Disclaimer: I do not own Frozen
Rating: for minor suggestive themes.
A/n: this is long but I didn't think it would work as a two-shot. By way of warning, the characters are perhaps a little less accepting than they would be if this were an actual Disney sequel. But hey, that's part of the fun, right? Anyway, I hope you enjoy!
Taller than Elsa
Despite everything Anna told him about her, he's not at ease, the first time they meet. It's not that she's horrible because she isn't: she makes an effort to ask him questions and tells him about the castle. But she doesn't make eye contact when she speaks and her words are stilted and hollow. As though she thinks she should be nice to him but hasn't quite worked out how.
She's smaller than he imagined her, all those days before.
Once she's trailed off and he's realised that she isn't going to say anything else, he thanks her for the sled. Mainly because that's something they haven't talked about yet. She waves it away.
"It's the least I could do," she says. Her voice is light now but there is anxiousness behind it. For a split second, something like worry crosses her face, but it is smothered quickly by a half-smile. He nearly asks about it but he doesn't know her – doesn't even know what the exact backstory to her and Anna is – so he doesn't know how she thinks. Besides, she's the Queen and queens probably worry all the time. Plus she froze all of Arendelle so there are probably still after-effects and potential riots. After all, he doesn't know that he's forgiven her for what she did, for all that she's Anna's sister, so chances are that no one else has either.
He's her first everything, she says. Not just in the sense that he was her first kiss – he was her first truly friendly encounter, the first person to look past her title, her first adventure. Her first friend around her age. Her first sled ride, her first meeting with a reindeer.
He finds the idea a little overwhelming but she doesn't seem intimidated. Truth be told, that lack of fear one of the things that drew him to her. You could go a long way with a woman like that at your side, Sven tells him.
(She finds his doing voices for Sven weird and even a little patronising ("You can't just decide what Sven says, you know.") but he still does them. He might be her first friend but Sven was his and nobody's going to silence him.)
Compared to her, he sometimes feels meek. On his first few trips to the castle, for example, while he doesn't tiptoe, he's quieter than he might be elsewhere. He thinks it has something to do with the idea that one wrong move could end with his beheading. Yet with her encouraging him to run through corridors with her, to sneak into kitchens, to climb onto rooftops and watch the sunset, anything feels possible. It's beautiful.
"Like you," she says and kisses him on the cheek. She's tiny in the dimming light, and all the more wonderful for it, he thinks.
He's her first sunset on a rooftop.
She's his too.
Nobody has told him exactly what the Official Arendelle Ice Master and Deliverer is supposed to do. The only thing he knows is that he has to report to the Queen, so he does that, in the hope that she will explain to him exactly what the job is.
The truth is: he doesn't want this job. He would have refused it if that wouldn't have hurt Anna's feelings.
He makes his first report after his second conversation with the Queen (Anna wants him to call her Elsa, and she's said he can, but it feels weird). He tells her how much ice has been delivered to Arendelle, how much ice he has delivered and what he's done with it. Then he stands there and waits.
The first time he ever saw this woman, she'd just put a bolt of ice through Anna's heart. The first time she saw him, she set an ice golem on him.
"Thank you," she says, her voice slightly clipped. Then she blinks and her lips curl upwards. "Thanks, Kristoff. Um, good job."
"Um, thanks?" He doesn't mean it to come out like a question but it does. She sounds as though she's addressing a dog. His confusion (and, OK, hurt) must be noticeable because red tinges her cheeks.
"I'm sorry, Kristoff."
"That's OK, your Majesty," he says, even though he should have pretended she hadn't offended him. Anna always tells him he's too blunt, too rude, and he suspects she wouldn't like it if he talked as he normally would around her sister. "I mean, um, no problem." He pauses. "No, I mean, thank you."
She giggles. It's almost Anna's giggle but hers sounds a little nervous whereas Anna is never nervous. At a loss of what to do, he bows. He wouldn't normally (he's never understood what the point of it is) but it gives him an excuse to say, "So, uh, I'll get going then. Bye, your Majesty."
As he turns his back (is he supposed to do that?), she says, "You, ah, you can call me Elsa, you know. I really do mean that."
He turns around, rubbing his head. "Oh, uh, sure. Um, see you, Elsa."
Something twists on her face but then she nods. "Bye, Kristoff."
Sometimes, they sit in the city centre and just enjoy each other's company. People have not yet gotten used to the sight of Princess Anna and her commoner boyfriend. It's both of their first enduring uncomfortable stares.
One evening in the city centre, he becomes her first water fight since she was five.
"Does that count?" he asks. "Since you were five? It's not really your first then, is it?"
She's quiet for a long time and that unsettles him because Anna hasn't been quiet since they first met.
"Elsa … Elsa told me the trolls modified my memories," she says at last. "I … well, how do I know I ever had that water fight?" She smiles brightly. "So it is my first water fight. It's the first one I know I've had."
He starts to question that but she tells him to lighten up and splashes more water at him, resulting in his trying to dunk her in the fountain. Soon enough, the conversation is forgotten.
The Queen makes another ice rink. She wants it to be a monthly thing. Something to show people that the days of closed doors are gone and that the monarchy is fun and approachable. And not about to freeze all of Arendelle. That's important, apparently.
There are shadows under her eyes. He knows, from Anna, that she works almost constantly, sometimes getting as little as three or four hours' sleep a night. You wouldn't think it to look at her here – here, she is loud, she is laughter, she is games and mischievous giggles. She is everywhere, playing with the little children, talking to the adults, pulling her sister around the ice rink. He hasn't seen her like this since the first ice rink. It's strange to put this woman together with the woman who has stilted conversations with him.
(Even stranger to put her together with the woman who froze her sister's heart.)
She happens to be nearby when he rests against a wall. Silently, they watch Anna slip and slide around the ice, laughing madly. She hasn't been ice skating since she was a child but she applies the same manic approach to this that she does to most of her life.
"Not tempted to join her?" He actually jumps. The Queen's hand flies to her mouth. "I'm so sorry, I didn't-"
"It's fine," he says before realising he's interrupted the Queen. Oh well, nothing he can do about that. "I'll join her eventually. I just needed a break."
"I hope she doesn't mind that we've left her alone."
"She won't. She's having fun," he says, looking at her laughing and joking on the ice.
Elsa nods but there's a tenseness in her shoulders. "You're right. I should let her enjoy herself." She nods again, as though affirming it to herself. "I … yes."
She sounds odd enough that he says, "Are you alright, your … Elsa?"
"Me? Yes. Fine."
He's bracing himself for another stilted conversation but she doesn't say anything. She's still tense. Or maybe anxious. The way she's been every time they've spoken.
Every time they've spoken? He's not that bad, is he?
"You sure you're OK?"
She smiles again but now that he knows what he's looking for, he can see how it doesn't reach her eyes. "I'm fine, thanks, Kristoff. I just want Anna to enjoy herself."
"She is," he says again. "She'll have fun whether you join her or not."
For a few seconds, Elsa is quiet, and it's not unsettling in the way Anna being quiet is unsettling. He replays what he says and wonders if it counts as rude.
"How do you know that?" she finally asks. "I know you two are courting but you've only known her for a little over a month."
He can't tell if he's offended her. He considers saying that he knows Anna but that isn't exactly true. He doesn't know her as well as he knows, say, Sven or Bulda. But that's the point of dating – discovering your partner. He knows enough of her to know that he wants to know all of her.
"I know she loves you," he says, "so whatever you do, she'll like."
It comes out a little offhand and she turns red. Before either of them can say anything further, Anna skates up and starts talking about something or other. When she asks if he wants to skate, he says yes.
He's her first partner in crime around the castle since she was five, she says.
(The 'since she was five' rule applies to a lot of firsts but, in keeping with his resolution not to ask about it, he agrees that it's an acceptable derogation.)
When Anna talks about any part of her childhood, even when telling him that he's a first since she was five, she does it as though Kristoff was there, and already knows the important details. At first, he asked her questions but now he nods along, trying to piece a picture together in his mind. Often, she makes jokes, recounting trying to run away to a festival, breaking her arm, bicycle rides through hallways, long nights with her mother, stealing sweets from the kitchen.
Once, he says, "What did your sister think about all of it?"
She goes strangely quiet again before saying, "I dunno. That I was being stupid, probably."
"She wouldn't think that about you, would she?"
Anna shrugs before stealing some of his food and that's the end of that.
But then on one kitchen raid (he doesn't think it's a raid if the kitchen staff know they're doing it but apparently he's missing the point), they hide in a small, cosy room. Or it would be cosy if it weren't so clearly abandoned. It's not dusty or untidy but he can tell, from the way papers and books, and a cup or two, are neatly placed, that nobody except the cleaning staff comes in here.
Anna walks around, her fingers trailing over chairs and items and curtains. "I haven't been in here for a long time," she says. Her voice is husky. "Not since before my parents died. It was their favourite room so I used to sit in here in the evenings with them. I … I think they used to sit with Elsa too but…" Her fingers come to the doorway. She pauses. "They used to measure my height here."
He walks over. There are faded inked marks and letters on the wood, at different heights. Lower down, there are two columns of marks. Curious, he looks closer.
"And your sister," he says.
"Look down here – some of the extra marks have Elsa's name by them. I guess at some point, they stopped measuring her." He looks more closely. "Though when you were eleven, someone wrote that you were taller than Elsa." He grins. "That's kinda cute."
He turns to her and stops. She's frowning in thought. He's never seen her do that. She doesn't frown.
Except she does.
"I … I don't remember that at all." She rubs her head. "We must have done it together when we were little. Elsa might know but…" She rubs her head again. "It's funny. I always thought I could remember being a little kid really well – it's what I held on to with Elsa … being how she was. But this … huh. And what was that about when I was eleven?" He gestures. She frowns again. "That's so weird. I don't remember ever being taller than Elsa. I always think of her as being so much bigger than me. Like I'm always catching up to her."
"You must have outgrown her height from when she was a little kid though. Unless Elsa was abnormally tall."
"You were a kid," he says. "You can't remember everything that's ever happened to you."
"Maybe," she says but she's still frowning. "I wonder why they stopped measuring her but kept measuring me. Didn't they want to watch her grow?"
"Well, it's not like you need a doorway for that." He puts an arm around her because it feels like the right thing to do. "Maybe we should get out of here?"
She hesitates and he gets the feeling that it wasn't the right thing after all. But she nods. "Yeah, you're right. C'mon, coast's probably clear now."
It sounds as though he's now her first non-magical forgotten memory. Somehow, the idea doesn't sit comfortably with him.
Their next few conversations are stilted but now that Kristoff knows what to look for, he can't stop himself from seeing her anxiety. He still can't tell why she's so anxious but then, he doesn't know much about her. Nobody does. Anna tells him that she meets her sister every day just to talk, and it scares her how little she knows.
He sees that anxiety when he watches her talk to other people. Once or twice, the room has gotten colder and although nobody has commented, when she sees that they've noticed, she almost shrinks a little. But sometimes, the anxiety almost melts away – when she talks to certain old servants, for example. When she goes into the city and plays with children, you could almost mistake her for anyone. Around Anna, she is a mixture of anxious energy and cheerful, witty conversation.
He mentions it to Anna once but she only shrugs. "Elsa spent a lot of time alone," she says. "I … I think maybe she's just not used to people yet."
Which is just great, given her job centres around people, but Kristoff doesn't say that. At least, not to Anna.
He's her first kiss and he's her first in relation to a few other activities, but he's also her first 'stop'.
It's a little strange. Anna is the kind of person who barrels ahead into new experiences with enthusiasm, always seeking a new adventure or a new experience, trying to make up for years of nothing. Sometimes, he finds it hard to keep up with her. But if his hands or lips wander too far, she asks him to stop.
The first time it happened, she apologised awkwardly with her face bright red and her fists clenching. He had to reassure her that it was fine, she should tell him if she wants to stop. He prefers it if she tells him. Which is true because otherwise he has to work it out or constantly ask, because he's terrified of hurting her.
But despite his preferring that she asks (and liking that she's confident enough to ask) he still finds it weird. He'd thought she would be happy to go further here, even though she is a princess, because it's new and she fears nothing. So maybe there's something about him that brings up inhibitions that she otherwise doesn't display. He isn't sure because whenever she asks to stop, there are always a few seconds when something that looks like nervousness or even fear crosses her face. But that's ridiculous because it's Anna. Anna doesn't do fear. He doubts she even knows the meaning of the word. So it probably is something to do with him.
Although he never says it, he thinks it until one evening, at the end of a long day, she sleepily mumbles something about how she can trust him. She can trust him not to be like Hans. He'd had no idea that she didn't trust him – he carried her from the Valley of the Living Rock to the castle, for crying out loud – but the more he thinks about it, the more it makes sense. Why wouldn't Anna have reservations about him? After all, Hans used her feelings to manipulate her, and she trusted him. If it had suited him, he would have done everything Kristoff does with Anna, and probably convinced her to do more. Then, smiling, he would have killed her, the Queen, and anyone else who stood between him and the throne. So why would she assume that Kristoff might not be capable of the same? Why would she think she could trust her own feelings on the matter?
It's a strange realisation, the realisation that Anna is not, and perhaps never has been, fearless. Her fears have always been there but he's never noticed that they are fears not of the world and what it could do to her, but of herself, and what she could allow the world to do; and that what she is scared of is that her feelings will let her down, and she will trust the wrong person again.
Then he realises something else: no matter what happens next, he will never be Anna's first fear – that's Hans' cross to bear and he's more than welcome to it. But that means that Kristoff is not, and despite what Anna says, never will be, her first everything. Hans was Anna's first dance. Hans was her first party, her first marriage proposal, her first door to another world. Those are things that are his and his alone. And despite the fact he's never really met the man, seeing how worried Anna is about this, Kristoff hates him for it.
He's talking to Sven in the stables, munching on half a carrot as he does so, when he hears a startled giggle. He whirls around, carrot in hand, to see the Queen staring at him.
"I'm sorry," she says, "I came out here and … were you doing Sven's voice?"
He feels a little defensive. Anna thinks it's odd but she leaves him be: other people are usually less accepting and someone who froze her sister and set an ice golem on him isn't likely to be tolerant.
"How else would I understand him?"
To his surprise, she seems to consider this. "He could learn to tap his hooves in code? Saves you from doing all of the work. Reduces the risk of a misunderstanding too, I'd have thought."
He looks at Sven. "How d'you feel about that?"
Sven shakes his head (he would) and the Queen laughs again. "I guess that's a no. Does this mean you usually win any arguments?"
Sven snorts. Kristoff shakes his head. "He's too persuasive," he says. As he looks up at her, he realises that he's talking to the Queen about conversations he has with his reindeer, and feels a little ridiculous.
But she doesn't seem to think it's ridiculous. She asks him a few more questions about Sven –how they met, where they live, whether Sven has any nice female reindeer in his life – and from there, conversation flows. He couldn't say exactly what else they talk about but she's not awkward. She's animated, giggling, dry humour. She's curious and listening. She's easy to talk to and pleasant to listen to.
Until a servant comes looking for her. Immediately, she reverts back to being polite, if a little anxious, and he finds himself thinking it's a pity that she does so. Maybe he is bad with people but he suspects more people would like Elsa if she just let herself be herself.
Assuming this is herself. He still doesn't know that he trusts someone who did what she did, no matter how much effort they make to engage him.
One of the things that surprises Kristoff about Anna is that she's a quick learner. He doesn't know why he thought she wouldn't be – perhaps it's because she's so impulsive that he thinks she would forget her previous lessons. But she doesn't. There are many things she doesn't know but once she knows them, she remembers them.
(He never says it to her, of course, but she gives him a sideways look once and tells him not to be so smug.)
Haggling, for example. She's atrocious, the first time he watches her haggle. The only reason she doesn't lose more money than she does is because she's the Princess. But she's a little better, the second time and by the third, she's as good as most people. Not as good as him, of course, but he has years of experience.
("Well, maybe," says Anna, "but you'll notice nobody's tried to throw me out of their shop.")
She doesn't like studying (which he can understand because who'd want to spend all day reading books when there's music and wind and land to explore?) but she likes people. And for someone who hasn't had much interaction with them, she's surprisingly perceptive. She always seems to know when to laugh, when to ask questions, when to pretend to be interested. She can talk to someone who seems perfectly fine to him and then say afterwards that they're unhappy. She just knows.
(She starts to make a comment about him once, but something in his expression makes her think twice. She still tells him he needs to be nicer to people though – or at least should talk to them before assuming they're crooks – but he thinks that's misguided. He knows how to talk to people.)
Sometimes, she tells him her worries about her sister. About how Elsa works too hard, probably from guilt at what she did (there's a part of him which thinks good but he never says that). How she still feels there's something wrong with her, even now, even after everything that's happened. How she always hugs Anna when Anna hugs her, but rarely starts it herself, and Anna doesn't know if that's because she still doesn't trust herself to touch other people. And how nobody, ever, ever, ever, must know that Anna has said this.
He's her first confidante, she says. Her first alive confidante. He decides not to query that.
(He doesn't ask what about Hans but he wonders.)
But amidst those conversations are comments about how her sister is becoming more confident. How wearing less stuffy clothes impacts how she walks, how she speaks, how she acts. How she laughs more, how she reaches for Anna more, how she sometimes stops and chats to random servants or soldiers, just because she can. How her lips curl upwards into smiles, how her eyes shine, how she's more decisive. Some of these he's noticed but some he only sees after she's pointed them out. Some of them, he thinks, nobody would notice unless they looked hard.
And, of course, she worked out how to understand Sven within about fifteen minutes. He's kind of glad about that. If Sven didn't like her, he wouldn't let himself be understood. Sven's usually a good judge of character, even if Kristoff isn't.
His conversations with her are slightly less stilted and awkward now – they laugh more and comment on, rather than simply ask about, each other's lives. Anna's right. She is a little happier, a little more confident in herself, than she used to be. Or maybe he's more comfortable around her, despite … everything. He's still intimidated but she feels less like an ice queen and more like … the Queen. Like Elsa.
But not like the sister of someone he's dating. He doubts they will ever see each other as family. Not just because he still looks at her and sees a woman who nearly killed all of Arendelle: they are both used to closing themselves off and it will take a lot to change that.
When the Queen does her ice rink again, he spends most of the day skating with Anna. She tries to convince him to skate with other people, but he prefers to skate on his own or with Sven. Maybe not all people are worse than reindeer, but reindeer are better than most people in his opinion. Still, he makes an effort, skating with Kai, with Gerda, with some children, even very briefly with Elsa. Mostly he doesn't though and nobody clamours for his attention, which is just fine with him. Anna looks slightly disapproving but she lets him be.
Eventually, he tires and leans against the wall. Like last time, the Queen is nearby and skates over to him. She smiles.
He smiles back. "Just catching my breath. I have to do it while Anna's distracted. The moment she sees me, she'll make me skate again."
Elsa chuckles softly. She always laughs quietly, as though worried that someone will hear. "I know the feeling." She looks at Anna and her expression sobers. "I think … I think she's OK though. For a short while."
He looks over at Anna, who is skating around with two teenagers, laughing loudly. "Don't know where you got that idea," he says in as deadpan a tone as he can. He's rewarded with a brief frown followed by a flicker of a smile. At least she got it eventually.
They are silent for a minute or two. Just as he's debating whether to go back onto the rink, she says, "You're good for her, you know."
He turns and opens his mouth before realising he has no idea what to say to that. Whatever else she may be, she has still not mastered appropriate conversation. Eventually, he settles for, "Thanks." Then, because she started the weird introspective tone, he says, "Say, why didn't you ever get suspicious of me dating your sister? I thought after Hans, you'd-"
She's already nodding. "I did. I didn't know who you were, only that you'd saved Anna's life. I know a lot of people think I gave you your position because of your relationship with Anna but-"
"That didn't start until after that."
"I know. It was just to say thank you. I was suspicious but … you did save her life and … Anna's lived her whole life behind doors. I want to open those doors." She looks at the nearby gates. "It's more than just opening doors. I have to let her be free to run her life as best she can. So I … I decided not to intervene. Just watch. And … you're good for her." She crosses her arms. "You're … Anna's told me about you and you're … of the four of us, you're the only one who's … fine."
Even though he knows Anna talks about him to her sister, it still feels a little weird. Uncertain. What do they say about him when he isn't there?
"The four of us?"
"Anna, me, you and Hans."
That sickening anger hits him when he hears Hans' name. "I don't understand."
"Well, Anna and I … maybe weren't brought up the way we should have been." He thinks that's an understatement but he doesn't interrupt. "And I try but it's … hard. Anna adjusts better than I do but I think … I sometimes think maybe she … she tries too hard." Her arms tense. "And Hans … Anna told me that Hans told her that when he was a child, his brothers bullied him badly. That's not how he phrased it but that's what he said. Maybe that's why he … did what he did."
Maybe it makes him a bad person but he can't bring himself to feel sympathy for Hans. "And me?" he asks in a surprisingly steady voice.
"Anna said you're an orphan as well and you grew up with the trolls. Your childhood was as broken as ours but you haven't done anything stupid or cruel or wrong. You started a business and saved my sister's life." She smiles now, a shaky thing. "Anna needs someone like you. Someone steady and someone who … understands."
He doesn't know what to say. He's talked a few times about his childhood to Anna but it's not something he discusses generally. Anna rarely probes either. Anna doesn't like to cause people pain.
He doesn't know that he understands anything.
(He still doesn't know what comment Anna was going to make about him, that time that she started to.)
He's saved from replying by Anna skating up, whooping and laughing, grabbing her sister's hand and skating off again. But he doesn't stop thinking about it for the rest of the day.
One day, when Anna is done with her work for her sister (she doesn't like to feel useless, and Elsa is gifted at working out what Anna could do to help. Whatever his own misgivings about the Queen, whatever Anna says about their relationship, it's clear that she loves her little sister a lot) and Kristoff is done with his haul, they meet for a picnic at sunset. The moment they see each other, Anna runs to him and holds him so tightly, his ribs hurt.
"Someone's pleased to see me," he wheezes out.
"Mmhmm," she says, her speech muffled by her face being mushed into his chest.
"I can't breathe."
She lets go. "Sorry! Sorry!" As he massages his chest, she says, "It's just I … I dreamed last night that you … we were getting away from the wolves again but this time you … you fell. After the cliff. Like when we were jumping across and…." She smiles but it's shaky. "Stupid, huh? It was just a dream but I kept thinking about it and … yeah. I was happy to see you." She pokes him in the chest. "You should see it as a good thing."
"I do." She smiles again but it's still shaky. "Sort of. It's probably not a good thing that you had a nightmare."
He always says stuff like that but she never takes it badly – if he says it about her. Sometimes, he says stuff like that to other people, and she says he's hurt their feelings, and sometimes he cares but often he doesn't because they did something to deserve it. Still, this time, he feels a little bad because she was upset. Probably upset. He doesn't know that he's ever seen her really upset before.
"You know it was just a nightmare, right?"
"I know," she says, a bit too quickly. She bites her lip and looks away. "I've just … I've had them before and they're always … but it was the first time something bad happened to you in one and … I don't like the thought of it happening to you."
"Before?" He frowns. "What else d'you have nightmares about?"
She looks a little horrified but then she smiles. "Nothing. Nothing important. I'm being silly. C'mon, let's go have a picnic. Yeah!"
He's reminded of Elsa's words about how Anna tries too hard. He didn't know if he agreed but the more he's thought about it, the more he's wondered. She's always enthusiastic, it's true, and she's happy to grumble about minor things but he doesn't think she's ever talked about Hans. And while she does talk about her parents, it's always in offhand tones, with shrugs and questions that usually turn the conversations on their heads. Her time before the Great Thaw, people's stares, the whispers and rumours – she jokes about all of these but whenever he asks about them, she gets distracted. He's always thought those tangents were just part of her train of thought. But what if they cover something else?
But it's Anna. Anna's not like that. He'd know.
"You sure?" he says anyway. "I mean, when I have nightmares, I sometimes tell Sven."
She grins at this. Maybe he's just paranoid but it looks strained. "You know he's not gonna tell. Anyway, how d'you know Sven's not the one telling you his nightmares?"
"He sounds completely different to me," he says. "And I wouldn't tell."
"He sounds exactly like you," Anna says. She pokes him. "And if he were here, he'd be telling us to go have a picnic. Unless you only packed carrots. You didn't only pack carrots, did you?"
She delves into the picnic basket while he protests that he knows she doesn't like carrots. They have a perfectly pleasant evening even though he has plenty of questions that he now suspects she won't answer. Like whether he's her first nightmare or whether that's another first that belongs to Hans; or whether, when she said he's her first confidante, she really meant that.
He is her first experience of a bird using her hair as a toilet, so that's something, at least.
But he still thinks about Anna and her nightmare – and the way she wouldn't talk about it. Maybe he shouldn't have gotten distracted. But what else could he do? She'd talk about if she wanted to. Anna doesn't bottle things up. Not forever. She lets them out eventually. They had several days of winter to prove that.
One day – maybe a week after the last ice rink – he gives his usual report to the Queen. He still hasn't figured out exactly what the job's supposed to be, but he must be doing it right because nobody's corrected him yet. Elsa has been silent for the entire thing, staring at a space past his shoulder. She never speaks during the report (come to think of it, does she know what the job is supposed to be?) but she usually looks a little engaged at least. Today she just looks lost in thought.
After a few seconds of silence, he decides he may as well go. But before he can turn, she says, "Kristoff, do you mind if I ask you a question?"
They haven't had a serious conversation since the ice rink. That being said, they've only seen each other once since then, and Anna was with him so she did most of the talking.
"Do you … do you ever dream about … what happened?" His breath comes up short as he stares at her. Her cheeks turn pink. "Never mind, I-"
"No, no, that's fine." He tries to smile but he thinks it might come out as a grimace. At least this one's easy – there are some nightmares that he'll never talk about but these don't fall in that category. "Once or twice I've had a nightmare, that Anna didn't … you know, unfreeze but … that's it." He hesitates and then says, "What d'you dream about, Elsa?"
Her arms cross herself, almost as though she's trying to hug herself. She does that, sometimes – some nervous habit she has. "Lots of things," she says. He blinks, a little surprised that she answered when Anna wouldn't. "Not ending winter. Anna dying. Hans winning. Everything being my fault…" She trails off and then jumps. When she looks at him, horror creeps into her eyes and a cold wind flashes through the room.
So before she can say that she didn't mean to tell him that, he says, "Have you asked Anna about nightmares?"
"No," she says. "I … I don't want her to think of me as weak. She's so much stronger than I am that … I just want to keep up, you know?" He hesitates because he doesn't know if he should say what he's thinking, but she catches it. "What?"
He rubs the back of his head, fully aware of how weird the situation is. "I think … you and Anna … maybe you should talk with her."
"Anna? But then she'd think…" She trails off. Whatever people may think of Elsa, she is by no means stupid. "Kristoff," she says slowly, "what has Anna said?" Kristoff hesitates again but it's enough. "She has nightmares too, doesn't she?"
It's too late now, so he just says, "She won't think you're weak."
He forces a smile. "She's always thought of you as taller than her, you know."
He's not her first argument because she had that with Elsa. He's not her first betrayal either because that was Hans. He's starting to wonder just how many firsts he is.
"How could you?" she asks. Her face is red and her fists are clenched. Her eyes shine with anger. Not tears. Anna doesn't cry. Ever. But she's almost never angry either so what does he know? "I told you about my nightmares in confidence. What … what made you think you could tell my sister?"
He raises his hands. "I'm sorry," he says. "It slipped out."
"What else have you told her?"
"Nothing. Nothing, I swear. I said I'm sorry, Anna."
"I trusted you," she says. She's not much of a whisperer either. "If I want to talk about my nightmares to Elsa, I will. You can't decide when I should talk about what I dream about."
"I didn't tell her. I didn't have anything to tell," he snaps but that isn't true. Maybe Anna didn't say much but he knew. And maybe he didn't explicitly tell Elsa that Anna has nightmares too but he knew that was the conclusion she had come to and he didn't stop it. "Look, I said sorry," he says, holding his hands up again. "But you two trust each other, right?"
"Elsa has too much on her shoulders already, without you adding my problems. I'm fine. I have to be fine. I mean, it's not like anything bad really happened to me-"
"You froze, Anna," he says. "You were ice."
"So? You're saying I must have problems because of that, and that gives you a right to go to my sister over me?"
"No," he splutters. "That's not what I mean at all. I just … she told me she was having nightmares and I thought … you two … would understand each other."
"Then why didn't you leave that decision to me? I'm not Sven, Kristoff. You can't decide what I think or feel or say. You can't decide that I need help when you never talk about your own problems either. What makes you think you're so much better than me?"
That stings because there's a grain of truth in it. He doesn't think he's better than her but he's always felt that he doesn't need to talk about his problems. He just needs to handle them himself. Why does he always forget how perceptive she is?
"I don't think I'm-"
"Don't you?" She looks at him and there's something surprisingly sour in her expression. "You always talk without thinking about other people's feelings 'cause you're so sure that you're right and they're wrong that why d'you need to worry? You're barely polite 'cause you don't think people deserve your manners, even though you never find out if they do. You talk about other people as though you know how they think and feel when you never even talk to them. What part of that isn't arrogance?" That stings even more. The fact that she thinks that about him. The fact that some of that is true. "You haven't changed one bit, have you?" she finishes and that stings most of all.
But before he can say anything else, she sags. "I just … I trusted you to … I trusted you."
He looks at her and realises that no matter what she said about him, this is what it boils down to. She told Hans things and Hans used them against her. Then he said something to her, about how she was stupid, or naïve, for trusting him. She trusted Kristoff to keep her secrets, to let her be as strong as she says is, and even one slip is something that means she has to reassess him.
She's standing there, all anger and fear and she tries too hard now, and so different from the brash, fiery girl he met on a snowy summer's day that he feels as though he's stumbled. He can still see someone who is loud and optimistic but beneath that, there's a girl who can't trust her own memories – a girl who has nightmares and refuses to talk about them, who refuses to cry rather than doesn't cry. The talkative girl is still there, but now he hears how she hides the topics she will never touch – because if she talks a lot about nothing, she need not talk a little about other things. She's still perceptive, still inclined towards people, but there's a barrier there, a reluctance to let her guard down completely, in case she's fooled again.
She's still brash and fiery, but not in the way she's always been. Not in the way he's always seen her and known her.
He has never thought of her as stupid or simple but seeing her now, he thinks it might be the first time he's realised exactly how complex she is.
This time, when he gives his report to Elsa, he isn't surprised when she says, "Kristoff, can I talk to you about something?"
He rubs a hand over his eyes. Anna has barely spoken to him for the past few days. He's asked Sven for help. He's asked the trolls for help. He's even asked Olaf for help. But he hasn't tried implementing their suggestions, mainly because he thinks they're inappropriate but also because he's a little scared of trying and being shot down.
Maybe Anna isn't the only one with trust issues.
"I've said sorry to Anna about fifty times," he says irritably although he regrets his tone instantly. He's done that more often recently. Time was, he didn't care what people thought of him but after what Anna said... "I bought her flowers and chocolate. I don't know what else I can do."
"I know," she says. "She's … I think she's more upset with herself than you."
"You wouldn't think that if you heard her shout at me."
That makes her smile. It suddenly occurs to him that it wasn't that long ago that the only smiles she gave him were polite and small. "We had a long talk. I don't think I realised how bad she … feels. Maybe. I'm guessing, I suppose, because she doesn't really talk about it." She pauses. "Maybe I'm the one taking everything too badly."
He thinks of what Anna said to him, about how she thinks she has to catch up to Elsa. Then he thinks of what Elsa said to him, about how Anna is stronger than she is, and how she needs to keep up. He's always thought of Anna as being the more well-adjusted of the pair, but now he wonders whether maybe Elsa is growing into it, while Anna … isn't. Or maybe they're just growing in different ways.
Maybe he's the only one who isn't changing.
"I don't think you can take what happened to you too badly," he says.
She smiles a grateful smile at him. "Thanks, Kristoff." She pauses as she considers him. "I hope you're not her first heartbreak."
He shivers – has Anna told Elsa about Kristoff being her first everything? "I thought that was Hans."
A shadow crosses Elsa's face and the arm of her chair frosts over. She jumps, and he does as well, as they both stare at it.
"S-sorry," she says. All of that composure and friendliness is gone. She closes her eyes. The ice disappears. His heart is thumping and he looks at the ground so that she can't see his face.
She froze her own sister, he thinks. He watched Anna's hair turn white and her skin turn pale, her fingers grasping weakly at his clothes. He watched her stand, an ice statue, reaching up to stop a sword for her sister.
He also watched snow hang in mid-air and saw her crumple, arms around that statue, sobbing for her sister.
He's never thought about that before.
"You OK?" he asks but his voice is gruffer than usual. He keeps looking at his shoes.
"Y-yes. Sorry. I … Hans has that effect on me sometimes." When he looks up, Elsa's face is pale (but not as pale as Anna's was) and she's shaking (but not as much as Anna was). "I'm getting better. At not doing that. One time, I froze my whole room." She tries to laugh but it trails away. "Anyway, uh, Hans. He … I don't think he broke her heart so much as just broke her … spirit. There was heartbreak involved but…" She glances at her hands and then peers up at him through her lashes. "She never loved him so what of her heart was there to break? But you … I think you could break her heart. She's never been in that situation before. I don't know how she'd handle it."
His skin flushes with warmth. "Elsa, I-"
"I'd tell you what you should do but I … honestly, I don't know, Kristoff. We're not…" She shrugs, looking helpless. Suddenly, he feels bad again. She's dangerous, yes, but she's not evil. She's just doing her best. Maybe she's always been doing her best. "I suppose if it were me, I wouldn't stop trying. But I've failed her before."
"She doesn't think that."
"Anna is quick to forgive." Now she smiles. "You'll see."
He thinks long and hard about that conversation. Truthfully, making up with angry girlfriends is something he has little experience with. He isn't good with people. Leave him alone with Sven, the trolls and the ice and he'd be a happy man. That's what he always said. Except the thought of going back to the trolls without Anna leaves him feeling strangely hollow.
So he has to convince Anna to forgive him and he has no idea how. Part of him thinks she's overreacting – especially since he said sorry – but the other part of him knows it's deeper than that. After all, she wasn't wrong about him.
As he thinks of methods and schemes and words that will probably fail him, he wonders if he's her first apology. He doubts it. That was probably Elsa.
Is he her first grudge then? Presumably that's another one for Hans?
He asks Kai to deliver a note to Anna and then heads to the banks of the fjord, sitting away from other people dangling their feet carelessly into the water, and waits. And waits. And waits. And waits.
She comes shortly before the sunset and for a second, she's so beautiful that it takes his breath away. But he's careful not to say anything. He just waits for her to drop next to him.
"Hey," he says once she's sat, his voice cracking slightly.
"Hey." She doesn't look at him but she says, "That was my first note. First one asking me to meet someone somewhere."
"Sorry about the handwriting."
"That's OK. I understood it. Eventually." He can hear a smile in her voice but when he looks at her, she's still looking at the water. "So, what did you want to talk about?"
"Apart from the obvious?"
Now she looks at him. "Is that what you want to-"
"No. I've said everything I have to say about that. I'm sorry, you know I'm sorry. I don't know what else I can say."
"Have you forgiven Hans?"
He might as well have said have you eaten any children recently for the look she gives him.
"No," she says finally. "He … no."
She doesn't say anything else and now he doesn't know what to say. In his head, that question seamlessly led to a discussion about what Hans did to Anna. It would have done with Sven. But Anna is not Sven, and he can't make up conversations for her. If she doesn't want to talk about it, he can't make her.
But Elsa says Anna is quick to forgive, and even if he is scared of Elsa, he knows she loves her sister more than anything.
So he says, "Why not?"
She opens her mouth and then closes it. Thinking about her answer before she gives it. She's been doing that more, recently, but he's only noticed it now.
Slowly, she says, "It's not 'cause what he did is unforgivable 'cause, I guess, anything is forgivable." She picks up a rock from the bank and inspects it. "But I'm … I'm not ready to forgive him." He can see the edges of a thin smile on her face as she inspects the rock. "He tried to kill Elsa. He tried to kill me." Now she looks at him. Her eyes are hard. "Why should I forgive him?"
He hesitates but she isn't Sven and he can't tell her what to say. And he doesn't know how she feels. "I don't know that you should," he says instead. "I don't anyway. I just wanted to know if you did."
She snorts and flings the rock into the water. "Maybe in a hundred years." After a few seconds, she sighs (has he ever heard her sigh?) and her shoulders sag. "My parents always used to say I should forgive everyone, no matter what they do but it's hard. Especially Hans. 'Cause maybe I want to forgive him 'cause I'm just dumb."
"That's what he said and…" She flings another stone into the fjord. "Why don't you forgive him?"
There are all sorts of things he could say. About how Hans nearly killed Anna. Nearly killed Anna's sister. How he nearly damned all of them because was there any proof whatsoever that killing Elsa would end her magic? He could say all of those, even though, with the exception of nearly killing Anna, they were all remote from him. They still affected him in the end.
"Because he gave you nightmares."
"Kristoff…" She looks at him now, properly. Her arm twitches, as though she's thinking of reaching for him. Then her jaw tightens. "They're just nightmares. It's all in the past. I'm being stupid, is all."
"Well, it's not real, is it? I'm alive, I have my sister, money, food, you, Olaf … I … I have nothing to worry about."
She's smiling now, so hard that it must be painful. He nearly reaches for her but instead says, "But Elsa has nightmares too, doesn't she?"
"You'd know." She relents. "Yeah. She told you. I know."
"Is she being stupid?"
"Of course not. But … Elsa's allowed to have nightmares. I'm … fine. Like I say, I don't have anything to complain about. Not really. She's… she's got more to worry about. Besides, I brought it on myself. I always do."
Her hand is clenched so tightly around a rock that her knuckles are white.
"We're not talking about Hans anymore, are we?"
"No," she says. Her voice is tight. "We're not."
"D'you want to talk about it?"
She opens her mouth and closes it. "No."
He nods. When she doesn't say anything else, he says, "I guess I should head off then." She is silent so he stands up, brushes his trousers down and heads over to Sven, who headbutts him sympathetically. He pats Sven's head in a silent thank you. He knows, without asking, that he isn't her first being left alone.
"Kristoff?" He turns. Anna is still sitting on the bank of the fjord but she has twisted to look at him. "I'm not saying I'm never gonna wanna talk about it with you. Just … not today, OK?"
He feels something inside him lift as he says, "OK."
He doesn't ask Elsa about it. He can't betray Anna like that again. Maybe Elsa notices and maybe she doesn't but this time, when he gives his report, she reaches out and clasps his shoulder. It doesn't feel as cold as he thought it would.
"How are you doing?"
"Fine," he says. "Just waiting."
Elsa rarely touches Anna of her own accord. That's what Anna said maybe five or six weeks ago. And yet here she is, clasping his shoulder.
She nods. "Thank you for not running away from her."
He shrugs, nearly dislodging Elsa's hand in the process. "I'm not very good at running away."
"Just like Anna. A match made in heaven." She smiles slightly and her voice is gently teasing. He smiles back, embarrassed. Elsa's expression sobers slightly and her hands falls away. "But I mean … I think other people would have run away long ago. They'd have been scared of being involved with someone like Anna. Or near me." His breath nearly catches. "I … if I'd seen what you saw … if I'd had Marshmallow set on me … I'd probably have run a mile and never come back."
(Anna has never been scared of Elsa, he thinks, not even when Elsa hurt her.)
He nearly tells her what he remembers when he sees her. But if he does that, she would be upset and blame herself. She doesn't deserve to be reminded of what she did because she already knows. Except, she doesn't deserve lies either.
"I suppose some things are worth being scared for," he says. He smiles at her.
Elsa flinches a little but nods. "I'm glad you feel that way." She hesitates and then says, "Anna told me, you know."
Anna understands people better than Kristoff does. Including, he's beginning to suspect, himself.
"Told you what?"
"That you didn't … that you're scared of me."
"I never said that."
Elsa shrugs helplessly. "I knew you weren't comfortable around me but Anna's … good at this sort of stuff." While he tries to think of what to say, she adds, "Like I say, I'd be scared too."
"I'm not scared," he says and realises that, actually, it's true. He isn't scared of Elsa. Not really. Not anymore. She can be cold and distant and anxious, with frosty winds and clenched fists, but so can he. She's capable of terrible things but if you gave him a pickaxe, he too, would be capable of terrible things. And maybe she did freeze all of Arendelle and nearly got him and Anna killed with an ice golem, but she also unfroze all of Arendelle and sobbed on the frozen fjord for her sister and makes ice rinks and stays up too late working for them. "I just didn't understand."
(At some point, he thinks, he's stopped thinking of her as the Queen at all.)
"Thanks, Kristoff, but it's OK. I understand. I do. And it's not as though you're dating me." She tries to smile but it fails.
Before he knows what he's doing, he walks forward and wraps his arms around her. She's skinny – skinnier, even, than Anna, maybe even too skinny – and all bones and angles. Her dress is cold but he can feel that the rest of her isn't. For a second, she stiffens, but then he feels her relax and hug back.
(There was a time when he wouldn't hug anyone.)
"Thanks, Kristoff," she says again, quietly.
He lets go of her but claps her shoulder. "See you around, Elsa."
The next day, she gives him flowers ("You were my first set of flowers," she explains later. "I thought maybe I could be yours as well."). For a few seconds, neither of them seems to know what to say.
"Well, are you coming or what?" she says, and he knows that for whatever reason, he's been forgiven. One day, he'll have to find out exactly how she made that decision. But not today. He follows her and soon they fall back into their easy rhythm, each silently agreeing not to discuss the things that brought them to this point.
Or so he assumes. But she surprises him again when a week after the fjord, she suddenly says, "I dream about dying."
"I dream about dying," she says again. Her tone is almost conversational. "Not about dying but about … the ice. How painful it felt. Feeling it going through every inch of my body. And the … darkness." She shivers. "They always say when you die, you go to heaven or hell but all I got was … nothing. It's … it's not like I went to sleep. I remember there being nothing and I don't remember it at all." He puts an arm around her as she continues to talk about nightmares that have plagued her since that day on the fjord. He barely comments, only nods and listens, but it seems to be enough. She's not looking for someone to explain the nightmares. She's just looking for someone who'll listen without judging her, or telling her they're only dreams.
It's her first being found with her boyfriend by soldiers and a frazzled Elsa at three in the morning, which is oddly specific but he'll take it.
"We weren't doing anything."
"I know but … you two worried me."
Elsa nods. Then she pauses. "I suppose I have to let her do things like this, right?"
She always looks for validation with respect to her sister. Once, he would have gotten annoyed by that but, somehow, he can't help thinking that, occasionally, it is helpful to get someone else's opinion on someone you love. Someone to make sure you haven't decided what the situation is for yourself.
"Probably," he says. "We really were doing nothing. Nothing, uh, nothing that would mean you could have a new member of the family in nine months anyway."
She nods slowly. "Good."
He's her first everything, she told him, but he knows now that it isn't true. He'll never be her first dinner, or her first dress, her first book or her first family member. He'll never be her first shoulder to cry on (Gerda), her first rescuer from a tree (Kai) ("Kai?" "He was a lot thinner then."), nor her first snowman. He won't be her first death. He may not even be her first marriage or the first father of her children. Perhaps he won't even be her first year with open gates.
He says that once, unthinkingly, and starts to take it back but she only nods.
"I guess I just wanted you to be my first everything," she says, looking up at the sky. They're sitting in the square, where the stares are less intimidating than they used to be. "A new start, you know? Forget everything bad that happened before."
It's an unusually serious comment, but he's used to the fact of them now. They've talked a few times about Anna's past, but always in bits and pieces, before rushed confessions. There are still some topics that Anna will not touch, and he lets those be. Sometimes, he talks about his own past but not in much detail. It's a little hypocritical that he won't discuss it but at least he knows that. Maybe he's too buoyed by Elsa's suggestion that he came out of life fine. Or maybe Anna's right, and he hasn't changed at all. Maybe he should.
"I'm still a lot of your firsts."
She smiles at him. "I guess that's enough to cancel out some of the bad stuff then."
He could ask why only some, but instead, he kisses her and holds her tight.
At the next ice rink day, when he takes a break, he decides to slip into the castle for a glass of water. The kitchen staff are familiar with him now and don't comment when he grabs a glass and fills it.
As he walks back through the corridors, he sees Elsa standing inside a vaguely familiar side room. He hesitates and then walks in.
"You can't stay in here," he says. "It's your ice rink out there."
Elsa jumps. Surreptitiously, she wipes at her eyes. For a brief second, he wonders whether to ask, but she is already smiling and walking towards him.
"I'm sorry," she says, though he isn't sure why she's apologising. "I had to speak to someone and then I passed this room and…"
He looks around. He's definitely seen this room before.
"It was my parents' favourite," she says, misunderstanding his expression. "My sister and I played in here a lot when we were little. Even after, I would sometimes sit here with my parents. It was … peaceful, I suppose." She looks around again. "I haven't been in here since before they died. I … couldn't."
It clicks. "They used to measure you and Anna here," he says, more to himself than her, but of course she hears it. Seeing her confusion, he gestures at the markings on the door, which stop a little below Anna's current height. She walks over.
"I forgot about that," she says, peering at the marks. "Our parents used to measure us together. Anna was always upset that she was smaller than me." She chuckles, though her eyes are still a little red. "They stopped after I … well. They stopped measuring me. I'm glad they carried on measuring her though."
"There you are." They both jump and turn as Anna walks towards them. She pauses and inspects them suspiciously. "If I didn't know better," she says, "I'd think you two had some kind of affair going on." As they both begin to splutter, she grins, "But I know that Kristoff is useless around women so it's fine."
"Hey!" he says though he knew something like that was coming. If Elsa and Kristoff are near each other and Anna feels the need to make a light-hearted joke at someone's expense, it will always be Kristoff's. It's another thing he doesn't question.
"Don't be mean," Elsa says. Anna only grins and wraps an arm around Kristoff's waist. He puts his arm around her, enjoying the feel of having her so close. "We were just talking about the scratches on the door."
"Oh, yeah. Those." Anna peers at them. "Still can't believe there was a time when I was taller than you."
"I, uh, don't think you ever were." Seeing Anna's face fall, she says, "Maybe we could measure ourselves now. As a … new mark. Show how much we've grown."
Anna considers this and nods. Elsa picks up a pen from one of the shelves and hands it to Kristoff, who dutifully measures Elsa and then Anna. Anna sighs when she sees the height difference between her and Elsa. But when Kristoff looks at them, Elsa crouching slightly and Anna on tiptoes, inspecting the marks, he can't help thinking that they look the same height.
"D'you think I could grow any taller?" Anna asks.
"Definitely," Kristoff says.
Anna blinks as she turns, surprised, and then smiles. "C'mon, Kristoff, we should measure you too."
Kristoff looks again at the markers, and then at the sisters. When did they grow so tall? He remembers thinking they were both tiny when he met them.
Elsa nods, albeit a little reluctantly. "Stand by the door and I'll measure you," she says.
Looking at her, it's hard to think that he was once scared of her. Hard to think of her as the icily polite woman, watching her sister anxiously on the side of an ice rink or as the woman who found it difficult to make even friendly conversation. It hasn't been long but it feels as though she's changed a lot in the months since the Thaw.
"Stop being so slow and go," Anna adds. They talked yesterday about the deaths of her parents. Not in great detail but about the days after.
He still hasn't told her about how he came to be alone but for the trolls.
He looks at them again, and then at the doorway.
"Actually," he says, looking at those ink markings, "I think I'd like to grow a little more first, if that's OK with you."