Author's Notes: Still busy having Jack feels. The off-handed line about how long he's been trying to sneak into North's workshop didn't hit very hard at first, but the more I thought about it, the more depressing it seemed.
He finds it by chance one year while he explores the towering cliffs of ice - while he trips light as air and twice as graceful upon snow that rolls wide and open away into the distance. He has come to this place before, has danced upon the wind here, for while the rest of the world shifts its seasons, here Jack Frost is always in his element.
But the snow stretches far indeed, and even for one with eyes as sharp as his, a single building in the midst of a blizzard can be difficult to see. Perhaps he has never noticed it because he did not think to look - after all, who could live here but Jack himself? Who else would venture to make a home in a crystal fairyland of bitter cold?
He slows his flight, curiosity catching him neatly in its web, and as is so often the case, Jack does not fight the impulse that takes him but, laughing, gives in. He spirals above the building like a kite in a storm, diving down to hover so that he can peer in the topmost window.
What he sees takes his breath away - for there are wonders here.
There are miniature hot air balloons of every rainbow color and dolls painted so like a human he can scarcely tell the difference. There are rocking horses carved of wood, slingshots, ice skates, sacks of marbles. There are jump ropes and checker boards, stuffed bears as large as he is. There are play train sets the likes of which he has never seen, and he has seen toy stores all around the world.
In the room with the tallest tree, there is a long table set as though for a party, laden with platters of food. There are fruitcakes and fig pudding; there is a goose, and stuffing, and a ham with cloves. Plates are piled high with cookies, with gingerbread, with mince pies. Jack swallows against the saliva that suddenly floods his mouth, and he recalls that he has not eaten yet this day. He has not set foot in a town since the night before, has not snitched unattended morsels from kitchens as he often does.
But there are wonders yet to see, and Jack ignores his hunger to stare awhile longer. Great, furry, improbable creatures bustle to and fro, paws full; smaller ones, no less unusual, scamper about underfoot. It is their hats that give them away, pointy red things, and Jack grins as he recognizes them for what they are – as it occurs to him, for the first time, what this place must be.
"Santa's workshop," he breathes, and in that moment, he is very much a child discovering something that all children long to see.
It is a place of light - of beauty. Greenery is strung here and there as though Mother Nature has been convinced to lend a hand in decorating, thick pine wreaths and garlands that set off glittering candles. It is, Jack thinks, the best place he has ever seen, and he has had a hundred and fifty years to look.
He knocks at the door, this first time. He assumes that it will be as it ever is, that he will wait until the way is cleared and then pass, unnoticed, within. He is wrong, though - and for an instant the joy of it eclipses all else. The furry creatures can see him. They can see him, and he feels irrationally grateful for it until the instant that they turn him away.
Jack has always been proud of his reputation, of his devil-may-care, impulsive ways. He lives as he likes to live, without regret.
But in this moment, he knows regret enough to make up for all the years of his life. He has never promised more sincerely that he will be good - will be attentive - will keep his hands to himself. And still they shoo him off. Still they close him out, leave him standing on the doorstep with an ache in his throat and a stinging in his eyes.
He does not try again that day. He does not have the heart for it.
In time, Jack does what he does best: he makes a game of it.
The disappointment, like bitter ash on his tongue, becomes a challenge - and he never backs down from a challenge.
He begins with the windows. He knows already a half-dozen ways to wedge them open, and he invents a half-dozen more. He remembers which ones he has tried, and he learns that some of the creatures are less watchful than others. They are yetis, his eavesdropping teaches him, and they are the opposition – for all good games have two sides. When Jack slips into a bedchamber late one night, filled with the childish glee of victory, his grin is a living thing, a study in pleasure. They catch him as he eases open the door to the hallway, and from that night forward, they begin placing locks.
He tries the chimney next. He is slight of limb, nimble as a cat, and as he shimmies downward, the anticipation builds until he feels his chest will burst. But when he sticks his soot-covered face out into the room at the bottom, it is swarming with yetis preparing presents. Thereafter, the fire always glows rosy golden in the fireplace.
Jack hides among the shipment of paints meant to decorate the toys. He tunnels into the basement. He pries shingles from the roof.
It does not occur to him that he might appeal to the broad-shouldered man in the embroidered red coat. It does not occur to him that the man might not know about his efforts at all.
It is the best place Jack has ever seen, and he has had three hundred years to look.
The toys are sleeker now, metal and electronics, and the candles have been replaced with electric lights that glitter like will-o-the-wisps among the garlands. Times have changed, but there are still wonders here.
In the doorway of the room with the tallest tree, he slows to a stop, staring at a scene he has only ever glimpsed through the window. The long table, familiar by now, is set as though for a party, laden with platters of food. There are fruitcakes and fig pudding; there is a goose, and stuffing, and a ham with cloves. Plates are piled high with cookies, with gingerbread, with mince pies.
For an instant, Jack is afraid that he might cry - but he can't. He won't. Not with Bunny sauntering through the door to his right and taking what looks to be a habitual seat. Not with Sandy peacefully napping, head pillowed upon his hands at the table. Not with Tooth fluttering about, complimenting the decorations this year, scattering brightly-wrapped presents beneath the tree.
He can see from here that one has his name on it, and Jack has to take a breath and press his fingers to his eyes.
"Is good," says a voice beside him. "No?"
He feels the smile creep onto his lips, and he hopes that it is not shaky, that it is not strange. "Very good," he admits.
North claps him on the back, laughing. It is a deep, booming laugh, the sort that children all around the world would recognize. "Is better if you sit down," the man promises, steering Jack toward the table. "Just to stand here watching? Pfft. This is no fun."
Jack swallows, and he finds that his throat has grown tight.
"Yeah," he says, softly. "I know."