We've made it! Oh, what I have planned...
I did warn about feels, right? Because that's a thing. A big thing.
Also-like, 200% more Jackrabbit is happening in this one. I mean it. I might even have to up the rating.
(Cause it's gonna get hot in here.)
Songs this chapter was written to: Baby Mine by Alison Krauss; Storm Warning by Hunter Hayes; This Is Halloween from Nightmare Before Christmas (it's Halloween, of course I'm listening to it); and Titanium by David Guetta feat. Sia.
Memory is the treasury and guardian of all things.
-Cicero, De Oratore, 55 B.C.
When left to its own devices, Jack Frost's mind had a way of convincing itself of things. Usually they were good things. (If you keep trying then someday someone will see you, someday you'll be happy, someday you won't feel so heavy that it almost hurts to breathe.) But sometimes, unfortunately, they weren't.
It was odd to imagine his world with more people in it.
So, for a while, he didn't.
Jack didn't see the Guardians for three months following the Easter debacle with Pitch. He'd spent the time traveling instead. He'd taken a nap on the Eiffel Tower, sat on the hands of Big Ben, laughed at tourists that skittered the edge of the Grand Canyon, and scampered around the mountainous areas of Japan. He'd resisted the urge to try and visit them, despite what Bunny had previously told him. (If he crowded them too much they wouldn't want him anymore. They'd shove him aside and wouldn't believe in him or see him anymore and he'd be alone again. And please please please no—)
He couldn't risk that. Not after tasting what belief was like.
He finally decided to go back to his Den in Burgess when his sleeping became off. It wasn't that he was sleeping in trees and snow piles that caused it, either. He'd been doing that for centuries whenever he was away from his Den. It was the sleep itself that was odd. It had become riddled with flashing colors and muffled voices with faces that he never remembered in the morning. He worried himself exhausted, waking up panting and gasping each time. It got to the point that he was constantly tired.
So home it was, if only to get a proper rest.
It was late into the night during mid-July when Jack dropped down into the Den through the skylight-entrance, too tired to wonder why the rock he normally used to cover it and keep rodents and animals out was moved. He blinked languidly and tried to fight off the tired laxness in his muscles. He'd crossed to the wall-knob to hang his staff before realizing someone was in the Den with him.
Jack froze briefly, and then his hands were pulling the staff into ready position and he spun to face the intruder. His staff glowed a dim blue in the darkness, his voice quiet and cold to match it. "Who's there?"
"Dabuh." A candle was lit, and Phil the yeti stared back in exasperation. "Grenshnow."
Jack flinched and pulled his staff back, the glow fading. "Phil?"
Phil nodded. He set the candle down on Jack's table and began to light the others. Jack watched him, staff lowered and a slow smile lifting his lips. "You see me," he said, and the words didn't come out as hard as they once had.
Phil paused, and looked Jack over. This was his first time seeing Jack since getting the boy's broken body back to the pole. He set the last candle down and walked up to Jack. With one big hand, he ruffled Jack's hair.
He grunted a few words. 'I see you.'
Jack looked up at him with obvious affection, relishing the touch. "Good. That's good."
A massive understatement, but Phil let it go. He began checking the bags under Jack's eyes and the tired creases at the corners of his lips.
"I'm fine." Jack waved him off, and hung up his staff. As he sat at the table and noticed Phil was still watching him, Jack realized with a jolt of guilt why Phil was really there. "I'm sorry I worried you."
Phil's frame eased, and he nodded. He sat with Jack at the table. The chair creaked under his size and weight.
Jack winced. "Sorry. I'll have to make one that's more yeti-friendly."
Jack narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. "How did you even find this place? The only person I've ever shown it to is—" Jack paused, lips parting in a small 'o.' "Baby Tooth showed you, didn't she?" Phil nodded. Pursing his lips, Jack looked down at the table. "Did, did you come every day?"
Phil's stare was an answer in itself, and Jack scratched the table top with a fingernail. "I'm sorry," he repeated.
Phil reached out and laid his hand over Jack's comfortingly.
Taking a deep breath, Jack shook his dark mood off and rapped his knuckles on the table. He gestured around the cave. "So, this is my place. I carved out the shelves in the walls. I'm a carver myself, you know. I made my own knitting needles and loom and furniture too. I think the bookshelf was the easiest of the big pieces, but the chest wasn't too bad either." He was babbling awkwardly, but he foraged on because damn it, this was his home, and he was proud of it. "It took me about seven or eight decades to get it just right, and yeah, the bed is just a nest of blankets and pillows, but—"
Phil's hand squeezed on his, and it made him stop. Phil took his time gazing about the room, lingering on Jack's chest and other big features before nodding his approval. Jack smiled, suddenly much more relaxed. "Thank you," he murmured.
Phil squeezed again, and then he pulled his hand away. Jack settled in his chair. He reached into his pocket and began pulling items from it.
"So," he said, and his carved angel came out first, hitting the table with a soft thunk as he set it down, "how is everyone?"
Phil grunted, mumbling some positive sounding words in Yetish. He watched Jack take out another item, and recognized it. The horse he'd carved last Easter for his cold companion, not knowing at the time that that same companion was named Jack Frost. (Phil felt some guilt about that. He'd been so close to seeing Jack for so long, if only he'd made the connection between his cold companion and the myth sooner.) He watched the boy handle it so carefully, and wondered if perhaps it hadn't been the first gift Jack had ever received.
(It had, and it was amazing that Jack hadn't even considered that until he was sitting on the roof of a mountain temple in China mid-June, watching the stars. He cherished it all the more for that simple fact.)
Jack hummed. "Even Bunny? I know he took last Easter pretty bad…what?"
Phil was giving him a knowing look with raised eyebrows.
"I'm just concerned for a mutual acquaintance of ours!"
Phil cocked his head. His eyebrows climbed higher.
Jack shot him a flat look. "Shut up, Phil."
Phil chuckled, fur swaying around his mouth.
Jack smiled at the sound. He was having a conversation, he realized. A real, not-just-talking-to-himself conversation. Granted Phil spoke very little, and what he did speak Jack had to interpret based on context and tone since he didn't speak the language, but it counted! The only other person he'd ever done this with was Baby Tooth. Relaxed as he was, he felt the lethargy return. He made to stand, thinking to be an actual host and find something to offer, but stumbled back into his chair.
Phil's laugh stopped, and he made a concerned sound.
"It's nothing." Jack stood again, slowly this time. "I'm just a little tired."
Phil huffed disbelievingly, and got up as well. He carted Jack to his nest of blankets and ushered him into it. Jack's hands immediately began searching through until he found his stuffed tiger, marked with the obvious signs of repair over the decades.
"Really, Phil, I'm fine!" Jack protested.
Phil ignored him, and to his great embarrassment, actually tucked him in.
"Phiiiil," he whined, squirming.
Phil shook a scolding finger and mimed for Jack to sleep.
Jack rolled his eyes. "Okay, I get it." His voice was already growing soft, the combined comfort of home and bed dragging on his tired eyelids. "Thanks for coming, Phil."
Phil nodded, and pat Jack's head. Jack smiled, eyes closing.
"No, really," Jack said. "It made me happy."
Phil pet Jack's hair until he was certain the other was asleep, then blew out the candles. Gazing about the room, Phil took it all in once more before pulling the snow globe from where he'd put it on the bookshelf, and opened a portal to the Workshop. He disappeared inside, and in a flash of blue was gone.
Jackson Overland believed in dark things. Very few others did, but he didn't mind that the majority found him a bit odd for it. That was their own fault, after all. If they got caught by whatever things hid in the dark it wasn't his problem. (The ever-growing big brother instincts in him declared this statement a bold-faced lie.) He'd seen enough moving shadows from the corner of his eyes and heard enough stories from travelers to know better.
There was something lurking in the dark. He just knew it. (But this something wasn't like the monsters. Oh no, those were different. The something was just a lurker. Monsters, on the other hand; he'd heard enough whispers to know what those were like. Creatures in the woods with more claws than teeth and a faceless being that constantly watched. He'd never seen one, but he'd be a fool not to take them into consideration when he overheard the hushed conversations around the nearby village.)
When he first heard tale of the Bogeyman, it seemed a more fitting name than none for his perceived shadow lurker, that vague something.
It was summer when thirteen-year-old Jackson's life changed as a result. An admittedly small change to start, but important nonetheless.
He carried a laundry basket for his mother as she hung them on the line behind their home. The smell of cotton and damp teased his nose, and he twitched it to relieve the tickle. A warm breeze tangled in his unruly hair, like it was trying to play with him. Jack was grateful for it, at least, as it helped alleviate some of the uncomfortable stickiness the heat caused. It was personally far too warm for Jack's tastes, and he wanted nothing more than to run down to the lake and go swimming. His mother had promised he could go after he helped her, so Jack sighed and went on with it, bored out of his mind.
He cast his eyes about the area, looking for anything to relieve the monotony. His brown eyes skipped over a shadow in the tree line, then darted back.
Eyes. Silver eyes stared out from the shadows. Their gazes locked, and those eyes must have been as wide and surprised as his before his mother's voice shocked him into dropping the basket.
"Jackson! Are you listening?"
"Yes Mom!" Jack picked the basket up, throwing shirt sleeves that had flopped over the edges back inside.
He caught a glimpse of her face—pretty, freckles scattered across her cheeks and the bridge of her nose, and warm brown eyes—as she glanced at him quickly over her shoulder. Reddish-brown hair shook against her shoulder blades as she laughed, smoothing over the trousers she'd just hung.
"Well then," she sounded amused, "hand me your Dad's shirt, please."
Jack did so, pouting as she continued to giggle at him, wiggling his toes in the dirt. He looked back at the tree line.
The shadow and the eyes were gone.
It would be three years before he would see them again, coming on the heels of a monster.
Jack squirmed in his sleep, brows furrowed. He kicked the blankets, fingers twitching as though to grasp something. His tiger had been lost to the blankets somewhere in the throes of sleep. Finally, his eyes shot open and he stared straight up through the skylight into the early morning sky.
"What…?" he whispered.
What had he just seen?
Don't get too curious now.
You might hurt yourself.
All will be explained in time.
(Also, have some Phil. Because fuck if I don't love him.)