24: Hair's Breadth
Elsa was startled awake when the curtains covering her bedroom window were flung open. The full glare of Corona's sun seared through her eyelids with blithe ferocity. She turned over in her bed. "What?"
"Wake up, sleepyheads!" Rapunzel cheerfully sang, her body a black silhouette against the brilliant sunlight. Her hair, loose and flowing about her until it reached her hips, glowed like a river of gold. Her hands were on those hips and she was leaning forward slightly. "I'm going to guess last night was a success."
"Yes," Anna said, opening one immiserated eye. "It could have been. Until someone interrupted it." Elsa could hear the gritty resentment in her voice. "What are you doing here, Princess Rapunzel?"
"Hello, Captain Anna. I'm very sorry, your Admiral sent me to find you. He didn't send me, exactly. But I intercepted Sigrit before she got to you. I figured you'd be happier being awakened by someone other than a stranger. Oh, hello Olaf." The treecat 'bleeked' at her before hopping up on the bed and plunking himself down between the two women, both of whom were covering themselves with the bedclothes. Elsa had never slept next to anyone ever before. She had hoped to wake up to sweetness and kisses, not the rough call of duty. Maybe it was for the best; Anna's hair was frightfully disheveled, standing up, defying gravity.
"Cousin, I suspect a member of your staff would have been more discreet. And gentle."
"Possibly. But they wouldn't have had nearly as much fun. Now, get dressed. Captain, your steward left you a fresh uniform. Elsa, Gerda's waiting for you in the dressing room. Oh, here." She held out a bathrobe. Elsa pulled it on. "Come on."
Elsa tried to glower at her with the same passion Anna seemed to hold. She failed. It was hard to be angry at Rapunzel in the midst of such innocent glee. There was no hiding her lover. She cast one last, longing glance over her shoulder at Anna's retreating backside while Rapunzel urged her toward the dressing room. Anna was looking at her with a forlorn expression as deep as Elsa's heart. "See you later," Anna said.
"Now," Rapunzel said as the door closed. "So? How did it go?"
"I don't really think that's any of your business," Elsa said. "If you must know, we were highly compatible."
"I knew it!" Rapunzl said, jumping up and down. "So, will it last? Will it? Will it?"
"Rapunzel, I only just met the woman." She sagged forward slightly. "It does confirm what I always knew. What you always knew." Rapunzel nodded, but the smile wouldn't leave her face. "I do wish you'd given us more time."
"Sorry, duty really does call, Elsa. I really wish I had more time to spend with Flynn. What a man." She sighed, even as Elsa hid a smile behind her hand. "But Father wants to talk with you as soon as you're available, and Anna is a military woman. Her responsibilities don't wait."
"I know," Elsa said, casting a long, yearning glance at the door.
"There'll be more time after lunch. For us to talk. I have to tell you about... Meet me on the terrace." She tapped her wrist, and the other door opened. "Gerda, I have your queen." Rapunzel leaned forward and made a show of sniffing. "I think she needs a shower first." Then she scooted around the older woman, giggling, her hair bouncing behind her like a wave.
"Rapunzel!" Elsa sputtered. She regained her composure. "She's right. Let me take a quick shower."
Gerda nodded, but she was smiling gently. "Of course, Your Majesty."
After a business-filled lunch with her uncle, Elsa managed to get free enough to make her rendezvous with Rapunzel on the terrace where they had conversed the day before. The weather was still beautiful, the day bright. The breeze from the sea cooled Elsa, and she appreciated it. Olaf put his face to the wind and sniffed, sighing with pleasure. The city of Corona jutted out into the sea, a spit of land forming a curved jetty that protected Corona's few seagoing vessels. Elsa knew on the other side of the city a broad highway of road, rail, and foot connected the city to a fecund mainland of towns, farms, forests, orchards, and mines.
The city itself looked young and bright and clean, like its princess. It had the light mixed look of a city that took a lot of sun: matte textures to keep the glare down, bright, cheery yellows and adobe browns to keep the heat from penetrating too deeply, the red tiled roofs that helped shed the occasional but ferocious rain. Rapunzel had sent Elsa videos of storms moving in. The Castle was on the highest spit of its island abode, but the hillsides of the mainland rose up to both sides. It look idyllic.
Rapunzel leaned against the railing, her hair blowing behind her in the breeze. "How does it feel?" she said.
Elsa didn't need the treecat to know what Rapunzel was talking about. "I feel as if everyone knows. And I feel as if everyone ought to know, as if it were written on my face. As if I had been transformed somehow. I'm one of you now: someone who's had sex. I liked it."
"I know that feeling," Rapunzel said.
"With Mr. Flynn?"
"Yes!" Rapunzel's eyes grew momentarily misty. "He was so patient. He took his time. He paid attention to me afteward. You don't know what it's like, sometimes, they're all in such a rush to get it over with. Flynn wasn't. I hear it's different with girls." Rapunzel clearly saw the look on her face. "Oh, Elsa, I'm not holed up in some monstrous tower. My parents have let me have a few boyfriends now and then. They were okay. But they were so, I don't know how to put this, Corona-ish. Provincial."
"I wish I'd had my parents to help me through that. After they died..." Elsa sighed. "I wish I had known them more."
"I wish you had too," Rapunzel said. "But that's what I mean. I mean, how does this Elsa-and-Anna thing feel to you?"
"I don't know, yet. It feels so new, so precious. But it could also just be an illusion. And I have never been one to tolerate illusion."
"I don't think you can, when you become Queen. God knows my parents drill into me lessons about digging for the truth, for motive, for incentive. All that stuff about uncovering biases, drilling down to principles." She sighed. "Everyone's allowed to have some illusions, huh? Everyone except us."
Elsa nodded. "I hope it's real. With Anna. Anna-- " She didn't know how much she could reveal of Anna's conversation about Hans, about her father, about her relationships. "Anna told me that relationships sometimes-- often-- 'run out.'" Rapunzel nodded. "She hopes it won't happen to us, but we only just started."
"I'll be rooting for you."
"Thank you," Elsa said. They were quiet for a moment, standing and facing each other.
Suddenly Rapunzel shouted, "Oh, shit! Elsa! Duck!" She grabbed the other woman and threw her to the ground, even as Olaf twisted out of the way. Rapunzel's golden hair seemed to come to life of its own violition, throwing itself into the air in a fan around Rapunzel's head. A small explosion blasted on the other side of the golden fan, buffeting Elsa and Rapunzel in a hot shockwave. Rapunzel screamed.
Alarms rang. Armed guards boiled out of every door, pistols and rifles at the ready. Rapunzel's hair collapsed to the ground around them, still attached to her head, seemingly hair once again. Rapunzel scooped up a handful and looked at it, her eyes almost crossed. "That hurt! And dammit, my hair is burned!"
A man grabbed Rapunzel by the arm. Another grabbed Elsa. They were hustled indoors as aerodynes shot out from the castle. Olaf ran after them, ran up into Elsa's arms. She held him tightly, burying her face in his body. "What was that?"
"Someone shot at me. Elsa, someone shot at me!" Rapunzel collapsed onto the floor, her hands over her face. "I can't believe it. Someone shot at me! Oh my God. Oh my God!"
"Your Majesties, are you all right?" a guard with a medical case said as she ran into the room.
"Yes," Rapunzel said. "Yes. I'm unhurt."
"And you, Queen Elsa?"
"Fine." She looked down at her cousin. "Maybe they weren't shooting at you at all," Elsa said, shivering. Olaf slithered up her body as she put her arms around herself, the adrenaline flooding her body with nowhere to go. "Maybe they were after me."
"Or... both of us." She grabbed Elsa's hand. Elsa helped her to her feet. "Do you think it could have been either one of us? I mean, why would they shoot at you?"
"Because someone tried to kill me while I was on Arendelle. Twice. Someone did almost kill Anna."
"What is going on here?" Rapunzel's father strode into the room. "Rapunzel! Are you okay?"
"Yes, father. My hair saved me. Again."
"That was a bit of luck!"
"Her hair?" Elsa said.
"It's not... hair." Rapunzel blushed as she brushed the hair-- it certainly looked like hair-- away from her head. "I mean, it's my hair, but it's also laced with an exotic weave of doped carbon that gives in some computational power and mobility. Gothel gave it to me as a gift, and it's really cool. I can unlock doors, analyze computers, detect poisons, even diagnose diseases if I have to. And it can detect an incoming bullet and put up an energy-absorbing net to catch it before it hits me." She held the strands in her hand. "It's damaged, but it'll self-repair. Father, did they catch him?"
He listened to an earbug for a moment, then shook his head. "No, my child, they have not."
Rapunzel's mother came in, accompanied by Anna and Flynn. Rapunzel repeated she was unhurt, and Elsa seconded. Rapunzel had to repeat her explanation of her hair, and Elsa noticed Flynn's eyes widened to the point where she worried they might fall out of his eyesockets.
The King said, "Elsa, this is unacceptable. You are my guest. We must do something to protect you while you're on Corona. And you, Rapunzel, must not go outside unprotected, either."
"I'm so glad my gift saved you, Rapunzel! John, I have a suggestion. Why don't you send Elsa and Rapunzel to the summer palace?" Gothel said as she strode in.
Elsa found Gothel's appearance shocking, but since the Coronas treated her as normal, Elsa struggled to do the same. She could feel uncertainty and unease flowing into her from Olaf. "Shh," she told him. "It's okay. She's not a monster." Olaf's hiss told her he didn't quite believe her. Well, acceptance would come in time.
John mused. "That's an excellent suggestion. With my best security team."
"And every watchful eye in the Kingdom on me," Rapunzel said, her teeth clenched. "Satellites, balloons, drones, even manned copters." She looked up at her father. "Can I ask a favor, Father?"
"Can I take Doctor Fitzhubert with me? If he wishes."
Flynn looked thoughtful for a moment. "Sure, if Captain DuVar approves."
Her father's smile was knowing. Elsa could see it. He listened again to something in his earbug, then said, "I don't see why not. Citron has vetted him. At least he'll keep you busy, and hopefully out of trouble." Flynn had the decency to turn away. "And an older gentleman like him might teach you a thing or two about etiquette."
"Father!" Rapunzel said, stamping her foot. Elsa blushed, covering her laugh with one hand.
"And you, cousin, my security team says you'd do very well if you had more than one experienced soldier by your side. Perhaps the good Captain DuVar?"
"I don't know," Anna said. "I have a starship to run. I can't be assigned to..."
"Captain," Admiral Becker was standing behind Anna. Elsa wasn't sure when he'd come in, but it certainly reflected his naval training to always run toward the crisis. "You and your crew brought Queen Elsa here to Corona. I insist, for all our sakes, that you stay close to her and keep her safe." His smile was as knowing as the king's. Elsa's face flushed brighter. She'd just been shot at, and now everyone in Corona seemed to be conspiring to get her into the same room with Anna as often as possible. "Your Majesty, with your permission?"
Elsa nodded. "I would appreciate an extra pair of eyes. For my own safety."
"Then its decided," King John said. "I will have my personal pilots fly you to the Summer Palace immediately. Go and gather your belongings. It will not take long to prep an aerodyne."