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Business and Pleasure (REUPLOAD)

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Chapter One

Elsa Andersen: The Ultimate Opportunist

The year is 2012: soon-to-be graduates of North Mountain University clutch their diplomas in their hands and excitedly throw their caps in the air. They let out cries of relief as their four-year odyssey comes to an end. They will all leave the stadium with some degree of certainty in their future. Except for Elsa Andersen, who already knows what's next.

In her freshmen year, she acquired an internship at ArenCorp. Then just a simple sales department for a different company, and now a global powerhouse with investments and businesses in multiple industries. The next year she would be promoted to a supervisor position, and in her junior year, she would be promoted once more to a regional management position. Now with a Bachelor's in Business Administration, she sets her sights higher.

At the age of 22 years old, Elsa Andersen is one of the youngest CEO's in history to run such a massive company. So how did she do it? By becoming an opportunist, the ultimate opportunist.

In a recent interview, Ms. Andersen credits her success towards taking every opportunity presented to her. Her coworkers, now subordinates, have stated that she never hesitated to take on any task assigned to her and completed them like a woman on a mission. "When the higher positions were up for grabs, I remember she was always the first in line to apply. Sometimes she didn't even need to apply, sometimes she was already recommended for the job.", says Regional Manager, Clayton Brian.

An employee like Elsa Andersen, who has been with the corporation for less than five years, would never even be considered for these positions so soon. But it's no secret that without her efforts, ArenCorp wouldn't be in the position they are in now. Her negotiation skills are legendary, securing client after client for the corporation; she has overseen the creation and expansion of numerous businesses under the ArenCorp banner; and it was Ms. Andersen who convinced the Board of Directors to take a risk and branch out into industries such as fashion, construction, and technology. With her laundry list of successes, the question changes from why she should be the CEO, to why not?

While the announcement has only been made recently, Elsa Andersen has been in talks with the ArenCorp Board of Directors about the promotion for a month now. All eyes are on her to see what she does next. Will she fall for the same traps and setbacks of the leaders before her? Will she follow in the giant footsteps of ArenCorp's previous CEO? Or will she blaze her own path and add more ink to her already impressive mark on history? Only time will tell, but the future seems bright for Ms. Andersen and her company.

Elsa closed the magazine and set it back down on her desk. The article read like the countless other ones about her promotion; this one at least seemed less biased than the others. She never wanted to make an announcement, they were tacky and stalled work too much for her liking.

But the Board of Directors insisted it would give the company a good PR boost, and apparently you can't have too much good PR.

The phone ringing interrupted her thoughts, she pressed the button on the receiver. "Yes, Hannah, what is it?"

"Ms. Andersen, your 11:30 appointments are here", her assistant responded.

"Great, send them in." Elsa de-pressed the button and stood up, hands folded behind her sky blue blazer.

She looked out the large, oversized window behind her desk which took up the entire back wall. Downtown was bustling as usual, and even this high up she could spot some familiar faces enjoying their lunch break at one of the city's countless restaurants.

Arendelle, this city, it was a part of her, and she was a part of it.

There was a sharp knock on her gold-lined mahogany door before it opened, four men and women in varying colored suits filed in. Her own personal council, each member had served the CEO before her.

"What do you have for me?" Elsa asked without turning around.

A man in a black suit spoke first, "The technology wing is requesting funds to fix a small hardware issue before we roll out our new phone line in the fall."

Elsa shook her head, "Small is a relative term, I want more information before I sign off on anything. Now what else?"

A woman in a forest green pantsuit spoke next, "There's a worker down in the sales floor who has missed his quota three times now-"

"And you haven't fired him yet?" Elsa interrupted, this wasn't the first time she'd heard such a story.

"Well, I…we didn't want to make a move like that due to the announcement of your promotion." The creeping fear in the woman's voice didn't escape Elsa's ears.

"Fire him. What's next?"

Was Elsa ruthless? None of her workers would ever say it loud but yes. She had a reputation for being so, but if upholding strict policies kept her company on top, then so be it. She didn't even know the man she was firing, what his situation was or if he had a family. But underachievers had no business being here in her eyes.

She would find someone to replace him within the hour anyway.

"Our restaurants are due for their quarterly health inspections, and we need you to sign off on the inspectors", said a woman in a white pantsuit.

"Understood, have the papers on my desk before 1." Elsa checked her phone, it was 11:50, she'd need to wrap this up soon. "Are there any other reports or are we done here?"

No one else spoke up and, hiding her relief, she waved them off, "Then you're all dismissed." She made a mental note to have these meetings bi-quarterly. It promoted uniformity and made sure these men and women were continuing to do their job.

Once they all left she called her secretary again, "Hannah, the opening is at 12:30 right?"

"Oh, you're…you're not too busy to go?"

"I have nothing else till 2. You should know my schedule, it's what I pay you for."

"Of course I know what your schedule is, I just assumed that-"

"Pull the car around, I'll be down in a few minutes." Elsa ended the call and straightened out her jet black skirt before walking out her door.

Her office was the entirety of the top floor of ArenCorp. Despite the obnoxious amount of free space, she appreciated the amenities. She even had certain other necessities brought up here like a refrigerator and a bed in case she needed to work overtime.

Sometimes she thought about living here, there was no one waiting at her apartment anyway.

She occupied the rest of her office with a sleek mahogany desk, a bookcase with dusty journals, classic literature and mementos from past business trips, and a large, fake bamboo plant. It was a bit lacking sure, but Elsa would choose practicality over flashiness any day.

Her assistant had a third of the floor, and she didn't hesitate to fill the space to her liking. There were paintings, colorful pieces of furniture, and exotic plants covering every square inch of the space.

Hannah was an attractive 20-year-old Communications major at North Mountain. She had short, brunette hair and a penchant for always dressing a little bit on the unprofessional side. She was sitting at her modernist glass desk and typing on her expensive, white computer with golden accents.

The internship paid well.

"Is the car out front?" Elsa asked.

Hannah nodded, "I just called your driver, he said he'll be there as soon as you get out of the elevator." She broke eye contact with Elsa and started to fidget with her phone. "By the way, are you going to need me tonight or not?"

"I don't know for sure yet, but chances are good. It's going to be a long day." Elsa strode towards the elevator before her assistant could reply.

No matter how high Elsa rose in the company, she would always pay a personal visit to any new ArenCorp establishment. The tradition started when she helped to oversee the grand opening of a laundromat, and she's stuck by it ever since.

Elsa didn't know why she did it, maybe because it kept her grounded and reminded her of where she started and where she is now. Nonetheless, she was on the way to the newest establishment now.

Parked right at the front door was her unassuming black sedan that she ironically dubbed her "chariot". Marshall, her driver and bodyguard, opened the door for her to get in.

It may not seem like it, but this bakery marked an important new milestone in the company's future. Their culinary branch primarily dealt with fine dining restaurants and catering, this bakery was their first foray into more casual eateries. If it was successful, it would help them gain a foothold in an entirely new market. Sure, there were a plethora of fast food chains around but nothing could ever beat the feel of a local business, and Elsa loved supporting local businesses.

"We've arrived at the bakery, ma'am," her driver said with a well-practiced straight face. Elsa hadn't seen him smile once since she hired him a year ago, then again Elsa wasn't one to smile all the time either.

"Thank you, Marshall.", she replied with her own straight face incomparable to his. "Keep the car running, I shouldn't take too long."

She was immediately assaulted by blinding light when she opened the door. She thought it was from the sun beaming down at her from its highest point of the day, but then she realized the lights were scattered and flashing.

The paparazzi must have brains behind those cameras, they knew she'd be at this opening too.

She took a second to get her eyes used to the lights before straightening herself up and marching right inside, completely unfazed by all the walking, talking cameras asking her to "Look over here." or to "Show them the moneymaker." Whatever that meant.

Even though she wasn't able to get a good look at the outside, she could get a fairly uninterrupted look at the inside, and it was…homely.

The murals on the wall filled the bakery with splashes of white, blue, and gold. It clashed with the traditional Arendelle colors of purple and green. Colored lights and origami birds hung from the ceiling to complete the eyesore of a color scheme.

To the left were display racks half-filled with bread and other baked goods, to the left were display cases with cakes and muffins. There was nowhere to sit.

A sharp yelp interrupted Elsa's intake of the bakery. She turned to see a woman in an apron, with blonde hair a bit darker than hers, staring at her with hands clasped over her mouth like she'd seen a ghost. Elsa looked behind her to see if there was anyone there but no, it was just her and this petrified blonde standing behind a cash register.

Elsa cleared her throat, "Are you...okay?"

The blonde's eyes went wider than they already were and she shook herself out of her stricken daze, her long, blonde hair swayed as she did so. "I-I'm sorry it's just that…I didn't…it's really you!", she exclaimed.

"Yes, it's…me," Elsa said cautiously. "And who do you think I am?"

"You're Elsa Andersen, right? The CEO of ArenCorp? Oh my gosh, I read about how you always show up to grand openings, but…I can't believe you're actually here!" The bubbly blonde bounced on her toes with each syllable.

She nodded politely, maintaining her poise to encourage her employee to do so as well. "Well this is an ArenCorp establishment, of course I would be here."

"Well yeah, I knew that but…" Finally, the blonde started to calm down and stopped bouncing on her toes. "I'm sorry I'm so excited it's just…it's not every day you meet a celebrity you know? Especially not a celebrity who's responsible for paying my salary."

Elsa forced out a small, reassuring smile, "ArenCorp may be my company, but your paychecks come from our payroll department. And I'm not a celebrity, I never wanted to be."

"Maybe you don't think you're a celebrity, but right now you're blowing up the Internet. I mean you're young, attractive, and blonde so of course you are. Wait shoot that sounds like I'm hitting on you!" The blonde looked panicked beyond relief. "I'm not-I'm into guys so that's- I mean you don't have to- do you wanna meet my partner?"

This seemed oddly familiar. Elsa blinked that thought away and looked at... "I'm sorry, I don't think I caught your name yet."

"Wha- oh! My name's Rapunzel! And this is the Warm Hearts Bakery!'

"Well, then it's nice to meet you, Rapunzel." Elsa nodded her head and continued to steer the conversation away from this woman's awkward attempt at flirting with her. "You said something a partner?"

Rapunzel blinked as if she was trying to register what she said. "...right! Yes! My partner! I'll go get her."

She disappeared into the back of the bakery. Elsa heard what sounded like arguing, something dropping and rattling on the floor, and finally feet shuffling back towards the front.

When Rapunzel returned, she had her back turned towards Elsa. She had her arms wrapped around another woman's waist, grunting with each step towards the front counter. It was an odd sight.

The other woman, though...there was something about her. The red pigtails, the way she flailed and struggled to extend her arms back towards the kitchen, seemed familiar as well.

"Anna, stop being such a stinker and pick up your feet!" Rapunzel said, grunting with every step forward.


Anna? No…it couldn't be.

But it was. Damn it.

Standing barely four feet in front of her, with just a counter separating them, was a redheaded woman with the most memorable emerald-colored eyes and perfectly placed freckles.

Not even the insane amount of flour on her face could hide the fact that this was Anna, her Anna.

No...not her Anna, not anymore.

"Sorry about all that. Anyway, this is my partner-in-crime, Anna Dawson. Anna, say hi! Don't just look at her like she's a zombie."

The other person in the room continued to talk and try to coax Anna into saying something to no avail.

Anna showed her emotions clear as day, but Elsa did her best to keep her face neutral while her heart and head pounded relentlessly. It kept screaming at her to get the hell out of there.

Elsa found enough resolve to speak without losing herself to the thoughts raging inside her mind, "I…hate to interrupt you Rapunzel, but I should really get going. It was nice meeting you."

Rapunzel was failing to shake Anna around to get her talking. She interrupted her attempt to acknowledge Elsa's goodbye. "Oh no need for apologies, I wouldn't want to keep you from your duties anyway. Thank you for stopping by our bakery, Ms. Andersen, it was so nice getting to talk to you."

Elsa nodded and walked out as fast as she could, leaving Rapunzel and…Anna to themselves. When she escaped to the outside, it took all her strength to not chase away the paparazzi.

She got into the car, and told Marshall to take her back; she had seen enough of this place for a lifetime.

Chapter Text

Chapter Two

Anna Dawson had her whole first day planned out: wake up super early, eat breakfast, brush her teeth, shower, ride with Rapunzel to Warm Hearts Bakery, prepare all the ingredients for that day, prebake some stuff to fill up the shelves, open the door to a sea of customers, make a bunch of connections with wealthy business people and stuff, get a baking show on TV, become famous, buy a house for her mom, and finally get herself a car (with an optional chauffeur).

Okay so maybe that wouldn't happen on her first day, but she was ambitious. And she was organized enough to have a plan; and nowhere in that plan did she make any room for reuniting with her ex-girlfriend.

Anna regrets not keeping up with current events. If she did, she would know that Elsa ran ArenCorp and would show up to her bakery. But if she had known that, then…then she still wouldn't have known what to do.

What could you do in that situation? How were you supposed to react? Apparently, her answer was to freeze up and convince herself that she was dreaming. Or having a nightmare. Or...both?

It took massive amounts of shaking and shouting from Rapunzel to pull Anna out of her trance once Elsa had left. And throughout the rest of the day, she could never feel like herself.

She was sluggish and careless in the back of the bakery, orders had to keep being redone and she spilled way too much flour. Somehow, they both made it to closing time; even if their numbers weren't so good, they were decent enough to celebrate their first day.

Rapunzel wanted to go out for drinks to "celebrate a job well done", but Anna knew that was code for "I'm going to use margaritas to get you to tell me what's going on". Anna didn't object, it would keep her from being alone with her thoughts.

But what Rapunzel forgot to mention was that they were going to a nightclub, not a bar. Not just any nightclub either, but one of the premier nightclubs in Arendelle: The Dark Room. Once an Irish bar, it was bought by two thirty-year-old entrepreneurs who flipped the whole place upside down. They renovated it, painted the building black (which ironically made it hard to spot at night) and fitted it with purple lighting to mimic UV rays. It was standing room only minus the bar stools and leather couches backed up against the walls, which Anna never wanted to sit on ever.

Thankfully they were able to navigate their way to a pair of bar stools, dodging the handsy pit of patrons. Rapunzel spun around on her stool and squealed as if she had just won the lottery, "Aaaah, don't you just love life, Anna?" She wasn't even drunk yet.

Anna swirled her half-full glass of lime green slush and smiled at her friend. "Yeah 'Zel, life's pretty cool sometimes.", she said without fully agreeing.

Rapunzel scoffed, "Sometimes? Why not try all the time! You and me we're…we're going to be the best damn bakers this city's ever seen. Better than that ginger and that guy who looks like a rat."

"Hey, come on, the R & L Connection are great. I love their YouTube channel."

Rapunzel downed the rest of her drink and let out a satisfied sigh. "Yeah, life is pretty good, especially when you have no secrets to hide." She said, already dismissing her diss. "You wouldn't have any secrets you're hiding are you, Anna Dawson? I'd hate for you to not have a good life."

Anna giggled, thankful that the dark interior hid her nervousness, and pushed her still half-full drink over to Rapunzel. Someone needed to be sober enough to drive them home. "Is that your subtle way of asking me about what happened this morning?"

"Well that depends, are you actually going to teeeell me about what happened this morning?" Rapunzel inquired. "I thought I was scared when I accidentally hit on her, but then I saw your face and I was just like...whoa. You know?"

"Wait, what? You hit on her?" Anna would have been more concerned if she didn't already know Rapunzel was straight. Still, that didn't explain the weird feeling in her stomach.

"What? Pssh, no! I called her attractive that's all, it was strictly platonic." Rapunzel leaned forward and propped her chin up with her hand. "Now, are you gonna tell me?"

Anna bit her lip and questioned how much she actually wanted to say to her best friend. They were roommates in college, and they told each other everything, but this was…Elsa was something entirely different. "It's complicated.", was all she could say at first, "You know how I don't like to talk to you about high school that much? Well this sort of has something to do with that."

Her friend nodded understandably, Anna hoped she would put two and two together without having to say any more. Despite the fact that she was two frozen margaritas in with a third already set down between them.

The leather bar stool groaned as Rapunzel reached over to grab another one. "Huh, so you knew Ms. Andersen back in high school then?"

"You could say that," Anna replied while noticeably refusing to make eye contact. There was an awful lot of people on the dance floor doing less dancing and more- well, not dancing.

"But you've never brought this up until now, so I guess that means you two aren't on very good terms."

"You could also say that." That wasn't a lie, but it wasn't the whole truth either.

But Rapunzel, the reincarnate of Sherlock Holmes that she had to be, wasn't finished. She took a long sip from her drink and continued, "But you couldn't have hated her guts or else you would just be venting to me all the time about what a total bitch she was or is." Alcohol made her a bit…slurry. "So that means you two were on good terms."

"That's…true too." Anna laughed, nervously running her hands through her hair, "Why are you always so deductive when you're drunk?"

"Bah I'm not drunk yet, don't be silly." Rapunzel downed the last of her third drink and waved the bartender down for one more, she was really pushing the limit for a work night.

"I' don't think you would have reacted the way you did unless something happened between you two, something big."

Anna couldn't tell if the thumping sound was the music or her hear. When the fourth drink came, she quickly snatched it away.

"Hey! That's mine!" Rapunzel whined as she reached for the drink.

"No 'Zel I think you've had enough; we have jobs we need to be sober for remember?" Anna pushed the drink farther and farther away until even she couldn't reach it.

She wasn't going to deal with a hungover Rapunzel at work tomorrow, and snatching it away might force them to talk about something else.

"Not fair, I know my limit!"

"Yeah and so do I! That's why in college they called you-"

Rapunzel suddenly gasped and her slightly glazed-over eyes lit up, "I know what happened between you two!"

Well, so much for talking about something else.

Anna froze up, the only thing left working in her entire body was her brain. And even that was in full-on panic mode. Four years later, her deepest, darkest secret was going to be revealed by her best friend, the drunken detective.

"You…took Elsa's spot on your high school lacrosse team!"

Or maybe not.

Anna could have let out some fake sigh of relief and gone along with this silly revelation, but instead all she said was, "…what?"

"Yeah, it all makes sense now. Elsa was this big hotshot lacrosse player at your school, but then you came along and blew everyone away. The two of you worked together at first and were an unstoppable duo, but I don't know if you were just way better than her, or if she got injured or something, but the coach decided to pick you over her for the starting lineup or something. And that caused a rift in your friendship and that's why you never talk about it because you feel guilty about the whole thing."

Anna could have smiled and nodded, but there was something gnawing at the pit of her stomach that made her want to tell the truth. It was one that she'd been holding on to for too long. "That's…none of that was even close to being right."

"Really?" Rapunzel said with disappointment. "Not even the lacrosse part?"

"Do you think I played lacrosse just cause I'm a lesbian?" Anna would have been offended if that wasn't actually true, she was a damn good center.

"Well I mean if the shoe fits you know…" Rapunzel trailed off. As soon as Anna leaned in closer to see if she missed something she said, the blonde lunged for the margarita once more. Unfortunately, all she succeeded in doing was slipping off her stool and right into Anna's arms. "I'm not drunk I just slipped!"

"Doesn't matter, we should head out anyway." Anna groaned from the weight of the adult woman slumped in her arms. "We have to be up early tomorrow and I do not want to help sober you up on our second day of work."

Rapunzel grumbled but didn't protest. She leaned on Anna for support as the redhead lead them back to the car: a forest green sedan that Rapunzel nicknamed "Pascal". Anna helped her into the passenger seat and walked over to the driver side, taking a moment to herself.

Was this going to be her life now? Running a bakery and pretending that her ex-girlfriend wasn't her boss? She shook off those thoughts for now and stepped inside the car. Rapunzel was already dozing off.

In their senior year of college, they were able to afford to live in an apartment off-campus. It wasn't easy to find someplace affordable, close to school, and in a safe neighborhood, but eventually they did. Or at the very least they found a place that fit 80% of their criteria.

An apartment complex on the quiet side of West Arendelle opened up during their search. Even though it was just ten minutes down from Arendelle University, it was a bit pricier than they were hoping. Nonetheless, they took the risk, applied, and thankfully got accepted.

The large, two-bedroom apartment had everything they needed: separate bathrooms, office space for Rapunzel, and a big kitchen for Anna. Somehow the two made it work, even if they had to take on full-time jobs while still getting their degrees.

Eventually, once they stopped worrying about rent and paying for utilities and important stuff like that, they were able to splurge and decorate the place. Rapunzel's artistic flair clashed with Anna's odd mixture of practicality and tackiness, resulting in their living space looking like an eight-year old's art project.

Rapunzel painted the walls with vibrant sunny patterns, while Anna hung up an obnoxious amount of Christmas lights. Rapunzel organized the room and bathroom supplies, while Anna took ownership of the kitchen supplies. And while Rapunzel may have picked out the bedsheets- which created the most vivid and unexpected color palettes- Anna picked out the bedframes, or rather she convinced Rapunzel that they didn't need bedframes.

Was their apartment unique? Absolutely. Was it practical? Absolutely not.

Nonetheless, Anna admired the place they had spent so much time and effort on as she led Rapunzel to her room. The drinks had finally caught up with her, and the nap during the drive home made her incapable of walking by herself.

"…can walk just fine," Rapunzel mumbled.

"Oh, sure you can. That's why I'm dragging your drunk butt to your room, because you can walk just fine." Anna pulled Rapunzel to the side before she knocked into a large stuffed bear/couch named Barry, for a second she even thought about just dropping her onto him for the night. "You need me to change you too? Or are you gonna be okay with that part?"

"I…change me…fine."

"Dunno what that means, I'm just gonna assume that you said you're fine."

Walking down the hallway to Rapunzel's room felt like walking through mud with sandals on, but eventually they got inside and Anna was able to lead her friend right to her bed. Despite her "confidence" to get dressed just fine, Rapunzel passed out as soon as her head hit the pillow.

Anna sighed, "You stinker, what would you do without me?" She took off Rapunzel's shoes and pants and pulled the blanket over her, hearing what sounded like a "Thank you".

She slipped out of the room, closing the door quietly on her way out, and walked towards her own. After stopping to pet Barry, Anna realized she hadn't checked her phone since they had walked into the night club. That was when she saw the four missed calls and voicemails from her mom.

"Oh shoot!" Anna quickly unlocked her phone and called her right back; even this late at night, she still picked up after the third ring.

"Anna, is everything okay? Did you just get off work?"

"Sorry mom, we went out for drinks after we got done for the day and I forgot to check my phone the whole time." Anna continued the walk to her room. "And before you ask, I only drank half a glass and I made sure 'Zel didn't drink too much either." She didn't, but saying so would have made her mom even more worried.

"Well that's good to hear, but are you sure it was a good idea to go out drinking on a Monday night?"

Anna turned the light on in her room and plopped onto her purple-lilied bedspread. "I know, but don't worry this was just a one-time thing to celebrate the first official day at our bakery. We're not going to be doing this all the time."

"Alright, I trust you." Her mother's tone changed once she got the reassuring answer she needed, she went from being concerned to curious in an instant. "Sooooo how did your first day go? Am I gonna see my baby girl on TV anytime soon?"

Anna chuckled, "No mom, not yet, but today was still amazing. I didn't expect so many people to be there on opening day, but we were still able to survive. It's insane how many people need bread on a Monday afternoon. I hope I can keep up if we somehow get even more customers, you know? But anyway yeah, everything was just…yeah it was great."

Anna could tell right away that she slipped up, her hesitation meant that any second now…

"Anna, what happened today?"

She sighed, someday she would learn that her mom had ears like a hawk and could pick up on the smallest of her insecurities, even through the phone. There was no point in lying, and ignoring her mom would end with a surprise visit from the woman herself. In other words, there was no getting out of this. "Mom I…I saw Elsa today."

Her mom gasped, "Oh dear, what happened?"

The question was vague, but Anna still knew what she meant. "I heard 'Zel talking to someone and I assumed it was just a customer, but then she came and pulled me out to the front and that's when I saw her. I froze up, mom, when I saw Elsa I just froze up. I thought four years would be enough but I guess it wasn't; all I could think of was that it had to be a nightmare and that I'd wake up pretty soon."

"And how did Elsa look when she saw you?"

"She looked like…I don't know. I couldn't really tell what she was thinking. Her face didn't give anything away." Once again: not a lie, but not the whole truth. Anna knew what was going through Elsa's head, what she felt; behind that stone-faced look was pure, pent-up anger. "Mom I could use some help here."

"Do you want me to come over?"

Anna shook her head but appreciated the gesture. "No, I just…what do you think I should do?"

"Well I don't know honey, what do you want to do?"

"I don't knoooooow." Anna groaned. "I mean I guess it was kind of stupid for me to think I could avoid her for the rest of my life, but I don't know if I have the guts to actually face her. I want to make things right between us, I want to apologize for what happened, but I'm scared of what she's going to say. I really don't know what I want to do."

"Sweetie, I don't think that's entirely true. I think you know exactly what you want to do."

"What do you mean?"

"You just said so yourself, you want to apologize and make things right between you two. And I say you should go for it."

Her mother, as always, was right. Unbeknownst to herself, Anna did confess what it is she really wanted. "But what if she doesn't accept my apology?"

"Then make her, let her know that you genuinely want to bury the hatchet. just don't give up until you two are finally good again. Or, you know, better than good."

Anna felt a sense of dread rush over her, "What are you trying to say, mom?"

"Anna, you haven't been on a proper date in four years, heck I've never even heard you mention another girl in four years. I think you know what I'm trying to say."

"No, I don't think I do."

Her mom giggled, "I'm saying that you still have feelings for her."

"I do not!…" Anna stopped and let out a calming breath before continuing, "Mom that's absurd, I couldn't possibly…I mean Elsa probably doesn't…I mean I'm not…you're wrong!"

She could feel her mom's smugness through the phone, "Deny it all you want but you know I'm right. Now come on, it's very late and you have work tomorrow remember?"

Anna pouted, "I was supposed to say that."

Her mother laughed, "Goodnight Anna, get some rest and be the best okay? And try to find a way to talk to Elsa, no matter what it takes."

Anna felt a wave of calmness run through her, her mom would always say that when she was a kid, and it never failed to make her feel better about all the challenges and problems ahead of her. "Goodnight mom", she said with a smile before hanging up.

The end of the phone call capped off one of Anna's most interesting days of her life. She had a lot to think about, but once she turned off the light, she decided to let those thoughts rest at least until the morning.

There was nothing she could do about her problems tonight, and there wasn't anything she could do about them tomorrow if she didn't get some sleep.


Chapter Text

Chapter Three

It didn't bode well for Elsa that on the first day of Ninth Grade, she was already thinking: "What's the point?"

She was always quiet and reserved, but liked hanging around people. However, it never seemed like people liked hanging out with her. Anyone that looked like they wanted to be friends with her either got bored with her after a while or only tried to be friends with her on a dare. She carried that baggage into high school, and her only goal was to survive and get out. Go to college where she could reinvent herself and work hard so that she could make a name for herself.

Get in, get out. That was the plan.

That was the plan, and then a certain redhead walked into her English class, sat right in front of her, and ruined it.

The redhead turned around so fast her pigtails smacked her in the face. Unfazed, she smiled and stretched out her hand, "Hi! I'm Anna Dawson, my favorite color is green, and when I grow up I want to be a baker."

Elsa looked at the hand like it would attack her at any moment, and looked at Anna like she was alien.

Who introduces themselves so easily to a perfect stranger?

"Well don't leave me hanging here, one-person handshakes are super awkward."

"Uh..." Elsa extended her hand and gave Anna the most mechanical handshake. Get in, get out right? That was the plan?

Elsa realized that while she was done shaking hands, Anna wasn't. Her arm hung limp while Anna kept smiling at her oblivious to the lack of movement on her end.

"...and you are?"

Right, she needed to introduce herself too.

"I'm...uh, I-I'm..." What was going on? She wasn't an idiot, she knew how to form words. But this abrupt introduction, this cute redhead's massive amount of confidence, or a combination of both left her tongue-tied.


That sorta came out of nowhere.

"Well, it's nice to meet you 'Uh'." Anna giggled. "I hope you don't mind me sitting here. I don't know anyone at this school, and it's freshman year and I wanna make one of those long-lasting forever kind of friendships my parents keep talking to me about, and you looked nice and approachable! No offense."

"None taken?" A forever kind of friend? Wow, she had to be new if no one hadn't told Anna to avoid her. Part of her wanted to ask if she was for real, and wasn't doing this as a gag like all the middle-school girls, but all she came up with was: "M-my name's actually Elsa."

Anna's stunning green eyes widened, "Wow! That's so pretty!"

She was prettier.

"What was that?"

Elsa blinked, "Wh-what?"

"Did you just say I'm prettier?"

Crap, she said that out loud. Her inability to make friends had crippled her social skills, she never learned how to keep what was in her head from spilling out of her mouth.

She wanted to shrink into her chair and slink away from this class, and high school, forever. Five minutes into her first day and she'd already made a fool of herself in front of a pretty girl.

"I-I'm so sorry, I didn't mean it." There, now her voice was working. Now she could do some damage control.

" don't think I'm pretty?"

Or not.

"What?! No! I do think- I mean I didn't mean to say that out loud it just slipped out and-"

Anna laughed, "Hey, I'm messing with you. Don't worry, if it makes you feel any better I think you're pretty too."

"Pretty what?" Elsa's brain was betraying her, she hadn't comprehended Anna's words yet.

Anna raised an eyebrow, "As in pretty...cute? Was I not clear? Should I have added the word cute?"

Now it caught up, and now she'd registered that this pretty girl had also called her pretty. And now she was blushing, great. "No! No no no, I like being called pretty- I mean thank you for calling me pretty, I mean...ugh!"

She buried her head into her arms, if shrinking away was impossible at least she could keep her face covered and avoid digging herself in a bigger hole.

What made things even worse was that there was no way people couldn't hear them.

She felt a hand on her arm and assumed it had to be their English teacher coming into the class and chastising her for "falling asleep" on the first day. She wished she was asleep, and that this was a nightmare she could wake up from.

But it wasn't, and it was time to accept her fate.

Elsa lifted her head up, meeting the eyes of not her teacher but Anna. She had a different smile on her this time, more caring.

"It's very nice to meet you, Elsa...whatever your last name is." She said with the sweetest voice in the world. "I hope that you and I can be great friends."

There was that damn word again: friends.

She looked down and fidgeted with her hands, "I...don't think you wanna be friends with me, Anna. I'm sure there's a ton of other better people that you'd wanna be with- be friends with."

Anna shook her head, "If there were, I would have sat next to them instead."

A strange new feeling came over her, tingling her spine and making the world seem a hint brighter. What was this? Was this...hope? She looked up at Anna once again and saw something that she hadn't before.

After being burned by so many people for so long, she could already tell who wanted to hurt her feelings or make her the butt of a joke. There was always some sort of dishonesty in their eyes, no matter how much they tried it. She saw none of that in Anna's.

Anna stuck her hand out again, "Friends?"

Maybe things would be different this time.

Taking the biggest leap of faith in her young life, Elsa shook her hand with more confidence than before and smiled, "Friends."

"...and then you have a meeting at 3 with…Ms. Andersen? Is everything okay?"

Elsa blinked and chastised herself for getting lost in this vivid, intrusive memories. "Yes, I'm alright. Now, what was it you were saying?"

Hannah raised an eyebrow but didn't question any further. She scrolled up on her tablet and repeated herself, "I was saying that at 3 o'clock you have a meeting with Ms. De Vil."

Elsa groaned at the sound of that witch's name, "What does she want now?"

"I'm not sure. When she called to set up the appointment all she said was that you 'might want to hear her out'. Whatever that means."

"Hannah it's your job to keep them from being vague. If you don't hold all the cards in a conversation, then you don't hold any of them." Elsa rubbed her temples and sighed, "I guess it doesn't matter much now since the appointment's been made. Do me a favor and cancel anything I have until then okay? I need to prepare myself mentally if I want to get through this."

"Are you sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. Don't make me repeat myself." Elsa didn't mean to sound so snide, that damn redhead was ruining her. "Sorry, what I tell you alright?"

Hannah huffed. "Well, you don't have to be such an ass about it." Elsa pretended not to hear that.

When Hannah left, she stood up from her chair and walked to her bookcase. She glossed over all the books and mementos- her favorite ones being a snow globe and a picture of her and a local family in Hawaii- and focused on one item in particular.

The whole messy encounter with that damn redhead was going to make her careless, she could feel it. If she was so wrapped up in old memories, how could she be the unbreakable, efficient example she wanted to set for her workers? She needed a distraction, no she needed a reminder. A reminder of who she is and why she's here.

She scanned the books with her finger until she got to the old copy of one of her favorite books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Pressed into one of her favorite chapters, where Tom tricks a group of boys into whitewashing a fence for him, was a piece of paper folded lengthwise. She unfolded it, brushed her fingers over the creases, and smiled. On it was an excerpt from an essay she wrote back in high school, where she wrote about how she wanted to be a CEO when she grew up. This would surely give her some clarity and show her where she came from, and what could be taken from her.

But then she remembered who helped her write this important, life-changing essay, and her smile faded.

"For me, being a CEO would mean more than just a huge paycheck and an army of suits trying to stay in my good graces. It's also the ultimate peak of a success story that everyone deserves to write for themselves."

Elsa put down her paper and looked over at her peer review partner for feedback, "What do you think? Good enough for my first draft?"

Anna looked at her like she had just sprouted wings, "First draft? I think that's good enough to get published in one of those big scholarly textbook things. How are you this good with words?!"

Elsa blushed, "Oh stop it, it can't be that good. I just wrote what I felt like, there's bound to be mistakes in here somewhere."

Anna reached over the lunch bench and flailed her hand towards Elsa, "Well then hand it over Ms. I-Can't-Take-A-Compliment, let's see if this thing is as bad as you say it is."

"I never said it was bad I just...fine here you go." Elsa pushed the essay towards her friend who took it with two eager hands. It was the middle of their lunch period, and after they finished eating, she took it out of her bag and asked Anna to look it over. It wasn't finished yet but she still wanted a second point of view to make sure she was on the right track.

With attentive eyes, Anna scanned the essay for any spelling errors, grammar errors, or anything that didn't make sense. She bit her lip which Elsa knew meant that she was really thinking about something, so that was a good sign. After a couple of minutes, Anna finally quipped, "You know this isn't due for another week… Elsa?"

Elsa blinked, she may have been doing some "scanning" of her own. "Oh, uh...I knew, I mean I know. I just wanted to get a head start that's all."

"You alright? You look like you're burning up."

And she may have had a goofy looking smile on her face while she was doing so. It was easy to write, not as easy to talk yet. "I'm alright it's in here. Anyway, I want to get this done as soon as possible because it's the biggest assignment I have right now, and all I want to worry about once I get this done are the lacrosse tryouts today."

Anna smiled proudly, "So you decided to actually go for it, huh? What made you change your mind?"

She did.

"What was that?"

"I, uh, I meant that…" Wait a second, that was exactly what Elsa wanted to say. "You made me change my mind, your pep talk yesterday really helped with my decision."

"Pep talk?", Anna asked confused. "All I said was that if I make it in, we might not be able to hang out as much anymore."

Exactly. If she couldn't see Anna as much anymore, her only friend and, to her, the cutest girl in school, she might literally die. Besides Elsa wasn't some twig either, if she made an effort in tryouts then there was no doubt she'd make it on the team. "Wait a second, yesterday you said 'when', not 'if'."

Anna shook her head, "That was before I found this out." She gestured towards Elsa's everything. "Elsa we have the same PE class; if...when you try out, I might have some actual competition. Heck, I might not even make the team."

Just hearing that worst-case scenario made Elsa reconsider, even though she knew the coach would be a fool not to let Anna on the team. The crafty redhead was no slouch either.

She could have chosen any other extracurricular activity close enough to baking, but she didn't want her entire life revolving around one thing. Elsa eventually agreed, but didn't decide until now that she wanted to try out as well. Plus, the ability to work on a team, and the cultivation of a competitive nature, would help her out immensely in the long run.

The two continued to talk about other topics until the lunch bell rang, signaling everyone to get back to class.

Anna returned Elsa's smirk from earlier before they parted ways, "See you out on the field, partner."

Elsa nodded, she couldn't wait.

Elsa tossed a faded, red rubber ball in the air and caught it in the palm of her hand, a motion she'd been repeating for the better half of an hour. On days when it felt like she was losing her grip on a deal, or had to handle a struggling business, she would lean back in her chair and toss the ball in the air. It reminded her that she was still in control.

Unfortunately, she wasn't in control of when her work phone would go off, and disrupt her catharsis. She put the ball back in her desk and groaned, "Hannah? What is it?"

"Sorry for the interruption Ms. Andersen, but you wanted me to call you when...when she arrived."

Elsa glanced at her cell phone, how in the world was it already 3 PM? She let out a curse word under her breath and responded, "Alright send her in." No sooner had she ended the call did the mahogany doors swing wide open, and from them emerged…

Ms. Cruella De Vil: the outspoken, effervescent CEO of the fashion line Für 101, whose net worth rivaled most countries. The umlaute meant nothing, serving only to make their company even more pretentious than it actually was.

Much like her fur-lined monstrosity couldn't hide the bony physique underneath, the makeup caked onto her face and black hair dye couldn't hide the fact that she was on the wrong end of fifty. She walked inside the office with a staunch sense of arrogance and with arms outstretched like she expected to be showered with praise.

"Guess who's back, Elsa darling! And might I say this look suits you marvelously." Cruella said with a pompous flair.

Whenever they met, Elsa ended up wanting to vomit or throw something five minutes in. With their companies being in such close proximity to each other, and because ArenCorp wanted to break into the fashion industry as well, they would send a representative to each other's companies to ensure there weren't any plans of a "hostile takeover".

Well, ArenCorp would send a representative, Cruella always opted to go to ArenCorp herself.

"Cruella, what a surprise to see you again." Elsa forced out a smile as she lifted up her hand for a more formal greeting. "And I'm glad you think my outfit is acceptable."

"Oh no no no, I'm not talking about your...questionable wardrobe choice.", Cruella replied with shades of a sneer forming on her rosy red lips. "I'm talking about the sight of you behind this desk! I had no doubt you would be the pretty face that ran this place someday, I just never expected it to be so soon."

Elsa put her hand back down and brushed off the passive insult. She thought she looked nice and professional in her white button-down shirt and blue skirt and being professional mattered more to her than turning heads. Admittedly, she did want to expand her color selection from black, blue, and white, but that was a problem for another time. "Well, then I'm glad you agree with my promotion. Now to what do I owe the...pleasure?"

Cruella slid her coat off, something she rarely did in the presence of others and placed it behind her chair. "Why to congratulate you of course!", she said as she gracefully sat down. "Elsa Andersen, you join an elite number of people with enough power and influence to change the world, and I wanted to be the first person to welcome you into the club if you will."

"The club?" Elsa stifled a laugh, "Do I get some sort of card or benefits for being in this 'club'?"

"It's strictly metaphorical, darling. Although I could get you on a VIP list for any club you wanted if you only say the words." Strangely enough, that was true. Elsa despised Cruella as a person but respected someone who had been on top of the game for as long as her. And Cruella, meanwhile, respected the intense drive of the young businesswoman.

But while Elsa respected Cruella, she still didn't trust or like her completely.

The raven-haired woman gave her an impish grin. "Nonetheless this is a big honor, one that I truly hope you can hold on to."

Elsa's eyes narrowed, "Now what do you mean by that?"

Cruella pulled out a long, silver cigarette holder and lit it with a solid gold lighter. She took a drag from the cigarette and soaked in the silence as if she was amused at Elsa for not seeing what she was really here for. "Elsa darling, you may not like it but all eyes are on you at the moment. Did you really think that being one of the youngest CEO's in history wouldn't get people talking?"

"Of course I knew people would talk, but I don't, and won't, let their words get to me." Elsa bit back.

"Well you should. I assume you've heard the phrase 'The pen is mightier than the sword.'? Your status means that your success will be broadcasted across all mainstream media, but that is also true…of your failures." Cruella took another drag before continuing, "Business is a dog-eat-dog world. Once you make a wrong move, and others get a whiff of it, they will tear into you, tendons and all, like the beasts they are."

The tension in the air was as thick as this she-devil's cigarette smoke. Elsa remained defensive as the smoke spread and had an uneasy feeling that there was more that needed to be said.

"Always be on your guard, darling. Anyone can take down your empire if you let them." Cruella took one last drag and spoke one word as the smoke poured out of her lips: "Anyone."

Elsa grit her teeth, finally losing that smile she had put on earlier. The biggest, baddest hound, and the worst threat to her company, had revealed herself.

"You signed off on a bakery over in West Arendelle, that's your first one is it not?"

Elsa didn't answer.

"I wonder why you chose that area of all places. It's already ripe with so many, er, 'fast food' establishments, it'd be so easy for the bakery to get lost in the shuffle."

Elsa still gave no answer; she was too busy trying to resist the urge to throw Cruella out the window.

"And if it failed, well that would reflect poorly on you, wouldn't it? I wonder, what would happen if- hypothetically speaking- if...I was to offer my voice on the failure of your first business venture as CEO? I'd assume that you'd have more than your food industry to think about."

That was it, Elsa had had enough of her disingenuous assertions.

She tore her eyes away from her and looked out her window, out at the city, her city. If anyone wanted to take it from her, they'd have to bring a whole damn army. She would not be intimidated, she would not be made a fool of, and she would never show weakness. Elsa took a deep breath and spoke with venom in her voice. "Cruella...thank you for your concern, but I think it's time you left."

She heard a noise, a slight grunt from Cruella as if she had won something this day- she hadn't. The woman walked back to the door and spoke, "I'm glad we had this talk, darling. If you need anything, don't hesitate to ask."

The door closed, leaving Elsa to stir in the silence. After counting to ten, she took a breath and sat back down.

Cruella's last words still rang in her head for two reasons. The first was that no matter how much Elsa despised the woman, she was right. She would always be a "celebrity" to the citizens of Arendelle, but all these eyes on her right now would magnify and distort her mistakes. This bakery would make or break her reputation. The second reason was that, because Cruella was right, it meant she could no longer run from her past. It meant that if she wanted the bakery to succeed, she'd have to have a major hand in doing so.

It meant that her worst nightmare was coming true: Anna was going to be a part of her life again.

Chapter Text

Chapter Four

Knead the dough, roll the dough, cut the dough, bake the dough, repeat until dead.

Anna shook off those thoughts. If she oversimplified her dream job, then she would start dreading it rather than enjoy it. Besides, being a baker was much more than forming dough into shapes, you also had to make the icing and stuff.

And there were also little things about it that made the profession such a dream for her. Like the excitement on a child's face when she put freshly baked cookies in the display case, or the smell when she took out a new loaf of bread from the oven, or the ride to the homeless shelter whenever they dropped off leftover bread.

The little things.

Anna even enjoyed opening up a new bag of flour and seeing the puffs scatter in the air, the wisps helping her to slip into one of her characters. It was a habit she picked up working in the kitchen at Arendelle U.

This time, she pretended she was a showgirl in the 1950s getting ready to go on stage in some big performance hall.

Anna lugged the flour over to a stainless-steel table with shelves, hooks, and a microwave. Which was, of course, never used to bake anything except for mug cakes. She stood in front of a flour-littered mirror and patted her cheeks down with a face towel. "My if you don't look stunning, Anna Dawson, the whiteness really brings out your freckles juuuuust right!"

It was currently 2 PM, a time she liked to call the "sweet spot". It was right after the lunch rush, but before the evening where for some reason everyone wanted cookies and doughnuts and stuff. In this sweet spot, Anna spent her time getting ahead of orders, thinking about the rest of the day or week and amusing herself when she got a bit too restless. Sort of like right now.

"Ooh I bet the boys'll go blind just looking 'atcha. But then, of course, no boy could ever catch your fancy, now can they? Mmhmm, but then that'll just be our little secret."

She put a finger to her lips and shushed and tapped the mirror with a coy grin on her face. Sometimes she got a bit too into character.

"And it's such a shame too that you have to go out there and break hearts, but you gotta save up for a ring for the missus, now don't you? Of course…of course you'd need to find a missus first, but I'm sure you'll meet someone. You just gotta."

And sometimes she got a bit too out of character. When she got into her own little world like this, her problems in the real world would occasionally slip in and disrupt the continuity.

"Hey now, don't you worry your pretty little head about that riff-raff. All you have to worry about is putting on a show for the boys in blue- wait shoot I never mentioned they were in the navy. Wait do navy people wear blue? That's why they call it navy blue, right?"

Anna sighed in defeat and frowned into the mirror, "Shoot, alright I lost it."

"Aww man, and it was getting interesting too."

Anna leaned away from the mirror and saw Rapunzel leaning on the doorway with a smile on her face, all clean and flourless.

"Well, why don't you come back tomorrow 'Zel? I'll be sure to come up with more material by then.", Anna rebutted with a grin of her own. "Whatcha doing back here anyway? Shouldn't you be dazzling the customers or something?"

Rapunzel laughed, "Not for the time being. Honestly, I might be more useful back here. I've got a new frozen pizza recipe I've been dying to make."

Anna snickered, Rapunzel may know how to take command of a room in seconds, but when it came to baking she was hopeless. In stark contrast, Anna could make magic with just a whisk and a mixing bowl, but couldn't convince a fly that he could, well, fly.

They complimented each other's strengths and made up for each other's weaknesses. In theory that should have made them a formidable team in the baking business, but in reality, it made them barely above average.

"Come oooon, join me up front," Rapunzel whined. "You've got nothing better to do here anyway!"

"Of course I do!", Anna replied. "I've got food to bake and stuff, and I don't know if you know this but that's pretty much how we make our money."

"Yeah, I need to talk to you about that, actually. And I wanted to tell you up front, but since you're being a jerk, I guess I'll just tell you here." Rapunzel mumbled that last sentence under her breath. "I think you're baking too much food…and stuff, the shelter called an hour ago and said that they're running low on places to put our bread. Plus, a bunch of homeless people actually peeked into our shop earlier today and it freaked me out for a second."

Anna didn't have an answer for that, although she knew Rapunzel was right.

"What's gotten into you?"

Elsa had. Or rather she had. Or still is. Or something like that.

Point being that it had been a week since she had seen Elsa again, and a week since her conversation with her mother, and ever since then she decided that she wouldn't directly confront Elsa about anything.

She would just wait till the stars aligned, and the timing was right, and fate would bring them together again. Hopefully this time it would be on better terms. But, that left Anna with one goal left on her long-term agenda: making her bakery the best bakery of all bakeries that ever…bakeried.

And to her, that meant burying herself in her work, sometimes literally, so that they could always have a surplus of anything anyone ever wanted ever.

Anna didn't say any of that though, all she said was, "I guess I just didn't know how much I was baking."

Unfortunately, Rapunzel could see right through her, even more so when sober. "This is about Elsa, isn't it?"

"What?! No, of course not!", Anna exclaimed a bit too quickly. "I don't know why you'd think that. I told you, I just got too carried away back here."

But Rapunzel was having none of it, her eyes narrowed and her lips pursed and she spoke with full skepticism. "Is that right? So there's nothing that happened with you and Ms. Andersen in the past?"

"Of course not.", Anna lied.

"You two weren't even on the same lacrosse team?"

"I…okay yes we were, but nothing ever happened", Anna lied again.

"So, if she ever came back here, you wouldn't freeze up on me again? Because I'm pretty sure I have a megaphone back here just in case."

"Of course not." This was, of course, also a lie.

"Then good!", Rapunzel replied as if she had just won this pseudo-argument. "Because I actually got off the phone with Ms. Andersen a bit ago. She's gonna be here in half an hour."



"Wait, what?!"

"I said that you and Elsa will be on our varsity team. Now I wouldn't usually do this since you're freshmen, but two of our players are injured. You two were the ones that I felt could be the best substitutes."

Anna was stunned, flabbergasted, tongue-tied, and other synonyms for being speechless. When the head coach for the varsity lacrosse team, a no-nonsense woman who just went by her first name Edna, called her and Elsa into her office, Anna was expecting the worst. Maybe they were getting cut from the JV team, or worse, maybe only one of them was getting cut. But they instead got the exact opposite. Now they had an amazing opportunity on their hands to prove themselves.

Despite how unprofessional it was, Anna went over to the woman and gave her a hug. It felt a bit awkward since Edna was actually a head shorter than her. "Oh thank you Edna! I promise that you won't regret this, and me and Elsa will prove that we belong on varsity, just you wait."

"Yes dear I'm sure you'll try. But enough with the hugging and get to practice, your teammates are waiting for you."

"Right, I'll see you out there ma'am", Anna let her coach go and stepped away. "Oh and thank you again!" She added before she and Elsa walked out the door and out of sight.

When they got far enough, Anna looked at the equally as speechless blonde and smiled. Elsa smiled back, and the confused redhead felt that strange feeling in her stomach again, that same feeling from when she first saw her. That first day, in English.

There was something about her that Anna just couldn't understand. Anna loved spending time with her, but she had this feeling that the sensation in her gut whenever Elsa so much as looked at her was something different. Something…more?

Anna wanted to talk to her best friend about this feeling, to see if she felt it too, but so far she hadn't found the right opportunity. She had a suspicion about what it was, she remembered her mother once talking about having "butterflies in your stomach" on rare occasions. Maybe this was one of them.

Soon they made it to their new teammates, who were out in the middle of the field stretching in a large circle. Anna looked over to Elsa, and there was a smile on her face but uncertainty in her eyes. It was clear that she was nervous about the promotion, and it was clear that Anna needed to cheer her up.

She playfully bumped Elsa's shoulder with her own and smiled when Elsa looked over to her, "Hey, you've got nothing to worry about. When they see you out there, working your butt off, then they'll have to go ahead and call you like...the 'Queen of Lacrosse' or something not as lame. You'll do great!"

Elsa giggled, which meant Anna succeeded, "So then what'll that make you? There can't be two queens of lacrosse."

Anna shrugged, "I guess I'll just be a princess. I've always wanted to be a princess anyway, there are fewer responsibilities and all you have to do is be pretty."

"Well, I think you've got that part covered already."

There was that feeling again.

That compliment was so unlike her, so out of character, and yet it sounded so…right. Coming from Elsa, it just felt right. She didn't know what to do aside from laughing and saying thanks. But despite how confused she was over this situation with Elsa, at least she could feel accomplished in cheering her best friend up.

They walked in silence until they got nearer to the middle of the field, and in that silence, Anna decided to declare to herself that she would get to the bottom of this feeling sooner rather than later. Maybe that meant next week, maybe that meant tomorrow, all she knew was she was tired of not understanding this. She wanted to solve this mystery, and she wanted to solve it soon.

"Oh my gosh Anna, slow down. I said half an hour not half a minute."

"You drop this big package of suck on me now, and then expect me to not clean up like a madman?!"


"Whatever! Just…gah, there's so much flour! Why is there so much flour!"

Anna frantically wiped down her workstation, not moving over to another square inch of space until the one she was wiping down was spotless. After this, she'd have to scrub her hands clean, wash her face until there wasn't a centimeter of powder on her, and get a new apron. Maybe she'd even redo her hair.

After finding some time to breathe in between all her rampant thoughts, Anna spoke again. A tiny bit calmer this time. "Sorry Rapunzel, I kinda…I mean I need to clean okay, why don't you just go back to the front and wipe down the counter or something."

Rapunzel stayed motionless, eyeing her curiously. "Yeah it's spotless, but that doesn't matter right now. I thought you said you weren't going to freak out over seeing Elsa again."

"I'm not freaking out!", Anna countered. "But I have to make this place super clean, you know? She's our boss- no scratch that, she's like our boss' boss. Wouldn't you want to be just a little bit presentable?"

"There's being presentable and then there's…this." Rapunzel gestured to how Anna had gotten yet another towel to wipe down a cooking counter that wasn't that big or dirty to begin with. "You really need to just slow down and realize that…Anna look at me!"

Anna stopped, when Rapunzel only raised her voice when she was serious, she knew better than to not listen. She put down the rag and tore her gaze away from the counter that she could see two of her reflections in. If that was even possible.

Rapunzel took a deep breath and walked over to Anna, she put both hands on the redhead's shoulders and looked her square in the eye. "You, my friend, are an awful liar. Something did happen between you and Elsa, something big. But I promise you I will stop butting in on whatever happened if you can just take a breath and calm down; because this you, the one I'm looking at right now, I don't like this you. This you is reckless, this you doesn't listen, and frankly this you isn't really fun to be around. So please just take a breath, if not for me then for you."

Glaring grammar errors aside, Anna knew that Rapunzel was right. She also knew that her own plan had worked, even if it wasn't in a way that she wanted. Fate was bringing her and Elsa together again, and no matter how the conversation turned out, she was determined to finally settle things with Elsa after four years of avoiding her.

She took one deep breath, letting her shoulders rise and fall and feeling the unease wash away if only for the moment. "Sorry, I just… I'm sorry," she said to Rapunzel. "What does she want anyway, did she say?"

Rapunzel shrugged, "She didn't say much, just that she wanted to talk to both of us about our bakery. It could be good, it could be bad, it could even be both."

"Well, I guess that's all we have to work with." Anna picked up the rag that she was using before and held it up to her friend, "But I still feel like cleaning this place up a bit, you mind helping me out?"

One day after the announcement of their call-up to varsity, Anna finally got the answer to her biggest problem.

During lunch, as Elsa was giving her pointers on the essay she had written the night before, a pair of boys had come up to their table with smug grins on their faces. Anna didn't know that many people here yet, but she knew enough to know that these boys weren't freshmen like they were. They were older, taller, and had this air about them that said they were likely one year away from owning this whole school.

The boy nearest to Anna, a preppy type with well-kept chestnut-colored hair and clothes more expensive than they probably should have been, initiated a conversation with them first.

"Well well, how are you two fine ladies doing today?", he said with a fraught sense of arrogance.

Elsa was completely caught off guard by this sudden intrusion and had zipped her mouth shut, Anna, however, was unfazed by the boy's bravado and smiled. "Hi, we're doing just fine thank you. I'm Anna, and this right here is my friend Elsa. What can we do for you guys?"

Admittedly, she probably shouldn't have said their names.

"Oh this isn't about what you can do for us, it's about what we can do for you", the boy replied as if he was some estranged door-to-door salesman.

Anna didn't understand what he meant by that, and so she said so. "I'm not sure what you mean. I don't think Elsa and I really need anything from you guys, but it's nice of you to offer…whatever it is you're offering."

The boy chuckled, "Now settle down now, girlie. I think you actually do need what we're 'offering.' See me and my boys have been seeing you around school and we decided to finally say hi in person. You know, like gentlemen. And as gentlemen…we were wondering if the two of you, would like to go out with the two of us."

"No, that's okay", Anna replied without a second thought.

The toothy grin on the boy's face disappeared, now there was just a disappointed frown. "I'm sorry what was that?"

"We're not interested, but thank you for the invite." This was true, at least for Anna it was. And it wasn't that she wasn't attracted to these two boys, although they weren't exactly making the best case for themselves, she just didn't have interest in boys at all.

When she was a little girl, her mother would always tell her that someday she would find a nice boy, fall in love, get married, and settle down, and Anna was for some reason excited about that. But as she got older and gave every boy a chance to give her that feeling of "falling in love", it didn't happen. When Anna told her about this mystery, her mother just said that she was still a bit too young to understand what falling in love meant. But Anna felt like it was more than that, like she was looking for it in the wrong place.

Try as she might, she just couldn't see the appeal, they were just like girls except with flatter chests, shorter hair, and more obnoxious attitudes. At first Anna felt disappointed, even ashamed, for not liking boys enough, but by the end of middle school she had learned to just accept it. She didn't like boys, it wasn't anything she could change and she decided it wasn't worth changing.

So when this new boy came into the picture, Anna knew exactly what to say.

Unfortunately, he didn't take that news very well. "I don't think you understand the opportunity that you're throwing away here. Do you know who I am? I could make you at this school, I could help you become the most popular girls to ever walk these halls, I could give you a reputation you never thought you'd ever have."

Still, Anna remained unfazed by this sudden outburst and rebutted. "Well of course I don't know who you are, you haven't told us our name even though we told you ours, which is kind of rude by the way. And I don't think we need you to 'make us' at this school, we're on the varsity lacrosse team so I think we'll be fine."

"Ha!", the boy said sharply. "You think being on the lacrosse team will make you popular? You're dreaming."

"I never said that, we don't wanna be popular anyway. I'm sorry that you feel so insecure, but we don't." Anna didn't need to add that last bitter sentence, but this boy was really ticking her off and she just wanted to get rid of him.

"Hey, Hans Westerguard is never insecure." His friend/goon interrupted.

Hans put a hand up to stop the other boy from talking, but he didn't go away. He just looked at Anna with gritted teeth and clenched fists until he closed his eyes and took a breath that sounded more like a hiss. He looked away from Anna and fixed his predatory eyes on Elsa, who looked like she wanted to be anywhere else but here. "Fine then, what about you? I like the quiet types anyway, they're usually the freakiest."

"Wh-what?", Elsa stammered out.

"Yeah, you heard me." Somehow he had finally found his smile again and put on a grin with the worst intention. "You want to go out or what?"

"She's not interested.", Anna said on her behalf.

"Shut up, I'm talking to your friend. Now what do you say? Ditch this zero and go out with a hero, am I right?"

Something inside of Anna had snapped, that same gut feeling she got when she looked at Elsa reemerged when this creep set his sights on her. But there was something else right along with it, it felt like a flame in the pit of her stomach that burned brighter and hotter the more he looked at Elsa. Before she knew it, the whole cafeteria's eyes were on her as she rose to her feet and let out a loud "Hey!"

And before she could ask herself if it was a good idea, Anna reeled back her hand and slapped Hans right in the face as soon as he looked back at her.

She heard a collective "Ooh!" from the whole room as the creep tumbled and fell to the ground. There must have been a lot more force in that slap than she thought. The adrenaline fell as quickly as it rose, and Anna felt a bit of fear over what would happen when he got back up.

But he just glared at Anna, shook his head, and walked away. As they walked with their tails between their legs, she heard the other boy mutter "I told you they were dykes." She had no idea what that meant, but it didn't sound nice.

When the cafeteria door closed, it was like a switch had been flipped. Everyone turned away from the pair and continued their previous conversations like that insane scene hadn't happened at all.

Elsa, who had stood up as well at some point, looked utterly shocked. Anna calmed down her rapidly beating heart and said with a breathy voice, "Are you okay?" Like a knight saving a princess from a giant dragon.

Elsa nodded, "Yeah, yeah I think I will be. I just…wow. Anna, what in the world was that?!"

Anna shrugged, "I don't know, I just felt like it was the right thing to do. Now come on, you were saying something about my verb usage before?"

It wasn't the most ideal way for this lunch period to go down, but damn if it wasn't eventful. After finally settling herself down, they sat back down and picked up where they left off.

Except Anna couldn't actually do that.

Her heart was beating so fast because she didn't want Elsa to say yes.

Butterflies, that was what the feeling was. Butterflies fluttering inside her stomach that made her float and feel elated, and they only emerged every time she looked at Elsa. Her mother told her this would happen, and she also told her that someday she would fall in love, but she never expected it to happen like this.

Anna was in love. Unfortunately, she was in love with her best friend.

The doorbell, perched and dangling on top of the door, rattled and rang thirty minutes later on the dot like Rapunzel said. Anna looked over to her friend, both of them now clean and presentable, and nodded. "Well I guess it's time.", she said.

Rapunzel nodded in agreement and they walked back to the front of the store.

Thirty minutes of cleaning and apron changing should have been enough time to mentally and emotionally prepare herself to find out if and how she could talk to Elsa again. But if four years couldn't prepare her, how could she expect thirty minutes to?

She decided to trust in fate once more to give her the right words to say. Regardless of what happened, today would be the day fate decided everything.

But when they got to the front, Elsa was nowhere to be found. In her stead was a different woman, one of Asian descent wearing a modest, red dress with her hair in a bun held up by a gorgeous jeweled pin. She seemed to be looking at their bakery with disdain, grimacing at an invisible speck of dust on the counter.

Anna had no idea what to make of this sudden change of plans, but Rapunzel was adept at improvisation. "H-hello, welcome to the Warm Hearts Bakery. Can I…help you?"

"Yes, I am here on behalf of Ms. Andersen. You received a call from her earlier", the woman said while still looking at the counter.

"Yep-I mean yeah she called me, but I was under the impression that she would be meeting us today."

"Ms. Andersen had something come up, she asked me to come in her stead," the woman finally gave them an inkling of recognition as she pointed her piercing black eyes towards them both. "I suppose it's better like this anyway, after all I am the one that signs your checks."

"Oh so you're like our supervisor then?"

The woman glared at Rapunzel, "I'm not like your supervisor, I am your supervisor."

"Right, I'm sorry I didn't mean to…I mean I was just trying to-"

"What my partner's trying to say…," Anna started, surprised that she found her voice, "…is that we're glad you're here, but what do you- or rather what does Ms. Andersen need from us?"

The woman shifted her glare towards Anna. It looked so natural as if she practiced it in the mirror every morning. "Ms. Andersen wanted to issue a report, or rather a warning, for your little…bakery here. You are aware that you must report your quarterly earnings correct?"

Anna didn't like how she said the word "bakery" like she didn't even think Warm Hearts had any business being called that. Maybe it wasn't a conventional kind of bakery, but it still had...charm? "We are aware of that, yes," she replied, not letting this woman faze her.

"And you know that this quarter ends in a month, yes?"

"Of course." Anna actually didn't, and she probably should have, but she didn't want her finding that out.

"Because this bakery has recently opened, you are looked at with the most scrutiny in regards to earnings. Every business has its own projected earnings to reach, and if you don't reach yours then we will have no reason to fund an underperforming business."

Anna felt insulted, it was clear this woman didn't have any faith in their bakery. If she didn't trust them, then Anna would just have to make her. "You don't have to worry about the Warm Hearts Bakery, we know we have what it takes to make this the best bakery you or anyone has ever seen."

The glare faded away, replaced with a grin she hadn't seen on anyone in a long time. One that said she found Anna's confidence amusing, but idiotic. It made her blood boil. And then the woman said something that made it go from searing hot to prickling cold. "You must earn $10,000 by the end of the month to reach your quota."

Rapunzel and Anna stood speechless, unable to process such a number; and even though they didn't say it, they were both thinking the same thing: how in the hell were they going to make that much in a month?

No, no they had to keep the hope alive. They just had to. Even with this monstrous task ahead of them, they had to have hope in this little bakery that could.

The woman left them both to stew in their own uncertainty, she gave a small nod and said "Good day." before walking out the door. It took a good minute after she had left for their situation to truly sink in, Rapunzel actually had to grip the display counter next to her before her legs gave out.

"Oh my gosh Anna…", she said breathlessly. "That…we can make that much right? In one month? We can do this, can't we? Please Anna, tell me that we can do this."

Anna didn't answer, her mind was a torrent of emotions: confusion, frustration, and…anger. So, so much anger.

This was her dream, no scratch that, it was their dream, hers and Rapunzel's. And nothing would keep them from that. She would fight to keep it alive no matter what the costs, but even Anna knew when she was getting a bum deal. This right here was the bummest of deals anyone could ever get.

Anna wanted to fight for their dream, and she was going to fight, but she was going to make sure that it was a fair fight. And to do that she couldn't hide behind fate. She had to go to the source of her frustrations, grab her by the collar, and ask her point-blank the three words she uttered breathlessly:

"What the hell."

Chapter Text

Chapter Five

Closing up early after being open for less than two weeks was not a good look for them. Anna felt uneasy locking the front door and felt like the frowny face on their "Sorry, we're closed" sign was staring right through her soul.

After they were visited by the scary Asian lady (they agreed to find a less racist nickname later), Anna and Rapunzel- mostly Anna- decided to confront Elsa about this sudden turn of events. Finding time to see her in the morning was out of the question since that was one of the bakery's busiest times. And they couldn't go at night because there was no telling when Elsa's workday ended.

So, they took the bigger risk of closing right before the evening rush.

Once she locked the door, Anna slipped into the passenger seat; the blonde looked understandably worried, and Anna put a hand on her shoulder.

"If you want, I can just take the bus. You don't have to come with me," she reassured her business partner.

Rapunzel shook her head, "No, it's okay. I just really hope this doesn't come back to bite us in the butt, you know? Besides, what if I stayed and we ran out of stuff to sell? That would be more embarrassing than closing up early." She turned the key in the ignition and finessed her way out of their parallel parking spot. Anna knew that wouldn't happen, and that Rapunzel was just worried about her. "So do you know what you're going to say to Elsa?"

Not even close. So far anything she came up with either sounded too generic or way too confrontational. And even if confrontation was what she was aiming for, she didn't want Elsa to call security on her if things got too…intense.

She sighed in response, "Er…no, and I don't think I'll know what to say until I get there. But hey, I'm good at winging things. Remember that public speaking class we had?"

"Uh yeah, I remember you getting a C on the midterm because you talked about forks for like five minutes."

"Yeah but I came up with that on the spot and it fit all the requirements."

"You were supposed to talk about fine dining etiquette."

"Point being that I know how to come up with a speech on the spot.", Anna said poignantly. "And I need to expect the unexpected when I get to ArenCorp, which means no speeches in case she only gives me like ten seconds to speak."

Rapunzel looked as if she wanted to say something, but thought against it for whatever reason. She nodded and settled into her seat, "I just hope you know what you're doing, Anna."

She hoped so too.

"And you made sure that they understood the expectations of their earnings?"

"I'm sure. I told them the exact number and they didn't ask any questions. If you don't mind me saying this, they didn't look very confident in themselves."

"Their confidence is none of your concern.", Elsa replied emotionless. "You are well aware of the standards we have here at ArenCorp, and if they can't meet those standards then we no longer need to concern ourselves with them."

Elsa really wished she could say those words and actually mean them, but she knew all too well that her success hinged on Ann- on the bakery's success.

"I understand ma'am. Is there anything else you need from me?"

Elsa shook her head, "No thank you, Mulan. Do the rest of your rounds and e-mail me your reports by tomorrow morning."


Mulan hung up, and Elsa was left alone in the silence of her office. All alone, always alone.

It was a miracle she hadn't made any long-standing enemies throughout her career, those against her simply jealous. But she had also succeeded in making zero friends- her assistant barely counted. She talked to enough people to make some much-needed connections, and she did respect and admire certain coworkers. But the list of people she knew on a personal level? Pathetic.

But having friends, having relationships, those would just slow her down, burden her.

After four years, she accepted the idea of being alone and believed that things were always going to be like this. But that's okay, she was okay being alone. Only looking out for herself…it was easier like this, it was better like this.

At least that's what she told herself.

Elsa sat up from her desk and walked towards her bed, she hadn't taken a nap in a while and now seemed like a good a time as any. She needed to clear her head, and the mattress was beckoning her to relax.

It was a bed fit for a queen, literally. It had a foam mattress that felt like sleeping on a cloud, and the solid wooden frame had a prominent crown-shaped groove at the center of the head. The sheets and pillowcases were a deep shade of royal purple and made from fine threads imported from Agrabah.

She slipped out of her heels and unbuttoned her cream-white blazer, carefully laying it at the footboard and rolled onto the mattress. For a moment, her stress and worries fell away. A nap wouldn't help solve her problems, but it damn sure wouldn't hurt.

This whole…bakery business, she was starting to wonder if she made the wrong choice in first investments. Maybe if she decided to put it off and invest in some other business instead, it would result in a less splitting headache. That was a big "maybe", and she wasn't supposed to keep thinking about this. Elsa closed her eyes, let out a long, slow breath, and lay still as she let the envelope of calm and silence overtake her.

This feeling only lasted for five seconds before she was thrust back into reality through the ringing of her desk phone.

"Dammit.", Elsa grumbled as she rolled back out of bed and walked towards her desk. "Hannah this better be good, or else you're fired."

"Elsa, there's someone requesting to meet with you right now."

Elsa scoffed, "Right now?"

Demanding an immediate audience with the CEO of ArenCorp, who the hell did they think they were?

"Her words, not mine. What do you want me to tell Sheila?"

Sheila was their main receptionist: a portly, sassy woman who Elsa actually admired. Every time they had to give the ax to someone, Elsa always found a way to keep her on the payroll. She knew all too well that Sheila could handle anyone foolish enough to try and get through the doors of ArenCorp. "Tell Sheila to say whatever she wants, just get whoever this person is out of here."

"Oh wait a second Elsa…uh huh…okay…yeah the person's on her way up."

Elsa groaned, "Hannah, you're fired."

"Hey it's not my fault, apparently she buttered Sheila up with a muffin. Must have been a damn good muffin…"

A horrid sense of dread overcame Elsa, "Wait…what did Sheila say what this woman's name was?"

"Um…oh shoot, she told me but I forgot and she already hung up. I think it started with an 'A', was it Amy? Annabelle? No wait, I think it was-"


"Yes! That was it. I'm not really I?"

This couldn't be happening; this could not be happening. She thought sending Mulan instead would be a good message to Anna that she still hadn't forgiven her.

It seemed, however, that fate was not on her side once again. Even so, she was still in control, and this was still her company, her city, her kingdom. If Anna wanted to see her, Elsa wasn't going to make it easy for her.

Elsa shook her head and refocused, speaking sternly through the phone, "Hannah…I need you to listen to me real closely…"

As ArenCorp grew closer, Anna felt more and more uneasy. The feeling magnified as soon as she stepped foot inside the vast lobby more fitting of a five-star hotel than a place of business.

Gold-colored tiles and royal purple wallpaper covered every inch of space. On the right side of the lobby was a gym packed with white-collar workers- talking about business stuff probably- on the treadmills. On the left side was a café half-packed with people enjoying an early dinner. It was downright insane how much they could fit into just one floor, and made Anna both curious and intimidated over what lay in the other forty-nine.

Sheila the receptionist, if her flowery nametag could be trusted, said she couldn't let her in without an appointment. But Anna, being pressed for time, wouldn't accept this and brought out one of her secret weapons: a small paper box with a freshly made chocolate chip muffin. It was supposed to be for Elsa, a means to hopefully start smoothing things over, but she ended up using it right then and there.

Sheila took the bribe with surprising quickness, told them where Elsa's floor was, waved the two of them off towards the elevators, and that was that. "How did you know that would work?", Rapunzel asked as they waited for the silver elevator doors to open.

Anna giggled, "Oh please, no one can resist my muffins…my baked muffins, I mean."

"Hmm…well when you're right, you're right," Rapunzel muttered.

Anna sensed something was up by the sound of her friend's voice. She tried to catch her eyes to no avail. "Hey, what's up?"

"Oh nothing, it's just…" the blonde trailed off.

Anna gave up and looked in the same direction, right back at the café. "What is it? Did you want to check out the café or something?", she asked with a raised eyebrow.

"Yeah yeah, the café place," Rapunzel replied, still off in another world.

Anna knew her best friend well enough to see things from her perspective. When she followed her gaze, she got her answer. "There's a cute guy at the café, isn't there?"

"Ugh, yes!" Rapunzel looked at her with pleading eyes, "I'm sorry, I know I told you I'd be here to support you but…," she looked back at the mystery man and whispered, "He's so cute, and he looks like he's alone, and you know how long it's been since I've been on a date."

"Yeah, and you know how long it's been since I've been on a date," Anna rebutted. "We did not come here to flirt with businessmen, we came here to save our bakery."

"Yeah, I know that it's just…", Rapunzel sighed and took one last longing glance back at the café. "Alright, let's go. I'm sure he'll still be there when we're done."

Anna should have felt good getting them both back on track, but instead she felt guilty. She told Rapunzel that she didn't have to come if she didn't want to, it made no sense to tell her that she had to come with her now. Besides, she could hide behind the bakery all she wanted, but Anna knew this was really her problem- and her problem alone- to deal with.

Anna shook her head, "I'm sorry, I'm being selfish. This is my problem, not yours. If you want, I can go up there myself, and you can stay down here and flirt with Mr. Lonely." She couldn't help but tease her best friend a little bit, it was her favorite thing to do whenever she saw a cute boy.

"You sure?"

"I'm sure. Elsa's not that hard to talk to," Anna replied, refusing to dwell on the irony of that statement.

Rapunzel wrapped her in a hug and squealed out a "Thank you!", and then she was off. And now Anna was alone to face this elevator ride to hell. The doors finally opened after an ominous ding. All that stood between her and Elsa was one, tense upward ride.

Anna pressed the button to the 50th floor- of course Elsa got the highest one- and the doors slid shut, a low groan bellowed through the cart as it started its ascent. It wasn't stopping at any other floor, the ride was smooth and uninterrupted, and she sort of wished that it wasn't. She wanted the inevitable to be prolonged, if only for a minute, because she knew as soon as those doors opened her life would change.

And as the elevator suddenly slowed to a halt on the 40th floor, one solely dedicated for storing old filing cabinets it seems, it looked as if she was getting her wish, just a minute to breathe. But soon that minute turned into two, then three, and then five, and still the elevator doors wouldn't close.

"What in the world…," she said as she pressed the button to close the doors. One press, two presses, and then twenty presses in rapid succession. Still nothing. "Ugh, I don't have time for this!"

Anna walked out of the elevator to look for the stairs, and that's when the elevator doors closed.

"No no no!", she yelled as she banged on the doors. But it was too late, the lights on top of the elevator subsequently flashed lower and lower numbers.

She looked to her left and saw the entrance to a stairwell.

"This better be worth it."

"The elevator's going back down to the first floor, Elsa," Hannah said to her boss standing right behind her.

"Good.", Elsa folded her hands behind her back and paced around the lobby. She was not going to make this easy on Anna, in fact she was taking away the one thing that could possibly help Anna, and the one thing she now had more of: time. Her workday officially ended in four minutes, there was no way Anna could get up here in that short amount of time. Especially if she had to walk up ten flights of stairs.

"If you don't mind me asking, why all this trouble over one woman? Do you know her or something?", Hannah asked.

"Yes, I do mind you asking. And no, it's none of your concern.", Elsa dismissed the questions coldly and continued to stare at nothing in particular. Just four minutes until she could put this whole mess behind her for at least one more day.

"Gee sorry," Hannah mumbled. "All I'm saying is that you're putting in a lot of effort to avoid talking to whoever this Anna person is. Maybe if you just get it over with, you won't have to keep doing silly stuff like this. Controlling an elevator to force her to take the stairs seems a bit excessive, don't you think?"

Elsa checked her phone, three minutes left. "On the contrary, I think I'm being perfectly reasonable.", she lied.

Hannah got out of her chair and walked over to Elsa, who stood in front of an obnoxiously large painting of a cat on a mountaintop. "Look…I've worked for you for a while now and I'd like to think you could open up to me just a little bit. I want to know what's got you rattled, that's all."

Elsa felt a hand on her shoulder and for one pitiful second, she was considering opening up. Even during their night meetings, she kept things professional. She shrugged off the hand and continued to pretend to be impressed by the painting. "Don't you have calls to return or something?"

Two minutes left.

"Not really. All you've told me to do is prevent this Anna person from getting up here in time. I bet you're counting down the minutes until your day's over, aren't you?", Hannah said with a grin.

Elsa remained silent and walked away from the painting, and away from Hannah, a nagging sense of anxiousness began to trickle down her spine through beads of sweat. She tried to ignore it, but as her impossibly slow clock continued to tick down, the feeling just got worse. She found herself staring at her closed door, and a small part of her thought about going back into her office and locking her door until time was up.

But she was better than that, more mature than that. And if she did something that juvenile, it would mean that Anna won and she was in her head more than Elsa was in hers.

Thinking about that damn woman…it infuriated her. Why was she back in her life again? Why was this happening? Why couldn't she just-

A loud bang interrupted her thoughts.

Elsa released her tight grip on the doorknob and turned around. The stairwell door creaked closed, the air grew frigid, and Anna was here with one minute to spare.

Anna hadn't worked out in over a year, so the fact that she was able to run up ten flights of stairs should have earned her some sort of medal. She ran through searing, burning pain in her legs and lungs, and didn't even take a breather when she finally reached the 50th floor. She growled and pushed open the door with her dwindling strength like a linebacker, surprising herself, surprising some brown-haired stranger, and surprising…Elsa.

Elsa was right there, no more than fifteen feet in front of her; and any kind of plan she had was thrown right out the window.

She felt the familiar chill, that frozen feeling from their first reunion. It started in her toes and worked its way right up to her legs and she knew that if she stood still like last time, it would cover her whole body.

All her work would have been for nothing. Climbing up all those damn stairs would have been for nothing.

So, she forced herself to move, one foot at a time, and go on the complete opposite end of the spectrum of reactions. She stormed over towards Elsa and barked out, "Elsa, you piece of…gah! You and I need to talk!"

Everything afterward was a blur. All Anna could remember was yelling, mostly from her, and Elsa just standing there. Her receptionist or assistant or whatever was probably trying to calm her down too, but Anna was too worked up to care. She didn't stop, didn't bring herself down until she finally heard Elsa speak.

It was one word- a loud, sharp, "Enough!"- but it did the job.

But Elsa didn't stop there. She walked towards the desk where Anna and her assistant person, apparently named Hannah, were standing. Even now, those damn, icy blue eyes still made her weak, helpless...frozen.

Anna did her best to match her look, but she couldn't, she never could. But she refused to look away because it meant giving up, it meant Elsa would win.

Elsa spoke once more, breaking the silence, and she said the words Anna both wanted and dreaded to hear. "You want to talk? Let's talk."

Chapter Text

Chapter Six

"Alright, it's your turn again Elsa. Truth or dare?", Anna asked as she squeezed her pillow wrapped around her chest.

They were in the midst of a celebratory sleepover that was Anna's idea after they led Arendelle to a 10-5 victory. Since Elsa mentioned that she had never been to a sleepover, even though the idea seemed a bit juvenile for high schoolers, they decided to go for it anyway. They'd devoured two whole pizzas to make up for the burned calories, took a dip in Anna's pool, baked enough cookies to feed a small army, and closed out the night with a rousing game of truth or dare.

Elsa had been avoiding saying truth all night, which resulted in her doing the dumbest dares like drinking ketchup straight from the bottle and dancing around with an old fishbowl on her head. She knew that the first question out of Anna's lips would be the big schoolgirl cliché, and she didn't know if she was ready to answer that yet.

A few days before their first game, Elsa had taken the risk and paid Anna a compliment. Not only to see if she could actually do it but also to see how her best friend would react. Unfortunately, she just laughed, but Elsa took the lack of disgust or weirdness as a good sign.

Then, a couple days later, they were getting courted by two creepy guys, and when one of them turned towards Elsa, Anna actually hit him so hard he fell to the floor. Elsa knew that even if the guy was being totally inappropriate, that was an insane reaction to seeing your best friend get hit on.

Maybe she was just seeing things, or maybe there was something here.

She promised herself that at the next perfect moment, she would confess to Anna how much she liked her and see how things turned out. Even if it meant it would ruin their friendship for good. Her feelings for the redhead had only grown since that first day in English class. At first, she was confused, but as time passed those feelings made her terrified. The words she wanted to say threatened to pour out at any moment.

"Dare.", Elsa replied for the sixth time or so, still trying to find that perfect moment.

Anna tilted her head back and groaned, "Elsa come on, all you've picked so far are dares."

Elsa shrugged, "What can I say? I don't like backing down from a challenge."

"Yeah I know that too well Ms. I'm-Gonna-Play-Chicken-With-Every-Defender-That-Comes-At-Me. You gave me a heart attack on the field tonight, you know?" Anna sighed, but then a smirk appeared on her face and Elsa could see the gears whirring behind her eyes. "Alright then, I dare you…to answer one question."

"That's not fair!", Elsa said a bit too fast. "You can't just spin a dare into a truth like that, you're breaking the rules." She forgot how cunning Anna could be off the court too.

"Well then, I'll apologize to the grand council of Truth or Dare tomorrow.", Anna replied with a hand raised. She repositioned herself so she was closer to Elsa, and rested her arms on the pillow in her lap. "I mean you could just change your answer to 'truth', but then we'd be back where we started. So…you ready to hear my question?"

Elsa forced her breath to remain steady, they had never been this close before. In class they had desks separating them, and during lunch, Elsa would always sit facing Anna, never next to her. Even in the lockers rooms, they still had lockers between them. But now there was no separation, and they were alone on a bed.

Anna's bed.

She was failing miserably at breathing like a normal person, but still she found it in herself to say calmly, "I'm ready."

"Do you like anyone in school?" It was like ripping off a band-aid.

Elsa let out an all too suspicious laugh, tucking a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She could feel her heartbeat double in a second. "That's…a pretty cliché question to ask, don't you think?"

"Uh huh, so do you?", Anna was relentless, and maybe it was the lighting but her face looked more serious than before. As if her answer was the most important answer in the world.

She nodded in defeat, knowing that she wasn't confident enough to lie. "Yes, I do."

"What's her name?"

Did…did she… "What was that, Anna?" The redhead had asked the question so faintly that maybe Elsa had just heard the question funny.

"What's their name?"

Elsa was sure that the blush on her cheeks would be easy enough to spot a mile away, let alone from one centimeter away like Anna was. When did she get so close?

Anna's name was right on the tip of her tongue. She was so ready to say it with the same joy and brightness that made her heart soar every other time she said it. And in the heat- literally, her body felt like it was on fire- of the moment, Elsa realized that this was the closest to a perfect moment that she was going to get. It was practically handed to her on a silver platter.

But just as suddenly as it came, the moment was taken away from her. Anna scooted back a few inches in reality, but miles away through Elsa's eyes, and she made a noise that sounded like a cough and a giggle at the same time. "I'm sorry that was…more than one question."

"Yeah, yeah it was," Elsa said, still unsure about what the heck happened.

For one second Anna looked…different. Her eyes, always so confident, bright, and attentive, looked cloudy and lost in thought. Her smile wasn't as big and vibrant as always, it seemed forced in a way. It was like Anna was here, but she wasn't really there. A second later and she went back to her old self, but it was a second too late.

Anna straightened back up, grabbed one of her pillows, and hugged it close to her chest. "So I guess it's my turn, right? Well, I pick truth."

Elsa pressed on her phone and set it on her desk, "You have ten minutes." Ten minutes was more than enough time, more than Anna deserved. If she was still the same girl, she'd freeze up almost immediately.

If she was still the same girl...

So far, that assumption was proving true, Anna hadn't said a single word. Seconds passed, then three minutes or so, without a single word. Elsa had to bite her cheek to suppress a cocky smile. She didn't even need to sabotage the elevator, she could have just told Anna to come in, stare her down like she was doing now, and watch her shrivel under her gaze.

Elsa would have enjoyed doing this, she would have enjoyed finally getting this sliver of vengeance if Anna didn't look so damn sad.

Why was she so sad? It was ruining everything. If she was just scared, intimidated, this would have been so much easier, but those green eyes were so full of sadness- and something else, maybe guilt?- that it ruined Elsa's enjoyment of this moment.

And then it got worse.

Anna didn't finally speak up and make a fool of herself, no…she started moving closer. And closer. And closer. The closer Anna got, the less confident Elsa became. Distance and silence were her barricades, it kept so many things, years' worth of pent-up feelings and emotions at bay. But Anna was tearing them down with every step. They were so close now, as close as they'd been in years, and Elsa knew that she was in trouble, on the verge of breaking down.

She didn't have to do that though, because Anna did it first. She put her hands around Elsa and wrapped her up in a hug.

"Anna, what the f..."

"I'm sorry."

This was unexpected and wrong- so very wrong- but Elsa...just let it happen. Her hands hovered over the shaking redhead, but they didn't push her away.

As the embrace continued, she felt her shirt getting colder and wetter. She was crying, Anna was crying on her shirt. This couldn't be happening, this shouldn't be happening. Why was this happening?!

Time had stopped, she didn't know for sure how long they were standing like this. But in this moment where space and time didn't matter, Elsa heard a soft, muffled voice speak again.

"I'm so sorry Elsa, so…so sorry," Anna muttered. "I'm so sorry for everything I put you through…"

Her hands...if they landed anywhere on Anna's body then it was over. Any leverage that Elsa had would be gone, the ball would be in Anna's court. But then, all the pain and resentment and anger would be over too. In the back of her mind, in the storage space she kept locked away from everyone, she wanted to do it.

But she couldn't, she didn't want to. That's what she told herself.

"Wait did you just say truth?"

Anna tilted her head, "Yeah. Is something wrong with that?"

"No, it's just that…" Anna had also taking dares all night, but they were pretty tame because Elsa didn't want to humiliate her. Now she was hitting her with this plot twist, and she didn't know what to do with it.

"And don't hold back Elsa, not like you did with all those dares," Anna smirked. "Nothing's off-limits." She curled her fingers toward herself, telling the blonde to bring it on.

Again, another perfect moment gift-wrapped and handed over to her. She had to take advantage of this, she needed to know the truth. She couldn't hesitate any longer.

Elsa took a deep breath, "Okay. Um…who do you-"

There was a sharp knock on her door, and a tall man with well-kept brown hair and a recently shaved mustache peeked in. He smiled and waved a half-eaten chocolate chip towards them.

Anna waved energetically, "Hey dad! What's up?"

Her dad shrugged, "Oh your mom wanted me to check up on you guys to see if you broke anything. Or, you know, hurt yourselves."

She laughed, "Well you can tell mom that Elsa and I are fine, we were just playing truth or dare and I guess we got a bit too carried away."

Carried away? The places her thoughts took her made Elsa blush and she had to look away as father and daughter continued their conversation. When Anna talked to her parents, it made her a little envious. It wasn't that she didn't have a good relationship with her parents, but they weren't as open and friendly as she wanted them to be. She was having a hard time remembering the last time her dad ever smiled at her like Anna's did.

Aside from the envy, her affection for Anna grew tenfold when she saw how engaged and cheerful she looked talking to her dad. She saw where Anna got all her vibrant optimism and her ability to smile through any situation, and she knew now more than ever that she wanted to be around her for every moment of their lives. Was that a bit extreme to say when they were only freshmen? Probably, but Elsa didn't care all that much. She liked Anna, a lot. They were forever friends, right? Maybe they could be forever something else soon.

"Well your mother and I are going to bed, so you two try to keep it down alright?"

"Will do, dad!", Anna exclaimed.

Before he closed the door he added, "Oh and make sure you guys wash your dishes before you go to bed alright? Amazing cookies don't excuse you from dish-washing duty."

Anna giggled and shook her head when the door finally closed, "I hope he didn't eat all of them."

"Well, I wouldn't blame him.", Elsa replied. "They are pretty amazing." Understatement of the century.

Surprise surprise, watching Anna bake heightened her affection even more. She knew Anna could bake, but tonight was the first time she saw her friend in action. And the unwavering focus she exhibited from prepped the ingredients, and the ease in which she moved throughout the kitchen, it was intense but graceful. Like a linebacker/ballerina hybrid. She was also passionate and got so lost in her work; and when she was deep in thought on a step, her mouth would slightly part and she'd mouth words to herself.

Gosh, she was smitten.

Anna laughed, much like she had when Elsa had complimented her before. "Thanks. Hey, why don't we put the game on hold and get those dishes done now? Before we forget?"

Elsa nodded, telling herself to at least try and get a grip. "Sounds like a plan."

"You're sorry?! After all the shit that you put us rough, after all the hope that I held on to that you'd change your mind, and then having that hope systematically break down after years…all you can say is you're sorry?

loved you, Anna! I loved you more than anything in this entire goddamn world, and I gave you that love every single day we were together, and in one day- one day- you took all that love and threw it back in my face, and then you left me! You left me to fend for myself after all that talking we did about how we would never leave each other's side.

So now…what? Do you think two stupid words will make all of that go away? Do you think that we can just go back to what we once were? Well, you're too late, you were too late yesterday, you were too late the day before, and you were too late the day when all of this went to hell. There is nothing you can do to make this right again…except for maybe one thing. And that's to get the hell out of my life for good."

That's what Elsa wanted to say while Anna continued to cry and say she was sorry, but she couldn't bring herself to say it. Because damn it, she still had a tiny needle of hope in this haystack of hate and agony. A needle she could never get rid of no matter how hard she tried.

Seeing Anna again, feeling Anna in her arms, hearing Anna's voice in her ears, it brought back everything. It brought back who they were, and it was making a valiant effort to drive away who they are now.

But the truth in what she wanted to say was still there, it was too late to make everything right again. And the fear and brokenness inside her that was keeping them from being together again made her more miserable than before.

It broke through her confidence and bravado, made a crack in the shell she'd carefully formed in those four years, and she needed to make sure it didn't break all the way. Anna wasn't worth it, she had to tell herself that. If it helped against dwelling on these thoughts, if it kept Anna at bay, then she had to say that.

Anna wasn't worth it, Anna was too late, she didn't want these damn arms around her. The more she said these things, the more she believed them. Until finally she was able to push Anna off her. A success amidst this wrench in her plans.

But she undid all that work when she made the mistake of looking into these green, tear-stained eyes. That hope was still there, it wouldn't go away. Her mind had already taken a mental picture of this moment, and the way Anna looked now. And it would never go away.

She forced herself to turn around and walk away, right up to her window to look out at what she built, just to try and clear her head. It didn't work, nothing would work.

She heard Anna start to walk toward her. "Elsa…please talk to me."

"Leave.", Elsa said with a hush, strained voice.


"I said leave!", she wanted to shout it with the same authority she asserted over her employees, but it came out weak and pathetic. A strangled cry wrestling down the want, the need, to break.

Sometime in that tense feeling of eternity, Anna did exactly what Elsa did and didn't want: she left.

Now Elsa was all alone. Just like before, just like she'd always been.

She stumbled over to her desk and hunched over it, tears started to defiantly fall from her face and onto the wood. She didn't cry, she shouldn't cry, and yet it was happening; and much like this encounter with Anna, she was too powerless to stop it. It had been four years, but as it was scarily dawning on her, it wasn't too late.

"Fuck you, Anna." She said quietly. "I...I hate..."

The alarm on her cellphone went off, the ten minutes were up.

In no time at all, the duo had come up with a system to maximize their dishwashing efficiency. Anna would be in charge of rinsing off any excess food and scrubbing them up, while Elsa was in charge of the final rinse and loading them into the dishwasher.

With their powers combined the job should have taken no less than five minutes, but it had been ten minutes and counting. Anna, despite her request to pause their game of truth or dare, decided to start it back up thirty seconds after starting their job because she was bored. Except since they couldn't stray too far from the sink, they withheld dares and kept going for truths.

Elsa kept skating over the one question she wanted to ask Anna, and thankfully Anna never pried deeper into the question she asked her earlier.

That is until they had one dish left to wash.

It was Anna who went for it first, quickly washing the plate and passing it over to Elsa. "Last one, I guess I got to break out the big guns, huh? Alright then Elsa…who do you like?"

A cold wave of anxiousness washed over Elsa. Was this how she was going to confess? Elbow to elbow in front of a sink, washing dishes didn't seem like the most romantic setting.

Her hands were shaky and she couldn't hear much other than the white noise from the sink and the pounding in her ears; but when she reached a hand out to grab the plate, and a spark ran from her fingers to Anna's, it was as if she had a stunning moment of clarity. Her heartbeat was slow and steady, her fingers had finally calmed, everything had escalated to this exact moment.

It was the peak of adrenaline, a familiar feeling that she'd encountered on the field. The point where the mind takes the reins away from the heart for one solitary second, and you either go for it or let the waves die down, hoping for another chance.

And this time, Elsa went for it.

She gripped that plate as hard as she could and pulled it and Anna closer to her. And when they were both face to face she closed the distance. Fireworks exploded behind her eyes. Perfect moments be damned; she didn't want to keep trying to find it, she'd go ahead and make her own.

Elsa put her free hand on Anna's hips - not at all concerned at how wet it still was from the sink water- and held her so tight she was afraid Anna would fall. She held her tight, to steady her and remind her that this was happening. This was real.

Anna's lips were so soft, so inviting, and Elsa would not let this kiss die. Because if they broke apart, if their friendship was over as soon as their lips parted, then she wanted to savor every bit of it. She didn't let go until she was absolutely certain that she needed to breathe again, and even then she was debating whether dying of suffocation from kissing Anna was such a bad way to go out.

Elsa caught her breath as she looked at her friend with eyes that said there you go, there was her answer. Anna looked back at her with eyes that said what in the world was that.

"What in the world was that?"

"That…that's my answer.", Elsa replied through labored breaths and a tired smile on her face. "The person I like, it's you."

They there silently watching each other, trying to catch their breath. But the longer the silence went on, the more the adrenaline rush in Elsa died down, and the more she realized the gravity and the stupidity of what she just did.

She just kissed her best friend, and her only friend at that. If things went wrong…she would be alone again, all alone in an environment she absolutely could not survive in without at least one lifeline. Her first and best friendship she ever had could also be her last, it could be over in the blink of an eye. She risked everything just for one dumb kiss, was it worth it?

Yes, yes it was.

Anna snatched the plate out of Elsa's hand and practically threw it into the sink. As it rattled around inside the metallic bowl, she placed both her hands on Elsa's cheeks and pulled her in for another kiss. This one deeper, better, and much more intense. Her hand, too, was damp from the job they had completely forgotten about, but Elsa didn't care.

She smiled and let Anna take the lead. Their friendship was over, but in its place was something much better.

Chapter Text

Chapter Seven

If Anna and Elsa's life was some fairytale story, it would have ended when they'd shared that wonderful kiss at the sink. But it wasn't, and they couldn't run away together or ride off into the sunset as the words "The End" appeared on the screen in elegant, gold letters. This wasn't an end in any case- well, maybe it was to their friendship- but the beginning of something…different.

It wasn't until Monday during lunch that they actually talked about what they were now.

"So…we should probably talk about last weekend, right?", Elsa said after a lull in their conversation.

Anna shrugged, "What's there to talk about? I like you, and I think you like me, so obviously we should be together right?"

"You think I like you?" Elsa said offended.

"I was joking!" Anna laughed, "Of course I know you like me. You made that very clear to me, and my lips, and the dishes I guess."

"Hmmph." Elsa frowned and folded her hands together. She looked back down for a moment at the old metal table before looking up at her…whatever Anna was to her now. "I just don't want there to be any confusion over where we see this going, okay?"

Elsa knew for sure that she wanted to be with her and only her. But what if Anna didn't want the same thing? It was silly to think of that, seeing how strong their friendship was, but this was more than just a simple friendship. It was complicated; then again when it is ever not complicated when you're dating your best friend?

Well, dating may not be the best term since they hadn't actually gone on one yet.

Anna bit her lip and looked away, "I guess you have a point. I'm sorry, this is all new territory to me."

"Hey this is new for me too," Elsa reassured her. "I've never been in a relationship before either."

They both fell into a state of silence as they searched for what to say first, hoping the other would say someone to get the ball rolling. Elsa sat with her hands still folded, watching her thumbs as they wrestled with each other; Anna continued to stare at nothing in particular.

All around them the student body of Arendelle High sat without a care in the world. Friends remained friends and couples had already gone through the growing pains of their relationship, and here they sat in limbo, wondering where they stood.

Finally, Anna spoke. "So…where do you see this going?"

Elsa let out a nervous laugh, "You stole my question."

"Sorry, I didn't know what else to say." The redhead looked bashful, lacking a confidence she seemed to want. She really did have no idea what to do here. They were both guiding each other on this journey without a map, someone needed to point them in the right direction.

"No it's okay, you don't have to apologize. I should have asked that first anyway if I didn't want you to…" Elsa took a breath, "Anna, I really like you. I mean you already said that too, and I've already shown that, but I don't…know how else to show it. This- what we're doing- it's new and exciting, but also really, really terrifying. You're the first real friend I've ever made and I don't wanna throw away what we already have. But at the same time, you're one of the first people I've ever had feelings for and I don't want to throw away what we can have. Does…does that make sense?"

Anna took a second to process those words and she nodded in agreement. She also, finally, looked Elsa in the eye. In them, she saw relief. "It makes perfect sense! I mean I never thought I'd ever fall for my best friend. And yet…here we are."

"Here we are.", Elsa echoed, her heart fluttered after hearing Anna say that she fell for her. This was still incredibly surreal.

"Well…I like you too Elsa, hopefully as much as you like me or else this is gonna be really awkward." Anna giggled, though there was a hesitation to it. "Anyway, where do see this going? I don't know…I mean I do know but it's just…I-I mean I want to be with you for as long as you want to be with me. Does that make sense?"

Elsa was surprised, and she was also surprised at the fact that she was surprised. Anna said exactly what she was thinking. Relief came from knowing that they were both on the exact same page, and she unfolded her hands to grasp one of Anna's. "That makes perfect sense.", Elsa said with a smile.

Anna felt the soft hand on hers and saw the warm smile from her...well they'd decide on a label later. All that mattered now was that they wanted to be together, and they were together now. Her cheeks warmed up to a color rosier than her hair. She replied after a content sigh, "So, when are you gonna take me out on a date?"

Anna felt a hand on her own, but it wasn't Elsa's. It wasn't as soft, or as cool, or as…painfully and aggravatingly perfect. And she wasn't at the lunch table where everything was safe, and where everything made sense. She was at her flour-covered workstation, back at her job. Back to reality.

Rapunzel had placed her hand on top of Anna's, who had been smashing the wide end of her rolling pin straight through bread dough. The milky white glob had split in two under the weight of the wooden cylinder. Her friend looked at her with the same expression she had given her ever since- well ever since that day. It was a look that said, "You haven't been yourself since you met with Elsa, and even though I'm your friend and respect your privacy I can't believe you haven't told me what's going on."

"Anna…", Rapunzel started.

"I know.", Anna interrupted. "I know…I know what you're gonna say. And I promised you I'd tell you what's going on when I'm ready, but right now I'm not." She was the furthest from being ready.

Rapunzel sighed and she released Anna's hand. "Well when are you gonna be ready? Anna the bake sale is in two hours, and if you can't hold it together then maybe you shouldn't go."

Anna shook her head, "No. You need me there, and I need to be there. This was my idea in the first place remember? It would be weird if I didn't show up."

After deducing that Elsa wouldn't help them out in any way, Anna and Rapunzel got to work on finding different solutions to their financial problem.

Rapunzel did most of the talking and brainstorming, and Anna did most of the staring into space and trying not to cry from reliving memories from the past eight years. She waited and waited for Anna to be of any help at all and it finally came with a bit of goading from the tolerant blonde. Literally the only thing Anna said in this brainstorming session was "How about a bake sale?"

Rapunzel expanded on this idea. She contacted local schools to put on a bake sale for, and a few days later they finally got a reply from a private school that would pay handsomely. But they wouldn't pay them to have a bake sale, they would literally just pay them to make an undecided amount of baked goods for the children.

They had spent the entire day baking and boxing up goods to feed a small army.

Anna worked like a woman possessed, figuring that it would keep her from dwelling on the past. But becoming a slave to the times when everything was okay had made her less susceptive to the present times where everything had to be.

Nonetheless, she was still too stubborn to admit to anyone else that something was wrong. And damn it all she was going to this bake sale…this not-bake sale.

"Okay, but you should at least take a break. We don't have to leave for another hour, and I could use some help up front with boxing," Rapunzel walked back to the front of the store.

"But I-"

"And I'm not taking no for an answer!" Rapunzel disappeared behind the door, leaving Anna in her silence.

The silence that, up until now, she was perfectly content with stirring in.

After waiting a minute to wonder if she should instead stay in this prison she'd made for herself, she decided to leave against her own wishes. Anna peeled her hands off the rolling pin, noticing the thin cracks forming in the wood, and walked through the door where all her problems were waiting for her.

Anna walked through the double doors of the theater with a giant popcorn bucket in tow as Elsa held it open.

"Aww, you're such a gentlewoman!", she exclaimed as she threw a piece of popcorn into her mouth and led them towards a couple of empty seats.

"Lady. I think the word you're looking for is lady," Elsa responded.

Anna giggled, "Nah I like gentlewoman better."

They finally did it, they were on their first official date as a couple. It took a lot longer than it probably should have since they had done pretty much what regular couples did when they were simply just best friends, so it was Elsa's idea to just start simple. And the movies were simple.

After suffering through the embarrassment of their parents dropping them off at the theater, Anna found herself growing more nervous as the date went on. It was strange, ever since they made that leap she overanalyzed every little thing she did. It affected the way she walked, talked, and acted around Elsa.

"What's this movie about again?", Elsa asked as she grabbed a handful of popcorn.

Anna gasped a bit too exaggerated for her liking, "You're the one that picked out the movie! I thought you knew."

"I…", Elsa sighed and looked at her with those cute, apologetic eyes. "Okay I'm going to be honest, I was a bit nervous and kind of just picked the first movie I saw. If this movie sucks, I'm really sorry." She looked adorable when she was guilty. Was that a thought she could have?

"Hey don't worry about it, there's nothing to be nervous about," Anna said like a hypocrite. "Nothing's changed between us and nothing should. I'm sure this movie's gonna be great, and if it isn't, then we can find something else to do with our time."

Elsa threw a couple of pieces of popcorn into her mouth and raised an eyebrow, "What do you mean by something else?"

Anna just smiled and leaned back in her chair, waiting for her words to sink in.

"Oh my gosh, Anna no!"

The sly redhead laughed, being careful not to drop the popcorn in her lap. "I'm messing with you! But hey, you're not nervous anymore right?"

"I still am, but for an entirely different reason!"

From the row of seats behind them, they heard a sharp shushing noise, even though the previews hadn't even started yet. Regardless they quieted down immediately. Elsa glared and pouted at Anna, who grinned sheepishly and mouthed the word "Sorry."

A short time later, after Elsa had calmed down and Anna hid away her own nerves, the house lights dimmed and the movie began.

Oaken's Haven for Children was a private school for children of low-income families started by a humble Scandinavian millionaire named Oaken. It wasn't as if his last name was a total mystery, his full, legal name was literally just Oaken. Rapunzel had found his school online and he had replied to their message within the hour. They hadn't even met the guy yet, but the fact that he would help them out meant he was already the nicest man they knew.

His school, it seemed, was just as big as a heart. It was in the northwest part of the city, set right at the edge before the forest began, and they passed it twice along the way. Turns out the expansive, lush mansion their GPS kept taking them to actually was the place they were looking for.

The doorman at the front gate greeted them with a warm smile, tipped his hat towards them, and opened the gate without question.

"This is a school?", Anna asked wide-eyed as they drove and towards the entrance.

"Apparently.", Rapunzel replied, in the same amount of awe as she was. "I mean I looked this place up last night so I shouldn't be surprised but- man, seeing this place in person…"

Anna wrung her hands together and looked back at the trunk of the car, "You think we even have enough food for the kids?"

"Anna, how much do you think kids actually eat?"

Hedge clippings of various animals lined the cobblestone road and gardeners waved past them as they drove by. Children were playing all around the yard under the supervision of adults with matching purple polo shirts and black shorts. The path ended on a roundabout with a statue of a cherub in the center. Two people waited for them on the wide, carpeted stairs that led to the front door. One was a long-haired brunette and the other was a man with short, dirty blonde hair. They were both wearing matching sweaters.

"Is that Oaken?", Anna asked as she stared impolitely at the man who looked back at her with a smile and a welcoming nod.

Rapunzel shook her head, "If he is, then he might wanna update his picture on their website." She took the key out of the ignition and exited the car, Anna followed her out but stayed by the car as Rapunzel walked up to introduce them both.

"Hi there! We're so glad you two could make it, I hope you didn't have any trouble finding the place.", the man said as he walked down and extended his hand towards Rapunzel.

"Oh don't worry, it was no trouble at all.", Rapunzel shook the man's hand and continued. "I wasn't expecting the school to be this…big."

The man let out a hearty laugh and clapped his hands together, "Well thank you! I'm sure Oaken will be happy to hear that you find his school to your liking. My name is Hansel by the way, I don't think I told you that yet, I'm one of Oaken's assistants, and this is Gretel, my partner-in-crime."

Gretel smirked and shook her head, "You are so lame. Do you have to say that every time we meet someone?"

Hansel chuckled, "Hey if you don't like my jokes then don't let me take the lead. Anyway, we're here to welcome the both of you to Oaken's Haven for Children and help you with anything you need for today."

"Well, that's very nice of you to offer," Rapunzel said with the cheerful business voice she had mastered over the years. "My name is Rapunzel, and over by the car is my friend and my own partner-in-crime Anna. We'd love some help getting the food out of the trunk if you don't mind."

The two assistants looked at each other and spoke in sync, "We don't mind at all."

They took two trips each just to take all the food out of the trunk and into a massive dining hall that took Anna's breath away. The first things that caught her eye were two massive circular tables with enough wooden chairs to sit a classroom's worth of children. They were empty right now, but that would change pretty soon. There were other smaller tables around them as well, enough for ten people or so.

The next thing that caught her eye was how exquisitely decorated the room was. The carpeted floor was immaculate and at the center of the carpet was a large image of the same cherub as the statue at the roundabout. One wall had long vertical windows that gave a perfect view of the forestry, and on another wall was a large mural of children playing around what looked like the garden at the front of the school.

The last thing she noticed was the staff, the personnel in crisp white jackets working in tandem like ants in a colony. They took the food and placed it on long, wooden tables at the corner of the dining room, walked in and out of the kitchen carrying utensils and plates and other food that they had cooked beforehand, and took the reins from Hansel and Gretel. It was exactly the staff that Anna dreamed of.

They sat at one of the smaller circular tables talking about the school and its history, minus Anna who stayed mesmerized. She'd already accomplished her dream of owning a bakery, but she'd be a fool not to keep working till she accomplished something like this. And she was going to work for this future no matter what it took, no matter who got…in…her way…

Anna rubbed her eyes with her sleeves. "No dammit, not now…" she muttered under her breath. Working herself ragged was the only thing that stopped the tears from falling, but now that she'd finally taken a second to pause, the memories began to take advantage of her vulnerable state.

There was nothing to stop them from coming. Anna forced her legs to walk out of the center of the room and towards the door, the last thing she wanted to do was make a scene.

"Anna? Where are you going?", Rapunzel asked as she walked past her.

"Oh, I just…need to use the restroom. I'll be right back." Anna grabbed the handle, opened the door, and walked right into a wall of colorful cotton.

As she reeled back and shifted her gaze higher and higher she realized it wasn't a wall, but the chest of a large, hulking man who looked like he could kill her with one finger. His rosy cheeks, majestic blonde facial hair, and beaming eyes that could brighten anyone's day told a different story.

"I am so sorry, I did not see where I was going," the man said with a distinct, cheery accent once Anna stepped away from his stomach. "Are you alright? I hope I didn't hurt you."

She stood dumbfounded, unable to process the fact that a human with such jarring and contrasting qualities could actually exist, "I, uh…um…I…."

"Oaken, you finally made it!", Hansel said as he walked past Anna and shook the giant's hand. "I see you've already met one of our guests."

Oaken's face lit up and he smiled back down at Anna after shaking Hansel's hand. "Ooh, so you two are from the bakery? Are you by chance the one I talked to on the phone? Rapunzel, is it?"

"No actually that would be me." Rapunzel put a hand on Anna's shoulder and stood side by side with her like the reliable partner she was, keeping Anna from trying to form words to say. "It's very nice to finally talk to you in person. You're…also much bigger than I expected."

The big bear let out a full-belly laugh and patted both of their shoulders with his meaty hands, almost knocking them into each other. "I do get that a lot. I trust that my two friends have been a valuable company?"

"Very! They've shown us around and gotten us settled into this…amazing dining room. They've been a great help."

Anna felt the agitation grow stronger, and she felt that if she snuck away to the corner room then no one would really notice. Small talk was more of Rapunzel's forte, Anna didn't like to do it unless she absolutely had to. And there was the added discomfort from still being on the verge of sobbing. But this wasn't a situation she could get out of so easily, and she had the wherewithal to realize that she needed to be a professional right now, so all she did was smile and nod.

It would all be over soon.

Oaken clapped his hands together and sighed with content. "I am so excited that you two are here, the children will love you and your cooking. Are you ready to receive them?"

Rapunzel looked to Anna before she spoke, even though she would say yes regardless. The blonde gave a picture-perfect smile, but her eyes were full of worry for her friend. Anna didn't trust herself enough to be fine during the event, but she had to try. Their bakery was counting on her pretending to. So, she nodded, and Rapunzel spoke for both of them.

"Yeah, we're ready."

"Oh my gosh, that movie was not okay!", Anna shuddered.

Elsa leaned on the door to keep it open- still with that guilty yet adorable look on her face. "I'm really sorry. If I knew it was a horror movie I never would have gotten tickets for it."

Anna walked through with her hands wrapped closely around her chest as she stupidly recalled the more gruesome moments in the movie. "Why would you ever do that to a human being? Who even thinks about using a pen like that?!"

"Again I'm so sorry for making you watch that; I promise I'll make it up to you." Elsa didn't know what to do other than to put her arm around Anna and make sure she didn't walk into traffic until they got outside.

"And the bear trap! The bear trap! That was…gah that was so gross, and I couldn't look away. Elsa, why couldn't I look away?!" Anna didn't even wait for an answer, she just turned into Elsa's chest and groaned.

So yeah, she was kind of exaggerating, but only by a little bit. Scary movies did actually terrify her, and she knew she'd be having nightmares for a couple of days. This time, though, she welcomed the feeling if only because it took her mind off the uncertainty still there in her and Elsa's relationship.

Yes, she'd take nightmares and recurring, gory visions if it meant distracting herself from stressing over a freaking label.

She felt Elsa's arms wrap around her in an awkward embrace, with Elsa's head sort of sitting on top of hers. Anna didn't know what to expect, but it sure wasn't this. "I screwed up badly, didn't I? This has to be the worst first date you've ever been on."

It was at this moment, as she stood in Elsa's embrace, that Anna realized how foolish she was being. This whole time, Elsa was focused on making today a perfect day for her, and now she felt guilty for not doing that. She was showing commitment, that she cared and would do anything for her. Not that that was ever in doubt, it was just seeing this made her realize exactly what they were.

She wriggled her head to meet Elsa face to face- or rather face to chin since Anna was a head shorter than her- and curled her arms around Elsa's waist.

"Hey…yeah it was." Elsa looked at her confused. "But this is also the first date I've ever been on. Period. So that means we've got nowhere to go but up! Which also means that you shouldn't beat yourself up too much over this, okay? I'm still nervous about all this too, but I've got a great best friend, and an amazing girlfriend, who's teaching me that there's nothing to be nervous about."

She felt Elsa stiffen in the embrace and then push away. Despite the shocked look on her face, she looked majestic glowing in the evening sun. "Did…did you just say girlfriend?"

Dozens of alarms went off in Anna's mind, along with a voice screaming at her and asking what the heck she was thinking. "Was-was that too soon?"

"I-I don't know. Just a little? I mean I think it was, like we-we've only gone on one date so far and…" She saw panic in Elsa's eyes and was afraid she'd start hyperventilating.

This was awful, horrible, the stupidest thing that Anna had ever done. She may have screwed up the best, and only, relationship she'd ever been in by jumping the gun and calling them something that they weren't yet. Why did she think she knew what to say and when to say it when she had no experience at all in the dating department?

"Th-then I take it back, we're not girl…girlfriends yet, I jumped the gun. I'm so sorry for even assuming that we were already there, that was really so stupid of me and- gah! Me and my big freaking mouth!" She wanted to curl up into a ball and die.

"No no no, you don't have to apologize! I was just…surprised, that's all, and a little panicky. That's- I mean that's where I want us to be eventually, I just don't want us to be there so soon."

"I knooooow!" Anna covered her face with her hands. "I didn't mean to say that, it just slipped out. I'm so sorry, Elsa, oh my gosh I think I'm gonna cry."

"Wait what? No, don't cry." Elsa's arms were around her again, she hated that she liked this so much. "Please Anna, don't cry."

"But I almost screwed this up." She mumbled into Elsa's shirt, trying to fight back the tears. "I said something super dumb on our first date. How can I be so stupid?"

"You're not stupid," Elsa reassured her, tightening her grip. "Everybody says dumb things on their first date…I-I think. At least that's what I've seen in movies and stuff. And doesn't the fact that I'm still here show that you didn't screw anything up?"

"I mean your parents aren't here yet…"

"I meant besides that!" Elsa pulled them apart again but still kept her hands on Anna's shoulders. She didn't look as panicked anymore, there was a calmness and somehow also sternness in her expression. Like a parent trying to reassure their child they didn't break their favorite toy. "Anna Dawson, one mistake isn't gonna have me running for the hills, okay? I'm still here, I still like you a lot, and down the line, I will be your girlfriend. But for now…"

Elsa took a deep breath, and then said something that- with the orange glow behind her and the muted cadence of the rest of the world acting as a romantic soundtrack- made Anna's heart flutter more than it ever had before. Six words that were so simple, so unassuming, but meant so much more than any compliment or kind word she'd ever gotten: "I'm so glad I have you."

Anna was thankful that Elsa was here to hold her up, but she also hated that Elsa was so close because there was no hiding the fact that her face had turned as red as a tomato. But the anxiousness, the dark, thundering clouds of doom and gloom, had faded away. "I'm glad I have you too.", she mumbled out.

Elsa chuckled, "What was that, Anna?" They were way too close for Elsa not to have heard her. It was clear that she just wanted to hear them again.

Anna pouted and said those same words, red cheeks and all. "I said I'm glad I have you too, you stinker."

"I don't think I heard you say that last part."

"That's because I added it."

Elsa laughed again and embraced Anna in another hug that was immediately reciprocated. She smelled like peppermint. It was in this embrace that Anna continued her streak of mumbling out words that she was too afraid to say out loud. "I kind of want to kiss you right now."

It was a little silly to say, and it was barely even a whisper, but it didn't change the fact that she definitely did want to kiss Elsa right now.

"Then why don't you?"

That made her more weak in the knees than before. She pulled away from the hug even though she didn't want to, and looked up at Elsa with eyes way too determined and fierce for a simple kiss. But Anna had only done this once before and she needed to psych herself up for it.

When she found enough courage, Anna leaned up on her toes, closed her eyes, and went for it. The electricity between them got stronger with every centimeter that she inched closer. Higher and higher, her heart was beating faster and faster, she was trying so hard not to hyperventilate. They were so close; their lips were practically millimeters away from contact. But just before skin met skin, they were interrupted by the loud, obnoxious honk of a car horn.

They didn't even have to turn to realize that it was for one of them, Elsa looked over and rolled her eyes. She sighed and dropped her hands from Anna's shoulders.

"Your parents or mine?", Anna asked, dreading either of the answers.

"Mine," Elsa replied. "So I guess…I'll text you later?"

"Not if I text you sooner." No, Anna had no idea what she meant by that. In fact, she regretted saying something that stupid as soon as she said it.

Elsa laughed, which was a good sign, and looked like she was about to walk away. But instead, she leaned forward and gave Anna a quick peck on the lips. "I didn't want to leave you hanging," she whispered before walking away. Long after she had gone, Anna was still standing there with the goofiest smile, her thumb pressed on her lips.

"What do you say to the nice lady?", a man in a purple polo said to a boy with messy blonde hair.

"Thanks, Ms. Dawson!", the boy exclaimed as he held a giant chocolate chip cookie in two small, grateful hands.

"You're welcome, enjoy and come back for more if you want," Anna replied with a warm, genuine smile. If there was one thing that always made her feel better no matter what, it was the happiness of a child eating one of her creations.

…maybe creation wasn't the best word, it made her sound like a mad scientist.

Either way, it was a feeling that never failed to make her happy, even if it only lasted for a moment in her current state.

The boy and his supervisor walked over to the round tables where the rest of the children were waiting. The smiles on their faces combined with the food stuffed in their mouths made them look like ecstatic chipmunks. Rapunzel was speaking with Hansel and Gretel about logistics, money, or something else adults spoke about. Everyone seemed to be having a good time, and Anna was trying her best to as well.

"You seem to be in a much better mood than before."

Anna turned her head slightly to look up at the giant on the other side of the table, Oaken had his fingers pressed together in the middle of his chest and he had that same effortless smile on his face. He was wrong of course, but she wasn't about to go and tell him that. She patted the crumbs off her plastic gloves, "Was it that noticeable?"

"Well I did not want to pry, but earlier you did look as if there was something troubling on your mind. Is it something that you wish to speak about?" Counselor-like wording aside, Oaken did sound trustworthy. But how could Anna tell a stranger what was going on if she hadn't even told Rapunzel?

Anna looked down and busied herself with rearranging the cookies spread out on the aluminum tray. "Thank you but I'll be okay, it's personal stuff that I wouldn't want to bother you with."

"I understand."

"And thank you again for allowing us to come here and…feed these kids.", Anna said to try and change the subject.

"Oh, it is no problem at all. I had not eaten at your bakery before your friend asked to come, but now I know that I made the right decision.", Oaken waved a half-eaten muffin to prove his point. "You are an excellent baker."

Anna blushed, "I...well I wouldn't go that far but-"

"But I would. You are always much better than you think." Oaken took a couple of cookies out of the tray and slid a white card towards Anna. "Unfortunately, I must cut this conversation short because I need to check on the children. But if you ever want to talk about anything…well please do not hesitate to call us. We would be glad to help."

Once Oaken walked off to tend to his other duties, Anna grabbed the card and flipped it over. There was a cherub inked on to the left side of the smooth surface, and written in gold calligraphy was the name of the school. Underneath the name, in smaller font, were the words "Where those that are lost can be found" along with contact information for Oaken himself. Anna placed the card in her pocket, wondering if she'd ever take his offer.

Just a couple more hours, she told herself, and then she'd be free to make a scene in the comfort of her apartment.

But fate, it seemed, wasn't going to give her that.

Somehow from the middle of the large, loud room, she heard what sounded like a girl's laughter. On one of the smaller round tables were two girls who seemed like the best of friends, holding two halves of the same cookie with carefree smiles on their faces. One of them had messy strawberry-colored hair, the other had blonde hair in a ponytail. They looked so happy, so in love with life, so bright and vivid.

And Anna finally broke.

In a flash, she was out of the dining room and into the long, carpeted hallway. She stormed past the workers who moved out of her way, past the classrooms, and past all the beautiful scenery until she came across a long couch perfect for an emotional breakdown. She slid down the wall right next to it and sat on the floor as the floodgates finally broke.

"No…dammit, no!", Anna said hoarsely.

Fate is cruel when it wants to be. Fate brought her back to Elsa, and fate was what pushed her out of her life again. And now fate was the one finally telling her that she couldn't run away from this anymore. Fate was the reason she couldn't stop crying through her apron.

And fate was the reason that Rapunzel had somehow found her and was now kneeling next to her, trying to get her to say something other than "No" over and over again.

"Anna come on, it's okay. Just…please calm down and talk to me?", Rapunzel said with that soft, gentle voice she'd heard too much in college. She pulled Anna's arms away from her face. "It's going to be okay Anna; you just need to talk to me."

"No it's not, it's not going to be okay. Nothing's going to be okay…", Anna said. It felt like she was drowning, trapped in her mind, a wrenching feeling in her heart.

"What are you talking about? Of course everything's…", through foggy eyes Anna could see Rapunzel putting the pieces together. "This is about Elsa, isn't it?"

Despite how much she wanted to deny it, Anna nodded.

Rapunzel looked above the couch and back at Anna. "Alright we're going to get you somewhere more private, and then you're finally going to tell me what happened."

Chapter Text

Chapter Eight

West Arendelle at night was one of the most peaceful, serene places in the world. Aside from the occasional sound of cars pulling out of driveways or coasting down the street.

Moonlight blended into the dim glow of Anna's kitchen, soft gray complemented the black and white. She sat at the dining room table they bought off Craigslist with a mug of hot chocolate that was getting colder by the minute. In her other hand, she held her phone to her ear, waiting for a moment to speak.

"Mom…", she sighed. "Mom I told you, I'm fine."

"Anna Dawson, you broke down at an elementary school and wouldn't stop crying until Rapunzel got you back into the car."

"It wasn't an elementary school. And…okay so I wasn't fine then, but I promise you that I'm fine now." Anna replied, not exactly believing that herself. "I always appreciate you checking up on me, but it's been a long day, and all I want to do is sleep."

And the less she talked about this, the better.

After Rapunzel made up an excuse to drop her back home, Anna collapsed on her bed to brood and sulk. She didn't leave her room until now. This whole week...what she wouldn't give to erase it from her memory for good. As she was trying to find something to eat her phone rang, no doubt Rapunzel had told her mom to talk to her.

"And that's another thing: Why didn't you tell me that you met with Elsa again? You tell me everything."

"I know…I know and I'm sorry I never told you anything it's just…" Anna paused, she wanted to lie at first but realized that lying to her mom was a stupid idea. Plus, she had already come clean once today. "If I couldn't admit to myself that something was wrong, then how could I tell anyone else? Especially you, mom?"

She swallowed, the truth tasting like a bitter pill.

"Oh honey…", her mother cooed, "I understand, you know I do. But you should have told me, you know I'd do everything I could to make you feel better."

Anna sighed, "Yeah…yeah I know you would have." She was incredibly grateful for her mother; she didn't know what she would do without her. "I promise you that the next time something like this happens, you'll be the first one I tell."

"Even before Rapunzel?"

"…okay you'll be the second one I tell.", Anna redacted. She heard her mother grumble, "Mom I live with her, it's a lot easier to have a face-to-face conversation than to have one through the phone."

"Well…alright I guess that's true." She heard her mom sigh, and there was a moment of hesitation until she continued, "So…what happened?"

Anna leaned back on the dingy, plastic chair and bit her bottom lip, "You mean Rapunzel didn't tell you what happened?"

"She told me the gist of it, but I want to hear the whole thing from you. Now come on, no more dodging this, I want to know everything."

Anna looked down at the mug in her hands, it was black and tiny pieces were chipped off around the rim. The faded logo of the North Mountain University crest did nothing to ease her conscience. The eyes of the lion in the center clawing at a shield pierced right through her, digging up a bottomless hole of remorse. She still had no idea why she hadn't thrown it out yet.

After gathering her thoughts and deciding the best way to answer, she decided to go with the bitter truth once again. "I screwed up…again. But worse this time."

"What do you mean?"

"I had a meeting with her last week. She told us to raise a crazy amount of money to earn by the end of the month, so I went to talk to her. I really was going to be professional and talk things out with Elsa, but something just…happened. Funny story, talking to people face to face is also harder than doing it through the phone." She tried to laugh, it sounded too forced to be convincing.

"Seeing her again made a lot of things come back to the surface. I remembered the time we spent together, all the great, amazing moments we shared, but I also remembered…how much I hurt her. And I knew that the first thing I told her wouldn't be about budgets or money or anything like that, I had to apologize."

She scratched at the logo, wondering if erasing the lion's head would also erase her guilt. "But I went way overboard in my apology, I…oh my gosh, I walked up and hugged her like nothing had happened between us. I tried really hard to control myself but once I wrapped my arms around her it was like…I just-just didn't want to let go again. I kept telling her that I was sorry and like an idiot, I cried, like stupid big tears right onto her nice dress suit thing."

Anna laid her head on the table and used her forearm as a pillow, "And then she kicked me out. Mom, why am I so stupid?"

"Now honey don't say that, you are not stupid. You're just…"

"Helpless? Idiotic? In need of a lobotomy?"

"…in love."

If she had the energy to, Anna would have shot up from the table so fast the chair would flip into another dimension. But all she did was snap her head up so fast that the mug almost tipped over. "What?!", she exclaimed. "There is no way that…I am not…I mean I can't be...what?!"

Her mother laughed like she was watching her daughter stumble after taking her first steps. It was a bold move, considering the emotional state of her daughter. "Actually, you're right, you're not in love. You're still in love, even after all these years."

"And how are you so sure about that?", Anna asked but then immediately shook her head. "You know what? Don't answer that, I just know that you're wrong. Totally, absolutely wrong. I can't be in love with Elsa, not after all this time, not after what I did to her. That's just sick."

"Oh don't be so overdramatic."

"I'm not being overdramatic, you are!" Rapunzel was most likely sleeping, she lowered her voice into a harsh whisper. "You and your talk about being in love and all that, you're the one blowing this way out of proportion. I'm just here…listening to all this and thinking…gah! I knew I shouldn't have told you about what happened."

Her mom laughed again, that same laugh from before. Anna was glad her mom was getting some amusement out of this because she sure wasn't. And as her mom started to talk more about why she was right, her mind decided not to do her any favors and think back on the day that she actually did realize she was in love with Elsa.

A little more than a year had passed and Anna and Elsa were now sophomores about to celebrate an important milestone: their one-year anniversary. But instead of celebrating, they had a playoff game against one of their school's biggest rivals. Southern Isles Prep, a private school on this tiny little island off the coast near South Arendelle. Two years ago, they legally added the word "Prep" to their school title. Even though they weren't actually a university-preparatory school, they believed that adding it would gain them more sponsors and financial backers. And it did.

Students that went there walked and talked like they were humanity's greatest gift and paraded this privilege around in their navy blue and maroon uniforms. You could ask anyone in any neighboring town about the school and they wouldn't have a single good word to say about it.

A few years ago, during a football game between Arendelle High School and Southern Isles Prep, two of the players got into a fight that escalated so fast that the entirety of both teams had gotten involved and the game was called off. Later, they found that the visitors' locker room had been completely destroyed. Lockers were toppled over like dominoes, shattered glass littered the floor, stall doors were ripped off their hinges, and vulgar graffiti lined the walls.

They weren't exactly greeted with a warm welcome when they returned after that incident.

Early into the lacrosse game, Anna and Elsa knew that they wouldn't be leaving it without a couple of scars. These Southern Isles girls didn't hesitate to play dirty and skated the line between what was against the rules and what wasn't. If they even breathed in the same direction as the red and blue brutes, they were met with rough tackles and a battering from their sticks.

Their coach gave them a much-needed rest halfway through the game, Anna handed Elsa a water bottle and looked at her with a tired smile. "How you holding up?"

Elsa rolled her shoulders and tried to hide a wince. "I've been in worse games," she lied. "What about you? They aren't roughing you up too bad out there, are they?"

"It's nothing I can't handle." They watched the game with ice packs on their shoulders, cheering their teammates on as they plowed through the rest of the half. The atmosphere was electric on this Wednesday night, fans for both schools were split along the grassy sidelines. On one side was a sea of purple and green and on the other was an armada of blue and red. It was difficult to hear their coach during timeouts from the roar of the crowd.

Even Elsa's chuckle was almost drowned out, "So this is a…pretty interesting way to spend our anniversary."

"Well, it could be worse. We could be on an actual date," Anna joked. "Th-that was a joke by the way…I actually wouldn't mind if we spent our anniversary on, you know…a nice and relaxing, not painful at all date."

Elsa wrapped her arm around Anna's icy shoulders, "Anna we've been together for a year now, I know when you're joking."

Anna looked up at Elsa. There was a small scratch disturbing the freckles on her right cheek, the ponytail she had put her platinum blonde hair in was coming undone, and dirt was smeared all over her face. But damn it all if she still didn't look absolutely gorgeous. All it took was one glance to remind Anna of how lucky it was to be with someone she loved.


Oh crap.

She just said she loved Elsa. She'd never said she loved Elsa before. Technically she hadn't said it out loud, but she thought it and that was pretty much half the work. She just said…she loved Elsa.

This was big, really big. And maybe bad too? It slipped out, but it was so true. One year later, one year of just her and Elsa against the world, and she knew more than anything else that she loved this girl. But did Elsa feel the same way?

"Anna, you okay?"

Anna pulled herself out of her thoughts and shook her head, she was sure that she had been looking at her girlfriend- thank goodness they could finally use that term now- with the dumbest expression. "Yeah-yeah I'm okay I…I was just, you know, thinking of what you wanted to do after this."

Elsa didn't look entirely convinced but didn't push. "I dunno, you got any crazy anniversary date suggestions?"

Was confessing her love a crazy suggestion? Anna didn't suggest it just in case. "I don't know either, maybe we can just…get something to eat?" Preferably somewhere private and away from other people just in case the adrenaline from the game and her penchant for jumping the gun made her do something super bold. And stupid.

"Sounds like a plan." Elsa smiled, her pale lips looked soft and inviting. Usually a fun thing for Anna to think about, but not so much now.

Before they knew it, they were both sent back into the game. The unstoppable duo put their shoulder pads and helmets back on and marched right back onto the battlefield. They were down to the wire and tied at 4 points apiece.

With five minutes left, things seemed to be going in their favor. Anna and Elsa were working like a well-oiled machine, skirting past the defense and playing a two-woman game, passing the ball between each other at such speed that their opponents didn't know where to look. Nothing could stop them now.

And then something did. Or rather, someone.

The opposing goalie was in their sights and all eyes were on them. All it took was one more pass, one more throw, and they could be able to breathe a momentary sigh of relief with the lead in their hands. But they were so focused on each other, that they didn't manage to see one of their opponents coming at Elsa like a freight train. Anna was too busy catching the ball after a pass that went a bit too high that she couldn't warn her girlfriend in time. All she could do was watch as the girl behind Elsa rammed into her and sent her to the ground with a sickening thud. Her helmet bounced as she toppled over, and for a second Anna thought she'd died.

And that was one second too many. Her heart pounding in her ears kept her from hearing the coach tell her to keep going. She dropped her stick, raced over to Elsa, and with inhuman strength pushed the girl off of Elsa and sent her flying.

Anna, so far gone from her rage-induced stupor, could only watch as a bystander in her own body while the world moved around her. Referees and teammates flooded the field. Elsa, thankfully still alive, was helped back to the locker room, and fans on both sides were either praising her or shouting what were most likely death threats.

But she didn't care about any of that. All she cared about was hoping that Elsa was okay, and she rushed off the field as well once she finally got her legs working again and her vision returned.

By the time she got inside, Elsa had already been stripped of her gear and was sitting on an exam table getting checked for injuries. Anna took off her own shoulder pads and helmet, waiting anxiously for the physician to finish her checkup. After an agonizing few minutes, the physician handed Elsa an ice pack and left the room.

Anna stopped her before she walked out. "Is she…is she alright?", she asked without even trying to hide the intense worry on her face.

"She'll be okay, it was a rough tackle and she'll probably have a splitting headache and some bruising around her ribs for a few days. But there aren't any major injuries to be worried about."

Anna leaned against the wall and let out a sigh of relief, "Oh thank goodness..."

"Just keep an eye on her for the rest of the game, will you? Besides, I don't think you want to be out there right now anyway since you've got half of the Southern Isles wanting your head." She didn't have to tell her twice.

Once the physician left, Anna rushed into the room to see Elsa, sitting on the table with her shirt off and ice packs wrapped around her ribcage. She was fully aware that this was the least amount of clothing she had ever seen Elsa in, but she also knew that the only thing that mattered was her physical well-being.

"Hey…", Elsa grunted with a painful smile. "You okay?"

Anna looked at her astonished, "You're asking me if I'm okay?! Did you not see what happened out there?"

"See it? Anna, I lived it.", Elsa tried to laugh but made a regretful grunt afterward and clutched her side.

Anna noticed that the cut on Elsa's cheek had gotten deeper and grabbed the first aid kit in one of the drawers. "Your cut's gotten worse, hold still and let me patch it up."

"Will do." Elsa patiently waited for Anna to get to work, but she hissed when Anna rubbed a cotton swab with alcohol on her cheek. "Hey, that hurt!"

"You got hit so hard I saw your soul come out, I think you can handle a little rubbing alcohol on a cut," Anna quipped. Although she felt a knot in her stomach hearing her girlfriend in pain, especially since she was the one that hurt her. It came with the territory that they'd suffer injuries and get hurt on the field, but that didn't make it any less easy when it happened. "Besides I'm almost done, so just…you know, keep holding still."

"Fine," Elsa sighed. "Hey speaking of hits, did you…I also saw you tackle the heck out of that girl too."

"Yeah, I did," Anna said, leaving out the part about how she'd do it all over again if she could. She gave as well as she took, but she hated it when anything happened to Elsa.

"But why? I mean you could have just kept going, you could have scored and like won the game right there. This could have happened to you too, Anna. You know that right?"

"Maybe, maybe not." Anna unwrapped a band-aid and placed it on Elsa's cheek. Unfortunately, she'd let her guard down for a bit too long, and let something slip that she probably shouldn't have. "All I know is that I'm not going to let people hurt someone I love and get away with it."


Anna froze, realizing what she said. She wanted desperately to pretend that didn't just happen, she wanted to backtrack, she wanted to convince Elsa that she heard her wrong. But all she did was stand there, face petrified, and her fingers hovering over the band-aid on Elsa's cheek.

And then suddenly her fingers weren't on Elsa's cheek. Suddenly they were in Elsa's hands. Suddenly Elsa's eyes were right on hers, searching for more answers. "Anna did…did you just say you love me?"

"I-I uh…um no I…I mean that's not…" It was useless, the fact that she hadn't immediately denied it gave her away. There was no turning back now. "Okay yes, yes I did say that…I love you. Or at least now I did…like officially anyway. I realized it- tonight actually- and I was trying to find the best way to tell you and this was…this was definitely not it."

"Hey it's alright, you don't-"

"No, it's not alright!", Anna frowned. "I did it again! I jumped the gun, I didn't-I don't know where your head is at and just kept thinking about me and what was feeling. I knew I would feel these feelings at some point, but when I finally confessed them I wanted to know where your head was at first. The confession was going to be somewhere private, and romantic, and special. This super dark medical station thingie is definitely not any of those things!"

"Anna, just-"

Anna tore her hands away from Elsa's and dug them into her hair. "What if I said it too early? What if I messed all of this up and I made you feel awkward and uncomfortable? I don't wanna lose what we have, and I feel like I am! I'm so scared and so stupid, and just…why couldn't I just shut up and-"



Suddenly there was no more talking and no more worrying. There was just Anna and Elsa, in the privacy of a physician's office, with ice and band-aids, and Elsa's hands on her shoulders and they were kissing each other with the same passion from when their adventure began. When Elsa pulled away, Anna whimpered and leaned forward for more only to be denied.

"Anna Dawson…", Elsa said amused at her eagerness. "I love you too."

Anna couldn't remember won that game, nor did she care. Something magical happened in that room, something that no one could ever take away from them.

It was the greatest anniversary they ever had. Even now, seven years later, she could say this with utmost confidence. But seven years was a long time ago; a lot happened afterward.

She had gotten off the phone with her mom a couple of minutes ago after Anna convinced her that she would be okay. And she meant it too, at least for the time being. After washing off her mug and putting it back on the shelf, she decided it was time to call it a night. As she passed Rapunzel's door, she could see light coming from the crack in the doorframe. Turns out she wasn't sleeping after all. Nonetheless, she still knocked before letting herself in.

Rapunzel looked like she had been hard at work for a while now judging by the papers all over her desk, her long hair tied up into a bun, and the calculator on her phone glued to her hand. "Hey," Anna said, testing whether Rapunzel was up for a conversation.

"Hey yourself," Rapunzel replied without looking up from her desk. "You have a good talk with your mom?"

Anna closed the door behind her and leaned on it, arms crossed. "I did actually. We cleared some things up, I told her some things I probably should have told her before, and she gave me some…advice about all this."

"All this? What's that mean?"

"Oh you know, advice about our bakery and how we can get more opportunities and stuff like that to make more money," Anna half-lied.

"Anna, you were on the phone for an hour. I seriously doubt that's all you two talked about.", Rapunzel punched some numbers on her phone and wrote them down. "You're telling me Elsa didn't come up in the conversation at all?"

For a minute she wondered not whether she'd tell Rapunzel the truth, but how much she'd actually tell her. Would it make sense to tell Rapunzel that her mother thought she was still in love? And if she did tell Rapunzel, did that mean she was admitting it to herself? Did she want to admit it?

Absolutely not. As far as she was concerned, telling Rapunzel about what her mother said would just make things even more confusing. Besides, she still hadn't told her why they broke up in the first place.

"Yeah, she came up," Anna replied after a heavy exhale. "But she told me what I already expected her to: that I needed to put the past behind me and just focus on making this bakery work. And I agreed with her. No matter how badly I want to bury the hatchet it's clear that Elsa doesn't." A sickening feeling started to grow in the pit of her stomach, both from lying to her best friend and from the bits of truth she'd sprinkled in hitting her hard.

Rapunzel finally looked up from her desk, she stared at Anna with a look that was less accusatory and more worrying. "Are you sure that's what you want?", Rapunzel asked, going straight for the question that would hurt the most to answer.

Anna forced herself to shrug and said sadly, "It's not about what I want." She knew that if they continued to dwell on this topic, things would come up that she absolutely could not deal with right now. She needed to change subjects and fast. "Anyway, uh…what are you working on?"

Rapunzel peered at Anna, seeing right through her plan, but she played along anyway and held up her phone with the calculator app still on it. "Oaken's check came through, I've just been crunching the numbers seeing how much we still need to make this month."

"How much did he end up giving us?"


Anna's face lit up, "Oh my gosh, that's an insane amount of money for one dinner. We're already halfway there!"

"Not exactly," Rapunzel replied, just as disappointed as Anna was. "We have to subtract the cost of all the ingredients we used up today, and the cost of the van we rented. Plus, we closed up shop early so we need to take into account the earnings we lost. That's a good thousand dollars right there if I did my math right."

"Oh…", Anna pouted. "That's a bit of a bummer. But hey, that's still better than nothing, right? We've still got time to make up the deficit."

"Of course we can. But we're going to have to work our butts off, and I've been running the numbers here-"

"Did you just say you've been 'running the numbers'?" Anna asked, a little amused. She wasn't going to say anything about her saying 'crunching the numbers', but two cliches in a row were enough for her to interject.

"Yes I did, hush. Anyway, I've been running the numbers and…well, I don't think we're going to get the rest of the money just from manning the shop from here till the end of the month." Rapunzel leaned back on her chair and let out a tired sigh. "We're going to have to think outside the box again."

Anna walked over to the desk, all the papers that covered it were full of numbers and words that made little sense. "I don't suppose you have any ideas," she asked.

Rapunzel smiled, "Actually, I do." She pushed one of the papers towards Anna, on it was a draft of an email and the subject line read: Arendelle Fair Booth Registration.

"Every year, ArenCorp holds a city-wide fair to celebrate the city and how it made the company like this big success," Rapunzel continued. "It's like a farmer's market on steroids. Local businesses have booths where they can show off and sell their products and whatnot, and so I signed us up to register for a booth. It still needs to be approved, but if it does then not only can we get some great exposure off of this, but we can make some good money too."

Typical Rapunzel, always being more on top of it than Anna could ever dream of being. Anna put down the paper and clapped her hands together and bounced on her toes, "Let's do it then!"

Rapunzel laughed at her friend's enthusiasm, "Whether we do it or not is out of our hands, but I'm glad you're so on board with this. I have to warn you though, there are two…problems if we do this."

"Alright, what are they?" The redhead asked, feeling the shot of adrenaline coursing through her from this great idea.

Rapunzel held up one finger, "Well the first one is the amount of food we have to prepare. We'll be feeding more than just a school; this is like half the city at least. And the festival is in a week. Are you sure you're ready for that?"

She stopped herself before blurting out an answer too quickly. It would be different to say she could handle this if they had a whole crew to work with, but it was only them. And while Rapunzel was good at being on top of things in every other aspect of life, she wasn't much use in the kitchen. Regardless, they had to do this, and Anna had to be ready. She squared her shoulders and nodded, "Yeah, I'm ready."

"Alright…I trust you.", Rapunzel put up another finger and she looked more serious than before. "The second problem is- well you see, some of the more higher-up positions at ArenCorp usually show up to this festival. They're there to make sure they keep their jobs or if they want something from someone else, but other than that they don't do much…except for one. There's one person who's tasked with giving the opening speech, visiting all the booths to see how they're doing, and giving a closing speech. One person who, at some point, will probably come over to our booth too."

"And who's th-", Anna stopped, and the adrenaline immediately drained from her system. "…oh."

Rapunzel mirrored the uncertainty on her face, "Are you sure you're ready for that?"

Chapter Text

Chapter Nine

Elsa straightened out her skirt and loosened and tightened the cuffs on her coat for the hundredth time. She looked over at the clock on the wall and hopelessly hoped that it had moved more than ten seconds since she last checked it. It had not.

She hated this waiting room. The drab, gray walls devoid of any decorations, the furniture picked out by colorblind decorators, and the outdated magazines with pages missing and pen markings on people's faces didn't leave a good first impression. Or second, or third… If Hannah wasn't so sure that this therapist was the best one in the city, Elsa would have chosen literally anyone else.

Every three days for the past couple of weeks, she had been seeing Dr. Sonya for therapy sessions mandated by Hannah. Ever since her meeting with Anna, she had been hostile and making rash decisions. Hannah scheduled the first therapy session even if she knew that'd be defying Elsa's authority. Any other time, Elsa would have either chastised or fired her, but right now she'd do anything to get that damn redhead out of her mind. The sessions would continue until Dr. Sonya signed a form stating that Elsa was mentally stable and wouldn't snap at her employees anymore. For obvious reasons, no one else at ArenCorp could know she was going to these sessions. Her corporation's reputation would take a serious hit if people found out their CEO was a crazy person.

Besides, she didn't doubt the rehabilitative effects of therapy. Maybe through some strange irony, talking about Anna would help to forget her.

Hannah was sitting right next to her in a lime-green chair running her finger across the screen of her tablet. At least she had something to entertain herself with, even if that tablet was strictly for work purposes only. "Why do you still insist on coming with me to these things?", Elsa asked her.

"Are you saying you don't want me here?", Hannah shot back.

"That's not the point. You stay back at the office and get some work done without me."

"Because you sneaking out in the afternoon by yourself going to who knows where isn't suspicious at all. You need me here to keep your alibi in check, plus I can't make any work-related decisions without your approval. So me coming with you makes that easier. And you know how good I am at keeping a secret." Hannah pushed the tablet over to Elsa's side. On the screen was a contract with a blank line on the bottom of the page. "Which reminds me, I need you to sign off on the renovation plans for our gyms over in East Arendelle."

Elsa slid the small pen out from the side of the tablet and signed the screen, not bothering to read the plans. They probably just wanted to expand their walls to add more treadmills. Again. "I guess that's fair. Anything else?"

Hannah took back the tablet and navigated towards a new page, "Nothing overly important. Mr. Westerguard from the SIBC is going to be in the area in the next month and wants to schedule a meeting with you."

"Get a specific date first and then we can schedule something. Anything else?"

"Yes. Oh, okay I lied. My bad, this one's kinda important." She brought up a new page for Elsa to look at, on it was a list of emails all with the same subject line: Arendelle Fair Booth Registration. "The list of booths for the fair needs to go out today, and there's still one more spot to fill. I need you to decide which one gets it."

"Right, that's next week isn't it?" Elsa took the tablet into her hands and skimmed over the emails pondering over who would make the cut and who wouldn't. She knew how much this fair helped her city, but she couldn't fit all these businesses on the fairgrounds. There were some good businesses on the list, most of them not even backed by ArenCorp…except for one. And once she got to that one, Elsa couldn't look at any of the others.

Warm Hearts Bakery. This was going to be a tough decision: Would she reject it because it needed less exposure than the others on the list? Or would she reject it just to be petty?

No, she couldn't think like that. She was better than that. Every business should have a chance to succeed no matter how small or new they were, ArenCorp wasn't as big as it was until she came along. Still, that didn't stop her from trying to come up with excuses to leave them off the list.

"Did you find one?", Hannah asked as she leaned over to see which name Elsa stopped on.

Elsa moved the tablet away, "I'm still deciding!"

Hannah looked at her like she was on drugs, all of the drugs, "O…kay? But I need to send out the list in like an hour."

"And I'll give you my decision before then.", Elsa pressed a button to lock the screen on the tablet and handed it back to Hannah. She was grateful to be rid of the thing, at least for a little bit.

Dr. Sonya finally opened the door. The woman in a modest, flowery dress smiled and gestured for Elsa to come in.

Dr. Sonya's office offered the same welcoming atmosphere as her waiting room, with psychology degrees the only things breaking the monotony. Dr. Sonya herself was a short, middle-aged woman with an accent Elsa still hadn't pinned down, she spoke in perfect English at least. She wore her recently dyed black hair in a braid, thinner than Elsa's and had silver, wire-framed glasses that she took off and put on like an act of habit. She was an interesting character, but her quirks made her comfortable to be around and talk to.

She had this way of getting into your head and make you say things about yourself without forcing out any personal details. It's as if you wanted to tell her your deepest, darkest secrets. An apt description for any therapist worth their salt, but she did so with such an infectious smile and attitude. After a couple of sessions, Elsa found herself almost eager to go to her office.


Elsa sat on a black leather chair, leaning back with one leg crossed and her arms folded across her lap much like Dr. Sonya was sitting.

"So how have you been since our last session?", the doctor asked.

"I mean I haven't emasculated any of my employees in the past few days, so I guess that means I'm fine right?", Elsa replied. Fine may not have been the right choice of words, but it was better than saying "barely able to stop thinking about her ex-girlfriend, and when she does all she wants to do is strangle her." Yeah, she was…she was going a bit insane.

"Any updates?", Dr. Sonya asked as she scribbled on her notepad.

Elsa shrugged after giving that question the least amount of thought, "Nothing off the top of my head."

"Interesting.", she said while continuing to write. "Interesting…"

After waiting a few seconds to see if Dr. Sonya would say what was interesting, Elsa realized she wouldn't. This might be one of her mind tricks to get her talking some more, but she wanted to get out of here as soon as possible so Elsa decided to take the bait and speak. "So doctor, um...I guess, I don't know, how have you been?"

"For today's session, I'd like to talk to you more about your relationship with Anna." The doctor completely ignored Elsa's words.

"Why am I not surprised?", Elsa muttered under her breath and pinched the bridge of her nose. Ninety percent of their conversations were about her and Anna. She already told her about how they got together, some big moments in their relationship, and why they broke up. "What else do you want to hear?"

Dr. Sonya stopped writing and placed her hands back on her lap, an action Elsa wasn't used to. She still held her unfazed smile and stared right at Elsa like she was about to catch her off-guard. And she did. "I'd like to know about your first fight."

Elsa sat up and raised an eyebrow, "What…why would you want to know about that?"

"Many relationships that don't end on the best of terms typically aren't due to one isolated incident. If we talk about when things first went wrong, we can start to look at how we can make things right again."

Without even thinking, Elsa immediately asked, "And what if I don't want to make things right again?"

Dr. Sonya gave her a knowing expression and said, "And what if you do?"

Elsa scoffed, but if there was any chance that this would lead to her never thinking of Anna again, then she would take it. She sighed as she went back into her memories, not taking very long to figure out when their first big fight happened. After all, she was the one that caused it. "It was the start of our junior year…"

If they hadn't already, many students were deciding what they were going to be doing after they were out of high school. Would they go straight into the workforce? Would they join the army? Would they go to college? And if so, what for?

This was the issue that both Anna and Elsa were struggling with, Elsa much more so. Anna wanted to be a baker ever since she was old enough to pick up a spatula. Her baking skills were known throughout the neighborhood and it wasn't uncommon for neighbors to come to her door wondering if she had any extra cookies or brownies to give out. She loved seeing the joy on people's faces and loved the process of creating the definition of delicious from a few choice ingredients. More than once had she considered changing her last name to "Baker".

Anna knew exactly what she wanted to do, Elsa didn't even know what she wanted to wear the next day. One day, as they were going through brochures in Anna's kitchen from a college fair at their school earlier at day, the weight of how directionless Elsa's life was had finally gotten to her.

"I think it's safe to say that Arendelle University is on the top of my list.", Anna said with giddiness in her voice as she held up the brochure with both hands like it was a newborn child. "The campus is beautiful, their culinary program is top-notch, and their tuition is super affordable. Plus, I mean a lot of our classmates are going there anyway, so it won't be that lonely up there you know?"

"Yeah…yeah...", Elsa replied while absently looking at the stack of brochures. They may as well be a part of the woodwork.

Anna caught her gaze and immediately put down her Arendelle University brochure. She placed her hands over Elsa's and said softly, "What's wrong?"

The redhead's uncanny determination to know something was up with Elsa, and do whatever it took to cheer her up, was unmatched. It's one of the reasons why Elsa loved her so much.

She gave her a sad smile, "Oh it's just…listening to you talk about your future and how you always light up when you talk about it…I really wish I could do that."

Anna stroked her cheek, "Don't beat yourself up over this too bad, Elsa, you're gonna be just fine. No matter what your teachers, or your advisor, or your parents tell you, the only person that can decide what you want to do with your life is you. And you don't need to decide on that right away."

"Yeah but…", Elsa sighed, "…you knew that you wanted to be a baker for so long, nothing can ever change that. I...I don't know, I guess I forgot what I've wanted."

"Nothing? There's nothing in your life that you've loved enough that you wanted to pursue?"

Elsa shook her head, "Nothing. I mean nothing except you obviously, but I don't think I can get a degree in studying you for the next four years."

Anna laughed, but the redness on her cheeks definitely wasn't from her laughing. "Well if there was I bet you'd be able to graduate with Straight A's, you'd be like the valedictorian."

"And the only one taking that course of study…hopefully."

"Hopefully.", Anna placed one of her hands on her girlfriend's shoulder. "Just…don't beat yourself up about this okay? You'll find out what you want to do in life, and when you do you'll be the best dang person to do…whatever it is you end up doing. Like even if you're a janitor, you'll be the best janitor of all time! People will write stories about how you cleaned the world's streets, mopping up crime and shining windows till they reflected the sun's rays right back at it. Wait no, that would kill people…"

Elsa smiled, a genuine, heartwarming smile this time. She leaned in to kiss Anna, and Anna met her halfway. Hundreds of kisses later and they still held that same spark from the first one. "I love you," Elsa said once they parted.

"I love you too."

Not even ten seconds later, Elsa said something that made that night take a depressing turn. She had a momentary lapse of judgment when Anna returned to her brochure and said, "Hey but…I just want to let you know that if my plan ends up with us going separate ways…I want you to be happy okay?"

"What do you mean?"

"I mean like…maybe if I end up going to college somewhere else and it's super far away, if it's easier for you to be happy without me then do it."

"I'm still not sure I'm following you."

"Okay, so it's like…", Elsa put Anna's brochure down and looked at her with fading intensity. She should have stopped talking, quit while she was behind, but her mind still hadn't caught up with her mouth. "So what if we go to different colleges and they're like more than 3 or 4 hours away. I want you to be happy, and if that means forgetting about me and moving on and finding someone else, then so be it." Yeah, this was really stupid. "Like what if the long-distance thing doesn't work out- if we try it, I mean- and you're not feeling it? I want you to find someone else that you can…feel it with. If push comes to shove and you have to choose between me and being happy, then I want you to be happy."

Anna looked at her like she was insane, or an idiot, or both. Her eyebrows scrunched up and her mouth contorted into both a frown and a smile. More frown than smile. "Elsa, are you preemptively breaking up with me in case we go to different colleges?"

Elsa shook her head rapidly, "No! No, that is not what I-oh…crap, I think I am. I…I think I may have just hypothetically broken up with you?"

The shade of a smile on Anna's face was gone now. "Are you saying that if we try the long-distance thing, that I'll be so unhappy so fast that I'll find someone else and forget all about you?"

"That's…I don't think that's what I'm saying?" By now, Elsa had no idea what she said or was going to say.

"Because I'm just gonna throw away everything we have on the off chance that I find some new person whose two minutes away and not three hours away. Because our relationship isn't strong enough to go the distance, is that right?" There's something in Anna's eyes: tears, she's hurt.

"That is definitely not what I'm trying to say here," Elsa replied.

"Then what are you trying to say? Because all I'm hearing right now is that you don't think we're going to last after high school, and I'm…I'm honestly a little mad that you'd think that." Not just mad, if her eyes are any indication.

Almost three years into their relationship and Elsa was finally seeing a different side of Anna that she hoped to never see. Despite what Anna said, there was nothing little about the pure anger in her expression, from her pursed lips to her furrowed brows. There was a pain too, the pain of a loss that hadn't happened yet, and a loss she never wanted to happen.

Elsa needed to fix this.

"Anna…I never meant to imply that after we graduate, we won't be strong enough to go the distance. In fact, there's nothing I want more after high school is over than to be with you. I'm just saying that if…whatever the future holds, if it means that you and I can't be close to each other and it turns out that through some divine intervention this isn't working out…

All I want is for you to be happy, Anna. Even if that means being happy without me."

Elsa's own words were a bitter pill to swallow, no matter how truthful they were. But the hurt she was feeling inside wasn't nearly as bad as the hurt she saw in Anna. She was looking down and away from Elsa, but Elsa could tell she was on the verge of tears. For the first time in a while, Elsa had no idea what was going on in Anna's head, all she knew was that she had to do something.

She placed two tentative fingers on Anna's chin and turned her head to face her without any resistance. Anna sniffled but didn't resist. "Anna…", Elsa said softly, "…are we-are you going to be alright?"

She wiped a tear away, the frown on her face has straightened out only a tiny bit, but it was still something. "You're an idiot," Anna whispered.

Elsa chuckled, "Yeah you've told me that a few times. But why am I an idiot this time?"

This time Anna leaned in for a kiss, and this time Elsa met her halfway. This kiss was different, it was new and unlike any they had ever experienced. All the other kisses before were either quick declarations that they still loved each other, or ones verging on the passion they had yet to fully explore. This kiss called on both these feelings and yet so much more; their lips connected and stayed together for as long as time would let them. And in this kiss, they both told each other a new declaration, one that Anna would say out loud once they parted.

"Elsa, no matter what I do or where I go, it won't mean anything if I don't have you. And I don't know what the future holds, or where it'll take us, all I know is that no matter what happens I want to be by your side through it all."

Elsa didn't say anything after that, what else could she say that Anna already hadn't? She simply pulled Anna in for another kiss, declaring the same thing.

"And that was that. I know it was more of a misunderstanding than a fight, but you never asked for our worst one. You just asked for our first."

Dr. Sonya nodded and stopped writing. She had been completely silent this whole time, save for some instances of "mmhmm" and "I see", but now it seemed that she was going to work some of her therapy magic. "That was a very interesting tale, Elsa, I'm glad you shared that with me."

"Thank you?", Elsa replied cautiously. "I'm sorry but I still don't know what the point of all that was."

The doctor smirked, "I needed to know how you were able to reconcile your differences in the past, because that may hold the key in reconciling the differences you both hold now."

Again, Elsa didn't want to do any reconciling with Anna, she wanted to never see her again. But she had to admit that she was at least curious to see what the doctor had to say. "And what did you find out?"

Dr. Sonya took her glasses off and wiped them on her dress. Whether it was because she actually needed to or if it was to build suspense, Elsa didn't know. "What I could gather from that story is something that I think you already know. There is something that you lack, and it's the key to forgiving not just Anna, but yourself."

Elsa had so many questions. Why would she need to forgive herself? Why should she forgive Anna? And most importantly… "What exactly is it that I lack?"

Dr. Sonya leaned back on her own chair and smiled. She pointed a finger at Elsa and said one word: "Perspective."

Elsa let out a noise that she herself had trouble understanding. It sounded like a scoff, but also a laugh, but also a grunt. "Perspective on what? Perspective on how Anna is trying her best to ruin my life again?"

"Now Elsa, you and I both know that's an overreaction."

"Overreaction? You heard what she did, right? How could you sit there and say that she-" It was happening again, she was lashing out at others for the mistakes of one person. Elsa rolled her shoulders and let out a deep breath. "I'm sorry, this isn't your fault. Why do you think I need perspective?"

Dr. Sonya was completely unfazed by Elsa's outburst, she just smiled and folded her hands back on her lap. "There is one thing that links your first fight with Anna to your worst one, and to your most recent one. You fail to see things from her perspective, and always tend to assume that yours is the right one. I trust that you've heard the phrase 'Things aren't always black and white'?"

"Well yeah, I'm pretty sure everyone has."

"Now that sort of proves my point right there, doesn't it? Why would you say that everyone has heard that phrase?"

"Because everyone has heard…" Elsa realized now that Dr. Sonya had done it, she had just worked her therapy magic. But she wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of admitting that. "I still say you're wrong."

Dr. Sonya puts her hands up as if she was admitting defeat, "Then I'm wrong. But if you'll humor me for a second, would you like to know what I'd like you to do in order for you to truly see if I'm wrong?"

Did she really have a choice? Elsa sighed, "Alright, what do you want me to do?"

"Whenever you get the opportunity, whether it's in a couple of hours or a couple of weeks, I want you to talk with Anna and gain her perspective. Why did she do what she did? Why didn't she reach out to you in those four years? Why did she decide to do so now? You can't tell you me you aren't a little curious."

As hard as it was to admit, Dr. Sonya was right. She never once reached out to Anna to get an explanation.

Thankfully she didn't have to say anything else for the session. Dr. Sonya looked at her watch and spoke, "Well it seems as if we're out of time, but I want you to try and do what I asked. Your friend told me that you're going to be busy with the festival coming up so she scheduled your next appointment in two weeks."

"Hannah is just my-"

"Oh, you don't need to lie to me, Elsa." Dr. Sonya stood up and stretched out a hand, both to help Elsa up and to shake hers. "I'll see you in two weeks, and remember to get some perspective okay?"

Elsa refused the offer for help off the chair but shook the doctor's hand as to not be rude. She had a lot to think about, and she knew now that her sessions with Sonya were far from over. "Yeah, I'll see you then."

She left her office without speaking another word, Hannah was waiting for her in the waiting room already prepared to leave. "How'd it go?", she asked.

"Good, yeah it went good," Elsa replied dismissively. "Come on, we have to continue preparing for the festival."

Elsa didn't want to spend a second longer in here. She needed to be someplace where she could think, or at the very least someplace she could feel comfortable. Right now that place was her office. But Hannah stopped her before she could get too far, holding out the tablet against her chest to block her escape.

"Speaking of festivals, I still need a decision on that last booth like right now. They're expecting the list in five minutes."

"Seriously?", Elsa said, more than a little annoyed.


Elsa did promise to do that after she got out. However, with this new development thanks to Dr. Sonya, she knew what she had to do. She had to gain some perspective, and that wouldn't happen if she kept actively trying to avoid Anna. Again.

With a defeated sigh, Elsa moved the tablet out of the way and gave her answer, "Pick the bakery."

"Which one?"

Elsa continued walking towards the front door. "You know which one."

Chapter Text

Chapter Ten

The festival grounds were buzzing with activity, even this early in the morning, yet Elsa still found a moment of solitude. The makeshift stage at the edge of the park provided bands and spokespeople room to set up and breathe. She pulled up a folding chair and tuned out the noise around her, in mere moments she was in a trance as she threw her rubber ball up and down.

Up and down.

In a few short minutes, she would have to go up on stage and give the opening speech for the festival. It was simple: walk on stage, thank everyone for coming, verbalize her support for the businesses assembled, and then send them off. The closing statement that she and Hannah decided on was "Thank you all for coming out, and I hope you have an amazing time."

She wasn't anxious about the speech, more like the people she could see while she was giving it. Anna, not her speech, was the reason she was trying to calm her nerves right now.

Up and down, up and down, she told herself everything would be okay. Up and down, up and down, she told herself that Anna didn't control her anymore. Up and down, up and down, she told herself that she didn't care about Anna anymore…of course she didn't. Up and down, up didn't come down this time.

She looked up and saw Hannah with the ball in her hands. "Elsa, the opening festivities are almost over. You ready?"

"Of course I am." She got up from the chair and went to take her ball back, but Hannah pulled it away and put it in her purse before she could grab it. "Seriously?"

"You have to be focused today, you'll get it back once the festival's over.", Hannah said like a kindergarten teacher lecturing one of her students. Sometimes Elsa wondered why she kept putting up with her. "Now you remember what to say right?"

Elsa straightened out her modest, ocean blue slip dress and tugged at the white belt around her midsection. "Of course," she said whilst trying not to roll her eyes.

Hannah frowned, "And you're sure you don't want me up there with you?"

She shook her head, "Having my assistant up there would look like I have no confidence in my own abilities. You're much more useful back here."

"Aww, you're so thoughtful," Hannah replied with scathing sarcasm.

Elsa said nothing else and walked toward the stage. She passed musicians pushed their instruments to who knows where, stagehands discussed how to keep the stage from falling on everyone and finally the head stage manager who motioned her to wait one moment before getting on. A couple of seconds later, he nodded and gave Elsa a thumbs up. It was all on her now.

She squared her shoulders, let out a breath, and pushed away the curtain. As her vision adjusted, she took in the scenery.

West Arendelle hosted the festival every year in a large, grassy park. Usually quiet, today it was covered with eateries, clothing boutiques, fairground games, and so much more. An immaculate white picket fence created a border for the festivities, and each post had a plastic flag, alternating the Arendelle purple and green.

Aside from a full band setup, the only thing on stage was a black podium set up specifically for Elsa; on the front of it was the ArenCorp logo. They built it a couple of decades ago for the past CEO to come up and do his speech, and now it was all hers. All of this was hers.

A large crowd had gathered, store owners and the general public alike, to hear what she had to say. The flashing lights and obnoxious remarks told her that the paparazzi were here as well. This was the most amount of people she had seen come to see her talk since the press conference about her promotion.

It barely fazed her.

Anna, however, was nowhere to be seen amidst the crowd. She tried to not let that faze her either.

Elsa put on her best professional smile and began to speak, "Welcome everyone once again to the Arendelle Festival…"

"Hey boss, where do you want us to put the rest of the food?"

"Just put it down, I'll sort through it in a bit," Anna replied to the volunteer. "And I'm not your boss so you don't have to call me that."

The volunteer shrugged, "Hey, Oaken told us to listen to every word you said today. By my account, that kind of makes you our boss."

Truth be told, she actually liked being called "boss". Of course, it also gave her a bit of a big head, but she grounded herself by remembering the title was only temporary.

Their booth felt like it was specifically catered to the bakery. The front side had tables set under a gazebo with makeshift cooling racks, display cases, and a cash register. The tented backside had a fridge, standard baking equipment, and a stove for last-minute baking purposes. The plan was for Rapunzel to stay upfront while Anna commanded their volunteers, making periodic appearances outside to show that this was a team effort.

It was thanks to Oaken that they had volunteers and could carry this plan out in the first place. As if Anna needed another reason to love this benevolent giant even more.

They got to the festival a bit late, but early enough that it hadn't technically started yet. But because they were setting up so late, they had to miss the opening speech.

Rapunzel poked her head through the tent flap, "Anna we're just about ready out here, how's it looking in the back?"

"Almost done…", Anna replied as she continued to stack donut boxes on a table. "Are you gonna need me out there first thing, or can I stay back here to fix things up?"

"You don't have to be out here, but…", Rapunzel walked into the tent and picked up a box to help her, "Look, you don't have to be out here, but I want you to. This is your bakery too; I want people to see that. Plus, Oaken gave us these extra pair of hands so you wouldn't have to stress out too much, might as well put them to work."

"But we had an agreement."

"I know we had an agreement, and now I'm changing my mind about the agreement. At least for an hour?", Rapunzel's stubbornness would be annoying if she didn't always have the best intentions. She stacked the last box and patted Anna on the back. "Besides, you need to work on your people skills anyway."

"People skills? I have the best…I have decent…I know how to talk to people," Anna rebutted.

"You know what I mean," Rapunzel said as she stepped back outside.

She did, unfortunately. Anna didn't know when or how, but at some point in the day Elsa would make it to their booth. And she had to decide whether she would be professional or pick up where they left off.

So that meant Anna was going to be anxiously waiting and wondering whether the next customer to go by their booth would be the woman she scorned years ago and wasn't still in love with, not in a million years.

It was going to be a long day.

Regardless, Anna knew that the bakery was in good hands today, and with nothing else to do in the back yet, she decided that it was time for her to move to the front.

She squared her shoulders, let out a breath, and pushed away the curtain. As her vision adjusted, she immediately took in the scenery.

Businesses lined the booths around them like a merchant armada. They were painted the trademark Arendelle purple and green but differentiated themselves with unique decorations and logos. She noticed, for example, a toy booth with small, ceramic replicas of Arendelle landmarks laid out on the front table.

Anna and Rapunzel made sure that Warm Hearts Bakery would be a cut above the rest today. They had purple and green cardboard hearts taped everywhere and dedicated one of the tables for samples. At the very front of the gazebo was the sign that they had spent the week designing: their bakery's name written in gold font with black borders. Anna called it "fancy yet casual"- Rapunzel called it "those two cancel each other out, Anna". Behind the bakery name was a simple, purple heart with silhouettes of two hands reaching out for each other in the middle. On the bottom corners of the sign were cutesy, cartoon drawings of Anna and Rapunzel with dorky smiles on their ridiculously round faces. They paid to get this design on a large, white vinyl banner.

Surprisingly, Elsa wasn't at the forefront of Anna's mind today; or she wouldn't let her be, at least. She knew that this was their last big opportunity of the month to meet their quota. They needed to bring in a lot of customers and a lot of money at this festival just to keep their doors open. Even though she was gonna keep an eye out, she was not gonna make her search for Elsa her top priority.

"Alright, I'm here, you ready to do this thing?", Anna asked.

Rapunzel, checking over the contents of the cash register for the hundredth time, turned around and smiled at Anna. "Ready as I'll ever be.", she replied.

She walked over to the excited blonde and stood right in front of the samples table. She could already see and hear the people begin to pour in and scatter; the festival was gradually coming alive, some were already heading their way. The anxiousness was already starting to settle in. "We're going to be okay, right?"

Rapunzel let out a breath and rubbed her hands together, "Of course we are." There was an unwavering amount of confidence in her voice, it reassured Anna for the time being.

Elsa ran her fingers through a necklace that caught her eye. It had small, silver hoops that formed the chain and every other hoop had a different snowflake in the middle, and the chain met in the middle with a larger snowflake pendant. Its silver etching was a lighter hue than the rest of the necklace, and it housed a sapphire orb, the same color as her eyes. It filled her with content, but also an all-too-familiar sadness. She and Anna planned on taking a trip to see the snow after they graduated...

"You have quite an eye for accessories, Ms. Andersen."

Elsa snapped out of her trance and let go of the necklace. She turned to see an old woman fitted from head to toe with bejeweled accessories. The countless necklaces, bracelets, and rings clinked together with every step she took. Maybe it was because she was still in awe, or blocking out the memory of a trip that never happened, but Elsa was at a loss for words.

The old woman walked clinked towards her and placed a bejeweled hand on the necklace that Elsa was eyeing. "This sapphire was mined from the caves in Corona, largest one in the bunch; it has been passed down from pendant to pendant for hundreds of years. There's an old legend surrounding this gem, would you like to hear it?"

Elsa nodded, yet such a simple act felt like it was being done by another person.

The old woman smiled and held the necklace up to her eyes, "They say that anyone who holds it will find their true love within the hour."

Elsa couldn't help but scoff. However, when she spoke, there was uncertainty in her voice. "That…can't be right."

That had to be a legend, a tall tale, something passed down to give people false hope. There were too many variables to consider, it couldn't be possible to find your true love within an hour of holding this gem. And besides, it wasn't like Elsa believed in true love anyway.

The old woman simply kept the smile on her face and put the necklace back on its display. "It is as true as you want it to be. After all…", she put up one ring-filled hand, a silver one with a small diamond shone brighter than the rest, "…the gem is how I met my husband."

Elsa stared wordlessly once more, wondering whether she should believe anything she was saying. Her eyes then fell back towards the necklace, the sun reflected it at just the right angle to make it shimmer. Each individual snowflake reflected a different facet of herself, and in the center of it, all the sapphire orb stared right back at her. Instinctively she once again held the pendant and ran her fingers along the gems.

She opened her mouth to speak, even though she had no idea what to say, but before she could say anything a familiar voice interrupted them.

"Elsa, isn't it about time we saw to the other booths?", Hannah said rhetorically. She almost forgot that she was behind her this whole time.

Elsa turned her head toward Hannah, "Right, of course, we should get moving." She let go of the necklace and nodded in expected gratitude towards the old woman, "Thank you for your time, you have a lovely shop."

"No no, Ms. Andersen, the pleasure is all mine," the old woman replied with a nod of her own.

Elsa followed Hannah towards another booth, trying to shake the events that just transpired out of her head- even questioning whether they actually happened at all. Magic love necklaces didn't exist, they couldn't exist.

"I've actually been to her shop before, Shimmer, she's really nice and has like all these stories she tells everyone. You looked like you were really enjoying yourself back there," Hannah quipped with an amused grin on her face. "What was that all about anyway?"

"Nothing, it was nothing."

Hannah looked at Elsa, Elsa refused to look at her. "Hmm…sure it was. Anyway, we're still right on schedule, we've got about 25 more booths to cover with four hours to do it. I want to say that we can take our time now, but who knows what we're going to see next."

Elsa bit her lip to keep from saying anything about the bakery.

"According to the map, our next stop is…a butcher? Now that doesn't sound sanitary, how did that get approved?"

They continued their walk across the festival, dodging people with souvenir cups, flags, hats from the souvenir booths. It was nice seeing the citizens of Arendelle having a good time, Elsa smiled politely at a few of them as they passed each other. Events such as these gave Elsa a feeling of joy she rarely felt these days, she loved her city and everyone in it.

Almost everyone.

And as they rounded the corner, towards a butcher shop apparently, she saw one of those people. A lot sooner than she expected to see her again.

An hour into the festival and Anna had been to the back of the booth at most three times, two of those times were to help out the volunteers and that took like two minutes total. She actually liked being up at the front with Rapunzel, it reminded her of fifty percent of the reason she wanted to be a baker: the people. Every pastry, every baked good, that they sold to a small child or a couple or anyone in between was usually accompanied by a genuine smile and thank you. It made her heart, well, warm.

Right now, she was actually in the middle of helping out a family who couldn't afford to buy their daughter a muffin.

"Pleeeease mom, it looks so good!", the little girl said as she loomed over the chocolate chip muffin. If she wasn't wearing a frilly pink dress, had short red hair, and freckles all across her adorable little face, Anna probably would have found that kinda creepy.

The mother and father looked at each other as if they were having a private conversation, Anna looked at them as if she could hear them.

The mother wanted so badly to get the muffin for their little girl, the father wanted to make sure they had enough money for the rest of the festival seeing as their tote bags were already filled with caps, clothes, and for some reason a slab of uncooked steak. The mother understood that but also knew that it would make their little girl so happy, the father reasoned that there were other places here where they could also get things that would make their little girl so happy.

The mother sighed, conceding defeat, and she placed a hand on her daughter's shoulder. "Honey, maybe…"

But Anna, the perceptive and nosy person she was, interrupted her before she could say anything else. She took the chocolate chip muffin, put it into a small white box with their bakery's logo stamped on it, and held it out towards the mother. "Why don't you take this muffin for free? Your daughter looks so excited and I'd hate to disappoint her…not, I mean, not that I'm saying that you would disappoint her if you didn't buy this- and not that this is like any ploy for you to buy a muffin from us, especially since I'm actually giving you to this for free and…anyway uh yeah, have a muffin, on the house."

The mother was speechless, mostly because she couldn't comprehend why this strange woman was talking to her and why she knew exactly what she was going to say. She gave Anna a gracious nod, however, and Anna assumed everything was okay. "Th-thank you for your offer but we couldn't possibly-"

"Mom, please?"

The mother looked back at her child, and so did Anna. She had these big puppy-dog eyes that she must have rehearsed in front of a mirror every day, and it worked. The mother sighed and took the boxed offering from Anna. "Thank you,", she said with a smile.

"It's no problem at all," Anna replied. She looked down at the little girl and gave a smile of her own, "Enjoy!"

The family walked away, leaving Anna feeling so accomplished. Giving away one muffin probably wouldn't hurt them. Besides, it was all worth it just to make people happy.

"My, you two seem to be doing a wonderful job."

Anna's ears perked up. She knew that voice, and she knew it could only belong to the most generous person she ever had the privilege of working with. She turned to her right and there he was: Oaken, in his barrel-chested, multicolor-sweater-donning glory. "Oaken! I didn't think you would show up!"

Oaken laughed, "But you invited me, remember?"

"Well yeah, but I assumed that you would be too busy at the school to come. I hope you didn't have to leave on account of me inviting you to see us."

"No you are most certainly fine, in fact I did not leave a single one of them behind." Oaken turned his body and stretched out his hand to show the masses of school children being corralled by teachers and volunteers alike, roaming the fairgrounds with matching light blue t-shirts with the name of the school and its cherub mascot printed on them. "Oh the children always love coming to the festival. It brings good spirits for all!"

"Oh, well that's nice!"

"And how are the volunteers? They have been vigilant in their work, I hope?"

Anna nodded and gestured towards the back tent, "Yes actually, they've been a great help. It's just that aside from keeping the back of the booth organized and keeping the food coming, I'm not sure what else I can tell them to do. That's- I mean I'm not saying that they don't have any use other than that, it's just…like...I really don't know of any other ways they can help us out."

"Anna it is okay; they were the first few to raise their hands when I asked who wanted to help your bakery at the festival. They will gladly help with anything you ask of them, be it a task you give them now or two hours from now."

"Really? Wow that's…that's actually really kind of them. I have to remember to give them something after this thing is over."

"Now now, do not worry about paying them, I have that covered."

"Oh no I didn't mean like with money, I meant like giving them something to show that I really do appreciate their help. Honestly, I…I don't want to let them go. That doesn't sound selfish, does it? It's just that it's only me and Rapunzel, and having all this help feels like a breath of fresh air." Anna laughed nervously, but she didn't know why.

Oaken smiled and his eyes shifted as if he just thought of something, "Not selfish at all. But…I have a proposition for you, Anna, if you are willing to listen to it of course."

"Of course I am!", Anna replied with wide eyes. She didn't think there was anything else that Oaken could do for them.

"Now this is not set in stone, but I was thinking…Rapunzel told me of the financial situation that you two were in. I would hate to see the two of you and this wonderful bakery to be gone, so I will be rooting for you that you can make it. But if you can make it, well, I did notice how understaffed you are."

Anna ran her hands through her hair, trying to hide the built-up tiredness from this first month, "Just a little."

"Would you mind a little help at your bakery?"

"What do you mean?" Anna could see where this was going, but she didn't want to assume anything.

"Would you like the volunteers you have today to start working for the both of you? I would still pay their salaries, of course, but they would be working for you and only you!"

Anna couldn't say anything at first, too overjoyed by the fact that she was right.

Oaken was telling her that if they survived this month that they would be getting a few extra workers to help them. That was by far the greatest news she had heard in weeks. A few more moments passed, and she still couldn't say anything; there weren't any words she could think of to describe how grateful she was to have this selfless man in their lives. Instead, all she could do was duck under the table, crawl out, stand right back up, and give Oaken the biggest hug she could muster.

Oaken laughed that belly rattling laugh of his and hugged Anna back. "I will take that as a yes."

"My my my, what a surprise. The great Elsa Andersen here in the flesh."

Elsa did her best to transfer all the anger and hatred she had into clenched fists she held behind her back, forcing a smile on her lips. "Ms. De Vil, it's a pleasure to see you again. How have you been?"

"Oh, I have been terribly busy crushing my foes underneath my hot-pink heels. Why just last week I was forced to buy out a competing fabric shop who, for some inexplicable reason, couldn't conjure up a single penny all month long. I'm sure you know how that feels."

"I…can't say that I do." Elsa could see the game this woman was playing and knew that she didn't want any part in it.

"Well, not now but I'm sure you will. After all, being the boss means making the tough choices once in a while. Or in my case once every week!", Cruella cackled, making the family walking past them shy away.

Elsa herself let out a small, unamused chuckle. "You do make a good point, being a CEO means making some tough calls. But I'm sure I can manage it when the time comes."

Cruella raised an eyebrow, "When the time comes?" Elsa could honestly say she had no idea what was going on in this vile woman's mind, and that was discouraging. The older woman hadn't played a single one of her cards, so Elsa stayed on the defensive. But that was all about to change, in fact, Cruella was about to show her whole hand. "I noticed that your 'little bakery that could' is at the festival. I guess they made it on the shortlist? How bold."

"Warm Hearts Bakery is one of our newest business prospects, them being here helps both the bakery and ArenCorp gain some good publicity. And you can never have enough of that," Elsa replied, even though she hated any kind of publicity.

Cruella looked at Elsa amused and predatory in a way. As if the blonde had fallen right into her trap. "I wouldn't say that's entirely true. Good publicity all the time keeps every journalist from here to Agrabah nipping at the bud to get that one juicy bit of gossip to show the world that you aren't the perfect angel you think you are."

Elsa dug her fingernails further into the palm of her hands. "I wouldn't say that I'm a perfect angel…"

"Oh but I never said I was talking about you, darling." The raven-haired opportunist looked proud of herself for winning this round of the mental game these two were playing, the one Elsa found herself sucked into no matter how much she resisted. "In any case, I do hope that quaint little place succeeds to make a profit today, especially since…well…"

Elsa really didn't want to bite, she really wanted to walk away and pretend this conversation never happened, but she had already taken the bait. If she wanted answers, she had to keep biting. "Since what?", she asked, suppressing the growl forming in her throat.

"Well, I'm sure you've heard of the Southern Isles Baking Company right? Why of course you have, they're only one of the five largest baking companies in the world. Now I haven't seen them yet, but I heard from a reputable source that they would be here."

"Really?" Elsa didn't know how, but she was sure that Cruella had a major hand in them being here. She did in fact know what the SIBC was and knew that you didn't become the baking conglomerate that they were with crappy bread. Warm Hearts Bakery was in trouble, which meant so was she.

Before she could say anything else, Cruella walked towards her and placed a bony hand on her shoulder. She smelled like cigar smoke and perfume, an intoxicating and nauseating combination. In a hushed voice so that only Elsa could hear, she spoke menacingly, "Best of luck getting out of this mess, darling."

Cruella walked away, leaving Elsa to stir in her own thoughts and emotions. She knew she had to compose herself, keep up appearances and show her city that she wasn't this overemotional mess all the time. But when her enemies were literally right at her doorstep and old ghosts from the past were working right under her nose…it's a miracle she had been keeping it together this whole time.

"Elsa? You alright?"

Hannah appeared right beside her, looking deeply concerned. It was then that Elsa remembered where she was. She unclenched her fist and let out a calming breath, the realization of what she needed to do hit her hard. She had to find Anna, find her bakery and…and warn her. The irony of this situation didn't escape her.

"I'm fine.", she lied. "But there's something I have to do. Alone."

The festival was in full swing now, the sun was at its highest and the fairgrounds were completely packed. Oaken left to go be with the children, and Anna and Rapunzel continued to work at the front of their bakery. Business had gotten progressively slower as the hours ticked away, but it wasn't anything to worry about just yet.

During a lull in their responsibilities, Anna stood next to Rapunzel at the cash register looking out at everyone else, an activity she had gotten so used to doing throughout the day. "How much have we made so far?"

"Well it's hard to say but…judging by the amount of food we've already sold, it's gotta be at least somewhere in the thousand range."

Anna lit up, "Thousands?!"

"No, thousand, singular. Which, I mean, that's still a lot but…judging by the number of people here today, you think we'd be making more."

"True, I guess," Anna replied after pondering this for a second. "But we'll still be okay, right?"

Rapunzel let out a breath and smiled, "Right." Anna could see it in her friend's eyes, she wasn't entirely sure of herself.

Doubt and worry weren't about to start creeping in yet, not if Anna had anything to say about it. Things weren't going to end here, not after they made it this far. They would find a way to make the money no matter what happened. Right now, though, she needed to cheer up her friend. And by cheer up, she meant distract. She walked over to one of the display cases and took out two large chocolate chip cookies, tossing one to Rapunzel. "Come on, I think it's about time you and I took our union-mandated break."

Rapunzel snorted, "Anna, we're not part of a union."

Anna tore off a piece of the cookie and popped it into her mouth. "We're our own union," she mumbled. "Now eat up before I eat it for you."

Rapunzel knew better than to argue with Anna any longer, it was a pretty silly argument anyway. She just smiled and tore off a piece of her own. "You're so bossy."

This was the first moment that the two could actually take a break and enjoy themselves. The whole morning they had to be on all the time, making sure everyone was served and that things ran smoothly in the front and the back. Anna slipped away for a second to tell the volunteers to take a break as well, and then she was back sitting on top of the plastic table enjoying this moment. Everyone else at the festival was doing it, so why couldn't they?

Unfortunately, a moment was all it seemed to last. Rapunzel's phone started to ring and the shock on her face when she answered the phone worried Anna. "What's wrong? Who is it?" she asked.

Rapunzel didn't answer her, she stayed focused on the person on the other line. "Wait, you're here? But I thought…no! Of course I'm happy you came, but I thought you had that thing today…okay, okay yeah I'll…be right there." She hung up and looked at Anna with the guiltiest of expressions like she had just killed her non-existent puppy. "Pleeease don't be mad at me?"

Anna raised an eyebrow, "Why would I be mad at you?"

"Uh, so…remember that guy I met at ArenCorp a while back?"

Anna frowned at her.

Rapunzel bit her lip, "Right, sorry I forgot that wasn't something you wanted to talk about."

"It's fine," Anna replied, even though it barely was. "What about him?"

"Well, I-I maybe sorta got his number while I was there, and I've been talking to him for a while now." With her free hand, Rapunzel ran her hands through her ponytail. "I've been wanting to actually go out with him for a while but our schedules just haven't worked out very well. And even though I knew it was a long shot I invited him to come to the festival so he could at least see what I do."

"Still trying to figure out what's the problem here."

"The problem is…", Rapunzel sighed, "…he actually showed up, and I'm supposed to meet him at the gate."

If Anna hadn't already finished her cookie, she would have dropped it straight onto the dirt. "You…what?"

"I'll only be gone for like 15 minutes tops!" Rapunzel sat up and patted Anna's shoulders. "Then I'll come straight back here and I'll work my butt off for the rest of the day. It's just that…you know I really like this guy and this is the first time I've seen him since…you know."

"I…'Zel I can't manage this place by myself!"

"You'll be fine! Plus, you won't be by yourself, we've got Oaken's guys here with us too, remember?", Rapunzel scooted under the table and made her way to the gate. "I'll be back in fifteen minutes!"

"Rapunzel wait!", Anna cried out, but she was already gone. "I don't even know how to open the cash register…"

"It opens automatically when you make a transaction."

And suddenly the next fifteen minutes for Anna went from bad to worse. She lifted her eyes up off the confusing white contraption and saw that her wait was over.

Elsa was here, inches away, and she didn't look happy.

Chapter Text

Chapter Eleven

A big decision was about to be made tonight, a decision that was years in the making. It was a decision that would shape the future of these two girls' lives from here on out, and after a lot of soul searching, and long conversations, the couple were about to make their final decision.

This was it, today was the day Elsa put in her application to North Mountain University.

Anna had sent in her own applications to both North Mountain and Arendelle U, she had sent in the latter first even though she already knew that she would go with her girlfriend to NMU. Now she was just helping Elsa with her own application. They discussed their future many times over the past few weeks, and while Elsa still wasn't sure what she would do degree-wise, she at least knew that going to a college was her best bet to truly figure out where she was going to go next in life.

North Mountain University wasn't Anna's first choice. After going on a tour to both schools, reading through their curriculums, and personally contacting culinary professors at each school, she was still certain that Arendelle University was the better option. But she decided that staying with Elsa, having a future with her, was more important.

Anna sat at Elsa's dining room table scrolling through the rest of Elsa's application essay to check for any grammar or spelling mistakes, noting that it was nearly unblemished and amazingly thorough. Elsa had a knack for words, she always had. "Remind me again why you needed me to read through this? It's pretty much perfect, Elsa.", she asked.

"It's not perfect! But it will be once you work your magic on it," Elsa replied from her kitchen. "And how in the hell are we already out of milk?", she muttered to herself.

"Magic? Please, judging by this essay, if anyone has magic it's you."

"You can turn raw eggs and flour into something people would gladly pay hundreds of dollars for, if that's not magic then I don't know what is." Elsa continued to peer into the fridge, hoping that if she looked hard enough something she actually wanted to eat would appear. She sighed and slammed the fridge door shut, causing three folded pieces of paper to flutter to the ground in front of her. Elsa picked them out of their descent, waved away the thin layers of dust, and eyed the papers curiously. The first page had her name on it, and it was dated two years ago, but they didn't look very familiar. It was only until she started to read through the first few sentences that she realized the treasure she had stumbled upon.

"Yeah funny story about that, it turns out that baking skills don't translate very well when it comes to writing essays. I'm serious Elsa, this essay looks fine, better than fine actually. NMU would be a fool not to take you in." Anna waited for Elsa to quip back but no response came.

"Elsa?" Still no answer. She got up out of the chair and walked towards the kitchen, only to see the blonde looking through the old papers with a dumbfounded expression on her face as if she had just found the cure to cancer on top of her fridge. "Elsa, what's up?"

Elsa looked at Anna, and then back to the papers, and then back at Anna again with her expression unchanged. "This is my essay…", she said breathlessly, "This is my essay from freshmen year, remember the one I wrote about me wanting to be a CEO?"

Anna blinked, trying to remember back to two years ago. "I…kinda remember it, yeah. What about it?"

"Anna, there's…a lot of things here that I forgot I wrote. I was so motivated to become a CEO and suddenly I wasn't, but reading through this is making me realize that that determination isn't all gone." There was a brightness in Elsa's eyes and in her smile that Anna hadn't seen before, it looked great on her but at the same time, it made Anna anxious to see where Elsa was going with this. "Anna…ever since we started dating you're the only one I ever thought about; I'm starting to realize that that's why it's been so hard for me to know what I want to do after high school because all this time I just cared about being with you."

She excitedly pointed to the essay, "But reading this, and realizing who I was and what I wanted before we were together, I finally remember what I want to do with my life. I want to be a CEO!"

Anna wanted nothing more than to be fully supportive and excited for Elsa, but the anxiety was still there. So when she replied with "Elsa, that's great! I'm so happy for you!", she said so with a weariness that couldn't be contained.

Elsa picked up on it right away, she set the paper down on the kitchen counter and looked at her girlfriend concerned, "Anna what's wrong? No offense, but you don't sound very happy for me."

"No I am, I really am! It's just…", Anna sighed. "…what does that mean for us?" Anna felt that she had reason to be nervous, Elsa did sound like she was setting off on a new plan that didn't sound like Anna had any room in. If that was the case, she just wanted to be told now instead of figuring it out later.

"What does it mean for us?" It took a second for Elsa to realize what Anna was really asking, and once she did she laughed. "Anna, it means that when we go to NMU, we're both going to know exactly what we're doing there. It means that I finally know what my dream is: to become a CEO, and to do it with you at my side."

"You mean that?"

Elsa looked at the overly concerned redhead with amusement and endearment, and she kissed her as a means of showing her that she was speaking the truth. "Of course I mean it. You're gonna be the best damn baker in the world, and I'll be the one writing your checks…probably."

Anna scoffed but didn't say anything.

"You and I are gonna run this city, and we're gonna do it together."

Elsa tried to shake that particular memory from her mind, trying instead to focus on not flipping this damn table over, grabbing this redhead by the shoulders, and getting the answers that she wanted.

…wow, okay that was…a little aggressive.

As far as opening lines go, commenting on the inner machinations of a cash register wasn't the best; it also wasn't the worst, but it certainly wasn't the best. Elsa needed a way to get Anna's attention, though, and that's how she got it.

However, they were both now caught in a spiraling sense of awkwardness and aggravation that engulfed them and rendered them unable to get the next appropriate word in. All they could do was stare at each other, Anna looking like she had seen a ghost and Elsa looking like she'd rather be a ghost, so she could she just fade away instead of suffering through this.

After all the bravado, the determination, the confidence she mustered just walking over here, Elsa was finally realizing the stupidity of coming over here without a plan. What she wanted to say, and what she had to say, were at war in her mind. The stalemate that occurred had kept her from speaking.

She knew that intimidating someone who was technically her employee would brutally damage her reputation, and it would most likely make Anna less, not more, inclined to answer her. All she could reasonably do was start off casually and somehow ramp the conversation up in a short amount of time.

Apparently, Anna had the same idea.

"How are you?", both women said at the exact same time, making this even more awkward than before.

The two were silent once again, but time was not on Elsa's side, and so she took it upon herself to break the tension. She cleared her throat and put her hands behind her back, "I trust that business has been going well, Ms. Dawson."

Anan regretted letting Elsa be the one to start the conversation as soon as she addressed her as "Ms. Dawson". It guaranteed that nothing real was going to come out of her flawless lips. But if that's the game Elsa wanted to play, if they were going to try and fake professionalism and pretend there wasn't something else underneath the surface, then Anna would do the same. Even if she wasn't as good as the literal CEO.

"Business has been…fine, thank you for asking Els-Ms. Andersen. Thank you for having us.", Anna replied politely.

"I'm glad to hear that," Elsa said, dismissing Anna's pretend gratitude. "The Arendelle Festival is all about boosting the revenue of local businesses, hopefully both of you have been doing just that. The end of the month isn't that far off."

Anna was now both intrigued and anxious. Was Elsa about to address the elephant in the room? She decided to test the waters, "Me and Rapunzel are very aware of that, but trust me when I say that we're gonna get your money." Unfortunately, Anna had no idea how to continue being a legitimate professional.

Her completely unsubtle remark seemed to take Elsa by surprise, however, judging by the furrowing of her brow and how she opened her mouth to speak but didn't.

Elsa coughed, "Well, uh…that's also good to hear. We have high standards here at ArenCorp and…I'm sure that…how much for something to eat?"

Anna knew now that she had no idea what was going on anymore. At first, it seemed like Elsa just wanted to pretend that nothing had happened, and now it seemed like they were going to be…ugh, it just didn't make sense anymore. Regardless, Anna continued to play along, even though she still didn't know what she truly wanted to say to Elsa. "Well, this isn't…really a restaurant. I mean we've got a menu so I guess it might be, but you kinda just tell me what you want and if it's not up here I can get it from the back."

"Oh…cool.", Elsa scanned the display cases- did she really just say "cool"?- and pointed to one in particular. "I'll take that chocolate chip cookie right there, it looks good."

"Sure, coming right up.", Anna said as she got to work grabbing a cookie for Elsa instead of clearing the air and saying…whatever it is she wanted to say.

Elsa hated herself for letting it come to this. Despite her feelings, she did actually want to warn Anna about SIBC, then somehow transition into having the conversation they should have had years ago, but she got cold feet at the worst possible time and instead decided to act like things were perfectly fine. She had dug herself into a pretty big hole, she even said cool.

As Anna went to grab the cookie from the display case, put it into a paper bag with the bakery logo stamped on the front, all that Elsa could think was, "I don't want this damn cookie."

And as Anna struggled with the cash register and punched in the code to make a transaction, all that Elsa could think was, "I really don't want this damn cookie."

And as Anna finally succeeded in making the transaction, and awkwardly handed her the cookie, all Elsa could think as she took a bite without trying to make eye contact was, "I don't want this damn, delicious cookie."

It had been years since she'd had one of Anna's baked goods, she hated that she loved every bite of it. Worst of all was that- whether it was on purpose or not- Anna looked at her with that same expectant look she would always have whenever Elsa taste-tested any of her batches.

Anna would always experiment with her formulas- tweaking the amount of baking soda she used, setting the oven at different temperatures than before, etc.- and every time she would ask Elsa how that certain batch tasted, she would always give her honest opinion. She would tell Anna if they tasted a little burnt, or just a little more bitter than before, sometimes she would even say that Anna should stop tweaking the formula because she had gotten it down perfectly (of course, whenever Elsa would say that Anna would go ahead and make a new modified batch anyway). This time, however, as Elsa finished her cookie, all she said was "It's…good."

And she could see it in Anna's eyes, she could see that Anna was thinking back to the exact same memories, back to the comments of old, back to…before. She could see the shadow of disappointment behind those emerald eyes, even if it was only for a second. "Thank you.", was all Anna could say.

After swallowing her food, Elsa decided to ditch any pretense and finally start saying what she came here to say. She was running out of time and needed to get actual prepared words out of her lips before she retreated back into her bitterness and accomplished nothing out of this encounter.

"Why'd you do it?"

The word suddenly got a lot smaller for Anna; she wasn't sure if she had heard Elsa correctly. Did she just ask Anna the one question she was waiting, eagerly and anxiously, to hear?

And then, as Anna shuffled out of her failed façade as a consummate professional, and willed herself to answer, she realized that she had no idea why she was so eager to hear that. It meant digging through the skeletons in her closet and pulling out the biggest, most wedged in one, and finally coming clean to not only Elsa but to herself.

Why in the world did she think she was prepared for this?

The short answer was that she didn't. So instead of answering Elsa straight away, Anna decided to stall. She let out the fakest cough she could and stuttered out "Wh-what?"

But by the look in Elsa's eyes, one she had been all-too-familiar with before, she knew that this was a woman on a mission, a woman determined to get an answer one way or another. "You heard me, Anna."

Anna. She had heard her name come out of the mouths of hundreds of people before, but no one said it like Elsa did. No one said it in a way that sounded like they had rehearsed it to perfection, no one said it in a way that made her this breathless, hopeless, and helpless. Anna knew she was in trouble and took one cautious step away from the table. "I…hardly think this is the right place or time to talk about this."

"Then when will it be the right time and place? It's been four years, Anna, and the fact that we keep running into each other like this…it can't be a coincidence. Aren't you tired of lying to yourself? Because I know I am."

This wasn't good, when this finally happened Anna was hoping she would have more control than this, a stupid idea in hindsight. She backed away from the table completely and walked over to the other side of the booth. "I…Elsa I want to tell you, but I just-"

"You just what?", Elsa quickly made her way to where Anna was like a fox encircling a rabbit that strayed too far from its burrowing grounds. "You just can't? You can't tell me why you did what you did? Do you think the truth will hurt me? Because I'm telling you it won't, nothing you can say could hurt more than…"

There it was, the opportunity Anna needed to gain some leverage, it was short and fleeting but still better than nothing. Deciding not to waste any time, she pressed further, "More than what, Elsa?"

Elsa. She had heard her name come out of the mouths of thousands of people before, but no one said it like Anna did. No one said it in a way that made it seem like she was the only one in the world who mattered. No one said it in a way that made her feel empowered, safe…and helpless. Elsa knew that she had given up a bit of leverage in…whatever was going on between them right now and regretted it completely.

Once again, her emotions had gotten the best of her, made her reckless, and made her say things she didn't mean to. Once again, she was paying for it. Why couldn't she just stick to only warning her about SIBC?

"More than what, Elsa?", Anna asked her with a genuine look of concern.

Elsa had to look away, it sickened her that after all that had happened between them, Anna would still show her emotions like concern. There was no way she would tell Anna that nothing she said would hurt her more than the four years of not knowing a damn thing, that would be giving up too much leverage; and if she was going to get the information she needed, then she had to have as much of that as possible.

Instead, she backtracked, tried to bring the conversation around to how it started. "Why'd you do it, Anna?", she repeated.

Anna knew what she was doing, she knew that Elsa wasn't going to disclose anything else, so she had two options: she could either continue to question Elsa further and possibly drive her farther away than before, or concede defeat and finally answer the question.

And even though she knew it was wrong, Anna chose the former.

She shook her head, "No…that's not…you don't get to do that, Elsa. You don't get to clam up just as we're about to finally get this all out in the open."

"Gee that's a little rich coming from you, don't you think?", Elsa bit back right away. "You telling me to explain myself when I've been waiting for an explanation for so long. No more running, Anna, you're gonna tell me why you did what you did. And you're gonna tell me now."

Anna's throat grew dry as she found herself at a loss for words at the worst possible time. She wanted to argue against Elsa's accusations but found herself physically and realistically unable to do so. Because Elsa was right, she was running away from this, but the relentless pursuit from Elsa was making her less inclined to speak instead of more.

"Why did you do it, Anna?"

She felt trapped, no she was trapped. Trapped inside the confines of her booth, unable to escape; and sure she could just as easily duck underneath the tables and blend in with the festival crowd, but she knew that Elsa would find her. Elsa would always find her.

"Why did you do it?!"

The need to actually speak to Elsa and the need for her to just get away from all this was tearing her up. She looked at Elsa with pleading eyes, on the verge of tears even, just begging for some reprieve, but all she found in Elsa's eyes was a woman hell-bent on getting the answers she rightfully deserved. With her heart racing and her brain on overdrive, Anna opened her mouth to speak, hoping that some sort of divine force would take over and just speak for her.

"Ms. Andersen!"

But before that could happen, another saving grace came their way in the form of the family she had helped out before.

Elsa heard her name, her professional name, being called by an unfamiliar voice. She quickly wiped away the look on her face and turned away from the booth with the pseudo-genuine smile she practiced in the mirror every day.

In front of her stood a father carrying two overflowing bags, a daughter with muffin crumbs on her dress, and a mother with an apologetic look on her face. "So sorry to bother you…", the mother said, "but our daughter is a big fan of yours and if it wasn't any trouble we were wondering if she could get a picture with you."

At first, Elsa was taken aback at the request, she had been asked to have her picture taken before, but never with a child. Being a young CEO obviously meant a lot of exposure, she had been interviewed by more magazines and talk shows than she could count, but she had no idea that she had reached the kind of celebrity status that warranted even children being fans of hers. It wasn't as if she was in movies or TV shows or anything, all she did was make corporate decisions all day and do paperwork, not exactly a glamorous job to have, and not one she expected children to aspire to be.

Did this make her a role model now? Because if that was the case, then…this kid probably needed to find a better one.

She would be crazy to say all this to a family, and especially to a child. So all she did was nod and say, "It's no problem at all."

"Oh thank you so much!", the mother replied excitedly. She took her daughter's hand and led her towards Elsa, wiping the crumbs off her dress. "Just stay right there honey, okay?"

As the parents fumbled for one of their phones, Elsa looked down at the little girl by her side, who was looking at her wide-eyed and excited like she was meeting a superhero. It felt a little weird, but if Elsa was being honest with herself it felt a little good too. She hadn't been looked at with that much genuine admiration in a long time.

"Alright honey, just look at the camera and smile!"

Elsa looked away from the little girl, folded her hands in front of her, and smiled politely. She waited for the mother to finish taking as many pictures as she wanted. Once she was done, Elsa loosened up her posture and the little girl walked back towards her family, still star-struck.

"Thank you once again for doing this for us, our daughter gets so excited every time we see you on TV."

"Oh, well it's no problem at all. And I'm glad to hear that.", Elsa couldn't help the blush forming on her cheeks after hearing such unexpected flattery. And as much as she may have wanted to hear more, she regrettably had to make sure this conversation finished soon. She was still, after all, in the middle of something a bit more important. "It's so nice to know that I may have just taken a picture with the next CEO of ArenCorp."

Seeing the little girl's face light up, and hearing the parents let out a chuckle, Elsa knew that her amusing comment had hit the mark. "Well we should probably get going, thank you so much Ms. Andersen, for the festival and for the picture."

"It's my pleasure.", Elsa replied. As she waited for the family to walk away, she noticed a faint, familiar glimmer from one of the bags, and the unmistakable shine reflecting off a sapphire orb.

Elsa let out a sigh of relief and rolled her shoulders, ready to get back to her previous, scathing conversation from before.

But when she turned around towards the bakery booth, she found herself completely alone. Anna was nowhere to be found.

Anna stayed as silent as possible inside the back tent of the bakery, which was incredibly difficult amidst her own panicked breaths and the volunteers continuously asking if she was alright.

No, Anna was definitely not alright, her scorned lover was just behind the tent flap waiting for her to give her the answers she couldn't even say herself. The words were ninety-nine there, but it was that one percent that was holding her back. That one percent that told her she wasn't ready for the blowback, that one percent that said that if Elsa was acting like this without knowing the whole truth, imagine how she would act like once she did.

So instead of speaking to anyone or acknowledging that anyone else was inside this tent with her, she continued to try and catch her breath and pretend she was literally anywhere else, in a different time or place where she didn't have any problems, where she hadn't ruined everything.

The world passed all around her in a muted blur. Minutes passed, maybe even hours or days, she wasn't entirely sure. She stayed in her not-so-secluded corner until two hands on her shoulders shook her back to reality, Rapunzel's hands.

"Anna!", Rapunzel cried out. "Holy crap what happened to you? You look like you've seen a ghost."

Anna took a minute to remind herself of her surroundings; she had taken shelter below a table with a dwindling supply of donuts, and joining the group of concerned volunteers was Rapunzel and a new guy she had only seen once in passing talking to one of the volunteers. Slowly, Anna got up, wiping the dirt off her jeans and looked at her friend with eyes glazed over. "I…may as well have," she replied.

"What are you…oh…she finally came around here, huh?" Rapunzel's face changed from one of concern to one of what seemed like disappointment over how Anna handled the situation she knew she would have to face today.

"Who came around here?" the new guy asked curiously.

"It's uh…some girl that Anna was with a few years back, it was a messy breakup and all that, you know how it is." Rapunzel replied. Anna wanted to correct her but felt it wasn't necessary, plus it would mean giving out information she hadn't even told her yet.

The man nodded and looked towards Anna, "So are you okay? I can go get one of the EMTs here to check you out."

Anna shook her head, "No thanks, I'll be fine. It's just…it still hurts a little bit, even now. I'm okay, really, and I'm ready to get back to work. We don't want the customers thinking we've closed up shop, right?"

Rapunzel didn't reply, she looked back at her new friend and then back at Anna like a doctor about to administer bad news. "That's kinda what we wanted to talk to you about."

Another jolt ran down Anna's spine, this one a bit more dulled and she wasn't sure whether that was because the first one was worse, or because it had already taken its toll before and she was less susceptive to the shock. "What happened? How long was I out? Is the festival already over?"

"No no, it's only been like ten minutes we're still okay.", Rapunzel reassured her before continuing. "But, well, you've heard of the Southern Isles Baking Company, right?"

"Of course I have, I used that panini press I bought from them back in college pretty much 24/7. Not sure what they have to do with us though."

"Well me and Flynn were walking around the festival a bit, and it turns out they have a booth set up today. It looked like they had just gotten here recently since they were still setting things up, but once they get rolling Anna…we're gonna be in big trouble. Everyone knows who they are, and they have like a whole kitchen set-up like they're hosting Iron Chef or something."

"That…", Anna took a second to let their new dilemma sink in. "…yeah that does sound like a problem. You're the business expert here, what do you think we should do?"

If there wasn't doubt in Rapunzel's eyes before, there definitely was now. She knew this uphill battle they were facing had just gotten a lot steeper. Still, behind the doubt Anna could see the gears turning in her friend's mind. "We just have to keep doing what we're doing, but also make sure that people know that this is a festival made to celebrate the local businesses of Arendelle. I'm not even sure how they even got a booth, but they did. We can't bash on their product because it's unfortunately really good and they just had that recent campaign to promote how organic they were, we need to let people know, though, that they can find that same quality right here in Arendelle."

"You really think our food is just as good as the SIBC?", Anna said wearily.

"Not as good, but better.", Rapunzel smiled. "The question is if you think our food's better than theirs. You're what makes this all work, remember? I can talk a big game, but in the end it's you who has to deliver."

"Gee thanks for not putting so much pressure on me.", Anna replied sarcastically. "But…you've got a point, and I do believe in us and what this place can be."

Rapunzel smiled and patted Anna's shoulder, "There's the Anna I know and love, now let's get out there and do what we do best."

"I can help too, by the way.", Flynn spoke up before they could open the curtain and return to the outside world. "I can already tell that you two have something special here, and I'd be kind of a jerk if I didn't lend you both a hand."

Rapunzel let go of Anna's shoulders and looked at Flynn with an admiration and infatuation that Anna had never seen from her friend before, it actually made her feel a bit happier in the process. "We'd love your help!" Rapunzel exclaimed without even consulting her partner, who honestly didn't mind in the slightest. "But how?"

Flynn winked and simply said "Just trust me." before walking out to do whatever it was he was going to do. At his exit, the rest of the volunteers continued working as well with an instilled sense of determination to help out in any way they could as well, leaving Anna and Rapunzel standing in front of the curtain awkwardly.

"Well that just kinda happened," Anna remarked. "So that's Flynn, huh?"

"Yup, that's Flynn," Rapunzel replied dreamily. "Isn't he great?"

Anna was still happy for her friend for finding a guy who made her glow with just a smile and a few choice words, but she also found it a bit strange. She just chalked that up to never seeing her friend act like this before, however, and conceded that it would take some getting used to if this went the distance. "So you ready to get back to work?", she said changing the subject.

Rapunzel snapped out of her trance, "Right! Work! We have a job to do, sorry." She rolled her shoulders and let out a deep breath, "Are you ready?"

That was a more loaded question than it had any business being, because Anna knew that saying yes meant she had to be more engaged and focused than she ever had been to fight for this bakery, to fight for their future. But she also knew that saying yes meant saying she was ready for whatever would happen for their bakery, for their future, and…for when Elsa inevitably found her again. What if she was still at their booth?

She didn't know if she was strong enough to open that curtain, all she knew was that she had to. So when Rapunzel asked her if she was ready, all she could do was push through all the doubts and fears in her mind, and say "Ready."

Elsa didn't stick around for too long after Anna's disappearing act, Hannah had come back to make sure they were on time to see the rest of the booths, and she figured that there was still time in the day to circle back to the bakery anyway.

She wandered around the rest of the festival with her assistant, who did most of the talking for them. Elsa just did her best to keep on a professional smile as to not arouse any suspicion by any of the festival-goers. Her thoughts, obviously, were still on the bakery, and unfortunately with Anna, but didn't want to bring any attention to herself.

After the adrenaline fell of, she wondered if she had handled that situation well. Someone could have seen them, and probably did. By all accounts, she should have handled that situation much better, but she just couldn't with Anna. After so long, she deserved to get some answers by any means possible.

For now, however, she needed to at least pay a little bit of attention to her surroundings instead of someone that shouldn't be so prevalent in her mind. After visiting a booth that exclusively sold carpets, she and Hannah were on the move again.

"We're making good time, only a few booths left that I feel you should definitely visit and then we'll be done.", Hannah remarked as she typed something on her tablet. "How are you holding up?"

"I'm fine.", Elsa replied monotonously.

Hannah, persistent and observant as she was, didn't find that answer convincing at all. "Are you sure? Because you usually don't tell me to go busy myself while you go do…whatever it is you went to do. And about that, is there something you're not telling me?"

"Hannah I don't pay you to bug me about my personal life.", Elsa said coldly. "Let's just keep going, you said we're almost done right?"

"Y-yeah…I did."

Elsa immediately regretted the harsh words she had said to Hannah, this whole Anna thing was messing with her mind too much. She wanted to tell Hannah that she was doing fine as her assistant, and that she herself was caught up in a big mess and was taking it out on her, but all she did instead was spit out a quick "I'm sorry."

Hannah didn't respond, and they continued to walk in silence until they found a booth that caught Elsa's eye, and she made her way over there without waiting for Hannah to realize where she was going.

Because her life wasn't already a big pile of crap, she realized that in her tirade against Anna she forgot to mention the fact that there was some unneeded competition here at the festival. And now, as she found herself at the front of the booth for the Southern Isles Baking Company, she realized just how big of a mistake she made.

The first thing she noticed about the booth was that it didn't have any of the signature Arendelle purple and green, the navy blue and crimson stood out mockingly as much as the name written in gold calligraphy. The front end was as large as an actual storefront, there was no need for tables to set the blue display cases on since they were tall enough to stand on their own, two cash registers were set at both ends of a wooden table and in the middle of them was a cookie decorating station for people to have their cookies customized with frosting and decorations.

She also noticed that they weren't even done setting up yet; the front end was mostly ready aside for the food being stacked into the display cases, but the massive back tent was still being stocked with not just food, but also high-end baking equipment to make even more food in case the truckload they brought wasn't enough. Apparently, they didn't understand the meaning of the word "overkill".

The workers wore navy blue polos with the gold logo stitched onto the left side and black pants, they all had plastered-on smiles like they got paid for how much teeth they showed. Everything about the set-up and the people made it look so fake, but they knew that everyone would buy their product anyway so they kept with the charade because it worked. It made Elsa's blood boil.

Everything about the Southern Isles conglomerate made her uneasy, business-wise they stood for all the things that she didn't. They made money at the sake of their integrity, they gave up on the idea of being real just to make a few more cents. Watching this scene unfold caused Elsa to unconsciously clench her fists like she was going to tear this temple down, and maybe she would have if someone hadn't noticed her standing there this whole time.

"Hey lady, you just gonna stand there the whole time?"

Elsa looked to see one of the workers manning the cash register staring at her like she had something on her face. He was a chubby, middle-aged man with a bushy, black beard with a face perpetually stuck being as pissed off as possible, like an anti-Santa Claus. She wanted to fire back and remind this ignoramus about who she was, but she had to keep her cool, if not for her, then for her company. "I'm sorry, I just didn't expect any new arrivals to come this late to the festival. This is…quite a booth that you have set up here."

"Yeah well if you think this is big, you should see the HQ back home." He opened the register and counted the money inside. "So what are you, like the supervisor or something?"

"Uh, no actually. My name's Elsa Arendelle, I'm the CEO of ArenCorp.", she did her best to hide the smugness in her voice but couldn't contain all of it.

"Oh yeah now I remember, saw you a couple weeks ago on TV.", he looked up and sleazily eyed Elsa from top to bottom. "Lemme tell ya, you look even better in person."

"…thank you?", Elsa instinctively hugged herself to cover her clothed chest, finding anti-Sana Claus' gaze uncomfortable. "So, uh…who authorized your bakery to be here today?"

The man shrugged, "I'm just here so I can get paid, you think I know anything about any authorizing? All I know is the boss man gets a call early in the morning, and next thing I know I'm on a truck on my way to…what's this place called again?"

"Arendelle.", Hannah replied.

"Yeah, Aren…whatever. If I had my way, I'd be back home right now sleeping the day away, but a paycheck's a paycheck. I'm sure you know what that's like, right Ms. CEO?"

Elsa bit her tongue, she knew that nothing nice or professional would come out of her mouth if she spoke right now, so Hannah spoke for her. "You guys do know that this festival is meant to celebrate the local businesses here in Arendelle, right? Last time I checked, the Southern Isles Baking Company isn't anywhere near our city."

"Yeah and last time I checked I'll do anything for an extra payday.", the man quipped back. "Look if you've got any complaints, don't take them up to me I just work here. Talk to the manager if you want some answers."

It was then that Elsa noticed that amidst the sea of blue shirts preoccupied with unloading the truck and setting up the booth was a man in an Arendelle Festival shirt, with a baseball cap and jeans casually walking away from the crowd of people and towards the truck.

"And where is your manager?", Hannah asked.

"Back home.", the man let out a belly-rattling laugh like that was the funniest joke ever told. "Yeah it's his kid's birthday today, little guy's turning seven."

Elsa kept her attention shifting between the rude cashier and this new development unfolding just a few feet away from them. He looked vaguely familiar, but Elsa didn't know why, and there was something wrapped in a cloth in his right hand. He walked confidently and without suspicion, so no one stopped him as he got closer and closer to the truck.

"So then who's the one in charge today?"

"Well, that would be the assistant manager, but she's got some 'important business to attend to.' And then there's the supervisors, which would be me and some kid who just got promoted like a week ago. But I…don't think I saw him on the truck so I guess he's not on the clock today either.", he talked as if nothing in the world mattered but getting paid and going home. "Yeah so…huh, I guess I'm in charge."

The sheer inadequacy on display right in front of her made Elsa more pissed off than she had been before. At first, she wondered why the SIBC would tarnish their reputation by sending someone so incompetent at answering the simplest of questions, and then she realized that this festival was so below their radar that they didn't care for sending anyone even semi-decent at their job. Which is why she didn't say anything as the suspicious man, now next to the open driver-side door of the truck, unfolded the cloth to unveil a brick, hopped into the truck, and hop out as it started to roll forward.

"If you're the one in charge…", Elsa started, taking the reins back in this conversation, "…then why don't you know who authorized you guys to be here? I feel like your higher-ups should have at least told you that."

"Yeah well they didn't, all they said was to load a truck with some stuff we couldn't sell this week and go to this festival in Arendill."


"Whatever, my point is that you two are being a real big distraction right now. So if you excuse us, we gotta get to work-"

Suddenly he was interrupted as the truck crashed right through the fence and started rolling towards the intersection. Frantic volunteers and SIBC workers alike ran towards the runaway truck as its contents started to spill out onto the grass- baking equipment was being tossed around, cookies and donuts were knocked out of their boxes, and workers still in the back of truck bailed out.

And Elsa, once again, bit her tongue, not to keep from saying something crass, but to keep her from laughing. Because even though the truck may have hit someone, and even though it could crash into one of the buildings or into a car, it was still a wonderful sight to behold, a bit of karmic justice. Even the incompetent supervisor had ditched his station to run as fast as he could towards the truck.

Elsa looked at Hannah, who, just like the rest of the festivalgoers who had stopped in their tracks, stood slack-jawed and dumbfounded at the events that were unfolding. She patted her shoulder and walked away from the scene of the crime. "We should go.", she said without looking back.

As it turned out, Anna and Rapunzel didn't need to work too hard trying to elevate their bakery over Southern Isles'. An accident involving a runaway truck caused the SIBC to close shop before they could sell a single pastry, so customers came flocking to their booth by the baker's dozen. Rapunzel, being the consummate professional that she was, took on the challenge with great ease, and even Anna to her credit hung in there as well. Together they functioned like a well-oiled machine, selling baked goods left and right as the remaining hours of the day continued to tick down.

Before they knew it, the day was over. As she heard the final band on the stage play their final song, Anna helped Rapunzel serve the remaining customers left who weren't at the stage. Elsa came on immediately after and gave the concluding speech to officially end the day; and much like at the beginning of the day, Anna didn't find herself near the stage at all even though the storeowners were supposed to be there to hear it. Rapunzel didn't go either, partially to help the volunteers load up the van but mostly so Anna would have someone to lean on if she couldn't handle Elsa's voice coming from the speakers.

The sun had barely set over the Arendelle skyline, purple and green flags waved in the twilight's breeze, the lights on the fairgrounds illuminated the area which allowed people to still see where they were going as they flooded out of another successful Arendelle Festival. Anna couldn't help but watch the people walk out with a content smile on her face, sure today started off rocky and just got worse as it went on, but just being done made her feel relieved, maybe even a tiny bit happy.

The crowd got smaller and smaller until it was barely a trickle walking towards the exit. Some waved at her, others recognized the bakery from earlier and thanked Anna for her service for the day, which worked to brighten her mood some more.

She felt an arm wrap around her shoulders and saw her partner in crime looking out at the crowd with her, a genuine look of happiness on her own face. "What a day, am I right?", Rapunzel asked.

Anna let out a chuckle, "Yeah you could say that. How are the volunteers?"

"They're doing okay, judging by their faces though they're probably pretty beat. Most of the stuff is packed in the van and ready to go."

"That's good to hear. I think without them we probably would have gone insane today.", Anna said, with the irony of that statement not being lost on her.

"Yeah…", Rapunzel added dismissively. "How are you holding up?"

Anna sighed, "I…" She didn't want to lie to her best friend, but she also didn't know how to answer that. The impending conversation with Elsa over what happened four years ago was on the horizon, and if today was any indication, she was nowhere near ready for that conversation. "…I'm getting there.", she finally decided to say.

Rapunzel hugged her tighter, saying without words that she would be there for her no matter what; Anna, also, had no words to express how grateful she was to have her by her side. "We should get going, tomorrow's another day."

"I'll be right there, I just wanna stay out here a little longer.", Anna said. "I won't be too long."

"No it's okay, take as much time as you need. I should probably call Flynn before we get out of here anyway.", Rapunzel let go of Anna and went back inside the tent, leaving Anna alone once again to reflect on everything that happened.

Even though, she realized, there was nothing more she could reflect on. In fact, she had done way too much reflecting, she had spent way too much time thinking over what she'd done and what she'd say. Maybe, just maybe, she was more ready for this conversation than she first thought. The burden was becoming too much to bear at this point anyway, she had carried it for four years now, and the shock of seeing Elsa was starting to wear off, even if it was just a tiny bit.

Perhaps it was time for her to finally grow a spine and realize that there was no more running from this, it was no longer a matter of her being ready or not, she just had to do it. She just had to talk to Elsa, tell her everything. And whether that be in two weeks or two months, this had to all be out in the open.

No matter how uneasy she felt, this had to happen, one way or the other. With one more sigh to herself, she uncrossed her arms and walked away from the plastic table, taking one last look out towards the nearly empty fairground. She turned to walk back towards the tent…


She had only taken one step before being stopped by an all-too-familiar voice. Anna turned back around and, for an unprecedented second time today, found herself face to face with Elsa under a circumstance that felt both similar and different from their recent encounters. Similar in the sense that seeing Elsa caused her to suddenly be out of breath and her heart to race, but different in the sense that she actually knew what Elsa was here for and what she was going to say.

"No more running, and no more hiding.", Elsa said coldly, her face partially hidden under the cover of darkness. "You're going to tell me why you did what you did, and you're going to tell me now."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twelve

"Hey hurry your butt up slowpoke, we have to leave pretty soon if we want to be on time for the tour," Elsa said to Anna's voicemail. She ended the call with a sigh and listlessly read through the itinerary for the hundredth time to distract herself from her nerves.

The couple was going to take one final tour of North Mountain University, one which doubled as their official meetings with the deans of their respective colleges. Time had flown by once Elsa made her big decision, and now they were both halfway through their senior year. The Dean of Business was impressed by her transcripts and references and sounded genuinely excited to meet her. Elsa was excited as well, mostly because this was finally, actually happening.

Anna would be right there with her at NMU as well, they would be inseparable and unstoppable. That was always the case in these past four years: Anna would be the one to push her to do something and it would always turn out well since she was by her side through the whole thing.

This was still the case now, because if Elsa was being honest with herself she was beyond nervous about embarking on this new journey, even if it was something she knew she wanted. That's why she needed Anna by her side, that's why she always needed Anna by her side. She patted the chest pocket on her long-sleeved flannel, ensuring that it was still there, and felt her heart immediately start to race again once she felt it.

There was no questioning that these past four years had been the happiest she'd ever been, she'd heard horror stories of high school and how it was this beast that would be nearly impossible to tackle on your own. Thanks to Anna, not only did she not have to do this on her own, but she had an amazing experience all throughout. Elsa was confident that they would be together no matter what in college, but there was something she had to do to make sure of it; an insurance policy, right in her pocket. It wasn't the real deal, just a promise that they belonged to each other and that Elsa would get her the real deal one day.

She was nervous, and for good reason; even though she knew that Anna would definitely say yes, just the sheer act of the proposal was making her heart race. She had it planned out too: they would drive over to NMU, go do the tour, have their meetings, and then Elsa would take her to a great spot at the university with an amazing view of the campus and city- a place she had scouted out on her last trip there. Then, as the sun set, she would say something sappy and emotional and pull out the ring.

It was going to be perfect, provided everything went according to plan. But with Anna still not there, perfection was in jeopardy.

Elsa thought of calling her up one more time to see if everything was okay, but Anna beat her to it. Her phone began to vibrate, and Anna's name flashed on the screen.

"Hey Elsa, I'm so sorry but I can't make it to the tour today.", Anna said before Elsa could even get a word in.

Immediately, Elsa began to suspect the worse; maybe she had gotten into a car accident, maybe there was a family emergency. "What happened? Is everything alright?", she replied.

"Everything's…everything's fine. Just go on the tour yourself and I'll explain things when you get back, alright?"

The slight hesitation in Anna's voice made Elsa worry even more; they told each other even the most minuscule of problems, and the fact that it seemed like Anna was holding out on something didn't bode well. "Uh no, that doesn't sound alright- I mean you don't sound alright. I can just reschedule my appointment if something's up."

"Elsa it's okay, I'm okay. I just…something came up that I need to take care of, you don't need to change plans because of me."

"I really don't mind changing-"

"Elsa! You're gonna be late, just go without me.", Anna interrupted, sounding frustrated.

Now Elsa knew for sure that there was something wrong, but she also knew that continuing to dig even further would get her nowhere. All she could do was continue on with the day, sans Anna, and sort everything out when she got back. With a heavy sigh, she conceded to her girlfriend's demand, "Alright, I'll…see you when I get back."

So, Elsa drove to the university, alone, and checked in with the tour guide, alone, and went on the too-familiar tour, alone. Her mind was obviously elsewhere, distractingly thinking back to Anna and how she was doing and what exactly came up. The tour guide uttered his speech to the slackjawed families aweing at the grandeur of the university, exclaiming the historical facts and reputation of each college which Elsa had already heard before. Even when they reached the College of Business, despite the fate awaiting her behind the doors of the main entrance, Elsa just could not pay attention. She drifted back and forth between trying to stay focused on the tour and ditching the tour altogether to be with Anna.

Nothing would put her mind at ease, but the interview at least gave her a bit of a reprieve. Immediately after the tour ended she raced back towards the College of Business, getting there ten minutes earlier than she had planned. The receptionist greeted her with a warm smile; because they had only communicated by phone before then, Elsa recognized her voice but not her face. Regardless they hit it off like old friends, making Elsa feel genuinely welcome. Which in turn made her feel guilty that she wasn't paying full attention of her future staring right at her; this was where she was determined to be, and this was the career she wanted to go into, why wasn't she acting like it?

After a quick visit to the restroom where she splashed water on her face to "wake herself up", she redirected her focus to the impending interview. What seemed like hours keeping her mind steady and away from thoughts about Anna was ten minutes at best, according to the clock behind the receptionist's desk. At the end of those ten minutes, the dean walked out of his office and greeted Elsa with a smile that she deemed to be "businesslike", one not meant for friends or close acquaintances, but to those you want to make a good impression on or want something from.

The interview itself wasn't an interview at all, it was basically a chat between Elsa and the dean over how high school went for her, what it takes to be a good businessperson, why he thinks she'll be a good fit for the college, and why she thinks she'll be a good fit for the college. The dean confessed halfway through the "interview" that he only called her up for this conversation because he liked to talk personally with students he felt would be of great success, which both flattered Elsa and left her speechless.

They did get to some general academic stuff near the end, talking about her course schedule for the next four years, the expectations from her, and what scholarships she was eligible for. One major takeaway she got from this was that if she could secure an internship in her freshman year, she would be given a huge scholarship.

Once the interview was over, Elsa felt more determined than ever that this was the school of her dreams, and the right next step for her future, and she couldn't wait to tell Anna all about it.


She drove like a madman back to Anna's house- surprised that she hadn't gotten pulled over for speeding or driving erratically- and didn't hesitate for even a second as she knocked on the front door.

The door opened after a few seconds, it wasn't Anna that greeted her, but her parents. Almost as if they were just waiting at the door this whole time. They greeted Elsa with infectious un-businesslike smiles on their faces, Anna's mother even hugged her, which happened pretty much every time Elsa came over.

"Elsa!", Anna's dad exclaimed, "How was the interview?"

"It went well, really well.", Elsa replied. "Where's Anna?" She was anxious the entire car ride over, and it only doubled when Anna hadn't welcomed her at the door. It was best to get this over with now rather than to continue on with her doubts and worries.

The parents were taken aback at the sudden change in subject, and the worry on her face was now reflected on theirs. "She's upstairs, she's been there this whole time.", Anna's father answered.

"Thanks, I, uh…need to talk to her." Elsa didn't say anymore, she quickly thanked the couple and bounded up the stairs. Her heart raced with every step, thinking of every worst-case scenario she could conceive, but she kept moving anyway. A closed door greeted her, but she opened it without even knocking.

And suddenly there Anna was, sitting cross-legged on her bed with her laptop on her lap. Her hair was disheveled, and she was still in her pajamas, and it took her a couple of seconds to even realize that Elsa was in the room with her. "Hey…", Anna said with a pitifully small smile.

"Hey? Hey?!", Elsa replied in disbelief. "You ditch me and worry me to all hell, lie to me and say everything's fine and that something 'came up', and all you can say is hey?"

Anna closed her laptop and slowly brushed a few strands of hair out of her face, "I'm sorry…I shouldn't have worried you like that."

"Of course you shouldn't have! I spent the entire morning and afternoon thinking the worst happened to you, I couldn't focus at all, I couldn't…", Elsa moved closer towards Anna, finally noticing the dark, heavyset bags under her eyes. They hadn't seen each other in a few days, both of them were so busy with school and college duties that the only contact each of them had with each other was through the phone. Apparently, Anna didn't spend a lot of time in those few days sleeping. Elsa sat on the bed right beside Anna and brushed a thumb over her pale cheek.

"Anna…what's wrong?" She asked, putting aside her own need for answers to make sure the redhead was okay.

Anna let out a weak breath nuzzled onto the hand resting on her cheek, the smile faded and she meekly placed Elsa's hand back on the bed. She looked down at the ground and mumbled something that Elsa couldn't make out.

"What was that?", Elsa asked.

Anna slowly looked up at her with eyes that were full of sadness and guilt. She spoke once more with a stronger yet still meek voice, but this time Elsa heard every word. "I said…I'm not going with you."

Elsa was confused, she put her hand over Anna's. "You're not going with me? What do you mean?"

Anna didn't pull away at the touch but refused to look Elsa in the eye any longer. As if she was so fraught with guilt that just looking at Elsa made her feel ill to her stomach. "It's like I said before, something came up and…I'm not going with you to NMU anymore."

Elsa felt like the world gave out underneath her; of all the worst-case scenarios she had devised, this was one that she'd hoped for the least. Even now, she was sure that this was all just a bad dream. "What are you talking about? What came up?", Elsa forced herself to ask.

"Just, I…", Anna hesitated, "I got a call from the dean at the Culinary School at Arendelle U, she made me an amazing offer to go there, and…I took it."

"You…you took it.", Elsa meant that to be more of a question, but it came out as a statement instead, as if those words shouldn't be allowed to go together.

"I got the papers finalized this morning, that's why I couldn't make it to the tour today." Anna looked helpless and sheepish, it was clear that she had been mulling over just how to say these words and hoping that Elsa would understand.

But Elsa couldn't understand, or wouldn't. "You took the offer.", Elsa repeated with more bitterness than before.

"I know what I'm doing sounds incredibly selfish, but it's been my dream to be a baker pretty much my entire life. This doesn't change anything between us, North Mountain's only a couple hours away and-"

"This changes everything, Anna! Everything!", Elsa pulled her hand off Anna's and sat up from the bed. She paced around the room, struggling to comprehend everything that was happening. "How could you…how did…we had a plan! We were supposed to be together, we were supposed to go to college together, we were supposed to follow our dreams together."

"And we still are.", Anna replied, her voice audibly betraying the certainty she was trying to convey. "Like I said we're only a couple hours away, and I can go up there on the weekends too and stuff. Plus we can talk to each other on the phone every night and-"

"I don't know what kind of backward definition you have of the word 'together', but it certainly doesn't mean 'two hours apart and only on weekends.' I just…why didn't you talk to me about this first, Anna? I thought we were supposed to be a team. Me and you, like it's always been."

"We are a team, and I wanted to talk to you about this, it's just…just…"

"Just what?!" Elsa stopped her pacing but didn't cease the gradual raising of her voice. Her head was spinning, her entire world had just burned to the ground. And the one who had lit the match was the one sitting on the bed with a pained, tired, guilt-stricken face.

"Just…please understand, Elsa. I know this sucks, but I had to do what was best for my future. Being a baker is all I've ever wanted, it's my dream. Just like being a CEO is your dream."

There it was, the final dagger in Elsa's back. The veil had been lifted, and she was seeing things differently than she had before. Things she held to be true turned out to be bitter lies; the one Elsa held dearest, the one she loved more than anything in life, had just blatantly told her that she didn't feel the same.

And Elsa snapped.

"Being a CEO was never my dream! If it was, don't you think I would have remembered it after all this time instead of conveniently reminding myself of it less than a year ago? The only dream I've held on to, the only dream I've wanted to come true is to be with you! And I was really hoping that you wanted the same thing, but it turns out I was wrong."

Anna looked terrified, offended and angry all at the same time. She too sat up from the bed and finally had enough courage to look Elsa in the eye without looking away, despite the burning tears. "What are you talking about? Of course I want to be with you."

"Then why do this? Why do…all of this? Why change the plan this late? Things were fine before, but suddenly a few words from the dean are enough to make you change your mind? What exactly did she tell you?"

So many questions and Elsa wasn't sure she wanted the answers. In fact, judging from the way that she looked so unsure, it seemed as if Anna didn't want to answer them anyway. Nonetheless, Elsa asked one more time, "What did she tell you?"

Each passing second of silence was another twist of the dagger in Elsa. She thought that they were stronger than this, she thought that they would stop keeping secrets from each other. Anna was holding back, but Elsa had no idea why. After a few more agonizing seconds, Anna finally did speak, but not the words she wanted to hear. "Just…I need you to trust me, I had to do this. It's not that don't trust you, and it's not that I don't love you- because I love you more than anything else in this world- it's just that I had to do what's right for me."

Anna's words betrayed everything that Elsa heard from her before, she was too far gone to listen to any more of this. "Right, because that's what you do when you love someone. You make selfish decisions without worrying about what the person you claim to love will think about them."

"Now that's…", Anna choked up as the tears started to fall. "…that's not fair, Elsa."

Elsa, by contrast, was emotionless and unwavering. "Are you ever gonna tell me the truth?"

"O-of course I will…", Anna said weakly.


No response. Anna stayed silent aside from her labored breaths and sniffles, she looked at Elsa begging for her to understand. But how could she understand if Anna wouldn't tell her what needed to be understood?

"That's what I thought.", Elsa stated coldly.

She turned away and walked back towards the door, and she may or may not have heard Anna say "Elsa, wait…" before the door closed again. She didn't care.

"So why did you do it, Anna?", Elsa asked for the umpteenth time. "What did she tell you that you couldn't tell me back then?"

Anna stood there as Elsa recounted the events of that horrible day- as if she needed a reminder- trying to gain the courage to say the words she couldn't say then. Four years should have been enough time to heal, it should have, but when Elsa asked that question again she wasn't so sure.

She opened her mouth to speak, hoping that some divine intervention would come her way and speak on behalf of her, but that wouldn't be the case. All she said was "I…"

Elsa looked at her with wide eyes, "You still can't tell me?"

Still no response.

"Even after all this time, after four years you still don't have the guts to tell me the whole truth?"

Still no response, but Anna knew for certain, at least, that she actually did want to tell Elsa the truth. She just couldn't, with the perfect moment right here to finally speak her mind…she was getting cold feet again. Why was she like this? Why did Elsa intimidate her so much? Why couldn't she just let everything out in the open and be done with it?

Elsa sighed, "I guess I should have known better than to expect for you to have changed at all."

And then another question popped up in Anna's head: Why was she biting her tongue for someone that clearly didn't care for her at all anymore?

"You want to know the truth?", Anna said sharply as she walked towards Elsa with fury in her eyes, pretending that thought didn't tear her apart even more. "I was going to decline her offer, I knew that North Mountain would have given me a worse deal, but I was going to take it anyway because you're wrong. I did love you, and I did want to be with you."

"But then the dean asked me something important, something I hadn't asked myself the whole time we were together: When was the last time that I ever thought for myself? She said that I needed to start making adult decisions about my future. I wasn't going to be some bright-eyed high schooler anymore, I needed to think about the bigger picture."

It was getting harder to speak through the tears, "So yeah I made a selfish decision, and yeah I hurt you, but I know for a fact that we could have made things work even if we were two hours apart, that's how much believed in us. But you didn't, you called me selfish even though you were the one that broke things off when this happened."

Anna couldn't stop herself even if she wanted to, and she definitely didn't want to. This was therapeutic, cathartic even. Once she said those first few words, the floodgates had burst and she let loose everything she wanted to say back then.

"I loved you Elsa, I love you so freaking much that hearing you say all those things back then…it broke me. And yet, I-I still don't…I didn't want to blame you for anything, but you've forced my hand. This wasn't all my fault, and let's not forget that I at least tried to contact you and fix things. Maybe if you had picked up your damn phone once that whole first year we were apart, none of this would have happened."

There was a loud bang as Elsa's palm hit the plastic table, the only barrier standing between them, and she took charge of the conversation once more. "Get off your fucking high horse. You told me, point-blank, that you only had one dream that you had been chasing your whole life, and it wasn't me. It wasn't us. And this right here…", Elsa gestured towards Anna and the spoils of her decision, "…this right here is just concrete proof that you didn't. wasn't the one making big life decisions by myself without consulting the one I loved the most. I'm not the one who spat in the face of the one relationship that made me happier than I ever was before."

"Spat in…what?!" Anna had never been this angry before, and it honestly scared her a little. But if Elsa wanted to be like this, then so would she. "You did make a decision like that when you broke up with me. Elsa we were together for four years, we went through so much crap and came out clean on the other side, and you thought a two-hour distance away from each other was gonna change that?"

"It wasn't the distance, it was the implication.", Elsa fired back. "We were supposed to go through college together, not apart. I thought we made a promise that we would never be separated no matter what, I thought our-"

"Okay just shut up! Shut up!", Anna interrupted. She couldn't take this anymore; she thought the years of lost contact, and the weeks of sidestepping the situation were bad, but this right here was worse than both. This was going nowhere, and Anna had had enough. She was tired of feeling like the bad guy, tired of holding onto the guilt, and tired of…tired of Elsa. This Elsa, anyway.

They stayed there for a second, staring daggers into each other and panting like they had just gone to round twelve of a stupidly physical boxing match. To her credit, Elsa didn't speak, but the intimidating look on her face made it clear that she wouldn't be silent for long. Anna tried her best to exhibit that same look.

"For all your bravado, all your brutish ways to make me feel guilty, all your…pointless attempts at being petty, you really don't have any high ground at all. You keep painting yourself to be this innocent victim and pitting me as the one who should take the blame for everything, but you're either too stupid or too proud to admit that it took two to tear this relationship apart. You didn't come here for the truth, you came here so I could tell you that you're right."

Elsa had no other way of answering but to continue leering at Anna with a cold-blooded gaze and a sneer on her lips. Anna was unfazed, however, because she could see right through the façade. Elsa had never been challenged this way before, and not for this long, she wasn't used to not having the high ground. So, the fact that Anna had matched her blow for blow meant she had nothing else to give.

And once Elsa looked away and walked towards the festival entrance without uttering a single word, Anna knew that she had won.

Unfortunately, she was now left with more questions than answers, more to resolve instead of less. Why did she want to win? Why wasn't she happy that she "won"? How come she still felt guilty even though she knew that the blame wasn't entirely on her? The most important question, however, was this: Why did she want Elsa to come back?

"Wow…that was intense."

Anna jumped at the intruding voice, only just now realizing that she was still at the festival. She turned around to see Rapunzel sitting on a plastic table closest to the tent opening with a dumbfounded look on her face, clearly not used to seeing this side of her friend before. Anna sighed, "How much of that did you hear?"

"I heard enough.", Rapunzel sat up and walked over to Anna with her arms outstretched. Anna took the hug without any hesitation. "And I know I've said this a bunch of times already, but…are you gonna be alright?"

Anna lied, "I will be."

Elsa didn't want to think, didn't want to speak, didn't want to do anything but get back to her apartment.

There was no one around, not anymore, which meant there was thankfully no one around to unleash her blinding rage out on to. The blinding rage that she vehemently denied was engulfing her entire being.

Anna was wrong, absolutely wrong, dead wrong. There was no way that…no, no she told herself she would stop thinking about that damn redhead. Not anymore, never again. As far as she was concerned, she was just another business she would be vaguely accountable for. And even if said business closed up shop, she was determined to bring her reputation back up again. In fact, now she was hoping that it did close.

No, no that would mean that she was thinking about the bakery, it would mean that she was thinking about Anna.

She needed a distraction, a way to cleanse her mind from the events of today. Luckily that distraction was in the car waiting for her.

"There you are, we've been here for like half an hour.", Hannah said as she held the door open for her. "I thought you said you were only going to need a couple of minutes."

"Yeah, I did," Elsa replied without explaining herself. "I need you. Tonight."

The car rolled forward and away from the festival grounds, Elsa stared blankly out the window at the streetlights as Hannah talked about the festival and she pretended to listen. The city looked so quiet and peaceful at night, Elsa was jealous.

"Not that I'm complaining about coming over tonight, but I figured you'd be exhausted from today. Are you sure you want me to?", Hannah asked.

Elsa lied, "Yeah, I do."

Chapter Text

Chapter Thirteen

You didn't come here for the truth, you came here so I could tell you that you're right.

Elsa winced as Anna's words continued to aggravate and annoy her like a pestering fly. Just like Anna, and her stupid face and hair and voice. She tried desperately to drown out Anna's voice and wipe away Anna's look, but a half-empty bottle of whiskey and the tail-end of one of her almost nightly meetings with her assistant could do nothing against the sickening hold Anna had on her.

You didn't come here for the truth, you came here so I could tell you that you're right.

The alcohol dulled her senses, making her less hostile, but they also lowered her futile resolve to drive Anna out of her head and stop thinking about her. Now, unfortunately, Anna was all she could think about, and obviously none of the thoughts were nice. Who did Anna think she was anyway, telling her off like that? She was her boss dammit- the boss of her boss at that- and her words tonight were blatant insubordination. Anna was completely out of line calling her stupid, and petty, and proud, like a pot calling the kettle black.

You didn't come here for the truth, you came here so I could tell you that you're right.

She hated Anna, she hated her smug attitude and the way she spoke, she hated her stupid, mediocre cookies, she hated her stupid face, and her stupid, emerald green eyes, and her stupid, soft lips and-

A pitiful jolt of pleasure shot from between her legs as she let out a frustrated groan, like an ocean wave failing to reach the shore, in one short second it was there and in another it vanished, failing to give her the one thing she hadn't had for a long time. Hannah emerged from under the blanket pooled around Elsa's lower body and wiped her mouth, looking at Elsa with a puzzled expression.

"Wow, that…took a while.", Hannah remarked as she scooted up to the other side of the bed.

"Shut up.", she replied in an attempt at a non-aggressive tone. Elsa pulled up her panties and sat out of the bed, walking over to her nightstand to make the half-empty whiskey bottle even emptier. She never drank, literally never, this was a present from one of her colleagues after her promotion, and she hadn't touched it since then. It wasn't because of any sort of stance against alcohol or drugs or anything, she just never saw the point. Now she did…

"You know I'd like to chalk this up to the exhaustion, but even at your worst, it doesn't take you this long to…yeah. Something happened tonight, something that this right here…", Hannah gestured towards the bed and Elsa, "…won't fix. You want to talk about it?"

Elsa set down the bottle and leaned on the nightstand. "Hannah, what was my first rule when we started this?"

"Don't do anything to advance this relationship to any level other than physical.", Hannah recited. "And I get that, it's just that…well you're drinking, I've literally never seen you drink before. It's been what, like, a year since we started, I at least want to know something about you."

"You know a lot about me."

"I meant more than the superficial stuff you tell at your interviews and all that. I'm more than just your assistant, Elsa, at least I want to be."

"What, you want to be my girlfriend or something?", Elsa sneered, trying to keep from reminding herself of how stupid she was for starting this…thing with her assistant.

"Well…no, that'd be stretching it. But what about a friend? Or at the very least someone you can talk to about stuff that isn't your therapist. Outside of classes and stuff, I spend most of my time with you anyway; if you can't open up to me then who can you open up to? Don't you ever get tired of doing this stuff alone?"

Elsa turned around and took another sip from the bottle, the initial burning sensation had gone down with each sip, now it was nothing more than a dull ache. "And what makes you think I want to open up? And for that matter, what makes you think I don't like being alone?" She didn't turn back around.

"Because nobody likes being alone.", Hannah reasoned. "I mean maybe you do, but even so doesn't that get…I don't know, lonely? For once don't you wish that you could have someone you could rely on?"

She did have someone, and that's why she preferred the loneliness.

"Maybe I could be that person, I mean if you let me."

Elsa blinked, hoping that the drunken haze that came from downing ridiculous amounts of alcohol would finally hit her, would lower her inhibitions, and would be her excuse if she did something stupid tonight like actually letting Hannah in. But that hadn't happened yet, and it probably wasn't going to happen, which made her more pissed off than before. She had no fallback if she made any stupid decisions, any more stupid decisions.

"Elsa? Nothing?"

Her hands gripped into the nightstand hard, fingernails digging into the wood, as she cursed herself for being like this. Maybe Hannah was right, maybe she didn't have to do this alone. Maybe if she just said one thing, gave one word of appreciation to her assistant who was actually putting effort into showing sympathy for Elsa, maybe that would be a good start and she would finally start crawling out of this hole she had dug herself into. Maybe she'd finally stop denying that nothing was wrong.

And maybe if Anna hadn't invaded her life again, she wouldn't be here in the first place. Maybe if Anna wasn't such a sickeningly driving force in her life, she wouldn't have such a hard time letting anyone in. Maybe if she had never met Anna, life would be a lot better. Maybe if she hadn't walked away tonight…

"Right, okay…I'm sorry I tried. I'll just sleep on the couch like usual.", Hannah said defeated.

The deflated brunette walked towards the slightly ajar door and opened it, she turned around and took a breath like she was going to say something else, but decided against it.

Elsa looked towards the closed door, thinking that it still wasn't too late if she just opened it, and back down at the nearly empty bottle in her hand. One would lead to rehabilitation, the other would allow her to pretend for at least one more night that nothing was wrong.

She took a deep breath and made her decision, tipping the bottle over on her lips, drinking the last bits of liquor before dropping the bottle onto the carpet floor and laying back down on her bed.

It took her an hour to go to sleep.

"You didn't come here for the truth, you came here so I could tell you that you're right."

"You said that?!"

Anna groaned, and if she could sink even further into her kitchen chair then she definitely would have, "Yeah…yeah I said that." Almost as soon as she and Rapunzel got back home, Anna broke out the milk and cookies and called her mother up to tell her about the events of the day. She actually wanted to go to bed and try not to cry again, but she knew her mom would call her to ask how today went anyway.

"Anna, honey, I'm sure I don't have to tell you that you could have handled this a lot better."

"I know I could have, Mom, but it's just…I don't know, I couldn't stand Elsa acting so high and mighty, and my emotions got the better of me, and so I said what I said. Anyway, all that matters is that it's over, Elsa's finally out of my head and I can move on."

"Are you sure about that?"

Anna hesitated, "Y…yeah, I'm sure."

"You hesitated. Let me rephrase my question: Do you want her to be out of your head? Do you want to move on?"

"Okay, first of all, that's two questions. And second of all, are we still on that silly 'theory' you had the last time we called? I'm telling you, Mom, I don't have any more feelings for Elsa, and if I did they certainly wouldn't be positive ones." Anna looked at the half-eaten cookie in her hand, the same kind of cookie she sold hundreds of earlier and debated whether she should just put it back in the jar. She lost her appetite halfway through this conversation.

"That didn't sound like a very convincing answer, dear. Here, I'll ask you another one."

She dropped the cookie back into the jar and placed her head in her free hand with a groan, completely exasperated. "Please don't."

"Do you think you won your argument with Elsa?"

A few seconds of silence followed her mom's statements, a few seconds too many, and she decided that this was a conversation she wasn't keen on having this late at night. "Mom can we just…please talk about this some other time? Maybe talk about something else?"

Her mom most likely sensed the distress in Anna's voice, and knew that it'd be best not to pry any further, because all she said was, "Alright, what do you want to talk about?"

She didn't actually have anything else to talk about, all she really wanted was more distractions and less thinking on her decisions. The less time she spent wondering if she'd said the right things, the better. Anna said the first thing she could think of, a subject that neither of them had brought up in a while: "Do you still think about Dad?"

She heard her mom sigh on the other end, "Every day. And I know that sounds crazy, after all it's been two years since the accident, but…"

When Anna heard her mom trail off, she knew that it was only a matter of time before she would go back to the depressive, gloomy state she saw her in those first few months after her dad died. Anna felt guilty for even bringing it up again, but she knew the drill, she knew she had to talk to fill the silence, "Mom that doesn't sound crazy at all, everyone deals with grief differently. Sometimes it takes a little longer to get it all out of your system, that's nothing to be ashamed of."

"Oh it's not grief, it's just…I guess you would say it's loneliness. Not having him to come home to, having to cook dinner for one, going to bed alone. Makes an old woman like me feel a bit lonely; and at the end of the day, nobody wants to be lonely."

"Mom, you know you can come to visit anytime you want," Anna reassured her. "And you're not old, you can probably still get any man you want."

She could tell, or at least hoped, that that put a smile on her mom's face. "Oh I know I can- visit you, I mean- but not until you're ready. I'm sure I can stomach a few more TV dinners before then."

Anna knew her mom was joking; she was a great cook and the person Anna got her base knowledge and passion for cooking from. The first comment, however, had caught her off guard. "What do you mean you're waiting until I'm ready?"

"I mean that you're still figuring things out there. You've got your bakery that you need to keep running and steady, among other things…"

Other things? Oh, right. Anna grumbled, "Mom I said I didn't want to talk about that right now."

"I know what you said, and we're not going to, don't worry. Just know that I'm here for you, Rapunzel is too, and anyone else you want to let in. This is a tough situation that you're in, but you don't have to deal with it alone."

Anna smiled, "Thanks, Mom. Speaking of "Zel I should probably go check on her, see how she thinks today went. I'll talk to you again soon."

"You better.", her mom chuckled. "I love you, sweetie."

"I love you too." Anna hung up and took a second to herself before doing anything else. The dark, quiet kitchen illuminated by the moonlight gave her ample time and the perfect place for this.

Today was absolutely insane, in both a good and horrible way. Good in that they put in a lot of work, got their name out there, put smiles on people's faces; horrible because…well yeah. The fallout from tonight was something she was dreading, if there even was any. Who knows if she was ever going to see Elsa again?

But that was enough thought on the matter that she would allow herself, it was time to focus on the good. She scooted out of her chair, put the milk back in the fridge, and walked over to Rapunzel's room. The door was half-open and the lights were still on, Anna walked inside and saw her friend hunched over her desk, her long blonde hair was tied back into a ponytail, and her only companions were an inhuman amount of papers and a calculator. A familiar sight, to say the least.

"Kinda feel like we've been ending our nights like this a lot recently.", Anna remarked as she sunk into Rapunzel's frameless bed.

"You mean you talking for hours with your mom and me doing boring paperwork? Yeah, I'm not a big fan of this becoming a trend," Rapunzel replied without looking up from her desk. "Sounds like you had a good talk though, how is she?"

Anna sat cross-legged and habitually picked at the royal purple bedsheets, "She's doing good, I may have made her a little sad mentioning dad like that, but I'm sure she'll be fine. She might be visiting us sometime soon, don't know if you got that."

"I did get that, and good…I hope she does visit.", Rapunzel paused for a second to type some numbers into the calculator and scribble down something on the paper currently in front of her before sliding it away and grabbing a different one. "How are you doing?"

Anna stopped and mulled over how to word this. She did tell her mom, and her own self, that she didn't want to talk anymore about tonight, but Rapunzel was less motherly and more persistent, she would get the answer out one way or another. Plus what else would she talk about? If she asked Rapunzel how she thought today went, she knew she would get one or two statements before Rapunzel brought the conversation back towards the argument.

"I…honestly 'Zel I really don't know." She ran one of her hands through her hair before continuing, "I mean you heard what I told my Mom right? You know what Elsa and I were arguing about?"

"I got the gist of it, eavesdropping and doing math at the same time's a little difficult. Plus, you know, I kinda had a front-row seat.", Rapunzel replied.

"Well I honestly don't know how I feel about it thinking back. Like I don't know if I really won the argument, I mean she walked away and didn't say anything else, so I have to assume I did; but I don't feel like I won. And I don't know what, if anything, was solved through that. It's just…it's all really confusing." She didn't want to voice her worry about wanting Elsa to not walk away. "What do you think?"

"I'm not sure either, I didn't even know you and Elsa were a thing until tonight.", Rapunzel stated bluntly.

Anna winced, "Right…I never told you about us. I'm sorry."

Her friend simply shrugged, "It's fine, I know you didn't do it on purpose. There's a reason you don't like to talk about it, and you're going to tell me when you're ready."

Anna couldn't help herself, she got off the bed and walked to the back of Rapunzel's chair, giving her an only-slightly-awkward hug from behind. Which was really just her putting her arms around Rapunzel's shoulders. Honestly where was she going to find anyone as understanding as her best friend? "Thanks for being so cool about this whole thing, if you have time right now I can tell you all about it."

Rapunzel showed her appreciation for the gesture by leaning her head on one of Anna's arms, "Right now as in tonight? Probably not. Even tomorrow most likely wouldn't work either. But…soon okay?"

Anna smiled, "Okay."

"Hey while you're still here, you can actually help me out with something."

"Really? You know I'm allergic to math and numbers, right?"

Rapunzel let out a short laugh as she shuffled some papers around the desk, "Nah it's nothing like that. I've been doing all the number work, don't worry, but there was one that was kinda bugging me. You don't have to do any math, just help me make sense of something." She stopped her shuffling and held up a paper with rows and columns, the names of cookies they baked were on the left side and several numbers followed each type.

Anna looked at the paper like it was written in a different language, "Yes…those…look like numbers."

"These are the kinds of cookies we brought to the festival today, along with the quantity and how much we were selling them for. To figure out how much we made off cookies alone, I just took the number of what we had left, subtracted that from what we started with, and then multiplying that with the price of each cookie."

"Uh huh…?", Anna replied, not sure where this was going.

"And then I did that with all the other baked goods we sold, so once I added all those up I would have a projected amount of how much we earned."

"Makes sense.", Anna replied, even though it didn't.

"The only problem is our actual earnings for today turned out to be more than the projected earnings. A couple of hundred dollars more." Rapunzel stated with a sense of urgency, one that Anna couldn't comprehend.

At least, however, they were getting into an array of words she did generally understand. "How is that a bad thing? We made more money than we thought we would, I'd say that's a good thing, a very good thing."

"It's not a bad thing per se, I guess it's just my need to keep things organized and stuff, you know? I always make sure to give exact change for every transaction to avoid things like this. Now…I'm not blaming you or anything, but did you make sure to get exact change from any transactions you made when I stepped out?"

Anna shrugged and started talking before her brain could catch up with her mouth, "I think so? I mean when you left the only person that I served was…" And then it caught up. There was only one person that Anna actually served. A person who absentmindedly paid for a cookie with a couple of hundred dollars she just casually happened to keep in her wallet. "Oh…"

"What do you mean…" Rapunzel looked up, and the combination of seeing Anna's shocked face and her own mind trying to comprehend what could possibly be running through Anna's brought her to the same realization. "She paid you $200 for a cookie?!"

"I forgot to give her change! Besides I didn't even know she gave me that much, we were just kinda staring at each other trying to figure out what to say, and then we got to digging up our past. The whole thing was just so awkward that…ugh!" Anna dropped her head down shamefully on the top of the computer chair. "Why can't today just end?"

Rapunzel laughed and patted her head, "Okay well that matter's dealt with, and now that I know the truth I'm a little unsure about telling you this next part."

Anna groaned, "Just say it." It'd be like ripping off a band-aid; a painful, persistent, blonde-haired band-aid.

"So you know how we have to earn $10,000 before the end of this month- which by the way ends tonight?"

Anna nodded, an awkward gesture considering her face was still buried on top of the chair, and it rocked the chair in the process.

"Well in total, we've got around $9,900."

A chill ran down Anna's spine and she sat back up, "What?!" The implications of that statement immediately ran through her head, making her feel worse than she already was. They were at least $100 short of hitting their goal, which means they didn't hit their projected earnings, which means they would have to shut down Warm Hearts Bakery, which means their dream was dead before it could even be fully realized.

It hit Anna hard, like a punch in the gut with brass knuckles. She then began to think of ways to plead to their supervisor tomorrow, to give them a grace period. She also thought of ways to make that extra $100 before the night was over, maybe ask one of her relatives, sell something, go do something…unseemly. She was desperate, she didn't want this dream to die.

Strangely, however, Rapunzel didn't seem to be fazed. Her expression remained unchanged and eager to share the rest. "Okay before you freak out…" Too late. "That was before I added a certain $200 from a certain someone that you probably know. With it, that puts our earnings just above $10,000."

Because Anna was still reeling from the initial blow, she almost missed what Rapunzel was saying; but once she got her bearings again, she realized what the implications of her inability to make change meant.

The irony of all ironies.

Rapunzel smiled, "Looks like the person who put this heinous ultimatum on us is the same person making sure we live to see another day."

Chapter Text

Chapter Fourteen

Make the dough, knead the dough, roll the dough, pass the dough on to the newly acquired employee, make sure he bakes the dough at the right temperature and time.

It seemed like the more things changed, the more they stayed the same. Anna didn't remember where she heard those words before, or even if she was using them in the right context; they just sounded nice and appropriate.

Two weeks had passed since the festival; a lot had changed during that time and, now that Anna actually thought about it, not a lot stayed the same. When they turned in their earnings report, their supervisor looked like she was genuinely in shock, which she and Rapunzel took as a big win for their little bakery. Now, without that looming ax above their heads for the time being, they could focus on improving the infrastructure inside and out.

News had spread that the quaint, new bakery in the heart of Arendelle could hang with the best of them, and they had the food to back that up. They took the banner they made for the festival, framed it up, and boarded it outside their building, replacing the generic sign they had before which was just the name of the bakery written in white with a purple outline. They could now afford to put round, purple tables out front so customers could sit and rest their legs for a bit before going on with their day, along with purple umbrellas for shade and more colorful lights that lit up automatically after sundown.

And they finally got a van! It was big and white, and also had the logo that was on their sign and their address. Rapunzel made it very clear that this was only to be used for bakery purposes, Anna promised with fingers crossed to always adhere to that rule.

The front end of the bakery remained relatively unchanged, but the kitchen area, Anna's workshop, saw drastically new improvements. Oaken remained true to his word and allowed five of his employees to work for Anna and Rapunzel, while still staying on his payroll. Anna knew that wouldn't be the case forever, and she didn't want it to; she wore Oaken down, and starting after this quarter they would be paid by Warm Hearts Bakery. If this place was going to be legitimate in Arendelle, they needed to learn how to properly run the business, and that meant not outsourcing the pay of their workers.

Regardless, they were making her and Rapunzel's lives so much easier. They needed some training on how to run a bakery Anna's way, but she had faith in them. Every moment was a learning and teaching experience. Like now.

"Okay so remember that the oven on the right cooks a little faster than the others, don't be stingy with the chocolate chips, and if anyone asks, me and Rapunzel stepped out to take care of official bakery business.", Anna said to the workers in the back.

"You got it, boss!", they all said in unison. She may or may not have made them rehearse that.

Technically she was telling the truth, they were stepping out to take care of some bakery business, but it wasn't entirely official. Last week, Anna had a late-night epiphany that had to do with the expanse of food she knew how to bake or lack thereof. Cookies were an obvious staple, muffins and cupcakes were no problem too, and she could make decent bread and other dough-based foods, but still there was something missing. And as she ate a box of chocolates, gifted to her by a more-than-benevolent customer after a rush order to write a proposal on a cake for his now fiancé, she realized what it was: chocolate.

It wasn't a new concept for her, she made it a handful of times while she was still at Arendelle U, but it was never an area of importance in terms of crafting her food selection at her bakery. It was relatively inexpensive to get the ingredients for, people go crazy for it, and it would bring an untapped source of revenue to their bakery. It was the perfect plan!

So, with the determination of a woman trying to keep her bakery afloat, Anna set off determined to keep her bakery afloat, taking Rapunzel with her. They had all the ingredients and supplies save for a mill needed to crush the cocoa beans, and that's what they were headed out to get. After searching endlessly online, Anna finally found a mill that was still in good condition, not that expensive, and a model she was familiar with. The only downside was that the man selling it already had a potential buyer.

Still, Anna was adamant about getting this mill and asked him to contact her if plans changed and change they did. The man called her up an hour ago saying that the person buying the mill never showed up and that if Anna wanted it, it was hers.

Which is why they were rushing out of the bakery, leaving it into the hopefully capable hands of five rookie employees.

"Remind me again why I needed to come with you for this.", Rapunzel asked as she settled into the passenger seat of their van. "No offense to the newbies, but I don't think they've been around long enough to hold down the fort themselves."

Anna waved off Rapunzel's apprehension, "Nah they'll be fine, we taught them everything they need to know. Besides, I need you with me just in case I have to do any negotiating or haggling. Pretty sure if I did this alone, I'd end up selling half the place for this mill." She started up the van and pulled out of their parking spot behind the bakery.

"And why do we have to meet some stranger to pick up this thing, anyway? Aren't supply requests supposed to go directly to our supervisor?"

Anna sighed, "Yeah, but who knows how much we'd get charged if we went through Mulan. Besides, she'd most likely have to report it to Elsa anyway, and the last thing I want is for her to jump on something like this and be down our throats…again. Trust me, "Zel, I've thought this through." Barely, and it was ninety percent an impulse decision, but still.

Rapunzel looked as if she had more questions or concerns, but something stopped her. Maybe it was because of the determination she saw from Anna, maybe it was because she did trust that Anna had thought this through and she really shouldn't be concerned, or maybe it was because they were already one street away from reaching the highway. Regardless, all she did was shrug and say "If you say so."

The drive was quiet for almost the rest of the trip- which wasn't that long to begin with since the guy lived about ten minutes away- until Rapunzel spoke up again, "I noticed you didn't turn into stone when you said Elsa's name earlier."

This was true, and to be honest Anna wasn't surprised. Aside from the upkeep and status of their bakery, the only thing occupying Anna's mind was how to move forward with this whole Elsa situation. Last weekend she finally sat Rapunzel down and told her the entire story; it took a while but afterward Rapunzel hugged her. She said she understood that it must have been difficult for Anna to speak of those memories again, but was glad that Anna told her, and said that she was firmly on her side in this whole situation. And this was why Rapunzel was her best friend.

She also called her mom back earlier in the week to get some advice on her current situation, and the best advice she gave was just to let things be for now. There wasn't anything Anna could do about their relationship as of yet, all she could do was wait for Elsa to cool off, and to focus on her bakery.

"And maybe afterward you two can finally talk about…you know." Anna quickly ended the conversation after that.

Regardless, saying Elsa's name and thinking about her was starting to feel less and less like pulling teeth. "It's…getting easier.", Anna replied, "Whether I like it or not, she's an indirect part of my life again, and I have to get used to that. I'll probably see her again sooner or later, but until that time comes I have to start getting used to saying her name and seeing her face, stuff like that. Time to start being mature about this, you know?"

Rapunzel patted her shoulder and smiled, "Well I'm proud of you. You're finally doing rehab on this Elsa problem, that's good."

Ten minutes later, they reached the man's place in the transitional area of West Arendelle where it goes from being a quaint suburb to an area in town you shouldn't walk around alone, especially at night. He was on the greener side of the grass thankfully.

Anna didn't know what to expect when they got to his house, but it definitely wasn't the man that awaited the two of them. He had a linebacker's body with a little bit of a beer gut, and he was wearing a red and black flannel shirt with the sleeves rolled up and tucked into his oil-stained jeans. He greeted the two in front of the garage of his one-story suburban home with a big smile and the mill propped up on a table inside. Anna was the first one to get out of the van.

"Well howdy!", the man exclaimed with a Southern drawl. "I'm assuming you're the little lady who called me about this here mill?"

Anna nodded, "Yes! I'm the...little lady?"

"Just an expression miss, didn't mean to offend."

"Oh…okay, well yes I am the little lady here to take this mill off your hands. We agreed on $200, right?", Anna reached for her wallet but froze when the man put a hand up to stop her.

"Now hold on a second there little lady, before we make this here transaction I just gotta ask you a couple questions."

Anna put her wallet back in her pocket, anxious at this new development. She had already explained to the man when they talked to each other who she was, where she worked, and why she needed the mill. What else could he possibly ask? "Sure, what do you want to know?", she said cautiously.

He gestured to his garage, stocked with other appliances on shelves, toys in labeled boxes, and a well-organized workstation where he seemed to be working on a toy car. "As you can see, I run a business of sorts here, taking old toys and appliances from thrift shops, and selling them back. It's not exactly what you'd call legal."

Anna raised her eyebrow, wondering why he would tell her this if it wasn't legal.

"Before I sell you this mill- which took a week to fix up lemme tell ya- I gotta know that you're gonna keep this on the D.L., the down low. Can you do that?"

"Uh…sure.", Anna said. She had no intentions of selling out a fellow businessperson anyway, and she believed everyone deserved to do whatever they were best at.

"Glad to hear it! Knew I could trust you.", the man exclaimed. "And hey, you can come back anytime if the mill acts up or if you need anything else in your bakery fixed. So, now all we got left to do is make this transaction official."

"Was…that it? You said you had a couple of questions.", Anna asked with a puzzled expression.

The man waved a hand to dismiss her own question, "Nah, changed my mind. That'll be $200, you want a receipt?"

"Yes, please." Anna handed him the $200 and in return she got a piece of printer paper with the words "Bean Mill- $200" and a signature on the bottom written in pencil. "…thanks."

"No problem at all little lady, pleasure doing business with you.", he flashed a big smile and extended his hand as he put the money in his pocket.

Anna tried to cradle the mill under one of her arms until she realized that it was a lot heavier than she expected. Back at Arendelle U, she never actually had to carry one of these things. As she struggled to hold it with both of her hands, she looked at the man's outstretched one and wondered how to shake it. Logic dictated that she should put it back down on the table, or put it in the back of the van, and take the handshake to show that she wasn't rude or mean or anything.

Instead, she decided to shimmy over to him and nudge his outstretched hand with one of her elbows. "Thanks again, uh…I'm sorry I don't think I got your name."

"Well it really depends on who you talk to. My parents, may they rest in peace, used to call me Lawrence Jr. But all my friends call me Larry.", he replied, thankfully not bringing up the whole awkward handshake. "As far as I'm concerned you're alright with me, so you can call me Larry too."

"Oh…cool! Well it's nice to meet you, Larry. Pleasure doing business with you."

Larry nodded his head at an angle as if he was tipping a hat that wasn't there, "Likewise little lady."

With the help of Rapunzel, Anna got the mill into the back of the van, and they were back on the road in no time. Again the drive back was almost completely silent.

But Rapunzel couldn't help to ask one question with a grin on her face, entertained at the events that had unfolded earlier. "So…what was that about needing me to haggle?"

Elsa woke up alone in the dark, cold confines of her bedroom; the ceiling fan rotated slowly and creaked softly with every rotation, her blanket was bunched up on the other side of the bed, and somewhere on the floor was the empty whiskey bottle. She debated whether it was worth it to even get out of bed, and for the first time in two weeks, she decided that it was. Not because she had a new lease on life, or any newfound motivation, but because she had to get to work.

After the festival, Elsa decided to take a "vacation", which entailed her staying in her apartment denying that there was an outside world. If anyone called her from her work, she would just tell them she was relaxing in her hotel room in Jamaica and didn't want to be disturbed. Technically not a lie, but nowhere near the truth. Unsurprisingly, Hannah hadn't called her. In fact, the only contact she got from her assistant were emails about the goings-on at ArenCorp. Even in her depressive state, she still kept tabs on her company.

But now her "vacation" was over, it was her first day back and if she wanted to keep up appearances then she would have to, unfortunately, get out of bed and make herself look presentable.

Getting out of bed turned out to be the easiest task for Elsa, it took five minutes to sit up and another five to actually stand up. It was a mountainous effort picking out her clothes since she had to combat the thoughts telling her to put on whatever she wanted and not care what anyone thought. In the end, she settled on an old favorite of hers: a gray skirt with an icy blue coat and a white undershirt. Neutral and unassuming, just the way she needed to portray herself.

The cold water from the showerhead actually brought a small sense of calm, if only for a second. It allowed herself to feel on the outside what she was already feeling on the inside: numb. She was numb when she exited the shower, she was numb when she got dressed and looked at her expressionless face in the mirror, and she was numb as Marshall, the only person that knew of her actual whereabouts, picked her up and drove her to ArenCorp. He didn't ask any questions and made no comments in general, and that's why she hired him.

The drive allowed Elsa to compose herself just enough to put on her businesswoman façade, a straight-laced, neutral face with seemingly laser-focused eyes. Once she went through those doors, it was all business. The festival never happened as far as she was concerned, all she had to concern herself with was making sure ArenCorp stayed on top. Judging by what Hannah had sent her, the ship seemed to be sailing smoothly without her. Revenue on all fronts was steady, there was growth in some areas due to the festival which Elsa knew would happen, and public favor had increased for the company. All Elsa had to do was ride this wave of momentum and keep the company in good standing just in case a curveball was thrown their way, like what almost happened with Cruella.

The car stopped suddenly, and Elsa wondered whether there was some sort of stoppage on the road in front of them. It turned out that they had already made it to their destination, unbeknownst to her while she was busy filtering out any thoughts that weren't related to ArenCorp. With a heavy exhale, she got out of the car, walked over to the front doors, and pushed them open.

Although time seemed to have stayed at a stand-still in her apartment, it continued to keep ticking on at her company. It was business as usual for everyone else, but for her everything had changed whether she liked it or not. When people greeted her and asked how her vacation was, she nodded and simply said, "Good." She was in no mood to have any conversations about her fake vacation, all she cared about was catching up and burying herself in her work.

Sheila was more than ecstatic about Elsa returning and tried her best to strike up a conversation about how she'd been, what Jamaica was like, if she made friends with any locals, but Elsa wasn't having any of it. All she said was, "Thank you for the warm welcome Sheila, it's good to be back." and walked towards the elevator.

The golden doors opened almost as soon as she walked in front of them, just as a strangely familiar man walked out of them and nodded towards her. She chalked it up to coincidence and walked inside.

The ride up was quick and uneventful and being alone in her thoughts for the first time since earlier in the morning, Elsa realized that she hated that. She wanted the inevitable to be prolonged, if only for a minute. But fate wouldn't even give her that.

The elevator doors opened to her chamber on the fiftieth floor, and immediately she locked eyes with her lonesome assistant sitting at her computer. To say there was tension as soon as she entered would be an understatement, Elsa had the wherewithal to walk out of the elevator and towards Hannah's desk, but not enough to actually say something.

Hannah was the first to speak, uttering out a single "Hey." and a forced smile.

Elsa repeated those same actions, but she felt, no she knew, that she should have done more. She should have put away her pride for a second, apologized, tell Hannah where she's been, ask Hannah how she's been. She should have done more, instead all she did was nod and walk to her office, closing the door behind her.

She told herself that the next time Hannah rang her up, or opened that door, she would put in a little more effort. For now, all she wanted to do was drown the guilt out with paperwork and phone calls.

She sat down at her chair and sighed before logging into her computer, Hannah may have been keeping her up to date with general business news and details, but she also had a personal e-mail account that absolutely no one else could have access to. It was not only an account where Elsa coordinated directly with outside sources to schedule interviews or business ventures, but also her account since high school.

Admittedly yes, this seemed like an unwise security choice, but it also made it easier to know whether the information she received was important or not. Her "business" email was widely known by anyone and everyone, but she only gave out her personal email to select people.

So, it was a bit of a shock to her when she booted up her personal email account and saw an untitled message from an unknown email address. Against all better judgment, Elsa opened up the email, and what was inside sent a chill down her spine.

It was a draft for an article with zero indicators as to who the publisher could be, and pasted around the draft were pictures of her and Anna in their dispute from that dreaded night two weeks ago:


Elsa Andersen seems to be the PR dream: young, attractive, an expert at exhibiting professionalism, and has a knack for the business people haven't seen in a long time. Many doubted the decision to promote her to CEO, myself included; but it seems she's showing all of Arendelle, maybe even the world, that she has what it takes to run ArenCorp as good as her predecessors, if not better. With the recent Arendelle Festival, Ms. Andersen has further given proof to the public that she is a figure everyone can trust and admire.

Or can we?

This reporter can't be the first to wonder what it took to take Elsa Andersen this far in her career. The way she climbed up the ranks of ArenCorp is common knowledge, but what isn't known is her pre-ArenCorp past. With a lacking social media presence and also a lack of past acquaintances, one can only assume just what it was Elsa Andersen was up to before she became Arendelle's newest celebrity.

Until now, that is. Recently, photos have surfaced of Elsa getting into a spat with someone two weeks ago, after the Arendelle Festival. Sources have identified the other woman as Anna Dawson, co-owner of Warm Hearts Bakery, the newest addition to the bustling business center of Arendelle, which also makes her the technical employee of Ms. Andersen herself.

Who is this mystery girl? What is her relation to Elsa Andersen? And what were they fighting about?

Luckily readers, through this video clip those questions and more will be answered. Except for one: Is this the Elsa Andersen we want to entrust the financial future of Arendelle to?

Elsa played the video clip and, once again going against better judgment, watched the whole thing. This person, whoever it was, recorded everything. From some secluded part of the festival grounds, they recorded her going up to the booth, they recorded her telling the story of what happened four years ago- which she once again had to relive- they recorded their heated argument, and they recorded her storming away.

The numbness was now gone, but in its place was a feeling that was even worse. A feeling she hadn't experienced in a very long time, and one that she was ill-equipped to deal with or manage: fear. Her hands were shaking, her heart was racing, and she felt the walls start to close in on her. Who was this person? How did they know where she was going to be? Why would they send her this?

Just then, Elsa received another email notification. This one was also untitled and from the same address. Elsa clicked on it, and felt her stomach drop as she read the message:

Do what I say, or else I send this off to every major publication and news network in Arendelle. You have one hour to comply.

Chapter Text

Chapter Fifteen

Elsa paced around her office clutching her rubber ball in her hand as if letting it go would have plunged her into the depths of insanity. The paranoia had swept through her quick and hard, she constantly second-guessed her every move, refusing to leave her office and staying away from the window on the off chance that they were still watching her, whoever "they" were.

She wasn't that naïve that she felt herself exempt from making enemies in the business world, despite how careful she was in dealing with the right people, but she couldn't pinpoint anyone she had wronged so badly that they would stoop to the levels of espionage and blackmail. That scared Elsa more than anything else about this situation. Whoever was at work here had a personal, unknown vendetta against her and knew where to hit her where it would hurt the most.

The always attentive CEO- who would make decisions for her company quickly and without any hesitation, and was always sure that her decisions were correct- took half an hour to plan out her first move when that second email came in, telling her she had an hour to reply. Most of that half-hour was spent catching her breath and denying that this was even happening, that it was all just a stress-induced nightmare. But with each passing second, she was left with fewer and fewer options, she had to act.

She walked back to her desk and pressed a button on her phone, and with great uncertainty in her voice she spoke, "Hannah…I-I need you to come in here."

The newbies continued to gawk and stare in awe at the new mill Anna and Rapunzel set up in the back of the bakery; you would think they'd have seen something like this before, but as one of them explained- an excitable, ginger-haired guy named Manny who couldn't be older than a college freshman- they never had the opportunity to work with one at Oaken's school. So, this would be a learning experience for all of them, but for Anna most of all.

"Just tell us how we can help, boss.", said Riley, a teenage, short-haired brunette with wide, childlike eyes who Anna already deemed as her favorite.

"You're all going to help me in due time.", Anna replied. "But right now is not that 'due time', and I will tell you when that time is due."

She set up her workspace and shooed off the other workers, right now she needed her own space for experimentation. Making the chocolate to her standards, to what she deemed to be delicious enough to sell and original enough that people knew the chocolates came from Warm Hearts Bakery, would take some time; a day at best, Anna reasoned, two days at worst.

Bowls, measuring cups, sugar, an overly generous number of cocoa beans, and of course the mill, all sat at the table reporting for duty. Anna cracked her knuckles and let out a breath, "Let's get to work."

Elsa didn't know why she did what she did, she didn't know why she was dragging Hannah into her own problem instead of doing something sensible like calling the police, or solving this without bringing anyone down with her, or even apologizing to Hannah like she should. Part of her wanted to pick up the phone again and tell her assistant that it was a false alarm and that she didn't need to come in, but it was too late for that. Hannah had already arrived- without questioning why she needed her, Elsa noted.

"Elsa? What's wr…", Hannah hesitated. "…why did you need me here?"

The change in question didn't go unnoticed to Elsa either. It was clear that two weeks apart hadn't cleared the air yet entirely, and Hannah was still unsure where they stood, but that was a pressing matter for another time. She tried to compose herself, keep from physically admitting that her world was in the palm of someone else's hands, but it was too late. Hannah had caught her mid-pace, hands trembling and eyes widened, there was no use in hiding that she was in the worst…second-worst situation of her life.

She let out a shaky breath along with her desperate plea, "I need help."

With another pained grunt, Anna turned the crank once more with both her hands, succeeding in her fifth revolution of the hour.

"This may be a bit harder than I thought I would be.", Anna remarked, wiping the sweat off her brow with her arm. "Why in the world did I stop working out?"

"Need some help there, boss?", Riley asked from the far side of the kitchen where she was busy frying a new batch of donuts.

"I'm okay!", Anna replied. "I'm okay. This is…getting easier. Yeah, totally. Just a matter of engaging muscles I haven't used in a long time, that's all."

"You sure? Kinda looks like you're having a hard time over there." Without waiting for a reply, Riley walked over to Anna's station and eyed the chocolate-making process curiously.

Progress had been slow so far, all Anna had succeeded in doing was roasting the cocoa beans, and before she could get to the other steps she needed to grind them up and get them ready for mixing. "Yeah, yeah…I'm fine.", she lied. "It's just that this mill must have, you know, not been oiled up or something, the crank's kinda hard to use."

"Really? Let me try.", Riley stepped in and grabbed the crank with one hand.

Anna wanted to protest, tell Riley that it was harder than it looked, but instead all she could do was watch in awe as the teenager turned the crank with ease, in ten seconds she had the beans freshly ground into the waiting bowl underneath the mill. Anna could add "disproportionate amounts of strength" to the list of reasons Riley was her favorite.

Right up there with reminding Anna of herself when she was a teenager.

The teenager wiped her hands on her apron and stepped back, noticing Anna's dumbfounded expression she grinned and said, "I'm training to be a gymnast."

Ten grueling minutes passed as Elsa sat on her office bed and waited anxiously for Hannah to read through the email and help her out in some way, in any way. She immediately regretted asking for help the second the plea left her lips- not wanting to bring anyone, especially Hannah, into this mess- but now that she had, all she could do was wait and try not to think about what would happen if she missed the deadline to reply.

Finally, Hannah exhaled and let out with shock and bewilderment a single "Damn…"

Anxious to get an answer, any answer, Elsa got off her bed like someone waiting for the surgeon to get out of the operating room to tell them how their loved one was doing and paced over to her desk where Hannah was sitting. "What do I do?", she asked.

"I…", Hannah stopped herself for a second, making sure that she worded this answer carefully, "I don't think you have a choice, Elsa. You have to listen to them."

"I don't have a choice?", Elsa repeated as if it were some foreign slur.

"Look we can't contact the police, at least not directly, we don't know how this guy is monitoring you, and we don't know what they see, or what they already know. But I know an officer down at the police station -I used to date his brother- I can probably contact him and see if he can help us out. For now though…Elsa you have to play along, at least until we can find out who they are and what they want. I mean I'm assuming you want to take this person down, right?"

Elsa groaned, leaning on her desk with her hands running through her undone hair. It wasn't the answer she wanted, but the answer she was expecting.

"I mean what else are you gonna do?", Hannah continued. "If this gets out, it'll be the one thing people remember the most about you, no matter what. The video paints you as this entirely different person that people see in public, they'll doubt everything that you've worked so hard to show for yourself. I'm sorry Elsa, I wish there was another way, but this is the only way."

Even more words that she didn't want to hear. The worst part of it all though was that Hannah was right, there was nothing else she could do but comply, and she only had fifteen minutes to do so. "Alright…alright I'll play along."

Hannah got off the computer chair without a word and stepped out of the room to call the officer she was in contact with, leaving Elsa to do what she needed to do. With utter disdain and bitterness, Elsa typed out her reply to this mysterious aggravator: Fine, what do you want with me?

As it turned out, there was a specific part of the chocolate-making process Anna had forgotten, one that would take much longer than a couple of hours or so. It was a slight drawback in her plans, sure, but nothing that would hinder anything. She would get chocolate one way or another, it just wouldn't be today.

So, now she needed to occupy herself with the rest of the bakery that she had neglected that whole day. Manny and Riley's shifts had already ended, and the other two workers would be around in a little bit to take their place, which lgave Anna some time to herself. Food count was still good for now, so she busied herself by cleaning the mess in the kitchen.

"Those two, always gotta clean up after them.", Anna said in a crotchety old woman voice as she wiped down one of the stainless-steel counters. "Always making a mess, and then they bring their friends over and I gotta clean up their mess. It's a good thing they pay rent or I wouldn't tolerate this behavior, not for a second longer."

It had been a while since Anna had slipped into one of her "characters", then again it had also been a while since her life hadn't been an insufferable mess with fires needing to be put out constantly. Plus, they were right in the middle of their "sweet spot" too, which meant the bakery wouldn't be busy for a little bit anyway. So if now wasn't a good time to pass time, then when?

Anna picked up her cleaning rag and clutched it with both hands, looking up with a forlorn glance, "Oh Harold, if only you were still here, I wouldn't have to face these young hooligans alone. What with their rap music, and their tight clothes, and their unseemly vocabulary!" She had somehow morphed this character into both an exasperated old woman dealing with young adult tenants, and a snooty middle-aged woman constantly bellyaching about the younger generation. "Why just the other day I heard one of them say something about doing a 'dab'. Now I'm not sure what that means, but it can't be good."

"And they're always on their cellphones, remember back in our day? When we wanted to talk to people we would do it directly or through letters. There's a lot more meaning in letters, but now you barely see anyone at the post office these days. It's sad, really. It's sad…"

She sighed, "If you were here Harold, life would be much easier. I know you told me to find someone after you passed on, but I just can't, it wouldn't be fair to you dear. Lying alone in bed every night is better than the alternative. Although, that hasn't stopped anyone else from trying, just the other day your old friend Roger-"

"Should we…come back later?"

Whoops. Anna dropped the rag as fast as she had clutched it in her hands and straightened out her apron, laughing nervously. She looked at the other two newbies ready to work, denying that she was just speaking about Harold, her dead husband. "No, you're fine! That was just…some…improv stuff that I work on. From time to time. By myself...yeah. Let's go do some baking!"

Not even five minutes had passed until Elsa got a reply. Refusing to waste any more time she ignored the way her breath hitched when the email appeared. Her fists clenched unconsciously as she read the message:

Wow, five minutes to the deadline. Cutting it a little close, aren't we Ms. Andersen?

Now first things first, communicating through email is going to get tedious real fast; so since you left me with five minutes left on the timer, you have five minutes to send me your phone number. Your personal phone number.

Look at that, the games are already beginning. ;)

If Elsa hadn't despised them already, she certainly did now. The amount of disrespect being displayed was unfathomable, and it made her blood boil. Just the way they addressed her- Ms. Andersen, a title she was very familiar with- exuded an air of arrogance, like they had won simply by having Elsa comply to their demands. Whoever this person was, Elsa couldn't wait to bring them down. But for now, she still needed to play along, so she replied with her phone number and waited for the inevitable text message to arrive.

Her phone vibrated shortly after, and on her screen was a blocked number with another message that made her want to throw her phone against the wall as if that would somehow incapacitate the person on the other end.

UNKNOWN: That's much better, now before we get on to business I want to establish a few rules: 1) No going to the police, I'm sure I didn't have to tell you this but just in case. If I get any sense at all that they're on to me, I send out the article. 2) You will conform to the timeframes I set for you. If you don't do what I say in the time I give you, then I send out the article. 3) You will do EXACTLY what I tell you, nothing more or nothing less. If I don't feel as if you met my demands, then (surprise surprise) I send out the article. 4) Every time you meet my demands, you're allowed to ask me one question. Any question at all. I may even answer it.

UNKNOWN:  Reply with a YES if you understand.

Elsa:  YES

This was pure extortion, but extortion she needed to play along with. She felt like a complete tool writing out the word "Yes" in capital letters like they told her to.

UNKNOWN:  Thank you! And guess what? You giving me your number was your first task, which means you get to ask me one question! Never say that I'm not a generous person.

Elsa:  Who are you?

UNKNOWN:  …did you seriously think that would work?

Elsa:  You said you would answer any question I asked.

UNKNOWN:  No, I said I MAY answer any question you asked. Pay attention Ms. Andersen, it may save your life.

Elsa clenched her teeth, picturing whoever they were with a condescending grin on their face, loving the control they had over her right now and knowing she could do nothing about it. She vowed to personally wipe that grin right off their face. Hopefully, that time wouldn't be far off, the sooner she got rid of this nuisance, the better.

UNKNOWN:  Now I bet you're just DYING to know what your next task is. Would you like to find out?

Elsa:  Do I even have a choice?

She hated accepting the bitter truth of her situation and hated even more that she had to say it out loud. Or type it, at least.

UNKNOWN:  Of course you do! You can choose not to play along, but that'll just result in your big secret being revealed for everyone to see. And I don't think you want to do that.

Elsa:  Just tell me what I have to do.

UNKNOWN:  Getting impatient, I see. Very well, what's the name of the woman at the front desk?

A creeping sense of unease ran through Elsa; she didn't like where this was going. It was bad enough that they were already targeting her, but the implication that they might target the other people in her company was unacceptable. Nonetheless, she still needed to comply.

Elsa:  Sheila. Why?

UNKNOWN:  She's a very energetic woman now, isn't she? So upbeat and full of life, a smart choice putting her up front. I bet she's got a family, does she have a family?

She definitely didn't like where this was going.

Elsa:  I'm not answering that, I'm not going to tell you anything that could hurt any of my employees.

UNKNOWN:  Ugh, you're no fun. I'm not going to do anything to your employees, I was just trying to have a nice, lighthearted conversation to shake things up. But I guess you just want to get down to business, so let's do so.

The devious pest finally sent their demand, and the sense of unease in Elsa mutated into utter mortification.

UNKNOWN:  I want you to fire Sheila.

Immediately, Elsa sent off her response. Not thinking about herself, but thinking of the receptionist who was the first person she'd ever met at ArenCorp. The woman who always had some sassy remark about anyone in the company, who would treat her with respect and congratulated her for every one of her promotions. The woman who did have a family, a husband who was a struggling mechanic and two kids heading into their second year of high school. The woman who she prioritized over anyone else to keep when the time came to release people for budgeting reasons.

Elsa:  No, absolutely not. Sheila is an asset to this company, and I will not go around firing people just because you tell me to.

UNKNOWN:  I haven't told you to fire anyone else, yet, just her; and I want proof that you fired her too so I'm going to need you to record it.

Elsa:  You're insane! I'm not doing this.

UNKNOWN:  If it's not going to be her, then it's going to be you. Think about it Ms. Andersen, if word gets out about this, it'll be all anyone talks about. People will see you as an overly aggressive maniac who goes around yelling and berating their employees, and then they'll go digging further into your past and who knows what they'll find. You'll be out of a job if you don't handle this carefully, someone else will take your place, and they might do what you didn't have the guts to do in the first place.

The world around her was spinning and blurry, the walls as they rotated around her started to close in. This was going too far. She couldn't fire Sheila, but at the same time, she couldn't let this secret get out. What was she supposed to do?

UNKNOWN:  It's her future or yours, Ms. Andersen. You have 24 hours to comply.

There were no other messages, leaving Elsa alone to figure out how to move forward with this twisted situation and try her best to calm down in order to make a decision. Thoughts raced through her mind and pounded her head: How did things get this bad? Who was this person? What did they want with her? Most importantly though, what the hell was she supposed to do?

She weighed her options, wondering if she could somehow outsmart them and merely pretend to fire Sheila. But any ideas she had were voided by the fact that she needed to record the process. There was no going around this, if she was going to do it, then the firing needed to be real. Was she going to go through with it though? Would she ruin someone else's life to save her own?

No, she had to reason, it wasn't just her life. It was her company's as well; someone wasn't just threatening her but her entire company and everything she had ever worked for. The decision, then, was final for Elsa, and she had to do everything in her power to deny that this wasn't selfish, that this was going to be what would be best for the company. If she kept the reputation and security of ArenCorp at the forefront of her mind, hopefully it would drive out the thoughts that she was about to take the security away from someone who truly deserved it. Maybe even more than her.

Her phone rang, almost making her jump out of her seat, and Elsa answered it.

It was Hannah, as if Elsa needed another reminder of someone she had wronged just recently. "Hey Elsa, I just got off the phone with my friend down at the station and he said he knows someone that could help us out here. Says he can be at ArenCorp in twenty minutes or so, hopefully we can put this nightmare behind us. Sound good?"

Her stomach felt as if someone had put it through a blender, caused by the finality of the decision she was about to make, and also from the unhelpful thought that maybe if she just had another hour or two, that this problem would have been solved before it went even further. Maybe if she had sought out help further…no, she had to stop thinking like this.

"Yeah, yeah that sounds good Hannah. Thanks.", Elsa replied. "When he comes, let me know so I can send him up. But right now, I need you to do something else for me."

"What is it?"

She let out a long, pitiful breath; this was it, no turning back. "I…need you to send Sheila up here. Right now."

"Oh…okay, I will. Is everything alright?"

"Yeah.", Elsa lied. "Everything's fine."

Chapter Text

Chapter Sixteen

About a year ago, Elsa was heading a team to supervise a buyout for this startup company that would apparently "revolutionize the automobile industry" with some universal addition for car engines. Their product had barely been tested aside from a few heavily controlled, but ArenCorp had decided to take a chance and absorb the company into their own blooming automobile division.

The papers were all set and the meetings had already been conducted, all Elsa and her team needed to do was ensure that everything was signed on the dotted line. A day before the buyout happened, however, Elsa had second thoughts about it and voiced her concerns to the higher-ups; she had done enough for the corporation by then to stay in their good graces and gain their trust, so they put it on her to make the final decision.

Elsa went with her gut and backed out of the deal with the startup, much to their dismay, and she and her team went back to ArenCorp emptyhanded. A month later, the startup was bought out by some motor company in Detroit which bolstered the auto industry there. Even today Arendelle, and by extension ArenCorp, struggled to break into the same industry. All because of one decision from Elsa, and it was the hardest one she'd ever had to make.

Until today.

When Sheila finally understood why Elsa had called her up to her office, the always present smile on her face quickly faded into a mortified look of shock. There was an unhealthy amount of crying, shouting, and pleading- mostly from Sheila, but it wasn't as if Elsa could remain stone-faced through this whole ordeal- and in the end, the loyal receptionist walked out of the office unemployed and heartbroken, and the disgusted CEO sat in her office chair repeatedly telling herself she did what she had to do.

As soon as the deed was done, Elsa stopped the recording and eyed the timestamp: 5 minutes, 43 seconds. It only took 5 minutes and 43 seconds for her to ruin someone's life, but then again how long would it take for this person to ruin hers? She sent off the recording along with a message that read "It's done, you son of a bitch.", seconds before Hannah came into her office.

She stood in the same spot that Sheila had just been fired in, hands on her hips looking utterly perplexed. "I heard yelling through the door, and Sheila just left here crying. Elsa, what just happened?"

For a second, Elsa wanted to pull out the age-old lie she had gotten so used to saying: "It's nothing, everything's fine." But even she knew that that wouldn't work in this scenario, so instead she forced herself to verbally admit the treacherous act she had just committed. "I…I had to fire her."


"I fired her! I…fired Sheila.", Elsa repeated, the words feeling like bitter poison escaping and latching onto her lips at the same time.

"Why would you…" There was no need for Hannah to finish that thought, she already knew why. "They told you to do it."

Elsa nodded solemnly.

"And you went through with it."

"I had to."

"You…went through with it.", Hannah repeated, ignoring the helplessness in Elsa's tone and instead focusing on the one solitary act.

"What else was I supposed to do?", Elsa protested. "I hated firing Sheila, she was one of my favorite people we had on staff, but in the end, I did what I had to do to protect this company."

Hannah shook her head, "No, no you didn't. I mean I did say that you should try and comply no matter what it took, but don't lie to me and say you did it for this company."

This day was already jarring and disconcerting enough for Elsa, and now she had to deal with an insubordinate scolding from her assistant. But before she could come up with some sort of rebuttal that didn't delve into their awkwardness two weeks ago, the faint sound of the elevator bell dinging interrupted them.

Hannah sighed, "Look we can settle this later, but right now the guy that's supposed to help us, help you, is here. So, let's just see what he has to say." She left to go get Elsa's apparent savior, leaving her with a second to check her phone. Anxious, not eager, to see if this nightmare would continue. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there was still no reply.

Soon, Hannah reappeared with a man in tow who looked all-too-familiar. He was wearing typical black business wear, and he had short dark brown hair, matching the scruff on his chin. To Elsa's credit, it only took her a couple of seconds to realize this was the same man she saw walking out of the elevator earlier today. "I know you," she stated instead of giving a more appropriate greeting.

The man grinned, exhibiting a sliver of arrogance that he seemed to have perfected, "Well I sure hope so, I kinda work for you." He extended a hand, "Flynn Rider, thirty-fifth floor."

"Thirty-five? That's one of our sales floors.", Elsa replied as she shook his outstretched hand. Her familiarity with Flynn only reached as far as her encounter with him earlier, if he worked here then he must have been hired before Elsa took control. She remembered almost everyone ArenCorp hired once she became CEO, but not him.

"That's right, been moving my way up for the past three years.", Flynn replied as if he had read Elsa's mind. "Hopefully one day I'll find myself on a floor with a view as good as what you've got. In any case, my friend down at the station filled me in on what's going on. Sounds like you've got some trouble with some nutcase trying to blackmail you?"

Elsa sighed, "Unfortunately yes." She filled in the blanks that he didn't know: someone messaged her this morning, they had some dirt on her, and they had already forced her to commit one act against her better judgment. Through it all, he stood silently taking this information all in, arms crossed and eyes deep in thought. Flynn began to speak as soon as Elsa finished.

"Guy sounds like a hack, but a pretty convincing hack. Chances are all he has on you is this, but I don't think you want to take that chance. They could have more on you, or maybe just this one thing, the only way I'll know for sure- if you want me to help - is if you keep 'working' with them so I can find out how much they know and what they can do to you."

Elsa was hoping that he would have told her some better news, something akin to him knowing who this guy was and how he would be knocking down their door as soon as he left; instead, all she got was the same old news that Hannah told her before. Which was expected, but still disappointing. "I have to keep working with them?", she said with her last bit of expectancy.

"Unfortunately yeah, but only until we know for sure who this is. Then you're free."

"And how exactly are you going to find out who they are?"

Flynn smiled, "Thought you'd never ask. Before I worked for ArenCorp I used to do a lot of work for the police tracking down hackers and stuff like that. As a thank you, they let me keep the equipment I used to track them down and they still call me from time to time to do some freelance work. So, this guy, his number doesn't come up on your phone does it?"

Elsa raised an eyebrow, "No, it doesn't. How did you-"

"Of course it doesn't, which means this guy's got at least one brain cell; good for them, not as good for you. But if you keep in contact with them, I can guarantee you I'll be able to track down the number in due time and find everything on them. Also…I'm going to need your phone."

There was, of course, some hesitation on Elsa's part; her privacy had already been invaded once today, why would she willingly let it be invaded again? "What do you need it for?"

"In order for this to work, I need to put a tracker on your phone." Flynn pulled out a black, unassuming phone case from his suit pocket and showed it to Elsa. "Looks exactly like a phone case so no one will suspect a thing, and it'll allow me to trace the signal from your phone to theirs every time they message you, or vice versa."

Elsa was filled with a sense of dread and unease. It was bad enough that someone out there was pulling her proverbial strings from some unknown place, but now she had to most likely deal with someone working directly for her- someone she could literally see but knew little about- being her eyes and seeing everything she was. "This is a direct invasion of privacy.", Elsa protested. "There has to be some other way, one that doesn't have me granting you access to my personal information."

"It won't give me access to your personal information, or your entire phone.", Flynn reasoned. "All it'll do, literally, is just let me see the text messages you both send to each other. I can't look at anything else on your phone, I can't take it over, all I'll be able to do is watch the messages and trace the signal."

This new bit of information eased some nerves in Elsa, but not all of them. "And how do I know I can trust you?"

"Because I've done this before, and I know what I'm doing.", Flynn replied with a slightly offended tone. "You can call anyone down at the police station and mention the name 'Flynn Rider', and their faces will light up cause they can vouch for me and what I do. Besides, I've been working here for three years, if I wanted to do anything to sabotage this company, why would I wait till now?"

It wasn't a very convincing argument, but there was still some truth to it. The police department had recommended Flynn, and he had no motive to sabotage Elsa any further than she had already been. And besides, once again, what other choice did she have? She looked towards Hannah, seeing what she thought of this whole situation, but she wouldn't give Elsa anything. Her assistant just stood there behind the two with the most neutral expression and her arms crossed.

With no other options- aside from trying to do this by herself, which was already going horribly- Elsa sighed and motioned for the phone case. "Alright…I'm still not sure about this, but if this is the only way to get this guy out of my life for good, then I'll do it."

If there was one thing that Anna hated about her job, it was taking out the trash. It was a necessary evil, something that needed to be done unless she wanted the bakery to smell like bad eggs and moldy bread, but still something she dreaded doing. Once she finished making the trek a couple of times to throw away the immense amount of trash they went through in a day, nose pinched between her fingers throughout the whole ordeal, she scrubbed and washed her hands like a surgeon getting out of a particularly messy surgery and joined Rapunzel at the storefront. The day was winding down for them, and she had next to nothing left to do in the back other than impatiently waiting for her chocolate.

When she reached the front, her best friend was busy counting out the money in the register, Anna sat up on the counter and gently kicked her legs out in front of her. "One day we'll be able to keep this place open past 5.", Anna said hopefully.

"Yeah, one day.", Rapunzel repeated, trying to match Anna's enthusiasm while still counting out the surprising amount of money in their register. "Everything going alright in the back?"

Anna nodded, which didn't give much of an answer since Rapunzel hadn't peeled her eyes up to meet hers yet. "Yeah everything's fine, I've just got nothing to do back there so I thought I'd join you."

She heard Rapunzel let out a short chuckle, it didn't sound mocking or condescending, more like amusing. "What? What's so funny?"

Finally, Rapunzel looked up at her, and on her face was a proud smile, like a mother looking at a drawing their kid made for them. "Nothing, it's just that like a month ago I had to practically drag you out of your little hideaway just to do simple stuff like hanging out with me up here, and now you're actually doing it on your own." She reached over and patted Anna's arm, "Look at you, showing some character development."

Anna scoffed, "Character development? Yeesh, you make it sound like we're in a TV show or a book or something. And if we were on a TV show, I'd like to talk to the producer and straighten out a couple of things about the plot. Maybe rewrite a few key moments, you know?"

"Pssh, there's no fun in that.", Rapunzel rebutted.

Amidst the nonsensical talk about bad plots and character progression, Anna found herself agreeing with Rapunzel's main point. This was the first time she had willingly stepped out of her workspace for more than just a few minutes, maybe the festival gave her some much-needed experience being more of a frontlines kind of person, or maybe her life was finally a little less hectic and she didn't have to worry anymore about who came through that door. Maybe it was both.

Nonetheless, she cherished this peaceful moment the two were sharing, one she hadn't had in a while. "I guess you're right, I've never been that present up here before.", Anna said, finally bringing the conversation back to its earlier roots. "But now that I'm here…it's nice. I see why you love spending so much time at the front."

"Well I'm glad you see things my way," Rapunzel said as she closed the register and leaned on the counter, giving her full attention to Anna. "Besides, it gets pretty boring without my best friend with me to talk about producers and plot and stuff like that."

Anna looked at her sheepishly, "Yeah I've been kind of a jerk about that, haven't I? Not being present, I mean. But hey, no better time than the present, pun intended, to fix that right?"


"Right." Anna smiled and eagerly upped the pace of her kicking. "So then what're you up to tonight? Let's go get dinner or something and just do regular best friend stuff for a change instead of talking about my sorry excuse of a love life."

Rapunzel hissed and averted her gaze away from Anna and towards a random donut in the display case behind her, a telltale sign that Anna was about to get blown off. "What? What's up?", she asked anyway.

"Ah, it's just…I…kinda already have plans with Flynn tonight?"

Of course.

"Again?! That's the third time in like a week! I've barely seen you around in the apartment as it is.", Anna was happy that Rapunzel had finally found a boyfriend – she assumed they had assigned the labels to each other after a handful of successful dates, even though she hadn't asked Rapunzel about this yet- but that didn't make her any less upset about the lack of time she got to spend with her best friend.

"I knoooow, I'm a bad person, but he made reservations to this really fancy restaurant downtown two weeks in advance so I'd hate to ask him to cancel it. Tomorrow though it'll just be you and me, I promise."

Rapunzel had that well-practiced apologetic pout going on that she knew Anna fell for every time, and this time was no different. With a heavy, almost over-exaggerated sigh, Anna conceded, "Ugh fine, you can go on your date and leave me alone. Again. I guess I'll just go back to the apartment after this and do some more research on making chocolate, find something new or relearn something about chocolate molds…or something." The more Anna talked, the more she realized how depressing that sounded; and yet that had been pretty much her life these past two weeks.

"Oh come on Anna, you don't have to do that, you can't just keep spending all your free time cooped up in the apartment."

"Well, what do you suggest I do then? Spend my free time cooped up in a library?" In hindsight that didn't seem like such a bad idea, libraries were quiet and a guaranteed few hours of uninterrupted free time. Plus there were books, lots of books.

"No, nothing like that. Pretty sure Arendelle U filled out our quota for book reading for the next twenty years or so. Why don't you go do something fun?! Like go see a movie, or go to a bar, maybe meet someone." Rapunzel wanted to hide the eagerness in her voice when she suggested meeting someone but didn't do a good job at it.

"Are you saying that I need to meet someone?", Anna asked, probably more offended than she should have been.

"You don't need to, but don't you want to? Or do you solely prefer hardheaded CEO's with icy blonde hair and pantsuits?"

Anna wanted to shoot her a glare as if to say "Don't go there.", but for some reason, all she could muster was a pitiful frown-pout hybrid that made her look like a kid forced to apologize for "accidentally" hitting someone they didn't like.

"That doesn't sound like a 'no'," Rapunzel stated when she didn't hear any protesting from Anna. "To either of the questions."

Somehow, Rapunzel had also become a believer, like her mother, that Anna was still hung up on Elsa, that she still had some unresolved feelings towards the woman she was so desperately trying not to have such a stranglehold on her life anymore. Anna, obviously, wasn't a believer of this and didn't hesitate to remind the two that she vehemently disagreed with this notion every chance she got. "I told you before, I am not into Elsa anymore."

"I never said Elsa, I may have described someone that sounds a lot like Elsa, but I never said outright that she was Elsa. You came up with that conclusion yourself, missy." Rapunzel smirked like she had accomplished something with her word trickery.

And she kind of did. Anna groaned and hopped off the counter, frowning at Rapunzel with hands pressed to her hips. "You're impossible.", she said exasperated.

"Love you too.", Rapunzel replied before reaching into her pocket and pulling out her wallet. "But I'm serious Anna, you gotta get out of the apartment sometimes. Go to a bar or something, or a club. You don't even have to meet anyone, just have a good time. I'll even give you my card, so you don't even have to worry about paying."

She pulled out her credit card and thrust it towards Anna, who looked at the purple piece of plastic quizzically. "You…do realize that whatever I spend comes out of your paycheck, which still comes out of the funds from our bakery, right?"

"Noted. Now are you gonna have some fun tonight? Or are you gonna mope around and bake cookies again? And please don't say bake cookies, because we're already running out of space in the fridge to put them."

Anna continued to alternate between looking at the credit card and Rapunzel's eager face, carefully weighing her options. It wasn't as if she was against the idea of going to a bar and letting loose for at least a night, but going to one alone on a Monday night? Not only that but what was the point of even going if she decided not to even talk to anyone? Rapunzel may have told her that she didn't have to meet someone new, but when you take that out of the equation all you're left with is your lonely self sucking down the fifth margarita for the night while the bartender looks at you with his fingers all but ready to dial a cab or 911.

But then, what would the alternative be? Staying at the apartment alone? She was an expert at that, but even that was getting to be a bit too depressing for her taste. It's times like this where Anna wished she had more than one friend…and with that thought she finally realized that she actually did have to do this.

With great reluctance, Anna grabbed the card and put it in her pocket, much to the delight of Rapunzel. "Ugh fine, I'll go. But I'm not gonna go out and get hammered on a Monday night, one of us has to be here tomorrow morning to open up shop."

Rapunzel didn't say anything, she simply squealed with joy and enveloped Anna in a hug.

This was going to be an interesting night.

Flynn didn't stick around for too long once Elsa had placed the tracker on her phone, and ironically Elsa wished that he had stayed for longer. Because once he left, the awkwardness that enveloped the room beforehand, and then stayed out of the way while the trio had their conversation, returned once more between Elsa and Hannah. Once that door closed, and Elsa sank into her chair rubbing her temples, Hannah went on the offensive.

"I still can't believe you fired Sheila," she said coldly, hands still wrapped around the door handle leading out of Elsa's office.

Elsa was definitely not ready to have this conversation right now, "I already told you I did what I had to do."

"No yeah, you said that, and I believe that. But it's still really messed up Elsa, and what's more messed up is that you had to lie about why you had to do it."

"I'm not doing this Hannah, not right now. We can talk about whatever ulterior motives you think I have later." Elsa pinched the bridge of her nose and stared at the dark, blank screen of her phone. There was still no response, but she caught a reflection of herself and was just now starting to realize how prominent the bags under her eyes were.

"And when is this mythical 'later' going to be? Another two weeks from now?"

Maybe it was the sheer insanity of her predicament, but Elsa actually smiled when she heard Hannah say that. It was a tired smile, but one that felt appropriate, a smile that said of course she wasn't going to get away with her past mistakes, of course they would be dragged through the mud, of course her nightmare wasn't over. She couldn't help herself either when a faint laugh escaped her lips, "Should have known we couldn't just let what happened between us pass by."

Hannah turned around and faced Elsa, or her desk at least, looking genuinely hurt. A kind of hurt that seemed to have been pent up for weeks, or maybe even longer. "Did you expect me to not bring it up? Did you expect me to just let that elephant stay in the room for as long as we worked together?"

Elsa stood up and the words left her lips before she could steel herself, before she could bite her tongue to keep from saying anything stupid or regretful. "We don't work together, you work for me. How come all of a sudden you want to know so much about me if it's none of your business?"

Hannah advanced towards Elsa with an accusatory finger pointed straight at her, "Because you made it my business! If you didn't do it before, then you sure as hell made it my business now by dragging me into the mess that you made for yourself. Elsa, I'm not trying to lecture you, and I'm not trying to tell you that you did this all wrong, because I don't know enough about you to make that judgment. All I'm trying to do is know more about you, damn it! You can at least start by telling me who this Anna person is and why we need to keep this such a secret…"

There was still time to salvage the dysfunctional, distorted relationship Elsa had with Hannah, all she had to do was apologize, stop going on the offensive, maybe even tell her how messed up her life was before and why it's coming back to haunt her now. There was still time, but Elsa didn't do any of this; in fact she did the complete opposite. "I don't think I owe you an explanation for a damn thing, I don't pay you to be my therapist, hell I already have a therapist- that I never wanted, by the way- and I don't need another one."

Like a pot of scalding, hot water, everything that Elsa repressed from four years ago, from two weeks ago, and from this morning had begun to boil over. And there was no stopping it, even if she wanted it to, and with the amount of control she'd already relinquished today, Elsa definitely didn't want to. She was in full control when she said this:

"I'm sorry that you're so needy, that you find it appropriate to try and bully information out of your boss, but if you expect me to be an open book then you are sorely mistaken. I have never been that way, and I will never be that way; so you're barking up the wrong tree here. If you want affection, and telling stories, and hand-holding then you're gonna have to find it somewhere else. Because it's sure as shit not gonna come from me."

For the longest time, the pair stood their ground without saying anything else; and despite her best efforts to repress the thoughts, the scene reminded Elsa of her staredown with Anna. Only Hannah didn't match the intensity on Anna's face, in fact a few seconds into the deafening silence she looked away and down at the ground. Low enough that Elsa couldn't see her expression.

With each passing second that ticked by, Elsa grew more and more impatient. She took one more shot to see if Hannah would finally reply, "Anything else you want to know about me?"

Finally, Hannah answered after walking back to the door with her head still low; and even though her voice was faint and hoarse, Elsa could hear the two words with sickening clarity: "I quit."

The door closed, leaving Elsa to finally realize the gravity and impact of her choices and her words. Before she could do something, anything, to try and remedy this situation like go after Hannah or catch her breath, her phone vibrated, making her feel more like garbage than she already did.

UNKNOWN:  You followed your instructions perfectly, Elsa, I especially liked the tears to help sell the whole thing. I'll let you know when I have a new task for you. The fun's just getting started. ;)

Chapter Text

Chapter Seventeen

Anna didn't know why she was expecting the Dark Room to not be booming on a Monday night, considering the last time she was here was on a Monday night. Thankfully once again she was able to find an open barstool in record time.

Strangers mingled on the dance floor and leather couches, spurred on by the purple glow, bass-boosted music, and intoxication; and the more they drank, the more desperate the mingling became. It was a carefully constructed environment to forget about old problems and make new friends, at least that's what Anna told herself when she drove over here after making a quick stop to her apartment to wash up.

Honestly, Anna didn't know any other bars or clubs and didn't know where to start looking, so she went to a place she was already familiar with, a place that was both a night club and also had a bar. To her credit, she did spend ten seconds scanning the dance floor and couches looking for someone approachable before inevitably retreating to said bar.

So maybe making new friends wasn't going to be so easy, but at least she got out of the apartment. That had to count for something, right?

"Lady, I just serve drinks. If you need someone to talk to about your problems, try one of the couches."

Anna froze in her revolving barstool, unaware that she had said that question out loud. She cleared her throat and tried to explain herself, "Sorry, uh…I've never actually been here before. Alone, I mean. It's a little intimidating, but don't worry I'll get used to it."

"Good to know.", the bartender said monotonously.

"I went here with my roommate once and we had a pretty good time, we didn't do any dancing just some drinking- she had more than I did- and I mean Rapunzel would be here with me right now if she wasn't on a date. Which I'm perfectly okay with, don't get me wrong."

"I wouldn't dare.", his face seemed to be sinking deeper and deeper into a frown with each second Anna rambled on as if they were old friends catching up.

"And not that it sucks without her here, this is a…unique establishment, and I had to do something to get out of the apartment. I spend way too much time there as it is, alone, so I had to get out of there or else I would have gone insane. Like…could you imagine just being cooped up in one place with only like one person to talk to?"

"No, I can't."

"Exactly! Like how could you? I mean you get to meet new people all the time, and it must be so exciting. I mean I get to meet people at my job all the time too, but I can't really get any connection with them since they're just there to get cookies and stuff. Here at a bar, though, you can-"

"Look lady, are you going to buy a drink or not?", the bartender interrupted, left eye visibly twitching.

Anna's cheeks flushed, realizing finally that she had been rambling this whole time and dumping all of her problems on this poor guy like he was a therapist she had held hostage. Luckily there was no one else waiting to order their drinks, or else she would have felt worse. "Sorry!", she said sheepishly, "Just get me a…uh…erm, just surprise me, I guess."

The bartender's facial expression stayed the same, still annoyed that Anna was in his field of vision. "Surprise you.", he repeated.

Anna laughed nervously, "Yeah, surprise me."

She could see it in his face that the man wanted nothing more to do with her, but at the same time wanted to tell her off for her inability to order a simple drink. She braced for both outcomes and was left surprised when the bartender instead walked back to the shelves of alcohol instead.

Surprised, and alone.

With a heavy sigh, Anna's shoulders dropped and she looked around the rest of the bar counter with a pout. There weren't a lot of people around to talk to, and those that were there either left as soon as they got their drinks or sat with their heads low nursing drink number five out of fifty.

Not exactly the best kind of company to spark a new friendship with, which meant Anna's hopes of fulfilling the one thing she came here to do were slowly dwindling. And now that the bartender had seemingly moved on to another, more prepared patron, it meant she had succeeded in losing literally the only person she had talked to tonight.

Five minutes in, and this night out was already turning out to be as fulfilling and social as her nights in the apartment. But just as she was about to sulk out of her chair and admit defeat, someone stopped her. Not intentionally, and they didn't even make contact, but they did succeed in stopping her from leaving.

"Whiskey, neat. And just leave the bottle here."

The first thing Anna noticed was that she was a girl, the second thing she noticed that she was strangely familiar. Anna continued to eye her, telling herself it was only to pinpoint the reason why, and not because she was trying to be a creep. She had chestnut hair tied into a ponytail that just barely reached her shoulders and was wearing a jet-black tank top with blue jeans, droplets of sweat shone on her forehead, which meant that either she ran all the way here or was on the dance floor before coming to the bar.

"Thought they were supposed to be carding people up front.", the bartender remarked as he, too, stared the new girl down. Albeit less creepy and stalkerish.

When she tucked a stray hair away from her face, Anna could notice the way she frowned as if it was second nature, and the way her eyes narrowed when the bartender patronized her, and the familiarities continued to stack up. Was her mind playing tricks on her? Or was this someone she had actually met before? And if it was, then who the heck was she?

Anna got her answer when the girl pulled out her wallet, took out her ID, and barked back at the bartender, "I turned 21 a week ago, ass."

Pure nosiness took over, and Anna looked at the ID, eyes widening as she saw the name written across in black letters: Hannah.

It had been so long since Elsa had driven herself around Arendelle. She had dismissed Marshall for the day, not even giving an explanation, and true to form he simply complied, giving Elsa the privacy she wanted. The privacy she desperately needed.

Today had been, by all accounts, abysmal from beginning to end. It was baffling to even think of how each second topped the previous one in terms of baffling dreadfulness. From the second she woke up barely registering anything going around her, to when she got that damn email, to…

No. No, Elsa told herself she wouldn't do this. She told herself she wouldn't think about today anymore.

No more dwelling on what happened earlier; that's why she wanted to drive by herself in the first place, to get away from it all and try to clear her head. And there was no better place to do that than the last safe haven- besides her apartment, which had become more of a prison than anything- that she felt she had.

She gave her navy-blue tank top and black track shorts one last look in the rearview mirror, accidentally glancing at her face in the process and trying to convince herself that the darkness under her eyes was just a trick of the light. Deeming herself ready and presentable, she opened the door and walked out of her car.

Elsa had done her best to reinvent herself going into college, seemingly shaking off any semblance of who she used to be in high school; but there were some parts of her old self she just couldn't shake off, and some people.

Being on the lacrosse team was physically demanding yet greatly rewarding, and even though she opted out of joining North Mountain's team, she didn't want to give up physical activity altogether. Any time she wasn't studying, going to class, or working at ArenCorp, she spent at the gym running, lifting, doing everything she could just to stay fit. Over time it even became a cathartic, therapeutic way to deal with any issues big or small.

While she barely lifted anymore once she got out of college, she still ran any chance she got and finding a gym was a high priority for her- one that was rarely ever crowded and secluded. She found one eventually that was a bit of a drive, but it wasn't as if anyone was waiting on her. No one knew about this place, not even…no one knew about this place.

The small gym, located in the middle building of a corner dedicated to other small businesses on the edge of West Arendelle, shone bright like a beacon beckoning Elsa inside. No one was inside like she expected, save for a couple of employees wiping down the equipment and the receptionist who nodded once at her. They had only spoken once when Elsa initially signed up.

Immediately she walked over to a treadmill on the far corner of the room and hopped on, doing stretches while trying to avoid looking at herself in the mirror on the opposite wall.

Two weeks, maybe three, had passed since she last came here, she knew her body would rebel the sudden change in pace and would do so painfully. But she didn't care, pain was better than the alternative.

Better than thinking about how today would have gone so much better had she just decided to stop being so damn stubborn and…

Elsa smashed the Start button with her thumb and waited as the treadmill underneath her feet came to life, bracing herself on the handles. As usual, she would start slow at first and speed it up every so often until she went from a lazy stroll to a heart-pounding sprint. Her runs usually ranged from fifteen minutes to an hour.

Today though, today was different, and it wasn't because it could have gone better if she had just stopped being so damn stubborn and owned up to-

Elsa groaned and pressed the button four times, the treadmill suddenly went from its stroll-like level to a brisk jog. Today would be different, today would hurt. It had to hurt. Two minutes passed with Elsa keeping herself from pressing the button again too soon, she had to pace herself at least somewhat. Above all else these runs were supposed to help clear her head and focus only on the here and now. The here…and the now.

She pressed the button three times, hearing a protesting whirr from the machine as the mat cycled faster, she was now running at a pace she only had to reach on the lacrosse field. Her lungs burned, and her heartbeat just barely outpaced the thumping of her feet. This had to be enough to drown out the noise in her head, it had to. And for one solitary moment, it really was; all she focused on was keeping her breath steady and keeping her legs moving towards that theoretical finish line, and all she could hear was her heartbeat growing faster and faster as she herself ran faster and faster with each press of the button.

But that was all she had, a moment, and no matter how many times she pressed that damn button her thoughts kept pace with her until they overtook her. Now all she could do was think as her heartbeat climbed dangerously high and her breath grew more and more ragged.

Elsa was trapped, forced to think about how today would have gone so much better had she just stopped being so damn stubborn and owned up to the fact that she screwed up. She could have taken so many other steps not just today but every day since the festival to be at least a decent person and own up to her faults and think of someone other than herself. But she didn't, because she was a selfish, arrogant disgrace of a person who fired one of her favorite employees and…and forced Hannah to quit.

Why did she have to be like this? Why couldn't she just be the person she was in her interviews? The borderline cheery, overly professional character people saw on TV and magazines? Why did she have to needlessly keep living this stupid double life?

She was out two employees now and who knows what else this mystery person would have her do, and it was all her fault. Everything was her fault, and would always be her fault because she was a terrible excuse for a CEO, an awful mistake of a human being and-

Elsa pressed the emergency stop button on the treadmill. With a low hum the machine immediately halted and the green, glowing numbers 5:32 flashed on the screen. She gripped the handles as if they were the only thing keeping her standing and hunched over trying desperately to catch her breath. Streams of water dripped down her face, she told herself it was just sweat.

Everything finally clicked, and Anna was finally, sorta, seventy percent sure that this was the same girl that, just a few weeks ago, she had gotten into an argument with right outside of Elsa's office. Anna couldn't help herself, she let out a gasp and exclaimed, "Hey I know you! At least I think I do, you're Elsa's assistant, right?"

Or at least that's what she wanted to say; instead all that escaped her lips was one word: "Elsa!"

Hannah immediately looked at Anna with an expression of shock and for some reason anger, like the name was the most offensive curse word imaginable. "Excuse me?", Hannah said, looking like she wanted to punch her.

"I, uh…sorry, it's just…you work for Elsa, right?", Anna asked, trying to smooth out this second impression.

Hannah continued to stare- no- glare at Anna, who was growing increasingly uncomfortable underneath her piercing brown eyes and the whirring and booming that apparently passed as music. Finally, she broke the glare and scoffed, turning back towards her drink. "Used to, I quit today.", she said as she brought the glass to her lips.

Anna was surprised, but she wasn't sure why. Was it because Hannah didn't look shaken up about it? Or was it because it meant that something big had to have happened in the two weeks since she last saw Elsa? Nonetheless, she still couldn't help but say, "That sucks, I'm sorry to hear that."

"Well don't be.", Hannah replied as she downed her glass. "I had to get out of there at some point, Elsa…she's way too complicated to be around sometimes. What sucks is that now I have to find another place to do the rest of my internship hours, but I'll figure that out later."

Despite herself, Anna let out a short laugh, "Complicated is a bit of an understatement."

Hannah poured more of the whiskey into her glass, still not looking at Anna. "Yeah? You have to do business with her before or something?"

Understandably, Anna wasn't sure how she didn't notice her yet- typically you remember the people you have screaming matches with- but she decided not to press it. Instead she, for some strange reason, replied bluntly, "No actually, we used to date."

And that got Hannah's attention and got her to look at Anna again, this time not with a glare, but with raised eyebrows. A look of curiosity, of intrigue. "Really? Elsa actually dated someone?"

"Well yeah, but it was back in high school and we broke up before the end of senior year."

"Huh, why'd you two broke up?"

Anna didn't know why she was telling her all this, and why she seemed so curious about their past relationship. All she wanted out of this conversation was to break the ice with someone that looked approachable, and these two had at least a tiny bit of history together; plus, talking to her would have been a good way to apologize for yelling at her before.

But she also didn't want to relive the history between her and Elsa again, not this soon. "It's a really long story.", Anna replied dismissively, "I'm not sure if you'd want to hear it."

"Try me.", Hannah said bluntly, pouring herself another drink.

"A-are you sure? I mean, like…it's a really long story, we'll probably be here for like…sixteen hours and I wouldn't even be halfway through with it."

"Try. Me.", Hannah repeated, more of a demand than a suggestion. "Tell you what: You tell me why you and Elsa broke up, and I'll tell you why I quit my job."

"Why…", Anna was about to ask why she would be interested in knowing why Hannah quit her job, but maybe it was probably going to be a good story. Plus it would keep the only person she'd succeeded in talking to from leaving. "Alright fine, I'll tell you."

And so, Anna told her everything, not cutting out a single detail, and you'd think retelling the story for a second time and having to relive it a fourth time would have been draining for her, but it really wasn't. In fact, the longer she went on, noticing the way Hannah had completely stopped drinking and listened intently with her head resting on her hand, the more she realized that finally having a somewhat unbiased perspective on this situation would be good for her.

She continued to talk, and talk, and talk, and before she could stop herself, Anna had moved away from talking about her relationship and breakup with Elsa, and started talking about the bakery and the incident at the festival. This new information elicited a wide-eyed expression from the girl sitting in the other barstool, and once Anna had run out of things left to say, all Hannah could respond with was a "Wow…"

"Yeah…that's our story. Or at least the abridged version."

"Man, you must have some serious guts to break up with a woman like Elsa. God knows I could never do it.", Hannah stated.

Anna put on a skeptical look, wanting to ask what Hannah meant but instead all she said was, "I didn't break up with Elsa." Because apparently that was a bigger priority.

"You didn't? Huh, from your story I guess I kinda assumed that you were the one that ended things. So, then Elsa was the one that ended things?"

"Yes. I mean, no. I mean…maybe?"

"That's all three possible answers, yeah, but which one's true?"

To be honest, Anna really didn't know. It was a thought that, up until now, she had never entertained much. Who was the one that ended things between the two? Sure, Elsa was the one that walked out of her room when Anna dropped that bombshell on her, but she didn't do so with a declarative break-up statement. Or maybe walking out of the room was that statement.

But then again, Anna was the one who continued to try and make contact afterwards and stopped after their freshman year of college. Did that put the blame on her for ending things?

Either way, she didn't want to entertain these thoughts any longer. This wasn't what this night was supposed to be about, new perspective be damned; tonight was supposed to be about meeting new, or relatively new, people and to keep herself from being a lazy, lonely bag of trash at her apartment. She'd still talk about Elsa, sure, but not about their relationship. Not anymore, at least not tonight.

Anna waved her hand and drastically changed the subject, "Too many questions, besides you told me that if I told you about the breakup, then you would spill the beans on why you quit ArenCorp."

Hannah's frown made it known that she didn't appreciate the subject change, but thankfully she didn't drag the conversation back to the messier topic. She instead shrugged and poured herself another drink, "I didn't quit ArenCorp, I just quit on Elsa. Which…I mean yeah technically that would mean quitting her company, which is ArenCorp, but everything about that place was perfect. Everything except for her."

Anna almost made a noise, but kept it to herself and continued to listen.

"I guess…I don't know, I've been working with her for over a year now and I never learned more than the bare minimum about her. And yeah, that's still more than the average worker at ArenCorp, but I was her personal assistant, I spent almost all my time with her. That should account for something, right?", Hannah didn't wait for an answer and continued, "I guess it didn't; I tried putting in some effort to get to know her better, but she just wouldn't have any of it. She made this stupid rule against 'advancing the relationship' and damn if she didn't stick to it like glue. In the year or so we spent together, she barely made any effort to get to know me."

Hannah downed the drink and pushed the bottle and glass away for the time being, with another heavy sigh she added, "She didn't even know when my birthday was…"

Anna found herself pitying this poor girl because she didn't know the Elsa that Hannah was describing. The Elsa she knew, the one before all this ArenCorp nonsense, was so open about everything and would share anything and everything with her. Granted they were in a romantic relationship rather than a business one, but it still didn't ease the guilt she felt knowing what she had with Elsa. And knowing that Hannah wanted at least a tiny sliver of that.

This also brought a new question to the surface for Anna: What exactly was the relationship between Elsa and Hannah?

Because according to the depressed ex-assistant, it didn't really sound like it was a typical boss-employee kind of deal, Hannah was looking for more, and Elsa went out of her way to set rules blocking that sort of thing. There was more to this story, hopefully Hannah would tell her.

"Anyway, your drama with Elsa happened at the festival, right? Well mine happened after. After we got back I tried to get something out of her, anything, just to see where her head was at because something happened that night. And now I know what it is, but I'd hoped to hear it from her. Maybe if I did, then things would be different now.

Instead she just shut me out, and for two whole weeks didn't make any sort of contact at all with anybody. Apparently she took a 'vacation' but I'd bet anything that she didn't go any farther than the front door of her apartment. I tried contacting her- I mean I sent her general emails about what was going on in the company, but I hoped that would establish some sort of dialogue. Clearly it didn't."

Anna could see her eyeing the almost half-empty bottle of whiskey and instinctively moved it closer to her own side, the girl's expression was already slightly glazed over and the last thing she wanted was for her to pass out with no place to go. Plus, she wanted to hear the rest of this story.

Surprisingly, Hannah didn't protest the move and continued to speak, "So after that phony vacation, she comes back and we barely exchange any words with each other. Which…okay yeah that's on me too, I could have said something other than 'Hey', but seeing her again just brought back all that anger at something so dumb and pointless. I knew I couldn't say anything else that wasn't just me going off on her- which wouldn't be a good idea because she knows how to cut deep."

She swirled her empty glass, "Which she did anyway. Some work-related thing didn't go her way and she just…was not in the best of moods. And me, being stupid, tried to press her instead of being supportive- even though she gave me no reason to be supportive- and…well she cut deep. I knew right then that I had to get out of there, so I just walked out of her office and told her I quit. And that was that. I bet she doesn't even care that I'm gone…"

Anna swore she was sober- not a single drop of alcohol had touched her lips that entire night, thanks especially to the exasperated bartender- so there was no blaming it on the booze when she leaned over her barstool and gave Hannah the most awkward hug ever.

However, it put her in an awful conundrum. On the one hand, if she let go it would be admitting that the hug was a mistake, which would risk making Hannah feel even worse; on the other hand, if she continued the hug without any sort of reciprocation from Hannah…well then it would further cement the fact that Anna had no idea how to make friends.

Fortunately, Hannah reciprocated, if barely, with a slightly less awkward pat on her back. "Uh, thanks…I guess."

Anna pulled back and noticed a judgmental look from Hannah as if she was gauging just how insane she really was, she didn't blame her. "Sorry, it looked like you needed it.", she tried explaining, "I realize now that that was a little out of line."

"Just a little bit. But…I kinda get where you were coming from." Hannah's expression saddened in the same way it had been when she was retelling what happened between her and Elsa, "You know, I was hoping that I could spend tonight just forgetting about everything that happened; guess this just shows you can't always run from your problems."

"Well, I'm sorry if I ruined your night. I didn't mean to.", Anna apologized again.

Hannah shook her head, "Nah, it's not your fault. And I guess…I dunno, I guess it's not Elsa's fault either. Or maybe it is. This is all just one big mess, and I don't honestly know how I feel about it all; right now, all I want to do is just put it aside, at least for tonight, and just…get my mind somewhere else." She went to pour herself another drink and then stopped herself, setting it down like it had just grown mold in and out of the bottle, "I don't even want this anymore. And hey, thanks for listening to me bitch about all this stuff. It's Anna, right?"

Anna nodded, "Yup, that's me, Anna Dawson."

"Well nice to meet you, Anna Dawson.", Hannah scooted the whiskey bottle out of sight and stretched out her hand towards Anna. "The name's Hannah, Hannah Baker."

The redhead stifled a giggle, reveling in the irony over how much she wanted to change her last name to "Baker" when she was a kid, and decided against telling Hannah that she already knew her name after being nosy and reading her ID. Instead she stretched out her own hand and shook Hannah's, "It's nice to meet you too, Hannah Baker." It was also nice to successfully give off a second impression better than the first.

Hannah smiled, it was small and nothing more than courteous, but it was still better than the sulking and brooding she had been doing before. "So Anna, where you from?"

They continued to wash the taste out of their mouth from their previous awful conversation by getting to know each other a bit better. They covered topics like where they were from, what their families were like, where they went to college, and even what their favorite foods were (Anna's was chocolate, Hannah's was fish).

Time passed by fast in that night club, people came and went but the two stayed where they were, reveling in this brief moment of reprieve from their lives outside of the building.

Finally, Anna was the first to admit that it was getting a bit too late for both of them to be out on this Monday night when she yawned and checked her phone. There was one new message from Rapunzel telling her not to stay up too late, and the irony of that message was hammered in when she noticed the time: 11:24 PM.

"Oh shoot, I have work in the morning.", Anna groaned. "I completely lost track of time."

Hannah surprised her with just how understanding she was, given how into it they both were in the conversation that they were having, "Hey it's cool if you have to go, I can just finish up my drink or something and then head back, I don't have classes tomorrow so I'll be fine."

Anna knew that had she just left the poor girl alone here, it would do a number on her conscience, plus it would put a sour end to the relationship they both established throughout the night. She felt a genuine connection to Hannah, a friendly one, and didn't want this to be the last time they saw each other; but if it was the last time, then she sure didn't want it to end with her leaving the lonely college student to drink by herself. "Where would you go back to?", she asked, all ready to offer to drive her back if it wasn't too far.

"Back to North Mountain, I haven't seen my roommates in a while anyway.", Hannah replied with a slight slur to her voice.

North Mountain, Anna calculated, was almost an hour drive at best. Even if she was able to get Hannah back there, it would be midnight and she was already beat from work today, who knows if she would be any shape to get herself back home. She had to think up another solution and did so, and even though it was a little bold and bit too forward, Anna had to try. "That's really far, Hannah…why don't you just stay at my place? It's close by, and I can drive us both."

Hannah surprised her again by not rejecting the idea outright, looking away for a second as if she was seriously pondering it, and then finally giving a hopeful reply, "You sure you don't mind?"

"Of course I don't mind, you're in no shape to get back by yourself. I mean what else are you gonna do?"

"I could call an Uber."

"And spend even more money tonight? No way."

"I could sneak back into ArenCorp and sleep in Elsa's office, she has a bed there and I still have the key."

"Yeah, the last thing you want is for Elsa to find you in her office hungover." Anna didn't even question why Elsa would have a bed in her office in the first place, although it did sound like something she would do.

"I could…walk?"

"Absolutely not! Now come on, get your butt up and come with me, you can stay at my place and leave first thing in the morning if you have to, but there's no way I'm going to leave you alone tonight. You're drunk and...yeah, you're drunk." Anna decided not to imply out loud that Hannah might be depressed. She stood up from her barstool and, much like Hannah had earlier, stretched out her hand. Not for a handshake, but for an invitation for help she hoped the girl would take.

Hannah looked at the outstretched hand, back at her half-empty bottle, and then right into Hannah's eyes, seeing nothing less than genuine benevolence. With a sigh, she finally conceded and took Anna's help to get out of her barstool and go with her. "Fine…you've convinced me."

The drive back was contrastingly quiet, Hannah barely spoke as she slipped in and out of consciousness, and Anna didn't speak as she forced herself to try and not do the same so she could focus on the road in front of her. Thankfully the drive wasn't too long and before she knew it they were at the driveway.

Anna helped Hannah out of the car, the drowsiness finally overtaking the younger girl along with the alcohol, making her incapable of walking without some support. Once they got inside the dark apartment, Anna maneuvered them around the kitchen/living room, kept Hannah from tumbling over the couch, and ducked over a string of lights she reminded herself to hang back up tomorrow. With her free hand, she opened her room and decided against turning on the lights so to not wake up the already half-unconscious girl in her other arm, she knew the layout of her room well enough anyway to walk through it in the dark.

She placed Hannah gingerly on the bed- a tough feat considering there was no bedframe and she had to literally squat to get her on without dropping her- and took off her shoes. As she did so, she heard Hannah mumble out something that sounded like "You really didn't have to do this."

"I know, now get some sleep.", Anna replied softly. Despite the protest, Hannah cuddled up to her blanket right away and let out a content sight. It was kind of adorable, really.

Anna heard her name being called as she grabbed a spare blanket from her dresser and turned around. Hannah's eyes were still closed, at least they looked like they were in the pitch black of her room, but her mouth wasn't. With a completely sober yet groggy tone, Hannah spoke again, "Elsa's not a bad person. That night after the festival…she really wanted to just blame herself for everything, I could see it, but it wasn't all her fault. Life would be so much easier if we all just owned up to all the shit we do. She's really not that bad."

Before she left the room Anna accepted those words, and she replied softly to herself, "I know…"

Chapter Text

Chapter Eighteen

UNKNOWN:  Rise and shine, Ms. Andersen! You ready for your next task?

Elsa:  Don't I get to ask a question since I did what you told me to do?

UNKNOWN:  Right, I was hoping you'd forget about that. Jk, fire away and we'll see if you've chosen wisely this time.

Elsa:  What do you want from me?

UNKNOWN:  Haven't you already asked me this?

Elsa:  You never answered, I wouldn't be asking this if you already had.

UNKNOWN:  True, and I guess that's an innocent enough question that I can answer. Simply put Ms. Andersen, I want your obedience. And so far, you've been doing a good job of that, so kudos to you!

Elsa:  And why the hell do you want my obedience?

UNKNOWN:  Maybe you'll find out once you do this next task for me. ;)

Elsa:  You're a dick.

UNKNOWN:  Gonna go ahead and ignore that, anyway this next task is important so listen up: An old friend's going to be visiting you today to request a favor from you, I'm going to need you to deny their request.

Elsa:  What the hell's that supposed to mean?

UNKNOWN:  Oh don't worry, you'll find out pretty soon! Don't disappoint me Ms. Andersen, you have 24 hours to comply.

Anna didn't get much sleep last night, no surprise there. The hours she got, however, must have kept her out like a light because she didn't even hear when Hannah left. When she slowly pushed open her bedroom door, all that was inside were folded blankets and a note with Hannah's number that said: "Thanks for last night, if you ever want to hang out again hmu."

It felt very reassuring to read because it meant that she achieved her one and only goal from last night of finding a new friend, or at least someone to talk to that wasn't Rapunzel or her mom. And yeah, it may have been built on a rocky foundation of an even rockier relationship with rockiest of people (Elsa, if that wasn't made clear), but the note made it clear that there was a future in this.

The lack of sleep was still taking some toll on her however, it slowed down and dulled her surroundings starting with the car ride to work. Anna yawned and mumbled to Rapunzel in the driver seat, "Wake me up when we get there."

Rapunzel, who apparently got home about twenty minutes after Anna did and looked surprisingly more well-rested, looked at her amused, "Must have been a good night, the couch isn't exactly the most comfortable bed. Couldn't make it all the way back to your room?"

Had Anna been asleep for another hour or so, she would have pondered that question a little better, wondering whether she should tell Rapunzel about Hannah or not. Instead, she just nuzzled into her seatbelt like it was the most comfortable pillow in the world and replied with a half-mutter, half-less-coherent-mutter, "Yeah…room…too far…"

"Well don't get too comfortable, we're gonna be at the bakery soon, and you've gotta be on you're A-game today cause those newbies need to learn from the master."

"Bah…they don't…need me for baking…stuff. They're fiiiiine."

"Oh really? So I guess I should start giving them your paycheck then?" Rapunzel joked.

Anna flailed a finger towards Rapunzel's general direction and grumbled, "Shh…less talking, more sleeping."

The conversation went on like this for a bit, with Rapunzel poking fun at Anna's tired expense, and Anna making sheepish, weak comebacks, until finally they made it to the bakery. Honestly, if Rapunzel hadn't nudged her awake, Anna probably would have spent the entire workday snuggled into the leather interior of the sedan. She blinked a few times and shook her head to try and get some energy rushing into and on her face, and walked into the bakery a minute behind Rapunzel.

The bakery wouldn't open for half an hour, and yet it was already filled with the exuberance Anna wished she could express. The strung-up lights and their fluorescent assistants brightened up the building, making it an inviting haven to anyone needing to seek shelter from the gloomy, gray morning sky; and the upbeat, pop music booming through the Bluetooth speaker helped to produce the soundtrack for the day. The three scheduled workers for the morning shift danced to the music, stacked the display cases, and made sure the equipment in the back was clean and working all at the same time.

Anna shamelessly watched her best friend take the reins and direct traffic. Like a captain commanding her crew, Rapunzel told each worker exactly where they needed to go, what they needed to do, and what they were going to do next. She made it look so effortless, and the workers gravitated towards her so easily. It made Anna a little jealous watching her, wondering what it would be like to lead the bakery like Rapunzel did.

And then Anna realized that she was one of the leaders of the bakery, heck she was the co-captain of this purple, Christmas-light filled ship. If Rapunzel could do this whole pointing and directing thing then so could she. Especially since she had to. With that newfound realization and determination, Anna stormed to the back as fast as her sluggish legs would carry her and gazed at her own workstation, rubbing her hands together, ready to do what she knew best.

"Gooooood morning, everyone!", she exclaimed.

Riley smiled, and Owen, a portly fellow with a warm, beaming face destined to one day grace the front of microwavable ravioli cans, replied with a boom to his voice, "Good morning, boss!"

If she could stay awake, this was probably going to be a good day.

This was not going to be a good day for Elsa, she could feel it. She was out an assistant and still slightly sore from her brief yet intense workout last night; and now she had the added benefit of some newly assigned mystery task.

Someone was supposed to be visiting her today, an old friend, and since Elsa didn't exactly have many friends she was obviously unnerved. And what was that whole thing about needing her obedience? What for, exactly? By doing what they asked, she felt as if her obedience was already there without a doubt, so there had to be more; and no matter what lay ahead of her in this next task, she would see to it so that she got some more damn answers.

Speaking of answers, Flynn was so far proving his worth and expertise. Through the short interactions she had with her blackmailer, Flynn was somehow able to pinpoint their location to somewhere inside Arendelle. How he did so was anyone's guess, but it gave Elsa a bit of assurance that this person was at least local and not in some far-off land. This would make tracking them easier, but in order to know exactly where and who they were, she'd have to unfortunately keep working with them.

Now, it was only a matter of waiting for who would be coming through those elevator doors, and when. Without an assistant to tell her when someone was coming up to her floor, she had the calls from the lobby redirected to her work phone- they were able to find a replacement for Sheila by the end of yesterday- and left the door to her office partially open.

The first three hours of her workday, she spent doing her regular duties like checking up with her counsel, word had spread of Sheila's firing and workplace morale had taken a slight hit as some lower-level workers began to fear for their own job security. Their task was to let the ArenCorp employees know their jobs were safe, a promise she hoped to uphold. Business outside the ArenCorp building was going steadily per usual, nothing much to report there.

After this meeting, and doing some of her other duties like emailing back clients, she wasn't left with much else to do. Not because she was hopeless without an assistant laying out her daily tasks (which she wasn't), but because that day in particular wasn't fairly eventful. All she had left to do was wait for this "old friend."

And finally, four hours into her day, the old friend arrived.

The golden double doors of the elevator slid open, and the muffled steps got closer and closer until they reached her door. It was opened suddenly and dramatically, revealing a particularly cruel dame wearing a not-so-revealing, extravagant fur coat and a large, spotted scarf. Cruella de Vil had stepped foot in her territory once again, and when Elsa saw that menacing grin, her fists unconsciously clenched.

"Elsa darling, you look more and more exquisite every time I see you!", Cruella remarked as she sauntered over.

"What do you want, Cruella?", Elsa replied coldly, not in any mood to fake pleasantries. Cruella was someone she had a history with, and not a good one; behind their painted smiles and professional banter, the two had a knife at each other's throat constantly waiting for the other to blink. But if the message Elsa got was true, Cruella was going to ask her for a favor, and she wanted to know what that was sooner rather than later.

Cruella frowned as she stepped closer, bringing with her the strong scent of expensive, pretentious perfume and the remnants of an even more expensive and pretentious cigar. There was something about her demeanor that was different than before, but Elsa didn't know yet what it was. "Getting straight to business I see, and here I was looking forward to catching up. It has been too long since I've seen you last, has it not?"

"I'm a little busy at the moment.", Elsa lied. "And I'm not really in a mood right now for games, so if you need something from me, or you want to threaten me again, then just come right out and say it."

Her frown turned into a pout, "Now now, what's the matter, darling? Has someone gone and broken your poor little heart again?"

Elsa's expression grew darker than before to try and hide the fact that her face had grown paler. Was Cruella the person blackmailing her? It made sense in a way, there was no one else who could legitimately be gunning for her and trying to ruin her reputation, and there was no one as ruthless; plus, Cruella already proved at the festival that she wasn't against using underhanded tactics at the expense of her rivals. The older woman's damning question all but proved this. "What are you talking about?", she asked, almost growling out the words.

"Ah there she is, the woman I really wanted to talk to today.", Cruella's face changed again, this time into a victorious grin. "Did your little secretary go and find greener pastures? Or maybe a warmer bed to sleep in? You two did seem particularly close at the festival, it'd be a shame if she left and that's why you're feeling so, shall we say, defensive?"

Elsa felt a paradoxical sense of relief and even greater anxiousness. Cruella was just talking about her and Hannah. It didn't take her off the list of suspects entirely, but it did lower the suspicion on her a little.

With gritted teeth, she forced herself to respond, "What goes on in my company is none of your business. Now if you're not going to speak, then this meeting has no business even happening, and I'm going to ask you just this once to leave before I call security and make you leave."

She glared down the older businesswoman, being this close she finally noticed the crow's feet stretched across her eyes along with the darkness under them, and the distinct lack of makeup not noticeable at first glance. Interesting, Cruella was a woman who put appearance over everything, what in the world happened that she didn't make sure to look her best before coming over?

Whatever it was, it also kept her from keeping up her façade. Her grin left as soon as Elsa bit back and glared her down, and her face sunk into an expression of what looked like disappointment.

Cruella sighed, "I must admit, I was expecting a much more pleasant introduction from a…dear friend, but you seem to be so keen to getting down to business. So, let's do so."

She walked away from Elsa, away from her desk, and towards her bookshelf, running a gloved finger over the thin coating of dust on the wood. "For as long as I can remember, I have always been obsessed with fashion, knowing what looks good on who, and when. Fashion is a fickle beast, but over time I have tamed it, trained it, and now it does my bidding whenever I tell it to do so. Any new trend, any new clothing line, any changes in the wardrobe world…rest assured they must go through me."

Elsa waited impatiently, eyeing every one of the movements by Cruella, who had picked up a small, golden trophy she won back in college for a speech competition.

"I enjoy what I do, truly, and I'm especially fond of the pull I have in such a demanding, everchanging industry, and I wouldn't trade this for the world. I'm sure you know more than almost anyone what that feels like?"

Elsa didn't answer.

"Well…recently I've been put in a, shall we say, precarious position by a business venture I was certain would be beneficial to both parties. Unfortunately, it only benefited one party, and it wasn't mine." Cruella put down the trophy and walked back towards desk, eyes looking off to some other place or some other time. She looked undeniably remorseful. "The failed venture has put my company in a daunting situation, and admittedly it has made our future highly uncertain. Which is why I've come to you today."

Elsa's eyes narrowed, her patience had officially run thin to the point that it was nonexistent. "Get to the point, Cruella."

Cruella frowned, offended at the interruption. "My point is…that I need your help. I took a big hit financially, so big that I am about to lose the major controlling share I have in my company, leaving it up for grabs to anyone. The list of people I would be marginally fine with holding that share is minuscule at best, and on the top of that list, as much as it pains me to admit it, is you."

There are rare moments in life where fate, always fickle and unpredictable, will intervene in favor of even the most undeserving of people. This was undoubtedly one of those moments. Elsa couldn't help but repeat, in her own words, the favor that Cruella had just asked of her, "You want me to buy out your company."

Cruella nodded slowly, and Elsa held back the smile trying to form on her lips; because even though this was the task she was forced to complete, she was actually going to enjoy it.

Anna smiled, reminding herself for the millionth time that she truly loved what she did. A few hours into her workday baking and barking out orders in an authoritative yet considerate tone made her forget how little sleep she got, in fact she was beaming and vibrant like she had gotten a full twenty-four hours. Physically she probably looked like a ghost, or a zombie, or a zombie ghost, but mentally she was all there…mostly there.

Plus, the chocolate-making process was going great, or at least it was smelling great. The tempering process ate up a bit of time, but it was all worth it to finally getting to the molding part, she even let Riley and Owen help her out with putting the chocolate in plastic molds she bought earlier. They were a team, a trio, a time-tested tandem despite the fact that they had only been working together for a short amount of time. Anna greatly appreciated them, she didn't know how she survived this long without help.

In the kitchen, help in the kitchen.

Once they placed the molds inside the freezer, Anna wiped her hands on her apron and sighed, "Great job, gang! We showed those cocoa beans who's boss. Hopefully they taste as good as the work we put in."

"What does that even mean?", Riley asked.

"It means whatever you want it to mean.", Anna replied. "Hey, you guys should take a lunch break, you deserve it. In fact, you know what? I'm gonna go ahead and make that an order, go get some lunch. If you want."

"I'm confused, is our lunch break mandatory or not?", said Owen, looking at Anna like she had just asked them to clap with one hand.

"It's mandatory if you want it to be.", Anna explained, not clearing up anything. "Seriously though, go get some food or drink some food, whatever it is you young people do with food these days. You guys earned a break, I can finish up with whatever we were doing."

Riley and Owen looked at each other, unsure of where Anna's mind was, and shrugged before walking back to the storefront. "I guess we'll see you in a bit then, boss."

Anna continued their work once the two had left, enjoying the silence despite the fact that the lack of noise was draining her of her excess energy. As she fought the sleep deprivation, her mind was paradoxically thinking of nothing and everything at the same time, it was hard to focus on one thought in particular as she spread frosting on cupcakes and swept up breadcrumbs.

And then suddenly it wasn't, suddenly she could focus on just one thought: Elsa.

Well first she thought first about how fun last night was, and then about Hannah, and then those thoughts finally led her to thinking about Elsa. It was surprising to be thinking of her, but what was most surprising for Anna was that when she heard, well, thought of that name, she didn't immediately feel a chill go through her or feel some sort of looming presence over her shoulder. It was akin to the feeling you'd get of thinking of a friend you hadn't thought about in a while, except she and Elsa weren't friends.

Honestly, Anna didn't know what they were anymore, and she'd be lying if she said she wasn't upset by this. They used to be so close, and now they were…what? Acquaintances? Strangers? Coworkers? Coworkers seemed like an apt description, even though she actually worked for Elsa, not with her. But this couldn't be the end for them, could it? Their last meaningful interaction couldn't be at the festival, screaming at each other and airing out their dirty laundry in public.

If she really thought about it, Anna just wanted closure to all this. She wanted to know where she and Elsa stood, and if there was any chance of getting them back to at least speaking terms.

"Anna? You alive? It's been really quiet back here for the past thirty minutes," Rapunzel asked.

Anna emerged from her unintentional hiding spot halfway inside an oven scrubbing it down, she wiped her hands on her apron and smiled at Rapunzel, "Still alive and kicking…kinda. Why, what's up?"

Rapunzel smiled from her place just in front of the door, "Nothing much, it's just that you've got a visitor here for you." She looked back out the door to see if anyone else was listening, and then continued, "And she's pretty cute, good for you."

Anna looked at her confused, "Wait what? Who is it?" Rapunzel didn't answer, she just walked back out and told this mystery person that Anna would be out in a second. Not wanting to make her best friend out to be a liar, and also being extremely curious, Anna waited a literal second and followed Rapunzel out the door.

And there she was, standing behind the counter with an obnoxiously large cup of coffee in one hand and a laptop in the other; and despite the equally as obnoxious and large sunglasses, Anna could tell it was Hannah behind the frames.

"Heeeeey!", Hannah exclaimed a bit too loud and excitable in an emptyish bakery at 1 in the afternoon. "I was getting bored doing homework in my room, and since I can't exactly go to my work, I figured I'd go to yours. That's okay right?"

Anna was surprised to see Hannah here at the bakery; she did tell her where she worked but didn't expect to see her this soon. Still, it was a nice surprise, and Anna was happy with the visit. "Of course, why wouldn't it be? How are you feeling by the way, you left before I woke up."

Hannah shrugged and smiled apologetically, "Yeah I woke up a few hours, I think, after you helped me get to bed; couldn't get a lot of sleep for some reason. Even though my head was killing me, I knew you had to work once you woke up and I didn't want to overstay my welcome, so I snuck out and took a bus back to North Mountain. Slept some more when I got back to my dorm. You got my note, right?"

Rapunzel had moved over to the other side of the counter to help out the customers, but every time Anna glanced over to her- which was a lot considering she was trying to gauge her best friend's reaction over this new development- she would always have this intrigued grin on her face. She had been silent so far throughout this conversation, up until Hannah mentioned the note. "What was that about a note?"

"Nothing, go back to being a good bakery seller person!", Anna interjected before turning back to Hannah. "And yeah I did."

Hannah took off her sunglasses, revealing a pair of tired, slightly bloodshot eyes, and raised an eyebrow, "What…was that about?"

"That was just Rapunzel, my best friend and co-owner of the bakery. Don't worry about her, she's just…being silly.", Anna changed the subject before they could dwell on a topic she herself hadn't dwelled on yet. "So, uh…can I get you something? I can bake something fresh for you if you want."

"Can you do that? You sure you're not too busy or anything?"

"Not for a couple hours at least. Seriously though I can bake…almost anything you want. As long as it's not something super big and fancy like a wedding cake or a giant chocolate bar."

Hannah scanned the bakery, admiring the already impressive collection of food and eyeing it carefully like she was looking for hidden treasure. "Hmm, I don't see it here but- and I know you said no cakes- do you know how to make coffee cake?"

"I said no wedding cakes, a coffee cake is no problem.", Anna replied confidently. "It'll take some time to do though, you sure you wanna wait?"

"Coffee cake is like my fourth favorite food, I think I can handle a little waiting. Besides…", she held up the laptop in her arm. "I've got to finish up some homework and, you know, start looking for a new internship."

"Well, alright then, I'll get to work. Just make yourself at home, there are some tables outside if you want to sit."

"Gotcha, and thanks. Seriously.", Hannah smiled brightly, in contrast to the rest of her tired, hungover face, before walking out the front door.

As soon as she left, Anna went back to her workstation to prepare the ingredients and supplies she needed, being joined by Rapunzel only a few short minutes later. "Sooooo, who was thaaaaat?"

"Elsa darling, I know that you and I have never seen eye to eye, and we've both said some things that we regret, but I wouldn't be coming to you for…help if this wasn't a desperate time for desperate measures. You remind me of myself when I was your age, and you are an especially apt businesswoman; I have no doubt that my company will be safe in your hands."

Elsa knew that half of these words were lies meant to butter her up so she would consider executing the buyout, unfortunately for the fur-laden fiend Elsa's mind was already made up.

"To say that you and I have never seen eye to eye is a grave understatement.", Elsa started. "Are you seriously going to stand here and say you don't remember implying that you were the one to sicc the Southern Isles bakery on me to compete with one of my own businesses, at a festival in my city, run by my company?"

"Now what's wrong with a little healthy competition? Besides, your little bakery did fairly well from what I remember.", Cruella reasoned.

"And let's not forget that from day one you have made it perfectly clear that you were going to be on me, waiting for me to screw up so you could swoop in and bring me down. Now you're coming to me after one of your screw-ups trying to get me to help you?"

"Oh come now darling, I wasn't being serious! Those were just words to rile you up, to motivate you! And while you might exhibit some facets of myself, you exhibit some differences as well- your outfit makes that very apparent- you're much more benevolent and much ruthless. You know this buyout is the right call."

Elsa slammed her fist down at the table, eyes burning a hole right through Cruella and her pompous, pretentious attitude. Enough was enough. "No, the right call would be for me to pick up my phone and get security to come up and haul your ass out of here before I do it myself. You can't have both, Cruella, you can't try and undermine me at every turn and then come crawling me for help when you destroy everything that you've worked for. I won't allow that."

She pulled up the hand which had slammed onto the table and pointed a finger harshly towards the fashion icon, "You're right about one thing though, I'm not completely like you. I don't make choices that jeopardize my company. In a few days I'll still be here sitting at my desk running ArenCorp the best way I know how, and where will you be? Well that's not much of my concern, because I'm not going to help you. You're on your own, Cruella."

Cruella had let the façade fade and allowed the desperation to reach her voice, her future and her company's future hinged on this meeting, and she couldn't leave emptyhanded. "Elsa, you have to think rationally about this. When I'm gone, that will leave a vacuum of power that will need to be filled, and who's going to fill it? If you do this, it guarantees that you'll be at the top of the business world for years to come. You have everything to gain, and nothing to lose."

"Maybe…maybe…", Elsa said as if she was still considering it, "But I've got a long time to build up my reputation without your help, the same can't be said for you. My decision is final, Cruella, I am not going to buy out your company. Now please leave."

Cruella shook her head, "Elsa, please reconsider-"

"I said leave before I call security to make you leave.", Elsa added coldly. She said nothing else, merely keeping one finger on a button on her phone while staring down Cruella with an intensity that would shatter mirrors.

Realizing that this battle was lost and there was no way to convince her, Cruella sighed, hitched her scarf over her shoulder, and frowned disappointingly. "Mark my words, Elsa, this decision will be your undoing. You'll realize in the long run that it would have been better to deal with the de VIl that you know, than the devil you don't."

She walked out of the office without glancing back.

Elsa didn't care for the threat, because she knew that Cruella was wrong. And once the woman had left, she sat back down at her desk feeling more accomplished than she had in weeks. For a second, she forgot the other, more real threat looming over her until it messaged her back.

UNKNOWN:  Just saw Ms. de Vil walk out the front door, I take it the meeting went well?

Elsa:  Just shut up and answer my question.

UNKNOWN:  All work and no play I see, no wonder you're still single.

Elsa:  What does that have to do with anything?

UNKNOWN:  I was just joking around hahaha, don't take me so seriously! Now if you don't need anything else, I'll text you when I've got something new for you alright?

Elsa:  Wait what? What about my question?

UNKNOWN: You already asked it, remember? [Screenshot from two messages ago]

Elsa:  That shouldn't count.

UNKNOWN:  Hey it's not my fault that you're not careful with your words. Maybe next time you'll choose them wisely. I'll talk to you soon, Ms. Andersen.

Elsa grumbled something incoherent and unprofessional, and then something they said made her spine shiver. They said they saw Cruella walk out the front door…they were literally right outside the building.

She scrambled to her window, looking down at the city to see if she could see any suspicious people, giving up after a good ten minutes. She knew it was futile to try and spot them all the way from her fiftieth-floor office. Hopefully, Flynn would give her some news about finding out who this person was soon, before she lost her patience with them, or before they had her do something that she couldn't come back from.

Chapter Text

Chapter Nineteen

A week or so had passed, and Hannah had become a regular at the bakery.

Every day at the end of Anna's shift, the two would go out and do things like hang out Anna's apartment like a couple of high school freshmen having a sleepover, or go to the Dark Room (where Anna found out she was a terrible dancer), or watch a movie, or get something to eat. They got to know each other a lot better, they had their own inside jokes now and confided in one another about stuff that had bothered them in the past or stuff that was bothering them now.

Rapunzel, her oldest friend who she felt guilty for spending progressively little time with, reassured her by saying she enjoyed how much time she was spending with Hannah, but that was due to her own conniving reasons.

The main one being that was actively trying to push the two together in a more-than-friends kind of way. ("Come on! She's cute and available, you're also cute and available! It's a perfect match!") Anna, of course, was having none of that; although she'd be lying if she said it hadn't crossed her mind more than once.

Admittedly, Hannah was young, cute, and full of life and stuff; and she really enjoyed spending time with her. It was easy just being herself around Hannah, an easiness she hadn't had since…well since she was with Elsa. But she didn't want to pursue anything more with her, or rather she wasn't going to.

It just didn't feel right, pining after Elsa's assistant like that who- as Hannah implied in one of their earlier conversations- might have had a more than professional relationship with her outside the office. Being with Hannah would remind her too much of being with Elsa, and there were still some unresolved issues there. Plus, she liked where they were right now. It was simple, it was fun, why risk that?

That, and there was no drama or conflict. Until today.

It started off pretty normally with Rapunzel doing her usual front of the bakery stuff, and Anna doing her usual back of the bakery stuff, and Hannah chilling outside doing homework and job hunting stuff. Flynn even made an appearance to take a break from his usual "working at ArenCorp" stuff to visit Rapunzel after their lunch rush. It was just another day for them until Hannah burst through the door as Anna was busy restocking their bagel drawer.

"Dammit!", Hannah said as she walked straight over to Anna. There was visible frustration etched all across her face, she sighed and calmed herself down to a composed aggravation before continuing, "ArenCorp won't send me my last paycheck."

"That was a paid internship?", Anna replied, completely missing the point of her dilemma.

"No, you're missing the point here, Anna. Just…gah!", Hannah groaned, "No matter how many times I try to give them the address to my mailbox, the assholes in payroll won't take it. They're saying I have to pick the check up in person."

"Wow, that really sucks. What are you gonna do?"

Hannah leaned on the front counter and rapped her fingers on the edge, "I don't know. I mean I can't just leave the check there, it's good money. At the same time, I-I don't know if I'm ready to go back there- even for just a minute or two. What do you think I should do?"

"Me?", Anna said taken aback, surprisingly this was the first time Hannah had ever asked for her advice. Whatever she told her, it had to be good and knowledgeable and wise. "I, uh…I don't know."

"I mean I guess it would be okay if I just stepped in there for a minute, chances are I probably won't even see her.", Hannah continued, oblivious to Anna's non-answer, "But then, like, if I spot anyone I know they might ask questions about why I left and I'd probably have to lie and it's just…ugh, screw it I'm taking the chance. I'll go down there and get my check, and then never step foot in ArenCorp again. Problem solved!"

Anna had a hunch that the underlying reason Hannah didn't feel ready to go back was because of Elsa, and then she basically confirmed it. She wanted to ask about it but realized that Hannah's decision was something she needed to focus on first. "You sure that's what you want to do?"

"Of course- and hey, you should come with me!"

Anna let out a noise that sounded like she was trying to scoff and laugh at the same time, turning it into some weird cough instead. She shook her head at the notion, and then looked over at Hannah and realized that she wasn't just serious about the idea, but a little excited about it too. "What- why?!"

"Why not?", Hannah asked. "It won't take that long, probably, and I'd really appreciate you being there."

"Well that's…I mean thank you for saying that, but I can't just leave the bakery.", Anna replied as if that was the reason she didn't want to go.

"Yes you can.", Rapunzel rebutted as she counted in the money in the register. "We've got three perfectly capable employees to hold down the fort while you're gone."

Anna flashed Rapunzel a frown that she couldn't see, and turned her attention back to Hannah, "Okay well even so…I mean, do you actually need me there? Kinda seems like you're just gonna step in for a second and then leave as soon as possible. I don't think I'd be very useful."

"Nah, you'd be there for moral support!", Hannah exclaimed and then looked at her sheepishly. "And possibly my ride? I mean I can take a bus there but that'd take too long, and calling an Uber for a short trip to ArenCorp would just be a waste of money. Pleeeeease, Anna? I really don't want to do this by myself."

Anna looked into her friend's eyes, noting that past the sincerity was a hint of worry or doubt. They hadn't talked too much about why Hannah quit her internship at ArenCorp, not since they were at the Dark Room; and despite where they needed to go, and who they might run into, this was the perfect opportunity to learn some more important information about her second best friend.

She sighed, "Hannah, this is insane…I'll go get the keys."

Elsa had no plans to leave her office for anything, not if it meant having to face any of her employees and dodging questions she couldn't give answers to. Again.

If she had her way, they would all be at their scheduled company retreat right now, lounging around a resort in nothing but swimwear for three days- or, in her case, working from her hotel room in a robe. It was an event that took place every year around the same time, everyone was looking forward to it. Instead, they were all begrudgingly going about their normal workday duties in their business attire. Elsa had to postpone the retreat as a result of her newest task, she was specifically told to dismiss any questions on why she had to do this.

And there were many.

As soon as she left her car, she was bombarded by paparazzi who had heard about the postponed trip and wanted some sort of word from her. It only got worse when she finally got inside, workers from every direction mobbed her asking why it was canceled, complaining about how they had been looking forward to the retreat all year, those who felt somehow more slighted than others even questioned her competency as a CEO. Those comments hit especially close to home.

She walked with her eyes forward and her mouth shut until she reached the elevator. When the doors closed out the sea of people demanding some sort of response from her, she groaned and smacked the elevator wall with both her fists. Elsa should have known that having her deny the buyout for Cruella's company was just some way of toying with her, of giving her some slack before tugging back on the leash.

Time passed by agonizingly slow in her cramped office, since other companies knew that the bulk of ArenCorp would be on vacation this week, they hadn't emailed her or scheduled any meetings. And she couldn't very well go to any of the other floors unless she wanted a repeat of what happened this morning. She was trapped in this hellish purgatory where staying in her office would kill her due to sheer boredom and anxiety, and leaving it would mean losing even more respect from her workers.

Her phone vibrated, and she breathed a sigh of relief over the break from the monotony, immediately taking it back when she saw who had texted her.

UNKNOWN:  Working hard or hardly working, Ms. Andersen?

Elsa:  I swear when I find out who you are I am going to make your life a living hell.

UNKNOWN:  Yikes, someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. Sounding a little tense there, maybe you might want to relax. I heard of this great resort that's great for helping people unwind and have some fun, you should go. Maybe take some friends with you.

Elsa:  Hilarious.

She could feel every thread of her patience and tact unravel with each word she had to type and read, but she knew that the conversation had to keep going no matter what, and for as long as possible. Flynn was watching, after all.

UKNOWN:  I know, I'm a riot. Honestly I don't know what I enjoyed more, watching you try to keep from smashing all those cameras, or watching you give the cold shoulder to all your employees.

She felt her stomach tighten. They were close by again. But how close?! She tried to think back to anyone suspicious she might have seen on the drive there, or the walk up to the front door, but couldn't remember anyone. Hopefully, Flynn could use this information and get even closer to the bottom of this.

Elsa:  I'm still not sure why you let me do that, it wasn't right.

UNKNOWN:  It's not about what's right, or what's wrong. Like I said Ms. Andersen, it's about your obedience.

Elsa:  And why exactly do you want my obedience?

She learned to choose her words carefully now and to not ask questions prematurely. Any information she got from this guy was key in finding out who they were, and what they wanted. Hopefully, by doing this recent, horrible task, this question would give her the information that she needed.

UNKNOWN:  Hey, you finally learned which questions to ask! Good for you, it only took like two weeks.

Elsa:  Shut up and answer.

UNKNOWN:  …rude. Now I won't answer your question unless you apologize.

Elsa:  You can't be serious.

UNKNOWN:  I am very serious. You hurt my feelings, and now I want you to say you're sorry.

Elsa was half-tempted to chuck her phone out the window out of sheer frustration. But she knew that would do more harm than good, so with gritted teeth and with thunderbolts of hatred released with each tap of her thumb, she did as she was told.

Elsa:  Fine…I'm sorry.

UNKNOWN:  Sorry for what?

Elsa:  I'm sorry for hurting your feelings.

UNKNOWN:  That's better! Now as to your question, I need your obedience because without it I wouldn't be doing my job.

Elsa peered at the reply, hoping that if she stared at it with enough scrutiny, it would reveal even more information than the tiny shred she had just gotten. Apparently they had some sort of method to their madness, they weren't just making Elsa's life torture just for fun, it was a job to them. But what for? She had to dig deeper into this, she had to know more.

Elsa:  Job? What job?

UNKNOWN:  That's for me to know, and for you to never find out. Now enough with the questions, it's time for your next task. Don't worry it's a lot easier than the last one, I just need you to go down to the lobby.

Elsa:  Why?

UNKNOWN:  Ten minutes to comply, Ms. Andersen.

To say that Anna felt strange being back inside ArenCorp would be an understatement. It reminded her of the statistics class she had to take back in Arendelle U: she was out of her element, and even though there was some reason that she had to be here, it didn't help with the whole fish out of water feeling. Thankfully Hannah was with her, or rather she was the reason they were there, so she felt a tiny bit of belonging.

"Okay so…payroll should be on the tenth floor. Or I think it's the ninth floor. No, no I'm pretty sure it's the tenth.", Hannah said, widening the distance between them with each step.

Anna expected that of course, on the drive there she took the opportunity to learn more about her friend and learn why she didn't want to go to ArenCorp alone. Hannah was dismissive at first, stating that it would just feel weird going back to the place you once worked, but Anna continued to pry until Hannah growled at her to just drop the subject altogether. Hannah had never snapped at her like that before, she had seen her annoyed and aggravated, but never angry to the point of letting out a sharp burst of anger like she did.

Later on in the ride, Hannah spoke again, "I'm sorry about that. It's not about you, or ArenCorp, it's Elsa. If I see her again, I…just think it'd be good if I had someone with me."

They didn't speak anymore after that until they got to the building; it was understandable that Hannah would try to shake off their tense conversation, Anna needed to do the same. At least for now. "You don't even know where the payroll department is?", she asked.

"I never needed to know, someone usually just went up to Elsa's floor and handed me my check. But from what I heard it's either on the ninth or tenth floor. Guess we'll just take the elevator to both and see which one's the right one."

"And what if it's not at either of them?"

"Then we'll just search the other ones."

"Or we can go ahead and not do that, and just ask the receptionist which floor it's on.", Anna suggested.

Hannah paused and put her hands on her hips, "Yeah that sounds like a good idea, let's do that." She paced towards the front desk, with Anna close behind.

There was something different about ArenCorp, or rather there was something different about the employees. The last time Anna was here, the people she saw were polite at best and at worst they didn't even acknowledge she was there. This time however, everyone seemed on edge and unapproachable, even the people at the café didn't have their company policy smiles on their faces. The receptionist especially didn't look very pleased to be here.

"Hi!", Hannah said to him, folding her hands on top of the desk. "We're trying to get to payroll, do you know what floor that's on?"

"Which one.", the man said without looking up from his computer.

Hannah was caught off guard, "Uh…what do you mean?"

"There are two payroll floors: one for general employees and another for the supervisors, branch directors, and other higher-ups. Which one are you?"

"Well I'm definitely not one of the higher-ups, but I was the assistant for Ms. Andersen, so…which one do you think it is?"

The man finally looked up, leering at Hannah through his glasses; Anna wanted to hit him with said glasses. This wasn't the receptionist from last time, for starters he wasn't a woman, and his unkempt beard and unmoving frown made him much more unapproachable. "Wasn't there another receptionist here before?", Anna asked.

"Yeah she got fired.", he stated bluntly before returning his gaze to the computer. "General payroll's on the ninth floor, the other one's on the tenth."

Hannah waited for him to say anything else, but when it was apparent that he found whatever was on his screen more worthy of his time, she let out a noise of disgust and walked away from the desk. "Well, I was right on the floor numbers at least.", she said to Anna.

Anna followed her, "What did he mean by Sheila got fired?"

"Oh, yeah…it was, uh…a decision- an executive decision. By the board. Needed to cut costs and stuff, it was really sad to see her go.", Hannah explained.

Anna knew she was lying but didn't call her out on it. She couldn't, because when the elevator doors opened, they had something more important to deal with.

Or rather, someone.

The dreaded elevator ride down turned out to be the least of Elsa's worries. She prepared herself for rampant paparazzi having broken through the front door, or more of her employees telling her exactly how they felt about her, or some unmarked package brought by a shady deliveryman. Any of those outcomes would have been better than seeing the last two women she drove out of her life. Ten feet away.

Many questions ran through her head at the sight, but two of them took precedence over them all: Why were they here? And why were they here together?

She wanted time to think, time to figure out what to do with this predicament- no doubt this was the reason she was told to go down to the lobby. But Hannah and Anna spotted her before she could do anything or go anywhere else.

Elsa heard one of them, or both of them, say her name, or at least what sounded like her name; she didn't say anything in response. What could she say?

She looked at Hannah, and then back at Anna. Hannah looked at Anna, and then back at Elsa. Anna looked at Elsa, and then back to Hannah. This continued for a painfully long and awkward time, with neither of them speaking a word until finally Elsa realized that she had to be the professional here. She had to be the one to speak, to gain some control in this mess.

She straightened up, put on the straightest face she could, and looked definitively at Hannah, "I thought you quit."

Hannah looked surprised at first, and it looked as if she had winced for a brief second, but she composed herself quickly, "I did, I'm just here to pick up my check."

"Hmm.", Elsa replied, sounding more condescending than she wanted to. "They should have sent it to you in the mail."

"I tried to, but whoever you hired in payroll wouldn't take my address.", Hannah was sure to emphasize the word "you" as much as possible, as if to say to Elsa that it was her fault she had to be back here in the first place. It seemed she wasn't safe from receiving bitter comments even from people that didn't work here anymore.

"I guess I'm going to have to look into that."

"Why don't you have your new assistant look into it? You've probably got a lot on your plate, don't you?"

Elsa wasn't expecting such a blatantly hostile response from her former assistant, the straight-faced, neutral look meant to show that she was unfazed with this situation was gone now. She glared at Hannah, wondering if she had said anything about her blackmail threat to Anna, and if she was going to expose her even more. "My business is no longer any of your concern."

"According to you, it was never my concern."

Anna watched the two bicker like a couple of divorced parents, looking back and forth between the two with each verbal jab they exchanged. This entire exchange was tense and uncomfortable, and she felt as if she should step in at some point before they brought unwanted attention to themselves (at least, more than they already had), or before one of them said something there was no coming back from.

"According to you, it was never my concern.", Hannah said coldly.

And there it was, this whole scene was like a car accident moments before the impact, and Hannah's last comment was just what they needed to speed things up and send them colliding into each other. Anna took a step towards her friend, putting a hand on her shoulder, ready to do damage control, but thankfully Hannah still had the wherewithal to do it herself.

She shrugged off Anna's hand, "Forget it. I'm gonna go get my check and be out of this place for good. It's...I just…good luck, Elsa."

Hannah walked towards the elevator and walked through the doors, leaving Anna frozen in place. The steps she took were meant to console Hannah, but they only brought her closer to a seething Elsa who had more than enough reason to unload the built-up wrath on her. They hadn't said a word to each other since the festival, the first one to speak would ensure how this would begin and end; and since Anna was still unable to do the whole "move-your-lips-and-make-noise" thing, it seemed that she was at the mercy of whatever Elsa said next.

Except Elsa didn't say anything, she scoffed, or grunted, or both, and walked past Anna like she was a ghost.

That should have been a good thing, Anna should have been grateful that she didn't have to suffer through another awkward conversation with Elsa, but she wasn't. Despite the anger that radiated from Elsa, which lingered even after she walked away, Anna still wanted closure. And this wasn't closure.

Somehow, somewhere, Anna was able to pull out some boldness and say Elsa's name.

Elsa didn't forget that Anna was there the whole time, there was no way she could, but with her patience running out from dealing with Hannah, and the dirty looks she got from people watching them, she needed some space to breathe.

And then Anna said her name, and even though her mind was screaming at her to keep going and not look back, she stopped and turned around. "What do you want?"

Anna looked at her, surprised that she was even acknowledging her existence, "I…I'm not sure, it's just- I mean I thought we could…where are you going?"

"I asked you a question first.", Elsa replied.

"I…well I also asked you a question."

Elsa sighed, not wanting to play this game, "Well if you must know, I have important business to attend to. In fact, I'm going to be late, so I won't entertain this conversation any further."

She turned to walk away again.


Only to stop and turn around. Again.

"Elsa, I…I don't know which floor Hannah went to, and at this point I feel like it'd be hopeless to track her down. So, until she gets here I feel like you and I should…talk.", Anna said that last word with a wince like she was expecting Elsa to lash out at her for even suggesting something like that.

"And what exactly do we need to talk about?", Elsa asked.

"Come on, don't act like you don't know.", Anna looked around to check if anyone was in earshot- surprisingly, no one was- and took a couple of cautious steps towards Elsa. "Look the last time you and I spoke, it didn't end well. Don't you think we should, I don't know, clear the air?"

"Absolutely not.", Elsa replied immediately. Even if she wanted to talk about what happened at the festival, which she didn't, this was not the appropriate place for them to do so. Just because there wasn't anyone near them now, doesn't mean someone couldn't just happen to walk past them and have their ears perk up at such a compelling conversation. Which would probably be soon, considering that they were bringing more and more attention to themselves by the second. Thank goodness the paparazzi had already cleared out.

"Okay, well I do.", Anna said defiantly. "You and I are going to be working together from now on, even if we're not in the same building and you're technically my boss, I feel like we should at least try and make this work; at least on a professional level. I don't want my boss to hate me, that's bad for business."

"I don't…", Elsa stopped herself before she could say whatever it is she was going to say. She didn't hate Anna? Was that it? Was that even true? Also, how in the world was she even in this situation right now? This wasn't something she wanted to deal with right now, she needed to change the subject to something else, anything else. "How do you know Hannah?"

Anna was taken aback at the abrupt change of subject, for a second she was hoping that she had gotten Elsa to stop being so dodgy and give her something to work with. Instead, all she got was another question. She either had to answer or try and steer the conversation back to the previous subject; and since she wanted to try and get them on decent or at the very least neutral terms, she decided on the former. "We, uh…we met at a bar like a week ago, and talked about stuff. Next thing I know we're friends and I'm helping her break in to her old job to get a check."

Elsa raised an eyebrow, "Break in?"

"Okay so maybe that wasn't the best choice of words, but she doesn't work here anymore and technically I don't work here either. At least not in this building."

"Uh huh. So then, are you two…?"

Anna waited for Elsa to finish the question, and realized she didn't have to. Her eyes widened and she shook her head, "N-no! It's nothing like that, we're just good friends. That's all."

"I see."

There was silence once more between the two. For a second, Anna saw something change in Elsa's expression- which had been impressively stoic this whole time- and, although it was probably just her mind playing tricks on her, she saw what looked like relief. But for who? She wanted to ask more, despite her earlier decision to not delve into uncomfortable topics and get them on better terms, but before she could, a hand grabbed her wrist and led her back towards the front door.

"Let's go," Hannah said impatiently.

As she allowed herself to be dragged away, Anna looked back at Elsa and saw her expression change again. This time, she was certain that she saw Elsa frowning.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty

Elsa collapsed onto her office bed, looking up at the ceiling and taking the idea of ditching work for the rest of the day very seriously. Her coworkers didn't want anything to do with her at best and despised her at worst, Sheila was gone because of her, Hannah definitely hated her, and Anna…

Well, in a strange turn of events, it seemed like the one person who hadn't been particularly nasty with her today was also the one person who had the most reason to. Aside from Hannah, who cashed in her "Be nasty to Elsa" card right away much like the majority of her employees.

Seeing the two of them together and in her territory, it was jarring and unexpected obviously, but it was also surreal. And Elsa, bystanders be damned, could have tried at least to bury the hatchet with the both of them today, and relieve at least one of the nagging headaches in her life; but instead she decided to be her usual, stubborn self and let the resentment towards her continue to pile up. She knew for sure that Hannah still hated her, but Anna?

There didn't seem to be any resentment on Anna's part, or at least there wasn't any on the surface, but how did Elsa feel towards her? Did she hate her? And what was their relationship now that their dirty laundry had finally been aired out? And why was she so relieved to hear that Anna and Hannah weren't dating? Amidst the craziness that occurred since the festival, Elsa hadn't placed much thought on any of these questions but seeing them again gave her enough reason to confront these thoughts head-on.

Which is exactly why she wanted to escape ArenCorp, to keep from having to confront these thoughts.

She wouldn't be afforded that luxury, however, because once she found the slightest motivation to at least sit up from her bed, her phone vibrated with a text message and photo from her least favorite person. Her stomach dropped when she unlocked her phone and saw the package of bad news awaiting her.

UNKNOWN:  Well don't you two look like a perfect match. ; )

Accompanying this message was a picture of Anna and Elsa arguing just a few minutes ago, taken from somewhere outside the building. Elsa's back was turned towards the camera, but Anna's face could be seen as clear as day, looking like she wanted to be anywhere else in the world than talking to her. Trying to stay undeterred despite knowing how close her blackmailer was during this whole interaction- and trying to brush away the thought that her bad day had just gotten worse- Elsa replied.

Elsa:  You've already proven that you've got eyes on me at all times, you creep. This is old news.

UNKNOWN:  I am rubber, you are glue.

Elsa:  I'm assuming you staged that display at the lobby.

UNKNOWN:  Oh I wish, but some things just seem to fall perfectly into place without you having to lift a finger. This was one of those times.

Elsa wanted to be done with this pain for good, but that meant keeping them talking so that Flynn could work his magic and finally figure out their identity. That motivation, however, was dwindling with each second that her life continued to crumble, each letter she had to type, each message she had to read.

Regardless, she at least felt like she was getting better at doing this, if that held any reassurance. She also knew to be extra careful with her words, she had one question to ask after performing this task that they claimed to have no part in orchestrating, and she wanted to get as much information on them as she could.

Elsa:  You had to at least lift a couple of fingers to take that "scathing" picture of yours. I'm lifting a finger right now, I bet you can guess which one it is.

UNKNOWN:  Haha, I'm definitely going to miss this banter once my job's done.

Being spoon-fed bits of information about this person's motivations was making Elsa more and more agitated; she still had no idea if they were a he or she, but she did learn that they had a job to do, it required her obedience, and, as she just learned, there was an end date on the job. Learning this new bit of information without having to ask her question should have made her feel a tiny bit determined to keep going, but it just made her, once more, agitated.

Once the wave of agitation subsided, however, an idea formed in her head. One that would make her feel less helpless than she was feeling right now. And if it worked, it would give her a win she so desperately needed.

Elsa:  Just tell me what my next job is.

UNKNOWN:  Ooh, getting antsy now, are we? Are you sure you don't want to ask your question first?

Elsa:  …fine, who do you work for?

She had this suspicion that whoever they were, they weren't working alone. Some higher-up was calling the shots, and if she was somehow able to figure out who, or at least be given a hint, it'd be a massive help to the investigation.

UNKNOWN:  Ooh, that is a GREAT question. And one that I'm definitely not going to answer. Here I thought you were actually getting smarter.

Elsa:  You don't strike me as the vengeful type, all your tasks have been meant to discredit me but you haven't asked me to do anything too humiliating. I have to assume, then, that someone has it out for me, and I want to know who.

Elsa:  And if you tell me, I'll make sure to make it worth your while.

Elsa gritted her teeth before sending that second text, hoping that they would take the bait. If they not only believed that Elsa wasn't going to seek revenge on them but would also give them some sort of incentive for honesty, then hopefully they'd willingly rat out their employer and bring Elsa one step closer to bringing the both of them down.

After a couple of minutes of silence, however, she was beginning to get worried. What if she had screwed this whole thing up? What if she had pried too far, and they decided to send the article out? She quickly went through the emails on her phone, seeing nothing new other than a follow-up email from another CEO she was meeting with at a later date. She also scoured the Internet, searching for her name and any new articles posted about her, but nothing had been posted recently.

This should have put her at ease, but instead it just made her even more on edge than she already was.

Finally, after five of the longest minutes of her life, she got a reply.

UNKNOWN:  I'm listening.

A smile crept up Elsa's face despite herself, as did a wave of relief; it seemed as if they took the bait.

Elsa:  If you tell me something, anything, about your employer, preferably a name, I will make sure that you don't face any criminal charges for blackmailing the CEO of a highly influential company. You'll be able to walk away from this with a clean slate, or as clean as you can possibly make it, and we'll part ways pretending that this never happened.

Another five minutes passed, although this seemed to go faster than last time.

UNKNOWN:  That is a…very intriguing offer. How will I know that you'll keep up your end of the deal?

Elsa:  I'll sign a contract stating that I won't be pressing any charges against you. You can hang it up on a mantle, or take it up in court on the off-chance I decided to break my promise. In the long run, this will benefit you more than it will me.

For once she was happy that this entire interaction was happening through text, it made it so much easier to lie when you didn't have to see their face.

UNKNOWN:  And how will I know that you won't break your promise?

Elsa:  You've trusted me this long, haven't you?

UNKNOWN:  Hmm…true, you have proven to be a very trustworthy tool.

Elsa winced from being called a tool, but it would fade as long as they agreed to the deal.

Elsa:  So, what do you say?

Ever since this whole charade started, she felt powerless, watching her world around her crumble and not being able to do a damn thing about it. And as she waited for a reply, she thought that if they agreed to her terms, then all that control and power would come flooding back. She could finally be herself again, put this whole thing behind her.

But as the reply came, she realized that wouldn't be happening for a while.

UNKNOWN:  Come on now Elsa, you're gonna have to try a lot harder than that to fool me.

"Dammit.", she muttered under her breath.

UNKNOWN:  I will admit, that would have been pretty clever if it worked, but I'm better at this game than you are. ; ) Now that we've gotten that silliness out of the way, I think it's about time I gave you your next task. That is…unless you had any more tricks up your sleeve you wanted to try.

"Condescending prick.", Elsa said hoping they heard it somehow. Her Hail Mary plan hadn't worked, and now it seemed like she was out of options. Once again, she found herself at the mercy of this person's master plan. But feeling as defeated as she was, Elsa wasn't even sure she would go through with the next task. Not out of protest, but out of apathy- she was beginning to not care whether they published the article or not.

Elsa:  What do you want now?

UNKNOWN:  That's the spirit! Fair warning, this is probably going to be the hardest task you've had to face. Even harder than seeing both your ex-girlfriends at the same time. In one week's time, you're going to be having a meeting with the CEO of Corona International…

UNKNOWN:  At that meeting, I want you to break off your partnership with them.

Elsa stifled the gasp that threatened to escape from her lips, a grave chill rattled her from head to toe. Corona International was one of ArenCorp's longest-standing partners, the contract was signed way before Elsa even got to the company. Throughout the long-tenured history of both business giants, they remained on top for so long together rather than tearing each other down. Of course, it didn't hurt that both companies were started by a brother and sister wanting to see who would rise to the top of the business world first. The bond between both corporations was strong and practically unbreakable, every couple of years, the two companies came together for one massive party to celebrate their partnership, and the party was next week. And she was going to be having her meeting with the CEO at that party.

Instinctively, Elsa typed out her response.

Elsa:  No. I've done a lot of degrading things for you already, but this is where I draw the line. Corona International is one of our most trusted allies, and I'm not going to ruin that to appease some egomaniacal psychopath.

UNKNOWN:  Oh Ms. Andersen, you flatter me. Now I know you've got a lot to think about it, so I'll tell you what? I'll give you a week to comply, give me an answer after the meeting is over.

Elsa:  I already gave you my answer, I'm not doing this. I'm tired of this game and I'm not playing it anymore, go and send the article out for all I care. Do your worst.

No more, Elsa decided, she was done playing this sick, twisted game. Both due to apathy, and now due to protest. After weeks of being on edge, wondering what she'd be forced to do next, wondering who she'd have to hurt, watching her allies fall to the wayside and seeing her reputation get crushed further and further into the ground…she'd had enough. For the first time in a long time, she put her stubbornness aside and admitted one truth to herself: She was broken.

UNKNOWN:  …you have one week to comply, Ms. Andersen.

Elsa let out a frustrated yell and threw her phone hard against the wall, hearing the sickening crack as it hit and fell to the floor. She buried her face in her hands as her breathing picked up, the strained panting rivaled the pace of her heartbeat. She wanted to cry, curse out the people responsible for this, including herself, and retreat from everything and everyone for as long as it took for this whole thing to blow over.

It was clear that she had lost the game and anyone that would even remotely support her in this time. If the article got released, then so be it. She didn't care anymore, there was one last thing she had control over and that was the fate of her company; and she wouldn't give up that control for anything.

So, if that meant tarnishing her own reputation, then so be it. She didn't have much left to tarnish anyway.

Sometime during her silent lamenting, she heard a knock at her door. She fought the urge to stay on her bed and let them see themselves out and wiped the tears from her face. Before she stood up, she did her best to steel herself and put on the face of a consummate professional who hadn't just thrown her phone across her office and spent an embarrassing amount of time crying over a problem she had caused. Thank goodness her office was soundproof.

Every step proved to be more difficult than the last, but somehow she found herself at her door and opened it, actively trying to keep her chin up and face straight. On the other side was a face she hadn't seen in a while, but one she was happy to see. Or as close to happy as she could be in her situation.

"Flynn.", Elsa stated neutrally, knowing the only reason he would be at her office. "Any news?"

The ArenCorp employee/appointed spy for the CEO grinned, "Yes actually, I've got good and bad news."

A muted relief came over Elsa and she gestured for him to come in, "Well tell me the good news first."

Flynn walked inside and looked around, no doubt ensuring that they were truly alone. Elsa wouldn't have let him in if she wasn't, but she decided against telling him that, not wanting to waste any time. Even if she had already conceded defeat, if there was even a sliver of hope that she could somehow gain the upper hand, then she wanted to hear it right away. "Well first of all, I'd just like to apologize for not getting you any new information as of late."

"Noted, now the good news.", Elsa responded impatiently.

"The good news…", Flynn continued as he fished his phone out of his pocket and waved it towards Elsa, "…is that with your help I was able to close in on the location of your mystery blackmailer even more than before. Not only is the signal coming from somewhere here in Arendelle, but the signal was strongest right here at ArenCorp."

The realization hit Elsa right away, "Wait…are you saying that it could possibly be someone working for ArenCorp?"

"They could have also just happened to be in the area when they sent those messages to you, but I don't believe in coincidence. I think you're right, we're looking for an ArenCorp employee."

Elsa had a hunch that they might be close by- a bit too close by- but never gave a lot of thought on the idea that one of her employees could be trying to sabotage her this entire time, she believed that up until now she'd been doing her best to ensure she built up at least a decent relationship with her employees, and no one ever expressed any ill will towards her during meetings or through the mouths of her advisors. Even despite her recent fumbles.

With that being said, the list of people in her company that she'd wronged badly enough that they'd resort to these drastic measures was impressively blank.

"But that doesn't sound right.", Elsa replied, voicing her thoughts. "I honestly can't think of anyone that would be out to get me inside my own company. And anyone that could even be considered a culprit wouldn't have a reason to go after me unless I wronged them after this whole mess started. Well, everyone except…"

Elsa stopped herself. The list of people she wronged after the first email she received may have been uncomfortably long, but the list of people she wronged before the email conjured up two names.

"Everyone except who, Elsa?", Flynn asked, but Elsa ignored him as the uneasiness inside her continued to grow.

Anna was obviously the first name, but despite the distance they'd put between each other, she knew that Anna wasn't a vengeful person. In fact, their big blow-up was at the festival and, as much as it pained her to admit it, Anna held all the cards after that exchange. She was a compassionate person by nature, there was no way she'd kick Elsa while she was down, despite everything that had happened.

Which means that only left one person on her list: Hannah.

"No…", she said breathlessly to herself.

The more she thought about it, the more it made sense. She was waiting in the car for Elsa after the festival, at some point she could have recorded the video of her argument with Anna. She was the one that first suggested that Elsa do nothing other than complying with the mystery person's demands. Being Elsa's assistant, she was privy to a lot of information- including Elsa's schedule- which meant she would know when Cruella would come to her office and the reason for her visit.

The more that Elsa thought about it, the more it all made sense; and yet she didn't want it to, she refused to believe that Hannah was capable of such vengeance either. Then again there was that old adage: "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned."

If it was Hannah, she couldn't blame her for going the lengths she did, but Elsa wanted so desperately to believe that it wasn't. Maybe because she wanted to somehow, someway, reconcile with Hannah for everything she did to her; or maybe because there was a feeling in the pit of her stomach that she wasn't the one blackmailing her this time. She was operating off a need for reconciliation and stark denial that Hannah was the blackmailer; and if that's all that Elsa was working on, then she'd take it.

Knowing all this, she hastily changed the subject before Flynn got too suspicious, "You said you had bad news too, what is it?"

From the suspicious look on Flynn's face, she knew that he was seeing right through the obvious subject change, but thankfully he didn't pry. He sighed heavily, "Well…the bad news is that whoever this is seems to have somehow caught on that I've been spying on your conversation. Take a look at this."

Flynn handed Elsa his phone, on the screen was a singular text message from a familiar friend of hers.

UNKNOWN:  I don't very much appreciate you intruding on the conversation between me and Ms. Andersen. Continue to do so, and I will ensure that you are punished as much as her.

The irony of the need for their privacy to be respected was not lost on Elsa. "How were they able to figure out you were spying on them?", she asked as she gave Flynn back his phone.

Flynn shrugged, "I'm not sure, all I know is that for your sake and for mine as well, I'm going to have to bow out of eavesdropping on the both of you any further. But don't worry, I have another plan so I don't leave you purely defenseless."

He pulled a phone case out of his pocket, one that looked incredibly similar to the one he gave Elsa to monitor the conversation in the first place. "I definitely believe that whoever this is works for ArenCorp, and this phone case will help you track them down. It acts as a homing beacon of sorts, once you flip the switch on the bottom, it will send out vibrations that get stronger and faster the closer you get to their phone. Once you've gotten close enough to whoever it is that's blackmailing you, your phone will go off and play a generic sounding ringtone."

"Once that happens, you can just pretend to take the call and nab the suspect before they have any idea what's happening. I wish I could help you out more than this, but I can't risk things more than I already have."

"You've done way more than enough, Flynn.", Elsa reassured him. "More than I could ask for, honestly. I don't know how much information I would have been able to gather by myself, and I'm glad you're on my side."

Flynn smiled, "Well that's good to hear. Now if I can just have your phone, I'll switch out the case I put on it before with this new one."

Elsa's lips pursed and shifted her eyes to the wall, she walked over to where she had thrown her phone in a fit of rage before, hoping for the best. It had landed just to the left of her bookshelf and had left an impressive dent in the plaster.

On the floor were the remains of her phone, plastic and glass shards were scattered all around the main body, which was cracked and shattered beyond repair, the inner workings let out one more pitiful spark, almost like a final dying breath.

Flynn hissed, "That's…gonna be a problem."

Surprisingly, Elsa didn't agree. Seeing what was left of her phone, strangely, had kickstarted this new wave of determination in her. Fate had thrown her a bone, given her new information to work with. As much as she hated to think of who in her company would want to take her down, and as much as she wanted it to not be Hannah, she was one step closer to finally getting rid of this major problem in her life for good.

Elsa the cowardly recluse was no more, and Elsa the dominant CEO was clawing her way back up to the surface. She didn't have to fake bravado anymore, she didn't have to feign confidence, because it was finally, actually there. It may have been small and dwindling, but it was here. She had let this game go on for far too long, and she was going to put an end to it by any means necessary.

"I'll get a new phone," she said as she took the new phone case from Flynn. "Thank you again for everything, Flynn, but I've got everything under control from here on out."

"You sure?"

Elsa walked over to her massive window and looked out at the Arendelle skyline with fresh eyes, "I'm sure. You've done your part, and now it's time to do mine."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-One

Three days had passed since the incident at ArenCorp, and Anna was busier than ever. Once she rolled out the newly prepared chocolates off the proverbial factory line, they became an instant hit. It seemed like she had as much of a knack for making chocolate as she did for making baked goods. With demand increasing by the minute- at least that's what it felt like for Anna- the bakery had to increase the supply, which meant longer workdays for both Anna, Rapunzel, and the rest of her staff.

And if that wasn't enough, they had just gotten word from Mulan the day before that they were chosen to be the dessert caterers for this fancy party that ArenCorp was having with Corona International. Anna didn't know much about the politics and history between both companies, but she knew enough to know that Warm Hearts being chosen to cater to this was a big deal, and that it would take even more work from this little bakery that could. So, with this renewed sense of urgency, Anna went into overdrive as the head baker.

"Make sure you use a knife to scrape the extra flour off the top of the cup, Manny. Gotta keep the measurements super exact."

"You got it boss," Manny replied as he picked up a butter knife.

"Easy with the crank on the mill there, Owen. We've only got one."

"I'll be careful.", Owen said bashfully as he slowed down his revolutions with the chocolate mill.

"Check the temperature on the ovens, Riley. Remember that the- "

"The right oven cooks faster than the left, I gotcha.", Riley interrupted as she checked on the cake's baking in the oven without opening them.

Constant micromanaging to make sure that every baked good and chocolate was up to her standard was now half her job, constantly trying to remind her staff how valued they are was the other half. "Thanks guys!", she exclaimed from the middle of the kitchen, scooping out cookie dough onto a tray, "You're all daisies in a field of roses."

She had no idea if Elsa picked their bakery because she thought they were the best ones for the catering job, or if this was some sort of punishment for her and Hannah "breaking in" to ArenCorp, but she had to get the job done regardless. Although, it didn't hurt that this would bring some much-needed revenue and attention to the bakery. There was very little room for error, however, and because of that, there was very little time for a break.

Well, Anna's employees had time for a break (because she made it mandatory), but she barely did. The two times she had some breathing room were before the bakery opened, and after it closed. Her lunch break was spent in the middle of the kitchen, barking out orders with half a sandwich in her mouth.

Thankfully, day three of this hell week was winding down, and she could finally breathe for a second time. With her employees cleaning up the back of the kitchen, she took the time to check how Rapunzel and her own army of employees were doing up front.

"How'd it go today? Did you live?", she asked her best friend as she emerged from the door.

Rapunzel gave her a tired smile as she wiped down a counter, "Barely…I sent the other guys home and said I could clean up from here. How'd it go in the back?"

"Everybody's still got their limbs, so I guess it went pretty well. Once they finish cleaning up, I'm gonna go back in there and take inventory." Anna sat up on one of the counters that Rapunzel already cleaned and frowned, "I still feel bad though, I think I'm overworking them a little."

"Anna, they used to work at a school, I think they're used to a high-stress environment. Besides, Oaken assured us that they're one of the best employees he has, so we shouldn't worry about it too much."

"Yeah, but still I mean…I gotta reward them somehow after this whole mess of a week is over."

Rapunzel slung the cleaning rag over her shoulder and exhaled from a job well done, "Well I'm sure you'll think of something. You've got a knack for caring about people."

Anna smiled at her best friend, "So do you."

"I never said I didn't.", Rapunzel giggled, "Now if you excuse me, I need to clean myself up a little bit. Flynn will be here any minute now."

Because Warm Hearts Bakery was only needed for catering at the party, that meant all the work would be occurring in the back, and with the venue providing caterers, that meant Rapunzel wouldn't be needed in that department either. Obviously, she felt guilty for basically leaving Anna to do all of the work that night, but Anna reassured her that she would be okay and that Rapunzel's services were needed out on the party floor anyway.

Right now, she was about to go dress shopping with Flynn at the fanciest dress place in the city, Arendelle Designs; her job at the party would be as the talking head for Warm Hearts Bakery, talking up the rich business folk and letting people know where the delicious cake they were eating was baked at.

Anna laughed to herself, "You're gonna look so pretty yucking it up with all those rich people, subtly promoting our bakery like a ninja, it's gonna be great."

"A ninja in stilettos doesn't sound like the most effective ninja," Rapunzel untied her apron and made her way to the restroom. "By the way, you invited Hannah, right?"

"Of course, but she's been so down in the dumps from the whole Elsa thing a few days ago, and from not finding a new internship, I don't think she'll want to go. So far, from what she messaged me earlier, she's still a big maybe."

When Anna told Rapunzel about the fiasco at ArenCorp, her best friend took her side immediately. Hannah hadn't taken the ordeal very well and hit the bottle hard that night. Anna stayed with her at the bar to make sure she wouldn't hurt herself or do anything too stupid, and once again her dejected friend stayed the night at her apartment.

Ever since then, she'd vented pretty much daily to Anna about everything she hated about Elsa, which gave Anna a lot more insight on the woman that her former best friend had become in the past few years. With all the information that Hannah indulged unfiltered, and the way that she talked about Elsa, so animated and with a lot of pain in her words, she could sense even more than before that there was more to Hannah's relationship with Elsa; but still Anna didn't pry, reasoning that Hannah would tell her if she wanted to.

"You try insisting that she come?", Rapunzel suggested, "I'm sure she'd be pretty happy to hear that you want her at this party, I mean…even though she isn't technically an ArenCorp employee."

There was a slight raise of her eyebrow when she suggested this, and Anna frowned at the implication in her best friend's words. "Stop trying to make me and Hannah a thing, 'Zel. I've told you we're just friends, and that's all I want us to be."

"And I'm telling you that you'd be a dummy not to at least think about it.", Rapunzel replied before disappearing into the restroom, turning around one more time to look at Anna with a knowing glance. "If I leave before you get done cleaning, I'll see you back at the apartment, okay?"

Anna rolled her eyes, not wanting to add that she had thought about it and hopped off the counter. "Unbelievable.", she muttered as she walked back into the kitchen.

"Just a few more days," Elsa said to herself. "Just a few more days, and this nightmare is over."

This was a mantra she'd been repeating ever since she had gotten her most recent "mission" to sabotage ArenCorp's relationship with Corona International, and it was this and her fierce determination to win this twisted game of Simon Says that was keeping her sane. This mantra would have to prove extra useful today, as she stared at herself in the bathroom mirror.

There was one more caveat added to her newest task, as evident by a box that showed up at her office with a typed-up note that said "Make sure you wear this on your big day! ; )" She made a mental note to have a talk with security as she opened up the box, and pulled out…a dress. It should have put her mind at ease knowing that it wasn't a bomb or something like that, but it actually made her more uneasy. Why was it so important that she wear this dress to the party?

She got her answer when she finally put it on, because it was the most revealing piece of clothing she'd ever worn.

It was an incredibly short halter dress that ended a couple inches above the knees, there was no back, and the V-line that converged at her midsection showed more cleavage than she was comfortable showing. This was a dress meant for twenty-something-year-olds going clubbing, not for a formal party. Perhaps the only good thing about the dress was that it was an icy blue, and it had a floor-length tail so she didn't have to worry about anyone staring at her butt.

She knew, however, that if she showed up to the party in this, all eyes would definitely be on her, but not in a good way. It wasn't one befitting for a CEO to wear, it would throw any basis of class and decorum out the window.

Still, she had to tell herself that she only had to put with this nonsense for a few more days. Not wearing the dress was out of the question, she had to continue playing along with their demands until she could hunt them down at the party and end this charade for good. So, she needed to swallow her pride, tell herself she would spend the rest of the year if she had to building her reputation back up again, and put away the dress so it didn't get torn or stained.

Once she slipped back into her more comfortable, more appropriate workplace attire, she checked her phone and frowned.

UNKNOWN:  Did you like the gift?

Elsa:  I'm not even going to ask how you knew what my dress size was, just know that it's incredibly disturbing that you do.

She never let her blackmailer know that she was "on board" with the new task they'd given her, but considering that the article hadn't been released yet, she had to think that they weren't taking no for an answer, and that they were staying loyal to the one-week timeframe.

UNKNOWN:  Ms. Andersen, you should know by now that I have my ways. I do hope that the paparazzi take lots of pictures, it was hard work picking out the best dress for the job.

Elsa stared at the box labeled "Arendelle Designs", the finest clothing shop in the city, and sneered. They really did go all out in the dress-choosing process, even the cheapest dresses there cost more than a quarter of her paycheck.

Elsa:  Why does everything you say always sound so creepy? Is it instinct? Or do you find a way to make sure you sound as off-putting as possible?

UNKNOWN:  Is that your next question?

Elsa:  Do I even have a choice anymore?

UNKNOWN:  Oh, Ms. Andersen, why do I get this feeling that you think we're in the endgame? I assure you that the fun is only beginning.

"Oh, it's definitely the endgame.", Elsa grumbled but didn't text whilst gritting her teeth. One way or another. she would make sure this all ends at the party. She just had to make sure of one important thing.

Elsa:  Look, I got your stupid gift, and maybe I'll wear it and maybe I won't; regardless I do have a question that I wanted to ask.

UNKNOWN:  Hmm, well I AM feeling a little bit more benevolent after sending the dress, so go ahead. Fire away.

Elsa:  Are you going to the party?

UNKNOWN:  Well I guess you'll find out in a few days now, won't you?

There were no other texts, and Elsa was left to stir with that non-answer. It wasn't a definitive yes, but knowing that there was a high chance it was an Arendelle employee, and that every employee had to be at the party unless they had a legitimate excuse not to go, and knowing the blackmailer's penchant for invading her personal privacy…it was almost a guarantee that they'd be there.

It should have instilled a much-needed amount of confidence in Elsa, and it did, but there was also a nagging doubt in the back of her mind, one that hadn't gone away: What if the blackmailer was Hannah?

She didn't want to believe that, after all the two had been through, but she couldn't think of anyone else in her company that had big enough reason to seek revenge on her. So, once she went to the party and turned on the tracker, if it somehow leads her to Hannah, what was she going to do? For now, Elsa figured that she would at the very least hear her out, understand why she did what she did; and afterward, she would pass judgment down accordingly. Elsa was already determined to be take more control over this whole situation, and she needed to follow through on her assertiveness.

Of course, this would all be pretty moot if Hannah didn't even show up to the party; and because she didn't want to look too suspicious, and make their already awkward, strained relationship even more awkward and strained, she couldn't exactly invite her to the party either. So, for this plan to even work, she was banking on Anna's strange, newfound friendship with her former assistant to get her to come. It was one of the reasons why she assigned her bakery to provide desserts- plus, putting her stubbornness aside, she knew Anna was a damn good baker.

These were all factors that weren't in her control, or wouldn't be for a few more days, so Elsa didn't want to waste any more time worrying about them. For now, she put the dress on her bed- out of sight, out of mind- and got back to work. "Just a few more days…", she said to herself again once she sat back down on her desk, "…and this nightmare is over."

Anna didn't think she would ever get used to the cold of the walk-in freezer, but she also knew that taking inventory was the most boring job in the bakery, and she wanted to send all her employees home after they got done cleaning the place. Which is how she found herself doing this boring job inside this freezing freezer, equipped with nothing more than a clipboard, a pencil, and her big brain becoming less and less accustomed to the drop in temperature and loud fan.

"Just a few more carts of chocolate.", she reasoned to herself, "Just a f-few more carts of chocolate, and this n-nightmare is over."

She wondered if she could drag Rapunzel in here and help her out, mostly with the math cause she hated counting and anything to do with numbers, but with Flynn on his way, she didn't want to steal her best friend away for longer than she needed to be.

"That's okay…", Anna continued to reason to herself, "I can totally do this b-by myself…I just gotta keep count, not get distracted, not…wonder why chocolate needs to be th-this cold anyway…"

A few more minutes of using her limited brainpower to count chocolate and calculate it's internal temperature, Anna was saved by the ringing of her phone. Before she could even consider whether bringing her phone inside of a freezer would affect it somehow, and how cold it would be when pressed up to her ear, she answered it.

"Hello- oh yeesh, that's cold! Ahem…hello?"

"Anna? You okay? You sound like you're inside a washing machine."

Anna was thrilled to hear that it was Hannah on the other end, she hoped that this call would be less of her venting about Elsa again, and more of her giving her a definitive decision about going to the party or not. "Hey Hannah! I'm good, I'm just in the freezer right now inventory…ing the chocolate, and I forgot that phones get really cold inside of a f-freezer."

"Oh…okay, well don't stay in there too long or your hair will get all white and sickly. I don't know if that's true or not, I just heard that at a mixer once, and it sounded true."

"I'm gonna go ahead and believe that anyway, I don't even w-want to be here longer than I need to. Anyway, what's up?"

Hannah sighed, "Yeah, so…I wanted to talk to you about the party."

"What about it?", Anna asked anxiously.

"Well I know I said that I wasn't sure if I should go or not, but this whole week has been really kicking my ass, and I've been striking out every time in the internship department, so…I'm seriously thinking that I should go."

"O-oh? How come?", she definitely didn't think that was where she was going with this.

"Yeah, I just need like a break from all this stress for a little bit, at least for one night, and in a place with less dancing and booze, or at least booze I don't have to pay for. Plus… I'm starting to think that's a big sign for me to, ugh, I dunno, come back and grovel for my job again, I guess."

Anna's eyes widened, and realizing that Hannah couldn't see her, she let out her surprise by saying, "Huh…how come?" She leaned on one of the cold shelves, ignoring the way her skin was yelling at her to get off, waiting for Hannah to explain herself.

"I had a good thing going being Elsa's assistant, all the bitchiness aside, and besides I only had a few hours remaining on my internship with her. Working for her was okay I guess, it was just working with her that was horrible. If that makes any sense."

Anna nodded, "Yeah…" She need only to think back to before the festival to realize how true that statement was.

"Either way, I'm planning on coming to the party, and trying to find her, see if I can't strike some deal to bury the hatchet for a little while I get these internship hours done. If she wants to be all cold and stuff to me then…that's just, whatever. I'll just keep my head down and keep doing my work. Besides, I've got this feeling that she needs me more than she's letting on."

"She did seem p-pretty out of it when we saw her.", Anna added, taking a chance by bringing up their encounter with her at ArenCorp, and not asking why she wanted to work for Elsa when she could have been interning for anyone else at the company.

"Gee I wonder why.", Hannah muttered. "Well anyway, I don't want to keep you on the phone for too long, you've got a job to do. You want to meet up to eat something after you're done?"

"Sure, that sounds great!"

"Awesome, Imma get an Uber and see you in a little bit."

Anna hung up after they had said their goodbyes; there was more to Hannah's words than what she was actually telling her, more to the story that she wasn't fully understanding. She was still undecided about whether she would ask Hannah to tell her everything or not, maybe she would decide when she got to the bakery.

"Come on Anna, these chocolates aren't going to count themselves.", she said to herself encouragingly.

As she got to work recounting a cart she had been working through before, she heard the faint sound of the kitchen door opening from outside the freezer.

"Hannah, is that you?", she shouted before realizing that there was no way that her friend could get here that fast, and there was no way anyone could hear her from inside the freezer. Anna set her clipboard down and opened the door, but before she could ask who was in the kitchen with her, she heard a voice make an ominous statement.

"Everything's going according to plan, sir."

A voice in the back of her mind told Anna to hide, the tone in this mystery person's voice made it sound like this wasn't exactly a good plan. She ducked under one of the worktables, hoping to eavesdrop on the rest of the conversation.

"No, she has absolutely no idea who's blackmailing her, in fact I think she's going to try and go after her old assistant."

Blackmail? Old assistant? A sinking feeling in her gut told Anna that she knew exactly who they were talking about, but she didn't want to believe that this had something to do with Elsa and Hannah. That was way too coincidental, then again her life has been full of coincidences recently.

"…yes, I'm confident that she doesn't suspect me at all."

The voice sounded incredibly familiar, and Anna was kicking herself for not knowing who it was right away.

"It doesn't matter whether she ends the partnership at the party or not, one way or another, Ms. Andersen's career is going to be in jeopardy."

She inched closer to the edge of the table to get a better look at who is, and it made her more confused than before; because although he had his back turned to her, Anna knew exactly who it was.

"ArenCorp is going to be completely vulnerable…", Flynn said confidently. "…and you'll be right there to reap the benefits."

Anna stifled the gasp that tried to escape her throat, and stayed where she was, until she knew for sure that Flynn had left the kitchen. She retreated back into the freezer to try and make sense of everything she had just heard, but couldn't. The only thing she knew for sure was that she needed answers, and with Hannah coming over soon, she was determined to get them.

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Two

The Grand Arendelle Hotel towered over the western side of the city, with its thirty floors reaching high into the sky- boasting a gorgeous view in all directions- and the large, golden visible from miles away. It had a massive, gated pool and spa area, two fitness centers on the first and fifteenth floors, numerous conference rooms, and an extravagant ballroom with hardwood flooring, an arched, marble ceiling, and painted ivory with splashes of purple and green.

Tonight, that ballroom- along with the kitchen and two of the conference rooms- would be host to the "Helping Hands Biennial", the official name of the party for the employees of ArenCorp and Corona International to celebrate their partnership. Corona was one of Arendelle's neighboring cities, and with the hotel in West Arendelle being so close to the border, it made for the perfect middle ground for both sides, and furthered the spirit of compromise and camaraderie. Special banners were made that merged the logos of both companies, like two sigils of neighboring kingdoms, with a tri-color design of purple, gold, and green, and they were hung all across the ballroom.

These three colors were also important parts of the dress code for every employee, no matter where they worked; going all out wasn't a requirement, but whatever they wore needed to at least be accentuated with one or all of the three colors. Instead of dreading this requirement, the employees actually enjoyed the change of pace from the stuffy dress codes of typical "office parties", and embraced the color palate.

This joyful, party of consummate professionals felt like a welcoming, soberer, Mardi Gras celebration.

And Elsa didn't feel joyful, welcomed, or professional.

All the faces she saw as she walked into the hotel lobby, so inviting and content with their night, turned into confusion and poorly masked disapproval once they saw the dress and who was wearing it. More than once did she overhear someone question her validity and tact as a CEO. She felt exposed, placed under a microscope, and wanted to get this night over with as fast as possible, or at the very least distract herself from her impending tasks.

Both proved nearly impossible, as she couldn't escape the pleasantries, the polite smiles and sickening amounts of small talk that she had to commit to with everyone she saw- ignoring the "subtle" glances at her chest from the men and the slightly upturned noses from the women- and the opening speech she had to give at the beginning of the party, the most generic one she had given since the festival.

Elsa was grateful to finally have all eyes off her for the time being once she finished her speech and everyone went back to their own affairs. She turned on the tracker on her phone, feeling the steady pulsing in her hand, and boldly stepped onto the ballroom floor to continue the small talk; ignoring the sideways glances, ignoring the snarky comments, and ignoring the timeframe she was operating under.

But soon, she felt as if she was drowning in an ocean of "Hello's", and "Great party, Ms. Andersen's", and the lifeguard was her blackmailer, taunting her at shore as they slowly pulled the life preserver away. The only thing she could do was wade through the conversations, not get discouraged by the lack of direction from the tracker, and hold on to her steadily declining hope.

Anna knew that she had more than just serving desserts to worry about tonight, and she knew that amidst the festivities was a vat of tension threatening to boil over in the next few hours, and yet she couldn't help but be swept up by the pageantry of the Helping Hands Biennial.

She was always a big sucker for parties and extravagant events like this; as a kid, when she wasn't dreaming of being a baker, she dreamt that she was a princess who had parties every week in her honor. "Princess Anna of Arendelle", she would say in an exaggerated, regal voice as she descended the staircase of her childhood home.

From the live band on stage playing a familiar jazz waltz, to the large banners that looked ripe for climbing, to the intermingling aromas of the different foods prepared by chefs from all over Arendelle and Corona, she was the closest she'd ever been to her dream.

But as the kitchen door closed, and the picture faded from view, she snapped back into reality.

Her reality.

On the bright side, her reality included her other dream. The kitchen of the Grand Arendelle Hotel was nothing to scoff at; it was double, maybe triple, the size of her bakery and she and her staff stayed out of the way of the other staff well enough, and carved out their own corner of the kitchen. Once situated, it was all work and no play, wanting to ensure that the guests would fully satiate their sweet tooth.

And while Anna was still eternally grateful for the opportunity to be here…

"Hey, Anna, you alright?"

Anna shook her head and nodded at Hannah, who was holding a tray of chocolates and eyeing her wearily. "Yeah…yeah I'm doing okay."

"Well don't get too distracted, alright? We've got a job to do." Hannah replied before heading out the door, letting Anna get another quick glance at the ballroom.

After overhearing Flynn's plan, Anna relied on Hannah for more information, wanting to make sense of everything she heard. After merciless prodding, Hannah told her everything that she knew; about the first email that Elsa got, about the video, about all the things that Elsa was forced to do, and how the whole ordeal was what finally caused Hannah to leave. It was revealing to say the least, and it honestly left Anna with more questions than answers; but by the end of the conversation it was clear what they had to do, what she had to do.

"I have to tell Elsa about this, I have to tell Elsa who's blackmailing her." Anna declared.

"How are you going to do that? And how are you going to make her believe you?" Hannah asked.

"I'll…talk to her at the party. It'll be the next best opportunity I've got aside from going straight up to her office and telling her, and I've got no time for that." Anna fiddled with the mug of hot chocolate in her hands, biting her lip. "And she'll- I mean she'll have to believe me, right? As far as she knows, I know nothing about this, so she has no reason not to trust me."

I mean, given your history…"

Anna rolled her eyes, "Look, her job is on the line, which means that my job is on the line, and Rapunzel's. This means that this problem is now my problem too, so if Elsa doesn't believe me…then I'll just have to make her."

Hannah looked away, pursing her lips. There was nothing but silence between the two for a few seconds, until finally Hannah sighed, "Well…you seem pretty set on this plan, but if you're gonna do this then you'll need help."

Masquerading as a caterer- although still being paid for the job by Anna- Hannah tasked herself with being Anna's eyes in the ballroom. Since Anna would be needed in the kitchen for the majority of the night, she couldn't spend a lot of time searching for Elsa herself, so Hannah being out there would be a big help. When she got word of Elsa's location, Anna would rush out of the kitchen and make a beeline for her.

The waiting made Anna grow restless, however- it was already bad enough that both of her friends were out there and she wasn't- and she poured all her energy into her work to distract herself.

"Riley, help me roll out some dough, our croissant supply is looking pretty flimsy." Anna slammed a ball of dough down onto her floury workstation and flattened it out with her rolling pin.

Until Hannah found Elsa, Anna kept at it. After all, she had a job to do.

"This has been a wonderful party, Ms. Andersen. I've thoroughly enjoyed myself, every visit to Arendelle has always been a great experience."

"Thank you, sir, I'm glad that you've found the party to your liking."

"Yes, and I hope that it's not too out of line to say that you look absolutely stunning, tonight. For a second, I forgot I was talking to the CEO of ArenCorp and not, say, a runway model."

"Haha, thank you. I appreciate the compliment." Elsa replied, even though she knew it wasn't one.

Through a painted-on, courteous smile, Elsa ran the gauntlet of polite conversations and greetings, suffering through the seemingly hundreds of people complimenting the party and making a "tasteful" joke about her dress all in the same breath. Yet, with the bulk of the partygoers attended to and conversed with, she was still nowhere near close to finding her culprit.

For a while, she wondered if the tracker was defective, it'd be just her luck if it was. Every slight change in the cadence of the vibrations kept her hope alive, but she soon realized it may have just been her mind playing tricks on her. The tracker was vibrating pitifully slow, as it had been since the beginning of the night.

She took a much-needed break at the refreshments table to grab a glass of water, nod politely at anyone that made eye contact with her, glare at those who didn't do well to hide their wandering eyes, and rethink her plan. Clearly, walking all around the ballroom talking to everybody, and waiting for the vibrations to pick up, wasn't working; she needed to find the one person that had the most suspicion around them, she needed to find Hannah. And with the meeting in less than an hour, she needed to find her fast.

So far, Elsa hadn't seen any sight of her, but with this much needed time away from the mass of people, and the vantage point near the back of the ballroom, she could focus all her efforts on finding her.

She didn't see her near the band, who was taking a break as well; she didn't see her at any of the other plastic tables full of refreshments and desserts; she didn't see her talking up any of the rich guests from Corona either.

Then, as if fate was finally cutting her some slack, she locked eyes with a brunette from across the room in a caterer's uniform, picking up an empty metal tray. They only looked at each other for a second, but a second was all Elsa needed to know that she had found her.

Judging by the uniform, she must have come here with Anna, which meant the kitchen would be the one place Hannah would keep coming back to. Elsa needed to make her way there, and either settle the doubt in her mind, or finally confront her blackmailer.

But before she could take a step towards the kitchen, she was stopped by a jolly, booming voice calling out her name.

"Ah, Elsa, there you are!"

She turned around to see a man whose grin was as wide as the rest of his pear-shaped body, moseying his way with arms outstretched. He wore a plum-colored coat with gold buttons and cufflinks, a black vest underneath, and a snow-white cravat around his neck. To the general public, the jolly, good-natured man was known as Mr. Michelsen, but Elsa knew him by another name.

She smiled her first genuine smile of the night as she exchanged a polite hug with the man, noticing his ginger hair had thinned a bit more since she saw him last. "Kai, it's so good to see you again! I don't understand though, shouldn't you be getting ready for the meeting?"

"Oh dear, wanting to get rid of me already?" Mr. Michelsen chuckled, "Now don't you worry about me, I came to find you to prepare you for the meeting. But before we get down to business, you are going to help me find those chocolates everyone's been raving about all night. I've kept an eye out for every caterer here, but those sneaky devils continue to elude me. The chocolates, mind you, not the caterers. Come along now, Elsa."

"Me? Why do you need my help?" Elsa asked.

"Well you planned this party, didn't you? That means there's no bigger expert on tonight's affairs than you!" he replied as he entered the crowd.

Elsa wanted to say that just because she planned everything out didn't mean she had eyes everywhere and knew where everything would be at all times, especially the chocolate, but Mr. Michelsen said he wanted to prepare her for the meeting, and she knew better than to question the CEO of Corona International, and her favorite former professor. Even if that meant losing precious time trying to find Hannah.

In her bleak time at North Mountain, she could count the things that made her close to happy on one hand, and one of those things was being in Mr. Michelsen's class. He taught with such passion and knowledge that only came from years being a CEO, and despite it not being allowed, he always picked favorites, and Elsa was one of them. She credited a lot of what she learned from Kai, and he was one of the driving forces for her to pursue a job at ArenCorp and progress as fast as she did.

So, although she was in a bit of a rush, she also wanted to savor the time she had with, for all intents and purposes, her mentor before they had their meeting. Besides, there was something in his tone that made her think that what he had to say was terribly important.

"Kai, you said you wanted to prepare me for the meeting, what does that mean? I've been going over the talking points so much I've pretty much got them memorized; and besides, this is going to be an informal meeting anyway, right?"

"Elsa, I assure you I will answer all of your questions as soon as we find those chocolates. You know me and my sweet tooth." Kai grinned at Elsa, telling her to trust him, and also that this quest would go faster if she helped him.

Elsa shrugged and placed her focus on both following Kai and finding the chocolate. In no time at all, she spotted a tray of chocolates coming out of the kitchen, unfortunately not being carried out by Hannah, it looked like she wouldn't be able to kill two birds with one stone. Nonetheless, she tapped her former professor on the shoulder and pointed him towards the tray, and he lit up and nodded at her approvingly.

After taking almost half the tray for themselves, the pair found a spot in the lobby to sit and eat the chocolate. Elsa ate two and watched Kai eat the rest, she did admit that they were delicious- and she had a hunch as to who made them- and wanted to eat more, but she also wanted answers as soon as possible.

She checked her phone, which was vibrating less now that they were away from the ballroom, and frowned, "Again, Kai, it's so good to see you again, but we have to be at the meeting in a few minutes. Whatever you need to prepare me for…"

Kai wiped his mouth with a handkerchief in his breast pocket and smiled assuredly at Elsa, "Yes, what kind of teacher would I be if I didn't prepare my star pupil the best that I possibly could?" He took a breath, though, as if this next part would be hard to say, "I'm afraid that I won't be at the meeting with you, Elsa. It's only for the Board of Directors and CEOs of both companies…and I am neither."

Elsa blinked, trying to register what she was just told, "I…I'm sorry, what? I'm confused."

"It's not going to be made official until tomorrow, but I'm stepping down from my responsibilities as CEO of Corona International. I want to spend more time being a professor at North Mountain, and more time with Gerda and the kids."

"I don't understand." Elsa said, wringing her hands and looking at him in shock, "You always said that you loved having the best of both worlds, being a CEO and a professor."

"I did, I've loved every bit of my time with the company, but I've always loved teaching more and at my age if I don't pursue it full-time now, then I'm probably not going to get the chance again. The Board wasn't entirely happy with the decision, but I convinced them well enough that this was what was best for the company going forward as well. You'll be meeting my replacement tonight."

"But…" Elsa stopped herself, not knowing what else to say. She felt, somehow, betrayed by her professor. Maybe not by Kai specifically, but from the familiar feeling of a constant in her life being taken away from her again. She wanted to protest, tell him that he couldn't step down, but then she thought about it from his perspective. He had already lived the life, he was CEO of a major company for years, he was on top of the world for longer than Elsa had been alive.

He had already established his legacy, and Elsa was trying to see this whole situation from her perspective, as someone who had just begun to build her legacy. She was in no position to judge.

"Well…I can't say I agree with this decision entirely…" Elsa finally continued, "…but it's your life, and you taught me pretty much everything I know. If you say that this is the right call, then I trust you."

Kai nodded, "I'm glad that you understand, Elsa. I wanted to let you know before the meeting so that you weren't blindsided."

"I appreciate that." Elsa had been blindsided enough for one lifetime.

He patted Elsa on the shoulder and grinned, "Now one more bit of advice for old time's sake, before I send you on your way."

Elsa's eyed him curiously, "What is it?"

He closed his eyes for a second and when he reopened them, his smile straightened out and he looked more grave and serious than before, "I have generally always been in agreement with the decisions that the Board of Directors have made, but the new CEO has made me…question that trust. I was in the room when they interviewed him, and on the surface, he was picture perfect, but I had this feeling about him that I couldn't shake, and it wasn't a good one. I fear that under his tutelage, Corona International may not be the same company you've been accustomed to."

She felt the weight of Kai's words fall into the pit of her stomach, and she matched his gaze as best as she could, waiting silently as he continued.

"Now I may be wrong- and for the sake of both Corona and Arendelle, I hope I am- but if I'm not? Then I fear that you're about to find yourself in the most daunting situation you've ever been in."

Elsa bit her tongue to keep from telling Kai that she was already there.

"Trust your instincts, Elsa, that is my final word of advice to you. You're smarter than you think you are, and it's your instincts that have gotten you this far. Above all else, trust your instincts."

She immediately took those words to heart, despite how obvious they may have seemed. Kai had never steered her wrong before, and her instincts right now were telling her that she was going to need this advice sooner rather than later. She hugged Kai one more time before standing up, "Thank you Kai, for everything."

Kai smiled, proud of his pupil, and stood up as well. "It has been my pleasure, Elsa. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going back into the party and sending my compliments to the chefs. Especially the one who made these delightful chocolates."

"I'm sure she'd appreciate that."

He started to walk back to the ballroom, but suddenly stopped and turned around, "Before I forget, do you still have that red ball I gave you on the first day of class?"

Elsa beamed, "Of course I do."

As the minutes ticked by, and Hannah continued to come back to the kitchen without any news, Anna was growing more and more restless. She had poured so much of her energy into her work, that she was now baking excess food because she had nothing else to do.

To say that her employees were worried about her would be an understatement, but she wouldn't stop working no matter how much they told her to take a break. There would be time for a break once she had finished her job, and so far, she wasn't even close.

Fatigue was kicking in pretty hard, however, despite how much she had tried to ignore it. Anna was getting slower and slower over time, and she was in danger of getting reckless; her vision was narrowing, and all she could hear was the white noise of the kitchen and the sound of her breathing.

She didn't even hear Hannah call out to her until the brunette was at her side shaking her shoulders.

"Anna! Did you hear me? Are you alright?" Hannah asked, visibly worried.

Anna shook her head and took a second to recollect herself, loosening the painful grip she had on her rolling pin. "Y-yeah, I'm doing just fine. Did you find her?"

"Yes, that's what I've been trying to tell you for like a minute now. Are you sure you're alright?"

"Where is she?" Anna asked, ignoring her question.

"She was at the refreshments table, but last time I checked it looked like she was on the move."

Anna wiped her hands on her apron and untied it, setting it down on the workstation, "Then I've gotta get to her before she gets too far."

"W-wait! Shouldn't you sit for a minute first? Maybe drink some water?" Hannah said while trying to keep up with Anna.

"Water's for chumps," Anna said dismissively. Before she opened the door, she turned around to give one final bit of instruction to her employees, "If I'm not back in four minutes, make sure to take the cupcakes out of the oven."

The walk to the conference room was a short one, but Elsa made it as long as possible in order to collect her thoughts. After the bombshell dropped on her by Kai, she needed a couple of moments to herself. Her initial plan was a total failure; the tracker wasn't any help at all, and the choice to follow Kai instead of Hannah kept her from confronting her only possible culprit.

Now, she had a big choice to make: Would she take the chance to try and find the blackmailer after the meeting? Or would she break off the partnership with Corona? And how would the new information she got from Kai play into her decision?

With no time at all until the meeting and a lot of people waiting for her right through this door, she remembered the last piece of information she got from Kai. Right now, her instincts were telling her that she had to keep playing the game. This particular attempt at gaining the upper hand failed, but she had to keep hope that she would get another chance soon.

As much as it pained Elsa to keep giving in to their commands, she didn't know what else to do, she was out of time. She took a deep breath and steeled herself, ready to be the bearer of more bad news, and opened the door to the conference room.

Only for it to be closed again.

She thought, for a second that someone closed it from the inside, but then she saw the arm in front of her keeping it shut. An arm belonging to a disheveled, out of breath redhead with flour on her cheeks.

"Elsa…" Anna said, scooting over to put all her weight on the door, "…there's something I have to tell you."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Three

Every single time Anna and Elsa ran into each other since the breakup, there'd always be this awkward silence between them before one of them got the conversation going. Whether it be because they were thinking back to what they used to be, lamenting over how they were now, or because one had caught the other off guard- causing both of them to be off guard- they could never start a conversation with each other immediately.

This time, however, was different.

"Anna, what the hell are you doing?" Elsa exclaimed, "Get away from the door!"

Elsa made a move to go after the doorknob, but Anna shifted again so that her body was right in front of it. "No!" she replied, a bit too loud. "I told you that there's something I need to tell you, and I'm pretty sure that it's more important than what you've got waiting behind this door."

Elsa scowled, thinking of ways to move Anna without resorting to physical contact, "I seriously doubt that."

"Yeah, well I don't seriously doubt that." Anna crossed her arms and let out an audible huff, tiny specks of flour came off her cheeks, "I have been looking- well, Hannah has been looking for you all night for me, and now that I've, erm, she's finally found you, and I've also found you, I need you to listen to me."

Elsa had no idea what she was going on about, and what information she had that was so important that she would keep her away from the conference room, but she knew that letting Anna ramble about stuff was a hundred times easier than trying to stop her. However, she also knew that coming in late, especially when they probably already saw her open the door, was not an option.

"Anna, whatever you have to say to me will have to wait after this meeting." she stated in her declarative, CEO tone, "Now if you could please-"

"Elsa, I know who's blackmailing you."

"-move out of the way so I…" Elsa stopped herself, what did Anna just say? The world slowed down and a massive wave of anxiousness overtook her. There were so many questions on her mind, so many things she wanted to respond with, but this conversation was not one that she was going to have with the Board of Directors only five feet away from her.

She grabbed Anna's arm a bit harder than she should have, lead her away from the door, shushed her protests and spoke in a quiet, demanding voice, "Start talking. Now."

The first thing Anna noticed was the dress, that damn dress.

After spending a little too much time trying to find Elsa in the ballroom, she successfully spotted her after rounding the corner to the conference room center, looking uneasy at the door. Or rather, her traitorous eyes saw Elsa's icy blue profile, bare back, toned legs, and long, braided hair looking uneasy at the door.

She hadn't seen her look this dolled up since the disaster that was their senior prom, and she figured that all Elsa wore nowadays were pantsuits and blazers.

If Anna was being honest, the first thing she wanted to say when she saw Elsa was something about the dress, but being pressed for time already- and not wanting to distract herself any more than she was- she settled for getting her attention right away. But Elsa, stubborn as she was, wouldn't let her say her piece and tried to move her.

Anna then got straight to the point, which allowed Elsa to successfully, and forcefully, move her.

Anna rubbed her sore arm and frowned, it was insane how strong her grip still was, "Well, you didn't have to pull me so hard."

"I said start talking," Elsa repeated, "How do you know about the blackmailer? Did Hannah tell you?"

"Yeah, she did, but I knew beforehand. Or rather, I had a suspicion after something that I overheard from- okay let me just start from the beginning here, I was taking inventory in my freezer-"

"Inventory?" Elsa hissed, "What does you taking inventory have to do with-"

"Elsa, oh my gosh, just let me finish." Anna said impatiently, "I was doing inventory when I heard someone come into the kitchen. I thought it was Hannah, so I opened the freezer door, but when I did I heard someone talking about some plan, and he mentioned you, and how you didn't suspect him at all, and it was all super eerie and super-villainy."

"I had no idea what to make of anything I heard, so I asked Hannah about it and that's when she told me everything. I didn't want to warn you about anything until I had the full story, and now that I do-"

"Who, Anna? Who did you see?" Elsa interrupted again.

"I was getting to that!" Anna knew why Elsa was in a hurry, but being stubborn and trying to strong-arm the conversation wasn't going to get her to the meeting faster. Besides, once she told her what she knew, the meeting would be the least of her worries.

Still, she missed when Elsa wasn't so hardheaded.

Anna looked around to make sure no one was near them and sighed, "It was Flynn, he's the one that's trying to blackmail you."

Elsa blinked, "I-I'm sorry, what?"

"The guy I saw that day, the guy that's been making your life miserable, it's Flynn."

"And you're confident about this?" Her eyes were narrowed, scanning Anna for any sign that she was lying. It made her strangely anxious, so she looked down to avoid her gaze, only for her traitorous eyes to land on Elsa's chest, the halter top revealing more than it probably should have.

"Yes, I'm confident," Anna replied, looking away and betraying that confidence right away. "I mean he didn't turn around, so I could only see like the back of him, but I'd know his voice anywhere."

"So, you're not 100% sure, then," Elsa stated accusingly.

"Not 100%, but close enough."

"But that doesn't make any sense. There's no way that it could be Flynn, he's the only one that's been helping me."

"Oh gee, thanks," Anna said, slightly offended, "And how exactly has he been helping you?"

"He's the one that I tasked in finding the blackmailer in the first place, without his help I never would have been able to narrow down the culprit to an employee at ArenCorp; and he gave me this gadget for my phone to help me track them down tonight."

"What, like a tracker? And you don't think he gave that to you just to get him off your scent even more?" Anna reasoned.

"It's been vibrating way less since I left the ballroom."

"Well if he's smart enough to supply you with stuff like that, don't you think he'd be smart enough to rig it to beep crazy on someone else?"

"N-no, that's…I mean there's no way it can be him." Elsa wrung her hands together, a sign which Anna knew meant that she was either anxious or having a hard time dealing with something.

Suddenly, her eyes, which had been looking down at the floor, shot up and glared right at Anna. "And how am I supposed to believe that it's not you who's been behind this the whole time? How do I know that you're not trying to throw me off by blaming Flynn?"

"Excuse me?!" Anna said, now extremely offended. "First of all, not only did I not know about any of this until a few days ago, but I also didn't have to warn you about Flynn at all. I could have let you figure this out on your own days, maybe weeks, from now, but I warned you right away. Or at least, like, a few days after I learned."

Anna jammed a finger in Elsa's direction to further drive in her points, "Second of all, do you hear how ridiculous you sound right now, accusing me? Like…I get that we've had our differences, and I know how much I hurt you, but I thought we were moving past that. Again, I could have told you nothing, and let you fend for yourself, but I didn't. I'm helping you, which is waaaaay more than you can say for a lot of people."

She thought maybe Elsa was trying to interrupt her, but she wasn't sure, besides she was on a roll right now and didn't want to stop. "And third of all, you know how awful I am with technology. I'm good with a mixer, an oven, a microwave, and a panini press, and if you think that in the years you didn't see me that I got any better with computers and stuff, then you are sorely mistaken, missy. So, if it actually was me that was blackmailing you, that stupid tracker of yours would be vibrating so much, your phone would probably explode. That or it wouldn't even work in the first place because, again, I don't know how to work technology!"

"So, stop trying to blame me on your problems, and take a chance and believe me for once. Screw Flynn, the only people that are actually helping you right now are me and Hannah. So, you can either believe me, er, us, and finally get to the bottom of this, or you can dismiss everything I've just said, go to your meeting, and continue to do this all by yourself. Gosh, you're so stubborn."

Anna wanted to stop there, she had ranted enough for a lifetime and had gotten her point across pretty well, but there was something in Elsa's expression that made her want to say just a little bit more. It was a mix of sadness, hopelessness, and…guilt? No, it probably wasn't guilt, she was probably just projecting that emotion from herself on to Elsa.

Wanting to do damage control now, she sighed, "Okay, that last part was a little out of line, and I'm sorry. What I meant to say was…look, I meant what I said last week. I want us to have a working relationship, if we can't forgive and forget everything that happened in the past, then we have to at least fix what we can in the present, and that starts with trust. So, please, Elsa, trust me when I say that I'm right about this; and that I have no other intention here but to help."

And then, for the first time since they had broken up, Anna made intentional physical contact and touched Elsa's arm.

She didn't mean to do it, it was instinctual, and a way for her to further reassure Elsa; because despite all that had happened between them, Anna still felt some compassion for her.

Elsa didn't pull away, or glare at Anna, she just stared at the hand on her arm, and they stood in silence for longer than they both had time for. Ironically, Anna was now wishing that Elsa would say something, because as soon as fingers touched skin, she felt…something. She didn't know what it was, it didn't feel good or bad, but it was something.

The feeling trailed down her fingertips, and along her arm, and shoulder, and Anna wanted Elsa to speak so that it didn't go anywhere else.

Finally, Elsa shrugged off the arm, and said softly, "I have to go." before walking away.

Anna was sure that she was going back into the conference room, as bad an idea as that was, but instead she just kept walking in the direction of the lobby.

She had to go that way too, but knew that leaving right after Elsa would make her look like she was following her, and she figured that Elsa needed her space. After waiting another minute, Anna let out a breath she didn't know she was holding, and walked away.

Anna's revelation to Elsa was like a freight truck, and she was the deer caught in the headlights.

The new information she got put a massive wrinkle in her plans, and unraveled everything that she thought she knew about her situation. Flynn was the one behind all this? She couldn't believe it, or rather she didn't want to, if it meant that someone had once again betrayed her trust and made her look like a fool.

As Anna continued talking, however, the more it made sense. If Flynn was the guy behind all this, he would certainly have the expertise needed to throw Elsa off his trail, and send her on a wild goose chase, hunting down fake leads while he continued to exploit her.

And Elsa knew that Anna could be right, and she could have said that, but instead she went ahead and accused her, because her sheer stubbornness when it came dealing with anything Anna wouldn't let her admit as much.

That obviously set Anna off, and Elsa was surprised at just how many words she had to say to her. She tried to interject a few times, but every time, Anna retook the reins on the conversation.

The last time she tried to interject was to tell Anna that she appreciated the help, but she needed to go to her meeting and then figure out what to do herself. That plan went out the window when Anna continued talking, and pretty much read her mind, spitting out the words that Elsa was thinking, and making her realize that her plan was ridiculous, and that she was too stubborn for her own good.

It was a bitter, harsh pill to swallow, and there was no way she'd say it out loud, but it was true.

Elsa, then, waited to let Anna know that she, begrudgingly, appreciated the help and would find a way to bring Flynn down, but Anna. Kept. Talking.

They weren't scathing, reality-altering words this time, though, they were two words that she wanted to hear for so long, and never thought she would: "I'm sorry."

Not only that, but Anna asked her to trust her, and then touched her arm.

And yes, maybe she had initiated contact before when she roughly grabbed her, but this time was different. This time…she didn't know what it was, and she didn't know how she felt about it.

All she knew was she had to get out of there.

Instead of saying all the professional words that she had planned on saying, however, all Elsa could say was "I have to go."

Now, she found herself walking, but she didn't know where. Going to the meeting right now, late and not in the right mindset, would be a terrible idea; but going back to the ballroom and having to talk to all those people again was also a terrible idea.

She needed to find someplace to breathe and recollect her thoughts. After walking into the lobby, she found the nearest restroom- as extravagant as the rest of the hotel, the sinks had marble countertops and beautiful floral arrangements- ensured that it was empty, and took a breath.

First things first, she believed that Flynn was the one behind this, at the very least him being a suspect had too much basis to be more than just coincidence. She needed to find a way to confront him and take him down, and if she could do it before he released the article, then that was just icing on the cake.

Second, she knew that not showing up to the meeting would put her in hot water with the Board of Directors, if her questionable choices as of late hadn't already done that. She considered, for a second, going back and apologizing profusely for being late, but she'd rather do that after tonight was over.

Third, what was she going to do about Anna? What was their relationship now?

She shook her head, that was also a problem for another time, and with her life a complicated mess already, she didn't want to make it even more complicated before solving her other problems. Besides, this particular problem was one she'd gladly wait a long time to solve.

Outing Flynn, then, was priority number one, but she couldn't just accuse him based on pure speculation. She needed proof to throw in his face, to let him know once and for all that this game was over. How was she going to do that?

Racking her mind for an answer, she tried to think of everything she knew about Flynn. If she could think like him, then maybe she could catch him off guard.

Flynn was…confident, she knew that for sure. He was confident that the tracker would work, and that his "surveillance work" would help him find the blackmailer. This was a trait he shared with the blackmailer, although arrogance would have been a better way to describe it. Every text he sent to Elsa was fraught with arrogance, a sickeningly smug attitude.

He was also smart, good with technology. Masquerading as an entirely different person, changing up their texting style and personality, was clever, Elsa hated to admit. Although if he was so smart, why would he intentionally narrow down the range of suspects to people in a company that he worked at?

Maybe Elsa was right, and he was working for someone this whole time.

Perhaps the most frightening trait that the two shared was that they were both able to slip into any situation unseen. Flynn showed that pretty well at the festival, letting the Southern Isles truck veer off the festival grounds without anyone batting an eye in his direction, and the blackmailer had the pictures to prove their ability to stay in the shadows.

It was risky to even have the conversation that she had with Anna earlier. For all she knew, even though she made sure that they weren't being watched, Flynn was lurking right around the corner, listening in.

This was all the information that Elsa had to work with, but it was enough, it had to be. If she was going to get proof, she needed to play to her own strengths as well, and negate Flynn's. She had to be smarter than him, bring him into the light so that there was nowhere to hide, and hopefully make him feel as helpless as she had been forced to feel.



That's it, Elsa knew exactly how to get the proof she needed. She rushed out of the restroom, looked around again to ensure that no one was in earshot, and pulled out her phone. There was something she needed to do first, something she probably should have done from the beginning.

"Hi, APD? This is Elsa Arendelle, I'd like to report someone attempting to blackmail me."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Four

One of the most amazing things about living in Arendelle was that you could look in any direction, and you would be greeted with a picture-perfect sight.

From the bustling business sector of the downtown area to the posh, high-class western side, to the docks in East Arendelle, and all the way to the forests in the north, Arendelle seemed to have a little something for everyone.

It was perfect, almost fairy-tale perfect, in a way.

And as Elsa looked out from the Grand Arendelle Hotel's entrance- a brightly lit half-circle with marble arches and a neatly-kept curb where cars could unload- she couldn't help but stare in awe once again realizing that this was the city that she was in charge of.

Maybe she hadn't had a hand in all of the development- the company itself, while still young, predated her by decades- but she had taken on the mantle that every ArenCorp CEO had before her: the responsibility to ensure that everywhere that anyone looked, they felt that same awe. Every decision she made shaped how Arendelle looked today, tomorrow, and every day until she passed the torch to someone else. Which, hopefully, wouldn't be for a long time.

To be a CEO was her dream since high school, and to be the CEO of ArenCorp had been her dream since college. Despite the setbacks, she was, finally, living her dream.

And if this plan didn't work, she could kiss that dream goodbye.

She fixed her eyes on the loading dock, not daring to look back at the entrance because it would seem too suspicious. It was a quiet night- she only saw one car unload and the family make their way into the hotel- and she stood with her hands behind her back, in the shadows of one of the arches, feigning confidence.

Finally, after what felt like hours, her patience was rewarded.

"I got your text, so you finally found the person behind all this?"

Elsa turned her head slightly, the only acknowledgment that she heard the person behind her. Flynn was here, and the second step of her plan could finally commence.

"Yes, I did.", she replied coldly.

"Well, who is it?" Flynn said eagerly, hiding any sort of surprise or anxiousness, "I know I said I had to bow out of the investigation, but I can't help but be curious to see how this all ends."

She took a pause for dramatic effect, "I suppose you do deserve to know who it is." She hoped that he heard the disdain in the word "deserve".

"Er, well I don't know if 'deserve' is the right word, but…" Flynn paused, finally sensing the change in the air, the shifting of the tide, the tables turning, "Ms. Andersen…is everything okay?"

Just hearing him say her name made Elsa wince, it brought back memories of every demeaning, self-righteous text she ever got from him. She turned around, "How about you drop the act, Flynn?"

"I-I'm sorry?"

Elsa took a step forward, the darkness no longer masking the loathing on her face, "I know it's you."

"Excuse me?!"

"You almost had me there for a second, playing the part of my savior and convincing me to keep working with you until you found out who my 'blackmailer' was. It was the perfect plan to take you off the list of suspects and have an all-access pass into my private life."

Flynn put his hands up defensively and stepped back, "Ms. Andersen, I swear I have no idea what you're talking about."

Elsa advanced, "It's in your best interests, Flynn, to not play dumb."

"I'm not playing dumb, all I've been doing this whole time was trying to help you. You have to believe me, I'm innocent."

For a second, Elsa did almost believe him. Maybe it was the hurt look on his face, or the sinking feeling that she may have been wrong about this whole thing, but it caused her to almost let her guard down.


"So, your idea of helping was to give me a faulty tracker? Or was it forcing me to fire Sheila? Or maybe it was making me wear this crass dress for your sick pleasure? Oh, it definitely sounds like you've been helping me very well."

"I-I don't-"

"I said drop the act." Elsa hissed as she stepped right in front of Flynn, close enough that she could see the anxiousness in his eyes from being exposed. Her fists were clenched at her side, and she glared him down like the worm he was. "The game's over, Flynn. You played all your cards, and you still couldn't get the job done. Now it's my turn, and believe me, there's going to be hell to pay."

Flynn shrunk under her gaze, hands still up, failing to keep her away. "I…" he started, but then trailed off.

With a sigh, he let his hands drop and closed his eyes, and when he reopened them, the look of innocence was replaced by a malevolent grin, the personification of his text messages throughout these past few weeks. And yet there was something else too: defeat. It was faint, but still there. He knew he had lost, but he would still take any opportunity Elsa gave him to squirm out of here.

"I wouldn't say that I couldn't get the job done. But hey, what finally gave me away?"

Anna sat, splayed out on a chair, with a rag on her face. After returning from her mission to find Elsa, she went straight to work again in the kitchen, barking out orders left and right to distract herself from everything that had happened. She expected the party to wind down soon, but apparently these snooty, rich people loved staying at hotel ballrooms way past curfew. And they also loved to eat, especially dessert.

Finally, after an eternity, the party had died down enough that she could take a much-deserved break.

Anna told her employees to go take a break before they needed to clean everything up, and they decided to spend that break in the ballroom, enjoying the fruits of their labor. They urged her to go with them, but she declined. She needed a moment to herself, to relax, and breathe, and sort through her thoughts.

And while there were many, the only ones she could really focus on were about Elsa.

On the walk back, she didn't see her in the ballroom, and though she didn't actively look for her, Anna was still curious as to where she ended up going.

Hopefully, Elsa went to confront Flynn and this thing would end overnight, putting not just Elsa's, but both their lives back on track. However, there was also the big chance that she didn't believe her, that this mess would continue on for longer than it should have. Anna didn't want to think about that, though, Elsa was smarter than that. She hoped.

Best case scenario, Elsa had cornered Flynn somewhere in the hotel, flanked by big, burly policemen ready to escort him to their car. She would use her super CEO powers of keeping a straight face and using big words to intimidate him, and he would break down and admit to everything. And then Elsa would have this big grin on her face as she said some witty one-liner and sashayed away, the tail of her dress tailing her as the painted-on fabric on her hips accented every one of her steps.

Man, she really needed to stop thinking about that dress.

Anna reasoned that accursed gown was the reason why there was electricity- for lack of a better word- when she touched Elsa's arm. Attractive women in attractive clothing always made her a little weak in the knees, there was nothing new about that. But, the feeling came from touching her ex-girlfriend, whom she had a nasty breakup and fallout with, so…clearly there were still some questions she needed to ask herself.

And the biggest question was this: How did she feel about Elsa now?

Yeah, she told herself that helping Elsa by telling her about Flynn was to save her own job- by subsequently saving Elsa's- but…she couldn't deny that there was an underlying motivation. It was something she tried to deny, mostly because she had bigger matters to attend to, but now that the bigger matter had been attended to, there was nothing stopping her from, well, thinking.

How did she feel about Elsa?

Before she could get to work jumping down that rabbit hole, however, she felt the rag lift off her face, replaced by the upside-down expression of an equally tired brunette.

"You talk to Elsa?"

Anna nodded, a hard thing to do with her head tilted back across the chair and Hannah's face being inches away. She straightened up and flipped herself around so she was resting forward on the back of the chair. "It wasn't easy, and I don't know if I fully convinced her or not, but I talked to her."

"How'd it go?" Hannah asked as she lifted herself on a counter.

"Could have been better, but it also could have been worse. Honestly, that was probably the least awkward, most civil conversation we've had since the breakup." She decided not to tell Hannah about the arm touch, figuring that it wasn't important. Right now, anyway.

"Elsa being civil," Hannah scoffed, "I'll believe it when I see it."

For some reason, that snide comment didn't sit right with Anna, "Wow, you really don't like her, do you?"

Hannah crossed her arms and frowned, "I don't know…I mean she was always bossy and rude, and I mean I could have forgiven that seeing as she's running like this huge, freaking company, but at the same time she didn't have to take out all her frustrations on me, you know?"

"But from what you told me about her, about who she used to be…it seems a little believable that she didn't use to be, well, such a bitch. Like maybe that Elsa's still there, but I never saw that side because she never let me see it. Again, I don't know- maybe if we ended things on better terms…"

Hannah straightened up a little, not realizing her shoulders had slouched, "But if your last memory of someone is a bad one, it really messes up how you remember them. You know what I mean?"

"Yeah, I do," Anna replied, remembering how anxious she felt when she first saw Elsa inside her bakery.

There was a sadness on Hannah's face that became more apparent the longer she talked, and the brunette could probably sense it because she shook her head and hastily changed the subject, "What did Elsa say when you told her about Flynn?"

Anna bit her lip, "Well…at first she didn't believe me, and then she tried to reason that Flynn was just trying to help her, and then she actually accused me of blackmailing her, so that was fun. It was a super productive conversation."

"What?! That's insane!"

"No it's okay cause I told her off, and then I convinced her that Flynn had just been trying to keep her off his trail the whole time. Afterward though, she just sorta walked away and that was that. Hopefully she believed me…"

"Wait, so you don't even know if she believed you?" Hannah stared at her in disbelief, "Anna, that was half of the plan!"

"I know, and I tried to make her believe me but…" Anna paused, remembering the touch, "…but she left before I could do any more convincing."

"Wait, what was that pause?"

"Hmm? What pause?"

"You know what pause." Hannah hopped off the counter and bent down to stare directly into Anna's soul, "Something else happened between you guys, didn't it? Something that kept you from doing the other fifty percent of your job."

Anna pursed her lips and tried to look at everywhere that wasn't Hannah, she didn't want to tell her friend about the touch, and the subsequent "electricity" from it, reasoning that it would be too big a of a thread to unravel right now.

"Spill it, Anna Dawson."

Instead of spilling it, Anna used a tactic that had been used on her recently and drastically changed the subject. "Have you told Rapunzel anything?"

Hannah leered at her, "Told her what?" She was going along with the subject change for now, but Anna suspected that it would be a topic of discussion in the near future. The very near future.

"You know, about Flynn."

"I think you're overestimating how close me and your roommate are."

"So…you haven't told her anything, then?"

Hannah shook her head, still not amused at her friend dodging her questions.

Anna felt momentarily relieved, this was an actual, genuine worry of hers once she figured out what Flynn had been up to. There was no telling how Rapunzel would react, and Anna wanted to make sure the timing was right before dropping the bombshell on her best friend that her boyfriend was secretly trying to sabotage her ex-girlfriend and her Fortune 500 company.

…why was Anna's life so complicated?

She let out a grateful sigh, trying not to accidentally blow any air into Hannah's still-too-close face, "That's good, I haven't had a chance to tell her yet."

"Tell me what?"


The redhead froze, forcing her head to turn towards the source of the question, hoping that it was anyone but who she thought it was.

Unfortunately, there Rapunzel stood in front of the kitchen door, looking puzzled at the pair, who were in a precarious situation themselves: Anna sitting in a chair looking like she'd rather be anywhere else, and Hannah looming right above her demanding an answer to a swept-aside question.

"Rapunzel, hey…" Anna said, or rather those were the only words that successfully jumbled out of her mouth.

"Anna, what's going on here?"

The redhead looked at Hannah, helpless, and she thankfully got the message and let her get out of the chair. "N-nothing, we were just- just messing around. You know how stressful it is in the kitchen, gotta find some ways to keep you sane, haha…ha…"

Rapunzel looked over Anna's shoulder, and then back at Anna, confused, "I mean, I don't believe that at all, but whatever. Anyway, what do you have to tell me?"

Anna fiddled with her matted ponytail. "I have to tell you something?", she asked, feigning innocence.

"Uh, yeah, I think you do."

"I don't think that's true."

Rapunzel let out an exasperated groan, "Anna, you called me, Rapunzel. You don't call me by my full name unless something's up. Plus, I literally just heard you say that you 'haven't had a chance to tell me yet'. Well I'm here now, so whatever you have to say to me, just say it."

Anna was cornered, she had to decide what to do quickly, and she did.

There wasn't much sense in keeping up this charade any longer. Rapunzel had overheard her, and this was a "perfect" time as any to finally tell the truth. It wasn't going to be easy, though, and again there was no telling how her best friend would react, but Anna couldn't just keep her in the dark like this.

"Alright…" Anna said solemnly, "…but I think you're gonna want to sit down for this."

Elsa grinned, "I don't know if you screwed up, or just got cocky, but someone overheard you while you were discussing your 'master plan.'"

Flynn let out a chuckle, "Yeah? Who was it?"

"Do you really think I'm going to tell you?"

"Fair enough." He shrugged, "Well you've caught me, Ms. Andersen, I'm the one that's been blackmailing you this whole time. Honestly, I thought you would have caught on to me a long time ago."

Elsa peered at him suspiciously, this was getting to be a bit too easy. "Really? You're giving up just like that? You're not even going to try and convince me you're innocent?"

"I mean I tried, but what's the use? You've said so yourself, the game's over, and I've played all my cards. There's nothing left to do but accept my fate." He looked up as if he remembered something, and then looked back at Elsa, the grin on his face growing even more sly than before, "So, what happens now?"

She still didn't like this, but everything was still going according to plan, so she didn't want to change things up right away. "What happens now is the police search your desk, come here to arrest you, and I finally get rid of your smug, arrogant ass forever."

"Arrest me?" Flynn laughed, "With what evidence? Just because you own this city doesn't mean you're going to abuse your power to put me away without due process."

Elsa backed away slightly and folded her arms. He did have a point, she didn't want to be known as that kind of CEO, the one who uses their power for personal gain, despite the service they could be doing for the community. Luckily, she wouldn't have to. "It's my building that they're searching, and I've already given them permission to do so. And besides, are you saying they're not going to find any proof of your wrongdoings at your desk?"

"Come on Elsa, you know better than anyone that I'm smarter than I look."

"Not smart enough, apparently," Elsa muttered, but still loud enough for Flynn to hear.

"Excuse me?" he said, visibly amused at Elsa's comment. "Let me get this straight: You're arresting me with zero proof and a hundred percent speculation, your only possible form of proof is pure hearsay, and you're having my desk checked by the police on the slight possibility that you'll find the evidence you need there. And you brought me out here, what, so you could gloat? Over a job that's not even finished?"

Flynn jabbed a finger towards Elsa, "When I got your message, I had this feeling that you finally figured out it was me, and I still came out here because I knew you would have absolutely nothing on me. I've had backup plans to my backup plans since day one, I've been twenty steps ahead of you this whole time." He took a second to let out another ridiculous laugh and run his fingers through his hair, "So, when the police come, and they can't arrest me because you've supplied them with a whole lot of nothing, I'm going to get out of here scotch free, knowing that not only did I do my job, but I got away clean."

With a disgusting amount of confidence, he sauntered over to Elsa, matching her folded-arm frown with his own arms folded and a smile from ear to ear, "You're right, Elsa, the game is over, and I've won."

Elsa didn't know how Flynn wanted her to react to his closing monologue. Maybe he wanted her to cower in fear, regret her decision to even bring him out here; or maybe he wanted her to beg for forgiveness, strike some sort of deal to put this all behind them; or maybe he wanted her to be her usual, stubborn self and storm off, leaving her scathing words unsaid, and letting him get the last laugh.

But Elsa didn't do any of that, because Flynn had played right into her trap.

Her lips curled up into a sly grin of her own, and she gestured to someone in the shadows. "Are you sure about that?"

Flynn's face immediately dropped as he looked over to where Elsa was gesturing, and from the bushes and into the light emerged her driver, Marshall, holding her phone in his hand. "Wh-what is this?", Flynn said confused.

Marshall handed Elsa her phone and stood menacingly silent behind her. She waved the phone in front of her ex-blackmailer victoriously, "You were right, I didn't have any proof that you were the one behind all this, until now. How's it feel to be the one being spied on?"

Although his mouth was open, Flynn couldn't respond; but his eyes told Elsa that she had him right where she wanted him. Now, it was time for a little monologue of her own.

"I had to figure out how to put you away without abusing my power and give the police an actual basis to arrest you. I couldn't give them the text messages you sent because you were too 'clever' and made sure to mask your number, and even though I knew the police could probably find a way to trace it back to you eventually, I was running out of time and didn't want to take that chance. So, I needed to get you to give me the proof I needed. Good thing you like to talk so much or else this plan might not have worked."

"Y-you can't do this." Flynn finally eked out.

"I can't? Have you forgotten who you're talking to?" Elsa said, her tone and posture shifting back into the authoritative businesswoman that she was, the one she had forgotten to be for far too long. "I am Elsa Andersen, CEO of ArenCorp, and, for at least the next few minutes, your boss. If you thought I would show you mercy for everything you've done, you are gravely mistaken. And whoever you're working for, when they contact you as you're rotting away in your jail cell, tell them I'm coming for them too."

Flashes of red and blue shone across Flynn's petrified face, and sirens pierced the quiet of the night. Elsa smiled, "Just in time. Excuse me for a second as I greet Officer Hudson and give him your confession. When we come back, I want you turned around with your hands behind your head, it makes it easier for him to put the cuffs on."

The police car stopped a few feet away from them, the only other witnesses to this chilling event, the hotel staff at the docking bay, whispered to each other trying to make sense of what was going on. Elsa took a step towards the officer, stopped, and turned around. There was something she had to do first, one last shot that she had to get in.

Walking back up to Flynn- still frozen and in shock- she whispered right into his ear, "You have ten seconds to comply, Mr. Rider."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Five


Elsa read and reread the headline, already knowing the article by heart. It was the same one that had been sent to her weeks before, albeit with new paragraphs outlining the "unbecoming" acts she'd committed since that day.

She should have expected Flynn to have one last trick up his sleeve, should have expected that even if he had gotten his possessions revoked and been sent straight to the prison upstate- the police had been quick to find condemning evidence at his apartment- this would still happen.

His employer must have found out about his imprisonment, and sent out the article themselves a few days after the hotel incident; A parting middle finger for her foiling their plot.

The backlash from the article was slow at first as major news outlets tried to write this off as just another nutjob or scorned businessperson trying to discredit the young CEO, but the evidence was too damning against Elsa and the narrative changed in a flash.

Her phone rang every minute she was in her office- she cursed the fact that she didn't have a new assistant yet to screen the calls- and her email was flooded with messages from employees, business partners, and random citizens alike (one of the last few sentences in the article gave out her personal email address to be used for any "comments, questions, or concerns"). She barely escaped the mass of news personnel clogging up the entrance of ArenCorp, thankfully Marshall kept the brunt of them at bay as she got into her car.

As he drove, Elsa took some much-needed time to breathe, get her head on straight, and when she wasn't looking at the article, she sifted through the only email she chose to read: from the Board of Directors. Unsurprisingly, it wasn't a good one.

It was just like the old song said: Elsa was riding high in April, and shot down in May.

She thought she could put this craziness all behind her after finally outing Flynn, but it seemed as if the craziness was just beginning. Her life was about to be turned upside down, more than it already had been.

"Where are we headed?" her faithful driver said, sneering at the paparazzi that got too close.

At first, she was going to say just to take her home, but there would no doubt be cameras there too. Plus, moping around with a bottle of whiskey didn't sound like such a good idea right now.

There was one place she could go, but probably shouldn't…

Amidst all the insanity there was, regrettably, one thing that had helped to turn the tides in her favor for a moment. Or rather, one person- technically two, but only one that had personally helped her. Elsa had access to the employee database, and could easily find out her home address. But that would have been an invasion of privacy, she reasoned.

Besides, there was nowhere else to go. And the guilt gnawing at her insides told her that, at the very least, she could give Anna props for helping her.

She easily found the address in the database and told Marshall where to go, bracing herself the entire drive over and trying to figure out exactly what to say.

"You sure it's supposed to be bubbling this much?", Anna asked, eyeing the pot of pasta wearily.

Hannah eyed her in disbelief, whilst still stirring a pan of ground beef, "…yes? Honestly, how can you be such a prodigy at baking, but can't make something as simple as spaghetti?"

Anna placed the lid back on the pot and pouted, "Just cause you're good at making one kind of food doesn't mean you're good at making every kind of food. That's food racism…that's foodcism."

Hannah rolled her eyes, "Just go check on Rapunzel, won't you?"

Anna stuck her tongue out at Hannah and left the kitchen, not needing to be asked twice to check on her best friend. After all, they were making this meal for her.

The news that her boyfriend was the perpetrator of espionage and blackmailing caused Rapunzel to shuffle through almost all the stages of the grief, three of them occurring on the very night she found out.

First came the shock as she almost fell back on to the folding chair after refusing to sit down when Anna told her to. And then the denial came when she told Anna that none of this made any sense, that Flynn didn't have a single bad bone in his body, and that maybe Anna had just misheard him- but Anna kept insisting that she was right about this. So then came the anger.

Rapunzel's face grew almost redder than Anna's hair as she lashed out and started throwing around kitchen supplies off the tables, kicking the chair away, and continuing to state how this didn't make any sense. Anna finally got her to listen to reason, and consider that maybe she was right, which then caused Rapunzel to fuel all her anger towards Flynn. Anna had to physically restrain Rapunzel from leaving and telling herself that this wasn't her fault, which caused the blonde to break down and cry into her best friend's arms.

So, the party didn't end well for anybody.

A few days later, Anna poured all her effort into what she called a "Rapunzel Day". With the help of Hannah, the two girls worked together to perform the monumental task of getting her out of bed, and took her to her favorite places around the city. From ice cream parlors, to book stores, to the snooty fashion district, they bought Rapunzel whatever she wanted and made sure to shower her with as much encouragement and praise as they could.

Throughout the whole day, Rapunzel cracked maybe two smiles.

The day wasn't over yet, though, and after deciding against buying lunch, the trio went back to the apartment to let Hannah make what she called the "world's greatest spaghetti." Hyperbole aside, it did look good and smelled even better, like an Italian restaurant- but an authentic one, without unlimited breadsticks. Anna couldn't wait to try some after making sure that Rapunzel was, for lack of a better word, "okay".

Anna gently knocked on her door three times before peering inside. Rapunzel was currently at her desk, brooding over a framed picture in her lap. Not a good sign.

"Heeeey 'Zel, how are you holding up?", Anna asked as she took two cautious steps inside.

Rapunzel turned and gave her third smile of the day, this one more pained than the last ones. She lifted up the picture, a selfie of her and Flynn at the festival, near the entrance. "It's the only one of us I have left."

Anna knelt down next to Rapunzel, her eyes were puffy and red, "What happened to the rest?"

"If they haven't been deleted off my phone, then they're probably in the trash somewhere. But this one…", she rubbed her thumb over Flynn's face, his smile darkened from the dimness of the room, "…I just can't, Anna."

"You want me to? I could burn it, or throw it off a bridge, or blow it up." Anna looked at the portrait again, noticing the water spots around the glass. "O-or you know…whatever makes you feel better."

Rapunzel shook her head, "I…appreciate everything that you've already done, you and Hannah, to make me feel better about all this, but…I just need some more time, okay? I hadn't liked someone as much as Flynn in a long time and figuring out that he wasn't who he said he was…it's…I mean there's so much I have to take in."

"I understand." Anna put a hand on her shoulder, "But I'm here for you if you need anything. Even if it's my left arm, I'd cut it off in a heartbeat. …even though that sounds super painful."

Rapunzel let out a pained laugh and took one last, somber glance at the portrait before setting it down on the desk and wrapping her arms around Anna's waist. "I love you. You know that, right?"

Anna reciprocated the hug, wrapping one hand around Rapunzel and stroking her long, blonde hair with the other. The angle was weird, but there was no way she was going to move just yet, not after Rapunzel had given her the first sign in days that she would pull through.

"I love you too," she said warmly. "Now off your butt madame, lunch is almost ready."

"I know, I can smell it from here," Rapunzel replied, her face buried into Anna's shoulder. The way she said it, although muffled, still told Anna that she was at least a little eager to try stomaching food that wasn't frozen and at least partially nutritious. "Just gimme a couple of minutes, okay?"


The two stayed in their embrace for a little bit longer before Rapunzel let go and Anna left the room, closing the door behind her. When she returned to the kitchen, Hannah was pouring the tomato sauce into the pan, the red liquid sizzled as it came in contact with the metal surface. "How's she holding up?" Hannah asked.

"Better." Anna replied confidently, "She's still got a ways to go, but she'll be back on her feet in no time. Just give her a couple of minutes to come out here."

"Well, that's good to hear. I've been through my share of breakups before, but never something like this. Can't imagine what must be going through her head."

Anna sat down at the counter, propping her elbows up and placing her head on her knuckles, "Yeah…me neither. I wish I could do more, you know?"

"Oh, come on Anna, I think that given the circumstances…" Hannah reached over to turn the heat off the stovetop, placed a lid on the saucepan, and walked over to Anna. "…I'd say you've done a hell of a lot already."

"Yeah, but like…I could do more for her. I mean I was the one that dropped this bombshell on her, I should be the one picking up the pieces, making sure that she's super-duper, 100 percent okay. Right now, it just seems like she's at 60 percent, and only doing…duper."

"Hey, duper is better than nothing," Hannah said, humoring Anna by using her second made-up word of the day. "And 60 percent is still a passing grade."

"Yeah, but-"

She was interrupted by two hands grasping each side of her head, and a pouting brunette staring at her disapprovingly. "Anna Dawson, you have gone above and beyond the duties of a normal person. You've been a great friend to Rapunzel, hell you've been an amazing friend. There's only so much you can do; the rest is up to her. So stop dwelling on the things you can't change, remember what you've already done, and just…keep being you. Sweet, kind, downright amazing you. Okay?"

This was a surprise, but a welcome one. Hannah had never been this, well, nice to her.

That wasn't to say that she wasn't nice all the time, it was just that her friend had always been very outspoken and blunt with her words, and her demeanor made her look like she was pissed off all the time. The opinions she had for people ranged from overly negative to barely neutral. This was the first time she had spoken about anyone without proverbial smoke coming out of her ears.

And it felt good.

Before she could respond, however, they were interrupted by someone knocking at the front door.

"Are you expecting anybody?" Anna asked.

Hannah pulled away and shrugged, "Hey, it's your apartment."

"Right…" Anna got off the chair and walked towards the door. The only people that knew where she lived were already inside. Except for her mom, but she promised to give Anna a heads-up before she visited.

Worst case scenario, it was some sort of assassin from a rival bakery sent to kill her; best-case scenario, it was a pizza delivery guy who got the wrong address and didn't care enough to go to the right one. Middle case scenario, it was a door-to-door salesman trying to sell them a vacuum or something. Hopefully they'd do a demonstration, it had been too long since she'd vacuumed the floor. With each step, her mind shuffled through every possible scenario to ready herself for anything.

But she wasn't ready for who was actually at the door.

"Ah, I was uh…hoping to get the address right the first time around. And I did. So, um…hi."

After all the rehearsing and brainstorming, and constant editing as she typed out the words on her phone, this was the opening line Elsa decided to go with. And in the process of putting words into sentences and then saying them through her mouth, she managed to make herself just as confused as Anna was, standing in the doorway.

Elsa cleared her throat. "Right before you say anything…", she continued, even though Anna looked too stunned to speak anyway, "…there are some things that I, ahem, need to say- to get off my chest, if you will. And before you say anything, I just wanted to, you know, get them off. The words, I mean."

This was going worse than she expected. From somewhere in the apartment shouted an all-too-familiar voice. "Anna, who's at the door?"

Anna looked behind her, and then back at Elsa, and then back behind her, the panic on her face grew with each passing second as words continued to fail her. It reminded Elsa of their 10th grade English class, when Anna was chosen to give an impromptu speech on mustaches; the similarities only grew when Anna gave her, for just a split second, that wide-eyed "Please save me" look.

"Anna didn't you hear me, I said who's at…" Hannah trailed off as she decided to see for herself what the silence was all about, and seeing this uncomfortable situation unfold. "Elsa? Anna, what's she doing here?"

Anna gestured towards everywhere, but mostly back and forth from Hannah to Elsa, making stammering noises with her mouth, before throwing her hands up in defeat.

Knowing that nothing would get solved until she cleared up the confusion, Elsa took the reins back in this now three-way conversation. And maybe having Hannah here should have made her task harder, but it actually made it easier. "Oh good, you're here too, Hannah, that means I can talk to both of you. I mean I-I kind of need to say like a few different things, but the general gist of both conversations is fairly the same, and…"

Elsa took a breath, "Okay, let me just start over."

The air shifted and the mood changed when Elsa sighed and looked back at Anna. It was the same face she had when Elsa had to make an impromptu speech about handshakes in their 10th grade English class. Mrs. Jefferson loved assigning impromptu speeches.

But instead of that straight look of resolution mixed with a hint of intimidation- the default expression of Elsa Andersen- being aimed at a bunch of clueless sophomores, it was aimed right at a clueless Anna. She had a feeling, though, that she would get a clue very soon.

"What you did for me- well, what you both did for me- at the party was…well you didn't have to do it. I know I haven't exactly been the easiest person to be around recently…"

Hannah scoffed, "Recently?"

Anna turned around, frowning at the brunette, even though she was thinking the same thing, she still wanted to hear Elsa out. When she turned back around, Elsa was nodding and acknowledging that the comment was painfully accurate.

"I deserve that, but still you decided to help me. And because of that, I was able to confront Flynn and put this whole thing behind me. Well, mostly behind me, there are still some things I need to deal with, but I'll get to that. The company's safe now because of what you two uncovered, and you did me a really big favor, even though I'm not exactly at the top of either of your 'Favorite Persons' lists."

Elsa looked down and flicked away an imaginary piece of lint off her charcoal-colored blazer. "And I'm rambling again…", she mumbled.

Anna noticed for the first time that she had been suffocating the doorknob, and loosened her grip. Her body must have automatically tensed up when she saw Elsa, and a little more than usual given that she showed up at her apartment; but seeing this…human side of the blonde again made her ease up just a little bit.

"I guess what I'm trying to say…is thank you."

And now she had relaxed even more.

"Anna, I've been nothing but nasty to you since the moment we first saw each other again, I've tried to put you down and drive you away, and you still helped me out. So, just…thank you, and I'm sorry. For everything."

Anna felt her chest tighten, not because she didn't expect this new Elsa to ever show her any form of gratitude, and not because she got the apology she'd always wanted for so long; but because once those two words left Elsa's lips, Anna realized something: She never wanted an apology.

Despite Elsa breaking off the relationship, not returning her calls, and putting her through the ringer once she became her new boss, Anna didn't want her to apologize, because the reaction was warranted.

She didn't want an apology, she just wanted this. This realness, this…closeness, the ability to talk to each other face to face without having to walk on eggshells or trade verbal jabs. She just wanted to talk to Elsa again. After "the touch", when she wasn't focusing on making Rapunzel feel better, Anna continued to wrestle with the question of what she wanted her and Elsa to be, and now she finally had her answer.

They used to be so close, and Anna wanted to be like that again.

Knowing this now, Anna opened her mouth to speak, determined to say actual words this time. But before she could say anything, Elsa was looking past her and speaking again.

"And Hannah…I'm sorry too, for everything I put you through as my assistant. I used you as a punching bag way too many times, and you took all my crap, and…honestly leaving me was probably the smartest decision you could have made. Anna says you played a part in helping out Flynn, and I believe her, so thank you."

"If it makes you feel any better, with the work I have piling up, I'm realizing how much I actually needed you, and how much I took you for granted. I know it's a bit late for me to say that, and I also know that this is probably insane for me to ask, but I never actually terminated your internship, so if you want to come back, I'd be more than happy to welcome you back on board. …that is, if I still have my job."

Elsa straightened her shoulders and pulled away the stray hairs on her face, she hadn't been this vulnerable in a long time. It felt weird, awkward, like working out a muscle you'd been neglecting.

She never meant to say that Hannah could have her job back, it just slipped, neither did she mean to let them know about her current status as CEO. And while turning around and leaving the conversation at that was an option, Elsa decided not to take it.

"The article was sent out anyway, probably from Flynn's employer. No doubt the Board of Directors has seen it because they've summoned me to a meeting tomorrow, and I don't think it's to congratulate me. Right now, I'm just…holding on to any hope I can. I love my job, I couldn't imagine being anywhere else, but if this is the end, then…"

Elsa stopped herself, realizing her voice had grown shaky.

She cleared her throat, "Well, that's…all I came here to say. I've taken up too much of your time as it is, I'm sure you two…" Elsa looked over to see another woman near the kitchen area, Rapunzel was her name if she remembered correctly, "…er, three of you have plans that I'm interrupting."

Elsa nodded at Rapunzel and at Hannah, when she looked at Anna, she wanted to say…something. She didn't know what, but it just felt like she needed to. Instead, all she did was give her a small, pitiful smile.

With her job done, Elsa turned around and made her way back to her car. Now, with this loose end tied, she felt ready to accept her fate. Going back home still felt wrong somehow, and she planned to tell Marshall just to take her back to the office. Paparazzi and news crews be damned, it was still her company as of now, and the pestering questions and flashing lights wouldn't keep her away from it.

Besides, she wanted to get one last look at Arendelle from the best view in the city.

Two steps away from the car, she reached out for the passenger side door handle, but before she could grasp it, she heard someone call out her name.

Anna knew that she had to do…something, and as Elsa turned to leave, she had a good idea of what it was. After everything she'd just heard, Anna realized that there was a finality to those words…and Anna didn't want that to be the final time she saw Elsa.

She looked back at her friends, her eyes filled with determination, but also desperation. Hannah frowned, but begrudgingly nodded; Rapunzel smiled sadly and mouthed two words: "It's okay."

In a flash, Anna raced out the door. By the time she had caught up to Elsa, she was already at her car, so she cried out to get her attention. "Elsa, wait!"

Elsa turned around, eyeing Anna wearily, "…yes?"

"I…I just…I needed to say…" Anna stopped herself, both to catch her breath and to succumb to the realization that she had no idea what to say. Still, acting on impulse was working well for her right now, so she said the first thing that came to mind: "Do you…want to stay for dinner?"

Elsa blinked, "Excuse me?"

Anna continued to speak, hoping that she would make her point clear if she kept using words, "I mean…Hannah made a lot of spaghetti, more than three people could possibly eat in one sitting. And yeah, leftovers are a thing, but I'm not personally a big fan of leftovers, and, you know, sharing is caring. That's what my mom always says- you know her- and I'm still convinced that she got that from somewhere, because it doesn't sound like a thing she'd come up with by herself. Not that my mom isn't smart or anything like that, it's just that it sounds like something from a TV show."

"Wow, I got really off-topic. Lemme just try this again. Ahem, Hannah made a lot of food, and we've got room at our table, so I'm inviting you…to join us for dinner."

Maybe it took a bit more words than necessary, but Anna was sure that she'd gotten her point across. She wanted to see more of the old Elsa, not the new, condescending Elsa who used too many big words and wore too many blazers. Not that the blazers didn't look good, but-


"Uh…wait, what?", Anna asked, she didn't expect Elsa to be immediately accepting of the invite, but she didn't expect her to dismiss it right away either.

Elsa looked away, "Anna, I don't know what you see, or what you gathered from my fifteen minutes of apologizing, but…the old Elsa is gone. Even if we could just go back to the way things were, which is impossible, you can't just skip ten chapters ahead to us having dinner together like some strange, happy family. These things…they take some time. Is that okay?"

"O…okay," Anna replied. And that should have been the end of it, she should have let Elsa leave and prepare herself for her big Board meeting; but Anna had come this far already, and she couldn't let this be the end of it. Not before telling Elsa one more thing.

"Okay, but there's too much history here to ignore. Fate keeps bringing us together for a reason, and I have a feeling that it's gonna keep happening, so I don't want us to be strangers anymore. If what you're saying is true, that the old Elsa is gone, then I want to get to know this new Elsa better. I want to talk to you, hang out with you, I don't want us to keep relying on fate to bring us together just to have these conversations. "

She placed her hand on Elsa's arm and smiled, relieved that she, too, could finally say what was on her mind, "Is that okay?"

Elsa looked down at the hand gently resting on her arm, that same feeling coursing through her as it had at the hotel.

And maybe it was because she had let her guard down and hadn't put it back up yet, or maybe it was because she felt this great reassurance that this private moment couldn't be seen, or maybe because it felt like the right thing to do, but her response was monumental.

She placed her own hand over Anna's, and her lips curled into her brightest smile in years. "Yes, yes it is."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Six

Anna always dreamed big. Being a professional baker wasn't enough, or rather just making a living doing what she loved wasn't enough. And yeah, maybe it sounded a little selfish, but one day she wanted to own one of those bakeries so famous that people were pressing their faces to the windows hoping to finally get in.

But not like this.

Not when said people were also armed with cameras and fuzzy microphones and asking her the same questions over and over again about her and Elsa. This was no dream, if anything this was a nightmare; but as much as she blinked- or pleaded with Rapunzel to pinch her- she couldn't wake up and start the day over again.

She muscled her way through the press, urged by Rapunzel not to say anything until they got inside where they couldn't be mobbed. The bright flashes that spotted her vision, and the white noise of nosy newspersons, made the ten or so feet from the car to the bakery feel like the final obstacle of some twisted boot camp drill. When they both reached the door and shut it, aging fifty years in the process, Anna finally spoke.

"What…the heck?! Is this what celebrities have to deal with all the time? Is this what Elsa has to deal with all the time?"

Rapunzel shot a death glare at the people outside, and looked back at Anna with a shrug, "I guess so. Man, it must get annoying really fast."

Anna groaned as she walked over to unlock the kitchen, "It's already annoying! I thought coming in early today would help to, you know, get our heads on straight, but I guess that's not happening anytime soon." Camera flashes and questions being squawked at them further validated her point. "I'm guessing we can't just ask them politely to leave? Or call the cops?"

"Best case scenario, they leave for ten minutes and then come back." Rapunzel made sure the front door was unlocked for their employees, wincing when a flash got her in the eye. "Ugh, I knew we should have gotten tinted windows. For gosh sakes you were in like half the article, how could we not expect paparazzi to show up at our door."

"It's not too late. We could get some curtains or duct tape the windows. Out of sight, out of mind and all that. Ooh, or I could find a clown mask and a baseball bat and scare them!" Anna suggested eagerly.

Rapunzel giggled, "As funny as that would be, it'd probably bring more cameras to our door, not less. Looks like we're just gonna have to live with it until people lose interest."

Anna flipped a switch and the bakery mercifully lit up with fluorescent and colored lights, dampening the strain on their eyes from the flashes. "'Zel, I just got outed as Elsa's super-secret-ex-girlfriend, this city's resident-and probably only- celebrity. People aren't gonna lose interest in a very long time."

She frowned as that realization hit her too, along with the fact that even after the cameras stopped literally following her around, she would forever be known in this town as the only woman, heck, the only person the CEO of ArenCorp ever dated. No doubt all kinds of stuff from their time at Arendelle High was being dug up this very second, and people were putting pieces together trying to interpret how it all began and where it went wrong.

Trashy gossip blogs would put up clickbait articles about the "true story" between them both, their old classmates would post all over social media about how they were best friends with Anna and Elsa- even though the two had really only hung out with each other and, rarely, their teammates. Some weirdo was probably hunched over his ancient, clunky laptop writing a story about them, maybe changing the names so he could publish it with some awful romance novel title.

Anna shuddered just thinking about it.

Obviously, when Hannah told her about the article, she didn't want it to get released, but now that it had…well, she was just going to have to live with the consequences.

She squared up her shoulders and hopped on the counter, looking at the Warm Hearts logo on the wall, "But hey, maybe we can make this into a good thing, you know? We wanted this bakery to succeed, and there's no such thing as bad press. People will come to see the harlot who broke Elsa Andersen's heart, maybe they'll stay after realizing she can put their face on a cake."

Rapunzel laughed as she joined her best friend on the counter, "Harlot? Are you sure you're using that word right?"

"Probably not," Anna replied, reminding herself to figure out how to put a face on a cake later. They stayed there for a couple of minutes, making faces and sticking their tongues out at any paparazzi who got too close, not caring about how that'd make them look in the tabloids. Even despite the intrusion, this was the most peaceful time they'd had in a while.

"Wanna help me get the kitchen ready?" Anna asked, breaking the silence. "You can reorganize the utensils while I make some dough, it'll be just like old times."

Rapunzel smiled as she hopped off the counter and stuck her hand out to help Anna, "You read my mind."

Elsa paid more attention to the specks of lint on her blazer than the armada of paparazzi and news crews outside ArenCorp. She walked with a purpose as the doors closed behind her, dismissing any questions from her employees with succinct answers.

"Ms. Andersen, are we going to do a press conference about the article?"

"That decision will be made by the Board of Directors."

"Ms. Andersen, what are we going to do about all the paparazzi outside?"

"Ignore them. The same thing we've always done."

"Ms. Andersen, what exactly is your relationship with Anna Dawson?"


Elsa stopped.

As much as she wanted to ignore that question and wait in silence for the elevator doors to open, she couldn't. Because although only one brave soul had asked it, she knew that it was a question everyone had been dying to ask her. And hearing someone say Anna's name like that, mispronounced and with underlying judgment, stirred something inside of her.

Elsa was in front of that employee in an instant, and even though she was a head shorter than him, he shrunk under her penetrating gaze. She spoke softly but severely so that the hushed words cut through the air and were felt by everyone in the building.

"My relationship with Anna Dawson is of no one's concern."

The elevator doors finally opened, and she left the employee to think about what he'd done. Anyone inside the cart got off at the next available floor, no matter how high they still needed to go, and every time the doors opened, the employees backed away and said something about "getting the next one".

Good, Elsa figured, she wanted to revel in the silence just a little while longer.

The 28th floor, which held all the conference rooms, would be deserted as well, save for one room, as was customary for every meeting with the Board of Directors.

She'd spent most of last night in her office running through every possible scenario, every defense she had to make for her actions, and bracing herself for the worst. She only left the building because showing up to the meeting already inside before anyone else, and wearing the same clothes as yesterday, would set a horrible impression.

The elevator doors opened.

The time had come, and contrary to the meeting-that-never-was at the hotel, she didn't hesitate with any step, reach anxiously at the door handle, or get interrupted by a flour-speckled redhead. She was filled with a need to get this over with and hurriedly accept her fate.

As soon as she opened the door, the overwhelming sense of unhappiness and disappointment hit her like a wave of heat from the oven. The five board members, chosen long before she was even an employee at ArenCorp, were all talking amongst themselves; but as soon as she entered, they eyed her in their gray suits and sunken faces- except for one, who had the decency to at least give her a courteous smile and nod at her. Elsa smiled and nodded back.

Mrs. Lynch, a woman with abnormally dark hair caused by excessive amounts of dye, and a personality that made Elsa question why anyone would marry her in the first place, was the first to speak, "Ms. Andersen, it's so nice of you to join us."

Elsa held back a scoff and sat down at the only empty chair at the round table, folding her hands in her lap. "It's nice to see you all here."

"Yes, well we wouldn't have to be here if you'd bothered to show up last week.", said a pear-shaped man with five or so strands of hair on his head. Elsa didn't respond, though she didn't have time to as he continued with his berating comments. "Do you think we enjoyed having to come up with an excuse for your absence?"

"What Mr. Port means to say…" interrupted Mrs. Lang, an Asian woman who was slightly more polite than the previous two, "…is that your absence at the meeting has been a bit of a bother to us all. However, we would have not stressed the importance of this meeting had it not been for…certain information that has come to light." She raised an eyebrow above her horn-rimmed glasses, "I'm sure you know what I'm talking about?"

Elsa nodded, even though she knew someone was going to elaborate anyway.

Mr. Lynch, as she expected, was the one to do so, "We had already been skeptical about your recent actions: the canceling of the annual retreat, wearing that tasteless dress at the biannual, and the firing of the receptionist…Cheyenne, was it?"

"Sheila." Elsa corrected with a frown.

"But this article has put us in a more difficult position than anything else." Mrs. Lynch presented a copy of the article from her briefcase to accent her point, "If it wasn't clear before, it certainly is now: You have not proven yourself to be the capable CEO we expected you to be."

She squeezed one of the hands in her lap and bit her tongue to keep from giving a snarky response.

"Before we get to our verdict, however, it'd be wise to inform you of the important news you missed at the meeting." Mrs. Lang leered at her. "Which is that Corona International has officially ended its partnership with ArenCorp."

Elsa failed to hide the surprised look on her face, "They did what?!"

The Asian woman nodded, "The new CEO has decided to sever all ties with our company. According to him, it would 'hinder the progress' of Corona under his jurisdiction."

"That coward!" Mr. Port growled, slamming his fist onto the table, "I knew that he would be trouble the second he walked into the room. We all know this is the first move of many in some diabolical scheme to step into our territory. Corona International used to be our greatest ally, and now it's become our greatest threat."

"Calm down, Randall, we don't know that for certain," reassured Mr. Magnus, a gruff man with more hair on his face than his head. "Although I will admit, this is a troublesome development."

Mr. Port waved a fat, shaky finger at him, "Troublesome doesn't even begin to describe it. This man is a tyrant and a threat to not just ArenCorp, but to the entire business world! Have you people done any research on his background?!"

"Yes, I have." Mrs. Lynch replied, "His business acumen is astounding, and his work for the SIBC has been…questionable, but the results do speak for themselves."

"So, then you know that we need to stop him before it's too late, before he becomes too large of a threat to ArenCorp!"

After a couple more minutes of this bickering, Elsa wondered if they even remembered she was still here. "Okay, I think we all need to just calm down for a second," she said, trying to get everyone back on track. Although, that only succeeded in their pent-up anger towards the new Corona CEO to be directed right at her.

Mr. Magnus scoffed and crossed his arms, "Now the girl wishes to be a part of the meeting."

Elsa frowned and ignored the comment. They had every right to be frustrated at her, but she expected at least some tact.

Regardless, she continued: "It's clear that this new CEO has thrown both of our companies for a loop. I am meeting with him soon, and I hope to get some answers for his motivations and what this means going forward; but for now, I think that it's best for us to figure out our own game plan, prepare for the best and worst-case scenarios."

The board members looked at each other, exchanging unspoken words through the shifting of eyes and the slight changes in their expression. Simultaneously they all looked back at Elsa as if coming to a consensus. Mrs. Lynch was the one to speak on their behalf.

"We have been preparing, but right now that is none of your concern. The only thing you should be concerned about is whether you're still CEO by the end of this meeting."

Elsa squared her shoulders and bit the inside of her cheek, being ousted from the decisions on how to deal with Corona International was offensive, but it didn't matter as much as figuring out the board's final verdict. She looked at the only board member to have not said a word yet; the serious look on his face told her to brace herself.

Mrs. Lynch cleared her throat, "It's become undoubtedly clear that you have been making far too many decisions based on emotion since becoming the executive head of ArenCorp, and failing to put logic first. This is shown by the video in the article where you lashed out at one of your employees, and all the unprofessional acts you've committed. Even apprehending the criminal all by yourself, and not going to the police in the first place, shows an incompetency and recklessness that is unbefitting of your title."

Elsa wanted to grab the crotchety old woman by her tacky, white button-up shirt and scream that she had no choice, but she was beginning to believe that less and less. She couldn't help but wonder if she'd be in this situation had she just gone to the police right away. She blinked, refusing to let her mind wander on that thought.

"I'm sure even you would agree that all these reasons are grounds for termination, but after careful consideration and strong opposition against that action…" Mrs. Lynch frowned at the silent board member, who gave a polite, yet slightly cocky shrug, "…we have decided that we will let you state your case- defend yourself if you will- before we tell you our verdict."

Elsa wanted to let out a sigh of relief but held it in. This was both a positive and a negative outcome. They were most likely set on their decision, but if she was getting a chance to change their minds, then she was going to take it. She closed her eyes and let out a slow breath.

"I know that my actions lately have been very disappointing, and frankly I'm disappointed in myself."

"As you should be." Mr. Port commented, already interrupting her speech.

Elsa continued regardless, "And I know that my behavior as of late has been very unbecoming for a CEO, hell, for anyone in this company…but a couple of months of infractions should pale in comparison to the years I have given to ArenCorp. Need I remind you that your decision to appoint me as the head of this company was not one you took lightly and one that you debated on for months." She thought back to the days when she was merely a regional manager, hearing rumor upon rumor about who the new CEO would be.

"When you told me about the promotion, you said you based your final decision on everything I'd already done for ArenCorp. My resume speaks for itself: I have lead this company to its best economic performance in years, we have expanded all the way to the outskirts of Arendelle, and we've secured overseas partnerships under my supervision. And lest we forget, I was a driving force to break away from Yen Sid Incorporated, and be the massive success that we are today."

Elsa shifted in her chair, putting her hands on the table and pointing a finger towards the directors for emphasis, "For the past four- almost five- years, I have poured my blood, sweat, and tears into this company. I have loved every single bit of it, and I have taken every opportunity I could to learn, and grow, and get to where I am today. You all have seen the progress I have made, you all have seen how much ArenCorp has grown, and you all entrusted me with the future of this company."

"I promise you this will never happen again. I was…distracted by a personal vendetta of mine, but Mr. Ryder is finally behind bars, and I have no more hang-ups. This will never happen again, I promise you. I just need to be given another chance to prove it."

At some point, it seems, Elsa had left her seat. She closed her eyes and sat back down, letting them think about what she'd said.

Once again the directors looked at each other, shifting their expressions and making short grunts, exchanging some sort of telepathic conversation. If she was ever appointed the head of the Board of Directors, Elsa would make it a rule to voice all your thoughts out loud to keep the person out of the loop from squirming in her seat.

Which she totally wasn't doing right now.

After an eternity, the old guard looked back at Elsa, and the only person not to have spoken yet, pulled back strands of his impossibly thick, brown hair out of his face, and smiled: "Based on your testimony, Ms. Andersen, and from our own conversations we've had about this, we have decided to let you stay on as CEO of ArenCorp."

She tried not to let her stone-face expression change, but she couldn't help the small smile on her lips and the breath of relief she let out through her nose.

Of course the only words he'd say would be the final verdict. Mr. Arendelle was a man of few words and had a flair for the dramatic. Plus, being the current head of the Board of Directors meant he had final say anyway.

"However, this doesn't mean you're entirely off the hook." Mrs. Lynch added, straightening her shoulders to show that she still had some authority in this decision, "While you will keep your position, we are putting you under probation. One more slip-up like this article, and you can be assured we will not be as merciful as we have been today."

Elsa frowned but nodded. "I understand, and thank you." It was nice to think about, but she knew she wouldn't be off the hook entirely. Still, all that mattered was that her job was safe…for now.

Mrs. Lang put up a hand, "One more order of business before we adjourn." She pulled out her own copy of the article from her own beige briefcase, "This Anna Dawson character, she owns a bakery that is funded by ArenCorp, and according to the article you two used to be…close."

"Will she, in any way, affect your performance going forward?"

Anna smacked a gob of dough down onto the table, rolling it down with her favorite rolling pin, a present she got from her mom on her 13th birthday- it was painted mint green and although it had a deep crack on the left side, it had stayed resilient throughout the years. She looked back at her business partner who was intently wiping down a mixing bowl with a rag.

"You know, you didn't have to come in with me today." Anna said honestly, "I know you're still…a little gloomy, no one would have blamed you if you took a couple of days, maybe a week, to yourself."

Rapunzel momentarily put down the bowl to smile at Anna, though it was meant to be reassuring, her eyes betrayed the pain she still felt. "And stay in the apartment moping around and eating ice cream? Yeah, I think I'd take work over that. Besides, being here is a good distraction for me: the more I work, the less time I have to think about Flynn."

Anna wanted to say more, but seeing Rapunzel's face made her realize she was determined to be here, no matter what. "Well…I guess that's fine, just don't work yourself too hard, okay?"

Rapunzel rolled her eyes and grinned, "Okay, mom."

Anna laughed, resisting the urge to throw a blob of bread dough at her friend. It was good to see her in decent spirits and watching out for herself by staying distracted. Hopefully, being around trustworthy workers, and total strangers just here to get food, would help to lift her spirits some more. Still, she couldn't shake the fact that there were more things that were being left unsaid.

"By the way, you never told me what you and Elsa talked about when you rushed out of the apartment."

Like that.

Immediately, Anna's eyes widened and she looked back down at her workstation, scrambling to find the cutter to cut the dough into pieces, "Oh, uh…you know I-I just, I mean…I maaaaay have invited her to dinner that night."

"Dinner?" Rapunzel repeated. Although she didn't see it, Anna knew it was accompanied by a raised eyebrow. "You mean like on a date?"

Anna's hand slipped and the rolling pin flew out of her hand, knocking over the cutter she couldn't find in the process, "NO! No no no no, not like- I mean, it's….I-I didn't ask her out, I meant like I asked if she wanted to join us for dinner. You know, spaghetti." She walked in front of the table to grab the fallen utensils, sneaking a glance at Rapunzel's amused face as she returned to her workstation.

"Really? You spent ten minutes asking her if she wanted spaghetti? Wow, you really weren't gonna take no for an answer, huh?"

"It's not like that, I- ugh!" Anna gave up pretending to work and smacked her face into her palms, forgetting about the excess flour in her hands. The white powder scattered around and behind her like snow, "Never mind…"

She heard Rapunzel laugh and move closer, "Come on Anna, you know I'm joking. Whatever you two said to each other can be your little secret, I was just a little curious, that's all."

Anna took her face out of her hands and huffed at Rapunzel, a comical amount of flour escaped from her nose and from her mouth as she replied, "It was…interesting, okay? And nice, I guess, when she didn't immediately say something mean to me and demand all the money from our cash register. All I asked her, after she shot down the dinner invite, was to not be a stranger anymore. We've been running into each other a lot recently, and it's not gonna stop any time soon. I-I don't know, I just want to get to know this Elsa. The person that she is now."

"And what did she say when you asked her that?"

"She….said yes."

Rapunzel blinked, and it was her turn for her eyes to grow wide, "Wow. She did?!"

Anna nodded, hardly believing it herself. She thought back to yesterday when this all went down, remembering the vulnerable look on Elsa's face, the private conversation, the lightning reverberating down her spine when Elsa placed her hand on hers.

"Wait, what was that?"

Anna snapped back into reality. "What was what?" she asked innocently.

"You…smiled. And it wasn't like your regular, cutesy, 'I'm Anna, and I like wearing pigtails' smile. You had the whole dreamy, bedroom eyes and everything." Rapunzel's eyes narrowed, but her Cheshire cat grin remained, "Something else happened, didn't it?"

Anna looked left, right, up, and down, and everywhere else that wasn't directly at Rapunzel. "No…" she replied meekly.

"Anna Dawson, what did the two of you do? We didn't leave you alone for that long, what could you possibly-" Rapunzel gasped, "You didn't!"

"WE DID NOT! All we did was…I mean all that happened was…she…may have touched my hand. That was on her arm."

"You held hands?!" Rapunzel said incredulously.

"We were not holding hands, her hand just happened to be on top of mine for like two seconds, that's all. Nothing happened, and it didn't…it didn't mean anything. It was just nice."

"I never asked if it meant anything, but Anna, you haven't smiled like that since you gave that little girl a muffin at the festival. I think a whole lot of something happened, and it meant a heck of a lot. At least to you." Rapunzel put both of her hands on Anna's shoulders, "I like how you're approaching this, it's healthy and adult and all kinds of mature, and I know that at least you're in a better place than you were back in high school, I just don't know much about Elsa. Aside from what you've told me, at least. So, I just need to know one more thing: Do you think she's going to hurt you like she did before?"

Admittedly, this was a worry that Anna had ever since Elsa had agreed to get to know each other again. She definitely didn't want things to end up like they had and send them back spiraling down for four or so more years only to end up in the same place again. She wanted to break this vicious cycle before it even started, but this was a job for two people.

A job, she reckoned, would be done right this time.

"No," Anna replied hopefully, "No, she won't."

"No," Elsa lied, "No, she won't."

Chapter Text

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Hey Elsa,

I've been thinking a lot about your offer to come back and be your assistant, and I've decided that I'm gonna take it. I mean, we both know that I have like a million reasons not to come back, but I have to think about my future, and a failed internship at one of the most prestigious companies in the world won't look good on my resume. I'd like to return, provided we can put all the nastiness behind us. Our relationship wasn't built on the best of terms, and I'm not saying I want to go back to what we were- because I definitely don't- but at the very least I want us to get to a point where you don't criticize me for everything I do, and I don't complain about you on Twitter (you'll never find the account, don't bother). Anyway yeah, I'd like to come back and work off those last few internship hours, so just let me know when you get this email.

Oh, and also, we can't go back to doing you know what. It wasn't healthy, and honestly your apartment is depressing.

When Elsa finished reading the email, she couldn't help but smile. Not because she was glad that Hannah accepted her offer to return, but because despite everything that happened between them, she realized that she missed the young assistant. All the sarcasm, the snarky comments about clients either of them couldn't stand, the fact that she did everything Elsa asked her with no question, even the tacky décor of her now-bare desk. Admittedly, she was the reason they had such a terrible relationship, but this was her chance to fix it.

Elsa had been doing a lot of fixing recently.

She leaned back in her chair, trying to figure out how to respond. This wasn't the most pressing piece of agenda she had today, but it was up there, along with holding the press conference about the article, setting up her appointment with Mr. Arendelle, and, most dauntingly, meeting with the Corona International CEO.

For the past couple of days, she had been getting any information she could about the man. And there was a lot. Surprisingly, he also went to North Mountain University, but only for a year until he dropped out to work full-time at Southern Isles Baking Company as a supervisor- a birthday gift from his dad, and a classic case of nepotism.

His career paralleled Elsa's a surprising amount. He also wanted to prove himself in the business world and blazed his way up the ranks until he was in charge of the entire company. Under his tutelage, they became the number one bakery in the country, and a household name even here in Arendelle. Now, assumingly finished doing all he could at SIBC, he used his clout, and amazing skills of negotiation, to become the new head of Corona International, taking advantage of the rumors floating around of Kai's retirement.

There were a lot of exceptional candidates, ones with more experience than he had, but shockingly he was given the position.

Much of his career had gone like this; unexpected promotions and last-second business acquisitions were the norm with him, and people chalked it up to his drive, commitment, and influence. That didn't, however, explain the outcome of those that opposed him along the way.

Businesses that refused to make deals with SIBC mysteriously closed shop not long after, the people up for the same promotions he was would drop out of the running or quit the company entirely, a prominent candidate for the Corona CEO position had lost all of his earnings overnight.

So yes, he was a figure fitted from head to toe with commendations, but also one marred in controversy. No one could agree on how he got everything that came to him, all they could agree on was that whatever he wanted, he got.

Knowing all this should have made Elsa nervous, but ever since she'd put on the ArenCorp crown, she'd been dealing with people just like him. She would be cautious, but remind him that if he was thinking of stepping into her territory, that he'd better tread lightly. What did make her nervous, however, was the pang of familiarity that came over her from her research.

She vaguely remembered seeing him in one of her classes during her first year at North Mountain, and it also stated that he'd gone to Arendelle High for a couple years or so. She knew for sure that she'd seen that grin he'd plaster on for every photo and interview before, and his voice made her recoil slightly, as if her mind was thinking back to an unpleasant, yet hazy memory.

Even his name was familiar, although she didn't know why: Hans Westerguard.

The reason was on the tip of her tongue, and she figured that everything wouldn't click until the meeting was underway. And speak of the devil, her desk phone started to beep loudly, interrupting her thoughts and tearing her eyes away from the computer screen. A familiar, more pleasant voice came through the phone speakers.

"Ms. Andersen, the Corona CEO is here to see you."

Elsa pressed a button on the phone, "Thank you, Sheila. Send him up, please." The old receptionist thankfully took the offer for her job back as well, although it did take a personal, face-to-face apology and an exceptional pay raise.

She rose from her chair and readied herself in a familiar position: hands folded behind her, and looking out her massive window. Arendelle was quiet this afternoon, the sun at its peak bringing the warmth that only the middle of May could; reason number one of many as to why spring was her favorite holiday. The people down below looked like ants, enjoying life and all the opportunities and splendor the town had to offer.

As if someone had been reading her mind, she heard a whistling noise from behind her. "That certainly is one hell of a view."

Elsa turned around, a brown-haired man with an appraising gaze was leaning on the door with his hands in his pocket. He had on a maroon suit vest just a shade darker than her door, and a white undershirt with the sleeves rolled up, along with black dress pants, dark wing-tipped shoes, and a gold chain hanging from his left pocket. "Mr. Westerguard, I presume?"

He smiled, and leaned off the door to walk towards Elsa, "Please, call me Hans." Once he got near enough, he stuck his right hand out towards her, there was a silver ring that went knuckle to knuckle on his middle finger, with a finely-cut ruby in the center.

Tentatively, Elsa reciprocated the handshake. His hand was soft, but his grip was firm. A bit too firm, she thought, typical power move. "Please sit down, Mr. Westerguard." she replied, maintaining control.

Hans' eyes showed amusement, and it irked Elsa. She knew him somehow, and she would find out the reason by the end of this meeting. "I'd be delighted to…Ms. Andersen." he replied, playing along.

The first pawns had been moved along the proverbial chessboard, the two CEO's sat down on opposite sides of Elsa's desk, dozens of strategies circling around their mind. Elsa folded her hands on the desk and leaned forward, making her next move, "I must admit, when I was told that you had ended our partnership, I was…surprised. I'm curious, why did you do it?"

Hans shrugged, "I would have told you at the hotel, but apparently you were preoccupied. According to your board members, you were- how do I put this? You were 'taking care of an urgent ArenCorp matter'. Huh, I wonder what that was."

His smile grew more cheeky and arrogant, and Elsa didn't know whether to be more offended at the lack of professionalism in his answer, or the fact that he was now leaning back in his chair with his arms folded back across his head, as if to say he couldn't care less what the answer was.

Instead of taking the bait, Elsa decided to play the part of the professional for both of them, "I apologize for my absence, but now that you're here, I hope to show that I do respect your time, and maybe mend some fences? Has ArenCorp slighted you in any way, Mr. Westerguard? Is that the reason for your actions?"

"Hmm…" Hans looked off to the side, lips pursed as if he were deep in thought. Once he grasped his answer from whatever corner of his mind he had journeyed to, the smile returned, and he looked at Elsa like he was about to make a move that would take half her pieces off the board, "How about this? You tell me what sort of business you were attending to, and I'll tell you why I cut ties with you and yours. Sound like a good deal?"

Elsa looked at him quizzically, "I…hardly see how that's fair, and I don't think my personal business is of any concern to you."

"And mine is?"

"These are two completely different circumstances." Elsa argued, losing the last bits of patience she had left, "My actions only affected myself, while yours affected the future of ArenCorp and Corona."

Hans let out a small, pity laugh, "I assure you, Ms. Andersen, the future of Corona is in good hands. It's ArenCorp's future that you need to worry yourself about." When Elsa didn't answer, and instead just looked at him cautiously, he continued, "Now come on, just humor me for a second, won't you? Tell me what you were up to at the hotel, and I'll tell you what was up to at the hotel. I bet we could learn a lot from each other."

"Was that a threat?" Elsa asked, her words slowing to emphasize her predatory side aching to come out.

"What? Me saying that we could learn a lot from each other?"

Her hands gripped tighter against each other, "You know that's not what I meant. Do you mean to become an enemy of ArenCorp? Is that why you ended the partnership?"

Another laugh, this time louder and more amused; it was clear that he was enjoying toying with Elsa, and had no intentions of taking this meeting seriously. Which perplexed her even more, why in the world did Hans make this meeting then? "Wow, you are really jumping the gun here. Again, this meeting can go a lot smoother if you just answered my question."

Elsa was actively resisting the urge to reach over and slap him in his smug face. "And I already told you I wouldn't, so why don't you drop this arrogant, self-righteous attitude and we can actually get some work done."

"Why are you being so defensive right now, Elsa? I mean after all…" Hans looked at her deviously, and turned the tables with one toothy grin, "…you're not gonna tell me anything I don't already know."

The silence around them grew thicker, and the tension was strong enough to crush diamonds. If looks could kill, the one Elsa gave Hans now would have put him and his next five descendants six feet under. "What exactly do you mean by that?" she said, almost growled.

With his expression unchanged, Hans said slyly, "Oh, I think you know exactly what I mean."

And she did.

"You bastard," she said through gritted teeth, "Flynn was working for you this entire time."

"Flynn? Oh, you mean Eugene, I almost forgot about the name change. Yeah, he did a pretty damn good job there up until the end; reading all those text messages you sent him were so entertaining, made for a better read than the morning paper, at least." Hans got out of his chair and walked towards the window, adopting the stance that Elsa had when he first walked in. "I noticed you rehired the receptionist though, that's a real bummer. Eh, I guess we can't win them all."

Elsa shot up out of her chair as well, but didn't move away from her desk. She was seething, but doing her best to rein it in; letting her emotions get the best of her never ended well. "I could have you arrested right now. One call, and you'll be joining your buddy Flynn, or Eugene, or whatever the hell his real name is, behind bars. You made a huge mistake coming here."

Hans shrugged but didn't look her way, pretending to gaze longingly at the Arendelle skyline. "You could, but you'd run into the same problem you did before: lack of proof. If you think I'd come here unprepared, then you really don't know me. Although…judging by the lack of a warm welcome, I suspect you don't know me, do you? I'm honestly a little hurt, Elsa."

Here it was, her chance to scratch the itch that had been bothering her for the past couple days. And she'd be much more eager to figure out who Hans was, had he not just dropped this massive bombshell on her less than ten seconds ago. "And why exactly would I know you?"

He placed a hand on the glass, and Elsa made a mental note to have someone disinfect the entire window when this meeting was over. "Arendelle High lunchroom, ring any bells?"

"Maybe," she said harshly. Truth be told, she had repressed a lot of memories from high school for obvious reasons. And from what she did remember, not many exciting things happened to her at that lunchroom. Except for…wait…

"Well, do you remember me asking you out, and your girlfriend slapping me across the face?" As he spoke, his words became increasingly hostile.

"She wasn't my-" Elsa stopped herself, but only after regrettably letting those few words slip, and letting her guard down. She recomposed herself before speaking again, "I think I remember that, yes."

"Come on Elsa, you can just drop the whole 'Ice Queen' act, no one's falling for it." He smiled before muttering this next part, still loud enough for her to hear. "Especially after watching that video."

"So, what is this? Some long, convoluted scheme to get back at me for not dating you in high school? Are you seriously that petty?"

"A little bit, yeah. But no, this isn't about you rejecting me- I liked the redhead more anyway- I just figured that would help to jog your memory a little bit." Hans leaned on the glass and crossed his arms, finally looking at a seething Elsa, "Actually, my gripe with you comes from a much more recent event. I'm sure I don't have to remind you about the Arendelle Festival, and about the mix-up with the SIBC being there as a last-minute addition."

Elsa's glare was her response.

"We could have coexisted nicely at that festival, it would have been the start of a decent partnership between the Southern Isles and Arendelle, but that hope got thrown right out the window when Eugene crashed our truck off the festival grounds. When I got word about the incident, I was not happy, Elsa." Hans looked away, and for a second his expression changed, turning much darker than before. "And neither was father…"

"That was a festival meant to celebrate the local businesses of Arendelle, you had no business being there anyway. I'm sorry if we caused your company harm from that stunt, but if that's seriously what you're building this whole vendetta against me on, then you need to let it go."

The generic smirk was gone and replaced with a daunting frown, and he slowly advanced towards Elsa, hands behind his back. "Oh trust me, my vendetta against you goes much, much deeper than that. I have been following your career for some time now, seeing all the success that you've had, watching all my accomplishments pale in comparison to yours. I got a job at some lousy bakery, you got a job at ArenCorp; I became its CEO, and you were acquiring an overseas deal with Atlantis; I worked my ass off making SIBC a relevant company in my own city and trying to expand it, you were throwing fucking festivals and turning us into a joke. Every single time I took one step forward, you took five and walked all over me."

Hans was now face-to-face with Elsa, she could smell faint traces of liquor on his breath, "I was sick and tired of being stepped on, so I finally did something about it. Letting Eugene blackmail you wasn't the whole master plan, no that was just a means to humiliate you and keep you from seeing me step closer and closer into your territory. Now I'm here, seeing clearer than I ever have before."

At some point, Elsa probably should have stepped away, but standing her ground was her way of saying that she would not be intimidated from this long-winded, slightly inebriated dirtbag. As a consequence, however, Hans was able to lean in close and whisper one final statement: "And it is one hell of a view."

Elsa finally felt that enough was enough, and pushed the CEO away, knocking away her chair in the process. She was expecting a crazed, almost psychotic look on his face, but instead he just looked…happy, almost euphoric. She didn't know if that was better or worse.

Deciding that she had gotten all the answers she needed, and wanting him out of her office immediately, she did her best to appear unfazed, and spoke calmly, "Thank you for your time, Mr. Westerguard, but I think it's time that you left."

The clearly disturbed man opened his mouth to speak, but then sighed and put his hands up in mock defeat instead. He made his way towards the door in silence, and Elsa thought that would be that; but just before he stepped out of the door, he looked back one more time, flashed that photogenic grin, and gave a foreboding farewell, "It was a pleasure to meet you, Ms. Andersen. I'm sure you'll be seeing me very soon."

The door closed. Hollow footsteps became softer and softer. The faint ding of the elevator sounded, and the metal slid open and shut.

Finally, Elsa was alone.

She waited another minute just to be sure, and then scrambled back to her desk, riffing through her drawers until she found her rubber ball and clutched it with both hands.

Once she caught her breath, she would do whatever it takes to bring this psychopath down.

Chapter Text

Chapter 28

In terms of cleanliness and upright clientele, the Last Stop wouldn't be anyone's first choice for a bar, which made it the perfect place for a discrete meeting. This watering hole in South Arendelle had seen better days, the foundation had peeled away year after year, leaving the building a sickly gray color, with the flickering neon sign it's only form of vibrancy. It's clientele consisted of dockworkers, old men trying to remember their glory days, and the occasional biker gang. If you wanted to go somewhere where no one cared who you were, this was the place to be.

Even so, Elsa took every precaution before coming here. She wiped off all her makeup, changed into an unassuming pair of sweatpants and a black hoodie, and made Marshall circle around the place a few times just to make sure they weren't being tailed.

She had been in the public eye for far too long today and wanted just a couple hours of invisibility. Besides, the more people noticed her, the less productive this meeting with Mr. Arendelle was going to be.

The annoyingly dim lighting was still enough for Elsa to find the gentleman, wearing a wrinkled white shirt and an untangled tie, sitting at the wooden bar with a bottle of scotch ¾ full. She sidestepped the heavily depressed and inebriated patrons before sliding on to a faded leather barstool. The bartender, a surly man with an eyepatch and goatee was listlessly wiping down a glass and asked her for her order.

"Whiskey, leave the bottle," she replied without hesitation.

The bartender grunted and brought her a scratched-up glass and a full bottle of whiskey. To her left, tMr. Arendelle chuckled, "I see someone finally opened their gift."

Elsa smiled and poured the light-brown liquor into her cup, "Don't get too excited, old man, it tasted like crap." She took a sip and felt that familiar burning sensation in her throat, although it didn't sting as much this time. Maybe she was getting used to the taste, or maybe this bottle wasn't as strong as the one she downed in her depressed stupor a couple of months ago.

Wow, had it really only been a couple of months?

Seeing right through her lie, the wily man poured another drink for himself and gestured it towards Elsa, "I told you, guessing people's drink of choice is my superpower. And the minute I saw you, I knew you were a whiskey girl." He downed his drink in one gulp, and let out a satisfied sigh, "Nice getup, by the way, totally doesn't make you look like a college senior."

Elsa frowned, "I was going to the gym after this anyway."

"After downing half a bottle of whiskey? Yeah, tell me how that works out."

"I'm not gonna drink…" Elsa sighed, poured one more drink, and pushed the bottle away, "It's been a rough day."

Mr. Arendelle nodded; with 20+ years of experience at ArenCorp under his belt, of course he understood what Elsa was going through. "So, you finally met Hans Westerguard. He's not what you'd call a...people person, is he?"

"Oh I think he's definitely a people person…" Elsa paused to down her drink, "...and that's the scary thing. I'm convinced he could put five stores out of business tomorrow, and all he'd have to do is put on that perfect, sickening smile of his and no one would know. He's dangerous, Adrien."

"Hey, code names only." Mr. Arendelle warned her, shifting his eyes towards the half-conscious barflies.

Ms. Andersen rolled her eyes, "You and your weird freaking rules, Clyde."

The former CEO of ArenCorp had taken a liking to the young businesswoman when she became a regional manager, and after seeing her uncanny knack for foresight and intense drive to make a name for herself. Through periodic meetings across five set meeting places, they struck up a pseudo-internship. After only a few meetings in, Elsa could tell that Adrien was trying to groom her to be the next CEO, but wanted to keep things under wraps so as to not be accused of blatant favoritism. As a result, she abided in his ridiculous rules so as to keep learning all she could from one of the greatest minds in the business world.

No one knew about these meetings- although the board members had their suspicions- and he wanted to keep it that way.

"But yes, I agree with you. I have seen many people in this industry who will do whatever it takes to get to the top." She tipped her half-empty glass towards Elsa, "Case in point. However, I've only seen a handful of cases like Mr. Westerguard. I have a couple of theories as to how he's gotten this far, and none of them are good."

"Yeah? Care to enlighten me?" Elsa asked, eager for any information she could use against Hans.

Mr. Arendelle put up his right index finger. "The first theory is that he's merely a figurehead as someone else in the shadows does all the work for him. Maybe even multiple people, all in agreement that Mr. Westerguard gives them the best public image. However, considering that he got his start in the Southern Isles, and knowing the iron grip the Westerguard family has on that island, that theory doesn't hold too much weight."

"Couldn't his family be the people behind the scenes, and using him as their figurehead?" Elsa reasoned.

"I thought of that too, but considering his father's...self-righteous personality, and the fact that he pretty much owns half the Southern Isles, he'd want to see to the family's expansion into Arendelle himself. And from what we do know from his countless interviews, this seems to be a solo venture for Hans."

"Hmm, okay...well what's the second theory?"

Mr. Arendelle put up another finger, "The second theory is that Hans isn't as squeaky clean as everyone thinks he is."

Elsa looked at him unamused; of course he wasn't squeaky clean, everybody knew that. She opened her mouth to reply.

"I know, you've already gathered that much." Adrien continued before she could speak, "What I mean is that the biggest reason he's had so much success is that he's been making sure that there's no competition to begin with. If you don't play ball, he makes sure to break your legs so you can never play again." He sighed, "And I wish I meant that metaphorically."

", you're suspecting foul play? Like some mafia-style beatdowns to get people to comply to his demands?"

He nodded, "I've seen something like this once before, back when I was on a business trip to Agrabah. The man I was making a deal with drunkenly told me that he would send these 'special enforcers' to shops that were late on payments or didn't want to pay a 'protection fee'. Left a lot of broken bones and burnt down homes in his wake. Don't worry, he was fired soon after I left...I may or may not have had a hand in that."

Elsa wrung her hands, laying flat on the faded wooden bar counter, together as the former CEO forewarned her, "And you think Hans is capable of getting to that level of brutality?"

"Honestly? He might already be there."

Well crap.

Elsa resisted the urge to grab the whiskey bottle again, despite her nerves going into overdrive. Who exactly was she dealing with?

"That doesn't...sound good." She said, not even trying to feign confidence. "What do you suggest I do then?"

Adrien poured another drink and scratched his unkempt beard, "The best thing you can do is the one thing no one has been able to: defy him. You need to defy his expectations, show him that you're better than him, smarter than him, and when he swings at you- metaphorically speaking, obviously- you won't flinch."

He paused to take a drink, "Aggression makes people sloppy, but it also makes them dangerous. He will keep expanding Corona, snatching up contracts, and forcing people's hands to make a deal, until the only place left to conquer is ArenCorp. You need to make sure that doesn't happen. And you gotta do it fast."

Elsa nodded, most of what he told her she already knew, but it was nice to know that her suspicions were confirmed by someone else. Now came the hard part, figuring out how to put away Hans, this volatile maniac, before he hurt anyone else, before he hurt her company.

The task ahead made her feel uneasy, and she needed some time to clear her head after everything that happened today. "Thanks for this, A...Clyde. These meetings always help a lot." she said as she fished a few dollar bills out of her pocket and placed them on the counter.

"Any time," Adrien replied. He took another drink as Elsa walked behind him, and laughed to himself a little before she got too far. "By the way, I saw the press conference. Good call to not tell them anything about your secret girlfriend."

Elsa frowned, "She's not my secret...ugh, you suck."

In terms of cleanliness and upright clientele, the Grease Trap wouldn't be anyone's first choice for a restaurant, let alone a food truck; which made it the perfect place to grab a super late dinner without worrying about someone noticing you. The loud, yellow truck, illuminated under the lights of the gas station it was parked in, was a popular spot in South Arendelle for college students, mean drunks, and people that just wanted something cheap and greasy. Anna fit one of those criteria, and Hannah- who dragged her here- fit another one.

As Hannah ordered for the both of them, Anna sat on the hood of Rapunzel's car and looked cautiously at everyone there. So far, only two people recognized her and gave her dirty looks, the rest either didn't know her or didn't care. Had it not been for the occasional camera flash off in the distance, Anna would have enjoyed this moment of near anonymity.

"Screw them," Hannah said, joining her on the hood with two white paper bags. "They're just jealous cause your life is way more interesting than theirs. Here, they didn't have any pineapple so I hope a regular burger is fine."

Anna grabbed her bag and immediately unwrapped the burger inside, "It's more than fine, thanks for this, Hannah." Today had been a busier day than usual and she barely had time to eat, plus the thought of eating in front of so many cameras didn't sit well with her. She took a bite and groaned, "Uh muh gush, is suh guh!"

Hannah laughed, "I told you, the Grease Trap never disappoints, except for when Sleazy Kyle's working." She took a bite out of her own burger but swallowed it first before continuing her thought. "And even then, as long as you ignore his gross comments, you still get one of the best burgers in town."

The two ate in silence, save for the blaring generator, and the obese food truck workers yelling out orders, and the camera flashes off in the distance from the lone paparazzi that followed them here. Maybe it was the hunger, or the overwhelming, delicious smell of meat and smoke, or both, but it was one of the best meals Anna had ever eaten. True to its name, however, it was also one of the greasiest; after downing her burger and fries with impressive speed, she felt like taking a shower.

Once she used a forest's worth of napkins to wipe her hands, she spoke again, "How does Elsa cope with all these people watching her all the time? Like ick, it feels so sleazy."

Hannah shrugged, fishing into her bag for any stray fries, "Honestly, she just kinda pretends they're not there. She doesn't even look in their direction, or answer any of their questions, she just keeps walking. It's a little cool to see sometimes, especially when someone asks her a super personal question, or when some weirdo asks for her hair or something."

"People ask for her hair?!"

"Yup, I've seen a lot of weird shit working for her." Hannah reached into her bag to grab more fries, and then looked down at it disappointingly when it wouldn't cough up any more. She crumpled up the bag and sighed, "I guess I gotta be prepared to see more of that starting tomorrow."

Anna nodded, the main reason Hannah brought her here tonight was to celebrate getting her internship back. And with the semester ending in a month, she desperately needed those last couple hours. "You excited?" she asked.

The brunette looked down, running her hands along the forest green hood, "I'm...not sure. I mean it was really nice hearing Elsa apologize to me, let alone rehire me- and I want to believe that things will be different now, but there's still like this awkwardness and tension there. You understand, right?"

"Of course I do," Anna replied, she understood that better than anybody.

"Plus, the way things ended between us...I don't know if we can just move past that."

"Hey, me and Elsa dated for four years until I broke her heart, and now we're...well I think we're okay, at least. I'm sure you two can work through whatever happened just as well." Anna said optimistically, trying to also reassure herself that she and Elsa were fine. After all, it had only been a day since they decided to not be strangers anymore. As far as Anna knew, Elsa may have changed her mind about that.

What she wouldn't give to have some way of contacting her…

"Yeah, I guess you're right." Hannah said hopefully, "Maybe I'm just blowing things out of proportion. Besides, even if things go down the toilet right away, I just need to work there for a couple more days, and I'll meet my hour requirements, and all I have to focus on is graduating."

She tossed her paper bag into a nearby trash can and watched as it bounced on the rim before falling inside. Anna did the same and smirked when it swished right in.

"Show off." Hannah muttered, "Anyway, enough about me and Elsa. Let's talk about you and Elsa."

A camera flashed at that exact moment, perfectly capturing the dumbfounded look on Anna's face. As she blinked away the bright spots behind her eyes, she stammered out her response, "Ah, mean by that?"

Hannah raised her eyebrow, but didn't say anything about Anna's reaction, "I mean you told me that you and Elsa were gonna start talking again, did you already start? You guys stay on the phone for hours like a couple of teenage girls?"

Anna laughed as if she was amused Hannah's joke, but really it was to shake off the nerves. "It's only been a day. And I don't…" she trailed off.

Hannah leaned in closer, "You kinda mumbled that last part. What did you say, Anna?"

"I said…" Anna sighed, "I said I don't actually know how to contact her."

"Uh, what do you mean?"

Now visibly, Anna ran her hands through her red hair, and looked down, "I mean I can't call her because she changed her number, and she stopped using any social media years ago so I can't contact her through there, and she probably gets like a hundred emails a day so I don't wanna bug her through there, either. So, in conclusion, I have no way to contact her." She decided to leave out the part about relying on fate to bring them back into contact, just like it had brought them together so many times before.

You know, so she didn't sound like a lunatic.

Unfortunately, Hannah was already looking at her like she was a lunatic. "Anna, that's ridiculous."

"Yeah, well…" Anna said, not actually having anything to say as a rebuttal.

"First of all, she does have an Instagram, although it's private, she only posts about work, and she puts the most boring captions ever." Hannah rolled her eyes before continuing, "Second of all, she gets maybe half that amount of emails every day, and I answer a lot of them. And third of all…"

She took her phone out of her pocket, "I have Elsa's new number. Like her personal number. Did you want it?"

Immediately, Anna opened her mouth to say of course, she absolutely wanted Elsa's new number. But then she realized that saying yes right away would make her sound desperate, so she, mid-thought, changed her response to no. But because of the mixed signals she was sending to her brain, while she was in the process of forming words out of her face, her actual response was something along the lines of "Oooaah….noooo…"

"I...I'm not sure what that was. Did you just say no?"

"No! I-I mean, I sorta did say no but I didn't really mean it, I was just trying to respond but I didn't know what to say, but my mouth wasn't communicating with my brain and she tried to take the wheel- yes, my mouth is a girl, so is my brain- and it just, you know, word...vomit…"

"Word vomit," Hannah repeated, letting Anna hear how ridiculous she sounded.

"Y...yes...word vomit." Anna shook her head, " Anyway, I don't know if I want her number. Like I wanna say yes, because it'll make this whole thing so much easier, but I don't wanna bug her so much. She's probably already got so much on her mind, and I don't know if she'll even have time to talk, and I'm sure she only gave you that number for emergencies, and I don't even know what to say and-"

"I just texted you her number."

"And what?!"

Hannah put her phone back in her pocket and shrugged, "You weren't making any sense, you just kinda kept talking yourself out of it even though I could tell by the look on your face that you wanted it. Anna, you were eyeing my phone like it was a piece of steak."

"But-but you asked-"

"I know I asked if you wanted her number or not, but this is like your only chance to actually talk to her on a regular basis. No offense, and I say this out of love, but not taking her number would be the dumbest thing you've ever done."

Anna pouted, both from realizing that she was being way more obvious than she thought she was, and from the fact that she immediately thought of five more things she'd done that were way dumber than this. "Well, I still don't know what to say to her."

Hannah smacked her arm, not hard enough to bruise, but enough to try and get her thinking clearly, "Are you freaking kidding me?! I once saw you talk to a janitor for five minutes about ballroom dancing. And with all the history between you and Elsa, you're telling me you can't think of one thing to talk about? You could start by saying 'Hi', or ask how her day was, heck talk about the weather. I'm sure you can stretch that conversation for five minutes too."

"I mean, it wouldn't be that hard," she mumbled.

"Your problem isn't that you don't know how to get in touch with her, or that you don't know what to say, you're just super nervous about finally having a conversation with her that doesn't end in screaming or someone's feelings getting hurt."

Sometimes, Anna forgot that Hannah wasn't just a Communications major because it would get her a job anywhere once she graduated. This was one of those times. Everything the impossibly wise 21-year old told her was true, this was a path that Anna and Elsa hadn't been down in a while, and it was terrifying.

But despite the fear, despite the nervousness, Anna was determined to keep them from being strangers again; and she was going to hold on to that no matter what.

Anna stared at her phone, the text message from Hannah with Elsa's number on it was the only thing she could see on her lock screen. She let out a shaky breath, shaking off her nerves in the process, "You're right, I'm being an idiot. I just gotta talk to her, and I've already done that like a billion times."

Hannah clapped her hands together, "That's the spirit! Now…" She scooched closer towards Anna and looked at her eagerly, "...what are you gonna say to her?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 29

Elsa took off her hoodie, hung it over one of the treadmill's arms, and hopped on. Anyone else would have dreaded the idea of going to the gym at 10:30 PM after a long workday, but for her it may as well have been a spa. She'd been tense all day, and there were too many thoughts running through her mind; this was the best way to relax and clear her head that didn't come in a bottle.

As the number on the screen ticked higher, and the treadmill belt began to move faster, she was already itching with anticipation. Running remained one of the rare hangups from her old life that she enjoyed.

The machine settled into a jogging speed, and her legs carried her effortlessly through these next few minutes as the beginning of a runner's high seeped into her system. That point in a run where you hit a wall- from your heart pounding, your lungs burning, and your thoughts nagging you to stop- and break through it, making you feel like you could do anything.

That determination was exactly what she was craving.

Obviously, dealing with Hans would be the most formidable task she'd ever faced as CEO. He was more cunning than Flynn, and more irritating than Cruella, but these traits paled in comparison to the violent tendencies he might possess, not to mention the way he manipulated people into believing what he wanted to, and to doing what he said.

Mr. Arendelle voiced what she already knew: she had to take down Hans before his influence could stretch anywhere near Arendelle.

The parting words that self-righteous CEO told her in her office worried Elsa as well. When would she see him next? The earliest piece of business she'd be attending to was the overseeing of the renewed contracts being signed by the lumber mills in North Arendelle, but she saw no reason for him to be present at that.

And then, of course, there was the probation looming over her head. Taking down Hans might be the top priority, but she had to do it in a way that didn't further jeopardize her career. Whatever the board tasked her to do, she'd need to do it no questions asked if she wanted to stay in their good graces, and do so while still keeping Hans in her sight.

So many balls to juggle, which meant she'd have less and less time to herself. Thank goodness Hannah was coming back tomorrow to help take some of this burden off her hands. She, obviously, wouldn't task her with these big objectives, but having that assistance in handling the smaller tasks was going to do wonders for her psyche.

Should she apologize to her again?

That was the big worry on her mind when it came to Hannah. Sure, she said she was sorry at Anna's apartment, but that felt a little too informal. Then again, saying sorry again would just bring up all the pain from before, and in her email it sounded like Hannah just wanted to forgive and forget.

The speed picked up again, she was now running at the pace of her lacrosse games all those years ago. Hers and Anna's.

Anna. Now there was a tricky situation.

She could still feel the ghost of Anna's hand on her arm, and the tingling in her fingers when she held that hand. A month ago, she would have repressed it, said it was nothing, and grumble about how all of her problems were because of that pesky redhead. Now, things were...well to say they were complicated would be an understatement.

Even now, she didn't know if agreeing to start talking to her again was such a good idea. She did initially say no, but Anna's request was so innocent, and hearing her talk like they were in high school again...the scales had tipped, the good was finally outweighing the bad.

They'd already apologized to each other, all the anger and animosity had been chipped away, but things were still awkward. And Elsa still had no idea what kind of relationship she wanted with her.

It was ironic in a way: she had all these worries and things to keep track of, but this new, strange relationship she had with Anna was one she kept coming back to the most. Almost beating out her need to beat Hans.

She glanced down at the treadmill screen and stopped the machine as she looked down at the time. Somehow, almost 25 minutes had passed.

Maybe she could have stayed on it for longer, and continued to sort through her thoughts for the rest of the night, but if she only went to the gym for the treadmill, she could have just gotten one for her office.

She grabbed her hoodie and stretched out her legs, and before continuing the rest of her workout, she checked her phone.

There was one missed call from a vaguely familiar number.

Anna couldn't sleep. It was 10:50 at night, she had to be up in seven hours, and she couldn't freaking go to sleep.

Maybe it was the worrying squeak of her ceiling fan, maybe it was the burger refusing to sit well in her stomach, or maybe it was the fact that Elsa's number, courtesy of Hannah, was burning a hole into her phone, which sat tantalizingly right next to her bed.

When they'd parted ways from the food truck, and Anna drove back home, she had this unbelievably strong urge to message Elsa. Not tomorrow, not after work, but tonight. Literally right now.

Did it reek of desperation? Absolutely. Did she care? Absolutely not.

Just one text, she told herself, one text to say that she got her number from Hannah and wanted to see if it was okay to message her.

If Elsa said yes, then she could rest easy and figure out what to message her for the next three days, or months. If she said no, then...she was back to square one and relying on fate to get them talking again. Or, you know, just giving up entirely.

But there was no way that she would say no, right? She thought back to yesterday when she touched her arm, and then Elsa touched her hand, and she felt her chest swell when she said that yes, it was okay.

Anna asked if she could talk to her, hang out with her.

And Elsa. Said. Yes.

That was a massive, heaping amount of hope there that she was going to hold on to, but there was still fear that Elsa may change her mind. Anna had to know that wasn't the case, she wanted to know that Elsa really wanted to talk to her, and she also really wanted to go to sleep.

With an annoyed groan, she sat up from her bed and pulled her phone out of her charger.

Just one text, she told herself. She wasn't even going to wait for a reply, she was just gonna send it off, lay back down, and shut her eyes.

Now filled with fierce, short-term determination, Anna unlocked her phone, pulled up her Contact list, pressed Elsa's name- because of course she saved her new number right away- pressed the "Message" button…

...and watched as her phone began calling Elsa.

At first, Anna thought that maybe the more level-headed blonde was taking the first, incredibly bold, step and calling her. And then she remembered that Elsa didn't have her number. And then she realized that maybe her thumb had slipped or shifted or something in the process of trying to text her. And then she realized that she still hadn't ended the call.

Now in full-on panic mode, Anna let out a yelp, locked her phone, and covered her hands with her mouth. Both to regulate her breathing and to keep from waking up Rapunzel.

That was stupid. That was so, so stupid.

Once she figured out how to breathe normally, she grabbed her phone and walked to their kitchen. Sleep wasn't gonna be a thing anyway, and cookies always helped with the thinking process. And right now, she definitely needed to figure out what the heck she was thinking.

She grabbed the milk out of the fridge, the light only blinding her for a second, and the jar of never-ending cookies from the pantry, and nestled into Barry's arms, their giant bear/chair in the living room.

But before she could indulge herself in some brain food, her phone began to vibrate. She was getting a call.

A call from Elsa.

Never answer calls from numbers you don't know.

It was a piece of advice Elsa had heard many times, most recently from a video the board forced her to watch about proper business conduct and one that she was foregoing when she saw the missed call on her phone.

She sat on a bench, scrutinizing the number. Why was it so familiar? Was it a client that she'd forgotten to save in her Contacts? Was it Mr. Arendelle using one of his burner phones?

No, this was a number she had seen a long time ago. So, instead of continuing to scratch her sweaty head, she went against the warnings and called them back.

One ring. Then two. At the third ring, she realized she had no idea what she was gonna say when they picked up. At the fourth ring, she wondered if they were even going to pick up.

Finally, after the fifth ring, her doubts were cleared.


The voice, though timid, was immediately recognizable, and Elsa's curiosity got the best of her.

"Anna? Is everything alright?"

Anna almost dropped her phone when she heard Elsa's voice on the other end. It already felt good when she called her back, but to hear her soft, concerned- and slightly out of breath?- voice ask if she was okay…

Man, she really needed to get it together.

She nodded, "Ye-um, yup! E-everything is fine! Everything is great!...actually…"

"Are you sure? Cause it's 11 PM, and you sounded kinda, I dunno, scared when you answered."

"Pssh, whaaaat? That's silly, I'm not scared of yo-erm, I'm not scared. That was probably just the wind."

"The wind?"

"Yup, that pesky wind." Anna laughed nervously as she looked at her closed windows, wondering why she didn't just lie and say that she was trying to stay quiet because Rapunzel was asleep.

" there something you needed or…?"

"Yes! Uh, I mean no. I mean maybe, I-is this a bad time?"

"Uh...kind of? But not really, I'm just at the gym right now."

"The gym?! But it's 11 PM, shouldn't you be asleep?" Anna asked, not sensing the hypocrisy in her words until she said them. "I mean, um, the gym? Wow, what...whatcha doing there?"

"Working out?"

Anna resisted the urge to smack her forehead, if only because the glass of milk in her other hand would have splashed all over her and Barry, and she still had one working brain cell. "Wow, that sounds like a lot of work. Heheh, get it cause...cause you said…" She stopped herself, this was going nowhere. Elsa had called her back, why in the world was she wasting this opportunity?

"Okay, let me just get to the point. Hannah gave me your number because I had like zero ways to contact you, and I was just gonna try and text you and see if it was alright for me to have your number. But I guess I fat-thumbed it pretty bad and pressed 'Call' instead, and I was freaking out because calling people means like either something is super wrong, or they want to sell you something; and neither of those are true. So, mean guess I can just ask you what I was gonna say through text anyway, before I keep talking and buff up the word count and make this paragraph super unreadable, and no one likes reading giant blocks of text and...ugh! I'm rambling again."

"Lemme just get to the point...again. Is it okay that I called you?"

The entire time Anna talked, Elsa was doing her best not to laugh. She missed the way the redhead rambled, and then caught herself rambling, apologized for it even there was nothing to apologize for, and then continued rambling.

As she let the flustered girl speak, Elsa found a more secluded place in the gym and put her hood up. Even though no one ever came here, she couldn't just assume that she wasn't being watched.

Then, Anna asked if it was okay that she called her, and she opened her mouth to reply before stopping herself; because she had to say her next words carefully.

While they hadn't blatantly said it, the board definitely wouldn't be accepting of Elsa continuing to talk to Anna, and with the not knowing what she wanted them to be, maybe it would have been best just to say no. Refuse, and then apologize for leading Anna on like this.

Career-wise, it was the smarter, safer decision. If she wanted to lessen the tension between her and the board, and focus solely on her bout with Hans, then she had to say no. Plus, it would immediately solve her relationship dilemma with Anna, and relieve some of the stress she was suffering from.

It was a win-win situation...except it wasn't. Not after she reminded herself that Anna had been too afraid to even look in her general direction for months now, and yet she still took the risk to talk to her a handful of times.

Why couldn't Elsa take the risk to talk to her now?

"Er, y-you know what? It's fine, I know this was all super sudden, and you're probably gonna say no anyway so...yeah. I'll just hang up now, okay?"

Besides, she always had a hard time saying no to Anna when she sounded this vulnerable.

"Wait!" Elsa cried out. "Don't hang up! Sorry, I just...needed to gather my thoughts. Of course it's okay that you called me."

"R-really? Are you sure I'm not bothering you?"

"No, not at all."

She heard a strange noise come through the phone when she replied. Like a squeal and a yelp that was immediately muffled. It was kind of adorable.

"Ahem, I mean uh...good. Good, I'm-I'm glad that you think it's okay."

"Well I'm glad that you're glad that I think it's okay."


"Well I'm...uh...okay, my head hurts now."

"Don't worry, mine does too." Elsa was mortified, she hadn't said anything that stupid in a while.

So, was your day?"

Anna knew that she should probably let the blonde go now that she'd gotten her answer, but the selfish side of her wanted to keep this conversation going. It was a little pointless now, but she was enjoying herself too much to care. So, she pulled out her secret weapon: expert-level awkward small talk.

"So, was your day?"

She heard the blonde laugh, but it didn't sound like it was out of pity or to be mean, it sounded like she was amused. Which was...better?

"Today's been...crazy. I had a press conference about the article- again, I'm really sorry about that- that I really didn't want to do. But I'm on probation, so I have to do everything the board says and keep my nose clean if I want to stay on with the company. It was terrible, they just kept asking about you and me, and if I still kept in touch with you, and what our relationship was."

"What did you say?" Anna asked a bit too eagerly.

"I didn't really say anything, I told them that my personal life wasn't any of their business, and it wouldn't affect my corporate life."

"Oh." she voiced.



"I-I just meant like...oooooh no, that really sucks, Elsa. I'm sorry to hear that you have to go through that."

Elsa shrugged, "Ah, you reap what you sow. Besides, that wasn't even the most stressful thing I had to deal with. Do you remember a guy named Hans Westerguard?"

"That jerk that tried to ask you out in high school? Of course I do."

Of course she did. Anna clearly didn't repress as much from their high school years as she had. Then again, she always was the more emotionally stable of the two.

She leaned further into the wall, settling herself in to be the bearer of bad news. "Yeah well that jerk is apparently the new CEO of Corona International, and it turns out he's insane. He came to my office today and did like this whole supervillain monologue about how he was gonna take me down, and how he was the guy that hired Flynn to blackmail me, and I'm pretty sure he came on to me too."

There was a grumbling noise on the other end, like a dog seeing the mailman. "What was that, Anna? Did you say something?"

"Ah, I just...I was just saying he still sounds like a jerk. And wait, he was the guy that hired Flynn? So, he's had it out for you for a while now."

"Yeah, he has," Elsa said wearily.

"Do you need help dealing with him? I've already helped you arrest one guy, what's one more, right?"

Elsa giggled, "What is this? Some sort of buddy cop movie?"

"Absolutely! I'm the rookie who makes jokes to hide that she's way in over her head, you're the grizzled, old vet two days from retirement who gets tired of putting up with my shenanigans!"

"Old?! Anna, we're the same age!"

"I meant like...old in cop years."

Elsa laughed.

Elsa laughed.


They were having their first genuine, non-confrontational conversation in years, and Anna made her laugh twice.

Granted, she made her laugh with a really stupid joke and not her award-winning charm and wit, but still. A laugh is a laugh, and she made Elsa do just that. And it was better than she remembered, it was sweet and lovely, yet still reserved. Like a queen laughing at her jester's joke. And she was perfectly okay with calling herself a jester, she'd get the silly hat with bells on it if she had to.

She thanked fate for bringing them together like this again and hoped this moment would never end.

"Thank you for calling, Anna. This was nice."

"No problem," she replied with a dumb grin on her face.



"'s late and…"

Don't say it.

"...I'm sure I'm keeping you from getting sleep."

No, she absolutely was NOT. This was better than getting sleep. This was more important than getting sleep. Waaaay more important.

She didn't say any of that, obviously. Instead, she regained her composure, and downed the glass of milk in her hands for liquid courage, "Nah, it's fine. I can run off…" She looked at the time on her phone, "...six hours of sleep. Baking is super easy, a monkey can do it."

Elsa laughed for the third time.

"Well even so, I already feel bad for keeping you up this long. So, I think we should call it a night."

Anna was grateful that this was an on-the-phone conversation, or else Elsa would see the most pitiful frown on her face,. "Yeah, I...guess we should."

Elsa didn't even need to see Anna to know that she was frowning right now. But it was already so late, and she had a long day tomorrow. Besides, she knew that she would stay on the line with her for the next four hours if she didn't call it a night now.

This was nice, though, really nice; their talk had cleared up a lot of doubts in her mind.

"But I'll talk to you tomorrow, okay?"

Wait, what? She didn't mean to say that, it just sort of slipped out.

There was silence on the other end. Oh no, did she make a mistake? Did she cross a line in this relationship they'd just begun to build up again? Did she hang up?

She checked her phone. No, the timer was still going, Anna hadn't hung up. Immediately, Elsa put it back to her ear just in case she had started talking, but there was still silence.

Fortunately, not for long.

"Okay!" Anna replied excitedly, not caring if it made her sound desperate. The fact that Elsa was the one that put out the offer meant that she was just as invested in making these conversations work, and she would have been an idiot not to accept. "Does...does this time work for you?"

"Err...honestly, not really? It's a little late. Does 9 work for you?"

Anna nodded, "Yes! Absolutely! 9 is perfect!"

"Are you sure? You don't have already have something scheduled?"

"Nope, I just checked and I'm perfectly free tomorrow at 9 PM." Anna lied, although maybe she should have checked her schedule first before agreeing. Oh well, if anything came up, there was no way it'd be as important as this phone call.

"Alright, well then I guess I' to you tomorrow at 9 PM."

"Right! Tomorrow at 9 PM."



A very loud, very awkward silence smothered the two through their phones. It had been so long since she'd talked to a, well, regular person, that Elsa had forgotten how to end the call other than to say something like "Thank you for your time." And that would have been stupid, she'd sound like a telemarketer.

She pursed her lips, looking around at the empty gym, hoping that Anna would know how to end the call. But from the lack of words being said, it didn't seem like it.

"So…" Elsa finally said, trying to get the ball rolling.

"So…" Anna repeated.

"Uh...goodnight, I guess?"

"Yeah, um...goodnight. Sleep tight. Don't…" Anna sighed, "Okay this is stupid. Here, let me just say one more thing. And then you can hang up, okay?"

Elsa let out a grateful groan, "Yes, thank you. That sounds like a plan."

"Good. Well, I just…" Anna took a breath. Being this open so soon might be a bad idea, but speaking her mind had like an 80% success rate, so she liked her chances. " was really nice talking to you again, Elsa. Especially after everything that happened between us, I'm really glad that we can start to leave that garbage in the past. I...really missed talking with you, and hearing your voice and all that, so I'm happy that you want to keep talking. I mean it's through the phone, but honestly I'll take what I can get. So...yeah, I'm glad that we're talking again is what I was trying to get at."

There was no hesitation from Elsa when she replied, "I'm glad that we're talking again too."

Anna shook her head to loosen out the dumb, intruding thoughts in her head, "Anyway yeah, that's...that's what I wanted to say. Goodnight, Elsa."

Elsa smiled with content. For the moment, she didn't care if she was making a huge mistake. Whatever happened would happen, but for now she was content.

"Goodnight, Anna."

Chapter Text

Chapter 30

There are certain moments in life where everything is going so well, where there's literally nothing to complain about, that it almost feels like a dream. Like you're floating in this haze, dancing through life. The sun shines a little brighter, the air feels a little cooler, the colors are just a little more vibrant. Nothing can bring you down, you feel like you can do anything.

These moments are fleeting, you have to grasp them and hold on to them for as long as you can. And right now, Anna had a vise grip on hers.

She twirled around the bakery without a care in the world and somehow still found time to give out orders to her employees, like some ballerina/drill sergeant hybrid. Even the fact that she was running the bakery solo- Rapunzel had come down with the flu or something and couldn't come with- wasn't enough to dampen her spirits.

The bubbly redhead running off four hours of sleep was on cloud nine, and all it took was one talk with Elsa.

Granted, it was through the phone, which didn't provide the same intimacy and honesty as a face-to-face conversation, but she still managed to not only talk to her, but enjoy herself with Elsa in a way that she didn't think possible anymore.

Maybe...maybe this could work out, maybe they could be friends again, maybe they could be close again, maybe…

And even though the paparazzi still hung around outside the bakery, it still didn't dampen her spirits. Anna was overjoyed, and she was about to have more reasons to feel this way. The bakery door opened shortly after the lunch rush while she was crouched behind a display case and whoever opened it made a surprised sound, "My, that is certainly a lot of cameras."

Anna recognized the cheerful, heavily accented voice right away and popped up like a gopher out of its hole. "Oaken?! I can't believe you're here!" She leaped over the counter, surprising herself that she could still do that, and wrapped her arms around his sweater-clad frame as best as she could. "Oh, it's so good to see you."

"It is good to see you too," Oaken replied with a chuckle. "I am glad to see that your bakery is still in good spirits."

"It's in wonderful spirits, we've been doing so well." Anna released her futile bear hug and straightened out her apron. "But why are you here? Shouldn't you be at the school?"

Oaken crossed his arms over his mountainous frame and smiled, his dimples accentuating the warmness. "What is this? I cannot pay a visit to the best bakery in Arendelle on my spare time? The children will do just fine without me, and it has been so long since I have been around the city. I just had to make this my first stop!"

Anna blushed, "Aw shucks, the best? Well just for that, I think someone's got a muffin with their name on it. On the house."

With two blueberry muffins and two cups of coffee in tow, Anna and Oaken sat at one of the tables catching up on each other's lives. Oaken told her about how the school was doing, how they were gearing up for graduation a month from now, and the slight financial snag they hit which he assured they would pull through. Anna told him about how the bakery was doing, the party they got to cater to, and how she felt about the article.

"It's obviously been a huge adjustment, I don't think having all these cameras around will ever not feel so sleazy, but I'm learning to live with it," she said just as she accidentally caught the eye of a paparazzo.

Oaken took a sip from his black coffee, "I am glad to see you are adjusting well. Forgive me for bringing up such gossip, this is quite the regretful situation."

Is it?


"Er, I mean it?" She repeated, realizing that it really wasn't as regretful as it had been before. After all, in some twisted way, the article- and their argument at the festival that gave it its juiciest details- brought Elsa and Anna together again.

"Well I would assume, if it has given you no privacy," Oaken replied, unaware of the conflicting feelings in Anna's mind. "Do you not agree, Anna?"

She fidgeted with her coffee cup, "I...yeah, I do agree with you, but…" She smiled bashfully, unable to contain her excitement any longer. "It's not as bad as you'd think."

"Ooh, does this have to do with why you are in such good spirits?" The mountain man asked, intrigued.

Anna put a hand on her cheek, laughing nervously, "Is it really that to tell?"

"You do tend to wear your emotions on your sleeve, as the old saying goes."

She sighed, "Well I guess since the cat's out of the bag." Acting like she hadn't done so voluntarily. "Do you remember the bake sale? When I ran out of the dining room crying?"

Oaken raised an eyebrow, worried where this was going, "Um...yes?"

"That's because I saw Elsa the day before, and it...didn't go very well." Even now, despite the outcome, her stomach churned just thinking about that day. "And I thought that was the end of us ever seeing each other again, that there was no hope for us reconciling. But clearly, as you saw from the article, we did see each other again."

Oaken nodded, tiny muffin crumbs fell from his mustache.

"And that seemed like the end of it too, but somehow...somehow things got better. And then one thing leads to another and…" Anna took a sip from her sickeningly sweet coffee. "...we talked last night, on the phone. And it was a good one."

"That is wonderful news, Anna!" Oaken exclaimed with his arms stretched wide, almost knocking over his mug. "Such good feelings all around!"

"They are good feelings, Mr. Oaken, I'm so happy. Gosh, I haven't been this happy in…" Anna sighed incredulously, " years. Wow."

Yes, she had Rapunzel to save her from that dark first year at Arendelle U, and yes she was able to fulfill her dream of owning a bakery, and yes, having Hannah as a friend doubled her friend count which meant less lonely nights at the apartment, but...somehow even after all that she still felt a nagging emptiness.

It wasn't big, it was like the final piece in a thousand-piece puzzle. And Anna had finally found that piece again.

"I'm happy." She repeated. "So happy that I wanna scream and shout and sing and dance and just…" The redhead squealed and hugged herself, "Have you ever felt like this before, Mr. Oaken?"

Oaken chuckled, the joy all around them was too infectious to be contained, "Oh, to be young and in love again."

"Well let me tell you- wait what did you just say?"

"I said you are young and in love. A delightful feeling, is it not?"

Anna let go of herself and stammered out incomprehensible noises, her face was flushed to the point that she looked sickly, and she had suddenly gotten 30 degrees hotter. "That's...I mean...I can't. Where the heck did you get the idea that I luuu...that I luuu...that I-" She couldn't even say it.

The last time someone insinuated that she was in love- no, still in love- with Elsa was her mom after the festival. And that was through the phone, which meant her mom couldn't see how she'd react. That luxury wasn't available to her now.

"Love," Oaken repeated, seeing her struggle with the word. "I know it is a little hard to believe, but the more you say it, the more it becomes real."

"But I…" What was she going to say? That she didn't want it to be real? That she didn't think Oaken- and by proxy, her mom- was right? That she knew exactly what her feelings were towards the platinum blonde?

Because none of those were true.

After denying her mom, she'd kept her true feelings for Elsa after all these years locked away; and she'd distanced herself from them by, ironically, trying to bridge the gap between the two of them.

However, that gap was now nonexistent, which meant that she had no reason to keep those feelings locked up anymore.

It was a case of Schrodinger's cat, except instead of a cat, it was a box of repressed feelings towards her ex-girlfriend. Until she explored these feelings, opened up the box, she was both uninterested in exploring a relationship with Elsa again, and wanting nothing more in the entire world. She wouldn't know until she opened the box, so maybe it was time to turn the key.

" that what this is?" She said softly, more to herself than to Oaken. "Do I seriously have feelings for Elsa again?"

"I should not be the one you ask that question, Anna," Oaken stated matter-of-factly. "But if you were to ask me, as you just did, I would say that yes, there is a good chance. The way you speak- and how you glow as you do- of Elsa, I have only seen when employees talk about boyfriends and girlfriends, husbands and wives. It is as if, to them, they are the only person that matters."

Anna gulped, "And you think that's how I talk about Elsa?"

"Yes- well...maybe it could be just excitement from reuniting with an old friend. I sometimes tend to mix those up." Oaken smiled as if that was just a tiny, honest mistake.

"Well which is it?!" She accidentally snapped. "Er, uh...sorry about that. I'm just having a hard time wrapping my head around this, that's all. Which is it?"

Oaken put up his hands, facing his palms toward the flustered redhead, "No need to say sorry, feelings are a tricky thing to explain. But there is something I think might help you, if you want."

Anna nodded eagerly, wanting to open this box and finally see what was inside.

The gentle giant leaned forward, his eyes growing more serious, yet still reassuring. "Okay, I want you to close your eyes." When Anna did as she was told, he continued. "Now do not open them until I tell you. Right now, I want you to think about your mother."

Brushing off the oddness of the request, Anna thought about her mom. She could picture the slightly shorter brunette smiling in her kitchen cooking up a feast and welcoming her daughter with open arms. They would talk for hours about nothing in particular, and yet everything at the same time, and Anna would savor every bite of the home-cooked meal. A certain warmth went through her as she thought about this, along with a twinge of sadness.

"Good, now I want you to think of your best friend."

After a few seconds of conflict, Anna thought about Rapunzel. Although Hannah was an amazing friend, Rapunzel had been around the longest and had helped her through the roughest time of her life. She thought about how she was doing back in the apartment- hopefully the sickness wasn't anything serious and she was busy painting, or reading some book about public speaking, or finally learning how to bake. That last thought made Anna laugh a little.

"Okay, now I want you to think about Elsa."

Oh boy, here we go. For some reason, Anna's mind didn't immediately lock on to one set memory, it raced through the lot of them like a movie on fast-forward. She thought about their first day of English class, then the lacrosse game against Southern Isles, then their big argument that lead to them breaking up, then their other argument at the festival, then to the party with Elsa in that damn dress, and then her thoughts finally stopped at that stolen moment in front of Elsa's car. When Elsa's hand was on top of hers. All those moments were so exhilarating, so...fascinating to think about. They had been through so much together.

"I see...okay, you can open your eyes now."

Anna did as she was told, blinking and shaking her head to remove the bright spots behind her eyes. "So doc, what's the consensus?"

Oaken let out a slight giggle and put up three fingers on his right hand. "Well, when I told you to think about your mother, you smiled. But there was a...sadness to it. Did something happen?"

"No no, it's just that I miss her a lot, that's all." Anna rubbed the back of her neck. "I haven't had much time to visit lately."

He let out a noise of understanding and put down his ring finger, "When I told you to think of your best friend, you looked amused and laughed."

"Haha yeah, I was just thinking of this dumb inside joke between us. See, Rapunzel can't bake very well and…" Anna trailed off, "Ah, it's not important."

He ticked off one more finger and twirled the remaining finger around, "Now this is what is interesting. When I asked you to think about Elsa, do you know what you did?"

Anna shook her head and unconsciously leaned forward.

"You tilted your head, and you sighed."

Her eyes widened, unsure if she heard that right. She sighed? She tilted her head and sighed? How in the world did she not notice that she did the ultimate schoolgirl crush move? "A-are you sure? I'm not usually a head tilter, or a sigher." she lied for no good reason.

"Then that should make your answer much clearer, should it not?" Oaken replied knowingly.

"It...I mean…" Oh dang…it did. It really did.

A massive weight dropped into the pit of her stomach, and she felt that terrifying wave of clarity crash over her. Schrodinger's Box of Unresolved Feelings Toward Ex-Girlfriends had finally been opened, and she finally knew the truth.

She was in love with Elsa again.

"Have you seen this yet?" Hannah said, barging into the office waving her phone in the air.

Elsa snapped out of her trance and leaned forward in her chair. "Hannah! What did I say about knocking?" She said a bit too suspiciously. "What if I was in a meeting?"

"Elsa, you've been alone in here for like an hour. Besides, if you were in a meeting, I would have knocked first." The brunette stopped her advance for a second and eyed the CEO carefully, "What were you doing in here anyway?"

She wanted to say that it was none of her business, but she promised to be nicer and more honest with her assistant. "I was...replying to some emails." She lied, not wanting to admit that she'd been trying to figure out what to talk to Anna about in their phone call tonight, and why she agreed to make this a regular thing. But hey, at least she was nice…sort of.

Hannah frowned, clearly not believing her. "Whatever,, you gotta see this." She rushed over and pushed her phone towards Elsa. The cautious blonde took it, and what she saw on the screen made her blood boil.

It was a video of some news report, her current archnemesis "graced" the screen, and underneath him, in big, bold letters, it said:

Corona International buys out Für 101

"No…" Elsa growled.

"Play the video," Hannah said somberly with her arms crossed.

A perky, young news reporter with a heavily trained smile appeared on the screen, sitting at her generic news table with her hands folded immaculately in front of her.

"Emily Cho from Channel Nine News here with a breaking news report. The iconic fashion company known as Für 101, whose stock has plummeted in recent months amidst a failed investment and troubling reports being released about its founder, Cruella De Vil, has finally found a buyer."

Pictures of Corona International flashed across the screen as she spoke.

"Corona International has agreed to buy out the company's dwindling stock, seemingly as its own initial leap into the fashion industry. This development comes just days after they announced the hiring of their new CEO…"

A magazine cover with Hans tugging at his suit vest and winking at the camera now appeared on the screen, causing Elsa to grip the screen even tighter.

"...Hans Westerguard. In a recent interview with Channel Nine News, Mr. Westerguard had said that his goal is to make Corona International into a worldwide, household name. Could this be the first move of many in achieving that goal? We now go to the outside of their headquarters in Corona, as the CEO is currently holding a press conference."

Corona's sky was gray, a sight that Elsa wasn't used to. During her visits there, the sun was always shining just a little brighter than most places, as if it had deemed Corona it's favorite city. Maybe it was now rethinking that decision.

Hans was standing at a podium, his victorious yet "comforting" smile hid the malice in his eyes. "Ms. De Vil is actually a dear friend of mine, I visited her before all this unfortunate business happened with her and her company, and she gave no indications that she was struggling in any way. It's sad to see what has happened with Für 101, but rest assured that it is in capable hands here at Corona International. We will return the company to its former glory."

Hands rose in the audience of press gathered there, and Hans pointed to one. "Mr. Westerguard, is there any truth to the rumors that you bought Für 101 as your first step in the global expansion of Corona International?"

Hans looked down and smiled sheepishly, which made Elsa want to throw up. "I can't deny that this decision wasn't also made with my own company's future in mind. Having such a historic company such as Für 101 under the Corona banner will no doubt show the rest of the world that I mean what I say. Corona will expand, and everyone will know its name. It will become a bigger success than it already is."

"Mr. Westerguard, Für 101 is in close proximity to ArenCorp, who they've dealt with in the past. And with this buyout- plus your first move as CEO of Corona International being to break off the long-standing partnership between you and ArenCorp- could this be seen as...maybe an act of provocation towards ArenCorp?"

Subconsciously, Elsa moved closer to the screen. Eager, yet at the same time dreading, Hans' response. He laughed as if finding the question ridiculous, "Well you could certainly see it like that, but would it be true? Not in the slightest. I recently met with Ms. Andersen to ensure that there aren't any hard feelings, and to explain why I broke off the partnership. I mean no ill intent towards Ms. Andersen or her company. I simply want to do what's best for Corona, and if that means stepping out of the shadows and making big money moves like this, then so be it."

Elsa bit her tongue to prevent from cursing out the poor phone. The rest of the press conference went the same way, with the reporters eating up every word Hans said, and him spouting out lies that couldn't necessarily be refuted.

She handed the phone back to Hannah, pressed her elbows into her desk, and hid her mouth behind clenched fists. She glared at nothing in particular.

"This...this is bad, right?" Hannah said, worried when Elsa didn't say anything. "I mean this is like his first- well, second- move so maybe it isn't, and we just have to wait this out, but...I dunno, this just seems like a bad thing. Don't you agree, Elsa? ...Elsa?"

Still Elsa said nothing, not because she didn't know what to say, but because she didn't want to say the wrong thing. Behind her eyes was a raging inferno, one that she needed to tame before making her next move, saying her next words.

Hans was close now. He was close before, but Für 101was less than a two-hour drive from the closest ArenCorp-owned business, which meant the gap had been shortened considerably. With his influence nearby, what would stop the surrounding businesses from not renewing their contracts and signing with Corona instead? she couldn't think like that. She had to remain defiant, just like Mr. Arendelle told her. Stay undeterred from his actions, and eventually she would win.

This was not a time to mope or seethe, this was a time to act. Show Hans that he wouldn't take another step near her territory. The businesses near Für 101needed incentive to stay with ArenCorp, and she would give them just that.

"Get my council up here." Elsa finally said, her voice sounding deeper and authoritative than she expected. "I'm calling an emergency meeting."

Hannah nodded without saying a word and paced back to her desk. When she left, Elsa pulled up her email on her computer, smirking slightly despite herself. Just as expected, there was an email from the board members, telling her to do exactly what she'd already asked Hannah to do.

This was going to work, she told herself confidently. She'd beat Hans in this battle, and stay one step ahead. The smile on her face grew just a little wider as she realized, also, that she finally knew what she was gonna talk to Anna about tonight.

Work had been a bit sluggish through the rest of the day once Oaken helped drop that bombshell on Anna, but thankfully she was now home. A bit later than she wanted to since she cleaned up by herself, but she still had a solid hour to rest a little, take a shower, and prepare herself for her phone call with Elsa.

But before any of that, she needed to talk to Rapunzel about everything that happened today. If only to get her head on straight, was she even fit to talk to Elsa? Especially after finally realizing that she was in love with her?

No, no she made a promise, and no stunning revelation should change that.

Besides, maybe she talks to Rapunzel, and then her best friend supports her and her odd feelings, and then she confessed to Elsa, and then Elsa feels the same way, and they live happily ever after?

That could happen, right?



Man, it was amazing how much reality had come crashing down on her so soon. She was still holding on to that fleeting moment at bliss, but her grip had sufficiently weakened as the day went on. Speaking of grip, she finally stopped staring at her front door and turned the knob with her free hand. "I'm home, 'Zel! I brought home some medicine just in case you're still feeling like garbage!" She cried out into her dim apartment.

There was no answer, Rapunzel might have been trying to sleep off the sickness, so maybe she shouldn't be too loud.

Slowly, she closed the door and stepped further into the apartment, determined to now take the quietest shower ever and do all her thinking there. Maybe she would confess to Elsa tonight, or maybe she would just talk to her like everything was fine and her world hadn't just turned upside down. But as she made her way past the living room, she saw Rapunzel sitting underneath the kitchen lights, looking sadly at something in her hand.

"Oh, there you are." Anna said cheerily, trying to lighten the mood. "You feeling any better? I got some flu medicine."

Only now did she realize the unruly state her best friend was in. Her hair lay uncombed and sitting on slumped shoulders. Her face was emotionless, and her nose was a darker red than Anna's cheeks were earlier in the day.

"Rapunzel? What's wrong?" She walked closer to the eerily quiet woman but stopped as she got a better look at the plastic stick in her hands.

Sensing the hesitation from Anna, Rapunzel finally looked up to show her dark, tired eyes, only achievable through a heavy bout of tears. "This is the fourth test I've taken today…" She said hoarsely. "They've all been positive."

Anna swallowed, a dreadful chill ran down her spine. "Wait...wait so…"

Rapunzel moved her head slightly, the only energy she could muster to form a nod. "Yup, I'm pregnant." And she tried to smile, to keep a brave face despite this shocking development, tried to show that this news wouldn't break her, but that was what finally broke her.

She cried again for the hundredth time that day, throwing the pregnancy test across the table, and burying her face into her palms.

Anna said nothing, she just walked over to her best friend, took her hands away from her face to embrace her, and let Rapunzel sob into her shirt as she muttered "I don't know what to do." over and over again.

Chapter Text

Chapter 31

The drive to North Arendelle was quiet.

Elsa didn't care to make conversation with Marshall, who was driving, or Hannah, who was reading something on her tablet anyway. They would be at their destination in a few minutes, and she needed the time, and the quiet, to think.

They drove through the forest, past the lumber mill and recreational parks, and up a hill that at its peak would give them the best view of The Neighborhood, their destination. An opportunistic millionaire bought out a large plot of land at the Arendelle border stretching far across the base of the hill and oversaw the construction and signing of dozens of shops in this glorified outlet mall. To his credit, a majority of them were locally-owned businesses and galleries for struggling artists to showcase their work, with name-brand stores scattered sparingly around the plot.

Elsa oversaw the partnership written up between ArenCorp and Robin Callahan, the millionaire in question, as one of her final moves in ensuring that her company owned a business in every corner of the city. Making the partnership a reality was difficult for two reasons: one, having such an...expensive shopping center on the payroll would definitely pain them financially until they saw a return on their investment; and two…

Mr. Callahan didn't like her that much.

He accused her of creating a monopoly in the city that she "claimed" to love, and said she was driving out businesses that didn't sign on with ArenCorp, even though she gave him substantial amounts of proof to show otherwise. He also accused her of not really caring about local businesses or the people of Arendelle, and that it was all a front to stay in everyone's good graces and keep her celebrity status, even though Elsa hated being a celebrity.

Elsa didn't like him much either because of his egotistical, self-righteous attitude. She didn't accuse him of anything, but heavily implied that he wasn't entirely honest with where he was getting all his income. Drawing on his criminal past of embezzlement and robberies when he used to be in a gang.

After days of bickering, they were able to agree that a partnership would be beneficial for both of them and put aside their own personal animosity to make it happen. Unfortunately, Elsa hadn't done much to maintain that relationship, and so she had to make sure Mr. Callahan renewed his contract and didn't do something stupid like make a deal with the devil.

She had given her council and managers the same sorts of tasks, ensuring that their businesses would renew their contracts through any means necessary. However, they were also told not to push too hard, or mention Hans or Corona in their negotiations…

Ensuring that no other company fell into his clutches was her top priority today, it was the only thing she would think about. She certainly wasn't thinking about why Anna didn't call her last night. Or pick up her phone.

"We're almost there, I messaged Mr. Callahan to tell him to be ready for us. Do you know what you're gonna say?" When she didn't get a response, Hannah tapped her shoulder. "Elsa? You good?"

Elsa blinked and tore her eyes away from the window, "Huh? Oh, yeah I'm fine, I know what I'm going to say to him."

Hannah wasn't convinced. "What's going on? Like I know this whole thing with Mr. Westerguard has got you rattled, but you need to be on your A-game here. One slip up with this meeting and you just know he's gonna swoop in like a vulture."

"You don't think I know that?!" Elsa snapped, and then immediately looked remorseful. "S-sorry, that wasn't meant for you I just…" She sighed. Honesty, she had to be more honest. "I had an...appointment...yesterday, an important one, and they didn't show."

"An appointment? Elsa, I was with you the whole day, the only appointment you had was with your council."

"It was after hours. I made it before you came back," she replied, which was technically the truth. "They didn't show, and when I tried calling them, they didn't answer."

Hannah scoffed, "Doesn't seem very professional of them. Honestly, if they're gonna be like that, then they're probably not worth your time, especially if the only time they can make for a meeting is after you get off work."

If it was anyone else, and an actual client, Elsa would have agreed with her assistant; but it wasn't just anyone else. And because of that, she felt...a lot of things: disappointed, confused, worried…most of all, she was kind of annoyed.

Elsa frowned, she'd made it a whole five minutes without thinking about Anna. She'd been stressing over what to talk to Anna about last night, and then even found herself looking forward to the conversation. After a long and hectic workday, she rushed back to her apartment, took a shower and ran through everything she was going to say.

At 9 PM, she waited for her phone to ring. At 9:05, she began wondering if Anna forgot about tonight. At 9:10, she decided to take the initiative to call, only to have it go straight to voicemail. At 9:30, after downing a half-pint of ice cream she forgot she had in her freezer, she tried calling again, but once again only getting her voicemail. By 10:30, she decided to call it a night.

Now here she was, 12 hours later, and going into an important meeting annoyed by Anna's lack of punctuality, worried over what had happened, and trying to push all those thoughts away so she could just focus on her work.

"It doesn't matter much now." Elsa lied. She looked forward and noticed that they were at the crest of the hill. "We're here."

The Neighborhood was divided into four neat quadrants, separated by clean streets and immaculately kept shrubbery cut into the shapes of dollar signs. It wasn't exactly a gated community, but it did have a waist-high gold-painted fence around the perimeter, meant more as a frame for the outlet rather than a security measure. Which wasn't to say that they didn't have any form of security, they had retainers and police scattered all around the place, making sure to keep the peace. Seeing how it was only 10:30 in the morning though, they didn't have much to do yet.

In the middle of the shopping center was a very modernist A-frame house made of tinted glass and metallic borders, with the roof constructed out of black wood. A staircase descended from the front door and out to a parking lot and a large, marble fountain with a carved-out figure of a naked man shooting a bow and arrow into the sun.

It seemed that Robin had made a few renovations since she was last here.

Marshall parked the car in the lot and Elsa opened her door, already advancing towards the house without waiting for either of them. She made it just past the fountain and to the base of stairs when the front door- also made of glass with metallic, golden door handles molded into the letters R and C- swung open to reveal a black man with a short afro wearing a green muscle shirt, black basketball shorts, and old sneakers, with a face towel draped around his neck. Elsa frowned, he didn't even bother to dress up.

"Your prayers have been answered and your search is over, Robin Callahan is here!" The pompous investor exclaimed with his arms stretched wide, his voice traveling a respectable distance.

She rolled her eyes, he'd said the same thing at their first meeting. "I can see that, it's good to know you're still...punctual, Robin." she said annoyed.

"Ain't that hard when everybody wants to meet on my territory." Robin slid down the railing till they were both on the same step. "Damn, I love doing that."

Elsa winced when he called it his territory. Sure he owned The Neighborhood, but ArenCorp was the one still signing his paychecks. "I'm glad you made the time to meet with me today, we've got a lot to discuss and it's best that we get to work right away."

Robin shrugged, "Ain't got much of a choice now, do I? When the great Elsa Andersen summons you, shit you just gotta bend the knee."

Condescending prick. Elsa didn't even bother to hide the fakeness of her laugh, "I get it. I'm the big, bad tyrant that's trying to take over Arendelle. Hilarious…"

Robin winked at her and folded his arms. He looked towards Marshall and Hannah, who had finally caught up, "I see you brought your crew with you. Hey Marsh, you still working for this fool? You ain't protecting the President or nothing?"

Marshall didn't answer.

"Maaan, she's got you whipped." Robin laughed and then set his eyes, which became more intrigued, at Hannah, "And who's this?"

"Robin, we have a lot to talk about, can we just-"

"My name's Hannah!" Her assistant exclaimed like an overeager puppy. Elsa turned around and glared at her.

"Hannah." He replied as if tasting the name on his lips. He nodded approvingly, "'Sup Hannah."

Before anyone else could do or say anything stupid, and before she lost all control of this situation, Elsa groaned, "Can we please just go inside now?!"

The drive from North Arendelle was quiet.

Anna hated it, she wished Rapunzel would say something, throw her a bone when she asked a question, but all she did was stare out the passenger-side window. Even the overly cheerful pop music on the radio wasn't enough to deafen the silence.

The hard part was she couldn't blame her best friend for not being in the mood to talk. After making an appointment with a gynecologist, who confirmed the...situation and gave Rapunzel the necessary information about it, they left the office feeling overwhelmed and with a lot to think about. Anna knew where her own head was at- as hard as it was to accept this reality, she would support Rapunzel no matter what she decided- she was trying to figure out where Rapunzel's head was at.

She tried at first with simple questions and statements like "The sky's looking a little gloomy, huh?" and "That gynecologist was really nice.", to which all she got was silence. Maybe it was time to try another approach and just rip off the band-aid, address this whole situation instead of letting things fester as they were.

"'Zel I...I just want you to know that...whatever you choose to do, just know that I'll support you and help you no matter what. If there's anything you need, I'm your girl."

Those words seemed to have worked as Rapunzel turned her head and looked at the redhead with tired eyes. "Anything?" She repeated.

Anna smiled and held her sigh of relief, "Yes! Anything! Even an arm, or a leg. Or both! I can probably bake with only two limbs."

"Can you send me back in time to before I had sex with that lying pig?"

Silence. Again.

Rapunzel turned back to the window, and Anna let out a breath. But it wasn't relieved. Maybe trying to inject some humor into this so early wasn't such a good idea. After the next song on the radio ended, this one a little less cheerful than the one before, she tried coming at this from yet another angle.

"Have you...given some thought as to what you're gonna do?"

Rapunzel let out an annoyed sigh, "Do about what?"

"Uh, know like, are y-you gonna keep the...the baby or…"

"Do you really think I'm ready to answer that question right now?" Rapunzel asked bitterly. Anna had to remind herself that her friend was mad at the situation, and not at her. But that still didn't stop every word from feeling like she was getting punched in the gut.

"I-I don't know, I just don't...I mean I just want to know where your head's at." Anna said meekly. "That's-that's all."

She braced for some sort of venom-filled response, but all Rapunzel did was let out a small, painful laugh and say, "My head is in all kinds of places right now, Anna."

The redhead gripped the steering wheel just a little tighter, "What are you thinking about?"

"I'm thinking...about how stupid I am. I'm thinking about how we-how I wasn't careful enough. I'm thinking about how sick to my stomach this whole damn mess is making me feel. But most of all, I'm thinking about going to work and pretending for at least one day that my whole world hasn't been turned upside down."

Anna bit her lip, knowing what she was about to say would probably lead to a fight at worst, and more silence at best. "I don't should go to work today."

Turns out she'd be getting a little bit of both. After a minute, Rapunzel turned to her with glaring eyes and spoke sharply, "What's that supposed to mean?"

Thankfully, Anna had the excuse of driving to keep from looking too much into the blonde's eyes. Why did she have such a terrible knack for getting blondes to be mad at her? "I-I just mean that you're, you know, up front. And you're like the first person the people see. What if they see you…"

"What if they saw me...refuse to put on a fake smile? Refuse to fake being happy?"

Anna frowned, "Come on, you know that I'd never want you to fake being happy. I meant what if they see you sad. I'm just trying to look out for you, 'Zel, I want you to be back to 100 percent before you even think about coming back to work."

"I don't think I'll ever be 100 percent! I messed up, we-I wasn't careful enough, and made the biggest mistake of my life and no matter what I choose...I have to live with that." Rapunzel's voice was starting to give, the hard exterior she'd force herself in to try and get through this was already breaking.

Anna glanced over to see tears forming in her eyes.

"And I-I just feel so...I'm so scared, Anna. I'm so freaking scared." Rapunzel said breathlessly.

This was not a conversation she could have while driving. Immediately, Anna pulled over to the side of the road and leaned over to place one hand on Rapunzel's back and another on her shaking shoulders. She was full-on sobbing now.

"Hey, it's okay to be scared," Anna said soothingly. "But like I said, you're not gonna do this alone. Which means you don't have to make this decision alone either, I'll help you. I've always got your back, 'Zel, always."

Rapunzel didn't answer, Anna didn't expect her to. They stayed where they were for a little while longer.

Elsa stared disapprovingly at her coffee mug, not cause of its content, but because of the cocky face of the glorified shopkeep- with cornrows this time- pointing at her that was printed on to it. She regretted not asking for a water instead.

"Keep the mug, I've got like fifty of them." Robin boasted as he grabbed a water bottle from his fridge as if to prove a point. Although, disappointingly, that too had his face on it.

"How...thoughtful of you," Elsa replied as she nudged the beverage away. "Now if there aren't any other 'pressing matters' to attend to, I think it's about time you and I finally spoke."

"Gimme a second, I just gotta change." He pulled off his muscle shirt and pointed a circle around his skinny, yet toned body. "You still into the ladies, so this don't bother you right?"

Elsa rolled her eyes, "It bothers me that you didn't change before this meeting."

Robin shrugged, "Aight, lemme fix that then, gosh. Gimme like five minutes." He turned to leave before Elsa could respond, there was a faded scar along his side.

The very slim amount of patience she had to begin with was wearing thin. She glanced over to Hannah, who was hiding her flushed cheeks behind her own coffee mug. Once she saw Elsa's disapproving scowl, the brunette innocently said, "What? He's hot."

Elsa shook her head and busied herself by taking a look around his pretentious living room/kitchen. The hardwood floors had been recently cleaned and polished, giving off a shinier look than necessary. Adorning the walls were framed movie posters, pictures of Robin with assorted celebrities, and above the steel fireplace was a commissioned portrait of him sitting lazily on a solid gold throne with a crown hanging off his shaved head.

Marble seemed to be his favorite interior design choice, as that was what the kitchen countertops, coffee table, and shelving were made out of, all jet black with purposeful strips of white to make it look "cracked", and the furniture was minimalist in style. The couch she and Hannah were sitting on had a simple cloth cushion with no armrests and a metallic frame that seemed painted on.

In the background, from speakers she couldn't see, was a rap song being mumbled out by some artist she didn't care to know.

"Five minutes on the dot!" Robin called out with his megaphone voice as he stepped down his also marble staircase. When he came back into the room, he was wearing faded skinny jeans, a dark blue polo, and tinted shades. "How's this? Do I look the part now?"

Elsa directed her scowl at him, she knew he only wore the polo to try and mock the ocean blue button-up she wore today. "It's fine." she said coldly.

He sat opposite the two women, on a smaller version of the couch they were sitting on. "I mean cause I can change again if you want. I think I got like a blue jacket in my closet somewhere. I got like a police costume I wore for Halloween once."

"Let's just get started, okay." Elsa gestured over to Hannah, who clumsily handed over the tablet in her hands, and scrolled through to find the new ArenCorp/Neighborhood contract. "I'm sure you already know why I'm here, but just in case you don't, I'm here to inform you that your contract with ArenCorp is going to run out in six months and I'm here to get you to renew it."

"If it expires in six months, then why ain't we talking six months from now?" Robin asked, getting to the one question Elsa hoped he wouldn't get to.

Thankfully, she had an answer lined up anyway. "Being proactive is always a good trait to have. Especially in the business world. I'd much rather deal with this situation now than six months from now, when there isn't time to negotiate anything in the contract."

The stubborn millionaire began to toss his water bottle between both hands as if it was a ball. "Okay, but that's implying that I want to renew the contract. Why you acting like this is a done deal?"

"I'm not," Elsa replied. "But if you could cooperate with me, then this would go so much easier for both of us."

"Who says I'm not cooperating?" The bottle traveled faster between his hands. "I agreed to the meeting, let you into my home, got dressed, I even made you coffee. That's some hard work right there. Is that not cooperating enough for you?"

"Well I would appreciate a lot more tact than you're showing me right now." She was trying desperately to stay composed, but he was doing everything possible to press her buttons.

"Tact?" His eyes widened in disbelief, "You wanna talk about tact now? Miss 'Sign the contract and sell your soul', Miss 'I only smile when you get on board', Miss 'Imma treat my ex like shit on camera' wants to talk about tact?!"

Elsa smacked the water bottle out of his hands and stood up, vividly furious. Her patience had just ran out. "Alright, I've had enough of this! I've had enough of you not taking this seriously and accusing me of the stupidest shit, and the next time you talk about Anna, I will gut you where you stand. Now sit still, shut the hell up, and listen to me, goddammit!"

Oh...oh crap...she didn't mean to let that Anna part slip. She cursed herself for having that girl still on her mind during this meeting.

The smile on Robin's face lowered. He tossed his shades away and stood up to meet the fuming blonde's gaze. He spoke slowly, "Why don't you admit why you're really here?"

She wasn't in the mood to play this game. "Did you not hear me? I told you to-"

"Yeah yeah, I heard you. And I'll play ball. But you gotta tell me why you're here first, for real."

When Elsa didn't reply, both to keep from lashing out in anger again, and to hold back any unnecessary comments about her and Anna that she would have made, he answered for her. "It's that Hans guy, right? Yeah I saw the news, he's got you rattled."

"Mr. Westerguard does not have me rattled," Elsa said with less confidence than she wanted.

Robin smiled, but it wasn't his usual arrogant, cocky grin. This one was small, barely there, almost…empathetic. He walked over to where the water bottle fell. "Knew a guy once, back when I still ran with a crew. Standup dude, wasn't afraid of nothing. But I could tell he wasn't, you know, all there."

Elsa eyed him carefully but stayed silent.

"And I had rules, you know? No stealing from poor people, no killing, basic shit like that. Everyone followed them. Everyone." He took a drink from the slightly crumpled bottle. "And so did he, at least for a little bit. Then something happened, I don't know, he wasn't right in the head or something or maybe he thought the rules don't apply to him."

She sat back down, not as aggravated as she'd been but still impatient, wanting him to get to the point. "What does this…"

"I'm getting there, aight?" He walked back to his own chair, and sat down, leaning forward with his arms resting on his knees. "He starts taking shit from like homeless people and stuff, waving his gun around to steal five bucks outta this poor son of a bitch's wallet, roughing up the cashiers a bit too much. I talked to him a few times, cause you know we're all like brothers, and he'd always say he'd tone it down but he never did."

His expression grew darker, "Then one day he goes and does like this solo op, said he heard about this hot-shot banker that got a safe in his house worth more than the gas stations and shit we were sticking up. He gets there, and the dude's nowhere to be seen, just this woman and her daughter. But see the banker dude didn't have a family, the son of a bitch had the wrong house."

Elsa frowned and bit her cheek. She knew where this story was going. It was all over the news a few years ago.

"'Cept he didn't know that, nah he thought they were hiding their daddy somewhere so he holds them hostage and keeps yelling 'Where the money at?'. They had no idea what the hell he was talking about. Suddenly he hears like sirens or something and gets all paranoid, saying how he don't wanna go to jail and how they knew too much. And...the dumb motherfucker takes his gun and…"

"Shoots them." Elsa finished somberly.

Robin nods, makes a gun with his fingers and flicks it twice. "First the girl, then the mom."

"...I went straight after that, you know? Turned myself in and ratted him out to lower my sentence. Screw loyalty, aight? I ain't gonna be loyal to someone that kills kids. While I was sitting in that jail cell I promised to make something out of myself the right way this time. And that I'd never deal with any son of a bitch who saw nothing but the bottom dollar, anyone who would sacrifice others to make sure their paycheck was bigger than the day before, anyone who's got no respect for anyone else but them self...just like Mr. Hans Westerguard."

At the sound of his name, she unconsciously clenched her fists, weary of where this conversation was going now.

"Ms. Andersen, I made my decision before you even got here. Even if shit hit the fan, I'd never work with someone like him. You can see it in his eyes, he ain't all there either, you know?" Robin tapped his temple to emphasize his point. "But that don't mean I'm just gonna roll over for you, give you that satisfaction. You want my support in this whole lockdown, reinforce the gates kinda shit you got going on? Then you gotta make a pitch."

Elsa felt slightly more at ease now that she knew that at least Robin wasn't going to side with Hans, but she still needed him on her side. She sighed, released the tension in her shoulders, and spoke, "Pitch you on what?"

"You were upfront, told me to my face you didn't like me, and I did the same, and we still got business done. Now you gotta do that again. You gotta show me why I should be on your side, you gotta show me that you ain't just like Hans."

That was an unfortunate time to take a sip from her lukewarm coffee. Elsa coughed, almost choking on the drink, "I am nothing like that son of a…" She stopped and composed herself. "I am not like Mr. Westerguard."

Robin smirked and pointed his water bottle towards her, "Yeah? Then show me."

Miraculously, they had finally gotten to a point in the conversation that Elsa had prepared meticulously for. No more pointless bickering, no anecdotes about their past, no getting overboard with the personal comments, just negotiating. When she wasn't thinking about why Anna hadn't called her, Elsa had spent the whole night figuring out this particular part of her "pitch" as Robin called it.

She closed her eyes for a second and took a long breath, and when she felt she was finally ready, she spoke humbly, "I'm sorry."

It was Robin's turn to almost choke on his drink, "Yo, did I hear that right? Did the-"

"Yes, the 'great Elsa Andersen' just said she's sorry, I've been saying it a lot recently it's not that big of a deal."

"It kind of is," Hannah added, speaking for the first time in a while now that the tension had finally lessened.

"Shut it, both of you." Elsa sighed and retook the reins in the conversation. "Look, hearing you tell that story, and hearing where you came from has been really eye-opening, okay? I've held on to these false accusations about you, just like you've held some for me; but I can see it, hell you said it just now: you made a name for yourself, you built yourself up from nothing. You and I have that in common, and although we didn't say it, I think that's the big reason that we made a deal with each other in the first place. I can't- no, I won't accuse you of anything anymore without proof."

"I…" Elsa closed her eyes for a bit longer than a standard blink and then reopened them. "I respect you. And I know I can't expect the same from you since I haven't told you anything to show I've changed, so…I'll tell you this."

This next part was going to be incredibly tough to get through, in her preparations she tried to set her personal feelings aside, but she had this feeling that her speech wouldn't be as effective if she didn't at least add this one personal detail. Even if it pained her to say what she'd been trying to keep back.

"Anna, my ex that I was caught…arguing with, we've-we've been talking to each other again, smoothing things over. We work together now- by proxy anyway- and holding on to the grudge that we…that had is just stupid. We talked on the phone two nights ago, and we're going to try and make it a regular thing. I think." She decidedly left out the fact that they were supposed to talk last night too, deciding that that was enough openness for one conversation. "Anyway yeah, I know the article and everything I did paints me as this scornful, vindictive…awful person, but I'm really trying here. I hope you can see that, and I hope we can continue to do business."

For a minute, no words were exchanged. Elsa sat actively avoiding eye contact with Hannah, who looked strangely happy, and Robin, who simply looked straight-faced, hands still on his lap. Being this open was still taking some getting used to, her stomach felt a little uneasy and for some reason her heart was racing, her body mistaking this to be something that warranted an adrenaline rush.

The minute was up, finally, and Robin smiled, heavily amused, "So the ice queen's got a heart, huh? Good to know."

Elsa frowned, lips almost betraying her and turning it into a pout, "I didn't think that was up for debate."

"Aight, well you got me convinced. Have your people send me the contract and I'll look it over."

Elsa blinked, "Seriously that was- I mean, you're just...seriously?"

Robin started to throw the bottle back and forth again, sufficiently relaxed, "Yeah! Imma be honest the old blondie that was here first, I didn't like her that much. Honestly, she sucked. But this new blondie's all rehabilitated, she's all in love and shit. I like dealing with this one."


Elsa grabbed the bottle but didn't smack it away this time. She opened her mouth to speak, and then closed it, and then opened it again to make a discernible noise, and then closed it again, and then she opened it one more time and finally words came out, "I'm sorry but did you just- I mean how did you- where did…in love?"

Robin snorted, "You mean you don't see it? You got like the cupid eyes and everything when you were talking bout calling Anna."

"Cupid eyes?! No, you're mistaken I don't do that I…I'm a professional." What the hell was she saying? Elsa had been thrown into a massive loop from this revelation- no no no, it wasn't a revelation, it was an accusation. Again! After she'd talked all about not wanting to accuse him anymore. "You know what? I'm done talking about this. Let's just talk business, strictly business."

"What business?" He laughed. "I already said I'd sign, right?"

"Right, you did. I just mean…" This wasn't good, Elsa was frozen, legitimately at a loss for words, which left her mind free to think about this new development.

Was that true? What did she know for sure? She didn't know much, but she did know that Anna made her a...different person. She could be mean and cold towards anyone else, but trying to do the same to Anna never had the desired effect. Everyone else drew away from her when she put on the "ice queen" routine, but Anna kept pushing.

That's why she...she...well she felt something towards Anna. But love? Love?! That was a strong word.

"I can see that look in your eyes, you're thinking about it huh? I got you rattled, huh?" Robin smirked and pointed to his temple, "Okay, maybe love's too strong then, maybe I spooked you. But you got something there, I got like a sixth sense on this shit. Nah, maybe it ain't love. That's too simple, this is a little more complex than that."

Complex. Elsa repeated that word to see if it fit better just as he said.

It didn't.

"Yeah, like calculus or whatever. Super complex." Robin looked at his phone and stood up, "Ah shit, I forgot I'm supposed to meet my boy at the recording studio."

"You sing?" Hannah asked admiringly, finally finding her voice again when Elsa didn't immediately reply.

Robin winked at her, "You know it. Been working on an album, gonna release it before Christmas. But yeah, I gotta get going."

Elsa, still reeling from her own revelation, reacted a bit too late to this abrupt end to their conversation. "H-hey, where are you going?" she said as he was halfway to the door.

"I just said I gotta go. We're done right? We got this contract all negotiated?"

"Well, y-yes but…" But she still wanted more answers.

"Then we good. I'll see you when I see you." Robin opened the door, but before leaving, he peeked his head in and added with another wink: "By the way, I'll make sure to save you a copy, Hannah. Signed and everything."

The door closed, leaving Elsa a confused mess on the couch. She should have been celebrating the successful negotiation between her and The Neighborhood, but that was the farthest thing from her mind. She needed to clear her head, she needed to process all of this, she needed to try calling Anna again.


Chapter Text

Chapter 32

Elsa sat cross-legged on her bed, drumming her fingers on the mattress. No more waiting, she needed answers.

One ring. Two rings. Three rings. Four-

"Oh my gosh, okay Elsa before you say anything I just wanted to say that I'm sooooo sorry for not calling you last night. Something came up and it kinda took my whole attention and I left my phone before leaving the house so I couldn't call you during the day either and I'm just really, really sorry for not calling."

"Anna, I…" Elsa sighed, why couldn't she stay mad at her? "Is everything okay? What happened?"

"...I don't know if I can say. I mean personally I'm fine but it's-it's not about me. You don't have to worry about me."

"I don't think I can do that."

"R-really? You can't? Uh, I mean you really shouldn't worry, honest. I'm fine, everything's...fine."

"Everything doesn't sound 'fine', Anna, far from it. If something's wrong, you can tell me. I can help you, you know that." Could she? Did she want to? How did Elsa from annoyed to compassionate in five seconds?

"I know you can. I know you can...but…"


"But...I can't say what's wrong, alright? It's not my place to tell. Can we just talk about something else, please?"

"O-okay, there anything specific you want to talk about?" Like feelings, for example.




"Anna, you still there?"

"Yeah-yeah I'm...I'm still here. I'm sorry there's just a lot on my mind right now. Uh...I guess there is one thing I wanna talk about."

"Yeah? What is it?" Her heart began beating just a little faster. Why? WHY?!

"Do you...are you mad at me?"

"Mad at you? For what?"

"For not calling? Or even, I dunno, texting you and saying that something came up. I'd feel really guilty if you were up last night waiting for me to call you."

"Well don't worry about that, I wasn't up for too long." Elsa lied, and also left out the part about trying to call her back. Twice.

"Oh, okay that's good. But are you mad at me?"

"No, no I'm not mad. I was a little upset-" And annoyed. "-but I got over it pretty fast. I knew that maybe something was up and you couldn't call. Honestly, if anything I was worried. I still am, but if you say you can't tell me what's wrong then...I have to respect that."

"Elsa..." She could tell that Anna smiled, even if it was a sad smile. "Thank you. I really appreciate that, and I appreciate not being mad at me for not calling you, or telling you what's going on with me. Today's been just really hectic."

"Tell me about it." Elsa found herself genuinely curious, genuinely wanting to know how Anna's day had been. But wanting to know how someone's doing didn't mean that you loved them, right? At best it just meant you cared for them.

Wait no, if she cared about Anna that...that still brought her back to her initial search for answers. Crap, this was gonna be harder than she thought.

"Haha, well...I was in North Arendelle for like half of it."

"Really? So was I!"

"Wait what? Seriously? What were you doing up there?"

"I had to take care of some business at The Neighborhood, contract negotiations and all that."

"Wow, I've always wanted to go there ever since I saw the news that it'd opened up. It looks so pretty, and there are so many cute art exhibits there, and there's apparently this super good frozen yogurt place I wanna try."

"Well maybe next time I go, I'll take you with me."

Why did she say that?

"You-are you sure?"

"Well, I-I mean I'm probably not gonna be back there for a while since the owner kinda doesn't like me." Lies, they were on good terms now. "And there aren't many shops there that I like and...anyway why were you in North Arendelle?"

"Hmm? Oh! Right, I said that I was there. Umm...nothing much, I just had some business there too. After I dropped Rapunzel back to the apartment, I went and did like a half-day at the bakery."

"How's the bakery doing?" She had the progress report on her desk at work, she already knew how they were doing.

"It's honestly doing really well. I thought the paparazzi would have drawn some people away, but if anything it's brought more customers than ever. Thank God it's not just me and Rapunzel anymore, or else I'd probably die of exhaustion or something. But yeah, no it's doing great!"

"That's good to hear. I'm glad to hear that the bakery's doing well."

Anna's heart fluttered. "You really mean that? You're not gonna try and give us some insane earning quota again?"

She winced, this was not the time to be bringing up bad memories. This was a time to bring up good memories, and...and get to the bottom of her feelings. Again. She'd already chickened out of bringing it up once this conversation, she had to try and steer it back there again.

"Haha, I wouldn't dare. You've proven that you and Rapunzel are more than capable of being a thriving business here in Arendelle."

"Wow, that's-I mean you have no idea how good it feels to hear you say that." There we go. Anna would show gratitude, maybe pay a compliment to Elsa, and then smoothly transition into talking about her feelings. No backing away this time.

"I haven't exactly been the best boss, have I? That ultimatum thing was really petty, I'm sorry about that."

"No, don't apologize! It was honestly kind of a blessing in disguise. We got to put on this bake sale thingie at this really nice school because of it, and we got to get our name out at the festival. Without the ultimatum, I don't know if we'd still be standing today."

"And you've been a great boss." Yes! Compliments! Anna was on the right track.

"Anna, you don't have to lie, okay? I was really crappy towards you and Rapunzel, I've only just started being nice to you now."

No! Dammit Elsa, just take the freaking compliment.

"That's not true, you were nice when...uh…"

"Yeah see? Everything I did to you was out of pettiness or anger or both. I was not a good boss or a nice person."

"You were nice to me when we were dating."

"I, uh...well...I mean you've got a point there. I was nice to you...up until the end."

"Let's not focus on the end. While we were dating you were really nice to me. And caring, and sweet, and just like the best friend I ever had. I miss those days."

Elsa's whole body tensed up. "You do?"

There were discernible noises before Anna replied. "Well yeah, I just- I mean I said I wanted us to not be strangers, right? That kinda means that I kinda want to be friends too. Again, I mean. Just like we were."

"Just like we were…" Her heart was pounding in her chest, the world was shrinking around her.

Screw it. If Elsa wanted answers, she just had to ask.

"Anna, are you sure that's all you want? To be friends?"



"Um...wh-what do you mean?"

The dam had burst now that she'd gotten the hard part out of the way. "What's the real reason you want us to not be strangers anymore? Why do you want to get to know me again? You could have left me well enough alone when I came to your apartment and apologized. You could have just gone back to working at the bakery, and maybe you and I would cross paths sporadically, but...that would have been the end of it. Why do you want more than that?"


"What do you want from me, Anna?"

"...what do you want, Elsa?"

No! Crap! Why did she repeat the damn question?! Anna had been too chicken again to talk about her feelings, and now Elsa was steering the conversation there anyway.

Damage control. She had to do some damage control before-

"I want you to be honest with me, was- was that not clear?."

Too late.

"I-you wanna know why I was worried when you didn't call? It wasn't just because I thought was something was up, but I was also worried that...that you'd changed your mind about wanting us to start talking and-and hanging out again. I was worried that we were going back to the way things were. I don't know for sure what I want, but I know I didn't want that."

Anna felt her chest tighten, " were worried that I'd change my mind?"

"Yes! I don't know maybe this sounds stupid, but our first phone call...I really enjoyed talking to you too."

"What? That doesn't sound stupid at all. I-I want that too, to start talking to you again and hanging out and all that amazing stuff!"

"But is that all you want Anna?"

Every word that came through the phone made it that much harder to breathe. She had to say it, she had to stop hiding, she had to be true to herself, and to Elsa. She had to confess.

"No, no it's not."

"Then what else do you want?"

"I want you."



Not exactly a good response, but the dam had burst now that she'd gotten the hard part out of the way. "Elsa, ever since you came back into my life I haven't been able to get you out of my head. I'd denied these feelings for a really long time, and you gave me enough reason to deny them back then since you hated me, but they were still there no matter what matter what we did to each other. Even when you pushed me away, I kept on coming back to you because after all this time I still lo...I still care for you. A lot."


"The reason I've denied them for so long is because I was ashamed of what I did to you. Caring for someone that I hurt so badly was painful. But the more time we spent together, and the steps we took to mend this broken relationship made the pain hurt less and less. I didn't let you go that day when you came to my apartment because it felt like the last time I was gonna see you, and I didn't want that. It was hard enough when you left my life the first time…"

The tears were getting harder and harder to hold back. "I want us to be together again. What we had back in high school was amazing, it was special, it was the happiest I'd ever been and I've never been as happy since then. I want you back, Elsa, because you make me happier than anyone or anything can. you want the same thing?"




"Elsa, you still there?"

"I'm...this is a lot to take in, and I-I need to think, I'm sorry."


"Goodnight, Anna."

"Elsa, wait!"

*beep beep beep*

Anna dropped her phone and covered her mouth with her hands to silence the sobbing and heaving. She shut her eyes tight, hoping that when she opened them, this would have all turned out to be just a vivid nightmare.

Chapter Text

Chapter 33

It's amazing what you can get away with hiding if you just smile and say everything's fine. And when you do it for long enough- say two weeks?- people either start believing you, or know better than to keep asking if you're okay. And why wouldn't Anna be okay? What wasn't there to smile about?

Warm Hearts Bakery was doing its best business since opening, their employees were getting better every day, she hadn't seen Hannah much since she was gearing up for finals and working at...but at least Rapunzel was finally in better spirits since their visit to the gynecologist. Plus, she'd tweaked her chocolate recipe once again, and it became their highest-demanded product. It had been a while since she'd made something in the kitchen that wasn't chocolate.

Honestly, aside from people constantly asking her if she was getting enough sleep, and Rapunzel insisting that something was up, everything was great!

Speak of the devil, Rapunzel had just walked into the freezer- well…okay so maybe comparing her best friend to the devil was super harsh. She'd apologize later. Anyway, Anna had spent a little time taking inventory and making sure the chocolates were cooling right and Rapunzel walked in. "Anna?" she said carefully to the redhead like she was some wounded animal. "Everything alright in here?"

Anna gave her a wide smile, "Why do you keep asking that? Everything's fine! I just came in here to check on the chocolates, that's all."

"But you've been in here for almost fifteen minutes."

"Really?" Anna put a finger up to her pursed lips, "Huh, must have not noticed, it does feel kinda nice in here."

Rapunzel took a breath, the heaviness of it accented by the chill in the air. "Okay seriously Anna, what is going on? You haven't been yourself in two weeks, I'm really worried about you."

"Well you shouldn't be," Anna said, still with that smile on her rosy-cheeked face. "I'm fiiiine! You have nothing to worry about with me, and honestly, you should worry more about the baby. It's probably not good for them if you're in this freezer for too long." She walked over to Rapunzel, putting her hands on her shoulders, and nudged her back towards the entrance. "Come on, let's get you someplace warmer."

"Anna, your eyes are all red. Have you been crying?"

Shoot, she hadn't put in the eye drops yet. Anna looked away quickly, "Oh, that's...probably just allergies and stuff. I've been sneezing all day- not on the food! But yeah, all the flowers are in bloom now so...I'll go wash my face in the bathroom once when we get out of here."

Anna tried to pull Rapunzel towards the door again, but she wouldn't budge. She tried one more time but still the blonde didn't move from her spot. She frowned, "Come on Rapunzel, this isn't funny. You can catch a cold in here, and that's probably not good for the baby."

"I'm not moving until you tell me what's going on."

"I just told you that everything's fine!" She huffed.

"I didn't ask if everything's fine, I said to tell me what's going on."

Anna blinked, "Right, I meant that there's nothing going on. I'm still the same old Anna that you knew yesterday, and the day before that, and the day before that. Nothing's changed, I mean maybe my hair got a tiny bit longer and I started using a new shampoo, but other than that? Nothing!"

Rapunzel didn't answer, she continued to stand eerily still, eyeing Anna suspiciously as if she was searching for something in her green, baggy eyes. The scrutiny was getting a little annoying, honestly, and Anna decided that was enough for one day.

She sighed, "Fine, it's clear that you need to take some time in here to clear your head. Imma leave and let you do that, okay? Besides, somebody's gotta make sure that Manny doesn't accidentally give somebody the stale display muffins again, right?"

Without waiting for an answer, Anna walked out of the freezer, humming a tune to herself as she did so.

Ms. Andersen,

I'm sure you've seen the news about Hans Westerguard traveling to Agrabah this weekend. He claims to be going there solely for vacation purposes, but we have sources telling us that he's also going there to discreetly set up a partnership with an oil baron named Jasmine Badroul. I don't think we need to stress how dangerous it would be if he were to have such a strong, foreign ally on his side supplying him with oil. The good news is that Mrs. Badroul isn't apprehensive to meeting other potential Western partners, so we are sending you to Agrabah as well to secure that partnership for ArenCorp. We've already bought your plane ticket and booked you a hotel, you leave early tomorrow morning. Do not disappoint us.

Mrs. Lynch

Elsa frowned, but also found herself a little relieved to have an excuse not to be at her office for a few days. Spending all this time alone in the same office where...where she and Anna…

Yeah, it would just be good for her to get out of the office. Plus, Agrabah's weather was still nice since the blistering summer heat hadn't arrived yet. She wrote up a quick reply to Mrs. Lynch thanking her, and then began to research everything she could about this Mrs. Badroul and writing up a possible pitch for her.

Apparently, she had inherited the oil company from her father after he died. It was small at first, but under her jurisdiction, the company had become one of the leading suppliers of oil in the Middle East. That was a great accomplishment for anybody, but especially for a woman in a country that had very...conservative views. Then again, no one dared to say anything bad about her or defy her, lest they want to test their luck with her protector: an actual tiger named Rajah.

The more Elsa read about the woman, the more she admired her. While not necessarily coming from nothing, she did have to make a name for herself in the face of great opposition. She didn't take no for an answer and had a ruthlessness in her that Elsa could only dream of having. She couldn't wait to meet her, and couldn't wait to be somewhere that didn't remind her of-

I want you.

Elsa winced, even after two weeks she still hadn't gotten those words out of her head. There was no wondering if she made the right choice hanging up on Anna, she knew she made the wrong choice. The twisting and churning of her gut every time she heard her voice in her head made that even more clear.

I still care for you. A lot.

After being so determined to get answers to her own feelings by prying and getting Anna to confess hers, she just left the poor girl high and dry. Elsa was a terrible person. She couldn't imagine how Anna was feeling, she probably couldn't even force herself to smile that warm, welcoming, brighter than the sun smile of hers. And Elsa knew that she had to make things right, but she couldn't do that until she got her own feelings straight. And somehow she still hadn't done that.

I want us to be together again.

Maybe it was because everything around her reminded her of Anna that made it so hard to get her mind straight. The more determined Elsa became of that theory, the more anxious she got to get going to Agrabah. "Just a few more hours, Elsa…" she said, running her fingers through her hair.

You make me happier than anyone or anything can.

"Just a few more hours…"

"Hey Owen, can you help me get this bag on the counter?" Anna grunted as she dragged the bag of flour from the storage.

"Sure thing, Ms. Dawson." The portly baker replied as he walked away from his workstation.

She grinned at him as she put her hands on her hips, giving up her attempted feat of strength for now. "Come on now Owen, what did we talk about? Ms. Dawson is my mother."

He smiled sheepishly, "Sorry Anna."

"That's better!"

They were just about to go on their lunch break, or at least her employees were. Anna, meanwhile, was going to stay back and work. She never made much time for lunch anyway, even when she got less and less hands-on when everyone got a lot better at their jobs; so, it wasn't out of the ordinary for her to be here alone during lunch.

Owen squatted down to pick up the bag and stood up faster than he was expecting. "Oh, wow, I was expecting a full bag. Sorry about that." He put the less than half full bag on the counter and patted his hands down on his apron.

"Yeah, I'm a little tired so my muscles aren't there right now, you know?"

"Ah, hitting the gym a little too hard?"

Anna chuckled, "Nah, just putting in a few late nights, that's all. Been tweaking some of the recipes back home; I love experimenting in the kitchen."

"Well I think it's showing." Owen crossed his arms and beamed at her. "You make some of the best cakes I've ever had."

"Aww, that really means a lot." Anna cooed.

"Ooh by the way, I know it's a long shot but we were gonna check out that new Mexican place down the street for lunch. You wanna come with us?"

"Oh that's okay, I brought my own lunch from home." She gestured back to the front, where her lunch was tucked under one of the counters. "But you three have fun, okay?"

Owen shrugged, "Ah it was worth a shot. Have a good lunch break Ms. D- Anna."

"You're getting there, Owen!" Anna giggled. She waited five minutes to be sure that they'd all left and made her way to the front. Finally some much-needed solitude, if only for an hour or so. It was a little bit easier to breathe now. When she got to the front, though, she knew that Rapunzel would also be there so it wasn't an hour of pure solitude, but close enough. And there the blonde was, standing at the counter and holding the paper sack that Anna kept her lunch in.

Much like earlier this morning, she didn't look very happy.

"Anna, why did you only bring an apple for lunch?" Rapunzel said, worried.

Anna shrugged, "I'm just trying to eat healthier. The bakery smells so good all the time, it's tempting just to eat everything here you know?" Maybe her friend was still reeling from whatever happened to her earlier, she wasn't herself in that freezer.

"Yeah, but you barely eat at home either. Do you really think you're gonna run a bakery off of just one apple?"

"I mean I ate some cookies too, just to make sure they tasted right." Anna reasoned.

"That doesn't…" Rapunzel groaned, clutching the paper bag a little harder. "Anna, you know I'm just trying to help you, right? Why won't you let me help you?"

Anna found herself taking a step back towards the kitchen. Again with the accusations, why couldn't she just leave her be? Why couldn't Rapunzel just accept that she didn't want to...that she was fine?

"What do you think I need help with?" She asked confused.

The blonde's face contorted, "What do I...are you seriously asking me…" She looked like she wanted to grab her and shout and do other mean things, but just as quickly as her expression first changed, Rapunzel closed her eyes, took a breath, and looked calmer now. "Fine, I'll just wait until you tell me."

"Well there's nothing to tell really, so can I have my lunch now?"

Rapunzel didn't answer, she just tossed the bag to Anna and crossed her arms, looking worried and...betrayed?

Maybe Anna should stop…

She shook off that strange thought before it could finish, and beamed at her best friend, "Thanks! Have a good lunch!" Without waiting for a response, Anna retreated back into the kitchen.

I want you.

Elsa fumbled the rubber ball for the fifth time that hour. She was having a little difficulty crafting her pitch due to her mind traitorously pulling her away from her work every five minutes.

She groaned, "Alright this isn't working, I need a break."

After taking a second to look out her window- hoping it would give her some spark of inspiration- only to have her eyes betray her and lock on almost immediately to Anna's bakery- Elsa stood up and left her office. The document on her computer was still open with a whopping five words typed out.

When she opened the door, Hannah was also up from her desk, her purse slung over her shoulder. "Oh, you're up." Hannah said, surprised. "You usually never leave your office during lunch."

"Yeah I-I needed some fresh air for a little bit, writing out my pitch is, uh...harder than I thought it would be." Elsa leaned on her door awkwardly, "Where-where are you going for lunch?"

"Umm, I don't know yet. The Three Amigos just opened a new restaurant here like a week ago, I was maybe gonna check that out."

"Oh...okay...that's cool." Cool? Wow, she really was losing her mind.

She must have been giving the confused brunette a pitiful look because the next thing she said was "Did you...wanna come?"

Elsa shook her head, probably a bit too fast, "Oh no no no, it's fine. I-I've got food in my fridge." She pointed back to her nearly empty office fridge. Last time she checked there was half a bottle of orange juice and one carton of yogurt.

"Okaaaay, well I'll see you in a bit then." Hannah made her way to the elevator, and the words that had been caught in Elsa's throat finally surfaced.

"Have you talked to Anna lately?"

Hannah paused and turned around. This was the first time they had talked about Anna since they came back from The Neighborhood; and even then that conversation was short, with Elsa saying that this was new and she didn't know what to make of their relationship, and would get more answers that night. Hannah was weary about this and wasn't full-on supportive, strange considering that she was the one that gave Anna her number, but she at least didn't criticize either of them for this decision.

The young assistant had no idea what happened with that phone call, but she had her suspicions that it hadn't gone well. Now she had more proof for that hunch.

"No, not really. I've kinda been busy studying for finals. But when I do try and talk to her, she seems a little distant. When I ask her about you guys, she just leaves me on Read for a few hours and then changes the subject." Hannah looked just as worried as Elsa felt.

"Oh…" was the only thing Elsa could say.

"I don't know what happened between you guys, and it's not my place to say, but I think you guys need to fix this soon, before it's too late. I like her right?"

Despite how terrible it would be as a response, Elsa wanted to laugh. It still wasn't that simple. But Hannah did have a point, she needed to decide where her feelings lie soon. The silence was making things worse, they'd endured four years of it sure, but somehow these two weeks of silence felt worse. Not only was she replaying those words in her head when she was awake, but she was also having this recurrent nightmare where she and Anna were talking on the phone, replaying that same conversation.

Except instead of Elsa hanging up on her, she couldn't speak. Literally no words could escape her from lips no matter how much she spoke and eventually screamed, and Anna just kept repeating that same question getting more and more desperate, her sobbing growing louder with each iteration. Until finally Anna hung up on her, and she finally found her voice. Except all Elsa could do was cry. It was intense, terrifying and woke her up more times than she could count. Suffice to say, she probably wouldn't be getting a good night's sleep until she sorted this out, but right now wasn't the time. And she didn't know when it would be the right time.

"I...don't know," Elsa responded, thankful that she could speak now. "It's complicated."

The elevator bell dinged and Hannah sighed, "No it's not, you're just in denial. Anyway, Imma get going, I'll see you in like an hour."

"Wait what…" But Hannah was already inside the elevator, and the doors were already closing. Elsa was alone again.

Do you want the same thing?

Anna slid across the counter, landing just next to Rapunzel who was wiping down a very persistent stain. "Hey, so Hannah wanted to go out to dinner tonight, try and get her mind off studying for finals for a little. You want to come? If not, we'll just take an Uber, and you can take the car back. Oooooor maybe I can take the work van?"

Rapunzel gave her a small smile but didn't stop wiping down the counter. "Nah, I think I'm okay. I ordered this new baby book that I should probably get started on. I wanna make sure I'm doing this whole thing right, you know? And no, you are not using the van."

Anna stuck her tongue out, "You're no fun." Nonetheless, she returned the smile, and although it was bigger, it wasn't necessarily brighter. "I'm really happy that you decided to keep the baby, by the way. I know I said I'd be supportive of whatever you picked, but...I dunno, I kinda like the idea of being an aunt."

"Auntie Anna does have a nice ring to it."

"It does, doesn't it? I mean it kinda makes me want pretzels but other than that..." Anna kicked her legs back and forth, keeping from smacking them on the display case underneath her. Today had been a busy day as usual. Their employees were getting a lot more confident in themselves in the back, finding time to spout inside jokes and mess around while still adhering to the quality of food that Anna wanted.

But up front was still a different story, they didn't have much experience making sales or talking to anyone that wasn't three feet tall, but they were getting there too. Anna spent more time in the front than in the back, cheerily talking to the customers- maybe talking to them for a bit longer than she needed to, but they seemed to enjoy their company. A guy even asked for her number, which she politely declined and spent a couple more minutes in the freezer afterward.

To check on the chocolates, of course.

It was the end of another long workday, and with her cleaning duties done in the back, the redhead hummed to herself and admiringly watched her best friend clean the front. "I'm glad you're feeling better now, Rapunzel."


Anna looped a finger around her ear. "You were talking all crazy earlier, it's glad to see that you're at least sounding a lot better."

Rapunzel blinked, "Right...I'm...the crazy one." She went back to work wiping down the counter, but her face looked, well, annoyed. Maybe it wasn't such a good idea to bring up what happened earlier.

And it wasn't. After a minute of this, with no other sounds but the humming of both the air conditioner and the impossibly cheerful redhead, Rapunzel stood up, "Okay I can't let that go, just...not anymore. I'm the crazy one? Me? Really?! You've been putting on this fake smile for two weeks now- after telling me not to do the same, mind you- and I'm the one that's crazy?"

Anna looked hurt and hopped off the counter. "I-I'm sorry if you were offended by that, I was just calling it like I saw it."

The blonde scoffed and threw the washcloth down, "You're sorry that I was offended?! What has gotten into you, Anna? What are you trying to repress?" Frustration was painted on her face, but obviously there was still worry there somewhere.

"I'm not trying to repress anything," Anna replied with a frown. "I really wish you'd stop saying that and making stuff up."

"But I'm not making stuff up. It's the truth, isn't it?" Rapunzel walked in front of the counter and put her hands on Anna's shoulders again, not for reassurance, but to make sure she didn't flee the scene. "Something happened to you when I wasn't looking and now you're trying to pretend that everything's fine when everything is clearly not. You're clearly in a lot of pain and...and you're my best friend, Anna. I don't wanna see you hurt. I'm sorry I wasn't there for you when you needed me, but I'm here now so please…please tell me what's wrong."

Again, Anna thought to herself that maybe it was time to drop the act, but she pushed that thought down. What act? This was how she normally was, there was nothing going on. EVERYTHING WAS FINE. "Well, you don't have to worry, cause I'm not in pain and everything is fine."

"This is about Elsa, isn't it?"

Anna's body betrayed her and tensed under Rapunzel's grasp. Her mouth suddenly got really dry. "I-I don't know what you're talking about…" she said hoarsely, still trying to keep that smile on her face.

"I'm trying to rack my brain to figure out when something like this happened before, and the closest thing I can think of is our freshmen year. When you'd barely come out of your room at all, and when you did, you'd smile and hum to yourself and leave like nothing was wrong. But I could see it, Anna, heck I could hear that something was wrong, our walls weren't exactly soundproof."

"It's've got the wrong idea."

"Do I?" Rapunzel's brow furrowed, "Then look me in the eye and tell me that this has nothing to do with Elsa, and that you're really fine."

Everything was fine. Everything was fine. Everything. Was. Fine.

Why couldn't Anna say that out loud now? She'd said it so many times today and these past two weeks, why did she have to stop believing it? Hannah was almost here, why couldn't she keep her guard up for a little bit longer? Why couldn't she keep up the act anymore? Why couldn't everything actually be fine? Why couldn't she go back in time and stop herself from saying all those stupid things?

Why wouldn't Elsa talk to her?

Anna closed her eyes and shook her head, now was not the time. She took a breath, shakier than she wanted it to be, and opened her mouth to convince Rapunzel, "I'm...not okay."

But she couldn't do it. Not anymore. She was finally broken after trying to keep herself together all this time, but this was longer than anyone could possibly bear to repress all these thoughts and feelings. She'd been doing it too much for four years, and after she'd gotten a taste of what it was like to be happy and not have to hide what she was feeling inside anymore, she just...didn't want to let that feeling go again. And then it was taken away from her.

But before she could confide any more to her best friend, the bakery doors opened.

"Am I interrupting something?" The voice undoubtedly belonged to Hannah.

Anna wiped her face across her sleeve and turned around, confirming her suspicion. "No, it's- everything's fine. It's just been a stressful workday, that's all." She put on that fake, wide smile again.

"O-okay, ready to go?"

"Yeah! Yeah, I'm...good to go, I just need to check something in the fridge first." Anna said quickly.

She excused herself, leaving Hannah greatly confused and Rapunzel the most worried that she'd been for her in weeks. When Anna got inside the freezer, she shut the door and sat behind one of the carts with her knees pressed to her chest, trying to catch her breath as the world closed in around her and the tears started to fall again.

Elsa looked through her suitcase, ensuring for the fifth time tonight that she had everything she needed. The heat would still be worse in Agrabah than it was here, so her wardrobe choice would be significantly lacking. Still, she felt like she'd brought enough for the trip.

"Alright, I think we're good here." She said to herself with her hands on her hips. "Now I just need to...figure out my pitch."

She walked back to the dining room table and opened up her laptop, but before she could get to work, she heard a sharp knock at her door and jumped.

No one knew where she lived apart from Hannah, who made it clear she didn't want to be around here anymore. Cautiously, she walked towards the front door as three sharp knocks racked the wood again. She stared into the peephole, holding her sigh of relief when she saw that it wasn't some shady hitman or anything like that…

But it was, however, a familiar blonde on the other side. And she didn't look happy.

Elsa debated on just keeping the door shut, but she knew that would cause more harm than good. She unlocked her door and looked at her confused, "Rapunzel? How did you-"

"Hannah gave me your address." She stormed into the apartment and turned around to face Elsa with murder in her eyes, "Now shut up and listen because I have a lot of things to say to you."

Elsa looked at her front door helplessly and rubbed the back of her neck, "Could this wait until tomorrow, I-"

Rapunzel put up a finger, silencing the slightly shorter blonde on the spot. "I am trying very hard not to rip your head off right now." She hissed. "And it's a little easier when you don't talk, so shut it."

With anyone else, in any other situation, Elsa would have seized control and talked down the person who threatened her like this. But she knew what she did, she had no place to lecture or scold. Not with the guilt pooling in her stomach this much.

Instead, Elsa nodded humbly.

When she sensed that there wouldn't be any more interruptions, Rapunzel continued. "Good. Let me get this out of the way first: I hate you."

Chapter Text

Chapter 34

Elsa settled into her first-class seat, ignoring the flight attendant's offer of champagne, and gave up trying to find the best position to sit/lay back. After getting as comfortable as she was going to be, she closed her eyes, and her mind drifted back to her heated conversation with Rapunzel. Even now, she still didn't know if she said the right words.

"I hate you! I hate you I hate I hate you. I hate you so freaking much! You just- uuugh you suck! You're an awful person and I hate you!" Rapunzel said as she paced around her living room. Elsa looked on, terrified that she might start trashing the place or throw things at her.

"Why is it that every time my best friend cries about something, it's always been because of you, huh? Would it kill you to give her a break? To let her be happy just once?!" She shook her head and let out a pitiful laugh, "You know…for a while there, I thought I wouldn't have to see that anymore. After that blow up at the festival, and then you show up to our apartment, I thought that the nightmare was over and Anna could finally start healing. But that didn't happen now, did it? Did it?!"

When she stopped her pacing to ask that biting question, Elsa looked down at the floor, unable to meet Rapunzel's seething glare.

"She looked at me once you left, and I could see that after all this time, she still didn't want to let you go. I wanted to tell her that going after you was a bad idea, but I knew she'd find a way anyway. She always did…" Rapunzel trailed off, looking like she wanted to say more about that, but she shook her head and just pressed onward.

"Something happened two weeks ago, and Anna won't tell me what. She keeps pretending that everything was fine, but she hasn't been eating or sleeping- I wake up in the middle of the night and, surprise, I hear her crying! Today, I asked her one more time if everything was fine, and she finally caved, but she didn't say what was wrong. I know, though, that it has something to do with you. It's always about- gah, at least have the decency to look at me when I'm talking to you!"

The sudden demand frightened Elsa and she immediately did as she was told. She wanted to reply but couldn't find the words to as she stared into the taller blonde's murderous eyes. Besides, it wasn't like Rapunzel was going to let her.

After a shaky breath, she continued, "I don't think I'll ever understand why, but she still cares about you. A lot." Elsa winced. "She keeps saying something about fate bringing you back together, but I know that even if fate didn't want you two together, she'd find a way. Every time you hurt her, she keeps coming back to you."

"I never asked Anna to-"

"What did I say about-" Rapunzel closed her eyes and composed herself, the murderous intent was still there when she reopened them. "I don't care about what you think, or how you feel, all I care about is never seeing my best friend hurt again. And yeah, maybe I shouldn't be saying all this to my boss, but I just have this feeling that you know I'm right, so you aren't gonna do anything about it. So now I wanna know exactly what happened between you two, why you hurt her this time, and then...then...just tell me what happened."

They had yet to move from their respective positions. Elsa was still backed into her front door, Rapunzel stood just a few feet away with her arms crossed, waiting for a response.

Elsa wanted to defend herself, to try one more time and say that she never asked Anna to keep pursuing her, but in the haze of these two weeks, she could at least admit to herself that she played a big part in their repeated run-ins with each other. And unfortunately, she didn't have the handy excuse anymore of not wanting to see Anna again because of what she'd done in the past; they'd already moved past that and forgiven each other for it.

What she did to Anna to this time...she knew it was wrong. The guilt from hurting her, again, was the biggest reason Elsa couldn't see her yet, or at least call her back. But there was something else too, some other big reason she couldn't pinpoint, or was too scared to. Maybe she should tell Rapunzel all this, but first she needed to tell her what happened between them now.

Surprising herself by even opening her mouth, Elsa spoke timidly, "She called me...two weeks ago, asking if it was okay to have my number. And I said yes, and she sounded so- so excited to be able to talk to me again." Thinking back to that fleeting moment of joy made her want to break right then and there. "And I was kind of repressing it then, but I was excited to hear her voice again too." Despite the growing need to break eye contact, she kept looking at Rapunzel, "I...I've repressed a lot of things…"

She clutched her elbow with her right hand, "Two days later, I called her this time. Before that, I'd been struggling with...with my own feelings towards her, and I wanted to get them straight. Maybe it wasn't, no it definitely wasn't fair, but I wanted to see where her head was at first. I didn't want to say anything rash if she wasn't in the same place as I was." That was such a weak answer, and she decided to leave out the part about her feelings becoming much clearer the more she talked. It would have probably made things worse.

"And then...Anna told me...that she still had feelings for me." Each word became harder and harder to say; the guilt was pushing Elsa down, and she knew to say this next part would crush her. "She told me she still cares about me, and I-I hung up on her."

"You hung up on her," Rapunzel repeated.

Elsa silently nodded.

"Anna told you she still has feelings for you...and you hung up on her."

"I did."

"You're scum. You know that right?"

Again, Elsa didn't bite back or defend herself. She didn't say anything about needing time to process what Anna said to her or say that it was a lot to take in at once. "I was scared." was all she could pathetically muster up.

"You were scared?!" Rapunzel threw back at her. "Anna has the guts to keep coming back to you, even though you've pushed her away and literally been the biggest freaking inconvenience to her, and then tells you that after all that she still likes you...and you hang up on her because you're scared?" She pointed an accusatory finger at her. "Did you ever once try to see it from Anna's perspective? No, you probably didn't because all you can think about is yourself, and how you feel, and what people can do for you. No one else matters in your own little world but you, right?"

"That's not-" Again Elsa restrained herself, but this time Rapunzel caught on.

"That's not...what? What do you want to say, Elsa? What do you really wanna say?" The vindictive blonde slowly advanced towards her, eyes burning a hole into her head. "You've been holding back this entire conversation, I can tell. There are so many things you want to say right now, so why not go ahead and say them? Trust me, there's nothing you can tell me that won't make me hate you more than I already do."

They were face to face now, and Elsa could feel the hatred radiating off her. The debate going on now in her guilt-ridden mind wasn't whether she would disclose everything that she wanted to say, but how much she would actually say. There was no way Rapunzel would let her off the hook this easily without speaking her mind.

"What do you want to say, Elsa? How do you possibly want to defend yourself?" She repeated, further proving that point.

Elsa took a tentative breath, "That's...not true, okay? You make it sound like I never cared about Anna, but I would never have dated her for four years, never would have fallen for her so bad, if I didn't. You don't think it was hard for me when we...when I broke up with her? I couldn't eat or sleep either, I poured myself into my work and didn't want to think about anything else because that was easier than coping with the pain. I am not this monster that you are making me out to be."

"Well you haven't given me any reason to think otherwise." Rapunzel shook her head, "Anna's never had a bad word to say about you, but she never convinced me that you were a good person either."

"And I never expected her to," Elsa argued. "I know I hurt her, so I never expected her to have any good words to say about me. But we put all of that behind us, we forgave each other and I admitted to myself that she didn't do anything wrong. We were each other's worlds back in high school, yes, but we were also just dumb high schoolers that couldn't see the big picture. Or at least I couldn't."

"I don't see the point you're trying to make here."

"I'm getting there, okay?" Elsa held back any more harsh words. No matter how she felt, she knew Rapunzel had the right to be angrier. "What I'm trying to say is that this whole thing isn't so black and white. It's this whole gray spectrum of pain and misunderstandings. And I could stand here for hours trying to convince you that I'm not as bad a person as you think I am, but I know you would never believe me."

"I wouldn't believe you because you literally just hurt Anna again!"

"I didn't mean to!" Elsa said like a kindergartener getting in trouble for pushing a kid off the swings. "Like I said, I got scared when she… When I asked her what she wanted from me, I...I didn't know what to expect, but it wasn't that."

"Then why couldn't you just be honest with her?" Rapunzel reasoned as if it was that easy. "Why couldn't you just respond in any way instead of hanging up on her?"

"Because I didn't know what to say! It was a lot to take in and I-I...I needed time to think." Her breathing picked up a little, and her heart was racing too. She wanted to give more reasonings about why she needed time to think, but as she thought back to that night and what she would say to her had she not hung up…the picture had become crystal clear. "Oh, I'm so stupid." She said breathlessly, more to herself than to Rapunzel. "I didn't need time to think, I just couldn't say what I wanted to."

"And what did you want to say?"

"...that I'm in love with her."

Time stopped. The world ceased to move. Even the air froze in its unseen movements, as Elsa said the one thing she had been denying for so long. Hannah was right, she was in denial, and she was in love.

She was in love with Anna Dawson, well...maybe it was better to say that she was in love with her again. That revelation should have filled her with joy, this should have been a massive Eureka moment, but knowing what she did to the redhead made her feel guilty instead, more than she already did. Her heart fluttered as her stomach twisted.

And the intensified glare on Rapunzel's face didn't help much either. "You...what?!"

"I'm in love with Anna," Elsa repeated, making it even more real.

Rapunzel walked away from her in a huff, pacing further into her apartment. Her anger was reaching its boiling point. "Are you freaking serious?! Do you- you can hear yourself, right? The girl that you've been hurting since day one, my best friend, you're saying that you're in love with her?!"

"Look I don't know how to explain it either!" Not without angering her any more, at least. "But it makes sense. It's the reason that I've never really stayed away ever since you guys opened up your bakery, and why I haven't been able to get her out of my head since 'day one'. I love her, or I still do...and if I knew that then, if I wasn't so damn stubborn and didn't repress all the good things I remembered about her- about us- then I never would have hung up on her."

"But you did!" Rapunzel made her way back to her. "You hung up on her because you were too scared, I-I still can't understand this. Is this some weird mind trick thing you're trying to do? Trying to manipulate me into thinking you're not a piece of crap?"

Elsa shook her head, "No! This isn't like that! I do actually love her." Gosh, that still felt surreal to say.

"If you love someone, you don't constantly treat them the way that you treat Anna! If you actually love her, then why haven't you talked to her, or called her back?"


"Because what?!"

"Because what if I'm too late?!" Elsa confessed, finally pinpointing the other big reason. "What if she doesn't even want to see me again? And even if she does, what if I confess these feelings to her, and she doesn't feel the same way anymore? I don't know...I don't know if I could handle that."

There was no pity on Rapunzel's face at her confession, and of course she didn't expect any. There was only stone-cold hatred, unwavering no matter what Elsa said to try and ease her conscience, to nudge just the tiniest bit over on to her good side. Her eyes were piercing, her stance was relaxed yet predatory, and she inched even closer towards Elsa until she was right by her ear. And in a low, convicting voice, Rapunzel replied:

"Then you know exactly how Anna's felt for four years."

Perspective. That word that Dr. Sonya told her all those weeks ago. Elsa never really made an effort to get it, and now it was coming at her like a runaway train. In a flash, she no longer felt like herself, she saw through Anna's eyes for the first time.

She saw Anna crying on her bed after telling her long-time girlfriend that they wouldn't be going to the same college, not realizing it would hurt her that bad. She saw Anna barely scraping by at Arendelle U, not entirely falling into a downward spiral due to having Rapunzel and her sheer determination to become a successful baker. She saw Anna stopping the elevator at ArenCorp to try and pull herself together after apologizing and being pushed away by her now ex-girlfriend. She saw, no...she felt Anna's emptiness from "winning" their argument at the festival. She saw Anna's barely contained joy from having their first phone conversation in years. She saw Anna picking at her food, attempting to get the sleep that would never come, succumbing to tears from confessing her feelings and getting rejected in the worst way possible.

"Oh shit…" Elsa said, horrified. "I-I'm a monster, I didn't know how much pain I really…"

"Yeah, well now you do," Rapunzel added coldly as she backed up. "Now get out of my way, I can't stand to be around you anymore."

Elsa put a hand on the door and put her free hand up to block her retreat. "Rapunzel, wait!"

She stopped, physically holding in another venom-filled outburst by clenching her fists and closing her eyes. After opening them, she growled, "What now?"

"Please just...please don't tell Anna anything I told you."

"...are you serious?"

Elsa nodded, her eyes pleading with the taller blonde to listen to reason. "I am. I-I want to make things right with her, I wanna apologize. Again."

Rapunzel's eyes widened, "You-you're joking, right?"

"No, I'm not joking. I understand what I did wrong now, I understand how she's feeling, and I need to fix this. Just like she tried to, just like I wouldn't let her. I need to tell her everything I said tonight...and more. So please Rapunzel, please don't tell her what we talked about."

Rapunzel scoffed and pushed Elsa away from the door with surprising ease. The former lacrosse star stood her ground against defenders twice her size in high school, but the unexpectedness of it made her fold way too easily. Before Rapunzel left, she glared at her and took one last shot, "You don't get to make these choices, not anymore."

The door slammed in her face.

A few taps on her elbow woke Elsa up from her deep slumber. She didn't get a lot of sleep last night, she didn't get any sleep last night.

A muffled voice above her said something about them almost landing, she couldn't hear them clearly amidst the turbulence and the sleep deprivation. After they left, she wiped her eyes on her sleeve, both surprised and unsurprised to see the fabric stained when she pulled it away and looked out her window.

Amidst the miles and miles of desert, she saw a massive city with towering skyscrapers, intricately crafted highways, and a population double the size of Arendelle's roaming the streets, giving her anxiety just looking at them packed together. The bustling oasis seemed untouched by the blistering heat and sandy borders, and to the west was a sign made with giant, sand-scraped letters that spelled out one word:


Chapter Text

Chapter 35

Once again, Elsa found herself dealing with the aftermath of a major screwup. She pushed away the woman she loved the most due to being in denial of her own feelings- and not fully understanding how her actions affected other people- and pissed off the best friend of said woman in the span of a ten-minute conversation. This screwup felt a lot different than the other ones, this time she couldn't figure out a way to fix things.

All these thoughts and more were pounding mercilessly in Elsa's head, but the one that she kept coming back to was this: Her coffee tasted like crap.

It was baffling how such a gorgeous resort like The Mirage- easily one of the most massive structures in all of Agrabah- could be so meticulously crafted out of clay, ivory, and marble, have two Olympic-sized swimming pools, and boast a 24/7 buffet with the best food from all the corners of the world...and also brew the worst pot of coffee Elsa had had in her entire life.

She downed three cups.

The sleep she got on the plane, and the short nap she took after unpacking, still weren't going to be enough to keep her awake and alert. And with her meeting with Mrs. Badroul in an hour, she needed to be both of those things. If Marshall or even Hannah were here, they'd hunt down a better brew. but she was flying solo for the next three days. It was for the best though, probably; it'd be a nightmare driving through the crowded, camel-infested streets; and Hannah would probably find a way to sneak away to some bazaar when she wasn't looking.

The pitch in her hand, nearly blank, stared at Elsa mockingly. After all this time she still had no idea what she'd be saying. It was becoming dreadfully clear that she was just going to have to wing it.

With a heavy sigh, she hopped off her barstool and stretched herself out. The lobby cafe was filling up with the resort guests coming in for brunch, which meant it was a good time for Elsa to start heading out anyway.

The lobby was twice the size of ArenCorp's, cream white tiles covered the floor, with every other tile emblazoned with a red, cursive "M". At the center was a circular front desk, with a handful of employees answering questions and checking people into their rooms, and on the far side of the lobby were the gold elevators and escalators that lead to the second-floor casinos.

The receptionist she'd talked to when she got out of her room said her taxi was waiting right outside, Elsa nodded politely and thanked her.

If she had her classic "Ms. Andersen" charm and confidence, she'd be able to wrap this negotiation up today. But the board booked her for three days just in case, and with the way Elsa was feeling, she'd probably need all of them to get the oil baroness on board.

Today wouldn't be about convincing her to partner with ArenCorp, today would be all about getting into her good graces. And Elsa that. She shook her head to get the excess tiredness out of her system and made her way to the oscillating front doors. But halfway there, she was stopped by a voice that made her tense up.

"Ms. Andersen! What a surprise to see you here."

Of course he'd be here, at this exact resort, at this exact time, catching her attention exactly when she wanted to leave. Elsa loosened her shoulders and returned her face to a neutral position before turning around, "I could say the same thing to you, Mr. Westerguard."

Hans was sporting the same red vest, button-up shirt look he had on in their first encounter, he was flanked by a hulking man with impressive sideburns, muscles bulging out of his maroon dress shirt. "I seriously doubt that, I posted about my vacation on Instagram yesterday."

"And what makes you think I follow you on Instagram?"

He put a hand on his chest to fake being offended, "I follow you. I mean you haven't posted in like a month, but still…"

"I see you're staying at The Mirage too," Elsa said, not wanting to entertain this stupid conversation any further.

"Of course, it's the best resort in Agrabah." He replied, arms outstretched as if asking Elsa to take in the view. "But I can't help but wondering why you're here."

"Official business, it's none of your concern," Elsa replied hastily.

Hans raised an eyebrow, "Official business, huh? That wouldn't have anything to do with a certain Mrs. Badroul, would you?" When Elsa didn't respond- but unfortunately let her eyes slightly give up her suspicion- he continued, "You ArenCorp folk are way too predictable. I've been planning this trip, and your obvious attempt to undermine me, for three weeks now."

Elsa frowned, she had her orders not to disclose to Hans her true reason for being here, but if he was already aware of that, then there was no point in following it. "If that's true, then you also know that I will stop at nothing to ensure you don't secure that partnership."

Unfazed, Hans simply chuckled and walked slowly towards Elsa till he was close enough to lean right in her ear. Even at 8:30 in the morning he still smelled like liquor. "You're playing a dangerous game here, Elsa." He whispered menacingly. "Don't expect me to go easy on you."

Much like their first meeting, Elsa pushed him away with a bit too much force, knocking him straight into his bodyguard who didn't even flinch.

"I have a taxi waiting for me," she said before turning around and leaving, not giving Hans the satisfaction of seeing the unease on her face.

"I'll see you soon, Elsa!" Hans said amused. "Tell Jasmine the same thing!"

The taxi ride was a silent blur, with Elsa barely answering any questions that her talkative driver- who made her miss Marshall even more- just had to ask. Thankfully the drive itself went smoothly, although he did swerve a couple of times to avoid hitting a camel and a couple jaywalking pedestrians, and soon Elsa found herself where she needed to be: New World Oil.

The driver had no problem finding it, considering it was the tallest skyscraper in Agrabah, easily towering above ArenCorp by 25-30 floors. The building itself curved slightly at the top, and had ivory walls and countless windows in the front. At the very top was a helipad where a helicopter was touching down on, and the name of the company was written in massive, jade letters.

Elsa paid her fare and stepped out of the cab, actually eager to see what and who awaited her inside the building. However, it didn't seem she would get the chance.

Waiting for her at the entrance was a gorgeous, tan woman in a black suit with her jet-black hair done up like a crown on her head; while she may have been a head shorter than Elsa, she still cut a very intimidating, larger-than-life figure. Behind her were two massive bodyguards that looked like they were twins with their similar facial features, shaved haircuts, and posture, and curled up at her feet was a tiger giving Elsa a frightening side-eye.

Although she had an accent, she spoke in perfect English: "Ms. Andersen, it is nice to finally meet you."

Elsa found herself brushing away the lint on her own white button-up/black skirt attire and pulling back any stray strands of hair. "Likewise. It's very nice to meet you, Mrs. Badroul." She took a couple of steps forward to shake her hand but stopped dead in her tracks when the tiger sat up and let out a low, predatory growl.

"Rajah, sit!" Mrs. Badroul said sharply. The tiger complied immediately, settling back down beside her, but still glaring menacingly at Elsa. Surprisingly, it wasn't the worst someone's glared at her this week. "My apologies, he does not take too kindly to strangers."

"It-it's alright," Elsa said in a bit-too-high voice. She took a couple more tentative steps forward, finally noticing the baroness' flawless complexion and eternally serious brown eyes. "I was under the impression that I would be meeting you in your office."

"There has been a slight change of plans." She explained. "I must go and pick up a delivery in the city."

"Oh, I wasn't aware...uh, I can reschedule if you want."

Mrs. Badroul's eyes narrowed and her chin raised slightly, not to be condescending or intimidating, but out of curiosity, "Why would there be a need to reschedule? There is no reason that you and I cannot still have our meeting."

Elsa backtracked, "I'm sorry, it's just that you said you needed to go pick something up, and I just wanted to be polite and give you time. You must be a very busy woman."

"Yes, I am. I have carefully mapped out every hour of my day, and I honor every appointment that I have, that includes ours as well. The meeting will still go as planned, the only thing that will change is the location."

"Oh, good. I'm-I'm glad." She must look like an idiot tripping over her words this much. "Where do you want me to meet you, then?"

The shorter woman raised her eyebrow, "There is no reason for you to meet me anywhere else. You are coming with me."

"I am?"

"Yes." A black car, basically a small limousine and much nicer than Elsa's, pulled up to the building with perfect timing to emphasize her point. The doors opened outward, and the black, leather passenger seats faced each other. Mrs. Badroul waved her bodyguards and her tiger away, stepped inside, and gestured towards Elsa, "Come with me, Ms. Andersen. We can discuss your proposal in the car."

Not having much of a choice, Elsa followed.

This drive was quiet as well, but Elsa didn't appreciate it as much, if only because they were supposed to be having a "meeting". Granted, it had only been a couple of minutes since they left New World Oil, but still...the woman in front was giving her nothing, in fact she had yet to look up from her tablet.

"I have heard a lot about ArenCorp, and about you, Ms. Andersen." Mrs. Badroul said suddenly, catching Elsa off guard for the hundredth time that morning.

"Oh! Uh, thank you."

The brown-eyed CEO finally looked up at her, "That was not meant to be a compliment." She put the tablet down, and folded one leg over the other, scanning Elsa, possibly looking for any weaknesses. "There is a lot that has been written about you, even more so recently."

Elsa frowned, she was hoping the article wouldn't come up in conversation. But now that it had, she may as well try and explain herself. "That was a very unfortunate incident that I found myself in. I wasn't myself when that article was published, and I deeply regret it."

Mrs. Badroul didn't look very convinced. "What do you regret?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Do you regret your actions? Or do you regret getting caught?"

Damn, no one's ever actually asked Elsa that before. Anyone that mentioned the article did so to try and slander her even more, no one had asked her how she was handling the whole thing. And no one had asked her if she regretted what she did.

Of course, Elsa regretted it. She'd hurt people with her actions- and was still continuing to do so, which begged the question of whether or not she'd learned her lesson, but that was another rabbit hole that she didn't have time to go down. But would she have regretted them more if she'd never gotten caught? Would she have felt bad at all? A part of her wanted to say that she would, but that was present-day Elsa talking, the past Elsa who had done all those things didn't make an effort to care much about anyone.

Defeatedly, all she could say was "Both."

Mrs. Badroul nodded once, "You are humbled, I respect that. Typically, with scandals such as this, the person at the forefront only apologizes because they have been caught. They have no plans to actually rehabilitate themselves, they just wait in the shadows until they are out of the public eye again. You are honest, at least, and I believe you know what you did was wrong."

Elsa held back her smile. Mrs. Badroul respected her, or at least she respected her honesty, that was something to work with. "Thank you for believing in m-for believing me. I know that what I did was wrong, and I intend to make it up to the people that I've hurt. I don't plan on waiting in the shadows."

"Then that is one thing we have in common." Unlike Elsa, this woman was not hesitant in holding back any smile. It was pretty, just like the rest of her. "Along with our penchant for success. The growth of ArenCorp in these last few years is outstanding."

Now that was definitely a compliment. "Thank you, Mrs. Badroul, that's a lot of praise coming from you."

"I am sure it is. Now, I think that it is about time to discuss this proposal of yours. Why is it that you seek a partnership with my company?" Mrs. Badroul folded her hands in her lap, waiting patiently for a response.

But Elsa didn't have one lined up. She was already impressed with herself for getting this far and told herself this was going to be a simple "getting to know you" sort of meeting. In hindsight, knowing how packed this immaculately tanned CEO's schedule was, not realizing that she only had one shot at an impression and a proposal was pretty dumb.

Still, she knew she couldn't just leave the baroness hanging, so she said the first appropriate thing that came to mind.

"I have heard a lot of good things about your company as well. New World Oil has grown exponentially under your supervision, and I believe having a strong ally as yourself would be beneficial to both of us. ArenCorp wants to continue expanding and continue to become a great influence in the business world, and I believe that having you with us would do just that. Plus, I do believe that we can come to certain terms that will let you see a return on your investment sooner rather than later. I'm sure we can come to a compromise to fit any need you have."

"I see…" Mrs. Badroul's lips pursed, taking in her words. "That is disappointing."

Elsa blinked, "Excuse me?"

"When I said that I have heard a lot about you, I meant that I know all about your tactics, your demeanor, your impressive knack for speech, and I wanted to see that on display. Instead, you give me this generic answer that tells me nothing about your motivations; rather it seems as if you are reading off a script that your company has given you."

Well, that was a little unfair; and not true, Elsa would have much preferred to be reading off a script. Was it her fault that she was going into this meeting relatively blind with her only actual motivation for this partnership being to ensure that Hans didn't get it? Okay, so yeah it was. And yes, maybe Elsa didn't actually have any grounds to be offended because everything this no-nonsense woman was saying was true. That didn't mean that it didn't hurt, though…

" sorry if my words come across as generic, but that is my actual motivation." she half-lied. "I think if we were to come to a compromise, we would be great resources to one another."

"Where's the fire, Ms. Andersen?" Mrs. Badroul asked as she uncrossed her legs and leaned forward, pointedly ignoring Elsa's explanation. "Where's that spark? That wit and intelligence I have seen and heard so much about? Are you not the same woman who prevented a coup from WeselTechwhen your technology wing was floundering, simply by talking their CEO into resigning?"

Elsa thought better than to mention that he was on his way out of the company even before she talked to him. "I'm not sure what you want, Mrs. Badroul. Do you want me to talk business? Or do you want me to impress you?"

"Is it too much to ask for both? I thought I was dealing with someone I might even see as an equal, not some corporate yes-woman who does whatever her Board of Directors tells her to."

Man, she really had a knack for digging into your real problems and keeping you from beating around the bush. This was one of the reasons she was so successful at her job. "I rarely ever do business outside of Arendelle, I was just trying to make sure I didn't offend you with my words or mannerisms. That's why I'm not trying to showcase this 'wit' that you want me to."

Her strikingly brown eyes narrowed, "Do I look like a woman that gets easily offended?"

Elsa leaned back in her chair instinctively, wondering why she even needed a tiger if just her stare could intimidate people like this. "N-no, not at all. In fact, you look like the complete opposite. You look like you never get offended, that's why you're so good at your job."

"Hmm…" The tigress leaned back as well, eyes still narrowed. "Ms. Andersen-"

"Please, call me Elsa." What?

"I'd rather not." She replied coldly. "I am saddened to see that this meeting has not gone as I would have liked it to. I thought I would be meeting with Ms. Andersen, ArenCorp CEO. Instead I am dealing with...whatever it is that is seated in front of me."

Elsa bit her cheek to keep from replying, even if that remark had hurt more than the rest. She'd already said enough to dig her into this deep hole.

"I will give you one more chance to try and convince me why we should be meeting. One more chance." She folded her arms across her chest and nodded her head towards the highly offended blonde. "Proceed."

Elsa squared up her shoulders and mustered up the straightest face she could. If Mrs. Badroul wanted intense, take-no-prisoners, I-always-close-the-deal Ms. Andersen, then that's what she was getting. Even if her confidence was at an all-time low, even if a part of her mind was still back in Arendelle, even if a part of her heart was still in, that was super corny. Either way, she was determined to close this deal, lack of motivation aside.

She cleared her throat and took a breath, "Mrs. Badroul, have you ever been in love?"



Why in the hell did Elsa just ask that? What possessed her to even think that was an appropriate question to ask during a negotiation? Oh right, Anna. Well, there wasn't any time to take that back. All she could really do was construct the greatest pitch she'd ever made on the base of the worst slip of the tongue she'd ever made.

"Just-just hear me out, okay?" Elsa took another breath and continued, "There's a point to this, um...right! So, if you've ever been in know that you-you'd do anything for them. Anything. Even murder isn't off the table."

Mrs. Badroul continued to stare at her, eyes widened in bewilderment.

"Yeah! So, yeah you'd do anything for them." She repeated. "Because you want what's best for them, you wanna provide for them and protect them. I-I'm not going to assume anything, even though your name is Mrs. Badroul, but I do have to...ascertain that you love your company at least. You would do anything for it, you want what's best for it, right?"

"I fail to see where you are going with this, Ms. Andersen." At some point, her expression had changed from confused to almost angry.

"I was just there." Elsa continued, the absolute wrong response. "If you want what's best for your company, if you know what's best for your company, then you will partner with ArenCorp."

Now she was definitely mad. "Are you threatening me and my company, Ms. Andersen?"

Elsa's eyes widened, the guilt and unease crept down her back, "No! No, that's definitely not what I'm trying to do. I would never threaten you, or your company, or anyone." Lies.

"I was just trying to say that...that ArenCorp would be glad to take you on. It would be a great start for an expansion into the West. You could open up an international headquarters in Arendelle, and I can guarantee it would be taken care of. You-just the presence that you have...the exposure you'd get would be amazing for your company. You'd have nothing to lose, and everything to gain. All...all you'd have to do is say yes."

Elsa felt that her chances of a successful negotiation would have been better had she not hesitated at that last line. They also would have been a lot better had she not started talking in the first place.

The car suddenly came to a halt, adding to the unease already inside. Mrs. Badroul's face remained unchanged even as she jerked forward slightly from the sudden stop. She still looked unfazed, unamused, but worst of all she still looked unconvinced.

"I am sorry Ms. Andersen, but you have not convinced me that this partnership is worth my time. In fact, that speech of yours has thoroughly convinced me that agreeing to this meeting was a mistake." The car door opened, and the glow from the desert sun illuminated her distaste. "When I am finished here, we will drop you back off at The Mirage."

"W-wait, if you just-" But she was already out of the car.

Elsa wanted to follow her out, try and explain and maybe redeem herself, but she stayed glued to her seat. She didn't have any confidence that she'd have the right words to say. Not this time.

After five minutes, the door suddenly opened and a man with unkempt hair, and tattered shirt and pants, was tossed down at her feet. At first Elsa thought he was dead, but he made a whining noise as soon as he hit the carpeted floor. "Goooosh sis, why ya gotta be so rough?"

Mrs. Badroul stepped inside shortly after, saying something in a language Elsa didn't understand- it didn't sound very nice. "Drunk at 10 in the morning, brother? Again? What would father think?"

"Baaah, he wouldn't caaaaaare," The man mumbled partially to the floor.

"How could you-" Her eyes had malicious intent, but she closed them and recomposed herself. "I am taking you back home, Aladdin, and I have doubled the security. They have their orders not to go easy on you if you try and sneak out again."

He let out a guttural burp, "Mmkay, booooosss…"

Elsa had a lot of questions, but when she opened her mouth to speak, Mrs. Badroul put up a finger, "Do not say a word."

So, she didn't. She remained silent throughout the entire ride as the two siblings- apparently- bickered. Or rather, Mrs. Badroul lectured her brother about his life choices and he continued to lay listlessly on the floor making comments about her shoes and slipping in and out of consciousness.

Soon, they found themselves back at The Mirage, and the door on Elsa's side opened. Mrs. Badroul sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose, "Thank you for meeting me today, Ms. Andersen. I hope you enjoy the rest of your stay here in Agrabah."

Elsa, still confused over the events that had just transpired, didn't find her voice again until she was out the door. Before it closed again, she held it open and spoke, "W-wait, I uh...I-I just wanted to say...give me another chance to change your mind. Please?"

Mrs. Badroul smiled, but there was no joy or happiness in it. She leaned forward till they were eye to eye, and replied starkly, "No. Good day, Ms. Andersen." The door slammed in Elsa's face, and soon the car was just a distant, black blur.

This was going to be a long three days.

Chapter Text

Chapter 36

Once again, Elsa found herself dealing with the aftermath of a major screwup. Same place, different time. As she picked at her chicken sandwich in the lobby café of the Mirage, the one thought running through her mind was the stupid question she had asked less than an hour ago.

Have you ever been in love? Who in their right mind would ever start a negotiation like that? Someone who wasn't in their right mind apparently. A part of her wanted to just get the next flight out of here and call it quits, find a way to smooth things over with the board; but she knew that giving up would be career suicide, and if she returned she'd have to face her most glaring problem…

Those last few words by Rapunzel continued to torture her, exactly how many selfish choices had she made when it came to her and Anna? Did she even deserve to see Anna again? Elsa couldn't think like that, she had to make things right. For once in her life she had to think of someone other than herself, she'd given Anna two weeks of silence and that was two weeks too many. Whatever it took, Elsa would see her again and explain herself. And hope and pray that she wasn't too late.

Even with the weight of her mistake pressing down on her, it still couldn't snuff out the love she had for Anna. This newfound, maybe always there, begging to be confessed. The thought of not seeing Anna ever again pained her. Whatever it takes, she told herself, whatever it takes.

So, she couldn't go back yet. Not in her state, not with a pathetically minuscule amount of self-confidence. She needed a win, so it was time to figure out her gameplan. Okay, so yes she had screwed up big time in her negotiation by going in blind. She should have spent more time studying up on Mrs. Badroul, her mannerisms and behaviors, and she should confidently know the personal reason for wanting this partnership.

Though it wasn't like Mrs. Badroul was giving her much to work with either. Everything she said or did, the older woman just had a knack for making her feel worse. Elsa had never met someone so stubborn, so set in her ways, so subtly aggressive, so-

Holy crap, she was just like Elsa. But like...browner, and with darker hair, and had a tiger.

Elsa took a bite out of her cold sandwich and stifled her laughter, because she knew how she worked- which meant she knew how Mrs. Badroul worked. In order to break through Mrs. Badroul's own icy exterior, she had to ask herself one question:

What would Anna do?

Anna was the only one to successfully break through Elsa's surface, and while she didn't have the luxury of eight years of history between her and Mrs. Badroul, she could still use the methods Anna used.

Anna was persistent, she also refused to take no for an answer but in an endearing way. She was honest but not brutally honest, she would tell it like it is but in a way that didn't offend you. Most importantly she didn't give up, if you didn't give her an inch of space she'd make it. So that's exactly what Elsa would do.

Now with a gameplan intact, Elsa finished her sandwich- as cold and unappetizing as it was, it was also the only thing she'd had to eat today- and called for a taxi.

Sneaking into New World Oil was surprisingly easy. Although it didn't hurt that there was no security upfront, and she could easily slip through the masses going on their lunch break and get into one of the elevators.

The drive, again, was uneventful, but she at least had the decency to answer most of Vignesh's, her taxi driver's, questions, mostly as a way to practice having to be a lot more talkative and open than usual.

She had no idea what floor Mrs. Badroul would be on, and just assumed it would be the top floor, so she pressed the button that said "80" and waited. And waited. And waited. A part of her wondered if the CEO was watching her through security feeds, waiting till she got to the seventieth floor to stop the cart so she'd be forced to walk the other ten.

Fortunately, that wasn't the case. The elevator dinged, the doors slid open, and she stepped inside the longest hallway she'd ever seen. It reminded her of the hallway at the resort, except there wasn't an Exit at the very end, and there weren't doors to other rooms all along the side walls. There was only a double door at the end, olive wood with gold tiger heads as the door handles.

Each step muffled by the velvet carpet brought her closer and closer, yet still Elsa's nerves hadn't gotten to her. No matter what was going on behind those doors, even if Mrs. Badroul was in the most important meeting of her life, she was filled with an unwavering determination to get her attention.

Unfortunately, it seemed as if the narrow hallway hadn't disclosed the full size of the door. It got wider the closer she got, and on either side were the two bodyguards that she had met earlier that morning, standing with their feet apart and hands folded up front.

"No visitors." The man on her right said.

Immediately, Elsa put her hands up as if to surrender. "I'm not here to visit, I just need ten minutes of Mrs. Badroul's time, it's important."

"No. Visitors." The man on her left repeated empathically.

"I'm not…" Elsa groaned and rolled her eyes, "Look I'll be in and out in no time, I mean no harm to your boss, I just want to talk to her."

The two brown behemoths looked at each other, nodded in sync, and advanced slowly towards Elsa. Not good, she had to think fast.

When they were only three feet away, Elsa stepped back a couple steps, "Alright fine! I'll go, but now you have to explain to your boss that-" She didn't finish her thought, she'd already sidestepped the twin towers and sprinted to the door.

The ridiculousness of that move wasn't lost on her, neither was the fact that it actually worked. She didn't have time to congratulate herself though, she had a job to do and it was stupidly hard to run in flats. Not daring to look back, she kept moving forward until her hands had reached one of the tiger heads and she yanked the door open, locking it behind her before they could go in with her.

She breathed a momentary sigh of relief, still in shock that that actually worked, and turned around to face her fate and realized that she wasn't alone.

Well of course she wasn't alone, this was thankfully Mrs. Badroul's office and she was here. But five feet away from her was Hans, currently being backed into a corner by her snarling tiger. As if the similarities weren't glaring enough, she also had a massive window, a fridge, and a bed that looked recently used. Honestly, the only things that were starkly different were the furniture choice, color scheme, and lack of mementos.

The two other humans stared at her with wide eyes, and knowing that either of them was too stunned to speak, Elsa was the first to break the tense silence filled with growling and loud knocking. "Hi! It's me again."

Mrs. Badroul blinked, "I...can see that. Why exactly are you here, Ms. Andersen?"

The knocking grew louder and more frequent, "Well, I-I was just in the neighborhood and I thought I'd stop by and…" Yeah, silly jokes only worked for Anna. "Okay screw it, I need to talk to you, Mrs. Badroul. Again."

"Enough! I am okay!" The baroness shouted at the door as the knocking ceased. She sighed, "We have been over this, I told you that you did not make a good impression and I will not entertain another attempt at negotiating with you."

Hans tried to pipe in, "Yeah and we've kinda got our own negotiation going on so if you'd mind-" But he was silenced by a spine-tingling growl.

Hiding her amusement, Elsa put her hands up again, "Look, I know the first impression I gave you was...abysmal, I know that I put my foot in my mouth way too many times, but I-I want another chance. That person in the car...that wasn't me. I mean it was, but it wasn't like an accurate version of me. I want to show you that you've got it all wrong, I want to make a better second impression."

"I hardly see what a second meeting would show me that I haven't already seen."

"Well aren't you willing to find out?"

Mrs. Badroul frowned, "Not particularly, no."

Elsa sighed, "Look, I've got two more days and I don't wanna spend them as a damn tourist, pardon my language. I want to spend it doing what I know and what I love. And you can push me out of here yourself, get your bodyguards to keep me from leaving The Mirage, or even sicc Rajah on me...but I will find a way to get to you until you meet with me."

If Elsa wasn't sure how Anna felt before, she sure did now. The way that Mrs. Badroul was looking at her made her feel incredibly uneasy, and she wanted again to just get out of there and cut her losses, but she didn't. She'd gotten this far, and dirty looks be damned, she'd get this meeting.

Mrs. Badroul shifted her intimidating glare back and forth from the cowering Hans still trying to pretend he had this tiger situation under control, to Elsa, who could all but hear the debate going on in her mind.

Finally, she let out a defeated groan, "1:30 at Abu'sAnd you are paying. I will not miss my lunch because of you."

Elsa clapped her hands together and suppressed an uncharacteristically giddy noise from escaping her throat. She was venturing too closely into the Anna method of negotiations. "Thank you! I promise you won't regret it, and you can order whatever you want."

Mrs. Badroul closed her eyes, looking like she'd rather be anywhere else right now. "Just leave me be, Ms. Andersen."

"Right! Gotcha…" Elsa unlocked the door, mouthed a "Thank you" to the furious bodyguards before sidestepping them, and paced back to the elevator, still in awe that this ridiculous plan had worked.

Elsa had wanted to get a good night's rest for tomorrow's make-or-break appointment, but the fully awake nightlife of Agrabah had different ideas. There were two separate pool parties going on at The Mirage, the bright lights and music created the perfect concoction for insomnia, leaving Elsa to press the pillow around her head harder till it was practically in her ears.

Deciding to not wait this out in her hotel room, she went to take a walk instead. Maybe it would help prepare her mind for tomorrow, and plus she hadn't had time yet to explore this gorgeous city.

She did know how dangerous it was at night according to the news reports, so she made sure to stay a safe distance from the resort.

The rest of Agrabah, it seemed, reveled in the nightlife as well. Illuminated by the scarce streetlights, merchants continued to sell their wares and the more questionable businesses were crowded with patrons looking to drink or screw their problems away.

Elsa felt like a fish out of water with her pale skin, gray hoodie and blue jeans- the most casual non-gym attire she'd worn since college- but most of the citizens were nice and polite to her. Most of them anyway, a handful of creeps made lewd non-English remarks and gross gestures, but she easily avoided them.

There was certain uniqueness to this side of Agrabah, a mixing of the rich and poor lifestyle, the latter more than the former. Aside from a couple fast food restaurants and designer clothing stores right next to The Mirage, the rest of the area looked like a borderline slum. Beggars were littering the street, an old married couple was bickering outside of their clay house, she literally saw a child steal a handful of apples from a merchant while another child distracted him.

It was eye-opening to say the least, she had gotten so accustomed to just how okay and well-adjusted Arendelle was that sometimes she forgot that other cities, other countries, weren't like that. As fascinating and perspective-altering as Agrabah was, she was already missing Arendelle after one day.

She missed the scenery, the not-so-blistering heat, her office surprisingly, and she missed the people. Especially Anna. God, she missed Anna.

It was kind of insane how much she'd let herself fall for the redhead once she stopped denying her feelings. Every little thing about her produced another butterfly in her stomach: from her smile, to the perfect pattern of freckles on her face, to the loose strands of hair on her head that refused to stay in line, to her laugh, to the way she stood with her hands on her hips when she was deep in thought, to her voice telling her that she wanted her…

Before Elsa could fall into the rabbit hole of her screw-ups again, she found herself in an unfamiliar area. The streetlights flickered, the handful of houses looked abandoned, and the atmosphere was quieter than she'd like it to be. Luckily, she could still hear the booming music from The Mirage and reoriented herself.

Deciding it was finally time to get some sleep- and remembering she'd packed some earplugs for situations like this- Elsa began her walk back. She didn't make it that far before she heard something that caught her attention. In a bad way.

In a nearby alleyway was what clearly sounded like a fight going on, a very one-sided fight. There were things being thrown around, punches being thrown, and a weak voice begging for mercy in broken English.

Against her better judgment, Elsa crossed the street to get a closer look, partially due to morbid curiosity but also because the one winning the fight sounded very familiar. She stayed out of the way of the dim streetlight and peeked around the corner, seeing that her suspicions were confirmed.

Even in the cover of night, she could see the murderous intent on his face, his unbuttoned and slightly torn vest, and the gleam of his ring coming down to connect with another hit on his poor victim's face.

"No more. Please no more…"

"You did this, you brought this on yourself." Hans hissed as he pulled him up by the collar of his tattered shirt and beat him back down with another hit. "You! Did! This!" Each word was accented with another defenseless punch.

Elsa was frozen in fear, knowing that her and Mr. Arendelle's suspicions were confirmed. He was violent, mercilessly violent. She didn't know what this man did to him, if anything, but she knew that he didn't deserve this kind of punishment. Despite the fear, she wanted to step in, do the dumb thing and be a hero.

But before she took a single step, another thought came to her mind. If she got evidence of this happening…it may not be a scandal here, but it certainly would be back home. And after getting the evidence she needed, she could be a dumb hero and get Hans off of him, killing two birds with one stone.

Still thankfully covered by the darkness of the street, she navigated to her phone's camera, carefully peeked around the corner again, and pressed the button to take a picture.

Not realizing that she had forgotten to turn the flash off.

The momentary brightness illuminated the evil deed. For a split second she could see the balding middle-aged man weakly putting his hands up to find mercy that would never come, she could see Hans sitting on his chest, fist raised in the air for another punch, and she could see that his rage-filled eyes were no longer on him, but on the one holding the phone.

Elsa ran.

She was feeling confident about her chances of getting away, after all that time logged on the field and the treadmill, and from proving to herself that she could do it after slipping past Mrs. Badroul's bodyguards. All she had to do was run back to the resort, get on the elevator, make her way back to her room, and lock the doors. Everything would be okay once she got back.

But Elsa only made it a few feet before being stopped by a wall of velvet that knocked her back and grabbed her roughly, pinning her to a wall with the hand holding her phone twisted behind her. In the heat of the moment, she had forgotten to check up on the whereabouts of Hans' bodyguard.

When he saw that she was clearly incapacitated, Hans sprint turned into a smug walk, his grin grew more fiendish as he came into the light. He laughed, "You almost had me there, Elsa. You aaaalmost had me…"

Elsa struggled in the stoic man's grasp, trying to squirm away from either the hand twisting her arm back or the one pressed into her shoulder, but the more she struggled the more he pressed. She hissed as the pain on her joints increased. "Tell him to let me go, you psychopath."

He looked away as if he was actually considering it, and then shook his head, "Not gonna happen. You've seen too much, and now I have to do some damage control so you don't do something stupid like rat me out."

"Yeah?" She growled. "And what are you gonna do? Kill me?"

Hans chuckled, "That'd be even dumber than letting you go with that evidence you've got. Speaking of which, I'm going to need you to hand over your phone."

"Not a chance, jackass."

His expression darkened from her lack of compliance, he nodded towards the gorilla with sideburns, and the hand gripping her wrist that held her phone clamped down. An unfortunate wail came from her throat and her phone fell to the ground. Without relaxing his grip, he slid the phone over to Hans who caught it under his foot.

"You know that little stunt of yours in Jasmine's office didn't sit well with me, in made me a little angry." He took a handkerchief out of his pocket, unfolded it, and wiped the blood off his face. "And I don't like being angry, because it makes me do terrible things. Messy things."

He moved on to his hands, "I'm always careful, though, I never want people to see any more than they need to. It's better for everybody if we leave some secrets behind closed doors; I'm sure you know all about that don't you, Elsa?"

Elsa tried to wriggle free again, earning her a rough shove back on to the wall.

"Watch it. We don't wanna leave any marks." He said, glaring at his bodyguard. "Now where was I? Right, I was getting to the part where you almost screwed everything up. Including you, I can count the number of people who've tried to be a hero against my 'evil deeds' on one hand. No one has successfully stopped me though, and no one will. You wanna know why?"

Elsa didn't respond.

"Because I'm smarter than everyone else. I'm always three steps ahead. Even before you knew I was a threat, I had already infiltrated your precious kingdom. If you thought I'd go anywhere in this shithole of a city without backup, without a plan, then you must be dumber than I expected. Then again, you just proved that a second ago, didn't you?"

He took a second to laugh to himself and then continued his monologue. "You almost had me. You almost beat me at my own game. Almost. But you never will, and you need to accept that and embrace the fact that I am at your backdoor and there is nothing you can do to stop me."

At that moment, either a surge of stupidity or bravery overcame Elsa and she spat right in his face. It was worth it, even if she was now pressed even tighter onto the brick wall. She'd heard enough of this supervillain nonsense.

Hans barely even flinched, he simply patted down his cheek with the handkerchief, folded it back into his pocket, and let out a fiendish chuckle. "Let her go," he demanded.

The bodyguard did as he was told, releasing his grip on Elsa and standing with his arms folded next to Hans. Elsa did her best to look angry despite the pain she felt in her wrist, she swore there was a broken bone somewhere.

"I told you that you were playing a dangerous game, Elsa," Hans said mockingly. "You should get out while you still can."

"Fuck you." She replied through gritted teeth. Probably not the smartest thing to say in front of a violent maniac trying to rationalize his actions, but it still felt really good let that out.

Hans frowned and picked up her discarded phone off the sidewalk. "You really shouldn't test my patience. Don't make me regret going back on my promise of going easy on you this time. Or else…"

He handed the phone off to his bodyguard, who effortlessly crushed it in one hand. Elsa could only watch in horror as the plastic and metal remains fell to the floor. The dreaded realization that that easily could have been her arm, or worse, was not lost on her.

"By the way, tell your board I've decided to leave a day early," Hans said as he and his bodyguard walked back into the darkness. "Good luck with Jasmine tomorrow, I'll see you when you get back."

Chapter Text

Chapter 37

Elsa didn't know whether or not she should be grateful that she didn't have any bruises or scrapes on her body- not even on her face, which in the dark felt like it was mercilessly being pushed into the brick wall. It meant that she didn't have any physical evidence of Hans' assault, but it also meant that she could still look presentable for her meeting with Mrs. Badroul.

As small as that detail was, it was the only bright side she could see.

After another silent taxi drive with a talkative driver, Elsa found herself at the front doors of Abu's: a high-class restaurant in the center of Agrabah shaped like some sort of fancy, gold lamp. A waitress wearing a traditional-looking dress lead her inside when she said she was here to meet Mrs. Badroul.

The inside looked somehow larger than the outside, the dome-like structure was decorated in a gorgeous flower pattern, and there were enough all-white tables and chairs to house a packed gymnasium. In an interesting design choice, a handful of tables were elevated in the center of the restaurant on a platform slightly off the floor, and the woman she was meeting was seated at one of these tables.

The gorgeous CEO was dressed in a stunning teal dress with a modest neckline and sporting her hair in a ponytail draped around her shoulder, she stood up when she saw Elsa approaching. She didn't look excited, but she didn't look annoyed this time either.

"1:30 precisely. Impressive to say the least, Ms. Andersen." She stuck her hand out, which Elsa shook with her aching hand.

Wincing from both the exertion and the unfaithful comment, Elsa asked, "I'm sorry? Did you not expect me to be here on time?"

"Not entirely. I called you last night to ensure that we were still meeting, but you neglected to answer your phone." Mrs. Badroul sat back down opposite of the blonde and folded her hands on the table, "Did something happen?"

Yet another disadvantage of not having a phone. Who knows how many calls or text messages she'd missed so far.

How much did Elsa want to tell her? If she told the whole truth, then maybe Mrs. Badroul would show some compassion and help take Hans down. But what if they were already partners and she'd get offended at Elsa for accusing him of something she had no proof of? That didn't seem to be the case in the way their meeting seemed to be transpiring, but it wouldn't be the first time Elsa misread a situation.

"It's uh, I just had a little...incident last night and lost my phone," Elsa said, deciding on a more neutral response.

The dark-haired woman looked at her puzzled, and Elsa expected, even hoped, that she would press further, unfortunately she just shrugged and turned her attention back to the menu. "Right...well just as we agreed you will pay for the meal, and you have until the food gets here-and a little time afterward- to convince me that ArenCorp deserves a second chance."

Great, she was off to an amazing start already. Elsa picked up her own menu and picked something cheap and familiar. As the same waitress from before came to take their order, Elsa shamelessly watched as Mrs. Badroul spoke in a silky, authoritative voice. No wonder she'd amassed as much power as she has, who wouldn't want to follow that voice and face into the proverbial battleground?

When the waitress left, and the older woman sat staring at her expectantly, Elsa cleared her throat and spoke. She was on the clock here and needed to make every word count.

"I want to start by apologizing again for my behavior yesterday. I'm...I was preoccupied with something else and regrettably I let it affect my conduct."

No response. Holy hell she was intimidating.

Elsa nervously rubbed the napkin underneath her hand with her thumb. "Though there was some truth to my...mad ramblings. I am fully prepared to help you in any way for your expansion into Arendelle, if that's something you want. In my opinion, it's something you should at least consider. Your importance, your influence, should be shown not just in your own city, but in every city- and that can start with Arendelle."

"And what makes you think that I have a need for an international presence?" Mrs. Badroul replied with great scrutiny. "I am doing perfectly fine here in Agrabah."

"I'm not saying that you need one, but haven't you ever asked yourself if you could do better?" Elsa took a hurried sip from her glass of water. "I don't wanna compare myself to you, but the drive for me to always be better than I was the day before is the reason I'm sitting here with you today."

That and a harebrained scheme she stole from her ex-girlfriend that she missed desperately.

"The reason you are here today is because I allow it," Mrs. Badroul stated, her stare making it sound much more imposing.

"Well yeah, that too...but you didn't have to allow me to be here, and yet you did." Elsa mimicked her pose, placing her own hands tentatively on the table, "If you don't mind me asking, why did you change your mind?"

"I hardly think that is a smart question to ask considering the time you have left." She turned her head slightly towards the kitchen and looked back at the attentive blonde. "But if you must know…I admired your initiative. I am sure you know what kind of woman I am- I could have easily, as you said, 'sicced' Rajah on you- but I was impressed that even though you knew that, you still demanded a second chance."

Elsa actually forgot about Rajah momentarily when barging into her office, but she wouldn't say that.

"Not to mention that because my meeting with Mr. Westerguard was abysmal to say the least, I needed someone to prove to me that you Westerners are not all the same." It was good to see that she had made the right assumption about their meeting.

"But I also fumbled our first meeting, I said a lot of really dumb things," Elsa said before she could bite her tongue and let her continue.

Mrs. Badroul nodded, "You did, but you also said that you were not yourself, and I could visibly see that. This is the closest I've been to encountering the real Ms. Andersen that i wanted so much to meet. I sense something different about you, something has changed."

Well yeah, she decided not to repress her feelings and use them to her advantage. Thankfully this time Elsa was able to hold back that remark. Instead, she went with a more appropriate answer, "I think it's best that we chalk that first meeting up to being starstruck and leave it at that."

"Starstruck?" Mrs. Badroul rose her glass to take a drink. "Is that why you asked me if I had ever been in love?"

Elsa was sure she was imagining things, but it looked as if there was a small smirk on Mrs. Badroul's lips, quickly hidden by her cup.

She let out a flustered laugh, "Yeah, that...that was a mistake. I'm sorry, I had something on my mind- not you! I didn't...I mean I don't have you on my mind in that way." Why...why does she insist on talking?

The sun-kissed woman pulled her cup away from her lips, there was definitely a smirk. "Well I am flattered, but my feelings towards you are strictly professional. I am sorry if that disappoints you."

"No it's fine! I don't-I didn't think of you that way either, I actually have someone back home so-" Holy crap what was saying?! Elsa stopped herself, her cheeks already as red as the hair of the girl she was thinking about. It was bad enough that Mrs. Badroul thought she had feelings for her, but then she had to go and lie about her relationship. As wonderful as it would be to actually mean what she said, Anna wasn't hers.

Not anymore…

She shook her head before she could sink further into that rabbit hole and focused back on the task at hand. "A-anyway, like I was saying before, feelings towards you are strictly professional as well. Although I will admit that I admire your story so much: how you inherited your father's company and made it your own, it's so fascinating. And just the way that you lead your company, it really looks like everyone respects you and also kind of fears you. No offense."

"No offense taken, that is my goal after all." The smirk was still there, which meant that Elsa finally got her to crack- by making herself look like a fool, but that's beside the point- and she took that as a personal victory.

"Right, well in any case if I was infatuated in any way here, it'd be at the idea of us being partners." Awful word choice, and yet Mrs. Badroul still looked amused and even raised her eyebrow. Another victory! "You remind me a lot of myself in the way you lead and the way that you've built yourself up, and just imagining what we could do together is just...I mean can't you see it? Haven't you thought about what this partnership would do for us? What we could accomplish?"

"I have thought about it, yes. In all honesty, you could give me access to an untapped market for New World Oil, and I know how much you Westerners love oil. And given your, well, less extreme methods of negotiating and how universally loved you are by your city…" Not recently, but that wasn't important. "...partnering with you would help to soften my public image a good amount."

"Aha!" Elsa exclaimed while clapping her hands together, alerting everyone within a twenty-mile radius. "You said you've thought about partnering with me, not like any person from the West, but me specifically."

Elsa was in no position to be bragging right now, especially about something that silly. Any second now the waitress would be back with their food and this negotiation would be over.

"Do you think that you're the only Westerner that I've negotiated with, Ms. Andersen?"

"Well of course not, I saw you talk with Hans yesterday. I'm just saying that...well I mean, if you've been thinking about this partnership already- enough that you gave me a second chance- then what's stopping us from just making it happen?"

Mrs. Badroul looked to the side, clearly thinking this through, "Hmm, you do seem to have a point."

"I do, don't I?" Elsa had to force herself to stop from smiling proudly, "So...let's do this thing. What do you say?"

"What do I say?" Mrs. Badroul seemed poised to answer, she had taken a breath while Elsa subsequently held hers, but before she could continue, the waitress had unfortunately returned with their food.

Elsa did her best not to look annoyed and thanked her for her diligence, but before she could dig into her admittedly delicious looking salad, Mrs. Badroul finished her thought.

"I say we eat first." She said as she gracefully lay her napkin on her lap. "And discuss the terms of our partnership afterward."

"Can't I just eat this later, Rapunzel?" Anna groaned, "One bite is enough, I've lived off worse."

"Are you serious? You used to be a star athlete, you know one bite isn't enough."

"I'm not an athlete anymore, now I'm just…" Anna stopped herself before her shame could slither out of her mouth even more, much as it had threatened to do many times these past couple days.

Rapunzel leaned forward, her eyes searching for any give in Anna's self-loathing ones. " you're just what?"

Anna blinked, "Look, I'll just eat the rest later, okay?" She placed the cover on top of her container and went to stand, "Thanks for dinner."

But she was stopped when Rapunzel grabbed her wrist, not tightly so as to force her back down, but enough to get her attention. Anna looked at her annoyed, Rapunzel looked at her undeterred.

She didn't want to be mad at her best friend, she didn't want to be mad at anyone but herself, but finally telling her what happened with Elsa should have been the end of this. Why did Rapunzel insist on taking care of someone who had given up on taking care of herself?

Maybe it was time for Rapunzel to know this, so Anna sunk back into her chair ready to unload, but the blonde beat her to the punch.

"I saw Elsa a couple of days ago."

Anna'sheart stopped for a terrifying second, the idea of Rapunzel ever meeting Elsa face-to-face was so foreign to her that it didn't sound true. "What?" she said hoarsely. "We had work. When did you…"

Rapunzel pointedly didn't let go of Anna's hand when she sat back down. "It was after you and Hannah left to get dinner, she gave me Elsa's address and I went there as soon as I could. I wanted to know what happened, and when I asked if it had anything to do with Elsa you didn't deny it, so...I went to her place and confronted her."

"ButI did end up telling you. I mean I didn't tell you till yesterday, but still you didn't...didn't have to do that."

"I didn't want to take the chance that you might just pretend everything's fine and shut me out again, just like you're doing now." Rapunzel reasoned. "Besides, I'm not gonna pretend I didn't have a few words to say to her."

"I'm not…" Anna couldn't lie anymore, neither could she be furious at Rapunzel for just trying to help her and get an answer. Both feelings were overtaken by a different one: a pathetic feeling of neediness. "Well, wh-what did she say to you?"

Rapunzel ran a hand through her hair, "She...took the blame for everything that happened, told me about what you said to her, and how she hung up on you."

The pain in her chest made Anna immediately regret asking, and she wanted her to stop, but she also wanted to know more. "Did she…" Anna swallowed, "Did she say anything about why…"

Rapunzel tightened her hand over Anna's reassuringly, making it twitch in response, "Anna, I didn't want to bring this up to make you feel worse, I just wanted to tell you about this because you deserve to know, because you deserve finally move on."

Deserve. There was that awful word again. "Move on? So does that mean she doesn't want anything to do with me?"

Her best friend looked away, looking as if she didn't know how to word this. Each second of silence that passed only furthered the fear creeping up Anna's spine. "Rapunzel please…" she tried again, "I need to know what she said."

Rapunzel let out a heavy breath and looked back at her seriously, "She apologized for everything that she did, and said that she never meant to hurt you like this."

Ironically, that made the pain Anna felt even worse. Her chest tightened and her body went into overdrive trying to form another vat of tears for her to pour. "If-if that's true then why-" Her breath hitched and she continued meekly, "Why can't she just tell me that?"

"I don't know, Anna." Rapunzel placed another hand on hers, for some reason she looked uneasy. "She didn't say why, maybe she's just too scared to face you anymore. Maybe she just feels too guilty about what she did."

"But I'm right here! I've been here all this time just waiting and waiting for some kind of response, and I've gotten nothing, but she talks to you?!" Anna ripped her hand away and tangled the both of them in her hair, her eyes were looking at nothing in particular, and yet frantically scanning for any way to make sense of this. "Was that what I should have done? Should I have just not pretended everything was fine and just went to her? Should I have done what you did?"

"I don't think that would have helped."

Anna scoffed, "How do you know that?! What if I had done something instead of being a coward and doing nothing but wait, and wait, and wait?!"

"What? Anna, you're not a coward. Why do you keep bringing yourself down like this? This isn't your fault!"

"Of course this is my fault!" Her breathing grew more erratic. "I jumped the gun and ruined something that could have been good by confessing my feelings like an idiot and now I'm paying the price. If I had just been okay with where we were if I didn't always want more with Elsa, if I didn't care about her so much, I…"

Rapunzel raced to her side, sitting next to Anna and tearing her hands away from her hair, semi-cradling her as the redhead tried to catch her breath. "Shh, just breathe. Take a second and breathe, it's gonna be okay."

Anna wanted to protest and say that it was never gonna be okay, but damn if Rapunzel's base motherly instincts hadn't gotten so much better since the pregnancy. Instead, she just sunk into her best friend's embrace, letting her arms flop down, and waited until she could breathe again.

"Gosh Anna…" Rapunzel said softly after a minute of shushing and cooing, "Why do you do this to yourself? Why do you cause yourself this much pain over someone that's not worth it?"

"Wh-what? What do you mean?"

Rapunzel rubbed her left shoulder with her arm, "I mean that you're too good for Elsa. You're too good for someone who won't talk to you, who makes you feel like this so many times. You deserve someone who will make you happy all the time, this."

While she understood where her best friend was coming from, it still didn't change the fact that those words weren't entirely true. "That's not- I mean she isn't the reason I'm like this. I'm just...this is who I am, 'Zel."

"What are you talking about?"

Anna sighed dejectedly and spoke even though she knew every word she uttered would worsen the pain, "I'm someone who does things and says things without thinking them through first. And then when it inevitably blows up in my face, I don't know to deal with it so I just, I dunno, pretend everything's fine and forget to learn from my mistakes."

She paused for a second to keep her breath from hitching before continuing with her depressive monologue, "I'm someone who only ever fell in love with one person, and never stopped loving her, so I can't move on… I'm messed up, I've been messed up, it's always been like this."

When she ended, Rapunzel pulled her in even tighter, Anna didn't protest. "Well…" she started. "Let me tell you how I see you. Let me tell you the truth."

As she spoke, Rapunzel gently stroked her hair, further proving the motherly parallels. "I see a girl who never has to second guess anything, someone that's confident and bold and will always be the first one to try something new." Immediately, Anna wanted her to stop talking, but couldn't find it in herself to say those words.

"I see someone who knows what she wants, and will stop at nothing to get it." Anna wanted desperately to tell her that wasn't true, but there was such a sincerity in the blonde's voice that she still found herself speechless.

"I see someone who, yeah, may be unlucky at love but somehow finds a way to keep going every day, no matter how bad things get." Again Anna wanted to protest, not wanting Rapunzel to go where she was going, but all she could produce was a choked sob. "I see the greatest ball of sunshine that's ever come into my life, I see my best friend in the whole freaking world who deserves happiness no matter what she says."

If Anna didn't say anything now, she would definitely be a mess again. ''Zel please…stop..." She said meekly, finally finding the words she couldn't earlier.

"Too much?" Rapunzel asked wearily. "Anna, I'm just saying things that I've neglected to tell you for a while, things that I think you need to hear."

"I-It's just that...I know I should believe you, and be grateful for everything you've said cause you're my best friend and wouldn't lie to me. It's just hard because…" She wiped the tears from her eyes, "Because you're not the one I want to hear them from."

"Hmm.." Rapunzel muttered sympathetically.

"I know it's stupid that I'm feeling like this, and I know that I should start healing or whatever, but I don't know if I can do that without...closure." The word had escaped her for so long, and it had finally come to her in this moment of vulnerability. "If Elsa could just talk to me, tell me how she really felt, then this whole thing could finally be over. You know what I mean?"

Anna finally looked up from her spot nestled into Rapunzel's shoulder and noticed that she was biting her lip and looking very guilty. "Rapunzel?" She asked worriedly.

"I...may have lied a little earlier," Rapunzel said. "Elsa may have said something else."

Elsa was now eternally grateful of Mrs. Badroul for two reasons: for agreeing to the partnership, and for giving her a ride back to the resort which could replace the horrible memory of their first car ride together.

They were both a lot more relaxed and without the looming need of a negotiation hanging over their heads, they could simply talk candidly about their professional lives and even delve a little into their personal ones.

Mrs. Badroul told her where she got Rajah: "It was a gift from my father for my seventh birthday. He claimed to have imported him straight from Africa, but I am pretty sure I saw Rajah at the circus that came by a month before. My father even put a bow on him, which he did not like."

She told her the hardest part about working in Agrabah: "Definitely the heat. You would think that after living here my whole life I would have gotten used to it, but you never really do."

Elsa even got her to laugh after recalling an embarrassing anecdote of her early years at ArenCorp, and yes it was just as pretty as the rest of her.

After a lull in the conversation, Mrs. Badroul smiled, "If I can be honest, I am glad that my first impression of you was wrong, Ms. Andersen."

Elsa lazily put her arm over the empty headrest next to her, "Well if I can be honest, I'm glad my first impression of you wasn't. I read all about how you were this no-nonsense, take no prisoners kind of woman and it's good to see that you're exactly who I expected you to be, Mrs. Badroul."

The tan woman mirrored her position, albeit much more elegant with her arm placement, "Please, call me Jasmine."

Well, that was new. "You serious?" Elsa asked with a raised eyebrow.

"I'm only on a first-name basis with my business partners, and only the ones that I respect the most."

For some reason, Elsa thought this was going to turn out to be some strange practical joke, she said her name cautiously. "Well, okay then...Jasmine. Gosh, that feels so weird to say."

Jasmine simply smirked, "I hope it is not too weird. That is my name after all."

"No it's not that kind of weird I'm just...anyway, you can call me Elsa if you want." She suggested.

"I was already planning on it. Now Elsa…" Gosh, that felt weird to hear. "Can I ask you a rather personal question?"

"Anything, shoot!" Elsa said a bit too eagerly.

Jasmine chuckled, "Well I hope I am not bringing up something you would much rather forget, but I did also read that rather controversial article about you in my research."

As soon as she mentioned the article, Elsa held back a groan. She knew it was one of the top hits when you searched for her name, but she still hoped that Jasmine wouldn't want to talk about it. Regardless she wanted to be polite, and just stayed silent. Even though she had a hunch about what Jasmine was going to ask.

"And curiosity has unfortunately gotten the better of me so I am afraid I have to ask: What became of you and Anna Dawson? Do you still keep in touch?"

Her hunch turned out to be true. Elsa made a few noncommittal noises as she tried to figure out just what to say and how much. In the end, after leaving Jasmine hanging for an eternity, she decided to just come right out and say the whole truth.

"Er, well that's a really long story, you remember when I told you I have someone back home?" Because Elsa definitely didn't forget that blatant lie.

Jasmine's eyes widened, "Oh!"

Elsa hissed, "Yeeeeeah, before I get to that I just want to say that we're not...actually together. It was, I dunno, I guess you could say wishful thinking."

"Oh?" Her expression changed, "I am not sure what you mean."

"It's complicated, really complicated." Elsa laughed nervously at her understatement of the century.

"We dated back in college but I broke up with her over something stupid. We reconnected recently, and things were going great until I realized I had been repressing all these feelings for her and...well she confessed first." She sighed and looked out the window. "And I did something stupid again, and ruined it."

"How did you ruin it?"

Elsa closed her eyes hard and when she opened them, she saw a look of equal parts sympathy and curiosity on Jasmine's face. "I-well she told me over the phone cause we were talking on the phone, you know? And so she told me and I...hung up on her."

"Oh no!" Jasmine replied with full sympathy.

"Yeah, and that was two, almost three, weeks ago and I still haven't told her how I've felt. And honestly I don't think I'll ever get the chance." She looked down, the all-too-familiar guilt covering her. "With how much I've hurt her, I don't think I even deserve another chance."

Elsa didn't mean to say that statement. Or the one before that. Or the one before that. It was just that she didn't have anyone to vent to or process any of this, hopefully this didn't paint herself in a different light for Jasmine.

After an agonizing amount of silence, Jasmine spoke. Quietly, yet still able to be heard amidst the muffled sounds of the car. "Can I tell you a secret, Elsa?"

Elsa looked up, and not wanting to say anything else she nodded.

"I am not actually married, I added the 'Mrs.' to my name to deter any suspicious suitors from trying to make any advances towards me."

"W-wow…" Elsa said wide-eyed. "Is that true?"

"Very, and it has worked like a charm. Aside from Mr. Westerguard's tactless attempts to 'persuade' me, not one man has even thought about smiling suggestively in my direction for years. Of course, that may have more to do with my general demeanor and Rajah, but I like to think the prefix is their first hint not to try anything. It is a blessing, but also a curse…"

Jasmine frowned and took her arm off the headrest to repeatedly press her thumbs together in her lap, possibly a nervous tick. "See the thing about people being too fearful to look in your direction is that it makes it very difficult to, well, connect with anyone. As shocking as it may sound, I do one day hope to actually find someone and settle down."

"That doesn't sound shocking at all," Elsa interjected, knowing that she wanted the same thing.

Jasmine smiled sadly, "What I am trying to say is that I have dug myself into a proverbial hole, made from this fear that anyone interested in me would only be interested in my money or my position. A fear that keeps me from something that I have wanted for a very...very long time. I ask, Elsa, that you do not do the same thing, that you take your chance."

She leaned over and placed a hand on Elsa's knee, "This is an opportunity for you to have something great, and I would hate for you to throw it away because of fear or doubt or this notion that you are too late. If you like Anna as much as you say do, then do not let anything stop you from letting her know."

The car came to a halt as Elsa was still reeling from the waterfall of wisdom that had just cascaded down on her. The tragedy of Jasmine's tale wasn't lost on her either, and she wanted to console and reassure her just as much as thank her for the reality check. But as the car door opened, it didn't look like she was going to get that chance.

Jasmine's smile grew slightly larger, although the sadness was still prominent in her brown eyes. "Ah, it seems we are out of time. Thank you for meeting with me Elsa, I look forward to our partnership and I hope you have a safe flight tomorrow."

"Y-yeah, um you too…" Elsa replied distantly. She moved to get out of the car, and then she remembered what her new business partner/apparent love guru literally just told her about taking chances.

She sat back down in her chair, much to Jasmine's surprise, and spoke with an opportunistic glint her eye, "Where's the best place to buy a gift in Agrabah?"

Chapter Text

Chapter 38

"Anna, I still don't think this a good idea."

"What's so bad about it, 'Zel?" Anna asked as she thoroughly looked herself over in the bathroom mirror. "Hannah said that Elsa's coming back from Agrabah today! So I'm just gonna go to the airport, find a way past security, meet her there, try not to make a total fool of myself, and then get her to say to everything you told me."

Once she confirmed for the hundredth time that she didn't have anything gross on her face, she walked over to where Rapunzel was leaning on the doorway and gave her shoulders a reassuring squeeze, "Again, it's not like I don't trust you, I just want to hear her say it. It'll make things more real that way."

Rapunzel followed Anna as she made her way back to her room. "And then what are you gonna do?"

She slipped on a scarlet blouse- a present Elsa got her for her 17th birthday- and shrugged, "I...guess we'll see. Anyway, I'm good at coming up with stuff on the spot, remember?"

"You're terrible at coming up with stuff on the spot."

"Noted." Anna sat down on her chair and slipped on her running shoes. "But either way this is a good idea, I know it is. Even if she's...changed her mind, at least then I can finally move on right?"

"Right…" Rapunzel replied, still weary.

Anna leaped out of her chair, "Right! Now my Uber's gonna be here any second now, but you have to get going. Someone's gotta be at the bakery to open up."

She went to leave her room and grab her phone off the kitchen counter, but before she could get farther than a foot from the door, a hand tugged at her wrist to stop her. "Anna, wait."

The confused redhead turned around, and it was Rapunzel's turn to put her hands on her shoulders. She tried to look serious, but the strength of the worry the blonde had for her best friend was too much. "Are you sure you know what you're doing? I don't wanna see you get hurt again."

Rapunzel had every right to be worried, this plan was ridiculous- and also super cliché, how many romantic comedies had Anna seen where there was a sappy confession of love at the airport?

But even so, her eyes were open, and she was seeing things more clearly than she had in a while. She smiled, this one smaller yet much more sincere, and squeezed one of Rapunzel's hands on her shoulders. "I'm sure. Just like you said, I'm stubborn and stop at nothing to get what I want."

Rapunzel frowned, "I never said you were stubborn."

"Eh, it was implied." She shrugged, and at that moment, someone knocked on their front door. "Ooh! That's probably my Uber, I gotta go!"

She raced to the kitchen to grab her phone and pet Barry all while Rapunzel exclaimed, "They don't knock on your front door."

"Maybe it's one of those fancy ones!" She unlocked the front door and opened it. "I'll see you at the bakery, 'Zel, make sure to-"

It wasn't her Uber.

To be honest, that would have been a little sketchy in hindsight if her driver did show up at her front door instead of sending a text saying they were here. So maybe should have been a little glad that wasn't the case. But as she opened the door and looked to see who it was, she felt a whole mixture of emotions: glad, confused, shocked, a little angry, her heart felt like it was breaking and repairing itself at the same time. Because the person at the door was the exact person she was going to see.

The ticket cost a fortune, but it was worth it to get Elsa on the next plane back to Arendelle. The words Jasmine told her were still ringing in her head: she needed to take this chance, tell Anna how she felt, and pray that she still felt the same.

The flight provided her no sleep, but she couldn't sleep anyway with her mind running marathons trying to figure out what to say when she got back. After racing out of the airport, getting her car, and chugging an extra-large cup of coffee, she made it to Anna's apartment in record time. In the midst of this frantic pace, she only had enough time to put on a hoodie and jeans, her hair was in a messy ponytail, the bags under her eyes were bigger than her luggage and she was a paler complexion than normal.

With no time for doubting whether Anna was even home, Elsa knocked on the door. She felt inside the front pocket of her hoodie to make sure her peace offering was still there, hoping it would be enough to at least get her inside.

Apparently, she wouldn't have time to wait anxiously either, because maybe five seconds had passed before the door opened. Anna was two feet away now, and seeing her up close after so long amplified Elsa's feelings for her immensely. So much so that any semblance of a plan that she had went right out the window, and she spoke impulsively.

"Holy crap you're still home, yes! Er, I mean...I was hoping to catch you before you left for work but I'm really glad I did." Elsa said, her voice sounding raspier than she wanted for her first words of the day. "And I know I'm probably the last person you want to see right now, but...can we talk?"

No response, although that was expected considering that Anna looked like she was seeing a ghost.

The adrenaline from seeing her again, however, was wearing off rapidly and soon Elsa came crashing down to Earth.

"Look, i-it's fine if you can't talk right now, you do need to go to work after all. So maybe later we could...we could..." She noticed the redhead- slowly getting less petrified- was too casually dressed. In fact, she had to work especially hard to hide her eagerness when she recognized the blouse she was wearing. "You're wearing...uh, y-yeah so if you can't talk right now then I can wait till later. That's no problem."

Still no response, but Anna's face had softened a little. Or had it? Her eyes had narrowed and her lips had pursed, now she looked...a little angry. That wasn't good.

Trying to smooth things over, Elsa tried a different approach, "Anna I know that what I did was wrong, so if you could just give me like ten minutes to-"

"Seventeen days." She hears, no, feels Anna say bitterly. But when she speaks again it's not as bitter as before, and it's quieter. "I've waited seventeen days to hear from you again..."

She watched Anna turn to Rapunzel, observing all this from the kitchen with an overly protective face, and said, "I'll meet you at the bakery, okay?" Without waiting for a response, she looked back at Elsa, "Let's talk in my room."

The first thing Elsa noticed about Anna's room was how similar it looked to when they were in high school. There were clothes strewn about everywhere, her computer desk had an amusing number of knick-knacks to the point where there was no place to even put a computer, and her blanket was left bundled up at the foot of her bed left unfolded for who knows how long.

Then she noticed the not so similar parts such as the Christmas lights, the lack of a bedframe, and instead of pictures on her desk of great moments on the lacrosse field or from when they were dating, there were pictures of her baking or her and Rapunzel doing best friend things.

Another brutal reminder of how long she'd been away from the redhead's life. To say that this saddened Elsa would be an understatement, she wondered if Anna even had the pictures they took when they were together.

"Sorry about the mess," Anna said as she stood awkwardly in the center of her room, rubbing her elbow. "I, uh...haven't found the time to clean up yet."

"N-no it's fine, it looks…" Exactly how she thought it'd look. "It looks fine."

Anna smiled sadly and sat cross-legged on her bed, "Thanks. I'm glad that you think that it', why don't you sit down?" She gestured to the empty side of her bed.

The damning similarity of this scene- with Anna sitting on her bed looking up at her with tired eyes as she stood in the room weary of how this conversation would play out- was not lost on Elsa. All of a sudden, they were once again high school seniors unexpectedly embarking on different paths of their life. Except this time, she took the invitation and gingerly sat down on the bed. No more running, not anymore.

"So, how have you been? How was Agrabah?"

"You don't have to do this."

Anna blinked, "What do you mean?"

Elsa ran a hand through her matted yet still gorgeous looking hair. The ponytail was always a cute look on her. "I mean like you...we don't have to do all this small talk first. We can just address the big issue now and then go from there. You know, skip all the awkwardness? I've got a lot of things to say anyway, and I'm sure you do too."

She wanted to be offended, because she actually did want to know what Agrabah was like- vacationing there was on her bucket list- but she also had to admire the blonde's readiness to tear off this band-aid right away. Subconsciously, she also ran a hand through her hair and let out a shaky laugh, "O-okay, I guess we can do that too."

"Good. We can...yeah let's do that…" And then there was silence, neither of them had taken the initiative to start because they were anxious to hear what the other had to say.

"I-" They both started after seconds of agonizing nothingness.

"Oh that's okay you can-" They immediately said together afterward, followed by a nervous laugh.

"Can I go first?" Elsa asked quickly and timidly.

Without giving it a second thought, Anna nodded. This was exactly what she wanted to happen, and she didn't even have to go to the airport, successfully avoiding a tired cliché. Well...hopefully this was what she wanted to happen. "Cool." She said when Anna agreed. "Cool…"

When this was all over, Elsa was going to make a vow to permanently remove the word "cool" from her brain's dictionary.

She had also pointedly decided to improvise this whole conversation, see where her heart took her in the sense of forming words. Besides, speaking from the heart was always more personal than a prepared speech.

"Okay before I say what I need to say, I just have to apologize again. For everything. I'm just...I'm really, truly, incredibly sorry for everything that I've put you through. Not just for these past seventeen days, or the stuff that I've done since becoming your boss, but for everything. Past, present, and future. I've screwed up and hurt you a lot, so I'm sorry." She took a breath and continued, "And if you don't forgive me then that's fine, I...I can live with that. I just needed to let you know that right away. I'm sorry, Anna."

As she spoke, Elsa did her best to look Anna in the eye and watched as her expression changed. She went from nervous to on the verge of tears in the blink of an eye. "Anna are you okay?"

The redhead brushed her off with a wave of her hand and wiped the tears away with her arm. "I'm fine." She said unconvincingly. "K-keep going, it's not...they're not sad tears."

Reassured and cautiously optimistic, Elsa continued. "I especially need to- I mean I need to especially apologize for hanging up on you. I at least could have given you a better answer than I needed time to think. That was unprofessional of me." The CEO side of her took the reins for a split second there. "I mean it wasn't right. I know it wasn't right. You deserved better than that, and better than me."

Anna bit her tongue before saying that Elsa was wrong. She loved when her...when Elsa was honest like this, and she'd hate to interrupt her at this moment, especially since her tears had already done that once.

It was hard not to say anything though. Her heart was racing and she was using all the muscles in her face not to look too excited, because it really sounded like Elsa was gearing up to deliver some big revelation. And every time Elsa had some big revelation, it always tended to be good and beneficial to both of them.

"Did...did Rapunzel tell you that she talked to me?"

The last time this happened was when they were together and- wait what did Elsa just say?

"Wh-what?" Anna asked wide-eyed.

"Did Rapunzel tell you that she talked to me?" The flustered blonde repeated. "She came to my apartment before I went to Agrabah, and...well she confronted me about what I did to you. It was a really, er, fun conversation and I was wondering if she told you anything about what we talked about."

Everything. Literally everything. Anna probably knew even more than Elsa did, but there was no way she was going to tell her that. Not if there was even a fraction of a chance that Elsa's feelings had changed on her business trip. Besides, even if her feelings were still the same, why wouldn't Anna let her say those words herself?

"Just a little. Mostly about how you were sorry," Anna said, the lie being a little too hard to stomach.

"Oh. Well if you didn't hear it enough yet...I'm sorry?" Elsa chuckled. "Sorry, that wasn't supposed to be a question. And I'm sorry if I'm saying sorry too much."

In a very bold move, Anna put a hand on her knee and shushed her, ignoring the blood roaring in her ears at this shred of physical contact. "It's fine!" She exclaimed way too loudly, "I forgive you, I really do. Just stop saying you're sorry."

Elsa ignored the blood roaring in her ears when she felt that soft, familiar hand on her knee, and she swore she started floating when Anna said she forgave her. Just hearing those words lifted a huge burden off her shoulders, which made this next part much easier.

"Th-thank you. I'm so glad that you forgive me, you have no idea how much that really means to me." She shook her head. It should make this next part easier. "Hah, then she didn't tell you about the other part, huh?"

Anna tilted her head, Elsa pretended that wasn't the cutest thing in the world, "What do you mean?"

Her heart was pounding out of her chest now, this was the moment of truth. After seventeen days and thousands of miles, it all came down to this. Every word needed to be perfect, because Anna deserved nothing less than that. After everything that they'd both gone through, everything they'd done to each other, if this was how their story was going to end…then it needed to end right.

She put her hand on the one that was on her knee, "Anna I've put you through so much that I already feel blessed that you didn't just shut the door in my face when I finally showed up. When I said that I needed time to think...the truth was that I knew how I felt, I-I just couldn't say it back then because I got a little scared."

"Well how do you actually feel?" Anna asked innocently, placing her other hand over Elsa's.

Elsa bit her lip, "I...I feel that...I mean I know for sure that…"

"Yeah? What do you know for sure?"

If she wasn't struggling to catch her breath, Elsa would have found Anna's eagerness a little suspicious. But she couldn't think about that right now, all she wanted to think about was summoning all the courage she had to say the damn words.

She closed her eyes as another feeling washed over her, one she was also familiar with: the peak of adrenaline. Just like before, she latched on to it before it was too late.

"I know…" She opened her eyes. "...that I still love you, Anna Dawson."

Anna's reaction was frighteningly quick. She squeezed Elsa's hand and laughed, using her free hand to tuck away a strand of hair from her perfect, strandless face. It wasn't a mocking laugh, or an amused laugh. It sounded nervous- no, it sounded relieved. "You do?"

"Yes!" Elsa exclaimed breathlessly, taking her reaction as a very good sign. "Gosh Anna, I- ever since you came back I haven't been able to get you out of my head. No matter what I did, I could never stop thinking about you. At first, I thought it was because I was still holding a grudge, and then I thought it was because I was still guilty over breaking up with you, but...but now I know."

She gave the increasingly excited redhead a lopsided smile, "I do honestly, truly love you and miss you. I miss your eyes, and your laugh, your hair, and your arms and legs, and your everything! I've missed your baking and the way you dance around the kitchen. I miss being near you and with you all the time, I-I miss the way you used to rub my back when I was writing an essay. I miss the way you say your thoughts out loud when you think people don't hear them."

"I don't do that," Anna protested weakly.

"Of course you do!"

Anna pulled her hands away to cup them over her mouth. "No I don't, shut up!" She exclaimed, trying to muffle her embarrassment.

The adrenaline hadn't worn off just yet. Elsa was still feeling a little bold, so she laughed and gently placed her hands on Anna's wrists and lead them away from her face to reveal her reddened cheeks and finely formed frown. "I miss you." she said earnestly, and one more time for good measure she added: "I love you."

The pout lowered, and so did Anna's eyes. In a meek voice, she replied, "Elsa…"

A surge of panic shot through her caffeine-addled mind, trying to figure out if she'd said anything wrong. Was it that last "I love you"? Was it embarrassing her? Was it her whole speech altogether?

She placed a hand on one of the brooding redhead's shoulders, "Anna, I'm sorry if that was out of line I just really needed to-"

Anna's wide eyes looked straight back at her, "No! It-it's not that it's just…" She sighed and then, much to Elsa's relief, smiled, "You have no idea how long I've waited to hear you say that."

It wasn't fair.

It just wasn't fair that Elsa was gifted with such a way with words, and now Anna had to follow that somehow.

"Ugh, I knew I should have gone first." She said, voicing her thoughts. But when she saw the fear in Elsa's eyes, she backtracked. "N-not that what you said wasn't good- gosh it was everything I've been waiting to hear you say for a long, long time- it's just that you're a lot better at talking than I am."

Elsa smiled bashfully, "You're not that bad."

Anna took a second just to admire the vulnerability of Elsa, this woman who constantly had to be this perfect figure of level-headedness, the woman who had to be the bad guy so many times in their recent interactions. Underneath the facade was this gorgeous woman who was both perfect and imperfect, someone she just couldn't get out of her head no matter how much she tried.

When she was finished with her creepy stalker staring, she shook her head and took both of Elsa's hands into hers, the blonde looked elated when she did so. Not wanting to let this moment linger for too long, Anna spoke the words she herself had been waiting to say for a long time.

"Elsa, I...I'm sorry but I may have lied a little earlier. Rapunzel did tell me what you said. Everything." When that look of elation was gone, replaced with wide-eyed panic, Anna squeezed her hands. "No no no trust me it's nothing bad, I just didn't bring it up on the off-chance that your feelings changed, and I'm so happy that they haven't."

Her heart was beating faster and faster as she gathered the nerves to continue, "Because, well, the truth is that I don't care about you."


Oh crap she missed a word. "I-I mean that I don't just care about you. Wait no, that sounds even worse! I- gah! I just mean like that's not like the extent of my feelings. They're more than that, waaaaay much more than that and- ugh, see I told you I suck at saying words."

Elsa placed her hands on Anna's cheek and laughed, her confidence still slightly shaken, "It's okay Anna, you're doing great. Just...keep going, okay?"

Anna wasn't blind to the fact that the touches had grown much bolder. The innocent arm grabbing was no more, there weren't any articles of clothing to cover the skin-on-skin contact now. Well technically it was still just her face, but that was still probably lewd or risqué in some cultures. Regardless, her heart raced, and she just put her hands in her lap and gathered her thoughts again. Letting the hands on her cheeks rest where they were.

"What I was trying to say, I-I guess what I'm getting at is that everything you said made me so happy, I...I loved it. In fact, I loved more than the words you said." She took a deep breath, still finding it hard to believe that she was getting the opportunity to say this. "I love you. Again. I mean still...I love you again still."

Yeah, she definitely should have gone first.

Elsa snickered while trying to hold in a bigger laugh, not the reaction that Anna wanted. "You love me again still?" she asked.

Anna closed her eyes, exasperated, "I told you that I'm crap with words, and even worse with confessions. Remember when I said I love you the first time? I mean I wouldn't be mad if you forgot, you did sorta have a concussion. Well, you didn't get a concussion then and there, but those things are still scary, so if you forgot about it, then that's fine."


She opened her eyes and pouted, "Still, I'm really bad at this so you should at least know that and I really regret letting you go first because then we would have ended with you and your confession and it would have been so pretty and amazing. Just like you're pretty, and amazing, and pretty amazing and just...I mean look at you. It's been so long since I've seen you in something that isn't like a business coat thing and the hoodie is just wow!"


"But that's not what this about. I mean you said really pretty things about me and I should be saying pretty things about you, because it's clear that we both feel really strongly about each other so this should be like what we do, right? Talk to each other and complement each other, so maybe I shouldn't have stopped. I mean for instance I could talk about your pretty ponytail and how it reminds me of when we were in high school-"


"What?! I'm trying to compliment you here, woman, so why are you interrupting me?"

Elsa didn't say why, she just closed the gap between them and kissed her.

Fireworks. Lots and lots of fireworks in an open field lighting up the pitch-black sky with colors along the entire spectrum, and with explosions so big and bright it could set off car alarms all the way in Corona. It was easy to close the gap since Elsa's hands were still on her cheeks, Anna yelped at first from the sudden movement but then closed her eyes as said fireworks exploded behind her eyes.

It was just like she remembered. No, no it was better than she remembered. They were older, the distance and time apart made their hearts grow fonder, and Elsa was simply a way better kisser than before.

It ended just as suddenly as it happened. Anna couldn't help but let out a meek, little "No…" when Elsa pulled away.

Elsa smiled at Anna and rubbed her thumb over her cheek, "You're cute when you ramble."

As the initial awkwardness subsided, they continued to talk about nothing and everything at the same time. There was so much they had to catch up on, so much that needed to be said. They migrated from Anna's bedroom to her kitchen, sharing an unhealthy number of cookies as they recounted memories from high school.

Memories that were painful to think about before but were now joyful instances that reminded them of what they had, what they have now, and what they could possibly have later.

It was easy now, it was finally so damn easy to be around each other and get lost in each other's words and thoughts and eyes, that they gave very little thought as to the troubles facing them outside this apartment. Or at least, that's what they wanted to.

During a rare lull in their conversation, Elsa looked down at her crumb-filled plate and let out a breath that turned into a shaky laugh, "So how long do you think it'll take the paparazzi to find out we're together."

Together. Wow, they really were together now, weren't they? That was such a hard thing to wrap her mind around.

Anna snorted, "I've caught a few right outside my apartment before. I don't think it'll take too long." She tried to smile in order to make light of the situation, but it lasted for only a couple seconds, "Are...are you sure you're gonna be okay with this?"

"What do you mean?" Elsa asked, unable to shake the irrational fear that Anna was about to back out in some twisted form of karmic justice.

"It's just that I've already caused you a lot of trouble with the article and stuff, and now you've got Hans to deal with and I'm sure your board won't be happy about us being together again…" Anna stopped for a second while Elsa relished in the fact that she also said they were together. "I just don't wanna cause you any more trouble, that's all."

Elsa let out a sigh of relief that she masked as a breathy chuckle. She put her hand over the nervous redhead's fist on the table, "Anna, you're worth all the trouble in the world."

A sharp redness filled Anna's cheeks and she smiled bashfully, unable to look the blonde in her earnest, blue eyes. "Gosh, I hate how you're so good at that."

"Good with what?" Elsa asked, amused.

"Words. The ones that make me feel nice, I wish I could speak half as good as you can."

"It's just me speaking from the heart, that's all it's ever been," Elsa explained. "There's not much to it. I mean, I guess those Communications classes didn't hurt."

"Ugh, I knew there was a catch." Anna groaned.

Elsa pulled in for another kiss, now that they were finally together (there was that damn amazing word again), she didn't have to hesitate any longer. It felt good not to hesitate. "Ugh, you're good at that too," Anna whined when she pulled away.

Elsa grinned, "The point is that right now I don't care about the consequences. We're together now, that's all that matters. If there are any problems down the line, we'll face them. Together."

"Hmm, well I hope you remember that when you realize I still snore."

"Like a chainsaw?"

"You said it was like a tiger!"

Elsa shrugged, "I didn't want to hurt your feelings."

Anna frowned, "Well mission not accomplished. They're very hurt right now."

The fact that they'd slip into their typical relationship banter so effortlessly made Elsa even more assured than before that this was going to work. No matter what happened, no matter who got in their way, they would make this work.

Elsa patted her hand, "Well I'll make it up to you later." She checked her phone and groaned, "But right now I...think it's time you got to the bakery, don't you think?"

Anna checked her own phone and let out a gasp, "Holy crap it's been two hours?!" When Elsa nodded, she let out a similar groan, "Uuuuugh, I guess I do have to get going."

"You want me to drive you?"

Anna's eyes widened eagerly, "Are you sure?"

Elsa nodded, "I drove here anyway, and ArenCorp's not expecting me back till tomorrow so I've got all the time in the world today."

"Well...well I mean I guess if it's not too much to ask, and if you really want to…" Anna had placed her hand over Elsa's as she mulled over this decision, her lips suddenly curled up in a mischievous grin. "...and as long as I get to pick the music."

This was going to work. This was actually going to work.

Elsa smirked and got out of her kitchen chair, heart racing from the unexpectedness of how great things were going. "You always do." She replied.

Chapter Text

Chapter 39

"A date?"

"Yeah! People still do those, right?"

Elsa reclined in her chair and pursed her lips, "Of course they do, I'm just not sure-"

"Come oooon, Elsa. It's been two weeks, and I know we agreed to take things slow, but I didn't think you meant like an iceberg's pace. It doesn't even have to be like this big thing, we can just have lunch. Or dinner at my place. I'll cook!"

"Have you gotten any better since high school?"

"...I'll bake."

An enticing offer, and if she had the time then Elsa would have eagerly said yes.

If she had the time...

She looked over her schedule again that Hannah sent her and frowned. "Anna you know I'd love to, but I'm really busy right now. Mrs. Badroul's plane lands today, and I have to make sure this press conference goes off without a hitch."

"Okay well it doesn't have to be today. What about just sometime this week? You're telling me you don't have even an hour free?"

"The only hour I have free is my lunch break."

"That's perfect! I eat lunch too!"

"That also double as meetings."

Anna groaned, "Seriously?"

"Unfortunately yes. Don't get me wrong I do want to spend time with you, it's…just hard. This new partnership has made me busier than ever. If I'm not doing my daily upkeep tasks with my employees, then I'm doing an interview, or speaking to one of her advisors, or attending another freaking board meeting. I swear I've had more of those these past two weeks than I've ever had since I became the CEO."

"I take it they're still not happy about us being back together again?"

"They've softened up a little bit, although that's probably because their focus is on this partnership and press conference." Elsa casually spun around in a circle in her office chair, "Still doesn't stop them from making rude comments about us at each meeting."

"Then don't think of it as a date, Elsa. Think of us spending time together as...a stress reliever. An hour or two out of your week where you don't have to do or think about work. Just me and you, eating food and talking about non-work stuff. What do you say?"

"Anna, I…"

"Pleeeeease, babe? For me?"

Elsa raised an eyebrow and smirked, "Did you just call me 'babe'?"

Anna giggled, "Yes, yes I did. I wanted to see how you'd react."

"Well okay then." Elsa chuckled, "That's new."

"Do you like it?", Anna asked eagerly.

She took a couple more seconds to process it and nodded, "Yeah I'm fine with it." It was cute. They never called each other by pet names back in high school, but obviously things were different now. A good different.

"Good. Anyway, pleeeaaase babe?"

How could Elsa resist that wonderful voice? Besides, she was feeling her work start to overwhelm her, it would be good to have- as the redhead put it- a stress reliever. Besides, she wanted to see Anna just as much as Anna wanted to see her.

"I can reschedule my meeting tomorrow and we can have lunch. Sound good?"

She heard a barely contained squeal on the other end followed by a couple of seconds of silence and her girlfriend clearing her throat, "Sounds perfect."

"Alright then, it's a date." As soon as she said that, the light on her work phone came on signaling an incoming call from Hannah.

"Did you just call it a date?"

"Yes I did," Elsa said hurriedly as she straightened back up in her chair. "Anyway, I'm getting another call so I'll talk to you later, okay? I love you, babe."

"Wait did you just call me-"

Elsa hung up and leaned over her work phone, "Hey, what's up?"

"Mrs. Badroul's plane just landed. She'll be heading straight to the press conference."

"Doesn't wanna waste any time I see." She got out of her chair and pulled on the coat that was draped over it. "Thanks Hannah, tell Marshall to pull the car around."


Once Hannah hung up, Elsa took one last look out her window. There was a change coming, she could feel it emanating through the glass, and for the sake of her sanity, she hoped it was a good one.

"She hung up on me!" Anna said in disbelief as she re-entered the bakery, "That little punk, I swear the next time I see her…"

"I take it the conversation didn't go so well?" Rapunzel asked.

"No it went great, I might finally get to see her again soon. But she hung up on me!"

"Maybe she had to run off, Ms. Andersen is a busy woman after all." Her best friend finished organizing the register and sat next to her at one of the tables. It hadn't been that busy today, so they had a lot of downtime.

"She did say she had another call, but still I mean…" Anna groaned, "It just sucks, you know? We have this great moment together and patch things up, and we kiss and all that, and then I don't see her for two weeks. Do you know how maddening it is not seeing your girlfriend for two weeks?!"

Rapunzel chuckled, "I can't say I do."

"Well let me tell you, it sucks." She frowned, "I just wanna see her again."

Rapunzel placed a reassuring hand on her shoulder, "I know Anna, but patience is the key to any good relationship. That, and communication. You guys waited four years to be together again, what's another day right?"

Anna smiled, "Yeah you're right. And you're sure that this is okay with you?"

The blonde's smile faltered, and she shrugged, "Not entirely- or not yet at least. I still can't get over what she did to you, but then again this is the happiest I've seen you in a long time. So...I'm getting there."

"That's all I could ask for." Anna was lucky to have such wonderful people in her corner. With everything that's happened, she could finally feel a change coming. She was positive that it was a good one.

"How's my little niece/nephew treating you?" She asked, changing the subject.

Rapunzel put a hand on her stomach, it still wasn't baby-sized like Anna expected it would be by now. Then again, she didn't know much about babies to begin with. "They're doing just fine, although the food cravings have been crazy."

"I've noticed," Anna replied, reliving the moment two nights ago when she saw Rapunzel eat her weight in shrimp.

"But yeah other than that, and the nausea, things have been going well." Rapunzel stood up effortlessly to prove her point and walked back to the counter. "Now come on, we got a job to do. Besides, Manny was telling me that one of the ovens was acting up again."

Anna groaned, "I'll go check it out again." She checked the time on her phone before sitting back up, anxiously waiting for the day she'd get to see Elsa again.

Elsa threw her red ball up in the air for the hundredth time behind the stage, anxiously waiting for the day she'd get to see Anna again.

Of course she was overjoyed that this partnership would be official in less than an hour's time, but that didn't stop the stress of it all from getting to her. She needed a break after this was over, maybe a vacation. A real vacation.

The press conference was being held at the park where the festival was in a short few months ago, although it felt like it had been an eternity. Was it really only a few months ago when she and Anna were at each other's throats?

She had already given her own speech about synergy, community, and all the other corporate buzzwords she could think of, now it was Jasmine's turn to say the same things but with a prettier voice. Once she was cued, Elsa would go back on the stage and sign the ceremonial contract- the real one was signed days ago- and shake her hand.

After that, she would have lunch with Jasmine, go back to her office to look after the rest of her company and then, when the day was over, breathe.

The ball landed in her hand with a soft smack, but she didn't throw it back up again. Usually throwing it would calm her anxiousness, but this was a different kind of anxiety. It wasn't based off nervousness or guilt, it was built on a stupid amount of impatience.

Hannah sat right next to her, answering Elsa's emails like the consummately skilled assistant that she was. Technically she wasn't supposed to be talking back here so as to not distract from the speech occurring on stage, but she was restless. Besides, there was a subject that they had been footing around for too long.

"Hey Hannah…" She started, a bit too timid for her liking.

"Yeah?" The brunette replied without looking up from her tablet.

"We should...erm- I mean can we, I dunno, talk about us?"

"DIdn't we already do that?"

"Yeah, but I mean like...what we used"

That got her attention. She looked up from her tablet with a look that was equal parts shock and exasperation, "Are you crazy?! We're at a park, I highly doubt this is the right time and place for that kind of conversation"

"I know, but we've never really talked about it. I just wanted to clear the air, I guess. Make sure there aren't any hard feelings. I mean I'm with Anna now- well...again- and I know she's your friend too, so I just want to make sure things aren't awkward or anything."

Hannah's eyes narrowed, "Of course things are awkward, but it's not like we were dating or anything. It was just…" She shook her head and continued quieter so they wouldn't be heard, "Wait no! Why are we talking about this?! There's literally nothing to talk about, that's all in the past."

"I just kinda feel like there is something to talk about, though." Elsa replied in her own hushed tone, "We didn't get a lot of closure, and it's been so long that I just want to know that you and I are on the same page? That there isn't any tension between us."

"Elsa, you freaking maniac. I am not talking to you about this. I'm fine, we're fine, everything's fine."

"Are we though? Because-" From the corner of her eye, she saw the stagehand silently shushing her and gesturing her to get back on the stage. "Alright I guess I'm back up. Are you sure we're okay? Because when we get back, we can talk more about-"

Hannah's eyes widened. "Get on the stage!" She hissed.

Elsa didn't need to be told twice. She kept thinking about how unnecessary that conversation turned out to be as she walked over. On the bright side, it did distract her enough to get her to this point.

The only things on stage were a podium with a microphone, and a wooden table with a black, decorative tablecloth laid out and the contract placed squarely in the middle of it. Jasmine stood in front of the table, wearing an exceptional sky-blue dress that put Elsa's skirt and blazer to shame.

As they gave each other a polite hug, Jasmine whispered in her ear amused, "That sounded like quite an interesting conversation back there."

Elsa laughed nervously and whispered back, "It's a long story."

They pulled away and shook each other's hands, putting on their professional smiles once more. There would be time to talk later, but for now she could see the same expression in Jasmine's tired yet stunning eyes: They both just wanted to get this over with.

Elsa took the needlessly fancy pen next to the paper full of business jargon and signed her real signature next to the other CEO's. She closed the leather folder on the "contract" and held it up, signifying that the deal was done. Camera flashes assaulted her vision.

She counted down in her mind as the reporters took their pictures, putting the folder back down after an appropriate amount of time, and walked over to the podium.

There was one more piece of business to attend to, and then finally freedom. Or at least the closest she'd be to freedom for a little while longer. "Thank you all for being here to celebrate this momentous occasion, we will now field any questions you may have for the next fifteen minutes."

Truth be told, Elsa actually liked this part of her job. She liked staying on her toes and stretching her public speaking muscles. With no prepared speech in tow, she had to think hard about her answers because they would say so much about herself and her company. She was ready for this.

Until she saw one particular hand raised in the crowd of reporters, the sun gleaming down and making the ruby-embedded ring on his finger shine menacingly.

"Yeah, I got a question!" Hans said, his voice piercing through everyone else's. The sea of microphones and shocked expressions parted, and he waltzed right up to the front of the stage. "Why have you been ducking my calls?"

Curious murmurs rang throughout the crowd, Elsa couldn't hear them clearly through the seething rage she was trying to hold back. She swore she could feel herself shaking with rage and...fear? The traumatic moments in Agrabah also came flooding back, and knowing what this man was truly capable of made it increasingly difficult to put on a brave front.

"I'm-I'm not sure what you mean, Mr. Westerguard." She cursed herself for the hesitation in her voice caused by a hitch in her throat.

"What? Did you lose your phone or something? I've been calling you non-stop since yesterday."

That was a lie, she got a new phone the second she returned to Arendelle. There were no missed calls; thankfully, because who knows what she'd say if Hans had actually called her? And who knows what he'd say to her?

Hans chuckled, and she swore she could hear the demons inside trying to escape through his lips, "Well while I'm here, I guess I could just tell you in person." He effortlessly climbed up onto the stage as the reporters watched on, confused and intrigued.

Elsa could see Marshall advancing towards the stage, she gave him a subtle shake of her head and he stopped. There was no telling what Hans' game was right now, but there was also no way he'd be stupid enough to do her any physical harm in front of all these cameras.


The cocky rich boy tapped the microphone, sending a bit of feedback through the speakers, "Oh good it's still on. Well good afternoon everybody, I hope you all enjoyed the show."

Show? How disrespectful.

"I was just gonna tell Elsa but I figured I might as well tell all of you too." He turned to wink at Elsa, she felt like she was gonna vomit. "So, get your cameras ready because I've got a new headline for you, free of charge."

On cue, the reporters did just that. Elsa looked over to Jasmine who had also made no efforts to move off the stage and had the same wary look on her face. She didn't know how much the baroness knew about Hans' more sickening side, but it looked like she knew enough to be on her guard.

"Since we're in the business of partnerships now it seems, I figured I'd get myself a piece of the action too. And since Jasmine here unfortunately didn't seem to take too well to my pitch, I knew I'd have to look elsewhere." Hans had a smile on his face that said he knew there'd be consequences for anyone else, anyone that didn't have his money, status, or wit. He knew he was dirty, but also knew that no one could do a damn thing about it.

Elsa vowed to be the one who could finally do something about it.

"And elsewhere I looked. But I didn't try going to some other foreign country, because look how well that fared for me, am I right?" He laughed, and a few suck-ups laughed with him. "No, I tried somewhere more local, and after some exciting back and forth over these past couple weeks, I'm excited to say that I am now taking my company into the education market."

Elsa held back a scoff, education wasn't a market. Corporations couldn't just come and influence the way classes were taught and schools were run just to sell more of their product. The most ArenCorp had done to influence schools in Arendelle was to send supplies to struggling campuses.

"Now obviously we can't just take over public schools, I'm pretty sure that's illegal." He took a second to crack his neck. "But private schools can be funded and run by investors, and I just so happen to have invested a great deal of money into a certain struggling private school, whose owner has recently gone through some horrible financial trouble."

Hans turned towards Elsa with a menacing grin, although on camera it must have looked like a playful smirk. The next words he spoke sent chills down her spine: "A school in North Arendelle."

The weight of his words immediately sunk into her already churning stomach, he had found a way into her territory.

He looked straight into the cameras again as he made a smug declaration, "That's right folks, Corona International has stepped into a place that ArenCorp has neglected, and we are now the proprietary owners of Oaken's Haven for Children!"

The roar of the reporters started immediately, as they bombarded the outsider with questions about the legality of this move, clamoring for more details so that they could be the ones to get the full scoop. Meanwhile, Elsa was trying and failing to keep from punching Hans right off the stage.

Oaken's private school was one of the more high-profile private schools in Arendelle. The Scandinavian millionaire loved those children and the school, and she'd heard enough about him to know that should some catastrophic financial event actually happen, he and the kids would be okay.

It was obvious, then, that there was some tampering on Hans' part to have this deal go down, and there was no doubt that Oaken didn't just give up the school willingly. But who knows if she'd ever have any proof? The frustration of that fact quickly turned to anger, and she took a step towards the pompous jackass to give him a piece of her mind.

However, she only took one step before being blocked by Jasmine, who stood in front of her and gently grabbed her arm. "Not now, not this way," she whispered sternly.

The blonde made one futile attempt to sidestep her, but Jasmine simply tightened her grip. "Let's go," she whispered again.

Elsa didn't want to go. She wanted to end this once and for all, even if it cost her everything; she wanted him to pay for everything he'd done…and everything he did to her. She wanted Hans to feel the same pain that she felt. Fortunately, Jasmine's voice finally registered and her breathing and heartbeat slowed down just enough to make her realize that this wasn't the time, this wasn't the way.

As she walked off the stage with Jasmine, Elsa muttered a curse under her breath. Change had come and change would keep coming, but it wasn't good.

For now…

Chapter Text

Chapter 40

Elsa flung her coat in the general direction of her desk and flopped onto her bed; today had been exhausting, both physically and mentally.

A thousand thoughts flooded her head, mostly about Hans and his ability to be such a persistent, menacing cloud over her head. She kept asking herself the same questions: How did she not see this coming? What were the legal ramifications of Corona International intruding on what was technically Arendelle territory? And how could she take down a man who always seemed one step ahead of her?

At their lunch meeting, Jasmine tried her best to ease Elsa's nerves and tell her of past experiences dealing with people like Hans, but it barely calmed her down. Only enough to get her through the rest of the day without letting her emotions impede her judgment.

Now, however, the day was over. She didn't have to see anyone, talk to anyone, impress anyone, or plot some convoluted scheme of revenge against anyone. At least for the next few hours.

She was too exhausted to even get out of her work clothes, and her bed felt more comfortable than it had in a while. It would have been so easy just to close her eyes and go to sleep. To forget about everything, even for just a few hours.

Then another thought came to mind, pushing through the worries and doubts like a concertgoer trying to get out of a mosh pit: Call Anna.

So she grumbled, made the gargantuan effort to flip over onto her back, and fished her phone out of her suit pants. But just as she was about to call her, Anna beat her to the punch.

Without hesitation, she accepted the call and put the phone up to her ear. "Hey Anna," she said, voice more groggy than she wanted it to be.

"Elsa! Hey- wow that was fast- uh...I was just, you know, chilling on my bed and thought I'd call you again. Today I mean, I thought I'd call you again today. Well, it's actually night so, uh anyway how are you?"

Just hearing the flustered voice on the other end lifted Elsa's spirits up. She chuckled, "I'm okay. I was actually just about to call you too."

"Really?! Er I mean really? That's...that's really sweet. So how was your day?"

That was a loaded question. She sighed, "It was...interesting. Did you hear anything about the conference?"

"No I couldn't, it was a really busy day and there's no TV at the bakery. Maybe we should get one… Anyway, what happened?"

She bit her lip, "Hans happened."



"What do you mean?"

"He showed up to the press conference, got on the stage, and announced that Corona International had bought out a private school. I'm still not sure why, maybe he did it out of spite or if this is a play at something bigger, but it's pretty much all I've been thinking about all day."

"Which school?"

"Hmm? Oh, uh this place called 'Oaken's Haven for Children'."


Elsa winced and pulled the phone, she swore she heard feedback coming through. She cautiously brought it back to her ear after she regained her hearing, "Do you know it?"

"Are you freaking kidding me?! That son of a..." She heard Anna pause and take a deep breath, "Yeah, Rapunzel and I went there to do a bake sale, Oaken really supported us big time and even supplied us with workers back when we were struggling, and they're still with us now. He never said anything about being in any trouble. How did that slimy rat get his hands on Oaken's school?"

"I don't know Anna, and I didn't know that this school meant so much to you."

"It DOES! Oaken is such a sweetheart and he LOVES those kids. The fact that Hans owns the school now, it just...I hate it. I really do. There's gotta be something we can do to keep this from happening?"

Elsa sat up, "We?"

"Well duh, as soon as you said Hans bought out Oaken's school, you dragged me into this. Well...more like I volunteered myself for this. Now, what can we do to make sure he doesn't get his gross, slimy hands on it?"

"I…" She stopped herself.

What could they do? It was something she'd struggled to figure out all day long, but even a talk with her headstrong girlfriend couldn't get her thoughts fully straight. "...I don't know."

"Can't we stop the deal from happening? I mean how official is it really? Why don't we just go down and barge in through the front door, try to convince Oaken not to do this?"

"It's not that simple Anna, we can't just tamper with a deal like that, no matter how much we want to. I mean we could but we'd both probably get fired. And Hans wins." She added that last line with a grumble.

"Well babe we can't just do nothing. Hans can't get away with this."

"Don't you think I know that?! I want to bring that bastard down as much as you, especially after-" Elsa stopped herself, partially to keep from letting her frustrations out on the wrong person, but also because she had never told Anna what happened in Agrabah. "I'm-I'm sorry Anna, I didn't mean to-"

"Especially after what?"

"Er, what?"

"What happened, Elsa? What aren't you telling me?" Anna's tone had grown more stern, demanding. She knew it was from a place of concern, but that didn't make it less intimidating.

Elsa leaned her head on her free hand, fingers digging into disheveled hair. It wasn't that she wanted to keep this from Anna, it was that the event was still so fresh in her mind that even retelling it might cause her to go into a panic attack.

Another panic attack.

"Tell me." Anna demanded, and in a much softer tone she added, "Please."

"Anna, I…" She felt a dull, throbbing ache in her head. "I want to tell you- I wanted to tell you- but it's's hard to talk about."

"Whatever happened, you can tell me. I can help you, you know I can." Her tone was definitely nothing but calming now.

"I know you can. I…" The headache was getting worse, she didn't want to keep this from Anna from any longer. It was causing so much unneeded stress, and as much as she hated reliving it, she knew that the woman who had been there for her so many times before would be there for her now. "Okay...something happened at Agrabah. With Hans."

"What did he do to you?"

"It wasn't him specifically, it was- he had this bodyguard or whatever with him while we were there. This big guy with really bushy sideburns. One night while I was taking a walk, I saw…" A flash of a migraine stung her eyes for a moment. "I saw Hans beating this man in an alleyway. He was merciless, Anna, he didn't want to stop was terrifying to watch. I wanted to take a picture as evidence, but I forgot to turn the flash off."

The more she talked about the incident, the more the walls seemed to close in on her. Making it harder to breathe. Regardless, Elsa had to keep going. She'd already come this far.

"Next thing I know, I'm stopped and being pushed up against a wall by his bodyguard…"

"Oh no…"

Elsa sensed the shift in her tone immediately, "No, it wasn't- I mean he didn't do that. He just sorta pinned my arm behind me and pressed face onto the wall. Gah, this is really hard to talk about."

"I know, I know it is. But I'm right here Elsa, I'm right here for you."

"Thank you Anna, I-" She stopped as tears slid down her cheeks and her voice faltered for a second. "I'm really glad that you're here."

"I'm always here. Now please continue, tell me everything."

She took a deep breath, wiped the tears away, and continued. "While I was pinned against the wall, Hans was talking about how I almost got him, and how I made him angry, and all this nonsense super villain talk about how he was smarter than me and three steps ahead."

"He really said that?"

"Yeah." Elsa sniffled, "He's a psychopath, he knows how to get what he wants. At any cost, and no matter who he hurts along the way. He's dangerous, and I want to take him down as much as you do but I just...I don't know how. I'm stuck here, Anna, and I'm lost and I don't know what to do next, I-"

"Hey hey, it's alright Elsa. Just take a breath, okay? Just breathe."

Elsa stopped talking and did just that. One deep breath. Then two. Then three. The walls retreated, and time slowed down. If only for a moment. "Th-thank you. I really needed that."

"Anytime, babe. You know that."

"I do."

"Now let me do your thinking for you. Let me help you figure out how to deal with Hans."

Elsa smiled, she definitely made the right choice in trusting Anna. "Do you have any ideas?"

"Yes. Well I mean kinda? It's not so much as a plan, and I haven't really formulated it enough yet. And it's- okay see what I was thinking was that Hans likes being in control, right? It feeds his ego or whatever. If we want to take him down, then we gotta strip that control away from him, make him feel as helpless as he made you and how he's made so many other people feel."

"And how do we do that?"

"We start with this. We start with pulling this deal with Oaken out from under him."

"Anna I told you that we can't tamper with their negotiations."

"Not tamper. Just counter the offer, that should be easy enough right?"

"It is, but I'd have to get permission from the board. And unless acquiring Oaken's school would help us in any way, I guarantee you they won't bite."

"Elsa you'd be taking back an Arendelle business- okay well I shouldn't call it a business, more like property...eww that doesn't sound right either. Well, you'd be taking back a place that means so much to people, kids, here in Arendelle. Hans hasn't lived here in so long, he doesn't know how this city works anymore, why would we trust a key part of Arendelle to someone who doesn't even live here? Plus, think of how much good press you guys would get. That should persuade them more than anything, right?"

A light flickered on inside Elsa's head, "Yeah, you're right. That's really smart Anna, I don't know why I didn't think of that?"

"Don't sweat it. Besides, you have a lot on your mind, remember?"

"I do." She was filled with a renewed sense of determination. This might work, it wouldn't take Hans down immediately, but it was at least a step in the right direction. Anna gave her the idea, now it was her job to make it happen.

No, it was THEIR job. They were in this together now. "I'll set up a meeting with the board ASAP, but tomorrow I think I'm going to make some time to check out the school."


"Yes, I want to see for myself why this place means so much to you, and hopefully be able to speak to Oaken himself. See how this happened, and if I can somehow convince him to see reason and negotiate with ArenCorp instead. However...that means we'll probably have to reschedule our date."


"I'm sorry babe." Wow that was still jarring to say. "I wanted to see you too, but-"

"No it's fine, this important to both of us. It's okay if you reschedule, I've waited four years to be with you again, I can wait a few days more."

Elsa's heart fluttered, "I love you."

"I love you too."

"Wait, why don't you just come with me tomorrow?"

Anna spoke timidly, "Do you want me to come with you?"

Elsa giggled, "Did you really need to ask?"

"Well gee I don't know." She could tell Anna was pouting. "This sounds like a business trip and I don't wanna distract you or anything."

"Anna if you want to go with me, you can."

"Are you sure?"


"Then yes I will!" And just like that, Anna's mood brightened and their date was technically back on. "Okay, just lemme know when you'll go and I'll do my best to get as much work done beforehand so I can come with. Deal?"


"Yessssss. I get to see you again, I can't wait. Oh, and we get to help Oaken. And we get to kick Hans' butt. Tomorrow's gonna be a good day."

"I hope so, Anna." Elsa sat up and peeled back one of her window curtains. As she took in the calming, night sky she found herself both hopeful and wary. Hopeful that she would find a way to stay one step ahead of Hans, but wary that she might be doing exactly what Hans was expecting her to do. The serene, quiet darkness as the city finally began to fall asleep served as a prelude to the uncertainty that awaited her and Anna tomorrow.

She took one last longing glance out the window before closing the curtain. With a heavy sigh, she repeated herself, "I hope so."

Chapter Text

Chapter 41

Anna:  Had to take Rapunzel to the hospital. Nothing major, but she wasn't feeling good so we gotta make sure the baby's okay. Sorry babe, will make it up to you soon ;)

Elsa put her phone away and sighed. Of course she was disappointed, but she wasn't going to tell Anna to leave her pregnant best friend all for a field trip. Besides, even if Anna could make it, they'd probably be too busy focusing on each other to get any work done.

Plus, that wink was intriguing; a sign of a much greater payoff down the line.

Knowing the area well enough, it didn't take long for them to make it to Oaken's Haven for ChildrenThe massive front yard was patchy and unkempt, the hedges looked as if they hadn't been trimmed in a long time. Close to the entrance of the school, children played and bickered while tired workers did their best to keep the peace. At the roundabout was a cherub statue looking longingly towards the gate.

As soon as Elsa exited the car and took a good look at the mansion, she was struck with this feeling of hollowness and despair; like there was a dark cloud looming over the school on this clear-skied day.

Another good reason for Anna to miss this visit: If she loved this school, and Oaken, as much as she said she did, seeing the state it was in would have killed her.

"Marshall's gonna find a place to park." Hannah said, emerging at her side, "You ready for this?"

"Not entirely." Elsa responded honestly, "But I want to know how Hans did this, and I need to see how I can stop this deal from happening."

"And you know that if you don't do this right, it could be career suicide?"

Elsa took a deep breath, "Yeah...yeah I know. Now come on, let's go inside."

There was no one to greet them as they entered, although that was to be expected since she never made a formal appointment to meet with Oaken today. She figured that if she didn't announce her visit, she could get an honest presentation on how the school was actually running.

In the kitchen area children picked miserably at stale bread and pasta, she overheard one of them ask when the nice ladies with the cookies were coming back. The rooms were converted into small classrooms, and the already-built classrooms were being used as storage space and living quarters. At the center of the mansion, they saw unsupervised kids eating chocolate on the stairs. When they saw Elsa and Hannah, they scattered.

The school's prestige had left long ago.

At the top of the stairs was a large room with double doors and chipped metal handles. She couldn't explain it, but Elsa felt an ominous presence coming from behind those doors. Her mind was saying to turn back, but her body kept moving forward.

"What's up? You think Oaken's up there?"

"I don't know." Elsa said as she placed a hand on the railing, "But it's the biggest room here, and I just...feel like something's in there. Or someone."

"Friend or foe?"

"No idea." Step by step she climbed up until Elsa somehow found herself at the top. Her heart was racing, her mind was now screaming at her and saying this wasn't a good idea. She didn't listen. "I guess we'll find out."

"Elsa maybe we should wait and see-"

Too late. With a turn of the handle, Elsa stepped inside the room without waiting for Hannah to catch up. As soon as she took stock of the room, she already knew one thing:

She should have listened.

Oaken was definitely in the room, but the hulking Scandinavian wasn't alone. As he sat at his desk whimpering, there were two figures that stood over him menacingly. One figure had very familiar sideburns who almost matched Oaken in stature and roughly gripped his shoulders to keep him from standing. Another was hunched over the desk waving a finger at his face.

Even in the dim, dreary room, she could see the glint of the ruby-embedded ring.

All three men looked at her at the exact same time.

"Elsa! I wish you'd called beforehand, I would have had more time to clean up a bit." Hans stepped away from Oaken, so dejected and defeated that he couldn't even look up from his desk. He gestured to his bodyguard to keep him down.

"What is going on here?" is what she wanted to say, but her throat locked up when Hans set his sights on her.

"Oaken and I were just having a friendly chat and going through some final touches on the contract." Hans said successfully, "You know, I've always been a big fan of the education system. Wouldn't be anywhere today if it weren't for teachers like Mr. Oaken here pushing me to be better. Always pushing…"

Every step the terrifyingly confident man took towards Elsa made her retreat further and further against the door. She had to fight the instinct to leave, to show any weakness and lose the minuscule amount of footing she had.

It was because of this stubbornness, however, that she was now trapped. Hans was only a few feet away, but he showed no signs of getting any closer.

"What's the matter, Elsa? Is this suit taking your breath away? Oh no that's right, you've told me before that you're not interested."

Somehow she found the strength to finally speak, "Why are you here?"

Hans looked at her with a surprisingly accurate representation of confusion, "I feel like I just said that. And why are you here for that matter? This isn't some ArenCorp property where you can just come and go as you please. This is- well it will be- Corona property. My property."

"Nothing's set in stone," Elsa said with a low growl that she did her best to hide. "This isn't property, it's a school. A school you're going to run into the ground."

"That's a very hurtful accusation, Elsa." He placed a hand on his white suit-vest, "How could you say things like that without any proof?"

"Because I know you. I know how you work." Her body was betraying her, every sentence she spoke was quieter than the one before.

In the dimly lit room, she could really only see his eyes, his voice may have sounded playful and amused, but he was looking at her the same way a predator looked at its helpless prey.

Elsa came in here with no plan at all, no cards to play, and because of that Hans could toy with her before going in for the kill. She hated how much control he had in this situation, and wanted so badly to just leave and make something up to Anna about how Oaken wasn't there, or say that the meeting went fine and try and regroup someplace more public.

But her legs were frozen in place, she could only watch as Hans once again began to advance. He chuckled, "Are you sure you know how I work? Are you sure you know how to stop me?"

"I…" Her mouth opened before her mind could emerge from its hiding place. She didn't know how to respond, she could only try her best to look Hans in his penetrating eyes.

Sensing her weakness, Hans opened his mouth to speak again, knowing that it was time to put his prey out of its misery. But before he could go for the jugular, another voice spoke from behind them.

"THIS IS A SCAM! YOU HAVE BROUGHT PAIN AND SUFFERING TO THESE KIDS AND I WILL NOT STAND FOR- GAH!" He was silenced once more as the grip on his shoulders tightened them.

With frightening quickness, Hans turned around and paced back towards Oaken. He dug a finger into the barrel-chested man, who glared at it with a look so intense Elsa could swear he was about to pop a vein in his head.

"One more word out of you, and the first thing I'll do is burning this whole fucking place to the ground!" Hans growled, "Do not test my patience again, understand?!"

Oaken matched Hans' glare, it was a jarring sight to see this sweater-clad man with playful facial hair and a button nose look so menacing. But he could only match it for a second before his lip began to quiver, and he buried his face into his hands.

Watching this all unfold finally snapped Elsa out of her trance, she didn't have to think twice about opening the door and walking out.

"What happened in there?" She heard Hannah say, but she was too busy bounding down the stairs to respond. She walked past the depressing bedrooms, the rowdy classrooms, the dirty kitchen, pushed the front doors open, and found herself desperately catching her breath while leaning on the cherub statue.

The expansive forest around them was crowding around her, she felt her vision getting blurry. Even though she'd left the room, Elsa still felt trapped and she hated it so much. There was no escape, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. She couldn't think, couldn't speak, couldn't-

Breathe, Elsa.

That voice. It could only belong to one person.

Elsa looked up to try and find Anna, hoping that the doctor visit had ended up being shorter than expected and her girlfriend had shown up to surprise her and calm her down.

But there was no one there.

And yet, just the thought of hearing Anna's voice was enough to bring some much-needed ease to Elsa's mind and, especially, her lungs.

She could breathe again, think again, if only for a moment; and unfortunately a moment was all she had.

"Elsa! What the hell happened back there?!"

Hannah was walking towards her, both curious and worried.

Elsa used her sleeve to wipe away the tears that had formed at some point. "Hans was in there." She replied, still trying to catch her breath. "And so was his bodyguard. They were, I don't know, threatening Oaken. I didn't get a chance to talk to him."

"Holy crap…" Hannah remarked, placing a cautious hand on her shoulder, "Did they do anything to you?"

Elsa shook her head, "No...nothing physical anyway. Hans wouldn't think about harming me, but...he was still really creepy. And aggressive."

"That's horrible. I'm sorry for not going in there with you, I could have...I don't know. But I could have done something."

"It's okay Hannah, besides I wouldn't have wanted to put you in that kind of danger anyway. This was…" She took a very shaky breath, "This was a really stupid plan."

Hannah took her hand off of Elsa's shoulder and leaned on the statue with her. "How were you supposed to know that Hans would be here?" she reasoned.

"I couldn't have known, but I still should have expected it. I should have been much more prepared. I know that now, so next time when I come here-"

"Wait, next time?! What do you mean?"

Elsa shrugged, "I need to do this. I need to find a way to make sure this deal doesn't happen, and I want to see Hans pay for everything he's done. So I have to keep trying."

"Elsa I really don't think that's such a good idea."

"It probably isn't, but at least I know better now. I can't just...barge into this without a plan. Or at least without a developed plan. I have to be smart, find a way to stay one step ahead of Hans."

"So does that mean that we're heading back? Because I called Marshall and he's bringing the car back around right now."

"Yeah, yeah it does. Let me just…" Elsa sat up from the cherub and almost fell back down, her head was still reeling from the events that just occurred. "Alright on second thought, let me go find a bathroom inside first, I need to clear my head."

"Alright, want me to come with you this time?"

Elsa walked back up the steps, "No it's okay, I think I've got this."

She opened the doors one more time, trying to ignore the fact that the inside felt like it was deteriorating more and more with every walkthrough. There was no bathroom in the kitchen, which was her first stop, but a tired kitchen worker was nice enough to redirect her to the closest one.

Once she found it, she opened the door and walked to the nearest sink. A little girl walked past her sniffling, her eyes were red and puffy. The restroom was just as depressing as the rest of the place. The trash was overflowing, one of the fluorescent lights was flickering on and off, and the mirrors were dirty with one of them having a deep crack on the bottom left corner.

She turned on the only sink with two working handles and splashed lukewarm water in her face, taking some more much-needed breaths in the process.

This whole situation with Hans was getting to her way too much, she had never felt so lost and helpless in her life. It was hard to admit, but his unpredictability and aggressiveness scared her, made her doubt her own abilities. And she could talk all she wanted about wanting to take him down, vowing to be the one that brings him to justice, but the truth was that she had nothing. No plan.

Even with Anna's help, she was still nowhere near ready to confront him.

Still...she had to try. Hans couldn't keep getting away with this, and even if it meant ruining her own career in the process, she'd stop at nothing to finally see the day that he'd get what was coming to him.

With a newfound amount of pseudo-courage, she took one last look at herself in the smudged mirror, the crack at the base distorting her reflection, and walked out. Tomorrow was another day, she told herself.

She opened the door and walked back in the direction of the front door.

One step.

Two steps.

And that was all she took.

Suddenly, she felt herself being pushed against a wall. Suddenly, she felt her arm being pinned behind her back. Suddenly, she heard the labored breathing of a relentless maniac. Suddenly, she felt the smell of whiskey violating her sinuses. Suddenly, she felt something pricking at her neck. Suddenly, she saw the glint of that damn ruby-embedded ring.

Once again, suddenly Elsa found herself helpless.

"I told you, Elsa." Hans hissed right in her ear as she struggled to break free. "You're playing a very dangerous game."

"What the fuck are you doing?!" She said, trying to sound brave. But her voice betrayed her, letting the man pinning her against the wall know that she was scared. Really, really scared.

"Stay away from this place, stay out of my business, or else I swear to you…" He pressed the knife- was it a knife? The blade felt sharp enough but she couldn't see much- right under her jaw, not enough to break the skin but enough to punctuate his threat.

"... the blood I spill will be on your hands."

"Let me go…" Elsa didn't know what hurt more: the knife at her throat, the vise grip on her wrist, or the fact that she knew where Hans was going and couldn't stop him.

"You start taking things away from me, and I take things away from you. Things that you love. That's how this works, got it?" He forcefully pushed her back against the wall and tightened the grip on her wrist. "How's that girlfriend of yours? Think she'd remember me if I paid a visit to her bakery?"

"Stop, please don't hurt her." Her body continued to betray her as she felt herself beginning to cry.

"I won't. At least not yet." He laughed, this one sounding more threatening, more real, than his previous laughs. "I will burn everything else down around you before I get to her. And when you have nothing left, I will make you watch as I take the one last thing in this world that you give a damn about. And guess what Elsa?"

He flipped her around and pressed his hand against her mouth. "There's not a damn thing you can do to stop me."

The knife was no longer in his hand, in its place was something much worse. He pulled his phone out and brought it to Elsa's face, unlocking it to reveal the security footage of a bakery.

Anna's bakery.

Elsa's screams were barely muffled by his hand over her mouth.

"You see, I always have eyes on your girl." He grinned, "I know her every move, at all times, I've seen her more these past few weeks than you have. And if you want that to change, then you're going to stay out of my fucking way. One word from me, and you'll never see her again."

He locked his phone and put it back in his pocket, all the while Elsa was screaming obscenities and death threats that never made it past that damn ring.

Mercifully, he finally pulled his hand away from her mouth and wiped the hand with a handkerchief in his breast pocket. "I'm glad we had this talk, Elsa." Before he walked away, he winked and added, "We should do this again sometime."

Seconds passed. Maybe minutes. Maybe years. Elsa slid down the wall and wrapped her arms around her legs, trying and failing to control her breathing. The walls had closed in completely, and for the first time in her life, she knew that there was no hope.

Hans had won.

Chapter Text

Chapter 42


She had to go faster.

Faster than the highway allowed.

Fast enough to get to Anna. So that she could warn her, protect her, see her.

She pressed harder on the gas pedal, her car roared as the evening sky became nothing but an orange blur.

Anna was in danger. Because of Hans-

No, because of her.

Because of her stupidity, her recklessness, he had eyes on the woman she loved.

Threatening to take her away. Hurt her. Kill her? Would Hans even try to?

Nothing was certain anymore.

All that was certain was she needed to go faster.


Anna groaned, "'Zel I told you that I'd bring the water to you."

"I know you did." Rapunzel sat on the stool with a grunt, making sure her bathrobe didn't get caught on the kitchen counter. "But I was going crazy spending all that time in my room, I needed the fresh air."

"And you also need to rest. We don't want you almost fainting again." Anna placed the glass of water in front of her best friend and frowned. "I wouldn't want to lose you both, you know?"

"Oh Anna." Rapunzel cooed and wrapped her hands around the glass, "It's nothing serious, just fatigue. I'll take it easy just like the doctor said, but that doesn't mean I'm completely incapable of doing stuff like getting my own water."

"I know you're not, I'm just worried. That's all."

The blonde smiled and placed one of her hands over Anna's, "I'm glad that you want to take care of me and the baby so bad, it means that they're going to have an amazing aunt."

Anna's face lit up from the compliment. It was crazy to think that she was going to be an aunt. It was even crazier to think that her best friend- the same one that once got a gruff biker gang to sing musical numbers with her in a bar, and the same one who beat up a creepy ex-boyfriend with a frying pan- was going to be a mom. Yet here they were, both full-fledged adults fending for themselves in a world that was getting crazier and crazier for them.

She placed her own hand over Rapunzel's, "I'm gonna go out and get you some vitamins in a little bit, okay?"

"Want me to come with you?"

Anna shook her head, "You need to sleep, doctor's orders."

Rapunzel frowned, "It's 7:30 in the evening."

"Doctor's orders." She tapped Rapunzel on her nose after each word, which the blonde didn't entirely appreciate, and sat up from the counter. "I'll go after I call Elsa."

Rapunzel drank the whole glass of water and wiped her lips with the back of her hand, "You haven't called her yet? She must be worried sick about you."

"I didn't want to disturb her, she usually works late on Wednesdays." Anna grabbed the glass and poured some more water into it, nudging it back towards her pregnant friend. "She should be back at her apartment now though."

"Well tell her I said I'm sorry for stealing her girlfriend away from your date." She took the glass and stood back up, "Now I guess it's time for me to get back to my math homework, gotta make sure we don't lose money cause of a stupid decimal."

"Mmkay, I love you."

"I love you too," Rapunzel replied before disappearing behind her bedroom door again.


She was getting closer and closer to Anna's apartment.

Closer to knowing that everything was okay, to make sure that everything was okay.

Just a few short minutes, no longer on the highway but at the last few intersections separating her from her love.

She thinks she hears her phone vibrating but doesn't pick it up. All that mattered was getting to Anna before Hans.

She wouldn't allow that. Even if it meant never coming back to work, she would make sure that Anna was safe, that Anna would never leave her side.

But she needed to warn her first. Tell her what's going on, keep her out of danger.

That was the priority. Anna was the priority. Her priority.

One more intersection, and then a right turn.

She was getting closer.


Anna looked at her phone puzzled, "That's odd, she didn't pick up." She tucked the phone back in her pocket for the time being and went back in her room to grab her keys.

Hopefully, everything was okay. Once she got to the drug store, she'd try calling her again. She was probably just stuck in traffic, or there was probably a freak accident on the freeway or something. Wait no, she couldn't think like that. What if Elsa was a part of that freak accident?

And now she was anxious.

"Calm down woman, everything's fine," Anna said to herself after taking a few deep breaths. "She's okay, she's probably stuck in traffic or had a late meeting or something. There's no way fate's that cruel to us."

It worked. Somewhat. But it was better to be safe than sorry.

She pulled out her phone again to call Elsa but stopped when her phone buzzed in her hand and the screen lit up.

Elsa:  Sorry, I was driving and something came up. I'll talk to you soon, okay?

Anna let out a very relieved sigh and put her phone away again. Elsa was okay, and she was just caught up with something. In a little bit, they would talk and make silly jokes and do some awkward flirting and everything would be just fine.

Anna:  Okay! I'm heading to the store for a little bit though to get some vitamins for Rapunzel though. I love you!

Elsa:  I love you too.

Find her.

Elsa had to find her before she left. This was something that couldn't wait.

The safety of her girlfriend, the woman she loved, was more important than anything right now.

They could go to the store together. It would be a public place, if anyone was watching then they wouldn't dare do anything to hurt either of them.

Especially Anna. Especially if she was right there to ensure her safety, which is exactly what she wanted.

But before any of that happened, she had to find a parking spot, find the door, and find her.

She was running out of time, but she'd already come this far.

One empty spot, one mad dash up the stairs, one second later and she's at the door.


It feels like time has stopped and she can finally breathe for a moment. She knew Anna was safe and behind the door, and Hans couldn't get to her if she was right in front of her.

Right there.

One more deep breath and she puts her fist to the door.

And she stops herself.

Elsa stops herself as another thought invades her mind. A new, damning thought she didn't think of before:

This is exactly what Hans wanted.

If he could get eyes on the bakery, he could easily get eyes on Anna's apartment.

The second Elsa shows up on the screen, it's over. Her recklessness almost cost her the love of her life.

She almost played right into his hands. Those same hands that…


She pulls away.

Walks back to her car.

Drives back to her apartment.

It's hard to breathe, and the tears make it hard to see. But she makes it back. And Anna's safe.

For now.

Anna pokes her head through Rapunzel's door one last time and tells her she's leaving. "Be safe out there, you know how crazy West Arendelle gets at night." her best friend replies.

"I will." She goes to shut the door but then pulls herself back a second later. "Oh, and you better be asleep by the time I get back, madame."

Rapunzel pouts, "I am not going to bed at 8 PM."

The redhead frowns and points two fingers towards her own eyes and turns them towards Rapunzel's. She closes the door as she hears the pregnant blonde snort and chuckle.

This shouldn't take too long, it's just a simple trip to the drug store. Get in, pick up those prenatal vitamins, get out. And then call Elsa, so that way the night ends on a happy note. Not that today wasn't a good day, it was just a little bit stressful; and hopefully Elsa didn't have a stressful day too.

Anna opens the front door, and for some reason, she feels a sense of unease. As if someone had been here not too long ago. There's no sketchy package or note attached to their door, so she feels safe. Safe enough to leave Rapunzel in the apartment alone.

But she still can't shake that feeling that someone was right there.

As she makes her way to the car, she sees another car hurriedly leaving the parking lot. It's pitch black so it's hard to make it out completely, but Anna swears that she's seen it before.

Anna:  Hey babe, everything okay? You're not answering your phone.

Elsa:  Yeah, everything's okay. It's just been a long day so I thought I'd take a bath.

Anna:  :0 Without me?!

Elsa:  Sorry, I'll remember next time.

Anna:  Nah don't worry about it, I was just being silly. Anyway, what's up? Are you good to call now?

Elsa:  Uh. Not tonight. Sorry.

Anna:  Is everything okay?

Elsa:  Yeah everything's okay, I'm just really tired and I think I might turn in early.

Anna:  Oh. Okay…

Elsa:  Sorry.

Anna:  No it's okay. Don't worry about it, I think I need to go to bed early too, Rapunzel won't be in the bakery until noon so I gotta get everything ready by myself.

Elsa:  Okay. Goodnight.

Anna:  I love you.

Elsa:  I love you too.

Chapter Text

Chapter 43

14 Years Ago…

A deep fog has settled across the Southern Isles, a common occurrence as the cold midnight air meets with the crashing waves on the dark rocks along the shore. It permeates and masks the nefarious deeds of those that prowl the dimly lit streets.

The city is left to fend for itself in this witching hour, crime goes up exponentially and those too unfortunate to find shelter for the night are nothing more than blinded prey.

The only place the fog doesn't touch, however, is a large mansion on a hill overlooking the small island. The lights are still on, but no silhouettes can be made out through the curtains. But the mansion is definitely alive.

A young boy rubs his eyes and shuffles down the hallway of his bedroom. He walks past the bathroom, kitchen, and great hall until he sees a set of double doors slightly ajar: the entrance to his father's study. He grasps the golden door handle, smelted and formed into the letter "W", and walks inside, the curiosity getting the better of him.

He is rarely ever allowed in his father's study for fear of the consequences that would come if he was ever caught. Nonetheless, his curiosity is still piqued as he sees the portrait in the back of the room- an oil canvas of his father, commissioned from a world-renowned artist- along with the subsequent wall it's hung off of, had swung forward.

A secret door.

The boy saw light radiating from this new entrance and he walked over, quietly stepping down the stone staircase. As he descended the spiral, he heard voices coming from below. They were incoherent at first save for some hearty laughs and certain expletives his tutor told him never to say.

But as he kept walking, the voices became more and more coherent. Once he got down to the base of the staircase, he stopped and listened. Right away he knew that just around the corner were his twelve brothers and his father; and if they saw him, there would definitely be consequences.

To his eight-year-old mind, the conversation didn't make any sense. They were using these big words like "proposition", "exploit", and "untouchable". They talked about settling scores and playing ball, maybe they were talking about some kind of game? He heard his father say that the Southern Isles was theirs, this was the only thing he could slightly understand.

As he leans in to get a closer look, his foot slips on the stairs and he tumbles forward. All eyes in the stone-carved turned towards him and glared. They start shouting horrible things at him, calling him a runt, no good, a mistake.

His father silences them and walks over towards the boy.

He thinks, or hopes, that there is any sort of compassion in those piercing eyes. But it's a look as sharp as the scar across his cheek. He grabs him by the neck and drags him back up the stairs. When they reach the entrance to his study he throws him down to the floor and slams the door shut.

The little boy doesn't know what hurts worse: the bruise on his neck, or his father calling him a disgrace.

Eight Years Ago…

The boy is now a young man.

A young man who has just been struck across the face by a girl, and is now being laughed at by a cafeteria's worth of students.

As he picks himself up and sneers at the two girls that have just rejected him, he hears his friend lecture him for trying to court them as he bursts through the cafeteria doors. This wasn't how it usually worked, girls would kill to be with him and he knew it. But these two...they were different.

Still though, even after the slap, the redhead intrigued him.

He walks,and walks, and keeps walking until he finds himself behind the bleachers of the soccer stadium. The rest of his friends, nod towards him and try to make conversation until they see the anger in his face. They simply hand him the flask and he takes a long drink. The liquor used to burn more until recently.

This always happens, and he doesn't know why he doesn't expect it anymore. If he was rejected by his family, why wouldn't he be rejected by everyone else either?

Those that do stay by him only do so because of his last name. And he knows this, he knows how much weight the Westerguard name carries. Even though he may be the "black sheep" as his brothers have now begun to call him, he still has the name, the influence, and the bank account.

It's much smaller than his brothers' but still larger than all of his friends' combined. Which is why they follow him, obey him. But do they respect him?

No, and he can see it in their eyes. And because he can see it, it causes his blood to boil even more. He has no respect, no identity other than his last name and his wallet.

One friend, more inebriated than everybody else, opens his mouth and begins to mock him for his failed attempt at romance. It's meant to be playful, but he doesn't see it that way.

Each word pierces his mind and distorts the world around him, the voices are muted, and he feels his heartbeat begin to pick up as all his insecurities and faults are laid out right in front of him. It's not just his friend saying these things, mocking him, it's his brothers, his teachers that force him to stay after class and talk to him about his attitude, his father.

All these people thinking they can tell him who he is, not giving him the respect and admiration he deserves.

And something inside him snaps.

He lunges towards his friend, grabs him by the collar and pushes him down on the ground. There's shock in his friend's eyes, and then anger, and then fear as he raises a fist and lands a punch right across his cheek.

It feels amazing, a thrill shoots down his spine and he curls his lip as he drives his fist again right underneath his left eye, all while keeping his other hand wrapped around this defenseless boy's neck. The crack of his knuckles meeting a fractured bone, the cries of the boys behind him failing to cease the violence, the look of shock and helplessness and the rasped breathing of his's a feeling like no other.

And he wants more.

Over and over again. Punch after punch. He doesn't stop, and everyone around is too afraid to stop him.

He thinks he screams, but his heart is pounding loudly in his ears to actually hear it. His vision goes blurry, and he finally stops when he begins to lose feeling in his hand.

His "friend" lays motionless on the ground, groaning as he slowly rolls onto his side and coughs up blood. Everyone crowds around the victim as the young man shakes his hand off, blood splattering on the dirt beneath him. He feels no remorse, no sympathy, and knows that no matter how many witnesses there were, nothing would happen to him.

He walks away as his lips break out in the first genuine smile of his life.

Four Years Ago...

The man is now in his first year of college. He doesn't get far before being called back home.

After a short flight and drive back to the mansion, he sees his father waiting for him with a smile and open arms. The man is cautious, stoic even, as he rejects the embrace and asks his father why he's been summoned.

His father doesn't answer, he only puts his arm around him and guides him towards the hallowed study. The one he hasn't gone into since that fateful night.

It's different than before. The curtains are drawn even though it's mid-day, but the lights still illuminate the whole room. The bookcases are filled less with books and more with gifts from clients and partners. The desk is made of high-quality wood with the Westerguard family crest embedded into the center. The suit of armor is replaced with a stuffed grizzly bear on its hind legs.

The door behind the portrait is closed.

His father tells him of a proposition, one that will give him "everything that he desires", as if he knows what that is. He sits, wanting to hear him out before rejecting the offer altogether.

The older man smiles as if what he's about to offer will change his life, he says that a supervisor position has opened up at the Southern Isles Baking Company. It's safe to assume that that position hadn't opened up voluntarily. He tells the man to drop out of college and take the job, saying that it will give him more business experience than four years of schooling ever could.

The man agrees with him, albeit reluctantly, but he sees right through the ruse. The Southern Isles Baking Company is a sinking ship, it had poor management and quality of its products had suffered throughout the years. Nepotism would have him rising through the ranks until he was heading the company without any formal training or experience.

He was being groomed for failure.

And yet he still took the offer, sealing the deal with a handshake. He remained unfazed while his father looked ecstatic.

He could smile and laugh all he wanted, but the man was determined now. He would pull this company out of the gutter through his own means, and do things his way. He would show everyone- not just his brothers and father- that undermining and underestimating him was a grave mistake.

He would take this job not to gain recognition and respect, but to gain power.

Power was what he wanted, complete and undeniable control, and an iron grip on anyone that would dare mock him. Even if that meant his own family.

Three Years Ago…

The man has done exactly what he said he would, and it only takes a year.

Southern Isles Baking Company has been legitimized again, and he did it his way. Many people lost their jobs, mostly from questioning his business practices, but it is once again a thriving company and a household name.

He's getting offers for interviews, magazine covers, even modeling deals; and he takes them all. Now no one could deny his existence, no one could say that he was his own man. He had broken from the shadow of his family, who were set to stay in the comfort of their tiny island.

But the man had bigger plans.

He set his sights beyond, wanting to expand the company to reach past the island. And that plan works as well, driving out local bakeries from other cities and towns on the mainland. Now, the Southern Isles weren't the only ones that were forced to recognize the name and glory of Hans Westerguard.

He still got his hands dirty, but not as much as before. The bloodlust would be satiated for a while until a night that it finally builds up and he searches for unsuspecting prey. No one would dare accuse him for these violent misdeeds, because there was no evidence of them. On camera he was the charismatic pretty boy, behind the scenes he was ruthless and methodical.

The Hans Westerguard that the public saw was drastically different than the one his enemies saw. And he was going to make sure it stayed that way.

He sets his sights now on a new city: Arendelle.

Its distinct lack of local bakeries made it easy to slip in and establish the SIBC brand, and he waited patiently for the stardom to reach him here as well.

But it barely did.

It seemed as if someone had beaten him to celebrity status, or at least was getting there faster than he was.

Elsa Arendelle, a sophomore in college that was rising through the ranks of ArenCorp, a company that was well-known even in the Southern Isles.

When he sees her face on TV, the man grows livid as he remembers her from high school all those years ago. She was one of those girls that embarrassed him, ruined his credibility, disrespected him. Even now, she was still disrespecting him.

She was doing everything he was, but better.

No, not better. Just on a bigger stage. But because of that, she was getting more of the attention. He made a new promise to himself, a promise that he would personally see to her demise as well when their paths finally crossed.

There was only room for one person at the top of the mounta