A/N: Okay, guys, this is it-THE FINAL CHAPTER. I want to take a moment to thank everyone once again and for the last time, for reading, following, reviewing, and just overall taking time out of your daily lives to give this fic the time of day. THANK YOU ALL SO SO SO MUCH! You guys make the experience so much more awesome and worth it. :)
To my wonderful beta flubbergutter: it has been an utmost pleasure working with you. Thank you so much for taking time out to fix my numerous errors and for all your advice. You are gifted and brilliant and one of the nicest people I've had the pleasure to talk to. Thank you ever so much for all your help.
Fun fact: the last scene in this chapter was actually the first scene that popped in my mind when I first had the idea for this fic. I then basically had to work backwards to get to where I wanted to go. It took me the best part of two years but I DID IT! And just as I promised, the story is finished and here it is posted in it's entirety.
Hope you guys like it!
There's something broken about this
I might be hoping about this
Oh, what a sin.
- Hozier, From Eden
Papers lied strewn across the center of the blue carpeted floor of the library. White and beige clouds on a cerulean sky. The chandelier hung above them bright and yellow shining like the fresh morning sun. But Anna's jaw stretched wide open as she yawned, bringing a closed fist over it reminding Elsa that outside the skies were black and heavy with night, much as she would like the day to go on forever.
Elsa put down the file of papers in her hands. "We should probably go to bed now."
"Huh? What? No, no, I'm good. I can keep going," said Anna halfway through her yawn.
"Anna, it's past midnight," said Elsa already pushing herself onto her feet. "We can keep going tomorrow."
"But this is important," said Anna fighting a second yawn.
"And this will all still be here tomorrow," replied Elsa. "I've lived with this mystery for fifteen years, I can live with it another night."
Elsa stood and stepped over to the bookshelves, where she proceeded to place the fat book she was carrying in her hands.
"Wait a second—" said Anna suddenly, in a voice more awake than she'd had for the last three hours. She started drawing invisible symbols in the air with her index finger while mumbling incoherently to herself. "… borrow from the four … minus one … fifteen years … yes, yes, of course!"
Elsa peered at her sister curiously over her shoulder.
"Elsa, do you remember the first time you knew about your powers?" Anna asked.
Elsa frowned. "Of course. The day when you suddenly start freezing everything you touch is usually the sort that stays in your mind forever."
"That's it!" said Anna standing and stepping over the sea of papers. "You weren't born with them like we believed, were you? I mean, you didn't actually show any signs of having powers until you were much older!"
"I'm not sure I understand what you're trying to say," said Elsa turning now to fully face her sister.
"How old were you when you first experienced your powers?" asked Anna.
Elsa stopped a moment to think. "Six. Why?"
Anna held a long parchment with a long text in small print stretching across most of its space. A series of stamps and seals decorated the lower part along with five different signatures.
"This," Anna began, "is the decree that states that as of 1825 any first female born to the royal family may rule the throne should the reigning King or Queen fail to provide a male heir before their demise!"
Elsa looked at the decree, her brow furrowing. "Yes. And?"
"Don't you see?" said Anna. "This decree came into law when you were six years old!"
"I'm sorry but I don't follow."
"Elsa," said Anna. "Papa was worried that he'd never have a male heir, so he pushed this decree into law. He didn't know, did he? He didn't know he would trigger the curse by changing the law and giving you the possibility of becoming queen."
Elsa took the parchment into her own hands. She recognized her father's signature on the bottom right.
"Think about it," said Anna. "You said that Hans-thingy" (she was still having a hard time calling him by his'human' name, as she'd so creatively put it) "told you that papa seemed to suspect a link between you and Queen Margrith, because of all those questions he was asking in his letters to King Julius. Coincidentally, no female since Margrith's reign has ever ruled over any of the colonies. Shortly after taking the crown she gained the title of Margrith the Cold and then barely lasted a whole year before she abdicated!"
Elsa looked up to meet Anna's shinning enthusiastic eyes. Parts of her were fighting to believe what Anna was saying while other parts argued that it was too wild a theory to be true.
"I don't know, Anna …" said Elsa. "There are too many missing pieces—"
"But it adds up!" Anna insisted. "Papa wrote to King Julius of the Southern Isles to ask about Queen Margrith because he already suspected your powers and hers were linked in some way, and he was right!"
"But King Julius never confirmed—"
"Perhaps King Julius didn't know himself!" said Anna. "The myth of the Three Winters Queen was so old by the time we were born. All they knew about Margrith was that she abdicated after ruling for one winter season, that information could've been altered!"
Elsa chewed on her lower lip for a moment, holding back with her every fiber from jumping along with Anna's ideas. It was much easier to remain skeptical than to get carried away and suffer the pain of having been wrong and being tossed back into the dark.
"There must be more letters!" said Anna. "King Julius' replies! We need to search the whole castle and—"
Anna's rant was suddenly interrupted by one wild and irrepressible yawn.
Elsa looked at her sister and partly thankful for this show of exhaustion, she tenderly said, "We'll search the whole castle tomorrow. For now, bed."
"But, Elsa—" said Anna through a mouthful of air.
"Come on, we won't be able to think straight or see things clearly if we stay up much longer. Help me clean up and we'll continue tomorrow."
Without further argument, though she had half a mind to continue doing so, Anna conceded to end the research session for the night.
While gathering papers and books off the floor, Anna, who continued her idle chatter and whose enthusiasm could hardly be taken down by the strongest fatigue, spoke again.
"It was certainly nice of him to give you all this information."
"Who?" asked Elsa absentmindedly before realizing to whom Anna was referring. "Oh!" she said her muscles tensing up."Yes, well, I suppose he felt indebted to me."
"I'll say," said Anna. "It's not every day the victim tries to put in a pardon for the man that tried to murder her."
Elsa turned look at her sister.
"I know, I know!" said Anna raising her hands defensively though rolling her eyes. "Forgive and forget, blah, blah, blah. I know the drill. Forgiveness is great. I guess. I'm just making an observation, that's all."
Elsa wanted to laugh at her sister but opted for a subtle sympathetic smile instead.
"I'm still going to carry that blade in my boot, though. Just in case," Anna added.
Elsa's smile widened with amusement.
"Well, I'm off to bed," said Anna, repressing yet another yawn as the last of the papers had been put away. "Don't be up too late. I know you like roaming around the castle like a ghost late at night, but we've both had a long day and tomorrow's going to be even longer if we plan to turn this place upside down searching for clues."
"I'll be in bed soon, I promise," Elsa said.
Anna left the library and Elsa lingered behind gazing over her father's collection of books, wondering if any of them hid any more clues that could unveil the secrets of the curse that had bounded her for years. An excited thrill rushed through her at the thought. Sure, there was a possibility that it might not lead to a solution, but after the bizarre set of fever dreams she'd had while still in the Southern Isles, she had woken up enlightened, as if in those dreams she had deciphered a long standing mystery.
For the first time she had seen her powers as a part of herself. A side of something only she could contain and understand. A characteristic—just like Anna's irrepressible need to speak each thought as it entered her mind, or Kristoff's inner need for time away from people. Her powers were more herself than any other part of her and for the first time she was contented, having finally accepted them for what they were. Finding out their origin would give her some peace of mind, but even that felt unnecessary at this point. She finally understood that her powers were like an extra sense that was hers and hers alone.
Elsa stepped out of the library and after wading through the corridors ended up at the ballroom. Anna's warning not to stay up late rang in her mind, but Elsa felt the need to step out into the grounds for a quick stroll. It was a habit now that she feel the night breeze on her face and watch the stars twinkle above, let them lull her busy brain to sleep.
She stood at the front end of the hall, watching as it extended into darkness in front of her. Pearly white moonlight streamed in through the ceiling-tall windows with their sheer white curtains, one which had been left open fluttering gently in the night breeze all the way at the other end of the hall.
Elsa took a moment to take in the ballroom in its vast emptiness. In a second her mind filled it with music and people who twirled and dipped and swayed merrily around her with bursts of color, light and laughter.
The scene, of course, couldn't be complete without the naval officer that had stood to her right, bowing, auburn hair glistening, asking for a dance.
Goosebumps rippled down her arms before she forced the memory away.
She decided that tonight time alone with her thoughts wouldn't do her much good. Sleep would just have to come to her without the reassurance of the night breeze and skies.
She stepped forward, headed towards the window at the end of the hall to close it before heading upstairs. But she froze almost instantly when she noticed a figure standing just beside it hiding in the shadow of the wall.
The skin was translucent even in the dark, the white shirt with its rolled-up sleeves glowing boldly like a light. His hair brushed neatly back, the face fresh and clean-shaven. It was like the vision from her memory come to live except for a few minor differences. Elsa gasped, for a second unsure whether she was seeing right.
But with one step towards her, stepping into the dull light that poured in through the window, Elsa knew she wasn't imagining him. The red of his hair poignant among all the dull, matte gray shades of the night.
"Good evening, Your Majesty."
His voice pierced the silence and penetrated right through her skin unto the very core of all her nerves. They lit up inside her. She summoned the frost within her to action without a moment to spare. She was like a cat perking up its ears, claws out, every hair standing on end.
"What are you doing here?" she asked, surprised she could find her voice. "How did you get in?"
"There's not much a bottle of the Southern Isles' best aged scotch can't do to loosen up some stiff guards. They become so at ease they sometimes fall completely asleep. Tomorrow they won't even remember having drunk."
He took as few steps as he approached her.
Elsa held her hands up defensively, the frost forming on her fingertips. "Don't come any closer."
The sound of ice cracking as it expanded resonated above her. She didn't need to look to know the chandelier above was now completely covered in ice.
Hans stopped where he stood, though he didn't seem neither frightened nor offended. Placing his hands behind his back, his disposition remained calm as he said, "I can assure you I come in peace."
"Why?" asked Elsa. "Why are you here?"
"Simply to thank you, Your Majesty, nothing more."
Elsa frowned. "To thank me?"
"Certainly," said he. "If it hadn't been for the storm you caused on the day of my execution I never would've been able to escape."
Elsa's cheeks grew warm. "That wasn't on purpose."
Hans smiled complacently. "I'm sure it wasn't, but it helped nonetheless and today I'm standing here because of it."
There was a long pause before Elsa gave in to her curiosity and asked, "How did you—"
"Remember when I said Gregor was out making arrangements?" said Hans, understanding her question before she could finish it. "He was actually out finding a carriage, giving instructions to the rebels that would be waiting to take us to a ship on the other side of the island. Gregor's not one to make any moves without having several back up plans."
"So you'd planned to escape all along?"
"It was always the plan, yes," said Hans. "If I had been banished to Muros—which is what Gregor and I hoped for—it would've been much easier. A plan to sneak me out was in the works. Which is why we needed your plea so much. But when that didn't work out, we needed a plan B. And Gregor wasted no time putting that together. Barnabas promised to assist as much as he could in exchange for freeing his brother. Getting away would be simple. The hard part would be fighting off the guards carrying me off to the square. We didn't know if we'd be able to shake them off. But thanks to the confusion from your peculiar snow and rain storm, it was much easier than we'd hoped."
"I was ill," she said, not sure why there was such a need to be defensive.
"Of course," said Hans. "I don't expect the thought of freeing me from that cell ever even crossed Her Majesty's mind."
Elsa felt her face flood with color and prayed that there were enough shadows falling over her face to hide it.
"So Gregor was your accomplice the whole time?"
"Or rather we could say I was Gregor's accomplice," Hans said.
Elsa's brow furrowed slightly. "What do you mean?"
The corner of his mouth curled up. "Who do you think has really been the mastermind behind the rebellion?"
"Certainly, not Gregor—"
"Certainly, yes Gregor," replied Hans, clearly amused by her error. "Funny how everyone will always suspect the angry hothead and quickly dismiss the quiet introvert. He sends his regards, by the way."
"Where—" Elsa began.
"His on our ship, just off the southern coast of Arendelle. He made me promise not to frighten you by showing up here tonight. We're headed to the island of Azure. This is simply a stop to replenish our provisions. Don't worry, Queen Elsa—I'm not here to try and take your kingdom away."
Elsa watched him skeptically for a moment. Her hands were still raised ready to attack.
"I've decided to fight for my own kingdom the hard way. As soon as we can raise an army we'll declare war on the Southern Isles and on Jon. It's the only option we have left.
"While I'm here, I also wanted to give you this," he added, reaching behind him and pulling out a roll of parchment from the back of his trousers. Gingerly, he took a step forward. "May I?"
Elsa blinked and then slowly began to lower her hands. "What's this?"
"See for yourself," he said handing her the roll of parchment.
Elsa took it and opened it up finding within it a long outline of a family tree. At the very top of the long parchment stood out the name Ignotus, King of the Southern Isles b. 1316 and as Elsa continued to scan the page she also spotted Margrith, Queen of the Southern Isles b. 1525 hanging from a line that traced all the way back to Barry the Brute's eighth murdered wife making him her great-grandfather. What surprised her most was the line of marriage that connected her to an unfamiliar male with no title named Albert Reenberg.
"Turns out they did keep track of her life after all," said Hans. "They keep it under locked doors, lest anyone find out how Queen Margrith was robbed of her throne."
Elsa's breath had caught in her chest as she'd kept following the line that depicted all of Margrith's decendants. She felt suddenly very weak when almost near the very end she found the only name one that page that could make a direct connection to her already frantic beating heart: Agnarr, King of Arendelle b. 1793. Below his was the most familiar name of all: Elsa, Queen of Arendelle b. 1819.
"You're a direct descendant of Queen Margrith," explained Hans. "As was your father. Turns out she did marry a commoner, but only after she was forced to abdicate. See, our family has had a long standing tradition that only a male son can inherit the throne. When Margrith was born and her mother passed away there were to be no male heirs in her father's bloodline anymore, so our cousins from the north came to fight for their right to take over the crown. The problem was that King Gaius fought back and won. But that didn't mean that the Northerner's had given up. They sought out the help of a known witch and placed a curse on the entire family bloodline, so that if ever there were any females in line for the throne they would quickly be afflicted with uncontrollable ice powers that would put their entire kingdom in peril and so be forced to pass the throne over to the next male in line."
Elsa brought her hand slowly to her mouth, staring at her name and the long line that extended almost half the page up connecting her to Queen Margrith.
"Margrith was the Three Winters Queen and she abdicated to spare her kingdom from her curse. But years later when there was no male heir left to rule Arendelle, it was necessary to go back into the timelines and find a suitable male heir of noble blood, even if that blood had been mixed with that of a commoner's. That's when they found your great-great grandfather and offered him the throne."
"Anna was right," she whispered, reading all the male names that came after Margrith's. "They were all male heirs until my father had Anna and me. He changed the law. My being in line for the throne triggered my curse."
She looked up at Hans abruptly. "Where did you get this? How did you find all of this out?"
His previous smirk returned to his lips. "Turns out you can make Jon sing like a bird when he's got the tip of a sword pressed to his chest."
Elsa's eyes widened. "You went back to the castle?"
Hans shrugged. "I needed a change of clothes."
"That's madness!" she declared. "You could've been caught! You—"
She stopped herself abruptly, suddenly aware of how much concern she was showing for his safety. He, in turn, was watching her with badly suppressed amusement.
She cleared her throat and recalled a tone of coolness and detachment. "Is he still alive?"
"I can assure you the Prince Regent of the Southern Isles lives," said Hans. "I won't deny I was tempted to leave a bloody mark in his silk pajamas, but he called for his guards before I could do anything. Besides, it wouldn't help the rebellion if we just waltzed in and killed him. First we need the get the people on our side and hating him. Then, whatever happens to him won't matter much."
She looked down at the paper again, a surge of warmth she'd ironically come to associate with this man who'd once induced nothing but cold raw fear rose up inside her.
"Thank you," she said, looking up at him.
He gave a small bow of his head.
"I suppose that makes us even again," she said, folding the parchment.
"Well, as you say," she began. "I, in one way or another, helped you escape. You, in turn, handed me answers to questions I'd been asking my whole life. I think that makes us even."
"I'm sorry, Your Majesty, but I can't say I agree."
As he took a few steps forward, the ice above them crackled. His proximity once again setting her on her guard. Elsa's heel rose an inch off the ground as she set herself ready to run.
"You saved my life," said Hans.
Another two steps closer to her. Elsa nearly crushed the parchment in her hands, ice stiffening around the bones in her fingers.
"As such," he continued. "I will be eternally indebted to you."
He stopped. He looked pointedly into her face and, though fear urged her to look away, Elsa looked back searching for a sign telling her to run while at the same time searching for a sign telling her to stay. Her heart pounded with the most bizarre mixture of fear and excitement.
"By the look on your face, I'd say that doesn't seem to settle well with you."
"I don't want you indebted to me for eternity," said she, her chest stiffening. "I don't believe that you are. What I did—what happened that day—I was ill … none of it was intentional. The pressure and the stress of those two weeks took its toll on me and—well, I lost control again. Had I been able to control my powers perhaps you wouldn't have escaped and at this moment you'd be—
She cut herself off. Even now when she was frightened stiff that he'd come to finish what he'd started, she couldn't fathom the idea of his execution.
He smiled again, that artful half-smile as he turned his gaze down.
"All right," said he. "Then perhaps we can call a truce?"
He held his hand out for her to take. Elsa looked at it as if he were holding some strange device on it that she'd never seen before.
"We can start over here and now," he proceeded. "Forget past blunders and begin anew."
Elsa swallowed and pursed her lips and she considered what he was saying. Of course, he could simply be saying that to earn her trust and then dispose of her as he'd once planned to do. But she remembered once having heard a phrase about keeping your enemies close. She figured she could just as well play the same game and pretend like all offenses had been forgiven all the while keeping a close eye on him.
"Very well," said she.
She held her hand out and gently placed it in his. The ice crackled above as she held her breath. She'd half-expected him to pull her down and drive a sword through her torso.
Instead he wrapped his own fingers around her hand and held it there. She was momentarily surprised to find how warm the hand of this cold-blooded villain could be.
Silence reigned between them. She looked up to meet his eyes. His face remained serene. Too serene almost and convincingly so. The sleepy calm of it alarmed Elsa whose relaxed grip suddenly stiffened.
"You should go," she said, still holding his gaze, their hands still joined. "It isn't wise for you to be roaming around the castle."
Still, neither of them moved.
"Very well," he finally said. However, instead of letting go he bowed his head and lifted her hand to his face. Then, to Elsa's shock, he pressed his lips lightly to the back of her hand.
Elsa inhaled sharply as the warmth of his lips sent chills up her arm.
He stood erect once more. "Farewell, Queen Elsa. Perhaps we'll meet again someday."
At last, he released her hand. He gave one final bow of his head before turning and heading back down the ballroom hall.
Elsa clutched her fist to her midriff as she watched him exit through the open window. She stood frozen stiff. Her whole body remained paralyzed in cold, numb shock. Except for the spot his lips had grazed on her skin.
A cold drop of water suddenly splashed on her neck, startling her. She raised her eyes to the frozen chandelier that was now dripping as the ice melted from an icicle hanging just above her. The drop that had fallen on her back rolled down her spine, tracing a chill all the way down.
A conversation she'd once had with Anna while still in the Southern Isles suddenly came back to her. She remembered both of them expressing their wish to be done with the trial, to be back in Arendelle, to move on with their lives and never have to think of Prince Hans or anything having to do with him ever again.
Elsa couldn't help but sense, as the back of her hand still burned with the ghost of his kiss, how very unlikely it was that she should never think of him again.