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The Bad Things
by K. Stonham
first released 8th March 2013


Jamie is eighteen when he discovers that his best friend is a murderer.

As he stands there, three blocks from home, silent and shocked, looking unbelieving at the unmoving body on the pavement, he can't help but realize that Jack made that ice deliberately.

The teenage Guardian - and how wonderful had it felt to know they were finally the same age? - kneels on the sidewalk beside the body. Jack's back is to Jamie, he hasn't seen him. But he reaches one icy hand out, checks for a pulse, then nods.

He stands. Turns to go. He sees Jamie.

The moment where they stare at one another seems endless. Jack, Jamie knows with a sudden certainty, never expected him to find out about this. Never wanted him to know.

That doesn't answer the question of why, a question to which none of the answers could be good.

Inhumanly fast, Jack turns and vanishes into the sky, Jamie's cry of his name dying half-formed on teenage lips.

Numb, Jamie's eyes fall back to the still body.

With stiff fingers, he pulls out his cellphone and dials 911.

He already knows they won't be able to do anything.




The ambulance comes and goes. He answers all the questions he is given, is released to go back to his home. Jamie drags his feet as he walks. He's never seen death before today. Well, that's not entirely true. But he was only eight when his dad died, and the memories have gone soft with the intervening years.

Rather, Jamie thinks as he turns onto his own street, it's that he's never seen death being dealt before.

He wants to talk it out, with Claude or Cupcake or Monty or someone, but he... just can't. He can't betray Jack like that, even though today it feels like Jack betrayed him.

What were you thinking, Jack? he wants to ask the winter spirit. Why did you do that? He isn't sure he'll like the answers he'll get, but their absence gnaws inside of him even worse.

Jack's not a monster. He can't be.

Jamie sheds his outer gear by the front door, leaving his boots in the plastic bin to catch the snowmelt. He goes up to his room, lays down on his bed, and stares up at the ceiling, trying to calm his whirling thoughts, trying to empty his overactive brain and achieve some of that inner Zen he's heard Bunnymund mention Jack and himself both needing.

It works as well as it ever does, which is to say not at all. By the time Jamie's mom calls him down for supper, all he's achieved is a mantra: I will not fear Jack. Fear is just bait for the Boogeyman. Jack has to have had a good reason for what he did.

Jamie can only pick as his meal, too lost in his thoughts to pay attention to either his mother or sister. He excuses himself early, and goes back to his room, turning the lights on. The soft golden glow should make him feel safe, warm, but it doesn't.

He hesitates, then unlatches his window. Just in case.

He sits at his desk and tries to do his homework. He gets nowhere.

Eventually, he hears the soft creak of the window's hinges, and turns.

Jack stands on Jamie's windowsill, looking unsure as to whether he's still welcome inside.

Whether he is or not, Jamie knows, will depend a lot on what Jack tells him in the next half hour.

"So," he says, as neutrally as he can manage, "why did you do that?"

Jack shrinks back in on himself, just a little. His eyes drop to the floor. "Do you know anything about him?" Jack asks.

Jamie shakes his head. "Just that his name was Donald Patterson. That's what the EMTs said was on his license."

Jack nods. "Yeah, they wouldn't exactly tell you that he hit his wife and molested his kids, would they?"

Jamie starts. "What?"

Jack takes a deep breath, raises his eyes again, though he doesn't look at Jamie's face. Instead, he studies the far wall. Jamie wonders if he even sees it; something in Jack's hunched, defensive posture makes him think that the winter spirit doesn't. "The thing about not needing sleep is, you wander around a lot at night, looking in windows. Most of the time, kids are sleeping peacefully. Sometimes... they aren't." Jack's mouth twists. "Daddy isn't supposed to creep into bed with little Sally and make her cry, but sometimes he does."

"Jack--"

Jack does look at Jamie now, the movement of his head sharp and betraying an anger Jamie hadn't suspected lurked underneath his chilly skin. "Don't ask me to regret it, Jamie. Because what good is being a Guardian if I can't protect kids from the bad things?"

Jamie is silent for a long minute. All his questions seem to have abandoned him, fled in the face of Jack's righteous justice, and all that's left now is the matter of how Jamie will react.

Jamie thinks on it, really he does. Because Jack has been around a long, long time, and... he can see how limited Jack's options are. Have always been. Jamie's seen him be walked through like he was nothing more than a ghost. Has seen Jack get in a rude adult's face, only to be not just ignored, but completely unheard.

What options did Jack really have to stop atrocities, when he couldn't tell anyone about them, and couldn't intervene? Stuck in that situation, loving kids the way Jack does, Jamie imagines he'd get a little desperate too.

Eventually, he wets his mouth and speaks. "Do the other Guardians do this too?"

Jack snorts. "The last time any of them interacted with kids was that snowball fight eight years ago. Tooth's fairies don't pay attention to anything but their job, and Sandy does his thing at a distance. North barely sees children on his rounds, and Bunny only sees them happy at his egg hunts, one day a year." His expression is dismissive and maybe a little bit sad. "I don't think they even realize there are predators other than Pitch out there."

"Jack...." Jamie takes a breath, steadying himself. This next idea, he knows, is going to go down like a lead balloon. "Maybe you should let them know."

Jack looks neutral, a little too much so. "Why?"

"So...." So they can help, Jamie wants to say, but he knows that's not the right answer. He doesn't know the other Guardians as well as he knows Jack, but he knows enough that he can't picture them helping the winter spirit in this kind of thing. He changes tack. "It took me eight years to find out, but I did. They have all of eternity, Jack. They might not find out for a long time... but, eventually, they will. And if they don't understand, it's going to be a lot worse than if I didn't."

Jack looks stricken. "How can you say that?" He finally steps into the room, hopping down from the sill and crossing to Jamie. "You're important."

Jamie smiles lopsidedly. "Yeah, but I'm also human. I can't hurt you the way another spirit can, Jack."

Jack looks like he wants to argue the point, but then just accepts it instead. "You can hurt me in other ways, Jamie," he says quietly.

And that, Jamie knows, is true. He draws a breath. "I'm not happy about what you do," he says, not looking away from Jack Frost's ice blue eyes. "But I'm not happy that things like that exist in this world, either. So I guess I can live with it."

Jack nods. "That's all I can ask for."

No, Jamie thinks, it's not. But he doesn't know yet if his soul is big enough to give that kind of whole-hearted acceptance. Loving a person means loving all of them, even the bad things. He's learned a lot about his friend today, and he still needs time to take it all in and adjust before he's able to say you can talk to me about it. Instead, he changes the subject. "Can we... talk about something else instead? Maybe watch a movie or something?"

Jack nods, looking relieved. "What've you got?"

Like that, they spend the rest of the evening sitting side-by-side on Jamie's bed, laughing at Monty Python. And it's not weird, not strange when Jamie runs into a cool hand already in the popcorn bowl. It's like it's always been, even though he now knows things about Jack that he wouldn't have believed possible. During the Swamp Castle scene, he briefly feels Jack watching him, but doesn't react. Jack goes back to snickering at the film. Eventually, Jamie does too.

Much later, Jamie half-wakes at the feel of a cool hand smoothing his hair. Jack, he knows somewhere in the back of his sleep-fuzzed mind, is probably smiling fondly at him. Then the windowsill creaks open again and the wind blows it closed. Jamie drifts fully back into the Sandman's realm, knowing that out there, somewhere, is an eternal boy-spirit, peeking through winter windows. Taking care of the bad things.




Author's Note: A few writers in this fandom have lent their keyboards to the quandry of Guardians versus the real-world fact of child abuse/molestation. It is, frankly, an unsolvable dilemma. As Guardians of children, how could they not intervene in such things? And yet, as childhood figures intangible to adults, how could they intervene? Completely setting aside the fact that they've all, save Jack, kept away from children for centuries. The other part of this story is a quasi-related theme along the lines of "the two faces of winter," which has also been touched on by many other writers. But rather than "what will the other Guardians think when they find out Jack's been doing this?", which others have tackled, I ended up writing "what will Jamie think?" I may have it stamped on my forehead in giant red letters that I am a sucker for Jack and Jamie stories....

And, as a side note, what is it about this fandom that makes me start writing about a third of my works in present tense? I've never done that for any other fandom I've been in. Ever.

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