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Anna Über Alles

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     Oh good gods, they’re at it again?

     Elsa Arendal was tired; tired from not having slept well the nights before, and tired of the cacophonous attempts at music coming from her neighbors’ garage.  In the two short weeks since she had moved into the house that noise had managed to burn through her usually formidable patience, and there wasn’t much more that she could take.  Her new housemates might be fine with it, though some baffling combination of self-inflicted insomnia and the uncanny ability to sleep through anything less than a minor detonation, but Elsa’s rest was neither so poorly scheduled nor so robust that she could ignore the issue any longer.  If she could at least have concentrated despite it she might have been able to manage, but Elsa read best in proper silence, something that her new neighbors apparently couldn’t allow her at nearly ten o’clock at night.

     The textbook snapped shut with a satisfying *thwap*, frustration putting more force into it then was quite necessary.  Under normal circumstances the disturbance would have been palpably out of place in the well-kept room.  Every part of Elsa’s domain was placed with studied precision, neatly ordered and sorted, folded and fit.  Books lined the shelves, morose guardians over the carefully made bed.  The desk held a small lamp near the center and assortment of pens confined to their corner.   Dirty clothes were kept isolated in a small hamper near the door, ready to be escorted away whenever it filled.  The room exuded a sense of calm and quiet that grated against the sounds invading it, setting Elsa’s teeth on edge.  Clearly she wouldn’t be able to accomplish much tonight without staying up late yet again, and tonight that was just too much.  No more.

     Resolved, she stood, nearly knocking over her chair under her abnormal fervor.  Despite the late summer warmth she grabbed her long coat, drawing it close as a ward against the dark and whatever she might find at the house.  No backup was forthcoming from her housemates, who wished her luck but appeared largely uninterested in her efforts, preferring instead to stay sprawled across the couches in the living room variously reading or watching a show.  How they withstood it was a mystery.  Perhaps their marching band roots granted them some special resistance, and as the non-band replacement for their graduated friend she simply hadn’t acquired that particular ability.  Whatever the reason Elsa was determined not to be dissuaded from the attempt, and so she stepped out alone.

     In a better mood Elsa might have noticed how pleasant the night was.  The leaves hung silently on their branches, lit by a nearly full moon set in a clear sky.  The year wasn’t yet old enough for the trees to have begun turning, though fall’s imminent arrival was likely to bring that change soon enough.  Elsa’s house fell nearly at the end of her street, just one removed from the stand of maples that marked the border of a small park.  When searching for a room she’d assumed the location, tucked so deeply into the neighborhood, would be as remote as she would be able to find in the city.  It wasn’t until after she had moved in that she discovered that though her housemates might be quiet enough, the last house on the row was most definitely not.  A short fence in ill-repair did little to separate the lots, and nothing to block the sound pouring from the garage in the back corner of the yard.  A dozen paces rounded the corner, bringing the epicenter into view.

     Having arrived outside the garage she could hear the calamity within more clearly.  There were at least three people between a guitar, drums, and someone singing over it all.  More shouting than singing, really, tumbled into the noise and energy being hurled about with abandon.  They seemed to be digging into their song so recklessly that their enthusiasm drowned out whatever actual talent they might have, at least in Elsa’s disgruntled opinion.  Not that it mattered; she was here to end it, not to provide them with an audience.  When their efforts finally ground to a brief halt Elsa rapped on the door, glass shaking loosely in its frame.

     Quiet replied first, conversation stalling within as they heard the knock.  Upon stepping back Elsa was struck by the idea that perhaps she ought to have asked her roommates just who exactly it was that lived here.  She’d been so frustrated by their disinterest in the problem that she hadn’t even remembered to ask, and as a result was flying blind for no particularly good reason.  The best she could rely on now was that none of them had been concerned enough to stop her from going alone, which was thin comfort against the images of irritable, hulking, guitar-wielding fiends her imagination was oh-so-helpfully supplying for her.  Maybe they hadn’t heard her knock?  No, they’d reacted, retreating now wasn’t an option.  Exhaustion and annoyance had led her into an imminent confrontation.  She’d simply have to face it.

     Her braid swung wide as she shook her head to clear the phantasms from her thoughts, and it was still swaying when the door creaked open.  What she found was a young red-headed woman, perhaps a few years younger than Elsa, head slightly askew with curiosity at this stranger.  Her hair too was kept braided, but rather than Elsa’s long single braid it was wrangled into twin plaits, one trailing forward over her left shoulder and the other lingering behind her right.  What hair hadn’t been restrained stuck out at odd angles, weighed down under a damp sheen of sweat.  Long streaks of white hair swirled down one side, past thrice-pierced ears where it set a striking contrast against the dark metal rings set into them.

     “Umm…hi?”  The greeting was a clear invitation to explain why Elsa was here, and was delivered with the breathlessness of someone who had just finished a long run.  Faded turquoise eyes carried a liveliness that Elsa wasn’t quite prepared for.  All told, she was far too happy for Elsa’s foul mood, and after a swift moment spent squashing stray thoughts that tried to sneak past her annoyance she was ready to put an end to this.

     “Yes, hi.  I need to talk to you about your music.”

     “Oh!  Were you listening just now?  Did you like it?”  Sparkling eyes announced excitement that Elsa was going to have to quash, unwilling to spend the effort to let down the misunderstanding lightly.

     “What?  No!  I’m here to tell you that you need to stop playing!”  That clearly took the other girl aback, wide eyes flashing surprise before narrowing into suspicion, the earlier glimmer whisked away behind abruptly settled clouds.

     “Excuse me? What do you mean, we need to stop playing?  Just who are you, anyway?”  Elsa belatedly realized that spending the time on diplomacy would likely have been wiser, but at this point she wasn’t going to back it off. 

     “I’m Elsa, I live next door.  Look, it’s past ten now, that is just way too late-” Her words faded away as she found herself interrupted.

     “What, that next door?”  She pointed at Elsa’s house.  “I didn’t know the band kids moved out.”

     “They didn’t, I just moved in for one of them.  Look, all I need you to do-”  Again, the sentence trailed off as the redhead ran her words over.

     “They’ve always been fine with us playing, it’s not like it’s all that late.  Plus, this is the only time we can play together.”

     Elsa was done being interrupted.  “Will you let me finish?  I don’t care when you are able to play, it’s late, I have school tomorrow and work left today, and I don’t need to be hearing all this awful noise while I try to do it!  It’s after dark already, so please, will you just stop?!” 

     The ensuing silence held the weight of an oncoming storm.  Elsa could tell that her outburst had struck a chord, one deep enough to leave a lasting mark.  Worse, if the hurt shading her neighbor’s face was any indication then she had just burned her chance of this ending peacefully, or at least of it ending tonight.  And while Elsa was creeping towards her usual compulsion to run and hide from the brewing fight it didn’t look like the other girl had the same tendency.

     The squall struck before any plan had time to coalesce, indignation fueling the response.  “Excuse me?  Awful noise?!  Just because you have no taste doesn’t mean you can just come over here and order us around!  We’ll play when we want to, thank you very much!  And it will be awesome!”  The last word was punctuated by the girl leaning forward and pointing sharply at Elsa, her other hand planted firmly against her hip. 

     She looked ready to say quite a lot more, but a broad-shouldered blond man stepped behind her and set a large hand on her shoulder, steering her back from the door while saying, “Woah, woah, hold on there feisty pants!  We don’t want to start fights with our neighbors.”  His tone was jovial, but the daggers in her eyes before she was pulled back promised that a fight was exactly what she’d had in mind.  Her place in the door was taken by a second young man, this time a scrawny fellow with a mop of brown hair, strands sprouting from the very top to lend him a nonchalant air.

     “Ok, it sounds like that got off to a bad start.  Mind if we start over?  Hi, I’m Olaf, and I play the drums!”  His expression was earnest to a fault, so much so that Elsa felt the anger and anxiety that had flared up when confronting the redhead begin to fade.

     One deep breath later and she was ready to respond.  “Hello, Olaf.  I wasn’t looking for a fight, I just want to be able to finish my homework at a reasonable time tonight, and you have been making that very difficult for me.”

     “Of course, of course!  We were done tonight anyway, and I wouldn’t want to bother you.”  He paused, seeming to consider something, before continuing, “Could I stop by tomorrow to talk about this more?  I’m home by four.  I’ll just need a bit of time to talk with everyone, and you seem very busy so I shouldn’t keep you.”  The way he spoke left the impression that he already thought of her as a friend; stranger still, Elsa was ok with that.  Every word felt perfectly genuine; the man just didn’t seem to have an ounce of guile anywhere in him.

     Better, he had provided a path out of the situation for her.  Relief was apparent as she replied, “Yes, that will be fine.  I’ll see you at four o’clock, then.”  Even if she’d wanted to it seemed as though trying to keep any anger up was a losing proposition against someone so fervently nice.

     “Good, good!  It was nice meeting you, Elsa!  Have a wonderful night!”

     As she began walking away Elsa heard her adversary speak up. “How are you so good at the drums, Olaf, you are like the least punk person ever.”

     The third person responded.  “You’re more than enough for all of us, Anna.  Maybe we should let Olaf answer the door when you’re fired up like that?”

     The girl went to the entrance rather than responding.  When she noticed Elsa looking back she scowled, then stuck her tongue out and shut the door, leaving the glass rattling once more.  Somehow a thought struggled its way out from beneath the debris of Elsa’s discomfort and relief, floating to the front of her mind.

     That was kind of cute.

     No.  You stop that right now, Elsa.  She’s a jerk, don’t you dare.  Shaking her head at her unruly mind, Elsa returned home.

*****

     The confrontation provided mixed results.  Olaf did indeed visit, apologetically explaining that between class and work schedules for the band members they only had time to play together in the late evening.  As he told it the band had spoken with the neighbors when they started, but they hadn’t planned any further than that.  The apology seemed sincere enough, in part because Olaf himself was utterly ingenuous.  Enthusiasm punctuated every sentence he spoke, and after a tangent or two about their music it was apparent that Olaf truly enjoyed playing, enough so that Elsa couldn’t bring herself to even want them to stop entirely, let alone to ask for it.  While arguing with the girl before it had felt much more reasonable to demand that they cease entirely, but now that she was having a proper conversation Elsa was happier to find a compromise.  Even then she felt a twinge of regret that she would be the reason that Olaf wouldn’t get to play quite as much as he clearly wanted to.  They eventually settled on simply limiting the practice time, ending still later than Elsa liked but at least avoiding the truly late nights.  On a whim Elsa also promised to give them a heads up if she was ever going to be away, just so that they could play on those nights without worrying about her.  It helped her feel slightly less like she had just denied a puppy its treats.

     It didn’t take long to see why Olaf treated everyone like a friend: in his eyes, everyone was a friend.  Elsa had never met someone quite so unrelentingly happy.  His joyous goofiness proved infectious, providing a lighthearted counterpoint to the acrimony from the previous night.  It was strange for Elsa to imagine him living with such an ill-tempered roommate.  Perhaps he was simply too relaxed to be bothered by her?  In any case she was hesitant to bring the fight up, not wanting to spoil the visit with a conversation about someone who had triggered such immediate dislike.  With any luck she’d not have to deal with that particular issue at all.

     Perhaps she should have known better.  Elsa had never been very lucky.

*****

     No drop in the temperature manifested during the weekend as the summer seemed unwilling to go out peacefully.  This didn't sit well with Elsa, who much preferred a nice cold snap to a heat wave, doubly so when there was no air conditioning in the house.  In better conditions Elsa’s room would usually have every door, window, and curtain sealed tightly, but the hope of catching what little breeze there was to be had temporarily overwhelmed the tendency.  It didn't amount to much, but even getting a little help was a victory.  Thankfully her room was on a rear corner of the house, offering a second floor view of the new neighbors on one side and a small forest on the other.  The windows facing the other building were blocked off by a bookshelf, but the trees would keep their peace well enough.  The window towards them stood open.

     Most of the Elsa’s Saturday had been spent on the computer working through an English essay, mostly in an attempt to take her mind off the mounting heat and sweat gradually soaking through her shirt.  By the time the afternoon rolled around it became clear that wasn’t going to be enough.  Since she was fairly certain she couldn’t fit herself in the freezer downstairs she decided on the next best thing, a nice cold shower followed by lazing about with a book.  The cool water proved difficult to leave.  Chill rivulets wrote out a compelling case as they ran through her hair, over her shoulders, down the small of her back.  It wasn’t until well after most people would have been left shivering that she left, savoring the last few moments before wrapping in a towel and stepping into the lurking heat once more.

     Her room appeared much less dire this time around, though that was sure to change as the last remnants of the shower dried, and Elsa was determined to make the most of it.  The towel was banished to its hook on the wall while Elsa enjoyed the lingering cold. The wind had began to stir as well, running fantastically through the open window and over bare skin.  In fact, judging by how it was rustling through the trees it must have picked up quite a lot.  No, that wasn’t quite right, just wind wouldn’t cause the branches to shake like that.  Maybe…a…

     It wasn’t a squirrel.  The shaking stilled as Elsa made eye contact with the red-headed source, shock rooting her in place as the intruder’s mouth fell open in surprise.  The girl came around slightly faster than Elsa could, recovering her wits just enough to give a wide-eyed thumbs up with her spare hand, the other being necessary to hold fast on a swaying branch.  The gesture was enough to remind Elsa that she was quite naked, a realization followed immediately by a squeak and a dash towards the towel, then a dive onto her bed and out of sight of the unexpected guest.  Hiding accomplished, Elsa’s brain tried, and failed, to process what had just happened.  What was still happening, as a voice floated into the room.

     “So, I guess Jacquie was the one who moved out.  Err, hi.”

     Elsa gave herself a second before leaving the protection of her covers, securing the towel as she stood hidden against the wall.  Safely shielded from prying eyes once more Elsa leaned her head just past the window frame, hissing, “What on earth are you doing there?!”

     “Climbing!”  The answer was delivered with an infuriatingly matter-of-fact tone, as though there was nothing at all wrong with the situation.  Somewhat more defensively she continued, “I got permission.”

     “Permission from who?”

     “Jacquie, of cou…”  Elsa could almost hear the pieces click into place in the ensuing pause.  “Oh.  That’s…that probably doesn’t work anymore.  Can I still climb your tree?”

     “No you cannot still climb my tree!”  The blush marching across Elsa’s face continued to grow deeper, but now irritation was beginning to take over for embarrassment to fuel its spread.  That this girl would even ask that question was baffling, how could she possibly think Elsa would be inclined to do her a favor at this point?  She didn’t even know the girl’s name yet, and they were yet to meet each other without a fight starting.  Did she really expect to just skip right past everything to being forgiven for casually spying on Elsa?  Just how self-centered was this brat?

     “Great.  Are you planning to do anything other than ruin my fun here, or is that it?  First you try to shut down the band, and now no climbing?  What’s next, a curfew?”  The biting tone took Elsa aback – was this girl trying to make her out as the bad guy here?

     “How is this my fault?  You’re the one peeking in on me!  And why this tree?  There are hundreds out there that won’t have you staring in my window!”

     The redhead didn’t seem to have a good response, but she wasn’t letting that stop her.  “Look not every tree is as cool as this one, none of the others let you go as high at the top of the hill here!  And it’s not like I was trying to spy on you, I had no idea you’d be…try climbing it, you’ll see why …” None of the rambling seemed to be moving quickly enough towards an apology as Elsa decided she’d had enough.

     “You asked for my permission, and my answer is no.  I’m not going to keep arguing like this, and I think that you should go home now.”  To lend weight to her decision, and to cut off the chance for any further conversation, Elsa reached across with her free hand to close the window.  Right before it slid shut some last few words drifted in, being muttered angrily under the intruder’s breath.

     “Stuck-up bitch, probably hasn’t even climbed before…”  Elsa didn’t let any reaction to the jab show as she drew the blinds.  It wasn’t until she sat on her bed and pulled her legs up close, bangs brushing against her knees, that the shaking began.  Adrenaline had steadied her briefly, but it drained swiftly once she was no longer face to face with her adversary.

     Gods, I’m not made for this sort of thing.  Last year, and now this…can’t I just be left alone?  Ragged breaths counted out the minutes as she waited in vain for her mind to settle.  Conflict was never something that she sought out, and yet in the span of a single week here she’d already had to face off twice against just one person.  If this was how things were going to be for the next year…well, she could keep hiding in her room like always.  So long as she kept her windows closed.

Chapter Text

     Autumn arrived meekly, seemingly afraid to notify summer that it had overstayed its welcome.  With the calendar nearly ready to see September out there were only furtive reminders that the season had changed, the occasional cool night or overcast morning offering a glimpse of normality amidst the irrational heat.  Even Elsa’s sleep was fed up with the weather, dropping her occasionally into a white-capped mountainscape as she rested.  Snow driven by a fierce wind lashed against her, each pinprick crystal fueling the burning exhilaration of the storm as she was swept along, hurled aloft on frigid whirlwinds.  An icy peak cut through the blizzard, rising sheer above the clouds to a frozen stillness, stars overlooking the roiling tumult below as Elsa…found herself waking up, left arm tingling from being pinned beneath her. 

     Dull thumps shuddered in from outside, the sound of speakers pushed loud enough to warp music from an art into a blunt instrument.  Glowing red symbols announced the time as 11:28 PM, nearly to the Saturday after her last run-in with her neighborhood nemesis.  How kind of them, Elsa mused darkly, Any longer and they’d be ruining my birthday.  Not that she had anything planned, none of her few friends had followed her to this university, and she hadn’t opened up any since arriving.  Through clubs and classes she’d made a couple of friends, but none close enough to know there was anything special about tomorrow.  Over the week a sense of melancholy had built into a proper gloom; she missed having a day where people might make a fuss about her.  It was nice feeling like it was ok for once, and back home Meri had always found a new way to surprise her, some fun little plan that fit Elsa better than a crowded party could have.

     Truth be told, Elsa would have welcomed a nice surprise tomorrow if one decided to show up, but the one that had awakened her was not the nice sort.

     This was just too much.  Sure, she might not have anything to wake for in the morning, that was hardly the point.  They had no right!  They hadn’t even asked her, and this was so soon after she’d asked them to be more considerate.  Not that she’d have been happy with it even they had asked, but without a single warning this was inexcusable.  What would they expect her to do, just lie there listening to the dull thuds until she built up a headache to match?  This needed to stop one way or another.  She could be generous in ending it, but it would have to end.  One last chance might be more than they deserved, but she would offer it anyway.  One more unwanted conversation. 

     Elsa angrily pulled a blouse on over her pajama tops and grabbed her still more-or-less clean jeans from the day before.  Her hair was a disaster, but she was flatly uninterested in appearing to be either calm or conciliatory right now.  She was far too tired of this to care. 

     Sleep still had its claws sunk into her head as she found her way into the unfriendly dark, the only light in her house cast in a streetlight glow.  It was only once she yanked the front door open to glare at the outside world that her nerves made themselves known – a jittery pressure squeezing her chest and skull.  The grip was gentle for now, but it threatened to grow worse while clattering down the few steps to the sidewalk.  Restless air fed an uneasy sensation by stirring leaf and limb to life, and despite only having a few dozen feet to travel Elsa felt immediately out of her depth.  There was too much energy to it, and too little space to breath.  The tension poured in, sending tremors through hands clenching around whatever shred of control they could hold on to.

     Even that small fragment of stability was shaken upon seeing who she’d have to deal with.  Of course it would be her on the front porch, sitting on a distressingly filthy couch that seemed to have begun as some indeterminate tan beneath the patchwork grime.  Another girl was sitting beside her, sideways with one leg down and the other tucked beneath a startlingly short shirt, fitting long pulls from a smoldering cigarette into the gaps in the conversation.  The one Elsa recognized had a sleeveless black top that ended before it quite reached her pants, which were jeans saved from being too warm for the weather by the sheer quantity of tears down each leg.  Elsa’s eyes lingered longer than she cared to admit between the cloth, on the bare skin those gaps revealed.  Whatever this girl’s flaws, she kept herself in distressingly fine shape.

     Elsa wrenched her eyes upwards when she realized the target of her staring was looking back her way.  Brief panic swept in, the thought that this particular annoyance of a neighbor might have caught her moment of distraction upending what little control she’d held on to.  Elsa now felt woefully underdressed to demand anything, her angry haste having robbed her of the chance to be at least presentable when facing down what was likely to be a fight very soon.  She didn’t even know what to say, which seemed to be just fine with her adversary who took the chance to speak up instead.

     “Oooh, now this is a party.”  She stood and crossed her arms, continuing, “I was wondering if you’d show up.  What’s your command this time, Ice Queen?  Did we manage to bother you again?”  There was an odd twist in her voice, some obscure fragment of meaning set adrift in her tone.  Her gaze was penetrating, rummaging over Elsa as though she was expecting to find something.  It almost seemed like she was expecting this, and Elsa had no idea how to respond to that feeling.

     “Could I maybe talk to Olaf?”  Elsa felt small standing below her, caught in the grasp of the figure standing backlit over her.  Something was going on here that she didn’t understand.  A friendly face would go a long way to lending her some strength, but it wasn’t meant to be.

     “No.  This is my party, if you have a problem with it then you have a problem with me.  Whatever you have to say you can say right now.  What’s your problem with me?”  Again, she was acting like she was the one being attacked here, even though Elsa had only come to ask for silence.  How could she be so self-centered to think she was the victim here?

     Indignation lent Elsa the courage that she hadn’t been able to find before.  “If you are going to insist on being irrationally angry whenever I see you then I suppose yes, I do have a problem with you.  I was very clear before, you simply cannot be so noisy in the middle of the night!”  Elsa was unsurprised to note that her foe didn’t appear swayed by this.  She didn’t know much about this girl, but the stubborn streak was as clear as the white down her braid.

     “Are you serious?  It’s Friday.  If we can’t party on a Friday then when can we?  I doubt you’re even doing anything tomorrow!  So why are you trying so hard to ruin our fun?  I don’t even get why it is that we need to ask you for permission in the first place, why do you get to decide what we do?  It’s not fair!”  She was, Elsa realized, a little drunk, and more than a little wound up about something.  

     The flippant way that she’d guessed Elsa had nothing tomorrow stung, even if there was no way she could have known that the day meant anything to Elsa.  Because of it Elsa’s response was fiercer than she intended, her nervousness showing through as she snapped, “You insist on acting like this is my fault.  You are the one who keeps bothering me, I don’t have to simply accept that you can interrupt me whenever you want!  If I want to sleep then I should be able to, it doesn’t matter that I’m not doing anything tomorrow!”

     “Aha!  I knew it!  You just admitted that you don’t have a reason!  And it’s not even that late!”  At least the smugness in her face made it easy not to get distracted by anything else, but her triumph at Elsa accidentally confirming that her Saturday was empty only further served to get under her skin. 

     “It’s midnight!  But that isn’t even the point, you’re ignoring half-”  The interruption brought a sense of deja-vu, the redhead getting into a groove and running right over Elsa just like last time.

     “I don’t get it, why would you even want to be asleep yet?  There’s so much of the night left!  So much….so much left to do!  If you weren’t such a killjoy I might even have invited you, but no, you’re just here to try and ruin my fun again.  Why?” 

     What did she want from Elsa?  “I’ve already told you why, you are refusing to listen!  Could you be any more frustrating?  Can you stop thinking of yourself for one second and consider that maybe this isn’t all about you?”

     The other girl, still sitting on the couch, was looking back and forth, clearly wanting neither to get involved or to draw attention to herself by leaving.  She almost jumped when the now angry host waved back at her, bristling, “Everyone here is having fun, you’re the one asking all of us to stop just for you!”

     Elsa was done.  She wasn’t comfortable being here in the first place, and she was certainly not going to stand here just to listen to accusations that she was being selfish.  Maybe without the history the two of them had managed to acquire over the last few weeks Elsa might have been willing to back down, but she’d put up with enough by now.  “Look, I came here to try to be polite.  You can listen to me like you should, or I can make you stop.  It’ll be easier for all of us if you just turn down the music.”

     “You can make me?  I’d like to see that!  No, I’m not going to back down just because you can’t leave your bed without getting pissy.”  She seemed as done with the conversation as Elsa, finishing haughtily, “Now, we’re going to go enjoy ourselves.”  With that she turned, grabbed her wide-eyed friend’s hand, and marched into the crowd within.  

     The last thing Elsa heard was the third girl speaking just loudly enough to hear, starting, “Anna, she seems pretty mad.  We might need to…”  Elsa never heard what they might need, the rest of the sentence drowned out by the wave of noise pouring out through the open door.  When it closed Elsa was left standing in the dark, the shakes taking over now that she was alone.  Her neighbor had made her decision, and had been enough of a jerk in the process that Elsa knew what to do next.  It wouldn’t have to be her that got them to stop. 

     When she got to her room she booted up her computer, found the non-emergency number for the police, and after a short time spent composing herself dialed the number in the dark.  The woman who answered was very receptive to the noise complaint, telling Elsa that an officer would come as soon as one was available.  Once that was done there was nothing to do but go back downstairs to lurk in the living room as just one more shadow, albeit one thoroughly wrapped up in blankets.  She was mad now, too mad to either rest or to risk missing watching this.  Elsa wanted to see her neighbor – Anna, come to think of it she’d finally overheard a name for the girl – have to face the consequences of being such a miserable person over the last few weeks. 

     Fuming anger kept her going for a while, still fed by music that was no quieter now than before, but the satisfaction she’d hoped for failed to materialize.  Trepidation found her instead, cutting through the lonely dark to settle on her like a cold fog.  This was starting to feel too similar to last year, having to ask other people to take care of her problems, and thoughts of Hans were the last thing she needed right now.  She knew that she had been right; his advances at the school library had been totally inappropriate for work, and his insistence in the face of her denying him…she’d been lucky that Tamora, the woman in charge of staffing for most of the school’s libraries, fired him so quickly after the complaint.  But even then it hadn’t been satisfying, knowing that he was gone.  She’d trade revenge for forgetting in a heartbeat, for no long associating the formerly welcoming shelves of books with the lurking unease he’d left behind. 

     A greasy lump of negative emotion was building in her stomach, and the only thing Elsa had found that helped was finding something to distract her.  The nervous motion of the night helped, a breeze adding its touch in leaf-cast shadows dancing through the windows and splaying over the floor.  At points the patterns swayed nearly in time to the beat flowing in, the time and measure easy enough to make out through too many walls. 

     The difficulty of ignoring the music served a better purpose now.  At the least her recent spats with her neighbor didn’t hold the same looming threat as these memories, and so her irritation with this Anna could for now be a shield.  The attempt worked immediately, as Elsa realized with a start that the voice in the current song was familiar.  The words were muddled with the distance, but the tumble that came through sounded very much like the girl she’d just called the cops on.  Which would mean the drum work was Olaf’s.  Well, she had no quarrel with him, and she’d not actually heard any of his songs properly.  If she was going to be up anyway she might as well wait outside and listen in.

     Years of music lessons leapt out of Elsa’s memory as she stepped back out her front door, leaning against the short railing and closing her eyes to focus.  Most of it was useless, classical strings and vocal practice in the face of a raucous punk edge, but it at least left a framework for her.  The last time she’d come close enough to listen other worries had preoccupied her, but now she was free to pay attention to the music.  With some good will towards at least one of the participants she was even open to acknowledging that parts of it might be tolerable. 

     Anna has not been wrong.  It wasn’t a complex beat, but it was played with poise, Olaf’s embellishments managing to shade in complexity without ever faltering in driving the song forward.  Elsa didn’t know enough about the instrument to pick out anything particularly special that he might be doing, but everything she could follow was well done.  Annoyingly, she knew more about the vocal work, and she had to begrudgingly admit that there was genuine talent there too.  Her grumpiness would have much preferred if the singing was the weak point, since finding respect for the redhead didn’t sit well with her current mood.  It would have been a lie, though.  Even if Elsa didn’t like the style, hurtling between a lower, throaty timbre and a shrieking fury in the highest notes, the transition between the two was written in pure tones, fracturing around the edges under the energy coursing within.  Her range was extraordinary; Elsa had always been proud of her own abilities, but without keeping in practice she couldn’t possibly hope to match.

     Ok, damnit, Elsa could be fair if she had to.  The girl was good.  Annoyingly so.  Things were so much easier in her head when she could paint the brat with a single broad stroke, but this put a frustrating asterisk up.  ‘Total pain in the ass* (*but damn, she can sing!)’  Worse, it loosened the lid enough that a second caveat snuck out: she was cute, definitely, inarguably attractive.  Elsa had successfully ignored it after the first two encounters, but even she had to admit it after this third.  The black top had clung tight in all the right ways to be a different sort of bother, and the sunny scatter of freckles had caught Elsa’s eye even in the dark of the night.  Not that it mattered buried under a personality like that, but still, this was a thought that Elsa wasn’t going to be able to shove it back in the box.  She was a frustrating, stubborn, self-centered, inattentive, contrary, inconsiderate, utter pain of a neighbor with whom everything had gone perfectly, spectacularly wrong.  Just her sort of luck. 

     Most irritating of all, hearing Olaf in the song had forced her to acknowledge that Anna truly was not the only person at the party, and not all of them had earned the surprise of the police knocking at the door unannounced.  Olaf was the only person she might actually know there, but even ignoring him the rest probably deserved a second chance, even if the one she’d just fought with was already past her third.  It had been bad luck running into Anna first, anyone else would probably have been more likely to listen.  They probably still would be.

     I must be completely crazy.  All she had to do was wait a while longer and someone else would take care of all this for her, and yet here she was, staring down her front steps for the second time tonight and considering bringing herself to a conversation that couldn’t possibly end well.  Maybe it was just exhaustion clouding her thoughts.  Maybe it was actually the right thing to do.  Whatever the reason was, she went.  A relieved breath escaped when she found no one waiting for her on the porch this time, but she pulled it back in when it came time to knock.  This time she really could just turn around and go home.  No one knew she was here. 

     She knocked, and waited.  No one came.  Only after a few seconds had passed did she realize it was possible no one had heard her.  They really were not making this easy for her, with all these chances to chicken out, but she was unexpectedly determined to see this through.  She rapped on the door again, hard enough to hurt but apparently not sufficient to be noticed as again the door stayed closed.  This clearly wasn’t working.  It would have to be plan B, then.

     Ok, calm down.  You can do this, you just need to stay collected.  Don’t react to anyone, don’t show that you’ve noticed anyone looking even if you are still wearing your pajamas.  All you have to do is get in, get someone’s attention, and explain that you have called the cops because of the noise and because that girl, Anna, told you off the first time.  Breathe.  Alright.  Time to go.  She cracked the door open and took stock of the scene.  Olaf wasn’t anywhere in sight; neither was the girl she was hoping to avoid.  The press of people held a bewildering variety of fashion, trending towards the sort that looked like trouble followed in their wake.  The sheer number of piercings gave Elsa pause; the six she had noticed on her neighbor seemed downright conservative against some of the folk here.  Most held a bottle or cup, and a number of those people looked a hair young to have them.  Elsa was stuck, unsure who to approach but unable to simply stand at the door for much longer without drawing attention, until she realized that one of the partygoers was familiar.  Between the height, blond hair, and broad shoulders Elsa was fairly certain he was the man that had pulled Anna back the first time they fought.  That presumably meant that he lived here, which made him into the new end goal. 

     Elsa set her shoulders, settled her expression, and began making her way through the crowd as imperiously as anyone in pajamas possibly could, stoically ignoring everyone and hoping that they would return the favor.  Frankly she wasn’t even the least formal person here, seeing some of the outfits that she passed, but right now that wasn’t important.  All that mattered was delivering her message before escaping to somewhere she could breathe.  And to do that she needed to get the attention of the man in front of her. 

     Elsa reached up to tap on one wide shoulder, certain that nothing she might say would be heard until he noticed her.  His expression as he turned was relaxed, an easy smile replaced by puzzlement, clearly uncertain as to who she was.  The confusion carried through in his voice as he asked, shouting over the music, “Uh, hello.  Have we met yet?”

     “Yes, but I don’t believe that we’ve been properly introduced.  I’m Elsa Arendal, I saw you a few weeks ago outside your band practice?” 

     Recognition lit up his expression like a struck match, humor close on its tail.  Something about her being here seemed to make sense to him, part of a joke that only he was in on.  “Hey, I do remember you!  You’re here for Anna’s birthday party?  I mean, I had been wondering.  Though,” he frowned and cocked his head, some recollection bringing confusion to his face when he continued, “I thought that you weren’t supposed to be here tonight?  And now that I look you don’t seem to be dressed like you’re planning to hang around.  Is something wrong?”

     Elsa felt a bit lost.  The young man’s reaction didn’t make sense given her understanding of the situation.  “I’m sorry, I’m confused.  What talk are you referring to?  If you mean tonight I’m not certain how she could have said it went well.”

     “No, I meant…”  A couple of emotions worked through his face, ending with resignation as he finished flatly, “She didn’t talk to you about the party, did she.  Oh, that little…no wonder she was so amped up, she was hoping for a fight.  You weren’t told, then?”

     “That you were planning to wake me up around midnight?  No, I was not.”  This was not was Elsa had expected, but it at least vindicated her decision to come back.  It might also explain why Anna hadn’t seemed surprised when Elsa met her outside, if she had in fact intended to lure Elsa into an argument.  Though why would anyone plan something like that?  There was no point to it as far as she could see, unless Anna was simply intending to be annoying for its own sake.  That didn’t seem like enough of a reason. 

     A big hand went up to massage the back of an equally large head as he took in the situation, eventually apologizing, “Look, I’m really sorry about this.  You were supposed to be told, but because it’s Anna’s party, and because I was hoping it would help cool things down a bit, I asked her to give the neighbors a heads up about it.  I need to go find her, this isn’t fair to you.  Or anyone, if she didn’t tell anybody.”  He started to turn away, but Elsa caught his free hand to hold him in place.

     “A second, if you will.  I may have reacted a little too quickly after running into Anna outside earlier.”  Bushy eyebrows rose, but he said nothing as she sheepishly admitted, “You should probably know I filed a noise complaint with the police, and they are planning to send someone over.  I wouldn’t have, only I lost my temper a bit when talking with her.” 

     This news took a bit longer for him to process, holding him place as it sunk in.  Eventually he sighed deeply, muttering to himself too quietly to be heard before speaking up sardonically, “Well, you’re hardly the first to lose their temper around her.  It’s basically her superpower.”  His tone suggested he was speaking from personal experience.  “For now I need to handle this, we’ll need to clean up a bit before they show up.  Also, Anna’s going to lose it when she hears and I think you might want to not be here when that happens.  And…” He paused, weighing his words before finishing, “Thanks for telling us.  I don’t know what Anna said to you, but I’ve got a pretty good guess, and I know you didn’t have to warn us.  Anna’s just going to have to deal.”  He was already turning at the last words, the crowd parting for him as he went. 

     Elsa felt miserable.  He didn’t seem mad at her at all, which left her feeling like a jerk that she hadn’t tried to find a second person to talk to before calling the cops on them.  There wasn’t even anything she could do.  She would have to leave the explanations to the man now talking closely to a fellow behind the speakers.  Furthermore, her energy had run out: all she was looking forward to now was crawling back into bed.  Having nothing to look forward to tomorrow was still an improvement over the rollercoaster tonight had turned into.  At least it meant she could sleep all this off. 

     The music volume plummeted shortly after she reached the second floor, low enough that she could ignore the trickle that eked through the glass of her windows.  Yawns caught up with her as her socks came off, for once being tossed on the floor rather than put away in the hamper.  Elsa wasn’t in the mood to care about that right now.  Heavy eyelids were a pleasant surprise once under her covers.  She had been worried that sleep would be slow to arrive after an eventful awakening, but instead it was wasting no time in carrying her away.  Thoughts began to diffuse into dream as soon as her head hit the pillow.

     *THUNK* 

     Something struck the window from outside, Elsa’s heart rate spiking as quickly as she bolted upright.  Looking at the clock she found that no more than fifteen minutes could have passed, still hours before the darkness outside would be lifted.  Another noise followed, a softer strike than a rock but still solid enough to show a fair bit of force behind the throw.  The third indicated that whoever it was probably wasn’t going away for a while, and Elsa had a sinking suspicion that her fight with Anna had just developed a part four.  Creeping reluctantly out of bed Elsa pulled aside the curtain just enough to peek through, jumping as a pinecone struck the glass right in front of her.  It was difficult to see, but there did seem to be a figure in the tree already reaching up for more ammunition.

     Elsa did not want to find out how persistent this little curse would be if she tried to ignore it, resigning herself to open the window a crack and hiss, “What could you possibly want this time?”

     Another pinecone answered first, well-aimed enough that so that it bounced off the screen covering the gap.  The expected voiced followed behind.  “I can’t believe you called the cops!  We listen to a little music and you call the cops?  Why are you trying so hard to ruin everything for me?”  Hurt seeped into every word, and Elsa couldn’t understand it.

     “I don’t want to have to ruin anything!  I just want to be left alone, and you don’t seem to know how to do that.  Even right now!  It’s the middle of the night and I only want to sleep.”

     Branches creaked under agitated motion as the figure outside repositioned.  “Well, fine then, shut the windows, lock the doors!  What are you so afraid of?” 

     How was she supposed to answer that?  It was too late to think, let alone argue.  Just staying upright was difficult, exhaustion threatening to take her legs out from under her any moment now.  Desperate for any end to this, she pleaded, “Just...go away, Anna.  If you really want to talk we can do so later, but for now, please, go away.  For once just let me sleep.”  A yawn escaped to prove her need for sleep, and surprisingly it was the only sound from either of them.  Elsa had expected a response given Anna’s previous insistence on winning the arguments she found herself in, but this time none came.  The last thing that Elsa heard was a soft “hmph” and the rattle of needles in a sudden descent.  She listened to her go quietly, too worn out to think clearly about anything yet still wanting to be certain that this would be the last interruption.  The creak of old boards and a secondary thud told Elsa that she was probably over the fence, which was enough.  Sleep welcomed her with open arms when she returned to bed, leaving her thoughts for the morning.

Chapter Text

     The following weeks finally saw summer get the boot, at last allowing cooler winds to settle in like a sigh of relief.  Elsa reveled in the change which, alongside a blessed lack of interruptions in the lengthening nights, was finally making her feel at home after the initial tumult following the move and the new semester.  There was just one problem: she had inadvertently wound up with a redheaded grudge haunting her morning commute.  It began on the Monday after her trifecta of run-ins.  Elsa had been pointedly buried in a book as she waited for her bus to arrive, headphones providing a shield of quiet ambience to fully seal her away from the outside world.  Peripheral vision proved to be the weak link in her armor as she noticed a newcomer arrive at the stop.

     Fate was clearly enjoying itself.  Rust-red twin braids, a button-up plaid shirt that looked to be about as professional as the girl would allow, and a scowl that was either addressed at Elsa’s presence or at the concept of being awake right now added up to one markedly disgruntled Anna.  Thin cords running from a left pocket traced lines to earbuds, lending her the same protection from her surroundings as Elsa.  She didn’t appear to be interested in a fight this time, walking by to lean against a tree from which she could watch for the bus without having to look past Elsa.   It wasn’t subtle, but it also wasn’t confrontational, and being ignored suited Elsa just fine.  That she had never returned to finish their midnight quarrel was a blessing as far as Elsa chose to think of it.  For now leaving each other to listen to their own music wasn’t likely to lead to anything.

     The two managed to pointedly ignore each other splendidly over those weeks spent crawling out of the heat.  Four mornings per week they greeted each other with inattention, music shielding them from any need for communication.  The closest they came to interacting were the occasional glances Elsa caught from the back of the bus, and even those lost their angry edge as the weeks went by.  By the time the leaves began turning in earnest they had settled into an unspoken truce.  Elsa was perfectly happy with the situation.

     At least that’s what she kept telling herself.  They weren’t fighting about anything now.  They were keeping out of each other’s way.  It should have been exactly what Elsa wanted.

     So, after all this time why couldn’t she keep the fights out of her head?  It wasn’t like her to dwell on an issue after it was solved, and yet redheaded thoughts kept sneaking in, even when safely hidden away in her room as she was now.  Perhaps it was that Elsa wasn’t as comfortable as she felt she should have been with how she’d handled everything so far.  It was her room, just as much her neighborhood as the other girl’s, but guilt lingered about being the one to put a stop to the nonsense, just like it still did with Olaf and his drums.  The feeling stuck even after a surprise Olaf visit, fueled apparently by an accidental surplus of freshly-baked cookies, let her know that only Anna was left with any ill-will over the night.  She picked up one more name in the process: Kristoff, the big guy she’d found at the party, and whom apparently had given Anna a stern talking-to afterwards that Elsa expected had been entirely ignored. 

     If only she could put things out of her own thoughts so easily.  The details that managed to stick around weren’t even the ones that made sense.  The direct insults were easy to forget, but her nemesis apparently had a knack for getting under Elsa’s skin accidentally.  For instance, she hadn’t been wrong when saying that Elsa never had climbed a tree in her life.  She could envision falling from one a lot more clearly than whatever is was that people enjoyed about it.  Mad, the lot of them, and particularly the redheaded one that had managed to wedge this thorn right where it would be felt most. 

     “Aaargh!”  Elsa rested her face in her hands, pressing fingers against her temple as though to physically push the annoyance away.  Knowing that she shouldn’t be bothered by this clearly wasn’t going to save her from utter distraction, and she couldn’t hide from her own mind.  The problem was determined to stick with her no matter where she went, fading only when she managed to dig into a particularly complex problem, and her homework was already quite done.  She’d have to figure something else out to fix this. 

     Well, there was one part of this that she could shut up, right now.  She was twenty one years old.  She could drink, she could live on her own, so if she bloody well wanted to then she could climb a tree.  She wouldn’t have to go anywhere since apparently she just so happened to have a good one right outside her window.  How hard could it be?  It was something children did.  All she needed to do was pin her braid up, slip into an old t-shirt that wouldn’t mind a little dirt, and grab the right shoes.  It wouldn’t be more than a few minutes, and the exertion would hopefully settle her thoughts. 

     The old fir loomed imposingly over Elsa as she hopped down the steps to the yard.  The house wasn’t exactly new, but its coniferous sentry must have been standing here even longer to stretch up so very high above her.  She didn’t have to go to the top.  Maybe only high enough to see over the roof, that should be good.  Twenty five feet, thirty at most, and she’d be able to see what the fuss was about.  Nothing to it.  From the base it didn’t even look like quite so much, the top being lost to sight amidst branch and needle.  Elsa squashed her trepidation as she hooked her hands over a low branch just at head height, giving herself time for a deep breath to steel her nerves.  It felt sturdy enough as she tested her weight, swinging her legs free of the ground to hang.  Only a slight tremor shivered through the wood as she did, the needles at the periphery taking little note of this slim figure adding its weight. 

     Ok, here I go.

     Pulling herself onto the first branch was as easy as she hoped, though the rough bark promised to leave its mark behind on fair skin unaccustomed to this sort of treatment.  The next branches were nearer at hand as she pulled herself to her feet, fitting herself through the clearest gap.  Bits of detritus shook loose from each branch she grasped, though Elsa opted to ignore the mess it was likely making of her.  Muscles protested at the unusual stress of heaving herself upwards and a thin sweat was building, but Elsa found that this was more exciting than she had expected.  The tree felt quite a lot steadier under her than it had looked like it might, and save for a few body-length gaps most of the climb was no more difficult than if the branches were the rungs of a ladder.  The longer gaps weren’t so intimidating either, given how easy her grip was made by the bark.  It seemed like mere moments had passed before she reached the level of her window, pausing to rest on the very same branch that brat had stood on when they fought.  The tree didn’t seem to be thinning out at all, offering a clear path weaving upwards.

     And so up Elsa went.  Her confidence in her safety was surprising, but through her steady, cautious climb she hadn’t felt any fear of slipping yet.  Having nothing more than trust in her grip between her and a two-story tumble was proving exhilarating.  Adrenaline scoffed at the idea of stopping level with the roof, and so she kept going.  Only a little further and she’d be above the canopy of the bordering woodland, and through the needles and cones she could see a good gap in the branches that should offer a nearly unobstructed vantage point.  No need to stop short if this was going so well.  Perhaps the top would have to remain for another day, but she could at least do better than the bare minimum.

     A heavy bough awaited the climber when she reached the gap, swaying ever so slightly as she clambered up.  A thin branch, newly sprouted to fill the space, provided a handhold as she carefully turned to face outward before settling down, legs swinging freely on either side of her perch.  Finally certain that she was secure, Elsa looked out.

     An angry, contrary corner of her mind wanted her to say that this was nothing special, but the rest of her was too much in awe to listen.  The grueling uphill walk to get home suddenly seemed a gift as she overlooked patchwork rooftops fit in amongst the streets, the landscape falling away until it reached water miles and miles distant, glimmering gold in a fire-lit sunset.  People and cars crawled along their paths, meandering under streetlamps flickering to life.  Other trees, resplendent in autumn colors, were studded throughout, offering haphazard chunks of color to the scene.  And yet distance kept the sight quiet, separation leaving the sounds of the city an abstract technicality, something required but not really necessary.

     Elsa almost hated to admit it, but her neighbor had a point.  Not enough to justify spying on her like she had, but this…it wouldn’t be easy to give it up.  The heady rush of the climb, and then the splendor found once she ascended beyond everything else around, it was maybe something worth holding on to.  In fact, Elsa was taken aback by just how little weight her earlier arguments seemed to hold now that she looked back on them, the giddiness at having dared to attempt this coloring her perspective.  It helped to realize that this was the first thing Anna had caused, even if indirectly, that Elsa was actually enjoying.  Maybe, just maybe, she could be more lenient about letting the girl up here.  Assuming she promised not to look. 

     It might not be so bad if she looks.  The thought leapt free of Elsa’s subconscious, the bars making up its cage having been loosened by the thrill of the climb.  A deep blush followed immediately, plus a vigorous head shake to try and dislodge the unruly musings.  It was an absurd thing to think.  Ok, so perhaps Anna was cute, but they hadn’t had a conversation yet without getting angry at one another.  There was no way of knowing if she was even interested in that way.  Elsa had never even been told the girl’s name, having only found out accidentally by overhearing it.  But from up here her reasons for never asking Olaf seemed insubstantial, silly concessions to a discomfort that didn’t deserve the attention she minded it.  Maybe one these mornings she could try to start a conversation, if only to break the streak of their meeting when they already had reason to be angry.  Surely nothing too terrible could happen.

     With a start Elsa realized that while she had sat musing the sun had begun to set in earnest, darkness springing up as it sank to the horizon.  She would have to climb down before it got dim enough to complicate the process.  As it was the trunk of the tree was shadowed by the crisscross branches, muddling the depth of each step.  It wasn’t too bad yet, but she couldn’t wait any longer.

     It was at this point that Elsa learned something else about climbing trees: the trip down is not at all the same as the trip up.  It wasn’t so bad at first, just a few butterflies as she transferred her weight to the first step.  The second step’s gap left her stomach in disarray, her caution screaming against the need to transfer her weight without being able to test the branch the same way she had on the way up.  Even so she managed alright until the first body-length gap that she’d pulled herself past before.  It became clear immediately that she’d have to commit to the drop before her foot had found purchase.  Two attempts ended in failure.  No matter how much she told herself that she would land on the branch exactly where she knew it was, her nerve failed when it came to the point of actually letting herself slide far enough that she’d have need to rely solely on her grip if her feet found only air.  She simply wasn’t long enough to bridge the gap while still keeping her chest solidly, if painfully, on the bark.  Her confidence had failed her just as quickly as it had surprised her before.  She was stuck. 

     Panic wasn’t going to help, but it came anyway.  Sweat that had felt well earned on the first part of the climb suddenly clung cold and clammy, weaseling its way under her grip until she feared she might lose it.  Shallow breaths pressed her skin roughly into the branch, bark scraping away as she held tight.  Blood thundered from her madly beating heart, fear striking a sickening rhythm.  And just when she most needed to be able to think things through her head was instead featuring the scene of her slipping off and falling, shattering on the way down. 

     “You make it hard to enjoy this.”  The voice cut through her panic as Elsa found that she was no longer alone.  The cause for this idiotic plan was standing dozens of feet below, barely visible through the intervening shadows.  It was anyone’s guess as to how long she had been waiting there, as Elsa didn’t have enough presence of mind available to accurately recall how long she had been stuck.

     Elsa would have liked to have had a retort, to say something clever to show that she was still in control of the situation.  Instead, she barely managed to squeak out, “I can’t reach.”

     “Sure you can, you got up there in the first place.”  The sardonic tone made it clear that she was determined to have at least some fun with Elsa’s predicament despite any difficulty.  Upon seeing the blonde make no new attempts to lower herself down her observer sighed, then reached up and swung onto the first branch in one fluid movement.  If Elsa hadn’t been so thoroughly distracted she’d have been impressed.  For the moment she only had attention for her own perch. 

     The redhead’s ascent made Elsa’s look glacial by comparison, and before the sun had a chance to slip any further out of sight she was standing confidently below.  She set herself against the trunk, feet planted parallel and with one arm on a broken stump of a branch to her right, then commanded, “Drop down, I’ll pull you in.”  The free hand rested firmly against the back of Elsa’s knee, a silent reassurance that there was more to rely on than gravity and luck.

     “That’s easy for you to say.”  The words came with some difficulty, squeezed out of shallow breaths and against the weight of her body pressing down on her lungs.  Nonetheless, the touch against her legs helped.  Some blood came back to her face, darkening from the pale of her fear to a blush at having gained an audience to her inglorious position.  Even so, embarrassment was hardly enough of a reason to refuse the help, and the terror of falling was more than enough reason to accept.  Allowing a sliver of trust in the steadying hand Elsa let herself slide further down, then at last she let herself drop, finding sheepishly that the reassuring grip now on her waist hadn’t been necessary after all.   Just as Anna had said, once her feet found purchase she did in fact still reach the branch she’d come from, leaving her shaking slightly but otherwise solidly set against both holds. 

     With a firm push towards the center Elsa let go, flattening herself against her rescuer and trying to reach the stability of the trunk through her, in addition to reaching for a handhold.  A soft “Oh” met the sudden pressure, with Elsa studiously avoiding looking at the face now so close to her own, far too mortified to risk eye contact right now.  That she was noticeably shaking from relief was already quite enough for her to want to be able to simply disappear.  To top it all off, now that she was no longer consumed by having to hang on for dear life Elsa was suddenly keenly aware of the warmth of the lean body she was pressed against, and of just how distracting the arm about her waist was in entirely distinct ways than before.

     I have to get out of this damned tree.  Elsa had a strong suspicion that her head wasn’t going to end up any more settled after this climb than before it, but the turmoil was going to feel a lot less dire when compared to this ill-fated adventure.

     “Are you okay now?  If you want me to help you again you’re going to have to let me move.”

     “Oh!  I’m sorry.  Sorry.  Here, let me just start…I think I can get down from here…”  Elsa hurriedly crouched, an awkward maneuver given that there were two of them sharing the space, to reach for the next foothold, wanting to get moving before she made things any more complicated.  Needing help in the first place was embarrassing enough, and it just had to be this particular girl who noticed.  Determination saw her through the remaining harrowing gaps without incident, though she was certain she heard quiet laughter from above after a particularly graceless landing onto solid ground.  Her visitor didn’t give her any time to catch her breath, a hail of pinecones clattering to the ground as a barely controlled tumble landed her seated on the last branch, back against the tree and legs idly swinging.

     The contrary corner of Elsa’s mind had been rudely shoved into a cage over the course of the descent, rendering toothless the distant cries that this was her neighbor’s fault in the first place.  As awkward as this had been, it would have been ten times worse if Elsa had needed to start shouting until someone came out.  Maybe she wouldn’t have even have been able to do it, preferring to risk the fall than face anyone while in that position.  So really, she’d been saved in two ways tonight, no matter what led to it in the first place, and she’d have to be truly cold-hearted to refuse to be grateful for it. 

     There was nothing better to say than the obvious, so Elsa spoke first.  “Thank you.  I guess I should have been more careful before trying that.”

     “I’m amazed you tried it at all.  I’ve been busy thinking of you as no fun whatsoever and then you not only try climbing, you try hard enough to get stuck?  I guess that means I should say sorry, too, I didn’t mean to get you trapped in a tree.”  The tone held a backhanded edge, closer to an apology than anything Elsa had heard from her before but still miles away from actually being one.  At least the dig at Elsa appeared to be meant more to tease than to wound.  A persistent grin also put the lie to any feigned irritation, proving that her rescuer at least had enjoyed this opportunity, though Elsa wondered if it might only have been so that she could see the blonde struggle.  Even if it came from a more fair-minded direction Elsa wasn’t willing to share in that amusement, her nerves still running at too high a pitch to feel that this had been anything but a terrible decision.  Maybe in the morning she could find the humor in it, but for now relief was the nearest she could manage.

     Without warning the redhead kicked her right leg above the branch, spun, and tumbled backwards off the edge.  Elsa started and yelped, hands flying up uselessly as somehow her neighbor failed to come crashing to the ground.  Fading shock gave way to the realization that the girl’s legs were still hooked over the branch, leaving braids dangling beneath what was now a full-blown smirk.  Elsa dropped her hands to clasp together as she breathed through the surprise.  That was blatantly meant to startle her, and eventually she managed to squeak out, “Why.  On earth.  Would you do that.” 

     “If I’d had a mirror you’d know why.  Your face…”  The girl was inordinately pleased with herself, delight at achieving that reaction written in her expression.  “Ok, I’ll admit it, I think I was wrong about you.  You might be some fun after all.” 

     “You’re impossible.”

     “And you’re upside-down.  You should fix that.”

     Even less than before, Elsa could not share in the amusement.  Apparently her terror from mere minutes earlier was proving a fertile target, and she was thoroughly convinced that she wouldn’t be able to handle much more of this.  At least it looked like one of them would walk away from this happy.  That was technically an improvement.  And she still preferred to end this diplomatically.

     “Then I will meet you halfway, I’ll go lay down.  This has been more excitement than I’m accustomed to.  So, um, good night.”  Elsa half turned, making it clear that she was ready to go but offering a chance for her neighbor to say goodbye.

     “This early?  Oh well.  Does this mean I can climb the tree again?”  Still dangling casually from the tree like some absurd bat, Anna wasted no time getting to the point.  Saying yes seemed to be the easiest way to keep the peace, and the sprawling scene Elsa had found above still lingered in her thoughts despite the harrowing return trip.

     “I guess I do owe you now.  I’ll just have to be careful about keeping my blinds closed.”

     “Yes!”  Her arms, being the only limbs not essential to staying aloft, flailed briefly in excitement, before her eyes widened as her thoughts snagged on a different meaning than she’d intended.  “Err, I mean about the climbing, not the blinds.  Not that I mean you should keep them open.  Or that you would have a reason not to.  Of course you would have a reason not to, that’s not what I meant…”  Her words trailed off into a muddle until she finally caught ahold of whatever mental thread had come loose.  Waving her hands slowly in front of her face, she finished with a faux-dramatic, “Ignoooore meee!” 

     Elsa found the command difficult, held startled by the unexpected wave of flustered babble.  The manner with which the last response had run off a verbal cliff was unexpectedly endearing, hardly a feeling that Elsa had been prepared for.  She was left without a response, strained silence stretching until she mumbled, “I think I can do that.  Bye.”  An abrupt departure was easier to manage than remaining in a conversation that had outstripped her ability to process it.  She finished the turn and began walking towards the front door, hearing the soft thump of a presumably successful landing.

     Right before Elsa touched the door handle a shout came from behind.  “I’m Anna, by the way.  Anna Fossen.  I don’t think I’d got a chance tell you that yet.”  The way in which she said it made the name sound like an olive branch, an offering to ward off future battles.  

     Elsa happily took it, and offered back, “Elsa Arendal.  I believe you only got half.”

     The final response in the dark emerged mischievous.  “Well, I had fun today Elsa.  I’ll see you again…soon.”  The last bit stopped Elsa short as she stepped inside: just what did she mean by “soon”, and why the ominous pause?  That and a few other details lingered as she retreated to have a shower, which she hoped would get her feeling right-side-up again.

     'I’ve been busy thinking of you.’  Huh.  No, the context made it clear what was meant, it probably didn’t mean anything more than had been said.  Likely none of it did.  The day had been complicated quite sufficiently already when she had managed to trap herself, and there had been plenty to see right in front of her without imagining more.  It would be enough to acknowledge her surprise that, after just how badly the two of them had met the first several times, Anna had nonetheless noticed and chosen to help.  The list had gained another entry: her neighbor was a frustrating, stubborn, self-centered, occasionally attentive, contrary, inconsiderate, utterly adorable pain with a voice that Elsa couldn’t help but envy. 

     Perhaps, Elsa considered, it wasn’t the climb that was making this difficult.

Chapter Text

   Elsa spent the next several days dealing with the discovery that there was a traitor lurking in her subconscious.  The business in the tree was a single, solitary positive encounter and by all rights shouldn’t have meant much, but it had planted a nervousness in her.  The frightening parts grew less and less important while the bright spots stuck, and some of those were trouble.  Now that she was safe, removed from the danger that had dominated her mind at the time, Elsa was forced to admit that she had enjoyed Anna’s help more than simple gratitude could explain.  The humor she teased with while hanging from the branch was endearing, part of a playfulness that Elsa wanted to see more of.  And those moments spent pressed flat against the redhead fueled more than embarrassment.  A guilty evening had been spent letting her mind wander down the rabbit warren of “what ifs”: what if they hadn’t met in a fight?  What if Anna was gay too?  What if she had followed Elsa to her room afterward, and Elsa’s hands had the chance to follow where the tattoos she had spied led…her imagination took her down some tantalizing paths that night.

   It wouldn’t go anywhere, of course.  The rational parts of her knew both that she didn’t have the guts to follow her physical attraction, and that even if she did they were liable to end up bickering since just thinking she was cute was hardly solved anything.  The irrational parts of her wanted to stay mad at the girl anyway for what she’d done before.  Still, despite everything, a treacherous seed of hope had sprouted through the cracks in her disdain for the redheaded terror.  It enjoyed an unexpected taste of calm as well, for despite Anna’s parting words she’d failed to show up at the bus stop as usual.  Elsa wasn’t sure if she was disappointed or relieved as the week ticked away, devoid of the braided distraction.

   Thursday dawned dimly, longer nights and a thick layer of clouds combining to give her a half-lit wait at the bus stop.  Elsa loved everything about fall except for the darkness invading what should have been perfectly good daylight hours.  Even when she lacked any plans to use them it had been nice at least having the option, if the whim struck her, to go out.  Whether it was just going for a simple run, taking her camera around for an impromptu wandering, or flopping onto a bench by the sea where she could read and daydream, the early sunset now hemmed her in.  She didn’t relish facing the dark by herself.

   Just a few short weeks ago she had been so eager for autumn to sweep away the incessant heat, and she felt a little silly for feeling glum when it had done that so wonderfully.  Best to focus on the good and enjoy the day, even if she couldn’t see if clearly.  She sighed, determined not to dwell on this.  She already had plenty of thoughts that refused to go away.

   Something touched against her head, which she absentmindedly brushed off as she remained lost in thought behind her headphones.  She paid more attention when she felt it again, her hand finding something moving this time.  Elsa froze.  A leaf?  A spider?  What…she didn’t finish the thought as it moved again, this time sending her squeaking to the ground as she flailed against whatever was there, losing her footing in the wet leaves and landing heavily on her butt.  From Elsa’s new vantage point she had a perfectly clear image of the branch that she had felt, wielded by her most obnoxious neighbor from a perch in the tree above.

   “Wow, that worked even better than I thought!  You are not good with surprises, are you?"  She looked inordinately pleased with herself, sporting a smirk which would have been cute if it Elsa wasn’t so distracted by the dampness she was now sitting in.

   “Oh, for the love of…do you really have to do that?  Can’t you just say hello like a normal person?"  Elsa scrambled to her feet, brushing leaves off and wincing at the touch of a slimy something that she hoped was no worse than mud.

    Rolling her eyes Anna scoffed, “Me, normal.  That doesn’t sound like any fun.”

   “Well, do me favor and try to pretend, I’m all wet now thanks to you."  The answering snicker confused her for a moment until she realized what she’d said, retorting, “Oh, can it, you know what I meant."  If Anna’s arboreal reappearance hadn’t managed to be quite so annoying Elsa might have had something nicer to say, but, for the moment, her irrational side had the upper hand and didn’t want to let go.  Surely a better person would be more apologetic right now, but this girl seemed to be nothing if not proud of herself.

   “Oooh, still so cold?  Guess the climb didn’t help get that stick out of your butt."  Elsa wanted to wipe that grin off her face, but couldn’t think of anything clever to say and couldn’t reach her.  Not that she was sure what she would do even if she could reach.

   “Can you take this seriously at all?  I’m not kidding, this is not how I want to start my day.  I don’t have time to go change if I want to catch the bus, and I’ve got work after class already."  Anna’s smile faded at the gravity in Elsa’s voice, but the older girl didn’t care.  The blonde wasn’t in the mood to be the literal butt of the joke.  She’d be mortified if she would have to spend the day with a streak of mud down the back of her jeans, but that wasn’t even the truly irritating part.  This was just another game to the girl.  If Anna could just take a moment out of her own amusement, hopefully spending it to consider that Elsa’s opinion might actually matter, she’d be a lot more tolerable, instead of this infuriating tendency to ignore that anyone else might have a reasonable complaint.

   Anna dropped to the ground, landing just as gracefully as Elsa hadn’t a minute before.  Her expression was unsettled, a mix of contrition, irritation, and more that couldn’t be identified.  It seemed like she wanted to say something, but instead spent her time glancing at Elsa, then away again.  This was new.  In each previous run-ins she hadn’t avoided eye contact at all, but this time she seemed nervous.

   No explanation came.  She eventually muttered, “Ah, screw it,"  then wandered to her usual spot, putting on her headphones to forestall any chance at a conversation.

   It was over for now, but Elsa wasn’t satisfied with how it had ended.  She felt a hint of remorse at having been so obviously annoyed, even if she had a fine reason to be.  Something was different about Anna’s bearing this time, she hadn’t settled into her typical indignation when Elsa pushed back.  If it meant anything then the meaning was lost to her for now.

   Anna spent the rest of the wait fidgeting, occasionally looking Elsa’s way but for the most part studiously focusing on her phone, all the while shifting her weight from one foot to the other.  It compounded the weirdness of her earlier hesitation, making it clear that something was going on that she wasn’t letting on about.  
   Just let it go.  There’s no reason to let yourself get caught up in whatever this is.  Elsa didn’t find herself very convincing.  This was going to bother her, no matter how much she knew it shouldn’t.

   The puzzle stuck with her, bouncing around her head for nearly an hour until her first class finally filtered in, stealing her attention away and leaving Elsa answerless.  Neither did she make any progress throughout the day, her morning concern failing to rematerialize enough for it to reach any further than the back of her mind.  By the time her shift at one of the campus libraries came around the issue was pushed out entirely.  Shelving books inspired calmer thoughts.

   Despite having locked the library doors more than an hour ago, Elsa was only just getting the last of the books into place at the end of her shift.  Light streaming through the high windows had begun to darken into orange hues while she worked.  It was her favorite time to be here, watching the mere calm slip into utter stillness as everyone else filtered out.  She particularly liked evenings like this, where she was the last even of the employees.  The whole place felt like it became hers, free to use for whatever whim might strike her.  She would occasionally strike down the silence with a song on her phone, ignoring the tinny quality to dance through the solemn air, for once not having to care how silly she might look.  Mere months before it wouldn’t have been possible.  Hans having had a keycard as well was too unnerving a thought to have lingered then, but with him gone the morose calm was once again welcoming, just as it had been when she first wanted the job.  It was while others were still there that she felt it, jumping when people rounded the corners, momentary panic that Hans’ persistence had brought him back.

   As it turned out, the sudden buzzing from her pocket also did the trick, sending Elsa a half-foot closer to the ceiling as her last pile of books tumbled onto the floor.  Luckily, being the last here also meant no one was around to witness her embarrassment at having been frightened by her own phone.  Maybe one of these days she would stop jumping at shadows, but clearly today would not be it.  Grumbling, she collected the books again, purposefully ignoring the creased pages in one that had fallen just wrong.  Nothing could be done about it now, other than hoping the fold would flatten out while it sat on the shelf.  Or, given that the book was one of the old editions for the Intro to Economics course, hope that the undergrads using it simply wouldn’t care.  Gods knew they treated the books badly enough themselves.

   Only once everything was at last sorted into place did Elsa check the message that had so startled her.  She didn’t get a lot of texts, but it was generally Meri or her parents who sent the few that did turn up.  Seeing Olaf’s name was a surprise; she had forgotten that they traded numbers when he first came over.  What might he want?

   First was a picture, containing Olaf and a huge pile of ingredients.  Flour, eggs, sugar, enough butter to make her feel heavier just from seeing it, and most importantly a Costco-sized bag of chocolate chips.  He was seemingly holding everything back with a wielded spatula.  The caption explained, ‘Making cookies tonight, need help!’ His horrified expression, like the mountain of stuff was about to overwhelm him, was enough to make her giggle.  Well, why not?  Anywhere with that much chocolate was worth a visit.  And how much could possibly go wrong around cookies?

   She set out while sending back, ‘Only if you’re fine with some of those chips not making it into the cookies!  Be there in 40 minutes.’ Shortly after she was out the door a second picture came back, showing Olaf on the floor while pretending to fend off the bag of chocolate.  The message said simply, ‘Hurry!’ Her grin at just how much of a dork he was lasted all the way to the bus stop, and inspired her to choose music with a bit more swing to it for the ride back.  If she were still alone in the library she might well have been dancing, surprised at how bright her mood was now.  Olaf had a talent for lightheartedness, or maybe it was just the promise of chocolate.  Either way Elsa was humming to herself as she hopped off the bus, eager to drop her bag off and head over.

   The front porch was much less imposing now, and this time held no one waiting to ambush her.  Orange lights flanked the door, new additions that arrived alongside October.  Someone was ready for the holidays to begin.  Halloween had never been Elsa’s favorite; despite enjoying the aesthetic, the actual day always left her feeling left out; worse, it was her own fault that she was.  Two years away from home hadn’t managed to break that routine, despite telling herself each time that this year would be different.  Maybe it would be, but she didn’t have a lot of faith in herself to make the change.

   Stop it, this isn’t the time for that.  Just knock, dummy.  No sense getting down over nothing, at least not in the face of imminent chocolate!  This time she heard Olaf respond immediately, yelling, “Come in!"  loud enough to be heard over the music that was playing.  Without the crowd of people from last time the room was rather serene, giving Elsa a chance to look around while she slipped off her shoes, leaving them in the small pile at the foot of the stairs.  The living room was surprisingly clean, at least compared to what Elsa had expected to find.  The wood floor was worn with age rather than mistreatment, and the couches inside were similarly battered through nothing more than long use.  Now that she thought about it there hadn’t been any particular reason to have expected a mess when she got here, it was a bit rude to have assumed that.  All told, the place looked really quite comfortable.

   “The kitchen’s back here!"  Olaf’s voice echoed down the hallway alongside the clatter of a metal tray.  Elsa was pretty sure that the Ricky Martin currently playing was his doing, given that neither Kristoff nor Anna seemed likely culprits.  For Olaf, though, it was a good fit.  When she reached the end of the hallway a grin broke out at how she found him.  Yes, definitely a good fit, given that he was dancing while measuring out flour when she came out of the hallway.

   “I see Ricky beat me here.  Are you two serious, or is it just a fling?"  Her tone was teasing as she rolled up her sleeves, ready to dive in to help as soon as she got directions.

   “Oh, woe is me, my love has gone unrequited!  Ricky, Enrique, they toy with my heart so cruelly, driving me to bake to drown my sorrow..."  He sighed with such heartbreak that Elsa giggled at how well he sold it.  “Enough about me, though, how have you been?”

   “Better, now that it’s finally stopped being so hot.  What should I do to help?"  She was hesitant to just dive right in, people could be very particular about their recipes.  Better to play it safe.

   “You can start the snickerdoodles!  Find the recipe over there,"  he shrugged towards a box holding a couple dozen notecards, “and measure out everything.  If you can’t find anything just ask, it’ll be buried somewhere around here."  Elsa nodded and set to it.

   Curiosity got the better of her as Elsa wondered aloud, “This is a nice place.  I guess I was worried since I only saw it during the party before, so I expected it to be a little different.  How long have you been here?”

   Olaf had pulled out a hand mixer and set to beating the cookie dough into shape.  He answered through the rhythmic clicking of the beaters as they spun, musing, “I guess you really don’t know much about here, do you?  Well, I’ve been here the longest, four years now.  Gerda’s kind of adopted us, we wouldn’t let anything happen to her house so we take pretty good care of it.  Sven moved in two years ago, and then Kristoff and Anna a year after him, though Kristoff was friends with Sven since way before that.”

   That inspired a slew of additional questions.  Elsa didn’t let it slow her too much from her task, but Olaf’s answer hadn’t been what she expected.  Four years was a long time for him to have lived here, and unless he was older than he looked that would mean he’d been here since high school.  She decided not to pry too directly, Olaf could elaborate on that if he wanted.  Instead she remarked, “I don’t think I’ve met Sven or Gerda yet.”

   “Well, I suppose you wouldn’t have had a chance to meet Gerda, but she’s just the sweetest lady you’ll ever meet.  I think she owns a couple of houses, but she’s always made sure this house was open to kids like us.  I don’t know what we would have done without her.  I’ll have to let you know the next time she’s here, she’ll like you.  Sven, well, he’s nice, but he’s pretty quiet, doesn’t meet people very well.  Poor guy nearly went into hibernation when Anna first showed up, though her being a friend of Kristoff helped get him survive it.”

   “Kristoff was quite easygoing when I talked to him.  Is that why he’s able to put up with Anna?"  A bit more frustration than she had intended crept into that question.

   Olaf fretted briefly before answering, “Anna’s really not bad, she’s just intense.  You two have had just the worst luck meeting each other.”

   Elsa took a break to pop a handful of chocolate chips into her mouth, chewing them to buy some time to figure what to say next.  The direct route was probably best.  “That hasn’t been my experience with her.  It’s seemed like she is intent on keeping this stupid fight going, and I haven’t a clue why.”

   “Well...yeah, she can really dig her teeth into things and get stubborn about them, but that’s usually a good thing!  It’s how she got through school, and with her parents…err, nevermind about them.  Just, um, be patient with her, ok?  She’s had a lot enemies, which is sad because she’s really fun.  She’s just had too many people hurt her, so new people get judged pretty fast."  Olaf’s concern was plain to see.  As good as he was at creating emotion, he was absolutely awful at hiding it.  Elsa decided to let it go rather than press the issue.  He wasn’t wrong, it was a bit rude to talk behind Anna’s back like this, so she held back while he continued.  “I am sorry about the party.  I hadn’t thought she’d do that."  Olaf was dividing dough onto a cookie sheet, while Elsa was only part way done with the eggs for hers.

   “Don’t worry, Olaf.  She’s been better since."  The bar had been set low enough that she’d have had a hard time failing to meet it now anyway.  Elsa decided to change the subject, urging him, “Tell me some more about your band, I haven’t heard much at all about it.  I’ve noticed that you’ve been practicing earlier.”

   Olaf perked up at the new line of conversation, beaming, “We’re doing pretty well, actually!  This weekend is our first real show, we’ve got a gig at Red Down on Saturday.  We’ve just played for friends and that sort until now.  Hey, would you want to come?”

   Elsa wasn’t sure what to say.  She wasn’t even sure where a band like theirs would play.  Bars and clubs weren’t really a good fit for her, and the few she had gone to were some of the ones near campus with her friends.  None of those were the sort where she would expect to see them.  “I’m not sure – I don’t know if that’s my type of thing.  I mean, I know you’re good, but would I fit in?”

   “You don’t have to fit in, that’s half the point!  It would actually help us out a bit too, the more people that show up the better.”

   “Well…it would be an adventure, I suppose.  I’ll have to think about it."  A thought struck her, bringing a wry smile to her face as she accused Olaf, “You didn’t bring me here to bribe me with cookies, did you?”

   “What?  I would never…!  I guess…hmm, yeah, it totally does sound like that now that you mention it.  But still!"  Brandishing his spatula, Olaf waved it at Elsa to emphasize his point, insisting, “Cookies are a very serious thing, Elsa Arendal.  You don’t use cookies to trick people, that would be rude."  His indignation was at first quite real, but it tapered into humor as he realized she wasn’t serious.

   Popping a handful of chocolate chips into her mouth, Elsa mused, “With enough chocolate it would probably work.  It’s my one weakness.”

   Olaf’s eyes lit up at that and he exclaimed, “Anna’s exactly the same!  It is really just a shame you haven’t gotten along, I should be a better friend and fix that.”

   Elsa sighed.  “I wouldn’t worry about trying too hard, things will sort themselves out eventually.  Speaking of which, where is everyone else?  It’s getting late.”

   Olaf answered while carefully portioning out the last of this batch of dough onto a cookie sheet.  “Well, Kristoff had a date, Sven’s probably visiting his parents, and I’ll bet that Anna got stuck at work since we aren’t practicing tonight.  She might be back soon, though.”

   Later Elsa would wonder why she jumped to the conclusion that she did.  It was a momentary lapse of judgment of the sort that was becoming more and more common since she had moved in, and it led her to demand, “Olaf, you didn’t.”

   His confusion was clear as he asked back, “Didn’t what?"  It was enough for the realization to snap into place, leaving Elsa backpedalling.

   “Oh, umm, I just meant because you had said you should fix it, it’s really nothing."  Olaf had started smiling, prompting more verbal flailing.  “Really!  I didn’t mean anything, it was a silly question, don’t read too much into it.”

   Olaf wasn’t letting go after Elsa had accidentally dangled such a fun piece of bait before him.  His eyes sparkled with humor as he promised all-too-innocently, “Well, I’ll only read the right amount into it then."  He let Elsa have some silence while he slid another tray into the over, then commented, “She likes girls, you know."  Elsa froze, directing a mental kick at the part of her that thrilled at the confirmation, and then another again for having led her into this.

   The situation instantly deteriorated as they heard the front door open, which was probably the second worst timing for an entrance that Elsa had ever encountered.  Olaf started giggling as it closed, and Elsa began a doomed campaign to stop blushing.  The music was too loud to hear which way those footsteps were going, but a familiar voice echoed down the hallway to let Elsa know she wasn’t getting out of this.

   “You’d better not be done yet!  If tonight ends without any cookie dough in me then we’ve got a problem!”

   Olaf flat-out smirked at Elsa before shouting back, “Don’t worry, we’ve still got plenty here for you to enjoy!"  She would have to get revenge for this sometime, but not now.  Now was a time to brace herself.

   “We?"  Two thuds sounded as the song changed, sounding like she’d kicked her shoes off.  I hope you mean Sven, because if Kristoff is back there then that date can’t have gone well.  Oooh, it’s a Ricky night!"  Her footsteps were irregular, matching the beat as she started dancing, and her voice approached the corner, singing along.  “She’ll make you take your clothes off,"  floated into the kitchen, followed by the singer herself backing into the room, pulling off her jacket.  “And go dancing in the…rain..."  Her face went from smile to shock when she turned to find Elsa watching, one hand covering her own grin.

   “Hi."  Elsa was sure of it now.  Olaf was trouble when he wanted to be.  Whether that was a good or bad thing wasn’t clear just yet.

   “Hi - hi me?"  She gestured to herself with the hand still holding her jacket, just in case there was any confusion.  Elsa decided that she preferred Anna like this, off her guard.  Her surprise was actually kind of endearing, and it helped wonderfully in getting Elsa past her own embarrassment from before.  

   “Will you be joining us?"  Elsa wasn’t sure if yes or no would be the easier answer to hear.  Either would provide their own complications.

   She seemed to find a bit of her resolve, finding something to do with her jacket by hanging it on the nearest doorknob.  “As long as there’s chocolate in here you’re stuck with me."  Olaf obliged the decision by tossing a chocolate chip at Anna, who tried catching it in her mouth.  She missed, the morsel bouncing off her forehead to the floor, though it didn’t remain there long as she reclaimed it to eat.  “I gotta get better at that.  We should practice later.”

   “You just want more."  Again it was more teasing than it was a rebuke.

   Anna rolled her eyes as she dug into the pile of bowls and ingredients, apparently knowing already what she’d need.  Elsa couldn’t help but notice that her sleeveless top left quite a bit of her arms visible, including the clearest look yet at the patterns inked onto her.  There were two tattoos that Elsa could see, both remarkably well crafted.  The first was of a skeletal chameleon climbing her arm, with great hollow eyes and gaping mouth twisted into a fleshless grin.  A long tail wound down, ending in a loop encircling her just below the elbow.  Elsa carefully avoided staring, but the detail on the bones was impressive enough that she really wanted to be able to study it more closely.

   The other arm was simpler, but no less impressive.  It held a silhouette depiction of Snow White pieced together with black, red, and empty space.  Her hair and clothes were pure black cutouts, while a bold red marked her bow and lips.  The rest was left out for the imagination to fill in.  The bit that put the red back into Elsa’s cheeks was that the clothing was not her usual dress, but instead was a much smaller outfit with a collar attached to a scanty corset, black laces crisscrossing down.  To cap it all off she held a coiled whip, thin black loops gathered in gloved hands.  The whole thing was distractingly well made and clearly sexual, so much so that Elsa could feel herself blushing.  She couldn’t imagine getting anything like that.

   “Kristoff’s pretty good, isn’t he?"  Anna had caught the gaze.  Hopefully she had missed the reaction.

   Elsa tried to cover.  “I’m impressed, he did that?  I didn’t know he was a tattoo artist."  Best to move the conversation along to get away from the fact that she had been caught looking.  Not that she could even explain to herself why she so wanted to hide it.

   “Yeah!  It’s his job, he’s been doing them forever.  He says he used to get in trouble with his parents for trying to give them to himself and his friends when he was a kid."  Elsa got the sense that Anna wasn’t quite saying what was on her mind either.

   Olaf piped up, “You should see his, he’s got a million of them!  You could ask next Saturday if you get there early, he likes having an excuse to show them off.  Just don’t let him explain too long, we need him to actually play at some point in the night.”

   Elsa didn’t get a chance to respond as Anna sputtered, “Wait, what?  What do you mean early ..."  Confusion gave way to surprise as she processed what that meant, with alarm following closely behind.  She only remembered to close her mouth when she turned on Olaf to demand, “You told her?!”

   “Yeah, why?"  His face was exaggeratedly innocent.

   “About our show?!”

   “Yeah, why?”

   Her voice fell flat as she realized Olaf was teasing her.  “You’re having some fun with me, aren’t you?”

   “Yeah, why?"  He let himself smirk now that she had noticed.

   Anna seemed to take that poorly.  “Oh, you sneaky bitch.  You…"  Her eyes flicked to Elsa, at which point she thought better of whatever she had been intending to say.  Instead she moved on to their guest to state bluntly, “You’re not going to the show.”

   Elsa was on Olaf’s side about having fun with this, enjoying that for once she didn’t seem to be the one losing control over the situation.  Just as innocently as Olaf she replied, “I don’t know, it sounds like fun.”

   “There’s no way you’ll fit in.”

   “That’s half the point, isn’t it?"  Olaf flashed her a thumbs up, which Anna noticed with a scowl.

   “Oh, I get it now.  Fine, I won’t fight it right now, but I’m not going to lose to some, some… cookie conspiracy."  She went back to her bowl, whisking more vigorously than was probably necessary.

   “Well, if you are so certain I won’t like it, why not sing one for me now to prove it?"  Truthfully, Elsa was curious.  She was leaning much more towards going to the show, if only because it looked like it would bother Anna (at least, that what she told herself), but she also genuinely wanted to hear more of her.

   Not looking up from the dough Anna retorted, “They don’t really work that well by themselves.  How about you sing something for us?"  She set it out as a challenge, apparently certain that Elsa would decline.  Elsa was more than happy to prove her wrong.  She didn’t have to be in practice to put on a show.

   Elsa went to the stereo and cut the volume.  She gave Anna a few moments to stew in the silence, giving time for surprise and anticipation to set the stage.  Once the moment struck just right, she began, choosing one of her favorites.

“Am I blue?  Am I blue?
Aren’t these tears
In these eyes telling you?”

   She’d always liked this song, and she enjoyed Annette Hanshaw’s voice even more.  But the original version wouldn’t convey quite what she wanted this to.  It needed to borrow a bit from elsewhere.

“Am I blue?  You'll be too
If your schemes, like your dreams
All fall through”

   There were a few versions of the song, and Elsa chose this part deliberately.  Hopefully Anna couldn’t miss the stress Elsa had placed on “schemes”, drawing it out like a line in the sand.  One way or another, Elsa just needed things to stop being so weird between them.  If that could happen they might even get to be friends, but only if Anna could figure out what she wanted out of her.

“Was a time, I was her only one
Now I am the sad and lonely one
Was I gay 'til today?
Now she's gone and we're through

Am I blue?”

   Maybe Olaf was right, and they had simply got off to a poor start.  Anna probably would be a lot of fun if she wasn’t trying so hard to be a pain in the ass, and Elsa was tired of hiding from the possibility of something new.  She was also self-aware enough to realize that there was another part of the equation: it helped that the girl was attractive.  Really, unreasonably attractive at that.  But it was the grin on Anna’s face while hanging upside down from a pine tree, and the breathless excitement she’d had when she’d first opened that door to meet her grumpy neighbor, that had wormed into Elsa’s head.  Those scenes were ones she found herself remembering these past weeks whenever she started daydreaming, all wrapped up in a pile of uncertainty about where she stood in Anna’s eyes now.  Those were the scenes that made Elsa want to like her.

   The blush spreading through her freckles now didn’t hurt, either.

   “Wow, umm, I guess I deserved that.  Maybe not so much a stage performer-"  Elsa huffed at that “-but not bad!"  She sounded exactly as Elsa had hoped, as though she’d just had her feet taken out from under her.  A bit of fair payback.

   “Just not bad?  That was wonderful!  Where’d you learn to sing?  You’d better not be able to do that without any practice, I’ll be awfully jealous."  Olaf was just plain excited.  Elsa still felt like he’d been plotting something tonight, but this response sounded totally genuine, a normal example of Olaffian joy.

   “Well, I did practice, a lot, when I was younger.  I’ve had lessons since I was little."  And I wish I'd kept them up since coming here, she thought to herself.

   “Lessons...well that makes sense.  You did look prim and proper, like you were always taught the ‘right’ way to sing."  Anna struck an exaggerated pose to demonstrate what she meant, back ramrod straight and hands held gracefully before her.

   “Please, you make me sound like I’m some sort of aristocrat.  I’m not that stiff."  Elsa wasn’t really admonishing her, she wanted to make it clear that she could take a joke.

   “Well, you’re high-class, at least.  Is it my turn, then?  I think I owe you a song after that little surprise."  She sounded eager this time, like she already had something in mind.

   “I suppose it is."  What was she planning?  At the very least this ought to be interesting.  From the little she’d heard before she knew that the girl had plenty of talent, and she seemed to have taken Elsa’s song as a challenge.  Which it sort of had been, now that she thought about it.

   Anna’s fingers led the way, snapping a beat to lead her into the lyrics.  It wasn’t familiar to Elsa, an upbeat tune bouncing between syllables and running the pitch up and down through every line.  It was catchy, whatever it was.

“She keeps Moët et Chandon
In her pretty cabinet
'Let them eat cake,' she says
Just like Marie Antoinette!
A built-in remedy
For Kruschev and Kennedy
At anytime an invitation
You can't decline!”

   She was into it now, whole body stepping into each line, face lit up at once with the sheer joy of singing and with a hint of a smoldering more.  Elsa nearly felt the need to gulp, and she was certain she was both blushing and staring.  Damn it.  Gods damn it all, the girl was good, and the way she was moving just wasn’t fair.

“Caviar and cigarettes
Well versed in etiquette
Extraordinarily nice
She's a Killer Queen
Gunpowder, gelatine
Dynamite with a laser beam
Guaranteed to blow your mind”

   As she sang that line she shot Elsa through with a look, one that could be a promise just as easily as a warning.  Why couldn’t this have been how they met?  Without the small mountain of annoyances they’d accumulated between them - or, maybe, the little molehill of them - things could be so different.  A beautiful woman singing to her - and there was no mistaking it, this song was directed squarely at Elsa - was so much better than their first fight had been.

   Just...

   This just isn’t fair.  Why does she have to be so stupidly hot right now?  Gods below, Elsa wanted to let it all go and make a very bad decision right now, but getting sucked in by a pretty voice just had to be horribly short-sighted.  She was overreacting.  It was just that she was very talented, that was all.  That was a much safer answer than the sway of her as she stepped into each bolded syllable.

   Never mind that the fierce confidence in her demeanor was reminding Elsa of how nonchalantly she’d scampered through those branches.  Of the forceful fluidity when she’d dropped to earth.

   Of the glimpse of skin Elsa had caught beneath that perfectly too-short top at the party.  Of all the other corners of ink she’d spied during their various encounters.

   Of her infuriating desire to follow those tattoos under the clothes hiding them.

   Girl, you’ve got it bad.

   And she kept going.

“Recommended at the price
Insatiable an appetite
Wanna try?”

   The song didn’t let up.  Maybe the original didn’t stretch out the question so teasingly, and maybe just by itself it wouldn’t have suggested so much, but now, with the dare lurking in Anna’s eyes, Elsa knew what she was being told.  This was one hell of an olive branch.  Was she daring Elsa to rebuff her, forcing Elsa to be the one to push back?  It might also be a hint that Elsa’s confusion about where she stood was mutual.  Not so long ago Elsa wouldn’t have had any patience for this sort of playing around; now, she found that she didn’t want her to stop.  Though hell if Elsa knew what came next.

   Elsa had never flirted in her life, but she was pretty sure that was what was happening now.  If she had any wisdom she’d refuse to join in to avoid assuredly making a fool of herself eventually, but she didn’t feel very wise at all right now.  How was she even supposed to react here?  She prided herself on always having a calm response, but she didn’t have any footing here, no experience to inform what one might even look like.  Half of her wanted to scream at Anna to stop messing with her, and the other half wanted to drag her to somewhere private and order her to keep going.  After a lifetime keeping people at arm’s length, a distance inspired by a formless fear of all that might go wrong, this was flying dangerously close to the sun.

   Olaf evidently knew the song and was giggling helplessly as Anna danced deeper.

“Drop of a hat she's as willing as
Playful as a pussy cat
Then momentarily out of action
Temporarily out of gas
To absolutely drive you wild...
She's all out to get you!”

   Elsa was done, just absolutely done.  She was perilously near cracking as she pieced together enough calm to painstaking comment, “It appears I have to concede to you, that was spectacular!  What song was that?"  Asking about the music was the safest direction that came to mind.  Certainly safer than thinking more about the way the air filled Anna’s chest, or the glorious dance of her lips forming the tune.  Yes, best to stick to the song, the only part of what was happening that she had any notion how to handle.

   Incredulous eyebrows lifted as she answered with her own question, demanding, “What, don’t you know Queen?"  Apparently Elsa had poked the hive.

   “Oh, they are an old band, aren’t they?  I’ve heard the name before."  Olaf joined in to gang up on her, tsking at the response.

   “I’m with Anna on this one, we’re gonna have to fix this."  He went to the stereo, promising the machine, “I’ll see you again later, Ricky.  Now we’re going to be spending a night at the opera.”

   “A little more energy than that, more like a day at the races."  Elsa was missing something here, she could tell.

   “Either way, you’ll like them.  They’ve got...  a kind of magic."  Olaf was grinning like a total dork now, though Elsa still had no idea what the joke was that she wasn’t figuring out.

   “They’ve got the works!  All sorts of music.”

   “A little jazz, even.”

   “Eddie was the Queen of the game.”

   “A voice made in heaven.”

   “Umm...Flash Gordon."  Anna seemed to have run out of whatever was going on, and Olaf giggled at her concession.

   “I thought you’d comment on this hot space in here after all your innuendo.  I think you almost gave her a sheer heart attack!"  Anna blushed when Olaf said that, and judging by his expression that had been the point.

   Game or not, Elsa was blushing too as she told them, “I’m not quite sure what’s happening here, but I think you two are both being giant dorks and leaving me out.  So, um...  what just happened?”

   Olaf answered.  “They’re the album titles!  And Anna forgot I always win at this game."  Anna threw a bit of cookie dough at him, which stuck to his nose when he tried to eat it mid-air.

   “You two are special."  Weird, too, though Elsa kept that to herself.  Definitely fun to watch in any case, which made her blush easier to bear.

   Anna smiled at her, which was enough to keep Elsa’s face red.  “‘Special’ is better than ‘normal’ from before.  I’ll take it!"  Her head was bobbing to a song that Elsa wasn’t having much luck paying attention to.  There was too much distraction already.

   “Well, anyway...where did you learn to sing?  Your voice is wonderful, you must have a lot of practice."  Complimenting Anna’s voice also seemed safe for now.  Safe from what, precisely, Elsa wasn’t ready to say.

   “Practice is about all I’ve got, I never had anywhere to learn.  I just really love music.  I used to get in trouble for listening to the radio instead of going to sleep.  So, I guess that part sorta hasn’t changed."  She was talking about her, Elsa realized, getting mad at their practice.  Cheeky of her to slip that in, but she had to admit that she’d made it fit.  It didn’t bug her as much as it might have; Elsa didn’t think she’d mind listening to Anna sing while she went to sleep, at this point it was maybe just the instruments that would bother her.

   Anna’s gaze lingered on Elsa, as though she was considering saying something but wasn’t finding words for it.  Eventually she went back to the stereo, announcing, “Well, I think we’ve confused you enough with this, I’ll change it to something more like what we play.  I can sing along, if you don’t mind.”  Was that another blush?  And she was asking, for once, even if it wasn’t something she really had to ask about.  That was new.  

   “I’d like that, Anna.”  Damn it, she was blushing too, and that answer seemed so awkward now that she’d said it.  Couldn’t she have thought of a better way to put it?  Why did it even bother her?  The whole situation had her feeling silly.

   The song switched abruptly in a clamor of drums, leading into a catchy guitar hook.  Anna started bopping to the beat, hair bouncing in time.  Again Elsa wondered at the sheer energy that always seemed to drive her.  A day in her life must be exhausting.  Maybe worth it, but Elsa was pretty sure running through the day at full tilt like that would wear her out.

   When the lyrics hit Anna spun around to face the kitchen, startling a smile from Elsa.  Dork, she thought silently.  This girl really did belong on a stage.

“Well every day I throw a little party
But if it would be more fitting, fitting!
And every time I come a little higher
Should I leap or go on living, living?”

   Sure, Elsa felt out of her depth, and yes, she felt silly about the way she was worrying about the strangest little things tonight.  But she was enjoying herself.  It was almost a surprise, admitting that: she was having fun.  Maybe tonight she could let herself not sweat the small stuff?  So what if she had some good reasons to be mad at this girl, they wouldn’t do anything but spoil the evening.  Elsa relaxed.  She didn’t have much practice living in the moment, but Anna seemed good enough at that for two people.

“Hear the voices venomous and thrilling
In their hair they’re always calling, calling!
But I wanna gotta go the way my butt beats
So I’m not falling for the folly, folly!”

   Folly?  Hmm, maybe, but Elsa wasn’t going to let herself care.  She was going to drink this performance in without complicating it.  Watching Anna’s hips swing back and forth to the lines was a pleasure; it could be a guilty one some other time.  But not now.

“No one here is taking notice
No outline will ever hold us
It’s not a new wave, it’s just you and me!”

Chapter Text

   Elsa was lost.  It wasn’t so much that she didn’t know where to go, the line waiting at a signless door was a good indication that she was in the right spot, and it was about as far up the street as she’d been told.  She just felt out of her depth.  Badly out of it.  She was dressed up, a cute little skirt just barely too long to be called mini, a patterned button-up with the top two undone, and cute-ish tall boots.  “Careful about your feet”, Olaf had told her.  It hadn’t been the most reassuring warning.  Still, with a touch of pale pink matte lipstick that she never got to use, Elsa had felt like she was ready.

   She didn’t feel that now.  The crowd was a hodgepodge mix of various dresses, leggings, denim jackets, hoodies, beanies, shorts and jeans, hair in every sort of color and mess, and one gal shivering in a skirt that was a too-brisk walk away from covering nothing at all.  The whole scene was awash in the smell of cigarettes and more; Elsa sneezed when she settled into the back of the line.  Her outfit felt downright prissy next to some of these.  Some of the guys looked like they’d rolled over in bed and fallen out here, they were so unkempt.  Thankfully at least some of the girls were dressed up as well; she couldn’t look totally out of place.  Certainly not as out of place as she was feeling.

   Olaf and the rest would already be inside.  Travelling with them would have been nice, but the last look she’d had of Kristoff’s beat up, overloaded truck looked illegal enough without them trying to fit her in too.  The bus got her here just fine.  It just brought her alone.  She should be used to that by now.

   Was she too late?  The venue didn’t seem particularly large, hemmed in by two bars on either side.  There were a lot of people out here already, would they all fit?  Probably, since there were more still arriving to queue up behind her, but it still gave her enough reason to start worrying.  Just what she needed, really: an excuse for her to begin fretting about something she had no control over was just the right complement to the night.

   The wind was already whispering a chance of rain when she’d got off the bus, and right as the line begin creeping inside the first drops began to make good on that threat, fat and wet when they hit.  She hadn’t even thought about that.  Too distracted by the show, she supposed, leaving her in a painfully slow race for cover as people slipped inside one by one, handing the cover charge to a couple of folks at a table just beyond the door.  In exchange, they got a stamp on the back of their hand.  While she hadn’t been to any shows like this before, she could guess that was so they could get back in later if they stepped out.

   Elsa made it, sort of.  She was damp by the time she made it to the front, but that was nothing compared to the cloudburst that let loose just moments later, met mostly by defiant cheering from the people out in it.  They were going to be soaked.  And then bring it in with them, come to think of it.  Gross.

    It was much warmer inside.  The short hallway she was shuffling through was packed, chaotic with bodies in motion, particularly around a second table piled up with t-shirts and other gear stamped with what she assumed were the other bands playing tonight.  Anna had mentioned that they were the first band on tonight: the better known groups always played last.  

   That also meant she wouldn’t have a chance to talk with them before they played.  That was probably for the best, she wouldn’t want to interrupt whatever it was they had to do to get ready, and they’d have plenty of time to hang out afterwards.  She could handle herself for now just fine.  Though at the moment she was at a bit of a loss where to go, since the press around the merchandise table didn’t leave any space to get through.  She waited for a bit, pretending to look at the shirts with a hodgepodge of singularly peculiar artwork pressed onto them.  Her favorite probably had to be the hot dog riding a skateboard, though she couldn’t quite imagine when someone would wear such a thing.  The shirt contrasted oddly with the fellow who looked to be selling them, since he was dressed vaguely nicely in jeans and a plain black shirt, giving off an altogether forgettable impression under short-cut hair.

   Eventually a large enough group forced their way through the merchandise throng for Elsa to get bundled along, carrying her the rest of the way in to a haphazard room containing a stage on the far side.  It was a markedly run-down space for so many people to want in.  None of the lightbulbs hanging from the ceiling matched, the walls were marred and marked by half-stuck posters, and the brick at the back was covered mostly by a thick red set of curtains, apparently needed to cover a big window inconveniently placed right behind the performers.  The best constructed bit of the room was a makeshift loft over the rear entrance hallway.  There was someone sitting up there, fiddling with what looked like a bunch of sound equipment, though the corner was dark enough that Elsa couldn’t make out much detail.

   More than anything, though, the room was close .  People were close, the walls were close, everything pressing in to squeeze the whole scene together.  The bands would be right in reach of the crowd, only a couple of steps higher whereas Elsa had assumed there would be a bit of distance, and the attendees wouldn’t have an inch to themselves if the rest of the line was still coming in.  They were going to be one big, excited, damp mash at this rate.  She didn’t much like the thought of that, so she staked out a spot against the wall where it seemed most open, grateful that at least her back was covered.  Her sides were quickly losing any free space as she pulled her arms tighter and tighter to herself.

   Kristoff was already on stage, setting up alongside someone that Elsa didn’t recognize, but whom she suspected was probably Sven.  She still hadn’t managed to meet him, but he would be here tonight as their bassist, and the way he was industriously working made sense if he was put off by crowds as much as Olaf had said.  Focusing on something would help keep his mind from just how many people there were cramming in before the stage.  It was a bit of a surprise, now that she was seeing him.  He had a big, shaggy mess of hair, a jumble of brown and grey.  The rest of him was imposing, too; if Olaf hadn’t told her about him she might have assumed he was intimidating, but apparently he was the quiet goofball to Kristoff’s very vocal one.

   Her phone showed a bit of time left when they started tuning.  Given that it took her by surprise while she’d been looking at her phone, the first guitar pluck issuing sternly forth made her jump.  The speakers stacks flanking the stage were much louder than she had expected, plenty to blast right over the chatter from the audience, and they only seemed to get louder as it went on.  Olaf came in a few moments after and joined them, arriving from the front entrance and settling in place behind the drumset.  They all seemed to be working on different things for the moment, each stopping for brief adjustments, though Elsa couldn’t discern much difference each time.  Some of the tuning sounded familiar, part of one of the songs she’d gotten around to listening to.  She was nodding along shortly after when they hit a long enough segment to follow.

   Anna came from the other direction.  The white streak down her braid was bright in the dark room; it was the first thing that caught Elsa’s attention, though somehow she had missed where the singer had entered from.  She was dressed simply, black dyed jeans and a black top, sleeveless straps giving a fine view the artwork on her skin.  Elsa watched her the whole way, craning to try and see the design on her back through the intervening people.  She didn’t have much luck.  Too many people were between them.

   She took the few short steps with a hop, though the crowd didn’t pay her much mind yet.  Heads perked up when she tapped on the mic, producing a loud pop in the middle of the rest of the band’s tuning.  They sounded nearly ready.

    Look at that smile , Elsa thought.  Anna was transparently humming with excitement, thrilled to the brim to be up on stage preparing to play for the gathered attendees.  Something about that smile was infectious; Elsa starting grinning in response.  Anna was just too perfect when matched with a scene like this.

   The band stopped what they were doing when she turned away from the crowd, talking too quietly to hear.  Olaf nodded in response, followed by the other two, and she turned back to take the microphone.  A pause, two, while those in the crowd looking her way quieted, then she spoke up to snare the rest.  “Goood evening, my wet friends.  Can we start things off with some thanks to Justin up there in the nest?”  

   Everyone clapped, looking up to the loft where the man with the equipment was waving, and someone shouted, “Take your pants off!” to scattered laughter.  Apparently some of them knew him.  Hopefully.

   Anna chuckled, answering, “I was just up there.  Don’t worry, they’re already off.”  He gave two big thumbs up before she took control back amid the lights flickering off.  “Next, Red Down deserves some noise for having us here!”  Right, that was the venue, though there hadn’t been anything denoting the place on the way in, just the door marked up with a geological strata of band and other stickers.  Nonetheless, everyone clapped and yelled.

   Anna had the limelight and was running with it.  “Now, some of you might think you’re here for our good friends in Wumpus.”  Some of the crowd cheered at the name.  “Or maybe you’re under the impression you’ve come for Clusterfuster?”  Cheering again, a little quieter.  “For The Twelve to Ten?”  The response to that one was much louder.  They must have brought more of the crowd here, though Elsa certainly hadn’t heard of them.  “Hey Hey Now?”  About the same as the previous, and Anna shook her head exaggeratedly.  She was having fun up there, brimming with confidence as she spoke into the mic.  She swept her eyes over the crowd appraisingly.  “And then a lot of you are probably fans of Lady Lips.”  The biggest cheer yet went out for that one, as well as a couple people yelling back in defiance.  Elsa wasn’t an expert on performing, but she suspected that taunting the crowd might not be how most people went about it.

   Anna stepped right up to the edge of the platform.  “I can’t blame you!  So many great bands here tonight.  How could you know?”  She paused a moment.  “Well, you’re about to find out why you’re really here tonight.  You’re here for us.”  Another pause while the crowd answered with a jumble of noise, and while she took a deep breath.  “Because we are Better Than!”  She shouted those last two words, their band name, as the other three dropped right into their first song over the people in the crowd yelling back.

   It was loud .  Incredibly loud, so loud that Elsa winced.  Forget her feet, why didn’t Olaf warn her about this?  She’d have brought earplugs if she’d known.  The speakers were blasting away at her ears, and she was in the back of the room!  The people at the front had to be crazy, and the ones immediately in front of the speakers truly, truly mad.  How could they stand it?  Probably they were already half deaf.  Idiots.

   So Elsa spent the first moments of the song grumbling, hands over her ears to dampen the clamor.  It was hard to focus.  The stage was lit, but the crowd was in the dark, and the uncovered bulbs slicing into her peripheral vision from the entrance were harsh.  The combination of that, the sheer volume of the band, and the roiling press of the audience, was overwhelming.  Disorientation leapt at her from all sides.

“I’m stuck waiting for the bad touch
That pinch and pull all over me
I am feeling and hearing these
Unsafe words building catastrophe”

   Anna had the mic in both hands, mouth right up on it, her body moving just the same way it had been when she sang for Elsa earlier that week.  Sleek, sinuous, sensual...and incredibly distracting to Elsa’s attempts to remain irritated.  That was a sight dangerously easy to tune in on at the center of all the elements unsettling her.  Elsa’s eyes were overfull with the long outlines of her.

   Well, fuck.

“Tell me no and I will go
Say yes and it’s sure to pass
It’s when I don’t know that I need
Maybes holding me in your grasp
Don’t let me out!”

   She wasn’t sure where else to look.  And this wasn’t what she’d expected.  Even though she still felt upside-down, Elsa’s hands were off her ears now, settling into the shock of the audaciously too-loud surroundings like she had just jumped into a cold pool.  The atmosphere was intoxicating.  Too much sight, too much sound, too much touch, just too much all over swarmed in and took ahold of her.  There was no space allowed here to focus on anything, only to experience.

   Whether or not she chose it, Anna stood front and center in her sensations.

   Step, step, sink down with the mic stand, then a slow rolling rise to standing.  Breathe in quick, then scream it all back out, with Elsa tracing the slow compression of her chest.  Braids flipping back and forth, whipped about by the motion of her.

   Fuck, she was hot.  The impossibility of denying it now took Elsa’s feet out from under her.  Fuck, fuck, fuck .

“Burning up and needing to take
You somewhere I’m not gonna say
Because the stop sign’s gone missing
And there’s no green lights on the way”

   Elsa was half dancing, half just bouncing along, the big knot of tension she hadn’t realized was coiled up inside her being unwound note by note.  The rest of the crowd was starting to get into it, too, though dancing wasn’t the most accurate description for what anyone was doing.  A brunette in a slinky green dress was frenetically whipping her hair back and forth directly in front of the left set of speakers.  Well, why not?  She wouldn’t be if she wasn’t enjoying it.  

   While it all built up in the audience, and so many eyes were trained on the redhead frontwoman onstage, Anna was drinking the attention in.

   The rest of the band deserved attention, probably.  They were unpolished, with some rough edges and subtly missed timings, but it all seemed almost on purpose.  A smooth, professional session wouldn’t have fit here.  The whole place was a jagged assembly of people.  If the people on stage sounded too polished they might just not cut it here.

   Olaf was a bundle of smiles as always, with an expression that said, clear as day, ‘I am having so much fun!’  He would be.  He set the timing just fine, as far as Elsa was concerned, and handled his drumsticks with just a little flair when he could fit it in.  Sven was off in his own world, a little content curl to an otherwise intense focus.  And Kristoff was just a dork.  She’d have to tell him after not to leave his tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth while he played.

   She saw them, sure.  She could notice those details, probably even remember them, but it was just a little back corner of her mind that was paying attention to anything other than the girl putting her whole self out there on display.  Her presence demanded attention.  And she had Elsa’s.  She had it utterly.

   She was the one filling Elsa’s chest with a tight warmth, her stomach with butterflies, and her head with a whole bunch of thoughts that she shouldn’t be imagining in public.  Though maybe, just maybe, this was the right sort of public for it.  Those dangerous things weren’t so out of place in here.

   She didn’t even realize that she had started clapping when their first song crashed to a finish, and she wasn’t alone.  Elsa was so proud of them, listening to the whole room responding the same way.  Someone whistled, which sounded like a good idea, so she stuck two fingers in her mouth and did the same.

   That’s when Anna must have noticed her.  Surprise showed for just a second while their eyes met, before she looked away into the rest of the crowd, waiting for the right opening to drop in and speak.  Elsa’s heart had leapt up into her throat.  All at once she was sure that matching gazes for a moment meant nothing, and everything, that she was reading into it but also that Anna’s startled expression had to have told her something .  And oh, lord, did she have absolutely no clue whether something or nothing was what she wanted.

    I could ask her out.  A crazy damn thought.  She wouldn’t, of course.  Shouldn’t.  There was no good reason for even thinking that, and too much still-recent division.  Elsa was...happily?  Resignedly? Certain she wouldn’t bring herself to do it.  It was for the best, anyway, half the crowd was sure to be in love with Anna right now.  Why was she even entertaining this intrusion of an idea?  Was she even considering it for any better reason than the way that Anna’s ass was swaying?  

   God damn her.  This abrupt and catastrophic wanting just wasn’t fair.  It made no sense, allowed no response, and was going to eat at her since she wasn’t going to allow such a mad sentiment any shrift.  Anna was an ass , she couldn’t let herself forget that just because she was looking so unreasonably gorgeous right now.

   Well...sure, the girl could be an industrial-grade pain in the ass.  Maybe it could be ok to forget that every now and again?  Maybe long enough to imagine her with all of those tattoos uncovered for Elsa to see...that wouldn’t be so bad, maybe.

   The worse part, which Elsa was sternly attempting to beat back right now, was that she might actually like her sometimes.

   “You’ve got a taste now, yeah?”  Anna had found her opening.  “The night’s just getting started.  We’ve got some important messages for you all!  Some things that you might not be aware of.  Not one of the easy things that everybody should know, like that chocolate is the best food.”  A couple people laughed; one booed.  “Or that that fellow doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”  More laughs and some scattered cheering.  “No, this lesson’s one you probably not thought about before tonight.  We only found it out on a trip.  To the zoo, of course.”  Elsa noticed that Kristoff was leaning in towards his mic.  His cue came when Anna asked, “So, Kristoff, want to give them the news?”

   He began to sing, which surprised Elsa.  Somehow she had thought only Anna would, probably since she’d only heard a few of their songs so far, though now that she heard him she could see why.  His voice was mellow and pure to start, while his guitar was the only instrument being played.

“Reindeers are better than people,
Sven, don’t you you think that’s true?”

   The crowd was laughing.  Elsa was laughing, too, he had such a ridiculous expression.  Maybe being a dork wasn’t so bad for him after all.  Only now did Anna joined in for the next lines, along with Olaf and Sven shouting along.

“ Yeah, people will beat you
And screw you
And cheat you
Every one of them's bad
Even you!”

   That was the point where the band dropped right into the song.  Raucous energy swept into the crowd, the bizarre prelude doing nothing to mitigate the dancing that ensued.  A couple of people in the center of the crowd were bouncing around violently, pinballing off of their neighboring audience members.  None of the song got any less silly as the band played their hearts out for it, either.  The contrast put a smile on Elsa’s lips as even she got caught up in the fun of it.

“We’d be better off like reindeer
Spending more time in the grass
Munching munching all damn day
Then getting down to have a nap!”

   Elsa rolled her eyes at the way Kristoff sang that part.  They were not subtle people.  Still, though, she was glad to be here to hear it.  After all her trepidation on the way she was enjoying herself quite a lot now, and she couldn’t even be bothered to feel awkward about that.  

   Gazing at Anna told her that they both were.  She was smiling between her lines, and since she was the secondary singer on this song that gave Elsa plenty of time to drink it in.  She wouldn’t have an opportunity like this again.  With Anna on the stage Elsa had the perfect excuse to stare at her; avoiding staring was a battle already definitively lost.  Any other time and it would be incredibly rude (not to mention incredibly obvious), but right now, even when she wasn’t the lead, she still commanded attention.  Sure, it was maybe bad of Elsa, but this seemed like the right place to be bad.

   The crowd didn’t make it easy to get closer.  Waiting for a gap to appear got her nowhere, so when they changed to a new song, with Anna as the lead again, Elsa just forced her way through, feeling the metal studs on some guy’s jacket scrape against her shoulder.  No one left any room, so she had bodies on all sides as she went, only stopping when she found briefest hint of a clearing past a couple of tall jerks who were blocking the view.  The girl in front of her was wearing a silky synthetic dress, and Elsa kept getting bumped into her back.  She had definitely been caught in the rain at the back of the line.  On her left there was a little blonde gal, hair down and wavy, in a band t-shirt and jeans that Elsa felt by accident on the way in.  On her right was a skinny little reed of a guy whose hair looked like it had got caught in a paint store just as it was hit by a tornado.  He was bouncing enthusiastically along to the music, which resulted in Elsa getting jostled about.  He seemed so excited, though, that it only made her smile.

“These one way roads with one way lines
Skid the blind turns and hope to hit
Looking for personal revolution
But I’ve got no map to find it”

   The couple of feet separating Elsa from the stage were precious few, as she looked up to the object of her unanticipated obsession.  In those pants Elsa could see the full curve of Anna’s hips, swaying back and forth.  She wanted to see more.  They were tight, but the lighting was too poor to see if those legs were just as strong as they seemed when she climbed.

“Tip me up and set me going
A perpetual emotion machine
Burn these fumes and light this vapor
I’m lit up for a long time searching”

   Gods, when had she started thinking about people like this?  Elsa had always been reserved about her romances.  She would have neat little crushes, proper things that never went anywhere since she never went so far as to tell any of them.  Most of them were probably straight, anyway, but it hadn’t stopped her from fantasizing about what they might do in the dark of the night.  Never out in the open like this.  She was practically staring Anna out of her clothes, and god did it feel good to do it.  Fuck it, so what if they’d had some stupid arguments?  The show was worth it.  And she didn’t have to get along with someone to want to push them down and…

   She pressed her thighs together as she swayed.  Her imagination was taking her places tonight.

   Anna was looking at her again, and this time Elsa didn’t feel so nervous.  Did it show, what she was thinking?  Either way, she gave back a half-smile speaking to a deeper sentiment.  Anna was too into the song for Elsa to tell what she saw in the smile, but she hoped she was glad to see it.  Her voice, raised to near screaming, gave no sign.  The song, though, almost sounded like she had someone in mind.

“I’m just a first wheel on the prowl
Eyes up cause I’m wanting to crash
Two treads won’t give stability
But we’ll leave behind better tracks”

   Maybe this was her way of saying something?  Elsa wanted it to be true.  Even though it was a ridiculous idea, the song had nothing to do with her.  The whole band wouldn’t be be playing a song tonight because Elsa found a crush in the middle of their set, with a girl she’d been quietly  and not-so-quietly battling for months.  They hadn’t even known each other for long enough for it to make sense, she just wanted it to, in the middle of a crowd of people all enraptured by that voice.  In this room, with these people, and all this sound, rationality didn’t get a turn.

   Why shouldn’t she do it?  Just pull Anna aside and ask her out to a lunch?  Well, she’d say no, and that would ruin what was turning into a fantastic evening.  But besides that?  She could do it.  Once they were done with their set, once they’d moved all their equipment to wherever it was supposed to go, she could just go up to Anna and fucking say it.  Nothing ventured and all that.

   She was thinking about it when they moved into their fourth song.  It was still in her mind when someone barrelled through the crowd and nearly knocked her over.  It was the only thought able to fit in her head when Anna caught her staring, again, as that song ground to an end.  She almost believed she would do it, as they announced that this would be their last song before relinquishing the stage to Wumpus.  Just a few more minutes, a little more chance to drink it all in, and then they’d be off the stage, where Elsa could go over and try something she’d never done before.  She could actually make a move.  After the dancing, rolling with the crowd all pressed into her.  This was an intoxicating sensation.  It was not one she knew how to handle.

   And every additional second of Anna’s voice singing wasn’t helping .

“Now please sit down and let me say
Everything I want in a way
That really speaks to you just like
You’ve told me that you want to hear”

   That was not a voice saying anything innocent.  That was an invitation to interpret the lyrics by the way Anna’s fingers were teasing down the microphone cord.  Which Elsa did shamelessly.

“I’ll take some time to draw this up
While you finger a full cup
I know that you’ll soon feel out
Why I keep that personal touch”

   Seriously, the way Anna’s voice was caressing every word here was just not fair.  Elsa was remembering much too clearly how she had sounded just a handful of nights ago, and having had the chance to hear her in private - well, excepting Olaf - was feeling a lot more special tonight.

“When you saw my outline we were sure to meet
Reading between the lines on crisp white sheets
Yeah, between you and me this has legs
We had better keep meeting this way.”

   Goooooood damn it was Elsa was not going to be able to sleep at all quickly when she got home.  How could the girl stand it, being that sexy in front of the whole crowd?  Elsa could not possibly be the only one looking.  She shouldn’t be.

   Anna was thanking the crowd, to more than a little cheering; they were done playing for tonight.  That had, Elsa realized, gone very, very well, and entirely too quickly because they were packing drums and stands and everything into cases, which in turn got carried over to a designated spot up against the wall.  She wanted to say something, anything, whatever found its way into her mind by the time she worked up the courage, to Anna.  At the very least congratulate her.  Anything more would require Elsa to dig up resolve that she’d yet to ever find.

   Now wasn’t the time, she’d be interrupting them if she went over now.  Never mind that there were a couple other people helping them pack already, and they were all chatting.  Those were probably people from the next band, right?  Or at least people who were supposed to be on stage?  Ramshackle thing that it was, she knew that was a poor excuse.  They probably didn’t care too much who was on stage, so long as they weren’t breaking anything and they vaguely looked like they knew what they were doing.  Or, she thought when she noticed a foot-shaped hole in one of the walls, so long as they weren’t breaking too many things.

   The packing was done.  Was she losing track of time, or were they just really fast at that?  The four of them began making their way through the crowd, Kristoff lagging behind to high-five everyone who was willing to do so.  Since that seemed to be everybody, Anna and Sven made their way towards the entrance well ahead of him.  The room was clearer now, too; enough people had stepped out in the absence of anyone playing that Elsa could have intercepted them, gone over to stammer something.  Just...start walking, and she’d be there.

   Of course she didn’t go.  That was just a little too much to expect of herself.  The night wasn’t over yet, but Elsa had a sneaking suspicion this was going to stay bottled up just like everything else.  Wonderful.

   She was in the middle of sighing when a familiar voice piped up behind her, chirping, “Hey, Elsa!”  She turned around right into an Olaf hug.  It had only taken a couple of days of knowing him to discover that they were far and away his favorite way of saying hi, even more so when he was excited.  Which he clearly was now, his hair being even more scraggly than usual and his enormous grin being so very wide.  “Thank you so much for coming!  How were we?  That was so amazing!”  That was a smile that probably wasn’t going to come off for a solid three, maybe four hours, and it knocked Elsa’s self-admonition right out the picture.

   “You were excellent!  It all sounded great to me, and I certainly enjoyed myself!  I don’t think you get a response like that if other people don’t agree.”  She really was proud of him, too.  The week leading up to the show had been filled with him fretting about it whenever she’d seen him, but tonight made it clear he hadn’t had anything to worry about.  “So, what’s next?  Do you just stick around to watch the rest of the show now?”

   “What do you mean ‘just’?  It’ll be great!  You’ll love it, I promise, this place goes NUTS!”  Elsa had no doubts at all that was true.  The weird part of it was that it didn’t bother her.  She’d been unsure about this whole thing at the start, and in a way she still didn’t quite feel like she belonged, but the atmosphere had chased away any sense that it actually mattered whether she did.  Screw it, she was having fun .  Even without all that noise mixing her head up she was glad that she was here.  She was darn well going to enjoy herself.

   And even without all that, Olaf was too dang excited to say no to.  “Tell me, then, what are these other bands like?  I don’t know them at all!”  

   Olaf didn’t miss a beat.  “Come on, I’ll introduce you!”  It was not what Elsa was expecting.

   Ok, so maybe she could try to say no to him.  “No, no, I don’t...meet people,” she protested, though it fell on deaf ears as Olaf went off like an excited puppy.  Elsa scrambled for a moment but did not find herself in possession of any good reason not to follow him.  So she went, through the crowd, past the merch, and to the rickety side staircase, up which the other bands were presumably getting ready.  She hesitated a moment while Olaf tromped up - light as he was, those stairs should not have been making so much noise under his weight - and fretted, wondering if she was supposed to have a badge or something before recalling just exactly how unconcerned every single facet of this place seemed to be with formalities.  There was certainly no one guarding the stairs.

   She was only halfway up when Olaf reached the door, which had a poorly taped, partly torn poster dangling from it.  He started saying something inaudible from out of sight, but didn’t get to finish; when Elsa reached the top after him she found him about a foot off the ground in a hug from a big fellow with a bigger beard.

   He wasn’t the only one up there.  Two other other guys she didn’t recognize were lounging and talking on a couch that looked beaten to within an inch of its life, and a tall woman with dyed green and blue hair leaning over the back.  On the other side of the room a girl with ragged black hair was looking through a dingy window that, Elsa realized, was looking over the stage room and crowd.

   Next to her, of course, was Anna.  

   “Kristoff could not be a bigger dork if he tried,” she was lamenting.  Not seriously, given the grin she was sporting.  Elsa could only presume that the high fiving had yet to cease below.  Also, she was well aware that Kristoff would take that as a firm compliment.

   In just a few seconds she had forgotten that Olaf was there, causing her to start when he called out, “This is Elsa, by the way!  She’s new here, so play nice!”  That was ominous.  And definitely, Elsa thought when everyone turned their eyes towards her, more attention than she wanted.

   But not more than she could handle, darn it.  “Hi,” she began, stepping forward so that she wasn’t still shrinking against the door frame.  “I’m their neighbor, it’s nice to meet all of you.  This is an interesting night for me!”  A glance to Olaf asked him to help her out a little in the midsts of so many strangers.

   He didn’t get the chance to answer.  His feet had only just reached the ground again when the big guy hugging him answered with a voice that fit his frame.  “I’m Dwayne!  You’ve got Tulio, Chel, and Miguel on the couch, and Pokie over by the window.  Everybody else is downstairs, at the merch tables, setting up, all that.”  Olaf nodded along enthusiastically, smile still totally undiminished and hair even mussier.  Dwayne set a hand on his shoulder before asking, “So, what convinced you to come out to see us all tonight?”

   Elsa avoided a telling glance towards Anna by the skin of her teeth, though she was powerless to stop the blush that spread when she realized what her first instinct had been.  “Oh, I’m not sure,” she started, scrambling for a good response, “I guess it must have been the cookies.”  To her only momentary surprise every head in the room nodded at that answer; clearly Olaf was as generous with his baking as with everything else.

   “Yeah, he’s kind of magical that way, isn’t he?”  There was a lot of affection in that comment.  “Anyway, a friend of his is a friend of mine.  Feel free to join us any time.  Oh, and there’s beer in the fridge.”  That was it, apparently.  Dwayne dove back into a conversation with Olaf about someone named Duke, the three at the couch appeared to be flirting quite blatantly, and Anna…

   Elsa’s stomach did a little flip.  Anna was looking right at her.  She wasn’t sure whether it was a help or a betrayal that her feet took her towards the redhead, but under those blue eyes - goodness, had they always been so bright? - she felt compelled.

   Silence stretched out.  Outwardly Elsa looked serene, or at least she hoped she did.  Inwardly she was a whirlwind in search of something, anything at all, that she could say.  Nothing was offering itself, so she went with the easiest possible option, just like before.  With all the composure she could muster she said, simply, “Hi.”

   Anna nearly jumped, as though she had forgotten that Elsa might talk.  There was no reason Elsa could imagine why she would look so startled right now, but startled she was, tripping over her words to reply, “Umm, hi...this is Pokie...wait, Dwayne already told you that...hi back, then.”  Elsa couldn’t help but crack a smile at the fluster, for all that she had no idea why it had appeared.  It was reminiscent of the night in the tree.

   For her part, Pokie - that had to be a nickname, right? - had an Olaf-sized grin when Elsa looked over.  “It’s nice to meet you.  Don’t let me interrupt, I just wanted to congratulate Anna for being so amazing tonight.”

   An immaculately-trimmed eyebrow went up before the girl answered, “Since you’re probably the Elsa I’ve heard about, I don’t think you could be here without interrupting.”  A clear look from Elsa to Anna and back did little to clarify what she meant.  Nor did Anna’s wide eyes as she smacked Pokie’s arm, who only giggled.

   No context appeared forthcoming, so Elsa took a shot in the dark.  “You weren’t at Anna’s birthday party, were you?”  That would fit the comment, if not the tone.

   “I was, actually!  You missed out, should have come over to join us!  Plus, that would’ve kept us from having to hide upstairs when the cops came by.”  There should have been more hostility in her voice, Elsa thought.  This would make more sense if she sounded mad, but instead something seemed to be amusing her greatly.

   “Ahhh...I feel bad about that, actually.  I was bitter and petty and I should have handled it differently.”  A moment of uncertain silence passed before she added, hopeful, “No hard feelings?”  It wasn’t until she said that part that Elsa realized just how easily that apology had come to her.  It wouldn’t have, not before, but she just wasn’t angry about it anymore.  Letting that knot go felt good.

   A pointed look from Anna cut Pokie off when she started to reply.  Instead, Anna said, “Let’s just drop it, it’s not like that’s the first time I’ve had to deal with police anyway.  Could we go back to talk about me being amazing?”  She was clearly attempting to say that casually, but she blushed just a little at the end.

   “In that case can we start with how amazing you look, then?”  Pokie had that grin again.  “Those jeans put your figure on display .  You were getting some looks tonight.”  Turning to Elsa she insisted, “I’m right, aren’t I?”

   “You’re supposed to be on my side…”  Anna sounded a little sullen, with red cheeks as she looked away out the window.  They probably matched Elsa’s, because she knew exactly what Pokie was talking about.  She’d spent far, far too much time looking at each little way Anna’s curves moved tonight not to have noticed.

  “I am, you just won’t admit it yet.”  That earned Pokie another smack on the arm from the singer.  Being on the outside looking in on Anna’s personal dynamics seemed to be becoming a confusing theme for Elsa.

   “It’s...it’s a good look, yeah.”  It sounded like a lame response to herself, but a safe one for Elsa to offer.  “I like your hair, too.  It must take a long time to dye that stripe in like that.”

   “Oh, this?”  Anna reached up and finger down her braid.  “It’s not dyed.  Some weird thing with melanin or something - melatonin, I think.  It’s always been like this.”

   “Well, you’re lucky then, I think it looks really nice.”  Elsa wasn’t sure how to put it into words, or if she even wanted to, but she also liked how it was something so unique.  She’d never seen anyone with hair quite like Anna’s.

   “I...it’s not really...thanks.”  The end was quieter than the start, but it sounded genuine regardless.  “What about our playing, though?  My singing?”  Her steering the subject came with another glance at Pokie.

   For the umpteenth time tonight Elsa felt surprise that she was enjoying herself.  The conversation, the evening as a whole, even the start and stop snippets of the next band beginning to tune their own instruments.  Her wariness had melted away, as though the rain outside had washed it clean off her.  “You were brilliant, all of you were.  You actually looked like you knew what you were doing!”  She definitely at the start of the night wouldn’t have expected to be comfortable teasing Anna like that, but now it felt right.  “You’re fierce up there.  Intense.  You make the place yours when you have the microphone in your hands.”  Anna was more than that, of course, but those thoughts were going to stay properly locked away.

   Pokie piped up to voice her agreement.  “You’re seeing the same things I am!  She’s meant for the stage, no matter how much she was worrying beforehand.”

   Elsa’s rogue internal monologue from before jumped in and got as far as ' And meant for my- ’ before she quashed that line of thought hurriedly.  Reason was, it seemed, being gradually short circuited by proximity to Anna when she looked so cursed good.  The increasing cohesion and volume of the band below helped chase those thoughts out, though not without some sadness that it meant they were probably about ready to start their set.  “You know, I somehow can’t imagine Anna worrying about this.  She only sang for me once before and I knew already that she’d nail it,” Elsa remarked, forcing herself to stay on topic.

   “You’re the last person I expected to be a flatterer, you know,” Anna retorted.  “I’m not really sure what to say to that!”

   Pokie raised a finger and got as far as saying, “I have a few suggestions about what-” before Anna cut her off loudly.

   “ You are trouble, and I know that you know it.  Come on, let’s get our asses downstairs before Wumpus starts, I am way too wired not to go dancing!”  She set off before she even finished speaking.

   Elsa was watching her go when Pokie interrupted.  “She meant you too, doofus.  Come on, she was right earlier: the night’s hardly begun!”  A gentle shove towards the stairs added emphasis, and that was all the encouragement necessary.  Elsa liked the sound of that even more now; she didn’t want tonight to be over for a long, long while.

   That feeling didn’t fade.  The lights dimmed to usher Wumpus into their set, with Elsa crowd-pressed right between Anna to the left and Pokie behind.  Both started dancing, in a loose, reckless sense of the word, almost as soon as the first song started, and they weren’t alone in the crowd doing so.  Joining in just felt right.

   All the bump and tumble of the dancing jammed against Anna...well, Elsa liked that part of it too.  She liked it a lot.  Even as she was listening, she was feeling so much more.

“Where the fuck have I been?
Gone and lost myself again
Circling, spinning,
Haven’t done this drain before
Whirling, grinning,
I once found myself
And it was just a bore”

   Had she spared a moment to think, Elsa wouldn’t have had a clue what came next from here.  Here was yet another night that she didn’t have an answer for, but this time she didn’t care.  She was here, bouncing hip to hip with the sort of girl who before now she’d only have day dreamed about.  For tonight?  Fuck knowing ‘what that meant.’  Studious self control would never have brought her here.

   Right here, right now, she was going to dance.

Chapter Text

   Winter, it seemed, was none too happy with autumn for allowing summer to hold the stage so long, and in revenge was muscling in on its turf.  Those cooler breezes had hardly had time to settle in before being chased out by an abrupt cold snap after only a few weeks.  Frost curled over windows in the morning, painted the tips of the grass, and laid down a slick trap for careless walkers.

   Elsa loved it.  Summer swelter was never her style, and fall dabbled about in half-hearted noncommitment.  Only winter really brought the deep cold that she enjoyed most.  She was most in her element right about the time that others started complaining most loudly about the turn in the weather.  Maybe she just had excellent circulation; in any case, the cold had never once bothered her, and she never slept better or felt more comfortable than when she could savor it while cocooned in a big blanket.  Waking to the sight of ice, even if it was bound to be gone by noon, put a smile on her lips.

   Even better, that reason brought friends.  There was something hopeful about this holiday season.  Maybe it was Olaf’s deep, joyful delve into all things spooky, which was slowly constructing a Halloween panorama on the front of their house.  Maybe it was that she felt, for once, like she was welcome to go share in that.

   Not to mention, there was the tenacious, enduring memory of dancing herself to exhaustion at the show.  It felt like she’d left behind a weight that night, her feud with her neighbor trampled to death somewhere in that jumbled-up crush of people.  And good riddance to it!  In hindsight she couldn’t understand why she’d held onto that so long.  Anna wasn’t that bad.

   Really, Anna was a lot of things other than that.  Talented, energetic, stubborn, dedicated, passionate, whimsical, gorgeous, confrontational, easily flustered, unpredictable, beautifully fit, indecipherable, and stuck on her mind.  Her thoughts since the show loved nothing more than to drift back and just wonder.  They’d exchanged pleasant small talk each morning when waiting for the bus to arrive.  They’d ridden that bus without incident, and Elsa could have sworn she caught Anna looking her way a couple of times.  It had been nice.

   Utterly devoid of any mention of where things stood between them, but nice.  And that was where the wondering came in.

  It was not clear to her whether she had too many options, or too few.  “Hey, would you like to hang out sometime?” shouldn’t have been a hard question to ask.  Nor would “Are we cool now?” have been.  It wouldn’t be out of line to tell Anna, “You know, I had a really fun time with you at the show.”  She’d even said that last one, mostly, leaving out “with you”.

   “I was wondering if it would be ok if I kissed you to see what happens” would be too much.  Probably.  And other directions that her thoughts took her certainly were.  But all of those options were consistent with the now-undeniable fact that she wanted at least something more than passive non-conflict.

   That dilemma was what filled her head on one particularly cold Saturday night as she went to bed, less than a week from Halloween.  It didn’t keep her from sleep, but it did persist through the wispy beginnings of her dreams.

BOMF!


   Those dreams tripped over themselves and evaporated on contact with wakefulness.  Elsa flailed her limbs in every direction, rushing to throw off sleep and determine just what was happening.  A second thud against the window gave her another start, but also a direction.   When she looked she saw splotches of white stuck to the screen.

   Elsa blinked, a mishmash of dreams and waking bouncing around her head like a dice tumblr.  Her heart rate was, though still pounding, slowing from the spike that woke her as she sat blearily up from her pillow, and her limbs were protesting each time she moved them.  Her body wanted her to sleep again now that she had ruled out the possibility of imminent danger.  It wanted her eyes closed right now .

   Her curiosity had other intentions.

   A third snowball announced its arrival with a proud ‘fwumph!’, which neatly explained what was on the screen.  The source was still a mystery, but not, Elsa, thought, a very good one.  It was - Elsa glanced at her clock - 1:45 in the morning.  Who else had been responsible for late-night surprises in her life lately?

   Red hair and red cheeks in the dark proved her guess.  Vastly more surprising was the blanket of white covering the whole yard.  Snow already?  Well, obviously, if there were snowballs.  She’d been awoken too abruptly to to make the obvious connection, but she did now with a little stir of excitement in her chest.  There was enough that it was starting little mounds on the branches, piles that were deepening with the big, fluffy flakes filling the air.  It was beautiful and thrilling, even through the dispersing remnants of sleep demanding an explanation as to why she was standing up instead of laying back down.  And despite the cause gathering more snow below for another projectile.  Or maybe because of that.  She was too tired to bother trying to figure out.

   Hoping to forestall any further assaults on her window, Elsa slid her the glass to the side so that she could call down, “Anna, you do realize what time it is, right?”  She won a startled glance up, one braid flipping back over Anna’s shoulder.

   Anna was undeterred.  “Oh, don’t give me any of that!  It is hella snowing and you are going to get your blonde butt down here to enjoy it!”  The finished snowball rested in her upturned right hand, while her left was sternly planted on her hip.  “Come on, it’s snowing !  How could you possibly sleep right now?  It’s time to play!  Everyone else is already up!”  She was so earnest.  Elsa felt the corners of her mouth tug unwittingly upwards despite the fatigue grumpily insisting that she oughtn’t be enjoying anything right now.

   Sleep was going to lose this round.  While her opinion on the bother below was about as clear as mud, Elsa loved the snow.  Usually because of the sense of peace and comfort it brought her, true, but she wouldn’t dream of missing the season’s first snowfall.  Even if the atmosphere this time was hinting at something significantly less calming.  A huge, bleary-eyed yawn distracted her for a moment, but no longer.

   There was something else, too.  From the moment she’d guessed at the source of this disturbance Elsa had been hit by a dogged feeling that she’d end up playing along with whatever was happening, someway, somehow. Particularly now that sleep had fully admitted defeat and, complaining all the way, crept back for now.  “I hope,” she retorted through her short grin, “that you realize just what a pain in the ass you are.  Let me get my coat.”

   “Don’t worry, I do!”  Elsa was only half turned from the window when Anna shot back that response, simultaneous with her other: the snowball.  The screen was a smidgen less than impervious to this assault than it had been to pine cones, snow spraying through and powdering across Elsa’s back.  This also included the bare skin on the back of her neck, shocking a hastily-quashed squeal out of her.

   She stalked back to the window and, immediately before sliding it closed, glowered, “Oh, you are in for it now!”  The latch clicked home with satisfying authority, a bulwark against both snow and commentary while Elsa dug her winter coat and boots from the back corner of her closet.  The nip of ice on her bare neck had guaranteed that she would remain plentifully awake.  More importantly, it had sealed Anna’s fate tonight.  Challenging Elsa to a snowball fight was a very poor idea.  Would-be playground tormentors had learned back in elementary school that when Elsa had a snowball, she didn’t miss.  “Throwing like a girl” during winter at her school was not an insult.  It was a whispered invocation of fear.

   She might have put behind her that simmering desire to smack the irritation out of the girl, but she certainly remembered what it had felt like.  Maybe a midnight snowball pummelling would be a little cathartic.

   In any case she was, now properly outfitted with boots, coat, and gloves, looking forward to going outside at nearly two in the morning, which was a noteworthy first for her.  And hadn’t Anna said everyone else was already outside?  It would be like a bizarre little party.

   Creaking stairs and soft tromping announced her way, despite her efforts to stay silent.  Hopefully her roommates wouldn’t wake up, though honestly they likely wouldn’t mind overly much if they did.  Soon enough it was a moot point, freezing air flowing past her when she stepped out her front door.

   It had barely closed when another snowball came knocking.  It whisked by her shoulder, thudded off the wood, and most importantly gave up Anna’s element of surprise.  A quick look around found a certain pest of a singer hurriedly gathering more snow for another attempt, but it was too late.  Elsa hustled to the porch railing and scooped her own ammo up, announcing calmly, “If you come at the Queen, you best not miss!”  She ducked Anna’s follow-up, then hurled hers squarely into the side of her as she scampered for cover.

   “I won’t!”  This promise was followed by the third shot straight going wide, and a hasty follow-up to add, “...much!”  Anna went for the nearest tree, putting something solid in between them.

   Elsa gathered two snowballs this time and started circling wide.  When she was in position she threw the first right-handed, skimming past Anna’s cover.  The poor thing bit at the bait, jumping out to counter attack right as Elsa’s dominant hand delivered the real, loosely-packed shot to Anna’s face.

   With a startled sputter Anna lost her footing, her butt squashing the snow beneath her in an inglorious tumble backwards.  Elsa couldn’t help but giggle. It was a good thing that she’d made sure that was a soft one, or else that complete failure to dodge might have actually done some damage to more than Anna’s dignity.  Elsa started closer to offer a hand up, forgetting for a moment who she was dealing with.  Before she was halfway there the punk scooped two handfuls of snow at her and scrambled back to her feet, her whole face one gigantic smile.

   “You’ll never take me alive, copper!”  Despite having already been beaned once in the face, Anna sounded like she was having a blast.  Her next throw was even on target, connecting with Elsa’s leg while she scampered around, looking for another opening.

   Elsa circled, taking that as tacit permission to pummel Anna into submission.  Her smile was a mirror of Anna’s even as she hunted her down, both hands hefting precision ammunition ready to knock her back onto her butt if the opportunity presented itself.  After only a few seconds it did.  A lucky dodge got Anna out of a direct hit from the first throw, but didn’t get her out of the second, both of them giggling after as they gathered yet more snow.  They certainly weren’t going to run out anytime soon; the storm seemed determined to bury them all.

   Elsa got Anna with a glancing throw, while Anna’s charging toss nailed Elsa in the chest.  All the running around was leaving them both a little out of breath, which showed in big white puffs from both their mouths.  “You should try doing this more often,” Elsa remarked, feeling an urge to be bold and tease her a bit.

   Anna paused, looking back quizzically before asking, “What, waking you up in the middle of the night?”  She snapped out of it the moment she saw Elsa shaping the snow in her hands and fled for cover.

   “No, you turnip,” Elsa answered, shaking her head, “Being fun about it!  It’s a lot harder to be mad at you when you’re offering yourself up to get annihilated by snowballs!”  A solid hit to Anna’s fleeing butt punctuated her reply and earned a surprised shriek.

    Anna hid behind a car on the street, not-so-subtly starting to stockpile snowballs.  “Umm, well, that’s good then!  Mad isn’t what I’m aiming for!”  The lob over the top of the car was a cheap, and poorly directed, counterpoint from her.  Elsa didn’t have an answer of her own yet, so she instead started creeping around the side a few cars down with her own snowballs at the ready.  She really hoped that none of these had car alarms...

   Anna’s silent peeking over the car, trying to find where Elsa had gone, ended with a squeal and flop sideways into her ammunition stock when the sneak attack landed.   That was followed by a thorough fit of face-down laughter.  “Ok, ok, I surrender!  You should play baseball or something, some of those stung .  Wanna go ambush Kristoff?”  Elsa’s offer of a hand up was accepted this time without complaint.

   “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to hurt you,” Elsa worried, frowning despite Anna’s apparent lack of giving a hoot.  She had put some pep on a few of those.

   “Oh, no, don’t worry about it!  I just meant that you’re really good at that, I’m totally fine!  I’ve been hit by way worse than that .”  Anna stood, both hands brushing the snow from her front.  When that was done she looked up at Elsa, and both of them promptly ran out of things to say.  Silence stretched out in a hurry, extra heavy with the snow falling around them.

   Both tried to break it with a simultaneous, “So…”  Elsa giggled behind her glove, and after a moment of verbal starts and stops from both sides Elsa yielded the floor to Anna, who said simply, “This is nice, isn’t it?”

   “It is.”  Elsa looked past Anna to the snow flitting through the streetlight glow, unsure where her eyes should be right now.  She noticed a little bit of tension drop out of Anna’s shoulders when she answered.

   Anna also looked up at the snow drifting onto them.  “Whew.  I’m glad, I was kinda worried after I threw that first one at you that you were gonna get pis...errr, get mad at me again.  So, what next?”  When Anna looked back to her the question was in her eyes as much as her voice.  She was so earnest; it was cute.  Particularly with the flush across her cheeks from the cold creeping through her freckles.  There were so many of them, too, she’d never really had the chance to see them up close like this...

   Elsa looked away before she started staring, her own cheeks reddening.  “I don’t know, I’m not usually up this late.  What do people usually do in the middle of the night?”  Only once she was done asking did the obvious answer occur to her, spreading a much deeper blush.

   “Ummm…” Anna trailed away, thinking.  “Well...we were gonna go sledding!  Wanna join us?  Gerda must have been watching the weather for us, she brought this big old sled over for us a few days ago.  And I swiped a few garbage can lids after that.”

   “Eww…”

   “I washed them out!”  Anna clearly didn’t share Elsa’s sensibilities about what constituted a proper thing to sit on.

   It was only now that Elsa caught up to the knowledge that she was already intending to go along with whatever Anna had planned, sight unseen.  Being that open to whatever came next was...nice.  Maybe it was the lack of sleep, or maybe she was really changing, but whatever the case tonight she was simply comfortable.  Awaiting the unexpected, following someone else’s lead, whatever.  She just wasn’t feeling her nerves, and she wasn’t going to second guess a blessing like that.

   That feeling did nothing to stop her from breaking into laughter when Sven and Kristoff ran past them, towing Olaf in a sled behind them while he yelled, “Mush, mush!”  Anna was reaching for a snowball by the time Elsa looked over, and through her giggles she insisted, “No, don’t interrupt, I want to see how long this goes.”

   “To the end of the street, that’s where the good sledding is.  Come on, let’s get the lids!”  She scampered off without waiting for Elsa, who went after her at a less hectic pace.  It was a good decision, avoiding the skid that Anna stumbled through when she tried to round the corner towards the garage.  Not that almost falling again slowed her down, of course.

   Elsa was rounding that same corner when Anna came slipping back out, arms wrapped around three black plastic garbage can lids and a big metal tray that Elsa was fairly certain was one of the cookie sheets they had used with Olaf.  Elsa raised a skeptical eyebrow and asked, “Are you sure those are going to work?”

   “Of course they will!  Now take these two and come on, the others will be there soon.”  Each passing minute seemed to only be adding to Anna’s excitement, and it was infectious.  Elsa might have felt a little silly carrying a garbage lid and a cookie sheet down the middle of the street in Anna’s wake, but watching those pigtails bouncing along made silly sound like a fine plan in the moment.

   This was fun.  This was really, truly fun.  And Elsa knew full well that she wouldn’t have been out here if not for the girl leading the way down the sled tracks in the street.  Without a grudge sitting in the way it was a lot easier to admit that.

   Anna skidded to a graceless stop in the middle of the road their own street emptied out onto, right at the top of the long, steep incline that made walking home such a pain.  She tossed one lid onto the snow and looked like she was ready to shove off in her own before stopping herself.  Looking back at Elsa, who was glancing up the street for signs of traffic, she urged, “Come on!  No one’s dumb enough to drive in this weather at this time of the night.  Race me!”

   Elsa was more than ready to accept the challenge.  She opted for the cookie tray herself, preferring not to hop into a random garbage can lid despite any assurances of its cleanliness, and with rare abandon flopped onto it face first.  Her momentum carried her to the point of no return on the slope, Anna scooting out right behind her.  

   Gravity took over for them both.  She could see the boys all already at the bottom, just beginning the trek up to the top along the side of the road.  And it was a good thing that they were out of the way, because she very quickly found out that a cookie sheet afforded her very little control over her direction other than a general insistence towards down.  Snowflakes and spray glanced off her face faster and faster, accumulating wherever it could find purchase on her.  Hat, eyelashes, and coat collar were all gaining a rapid frosting.

   The night probably should have felt cold as they hurtled down the hill, but there was a warmth from the pure joy in Anna’s laughter that sunk into Elsa far deeper than the bite of the wind could reach.

   The road levelled off right before it ended in a crooked T intersection, and Elsa didn’t possess the level of mobility necessary to turn either direction.  She dug her boots in as a brake instead, dragging to a more or less controlled stop.  Anna, on the other hand, didn’t seem much concerned with the fact that the street was shortly going to turn into a front yard.  Part of that was probably due to the fact that somewhere on the way down she had ended up going backwards, still whooping with the same unrestricted excitement and wholly unconcerned with not being able to see where she was going.  The inefficiency of her vehicle ended up saving her, skidding slow enough the the minor snow drift over the curb stopped her entirely.

   “I win!”  The words were out of her mouth the moment she arrived, hopping right to her feet and smirking down at Elsa.

   “How?  I was clearly the first down!”  Elsa’s indignance was mostly, though not entirely, feigned.

   “The curb was the goal, you didn’t even make it all the way!  Gonna have to try again if you wanna beat me .”  Elsa took the offered hand, Anna tugging her to her feet.  “Come on, let’s go catch up with the others.”  Again she was off, a bottomless font of enthusiasm.

   Elsa trudged after her, unable to match the level of energy but insistent on not being left behind.  “Changing the rules at the end,” she complained in Anna’s direction, “is cheating.”

   “You’re just saying that cause you lost!”  Elsa could hear the smirk from Anna.

   “I take it all back, you’re a pain in the ass again.”

   “What was I before that, then?”  That question caught Elsa without a ready answer.  What happened to flustered Anna?  

   A few options offered themselves, from conciliatory - “A nice surprise” - to contrary- “A poor shot!”  Other ones she shoved right back out of mind.  None were something she was willing to say.  She was saved from answering by Kristoff’s familiar, and in this case loud , voice echoing down from above.

   “This is awesome!”  Perhaps an obvious observation, but he wasn’t wrong.

   “Are you enjoying being a carthorse?”  She wished that she’d thought to get a video of that in hindsight.  Maybe she could get them to repeat it later.

   “No, no, not a horse!  We’re following our own advice and trying out this reindeer thing.”  He looked over to Olaf and asked, “What’d you think?  Was it an improvement?”

   Olaf giggled in his unique way.  “I’m not sure yet!  Maybe if you hadn’t forgotten your antlers.”  Kristoff reached up to rub his head at the reminder.

   Sven scooted up beside them both in a garbage can lid barely large enough to fit him, clearly ready while Elsa and Anna reached the top within a few seconds of one another.  Kristoff noticed, answering, “Well, let’s line up then!  Last one down is gym socks!”  He fit himself into the other lid between Sven and Olaf, who was already set up in the big sled despite being the smallest one there.

   Glancing up and down the street Elsa hesitated.  “There’s not a lot of room for all of us here.  We can’t really steer these…”

   “Don’t crash then!”  Anna’s lackadaisy about it wasn’t reassuring exactly, but it did encourage her to get her butt onto her cookie sheet.  It was all that Olaf had been waiting for.

   “Three!” He shouted with a puff of foggy breath.  “Two!”  Anna wriggled her butt into her lid better.  “One!”  Elsa braced herself, arms braced to push off.

   “Go!”  Five sets of hands scrabbled in the snow to get each of them going.  Olaf had a clear advantage being on the only actual sled, leading him to an early lead that only grew as gravity took over for him.  The other four were better matched, though an intent Sven was eking out a slim gap.

   That was as far as Elsa was able to see things clearly.  Everything was a blur the moment they all started down the hill proper, accelerating while doing their best to go relatively straight.  Elsa found herself trending a little to the right, which she was able to just barely counter via frantic leaning.  

   A hurried glance saw Anna’s pigtails bouncing behind her in the wind.  She also seemed to be having trouble staying forward, already spun halfway round and still going.  That gave her a clear view of Kristoff’s great big smirk as he started angling towards their side of the road.

   Having not signed up for bumper sleds, Elsa hunched down and hoped that she could eke out enough of a lead to get ahead of the impending collision.  They were all racing down the hill now, Olaf cheering from well in front.  Each bump rattled through Elsa as she passed over it, though none shook her thoroughly enough to loosen her grip.

   Anna shrieked to her left as Kristoff found a target.  Another glance saw both of them tumbling through the snow, each sled skittering away ahead of them.  Elsa had successfully cleared the wipeout.  A cry of, “Kristoff, you ass !” followed her down the hill as she again sped towards the curb at the end.

   A hint of petulance encouraged her coming to a stop a little later than before, just far enough to plant a hand over the top of the drift mounting the curb.  Only then did she clamber to her feet, adrenaline running through her.  Sven was already part way back up, but Olaf was waiting.  He echoed Kristoff when he enthused, “That was awesome!  Come on, let’s go again!”

   Elsa nodded and turned, ready to start the climb.  “I’m guessing I have you to thank for thinking to get me?”  She somehow felt lighter on her feet now than she had when tonight started, and she hardly missed a beat when she leaned to scoop up the lid-sled that had managed to skim down to the bottom after them.  Might as well save whichever of the two it belonged to the extra walking.

   “No, actually,” Olaf answered from behind her.  “Anna was the one who decided to go wake you up.  I’m glad you came though!”

   “Do you guys often go out in the middle of the night?”  It was...interesting, Anna being the one who made that choice.  “I don’t know many people who are up this late.  Any, really.  I love the snow, and even I had to be convinced to get out of bed for this.”

   “She’s persuasive, isn’t she?”  Olaf ignored her first question, his reply sounding almost sly.  That was probably the right tone given that Elsa’s first thought in response was Anna’s hips swaying in those jeans up on stage.  Lucky that the night hid her blush.  Persuasive, sure...

   A quick look around saw that Anna was already at the top in the other lid, seemingly making another snowball stash.  She’d need to keep an eye out, but for the moment it meant she was distracted enough for Elsa to ask Olaf quietly, “I...I’m not sure how to react to her anymore.  I don’t think she still hates me, but there’s a long way between that and...well, anything else.”

   “Why not ask her?  I don’t think she knows any better than you do, but talking usually helps.”

   Elsa’s sudden stop was a little too quick for Olaf, who walked into her with a surprised yelp.  She started walking again just as abruptly, only now she was blushing more since she didn’t have a good reason why the idea of asking Anna had startled her so much.

   “I’ll say this,” Olaf offered, “Anna does whatever’s on her mind whether or not she’s thought about why.  I’ll bet she doesn’t have an answer herself why she went to get you the moment she had her boots on.”

    Well, that helps , Elsa thought.  And they were out of time, having reached the top of the hill again.

   “Catch!” Anna chirped cheerily as she tossed a snowball over to Elsa.  “This ass over here,” she said, pointing to Kristoff, “Has decided he wants to get pummeled with snowballs tonight.”  Kristoff tried to protest, but Anna kept talking right over him.  “Since you are the temporary champion, I am enlisting you to help.  Get him!”

   “Wait, hold on a sec-” he started, but Anna did not, in fact, hold on a second.  His answer was cut off by a snowball to the shoulder, then solidly to his chest, and thirdly to his back with a surprise assist from Sven, who was wearing an expression that clearly said Kristoff deserved this.  

   Beset on all sides Kristoff covered his head and gestured frantically for Olaf to hand him the sled.  He got it, but not without Olaf chirping, “You’re doomed now!”  Diving forward the big blond took off down the hill face-first.

   “After him!”  Anna followed hastily, scooting to a start with a snowball stash in her lap.  Elsa shrugged, handed Olaf the other lid, and flopped butt-first onto her sheet, her momentum carrying her onto the slope.

   Anna’s aim was, understandably this time, mostly way off as she tried to bombard the fleeing Kristoff.  Elsa took a bit to gather enough snow without falling off, but managed to tag his left leg with her own shot.  She grinned when Anna gave her a gloved thumbs up between throws, which were growing increasingly difficult as she started rotating again.

   There was only time for one more before they ran out of hill, which went both wide right and almost made her fall backwards off the cookie tray.  He had gained distance on the way down, which bought him enough time to prepare a snowball of his own after rolling into a kneeling position.  Anna was first in line and, now completely backwards, got it in the back.

   Elsa flopped off the cookie sheet before he could throw one at her, skidding in the snow for a few feet before stopping.  It served her immediately as a makeshift shield, an incoming snowball gonging off it.  She had to drop it to make her response, but once she did it landed true, nearly knocking off Kristoff’s hat.

   It was then that Olaf skidded through the middle of them, also backwards and yelling “Free for all!”  He tipped over backwards at the curb, then sat back up and threw a snowball at the incoming Sven, though it fell short.

   From there things devolved into a whizzing cacophony of snowballs, attempted dodges, and laughter.  Elsa made her mark on each of them quickly, giving much better than she got.  Sven seemed unfazed every time he got hit, shrugging each snowball off like he hadn’t even noticed.  Olaf fell over a lot, but got back up quicker each time.  Kristoff and Anna somehow forged a hasty alliance when they ended up in the middle of everyone, though that crumbled just as fast when Anna, turning to try for a quick throw at Sven, instead hit Kristoff in the butt.

   It wasn’t until after one particularly undignified shriek that Elsa realized, had this happened outside her house a few months ago, she probably would have yelled out her window for everyone to quiet down.  It was well after 2AM and they were raising a ruckus, but if anyone heard they seemed content to ignore it.  Good.  Elsa wouldn’t want this to end so soon.

   After one particularly good toss that managed to get into her coat she did, however, decide that a temporary retreat might be in order.  She dodged through the melee to grab the big sled and, carrying it so as to block throws as she retreated uphill, set off.  She wanted to see how well an actual sled would compare on this hill to her makeshift one.

   “That’s a good plan, I’ve got snow in places that I never thought it could get to.”  Elsa jumped;  she had totally missed her following.

   “Such as?”  Where had her breath gone so suddenly?

   “Um, well...my butt’s cold, and that’s definitely not all.”  Elsa giggled, looking back over her shoulder.  Anna’s whole face was red with cold, and there was snow stuck all over her hair.  She wasn’t kidding, that looked freezing, particularly compared to Elsa.  Trudging up the hill was almost too warm.

   Before long they were back at the top, looking down at the aftermath of the snowball war.  All three seemed to have given up.  Olaf was now making snow angels, while Kristoff and Sven were either starting a snowman or competing to see who could roll the biggest ball of snow.

   “What’re you waiting for?”  Anna was insistent, catching Elsa’s eyes and looking significantly towards the sled.  “Let’s go!”  

   For a moment Elsa didn’t quite follow.  “We’ve only got one sled, though,” she answered, confusion in her voice.  Anna just rolled her eyes.

   “Yeah, but we can both fit.  Here, set it down,” she insisted, tugging it onto the ground.  She climbed in at the front, and was certainly not wrong that there was plenty of room left even with her legs set inside.  “Well?  Aren’t you going to join me?”

   Elsa hesitated silently for a moment, at once decidedly eager to climb into position with her legs split either side of Anna and uncertain if, for reasons she couldn’t articulate, that was a good idea.  The decision was only made when her feeling silly at standing around overwhelmed the other considerations.  She sat right behind Anna, legs around her and hands gripping the sides of the sled.
   
    Anna wasn’t joking about feeling cold, she practically radiated it wherever Elsa touched her.  “Hold on,” Elsa started, concern creeping in, “Is this sweater cotton?  You’re soaking wet!”

   Anna ignored her.  Instead she urged, “Help me push off!”  By herself she got a decent start, but it was only when Elsa gave in and pushed too that they started gaining a little speed.  Anna added a last warning as they went, cautioning Elsa, “Hold on.  There are literally no brakes.”

   It was when they hit the slope proper that they started gaining a lot of speed.  This was definitely quicker than the cookie sheet, and not being in front left Elsa feeling exceptionally not in control.  Subconsciously she grabbed for the most solid thing she could reach, which in this case was Anna.  She gripped a lot harder around her middle then she was really aware of as they hurtled downwards, heavy snowflakes zipping by.

   The bottom approached in a hurry, with Anna calling out a heads up so that Kristoff wouldn’t wander into the way.  Once they reached the flat at the end their momentum held up surprisingly well, far better than the cookie tray had.  It gave Elsa just enough time to realize that they probably ought to try to slow down, but not enough to do anything about it.  Anna let out a whoop, then they hit the snowdrift ramp on the curb still full speed ahead.

   Elsa didn’t stop holding when they went airborn.

   That moment lingered a lot longer than it had any right to.  She was aware that they were rotating sideways, and that as they went right the sled was going left.  Anna was shouting with excitement, which seemed a little odd to Elsa as she contemplated the incoming impact.  Snow would be soft, right?

   Elsa didn’t find out, since Anna ended up being her cushion.  There was probably going to be a forehead-sized bruise on her back in the morning, but that was a detail for later since they were both immediately sent tumbling through the fresh snow on the yard.  Elsa came to rest on her back, head up against Anna’s leg, and considered her good fortune that all of her felt like it was still working.

   “I think they’re alive.”  That was Kristoff, with a big dumb grin walking towards them.  Elsa sat up and glowered.

   “Can it.”  She turned to Anna, who was extracting her face from the ground, and who practically left an imprint of her smile behind in the snow she was grinning so broadly.  The thrill from earlier was nothing compared to the adrenaline buzzing through her right now, and it was only with great effort that she stopped herself from grabbing Anna by the shoulders and shaking the snow lose from every bit of her.

   “Are.  You.   Insane? ” The giggles she got in response suggested that the answer just might be yes.  “Why didn’t you slow us down?”

   “That was awesome!”  Good gods, they were all like that, weren’t they?  Anna didn’t seem the least bit unsettled by the fact that they had left a terrifyingly long stretch of unbroken snow underneath them after that attempted flight.  Elsa was nearly impressed, but mostly she was aghast.

   “How have you even survived, pulling stunts like that…”  Sure, a corner of her knew that they weren’t all that likely to get hurt badly when landing on snow like that, even if it was only a handspan deep, but it sure as heck felt otherwise right now.

   Anna was still grinning, but this time Elsa noticed her teeth chattering, which in turn reminded her of what she’d noticed at the top.  She tugged her own glove off to feel Anna’s arm, then her side.  The hoodie she had on was cotton.

   “You are soaked through.  You absolute moron, you are going to freeze to death that way.”  With a glare around at the other three she added, louder, “So, are any of the rest of you courting frostbite?”

   A hasty set of head shakes met her, but she only let them go after an additional glower each.  “That better bet the truth, since I will get revenge if any of you get hypothermia.”

   Anna tried to protest, though her clattering teeth did her no favors.  “Oh, come on, I’m fine, I’ve been through way worse than this.”

   “I don’t care if you’ve hiked the length and breadth of Antarctica, I am hauling your ass home to get into some dry clothes.  You don’t get to argue.”

   “Seriously, I’m-”  Elsa stuck a stern finger to Anna’s lips to shush her.

   “I said no.  Now, come with me.”

   Anna wasn’t done yet, trying to avoid that finger long enough to say, defiant, “You know you aren’t actually in charge of me, right?”  She was back to her old self, challenging Elsa for control.  Elsa was having none of it now.  This was actually important.

   “Anna, I will tie your butt to this sled and drag you back myself if I have to.  I am not going to allow you to take your health lightly.  Now obey, before I make you.”  Whew.  That was...stronger than Elsa had planned on, but it took the fight out of Anna’s expression, alongside her shivering again.

   “Well, umm...I’m definitely not feeling cold now…” Elsa didn’t follow the tone that Anna said that in, but wasn’t given a reason to chastise her further when the girl got to her feet obediently.  “It looks like I’ve got doctor’s orders, guys,” Anna said to the others as she began walking, Elsa close behind.  “Make sure not to lose the tray, ok?”

   Kristoff was rubbing the back of his neck, still looking a little surprised.  “We definitely won’t forget.  I’m a little worried that I’d get bludgeoned with it if I did, after what she just said…”  He looked past Anna to Elsa, giving her a little smile to make sure she knew he was kidding.

   “Good.  Then I may consider granting clemency from not bringing this nimrod to my attention sooner.”  She gave each of them one last proper glare for good measure, then continued marching her captive home.

   It wasn’t far before the tumbling snow left her feeling like her and Anna were the only ones here again.

   In that sudden silence her irritation drained in a hurry, and the extent of it felt rather overdone.  “I probably shouldn’t do that...”  Without the others around introspection came easier, and so did the words for it.  “The last time I tried to tell you what to do it didn’t go very well.”  Her words vanished into the storm around them, audible only to Anna.

   Both of them kept trudging steadily, the crunch of snow underfoot uninterrupted for a few moments.  But it was a comfortable wait.  There was no sense of impending conflict, wholly unlike that first encounter.  Anna seemed to be just thinking.

    Her answer was quiet, too, only enough for Elsa to hear her assure, “No, no, it’s alright.  I get it, this time.  I know I don’t always listen, but you’re not wrong this time so it’s ok.”

    Elsa’s eyebrow arched, unseen.  “This time?” It wasn’t a challenge, though, there was no irritation in her saying that.  Just a little push to elaborate, if Anna wanted.

    “No, I, it’s not that...I don’t mind you being a stick in the mud if I can see your reason for it.  I can listen when you explain it.”  She sighed, shrugged, and looked up into the fluttering snow.  “It really is getting cold out.”

   “I would be surprised if you weren’t soaked through by now.  That is the sort of outfit that will turn you into a popsicle by the end of the night.”  Elsa shook her head again at Anna’s recklessness.

   Anna’s reply sounded like she was smirking again, answering back, “Well, that’s fine, I can work on my Jack Nicholson impression.”  Elsa waited for more to help make sense of it, but that was it.

   “I’m sorry, your what?”  She could play along.

   “You know, at the end of The Shining?”

    Topic whiplash kept Elsa puzzled for a few moments longer before it made sense again.  She shivered, not from the cold, admonishing, “That movie scared me stiff, and it’s the middle of the night.  Could we not?”

   Anna took a deep breath, like a wind up toy ready to go, and started with gusto, “Oh, man, if that scared you then I’ve got like a million movies that’ll keep you up for a week, each .  I gotta show you It Follo…”  The sentence stopped so quickly that Elsa felt a little like she tripped over listening to it, then Anna let out all the rest of the breath she had taken.

   “I would like to note that I could have been really mean to you here and wasn’t.”  The hint of sullen resignation made Elsa smile.  It seemed Anna had changed her mind.

   Elsa had been slowly catching up, and finally now was walking side by side with Anna instead of following behind her.  Looking across she could see Anna, who after a glance at Elsa stayed looking straight ahead, in profile only when passing a streetlight.  Her cheeks were still reddened, but her ears were gone a bit white.  It was a good thing she had stopped her from staying out any longer.

   Insisting on saying so wasn’t go to be any help, though, so Elsa bit down any urge for an ‘I told you so’ and went in a different direction.  “Note taken, thank you.  I think that might be a first, actually.”

   Anna looked back towards Elsa, curious and with a very red nose.  “A first what?” she asked, confused.

   “The first time where you had a chance to be an ass and weren’t, doofus.”  Elsa decided that she liked that word.  She might keep it for Anna.  There were, she suspected, going to be a lot of chances to use it.

   “Ok, I am definitely making you watch It Follows now.  You’re gonna piss yourself.”  Her verbal prodding had stirred the fight in Anna, but this time it was mostly on purpose.

   “Gross!”  Elsa wrinkled her nose.  “Why would that be a goal to aim for?  Plus, wouldn’t that be your problem too, then?”

   “How would it be my problem?”  Anna laughed a little, proving that she could still be an ass when given the chance.

   “Because there is no way in heck I am watching that at my place, so it’d be your floor that I...eww, why are we talking about this again?  I blame you entirely.”  She was laughing too, though, at the sheer absurdity despite the turn that the conversation had taken.

   “It was just a saying, you’re the one that took it that way!  Shoulda been more careful if you couldn’t handle it!”  Anna was clearly not so bothered by the turn, and more than willing to enjoy Elsa’s revulsion.

   “I take it all back, you are an ass.  Butt.”  Petty, without a doubt, but it was as accurate a description as Elsa could think of in a moment already entirely too juvenile.  This was Anna’s turf, not her own.

   Only an infuriating smirk answered her as the snow-silence fell again.  They were well on the way back now, with just the final bit of the street left.  Their footsteps were deep, now, more snow having accumulated than Elsa could have dreamed of when she first looked out her window.  This was actually going to stick past the morning.  The meteorologists were going to be giddy on the news tomorrow.

   The quiet came to an end in innocuous tone when Anna asked, “I wonder what flavor I would be?”

   Elsa stumbled and choked on the start of her response, starting an unavoidable coughing fit.  She didn’t get her voice back for a few seconds, and all she was able to force out through her shock was a strangled, “Anna!”

   She tilted her head, asking, "What?" Realization hit her like a truck. "OH. No, no, not, I didn't mean... not that sort of popsicle! "

   Only slightly recovered, Elsa bit back.  “ What do you mean popsicle?!

   “It’s, earlier, when you were, because of my clothes you said I’d turn into a popsicle!”  At least Anna was flustered too, but she was creeping back towards amusement much too quickly.

   Elsa paused, took a deep breath, then let it go and took another one for good measure.  Only they did she ask, tersely, “Why, oh why, did you think of that again now ?”  Not, she realized, that she could think of any answers right now that she would want to hear.

   “I don’t know!  I was just thinking, and it wasn’t that long ago!”  She muttered for a moment, then came back with, “You’re the one who took it that way!”

   “We we’re just ...actually, no.  There isn’t any reason why we need to keep talking about this.  I am going to move on, starting right now.”  If, she thought to herself, Anna was willing to oblige.

   She wasn’t.  “Oh, my god, that’s amazing.  I can’t wait to tell Olaf about that, he’s going to die laughing.”

   Elsa sputtered audibly this time.  Her voice was dangerous when she hissed, “ You wouldn’t.

   “Why wouldn’t I?”  It was like the two of them were having an entirely different conversation.  “It’s funny!”  They had reached the front door, and Anna fumbled with her keys until she managed to get it open.

   Elsa was extra done now and pushed Anna inside.  “Oh, just, never mind.  Go get those close off, you doofus.”

   “Oh, my…”

   “ And put dry ones back on!  Oh my god, you are incorrigible.  Go on, get moving!”  She shooed Anna towards the stairs, who finally listened to her again, tossing her coat over the railing right after kicking out of her shoes.  The wooden railing.  Laughter echoed back down after she was out of sight.  Elsa moved the coat to one of the hooks near the door, hung hers beside it along with her sodden snow pants, then flopped face first onto the couch.

   She would go home in a bit, once Anna being infuriating wore off.  Maybe in a few bits, there was a lot to work through.  Anna was more than a little impossible.

    Why is she so weird?  Elsa hoped for a moment that the blanket her face was in was a clean one, but her preference for looking at nothing for a little while right now was stronger than that concern.  They had been having a perfectly nice conversation, and then it had turned into...whatever the heck all that had been.  And through almost all of it Anna had been smiling, and laughing.

   Her sigh left the fleece a bit damp from her breath.  The thing was, and she was willing to admit it for once, despite all the weirdness tonight...she didn’t really mind it, so much as she was glad to have been with Anna when she was smiling and laughing like that.   Weird didn’t mean that it hadn’t still been fun.

   The yawn blindsided her.  One moment she was face down in her neighbors’ blanket contemplating the night, the next she was still face down but exhausted, lungs sucking in all the air they could to stave off sleep.  What time even was it?

   The pillows leaning against the arm of the couch were remarkably comfortable.  She turned, rolling the blanket halfway onto her, then wriggled up to a half-sitting position and tugged the whole thing over her.  There was no heat on in the house for some unholy reason but between the layers she still had and the blanket she felt properly snug, other than her head.  She burrowed down further into the blanket to try to fix that.

   “You’re still here?  I guess I didn’t hear you leave.  Comfy?”

   Anna was back.  Elsa’s sense of time must have been off, since it seemed to her that she could not possibly have changed so quickly.  Cracking her eyes open, however, she found Anna in a giantly baggy tshirt, fleece pants, and some of the ugliest wool socks that she had ever seen.  She’d barely finished looking when Anna impacted the couch beside her.

   “Budge up, you don’t get the good blanket to yourself.”  She wrangled the tangle at the other end until she was able to tease it loose and wrap it over herself as well.  Looking over at Elsa, who was caught in the midsts of another yawn, she asked dryly, “Planning to stay there tonight?”

   Elsa was finding words a little tricky, swimming slowly to mind.  “I should...go home, probablEEEEEEEEEEEEE-”

   She was a little more awake now.  Anna’s hand was freezing , and she’d put it right under the side of her shirt.

   For the second time tonight all she was able to manage was to hiss, “ Anna! ”  Predictably, she got a mischievous grin back.

   “Damn, you are warm, how do you do that?”  Anna was, even now, undeterrable.  And even with that jolt Elsa didn’t have a lot of energy to spar with her.

   “Don’t do that!  Gods below, if your hands are this cold now you must have been near death out there.”  She fussed, mostly as cover, but not without some sincerity too.  The girl’s limbs felt like they were made of ice, and she was honestly a little worried that they were still so cold.

   Elsa cut off Anna when she started saying something, instead insisting, “You should go take a hot shower.  I mean it…” she couldn’t stop her yawn despite her worry, only finishing after, “Being this cold is dangerous.  Your teeth are still chattering!”  She could even hear them, not to mention feel the shivers where their bodies were close.

   Anna had to be the single most stubborn person that Elsa had ever met.  Her words were rattling as she argued, insisting, “I am fine, honestly!  I don’t want to shower now, I’m under a blanket already and I don’t wanna have to get back up.  Can’t make me.”  

    We’re close... a stray thought, and one she was too tired to unravel.  Elsa didn’t even bother trying.  Instead, she sighed, feigning defeat to cover for being out of ideas.  “Fine, then.  I suppose it would be-” another yawn caught her “- hard for you to freeze to death under a blanket with someone else, anyway.”   With me…

   Anna yawned back this time, and fished for a pillow.  “You stop it, those are…” she didn’t make it through the sentence without another, and drooping eyes.  She trailed into finishing, “...contagious…”  She shuffled the pillow between them, leaning towards Elsa once it was in place.  It wasn’t a complete barrier; the top of Anna’s head was against Elsa’s arm.

   Only total exhaustion saved Elsa from worrying about where she was supposed to put her hands right now.  She was granted only a few more waking moments while Anna drifted off beside her.  One, to look through the window at the snow showing no intention of slowing.  Two, to turn to the sight of the redhead fallen fast asleep against her side.  And, lastly, three, to consider one thought before sleep swarmed up to take her away.

    Fuck, she’s cute…

Chapter Text

   With one last stroke of the brush, Elsa was finished.

   Her eyes blinked back in the bathroom mirror, appraising the new additions to it.  Despite her insistence on getting this all just so, she wasn’t even that late; the party had only technically started about fifteen minutes ago.  Judging by the volume it wasn’t even in half swing yet.

   Elsa made a face at the mirror, then giggled at how her whiskers wriggled when she did it.  Between the little black nose, the dots flanking either side beneath it, and the long whiskers she’d drawn across her cheeks, Elsa was looking thoroughly feline.  She didn’t even have the ears on yet.  The paws and the tail would help complete the look, and the little black dress...well, that wasn’t really cat-like.  It was part of the costume for a different reason.  A reason she had been thinking about a lot more in the last couple of weeks.

   This reason wasn’t new, not if she was being honest, but waking up with it snuggled against her arm (even if it was drooling on her) had sent her thoughts about it into overdrive starting that snowy morning.

   It was going to be a long time before she stopped thinking back to it.  Light had woken her when dawn arrived, far, far sooner than she’d been happy with.  If she’d been at home she’d have turned over and gone right back to sleep after having gotten so little of it.  But Elsa hadn’t been at home.  Her bleary first look reminded her that she was at Anna’s house.

   With Anna.  Who was on the couch with her.  Asleep, with her hair all a mess, and having at some point in the night wrapped her arms around Elsa’s left one in a hold Elsa couldn’t immediately see how to escape from.

   Elsa had never in her life felt warmer than in that moment.  Fuzzy heat filled her from where Anna kept her arm trapped in her hold, frizzing out to all the rest of her.  When Anna shifted, just slightly in response to those slight waking movements, Elsa froze in place completely so as to avoid any possible breath that might wake her.  She was adorable .

   Elsa wasn’t nearly awake enough to know what to do about any of the situation.

   She liked it.  Damnit, she felt in her own heartbeat how she liked how Anna felt, holding on so tightly.  Somewhere along the line she’d apparently lost the last, stubborn scraps of anger that had been pushing her away.  Instead she was...interested?  Intrigued?  God, they were basically cuddling.  She wanted it to continue so badly, even after Anna woke up, even once she’d have to do it on purpose instead of accident.  She wanted it so badly that Elsa didn’t have any idea where the physical part of it ended and the...the emotional part might begin.  

   Those cheeks, with all those freckles, were so inviting to pet, but Elsa didn’t dare.  She just stared, and thought.  There was a streak running right through the middle of the girl that fascinated Elsa, and no matter how deeply red her cheeks were now she was dimly aware that any attempt to deny that fascination was doomed to catastrophic failure.

   Anna somehow kept managing to force Elsa to have fun despite her better judgement.  She was talented, and enthusiastic, and honestly drop-dead freaking gorgeous, and not nearly as much of a pain in the ass as she had been.  Being adorably asleep and snuggling under that gigantic blanket was the straw that broke her denial’s back.

    I like her .

   Of all the things that she didn’t know how to handle, she knew how to handle that the least.  So, as carefully as humanly possible, she had extricated herself from Anna’s grasp and shamelessly fled home to fail utterly at sleeping any more in her own bed.

   She knew that she was supposed to say something.  Anything.  She couldn’t count on stumbling into more chances like that randomly, and so if she wanted more of it she was going to have to say it.

   Which of course meant she spent the next few weeks studiously avoiding doing anything of the sort.  For all she knew Anna was just the type who was comfortable being close like that.  It didn’t necessarily mean anything, right?  Probably wasn’t definitely.  Maybe she wasn’t even single.  In any case, if Elsa was wrong she’d never be able to live with herself.

   Besides, what would she even say?  “Hey sleeping with you was kind of great we should do that again” wasn’t really an option.  And she’d spent her whole life failing to learn how to ask anyone out on a proper date.  Overcoming that sort of momentum would be a monumental task.  Making not a single effort towards starting wasn’t really surprising in that context.

   She was a total coward, and for those weeks she knew it.  She’d never been so happy to get ambushed.

   Elsa shifted her weight and bit her lip, standing lost in thought in her costume, gazing into space through the mirror.  Goodness, was she happy about it.

   Between Olaf’s often rambling texts and the ramp-up in homemade Halloween decorations springing up next door, Elsa had developed a vague understanding that there was going to be a Halloween party, and that it was going to be a thing .  A noisy thing, if the previous events were anything to judge by.  It sounded like Olaf was expecting her to be there too, but he never actually made it clear that she was invited.

   As it turned out, the sound of a pinecone hitting a window was remarkably distinctive.  It was about a week and a half before the holiday, and Elsa was thirteen and a half pages deep in an essay about French gothic architecture.  The thunk when it hit didn’t make her jump like she would have before; she didn’t even drop her book.  Instead she simply looked up towards the drawn blinds, heart rate accelerating for a reason entirely unlike when she was startled before.

   Only one person could possibly be out there.  Elsa was beyond being surprised by her anymore, and had moved gladly on to being confused and excited all at the same time.

   “Hey, studybutt!”  Anna didn’t wait for her to open the blinds before shouting, and Elsa hurried to open the window so as to forestall her from maintaining a volume that would invite the entire house into the conversation.

   She whipped the curtains to the side.  Despite a smile betraying it, Elsa feigned indifference, crossing her arms and coolly watching the redhead perched in the tree outside her window.  Anna had her arm paused, half-raised and armed with another knobbly projectile.  Elsa flicked her eyes from it, to Anna, and back again.  Anna did the same.  With both of them silently onlooking, Anna finished drawing her hand back, then lobbed it at the screen.  It arced through the air, both their eyes following it, and spronged off the thin screen.  Moments after it could be heard clattering on the concrete patio below.  Silence followed.

   They both waited a few seconds for the other to speak, Elsa with steady attention and unflappable demeanor versus Anna, who didn’t appear to know quite what her next move ought to be.  Only after she’d been given time to squirm a little did Elsa break the stalemate, as dry as could be.

   “...studybutt?”

   Anna glanced about, but when it was clear that no help was forthcoming from the pine needles around her she giggled, for all the world nervous despite her grinning.  “Umm, yeah...I mean, I’m right, aren’t I?  You were doing some dumb homework?”

   “Only if you consider architectural history to be dumb.  I’m sure you wouldn’t…”  Elsa paused, shook her head, and sighed exaggeratedly.  “There’s no way I can finish that with a straight face, I’m convinced I’d bore you out of that tree before I reached the thesis statement.”

   Anna waved her hands frantically in front of her.  “No, no, I’m sure you’re right, the last thing I am here for is to actually listen about it, I just wanted to tease your butt about studying so much.”  She finished the sentence emphatically, nodding to herself.  Elsa fought back an absurd urge to grin that Anna had indirectly mentioned her butt twice.

   From the middle of that struggle another idea tumbled sideways into the foreground of her thoughts; Anna was wearing way too little for the temperature outside, just a ragged Depeche Mode tshirt and the same scuffed up chinos she had on the last time Elsa had seen her up in the tree.  She’d heard her climbing before, before the winter rolled in, but hadn’t looked yet out of embarrassment.  But now that she was she couldn’t help but think that Anna had to be freezing again, even if the snow has all melted within a week after the storm.

   The dork was gonna risk frostbite again at this rate.  Better to get her to the point, then.

   “So, since I don’t believe for a moment that your reason - well, only reason - for being here is to tease me, let’s try again.  Why were you throwing pinecones at my window?”  She shifted to rest on her other foot, arms still crossed and gaze unrelenting.  Hopefully it was properly imposing.

   “Oh, right!  I’m supposed to invite you to the party.  The Halloween party.  It’s in about a week, on...err, on Halloween, obviously.  You’re invited!”  Despite the flubbed delivery, Anna stuck the enthusiasm on the landing, beaming back.  It was entirely too endearing for Elsa to resist fully, a smile creeping like an ivy tendril into her attempt to maintain a stern facade.

   “You do remember what happened last time I showed up at one of your parties, right?”  There was no force behind the challenge, partly because of the grin winning out wholesale as she said it.

   “I thought about that!  And I have a plan.”  She paused and waited.

   Elsa bit.  “What’s your plan?”

   Anna waggled her finger in front of her when she answered.  “This time, and I think we can pull this off, this time we’ll agree that neither of us will be an asshole.”  Her smirk was the sort of someone inordinately pleased with herself; Elsa’s sigh in response was the sort best spent on the incurably ridiculous.

   “You are a twerp, you know that?  You have it down to an art.”  That was all bark and no bite and Elsa was, to be frank, enjoying it immensely.  There was just something so satisfying about prodding at Anna this way.

   “Thanks, I in fact do know that!  Now, are you gonna come or not?”  Despite a visible effort to suppress it a shiver ran through her.

   Elsa knew already that she was going to say yes and that it wasn’t close, but she was enjoying putting a show on too much to simply blurt it out.  She shifted her weight back and forth, looking to Anna’s side to put on the airs of making a difficult decision.  ‘Neither of us will be an asshole’, honestly, what sort of plan was that?  Anna could stew for a few seconds longer.  Wait on Elsa tapping her foot slowly, tilting her head just so as she thought it through.  Then, to top it all off…

   “Yeah, sure.”  It was as casual and anticlimactic as she could make it.  She left Anna waiting for the rest of the answer for a beat before sticking her tongue out.

   “And you say I’m the twerp?  Come on, that’s it?  Just ‘sure’”?  She grumbled too quietly to hear properly, appeared for a second to resign herself to that answer, then blurted out, “Grr, how do you manage that?  You’re not just messing with me, right?  You’ll be there?”

   Elsa covered her giggle with her hand.  “I’ll be there, I promise.  Wear a good costume, ok?  Now, I’m going to get back to my essay, I need to have everything done a little earlier if I’m going to be coming to your party.”  She waved over a half-smile and started to turn away.

   “Wait, hold on a sec!”

   In response to the call Elsa paused, looking back to Anna on her perch.

   “There’s still one other thing.  We aren’t quite even yet, and I wanted to make that up to you.”  There was a mischief written through and through in the little slant in the corner of her lips.

   “Make what up to me?  I’m not keeping a tally here, Anna, you don’t owe me anything.”  Sure, she’d probably have said something different not all that long ago, but it felt true now.

   It was Anna’s turn to shift her weight back and forth.  “Well, still, I think I owe you this one.”

   She pulled her shirt right up to her neck.

    Ohhhh, fuck.   They’re pierced .

   Her mission well and truly accomplished, Anna broke out into an ‘I-can’t-believe-I-just-did-that’ grin, dropped her hem back into place, and swung fluidly to the ground.  She left a thoroughly poleaxed Elsa in her wake.

   It wasn’t until Anna had vaulted the fence that she called back, shouting, “I’ll see you at the party!”

   Elsa’s mouth was stuck open, but that was ok.  Totally ok.  Her cheeks were burning scarlet, too, and that seemed about right as well.

   A thoroughly juvenile corner of her brain, a corner that would soon receive a proper admonishing, and a corner that was about the whole thing right now, was dancing about haphazardly in celebration for having seen Anna’s boobs.

   She hadn’t made as much progress on the essay that night as she’d hoped.  And she definitely hadn’t stopped thinking about that sight in the intervening few days leading up to the party.  It wasn’t even so much about seeing them, as it was about Anna having made such a point of showing her.  It wasn’t often, and decidedly less often than Elsa would have prefered, that beautiful women were sexy towards her .

   That had featured in no small way in her thinking when she’d gone to pick out her costume.

   The party store she went to had been there far longer than Elsa had, but until now she’d never had any reason to spare it more than a passing glance.  Party supplies had been in low demand in her life.  She was glad now that Anna had given her a reason, or several, to change that.  She’d finished class on Tuesday, the last day prior to the party where she wasn’t due to stay late at the library, and gone right to the shop.  The name, “Party, Display, and Costume” was something less than clever, but it was a big enough place that she figured it had to at least have a decent selection.

   She stepped through the front door and nearly collided with the wings of a girl in a bright green pixie costume.

   This walking hazard was just inside the front door, crouching down to move...something.  Elsa didn’t really remember what.  That costume had a dangerously short skirt, and with hips like that she wasn’t going to be too terribly upset if the skirt lost the battle of the bum.  Elsa was three seconds into rude staring when she remembered that she was here to look at the other displays.  Surprise had, she told herself, simply overridden propriety.

   “Ah, err, sorry, didn’t see you there.”  That had at least started out true.

   The woman straightened, turning to see Elsa.  “Sorry about that!  Didn’t mean to block you out.”  She turned to face her, which gave Elsa a proper view of her employee nametag, precariously attached to the other very short end of that green dress.  There would be no escape the blushing tonight.

   “No, no, it’s fine, I just...wasn’t looking.  I didn’t mean to bother you.”

   “Can I help you find something?”  Gods, Elsa hoped that her blush didn’t show too clearly.  She knew that she didn’t used to turn into this much of a mess around cute girls.  Somehow she was going to find a way to blame Anna for it, but for the moment she tried to cover.

   “It’s last minute, but I’m in need of a costume, I fell into having plans.  I haven’t really dressed up since I was a kid, but this year has given me some good reasons to try getting into it again.”  That was probably too much information.  ‘Margaret K.’, according to that nametag, wouldn’t have any reason at all to care about Elsa’s Halloween history.

   “I can definitely help you with that!”  Elsa wasn’t certain costume shopping required a response with quite that much pep, but Margaret also didn’t sound like she had any doubt that Elsa would end up happy with the result.  “I never stopped, so I have a bit of an eye for what will look good.  Though - if you don’t mind me saying it - that will include just about everything if you’re the one wearing it.”  She led the way before Elsa realized that she hadn’t actually answered whether she wanted the help.  She was a little too preoccupied with whether or not she’d just been flirted with.

   “What sort are you looking for?  We’re pretty close to Halloween so we’ve run out of a few things - we’ve yet to keep Harley Quinn in stock here - but we’ve got plenty that you’d make look great .”  Elsa took a couple of paces to answer while she was following, under an internal litany of Don’t look at her butt, don’t look at her butt, don’t…

   “Ah...I haven’t decided yet.  I don’t think there is a theme I need to follow.”  She kicked herself mentally for not thinking ahead better.  People probably didn’t usually walk into a store without any idea what they wanted.  “What would you recommend?”

   “ I’d want to put you in something with leather, but that’s just me.”  What did that mean?  Elsa had a rapidly growing suspicion that maybe, just maybe, Margaret had noticed her blushing.  It would explain the extra little bounce in her step.  “This depends on what you are comfortable with, and what you want the costume for.  If it’s a family party we can rule out a lot.  If it’s a college one, we rule it right back in!”

   Inspiration struck like a pinecone hitting a windowpane.  “What about a cat costume?  You have to have that, right?”  Maybe it was a stretch, but if Anna was the one who had invited her, from that tree...cats got stuck in trees, right?

   Ok, it was definitely a stretch, but Elsa liked the idea anyway.  It was a simple costume idea, but it would look cute.  She wanted to look cute.

   “Which type?  There’s Cat woman , Cheshire, and then regular pussycat.”

   “Regular.”  She definitely felt less silly now that she had an answer ready.

   “Black cat?  That’s the most common, but we’ve got a few to choose from.”

   Elsa was glad for the help, now that they arrived by the long racks of dresses, leggings, full body costumes, and scattered bits and pieces of all sorts throughout the place.  There was, presumably, some sort of organization to it, but whatever it was escaped her.  Margaret pointed her from option to option effortlessly, between the other customers picking through things.

   There was so much, in fact, that there wasn’t a lot of room to move between the aisles.  Whenever someone else needed past through the aisle they had to squeeze, brushing each other on the way by while Elsa pressed into the rack beside her.  When they came up on a particularly large gentlemen already wearing a big plastic Viking helm Margaret simply ducked through the set of togas to the next aisle over.  But they were making steady progress.

   The ears were an easy pick, a simple hair band with big fuzzy black triangles attached, with pink polyester inside.  And the thigh-high stockings that were capped with cat’s faces were adorable, she grabbed them the moment she saw them.  A tail was obvious too, a black one that would hang to her calves.  She took longer deciding whether she needed paws, but in the end did wind up choosing some that fit like fingerless gloves.  They’d be easy enough to take off if they got in the way.

   That left the dress to go with it, and she had made up her mind already.  Margaret was pointing her towards a longish black dress with a wide fringe made of cheap lace, but Elsa stepped over to a different one.  This had a lace fringe too, but it wasn’t nearly so far down the legs, and the black of the outer layer was underscored by pink beneath it.  Above that was a black cloth corset, with pink ribbon running crisscross up it.  Just beneath the low-cut, furred neckline were more pink highlights, over the cups on the dress.

   She’d first noticed that the pink matched the center of the ears she’d chosen.  She’d blushed even harder when she thought of herself wearing something like that.  And then she’d thought of Anna’s most recent method of getting even.

   The dress didn’t feel quite so reckless compared to that.

   Margaret whistled when Elsa pulled it off the rack.  “It’s not what I’d guessed you’d pick, but I like it.  You’re going to turn some heads.”  She checked the size tag and swapped the one Elsa was holding for the one beside it, asking, “That’s the plan, isn’t it?”

    I hope so… Elsa thought, keeping it entirely to herself.  To answer Margaret she instead said, “I’m trying something new, so why not go all out with it?”  It was more confident an answer than she really felt - her comfort zone’s boundaries had yet to settle into anything resembling clarity after recent disruptions - but she wanted to mean it, and that was enough for now.

   It wasn’t until Elsa was at the checkstand buying the pieces, with Margaret strangely having stuck with her the whole way through the store, that she managed to ask a question that had been on her mind from one of her earlier comments.

   “Do you actually sell real leather costumes here?”  Elsa hadn’t seen any when they went around.

   “Oh, no, not really, this is all cheap stuff.  That’d be at my other job.”

   “So,” Elsa accused lightly, “you’ve been teasing me on purpose, haven’t you.”

   “Consider it payback for the looking you did!”

   It took her a moment of thinking, shifting from one foot to the other, but she didn’t want to leave without playing back, at least a little.  “So, then, if that’s the case,” she asked, slowly, “would this work to turn your head, too?”

   The answer came in a sultry tone and flashing smile.  “Even more than you already do, dear.”

   Elsa had left the store blushing like she had when she entered.

   That had been four days ago.  She’d spent them thinking about wearing it, and on occasion burying her face in her pillow at the idea of actually wearing it, now that she’d bought it.  This was going to be new .  But a lot that had been happening to her lately was new, and most of it hadn’t turned out to be terribly scary.

   By the time Halloween finally arrived she’d found a little more resolve.  Bailing on the party was no option at all, not with it right next door, and not when she’d committed time and effort already to getting ready for it.  Plus, compared to some of what she’d seen at the show this wasn’t even that risque…

   She had even found some excitement while putting on the cat makeup she’d decided would be a nice touch.  The music kicking in from their place had a lot to do with it.  By the time she was making faces at the mirror to test it she had even found her humor again.  She was ready.  What for, Elsa hadn’t any idea, but she was prepared for tonight to go in yet more new directions.  She even wanted it to.

   At long last, duly prepared, Elsa closed her front door behind her with a firm shove.  She was properly equipped with tail and all.  

   The night was only just beginning.

Chapter Text

   Wind rattled the leaves still left sulking in the trees.  More, already fallen, skittered around her feet.  Surroundings that had settled into calm after the melt, holding onto a hovering cold skirting frost each night, were coming to life again.  The sun hadn’t been visible all day, either, hidden by a deepening layer of clouds that threatened to bring a storm with them.

   The music, the movement, the goosebump shiver on bare skin, everything stirred a thrill in Elsa.  No more fretting, no hesitation when looking ahead, no resisting this headfirst dive into something new.  She swore to herself that all had been left behind when her front door clicked shut.  It was happening, now, and she was just going to find out what would occur.

   Music rang clear through the breeze.  It didn’t exactly scream Halloween, though Elsa was not put off that it didn’t.  If anything, it was a relief.  She had worked evenings for her aunt’s confectionary shop one fall, half part time high school job and half helping out during the holidays, and the experience had left a Monster Mash-shaped scar deep in her psyche.

   While the wind roused Elsa’s determination, the song moved her feet.  There was such energy in it, sprawling out of the house and growing clearer as she approached. It gave her such an itch to dance.  Not just any old way, either.  This music swung her hips into it, rolling out to meet her and sweep her away into the rhythm.

   The singer was haughty, dismissive, and just darn catchy.

“You promised me a motorcade and endless perfume
A palace in Geneva with a perfect view
And dreams painted yellow like the colour of gold
And dine with kings and queens until the food gets cold”

   By the time Elsa turned towards the porch she was swaying, hips falling willing prey to its insistent, stubborn urging to just move.  She was free to dance like no one was watching, since no one was.  Nobody would be spending more time outside than necessary with the threat of the weather turning sour looming so large.  She has these last few moments tonight all to herself, and she wanted to take advantage of it.

   Olaf’s decorations were mostly wind-proof, though a cardboard zombie he’d scavenged from somewhere had taken a header into a shrub across the lawn.  Elsa took the time to wrestle it free and wedge it through the railing on the porch.  There was a small family of ghosts hanging from the eaves, all blown about like they too were getting excited for the coming night.  Pipe-cleaner spiders were crawling up and down the wall near the door, perched on cotton ball webbing stretched to and fro, extra-tattered as the air tugged at it.  The light over the door had been replaced with an orange-tinted bulb.

   The pumpkins lining the railing and flanking the stairs were...varied.  A couple of them were elaborately shaved, candlelight flickering through the faces to show an assortment of scenes.  There was some impressive skill in those ones, even if they were a tiny bit off theme.  The Rudolph, with nose carved so thin it truly did shine, was done brilliantly.  It was a shame there was no way it would survive until Christmas.

   The pumpkin that just had a big, jagged hole in it, on the other hand...

   Another new installation was right by the door, and was difficult to miss under the big, red, paper arrow pointing to it, along with the caption ‘Press me!’.  When Elsa obliged its instruction a witch’s cackle burst out, loud enough even to pierce the music.  Elsa remained waiting a while after it finished, shivering.  Whether it was from the chill under her choice of dress or from simple anticipation, she couldn’t say.  So she stood, and listened.  And maybe danced a little.

“Why am I sitting in the middle of nowhere?
Standing here with nothing to do
Wondering if I really love you, oh, oh
I guess that I do”

   Even shivering out here she liked the sound of that.  She wanted to dream big tonight, and it felt, just a little, like permission to do so.

“I know we have a chemistry
This combination's heavenly
But don't forget you promised me
Everything, everything”

   Everything...Elsa squashed the line of thinking springing from the word.  Just anything tonight would be a victory.

   Like a dance.  Someone was going to owe her one, playing something so infectious.  Maybe even a particular someone.  Her foot was tapping along while she stood there, noting with raised eyebrow the rustle in the blinds to the right of the doorway.  They were still swaying when the door opened, revealing who else but Anna.

   “Oh, oh, I guess that I do…”

   The music kept going, but the both of them just stopped.  Their eyes were stuck.  Even just a few weeks ago it might have been different; Elsa might, maybe, have been noticing Anna’s costume.  She was clad in black from head to foot, without a speck of color to her anywhere.  Except, of course, for her hair, done up in a style far more ornate than Elsa had ever seen her wear before.  She was carrying an electric camping lamp, which for some reason had everything but the light covered by tinfoil.  The black cape she was wearing draped over her shoulder billowed in the breeze while the door stood open.

   But Elsa wasn’t seeing that yet.  Maybe instead she’d have been distracted a moment by the activity behind Anna, with Olaf dancing past while held by a woman Elsa didn’t know.  Or possibly by the additional decorations inside, which looked a little like someone had folded a halloween display into a bomb, then lobbed it into the center of the room.  The wind through the door made cardboard skeletons on the wall dance as enthusiastically as Olaf was, and the ceiling held a cave’s worth of cutout bats.

   Those things didn’t get her attention, though, not yet.  Perhaps the smell might have interrupted her, wafting the proof of Olaf’s handiwork to Elsa.  Or the lack of most of the furniture, the room having been cleared out.  Any number of things could have caught Elsa’s eye back then.  But not now.  None of that was enough while she experienced with surprise the leap of excitement sparking in her chest.  In that moment she saw only one thing: Anna’s wide open eyes, and all the blue in the world in them.  

   Elsa was suddenly very aware of her heartbeat.

   Here she was, the flesh and blood manifestation of Elsa’s preoccupation.  Her freckled cheeks, sky blue irises, that unique winding white in her hair, all of it in combination rooting Elsa in place there in the entry.  After too many days where she couldn’t get this girl out of her mind, seeing her again had an impact that surely had to be absurd, and she couldn’t think of a word to say to break through it.

   Anna’s reaction was even more straightforward.  The door kept swinging open under its own weight, Anna’s hand still holding it, and nearly pulled her off balance as she looked on in slack-jawed surprise, managing to say nothing more than, “Woah…”  That left them both standing there, facing one another from either side of the doorway.

   The costume was worth it entirely for that moment, and Anna’s stumble broke the spell.  Elsa giggled.  Despite her blushing at the eyeful Anna was getting, openly staring at the most risque thing Elsa had worn in her life.  Someone like Anna being the one to stare was an entirely new feeling, the sort to make Elsa shiver completely separate from the temperature.  It was also finally enough to jar Elsa free from the strange moment she’d just experienced.  

   Eventually Anna managed to close her mouth and, after a big swallow, collect herself.  She composed her face, swept her cape half across her front, and, adopting a strange intonation, bowed while gesturing in courtly fashion.

   “Welcome to my house! Enter freely and of your own free will!”  She remained in that pose, unmoving, while Elsa’s eyebrow only continued to rise.  Even for Anna this was not normal behavior.

   “What are you doing?”  No answer was forthcoming, not even the increasingly familiar smirk that Elsa would have expected by now.  She didn’t break her pose in any way until Elsa stepped inside and shut the door for her, thinking that clearly she needed the help right now.

   The room was in full view right now and, in contrast to the last party she’d seen, was mostly empty.  Olaf was going step for step with a gal a full foot and a half taller than him, despite being bundled up as a lumpy sort of snowman.  She was dressed as Wonder Woman, though the standout of her costume was that her arms showed off enough muscle that Elsa wondered if she could have picked Olaf up one-handed.  Or maybe Elsa...ahem.  She was taking the lead, and, well, Elsa thought she’d probably do the same as Olaf if their positions were reversed.

   The couch - the couch as far as Elsa was concerned - was pushed up against the far wall.  A smaller one made an L with it in the corner, almost but not quite getting in the way of the entry to the next room over.  The tables, mismatched chairs, and other furnishings weren’t there anymore, clearing the whole space for, it would seem, a dance floor.

   Imagination failed Elsa when faced with the decorations half-covering the windows, noticing the big sheets of tinfoil as wide as each of them, all thoroughly taped on every edge.  They couldn’t possibly have been there for any sort of aesthetic purpose.  Perhaps that would be explained later?

   Other than the dancer there were a couple of people scattered around; Elsa took note of them while slipping out of her shoes, mindful of the house rules without needing to be told.  A few she had met at the show.  Chel and Tulio were lounging on the couch along with Pokie, who was equal parts on the couch, dangling her legs over the edge of it, and in Chel’s lap.  That did not seem like a bad place to be at all, seeing as how Chel was dressed as a mummy who appeared to have received a discount wrapping job.  Tulio was shirtless, other than some cloth draped around his neck and shoulders, blue fabric with gold trim.  His hat had a gold band and plant fronds sticking out of it.  After the wrap around his waist, and a couple more golden bands on arms and legs, there was only one other detail worth mentioning: the huge earrings he had on.  Elsa was impressed that he managed to wear them, though presumably they would be plastic given their sheer size.  It was all vaguely mesoamerican.

   “You’re pretty early, we’re still setting up.”  Anna had waited patiently while Elsa took her surroundings in, only setting off towards the kitchen after Elsa was ready to follow after.  Which she did, listening in to Anna commentary along the way.

   “Olaf went particularly mad this year, we had to ban him from doing any more last night so that he’d actually sleep.  I’m not even sure what’s in some of these pies.”  The furniture from the living room had been evacuated to the dining area outside the kitchen, forming a sort of barricade around their battered dining room table.  It was groaning with assorted baked goods behind that makeshift blockade isolating the table from the rest of the room.  Only a narrow entrance remained for access to the food.  Elsa thought it looked a little silly, given how much of a draw the table was like to be for everyone in possession of a nose, or taste buds.

   Elsa was about to ask about the arrangement when she ran into a better question upon walking into the kitchen.

   “Kristoff, why are you on the counter?”

   He was standing on the kitchen countertop, crouching to keep his head from reaching the ceiling.  Another sheet of tinfoil was half taped up over the window behind the sink.  He held the roll of it, and had some blue painter’s tape dangling around his wrist.  His tongue was sticking out of the corner of his mouth while he worked at...whatever he was doing.

   It vanished when he noticed her, turning and starting to stand, then ducking again after his head thunked against the ceiling.  “Ouch.  Hi Elsa!  I’m glad to see you made it, we were wondering if you’d come.  You’re early.”

   “You two do realize that the event post said it started a half hour ago, right?  And really, what are you doing up there?”  She heard more foil around the corner, and had a sneaking suspicion that if she went to check she’d find Sven with a roll of it too.

   “We’re playing Mafia later!”  Anna chipped that in helpfully.  Though less helpfully than she might have, given that she didn’t follow it up with anything in the way of an explanation.

   “So...I have played Mafia, and Werewolf, and most of the variants of those.  There was a group of us, in high school.  None of them involved tinfoil.”  Elsa looked back and forth between the both of them, while an unexpected bit of homesickness slipped in.  She used to play those with Meri.

   “Ok, well, yeah, that’s fair.”  Anna again.  “Our version isn’t exactly the same as the normal game.  Or anything like it, really.  But you’re gonna love it, I promise!”

   Elsa waited, watching Anna for more, but received nothing.  “And...why is there foil, then?”

   “We can’t play without it being dark in here!”  Then she stood, grinning wildly, saying not a word further.  If Elsa didn’t know better...ah.  She should have guessed.

   “I’m not going to find out until it’s happening, am I?”  She asked that with no small amount of dread.  “Why am I feeling uneasy now?”

   Anna smirked her best pain-in-the-behind smirk.  “Oh, come on, when have I ever lead you astray?”

   Kristoff interrupted to quip, “Isn’t that your middle name?”  He was securing one of the corners up.

   Elsa followed that cue and hoped she looked sufficiently wry when accusing Anna, “Every day since I met you, I think.  You got me stuck in a tree.”

   Anna held both hands over her heart, gasping.  “How cruel!  Blaming me for your own mistakes, when I was the one who came and...oh, hey, wait a second.”  Her melodrama evaporated as she peered at Elsa’s costume, first the ears, then paws, then tail.  Elsa couldn’t help but notice that in between her eyes flicked elsewhere on the costume too.  In response, she also could not resist the red that returned to her cheeks.

   Anna raised an eyebrow, quiet for just a minute while Elsa exchanged a curious glance with Kristoff, who only shrugged.  “I wonder…” she said, trailing off into nothing.  Whatever was on her mind must have been about Elsa, but she wasn’t offering any hints about what it was, not other than those looks.

   “Penny for your thoughts?”  Kristoff sounded just as stumped about Anna’s expedition into la la land.

   “Huh?”  Anna’s reverie snapped, startled into looking up.  “Oh!  That’s, uh, a hell of a costume, Elsa.  It’s really something.”

   It was something, though the staring had been more specific than she said managed to be.  Elsa wasn’t sure what to say, starting slowly, “Well, then, thank you.  I... just wanted to try something different, this year.  I haven’t done anything quite like this before.”  She decided against elaborating on that point further.

   Anna’s mouth opened and a word was halfway out before she stopped herself, cleared her throat, and tried again.  “Well.  In my opinion, it is a good different.  A...it’s a very good different.”

   “Anna, can you stop flirting for a second and help - hey, ow!”  Anna had hit him in the leg, stalling him for a moment before he continued, “No, really, you did your thing, now can you put the ice in the coolers?  People are going to need somewhere to put their stuff soon.”

   “Fine, fine, I’ll get it.  Also, shut up.”  Without any further explanation she turned - sweeping her cape with a flourish - and stalked off.  Elsa spent the time trying to stop blushing at how genuine Anna’s appreciation had sounded just then.

   That left her alone with Kristoff, and the tinfoil.  Neither of which were being very good conversationalists, and watching him secure it wasn’t particularly entertaining.  Awkwardly standing quietly also didn’t seem to be doing much for anybody.

   Right.  Elsa had forgotten she didn’t have very much practice at this whole ‘party’ thing.

   “So...what is all that tinfoil for, anyway?”  Anna might have been reluctant to say, but she was also being a total dork and there wasn’t much indication that she had coordinated that with anyone else.

   Sure enough, Kristoff was more forthcoming with information.  “It’s the easiest way we’ve found to make the windows light-proof, and we need that for Mafia when we play it later.  Anna’s more excited than she’s letting on, and she’s terrible at hiding that in the first place.  You said you don’t know it?”

   Elsa shook her head, then realized that he couldn’t see her doing it.  “No, not any version that would require this.”

   “Makes sense, I don’t know many other people who play it either outside of our group.  Basically, we turn out all the lights after secretly assigning a couple people to be the Mafia members, and they go around killing people by pinching their necks.  They walk them around a little while holding, find an isolated corner, and drop ‘em.”

   “That sounds...interesting.  What, umm...what’s the part that makes it a game?  I think I’m missing something.”  She stepped back to make room while he crawled down, the window completely blocked.

   “I hadn’t finished!  The rest of the players are all trying to find the dead bodies.  When they do they shout it out and we turn all the lights on, then have a vote whether we should off anybody.  The game ends when there’s either all the mafia are dead, or everyone else is.”

   “Well…”  Elsa wasn’t quite sure about that, but Kristoff did seem pretty enthused regarding it.  Maybe it was just something that she would have to see for herself when the time came.

   “Oh, hold that thought, I just remembered I need to move my laundry.  We should be finished getting ready in a minute, though!”  His dash away was significantly less overwrought then Anna’s, whom Elsa guessed was the source of the thumping coming up the stairs.

   The two coolers that she was dragging up the stairs had seen better days.  Elsa stepped back to make way, then, after catching a stray whiff of assorted baked goods, decided that the people getting ready were probably not the right ones to be bothering anyway.  She fled first to the food table, said a silent thanks to Olaf as she loaded up, then squared her shoulders and set off to face the travails of a room filled with people she mostly did not know.

   Pokie, her green leaf-and-vine patterned costume looking even shorter than before, had snuck her way further into Chel’s lap, while Miguel emerged from somewhere, dressed in the same style as Tulio and presumably being the source of the colorful beverages everyone was now sipping on.  They even had little umbrellas.

   Despite her enviable perch, Pokie was clearly also keeping her eye out.  She waved Elsa over as soon as she rounded the corner, patting the narrow strip of free cushion beside her.  Lacking any better option, and seeing that Olaf hadn’t slowed a whit for her to thank him for the treats, she obliged.

   “Snacks!  Thanks, I would have felt bad sending Miguel to fetch those too after he already got my drink.”  She lifted a brownie right off Elsa napkin and nibbled the edge off, while Elsa pondered if she might need to defend her treats better.  “I’d get my own, but since I’ve got the best seat in the house I’d rather not give it up.”  

   Chel chuckled, turning from her own conversation to run her fingers through Pokie’s short-cut hair.  “I’d say you were the biggest flirt here, if I didn’t know it was at least a four way tie for second after myself.  And I wouldn’t worry, Miguel doesn’t mind it, now do you dear?”  She had turned to him part way through, petting under his chin.  His smile in response shone with contentment.

   Elsa gulped.  This had roughly nothing in common with anything she was used to.
   
   The sidelong glance Chel used to look Elsa over did things , no doubt about it.  “In fact, since I notice that our new friend hasn’t got a drink of her own yet, I believe he won’t mind fixing that for her?”
   
   “I’m on to your wiles by now, Chel!  And…”  Miguel didn’t finish the sentence, not when she ran a finger down his neck and splayed her hand out over a chest more muscular than Elsa would have guessed after the first, admittedly brief, meeting.  A moment passed before he, far more slowly, finished saying, “...and I am more than happy to let them work.”  He popped to his feet, inquiring, “Another Mayan Sunrise, then?”  He was off before she said another word.

   When he went Chel wasn’t subtle about watching him go.  Tulio looked sideways at her to comment, “You are a wicked woman.”

   “You two know that better than anyone!  And it’s not like you didn’t let him make your drink too.”  She earned a shrug from him, then turned to the steadily reddening Elsa.  “You look lovely by the way, dear.  If Pokie ever decides to wander away, you’ll be welcome to take her place!”

   Another gulp.  That was...that would be a very comfortable seat, Elsa decided.

   “Dear, you look like you’re staring into headlights.  If I’m teasing too hard then you can always tell me, I won’t mind.”

   She wasn’t wrong, though Elsa also felt silly about it.  “I’m sorry, it’s just...I guess I’m not used to people saying things like that to me.  You look...like someone I would want to look at longer than I ought to.”  That was more than she was used to saying openly, but still Elsa fiercely fought the urge to duck her head in embarrassment, forcing herself to maintain eye contact.

   “You shouldn’t worry about that!  There’s no such thing as ‘too much’ for her.”  Tulio’s chuckle survived the elbows in his side from Chel and Pokie, and he pointed back at them when responding.  “Hey!  I defy either of you to say I’m wrong!”

   “I can’t, but you still deserved it.”  She didn’t sound a bit mad about it.

   Elsa decided to try to turn the subject to something easier to handle then just what exactly the two of them were suggesting.  “You all know everybody who lives here well, then?”  Hopefully that would buy some breathing room while she tackled just how inviting Chel’s teasing really was.  Her hips were...her lips were...she was very attractive.  Elsa would finish those thoughts properly eventually.

   “I’ve known Anna longer than Kristoff.  She used to beat up my bullies back in school.”  Pokie dove right into the question, the brownie she’d nabbed fully disappeared by now.  Elsa accepted the drink that appeared just then from Miguel, listening and sipping.

   “Wait, isn’t she still?  I’m sure she told me that she hasn’t stopped knocking heads together.”  Elsa only just now noticed that Tulio had his arm around Chel’s waist, holding the two of them close.  Between him and Pokie Elsa could maybe see why her costume needed so few bandages; they were covering her just as well themselves.

   Elsa’s hope for mental breathing room was an abject failure. It had taken her about fifteen seconds to realize she’d started staring already.

   “Ugh.  Don’t encourage her, she’s proud about it.  I’d rather she had fewer chances to get concussed, not more,” Chel grumbled.  Elsa felt desperately short of context all of a sudden.

   A genuine sigh was the first response, Pokie shifting a little where she sat.  “I’m not going to say you’re wrong.  Only that she’s stood up for me for a long time when no one else did, and I trust her to choose to do the right thing, even if it’s not exactly safe.”

   Miguel bounced to his feet yet again.  “I’m going to have to interrupt right here.  Anna will start knocking our heads together if we start making ourselves glum here, and I’m inclined to agree with theoretical Anna.  There’s drinking, and dancing-”

   Tulio cut in between draughts to say, “Don’t forget pie.”

   “Yes, a very fair point, there is pie!  You aren’t allowed to talk yourself into being sad when there is pie.  Against the rules.  Yellow card, penalty one dance from all of you.”  

   “I know that  you’ve played soccer before, how is it that you still get the rules so wrong?”  Chel had her eye rolling down to an art, but accepted his left hand while Pokie took right right, both of them being pulled up to their feet.  “You’ve got a good idea, though.”  Tulio just shrugged, downed the last of his drink, then stood as well.

   It took a moment for Chel to notice that Elsa wasn’t following.  She tugged back on Miguel’s arm, halting him from backing further towards the still-dancing Olaf and his partner, and looked back to ask, “Not going to join us, sweetheart?  Tulio might not look it-” she turned to stick her tongue out at him “-but he’s really a great partner for beginners.”

   “Is that a compliment?”  Tulio’s eyebrow was raised.

   “Yes, you yam, it is.  I’m not always teasing you.”

   “It’s an easy mistake to make.”  Miguel chipped that in, clearly trying to sound helpful without meaning to actually be so.

   “Hush, both of you.  I promise, dear, we only bite if you ask us to.”  Under the persuasive force of Chel’s winningest smile Elsa didn’t stand a chance.  She took a nervous gulp of her drink (where had all that gone so quickly?), set it on the windowsill, then followed Chel’s lead.

   “That’s the spirit!  Since you’re newest to the group, you get first pick of partner,” Chel said clapping.  Elsa wasn’t sure how she felt being made the center of attention, but she was more comfortable with Chel having taken the lead than if either of the guys had.  It wasn’t that Elsa was nervous about the dancing, she was happy to do that, it was only that she didn’t know any of the people here very much at all yet.  Olaf was claimed, albeit currently spun off towards the door to let in some newcomers, and other than Pokie she hadn’t said more than a handful of words to any of these four before tonight.  Even Pokie had only been in a short conversation at the show.

   Elsa hesitated and stalled, asking, “Partnering off?  That’s more formal than I expected.  I usually just...dance, I suppose, except when I’m taking lessons.  We do pairs then.”

   Chel shook her head, eyes wide.  “No, no, dear, trust me on this!  You’re much too pretty not to give somebody the special chance to have you in particular!”  Elsa sensed, but hadn’t a good enough reason to avoid, a plot of some sort.

   She would play along, then.  “In that case, can I steal Pokie from you?”

   “Why are you asking her instead of me?”  Pokie raised an eyebrow at the question.

   “She seems like she’s in charge?”  Now that she’d asked that it did seem like a fair question, while Pokie crossed her arms in response.

   “Of where I go?”  Her glances bounced from Chel, to Elsa, then back to Chel before she sighed quietly, surrendering peacefully.  “She really is, isn’t she?”  After giving Chel a quick kiss on the cheek she took Elsa’s hand, tugging her away from the couch.

   Elsa had just enough time to apologize to the others, “Sorry for leaving you with an odd man out!”

   “Don’t worry, she can take both of us at onc-Ow!”  Tulio got another sharp elbow jabbed into his ribs.

   “Have fun, dear!  And don’t be too greedy with Pokie, we’ll want a turn too!”

   With that Elsa was swept away.  Pokie immediately made it apparent that she knew how to swing, setting Elsa’s hands into place on her.  She even managed to nudge Elsa into taking the lead before she realized it was happening.  Those lessons had been a little while ago now, but it had been lack of opportunity rather than lack of enjoyment that stopped her.  This was, despite her stated reluctance, a lucky chance.

   They were already a couple seconds into it before Elsa’s head caught up to her reality.  She was dancing with a very cute lady, and that belated realization broke her out in smiles.

   “I’m glad you came, by the way.”  Pokie had to speak up over the music, but she didn’t have any trouble making herself heard.  Elsa had a hunch when listening to her that if she really wanted she would win out over the speakers entirely.  There was a hint of a powerful singing voice there.

   “You are the second person to say that.  I’m not certain I want it to be such a surprise that I’m here.”  A little frown slipped out.

   Pokie stepped into a spin before answering, then bounced back closer to Elsa.  “I wouldn’t say it’s exactly a surprise now.”  A pause followed, then she added, “Maybe a little.  But you shouldn’t worry!”

   She’d have to ask more about that later.  Trying to hold a conversation right now was a little too much a distraction, even not that she was out of her heels.  Too fun, too, to interrupt.

   Whoever was in charge of the playlist tonight had been a little lax with the theme.  The swing portion of the night gave way to something with more synth just a few songs after they’d started.  

   Perhaps it was the half - well, more than half - of her drink she’d had already, or maybe the adrenaline from being up and moving, but Elsa had found some courage to follow Chel - and Tulio’s - advice from earlier.  Glancing over she watched Chel splitting attention between the two guys, though the split wasn’t one or the other so much as her front and her back when sandwiched between them.  She really was a gorgeous woman.  Plus, now that she was up and dancing, her hips were even more enthralling than before.  

   Elsa still blushed when Chel caught her watching them, but she didn’t look away.  She hoped that Pokie didn’t mind.  Based on where she’d been seated a minute earlier, Elsa suspected she understood the way that Chel attracted attention.

   The kiss she blew Elsa’s way didn’t hurt, either.

   More people were arriving all the while.  A southern belle, two rather underdressed policemen and their even less-dressed prisoner in cuffs, and coming down from upstairs a fairy godmother in a shockingly bright pink dress, followed by a girl with pumpkins painted on both cheeks.

   Soon enough Elsa found herself spun to a new partner, the woman Olaf had been with at the start.  He was nowhere to be seen, having managed to vanish while Elsa was distracted.  That was just fine.  Jayla, who told Elsa her name when they found themselves paired up, was even taller than Pokie, and after a long while spent looking the muscles flexing in her arms Elsa decided she’d enjoy finding out exactly how easily they could lift her and haul her off to the couch.  The odds weren’t great on actually seeing that happen, but goodness, the thought of it sounded plenty nice on its own.

   The songs shifted, the doorbell kept cackling, and Jayla went off to take a break from the dance floor.  Elsa was quite capable of boogying solo, though, and took this as a chance to watch everyone around here, new arrivals and dancers.  The room was getting fuller, and stranger, between the influx of Storm Troopers, fox tails, and someone that appeared for all intents and purposes to be a pantsless Anderson Cooper.  

   That was all the time she had to look before she found her single dance turning again into a paired one.  Chel slipped herself in as smooth as could be, wasting no time in dangling her arms over Elsa’s shoulders and stepping in far closer.  It seemed like she had waited for a slower song on purpose.

   Elsa gulped again on instinct.
   
   Chel didn’t leave much space at all between them.  Elsa’s outfit was too thin not to feel Chel’s relative lack of one intimately.  The woman was sensual when she asked, “Having fun, dear?”  From this near Elsa couldn’t help but notice just how full those lips were as they formed the words.

   Still, Elsa nodded, even while red raced back to her cheeks.  This was a lot to take in.   Chel was a lot to take in, entirely on purpose if Elsa guessed right, but she hadn’t come here tonight not to try.  “This is a little different than I’m used to.  It’s nice, only...I am having fun, don’t get me wrong.  I’m definitely enjoying myself...”

   “Then that’s lovely to hear!  I hope I’m helping make it nicer.  And if you want to dance more often, you should swing by my place sometime.  We can tango!”  Elsa nodded more, a little meeker this time and not entirely sure which part she was nodding to.

   Elsa hesitated for a minute after that, swaying with Chel.  She just wasn’t finding the words she wanted, taking long enough that she felt a little silly for staying quiet so long.  She broke the silence awkwardly, stammering, “Can...can I ask you something?”  Her red cheeks probably said more than anything already.

   “Of course, dear!  Anything you want.”  It really sounded like she meant it, particularly the “anything” part.

   “Ok.”  Elsa took a deep breath first, to help catch it after the dancing, and to keep it steady regardless of her current position.  “You seem to be very, ah, familiar, with people.  And it’s nice, I don’t mean to say that it is not!  But I’m not entirely certain how to react to you.  I’m...a little new to this sort of thing.”

   “A gorgeous thing like you?  I’d never have guessed!  But I understand, sweetheart.  This more than you are comfortable with?”  She stepped back a few inches, opening just a little more space.  Which also had the effect of giving Elsa that much more a view, but that was ok.  The room was enough to help.

   “I...I don’t know, to be honest.  I guess I should just ask, then, are you...I’m sorry, this shouldn’t be so hard to say, I apologize...are you flirting with me?”  It couldn’t possibly be normal to feel so ridiculous asking that.  If her cheeks got any redder they might just burst into flame.  But that she was asking that at all had to be a sign that the last few months had certainly seen a few changes in her life.

   Oh, goodness…  Chel’s giggle was dangerous.  “Sweetheart, you clearly don’t know me well enough yet.  Of course I’m flirting with you.  You’re an absolutely beautiful girl, and Pokie put in a good word for you.”  The smile that she said it with, and the sultry drop in her voice, was even more dangerous.

   “Oh...ah, that’s a little sudden, for me.  I’m really not used to this.  Thank you?”  As soon as she said it she wished she’d said something less awkward, but it was already out there, hanging in the air like an ugly wool sock left up to dry.  No taking it back.

   “If it helps, it’s not just you.  I’m a huge flirt.  And more, for if you’re interested in more.”

   “You didn’t come with...err, any of Miguel, Tulio, or Pokie, then?”  That question had been building the whole time Elsa had been here.  It felt good to finally get it out there.

   Mischief danced in those lips when Chel, in smoldering tones, answered, “Oh, I’ve come with all three of them.  Just not yet tonight.”

   “What do you mea…”  Confusion ran into realization like a semi-truck into a traffic barrier.  “OH.”  Elsa had been wrong earlier.   Now her cheeks couldn’t possibly get any redder.

   Chel just laughed, and laughed, holding onto Elsa for support.  “Oh, dear, your face!  You weren’t kidding about being new to this.”  She caught a few full breaths to calm herself, then gave Elsa a chaste pat on the head.  “Since that wasn’t a real answer - though a true one - I’m here with both Miguel and Tulio.  I’m as poly as a nomial.”

   Elsa had forgotten entirely about the dancing, feeling spun around quite thoroughly just from the conversation.  That last bit took a while to process.  “You’re as...I’m sorry?”

   Chel started to answer when Elsa got it, exclaiming “Oh!” in a vastly manner than the last.  “Was that seriously a math joke?  How the heck did you get from there, to...that?”

   “It’s just the kind of girl I am.  Oh, and since I love to share, I believe I will hand you off here.”  Elsa was bewildered.  They hard hardly even started talking, so why was she stepping away without an explanation and with that grin?

   The finger on Elsa’s shoulder yanked her attention away from Chel, who was now sashaying up to one of the new arrivals and pulling them unawares into an immediate dance.  Though they weren’t half as blindsided as Elsa when she turned around.

   In an absolutely abysmal attempt at a Transylvanian accent, Anna intoned from her bow, cape held wide to her side, “My dear, may I have this dance?”

   Somehow, someway, that was the absurd cherry on top necessary to make the idea of dancing with Anna anything less than intimidating.  Elsa’s head was still spinning, but she shook it with a giggle to clear it, then fought for the words to answer Anna, “Only if you stop doing that accent, it’s dreadful.”

   “I can’t make any promises!”  She was still doing it, of course.  Elsa surrendered that battle as entirely unworthy of fighting and, too spun around by now to remember she was nervous, took Anna’s hand in hers.

   All of a sudden, Elsa was once again intimately aware of her own heartbeat.

   The wandering genre had strayed back to something Elsa had some practice in.  She could salsa if the song called for it, and the music had clearly travelled somewhere south of the border.  Olaf’s touch, probably.  Anna stepped into a proper, basic position for it, her hand kept in Elsa’s grip.

   A warm hand.  A very warm hand, now held in Elsa’s.  More than warm enough to bring the fluttering back to her stomach.  And Anna’s arm, resting atop Elsa’s, while Elsa held her on her back, hand just beneath her shoulder.  Leaving Elsa staring that slight bit down at Anna, who was staring right back.  

   Weren’t they...weren’t they supposed to be doing something?

   Anna remembered better than Elsa did, jumping right into it and taking Elsa wholly off guard.  She had to catch herself, compared to Anna who appeared entirely at ease, light on her feet and moving with obvious confidence.  Olaf probably had a hand in that too, in addition to the playlist.  He did love his dancing, as evidenced by him skidding around the corner to dive into the middle of everyone.

   “Kristoff really threw you to the wolves, didn’t he?”  Anna too had no trouble being heard over the noise surrounding them.

   “How so?”  That was a strange thing to be told.

   “Handling Chel is a pretty tall order for anyone who isn’t ready for her.  Hell, it is for anyone who is.  You looked like you were in over your head.”

   The conversation took a break when Anna led herself into a set of twirls, having entirely too much fun sweeping her cape around as she did so.  She was a total goofball, and that, more than anything else, was beginning to put Elsa at ease again.

   Slowly, so slowly that Elsa didn’t notice until it was too late, the corners of her mouth began to curl up.  It continued, insistent on spreading deeper through her lips.  She was half a song in by the time she noticed that she had been watching Anna’s eyes and smiling for most of it.

   Just touching was nice.  Being able to feel the heat of her touch.  Admitting that she liked it was even nice itself.  Feeling her hands, her side, her back.  Elsa had been thinking so much about what she would need to say to Anna, but that didn’t look so important right now.

   She felt so happy with it that she even let herself get bold, spinning Anna around into her arm and dipping her low towards the floor, bent deeply over the top of her.  Looking at her.  Still watching her face, still unwilling and unable to stop smiling.  It was in those wide blue eyes that Elsa saw just how much this dip had caught Anna off guard.  

   Less wide by the moment.  Falling half closed as though waiting, her lips parted just slightly and panting from the exertion of their dancing.  

   The spell lasted only enough for Anna to stumble her first two steps after being righted, swung back into the dancing.  She didn’t take long to catch back up.

   Would Elsa have even been able to consider trying that a month ago?

   The song ran out, and Elsa’s heart fluttered at the smile Anna gave her in the half second of silence before the next began.  Unfortunately, and despite her wishing it weren’t so, she was beginning to get winded.  Water was going to be a requirement in short order too, and maybe a towel.  She had worked up quite a sweat.

   The crowd around them had grown precipitously while she wasn’t looking.  A couple of people, Chel and Olaf among them, seemed to have taken point to pull new arrivals into the dancing, which meant that free space was growing scarce.  That was more fun, but also made things just that much sweatier, having so many bodies starting to pack together.  More people were scattered into the kitchen and up the stairs, in various levels of costume or, in a few cases, lack thereof.

   It was with great reluctance that Elsa stopped with the end of the song.  Conversation was growing more difficult too, mixed in with so many other people, but she still made sure to explain, “I’m going to find a spot to rest, if there’s any room left anymore.  I’ve danced myself dry for now.”

   “Aww, well, ok then.”  She sounded almost disappointed, but moved on quickly.  “We’re nearing phase two, anyway!  I’ll catch you then!”  She was clearly still trying to act circumspect, but Elsa figured she probably had to mean that Mafia game.

   She’d been out there too long.  After squeezing through the crowd in the kitchen she obtained a cup, and water to fill it.  Water had never tasted so good.  She downed two full glasses in a row and still felt a little shriveled.  There was a sharpie helpfully taped to a string on the counter next to the plastic cups, so Elsa labelled hers.  Then she set off in search of the rest of her drink, realizing anxiously that she’d left it out in the open.

   She found Kristoff, wearing only his usual antlers, leaning back on the couch beside it, and engaged in a loud conversation with someone in a costume Elsa couldn’t recognize.  He waved his beer bottle in her direction as she approached.  Her glass was there; the beverage in it was not.

   “Hi!  Umm, did you see what happened to my drink?”  She had a hunch already.

   “Well, about that...” Kristoff rubbed the back of his head again, explaining, “I was told it was yours, but I didn’t have my eye on it the whole time.  So I decided, to save it from going to waste, I would finish it for you.”

   “In a way” Elsa laughs, “that’s very sweet of you, thank you.  I was, ah, a bit distracted before.”  There was no room to sit, so she stayed standing, holding her empty cup.  She could find something else to replace it.

   “Yeah, parties do that.  Don’t worry about it, we’re all here to look out for each other after all.”  He turned back to his conversation after taking a gulp from his bottle.  It could have come across as dismissive, but he was too straightforward for it to feel that way.

   Everything was in full swing now.  The dancing seemed to be at the center of attention, but now that she was freer to watch she could see pockets of conversation scattered everywhere.  The kitchen had a whole knot of people in it, and the baked goods oasis had a steady flow of attendees as well.  And it was loud .  Talking with anyone on this floor seemed to be a shouting proposition, so Elsa opted instead to wander.  She’d never actually been up or downstairs before.  During all her previous visits everything had happened on the ground level.

   She stopped by the kitchen only long enough to refill her beverage.  There was plenty of cheap beer there, though none of that would be to Elsa’s taste.  Luckily, she had an assortment of other options besides.  She hefted bottle with a purple label and picture of a viking on it, thumbing over the wax sealing it.  It was honey mead, which sounded interesting enough to be worth a shot.  Her glass went into the dishwasher, and her plastic cup received a healthy portion of beverage before she set off.  After three steps she turned back around, poured more for good measure, and then went to the stairs.

   The stairs down were a little narrow, but she only needed to squeeze past one person who was dressed, as best she could tell, as a palm tree.  She was pleasantly surprised to find that not only was this level much quieter, but far cooler as well.  The temperature was the better half of that discovery by far.

   She didn’t recognize any of the several people around, and so sidled awkwardly down the short hallway, sticking her head in open doors along the way.  The first two were each bedrooms, one neatly organized and the other holding a mysterious pile of things covered up by a giant blanket.  The first room was absolutely wallpapered with posters, lit by strings of Christmas lights around the edges of the ceiling.  That one was the only that had a pair of loungers, both leaning against the base of the mattress on the floor, while Sven was laying on his stomach towards them, chin on his crossed arms.  Elsa decided that conversation looked a little too private to join and kept moving.

 The last two doors were closed, though one had light showing underneath along with a distinctive odor, and Elsa was out of room to explore.  That was ok.  She was happy for now to have stumbled on a group of three dinosaurs engaged in an animated conversation.  With a long draught from her cup, during which she wondered briefly just precisely how strong this mead actually was, she duly pondered the way their big, inflatable heads wiggled whenever they moved.  She gave the three people there a little wave whether or not they could see it, then stood timidly against the wall to listen in to their conversation.  It wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to follow.  Something about drones, and computers.

   The dinosaur furthest from her had the stage for the moment, enthusing, “...lose signal if you are using anything that requires line of sight.  But you introduce latency then, and additional cost, so it needs to need that functionality.  It’s also a totally different scale for charge capacity, which means you need infrastructure available along the route to solve that, and land is a non-trivial cost anywhere that isn’t extremely rural.  And then you add cost for maintenance, which pulls you the opposite direction from the land considerations, so you need to…”

   No, that was not a conversation Elsa was going to get involved with.  Sure, the other two dinosaurs were clearly invested, but even if she had known what they were talking about, she was certainly not going to match the level of enthusiasm that the guy currently orating to the others was demonstrating.

   Which left her with herself.  With her own thoughts.  And, for the first time tonight, space and calm to really consider them.  

   And, well, damn.  God damn.

   …

   …

   Nothing was coming easily to her.  Tonight had taken a left turn and hard .  She was going to have to try to come to grips with that but...well, damn .

   She’d told herself that she was prepared for tonight to be different.  Clearly she had been wrong about that.  Very, very wrong.

   She wanted to say that she was comfortable trying anything, but...well, she was, probably, but maybe not right now?  Whatever Chel was looking for, or maybe how she was looking for it, just didn’t in some way fit Elsa tonight.  She’d been interrupted before, when trying to figure out just what exactly was the situation with her...poly, she’d said?

   Back in high school...back at home, really, that wasn’t the word people would have used.

   Not that they’d have been much nicer about Elsa.  She’d learned to ignore them, but at the same time she never managed to learn what you were supposed to actually do in a situation like this.  A beautiful women with her arms around her, and who wasn’t being subtle.  Saying no to that would leave a part of Elsa wanting.

   She shifts where she stands.  Definitely wanting.  There was the blushing again, too.  It was exciting, and flattering, and maybe something she’d be open to in the future?  But it wasn’t what she wanted tonight.  Maybe never.  Elsa didn’t have a good answer for why that was, but she did know it, now that she had enough distance to think about it.  Part of her felt like she couldn’t be comfortable sharing someone like Chel clearly did, like she had said she did.  Not that there was anything wrong with that, but that was her.  It maybe wasn’t, or couldn’t be, Elsa?  She wasn’t sure.

   Not that there was any doubt that she was attracted to her.  If looks were the only consideration then by now they would already be, umm, doing things...

   Thrill shivered down her spine, but her excitement came alongside resolve this time.  She had an idea of what she didn’t want, but damn if she didn’t know what she did want, too.

   Leaning against the wall, wearing cat ears and a tail, and nodding over a now thoroughly empty rep plastic cup, Elsa made a decision.

   She wanted to kiss Anna.

   Her grin right now had to look totally silly, but she’d said it - or at least thought it - and damnit, that was the first thing that had felt completely right tonight. was going to make it happen.

   Except for one thing.  She still didn’t know if Anna wanted her to.

   That meant she was going to have to ask.

   She sighed into her cup.  That always had been the problem, hadn’t it?  That whenever she had gotten past her anger, or frustration, or confusion, any of it, she never had stopped to ask what was next?  From Anna, or until now from herself.  If anything was going to change one of them was going to ask the other if they were interested in there being a ‘next’.

   That was going to have to be her, then.  Waiting on someone else was a pretty useless plan when she didn’t even know if that person had so much as considered whether they wanted anything like that to happen.

   She could do this.

   Her skin tingled.  This was uncharted territory, and she was terrified that this ended with her face down in a pillow sobbing over being an insufferable moron.  It really might.  But damnit if she didn’t want to try anyway.

   Something was off.  It took a moment to place it, having been preoccupied with what was going on inside her head rather than outside of it, but only a moment.  It was the music.  What had come on over the speakers was not something that anyone would be dancing to.  Strings, somber and serious, were for sweeping down from the ground floor, and it wasn’t a difficult guess as to why.  Not when this was the theme from The Godfather.

   It was time for Mafia.

Chapter Text

Elsa gathered her newfound resolve around her like a cloak before following the herd - pack? - towards the stairs. She was the last one there, and wasn’t fully in earshot while Anna’s voice drifted down to meet her. Nor could she be: Elsa was thoroughly blocked from reaching the top of the staircase by the small knot of people that were clogging the exit. As the chatter died down, though, Anna’s voice eventually penetrated to her.

After all that build up she was even a little excited to try playing. Or at least to see what the fuss was about.

“My friends,” she was saying in another awful attempt at an accent, “you come to me on this, the day of my Halloween, and ask me to do murder for fun. And I say HELL YEAH!” A scattering of cheering met her. “So! I know a lot of you have played before, so let’s start with a show of hands by those who haven’t.” There were, presumably, hands going up. Elsa couldn’t see them, but did hear the sounds of tinfoil and tape.

The music hadn’t stopped, though it was quieter now. It was a somber backdrop to the silliness around the room.

“Ok, that’s enough that we will need the rules rundown! The name of this game is Mafia. It’s not the sort where you’re sitting around with your heads on a table. This version takes place in complete darkness. Some number of players will be designated as Mafia members. The others will be normal, everyday people. This will be secret! The game starts when the lights go out, and everyone starts moving around. The Mafia players are trying to kill everyone, while Everyone is trying to not get killed. There is only one accepted way to make a kill! You walk up to someone, like so, and pinch right here, on either side of the neck, right where the shoulder meets the neck.”

Elsa could only assume that she was demonstrating on someone, but tiptoes weren’t enough to let her see.

“Remember, you aren’t a Vulcan, so you don’t need a death grip. Be firm enough that they can’t deny that you have them, but not hard enough to hurt. That’s for the full-contact version.” Somebody wolf whistled in response.

“As you see, once your victim is pinched they must remain totally silent and stay standing. You can move them however you want, like this.” Another pause while she demonstrated. “Then, when they are where you want them, let them go.” There was a clear thud. “Your victim then falls to the ground. They do not have to be quiet when you let them go, so if you aren’t in a hurry it’s probably wise to ease them onto the ground, instead of dropping them like I just did to Eugene. Thanks by the way, you make a great victim.”

“Any time…” The response was muffled, like his face was pressed against the ground, and was quickly drowned out by laughter.

“Now! The way to fight back against the Mafia is simple: when you find a dead body yell ‘Dead body!’ and we immediately turn on the lights. Everyone who’s still alive gathers together at the body and we vote on somebody to lynch. There are thirty seconds to vote, and as soon as anyone gets a majority we off ‘em. They are allowed to defend themselves, but there’s no requirement to actually listen. You cannot use the lights being on to explore for other dead bodies, but any in plain sight count. After the vote all discovered dead people, and anyone who was lynched, go to anywhere outside the play area - this means they can go anywhere up or downstairs, or sit on any of the seating, or go into the kitchen - and hang out until the current game ends. They can talk, but not about the game.”

This was getting a little long-winded in Elsa’s opinions, but the eagerness in Anna’s face helped sustain her. She was just too obviously excited for at least a little of it not to seep into Elsa.

“Remember, we’re wandering around in the dark. This means don’t do anything dumb. Don’t run, don’t walk around crouching, don’t drop anyone where they might land on anything. And as I said, this is not an R-rated game tonight. While I know that some of you are more than happy for hands to go wherever hands want to - yes, thank you, I didn’t need a show of hands to know which of you that is true for, though I’m sure it’s appreciated - in this version of the game you should try to keep your hands about stomach to chest level. Be careful to avoid accidental boob-pokes if you can, but they are an accepted occupational hazard in this game. If hands are too high people start thinking you’re pinching them and drop dead for no reason; too low and someone will end up accidentally going nut boxing.”

The three guys in front of Elsa all shifted at that comment, and she wasn’t alone in giggling.

“Oh, and before I forget, we need to move all drinks away from the play area. If it’s on a table it will get knocked over, and if it’s in a hand it will get spilled. Just say no to wasting booze! That’s just about all of it! Anyone who’s not interested should head up or downstairs. Downstairs can have the lights on, but should keep the door closed. Upstairs can only have lights on in the rooms, and those doors need to stay closed too. Whenever anyone arrives pause the game so long as the front door is open, and we’ll direct them out of the way. If you want to play, gather up around me! We’ll deal out roles via cards, if you get an ace then you’re Mafia.”

Finally those three cleared out, heading back downstairs presumably to restart their talk. Elsa squeezed her way up and into the crowd. If Anna was excited for this, then she wanted to be, too.

There were about two dozen people gathering, while the others started filtering to the safe zones. Several in the crowd were downing their drinks.

Anna, after a quick finger count, started pulling cards from a deck that she’d acquired somewhere. “Stay put, I want to make sure we have our numbers right here,” was all the direction she gave for the moment. It wasn’t until after two adjustments for late arrivals that she looked up and, totally deadpan, asked, “Tim, what are you doing.”

The man in the palm tree replied, “I want to play!”

“You’re a tree, how are people going to pinch you?”

“They...uh, that’s a fair point, actually.”

“I’ve got some ideas,” Chel helpfully volunteered, to a smirk and hearty eye roll.

“Nonetheless…” Anna looked around after he said that, scanning for other problems.

“Ok, Tim and Johnny, you’re both going to sit out this round while changing out of those costumes, cause you can’t play in ‘em.” She pulled two cards back out of the deck after waving them upstairs.

“All right, that’s everything! Everyone, come get your card, look at it secretly, then get your butts ready! Light go off in 20...19…” The group scrambled for their cards, rapidly depleting Anna’s deck down to just her own.

Elsa looked at what she’d drawn: the six of hearts. With the timer running she looked around for somewhere to leave the card, before realizing that would give her away.

“13...12...11...10…”

She fumbled for a spot on her outfit that would hold the card, since she was sure she’d drop it otherwise. Nothing worked, and with time nearly out she simply stuffed it down the front of her dress, leaving it until later. She quickly eyed the people around her, searching for malicious intent.

There wasn’t enough time left. “4...3...2...1. LIGHTS OUT!”

Kristoff has stationed himself at the switch and flipped it. Both of them then immediately turned towards the stairs, since the upstairs lights were on, and shouted in unison, “LIGHTS OUT UPSTAIRS TOO!”

They went out a few seconds later, and everyone was plunged into the dark.

Feet scuffled as people scattered, immediately followed by a pair of muffled thumps and a small shriek, then giggling right on the heels of both.

“Sorry, we’re alive, just blind. Did anyone get the plate of the car that hit me?” Elsa had heard that voice previously, but couldn’t place it.

She was also a little distracted. All of a sudden every single sound around her was nerve-wracking, and she had to suppress a squawk when somebody brushed by her arm. Most people, it seemed, were in the same boat though. Someone across the room did squeak a few seconds later.

Something thunked nearby, followed by the sheepish explanation, “Wall…” That was definitely Kristoff.

“You know, parties like these, they’re nice,” Tulio spoke up from around the corner. “It’s a great chance for us all to get together and not see each other.”

“If only I had that choice after you’ve had a few too many the night before. You look like death warmed over.”

“Alas, that is also an accurate description of how I feel on those mornings.”

“While we’re on that subject,” Olaf broke in, “if you ever get the chance to see Anna’s bed head you should. Her hair looks like someone set a bomb off!”

“Olaf, just how many people are you expecting to see me when I wake up in the morning?” Anna was just a few feet behind her.

“You can’t see me right now, but I’m shrugging.”

“Well, I’m taking applications. Cute girls can apply here!”

That...it was banter. Playful, definitely, but…Elsa went for it. ”Where do I sign up?”

“Wherever you want, that’s the application!” Anna was far more nonchalant than Elsa felt. Maybe because she was now imagining signing Anna’s boobs.

Her efforts to find a sufficiently clever response were cut short by Tulio, somewhere near the couch, commenting dryly, “Someone must have slain our dear Chel. She’d have put her name on that list in an instant if she could still speak.” The footsteps that were probably his kept shuffling around in that corner.

“Dead body, dead body!” Elsa was startled into snickering by the sheer joy in Olaf announcing that. There was a quick shuffle from the far end of her room, and the sound of a little fumbling behind her, then the room lights went back on.

Everyone was blinking when they did; were those always so bright? Olaf was easy to see. So were the two ‘corpses’ in the room with him. One was Chel, who seemed to be fighting bitterly against an urge to say something. The other was a guy with blond hair and an outfit that, if Elsa had to guess, was the living spirit of the 70s. Or, for the moment, the unliving spirit of it.

“Johnny, what are you doing.” Everyone was gathering, and Anna’s tone was dry.

“Why, I’m dead, can’t you see? It’s tragic, I know.” There was a healthy helping of smarm in his reply.

“You weren’t even here when we started. You aren’t a player.”

“True, true. But I have a tale of woe for the ages, that I shall now regale you all with. It began on one dark, tempestuous night…”

“You have ten seconds before I get the duct tape.” Anna started tapping her foot as she looked down at him.

“I was trying to get to the kitchen for a beer and I got caught.”

“Much better! Now, get yo butt up and go grab one, we’re going to vote now.”

He stood, eyes crinkled with amusement, and dusted himself off. “Thank you for your generosity, oh dark mistress of the nigh-”

Anna gave him a shove. “Begone with you!” He went, chuckling to himself, while the rest of the group looked suspiciously at each other. Anna collected Chel’s card, showing everyone: the 4 of Clubs.

A hand went up, then pointed at Tulio dramatically. “I vote we off this cad!”

“While I agree in principle,” Miguel answered, smirking at the start, “I still want to hear why.”

“Yeah, Eugene, I wanna hear why too.” Anna’s foot kept tapping.

“For the game answer, it’s because he was the first to say that Chel was dead. For the real one, I don’t think we really need a reason, do we?”

Miguel was nodding sagely. “Both arguments seem airtight. I’m sorry, friend, deicide is a difficult thing but I’m afraid I must.” He raised his hand and pointed it at Tulio as well.

“Ok, we are not nearly drunk enough for turn one shenanigans yet.” This girl looked familiar, but again Elsa couldn’t quite place her. Was she at the show? The short, brunette hair was from somewhere

“Oh, I beg to differ!” That was Johnny again, beer in hand. Anna shooed him on his way.

“As much as I like the idea, I’m with Punzie. Offing a random person just helps the mafia right now, we need more info.” Anna was clearly not on board, and though Elsa wasn’t clear whether there was actually any strategy to this she did think Anna sounded sure of herself.

“I’d also like to make something clear, the reason I said that was that Chel is too much of a hoe to turn down the opening that Anna had given her. I think we can agree that isn’t very controversial? No, no, Chel, dead people can’t speak.” To say that he was taking advantage of the situation would be a stark understatement.

“Ok, I’ve changed my mind, let’s kill ‘im.” Anna pointed too.

“Can any of you say I’m wrong?”

“No, just snarky.”

“Well, in that case I think I’m not long for this world in any case. I couldn’t bear to live in one that disallows snark.”

The brunette from before shrugged and joined the ranks pointing at Tulio. Olaf joined in too, cheering, “Strategery, woo!” A few more after that and they had a majority.

“Well, that’s that then. Tulio, I will need your card, you are being executed by the thoroughly legitimate process of an angry mob.” Anna held her hand out.

He scowled, handing it over. “I maintain my accuracy, if not my innocence!” Anna turned it upright: jack of hearts.

Mild cheers erupted, while Chel stood and jabbed him harder with her elbow. “This ass was telling you all I was dead in the middle of walking my corpse around!”

He chuckled in response, trying to get out of elbow range. “Yes, I’m pretty proud of myself for that.” Chel just glared, and the both set off for the couch.

“Ok, well done everyone, but there’s at least one more killer out there! Also, I didn’t stop her because he deserved it, but the deceased should try not to say who killed them. It can give away information.” Olaf was already in position at the switch, and she gave him a nod.

Once again, Elsa couldn’t see a thing. She shifted back, moving slow while trying to remember how far away the wall was.

“Wanted in after all, eh?”

She jumped, and made a sound that was exceedingly undignified. Anna had taken her utterly unawares.

Elsa felt like she deserved the laughter in response. Anna left her to sweat a moment first, now keenly aware of her lurking just behind her, before taunting, “Seems like kitty’s on edge tonight!”

Elsa grumbled, and shifted back just a little as someone passed by in front of her. Just enough to bump against Anna. In the dark, Elsa’s heart jumped at the contact.

“You are too good at surprises for your own good.”

“It comes from practice! Anyways,” she said, voice quiet, “You surprised me too, before.”

“When do you mean?”

“When we danced, earlier! You were really good. And when...uh, well, you seemed like you were enjoying yourself.” Elsa’s curiosity perked up at the obvious change in what she was going to say.

“Why would it be a surprise that I was having fun?”

“You haven’t always managed to do that, over here.”

Elsa scoffed, shifting a little further towards the wall, as well as to face where Anna’s voice was coming from. “Oh? I think it would be fairer to say that’s been a mutual problem.” This was what they did, wasn’t it? Dancing around the issue, and, as Elsa shuffled warily in the darkness, each other.

“Well, maybe, but still. I liked seeing it. I liked how you...you smiled really nice, when you were dancing. I wouldn’t mind doing more things like that.”

Those words set butterflies loose in her stomach. The other conversations around the room were babble, incomprehensible and meaningless. Even the thud a dozen and a half feet away didn’t feel very relevant right now.

“I’m gonna stop being a sitting duck here now. I just wanted to say first that next time, you shouldn’t stop half way.” Anna left a happily confused Elsa behind with that cryptic comment.

That didn’t stop her from squeaking again when fingers pinched lightly at the side of her neck.

Aww, fuck. Standing still while distracted was apparently not a very good strategy.

She was directed back across the room, shuffling slowly and hoping that someone would find a body along the way so that they could catch whoever this was in the act. It was hard to tell from just a hand on her shoulder and the fingers pinching her, other than that they were too small to be Kristoff. Not that her knowing would help much.

Her toes nudged something - no, someone - soft, and an exploratory reach found the back wall just past that. Slowly, and quite carefully, the person directed her down, crouching first, until she was slumped with her back against the wall. Then the let her go, and she suddenly started worrying about someone accidentally stepping on her. That, and wondering whose leg it was crossed under hers.

She only had to wait about fifteen seconds before the cry of “Dead body!” went up again, this time led by Anna. This time, though, the light went on in the other room, leaving Elsa and the other victim with her still in the dark.

From around the corner and out of sight Olaf could be heard, quite worried, saying, “Uh-oh. We are missing a couple of people here…”

Anna jumped in right after. “Don’t look around now! They aren’t immediately obvious, so we’re going to have to find them in the dark. The spooky, spooky dark.”

“I vote we kill Anna! She found the body, but I think she announced it for cover.” That was Eugene again.

Anna answered back. “I vote we kill Eugene, for wanting to kill me for a dumb reason.”

The group settled into their debate while Elsa pondered her new life as a corpse in the corner. There wasn’t enough light to make out who was there with her.

“Psst. Who’re you, I can’t see.” Their whisper wasn’t all that quiet, but the others were loud enough that probably wasn’t going to be an issue.

“I don’t think we’re supposed to talk.” The rules had been clear on that, if Elsa remembered them right.

“So long as they don’t hear us it’s fine. I’m Jim. I don’t think we’ve met.”

“Alright. I’m Elsa, then. I’m sorry about trapping your leg.”

“Not like I could use it now, anyway. Not till we’re found. Say, what brings you here tonight?” He spoke quickly, like he was trying to get ahead of his own next words.

“I’m their neighbor. It seemed like a fun way to spend Halloween.” Someone from upstairs was hurrying down the stairs, and gave them a solemn nod when they spotted them in the gloom.

“Hmm, makes sense. I’m honestly not really sure what I’m doing here myself. A friend said we should come, but she’s not here yet so I’m just just trying to meet people. So, uh, nice to meet you, Elsa.”

The arguing seemed to be settling down in the other room, culminating with Eugene gasping, brimming with melodrama, and declaring, “You are all villains! You’ve killed an innocent man!” The murmuring suggested that he was telling the truth about that.

“Yes, but we have killed you, so shush.” That was the brunette from earlier that had looked familiar.

“Ok, lights off again in 3...2...1…” Anna didn’t give them much time to consider what they had done. Soon everything was dark once more.

People seemed to be moving faster this time, spreading pretty quickly from the other room. The first person approaching them met a grisly fate, stopping abruptly in the tracks before being shuffled slowly towards the two already dead. They took up a place on the other side of Elsa, laid sideways at the base of the wall.

The next person came quieter, until the moment their foot hit Elsa’s and they tripped. They were already yelling “Dead body!” by the time they caught themselves against the wall.

Olaf hit the lights, then whistled. “Someone’s been busy!” Elsa was treated to the view from below as Jayla looked around at the people gathering.

Jim turned out to be skinnier guy with a small mess of mid-length brown hair, and was dressed in some team’s soccer kit. The victim on her other side was Miguel, face down on the wood floor.

“We’re down one more person, too.”

“I don’t think we are. That’s obvious enough, right?” Kristoff pointed, to the base of the couch on the opposite ride of the room. Anna was there with what looked like a small wooden stake held to her chest, like she had been stabbed. Elsa couldn’t imagine where she had kept it.

“Yeah, it is. Well, let’s get to it then, our numbers are dropping fast. I’ll start, I definitely noticed somebody moving around over here before, but managed to keep my distance when they came towards me. They were pretty tall, I think.”

The pattern was more familiar by now. A couple of people aired their suspicions, there was some arguing about it, then eventually someone voted for a tall guy in a suit named Jules. More arguing failed to win enough votes, though, as did the counter vote against Olaf for having accused him. The third attempt, this time at Jayla, won out through a burst of spurious reasoning. Anna, having risen from her grave, silently collected her card, then revealed the queen of clubs. Another innocent victim.

Elsa was glad to be able to stretch her legs properly, and decided that the couch definitely seemed like the best option of the dead-approved zones. She handed her card over to Anna on the way, who then followed. They were both seated just as Olaf killed the lights.

“So...still having fun? Even though you’re dead?” How was it that even in the pitch black Elsa felt she could still see exactly how Anna was grinning right now?

“Hey, you’re dead too!”

“Yeah, not as fast as you were though. I guess that’s expected, since you’re a beginner.” Could almost hear her stick her tongue out.

“I’m sorry, did you get yourself killed just to tease me?” Elsa could almost believe that she’d do it.

“Sadly, no, I was betrayed. I know exactly who got me, too.”

“Oh? Who was it? I have no idea who took me out.”

The cushion trembled, as though Anna was shaking her head vigorously. “Can’t say, too many ears out. If they got me, I want them get everybody.”

“That is fair. I think.” It was surprising how many other conversations were going on, among the living and around the edges. They were clearly having a blast upstairs, too, if muffled by some doors.

Elsa was slightly proud of herself for not jumping when the doorbell witch sounded abruptly. Everything ground to a minute long halt as a couple new arrivals felt their way inside the pitch-black room until, after Kristoff told everyone playing to keep their eyes closed, he relented and turned the lights on for them, revealing a room containing at least two victims draped across each other. All three of the arrivals, including both men, were dressed as nuns, which Elsa found delightful. They all went upstairs as soon as their shoes were off.

Everything seemed even darker once the lights were cut again.

Anna didn’t wait long. “So, I’ve been thinking,” she started. “About this revelation that you can actually be some fun.” She said that with the “what are you going to do about it?” attitude of someone fully aware that she was being a brat, then added, “Specifically, that you can have fun with me.”

Fluster and defiance skirmished over which was the better response to Anna’s teasing, and the latter won a narrow victory. “You’re really enjoying yourself right now, aren’t you?”

“What, should I stop?”

A short-lived victory, at that. Elsa shook her head, wondering if Anna could feel it. “No, no. You can...you should keep enjoying yourself. I don’t mind.” Is this flirting? Are we flirting? Am I...doing well? Herself was sadly lacking in useful answers.

“Gee, that was a ringing endorsement,” she retorted in a tone as dry as the Sahara.

Elsa felt the weight of her inexperience much too keenly here. Luckily, for once she felt also stubborn enough to at least try to push past it, even if she was having to shut out thoughts of embarrassing herself horribly along the way. “Tonight’s turning out to be an odd experience for me. I’d be lying if I claimed to know what I should say right now.”

“I haven’t known what I’m saying for about thirteen years now. I think I had a nice, solid conversation in kindergarten once.” That won a chuckle from Elsa.

“I can never tell if you’re incredibly confident, or hilariously not. Somehow you make either one look the same as the other.”

“And somehow you manage to confuse me if you’ve just said something nice, or mean. I don’t think I’ve ever met anybody like that before.” Anna’s weight shifted, and the end of her sentence sounded like it came from a little closer than the start did.

“I wish I could say that I know any better myself.”

“Well, I’ve got some advice for you. Stop worrying about what you ‘should’ say. That’s not a thing.” Anna was trying to sound sage, though it wasn’t working very well.

“Oh? And what do you recommend I do instead?” Elsa didn’t know where she was going with this, only that she wanted Anna’s answer.

Her giving it was interrupted by a gasp, then a fit of giggling from the end of the couch that Chel and Tulio were at, with Anna chuckling softly at them. When those quieted she responded, “Heh. It’d be easier if I were her, I’d just say ‘Me.’”

The tingling that went through Elsa said that was a very good answer for Anna to give, but she knew it was a dodge. So she pressed. “Yes, but you’re - for better or worse - you. So what would you say?”

They sat for a minute in silence, listening to the game going on around them, the quiet of someone thinking. “I guess,” Anna began, pausingly, “I’d say that you should make it clear what you actually want.”

“I...” She trailed off, though in her head she continued, thinking, I want to kiss you, dummy! Her cheeks flared red. How did you go about actually saying that? She hesitated in the hopes that she would stumble on something cleverer before simply concluding, “I wish I knew, really.” It sounded downright lame to herself. But Elsa forged on to ask, “Are you glad that I’m here tonight? You don’t have to invite me to things just to be nice, if that’s what you’re doing.”

“Geez, and you say that I might not have much confidence. Of course I’m glad that you’re here tonight. I mean it! And not just cause that costume is so fucking hot.”

The lights went on for a dead body at a thoroughly inconvenient moment just then, right when Elsa cheeks burned their brightest yet. “Thank you, that’s...kind of you, to say. You look handsome too.” Keeping her cool was made particularly difficult by Anna, turned to sit sideways in her seat and closer.

Anna had the bit between her teeth. “The hell sort of answer is that? “Kind of you” is something you say at a funeral. Don’t you dare try and wiggle out of this one! You are holy shit-level hot in that, and I could get a lot of second opinions from everybody saying the same thing. If, umm, it’s ok for me to say all that.” Somehow they had both ended up blushing. Wasn’t she supposed to ask that last part first?

In any case, Elsa managed to force out a nod. “I’m just not used to hearing people say that. I mean, guys do, but they don’t count. You do. You...you definitely count.” That admission only barely preceded internal panic, thinking, Oh god, oh god, did I just? She couldn’t bring herself to follow up on it properly. “It’s,” she pondered, hesitant, “well, it’s nice. I think...I do like it.” Even that much did enough to feed the red in her cheeks, and her sudden wish that she had another drink available.

The lights going off again was a gift. A significant number of dead players had found places to wait, and someone else had apparently taken over card collection duty from a thoroughly distracted Anna.

“‘It’s nice.’ That’s good enough for now, I guess.” A deep down part of Elsa was insisting that the both of them must look ridiculous right now, but that was a thoroughly useless sensation in the end and she endeavored to ignore it.

“I...if you want, I can tell you a secret.” She’d chosen this whole outfit while thinking about a particular someone seeing her in it, after all...

“You bet your booty I want to hear a secret!” Anna answered so quickly she barely had the breath to finish saying it.

Elsa also took a breath, deeply, and felt ridiculous all over again for it. The butterflies in her stomach hadn’t settled a bit. They kept fluttering as she worked up the courage, then said, “I chose this because I hoped people would notice. I haven’t done that before.”

Anna’s snorted, loudly, in response, and Elsa scowled at her. “Ok, ok, ok, sorry, but no shit, Elsa.” Laughter was not exactly what Elsa had been hoping for here, but it was what she got for a solid couple of seconds. “Fucking hell, I can’t imagine what sort of ditz you’d having to be to wear that and not realize that you’re going to get some serious attention. Hey, I have a question too, then, it’s been stuck in my head all night. Why did you choose a cat costume?”

If she could slow down for just one second that would help, Elsa was still stuck on the first half of that response. Catching up to the question in it took her a red-faced while, but finally she did and said, meekly, “I feel silly about it now that you’re laughing at me, but I was honestly thinking of when I got stuck climbing. You know, when you-”

Anna let out a triumphant “Yes!” and bounced on the couch. “Yeah, when I helped your ass back out of it, ha! I totally guessed right!” There wasn’t a chance in hell that she wasn’t grinning wildly right now, not when her tone was that self-satisfied, but Elsa couldn’t mind that much when she was inwardly celebrating that her silly idea had through some miracle panned out.

Anna kept running headlong with the topic now. “Damn, I really can’t believe I figured that out. That’s awesome. It’s almost like,” she said, then stopped, tripping over her own words. “Like...oh.”

Elsa waited, but no continuation seemed to be forthcoming. “Anna?”

It wasn’t often that someone swallowed quite as loudly as Anna did then. “Sorry,” she managed, strangled, “but that makes it sound like, umm...like you had someone in mind when you chose it. Damn.”

Elsa sat there, trying and failing to a stupendous degree to reconcile having planned this in theory with the actual sitting-in-front of her reality of Anna realizing it. All of a sudden the atmosphere around her seemed twice as heavy, pressing in on her lungs from every side, and her heart was doing peculiar things to push back. ‘Damn’ was right.

“Ok, I’m just going to fucking say it then.” Anna had flipped back to confidence, albeit with a hint of mania underpinning it now. “You look really hot in that. Hella hot. Like, I’m sad that the lights are off right now cause I don’t have night vision hot. So, um, well done, if you were trying to show off, you succeeded so frickin’ much. I mean, holy shit, have you seen your boobs in that? Cause god damn, I sure have. I...um, yes. I’ll just stop talking now then.”

Elsa sat stock still, other than both hands going to the center of her chest while her heart performed an impressive series of acrobatic maneuvers. What the hell...her response finally burst out while her cheeks scorched with red, hissing, “How can you just up and say something like that?!

Anna hit right back, “It’s because you’re Elsa “I set the bar for 10s” Arendelle and you seem to be the only person who hasn’t realized just how much everyone at this party has the hots for you!”

There was precious little left of Elsa staying afloat in the conversation. But there was enough, at least, to ask, “...everyone?”

The most cheerful cackling ever produced erupted in the room in front of them. The lights went on, clearly for the last time this game, though Elsa had no attention to spare to it. She had eyes solely for Anna’s, a scant six inches away. Her mouth was ever-so-slightly open.

Lips parted. Breath thick like honey. Eyelids fallen half closed, as though she was waiting for something...

The question hung in the air, unanswered and familiar.

Finally, Olaf’s celebrating his way across a room piled with corpses forced them both to look away from each other. The costumed Olaf crowing “Snow much blood!” made it hard to keep their little corner of the room as isolated as it had felt the moment prior.

Anna sighed. “He’ll be insufferable if he wins too many more times tonight. I had better get everyone set up for the next game.” She slipped off the couch, poked Chel a few times until she and Tulio stopped making out for long enough to realize the game had ended, and called out for everyone to bring her their cards.

Elsa was wondering where all her breath had gone. Anna seemed to have taken it away with her. She was still working her way to the fact that Anna had just admitted that she found Elsa attractive. Well, no. She had said more than merely that. More accurate to say that Anna had declared her the pinnacle of attraction itself. Which was ridiculous. Absurd. The single most flattering thing Elsa had ever heard. Preposterous. She wanted more.

From this girl? The one who had laid claim to her imagination so thoroughly? From one who was herself so infuriatingly hot?

Yes, more.

Lips parted...

She was seeing Anna’s face again, mouth ajar, hovering in reach. Seeing it twice, again from when they had danced, when she had dipped Anna down, and Anna had been breathing in just that way.

She had looked like she was waiting.

She had been. Elsa had to be blind, she had been. Then, and again now.

It was a thunderbolt of a realization and it sent her to her feet, to go wait with the others for the next game. The energy it gave was nervous, shifting, jitters out to her edges. She kept stealing glances at Anna the whole time. Little ones, looking back to the ground less each time between. Worrying less with each whether she caught the looks. Hoping that Anna would look back when she did.

She had been waiting, and Elsa had completely missed it.

Her card barely registered when she got it. Something that wasn’t a jack. It didn’t really matter past that. Not next to the fact that the group had joined in the countdown to lights out, using it to chase the non-players back upstairs with their hastily acquired beverages.

Ten....five...one. Lights.

Not a thing was visible, but she saw her path clearly while the people around her scattered. Anna wasn’t moving, not yet. She was waiting.

Elsa stopped, just before she guessed they would collide, and softly in the dark asked, “Anna?”

She was less than a foot from the answer, a quiet, “Yeah?” Waiting… The thought echoed off that one word.

The dark was too quiet, when Elsa knew she ought to have been saying something. Anything. Just...where the hell was she supposed to start? Nothing was coming.

It emerged in pieces when she tried to force it. “I was...I’ve been thinking, since we’ve been...what you said just now, I…” No, darn it, no! Why was this so impossible for her? She knew, for once and for certain, that she didn’t want to keep waiting.

“Why the fuck haven’t you kissed me yet?”

That rooted Elsa to the floor, mouth stuck open, frozen. Stunned. But only for a half second, the time it took to process, until her feet came unstuck all at once and she lurched forward. Her arms fit around Anna perfectly. So did Anna’s in return. In the dark she missed, once, lips brushing too many freckles to count. She did not miss a second time.

Grips tightened on fistfuls of cape. Where she held didn’t hold much importance, but that she did hold was critical. Mandatory.

She kissed her again, Anna’s chest and hers compressed by each other. Breath muddled together, shared.

Again. Her heart was doing terribly funny things in her chest. When had Anna’s leg ended up between her own?

Again. Anna licked around the edges. Elsa’s tongue answered in kind. They met halfway.

There was a game going on around them, and a party around that. The world, presumably, was still turning as normal. Millions of miles away, the sun was burning out in a millenia long explosion, one single speck in a galaxy twirling about in a universe that didn’t pay it much mind. Trivial things, dwarfed by the just how soft Anna’s lips were. How heated her breath felt, slipping between them. How the full stretch of her body shifted and slipped. How her fingers held so tight, high and so low on Elsa’s back.

Elsa knew that she’d never forget this moment, not a touch, nor a sound, a scent, a taste of it.

Least of all would she forget the abject, incredulous outrage when the hand highest on her slipped further upwards, to pinch right where her neck turned to shoulder.

The absolute, unrepentant little SHIT. Elsa wanted to scream. Was she joking right now? Seriously? Seriously?

“I’m so, so sorry. I just had to.” The shallow remorse made a poor companion to the hellion glee lurking beneath it. Elsa was just going to kill her.

A heady cocktail of adrenaline and endorphins were coursing through her, and they all of a sudden has an entirely new focus: Revenge.

Ohhhhh, yes, tonight had taken a very abrupt turn. Particularly abrupt, considering Anna’s lips were still on hers and Elsa still didn’t want them to stop and what the everliving fuck was even going on right now.

And why did she feel a rather particular sensation pooling into her while Anna took her extraordinary advantage of this situation?

The (treacherous, awful, infuriating, miserable) brat keeping her lips on Elsa’s all the way to the ground. She was lowering her far, far more slowly than was necessary. Elsa almost didn’t let her get away, almost grabbed grabbed and dragged her down as well onto the ground to make sure she couldn’t get away. Something, anything, to foil her plan to be such a monumental jerk even though she had no idea at all how that would end.

She almost...but she didn’t. Before she could finish deciding she was left panting, flat on her back in the corner as Anna whisked away. She could be heard slipping off into the darkness.

All too clearly now Elsa understood just what that R-rated version of the game might look like.

If Elsa didn’t have to stay silent she was pretty sure she’d be spitting fire in frustration right now. She’d done it, finally god damned done it, she’d kissed her. It had been amazing, for all of...five seconds? Fifteen? A minute? Who the hell even knew? She’d lost track when she got her first taste of those lips. Oh, good god, those lips...and then Anna just hadn’t been able to help herself. The siren song of being an impossible jerk had come calling and Anna had answered in her usual headfirst-through-the-wall fashion.

Months of practice dealing with Anna’s proclivity towards annoyance were the only thing that kept Elsa in place. Breaking her silence felt like it would be letting Anna win, and Elsa would be damned if she would let that happen now. She could play this game, darn it. She was just going to have to get even.

Once she was allowed to move.

Too many thoughts were careening around her skull to be left alone in the dark with them. Half of them seemed to be variations of Holy fuck.

Because, well, holy fuck. She had just kissed Anna. And god damn if Anna hadn’t been kissing back. Gripping back. Somewhere in the middle there Anna had even grabbed her butt.

It was a strange feeling, not being able to doubt herself. Anna had held her to kiss for way, way, waaaaaay too long for that. Then, even after she’d engaged in an act of supreme jackassery, she’d taken so much advantage of having control over Elsa that it would have been a genuine problem if Elsa wasn’t, to her frustration here in the corner, so certain that she hadn’t disliked it.

Taking that advantage wasn’t the source of her indignation, anyway. Anna was going to pay for this. She wasn’t going to surrender anything. She was not going to surrender a single fucking thing to Anna’s Emporium of Being an Infuriating Ass.

It was so very on.

Though she still wasn’t allowed to move, and that was chafing at her impatience. She could listen in to the conversations wandering around the room, and the paranoid shuffling of feet. She could smell pie. She could see that they needed to unplug the microwave, since now that her eyes had fully adjusted to the dark she could notice its dim gleam cut off when someone walked in front of it. She could hear giggling that sounded like Miguel somewhere in the other room.

She just couldn’t do a single damn thing. Even once they found her she would be consigned to exile until the next game started. All she could do now was fume, and hope that this game went quickly, and also dwell a little bit of a lot on the way Anna had felt on her mouth and under her hands and...

“Dead body!”

Oh, thank god.

She screwed her eyes shut when the lights went on, discovering that her position on the floor left her staring directly up at the fixture when it flared to life. People gathered while she blinked the spots from her eyes. At least that meant she had to be in sight of the vote, and that meant she would be able to move.

“I vote for myself.” Tulio spoke up immediately over the trailing murmur of previous conversations fading out, earning some scattered laughter.

“Ok, so while I agree with that sentiment, hear me out here. His hands have not been free enough to kill anybody,” Anna piped up. Infuriatingly, to Elsa, who wondered if glaring would be too much of a giveaway. Probably. And while Anna deserved the heck out of it, the rest of the players still deserved a fair game.

She went ahead and glared. Now was the perfect time to be petty.

“Why do you say that?” Kristoff was clearly out of the loop, rubbing the back of his head when he asked.

Tulio remains indignant, protesting, “Yes, I agree, you haven’t made your case! Err, that I’m not a murderer. You have no proof that I’ve not murdered!” An interesting strategy, to argue for your own execution. Not good, but interesting.

Anna - Grrr, look at her smug face right now, Elsa grumbled inwardly - simply raised an eyebrow and pointed to his face. “Her lipstick appears to have traveled.”

“Yes, it does tend to do that!” Chel’s late entry was conspicuous, particularly considering Jayla’s blush when she rounded the corner immediately behind her. Goodness, she didn’t waste any time, did she? Some of her bandages were slipping, too, which gave Elsa’s cheeks an extra flush.

“Ok, I admit it, all of a sudden you’ve got a good antibi,” Anna gave in, only slightly deflated.

Olaf chimed in, asking with some confusion, “Did I miss the part where we we have an actual reason to vote for anyone?” He was shushed soundly from all sides.

“The snowman is right! Have we all forgotten,” Jules announced melodramatically into the pause, “that random killings help the mafia more often than not?” Elsa could only guess he was acting in character, though she had no idea which one. It also seemed like he might be taking the wrong strategy to convince anyone, since he was making a valid and strategic point. Winning didn’t really seem to be the point of the game so far.

It certainly wasn’t for her anymore. And they were taking too long.

So, not moving from her slump, Elsa tells the group, “The dead request a vote so they can go to a couch.”

The crowd of survivors looked at her, exchanged glances, then raised their hands as one and pointed, exclaiming, “Olaf!”

“I’m hurt! Wounded! Entirely and cruelly deceased at your hands! I cannot believe that you would all be so despicable!” His protestations were roundly blunted by him handing over another jack, which was met with scattered cheering. Finally, Elsa had her chance to stand. The urge to either strangle or smooch Anna built as she walked towards her, the couch being on the other side.

Then Anna looks right at her, and Elsa swore to god she smirked.

As calmly, and quietly, as she could, Elsa slowed as she passed, and through a too-nice smile whispered her mood, distilled to a single sentence:

Your ass is mine, brat.

Then she continued on as though she hadn’t said a thing, took her seat, and smiled sweetly at Anna right before the lights went out. Hoping beyond hope that would put the fear of god in that egregious punk.

Among the dark felt like the perfect atmosphere to plot her revenge. Elsa was unaccustomed to having both the desire and the means for vengeance like this, but she embraced it heartily.

She wasn’t going to cheat. If she was doing this, she was doing it legitimately. But she was going to do one of two things. First, if she didn’t draw a jack then she was going to make darn sure that if Anna killed anyone, she caught her. Second, and much, much more fun, if Elsa did draw a jack then she was going to take out Anna.

She wasn’t just going to off her, though. Ohhhh no. Not after Anna had taken her sweet time when the tables were turned. She’d opened Pandora’s box with that choice. On purpose, Elsa was certain of it. Anna might not always, or ever, think through what she was doing, but she always sincerely meant everything she said and did.

All Elsa had to do now was survive waiting until the next game started. She’s never had less desire for patience in her life.

The pattern became familiar, with little interruptions here and there as more arrivals slipped in, and when the tape on one of the windows lost its grip to free a streetlight-bright corner. The lights flicked on and off again and again, with each crowd showing fewer and fewer survivors. Tulio insisted on starting every meeting by voting for himself, but a consensus appeared to have been reached that he would be kept alive against his will.

The last time, however, was a little different. Tulio called out his discovery, only to find when the lights went on that there was only a single other person left alive. Anna, of course, she had managed to deny Elsa the satisfaction of seeing her caught at every opportunity. At the sight of her, grinning toothily and clearly gearing up for gloating, he threw his hand up in an effort to forestall her.

“I vote for me!”

“No, no, no,” Anna admonished, wagging her finger at him. “That wouldn’t be nearly as fun, now would it?” He looked, rightly in Elsa opinion, apprehensive as she gathered the cards from the dead players, ushering them out of the play area.

She adopted her atrocious accent when she hit the lights, taunting, “Velcome to the night!”

Elsa wished she could have seen it, based on the mad scramble she could hear burst into life out of Tulio and the cackling from Anna as she gave chase. The outcome was inevitable. After one particularly undignified squeak from him the room went silent, followed by the clear sound of him falling heavily to the floor.

Anna’s voice dripped with gloating when she announced to the room, “Dead body.” The lights went on, showing exactly what everyone expected.

She took his card with a flourish, then summoned everyone in. People gathered, other partygoers swarmed the kitchen for beverages, and card counts were adjusted. Anna announced that enough people had joined that they would be going up to three Mafia.

Then she dealt. A careful look revealed to Elsa the perfect hand of a jack of spades. It was about time.

The lights went off.

This time felt different, though Elsa took care to shuffle around with her arms lowered like normal. She remembered where Anna had been clearly, though even before the lights were out she had been on the move. She started in the direction she had been going.

She was surprised to find a dead body already. For half a step she thought to ignore it, but then decided that she’d look more suspicious if someone else found her moving away from it.

“Dead body.” Not an announcement so much as a statement of fact, this time. A flip of a switch by someone revealed a man she didn’t know wearing a kilt. A, ah, maybe deliberately adjusted kilt.

“That was fast.” Anna, of course, as soon as the lights sparked. “Suspiciously fast, in fact.”

Indignation flared at the sheer nerve, but she held it in check. Of course she was going to try to frame her, after the promise Elsa has levied against Anna. All part of the game.

Kristoff helped her out before Elsa could think of a rebuttal. “I heard the body fall too, I was coming for it as well. It was obvious enough that I think we should be looking at the people moving away from it when the lights went on.

“I vote for Anna, though I won’t lie, it’s just for revenge from last time.” This was Jim, surprisingly. He had been quiet in the previous groups.

Elsa could use that. “She was moving away from there, actually. You might be on to something.”

“Nah. It would take a new player to try something that obvious. New, such as…” The way that she trailed off implicated Elsa as clearly as if she’d said it outright.

“It’s too early to make guesses,” the volunteer from the rules demonstration chimed in. “There were lots of people around that soon after we started the round.”

“With three players we have a better chance of getting a Mafia member if we just vote for someone.”

“That’s not how percentages work.”

“What, if there’s more of them then…”

Somehow everything had just veered into a lesson in statistics. Elsa let it, comfortable that Anna’s efforts had failed. She chanced a look in her direction.

They locked eyes, and far too many emotions all started clamoring for attention at once. Elsa looked away to try to shut them up again. All while her heartbeat accelerated precipitously.

She wanted to get her hands on that girl.

The math lesson proved relatively useless, and settling into a no vote. Off again went the lights. Elsa moved again.

Anna was, it turned out, a slippery target. It was not clear whether she knew that Elsa was actually Mafia this time or if she was simply good at evasion, but the end result was a lot of shuffling and nothing to show for it. That didn’t sit well with Elsa, not one bit.

Each time the lights went on for someone’s discovery she was certain that Anna’s smirk at her grew that much wider. It only served to fan the flames of revenge.

Well...maybe a little more than only that.

They had been so, so soft…

Olaf was the victim of the latest mob, though he turned out to be, for once, innocent. And considering the missing players presumably around the corner, the crowd was dwindling distressingly without any Mafia having turned up. For Elsa this meant only that she had to get Anna as soon as possible, before someone else did.

The lights went off again.

Elsa’s shuffling was determined, aiming for Anna’s last known location. She warily sidled around others, their socks scuffing against the wood and announcing their location. She bumped into one, quieter than most, and both backed away hastily from each other.

“Having fun yet?”

Elsa squeaked, then scowled. How did Anna do that? Her voice was practically right in Elsa’s ear!

“I expect that I will be, soon…” Not her best comeback, but it would do. At least she knew where Anna was now.

“Yeah, you do seem rather fond of the couch, so I guess you will be.” Elsa nearly jumped out of her skin as a hand brushed her arm, just barely jumping out of the way before it reached her neck. There was only one person that could have been!

This time she didn’t answer, focusing all her attention on moving as silently as humanly possible. She was not going to let Anna win this round too, absolutely not. One way or another.

An idea struck her, and she started shuffling directly towards the other room, as quickly as she could without risking kicking someone in the head if she found them. All she needed was to find a body…

Another brush, another pounding of her heart with how close it came to getting a pinch on her neck. Not this time!

Her foot hit something soft, and she announced “Dead body!” with only a bit of desperation. The lights going on was instantaneous. Anna dropped her arm and tried to look casual.

She had Olaf to thank for that, it seemed. He was right by the lights.

“Do I even need to say why I’m voting for Anna this time?” She scowled at him. The rest of the group raised their hands to vote against her at the same time, though. Elsa stared her down as she raised her own, smirking victoriously.

“Hold on, I can explain,” Anna interjected hastily.

“Oh, can you?”

“...ok, maybe I can’t, but I promise I’m innocent anyway.”

No hands dropped. Anna grumbled a moment, then accepted defeat and pulled her card out.

Ten of hearts.

Wait, what?

“See? I promised!” she chirped, over the grumbling from the crowd. Nonetheless, she didn’t comment further, dutifully gathering cards and silently making her way to her seat.

The lights went out. Elsa realized that she didn’t have a plan at this point.

Wandering about the room now felt different without having a clear target. Actually playing the game like normal was a bit of a letdown, if anything. It wasn’t what she wanted to focus on.

What she wanted to focus on…was sitting, too smug by half, on the couch on the other end of the room.

It was, according to the microwave, getting awfully late, too. She needed to end this round quick. Luckily, having an imbalance of Mafia left alive proved handy in that regard. When the next dead body was called out there were only six players left, and the collection of cards only contained one Mafia member among the assorted dead.

Tulio delayed the vote briefly to sing a eulogy for Miguel. Elsa figured he was probably responsible for it, but declined to join the shaky vote against him. The nervous faces after that vote failed gave her a pretty good idea who to go after next.

The lights went off. A distressingly efficient bloodbath ensued. When the lights went back on there were three people, Tulio among them, still upright. They looked at each other in silent agreement, then raised their hands to vote for Jim, who was looking extra hapless as he realized his fate.

Much to her surprise, Elsa had emerged triumphant. She found Anna and stuck her tongue out at her.

More drinks, more cards counted, and another round made ready to deal, though the wait was longer this time as the pent-up need for booze upstairs was unleashed. Elsa took the opportunity to sidle up to Anna while she shuffled.

“That was not very sporting of you.” Best to start with the obvious. Easier, at least.

“Hmm?” Anna didn’t look up from the cards.

“You know what I’m talking about! You weren’t mafia, you shouldn’t have been trying to get me!” Of course she was going to be difficult about it.

Now she did look up. And back down, and back up again, smirking so much that Elsa’s palm itched to wipe it back off her freckled face. “Oh, I dunno...from where I’m standing I think it was the strategic play.”

“It’s against the rules!” Yes, it was. Very against the rules. Which made sense and were clear and were something Elsa could process a lot more easily than the way Anna had just looked at her.

“Oh, is it? My bad. Won’t happen again. Cross my heart.”

The problem, Elsa realized wasn’t that she found Anna infuriating. It was that she found Anna infuriating and yet still wanted to grab her by that overdressed collar and kiss her more. Those two impulses were emotional oil and water.

“Cat’s got your tongue?” Grrrr, she was, just…

“I’m the cat, you saying it doesn’t work.” It came out sullen.

“What should I say instead when you start staring like that?” Anna was nearly gloating. Why did she have to act like this was some sort of competition? What exactly did she expect to win?

Elsa huffed. “Something that doesn’t make you sound like an ass?”

“I’m out of ideas.”

Elsa...wasn’t, she realized, much to her own surprise. After how this started, Anna taking so much advantage of their kiss after betraying her, she had an idea that arrived with terrifying clarity.

“Then let me give you one,” she replied cryptically. “The game’s back on.”

“Not quite, they’re still mixing a few drin-”

“Just pass out the cards, Dorkula,” Elsa commanded, if gently. Anna’s mouth dropped into a little ‘o’, followed closely by a laugh.

“Yes, ma’am!” Anna, for once in her life, didn’t argue, bouncing off the couch and slipping through the crowd to distribute the deck among the players. Clearly Elsa needed to try giving her orders more often.

The card she had left in her place was conspicuous. Elsa could only assume it was hers. That it was a Jack seemed almost too convenient.

Looking back up from it, she didn’t make any efforts to hide that she was returning Anna’s earlier favor, keeping her attention on her the whole way around the room. The looks back from Anna didn’t seem to indicate that she minded at all. Which was good; if she had Elsa would have been utterly, utterly confused, and she much preferred at least the appearance of knowing what she was doing right now.

“Oh, that poor girl.” The appearance broke when Elsa jumped in her seat. She had completely missed Chel slipping up beside her, following Elsa’s gaze to its destination. “She’s really wound you up, hasn’t she?” The mummy costume was on the verge of surrendering entirely, making it that much harder to focus on what she’d just said.

“I...might not be able to disagree?” Elsa replied, haltingly. “Why ‘poor girl’, though?”

“That’s simple, love,” Chel laughed back. “You look like a cat ready to pounce right now...no pun intended. Am I wrong?” Elsa opened her mouth to argue, then closed it again promptly when the accuracy of that description sank in, prompting further chuckles. “It’s not the first time I’ve seen that look, dear. Though I had been hoping it might have been directed at me…” She sighed, pouting, before finishing, “Don’t worry, though, I won’t be jealous. I’m rooting for you!”

“What exactly is it that you think I am planning to do?” Just because she was right didn’t mean that Elsa was going to make it that easy on here.

Though maybe she should have. Chel leaned down with a lascivious smile on her lips, quieting enough that only the two of them could hear. “The same thing that any good girl wants to do on Halloween, dear. Something wicked.” The kiss on Elsa’s cheek was a surprise, but not an unwelcome one.

Chel straightened again, the twinkling in her eyes returning to normal levels. “I hope you won’t begrudge me that much! I’m going to go find myself some trouble now; I recommend you do the same.” Before Elsa could think of a reply Chel had already faded back into the crowd.

“Alright, everyone, it’s time for us to get back to murdering each other! I need you highlanders to get back upstairs, we’re going to need the space back.” Anna shouted over the noise of the crowd, aiming it particularly at a couple wearing kilts and, in the case of the guy, very little else other than body paint. They scampered dutifully away with the cups they were carrying.

Elsa rose slowly, her focus once again on Anna. She had a plan again, and this time she was playing by Anna’s rules. She barely registered the briefing that Anna gave to the newcomers to the game. It just wasn’t very important right now.

The lights going out, on the other hand...that was much more important. She started to move towards where Anna had last been.

That giant collar Anna was wearing turned out to be a blessing. It meant that, upon finding someone shuffling a little too close to her, she could tell right away whether she was pinching her neck or someone else’s. Her first victim was unlucky that way, and was quickly left unceremoniously against the nearest wall. Elsa moved on so as not to be tied to the crime. There was only one target she cared about right now, whatever the game rules might say. And if she wasn’t fast enough someone else might get there first. She couldn’t let that happen.

Anna was hers.

Luckily for her, she hadn’t started reaching for the neck of her next potential victim when the cry of “Dead body!” went up from across the room. She stepped back inconspicuously for the lights to go on.

Illumination revealed two victims, neither of which were Anna. The vote didn’t interested her much other, of course, than watching out that neither of them got fingered as the mafia in it. She just voted for whatever seemed like it would end that step the fastest. Getting the lights back off was her only goal.

After much debate and few decisions they adjourned without anyone getting a majority. The lights went dark once more, and Elsa set off.

She was able to dismiss the first two people she bumped into, the first due to the fluff of their costume and the second due to the voice that mumbled an apology for the collision. The third, though, the third danced away with the sway of a cape trailing the motion.

Elsa’s grin was so wide it practically shone. There she was.

Giving chase in the dark was an odd mix of cautious, deliberate motion and intent listening, following the shuffling feet moving away. Anna had the advantage on her, too. Her mental map of the space was far more fine tuned.

All Elsa had was her determination to get revenge. Though somehow she got the impression that Anna wasn’t dodging quite as quickly as she could have. Elsa would get near, brush against her, and it was only once she reached for Anna’s neck that her quarry would dart away just out of reach.

After everything, after the dancing before, after the teasing and taunting, after the kiss, and Anna’s spoiling of it...after that, Elsa was not in any mood at all to be toyed with. If Anna was trying to stay just out of reach, then Elsa was just going to have to surprise her.

After a pause. Someone had found a body.

Lights on. The players looked around, blinking, and gathered over the unfortunately deceased Jim.

“I have a hunch I know one of the mafia, but I’m not going to say yet. I want to see what they do next.” It was Anna, of course. The brat.

“Why not try now? We’re falling behind if he isn’t one of them.” Jules was eyeing the gathered crowd with measured distrust.

“I want to see them make their move is all.” Was that...a challenge? Elsa was going to take it as one. Not that she hadn’t been planning on that already.

“I vote for Anna, then. You scheming generally bodes poorly for the rest of us poor lost souls.” This was a newcomer, a tall, skinny fellow with some sort of southern accent, dressed as a doctor.

“Nah, I believe her. She wouldn’t put herself on the spot like that if she actually was guilty.” Chel, bless her, was helping out. Elsa nodded along in approval. That seemed to be enough to dissuade too many people from putting their hands up.

“Fine, fine. Don’t complain to me if you get worse than you bargained for this round, then!” He didn’t seem too ruffled by his vote failing.

A burst of debate followed after, ending somehow with a vote for a rather surprised Kristoff. It was as ill-advised as Elsa thought, given his complete lack of a poker face; he was innocent. But it did mean the voting was over, as announced by Olaf at the light switch.

Elsa looked around for Anna and found her behind her, looking right back. In the moments before the lights went off the brat even stuck her tongue out.

When Elsa shuffled her way again, taking pains to move just as deliberately as before, and Anna started up the same taunting evasion.

No.  No more of that.

She was expecting Elsa to continue moving cautiously. She only ever dodged just enough, staying just out of reach. It left her open to Elsa taking a chance and, completely blind, rushing forward, throwing caution to the wind to flatten Anna into the wall she had been maneuvered towards.

Grabbing her arm to prevent her from escaping before Elsa’s fingers reached her neck was definitely cheating. It felt only fair at this point.

They were terribly close now.

One hand was stuck, frozen in place to keep Anna where she was. The other, though…

Elsa gulped, then took the plunge. Her other arm went around Anna’s back and pulled her in, to hold on while she went to finish that kiss from before on her own terms.

She lost all track of time in those lips.

She kissed her, lips dragging closed on one of Anna’s, just sucking on it before opening to kiss again. Her breath, mingling, drawn deep into her lungs and dizzying. Kissing again, tongue at the boundary between their mouths, glancing off Anna’s lips. Meeting Anna’s. Tasting her. Feeling her body tighter against her own. Overheating with the feeling that it was all too much at once, and turning her head to rest it in the crook of Anna’s neck, panting.

True to form, Anna played dirty.

Both hands around her stayed in motion, petting, stroking, squeezing, feeling.  On Elsa’s back, down it to grab at her bottom, and up it to her neck, into her hair, taking a handhold before she let it slide free through her fingers.  Kissing Elsa’s shoulder while it was all that was in reach. Making her shiver, and feel a keen lack of breath in her lungs.

Too much.  Overwhelming, and it showed when Anna reached to feel under that short skirt, Elsa tensing up and grabbing a handful of cape.

Both jumped when the call went out from the other room, near the kitchen, and Elsa hurried back before the lights went on again. Orientating herself in the dark was a struggle she wasn’t quite ready for, but luckily the lights in their room stayed off. The discovery was on the opposite side of the space.

The light from around the corner was plenty to see each other by. Anna didn’t look any more combobulated than Elsa felt. She did, however, start wandering first towards the council.

She seemed to have forgotten that Elsa had just killed her.

“I’ll admit,” the guy from the last round joked, “that Anna does appear to have been in the wrong place to have been responsible for this.” He was part of a notably smaller crowd gathered around a trio of fatalities. Most notable were Miguel and Tulio both, arranged in a somewhat, err, compromising position. Punzie was sprawled beside them, trying and clearly failing to hold in her giggles.

“Chel.” The vote was instant, unanimous, and accurate. She turned up the first Jack of the round, and gathered her most recent victims with her to claim a corner of the couch. Anna gathered the cards, then took a conspicuous moment to hand the deck off to Olaf before returning to Elsa’s side. She looked like she had something to say, her focus alternating between Elsa’s face and the floor repeatedly, but she didn’t manage to speak up.

Among the buzz of conversation around them their mutual silence was conspicuous. And it couldn’t last; one of them was going to have to say something.

Lights off. Neither moved.

This was unbearable, standing in the dark while torn between the way Anna’s lips had made her shiver and the way Elsa had froze up when her hand went too far. She needed an answer to a question she didn’t know how to ask yet. Fidgeting in the pitch black was too much to handle.  Saying something, anything, would be better than more damned waiting.

Her approach this time felt horribly awkward compared to a minute ago.  “You’re dead, remember?” Elsa tried to whisper it quietly, trusting in the buzz of conversation from upstairs to mask her words.

“Undead, actually.” Anna muttered back, finding her own footing quickly now that she had something to react to. “You forgot to bring a stake.”

Elsa scoffed. “You are the worst sort of cheat, I hope you know that.”

“Yes, and,” Anna murmured decisively, voice and breath coming closer and closer until they teased equally at Elsa’s ear, “I cheat to win.” Just that fast Elsa felt a pinch on her own neck.

This time felt different. They weren’t playing the same game any more, and when Anna steered Elsa towards the stairs it was almost expected.

Almost. Stumbling up that first step up still set her heart pounding. This was something new. Particularly when Anna’s arm circled around Elsa’s waist as they climbed. Slow, hesitant, and entirely unlike the hasty grabbing before.

The upstairs was a tangle of cushions and people, but there was a path vaguely defined by little electric candles through the middle. They were far too dim to shine downstairs, but were perfectly visible after adjusting to the darkness. They marked a path through the unseen loungers chatting around them.

They didn’t, however, save Elsa from thudding into a door.

“Oops. Thought we had a bit to go still.” There was a rare measure of contrition in Anna’s voice. Elsa was just glad they had been going slowly enough that it hadn’t hurt.

“Where are you taking me?” There was, as it turned out, a limit to Elsa’s newfound confidence, and she had come up on it. She was deep enough in the unknown, but now she had no idea at all what was coming next.

“Umm...my room. If that’s ok.”

Was...was that ok?  It turned out there was still room in Elsa’s head to panic. It didn’t even sound like her own voice saying, “Yes.”

Anna’s room. Anna’s fucking room. What in all hell was she supposed to do now?

The kissing was nice. More than nice. It was amazing. She wanted more of it. Tons more.  The grabbing was thrilling and terrifying. Was...was that what Anna wanted? She was so much bolder than Elsa. Did she want to...more than that? Did Elsa? Yes. But...yes? No?

Oh, my god, what the hell. Anna had just closed the door behind her. After a moment of fumbling, a string of Christmas lights around the ceiling lit up. Elsa was still standing stock still where Anna had left her.

I am so useless. Here she was alone, with a beautiful girl who she had just been kissing like a drowning woman needing air, and she hadn’t the slightest idea what to do.

There was, just...nothing for her to do here without some idea what she actually wanted.  Or some idea what she did not want.  And she was grimly aware that no one else could really answer those questions for her.

At least she had some space here.  Being alone with Anna was terrifying, but being alone also meant she had room to breathe that hadn’t been possible downstairs. Room for her thoughts to settle.  If they were ever going to be inclined to do so, that was.

“Could we...do we - I mean, do you - want to cuddle?” Elsa was vaguely aware that Anna seemed to be having some trouble with finding her words too. Mostly she just grabbed that lifeline of any direction whatsoever and held on for dear life, nodding in a way that she hoped didn’t look like a deer contemplating the headlights of a semi.

Wait...in bed?!

Anna staved that fresh bout of panic off by plopping down onto a lump in the corner, which on second glance turned out to be a gigantic beanbag chair occupying a significant portion of the room. Which was, now that Elsa looked around, admittedly a bit of a mess. Anna had two piles of clothing occupying opposite corners; hopefully the distinction wasn’t “clean” versus “dirty”, though Elsa suspected that was exactly what they were.

Wait, cuddles. That was what she had said. Which meant she wanted Elsa to join her.  Which in turn meant Elsa was going to have to make that decision right now if she didn’t want to just keep standing here.

She squared her shoulders, took a deep breath in, and sternly reminded herself that she had not come here tonight to be timid.

She hadn’t.  She really, really had not.  Her whole outfit had explicitly been chosen not to be meek right now. That reminder to herself was enough to get a thread of nerve back.

You can do this, Elsa.  Stop being afraid of the pretty girl. You...literally dressed up for her. Let yourself do something crazy.

Even so, it wasn’t until she sat beside Anna’s legs that she felt able to breathe back out.

“I...think we probably have a bit to talk about.” Anna sounded...nervous. Very nervous.

That helped more than anything she was telling herself. That hint that Anna might not know just exactly what she was doing here either was a desperately needed sign that Elsa was not alone in figuring this out. It was enough to let her sink back onto the bean bag, stretch herself out, and relax.

Given the nature of beanbag chairs, this meant the two of them settling against one another, pushed together by the amorphous divot in the foam.  She was still very warm...and it was nice. Sure, Elsa’s arm might have been awkwardly trapped because she had no idea where to put it, but it was still nice.

“It’s easier if, umm, I...or you…” Anna started and faded away into uncertainty.  When Elsa looked up she saw a blush under her freckles.

“Hmm?” It was nothing more than encouragement to finish that thought.

Anna took her own deep breath this time, then plowed on ahead to explain, “We’ll fit better if I hold you.”

She didn’t move, though.  This time Elsa recognized that she was waiting on her.

That was...easier, at least, in a way.  Being asked. Getting the chance to answer, even if it was just a slow nod and quick shuffle, was more comfortable than just trying something and hoping it worked out.

Credit where credit was due, in fact.  Going to her room, cuddling, holding...Anna asking first before all that was a marked change in behavior for her.  Even from earlier tonight. She was making an effort, and that felt surprisingly good.

It gave comfort.  As Elsa snuggled back into Anna’s arms she at long last felt the stress drained entirely from her.  Anna was warm and close and she could simply enjoy that for what it was.

She was even able to speak up without feeling embarrassed, commenting, “I...have to admit, this is pretty new to me.  Snuggling. Particularly with someone I’ve kissed.”

“Huh. I don’t see why.”

“Why?”  What did that mean?

“I mean, umm, well...why you wouldn’t have done it more.  Snuggle, that is.”

“Why would I have?”

Anna snorted.  It was far from the most attractive of sounds.  “Come on, you know exactly what I mean.”

“I really don’t!  You’re confusing at the best of times, you know.”

“You’re serious?  Like, actually?”

“Yes, I really am actually serious, you dork. I have no idea what you mean.” A pity that she was facing the wrong way for Anna to see her eyes roll at that question.

“Huh.  I would have thought that you would be drowning in...well, whatever you want, really.  You are fucking gorgeous.

“Flatterer.”

One of Anna’s fingers poked her in the side, prompting a surprised squeak.  “Ok, nope, not gonna let you keep doing that. You are unfair hot, and that is a fact.  Ask anyone downstairs and they will back me up on this. If you are going to try to tell me that no one has wanted to jump your bones then you are wrong.

“Wait a second, that’s-”

“Nope, not waiting.  Cause I already told you that earlier and you obviously didn’t listen, so it’s going to be my job to make you listen.”

“No, really Anna, I appreciate it, but you are definitely exaggerating.”  Not that she minded so much, but Anna was laying it on a bit thick.

The giant hug Anna squeezed her with was a clear if surprising answer.

“Well, even if you aren’t enjoying it yet, I hope you don’t mind if I do.” Her sigh sounded oddly serious, considering how much she would usually have teased.

Elsa sighed as well, taking solace in quiet for a moment before grinning and providing the teasing herself. “Is that why you asked me up here, then? Is this a booty call?”

Another snort from Anna.  “You have never said ‘booty call’ before in your life, have you?”

“Err...no comment. But am I wrong?”

“I don’t know…” Anna trailed away, pensive.  “It could be, I guess? It’s not like I haven’t noticed...but I don’t know, though.  I’m not sure what it is about you, but that’s...not the thing that sticks in my head.”

“Why did you bring me up here?”

Anna shifted.  “It sounds like you think I know what I am doing.”

This felt worth pressing, just a little.  “You have to have some idea, don’t you? It sure seemed like you had a plan downstairs.”

Grumbles answered.  “Downstairs was different.  And you started it.”

“I don’t think that’s exactly true.”

“It’s enough true!”

“It’s still not an answer.”

“Is ‘this’ an answer?  Snuggling is a good reason, right?”

“I suppose I’ll allow it.” Elsa let a bit of haughtiness slip in, just for fun.

“Oh, will you? How gracious. How about I make you actually answer my question, then?”

Elsa paused, then bit.  “Which question was that?”

“Why you aren’t used to snuggling.  We got distracted before you really answered. It’s sort of awesome, so why not?”

That did not seem like a fair question to Elsa, but she decided to try anyway.  “It’s my turn to say that I don’t know, I guess. I don’t know how you’re supposed to find people who want to?”

“Why not ask?”

Yeah, like it was just that easy.  “Is that something I was supposed to learn? If so, I missed out.  I never really found out how to discover if women like me. Enough for snuggles, at least…”

“Ok, I can relate to that.”

“And here you were making it sound like you were an expert in this.”

“Are you kidding?” Anna scoffed.  “I’ve wanted to kiss you for months now and never managed to say a damn thing! You’re the one who up and did it.”

Elsa wanted to argue, but was stuck on the dueling facts that Anna was totally right about the second part and making her blush furiously with the first.  Months? That long?

Well...why not play along?  If she was already this far, then...

“Do you still want to?” Her heartbeat was performing a drum solo right now. It felt like the sound of it had to be as obvious as Anna’s gulp.

“Please?” She was breathless all over again.  “I mean, only if you want to, of course, I wouldn’t want you to feel like I was saying you had to or anything, that wouldn’t be right, but if you do want to I mean you should feel free to-”

This, as least, was something that Elsa knew how to answer now. Her lips on Anna’s sealed away the stammer.  They shifted together, turning closer to find an angle more comfortable, easier to continue for as long as Elsa’s Anna-addled mind decided to.

This was easier than she could have imagined yesterday. She wanted this.  If nothing else was clear, at least this part was. She wanted to kiss Anna. To keep kissing her.

“Is that better?” It was Anna’s turn to nod in the absence of any available words to form an answer.

“I know something that could make it even better...” She knew this was going to be a little mean of her.

“What’s that?”  Anna was hanging off her words.

“If we got you out of…”  Anna’s eyes widened, taking in the implication in that drawling tone.  Elsa paused to enjoy that response before finishing, “...that cape. The collar keeps getting in my face.”

“Fucking...don’t do that to me! I can’t handle you doing that!” Anna’s tone was a particular mix of exasperation and indignation that said ‘well played, you jerk.’

Elsa started laughing and finished yawning.  “I don’t know, that reaction seemed worth it.”  She stretched into the yawn. Why did it have to be so late...

“You look like you don’t have a lot left in you tonight,” Anna said a little sadly.  “Maybe the collar was trying to tell us something.”

“I should have brought pajamas.”

“Why?”

Huh. Anna made a good point. When exactly had she decided she wanted to stay the night? Because she did, now that she thought about it.

And if she wanted to…  “Do you have any I could borrow?” she asked casually.

Anna was quiet for a moment, like a deer stuck in an oncoming set of high-beams.  Her recovery was slow, percolating until she managed to start, “...my pajamas?  I mean, you’re asking me if I can borrow them from me?  For here?”

“I don’t see anyone else in here to ask, so yes, I mean yours.”  Had teasing always been this fun?

The depth of crimson that crept through Anna’s face was downright impressive.  Her stammer was back in full force when she answered, “I, um, don’t usually wear, uh, pajamas.”

“What do you wear instead?”

The mild panic Anna shot back with her expression spoke volumes.  Elsa found the blushing contagious when she realized the implication, and the mild desperation in Anna’s hissed, “I don’t.” didn’t do anything to lessen it.

Silence was their only answer for a couple of long and imagination-filled moments.

“I,” Anna mumbled, “do have some really big t-shirts.  They’re comfy, at least…why, though? Don’t you want to go home?  You’re literally next door...” She fell into another yawn, which led Elsa to follow suit.

“I don’t want to go yet.”  Elsa surprised herself with the certainty in her voice.  “I’m comfortable here, and I’d like to stay. Would that be ok?”

She could practically see the gears turning as Anna processed.  Eventually she burst out with, simply, “Yes!” The suddenness of that answer was matched only by her haste in scrambling over to one of the two piles.  She rummaged through for a minute before pulling out a shirt that could easily have fit the both of them. She held it up, assuring Elsa, “Don’t worry, all these are clean.”

“You weren’t kidding about that being way too big…” Elsa mused, before smirking.  “Is that for us to share?”

“Err, it’s a shirt, how would we....ohhhhhhhh...”

Elsa was enjoying this process of learning how to get Anna to blush, and stuck her tongue out at her.

She muttered back, “That is so not fair, teasing me like that right now.”

“Why’s that?”  Elsa feigned innocence poorly.

“Because that’s the sort of teasing that goes further than snuggling, jerkbutt.”  She was only a little sullen when she stuck her tongue out back at Elsa, right before spoiling the whole thing with a yawn of her own.  Those were showing up annoyingly often by now.

“Oh, my mistake then!”  Tired or not - and she was tired, she admitted sullenly to herself - Elsa was enjoying this. She was liking being bold, and when an idea popped into her head she added, “I should probably not ask what I was going to, then.”

“No, um, please feel free to ask, err, whatever, really…If you want…”

Bold indeed. Was this what confidence felt like? Elsa plowed ahead with it before it escaped her again. “It wouldn’t bother you to help me out of this dress, then?  The lacing on the back was a pain to do myself...”

“Noooooooooo that would not bother me just fine.  Yeah. For sure. Now? You mean?”

Elsa giggled.  “Yes, silly, I mean,” she teased, a yawn inserting itself in between, “now. Before I fall asleep with it on.” Whether it was her drinks before or the weird position of the hour hand on the clock hanging on the wall, this didn’t feel nearly as scary as it seemed like it should have.

Elsa stood, stretched, and offered a hand up to an Anna who took a moment to realize that hand was meant for her.  The blush had not yet faded from her cheeks when she took it, getting pulled to her feet.

Which left them again standing face to face, Elsa having tugged her right up close.  She wasn’t done enjoying this yet. While Anna hesitated, clearly lost for words, Elsa delved that much further into the mad freedom she was feeling right now.  Her hand settled on Anna’s back, squeezing out any remaining distance between them, and her chin fit itself over her shoulder.

“Cat’s got your tongue?”  She purred that into Anna’s ear, who downright whimpered back.  This was a rush that Elsa had never felt before. Her nerves were gone, fallen to the wayside.  She felt almost...powerful.

Chasing that, however, would have to be for another night.  Her eyes were drooping, and they would win out before much longer, no matter how desperately she wished them open.  There had just been too much of the night already gone by. She took a half step back from Anna and turned so that the lacing would be accessible.  “We’d better do this before I topple over. Mind giving me a hand?”

Anna sighed.  “You know that I’m confused as fuck right now, right?”  That didn’t stop her from working the laces loose, freeing Elsa from their constraint.  “I mean, I’m enjoying this, but I have no idea at all what we’re, well, doing? Like, I’m taking your dress off, and I think I’m following that by not jumping you.  And that’s kind of feeling weird.”  The dress was loose by now, but she stopped short of actually lifting it off, seemingly waiting on Elsa.

She made sense, too, in a way.  Elsa knew she was in over her head.  She wanted to be, right here and now.  But she knew that when she stopped to think she’d have a lot of questions, both for Anna and for herself, and without a lot of answers available for them quite yet.

“I know this isn’t a great answer, but I think I want to leave figuring that out to future Elsa.  Right now I just want to enjoy the moment, if you’re comfortable with that.” She started wiggling out of the dress then.  Anna took the cue and helped to lift it up and off, leaving Elsa wearing only her socks and underwear. “Getting into that tshirt and under some blankets is about as far ahead as I want to plan right now.  If you’re ok with that, this is your room after all.”

The hug was a surprise, Anna wrapping her arms around from behind and squeezing Elsa tightly and pressing her cheek against Elsa’s shoulder, her face tucking in against Elsa’s neck.  “If you want to stay, then I want you to stay. Here, you’ll want this.” She relaxed the hug to scoop up the shirt where she had dropped it, holding it out for Elsa to take it.”

“Thank you, Anna.  There’s just one thing…” Just one more tease, Elsa told herself.  Then she’d really be done.

“Hmm?”

“I don’t sleep in a bra...if you want to help me out of it, I...might enjoy that.”  Facing away helped hide her blushing as she said it.

“Fucking...tomorrow me is going to be asking a lot, you know that right?  Because I’m going to have a lot of things on my mind when we wake up, and not many of them are going to be ideas that get us out of bed.  Frickin’ tease…” Her grumbling did nothing at all to slow her down, though, grabbing the back clasp with one hand and pinching it together and apart.

Elsa didn’t expect how incredibly aware she was of the way Anna’s fingers felt brushing against her back when she did that.  The goosebumps that followed were...not unpleasant. She’d explore that more later, though. For now she mumbled, “Thank you”, keenly aware of how shy she sounded.  That Anna was watching when she slipped her bra off her shoulders and down her arms was new, too…

Slipping the shirt over her head felt secure again.  Maybe that had been pushing even her newfound courage too far.  

Or maybe, she thought through a yawn and stretch, she was too tired to figure any of this out right now and she shouldn’t bother trying.

Yeah, that sounded easier.

Turning around she found Anna still facing her.  Her mouth was hanging a bit open.

“You really should get out of that cape, it can’t be comfortable to sleep in.”

“Err, right, yeah, true.”  She started shedding her costume in a hurry, but paused halfway through unbuttoning the white button-up shirt she had on under the outer layer.  “Umm...should I wear a shirt too? I can, if you’re more comfortable with that.”

Somehow Elsa hadn’t realized that question would be coming, though it made perfect sense now that it had.  And...she didn’t know the answer. Figuring it out didn’t seem very likely right now either, so she went with the easy answer while her fingers were on autopilot letting down her hair.

“It’s your room.  Do what you want.”

The intensity in Anna’s look in response to that was more than she was prepared for.  “Do what I want...you really should be more careful with your phrasing, snowflake.”

It was Elsa’s turn to be short for words.  Anna took the opportunity to finish shedding her shirt, and socks, and the black, dressy slacks that were the last of her costume.  She then pointedly met Elsa’s sleep-narrowed eyes again before shedding her own bra, and asking teasingly, “Are you sure you want to let sleep win right now?”

“I want...things.  Umm...ahem. But I’m not getting much of a choice, we are - yawn -  way past my bedtime…all I’ve got left in me is cuddling.”

Anna mumbled something too quiet to hear, then more loudly said, “Then let’s get you to bed.  Here, come on.” She turned Elsa gently with a hand on her shoulder, shuffling her forward until she was near enough to tumble onto the sheets.

“This is comfy...thank you.”  If Elsa had ever been happier to find a pillow she could not recall when.

“You’re on top of the covers, dork.  Here…” With some gentle cajoling Anna nudged Elsa about until she managed to get the covers out from under her, freeing them to tuck them snugly up to Elsa’s chin.

“There you are, sleeping beauty.  I’ll get the light.” Elsa murmured her thanks, snuggling into the sheets.  They smelled like they were freshly out of the wash, but also…

Elsa blushed.  They also smelled like Anna.  And if she was being honest with herself that made her want to snuggle in deeper.  She was mid-blush when the lights went out. She could hear Anna’s footsteps across the room, followed by the thwump of her clearly dropping into the bean bag chair, and rustling that sounded like a blanket being settled into place.

Her heart sank, and before she even realized why she was already calling out, “You don’t have to sleep over there.  I...I want to cuddle.”

“Oh…” Anna’s exclamation was quiet, and followed by heartbeats of silence.  Then the cloth rustled again, and footsteps brought her to the other side of the bed.

When she slipped under the covers herself, squirming up until she was fit in against Elsa’s back and had an arm draped over Elsa’s side, she sighed, just as quietly as before.

She fit there.  She fit in a way that Elsa didn’t have the right words to express.  And despite her question, Anna’s tone seemed as comfortable as that fit when she asked, “What are we even doing here?”

Elsa gave the only answer that felt right.  “I don’t know...but I want to figure that out with you, if you want to also.”

Anna yawned, tucking her face into Elsa’s hair.  “I think I do. I don’t get why, but I do.”

She hugged softly, settling into place quietly for a minute before adding her parting comment before Elsa was lost to sleep.

“Tease.”