So, I was attacked by this as a wild plot bunny idea; it can be a one-shot, or I could maybe add another two or three chapters, depending on what you think. It's very depressing, and I call trigger warnings for self harm and suicidal thoughts. I've never really deliberately tried to write something depressing before, and I don't know how well I handled it, so I'd really appreciate any thoughts you have in a review.
"You wanted to be alone; so be alone!" Pitch spat, anger twisting his features. A look of horror and betrayal flashed across Jack's face; really, what did the child expect? After what Pitch had done to Sandy, after what Pitch had done to him, was this double-crossing really so shocking?
At that moment the wretched little fairy stabbed deep into his hand with her humming bird beak. With a howl of pain and fury, Pitch launched the bird as far as he could, taking some satisfaction in the soft 'thwump' she made as she hit the stone and fell into a crevice.
"Baby Tooth!" cried Jack. He turned back to Pitch, rage hardening his eyes, but before he could move Pitch snapped his staff in half. The Nightmare King grinned at the winter spirit's gasp of pain. He glided up to the boy, and struck him hard against the face. Jack reeled back, and Pitch struck twice more, once to the stomach and another to his face, this one to his eye. Pitch laughed before prising the golden box of teeth out of the child's now limp fingers.
"Happy dreaming," he purred, using a wave of nightmare sand to slam Jack into the same crevice as Baby Tooth. He snatched the tiny fairy off the ground and disappeared, taking the boy's staff with him. The Nightmare King was ready to defeat the guardians once and for all.
Jamie Bennett sighed sadly as he let the stuffed rabbit fall. He should have known. He was nine years old, after all, too old to be believing in kid's stuff like this. His friends were right.
"I knew it," he muttered sadly.
At that moment, though, he heard a clatter from outside his window- a sign? Heart leaping, he peered into the chilly spring night. With a gasp he saw the sleigh, flying erratically, as though the person steering had lost control. Jamie barely paused to pull on his shoes as he raced downstairs, eager to see what was happening.
"Santa?" he breathed, recognizing the figure that staggered from the now smoking sleigh. The old man, with his long white beard and fuzzy black hat, smiled down at him.
"The last believer," he breathed, before an iridescent humming bird crawled out the wreckage after him. He immediately turned to help her, and Jamie recognized this figure too.
"The tooth fairy! What... what happened to you? And where are Sandman and the Easter Bunny?" For a moment, sadness clouded the fairy's eyes as Santa Clause helped her to her feet.
"Ah hate the sleigh," groaned a voice as a third figure crawled out the wreckage. Jamie looked down at it in confusion, before giggling.
"Easter Bunny? But you were huge, and cool! Now you're... cute," he finished lamely, stroking the rabbit under its fluffy cheek. It tapped its foot happily before shaking himself out of it and scowling good naturedly up at the child. Suddenly a dark chuckle rang throughout the town. "What was that?" murmured Jamie nervously.
"Pitch," growled North, and they prepared to fight.
They all agreed afterwards that if it hadn't been for Jamie, the guardians would have faded from existence. As it was, it had been a close call: Pitch's nightmares had terrified the child, but he had the bright idea of fetching his friends, and their combined belief gave the guardians the strength they needed to fight back. The cherry on top was the return of the sandman. When they finally returned to Santoff Clausen in the wee hours of the morning, everyone was in high spirits.
"What's that, Sandy?" asked North blearily. They had been celebrating for several hours, but now exhaustion was beginning to creep over, and the Cossack was having trouble keeping his eyes open. Sandy sighed and flashed the symbols again. "Oh. You want to know where Jack is." The guardian of wonder groaned, but was saved from answering when the guardian of hope cut in.
"'e's a dirty little traitor that sided with Pitch, and if he know what's good for 'im 'e'll be hiding in a hole for the next fifty years." Sandy frowned; that didn't fit with the Jack he knew at all.
"We'll tell you about it soon," promised North. "Now, however, is time for rest." There was mumbled agreement, and the guardians trooped up to their bedrooms.
Jamie Bennett lay awake in bed, grinning broadly as he ran through the day's events in his head. It definitely didn't get better than this, the young boy decided: not only were Santa and the others real, but they were now his friends! For a while it had seemed like Easter was ruined, but this was, for certain, his best Easter ever.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball, crying softly over the destruction of Easter and the people he might have called friends. His face was blackened with bruising, and his very core seemed to ache with the destruction of his staff. For a short time it had looked like things would change, but Pitch was right: he made a mess of everything.
Winter arrived, and there was no sign of the winter spirit. Bunny refused to even mention him, and North and Tooth were only too happy to go along with this, hurt as they were by his betrayal. Only Sandy, now clued up to the events of Easter, felt any concern, but he kept it hidden. Once the others were more open minded, then they could find the child and hear his side of the story. For the time being, Sandy was sure Jack was fine.
Jamie Bennett celebrated his tenth birthday by throwing a Winter Wonderland party. He went as Jack Frost, with hair sprayed white and a long, blue velvet cape that reached down past his ankles dragging on the floor behind him. Sophie went as an Arctic Hare, the twins as the only two identical snowflakes, Monty as a snowman, Pippa as a polar bear and Cupcake as a snow angel. Everyone agreed that the best game was pin the nip on Jack Frost's nose, which ended with them chasing Jamie down with blue marker pens and safety pins.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball at the bottom of a chasm. The icy walls were impossible to grasp onto, and without his staff he had no way of getting out. This last attempt had resulted in a particularly painful fall, and the would-be guardian wondered if he might have broken a rib. He breathed raggedly trying to hold back tears as he wished for someone to comfort him. Pitch was right: he was afraid of being alone.
Five years had passed, and there was no sign of the winter spirit. Tooth brought him up in one of their monthly meetings, and everyone went silent, Bunny's expression closing off.
"I'm just saying," she tried to reason with him, "that no one's seen him since that Easter. What if Pitch captured him? What if... what if he... you know... killed himself?" The last part came out as a whisper, and North's head jerked up in shock, the thought having never occurred to him. Bunny, however, remained unbothered.
"He's just hiding," snarled the Pooka. "Too afraid to show his face after his only ally was defeated. If he was dead, the Man in the Moon would have told us, just like he did with Old Man Winter. Don't waste your time worrying about the brat- he ain't worth the effort." Sandy sighed inwardly, having expected nothing less, and privately checked the Burgess Lake where Jack was known to live. He was growing anxious, but kept quiet, hoping they would come around in their own time.
Jamie Bennett was fifteen now, and didn't tell anyone that he still believed in Santa Clause and the other guardians. He already had a reputation for being a bit strange, and that would surely only exacerbate things. However, he wasn't unhappy: he had a very close group of friends, and him and Pippa had started dating. For Valentine's day they had gone midnight skating on a frozen lake in the middle of the Burgess woods, and then had pancakes at her house at three in the morning.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball as the hunger gnawed away at him. Always skinny, the child could see himself wasting away, and wondered if immortals could starve. It had taken nearly two years, but he eventually made it out of the chasm. His prospects were no better, though, as he now found himself surrounded by an endless expanse of white. Unable to sleep, he drummed out a steady beat on the taut skin between his ribs. Bunny had been right: he might as well not exist.
Ten years had passed, and there was no sign of the winter spirit. Sandy always kept an eye out for the child as he made the round through colder weather, and Tooth told her fairies to report back if they got so much as a glimpse of him. North went back to the lake Jack called home, folded up a letter and left it in one of the trees. When he returned three months later, it was still there, destroyed by the rain that had fallen in the area.
Bunny still glared at any mention of the boy, and his stubbornness, though upsetting, was not surprising to the other guardians: it had taken the Pooka fifty years to forgive Jack for a blizzard that had only affected the US and Canada. Jack's negligence had destroyed an entire Easter, and they all knew that he had been with Pitch when it happened. Not only that, but he had handed over Baby Tooth! The fairy had told them about how she and the child had flown to Pitch's lair after dropping off Sophie, and how Pitch had separated them. Everything was black between that and her rescue by the guardians. North had declared head trauma induced amnesia, but it was pretty clear what had transpired. Still, though... Bunny excluded, they would have liked to hear the boy's side of the story. Too bad he was in hiding.
Jamie Bennett had graduated school and was in his second year of college after having taken a gap year with Pippa. He was majoring in engineering only because that was what his parents had wanted, and was now considering switching to art. He loved painting fantasy, particularly depictions of myths and fables. Pippa thought he should do what he wanted. She was two states over, studying biochemistry, but they talked on the phone every night, and skyped each other as often as possible.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball as he tried again and again. No. This couldn't be happening. It couldn't be happening, no, he couldn't lose anything else. He'd lost his memories, and he'd lost the people who might have been friends, and he'd lost a potential ally, and then he'd lost baby tooth, and he'd lost his staff to the person who could have been his ally, and if he lost anything Jack felt like he would shatter.
But no matter how hard he tried, the only sound he could produce was a soft whine. His lips moved noiselessly, the words he wanted to say slipping through his grasp as he felt tears well up in his eyes. He'd lost so much, and now, because of years of disuse, he'd lost his voice too. The screams echoed through his mind even as he closed his mouth in defeat, the world exploding around him. The Man in the Moon had been right: he wasn't worth talking to anyway.
Twenty years passed, and there was no sign of the winter spirit. Tooth, in a moment of desperation, went to ask Pitch what he knew, only to spend three days trapped in his underground lair. Bunny was livid.
"Even when 'e disappears that brat causes nothing but trouble! I told you not to bother with him Tooth, I told you not to waste your time! If he's too much of a coward to come out and face us then it's his fault for having joined sides with Pitch anyway. Let the bugger rot fer all I care!"
North, in a moment of inspiration, decided to check the lists, and see what Jack had been up to. If the boy had been naughty, he decided, then they would leave him be, but if he'd been nice then they would go find him and let him apologise. Much to his confusion, however, the guardian of wonder found that neither list bore the boy's name. Going through the records, North found that Jack was on the 'nice' list for the year that Easter had been destroyed, but after that there was... nothing. It was almost as if the boy simply hadn't done anything in the twenty years that had elapsed. The guardian of wonder wondered if he was still hiding.
Jamie Bennett had been contracted as an illustrator for a children's publishing company, and was recently made famous for a series he did on a group of characters he called 'The Guardians,' whom he claimed had visited him in some of his most vivid childhood dreams. The money went towards he and Pippa's marriage, and he didn't think he'd ever been as happy as the day he stood at the altar watching her come towards him in her beautiful white dress, the March sunlight shining on her hair like a halo. The reception was very tasteful, too, softly lit by candles in the chandeliers high above. Sophie gave them a book of childhood memories, and Jamie smiled to himself as his finger gently traced the crayon drawing of him flying through the air on the sleigh. It was perfect.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball as he tried to stay calm. Tears froze to his face and his breaths came in wheezy little gasps. The darkness was suffocating him, choking him, killing him, like it had been for the last three months. There was no sun during the Antarctic winter, and no way for a child of snow and ice to conjure a flame. The wind howled over him and ice crystals formed into his hair as he lost track of time altogether. He couldn't remember the last time he hadn't been able to fit his fingers around his thighs. Only one thought has been echoing around his head since the sun first disappeared: Your fault your fault it's all your fault why'd you get distracted why did you talk to Pitch Easter was ruined because of you it's all your fault. Bunny was right: they should never have trusted him.
Fifty years passed, and there was no sign of the winter spirit. Tooth had stopped bringing him up at meetings, and Sandy no longer listened out for the child's cheerful laugh as he travelled through the colder areas. North still had the tiny wooden baby, and in times of stress he could be seen putting his hand in his pocket simply to hold it. Though none of them said it out loud, they each quietly realised that they missed Jack. Though he had only been around for two days, they had become closer in that time than they had in the last four centuries.
Even Bunny, who claimed to hate the child, had to admit that this prolonged absence was making him uncomfortable. Deep down, he wondered if it was possible he had made a mistake; what if Jack was dead and the Man in the Moon hadn't bothered telling them. Worse, what if Pitch had had a hold of Jack all this time?
No. They would have found him when they rescued Tooth, if that had been the case. The child was clearly just hiding, but Bunny had to wonder at his emotional stability if he was willing to hide for this long after a few insults... Okay, they had been very harsh insults.
Humans were blaming the milder winters on global warming, and there hadn't been any snow during Easter in decades. For some reason, the Pooka couldn't draw comfort from this.
Jamie Bennett now owned a large house a few miles from the edge of his home town of Burgess. He and Pippa had retired early with their sizeable savings, but Jamie still painted. Pippa had recently become enamoured with the idea of Jack Frost, and he had agreed to illustrate a book she had planned: it detailed the life of a winter sprite named Jack Frost, who spent all day having fun in the snow. He was always smiling, and his only aim in life was to bring happiness to others. Jamie suspected it would be seen as a rip off of the guardian series he had done all those years ago, but agreed to it to keep his wife happy, like the perpetually cheerful immortal she was now writing about.
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack lay curled into a ball. Crimson stained the snow around him, hurting his eyes as he tried to adjust to the non-white. The icicle was still clutched in his hand, and for a few blissful minutes the constant pain of hunger was replaced by a new, different pain. All too soon, however, the wound froze over and the blood ceased to flow. No, it seemed as though he could not kill himself.
The blizzard around him increased as he stared at the wound, and suddenly the child remembered he had taken his hoodie off. He hadn't wanted to stain it with his blood, but now it was buried somewhere beneath the snow. Another thing he had lost. As he desperately searched, the blood became buried as well.
He could dimly remember a world with colours, with noises and voices and people. Now, all he knew was the white and the wind and the screaming that echoed through his head. Emptiness. Monotony. Pitch was right: Jack was used to being ignored.
Seventy years passed, and there was still no sign of the winter spirit. North had repeatedly asked Manny for help, but had received nothing but watery moonlight in reply. Tooth had had the bright idea of sending out some of her fairies to look for his teeth, hoping that he would be wherever they were. Instead they found the golden canister in a landfill in England.
It was Bunny who had the idea to look at the teeth: his reasoning followed that perhaps whatever Jack had seen in the memories had prompted this disappearance. When they came back to the present, he had a hollow in the pit of his stomach and Tooth was crying. North had left without saying anything, Sandy soon following, shaking his head ruefully.
A few months later the little golden man returned clutching a children's book that he had found on the sidewalk. The cover read 'JACK FROST THE WINTER SPIRIT' in bright primary colours. It was written by someone called Pippa Cleaver, illustrated by Jamie Bennett.
"The last light," breathed North in wonder. "Do you think he knows what happened to Jack?"
"Doesn't matter if he did," said Bunny sourly.
"Bunny!" admonished Tooth. "Of course it matters!" Bunny shook his head.
"No, it doesn't; he's dead." The Pooka pointed to the usually blank page at the beginning of the book. In loving memory it read of Jamie Bennett, the best artist and husband the world has ever known. Tooth's heart sunk; that bright eyed little boy who had helped them defeat Pitch all those years ago was gone. It was a sobering prospect.
"I wonder if he knew anything," she murmured, stroking the page. A watercolour of the winter spirit showed him throwing snowballs with a group of school children. The resemblance was uncanny: white hair and bright blue eyes, but instead of a hoodie this Jack was wearing a long cloak. However, when she turned the page, she felt her heart constrict- despite not having seen it in seventy years, she would have recognised that smile anywhere. "I think he might have," she whispered, and the others turned away from the page, unable to stand it.
Pippa Bennett, born Pippa Cleaver, wiped away the tears that were streaming down her face.
"Kyle turned one today," she murmured, sniffling. "I'm so sorry that you'll never meet him; he's gotten so big, and he has your eyes Jamie. He's only one, but they're already shining... shining with enthusiasm..." She had to stop speaking as the wracking sobs engulfed her body. Hot, salty tears dripped onto the soft soil of the grave. When they'd buried him they'd planted an oak sapling over him, and the mild winters had allowed it to flourish. Finally, after about ten minutes, she managed to compose herself again.
"The book is doing well," she said, scrubbing at her eyes lest the tears start up again. "In fact, it's doing more than well. Let's just say that our grandson will never have to worry about college fees: I've put it all in a private account for him." She sniffled again. "I can still remember you, Jamie, in that oversized Jack Frost costume you wore. It was for your tenth birthday, and we held you down, and while the twins drew all over your nose I tickled you." Through the tears she chuckled gently. "You squealed like a girl, and I told you so. You almost didn't let me have cake for that comment." She rested her head on the gravestone, sighing wearily. "I miss you so much. So, so much. I miss your smile. Your enthusiasm. Your way of making the best of any situation. Like in the Guardians pieces you did; what was it you said about them?" She paused, not because she had any trouble recalling what he had said but because every fibre of her being was longing for him to answer for her. "All your dreams can come true, if you hope a fool's hope, look for the wonder in everything, and always remember what really matters to you." Pippa sighed again, the cool marble of the headstone oddly comforting. "You were my dream, Jamie. My dream come true, and now you're gone, and... and I can't see the wonder, and there's nothing left to hope for. All I have left are memories."
Unbeknownst to them, on the other side of the world, Jack stared up to the heavens. It was one of those rare, clear nights, in the Antarctic, and he was taking the opportunity to ignore the screaming wind around him and the screaming voices in his head, ignore the pain of hunger and the pain of wounds inflicted upon himself, ignore the crushing guilt and crushing loneliness that had been plaguing him since that ill-fated Easter, to ignore everything and just reminisce.
He remembered food, and how it tasted, how it felt on the tongue, how it nourished things and helped keep them alive not you though you don't need food you'll just keep living forever but you want it so badly oh yes you want it
He remembered flowers, and how they had colours that weren't red, because he could remember that there were colours that weren't red, and he remembered how everyone loved them because they were so bright and full of life not for you they weren't if winter came near they died not full of life for you
He remembered children, and smiling, laughing faces, running here and there with him as he instigated snow wars not with you never with you they couldn't see you they ran right through you invisible Jack Frost unseen Jack Frost it's just an expression
He remembered the guardians, and how they had dedicated their lives to protecting these children, protecting them from fear and safeguarding the wonders of childhood not all the children never you they didn't care that you were hopeless that you only had nightmares that you'd lost your memories that the wonder had drained from everything
And he tried not to cry, because the stars were out and he didn't want to cry, he wanted to remember a time when things were better but had they ever been better than this, this waking nightmare of endless snow and ice and who even liked the cold, for he sure didn't, he hated snow and he hated ice and he hated the wind and most of all he hated himself and all he wanted was a reprieve but his only reprieve was on the end of a spear and now he was crying and he hated himself even more because his tears were blocking out his view of the stars.
The worst part was not knowing whether or not the guardians were alive or not. He wanted to them to still be alive. He wished them dead. He had resigned himself to the fact that he was never going to find out. He lay on the ice with nothing but his trousers and the blood that beat through his veins, crying silently as he watched the stars travel across the sky.
Only one being that was not Jack Frost knew where the child was, and seventy years after leaving him to rot out in the Antarctic tundra, Pitch smiled to himself: it was time to return the winter spirit to the world.