The clouds were gathering in a gray mass, thick tufts of darkened cotton swirling clumping together and then pushing on in an impending storm. The humans weren't expecting this; a thin blanket of clouds with a fresh coating of snow was all that was announced on the weather news. It was dark, and all that could be seen from earth was something dark covering the stars. That was to be expected, but if it were day, all hell would break loose. Who would have predicted this storm after a day so calm it was a winter wonderland for all?
On an apartment roof, Jack Frost stared at the sky. He hadn't heard of any humans pointing out the unusual darkness. Everyone was busy hurrying home with their shopping bags of Christmas gifts. Tomorrow was Christmas, when Jack would be at his peak performance. Covering town with a fresh layer of snow, frosting windows, propping snowmen in the yards of children, doing what the famous Jack Frost was supposed to do.
What the famous Jack Frost wasn't supposed to do was battle evil. He was supposed to be a jokester who piled snow against front doors, frosted car engines, and covered the ground with feet of snow – which ultimately gave children the snow days winter was known to offer. He was even seen as evil by few, sometimes as the rival of Santa. But Jack was just a snowflake compared to the jolly old man. With the millions who believed in him, Santa was a god compared to Jack's lousy thousands.
Then there were the Easter Bunny, Tooth Fairy, Sandman, and Boogeyman. They had their believers. Jack was nothing.
As the storm thickened, Jack saw how powerful Pitch had become. His quest to overrule the guardians' hold on the beliefs on children had come far. Jack didn't understand why children were quick to put their beliefs on something so evil. Why believe in the very things you didn't want?
"My army is ready. Yours stands no chance against me. Save yourself the effort and surrender. Fear is stronger than you believe."
Pitch had sounded so sure of himself. And when he leaned into Jack's ear that one time, he had said so silently, "It's never too late to give in. Darkness will embrace you like your mother's warmth. You long to give in. I know it, Jack," his voice had been coated with a sweetness so sticky, Jack had been hooked to each word. People said evil seduced. Jack now understood.
"It's one of your deepest wishes – to be known. You can be the king you're meant to be. Ice and fear belong together. The cold that grips you in fear, beautiful.
"You will finally have a home to come to. Travel as much as you like, but my lair will always be there. Our lair. I can teach you the art of darkness, strengthen your powers. How would you like your own army? My minions infused with your ice would make a formidable enemy."
If Bunnymund hadn't arrived when he did, would Jack have fallen prisoner to Pitch? He knew he had been giving in, his resistance deteriorating with each of Pitch's propositions.
"Jack? You up there?" Jamie called out from his balcony.
Jack dropped on the railing. Jamie's skinny arms were curled around his chest.
"You're kind of frosting my room," Jamie said.
"Sorry." Jack withdrew the frosty aura he hadn't noticed he was sending out.
Jamie's face softened into worry. "What's wrong?"
"What are you doing tomorrow?" Jack asked.
"Um, my family's going to Caleb's house. We're spending Christmas there." Jamie looked down at his socked feet when he mentioned his family. His parents' divorce wouldn't be finalized until next week, but for now they lived together. This would be their last Christmas together.
"You need to do me a big favor," Jack said, "and you know how much I hate asking favors."
"It's pretty important then?"
Jack's face warmed, but not so much to burn through his cool demeanor. "It is. Stay indoors as much as possible. Please."
"What's going on? Is a huge storm coming? There were a lot of clouds today."
"You noticed that?"
"Yeah." Jamie shivered and Jack wanted to scold him for coming out poorly dressed in this temperature. "I always look at the clouds now to see if you're flying up there." He looked into Jack's eyes solidly. "But there isn't supposed to be a storm. Mom said it was just supposed to snow. Why aren't you following the newsman?"
"I'm not responsible for that," Jack admitted.
"You're not? Is there another guardian for weather? Did you get replaced?" Jamie's eyes were huge.
"I'm not a guardian, Jamie. And I can't get replaced if I wasn't there to start with."
"You were always there, just never seen. Until I was born. Then you just had to find me."
Jack let that pull out a soft chuckle from him. "That's really sappy."
"I know. But seriously Jack, you can tell me what's going on."
"There's a storm coming, and it's not mine. Pitch has an army ready and he's attacking at midnight. There's going to be a battle and North has his yetis – and elves, Tooth has her hummingbirds, Bunnymund has his eggettes, Sandy has his sand powers, and that's enough. Me? Just frost, snow, and ice. That's nothing. I don't have my own army. I'm a loner. What's more, I'm not a guardian. I'm just a tag along."
"Oh, but it is." Jack waggled a finger. He paced on the railing, his staff resting on his shoulder. "Pitch is unbelievably strong. He has believers all over the world, not just kids, but teenagers. The only ones who believe in the guardians are children, those who are still innocent and know nothing about the reality of the world. The ones who believe in Pitch are the ones who know nothing is perfect. There is evil and good, but evil – evil is so easy to give in to."
"What about the people who believe in the guardians and Pitch? What about them?"
"They know there's good and evil. Guardians are good and Pitch is evil."
"Isn't that like the people who believe in Pitch?"
"The ones who believe in Pitch don't believe in salvation – I sound like a religious man." Jack pinched his nose. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry. I've been blabbering so much. I'm just so worried. If we lose, I don't know what will happen."
"You're immortal. How can you lose?"
"We're only immortal if the belief in us in strong. Mine is weak, so I have no idea how I'm still standing here."
"But if yours is weak, then if the guardians get to your level of weakness, won't they still exist?"
Jamie sounded so smart, even with his pajamas too sizes too large for him. He looked like Katherine with her much too large nightgown. Jack shook the memory away.
"They'll be as weak as me. And eventually Pitch will take over until only a few believe in us. And then we'll all be gone. We'll vanish. Poof. Gone. No more guardians, no more Jack Frost. Fear rules the world." Jack sat down. "Promise me you'll stay indoors as much as you can."
"Pitch knows about you. He might take you hostage or something – just stay in sight of adults. He can't kidnap you if you've got an audience."
"How does he know about me?"
"He probably saw us hanging out. You're the only kid who can see the guardians and that means you can see Pitch. You're special. Pitch won't forget that."
"Jamie! What are you doing out there?" Jamie's mother stepped into the room. "Did you climb out the window?"
"No Mom. I flew out the window," Jamie said.
"The window's wide open! Why didn't you close it?"
"Because then I couldn't get back in…?"
"Stay indoors," Jack said.
Jamie nodded and climbed into his room. "I thought I saw something outside."
"You could've just looked out the window." Jamie's mother slammed the window shut.
Jack kept an eye on Jamie's apartment building late into the night until a gentle tap on his shoulder by Tooth told him it was time to go.