A/N: And so it continues.
Three years after the events on the Island...
It was half past four in the morning, and the sun was breaking over the gently rolling waves. Usually, around this time, Kristoff would sit on some ledge in the mountains and watch the brightness rise and spread over Arendelle. He'd share a carrot or two with Sven and sit back and wonder how much better the world would be if it was just him, his loved ones, and the sun, and he would be able to spend the rest of his years watching that same sun rise over the land without any people there to ruin his day.
But he had a job to do, so Kristoff bravely turned his face away from any comfortable-looking ledges he happened to pass by on his way down from the hills up north and soldiered on.
Sven grunted and nudged his shoulder.
"I know, buddy," he said, reaching over behind him to rub his best friend's snout. "The sky's waking up. No time to waste, though. Sorry."
Sven whined, but the reindeer continued pulling the sled full of ice blocks down the north pass, Kristoff there to steady him in case the momentum dragged them both forward. The city was just up ahead, the main gates waiting below, a lone guard picking his teeth by the entry tower.
When they got there, Kristoff gave a little salute to the guard. The man nodded absently in his direction, more concerned with the piece of beef left over from dinner than the new arrival into the city. But Kristoff had made the trip several times in recent months, so there was no need for caution.
Still, it kept less eyes off his back, and Kristoff was fine with that.
They made their way into the city, everything still and silent and serene. Everyone was asleep, save for one or two early birds who were deep in reflection and halfway out of the city in their minds. Kristoff preferred it this way; he didn't like people, and people didn't like him. It was bad enough when he, Sven, and the sled had to share a thoroughfare with two or three people. Crowds were nightmares. And the stares. Full of bad things, rude thoughts. Kristoff was an outsider, and always would be. Outsiders never fared too well in Arendelle, and that was a fact.
Well. There was one exception.
"But that's the reason you're here," Kristoff mumbled, one of the rare occasions when the outspoken dialogue was with himself, and not a reindeer imitation. "He's the reason you're here."
Sven grunted again, and Kristoff patted his great, shaggy head. "Almost there, buddy. We'll be in and out in no time."
They entered the city square, which looked bigger with no people in it, the market stalls quiet and forlorn. It was shed in a soft, orange light, the light of dawn that made all things more tranquil and calm, no matter where you were. That was another one of the things Kristoff loved about the dawn: it had a way of equalizing things, for the better.
They continued onward, the loud, grating noise the loaded sled made against the cobblestones causing them to flinch. Kristoff imagined irritated heads poking out of every nearby window and casting their annoyance and metal pans on the two outsiders. I better get paid extra for this...
When they finally reached their destination, the relief was a guardian angel come to take the burden off their shoulders. "Let's go around back," he said, directing his friend around the large, toy store turned gallery that had been the epicenter of their human contact for the past year. "Hopefully he's up."
Kristoff and Sven jumped as one. The action made the sled rattle and bounce and make a noisier racket than before. Kristoff repressed a curse and threw a glare at the snickering figure sitting on the window ledge beside them. "Ha ha very funny."
Jack Frost covered his mouth, his eyes bright and mischievous. "You should have seen your face."
"I'm surprised you think its still hilarious after the sixth time."
Jack rolled his eyes. "First of all, I was talking to the reindeer." He jumped down from the ledge and tossed a carrot (produced from the bottomless pits that were Jack Frost's trouser pockets) over to Sven's waiting, eager mouth. The reindeer caught it and started to chew with a happy, idiotic grin on his face. "Second of all, it'll always be hilarious, because you always fall for it."
Kristoff opened his mouth to retort, but Jack had succeeded where he had failed and moved on. The shop owner slid his hand over the nearest ice block and whistled appreciatively. "Nothing sexier than freshly cut ice. How long did this load take?"
"A couple of hours," Kristoff said, sighing. "You said you wanted a bigger delivery, so..."
"No, this is good. More than good." Jack made another circuit around the sled, gaze fixed on the glittering ice. "I can see it already: four Rumani gladiators locked in combat, armed with nets, tridents, and sharpened gladii. A little thinner than I would like, and no more than six feet. Gonna take some trimming, but nothing I can't handle."
Jack stopped and looked at Kristoff, the creativity still dancing in his eyes. "Thank you, Kristoff."
Kristoff sighed again and removed his bobble-hat. "Again, I owe you."
Jack waved him over and together they dragged the sled over to the back, where a small shed waited with an open door. They left it outside, and Kristoff took that moment to gather his strength and thoughts, and to take a needed rest. And a well-deserved one, to boot.
"Not forever," Jack continued. "Next week's your last delivery, right?"
Kristoff nodded. "That's right."
Jack wiped his wet hands on his vest and exhaled. "This isn't goodbye, not yet, but before I miss the chance, I wanted to say that I'm really glad those wolves almost clawed your face off."
Kristoff let out a bark of laughter. "Well, I ought to thank you. That pack hasn't shown up since."
Sven snorted in delight and slobbered all over Jack. Jack laughed and produced another carrot, which Sven happily consumed. "If there's one thing I'll miss, it'll be the reindeer."
Kristoff glared at Sven, who shrugged and gulped down what remained of the carrot. Traitor.
Jack clapped the taller man's shoulders and stared up at him the way a father did his son before he went off to fight. Which was slightly disturbing, but surprisingly touching.
"Stay here for a couple more hours. Get some rest. You deserve it."
Kristoff scratched his head. "I don't know..."
"Please. I insist. You must be exhausted. Sven even more." Jack gestured to his store. "Tell you what. I've got a whole barrel full of imported carrots with no one to share them with. You game?"
Sven hopped up and down excitedly, tongue wagging like some overgrown poodle, and at that point, Kristoff couldn't say no.
"Alright. But just this once-"
Sven rushed past him, a dark gold blur of musky reindeer scent and carrot-infused power. He disappeared into the building, Jack happily holding open the door. He winked at Kristoff and vanished inside.
Kristoff trudged up the back stairs, frustrated but too tired and hungry to care.
Those carrots better be fresh.
Kristoff watched the crowds mill about the square with the same disgusted fascination one has when watching sharks tear into a hunk of tuna. Even separated by a window and several layers of hardy wood he could still feel the selfish desperation of the shoppers and sellers that conversed and argued outside. He sipped his tea and grimaced.
"What?" Jack said, pouring his own cup and settling beside Kristoff by the table near the counter. "Need more sugar?"
"No," he answered. "The tea's fine, thank you."
"Let me guess," Jack said, following his friend's eyes and glancing out the window. His own dawned in understanding. "It's the people again, isn't it?"
"I don't know how you can stand them."
Jack shrugged and downed his tea in one hasty gulp. "It comes with the territory, I suppose," he said. "I run a business and I need money. People have money so I need people." He arched a delicate eyebrow. "It's not like you don't have a business yourself."
Kristoff took another grateful sip. "That's different. My ice business doesn't really call for long talks. 'Here's your ice', 'thank you very much', and 'is that a new hairdo, Mrs. Fredriksen?' is pretty much it. You actually need to," he swallowed the tea with a frown, "converse."
Jack laughed. "It's not that bad. You just gotta get used to it. You'd be surprised at how nice people are once you start talking to them." Jack fiddled with his tea cup and leaned over, eyes furrowed in genuine curiosity. "But if you hate people that much, then why do you hang out with me so often?"
Kristoff shrugged again, the action almost imperceptible underneath that heavy tunic. "You saved my life. I owe you a debt."
And if you haven't already guessed, buddy, you're not exactly 'people'.
But that he didn't say aloud. Jack digested this for a second, and then leaned back, satisfied. He laced his fingers together behind his head. "Fair enough. Although to be honest, I wish you'd said it was for my charming personality and gosh-darn-it-I-just-can't-but-like-them good looks."
"And the carrots," Kristoff added, tipping his cup over at him, "don't forget the carrots."
Jack let loose an uproarious laugh that should have come from a man twice his size.
"Of course," he said. "How could I ever forget the carrots?" He wiped his eyes, and Kristoff marveled for the hundredth time why this guy found everything to be so dang hilarious. "Speaking of, don't you want to rein in your reindeer? That's a whole barrel, I wasn't kidding."
Kristoff waved it aside. "Nah, don't worry. He's downed bigger things than that."
The sound of childish giggling drew their attention to the window once more. A boy with golden curls and the kind of face that seemed to make every female in a two-mile radius want to coo and poke his dimples was being chased by a gaggle of girls in dresses. Jack and Kristoff watched them with smiles on their faces until they disappeared into an alleyway.
"Kid's gonna wish that still happened when he gets older," Jack remarked. "God knows I do." He glanced at Kristoff. "I notice that you don't mind the children as much."
Kristoff looked down and slowly traced the rim of the tea cup with his finger. Small snowflake designs were traced around the edge, a pleasant blue against the white of the porcelain. "They're too young to be miserable. Plus, they all think I'm some superman living in the mountains who was raised by reindeer, so they tend to keep their distance from me."
"Kids are like that."
"You seem to know a lot about them."
"I was somewhat of a specialist back where I'm from."
Kristoff tapped the cup, the noise ringing around the still barely occupied store. Jack had chosen to open late for Kristoff's comfort. "You ever gonna tell me where that is?"
Jack winked, and said nothing.
Kristoff shook his head. If there was ever a time to bring it up, it was now. "You and your secrets. At least tell me why you're here. Heck, it's all anyone's been talking about since last June."
The owner of the Winter Gallery: Ice Sculptures and Other Unique Items smiled almost bashfully and resumed staring out the window. "So I've heard."
Kristoff pressed on, just as eager to get to the bottom of the mystery as he had when Jack had mysteriously appeared in that mountain pass all those months ago. "I mean, you came out of nowhere. Just like that, a store refurbished and you sitting there, all smiles and lame jokes."
"Hey! They aren't lame, they're innovative."
"Some of the townspeople think you're some sort of trickster spirit that turns unlucky shoppers into sculptures made of ice, and those are the nice ones. Others say you're a foreign spy, or worse, a runaway criminal. They even held a city council meeting over what to do with your sorry hide."
Jack clutched his arms as if to protect his skin. "My sorry hide's staying where it belongs, thank you very much."
"Even Sven has his doubts. Keeps me up at night sometimes, jabbering on and on about Mr. Frost the Carrot Man and how weird he is and funny-smelling."
"I literally don't know how to respond to that."
"The point is," Kristoff finished. "You're an enigma. A puzzle. But more importantly, an outsider. And if there's anything the people of Arendelle don't like, it's an outsider." He looked at Jack with naked emotion writ on his rugged face. "Trust me, I know what that's all about."
That was enough to sober Jack up. "You don't need to worry about me, Kristoff."
"But that's it exactly. I have to worry. Who in their right mind wouldn't? You come here and suddenly everything's changed. The people don't know whether to drive you out of town or place your sculptures in the Crown Museum. I'm surprised none of the royals have come down to investigate yet."
Jack stiffened, the action strange and unfamiliar coming from someone who seemed so loose and carefree all of the time. "Oh, they've come alright. Just not the ones I'm counting on."
Kristoff frowned. This was news to him. "What do you mean?"
Jack ran a hand through his hair. Hair white as snow. Kristoff had pestered him for days when they first met, refusing to believe it was from a traumatic encounter with a psychopathic Abominable Snowman. It was, like many things about Jack Frost, a mystery. "It usually happens at night, before you do your drop-off. Some guys come snooping around the place, thinking I can't see them because they're wearing black. The moon's got it's own set of eyes, you know. Anyway, they poke around and whisper and leave before I can give them a good scare."
"When did this start?"
"Around two months ago. The're probably private eyes hired by a paranoid noble in the court manors, I wouldn't worry about them. Nuisances, but tolerable."
"And that's it? Nothing else?"
Jack shook his head. "Nothing else."
Kristoff narrowed his eyes. "Why do I find that hard to believe?"
Jack sighed and patted the ice harvester's cheek, which threw him off. "Maybe it's because you're so darn mistrustful, Big Nose. And judging by the impending sound of hooves on wood, Sven's all filled up."
Right on cue, Sven poked his head out from the supply room, bits and pieces of carrots plastered on his snout. He snorted at Kristoff, who stood and put on his bobble-hat. "Well, I guess it's time to go. Thanks for the tea."
Jack stood with him, a warm smile back on his silvery, pale face. "Anytime, Kristoff."
Kristoff nodded and opened the front door, waiting for Sven to come plodding down the store. They'd have to go around the building to harness Sven back to the now empty sled, and then the long journey back home would commence. He wasn't looking forward to navigating the now crowded Arendelle streets, but what choice did he have?
Sven went out the door, scaring some children in the process, and Kristoff made to follow when Jack called out his name.
He turned just in time to catch a firm, delicious-looking carrot.
"A treat for the way back. You skipping Coronation Day?"
Kristoff smiled and took a crunchy bite.
"What, and miss the most reclusive princess in the world show up in front of thousands of people and take up the crown? Wouldn't skip it for the world."
He waved goodbye, and like that, he was gone.
Jack stared at the closed door long after Kristoff left.
How long are you going to push people away, he thought? How long are you going to keep your friends at arms distance? That never worked out well in the past.
"But like the Captain said," he muttered aloud to no one. "'We are doomed to repeat our mistakes'. Never had much luck in that department, did you, Jack?"
When no one replied, he laughed. Bitterly. He was used to being alone these days, but talking to himself was somewhat of a recent dilemma. There were worse fates than death, and one of them was ending up like Socially-Inept Kristoff, bless his heart. Not that he'd say that to him out loud.
The guy sawed cold things in half for a living, after all.
Jack Frost opened the door and switched the sign from Closed to Open on the front. A group of townspeople waiting outside scurried up the steps, almost barreling past him to get inside. Jack let them, amused by the hurry, and followed them in.
He looked down and saw Vilmer and Gia, the young son and daughter of a fisherman from the docks, staring up at him. He knelt down and rubbed their heads, dark hair soft and silky with youth. "Morning, sunshines. How are we doing?"
"Good," said Vilmer. "Mama sent us to ask you if her sculpture was finished."
"It's fixing to be, just give me until tomorrow. I had some other projects lined up and I'm a little bogged down."
"Also," piped up Gia. She was shorter than her older brother, but just as adorable, if not more so. "Heidi said that you gave her a gift, but you said that you didn't give gifts to anyone anymore."
Jack tilted his head. "Did she now?"
Gia nodded and looked down, pressing her index fingers together at the tips. "Heidi was bragging about it yesterday and that wasn't nice."
"It really isn't."
"Does this mean you give gifts now...?"
Jack laughed and poked her cheek. "I guess I can't say no, can I? Here, follow me."
He led her past the growing number of villagers and led her to the counter. A snow globe of Arendelle rested there, and he shook it until the powder fell gently over the miniature city. He handed it to Gia, who stared with open awe. Her huge eyes full of wonder reminded Jack of someone from long ago, and he smiled.
"Keep it. It's yours. But don't you go bragging about it with your friends. It'll be our little secret, alright?"
Gia nodded, still staring at the sow globe. Vilmer tugged at her sleeves, his attention span and patience wearing thin. "Let's go, Gia."
"Okay." She leaned over and hugged Jack, her tiny arms barely wrapped around his waist. "Thank you, Mr. Frost."
"No problem, Gia. Now go back to your mama and tell her what I told you."
They nodded and left, their little bodies bustling with energy. They almost knocked into someone as they exited, and they hastily apologized. The man smiled, ruffling their hair as they passed.
Jack frowned. This is new.
He wore a sleek black, fur-lined robe over the kind of clothes a villager's yearly wages wouldn't be able to pay off. It was clasped at the collar with a golden buckle that gleamed along with the ice sculptures in the gallery. He also wore a little cap with a green feather, and on his clothes were the designs of the Arendelle court, the royal crocus patterned over the slim trousers and embroidered vest generously. His features were slight and somewhat girlish, unfamiliar to hard labor, and a black mustache curled above his thin lips.
Dark eyes met Jack's, and the smile vanished, replaced by a wary suspicion.
Ah. A nobleman. Finally.
"Hi there," Jack said, putting on a welcoming smile. "I don't think I've seen you come here before."
"Because I have not," the man replied, his accent flowing and refined. Definitely a nobleman.
"Well, my name's Jack Frost, and this here's the-"
"I know who you are," he cut in, surveying the gallery with a practiced eye. His gaze returned to Jack, content with what he saw. "I know what this place is."
"Like what you see?"
"I must admit," he said, stepping forward and giving some of the sculptures a closer look. "It is more elegant than what some others have told me."
Like your Men in Black. "I'll take that as a compliment."
"It was intended as one." He reached over to touch the icy muzzle of a leaping greyhound.
"You touch you buy."
The nobleman froze and quickly retracted his hand. But his eyes were still glued onto the sculpture, unable to resist. "A good policy."
"Do you want it? There's a discount for newcomers."
The nobleman sniffed and held his hands behind his back. "I did not come here to purchase anything. Is there someplace we can talk in private?"
A twinge of curiosity struck Jack, but he decided to wait for an explanation rather than press on. Now why on earth would a nobleman of Arendelle come down to speak to a lowly shopkeeper?
Shrugging, Jack waved him over, and together they headed to the supply room. Now, the nobleman's entry had drawn most of the customers's attention, but the sight of them heading to the back to apparently talk started a buzz of whispering that Jack had grown accustomed to over the past year, but served to tighten the nobleman's shoulders. They entered the supply room and Jack closed the door behind him.
He settled onto a chair by a small work desk he had erected a few months ago and crossed his arms. "You're welcome to sit."
The nobleman did so, ridiculously out of place in the small, common environment. He sniffed and wrinkled his nose. "Forgive me, but what is that horrendous stench?"
"Carrot-obsessed reindeer. Don't ask."
The nobleman processed that, and Jack watched him with amusement. "I know, I know. Just forget it. What did you want to me speak to me about?"
The nobleman removed his cap, revealing slick, combed over black hair. "Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Nathanael Forseth, a servant of Her Majesty the Queen Elsa of Arendelle."
Jack lifted his eyebrows. "What kind of servant?"
Nathanael smiled, the action not quite reaching his eyes. "Let us say I deal with matters many of my fellow colleagues of the court are not at a liberty to attend to."
Wetwork, blackmail, subterfuge, the like. I know your kind. You're not fooling me, Forseth. The real question is why would a first-rate cutthroat like you be charged with visiting little old me?
Jack leaned back and shrugged. "I don't need to know what I don't need to know. Anyway, it's an honor to be in the presence of one such as yours."
Satisfied, the nobleman continued. "I like the way you operate Mr. Frost. But what I'm here to ask you to do does not require quite as much confidentiality. Seeing as that many of the members of the court are very busy preparing for the coronation, I was ordered to come here. To you."
"To ask me to do something."
"Many think so."
"For the coronation."
Jack smirked. "The suspense is killing me."
"Forgive me if I evade. I'm not very used to being forthright with things." He cleared his throat. "You see, Mr. Frost, your arrival caught our attention. While we might not have been gawking on the streets like the masses, we have been keeping tabs on you. Now, this may seem unsettling, but I assure you, nothing was done to intrude upon your privacy."
Oh, I know. Your men were being very careful when they broke into my tool shed.
"I swear it."
Ooh, you're a rat.
"Then we're good."
"What interested us the most were the sculptures, as you can imagine. They are unlike anything we have ever seen. Simply remarkable. The artistry, of course, but the way they fail to melt. It's almost magical."
Jack smiled. "That's ridiculous."
"My thoughts exactly, but you know the people. Willing to believe almost anything. Their reaction to you was interesting to observe."
"They're good to me."
"You provide a unique service." The nobleman shifted in his chair, and Jack sensed it was time for the big reveal. "A service that Arendelle requires."
Jack's eyes widened, but the reaction was authentic this time, and not for his own personal amusement. "You're not asking what I think you're asking."
Nathanael laughed, but it was dry and humorless, practiced hundreds of times and stamped with artificiality.
"A week from now, two days before the coronation, Her Majesty the Crown Princess Elsa will step outside the gates for the first time in seven years to come to your shop, where you will, to the best of your ability, sculpt a frozen replica in Her likeness."
A/N: It's short, but I hope it answers some of your questions. As always, more to come.