Jack Frost is willing to play with any and all the kids, but sometimes, every other decade or so, he gets favorites, the ones he comes back to every winter until they are all grown up.
Nowadays (it’s 1930s on the most popular human calendar) he likes to visit Brooklyn, to play with a lively brave kid called Bucky Barnes and his friends. This winter Bucky has a new one, skinny pale boy Stevie, who prefers to sit on the sidelines with his sketchbook while the others run. Jack finds him boring, but even the most boring kids can’t resist Jack’s invitation when he puts his mind to it, and the three of them have wonderful time, even if Stevie and Bucky don’t actually see him. But on the next day Jack doesn’t see them in the orphanage playground, and when he finds their window and looks inside he sees that Stevie is in the bed with fever and Bucky is sitting with him. Jack feels real guilty then – he hadn’t meant any harm, and he is usually careful, but he forgets not all of the kids are healthy. He stays, and draws the best of his pictures on their window – that’s all he can do. Bucky points Stevie at them, and Stevie rasps that one day his own drawings would be as good as these, and then he gets better. Jack makes a mental point to look at him more closely in the future, to understand what Bucky sees in this skinny one.
He gets it next winter, when he comes across Stevie standing up to three bullies twice his size. Now, Jack is a prankster himself, and his jokes aren’t always nice, but he’s never approved of a bully’s idea of fun. Jack evens the odds a little with a few well-placed snowballs and suddenly slippery spots of ground, and then Bucky arrives, and the bullies run, disgraced. Afterwards, the three of them even get to do some skating; it stings a little that the boys don’t see him, but it’s fun anyway.
Winters come and go, and Jack, when he is in Brooklyn, spends as much time playing with the two boys as he does drawing on the window for Steve when the latter is sick. It’s less exciting, but he still likes it, especially when Steve is feeling good enough to sit on a windowsill and also draw. And Jack can continue doing that even after both Steve and Bucky have grown up; usually he doesn’t care much for adults, but Stevie is sort of an exception. So Jack still visits, not often, but regularly, until another Big War erupts in Europe, and he hangs there, because children of those places need all the cheer they can get. And Nazis don’t like the cold, which means he too can do something.
The war is still going strong when Jack comes across Steve and Bucky again, though he doesn’t quite believe in first it is really Steve – in a strange uniform, taller and stronger than Bucky. But it’s still Steve, it’s just that he is strong on the outside now as well as on the inside, and the team he and Bucky have now sure knows how to have fun. Jack hangs with them for one mission, helping (freezing some locks and such), but the weird blue weapons make him uneasy, and he takes off to help in other places.
Jack is in the Arctic taking a break from humans and their War, when he sees a big plane going down. He gets into the plane, it’s easy, and tries to get the pilot out, tries really hard, because the pilot is Stevie, but his hands just go through, as usual. The only thing he can do is to freeze Steve himself – this way it’ll be fast and not painful, and maybe whatever made him so strong will keep him alive in the ice.
The plane is stuck deep in ice, and Jack tricks a couple of yetis to make a little tunnel to it from the surface; he tries to draw attention of search expeditions every now and then, but fails every time. In the end, the plane just becomes his favorite hiding place, a place to go to when things get to him – he doesn’t have any better home anyway.
“You know, I’ve seen a lot of kids with toys like this,” Jack points at the frozen shield. “Guess they like to imagine they are you. Better than some other ideas they have, heh. Hey, I bet this shield of yours will be a great sled, we should try it once they find you.”
“You should have seen that snowstorm! A masterpiece, really, one of my best. And just in time for the Easter, the Bunny was so mad! Good thing he’ll never find me here, you don’t mind, do you?”
“They took down that orphanage on 8th. Don’t know if it’s good or bad news… We sure had some fun times there, remember?”
“You know, I’m envious. They believe in you, but nobody believes in me… You did your heroic deed, but I still have no idea what I’m here for…”
It’s 2012 on the calendar, and for the first time in the last decades there are people nearby. Something about oil. Soon they are close enough that a storm Jack summons manages to show them the way to the plane. Finally. He’ll miss his sort-of-home, of course, but Stevie deserves better.
He means to check on the site, but then he meets the Bunny and has his own battle to fight.
Of course, things could have gone better, but in the end they won, and Pitch was gone, and Jack has learned something very important about himself. He is a Guardian now, he has found a purpose and a job, and friends to share it with.
They are still rebuilding everything Pitch has destroyed, when another catastrophe strikes the world, the adult world. But it turns out the adults get themselves a team of Guardians, too. They are called the Avengers, and Steve is among them with his bright shield, so Jack figures the adults are in good hands. The Guardians can focus on children.
Next winter, Jack is in Brooklyn, playing his favorite game – creating an iced path for a sled with kids, the way he’s done it for Jamie last year, for Steve and Bucky all those years ago, for dozens of others. The sled makes it to the road, but before Jack could react, two strong arms pick up the sled and set it on a sidewalk.
“The road is not a place for games, kids,” says the owner of the arms, and Jack recognizes Steve, though he is not wearing the uniform and the kids remain oblivious. “And tell Jack Frost the roads are much more dangerous these days, especially in big cities, he’d better stick to playgrounds and parks.”
“You see me?” Jack asks incredulously. Most of the kids do these days, if Jack wants them to, but Steve is an adult.
Steve doesn’t answer, but he steps around Jack instead of through him, and Jack decides to follow. They come to a small apartment not far from Steve’s old neighborhood; Jack hangs outside and draws Steve a big plane on the window. Steve opens it and says:
“Come on in, Jack.”
“You see me?” Jack asks again, accepting the invitation.
“I’m not sure. Are you wearing a blue jacket?”
“Then I guess I see you. Or I’m finally going crazy.”
“No, you’re not!” Jack speaks real fast. “You’re not crazy, I’m real, I’ve known you for ages, since that orphanage on 8th, I saw your plane going down and I sat with you there, not that it did a lot of good, but I’m real!”
“I think I remember something… Is the Easter Bunny still mad at you?”
Jack blushes, and Steve smiles, if a little sadly, and offers: “Ice-cream?”
They eat ice-cream, and they talk a lot – about being lonely, about loss, about finding oneself and about fighting evil, about having friends who watch your back even when they are as irritating as the Bunny (or the Stark).
“I have to go,” Jack says, when it’s fully dark outside and he notices first signs of Sandman arriving.
Steve nods. “You and your team keep an eye on the kids, Jack. We’ll make sure their parents come home. And… if you come across something you can’t handle – we’ll be happy to help.”
Jack nods, too. “Likewise, Captain. And, Stevie?”
“We have to try your shield as a sled one day.”
Jack is a Guardian, and he is busy, but at least once in a winter he passes through Steve’s neighborhood and leaves him a drawing on the window. Today, though, he finds a message left for him on that glass, and it’s a request for help. He finds Steve in the big high tower in Manhattan, on a balcony, and he looks sad and tired.
“Bucky?” Jack knows Bucky fell, back in the War, even before Steve.
“He froze, when he fell, like me. He was found by bad people, and they hurt him. They’ve been hurting him for a long time, and… He doesn’t remember who he is, Jack, he doesn’t remember anything, and we can’t undo this. You said you guys keep everyone’s childhood memories? Can you help him?”
Jack knows what is like to not know who you are, to not remember your family and your home, He won’t wish it on anyone, and Bucky Barnes was a good kid and a loyal friend.
“I’ll speak with Tooth, Steve. See what we can do.”
Bucky passes his thanks to Jack and the Fairy through Steve, though he himself can’t see Jack. Jack doesn’t mind much. Especially when next winter he sees Steve and Bucky starting a big snowfight with a bunch of kids in a playground in Brooklyn.