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Such A Story

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Jack Frost, she had been named, and so Jack Frost she was. She went barefoot and lighter than a feather on the wind, sometimes laughing for the sheer joy of throwing herself into the air and tumbling down again. Flurries gathered at her call; ice followed her direction as effortlessly as breathing; and her frost was her particular pride, as elaborate as any work of art in a museum -- better, maybe, because she could paint layers upon layers, so that even as the sun melted away parts of her work, new facts could be revealed.

She would like to see any painter top that!

And sometimes, on especially clear and cold nights, she perched on windowsills and drew her pale fingers across the glass to watch the patterns she left behind. She wrote a story in bits and pieces, this one on a man's bedroom, this one on a family's kitchen, this one looking in on the family hearth. The words were there in her head, as clear as day, but they came out as pictures, hidden in the swirls and curves of ice.

Once upon a time, there lived a princess with no castle. The wind was her dance partner, the swirling snows formed her gown, and the ice created her precious gems, which she braided into the long tumble of her hair. The entire season of winter was her domain, stretching out crystalline and endless, for it was always winter somewhere in the world, after all.

Every day and every night, she traveled, and every day and every night, she saw many amazing things. But most of all, more than anything else, she wished there was a way to share it.

Every now and then she waited until morning just to see how her work would be received. Most people didn't even notice, but a few children stared and pointed, and maybe there was something of the Moon's magic in her work, because occasionally she heard her name whispered among them, and each one was a brief thrilling ripple across her skin. Jack Frost did this. Jack Frost left this.

It wasn't the same as belief. None of the people who said her name actually believed in her; she was just another name for the phenomenon of winter. But sometimes, even so, she liked to linger and pretend that any second now -- any second now -- someone would look up and see her, for real and truth see her, and one of them would call her down to earth. She would go, she knew she would, and with her feet on the ground, she would finally meet the person who would go with her, out into the wide world, and if she laughed as the wind tumbled her around, there would be more to answer her than the echoes of her own voice.

Please see me. Please notice me. I'm right here.

Jack spun flowers out of frost and put them in her hair; she tapped the crook of her staff against empty spiderwebs so that each junction glimmered with tiny chips of ice and laid them across her skin like gloves of lace and diamond. She sat in trees and watched the world shift below her, as short skirts and short hair became fashionable, and she didn't dislike the look -- it certainly made traveling easier without her hair in her eyes -- but she couldn't help but regret it losing that weight, just a little.

So she compromised; she was nothing if not adaptable. The skirts she had to give up on, except sometimes when the moon was full and the wind was singing in the empty tree branches, but her hair she grew out again, first from its close-cropped nest to a sleek bob, and then to halfway down her back, which she braided tightly and pinned to her skull with shards of ice, cool against her skin. It was a heavy weight, but almost a comforting one, like a secret that would someday be revealed at the exact right moment.

In the meantime, though, she dreamed up elaborate structures for a castle that didn't exist, drew lines of ice for people to slip and crash into each other over, and brought enough snow for people to enjoy in their own ways.

The idea first took root inside of her in the Fifties, sitting in the trees and watching the flickering lights of a drive-in theater's screen, as beautiful people in beautiful clothes came together and broke apart and drew close again. The world had changed so much from the way it had been when she'd first opened her eyes: everything was growing fast and furious, and even for someone like her, who never aged (couldn't age, she was certain by now), it was dizzying. She wondered how humans could keep up with their own breakneck pace sometimes, where each new thing had to be bigger, better, more flashy and elaborate than anything from yesterday.

From there, she had to wonder if, perhaps, she just wasn't trying hard enough. Snowstorms and frosted windows caught the attention well enough even just a hundred years ago, when houses were smaller and cities didn't light the night for all hours, but now ... now maybe she needed to push a little harder. If she couldn't find a person to see her, then maybe the thing to do was to have that someone come to her, instead.

It might be nice to be the one chased, for once.

And from there ... well. Jack spent the rest of the decade and the better part of the next one preparing. This was going to be her finest moment -- her winter's ball, her debut on the great stage of the world. It was important that the timing be right -- a point where snow wouldn't be expected, but nor could it be completely implausible. It had to be something that would draw attention for miles, something that no one would be able to ignore. No one! The very thought left her giddy with anticipation, as she settled on the date -- April 13th sounded good to her -- and then to design the details of her dress.

She drew variations in frost with her staff, listening as the wind slid icy fingers through her hair and murmured its opinion -- less ruffles here, more frills there, long sleeves to accent her movements when she danced, a modified empire waist to enhance her modest bust and still emphasize the lean flare of her hips, a slit to show off enough of her legs to be interesting. It had to be in different shades of snow shadows, to help set off her own pale skin and the fall of her hair. She could make diamonds out of ice, to be wrapped around her throat and around her her thin wrists, and she was nearly breathless with the excitement.

Finally, finally, someone had to notice--!

And when the night arrived, she snapped the ice pins that held her hair back and combed it free of its customary braid, letting the early misting snows settle and soften it, so that it looked less like an uncombed tangle and more like artful waves -- and into it she wove a net of tiny icicles and crescent moons, so that they would all sparkle if the light hit them just right.

Then she took her staff and struck the ground, which was the wind's cue. It sprang to life around her, crying out in an ululation of sheer joy; her excitement was contagious and it bled outward, and she held up her arms to let the gossamer threads of snow and ice settle around her, forming the dress she'd dreamed and revised for literally years.

And for the whole night Jack Frost danced, letting the wind snatch up the sound of her laughter and carry it far and wide, along with the soft snow of her blessings. As the moon rose and occasionally peeked through the cloudbank, frost curled thick and elaborate on every window, until each plane of glass was a tapestry for her story. Once upon a time, there lived a princess with no castle.

In the morning, exhausted but hopeful, she settled herself at the base of a great oak tree, her staff balanced over her knees, and waited.

It took less time than she expected, too. Just as she found herself about to nod off, she heard the sound of thumping footsteps. She had just enough time to sit up and try to compose herself when he appeared: tall, broad-shouldered, and ...

... furry.

"Oi." His eyes were a bright vivid green she'd never seen on a human before -- they were true-green, the exact color of spring and growing things. It was almost enough to distract from wide pink nose and the long pointed ears-- no, really, who was she kidding? It was a giant rabbit standing in front of her, and there was only one creature she knew that fit that sort of description.

"Uh." She tipped her head back to try and get a better look at him. "You're ... the Easter Bunny, aren't you."

"Got it in one." He crossed his arms over his chest (was that even the right terminology? could a rabbit have arms?) and scowled down at her. "And you're Jack Frost."

"The one and only." She gave him her most winning smile, the one she'd practiced in ice for years. Her heart was beating faster just from the simple act of talking to someone, and really, how sad was that? But even when she scolded herself she couldn't push the thought away, so she tightened her hands on her staff and sat up just that little bit straighter. "Something on your mind? Never heard of one of the Big Four coming down off their high horses to talk to us little people."

The words were out of her mouth before she could stop them, and she had to bite back a wince. That wasn't the way to talk to people! Rabbits. People-rabbits.

But the Easter Bunny just narrowed his eyes further, until they were glittering slits against his darker fur. (Jack had, perhaps, stolen one too many novels on boring afternoons.) "Something on my mind? You could say that ... on account of it bein' Easter Sunday and all, and there's snow that's knee-deep from here to the coast!"

"The coast? Really?" She couldn't help but perk up at that. She hadn't expected her message to reach that far -- but the wind was her best friend, after all, and she thought to herself that it was better not to doubt in the future. "Knee-deep?"

"Yes, knee-deep! The whole way!" he snapped, distracting her from her moment of triumph. He looked genuinely furious now, his hands (paws?) clenched into fists, as if he was just refraining from lashing out with them. She could see the tension in his shoulders as he refrained, and she had to admit they were pretty impressive. She'd seen her share of human men showing off their bodies, and she'd admired some of them quite a bit (some enough to run her fingers over their shoulders, and she'd laughed when they'd flinched and pulled away, because it was funny even when it stung), there was something about the Easter Bunny -- the Easter Bunny, of all things! -- that was a lot more natural, somehow, like it wasn't a little bit ridiculous for a giant talking rabbit to be swaggering around on his hind legs and have muscles she could see even through his fur and--

--oh, he was still talking, wasn't he?

"--the most irresponsible, ridiculous piece of shite I've seen in years! Decades! Centuries!" He was looming over her now, and Jack and to lean back a little to maintain eye contact. "Couldn't have saved your little prank for a better time, oh no, mate, had to come tromping into spring's territory like you bloody own the place! Winter's long over, kiddo, so you'd better--"

"Jack," she said, in the middle of his rant. He stopped, looking poleaxed for a moment, and she could see another rant building, so she went on, as quickly as she could: "My name's Jack. You knew it. Could you say it again?"

His brow furrowed. She'd derailed him for the moment, she could tell, his ears relaxing from their initial tense posture against his head. "What?"

"Well. You know." In hindsight, the request sounded absolutely childish. She fidgeted a little, rubbing her thumbs against the weathered wood of her staff for courage. Suddenly she felt a little ridiculous, still in her dress and finery from the night before, acutely aware of how out of place it all really was. She wasn't a princess, or any sort of lady of good breeding, or even someone who should normally have the attention of someone as well-known and believed in as the Easter Bunny. She was just Jack Frost, cold and lonely and daydreaming of someone who'd look at her and say--

"Jack?"

She peeked up at him. As she watched, he lowered himself into a crouch before her -- they were almost eye-level now, though he was still noticeably taller. There was something thoughtful in his face now, like he was maybe putting things together, and she almost panicked. She hadn't said anything, she knew she hadn't; there was no way he'd be able to tell how much she'd wanted this, just to be noticed, if only for a moment, and really, if the earth would just swallow her up right now, it wouldn't come a moment too soon. Jack had to look away first, pulling her staff up from her knees to hug it to her chest, not quite defensive. She really should have changed back into her normal clothes; they would just weigh her down if she called for the wind now.

"Hey." His voice was softer now, now outright gentle. Something soft and warm touched her cheek, and it took her a moment to register it as his finger, brushing against her cheekbone. She jerked back with a startled squeak, clapping a hand to that cheek, staring at him wide-eyed. Her own skin was damp under her fingers, but she couldn't even be embarrassed by the evidence of her tears, because he'd touched her.

Two hundred and seventy-odd years of waiting and reaching out and trying, two hundred and seventy-odd years of being ignored and walked through and dismissed as a natural weather phenomenon, and the Easter Bunny had reached out and touched her skin, like she was as solid and real and known as he was.

"Hey," he said again, and there was alarm in his eyes now as he reached out again. "Hey, bloody hell, don't cry--" And then his paw curved around the back of her head and he pulled her to him. Jack resisted for maybe a single second, then let herself collapse forward, and it was awkward and ungraceful and unladylike, but she had tumbled into someone, her face was pressed against warm thick fur that smelled of the rich earth and growing things, and she'd never thought that anything would smell as good as the scent of snow on a sharp wind, but it seemed she'd been completely wrong. She blinked a few times and realized she was still crying, and for real, and once she'd realized that there was no stopping them: they came up ugly and racking, hard enough to hurt, and she was clutching at handfuls of the Easter Bunny's fur.

And he let her, which was the thing that a small part of her continued to marvel at: he'd been so angry just a few moments before, but now he was cradling her like someone might a perfect snowflake (or, if she was more honest, a painted egg), dragging claws lightly through her hair in soothing passes and his other hand pressed to her back in extra support. Every now and then he murmured something in a low rumbling voice, little nonsense shushing words. She'd heard them before, from mother to child, from loved one to loved one, and in her heart she'd hoped that, when her time came, she would be able to say the right things.

But for now, it seemed, "her time" meant her crying instead, and she knew that the ice net in her hair had to be melting from how warm the Easter Bunny was, and she knew that it had to be unpleasantly cold, but he didn't even flinch at the freezing water dripping onto his fur, holding still and holding her as she cried.

Then, when she was finally done, he leaned back a little -- though he kept his hands on her, solid and anchoring -- to look her in the eye. "You done there, Snowflake?"

The nickname earned a startled and watery little giggle from her. "Snowflake?"

He shrugged. One of his ears flicked a little, and for a moment he wouldn't quite look her in the face. "Yeah, well. Look at you right now, all dressed up fancy like that. It fit, didn't it?"

Jack let go of him long enough to rub at her eyes with a sleeve. She managed a small smile, and after a moment of hesitation, she put her hand on him again, not quite burrowing her fingers into his warm fur. "It's cute."

The Easter Bunny huffed, and though he sounded irritated, there was an answering smile tugging at the corner of his strange mouth. "Not at all like you, you bloody troublemaker. Some of us have a holiday to salvage, here."

He let go and started to pull back, and Jack couldn't stop the moment of panic that shivered through her, colder than the ice that had birthed her. She lunged forward and caught his arm, and she didn't know which of them was more surprised by the gesture.

"Uh," she said, her voice rising into a squeak. "I. I-I could help, maybe? I mean, if it's my fault anyway, maybe it's the least I could do, you know, just--"

Please don't go away. Please don't leave me alone again.

His ears twitched. He looked somewhere between amused and annoyed again, but he sighed and put a hand on her head. It was warm and heavy; it felt like it was tying her to the earth itself -- but not in a bad way. There was no unpleasant drag to it, the way there was in her occasional nightmare.

"I think you've helped enough," he said dryly. "But tell you what. You swear to behave yourself, and I'll let you cool your heels at my place."

It took her a moment to recognize what he was offering, and when she did, she couldn't help but stretch up a bit, pressing herself against the weight of his hand. "Really?"

"But!" He shook a finger in her face. "You have to swear. You wreck anything there, and I'll have your pretty hide for a rug."

"I promise," she breathed, hugging her staff tightly to her chest. "I swear! I'll swear on anything -- winter itself! I'll be good."

The Easter Bunny chuckled and stepped back. He thumped his foot twice sharply against the earth, and a hole appeared beside them, deep and warmly dark. "It's a straight shot down from there, mate. Go on."

Jack got to her feet, just a little unsteady, trying absently to fix the wrinkles of her dress first. She took a deep breath, inching to the edge of that hole, then looked up at him one more time.

"My name's Jack Frost," she said. "What about you?"

He quirked an eyebrow at her (and how strange was that, that a rabbit could have eyebrows -- but she found she was already growing used to his face; it no longer seemed even half as strange as it had at first). "E. Aster Bunnymund. That's Mister Bunnymund to you, though, you little terror--"

"I'll see you, Aster," she said, more breathlessly than she meant, then jumped as he sputtered something about proper respect and appropriate titles. And true to his word, after a few moments of freefalling, she saw a spark of green light, which grew and grew until she had dropped into what looked like a great and glorious garden, so warm and full of life that it made her nose itch. She looked up, and there was no sign of the hole she'd come through, but there were signs everywhere that someone lived here -- the plants were weed-free and clear of any sort of dead or dying debris. The whole place smelled just like he had, like spring and new beginnings and a small, fledgling blossom of hope.

Not all princes had to come on a white horse, or with warm hands to drag their princesses to earth. He didn't have to wear a sword or have a flowing cape; he just needed the eyes to see. The most important thing about a prince was his heart, and she couldn't help but think she had struck true gold with this one.

Jack settled herself at the base of a large, moss-covered rock, and hugged her staff for lack of anything more solid. She tipped her head back and smiled at the sky, content to wait for Aster's return.

Once upon a time, there lived a princess with no castle. The wind was her dance partner, the swirling snows formed her gown, and the ice created her precious gems, which she braided into the long tumble of her hair. The entire season of winter was her domain, stretching out crystalline and endless, for it was always winter somewhere in the world, after all.

Every day and every night, she traveled, and every day and every night, she saw many amazing things. But most of all, more than anything else, she wished there was a way to share it.

And then, one day, a prince of spring held out his hand, and said to her: I see you, dancing alone, and you are beautiful, but I think that together is more beautiful than alone. Will you come with me?

And the princess who had no castle but ruled over the vast kingdom of loneliness set aside her crown and said: Yes, I will.

And they went off together, and if sometimes she spun too far out of reach and sometimes he sank too deep in the earth to touch, they always somehow found each other again.

And in their own way, they lived quite happily ever after.