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Switching Places

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Chapter 16: Kingdom of Isolation

Elsa paced the floor of her ice palace, her footfalls echoing through the cavernous crystalline halls, the emptiness pressing down on her like an avalanche. Dried tears marked her cheeks as she gazed up the azure staircase, remembering how her sister had pursued her up those stairs just a couple of years ago.

She sat down at the very top of the cold steps, her head bowed against her folded arms. How could I have been so stupid? How could I have lost control like that? What must she think of me?

Outside, the chill wind howled against the walls, whistling across the bridge that connected the mountain to the rest of the land. The sun was already high in the sky, the day half over. She wondered where Marshmallow and Olaf were, then realized she was only listening for one person.

She had no idea how long she sat there, unmoving, just waiting, until the heavy ice doors creaked open.

Soft footsteps echoed on the icy floor, walking towards her. Elsa kept her head down, unable to lift it, trying to hide the tears pooling in her eyes once again.

Then the voice she was simultaneously aching and dreading to hear cut through the silence of the icy chamber.

“Elsa? We need to talk.”

Earlier that day

Anna tied ribbons in her twin plaits as she finished getting ready for the day. Elsa had been back for just over a day and a half, and it was time for the Queen to resume her normal duties, open court being the most pressing. Anna had absolutely no desire to keep the mantle of the Crown, a fact she happily reminded Elsa of that morning as they woke up together.

The day had already started oddly; she woke that morning to find Elsa gently cupping her cheek and whispering her name, but she was still asleep. I guess she really missed me if she was dreaming about me, the redhead thought. Once she’d woken, Elsa pulled her hand back as though she’d touched a hot coal, then practically fell out of bed. When Anna pressed her for what was wrong, Elsa had turned beet red before making some unintelligible excuse.

Maybe Elsa will feel better after some breakfast, she thought. Finishing up her outfit for the day, she left her chambers, skipping down the hall to the royal dining room, her heart light. Even with Elsa’s odd behavior, Anna had slept the best she’d slept in days. Having Elsa next to her made everything all right.

Elsa’s cheeks pinked again as Anna waltzed into the dining room, her nose high in the air as she followed the scents of bacon and eggs. For her part, Elsa was just glad to be eating her normal food again; much as she loved 2022, there were still some comforts that only home could provide.

Unbidden, her traitorous heart reminded her that the Anna she could romantically love was not one of those comforts. As though to twist the knife further, her mind echoed an even more perverse whisper: not yet, anyway.

“Hey sis,” Anna chirped brightly. “How did you sleep last night?”

“W-well, thank you,” Elsa demurred.

“Me too! It was so nice waking up next to you.” She missed seeing Elsa practically choke on her cup of coffee, but saw the coughing fit afterwards. “Are you okay?”

“F-fine, thank you, drank just a bit… of coffee the, um, the wrong way.”

At that moment, Gerda came out carrying a covered serving dish, placing it in front of Anna. She looked up, arching an eyebrow and catching Gerda’s small smile and eyes directed at Elsa. “What… what’s this?”

Elsa grinned. “Take a look. Something I… Thank you Gerda, you may go,” she said softly, watching the servant depart the room before continuing. “Something I brought back from my travels, you know?” she leaned over the table, voice barely above a whisper.

Anna lifted the cover to find what looked like a sandwich, but instead of the traditional meats or fish, she saw it contained scrambled eggs, bacon, and cheese. “Elsa, what… what is this magic?”

“It’s something called a breakfast sandwich! It’s breakfast food… but in the form of a sandwich.” She clapped her hands together in anticipation of Anna’s reaction…

… and the sound Anna made as she bit into the crisp, buttery toast made Elsa choke.

She’d heard that moan before.

She knew that moan, intimately.

She’d caused that moan in the other Anna.

Elsa squirmed in her chair as her body reacted even faster to Anna’s gustatory delight. She could feel her arousal growing as she fidgeted, her ears and cheeks burning, as she tried to hide her reaction.

“Elsa! This is amaaaaaaazing!” Anna crowed, taking another gigantic bite and rewarding her with the same intense reaction.

“I… I’m glad you like it, Anna,” Elsa blushed. She turned her head and folded her arms around herself, unable to watch Anna more at the moment, lest her recently awakened libido get the best of her.

“Sure you don’t want any?” Anna asked, offering the last few morsels of the sandwich. Elsa shook her head, making the mistake of looking at her sister as Anna finished the last bite, then licked her fingers.

Something broke free inside Elsa. Watching her sister lick her fingers brought back memories of the other Anna making love to her, and desire surged in Elsa like a volcanic eruption. She subconsciously began salivating, her hands clammy, her whole body shaking. She stood from her chair and surged forward, capturing Anna’s jaw in her hand, then leaned down and kissed her full on the lips, swiping her tongue across Anna’s lower lip.

Anna was dumbstruck. What was happening? One moment her sister had the most amazing sandwich she’d ever tasted in her life prepared for her, and the next moment her sister was kissing her as though they were lovers. Even Kristoff had never been so forward with her. Confused and unnerved, she stood from her own chair and shoved Elsa by the shoulders away from her, sending the woman flying across the room and skidding into the wall.

Elsa sat up against the dining room wall. Her eyes were wide as she shook uncontrollably, frost beginning to appear on the floor around her body. “Anna, I-” she gasped, struggling to breathe. The impact had knocked the wind out of her. She clawed for purchase against the wall, slowly pulling herself to her feet as she felt like an avalanche had fallen on her.

Anna had rejected her. Not only rejected her, but rejected her violently. She felt as though someone had reached into her chest and squeezed her heart until it crumbled into shards of broken glass. Tears pooled in her eyes as time slowly restarted; she could see Anna slowly approaching her.

Before she could subject herself to further rejection, further hurt, she turned and fled the dining room, the guards surprised to see the Queen running at full tilt down the hallway.

“Elsa! Oh my god, I’m so sorry! I didn’t mean to push you that hard!” Anna shouted from behind her, running as fast as she could but losing ground. They both cleared the great doors at the front of the palace, but Elsa was faster and was already running across the fjord, ice forming beneath her feet.

Anna stood at the shoreline, watching her sister run as she cursed herself. Stupid. That was so stupid, I should have just asked her to stop. She noted the direction her sister was running and a wan smile crossed her face. At least I know where she’s going this time, she thought.

“Elsa? We need to talk,” Anna’s voice echoed in the cavernous main hall of the ice palace as she closed the massive doors behind her. She looked around tentatively; the last time she’d tried to visit here unannounced, the giant snow golem that they now called Marshmallow was patrolling.

Marshmallow didn’t seem to be around, so Anna took a few steps inside, looking around. Elsa had repaired the place after the incident with Weselton’s thugs and Hans, and it once again looked brand new. Her eyes traced the dual sets of circular stairs, following them up the hallway, and at the very top she could barely make out the silhouette of her sister.

Anna began to climb the stairs slowly, each step echoing like a hammer striking an anvil. As she ascended, soft snuffling sounds reached her ears; Elsa must be crying, she thought. When she reached the last flight of stairs, she made out Elsa’s form, her face still buried in her arms, resting on her knees as she sat on the top stair.

“Elsa… I’m sorry. I really am. I didn’t mean to shove you that hard. I don’t know what came over me,” she tendered, receiving no response in return. She reached out a hand as if to comfort her sister, but hesitated.

“It’s… my fault, Anna,” Elsa’s muffled voice replied before she lifted her head. “I shouldn’t have done that. It’s not… it’s… I shouldn’t have kissed you like that.” Her sorrow was palpable, her voice raspy and thick.

Anna sat down next to her on the landing. “I… I’m not mad at you, Elsa. I was surprised. Shocked.” She finished reaching out and gently laid her hand on her sister’s shoulder, receiving a hitched breath in return. “I mean… no one has ever kissed me like that. Not even Kristoff, and certainly not Hans, and I was just, I mean, it was so exciting but scary and confusing, and…”

“I scared you?” Elsa mumbled.

“A… a little, yes. I wasn’t sure what was happening, why you did that. That’s why I reacted like I did. But I’m sorry, I overreacted a lot. Did… did I hurt you?”

Elsa shook her head. “Just… my pride, I suppose.”

Long, heavy silence filled the air for some time before Anna swallowed loudly, wrung her hands together, and worked up the courage to ask the question that was on her mind the whole time, the question she asked herself, the wind, and the sky on the long walk up the North Mountain.

“Elsa… why DID you kiss me like that?”

“I… Anna, I’m so sorry. It will never happen again, I promise,” she rushed to answer, her eyes glancing back and forth between Anna’s to discern her reactions.

“It’s not… I’m not upset at you, Elsa. I just want to know why… why that happened. We’ve never… never done anything like that. I mean, maybe we did as little kids before we knew differently, but… I didn’t think you felt that way about anyone, or…” she began to mumble.

Elsa nudged her shoulder. “Or what, Anna?”

Anna’s cheeks turned red as her voice dropped low. “Or even knew how to do that. I mean, I’m not trying to be insulting or anything. I’ve just… never seen you be intimate in any fashion with anyone. You won’t even let Sven lick you.”

“I don’t know why you DO let Sven lick you,” her sister snarked before looking down at her hands, clasping and unclasping them. “I… I haven’t been as fully forthcoming as I should have been, Anna, and I’m sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

Elsa swallowed, summoning her courage as she took a deep breath. “In the future. I told you about the other you, the future you, but I… I omitted some important things because I wasn’t ready to share them. Obviously… I need to tell you what happened, I need to explain myself so that you understand why… why I did that.”

Anna took her sister’s hands in her own, stilling them. “It’s okay, Elsa. Whatever it is, you can tell me. I promise it won’t change anything. You’re… you’re not going to lose me.”

“You can’t promise that,” she replied sharply, losing herself into Anna’s eyes.

“I can, Elsa. I can, and I will.” She rubbed her palms over Elsa’s knuckles, warming the cool alabaster skin.

Elsa stood up, offering her hand to Anna, as she guided them both into the upper room off the top of the stairs. With a wave of her hand, she conjured a couch and sat down on it, the icy fabric and snow stuffing making for a comfortable seat.

“All right. The… the Anna of the future, I told you she was married to the me of the future.” Watching her sister nodding, she continued. “What I didn’t tell you was… how do I say this… I might have developed some feelings for her too.”

Anna tilted her head. “Developed some… you mean, like romantically?”

“Romantically and… other feelings,” Elsa muttered, her cheeks ablaze.

“Other…?” Anna whispered.

“Yes… yes, other. Anna, I’m so sorry, I never meant for any of this to happen, but… it was all just so sudden. When I arrived there, on the very next day, you - the other Anna - kissed me. And I mean kissed me romantically and… and sexually, almost.”

“Oh my goodness, really? What- why- how did you react?”

Elsa hung her head. “I… I really liked it. But Anna, that’s…” Her words lodged in her throat as surely as if they’d been a stampede of people fleeing for the only exit. She coughed. “That’s not all of it. I… we…”

Anna waited patiently, watching her sister struggle to get the words out. Whatever had happened in the future must have profoundly affected her. Perhaps Elsa had the same shocked reaction to the future Anna that she had when Elsa kissed her. A memory tickled at her mind, and she recalled that the future Elsa had kissed her in the dungeon - and she’d reacted exactly the same way. Before she could say anything, Elsa continued, voice barely above a whisper.

“We were… intimate.”

“I… um, I think I misheard, Elsa. Did you say… you and… the future me, did you say you were intimate?”

Elsa nodded, her shoulders hunched over, anticipating Anna’s reaction.

“Like… how intimate? What do you mean by intimate? Like sleepover intimate? Sharing a toothbrush intimate?”

“Intimate, Anna. E-everything. We were intimate in all the ways that two women could be,” she murmured, wishing she could curl up in a ball and never have this conversation with her own sister. At seeing the confused expression on her sister’s face, Elsa rolled her eyes in frustration. “Sexually intimate, Anna. We were… we were sexually intimate.”

Anna’s jaw dropped, and for a few long moments, she resembled a goldfish. Her mouth opened and closed soundlessly.

“Anna… Anna. Please, say something.”

“You… were intimate with future me? Like… I don’t even understand how that would work, Elsa. You don’t have… you know, boy parts,” she said with flailing hand gestures, a confusing melange of mental images running through her mind. Physical intimacy in general was something of a mystery to her, the Royal tutors covering the dry, clinical basics, and her experiences with Hans and Kristoff were limited to some hand holding and kissing, but not much else.

“Do you really want to know, Anna?”

Anna struggled with her response. On the one hand, she and Elsa shared everything. Years of being separated made her desperate to include Elsa in every part of her life and vice versa.

On the other hand… the idea of being romantically or sexually involved with another woman was a brand new idea to her. All of Scandinavia was fairly religious; even though Arendelle was more progressive than its neighbors, one woman loving another intimately was rare. A few couples existed like that; they’d petitioned the Crown for marriage, and Elsa had agreed, despite the reservations of some of the bishops. Elsa was the head of the Church of Arendelle among her many other titles, so what she said was irrefutable law - but there was still substantial social stigma to anything except traditional marriage and relations.

Finally, she mutely nodded.

Elsa reached out her hands and began to cast memory after memory in snow, shapes taking form and illustrating in startling precision what Elsa and the future Anna had shared together, as her sister’s eyes grew wider and wider.

“I… had no idea,” Anna swallowed loudly, her mind blown by the different ways two people could be intimate with each other. “There’s, uh, nothing in the Royal Library that explains things so… clearly.”

“Do you see now why I found myself developing feelings for her? The things I shared with her… I always thought that… well, you know this. Because of my powers, I thought I’d never be… intimate… like that with anyone. But…” Elsa sighed, her eyes gazing far off in the distance as she recalled her week in the future: waking up in Anna’s arms, sharing meals, fighting the bad guys together.

“But you did… with her. And you… you kissed me because…?”

“Because I loved her and you remind me of her so much. And like I said, I’m so sorry, Anna. It won’t happen again, I promise.”

Elsa relaxed her shoulders and leaned back against the couch, propping her legs up. It was a profound relief for her to finally get all the secrets out in the open, to confess to her sister all that had happened while she was hopping between worlds. Best of all, her sister hadn’t yet run away screaming or been outraged or disgusted by her. She felt as though she could fully breathe again.

Anna gently patted Elsa’s ankle with her hand. “Hey, I understand falling hard and fast. I was going to marry Hans after literally just minutes.”

Elsa swatted Anna playfully on the arm. “Don’t remind me. I still can’t believe that.”

“But yeah, I can understand that.” She paused for a moment, a frown crossing her face. “I… I suppose if I had given that other Elsa a chance, maybe we could have gotten to know each other, too. Or at least, I could have understood from her perspective what she thought of the other me,” she murmured, her face falling.

“I’m honestly not sure, Anna. She and the other Anna… they have some work to do on their relationship. Quite a lot of it, actually. They’re not like we are, not as close as we are.”

“Are you saying… what are you saying, Elsa?”

“We’ve had each other all our lives, even when… you know, I was locked away. We still talked every day, passed notes under the door, made gifts for each other. They didn’t have that because they didn’t grow up together. We’ve been through the worst of times together in one way or another, and they haven’t.”

Elsa looked out the window of the Ice Palace, her thoughts momentarily drifting to the past, two years prior when she’d created the place in the belief she could hide from her troubles her magic begot. Instead, Anna had been the one to save her in so many ways, from coming to see her to literally giving her life by stopping Hans. The Anna of the future she’d fallen for had certainly put her life on the line many times, but it was only when Elsa had revealed her powers that the future Anna had included her in their life or death situations. The future Elsa was still in the dark about what that Anna even did for work, and those secrets were slowly withering their relationship instead of strengthening it.

Anna cleared her throat. “So, um… I guess we’re good? I mean, I’m good if you’re good. Are you good? And I mean, you don’t have to be good, Elsa. Just because I’m good, I don’t want you to have to feel like you have to pretend to be-”

Elsa put a finger against Anna’s lips, suppressing the rush of adrenaline and flicker of heat the gesture triggered in her own body. “I’ll be fine, Anna. Are you?”

“I… I still feel guilty for what I did to that Elsa. Especially since…” Anna took a deep breath, rubbing her palms on her knees, “Your first instinct with another version of me was to fall in love with her, to be kind to her. What does that say about me that I locked another version of you up and rejected her in every way? What kind of sister am I if I couldn’t see you in her?”

“You’re too hard on yourself, Anna. You were frightened and in pain. I don’t fault you at all for how you reacted. If our roles had been reversed, I’m not sure I would have done any better than you. For all we know, I might have frozen an imposter Anna solid on the spot.”

Anna swallowed hard and nodded. “Do… do you love me like… like that, Elsa? Like the other Anna?”

It was Elsa’s turn to be uncomfortable answering, and she honestly didn’t know how she felt just yet. Did she love Anna because she was Anna, or did she love each one differently? “I honestly don’t know, Anna. It’s all still a jumble in my head. I do know I love you and I’m happy to be back here, with you. That’s the one thing I’m sure of.”

“And I love you too, Elsa. I missed you so much when you were gone.” She took a deep breath and stood up. “Now come on, let’s get out of here and head back to the palace.”

“You’re too good to me, Anna.” Elsa took Anna’s hand, pulling her to her feet and to the icy balcony doors, which she slammed open with a wave of her hand. “Want to see something else I learned in the future?”

Anna nodded gleefully, glad the tension of the conversation had melted away. She had a lot of thinking to do, but she knew this wasn’t the time or place to do it. “I hope it’s another sandwich!”

“It’s not quite a sandwich, but I saw… some imaginative uses of frost and ice powers in their literature and media. Let’s see if this works. Hold on tight to me, okay?” She lifted her hands up, weaving them in a circular fashion, and formed giant wings of ice on her back as though she were an angel. With another hand motion, a jet of wind and ice propelled the two into the sky like a great eagle, soaring from the North Mountain back to the palace. Despite the wind rushing past her ears, Elsa could hear and feel Anna’s delighted laughter, and decided that of all the things she loved about being home, that was one of the best.

Author’s Notes

Though it would seem like a logical thing, breakfast sandwiches weren’t invented (or at least commercialized) until the 1970s.

The other thing that occurred to me as I was writing Storm of Spirits was that while Elsa and Anna were physically separated for 13 years, there was no way they didn’t communicate with each other frequently. Olaf’s Frozen Adventure showed that they certainly had no trouble passing gifts to each other so in my headcanon, they may have been physically apart but emotionally together. The same would hold true for Elsa’s ability to be Queen - royal tutors would likely have communicated through the door, sending in schoolwork, etc. when things like meals were delivered. Otherwise she would never have gotten the education needed to be an effective monarch, and it was obviously intended for her to succeed Agnarr.

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