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“There’s no way we’ll find someone who can replace her in time. Regionals are in two weeks, Maren!”

Maren ran a hand through her ponytail and sighed. This was not how this week was supposed to go. It was her senior year. They were supposed to be perfecting this routine. The routine that would take them to Regionals and then onto State and then hopefully secure her scholarship. And then Amanda had fallen during a routine, landing off the padding and with a painful snap was out for the season.

Leading to where she was now. She and her co-captain Colin had to figure out how to best manage this. They either found someone to replace Amanda or make and perfect a new routine in two weeks. Neither were particularly appealing options.

"We'll find someone, Colin. Please trust me."

"How? We lost our JV team to funding and who can we get up and running for a competition in two weeks?"

"I don't- I don't know, but we will find someone. This routine is too perfect to throw away," she pleaded. She understood how important this was to both of them. 

Colin picked up his backpack and started to head out. "Look, you know what we got on the line here. No regionals, no state, no shot at that scholarship. You got three days, Maren. Three days to find someone."

"I can do that," she said assuredly. "Don't give up just yet."

"Three days," he repeated and then headed off to his car.

Three days. How the hell was she going to find someone in three days?  But before she could think about any kind of action plan, a car horn distracted her.

"Come on, Mare! You said I could drive us to the gym!" 

"Coming!"

She picked up her bag and headed towards her own car, little brother in tow. A workout certainly couldn't hurt her situation.

---

One-two-three-four One-two-three-four One-two-three-four One-two-three-four.

Elsa took a deep breath rubbing her hands together for one more cycle. She could do this. There was enough chalk on her hands. The chalk would make a layer and protect her from whatever lurked on the bar. And when she was done then she’d be able to wash and get back to her normal gloves. 

“Okay, okay, okay, okay.” She let herself jump up four times and then started towards the bar. “One, two, three, four, run, two, three, four.”

On the last ‘four’, Elsa felt herself flying in the air and then the security of the bar. She let the initial inertia swing her around, then transitioning into a handstand. “Breathe, breathe, arms, legs. Swing, swing, swing, swing.” Somewhere deep in her mind, she knew she didn’t need to say the words, but it kept her focused. Kept the little monster in the back of her mind silent for a few more minutes.

Practice seemed to be the only thing that silenced the little monster- the little voice in the back of her head that was constantly there reminding her just how badly everything could go. The specs in her vision that followed invisible germs from coughs and talking. The shake in her hands as she rubbed them, begging the thoughts to go away. The few minutes she had on the bar or the floor let her feel free, even if her little tics still slipped through.  

Her body was fluid as she swung around the bar. Even if she wasn’t going back to club gymnastics, it was nice to practice her old routines. It made her feel almost like it was before. 

One last swing, and Elsa was prepped for her landing- stable ‘just like a tree Elsa’. She could still hear her old coach in her mind. She hoped Kai was doing okay, Gerda too. They were always so kind to her, maybe even too kind-

You need to wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Wash your hands. Chalk, pathogens, dirt. Chalk, pathogens, dirt. Chalk, pathogens, dirt. Chalk, pathogens, dirt.

Elsa shook her head, trying to clear the thoughts. She knew ultimately that she would give in, but she hoped to get at least one more round on the bar. With wavering confidence, she headed back to the bar ready to start again. 

Pulling herself up, Elsa felt uneasy. Her stomach twisted as she touched the bars, pulling herself up from a standing start. She managed two swings of her legs before she was on the ground again, bare skin against the mat. 

Panic flushed through her mind. Statistics of how many germs could be contained in a single drop of sweat ran like headlines on the front of her brain. The feeling of still chalk on her legs felt as if it was constraining her. She shouldn’t have even come out today. It was bad when she woke up. It was bad at school. She should have known it would be bad if she tried to practice. 

Paralyzed, she sat there, hand on her chest, waiting for her monster to pass.

---

It was a bit of a drive, but Maren was honestly surprised by Ryder’s driving. It was slowly getting better. But then again he was going five under the speed limit in the fast lane, so slow was to be expected. At least she didn’t have to worry about her small sedan getting in another accident in its short life.

“So what are you doing today? Weights, cardio, floor? I’m going to work on my pecs today,” Ryder teased, flexing slightly.

Maren couldn’t help but laugh at her brother. “I’m going to be working out on the floor, see if I can get anything down with our routine. Be safe and make sure you have a spotter,” she said, heading off in the open area.

“Yes, Mom,” he rolled his eyes and headed off himself. 

An old university’s recreation center, the facility had a variety of equipment from volleyball, basketball, even gymnastics in addition to typical weight and cardio machines. Student passes were relatively cheap and it made for a good place to practice when she and Ryder weren’t quite ready to go home yet. 

The floor was relatively open today. There were only a few regulars and some new blonde on the gymnastics equipment. Maybe if she practiced floor routines she could figure a way to recruit someone new. Or at the very least present Colin with a backup plan for their routine. 

She tossed and tumbled around for twenty minutes or so, but nothing was coming to her. Instead she found herself increasingly distracted by the new gymnast. Her beam work was impeccable, and her bars were astounding to watch. The way her body just flowed as if she had been doing it her whole life. Hell, maybe she had been. Maybe she was one of those olympic gymnasts that ran away after winning a medal.

But as amazing as her skill was, Maren couldn’t help but be fascinated by her eyes. They were the most beautiful shade of teal she had ever seen, wide and focused. Her hair was in a messy bun, but the mess of it exemplified her beauty. Her blonde locks softly fell during the occasional flip making Maren’s heart beat just a little faster. 

But then she slipped off the bar. When the mysterious girl sat up, Maren let out a breath she didn’t know she was holding. But then she was holding a hand to her chest, Was she having an asthma attack? Did she need help?

Maren sprung into action heading over to the girl, putting a hand on her back. “Hey are you alright?”

The first thing she noticed was how tight her shoulders got from Maren’s touch. Okay, touching was something to avoid. Maren could do that. The girl was still breathing fast, redirecting her attention. “Do you have an inhaler or something?”

“Not- not asthmatic,” the girl huffed, obviously trying to get her breath back. “Anxiety attack. I’m fine.”

“You’re obviously fine,” Maren rebutted sarcastically. “Here, I’m getting you something to drink.:

Her eyes scanned the room searching for a bottle or a fountain or something. The girl loosely pointed to a pile in a sweatshirt. There was a blue water bottle with a snowflake on it, She grabbed it and quickly handed it to her. Maren thought it was odd that the girl wiped it on her shirt a few times before drinking, but who was she to judge?

“Better?” she asked after the girl gulped down the water. Her face was less red, and she certainly looked a little calmer.

The girl nodded, setting the bottle on the top of her leg. “Yes, thank you.”

Maren nodded, sitting on the ground beside her. “I’m Honeymaren, but you can call me Maren,” she introduced holding a hand out.

The girl gave her a tired smile and simply waved back.

“I’m Elsa.”

Chapter Text

Elsa was peculiar. In the span of the five minutes they had been talking, she had used a dab of hand sanitizer no less than six times. Maybe the chalk was getting to her hands? They were quite red, maybe she had an allergy?

“You know, I’m pretty sure they make gloves where you don’t need to use chalk,” Maren said, pointing to Elsa’s hands. “I think it might be a little easier on your hands at least.”

As quickly as she tried to hide it, Maren saw the small blush that crossed Elsa’s face and the even smaller bite of her lip. “I- um- thanks. I’ll look into it. Are you a gymnast too?”

Maren shook her head quickly. “Cheerleader. But enough of the girls on my squad have done it since they were kids, so I know pieces here and there. Maybe you know some of them? Have you done clubs around here?”

Elsa gave her own head shake. “I- I just moved here with my sister. I’m almost 18 anyway, so no club would want to take me for that short of a time. Sometimes I just like to come here and practice. I can lose my mind to the flips and turns.”

“It’s like your mind and body become one, and you don’t have to worry about either,” Maren added. “Senior year and you had to change schools too? That’s pretty rough.”

“Yeah,” Elsa said, looking down. “I mean I was used to changing school’s already. I was an army brat when I was younger, but then Dad was able to settle down for a while. Stayed in the same place for about six years. But now it’s all different again.”

Maren nodded. She could relate far more than she liked with that. “My parents are in the Marines. My brother and I stay with our grandma now while they move around, but it was like that when we were kids too.” Her eyes glanced back over to the sweatshirt on the ground, unable to see any insignia. “So where are you going to school now?”

“I’m finishing my senior year as a Northuldra Dragon,” she said with the faintest smile.

Maren couldn’t keep her own smile contained. “Same here! I thought you had looked familiar. I think I’ve seen you around the halls after my math class.”

Elsa giggled. Maren thought it was a wonderful sound. “Maybe. I’ve got AP calc for 4th period with Ms. Lee.”

“That’s it!” Maren exclaimed standing up. “You’re the one who’s always talking to Ms. Lee before the bell. What do you two even talk about anyway?”

Elsa blushed again, looking down. “Math usually. My AP calc class at my old school was a bit behind Northuldra, so I’m doing my best to catch up.”

Her eyes widened. “Oh wow. When you said you transferred schools I figured you meant at the beginning of the year, not in the middle of the school year.”

She shrugged. “It wasn’t exactly planned. But it happened how it did.”

Maren wanted to ask more questions, but figured it was better not to pry, not with how solemn her new friend’s expression had turned. She could always ask later. But if Elsa was attending Northuldra...

“Hey, how are your floor routines?” she asked, eyeing the empty floor ahead of them.

Elsa smiled, moving to get up and exchanging her gloves for a new pair from her bag. “How about I show you?”

Maren’s eyes lit up watching as Elsa performed for her. There was no music, but Maren could feel the beat. Feel the passion as Elsa danced. Every flip was perfectly executed, every landing solid, yet dainty on the tips of her toes. Maybe, just maybe...

“Elsa, what would you think of joining our squad?

---

“My baby girl! A cheerleader!”

“Uncle ‘Tias, it’s not a big deal. It’s just for a few weeks while one of their injured girls recovers.”

If Elsa hadn’t already touched her fork or the table in front of her, her head would be in her hands from embarrassment. She would have just kept it to herself if not for the obvious changes it would bring to Elsa’s schedule. Anna would need to take the bus more often- something she had been very vocal about. And Uncle Mattias would need to take her for a physical before she could compete.

“It is a big deal, kiddo,” he said pointing an elbow towards her. “You’re joining a club, getting involved again. You’re doing amazing.”

Elsa shrugged, keeping her head down. “I’ve been involved. Just with more academic things. You know that. I’m trying to get my applications together.”

“Yes, but you’re going out and meeting people and I couldn’t be prouder.” Uncle Mattias worked his way around the table, cleaning his empty plate. “I get off at 3:00 all this week. I can call your pediatrician and see if we can get you a sports physical in. Unless you want to call yourself?”

Elsa shook her head. She wanted to do this. She really did. But this whole situation was anxiety provoking enough. Trying to make a phone call on top of it would be hell. “Do you mind?”

“Not at all.” Uncle Mattias blew her a kiss. She missed when he could give her a real kiss on the forehead. Before it stressed her and worried her to bits. “You and Anna have group on Thursday, but are there any other days I need to avoid?”

Group. Damned group therapy. She knew Uncle Mattias meant well with it. He went to his own therapy for grief and post-traumatic stress and it helped him. But for Elsa it was the worst. It was only temporary, only until she could find a personal therapist she liked, only until the freshness of grief passed. But she hated it all the same. Sitting in a room of other orphans wouldn’t bring her mom and dad back, no matter how long she was there.

She shook her head. “No, that’s all I’ve got. I think they want to have the tryout Friday.”

“Then, we’ll shoot for tomorrow or Wednesday.” Mattias gave another warm smile, heading out of the kitchen. “I really am proud of you, kiddo.”

Elsa gave him the best smile she could muster. “Thank you. If you’re so proud of me today, can Anna take out the trash tonight?”

Mattias shook his head with a light chuckle. “Nice try. Cheerleader or not, you’re still doing your exposure exercises.”

---

“And last up we have Elsa Aren,” Colin read off the list. “Senior, former gymnast, nice. Show us what you’ve got Elsa!”

Maren couldn’t help but feel nervous. None of the other girls had been as good as she had hoped. What if Elsa cracked under pressure or couldn’t convince Colin? She made the sign of the cross and whispered a small prayer. Let Elsa be enough.

And she was.

Elsa was superb at the athletic feats, even if she was a little still on the actual cheering. The latter was far easier to fix than the former. When she performed her triple backflip, Maren literally heard Colin gasp. She was right. Elsa was perfect.

“Elsa, you’re amazing! I think I know what my decision is,” Colin said sitting up from the bleacher. “And I believe here Maren would agree.” She enthusiastically nodded her head at the both of them. “If you want the spot on the team, it’s yours.”

“I- thank you.” Elsa blushed and hid her face behind her gloved hands. “I would like- I would like- I would like- I would like to.” Maren couldn’t help but notice how she bit her lip in embarrassment. “Sorry, stutter.”

Colin waved his hand. “Don’t worry about it. In competition we very seldom use shouts. But that does bring up one thing. If you’re going to compete, you won’t be able to wear your gloves.”

Elsa’s eyes shot open. “I- I see,” she said, her breath catching a second. Immediately she began to rub her hands together, looking around. “Um, I just- I just need a moment. Excuse me.” And without a second glance, Elsa bolted out of the gym.

Maren watched for a second, her gaze stunned. “I’m gonna go see what that was about. But I promise, she’s our girl.”

Colin sighed, rubbing at his eyes. “You better be right about this, Maren.”

Out in the hallway, Elsa was sitting on her sweatshirt, ungloved hands washing several doses of hand sanitizer in them. She was breathing heavily and her face was pale- a mirror image to the first time they met.

“Hey, it’s okay. You aren’t alone,” Maren said, sitting crossed legged on the floor next to her. “Do you want your water bottle?”

Elsa looked at her bewildered, but nodded. “Empty,” she breathed out, clearly trying to focus on breathing and speaking.

“Well I can fix that,” Maren replied with a wink and smile. “Can’t let my newest teammate dehydrate after all.”

“Am I- Am I- Do you even- Do you even want me as your teammate after that?”

Maren gave a content sigh. “Of course, snowflake,” she teased. “Did you see how you performed? You’re incredible.” Tears slipped out from Elsa’s eyes. “Hey what’s wrong?’ she asked softly, kneeling down to look at Elsa.

“I can’t- I can’t do it without my gloves. Pathogens,” she breathed out, squeezing her eyes tight. “It’s stupid, but it scares me and the gloves help. I need my gloves.”

“Germaphobia?” she asked softly. If that was the case, everything suddenly made sense. Elsa nodded quickly, her breathing starting to settle. “I think we can do something about that. Title IX something or other. Elsa, don’t let that be what keeps you from doing something you’re so obviously good at. We’ll get you those gloves. I promise.”

“Th- thank you.” Elsa took a hand to her chest and motioned it to another hand in front of her. If Maren wasn’t mistaken, it was sign language for ‘thank you’. “I would hug you, but I- I can’t do that right now.”

Maren smiled, seeing her friend was calming. “That’s okay.” She then repeated the motion. “Maybe the sign can be like our hug?”

Elsa smiled.

“I’d like that a lot.”

Chapter Text

Cheerleading was hard. Elsa knew it would be physically demanding. Compared to club gymnastics, the cheer squad worked her just as hard, if not more. The physicality she could manage. The social factor was another issue.

Being so close to Regionals, the team practiced twice a day everyday. And in that time, she had become acquainted with the team. And they loved to talk, regardless if it was an early morning practice or towards the end of the afternoon. They were all nice enough to her, obviously glad that she came in to fill a spot, but Elsa couldn't help but feel shy and coy around them. Except for Maren.

Maren made her feel at home, made her feel like she really belonged. Up until then, Elsa had kind of floated along socially. She ate her lunches alone, didn't bother to speak much other than in calculus class. But Maren had started joining her to eat, making small conversation in the locker room. It was a kindness she hadn't expected but very much appreciated. Even still it was a shock to her than Maren had asked if she wanted to hang out after practice.

"Not anything fancy, I was just wondering if maybe you wanted some Starbucks? Get some drinks and just talk?"

Elsa could feel herself blush. She knew it wasn't a big deal, so why did it feel like a big deal. "S-sure," she stuttered, nervously running at her hands.

Maren gave her an easy smile, motioning her right hand from her chest to her left hand, their hug. "No need to be nervous, snowflake. It's just you and me." 

She bit her lip and nodded. Maren was right. There wasn't any need to be nervous. She could do Starbucks. It wasn't too scary, even if they drank inside. But she did have another question rattling in her mind. 

"Why do you call me snowflake?"

Maren laughed softly. "Um- I- sorry. Nicknames are kind of second nature for me. I won't call you it anymore if you don't like it."

Elsa shook her hands in front of her. "No, no! I- I like it. I was- I was just-" she sighed, furrowing her brow, frustrated that her words wouldn't work. "I was just- I was just- I was just-"

Maren gave their sign again, trying to reassure her. Elsa couldn't help feeling embarrassed. Why couldn't she just talk normally? "It's okay. Were you trying to say you were just curious?"

Elsa nodded quickly, the blood rushing to her cheeks. "Sorry."

Maren waved her hand in dismissal. "No worries about it. But to answer your question," Maren paused and pointed towards the blue water bottle sticking out of Elsa's bag, "your bottle. I can see you being a snow bunny," she teased.

"Oh," Elsa let herself smile, her blush subsiding. "Could I, could I give you one then?"

Maren laughed, smiling brightly. "I'd like that, snowflake. Why don't we think about it over coffee?"

Elsa smiled just as bright. Maybe she was doing better than she thought.

"I'd like that."

---

Elsa was incredible on the squad. Even for the short time frame, she had picked up her role in the routine just as if she had been there from the beginning. Maren had never seen anything like it.

Even outside of practice, Maren couldn't help but feel drawn to Elsa. It was a pull she couldn't quite explain. She remembered having crushes as a kid, but didn't remember them feeling like this. At least Ryder said it seemed like a crush. But then again, he was just as clueless about all this as she was. Asking Elsa out for Starbucks didn't mean anything anyway. Not in that way at least.

"So," she started, sipping at her iced chai, "do you like it here?"

"Here as in Starbucks?" she asked with the slightest head tilt.

"Here as in Northuldra county," she laughed. "Or Starbucks too I guess."

Elsa smiled and played with her hands for a second. But Maren could tell she wasn't anxious. Even in just the week they had known each other, she could pick up on the other girls tics. When she was anxious, when she was happy: Elsa didn't wear her heart on her sleeve; she wore it in her hands.

"Well, Starbucks is the same wherever you go. So I'm happy with my drink," she said, sipping at her iced latte. "As far as Northuldra, it's nice. I kind of miss Arendelle, but it's for the best."

Maren nodded sympathetically. Being an army kid was hard; she knew that better than anyone. "But you get to be near your dad now too, right? That's gotta be a plus."

Elsa started to tug at her gloves, and Maren's heart sank. What did she say? "Not quite."

Now it was her own turn to tilt her head. "But you said your dad moved around with the army?"

"He did, yeah. But not anymore." Maren saw how Elsa's eyes glistened, tears just on the brink. "My mom and dad died, just before Thanksgiving. They- they died of the flu."

Maren bit her lip, trying not to cry herself. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to pry. I shouldn’t have. You don’t have to-"

"No, no, It's- it's okay," she said wiping at her eyes. :You don’t have to apologize.” In a split second something captured her attention, sending her over the edge. "No no no no. I'm sorry; I need to go. I need to go now."

"Elsa, wait. It's okay." Maren reached out to grab her arm, stopping just as she realized it would probably make things worse. "It's okay."

"It's not, it’s not, it’s not, it’s not," she said, breathing through her teeth. "Touched my eyes. Eyes are the pathway for germs. Germs lead to infection. Infection leads to death. Need to wash. Need to wash. Need to wash. Need to-"

"Go wash your hands and take a breath. It's not the end of the world." Maren didn't know what to do. The other anxiety attacks she had witnessed could be quelled easily. But she didn't know what to do here. Elsa needed more than just her; she knew that much. "Do you want- do you want me to call someone?"

"Uncle 'Tias," she said, head shaking and face paler than Maren thought possible. "Please. I'm sorry."

"It's okay,” she reassured, even if she wasn’t so sure herself. “I'll be here when you get done."

Maren would call Elsa’s uncle and this would all be fine. She could take care of this; Elsa needed her to. And so she would.

---

Later that night, Elsa laid in her bed warm blankets wrapped around her and hot tea in her hands. It took a while, but the anxiety passed. Uncle Mattias had picked her up and took her home, going through her anxiety exercises. But she knew there was one more thing she needed to take care of...

[20:09] I'm sorry about earlier
[20:09] I'm still not very good at talking to people.

There. It was out in the open. As much as Maren was willing to help her, the monster couldn’t help but barrage her with thoughts of hate and judgement. Yeah her mom and dad were gone, but that didn’t mean she could go crying just on anyone at anytime and oh God she seemed so selfish-

A ping brought her back to attention.

[20:10] Just glad you're ok. Feeling any better?

Was she feeling better? Yes and no? What was she feeling? The anxiety had died down, but the tension in her shoulders made her feel as if it could come back at any moment. But there was no sense in worrying Maren over that. 

[20:10] A little. I didn't mean to scare you.

She didn’t need to lie to Maren. Maren was her friend. Maren wanted to know she was okay, And Elsa would assure her of that much. She just wouldn’t tell her everything right now. It was fine. It was fine. It was fine.

[20:11] Its ok. Ryder has done worse.
[20:11] Jus get some sleep? Practice in the AM.

The monster began to settle in the back of her mind. Maren really didn’t care that she was a wreck. She cared that Elsa was okay. With a surge of confidence, she sent out her next message.

[20:11] I will.
[20:12] Goodnight bumblebee.

It would either make Maren overly confused, or overly flustered. In reality, Elsa wasn’t sure which she wanted more. In the course of the last few days, she found herself thinking about Maren a lot: the way her face might look blushed and embarrassed, the way her brown eyes sparkled. Maybe it was a bit forward, but Maren had given her permission to give her a nickname after all.

[20:12] ???
[20:12] Bumblebee???

Well, she couldn’t tell if it was flustered or confused, but Elsa liked it. Even Maren’s pattern of using three question marks instead of four didn’t bring the monster on. It was safe. It was fun. Maybe this was what being a teenager was like for most people? 

[20:12] Your nickname. I figured it out.
[20:13] If I'm snowflake for my water bottle, you're bumblebee for your sweet name.

She liked this. Whether it was teasing or friendly banter, Elsa wasn’t sure. But it was something she was glad to be part of...  

[20:13] ...
[20:13] Youre the biggest nerd ive ever met and I love it ;)
[20:14] Goodnight snowflake. Sweet dreams 

With the click of her phone, Elsa couldn't help but smile.She had never been happier to be called a nerd.  Maybe she did have a true friend in Maren. Someone who wasn’t her friend out of pity, but someone who really cared. It was something new, but something wonderful. And it was something she didn’t plan on trading away any time soon.

Chapter Text

Today was the day. The day they had been working so hard for weeks. Maren had full faith in her squad- they were going to do this. They didn’t need to win- only needing to make second place to proceed to state- but they were going to win it. She could feel it in her blood.

After their trip for coffee, Maren couldn’t help but notice Elsa had been a little more open with her. After morning practices, she would share stories about her life in Arendelle, stories about her sister, stories about gymnastics. And in turn, she would ask questions about Maren, her brother, her cheerleading. It was nice, really nice. Maybe Ryder was right about it being a crush.

“How does it look?”

Maren’s eyes were drawn to Elsa- in her official uniform for the first time. Her friend’s face was almost as red as the skirt and shorts she wore- it was absolutely adorable. And the uniform, for lack of a better word, well it was hot. Maren had to shake her head to keep herself from ogling the way that outfit fit Elsa’s curves just right...

“You look great!” she responded, smiling bright. “Ready for this?”

Elsa gave Maren a nervous smile, before signing their hug. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Then, let’s do this! Regionals, we're coming for you!”

Regionals were just as loud and exciting as she remembered in years past. But in all honesty, she didn’t remember the stakes feeling this high any other year. Yeah, they had always worked to make state and pray for nationals, but the added pressure of potential scholarships being on the line made everything a little bit harder.

But she couldn’t worry about that right now. They did the work all year long. And now they were going to reap the rewards. Colin gave his pep talk, raising spirits as high as they could go. And then it was time to go.

Or so they thought.

“Northuldra Dragons, please ensure that you are within uniform for competition. No earrings, no loose hair, and no gloves or your team will be disqualified.”

Maren’s heart raced. No, no. They said that Elsa could have her gloves. They had worked that out hadn’t they? She took a quick glance back, Elsa was paler than she had ever seen before. No, she had to do something.

“Wait, we submitted paperwork allowing one of our girls to wear gloves!” Maren cried out, rushing to the judges table. But her bickering did no good.

There was no paperwork.

---

Elsa focused her thoughts on her breath. This wasn’t happening. She should be allowed her gloves. Maren promised her. She promised.

“Hey, hey, look at me, Elsa.” Maren was looking in her eyes. She could only imagine what she looked like bewildered and afraid. Eye contact was hard.

“I can’t have them, can I?” she asked, tears threatening to fall.

Maren bit her lip and shook her head. “They don’t have the papers we sent. They claim we’re cheating to get a leg up on the competition. They said we either all comply or we’re disqualified. I’m going to call the athletic director. They can’t-”

Elsa took a deep breath and interrupted. “I’ll do it.”

“-wait what?”

Elsa looked up with a shaky breath. “I’ll do it. The routine is 2 minutes, 40 seconds. I can handle that. I don’t- I’m not going to be the reason we can’t go to state.”

“Elsa, you don’t have to-”

“No I don’t,” she said, taking another deep breath. “But I’m going to. And then I am going to scrub my hands red and we’ll go from there.”

“If you’re sure.”

“I’m absolutely sure.” She absolutely wasn’t, but she was going to anyway.

As they got into formation, Elsa slowly removed her gloves, sitting them off to the side. They would be okay. She would be okay. 2 minutes, 40 seconds. That was all she had to survive. She could do that.

Before she knew it, the music began and everything fell into place. She wished she could say that muscle memory kicked in and she really didn’t need her gloves. But the monster kept track of every contact, every time she touched a teammate, every time her bare hands touched the ground. In 2 minutes, 40 seconds the monster kept track of 33 contact points. Every flip, every tumble was a means for infection. She did her best, but even still the fear made her miss her final flip.

It could have been worse. She could have ended up like the girl she replaced- injured and out. But Colin caught her. She finished the routine.

But the monster wouldn’t let her forget how she ruined it for them all. Maren’s scholarship would be gone and it was all her fault. She was the worst they ever had-

“Thank you, Northuldra. You may exit to the right.”

As soon as she heard the announcement, her gloves were shoved into her uniform pockets and she ran to the bathroom. Panic sprang through her mind, the monster no longer having the routine to feed on. She did her best to silence it, washing her hands for five minutes- her skin cracked and bleeding. She was so unbelievably stupid, thinking she could do it without her gloves.

It was all her fault. All her fault. All her fault.

“Elsa!”

Maren’s voice only caused her to scrub harder. She ruined Maren’s everything. She didn’t deserve to be her friend anymore. Not after this.

“Elsa. Elsa it’s okay.” Before she knew it, Maren had turned off the water and was holding her hand through dry paper towels. “You’re okay. We all mess up sometimes. But you have no idea how proud I am of you.”

“Proud?” she spat, tears choking her chest. “I ruined the routine.”

“You missed one flip. We all do it.” Maren shook her head before reaching into her pocket. “I want you to look at this.”

Maren had pulled out a sheet of paper with a set of numbers. Elsa still didn’t quite understand the scoring system. Were high numbers good? Or was it like golf where you wanted low numbers? She couldn’t remember. “What does it say?” she asked softly.

“It’s our ranking,” she replied, pointing to the numbers on the page. “There was only one team after us. And well...”

Northuldra Dragons 2nd Place.

“You didn’t ruin anything. I’m so so proud of you. I- I wish I could kiss you!”

Elsa’s mind froze. Wait. Maren wanted to kiss her? Did that mean she felt the same way as Elsa did? It did. Her eyes widened at the realization.

“Obviously, I’m not going to. I know touching is hard. I know that we barely know each other, but I really like you and you’re so good and I’m so happy and proud of you and-”

Elsa took a deep breath, wrapping her sore hands dry. Slowly, she took her bare left hand and slid it into Maren’s right hand. She looked into Maren's own wide eyes. “It’s- it’s not a kiss. But maybe we can get there,” she said quietly. “If that’s okay?”

A tear slipped from Maren’s eyes onto Elsa’s arm. And for once, her monster didn’t interrupt with facts about sweat and tears or germs. She just felt Maren’s hand in her own in a way she could not have imagined even a few minutes ago. Palm to palm, Maren smiled and Elsa returned.

“That’s more than okay.”

She didn’t know if she would ever be able to kiss and hug Maren the way that Maren wanted, but at least now, at least now there was hope. Her monster wouldn’t ruin this moment. Not if she could help it. And if it did, well-

Bring it on.