Learning How to Laugh
— a fairy tale inspired RotG fic —
p r o l o g u e
The Moon watches sadly as a boy falls through thin ice after pushing his sister to safety.
After her initial shock, the girl races along the edge of the lake, following the blurry silhouette of her much-older brother. She repeats a word she’s not supposed to know when she sees the formerly thrashing body of her brother become still, bubbles of air rising up and bobbing serenely under the ice.
She screams his name over and over again as she pounds on the ice with her fists. The ice seems thicker here, hardly affected. Only after her hands are raw and bleeding and the ice a pretty pastel pink does a small crack zigzag along the surface.
She yells victoriously and jumps on the ice with all the force of her eight-year-old body. The ice gives a massive groan and then gives way entirely. The little girl screams at the cold as she dives under the water; her cries escape as soundless bubbles. She resurfaces for air, shivering violently.
The Moon frowns at this and whispers a blessing to take away the chill from her bones and replace it with warmth. Only one life would be taken from this family.
The stars belatedly flash their concern to the Moon, countless warnings of what will happen if he interferes; changing fate written in stardust – the life source and blood of the ancestors – is never wise. A single light dims. Thousands of others flash and briefly tell of the possible outcomes of his impulsive decision. A new light shines. The stars are silent.
The Moon ignores them and returns his attention to the child.
The girl squeaks in surprise when she sees her pale skin become flushed pink and feels her shaking cease. She looks at the icy water and bites her lip with new resolve, diving down without as much as a second thought.
The Moon frowns at this; his effort shall not be put to waste. She will live; he will see to it.
The Moon then calls the water to bring the boy to her and the waves comply, whispering in their rasping bubbling voices to one another before breaking into two. One half pushes the boy to the surface, being careful to avoid any sharp shards of ice; the other half guides the girl to the surface and nudges her to the boy, warning the ice and wind away from her. The water shifts into one again and helpfully cushions the boy’s weight to keep him afloat while the girl tugs with all her might.
The ice and wind plead to help and the Moon allows them to, on the condition the wind will not push against or try to harm and the ice can only thicken while keeping its edges soft and rounded.
The girl begins counting to herself, breathless and panting. “On three,” she is saying, keeping a firm grip on her older brother’s hands. “One…two…three!”
The water, wind, and ice follow her count, cushioning, pushing, and supporting respectively. With their help, the girl manages to pull the boy almost twice her age onto the ice.
The wind immediately presses against her to keep her from falling. The water is worriedly reminding the ice to thicken; the ice mutters back in its sharp, nipping language that it’s capable, thank you very much, and freezes the lake solid. The water is silenced with a soft, angry hiss; the wind laughs gaily and whisks along the surface of the ice to see the water’s mutinous glare – literally sparkling brilliantly as if were the true winter ice. The ice winces in response.
The Moon watches in amusement as his gentle, light-giving moonbeams are used as a weapon.
They all freeze when a crack appears on the ice. The Moon scolds them all and the ice quickly fixes itself, the wind wanders away, and the water dims to match the color of proper ice.
When they look back at the girl, they see her carefully breaking off the ice frozen to her brother’s face. It’s disheartening to see his eyelashes break off with the chunks of ice.
The wind wants to help and summon its warmest breeze to wrap around the two of them but before it even comes close, a shadow covers the boy’s body. The wind swiftly breezes away and the ice helpfully freeze the water over again to shield it. It’s older than the water; it won’t be affected as much. In the dead of winter, the trees and flowers are already weak. In Death’s presence, they don’t stand a chance.
Even the girl seems to sense that something is wrong. It’s too quiet and it’s too dark and at the little lake in the forest, there are animals and it’s a full moon, for heaven’s sake. Past the forest, turn right at where the rocky road splits into two, is her little house at the edge of the village. Too far away.
If something goes wrong…
No one will help her. No one will hear her. No one heard Jack.
She doesn’t wanna die.
Not after she just saw her brother die. Not when her daddy has probably just come home and started cooking dinner. Not when her mom is away on a business trip. Not when they know nothing. She needs to tell them about Jack. Daddy’s not allowed to come here looking for them, probably thinking that there’s some big surprise because Jack’s Jack was a trickster and everyone knows he’s he was always trying to corrupt her.
She wants her brother back. He would know what to do. He always knew what to do. And he died for her. And ohmigod, Emma, Jack diedforyou. You stupidgirl. stupid. girl. emma. howcouldyou? It hurts. It just. hurtssomuch. And, no, she doesn’t want to deal with this. Not now, not ever. But it isn’t possible to try and forget Jack. She doesn’t want to do that either.
Emma pastes a smile on her face. Good girl, she can almost hear her brother whispering in her ear. Now you just have to get out of here alive. No. Because at the end, his voice changes. Not Jack. She knows her brother and that isn’t him. (because he’s dead, that’s why). She doesn’t know that voice. But she (kindofmaybeokayyes) does. Fear. Terror. Hate. Cold. Anger. Guilt. justher. Not real. No, she’s not crazy, by the way.
“Jackie, pleasepleaseplease help me. I’m scared.”
Do you see that star?
Yes. If she looks up she can see many stars.
No. That one. Second star to the right and straight on till morning. Emma, you know the way.
To Neverland? She doesn’t understand.
Yes, you do. Here’s an easier one: do you believe in fairies? Follow Tink.
Hmm. If she squints and turns her head a little to the left, one of the stars seem to be moving. Helicopter, the cynical, non-believing part of her whispers.
Catch her. Emma, you have to catch her. Use your hands.
But if she does, Jack will fall.
You have to let go.
So she does. It’s just ice, after all. Emma chases her fairy.
And then Jack screams. Like a girl. Like he wasn’t going to try to put on his mask for her anymore. Like he stopped caring. He knew his fake shows of bravery helped. He never cried. He never screamed. Jack was strong.
Emma turns fast enough to give herself whiplash. She can see her brother being swallowed by the ice.
“Oh,” Emma whimpers. “Okay. Definitely not real. Go home. Jack probably went home without you, you slowpoke. I bet Daddy’s real mad at him for leaving me here by myself. Maybe Mom’s home and Jack’s just over-eager. Maybe Mom made cookies. Gingerbread because she missed Christmas and she promised. Maybe…” Her eyes involuntarily slip to where an abandoned pair of skates lie, looking exactly like Jack’s. “Those are his. Were his. Emma, you need to wake up. Wake up.”
With shaking hands and a body too heavy, she walks over to the skates and picks them up. There’s dried blood on a shoelace from when he cut his hand and refused the glitter-pink Hello Kitty band-aids because that’s all that was left. He had a Hello Kitty blanket he stole from her when he got sick. It was purple, what a difference. Emma wonders if this is what insanity feels like. She feels an alarming amount of nothing and her mind keeps on drifting.
She’s at her house before she knows it and her Daddy’s hugging her too tight and asking about her brother. He got home early today. Mom is still away. Her cat is on the table sniffing at the pasta. Jack’s not home. this is real.
Emma’s screaming because it hurts, crying because she can’t stop, shaking because it’s so cold. and. thereneverwasafairywasthere.
a/n: So it went weird. The water, wind, and ice wrote themselves and that wasn’t supposed to happen. The stars, Moon, and Death were supposed to have bigger parts because fate, destiny, and yeah…transition not smooth. The prologue was supposed to be pretty vague and I don’t feel like I’ve gotten down what I wanted. This could be a prologue part one and I could change it to make it pure Emma; the part two could be Moony, stardust, and fate with minimal Emma.
(Also, I think I had too much fun with italics, underlines, bolds, not-Caps, and not-spaces; sorry if that annoyed anyone)
This is a fairy tale inspired Rise of the Guardians AU so you don’t really have to be familiar with the fandom to understand. Here’s the mandatory disclaimer: Don’t own Rise of the Guardians, Thumbelina, or The Little Mermaid.