Disclaimer: Neither "Rise of the Guardians" nor any of the associated books, characters, and media belongs to me. I'm just here to tell a little story of what might've been, and I don't have any money worth suing over. Cheers!
I know I've been gone a long time, but I'm not far away, and I'm not dead! I have a tiny blog I'm trying to throw in some bits of writing as exercise; check my profile to find it.
This story was first drafted in April 2013.
by Becky Tailweaver
Every few generations in the town of Burgess, Pennsylvania, a child was born whose brown eyes tugged at Jack Frost's heart-strings.
To Jack, Burgess was Home—or at least the closest thing to it someone like him could have. It was where he had awakened, and where he had taken his first steps in a glittering silver world, every moment brand new. It had been his home long before it was called Burgess, when there were only a few scattered homesteads, a few brave families tied together by survival and companionship. It remained his home even when he discovered that no one—not one human being, ever, anywhere—could see, hear, or touch him; even when he spent days and nights and whole winters trying to get anyone to look at him.
It was in Burgess—nameless settlement, then official village, then bustling town, then almost-city—that he tried the hardest. Children seemed the most willing to look at what he did, to see something in it, where adults would brush off any surprises and deliberately ignore anything unusual in the snow. He focused on children, because their laughter touched something in him. He focused on Burgess children, because he felt a connection to the place, and because this was where he thought he might have come closest to figuring it out.
It all started with one little brown-eyed girl who spent a great deal of time crying at his pond. She was the only one who lived nearby, the only one who came to his "house" at all, and he would have liked his guests to be happy. But she wept instead of playing, and the first time she cried for "Jack!" over the ice sent him dizzy with desperation to know if she saw him.
She didn't. He wasn't her Jack. He wasn't the Jack she was crying for.
That first winter, he would have done anything to become that person, if only she would see him. He had seen crying children in the settlement, when they were cold or tired or hungry or hurt, but when he crouched down to look into her face and encourage her, like he did for all of them…that one little girl's eyes, full of misery and tears, cut right through him, straight into the empty space inside him that knew it should be filled. She cried his name—half of his name—and threw sticks and stones and snow out onto the ice in anger and sorrow, and the first time she did it he nearly turned himself inside out trying to reach her, to comfort her.
She cried at his pond far too often, in Jack's lonely opinion. But he didn't want her to leave.
Instead, he tried to play with her during her visits, flicking snow-devils at her, whisking wind through her hair, gently throwing snowballs, or even stealing her scarf when he had a chance to nick it away on a breeze. She was always too somber. She would cry, or she would talk to the pond—to her Jack, the one she missed, the one she blamed herself for losing. He talked to her, replied to her words, pretending to be her Jack with a desperation that far surpassed any of his showy attempts with the other village kids.
It was as though if only she could see him, hear his answers to her, talk to him and tell him why she called that name—Jack. Jack. Jack!—and why it clutched at his heart, then he could finally grasp…something. He didn't know what it was, but it felt portentous, and he reached eagerly for it, knowing somehow that it could fill his emptiness. He felt as if it could change everything, open everything, fix everything. Like fumbling for a door in the dark, hoping there was light behind it. If she could just help him find it—if. If. If.
"See me," he begged her in some of the darkest, most urgent moments, when the enormity of all he might find loomed just out of his grasp. "Hear me. Help me. Please, please look at me."
She never did. She was looking for her Jack.
Sometimes, he would have given everything to be her Jack.
Winters passed; he had to learn the turnings of seasons, the territories of other things like him, the existence of the ones called the Guardians. Each time he came back to the pond he called home, his brown-eyed girl cried less. That made him happier. He followed her often, chattered at her, as she came and went to her family's house near the pond, as she walked to the village not far away, as she sat in the warm little church at the village center, as she played with her friends from other homesteads, as she worked in the barn and cared for the goats, as she strolled alone and melancholy through the forest. He kept trying, little teases of snowflakes and wind, as if to remind her someone was still out there reaching for her.
She cried less, but she also played less. She stopped joining in the games he instigated with the other children. She never stepped onto the ice of his pond, not even once, no matter how he thickened it and painted it with the most wild and joyful spirals of frost. She grew as tall as he was, and he found himself surprised by it. She grew taller still, until he had to look up to see her face; she braided up her hair, wore long plain dresses, and visited his pond far, far less, but her eyes were the same—they still went right into him and clung to his heart.
She met a man, and stopped living in the small house near his pond; he had to go and find her in a new house with a new family, and soon enough she was letting laughing little children—her children, it stunned him and warmed him and thrilled him whenever he thought of it—out to play in freshly fallen snow. They rushed out where he could reach them with his frost and his wind-tickles and he invented whole new games just for them, for their happy, freckled faces and their bright brown eyes that tugged at his heart like seeing her calling half his name at his pond all over again.
He discovered that he would do anything to make the children smile, even if it meant coming back to be ignored and walked through time after time.
Winters passed, and his grown-tall brown-eyed girl visited his pond but once a year, talking softly to her Jack and telling him all the things about her family and her life that he, locked outside in the cold, never got to see. He still answered her, pretended she spoke to him, hoped against hope that one day her eyes would open—the Moon never answered his desperate questions, but she might recognize him and everything would fall into place and he would finally know.
Her children grew tall and stopped playing with him, and it hurt more than he thought it would. But in time, in their new houses and with their new families, they soon brought out new little ones for him to teach the fun and tricks of merry winter. Not all of them had brown eyes, but they were all happy, and they laughed and frolicked, and all it took was one sparkling snowball to set off a village-wide game. There were more children than before—a whole flock of them, and some days he almost felt like a shepherd, looking after playful lambs and coaxing them to have fun. He always tried to be careful; bruises and scrapes brought tears, and those, especially coming from bright brown eyes, wrenched at him.
He never quite got used to not being seen or felt—the isolation hurt, cold and hollow in a way even winter itself could never be—but he grew more able to ignore it for brief periods. It helped that there were many children; he could pretend he was just another in the crowd, pretend that some of the hail of snowballs were aimed at him, pretend he just didn't hear one or another of them laughing his name. But no matter how much he pretended to be one of them, they would all go home at dusk and leave him behind, no one to call him in for dinner or wrap him in warm blankets after a day in the chill. He was left peering wistfully into windows, trying to imagine what a hug felt like.
Winters passed, and his grown-tall brown-eyed girl didn't come outside often. He saw her sometimes, and followed her still, chattering to cover his concern. He had seen the people with silvering hair becoming weaker and frailer with each winter until they were gone—cold in their sleep, or simply vanished between one winter and the next. Watching his brown-eyed girl's hair turn as white as his own filled him with a nameless, scrabbling dread, a relentless certainty that time was running out and if he lost her—lost the only person who called his name, even halfway, when not even the Moon ever spoke to him again—he lost any chance of ever finding that door in the dark.
If he lost her, he would be lost and empty forever.
No matter how he pleaded, she never saw him. No matter how he promised her anything, even that he would go and find her Jack for her if only she would hear him, she never met his eyes. Even when he told her he was sorry for teasing her all these years, sorry for not drying her tears, sorry for not being the person she wanted most, his doom was as inevitable as a glacier's march. She struggled out to the frozen pond to talk to her Jack one last time before winter's end, and though he sent the wind to whisk her snowy hair, and painted the ice with whirling spirals of frost, and stole her scarf with a frisking breeze, she didn't play; she only smiled fondly, looking right past him as she gave her Jack her love and said, "I'll see you soon."
He wished he was her Jack. Just this once, he wondered if he was, and they both just didn't know it.
When he came back the next winter, his brown-eyed girl was gone. One of the many who simply vanished during the warm seasons, leaving behind somber relatives and cold, chiseled stones. She would never see him. The door was closed to him. That nebulous, nameless chance to know and be filled and be someone, that chance he wasn't even sure existed but he'd felt it—that chance was gone forever.
The village nearly drowned in the blizzard of his despair that no one would ever see him and he would never be anything. A ghost, voiceless and unloved, for eternity.
It was the first time since his awakening he'd ever really, truly cried. He flung himself down on his frozen pond and wailed to the uncaring Moon through a storm that took up his cry and carried it across the heavens.
He wept for her, and for himself—all that he had lost, and all that he had never had.
He regretted it, later; too much snow, and the children were sad and listless and trapped indoors where they could not play. She would not want her grandchildren and great-grandchildren to languish in misery and cold. So he put himself aside, suffered their blank stares and their passage through him, and brought gentle snows and chilly breezes to coax them out to play, year after year. Even when her children's hair turned white, and her grandchildren's hair turned white, and sometimes it hurt to return to his home and see how many he would lose.
The village was growing, surrounding villages springing from homesteads, and there were more children than ever, but the brown-eyed ones sharing sprinkled bits of her nose and her brows and her cheeks and her smile were always a little special to him. He found himself still looking for them, even as he grew older, wiser—never taller, not like the children—balanced on a chill edge between bitterness and resignation.
Even as the wilderness was tamed, the villages merged into towns, and there were ever more children to tease and teach, the brown-eyed magic thinned and scattered into the population, leaving him with less than glimpses. Forever doomed to isolation without ever knowing why, spurned by those few beings who could actually see him, he closed himself off. Once, he knew all the names of the children he played with; then he told himself to stop caring so much.
Mischief, at least, made people react to things he did; sudden snowstorms, iced sidewalks, frozen clotheslines. When generations passed who refused to see him, he had little else to turn to other than entertaining himself—doing whatever he pleased, whatever amused him, because there was no one to care or reprimand him—unless he found a flock of children to shepherd into a game with a sneaky snowball or patch of slippery snow. He couldn't help it; their laughter and smiles pulled him out of his shell like nothing else.
With other immortals, he was aloof, insolent, flippant, full of cheeky remarks and practical jokes to infuriate and drive them away; to him, there was no point in seeking friendship with stodgy, isolated beings that would only chase him out of their domains, and shun him as soon as he was out of range.
With children, he could be genuine, smiling, laughing, full of tricks and tickles; he eagerly sought the attention of the young ones, because they would never scowl or accuse, even if they unknowingly ignored him.
Generations passed, the world changed, and he watched the children of Burgess grow tall in turns, stop playing, live lives as busy and dull as every other adult, hair turn white as snow, and then vanish. At least every generation gave him new children to play with, and he loved them while they would play with him—but it hurt to know he would lose them, no matter how many times he told himself he'd given up on caring about people who would never see him.
He told himself he didn't even know their names, like they didn't know his, and he vowed never to speak them aloud—he called them girl or boy or kid. They were strangers, like those who passed on the sidewalk without so much as a glance, who happened to play games together once in a while.
He was lying to himself; he remembered every name, every single child of Burgess that laughed in delight and rushed outside to play on a snow day. Especially the brown-eyed ones.
Every couple of generations, a new child would toddle out into the snow to begin learning the time-honored traditions of winter fun, and that child would look up with eyes just a particular shade of golden brown, smile in just a particular way, and he would feel his heart once more tugged gently away from the icy place it was sliding into. The child's eyes would coax him into believing again; the child's laugh would bring back his smile—the real one, not the grinning, devil-may-care mask of the selfish, mischievous hellion.
Each time a new one of these increasingly-rare little brown-eyed hopes joined his games, he would feel that old dream shakily raise itself in his chest once more. Maybe this one was the one—maybe this one would finally, finally see him. They had eyes like his brown-eyed girl who called half his name. He couldn't help but desperately believe this one was his chance.
One girl in particular stuck out. Her face was too narrow, her chin the wrong shape, she didn't smile enough, and she would rather read books than play outside, but her hair was dark and she had the right eyes. She had large glasses that half-hid the light in them, and a shrewd gaze for such a young girl, but they were just the right shade. Among her peers, she made a name for herself as something of a truth-seeker—curious and studious both at once, and always interested in the mysterious. She wanted to prove things, to bring things to light, to expose them and explain them.
Surely, with her seeking eyes and clever mind, she would be the one to finally see his tricks for what they were and look at him. Her being the only one with those bright brown eyes in her generation made him just a little bit reckless to draw her out, like she was the last of a dying breed, another last chance he might miss if he looked away. He gave her mysterious icicle patterns, artfully directed snow-drifts, shapes in the frost that could be pictures if one looked closely enough.
He gave her playful snowballs to the back, excellent snow chutes on every sledding hill, breezes that would push her across the ice on her skates faster than any other child. Sometimes, it seemed as though she would notice something from the corner of her eye; sometimes, she would peer at his frosted images and trace them with her fingertips, lips moving silently, until the pictures melted away. Sometimes, he felt as if she was right on the precipice of seeing him.
When she was young, intrigued by the mysterious winter, she would conduct various experiments, like leaving cups of water outside in the snow to see what would happen, or hanging a blanket over the porch railing to discern the effects of the cold on it. Jack would freeze one cup concave, the other convex, just to give her something; he would flower ice across the blanket in such a manner that it precisely traced the printed designs. His newest brown-eyed girl was always excited by her discoveries, eager to tell family and friends of what miracle the winter had shown her.
He laughed and grinned right along with her, and her family seemed indulgent at first, though they always passed off his work as mere accident. But as she grew, as she became more curious, as she shared more excitement with her friends, the people around her became less and less patient with her flights of fancy. Far too soon, her peers were teasing and mocking her for believing in things like Santa Claus and snow-fairies, scoffing her attempts at proving that something was out there painting pictures in frost and causing the icicles on her eaves to form in exact sawtooth patterns.
Far too soon, she was the butt of neighborhood jokes, the victim of isolation, the target of tormenting hails of ice-balls. Far too soon, her family lost patience with her antics, made her stop trying her cute little experiments, told her to get her head out of the clouds and start living in the real world. Even if he could shield her from the worst of the bullying snowball attacks, he could not protect her from the derision and chastisement. Reaching out to the mystery of winter became too painful for her, and the constant punishment beat the curiosity out of her soul. It wasn't fun any more.
She turned away from him, turned back to her books—about real things, like science and medicine and botany—and came to dread winter as a time to hide from harassment and stay indoors. He wept silently as he watched the light in her go out, day by day, until she no longer looked at the snow with joy. He blamed himself, while she grew tall without ever looking for snow-fairies again and went off to college without a backward glance.
Eventually, he managed to stop missing her curious eyes searching for him.
By and by, the once curious brown-eyed girl—now a woman, but he recognized her instantly—returned to Burgess with a college degree, some job experience, and a man. The new family set up in a house just across the street from his pond, barely a hop and a skip away for him. Something about that should have delighted him, but he remembered how it felt to watch her lose all sense of fun and resolved to be more careful with how he approached children in the future. It was enough for him, for now, to play with the kids in town, hope to get them to see him, and wait to find out what sorts of children would emerge from her home to greet their first time playing in the snow.
He couldn't help being intrigued. Her house was right near his pond, and she had been special to him for a little while. He seldom got a chance to interact much with children too young to run about in the snow by themselves. It was early winter when the formerly-curious brown-eyed woman and her husband brought home their first child, swaddled in a woolly blue blanket, and he happened to be passing by. By chance—or so he told himself—he perched atop the car as they were arriving, and watched them bring out their bundle; it was far smaller than children he was used to, far too little to laugh or sled or have fun, but it had dark eyes that blinked sleepily in the winter light.
Looking back, he could have sworn the wide, unfocused little eyes stared right at him over the mother's shoulder. But he knew better—no one could see him. The infant had to be gazing at the snowy sky.
Then the tiny thing was bundled away indoors and he rarely caught a glimpse of it again. He would have to wait until the parents let the child out to play, many winters ahead. It was easy enough to pass the time as he always did, flitting from snow to snow around the world, but always drifting back home to Burgess to wander around his pond and poke local children into snowball fights.
He kept being drawn back to one small house in his hometown. It wasn't his habit to be concerned with children too small to come out and play—what could he do for them, shut away from their warm havens? But he occasionally caught himself stopping by the little house near his pond, actually peeking in windows to espy the infant that might have glimpsed him.
Folly, he reminded himself constantly. No one could see him.
By the next winter, the tiny bundle had grown into a baby boy just learning to walk. One memorable day, when the ground outside was swathed in bright snow, Jack Frost peeked into the little house near his pond and was surprised to find the baby boy right below the window, using the sill to steady his wobbling legs, peering interestedly at the wonderland outside.
Nearly face to face with the child, Jack found himself struck for the first time in a terribly long, terribly lonely time. The baby boy had dark messy hair, a pert little nose, an eager smile, and bright, golden brown eyes—all somehow coming together just right to bring back the memory of another child Jack had loved desperately who called half his name over his pond centuries ago.
He found himself laughing in a way that brought tears to his eyes as he stared at the little face in the window, inches away and separated by glass. He had thought that all the brown-eyed children who could tug at his heart-strings like this were long gone, all the remnants of her bled out of Burgess half a century ago or more so that every generation they were more scarce and even the glimpses he caught were mostly his own imagination. The curious brown-eyed girl he'd lost to adulthood had been the very last one he'd found that even came close, the last one with those precious eyes.
In the face of this little boy, the ice that had long been gathering around his heart melted as if it had never been. His curious brown-eyed girl had made this and he couldn't even thank her for how it saved his soul, bright eyes rescuing him from despair once again. Smiling so broadly it almost hurt, Jack framed the little face through the glass with his cold hands and let the frost creep gently like blossoming flowers. The baby boy's sudden, awed delight made him laugh aloud, happy beyond words.
When the tiny hands flung themselves up to touch the cold glass, Jack grinned and flicked a whirl of snowflakes to dance for the child in the frame of frost. He could hear the baby boy laughing through the window, and felt his heart leap in his chest at the sound. He stayed there, trapped helplessly by the little shining face, pretending those brown eyes were actually looking at him, though in the back of his mind he knew it couldn't last.
It didn't. The little boy's mother—once a brown-eyed girl who learned never to look for him—came back into the room to find her child giggling at snowflakes through the glass. She smiled indulgently, and came to bring him away from the colder air near the window.
"Come on, sweetie," Jack heard her say, muffled by the glass, and the baby boy's head turned away at her voice. "You don't want Jack Frost nipping at your nose."
"Aah?" said the tiny boy, twisting back to look out the window, reaching for the glittering frost.
For one heart-stopping moment that stole his breath, Jack thought—really thought—that the bright brown eyes were actually seeing him.
Then the mother was carrying the baby boy away, breaking the spell. Jack remained, chest hitching, and it was a long time before he left that window. Even as he flew away into the chilly evening, he knew where he would inevitably be spending a lot of time when he visited his hometown.
Every few generations in Burgess, a child was born whose brown eyes tugged at Jack Frost's heart-strings.
Little James William Bennett didn't just tug—he wrapped both tiny fists around them and yanked.
Author's Note: This was conceived in response to watching the movie and noting how even at the beginning Jack singles Jamie out; responds to him, talks to him in particular, plays with him, sets up special stuff for him, and even follows him home and lurks at his window. I didn't pay attention to it at first but then on rewatch noted that Jack basically went right to Jamie when he pulled into town.
Also, for the sheer number of "Rise of Guardians" fics out there, there is a distressing lack of ones that include Jamie. This is quite sad, especially considering how important Jamie is, both to the plot and to Jack personally. A First Believer should never be marginalized or swept aside for the sake of OC romance and self-inserts (of which there are far too many).
Not bad for a not-tremendously-triumphant return fic, right?