"It was so damn hard to find love in this world, to locate someone who could make you feel that there was a reason you'd been put on this earth. A child, I imagined, was the purest form of that. A child was the love you didn't have to look for, didn't have to prove anything to, didn't have to worry about losing." -Change of Heart, by Jodi Picoult
Jamie wished he could spend the weekend in his cabin by the lake. But he couldn't leave Sophie. Not at that time. He knew she would probably use the frying pan on him if she found out why he decided to stay home, but there was also Ethan to think about.
"That was a cool movie!" Ethan enthused, as he, Jamie and Sophie walked out of the theater.
"Pun intended!" Jamie laughed.
"Though I think Elsa is a lot like Jack. I mean, she has ice powers and all. But I don't think Jack can build a palace from scratch."
Jamie shrugged. "But Jack isn't one to run away from problems either," he said. "And I have yet to hear him sing." Jamie couldn't help grinning at that thought.
Sophie elbowed him sharply. "Now I can't get that mental image out of my head, you fool!" She tried to look annoyed, but ended up breaking into a huge grin. "The cold never bothered me anyway," she sang in a deep voice. The Bennett siblings exchanged looks for one brief moment before bursting into laughter. Right at that moment, though, Sophie spotted Jack in the distance, heading straight for them. She tugged on her brother's arm.
"Jamie," she hissed in his ear. "Jack's coming but- don't look! I was thinking, why don't we ignore him? Pretend he isn't there, act like we don't believe anymore?"
"That's cruel, those 300 years really got to him."
"Come on, Jamie."
Jamie hesitated, feeling the presence of the spirit drawing closer. "Okay fine," he finally conceded, when he remembered that a certain event was to take place the following and he decided Sophie should have a little fun before she had to face it.
"Now, it's not every day you see the Bennett siblings giggling together on a sidewalk in Burgess," commented Jack, as he swooped downwards and landed lightly. Sophie paid him no heed and Jamie tried his best not to look.
"It's getting cold, Jamie," Sophie said drawing her coat tightly around her. "We should get going."
"Er... right, let's go," Jamie responded, resisting the urge to take a peek at the winter spirit's reaction.
"Jack Frost!" squealed Ethan.
Jamie gave his sister a look but she merely smiled back at him, which he took to mean that this was part of her plan. Ethan tugged on his mother's arm. "Mom! It's Jack Frost!" The 8- year old grinned up at the spirit. "What're you up to?"
Sophie took her cue to turn and glare at Ethan. "Who are you talking to?" she asked putting on her most 'motherly' voice. She shot quick glances around, before taking Ethan firmly by the hand and leading him away.
"Mom, it's Jack Frost! Can't you see him?" Ethan pointed at the winter spirit, who was turning to Jamie.
Jamie busied himself by checking out the menu of a nearby restaurant. He pretended to be looking everywhere, just so he could let his gaze sweep over Jack's momentarily, to discern the spirit's expression. From what he could see, Jack wasn't really falling for it. He regarded Jamie with a skeptical look. Jamie had half-a mind to drop the entire act, but one look at Sophie kept him going. Every time the spirit moved closer to him, he moved out of the way and pretended to be interested in something else, should Jack bump into him and realise that they didn't pass through one another.
"You and your fairy tales!" Sophie was chiding Ethan. "Come along!"
"Another mention of fairy tale characters, and you can't play Pinball for a week!"
"Okay, okay!" The boy shot Jack an apologetic look. Jamie, overhearing this, couldn't feel a pang of... what was it? Annoyance? Sadness? Maybe a mixture of both, with some fear thrown in. Was Pinball more important than the Guardians? Did it only take one threat to get children to concede? Wasn't that what was happening? People were too afraid to stand up for what they believed in because of the threats that they will be shunned, criticised, judged and whatnot? Or deprived of certain wants and needs?
Jamie shook his head, snapping himself out of his reverie.
"So, where shall we go?" Jamie asked his sister.
"Why don't we just head back home?"
Jamie shrugged again. "Hm okay. Whatever."
"Jamie?" The boy heard Jack's voice again, but the winter spirit didn't sound skeptical any longer. A moment later, as Jack landed in front of him, Jamie hurriedly halted in his tracks and peered in at the window of the nearest store. Burgess Infants- The one-stop supplies centre for all your childcare needs since 1989! was printed on the glass. Jamie knew Jack wasn't the Guardian of Wisdom, but this was obviously a dead giveaway.
"Sophie, check out this bib!" He tried to keep up the act, by pointing to a hideous-looking cloth tied around a child mannequin's neck. "It has a pretty... nice pattern," he hurriedly added, when he realised there was almost no reason for him to want a bib.
Jack was inching dangerously close to Jamie. The boy turned to Sophie, away from Jack, and shot his sister a look. Sophie finally gave a shout of laughter.
"It's okay, Jack," she called, grinning, just as Jack laid a hand on Jamie's shoulder, his face flushed with relief when it didn't pass through.
Jamie offered the spirit a grin, noticing that the latter had not cracked a smile. "It was just a joke, Jack," he said.
Jack nodded, swallowing once. "Right. A joke. Heh. Guess I completely fell for that one," he smirked, but there was something off.
Jamie reached out and lightly touched the cuff of the guardian's hoodie. "Hey, I'm sorry. I just... look I know..."
"Jamie, it's okay. It was just... a little scary, that's all," Jack brushed off the apology, and threw on a smile. "Having a little fun aren't we? I should've just sent a snowball right at you."
"Someday I'm gonna get Monty to invent a snowball-ammo machine and give it to you for Christmas," Sophie said, as Ethan strode alongside her, slightly confused by the turn of events.
"Nah, the Yetis and North will take care of that," Jack responded.
Ethan tugged on his mother's arm again. "Mom? Are we still believing in Jack Frost?" he asked.
Sophie smiled. "We always will."
Jack had been quite interested in the latest movie depicting a princess very much like himself, in possession of ice powers, so he stole into a theater and sat right at the back, causing some members of the audience to shiver violently. The sister, Anna reminded him a lot of his own sister, and when she expressed her love for her cryokinetic sister, Jack couldn't help wondering what it felt like to have someone say that. The only person who'd ever said that to him was his mother, and that was eons ago. He didn't blame his sister; you didn't exactly fall flat on your butt in a pool of mud while wearing your best dress and go "I love you, big brother, play more tricks!"
But at Sophie's words, despite his constant body temperature, a pleasant warmth seemed to spark within, and a foreign tingly sensation coursed through his entire being. He couldn't help wondering if this was how Elsa felt. As Jamie glanced over his shoulder and their eyes met for one moment, Jack couldn't help thinking it had been stupid to doubt Jamie's belief (though those 300 years of invisibility had been rough), for shining in those brown eyes was much more than just belief.
He didn't exactly fancy the thing they called 'Jelsa', though.
Game of Thrones was on when they got home, but Mrs. Bennett was clearly not watching, as she hunched over on the couch, grimacing. "Mom, you alright?" Sophie asked. She hurried over, but Mrs. Bennett waved her away.
"I'm fine," she responded, quickly. "Don't you worry. It's just a little pain, it'll go away in a while." She noticed the winter spirit. "Oh hello, Jack."
Sophie shot her brother a look, as her son bounded over to his grandmother. "Mom, is everything okay?" Jamie tried, and Mrs. Bennett looked a tad annoyed.
"I just came back from the doctor, and he gave... well, he said everything was alright, so worry not," she said, before getting up, and heading upstairs. But her movements were slow, as though every step she took caused her pain. Jamie wanted to help, but he knew he would just be brushed off again.
"Um, shouldn't you go after her?" Jack wasn't sure how he was supposed to act/react in such situations.
"We'll check on her later," Sophie decided. "Meanwhile..."
"Meanwhile, let's watch something!" Jamie flopped down on the couch and began channel-surfing. He glanced expectantly at Sophie who slowly lowered herself onto the seat next to him. Score! Now all he had to do was keep her distracted for approximately the next 48 hours. "So, what do you think?" He looked to Jack for ideas as well. "Should we rewatch Rise of the Guardians? Perhaps you'd like Game of Thrones?
"Jamie..." Sophie began.
"Maybe you'd want to rewatch Tangled?" Jamie pressed on. Jack gave him a strange look and Jamie shot back a pleading one.
"Hey..." Sophie tried again.
"Or maybe that movie Ethan liked so much, the one about dragons... what was it? How to Train Your Dragon?"
"Yay!" Ethan cheered, leaping onto the seat.
"No!" Sophie snapped, all of a sudden.
But Jamie knew it was more than mere disagreement with his choice of entertainment. "Sophie..." he started.
The blonde sucked in a breath. "Look, Jamie, don't think I have no clue what you're up to. I'm aware of what's happening, alright? I've always been. But you don't have to worry, like I've told you a million times before. I know John's being released from prison tomorrow, but I've said, I have got nothing more to do with him!"
Silence hung over the four of them.
"But he might not be done with you," Jamie said, quietly.
"Wait a second, I'm getting confused here," Jack interjected. "What do you mean he might not be done with her? It's been three years."
Sophie inhaled sharply again. "My brother's under the impression that after what happened, my ex-husband is gonna come back to... try to hurt Ethan. Or me." Jack glanced at Jamie and the latter's silence confirmed Sophie's words.
Jack let out a loose laugh. "Ethan? With us here?" he gestured at himself, symbolizing the company of guardians. "Not a chance."
"But this isn't Pitch. You can't hurt adults, can you?" Jamie asked. "That isn't exactly on the Guardians manifesto, I presume?"
Jack's gaze steeled. "This is more than just a guardian thing."
Before Jack could answer, Sophie spoke up. "Look, let's just drop the subject, okay? I'm not afraid, and I can handle this on my own, so let's not get so worked up over it!" She leaned back on the couch. "Put the dragon movie in, please." She held an arm out to her son who curled up against her.
It was around midnight when Sophie gave in.
Jamie cursed insomnia and glared at a horribly-written page of his manuscript, before ripping it and tossing it away. Several minutes later, when it became clear his mind was too muddled for writing, Jamie retired to bed, only to lie in it and listen to the soft snores of his nephew beside him. His ears picked up on the whistling sound of the autumn breeze outside his window, a choir of crickets, the sound of his door slowly creaking open...
He sat up. A sliver of light seeped into his room from the landing, before disappearing as the door closed. Sophie, in a set of PJs with sleep-tousled hair made her way silently over to the spot on the floor on the side of Jamie's bed in which her son slept in.
"Soph?" Jamie called, in a loud whisper.
There was no answer. He scrambled out of bed and joined his sister on the floor. Sophie hugged her knees and rested her forehead on them. "Are you okay?"
There was a long pause before she answered. "You were right."
"I am afraid."
"I never said you were."
Sophie was about to respond, when a drowsy voice interrupted their conversation. "Mom?" Ethan's head appeared as he slowly sat up.
Sophie gave him a weak smile. "Go to sleep, kiddo. It's only midnight."
"Why are you afraid?" he asked.
"Why were you eavesdropping?"
Jamie placed a hand on his sister's shoulder, but turning to Ethan. "Everything's alright, just go back to sleep."
But the boy merely swung his legs over the side of the bed and crept over to his mother. "Mom, why are you afraid?"
Sophie stared long into her son's sleep-filled eyes, an exact replica of her own. Finally, she took a deep breath and said, "It's your father, kiddo. He's coming back."
Ethan's eyes lost the drowsiness in them as they widened with fear. "I'm just afraid he might try to hurt me, or even worse, you."
"The Guardians will help out with that, right? Jack said so," Ethan beamed. "I mean, I am still a child, I guess." Then his face fell. "But you're not a child. Jack will still protect you, right?"
"Ethan, you're talking like there's an army about to capture us and torture us to death," Sophie couldn't help laughing. But she couldn't help remembering Jamie's episode with Mr. Bane, either. That guy actually had plans to kill them, if necessary. What's to say John wouldn't do the same, especially after the Bennett siblings had condemned him to prison?
"Of course," Jamie tried to smile reassuringly at the boy.
Ethan was not entirely convinced as he reached out and took his mother's hand. "Even if Jack won't, I will."
Claude and Caleb's house was rarely devoid of guests. The twins often surrounded themselves with people and couldn't comprehend Monty's obsession with books and robots nor Jamie's fantasies and imaginary friends. What could be better than making new friends or trying out new pick-up lines on the ladies?
"You sure there's enough room for everyone? Remember, the circle's grown. A lot." Caleb grinned at his twin, as they dusted and swept. Instinctively, his eyes flickered upwards to a framed photograph hanging just above the television. The colour had faded with age, but the bright smiles on the newly-wedded couple'a faces remained. Caleb's grip tightened around the handle of the duster he held, his nails digging into his palm, as he always did when memories of his parents resurfaced.
"In the days of yore, our parties' guest lists usually included the entire neighbourhood. Don't tell me you've forgotten!" Claude said, flinging the broom into its cupboard, done with his half of the chores.
Caleb blinked back tears, turning away from the photograph and flashed his brother a grin. "Ah, those days." That was when he noticed the lack of a broom in Claude's hands, and the latter's feet resting on the table. "You're done?" he asked, incredulously.
"Well, you know I'm always the quicker one. I mean, I was even five minutes earlier than you, at birth!"
"Hey, I was playing the good samaritan, alright, letting you out earlier. After all, ladies first."
Claude launched himself off the chair and at his twin, but just then, the doorbell rang. Both exchanged horrified glances, before Claude hurried towards the door while Caleb groaned as he pushed back into a place a bookshelf he had been dusting behind.
"Oh hey! You're here early, but..." Claude's voice drifted from the front door. Caleb took the steps two at a time, ducked into his room and rummaged about in his drawers for something decent. He tossed aside a shirt that smelled as though it had not seen the washing machine in months, and another that had never been acquainted with an iron. Downstairs, he could hear his old friends filing in, only their chatter was now accompanied by the occasional squeal or laughter of a child.
Finally locating a decent piece of clothing, he changed, and hurried down to the living room. But as soon as he stepped in, he stopped, and merely stood in the doorway, staring.
Pippa was there, flanked by a brooding boy with dark eyeshadow and a lip piercing, two girls who looked like the young Pippa Caleb had known, and a bespectacled boy poring over a book. Cupcake sat across from Pippa, an elbow planted on the armrest of her seat.
"Four children. Must be a nightmare," Cupcake was commenting. Everyone noticed that she left out one, and seemed to make mental notes to themselves to remember to do the same.
"My children are a blessing," Pippa had responded, shortly.
Jamie seemed to be chiding Sophie, judging from the expression on his face, but Sophie was glancing furtively at the windows, as though someone was going to break in through them at any moment. Walking around the shelves, peering curiously at and attempting to touch the souvenirs Claude and Caleb had on display was probably her son, who was famous among them due to his name. Monty was in a deep conversation with Claude, looking almost the same as he did many years ago, save for the strands of white among the blondes on his head and the lack of the scared expression he so often wore during the Battle of Burgess. His cousin Kendra sat beside him, surveying her surroundings. She had grown into the type of lady whom, if you should encounter on the street, you'd clear a path.
"Caleb!" He heard a voice ring out across the room, and a moment later, a flash of yellow filled his vision as Sophie lightly hugged him. As they broke apart, another set of arms wrapped themselves around him, but showed no mercy as they squeezed the breath out of him.
"Have you been strength-training, Cupcake?" Caleb half-choked. Cupcake released him and gave him a playful punch.
"Still a weakling, I see."
Before Caleb could retort, Cupcake sauntered off as Jamie came into view. "Hey, seen Jack anywhere? I mean, look at this company. It'd be so cool if he was here."
"Pun intended," Jamie grinned. "Seriously, I love saying that. Anyway, I can't tell you." Jamie smiled mysteriously.
"Er... why not?"
Jamie was about to respond, when the room temperature dropped several degrees. Everyone halted in their chatter immediately, and while the the later generation glanced around in trepidation, the adults exchanged grins. "Jack," they murmured, all except Pippa, who had paled. She got up hurriedly, and rushed for the exit.
A moment later, there was a whoosh! and a faulty window flew open (Caleb made a mental note to get that fixed later) as Jack entered, grinning at the little congregation. A breeze entered with him, causing everyone to shiver.
"Breaking and entering! Police!" Claude cried out, jokingly, snatching up a stool and attempting to force Jack out with it, but dropped it and gave the spirit a friendly slap on the back instead.
"Old friend!" Cupcake attempted to hug him, but Caleb pushed Jack out of the way.
"She'll crush your bones, man!" he exclaimed. Everyone laughed, as each one, save for Jamie, Sophie and the latter's son, took their turns greeting Jack. The only ones not participating were four members of the later generation, and their mother.
"Er... mom? That will be Jack Frost, right?" Pippa's oldest son hissed in her ear. The youngest had even put aside his book and was gaping at the childlike adults before him and the spirit in their midst.
Pippa looked like she was about to be sick. The cold was bad enough. She looked up a little, watching Kendra and Jack share a handshake, the latter wincing at the former's grip. Pippa bit her lip as Jack came over.
Pippa swallowed and slowly rose to her feet. "Hello, Jack," she greeted, throwing in a smile that didn't reach her eyes. She seemed to back away from Jack, constantly rubbing her hands together. "These are my kids. They can see you, I think. I mean, I didn't exactly check in every day to see if they still believe..."
"Oh my gosh, are you Jack Frost?" gushed one of her twins, staring open-mouthed. Her sister silently squealed something that sounded like "He's so hot!" The other twin took a step forwards, extending a hand, but as Jack took it, she yanked it away, leaping backwards. "No, sis," she said. "He's not hot. He's cold. Very cold."
"So I'm not crazy," said the oldest son, nodding at Jack.
Jack acknowledged them, but there was something about Pippa that disturbed him. She seemed... afraid.
Before anyone else could say or do anything, a loud ringing sound cut through the air and Sophie hurriedly pulled her cellphone out of her pocket. "Mrs. Warren?" she muttered, glancing at the Caller ID. Everyone else made their way to their seats, but looked up when Sophie half-shouted, "What?!" Her green eyes widened.
"Okay, got it," she said into the phone breathlessly, and hung up a moment later. Facing everyone, she said, "Sorry, but we have to go. Like, right now."
As Caleb stood up to ask why, Sophie turned to her brother and told him something, probably who had called and what they'd said. When Caleb saw the colour drain from Jamie's face, he headed straight for the door to send them out.
I apologise for the chapter's length and anything else crappy in it. Thanks for reading!