JOIN THE DANCE

Fandom: Rise of the Guardians

Pairing: Jack Frost/E. Aster Bunnymund

Genre: AU, romance, angst

Rating: R

Disclaimer: Belongs to Dreamworks and William Joyce. Damn, if I owned this, JackRabbit would be canon.

Warning: canon anthropomorphism, genetic therapy

Summary: Aster is trapped in the body of a species he doesn't want. Jack will remain by his side every step of the way.

A/n: Sort of an alternate contemporary universe. Pop culture is exactly the same, but genetic manipulation is commonplace and people can choose to become anthropomorphised versions of animals they feel a special bond to. I realise this is a peculiar premise, but it felt right to do this. My brain is a weird place.

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The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.

Alan Watts

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They've been together three years.

Which means it's taken three years for Aster to pluck up the courage to say these things.

He sits Jack on the armchair while he takes the couch, leaning forward like he's got the weight of the world on his shoulders. Which he does, Jack supposes, as he listens.

Aster, usually so confident and smooth, keeps his gaze lowered. His voice cracks several times, he stumbles and stammers and rubs his face, drawing in shuddering breaths as he confesses what probably seems to him like a deep, dark secret. How his body's always felt wrong, really, and he's tried to make what he has work, but it's not who he feels he is inside. It's only once he's finished, trailing off into a tense silence, that he raises his head and looks at Jack. Dear God, his expression is like a kick to the stomach.

Aster's staring at him like he's expecting him to bolt at any minute. Like he's expecting insults or rebuttals or even just an incredulous look. But all Jack can think of is why that expression is there. Jack knows Aster's been with other men. He's thirty-four, of course he's been with other men, some more long-term than others. How many others has Aster confessed this to, and how many times has he been left because of it? How could anyone leave the person they love because of this? This is Aster, his Aster, the shape of his body means nothing.

Jack leans forward, places his hand on Aster's. He can feel the clenched fist trembling, the muscles of his arms stiff, his jaw tensed for disgust and ridicule.

"It's ok," he murmurs, smiling, trying to communicate all the deep affection, the profound love he feels for the other man. He notices Aster relax slightly, seem to deflate, and he runs a hand down his face again, weary.

"I'll understand if you want to leave," he says, and Jack's horrified by how pained and hollow it sounds. This has happened before, and all Jack wants to do is hunt down every single one of Aster's exes and kick their asses.

"Why would I want to leave?" Jack asks, appalled Aster would even think that. Aster blinks, and it's clear that what he's not saying is 'it's what everyone else did'. Jack squeezes his hand until Aster unclenches his fist and threads their fingers together.

"I'm not going anywhere," he says fiercely, reaching out his other hand to cup Aster's cheek. To his surprise, his normally stoic boyfriend's eyes are wet. Jack's presses their foreheads together, kisses him, cradles him as Aster breaks down, holding Jack tightly as if his whole world hinged on Jack remaining there, with him. And perhaps it does, but it doesn't matter, because Jack's not going anywhere.

.

He sees them. There aren't a huge number, but they live in a fairly large city, so he sees a few every day. It'd be hard not to notice them: cat people, dog people, wolves, foxes, tigers, lions, mice, rabbits, birds, reptiles… Jack's never been bothered by them. There's still enough latent homophobia in society that he's tasted discrimination himself once or twice, and there's his hair, too, proof of the dangerous fashion for foetal genetic manipulation that happened twenty-something years ago before it was completely outlawed. Proof of how his parents put him in danger despite knowing the risks. They learnt their lesson with his sister, but it was too late for Jack. People still look at him oddly because of his hair being the snowy white that it is, thinking he's unhinged, dangerous. Wrong.

He knows they get that too, but worse.

They call it species dysphoria. The technical term is transspecies. The casual term is anthro. The derogatory term… there are a few, but like tranny, faggot and dyke, the world seems to love furry, although half-breed, dog-fucker and furfag are popular too. They can try to reclaim it all they want, but it still stings when it's yelled in the street by teenaged morons. It still hurts when it's bellowed by religious bigots. Now he knows why Aster flinches at the news, sometimes. He might not have the shape he wants, not yet, but he still is one of them, and can Jack can understand the pain when he sees and reads about… things Jack doesn't want to remember.

Well, Jack's going to be with him every step of the way. And the first thing he needs to do is a bit of studying.

The internet, as always, is far more useful than real life, so he starts from there. He goes on forums, reads articles and downloads pdf documents. And, of course, there's the porn.

It's a popular enough genre to have its famed actors and actresses, although he notices that mostly it's kept in a tight circle. Species usually keep to themselves, and even when they don't, there's one crucial factor that ties them all… There are no humans in these films.

Something in him, around his navel, gives an apprehensive tug, and he heads to a safe haven: fandom. Given the startlingly low representation in the media, writers and artists take their characters, one or both, and turn them. It's no different from genderbending or humanising animal characters, Jack supposes. He flicks through his fandoms, cocking his head at an interesting fic where House Stark are all direwolves, reading through Avengers AUs and anthro!Toothless kink meme prompts. He's glad fandom seems to be a lot more accepting than society, but he should know to expect that by now.

By the time he turns off the computer, he thinks he needs to talk with Aster a bit more. They're responsible (enough) adults, they need to discuss this openly. It's not going to be an elephant in the room between them, both ignoring it and hoping it goes away, because it's not. And Jack's not about to give up.

.

"I'm curious," he begins over dinner. Aster raises an eyebrow, licking chilli sauce off his fingers. Jack got tacos on the way home from work.

"Oh?" he prompts.

"Um… is it rude to ask what animal you are?" Jack asks nervously. When Aster remains silent for a long time, Jack gets scared he's fucked up. Is that how you ask? Is there some special term or something, some protocol he's forgotten to adhere to? It's a relief when Aster answers.

"Nah, love. A rabbit."

Well, he hadn't been expecting that. Not even with Aster's last name. If Jack had had to venture a guess, he would have thought something more… predatory, like a wolf.

"Really?" he can't help but ask. Aster leans back with a laugh.

"Yeah, I know. To be honest I found it weird myself. But… it just fit."

Jack tries to imagine what Aster would be like as a rabbit. The mental image isn't really working for him.

"So… have you thought about the…" How was it worded again? "Thing." He's forgotten. Luckily they've been living together for a year and a half, and Aster can practically read his mind by now.

"I've thought about it, yeah," he admits. "I've thought about it a lot. I want it to happen, but, God, it's terrifying." He takes a long drink of his beer. Jack commiserates. "I guess I just wanted to have something secure before I started anything." He looks very pointedly at Jack when he says that, and Jack blushes slightly. As if reading each other's thoughts, they both reach out to take the other's hand, squeeze, smile gently. Jack muses that one day the hand holding his won't be a hand, but a paw.

It doesn't matter, because Aster trusts him, loves him, and Jack loves him back. That's more than enough for them.

.

He's sitting in the waiting room. He took a day off work to go with Aster, because Aster needs all the support he can get with his family on the other side of the world, and Jack's going to be there for him. He flicks through scientific and gossip magazines, but he can't seem to take in the words. He plays a few rounds of Candy Crush Saga on his phone, but after losing three times because of really stupid moves, he gives up. He resigns himself to staring at the wall as his leg jerks nervously, arms folding and lip chewed to pieces.

There's only one other person waiting, and he assumes the person she's waiting for is in the other doctor's office, seeing as she was already there when they came in. She raises her head from her magazine and smiles gently.

"First time?" she asks. Jack nods with a sheepish grin. She gives him a sympathetic look. "I've been here quite a few times," she goes on. "For my daughter. It takes a long time for the paperwork to be ready, all the psychological assessments and things like that… they're very thorough. Is it a friend or a family member?"

Jack shakes his head. "Nah, it's my boyfriend."

The woman's expression changes in an instant. It goes from understanding to hard and closed off, and the transformation is rather abrupt and quite scary. "I see," she says coldly, and turns back to her magazine.

Well, that was sudden.

He's glad when a young woman comes out of the other office and leaves with the other woman. He doesn't really want to be in the same room with that swirling pocket of distaste. He hasn't felt this judged in ages, not since he came out to his parents, and hadn't that gone well?

Eventually, after Jack's inner turmoil mounts to a fever pitch, Aster leaves the doctor's office with a handshake and some reassuring words. Jack stands, and the doctor looks at him curiously. The look goes ignored and the door closes.

Aster lets out a sigh and grins wearily. "That went well," he says, and Jack smiles. He takes Aster's hand as they leave the office, ignoring everyone else in the world.

"What did he say?" he asks, sincerely curious. Aster shrugs.

"Talked to me about the whole thing. Like when it started, how it started, what I felt… It was like going to a shrink." He wrinkles his nose at that. "Then he told me about all the psychological tests they have to do, all the physical tests and genetic tests and… it's not just walking in one day and coming out someone different the next."

"Yeah?" Ok, Jack will freely admit that's kind of what he was thinking it was. A simple jaunt in a genetic manipulation chamber and Aster would waltz out a six-foot rabbit. …Now that really thinks about it, it does sound pretty dumb.

"Yeah, there's rehabilitation and physio and instinct suppression classes… It's a lot harder than it seemed." Aster runs a hand through his hair with a huff.

"You're still going to go through with it, though?"

Aster looks at him. It's a worried look, a doubtful look, and Jack wipes it off with a kiss in the middle of a busy street.

"This is what you want," he says. "I'm not going anywhere." He's going to keep saying it until Aster never doubts him or what they have ever again.

"Yeah, I'm going to go through with it," Aster says with a firm nod. He looks at his hand, the one that's not holding Jack's, as if it's something that doesn't belong to him. As if he's longed to see something other than fingers and a thumb and smooth, dark skinned his entire life. "I've been waiting for it for most of my life, and now I think I've got the balls to go through with it."

Jack smiles, they fall into step again, and through the hum of traffic and the buzz of electronics, they walk home.

.

The first real step to take is learning more about what you're going to become, apparently. Aster already had enough books on rabbits to fill a mobile library (Jack had always wondered about that, since he moved in), so that's already checked on the list. Jack takes to reading them himself, curious about it, about how rabbits behave. The biting he can deal with, he already likes that, but…

"If you ever pee on me, I'm dumping you," he says one day, waving the book in Aster's face. Aster looks up from his sketchbook with an expression that might suggest he worries about Jack's sanity.

"Not into watersports," he says, deadpan. Jack harrumphs, sliding onto the arm of the chair Aster's lounging in.

"It says here rabbits pee on their mates," he says, and if it comes out a little whiny, well, it's justified. Golden showers are definitely not on Jack's list of kinks. Aster bursts out laughing.

"Ah, bollocks, as if I'd do that!" he says, dragging Jack into his lap and kissing him. Sometimes, Jack wonders how their sex life is going to change. It's always been healthy, and Jack's always, well… Aster's kind of a dreamboat, all broad shoulders, long legs and hard muscles and everything anyone attracted to men could want. How will this change what they have? Will they even be able to…? Will he be able to…?

Jack pulls away from the kiss, buries his face in Aster's neck.

"Something wrong?" the Australian asks, running a worried hand down Jack's slim back. Jack shakes his head, kisses Aster's hot, dark skin, breathes in the scent of paint, chocolate and sandalwood.

"Nothing," he murmurs. "Nothing at all." He hides his doubts, smothers them with hope, because he has to believe this can work whatever. They're each the only thing the other has, and Jack has to believe that this won't break them.

.

The next step is telling their friends. It's done over a dinner, rigorously cooked by Aster because Jack isn't really good at anything that goes beyond grilled cheese or scrambled eggs. Kozmotis brought the wine, of course, North the dessert, and they wait until that, when they're mollified by full stomachs and at least a bottle of red burgundy between them to take it perhaps marginally better.

They needn't have worried.

"So, you're a freak?" Kozmotis asks, in that silky, sarcastic way of his. He's giving Aster a certain look over the rim of his glass, with a little smirk that shows there's no real insult in his words at all. That's what Kozmotis does.

"And you're a dickhead," Aster replies with a roll of his eyes. Sandy smacks his husband's arm and gives Aster a concerned look.

Are you sure about this? he signs. Aster nods.

"We've already talked about it," he says, giving Sandy a reassuring smile.

"You're staying together?" Kozmotis asks, mildly impressed. Jack and Aster exchange a look.

"Got a problem?" Aster says, eyes narrowing. Kozmotis snorts.

"As if I would ever," he scoffs, waving a hand.

What Jack is surprised at, however, is that North has remained silent during this entire conversation. He looks at the Russian, normally so loud and boisterous, and is taken aback by the thoughtfully look on his face, the slight frown and the pensive stroking of his short beard.

"North?" he murmurs. The Russian smiles absently.

"I have… been seeing someone," he says. "She is… well, you should meet her."

"What's that got to do with anything?" Kozmotis asks, folding his arms and giving North a very unimpressed look. Kozmotis is very good at those. Sandy glares at him and smiles at North encouragingly.

What's her name? What's she like?

"Her name is Tiana, but everyone calls her Tooth," North says. "And I think… Well, you'll see when you meet her."

.

Tiana "call me Tooth!" Saphēdamōti is the strangest woman Jack has ever met.

She's hyper, cheerful, friendly, and obsessed with dental hygiene. She also keeps piles and piles of scrapbooks and photo albums, for the memories, apparently. She also breeds hummingbirds and, according to North, makes a killer curry. But that's not what's most unusual.

She's covered from head to toe in beautiful, iridescent feathers. They shimmer in the light when she moves, like gems, greens and blues and purples mostly, with bright gold at her wrists, ankles and neck. From her back sprout delicate hummingbird wings, and she never seems to land except to sit. She hovers everywhere, her wings buzzing softly. She's very dainty, always smiling and bubbly, like a ray of sunshine, and maybe she's got a strong dose of ADHD, but it doesn't matter, because she's awesome and she and North are a perfect match.

They met while fencing, and Jack is so very unsurprised. The looks they give each other are as soppy as anything, and Jack hopes he and Aster don't act like that. It would be sincerely embarrassing.

However… it's her backstory that's most important to Jack and Aster. She welcomes them into her home, and is immediately understanding of Aster and Jack and their relationship, even though Aster won't have a human form anymore.

After she has sat them down and made them tea, she picks out an older photo album. And one photo explains everything.

"My mother was a hummingbird anthro," she says, smiling at fond memories, and a picture of a woman with blurry wings, feathers, a beak, hovering, on the arm of a human man. They look very much in love . "And my father was human. I was the result. Oh, how my grandparents hated their marriage, and me. It was an arranged marriage, you see, but before the wedding my mother had her species change, and it was called off. My parents didn't care, they eloped, it was so romantic." Tooth sighs dreamily. "We moved to America, but it didn't get any better. My parents were shunned for their relationship, he couldn't keep a job when they found out my mother was an anthro. School was hell. I was the bird freak.

"It was so hard to find a job, even though I was the best student in my field on the entire East Coast. No one wants a hybrid." She looks at them, gives them an encouraging smile. "Fight for what you have, because it won't be easy. There will be people who want to take everything from you, people who jeer and scorn, and try to hurt you. But you have each other."

Jack takes Aster's hand, entwines their fingers. Aster smiles at him, and then looks back to Tooth with a nod.

After that, she becomes part of their small circle of friends, literally hovering next to North. Jack can't understand how anyone could hate her because of what she is, because she's one of the sweetest people he's ever encountered. It makes him all the more resolute to stick with Aster to the bitter end.

.

It takes another two months of doctor's appointments, support groups and so many tests before Aster can begin preparations for the change itself. They're lucky it's Kozmotis that does the psychological assessment, because he knows Aster so well, and they know they can trust him. The date looms ever closer, large and imposing, and in their apartment hangs a mingled air of anticipation and anxiety. Aster's fuse is shorter than usual, Jack's twitchy, and whenever their friends come round the atmosphere's always terribly heavy. Sandy and Tooth try to cheer them up, North tries to take them out, but they have too little patience and too much worry in their minds.

The night before Aster's due to go into hospital, Jack can't sleep. He sits on the sofa, arms wrapped around himself, staring at the wall. What if it's not him, it's Aster? What if Aster doesn't feel attracted to him anymore? What if his tastes change, if Jack's not… what he wants?

He's terrified. Because Aster's all he has, all he's had for years now, the only person he can truly call family. The only person he wants to call family. What would he do if Aster didn't want him anymore?

He rubs at his eyes, sucking in a sob he can't quite control, and it's only the creaky floorboard that alerts him.

"Love?"

Aster hardly ever calls him that, only when he's worried. Jack doesn't look at him, turns his head away to hide his watery eyes. Aster, ever stubborn, is never one to take rebuttal, and sits beside Jack, clad in only his boxers, because that's how he always sleeps. Jack rubs his arms, hunched over himself, and he sniffs. He can't help it.

"It's supposed to be the other way around," Aster says, a delicate hint of amusement in his voice. He winds a strong arm around Jack's shoulders, pulls him closer, and Jack lets go. He sobs into his hands, into a cushion he grabs to muffle the sounds. And through it all, Aster sits there, holding Jack close, cradling him.

Jack knows perfectly well he's being selfish, but he truly has no one apart from Aster. He was at such a low point, nowhere to go and nobody to turn to, when Aster appeared, bringing new hope into a life that didn't seem to have anything left to give. Aster could see him when he was invisible and held his arms open when Jack was unwanted.

He can't imagine losing that.

"Nothing's going to change," Aster says fiercely, kissing Jack's head, stroking strong, paint-stained fingers through snow-pale hair. Jack will miss the heat of his skin, his greying hair and strong features. He'll miss the sideburns and the long legs and the shoulders he holds onto like a lifeline.

Aster carries him back to bed, curls around him protectively like he's always done, and Jack falls asleep like that, clutching as hard as he can and fearing the day.

.

He sits with Aster before the species reassignment therapy. They're holding hands, because they both need the comfort.

"You're the only thing I've got, Frostbite," Aster murmurs. "I'm not going to let anything change."

Jack looks up. The hand holding his tightens. If the moment weren't so serious, he'd laugh, because hospital gowns look so silly.

"I'm not going to let it, either," Jack assures him. Aster gives him a smile, a warm, affectionate smile that Jack's always been able to stare at forever, and then the doctor comes in, followed by a male nurse with a wheelchair.

"Ready, Mr Bunnymund?" he asks.

"Ready as I'll ever be," Aster replies, his voice a mixture of anticipation and foreboding. Jack actually does chuckle this time, kisses him on the cheek. The doctor and the nurse, to his relief, don't even spare them a second glance.

"I'll be right here," Jack promises. "Good luck."

"She'll be apples," Aster says confidently, his lips twitching.

Jack goes with him as far as the doors of the genetic chamber room. He folds his arms, bites his lip, and waves. Aster gives him a wink in reply, and now, all Jack can do is wait.