The Snow Queen and the FireHeart

The Path to Fria

XI

The Path to Fria

Gnarled into a maze of passageways and fraught with shadows, the cave system near Fria seemed to go on endlessly, winding through stone carved by centuries of moving water, but ultimately finding its way out of the darkness to deliver Elsa and Yasha into craggy mountains much like the canyons of the Weeping Valley. The colors were similar, but the heat was greater. Unlike the Weeping Valley, there were many more trees and plants on this side of the caves, and they were thick and tall from the deposits of burned minerals in the ground, covering the landscape with dark waves of branches moved by wind and the almost-forgotten sounds of animals and life. Seeing the starry sky and feeling the wind on her neck, Elsa was relieved to have gotten out of the ground, but taking the time to stop and enjoy it reminded her how tired she felt. For the first time since leaving Arendelle, she realized she hadn't been calm enough to rest since before the long, tiring day that Anna was taken. It had been a frantic push to chase them down, only to then face a desperate fight where she had been taxed both mentally and physically. Even the calmer moments in the caves had been pierced by the emotional stress of dealing with him and the unnatural presence that continued to assault her senses. As if unaffected by these same elements, his pace had been quick and relentless and he hadn't given her any time to rest, making her wonder why he had so much vigor after appearing near death only hours before, though she barely had any more strength to consider it as she felt fatigue drag her body down.

She was exhausted, and her journey had only just begun.

With only a short moment to enjoy the fresh air, he was already walking ahead of her, silent and barely acknowledging her presence. She found his company cold, in spite of his fiery magic, though she realized that there was no standard for them, as the only things they shared so far had been fear, anger and pain. She followed, continuing to keep him ahead of her, her breath coming out in rattling pulses. Every passing moment was spent anticipating his sudden decision to turn on her and go back on their agreement, though all of her anxious moments were met with nothing but him keeping his word. While there was a certain relief in that, she hadn't expected the silence of their journey to weigh so heavily on her mind, as well as how his cold demeanor bothered her.

When she stumbled, he didn't pause.

When she gasped in pain, he didn't look back.

He simply expected her to keep up with him and she was beginning to think he saw that as a small measure of revenge for his defeat, though she wouldn't give him the satisfaction of seeing her fall behind, and they continued in silence for far longer than her exhaustion would allow.

Distracted by him and buried in the enmity that hung in the air, she suddenly took a careless step onto a loose rock and stumbled, lurching into a nearby tree for support. Letting out a slight yelp, she sucked in air between her teeth and slipped to the ground, rubbing her leg and bringing their hurried pace to a grinding halt. The pain didn't feel serious, but it stretched her thin patience. Unlike before, she found she couldn't simply push herself to her feet again and she tiredly dropped her forehead onto her wrist, taking the time to try and recover.

She didn't care if he stopped for her. As much as she had been steeling herself for the task ahead, she realized that if she were to challenge this FireHeart of his, she was going to have to catch her breath.

"Can you stand?"

Having expected him to either walk on and ignore her plight or simply complain for holding them up, she was shocked to find him standing over her, his hand extended out to help her. The abrupt contrast to the way he had been treating her rattled her contempt, making her look up at him with a staggered expression and a breath lodged firmly in her chest.

She hated it when he didn't act the way she wanted him to.

Brushing aside his surprisingly chivalrous act, she wrapped herself back around her expectations and looked away from him, huffing shortly at his offer. "I'm fine," she answered. She didn't take his hand, but rather adjusted her position on the ground to let her back rest against the tree, leaning heavily against it and sighing in exhaustion. "I just need to rest for a moment."

Her eyes continued to avoid him.

Seeing that she wasn't going to take his hand or continue on, he stood straight and sighed as well, looking ahead impatiently. If he could afford it, they would walk all the way to the Scoria Chamber and face the FireHeart without delay, but a part of him knew that was impossible. Fria wasn't far, but impossible to reach on foot without resting, even for those that were fresh. Now that he knew he was going home, he had trouble controlling himself. Unbeknownst to her, their impromptu arrangement had been stirring his usually calm mind as well, making it impossible to travel at a normal pace. Even his short time together with Anna hadn't been so awkward, as he had been so much more relaxed around the princess. With Elsa, he was completely uncomfortable, either because of their less-than-ideal introduction or the haunting animosity he felt whenever she was near.

Like her, he felt this was going to be a long and arduous trip, which might have been the only thing they had in common.

Knowing she wouldn't let him carry her and realizing he probably couldn't if he tried, he decided to let her have her isolation. Once again buried under the tension, he stiffly walked over to another tree, leaning against it and trying to let his mind wander. Crossing his arms, he took a deep breath and resolved to let them rest, if only for a little while.

Elsa was taking great care to ignore his movements, while at the same time trying to judge his distance to her. Her fatigue washed over her. The roots under her arm felt like an armrest and the rough bark felt like silken bed sheets. She couldn't remember the last time she had felt so tired and annoyed, making her temper feel like a monster looming just beneath her careful, practiced mask. Fighting her irritation and closing her eyes, she purposely let her mind drift into the haze and she tried to think of things other than this dubious partner of hers, though never letting him completely slip away.

In spite of her position, felt confident she would realize it if he came too close to her.

As soon as she had relaxed, the soft sounds of a flute began to fill her mind and pushed away the satisfying stillness, bringing back the weight and the heat of the world. Her eyes slowly fluttered open and she felt new aches and pains in her back, making her groan slightly as she stretched to disperse them, her mind scrambled and her surroundings forgotten. It took a moment to regain her vision, but she found the sky still dark, except for the moon crawling its way overhead, and the details of her situation began to return, making her anxiety rise and her eyes search around for her companion. He was no longer where he was before, but sitting casually on a fallen tree further away, his back to her. As she continued to struggle against the aches in her body, she wondered why she hadn't heard him move and why it felt like a heavy shawl was being slowly pulled from her. It also took a moment to realize that the beautiful melody in her ears was coming from him, where a few short glimpses of his bamboo flute could be seen as he swayed with the tune. While the sounds were beautiful, she was annoyed he would disturb her few moments of rest with them and she tried to stretch out the tightness in her body, her throat squeaking slightly as the tension bled from her muscles and skin. Much to her surprise, she felt much better than before, as if those few moments had wrestled all of the fatigue from her. Not even her ankle seemed to hurt.

"Five hours," he suddenly said, loud enough that she would hear him. His voice startled her and she didn't realize he had stopped playing.

"What did you say?" she asked, her face clenched in confusion.

He slowly rolled his shoulders and stretched as well. "You were asleep for five hours," he repeated, sliding down from the tree to face her, his flute held loosely in his hand. His eyes were languid and he appeared almost as annoyed as she felt, though there was also a strange relief buried in those eyes, as if seeing her recovery had relieved some quiet concerns he had.

"It was quite a spectacle, as if I stumbled across Titania herself, carelessly asleep before any that might come across her. I doubt many others have witnessed a fairy queen sleeping so peacefully in the woods."

His remarks made her blush and press her hand to her forehead, as if trying to gauge some kind of fever she might have that would cause her to pass out for such a long time. It had only felt like moments under the tree, so she had a hard time believing him. "That can't be right. I only rested for a moment," she said, trying to remember the point where she could have fallen asleep. Just the thought of being so helpless with him around made her heart beat faster and she suddenly gasped and pawed around her dress, looking for some kind of indication he had violated her. Being at the mercy of this criminal for five hours sent her imagination into a flurry of thought, with every scenario making her temperature rise and her skin prickle. Her hands ended up at her chest and she clenched them tightly to her for protection, glaring at him with accusations in her eyes.

The entire performance seemed to amuse him.

"Your opinion of me is quite low," he remarked, "I believe those are the same eyes as when we first met."

She remembered how she had felt when their eyes first met and how she was certain the man had done something to her sister. At that moment, she suspected him of doing something equally vulgar to her, despite any evidence to support it. She also remembered the disturbing sensations of pleasure at grinding him with her ice and she forcefully shook the memories away, infuriated at him for being able to stir up such primal feelings. All she knew was the heat in her face wouldn't stop burning, and she did not appreciate his expression at all.

"I'm not sure I can believe any of your pleas of innocence, especially when it comes to Anna," she warned.

Oddly, that made him frown. "That is unfortunate, though I would give them to you anyway," he replied. Her distrust on this subject seemed to bother him and he tried to dismiss her accusations with a strangely courteous bow.

"For my honor, I did nothing for you question hers…or yours."

The implication made her cheeks burn even more and she gathered her strength, brushing off her dress and rising before him. The way he continued to look at her made her irritation grow and she huffed, walking past him to preserve that honor, but also escape the heat he somehow created inside of her. "There's no need to rest any longer. We can move on," she said, trying to take control of their pace. Stomping a few steps ahead, she suddenly stopped and looked into the forest around her, realizing she had no idea where they were. Stepping from foot to foot, she was unsure which direction to proceed, her braid whipping back and forth as she looked for some kind of indication of their path, though nothing was worse than admitting to him her uncertainty, especially with her face still on fire.

"The path to Fria is to your left," he offered over his shoulder.

Her face burned even brighter at the directions and she glared at his back, trying to think of something to say. His tone was aggravating, but she had no response that could adequately show her annoyance. She even considered putting a frosty snowball into the back of his head, but in the end she could only caw in embarrassment and stomp away to the left, not even bothering to wait for him to follow. Her tantrum made a hidden smile come over his face and he casually replaced his flute in his belt, and then turned to walk after her.

In a turn of events, Elsa was now leading them down their path towards Fria, walking hot and silent, despite the fact she could barely see it at times. There were obvious signs, such as ancient cobblestones surfacing from the black earth, but at other times there wasn't even an opening in the trees. Yasha discovered a talent for indicating the direction she should go without saying a word to her, and these little games were surprisingly entertaining. He knew he had an effect on her, but watching it turn her in circles was satisfying, especially when she moved in exactly the direction he wanted her to go.

He knew that would come in handy soon.

In time, she realized it didn't bother her that he was walking behind her. It wasn't because she trusted him, but because she was tired of looking at his back as he silently marched along. Why that bothered her, she didn't know, but she had felt her mood growing more irritated as they went on, just by him being nearby. She still didn't understand the part of her that furiously sought his death, but even less so the part of her that dwelt upon him in spite of how fiercely she tried to push him from her thoughts.

Even without him in her sight, she continued to roll him around in her mind.

He's just a criminal. He's filthy, like an animal.

He took Anna and tried to kill you. If you give him the chance, he'll show his true nature.

There's no reason to trust him.

But why is this silence between us so heavy?

It was that silence that allowed something to slowly rise up in her, though it was so subtle that she barely even noticed it at all. At first, it was like whispers in the trees, or a thought that escaped her and came circling back like an innocent suggestion. Every step they took towards Fria made it worse, to the point where she could no longer ignore it. It was tied to the frightening feelings she felt every time she faced his magic, or used her own against him, and it was that extraordinary origin that made her skin bead with sweat, and her breath clutch in her throat.

The haze obeyed its murmur.

Her fear fed off its whine.

After letting it grow in her head and in her chest, she suddenly found it was no longer a whisper, but a voice screaming over everything else, yet she still had no idea where it was coming from, or even what it was saying.

Without warning she came to a stop, her posture frigid and her body tense. He noted her abrupt movement and watched her familiar braid whipping around as she searched the forest around them, her hands clawed at her sides. He didn't think much of it and moved to show her the way, though she didn't stumble forward as he drew near as was their game. His brows rose at her abnormal pace and the proximity she was suddenly allowing, wondering if this was just a new twist on the game. "The path lies forward," he said, expecting her to move on, even when she didn't. Now thinking she might be tired of leading, he rolled his eyes and walked past her, intending to lead on, but a sideward glance to her face made an overpowering alarm shoot through him and before he knew it, he had leapt back from her, his body tightened and his eyes alight. He didn't even realize that his hand had moved to the handle of his dagger, but he was poised to defend himself from her, yet he had no idea why.

All he knew was he suddenly felt like she was the most dangerous thing in his world.

Elsa was staring forward, her hands now clutching her arms and her body shivering uncontrollably. Her lips were blue and hanging open, and there was the most beautiful ring of turquoise glowing brightly in her eyes. Vaporous breaths were puffing from her lips and small particles of ice circled her, though they had no effect on the air or ground nearby. The air was electric between them, with neither of them fully conscious of the reason.

Her possessed eyes stared forward, distant and alluring.

"Can you hear it?" she whispered.

Her voice sent tremors through him and he tried to dissolve his tension. His hand gripped his dagger tightly, its black blade pulled slightly from the sheath, even though he wasn't trying to draw it. Pale orange was fading in and out of his eyes, and they moved around to try and discover what she was referring to, yet the forest was silent and they were alone. Her possessed mood only fueled the anxiety he felt at the sight of her eyes.

"I hear nothing," he answered.

"Whispers," she said weakly, her legs feeling like they would give out from under her if she were to let them. Her brow was crushed by the whispers and her lips drew back into a painful grimace as she tried to understand what was happening to her. "Whispers, but no voice. Words, without words. What is this?"

His eyes widened. While her comments appeared to make little sense, they resonated with him and he no longer searched the area around them, for he had conquered her riddles and understood her cryptic remarks. His attention was solely on her and his eyes revealed his disbelief.

"It is the FireHeart you hear," he gasped, "But why?"

"It's too loud. I…I can't hear anything else," she groaned, her face twisting in pain. The overwhelming crash of the whispers made her drop to her knees, unable to control how badly her body was shivering and how terrified she was of the unnatural feelings that were washing over her. "So cold. How can it be so cold?" With her affinity to ice, she had never known such cold, and that alien feeling was the most terrifying thing of all. It felt as if she would freeze there, unable to move from that place and forever stay there as a prisoner of this terrible presence. It was fear like she had never felt, and she wanted anyone to come and banish this terror from her heart.

Anyone.

As she collapsed into a fit, Yasha had no idea what was going on. Everything she was describing was like the constant drone of the FireHeart's will that he had always known, but he had never felt the cold she described. In fact, it had always been an inferno to him, poignantly heated to one who never felt the pain of fire. He suspected it had something to do with her magic, but he had no knowledge of any other magic aside from his own and he couldn't imagine why it would cause this reaction, much less why she could hear it in the first place.

He was starting to feel as panicked as she was.

Dismissing the alarm he felt and seeing her doubled over in terror, he suddenly rushed forward and slid to his knees before her, gripping her shoulders tightly. Just touching her sent a wave of ice surging up his arms, making him groan, and his own magic began to rage inside. It raged almost out of his control, but he managed to push back her ice with his fire, making it burst into a steamy cloud around them. Keeping the ice at bay required a great deal of his strength and he was relieved his encounter with Nazir had invigorated him, though he still had no idea what had seized her. Whatever she was feeling and whatever was fueling her attack, it was like a void around her, and threatened to drag him in and crush him, but at the same time tried to push him away like a great icy wind.

The only place it didn't seem to want him was right in front of her.

Elsa was still racked with pain and fear, and she stared helplessly at him, her voice no longer working. Even though they had nothing but fire and ice between them, she would accept help from any that could offer it, if only because her desperation demanded it. They were both struggling against this possession together, but he showed that he wouldn't let it consume her completely, for his eyes were on hers with fearsome resolve and power.

"Stillness. Breath. Balance. Control."

Not understanding and barely hearing his voice, she continued to breathe erratically. He anchored her with his fierce gaze and steady voice. "Focus! The will of the FireHeart is a powerful thing, but it cannot control you if you do not let it. Resist, or it will consume you," he yelled. She could still barely hear him and it was as if her second self was taking control, much as she silently slipped away to slumber earlier under the tree. This feeling was also like when she had fought with him and her memories became blurry. There were strange echoes amongst the whispers and she could almost make out two voices, though the other was far more seductive and distant. It was that voice that truly pierced her heart and made the unbearable cold creep over her. The ice crawling under her skin was almost too much to bear.

"Stillness," repeated a voice as it managed to break through the haze strangling her mind, and she reached for it with all of her heart.

"Stillness," she whispered back.

"Breath," he continued and she was able to repeat it as well.

"Balance. Control," he finished, his hands holding her trembling shoulders still. He was using his breathing to tie her to him, taking deep breaths and letting them out slowly. With great difficulty, she managed to follow his lead and felt the panic in her seeping away as he came back into focus, though the overwhelming whispers didn't fade out completely.

With great effort, the turquoise rings in her eyes faded and she was able to calm down, though she couldn't move from him and felt as if all of her strength had once more left her. "Control," she wheezed, her hands clawing out to catch his arms and her head leaning helplessly against his chest. Exhausted and panting, their embrace was a stark contrast to the hostility that had been between them from the beginning, but Elsa couldn't spare any strength to be repulsed. There was no choice but to hold to him in support, and she felt as if she could slip back under that dark blanket in her mind at any moment.

"Continue to breathe. Find solace in the rhythm. The whispers may only become stronger as we approach Fria. You must learn to temper the will of the Heart, for it never goes away, and it pays no heed to weakness or relapse," he cautioned her, allowing her to cling to him as they knelt before one another. "You must get stronger."

She slowly rolled her head against him and listened to the sound of his voice. "Is it always like this?" she panted weakly.

Her contact was making it difficult for him to concentrate and he suddenly became aware of the sensations of having a woman so close. He was having trouble thinking of what to do with his hands, his eyes and his mouth. "That is…difficult to answer. I have known the Heart since birth, so have had a lifetime to manage its call. For you, I can only imagine how difficult it is to have it bear down upon you all at once," he replied, not hiding his respect for her.

"Your strength is admirable."

She clutched his arms a bit tighter, her head pressed in tight. Her breathing calmed, but there were strange tears running down her cheeks, not as liquid water, but as icy droplets that left frozen trails in their wake. Her magic was still playing tricks on her. "I can't even describe it," she admitted, not even daring to examine the presence of the other voice, the one that truly touched her. Hearing the will of the FireHeart had been frightening enough, but it was the other that felt intimately connected to her own heart and the icy powers that flowed through her. While she desperately wanted to know more about that ghostly presence, it frightened her too much to even try to remember the haunting images that she swore she had seen in the back of her eyes.

She wouldn't even mention it to him.

Yasha's expression was tense. He had never expected her to sense the FireHeart in such a way, and for it to affect her so strongly meant there was more to their magic than he suspected. Some kind of connection. It made moving forward dangerous, though he also knew there was no option of turning back. He simply had to help her deal with it as best he could.

"As a child, when I would feel overwhelmed by the Heart's will, I spoke the words to calm me," he explained, taking a deep breath, "Stillness. Breath. Balance. Control. Mother always said these words could tame the Heart and bring clarity to madness. It was the only way I could manage its call."

She slowly looked up at him. "Your mother?" she asked, finding it strange that he had suddenly opened up about himself and the way his eyes seemed different when he mentioned her. Hearing that he also had a parent that had counseled him made her not hate being so close to him after all, and her mind was going back to those days when her father would slip the soft gloves over her hands, teaching her to control her power, but always looking at her with love in his eyes and a kind smile.

It seemed they shared something in common after all.

Yasha winced. He had no idea why he mentioned his mother, but when he realized the slip, it made a wave of anger wash over him, though it was directed at himself. Her vulnerable face was close and he could see the unrest in her eyes. Unlike his playful banter with Anna, he found managing this illicit attraction to Elsa to be far more challenging than could be handled with some idle banter and a few awkward moments.

He realized his thoughts for her were of a different shade and temperature.

"The words will help, but it is you who must resist the Heart," he abruptly said, leaning back from her and retreating to his feet, "Resist it, Snow Queen, or our journey will be for naught."

The loss of her support made her lurch forward, but she had regained enough of her strength to sit straight. The quick change in his attitude made her realize that he wasn't going to open up to her so easily. As much as she wanted to know more about him and how he had dealt with the will of the FireHeart, she decided to let him have his past and not intrude. Instead, she clutched her hands over her heart and felt the calming effects of his chanted words, and she planned on using them any time the will of the FireHeart became too much to bear.

At the very least, she could hold onto the glimmer of compassion she had finally found in him.

"Elsa," she said, looking up to him, "My name is Elsa."

The reminder made him wince, for there was much power in a name and 'Snow Queen' was a title she had little affection for. As insignificant as it seemed, she strangely wanted to hear him call her by her name and get past the coldness of titles. Though his expression showed he wasn't comfortable with it, it didn't diminish the fact that he had been the one to help her fight away the darkness, and a soft smile tugged at her lips.

"And thank you. For helping me."

"I did nothing. It was you who found the strength," he replied coldly to her warming mood.

Disappointed he wouldn't use her name, she continued to gaze up at him and hope that somehow they would get past the tension between them, even though it had been her that had been so defensive before. "Maybe, but thank you anyway," she said, not giving him a break from her eyes. Had she known just a glance would bother him so, she mused that she could have ended their previous fight without throwing as much as a single snowball. Inwardly, she found she enjoyed the little things that upset him.

In that lonely forest with not a soul in sight, they both felt the pulse of the connection that the FireHeart afforded them, even if it was a terrifying thing. There remained so many questions, and neither of them seemed to understand it completely, but it gave them a common cause and allowed them to understand one small piece of one another, and that was far more than they had before, when all they had was conflict and cause.

The FireHeart had become their quest, but also their bond.

Suffering the force of her gaze, he visibly relaxed and let out a slow breath, trying to navigate this new atmosphere, then shifted his stance and tempered the fire in his eyes. Suddenly, he found his defenses weren't so powerful against her. "Can you stand?" he asked, his voice reluctant but his hand extended out to her in a curiously familiar scene. Her fingers twitched in the lap of her dress, but she continued to look up to his gray eyes, finding that she no longer feared their color, but felt somewhat fond of them. Unlike before, there wasn't a lucid repulsion at his offer. It was difficult to understand why all of the animosity between them had fallen away and that they were strangely more at ease, but the air had changed and things were calmer and more intimate. Before her encounter with the will of the FireHeart, she wouldn't even consider taking his hand, or seeing him for anything more than the criminal he had been, yet now she was starting to believe what Anna had told her of a better man within him.

Setting aside all of the wicked things he had done, she wondered who he really was.

Not speaking, she slowly reached up and slipped her hand into his, wondering if he was somehow making the fire burn across her neck, and felt his strong pull as he helped her to her feet. They stood there for a moment, hand in hand, eyes locked and mouths unneeded. Their minds were no longer thinking of distance and pace, while their hearts were still beating faster. With a quiet forest and starry sky around them, they were lost in the ambiance of finding someone who shared something special, be it magic or fate, and precedent had no claim over those few moments when they could just gaze at one another and wonder if the other felt the same chill prickling across their skin.

Neither of them were brave enough to ask.

"I've been looking for you guys forever! Are you even following the path to…" called another voice, suddenly intruding on them. Sid had finally returned from the quiet task assigned to her by Yasha, though the scene she came upon made the fire sprite stall in the air and flare up madly. Seeing him holding hands with Elsa and the forlorn look in their eyes sent her into a raging fit and the usual colors of red and orange suddenly began to bleach blue.

"You better be looking for a finger of hers to break!"

The two of them looked to her, unsure of the reason for her outburst and both mirroring a strangely confused expression. Only after a moment did Yasha realize he was still holding Elsa's hand and he quickly retreated from her, using that hand to push his hair back and hide the embarrassment he felt. She also quickly pressed her hands into her waist and looked to the side, acting as if she had just been caught whispering secrets in the ballroom.

Sid heaved in anger. Their reactions made it even more aggravating. "Oh, don't even try to hide it. I go away for a few hours and you two start knitting baby clothes!" she hissed, and the suggestion made the two of them fidget even more.

"Sid, I believe you are mistaken. I would not afford such thoughts for this unstable woman," he said, trying to reclaim his previous candor and reaching back to how brutally she had reacted to him when they first had met.

Elsa scoffed at his sudden turnaround and glared at him, crossing her arms over her chest. "Excuse me? Unstable? How can you even think I would consider such a thing with you? Just the very idea makes my skin crawl. I'd never consider...that with some shady criminal that goes around kidnapping young women and sneaking them out of their dresses," she stuttered, flustered by the insinuation and waving off the subject, along with the ruddy glow on her cheeks.

He reacted to her with a wordless scoff, then looked back to Sid, who was still obviously ruffled by their newly-found affection. Ever the pragmatist, he decided to change the subject and spare the both of them the awkward atmosphere by trying to move forward in their path, mostly because he had no clear retort to either of them.

"Did you succeed in your task?" he asked.

The sprite huffed and crossed her arms, turning her back on him and continuing to burn hotly at their responses. She didn't answer.

"Sid," he pressed, trying to look stern.

The sprite was never able to deny him, or stay mad for too long, though this situation stretched her patience to a razor's edge. Still, his gaze always cut through her tantrums and made her succumb to the overwhelming devotion she had. "Ugh, fine. The captain of the watch said you can do as you please, including entering the Scoria Chamber. They won't interfere," she reported.

He seemed relieved, by both the news and change of pace, but Elsa's anxiety instantly rose and her eyes flashed at him. "They know we're coming?" she asked, suspecting him for his secrets.

"Not all of them," he replied, looking to her with a practiced expression, "Truthfully, this will not be my first time home since being in exile, and there are some in Fria that ignore my presence when they see me," he continued, watching her suspicions rise, "But sneaking around in the shadows and putting others in danger is not home. Some guards will tolerate us, others will not. Our caution remains the same."

Elsa pursed her lips. With their new affinity churning though her chest, she wanted to trust him more, but there was something in his eyes that warned her, and told her he was still not telling her everything. It made that trust difficult to find. "You're hiding something from me," she said, watching his eyes grow darker. It was all the admission she needed and she took a deep breath. Stepping closer to him, she placed her hand across his arm and watched the way it affected him, making his practiced exterior buckle. Now that she knew how to bother him, she wouldn't give up that advantage. "If your secrets are dangerous, it'll be that much harder for me to trust you, Yasha, and I do want to trust you," she said calmly, watching him squirm under her attention, "This doesn't have to be a battle anymore. I've already decided to help you and your people, so if you finally decide that you want to trust me too, I'll listen to anything you have to say."

For the first time since they met, he met her expectations when he winced at her offer, giving up far more than could be said with words. Under all of the masks, he appeared to be the type of man she thought he was, something that strangely relieved her. Without giving him a chance to respond, she walked past him, letting her hand slip from his arm slowly. Her touch left him tense and struggling under the burden she had revealed, the weight of all his deceptions and ulterior motives. He couldn't help but look after her, far differently than before. In retrospect, he realized that his true crime was handling her like a pawn across the tragic board he played, and that realization hit him particularly hard.

Struck by her, he realized for the first time that she was no pawn in his fated game, but a queen.

"The next time she gets that close, I'm going to burn off her eyebrows," Sid seethed as she floated up next to him, watching her follow the path to Fria with a new bearing. Elsa's shoulders were squared and her head was held high. It was the posture of confidence and it annoyed Sid greatly. Yasha watched her as well, but was silent. Dangerous secrets were the only thing he had in excess, but that made it no easier to hide them from her. Time was running out for him, and there was no margin for error in dealing with Nazir and the FireHeart.

And there was no more underestimating the Snow Queen.

Without a word, he set off after her, struggling to match her pace and disturbed at her honest offer. He didn't know where her new confidence came from, especially after her first encounter with the will of the FireHeart, but it inspired him to follow and keep her in sight. Secretly, he was tempted to take up her offer and suffer any punishment she would have for his lies, deceit and manipulations. Whatever punishment that might be seemed tame compared the guilt he was feeling at not being able to treat her with the respect he now felt she deserved, and by continuing to hide what he truly was.

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