I made a New Years resolution to write more, and finally update my old fanfictions. And of course, that includes Winter Gods!
It's been a while since I've updated, so I'm sure this comes as a surprise, but hopefully an extra-long chapter will make up for my absence. Shoutout to anonymous reviewer Olah Amigo for coming the closest to guessing Jack's backstory - it was interesting to read everyone's guesses, but they came closest by getting one detail exactly right: Jack's staff.
Concerning Jokul Frosti
"We coulda gone to the Warren," Bunnymund laments.
Not whines—laments. He is certainly not whining, no matter what Jack might claim.
Jack, to his credit, says nothing, and waits patiently for his guest to sit.
Bunny stares at the seat he's been offered. A park bench, overlooking the lake, sits a few feet from shore. It's small and unassuming, and blends in with the snowy grey background, which is probably why he never noticed it before. He's already vigorously dusted off the seat, brushing away at least half a foot of snow, but he's still hesitant to sit. The wood looks suspiciously icy.
"A nice, warm, cozy spot in the Warren…" Bunny mutters, definitely not whining.
Beside him, Jack smirks. Just a little. It's small but genuine, a glimpse of Jack's usual demeanor under all the stress and wariness he's carrying on his shoulders. It's a good sign—a good, yet obnoxious sign—that Jack is starting to relax. All part of the plan.
And Bunny should be happy that his plan is working, but he's not. He's annoyed, mostly at himself, for not thinking said plan through.
"Remember," Jack says, "Sitting down was your idea."
Because standing on the lake, arms crossed, shifting foot to foot—that's a recipe for a disastrous heart-to-heart, and Bunny will be having none of it. If they're gonna have this God talk—and they are gonna have this talk—they're gonna do it right. "Where I come from," Bunny gripes, "Serious talks happen while sitting 'round a fire, not standin' face to face."
Bunny just forgot that Jack does not have a fire.
Or couches. Or chairs.
Or a house for that matter.
He didn't think this through.
"You wanted a fire?" Jack asks, completely missing the point.
Bunny shoots him a grumpy glare. Jack blinks at him. Jack's face adopts a thoughtful look, and he stares off into the distance. He murmurs, quietly; "…a fire…"
"Well obviously a winter spirit like you wouldn't have a fire," Bunny says, interrupting whatever smart alec retort Jack was planning to counter with. He bends to give the seat another dusting. "Right now I'd settle for a seat that didn't give me frostbite."
Bunny's mind strays, thinking of a warm grassy knoll, fluffy blankets, and a steaming cuppa green tea. Then he looks down at the frozen bench, laid before him like an open invitation.
He hangs his head. "We coulda gone to the Warren."
Jack's smirk widens. Graciously, he raps the crook of his staff against the bench, banishing the ice. The gleaming bits flake off and vanish.
Bunny eyes the seat with distrust. The wood still looks cold.
"…So are you going to sit, or what?" Jack asks finally.
Bunny glances at Jack. The boy's smirk is—still there, yes, but eclipsed somehow by the other emotions. Bunny can sense the hope budding in his chest; that maybe they'll cut the talk short, that maybe this'll be postponed after all.
And under that, there's that shadowed look back in his eyes, making Jack seem—un-Jack-like. The side of Jack that's already resigned to the interrogation. Too grim for Bunny's liking.
Are you sure you want to know? Asks the guiding voice in his head, again.
The chill, the dark look, the uncertainty—it weighs on Bunny for a moment, forcing him back, but Bunny's always been a stubborn bastard, and he clings to his decision with claws dug deep. The pit growing in his stomach has him too concerned to back out now.
"Let's get this over with," Bunny says, and sits down.
The cold shock is almost enough to spur regret, as is the sputtering laugh Jack is quick to suppress after seeing Bunny's fur stand on end. Glowering, Bunny shakes himself out. "You got somethin' to say, Frostbite?" he asks.
"Nothing at all," Jack says, quickly smoothing his face stoic.
Giving his arms a last pat—feeling the goosebumps pebbled like diamonds beneath his fur, and goddamn, his legs are already starting to go numb—Bunny surrenders and settles into the seat. After getting comfortable, he digs out the letter from his bandolier, holding it up at an angle to catch the light of the park's lone streetlamp.
"So," he says. "The god issue."
At the sight of the letter, the shadowed look on Jack's face sets, and the scales tip in favor of resigned. Jack looks away for a long moment, holding on to the silence. Then, he takes a deep breath, curls a leg up to the seat to rest an elbow on his knee, and at last, meets Bunnymund's eyes.
"It's a bit tricky to explain," Jack says. "Because, well—no one's ever asked before. So I'm not sure where to start."
Bunnymund mulls it over, rolling the thought around in his mind. His eyes scan the letter, the easy penmanship on the envelope, as if he's seen it a thousand times.
"Hm. I guess a good place to start would be…" Bunny's claw draws along the address line. "…Who is Thor?"
Jack leans back. "Mmm. That's… a bit complicated." He says, rubbing his forehead wearily, wondering how to explain. "Thor… hm. Well, Thor is…" He drifts off again, and his eyes wander to gaze out over the vast, quiet landscape.
Suddenly, Jack's eyes light up, and he gives an unexpected chuckle. And Bunnymund can't help the thought that flits across his mind; There's the Jack I know.
"Thor?" Jack says, lips quirking into a smile. "Well, according to the kids, Thor is an Avenger."
Bunnymund blinks. So that's why the bloke's name sounds familiar.
"The Avengers?" Bunny echoes, leaning forward. "From the New York Invasion?" Come to think of it, the kids did mention something similar, earlier.
"Yup," Jack says. "North made a pit stop for them at Christmas. They've got a big fancy tower now with their name on it. And big, fancy heated windows." Jack looks mystified. "And an AI."
Bunny frowns, thinking back to the debacle during summer. It's been years since any outside life landed on Earth, much less so openly, with so many people watching.
After the portal ripped open above one of Earth's most notable and well-connected cities, it's no surprise how quickly the fear spread. Pitch, who should've been out of the game for decades after his defeat on Easter, is already back on his feet, riding the surge of fear. He's still too feeble to fight directly, but adept enough at causing chaos from the shadows. The Guardians have had a helluva time doing damage control.
Thankfully, the Avengers rose to the challenge, both as a physical fighting force repelling the alien attack, and as a worldwide symbol for hope. They're world's first superhero team, straight out of the comics, and they've inspired kids across the world. The Guardians powers, rooted in wonder, hope, and dreams, rose with them.
Despite that… "I don't know much about 'em," Bunnymund admits. "You?"
"I only know what North and the kids have told me," Jack says. He raises a hand, ticking off a finger. "First off, there's Tony Stark. North would not shut up about him. He's got a red suit of armor, and he's a mechanical genius, and according to North, he and I would probably get along pretty well."
"Joy. I hate him already."
"Second, there's Captain America," Jack says—well, more like announces—in such a way that Bunny wonders if he's supposed to recognize the name.
Jack holds the pose for a moment, then deflates. "But beyond that, I don't know much. There's a big green guy, a redhead assassin, some dude who shoots arrows… who… might also be an assassin," Jack ticks the last finger on his hand, then, as an afterthought, adds, "…And, supposedly, Thor."
Bunny stops. "Supposedly?" he repeats. "What's that supposed to mean?"
Jack pauses, cringing a little. "See, the thing is," he says. "…I've never actually met Thor."
Bunnymund bristles, feeling like he's been tricked. All that talk about Avengers, and Thor, and he's never even met the guy? "Then why—"
"—I know his father."
Pausing, Bunny glances at the letter, at the address line. Thor Odinson—that's right. At the Pole, Jack reacted to Thor's last name, not his first. "Alright," Bunny drawls, squinting at Jack. "So tell me about him. Mr… Odinson… Senior?"
"It's just… Odin." Jack corrects. "Archaic naming conventions. Odin, and Odin's son, Thor."
Something about the way Jack says their names makes something chime in Bunnymund's memory. "Odin and Thor…" he muses aloud. "Where have I heard those names?"
Jack's head tilts to one side, then the other, weighing something. "Okay, see, this is where we start to hit a few… snags. I guess my counter question should be… exactly how much do you know about Norse Mythology?"
Bunny looks at him, startled. Is Jack really implying…
"Wait, wait, no. We're not talkin'—Thor, the God of Thunder? Odin—the Allfather?" He echoes, and he can hear the disbelief in his own voice. Jack nods, and Bunny shoots him a scrutinizing look. "Yer havin' a go."
"That'd be kind of a dumb thing to joke about," Jack says.
"Frostbite, I've been around for thousands of years. And I've never encountered any of the spirits from Norse Mythology." Bunny points out. He sits back on the bench, suppressing a shiver. "The whole thing's an anomaly, a fluke. The humans have a whole pantheon, a history, legends… but no spirits behind 'em. They just don't exist."
"That's the thing, though, Bunny," Jack insists, leaning forward. "The spirits from Norse Mythology—they're not spirits. They're people."
"…I don't follow."
"See, Asgard—The realm of the Gods from Norse Mythology—it's a real place," Jack says, pointing at the sky. "And the Asgardians who live there… they're not human, exactly, they've got crazy long lifespans, and superstrength, and magic—but they're living, breathing people, with their own beliefs, their own culture. Even a few spirits of their own, and those who don't believe can't see them—can't see us."
"So…" Bunny draws out, following Jack's finger to the stars. "Basically an alien race."
"Right," Jack says, relieved that Bunny can sum it up in a sentence.
Bunny eyes the sky, curiosity piqued. It's been ages since he's been off Earth, and he's a bit curious, now, how the universe rebounded after the Golden Age passed. He intends to get more details, but at the moment, the letter is more pressing. "Right, so. We can go into that later," he says, flipping the paper over in his hands and sliding the message out of its envelope. "If your story is true," …and it seems solid; one of the many titles on the letterhead reads 'Thor, Prince of Asgard', after all. "Then how do you know Odin?"
"Uhhhhhhh…" Jack says, very eloquently, and Bunny groans inwardly, wondering if this is another of Jack's 'snags'. He flexes his paws and shifts in his seat, trying not to let the pins and needles in his legs get the better of him. It's too cold for this.
"You're sure they're the same blokes from the myths?" Bunny presses.
"Yeah. Certain," Jack nods. "I've known Odin for almost 200 some odd years, and the old man's barely aged a day."
"That doesn't prove—"
"They've got copies of the original Prose Edda hanging behind the Casket of Ancient Winters in the Vault."
Bunny skips a beat. "—The Casket of ancient what?"
Jack sends him a dry look. "It's a superweapon Odin secured during the Jotun invasion of Midgard about a thousand years ago, on his first visit to Earth." He elaborates. "And the Prose Edda is one of the surviving texts detailing the end of times in Norse Mythology, written during his second visit to Earth four hundred years later."
"I know what the Prose Edda is, mate," Bunny grouses, mostly to hide the fact that he didn't know about any of the other stuff. Invasion of Earth? A thousand years ago? …Did that happen during the century he'd spent without leaving his Warren, trying to breed the tulips that would eventually produce his Eggs? …Must've been. Cause he doesn't recall a lick of it.
"As for why Odin knows me…" Jack trails off, rubbing the back of his neck. "Uh, well, they have this celebration called Wintertide every year where they celebrate their Gods for a full week. And… one of those nights is set aside for me."
Bunny waits for Jack to continue.
"…Because on Asgard, I'm worshipped as a God."
Bunny waits for things to start making sense.
"So technically I didn't meet Odin—because… technically, he… introduced… himself… to me?"
Bunny is going to be waiting a long time before things start making sense.
Jack stops there, fresh out of words, and an uncomfortable silence stretches between them. When it becomes clear that Jack is completely finished with his spiel—and has no other way to explain—Bunny clears his throat.
"So let me get this straight," he says, almost as speechless as Jack. "These aliens, who are posing as Gods…"
"Mistaken as Gods," Jack mumbles. "Big difference."
"…Are under the impression that you are a God?"
Jack cringes. "That about sums it up, yeah."
A long, long silence.
"Okay, look, it wasn't my idea—"
"What. Did you. Do."
"Hey!" Jack balks. "I told you I've only known him for a couple centuries. They've been having this celebration for millennia. I had no clue this was going on, and if Odin hadn't parted the clouds from on high and told me, I still wouldn't know." He crosses his arms and slumps against the backrest. "I didn't do anything."
Bunnymund sighs, rubbing his paw against his face. "Yer sayin' these blokes took one look at ya—your deerskin pants and your messy hair and bare feet—and mistook you for their god?"
Jack throws his hands up. "Yes!" he says, exasperated. "And it's not just them. Lots of races throughout the universe worship me as if I was their god. Bowing, praises, tributes, the whole shebang."
"And what, you think adding extra 'followers' to this list of people who 'worship' you… makes your claim more plausible?"
Jack opens his mouth, as if to rebut, but closes it after a second thought. Bunny grumbles, and it's not due to the late hour, or the miserable chill; this is too much for one day.
"Sorry, Jack, but I need ya t' tell me the truth, now." Bunny huffs, hunkering against the cold. "Cause I'm just not sure I believe ya."
Jack shakes his head, a dark shadow hollow in his eyes.
"I figured you wouldn't." he says, detached. His gaze wanders back over the lake.
A moment later, though, an idea sparks on his face, and Jack sits up.
"But I have proof," he says, struck by his own revelation.
In an instant, Jack is on his feet, yanking his staff out of the snowbank where he'd planted it earlier. "Come on," he says, urging Bunny to follow as he steps down onto the lake, and beckons. "You'll see."
A sensible Pooka, in this position, would give up right here. He's tired, he's cold, Jack is leading him in circles—verbally, and physically, now—and he doesn't see where this possibly could go. But Jack seems earnest, and open, and reaching out for once in his life, and Bunny can't find it in himself to deny him one more chance. Groaning, he gets to his feet.
"This way," Jack says as Bunny steps out onto the ice, "It's not far."
"Better not be," Bunny says, still shaking out the pins and needles in his frozen legs. "Or my knees might lock up." Crikey, he hates the cold.
They cut across the frozen water to reach the opposite bank. The shoreline is a steep cliff tumbled with rocks, and looking up fifteen feet or so, Bunny can see an old Elm tree sporting a tire swing. Probably something that sees more use during the Summer months.
"Right here," Jack says, sidling along the rock, smoothing a hand across the cliff face that seems sleeker than the rock around it.
Bunny eyes the cliff, brows furrowed. "And where, exactly, is here?"
"Oh." Jack falters, his fingers pausing in their trace across the wall, and the sprite turns on a heel to face Bunny. He shifts from foot to foot, suddenly nervous, wringing his hands before him. "My home."
Bunnymund stops, blinking. A cold wind blows across the lake.
"…Come again?" Bunny asks, staring the sprite down. Jack's answer has completely thrown him.
"It's my home," Jack repeats, shifting, then gives a self-conscious shrug. "I don't exactly invite people over often. Okay… ever. So it might be a bit messy. Just… promise not to judge, okay?"
The question breaks Bunny from his stunned silence, though his following reaction isn't much better.
"…Since when've you got a home?!" he blurts without thinking. He gulps and catches his tongue.
Jack pouts. "Okay. Rude."
"That—that did not come out right." Bunny drags a paw across his face. "Sorry, mate." He apologizes. "Just thought you were, y'know. Nomadic."
A deep sigh. "Okay, so it's not exactly a home," he admits. "It's more like… a place where I keep my junk and occasionally crash for the night. But I'm in Burgess the most often, so I figured—" He gestured around the pond. "As good a place as any."
All well and good, but Bunny does not actually see what 'home' he's supposed to be looking at. Bunnymund glances around the pond before his eyes fall on the strangely smooth section the cliffside. Jack sees where he's looking and turns, too, to knock the crook of his staff against the stone.
It rings hollow, and at once lights up with blue protective runes; and Bunny realizes it's not stone at all, but a thick sheet of white ice that blends seamlessly with the gray cliffside. Under Jack's touch, it falls away, revealing the dark, narrow opening to a cave.
"And your 'proof'—" Bunny eyes the two- or three-foot wide passageway with distrust. Jack's home doesn't look very inviting at all. "…Is in there?"
"Yup," Jack says, stealing a glance at the stars and the moon above them before turning back to Bunny. "By the way—you're not claustrophobic, are you?" Jack asks, like a challenge, and without waiting for an answer, turns and ducks inside.
Bunnymund, grumbling, follows him through the crevice. "Claustrophobic," he scoffs, "That's a good one, Frostbite." Bunny literally lives underground.
The Warren, though spacious, is several hundred miles beneath the surface. Some of the Warren's tunnels are narrower than the one they're squeezing through now. The only reservation Bunny feels at following Jack into the passage is the small pang of - not guilt, exactly - but unease that even after 300 years, the closest thing Jack has to a home is a tiny, damp, underground cave.
Inside, it's dark. Bunny's eyes struggle to adjust. Seconds after he enters, Jack's stonelike permafrost door magically reforms behind them, cutting the silvery moonlight down to an iceberg blue shade that doesn't stretch far. He feels his way along, his paws trailing the walls on either side of him, as shadows ebb to black.
The floor rises steeply for about three feet, then levels out, and the passageway widens a touch. Jack's footsteps echo ahead of him, making it easy to follow the slight twists of the tunnel without his eyesight. Still, he's unprepared when the walls come to an abrupt end, dropping sharply from under his paws.
He hesitates and steps back, and his paw once again finds the rough wall. It feels like a corner. Bunny feels blindly out for the other side and finds the same. They must've entered some sort of chamber.
The air smells different in here. There's the mineral-and-pine-sap scent of Jack, strong as ever; but underneath, something—else. Bunny sniffs at the air. Old leather… hints of oil… metal, of some kind…. And, there's something else in here, several somethings in here, that pique his interest.
It… doesn't smell like Earth. It rings something in his forgotten memories.
It smells like moondust. Like meteor fire. And somewhere under there—under the barrage of smells, the scraps of a hundred scents he's forgotten how to recognize, there's something that smells like—
Bunnymund finds himself drawn forward, nose snuffling, but is stopped short when his foot strikes something—about the size of a motorbike helmet, and just as lightweight—that pangs off his toes and goes skittering farther into the dark chamber, only to clang into something else. The darkness to his left shifts slightly, a couple things tink-tink to the floor, knocked loose. Bunny freezes.
"Frostbite?" he calls. He can't see a thing. "You got a light or something?"
"Yeah, just—" Jack's voice calls not far ahead of him. "Hold on a sec. Don't move." A pause, and the sprite adds; "You might trip."
"I haven't cleaned in a while. Hold on."
Bunny's ears fall flat, annoyed, but he doesn't have to wait long.
A blue light—Jack's staff—glows in the darkness. It doesn't light much; Bunny can still only really tell where Jack is by the gap in light where his hand grips the staff—but then the hook rises to the ceiling and touches the rock with a tap.
Light blooms. White-blue in color, bursting from his staff to leach into the ceiling. It's like watching lightning unfold in slow motion, snaking out along the dirt underground as if following the roots of a tree.
The branching light set into the ceiling is as bright as starlight. Shielding his eyes, Bunnymund blinks rapidly until his sight adjusts. Gradually, his surroundings come into focus - though when they do, Bunnymund can hardly believe what he's seeing.
The chamber is about the size of a typical living room, walls roughly shaped in a long rectangle, shelves lining the walls. On the far side, a bed—barely more than a worn out mattress and its box spring—are shoved in one corner, and a mantelpiece sits above a hollow fireplace in the other.
And everything—the bed, the shelves, the mantelpiece, the scattered tables and chairs, even the floor—are packed to the brim with—
Piles and piles of treasure.
Bunnymund gapes, jaw slack, completely and utterly speechless. His eyes roam over the golden, glittering hoard, struggling to make sense of it.
There's a helmet, rippling with curves in its silver dome; that's a sword, longer than Jack is tall; A jumble of sapphires set in brass armillary spheres; celestial globes; archaic chests; shields, rings, tapestries, staffs, strange machines of all kinds—
"Sorry for the mess."
Bunny turns to find Jack making his way back towards him, high-stepping over the piles of riches like they're a snowbank that's built up on his doorstep. "Like I said, I don't have visitors often."
Bunnymund, speechless, gestures wildly to the mounds of wealth that earns nothing but a blasé response from Jack. "Frostbite, this—what—Where did this come from?"
"…Where didn't it come from," Jack mutters under his breath, leaning on his staff for balance as he pokes a gold dome etched with constellations with his toe. The pile rustles and shifts.
"No, that's—I meant, where did you get all this?!"
"They're tributes," Jack says. "Gifts."
"You've got an entire roomful of treasure, and all you can say is they're gifts?" Bunnymund presses.
"…They're nice gifts?" Jack does his best to correct himself.
"No, Jack," Bunny presses, because Jack doesn't know—there's no way Jack can know—the significance of what's standing around them. He snatches the nearest item, a quantum astrolabe, from the pile and shakes it at Jack. "This—Do you even know what this is?"
"Hey," Jack snatches it out of his hands, cradling it in his palm. "I like this one."
Bunny throws up his hands. "That device—all these items—" he sputters, making a grand gesture to the room. "This is Golden Age stuff!"
It should've been a revelation, but Jack just nods, casual.
"I mean, some of it, yeah," he agrees, casting a glance around. He prods something in the pile, a contraption that looks like it might be a gun. "Not all of it, but objects from the lost era are rare and valuable. It's not surprising that they're the first things that spring to mind when people ask, 'Oh, a god is coming by! We should give him something. But what?'"
Jack is clearly trying to sound cheerful and flippant, but the last bit comes out sounding bitter. He sighs and looks at the small, circular crystal in his hand, that strange darkness swimming in his eyes. Gently, Jack twists the astrolabe, the gears in the device making it click-click-click until it locks into place and glows.
The Astrolabe throws a hologram into the air, golden clusters of swirling stars projected to hang midair. Bunnymund only half-recognizes them; the universe has changed over the millennia, the galaxies he knew, destroyed, but the ghosts of the constellations he once knew still linger, reformed into new shapes. He reaches out to touch the pinpricks, his face soft and nostalgic. The lights burst into dust under his claws, drifting about, only to reform when he pulls his paw away.
"When Odin told me about the universe, I wanted to see it," Jack says. "I thought it would be simple, but it wasn't. On Earth I can just ride the wind to travel one country to the next, but in space—the solar winds would let me, but it would take years."
"Fast travel—spaceships, warp drives, the bifrost, it's all strictly regulated, impossible, in some places, without permission. I thought, then, I could just travel with Odin as a tag-along, but—" Jack steals a glance at his guest. "They saw me. They could see me, Bunny, without an introduction, without a myth to believe in. I couldn't explain it any other way."
Bunny scowls, thinking. Despite his reservations, he's having trouble explaining it, too.
Jack fiddles with the dial on the Astrolabe, the galaxies enlarging to reveal individual stars, planets. "I just wanted to see the universe, not all this pomp and circumstance. Everywhere I went, from Asgard to Svartalfheim, people kept trying to shower me with gifts, and, well—" he glared at his fortune. "Don't get me wrong. They're super cool. But I don't have anywhere to put them."
No matter how Bunny spins this, the facts still turn out in favor of Jack's story being the truth; The treasure is golden age tech, unobtainable except by drastic means; The fact that Jack's got said tech stuffed in the crevice of a cave, rather than proudly displayed, says he takes no pride in owning them; The mere fact that anyone might've given it to Jack means they'd have to see him first, and spirits can't be seen without belief—
Still, he eyes the piles of Golden Age tech with disappointment. "If you didn't want 'em, you didn't have to accept so many," Bunny points out, still dubious. Maybe Jack didn't mean to make a big deal out of being mis-recognized as a God, but that doesn't mean he didn't take advantage of it; having enough treasure to swim in is, after all, some people's idea if fun.
Jack, though, just sighs. "I did my best to turn things down, Bunny," he insists. "I only accepted one gift per planet." He fiddles with the Astrolabe, ashamed. "I just didn't realize there were so many."
Bunny's eyes go wide. He turns to look at the mountain of treasure. One per planet? There must be thousands and thousands of items, thousands of gifts, all from planets who believe.
Then Bunny turns to blink at the hologram, the dozens of galaxies the Astrolabe is projecting, and things finally start to sink in.
"So do you believe me now?" Jack asks softly, clicking the hologram off.
Bunny is left staring at the treasure trove, the disbelief stolen right out of him.
"I'm startin' to," he admits, swaying on his feet. "…Think I need to sit down."
Jack startles a bit at that, and he looks around, surveying. "Ah, um I have chairs—" he starts, twisting in place. He looks like he's trying to find a good place to set the Astrolabe down, but in the end, just pockets it and starts high-stepping to the right. "Here. There's a trail I dug out to get to the bed. Makes walking a bit easier."
Bunny, wobbling, toes his way through the narrow valley between the mountains of treasure, following Jack to the back of the cave, where sure enough, a pair of junk-laden chairs are situated in front of a fireplace.
Jack starts shifting the mess around, gathering things in his arms and stacking them to the side so Bunny can claim a seat. As he works, Bunny casts a glance about; the back of the cave, here, has more of a mix of a mess. Mingled in with the jewels and statues and alien gadgets, he can see more personal items—things an immortal teenager might gather throughout his decades on Earth. A stack of comic books; an old brown deerskin cloak, badly charred; a couple shiny geodes on the mantelpiece.
Even the bed, to their left, is cluttered with Earth toys; shiny blue wrapping paper, a photographer's camera, a—
Jack straightens, sees what Bunny is looking at, and squeaks. Next thing Bunny knows, the winter spirit is tossing a billowing tapestry across his bed, clumsily hiding the pile.
"Oi," Bunny grouses. "What's all that about?"
Jack spins, back stiff, hands balled nervously at his side. "I, uh," he starts, embarrassed. "…Didn't finish wrapping my gifts yet."
Bunny sends him a look. "For the present exchange?" he clarifies, and Jack nods. Bunny raises an eyebrow and adds, dryly; "…the one that's happening tomorrow?"
"I've been busy," Jack mutters, arms crossed.
"Sure you were." Shaking his head, Bunny sits, and finds himself facing the empty fireplace. He scowls.
"And I see you were holdin out on the fireplace," he mutters, more to himself than to Jack. His half-frozen tailbone is not amused.
Jack laughs. "You know, when you mentioned it, I was going to offer," he says. "But then you got all huffy and sat down before I could speak, so I just let it go."
"…Why do you even have a fireplace?"
"Marshmallows," Jack chirps, staff prodding the rock-hard bag slumped in the arms of golden statue, to the left. "And chestnuts. Been a while since I've roasted any."
"…Yeah, alright, that sounds like you."
Sticking his head into the gap, Jack peers up the chimney. He cups a hand in front of him and blows; a wind, from nowhere, rattles up the flue, knocking loose soot and snow. Jack reaches behind the marshmallow-holding statue and pulls out a couple logs of firewood, lays them in the fireplace, and reaches for a match.
"I can light that if you want," Bunny offers, noticing Jack's fire has no tinder.
"No, I got it. I'm the host. That's a host thing to do, right?" Jack hitches the matchstick across the matchbox, failing to strike a flame.
"Sure, but mate, you don't seem the type to know much about fire."
"I've done this before." Jack insists. The third strike sends the match aflame, but it barely chars the end before a quick hssssss sounds and the flame fades, extinguished by Jack's icy aura.
He sighs. "Why do I even bother," he mutters, tossing the matchbox aside. He leans on and reaches over his own chair, digging into the pile of metal behind them, and pulls out a long, metallic—
"Is that an alien rifle?"
"Yeah. Cover your ears." Jack takes aim at the firewood.
"Frostbite—" Bunnymund starts, but he isn't quick enough before Jack pops the safety and squeezes the trigger.
Fire explodes on the wood, the explosion echoing through the chamber, and Jack grins, triumphant, at the blaze. "I don't know why I even bother with the other method," he says, grinning as the fire crackles. "This way is so much faster."
"Give. Me. That." Bunny yanks the weapon out of Jack's hands, quick to rearm the safety. He turns the gun over in his hands, running his paw down the swirling engravings on the side. "I can't believe someone gave you a Uluri rifle," he mutters at last, leaning it gently against the pile out of Jack's reach. The muzzle's still hot. "Only a few were even produced b'fore the Centauri region fell in the second Fearling wars. Powerful weapon."
And Jack's using it to light campfires.
Bunny is less than impressed.
Jack folds into the seat beside Bunny, gesturing. "Gripe all you want, but you wanted a fire. There you go."
Grudgingly, Bunny holds out his paws to thaw. Despite the startle, and the ringing in his ears, the heat is nice. He sits there, soaking up warmth.
Jack fishes the Astrolabe from his pocket, turning it in his hands. "You… you said this was how you had serious talks… 'Back home'?"
It stings a little—mention of his home planet always does. "Off in the Kasterborous constellation," he says simply. Jack had mentioned something about the Elves filling him on Bunny's Pookan heritage - he wonders how much they told him.
"Kasterborous?" Jack's face scrunches up. "Didn't the only two planets in that sector blow up, like, thousands of years ago?"
Bunnymund almost halts again; he forces himself forward and settles on squinting at Jack. That's not a factoid that Jack should exactly know.
"Yes," Bunny says at last. "Yes they did."
"…Oh." Jack takes the hint, falling silent. He spins the Astrolabe disc in his fingers.
After a long, drawn silence, Jack clears his throat. "I know this isn't the time," he says, and leans up to settle the star-map on the mantelpiece. "But if you ever want to talk about it, I'd love to hear about your home."
"…Maybe someday," Bunny says, letting his paws fall to his knees. He isn't ready to talk about that, not now, not even soon. Even a brief brush with Golden Age artifacts has proven overwhelming. It might be nice, someday, to rummage through Jack's collection and share the histories of the artifacts he recognizes. But he's just not ready.
And Jack's right—tonight isn't the time. Bunnymund digs into his bandolier and pulls out the letter from where he'd tucked it. "Right now, I'm more interested in your history, Frostbite," he says, offering the letter for Jack to take - which he doesn't, only stares at the paper with a mixed expression.
At last, Bunnymund lowers his arm, staring at the letter. "I'm gonna need the long version now, mate," he says. "Just… start where the story starts for you."
"My story?" Jack echoes, shrugging. "Oh. Well, for me—"
—And he stops, a distant memory darkening his eyes.
Jack looks down at the fireplace, the flames dancing in the reflection in his eyes. When he speaks again, his voice is toneless.
"For me," he says, "…The story starts two hundred and fifty years ago."
This is the part—one of the parts—that Jack didn't want to talk about. The part he's been avoiding. Bunnymund leans forward to listen.
"I still remember—very clearly." Jack says. He leans back against his chair, eyes lost in the memory. "I was about fourty, fifty ears old at that point. I had seen one or two spirits by then, but - none ever talked to me. I still didn't know why I couldn't be touched, or seen, or heard. Quite frankly, I was starting to go a little insane."
Bunnymund forces himself not to flinch at that. Jack is not very open about his past, but from the scarce details he and the other Guardians have scraped together, it's not a pleasant thing. None of the Guardians know why Jack was abandoned for so long, ignored by the Man in the Moon… and North, Tooth, and Sandy all feel guilty about those three centuries of loneliness. To be honest, Bunny feels a bit guilty about it too. But he's trying to fix that mistake in the present. He can't do much about the past.
Still, he does not like the shadow that's growing in Jack's downcast eyes.
"After those few decades," Jack explains, "I was starting to get desperate. Doing—stupid things to assure myself I was real. Taking… risks." The word, by itself, hangs ominously in the air without further explanation.
Instead, Jack says, "One day, I ventured into a mountain, and I met this guy named Surtur."
That is a spirit he has heard of. Bunnymund does a double take. "The Fire Demon?" he asks. He can't imagine how Jack got tangled up with such a dangerous entity.
Jack leans back, letting his head tilt to the side. "That's him. Imprisoned in the Earth's core, at home with fire and brimstone. My polar opposite, really." At this, Jack stops, mouth twisting sourly. "…I should've known better."
Bunnymund doesn't like where this is going.
Jack's blue eyes flicker up, a playful smirk pulled onto his face. "We became friends," he says with a cheery voice that sounds too fake. "Surtur explained everything. About humans, about belief, and what I was…" Jack laces his fingers together. "Sure, he had a temper to rival Mount Vesuvius, and he had the mother of all vindictive streaks. But he was cunning, and smart, and strong, and he talked to me." Jack pauses, and his shoulders slump as he looks away. "…He talked to me."
There's a heavy silence as Jack tries to gather himself, and finally, the winter spirit looks up. "Well! Over the decades we talked a lot. We couldn't do much else, since he was stuck beneath the earth. But I enjoyed it. Not much changed, until—" Jack grinned and raised a finger, pointing at some unseen memory. "I remember, because it made the human history books. 1815. Surtur asked me to come down to this island by the equator. I figured, makes sense, we were always in cold climates before this and he would appreciate the warmth. I met him on Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Lovely place."
"…What happened?" Bunnymund asks carefully when Jack doesn't go on.
Jack presses his lips together, unamused. "Well, what do you think happened? He tried to kill me," he says, voice flat. "Friendly piece of advice? Don't stick your head into a volcano right before it erupts. It leaves some nasty scars."
Bunnymund's whole body goes cold. "He tried to kill you? Why?"
"How should I know?" Jack asks. "I never went back to ask."
And despite Jack's forced easygoing tone, Bunnymund can hear the note of betrayal and hurt beneath those words. In an instant, he swears if he ever crosses paths with Surtur, he's going to flay that demon alive.
Bunnymund struggles to lock his protective instincts under tight control. He takes a deep breath, looking at Jack, and decides to move the conversation on. "So, what's that got anything to do with… Norse Gods, Asgard, all that?"
Jack smiles wryly. "There's a guy up in Asgard named Heimdall, and he can see practically everything. After Surtur's—betrayal, I—" Jack crosses his arms over his chest protectively. "I fled to Russia and holed myself up in some cave, and I—it wasn't on purpose. I didn't mean it. Whenever I get upset, it snows, and I couldn't—"
Something clicks in Bunnymund's mind. "The winter of 1816," he says, astounded. "The Year Without Summer. That was you?"
Jack hangs his head. "I'm told it snowed for a year. All year. But I don't remember any of it." Jack's eyes seek Bunnymund's, apologetic. "I was injured and feverish, and I just wanted everything to end."
Bunnymund just stares, realizing how easily Jack Frost might not be here today. It's a chilling thought.
Jack's eyes look away, but now, his voice picks up, more lively and curious. "My little stunt attracted attention. Heimdall," Jack's lips quirk up in a small smile. "Saw. Saw the attack, saw the Year Without Summer. And he sent help." Jack leans back, taking a deep breath. "After ages in that cave, someone found me. I was so weak, I thought I was hallucinating, but—he approached me, he could touch me—and he picked me up and carried me back to Asgard."
These are fonder memories, and it shows. Jack finds enough cheer to smirk at Bunnymund. "That person was Odin, by the way, in case that wasn't clear."
"Wait, what?" Bunnymund asks, jarred out of the story.
"I know! Weird, right? Not a soldier, not a healer, or a priest—They sent a King to get me. Imagine how shocked I was!" Jack shakes his head. "When I woke up, healed, alert—he said… he said the eruption was a sign they'd been waiting for. That Surtur's betrayal was some, some old Prophecy that was supposed to herald my arrival."
At the word Prophecy, Bunnymund's insides curl in disgust. A Prophecy is what doomed the Golden Age; it was the catalyst that created Pitch Black; it was eventually what led to the Pookan Genocide. And now Jack's caught up in one? "Don't like the sound of that," he mutters.
"Apparently, Asgard—and a lot of other worlds—foretold the "coming" of the Winter God Eternal. Jokul Frosti, or Jok Frust, or Father Frost, or—there's an endless list of names, really." Jack inspects his hand, casually picking out dirt from underneath his nails. "The Prophecy is older than Earth, according to Odin. When the Asgardians came to Earth to protect against the Jotun's invasion, they brought their history, and prophecies, with them. The Norse people wrote down the history, and my name got written down, too."
"Several centuries b'fore you were born." Bunnymund shakes his head. "And they still believe you're their guy?"
"I tried to correct them, I did," Jack assures him. "But he had a load of evidence, and I… had a load of nothing."
"Evidence?" Bunny echoes.
"The Prophecy, for one, that listed Surtur by name—and me, as Jokul Frosti," Jack says. "Who lives in the land of Mimir the moon. The Wind's Belovéd, bringer of ice and snow…" Jack gestures with his staff to the ceiling, where the rootlike branches of light are still set into the stone. "And tied to the worldtree, Yggdrasil, by my staff."
Bunny stares at Jack's staff, glowing with power. The moon, the wind, the ice and snow, the staff. Even, almost, the right name.
That is tough to contest.
"Plus," Jack says. "—And this was the kicker—The Year Without Summer wasn't just on Earth." Jack pauses, before sheepishly admitting, "Apparently I made it snow on Asgard, too."
Lightyears away? That's so unexpected that it makes Bunnymund bark a laugh. His amusement doubles when he pictures some imaginary Godlike Norse myths with snow piled on top their heads. "And now they think yer their god? What a mix-up, mate, that's…" a laugh escapes. "Woah, big misunderstandin' there!"
Jack looks to the fire. He doesn't laugh with Bunny. His face softens, almost nostalgic, but the fire only offsets the shadow growing in his eyes.
And suddenly, Bunnymund remembers Jack's evasive behavior all evening. Something doesn't feel right.
"So why'd you hide it?" Bunny asks, leaning forward on his knees, genuinely confused. "Bein' mistaken fer a god - Jack! A trickster like you should be all over this! Flaunting your mistaken Godhood left and right!" He stops, eyes searching Jack's. "Why hide it from us?"
Jack frowns. Suddenly he seems agitated, shifting his staff across his lap.
"Okay, first of all," he starts. "First of all, I want to make it clear that it wasn't my fault."
His tone rises a little, and Bunnymund pauses. "What wasn't your fault?" he says.
"I never asked for this," Jack insists, pressing on instead of answering. "I can't control what people do, or what they think. They make their own goddamn decisions and that is not my fault."
"…Jack," Bunny says.
"I mean, people hear 'Winter God', and they just—they just assume I'll be cold, and dark, and ruthless, and—they do these things on their own, Bunny, it's not my fault!"
"I had no idea any of this was going on. I didn't! And when I found out, I made them stop! It started ages before I was born, Bunny! I didn't do it, I didn't do any of it, you have to believe me, Bunny, it's not! My! Fault!"
"I can explain!"
And all conversation grinds to a halt.
The two of them are on their feet now, though Bunny couldn't say when it happened. They stand there, staring at each other, the words ringing between them. And Bunnymund is struck numb, because though he doesn't understand what any of this means, he suddenly knows that Jack is truly, deeply afraid.
"Jack," Bunnymund says, his voice controlled and clear. "What do you need to explain?"
Jack stares at Bunnymund, the words caught in his throat. He steps back and looks away, letting out a shaky breath, and then another.
Slowly, the panic on Jack's face drops away, replaced with a distant, detached expression that Bunnymund can't quite read. At last, Jack looks up to meet Bunny's eyes, and despite the fireplace's warmth, the air grows cold.
"I'm sure you know of all about the darker side of religion—what people can do when they're caught up in belief." he says. "You wouldn't be talking to me otherwise."
Bunnymund nods. "Jack, whatever you're caught up in," he promises, "…we'll figure it out."
Jack is silent for a long moment.
"You're familiar with religious doctrine?" Jack asks at last. "People using religion to explain how they should live their lives?"
"Yes," Bunny answers, wondering where this is going.
"And you know about Theology? Interpretation?"
Bunny answers, slower this time.
Bunnymund's brow furrows. "…Yes—" he says, feeling the dread seep in.
Jack turns sharply in that moment, and their gazes lock, all the light dashed out of his eyes. And when he speaks, voice cold and harsh, Bunnymund finally understands why the room is as tense as a wire—and why Jack has been so desperate, evasive, and so hopeless all night.
Looking grim, Jack turns and asks:
"…What about Child Sacrifice?"