This piece is dedicated to those lost in the recent Connecticut shootings. My heart and prayers go out to the children and adults lost and the grieving families. Your courage and strength amazes me to no end, and I hope you find your time of peace as soon as possible, because no one deserves to have life ripped away from them this soon, especially near Christmas time. Please rest in peace.
Jack Frost thought he was going to explode.
He couldn't fly through Burgess fast enough, leaping from rooftop to rooftop in seconds even though it felt like hours. He had to get to the house. He had to get to Jamie. After what he had heard about today . . . he had to see him.
Finally, Jamie's home came into view. It was decorated for Christmas, golden lights dotting the roof and bushes, a wreath hung on the front door, and Jack's snow coating the ground, a foot deep. Jack knew it was late, but he just had to see Jamie if he couldn't talk to him.
Jack inched close to Jamie's window, trying to peek inside. He saw Jamie's sprout of tawny brown hair in bed, his back to him, shoulders rising and falling with his breathing. Relief settled over him like a quilt. "He's right there. He's there," Jack whispered. But he knew it wasn't good enough. He had to hear his voice. Jack tapped the window with his staff and waited.
Jamie didn't stir. Jack tapped again, harder, but still nothing. Heart racing in impatience, Jack knocked one more time, the hardest, an echo in the night, and then Jamie finally sat up and stared at the window. His lips moved, a question spoken aloud, and then he gestured for Jack to come inside.
Jack didn't think twice. He shoved the window open and flew into Jamie's room, landing on his feet at the front of Jamie's bed. "Jamie?" he asked tentatively, eyes scanning over his first believer. He got on his knees on the bed, staff in front of him.
"Jack, are you okay?" Jamie questioned, rubbing his bleary eyes. His stuffed bunny was in his lap, blanket draped over his legs.
The sound of Jamie's young voice was suddenly too much for the Winter Spirit. Jack lunged forward and enveloped Jamie in a cold, desperate hug, pulling Jamie into his lap. Jamie, obviously surprised, melted easily into the embrace, arms around Jack's neck as Jack's arms wound around Jamie's waist.
"Oh, Jamie . . ." Jack inhaled, breathing in Jamie's scent of mango shampoo and Christmas cookies. "Jamie. Jamie, I'm so glad you're okay. Thank MiM you're okay."
"Jack . . . you're scaring me." The impending fear was apparent in Jamie's unsure tone. "What's wrong? I'm fine . . ."
Jack released Jamie, who fell back against his pillows. Jamie's face was tinted with rosy pink from Jack's natural freezing body temperature. Jack ran his hand through his white spiky hair, taking deep breaths. "Sorry," he rasped. "I don't mean to scare you. I know this is random." He met Jamie's curious gaze with one of sad concern. "Um . . . you've heard about the thing that happened in Connecticut yesterday, right?"
Jamie immediately winced, squeezing his bunny tight. "Yeah. It's been all over the news."
Jack glanced out the window, noticing MiM's brightness and fullness tonight. "It's been a terrible couple of days." His voice broke. "We . . . the Guardians and I . . . we've been a wreck. We held a vigil earlier, and my mind sometimes wandered to you. So I just wanted to see you . . . at three in the morning," he added sheepishly, noting the digital clock on Jamie's desk that read 3:09 in eye-hurting red. "I—I just wanted to make sure you were okay."
Jamie stared at Jack, worry painted on his face. Jack had red outlines to his azure eyes, he kept on wringing his hands, and he was as white as the sheets he sat on. "I'm alright," Jamie admitted quietly. "My mom was crying when I got home from school yesterday. The second I walked in, she hugged me and kept on telling me how thankful she was that I was safe. Same for Soph too. We had a moment of silence last night before dinner, and I had one with just me before I went to bed."
Jack nodded silently. "Good. That's real nice of you." He paused, chewing his lip.
"How did you guys find out about it?" Jamie asked, wide awake now. He loved talking with Jack—he was willing to give up an hour of sleep if it meant soothing his Guardian.
Jack gulped, like he was trying to push his anxiety down his throat. "North called us all in. Whenever he wants to call a meeting, he sends out these pink and green lights in the sky, and wherever we are, we can see them. He told us that a bunch of lights had zapped out in the same area, so we went to where they had been to see what . . . what was up . . ."
Jamie sensed the tears perched at the edge of Jack's voice. "You don't have to go on if you don't want to."
"Naw, I want t-to," Jack said, clenching the ends of his hoodie.
Jamie reached over to his desk and grabbed a fuzzy brown teddy bear with a band around its head with a red cross on the front. He offered it to Jack, slightly embarrassed. "I've had Doctor Bear since I was really little, like my bunny. Do you need him, Jack? I know it sounds a little babyish, but, I mean—"
Jack snatched the bear from Jamie and held it close, looking at it with tender eyes. "Doctor Bear?" Jack chuckled.
"I was four," Jamie giggled.
"It's perfect. Thank you, he'll help." Jack breathed out. "We got there afterward. There were police cars and parents and newscasters everywhere. We watched from a roof on the other side of the street. We listened as the facts of what had happened unfolded. We watched . . . we watched them bring out the safe kids. But then we heard the body count . . ." Jack hugged Doctor Bear like the stuffed animal was a lifeline. "We hated ourselves, Jamie," Jack said in a small voice.
"What? Hated yourselves?" Jamie was almost insulted. "But, you guys didn't—"
"Exactly. We didn't do anything. We failed those kids, and look where they are now. We're . . . we're Guardians, and we didn't even do our one job!" Jack was crying now, crystal-like tears sliding down his pale cheeks. "When we got back to the Pole, we were so upset, Jamie. We talked about it a little. North talked about how we can't protect every kid . . . that we have to do our best to protect the ones we can . . . Tooth just broke down and sobbed. Bunny smashed a few things. Sandy . . . Sandy's silence was almost deafening—he floated up to the ceiling and stayed there. North stood by the Globe for hours, just staring at it."
"What did you do, Jack?" Jamie asked gently.
"I left." Jack sniffed, wiping his tears on his sleeve. "I couldn't stay there, where our failure was so tangible. I stormed out the nearest window and just . . . flew. I sat in clouds, I shot ice spikes at mountainsides. Nothing helped, Jamie," Jack whimpered, miserable and teary. "Our fault was still there. It'll always be there. We failed those kids, we were supposed to protect them. And because of us—!" Jack stuffed his face into Doctor Bear and cried, wails muffled.
Jamie practically felt his heart shatter. It was a strong, aching slash in his chest, and then a hollowness that made him feel hot and cold at the same time. "Jack," Jamie said, "c'mere."
And he did. The Winter Spirit that Jamie had always thought didn't have the ability to cry, always thought his sunny confidence, sarcasm, and mischievous nature took up too much room in Jack's body so that the spirit was without tear ducts, threw himself into Jamie's open arms, bawling into his shoulder. He would sometimes blubber, "My fault, my fault," but otherwise, it was just his cries.
Jamie was frazzled. He didn't know how to properly comfort Jack—how did you comfort someone so upset? So Jamie just held Jack with a vice-like grip, having to stand to even out the height difference, as Jack was on his knees, smoothed the silvery-white hair, and murmured, "It's okay, Jack . . . shh, it'll be okay . . . I'm here . . ."
At three-twenty, Jack's cries decrescendoed, turning into sniffles and gasps. Jack's breath was hot against the back of Jamie's neck. "Jack? You okay?" Jamie whispered.
Jack let go, settling down and drying his tear-stained face. "Jah . . . I'm sorry, Jamie," he mumbled. "You shouldn't see me like this. It's not good for you."
"I don't care," Jamie said, passion flaring in his furrowed brow. "Neither are cookies, but I eat those anyway."
"Cookies are good for the soul," Jack joked weakly, earning a giggle from his first believer. "Gah, thank you. I needed to let all that out. It just hurts so much, knowing . . . I mean, they were younger than you. It's . . . it terrifies me, the idea of that happening to you. I wouldn't know what to do." Jack smiled faintly at the boy. "You were my first believer. You're like a little brother to me."
Jamie grinned toothily. "And you're a big brother to me, Jack."
"Good, good. This'll pass with time, I know . . . we'll move on. I mean, it's like what North told me: we can't save every child every day. But the pain is there now, and it . . . it hurts, is all," Jack murmured. "It hurts knowing we failed."
Jamie considered Jack's words carefully, glancing down at his bunny. There was a full minute of silence before Jamie spoke. "They're not really gone, you know."
"Huh?" Jack looked at Jamie with watery blue eyes. "What're you saying, Jamie? They're . . . they're gone."
"I don't believe that." There was softness, and a touch of determination. "I've always thought . . . well, okay, let's look at it this way. When I didn't believe in you . . . and I couldn't see you . . . that didn't mean you didn't exist. I can see you because of belief, but you exist on your own, even if some can't see you."
"Okay," Jack whispered. "Go on."
"Well, to me, that's always how death's been . . . my grandpa died when I was seven, but even though he was dead physically, he lived in my memories and the photographs of him that hung on the walls of my grandma's house, and he even lived when we talked about him. People always live if they're remembered." Jamie met Jack's gaze, innocent yet wise brown eyes boring into shaky blue ones. "If we remember those kids, they'll always be alive. They may be gone physically, but their memory lives on in their parents and friends. They're not gone, Jack. They're just . . . invisible."
The Winter Spirit stared at Jamie, slack-jawed. "Jamie . . . you're ten, right?"
"There's no way you're ten."
"Well, unless I've been lied to my entire life . . ."
Jack revealed a tiny grin. "Surprise!"
Jamie laughed and then smiled at his Guardian. "Do you feel better?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I actually do. Thank you so much, Jamie. Thank you for everything."
"You're welcome, Jack." Jamie yawned, blinking sleepily.
"Tired?" Jack asked.
"Only a little," Jamie replied, already in the process of lying back down in bed. He noted Jack glance at the window, torn, and offered, "Jack, you wanna stay over tonight? Just so that . . . in case you feel bad again or something."
"I'd love to." The relief flooded through Jack's features. "I'll crash on the floor. Lemme borrow a pillow?"
Jamie tossed a pillow to Jack, who settled down on the floor next to Jamie's bed. He kept Doctor Bear close to him, suddenly exhausted. "Night," Jack murmured.
A moment of warm silence.
"Please know that I'll always believe in you. You won't be invisible as long as I'm around."
Bliss sunk into Jack's fibers and fueled strength into his bones.
"Thank you, squirt. That means so much to me."
"No problem. My name isn't squirt, by the way."
". . . Surprise!"
Jamie's laughter made Jack smile. "Night, Jack Frost."
"Night, Squirt Bennett."
"You're lucky you have snow powers."
Jamie's breathing evened out and deepened a few minutes later, showing he was asleep. Jack snuggled into Doctor Bear, eyes shut. He remembered how it had been twenty kids, and how he had flown around all day and watched news reports on those twenty kids, revealing their faces and names.
Jack Frost sighed, and then went to work to memorizing the faces and names of twenty brave children and six heroic adults, all of which he now believed were floating around him with wings, perfect, unharmed, and safe.