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Part 4: Sixteen
The following year, Jack found his first believer hunched up and hiding in the bathroom, his hands over his head. Jamie glanced up when Jack pushed the door open with his staff and revealed sad, if dry, eyes.
"Oh man," Jack breathed, shutting the door behind him. "You've got to stop being so sad whenever I visit. You're breaking my heart." It was said in a way that was obviously meant as a light joke, and Jamie managed to give him a little smile.
"Sorry, Jack," he said, rubbing at his dry eyes. When he lowered his hands, he sent a confused frown in the spirit's direction. "Wait. It's barely November. It hasn't snowed yet. What are you doing here?"
A shrug. "I felt like coming home. Thought maybe a little early winter was in store for Burgess."
Sorrow forgotten for a moment, Jamie focused on his wintery friend. "Oh yeah. You told me you were born in the lake. So Burgess is your home." He couldn't believe he'd forgotten that. "I guess it's just hard to imagine you staying in one place long enough to call it home."
He got a pearly white smile in response. "Yeah. I go pretty much wherever the wind takes me. But yeah, Burgess is my home." Jack's smile turned a bit more fond. "My whole family lived here once."
Jamie sat up straighter. "You have a family?" he asked, surprised but pleased.
Jack had a family! That meant he wasn't alone in the world, right? Except...he had been. Jack had told him as much. But his family...
Jack leaned on the door and glanced at the towel rack to his left. "Uh, had," he corrected. "Three hundred years ago."
"What happened to them?" Jamie asked, his voice coming out small.
"They died," Jack stated, and while there was a hint of sorrow in his eyes, his tone was conversational. "Tooth showed me Sarah's teeth. They all lived out their lives and then died. As all humans do."
Jamie's jaw hit the floor. "You were human?!"
Jack winced at the sudden volume and pitch of his first believer's voice. Jamie mouthed 'sorry' and Jack nodded.
"All the Guardians were human, or sort of, before they were chosen. Granted, I was a bit of a special case, because of my memories." Jamie made a mental note to ask what was special about Jack's memories later, but let his friend talk for now. "But yeah, we all lived mortal lives. Then, for some reason or another, the Man in the Moon chose us to be Guardians. Usually it's a choice to be made, Manny asks them to be a Guardian or spirit. A few of us, though...A few of us died. Some to age, some to illness, some to war," Jack explained, keeping his tone amiable even with the somber material.
Jack was alive once. He had a family, just like Jamie. Maybe Sarah was his sister. Had she been younger than him, like Sophie, or older? Did he have any brothers? He might have had a girlfriend? Or, it was three hundred years ago...maybe he'd been married? The thought seemed laughable but it made Jamie frown. He shook his head.
Had Jack always been this way: fun loving and free spirited? Did he play jokes on his friends? Was he popular in school? Jamie had Cupcake leftover from that Easter six years ago, and he made sure that he only made friends with people who didn't think he was crazy for believing in Jack Frost and Santa Claus.
How did he die? Jamie's brain supplied. Was he old when he died? Or, horribly, was he young? He looked eighteen.
"How...," Jamie started but trailed off. Jack wore a patient expression, like he knew what Jamie wanted to ask but, for once, wouldn't push it. Jamie swallowed. "How did you die?"
Jack's eyes searched his younger friend's face for a few silent moments. Then he seemed to come to a decision and took a deep breath.
"I drowned. In the lake," he revealed quietly. Jamie gasped.
He was born in the lake. God, why hadn't Jamie realized?
"It was early winter," Jack continued, interrupting Jamie's thoughts. "Sarah wanted to go ice skating, and I'd promised to teach her how. I taught all the kids in town how. Burgess was only a few houses big at the time, and I was the oldest." Jack smiled fondly. "I told stories about mythical creatures, funny ones. And I made sure that no one was left out of any fun activity going on in town. Life back then was hard, and I wanted everyone to be happy."
That sounded like Jack.
"Anyway, ice skating. I was a pro with my skates. I taught Sarah how to balance and how to move forward, how to stop. She was so shaky. Everything was great until I realized the ice was cracking under her skates." Both Jamie and Jack frowned. "I took off my skates, so I wouldn't cut at the ice when I moved, and so I wouldn't slide so much. I just kept thinking that I had to get Sarah to safety. I kept her mind off the ice by making fun and starting a game of hopscotch toward the thicker ice. Then I used this staff," he held out his icy staff in example, "to pull her to safety. I switched our positions. Then the ice broke under me and...I became Jack Frost."
Silence reigned after Jack was done. Jamie didn't know what to say. He just gaped at Jack soundlessly. Jack gave him a few moments to absorb his words, and then he smiled.
"But I saved my sister," he said. "She lived a full life, with a husband and kids and everything, because of me. Because I saved her." His smile broadened. "I'm a Guardian."
Jamie gave a small smile of his own. "That's great, Jack. I...I'm sorry about...," he waved his hand at Jack's person when he couldn't come up with a good way to say 'your death, your afterlife, your everything,' "but...I'm glad I met you. If that helps."
"Of course it does," Jack said like it was obvious, causing Jamie to smile a bit more. "Now, as a Guardian, it is my job to help and protect those who believe in the Guardians. So Jamie, what's up?"
The younger teenager flinched. Oh great. The focus was back on him. He would've been happier had Jack never mentioned it.
Jack lifted an eyebrow at him. "Really? Because you're curled up against your bathtub looking like the world just ended." Jamie looked at the floor guiltily. "Come on, bud, tell me what's eating you. I can't make you feel better if you don't tell me."
Jamie watched Jack watch him. There was a hope hiding in Jack's eyes. He wanted to help. Of course he did. He was a Guardian. And he was Jamie's friend. He always knew exactly what to say or do to make any situation fun. And he was over three hundred years old. And he'd been human once. He might know what to do.
The human teen sighed and dropped his eyes again. "I...There's this...this guy...at school."
"Is someone picking on you?" Jack asked, voice cold like ice.
Jamie shook his head. "No. No. No one's picked on me since middle school," he assured the Guardian of Fun. He could practically feel the ice leave the room. "He's...He's a friend of mine. And he's a little taller than me, and blonde, and he's on the football team, and-"
In the silence after Jamie broke off suddenly, Jack let out a breath. "Jamie." Said boy flinched at just the sound of his own name. "Do you...like this guy?"
Jamie curled his arms around his legs and held on. "I-I-I don't know. I've never...I mean, I've gone on dates with girls in the past. And I...I know what people say about...I don't want to be..." He hid his face in his knees. "I'm already different, Jack."
"Hey. Being different is good. Being the same is boring," Jack said lightly, obviously trying to cheer the younger boy up.
It didn't work.
"But I don't even know if I...What if I come out; what if I tell people I like guys...and then later I realize I was just panicking over nothing and I like girls?" Jamie asked his legs.
It seemed maybe Jamie was wrong. Jack didn't offer a response. Maybe he didn't know the answer. He was over three hundred years old, but he'd died as his life was beginning. It was stupid to think he would have all the answers.
Then, "Do you trust me?"
Jamie glanced up from his knees, lifting his head just enough to peek at the white haired teen through his bangs and over his arms. "What?"
A small, comforting smile. "Do you trust me?" Jamie nodded and the smile gained confidence. "Okay. Then I have an idea."
Jack moved silently and gracefully, kneeling down in front of Jamie. Jamie lowered his knees until he was sitting cross-legged with his hands on his knees. Jack made sure their eyes stayed locked as he reached out and placed his right hand on Jamie's left. Jamie's heartbeat skipped and sped up.
"J-jack?" he asked, unable to tear his gaze away.
Jack shook his head once, his white hair shaking like snow covered branches in a soft breeze. Then he leaned forward, slowly, so slowly. He was all Jamie could see when his other cold hand cupped Jamie's cheek and his cool lips met Jamie's warm ones. Their eyes shut at the same moment, as if one.
It was chilly. Cold was seeping into his skin from every point where Jack was touching him, but still Jamie felt warmth jump in his stomach. He was kissing a guy! He was kissing Jack! And it was exhilarating. He felt like he was flying over the city in nighttime winter air; like he was caught in the middle of the perfect snowball fight; like the glide of skates over ice. His heart was beating double time and, impossibly, he was overly warm.
The kiss was chaste, just a simple touching of lips, but Jamie chased it when it ended. He opened his eyes to find Jack watching him with both a comforting smile and a laughing gaze. It was something probably only Jack could pull off.
"Well?" Jack asked.
Jamie felt his cheeks heating up. "Um...Yeah, that was...uh..."
Jack laughed, but it wasn't mean. He ruffled Jamie's hair affectionately, causing the brunette to frown. Jamie knocked his hand off.
"You can't just kiss a guy and then ruffle his hair like he's your brother," he protested.
Another laugh. "Oh, Jamie, you are far more than a brother to me." He stood up while Jamie blushed again, then held out his hand. Jamie took it, noting as always how cool it was in his own, and was hauled to his feet with surprising strength. "You okay?" Jack asked, tilting his head to the side.
No. Not entirely. Jack had clarified what Jamie already feared to be true. In this moment he wasn't afraid, but the fear would return later. This would change everything and nothing at the same time. But, looking on the bright side, Jamie could face it knowing that he would always have Jack Frost on his side. If he could have the support of his sister and mother, and maybe Cupcake, then...he could do anything.
His eyes followed the lines of the tiles for a moment and then raised to meet Jack's blue gaze. "Everything is going to be harder from now on. I know that," he said. Then he managed a small smile. "But I won't let fear stop me. I never have and I never will."
Jack smiled widely and squeezed Jamie's hand. "That's the Jamie Bennett I know." He nodded toward the door. "You wanna go have a little fun outside?"
Jamie nodded. "Yeah. Fun sounds like a good idea right now."
"Good. Because I have a snow day to make, and I could use a little help from my favorite believer."
Jack visited five times that year, a new record. He never said as much, but Jamie was certain that the winter sprite was checking up on him, and he was grateful for it.
Jack was there to visit shortly after Jamie confessed to Ryan, the guy at school, and was turned down. They went ice skating, and Jamie noticed for the first time how careful Jack was with fun on the pond. Jamie joined in on the fun the day Jack helped the local elementary school kids build an entire snow town in the park. One of the most fun days, though, was when it was just the two of them, with Jack bringing dozens of snowmen they'd made together to life, and they pretended they were in a horror movie called Attack of the Snowmen. Jamie had laughed so hard his sides and face hurt, and then he kept laughing.
All things considered, Jamie Bennett had a pretty good year.