The first time Jack brushed him aside, Jamie didn’t know what to make of it. One minute he and Jack were having the time of their lives in a wintry wonderland of joy and snow, and the next Jamie blows out his 18th birthday candles and Jack seems to forget he’s there. Jack focused more on the little one’s running around than on the birthday boy himself and it rubbed Jamie the wrong way. At first he tried the silent treatment; hoping Jack would notice Jamie pouting and come over with a guilty smile and an apologetic snowball to the face. When that didn’t work, he tried tapping Jack on the shoulder to bring his attention back. It worked for all of five minutes before Jack was running after another child with not even a backwards glance.
Jamie was hurt, confused, and a little angry at the winter spirit. He tried for months after his bittersweet birthday party to get Jack’s attention again, but Jack all but forgotten his first ever believer.
It was only when Pitch took enough pity on him to explain; that Jamie finally understood what was going on. Jack was a Guardian of Childhood. Once Jamie turned 18, he became an adult; belief or no belief. In hindsight it made a painful amount of sense. Jack only started to ignore Jamie after he blew out the candles. Jamie felt stupid for not realizing it sooner.
“In all honesty, I pity you, Jamie Bennett.” Pitch confessed. “Here you are, all grown up and still so full of belief, but it will never matter to the ones you believe in. It must be a terrible, lonely experience.”
Jamie thought about it and concluded that he really did feel lonely. He looked up to Pitch with a terrible, sad smile full of resolve and said,
“I don’t mind it. I’ll still believe even if it hurts.” When Pitch gave Jamie a bewildered stare, Jamie grinned back at him. “I’ll always believe. I promised Jack I would. I’ll always be here when he needs me.”
Pitch gave Jamie this strange, pitying look like he couldn’t decide whether to think Jamie was admirable or a masochist. Jamie supposed he was a little of both. Jamie found Pitch to be surprisingly good company once he started talking to him. When Jamie asked why Pitch didn’t ignore him too, he said,
“Fear is for everyone. You never grow out of fear, fear grows with you.”
Jamie found this to be very true. He may not be afraid of the dark or thunderstorms anymore, but he was definitely afraid. He was afraid his college debt would put him on the streets, he feared he wouldn’t get the grades he needed to graduate, he feared not doing well on critical tests, and he was afraid that no matter how hard he tried he would never get a job he liked. Oh yes, Jamie feared many things, so it was no wonder that Pitch paid special attention to him for the years to come. It wasn’t a bad thing, mind you, Jamie was glad for the company. Sometimes though, Jamie would wake up on Christmas morning, look out at the blanket of white snow made perfect for snowballs, and wonder if Jack Frost would ever come back to play. Jamie was not afraid to admit that he missed him.
Jamie saw Jack plenty of times beyond his 18th birthday. He watched with a fond smile from a park bench as Jack frolicked and played in the snow. Jamie never got tired of seeing Jack whoop and holler as he flew around like a leaf in the wind. Jack’s acrobatic skills applied both in the air and on the ground and Jamie found it fascinating to watch him in action. He especially enjoyed mediating snowball fights when they got out of hand, because Jack would acknowledge Jamie enough to pout at him. It never lasted though. Once the kids were corralled into safer play and Jamie went back to the bench, Jack forgot all about him. It hurt, but Jamie didn’t mind.
Jamie actually saved Jack a few times. Jack of course would never know, but Jamie saw the creeping shadows of doubt, loneliness, and insanity stalking Jack’s every move. They weren’t tangible, but Jamie could see them as clear as Pitch’s Nightmares. Pitch explained once that those kinds of spirits haunted only the adult populace. They would never be seen by children or the Guardians that protected them, but their influence was very real to them. Jack especially was vulnerable. His 300 years of social isolation made him a tantalizing target too sweet to resist. Jamie couldn’t count how many times he pointed a child in Jack’s direction to distract him from the dark spiraling thoughts planted by the spirits. Jack never knew it was him, but Jamie could see the gears turning in his head. Jack was starting to wonder how children always seemed to find him when he was on the brink of deciding to end his loneliness in a permanent way.
Jamie had developed a love for photography over the years. He took a class for college credit and found he had a hidden passion for capturing moments in time on film. It was like a memory that wouldn’t fade. Jamie liked that idea. Jamie took pictures of lots of things, but he especially loved taking pictures of winter-landscapes. Jamie won a lot of contests with his Winter Wonderland collection. People often asked how Jamie ever found such beautiful things in something as drab and colorless as winter. Jamie would always reply,
“I look for them.” And he did. Jamie always looked for the beautiful things Jack Frost left behind. Jamie never sought to capture Jack himself on film, though. Something about it seemed taboo; like he was ruining the magic with concrete proof of Jack’s existence. That didn’t mean Jamie didn’t look for him every winter with the hopes Jack would one day pay attention.
That day finally came when Jamie was snapping a few photos of frost flowers before Jack could come back to his lake for a nap. Jamie misjudged how long Jack would be gone and suddenly he came face-to-face with a curious winter spirit. Jack was crouched on his staff and leaning forward so Jamie’s nose was nearly touching his. Jack startled at Jamie’s indignant yelp.
“Don’t do that! I nearly ran right into you!” Jamie scolded before he could stop himself. He realized his error with a short gasp and an averted gaze. It was pointless to engage Jack in conversation. It would only end in disappointment when he whirled away on the wind.
Except he didn’t. Jack’s eyes actually widened and he looked straight at Jamie. There were no other children to focus on, and in that moment Jamie was Jack’s whole world.
“You can see me?” Jack whispered in awe. “But that’s impossible! Adults can’t see us! How old are you, kid?” and wasn’t that just heart wrenchingly sad? A hysterical laugh bubbled through Jamie’s mouth before he could stop it, because it really isn’t fair to be called a kid when he spent years pining after a Guardian of Childhood that couldn’t give him the time of day. Jack leaned back; unsure of how to deal with the strange man laughing for no reason.
“I’m 25 Jack. I’ve been able to see you since I was eight.” Jamie told him. “It’s been a while, hasn’t it? How is everyone? Is North getting enough sleep? It’s almost Christmas and I know how he gets when it’s crunch time.”
Jamie didn’t know why he was asking such mundane, trivial things when he finally had Jack’s attention. If he thought about it hard enough, Jamie figured he was giving Jack a chance to really remember him. Jamie believed in Jack for a long time; it was only fair that Jack returned the favor.
“You know North?” Jack sputtered.
“Uh-huh. I know Tooth, Sandy, Bunny, everyone. I know you too. Do you know me?” Jamie asked. He waited patiently for Jack to remember on his own, but when Jamie saw him coming up blank, it broke his heart just a little bit more than usual. Jamie could feel tears prickling at his eyes and he had to fight to make his lips curl up in a casual smile.
“It’s fine. I didn’t expect you to remember me.” Lies! his mind screeched at him. “I just—I wanted to see how you were doing, that’s all. I’ll leave you be, now. You must be tired from all the fun you just had.” Jamie tried not to burst into tears as he gathered his equipment and made a hasty retreat. Before he could get too far, his old science fiction book fell out of his bag and landed on the page Phil signed all those years ago. Jamie’s breath hitched and he hurried to snatch it up before Jack could see it. It was too late; Jack already saw.
Jack’s eyes widened and his hand flew to his head to stave off the impending headache. He gasped as the memories of a little kid with big brown eyes full of wonder being the first to see him flooded his head. Jack stumbled back and Jamie called his name and asked if he was alright.
“Oh my god.” Jack wheezed. “You’re Jamie. Little Jamie Bennett! My first believer!” Realization dawned on his face. “But… why don’t I remember you? If you stopped believing then I—”
“I never stopped believing.” Jamie cut him off with a harsh, raspy snarl. “I always saw you, but you forgot.” Jamie’s voice was husky with emotions long buried. Tears spilled unbidden from his eyes as Jamie crumpled to his knees. He clutched the old book close to his chest as he heaved out bitter sobs. Jack was quick to comfort him and it was the best thing to ever happen to him since he became an adult. Jack wrapped him up in a chilly embrace meant to comfort and soothe; like an icepack applied to a sprained ankle.
“You left.” Jamie sobbed.
“I did.” Jack admitted.
“You forgot.” Jamie wheezed.
“I did.” Jack shuddered.
“I love you, you know?” Jamie confessed. Why the hell not? It was entirely possible that this was his last chance to say it. “All those days where I watched you from the sidelines, all those years I believed, I did it because I love you. Even if you forgot, even if I didn’t matter anymore, even if I’m not a kid anymore, I still love you, Jack Frost.” Jamie felt Jack stiffen around him and he wondered if it was too much. Jamie rose his head to meet Jack’s gaze and was shocked to see he was crying.
“Oh Jamie… I don’t deserve you.” He gasped. “All this time you’ve believed in me, loved me, and I didn’t even know who you were. I don’t know how I could ever forget you, but I did and I’m so sorry.”
“You’re a Guardian of Childhood, Jack.” Jamie told him. “It’s only logical that adults don’t matter as much.” Logic was a cold comfort, but it was all Jamie had. Jack gave a horrified shudder before tightening his grip on Jamie.
“Don’t say that.” Jack rasped. “That doesn’t make it better!” Jamie was inclined to agree. “I’ll find a way around this, Jamie. I promise you that. I won’t leave you again.”
“You’ll forget.” Jamie said with hollow despair. “As soon as there are other kids around, you’ll forget all about me. You always do.”
“Then wait for me where there’s no one else around.” Jack pleaded. “If there’s no one else, I’ll have to remember you, right?”
Jamie smiled and shook his head. “I don’t think my heart can take that, Jack. I can’t take you forgetting and remembering me all over again. It was fine when you had no idea who I was, but now that you remember, I can’t bear you forgetting me again.” he said. “Can we just stay like this for a while? Just until I can deal with walking away?”
Jack swallowed the hot, thick lump in his throat and nodded into Jamie’s hair. Jamie smiled sadly and snuggled closer into Jack’s chest. “Thank you.” He murmured.
“Don’t thank me.” Jack muttered. “I didn’t do anything worth thanking.”
Jamie frowned, but said nothing; neither confirming nor denying the truth of Jack’s bitter statement. Jamie just hugged Jack tighter and banished all thought from his mind. If this was going to be the last time he held Jack, he was going to make it the best hug he ever had.
Eventually, Jamie had to pull away. The prickling pain of kneeling on the forest floor with rocks and twigs digging into his legs was Jamie’s undoing. He choked back another sob as he let Jack’s arms fall away from his and stood up. Jack watched Jamie gather his things with a broken, faraway look in his icy blues. Jamie couldn’t bear to look back when he said,
“Bye, Jack. It was fun.” Jamie scurried away from the forest; breaking apart with every hastened step until he collapsed into a tearful heap on his bed. Leaving hurt, but he knew staying would kill him. Jamie would always believe in Jack Frost; he promised Jack and he would keep that promise, but sometimes Jamie wondered if it was worth it. Jamie cried himself out sometime around midnight. He sniffled and prepared to drift off into a fitful sleep. As he closed his eyes and relaxed his mind, Jamie spied his favorite photographs of the Winter Wonderland collection hanging on the wall. He smiled sleepily and let one last thought run freely through his mind before letting sleep take him.
“Yeah. It’s definitely worth it.”