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Herald of Winter

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“I'm flattered you want me to be a Guardian, but I'm pretty sure Mom'll say no.”

Jack Frost was leaning against his staff in front of the Globe, staring at the Guardians. He had to admit, when those yeti had stuffed him in the sack he had expected something to do with a prank. Not being asked to join them.

Bunny crossed his arms. “You're a three hundred year old spirit and you still don't think for yourself?”

“If your mother could kick your ass seven ways to Sunday, you'd listen to her all the time no matter what your age.”

North however was taken aback by the idea Jack even had a parent. Sure, spirits formed families, and some even developed a parent/child relationship. It was rare though. Few spirits needed the protection and coddling children did no matter what their age. Jack Frost might look fourteen, and act like it most of the time, but he had a ton of power and could take care of himself. He didn't need, nor did he seem the type to want, to have a mother figure. And if he actually did have one she was doing a poor job since the pale teen now sitting on his table was the Naughty List record holder.

Sandy conjured an image of a mother holding the hand of a small child and Jack understood the question.

“Mom. You know, Mother Nature.”

“You call Mother Nature Mom?” Bunny was outright scandalized. It seemed a little demeaning, to call the ultimate force of nature on the planet by something as simple as 'Mom'. It was her full name, or nothing at all.

“Yeah, don't you?”

“No way.” But now that Bunny knew who Jack's 'mom' was, he didn't blame him from following her ideas. She could take all the Guardians on. In her sleep. He had the scar to prove it.

“Jack, why wouldn't Mother Nature not want you to be a Guardian? It's an important job and a filling one. Why wouldn't she be proud?” Tooth drifted forward. There was no better spirit gig than Guardian.

“Well, I'm already a Seasonal.”

Except that. Of course, Tooth thought being a Guardian was better. Children were wonderful and nothing beat the feeling of being believed in. But being a Seasonal was also a Big Deal. It meant you had a lot of power, a lot of respect, and probably more responsibility than a Guardian.

“You're a Seasonal?” Bunny scoffed. Seasonals were just as well known amongst spirits as Guardians were amongst children. No way Jack Frost was one.

“Old Man Winter is Winter Seasonal,” North said. Obviously confused, he gave Jack a slow look over. Skinny legs, skinny arms, and most likely a skinny chest under the hoodie he wore. Seasonals oozed power. Jack oozed mischief.

“Duh. No way I want that job anyway.”

Confused, Sandy conjured a snowflake above his head. This was Jack Frost, who had a part of winter in his name, who went around starting snowball fights and building sled hills, who iced everything around him. Including elves. Which Sandy highly approved of.

“I don't actually make snow, little man. I just do frost and a bit of ice. And play with the Wind a lot.”

As if on cue, a breeze brushed through the Workshop. It was strong enough to push Tooth towards Jack, not that she minded. She wanted to get a closer look at his teeth. But if he was a Seasonal, she wasn't to sure still, it would probably be rude.

Used to wind currents, she could feel an invisible presence in the room. When Jack had said 'wind' he didn't just mean the natural breezes that were the result of atmosphere differences, he meant Wind. The intelligence behind the air flows. She couldn't see it, but she had the strange feeling that the Wind had just curled around Jack's shoulders like a snake around a zookeeper during a reptile show. Jack absently stroking the air above his left shoulder confirmed it.

“So what, you're the Seasonal of Summer?” Bunny snorted. “I'll give you calling Mother Nature Mom, but you a Seasonal? We would have heard. And Manny would have known and not chosen you to be a Guardian.”

Jack blinked and looked up. True enough, the Man in the Moon was above, and was it just him or did the moonlight seem a bit sheepish? He raised an eyebrow at him and then returned his attention to the spirits around him.

“Manny is, well, let's just say a bit loony. I thought you guys knew that, being his pet project and all. I mean, come on. Luna, lunacy. He knows I'm a Seasonal, but forgot since I don't usually use the title.”

“Why would Manny know you are Seasonal?” North asked. They didn't know, and that was strange.

“Cuz he's my uncle.”

All four Guardians gave him a bland look. They were more likely to believe he was a Seasonal.

“Look, Mom is exactly that, Mom. She's looked out for me from day one, missing memories and all.” He tapped the side of his head and continued before Tooth could get a word in. “And since Mother Nature and the Man in the Moon are brother and sister, Manny's my uncle. Ain't that right?” Jack directed the last part to the moon.

The moonbeams on the floor showed a check mark. Yes.

North gaped like a fish out of water. “Why didn't you tell us before?” he asked his friend, but it was Jack who answered.

“I told you, he's a bit crazy. Things slip his mind all the time.”

“So,” Bunny began. “If you don't use the Seasonal title, what do you use instead? Just your name?” With the nonsense this kid was spitting out, Bunny's head was spinning. Why couldn't this have been a quick thing? Jack says yes, takes the Oath, and they go defeat Pitch. Or better yet, Jack says no, flies away, and Bunny never sees him again. Both options would have been better than this and the headache it was causing.

“Herald.”

“Of what?”

“Winter.”

“This, I have heard of.” North said. Jack Frost's stories and myths talked about an elf whose job it was to warn of the coming cold months. The nip in the November air was thanks to Jack Frost, as was the colors of the leaves changing, and the designs on your window that faded away with the rising sun.

Granted, he had never heard of the idea that Jack Frost, Herald of Winter, was anything other than a spirit who enjoyed the snow and cold but wasn't powerful enough to create it. But North was getting the rumbly in his belly that hinted at something else.

Sandy made the connection first. Using his dream sand, he played a small scene as if from a movie: a tree loosing its leaves.

Jack clicked his tongue against his teeth and pointed a finger at Sandy. “Ten points to the Man of Sand!”

Playing along, the numeral 10 surrounded by large flashing blubs, game show style, appeared over Sandy's head. Sandy was so upset he hadn't interacted with Jack Frost before. All the missed good times.

“You're the Fall Seasonal.” Tooth said, and now that the words were in the air they felt solid and real.

“Autumn Prince Jack Frost at your command. Well, not really. Cuz I don't have to do a thing you guys tell me to.”

“Kay mate, you're a Seasonal. Why hide it?” Bunny was honestly confused. He was damn proud of being a Guardian and having the belief of children. He also had it on good authority that the Spring Seasonal felt the same way – that is proud of her role. And here was Jack Frost, hiding his placement in the Nature Court. If he actually had a place there.

Sheepish, Jack rubbed the back of his head. The Wind around his neck shuddered in laughter, sending tiny eddies of air outwards. “I'm still trying to get used to it myself. I've known Mom for three hundred years, but I only joined the Court about a century ago myself. Plus, I'm not much for that type of attention. If more spirits knew who I was, I would not have the time to play with the kids during Winter. And have to hear all their nagging complaints. We want more gold leaves this year! We don't want a cold night for trick or treating! We need more forewarning!”

Jack mimicked visitors to the Court making Fall Requests.

“I've been to the Court once or twice this past century,” Bunny said. He always wanted the best weather possible for his holiday, but knew better than to push. While Mother Nature and Spring had been front and center, it was the growing time of year, the other Seasonals had been in attendance and none of them looked like the lanky lad before them. “You weren't there.”

“Oh, that's easy.”

Jack changed. To keep his anonymity, not only did he put a dampener on his power but also changed his appearance. Well, just his clothes really. He felt most comfortable in his hide pants and baggy sweatshirt, and it was such a different look from his Court clothes people never noticed the difference. For a few seconds though, he let the Guardians see him in full Seasonal get up.

His pants stayed the same and he still held his staff, a homage to his Colonial origins, but his hoodie was replaced by a sleeveless deep red turtleneck over which he wore an open butternut robe. A golden circlet appear around his head, and while the Guardians wouldn't be able to see them Jack knew of the small engravings in the shape of leaves.

The most important, most obvious change, was when he lifted the dampener on his powers. Based on the way North and Bunny took a step back, and Tooth and Sandy suddenly found their feet on the ground, his magic was much, much more powerful than any of them expected.

Just a few seconds, that's all Jack showed them, and then he was back in his hoodie, sitting on his self standing staff and swinging his legs.

All four Guardians were staring at him, mouths open.

See, this was why he didn't like announcing his Seasonal status. He wanted friends, people to play with and children to see him. It was kinda hard when they saw him dressed for Court.

“You, what, arg!” Bunny pulled at his ears, crouching down. He couldn't deny it now, Jack Frost was indeed the representation of Fall. If he had been Spring, Bunny would have shouted it loud and proud.

“So...” Tooth began, getting back to the topic at hand. “Mother Nature doesn't want you to have a title other than Seasonal.” She understood that. While she knew Jack Frost as the fun loving trickster, and how had he developed that reputation around his Seasonal duties, she knew being on the Court was a handful. She had been Thunderbird's friend before she had been chosen as the Summer Princess. Now, they hardly saw each other.

“Yeah, she's kinda possessive. But I'm also crazy busy for roughly ten months of the year. If Uncle Manny really wanted me as a Guardian, he should have told me so earlier.”

Jack shook a finger at the moon above them and North could never imagine himself doing something similar. He also wasn't sure that Manny was a loony as Jack made him out to be. He hadn't steered the Guardians wrong in all the time they'd existed. And if Jack being a Seasonal had just slipped his mind, it still meant he had selected Jack Frost to join them. And the image hadn't been of Jack in Court regalia. No, it was the hoodie wearing teen. There was something about him, Jack Frost the spirit and not Jack Frost the Autumn Prince. Perhaps it was true, Manny had forgotten about the title his nephew held, but he still thought Jack was needed for their current challenge.

Pitch Black.

“Jack,” North said, getting the spirit's attention. “I understand. Seasonal is big role, just like Guardian, would be hard to be both. But we need help, or Manny would not have shown us you in crystal.”

“We do not need help,” Bunny grumbled, but even then he couldn't stop sneaking looks at Jack. The kid was powerful. He might not think the Guardians needed help, but he had to admit that if Jack did fight with them it would be an easy battle.

“Yes we do.” Tooth insisted. Manny said it and so it was true. The moon saw everything. She drifted closer to Jack, not daring enough to stick her fingers in his mouth but wanting to at least see them up close as he talked.

“Help with what?”

Sandy showed a profile of Pitch. And Jack actually hesitated. The Sandman doubted it had to do with fearing the Nightmare King.

“Pitch was here, at the Pole.” North added.

“Anyone, anything else, and I'd be glad to help. But Mom's said Pitch Black is a Guardian problem and I personally am to stay away from him. And you know that.” Jack directed the last bit to the moon.

“You personally? But you've got enough power to knock him down a peg or two.” Tooth drifted ever so closer. She could feel the Wind still wrapped around Jack eying her.

“He's um...slightly obsessed with me? Apparently he saw my creation and decided that since I was made in the 'dark and cold' I belong to him. Hit me up with a partnership the first hour I was a spirit. Old Man Winter saw, swept me away to Mom, and I've been under Court protection ever since. Not that I can't handle myself,” he tapped his staff with a foot, “but you know how families are.”

Sandy mimed sneaking. Jack had no problem about going up against Pitch himself, he was just trying to abide by rules and guidelines people he cared about had set out. But if North's tales of Jack's exploits that got him on the Naughty List were true, he just needed a little encouragement to break those rules. Sandy promised not to tell if Jack did.

Jack leaped off his staff perch to crouch at Sandy's barely hovering level. “You little man, are an instigator. That's what you are.”

Sandy just laughed.

“Seriously, we will have to hang out some time.” Jack pulled back to stand, swinging his staff up and over his shoulders, dislodging the Wind and forcing her to curl around his midriff instead. “Right, I'll help you guys fight Ptich. It should be fun, and I can take a bit of a break from working in the Southern Hemisphere, less land down there for some strange reason and thus less work. But not a word to Mom!”

All four Guardians nodded their heads. They had no desire to incur Mother Nature's wrath.

“And you,” Jack titled his head back to once again address the Moon. “If she does find out you're taking all the blame cuz it's your fault I'm here.”

Another shadow check mark in the moonbeam.

“All right, let's go kick some ass.” Jack couldn't wait to get the Boogeyman off his case. All those secret notes delivered by nightmares – come join me – they were gonna stop. It actually might be worth the ensuring chaos to show up at the Court, Pitch Black bound and defeated, and roll him to Mom's feet. After all, Manny had already said he'd take the blame.