A/N: This story is just a quick (albeit more lengthy) tag to Belief, posted separately because I like how well that story stands on its own. This particular tale, however, was inspired by redQween's question: what would Santa do if Jack mentioned Susan to the other guardians? So, I took the opportunity to make a few more things up and use a bit more literary license. I hope you'll enjoy the result! Do let me know either way if you've the time. Standard disclaimers apply.
"Getting a bit late for you to be hanging around here."
The words froze Jack in place (just figuratively, of course, though he'd done it literally to the speaker more than once), and he slowly turned around to face Bunnymund, fixing an easy smile on his face as he did so. "I'm as late as you are early," he said. "Easter's not for a few weeks yet."
"It's in two weeks, not three."
Jack shrugged. "All the more reason to wonder why you're out of the Warren."
Bunnymund narrowed his eyes. "Cold snap," he said. "Right here. For weeks. Just this little shire. Bit unusual, even for you, mate. North sent me to check up on you since you're not checking in."
Jack blinked, not sure whether to be more surprised by the fact that North suspected something out of the ordinary or that Bunny had agreed to check it out. "North sent you? And you agreed? So close to Easter?"
"If a kid sees me, I can pretend I'm out scouting for hiding spots." A pause, then, "And North agreed to send some help my way for the trouble. Some of the yetis do meticulous work when it comes to egg painting."
Jack smirked. "Not sure how much they'll appreciate that, especially if you change your mind on the colour again."
"Doesn't matter," Bunnymund said. "What matters is what you're up to, mate."
"Me? I'm not up to anything. I'm just having a little fun." Trying to emphasize this, Jack twirled his staff in his hand, letting ice form wherever the staff hit the grass.
Though the fact that there was grass at all and that the little snow left was melting meant Bunnymund had a point, even if Jack would never admit it.
"You're going to have a bit of trouble selling that one," came the derisive response.
He wouldn't with anyone else. Having a little fun... That's who he was, really. He might have to explain it, the reason he felt obliged to keep the chill in the air this long, right here, but he could come up with something anyone would believe.
Anyone but Bunny.
But the truth was, he'd come back to see Susan. Again. He'd come to see her as often as he could, all winter, just as he did Jamie back in Burgess. But now that winter was stretching into spring, it had become noticeable. More noticeable here, at least, where the weather was milder, the frost supposed to be a rare thing at this time of year.
He'd just…. Her stories. He'd come for her stories as much as for her. It was like…having a mother, a grandmother, someone, to tell him tales of the past. Because Susan's past wasn't like everyone else's. It wasn't a story he already knew, a story he had watched others live.
It was a story of her days as The Gentle Queen, where she strove to live up to the expectations bestowed upon her. That was a tale begun in prophesy and realized at the end of battle—the end of a war, really, with the last banishment of winter. There talking animals and dancing trees, hunting trips and royal visits. There were times of exploring and entertaining, laughter and tears, haunting songs and quiet stargazing. Ordinary days, full of everything from long hours on the archery range to challenging chess matches with her siblings, and days that held a different flavour from the norm, where the Queen of the Horn had seen suitors or seen to negotiations with the neighbouring lands.
There was the story of the White Stag and the hunt that led to remembrance. Of the forgotten light at Lantern Waste, the dream of a tale of the city of War Drobe in the mysterious land of Spare Oom. Of another life.
A story of being young again, yet so grown up. Wise, but still just a child. A commoner and not a queen. At first, it had just been when people were looking, but then it had begun to slip away and she'd started to become Susan again. Just Susan, only Susan and no one else. No one more.
Finally, the call of the horn. The thrill of return and the events therein, then the sting of truth.
That's what it had been. Jack could recognize that as well as Susan had, even though she'd merely repeated to him what she'd been told by Aslan.
It had broken her, that knowledge. She'd told him all of it, never mincing her words. How she'd grown apart. Drifted apart, on purpose, in an attempt to avoid the pain. Focussed intently on what was real, what was in front of her, what she could see and feel and touch. How she'd tried to forget—how she had forgotten, for at time—and how she'd regretted it, sorely, once she'd been able to deny it no longer. Once she'd been reminded.
Once part of her soul had been carved away.
Once she'd lost them, only to realize she'd truly lost them years before because of her own actions.
"Me, I'd guess you'd found another special child, despite what we tell you about getting attached," Bunnymund said bluntly, examining one of his boomerangs as if he were debating whether or not to throw it at Jack—or, perhaps more accurately, whether or not North would see fit to reprimand him for doing so. "But there aren't any children in there," he stated, jerking the paw holding the boomerang towards Susan's house. "Not anymore. So you'd better fess up."
Jack wasn't sure what to do. He had yet to ask the other Guardians about adult believers. Whether they could still see the traces of magic he and the others left on the world, whether they could see them, since they did believe—or whether those adults merely thought they believed, which wasn't enough, not for them.
He hadn't come across another adult believer yet, so he wasn't sure if Susan was special because she'd been touched in childhood or because she truly did still believe, despite having lived her life.
He didn't want to ask now. Bunnymund would…. Scoff, perhaps. Mutter about him being ignorant. Harden his expression and say that it was a conversation for a later time, and would he just tell him what he was up to so they could get on with it because he didn't have all bloody day?
Why couldn't North have sent someone else? Sandy, perhaps. Tooth, if she wasn't too busy. Even Baby Tooth, who was small enough that Jack might not have noticed her. That would have been the wisest choice, really, and North should have known that.
But he'd sent Bunny. Two weeks before Easter. And Bunny had agreed. Sure, Jack didn't know how long he'd protested before giving in, but he was here now, and that said more than anything else.
It suggested, though Jack knew Bunnymund would deny it vehemently, that they were worried about him. That they suspected, potentially, that he might need help. Why, Jack wasn't sure, but he knew they were keeping an eye on him. As an official Guardian, he depended as much on children's belief as they did, and with so few believers worldwide, well…. There was a potential for trouble that had never existed for him in all those years he'd been invisible. Belief was strength.
And Susan's was as strong as any child's. Stronger, even, for all that it was less defined. As strong as Jamie's.
And he had a feeling she knew that, even if he'd never told her. But he supposed he shouldn't be surprised if she did. Susan had long ago learned the strength of belief and found strength in believing.
In the end, Jack just shrugged his shoulders again and moved a few feet over so he could continue frosting the grass. It was late enough in the day that the sun had risen some time ago but early enough that the shadows, in particular, housed hardened white blades without any additional work on his part. "I like it here," he said simply. Susan wasn't his secret, exactly, and he wasn't like a kid who didn't want to share, but it just…. She…. It was hard to explain. "Come on, Bunny. What's so unusual about a few chilly days this early in the year? You guys are overreacting."
Bunnymund's nose twitched in a way that told Jack he hadn't bought that excuse, either. "Chilly days here, maybe not. But the pitiful amount of snow you've left in parts of Russia this year, compared to what's usually left in your wake? A warm front turning up over the Canadian Prairies because you're too busy spreading a bit of cold air here? You're neglecting your duties, mate. And I want to know why."
Bunny wasn't going to let this go.
But if he was going to be so stubborn, then perhaps Jack could tell him a bit of the truth and throw him off his game in the process. "Can any adults ever see us?" he asked.
It worked. "Can any…what? What's that got to do with anything?"
Jack took to leaning on his staff and tried to pretend the answer to the question didn't matter to him. "I'm curious."
"You're not just curious," Bunnymund accused. "What's this got to do with anything?"
"I just want to know."
Bunnymund rolled his eyes. "We can talk about this later, mate. It's not important."
"To me it is," Jack countered.
There was a pause. "North can fill you in. Now are you gonna head to the Pole or do I need to have a talk with Phil for you?"
The not-answer was answer enough for Jack. He straightened up and stared at Bunny, suddenly wishing he had never asked anything. Wishing he didn't have to keep asking anything, especially when it would only serve to confirm suspicions he'd hoped were wrong. "Even if they believe?" he asked, his voice coming out more strained than he'd wanted.
"Crikey, I didn't want to be the one to tell you," Bunnymund muttered, shaking his head. "North's better at this sort of thing than me. Listen, Frost—" and when Bunny used his name here without a snide inflection to it, Jack knew without a doubt that the Guardians were worried about him and his reaction to this and everything it entailed "—adults don't…truly believe anymore. Whatever they might cling on to from childhood just isn't…enough. It doesn't happen at any specific age, but it happens. It always happens."
That could well be true.
It had happened to Susan.
But if it was true, that meant it would happen to Jamie. To all his friends. To Sophie, in time, and Jack knew Bunnymund had a soft spot for the girl even if he wouldn't admit it.
"So they can't see us," Jack concluded hollowly.
"They might suspect you're there," Bunnymund said, "but they'll still walk through you."
"All of them?" Even Jamie?
"Some can hang on for longer than others," Bunnymund explained, "but eventually, yes. All of them."
But Susan didn't.
Not now, even if she once had.
But then again, Susan wasn't quite like the rest of them.
Her childhood had been the key to her strength of belief after all. Her renewed faith in things others denied. Her belief in Aslan and all he brought, even if Jack didn't quite understand much of anything about the son of the Emperor-beyond-the-Sea.
It was…painful, in a way, to acknowledge that Susan was an anomaly rather than a rarity.
"We should get back to the Pole," said Bunnymund.
Jack, ignoring this, turned to stare at Susan's house. He knew he shouldn't, but he couldn't help himself. He wanted answers, and Susan might have them.
None of the curtains were drawn, which was promising. In all likelihood, she was at home. He could talk to her to see if she thought there was some way that others could have the same sort of belief she did. He wanted to think that Jamie's belief would remain as strong as it was now, strong enough so that he could be like Susan, but Bunnymund's words were not encouraging.
The ground dropped out from beneath Jack's feet and he found himself falling, rolling, tumbling head over heels, not even managing to right himself—or slow down, for that matter—when he reached out with his staff.
The rabbit hole opened up, rather predictably, at the North Pole, hardly fifteen feet from the front door of North's workshop.
"You could've warned me," Jack muttered, though he clambered out into the snow without protest.
Bunnymund followed, and the rabbit hole closed up behind him, a snowdrop springing up in its place and almost immediately freezing over. "You could've answered my questions," Bunny countered. He shivered, and Jack smirked, though that didn't stop him from following Bunnymund as he bounded towards the workshop. For one, he didn't often go in the front door. For another—this being the more relevant reason—he didn't think he would get out of this. At this rate, the wind would refuse to take him away.
When they finally tracked down North, the Guardian of Wonder smiled broadly. "Jack, Bunny, you're here."
"Actually, I'm leaving," Bunnymund said, "as soon as I line up those workers you promised me." There was a pause, then, "I had to tell him."
The smile dropped off North's face, and Jack shifted uncomfortably on his feet. "Yes," North said. "Well. Two yetis for one day, as promised." Bunnymund disappeared back out the door, and North fixed his gaze on Jack. "So. You've taken a shine to England."
Jack made a noncommittal noise, thinking that far safer than commenting.
North just watched him, as if he were waiting for something, and Jack tried not to squirm under his gaze. He thought that if he waited long enough, North would say something.
He didn't, and Jack was left wondering whether he preferred this method of interrogation to North's previous, more…demanding one.
"I was going to visit someone," Jack finally admitted. Then, in a more sullen tone, "The Kangaroo caught me before I had a chance to go inside."
"You have visited before, yes? This new friend of yours?"
"All winter," Jack confessed, thinking there was no harm in that. North would have guessed it anyway.
North looked at him for a moment longer before nodding sharply. "Come with me, Jack," he said, striding off. Jack followed warily behind at first until he realized North was heading for the globe room, and then he relaxed slightly. He wasn't sure what he was expecting, but he somehow felt safer in the gathering room that housed the globe than in any of the small side rooms nearby.
At least, he did until he realized North's plan.
"Tell me, Jack," North said as he easily climbed the steps that had risen out of the floor at his approach of the globe as if the very room knew his intentions, "which child's light blazes strongly now because of your visits?" He pointed to Great Britain and looked at Jack expectantly.
Jack, who had by now perched nimbly on the top of his staff, leaned in closer to the globe to look at the various clusters and single pinpricks of light that marked their believers. He was lucky he could remember which part of the country Susan lived in for the number of times he'd had to look at a map. Tentatively, Jack pointed to a tiny light relatively close to where he figured the mansion was. "Um…. That one?"
North chuckled. "I think not."
"Why?" Jack asked immediately, defensive.
"Because I think you have been going here," North replied, tapping a dark spot on the globe smartly. He did it with such confidence and unerring accuracy that Jack was momentarily speechless.
He knew about Susan.
"Close your mouth. You look like fish," North said, smiling widely again.
"But…." Jack's mouth worked as he tried to figure out what to say. "You…how? How do you know Susan?"
"I know all children," came the simple reply, though North's twinkling eyes betrayed his amusement, "and she was child once."
"But you still know her," Jack said slowly. North inclined his head slightly, and Jack continued, "So you know she's not…. That she can still…. That she's…different?"
"Gifted," North corrected. "She and her siblings were touched, and for a while, their lights were the brightest of all."
"But Susan's light went out, didn't it?"
North nodded solemnly. "It did, even before the others were snuffed out."
Jack glanced at the globe. "But it's still out."
North shook his head. "If it were showing, it would blaze bright. But globe is not sensitive to adult lights, not when we are Guardians of Childhood."
"Adult lights," Jack repeated, hope springing up inside him again. "So there are others like her? Ones who can see us?"
North's hesitation was all it took for Jack's hope to come crashing down again. "Susan was special child," he said carefully, "and her faith is strong now. Stronger than it would have been if it had not been broken and mended. It is not just belief, Jack, but faith which has sustained her sight."
The difference between the two, in Jack's opinion, was slight.
Jamie's belief—his faith—could be that strong…couldn't it? People like Susan couldn't be as rare as North was making them out to be. They just couldn't. Jamie was special, too. It had been his faith which had sustained them, his belief which had kept them all strong, his light which had helped them beat back Pitch's darkness.
"I have been keeping eye on Susan for long time," North said quietly. "She is little different from Digory before her. Jamie is special child, Jack, but he only knows magic of this world, and it is magic which slips away like water through fingers as children grow."
"You know her story," Jack realized. And even as he said that, he wondered if he knew precisely how North knew it, too. "Her story, how it began for her…. She mentioned Father Christmas."
North's eyes twinkled again as he smiled. "That is one of my names."
"But that wasn't here! It was…. It was in Narnia. How could that have been you? Was it even you? Or was it just someone else who stood in for you, or someone who was a part of you but not you you, like all of Tooth's fairies?"
North laughed and walked back down to the floor, leaving the globe behind. "That is story for different time, I think."
"But it couldn't have been you," Jack said as he leapt off his staff to land lightly on the floor, one hand instinctively reaching behind him to grab his treasured staff. He didn't know what to make of North's words. He was certain that North's reluctance on the subject implied that it had been him in Narnia. Except, after everything Susan had told him about the place, he wasn't sure if that was even possible. "Narnia…. Narnia's a different world!"
Susan had gotten there through the back of a wardrobe. Been pulled through from the platform of a train station. Said her younger siblings and cousin had been swept away through a picture, and admitted she'd never paid any mind to what the others had said after that, already well on the way to convincing herself that it wasn't real. She'd run away from it, really. Jumped at the chance to go to America….
But the point still stood. This Narnia wasn't easy to get into. North's snow globes were good, but they weren't that good.
North was grinning in a way that made Jack suspect he wasn't as right as he thought.
Was North the only one? Did the others know? Was he the last one to find out or the only one who had discovered the secret?
"Narnia was different world," North corrected at last, his expression sombre now. "Is no more."
"I felt it," North said gravely as he patted his middle, "in my belly. The magic of that world, it…withered. That pond is dry now; is not safe to go back there. Not to that Narnia."
It was gone?
That marvellous, magical place of Susan's stories…gone?
And Susan had been so convinced that her siblings were there, just waiting for her, hoping she'd some day make it back to them….
North sighed. "Maybe now is right time for story," he conceded. "Wait here; I go get snow globe, and we go together. Susan should hear this, too, I think."
When North returned, he was carrying more than just a snow globe, but before Jack could ask what was in the little box, the Guardian of Wonder specified their destination and threw the snow globe, and a portal warped into existence in front of them.
As Jack looked at it hanging there, untouched by anything else, he realized that it was perhaps not as far-fetched as it had seemed that North knew of—or had been to, if his implications were intentional—Narnia.
Jack glanced back at North, who made a shooing motion at him, so he obediently dove through the portal. After a few brief seconds of complete disorientation—which was saying something, compared to how used he was to the wind tossing him every which way—he found himself in Susan's yard. North joined him a split second later, and the portal behind them twisted and winked out of being once again.
Bunnymund had his rabbit holes, yes, but North…. North was the only one among them who had something like the snow globes. Something not directly derived of his own power that could compress space—time, too, for all that Jack knew—and tear open a path to a chosen destination. Something that anyone could use—and had used, really, if he remembered how Sophie had ended up in Bunny's Warren.
It was a different type of magic than that possessed by any of the other Guardians, and Jack wondered, now that he knew the effects other magic could have and had irrefutable evidence of its existence, what other magic North could use. Did use.
The thought had never occurred to him before, and he found it the tiniest bit unsettling, since he'd thought he knew the other Guardians.
But perhaps he didn't know them as well as he'd thought.
Perhaps he didn't really know them at all.
Or perhaps he only knew them as well as they truly knew him.
A few light, leaping steps took him to the door. He knocked softly, twice, and went in without waiting for an answer. As with every other time he had done so, he wasn't sure that Susan had been able to hear him. Most of the time, he came in the evening, when she was alone but still awake and reading by the fire. Sometimes, he'd found himself overhead in the middle of the day, and he'd always made time to stop by then, too. But on the days he'd arrived when she'd had someone else in to help with the housework or some such thing, she'd always caught sight of him and, with a smile, said that she was going to spend some time in the library. The library was her sanctuary, and clearly all who came to the house knew it.
It was in the library that they found her, past shelves of countless volumes, some kept behind glass but most not, and all with some little trace on them to show that they'd been read over at least once. She was seated on the window seat surrounded by cushions, a book unlike any of the others in her lap. Though full of illustrations and words, it had been written and drawn with the delicate care of a child's hand. It was not a book Jack suspected many others, if any, had ever read.
Well, not that particular copy, at least.
Susan looked up at their approach and smiled. "Jack," she said, "and Father Christmas."
"North," Jack reminded her.
A shrug. "Sometimes a name is everything, and sometimes it stands for nothing. But it is fitting that you two come now. I was just reading Lucy's journal. It…. It helps me remember the little things I'd otherwise forget."
Jack looked between Susan and North before saying, slowly, "It is North, then, that you met in Narnia?"
Susan cocked her head slightly. "It's been a long time," she answered cautiously, once it was clear North wasn't going to be the one to respond, "but I believe so, yes."
Jack rounded on North. "Then you have to tell her! Tell her what happened!"
North hesitated. "Sit, Jack," he finally said. Jack refused, opting instead to lean against the bookcase nearest Susan. "Is long story," North added, but Jack refused to be swayed. Susan did not join the argument, instead straightening up a bit and preparing to hear North's story after telling so many of her own.
North began with clarifying a few things with Susan, checking to see that she knew there to be truth in some of the things he said. As the points came up, Jack realized Susan had told him most of them.
All the humans in Narnia were originally of Earth. If not descendents of the original King and Queen of Narnia—King Frank and Queen Helen, Susan had softly supplied—then they had come through a doorway much like Susan and her family had, only those people had never found their way back. Such a thing had happened to the ancestors of the Telemarines, where they'd stumbled through a crack in the seam between the worlds, a place where Narnia had been joined with Earth before Aslan had found it and sealed it up. But even with the effects of living in Narnia, where this world began to melt away from the memory, some stories were strong enough to remain.
The tale of Christmas, for instance.
"I had help," North admitted. "The time, it does not flow the same. Is unpredictable. Even I could not be there for every Narnian Christmas. Here, in this world, people dress up as me, take my place for short time. There, most gifts were crafted and delivered by my helpers."
"Not elves, I'm guessing," Susan said. Jack hadn't told her much about the other Guardians—he hadn't told her much about himself, all things considered—but he had heavily implied that most of what people did say about them wasn't quite true.
"Yetis," Jack corrected.
North chuckled. "Here, yes. But there? No. Narnians helped me. Red Dwarfs, Fauns, various talking animals…. Many agreed to help in secret. Help make, help deliver. So all children, especially, could be happy, could feel joy and hope and wonder. But also so all Narnians who were good, no matter their age, were rewarded for keeping magic alive." He paused. "But even there, I was not quite the same as here. Difference was not much but was there."
Jack glanced sideways at Susan. "Like how you were Queen Susan the Gentle in Narnia and ordinary Susan Pevensie back here?"
"Was similar, I think," North said, answering for her, "but not quite same. The magic which affected me was stronger. It wrought different sorts of changes." He waved a hand. "Does not matter, those details."
What did matter, Jack realized, was how North had managed to travel to Narnia. How he had managed to consistently find a portal into that world that no one else could—not even someone who had sought it as desperately as Susan.
This part of the tale was when Jack came to know what was in the little box North had brought with him.
"Rings?" Jack asked when North finally opened it. For that's all that was in the box: two rings. One yellow, one green, each nestled firmly in the box.
They meant nothing to Jack, but he could see they meant something to Susan.
"The Professor's Magic Rings," she breathed, hardly daring to believe it. "But…there were more, weren't there? Professor Kirke had said that he and Polly both…." Susan trailed off. "Weren't they buried? Hidden?"
"These are only two," North pointed out. "The others I do not have."
A frown crossed Susan's face. "How did you come by these, then?"
"I may have stolen them," North conceded, "when I first heard of them from one of Tooth's fairies. Magic like this, we all feel it. Even you, Jack. Perhaps this is how you found Susan?" Without giving Jack a chance to answer, North continued, "Digory's Uncle Andrew was easy to fool. If he were half the magician he claimed to be, it might have been a bit more difficult. But he was not; it was easy for me to…acquire these, we shall say. Would not be first time I have nicked something from someone else too foolish to realize it. But they have proven useful, yes? I find Narnia, help guard its children, its people, for as long as I can. Was simple."
"But how?" Jack asked. "What's the story behind these rings?"
"They will take you to the Wood between the Worlds and back again," Susan answered. "The yellow ones, they take you to it, and the green ones take you away."
Susan hadn't told him this story yet.
"When the Professor was a child," Susan explained, "his uncle fashioned the Rings. If I remember correctly, the Professor's uncle's godmother gave him the box, and it contained the dust that he used to make the Rings. The dust came from the Wood between the Worlds, some of which was drawn to it as if it wanted to get back, and some—"
"Which wanted to get away," Jack realized. "But why is it called—?"
"There are pools," North replied. "Ponds. Just small ones, looking into other worlds. Here, home, and there, Narnia, and many, many other places. Is endless wood filled with endless worlds. That is good name for it, the Wood between the Worlds. When world finally dies, when nothing is left of it, then pool dries up."
"What happened when it was always winter and never Christmas," Susan asked curiously, "if you were not in Narnia for every Christmas?"
"The Witch's power was strong," North answered, and Jack knew he spoke of Jadis, the White Witch. "You know the power of fear, Jack. It is binding, stifling, and it can leach away imagination, banish thoughts of good things. This was no different. If I had been there, perhaps I could have helped fight, even if only a little longer, but I was not, and the Witch's power kept me away. I could still get to the Wood, but I could not go into the pond. It was frozen."
"If you don't have the Rings," Susan said slowly, eyes looking off into the distance as she recalled the story, "then the pools were little more than giant puddles. But the White Witch was from another world herself, and she escaped it when Polly and the Professor were using the Rings. Perhaps she suspected others might find a way into Narnia that way. I know the Professor buried the Rings, but I'm afraid I don't recall where or whether they were ever dug up again. I was not…." Susan hesitated. "I was not as…open then as I am now. But the White Witch did all she could to stop the prophecy, to stop us from stopping her. Perhaps it was in her power to freeze Narnia's pool in the Wood between the Worlds."
"If she did so intentionally, then it worked well," North agreed. "But once you and your siblings broke the Witch's spell, the ice thaw on pond, and I was able to jump in." He smiled then. "And give you gifts you deserve, gifts you would need and would use well. Narnia wrought those gifts, but I may have put a bit of my own magic into them. Just a little."
"My horn," Susan deduced, eyes alight with the wonder of it—of all that had been and of how it had all come to be.
North smiled at her. "It would not have had the power to reach between worlds without my help." Looking at Jack again, he added, "Is same principle as snow globes but less showy."
"But that's not it," Jack said, hating the fact that he had to be the one to turn the conversation this way. "That's not…. That's not the whole story. North, you told me…." He didn't want to say it, didn't want to be the one to take away Susan's hope. He knew what it was like to be without hope, and he knew the treasure of having it. "You said the pond had…."
But Susan had already realized what he couldn't say. "It's gone," she said quietly. "Isn't it? Narnia's gone."
"The pond is dry," North allowed, "but Narnia is not gone, exactly."
"You told me it was!" Jack protested. He wanted to be wrong. He didn't want Narnia to be gone, even if he'd never been there himself. But North had never outright lied to him before now.
"I said it is not safe to go back to that Narnia," North corrected.
Jack's remaining protests died on his tongue as he recalled that, yes, that was what North had told him.
North, perhaps seeing his confusion and taking pity on him, explained, "Narnia's heart lives on. It is not something that can be ended so easily. The world Susan knew, the world I went to, it was just shadow. The true Narnia, the real Narnia…. It is there. We simply cannot get to it from here, not even through the Wood."
"Then how do you even know it's there?" Jack asked.
It was Susan who answered the question. Her voice, though quiet, was strong and confident. "Faith."
North chuckled. "Yes. That is best answer."
Jack's brows were still knit in confusion. Susan reached over to grasp his hand. Holding it tightly, she said, "Faith is the reason I could see you, Jack, without knowing who you were, without believing in you specifically. It is the reason I can speak with you now and hear what you have to say in return. It is the reason I can touch you." She gave his hand an extra squeeze for emphasis. "To believe in something you can't explain, something of which you have no proof, something you cannot definitively show others exist…. That's faith. It's belief and trust together, in a way. Surety of what you know and confidence that what you know is true, even if no one else can see it. Even if no one else believes you. Even if you're ridiculed for believing or made to face trials to test your faith."
Though Susan fell quiet, Jack had listened to enough of her stories to know that she would continue. North, too, seemed to sense that she was not finished. "Aslan was there at Narnia's creation," Susan said at length. "I'm quite certain he was there at its end. But I know, Jack, that Peter and Edmund and Lucy are in Narnia now. I know it. They are happy. They are safe. They are loved. Perhaps it is not the Narnia I knew, but it is Narnia nonetheless. If I only glimpsed a shadow, then my family now walks in the light. I believe that with all my heart, Jack. I have faith that I'm right in believing that, even if I cannot prove it to you."
North's earlier words made sense now. "It is not just belief, Jack," he'd said, "but faith which has sustained her sight." Faith. If seeing was believing, then faith was believing without seeing. Although the two words were often used interchangeably, he knew why North had implied that the subtleties of the words, the nuances in their meanings, should not be overlooked. He understood the difference now.
He understood the importance of that difference now.
When Jamie had first seen him, he'd taken a leap of faith, decided to believe in what seemed impossible. But he believed in Jack. After that first spark, it wasn't faith; it was belief. Belief in the frost drawing come to life, in the snow falling in his room, in the possibility of Jack Frost being more than just a line in a song, more than just an expression.
And belief in Jack Frost himself.
Belief could be fleeting—just as childhood was. But as strong as a child's belief was, as strong as belief itself could be, it still allowed room for doubt to creep in, for fears and uncertainties to spring up and overwhelm. For children to grow up, to stop believing. Faith was stronger.
As a child, Susan had believed in Narnia. Then, she'd grown up. Given it up and stopped believing. But now she had faith in it, in everything it was and everything it meant. Her faith in Aslan might have been fractured with his words to her when she was last in Narnia, but she'd since opened her eyes and put the pieces together and found him in this world. And her faith was stronger for it, as North had said.
Jack saw Susan shiver, and he pulled his hand free from hers, though he missed the contact. He'd stopped counting how many children had walked through him this week, even how many had walked through him today, and he still craved what so many people took for granted: the human touch. He'd been alone for so long….
But he wasn't alone now. That's what mattered. He had his fellow Guardians, and children like Jamie who believed in him, and…Susan, the woman whose sight had been sustained by faith, whose soul had been touched with the magic of another world.
Susan cocked her head at him, smiling slightly, and he saw, just for a moment, the gentle queen she had once been. Still was, in one sense. But her stories of the past had provided him with more than enough fodder to stitch her descriptions together into a real image. Rich dark hair, eyes alight with joy, a wide smile as laugher bubbled up inside of her. A certain vigour and determination and confidence as she wielded her bow with unerring accuracy. Susan had been, Jack knew, a lovely girl in her youth, possessing a unique beauty age had not been able to rob her of.
For all that she'd told him that she was and forevermore would be a Queen of Narnia, he hadn't quite realized all that meant until this moment. But Queen Susan the Gentle was not gone, and any part of her that had been ignored in the past had come back twice as strong as before. She was wise and diplomatic, courteous and stern, strong and determined, and a myriad of things in between. But most of all, she was…logical, yet faithful.
And for all that her silver tongue could spin a tale, she spoke the truth.
"May I see the wardrobe?" Jack asked, finally voicing the request he'd had since…. Well, since he'd first heard Susan's story.
The wardrobe itself was not the start of the story, the bigger, overall story. The Rings created by the magician were not even rightly the start of that story. Both those objects were merely pieces of the story, something without which it could not have been told in quite the same way.
But Jack knew well that forgotten connections or overlooked pieces of the story were often as important to the story as anything else and that they should never be underestimated. More importantly, he knew how much magic a seemingly ordinary object could hold—especially when those objects had been crafted from something once living.
It had never surprised him to hear that Susan's adventure had begun when her sister had hidden in a wardrobe in a spare room upstairs.
He knew how much wood, especially, could be alive with magic.
But he also knew that that magic was often simply channelled through wood. That a connection could be broken, with or without the possibility of restoration. But that connection was undeniably there, whether the magic was inherent in the wood or not.
His staff gave him greater control over his powers; the magic was part of him, not part of the staff, but he depended on it nonetheless.
Susan's wardrobe—the Professor's, really, since he could imagine her correcting him—had held magic itself, magic from Narnia. It had used that magic to create a connection to another world. Just like the Magic Rings.
But even if the world of Narnia had shifted, there remained the possibility that the old connection to it could be re-established through the wardrobe.
"Of course you may," Susan replied softly, getting to her feet and carefully placing Lucy's journal on the nearby table. "I've been wondering when you'd ask."
Jack and North followed Susan through the house to the room with the wardrobe. When Jack at last saw it, he thought it a rather magnificent piece of furniture, all things considered. The intricate carvings on the doors told its story, and he found that fitting. But he only needed to touch the wardrobe to know that what Susan had been told so long ago was right: it could no longer serve as a doorway into Narnia. Whether its magic had faded or its connection had been severed, Jack wasn't sure. Whatever the reason, he knew that the wardrobe wasn't, as he'd initially thought, the reason he'd always remembered and felt drawn to this particular house.
It was because of Susan.
Because of her faith and because of the otherworldly magic she still carried inside of her.
"All the ways you know into Narnia have closed," Jack said eventually, stepping away from the wardrobe to see the slight layer of frost on its doors glisten. It made the carvings spring to life as they were given new depth. But, slowly, inevitably, the frost began to melt away, giving the illusion of the magic fading from the wardrobe once again. "You were right."
A small smile. "I know. But I still try anyway."
"Doorway will open for you, I think," North said to Susan with a certainty Jack wished he could feel, "when time is right."
Susan's smile grew slightly, though her eyes still betrayed a shadow of sadness. "I know," she repeated. "But the right time hasn't yet come, and I've no reason to wish it hastened and every reason to be patient. But when it is time, I'll be ready."
Jack just stared at her, wondering how she could say that with such conviction. Wondering how she could mean it. In his experience, people were rarely ready for anything. Even if something was expected, some part of them remained unprepared.
"I miss them, Jack," Susan said simply, catching his eye and seemingly knowing his thoughts. "I am still here and they are not."
He understood. He knew that aching feeling himself now. He hadn't until he'd remembered his past, but now that he did, now that he remembered his own family….
He was still here.
They were not.
And, like Susan, he'd never had the chance to say goodbye.
"I am still here," Susan repeated in a stronger voice, "and I will not just exist. If I've realized nothing else, Jack, I've realized that I need to live. For them, if not for me. And perhaps I haven't made a change in the world that will be spoken about for years to come, but I have made a difference. A small one, but a difference nonetheless. I've not locked myself away to pine and grieve until the end of my days. I didn't confine myself to this house, and I certainly didn't lock my heart away inside myself, either. I've touched lives. I've…. I've tried…. I've tried to be the person they knew me capable of being."
"They would be proud of you," North told her. "You are good person. You are like the Radiant Southern Sun," he added, a twinkle coming into his eyes again, "and you have spread your light far. You beat back darkness with it."
Susan smiled again, and Jack could see the tears in her eyes. "Thank you," she said. Then, abandoning all sense properness that she had seemed to strive to maintain throughout Jack's visits, she took a few graceful steps forward and flung her arms around North. "Thank you," she repeated. "For everything. For my bow and the arrows that always flew true, for the horn that served me well and then called me back to serve again, and for your words now and everything you've done for me in the time between."
North's initial look of surprise faded and he smiled and hugged her in return. He didn't say anything to her, but he didn't need to. And when she finally pulled away, she looked…stronger than before.
More like, he imagined, Queen Susan the Gentle.
"And thank you also, Jack Frost," Susan said to him. "You helped me that first winter back, and your visits this winter have touched me more than you'll ever know." And suddenly her arms were wrapped around him, and she whispered, "Don't ever lose your faith, no matter how trying the times may be. I was fortunate to regain mine, but if I hadn't, your presence would be little more to me than patterns of ice crystals on the window pane. Lovely, to be sure, if I ever took the time to appreciate it, but I fear I would have overlooked it, thinking it something merely passing and inconsequential. And you're not."
Susan stepped back and, with a grace that belied her age, sunk into an elegant curtsey. She rose, but when she caught sight of Jack's face, she laughed—a joyous sound he'd never heard before, for all of his visits. "I cannot give you anything tangible," she explained. "I can merely show you my respect and my gratitude for all you've done for me."
"You've given me far more than that," Jack argued, knowing she wouldn't hear him out if he started off by outright saying she'd done more for him than he for her. "You told me all those stories. You've given me good memories. Friendship."
"And faith," North put in.
"Yes," Susan agreed softly. "Faith and friendship, I think, are the most important of all."
Jack, who could feel the intensity of her faith at his very centre and knew the strength of her friendship, couldn't agree more. So he settled for saying the one thing that he felt still needed to be said: "My thanks to you as well, Queen Susan of Narnia. I won't ever forget all you've done for me."
Because Susan was right. She had touched the lives of others. She had the same delicate sort of touch for that as the one he needed when he was creating designs of frost. And if he'd touched her life, back when she was just a child, then she'd certainly touched his now.
He wouldn't forget that, just like he wouldn't ever forget Jamie, his first believer, the first child to see him in three hundred long years.
It was as North had said: Susan was special.
And somehow Jack knew that, when the day finally came and she was welcomed back into Narnia, he would be happy for her and gladdened by all she had done. He would remember her, because she had made a difference. And her spirit would live on in that, live on in all the people she had touched.
And, well, as long as he carried his memory of her, as long as he kept alive a tiny piece of her spirit through her stories when he repeated them to others, she'd never be truly gone.
Just like he'd never be truly gone, even if some people couldn't ever see him.
Because there was belief in the world, and faith, and so long as those remained, so would he.