"You tried to steal my sister's jewels on her wedding day," Elsa hisses. Something deeper in the dungeons drips faintly.
"I promise I won't do it again, Your Majesty," the thief says, draping her arms through the bars as she grins. She's wearing trousers like a man, old fashioned stockings that cling tight to her calves and her thighs, that smooth flat across her stomach before disappearing under the line of her well-fitted jacket.
They must make it easy to move like a cat, Elsa supposes, and wonders why her fingertips feel so warm.
She links her fingers together instead of bunching them into fists, and stares unfalteringly at the woman still lounging against the iron, her loose ponytail spilling over her shoulder and curling in wisps around her neck. Everything about her speaks of sunlight, the rich earth of her hair and the glow of her skin. Even here, down in the shadows and the watery light, she looks radiant.
She must be from somewhere much further south, Elsa reasons. Perhaps they're all such radiant creatures down there.
"Who are you?" Elsa inquires, gently, curiously, as snapping at her clearly isn't going to work.
The woman tilts her chin, her smile slipping infuriatingly secretive. "It would be a waste of both our time to tell you," she says.
Elsa bites her tongue.
"How did you get in?" she tries, and the woman actually rolls her eyes. There's a shock of something in the base of Elsa's spine, a sudden, hot fury.
"If you're just going to ask questions this will be no fun at all," the thief says, and Elsa has a brief, dizzy moment of wondering when everyone stopped being scared of her. "Don't you have somewhere to be?"
Her lips purse, and Elsa swallows down the yes in her throat. Of course she does. She's certainly not letting this woman ruin her sister's day. Elsa breathes out, splays her fingers, steadies herself.
"I will deal with you this evening," she says, and turns on the ball of her foot.
"I'll wait right here," the thief calls, and Elsa resists the urge to slam the dungeon doors behind her.
"My cheeks hurt," Anna says brightly. She hasn't stopped smiling since she walked into the Great Hall and found it glittering; ribbons and flowers and ice sculptures sprinkled all along the walls and the pillars; and tables spread heavy with food and drink and chocolate. "Oh! I haven't said hello to those people yet!" she says, and pulls Kristoff along with her as she dashes off into the crowd.
The hall is warm and loud and almost rustic in the sheer number of guests who've packed themselves in. Anna loves it, of course. Elsa forces herself to not stand next to her throne, and works her way through the crowd. Delegates and princes and barons all seem awfully keen to take her hand and kiss it, as though to prove how entirely unafraid they are of her powers.
Elsa is idly considering whether the resulting diplomatic incident would be worth freezing the next person who tries it when she turns, and spots a profile that seems impossibly familiar.
The woman, as though sensing she's being stared at, turns and smiles, and Elsa's heart does something strange that almost makes her press a hand to her chest. She can't - she can't move for anger. The woman's mouth brightens wider, and with an aside to her companion she's suddenly walking closer, the feet between them disappearing into inches.
Her hair is now piled elegantly up and her skirt is wide and green and almost brushing the floor - but it's the same jacket, the same eyes, the same damn smile that sinks warm and infuriating through her.
"Forgive me, Your Majesty," the thief says, and dips into a curtsey. "I fear I missed the introductions. I am Princess Mariona of Catalonia," she says, and her eyes are glittering like ice when she looks back up.
"Excuse me," Elsa says, her smile fixed, her heart hammering, and she turns away and cuts through the crowd, an odd heat against the back of her neck. She glides across the ballroom floor to where Kai is standing, his back as straight as the wall behind him.
Elsa steps close, her bare hands loosely linked in front of her as she looks serenely across the twirling crowd. She leans close and keeps her mouth soft, as though she's simply commenting on the dancing. "I need that woman arrested immediately," she says, in a whisper.
"Princess Mariona?" Kai asks, and his head moves ever so slightly to spot her, standing at the other side of the ballroom by the buffet. "May I ask why?"
Elsa takes a breath just to stop herself snapping. "She's a thief and quite possibly a murderer and the last time I saw her she was safely behind bars in my dungeons," Elsa rushes, hushed rough and inelegant. "Make sure she stays there this time."
Kai is silent for a moment, and then he clears his throat quietly. "I believe the Princess's parents are currently in conversation with Princess Anna, just over there," he says, nodding towards Anna's sweeping arm gestures. A middle-aged, royal-looking couple are smiling politely at her. "One might assume that they would notice if their daughter had been replaced with an imposter," he says, and resolutely does not look at Elsa.
Elsa bites the inside of her cheek, feeling flushed and off-balance. "Send someone to check the dungeons," she says, and sweeps away.
The dancers part as Elsa strides across the floor, and Princess Mariona looks up with that dazzling, infuriating smile as Elsa gets close enough to smell her perfume, something sun-drenched and coastal.
"Your Highness," Elsa greets, and Mariona dips neatly in response. "Would you join me for a turn around the gardens?"
"It would be my honour," she says, but there's a flash of silver behind her tongue. Elsa grits her teeth, allows Mariona to fall into close step beside her, and leads the way.
The gardens within the castle walls aren't large, but they are empty of people and as beautifully decorated as the Great Hall. The summer evening air has stirred up the flowers, every breath tasting warm and floral.
Mariona seems to be waiting for Elsa to speak first. Her mouth is closed and gently happy every time Elsa glances at her, and they're past the wisteria arches and almost under the willow tree when Elsa finally gives in, and stops suddenly.
"Your Majesty?" Mariona says, and when Elsa turns to look at her there's moonlight in the twist of her mouth, laughter hidden somewhere in her cheeks, and the fury that's been smouldering low and contained suddenly bursts. Whoever this woman is, she is taunting her.
And even as Elsa knows she shouldn't, she's stamping her foot and making a cage of ice around them. Shards of thick, blue icicles sparkle all around them and the grass turns white with frost, faint shapes like snowflakes etched into every angle. The leaves of the willow tree clink together lightly, suddenly heavy with hoarfrost.
"Oh, how divine," Mariona gasps, clapping her hands together, and it's so absurd that Elsa slams back into herself all at once, feeling foolish. "I'm flattered you brought me out here for this, but I'm sure your guests wouldn't have minded if you wanted to put on a show. Can you do wolves? I'd love one in my r-"
"Who are you, really?" Elsa cuts across.
Mariona pauses, her mouth still open, and then she skews her lips to the side and sighs as though Elsa is being impossibly dull. A moment later she's dipping into a perfectly balanced curtsey.
"Her Royal Highness, Princess Mariona Genevieve Irene Mercedes Dantès of Catalonia. Fourth in line to the throne, part time jewel thief, accomplished jail breaker," she says, and then straightens up and looks at Elsa steadily. "Is that enough?"
Elsa stares at her for a beat. "Why?" she manages.
"I usually find these things so boring, don't you?" Mariona says, gesturing towards the castle, just visible through the interlocking blue. "And I would have given them back." Elsa raises both eyebrows at her. "If you asked nicely," she concedes.
Elsa, ridiculously, wants to laugh. Mariona smiles, and it looks a little more open, a little more like gossip to be shared.
She steps closer, her court shoes crunching over the frost. "At least my back-up plan worked," Mariona says, and Elsa feels an odd prickle down her arm closest to her, as though she can feel her heat across the inches between them. "I got to be alone with you. And you're far more interesting than I was lead to believe," she says, that edge to her smile again, and Elsa frowns slightly. Looks away, because she doesn't know what else to do.
There's silence for a long, cold moment. "We could take this back to the dungeons, if you would prefer," Mariona tries, and Elsa huffs out a breath, and waves away her ice with a flick of her hand.
"I'm sorry," Elsa says, drawing her shoulders back, linking her fingers together as she studies the willow tree. "I'm not very... good company. The nerves of today must be getting to me. Please, go back to the ball," she says, and flicks a beat of a smile towards Mariona before looking away again.
Mariona sighs. "Well," she says, glancing back towards the castle where the open windows spill with gold, "If you won't talk to me, perhaps Anna will be more friendly."
The half-step flinch she gives when Elsa turns sharply to look at her is oddly satisfying.
"Ah," Mariona says, biting her lip, but there's no spark of remorse in her bright eyes or pink cheeks. She steps closer. "I didn't realise you were so possessive," she says, and loops her arm through the crook of Elsa's elbow. "You'll just have to keep me all to yourself, then."
Warmth sings all the way down her side, and Elsa tenses as though to pull away but Mariona is just looking around the garden, as though their closeness is of no consequence whatsoever, and it's so perfectly poised, so composed, that Elsa catches herself copying her.
Mariona seems content to wait for her to speak first, again.
"Tell me something," Elsa says, after studying her profile for a stretched-caramel moment. Mariona turns to face her, smiling softly, and oh, Elsa thinks. She's really very close. "Why?" Elsa asks, looking at the curve of her lips.
"Why steal things when I could just buy them, you mean?" Mariona says, and Elsa hums in reply. Mariona presses her lips together and looks away, as though she's considering it carefully.
"Well, I suppose, I do like the excitement," she says, and turns back to catch her eye. Elsa feels caught, somehow. Stuck fast in amber and utterly unable to move. Mariona continues, her gaze slipping down to somewhere around her chin, "But if I think something's beautiful, I would much rather just take it," she whispers, close enough that the words brush hot against Elsa's mouth like a warning before Mariona closes the distance between them, and kisses her.
Her hand reaches up to delicately cup Elsa's jaw as though to keep her there, but when Elsa unsticks it's only to tilt into it, to taste the promise of heat lingering in her mouth.
It's the first time having someone's lips against her skin hasn't made her feel at least mildly uncomfortable.
"Just like that," Mariona murmurs, pulling back a fraction, her hand slipping down to the curve of Elsa's neck. Her warmth is still tingling across Elsa's lips and sparking strange in every place where they're touching, Elsa's hand tentatively on Mariona's waist and still so close she can feel every breath kissing across her mouth and she feels, oh, like something she can't quite pin down down, like a distant tumbler has finally locked into place.
Mariona's eyes are dark and sparkling when Elsa pulls back a little further, her mouth flushed and inviting. She looks like she's about to say something, her tongue tapping the edge of her teeth and Elsa makes a decision - she arches forward, and kisses her first.
(She does make a wolf for Mariona eventually, before they leave the garden linked close and endlessly smiling - but Elsa will admit it looks more like a fox, sitting upright with its tail curled over its paws.)