A/N: Nope, you're not imagining things, I really am updating again. :P This one has been on my mind since I had the idea for the story and I was so excited to finally get to write it out. Now that it's done, part of me loves it and the other part is nit-picking everything because I'm worried I haven't it done it justice. But, I really hope you guys like it. And if you do and you can spare a minute to review, I'd love to know what you thought.
"Elsa?" Anna knocked on her sister's door. Again. It'd been four days since they learned of their parents' deaths and she had yet to see any sign of her. Elsa hadn't even attended their funeral. Anna pounded a little harder. "Come on, Els, this is getting ridiculous... Our parents are dead, the least you could do is come out for five minutes and act like my big sister for once in your life!"
The redhead looked over her shoulder to find Kai standing there with an uncomfortable look on his face. "I-I'm sorry for shouting, Kai," she turned away sheepishly.
"You're free to do as you wish, Your Highness," he smiled warmly. "If I may say so, though, your sister is having a rough time. Perhaps you could give her a little more time?"
"She's having a rough time?!" I can't believe this. He's defending her. "I'm fifteen and both of my parents are dead. And I have a sister who may as well be because I never see her! I am having a rough time, too!"
Kai nodded. "My apologies, Princess. I didn't mean to suggest otherwise."
Anna pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. "No, Kai. I'm sorry. I shouldn't be taking my frustrations out on you. I'm just... really stressed and I... I guess I'm just a little angry that Elsa doesn't need me as much as I need her."
"I don't know if that's entirely true, Your Highness."
Anna quirked a brow and gestured to the door. "She sure has a funny way of showing it, then."
"I'm sure she would if she could." Kai smiled again. "Good day, Princess Anna," he bowed and continued on down the hallway.
Anna stared at his retreating form until he turned around a corner.
Well that was cryptic.
Just like she'd done every day since she got the news, Anna climbed into her parents bed and curled beneath the covers and cried until her tear ducts were empty. She missed them so much, but she felt close to them there. And with the weight of the duvet wrapped around her, it almost felt like they were with her, hugging her.
Because I'm certainly not getting one from Elsa any time soon.
She stayed there a little longer before she decided it was time to get up or else she'd end up falling asleep. So she got down, slid her shoes on and stretched nice and tall with a big yawn.
When she opened her eyes, she caught sight of herself in the mirror over her mother's vanity.
I didn't even sleep and my hair is still a wreck! How is that even possible? She sighed and walked closer, trying her best to fix the tangles with her fingers. When it looked halfway decent, she started to step away, but she noticed something she'd never seen before. On the jeweled tray where her mother would set her combs and perfumes, there was a small loop of light blue ribbon.
Mama didn't use ribbons in her hair...
She picked it up carefully and found that it was attached to a silver key with an "E" engraved on it.
A key to Elsa's room, she realized. She slipped her hand through the loop; it was a perfect fit for wearing. Mama must have kept it tucked in her sleeve.
Anna thought for a moment about the key and what it meant now that she had it. I could finally see Elsa! But she quickly shook the idea out of her head. No, I can't do that. That wouldn't be right.
...But I do really want to see her. And who knows if she's ever going to come out of there on her own. She debated another second or two and then put the key under the cuff of her sleeve before she turned on her heel and marched out of the room.
"Okay, Elsa. I have a key, but I don't want to use it if I don't have to. So I'm giving you one more chance to open up or I swear I'm coming in!"
She lined up the key at the hole...
Slid it into the slot...
"I'm serious, Elsa."
And paused briefly. Fine.
Before she could change her mind, she pushed the handle down, threw open the door and stormed inside.
"Els—woah!" Her arms flailed as she slipped and fought to keep herself from falling on a patch of ice. What the—? "Elsa, why in the world is your room covered in all this ice?! I mean, I obviously know you made it with your magic, but why so much? I can't even see the walls!"
The blonde didn't have a response to that. In fact, she didn't even turn to acknowledge the girl's presence, she just sat curled up in the corner of her window seat looking out into the starry night.
Anna carefully made her way across the room, avoiding any other patches that were in her way. "Look, I... I just want to talk."
When she'd made it to Elsa and the girl still hadn't turned around, what little patience Anna had left at the moment had worn thin. She grabbed hold of her sister's arm and pulled her around to face her. "Hey!"
Elsa yelped and tried to scramble even farther into her corner, but she was already pressed as tight into the sides as physically possible. She whimpered a little and Anna immediately let go of her. Shoot, I didn't mean to squeeze that hard. I wasn't trying to hurt her.
The older girl darted away and went to curl up in a corner of her room instead.
She's acting like I... Oh no. Did I... I scared her?
"Oh gosh, Elsa. I'm sorry. I didn't mean to do that," Anna explained and she tentatively made her way over to her. "I mean, I kinda did but I didn't mean to hurt you. Or scare you. A-are you okay?"
Her sister shook her head, though the motion was so slight that she wasn't sure she'd really seen it or not. But Elsa didn't say a word, she just hugged her knees close to her chest and stared up at her with wide, watery blue eyes.
"Uh, Elsa? ...Are you all right, or not?"
She knew Elsa apparently had some issues with talking to her, but at a time like this, Anna figured she could push that aside long enough to have a simple conversation with her.
"Will you please talk to me? I said I was sorry!"
Still, she got no response, just more of that weird stare - like she was watching her so closely and at the same time, not seeing her at all. She was avoiding eye contact and seemed to be focused on... her mouth?
Anna groaned loudly, beyond frustrated. "What is WRONG with you?! Stop looking at me like that and just SAY something. You act like... like... like you can't even hear me!"
And then, Elsa was crying. She tucked her head into her arms and was making the most pitiful sobbing sounds that Anna had ever heard.
Nice job, Anna.
Even if her sister was driving her crazy right now, she didn't get any satisfaction from seeing her like this. And she hated knowing that she had somehow managed to upset her enough to be the cause of it.
Anna whirled around to find Gerda standing in the doorway, her wrinkled hands fiddled absently with her apron.
"Hear you. She... she can't. She's deaf." Gerda stepped closer and reached out to Anna sympathetically. "I know you're confused. And I promise we'll tell you everything, but please," she glanced over at Elsa, huddled in the corner, "just... give me a minute." Gerda strode past her and hurried across the room to where Elsa sat trembling. Anna watched dumbstruck as the housekeeper made a series of gestures to her sister until, finally, Elsa sniffled and nodded and let her help her to her feet. She immediately clung to the woman as she led her back to the window seat. "It's her favorite spot," Gerda explained offhandedly as they sat down. She kept an arm wrapped around Elsa's shoulders and with the other she patted the space beside her on the bench, "come, dear. Have a seat."
"She... She really can't hear?" Anna asked warily as she sat down. "Not even a little? Like, even if something was super loud?"
Gerda shook her head sadly. "No. Nothing at all."
Oh, Elsa... No wonder she looked so terrified, seeing me agitated with her like that... and hurting her. She had no clue what was going on.
"But I... I don't understand. She was fine before. How di—...How long has she...?"
"Since she was eight."
"Eight?" Anna could feel her eyes prickling and she was sure they had to have looked about as wide as salad plates. "But that was ten years ago. She hasn't been able to hear for ten years?"
Gerda didn't reply. She didn't have to - they both knew that - Anna wasn't really asking, she was just working things out, trying to makes sense of everything.
"That's such a long time." Anna could feel tears slipping down her own cheeks now, she wiped at where they were gathering under her jaw. "So... Does that mean she can't talk, either?"
"Well, no. She can talk, as in she's fully capable of it, but she chooses not to. There have been occasional slips over the years, though nothing more than a few sounds or syllables here and there that I've ever heard. She's extremely self-conscious about it. Understandably so."
That would explain some things. Like, a lot of things...
"How does she communicate, then?"
"We use sign language. Which is where you use your hands to make words."
"...That's what you were doing over there in the corner."
"What did you say?"
"I was just telling her that everything was okay. That I was here for her and that she was safe and there was nothing to be afraid of, that you just wanted to talk and understand. I asked her if she was ready for you to know everything."
"You can really say all that with just your hands?"
"Oh, yes. It really is a remarkable innovation. It's so much faster than writing back and forth to one another. Elsa hated that. She was so excited when she learned about signing, though, she said it almost made her feel normal again. It's a lot easier for her, at least with us - the ones who can sign, too. Me and Kai... And your parents, of course."
"I want to learn. As soon as possible."
"Of course, Your Highness."
It was quiet a little while; Anna gathering her thoughts, Gerda waiting, and Elsa, seemingly trying to blend into the background.
"Why didn't anyone ever tell me?" Anna asked finally. "I should have learned to sign when you all did. I should have known. I... I should have been there for her."
Seeing Elsa now, how her eyes blinked lazily at the hands that fidgeted in her lap - how easy it was to zone out when you were oblivious to a conversation, made Anna's heart break. It hurt her to think about how much of the last ten years Elsa spent in her own private world.
She must have felt so alone.
"How did it happen?" she asked softly.
Again, Gerda didn't say anything, but she did shift her gaze over to Elsa
"I think those are questions your sister would rather explain to you herself." Gerda turned to her other side - where Elsa sat with her head bowed - and gently clasped the girl's chin and tipped her head up until they'd made eye contact. "Are you ready to tell Anna about what happened?"
Elsa's face puckered; her lower tip quivered pitifully as tears once again welled in her eyes. But still, she nodded. Gerda pulled her close and kissed her forehead before releasing her and standing up. Elsa reached for her, she looked utterly petrified.
"Shh," she cooed. "I'm not going anywhere."
Gerda nudged Anna over slightly and then claimed the girl's previous spot - putting Anna in the middle and yet still staying within Elsa's line of sight.
Elsa visibly relaxed, just a little, and very, very slowly, she turned to face Anna. As soon as their eyes met, Elsa looked away. A few seconds passed before she lifted her hands and brought her nervous gaze back to the redhead.
"Do you remember the night when I accidentally hurt you with my powers?"
Anna heard Elsa's words via Gerda's mouth. It was strange and would take some getting used to, but she didn't want to make a big deal about it. She didn't want Elsa to feel bad, so she'd have to try to make the best of it.
"Yes, of course. How could I forget?" Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the housekeeper translating for her, signing along as Elsa watched. "It was the beginning of the worst part of my life."
Elsa flinched and went to stand up and, Anna guessed, to run away. She caught her mid-rise by her upper arms and jumped up to block her path. "No." Anna gently, but firmly pushed her back down. "Sit." When she believed that Elsa wouldn't take off, she crouched down in front of her and took her face in her hands. "It was the worst part of my life because that's when you stopped being in it."
Elsa stole a glance at Gerda's hands and when she turned back, she looked... mad? She opened her mouth like she wanted nothing more than to yell at her little sister right now, but she just snapped her jaw shut and growled.
Okay, that was way too cute. Anna fought back a smile. No! She's clearly upset. Serious face, Anna. Serious, serious, serious...
"But I hurt you!"
When I was five! "So?"
Elsa's eyes just about fell out of their sockets. She stood up, towering over Anna. "SO?" she signed angrily. "You were practically dead, Anna!"
"Els, sit down, will you? Seriously, I'm fine. See?" She got to her feet and gestured to herself. "I was fine as soon as Mama and Papa brought me to the trolls. The old one healed me and then I came home that night and woke up the next day and I was as good as new, except... Except you weren't there. They gave me a new room and... and... I guess that must have been when it happened?"
Anna took a deep, calming breath, things were starting to make sense, she just had to talk it out. "You must have been getting sick. That's why you didn't come to the trolls with us, right? Mama and Papa didn't want you to get worse. But then you got worse anyway and they didn't want us sharing a room so you didn't give me your germs." Anna frowned. "They told me that you weren't feeling well and that's why I couldn't even go see you, but they said that for weeks... If you were sick that long, it must have been pretty bad. But I guess it would have had to be if that's what made you lose your hearing. I've heard that some illnesses can cause hearing loss, but the person would have to be really, really sick."
She heard Gerda sigh. "Princess Anna..."
Elsa dropped her head and practically melted back onto the seat.
What's wrong now? I figured it out on my own, shouldn't they be happier? Unless... Unless I didn't figure it out. Anna looked helplessly at Gerda and sat back down. "I don't understand. Wasn't she sick? How else—"
"I did it to myself."
Anna blinked. "...What?"
"I wasn't sick, Anna. It was an accident. When I hurt you and Papa told me I had to stay here while they took you away... I was so afraid that you weren't coming back and I'd never see you again. That they were going to come home and say that you were dead and that it was all my fault... And they would have been right, it was my fault your life was in danger, so..."
Anna put her hand over Elsa's and gently pushed them down. "Elsa. No, that's not true."
Elsa pulled her arms away, knocking Anna's hand to the side. She wiped the tears from her eyes and cheeks and continued...
"The whole time you all were gone, I just kept hearing these thoughts: 'They'll hate you.', 'How could they ever love you again?', 'You deserve to be punished for what you did…'"
Clearly, recalling those thoughts so easily was evidence that even after all this time - ten long years - they still were as fresh and painful to Elsa as they were the day this all began. The thought of her sister being haunted in such a way made Anna sick. She couldn't imagine what it was like for her to live like that. Sure, Anna had ended up being all right, but Elsa didn't know that before those thoughts had already entered her mind. And they were dark and scarring and terrible things - to think you possessed something that had the potential to make someone you love think those things about you... Anna never thought about that before. She'd always thought of Elsa's powers as a gift, something beautiful and fun. Never would she have imagined that her sister's magic could bring anything other than happiness.
"They just kept coming and coming. Louder and angrier... I tried to cover my ears. I just wanted it to stop... It didn't work, though. The voices were in my head, so I couldn't get away... 'You killed your baby sister.'"
Elsa was sobbing so hard, her hands were shaking as she signed. Anna wanted to scoop her up and hold her, to reassure her that she was not dead, that she was here with her and always would be from now on. But she also knew that Elsa had to get everything out in the open so that she could move on, so that they could move on, together. Anna didn't want to do anything to jeopardize their healing, so she sat patiently and waited for her to go on.
"When it got to be too much, I guess I screamed - Gerda says it was the worst sound she's ever heard in her life..." She looked at the older woman and smiled apologetically. "That's the last thing I remember before I blacked out. When I woke up, my ears were throbbing. The pain was excruciating... I couldn't remember what had happened, so I didn't know what was wrong. I was dizzy and I couldn't move my head at all without feeling sick. Then I realized that I wasn't hearing anything so I tried hitting my ears, but it didn't help. I noticed that there was a bandage wrapped around my head. When I pulled it off there was blood where it covered my ears. I panicked. I tried to feel what was wrong with them, but someone was holding my arms down and I didn't know why. They weren't in my line of sight and with the pain and dizziness, it was hard to move, so I couldn't see who it was... I was so disoriented, I didn't know if someone was trying to hurt me or if they already did... It was all quite horrific, to be honest."
"I can't imagine," Anna mumbled.
"But then Mama was there, and she held me. And Papa was there, too."
Anna laid her hand on Elsa's knee. "I wish I could have been there for you."
Elsa looked uncomfortable; she tensed so that it seemed like she was about to make a run for it again, her mouth worked silently, her eyes unnaturally wide to keep the tears that welled from spilling. She shook her head and looked away, not wanting Anna to see her cry. But, of course Anna knew. She saw her sneak a wipe at her eyes. She saw the way her shoulders trembled. Admitting that she also heard the hitched sounds from the cries Elsa was trying so hard to hide - sounds she was completely unaware were betraying her - seemed like a violation.
A few minutes passed in silence before Elsa began again. Gerda's voice snapped Anna out of her thoughts.
"They told me later that there was ice in my ears, but that it was so sharp and so deep that I must have done it intentionally. If that's true, Anna, I swear I don't remember." Elsa's eyes were pleading for her sister's understanding. A pain shot through Anna's chest as she realized just how much Elsa needed her approval. "I wouldn't have consciously hurt myself, especially if I'd known this would have been the consequence. I think... I think it all happened so fast and I just wanted for the bad thoughts to go away... I don't know. I don't know if I let my body take over. I don't know if it was emotional overload and my powers surged... I just... I don't know."
Anna nodded vigorously as she pulled her sister in for a hug. She hoped it would convey everything she was feeling, that it didn't matter to her how it happened or even that it did happen, what mattered to her most was Elsa herself. She just wanted her to be happy.
"Are you okay?" Anna asked when they pulled apart and she'd made sure Gerda had her sister's attention. "I mean, I know this isn't new for you anymore, but obviously it's permanent, right? I'm assuming Mama and Papa tried everything they could to get you help..."
Elsa nodded. "The damage was too extensive. My eardrums and everything were obliterated. There was nothing left to even attempt to salvage or hope would heal." She shrugged. "It is what it is."
"But what about the trolls? If they could heal me, I'm sure they could heal you, too."
"Papa said there wasn't anything they could do. If my eardrums were just damaged, maybe they could have fixed them, but it's not like they can make me new ones."
"Oh," she sighed and slouched against the window. She really wished she could think of something good, some useful way to help.
As If she had read her mind, Elsa smiled. "It's okay, Anna," she signed. "I've been this way a long time now - for most of my life. Longer than I was ever... normal." Elsa made a face but quickly dismissed it with the soft huff of a laugh; little wisps of snow flurries danced over her palm and she shrugged. "Not that I was ever 'normal'. But... I'm used to it. It doesn't bother me anymore. It's just... It's a part of who I am and I've learned to accept that. Do you..." Elsa bit her lip and turned away before taking a deep breath and starting again. "Do you think you can? I know this is probably weird for you, but... Can you still love me," she touched her ears and mouthed, "like this?"
The words, quietly uttered from Gerda's mouth, felt like they'd knocked the wind out of her. She opened and closed her mouth a few times, not knowing exactly what to say or how to make sure it came out right so that Elsa would understand. "Oh, Elsa," she sighed. How could you even think something so stupid?
Anna leaned forward and took her sister's hands in her own. Elsa looked down at her nervously, waiting. "Elsa." She looked to Gerda for help. "She can read my lips, right? It kind of seems like she has been so far." The older woman nodded with a gentle smile, urging her to continue. Anna nodded once and then turned back. "I love you so, so much, Els. I always have and I always will. Nothing could ever change that. This," she brought Elsa's hands between them and held them to her own heart, "and this," Anna said as she freed a hand and held it against one of Elsa's ears, "don't change anything. I mean, sure it changes a little, but not how I feel about you." She smiled up at her, "you're my big sister, Elsa. You'll always be perfect to me."
Elsa closed her eyes, tears streamed down her face as she leaned into Anna's palm.
Anna, at a loss for what to do, reached out and guided her down to her chest, where the blonde curled up, grabbed fistfuls of her sister's skirt, and continued to cry. She figured Elsa was just happy, until the crying progressed into body-shaking, hiccuping sobs.
"What did I do, Gerda?" Anna worried, her eyes wide with panic. "Did I say something wrong?"
"No, no, dear. You said all the right things," Gerda encouraged. "You sister has been fearful of this moment for such a long time now. I think she's just overwhelmed that it's over and that you're still here."
"But..." She looked down at Elsa and began to gently comb her fingers through her hair, it was still as baby soft as she remembered. Anna missed being this close. She missed having a sister. "All I've ever wanted was to have her back. Now that I've got her, I don't even want to let her out of my sight. There's certainly no way I could ever leave her. Especially after learning all this. Did she honestly think I'd turn my back on her because she's different? I love her just the way she is. How could she not have known that?"
"You and I know both know that, Princess, but Elsa..." Gerda regarded the queen-to-be with a sad smile. "She fears the worst but seems resigned to it because she thinks that's what she deserves."
Anna blinked. "Wait, what? Why would she think she deserves bad things?"
Gerda arched a brow and looked at her pointedly.
"Because she made one mistake?"
"Elsa's always been too hard on herself."
She sighed and leaned down and wrapped her arms around her sister. "You big dummy," Anna mumbled into her hair. "What am I going to do with you?"
That's when she realized that Elsa had stopped crying. Anna nudged her a little, trying to tilt her so they could see one another and she could ask if she was all right, but her sister was like dead weight on her lap and her head lolled back into the crook of Anna's arm. "She's asleep."
The relaxed look on her face made the redhead's heart swell with affection. She looks so peaceful. Holding her sister like this and getting to study every light freckle and every long lash up close... Learning her secrets... Anna realized this was just the beginning of getting to know her all over again. And while that might seem like bittersweet thing, she couldn't keep from grinning at the thought of it.
I've finally got my sister back.