25: Summer Palace
Captain Anna DuVar muttered, only to herself, "C'mon, Anna, this isn't supposed to be a vacation." Maybe not, but it felt like one. Her Admiral had dispatched her to the Summer Palace of Corona obstensibly to be additional security for the Queen of Arendelle, but since the Queen now had a treecat (her treecat, Anna thought with a pang of wistful sadness) and the palace had satellite and airborne coverage for a hundred kilometers in every direction, the excuse wore thin. For two days, she'd done nothing but sit on the back porch of the summer palace and look out over the royal family's private lake. The air was crisp, cool and clean, the sky clear. Anna loved it like the best summer days of Iron Fjord. She wore short sleeves and luxuriated in the contrast of bright sun and chill breeze. Rapunzel and Flynn dressed sensibly in sweaters and heavier cotton pants.
The few times she'd seen Elsa, the woman had been dressed in the same formals her maid always brought to her. Being shot at had changed Elsa again. She was once more reserved. She hadn't invited Anna to a repeat of their night three days ago. Every time Anna saw her, an ache set up in her bones, an aspiring desire to hold the woman again, kiss her, love her. Every time they locked eyes, Elsa looked wistful, then sad, then looked away. Anna would start to reach out, hesitate, stop, take her hand back, close her eyes, stand there, shiver inside.
Later, there were her hormones. Anna hadn't gotten laid in months and, frankly, the moments with Hans had been physically skilled and emotionally unfulfilling. Elsa may not have had skills, but Anna had gratefully taken the lead there, and that one night something had awakened within her, something more. She had lain in bed, staring up at the ceiling, and wishing she'd remembered to pack her little egg-shaped vibrator.
That one night with Elsa had been awkward, endearing and... Anna sighed. She really could fall in love with that woman. She worried it was the wrong kind of love, the way one loved a pet. Anna wrinkled her nose. That was not a metaphor she needed to contemplate.
She needed more time with Elsa. To figure all this out. To see if there was more under the lust and affection.
Olaf chittered at her. He loved the weather, too, and after being briefed by a member of the scant on-site staff about the local flora and fauna, he'd gone gallivanting off into the woods. He had no need to hunt, not when his own staff supplied all the fresh rabbit and deer and turkey he could stuff into himself, but he loved the practice of it, the pouncing from trees, the sneaking up on squirrels, the batting harassment of field mice. Now he luxuriated on a padded outdoor chaise, body and tail stretched to its full length. He was not about to let his person-- his former person, and still his beloved-- get mopey. Act, he signed to her.
Treecats were blunt and uncomplicated. If Anna wanted Elsa, and Elsa wanted Anna, Olaf naturally wanted them to just get on with it. He would be tired of their moping. He never did understand the way humans could strangle themselves with their own confusion. "It's not that easy."
Anna knew, from Gerda's description, that Elsa had little to do. She spent a few hours in the morning discussing matters of state with her prime minister, her newly-appointed ambassador, and assorted staff negotiating the actual capital arrangements between Corona, Arendelle, and Manticore, but that was it. She stayed in her own suite and avoided everyone. Anna included.
Anna's pensive reverie was interrupted. "Good morning, Captain."
"Doctor Fitzhubert. You're looking exercised today."
"Am I?" he said. "I supposed that's true."
"The Princess keeping you up at night?" Flynn had the good grace to blush. "I thought you had a strict rule against nobility."
"Ah, that. Yes. Things have gotten a bit complex."
"Have they now?"
"Yes," Flynn said. "Very, very complex. The sort of complex it takes a scientist to sort out. Not me, of course. I'm bad at figuring out these sorts of things."
"The Princess disagrees."
"The Princess is very convincing when she wants to be," he said. He took a deep breath and sighed. "Is it bad to hope I'm just a boytoy? Listen to me! A 'boytoy.' At my age. Ridiculous." He pressed his palms to his eyes as if wiping away sleep. "Still, she's enthusiastic. Thumbs up for that."
Anna nodded. "Thumbs up for enthusiasm.".
"Say, after lunch Rapunzel and I are taking an aerodyne to a place nearby. We have clearance for it, or rather, Rapunzel does. It's another royal property and it's in the security zone. She says it was a favorite place of hers. I didn't know the girl could fly. Did you?"
"I could fly helos and soarplanes when I was fourteen, Flynn. I did a stint as pilot on a superdreadnaught. I can fly almost anything the navy gives me. I'm no Vanellope VonSchweetz, but I manage."
"Why am I not surprised?" He grinned. "Anyway, she promised her father she wouldn't leave the zone, but we're not, so we're going." Anna nodded again, understanding. "Say, Captain, since you're both perverse enough to enjoy this weather, why don't you and Elsa take a walk? Go hiking or something?"
"Hiking?" Anna's brow wrinkled. Why hadn't she thought of that? A hike would be perfect for the two of them. It would give her a chance to get away from the mansion, to get the lay of the land, to be alone with Elsa. She hadn't been allowed to go hiking on Arendelle-- now that would be something, and she looked forward to the opportunity-- but if the royal family of Corona had granted her access to their own private pine forest and well-maintained trails, she wasn't going to complain. "I don't know if hiking is her thing." She felt her heart beat louder. Why would she turn down an opportunity to be with Elsa? "Then again, I think my new heart might need the exercise."
"Well, if they'd given you one like mine, you wouldn't have that problem," Flynn said. "Well, maybe. But it can keep up with that girl."
"Rapunzel!" Flynn stood hurriedly. "I'm sorry. I didn't know you were there."
"You keep up pretty well, actually, Doctor Fitzhubert," she said, grinning at him. Anna liked Rapunzel; there didn't seem to be an ounce of guile on her. She just liked Flynn, and she liked sex, and combining the two was just her way of showing it. She may have been pumping him for every detail of his life back on Manticore or his time on Earth, but she wasn't sleeping with him as an excuse to hear more. "But what was this about your heart?"
Flynn hemmed for a moment before explaining about his artificial heart. Rapunzel's eyes widened. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"It wasn't important. It's not like I'm in any danger here, is there?"
"No, but... I would rather have known!"
"Do you want my vaccination records too?" Anna laughed. "Is it really important to you, Rapunzel?"
"No, I guess not." She sat down and snabbled a cookie from the plate on the little table. "Are you sure you're up for a little excitement?"
"So far, Princess, I have shown a remarkable capacity to handle anything you have thrown at me."
"And you've been such a gentleman about it, too." A bell rang from somewhere inside the mansion. Rapunzel gave Flynn a quick kiss on the cheek. "Oh, good. Lunch. Let's go."
Anna hadn't heard the aerodyne land, so she wasn't aware that her chief engineer had arrived at the mansion until she nearly tripped over him on the way to lunch. "Sorry, Ma,am," he said, "but Admiral Becker wanted someone to give this to you, and I was convenient."
She smiled down at Ficksit. He was still as soft-spoken as ever. "It seems a bit much to use a chief engineer to deliver courier service," Anna told the short, soft-spoken man, taking the secured pouch and signing for it.
"Maybe, Ma'am, but I wasn't doing much in orbit. Between Arendelle and Manticore, Winterkiss is in tip-top shape. I've been planetside for the past few days discussing technology transfer details with Corona's elevator people. I guess I was handy."
"Well, you're just in time for lunch. Why don't you join us, Felix?"
"I'd... " He hesitated. "I'd like that, Ma'am."
Anna wondered when Captain Calhoun ate. The woman was always hovering over every dinner, a palling reminder of the threat against the royal presences in the room. Here at the Summer Palace every human being had been fully cleared, and there weren't that many people around. Even the security people seemed light on the ground, but there were always two, somewhere nearby. Anna supposed she should be used to it. She had come in following Elsa, who'd looked nervous and quiet. Everyone had waited until Elsa and Rapunzel sat, more or less simultaneously. There were still forms to honor, even here at the Summer Palace.
Anna was glad lunch consisted of sandwiches. They weren't the simple things she was used to; the rolls were fresh from baking, the fillings sloshed in an au jus that Anna swore contained cinnamon, and she would never have put bean sprouts in anything she ate but they worked pretty well with the weird mix.
Elsa ate hers with a fork. Anna tried, but gave up and emulated Rapunzel, who used her hands like a normal person. Lunch was silent for the most part aside from the usual murmurings about salt and spices.
"Queen Elsa?" Anna said. Elsa looked up, startled to be addressed at all. "I don't have much to do while I'm waiting for Admiral Becker and the Corona Royal Security forces to conclude their business. I'd like to go hiking out around the mansion today. Would you like to come along?" She cringed inwardly. That was no way to invite a Queen to something. How did someone invite a Queen to... to anything? Did Queens get invitations? They must. Maybe they just demanded them and expected them to be honored or something. Not all the etiquette classes at Saganami island had trained her for this.
Elsa's brows furrowed in that adorable way Anna had come to recognize as being puzzled with an offer her heart wanted but her head didn't yet understand. "A hike? I've never, I don't know that I've ever been on one."
"All it takes is a good pair of sport shoes and a water bottle. Oh, and a commlink would be a good idea in our case," Anna said.
"I, I don't know." Elsa said. "Maybe?"
Anna had to throw her a lifeline. She said, "'Yes?'"
"Yes." Elsa relaxed, relieved almost. Anna smiled. Elsa was staring at her again and this time, when their eyes met, Anna felt it. That spark they'd shown each other just days before. It was still there, and with some love and care it could be blown back to a roaring blaze.