A/N: Finally finished. Finally.
Chapter Five: Dancing In The Sky
We're walking in the air.
We're dancing in the midnight sky,
And everyone who sees us
Greets us as we fly.
- "Walking in the Air" Howard Blake
For the first time in her incredibly long life, the feeling of warmth washing across her feathered skin brought Tooth nothing but disappointment. Golden light and voices of the party filtered in from behind the balcony's magnificent French doors as she fluttered to the tile, one small foot making hard contact with the floor. She stilled her wings just as a brief blast of arctic wind heralded Jack's arrival and buffeted a few of her tail plumes.
He was panting and winded, and collapsed onto the stone railing with all the grace of a tumbling leaf. "You—You win."
She smiled, grinned even, and flattened her golden wrist-cuffs, ruffled from the journey back to the Pole. "You should have known better," she said. "Not even Bunny challenges me to races anymore."
"No kidding!" With theatrical effort, Jack Frost heaved himself into a standing position, dramatically using his staff as a crutch. "You'd kick ol' Cottontail's fuzzy white rear end. Ever consider going pro? The Guardians could pit crew for you."
"A pit crew?"
"Sure! But instead of new tires, maybe a quick wing massage. And instead of gas, maybe some…oh, I don't know, nectar or something. Do you even drink nectar, Tooth?"
As he asked the question, his ice-blue eyes glimmered in their special, unreadable way, and the grin across his face could only be described as mischievous. He was impossible. The Fairy Queen shook her head and allowed herself a long-suffering sigh.
"What are we going to do with you, Jack Frost?"
His grin only broadened, and somehow the upward movement in the corners of his mouth tugged her stomach with it into empty space where they both floated weightless and carefree. She returned the smile with a helpless one of her own, undoubtedly goofy and undeniably sappy, but the only one she could manage when he was gazing at her like that. Like she was the only one in the world. Like she was the only one in the universe.
His grin matured into a lazy smile that did strange things to her heartbeat.
"I had so much fun tonight, Tooth," he said. Murmured. Whispered. They were in on a conspiracy together, a secret mission that no one could know about on pain of certain death. "With you."
Those last two words couldn't have had a more physical effect on Toothiana than if he'd reached out and touched her. They didn't punch her and they didn't graze her. The force of those words landed somewhere in the middle, somewhere she could feel their unwavering truthfulness and their honest gentleness at the same time without one overwhelming the other. Magical.
She blushed, smoothed her crown feathers for the umpteenth time that night, and answered quietly, almost afraid to admit it. "Me too."
He stepped down from the balcony, and the movement washed relaxing, blissful cold across her feathers. The party felt so warm. Too warm. It was making the tips of her fingers tingle in a painful, unpleasant way. She'd rather be cold.
"I'm glad," Jack said.
Smiling, Tooth turned her eyes to the floor, placed a hand on the opposite elbow, and shyly scuffed her toe. The cold, gritty floor against the soles of her feet was grounding. Unpleasant. She frowned. After flying through this fantasy land with Jack Frost for so long, so far—had it really only been one night?—the sensation of touching terra firma was harsh and unyielding. A wake-up call.
Or a sudden jerk back into reality.
She was the Tooth Fairy, he was Jack Frost, and they had obligations and responsibilities that were so much bigger than both of them. Bigger than one night of fun. One night of forgetting.
Slowly, Tooth lifted her eyes to Jack's with a soft, sad smile, just for a stolen moment more. Just to memorize the way it felt, balance the crystal night air between his gaze and hers, log it away in the deepest part of her brain to relive when she needed it most. The way it felt. The way it looked. The way it sparkled.
Jack blinked when she caught his eyes, but as if an automatic reaction, his irrepressible smile jumped to his lips, lifted the right side slightly higher than the left, and if she noticed the tremble, she didn't read too much into it. This fairy tale was over.
"Well, I…" She gave a light cough and shrugged in the direction of the doors. "I guess we'd better go in?"
He was strangling his staff with both hands while simultaneously leaning against it as if for support. He swallowed, eyes darting between her and the doors, and gave a quick nod that bounced his anti-gravity bangs almost comically. "Oh, yeah, sure, mmhmm."
He gestured vaguely for her to go first in an uncoordinated, spaz of a hand that instantly shot back to reclaim its death grip on his staff, but Tooth didn't move immediately. She paused just a moment to examine the Winter Spirit, who suddenly looked as though he was suffering some kind of stomach issue. His skin had paled considerably, his cheeks were dusted a light blue, and sweat had begun to bead on his forehead. Tooth was quite shocked.
"Jack, are you…are you feeling okay?"
He absently gnawed his lower lip—Tooth's heart skipped exactly two beats, one for every flash of an incisor—and his eyes did that darting thing again. First Tooth. Then the doors. Then Tooth again. She frowned, prompting once more, "Jack?"
"Fine! I'm…I'm…" He stared at her for a span of time that fell somewhere between making her slightly curious and thoroughly alarmed, and she strained to read the expression in his eyes. There was movement behind them. Some kind of emotion she couldn't quite make out. But before she had a chance to examine it further, Jack's eyes fell from hers, and he lowered his head. Defeated.
"I'm fine, Tooth. Let's go inside."
She didn't believe him. But as she watched him scrutinize a scuffmark on the tile with increasing intrigue, she realized he was not going to say anything more. What would be best would be to join the rest of the party. Dawn was beginning to creep over the horizon, staining the polar ice a gentle blush, and the Guardians still had a long day's work ahead of them.
With a last smile he didn't see, she turned, lifted her wings, and prepared to buzz back into North's enormous antechamber. Suddenly, Jack's hands tightened on his staff.
What happened next shocked Toothiana nearly senseless.
With a deep breath that apparently summoned the last of his courage, Jack Frost grasped the Tooth Fairy's small hand firmly in his own, bringing it between their chests. She jumped, startled, perhaps because of the surprising cold of his touch and perhaps because of the awkward swoop in her stomach. Her wings dropped.
Quickly, the words bursting from him as though of their own accord, he blustered, "Tooth, I was thinking, see, maybe we could, well, if you like being with me and I like being with you, well, maybe we could…could…"
He froze, stopped that moment, and his cheeks turned the most spectacular shade of blue she had ever seen. She blinked.
"Jack, I…what? What?"
Words failed her. Her hand felt so small and warm nestled between his like a burning coal in a mound of snow. She couldn't think. She couldn't breathe. What was he asking her? What? Oh, Moon, please let it be what she thought it was…
Jack's blue cheeks brightened (blushing, he was blushing). He took another breath, cleared his throat, and rubbed her fingers between his palms. Clammy, she noticed. They were usually so dry and chapped. Now, they were clammy. She fought the sudden, irrational, surprising urge to squeal. She had to bite her tongue.
"Tooth, I…" Only when his voice was its normal pitch did she realize his outburst had been about an octave or two higher than its usual timbre. She bit her tongue harder to keep from smiling. Why? Why smiling?
"I, um." His eyes were fixed on their joined hands, which he continued to play with as though he couldn't focus on anything else. He had only planned this far. Her hand locked inside his was only Phase I of a larger plan which, having completed the first step, he suddenly realized he'd forgotten to make up.
"I was wondering if. Well. You know, I really had a great…better than great, awesome, fantastic time with you tonight, and I was just…well, I mean, I was just thinking…"
She wasn't stupid. She knew what was coming. She hoped to the Man in the Moon himself that she knew what was coming. But some secret part of her was enjoying watching him squirm. The way his cheeks blossomed as blue as an orchid. The way his throat bobbed over the hem of his frosted hoodie. The way he kept gnawing his lip.
At last, he gave a frustrated, rueful smile. "Ah. Maybe it's stupid."
Only when he looked up for the first time since he'd snatched her hand did she realize how close they had become. His eyes were enormous and sparkling, and they widened with only the minutest of shocks when he also realized the sudden proximity. They swallowed her.
"Not stupid," she said. Half a sentence. Barely a sentence. It was all she could manage. She was drowning. "Not stupid at all."
His eyes lowered, focusing a few inches south of hers with a deep, heady gaze that was smothering and warm and more intoxicating than eggnog or Christmas wine. The corner of his mouth twitched lightly upwards.
"No?" he said.
She shook her head. The hand clasped in his had migrated from midair suspension to rest on his shirt front, against his heart, cradled there by his palms. She twisted a fist into the fabric, and felt small. The other hand lifted to his chin, cupped his jawline, pink against the white, nails against his chapped skin, and pulled lightly at his bottom lip. They were fascinating, his lips. White. Tinged a slight blue. His entire face was a map of his heart, and she wanted to memorize it inch by inch, starting with his lips.
She was close enough to feel her own name in his voice dance across her eyelashes. Her heart was a hummingbird's, and that half-smile of his just begged to…to be…
Less than two spans of breath away. Was it just her or was it snowing harder?
And then there came a terrific explosion.
Like being dunked in an icy lake, all the warmth in the frosty air vanished in less than a second. Tooth's wings kicked into action, spurring her into the skies, arms out and at the ready. Below her, Jack jumped to the balcony railing, staff in hand, snarling. But when the French doors flew wide open, the only danger was a lanky boy with curly hair dressed in a white toga fleeing North's antechamber for his life. Tooth ducked to narrowly avoid colliding with the flying figure.
Once safely out of range, the boy straightened his feathery white wings and rearranged his quiver of red-tipped arrows. "Okay, okay, I get the message, North, you grouchy fat ol' man! I'm goin'!"
"Goes for rest of you! Party is over!"
The enormous Russian, having apparently recovering from his brief bout with loopiness, stood framed tall and powerful in the open French doors, a cupcake haphazardly adorning his head. Apparently, the Guardians had taken advantage of his inebriated state to play a small prank which somehow involved the pastry. Tooth couldn't help but smile at the sight.
"Out, out! For Tchaikovsky's sake, it almost seven in the morning, don't you all have jobs to do? Children to protect? Out!"
Muttering unhappily at the sudden conclusion of the evening's festivities, various Guardians spilled from the hall. Those who could fly emerged onto the balcony, wincing in the morning light, and took to their wings to skirt haphazard loops through the icy arctic air. Others maneuvered themselves into the elevator to the ground floor, stumbling and tripping their way to the exits. Sam, the Guardian of Freedom, had apparently helped himself to a little too much merriment during the night, and was attempting to make small talk with Siobhan the Lucky Leprechaun. The last thing Tooth saw of them before the elevator sank below her eye line was Siobhan's green eyes boring holes into Sam's jolly grin even as he gave a gentlemanly tip of his red-white-and-blue striped hat.
Bunny's long ears emerged, slightly cockeyed, from around a pillar. He glanced about once or twice before judging it safe enough to fully reveal himself. He stumbled into the firelight, obviously still a little intoxicated, but lucid enough to smooth the disarrayed tuft of white fur on his chest.
"Well, that'll be the last of those blighters," he groused, glaring at a particularly stubborn crumb of fruitcake stuck firmly to his fur. "Good party, North. Only sorry it had to end on such a sour note. Toldja not to invite Cupid. Or the Groundhog, for that matter."
"Don't think I did not see you throwing your share of candied nuts, too, Bunny," the Russian glowered, finally swiping the cupcake from his head. "You make excellent candidate for Naughty List this year."
Sandy floated down from the chandelier, several empty eggnog cups suspended at his side, and smiled demurely. Bunny rolled his eyes, lost his balance, and stumbled over the sofa.
North shook his head before shooting Tooth and Jack a glance. "Where have you two been? Out all night? Where were you when things started getting out of hand?"
Tooth straightened, a soldier being chastised by a superior officer. A blush crept across her cheeks as she wracked her brains for an excuse.
"You looked like you were handling things pretty well, Nick," Jack said casually, hopping down from the railing with his staff in hand. "We didn't want to interrupt and, you know, embarrass you, or anything."
Jack spared Tooth a glance over North's impressive shoulders, and she shared his silent joke. Apparently, they'd missed a good party after all. Anything that ended with the giant Cossack crowned with pastries was a good time.
North glanced first from Jack to Tooth and back again. He stroked his beard thoughtfully, hmming, but let it slide just this one time. Turning, he made his way back to the antechamber, striding to the center where there stood a long, oak table.
"Now that party guests have gone, we must get down to business," he announced. With one massive arm, he cleared the party refuse from his table. Leftover plates and refreshments clattered to the floor in a heap which the elves happily pounced on, cleaning the mess within minutes. Every crumb of cake was gone. "For example, new Guardian! Jack Lantern, King of Halloween. We must discuss."
As Bunny and Sandy approached, Tooth and Jack hovered just outside the doors for one last time, reluctant to leave the night behind. When she spared him a glance and he met it, Tooth smiled. "Ready?"
"Duty calls," Jack grinned.
"Yup." When she looked at him, she could tell by the set of his smile that he was remembering their moment on the balcony, hanging out into the void, and all the unknown doors it had opened. She beamed, and he brightened still further.
"It won't be so bad. Maybe afterwards I can make us some hot cocoa."
She couldn't stop smiling. "That sounds wonderful."
And she was sure it would be.
A/N: So anticlimactic. So. My favorite part of this was probably cupcaked!North and still-slightly-intoxicated!Bunny. But it wound up being very much a tie-in to "Cold Outside," so a...prequel of sorts? Much love, everyone. Words cannot express my gratitude and appreciation for all the favorites, follows, and reviews.