Note: Followers of this fic might have gotten a few notifications. I had trouble uploading the chapters. It came out in code and it took me a while to figure this out. That shows just how long it's been since I've stepped into this site.
Anyway, I just wanted to thank anyone who will still read this after the long, long hiatus. It feels almost cathartic to finally see this through. And now, the concluding chapter...
Chapter 15: Elsa
It's another day. Hans is gone. The photos are gone. Everything's alright. The worst is over. Take a deep breath, Elsa. All of that is behind you now.
I had those thoughts on repeat the whole day, but I still couldn't shirk that uncomfortable feeling in the pit of my stomach. It's too easy. When has life ever been that easy. For Anna's sake though, I concealed this impending sense of doom I was overwhelmed with. I didn't want to bring down her optimism with my paranoid thoughts. We were in a good place after our talk last night and I sure as hell didn't want to ruin that.
How long has it been since I've allowed myself to be in an actual, serious relationship? Too long that it should be scare me, but with Anna, I suddenly don't feel fearful anymore. She's right. I should enjoy this while it lasts. Plus, on a whim, we decided to give ourselves a well-deserved break and head out of town that weekend and spend a few days away together. I just needed to stop by my apartment to pack my stuff for the short getaway.
I rushed up the elevator of my apartment while Anna waited in the car. Before I could fish out my keys, I realized something was amiss. My door was slightly ajar. I figured I probably didn't close it tightly when I left home yesterday. However, in my unreasonably distrustful state, I decided to shoot a text to Anna nonetheless, "Door was unlocked. Probably my mistake. But if I don't come down in 15 minutes, call security."
The apartment was exactly as I had left it. Nothing was out of place. I sniggered to myself and how this whole Hans thing has really messed with my mind. I started to quickly pack my bag and turned to leave when I realized a movement in the shadow.
"Who's there? Show yourself…"
"Hans? How are you…..alive?"
"So you heard about the fire. Well here I am, honey, back from the dead and ready for that money you owe me. You haven't forgotten about that have you?"
Was I seeing things? How could this be? He didn't even have burns on him.
"I thought you died, Hans. How did you escape?"
"Aww, did you get all choked up over my death? Must've thought all your troubles were behind you huh. Hate to break it to you, sweetheart, but I still have the photos and I still need the money."
"But…Anna told me those shady men burned your house down. We assumed they were the ones you owed money to, so why do you still need -"
"I'm not even going to question how your girlfriend knows about all that. The two of you are hot, but you're not very bright. They didn't burn my house down, Elsie! I did! I staged my death. Now I can start a whole new life somewhere far, far away like the Southern Isles or something. Look, I would love to sit here and share my plans for 'Hans 2.0' with you, but I'm afraid I haven't the time. So give me the money now and I will give you all copies of the photos and you'll never see me ever again" he scowled, waving an envelope in my face.
Hans was usually calm and collected. He wasn't now. I had never seen him so unkempt and so…jittery. I guess staging your own death and hiding from dangerous men will take its toll on you.
"OMG A GHOST!" Anna's voice broke through the tense apartment which made me turn to face the door.
"I'm not a ghost you dumb bitch!" shouted Hans as he grabbed my wrist and pulled me towards him. "Listen I'm tired of all this, and I'm tired of waiting, I need the cash NOW! Do you really want to lose everything you've worked so hard for, Elsie?"
"Let her go, Ghost of Hans! I've called security and they'll be up here in no time!" Anna closed in on us. She had grabbed the closest 'weapon' she could find, which unfortunately was the cushion pillow from my couch. What plans she had, I had no idea, but then again who ever knows with Anna.
Hans gripped my wrist even tighter. His eyes were locked on Anna. He waved the envelope with the incriminating photos of us in my face again. "Come on, Elsie. There's no other way out for you. Just give me whatever goddamned cash you have RIGHT NOW!"
I could feel the panic rising in me. No, not now. I cannot shut down right now. Everything was moving too quickly and yet so slowly at the same time. It was getting harder to breathe. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath.
I forced myself to remember that I was no longer afraid. I reminded myself of how it felt to tell my mother the truth, I reminded myself of how safe Anna makes me feel, I reminded myself of how I didn't care if the world knew. Everyone I love and care about knows and accepts me for who I am.
I accept me for who I am.
"Hans, I am not giving you the money," the calm in my voice was barely recognizable, especially to myself, "You can keep the photos. You have no power over me anymore. This 'secret' has no power over me. Do your worst. I'm done hiding and running away from who I am."
"Do you understand what I'm about to do to you..? Do you realize that I can ruin your reputation just like that? Just like that!"
"I know, Hans. I just don't care." This caught him off guard and I managed to pull my hand away from him.
The elevator dinged. Security must be here. Hans heard it too because his breathing quickened. His usually pale face became even paler.
"You'll be sorry for this, Elsie. You wait and see!" he threatened, the desperation palpable in his voice.
He barged out of the door and ran down the stairs. Anna pointed him to the guards and the chase was on for them.
I could finally let out the breath I didn't know I was holding but my legs had failed me and I found myself blindly reaching out for the couch, the table, anything I could rest my hands on to steady myself.
I did it. I actually fucking did it.
Anna saw this and ran to my side. She held on to me and led me to the couch.
"Elsa… are you… - what have you…? Are you sure about what you've done? I mean, we don't know if they'll catch him. And he still…he still has those photos of us. Elsa… I don't think he was bluffing with his threat."
I shut my eyes again. The past few minutes started replaying in my head over and over. "I know, Anna. And I wasn't bluffing either."
I'm free. Not just free of Hans and his stupid blackmail – I'm free of this fear that has plagued me ever since I was 11. I felt a rush of both relief and disbelief.
I opened my eyes to see a very worried Anna staring back at me. "Anna…I'm not afraid anymore because there's nothing to be afraid of. Did I do the right thing? I don't know. Will there be consequences? Probably. What's going to happen now? Who knows. What I know is, I love you and whatever comes next, we'll make it through it together. If you're still in this with me that is."
"Elsa…you silly thing. Of course I'm with you in this. I love you. And I also love how corny you've become suddenly. It makes me feel better about my cheesy self." She grinned.
"Shut up, you idiot and kiss me."