This story is dedicated to the wonderful Esse, because her amazing story "In the silence" inspired this, chapter 12 in particular.
There's also a shout out to Sakon76's "Tutelary". Kudos to whoever finds it!
The first time Aster goes back in time to see Jack, it's not entirely intentional.
It's somewhere at the beginning of the 1910's and Aster has been fixing something in Europe about the invention of trains. With just a little nudge, the inventor will see his mistake and be able to develop them. Satisfied, Aster turns to leave – and catches sight of Jack.
Even now, he knows that his reaction of hiding is only half out of concern for space-time continuity. The rest is just pure curiosity.
Jack doesn't see him – too busy instigating a snowball fight between two schoolboys who are giggling with pleasure, cheeks flushed and noses red. Aster watches them for a little while before going on his way.
The second time is a little – though still not totally – more knowingly.
He's been to New York, this time, and since he's already in the United States, from there on it's only a small jump to check on Jack – it's nearing his hundredth anniversary, and Jack still hasn't told them much about his years alone, even now. He finds his fellow Guardian (to-be) asleep in the snow near his pond, cradling his staff like a teddy bear. Aster smiles, and leaves without a sound.
By the third time, he's admitted to himself that this will probably become a habit – this time he's nearly half a world away but still indulges his urge to go see the Winter Spirit. He doesn't find him in Burgess, but in Canada, creating a cold snap over the waters, freezing a couple of passes. Aster doesn't disturb his fun.
He only hesitates a second before hopping off to see Jack the fifth time – a very alive Jack this time, and after the gangly white-haired spirit he's last seen in 1846, racing over Moscow, it's quite a startling change to see six-year-old Jack waddling through the waist-high snow (for him, at least) after his mother, laughing gleefully as he pelts her with half-formed snowballs that crumble as soon as they leave his hands, brown eyes dancing with mischief.
There's a definite chill when he emerges in 1952 in Argentina, and this time he doesn't have to go looking for Jack – indeed, he only has the time to duck below a bush, before the boy comes into view. This time Jack's walking, rather than flying, and though frost spiders out from beneath his feet, he swings his staff rather meaninglessly, and there's a certain weariness to his posture, shoulders hunched and his hoodie shadowing his face protectively, that speaks of defeat and hopelessness, and that – that – strikes a chord in Aster, so strong he almost gets up to hug Jack.
He doesn't. It's both too early, and too late.
The next jump, Jack is back (relatively speaking, since it's 1812-ish) to normal – Aster has to track him down (or up, depending on how you see it) to the North Pole, where he is merrily being chased by Phil as he zigzags among elves, and bursting through a window with a mocking smirk for the scowling Yeti – and the sound of his laughter is more reassuring than Aster cares to admit, even to himself.
It's only a matter of time before he stumbles upon his other comrades – and so he has the honor of being witness to the first meeting of Jack Frost and Sanderson Mansnoozie. The stunned look, the sheer gratitude on Jack's face when Sandy gestures him upon his cloud cuts Aster to the bone – but at the same time, he's so very glad someone can give Jack what he desperately needs. And he looks away when Jack clings to Sandy, his hug rough and painful for lack of practice. Sandy simply pats him on the back, and Aster slinks away with his shame.
Jack is older this time, not quite as old as he will be, but old enough to hold his sister's hand with all the gentleness and care in the world as he leads her off on an Easter hunt. Aster has double-crossed his own younger self this year, by placing additional eggs, bigger, more coloured, some of the especially beautiful ones he always has a handful of in his many pockets, so the Overland siblings will have more this year – as if it could make up for all the years Jack won't get any.
The eleventh jump is a nearly-happy one – very near the end of Jack's three-hundred-year isolation. Jack is in Burgess, crouching by a tiny Cupcake's snowman and surreptitiously icing the oversized head when it wobbles as soon as Cupcake's mittens leave it. It sticks fast and Cupcake's laugh is merry and delighted, and the small smile that stretches Jack's lips is like the sun piercing through the clouds – and so, so much more beautiful than Jack's lonely and strangely small back in the middle of Antarctica one hundred and twenty years ago, hunched over in something very like misery as he sits alone at the edge of the world.
In all of his jumps, Aster never goes near the date of Jack's death.
The Winter Olympics of 1924 are, Aster decides, a good initiative. It's a good way to send off winter with a bang – and it doesn't hurt that it is an occasion for all the visitors in Chamonix to discover Swiss chocolate which, while not as good as his own, is still quite excellent.
Even Jack, running circles around the figure skaters, doesn't manage to spoil his mood.
It's on the thirteenth jump – lucky number 13 – that Aster breaks his own rule.
It's been a hundred and fifty years since Jack rose from the ice, and nearly forty since he's spoken to someone who can hear him. He's curled up in an impossible tight ball, and there are frozen tear tracks on his cheeks. Even in his sleep, Aster can feel the lack of hope radiating from his boy – the tiny, tiny wish that maybe this time he won't wake up.
Aster's heart shatters into a million pieces.
In a single stride, before he has time to dissuade himself, he is by Jack's side and has lifted the Winter Spirit into his arms, cradling him and crooning meaningless noises into his ears – and when Jack opens a bleary, red-rimmed eye, he shushes him and blows a little dream sand into his face. Jack slumps into unconsciousness, his head coming to rest on the crook of Aster's shoulder. Aster puts the dream sand pouch back into one of his innumerable pockets and stays for hours, holding the child against him.
It's three jumps later that Aster learns it was a mistake. He's seen his little friend in Greenland sixty years from now, creating his own version of crop circles in the snow, and he's watched him watch the storm he created cover a small village of Poland with a deep, soft blanket of snow just in time for Christmas. But right now, his Jack has spotted something – a grey-furred, six foot one something carrying boomerangs, and with a sinking heart, Aster realizes that it's the first time since that last time that Jack has seen the younger him, and clearly Jack remembers something from four years ago.
Jack bounds up to the Easter Bunny with a smile that could light up the sky, all eagerness and desire to please – and Bunny tears into him with a vengeance, raining harsh words and don'ts and criticism upon him with a relentless fury, until he turns away in disgust and leaves Jack standing among the shards of his broken heart, silent tears rolling down his face.
The wind curls around him but Jack only drops to the ground and puts his arms around his knees. The wind howls and snow piles up around him and Jack cries.
It is the year 1868.
There's a man stuck in the middle of Alaska, and with the snow melting his sled isn't making any progress. Aster watches Jack layer the ground reverently with hard-packed snow that the sled will be able to glide on. One of the dogs barks and Jack laughs as the man looks up and gasps in wonder and relief. Blue eyes dance with mirth as Jack disappears in a flurry of snow.
Jack Frost is huddled on a tree branch, his knees up and his forehead pressing against his arms, his hoodie up, hands clenching the fabric of his trousers. It's been nearly three hundred years and still no one can see him.
Aster wishes he could help, but he's learned his lesson.
Aster travels nearly all around the world before he realizes that Jack's near his homeland this time – dressing the Blue Mountains in a gown of powdery blue. Jack is curious and it does not take long before he wanders off to investigate the settlements nearer to the coast. He laughs at the cockatoos, marvels at the koalas' cuddliness, attempts to mimic the kookaburras – but Aster is hard-pressed stifling the laughter that bubbles up in his throat when Jack finds himself face to face with a kangaroo. It's hard to say which one is more surprised.
Aster knows exactly what Jack's thinking when the slow grin begins to curl the corner of his mouth.
He still doesn't know why he started doing it, but he thinks that maybe now he understands Jack a little better. Only a little – there are so many layers to the Winter Spirit. He gazes at Jack watching fondly three-year-old Jamie tussling with his friend Pippa, and for an instant the teenager seems almost content, despite the ache in his eyes.
Soon, Jack. Soon.
It's in his own time, several hundred, or thousand, years into the future (or perhaps just tomorrow) that he finally starts making amends.
His arms go around his friend and for an instant that is an eternity, he holds the boy close. Jack hugs him back, face buried in his robe and for an instant, it's as if those three hundred years had never existed.
The Blue Mountains are in Australia, approximately 30 miles outside Sydney.
The 1924 Chamonix Winter Olympics were the first Winter Olympics.
Thank you for reading!