It was finally December 21, Elsa's birthday, and the sisters had spent almost every single minute together since Elsa first woke up. As soon as Elsa was awake, Anna already gave her the first of many gifts, which turned out to be specially-made imported chocolates. They shared a special birthday breakfast at the castle that included chocolate chip pancakes with chocolate milk, and Anna gave Elsa another of her gifts as soon as they finished eating, which turned out to be a beautiful silver diamond choker necklace that also contained hints of light blue that made Elsa's crystal blue eyes pop. After breakfast, the sisters went for a short ride on their horses into the naturally-snowy forest for some sister bonding time, which mostly consisted of building snowmen, brutal snowball fights, and ice-skating. Once lunch time came around, Elsa and Anna attended a surprise birthday celebration in town provided by the citizens of Arendelle. The rest of the afternoon was spent in town socializing with the villagers, entertaining the children with Elsa's powers, and feasting on soup, roast, and ice cream. By early evening, the sisters had to return to the castle to prepare for Elsa's birthday ball that was to begin at nightfall.
"Come on, Kristoff! It's almost time!" Anna was hurrying down the hallway while practically dragging the ice harvester along with her to Elsa's bedroom.
Kristoff chuckled, "Anna, slow down! I'm pretty sure your sister won't leave without you."
Anna slowed down to a brisk walk, "I just want everything to be perfect, if all goes well, Elsa might finally meet the man of her dreams tonight! Then she can stop being so depressed all the time."
"I don't think Elsa's been depressed…she actually seems to be doing really well given the situation." Kristoff stopped walking and faced Anna, "Wait, what do you mean that she'll meet the man of her dreams? I thought you just invited to usual dignitaries for tonight?"
Anna clasped her hands behind her back and anxiously rocked back and forth, "Well, as far as Elsa knows, I did invite them. Which I did…but I may or may not have also invited plenty of available suitors too."
Kristoff put his hands on her shoulders and gave her a concerned look, "Won't that make her feel extremely uncomfortable and vulnerable? She hasn't exposed her ice powers to these suitors yet, so she'll be back in the same situation she was in during her coronation. And we all know how well that turned out."
Anna put her hands on his arms and smiled, "Kristoff, just trust me. Elsa's different now, she doesn't fear her powers anymore…she's in control."
Kristoff let go of her and they continued walking, "Oh Anna, I sure hope you know what you're doing."
Anna scoffed, "Don't worry, Kristoff, everything will turn out fine."
Kristoff rolled his eyes, "Where have I heard that before…"
As they approached Elsa's bedroom door, Anna stuck out her tongue at him and knocked, "Elsa? Are you decent?"
It was quiet for a few seconds before Anna heard her sister's faint voice, "Come in, Anna."
Anna excitedly opened the door and skipped inside, "How's the birthday girl doing?" Her mouth dropped when she saw her sister sitting on her bed with her robe still on and a worried look on her face, "Elsa! You're not even dressed! What's wrong?"
Elsa sighed, "Do you realize that this is my first time facing the dignitaries since my coronation party? What if something goes wrong again?"
Anna scurried onto the bed, beside her sister, "Elsa, I think that you and I can both agree that your coronation party was less than what we hoped for…but if you think about it, nothing can go worse than that. So, if I were you, I'd put on my best dress, strut into that ballroom and have the time of my life! You only get to turn twenty-two once in your life, and who knows, maybe the future King of Arendelle is somewhere in that ballroom."
Elsa smirked, "I doubt it…most of the dignitaries are married." She stood up and went over to her wardrobe, "That's actually quite a relief, not having to worry about impressing any suitors this evening."
Kristoff, who was standing in the doorway, cleared his throat and threw Anna one of his infamous 'I-told-you-so' looks. Anna nervously bit her lip, "Well, I mean there's always a chance that there'll be at least one young suitor in that room…"
Elsa pulled out her new dress, which was another gift from Anna, and laid it out on the bed, "Yeah, I suppose you're right. But one or two suitors are a whole lot better than a room full of them."
Anna jumped off the bed and went to the doorway to shoo Kristoff out, "Well, that wouldn't be so bad either…an entire ballroom filled with young, attractive suitors. Now that sounds like a party I would want to be at!"
Kristoff crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow at her, "Ahem…"
Anna blushed, "I mean, that sounds like a party I would want to be at if I was single and totally not in love with another man." She gave him a quick kiss on the cheek and shut the door.
Elsa started to change, "Why are you putting so much pressure on me finding a husband tonight?"
Anna helped Elsa put on her dress, "Because I just want you to be happy, Elsa."
After they finished buttoning the dress, Elsa turned to her sister and smiled, "I am happy, Anna. Seeing you smiling everyday and knowing that you are safe and well taken care of, makes me happy. Knowing that Arendelle is prospering and the citizens are pleased, makes me happy. Knowing that I'm accepted for who I am and not having to fear my powers make me happy. I don't need a husband to make me happy. I'm very content with my life, as is."
Anna handed Elsa her crown, "Are you sure you're not lonely? Because if you are..."
Elsa put on her crown and walked over to the door, "Anna, I'm fine, really."
The two sisters stepped out of the room and headed towards the ballroom, "Okay…well then I should probably give you a heads up and tell you that-"
"Oh my goodness!" Elsa noticed how dark it was outside and started to walk faster, "I'm late! We're late! We don't want to keep everyone waiting…"
The two sisters came to the door that Anna would be entering through, "Elsa, I insist-"
Elsa gave Anna a quick hug and hurried down the hallway to the other entrance, on the other side of the ballroom, "I'll see you in there, okay? Thanks for the pep talk, sis."
Anna slumped towards Kristoff, who was waiting by her entrance, "Did you tell her?"
Anna sighed, "I tried…" She reached behind her back and pulled out two objects, "Just in case something goes wrong, though. I managed to grab a pair of gloves."
Kristoff shook his head and gave her a wary look, "Anna-"
Anna handed the gloves to Kristoff, "In a worst case scenario, these might seem like a security blanket to her."
Kristoff tucked them into his jacket, "Or handcuffs…"
Anna crossed her arms, "You know, you do a terrible job in trying to comfort me. I know I messed up okay, I already feel bad enough without you rubbing it in."
Kristoff put his hands on her shoulders and gently rubbed his hands up and down her arms, "Anna, I'm sorry. You're right, you messed up…" He held both of her hands in his, "But you and I are in this together so we're going to make sure that absolutely nothing goes wrong tonight. Let it be our job to keep a close eye on your sister and if need be, we can either give her the gloves or get her out of the public eye."
Anna leaned back against the wall, "Thanks, Kristoff, I know you didn't sign up for any of this-"
Kristoff took a step closer to her and held her face in his hands, "Anna, when I chose to be with you, I also chose to sign up for whatever craziness you would throw at me. I knew what I was getting myself into and that's one of the things that I love about you, you keep things interesting."
Anna smiled, "Have I told you how much I love you?"
Kristoff smirked, "No."
Anna furrowed her brows, "Really? Because I'm pretty sure that-"
Kristoff interrupted her with a light gentle kiss, "Sometimes you talk too much."
As he leaned in again, Anna giggled, "Do I?" This time their kiss was one of passion and young love. Anna threw her hands around his neck as Kristoff placed a hand on the nape of her neck and the other arm around her waist. When they pulled apart, they could hear Kai inside the ballroom, beginning to make the introductions. Anna disappointingly sighed, "The ball's about to begin, you should go…I'll meet you inside."
Kristoff kissed the top of her hand and bowed, "Your Highness." She giggled as she watched him walk down the hallway.
Anna turned toward the door when she heard the trumpet blasts and quickly fixed her appearance. In a matter of seconds, the double doors opened and Anna stepped into the ballroom as Kai announced her name and title. She politely smiled at all the dignitaries and suitors as she made her way to the front of the room and stood in the place that she stood during Elsa's coronation party. She took in a deep breath when Kai announced her sister's name and title. The double doors opened revealing a beautiful young woman with a long light blue dress that looked similar to her ice dress. Elsa stepped into the ballroom and looked around the room, taking note of the young suitors. Anna held her breath as she watched her sister politely smile and regally walk to her spot beside Anna without even a hint of surprise or fear. Wow…she's better at hiding her emotions than I thought. Anna quickly scanned the room for a familiar face, and smiled when she saw Kristoff standing against the wall, looking right at her with a smile on his face too. Once the music began to play again, Elsa subtly whispered to her sister, "Did you forget to tell me something?"
Anna started to wring her hands, "Aha…in my defense I tried to tell you before we went our separate ways."
Elsa's face softened, "Was that what you were trying to tell me? I'm sorry, Anna…I should have listened to you."
"So you're not mad?"
Elsa smiled, "No, I know you meant well…" She scanned the room, "Besides you probably invited all these suitors before I told you that I was happy being single. I understand your intentions, and since we cleared everything up, I guess I'll just have to grin and bear it."
Anna let out a sigh of relief, "Thanks, Elsa, you're the best…Oh and while I'm at it, I should warn you about one last thing-"
The music ended and Kai stood in front of the sisters, "As a part of tradition, if a member of the royal family is not being courted by a suitor, she must partake in the custom of dancing with every available suitor in attendance before the end of her birthday ball."
Elsa's eyes widened ever so slightly, "Wait, what?"
Anna noticed the slight drop in temperature and quickly faked a series of subtle coughs, "Elsa, I need to talk to you…alone." Anna grabbed her sister's hand and hurried out of the ballroom. Once they were alone in the hallway, Anna guiltily looked at Elsa, "That's what I was going to warn you about."
Elsa's expression was a mixture of fear and confusion, "I didn't even know that was tradition…"
Anna held Elsa's hands, "This is our first public birthday celebration…technically this tradition should have started once we turned eighteen but since, well you know, we haven't had the chance to partake in it until now."
Elsa nervously looked back at the ballroom doors, "So I have to dance with all those suitors? Every single one of them?"
Anna shrugged, "According to tradition…yes."
Elsa let go of Anna's hands and walked over to the window, "But I don't dance, I don't know how."
Anna jogged over to her, "Sure you do…you told me that Hans taught you back in Sperca."
Elsa placed her hands on the window sill, "Yeah, but…it was completely different. There were only four of us in a small parlor…not an audience of suitors and dignitaries in a large ballroom." Elsa noticed that she had begun freezing the window sill and quickly let go.
Anna looked at the ice, "You'll be fine, Elsa…I, uh, brought you a spare pair of gloves if you think you'll need them."
Elsa wore a hurt expression, "You didn't think I could control my powers?"
Anna tried to hold Elsa's hands, "No, I know you can, but I figured that if you got caught off guard, the gloves would seem reassuring."
Elsa jerked her hands away from her sister, "Well, if things went as we planned, then I wouldn't have to worry about getting caught off guard."
"But this was supposed to be a fun surprise- "
Elsa began to raise her voice in agitation, "Anna, I'm not you, I can't just have spontaneous surprises sprung on me. I have to know what to expect when I go into public, in order to prepare myself…unless I want to wear gloves for the rest of my life, which frankly I don't."
Anna remained quiet for a few seconds before she responded in a small voice, "Oh…I didn't think about it that way. I'm so sorry Elsa…but what are we going to do?"
Elsa let out a deep sigh, "Well, it's too late to send everyone home…where are my gloves?"
Anna looked down, "Kristoff has them…are you going to dance?"
Elsa walked over to Anna, "What other choice do I have?" She put an arm around her sister and smiled, "Besides, how bad can it be?"
Anna grinned, "I'll make it up to you, Elsa, I promise."
Elsa giggled, "No, no it's fine…I don't think I can handle any more of your surprises tonight. Is there anything else I should know about before going in?"
Anna gave Elsa a hug, "Nope…you're clear of surprises for the rest of the night. Good luck and have fun!"
As Elsa and Anna snuck back into the ballroom, Anna made eye contact with Kristoff and gave him a curt nod. He made his way towards the sisters and as Elsa passed him, he held out the gloves that Elsa slyly took from him without missing a beat. As Elsa put on her gloves, she made eye contact with Kai and gave him a reassuring smile, which in response, got him to stop the music and quiet down the guests, "Queen Elsa, may I present to you the first suitor, Prince Harold of Arsubia."
A tall, skinny man with jet black hair and dark brown eyes stepped forward and bowed, "Your Majesty, may I have this dance?"
Elsa withheld from groaning, as she just nodded and smiled, "Of course."
The music started up again as Harold and Elsa began to waltz around the ballroom. Harold looked around the room and smiled down at Elsa, "Don't look now but it seems like we've got ourselves an audience."
Elsa politely nodded without looking around, "Yes, it would seem that we do."
Harold studied her face, "Is everything alright, Queen Elsa?"
Elsa forced a smile, "Yes, everything is fine. Why do you ask?"
"When you left the room with Princess Anna, it seemed like something was wrong…"
Elsa cleared her throat, "No, I was just…nervous, that's all. I don't really get out that much, so naturally I found this whole thing slightly intimidating."
Harold smiled, "Don't worry, Queen Elsa…" He pressed his body closer to hers and began to slide his hand down her waist, "you're in safe hands."
Elsa widened her eyes and pushed him back at arm's length, "Okay, I think that we danced long enough…" Elsa turned to walk away, "plenty of suitors to meet before the night's over."
When she turned she came face-to-face to a tanned, fit man with dark brown hair and silvery blue eyes, "Your Majesty…Prince Benedict of Livonia, may I step in?"
"Yes!" Elsa cleared her throat, "I mean, of course Prince Benedict."
After Elsa politely bowed her head at Prince Harold she gratefully took Benedict's hand. Once they began to dance, Benedict gave Elsa a concerned look, "What did you think about Prince Harold?"
Elsa spoke slowly and carefully, "He seemed…concerned about my personal well-being."
Benedict smirked, "Really?" He looked over Elsa's shoulder, "He seemed a bit grabby to me."
Elsa giggled, "You noticed that too?"
Benedict looked back down at her and smiled, "That's the reason I stepped in when I did…I could see that you were beginning to feel uncomfortable."
Elsa smiled back at him, "Well, in that case, your timing is impeccable…thank you."
As they continued to dance, Elsa found herself liking Benedict more and more. He made her laugh, he made her smile, and she felt comfortable with him. Maybe Anna was right, he could be the one…he could be the future King of Arendelle. As soon as that thought popped in her head, a sinking feeling grew in the pit of her stomach. She knew exactly what that feeling was…extreme guilt. She lived with that feeling for thirteen years when she was growing up, and for the first time since the eternal winter, it was back.
Benedict seemed to notice the shift in her behavior, "Your Majesty, are you alright?"
The air seemed to thicken inside the ballroom and Elsa could feel her heart rate increasing to an unnatural pace, "I think I need to go outside and get some air."
Benedict followed the Queen towards the balcony, "Would you like some company?"
Elsa reached for the doorknob and turned to Benedict with a smile, "No, it's okay…I would like to be alone for a moment."
Benedict bowed, "As you wish."
Once Elsa stepped outside, she quickly closed the balcony doors behind her, grateful that nobody seemed to notice the Queen's hasty retreat. Elsa took a few deep breaths and took off her gloves, immediately feeling relief wash over her. She slowly walked over to the railing and sat down, looking up at the stars.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"What do you think about when you gaze up at the stars?"
"Usually my mother…I know she's looking down on me, watching me…you?"
"My parents…I always wondered that if they were still alive, would they approve of the person that I have become…"
"I don't see how they could be anything but proud of you, Elsa. You are a fine ruler, and an even better person."
"What about you?"
"What would your mother think of you if she was still alive?"
"If she was still alive, then I probably wouldn't have turned into the monster that I am…"
"The monster that you were…you've changed, Hans, for the better. "
"But is it enough to make up for what I did to you and Anna?"
"No…you still have a long ways to go, but you're on the right track."
"Thank you, Elsa."
"For thawing my frozen heart."
Elsa felt those same butterflies return as she let herself think back to that wonderful evening with Hans. As a few stray tears ran down her cheeks, she looked back up at the stars, "So, does that mean you're looking down on me now? Do you see how conflicted I am, Hans? As soon as I began to fall for you, you had to go do something heroic and get yourself killed. Now, I can't seem to get on with my life because I'm constantly thinking about you and what might have been for us. I admit I am lonely, but every time I try to meet someone new I always feel guilty…I feel like I'm cheating on you which is absolutely absurd because you're not coming back."
A kind male voice came from behind, "Queen Elsa?"
Elsa jumped and wiped away the tears, "Oh, it's just you William."
William closed the balcony door behind him and smirked, "Just me?"
Elsa shook her head, "Sorry, that came out wrong…"
William walked over to her and sat down beside her, "I was teasing, Your Majesty. Is everything alright?"
Elsa began to nod, but then shook her head and held her face in her hands, "No…I can't do this."
William raised his eyebrows, "Do what?"
"The dancing with the suitors…it makes me feel sick."
William chuckled, "Geez, don't tell them that."
Elsa sighed and looked down at her hands, "It's not because of them, it me…I'm just not ready to start looking at potential husbands. I don't even know if I will ever be ready…maybe I'm just not meant to get married."
William looked up at the stars, "Don't say that, you'll find that special someone someday."
A tear ran down Elsa's cheek, "I already did…and he's dead. By the cruel twisted turns of fate, he was taken away from me…"
William wiped away the tear and gave her a warm smile, "Well, maybe there was a loophole and he miraculously survived…" He dramatically stood up on the railing and pointed towards the fjord, "He could be on his way here as we speak!"
Elsa giggled at his dramatic antics but her expression became solemn again, "I'm not as lucky as Anna and Kristoff, Hans died under normal circumstances. There was no magic involved so I don't see how there could be a loophole for him."
"Queen Elsa, if I may…" William sat back down and took Elsa's hands, "I think the reason that you can't seem to move on with your life is because deep down, you feel like there's still a chance that he's alive. Your head is trying to be logical and realistic by telling you that he's not coming back, but your heart is thriving on the hope that he's not dead and he is coming back for you…hence, your feelings of guilt and confliction."
Elsa caught a hint of sadness in his eyes, "Are you speaking from experience?"
William quickly dropped her hands and looked away, "Let's just say that you're not the only one hoping that a special someone is still alive."
Elsa pondered his words until realization struck her, "Annaliese? Annaliese! You love Annaliese?!"
William ran his hand through his hair, "It's not something I'm proud of…it's rather indecent to long for a married woman, but she's just so kind and beautiful. I hope she's okay…"
Elsa felt relieved that she had finally found someone who was going through the same situation she was, she was finally not alone. She found someone who knew exactly what she was feeling and she knew that she couldn't let this man walk away, "Would you like to work here, on staff, at the castle?"
William looked at her with wide eyes and raised eyebrows, "Pardon?"
Elsa put on her professional face, "I have a job opening on my staff…would you be interested?"
William brightened up, "Absolutely! I've been worrying about what I was going to do with my life, since I can't go back home and there aren't very many job opportunities in my line of work. What's the position?"
"It would be a servant position, you would live here…room and board will be provided, of course."
William smiled his most charming smile, "I'll take it! Who am I to serve?"
"You will be serving me, as my personal male servant."
His expression faltered to one of uncertainty and remorse, "Hans's old position, correct?"
Elsa slowly nodded, "Yes."
William stood up and bowed to her, "Then I shall accept your job offer with great humility and gratitude. I will be sure not to replace him, but merely serve in his place until he returns."
Elsa shook her head, "He's not-"
William kissed the top of her hand, "Never give up hope, Queen Elsa…if the heart believes it then you should too. The heart knows more about itself than the brain knows about it, so when it comes to love, trust your heart."