From the top of the keep, Elsa can see all four red sails. Her little dragon climbs up on her shoulder and wraps a frozen claw around the shell of her ear. She runs her fingers along the slick-smooth scales of his underbelly and tries to remember how to breathe.
“Is it China?!”
Elsa looks down at Olaf, trying ridiculously to scurry up her hastily created spiral stairs. “Yes!” she shouts back, grinning as he celebrates so quickly he falls over. She wraps both arms around her waist and reminds herself that she’s been waiting for this. “Yes.”
The skies are very clear and the ship is still a long ways away. Elsa stands on the keep and watches for hours. The cold wind against her cheeks is a balm and Elsa begins to wonder if it’s very important that she ever come down. The dragon curls up around her shoulders and falls asleep, purring softly.
A figure on the bow of the ship points a spyglass in her direction; with a hand gesture from him, a flag runs up the highest mast. Elsa makes herself focus enough to catch it in the wind, a red dragon’s face snapping at her. She blesses Yin’s thoughtfulness, to answer her question before even gaining port, and keeps repeating to herself, over and over, that this is what she wants.
Conceal, don’t feel.
“Oh, good. Will you help me get down? It’s very high up here.”
Olaf slips his fingers into hers and she looks down to meet his eyes. “Of course, Olaf. We’ll go down together.”
Anna meets her at the barbican, changed from her sleep clothes into clothes more appropriate for the season. Elsa spares a tight smile for the sight of Hilde in her winter outfit, the rabbit fur lining so thick she can barely bend her arms.
“You don’t have to come,” Elsa mutters. “It’s just going to be a letter.”
“Maybe I came to see Captain Yin,” she rebukes playfully. “Did you ever think of that? Not everything is about you, Elsa.”
(But what Elsa was really saying was thank you, and what Anna really said back was you’re welcome.)
As they step onto the docks, Elsa stops so abruptly that Olaf’s arm comes off. She barely notices as he pulls it out of her fingers, complaining. Her eyes are glued to the woman Yin is shoving off the ship onto the dock with a gleeful expression.
Not just a letter, then.
“Elsa, if you faint right now I swear I’ll kill you.”
Elsa means to open her mouth and say hello. What happens instead is, “You’re shorter than I thought you’d be.” Anna giggles, covering her mouth with her hand. Elsa closes her eyes and counts slowly, hoping she wasn’t understood. “Elsa,” she tries again, touching her fingertips to her breastbone. “I’m Elsa.”
“Yes,” the woman agrees, and Elsa knows what she means because even without seeing her hand Elsa can feel it, the way her body hums forward, skin pricking with preternatural awareness. “I am Fa Mulan.”
She tips forward, bowing slightly. Elsa dips her head in acknowledgement, and shoves her tongue against her front teeth, wondering what she’s supposed to do now. She doesn’t like being so unprepared and with nothing to fall back on, all she can do is stare helplessly down at Mulan, and all Mulan does in return is stare back.
Elsa wonders, in a part of her mind completely outside of the situation, if her pupils are as wide-blown as the ones she’s staring into.
“Hi! I’m Olaf, and I like warm hugs!”
Mulan blinks, breaking the gaze to look down at Olaf’s outstretched arms with her mouth hanging open. Her eyebrows creased, she takes one deep breath, begins to speak, and stops, huffing, bending slightly to peer more closely into Olaf’s eyes. “You are made out of snow.” Her voice is low and even, enough space between the words that Elsa suspects she’s working hard to restrain an accent.
“I am! Elsa made me!” Olaf waggles his arms, still waiting for a hug. Mulan glances at Elsa and her eyes get stuck again. Elsa shrugs helplessly, not certain she remembers how to move her arms.
Yin rescues her, coming forward with sparkling eyes and hands pressed together. “Your majesty,” he bows. “It is very nice to see you again.”
“Captain Yin.” She reaches out with both hands, relieved to have something other than Mulan’s sundark skin, her salt-stained cambric shirt and the way it pulls against muscular arms as she bends to hug Olaf. Elsa inhales sharply and forces herself to look into Yin’s eyes. “You learned English.”
He smiles and squeezes her fingers. “Yes. It is better to talk like this. I do not like Stefano.” (It takes Elsa a beat to remember that Stefano was the name of the translator, and by then Yin is speaking again.) “I bring you good news, as I... promised.”
Elsa laughs faintly as Yin breaks eye contact to glance at Mulan, leaving her with nowhere for her eyes to fix except back on Mulan’s face. “News. Yes, yes you...” Elsa has to stop and take a deep breath. “I’m sorry, I just -”
Mulan smiles. The expression starts on one side of her face and crawls to the other and Elsa’s heart is a hummingbird thrashing forward and she clenches her jaw and her fists. Mulan unfurls her palm and holds it out; if she speaks Elsa can’t hear it over the roaring of blood in her ears.
Finally, Anna steps in, reaching out and taking Mulan’s hand, turning it to look at the name there. “Elsa, she’s real,” she says. “It’s okay.”
Elsa lifts her hand and looks at the glove, not sure she trusts herself enough to remove it. She must, though, and so she reaches and peels slowly, counting. She works it down to her fingers, just enough to tip her palm out and show Mulan the mark. When Mulan reaches for her hand, reflexively, Elsa snaps the glove back up and stumbles backwards.
Unseated, the dragon squeaks indignantly, and Mulan takes a step back herself. “A dragon!” she blurts, and a red, familiarly shaped head snaps out from the loose neck of her shirt, twin plumes of smoke erupting from his nostrils.
“A dragon!” Anna points, and Hilde laughs, clapping and reaching.
“I need to sit down,” Elsa realizes quietly, two seconds before her body makes the decision for her.