The Winter Ghost
Disclaimer: I don't own Frozen or Rise of the Guardians.
World: Frozen/RotG crossover. Takes place 200 years before the events of RotG and mostly during the events of Frozen. Also, Jack is 19 and Elsa is 21 for the purposes of this fic. This is a one-shot. I'm working on a separate multi-chapter Jelsa fic, which I hope to start posting in the near future. Enjoy!
"Ghosts don't haunt us. They're present among us because we won't let go of them."
He hated them.
A wave of his hand and their breath turned to steam. Steam, as they laughed and sang, not a care in the world. A wave of his hand and the seasons changed, but his breath never came. They didn't know. They didn't care. They didn't believe.
Sometimes he wondered what it might be like to turn the earth to ice under their dancing feet. Watch them slip and fall. Such fragile, little things, children. He'd seen it before. (Not by my hand, never ever.) Blood took a little longer to freeze than water. Hot, like fire, he watched it boil upon a bed of ice, steaming like children's breath when he waved his hand and the magic came out to play. The cold sucked the children dry. The cold sucked everything dry. Even frozen, their blood was beautiful kisses upon broken ice, smashed over lakewater where they fell in. Like him. None of them ever woke up. Like him.
He loved them.
A wave of his hand and he could make them laugh, make them sing. They loved the frost, the snow that tickled their noses. A wave of his hand and they loved him, too, but they never knew. They never cared. They never believed.
Jack Frost could freeze almost anything, but never time. Time went on without him, and only he remained forever frozen. A ghost in the ice, never seen or heard whether they laughed or cried or drowned. Maybe it was for the best, he told himself. No one could ever love a chill up their spine, a cold draft while they were warm in their beds. Cold was darkness. Cold was death. Cold was a still, quiet loneliness, immutable and everlasting. But Jack never felt the cold. He never felt much of anything.
He wanted to feel them.
Just once, just a little. Just a taste, he'd entreat the moon. The moon never answered. No one answers to a ghost.
In the end, his greed for them always beat out the hatred. It was easy with a heart made of ice. No love, no hate. He was only putting on a show for himself, anyway. Maybe that was why he saved her. Jack Frost, the trickster. Jack Frost, the deviant. The maligned hero?
Her screams begged to differ.
He'd been tracing patterns in a river, little ferns swept away with the tide. It was too early for the first frost even this far north, so he had to preoccupy himself with parlor tricks. She rode by on a horse, fast. Fast enough to make him wonder. Ladies in dresses riding side-saddle didn't gallop through densely populated trees along raging rivers. Curious, Jack skated across the water after her.
The sun was high in the sky, warm. Or so he imagined. Yellows, oranges, and reds fell like snow from the turning trees above. The leaves froze in the river in his wake, only to be dragged under the current when it drowned his fragile frost. Around a bend in the river, Jack strained his hearing. He couldn't detect the horse anymore, but he could hear shouts. Men's shouts. Angry shouts.
"Ada!" A man's voice.
Jack raced forward faster, his feet and staff casting frost fractals upon the water's surface. The current shifted, ravenous, and he swore. Blue eyes narrowed at the woman struggling to stay afloat—the same one he'd seen riding too fast. Up ahead, three men rode along the riverbank, shouting. The one in front threw a rope at the drowning girl (Ada, her name's Ada, and she's not a little girl), but she couldn't reach it.
Not thirty feet ahead lay the edge of the world, a sheer drop over a hundred feet. Jack had seen it before. They fell into the water, newborns struggling to stand on awkward legs but never lasting long. The water always won, like gravity. Greedy. But Jack was greedier. Water, unlike the people it trapped, he could feel.
The man who'd thrown the rope screamed the drowning woman's name for all the good it did. Jack sped by him and almost marveled at the terror in his eyes. Terror born of love and loss. Ada reached for the man as she tumbled over the waterfall's edge, and Jack dove after her.
Time passed without Jack, frozen as he was, but in this moment he wondered if Ada felt frozen, too. Death had a way of compressing a lot of space within a little time. Like flying, although Jack could not fly without the wind's help. He wished for the wind now. He couldn't reach Ada, but the wind surely could.
It answered his call and propelled him faster. Ada reached for him, and for a sweet moment he wondered if this was what it was like. To feel. To believe. But she was blind to the world. Blind to him. No one can see a ghost, even at death's door. Stupid boy, haven't you learned your lesson by now?
"No," Jack spat.
He took his staff in both hands and plunged the end into the cataract. A boy with a frozen heart could only pretend at love and hate, but there was one thing his icy heart was good for, at least. Blue light snaked from his staff through the water toward Ada, millions of tiny veins carrying bitter magic and death and maybe just a little life, if he got lucky. The water froze in silk ribbons, blue and white. Ada screamed and the ribbons caught her before she hit the rocks below. They wrapped around her middle, greedy little things, and they didn't let go. Her brown hair plastered her face, frosting with her unshed tears. Jack skidded to a halt on jagged nail tracks in the ice. Ada's too-short breaths came in steamy puffs, so like the children Jack worked so hard to please every winter.
"You okay, lady?" he asked, peering at her youthful face.
She didn't respond, but Jack was used to that.
The men who'd failed to save her rode down a path in the cliff and shouted her name, as if this would help. Still, they could handle things from here. This was as much as Jack could do for anyone. Ada shivered, but the ice ribbons that hugged her close didn't budge. Water from the river above slipped down the cascade and wetted her cheeks.
"S-So cold," Ada said, her teeth chattering.
"Yeah, I get that a lot." Jack yanked his staff from the icy falls and righted himself. Wind fluttered through his stark-white hair, whispering in his ear. It was time to leave this place.
"Hang on, Ada! I'm coming!"
The wind caught Jack in its currents and lifted him up. Snowflakes fell in his wake and landed on Ada's tear-frosted face. She watched him fly away, watched but never saw, her arms suspended and reaching, catching snowflakes. Jack looked away, unable to watch any longer. Having seen so many in his seventy-nine years of sleepwalking, he no longer found the lies beautiful.
The wind drowned out the rest of the men's shouts, and Jack hoped they could get her out of there. Probably. The people of Arendelle were adept at manipulating ice due to their harsh, northern winters.
Jack Frost disappeared upon a friendly, northern gale and left in his wake Arendelle's first fall snow. There would not be another this early in the season for twenty-one years.
"Elsa! Hey, Elsa! It's snowing!"
The little princess sat alone in her empty room, back against the door. Her breath came in puffs, as though she were cold. She wasn't.
"Elsaaaaa~" There was a knock at the door.
Elsa hugged her knees to her chest. Her breath frosted the sleeves of her dress in tiny swirls. Little frost flowers, pretty.
"C'mon, don't you wanna build a snowman with me?"
"Go away, Anna," Elsa said, squeezing her eyes shut.
Anna stopped knocking and silence fell. "...Oh, okay."
Elsa held her breath, waiting, but finally Anna's footsteps echoed on the other side of the door, fading to nothing. Elsa relaxed her clenched fists. Her palms flaked with unshed frost, and she wiped them on her skirt hard enough to produce heat. She didn't feel it. Maybe it was better that she didn't feel it. Better to be numb, numb to the fear and the pain. It was easier to silence the screams if nothing hurt.
Elsa rose and looked out the window by her bed. Anna was in the courtyard playing in the snow with a few servant children. The King was there, too, drinking a hot beverage and smiling. Elsa smiled a little. She and Anna used to love playing in the snow together, back when Anna knew. Back when she cared. When she believed.
She still cares.
But she couldn't know. She couldn't believe. Elsa would keep her monster bottled up and chained if just for Anna's sake. It was enough to watch Anna from afar. She had enough fun for the both of them.
Elsa plopped down on her bed as her mother, the Queen, unlocked the door and entered the room. She had a candle and wore fur, but even so her breath misted as she approached Elsa's bed. If the cold bothered her, the Queen did not say.
"How about a snack?" the Queen asked, holding out a small tin of chocolates.
Elsa lit up and took the chocolate tin, but it fell to the floor when the Queen let go. Chocolate chunks scattered across the hardwood floor. The tin flaked with frost where Elsa had frozen it. Her mother rubbed her hands for warmth.
"I-I'm sorry!" Elsa said, searching for the little gloves she was supposed to wear around other people.
The Queen put a hand on Elsa's shoulder and bade her be still. In her hand, the Queen held Elsa's blue gloves. "It's all right. There was no harm done."
Elsa yanked the gloves on and let her eyes fall to the discarded chocolates, which had begun to freeze on the floor. No harm done. Her mother always said that, but every time it convinced Elsa less and less. She could still see Anna falling to the floor and breaking her arm after suffering a blow from Elsa's cryokinetic powers.
Elsa snapped her head up. She'd been spacing out, lost in a recurring nightmare.
Conceal, don't feel.
"Elsa, are you all right?"
Don't let them see.
She nodded and sat up straight. A princess never slouched. The Queen watched her for a moment, as she was wont to do. Her blue eyes were heavy on Elsa's shoulders, and the little princess resisted the urge to fidget.
"It's only chocolate, you know."
Elsa bit her tongue and looked out the window. Anna was having a snowball fight with the King. Elsa could imagine her sister's laughter tinkling in the wind, just like when they were younger. Before the accident. Before the monster came out to play, too.
A hand smoothed Elsa's hair, gentle and soft. "Would you like to hear a story?"
"...What kind of story?"
"The best kind, of course." The Queen smiled. "A story about you."
"Oh yes. When your father and I had just married, he took me on a foxhunt in the Arendelle woods. The trees were as tall as this castle." The Queen stretched her hand up, and Elsa followed it with her eyes. "It was a beautiful fall day. You would have loved all the colors. Red and orange and pink, like the sun."
Elsa tried to imagine such a sight. She'd seen the leaves change from her window in the distant forest, but she'd never wandered among them. Anna never had, either.
"But I was careless. I thought I found the fox first, and I wanted to impress your father. We were so in love." The Queen's eyes were far away, deep in the forests of Arendelle. "But I rode my horse too fast, and I fell into the river."
Elsa gasped. "What happened?"
The Queen shook her head. "I took a tumble over the Great Falls." She pointed out Elsa's window to a colossal waterfall in the distant hills.
Elsa had often gazed at the monstrous cataract, so beautiful from afar. Up close, it was a death trap with jagged stones lining lining the bottom like slick, black teeth. Some things were better kept at a distance where they could hurt no one.
"I thought I would die then." The Queen shook her head. "I thought I would be afraid, or that it would hurt. But everything just...faded. All I could hear was the water. And then, something extraordinary happened."
"Did Father save you?"
The King was a brave man, the hero of the kingdom. He could even stand to be around his cursed daughter and hide his fear.
The Queen laughed. "No. You did."
Elsa frowned. "Me? But..."
The Queen put a hand over her belly. "You froze the waterfall and stopped my fall. You saved us both, Elsa."
Tiny hands hidden under thick, blue gloves, hands that froze and shattered warmth and joy. Elsa folded her hands on her lap just like her tutors had taught her. "That can't be right. I don't... I can't save anyone."
The Queen put a hand on Elsa's cheek, giving no indication of what she thought about her daughter's low body temperature. "You can, and you did. That's why I know everything's going to be all right." She took Elsa's smaller hands in her own. "I know you're afraid of your powers, but a power that can save lives can't be all bad."
Elsa wanted to pull away before she lost control and hurt her mother. "But I hurt Anna. I'll hurt you, too."
"No, you won't. You just have to learn to control it, the way you controlled it that day in the river. I know you can do it." The Queen leaned close and kissed Elsa's forehead. "I believe in you."
Footsteps approached Elsa's bedroom door, and soon voices drifted near. Anna and the King had returned from their snowball fight.
"...and we can build a snowman next time!"
"Of course, honey, whatever you want."
There was a knock on the door. "Ada, dear? Are you in there?"
The Queen rose and walked to the door. Elsa stayed put on the bed and watched the door crack open. Anna was covered in snowflakes, and the King ruffled her hair to get them out.
"Oh my, did you have fun out in the snow, Anna?" the Queen asked as she passed through the door.
"Next time wear a hat. You don't want Jack Frost nipping at your nose," the King said, flicking Anna's reddened nose.
Anna scowled and hid her nose. "Who?"
"It's just an old fairytale."
The door swung closed, but Elsa caught Anna's eye just before it clicked shut. She'd meant to smile, but there was no time. The door was closed, and there was no getting past it. There was no leaving this solitary tower.
Through the door, Elsa heard Anna's muffled voice as she and their parents walked away. "Father, can Elsa come play next time, too?"
"No, Anna. Your sister can't go outside."
Their voices faded and Elsa could hear no more. Eight years old and she felt like an old lady cooped up in this room. But it was for the best. She covered her ears to block out the memory of Anna's unconscious body hitting the hard dinning room floor. The crack of tiny bones, so fragile. Anna should have died that night if not for the trolls' magic.
Conceal, don't feel.
Elsa looked out her window at the oncoming twilight. In the distance, the Great Falls fell with gravity, down and down to the dark maw that swallowed them up. The same maw had almost swallowed up the Queen eight years ago if not for Elsa's magic.
Frost flowers bloomed under Elsa's bare fingers as she touched the window pane. Blue roses with curling petals and tiny thorns, tracing the edges of the glass like they wanted to escape. Maybe, just maybe...
She pulled her hand away and a rose pulled away with it, its crystalline petals like glass, so light and beautiful. Maybe...
Maybe one day, I won't have to hide.
Elsa dreamed of sunshine that night.
"I'm a slow dying flower,
Frost killing hour.
The sweet turning sour and untouchable."
It was never meant to last. Sunny days were a false beacon in Arendelle. The rains and the winds always followed, torrential and merciless. The King and Queen perished at sea while Elsa and Anna were still young. Elsa locked herself in her room and wouldn't open up for anyone, not even a teary Anna.
Especially not for Anna.
"Elsa, they're gone..." Anna said beyond the door that divided them.
Elsa sat with her back to the door and her knees pulled to her chest. She hated to cry. The tears froze on her cheeks before they made it far, but there was no helping it. Little roses bloomed all around her feet and hair, filling the gloomy room with their frozen fragrance. Winter cobwebs, her only company in this prison.
Am I a prisoner?
Better a prisoner than a monster on the loose.
"Go away, Anna."
Anna's tears were impossible to ignore, and Elsa clenched her fists tighter.
Anna left and the blue roses bloomed with new vigor. Their petals fell at Elsa's feet and their thorns curled around her arms, loving. And Elsa cried diamonds that shattered on the floor like tiny fireworks. She covered her ears hard enough to hurt as sobs wracked her tiny frame.
Don't let them see.
The Queen was wrong. Nothing good could come of this wretched power. Nothing good could come of her.
"I'm sorry, too."
Don't let them in.
For Anna, she would keep the door forever closed.
"Okay, okay! You got me, geez."
Two enormous Yetis threw Jack into snow deeper than he was tall. Uncalled for, seriously. He just wanted a peek inside North's workshop. It wasn't as if he planned to steal anything or cause trouble. At least, not much.
The Yetis grumbled something in unintelligible Yeti-speak, but Jack took it to mean "Stay out or else." Best to be safe.
Jack picked himself up and the Yetis returned to their posts. Better luck next time, he supposed. North's workshop was notorious for its security.
And here I thought Saint Nick was supposed to be a nice guy.
Jack kicked the snow and sent a giant flurry toward the departing Yetis, which knocked them over face-first in the snow. Before they could retaliate, he waved and floated away on the wind, laughing.
"Row, row, row your boat gently down the stream~"
The winds guided him southeast. It was too early for winter in the northern settlements (the North Pole was an anomaly of perpetual winter with which Jack had nothing to do, honest), but he figured a little fall frost wouldn't hurt anyone. A wave of his hand and the rains turned to sleet. A puff of his phantom breath and dew crystallized upon the petals of red roses, making them sparkle like a thousand gems. He liked red. It was so beyond him that even his most frigid caresses could not enervate its hue. Frozen in time, impervious to decay. Like him.
The children were always happy to see winter's first tendrils curling at their toes. Snow, snow, snow! they'd shout. Mothers and fathers chased them with scarves and mittens. You don't want Jack Frost nipping at your nose!
How he hated that. Fairytale. Myth. Pretty words for ghost. And yet, Jack hung on their every word. The children loved him, and he loved them, too. At least, as much as a cold, dark, void can love the color red.
"Let's build a snowman!"
"Idiot, ya need snow for that. This aint' snow, it's frost!"
"But I wanna build a snowman!"
Jack laughed at the children's antics. It was much too early for snow and he no intention of throwing off the balance of nature (the old Mother would give him an earful if he dared it), but he could have his fun. He had little else in this spectral life but children and their fun. Frost flurries and frozen leaves, he gave them the fun they craved. It was worth it to hear their laughter. He was almost happy.
Weselton was bustling this time of year with an outburst of pre-winter exports. Jack wondered if anyone this far north had ever tried to infiltrate North's workshop like he had and laughed. The wind carried him through town, a trail of frost in his wake as he skirted among townspeople.
"...just terrible, I say."
"Yes and...but so young. To think, she's a witch!"
Jack overheard bits and pieces of the townspeople's conversations. Normally he ignored human affairs—they couldn't see him, and he couldn't care less about their petty squabbles. But this talk of a witch gave him pause. Maybe the Tooth Fairy had gotten a little eager and pulled the wrong teeth.
He grabbed a lamppost and spun around it with his staff until he landed on the ground near the conversing men.
"I don't believe they never knew, all this time. A monster living in their midst! And the Queen, no less," one of the men said.
The other man wrung his hands and looked over his shoulder as though this witch queen would sneak up on him at any moment. "Well, believe it. They say—" He cut himself off and leaned in close. Jack leaned in, too, and put a hand around his ear to hear better. "They say she turned a hundred of her royal guardsman to ice."
Jack stilled. He could not move, and if he'd been a normal human he may have thought of himself as frozen in place. It was a little more cause for concern in his case, though.
"A hundred? I hear it were a thousand men! Black magic, that is," said the first man. "Ain't natural to shoot ice beams. Someone oughtta cut off her head and feed it to the wolves."
"Aye. They say her parents, the King and Queen of Arendelle, died at sea. But I reckon the witch done it. Too convenient."
Jack broke out of his trance and repeated that word in his head. Arendelle. He knew that place. He'd visited it in the past, though it never needed much encouragement to succumb to winter's embrace. He'd saved a woman's life there once, years ago. Twenty-one years ago, though it took him a minute to calculate that. Time blurred together when he bothered to keep track of it.
"And the worst of it," the first man continued, "is the witch cast a spell on Arendelle."
"Eternal winter. The whole place's frozen! I reckon more people'll start dying soon. Better find better buyers for this season's catch..."
Jack heard no more of their conversation.
Something inside twisted and he felt pain, actually felt something stir.
Turned to ice.
If he'd been living, his life may have flashed before his vacuous eyes.
"Ada," Jack said, clenching his staff.
It had to be her. He didn't know how, but he knew why. He had to find her.
"And do what? Help her? No one can see me."
People passed him by in the streets, none privy to his solitary conversation. Business as usual. It was probably fruitless. A dead end (Jack Frost knew a thing or two about dead ends). Still, something nagged at him to check it out. If his interference had done something to her, it was his responsibility. To do what, he couldn't say. But he had to check it out. Decided, Jack caught the wind and rode it over Weselton, northbound. In the distance, storm clouds roiled and thundered. He released an imaginary breath, bracing himself for the maelstrom that lay ahead.
Elsa had never feared the heat, foreign as it was, until the day it ran her out of Arendelle. Steel swords and pitchforks dipped in fire poked and cut at her. They slashed her blue roses for the angry townspeople to trample underfoot. Anna crushed them, too, as she begged her sister and queen to throw it all away, everything Elsa had ever worked for. All those lonely nights spent behind closed doors, cold and blind to the world. It was for their own good, for Anna's own good. No one knew. No one cared.
But now they believed.
"Burn her to bones and dust!"
All those years locked in a dark tower meant nothing now. Elsa's secret was out thanks to Anna's over exuberance and a sham marriage proposal out of the blue. Elsa could not contain the storm inside any longer, and she didn't blame the people of Arendelle for their fear. She feared her powers, too.
"Higher, Elsa! Higher!"
Elsa choked on a sob and bade the wind howl louder to drown out the memory of Anna's voice. Higher was the only place left for an exiled snow queen. And so, higher she climbed. The snow drifts lifted her steps, little kisses to her royal feet that urged her forward and up where the air was thin and the trees lost the battle to snow and sleet. Here, atop the Northern Mountain, no man could survive, or so the legend said.
Elsa was no man.
Arendelle was a mere smudge on the pristine fabric of her realm. White and blue stretched for miles as far as the eye could see, sublime even in starlight. Staring back at the place she'd called home all her life, Elsa wondered if this majestic peak had watched her through her window, marvelling at how small she was. On top of the world it was beautiful, but there was no one around. It was perfect.
"Let it go," she said. The wind carried her words back to Arendelle, back to the fire she'd only narrowly escaped. But no fire could survive up here. She smiled.
It took the rest of the night to erect the makings of an ice castle in the side of the Northern Mountain. Elsa had hardly left the confines of her room growing up, but solid walls were no barrier to books and imagination. A queen needed a castle, and Elsa's hands could build the fairytale she'd always known she could never have. In three days' time, it was done. She saw her face in every wall, every dark corner when sunlight refracted through the ice. Blues and purples and pinks. They were hers and hers alone. Gone were her gloves, the shackles that chained her down (all these years and she'd thought they were helping). Elsa let down her hair and dressed herself in the blue roses she'd nurtured in darkness and solitude.
And when the dawn brought her rainbows, she greeted them with all the grace and poise of a queen. Her subjects, snowflakes and frostlings, filled her hair and gave her breath as she gazed at the frozen panorama. A snow kingdom for a snow queen. Elsa laughed, bright and pure.
Only the wind whistled in response, as if to echo her declaration. Elsa leaned on the balcony railing. It was better this way, for everyone. For Anna. Without the fear that had haunted Elsa all her life, she could live without worry of the ghost inside. Anna and all the others would be safe this way. Monsters were meant to stay out of sight. Elsa had learned that lesson at a young age.
She sighed and the air crystallized in tiny, frozen flowers upon the balcony railing. For the first time in her life, Elsa's silence was no longer deafening. She retreated inside and slammed the door behind her.
Arendelle was in bad shape. Jack had to tiptoe over chunks of broken ice and small fires. The people had sequestered themselves inside with the onset of a blizzard, though this didn't bother Jack. The castle stood solemn and grey amidst dirty snow flurries and ash. A commotion at the castle gates drew his attention, and he approached.
"I have to go after her," a young woman said as she saddled up a horse.
"Princess Anna, it's far too dangerous! She'll kill you, too!"
Anna wiped her nose and cinched the horse's saddle tight. The horse whinnied in protest. "She didn't kill anyone, for your information. And she's my sister. She'd never hurt me."
The short, older man sputtered at the princess's rebellion. "Headstrong girl! A witch has no heart. Mark my words, the Queen will kill you as soon as you find her!"
A young man put a hand on the old man's shoulder and squeezed. Hard. "There, there, good Duke. Princess Anna knows what she's doing."
Anna pulled on woolen mittens and smiled. "Thank you, Prince Hans. I'll return with Elsa as soon as I can. I leave you in charge until then."
Hans took her hand and kissed it, and Anna blushed. "Be safe."
"I will. Farewell!"
Anna galloped off, whizzing right past Jack like she didn't even see him. What else was new. But this 'Elsa' girl had piqued his interests. Perhaps she had something to do with whatever had happened here. Maybe she even knew something about Ada.
"This is folly, you know," the Duke said to Hans. "The Princess will die out there. No one's ever made it to the Northern Mountain and lived to tell the tale."
Hans glared at the shorter man. "She will. Now enough talking. We have a kingdom to look after. Guards!"
The royal guards scuttled to do Prince Hans's bidding, and Jack ignored them. If he could find the Northern Mountain, perhaps he could find Queen Elsa and get to the bottom of this. Calling upon the wind, Jack flew high above Arendelle. Below, the Duke and a few guards swore. The wind had nearly knocked them over. Jack winced.
"Sorry about that, hah..."
Now, let's find this Elsa.
The wind whipped Jack over and under, and he may have been sick if he were capable. Snow bombarded his cheeks like tiny needle points, vicious. Whatever storm Ada had cooked up was going to get nasty down the line, and there was no end in sight if the endless expanse of white desert was anything to go by.
"Now that's a snowstorm."
He was giddy. Despite the animosity he'd witnessed both in Weselton and Arendelle, Jack had a feeling something grand awaited him on the Northern Mountain. This was an adventure, something new and mysterious and a little dangerous, and Jack Frost craved the mysterious and the dangerous. He had to fix it, but who was to say he couldn't look forward to some good, old fashioned fun? And there was nothing quite so fun as an icy tempest powerful enough to cow Mother Nature into submission. The cold had never bothered him, anyway.
Riding the gelid air currents, Jack arrived at the Northern Mountain in an hour's time. Anna, if she survived the journey, would need weeks to make it this far. After miles and miles of rocky peaks and swirling snow drifts, the sight that greeted Jack at the top of the Northern Mountain would have taken his breath away if he could breathe.
A palace, radiant in the morning sunlight, stretched toward the heavens like broken mirrors, beautiful in their destruction. Purples and blues and pinks reflected the day's fledgling sunbeams, sucking them up like greedy fingers. As the sun rose higher on the horizon, the ice castle shone brighter, as if with a light all its own. Never in his life had Jack seen anything like it. It was no work of the ordinary man. No, this was magic incarnate, a dream come true. A fairytale for his eyes to feast upon.
"And I thought I was a big deal..."
No doubt about it, this had to be the place. Jack bade the wind carry him to the base of the palace, where he walked up a flight of ice stairs. He ran his hand up the railing, never feeling the cold despite the ever-present blue tinge in his fingertips. The front double doors glimmered in the morning sun, and he peered at his reflection, clear and deep. The construction was perfect. He ran a hand over his reflection and marvelled at the ice's smoothness. The whole place was made of the stuff. Jack laughed out loud. This must be what it was like to be a child waking up to winter's first breath. Ever impatient, Jacked pushed open the door and went inside.
The interior was just as opulent as the outside. The ceiling loomed high above and left enough room to accommodate a giant. The floors sparkled, and beyond them he could see the mountain's rock face. Like walking on air. Twin staircases stretched from either end of the entrance hall and met in the middle before a set of double doors, dark. He did a little spin, and his magic drew fractals in the floor, tiny fernlings that wisped around his feet and danced with him.
"Who are you?" a voiced demanded from on high.
Jack slowed his spinning and regained his balance with his staff. He peered over his shoulder and noticed a young woman on the balcony where the stairs met. Gravity caught up with him (or rather, his jaw) and he stared as though he'd seen a ghost. That is, the most exquisite ghost of winter's frozen spirit given life. He knew before he had a chance to ask. She was Elsa, the queen of this castle, and she could see him.
"I asked you a question."
The woman leaned over the balcony, and her hands frosted over as she gripped the railing. Jack put a hand over his mouth, speechless. This wasn't a dream. She was really talking to him, like he was real.
"You can see me?" he asked, his hands starting shake.
Elsa frowned. "Of course I can see you."
It was like being born. All these years wandering in silence as people lived their lives all around him, never with him, had driven him a little mad. When left to his own devices, Jack could see his madness take shape with every cold front he summoned to freeze crops or sequester people inside, just because he could. But she could see him. Hear him. If Jack could cry, he surely would have.
"How did you find me?" She was getting angry, and the mist at her fingertips froze into a hundred icy thorns around her grip.
Jack swallowed his internal turmoil. No use asking why when she was right here. Angry or not, she was talking to him.
"Show me," he said, stepping forward.
"Show you what?"
Jack grinned and tapped knuckles with a finger. "That."
Elsa removed her hands from the railing and hid them behind her back. She narrowed her eyes. "I don't know why you came here, but you need to leave. Now." She showed him her back.
Never one to give up, Jack raced up the right staircase light as a feather and skidded to a halt before her, cutting off her retreat. Elsa put up a hand in self-defense. Veins of magic in her palm glowed blue and emitted curling frost crystals. Jack couldn't look away.
"That's it," he said, touching his palm to hers.
Elsa dropped the tough act and took a step backward, eyes wide with fear. "No, don't—"
But Jack touched her fingertips and drew out the storm within. Frigid magic danced between their hands like lightning. Frost crystals extended from her hand to his, snaking around his wrist under the sleeve of his hoodie. Intricate, woven designs like exotic flowers or calligraphy, too beautiful to be natural. He smiled, and Elsa gasped. When she pulled her hand away this time, he let her.
Up close she was a sight to behold, but the apprehension in her look didn't suit her.
"Who are you?" she asked again, this time less intimidating and more curious. Afraid.
Jack bowed deeply and waved his hand for flourish. Tiny snowflakes fell in its arc, and Elsa's wide, blue eyes followed them, entranced.
"I'm Jack Frost."
Just when she thought she was free of the world and the fear it instilled in her, he had to come along. All she'd wanted was to be alone with this curse, to do what was right while embracing the freedom she'd coveted all her life. And now, she had a hallucination to deal with.
"Jack Frost is a children's fairytale," Elsa said as she followed his pacing with her eyes. Every time his staff tapped the floor, it birthed fresh snow.
"I wish," he said, flashing her a bright smile. Too bright.
She didn't trust that smile for a minute, like he was hiding something, but he didn't give her a chance to ask.
He examined a pedestal with a vase of flowers made of ice. "So, ice powers. That's different."
Elsa ignored him. "And since you're a fairytale, either I'm losing my mind or this is a bad dream."
"I mean, not different, I guess, considering I can do this, too." Jack twirled his hand until he'd conjured up a single, frosted rose, nearly transparent under the afternoon sun.
Elsa pressed her lips together and her hands itched. She rubbed them together to dispel the sensation before it could manifest and freeze the air in the room. When Jack grabbed one of her hands, she nearly jumped at the contact. He pressed the ice flower against her palm and closed her fingers around the stem. The rose reflected the sun, momentarily blinding if she held it at the wrong angle. The petals were thick and curled, like they'd been hand-crafted. Like magic.
"It's not a dream," Jack said. "I'm real. Can't you feel me?"
Elsa looked him in the eye. His hand still remained around hers, the rose between them. But there was no warmth, nothing to melt it.
"How?" she asked. "All my life..."
Jack released her and stepped away. "I've been around for...about a hundred years now, and I've never met a single human who can see me. Until you."
Elsa had no words for him. She had an idea of what it meant to be isolated, but to be invisible? It was too cruel to imagine. Even if she could never open her door, Anna's knocking never tired over the years. Someone knew she existed. Someone was always there. No matter how hard Elsa had tried, she'd never managed to fall invisible.
"So, sorry if I got a little excited about that before. I guess it's kinda cool to hear someone respond when I talk to them for once, you know?" He smiled.
"I know," she said without thinking.
Jack's smile faltered.
Elsa ran a finger over the ice flower's petals. They were sharp to the touch. "You should leave this place."
"Not a chance."
She hadn't expected resistance, and so easy, at that. "Excuse me?"
"Were you listening? No one but you can see me. You think I'm really gonna walk away from that? Get real."
Don't let them see.
Elsa shook her head and set the ice flower down on a nearby table. "You must leave. I'm not—"
She bit her tongue, unable to say it in front of another person. Alone, she could face her fears and laugh at them. But with a witness, someone to see her ugliness and use it against her, she faltered. So weak. Always so weak. The selfless part of Elsa would have given anything to trade places with Jack. To be invisible.
"I don't care what you're not," Jack said. He waved his staff and a chilly gale passed through the windows and filled the room, filling Elsa's breath with snow. "I'm more interested in what you are." He held out a hand. "Dance with me."
All her life, Elsa had been a recluse, afraid to hurt and afraid to touch. Her solitary suffering could mollify the masses, even if they didn't know. Even if they didn't care. Even if they didn't believe.
But now they knew.
So let it go.
Elsa reached for him, but a mischievous grin was her undoing. Before she could take his hand, the wind lifted them off their feet and swept them away upon an invisible river. Elsa would have screamed, but the view stole her breath away. The mountain gales guided them over the mountain's face, a sheer drop of nineteen thousand feet. Jack laughed and spun in midair, leaving snowflakes in his wake. Elsa fought to steady herself, but the winds were erratic and for all her grace, she'd always been a poor dancer.
"Hey, show me what you got, Princess!"
Elsa scowled at the taunt, like this flying over the edge of the world business was no big deal for him.
"What, you can't be scared now. I won't let you fall," he said, holding out a hand to her.
Elsa held his gaze. He was really here. He could see her, what she was, and he was eager for more. Elsa wrapped her sheer cape around one arm and did her best to look regal at fifty miles per hour.
"I'm not a princess," she said. Her hand glowed blue and she swept it before her in a wide arc. "I'm a queen!"
A vortex of snow flurries descended on Jack, and he somersaulted to avoid the worst of it. The flurry expanded and kicked up snow on the mountainside, dancing in ribbons of white and blue, like wings experiencing their first flight. And Jack laughed.
"Now that's what I'm talking about!" He waved his staff and sent them flying fast and low over the mountainside, where they kicked up snow.
Elsa dipped her hand in the snow, and it curled around her, begged for her touch. It was impossible to resist. She smiled and dipped her other hand in the snow, drawing more power and more chill. Jack lifted them higher again, and the snow fell beneath them like a million stars, glittering in the sunlight. Elsa laughed and tried to catch the falling flakes between her fingers. When she caught sight of Jack, he watched her with a softer look about him, not like the devious grins he'd shown her earlier. Embarrassment tickled her stomach, but Elsa was having too much fun to let it ruin the moment.
The wind carried them to the ice palace's highest balcony. Elsa's breath was deep and misted, and she clutched her belly from all the laughing. Jack propped his staff against the railing and leaned back, just watching her.
"Thanks for the dance, Your Majesty."
Elsa tucked loose hair behind her ear and eyed him. "Just Elsa, please."
Jack brightened at that. "Elsa, sure."
Elsa smiled a little and headed inside. She'd just flown on wind and snow over the tallest mountain in the land. Her hands shook, but not out of anxiety. More. More ice, more snow, more power.
"Hey, where're you going?" Jack skated in front of her.
"The palace is rather empty. I thought I'd do some interior decorating."
He gave her a weird look, and she smirked.
"Care to lend me a hand?"
Jack grinned and floated off the ground a little. "I'll lend you both!"
He grabbed her hand and dragged her inside so they could get started. Elsa didn't mind the contact on her bare palm, for once. There was no warmth in his touch, but it was firm and solid, and he didn't let go. The cold had never bothered her, anyway. She followed him inside and let her imagination guide her power, fearless.
This life was a dream come true. Jack could hardly believe he'd found her. It was even harder to believe she'd let him stay. Sometimes he'd watch her work. She liked to build things with her hands, small things, mostly. Flowers, little trinkets. But that was as far as she'd go on her own.
"Let's build a snowman. But like, a huge one," Jack said one afternoon.
She tensed, and he caught the frost on her fingers before she had a chance to hide it. "No, I don't think so."
Sometimes she clammed up, and Jack could only wonder at what he'd said to set her off. Up here on the highest tower of Elsa's ice palace, Jack could just make out Arendelle on the horizon, a little speck almost too small for the naked eye to see. He remembered the vituperative insults the Duke had thrown around in Elsa's name, the fire and broken ice that covered the city. Elsa fled the gnashing jaws of fearful townsfolk ready to burn her at the stake rather than hear reason. Jack gritted his teeth and it began to snow.
Elsa was afraid of herself. Jack was no poster child for heroism by any means, but he'd learned to live with his situation and find the fun in it. Elsa had missed that bit, and now she didn't have a life to go back to.
"Don't you get lonely up here? Normal people can't live this high up."
Jack would never forget the look in her eyes that day when he asked her why. Like it was such a relief just to be asked.
"That's the point," she said. "They can't reach me here, and I can't reach them."
"If people could see me like they see you, I wouldn't want to be alone."
"...In that case, be happy they can't see you."
He wanted to touch her then, to feel her. Anything to reassure himself that she was real, that someone believed in him. No, not just anyone. Somewhere along the line, she'd started to matter. It was years ago before he even knew she existed. Fate had a plan even for invisible ghosts, and Jack wasn't complaining now.
"But I'm not alone," she said. "I have you."
He ran a hand over her jawline. He didn't mean anything by it, too infatuated with this new sensation after so many years of numbness to have ulterior motives. Elsa usually shied away from his touch, and he'd always assumed it was because his hands were as cold as the walls of her palace.
This time, she did not. She let him run his fingers along the base of her braid, frostbitten fingers that sucked life dry. And she watched him like she'd watch the sunsets every night, lingering until she was sure the light was gone. Greedy, like him.
His name in her voice echoed against the mirrored walls of this fairytale castle she'd built with her frozen hands, everywhere. He never tired of hearing her say his name. Anything to remind him he was real and she could feel him. Her fingers on his parted lips traced frosty patterns, but he didn't mind at all. Somewhere in the memories he'd lost long ago, something told him this was taking them to a place far away. Someplace beautiful and sad and theirs. Her breath melted the ice crystals on his lips, and for the life of him he could not wish them back.
Even now she was afraid. Even as he held her and snowflakes billowed around their ankles, letting nothing in, she was afraid. Jack dug his frozen fingers into the small of her back, wishing for some peace from her insidious fears. Didn't she understand that she didn't have to fear him? That she didn't have to fear herself with him? It was a vile thing, fear. And the ones who'd shut her out were viler. How could anyone push her away when she was so...
He never tired of hearing his name on her lips when he ran his frozen finger through her hair, down the length of her. His kisses left burns in their wake, bruises filled with ice, but Elsa never noticed, and they faded just as soon as they appeared. Like she absorbed them and kept them for herself. No one had ever kept Jack, but he liked the idea. He gave her more, and she whispered his name.
Liar, you're only taking.
Give or take, the distinction didn't matter. For the first time, Jack had something she wanted. The longer they were together, the more he wondered.
Jack had no memories of who he'd been before he was Jack Frost, and on most days that fact was the motivation behind his most bitter tempests. Why did he have to be the one to suffer this wretched fate? What terrible deed had he done to condemn him to this hell on earth? And Elsa, his eyes and ears, was his keeper. For the first time in his too-long phantom life, Jack knew what it was to feel. To want. Winter was harsh and frigid, but he didn't have to brave it alone anymore.
Elsa was afraid, but she had nothing to fear from him, the spirit of winter. He knew her power because it was his power, too. And it was with that thought that he approached her on the morning of their fourth week together.
"How long have you been able to do that?"
Elsa closed her hand and the snowflakes dancing upon it disappeared. They were outside on a wide balcony, and she sat on the railing while he stood beside her.
"Since before I was born." She gazed at the barren fjords, wistful. "I've always been this way."
Tiny ice thorns grew near Elsa's hands where they gripped the railing, and Jack put a hand over hers. Slowly, the thorns melted and she relaxed. He waited.
"My mother almost died when she was pregnant with me," Elsa began. "She fell down a waterfall, but my powers saved her. I froze the waterfall before she could hit the bottom."
Jack remained silent as old memories surfaced. A woman screaming, the river gobbling up his frost as he glided over the water's surface and plunged over the edge of a huge cataract. Ada had lived that day because he'd saved her.
New ice thorns grew beneath Jack's palm, and Elsa had to pull her hand away to avoid being cut.
"Jack? What's wrong?"
"A waterfall, huh? What're the odds."
Elsa was shrewd, and right now she didn't trust his act. "Jack, tell me what's wrong."
He'd come here to stop Ada, but instead he found her daughter. A daughter exiled from her country because of the risk her powers posed to others. A risk Jack had foisted upon her.
I cursed her.
The winds picked up and carried snow and sleet with them from the side of the mountain. He really wasn't handling this revelation well. What did he expect, really? That this had nothing to do with him? Jack Frost, Part-Time Homewrecker and Eternal Fuck-Up.
What're the odds.
Maybe she was right. Maybe he would have been better off staying invisible.
"Listen, Elsa, I gotta tell you something. It's about Ada."
"...My mother? How do you know my mother?"
"I don't, not really. Er, we did meet once. At least, I met her, but she couldn't see me—"
"Jack, how do you know my mother?"
She had that business tone that told him there was no getting away with anything. He didn't want to lie to her, but the frost swirling around her hands sapped his confidence.
His shoulders slumped and he met Elsa's gaze. "That day when the waterfall froze, it was me. I did that."
"...I don't understand."
"I mean, I froze the waterfall with my magic. You said you've had your powers since before you were born..."
Elsa was no longer looking at him. Her eyes concealed a storm just waiting to unleash its frozen furor upon him. "Are you saying...I'm like this because of you?"
Jack took a step back. "I had no idea your mother was pregnant. I-I didn't even know it was possible to curse—" He cut himself off before he could say it, but the damage was done.
Elsa was on her feet and advancing fast. "You did this to me. You turned me into this thing!"
Thunder boomed overhead and it began to snow. Dark storm clouds blocked out the sun as Elsa's fury compounded.
"Hey, it's not like that. I just wanted to help her. I didn't know..." Jack was running out of excuses to appease her. He'd never feared for his existence, but he was starting to reconsider that now that he had her wrath in all its glory focused on him. "Please, you have to believe me."
"I don't believe you. And I don't want to see you anymore."
Elsa fired off blue ice bolts in his direction, and Jack only narrowly avoided the brunt of the attacks. He had no desire to fight, but Elsa was unrelenting. He blocked another bolt with his staff, and his arms shook under the force of her power. She'd become stronger since he first found her.
She unleashed a terrifying blast of snow and ice that knocked him clean off the balcony. Jack would have fallen to the dark crevasse below had the wind not caught him. Below, Elsa followed him with her outstretched hand and sent a storm of hail after him. Red, red like blood and heat and the roses she loved so much, illuminated the ice palace. Jack recoiled and clung to the wind lest he get caught up in Elsa's crimson wrath. Soon, the oncoming maelstrom shrouded the castle from view. Elsa was gone.
And Jack was alone and invisible once more.
"I'm sorry," he said, letting the wind's howl drown out the wasted apology.
Jack had always loved the color red, the only color absent from the dark void in which he lived his specter's life. Even in her scathing fury, blind, Elsa's red was beautiful to him. Fate had a plan even for lonely winter ghosts. Perhaps this was his: to love that which he could never have.
"She's lost in the darkness, fading away.
I'm still around here screaming her name.
She's haunting my dreamworld trying to survive.
My heart is frozen. I'm losing my mind.
Help me, I'm buried alive."
This was the hand fate had dealt her. Here, alone in a dungeon without even her curse to keep her company, Elsa finally felt the cold.
"Please, just let me go."
Prince Hans sighed, but he dared not approach. "I'll do what I can."
He was gone and Elsa was alone. Anna's whereabouts were still unknown, and Elsa shuddered at the memory of their last meeting. She'd struck Anna with her magic again, having lost control to the fear inside. It was all falling apart, all her plans. Outside, a tempest the likes of which Arendelle had never seen raged violent and bitter, Elsa's fears manifested. She had to get out of here before she could do any more damage, hurt any more people.
There was no hope.
If only Hans and his soldiers hadn't dragged her back here. If only Anna had stayed away. Elsa had fled to be alone, to save them, and all they could do was chase her to the ends of the earth. No one was safe with her, not like this.
That's not true.
Elsa sank to the floor of her cell and wrested her shackled hands on her knees. Jack was long gone, she'd made sure of that. Whatever they'd had, if a person like him could even have, was over. Elsa couldn't say she was surprised. Who could ever love a monster like her? Even after all that had transpired between them, she knew he'd meant her no harm. Knowing him like she did, his loneliness and his pain, she knew he would never wish such a fate on her or anyone else.
Elsa smiled sadly. Heavy, frozen tears rolled down her cheeks and cracked when they hit the floor. She'd pushed away the only person who could see her, the real her. Not the monster. Even if it was just a pretty fairytale, she'd wanted to believe it. She'd wanted to believe in him, in them.
"What have I done?" She clenched her fists inside the iron shackles that bound her, and they began to frost over.
"Nothing that can't be fixed."
Elsa jumped at the sound of his voice in her ear, a phantom warmth she'd learned to crave even more in her self-imposed isolation than when he'd been within her grasp. She reigned in her tears, but Jack caught one before she could smash it. A single, teardrop diamond in his hand shined under muted torchlight. And it melted before her eyes, the water trembling in his palm as he watched her.
"Jack," she said, resisting the urge to cry in front of him.
"I'm here." He frowned and felt his face and chest. "Yeah, really here. Solid."
Elsa couldn't fight the smile at his meager attempt to cheer her up. It worked. "You came back."
He rested his hands over her shackles and the iron whined as he supercooled it. In one swift motion, he smashed her shackles against the floor and shattered them. "I'll always come back for you."
Elsa flexed her fingers, relieved to be free of her restraints. She rose and Jack rose with her.
"Okay, there aren't too many guards here, but they can see you, you know, so maybe if we just knock 'em out nice and quiet we can—"
The back wall of the cell exploded under the force of Elsa's magic and a gaping hole left plenty of room for both of them to pass through. Elsa stepped outside without waiting for him.
"...Or we could take the back door, I guess." Jack grinned and followed her out. "I missed her."
Outside, the blizzard grew worse. Visibility was poor, and Elsa shielded her eyes from the razor winds pelting her with snow and sleet. She trudged over ice and snow toward the fjords, back to the ice palace.
"Hey, whoa whoa, where're you headed? Arendelle's that way."
Jack had glided in front of her, an irritating habit of his considering he only did it when she was going somewhere with a purpose. Elsa was in no mood to argue.
"Exactly. I have to get away from here before the storm gets out of control."
She tried to push past him, but he blocked her path again.
"No, that's not gonna help. Elsa, your emotions are causing the storm. You have to get it together."
The winds howled and ribbons of snow wrapped their wicked fingers around Jack and Elsa. Jack grabbed her hand got close enough to make himself heard.
"You can. I've seen you do it. You just have to control your fear."
"I can't! This," Elsa gestured to the sky, which looked about ready to dump the storm of the century on Arendelle, "is the monster. My monster. I can't beat it, so I have to take it far away. Don't you see?"
Jack tightened his grip on her hand. "No, I only see a woman who lost her way. It's my fault, Elsa, I'm so sorry. But I know you can fix this. I believe in you."
More than anything, she wanted to let him lull her to sleep like he had during their time together in the ice palace. She wanted to feel his fingers in her hair, cold to the touch. She loved his cold like she'd never loved her own. But it was a dream, a fairytale. Elsa had outgrown fairytales long ago.
"I don't believe in me," she said, yanking her hand away and walking past him.
Jack hesitated. He'd come here determined to make Elsa listen to his apology. It would never be enough, but he couldn't let things end like this. He couldn't let things end at all. Jack Frost was was greedy, and he'd gotten a long, lingering taste of what it felt like. If it was the last thing he did, he'd make Elsa feel it, too. She needed it more than he did, though he hadn't understood until it was too late.
Now, she was pushing him away again. She had it in her head that her departure would be the end of everything, but the sky and Jack begged to differ. He eyed the intensifying storm clouds, squinting when he saw lightning.
"Looks like it's you and me, buddy."
This time, I won't let you go.
Jack ran after Elsa, not trusting the winds to carry him safely in this weather. But someone else had found her first. A royal, judging by his attire. Elsa's sheer cape snapped in the wind, and Jack was sure it would decapitate anyone who got too close.
"Queen Elsa, you have to stop this storm!" the royal said.
"I'm sorry, Hans, I just can't," Elsa said. "Please...take care of Anna for me."
Elsa showed him her back and came face to face with Jack, whom Hans could not see. She said nothing, but she didn't have to. Jack reached for her.
"Elsa, just listen to me..."
"Anna's dead," Hans said.
Elsa tensed. Jack had seen people drown. He'd seen them freeze and fall, still, to the depths of darkness. As a ghost, he could never save them, never offer a helping hand or even warn them of their imminent deaths. But he saw the light leave their eyes. He watched them fade and the world fade with them. Alone. They all died alone because they could never see him. No one knew. No one cared. No one believed.
But Jack believed.
"You cursed her heart, and it turned to ice," Hans explained. "You killed your own sister."
Elsa's light faded and she faded with it. Jack caught her as she fell, and they sank into the snow together. Her pain was a deluge of emotions so powerful, even her fear could not drown it out. The blizzard calmed and the winds died down, and Jack held Elsa in his arms as she trembled with the overwhelming force of her despair.
Elsa fisted Jack's sweatshirt and clung to him for dear life. He had no words for her, though he wanted to tell her he understood what it meant to lose a sister even though he didn't. He didn't even have a sister. And yet, his frozen heart wept for Elsa's loss as though it were his own. It was too much.
What happened next defied the laws of time. Hans, who'd been standing some yards away, now had his sword poised for the kill. Jack managed a cry of protest and reached for his staff to blast the royal. Every vein in his body screamed for the kind of cold Jack had tried to ignore for as long as he'd been this way, the kind that made its home in darkness and death. Right now, as he watched Hans prepare to strike Elsa with intent to kill, Jack wanted nothing more than to hear Hans's blood freeze and burst in his veins so he couldn't even bleed out like a normal human. The rush of black hatred was so intense that he began to tremble, and Elsa stirred.
But out of nowhere, a young woman threw herself directly in Hans's path and threw up her arms. "Stop!"
Jack stopped and Hans did, too. But it made no difference. Her hair was white as a corpse's, like Jack's. Frostlets snaked up her ankles and wrists with pernicious desire, trapping her in their frozen tendrils. Before Jack's eyes, she turned to ice.
Hans dropped his sword, stunned. "Oh my god, Anna..."
Elsa pulled away from Jack and assessed the situation. When she saw her sister's frozen form, she cried out. Jack let her go, and she clawed her way up the statue, like she could not stand on her own.
"No, no, no, please no," Elsa sobbed.
Her diamond tears clinked against the statue's frigid flesh as they fell, each one deafening in the eerie after-storm calm.
"Anna, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry. It's all my fault." Elsa clung to her sister's lifeless form. "Oh Anna... I love you. I'm so sorry."
Above, the clouds dissipated and the sun shined down on the group. Jack had the sudden urge to summon those storm clouds again just to blot out this cruel irony. Hans dropped to his knees, distraught.
And then, the strangest thing happened. The first few droplets were mostly nugatory, but they crescendoed and drew Jack's attention. He gaped at the sight. Anna was thawing. Elsa noticed it, too, and curled her fingers in Anna's cloak. It was over in a matter of seconds, and Anna coughed.
"Hi, sis," she croaked.
Elsa was beside herself. "Anna!" She pulled her younger sister into a fierce hug. "Why would you do that? Why would you throw yourself into danger like that for me?"
Anna pulled away and smiled. The ends of her damp bangs were beginning to freeze, but she hardly minded anymore. "Because I love you, of course."
Jack looked on as the sisters hugged and kissed and laughed together, a reunion long overdue. The sky cleared up and the townspeople emerged from their homes to see their queen returned, safe and sound. A talking snowman nearly gave Jack a heart attack, but Elsa knew him, apparently, and happily fixed him up after a case of near-melting. The storm had passed, and Elsa had made it through. Arendelle was a work in progress after all the damage the blizzard had caused, but no one was deterred. Elsa and Anna expelled the traitorous Prince Hans and the smarmy old man Jack had met upon his initial arrival in Arendelle, the Duke of Weselton. Children ran through the streets to see the Snow Queen, and she transformed the castle courtyard into a giant ice rink for their pleasure. Jack hung back for most of the day while Elsa rediscovered her home.
"So, since I danced at your coronation, you have to skate, Elsa," Anna said.
Elsa smirked. "Oh, really?"
She waved her hand and a pair of ice skates materialized under Anna's feet. The young princess struggled to stay upright, shouting accusations of cheating at her sister. But when a brawny, blond man accompanied by a reindeer helped her regain her balance, Anna calmed down and skated away with him.
"Go, have fun," Elsa said, waving.
Anna smiled and waved back, and the Snow Queen was alone once more.
"She's right, you know. You do have a habit of cheating now and then," Jack said, gliding up beside Elsa.
"You're one to talk," she teased.
Jack grinned and ran hand across her shoulders, tracing her collarbone and drawing her attention. "Dance with me."
Elsa watched him, her lips slightly parted and giving him ideas. She put a hand over his and intertwined their fingers. The ever-present blue tint faded, and his fingertips tingled. Before he had a chance to ask her what she'd just done, she tugged him forward across the ice.
Elsa laughed and he stared, awed, at the transformation. She was the Elsa he'd known in the ice palace again, but the fear lacing her every move, holding her back, was gone. She caught his eyes and didn't shy away from her joy at all. Maybe asking her to skate was a bad idea. He had half a mind to whisk her somewhere less crowded, maybe twenty thousand feet up.
For now, he could settle for steering them behind the fountain away from prying eyes. For her sake, of course. No one but her could see him.
"You look happy," he said.
"I am happy." Her smile was contagious.
Jack spun them around and brought his forehead close enough to touch hers. "How did you do it?"
Elsa slowed them to a halt and brought his hand up between them. The fingertips were blue, and she brought each digit to her lips for a light kiss. One by one they lost their frozen tint and reverted to something that almost made Jack believe he was human again.
"With love," she said. "Love thaws."
Jack examined his thawed fingers and laughed. They'd figured it out before, but they'd never given it a name. They'd never known. Maybe didn't care enough. But they believed now. Elsa would never cry diamond tears again for as long as he could help it.
"Well, I think you missed a spot, my Queen."
Elsa smirked when he tapped his lips with a finger. Frostlings dusted Jack's mouth like a second skin, but Elsa slipped a hand on his cheek and let him draw her near. Her kiss was searing, and he liked to think his was, too. Even so, between the two of them they preferred the ice and snow that reminded them of the fairytale they'd accidentally made come true.
The cold had never bothered them, anyway.
"In a heart touched by love, the light you left behind shines with sapphire light,
Even as I descend down a dark path in the dead of night."
The tradeoff for immortality, whether he wanted it or not, was that Jack Frost had a job to do. It was his job to bring winter to the world, and it was all he'd known for as long as he could remember. Arendelle's perpetual winter was over, and the seasons changed. Elsa had been sad to see him go, though he promised to return with the winter winds.
"You know, if you think about it, I could leave Arendelle in your capable hands for the winter," Jack said as he lounged on Elsa's windowsill.
"I suppose that's true. I daresay I'm almost better at controlling your powers than you are."
Jack eyed her as she dressed behind a folding screen painted with images of a blue ice castle high up in the mountains. He remained silent until she emerged.
"My mother used to tell me that my magic couldn't be evil because it had saved her life," Elsa said. "Well, I guess you saved her. Us."
He'd been avoiding this subject since the debacle with Anna and Hans, but even if time eluded Jack Frost, fate never could. "About that. I know you think it's a curse, but it's not. You're not a monster. You never were."
Elsa approached him and her silver gown shimmered with each step. Anna and Kristoff's engagement party was tonight, and the Queen had to dress in style. Jack drank her in, long legs and depthless, blue eyes that saw him, every part of him. He fought the urge to reach for her and wrinkle her gown on the bed.
"I know," she said, tracing his cheekbone with a delicate finger. Frost trailed in her wake in the shape of tiny, blue roses with curling stems. "My magic... It can't be all bad." She smiled. "It let me see you, after all."
Jack jumped down from the windowsill and ran his hands over the bodice of Elsa's dress. Frost ferns spiraled around Elsa's corset, lending the dress a soft, lilac glow.
"Can you see this?" He ran a finger up her spine and relished how she shivered and leaned into his chill.
"I can feel it."
"Oh~" Jack trailed his fingers over her bare shoulder to her neck. "And this?"
Ice crystals folded over each other and snaked around Elsa's neck, lovelier than any diamonds.
"Just a little."
Jack let his fingers linger on Elsa's necklace. As much as he wanted to stay here with her, their time was coming to a close. "I have to leave."
Elsa stiffened and held her chin up. "I know."
Jack's gaze fell to her lips, but she backed away and headed for the door.
"I'll be back."
Elsa paused in the doorway and smiled at him over her shoulder. "I know."
He always came back to her.
Blind to time, the years rolled by and Jack hardly noticed how they changed Elsa. Even as time sucked away her youth, her beauty, and eventually her vitality, Jack saw the same woman he'd found in a fairytale ice palace so many years ago.
"You don't have to keep coming back."
Jack teetered on a wooden swing next to Elsa. She was bundled up from head to toe for modesty. In his eyes, the aging Queen could have worn a potato sack and still looked stunning.
"But I always will."
Elsa gripped the rope holding her swing up. It froze beneath her touch. "One day, there won't be anyone to come back to."
She'd taken to this line of conversation more and more over the years, like she was counting the days. Sometimes it was difficult for Jack to remember that she was a servant of time. He alone escaped its shackles, though looking at her now, he wished he didn't.
He closed his fingers around her hand and the frost melted. Elsa caught his eye, surprised. She was always surprised that he could still do this with her. Love doesn't thaw and melt; it's ice, sturdy and timeless and forever in the palms of their hands. Time had no business telling love what to do.
"Well, that day's not today," he said.
He leaned in and kissed her forehead, lingering just a little too long. When he pulled away, Elsa tugged on his hand.
"No matter what happens, Jack, just know that I..."
Jack caught her tears before they could wet her cheeks. They were warm on his pinkened fingertips. He smiled. "I know."
Jack Frost, the spirit of winter, travelled the world bringing snow and sleet to children who didn't believe in him. Never a kind word, never a thank-you, never even a warm look. But the children always smiled at the first sign of snow. It was as much of a fairytale as Jack was ever like to get. And it was enough. Ghosts don't get happy endings, but princesses do.
Queen, not princess, he corrected himself.
The Snow Queen.
He dressed her coffin himself in the blue roses with which she'd painted her kingdom. They were the best he'd ever created, if he was being honest. They would bloom forever so she would never be alone again.
"If people could see me like they see you, I wouldn't want to be alone."
"...In that case, be happy they can't see you."
Jacked laughed to himself as he watched the townsfolk pay their respects to the late Queen. They came by the hundreds with offerings carved of ice and snow.
"They can see you now, Elsa. You're not alone."
Jack Frost used to hate these people. These people who didn't know, didn't care, didn't believe. He was a whisper on the wind to them, a myth whose grain of truth was lost in the sands of time. He hated that they couldn't see him, couldn't feel him. Their smiles were beautiful, but they were never for him.
Elsa had smiled for him. She smiled when he took her flying for the first time. She smiled the first time he told her she was beautiful. And she smiled when Anna returned to her. It was enough, Jack thought, for Elsa to have her happily ever after.
"I never said it was my fairytale that came true."
But yours did.
It snowed that day, but not by Jack's hand. It was an early snowfall for the season, a bit too early. The townspeople thought little of it, but Jack lay back in his tree and watched the grey sky, remembering. A snowflake melted on his nose, and he smiled.
A winter ghost doesn't mind the cold.