Eeek! I am soooooo sorry for the delay, you guys! School and suddenly social life and more school and midterms and gah all happened. BUT. SPRING BREAK IS A THING. So here you are. More or less not on schedule.
Guys. This is it. (Except for the follow-ups I plan to do eventually; you remember I mentioned that, right?)
The last chapter. And I'm posting it.
Like, this is actually done.
Guys. I have no idea what to say. I'm super-nervous.
You can see on my page I mostly do one-shots, that I just drop and then run on to the next thing.
I'm not used to carrying on through multiple chapters (successfully; like, to a conclusion) and even less used to having someone (you!) along for the ride.
So I really don't know what to say, now that we're coming to the close.
Except, "Here it is.
And I really hope you like it.
And I hope it was worth the wait."
Even if Bunnymund could forgive him for the Blizzard of '68, Jack didn't know how he could ever forgive himself. None of the other Guardians held it against him. Accidents happen, they said, and there was nothing they could do now. They were still needed, and that meant they had to stay in top form no matter what.
Jack tried to adopt their viewpoint, but he just couldn't. It nagged at him, gnawed at the back of his mind that he had screwed up so monstrously, yet he could not remember a thing. Even recovering the memories of his human life didn't bring it back.
Enough time had passed that Jack wanted to be okay with never knowing, if he didn't remember it by now.
::You've lost something::
Jack flinched and clenched his fists hard on his staff. He never told anyone how Pitch had first taunted him, long before the memories in his baby teeth were ever an issue. How the Boogeyman looked just gleeful about the secrets he knew.
And for that reason alone Jack wanted the whole incident buried for good.
"Are you Jack Frost?"
Jack turned in surprise, expecting a child but seeing a young teenage girl, her head cocked to the side. Her long hair swept over one eye and Jack thought of Sophie, but this couldn't be her. This child's eyes were blue, her hair coal-black.
"Yeah," Jack replied, stunned that she could see him. That she could be so much older, and still believe in the intangible... "Yeah, that's me. Jack Frost."
"I can't believe it's you," she said, tears welling in her eyes and hands pressed to her mouth. "I thought— I mean, they told me..."
Jack took a hesitant step back. She gasped and looked so sad and he was so confused. Who was she? "What's your name?" he asked, and he couldn't bear her stricken face...
"You... you don't remember me?"
Jack shook his head, frowning. "I'm sorry."
"You promised you wouldn't! It's me, Violet! Violet Parr!"
Jack closed his eyes briefly to search his memory for the name – he never forgot a kid – but nothing came. He opened his eyes again and what he saw knocked his breath out of him.
A little girl of about seven, with long black hair and round blue eyes, pouted up at him.
"Oh my God," Jack gasped, heart thudding so hard into his sternum he felt sick.
The little girl he granted a snow-day-wish for and taught how to skate and shared a bowl of ice cream with.
A snowflake fell through the air between them. Without even squinting, Violet cast a force field around it. She watched him steadily. "You told me I was special," she accused, "You said you would come back."
Jack sank slowly to his knees. He twisted his hands in his lap like a churchgoer seeking forgiveness. "Violet," he said, voice thick with sorrow, "I am so, so sorry."
"I waited for you every day. And when you didn't come back, I cried so much, my school made me go to a doctor."
Jack's eyes widened with horror. "What happened then?"
She shook her head. "Mom got mad at them. And then Mom made me go to a different school. She looked at me funny sometimes, after that. I don't think she believed you were real. Jack, why didn't you come back?"
"I did, Violet," Jack insisted, nails digging into the fabric of his pants, "But you had moved. I didn't know where you guys had gone. I looked everywhere for you. Please, believe me."
Violet looked stunned. "Mom said you would find us."
Jack could only shake his head. "I'm sorry."
And she looked so guilty. "I stopped believing in Santa and them." Her eyes widened at what she'd just said and she covered her mouth in horror. "Were they also real, the whole time?"
Grim-faced, Jack nodded. Fat tears plummeted down her cheeks and she wailed, and Jack pulled her into a tight hug. "It's okay," he soothed, hand on her hair, "You believe in them all now, right?"
"Yeah. But..." Violet pulled away, biting her lip.
Before his eyes she grew tall again and her features matured into the fourteen-year-old who greeted him, the one he saw in New York before the blizzard. She continued to age. Jack drew back, unable to look away as Violet grew past her twenties and thirties into middle age, hair cropped and greying. Her face developed fine lines and lost its softness, looked more like parchment than porcelain. It took only seconds, but seemed to last forever.
Finally Violet spoke, and her voice was heart-breaking – the voice of a woman as old as she looked.
"I haven't believed in a very long time." Tears welled in her eyes again and Jack tried to pull her in again, but she pushed back against his chest, mouth twisted with regret.
"I'm sorry Jack. I'm really sorry I did this to you. Can you ever forgive me?"
"Did what? Violet, what are you-"
She vanished. Completely. She hadn't merely turned invisible. Thrusting his hands forward yielded no contact. "Violet!" he yelled, jumping to his feet and scanning around. The environment was grey and barren.
It reminded him of Pitch's lair.
But Pitch was defeated, wasn't he? How could Jack have a nightmare now?
Bright silver light washed over the landscape and drew Jack's eyes upward. The Moon shone onto him, motes in the beams sparkling like fresh snow.
Tears formed in his eyes. "I remember everything," he said, voice hoarse, "That blizzard... That was because of her. How could I have forgotten any of that?"
A sound like a wind chime echoed in his ears. Anger flared in his chest. "You did that. You erased my memories of her."
The chiming sound came again, and despite himself calm flushed out the rage in his veins.
"I am sorry, Jack Frost."
Just like over forty years ago. And Jack understood – an apology for losing his first believer before he was strong enough to take the loss. He might have covered the whole world in a never-ending winter until he got her back...
"Why now?" Jack questioned, skeptical gaze leveled at the Moon. "Even if I'm able to move on after forty years, it still hurts so much..."
Another ringing in his ears. Violet, as a middle-aged woman, popped like a strobe light in his mind's eye. Jack blinked it away.
"You want me to find her. How? Where do I start? Would she even see me?" For that, the Moon gave no answer. Jack frowned. Typical. He looked around himself again, landing on the place Violet Parr had stood. The moonlight dimmed.
Jack bolted upright.
He peered around the unfamiliar room until he remembered he was in North's workshop, and dropped back onto the pillow, strangely out of breath. Violet's rapidly aging face played before him over and over again. He'd watched kids grow up for the past 300 years, but he never thought it so grisly until now.
Was that really from the Moon? Or was it one of Pitch's nightmares after all? Jack took in and let out a deep breath.
It was early; the workshop was quiet. Jack slipped out of bed, casting a wary eye to the window, and the arctic Wind cloying to be let in, to carry him away. Let's look for her!
Jack shook his head again, scraping his fingers along his scalp to wake himself up, ground himself. Every time he blinked he saw Violet's matured visage – why couldn't he believe he had never seen that face before?
A ghost of Pitch's laughter oozed up from the depths of his memory. "You've lost something, Jack Frost."
He'd lost the last forty years of knowing a girl had believed in him, not just the two days he'd actually spent with her.
Grimacing, he shook his head again, more violently. The last thing he needed to do was fall victim again to the Boogeyman's tricks, no matter if it happened decades ago.
Here and now, Jack knew he'd had a dream; now he remembered her, and the weight of it crushed his lungs down to shallow breaths. Gripping the bed post grounded him.
Things made so much more sense now.
...Pitch knew, the whole time!
"Stop it," he growled at that hissing voice in his head – no longer able to taunt him about belief, it now resorted to memories he couldn't help.
Pitch was gone. He posed no threat.
Taking up his staff from where it leaned against the headboard made Jack feel steadier – in body and mind. The morning light grew brighter, and the residue of bad dreams shrank away. His fears still pulsed at the rear of his consciousness, but really, that was not any new thing.
Taking a bracing breath, Jack walked to the heavy wooden door and pushed it open. It swung smooth and silent on its large brass hinges, and Jack could see into the column of the workshop. The Globe glittered with belief and that helped reassure him more. Jack couldn't help but smile at the sight, so understatedly comforting even though he'd only just become a Guardian himself.
A few stray early-bird Yeti shuffled around the lower levels of the workroom, though it was not yet nearly the buzzing web of activity, cacophonous noise and terse growls of instruction Jack knew it could be.
Pensive still, Jack crossed to the guard rail and leaned his forearms upon it, peering down the levels. He watched the Globe rotate lazily on its axis, his lips turning upward when he spotted the cluster of lights in Burgess, Pennsylvania.
The other Guardians could have the rest of the world's children to believe in them. The children of Burgess were his.
Mine. The thought made his heart skip happily. Belief. He had believers. Not just one but a whole circle. It felt good.
What about Violet Parr?
The stray question stopped him cold – he even shivered into the banister. What about Violet? Was there anything he could do, now? Should he do anything? Violet was quite middle-aged by now, rather outside his demographic.
He looked down at his hands white-knuckling the edges of the rail. He wanted – needed – to see her again, just once. Even if she didn't (or couldn't) believe in him again, he at least needed to know if she was alright…
He jumped, so deep in thought he hadn't heard North's heavy footfalls.
"Why are you awake?"
Shrugging, Jack turned around to face the big man, who was now adjusting the lay of his cummerbund over his belly. North cleared his throat of residual sleep-induced gruffness and joined the newest Guardian at the rail, folding his arms on it like Jack had. Now Jack leaned back on his elbows, fixing his eyes on his bare feet, spreading his toes experimentally over the dark wood planks.
"I... had a dream. Woke me up." He lifted his toes, fanning them out, only his heels making contact with the floor. The stretch in his calves felt nice after all of yesterday's activity.
"Hmm," North hummed, an innocent prompting noise that could have gone ignored, watching Jack from the edges of his vision. When it became clear North was not going to steer this conversation at all, Jack sighed reluctantly, leveling his feet on the floor again.
"The thing is," and he determinedly kept his gaze downward, "I can't tell if it was just a dream or a... or a message of some kind." It sounded silly out loud. Out the corner of his eye Jack was surprised to match side-stares with North. "Or even a nightmare," he added softly, shuddering again. Straightening a little, North turned so he faced Jack more directly, just one elbow on the banister now.
"What was dream about?" he asked, bushy eyebrows lowered discerningly.
Sighing again, shrugging at the tension in his shoulders, Jack struggled to begin. "It was... I... Part of me thinks the Moon gave it to me. Like he wanted me to know something."
North's brow now shot up in wonder at Jack's mention of the Man in the Moon, but he didn't say anything.
"But it wasn't a good dream. Sort of freaky. Uhm..." There was nothing for holding back any information if he wanted advice. "The Moon told me, once, I had a believer. Before Jamie. About forty years ago."
"Jack..." and the way the steel fell from the powerful man before him, brow and shoulders drooping in sympathy, almost made Jack want to run for embarrassment that he'd caused North so much distress. But he pushed on.
"I couldn't remember her; I haven't for forty years, and now he tells me about her? North, I don't know what to think." And he told him all the rest: about her wish for a snow day and teaching her how to skate; about the panic beating in his chest as the years continued to pass him by with no sign of her; and finally about his dream and about her greying hair and how badly he'd betrayed her when she had been his whole world, and how could that not have a touch of nightmare about it? "I want to believe it was the Moon, because that's better than it being Pitch. I just don't understand why he'd tell me now, in this way."
Silence hung between them. Noises of Yetis testing toy prototypes drifted up from the workshop levels below. None of it distracted North's attention; he only had eyes for Jack. "I think it was Man in Moon," he said with great finality. Jack's shoulders dropped; he hadn't realize how truly tense they had become until North's words released it. "I think he tells you now because you are stronger spirit, as you say. You have time to heal; you have friends who will help you. You are not forced to face alone."
And Jack's flinch at the unwelcome thought – unwelcome memories – of dealing with that very same loss by himself only affirmed North's assessment. The man's bright blue eyes softened considerately and he wrapped a big hand over Jack's shoulder.
"It is good that you talk with me about this. Yes? You are feeling better now, yes?" And he gave Jack a playful shake, rooted in concern for his wellbeing, and the young Guardian couldn't help the indulgent smile working across his face. He beamed up at North, who chuckled and winked at him. "Come; we will visit Yetis in kitchen. Maybe fresh-baked cookies are the cherry on top, hmm?" Jack shook his head affectionately.
And he stilled. "North... is there anything I should do?"
"What do you mean?"
Jack shrugged again. "The Moon told me about her for a reason. Should I, I dunno... Try to find her, or something?" A thought popped into his mind. "Would you happen to know where she is now?" The hope died just as quickly at North's solemn expression. His eyes crinkled sympathetically.
"I am sorry, Jack. Is hard to trace children who become grownups, children who no longer believe. I can tell you where she lived before stopping, but she would have still been child."
Understanding, Jack nodded. After a pause he murmured, "I still want to see her. Any idea where to start?"
The man had no answer; just undisguised sorrow for Jack's plight.
"It's okay," Jack assured him quickly, forcing a confident smile. "I'll figure something out. Thanks for the talk."
"Is no problem. Please; any time you are troubled, talk to us. We will help."
"Sure. Oh, hey – why weren't my memories of Violet with my baby teeth?"
"Hmm. Maybe because Violet was after you lost teeth. But I suggest you ask Tooth. She will know for certain." Tooth had gone back to her palace before Jack went to bed; he didn't want to look for it, or disturb her when she'd been practically on forced leave for the past few nights.
"Right." Jack almost had to laugh at himself. "Save a candy cane or something for me, will you?" Guffawing at the sudden switch in topic, North nonetheless nodded and winked again, bellowing something about valiantly fighting off hordes of elves as he headed down to the kitchens. Jack leaned casually against the banister and watched him go, then returned to his room. The sun had grown brighter, it seemed, the floorboards hot on the soles of his feet. Jack stepped onto a thick floor rug and halted, burrowing his toes into the coarse hair. He tapped the butt of his staff on the floor a couple times to reel in his thoughts. Even though he had no clue where to begin, he shivered to reconnect with Violet. The window rattled as the Wind called to be let in. Let's go find her, it seemed to say. Raising an eyebrow, Jack considered it appraisingly.
"Do you know?" he asked aloud, and tried to convince himself he'd only imagined the new vigor with which the Wind slammed against the panes – of course not, but I think I know where to start. He looked back through his still-open door. Did he need to know why the memories had to come from the Moon now, or could it wait? The Wind seemed eager to set off right away.
And when he thought about it, so was he.
So Jack threw open the window and arctic air crashed in, sweeping him up and out into the frigid air. Taken quite by surprise, Jack let himself go to it and barked a whooping laugh, spreading out his limbs for flight. "Come on, then!" he crowed, and the Wind whisked him away due south.
The ground below quickly grew familiar and Jack realized that the Wind was carrying him to Burgess. Somehow... that felt right.
Burgess eased into its after-school bustle when Jack landed. He skipped going to the lake for the moment. Anticipation buzzed within him – he'd initially been doubtful about really starting where it had all began, but now that his feet had touched the ground it just felt right to be here. There was something here that was important.
So Jack decided to take the town on foot. He craned his neck over pedestrians and cars for a glimpse of her. Nothing promising in the shopping area; there was no guarantee that she would be here at this moment. Jack halted on a street corner and leaned on his staff, hand in his pocket (and he remembered New York). The residential areas of Burgess dwarfed the economic district. Going from home to home seeking the adults would be a pain – they might just as easily be at work or shopping or getting the kids from softball practice. He needed to narrow this down.
In his zoned-out visual sweep of the streets, Jack's eyes halted cold on a thick book hanging from a payphone booth.
Well. It was worth a try.
Violet had still called herself "Parr" in his dream. That may have only been his subconscious filling in details, unless the Man in the Moon really was behind it, in which case... He quietly asked Lady Luck to be nice this time. The book was too dense to pore over for first names.
"Parr... Parr... Come on..."
He'd hit the Parsons'. Not much longer...
Nothing. His mind buzzed for further ideas.
An inkling of one dropped into his mind. It was so ridiculous that it couldn't have been his own thought, but now he really hoped it was crazy enough to work. "Come on, Luck, don't be a –"
Rydinger, Brad, and Violet Parr.
He couldn't believe it.
She'd married Tony's brother?
But Jack put that aside. Excitement burgeoned too hugely in his chest for him to be bemused (or extremely amused) about anything. There was no way it was a different girl – woman. "Violet" wasn't that common a name, and neither was "Parr."
She lived in town – Jack knew that street name from somewhere, something recent... He tore the page out of the book when no one was looking in his direction and flew into the residential area. He started on the main road, followed it down to almost the end before he saw the street he wanted crossing perpendicular. A quick comparison of the house numbers on either side of the intersection sent him left, and he realized why he remembered this street.
No, that's too much of a coincidence...
But the numbers matched and Jack could. not. believe. what he was seeing.
This was Pippa's house. The girl to whose window he'd carried Jamie to knock on just nights ago. The nervous girl who'd had a secret crush on Jamie (his favorite) for years.
She was Violet's daughter?!
Despite centuries of evidence to the contrary, Jack still liked to think his inner frostiness granted him immunity from shivering, but it had never failed him so much as right now. His fingers twitched; he tightened his grip on his staff. Violet Parr was either in there now, or would be coming home later.
Squaring his shoulders, Jack moved to the front door, and let himself in.
Violet sat at the kitchen table, gazing sightlessly out the window. She looked toward the sound of the opening door, at the light pouring in. A strange calm washed over him and the tension fell out of his shoulders entirely. For the first time in decades.
"Pippa?" Violet called. She couldn't see him. And... he was okay with that. She was too old to have faith in such figments as him, anyway.
She pushed her chair back and crossed to close the door, a puzzled frown on her face. Her eyes roved past him every time. Her unseeing gaze made him a little sad, as such things always did, but the wrenching pain in his heart never happened. He was okay. Violet was okay and all grown up and a mother, and she didn't believe in him anymore. And with a steady exhale, Jack nodded to her without being perceived; maybe that was the way things were supposed to be.
Jack may not have had Violet's belief anymore, but he had her daughter's. He had Jamie and Cupcake and all the rest. That was enough. It wouldn't stop his feelings for her, or change them, or anything. Nothing tainted his memories of her: for two glorious days, she'd been perfect and everything he needed. Now he could guard that time safe in his heart forevermore.
A little sigh escaped him, and a little smile crossed his features. Time to go, he thought. He opened the door and closed it again; she might have told herself it was the fickle wind. He huffed a short laugh at the thought – sometimes the Wind indeed was like that.
"Hi, Jack!" a young girl's voice hailed him, and Jack grinned broadly. Pippa's bus drove away, and Pippa herself was walking up the path with the mail held to her chest. "What brings you here?"
Jack shrugged to stall for a bit of time to concoct a cover story. Vague. Go for vague. "Just in the neighborhood. Seeing who's home."
"Did you want to get everyone together for something?" Pippa asked, cocking her head to the side – and she looked so much like her mother when she did that...
"Oh, no; not right now, anyway. How was school?"
"Okay. Boring. Have you seen Jamie, today?" When Jack shook his head she giggled conspiratorially. "You should go visit him. He has a surprise for you." With this cryptic message delivered, Pippa hurried past him to the front door. "See you later, Jack!" she called, and he waved farewell. He ran around to look in the kitchen window. Their voices were muffled behind the closed pane. He was going to miss her, he knew. He flattened a hand against the glass. Frost ferns spiraled from his palm and fingertips, until the whole pane was filled and he drew his hand away.
"Goodbye, Violet Parr," he whispered, backing away. At the sidewalk he stayed watching the house, memorizing it. Any time he came here from now on, it would be for Pippa. Not her mother.
Violet Parr was the little girl who'd just moved in and was too shy to go make new friends. She didn't know how to skate and had to be reminded how Very Special she was, and needed to know it was great that she was different. And for two days he was her best friend. She'd loved him. He'd loved her. Still did, but for the girl she used to be; he couldn't know her now. Her daughter needed him more.
Nodding with finality, Jack let the Wind pick him up again. "Let's go see Jamie," he said, and it carried him away. He left Violet Parr behind.
"Hi, Mom!" Pippa chirped when she'd closed the door, toeing her shoes off before she entered the kitchen.
"Hey, sweetie. Did I hear you talking to someone, before you came in?"
"Yeah," Pippa said, crossing to the fridge. She disappeared behind the door and resurfaced with an apple in her mouth.
"Who? I didn't hear anyone else." Didn't Violet hear her daughter call them "Jack?" Pippa seemed reluctant to answer, but in the end shrugged and took the bite out of her apple.
"Really, now?" She wasn't sure whether Pippa was being silly in light of the recent snowfall or if she really had a classmate named Jack Frost.
"Yeah. I have to feed my fish, Mom." And she ran up the stairs, leaving Violet the closest to bemused she had been in a long time. Deciding to let it go – Pippa was still young enough for such flights of fancy – she returned to gazing out the window.
One pane had frosted over. Just... One.
A pall of wonder warmed her spine. Something looked off about it. She stood again and leaned toward it over the sink. She swiped a finger across the pane it.
The window had frosted on the inside.
"'See you later, Jack,'" she mouthed. That was what she'd heard her daughter call.
Pippa was in the upstairs bathroom; Violet stole a peek into her room. A fresh drawing sat on her desk, of what looked like a Russian Santa Claus, a large rabbit, a green fairy, a yellow... dwarf? But what struck her was the image of a tall, skinny boy carrying a hooked staff, in brown pants and a blue hoodie, and white hair. The hoodie was the only thing different – everything else matched a visual she'd convinced herself was a dream a long time ago.
"I can't believe it," she whispered, backing away from the drawing. Violet moved downstairs to the master bedroom, to the walk-in closet where she kept a chest of keepsakes from her childhood. A bit of rummaging turned up a battered shoebox with weak corners and frayed edges. She'd never been able to throw away anything in this – this was her treasure chest. And it took a little more searching after she pulled the lid off to find it, but there it lay still after all these years. The paper had yellowed badly, and the once-blue ink looked a blackish-green. But the image remained crisp as the first day: a simple snowflake in a wavering force field.
Violet hastened back to the window, ice still in place except where she'd ruined it with her finger. There was no way to be entirely sure, but she swore she was just in time to catch a fleeting glimpse of a boy, lanky and the slightest bit ungainly in the air, swooping away down the street.
::I'll come back::
On the Guardians' globe, a long-dead light flickered into gold.
Everyone: Thank you. Thank you so much. You have been so wonderful, and so enthusiastic, and so... everything. I've said it all before and it bears repeating. I am so grateful that I have been able to post this over the past seven months, and have such an amazing following along the way. Thank you for waiting through long delays, for having all the feels (and, I dare say, coming back for more no matter how many times I broke them?), and for generally making my day every time you reviewed, followed, and favorited. This entire journey; it's done my heart good. Thank you for walking it with me. *hugs*
This story is not over. There's more to say about Jack and Violet. I don't know for sure when that will happen (I have a lot of other works I've wanted to pin down and finish for years now. Years.) but I would be surprised if it didn't happen within the year. I have some ideas, but not enough inspiration; I will wait for it to strike, whenever it feels like it. I hope you will keep an eye out for it. :)
And now... I think we have come to the end of this journey. I have loved every moment.
Truly, thank you all so much.
Keep on believing.