Last chapter! I am so glad that you all have liked it so much, and I hope you enjoy the ending just as much, if not more.
Part 9: Thirty-Two
It was right at the height of summer.
It was on the hottest day of the year, and the day furthest from winter on the calendar, when the brightest light on The Globe went out.
Jack was making people slip and slide with a freak cold front in Winchester when he felt it. It felt like when Pitch broke his staff, only a million times worse. It felt like his heart had literally been crushed and exploded at exactly the same moment, sending pain shooting through his entire being. It took everything in him to find the strength and will to fly away to the North Pole.
He literally fell in through the roof, right onto the Globe, startling a dozen elves and three yetis. He panted into the surface of the Globe, eyes closed and trying to catch his breath, to stop the pain. When Jack opened his eyes, he was staring at Pennsylvania. It was lit up with bright lights all over, thousands and thousands of children who believed, but...it was darker...it was...
"Jamie," he gasped out.
He was crying when North finally got him to the ground. When Sandy showed up that night, Jack already knew. Still, Sandy played out the event for Jack with his sand.
Jamie, walking along, wearing a short sleeved shirt and smiling. It wasn't the most accurate portrayal, but for sand it was very impressive. A little boy with a book, walking with his head in the pages. Bigger kids, grabbing the book from the boy, teasing him, then throwing the book. The bullies vanished but Sandy played out the book flying through the air and landing on the ground, the little boy following it, bending down to pick it up. He mimed Jamie, shocked. There was a car. Then Jamie was running for the boy, pushing him out of the way.
Jack shut his eyes and North knocked Sandy on the arm to stop the sand before the end.
"I am sorry, Jack," North rumbled, placing a hand on his shoulder.
He could only let out a shuddering breath in reply and shake his head at first. "I...I wasn't even..."
"It is middle of the summer, Jack," North interrupted, not unkindly, and lowered his hand. "You could not have done anything." He shook his head. "Remember: all humans, all creatures, either are chosen as Guardians and spirits...or they die. This is the way of things. Jamie lived a very good life."
Except he never got married. As much as it would have pained Jack to see Jamie wed, he wished with all his heart that it could have happened. He would make it snow, just like Jamie wanted it to, right when they kissed. There would be frost on every surface. Jamie would wear white, like the snow, and he'd let Jack nip his nose and frost his boutonniere.
He never had kids. Jack could see him sitting in a cozy little apartment, or a house like he'd grown up in. There would be a little boy and a little girl, maybe twins, and Jamie would tell them stories of the Guardians. Jack would teach them to build a snowman, how to ice skate. He'd visit all the time. All the time.
He never grew old.
"I would give...everything," Jack forced out, pressing the heels of his hands into his burning eyes, "to save his life."
North pat him on the shoulder, but it offered no comfort. "Take a few days off. It is summer. The world can miss you for awhile."
It felt like a funeral. North must have told the others, or maybe they noticed the missing light in Pennsylvania too, because Toothiana and Bunnymund came to visit in the days following. Tooth found him sitting by a window, and she hugged him tight and wept. Baby Tooth sat on his shoulder for hours after Tooth had to leave, catching what few tears he cried on her beak and wiping his cheeks with her small hands. He had moved to the Globe room by the time Bunny showed up three days later, watching it spin on as if nothing had changed. At first, the pooka didn't seem to know what to do, and then he hesitantly set one paw on Jack's back.
"He was...he was good," he said.
Jack spared him a glance and then focused his eyes on Pennsylvania again. "The very best."
He spent a week wandering listlessly around the workshop. It felt like he'd lost his connection to the world.
The other Guardians didn't understand. They had never died. They had never experienced death. They had never gotten so close to someone, had someone believe in them so much. Jamie had never been just a child to Jack, he was the child. And as he grew older, as Jack saw the man he turned into, he became so much more. Jack had never cared for another the way he cared about Jamie.
He'd been so scared of losing Jamie, of coming to visit one day and finding that Jamie no longer believed, that he had held back so much. In the week after Jamie died, Jack regretted. He regretted not visiting more often; not making Jamie happier; regretted not holding Jamie close; regretted not telling him how important he was.
He looked up into the night sky on the night he decided to finally leave the Pole. The Man in the Moon looked back. "What kind of Guardian am I...if I couldn't protect him?" he asked, eyes glistening in the moonlight. "He believed so much...for so long...He did so much for us, for me. If I couldn't protect the person...the person I love...how can I protect anyone?"
That night, Manny told him something very important. Jamie had given Jack a great gift: belief. That belief gave Jack more power than ever, matching maybe even the Sandman. Jack had a responsibility, then, to use that power to bring joy and fun to the children of the world.
He told Jack to remember that he was not alone. He would never be alone again.
So Jack left the North Pole and resumed his Guardian duties. He laughed with kids in Russia, horse played with children in the United States. He brought a freak blizzard to Australia, just to mess with Bunny.
Then one day, about two months after Jamie's death, Jack found himself back in Burgess, Pennsylvania. He wasn't there to make it snow - it wasn't quite cold enough yet for that, though he could change that at a thought. He just wanted to go home for a bit.
With a simple tap of his staff, the water froze over in the lake where he died. Jack walked over it, feeling the ice beneath his feet, and took a deep breath. He would always love Burgess. He would always love Jamie Bennett, too.
He remembered having city wide snowball fights, and sending Jamie on his first date; Attack of the Snowmen and flying together through the city; snow in May and a unexpected valedictorian believer; ice skating together and tree farms and Christmas lights; a wedding and a first birthday.
He remembered his first kiss.
Jack touched his lips softly and stopped walking. That kiss had felt like the whole world was dawning on a brand new day all at once, and all the hope and joy and light that came with that. It felt like he would never be invisible again.
Looking down at the ice beneath his bare feet, Jack sighed and gripped his staff in both hands. "I'm the Guardian of Fun, but I keep losing it. I can't...I can't stop thinking about you." He held his staff tighter and clenched his eyes shut. "God, Jamie...I miss you so much. If you can hear me...There's one last thing I need to say to you." He took several deep breaths and leaned his head against his staff as well. "I love you. I'm sorry I didn't say it before. But it's true. I have for awhile now. I love you so much."
"I love you too."
Jack's eyes shot open and he flipped around. There, standing on the edge of his iced lake, was Jamie! But, but not. Because it couldn't be.
He looked like Jamie had at eighteen. His hair was vibrant brown and cut in a boyishly handsome way, with the sun glinting through it like gold. He wore a long sleeved white shirt under a dark blue, hooded winter vest, and light brown pants that disappeared into deep brown canister-style boots that went halfway up his calf.
"J-J-Jamie?" Jack managed in a shocked breath.
The boy on the shore nodded, looking rather sheepish but very happy. "Yeah."
The winter spirit took a shaky step forward and then stopped. "You died."
The smile vanished from Jamie's face, and he looked somberly at the ground. "Yeah." He shook his head and looked up at Jack again. "I don't know how...but I'm here, Jack."
Jamie pushed on the ground like he was about to run, but instead he was propelled gently through the air. He floated over and landed in front of Jack, close enough to touch. Jack gasped but forced himself not to back away.
"You just-!" Jack took several deep breaths, looking Jamie over with wide eyes.
He reached out a shaking hand and placed it on Jamie's chest. It was solid. He let go of his staff to place his right hand on Jamie's cheek, and it clattered to the ice. Jamie's cheek was smooth and perfect and real. Jamie's eyes were wide now too, and he reached up to take Jack's right hand in his own left one.
"You're not cold," he whispered. "Oh my god."
Jack felt a smile breaking out across his face. "You're a Guardian."
A matching smile lit Jamie's face. "That's what the Moon said." He shook his head. "Sorry it took so long. I didn't even know my own name when I first woke up."
That got a startled laugh from Jack. Maybe everyone who died before becoming a Guardian lost their memories. And it was just one more thing they had in common now.
"What does that matter?" he said with a teasing lilt. "You're a Guardian." His face went serious. "North is going to want to host a party to celebrate. All that music," he groaned.
Jamie laughed and threw his arms around Jack in a tight hug. Jack quickly reciprocated, gasping and giggling in his shock and joy. It was like being seen for the first time all over again. They stood there, embracing one another, for what felt like hours. It was a hug to chase away sorrow and loneliness and fear.
"So," Jamie murmured into Jack's ear. "Is it alright to love you now?"
"It's always been alright."
Jack pulled out of the hug just enough to see Jamie's eyes, shimmering with unshed tears of joy, and then leaned in for a kiss. It was just like the first time: light, hope, joy, freedom, the rush of the wind carrying him fast through the sky, home.
It took a few hours, but when Jack was able to bear sharing Jamie, they both flew up to the North Pole. Jamie thrilled at being able to fly on his own, and they laughed as they danced around one another in the sky. With barely a thought, Jamie could call strong winds to give them both a boost of speed that lasted for thousands of miles. They would have to figure out what other gifts the Man in the Moon had given him soon.
The workshop delighted Jamie. He was like a little kid again, marveling at every toy and paint and yeti. He genuinely loved the elves. North was surprised to see him, but he gave a booming laugh and roped Jamie into a hug so fierce it could probably break a normal person's back. Then he gave one to Jack as well.
"So," he said jovially, "you control the wind, eh? What do you call yourself?"
Jamie blushed brightly. "Jamie...Frost."
Jack blushed just as brightly and avoided looking at North's overly pleased and knowing expression.
"And what is your center? Do you know?"
Jack thought back on Jamie's life. What of his old life would carry over to this life? He'd been a brilliant painter, letting the world know of the Guardians through his art. He'd been excellent with kids too. Every child he spoke to seemed to be able to see the Guardians. He'd been the strongest believer in the Guardians for his entire life.
"That one's easy," Jamie insisted, grinning and glancing at Jack. "Belief."