Cover cred goes to n-a-blue-box on Tumblr.
The story of "Broken and Beloved" was inspired by 2 things: The Fault In Our Stars trailer, and "Mirror Mirror": a romantic Vietnamese-English song by Thanh Bui. The song's about a guy recognizing a girl's inner beauty, and asking the mirror to reassure the girl that she is the fairest in his eyes.
Speaking of songs, I compiled a "Broken and Beloved" playlist you can listen to while you read:
Miracles in December (十二月的奇迹) by EXO-M
Mirror Mirror by Thanh Bui
A Thousand Years by Christina Perri
All of Me by John Legend
Fate (인연) by Lee Sun Hee
I Just Called To Say I Love You by Stevie Wonder
L'inverno (Winter) by Antonio Vivaldi
Let It Go and L'inverno mashup by ThePianoGuys
You Raise Me Up by Josh Groban
I hope you enjoy the story.
Broken and Beloved (1)
Jack Frost strolled out of the building, his tool box and drawing board in hand. He could still smell the fresh soap from his hands, spotless and washed clean after three hours of working with dusty charcoal and pastels. The funky smell of ArtGum erasers was gone, too.
The overcast sky, typical Philadelphia weather, didn't dampen his elated spirit.
'I got a lot done in class,' he thought proudly to himself. 'I think my midterm project's gonna be done soon. I'm calling it a day.' He fought back a yawn. 'Hitting a nap in my dorm sounds good right now. I hope North's still out...I can barely get any sleep with him around.'
To avoid the stream of students leaving class, Jack took a well-hidden shortcut and headed for the dorms. The art college he attended was very small and didn't have housing of its own. Students from his school had to share rooms with those from a bigger university.
Suddenly he heard a low, sinister voice. One that sent chills running down his spine. "Highest GPA in the class? Too bad you aren't mentally disabled."
Jack stopped in his tracks and whirled around. He couldn't see who said that, and it wasn't directed at him. But he really didn't like the sound of that. Curiosity overwhelmed his desire to head home. Jack weaved through the maze of pavements between the building complex. He craned his neck and peered through a fence to finally see where the voice was coming from.
A tall, shadowy horse confronted a strikingly beautiful young woman sitting in a wheelchair. Jack blinked hard and rubbed his eyes. Was he imagining things?
"Maybe if I struck you in the head, you'd have a useless brain to go along with those useless legs. You wouldn't even remember I hit you."
Jack stared on with disbelief. The horse talked.
The young woman's voice was soft and calm, but Jack could see she was doing her best to hide her fear. "I never tell anyone about my GPA. How did you know, Pitch?"
Jack furrowed his brow; she talked as if she had seen the horse before. Or knew it.
The horse curled its lip. "Everyone knows, anyway. All the professors adore you, and it makes me sick."
"Please leave me alone. I haven't done anything to you."
The horse loomed over her like a menacing shadow. "Oh, you've done things, all right. Just seeing you in class makes me want to hurt you."
"Go away. I'm not afraid."
"You're a poor liar. I see you trembling in your chair. You're afraid, and you know it. These Nightmares are an extension of my powers, and they feed off your fear. You'll never have proof that I've ever done anything to you. Quite frightening, isn't it?"
Then what happened next made Jack gape in pure horror. The horse reared and lashed its legs, throwing the young woman out of her chair to hit the concrete. She landed heavily on her back, the chair following suit to crush her lower body. She let out a terrible wail of pain.
That was it. Jack dropped everything and stormed over.
She curled on the ground, her limp legs splayed in odd angles as she sobbed and cried in agony.
The horse threw its head back and made a cruel laugh. "Why are you crying?" it taunted. "I thought you couldn't feel anything down there."
"Hey!" Jack shouted. "What the hell are you doing? Leave her alone!"
Startled, the shadowy horse whipped around to see him. Its yellow eyes glowed with a malevolent gleam. "None of your business, boy. Better scram before you join her."
Jack's voice dripped with sarcasm and scorn. "You must think you're so tough...bullying and hurting a disabled person like that. You disgust me."
With a whipping flourish of his hand, Jack made his staff materialize in thin air. He brandished it with a threatening gesture. "Don't even think about messing with me. This staff packs quite a punch." To prove his point, he twirled it so fast in his hand that it seemed to whip the very air. "I'd love to whip your ass, but that would make me no better than you."
He wouldn't hesitate to protect the poor, fallen woman. But he'd rather not resort to his control of ice and snow. Only his close friends knew about his power, and he wasn't keen on making it public.
Jack lowered his voice to a growl. "Get the hell out of here. Now."
The Nightmare pawed the ground and lowered its head. Jack tensed, preparing for the worst. Then it backed away and vanished in a swirl of black wisps. Jack lowered his staff in surprise.
"Th-thank you..." The woman's pained whisper made him look down. Her clothes were stained with dirt and her blonde hair had fallen out of its tight bun. His heart went out for her. He quickly tucked his staff behind his back and made it vanish.
"Can you get back in your chair?" he asked.
She bit her lip. "I'll try."
Jack slipped her arm over his shoulder, and with his other arm he scooped her from the ground.
She began to breathe heavily as the pain showed no signs of subsiding. Her voice came out weak and tremoring with panic. "I don't think my medication will be enough. I need to go to the rehab clinic."
Jack was quick to reply. "I'll take you. My car isn't far from here."
His nap would have to wait. This young woman needed his help. He would have to be a complete heartless idiot to just leave her here.
Doubt flickered in her blue eyes, but it disappeared as she nodded. She felt uneasy about going into a stranger's car. But where else could she go?
Jack wheeled her through the maze of pavements, picking up his box and drawing board along the way. Trying to move as quickly and carefully as he could, Jack carried her from the wheelchair and into the passenger seat of his car. He strapped her in and dashed to his truck to stash both his school stuff and her folded wheelchair.
"What's your name? I'm Jack Frost."
"Okay, Elsa...tell me where I need to go."
Jack punched in the letters and numbers of the address on the GPS as Elsa had instructed. He stepped on the gas as soon as their route was plotted.
Jack tried to take her mind off the pain as he drove. "So, um...where do you go to school? I'm a freshman at PAFA—Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Drawing major."
Elsa winced as the car drove over a road bump. "Junior at University of Pennsylvania. Architecture."
He whistled between his teeth. "Whoa. Ivy League, huh? You must be really smart."
"I'm all right," she replied modestly.
"No, you're brainy for sure. I'm not a straight-A student, but I fly by okay and I like what I'm doing."
Hearing Elsa mention architecture as her field of study intrigued him. He was going to ask her more, but she bit her lip and scrunched her eyes as another wave of pain came. A whimper escaped through her gritted teeth.
"We're almost there. You're gonna be fine, Elsa." He would've reached out to touch her shoulder if he wasn't in such a hurry to rush to the clinic. He never parked in a handicap spot before. He was grateful for its easy access and close proximity to the building. Then again, it was a rehab clinic—more than half of the parking lot was designated for handicaps.
"Get me Dr. Gerda," Elsa managed to say as he rushed her in.
He nodded. "Dr. Gerda. Got it."
Even after Jack checked at the counter, asked for Dr. Gerda and reserved an appointment for Elsa, his heart still pounded madly in his chest and he could barely breathe.
'I hope it isn't anything serious.' He remembered how fragile her legs looked. 'What if she broke something?' Cold dread washed over him.
He was dizzy with relief when Dr. Gerda, a slender and kind-looking middle-aged woman, came in to check on Elsa.
"I'm sorry, young man. I appreciate you bringing her here, but I must have you wait outside."
He nodded. "Of course. I understand." It didn't help put his anxiety at ease, though. He rocked in his chair at the waiting room, hoping fervently that Elsa would be okay. Jack's eyes scanned the room. Many people in his company were either in wheelchairs or had artificial limbs. None of them looked terribly strong. They all looked so vulnerable, just like Elsa. He realized that she was one of the few young patients in the clinic.
Meanwhile, Gerda shut the door to inspect Elsa. She asked her to relate the incident, particularly how she fell. Elsa suppressed a shiver as she tried to recall every detail. She didn't mention the Nightmare or Jack's intervention. Then Gerda had her pull back her long skirt and lift her shirt to check for any injuries. Gerda had been her physician since she became a paraplegic. Elsa never felt uneasy around her.
The doctor tenderly prodded at Elsa's skin with outstretched hands and soft fingers, noting the mottled bruises on her slender, pale legs. Elsa's face pulled into a grimace as Gerda felt around her waist.
"How bad is the pain?"
"Fairly sharp," Elsa replied with a wince.
"You're very lucky, my dear," Dr. Gerda finally said. "You haven't broken any bones, but a fall like that could've easily resulted in some fractures."
A shuddering sigh of relief escaped through Elsa's lips.
"You have cuts on your arms, but bandages will do the job. The worst you have are bruises around your hip and tailbone areas. They'll need an ice pack over them for a while."
"I'll take care of that myself," Elsa said softly.
Gerda nodded, as if remembering what she meant. The doctor was one of very few people who knew about Elsa's unusual abilities.
"What do you suggest I do next?" Elsa asked as Dr. Gerda placed bandages on her arms.
"Keep up with the medications Dr. Kai had prescribed, first and foremost. Have you been taking them? Do they help?"
"Yes, very much."
"Good. Exercise your upper body regularly, but don't strain yourself. You can't feel the pain in your legs, so you'll have to often check by sight if you develop any infections or further bruising."
Elsa made a weary nod before resting her head on the top of the wheelchair. "Will do, Dr. Gerda." She felt thin ice spread throughout her wounds. It dampened the fabric of her clothes, but she didn't mind; they would dry eventually. With most of the pain gone, Elsa let an easy smile spread across her face. "I came here worried about broken bones. But with that not the case, I think I can go home now."
Dr. Gerda put a hand on her shoulder. "I suggest you stay here a little longer. Take it easy and get some rest, dear."
She was halfway through the door when Elsa spoke up on a whim. "Could you have Jack come in? I'd like some company."
Jack sprang to his feet as soon as Dr. Gerda walked into the waiting room and called him over. He came to see Elsa as fast as he could without looking too flustered and panicked.
"Hey, Elsa. What did she say? Are you gonna be all right?"
She stared down at her fists balled in her lap. "Yeah, I'll be fine. A couple of cuts and bruises...nothing serious."
She sat still, closed her eyes and let the ice work its cool, soothing effects on her wounds. She and Jack said nothing for a while. The room was quite cold, even colder than its usual chill. But neither of them minded it.
Jack was first to break the silence. "...Were you always in a wheelchair, Elsa?" And just as he said that, he mentally kicked himself. 'Idiot! You're not supposed to ask her something so personal! If she kicks me out of the room, I'm only getting what I deserve...'
Elsa opened her eyes, taking on a melancholic look rather than being offended. "No...I've been a paraplegic for three years now. I was eighteen when it happened. My family was invited to a wedding..." Her voice lowered to a whisper, soft and thick with sorrowful reminiscence. "It was dark and rainy outside. A drunk driver ran right into us. Whoever he was, he took the lives of my parents...and my ability to walk."
Elsa gripped the fabric of her skirt, balling it under her clammy hands. "The impact gave me a spinal cord injury. I was paralyzed from the waist down. Orthopedic surgeons, neurosurgeons...none of them could do anything about it. I lost a lot of blood. Most of my internal organs were a ruptured, bleeding mess. I fell into a coma that lasted weeks. And somehow...I still lived. I woke up to seeing Anna, the only family I had left. My younger sister. Eighteen years old now...same age as you, Jack. I protected her during the accident. I took most of the hit for her."
Elsa swallowed hard. "I...I'd rather live with useless legs for the rest of my life than see my sister killed."
Jack's heart wrenched. Elsa's story moved him to tears, and he didn't cry often. He dashed a hand across his eyes. "Elsa, I'm so sorry..." He thought of what she last said. "I know how you feel..."
Just last year, he nearly died saving his little sister from falling under thin ice. They had been ice skating, but the ice on the lake was particular thin that winter. Jack took the fall instead. Hypothermia and the freezing water almost claimed his life. As terrible and frightening as it was, Jack would much rather have it happen to him instead of his sister.
"It's fine, Jack..." Elsa murmured. "Losing my legs was hard. It still is. I can't remember what it feels like to run, or kick, or even touch the cold floor after waking up early in the morning. But I learn to live with what I have left. Anna, the rest of me that still worked..."
Part of her felt grateful to have Jack close by her side. She didn't open up like this very often, especially about something that still hurt her after three years.
Elsa's phone rang in her purse. She gasped and fumbled for her phone. "Speaking of Anna, I totally forgot. She picks me up from campus every day."
She brought the phone to her ear. In the small and quiet space of the room, Jack could hear Anna's frantic, worried voice through the speaker.
"Elsa! I'm glad you finally picked up. I tried to call you like four or five times. I left messages, but you still didn't answer. I'm here at Penn but I don't see you. Where did you go?"
Elsa swallowed hard. "Don't panic, Anna. I'm okay, but I'm at the rehabilitation clinic right now."
She held the phone away as Anna's voice went shrill with shock and panic. "What!? Elsa, what happened? Did you get hurt? How did you even get to the clinic if you can't drive?"
Elsa winced. "Ssh, not so loud, Anna. I...I fell. A friend offered to take me. Dr. Gerda's been seeing me and she says I'll be fine."
Elsa could hear Anna scrambling to turn on the ignition of her car. "Okay...I'm on my way."
"I'm sorry, Anna. I should've told you earlier."
"No, no, you don't have to apolo-You idiot! At least turn on your signal before you cut me, moron!"
A smile broke out on Elsa's face. "I think I should hang up now. Eyes on the road, Anna." She bit her lip to hold back laughter, despite the seriousness of recent events.
"Good idea. I'll see you, then. Hang tight, sis."
Elsa hung up and was quiet for a while.
"You didn't tell her what really happened," Jack said softly.
"I can't." Elsa shut her eyes from an incoming headache. She pressed a hand to her temple and ran fingers through her pale blonde hair. "You have to understand. I'm twenty-one years old...I'm supposed to be her legal guardian, but I've only been a burden. I can hardly get things done at home without her help. If she finds out about me getting attacked, I won't hear the end of it. She'd make me want to transfer to Drexel University with her, but I love where I'm at right now."
"Even if you go to school harassed by that...thing? It called itself Pitch, right?"
Elsa sighed. "That was not Pitch. Only an extension of his dark magic. He speaks through it, but he isn't actually there. He can summon an indefinite number of them, but Onyx seems to be his favorite." She shook her head and looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry…you must think I'm crazy."
"No, I totally believe you," he assured her. "I know what I saw. Tell me more."
Elsa gave Jack a grateful look, though he could sense the frustration in her too. "I don't know much about Pitch Black myself. Only that he shares a few classes with me. Somehow he uses shadows...Nightmares...to haunt and harass me without even laying a finger on me himself. I keep my mouth shut because no one would believe anything I say about him." Her fists tightened at the chair's armrests. "I just...try to bear with it."
"You should go to another school, then."
Elsa shook her head stubbornly. "I'll manage. When I make a commitment, I stick to it. Leaving Penn will only make Pitch think I'm weak and a coward for running away." Looking down at her legs, she realized what she just said and made a bitter laugh. "No...I'm staying, no matter what. I've got one more year until I graduate, anyway." She pinned Jack with a steady, pleading gaze. "When Anna comes over, please don't tell her what really happened. Promise me that."
He relented. "Fine. I promise."
She was going to ask him a question when she hesitated and kept silent. Had it been just her imagination? She had been on the ground, hurt and crying, but she thought she had seen Jack wield a staff out of nowhere. Elsa pushed it to the back of her mind. It was a question for another time, another place.
The intensity of her eyes softened. "You went out of your way to rescue me and take me to the clinic...thank you so much, Jack. How can I ever repay you?"
He rubbed the back of his white hair sheepishly. "I don't need anything. I'm just really glad you're going to be okay." He reached out to touch her hand. He expected her to flinch or recoil like most people, since he always had cold hands. But to his surprise he found that her skin felt just as cool as his. And she didn't pull away. Surprise flashed across Elsa's face at first, but she welcomed his touch.
Then Jack smiled. "Well, there is one thing. How about we be friends?"
"Of course. I wouldn't have it any other way." Her lack of hesitation surprised her. Truth be told, Elsa had always been reluctant to socialize and make friends. This was by far the longest time she ever interacted with someone outside her family. But after everything he did for her, she knew she could trust Jack.
"Since our campuses are so close together, we can see each other again sometime, right?"
She smiled. "Yes, we could."
Then Anna burst into the room unannounced, startling Jack and Elsa. She passed a hand through her strawberry-blonde hair to straighten tousled locks. "I came here as fast as I could!" she exclaimed. "You sure you're all right?"
Elsa laughed in an attempt to put her sister at ease. "Everything's fine, now. Dr. Gerda said I just needed to rest a bit before I go home."
"Take as much time as you need, Elsa." She turned to Jack, her eyes wide and intrigued. "Is this the friend you were talking about?"
He extended his hand. "I'm Jack Frost. Pleased to meet you."
"I'm Anna, Elsa's younger sister. Pleased to meet you too!" Unlike Elsa, Anna's hand was quite warm as she heartily shook his hand. "Do you also go to Penn?"
"Me? Nah. I go to PAFA."
"Oh, the art school just around the corner. You're an artist, then. Elsa's an artist too! Except the stuff she does has a lot of math in it. It's something I'm not good at, unfortunately. You're looking at a sociology major!"
Jack grinned, both amused and a little overwhelmed by the way she talked. Anna was bright, chatty and energetic, the opposite of Elsa in many ways. Her face was generously dotted with freckles. Her cheeks were round from smiling a lot. She seemed like the kind of person to be all over the place. Elsa looked more like someone content with staying still and serene, even if she didn't have a wheelchair to confine her.
"Wow, your hair's so white," Anna said. Her eyes darted between Jack and her sister. "It's even whiter than Elsa's. You bleached it?"
"Yeah. You could say that." Of course, Jack wouldn't tell her how it really came to be that way.
They stayed for a few more minutes until they decided it was time to leave. Jack followed Anna as she wheeled Elsa out of the clinic. They parted ways in the parking lot.
"Thank you again, Jack," Elsa said. "I hope to see you soon."
"You're very welcome. Have a good night, you two."
The suite room was dark by the time Jack drove into campus. He unshouldered his stuff and crept in quietly; his roommates were likely asleep. He was about to go into his room when he heard loud grunting and bedsheets rustling.
"Oi, Jack...izzat you?"
E. Aster Bunnymund, better known as Bunny, sat up from his bed and squinted as he flicked on the lights. A wily young man who grew up in Australia, Bunny sported wild hair dyed gray-blue and Aboriginal tribal tattoos all over his body. Like Jack, he too screamed art major.
Bunny stretched his long legs and patted his belly. "I was starving, so I had to eat dinner without you. Now I'm tryin' to sleep it off. Sorry, mate."
Jack waved it off. "Don't worry about it. Are North and Sandy in their room?"
"Yup. Sandy's dreamin' sweet dreams, as usual." Bunny's keen ears pricked, then he rolled his eyes. "And North's snoring loud enough to wake the whole bloomin' school."
"I heard that, Kangaroo." A gruff retort sounded from the other side.
Jack chuckled. "Hey, that's my name for him, North."
Like Bunny, North and Sandman were better known by their nicknames. They came into Jack and Bunny's room, sleepy-eyed yet curious.
North tousled Jack's hair affectionately. "Where were you, lad? You don't usually come home this late."
"Now you're sounding like my old man, old man."
North threw back his head and laughed. Unlike his college-age roommates, he was a man with much more years under his belt. He came to attend PAFA for a Master's degree after many years of backpacking and soul-searching around the globe. Underneath his craggy features, long beard and burly Russian physique, he had a young heart and a gentle soul.
Sandy smiled, but remained silent. He never spoke, but everyone respected his quiet and sage-like nature. He loved to daydream and create art from sand. It was only natural that he majored in sculpture as soon as he enrolled.
Bunny folded his tattoo-covered arms and eyed Jack curiously. "So, mate...are you gonna tell us what happened when you were away?"
Jack's eyes lit up as he thought of Elsa. She really left quite an impression on him. Her story, her beauty and enigmatic nature...He wouldn't be able to stop thinking of her for a long time.
"You're not gonna believe what kind of day I had."
More Jelsa goodness coming soon!
No, I did not misspell Arendelle. The kingdom's name is based on a real-life Norwegian town called Arendal.
PAFA and Penn really do have a partnership in academics and housing. I have a best friend at PAFA who shares a dorm with Penn graduates.
Last but certainly not least: This fic is dedicated to my friend who had been bullied for his physical disabilities. Thankfully he's ok now. But a few years ago, he actually went through what happened to Elsa in this story. A bunch of jerks had upturned his wheelchair and made him fall. He got a lot of bruises and almost broke his arm. I wasn't there when it happened. But he told me his experience, and I'll never forget. Stories like that are what really stick with you. As a writer, I enjoy the challenge of giving life to fiction using real-life experiences.