Chapter 1: 1
He has gone decades without saying more words than he has fingers. Communicating with the Wind doesn't count because it's less talking and more meaning, he doesn't use his voice box for it and, really, it's more automatic than anything – as thoughtless as blinking (not breathing, because he doesn't need to do that anymore – not that he can hope to break the habit of a lifetime).
His voice is hoarse and ugly when he does speak, but it doesn't matter because nobody cares. Every spirit he's ever crossed paths with (well, save perhaps one or two purely apathetic individuals) has hurled abuse at him, physical or mental – not so much the former these days, he's far too canny and quick for that, and the latter is no longer like barbed wire in his heart; he's long since accepted their words as truth, and the pain is dull and faint but ever-present.
It's only in the last few decades that he's really started using his voice, but whether that's an improvement on his silence is debatable; he speaks to anyone and everything, making up for all those years of words gone unsaid. He talks to himself, chats with oblivious passers-by, inquires after rocks and trees, and once had a lengthy conversation with a brick wall-
He doesn't know when exactly he decided to talk, but these days he finds it hard to stop.
It's been particularly difficult this past year or so, trying to remember that not only can people see him now, but hear him too. Before, there wasn't a creature in the world that could care less about Jack Frost's mental well-being, but now all eyes were on him and he's discovered that he does not like it one bit. Sometimes he has to disappear for a few days and hole up in the Antarctic somewhere, just so he can let out all the words he'd been holding back, like a dam holding back the flood. He doesn't want the others to think him insane, he doesn't want their help. He believes there's only so much you can do for a person who's been talking to himself for over three centuries, and none of it would make him happy. So he vanishes every now and then; sometimes he lasts a month, sometimes just a week, but however long he strays from the southernmost continent, the penguins are always happy to see him – or maybe they're irritated, or sad, or uninterested; it's hard to judge the expressions of creatures with beaks. The rest of the Guardians just pass it off as Jack being Jack, their flighty, childish shepherd of winter. He preferred it to them believing him unhinged, or at least moreso than any spirit has a right to be.
It was hardest when he was talking to Jamie and his precious handful of believers. He just wanted to tell them everything about everything he had ever learned in all his three hundred-odd years, from when he'd first met the Wind or that time he'd single-handedly prevented the French from invading Russia, to last Tuesday when he'd brought Europe to a standstill or that morning when he'd espied a rare bird. It was almost painful to have to rein in his wandering tongue, almost as painful as holding back a blizzard; it was a not-quite-agony, the sort of hurt that laid on the periphery of feeling, not an ache or a pain or an injury or even a discomfort, but absolute torture nonetheless. Worse than feeling the urge to move, to run, to fly while locked in a titanium box at the bottom of the ocean and knowing there's no hope of satisfaction. He felt bad about spending so little time with the kids – barely a few hours a week in winter, and none at all the rest of the year – but really it was necessary; if he didn't want the Guardians to know about his psychosis, he definitely doesn't want to inform a group of preteens.
He wants neither their pity, nor their sympathy; he just wants them to treat him like a real person, like no-one ever has before.
He doesn't need their help because he's coping perfectly well, thank you, even if he has more than once conversed with his own two feet.
Chapter 2: 2
Can nobody hear me?
I've got a lot that's on my mind
I cannot breathe
Can you hear it, too?
- Hear Me, Imagine Dragons -
It was inevitable, really, and he'd have had to have been an utter fool to believe otherwise, and whatever else he is, he is not stupid. He had merely hoped that they would find out later. Not now. Just...later.
But it had happened. Was happening. Is happening. He gets so terribly confused by tenses. It comes of just taking life as it goes, not dwelling on the past and looking only to the near future, the one he can be reasonably sure will occur. It doesn't help that the Wind doesn't understand tenses either, and apparently neither do brick walls. Lately, though, he's had to use the past tense more and more; he doesn't like it, doesn't like having to remember. Leave the past in the past, say he.
The Guardians don't seem to understand this mindset, though, and over the past few years have frequently asked him to regale them with tales of his adventures after they've told him their own stories; he's always been reluctant, not because he hasn't had any – oh no, he's been on many a misadventure in the last three hundred-odd years – but because he doesn't like to look back. Now, though, his friends – his family? colleagues? associates? Relationships have never been his forte – seem intent on playing psychologist, demanding when he'd started talking to himself – to anything - and trying to figure out why, and how they can help. They ignore his protests and just flaff about, regardless of his wishes.
He sighs, takes a deep, unneeded breath and does what he does best: talk. He doesn't care if they're listening or not, he's only going to say it once. If they don't care enough to hear him out, then that's their own fault. He doesn't want to see them not listening, though, so he closes his eyes and does his best to block out their speech.
He launches into a tale that to him makes perfect sense; he's lived it. The Guardians, if they're listening, probably have no idea what he's on about, with all the tense mix-ups and strange use of pronouns and names and the hopping from tangent to tangent. His brain has no input here; he's not holding anything back, not dwelling on his words, just letting them flow. In this monologue, he's not only telling them how he thinks, he's showing them.
In his own voice, the one he hears inside his head, not the one he speaks, he informs them of all his many years lived in silence and smiles – not laughter, because that would require sound. He confesses to the crushing loneliness and desperation and silent sobbing that slowly, so slowly, became acceptance and apathy and bitter smiles. He expresses his one lasting desire, the longing to know who he is and why he is and what he is for; he has uncovered some of it, he feels, but it is only the tip of the iceberg. He does his best to explain his connection to the Wind, but it's a difficult thing to do; neither are the other and while there are no words spoken between them, neither is their communication telepathic. He suspects he's only confused his listeners more. He carries on to describe his relationship – or rather, his non-relationship – with the other spirits, like the Seasonals, the Elementals and even the occasional Emotional. He relives his early days as Jack Frost, so full of hope and wonder, with no memories but still dreaming of a brighter future; no understanding of the world as it is, as it was, only as it could be, as he wanted it to be. He smiles oddly as he recounts how he slowly came to realise that the world is not such a perfect place as he had wished it, recalls that for a long time he could only see the horror and the terror and the ugliness. Oh, he regained his faith in the world, of course he did; that was just a phase, only a couple of decades long. He does still see that side of life, but accepts that you can't have the good without the bad because otherwise how would you define it? He knows he's no saint himself – winter is hardly the kindest of seasons – but neither is he a demon; far worse than him roam the cold streets of empty nighttime cities.
Finally, after what feels like a lifetime, he arrives at his last point, the final destination. He admits that, no, he is surely not sane, he knows this and has known for a long time. With so long spent alone and invisible and voiceless, what else was he to do to pass the time but watch? He understands, intimately, that sane people are not meant to talk to things that do not talk back, and that though when he speaks to things – to lampposts and parked cars, cut flowers and apples – he does, in fact, hear an answer, it doesn't mean that he should. Normal people don't spend hours chatting to walls, he knows this, but it doesn't stop him having the conversation anyway. Just because he knows it's wrong, doesn't mean he can stop. He ends his monologue there with a small smile, one that spoke of relief and exhaustion. He opens his eyes, to see if anyone is listening; he's too emotionally exhausted to care if there isn't.
He opens his eyes, and he sees four wide-eyed faces staring back at him. They're sat on the hard wooden floor in front of the chair they had sat him in hours – days, weeks, years – ago, apparently struck dumb by his speech. For several seconds, they just sit there like remarkably realistic statues, but then Tooth unconsciously shifts her leg – cramp, he supposes – and suddenly they're alive again and he is engulfed in a massive bear hug from North, and is quickly surrounded by the other three, all of them muttering about how they never knew, never understood, and he can't help but interject that that had been his intention all along, because he'd known that this would be the result. Someone cracks a joke about how he must have been an actor in his past life, but he casually replies that no, actually he'd been a shepherd's boy and between caring for his little sister, had cared for his father's sheep – up until he'd drowned, of course, in the icy lake he nowadays called home. He feels them go stiff at these words – he hadn't told them, they hadn't pried – and some part of him feels vaguely guilty, but it is buried deep under the truly liberating feeling of speaking his mind.
The group hug persists in silence for several minutes before he begins to feel claustrophobic and starts to squirm in his seat. They back off, understanding of his need for a little personal space, and look at him solemnly. They tell him, in no uncertain words, that they love him, that they will help him as much as they can and that he will never be alone again.
He sighs inaudibly, and even though he hasn't filtered any of his words up until this point, he refuses to break their hearts by revealing that he doesn't believe them, not truly. Oh, he's sure that they love him, he can see it in their body language, and he's certain that they'll try and help him with the best of their abilities; he just doesn't want it. He doesn't need their pity, he's managed well enough on his own.
As for never being alone again, well...
A few years of genuine smiles don't make up for three centuries of solitude, just as a few years of kindness don't make up for three centuries of disdain. It will be a long time before he can trust them with all his icy, frozen heart.
Chapter 3: 3
It isn't for a long time after he'd joined them that they begin to realise quite how, how damaged, how broken, their newest recruit was, and still is. He has been a part of their group for decades now, and they had thought – assumed – that the Jack they saw was the real Jack, not just some cleverly-painted mask, but apparently this was not – and still isn't – the case.
He's been lying to them through his pearly white teeth for years, and they've never realised. Only now does the truth finally surface – Sandy stumbled across Jack having a very animated conversation with his bed post, pausing occasionally and hmm-ing and nodding his head as if listening to a reply; more than once, he'd fallen abruptly silent in the middle of a sentence, as if he'd been interrupted. Then he'd spotted Sandy's inquisitive look and fled; they found him three weeks later in Antarctica, rambling to the penguins about that one time back in the eighteen hundreds when he'd tried, in a bout of intense boredom, to ice over Uluru. He'd almost run at the sight of the Guardians, but something had stopped him – he told them later that he just wanted to get it over with; even Jack Frost, brother/son of the Wind, couldn't evade them forever.
So they drag him back to the Pole, sit him down in the closest chair to hand - a small wooden thing, barely more than a stool with a backrest, but comfortable enough with the rather flattened and faded red- and white-striped cushion – and rant at the poor winter spirit. They demand to know when this had started, if he'd even tried to do anything about it, why oh why hadn't he said anything?! So busy interrogating their youngest member, it takes them a moment to realise that he is talking. His eyes are closed, and he speaks strangely, but somehow it feels right. This, they realise, is the real him talking – monologuing, really; by now, the rest of the rooms occupants are silent as the grave and sit in a semicircle on the floor in front of the pale boy's chair.
He tells them all about his youth, about being a young spirit with no memories and no understanding of the world, being ridiculed by his peers for his cluelessness; they never believed him when he said he was completely new, but they never told him what else he could've been. He speaks of lost innocence and decades spent in silence, centuries in solitude, and his listeners feel their hearts break. He recounts the story of his life, tries to explain his connection to his oldest friend in the world – the Wind – but his words here are jumbled; it's clear that he does not understand the bond himself, it just...is. It transcends the use of mere words, and they doubt they'll ever really be able to grasp even the basic idea of it.
Then he tells them that, yes, he is fully aware that he is more than a few snowflakes short of a blizzard, and he has been for quite some time. Yes, he's tried to stop, but it's more impossible than herding cats.
Finally, he falls silent, and it takes them a moment to realise this as he sits there staring at them with his ice-blue eyes. Someone moves, and suddenly everyone is on their feet, bounding forward for a group hug, muttering apologies and reprimands and reassuring nonsense. He admits that he never wanted them to find out, and someone jokes that he's a stupendous actor, and then he quite casually tells them how he died and that he advises against drowning as a way to go. This only makes them hug him tighter, after they've got over the shock, and it's only when he starts to wriggle in is seat and lapse into histrionics about a lack of oxygen that they let him go. They tell him firmly that they love him, that they will help, that he will never be alone again. They smile in satisfaction when he shoots them a smile of his own.
The idea that the smile isn't genuine never crosses their minds.