Rising from sleep to memory of the sweetest, most awkward sensations she had experienced in all her young life, Elsa turned over in the silken sheets and reached out with one hand. The space next to her was empty and cool. The room was still dark and quiet, still smelled of love and lust.
The dim light of stars and moon glowing through the vast crystalline window provided just enough light to outline the objects in the room, the shapes and angles of furniture: chairs, the desk, the corner leading to the bathroom. And at the foot of the bed, just out of Elsa's reach, the rounded shape of a woman, bent over. "Anna?" Anna didn't move at first, and Elsa heard her take a deep, wet breath. "Are you crying?"
Anna took another deep breath, and nodded. "Uh-huh."
Elsa's put her hand on her chest and tried to control her breathing. She couldn't think of a single thing she'd said or done the night before that might have saddened Anna. She'd been smiling and happy when Elsa had last seen her, lying in the bed next to her, her auburn hair splayed around her in a soft halo. Now Anna sat with her back to Elsa, hunched over, hands around her knees. "I'm sorry, Anna. If I could give him to you, I would."
Anna's half-laughed snort was thick with snot. "Meh. Maybe I don't want him anymore."
"But I thought he was everything to you."
"What? No. Not ever close." Anna's head bowed lower. "He was just, I don't know, something that happened in my life when people thought my life should go a certain way, and I went with it because I was so tired of fighting them all."
"Are you out of your mind, Anna? I would go insane if he was a part of my life and I couldn't have him. I don't know how you do it."
"He's not that big a deal."
"Just a few weeks ago you were telling me you couldn't live without him!"
"What?" Anna shouted, turning to look at her. "When did I say that?"
"Shhh," Elsa said, her eyes darting to the door. "He'll hear us arguing."
"What? Oh, oh, oh my god." Anna started laughing, gasping for air as she tried to laugh and breathe and swear at the same time. "Oh, my, god! Elsa-- did you think-- I was talking-- about Olaf?"
"Yes. Who were you thinking of?"
"Hans!" Anna said.
"Oh," Elsa said, and briefly laughed herself. "Anna, come up here?"
Anna nodded, crawled back into bed and sat next to Elsa, cross-legged. She looked around at the bedstand, found a box of tissues, and made drama out of blowing her nose. Elsa giggled, hiding behind her hand.
"You weren't wearing your gloves tonight," Anna said. "I can't imagine having to sleep with them on all the time. It must have been brutal in summer."
"My bedroom was shielded the way the gloves are. And I don't have to wear them here on Corona. I have to be invited to use the main protocols here, so all I get when I'm not wearing them is the sense of a lot of closed portals. I've kept them on in public. I'm so used to them I feel naked without them."
"You are naked. Right now, I mean." Elsa blushed. "That must be so weird, to have that whole extra set of senses. I wonder if you understand Olaf's empathy better than I do, having all those extra inputs."
"Maybe," Elsa said. "I doubt it. But I wanted to be naked around you, Anna." She reached down and pulled the bed sheets up and wrapped them under her arms, hiding her breasts from Anna's gaze.
Anna didn't make a comment. She also didn't move to emulate Elsa's modesty. "About Olaf," Anna said. Elsa looked up sharply. "I love him. I always have. He's not mine anymore, in the sense that he used to be. I'm going to be okay with that. I'm trying to be okay with that. It's hard. It'll hurt for a long time, maybe forever, but that's what life is supposed to be, a mixture of pleasure and pain and sometimes you're supposed to be bored. Sometimes, relationships end. I've had a few relationships end. I'm okay with it, Elsa. I really am."
"Why do relationships end? Tell me about them. You've had... "
"Nine relationshps. Ten, if I count you. Should I count you yet? Anyway." Anna told Elsa about them all. Mai and Lucy, Robert and Ahmed, Marco and Fred and the rest. Hans. Last of all Hans. She took a deep breath and said, "I guess they end because people are going their separate ways. I wanted to be a starship captain. Lucy wanted to be a writer. Mai did her eight years and was out as a Lieutenant, on to being some manager in a construction corporation. Ahmed was a marine, Robert was a yard dog, Fred was a musician. It might sound like a lot of Navy people, but when you're in you don't get much chance to socialize outside. Each time, I liked him or her, and they liked me back. When I was younger we said we loved each other. Each time, we explored each other until we... ran out."
"Ran out of what?"
"I don't know," Anna said. "Each other, I guess. Interest. Curiosity. The will to keep going, to make a life together. I think maybe that's what death is. You run out of yourself." She took a deep breath. "Elsa, when I woke up, I could smell you. You smell like, like fresh snow. I know that's weird, but women have odd smells. Lucy always reminded me of these really expensive art pencils I had. She smelled like cedar, cedar shavings. It was so good. But you, you were so warm, like the heat that keeps the cold away, like a campfire in the middle of a still, snowy night. God, I'm bad at metaphor. What I mean is, I looked down at you and saw you with your hair all shining and your shoulders and your breathing, and I thought..." She put her elbows on her knees and clasped her hands together, leaning forward to press her lips against her fists.
"Anna, what did you think?"
"I thought, maybe, I could make a life together with you. I know, it was such an irresponsible thing to say. I mean, I'm just a lowly starship captain and you're a Queen, for God's sake. You could never leave Arendelle, and while I could always give my inheritance to Rolf, he would be so much better as Earl than I ever will as Countess, that would be abdicating my responsibility to my Queen and my Kingdom and my father, and it's a selfish dream, because you don't know me at all and you deserve as much of a chance to have other loves and other experiences as I did and..."
"Anna DuVar," Elsa said. "You're rambling."
"You're right," Anna said, sitting up straight. "I'm sorry."
Elsa's hand stroked Anna's cheek softly. "It's a beautiful dream, Anna. But I don't know anything about where you are right now. I don't know anything about Manticore. And then there's your Hans."
Anna sniffed. "For a while he seemed so perfect. We went to the ballet and the symphony and the shows, he bought me flowers, he brought Olaf flowering celery and cleaned celeriac! I didn't know celery had flowers, and Olaf loved celeriac almost more than celery itself. But it all felt so... surface. You know that feeling when you're drunk, and you feel like you're really smart and clever and witty, but you also know that your brain is all shallow and if there's anything going on deeper inside you can't get to it and you can't use it?"
"I've never been drunk," Elsa said. "Sorry."
"Oh, we have to get you drunk. Just to see. But Hans, Hans feels like that all the time."
"Like you're drunk?"
"Well, not like I'm drunk. But like, the opposite of being in love. When I've felt like I was in love, it's like, it's like the relationship is this whole other thing two people share, and it has its own thoughts, like two people would feel if they could share a treecat, except with Hans, it doesn't." She took a deep breath. "I don't know how to explain it. All of my 'successful' relationships always felt that way, like we were sharing a brain that made both of us smarter and happier. But I'm the same whether I'm with Hans or without.
"My father says that's good, that I'm finally getting over my puppy love stage and figuring out what it means to be in a 'real' relationship." She pitched her voice lower. "'Real relationships don't feel like that, Anna. You respect that the other person has their own life, and both of you have to compromise.' Lucy and Marco were the longest ones, almost three years each, and I'm pretty sure they were 'real' relationships too."
"But they ended."
Anna shrugged. "Like I said. For the longest time, I thought my father was right. The word 'love' had started to feel... wrong. Toxic. I didn't have to love Hans to be a great Marquessa. We could have 'great executive function.'" She snorted. "After all, how can you have a relationship end if it never even starts?" She sighed. "I relied on Olaf. Olaf was always a good judge of my loves, and knew the good ones from the bad ones. The thing about Hans was that, he was never sure. He couldn't tell. Olaf said Hans wanted to be a good husband because he wanted to be a good husband, but he couldn't tell if that meant Hans would be a good husband to me, if that makes sense?"
"Lots," Elsa said. "I know a few of my dukes are like that."
"Yeah, now that you say it that way. Starship captains too. They go through the motions but never connect with their crew. Some of them really try, but they just... just don't have it. I don't think Hans has it. Not for me."
"Then why are you thinking about marrying him?"
"Because someone has to. Father says it'll be a good match, two entailments at opposite ends of the planet. Although Hans is way too far down the line to ever get the seat, he's never going to see an entailment. Still, it would make for good allies. We can make it a two-family resort: a cold respite in the summer, a warm respite in the winter. I think Dad wants to retire, too, so someone has to take over, and the pairing is good. And I'm almost fifty, Elsa, well past the time when I should be thinking about settling down and doing something serious, or so everyone says. Why are you smiling like that?"
Elsa shook her head. "Because, you. It's the way you give, and give. I wanted to be like that, when my dukes were sending me all their sons, but I couldn't. I couldn't give that much of myself away. Not to them. I was selfish, but... You want to give your father his dream. You want to give Hans his. Do they deserve it, Anna? Do you have to be the one to give it to them?"
"Yes, they deserve it!" She made her hands into fists, but then rested them in her lap. "But, no, I guess I don't have to be the one to give it to them. Well, maybe not to Hans." Anna looked away again, this time out the window.
"Anna, will you... at least stay with me, here, while we're on Corona?"
"Yes! I mean, if you want," Anna said.
"I do," Elsa said. "I have to learn how to do this." She reached out and touched Anna's knee. "Like you said, someone has to teach you. I want you to teach me." Memories of what happened shortly after Anna had first said that flooded her, and she looked away. "Although maybe that's not such a good idea. Not after that." Her gaze fell on the scar decorating Anna's chest.
"Also like I said, I'm used to people trying to kill me. It's an occupational hazard."
"It shouldn't be a romantic one!"
"No, but... I can live with it. For now."
"And if I do fall in love? With you?" Elsa said. "Or what if you fall in love with me? What if we decide to turn that into something 'real,' going from this wild infatuation to actually loving each other?"
"I'll have to talk to Hans. He... He'll understand. Maybe he'll even wait to see if it's just a phase, or a thing, or a misunderstanding. But it's something that we can do, Elsa. We're grown-ups. We can talk about these things." She giggled. "Wow. I've never negotiated falling in love before."
"Just sex?" Elsa said.
"Just the sex. The falling in love part was always allowed to be just a happy accident." They were silent for a time. Anna slowly raised her eyes. "Elsa? I could love you."
"You could love almost anyone," Elsa said. "If you were wrong, you'd martyr yourself giving yourself away just to keep your promises." She looked away, out the window to the moonlit sea. "If we do fall in love, I would want to protect you from your better self. I'm the one who has the problems."
She felt the bed shift, felt Anna scoot closer to her, felt the other woman's body against hers. Anna lay her head on Elsa's shoulder, stretched an arm around Elsa's torso, held her and kissed her neck. Elsa had never known just how heavy another body could feel. Anna was so warm, so wonderfully solid. It was as if everything else in her life had ever been a dream, and only Anna was real. Living, breathing Anna.
"Elsa, everyone has problems. God, I love your name. Elsa. I could say it all day. Elsa, Elsa, Elllssssaaaaaahhhh," she said, stretching the last syllable out as long as she had breath. She giggled.
"Annastasia Christabelle DuVar," Elsa said. "You have a very beautiful name yourself."
"Thanks." Elsa watched as Anna smiled, then frowned, then held her face very still. Then she yawned. "Elsa, it's..." She checked her watch. "My God. It's almost five. Let's go back to sleep."
The suggestion of time and rest worked on Elsa, and she collapsed against the bed. "You're right. John and Kimball will keep us going all week long."
"I hope not," Anna said, laying down beside her. "I need time to think about..." She reached out and put a hand on Elsa's belly. "This."
"Yes," Elsa said.