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A bit of soot

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"That's why we leave the kitchen to me in this house."

 

Anna picks at her bandages as the other woman sits beside her on the back of the ambulance. Tiana is the head of catering at Arendelle, Inc. and one of Elsa's few close friends. She's also the owner of the two-story cottage currently being doused with fire hoses in front of them.

 

"Waking you up with smoke and the fire alarm was not the surprise Blondie and I had in mind," Anna smiles apologetically. "We'll pay for everything, Tiana, I promise."

 

Tiana lets out a loud sigh, blowing on a loose curl that escaped her messy ponytail. "It could have been worse," she says, pointing with her chin at the charred side of the house. "We got insurance as soon as we signed the papers, and most of our sentimental stuff is still at Naveen's old place. It didn't get much further than the kitchen, anyway. I guess we'll just have to start renovations earlier than planned." She then points at Anna's injury. "If you're looking for punishment, I'd say you got enough of it already."

 

Anna looks at her left arm, covered in burn cream and loosely wrapped in a thin layer of gauze. It hurts like hell and the urge to scratch is almost unbearable, but considering she'd actually fainted from the pain, she deems it an improvement.

 

"What happened when I passed out? I was leaving the house with Elsa when I felt dizzy. I remember saying something like 'I'm not ok,' and next thing I know, I'm out here." That's a half-truth. Anna had brief glimpses of consciousness along the way; she remembers the smell of soot, a soothing male voice telling her to stay calm, and strong arms carrying her away from the heat and flames.

 

"Yeah, one of the firemen had to..." Tiana starts, but is interrupted by the arrival of her disheveled fiancé. "Oh, hey there, honey."

 

"What a night, huh?" Naveen laughs, visibly shaken, and pulls his hair off his face. He holds Tiana's shoulders and gives her a once-over before kissing her. "I thought your pajama party was supposed to be a house warming."

 

"It got a bit warmer than intended," Tiana says, raising an eyebrow at Anna. "How was your gig?"

 

"Pretty good," he nods. "They actually announced it to the whole house when you called. I barely had time to panic before they threw me in the car. Louis drove me here, don't worry." Then, noticing Anna's arm: "You got hurt?"

 

"Rapunzel and I were trying to bake," she explains.

 

"At two in the morning?"

 

"Notorious night owls, these two," adds Tiana. "They wanted to get a head start at breakfast. I heard something about a dishcloth?"

 

Anna sighs again. "A few too many dishcloths, and flour. Did you know flour is highly flammable? I only found out today."

 

"That's why you leave the kitchen to the kitchen expert," says Naveen.

 

"I told them so," says Tiana. "Now what the hell is Charlotte doing?"

 

Tiana's childhood friend, Charlotte, seems to have recovered remarkably fast from the experience of leaving a building on fire. She is standing by the gate, chatting up two of the firemen who've just come out of the house.

 

Tiana's new neighbors must be having one hell of a night, Anna thinks. First a fire breaks out, then the firefighters arrive blasting their sirens in record time, and now there's a bunch of women in their twenties parading in front of the house on their best sleepwear. In Charlotte's case, that means a frilly baby blue nightdress that barely covers her butt cheeks. In Anna's, it means a light-green adult onesie with tiny reindeer figures practicing various sports all over it. There's a matching reindeer hoodie, but she'd taken it off before the kitchen disaster began.

 

"Mama taught me you should always wear good underwear, even if you don't expect anyone to see it," Charlotte told them earlier in the night, when they all changed into their current garments. "You never know!"

 

Anna doesn't remember her mom ever giving her that advice. Her parents spent so much of her childhood and teenage years carrying Elsa from doctor to doctor that maybe it just never crossed their minds. Elsa probably wears good underwear - the many hospital stays must have trained her for it.

 

Of course, the firefighters currently seeing Anna in her reindeer onesie are all an absolute beefcake buffet.

 

Charlotte walks towards the ambulance with a smile on her face and a sprint in her step. "I hope you guys are free next Saturday - shut up, Tiana, I know you are - because we're having a picnic with the fire boys." She turns back and waves at the two men she'd been talking to. "You can come too, Naveen."

 

Tiana rolls her eyes. "I can't believe you."

 

"What? I just want to thank them for their service. By the way, Anna, darling..." When she leans closer to whisper in her ear, Anna accidentally sees down to her navel. The firemen must be very thankful, indeed. "You got yourself a fan."

 

"I did?"

 

"You did," she nods with a mischievous pout, eyes narrowed, and looks at the men near the gates again. They are both tall and wide-shouldered, with thin waists, long legs and muscular forearms. The one on the left is black, with a steel-cut jaw and a bright smile that stands out in the early hours of morning. The one on the right is white, with a mop of blonde hair and a prominent nose. (Anna can almost hear Charlotte's voice in her mind, saying "you know what they say about guys with big noses".) The blond steals a shy look at the group in the ambulance; his friend pushes his shoulder and laughs at him. "According to Idris Elba Jr. there, his buddy has a thing for redheads." Charlotte winks.

 

Tiana sighs, exasperated. "You said you were going to ask them about the house?"

 

"Oh, yes, that! It's fine." Charlotte's attention is already directed to her phone. She scrolls deftly through what must be her messenger app. "I mean, your kitchen furniture is mostly ashes now, but the house's not falling or anything, it just needs cleaning and a new layer of paint. Hang on, I have to..." She presses the bottom of the screen and starts talking loudly into the speaker. "Oh my God, I know, Ray, there was so much smoke..."

 

Anna turns to the couple as Charlotte steps away from them to finish her voice message. "I'm so sorry for what we did to your house, Naveen. I was just telling Tiana, we'll cover all your expenses. I'd help with the cleaning too, but..." She lifts her injured arm and winces as the movement pulls on the burned skin.

 

"Accidents happen, don't fret. What matters to me is that you girls are in one piece," he kisses Tiana's forehead, wrapping one arm around her shoulders. "Well, almost in one piece in your case, but you'll be fine. I once dropped a pan of scalding water on my foot, it took me about a month and a half to... What?" Naveen is cut short by a very agitated Charlotte, who's back at their side and pulling him and Tiana by the arm.

 

"Come on, quick, quick! Anna, stay right where you are," she hisses. "We have to get out of h—Oh, hey! Hello there."

 

Tiana and Naveen step aside; the blonde fireman is standing right behind them. "Hey, uh, good morning," he waves, then points into the ambulance to indicate where he intends to go. His voice makes Anna's heart beat faster.

 

Charlotte pulls Tiana and Naveen away from the vehicle. "Hey, so... we were going to..." She looks back. Elsa and Rapunzel have finished reporting to the first responders and are now approaching their group. "To check on Elsa and Blondie, right? Make sure everything's fine with them. Anna, dear, please stay there, you're injured, shouldn't be moving at all. We'll be right back!" And with that the three of them vanish, intercepting the other two girls on the way and leaving Anna alone in the ambulance with the man who saved her life.

 

She looks at him, unsure of what to do or say. He seems to feel the same way, so they just smile and wave awkwardly at each other. He then steps into the ambulance and starts rummaging around.

 

"It was you, wasn't it?" Anna can't hold back anymore. "Who saved me."

 

Even under the soot on his face, it's clear that he's blushing. He smiles, cleaning his hands on a rag. "Just doing my job."

 

Anna pulls a strand of hair that escaped her braid off her face. "It's a very important job," she says. "You should be proud."

 

"Hm-rhm," he nods, no longer focused on her. He has found what he was looking for, a pen, and is now scribbling on a clipboard, doing his job.

 

She turns her attention to the fraying strings of thread on the left sleeve of her onesie, where the nurse had to cut it off at the elbow to treat her arm. Her conversation with her savior is on its dying breaths, but Anna can't think of anything else to say at all. Back before Hans and their train wreck of a relationship, she used to know how to flirt. Now it's like she's turned back into a bumbling 13-year-old. "Well, thank you," she concludes, a mercy killing for their interaction. Right as the words leave her mouth, however, he crouches next to her with a ripped piece of paper in his hands.

 

"So, uh. Anna, right?" He cleans his throat. "I just... I'm pretty sure this is a big no-no, because, like I said, my job and all that. But I..." He runs a hand on his hair, notices with disgust that it comes back covered in soot and cleans it on the side of his pants. "Sorry. Here."

 

He hands her the piece of paper smudged with grey fingerprints. In it there's a cellphone number, the name Kristoff Bjorgman and the username @k.bjorgman.

 

"You don't have to if you don't want, of course, but..." Kristoff sits beside her on the edge of the ambulance. "If you don't mind, I'd like to know how you're doing. With the arm, and... stuff." He points at the username. "That's my Instagram, if you want to make sure I'm not a creep first. It's mostly my dog Sven, so I hope you like dogs," he laughs.

 

"What breed?"

 

"Samoyed."

 

"My favorite," she tells him, cheeks burning. They are both smiling and blushing furiously, and Anna forgot how to breathe. "Hey, uh, will you... be there on Saturday?"

 

"Yeah, I mean, I'd love to. Will you go?"

 

"I kinda have to study for finals, but if you go, I'll go." Look at that, she still knows how to flirt.

 

He grins. "I kinda have to work on Saturday, but if you go, I'll go."

 

"Won't you get in trouble?"

 

"Nah, I'll just trade shifts with someone." One of the more senior firefighters (a true DILF, Charlotte would say) calls Kristoff to join their group. His friend Idris Elba Jr. is holding his giggles. "Well, I guess it's time to go." He jumps up, cleaning his hands on the back of his pants again, but the soot just moves from his uniform back onto his skin. "Ugh, I really need a shower."

 

"We all do," Anna chuckles. "See you on Saturday, then."

 

Kristoff takes a deep breath, looks back at his colleagues briefly, and plants a quick peck on Anna's left cheek. The other firemen whistle and hoot as he steps back, grinning from ear to ear.

 

"Take care of that arm," he says, winking at her before turning away.

 

Anna touches her cheek as she watches him leave, her skin tingling from the faint touch of his lips. She looks at her fingertips, then, and isn't sure if the black stains had already been there or if they were an unwitting byproduct of his kiss.

 

But that's ok, she decides. She can get used to a bit of soot.