I couldn't remember the last time I'd shed a tear over anything besides a sentimental book here or there, so I had no idea I could even cry like this. It was uncontrollable and exhausting, and when the sobbing finally ceased, I felt completely empty. I relaxed my hands, only now realizing that I had been clutching fistfuls of the back of Jack's sweatshirt, and leaned back to support my own weight.
Jack's cold hands moved from my back to my shoulders to help steady me and he studied my face carefully, “Are you going to be ok?”
“I lost everything,” I whispered, trying to hide how hoarse my voice was now, “My senses, my arrows, and now my flight.”
I stretched out my wings and looked back at them to inspect the damage. They were thin and patchy, obviously missing a lot of feathers. It didn't escape my notice that my bow was now back in its holster behind me, tucked in through the tangled mess my hair had weaved itself into throughout the chase and fall. Between that and my puffy, feverish face from crying, I was sure I looked as miserable as I felt.
“I'm sorry I cried on you,” I added, keeping my head down as I picked up a handful of snow and held it to my eyelids, “This is all so embarrassing. You can just leave me here, if you want.”
“Here,” Jack said and pulled the snow away, gently placing his icy fingers against my face.
It felt so soothing that I ended up putting my hands over his to hold them in place, “And thank you for saving me...though I don't know what I'll do now. I can't really be a guardian anymore.”
“I don't understand,” he softened his voice, “What happened, Cupid?”
“I know why I lost my powers,” my voice grew so quiet I almost hoped he couldn't hear it anymore, “It's not because people have stopped believing; it's because I don't believe. I don't believe in love anymore.”
“But..but you have to,” he sounded upset, “It still exists.”
“Not from what I see,” I argued.
He was quiet for so long that I finally lifted his fingers away from my eyes so that I could look at him. I found him staring at me in such a sad way that it made me feel guilty, like I'd hurt his feelings. I released his hands and self-consciously tried to smooth back my hair.
“I didn't think you would just give up like this,” Jack shook his head.
“Yes, you did,” I sighed, “From the very beginning, you didn't trust me. You thought I wouldn't even agree to work on this case, and after that, you never left me alone the whole time. I'm sure you were afraid I was going to run away.”
“Sure, in the very beginning,” he admitted, somewhat embarrassed, “I didn't know much about you. I thought you were a coward for hiding in your castle for so long. I thought the reason love was suffering in the world was because you just didn't care anymore.”
I bit back the sting of his confession, pained that others may still be under the same impression about me, “And did you ever change your mind?”
“Of course I did!” Jack immediately replied, “It's obvious that you're clever and talented and dedicated to your work. You care about everyone you meet, and it seems like everyone but me has been a good friend of yours for centuries. Clearly, the state of love is causing you to suffer, not the other way around, like I thought at first. I mean, if Jamie likes you, then you're all right in my book...not that I would have a book...or...you know what I mean!”
For a moment, one corner of my mouth pulled up into a smile and Jack seemed relieved, responding with a lopsided grin of his own. I looked away quickly, afraid that I was about to start blushing.
“Well, I'm glad you finally realized that I truly was trying,” I sighed.
“And if you're anything like the guardian I think you are now, then you're not done trying yet,” he urged, “The Cupid I know would keep fighting.”
“But it wouldn't do any good,” I protested, locking eyes with him in challenge, “How am I supposed to fight for something when I'm not even sure it still exists?”
“I know love still exists,” he looked a bit more stubborn now, “You have to believe it.”
“I'm sorry, Jack,” I frowned, “I don't know what I believe anymore.”
“Believe in me,” he stood up, grabbing my arm with one hand and kicking his staff up into the other, “I want to show you something. You can ride with me.”
He held his staff out horizontally and sat on it with his legs dangling off one side then he patted the space behind him. I wasn't a big fan of Jack's flying style; but I didn't have much of a choice, unless I felt like walking and swimming my way home. I seated myself sidesaddle on the back end of the staff and gripped the wood firmly for security, using my wings to balance as we slowly rose up above the tree tops. A gust of wind tilted the staff down, causing me to slide forward until I collided with Jack and instinctively threw my arms around him to keep from falling. Immediately the staff righted itself again and lurched into motion, causing me to squeeze him even harder as we whirled away into the sky.
“Whoa!” Jack gave a fake-sounding cry of surprise and reached across my legs, hooking his hand around the back of my knee to steady me, “The wind can be so crazy sometimes. Better hold on tight.”
“You don't have to show off now,” I scolded, “It's not a race anymore.”
“True,” he tilted his head, “We'll have to schedule a rematch after you get your powers back.”
“I really don't think–” I started until I was cut short by a sudden burst of speed that made me yelp and face plant into the back of Jack's hoodie.
“No more doubting!” he called over the rushing wind, “I don't want you to completely disappear back there!”
“If I do disappear,” I shouted back, “it'll be because I fell of your stupid stick due to your crazy flying!!”
He squeezed my leg reassuringly, but I could feel his chest twitching with laughter under my arms. The wind smoothed out as it picked up speed and carried us over the dark blur of landscape and lights below. I kept my face pressed into the back of Jack's shoulder, where it was slightly warmer than the biting winter air that was blowing past, and I found the position to be quite comfortable. I closed my eyes and relaxed completely against him, enjoying a few quiet minutes until we reached our destination. As soon as I felt us slowing down and dropping in altitude, I lifted my head to see where we were. My heart sank when I recognized the Bennett's house looming up beneath us. Was Jack still going to pressure me to finish the job? What could he possibly expect me to do now?
“I'm out of ideas, Jack,” I pleaded, lowering my voice to a hoarse whisper as we flew through the window into Sophie's room, “I never wanted to give up, but there's nothing else I can do here!”
“Slow down, angel,” he chided me quietly, “This time it's about you, not them.”
His staff tilted up, dropping us onto our feet in the middle of the bedroom. Sophie was asleep in her bed, looking so peaceful and innocent, which only made my guilty feeling compound even more. I would have done everything and sacrificed anything to save this family; but in the end I'd lost it all without making a bit of difference.
“Cupid!” Jack's hiss finally broke through my thoughts and I saw him waving me over towards the wall.
“What?” I kept my voice low, even though nobody could see or hear me and probably never would be able to again.
“I know you're not the same as us and that human belief doesn't make a huge difference, but this has got to count for something, right?” he pointed to a crayon drawing pinned to a bulletin board above the girl's tiny art desk.
Jack produced a shower of glowing snowflakes in his palm and held it close to the picture to illuminate it in blue light for me. I leaned closer and saw that there were four figures standing at the bottom of the picture – a tall man and woman and a short boy and girl – all holding hands with big smiles on their faces and red hearts over each of their heads. Towards the top of the picture was an angelic figure with fluffy wings, long yellow hair, and purple eyes, also wearing a huge smile. Tears sprung to my eyes again even though I wanted to let out a happy laugh.
“It must be so nice,” I said through a strained smile, “to need nothing more than the belief of children.”
“It's powerful enough,” Jack tried to convince me, “I was there when nothing but the faith of a few kids brought Sandy back from the dead. It's got to be enough to give you your powers back.” He waved the glow in his hand toward the picture again, “She believes in you, and so does Jamie, and so do I, and plenty of other people. Why isn't that good enough?”
“That's probably the only reason I haven't faded away to nothing,” I pointed out, “The few of you that believe have kept me alive, but it's not enough to convince me I can save what's left of love in this world; not after all I've seen and tried.”
Jack stared at the picture, battling silently with his emotions as he clenched his fist, extinguishing the blue light. Finally he pressed his palm over the happy figures on the paper and lowered his head.
“I'm sorry, Cupid, I've been very selfish,” he mumbled, “I've been pushing you to do this when you didn't need any pushing at all. You care as much about them as the rest of us, but I put too much pressure on you and now you feel like this is your fault. I guess sometimes people fall out of love and there's nothing you can do about it.” He winced, like the words were more painful for him to speak than they were for me to hear.
“I don't...” I shook my head, “I don't want to believe that. I wish that wasn't true.”
“But it probably is,” he argued, “It's my stupid obsession with families...that's why this case was so important to me. Of course I could still have fun with Jamie and Sophie for as long as they believe in me, no matter what happened to their parents; but I really wanted them to grow up together with their family like I never got to do. As much as I love fun, I spent three hundred years hating what I was, wishing that I had a family instead – somebody who was that close to me and loved me that much. I couldn't remember anything about my human life until just last year when I saw a couple memories from my tooth box. Seeing a brief glimpse of my own family, knowing that I actually had one...was the best feeling in the world. I just wanted these kids to know that feeling for their whole lives.”
My eyes were wide by the end of his confession and my heart thudding with anticipation, “I'm so sorry...I should have said something before, but I had no idea you didn't remember your life...”
“Said something about what?” he looked at me suspiciously.
“I lied to you,” my voice quavered with regret, “I did recognize your name from one of my books, Jackson; but it's not your love story, it's your parents'. You were their firstborn, and your mom almost died after giving birth. It was an exciting chapter in their story, but really the whole book is wonderful – full of romance, happiness, tragedy, and an unbreakable love. If I ever get home, I'll let you borrow it...if you want to.”
His face was frozen in a shocked expression and I wasn't sure if he was about to break into joy or anger. I almost jumped backward when he grabbed me by the shoulders and started shaking me, until I saw the ecstatic smile on his face.
“You have my family's story?!” his attempt to whisper was abandoned altogether, so I grabbed his arms and dragged him out into the hallway.
“Yes, it's mostly about the moments between your mom and dad, but it does describe their family life pretty well,” I allowed myself to be thrashed about once more by his enthusiastic grip.
“And my sister?” he froze again, “Does she have a book too?”
“Yes, and so does your brother,” I answered, “That family had a pretty good record when it came to love.”
“Wait,” he leaned closer, “I have a brother?!”
I frowned, “You mean you never found out? A few years after Jackson – after you – died, your parents had another child. A boy. His name was William.”
A moment later I was being clenched in a vice-like hug and bounced up and down while Jack laughed with excitement, “This is amazing! I'm going to read all of them!”
His joy was contagious and I couldn't help my mocking reply, “Jack Frost is going to read a book??”
“Yes, I am,” he released me from the hug and pointed a finger at my face, “So you'd better get your powers back by tomorrow or else you'll have to ride with me all the way back to England, and those Atlantic winds are very bumpy.”
“Easier said than done,” I pushed his finger aside.
“It will be easy,” Jack grinned, “Because you don't have to do anything. I'm going to give my plan a try and prove to you that love hasn't changed. All you have to do is believe it when you see it.”
“What makes you think you can succeed where the rest of us failed?” I wanted to believe him as much as the rest of me was still full of doubt.
“Don't forget what family I'm from,” he brushed off his shoulders smugly, “You said it yourself, we have a very good record with love.”
I laughed, “It's not even the same–”
“Ha!” he rustled my hair, “I've made you laugh two times now! Obviously, I can do anything, so why don't you just stay in here and get some sleep tonight. Let me handle the set up for tomorrow.”
I smoothed my hair back and tried to contain my blush, “Isn't there something I can help with?”
“Seriously, just leave it to me,” he pushed me towards Sophie's door, and when I turned back around, he was gone.
“Fine,” I sighed, moving through the door and into the room.
It felt very strange to lie down on the floor with my wings so light and my senses so numb. All the usual sounds and visions in my mind were now replaced by a dizzying stillness. In my heart, I ached for all that I had lost, but a burning hope had been planted deep within me, giving me enough peace to find sleep that night. By the next day that hope would either be doused completely or ignited back into whole-hearted belief. My fate and my faith were now resting in the icy hands of the guardian of fun.