"What do we do now?" Olaf asked, sounding for all the world like a child at a fair and looking around with his big grin, ready for some new adventure.
"I…I don't know," Elsa said. She looked at her hands, at the sunlight glinting off the water of the fjord (water, not ice), then at the shore, where townspeople were gathering on the docks, staring up into the sky where the snow had vanished. On the wall of the castle she could even see the resident diplomats, ranged in a row like a Greek chorus. They were…cheering? Or shouting. She clasped her fingers together nervously. She didn't even know how to get from this ship to dry land.
"We'll figure it out," Anna said confidently. She grinned, taking Elsa's hands. "We'll figure it out together."
There was splashing in the water and Anna rushed to the rail to look. "There's a boat! They're rowing out to us!" She waved, and Elsa's mind was suddenly full of crossbow bolts, sharp and unexpected. Before she even realized what she was doing she was at her sister's side, cold gathering in her palms, cold that could shield, cold that could strike—from the corner of her eye she saw the blond man from the mountain move as well, placing himself on Anna's other side, his broad shoulders tense. His eyes flickered from her to the boat in the fjord, and she saw an echo of her own wariness on his face. Anna, oblivious, bounced on her toes.
"It's Kai! Look, it's Kai!"
Olaf hopped so that he could see over the rail, his arms waving. "It is Kai! Hi, Kai! …Who is Kai?"
"Kai is our very trustworthy friend," Anna said. Her hand slid into Elsa's, warming her palm. "It's just Kai," she said, squeezing.
Elsa squeezed back. Not so oblivious after all, she thought. Over Anna's shoulder she saw the man tug off his hide mittens and tuck them into his belt. His hand hovered over her sister's arm without touching, the way someone might feel the air over a kettle to see if it was warm. She could see something in him relax as his fingers brushed Anna's sleeve.
"Anna, you never introduced me to your…your friend," Elsa said. Something warm nudged her back and she jumped. A reindeer snorted at her indignantly. "…Friends?" she amended cautiously.
"Ooh, ooh, I know this one!" Olaf left off waving to scamper over to them. "I've always wanted to have friends to introduce to each other!" He coughed importantly. "Queen Elsa, this is Sven! Sven, this is Queen Elsa."
Elsa took an alarmed step back as the reindeer bounced happily, and the blond man put a restraining arm around the animal's neck. "Easy, buddy, " he said hastily.
She had never seen a reindeer look abashed before. She had also never seen a reindeer plop down on its haunches like a dog. "How do you do…Sven," she said, holding out a tentative hand. A very large, very wet tongue dragged over her fingers and she stared down at them, wide eyed.
"Sven!" The reindeer's…owner? put his own hands over his eyes and groaned. "I'm sorry, he's just—he likes you. I'm sorry, I can't take him anywhere. Uh…." He fumbled for a moment and produced a rather stained handkerchief. She took it and wiped her fingers, trying not to think too much about it. Reindeer slobber was hardly the worst thing that she'd dealt with in the last few days, was it? Elsa glanced over at her sister, who was giggling behind her hands—her pink, warm hands. A little reindeer drool wouldn't hurt anything.
"And you are…?" she asked, looking up into a face that was plain, but pleasant, mostly nose and brown eyes that seemed to slide constantly to Anna, as if to check that she was still there. Elsa couldn't blame him, when hers were doing the same thing.
"This is Kristoff!" Olaf announced. "He sells ice for a living! We all traveled up the mountain together to find you, and then we came down again, and we went to see Kristoff's family, the trolls, and they tried to make Kristoff and Anna get married—"
"Wait, what?" Elsa looked from the man—Kristoff—to her sister, wide-eyed. "Anna, did you—"
"It's not like—I promise nothing—"
"They just got a little overexcited—"
Anna and Kristoff both stopped at once, blushing furiously, and Olaf leapt into the awkward silence. "Instead of getting married, we brought Anna back to kiss Hans! Except…I guess that didn't work out…but it's a good thing Kristoff was coming back, since it turns out that he's Anna's true love!"
"What?" Elsa and Kristoff said it at the same time, and then stared at each other, then at Anna. She was as pink as her bedroom wallpaper, and hid her face in her hands.
"I don't—Kristoff, when we saw you coming back, Olaf said—I mean, after Hans wouldn't kiss me—"
"Wait, wait," Kristoff said. "He wouldn't kiss you?"
"No," Anna said, her voice very quiet.
"Why did he need to kiss Anna?" Elsa asked, bewildered. Anna's forlorn expression made her chest ache, and she found herself reaching out to hold her sister, almost without thinking about it, a life-long instinct to comfort finally free of fear. Anna laid her head against Elsa's shoulder.
"The trolls said…because the ice struck my heart, only an act of true love could save me. Like a true love's kiss. Or I would…I would freeze. Kristoff thought of it first, because I'd told him that Hans and I…that it was true love. But it wasn't. He'd been pretending all along, so that he could steal Arendelle from us. He…he said he didn't love me. He said there wasn't anyone who loved me. He put out the fire, and he locked me alone in the library, and—I…." Elsa felt a cold leaden weight in her stomach—she could picture too clearly Anna lying still and cold, and alone, alone as she'd been for so long…she didn't realize that she had begun to shake until Anna's hands rubbed warmly over her back, slipping seamlessly into the role of comforter, even as she took a shaky breath.
A low growl made both sisters look up in surprise. Kristoff's face was dark with anger, his brows lowered and his mouth a hard line.
"He just…he just left you there? To—" He stopped, his jaw tightening as he clenched his teeth. Anna nodded, looking a little dumbstruck. Kristoff shoved his sleeves up his arms—arms that were tight with tense muscle, Elsa noticed, and fists that were clenched and rather alarmingly large. Her own slim arm tightened around her sister, but the burning rage in this man's eyes wasn't directed at them. He was already storming to the side of the boat, looking over the edge. "Where did he go?" he growled. "When I get my hands on him—"
"Kristoff, don't," Anna said. She pulled out of Elsa's hold to rush to his side, making Elsa's heart lurch—he seemed to care for Anna, but what if he lashed out unintentionally, as she had done? But Anna laid a fearless hand on his arm, and although he was at least twice her size Kristoff let her restrain him. Elsa could see how short and angry his breaths were, but he stood stock still and let Anna wrap her fingers around his bared forearm. "Look, they've already pulled him into the boat, and the guards are putting manacles on him. See? They must have…they must have seen what he tried to do. They know what he is."
"He left you to die. He tried to kill you." Kristoff put one of his hands over Anna's, the thumb stroking lightly over her wrist. Elsa relaxed a little, seeing how delicate the touch was.
"But he didn't! And I'm pretty sure I broke his nose," Anna said, grinning up at him. A reluctant smile touched the corner of his mouth as he finally glanced away from the bedraggled prisoner below to look at her.
"I bet you did. That was a pretty impressive punch, feistypants, but next time let me show you how to do it a little better. You could have broken your wrist. Does it hurt?"
Olaf had sidled up to the pair, and he leaned in, speaking in a stage whisper. "Kristoff. You aren't done being introduced."
"Huh? Oh, I…uh…"
Elsa bit the inside of her lip as the intimidating, angry mountain man suddenly melted into befuddlement and awkwardness. He rubbed at the back of his head and shuffled his feet as Elsa took her cue to walk towards him.
"Queen Elsa," Olaf said happily, "this is Kristoff. Kristoff, this is Queen Elsa. Of Arendelle. Oh, uh…" He leaned toward Kristoff. "Are you 'of' somewhere?"
Kristoff shrugged. "Nowhere in particular."
"I'm pleased to meet you, Kristoff," Elsa said, holding out her hand to him. She saw Anna beam at her happily. That meant she was doing the right thing, didn't it? Although if Anna announced that she was engaged to this fellow…."
He took her hand carefully, as if it might shatter, and sort of…held it, clearly uncertain about what to do. "Um…pleased to meet you, your majesty," he mumbled, ducking his head. Elsa realized with surprise that this man had probably never had to bow to anyone in his life, and he clearly didn't know how to start now. Then his attention was caught by her sleeve, and his uncertainty vanished as he bent to look at it. "This is…this is ice!" He gently turned her hand this way and that so that he could examine the play of light of the fabric. "May I?" he asked, glancing at her face, his other hand hovering, and when she nodded he touched her arm, running his fingers delicately over the sleeve. "It's actually woven," he said, awe in his voice. "Woven strands of ice. And it moves. That's…that's incredible."
She smiled at him. "Thank you. And...thank you for helping my sister."
He let go of her hand to rub at the back of his head again, blushing. "I…of course. I mean, I didn't do much, I just…"
"He carried me down the mountain," Anna put in. "After he had to carry me part of the way up, honestly. And that was after I set fire to his sled!"
"It was nothing," Kristoff said hastily. "Really, it was nothing, it was an old sled, and it's not a big mountain, it was nothing."
Both sisters looked at him. "Kristoff," Anna said slowly. "It's a very big mountain."
"The 32nd tallest in the world," Elsa put in. This time both of them looked at her. "I…had a lot of time to study," she said. Anna put an arm around Elsa's shoulders, still holding on to Kristoff's wrist with her other hand. Elsa, looking at that seemingly unconscious touch, was suddenly reminded of Olaf's words. "Kristoff, you thought that Anna was safe, with Hans?" she asked.
He shrugged uncomfortably. "I shouldn't have left," he muttered. "I should have stayed, and been sure, I—"
Elsa waved this away. "But you believed that he could save her?"
"I—yeah. I wouldn't have left her otherwise."
"Then…why were you coming back?"
He shrugged again. "Well, Sven was throwing a fit, and I—when I saw the blizzard, I thought something must be wrong. So I came."
"What did you expect to be able to do?"
"I…" Kristoff stared at her blankly, then looked at Anna, who seemed perhaps a little less confused. Her hand hadn't moved. "I don't know," he said finally. "I just thought…maybe something. In case I could do something. So I came."
"Olaf saw you," Anna said. "After he found me, and I told him what…he said—"
"I said!" the snowman broke in eagerly, "that love is putting someone else's needs before your own! And I was right! I do like to think of myself as an expert," he added smugly.
"Your majesty!" The voice from below made them all jump, but Elsa saw Anna's hand slip down into Kristoff's palm as they all turned to look over the rail. "Your majesty, are you alright?"
"Yes, thank you," Elsa said, smiling down at the rotund, beloved figure of Kai. Her smile faded when she glanced at the other end of the boat, where Prince Hans sat dripping and glowering. Kai followed her look.
"Ah…Perhaps, if your majesty doesn't mind waiting, now that we know you're unhurt we can deliver the prisoner to the guards on shore, and return for you in a moment?"
"Thank you," Elsa said. "I think that would be best." Sven's head poked over her shoulder and Kai started.
"Your majesty, is that—is that a reindeer? Ah…I'm not sure how we will get him into the boat…"
"Elsa?" Anna said slowly. "I think…if you wanted…you could-?" She hesitated, but the warmth of her against Elsa's side made an unfamiliar confidence rise up. Elsa looked down at her hands.
"I could," she said slowly. "I think I could."
Anna let go of Kristoff so that she could take both of her sister's hands, holding them palm-up in hers. "Do the magic," she whispered. Elsa looked up into her sister's face—her eyes sparkling, and she was grinning, the wide, warm smile that had woken Elsa up so many nights and mornings to play, the smile that she had missed so much. Elsa could have looked at Anna smiling forever.
"You used to say that," she said softly. "Before."
Anna's grin widened. "I know. I remember." Her hands tightened gently. "I remember everything."
Elsa opened her mouth, then paused, lifting one of her hands to touch Anna's bright hair. "It's gone—the mark in your hair."
"It is?" Anna put her hands on her head, as if she would be able to feel the difference. She glanced at Kristoff for confirmation. "It's totally gone?"
He nodded. "Yeah." His hand lifted, hesitated, then pulled back, but Anna caught hold of it.
"Huh." Anna shrugged, then grinned again. "I guess I'm warm all the way through." She reached out and took one of Elsa's hands in hers, swinging it gently. "Do the magic," she said again.
Anna, still holding Elsa's hand, was the first person to set foot onto the long, curving bridge of ice, but Olaf scampered out ahead of her, Sven trotting happily after the snowman. Anna laughed and tugged Elsa after her with one hand and Kristoff with the other. They crossed the bridge together.