Hearth and Home
by K. Stonham
first released 1st December 2012
The music playing in the private workshop was low and teasing, seductive. The woman dancing to it laughed, her expression decidedly naughty as she tugged the huge man from his desk, hands pulling at the shirt she had embroidered for him as last year's gift. He did not resist, following after. Her hair was just as silver as his, but her face was eternally young, her brown eyes merry.
"Santa, baby," she crooned, "slip a sable under the tree, for me."
The man's grin could, and did, light the room.
"Been an awful good girl," she promised in time with the singer, "Santa, baby, so hurry down the chimney tonight..."
"Oh, for you, my hearthstone," he said, "anything."
Her smile shone up at him, like a flame. She stood on tiptoe, draping her arms around his neck. They swayed together as she sang in a husky tone: "Next year I'll be just as good, if you'll check off-"
The door to the workshop banged open, knocking into the record player. The needle scratched off the record, ruining the music and the moment.
Nick scowled, turning to harangue the yeti interrupting his private time. Really, did they not know when he was not to be interrupted?
Except it was not a yeti whose sight confronted his wondering eyes. It was instead a white-haired teenager, blue eyes staring in gape-mouthed horror at the scene he had interrupted.
"Sorry, I didn't mean to- uh, that is, I'll be more- nevermind, catch you around!" he blurted, and disappeared upward, the door blowing shut behind him.
Nick slapped a hand to his face, then rubbed between his eyes with thumb and forefinger. He muttered to himself in Russian.
His wife looked at the closed door in bemusement. "Is that your young Jack?" Hestia asked.
Okay, he knew there was a Missus Claus. Theoretically! Everyone did. White-haired plump-faced grandma type, smiling and handing out cookies, right?
Except the woman dancing with North hadn't met any of those qualifications except smiling. She'd looked young, except for her silver hair, and her red dress had clung to a figure that would have made the snow-women of Japan snarl. (The yuki-onna scared Jack sometimes; he was keeping well away from the Japanese mountains for now, after they very firmly had not wanted him to leave after his last visit.)
How the hell had North married a woman who looked like that?
A jingling sound interrupted Jack's thoughts, and he looked up to see one of the elves peeking over the stable roof at him. It grinned widely, then vanished. Probably off to tell North where Jack was, the little traitor.
Jack huffed a breath, then leaned back on his hands, looking up at the sky. A clear night, it was going to be downright icy. Which suited him just fine. He loved the cold, how pristine it was, the fractals of forming ice and frost...
The thought niggled at him. Jack was winter. He was the first breath of pure, crisp air. A snowball in the face. Skating and sledding and snowboarding. All the outdoor things.
North, despite having his holiday in the middle of Jack's season, was none of these. He was the pleasure of a roaring fire warding off the chill. He was home, and family, and friends, and good things to eat, laughter to be shared (they had that much in common), and, of course, gifts to be given...
Jack's thoughts slid off their track when the man himself, clad in coat and hat, heaved onto the roof. Jack could hear the delighted jingling of elves and the mutters of a couple yeti at the base of the ladder.
He watched worn black boots cross the snow-dusted expanse, and absently hoped the yeti had built the roof to withstand the Big Man's weight.
North sat down next to him.
"Sorry," Jack apologized pre-emptively.
There were at least half a dozen answers to that one. Jack thought about them all in a flash. "...Not knocking?" he tried.
"Good." North gazed out at the Arctic expanse. "I like this view."
Jack smirked. "Me too. The yeti never looked for me up here."
"Ah." After a moment, North's eyes slid sideways to look at Jack. "So, you see me dancing with beautiful woman, and you run. Did not think my dancing was that bad."
Jack felt himself flush, frost creeping up his cheeks. "I didn't realize... I'll knock next time," he muttered.
"Knocking is good. Who knows, if you can learn, maybe there is hope for my yeti!"
Jack crooked a skeptical eyebrow.
"Now, come!" North said, with a gentle (for him) slap to Jack's shoulder. "I introduce you to my wife. She will give you cookies."
Feeling bemused, Jack followed the other Guardian, floating nimby to the ground while the yeti stabilized the ladder again. North took the fast route, grabbing hold of the rails and simply sliding down the ladder. He dusted his hands in satisfaction as he stepped away, ignoring the mutterings of the yeti as they fished elves out of where they'd been crushed into the deep snow by North's rapid descent.
Among the other theoretical things Jack had known about the North Pole was that it had to have kitchens. All those cookies had to come from somewhere, and while he could make snow from thin air, he'd never heard of anyone being able to do the same for cookies.
The kitchen, it turned out, was huge. And hustling with... were those elves actually being helpful? And yeti, stirring bowls. In the middle of it all, the woman Jack had seen earlier bustled around, white apron now tied over her red dress as she supervised. She turned to them, and he had to smile. Her apron had candy canes on the pockets and an embroidered slogan of "Only the Sleighman Kisses the Cook."
"Ah, Jack!" North boomed as the woman picked up a tray of cookies off a counter and walked over to them. "This is my beautiful wife, Hestia. Missus Claus! Hestia, this is my friend Jack Frost."
"It's nice to meet you, Jack." Her voice was soft, gentle, and low, with an accent that Jack could almost, but not quite, place. She offered him the tray and, with an amused glance at her husband, asked, "Cookie?"
"Thanks." Jack took one to be polite, and Nick took another.
"My wife," Santa Claus expounded, "is best baker in the world." He bit into his cookie.
Jack nibbled, and had to admit the snickerdoodle was superb.
"Long practice," Missus Claus said, setting the tray down.
Jack paused, suddenly suspicious. Even though he was over three hundred years old, he was young for their kind. The woman before him, silver hair aside, looked only a few years older than himself. But her words implied... "How long?" he asked, before he could stop himself.
Her smile widened. "A few thousand years," she admitted, which was, to Jack, a staggering amount of time. "Hestia of the Hearth," she introduced herself.
Jack looked blank.
North rolled his eyes. "What do they teach them in school, these days?"
"Hey," Jack pointed out, "I haven't been in school since 1712." Going by the modern calendar.
"Fine, fine, whatever," North brushed off his words. "Hestia, eldest of the Greek Gods!"
"Like... Zeus?" Jack tried to dredge up what little memory of mythology he knew.
North scowled. "That pesky, self-important...!"
Hestia laid a hand on her husband's. "He is still my brother," she reminded him.
"He is pain in the-" North's words turned to Russian.
Ignoring him, Hestia turned and looked at Jack again. "I've heard so much about you, Jack. Especially from Phil, over the years. It's good to finally meet you."
"Yeah, Hestia's something else," Bunnymund agreed. He looked at the egg Jack was playing with. Its stubby little legs kicked in the air as Jack held it upside down by the pointy end. "You painting that, or just tormenting it?"
"Not sure yet." Jack toyed with the egg for a minute more, then set it back down, right-side up. It scurried away. "I was thinking... you ever tried fractals?"
Jack rolled his eyes and touched his hand to the bare ground. White frost shot out from under his fingers, the design uncurling like the fronds of a fern.
Bunnymund had lowered his egg and brush, watching.
Jack lifted his hand. "Like that," he said, gesturing at the twelve-branched star.
"Now that," Bunnymund admitted, "is downright pretty, mate." He raised his eyes to Jack's. "How d'ya figure to get it onto an egg?"
"Still working on that," Jack admitted.
Bunnymund snorted and returned to his painting. "Let me know when you figure it out." He continued painting for a minute more, then sighed and lowered his brush again. "Look, not that I don't appreciate you sitting still and being quiet for a change, but why're you here, Frostbite?"
"Dunno." Jack tried to get his thoughts in some semblence of order. "Just... Missus Claus. She's not what I expected. At all."
"And I'm the most down-to-Earth person you know," the Easter Bunny said, gesturing at the walls of the Warren.
"Well, when you put it like that..."
Bunnymund sighed, put a final swipe of color on the egg, then set it down. It gave an excited kind of hop, then ran off toward a cluster of others. "Look, North and Hestia seem an odd couple at first, I'll grant you that. She's old and looks young. He's young, and looks old-"
"I thought I was the young one here," Jack interrupted.
"You are," Bunnymund said without missing a beat. "But he's not that old either, as far as our kind go. Now, in the old days, Hestia pretty much stayed home, keeping house for her brothers and sisters. Treated her about like the furniture, far as I can tell. Then one day, once belief in most of their lot had gotten pretty thin, along comes this handsome, adventurous youngster, his belief on the upswing. She about took one look at him and fell head over heels. And once North tried her cookies..." Bunnymund snorted. "Well, the rest's obvious."
"Not to me," Jack murmured.
Bunnymund shook his head. "Why do I bother?" he asked no one in particular. He jabbed the handle of his paintbrush toward Jack. "They're happy, mate. What more do you need than that?"
"For it to make some kind of sense?"
"Thought you were supposed to be bright." Jack bristled; Bunnymund eyed him narrowly. Jack settled down. He hadn't actually come here looking for a fight. Bunnymund sighed. "Look, what's celebrating Christmas all about?"
Jack thought about it for a minute. Thought about what he'd seen from the outside of windows, for three hundred years. Thought about what he remembered from the inside of windows, for eighteen. "Family. And friends."
Bunnymund nodded. "Home."
"Yeah." If Jack's voice held a note of huskiness, he'd deny it to his dying day.
"And a home," Bunnymund continued, "is nothing without a hearth."
"You met Missus Claus?!" Jamie demanded, hopping in a circle atop his bed. "That must have been so awesome!"
From his perch on the windowsill, Jack smiled. "She's nice," he admitted. "Gotta ask, though - you've met North himself. What makes her so much cooler?"
"Well, I haven't met her." Jamie jumped down. "So what's she like?"
"She likes baking."
"And does she make the best cookies?"
Jack smiled. "Best you've ever tasted," he promised.
"You know it." Jack gave in to the urge and ruffled Jamie's hair, frosting the tips, making it look a little like his own. Jamie laughed, reaching up to feel the bristliness that melted away under his touch.
"Jamie," his mother's voice came through the door, "time for lights out!"
"All right, Mom!"
"You brushed your teeth?" Jack asked as Jamie pulled back his blankets.
"Yup!" Jamie clambered under.
"Washed your face?"
"Ready for a big day tomorrow?"
Jamie grinned wide. "Yup!"
"Well, then." Jack sat on the edge of the bed, tucking his favorite kid in. "Time for sweet dreams, kiddo."
Jamie smiled up at him, one small, warm hand coming to rest on Jack's cold one. "'Night, Jack," he said, yawning hugely and closing his eyes.
"Good night, Jamie," Jack said as a delicate stream of golden sand twisted through the window.
Within seconds, the boy was asleep, images of an epic sledding session, accompanied by Jack himself, floating over his head.
Jack smiled, pale in the moonlight. Giving in, he ran his hand over Jamie's hair one last time, then snuck out the window.
He left it open, just a crack.
Following the trails of the dream sand made finding the Sandman easy.
Jack flew up and perched on the glowing sand island. Sandy greeted him with a smile then concentrated on his streams for just a moment more. When he was sure all the dreams had reached their recipients, he let them go, and the cloud rose up high into the sky, sailing on to the next city.
"Nice work," Jack complimented him. Sandy took a small bow. Jack scooped up a small handful of the glittering, glowing sand. "Hmm. I wonder..." He glanced up at Sandy, who looked curiously at him, then made a small gesture as if to say, go on.
Smiling, Jack concentrated, and froze the sand.
Sandy raised an eyebrow.
Jack could reshape frozen water. And the dreamsand flowed like water... Breathing on it, he made it into a golden snowflake that glowed blue.
Sandy clapped his hands, looking delighted.
But as soon as it left Jack's hand, the sand left his control and fell apart. Sandy looked disappointed.
"Ah well," Jack said. "It was worth a try."
Sandy looked thoughtful, then held up a finger. Wait.
Sitting back on his heels, Jack waited.
Closing his eyes and raising his hands high and wide like an orchestra conductor, Sandy stilled.
Then the dreamsand swept up from under the cloud, pulling into the sky far above both their heads...
...and it began snowing golden, glowing snowflakes. Jack laughed delightedly, reaching up to touch one. It spun over his fingers, warm, not cold, but as beautiful as any he'd ever made.
Sandy crooked an eyebrow at him.
"Beautiful," Jack complimented him, letting the dream-snowflake go. "Absolutely beautiful."
Sandy glowed with pleasure. After a moment, though, a question mark formed over his head. So, why are you here?
"Ah." Jack sat down, crosslegged, staff in his lap. "I, uh, met North's wife."
An image of a woman's figure and a flame dancing on a flat stone.
"Yeah, Hestia." Jack hesitated. "It just feels weird. I mean, I knew there was a Missus Claus. So I don't get why I feel edgy about her."
Sandy looked thoughtful. Then he pointed at Jack, with an image of a snowflake, followed by the hearth flame again, then a question mark.
Jack blinked. "Huh. Hadn't thought of that. If she's fire, and I'm ice... Maybe?" he hazarded.
Another thoughtful look. An image of Jack, then an image of Toothiana, with another question mark.
Frost crept up Jack's cheeks as he blushed. "It's not like that at all!"
A crooked eyebrow and a knowing look.
"Okay, maybe it is a little like that," Jack admitted.
Tooth was pretty, and kind, and sweet. And she had a core of steel. Jack admitted he had fun making her fairies faint every time he smiled at them. Which gave him the odd mental image of a young North (had the man ever been young? he must have, once upon a time...) being all hesitant and flustered, trying to win the affections of the best baker he'd ever met.
Jack wondered when the yeti and elves had come into the picture, and what Hestia had first made of them.
Sandy gave an image of North, and Hestia's flame again, then a heart and two rings and the elves playing their trumpets. A couple, bride and groom to judge by her veil, walked down an aisle and dissolved. Sandy smiled brightly. It was obvious he had been there at the happy event.
"You don't say."
Sandy smiled and patted Jack's hand.
Christmas Day at Santoff Claussen was something to behold. The elves did the decorating and were, surprisingly, pretty good at it as long as they were kept away from the electric lights. The kitchens, never shabby on any other day of the year, redoubled their efforts. The yeti feasted and drank copious quantities of heavily-spiked eggnog, before falling into deep slumbers that lasted nearly a week, after which they apparently got up, had a good breakfast, and started working on next year's toys.
"Ah, thanks, Phil, but I'm good," Jack said, waving off an offer of eggnog from the slightly inebriated yeti. He kept making sure he had enough clearance space to jump to the rafters if worse came to worst. The yeti didn't seem to turn into angry drunks, but, well, he'd seen one finally collapse to the floor, and had to wince in pity for the elves who'd been caught underneath. Jack didn't want to suffer the same fate.
"Maybe you'd like to try this instead," Tooth suggested, fluttering up to him. A tiny cup, looking as delicate as a hummingbird's egg, was cupped in her hands. She offered it to him. Its contents were a clear, pale gold.
"What is it?" Jack asked, taking the cup.
"Nectar wine. I make it myself."
"Okay." Jack looked into Tooth's beautiful violet eyes and took a sip.
He flew back through the air, crashing into the railing.
Tooth was blurry. It looked like there were five of her, coming in and out of focus as they called his name. Jack coughed, feeling the liquid burning a thin line down inside his throat. "What the... what is that?" he asked. His father's mule hadn't kicked that hard.
Furry hands pulled him to his feet. "Tried the nectar wine, did you?" Bunnymund was wavering in and out of focus too. "Tooth, you need to stop hazing the newbies with that stuff."
"But, but, it's so light!" she protested.
"It's high-octane and ought to be illegal," the Easter Bunny growled. "You all right, mate?"
"I think so," Jack said, but wobbled as he was let go. "Maybe I need to sit down..."
"Oh, Jack, I'm so sorry!" Tooth hovered before him, back down to one version of herself. "I didn't think-!"
"Well," he managed, "at least this reassures me that you're probably not an espresso addict."
"Ha!" North's voice boomed. "Espresso is too weak for her!"
"Let the boy sit," Hestia's voice cut through the friendly bickering. She appeared and pulled Jack over to a North-sized armchair near the fire.
"Thanks," he said, hand to his head. All he could seem to focus on was the inlay on the floor. North had planed the wood and fit the pieces together himself over the spring and summer, having the yeti rip up the old seal and replace it with the new one.
A five-pointed Guardian star, with an image of Jack himself engraved onto one of its points.
He looked up at Hestia's quiet call. She was smiling. "I wanted to thank you."
She nodded at the other Guardians. Sandy had joined the discussion, images of wine bottles and coffee mugs flickering over his head. "They're happier now. It used to be very rare to see all four of them together. Now, the rest of them are in and out of here all the time."
"I don't think I had anything to do with that."
Hestia shook her head. "Jack, you had everything to do with it. It takes something very special to turn a place from a house to a home. Or friends into a family." Her hand dipped into a pocket, and she pulled out a small box, handing it to him.
"A long time ago, I had a family. They never saw me. Now? I have a better one. Thank you." She brushed a quick kiss to Jack's cheek, then walked back to the others, accepting a drunken yeti hug or two along the way.
Jack watched her for a minute, then dropped his gaze to the box in his hands. Hesitantly, he opened it.
Inside, there was a small square of gray stone, engraved with an intricate snowflake. Jack picked it up, looked at it, then turned it over.
Scratched onto the back, in thin letters, were the words "To Jack, the Guardians' hearthstone."
Author's Note: Saw the movie for the second time today, and remain highly impressed by its artistry, how well it ties everything together and, of course, the double meaning of believing in someone. Now, as to why Hestia... everything in the movie is a slight twist on the "traditional" versions of childhood beliefs, but at the same time, the differences seem so reasonable that it's more of an "of course!" moment than anything else. Mrs. Claus traditionally bakes cookies and keeps the home fires warm. Which made me think of Hestia. Assuming that gods and spirits like Jack et al are the same... when they stop being believed in, they're probably still there, just invisible. (Though I assume Eros/Cupid is one of the lucky few who is being believed in nowadays, which gives me the amusing image of his entire extended pantheon/family mooching off him.)
Bunny's version of how North and Hestia met is dead correct: she saw a handsome, energetic man who loved children, his star on the rise, and she fell head over heels. And then he tasted her cooking; the rest was history. She finally got out from under her family, and discovered living and loving.
For Jack, though, who the film paints as a sort of surrogate son to North, first meeting her is a little akin to meeting a stepparent. It's not that he dislikes her... he just doesn't really have a bond with her, and doesn't know to react to her. So, confused, he goes to his friends to try to get his head on straight. I find the 6'1" talking rabbit being the most down-to-Earth person Jack knows, completely hilarious. The scene with Jamie... well, Jack is basically the best big brother figure ever. I love that about him.
References: Hestia is singing along with Eartha Kitt's version of "Santa Baby." Japanese snow-women are various degrees of scary; nine out of ten encounters, humans don't survive. Hestia's voice being "soft, gentle, and low" is text taken from King Lear. Jack's reference to "by the modern calendar" refers to the fact that until 1752, Britain and its colonies celebrated a new year starting on March 25th, Lady's Day. The year beginning in spring actually makes sense to me; I don't know why it changed. For the timeline I've built up for Jack's life for another story I plan to write, he drowned in January. Which would have been 1711 then, but by our modern calender would have been in 1712. Since Hestia runs the household, Phil probably goes to her about security issues. And, well, since Jack never succeeded at breaking in, it really wasn't something she ever mentioned to her husband. Like Wendy Darling's for Peter Pan, Jamie's window is always left open for Jack. Always. And the scene with Sandy is a little bit inspired by Vathara's ATLA story "Embers" but probably even more inspired by the "Golden Snowflakes" chapter of Twisted Skys' RotG story "Invisible." Both of which are excellent stories that I highly recommend. Tooth's wine is so potent because, well, hummingbirds burn a lot of fuel to fly the way they do...
As always, edited by my Wonderful Husband.