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Shadowlands
Part 5: Deathly Decision

by K. Stonham
first released 25th April, 2013

Jack woke, for the first time in several centuries, in a bed. In his own bed. In his own home.

It was decidedly surreal.

Listening to the pre-dawn world outside the house (birds, horses, a faint high whistling of wind heard through the chimney) and inside the house (a soft creaking of the bed frame in his parents' room as one of them turned over in their sleep), he lay there for a minute, trying to get his bearings. Trying to decide how he felt about this. About being home again.

His feelings, Jack ended up concluding, were mixed. This was all so familiar, so comfortable, something he thought he'd never experience again. Yet at the same time, there was something jarring and discordant about it. It felt like... like trying to put on a favorite shirt that he'd outgrown. It was too tight, too constricting.

He wasn't this Jack Frost anymore. He wasn't a colonial boy. He was the spirit of winter, and a Guardian.

And he had no idea how to tell his family that.

His parents had their life here, with their friends and family. A life that had, for nearly two hundred and fifty years, not included him. They loved him, he had no doubt, and would welcome him here, fold him into their life with open arms, but... they didn't need him.

And Pippa... his sister was grown, with a home of her own, and a husband, and seven children, four of whom had survived to adulthood and married, with families of their own. One of her sons had moved to Boston and apparently been a prominent lawyer there. Before he'd been killed by British soldiers during the war.

But here, in this place, Jack's nephew was alive. As were his children, and their children, and their children, generations piling up on generations until the current day.

The afterlife, Jack was coming to understand, was like the layers of an onion, or the stacked pages of paper in a book. It was different for everyone. You ended up in the time you were happiest, surrounded by the people you loved best, doing the work you had enjoyed most. And everyone else ended up with the same, so though they overlapped, no two afterlives were completely identical. Each held just enough challenge to make existence worthwhile, but none of the bad stuff. There were things that could hurt you, yes. A falling tree could crush you, and you'd be injured. But you would eventually heal. Nothing here could kill you, could take you away from your pain forever, because here, no pain ran that deep.

It kind of blew his mind, and kind of made him uneasy.

Quietly, Jack pushed aside his frosted blanket, and stood, grabbing his staff. He snuck out the front door and let the wind carry him to the roof of his family's home. He sat there, on its peak, and watched the sun rise over colonial Burgess, thinking.

* * *


"No, left, left!" Mort shouted, trying to steer her riderbird through volume as well as well as the controller. It worked as well for her as it ever did for Jamie; he laughed as she bounced off the canyon wall on the right of the screen and he overtook her. She growled, thumbs mashing frantically until she caught up with him just before they both crossed the finish line.

"Yes!" Mort threw her arms in the air. "Number one! Finally!"

The hopper on the screen informed them that Mort had won a Magic Feather, and would they like to race again Y/N?

"We've got enough feathers now to trade for the magic carpet," Jamie said.

"That gets us to Argyar, right?"

"Yeah. Where we pick up our last party member."

"Right. So what's he like?"

"She," Jamie emphasized the gender, "is kick-ass. Nadalia is a warrior priestess who can drink any of the other characters under the tavern table."

"Do I sense a little crush, Bennett?"

"Ha. As if." Jamie would never, ever admit to Mort about scanning the internet for pictures of Nadalia cosplayers. Jack teasing him about it was bad enough.

Jamie glanced away from the television for a moment, looking at his window.

He wondered how Jack was doing. And when he'd be back.

* * *


Phillipa spent the day out in the sunshine, in the company of her brother. Her hands kept busy with a drop spindle, as did all three of her daughters'. They, and what seemed like half of Burgess' children and no few of the adults, sat in a circle around her brother as he held storyteller's court. Hands kept industrious while minds were taken on flights of fancy.

It was, Phillipa thought with a smile, entirely nostalgic.

"Now, this fellow," Jack said, creating a new ice sculpture in one hand, "is the Easter Bunny." His brow furrowed momentarily, in a way that Phillipa had already come to realize meant he was hardening the ice, making it unmelting. As soon as he was done, he handed it off to the nearest child, Jeremiah Collins, who hastily set aside his whittling to accept the figurine and examine it before passing it around.

"Papa said you caught the Easter Bunny once," Sarah Pritchard said, clearly doubtful.

Jack grinned at her. "Oh, he told you that, did he?" Sarah nodded. "Well, that's the absolute truth, and Aster - the Easter Bunny's full name is E. Aster Bunnymund, but I haven't found out yet what the 'E' is for - has fallen for the exact same snare at least once since." Jack grinned. "Thus proving that you can't beat a classic slip snare, no matter how smart your opponent thinks he is.

"Now, Bunny," Jack continued, nodding at the ice statue as it made its way around, "is faster than just about anyone. And he's not afraid of any kind of height. But he hates flying, so unless he gets distracted, he ends up leaving claw marks on North's sleigh...."

Her brother, Phillipa came to realize as Jack talked on, telling the village children about the adventures of his comrades-in-arms, had covered nearly all of the Guardians. He had talked about the Tooth Fairy and one of her little helpers that Jack had named Baby Tooth; he had described a curious little man named the Sandman; his voice had contained a touch of hero worship as he discussed Nicholas St. North, who was the same as Sinterklaas; and now, he convulsed his listeners with laughter as he told them of the idiosyncracies of the man-beast called the Easter Bunny. The only one of the Guardians whose exploits Jack had not detailed was himself, Jack Frost the winter-bringer.

She had a feeling she knew why.

Her fingers tangled in the growing thread, and Phillipa momentarily lost the train of her brother's story. But she forced herself to straighten and focus again.

Jack wasn't staying, and wanted to give the village children new stories to retell over long winter nights, ones that did not involve the bringer of winter himself. Ones that did not involve a playmate who would not stay to play.

In a way, she admired him for it. Yet at the same time, Phillipa wished she didn't understand him so well. Why did he love the children of that other world better than his own blood kin? Burgess was his home. He belonged here, with them. Why would he not simply stay here?

"And this," Jack said with another grin, crafting another ice figure, "is Jamie Bennett. Who, like all of you, is from Burgess. And he's mortal, so maybe someday you'll get to meet him. He's the bravest kid I've ever met, and has absolutely no fear of the Boogeyman. But the Boogeyman, you see, has a healthy fear of Jamie. Because anyone who's not scared, and who can get others to not be scared with him, can stand up to darkness and turn it into light...."

* * *


That second night, as they walked side-by-side from her house to their parents, Pippa asked something Jack had never expected from her. "Why do you love them better than us?" she asked.

Jack blinked at the soft question. "Love who better?"

"The mortal children."

Jack stopped walking, surprised. "Better?" he asked. He shook his head. "I don't love them better, Pips. I just love them different."

"Then why won't you stay?" She turned and looked at him, her expression pleading. "You could be happy here, Jack! Our whole family could be back together again."

Jack took in her expression, sighed, and looked away. He remembered what his mother had told him about Pippa blaming herself for his death. Apparently it was something she still hadn't let go of. Not even with him here for a visit. "Pippa, you don't need me here. Jamie and the other mortal kids... they do. They need someone to make the ice strong enough, keep the storms survivable. They need someone to protect them from the things in the shadows."

"Do you love him better than me?" she demanded, face angry. "Your Jamie? Is that why you won't stay?"

Jack stared, incredulous. She thought he loved Jamie more than he loved her? "No! Of course I don't. You're my sister. But he's like my brother. I know Jamie's going to grow up someday soon, and forget about me. And that's going to hurt. But just because children grow up and stop needing Guardians doesn't mean they don't deserve protection before then. He needs my protection. You don't."

"But I do need you! Jack, this work is going to kill you eventually. Isn't that what you said happened to Katherine and Nightlight? Isn't dying for someone else once already enough?"

Jack just stood there open-mouthed for a minute, looking at his sister. Slowly, he closed his mouth. "I remember you getting like this before," he said quietly. "I remember the Turners moved into town and you got so mad at me for looking after little Lizzy while her mother was sick and her father was away. Remember that, Pippa?"

His sister shut her mouth and looked away, expression mulish.

"You are my sister," Jack said, "and I love you very much. But I don't tell you that you married the wrong man, or made some questionable choices in your life, and you do not get to tell me that what I do, what I love, is not what I should be doing. Do you understand that, Pippa?"

She didn't answer his question. Instead, she asked plaintively, "Why can't you just stay?"

He felt his voice harden. He really didn't want to do this, but he could see that he was not getting through to her. "I died for you once, Pips. And I do not regret that for a second, because you grew up to be a fine, upstanding woman, with a wonderful family around you. But you do not get to tell me to die for you again."

Her head snapped around to stare at him, shocked.

"Dying again is the only way I stay here, Pippa," Jack said quietly, "and I have unfinished business in the living world, people I still need and want to live for. They need me there, and, as someone once said, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. I refuse to take the easy way out, and do nothing. If I die again fighting the good fight, so be it." He paused, to see if she had any response to give, but she did not. "I'll be leaving after the picnic tomorrow afternoon. What's left between us at that point is up to you."

Turning away, Jack let the wind carry him home, leaving his sister standing in the street behind him.

*~*~*


Author's Note: The Rainbow Quest gameplay was in no way inspired by watching others play the chocobo racing minigame in FFX. Really. It wasn't. :) And, sorry for taking so long to get back to this. I was stumped on what needed to happen until I just started sledgehammering my way through the words and realized halfway through that Pippa was not too happy about Jack leaving her again. I know that she's usually portrayed as his sweet, beloved younger sister, but real people are more complex than that, and she had a whole life (and afterlife) during which she grew and changed. Jack's sacrifice made a big impression on her, and shaded her entire life. Her point is understandable; she just wants her brother back.

Date: 2013-04-26 11:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghilledhu.livejournal.com
Hijacking these comments to ask if there's any chance you could sweet-talk one of your UK connections into getting us the Portal cake kit? It's not available in the states, and apparently can't be imported. We would, of course, reimburse anyone who did us this tremendous service!

Date: 2013-04-26 11:41 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sakon76.livejournal.com
How/where does one acquire this cake kit? Amazon UK? Because we're actually heading over to the UK a week from today....

Date: 2013-04-27 02:08 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ghilledhu.livejournal.com
Yes, Amazon UK:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Portal-The-Cake-Official-licensed/dp/B00CDKYVKU/?tag=10xxx10718-21

That would be fantastic! Again, just let me know what we owe you for it.

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