We only have each other, just you and me…What are we gonna do?
Anna's words echoed over and over in Elsa's head as she picked her way though the tall grasses to the cemetery. In the moonlight, far from the other headstones, she saw the gleam of the large, carved boulders placed there in memory of the most recently deceased king and queen of Arendelle.
Elsa had not answered Anna—she couldn't answer her. She did not know what they would do now. Oh, there were practical answers. Their father's chief advisers would serve as regents for the next few years, helping to train Elsa to reign as queen when she came of age. The palace would stay closed off. Anna would still be protected. Secrets must be kept. Elsa would have to open the palace at her coronation, but maybe things could change by then…
Anna knew all that already. Those were not the answers she wanted when she sat outside her elder sister's bedroom door and pleaded for company, for conversation, for consolation. Anna wanted to know what else could change, what would stay the same, what would become of her. She wanted an explanation for the years of estrangement between them. She wanted Elsa to come out of hiding and embrace her, to stroke her hair and kiss her cheek and tell her that everything was going to be all right, that there was nothing to fear.
Elsa could offer none of that. How could she comfort her sister when she had nothing inside her but fear? How could she embrace her, when the lightest touch could bring Anna an icy death? How could Elsa tell Anna that all the pain and misunderstanding over the years were meant to protect her? How was Elsa supposed to admit that the years of silence and gloom in Arendelle were all because of her? At least Anna still loved her now. If the truth came out, Anna would not forgive her.
Elsa stood before the two enormous rocks, twice her own height. They were only memorials, not gravestones. The king and queen had been lost at sea, their bodies never recovered. Anna had attended the service alone, while Elsa stayed behind to cower in her snowy room, not daring to step outside with her emotions in such turmoil.
Kneeling before the boulders, Elsa covered her face with her gloved hands, sorrow and self-hatred coursing through her blood. She had finally managed to control her emotions enough to visit the site on her own, in the dark and quiet of night. Now, she was not sure it had not been a mistake.
“Why did you have to leave us?” she whispered. “I don't know what to do.”
There was no answer but the rustle of grass in the breeze. She heard a wolf howl deep in the forest, too far away to be a concern. Elsa heaved a shuddering breath. A tear escaped her eye, hit the grass, and burst into a patch of frost several feet wide.
Elsa leaped to her feet, but the frost did not spread any further. She stood still, catching her breath, trying to calm down. It was a warm night, but she wrapped her arms around herself and shivered. Perhaps it was time to go back, before she did any more damage.
“Elsa,” a low voice said.
Her head snapped up and she looked around frantically. That voice…heard so long ago, and yet still familiar. Surely it was the wind, and her own imagination, making her only think she heard things.
She couldn't resist. “Loki?” she whispered.
There was a rustling, a footfall, and the prince of Asgard stepped out from behind one of the boulders. Something inside Elsa cringed at the thought of him hiding behind her mother's memorial, seeing her in such private misery. But another part of her was glad to see him.
“I came to offer my condolences,” he said.
He nodded. “We have ways of seeing into other realms from Asgard.”
She remembered how he had given her a glimpse of his own home. Elsa turned away to look at the inscription on her father's stone. “I keep hoping it's just a nightmare, and I'll wake up. Or that they survived somehow, somewhere. I don't want them to be gone.”
“I'm sorry,” he said. After a pause, he asked, “I suppose I have the honor of addressing the Queen of Arendelle, then?”
Elsa shook her head. “Not for three years, when I'm twenty-one.”
“And in the meantime?”
“Practice?” she said, shrugging. “My father had his advisors, and one of them was an old tutor of mine. I don't suppose the kingdom will go to ruin. That'll happen after my coronation, no doubt.”
“It is rather amazing what you mortals all try to accomplish in such short lifespans,” Loki said, with a slight smirk.
Elsa glared at him. “My parents' lifespans weren't supposed to be so short.”
“No,” he agreed.
They both fell quiet. Elsa stared at the patch of frosty grass, watching it thaw, and Loki studied the engravings on the boulders.
“I looked for you,” Elsa murmured. “That winter…and the next. When it was cold and snowy enough, I was allowed to go out of the palace sometimes. I went back to those trees, but I never saw you.”
“Yes,” Loki said, drawing out the word, as though carefully choosing his next. “I'm afraid time on Asgard flows a little differently than it does here. There were…tensions, shall we say, with some of the powers of Nornheim. My brother found himself in charge of a company of warriors, and recruited me along with them. They were in need of my particular skills.”
“I'm sure they were,” Elsa said dryly.
Loki turned to face her fully. “Hold your breath,” he said.
“Why—” Elsa started to say. Before she could finish, they were surrounded by a thick, black smoke. It pressed against her eyes, blinding her, and threatened to invade her mouth and nostrils.
“Loki!” she chided, but even that one word brought some of it into her lungs. She doubled over, coughing and choking.
With a wave of Loki's hands, the smoke dissipated. Bending down, he held Elsa by the shoulders.
“Don't panic,” he said. “Just breathe. Get it out.”
Elsa gasped and sputtered a little more, puffs of smoke coming out of her nose and mouth. Finally she had enough air to speak again.
“What was that?”
Loki grinned and straightened his posture. “Just a demonstration. It got my brother and his soldiers out of the realm before the enemy even knew they'd gone.”
“Very clever,” Elsa said. She coughed one more time. “I think I could have done without the demonstration.”
“If your kingdom were ever under threat of war, your powers would be a great asset to its defense,” Loki said.
“Indeed,” Elsa said, scoffing. “Terrify the enemy, and my own subjects too. Then be captured and executed as a witch when the war is over.”
“Not quite,” Loki said.
Elsa jerked her chin towards the frosty grass. “It's hard to imagine something useful coming from that.”
“But if you learned to control it—”
“I've tried for eighteen years!” Elsa said. “It's only gotten worse. It hardly stops snowing in my own bedroom. I can't even shed a tear at my parents' graves! The greater my fear, the stronger the magic, but the stronger the magic, the more afraid I am. What am I supposed to do?”
“Elsa,” Loki said, “I did not come here merely to offer condolences. I came with an invitation.”
“For you to come with me to Asgard, as my guest. I can help you learn to control your magic.”
“You could?” she asked.
“Of course,” he said. With a peculiar tilt of his chin, Elsa caught the haughty manner that bespoke his royal upbringing. “You are powerful—for a mortal—but you could not cause any permanent damage in Asgard. My powers are stronger, and I learned to control them. Besides,” he added, grinning, “my mother would teach you too, and she would be glad to meet you.”
Elsa's eyes were enormous as she stared at him. “You told your mother about me?”
“You're surprised?” he asked, his expression mischievous.
“Well…you hardly know me. What was there to tell?”
“Queen Frigga is a rather powerful sorceress herself. She was intrigued to hear of a mortal with your magic. There has always been magic in this realm, but for a human to possess it…that is a rare thing.”
Elsa looked down at her gloved hands. “Did you tell her you met a cursed princess who is such a danger to the world that she had to be locked away?”
“I told her that I went to explore Midgard, and encountered a mortal more fascinating than most. I said that Princess Elsa of Arendelle has the potential for greatness, but lacks the freedom to hone it.”
Elsa looked back up at him. He was grinning, and his eyes sparkled a little in the moonlight. “I'm afraid to take you seriously,” she said.
“I mean it, Elsa.”
He reached out to her with both hands, and Elsa instinctively shied away. He took a step closer to her and tried again. This time she kept still as he gently cupped her face in his hands. Her heart pounded and her spine tingled at the first sensation of another person's skin on hers since…she could not remember when.
“Come back to Asgard with me,” he said. “As my guest, you'll have every royal privilege. And freedom, like you've never known.”
She stared at him in baffled silence. It was almost too much to take in. Here was a way of escape, a way to live the way she wanted, to be who she was born to be. He was offering her everything she wanted—a life without fear.
“I can't,” she whispered.
“Of course you can.”
“No, I mean…my sister, Anna. I can't leave her now.”
“Hel take your sister!” he said, dropping his hands and taking a step back. “You owe her nothing. She thinks you hate her, does she not?”
“Yes, but…” Elsa choked back tears. “I don't. And I can't leave her thinking that I do.”
“Then tell her who you are.”
“You cannot go on living like this,” Loki said.
“Don't tell me what I can't do!” Elsa snapped. “You don't know what I've been through. You can't understand what it's like—you won't inherit a throne! Maybe you can go off exploring other worlds and no one cares, but I can't just abandon everything.”
Loki's eyes flashed and he clenched his jaw. Elsa stood still when she saw the look on his face; not since they first met had she been so frightened of him.
“At least I am not so afraid of my own shadow that I have to lock myself away from the world,” Loki said. Elsa's lips parted slightly. His words were colder to her heart than any blast from her magic. “Your powers are no use to you if you keep yourself holed up,” he added.
“I don't need to use them,” Elsa whispered. “I just want to be able to hide them.”
“That can be arranged, if you wish,” he said. “You may argue as long as you like, and still you know that things cannot remain as they are.”
“They won't,” she said. “I…I'll figure something out.”
“And you have done so well all these years.”
Elsa groaned and pressed her fists to her forehead. “Oh, why did you come here? Just leave me alone!” In a childish moment, she stamped her foot, sending frost shooting out from beneath it.
She gasped, staggering backward. Wherever she stepped, the graze froze instantly. “No,” she moaned. “Not now. Please, no…not now…”
Loki rushed forward and took her by the arm. He ripped off one of her gloves and grasped the hand beneath it. Soon Elsa felt that neutralization, a calming of her magical energy—if not her emotions—that she had felt when they first met and he had stopped her from running away.
“You see?” he said wryly. “And you say you cannot leave all this.” He bent down until his lips were close to her ear. “Is it not exhausting, Elsa, to live this way? Freedom is within your grasp, and with it, power, and protection. Just say yes, and we will be on our way.”
“But why?” Elsa asked. “Why should you help me?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Why do you care? What difference is it to you whether I can control this, or whether I stay in my room forever?”
Loki drew back, frowning again. “Now I need a reason?” Elsa cocked her head and lifted her eyebrows skeptically. Loki let go of her hand with a look of disgust.
“Very well, then,” he said. He took a deep breath and again raised his chin. “I am desperately in love with you—from that first moment I saw you. You've captured my heart, and now I cannot rest until I have made you unspeakably happy, and I am offering you a chance in the only way I know how.”
Elsa felt her cheeks coloring at his words, but there was just enough of an edge in his tone to keep her from coming close to believing them.
“That answer does not satisfy you, I see,” Loki said. Clasping his hands behind his back, he paced in a circle around her. Elsa watched him, turning in place, feeling as though were being stalked by a hungry wolf. “All right then—I offer my friendship and my help to gain your trust and loyalty, in hopes that you will become a powerful ally when I seize the throne from my witless oaf of a brother.”
At Elsa's horrified expression, he chuckled. “What does it say of a maiden that she believes such a mercenary plot over a declaration of love?” Elsa did not reply.
“Or, perhaps you are simply the most intriguing creature I have encountered in this uncultured and uninspired realm, and my charity stems from my dislike of seeing talent like yours go to waste.” He waved a hand, as though presenting a prize. “Choose whichever explanation suits you best, Your Highness.”
“I want the truth,” Elsa said. “They can't all be true.”
“You barely know me—you can't be in love with me. And I would never help you stage a coup against your own brother.”
“A pity,” he said, sighing.
“Did you mean that?” Elsa asked. “Is…that really why you want me to come to Asgard with you?”
She stared at his face, terrified of his answer. But then an odd look flickered across his features, and he burst into laughter. Elsa started at the sudden sound.
“You must forgive me, Your Highness,” he said around his laughs. “Most people in Asgard do not bother to take me seriously. It may suit you to do likewise.”
Elsa took several unsteady steps back from him. “You're mad,” she said. “You're dangerous and you're utterly mad.”
“You've only just realized?” Loki asked, no longer laughing but still smirking.
“I have to go.” Elsa turned away, but he snatched her hand before she could get far.
“Elsa,” he said, the mirth still in his voice, “if I were to attempt an overthrow of the throne—and I have no plans to do so now—I would not call upon the untamed powers of a young Midgardian sorceress.”
She shook off his hand. “Then what was all that about?”
“I was curious as to your response.”
“That's not funny!”
“Humor is very subjective.”
“I've had enough of this,” Elsa said. But when she tried to step away, once again she froze the ground with every footfall.
With a cry of frustration, she fell to her knees and slammed her fists into the ground, forgetting that one hand was still missing its glove. A wall of ice shot upward from the earth, encircling her in a small fort. Elsa panted for breath, afraid to move at all. Curses on Loki for making her lose her temper! And shame on her for losing control—again. Her breath came out in smoky puffs, the sound resonating off the slick, frozen wall.
As she crouched there, Elsa began to hear a crackling sound on the other side of the ice. The sound grew louder, and tiny fissures appeared and spread across the wall. Just in time, she ducked and covered her head as the ice crumbled and fell into a heap, some of it on top of her.
Elsa looked up in time to see Loki tucking something into his belt. He held out a hand to help her up.
“So,” he said, smiling, “you still want to refuse my help?”
Elsa glowered at him as she took his hand and climbed back to her feet. “I don't understand you,” she said, brushing ice off of herself.
“If you claimed you did, then you'd be a fool,” he said. “I do not think the future queen of Arendelle is that.” He looked at her pointedly. “Unless she squandered a most advantageous opportunity.”
“I told you,” Elsa said. “I can't leave Anna. She's fifteen—she's still a child. Maybe it would not make a great difference to her life if I were gone, but she already thinks I don't care about her. I can't leave her now, so soon after our parents…and if word got out that I fled the kingdom…”
Loki shook his head. “I am astonished at such firm and consistent refusal.”
Remembering his fierce look and bitter words earlier, Elsa felt a tremor of apprehension. “Is this where you threaten me if I continue to refuse?”
“Of course not,” Loki said, looking at her with something that might have been amusement. “I am only marveling at the unexpected.”
Although he seemed to accept her choice, Loki made no move to leave. Elsa, too, found herself unwilling to lose his company. She studied the melting frost on the ground, wringing her hands.
“In three years, Anna will be eighteen,” she said. “I will be crowned queen, and she'll be old enough to make her own choices, to marry…to leave Arendelle, if she wanted. If what you say is true—if you really can help me, if you care in the slightest—can you give me those three years?” She looked up at him. “If you still remember me by then.”
“I could not forget if I tried,” he said.
“So…I suppose I'll be on my way.” Elsa extended her hand in farewell. “Until…later, then.”
Loki nodded solemnly, his palm meeting hers. “Of course,” he said, “I have no great appointment to keep for the present. And you do not want another mishap on your way home.”
His words at their first meeting came back to her. If I wished harm upon you, don't you think I'd have done it by now? “I suppose I wouldn't mind an escort,” Elsa said.
Loki kept hold of Elsa's hand throughout the walk back to the city walls. He was amused by—and secretly admired—the hidden routes she took to bypass the city gates and maneuver dark, narrow alleys. At last they reached the back of the palace, at a door to the kitchens that Elsa had long ago learned was the most unguarded.
“This is where I leave you,” she whispered.
Loki shook his head. “I am still astounded that the queen of Arendelle feels the need to sneak through her city and into secret passages like a thieving kitchenmaid.”
“That's because I'm not the queen yet,” Elsa said. “Goodbye, Loki.”
“Goodbye, Elsa,” Loki said. “And I meant what I said.”
He grinned. “Whichever pleases you.”
“That still leaves a few contradictions,” she said, giving him a reproving look.
Loki did not reply—at least, not in words. His eyes silently scanned her face for a few moments, until she thought he would say nothing more.
Elsa began to turn away when she felt his hands on her shoulders. She realized what he was doing a half-second before he lowered his head. She closed her eyes as his lips met hers, his arms encircling her small waist and pulling her closer to him. Elsa kissed him back, her mind in a fog such that she did not know if they stood there for seconds or hours.
By the time they leaned away from each other, her hands had moved, cradling his face between them. She dropped her arms, but could not seem to break her icy-blue eyes from Loki's emerald gaze. Trembling slightly, Elsa stood a step back, a little dumbfounded at what had just happened.
Finally, Loki cleared his throat and broke the silence. “If you believe nothing else I tell you,” he said, brushing a stray lock of Elsa's white-blonde hair, “believe that I am truly sorry for your loss.”
Tears catching in her throat, Elsa could only nod. She gave him one final look, hoping it was thanks enough, before she slipped through the kitchen door. As she passed between stoves, tables, and crates of supplies, the room was temporarily illuminated by a flash of multicolored light through a window. Elsa already knew not to look outside; she would only find that the Asgardian prince had vanished.