A Winter's RosebyLadyArielle©
Jack found his wife in their hotel room, flinging clothing into her suitcase, a scowl stamped on her face. He leaned against the door frame to watch, casually crossing his arms over his chest, amused.
"Going somewhere?" he asked pleasantly.
"I'm moving to Florida," she answered, viciously jabbing a pair of Jimmy Choos into a corner. "I hate snow." She paused, groping for another item to abuse. "And I can't ski worth a damn," she added, wadding a pair of insulated ski pants unceremoniously into a ball and jamming it into the recesses of the bag.
"You skate beautifully," he risked stepping into the bedroom of their suite, his long legs reaching her in less than two strides. He plucked the ski pants out of the suitcase and shook them out. "And you look cute in snowdrifts. You know I don't mind skiing alone." He hung the pants in the closet as she stuffed an Irish wool sweater into the suitcase.
"I can skate in Florida. They have indoor rinks, and it's warm outside."
"Honey, it's our job," Jack said patiently, taking out the sweater and folding it neatly. He stowed it in the dresser as she heaved an armload of lingerie willy-nilly on top of the designer shoes. He groaned inwardly. If she was packing her underwear, she was more serious than usual. Still, it was always fun to sort through her amazing collection. He started carefully pulling out the bits of silk and satin and lace, admiring the colorful assortment as he piled them into a tidy stack. He barely managed to duck aside as she launched a pair of fur-lined Uggs at his head.
"It's your job," she snapped, nodding in satisfaction as the boots toppled sideways into the suitcase. "I quit."
"You can't quit," Jack said reasonably, tucking the panties into a drawer. "It's less than a week 'til Christmas. Your father would skin me. And then exile you to the South Pole until the next millennia."
"He can try," she snarled, shooting a spike-heeled silver shoe in his general direction. He caught it one handed, and batted aside its mate as it sailed toward him.
"Sweetheart," Jack soothed, ducking flying footwear as he inched toward his furious wife, "you always threaten to quit during the holidays. You always manage to get through it, and we laugh after New Year's. You love Christmas, remember?" He caught her arm, poised to heave a fistful of belts, bolo-style. His large hand circled her wrist, gentle but implacable, and squeezed. She met his gaze for a long moment, eyes spitting fire. Then the angry façade cracked, and she suddenly burst into tears, dropping the belts and sliding to the floor in a soggy heap. He knelt with her, holding her close as she cried.
"I just want to be warm," she wailed.
The vase of hothouse flowers, delivered only that morning, wilted and spit petals over the dresser as Rose, the only child of Nicholas, the Great Lord of Winter, sobbed. Jack wrapped his arms around her, tucking her head under his chin.
"I know, baby," he rocked her gently, her tears soaking his silk shirt. "Right after Christmas, two weeks in the Bahamas. I promise."
"You can't take two weeks in the tropics," Rose The Ever Perverse argued.
"I'll wait for you in Alaska," Jack shrugged. "You need a break."
"What will you do while I'm gone?" she asked, sounding equal parts woebegone and hopeful.
"Ski," Jack said promptly, nudging her with an elbow and kissing her nose. "You hate it anyway."
"I'm tired of ice, and snow, and being in Australia in June," she sighed deeply, but it was obvious her meltdown had passed. Jack let himself relax, and helped his wife to her feet. "I'm sick of hotels, too. Why can't we have a home, like Dad does?"
"There's only a few places it's cold enough, love, you know that," Jack answered for the hundredth time. "And our work is hands-on; we travel so much it's pointless."
After three hundred years wed, the conversation was pretty much rhetorical. Jack pulled Rose into his arms, his mind more on her curves than her misery. Three centuries of loving her, and he was still bemused at the intensity of his adoration. Jonathan Frost III, Jack to his friends, had fallen head-over-heels, face-first into a brick wall, in love with the most beautiful and gifted Winter Sprite in a thousand years. From the first time he laid eyes on her, he had surrendered his soul without a whimper. He was quite aware that he was the luckiest of men - a besotted husband that was adored by a loving wife who shared his life's work with a passion equal to his own.
Except for his beloved's occasional PMS from Hell, life was just about perfect.
Ah well, Jack thought as he scooped Rose off her feet, his mouth most effectively distracting her from any last vestiges of bad temper, every relationship has its problems.
Jack nearly ran over the woman who appeared out of nowhere on his ski run. A quick flick of his hips and he slewed around, spraying powder everywhere, and rapidly stopped behind her. She merely turned and glared at him, filmy green gown blowing around her lithe form, hair the color of sunset waving away from a perfect oval of a face. Familiar violet eyes glared him up and down. Jack went from startled - to irritated - to angry.
"Rose, what that hell are you doing?" He snapped. "If you need me, there's better ways to call than almost making me cause an avalanche!"
The woman grabbed his hand, yanked off his glove and slapped something cold, flat, and round into the bare palm, all the while glowering`.
"It has come to my attention, Frost Lord, that you have been allowing my daughter to die in stages for the last three hundred years," the woman that looked remarkably like his wife snarled. "I will make this brief, as I am a danger to any that are not Mine. Take this talisman and find Lord Ra. He should be in Hawaii this time of year."
Jack gaped at her in sudden understanding. "You're Calliope," he managed. "Rose's mother."
"Callie, Nicholas calls me." The Muse shrugged. "It is my regret I could not raise my daughter, but never think I have not kept tabs on her. Except for the gross neglect you've displayed, I approve of your marriage. She loves you, Frost Lord."
"And I her," Jack said, confused at the flood of emotion that didn't seem to belong to him, and the cryptic comments of his mother-in-law. Then something she said registered. "What the hell do you mean, my neglect?" he demanded, suddenly panicked. "And Rose is dying?" He felt fear crawl up his throat and clog his breathing. "How? Why? What did I do?"
"All it not lost," Callie said gravely. "I should have realized that Nicholas would forget his daughter's needs. One of my sisters inspired his compulsive list-making years after I had to leave, to help keep him organized. Unfortunately, it did our daughter little good. Rose will be fine, Frost Lord, if you do as I say."
And then she explained.
Jack hated Hawaii as much as Rose hated snow -- and more. He was a Lord of Winter, for crying out loud; all this sun and sand and warm sapphire ocean made him faintly nauseous and wish feverently for a tall mountain and a pair of skis. Or even a boogie board - anything but this unrelenting heat and sunshine.
I wonder if this is how Rose feels all the time, Jack thought suddenly. I feel like I'm going to melt from the inside out in this climate. Does she feel like she's carrying ice shards in her gut most days?
It was a sobering thought. He glanced around, the idea of Rose suffering any further spurring him to locate Ra as soon as possible. A quick scan yielded nothing except a new appreciation of how sunny climates tended to produce better scenery than his own habitat. Despite his desperation, it was difficult to concentrate on locating a Sun Lord when confronted with so many luscious women in so little clothing. With a supreme effort to concentrate on the task at hand, he shut his eyes, counted to ten, and firmly set his mind on finding Ra.
"C'mon, how hard can it be to find a Sun God in Hawaii?" Jack muttered to himself, checking the amulet Callie had given him. It was glowing brightly, a miniature heatless sun in his palm. Ra couldn't be far. He rotated slowly, squinting to try and catch any change in intensity. When the thing shocked him, he yelped involuntarily, and nearly dropped the talisman. His gaze jerked up. Not ten feet away was a low-slung beach chair, a tuft of golden hair visible over the high canvas back. Jack couldn't make out more than one darkly tanned hand holding an iced cocktail with a pink umbrella sticking out of it.
On approach, he didn't look much like a Lord of anything. Jack estimated his height about the same as his own six-two, but it was difficult to judge when the subject was sprawled carelessly in a canvas chair. He was clad only in baggy, eye-searing, orange and purple board shorts and pair of Terminator sunglasses. A swath of neon yellow sunblock decorated his straight, but a shade too long, nose. As Jack drew closer, the fellow picked up his drink and took a long, leisurely sip. The guy actually used a straw. Jack winced.
Rose will eat this joker alive, spit him out, and use the compost in her garden.
Still, it wasn't entirely fair to judge by first impressions. It was possible Ra was playing a part, keeping a low profile, as most Immortals do among the humans. Like Clark Kent.
"Dude, you're blocking my rays," a deep, lazy, authentic Southern Californian Surfer voice interrupted Jack's inner debate.
"Sorry." Jack stepped hastily aside, circling the chair until his shadow fell behind him. "Uh, I need to talk to you."
"No more lessons today; sign up at the board shop," Mr. Surfer Dude waved a languid hand back the way Jack had come.
"Lessons?" Jack asked blankly.
The Terminator glasses turned his way, sliding down the long nose to reveal summer blue eyes that were regarding him with mild irritation. "You're not here for surfing lessons?"
"No," Jack said, shrugging. "I --"
"Big surprise." The gaze sharpened, looking Jack up and down just short of scornfully, raising an eyebrow at his Dockers and white dress shirt. "Wouldn't last five minutes."
"I doubt you'd survive that long on skis," Jack said coolly, keeping his sneer under control with an effort.
"Dude, do I look like a snow skier?" The blue eyes glinted dangerously.
Jack laughed with a nod of respect. "No more than I look at home on a surfboard."
A gleam of humor glimmered over the shades. "Fair enough."
"Jack Frost," Jack stuck his hand out with a smile that was half a challenge.
Surfer Guy took it in a firm grip. "Man, your parents must have hated you," he observed.
"The Third," Jack said, with a significant look. "And you're Ra."
The hand gripping Jack's stopped its friendly shake and the eyes over the black shades shuttered. "Name's Ray," he stood, fluidly extracting himself from the canvas chair and giving Jack a flat stare. "I think you've got me confused with someone else, dude."
"I don't think so," Jack said, looking the man in the eye. "I'm who I said I am -- Jack Frost, Lord of Winter. And you're Ra, one of the Lords of Summer. At least, according to this you are." Jack held up Callie's amulet, which was now dark and doing a fine impression of an ordinary clay medallion. He blinked, and met Ra's -- Ray's -- amused grin.
"You're on a whole slew of medications, aren't you?"
"No," Jack ground out, baffled why the amulet was suddenly uncooperative. He shook it in exasperation, but it remained dull and lifeless in his fingers. He met the other man's gaze, willing him to listen. "Look, I get the cover story. We're immortal, have to blend in, yadda yadda. We're also on opposite shifts, so we've never met. But I need your help."
"Mister, I don't know what you've been smoking, but unless you're gonna share, I suggest you move along." Ray plucked his chair off the sand and folded it in one motion, tucking it under his arm. "I'll even give you a head start when the guys in white coats show up to take you home."
Desperate times call for desperate measures, was the only thought Jack had as he stopped the man's retreat by grabbing his arm. One long finger of his other hand plunged into Ray's drink, and Jack watched in satisfaction as the frou-frou cocktail froze solid even as he yanked his own hand away. Ray lost his grip as the suddenly arctic glass seared his skin. The glass shattered as it hit the hot sand. Jack was sweating now, swaying on his feet and feeling more than a little dizzy, but his ice blue eyes never wavered from Ray's. The other man glanced at the chunks of icy glass at his feet, and looked back at Jack with a slight smile and a look of perfect understanding.
"Jack Frost, hm?" Ray's surfer dude accent morphed into an Australian drawl. "And how can I help a Lord of Winter?"
Jack's stomach was in knots; the energy needed to freeze alcohol in this environment had drained him alarmingly. But he gritted his teeth and faced Ra, his mind in such a jumble that he blurted the first vaguely coherent thought.
"I need you to make love to my wife."
"Well," he said after a long moment. "I'd find that tempting, if I wasn't certain you're delirious. Let's get you inside; it must be bloody torture for you out here."
Air conditioning never felt so blissful. Jack sipped icy lemonade, wearing a pair of borrowed shorts, hair still damp from the hasty cold shower that had gotten his body temperature back down to something approaching normal. Ra, or Ray as he preferred to be addressed, sat near the window, the sun warming his skin as Jack's metabolism equalized.
"So, Lord Frost," Ray began.
"Jack," Jack corrected, waving a careless hand at Ray as he gulped his drink. "I hardly think we need to bother with titles, do you? I mean, I practically passed out in your room."
"Jack," Ray amended, raising an eyebrow and nodding. "Tell me, how long have you been insane?" His tone was perfectly conversational.
"About three and a half centuries," Jack laughed at the look on Ray's face. "Ever since I met Rose."
"Your wife." It wasn't a question.
"That's right." He drained the lemonade with a happy sigh and crunched the ice, sitting back and smiling pleasantly at his host.
"Feeling better?" Ray asked.
"Much. Remind me not to do that again."
"Bloody idiot," Ray growled. "You should know better. I had terrifying visions of millennia of paperwork if you up and died on my doorstep. Good Lord, man, Apollo would have kittens if one of Nicholas' boys came to harm in his territory. What were you thinking?"
"It got your attention." Jack shrugged.
"And came close to killing you," Ray said bluntly.
Jack nodded a bit sheepishly. "I admit I hadn't thought things all the way through. I was desperate." He eyed the other man with respect. "I'm impressed that you didn't break cover until then, though."
"Didn't give me much of a choice, did you now?" Ray said with some asperity.
Ray waited patiently. When it became apparent that Jack wasn't inclined to speak further, he sighed, and took the conversation reins in hand.
"You said you needed my help?"
The other man looked startled at the sound of Ray's voice, but nodded gamely.
"I do. It's....complicated," Jack eyed Ray warily.
"I imagine so."
They regarded each other for several long seconds. Finally, Jack offered a crooked half-smile and shrugged one shoulder.
"I assume you know of Rose?"
"Who doesn't, mate?" Ray gave Jack a grin of his own. "The Great Lord of Winter, felled by fickle beauty, is the story."
The Immortal circle was notoriously gossip-ridden; all members knew amazingly intimate things about people they'd never met. Jack nodded at Ray, obviously unsurprised at the remark.
"Rose's mother is a Muse, yeah," Jack confirmed. "I've met her."
"Really?" Ray asked with interest. "You've met a real Muse? What is she like?"
"Gorgeous. Persuasive. Scary as hell." Jack's voice was rather flat, and Ray laughed, stopping when he realized Jack wasn't joking.
"Scary? How so?"
"Apparently, if she isn't your Muse, all that creative energy has an.....unfortunate effect." Jack met Ray's eyes squarely. "Even on other Immortals. Euphoria, sexual desire, amazing rush of energy. Followed by panic, depression, desperation."
"Wow," was all Ray could think to say.
"Especially uncomfortable when she's your mother-in-law," Jack said sagely. "To give her credit, she did her best to keep the meeting brief. But I got the tongue-lashing of a lifetime, let me tell you."
"What for?" Ray was finding himself intrigued by Jack and his story. The man was still mad, of course. But interesting.
Jack leaped to his feet, pacing in obvious agitation. "How was I supposed to know?" He asked, running his hands through his hair and looking at Ray imploringly.
"You couldn't," Ray answered obligingly.
"I mean, she's the Great Lord of Winter's daughter," Jack seemed eager to explain.
"Of course she is," Ray nodded encouragement.
"And all women, Immortals or no, have that time of month," Jack went on, tossing his comments over his shoulder as he continued pacing.
"She doesn't even know herself; how does Callie expect me to put it all together?"
They were silent a moment.
"What are we talking about?"
Jack collapsed onto his chair again, sighing deeply and seeming to droop. "My wife."
"Right. What about her?"
"She's allergic to snow."
Ray stared, clearly absorbing this incredible statement. Then he started to laugh. Jack glared as Ray whooped, stamping his feet and almost falling out of his chair.
"It's not funny," Jack snapped.
"Sorry, mate, but yeah....it is. It's fucking hilarious." Ray sat back and wiped his streaming eyes. "Big Nick's daughter allergic to snow? How is that not funny?" He laughed at Jack's thunderous expression.
For an instant, Ray thought he might have gone too far, and Jack was going to leap across the room and remove his tongue by way of his esophagus. But the moment passed, and the Frost Lord relaxed, smiling ruefully.
"Ask me that when you've endured three centuries of PMS that makes a rampaging gorilla look just a tad cranky." Ray snorted again, but offered no comment, and Jack smiled a bit wider. "I'm only exaggerating a little," he assured Ray. "It's cold, really, not snow per se, and not so much an allergy as intolerance. If she hasn't had regular exposure to warmer weather in too long...." Jack stopped suddenly, swallowing hard.
"So send her here," Ray said, puzzled at the fuss. "You're both adults, you can endure the occasional separate vacations. I mean, I get why you can't come...more than a couple of days of this weather and you'll be sicker than a frat boy after a week-long kegger."
"It's been left too long," Jack said quietly. "Once she's stable again, we'll do just that, I expect. But right now....we've been trotting around the globe, always following winter, for three hundred years. She complains about the cold just before Christmas, without fail, but refuses to leave me when the holiday's over, and truth is, I've never wanted to be away from her so I never insisted she go. It's not weather she needs to make this right, it's magic. Weather will only maintain her once she's out of danger. I think."
"I don't understand."
"She's only half a Winter Sprite, Ray. The other half's Muse, which is the only reason, apparently, she doesn't have to live half each year someplace like here. Muses have to tolerate all climates. Rose can tolerate cold most of the time. But sort of like batteries, her Muse half needs recharging now and then. You know how we Weather Immortals work; we get our strength from the climate we're built for. We can leave it from time to time, carry it with us inside, even use it, like I did with your drink. Muses recharge differently; they feed off creative energy. Rose, being a hybrid of a Winter High Lord and a Muse, apparently twisted her mother's ability and it mutated to work like her weather magic. She simply needs a climate change a few days out of the year. Usually. At least that's the theory."