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The Hermit

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The Hermit tarot card signifies introspection, being alone, soul-searching, and loneliness. It reminds us to take time to ourselves and direct our attention inward.


 

They were different from humans.

Obviously. There were the powers, the association with various holidays and natural phenomena, the duty to protect and nurture the children of the world. But there was another, quieter, difference.

Centuries of being unseen and unheard would drive any normal human to insanity. Jack Frost wasn’t even the most drastic case of a spirit with no believers. Even for the Guardians, who had believers across the globe, the experience of being passed by without recognition would have crushing psychological effects.

So when the Man in the Moon remade them, he added one last change.

They were different from humans. Humans need touch, conversation, positive regard, regard in general. Spirits… don’t.

They could appreciate it, of course.  Even crave it. Boredom and loneliness were perfectly normal emotions for spirits. Jack Frost could attest to that. A group like the Guardians wouldn’t work if the members didn’t enjoy interacting with each other.

Nonetheless, spirits didn’t need these things in the same way humans do. And sometimes, it could all become too much.


 

After his eventful introduction as a Guardian, Jack spent a few months at a time with each of his new friends, hanging around and basking in the comfort of being seen.

It shocked him the first time Toothiana snapped at him that she needed him to get out of her castle. Bunnymund had snapped at him like that before, but that’s just how Bunny was sometimes. And besides, Jack knew he could be a little obnoxious. Tooth though, she was the kindest person he’d ever met. Her being annoyed with him felt… bad.

Jack flew towards North’s workshop, stopping here and there to make sure some kids would enjoy snow days in the morning, but his heart wasn’t in it. His mind was elsewhere. He felt wound up. Kind of stressed. A little annoyed? He knew that wasn’t fair though. It wasn’t Tooth’s fault that he’d gotten underfoot. It still stung to be kicked out though. His feelings swirled somewhere in his chest, making him feel mixed up and unsure. He needed someone to talk to.

Somewhere between India and Russia, he caught sight of Sandman weaving dreams for the children below. Jack urged the wind to push him faster, and barrelled into Sandy within moments.

Sandy laughed in his quiet way as he tumbled backwards with the force of Jack’s impact. Jack was also laughing, but something must have given away his mood because Sandy sat up after a moment and gave him a questioning look.

Jack thought about brushing it off, but if he was being honest with himself, Sandy was the wisest friend he had. And Jack really needed someone to help him process what he was feeling at the moment.

They sat cross legged on a wispy cloud of dream sand while Jack took a few minutes to explain the situation. How he had been hanging out at Tooth’s castle, chatting with some of the fairies. They hadn’t been as pleased to see him as usual, and eventually a visibly harried Toothiana had told him she needed him to get out of her feathers right now .

Sandy listened attentively as Jack went on to explain how a sort of cycle had started to happen with each Guardian, including Sandy, where he stayed with them for a while and was eventually shooed away. As he spoke, he realized that he had been getting equally annoyed with the others each time it happened. They were friends, they were supposed to hang out. When they kicked him out, he felt rejected, so he went to one of the others’ bases to be around someone else and get his mind off of it. He told Sandy about that too.

Sandy wore a thoughtful expression when Jack finished, a soft golden thought bubble blinking slowly above his head. After a moment, he started signing. In the past few years, Jack had gotten a lot of practice in interpreting SMSL (Sanderson Mansnoozie Sign Language), but it was still difficult at times. Sandy didn’t care much about grammar, and his signs had a vague, sleepy quality to them. It made interpreting into kind of an art.

As near as Jack could tell, Sandy asked if he needed to take some alone time.

That was ridiculous, Jack thought, and he said as much to Sandy. He’d spent centuries alone. He had more alone time under his belt than almost anyone who had ever existed. He had friends now, he didn’t need ‘alone time’. He needed to make up for lost time. And it wasn’t like he spent all his time with the other Guardians - he still did his job spreading fun across the globe.

Sandy listened to all of this, but he stayed persistent. He urged Jack to try spending a couple months to himself.

There was something about his insistence that told Jack there was something more to his reasoning. That was his least favorite part about Sandy: he wasn’t one for elaboration. It was hard for Sandy to get complex ideas across via dreamsand images and SMSL, but the lack of explanation still grated on Jack’s nerves. It made him think of his one-sided conversations with the Moon, and frustration bubbled in his chest.

Jack knew he wasn’t really mad at Sandy. He was just mad in general, like an itch in his limbs that made him want to yell or freeze something and kick it until it shattered. Usually this was the point where he would go to one of his friends’ domains, where the controlled chaos and flurry of movement would soothe his frayed nerves. If he was lucky, someone would give him a task to do, and he’d use it to distract himself.

This time, he stayed still as his stress came to a head.

North, Bunny, and Tooth were all weary of his presence. Jack was, justifiably or not, upset that they were upset with him. Sandy was sitting in front of him, looking at him with an understanding yet firm expression.

For a moment, Jack considered ignoring the advice. Sandy would let him hang out for a while, but he too had shooed Jack away a time or two, and would do so again eventually. And then what?

Maybe it would be good for Jack to take some alone time, at least to let his friends have a break. He knew, somewhere in his mind, that his friends loved him and liked being around him. Maybe it wasn’t him who needed alone time to recharge, but them .

That was okay, he decided.

And if taking a break would give his own upset feelings a chance to settle, that was a bonus.

With that decision made, Jack stood up. He asked Sandy to tell the others that he would be gone for a few months and received a relieved smile in return. The wind lifted him off the dreamsand cloud, and he departed with mixed feelings.


 

Jack landed with a satisfying puff of snow on a mountain in Alaska, just past the tree line. He liked these places. Most plants couldn’t survive past a certain altitude because of the cold and lack of oxygen, which made a sharp line where the trees abruptly stopped.

He liked to sit in places like this, where there was almost no chance of encountering anyone else. Before, he liked it because he could forget that he was invisible to everyone on the planet. There had always been a bittersweet feel to it though. There was something weird about being somewhere that so clearly reminded him he wasn’t human. It wasn’t always a welcome reminder. But maybe his mixed feelings for the place were what led him there in that moment.

As he stood there this time however, he found he liked it more than he had in the past. It felt very freeing, standing there looking down at where the trees ended. How many people would ever get the chance to do this? The wind was whipping around him, stirring up the snow and rattling the trees, and he took a deep breath that he didn’t need. The air was clean and sharp.  He thought about his earlier urge to freeze something and break it to pieces, but the thought of breaking the scraggly trees that worked so hard to grow in such an inhospitable place made him feel guilty.

Instead, he decided to cook up a really good snowstorm. He did a quick flyover to make sure there weren’t any campers in that particular part of the mountain range before getting to work.

The trick to a good snowstorm, he spoke into the whipping wind, was density . You had to really pack the snow flurries in there. It wasn’t just about making a big storm, the real skill was in getting just the right ratio of wind and snow.

After a moment, his grin widened. Of course, he added to himself, it was also going to be a big storm.

Infectious laughter echoed throughout the mountain range as he worked.


 

Jack stood at the top of a mountain, surveying his handiwork.

It was a little messier than some of his other work, but definitely better than he could have done a week ago.

Already, he felt like there was less weight on his shoulders. He made a mental note to himself that making something felt more satisfying than breaking a tree would have.

He spent another few minutes enjoying the currents and eddies of the storm before allowing the wind to carry him off. He wasn’t interested in watching the storm start to die down in a few hours.


 

A few weeks later, Jack was brewing up an excellent snow day in a small town in Oklahoma. He loved places where it snowed constantly, but there was something magical about the excitement of kids who only got to see it a few times a year.

He threw an enchanted snowball at the back of a an eleven year old’s head, laughing along as the kid promptly gathered his own snowball and chucked it at his friend’s head. Soon there was a raging battle in the park, and the area rang with laughs, shouts, and cries of triumph and dismay. They weren’t as practiced in the sport as many of Jack’s regular patrons, but they made up for it with sheer enthusiasm.

It wasn’t snowing heavily enough to support such a fierce battle, but somehow there was always enough snow on the ground to make more ammunitions. Jack leaned on his staff as he watched from the sidelines, cheering them on while he took a quick break.

He had forgotten how fun it was to build the perfect winter wonderland and watch kids tear through it with reckless abandon.

He watched as a kid skidded across to slippery patch of ice and started to fall. With a sharp tap of his staff, the snow underneath them fluffed up to soften their fall. Lost in thought, he let the wind lift him up and carry him aimlessly.

He’d always had a lot of fun bringing snow and fun to the kids of the world. It made him come to life in a way nothing else did, and his heart sang every time a child saw his work for the first time. There had always been a level of disappointment there as well though, because even when he stood right in front of them, they never looked at him. It was hard when you worked your butt off to make something wonderful and no one knew. It was hard and no one was around to even try to understand.

This time though, he didn’t feel that quiet disappointment. The realization knocked him off kilter. All he had wanted for centuries was to be acknowledged, but suddenly he was okay without it? What was up with that?

He came to a rest sitting on a backyard fence, watching a little girl build a snowman. She seemed to be trying to give it a poofy hairstyle to match her own, but physics wasn’t working in her favor.

He suggested idly that she could pour a little water where the two snowballs connected to freeze them together, not expecting any reaction.

However, much to his surprise, the little girl gave a little shriek and dropped the ball that was meant to be hair. She whipped around and stared at him. Jack Frost, ironically, froze briefly before he recovered, waved, and introduced himself.

The girl, it turned out, was an endless well of enthusiasm. She was very sweet, very polite, but wow was she full of energy. Her dark skin contrasted warmly against her snowself while she asked him nonstop questions about his invisibility, his flying abilities, and how he wasn’t cold in his leggings. When his answers to those were mostly just that he was magical, she began to interrogate him about his ‘Elsa powers.’ He answered those questions in more and more detail as she kept asking. She kept taking his vague answers and demanding a more in-depth explanation. She seemed to really get it, so he obliged.

Before he knew it, he was explaining basic thermodynamics to her while they finished her snowself and got to work on one that looked more like Jack himself. She was very determined to make a snow version of his staff without his help.

Soon, there was a lull in their conversation, and after a few minutes she quietly apologized for being so nosy and confided in him that her classmates made fun of her for being too much of a nerd. Jack responded that being a nerd wasn’t a bad thing. His good friend the Tooth Fairy, he told her in a conspiratorial whisper, was a huge nerd about teeth. And anyways, he thought she could be an incredible scientist someday.

The girl lit up after that, and she chattered endlessly about the things she had learned about weather from a book she got from the library. When her dad eventually called her inside, she gave Jack an enthusiastic hug goodbye before running inside, presumably to talk her dad’s ear off about her new friend.

Jack took a moment to discreetly add a little magic to her snowself so that it would last just a touch longer than it should before he took to the skies once again.


 

When Jack touched down on the frozen pond, the setting sun lit up the forest around him in oranges and reds. He began to slowly skate across the pond, absently refreezing the ice beneath him to keep it from breaking.

He didn’t pay much attention as he skated, lost in thought.

It had been a few months since his conversation with Sandy. He thought he was starting to understand what his friend had been trying to tell him, but he needed to settle down for a few moments and get his thoughts in order.

Okay. Facts. Fact number one: He had spent 200 years alone. That had made him desperate for any recognition.

Fact number two: He had finally gotten that recognition. The Moon had acknowledged him, he became a Guardian, and he even got a few believers! He had gotten everything he’d spent 200 years wishing for! But-

Fact number three: He got tired of it. His friends got tired of having him around all the time, and he got tired of being around them all the time. It took him awhile to realize it, but he had been fraying at the edges for a couple years, chafing at the constant companionship.

Was that bad? Was there something wrong with him? Was it ungrateful of him, to get what he’d always wanted and then throw it away?

But what about that little girl? What about all the other children he had genuinely enjoyed helping, whether or not they could see him? Had he… been wrong about wanting to be alone? Could he have been so wrong about his own emotions?

Jack skid to a stop, distantly realizing that his slow skating had escalated into anxious pacing at some point.

He needed to talk to someone.


 

Jack’s landing was a little less graceful than it usually was, but he tumbled out of the snow poff gamely anyway. After a moment of attempting to swipe some of the snow out of his hair, he peered through the window he found himself under. The room beyond was brightly lit and bustling with barely-controlled chaos. Perfect.

He waited until he heard a louder-than-normal explosion further inside the building before sliding the window pane up enough for him to slip through. Just as expected, all of the occupants were distracted by whatever had happened, and he was able to enter undetected.

Okay, that step was done. Now to sneak upstairs and create some dazzlingly (un)flattering ice sculptures. Maybe ice over the floors to make a skating rink for the unsuspecting-

A hand grabbed his hood and lifted him into the air like a naughty kitten being held by the scruff of its neck.

“Jack,” a reproving voice said, and Jack found himself being turned around to face Nicholas St. North.

Jack clutched his staff closer to himself, suddenly unsure. He guessed he hadn’t exactly left on great terms, but North couldn’t actually be unhappy to see him, right? He opened his mouth to apologize for… something, but North’s face broke into a wide smile after a moment.

Jack abruptly found himself in a familiar bear hug. He froze for a second before returning the hug. North was always so warm (almost uncomfortably warm, but not quite) and he smelled like freshly baked cookies.

“Jack! You are back! How was vacation? I must tell Bunny, we have bet. He said one year, minimum, but I said, ‘And miss Christmas? Never!’ And here you are! So tell me, how was vacation?”

Jack found himself having a hard time keeping up. “I uh,” he stammered, “it was. I actually wanted to talk to you about that?” He’d rehearsed what he was going to say, but it still came out as a question.

North seemed to catch on to how overwhelmed he was, because he set Jack down and said, “Of course, Jack! Come, come. We go to my office and talk. Phil!”

The yeti in question whipped his head toward North. In his hands was what appeared to be three elves tangled together with tinsel, ribbon, and at least one slinky. He seemed to be attempting to untangle them, but their squirming kept making it worse.

“Bring plate of cookies to my office, yes?” North said cheerily, not waiting for a response before herding Jack upstairs.

Jack peered over his shoulder in time to watch one of the entangled elves bite Phil’s hand, and the resulting roar was mostly lost among the general chaos of the room.

Soon enough, the office door shut behind them and they settled down into the comfortably plush seats in front of the (thankfully unlit) fireplace. Never one to beat around the bush, North said, “So! Tell me what is bothering you, Jack. Did something happen during your vacation?”

Jack paused for a moment, collecting his thoughts. He’d thought he would have more time before actually having this conversation. “I just,” he began haltingly. “I spent so long alone and hating being alone, and then I had people in my life again, but suddenly I didn’t want that either.” Here, he began to pick up speed. “It felt like no one wanted me around, and that made me mad. But I also didn’t want to be around, and that just made me madder, but at myself. I was so frustrated all the time at everyone. All I wanted for centuries was to be seen, but then I got my wish and I didn’t want it anymore? What’s wrong with me? Is nothing good enough for m-”

“Jack,” North cut him off. He wore the most somber expression Jack had ever seen on the jovial man’s face. “You do not have to explain further. I understand. And, I am afraid I have done you a disservice.”

Jack opened his mouth to speak, but North held up a hand.

“I forget that, though you are older than most beings, you are still young spirit. Worse, you had no one to teach you. For this oversight, I am sorry.”

“You’ve already apologized for not reaching out to me before I became a Guardian,” Jack said, still unsure why North looked so grave.

“Yes,” he agreed, “but this is different. Jack. We are not human. We have different needs than humans. We do not need companionship the way they do, and too much of it is… tiresome for us. You are not wrong for needing space. You do not reject our friendship by asking for alone time.”

Jack sat in a soft, comfortable armchair across from one of his first friends, and felt something click in his mind. Like a puzzle he had been pondering for ages was finally finished, and the image on top was finally clear.

He was still trying to fully grasp this realization when he spoke. “So. So we’re like, lone wolves? That’s why I never saw other spirits? That’s why the Guardians don’t meet up unless there’s an emergency?”

North gave a hearty laugh. “Ha! Lone wolves! Yes, we are like lone wolves, except even wolves need to find a pack eventually. But I imagine the other spirits felt they were being polite, not barging in on your privacy. Is no excuse for never saying ‘hello,’ but is explanation.”

Some of the tension that had been melting away from Jack refroze. Hesitantly, he asked, “Is it rude for me to visit you all then? Should I only visit when there’s an emergency?”

North laughed again and put a hand on Jack’s shoulder. “Is true you are the most sociable spirit I have met. I do not speak for the others, but I enjoy your presence! It would greatly sadden me if you were to stop visiting entirely. You are welcome at the North Pole whenever your heart desires to be here. Just,” and here, he looked sheepish, “try not to overdo it, yeah? I will be better about telling you when to go if you will be better about knowing when to leave. Do we have a deal?”

Warmed by his friend’s easy acceptance and the knowledge that his feelings were not ungrateful or even uncommon, the last of the tension melted off of Jack’s shoulders, and he met North’s smile with one of his own.

Before either of them could continue speaking, the door burst open and two elves entered, precariously carrying a tray of cookies between them. North grabbed the tray as soon as they were within range, expertly dodging the way one of them tried to steal a cookie at the last moment. The other one blew a raspberry at him, and the duo left, pushing and shoving each other out the door.

North set the tray on the small table beside them and stood up, clapping his hands together. “Alright! Let us summon the other Guardians. Tonight, we celebrate your return! And,” he added slyly, “I rub it in Bunny’s face that I won our bet.”

Seeing Jack’s uncharacteristically hesitant expression, he playfully ruffled the younger spirit’s hair. “We have all missed you greatly, Jack. The others will be delighted to see you.”

Jack wasn’t sure if he entirely believed that everything could be answered so easily, but... He wanted to try.