Hi people! Yes, I know, I'm late... again. Ugh. School has decided that its not only going to whoop my ass, but it's also going to kill me, bury me and dance on my grave singing Happy Days are Here Again. Whoooo! But the semester is now over, and everything is done with... for now.
Anyway, this was supposed to be out yesterday, being Christmas and all. And really, what kind of an ROTG FanFic writer would I be if I didn't do a Christmas special! An abso-bloody-lutely terrible one, that's what. So, really, this one was supposed to be out yesterday, but apparently every single FanFic writer in the entire world decided that they would all do the same exact thing at the same time, and the entire site was down. Which was frustrating enough without having everything else on my back. Ugh... so, yes, this is a day late, but I had an excuse.
Speaking of excuses, what happened to my promise of Skype! I totally ripped that promise to pieces like my puppy ripped apart my shoes and, along with those very nice Ugg boots, my heart. But like my puppy, I still love you all with every bit of me! And so I'm reviving that promise with new days. January 20th will be the "starting date" and for that week, if you want to Skype, PM me and we will make sure to set up something!
And for those more paranoid like me, no worries! It will totally safe! If you'd even prefer not to show your face, that's all cool! We don't judge here! It's just a way to put in your requests face to face, or just talk about anything that you want! Not enough authors do that, I find, and it's so fun when they do! Being able to tell them exactly what I thought of last nights Doctor Who episode instead of spazzing out over a PM is much better, don't you agree?
Anyway, back to business! Here is the new chapter! And I hope, with every hope, that you like it! Is it my best... eh... no. But hey, I say that every time. Is this my longest, is the real question we should be asking! And to that, I say I SHOULD JUST WRITE A FUCKING NOVEL BECAUSE AT THIS POINT I HAVE THE WHOLE UNCONTROLLED WORD COUNT THING DOWN TO A SCIENCE! 17,091 words! This is gonna be great!
AND, AS A QUICK NOTE! BEFORE YOU DO ANYTHING ELSE, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE READ THE AUTHORS NOTE AT THE END OF THIS STORY! BECAUSE IT'S IMPORTANT AND HEARTFELT AND STUFF!
ONTO THE STORY!
"Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn't before!
What if Christmas, he thought, doesn't come from a store.
What if Christmas...perhaps...means a little bit more!"
"Ees amazing, ees not?" North checked the name off his list once again, raising his brows in something that must have been amusement which, truly, was quite inappropriate with the job at hand. Though really, he was Santa Claus, and he deserved to find some humor is everything he did. Even if that thing was the naughty list.
"What is, North?" Tooth buzzed around the globe, mimicking a moth to a flame. "Find a kid? Can you not decide? Have they been bad? Why! Did they not brush? Ooh, that ticks me off, I can tell you-"
"Calm yourself, Toothy," the large man bellowed a laugh, dipping his quill in ink and resuming his work. "Ees only a regular of naughty list.
Tooth furrowed her brow. "I thought that all kids got off at some point!"
"Da, ees true. Except one child." Sandy shook his head knowingly, a smile twitching at the corner of his lips.
"Can I take a guess," North looked over his shoulder at the large rabbit, lounging against the mantel of the excuisite fireplace, polishing his boomerangs. "Cause I think I got a good sense as ta' who that might be."
"I would have to agree, eef we are thinking same child."
Bunnymund snorted. "Little Jack, righ'. Same kid, every year. Last time he locked his Pap outt'a the house for two days, righ'. Bloke almost froze ta' death out there, didn' he?" He snorted again, almost appalled by the actions. "What's it this time."
"Ees surprisingly worse."
"Worse, yeh. Surprising," his hears bounced as he shook his head, "never. Not with Little Jack. So, what'd the ankle biter do now?"
"Locked father in basement," North read off his list, looking over his half moon spectacles as he did, "an' d'en threw a rock at head."
"Aw! Mate! This boy jus' never stops."
"Da. Dat ees why he never finds way off of list!" North chuckled, straightening out the scroll. "Ees becoming very repetitive, reading name every year. I might just circle in red soon."
"Aw North!" Tooth cooed, "give the poor dear a chance, wont you? He's just a kid-"
"Who throws rocks at Otets head."
"Well… yes… but maybe there's another reason. You never know!"
"Naw, he knows." Bunny approached, waving his boomerangs knowingly before packing them once again into the bandolier, tucking the oiled cloths into a pouch at his side. "Jack ain't nothin' but a nuisance. He ain't good fer nothin' and he'll never be good fer nothin'."
"You don't know that!" Tooth pondered one day before saying, "you might regret something that you say, after all! What if you meet him one day and it's different! What if he works with you one day-"
He didn't hold back the guffaw that pounded from him, echoing from cavern to globe, and then his face shifted back to being as serious as it always seemed to be. "He ain't any good! An' I ain't never gonna be workin' with him for squat! You'll see, Toothy. An' sides, he's a bad kid. See. Even says it on the bloody lists."
"List are numbers and statistics," she held her nose in the air, "not children."
"That may be true. But we ain't talkin' bout children. We're talkin' about Jack. The pest from Burgess who doesn't ever get any better." Nose high in the air. "Christmas spirit be damned, I ain't got any faith in 'im. An' that's that."
"Merry Christmas, Peter Cottontail."
The jeer was the first voice that Aster had heard all day, and the growl the began low in his throat was a loud one.
"Whoa, no need ta' get upset. At least I'm not calling you a kangaroo, Kangaroo. By the way, do you know how hard it is to get into here! There aren't any tunnels! I had to go to Australia just to find one that would get me here, and I almost melted doing that!" The voice came from the one person he hadn't really wanted to see at all for a while. And now said voice coming from said unwanted face was seated happily in the branches of his favorite oak.
"I ain't a bloody marsupial. An', if ya didn' notice, I actually lock my front door." Aster huffed, going back to his garden. Eternal spring had it's perks. Neverending fertile soil and plenty of carrots to go with it. And by the looks of this last harvest, he was going to eat well for the next few weeks. "An' don't you have work ta do? Christmas is'n two days an' you're already slacking off."
"Aw, come on! You know that isn't true!" He did. The boy had been obsessing over the snowfall for days to the point where North had to slip sand into his eggnog when the white haired imp turned his head. That had resulted in a fight with the typical 'you're keeping me from doing my work, I'm never speaking to you again' dialogue. But both parties were now over the spat, and life resumed around them normally. Tooth continued to pick up teeth, Sandman gave good dreams, North became a grump as the season approached and Bunny avoided every aspect of Christmas there was.
And avoiding Christmas meant staying away from presents, the north pole and snow.
Which, really, meant he had to stay away from two people. Santa Claus and Jack Frost.
It just so happened that Jack Frost, while easy to lose was not so easy to avoid.
"Yeh, well, go back ta' doin' yer work, ya lazy showpony."
"Aw, come on Bunny! Get in the Christmas spirit! You know that being grumpy never helped anyone!"
"It helps me fine."
"Didn't you learn anything from A Christmas Carol."
"Never saw it."
"What! Remind me to make you see that one day. You know, you kind of remind me of Scrooge."
"See! I knew you saw it!"
"No, I haven'. Because, Frostbite, unlike some people, I actually read."
Jack blushed a blue sort of blush, but hid it quickly with his trademark smirk, sapphire eyes crinkling. He shrugged, and the blue sweatshirt, drowning his too small body in it's worn fabric, brushed against his neck leaving marks, like fingers dragging down a frosty window pane. "Well, maybe that's because I'm not a boring Kangaroo who hates Christmas."
Jack chuckled. Bunny went back to his gardening, more than happy to turn away from the sprite who now nested in his trees. "By the way, you're gonna love what I got you this year! It's a good one. I had to search for this one."
"Well what, Frosty?"
"Aren't you supposed to say, well I got you somethin' better!" His impression of an Australian accent was embarrassing to say the least and Bunny found that even he couldn't suppress a laugh which, apparently, was not the reaction Jack had wanted. "Well, aren't you?"
"Naw, Frosty. An', for the sake'a this game we're playing, aren't ya not s'posed ta' ask people fer gifts."
Jack shrugged again. "I never get any. I was hopeful. Don't you specialize in the field?"
"I don't give out gifts. I give out easter eggs."
"Isn't that a gift."
"That is an honor."
"Sure, sure. So, do I get one?" Aster huffed. "I like white chocolate, by the way. And I'm really big into creme right now, so nothing nutty."
"Yer a nut."
"I take that as an insult.
"Good. It was meant ta' be one."
Jack snorted, waving off the jibe and finally hopping off the branch he'd been currently occupying to float down onto the fresh green grass, all of which began to bristle and freeze under his steps. "So what's up, Bunny."
"What's up, what?"
"Every year. I mean, yeah, this is my first year here but it's the same every year that I've known you guys. Or watched you guys. You know what I mean."
"Naw, I don't." He put another carrot into the pile, the basket beginning to strain his elbow where it hung.
"You become the Grinch! You're heart is ten sizes too small. Noise noise noise! The whole shabang! What's up with that?!"
"I don't like Christmas. You should know tha'." He shifted the basket to the other arm, not chancing that it would hit the ground and be frozen like all his poor grass was beginning to be. "North an' I always fight over this, you know that."
"So? Christmas is the best. Everyone knows that."
Jack sighed, knowing that the argument was a lost cause from the start. Instead he walked closer to Bunny, who's back began to bristle at the cold, and plopped down in the grass, snatching a carrot from the basket. Aster pretended not to hear the crunches from behind him as the Winter Spirit ate from his precious harvest and instead kept on working.
"It's really pretty."
That did get his attention. Pivoting so he could look at the pale boy, Hope furrowed his brows. "What's that, Frostbite?"
The boy didn't look at him, his eyes, instead hooded by the waning sun, watching the peaceful scenery of the warren. "You're home. It's really pretty. And nice." He did look more relaxed, that was for sure. Even if Aster could only see his back, the shoulders of the sweatshirt were down, hands flat against the ground. His beloved staff, which hardly ever even left his hand, lay a few feet to his side, abandoned in the grass. "It's so… quiet."
And both of them stopped for a moment, listening to the pure nothing of Hope's dominion. The perfect silence that engulfed them like a wave. The gurgling of the river, the occasional chirp of a googie as it wobbled it's way through the landscape, the rustle of wind coming from tunnels that came from China, Italy, London, France, New York, California, every spot of the world, distressing the trees, which groaned and shuddered.
"Yeah…" he hummed, nose twitching to take in the scent of fresh dew and carrots and snow, "it's a right beaut, ain't it?"
"Your so lucky. To have this kind of a home, I mean. It's amazing." Winter leaned back. "It must be nice to just look at it every once in a while."
"It is." Brow furrowing. "Hey… Jackie?"
The boy didn't turn, but his spine stiffened at the directness of the voice. "Yeah?"
"Where d'ya live?"
His spine, which had previously been slightly ridgid, went rod strait. "What?" Now he did turn, and his eyes were teepeed in a gloom.
"I asked where ya' live, gumby."
"Outside." Short answers were Jack's way of saying 'I don't want to talk about it', and this was something Bunny knew well. But Bunny, also, was never quite the best when it came to leaving things as they were, and he pressed on.
"I have a lake. You've seen it."
"A lake ain't a home, Jackie."
"Well, it's what I got."
Jack scrambled to his feet quickly, and the frost that began to efflux from beneath his was worrying for Aster's poor crops. But he said nothing, simply giving the boy his own warning glare back.
"Well, I didn't ask for your opinion, Kangaroo." And the jibe, that time, hadn't been meant as a jest in the least.
"Well, Frostbite, I didn' ask for ya ta show yer mug here in my home or give ya' permission to freeze everythin' innit!" At that, Jack's anger decayed and he looked guiltily down at the earth beneath him, shuffling his legs. "Last I checked this is my home, an' I never invited ya' in."
However humbled the boys face may have become in the moment, brought down from whatever pedestal he had come from, his larger more animalistic counterpart was on a roll. "Look, if ya' wanna be 'lone, then by all means go and do that. We ain't stoppin' ya! Manny above, no wonder ya' never get any presents! Yer never good 'nuff!"
The hurt that appeared in the azure eyes was enough to allow guilt to appear somewhere in his chest, but not quite enough to sooth his pride into apologizing, and he simply watched the boy run off. The rabbit sighed. It was the same every time, and this was not the first time they had fought this week. In fact, they seemed to be getting more and more heated as the Christmas season closed in on them.
But he had to remember that this was the reason he cooped himself up in the first place. To stop himself from snapping at any poor victim who happened to wander across his path. If it was anyone's fault it had been Jack's. The bugger had crossed him, not the other way around. Bunny shook his head, ears bobbing, and went back to his work.
Jack was furious. In fact, as he stepped past the threshold into the Pole's grand entrance way, he had never been more furious in his life. As the Guardian of Fun he often found that he never got anything beyond mad. A little peeved once in a while, but for the most part he truly was a calm and collected person.
But that last comment- something had snapped. It really had. And as he stormed through the pole, fire dancing in his chest, he knew he had to do something to get rid of that feeling. Everyone around him knew him as blasé, and if he was to show his face here again without drawing attention to himself through extreme emotions, then he had to expel something. What he had to do was destroy a mountain. Maybe start a major storm somewhere isolated.
The arctic hadn't seen any snow in a while. And not many people lived in the South Pole at all. North would have his head on a platter if he started a storm anywhere populated, and so isolated would have to be the place to go. But really, it would take far too long.
He found himself halted, still in the main hall, standing in front of a very well known cabinet. Old, creaking, it's shelves beginning to slant, carvings almost gone with all the wear to it's dull surface. And on each shelf, weighing it down to the point of colapse, were hundreds of snowglobes. Because North seemed to have an endless supply of the things, but what he did have he kept here, on the shelf.
Peeking around a corner he could see the chaos of the workroom, hear the muffled shouts of unmistakable Yetish. But there was no sign of the man in red, who must have been tending to the reindeer or something important. After all, Christmas was in two days, and he'd be likely to be just as quick to snip as Bunny was. And he didn't need another fight.
His eyes drifted to the snowglobes once again.
Well… maybe it wouldn't be so terrible if he used just one. A single snowglobe wouldn't hurt North… right? And he'd get to his destination faster than he would have now. And that would mean he'd blow off steam faster too. So really, it would be helping everyone.
This logic in mind, the boy reached out. Tips of his fingers touching the smooth glass, and the rime was quick to spread, making the small building nestles within it's clear walls foggy and hard to see. He took it in his hand, the weight comfortable enough- encouraging him that this was the right decision.
Jack took a deep breath and whispered. "Take me-"
But before those words, arctic or Alaska or Mount Everest could even leave his lips a yeti, running from one side to the other, a box of rather valuable bobbles in his arms, bumped into the sprite, shouting something of a curse in Yetish. Jack pitched forward, the snowglobe just slipping from his grasp.
"Watch your back!" The boy shouted, just as the tips of his icy fingers left the surface of the globe, and immediately after, it shattered to the ground, spraying a shower of sparkles in all directions.
For a moment, nothing happened, and Jack was left sulking in a pile of sparkles on the red rug of the pole, staff clutched in his now iron grip, eyes hooded in anger. That is, nothing happened until the portal opened from beneath him. And, just like that, he was pulled into the abyss with nary a cry nor a shout, and the world as he knew it became dark and very, very small.
North was busy.
No. That was an understatement.
North was in Hell. Yeah. That's more like it.
Because, really, you'd think that after a years worth of preparations he'd be ready to execute an easy and well planned Christmas. But, per usual, he couldn't make it through one holiday season without complete chaos breaking out in his home. His list was being read for the umteenth time, three yeti's were in the ward after a freak lego accident, the reindeer were being uncooperative, the globe was shorting out and they were still behind five hundred presents. Which, in retrospect, wasn't an awfully large number when you looked at the how many children would be receiving gifts in bulk. But each of these gifts were made with care, inspected, given love and compassion that was seen in all of his work.
Manny help him if he was seen slacking on anything that he prided himself in.
He was Santa Claus, and Santa did not disappoint. Though, every Christmas, he was always afraid that he would have too. Kids these days didn't play with little wooden trains any more. Yes, there was still the occasional Teddy Bear and toy soldier. But more than often it was the electric guitars, the talking doll, the bike with flames painted on it's sides. Presents were becoming more elaborate, and with elaborate came work. More and more and more work.
And it really didn't help in the least when a Yeti burst into his office- without knocking, thankyouverymuch- and announced, with much arm waving and shouting, that a child had found his way into the North Pole.
Yes, maybe that was when all Hell had broken loose.
"Vhat! A child!" Wonder followed his worker down the spiral of a work place. "How deed child get into workhouse, huh? I lock all doors! And Pole, eet ees to cold to travel!"
The Yeti said something quickly that sounded like 'rabayabagaba' but he understood it well.
"J'yes, I understand dat eet ees strange! But I vill have no way of correcting situation eef no one lets me look at child! So vhere ees child!" The Yeti motioned, leading his boss down farther towards the main hallway. There was a bite in the air, the closer they got and North, inspecting with a wary eye, noticed that none of the windows had been opened.
"Has Jack been here?" Because that would make some sense. But the Yeti waved his arms furiously, shouting something else.
"Vhat do you mean he is here but not here but here. J'you are making no sense, j'you know dat?" But he was lead once more into the hall where the Yeti proceeded to point down at, what was indeed, a small child. Sitting in the floor, teary eyed, looking up at the large man in what could only be described as immense fear, he curled in tighter to himself and sniffled.
"Vell…" North said, after a moment, "Dad ees child."
"An' he ees small child."
"J'yes, I can see that he looks like Jack but that doesn't mean-" North stopped in mid sentence. Then he stared. And then he stared some more. Sitting beside the child, who remained as silent and still as a grave, was a staff. A hooked shepherds staff. One that never left it's owners side for any reason whatsoever, but now idly lay against the red carpet as if it had been there the entire time. "Bozhe Moi!" Naughty and Nice shot into the air, caloused hands tugging at his beard. "Oh no! Not now. Tell me we are not having crisis like dees now!"
"Do not bother." He sighed, walking towards the small boy who shuddered backwards, attempting to get as far away from the large man as possible. Santa Claus, not exactly accustomed to fear from children, stopped there. He stroked his beard, as he often did in thought, and turned towards his employee. "Call Bunny. Bystro. He weel know vhat to do 'bout dees." The Yeti nodded, running off to find a phone.
North just sighed, sitting himself down on the carpet to watch the boy and make sure, if he wouldn't allow him near, that he didn't run off and hurt himself in the meantime. Because that was the last thing that they needed. "Oi… Manny help me…" Drawing a hand down his face. Right now was not the time for disaster. But, as usual, nothing seemed to be on his side.
When Bunny had woken up in the morning, there were a few things he hadn't predicted. He hadn't predicted that he'd be called to the pole by a rush of the spectrum above him. He hadn't predicted that he'd need to go through hell and back to get to the pole, popping from the ground into a storm.
And he certainly hadn't predicted North rushing up to him in a tizzy, pointing at a small child that was curled up in a corner residing inside of his workshop.
"Um…" Aster scrutinized the child, turning towards the man who was currently having a panic attack. "North… where'd you get a kid?"
"I do not know vhat to do, Bunny! J'you must help!"
"Help?! Help what!? You stole a kid."
"No! I do not steal!"
"And yet… ya have one!" The kid pressed himself against the wall as he once again became the target for their eyes. His face quickly went to hide in his arms. "North, d'ya have any idea what this could do!?" Voice quieter, attempting not the scare the child into next Christmas.
"I deed not steal!"
"Then what did'ya do!?"
"Me? I do nothing. Jack-"
"Jack! Oh, blimey, I should'a known! He'd be the first. I knew it. Didn't I tell ya, North. Where's the kid? I'm gonna knock some sense n'ta his noggin."
"Bunny, this ees Jack!"
"What are ya'-"
"Look! Really look!" And North, once more, pointed to the terrified tot.
Bunny truly had no idea what North was doing. And he was fairly sure that the old man had finally cracked. But he did indeed look, because he was the Easter Bunny and this was a kid. And if he couldn't at least pay attention to the small child then what kind of spirit was he? So he looked.
The child was small, underweight for something his size. Pale skin the color of wedding cakes, eyes the shade of sapphires. He was swimming in an oversized sweatshirt of the sky blue palot that did nothing for his complexion, making him seem even paler than he was. Because really was the kid pale. So pale that even his hair…
Aster's nose puckered.
The kids hair was white.
Blue and white.
Oh Manny no.
In response the kid bopped whimpered, tucking his body into a ball.
"See," North boasted in a time where boasting was not exactly the appropriate thing to do. "I tell you, deed I not! Ees Jack! Our Jack! He ees leetle boy now, and I am not knowing exactly how-"
"Oh you have got to be jestin', mate! Ya don't got any way'a knowing how!?"
"Well… best guess would be snow globe." His beefy fingers traced towards the cabinet. "Eef he wished to go back to time and not location then he would find himself back. But dat ees rare! And no one weeshes for dat!"
"Well, 'parently he did." He glared at the child, which was a very un-guardian-like thing to do, but he needed to get that glare out to Jack somehow. Even if it was in the form of a tyke who looked more scared than any child he'd ever seen in his life. And really, he wanted nothing more than to scoop the lad up and tell him that it would be alright, and that he was the Easter Bunny and no child should fear him. He could understand North because the man towered over every living soul, physically and spiritually. But him? He was a bunny? Who was scared of a Bunny?
"Like or not, he ees small boy! But no worries," he stanched the growing fear on his friends face with a wave of the nice arm. "effects weel last four and twenty hours. One day. Not'ing more. He weel be fine."
"Well that's good ta' know." Bunnymund scratched that place behind his ears with his large foot. The place he always scratched when a particular think was in his head. Because, at this very moment, he was having a rather egregious think. One that involved North's annoying and rather frequent schemes. The ones he roped them into when he needed a scapegoat. And, at this moment, the man so obviously needed someone to bail him out.
Bunnymund already saw the direction this path was taking.
"So you made me come all this way jus' ta see a boy whose gonna be Jack in a day. Why's that, huh, mate? Cause somehow I know it's gonna be more then that."
Wonder's face was the picture of guilt, caught red-handed and knowing that all too well. "Well… j'you are knowing that eet ees Christmas. Busy season, no? And… I need to finish work, so watching child, eet… eet ees not ideal."
"Aw no. No way!"
"Oi! Come on Bunnymund! Do not go being spoil athletic."
"It's spoil sport ya' oaf. An' I ain't takin' the kid! My warren ain't the place for little ankle biters nohow. 'Sides, like ya said, it's Christmas! Kids' favorite holiday!"
"But ees rush hour. He weel be ignored. And besides, I have feeling that child Jack does not like me very much at all."
"You're bloody Santa Claus. He's gotta like ya."
"You forget, Bunny, that young Jack… he was on Naughty leest for so long! At dis age, vhat ees he…" and he peeked over at the child who let out a yelp at the attention. "Five, seex. Every year he ees naughty! D'is year, year… five… he threw a rock at fa'der! After locking him in basement."
"Yeah… I r'member." Because he did. In some far off place in his mind, he did remember. "Right bad year for the little'un, wasn' it?"
"One of worst. And so, as naughty child, Jack weel not be liking to stay here, you see?"
"I see. But I don't wanna."
"But you weel? You weel take Jack? Just for day, d'en he weel be coming back to us just like d'at!"
Bunny rolled his eyes heavenwards, sighing heavily, but making no sound to protest. He knew that it would come to this. North would just owe him one, big time, after this little episode which, by his count, was the worst so far. North got the message in a second.
"Ah! T'ank you old friend! And, how ees eet d'ey say? I do you a compact?"
"I think it's do ya a solid."
"New age terms. Bah. I am being close enough." He bounced on feet that were surprisingly graceful for someone of his size and age towards the door, smiling from cheek to cheek the whole time. "T'anks again, Bunny! J'you weel not be regretting!"
Bunny watched him go, a forlorn feeling in his soul. Why oh why did he even get out of bed this morning. There was a chirp from behind him and he turned to face the child that still sat in the corner. The look he gave the anthropomorphic rabbit was not lacking in terror, but had more curiosity than anything else.
"Hey mate. G'day." The child inched back at the harsh voice from the rabbit, swallowing down a mewl. "No! No… don't be scared, mate! I'm not doin' no one no harm! Sides, you know me, don't ya?" He crouched towards the ground, cottontail almost touching the red velvet below them. Make yourself smaller, that was the very first rule in approaching skittish animals. And while Jack was far from a wild animal, he was close enough in bunnies book. "I'm the Easter Bunny! You know! I make googies fer ya' ta find in spring, righ'?" The child tilted his head, white hair flopping and bending at the motion.
Hope reached into his bandolier, removing one of the colored eggs that sat there. He always kept one or two on hand, and the situation now seemed more ideal than ever. His googie's legs stretched out, wiggled, and once they had touched the ground teetered in disuse. But footing was found and the egg began its joyful trek towards the little boy.
Blue eyes widened, followed by a smile that Tooth would have fainted over. Tiny hands finally found their way out of the folds of sweatshirt to reach towards the egg, which was painted in Van Gogh swirls of pinks and yellows and blues. A giggle made it's way out of his throat, ticking the air, and Bunny couldn't help but smile. Despite it all, he couldn't help but soften at the sight of children, no matter whom that child may have been.
"Look at that! He likes ya!" Bunny inched forward and was pleased when the child took little notice, far too enraptured by the colorful present. "Your a right natural, ya know tha'?"
It wasn't until he was a mere foot from the kid that the small child stiffened, steely eyes firm and petrified, and froze where he was. Bunnymund tried to make himself even smaller, crouching lower, if even possible, tucking his ears behind his head and nudging his face towards the boy. There were no words exchanged, just the occasional snuffle from the rabbits nose and and even more occasional loud breath from the child. Then, ever so carefully, young Jack reached his palm out, the egg balanced precariously on its surface, and gave Bunny a glance up through long lashes.
"Naw, mate, it's yours! Ya can keep it." The eyes that had looked so lost a moment ago looked more surprised than anything, and he tucked the egg against his chest. "Careful now, don't break it." And the boy nodded, stroking the egg like a mother would a child.
It was odd. From what North had described year after year, this was the naughty child of all naughty children. The one who would one day have his name circled in red, who was bad from the very beginning, who had locked his father in a cellar and almost knocking him out cold with a rock in a single night. And yet, though he waited for it to occur on the edge of his seat, no such behavior had come to the surface. In fact, the young child showed no signs of being terrible in the least. So far he was just a little boy, afraid and alone in a corner.
"You a'right there, Vegemite."
Jack nodded and, finally, in a tiny voice that spoke like the wind he had befriended, he said, "Yes, sir, thank you, sir."
And that was most certainly not the response that you received from a child on the naughty list. Polite, formal, straightforward. Bunny cleared his throat.
"Yeh? That's good. Look… yer gonna come with me for a tick, 'right?"
"Please, sir, do I have to, sir?" And even then it was said so politely.
"Fraid so, kid. But it's only for a few hours, right? We can set you up with a nice bed. And whens the last time you had a good supper?"
"Not a long time, sir." He shifted the egg in his palm, feet itching against the red floor. "We don't have much food at home. An' Mommy an' Father get the bed."
He was referring to his old life. Or, observing the age of the now much more youthful Jack Frost, his current situation. "Well then, maybe that's what we'll do. Get food in yer belly. That sounds like a right good idea ta me!"
A nod. "Yes, sir."
"Right, nuff'a this sir business, akay. I ain't that old yet." The boy nodded, nothing to say that didn't involve the word sir it would seem. "Come on. We don't wanna stand here f'ever. Least I don't." He held out his arms. The boy scuttled back. "Don't be like that, bud! I ain't gonna bite! See," he tapped his large front teeth. "Herbivore. I like my carrots. 'Sides, little boys taste awful."
That got a giggle out of the youngling, an achievement beyond anything else for the rabbit, and, in a rare display of childish innocence, the small boy licked his own arm and smiled up at his former comrade victoriously. "No! I taste good! See?"
Bunnymund couldn't hold back the bark of a laugh that was infection enough to make the tykes grow larger. "I do see! Maybe I'll change my mind an' eat you up for supper."
Apparently, that smattering of humor was enough for the fun to light up once again in Jack's eyes, his feet bouncing, the egg still clutched at his chest.
"Now, shall we?" The rabbits arms were out once more, an invitation, not a demand. And the boy took it as such, inching forward until he was close enough to touch the large animal. For a moment, he stood there, eyeing the sheer size of his opponent, the height, the weight. But the green eyes sparkled with a sort of hope that no child can distrust, and even Jack Frost, despite his age, found himself wrapped in it's warm embrace. Literally, when he raised his hands and allowed himself to be hoisted into the air, held in the crook of a furry elbow.
"Right. Well, we aren't wanted here. Lets go somewhere we can have some fun, eh?"
And, as always, that word was one to spark the interest in the spirit. Especially as they plummeted and raced and skidded down tunnels towards a greener place.
Later, at the Pole, a Yeti would collect the abandoned staff and give it a good home for safe keeping. And orders to a few of the elves were made for a few distinct patterns of cloth. With new size comes new clothes, as North had pointed out quickly to a passing worker, not bothering to look up from yet another read of his list. And the Yeti's, having spent hours washing paint from their fur, were happy enough to oblige a task that wasn't guaranteed to cover them in blue or red.
The warren, as it had been the day before- had it really been such a short time ago- was a thing of enchantment for Jack. And even then, as a fidgety five year old, the boy could sit there and watch the time pass by on lazy legs. "This is where you live?" he breathed. Bunny didn't say anything, just smiled in contentment, pride. A gaggle of eggs walked past, and in a display of kindness, Jack toddled forward and gently placed the egg that had been in his hands on the ground, nudging it towards the group was gentle coo's of "go join your family! It's okay! Show them all your pretty colors!" And then he proceeded to drag Bunnymund by his paw, excitedly bouncing on his heels to watch as the colorful rivers flowed past and the eggs, despite the relatively temperate weather, pushed each other into the pools, coming out all sorts of amazing and vibrant shades.
"It's so pretty!"
Because, of course, that was exactly what a boy on the naughty list, who was now making sure to walk around the eggs with care, and to touch flowers with gentle hands and ooed and aahed over every single thing, would do and say.
And the more he lead the boy around, showing him the wonders of his home, the more he began to remember Tooth's words, so many hundreds of years ago. You dont know that! she had said to him, you might regret something that you say, after all! What if you meet him one day and it's different! And, watching Jack play, laugh, beg him to paint just one egg, he was beginning to agree with her.
Of course, he knew that he had had Jack pegged wrong. The teenager was not a terrible person, and he loved the boy more than anything, even if he rarely spoke of it. But he had just continued to assume that Jack as a boy had been just as mischievous, just as terrifying of a prankster. Born into the skin of the infamous Puck, and staying that way until the very end.
So far, the worst he had done was drop a green egg into the blue river, then proceeded to have a panic attack over whether or not he had ruined all the 'beautiful colors' and Bunny had to wrangle him back into reality with a few chuckles and a well earned cookie.
And what truly did amaze him, beyond all that, was how little Jack had really changed. His views of the world, he was discovering, were just as innocent. Every little thing held magic and enchantment. And, apparently, that also meant that anything terrible was something Bunny would never be allowed to know of. Even when Jack said, so softly his enormous ears caught it by chance, "you're so lucky to have a real home…"
And Bunny didn't bother to ask what he meant. Because the same conversation had been had just a day ago, with Jack staring out into the warren, telling him of homes that existed in the wild. And the more Bunny heard that, the more he began to feel the guilt piling in his gut. To never have a home was something he couldn't even begin to imagine. He'd always had somewhere, even if that somewhere was something very sad and little. But to have nowhere… He'd never come from a broken home, just witnessed his own shattering around him. But he'd always had someone near to him. Jack, he knew, staring down at the child in fond sadness, would have to endure much more. First, he'd be in a home that he couldn't call his own. Then he would die, far too early for death to even be an option. And then there would be the three hundred years of solitude. And then, even after that, there would be a home without a home, where any place that was a branch or a rooftop could be used as a bed, and the only slivers of companionship came from meetings, battles and the occasional quip.
It was a depressing thought to say the least, and Bunny had to take a moment to really look at his own home and appreciate it even more. Not only for it's wonder and beauty, but the fact that it even existed under a claim that it was his own. A place to come back to after a hard day. Something constant, reliable.
Jack would never have that.
His only solace for the day would be when Tooth visited, bringing new clothes and pajamas from North's workshop, cooing over the boy with more motherly affection then seemed necessary, but Jack drank up the attention like water. After he had been wrestled into smaller, more practical clothing- but I'm a big boy! Big boys don't wear overalls!- they let him wander without too much supervision.
"He's just so cute." Tooth had sighed. "And those teeth. I always knew he was a good kid. He remembered to brush."
"Yeh, he's a good kid."
She gave a knowing smile. "Not a bad kid? Aster, you have changed."
"Yea, yea, no need ta' rub it in."
"Plenty of need to run it in, actually." Tooth's wings buzzed, elated at the thought of being right and being told so justly. "When does he turn back?"
"Christmas morning. He's gonna go back to his time, we get our Jack back."
"Well... that's good. Isn't it?"
"You sound unsure." Because Tooth was a mother a million times over, and her instincts had been honed. She knew it all, and emotions were her forte. "What's wrong."
Bunnymund shrugged noncommittally until he was given a look from a certain tooth fairy and he shrunk, then broke, under her glare. "It's just... I ain't gonna miss this young Jack or nothin'. But I'm gonna feel even worse when the old one gets back. I had him pegged wrong, s'pecially since I know there's stuff he ain't tellin' me. But... I'm a Guardian! I should'a had more faith that he was a good kid from the start!"
"We were all wrong."
"Isn't a 'scuse."
"Of course it isn't. But it is a start. Treat it like that, and when the old Jack comes back make sure he knows that you know he was a great child. Because he is, isn't he?" The stared said child, now busy custructing a small bridge that went over a rivulet of pink paint for the eggs to cross. His tongue was sticking out, placing each leaf and stick with the mind of a carpenter, even if he lacked in the skill. But the pride showed well enough in his blue eyes and, as Tooth looked, it shone even brighter in Asters. "You're always learning more. Think of this as a Christmas renewal. A chance to start over. That's what it's about, right?"
He nodded. "Family." Then, after a quiet moment, "I'm gonna make sure Frostbite know that."
"Good." She nodded back. "He doesn't hear it enough." Then she tilted her head, feathers bobbing. "You look tired."
"Are you sure?" Then, "Having Jack here... having a child here... you're having the nightmares again, aren't you?"
"Leave it, Tooth." She did leave it after that, though he wouldn't indulge her already inflated ego by letting her know, once again, that she was right. But he did feel guilty. So, for some penance, he added, "But yeh... it is harder with a kit here."
"Kit? Or kid?"
"There ain't a difference."
"There is, and you know it."
And, with some ache, the Pooka knew that to be all too true.
It would break his heart again when, after hours of sightseeing his land and escaping the dentist eye of the Tooth Fairy, he'd tuck the boy into a spare bedroom in one of the smaller rooms that existed in his cottage. A small building with a stream of smoke drifting from the chimney. Vines crawling up the sides, leaching at the fading bricks and moss painted logs. It wasn't a palace or a pole, but it was cozy, and Jack took to it immediately. And when he had been carted off to bed with the words that stated how 'not tired' he was, even if they were said around yawns, his eyes had widened at the sight of the modest room he'd been allowed to stay in for the night.
"Wow…" he'd breathed, wiggling from the Pooka's grasp to wander around on the dirt floor, inspect the ceiling, stare in awe at the closet. "I've never had one of these before!"
"What? A room?" In Jack's time, most houses were not exactly places of privacy, after all. But Jack shook his head, silvery locks falling like silk back into place right after.
"No. A bed!"
That might have been when Aster's heart shattered into large and clumsy pieces.
That night, he'd have another nightmare. There was more smoke, more fire, and more children being slaughtered. And the men in armor were charging through his mind even as the break of morning showed it's face.
The next day, he had confronted North, leaving Jack to amuse himself for an hour.
"All I'm sayin'," he followed the man, who was going far faster then he'd ever seen him go, around the Pole. "is that maybe ya' should give Jacky a room! Tha'sall!"
"Bunny, I am being too busy for this discussion! Christmas is tomorrow."
"But not'ing! You are interrupting at worst time ever- I said red, not blue! Paint over!- and I am working! Can't you ask other time!"
"No! I can't! I mean, how hard is it to just give a room ta' the bloke? He needs somewhere to stay!"
"He ees elemental. Paint it green! D'ey need to be outside."
"I didn't say chain 'im up. Jus' give him a room. Tell him it's his own! He needs that, North!"
"Jack Frost ees always welcome here, he knows dat."
Aster was feeling a particularly feral growl coming on. "I didn't say make him feel welcome, ya coot. I said make him feel at home. Give the boy a bloody home."
North hesitated, then, slowly, he shook his head. "Ees too much to ask for right now. I need time to do dees. And I never have time."
"But not'ing. I geeve him vhat he needs, and dat ees enough. He ees welcome to stay whenever he vants. Now go! Christmas ees tomorrow and I veel not be late!"
The discussion had ended there, with Bunny fuming and North yelling at another yeti who looked about ready to tear all his fur out. But there was nothing to be done after that. Once North's mind was made, it was hell trying to change it. Not that he hadn't succeeded now and again. But being the holiday season North had enough on his plate, and didn't need Bunny continuously bothering him, no matter how important that matter was. North was North. And he would not budge.
Aster returned to the warren spiritually empty handed and needing some cheering up, of which the new addition provided, suggesting with few words and much jumping that they play a few games.
It took quite a bit to tire Bunnymund out, that was for sure. He was a master of taichi, a warrior in his own right, a quick and nimble rabbit who wanted nothing more than to show others just how slow the world was when he ramped up the mph.
Of course, that was before he had to take care of a child.
Apparently, speed had nothing on continuation, and the boy could move for hours on end. First, it was a game of tag. Three of which he won, because Bunny pretended to trip out of the goodness of his heart. Though his heart did need some compensation, and so he allowed himself two wins, just to make sure he humbled the boy enough. There was never a limit to how much a man could be humbled, he thought solemnly.
Then, it was hide and seek. That itself was a two hour process with five different hiding spots and a thirty minute period of attempting to get Jack unstuck from a hole in the ground.
Then it had somehow transformed into races, filled with more tripping really then racing. The old creed of 'never race a rabbit' seemed almost silly now when you put it next to a five year old. The pookah was beginning to feel his age by the eleventh race, and almost collapsed at the eighteenth. It was at the twentieth that he cut all games short, estimating by the sun that it was, indeed, almost time to pack it in for the night, much to the young ones disappointment. That had been effectively stanched when Aster had allowed him to help cook dinner.
It was a tricky process. He hadn't trusted Jack alone for a moment near the heated stove and sharp knives, but the boy was fine besides that. He'd cleaned the carrots and celery- even if they'd lost a few brave soldiers in the process. And, of course, when they'd sat down to eat the skinny child had practically inhaled the soup as if he hadn't eaten in years. And, from the looks of it, it must have been a few good days, even if Bunny had been feeding him well.
And then, with hot soup in his belly and the warmth from the hearth heating the tiny room, Jack began to slump over the table. Bunny had merely chuckled, gathering the child in his arms.
"Right tuckered, aren't ya, mate?"
He'd gotten a yawn and a hum in response.
"Goon on'ya. Sides, tomorrow you get to be big again. Did ya know that?"
Another hum. A snore.
"Yeh. You're gonna be a right annoying bugger. An' not as cute. But you'll have ta' do."
Nothing came back to him. Nothing that was translatable, anyhow, and Bunny chuckled once more. A breathy sort of chuckle. The boy was tucked in straight away, new snowflake printed pajamas, courtesy of one of the less busy Yeti's at the Pole, did well to add for extra warmth. And now, with his powers apparently waning temporarily, he loved to snuggle under as many layers as he could.
Bunny sighed a deep sigh. Gently, as he would have before, he prodded his nose against the little boys temple. "Night, ankle biter."
And then he himself went off to bed, thoughts of kits and children and Christmas running through his head. And, apparently, those were all thoughts would stick. For as his head hit the pillow in his own room, back happily cushioned against the straw mattress and his covers, still smelling of fresh grass and laundry soap from the weekly wash, his mind would not allow him to sleep peacefully.
As darkness engulfed him finally, the sandman working his magic, so did the red and the smoke. And then he wasn't sleeping anymore. Or at least, he wasn't sleeping where he was. Not that it was a surprise. Nightmares weren't something he was unaccustomed to and, for the most part, they were never that of Pitch Black's doing. Most of the time it was those of flashbacks. Things he didn't dare speak of. Fire and burning and blood and families leaving him towards another ethereal plane.
However, looking down the grassy slope, coated in sparks, he realized that it had never been that real before.
Help us! Came the calls from below. Aster! Brother! Help us!
Help me Daddy!
My love! Don't leave us! Help me!
All cries that were familiar, haunting, the language spoken smooth, even in terror. He shut his eyes, trying not to cry out. Then came the screams. They were loud, penetrating his mind in the most permanent of places, tore out his spine until he could feel the click of each dull bone leaving him. He couldn't hold back the cry then.
"No!" It did nothing to scream. What would one voice in a universe do? That, mixed with the keening screams of his people behind him and the fierce crackling of the fire. His voice would do nothing, barely cutting through the blaze. The blood was thicker than water, soaking through the grass, watering the flowers and killing eternal Spring.
The sky was filled with smoke. And yet cruelty was boundless that day, as tiny hints of a beautiful blue sky peeked around the heavy dark smog and shone cheerfully down at him. Down on his people. Down at the slaughtering.
It went on for hours. The clashing of steel, the slicing of flesh. Some of the enemy died, their bodies lying throughout the mess on the field. And everyone of his kind was gone. His friends, his family, everything he'd ever had lost in a sea of slaughter.
And then they'd let him go. He'd begged for them to kill him too, please, to just kill him too. But they hadn't.
They'd done far crueler.
They'd let him live.
Those eyes, hidden behind the sharp helmet, stared strait through him. Cutting through what hope he had left, those blue eyes stared strait at him and stared. Then they smiled, the cruel mouth following.
"You're the only one, you know." He nodded towards the field, but Bunnymund didn't follow the gesture. He couldn't look. "And we're going to leave you like that. Just like that." Then he kneeled forward, unafraid. "How does it feel to be the only one?"
Bunnymund's mouth was dry, a bitter taste of copper permeating every pore of his being.
"Your family- they were lovely." Another cruel smile. "But family is so… temporary. They leave you in the end, you know. They always will."
"Y… you're wrong… family…"
"Family is a concept taught by beggars to fools. Family hardly exists. It's made from principles and values that people wish to have. And if those people suddenly don't follow those values, those principles, you leave them behind. Your family," his teeth flashed cruelly underneath the blue sky. "Your family simply didn't apply themselves to my values. And look where that got them."
"You bugger-" He lunged, putting all his force into the blow. The shining man stumbled, grew angry and drew his sword. And Bunny waited. He waited for the blow to come so he could rejoin his people, his family.
Please… kill me… please
But the blow never came. Instead that shining sword was dropped onto the ground nearest him. The metal shone, his face, bloodied and tired and worn, reflecting in its lethal surface.
"Go on," the man pointed, "you take it. Kill me." It was said so solidly, as if a challenge. Or possibly just a tease. He gestured toward the hilt, too casually. "Kill me instead. Avenge your family. Show how strong your values are."
Bunny stared longer, fingers twitching, moving, and finally gripping the end of the sword. The weapon was unfamiliar, different then the wooden boomerangs he was so used to using. Heavier, frightening, powerful. And as he stood on shaking legs, pointing the extended dagger at the mans vulnerable neck, he realized just how easy it would be.
He was holding a life in his hands.
One move and he could slice through skin, release blood onto the fresh patches of grass beneath his feet, water the ground with this mans guilt. He could pay, pay for the injustice of what he'd caused.
His family lay slaughtered beneath him at the hand of the same sword. His hand clutching the very weapon that took the lives of his mate, kits. And now he was being given the chance to do the same.
And he wouldn't.
Bunnymund was no killer. And he was done with the sight of blood.
And so he dropped the sword.
It clattered against dirt, a few of the emerald blades bending under the weight, others sliced by the razor edge.
The man smiled his similarly sharp smile. "I thought so." And he picked up the weapon. "I told you. Values. Your family is based around them, and that's why they died. They believed in the fairy tale called family. It's nothing but a set of rules." He motioned to his man, who sheathed bloody swords and climbed on the backs of their horses. "It's sad really. You'll see. You're just like me in that way. You don't have the values it takes to make a family. And I proved that here."
"Why…?" Bunny's voice was tired, shaking, finally peeking over the hill at the bloodbath before them. Bile rose from his throat, choking him. The thick acid burning at his lungs and stomach.
"Why?" A sharp laugh. "Because this, E. Aster Bunnymund, is power."
And then the world was thrown off balance and he was falling.
Falling into another time.
We should never have trusted you!
Staring at the young man in front of him, quickly crippling underneath the words. He's gotta go.
He's gotta go…
I think we just dodged a bullet
… but none of them believe in you, do they? Yussee, you're invisible, mate.
It's like you don't even exist…
Cruel words meant to cut deeper and deeper, like daggers through flesh and blood. Meant to separate, to keep family from occurring. Destroying faith, slaughtering hope.
He had the power. He had the means. And he used both for the reaction.
And then once more colors were melding, tiles forcing themselves together, pixels crunching into coherent shapes until he saw all of them there.
The armada. The men, standing tall and proud, their armor gleaming underneath the lunar circle ebbing from beneath the sea of sky. He stepped forward and his cruel smile flashed once again.
I told you, Aster, his voice, so recognizable, you're just like me.
"No," his chest was static, breathing heavy. "No… I'm nothing like you!"
You're everything like me! Look at you! Look at how you've acted. Leaving someone for that long, alone, in the cold, refusing them a place to belong. But you know it too, don't you. Family doesn't exist. Otherwise, why would you have done it? He shrugged, his armor clanking. Like I told you before, Rabbit. It's values. Morals. Your own. And they are what rule your life. Not the fake ones created to govern a family. He didn't follow your values and so… and he threw a shepherds staff to the ground in front of Bunny, where it slid across green grass soaked with blood, you destroyed his.
"I didn't mean-!"
Yes you did. Because that's power. You remember that don't you? He clucked his tongue, and the sound reverberated off the medal of his helmet, echoing towards the sky. One family gone already because of it. How many more before everything you have is gone. Teeth flashed underneath the reflective light of his armor. It was an illusion, a light trick, but Bunny swore he saw his own green eyes looking back at him from within the smoke and mirrors. Destroy everything, Bunny. Do as I did. You may have not picked up the sword, but you can do far worse than take a life. You can crush it.
And then once more they were leaving him alone, holding the shepherds staff to his chest under the pale moon.
I left you alive to become like me, words humming through the thick air. And I succeeded, as I knew I would. There's only so much one man can do before he realizes just how deep he's in.
And Bunnymund could do nothing but fall to his knees, reaching for the staff with shivering paws. And when the tips of his claws touched the surface he was given a jolt of such ferocity that he was almost thrown back into another world. He had done this. He was the cause for this. Because sometimes not even what he had was enough. And no matter what he had given, it was not enough to wash the blood that he saw smeared against the staff, the grass, his own paws.
You did this to me, Jack's voice, so alone, grieving, flowed from the ground towards his ears. I thought you loved me? I thought that we were family.
"We are, Frostbite," despreate, pleading, "We are." Because he wished it had been sooner, but if he could at least confirm the positive now, then maybe something could change. Maybe something could be different.
But all that occurred were the cries, needle sharp and razor edged. Don't leave me alone! Please don't leave me alone! The staff was sinking into the dirt, grabbed by roots covered in a dirt as red as fate. Bunny, please! Help me! Don't leave me alone! Don't let them leave me alone! I don't want to be alone anymore! Please!
But there was no face to the voice. And as much as Bunny cried back, "where are you! Hold on! I'm coming for you! Just hold on! I'll find you, Frostbite! I'll always find you!" the pleas were just as faceless as they had began, and he was left without any sort of a hope. Hopeless.
He was hopeless.
And he stayed there, sinking into the ground, watching the sky grow redder around him.
Wake up, Bunny. Someone said. Please, help me. Wake up.
His eyes bunched, looked up from the ground. "Wha'?"
And then something touched him.
Bunny jerked awake, fur bristling as he stood to meet his opponent. Despite the lack of weapons (he really had to start placing them closer to his bedside) his fists did what they were trained to do, raising in defense and, if need be, attack.
A small chirp of fear alerted his senses to calm and startled him back into reality. Hands, still clenched, lowering to his sides, he took three deep breaths and tried to figure out exactly what had startled him in the first place. His eyes traveled around the room finding nothing out of the ordinary. It wasn't until he looked down that he found his answer.
There, standing right in front of him, looking rather scared and startled himself, was a tiny Jack Frost. Tear tracks marked his face, running down his chin and leaving little discolorations on the front of his pajamas. Hands were clenched tightly around the blanket he had no doubt dragged with him from his room. He was trembling and frost was beginning to crawl across the floor from underneath bare feet, emotions getting the best of the tyke.
Bunny sighed, realizing that the threat had been nonexistent. No doubt the tiny tap he'd felt had been the boy. Why he'd awakened him hardly mattered. What mattered was that it was no doubt early, he had a big day coming up what with Christmas and all. And the bairn had decided to sneak in.
He sucked in another large breath, willing his nerves to calm and the outburst that lay on the surface of his brain to burrow away for a while. He could take it out on North later. But for now, he had a child to deal with. With trembling paws, he found a box of matches, lighting one of the candles he had made just days before, and the room was quickly bathed in a comforting light. He allowed himself to be soothed by the realness of it all- a reminder that he was not living in a nightmare, but a very real place in a very real time. And Jack Frost was very much alive, standing in front of him, looking just as worse for the wear. In fact, by the looks of the tears and mussed hair, he may have been even worse.
"Frostbite. Whats'a matter, eh? Ya know what time it is?"
His voice was low enough but it did get through to the child who looked down at the floor, bare feet tracing lines in the dirt.
"What'chya doin' awake then?" His arms crossed, the scold nothing more than exasperation and tiredness.
The tyke hesitated again, foot continuing its lazy laps in the dust. "I… had a nightmare."
"Oh." Large ears drifted backwards a tad. "Oh."
What was he supposed to do? He was no good at these things. Besides, when Jack had been… Jack, he'd never rushed to anyone's side for help. And yet, looking down, there was indeed a Jack standing there, big eyed and wobbly lipped, looking for some sort of comfort. From him of all people.
Bunny swallowed, slowly lowering himself to the ground. Sitting cross legged, he observed the creature before him. "Ya wanna tell me what it was about?"
Jack shook his head feverishly, blanket shifting on his shoulders.
"Bu' it was a bad nightmare, huh?"
His only response was a tiny nod, Jack sniffling, rubbing at watery eyes with one tiny, curled fist.
"What can I do, then? Ta help ya, I mean." It all seemed a little ridiculous. Him, being woken up at all hours of the morning with a full day ahead of him. The child who'd disturbed him seemingly becoming shy at the last moment, content to just stand in his room. It was enough to draw out the tiniest hints of anger, annoyance, within the rabbit. Didn't the tyke understand the importance of sleep.
"Well?" His voice a bit more bitter than even he'd have liked. "What'dya want."
Jack sniffled again, eyes wide, pleading. "I wanna sleep with mommy." Confusion seeped through those baby blues and, if it was even possible, they grew wider still. "When do I get to go home? They said I can go home soon."
"They? Whose they, then?"
Another sniffle, a muffled hiccup. The boy shook his head and his lip wobbled. "I wanna sleep with mommy."
Something within Aster softly cracked, a long thought-to-be healed scar reopening. Here he was, believing himself to deserve so much pity for his loss. And lo and behold this child shows up, one with a story equal to his own. Had it not been for the sudden shift of age, Bunny may have never even known these needs for family, mothers, solace from nightmares. Right then and there he wanted to tell Jack everything. That everything would be fine. Or maybe that it wouldn't- that his mother was long gone, his family with it. That he had to accept what he had now.
The new, little Jack, looked up again, waiting for a response. The hope he gave off so well was there in the boys eyes, the tiniest bit. A hope that Bunny had the answer. And that he could just take him home.
He opened his mouth to say something, anything. But all that came out was;
It was choked, filled with years of sadness. Sadness, he was sure, still lay somewhere within that boy in front of his as well.
There was only one solution. He'd seen so many parents and children interact in the past. He knew exactly what children wanted and needed when it came to these things. It was far from his comfort zone, in another dimension in fact, but whatever his Frostbite needed now, his Frostbite was going to get.
Opening his furry arms he gestured to the boy. "Ya wanna sleep with me t'night?"
Jack hesitated, looking towards the door as if expecting to find someone there, his mother perhaps, or maybe the monsters that plagued him. But, after that one second was over, he nodded. A tiny nod.
Jack rushed forward, clambering onto the straw mattress and hurriedly ducking underneath the covers, nuzzling against Bunny's side. Fat tears rolling down his face and falling
"Do you think I'll get to see Mommy 'gain." The young Jack pressed his face against the white patch on Aster's collarbone, fisting any fur that he could get in reach. His voice was hardly clear against the fur, but Bunny could feel the chokes that racked the tiny body, each hiccup a vibration that reached further than his skin. "Because they told me I won't ever never see her 'gain!"
"Who told you that?" The lagomorph asked, continuing the circles against the boys back, feeling ribs against his paw.
There was a sniff. "They did," as if that was any better, "They told me that if I wasn' good I wouldn't never see Mommy again. Is that why I'm here?" Large, watery eyes looked up. "You're nicer than them."
"I doubt that…"
"Yes," he nodded furiously, the pearls of tears splattered in all directions. Another hiccup. "You don't use belts."
Aster felt his stomach go back towards his spine and his mouth, all of a sudden, held the unmistakable taste of bile. Who dared to do such a thing to a child? A child like Jack? And how, in Manny's name, did he not even know, not even try to be there?
"My Father was there too. And he told me th-that I wasn't good 'nuff for presents. B-but if I was good then maybe Santa would let me see my Mommy!" Jack wiped his eyes on his sleeve, though it did little to stanch the ever present flow of tears. "An' I wasn't good!"
"No, no, no, no, no!" Aster hugged him closer, tighter, as if that would help to reverse everything that had happened. "No, you are good, Jack. I swear by it!"
"Then where's Mommy?"
He opened his mouth to answer, shut it, took a deep breath. "I don't know… but… but I think you see her again." Because, if anything, he had to be sure of that.
The response didn't help much, but it did something to keep Jack from sobbing anymore, his hiccups slowly turning into mild shakes and quibbles. Then, from all that, the whisper, "I'm sorry I was bad."
"Yeh, kid, I'm sorry too." Bunny snuffled the childs hair, ears, under his chin, attempting, in any way, to get as close to him as he could to try and fix whatever needed repair, though truly there was too much. And he knew it.
Jack was forever broken. And that thought, that fact, alone startled and scared the Easter Bunny to no end. Because he was the spirit of new beginnings, new life. The spirit of rebirth and hope. And in all of his years in service he had learned two very important facts. The first- you can never create perfection, though you can make something close to it. And the second- once an object or being has been broken beyond repair, there is no fixing it.
He often compared it to a sheet of paper. Clean, white paper, with hardly a mark. And after it's been crumples, saying sorry to it does very little to straighten it out. You need to work with it, unfold it, smooth it, maybe even scribble on it's surface to give what it deems a purpose. And in the end, without fail, no matter how much love and affection and time and work you use to flatten it, that sheet of paper will be crumpled beyond anything you can fix.
Jack had been crumpled far too many times. And now he was ripped, torn, shredded, destroyed, and there was no way in hell or on earth or on Manny's lunar floor that anyone could help to put him back together.
But Aster was going to give it his best shot.
Curling tighter around the child, a Buck around his kit, he prodded his wet nose against the small childs forehead, under his eyes, under his chin. "Frostbite. Ya have ta' understand this, akay? You're a good kid, no matter what."
"Didjya kill anyone?"
"Didjya push an old bat inta' the street."
"Then I don't see fer one second how you were bad. Santa just… just got mixed up tha's all."
"But I did do something bad. They told me so. Th-that's wh-why they took m-me away from m-m-mommy!" And his lip began to quiver again."
"What didjya do that was so bad."
And Jack leaned in very close, though really with the rabbits ears he could have heard from much farther, and whispered "I locked my Father in the cellar." Then he pulled back, guilt twinkling in his eye. "Tha's why my Father was so mad and told me I was so bad. But I had to! Can you tell Santa that I had to because Santa thinks I was bad but really I had to lock Father down there, or else he was gonna take Mommy away."
"He was going to what…?"
"Take Mommy away. I heard them last night. When Mommy was crying because Father was yelling. We needed food and Father had used all the money to do something else that wasn't food and Father told Mommy about these special people who took other people for money."
And once more, Aster began to feel quite ill.
"And Mommy said no, but she didn't have any choice because she's a lady and Father ain't one. And then he hit Mommy real hard." Jack sniffled, lip pouting bravely. "So I locked him in the cellar. And when he got out he d'cided that he'd take Pippa instead. An he couldn't do that, cause I wouldn' let him. So… so I hit him with a rock. And Father was bleeding everywhere and got real mad and took me instead."
Jack hid his face, as if afraid his father would burst through the door and drag him through the darkest of forest towards a fate worse than death. And Aster could do nothing but keep him close, try- and fail- to connect their heartbeats because maybe then he could show Jack just how much he was wanted, how much he was cared for. But Jack was a child who had believed that Santa Claus was the one who would save him, could save him from every terrible thing he had endured. And was told, just as many times, that it was his fault Santa didn't. That he wasn't good enough for Santa to come. That he wasn't good enough to be saved.
And the harder Jack tried, the worse he got.
Because every bad deed, locking people away, hitting them with rocks, running from elders, it was all in an attempt to save the ones he love. Because, really, he had had to grow up far too fast, protecting others from something that he shouldn't have had to. And through all that growing up, Jack had at least tried to rely on the people that childhood allowed him to keep hold of. Santa, Tooth Fairy, Sandman. Aster. And none of them had come.
Because his deeds weren't good ones. He wasn't good. Not by their standards. They refused to see the good. And because they refused, they were never given a chance to see just how amazing Jack had been. How brave, how stupendous, how humble, how selfless.
"I'm sorry, Frostbite," and Bunny had to quickly swipe at his own face, before Jack could see. "You're good. You are."
There was a pause. "Can I go back to Mommy now? I think she might miss me too."
"She does," he nodded into her hair, "I promise you that she does." Because Jack just had to know that if he didn't know anything else. He just had to. "You're jus' gonna be here for a little bit. You're Mother needs a kip, thas'all. Then you can go back an' she'll be right. Akay?"
Jack nodded slowly, not exactly trusting the desperate words that seemed to ooze just as sadly from the mouth of this mythical creature. He sniffled instead, wiping at is still tearing eyes. "Will Santa come too?" Because he was still a child. And he still desperately needed that dream alive.
Bunny sighed, closing his eyes against the world that was too cruel for him to take. Not right now. How is it that one child, so broken, could do the same to him. Show him all he had done wrong in mere moments.
"Not this year, Vegemite."
"Because I was bad," the small child whispered.
"No. Because Santa's a right arse and I'll be havin' a chat with him later." The boys eyes widened at the curse, and Bunny couldn't help but chuckle. "'pologies, mate. I'm just right ticked with the bloke right now. And he's gonna get an earful 'bout this later, I can promise you."
"Can you ask him for a present next year, maybe!?"
"Sure, kid," he leaned back into the pillow, finally smiling again, "What'dya have in mind."
"I want skates." He burrowed deeper into the straw beneath him and Bunny made sure to quickly hike the thick comforter up around his tiny body, tucking him in beside his own fur covered body. The boy was sure to be melting, but he didn't seem terribly worried about that. He just seemed tired and lonely. But happy to be held. Because, really, it must have been so long since he'd just been held. Bunny tucked him closer to his body once again. "I asked for skates last year an' the year 'fore that. I don't have anyone to teach, but Mommy says that I might have a little brother one day and that I can teach them. Can Santa give me a brother first? And then skates. Because I wanna teach my brother to skate."
"Eh, I think the skates can be arranged. But Santa can't really give ya' a little ankle biter fer Christmas. Sorry."
"Ask your mum."
"Ok," he nuzzled against Bunny and the rabbit felt his chest swell. "And maybe a better family too. Can Santa do that? Because I know that Daddy loves me an' mommy. He jus' doesn't know it yet. And if he knows it, then I can have a really nice fam'ly and everyone will love me! Right?"
Aster was quiet for a long while after that. Staring up at the ceiling that flickered lightly from the candle beside his bed, he watched as the shapes began to blur and he used the back of his hand to swipe against his eyes. "Hey kid," he choked out, then cleared his throat. "Can I tell ya' a secret. A very important secret that ya can't tell no one."
Jack's eyes widened, his mouth retaining an 'o' shape. "I'm the best secret keeper ever!"
Bunny chuckled. "I'm sure ya'are." Jack nodded against his furry chest, fisting the covers and pulling them tighter around himself. "You're gonna have a fam'ly one day. A real good fam'ly."
"Yeh. An everyone there loves ya. So much. More than ya' can even b'gin ta b'lieve."
"They love me!"
"More than the moon. And they protect ya, too. Because they never want nothin' ta ever happen to ya."
"Wow," he breathed, azure eyes hopeful for the first time in a long while. "Can I have them now!"
"No. See, that's the thing. This family," Aster struggled for a moment, swallowing, "they aren't the brightest lot. Fact, they're right id'jits. And before ya' can even have then, first you're gonna have ta' be 'lone for a while."
"But I don't wanna be alone!" The boy cried, sitting up, covers splayed over stick thin legs, "I never want to be alone again!" Because even then, he'd fended for himself, practically abandoned. Helpless.
"I know, Jacky," because, really, there was nothing else to say. "But you're gonna have ta' be. And it ain't fair, an' it ain't right. But sometimes that's just the way things work."
There was a pregnant pause, and the small room in the warren was beginning to feel even smaller. "But… do they really love me after. I mean, do I get to be in a family?"
"Yes. Forever. And they're sorry. More sorry than anything, they're sorry."
"Mommy says that sorry doesn't always fix everything."
"You're mummy's right 'bout that."
"But they really love me?!" As if he was not allowed that. Didn't deserve that.
"Believe me, kid. They wouldn't be nothin' without you. And they think 'bout that every day."
Little Jack nodded his head, and the white hair bobbed against his scalp. "I guess that's okay then." Innocence truly was a virtue. In a few hundred years there would be no way to explain that to Jack. Not without him bouncing back so quickly towards his usual ways, trying to understand how he really had what he had. If it was permanent or if it stemmed from guilty consciences attempting to redeem themselves from sin.
"Akay, kid, that's enough jabber fer the night. Time ta' sleep, kay."
"It's almost Christmas!" The tiny smile filled with unlost teeth beamed up at him. Bunny barked a laugh.
"Yeh, kid. It's almost Christmas. And by my counts, you've been right good."
"So I'll see Mommy!" He shut his eyes tightly, as if that could help time move faster. "But I'm not worried because you said I've been good and the Easter Bunny doesn't lie, right?" A happy sigh, face pressed against the person who would one day be his older brother, his protector, and who would love him more than he'd ever believe. And it pained said person that the child now swathed in his arms didn't know.
Jack hummed, content for now it would seem, and his eyes drooped. It wasn't even ten minutes before his breathing matched that of the lights that ebbed against the sloping canopy of dirt and dry leaves. And even after Hope had blown out the candle leaving the room in warm darkness, the quick breathing beside him was nothing less than soothing. And all it did was allow him to think on everything. Past, present, future.
If he had known he would have done something. He would have welcomed Jack into the Guardians with open arms. He would have allowed him in earlier than that, let him see exactly how he should have lived, been treated. That he not only needed a family, but he deserved it. It was his right, and they should have been honored the second Manny gave the call to have him.
But Aster hadn't spoken to Manny in a long while because, really, he was just as to blame as anyone. Though now wasn't time for pointing fingers. It was almost Christmas, and he was going to be grateful for everything that he had. So he collected Jack once again into his arms, the boys head lolling onto his shoulder, and he leaned back into the pillow, falling asleep to the gentle snores.
In the morning, Jack was gone.
Bunnymund was not one for Christmas. But that in no way meant that he was above giving presents. Even if he had told Frost that the presents were always Easter Eggs, he had decided that veering from tradition wasn't such a terrible thing. Especially if it was for a higher cause. North had reminded him that, despite the hours spent in Bunny's care, Jack would remember almost nothing of their small adventure together and, much to his amazement, Bunny hadn't really cared.
"This ain't about holdin' onta the old Jack, mate. No matter how good'a kid he was. This is just about makin' sure that our Jack knows what he is."
"Sure, sure. And you handled the old one alright? Because I am steel amazed. He did not t'row rock at your head?"
Once again he was surprised by the glare he received. "I ain't gonna tell ya' nothin' about Jack's past, since I'm sure I don't have the right. But I will tell ya what I told him. You're an arse, Nicholas North."
"Vhat are you-"
"It ain't as simple as you're bloody list sometimes. He ain't made'a ink or paper. He was a kid. A real kid. An' as guardians we should'a 'membered that. Fact, we're to blame for a lot more than what we thought. Three hundred years ain't even the tip'a the iceberg. An' I hope ya' know that."
"But the lees says-"
"List are numbers and statistics," he mirrored a remembered conversation from long ago, of which he had taken a side he was not now proud of. One North now stood on alone. "not children."
And after that chat, he'd gone back to the warren to make his gift. It had taken some work, and some convincing on his own part, as the present may have been the most personal thing ever shared, but he did it. With much paint, melted silver and precious jewels, he completed it, wrapped it, and held it with great pride on the palm of his hand.
And then, it was off to find Jack Frost. The real Jack Frost.
He happened to be sulking on the outskirts of Burgess by his lake, lounging against one of the many trees in the area. It appeared that not even the powers gained from belief, Christmas this year having been one of the best by the feel of pure joy and wonder emanating from his center. But it made sense. He would have woken up from a two day sleep having returned from somewhere unknown, and no one was giving him any answers. Not that it would be easy to explain. But he'd taken to staying where he was, annoyed at the world for not just transferring him to a cold mountain like he'd intended and instead had spent him spinning into the giant, dark pinwheel of death.
Jack had been brooding on a particularly self loathing thought, the bark of the tree behind him beginning to ache against his spine, when the large rabbit approached.
"Oi. Frostbite." The spirit looked down and scowled.
"Ooh! It ain't like ya ta' be so solemn. I thought tha' was my gig. Yunno, being Christmas an' all. And me being the Grinch."
Jack snorted, rolled his eyes, clutched his beloved staff to his chest. "Well… I don't wanna talk right now. Jamie's not coming out today because it's Christmas and that means it's family time."
"S'right. You're comin' ta the party at North's tonight, righ'?"
"I'll think about it."
"I actually wasn' askin', Frosty. You're part'a team. That means goin' ta a few'a North's ego parties, akay?"
"Well… I don't want to go. Christmas is boring anyway."
"You didn' think so two days ago."
"Well, I had my memories two days ago."
Aster smirked knowingly, fingers to his paw tightening around the gift in his hand. "Well, we can't have everythin' right. Speakin' a havin' You said that you got me a present, right?"
The blush that coated the younger mans cheeks was strange. He twisted his pale fingers around his staff and began to worry his lip. "Yeah…"
"Right, well, I know you aren' partial ta' an audience, so why don't we exchange now? I got that gift ya' were talkin' bout? Remember? Ya said tha' since you got me one, I had ta one up ya'."
"You didn't really have to."
"Well, I did."
Jack Frost was silent for a moment, then nodded. He floated to the ground, leaving his perch, and landed, bare feet first, against the light layer of snow. Fidgeting fingers reaching into his sweatshirt pocket. "It isn't much," he mumbled, embarrassed. "But- here." He dropped the item into the Pooka's waiting paw before scuttling back, almost afraid of being too close. Close enough to feel the disappointment.
But no such feeling would be had as Bunny stared down at the snowflake that rested in his palm. It was large, maybe six inches across, and the delicate patterns inside of it's chrystiline surface depicted Bunny and everything that, as Jack must have seen it, made him. Boomerangs, Australia, a kangaroo had him snorting, a small silhouette in the corner of the two of them, sitting side by side, their pose depicting what must have been laughter.
And staring down at it the manliest of large rabbits needed to clear his throat to hold back the lump and sniffle to attempt at stanching the blur.
"It's bloody amazing, Frostbite."
The teen shrugged, though the blush had returned, and scraped his foot on the dry leaves that coated and stuck to the snow. "It's nothing. Just… a thank you… you know? Because you've done a lot for me and… stuff…"
Aster snorted. "Not one for sentimentals, eh kid?"
All he got was another shrug.
"Well, good, cuz neither am I. Catch." And Jack had a split second to look up and remove his hands from where they had been buried into his pocket in order to catch the silver streak that hurdled towards his face. He did catch it, collecting it between his two palms with some ease.
The object was round, shining, and felt cool and sturdy against his skin. He turned it, watching as the precious stones embedded against its surface gleamed and glistened in the early Christmas sun. "Wow…"
"Bet'chya don't even know what it is."
There was a pause. "An ornament."
He got a chuckle in return. "Hardly mate. Give 'er here." Jack looked reluctant to hand back the pretty bobble, but did so, and the rabbit collected it in his pam. "I had ta' use som'a my own magic ta' make this beauty. But trust me when I say it's worth it. All ya gotta do, mate, is pick a surface. A tree, a wall, anything ya got."
"Well… we have trees. This is a forest."
"Watch the sarcasm there, mate." Jack mumbled something else and Bunny sniffed. "Right, well, watch." He took the object once again, the jeweled end against the scratchy pads of his palm, and pressed the back against the bark of the tree. And, after a moment, he nodded and pulled.
It was as if there had always been a door in the tree. Though, really, Jack knew better. But somehow, naturally, a doorway simply opened as the doorknob was tugged, allowing the oval to open up onto a green world that appeared within.
"It's a portal, mate. To my warren."
"You said tha' ya' couldn' find the door. Well," and he detached the knob, passing it to Jack once again. "Now you've got the door in your hand."
Jack was too stunned to say anything. Even as the door was slammed with more force than was really necessary, resulting in a bang that bounced off the trees. Because no one, especially not Bunny, wanted him around. Not all the time. And giving him the key as if he belonged there. There was a mist in his own eyes and he swiped it before the overgrown kangaroo could see. Or, maybe, the overgrown kangaroo just didn't let him know that he saw.
"Thank you…" he swallowed, holding the precious present in both his hands, almost afriad to let it go. Because maybe, if he did, it would disappear.
"You know this means tha' I trust ya, right Frosty. Which means tha' you gotta do your part-"
Jack snapped to attention, even if his eyes didn't lose their shine. "I will! You can trust me, I swear! I mean, you can! Really!"
"Frostbite, take a breath." The sprite did, flashing a foolish smirk. "I know. That's why I gave it to ya'. But b'fore ya' break out the bubbly, don't get too ahead'a yourself. I ain't done yet. The rest of your present ain't quite finished. But I got my googies on overtime fixing up the rest of your room. They're paintin' it blue, I think. Though I gotta go check later. One'a them was bringin' in yellow an' pink- Frosty?"
During the small speech the boy had gone rail still, eyes wide. The fingers of both his hands, one around his staff, the other around the new found treasure, were even whiter as he clasped them, and Aster was afraid that the knuckles might just break through the skin.
"You… I get a room?" Voice thick and oiled.
"Yeah, Frosty. Ta' use if ya want, when ya wan't. I ain't makin' ya stay or nothin'. But it's there for ya'. My home ain't big, an' I only eat veggies. Bu' I can share." It was his turn to look uncomfortable. "Even if it's new fer me too. But… you know…"
"You got me a room… I get a room…!" Because, just as he had as a child, he sounded as if he hardly deserved it. And Aster was beginning to hate that voice as much as he was getting used to it.
"Yes, Jackie. A room. All yours." He cleared his throat. "Not that I say it often enough… but ya' gotta know that I… we… I love ya'." Jack's eyes were really on him then, even more watery than before. "An' we'd do anythin' for ya. Even give ya' a home. Especially give ya' a home. An' like I said, my house is small but-"
And he promptly found himself with an armful of winter spirit.
The hair on the back of his neck began to bristle as the frost tickling the way up his spine bit into his skin, but he didn't mind. He just relaxed, and wrapped his arms around the Sprite, happy to give him what he had needed for so long. Even if everything was never enough to make up for everything he had ever done, he was happy to try. And if trying meant freezing his tail off in the woods and holding the nuisance of a younger brother in his arms, then so be it.
And so they stood there, the pair of them. Spring and Winter. One with his arms wrapped around a small frame. The other fisting at fur, trying to hold back sobs, resulting in mild quakes and hiccups. And the sky above them, a dazzlingly clear Christmas blue, made sure to keep their surroundings from darkening.
Because it was Christmas. And this was what it really meant. Aster was beginning to realize that the more he thought.
It didn't quite mean giving presents or rushing about. It didn't meant doing charity for others because he just had to or crying after nightmares plagued his sleep.
Christmas meant holding the people he loved in the middle of the freezing woods. Mourning the loss of his family and looking down at the new family he now embraced in his arms. And while giving presents wasn't really what the season was about, he was sure that giving a home was allowed.
Yes. Giving a home was most certainly allowed.
Smiling, he bent down for a moment, snuffling his nose against the boys temple. "Merry Christmas, Frostbite," he murmured, listening to the boys breathing, evening out, and feeling his heartbeat against his own body.
And that's it! I've done my part for this year by completing the Christmas special!
By the way, Happy Christmas to all from an atheist-Jew! Because, really, that makes perfect sense, doesn't it?
Anyway, updates will be coming up soon (hopefully). I'm aiming for early next year (GET IT! IT SOUNDS LONGER THAN IT IS, BUT REALLY IT'S IN A FEW DAYS! HA HA!).
ANYWHOOOO, hope y'all enjoyed any sort of capitalist holiday that you celebrate, and I truly hope that you recieved the gifts that you'd been asking for... oh... and done some family stuff too, I guess (just kidding, just kidding... but really, how's that new x-box?).
But, in all seriousness, a quick authors note.
SUPER IMPORTANT! PLEASE READ!
All I want to really say is thank you. You cannot believe how grateful I am to have such loyal followers. This year has been an amazing journey and I have you guys to thank. It truly is amazing to think that I began this story with one single chapter that received a total of five reviews. And now, look at us. We've built a community that is more like a family than any site could have predicted. You've stuck with me through the thick and the thin, encouraged me as well as each other, never said a negative word and have been more thoughtful as well as grateful than any people I know. And I do know that this is a private site, and I'll probably never know any of you personally. But in the end, we have become close through the incredible art of storytelling, sharing and imagining and together we have watched new worlds and characters come to life.
You truly are the best community that I could have ever asked for, and I am so grateful to have been followed so loyally by amazing people who all share a love of stories and a passion for being great people and thank you really doesn't seem like enough.
But thank you anyway.
I'm going to strive to be better for you guys. Because, really, this isn't about being the best on this site. It's about being the best for YOU. And I'm going to be just that.