by K. Stonham
first released 26th November 2012
The thing about children was, they grew up. They encountered words like "time to live in the real world" and "you're older; you need to be responsible now."
It wasn't that Jack was against responsibility. He was all for it! Once upon a time, he'd been responsible for his sister, and he'd carried out that charge to his death. And now he was responsible for so many more children, making sure that they had fun safely.
(Broken bones, after all, weren't very fun.)
But somehow Responsibility warred with Belief, until one day, suddenly, children no longer believed. And if they didn't believe, they couldn't see, couldn't hear.
And no amount of clapping would bring broken fairy tales back to life.
"What do you mean, he's gone?" Jack asked Cupcake, the only one of the old Burgess gang who still believed in him. There were others who did now, younger children, but of the children who had stood with the Guardians that night, Cupcake was the last who could see and hear and feel.
The fourteen-year-old shrugged, tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear. "The Bennetts moved over the summer."
Her eyes were steady on him, knowing, understanding. "California," she said softly, and okay, he could work with California...
Her mouth scrunched up, then she reluctantly admitted, "San Diego."
"San Diego?" Jack demanded. "It never gets cold there. Never snows! No frost, no winter, no... me."
"I know." The stout girl shook her head. "He begged, Sophie threw at least three screaming fits I know of, but... his mom got a good job there. She couldn't turn down the opportunity."
With a shocked exhalation, Jack fell to his knees in the snow, unbelieving, staring blankly. Jamie had been the first one to believe in him. Had held on to his belief even when his friends started losing theirs. Jack had left last spring with the understanding he'd be back in town on the first cold day. As it was, he knew Burgess got more than its share of winter weather. "I'll never see him again. Not while he still believes."
Slowly, Cupcake knelt before him. "I'm sorry. I know he was the first one who believed in you. He hated going. He told me to tell you, he'll believe as long as he can." Her mouth quirked half a smile. "Who knows, maybe he'll keep believing longer than everyone else did."
Jack took a breath. Then another. He closed his eyes and shook his head. "No one can believe forever. It's not the way it works." Another breath. "It's the reason everyone else went hands-off." He looked up into the girl's dark eyes. "It kills us to lose you."
"I'm sorry." Cupcake was a sensitive girl sometimes. Her dark eyes were welling with tears now. One slid down her cheek. Jack brushed it from her face. He blew on her tears, and they turned into snowflakes, whirling away to join the others falling from the sky, dusting Cupcake's pink jacket.
Children were like snowflakes. Beautiful, and ephemeral.
Cupcake, Jack knew with the experience of three centuries watching humans, would never be a pretty girl. But she would be a luminous one. She already was. And she was the last one left, the last one he could reach, of the Burgess gang. Propping his staff against one shoulder, Jack took her face in both his hands. "Even after you grow up and forget about us," he murmured, "we will always love you." He leaned forward, pressed his lips to her forehead. A silver-white kiss of frost bloomed momentarily, then was reabsorbed into her skin.
Cupcake looked up at him. "Jack?"
Jack nodded to the hill behind him, and grinned. "Race you to the bottom?" Jack suggested.
Cupcake might not ever be beautiful, he reflected as she grabbed her sled... but her smile most certainly was.
"You have to let them go, Jack," Toothiana told him. "They're mortals. Even if we get to keep one, they grow old, and eventually die. You'll kill yourself if you pour your heart out into them." Her delicate hand rested on his breastbone, over his heart.
"My heart's the only part of me that's warm, Tooth." Jack smiled. "I can't be like the rest of you. You can't delegate fun. Pixies and elves and eggs can't play. I'm hands-on. I need to be out there, with the kids."
"Oh, Jack." Her large violet eyes were sad. "Just don't let it destroy you."
"Hey." His hand covered hers, and he smiled at her. "Weren't you the one saying you missed being in the field? It'll be fine. I'd rather spend the next three hundred years losing them, than be invisible again."
"I'll be careful," he promised. "Trust me, Tooth. It'll be fine."
When the winds whirled Jack back into Burgess the next fall, just in time to add some frosting to the Pumpkin King's annual celebration, he looked for Cupcake among the trick-or-treaters, many of whom saw him and clamored for a moment's attention from Jack Frost. He obliged them, but didn't stop looking.
It took hours, but he finally found her.
She was indoors, at a costume party, dressed as Glinda the Good Witch. Jack frosted the windows and rapped at them, hoping to catch her attention, but the party was loud. A brief hail burst likewise failed to get any notice.
His head shot up as he heard a door bang open and two teenagers wander out into the house's backyard. Jumping up on the fence, Jack watched as they leaned against a wall and struck up cigarettes. Jack's nose wrinkled, but he stopped himself from freezing the cigarettes. If he wanted messengers...
A moment later, it started to snow, thick fat flakes falling from heaven.
As if they were puppets on a string, both smokers' heads shot up, then they scrambled for the door. "Hey! Hey, guys!" Jack heard. "It's snowing! Come look!"
What seemed like the entire contents of the house poured out into the front and back yard, looking skyward with wondering eyes. Jack waited until Cupcake joined the throng, then jumped down, landing neatly in front of her.
"Hey, Cupcake-" he started, then stopped. Like the others, she was agape and spinning slowly in the year's first snow. But her eyes passed right over Jack. Like he wasn't there.
It felt like a knife in his chest. Jack closed his eyes and took a long, deep breath against this latest hurt. When he opened his eyes again, they were shining, wet. "You knew this was coming, didn't you?" He wasn't sure if he was asking himself or her. "I guess this is goodbye, then. Be brave and wise and strong, Cupcake. Raise kids who can see us, someday." He let the breeze lift him up a few inches, leaned forward to kiss her again on the forehead. "We'll always love you, kid."
And with that, Jack Frost was gone, flying elsewhere, leaving behind a girl-becoming-woman who touched fingers to her forehead, wondering why, for just an instant, she'd had the curious feeling of having forgotten something important.
"The reason he chooses us," Nick had once theorized as he and Jack worked ice together, "the reason we are Guardians, is because we know what that loss is. In here!" He thumped his breastbone, then his belly. "We hurt, but we survive." His eyes met Jack's. "We always hurt," he said softly, "but we always survive."
Jack wondered, sometimes, what the other Guardians had lost. Who they had lost, that made them take up this mantle.
He knelt now in the oldest part of the cemetery, between two graves. Their headstones were worn from time, and starting to lose their letters. But they were still legible, particularly with the frost sparkling on them. He laid his staff on the ground, and extended a hand over each grave. To his left, his mother and father, passed on thirty years after himself, of a summer cold. They had died within a day of one another and been buried in the same grave. To his right, his sister and her husband. (Jack still couldn't believe she'd married that brat). Pippa had outlived her spouse by a good dozen years, dying the matriarch of a large family. Jack remembered instigating snowball fights among children who he hadn't realized until centuries later were his nieces and nephews.
"Happy Christmas," Jack whispered to his birth family.
Beneath his hands, the frost flowers bloomed.
Twenty years on into his Guardianship, Jack thought he had loss and recovery down to a pattern, if not yet a science. He found friends, played with them, watched them grow up and forget... and he took a deep breath, shoved the knives inside his chest down, and moved on.
"'Tis better to have loved and lost..." he mused, strolling through a parking lot, absently frosting the leaves of the bushes while killing time. He didn't often get to sneak into Southern California, and his powers weren't their strongest here, but he'd heard enough about Los Angeles to be curious and take the chance. So far, though, it seemed pretty much like any other major metropolis, albeit more sprawly than some.
Unfortunately, he couldn't manage much more than a dusting of snow, one that melted almost as soon as it touched the ground. Snow days were right out, and the kids here didn't have the right clothes for one anyway. Thus, parking lot and bush-frosting.
Something caught his eye, and he turned to look. And laughed at the sight of a businessman hopping onto the back of his shopping cart, cruising down the aisle, a smile on his face and his tie whipping in the breeze.
It was always good to see that some adults still knew how to have fun. Following the man with his eyes, Jack spun his staff and rested it against his shoulder.
The man's head snapped around, and if he hadn't known better, Jack would have sworn the man was looking right at him-
Jack's eyes widened. I know him.
"Jamie?" he whispered.
"Jack?" he could see the man's mouth say. Then, "JACK!" he yelled, jumping off the cart and stopping it mid-aisle.
Jack didn't know if he ran or if he flew, but he and Jamie ended up barrelling into one another, laughing and hugging and trying to talk over one another like a pair of friends who hadn't seen one another in over twenty years.
"You got tall," Jack eventually complained, when they separated.
"And you're just the same," Jamie replied.
"What are you doing here?" they asked simultaneously, then broke up laughing again.
"Cold front," Jack explained. "Just being a tourist, for a change. You?"
"I work in Hollywood. Screenwriter," Jamie replied. "You have some free time?"
"For you? All the time in the world."
"Come on, then. I'll show you my pad."
Jack stared at the convertible VW Bug that Jamie efficiently loaded his groceries into. "Never been in one of these things before," he muttered. He'd watched cars grow and change since their invention, but he'd never ridden in one.
Jamie grinned. "Jack Frost, afraid of my crappy old car? Live a little."
Jack's eyes narrowed. "You are on."
And, okay, riding in a car was nothing like North's sleigh. But at least the cold wind in his hair felt right.
Jack opened his eyes again when the car stopped and the motor cut out.
"I am appalled," he said.
Jamie rolled his eyes. "I know it's not the best neighborhood..."
"Seriously. Your mom LETS you live here?"
"My mom doesn't have to pay the rent." Bags in hand, Jamie wrestled his door's locks, went inside, dropped the bags on the counter, and swept Jack out through the back door. He called back into the dark depths of the apartment, "I'm outside, Dan!" Somehow he'd managed to fish two bottles out of the fridge in the process.
Crossing his arms, Jack did his best to look unimpressed.
"Look, it's not the worst part of town," Jamie argued. "And it is, believe it or not, a part of the plan."
"Plan?" Jack frowned as he took the offered plastic deck chair. Jamie handed him one of the bottles, which was, Jack was pleasantly surprised to note, actually root beer.
"Plan." Jamie took the other chair and gestured at the stucco exterior of the building with his own bottle. "Living here, with a roomie, I've been saving money. I've almost got enough, should have enough, to buy a place in Big Bear in the next year."
Jack paused, newly-icy bottle of soda halfway to his mouth. "It snows in Big Bear."
Jamie grinned. "I know."
"See, the thing is," Bunnymund said, hands busy in the dirt, "there's that saying about if you love something, set it free." Jack nodded, watching bulbs be planted. Within seconds of being covered, they'd burst from the soil, a colorful array of tulips. He had to admit, the Easter Kangaroo was good at what he did.
"Heard it," Jack agreed.
Bunnymund pointed at him with a boomerang. "Most of them don't come back. Get used to it. They're mortal, they've got other things on their minds than us."
Jack waited for a moment, but Bunnymund just continued his planting. "You said 'most of them'," he pointed out.
The Easter Bunny's hands stilled. "I did, didn't I?" he asked softly.
Jack straightened. "Wait, you mean some humans do keep believing in us?"
"Not one in a million. Heck, not one in a billion." The pooka's back was to him, so Jack couldn't see his expression. "But sometimes... yeah, if you're lucky, sometimes you'll get a believer who never stops believing."
Author's Note: As many other fine authors have already considered in this fandom, children grow up. They stop believing. And if an immortal makes friends with them... being forgotten hurts. The other Guardians "not having time for children" anymore may, in fact, be an unconscious self-defense mechanism. I feel kind of bad that I wasn't able to work Sandy into this story, though.
References through the story: Yes, clapping to bring fairies back refers to Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. Jack's frosty kiss to Cupcake's forehead was inspired by the Good Witch of the North in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (book!) doing the same for Dorothy. "The Pumpkin King" is Jack Skellington; I'm trying to figure out how to work that crossover. Please note that there is no grave in the Burgess graveyard for Jack himself. I go with the theory that the body of Jackson Overland Frost was never recovered from that pond; Manny resurrected him wholesale. Frost flowers, BTW, are weird, gorgeous, elusive, and otherworldly; go look at Wikipedia for a picture. Here in the Los Angeles basin, we do get an occasional winter front every fifteen years or so that brings a light snow for an hour or two. Jamie riding the cart in the parking lot is based on a businessman I saw doing just that a few years ago. Since I figure usually only children, animals (witness Abby the greyhound), and insane people can see the immortals, I wanted Jamie to have a career that would allow him to be a little weird, but also one that would allow him the freedom to move to a snowy place. Screenwriting is a tough gig, and one that requires connections and smoozing. I could never do it. But I figure by age thirty-three or so, he's got his chops and some sales under his belt. To afford Big Bear, he'd have to.