A/N: Sorry for the month-long hiatus! Real Life has been crazy. Anyway, on with the heartbreak.
Safely in the sleepy town of Burgess, Jamie tossed and turned in his bed. His nightlamp threw stars and spaceships on the walls, but he'd already watch them rotate a trillion times over. He'd tried to count sheep―one-hundred and forty-seven… one-hundred and forty-eight… He even tried to close his eyes and think of nothing, but nothing always swam away like scared fish, as hungry thoughts crawled through his brain, picking questions and ideas for the tasting.
Then, footsteps echoed down the hallway. Who'd be up? "Sophie?" he whispered, wondering why his parents didn't still keep her in a crib.
The footsteps froze.
He crawled to the edge of his bed and peeked around the lip of his door. It wasn't Sophie, but Jill in her winter frock, fur hood covering her face. She glanced back at him with a long-suffering look.
"Jamie," she hissed, "go back to bed!"
"Why're you up?" Crawling out of bed, he met her halfway in the hallway, growing excited as the realization dawned. "You're sneaking out!"
"Not for long," she defended, pushing a pair of white boots behind her back. The blades on the bottom glinted silver in the moonlight.
A grin spread across his face. "Can I come too?"
"I'm not going anywhere."
"You're going ice skating, I'm not stupid―just stay there, I'll get my skates!"
She tried to stop him, but he was already digging out his skates from his closet, and came back. "Jamie… it's the middle of the night, it's cold. I'll take you in the morni―"
"I've been out on the pond this late before," he defended, tip-toeing down the stairs to grab his coat from the coatrack by the door, and lacing up his snowboots.
She rolled her eyes, following. "Right, on your adventures with Jack Frost."
"You don't have to believe, you're not a grown-up," he said matter-of-factly, unlocking the front door. He zipped out, and she followed, flustered. They clomped down the front steps and up the roadside, slick with the evening's ice. It would probably be the last snowfall before spring. She couldn't wait―Burgess in winter was wonderful, but Burgess in the summer, with the sprinklers running and the community pools open and the cuties back from college in swim trunks… oh, heaven. If winter was a prude virgin, then summer was most definitely it's slutty half-sister.
"Who said I don't believe in Jack Frost?" she defended as they scaled the hill to the pond.
Her kid brother rolled his eyes. She couldn't wait until he became a teenager. All that sass would do him good in high school. "Because of the way you say his name. Jack Frost, like you're putting quotes around it."
"I'm not putting quotes," she made the quote symbol with her fingers, "around Jack Frost!"
"Then why are you defending it then, huh-huh? If you believed you wouldn't have to defend it. You'd just know."
Narrowing her eyes, she glared into the back of her little brother's head. They reached the top of the hill where the pond rested. Jamie stood frozen, gaping. "Jack…?"
The deity in question was on the pond, looking down below his feet, into the ice, entranced almost. Jamie saw his face pale, and eyes go wide, as skeletal hands, dripping with rot and sinew, stretched up through the ice like daggers, and wrapped their bony fingers around his ankles, and plunged him underneath.
"JACK!" Jamie dropped his ice skates and went tearing down the other side of the hill toward the crack in the pond.
Jill came up the hill after him. "Jamie! What are you―" The snow in the hill gave. She dropped her skates and went after her little brother, tumbling through the bank of snow in a flurry of white. She caught her footing at the bottom and grappled for the hood in Jamie's jacket. She caught it and pulled him back. He struggled against her, kicking. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"
"Something dragged Jack under! I have to help him! I have to!"
She didn't see a boy named Jack, but she did see a hole in the ice, and a hooked staff lying not far away. Did someone fall through?
"Please!" Jamie begged, sobbing, "Please I have to help him!"
"Hold on―I'll go, I'm a better swimmer."
"But you can't see him! You can't see him!" Jamie thrashed against her, but she spun him around and stooped down so they were eye-level. He really thought Jack was real, she realized, and whoever was under the pond meant something to him.
And even if Jack wasn't real, someone had slipped through the ice. Air bubbles came up through the crack, all at once like a last gasp of breath.
"I believe in Jack Frost, Jamie," she said to her little brother, "I promise I do."
He nodded, and stopped jerking, tears flooding his eyes. She unzipped her snowjacket and tore off her boots. The ice was cold, and she sucked in a sharp breath when her feet touched it. Now or never, Jilly, she pepped herself, and took a running start for the crack, her feet miraculously sticking to the surface, almost sticky. She jumped and dived, the icy water instantly seizing her muscles and cramping her bones. She forced herself not to let out all of her breath, and opened her eyes. The moonlight that filtered through the ice was uncommonly bright as it drifted further into the murky depths, and she swam along it, searching down and down for somebody, as if the light itself painted a path.
Her lungs ached the further she went until―suddenly―a face drifted into the moonlight below her. A guy no older than herself, pale as a dead person, with hair iced over to look like snow. His eyes drifted between half open, his lips the deep blue of a drowned man.
She grabbed his ice-cold hand and kicked back up toward the surface, hoping it wasn't too late. She broke the surface, shivering. Jamie ran to the edge and helped her get the man up. Then she tried to get up herself, anchoring her elbows into the ice, but suddenly the sheet gave and she found herself underwater again.
"Jill!" Jamie shouted as she burst back through the water, gasping for air.
"Stay back," she snapped, because the ice was cracking all around her. No matter how she tried to get up, the sheet would give. "Just p-p-pull him further," she instructed, and Jamie did. "I-I-Is he b-b-breathing?"
He put a hand over Jack's mouth. "Yeah―his staff! I'll reach out with his staff and pull you out." He slipped over on the ice toward the staff, but she shook her head.
"T-T-T-To slip-p-p-pery," she warned. "Y-You'll b-be drag-g-ed in wi-with me." Her toes had already gone numb, her fingers close behind. She was shivering, her breath coming in short puffs. How long had DiCaprio lasted in the freezing waters after the Titanic sank? She wished she'd watched the movie more often, but she always ended up yelling at Kate Winslet to share the damn raft. She didn't want Jamie watching her die. "J-Jamie. G-G-Go get help."
He even thought it was a good idea. "Stay right there! I'll be right back!" He took off up the embankment again, and she watched him disappear over the hill, what looked like beyond the moon. She'd never noticed the moon so bright before, or so big. Maybe dying made everything bigger. Maybe dying was just flooding into the bigger, brighter cosmos where everything ran together like watercolors. She imagined heaven to be a lot like Picasso's Starry Night.
But she never thought she'd die like this.
"If y-y-you a-a-are J-Jack F-Frost," she told the unconscious man with a half-grin, "y-you're l-l-lookin' good f-f-for your a-a-age." And then she began to hum, because hearing her voice soothed her, and because she knew that when she stopped humming, everything else would stop too.
And there was a morbid comfort in that.
It was cold.
And it was dark.
And he was alone.
But then he wasn't, and there was a voice humming a tune he didn't recognize, but he liked the voice anyway.
"Another life will do for now, I suppose," crawled the nightmarish voice, all-consuming, clucking his tongue against the roof of his mouth.
The humming grew fainter, dipping in and out, like a radio loosing signal.
"But her life won't be nearly as satisfying as yours."
Why couldn't he move? And why couldn't he stop the voice from fading. He could barely do anything, much less move and much less think. Everything was cold and foggy, and he couldn't remember the last time he felt cold before.
Not in three hundred years.
"But I shan't be picky. Not at the moment. Because I suspect, in just desserts, her soul will summon you."
And then, fading, fading, fading, until it was nothing at all, the melody drifted away, so tiredly, into the dark, deep depths of the pond.