A/N: For Jack, this is set after the Rise of the Guardians movie. For Susan, this is post The Last Battle. Standard disclaimers apply.
Jack Frost enjoyed being believed in. Being seen, being heard…. It was much more fun to interact with people who knew you were there rather than with those who just wrote off your presence as an unpleasantly chilly burst of wind or anything of that sort.
True, he wasn't exactly believed in by many children, but there were others who could see him now besides Jamie Bennett and his friends. And while he couldn't exactly deny that he enjoyed going back to see his first believer, usually bringing enough snow with him for a proper snow day so they could have some fun, he still loved seeing the smiles on children's faces across the world—especially when that smile faded to surprise, to the gawking stare of a believer who had caught a glimpse of the Guardian of Fun.
But while there were believers here, in this little English village whose name escaped him, none of the children had stopped to stare at him.
Granted, most of them were inside at this hour. The wind hadn't brought him here until night had already fallen. But none of the children he had seen had noticed that he was the one frosting their window panes.
He could ignore the blindness, sometimes, and pretend that the children didn't see him for a different reason than a lack of belief, but whenever someone walked through him….
Jack huffed and leapt up into the air, catching the wind again and riding its currents out of the town. The countryside held fewer people. That might mean fewer believers, but it also meant fewer disbelievers, and he was getting tired of being ignored. After three hundred odd years of it, he wanted to be able to pretend that there were more people out there who did believe in him, who could see him and hear him and touch him, even if it meant a few more snowballs to the back of the head.
Especially if it meant a few more snowballs to the back of the head.
Jack made quick work of the next few houses, icing intricate designs on the windows and leaving a thin dusting of snow over everything. Not much—not nearly as much as he'd like—but it wasn't the time for a proper snow day.
He'd tried getting attention through unusual weather patterns already, more times than he could count. It didn't work. It never worked, what with the adults finding one reason or another to explain away the cold snap or foot or three of snow he'd left in his wake.
That was, perhaps, one of the reasons so few children could see him. North and Tooth and Bunny certainly didn't have that problem, though he'd admit there weren't as many tales of Sandy being told as there once had been. But many children were encouraged to believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy, and there were still more children told about the Sandman than there were about Jack Frost.
All he really was, to most of the children out there, was a line in a song. That's it. A line. An expression. A saying. Nothing real.
Nothing worth believing in.
Jack landed lightly on the rooftop of another farmhouse, this one larger than the others but lacking the other telltale buildings, like barns or sheds, the previous yards had had.
It didn't matter. He'd been here before, and there was never anyone home. He wasn't quite sure why he remembered this place, especially when it was so very…boring, but remember it he did. Because for all that he hadn't seen it occupied in—oh, it was hard to keep track of the years, but it had certainly been a while now—he knew someone had to live here. It was too neat and tidy, too well kept, for anything else to be true.
Yet he was still caught by surprise when, after jumping down to frost the windows on the ground floor, he saw a light. Candlelight, specifically. It flickered with a warm softness that was unusual these days.
A few light steps took Jack closer to the window, and he peered inside, wondering if he might see a child in there, a child who might look back at him.
But all he saw, to his disappointment, was an elderly woman, looking all prim and proper, sitting in a chair and reading some papers. Letters, if he had to guess, and old ones at that, if the colouring was anything to go by.
But no children.
No potential believers.
"I should know better than to get my hopes up," Jack said aloud, glumly tapping his staff on the windows. Watching the tendrils of frost spread out wasn't quite as entertaining as it had been moments before.
He had been hoping that there would be a child here. Another believer for him to find when he'd least expected it. He'd thought, when he'd first glimpsed the light, that that might be the reason he'd remembered this particular house, that there truly was a reason it had stood out among so many others.
Oh, any of the other Guardians could have told him there were no children living here if he'd asked. If he'd really wanted to know, he could have checked the globe to see if there were any telltale lights of believers in the area. But he'd never quite wanted to know, if only because he'd liked to believe that there was a child that lived in this house who wholeheartedly believed in Jack Frost, that he'd only missed that child because the house had always been empty on his previous visits in recent years.
And now he knew that wasn't true.
Ice sprang up under Jack's touch, racing out in all directions. Ice crystals sparkled underfoot. A dense fog began to build in the air, freezing on everything from tree branches to stray cobwebs, highlighting it all with rich hoarfrost.
It would be unusual, yes, this one yard being touched by it when the others nearby had not, but Jack didn't particularly care. He flopped down on the front steps, not caring how much noise he made when no one inside would think anything of it anyway and wouldn't see him if they did. Staff beside him, he wrapped his arms around his knees and watched the landscape before him transform into a winter wonderland.
This time, it didn't cheer him up.
The door behind him opened. The woman's breath hitched, and then Jack heard a quiet, "Oh, my word."
Perhaps it was a spectacular sight, to her, especially if she hadn't looked out recently. The moon afforded a little light, but the clouds tried to block out most of it. His work wouldn't truly be admirable until the last of the ice fog cleared.
It wasn't a snow day, but the only witness to his handiwork from this household wasn't a child.
A light flickered on overhead, and Jack heard the telltale sound of ice crystals crunching beneath the woman's slippered feet as she walked out onto the porch. He didn't bother turning to look at her. There wasn't any point. If she came any closer, she'd walk through him either way.
He'd never exactly asked the other Guardians yet whether any adults could see them if they still believed. It had never mattered to him before, when no one could see him anyway. But now, to think that in a few short years, Jamie, his first believer, would be on the cusp of adulthood…. It hurt too much to think that he'd never see him again. That he'd stop believing, maybe even before that.
But from what Jack understood, they couldn't. Somehow, any belief adults did retain wasn't the same anymore, wasn't enough. And he didn't want to think about that.
A hand dropped lightly on his shoulder, and Jack jumped. He'd snatched up his staff, spinning around to point it defensively at the woman, before he realized what had happened.
"I'm sorry," she said. Her voice was soft, her tone gentle. "I didn't mean to startle you."
Jack stared at her and slowly relaxed his position, choosing to lean against his staff rather than point it at her as if he intended to freeze her where she stood. "You can see me?" he asked at length. That wasn't the real question—the real question was how she could see him—but it was near enough.
A small smile. "Yes, and it's been far too long."
Jack blinked; he certainly didn't remember her. Jamie had been the first child to believe in him. Jamie had been the first child to see him. He didn't remember this lady, whoever she was.
"I'm Susan," the woman said, extending her hand.
Jack looked at it for a moment before taking it and giving it a rather awkward shake. He knew this Susan had to be cold already, even if she wasn't shivering yet and her teeth weren't chattering. Touching him wouldn't do her any good.
He still enjoyed it, though. Being able to touch someone. And she wasn't even a child! Far from it, with her short white hair and wrinkled face. Perhaps all his speculations had been wrong. Perhaps adults could see them if they still truly believed. Perhaps he didn't have to worry about losing Jamie, providing he visited every winter.
"Jack Frost," he said, "but you already knew that."
"I didn't, actually," Susan admitted, sounding sheepish, "though I expect I should have. It makes sense, and I always was the one to latch onto whatever made sense." She closed her eyes briefly before opening them and saying, "Have you a few moments to spare, Jack Frost? I'd like to know more about you, but I'll admit I'd rather do so inside."
Jack, who was still trying to figure out how she could see him when she didn't even know who he was, almost missed the invitation. But the expectant look in the woman's eyes and the shiver that ran unbidden down her spine made him realize it, and he quickly nodded. She stepped back to allow him entrance, and he brushed past her in a gust of wind that caught the door, flinging it wide open before him.
He felt a bit guilty about that when he saw the more visible shivers wracking Susan's body as she came back inside, but she lost no time in ushering him into the sitting room where he'd seen her before, offering him a chair and taking one herself.
Jack fidgeted, uncomfortable, and broke the short silence the moment Susan had a chance to wrap herself in a blanket. "How come you can see me?" he blurted out. "Only chi—people who believe in me can see me." He couldn't say it was only children, not now, not for sure, but he did know that belief was an absolute requirement.
Susan's smile returned, and it caused her eyes to sparkle. Or maybe that was just the light from the candle on the table next to her. "I never said I did not believe in you, Jack Frost. I merely said I wasn't aware of who you were."
"I don't understand," Jack confessed. He didn't like admitting that, but he wouldn't get any answers if he didn't.
"My sister," Susan began slowly, "told me a long time ago now that there was still a spirit of winter in this world. Lucy—that was her name—was always so earnest. She…she had enough belief for all of us, for me and for herself and for our two brothers, Peter and Edmund. But I was the only one who ever needed her constant support. The others could just draw on it to reinforce themselves, but I…. I couldn't do it without her." Susan paused. "I tried to grow up," she said quietly. "Belief in things of which I had no proof, no evidence…. It was too hard to believe, to have faith, when it hurt so much."
Jack wasn't entirely sure what she was talking about, but he could guess. He'd been around children for many, many years now. "The other kids teased you for believing in Santa Claus?" Without waiting for an answer, he added, "He's real, you know. We all are."
Susan smiled. "It was something like that, yes. And to be honest, I've never truly forgotten my first bow or its quiver full of arrows, nor my hunting horn. But I was a fool, Jack Frost. After I was told I could never go back, something inside me broke, and by the time it mended, it was too late."
All right, now he really was confused. "Go back where?" he asked. Sure, Sophie had once infiltrated Bunnymund's Warren, but things like that weren't a common occurrence. He'd known about the Guardians of Childhood before he'd become one. He was pretty sure he would have heard if a human had managed to go anywhere they weren't supposed to.
"To Narnia," Susan answered quietly.
Jack had been all over the world—even, very briefly, in places he technically shouldn't have gone. That was all because he'd been curious, though the most he'd usually managed to do there was stir up a rainstorm, since any ice he created tended to melt immediately. Granted, he had ended up with hailstorms, sometimes, if he'd managed to bring enough cold air with him. But even the mere memory of those times made him feel a bit ill. It had been so hot, in all of those places, that he'd spent days in Antarctica recovering each and every time.
But in all the places he'd been, he'd never heard of Narnia.
"Where's that?" Jack asked.
"Lucy found it first," Susan replied, a smile on her lips again, "through the wardrobe upstairs. I can't tell you how many times we tried to go back that way, but I'm afraid that door has been sealed off now." A soft sigh. "I tried it again last week, and no such luck. But it had been on the anniversary, and I'd hoped…." Susan shook her head and blinked back tears. "Never mind all that. It's an old woman's ramblings, nothing more."
"But…no, it can't be," Jack protested, his words sounding more certain than he felt. "This…Narnia place. It's the reason you…stopped believing? So how come you can see me now?"
"Because even though I haven't seen Aslan since I left Narnia for the last time, he found a way to renew my faith. After…after it happened, and after I never thought I'd believe in anything ever again."
More unfamiliar names and, if the look on Susan's face was anything to go by, more stories that she didn't want to tell, not now. Jack bit back his questions, but it was hard. He didn't like not knowing things, but he didn't like dealing with tears, either. Not unless they were happy tears, tears of joy or anything like that. And those weren't the sort of tears glistening in Susan's eyes now, and he didn't want to be the one to make them spill.
"I'm sorry," said Susan. "I don't expect this makes much sense to you. But in Narnia…. I'd met those like you in Narnia. I'd met all kinds of beings in Narnia. Nymphs and Sprites and Dryads and everything else that you can name. But here, I just couldn't see them, no matter how hard I looked. I couldn't find them here, and I couldn't return to Narnia, and I finally stopped listening to my brothers and sister. I thought I was the clever one. I managed to convince myself that Narnia had all been a game. That everything had all been a game, despite all the knowledge we'd gained and the skills we'd honed. I told myself that it was all just pretend. Make-believe. Invented stories, products of our imaginations and nothing more."
That's how it worked, growing up. That's the reason children—even children who had managed to glimpse one of them—could forget them and stop believing. That's what he never wanted to happen to Jamie but what he feared would happen nonetheless.
"As I said before," Susan informed him softly, knowing his question, "my sister Lucy told me you existed here as well, even if we could never see you." A small laugh, or sob, or something, and then Susan's cheeks were wet, even though she was smiling again. "Lu told me I'd never be able to see anything if I didn't keep believing in it. 'You have to open your eyes, Su. Please. You have to have faith. You have to believe.' That's what she always told me. But I couldn't do it, and I didn't, not until after she was gone. Not until they were all gone, and it was too late to apologize."
They were dead, Jack realized. Dead and gone, and long enough ago that he suspected old age had had nothing to do with it. He glanced at the letters on the table, noting the faded lettering and yellowed paper, the creases that were worn and threatening to crack, the pages having been folded and unfolded so many times.
He didn't need to be able to read those letters to guess what they were.
"Part of me always knew Lucy was right," Susan admitted. "I'd seen the evidence of that, in Narnia, when Lu was the only one among us to see Aslan at first."
Jack didn't know who Aslan was, but he was starting to think that Aslan was a guardian of some sort.
"And then, after everything, once Aslan opened my eyes…." Susan trailed off. "I knew to look," she said. "I've always been looking, ever since, even if I was never quite sure what—or who—I was looking for."
So she could see him because she believed in the spirit of winter, if not necessarily Jack Frost. He nodded.
"And you, Jack?" she asked. "Have you a story?"
From her tone, she knew quite well that he had a story, but she was being nice in case he didn't want to tell it. Jack shifted slightly, wondering how much he should tell. Not everything—he'd only just met this lady—but a little bit, perhaps. Enough. "I used to be like you," he said slowly, "before I was chosen. When I first woke up, I didn't know anything. I didn't know who I was. The moon had to tell me." The Man in the Moon, specifically, but she didn't need to know that. "That was a long time ago now." He winked at her. "I'm older than I look."
Susan laughed. "As am I."
For a moment, Jack wondered if she was joking. She looked old. But, if he thought about it, she didn't seem it. She still had a strong voice, and she moved well. Gracefully, really. And her eyes sparkled with intelligence. On the surface, she truly did look old. But beneath…she didn't.
Perhaps that's all she meant.
But perhaps not, judging by the set of her lips, an expression he'd worn too often himself not to recognize. She meant it, in some mysterious way that she knew he didn't quite catch, and it amused her.
He couldn't help but wonder what she'd found in this Narnia, the World beyond the Wardrobe.
In its own way, it sounded like a tale that could rival his.
"You know what I do," Jack said hesitantly, deciding he might as well continue lest he ask Susan what exactly she meant and be greeted only with another laugh. "And I've been doing it since the start. But I found out recently that I'm not just here to do all that. I'm also a Guardian of Childhood. I…I make sure children still have fun, so they can remain happy and keep their faith." He shrugged it off, not liking her keen stare anymore. "Good snowball fights, excellent sledding conditions, frozen ponds for ice skating…. Things like that."
Susan said nothing for a moment, and he wondered if she was thinking back to her own childhood and if she'd found all those things lacking. He hadn't always been as…diligent as he should. Most of the time, then, he'd done what he had so he could have fun.
Susan reached forward and grasped his hand, holding it for a moment despite its chill. "Thank you," she said.
Jack stared at her. "Thank you?" he repeated.
She patted his hand before releasing it. "For doing what you do. For everything you have done. My siblings and I…. We were very close, as children, until I separated myself from them and tried to grow up. During the war, we were sent to the countryside for safety—to this very house, in fact. And it is here that we first discovered Narnia. But after that first adventure, I had never had a particular liking for winter. It was so…cold, especially when it was doomed to be always winter and never Christmas."
Never Christmas? North would have a thing or two to say about that. And Bunnymund would certainly be griping about spring never coming. But Jack held his tongue, because he was quite sure Susan wasn't finished, and he wanted to hear her out.
"And when winter came here, that same year, I hated it. It was awfully cold and wet. I couldn't see the joy in it." She cocked her head at him. "And then the snow came. Thanks to you, though I didn't know it at the time. There was more snow than I'd ever seen back home. We bundled up and went outside and I was able to remember the joys of winter. I… It helped me, Jack. It helped me keep my faith for a little longer. I had always found it so hard to believe in something I couldn't see, something I didn't have any proof of." She shook her head, adding, "I had to grow up before I could discover—and rediscover—everything I'd begun to miss from my childhood."
Perhaps Tooth had had something to do with that. She could have reintroduced Susan to her memories, the poignant ones held by the baby teeth she carefully guarded to keep their memories safe. But Jack wasn't sure, entirely, that Tooth would have been able to do everything, not if Susan hadn't always been able to see things in the first place. This Aslan Susan kept mentioning must have helped her as she suspected.
Perhaps Aslan was the reason Susan could see him now, despite her age.
He didn't want to ask.
It was far safer to admit that he couldn't remember the year this house had been the home of four children.
"I wouldn't expect you to, especially not after so long." Susan glanced at the letters on the table beside her. "It was during the war. The Second World War, I mean. During the Blitz. We were sent here, to stay with the Professor, and…." She trailed off. "That's a tale for another time, I think."
But I want to hear it now. He liked stories. He didn't want to just hear a taste of them and not hear the rest. He used to stay in one place for weeks, leaving during the day but returning by night, just so that he could hear the stories parents read to their children at bedtime.
Besides, Susan was…old. Really old, if she was older than she looked. There might not be another time. She might not be here when he came back.
This was the first time he could remember seeing her here, anyway. Even if she wasn't…gone by the time he returned, she might not be home.
"Does it have to be?" Jack asked finally.
"You don't want to disappoint the children," she reminded him gently. "I'll be here whenever you return. I promise you that, Jack Frost. And when you come back, perhaps you'll be ready to tell me a bit more about yourself, and if you're not, then I'll tell you the proper story of how I became Queen Susan the Gentle, one of four rulers during the Golden Age of the rich, magical land I knew as Narnia."
"Once a king or queen in Narnia," she whispered, "always a king or queen. Even when I'd wanted to, even when my siblings no longer considered me a friend of Narnia, I couldn't relinquish my title, and I've always been grateful for that and for the second chance it afforded me."
It wasn't…. It wasn't pretend, for all that that was a game he'd seen many children play. He knew that. He could recognize that in her, that nobility in her step, the way she held herself, the way she spoke. She was no less a queen than he was a Guardian.
She was escorting him to the door, but before the wind could catch him and pull him away, back to his wintry work, he asked, "And is Aslan the Guardian of Narnia, then?"
Susan's smile was bright. "Aslan is not a tame lion," she said simply, "but, yes, I suppose you could call him a Guardian of Narnia. But he is a Guardian for everyone, not just for the Narnians or those who have visited its lands. Aslan is here, too, as surely as he was there, and he watches over us all. Even you, Jack Frost."
The wind tore him away then, before he had a chance to say anything else. He didn't bother calling to return to her now, though he knew the wind would have grudgingly obliged him. Susan had gone back inside and turned the porch light off, and there were still many more places that needed his special touch before morning.
But Susan's words stayed with him, all through the night and into the next day while he was cheerfully icing sidewalks before unsuspecting pedestrians.
They reminded him too much of something else he had learned for him to forget them so easily.
Everyone needs a Guardian.
A/N: Do let me know what you thought of this if you've the time. I believe it stands well by itself, but you happen to be curious as to what might happen if anyone else, namely North, caught wind of Jack's visits to Susan, I'm addressing that in another one-shot, Faith.