southern Isles and it confuses her.

They're talking about two separate things, not seeing eye to eye. He's talking about work, a mistake, a regret, and she's talking about bringing him home.

He puts his face into his hands. "You shouldn't be getting yourself involved with my brothers any further."

Elsa pauses, letting his words sink. She knows he's been muttering nonsense but ...

'Any further'?

She's curious. Oh-so curious. Why? Why is he intertwining work and his brothers and his home with all this?

"What do you mean?" Elsa asks, lowering her sceptic thoughts and clutches onto her phone like a shield.

Hans lifts his head. Stares. And after reading her expression, he states, "Oh. Oh. That's right, you don't know."

Don't know what?

"Oh, Elsa," Hans says like he was giving his deepest apology. "You didn't think I was the only one suffering from my brothers' pride, did you?"

"I … What?" Elsa tries to rearranging her thoughts. "Well … Well, no. There were all those other people, my co-workers, who also lost their jobs from the sudden news about the company's bankruptcy but …"

But what?

"This has nothing to do with them. I'm talking about us, Elsa. What they did to us. My brothers didn't just screw me over by wasting my time." He continues. "They also dragged you into it."

Elsa stares at his profile and finds it hard to breathe.

"You and I, we're a shit show." Hans answers, smiling bitterly. He finally stands up and leans towards her like he's about to whisper a deeply buried secret into her ears. For her to hear and nobody else. "Do you want to know how my brothers were able to coax me back to The Southern Isles despite my disinterest?"

His earlier words echo in her head, "I can't believe I came back."

Elsa bites her lower lip. She considers this. Considers all the possibilities like she always does because she's afraid of consequences. Slowly. Ever so slowly, Elsa sees the glee on his face. He's jumping between emotions, again. What's he thinking? What's he planning?

Elsa feels a chill up her spine despite how hot the Summer air is. Her mouth feels like it's filled with sand. "How?"

Reaching out, Hans tucks a blonde lock of hair behind her ear with sticky hands and whispers, "They saw you, Elsa."

She shivers and pulls away slightly while still staring at him. Oh, why did he say it like that? Like it's going to be horrible justified?

"Me?" She asks. Because she doesn't think she's all that special. She thinks she's ordinary, with struggles that most average people do not face.

"Yes, you."

She's walking straight into danger, she knows it. Yet, she still goes on. "I don't understand."

"Do you want to understand? Do you think you should, could handle the truth?" He asks. No, dares. "Do you want to know more?"

"I –"

"Do you really want to know?" He presses like he'll confess anyway. Like he's willing to risk it. "Let's not tip-toe, shall we?"

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He's someone with a lot to not do.

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.

A part of her wants to say 'no'. Wants him to keep it to himself because ignorance is bliss and what she doesn't know won't hurt her.

She can hear the violence coming. After all, isn't she the one who listens to him? And because of this, she doesn't want to cry.

But, she knows she will cry, and it'll be ugly and choking and so utterly depressing.

Elsa almost shakes her head as she holds back her trembling body and horrible thoughts and wet eyes. He'll tell her anyway, whether she likes it or not. Whether she's willing to listen. He's ready to slay her with his tongue.

Clumsily she says, "Yes."

Yes, tell me.

Yes, break my heart.

So he does.

He breaks it into a million and one pieces.

Chapter Text

white knight syndrome


 xv


 "You don't do anything, Elsa! You never do anything!"

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(Soon, maybe too soon, she will learn.

She will realise that not all monsters live under her bed or in her closet or in the darkest of corners of her mind. Most of them either live around her, disguised as living, breathing people. And this very idea often frightens her, makes her want to cower and hide.

She wants to hold this unpleasantness in. Hold it all in. She thinks she can always do so. Put on a brave face. Put on a show.

But everyone has their limits.)

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"I was never meant to stay." Hans says like he's a man of wanderlust. "I wasn't supposed to be here for the fall of The Southern Isles." This is how his explanation starts. His hands clench and he takes a wobbly step forward. "Weeks ago," He says like he wants her to recall a distant memory. "when I brought you over to the Westergaard Manor, did you noticed my room?"

Her blue eyes search for an answer. She really wants to solve the mystery behind his actions, work everything out before he says something regrettable, but she's exhausted – physically and mentally. Her muscles hurt and her bones ache and she's starving. She can't remember her own phone number if she tried.

Nevertheless, Elsa answers, "Yes." She's frozen to the spot she's standing. It's like she's in a trance. She licks her lips, hoping Hans doesn't call on her bluff. "It looked …" She racks her brain, trying to think of a proper term. Lonely. Empty. Like nobody living stayed there. "... spacious."

"More like disappointing." He states, but doesn't dwell on it. He is still standing tall, still swaying, still tipsy. "Did you catch any of the rumours in the office? All that talk and gossip about me and my shenanigan?" He continues firing question after question.

And she wonders, is this how she sounds like? When she's always asking?

"Yes." She repeats, eyes never leaving him. He's looming over her, she doesn't know how to feel about it. "You and your personal projects."

Hans smiles a crooked grin. It fits perfectly for a crooked person like himself. Then he pries for more, "And do you recall my absence for the first month of your internship?"

She pauses, then nods.

"The rumour about me being away, off in another country, was true." Hans tells her. "But, it wasn't because I was sent away for work."

Elsa stares. She knows Hans has never been interested in his job, he'd rather be doing his own thing. However, it's not possible for all twelve of Hans' brothers to excuse his absence like that. Not for an entire month.

She frowns. "What did you do?"

Hans pauses too, adding some suspense, then teases, "Guess," It's like he wants to see how capable she is, how sharp her mind is.

She does not guess. Elsa asks again, it's expected, "What did you do?"

He tilts his head, silently coaxing her to come up with her own theory. For what reason? She doesn't know. Maybe for funsies. Maybe he's bored. He's making such a big deal out of this.

Then he reveals to her, "I left."

Elsa blinks, his words come back to haunt her again, "I can't believe I came back."

"Is that why your room felt so … " Elsa hesitates. "... empty?" She's using the right word now. "Because you didn't live at the manor anymore?"

He gives her a curt nod. He's glad she's picking up the pieces. "I packed up all of my belongings. I was leaving for good. I wasn't planning on returning, ever. To put it simply, I gave up."

And for some reason, that didn't sit well with her ...

"I knew The Southern Isles was going bankrupt and I knew the company was a lost cause. I was just … I was so tired of it all."

He adds a sigh to be dramatic, to look defeated. He even sits back down on the bench, wobbling at each action. Elsa doesn't know how he's not K.O.-ed from intoxication.

"I was exhausted, it was a waste of time and effort and money, but, my brothers … they wouldn't admit the grim reality." Hans bumps his chin on his knuckles, not minding the sticky feel of beer. Keeping up a good image has flown out the window. "They tried to fix it themselves, but, the stock market was unpredictable, the shares weren't doing great, it was a lot and it was complex. Despite all the struggles, I …"

He looks over at her. Elsa's silenced temporarily, listening and never prying. He appreciates this by switching his tone to a softer one. He gives her a small detour.

"Did I ever tell you that I've actually always wanted to be a businessman?" Hans asks like it's a faraway dream, when, in fact, he's lived it.

Elsa shakes her head and Hans pats a spot on the seat like he's about to tell her a story. She sits.

"I've always liked Business, as much as Lars like History. I wish I studied Business instead of Economics. I'm envious of anyone who has a Business degree," He says. This is a hidden compliment. Then a dark cloud passes. "Sadly, I didn't have a choice growing up. I'd be bullied with sayings like 'Johansen, you are a Westergaard, act accordingly', 'Johansen, a Westergaard can never be simple sailor', 'Johansen, you don't understand it now but you will in the future, your major in Economics will help the family business', 'Johansen, don't be a disappointment – again'. I started hating my name, hated how they used it against me."

His mouth twists in a way that tells Elsa he dislikes talking about his family. Regardless, he keeps talking about the things he hates anyway, and it feels so … draining.

"Working at The Southern Isles was strange." He says like a confession. "I was living my dream, but it also felt like a nightmare. I never want to work under my father or brothers' rules ever again, it was so confiding. I like the idea of being my own boss, managing my own empire."

Elsa finds herself pulling on the hem of her shirt.

Her mind's too occupied to be fixed by his little story-rant. She's still focused on how Hans' brothers 'wasted their time', 'dragged them through company drama' and turned them both into a 'shit show'.

The 'wretched' company is gone now, and he's free. Why is he still talking about the past? If he wants to get it out if his system, then so be it. However, now he's telling stories. Could it be that he's switched narrative to gain some sympathy? Reminisce in his sad childhood? Tell her sob stories? Forming fantasies to lessen the blow? No, that's not it either.

Elsa chews on the bottom of her lips. She's not pleased by Hans' rambling, but it doesn't feel like he's retreating, he's just –

"Elsa?"

She gives him a sideways look and Hans reads the expression Elsa's making, the knotted eyebrows and the line of her mouth.

"You still want to know, don't you? What my brothers did to us and why it all happened?" He continues.

She hesitates at first, hands wrung together. After a beat, Elsa bobs her head slightly to Hans' question.

"You might have to refresh my memory, I've had a little too much to drink."

She squints at him. What's he playing at?

But when Hans doesn't react to her suspicion, Elsa tries to put together what he's told her, ticking her fingers as she talks, "Well, you say you knew the company was failing."

"Okay."

"And you say you hate your job."

"Uh-huh,"

"You had every reason to leave. There wasn't a point wallowing around because it was a waste of time and effort. Yet, you still did. You came back. You …"

"Stayed?" He finishes her words for her.

"Yes." Elsa nods, finding her hands fidgeting. "I want to know why."

He runs his fingers through his fiery locks. "And I want you to guess why."

She frowns. He recognises her impatience, and almost smiles at it.

Elsa wants him to get straight to the point, get it over and done with, the build-up is tearing her apart. But, it feels like he's forcing her to use her head, think, and solve the reason behind his actions, even if it's a stab in the dark.

All this, everything has to do with Hans' brothers. They did something to pull both Hans and Elsa together. It had everything to do with Hans' tendencies; his strengths and weakness.

Elsa answers though she sounds unsure, "Did you do it because your brothers needed all the manpower they could get? Is that how they roped you in?"

But her assumptions are met with a shake of his head. "No. No. I mean, yes, my brothers wanted – needed – me, but I stayed for another reason. Something they did." His voice falls and his eyebrows furrow. "I said it earlier, I already told you."

Slowly. Ever so slowly, Hans turns to earlier words echo, "They saw you, Elsa,"

She repeats his words, "They saw me."

He nods.

"You stayed because of me?"

Another nod. "You were the key in prolonging my stay."

Elsa swears this isn't getting any easier. "But you hadn't even met me yet when you came back. What was it about me that made reconsider?"

"You might not know this part about me so I'll tell you this bit." Hans answers. "My brothers managed to coax me back because they knew I liked fixing things."

Fixing things?

"I thought you said you stayed because your brothers saw me." Elsa blinks. "Now you're saying it's because they coaxed you with fixing things. Which one is it?"

"Well," Hans almost looks guilty – almost. "Both." Then he delivers his next blow, "But, it's mostly because I wanted to save you."

Elsa gives Hans a look while she takes it all in. Her talk with Meg resurfaces. "So your brothers dragged you back from who-knows-where to fix … the company? And to save … me? A complete stranger?" The blonde guesses.

"Yes and no." He hums. "But you're on the right track."

Okay, so she's getting some things right to his weird guessing game.

"My brothers said everything clicked to them the moment your internship application landed in their hands." Hans says, voice laced with a deeper meaning. "They read your resume, saw your photo, had that interview with you. They told me you were so nervous, that you were ... a fixer-upper." Hans tells her, saying that last word so delicately.

"I ..." Her mouth felt dry. And Elsa feels a heaviness in her stomach. "I'm a what?"

"A fixer-upper." He replies, wounding her, but the realisation hasn't hit her yet.

What?

"You get the picture, don't you?" He asks.

She does not.

His mouth twitches. A second passes. Then two. "Think about it. Really think about it."

Again with this? She doesn't want any more hints or clues. She just wants the answer. Elsa puts her foot down. "No."

Hans pushes. "I want you to think about it, Elsa. Guess."

"No."

"Come on. Guess. Put two-and-two together. Figure it out." He urges.

She shakes her head, refusing once more. The gears in her head are turning, her mind is racing, but she's spent. She believes she'll come up empty-handed. "I … I won't, I can't …"

A frown finds itself on his face. "Try."

"Is this all a game to you?" Elsa bristles a little. Again, impatient. "You say you stayed because of me, because you wanted to 'save' me, but then you talk about all these other things, you're not making sense. Why do you keep talking about work and your projects and your brothers? What does any of it have anything to do with me? You're trying to distract me, aren't you? You're avoiding the question."

He tells her, "I'm not. Everything I'm saying, it's –"

"What?" She challenges. "It's what?"

"You're just not listening." He accuses.

"I am!"

"If you are, then you would have connected the dots by now. Think about it, Elsa, think! I want you to think about it!"

"I – I can't!" She states.

"You can't think?" He says, mockingly.

"Wha – No! I can't – I –"

"Everything, this, it all started because of you. Stop asking questions and use your head!"

It feels like he's teasing her, testing her. He's making a fool of her, barely leaving crumbs. Stop dancing around the topic. Stop hiding. Just stop.

"Why don't you playing your mind games instead?!" Elsa raises her voice slightly.

"There's no point telling you if you can't figure it out yourself."

"Just spit it out already, Hans!"

"No, I want you to do something!" He says this with an edge in his voice.

She did not drive hours and hours and hours, worrying sick out of her mind for this. She's had enough, "Johansen!"

He whips his head at her. "Don't call me that!"

"No, not until you tell me! You're hiding something, Joe, I know it! Why won't you tell me?!"

"You'll hate me. You'll hate me if I tell you." He says but it's a lame excuse.

"I don't believe you." And she waits. It forces him to say more.

"A project." He explains yet again, and she makes a face. "My brothers trusted me with a new project and I was tempted by it."

"And?" Her eyes search him.

He looks at her, still expecting her to figure it out. His mouth doesn't move.

"And? What was the project about?" She presses on. She wants answers, damn it!

"You should know the answer by now."

She's losing her patience. "Well, I don't. I don't."

"I told you already, weren't you listening?" He challenges her. His green eyes glare at her, furious that she's slow to the news. Then his heated gaze drops. He realises she will never see the bigger picture. Perhaps she's ignorant, perhaps she doesn't want to dwell on the impossible. "It was fixing."

"Fixing what?"

"It's not a 'what'. It's – " He stops himself like he regrets it being him having to say it. Like she's the one forcing him to spill his ugly truths. Then, he says slowly but effectively, "It was to fix someone."

Her eyes widen. "S – Someone." She shutters back.

"Yes," Hans confirms. "Someone who would need me, for better or worse. Do you get it now? Do you know who I'm talking about? Do you know what's been done?"

He means …

What he means is ...

She starts shaking her head, refusing to accept his reality. Her mouth quivers, her eyes blur with tears. She can't look him in the eyes even if she tried.

Elsa's voice quivers as she tries to make sense of it all, "S – So when I asked you weeks ago, the other day, why we were out and about, with you dragging me everywhere, you said Lars had assigned you something, but what you meant was – what you were saying was ..." She can't finish her words.

.

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And it hits her.

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"It was –"

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Me. She thinks, the same time he says, "You."

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"It was you." Hans states like it was the answer to the universe. "You were what my brothers assigned me with."

He's speaking about her; like she's not there, like she's a thing, an object.

"I –" She feels like crying. Elsa wants to run away, but she knows the truth will catch up on her eventually. She's lost all control and is out of daydreams.

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"I was a project to you?"

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Her stare on him is careful, trying to read the emotions he displays. Every dip, every twitch, every single –

Elsa quickly stands, so fast that she swears she almost lost her footing. "How could you?!" She's shouting at him now.

"Stop."

"How could you?!" Elsa repeats and wants so badly to shove him but refrains herself. She does, however, confront him. She pushes forward despite knowing the struggle her bleeding heart will go through.

"Stop yelling at me." He sounds like he's begging.

"I –" She swallows. "I'm a person, Hans!A living, breathing person with real emotions and feelings and a soul!

He bares his rows of straight teeth. "I said: stop yelling at me!"

"I'll scream all I want!" Elsa answers, mad. "How could you see me as something so horrible?! Why did you do it?! Explain yourself!"

She should slap him. Leave a nasty handprint on his cheek. But she doesn't. She still wants answers.

"It's more than what you think it is, you must understand!" He tries to excuse himself. "I became committed to you. I thought I could fix you." He says, but – ha!

Why did he ever try to cover it up like that? It was like putting a band-aid on a bullet hole. Who would believe that? He's kidding himself!

"Liar!" Elsa realises he's still dancing around the topic.

What the fuck?

What the fuck?

"Elsa, I'm trying! I want you to think about this! The consequences!"

"Like you did?!" Elsa asks, because, clearly, he didn't. "You can't play with my feelings for months and then walk away! I'm not letting you walk away until you explain yourself!" She grabs the sleeve just to make a point.

Hans pauses, staring at her. All the shouting has given him a headache. "I'm drunk, I don't know what I'm saying, I, I've already said too much." Which one is it?

She's angry and has every right to be. "You can't do this! You can't back out now! Why don't you ever try?!"

"I fucking do!"

Oh, that touched a nerve.

In spite of this, Elsa doesn't let go of his arm, hand trembling, and Hans isn't going anywhere.

He deflates, sighing. "I'll lay the rest down on you later. Gently, when I can." Then he adds, "Please. Please, this is your last chance."

"Since when have you cared about giving me chances?"

A shadow passes over his face. "Clearly more times than you've noticed."

"You said you wouldn't tip-toe. Just tell me," She presses on.

"There's still time,"

"For what?"

"Change."

"Change? Like hell there is! Just answer me, you asshole!" She grits her teeth and suddenly, she doesn't look as lovely anymore.

He's dragged by her eyes.

"Okay, don't say I didn't warn you." Hans says, and suddenly the act is dropped. His tactic of hiding won't work anymore. He's such a snake. "You want answers? I'll give you answers." He takes a deep breath, then he selfishly starts talking about himself. "I did it because I realised I liked feeling needed."

A feeling squeezes Elsa, deep in the gut.

"I've always hated by brothers, everyone can be such a douchebag. They always taunt me and tell me I could never amount to anything, that I was a loser. Honestly, I figured they would rather jump off a cliff then ask for my help." Then, Hans squints in an amused way and smiles with his teeth. "But then, one day, a miracle happened."

What?

"For the first time in my life, my brothers told me they needed me." There it is again, that dreaded word; 'needed', "And, a sudden feeling washed over me. I think it was … happiness. Finally, I thought I could win at something."

Elsa's grip on Hans's sleeve tightened.

"That offer lead me to have an epiphany. I became aware of why I've always liked my little projects of fixing things. It was because I enjoyed people recognising that I'm good at coming to the rescue." Hans confesses, a stroke of his ego.

Meg was right! He was with illness, plagued with a bad case of white knight syndrome.

"And then, because skies were already blue, another miracle happened. My brothers gave me something I've always wanted." He looks at her, expecting an answer.

Elsa tenses up. "And what was it that you wanted?" She asks. "Me?" A person? A fuck up?

He grins, but it looks ugly on his face. "No. A challenge."

A –

A challenge.

Elsa pulls her hand away from him like she was touching fire.

"I wanted to test myself. I wanted to prove my worth."

How dare he.

How. dare. he!

"So I'm not even a person now?!" Elsa yells and feels her throat hurt along with everything else. "I'm just a broken thing meant to be fixed?! Something assigned?! You make me sound like I'm an arts-and-crafts project! A fucking project!"

"Honestly, Elsa, I don't know what you were expecting from me." He says. It's barely a defence.

"That's not good enough, Hans! Not good enough!"

Hans doesn't take this jab well. It's like she's reminding him how horrible he is. He had tried to conceal it at first. Sprinkled crumbs. Danced around it when she got too close. Then loosely explained his motives. But, now he's frustrated; with her and life and his luck. He's giving up again, settling with calling her names. Awful names. Horrid things.

"It is what it is, Elsa! I'm telling you the truth, all you have to do is accept the facts. You were one of my many personal projects. My newest project. My brothers gave me a chance, and I took it."

No.

No.

He must be lying to her. He must! She knows he's the one who told her it was best to tell the truth, but –

"You can't just give me a lame excuse like that and expect to be forgiven!" She scolds him.

He's getting fed up by her being all up in his face. Demanding. Nagging. Hans says lowly, like a growl, "I don't expect to be forgiven,"

He – What? It makes her wonder what he expects then. If he doesn't expect to forgiven then what the hell does he want from her?

She starts, "That's –"

"What? 'Not good enough'?" He's monologuing, venting out his frustrations. "I've given up on myself, Elsa. I'm a lost cause. There's no hope here. Not while I'm trapped in this hell hole!"

And then she's getting yelled at. The warning signs are running around her mind, and he's shouting his fucking lungs out.

She yells back, picking and prodding, trying to find some justification to this madness. "Why did you see me as a project?! Why was I a fixer-upper?! Why?!"

He doesn't even hesitate, not bothered by the chaos and the rage like he's used to it. "Look in the mirror, Elsa, you're a mess!"

It hurts. It hurt more than she thought it ever would, like a sword to her back.

"What about you, Hans?!" Or everyone else in his family?

"I told you!" He raises his voice and the veins on his neck stands out. "I told you: I don't care about myself!"

"You suck!" She screams because this argument is a disaster.

"Really? I 'suck'? That's the best you've got? I've been called worse by better!" He dares to say.

She tries again, "Your whole family sucks!"

He doesn't say anything to that. He's done with talking about his family. They're going to talk about something different now. They're going to talk about her.

His feet move, toes in the sand, he circles her like a vulture. But his steps are wobbly.

"You –" He says almost sinisterly. "– almost cried when we first met. Cried over the fact that we bumped into each other. It was an accident, and normal people don't cry about those things! You say I suck, but, deep down, you know what I've been doing has helped you!"

Her blue eyes follow him. "H – Helped me? What have you been helping me with all this while? Eating food? Driving to places I don't care about? Walk out of stores without buying anything?" Elsa asks, anger raw in her throat.

He is furious again. He can't believe she's still blind to it all.

"No, I'm trying to teach you life lessons. I've been teaching you how to fake it. I've been trying to open your eyes!" He jabs and she turns her head as he continues circling her. "What I'm doing is the best thing that's ever happened to you! It's better any day than spending eight hours behind a desk, writing e-mails and creating spreadsheets no one cares about! All this time you've been around me, have you ever suspected anything wrong? That the company was losing money, that we were sinking? No, you haven't! You've been keeping your eyes closed and your head down! You stay in your little bubble, never venturing, never mingling, never opening up. I've been teaching you how to appear okay on the outside because – God, Elsa, you're not okay! Not by the slightest!"

Wha –

What?

This again? He's turning it on her again? Honestly? Honestly? Life lessons aren't supposed to be difficult, there are differences between learning and hardships and suffering.

Elsa's talk with Anna on the phone rings back in her head, "He's …" "Bad?" It stirs something in her chest and makes her stomach clench. She must ask.

"Why are you always so harsh on me?!" Elsa snaps.

"Harsh?! Harsh?! Fucking hell, Elsa, I was being honest with you!" He spits.

"You call that 'honest'?! Is that what you call it?! Ha! More like forced! You're so mean and pushy!"

"God, you're so infuriating!" He exclaims, looking disgusted and she pretends not to be hurt by the way he threw that look at her.

"M – Me?! Me? Can't I just –" She stutters. "What do you suggest I do then?!"

He snarls, face turning a shade darker, "There it is!"

"What?!"

"Another question! You just asked another question!"

"What's wrong with that?!" Elsa can't help but ask and regrets it the moment the words escape from her mouth. Not even the crashing of waves could wash away her regret.

"Can't you think for yourself for once?!"

"E – Excuse me?!" She hates how empathy hides from her.

"You heard me! Don't play dumb! You know exactly what I mean!" He explodes.

She points a trembling finger at him, barely finding her voice, "You say I can't think for myself but you know it's actually because you never let me think!"

"No, I never let you wallow in your thoughts! There's a difference!" He throws his hands in the air. He's speaking to her like she's a child when he's the childish one. "Did you think that I wouldn't have tried if I didn't see a chance?! Did you think that I didn't look at your resume and see the opportunity?! Did you think that I wasn't impressed by it?! Because I was!"

All his praises mean nothing to her when he's turned into someone she doesn't recognise anymore.

"I was impressed, but the moment I saw you in person, I knew that you were a mess!" He says, making her cringe but he's all up in her face now and she can't step back because she wants to stand her ground. "An absolute train wreck! You looked so small, Elsa, so weak!"

It's funny. Oh-so funny. The only time he ever speaks ill is when he's talking about others.

"It's fucked up, Elsa! It's really fucked up that you believe you can get away with being the way you are!"

Elsa gaps. She doesn't like this. Not one bit. But she finds herself mute.

"You're so ignorant! You think you can turn a blind eye just because no one's ever called you out on your bullshit!" Hans yells, properly yells. "All you do is look the other way! You ask questions instead doing what you're encouraged to do because you're too afraid to take chances! You waste time worrying!" His words held a lot of truth in it despite his every word stinging her, echoing and thundering in her skull. "You don't do anything, Elsa! You never do anything! You have so much potential but you're so forgettable, just another intern, another face in the crowd! Is that what you want?!"

Why does he care what she wants?

Tears stream down her cheeks and Elsa stands there, hurt, until she realises he's not going to apologise. And it's not just because that's his version of the truth and he thinks of himself of some knight on a white horse who can potentially save her.

"Not – Not everyone can be destined for great things!" She argues but all she wants him to do is to stop talking. Just stop. Stop.

"But, everyone gets a chance, don't they?! They can get it, can't they? And I don't mean just luck! I mean, if they want it hard enough and do something about it then they'll likely get it! Even if it's just a taste! And I am making you do something about it! You are doing something about it!"

"I – I, shut up! Shut up!"

But he's not shutting up, instead, he's reaching out. He moves forward, trying to catch her hands, stop her from running, hold down to reality. Then he has both hands gripping onto her arms and he's making her confess that everything is very real and happening right now.

"Tell me, right now, Elsa, tell me I was wrong! Tell me that you haven't changed! Tell me what I did didn't benefit you in any way! Tell me you can't look me in the eyes and have a proper conversation! Tell me!"

"I, I –"

Of course, she can look him in the eyes! Of course, she can have a proper conversation! How did he think she memorised the colour of his fiery hair or the constellation of freckles on his face? His pink cheekbones? Put two to two together, and realised that his ring matched his emerald eyes? Remember the reason behind his nickname, how he hates sweet things yet loves pretty things (and maybe this even includes her).

But she doesn't say this. None of this because even though everything is at the tip of her tongue, he delivered it horribly, in the most inappropriate way.

So she says, "Fuck you, Hans!"

Her eyes are leaking tears but Hans does not care, doesn't blink. He pushes through.

"You're always so uncertain about everything! What are you going to do with your life after you graduate? What then, Elsa?"

"I," She pauses. She doesn't know. Find a job? Hopefully not lose her job like she did mere days ago? Struggle for a bit? Earn enough to do more than meet her everyday needs? Buy a house? Find someone? Plan a whole life together, figure shit out, marry them? Have kids? Hopefully not get a divorce and keep the house? Who knows? Who knows? Not her. She doesn't know! She doesn't – "I don't know."

"Exactly! Exactly!" He sounds like a kid but Elsa guesses it's expected of him – being spoiled and rich and the baby of the family.

"Shut up! Shut up! Don't talk to me like that! You're selfish! You're horrible! You're – You have this weird, perverse need to look like a white knight in shining armour. Not everyone needs saving! I, I don't need saving! I –"

"You don't need saving?! Really?! You?!" He cuts her off. "You don't get to criticise me, sweetheart! At least, I know I have problems! You, on the other hand, refuse to even recognise it! It's hard to watch, especially when I see how your problems hurt other people!"

Elsa sputters, wanting him to take it back. She would never hurt anyone intentionally! How dare he drag her down like that!

"You're a liar!" She cries.

"No, you're the one lying to yourself! Face it, Elsa, you're as bad as me!" There is irritation in his tone, spilling out. "You know you're bad because you're a mess, and you're pathetic, and you can't do anything by yourself so you just ask and ask and ask because you're afraid of your own actions! You don't do anything!"

Her thoughts are all over the place but she still manages to yell, shouts a defensive, "You're wrong, Hans!"

But when he asks, "How?! How am I wrong?!", she doesn't answer. She can't.

This is how he knows he's a failure. He can't even save her. He's disappointed. But he can't tell if it's himself he's disappointed in, or her.

"We're no better from each other. You're a human disaster and I'm –"

Bad? Selfish? Egoistic? Insane?

His mouth opens, but he doesn't finish his sentence.

Why is he leaving it like that? Like he wants to sound better than her?

He's a monster. He's evil. He's –

"You're a loser." Elsa says, hoping he feels as wounded as her.

He only laughs, "Okay, fine. I'm a loser, a failure, everything you say I am. A perverse white knight. But, if you look at it from my point of view, wanting to save something –" Not someone. Something. "– isn't all that bad! You just think it sounds bad because I'm doing it for me and not for you!"

Her mouth hangs open. Those words struck her like a slap to the face.

"I'm not going to apologise for being selfish, for wanting my name to look good, that's just how I am!" Hans, however, does not stop there. "I'll admit it: I'm shit! I know I'm shit! A real shit show! But, at least, I own up to it! You don't! I'm a loser, but at least I try! Do you?!"

His words feel like a stab to the heart. He sees it on her face.

She doesn't answer.

"No. You don't try, do you, Elsa? You just hide it and when people ask, you play dumb. You go 'oh, I'm just shy, don't mind me, I'm fine, perfectly fine!' – but news flash, you're not fine! You're not fine! And when people notice, you get defensive and you act cold and you pretend it's not a problem! You can't just sweep these things under a rug!"

"You need help!" She explodes, and finally pushes his hands off her. It's strong enough to make him stumble.

The veins on his neck stand out once again and his face colours red. He screams in fury, "The knight doesn't get saved!"

"Then you don't have to be the knight!" Elsa tells him, creating a distance between them.

Hans looks like he wants to kick the nearest thing, let out his anger. "I'm not letting anyone save me! It's bullcrap! I can't be saved, why do you think I want to save others instead?!"

"I – How should I know?! I don't know you!" You're not who I thought you were! "Maybe it's because it makes you feel better for being fucked up?! Maybe you like being surrounded by fucked up things! And because of that, you get treated like you're fucked up!"

The redhead snarls at her, "I never wanted to be treated like a fuck up! That's just you! That's all you!"

He –

He can't just say that to her! That's – That's –!

No.

No!

She wanted to yell that out. Or, at least, she would have if it wasn't for something at the back of her mind that told her her self-isolation and self-exclusion does cause mayhem and misery.

Her demons tell her Hans is right. She truly doesn't do anything. She isn't as 'good' as she thinks she is.

Elsa would never dream of hurting anyone, but she knows she can be a burden. She's not blind, okay? She's not what people assume she is. Do people really think she doesn't know how others sneer at her? How they taunt her fragility? How they look down at her and think 'pathetic'? She knows all of this!

Yet, Elsa doesn't do anything, like Hans had said. Because, secretly deep down to her toes, maybe she doesn't want to do anything? Maybe she likes being taken care of? Maybe she likes being seen this way? Maybe she likes 'playing the victim' because that just means never owning up to her flaws?

Or maybe that's just the depression and the anxiety talking? Maybe that's the doubt caused by people who say venomous things without understanding the concept of mental illness? Maybe she's just not ready?

She doesn't know! It's all so confusing! Everything feels like a big 'fuck you' and everyone is the loser! Everyone. Because everything is horrible and nasty and, and –

This is why humans can't have nice things! Because nobody is as good as they say they are! There's always an altered motive!

Look at him! Look at him! Going on about saving people when he doesn't really care! He just wants results! He just wants to look good on the surface when he's just as corrupt as any other dirty, no good person!

"It's true, isn't it? That you're fucked up?" He continues drilling and prodding. "Does anyone even know about your anxiety or depression? Family members? Friends? A doctor?"

Did he just suggest for her to go to a shrink? Let her brains be picked? Eat pills that likely won't even work? Go for some 'fixing up'? She doesn't need to go see a 'doctor'! She's not crazy! She doesn't need –!

No. No. She doesn't want to talk to a bloody shrink!

And maybe this should have been her chance to muster up some courage. To say something or yell or just push Hans away. But, instead, Elsa wraps her arms around herself and turns away. She should have walked back to her car and just leave Hans there. It's not like he's dead anyway. He's alive. Alive and pissed and drunk.

But her feet take her across the sand. The sound of the shore and boats knocking is all blocked out. The only thing echoing in her mind is what Hans had said – getting help, getting treatment.

"Elsa!" Hans calls out for her. The alcohol is hitting him hard. He's struggling to get to his feet, much less chase after her.

Elsa doesn't turn back.

No.

Nonono.

She's having a panic attack while running away.

"Elsa!" Hans' footsteps draw closer. It's difficult walking on sand as it is, barefoot and hot like he's walking on burning coal.

She's covering her ears now, eyes wide. The world is spinning like the night she got too drunk. Her thoughts are loud. Too loud. There is a reason why she's so careful, so stiff, controlling herself. She's careful with her words.

"Elsa, hey!"

Large hands spin the blonde around. Elsa stumbles but Hans catches her the same way he always wants to catch damsels in distress.

It's his turn to scold her, "Why do you always do this? Why do you always run away?"

Stop.

Stop.

"Like you're one to talk!" She manages to spit without stuttering, trying to loosen his grip off. "You run away all the time! You disappear like it's nothing!"

"That's –!"

He's cut off when she struggles out of his grasp. He doesn't let her go. Why won't he let go? Why does he insist on holding so tightly onto her?

"Stop."

He has his hands around her wrist and arm. He's touching her when she doesn't want his skin on her.

"I said: stop! Stop struggling, Elsa! Face the damn facts!"

She doesn't. Elsa wishes her hands were free so she could stab Hans in the chest with her finger, sharp like a knife. "Y – You, You are –!"

"I'm what?" He bites at her.

She only succeeds in making a wet, choking sound.

And when she doesn't answer, he gives her a harsh remark like she was never worth it.

"You're annoying. You're so annoying." He tells her.

She still wants to fight back. Wants to yell and say that she isn't annoying.

I'm not annoying! She screams in her mind. I'm not! I'm not who you think I am! I'm not, I'm not! I'm not annoying or a mess or – I'm – I'm sorry – I'm so so –

She's panicking, mind not straight. She can't think of any way to get away from him. Not a single idea or tactic to make him loosen his grip. So she tells him what he wants to hear.

She says, "I didn't ask for help because I'm scared, okay?! Is that what you want to hear?! You're right and I'm wrong!"

"That's not –!"

"I am afraid! Fear eats me up! I can't do anything when anxiety holds me back! Depression is ruining my life and I can't stop it! I don't know how to fix it!"

He finally let's go and her arms are now free.

"You never reached out? Never told anyone or got treatment? Never went to therapy?" He asks, drunk eyes going in and out of focus.

"N – No. No," She replies.

"Why not?"

"W – What do you mean 'why not'?" Elsa repeats his question, shock that he would even think of such a thing, much less ask it out loud. "How can I ever tell them this? Why would I do that to them? Or myself?"

She never even told Anna, her baby sister, her favourite person in the whole world. She never told any of her friends, but Lottie had figured it out, observant.

Elsa stands away from Hans, an arm's length distance but it may as well be a million miles away.

"I don't want anyone thinking something is wrong with me!" She says this with a shriek like she's in pain.

Hans freezes. Something's wrong. He reasons, "You can't live like this. They could help you."

Elsa holds herself, self-hugging, and trembles. "You don't understand! I don't want them sending me to a quack! I don't want to be feed pills to the point where I can't feel anything! I don't want anything stuffed down my throat!"

Hans recognises the fear in her voice. She's spiralling.

"I don't want to be that kid that's sent to some mental institution! I don't want to be the embarrassment shipped away and hidden in some padded basement! I can't get locked up in a ward!"

"Hey, hey, you're not crazy, they won't do that to you." Hans tries to say in a calmer tone but Elsa's not listening.

"They can't take me away! I can't leave Anna alone! I don't want Anna to be alone! I can't do that to her again! I can't! The first time was my fault but it won't happen again! I promise I won't, I'm so sorry, I'm –"

And then everything pours out, from A to Z, to past events like her fear of imminent death; something that sprouted from her parents dying at sea and the last gift they ever gave her, ironically a book narrated by Death himself (something that scared her even more), and those lonely years of isolation.

Because it was an accident! Whatever happened between her and Anna, it was an accident, she swears! Elsa didn't mean to do it. It wasn't on purpose, there was no ill intention, no malice, it was just an accident!

Seagulls and irritable sand aren't the only reason she hates the sea.

She never did summon the courage to finish reading The Book Thief on the accounts that it was the last gift her parents gave her. Some part of her was afraid the last flick of the page would feel like a good-bye, not only to the characters but also to her parents.

That is, until Elsa saw the way Hans talked to his mother on the phone. It had been so long since she had thought of her parents, she almost forgot how comforting it felt to have someone as caring. It made her miss her parents and –

Why?

Why is she telling him all these things?

Then she's shaking. Shaking shaking shaking and she just wants to disappear.

"Elsa! Elsa, listen to me!" His voice comes booming through the many doubts in her head. "Would you just –! Look at me. Look at me, Elsa!"

She does. She looks up, discovering that she's had her eyes squeezed shut and that she's fallen to her knees, curled in a ball.

"I –" Her blue eyes peeked from under her lashes. She's afraid to look at him but he's staring so hard at her.

"You were trembling like a leaf." Hans says, large hands on her shoulder as if shoving some sense back into her. "Breathe. Clear your head."

Clear my –

"It's alright. You're alright." He tries to shush her. Calm her down. Acting like some saviour.

She pushes herself away from him, but lands on her ass. "What do you want from me?" Why won't you leave me alone? She shakes her head, mind reeling, hands clutched to her chest.

He withdraws himself.

"You didn't even try." She accuses. "You didn't try to save me." You just gave up on me.

His hands are kept by his sides, not reaching out. "There wasn't a point."

"There's always a point!" She yells at him and openly sobs, brawling like a poor thing.

He sits on the sand with her. They're almost the same, a twisted mirror reflection.

Hans looks at her like he could snap her fragile self in half. "There wasn't. Not this time. Everything was just a waste of time."

Her hands clench, she thinks to herself, Stop giving up! Stop this nonsense! But, his words had made an impact. They held meaning.

"If everything was a waste then … then did you really want me to get better?" She dares herself to say, voice wobbly like his steps.

His mouth opens then closes. His reaction was as if she had poured freezing, cold water on him.

"I … I couldn't do anything about it. You're such a circular person, Elsa. You go round and round. You never change. You can't change."

And Elsa realises that, up until the middle of their fight, Hans only withheld information from her just to see if Elsa could still change, if she could still be his little project.

She glares needles at him, hurt eyes brimming. But that doesn't change the fact that Hans truly thinks that Elsa's such a circular person; she goes in one big circle, around and around and around, she never grows. She even speaks in circles.

Her chin quivers, "I asked you, to your face, and you said I had opportunities, chances –"

"I know what I said!" Hans exclaims, not sure where this energy is coming from. He's so fucking tired.

Regardless, he's not going to let her play the victim card. Not tonight. (Not anymore.) But, he's proven his point, she just went back to her old, closed up self.

Elsa doesn't flinch at Hans' yelling. She doesn't shrink or freeze or shutter. She just shouts back, throwing sand around, "Then why?!"

His squared shoulders fall. He says in an almost quiet voice, "I wanted to see if I was wrong."

She holds his gaze. "Were you? Were you wrong?"

She sits and waits.

And now, he thinks, her blue eyes no longer remind him of frost and ice, but of an ocean so deep, it could sink him completely.

It is quiet, only the sound of the shore and birds and distant cars hum.

He doesn't give her an answer.

So she does it herself.

"No, you're right." She says finally, voice firm, not a crack or quiver.

She still wants to tell him he sucks. Sucks at emotions! Sucks at handling money! Sucks at keeping his sanity! She also wants to tell him that he's especially bad at commitment. That he's allergic to it; at things like shopping lists, maps, directions, instructions, watches, and maybe even people.

"You're right, Hans. You're never wrong, everything you say is true." Elsa continues. She knows she's hopeless, barely clinging onto a bit of spine, but she's not going to sell her soul to a three piece suit. "I'm a mess, you're a shit show. Nobody cares and you could drop off the face of the universe and no one would miss you."

.

.

.

(And I do hate you.)