*Three weeks since the Great Thaw*
There was no doubt about it; the queen was miserable.
Her back ached from sitting hunched over her desk, her wrist burned from signing her name hundreds of times and she could feel the headache building behind her eyes, pulsating with each blink.
Elsa was so tired she could barely think straight. If she moved too quickly her head would swim and her stomach would churn so that each time she accidentally snapped her head up to check the time it was all she could do not to retch. She'd simply breathe deeply through her nose and grip the edge of her desk tightly as she rode out the nausea.
The queen had even been forced to start wearing her gloves again after freezing her morning tea when she was startled by Anna dropping her fork during breakfast. Elsa's powers had become infuriatingly erratic and even the gloves did little to help.
It was embarrassing.
Elsa found that the longer she went without a proper sleep, the more her concentration became increasingly frayed and the young queen knew she desperately needed rest. It had now been three weeks since the nightmares began and her strength was dwindling at an alarming rate, but her fear was too great.
Last night's terror had been particularly awful as she'd been forced to watch as her sister slowly froze to death. All the while, Anna kept asking why Elsa hated her so much, what had she done wrong? The blonde could only look on, screaming and crying, her own ice binding her feet to the ground.
Hans had then come at her from behind. She remembered the blinding pain as she'd looked down to find a blade protruding from her stomach, but even more vividly she remembered the fear. The fear that had coursed through her veins as he'd whispered, long live the queen.
Elsa unconsciously placed a hand to her abdomen where the sword had impaled her and shook her head, attempting to banish the horrifying images.
Elsa jumped in her seat, effectively icing her desk and almost snapping her writing quill in half.
"Bloody hell, Anna! Don't ever do that again!" she shouted rounding on the princess, whose playful grin quickly died at her sister's reaction.
Anna had never heard her sister swear before and she had never had Elsa glare at her as she did now, not even when they were estranged.
"Sorry Elsa, I didn't think- "
"That's right, you didn't think. I could have hurt someone!" she growled trying to will the ice away. When it refused to obey Elsa swore again, throwing her quill down angrily and shoving her body forcefully back in her chair. The woman closed her eyes and tried to focus on her breathing and not the pounding in her head.
Anna was hurt by her elder sister's words but tried not to take them to heart, she knew the queen was not well and silently scolded herself for sneaking up on her like that.
The redhead took a closer look at the woman seated before her; the blonde had dark circles under eyes and looked thinner than usual. Her usually flawless ivory skin had an almost greenish tinge to it.
"Elsa, are you okay?" she asked softly.
"I'm fine Anna," she replied unconvincingly, not opening her eyes.
"Are you sure? You don't look- "
"I said I'm fine!" Elsa snapped, opening her eyes and fixing the princess in her icy stare.
"I was only trying to help, you don't have to be rude," she bit back, becoming annoyed. "I'm just worried about you Elsa. You are working too hard and you haven't really slept in weeks. I also don't remember you eating anything at breakfast and I can see you haven't had any lunch," she said gesturing to the untouched tray of food across the room. In truth Elsa hadn't been eating for last few days, but she chose to keep that to herself. "Come on, you need to take a break," she said firmly before taking her older girl's arm in her hand.
Elsa quickly wrenched her arm free from her sister's grip, "I don't have time for a break, Anna. I have too much work to do. Unlike you, I have responsibilities," she said turning back to her desk and trying once again to summon the ice back to her.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Anna demanded angrily.
"It means," she said with a condescending air that caused Anna to bristle with indignation. "That while you get to run off with Kristoff and do as you please, I am trapped in this blasted room signing trade agreements until my fingers bleed," Elsa snarled before giving up on de-icing her desk and standing abruptly.
"That's not fair, Elsa. It isn't my fault I don't have the same responsibilities as you do. You're the Queen and I'm just the princess, remember," she shot back. "You're the one working yourself to death and you're the one who is too proud to let anyone help you, so don't take your frustration out on me."
"Well, maybe I wouldn't be so prone to snapping at you if didn't act like such a child all the time. Honestly Anna, don't you think you are a little old to be sneaking up on people," Elsa replied haughtily; it was enough to make Anna want to throw something at the woman.
"Oh well my apologies, Your Majesty," she drawled. "Not all of us can be as perfect as you."
Elsa scoffed at that. "Perfect. And exactly what about the Sorcerer Queen is perfect, hmm? The thirteen years spent fearing the day she'd accidentally kill someone because she sneezed too hard? Or is it the part where she was too weak to show her face at her own parent's funeral? Oh no, it must be the fact that she can barely look at herself without seeing the monster who almost murdered her own sister, right? So go ahead, Anna, tell me how I'm perfect, because I for one, don't see it," Elsa growled, each word dripping in distain.
"Don't talk to me like that, Elsa! Don't talk to me like you are the only one who has suffered the last thirteen years. You just started ignoring me out of the blue, with no explanation, and I thought it was because of me, because of something I'd done. Do you have any idea what that's like? I spent my entire life believing my only sister hated me!" Anna yelled, tears brimming in her eyes.
Elsa looked as if she'd been struck; how could Anna throw that back in her face? "I did all of that for you, Anna! To keep you safe, to protect you!"
"Oh and so that means everything I went through isn't important!?" she yelled, injured shoulder aching from her wild gesturing.
The two were now standing in the center of the large study facing each other; hands balled into fists and faces flushed in anger. Neither however, had noticed the dip in temperature and frost forming under Elsa's slippers. Or if they had, they were simply too mad to care.
Exhaustion forgotten and blood boiling, Elsa could feel her pulse pounding in her ears. The queen could not remember the last time she'd been this furious. She wanted to scream, she wanted to throw things, but most of all she wanted to stop. The royal sisters had never fought like this before and Elsa hated being angry with Anna, seeing the hurt on the girls face caused her physical pain. Elsa had not felt emotions this strong since the news of her parents death. It was overwhelming, all encompassing, and it threatened to consume her.
It was then that Elsa felt it; that familiar pull deep in her abdomen before she… shivered. Elsa was cold. And there was only one thing that caused Elsa to feel cold.
No. No, no, no, no! Not again, these were supposed to st… Oh God Anna!
"Anna, get out," she said eyes wide with terror.
"HOW DARE YOU!? DON'T YOU DARE TELL ME TO LEAVE! NOT AFTER EVERYTHING WE'VE BEEN THROUGH! DAMN IT ELSA, STOP PUSHING ME AWAY FOR ONCE IN YOUR LIFE," Anna roared, absolutely beside herself with fury.
"Anna, no. You- You don't understand. I'm having another epi- Ahhhhh!" Elsa cried, doubling over in pain as she fought to prevent her icy magic ripping from her body.
Anna watched in shock as the queen sank to her knees clutching her stomach, frost spreading quickly beneath her. For a few moments time seemed to stand still, the only sound coming from the blonde's laboured breathing. "Elsa?" she called timidly.
The queen's head shot up at her sister's voice and when their eyes met Anna felt her blood run cold. Her once beautiful cerulean eyes had clouded over to become a sharp, pure white that reflected the storm raging within. And Anna suddenly realized that very storm was about to burst forth, the dam that contained Elsa's power had broken and she was standing right in its path.
"GET OUT!" Elsa screamed once more, desperate to make Anna understand. She had to leave and she had to leave now. Elsa could feel the last of her control slipping away, and soon all the love in the world would not be able to save her sister from her magic's fury.
The princess hesitated for just a second, she wanted to run to her sister, hold her, tell her everything would be okay, but the panic on Elsa's face made her think twice. Anna locked eyes with the queen and tried to convey all of this to the woman before tearing her gaze away and bolting for the door.
The moment Elsa heard the door shut she knew she couldn't hold on any longer. She finally released the last remaining control she'd managed to keep up until now and tried to brace herself for what was coming.
Something inside her snapped and Elsa screamed.
Anna couldn't take it. Each time one of her sister's blood curdling screams reached her ears the princess could feel bile rising in her throat and fresh tears sprang to her eyes. The redhead was kneeling in front of the study trying not to fall apart, but it was becoming increasingly difficult the louder Elsa's cries became.
"ELSA?! Elsa, it is going to be okay! You are going to be fine! I'm right here, I'm right outside the door!" Anna sobbed. "You're so strong, so brave, you're going to be okay, Elsa!"
The princess whirled around at the unexpected voice to find Gerda standing behind her, worry etched in the lines of her thin face. At the sight of the woman who had been like a second mother to the royal sisters, Anna let out an anguished cry and ran into the matron's outstretched arms.
"Gerda, I don't know what to do, it's all my fault. She is in there all alone and she's -"
Another stomach churning scream interrupted the girl, causing Anna to squeeze her eyelids shut and bury her face into Gerda's chest. She could feel the older woman rubbing her back affectionately and hushing her softly, but it did little to stop the girl's trembling.
"She will be okay, princess. Our Elsa is a strong girl. I have witnessed a great deal of these and I'm afraid all we can do is wait," she soothed and griped Anna tighter when the queen cried out once more. What she had failed to mention however, was that in all the episodes Gerda had witnessed Elsa had never, not once, made a sound.
The pain that tore through Elsa's body was like nothing she had ever experienced before. It had hurt that day she learned of her parents death, oh yes, but it was nothing compared to this. Every muscle was straining to its limit with each powerful thrust of magic, to the point where she could feel things tearing. It felt as though someone was peeling back her skin layer by layer, flaying her alive, leaving every inch of her muscle and sinew exposed. Elsa'a flesh had become so unbelievably cold that her clothing froze stiff, cracking and splitting around the seams, rendering her immobile.
She was in such pure agony that it was quickly becoming too much to bare. Her power erupted from her body in waves and with each wave, her suffering rose to a new height.
Elsa had lost all concept of time; it could have been minutes, hours or even days. All she knew was pain, and when it seemed as though she would be driven mad with it, all at once it began to subside. The queen could have wept in relief, but the tears froze before they could fall. Every so often an aftershock would wrack her body but they were mere tickles compared to the torture she had just endured.
It was then she realized a voice was speaking to her. Without the immense pain clouding her senses Elsa was finally able to hear again.
"Elsa? Elsa, I am here," the voice called from somewhere far away. "You are going to be alright. I'm waiting just outside the door. Just focus on my voice and not the pain. You can get through this… I love you Elsa."
Anna. She is safe… She is safe… She is safe…
That was her last thought before Elsa slipped into nothingness.
It had been almost an hour since Elsa's screams fell silent and Anna was pacing in the hallway like a caged animal. The need to see to see her sister was overwhelming, like an itch she couldn't scratch, but the door was frozen shut and no amount of body slamming was going to open it.
"It must be thawed enough by now," Anna said looking to the crowd of people standing across from her.
Kai, along with Kristoff had joined Anna and Gerda when they heard the commotion. Some palace guards had come rushing in as well but they had been quickly sent away. Kristoff had done his best to comfort Anna but she is was in such distress that she couldn't sit still - then again the princess could barely keep still at the best of times.
The pleading look on Anna's face was enough to cause a tightening in Kristoff's chest.
"I'll try again," he said taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze before standing in front of the study door once more. Anchoring one foot to the floor the mountain man drove his heel into the wood with all his might. Leaning into the kick, the man took special care to aim as close to the lock as possible, where the concussion would be most effective.
The door shuddered under the force of Kristoff boot and tiny slivers of ice fell from the doorframe, dusting the carpet below.
Anna stepped forward, eyes hopeful. "Did it work?"
"Only one way to find out," Kristoff replied as he slowly pushed on the handle, gritting his teeth against the burning cold of the metal.
With a sharp tug, the door snapped opened stiffly and they were met with a wall of blisteringly cold air that almost took Anna's breath away. The princess cautiously stepped into the room and once her eyes adjusted to the dim lighting she gasped at what she found.
Elsa's study had become an arctic wasteland. Every square inch of the room was coated in thick layers of snow and ice. Paper and broken pieces of furniture lay strewn about the chamber, frozen to ground where they had fallen. Razor sharp icicles hung threateningly from the ceiling as if waiting to impale anyone who was foolish enough to pass beneath them.
Anna's eyes swept across the damage and eventually fell to the spot she had last seen her sister before fleeing to safety. Like the glistening fangs of some great beast, massive spines of ice rose up to form a perfect circle, and in its center lay the queen.
"Elsa!" Anna cried as she ran to unnervingly still form of her elder sister. The woman was lying in the fetal position caked in her own frost. It gave her an almost other-worldly appearance as her clothing, hair, and skin shimmered with the fine ice crystals. Looking closely at the blonde's face Anna could see tears frozen in the corners of Elsa's eyes, but at the same time the queen looked strangely peaceful, her lips even held the ghost of a smile.
"Elsa wake up! She isn't breathing! Oh God, Elsa please wake up!" the princess sobbed trying to take Elsa's head into her lap but the bitter cold bit at the skin on her hands causing Anna to yelp in pain.
"Don't touch her yet without the blankets dear, she'll still be too cold."
Gerda, Kai, and Kristoff were at her side in seconds. The two servants took the lead, having the most experience with this particular kind of situation while Kristoff held a frantic Anna. As Kai began layering Elsa in blankets Gerda placed her ear just above Elsa's slightly parted lips.
After a few agonizing seconds she sighed in relief, "She's breathing, but only just."
Kai nodded in response. "We need to get her out of this room; we need to get her warm."
Without hesitation Kristoff carefully scooped the queen into his arms despite the burning cold and stood, he was shocked to find how light she was. The fabric of her dress crunched under his touch and he was suddenly very glad for the blankets, as it felt as though some of the cloth had split from her body. Being mindful of the sharp spikes the Ice Harvester followed Anna as she led him to the queen's bedchamber.
The room quickly became a flurry of activity as everyone rushed to complete separate tasks. Kai started a roaring fire that heated the room to an almost uncomfortable degree. Kristoff had placed Elsa on her bed as gently as he could and then left to help the manservant find more blankets. Gerda and Anna struggled to strip Elsa of her icy clothes in order to dress her in something warm and dry. The handmaid then took a bowl of heated water and a wash cloth and began to dab at the woman's face and hair, helping to bring warmth back to Elsa's body.
"Here, let me," Anna said moving to her sister's side and sitting on the edge of the bed.
The older woman smiled before handing her the cloth. "I am going to make your sister some tea for when she wakes, call if you have need of me princess," she said making her way to the door. Anna gave her a small nod, not looking up as she dabbed at the queen's forehead.
Through all of the noise and jostling the queen did not wake. She had fallen into an incredibly deep sleep. It was almost like her body was somehow repairing itself. As Anna watched her sister's chest rise and fall steadily with each breath she felt all her resolve melt away and frustrated tears build up once again.
"Oh Elsa, I am so sorry, this is all my fault. I don't know what is wrong with me I just can't seem to stop messing everything up. First the coronation, now this? I knew you weren't doing well and I knew you were struggling with your powers because of it, but I pushed you anyway… I am so, so sorry," Anna whispered allowing the tears to spill from her eyes and brushing Elsa's bangs off her forehead.
Anna turned to find Kristoff standing behind her holding a few more blankets, which he placed at the foot of the bed.
"Anna, don't blame yourself for what happened. From what Kai told me, it was most likely the exhaustion more than anything else that caused this. It was going to happen one way or another, anyone could have set her off," he said gently, kneeing down in front of her and wiping away her tears.
The princess moved her head to look down at Elsa's peaceful expression. "But it wasn't anyone, it was me. I always seem to be the reason she loses control."
"But you are also the reason she is able to have any kind of control. Anna, you helped her learn to stop fearing herself, but from what you've told me her night terrors are bringing up a lot of old fears. You take that, combine it with the lack of sleep and it is no wonder she lost control. It's not your fault."
Smiling Anna pulled him into a tight hug that Kristoff eagerly returned. He hated when Anna belittled herself and wished she could see herself the way he saw her; beautiful, kind, fearless, smart, and above all, fiercely loyal to those she loved.
"Thank you," she said.
"Anytime freckles. Anytime."
Elsa slowly drifted in and out of consciousness. Throat raw, muscles aching, head pounding, and stomach churning, as she struggled to form proper thoughts. Her mind was sluggish and slow, so that when she finally opened her eyes it took a long time to process where she was. Eventually she was able to deduce that she was lying in her bed, in her room, but she had no idea when she got there or even how she got there. The last thing she remembered was feeling terrible and then she was fighting, fighting with…
A soft murmur caught her attention and she slowly turned her head in the direction of the noise. In a chair next to the bed sat a sleeping Anna; her head lolled to one side and Elsa glanced down to find one of her hands resting next to one of her own, as if she had tried holding Elsa's hand.
"Anna," she croaked, wincing at the pain in her throat. It felt as though she had swallowed broken glass.
The girl stirred but did not wake. Elsa tried again, a little louder this time. "Anna." When she still did not open her eyes, the queen reached out and took her sibling's hand in her own and gave it a firm squeeze, calling her name one more time.
"Hmm? Who is it?" Anna asked, eyes still shut.
"It's me sleepy head, wake up," Elsa said grinning.
Anna bolted upright so fast that she almost fell right out of her chair. "Elsa? Elsa you're awake! Oh thank God. I was so scared, I thought you might be-" she began before she choked on her sob.
"Shh, Shh. I'm alright, Anna. Just like you told me I would be," Elsa said smiling and pressed a hand to her sister's tear stained cheek.
The princess leaned into her chilly touch and place one of her own hands on top of Elsa's.
"How long have I been unconscious?" Elsa asked.
"Well it is… ," she glanced at the clock. "about 3:15 in the morning, so almost… 13 maybe 14 hours."
"What!" she exclaimed and attempted to sit upright but realized just how bad of an idea that was when a wave of nausea washed over her. Elsa had never moved so fast in her life and she only just made it to her chamber pot when she began to retch.
Her stomach was empty so all that came up was bile, the acid burning her already sore throat. At some point – she didn't know when – Anna came in behind her and helped hold her hair back while she heaved over and over again. Once she was done Elsa no longer felt sick to her stomach, but every muscle in her body was once again trembling with exhaustion and the pounding her head had increased tenfold.
Anna helped her get back into bed and wiped the sweat from her brow before picking up a tea cup from Elsa's bedside table. "Here, it might be cold now but Gerda said it will help with your headache," Anna said bringing the cup to her lips.
Elsa drank deeply, wincing at the flavour but feeling almost instant relief. Sighing contentedly the queen began to feel the beginnings of sleep creeping up on her. Her eyelids were becoming heavier with each passing second and she was finding it increasingly difficult to keep them open.
Anna could tell her sister was fading fast, so she crawled into the bed alongside the older woman and snuggled up next to her. "Go to sleep, Elsa. You are taking the day off… and that's an order," she commanded.
"Yes, Your Highness," Elsa yawned back, smiling and wrapping an arm around the girl's shoulders. Closing her eyes the blonde was simply too tired to think about everything that happened, and for the first time since her return, the queen had a peaceful, dreamless sleep.