Bad Habits
by K. Stonham
first released 3rd November 2012

There are two versions of Jack.

There is the story the adults tell. They warn of an ice-pale boy with snow-white hair. His eyes are the frozen blue of winter skies, and when he laughs, the snow flurries come. He is a ragged, homeless wanderer who runs barefoot on the wind. With his magic staff, he freezes over the ponds and bursts the water pipes. His touch may merely seem to be chilly, they tell the children, but don't get too close to him. The cold, they say, will kill you. Beware the ice.

Then there is the story the children tell. They speak of a pale boy with white hair and bright blue eyes. He loves to laugh and have snowball fights. He dances on the wind, and will thicken the pond ice for skating, if you ask nicely. He carries a shepherd's crook, and if he's watching over you, you'll never need to fear. He wears a blue hoodie with ice patterns on it, draws pictures on the windows, and his arms are the safest place in the world.

Both versions are true.

Jack has a cruel laugh, one that the children have never gotten to hear. It was born of the desperation of centuries of never being touched. Never being seen. Never even being heard. He lashed out, and he knows, and he's ashamed. But you can't take back the past, and Jack has to live with that.

When the adults said that the wind sounded like the screams of a child? They were right. Jack was screaming with anger, with pain, with all the loneliness of a child locked forever outdoors. He didn't know why, no one would tell him why, tell him what he'd done wrong, and it wasn't fair, any of it. He hated them, he hated them all, and he wanted to make them hurt the way he hurt.

Eventually, after a century or so, his rage and pain burned out, and Jack was left empty, waiting for something, anything, he did not know what, to fill the hollow left inside him.

However, Jack has never, ever deliberately harmed a child. How could he? They're the ones he wanted most desperately to see him. To play with him. The adults were the ones closing the doors and windows against him, not the children. And, contrary to popular belief, he's not everywhere at the same time. Not every winter storm or frozen body is his fault. He had absolutely nothing to do with the Titanic.

Jack has made mistakes. Bad ones. If the other Guardians know what they are, they never say. But sometimes he thinks he sees wariness, or watchfulness, in their eyes. But then he blinks and it's gone, and he wonders if it was only him projecting.

He doesn't ask. If it's true, he doesn't want to know. And if it's not true, he doesn't want them to know.

Jack polices himself. When he is in a good mood, all is well. When he is in a bad mood... he knows he is a powerful winter spirit, and as such, can do terrible, terrible things. He makes sure to stay on the right side of the balance. He teases Bunny, flirts with Tooth, sculpts with North, and learns from Sandy. He plays with any child who will have him, whether they see him or not. He forces himself to accept any affection he is given, no matter how strange/wrong it feels to be touched, to be hugged.

Jack knows he is screwed up, but also knows he can get better. He will get better. He will make himself get better. He will not be like Pitch, not ever.

Knowing who he was, he knows what he is, and why. He has precious memories to be worthy of, comrades to live up to, and a handful of children in Burgess, Pennsylvania to keep faith with.

Spirits do not need to sleep, but they like to. Nor do they need to eat, but, again, food tastes good. Jack, though, has gone centuries without a meal, either physically or spiritually. Ever since the moment he was raised from that pond, and even before it swallowed him and he died, he has been painfully thin. The village struggled; there was never enough to eat. If anyone ever saw him without a shirt on, they would be able to count his ribs. He feels vaguely ashamed of this, and hides it. He knows his body and soul don't know how to react properly, so he eats carefully, takes little, adjusting. His reaction to the company of others is much the same; he takes it slow, and does not hesitate to seek solitude again when people overwhelm him.

He craves both, so very badly, but wants to keep the privilege even more than he wants to eat until he's full, bury himself in the presence of others.

He worries that the Guardians think he's standoffish. But he doesn't have the words to tell them, to explain. And he never wants to see pity in their eyes.

Jack Frost survived three hundred years alone. He doesn't have to anymore, but old habits are harder than winter ice. He can break that; he is trying to break these.

Author's Note: Something of a darker and more damaged version of Jack than the movie gave us. Probably explained by this having been written between phone calls on one of those Mondays that makes me want to apply head to desk until one gives way. My thoughts on Jack's skinniness are entirely due to the "Something Torn to be Mended" chapter of Twisted Skys' excellent RotG story "Invisible."