A/N: This is another chapter where I'm just blatantly making shit up so that the book universe and movie universe can work a bit better together for my own purposes. So, yeah, get ready for that!
ForeverACharmedOne, yeah that's a pretty good summarization of this story/Jack. I can't help it, it's so fun making him sad. Sea's Lullaby, I can't say if Rowan's coming back or not! Still a few months away, story-wise. dinohuntsmen, so true, and Jack knows it! BabyAngel-tears, That's a nice thought, but I don't think that's an option, unfortunately! Melissa Fairy, thanks for your review!
"I think all love stories are nice at some point. They just never last long enough."
Chapter Fifteen: History Lessons
Dealing with the rest of the wedding party seemed like it would take more energy than Jack presently had to give, and so he sat on the windowsill a ways away, glancing out at the icy canyons surrounding the North Pole. He picked at a plate one of the yetis had set next to him, hearing the others laughing and conversing in the distance.
Euterpe had stopped by briefly to offer him a seat with her and Terpsichore, promising that their conversation was mostly going to consist of plans to hijack the music set-up at the reception. He politely declined, not feeling it in himself to talk about really any aspect of the wedding. Euterpe seemed to understand and didn't push the matter.
He was mostly at the dinner in the hopes of talking to Mr. Qwerty some more, though the butterfly had been caught in a conversation with Cupid basically since their arrival at the pole.
As Jack chewed on a dinner roll and kept his eyes fixed out the window, he wondered if perhaps he should just leave. He would see Mr. Qwerty at the wedding, after all. It wasn't as though he were really contributing to this dinner much.
He was starting to feel like an outsider again, and while it wasn't a great feeling, there was something almost comforting about it.
It was familiar. He knew how to be an outsider. He knew how to be alone. He was good at it.
Just as Jack was beginning to resign himself to the idea of not talking to anyone else that evening, the strange, book-like creature that was Mr. Qwerty landed on the windowsill near Jack's feet.
"Hello, Jack," he said cheerfully. "So sorry I didn't come over earlier, I got so caught up in my conversation with Cupid! Haven't seen him in ages."
"It's no problem," Jack said with a shrug.
"I've been eager to talk to you ever since I heard that you took the oath. I told you before, I collect stories and I have a particular taste for stories about the Guardians," Mr. Qwerty said, turning around so that Jack could see the pages that acted as his wings flip until they came to a detailed description of the Guardians' defeat of Pitch and his Nightmares the previous year.
"You must have a lot of stories," Jack said, skimming the words on the page.
"Oh, yes. Pictures, too, but I'm still waiting for an illustration for this one. Katherine used to write and illustrate most of the stories I have," Mr. Qwerty said, turning back around to properly face Jack.
"She was one of the Guardians you mentioned before, right?" Jack said.
"Yes," Mr. Qwerty said, his smile genuine but with a hint of sadness behind it. "She was a grand storyteller. Guardian of Stories, actually. She wrote and illustrated the grandest tales. Lived them, too."
Jack frowned. At least thinking of Rowan now wasn't so unexpected.
"North told me about the Mortal Muse," Mr. Qwerty said. "He said she reminded him of Katherine and that you were quite fond of her."
"I guess that's one way to put it," Jack said. "Quite fond" felt like a bit of an understatement.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he had to find the courage to simply hold her hand.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he kissed her the first time, the second time, the tenth time, the last time.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he saw her in the slip she wore beneath her dress for the New Year's Eve Ball.
He was a bit more than "quite fond' when he helped her out of it.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when they first uttered the word "love" beneath the northern lights.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when she was no longer able to see him.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he sat by her bedside every day hoping she would believe in him when she woke up.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he coached her through her panic attacks, reminding her how to breathe.
He was a bit more than "quite fond" when he saw her lying in the snow, tinted blue, gone.
Jack crossed his arms before his chest, hoping to smother that feeling that crept into his torso whenever he felt the urge to hold her. Or anyone, really, but preferably her.
"It only makes your resemblance to Nightlight all the more fascinating. He was quite taken by Katherine," Mr. Qwerty said. "Would you like to see a drawing of them?"
"Sure," Jack said, once more his curiosity peaked.
Mr. Qwerty turned around again, his pages flipping quickly until he landed on an illustration that spanned two pages. Jack recognized a younger North standing toward the center. Tooth and Sandy were off to one side, along with Bunny, who wore quite the strange coat (Jack mentally filed the image away so he may make fun of Bunny for his old attire later). Standing near North was an old man with a long beard and wearing what Jack assumed were wizard robes. To the side of this man was a young girl with a kind smile and auburn curls, one of which fell over her right eye.
And then there was a boy with his arm around the girl's shoulders, and his appearance made Jack a bit uneasy.
He was thin and pale, with messy white hair. He carried a staff in his hand not occupied by the girl. It was as though he were looking at a picture someone had drawn of himself, but with a few details obviously wrong.
The boy seemed younger than Jack, in this drawing at least. Their faces were quite similar but the other boy had softer features than Jack. His nose was smaller, his jaw was narrower, and his cheekbones were less pronounced. He lacked the lines and dark circles around his eyes that gave away Jack's true age.
He was wearing armor on his thin form.
"The old man beside North is Ombric, the girl beside Ombric is Katherine, and the boy with the white hair is Nightlight," Mr. Qwerty explained after Jack was silent for a moment.
"The others haven't even mentioned them," Jack said.
"There's been quite a bit going on," Mr. Qwerty said, turning his pages away from Jack again so that they might properly speak. "You became a Guardian during hectic times, but then, I suppose everyone does. The Man in the Moon doesn't go around picking new Guardians because everything's going well."
"I suppose," Jack said. "What happened to them? Ombric, Katherine, Nightlight, why aren't they around anymore?"
"Their time in this world has passed," Mr. Qwerty said with another sad smile.
"How? Did kids stop believing in them? Did something happen in a battle?" Jack asked, his stomach sinking again at the notion of losing any of the other Guardians.
"Oh, no, no," Mr. Qwerty said, shaking his head. "Nothing like that. Let me tell you a bit about them, and then we can get to why they're no longer with us, hm?"
Jack nodded, adjusting his position on the windowsill. The dinner was still going on a ways away, but Jack barely heard the hum of the other conversations. Mr. Qwerty had his full attention.
"Ombric was a great wizard, a mentor to both North and Katherine. North was a very talented student, certainly, but everything around you," Mr. Qwerty gestured to the grand toy factory they were currently sitting in, "the factory, the sleigh, the snow globes, none of it would be possible if Ombric hadn't given North the resources and encouragement to learn about magic and all its possibilities. Ombric was arguably the grandest wizard that ever lived, and I only say 'arguably' because he would insist that North had surpassed him."
"It's hard to imagine North studying under anyone," Jack said. He had always just sort of assumed that North had always had the abilities he had, that he had always been as skilled as he currently was. He supposed that was silly, but he had never known any other version of North.
"I doubt he would have studied as well with anyone besides Ombric. North is quite… stubborn," Mr. Qwerty said with a smile. Jack snorted.
"Just a little."
"He was well-matched. Katherine was Ombric's adoptive daughter and she and North soon came to behave like siblings and dear friends. He always wanted to protect her, but she always wanted in on the action," Mr. Qwerty said. "She saved Ombric and North a few times. She was quite the bright girl. But she always had a talent for stories in particular and a lot of the stories in my pages were hand-written and illustrated by her. That's where she found her great magic, in stories."
"Stories are what keep magic alive," Jack said, sparing a sad smile.
"Stories keep belief alive and belief is the strongest magic," Mr. Qwerty nodded. "And then there was Nightlight. He was quiet, in fact, I think there were quite a few people that thought he might be mute. He rarely spoke unless absolutely necessary, and he took to Katherine very quickly. Like North, he felt compelled to protect her, but he was motivated by a different sort of emotion."
"He was in love with her?" Jack said, remembering what Mr. Qwerty had said earlier.
"Oh yes, very much so. I don't think he understood that for a while, he was so young and innocent that the notion of romantic love didn't make much sense. She was his dearest friend and he wanted her safe, that was enough for him."
"Tell me about his staff?" Jack asked, glancing at his own, propped against the nearby wall.
"Oh yes, of course. At the end of his staff, he kept a diamond dagger with a moonbeam inside. He could chase away any darkness or bad dream. That's why he was Nightlight. He had even looked over the Man in the Moon when he was a baby," Mr. Qwerty explained.
"So the staff was mainly a weapon he used to protect the children, he didn't really need it to be able to use his powers or fly or anything," Jack said.
Mr. Qwerty nodded. "Yes, precisely."
"Hm," Jack said. Well, at least outside of appearances and having a thing for storytellers, things hadn't gotten too eerily similar.
Jack's staff gave off a light, sure, but the similarities seemed to stop there. Nightlight didn't need his in order to fly and the other boy lacked power over ice and snow.
"Ombric, Nightlight, and Katherine all played vital roles in defeating Pitch before he recently returned to power," Mr. Qwerty continued. "They served as Guardians so well and belief was so strong that there was a time when there didn't seem to be anything that the children truly needed protection from. There were hardly any bad dreams; scary shadows in the dark were even becoming rare. The others, North, Bunny, Tooth and Sandy, they all had other duties to tend to, of course, but Ombric, Nightlight, and Katherine… well, they soon questioned the necessity of their positions."
Jack furrowed his brow. Mr. Qwerty sighed. "I know that sounds strange that they would consider such a thing. But the children were safe, and they had been safe for quite a while at that point. They thought that perhaps the time when they were needed had passed, and they hoped to retire and live out normal lives."
"I didn't think you could just retire," Jack said.
"It hasn't been done since. It is quite the ordeal, depending on the individual. Ombric wasn't granted immortality by the Man in the Moon, so returning to a mortal state, while a bit of work, wasn't a huge process for him. Katherine had been born mortal and only gained immortality as a Guardian, so returning to her previous state was not difficult either. Nightlight, however, was a different case. His powers were more erratic and strange, he couldn't just get rid of them, they had to go somewhere."
"So where did his powers go?" Jack asked.
"He hid them away somewhere secret, somewhere only the Man in the Moon knows, somewhere heavily guarded," Mr. Qwerty said. "Once Nightlight gave up his powers, he could no longer fly. He was no longer a mythical being. He was mortal, like Katherine. The three of them would continue to age together now and were free to have typical lives."
"So they just gave all that up," Jack said, his mind spinning at the idea.
"Ombric had been alive for centuries upon centuries upon centuries before becoming a Guardian. With North around, I think he felt it was finally time to slow down and let things run its course. Katherine, I believe, knew that every story had to end at some point, and wanted hers to take a different sort of course after so long as a Guardian. Nightlight, well, he would have followed her anywhere. Giving up his powers, changing who he was so that he might be a mortal man nearly killed him. Not a lot of us can live without magic; we're not built that way. The Muses, for example, are only alive now because of magic," Mr. Qwerty said.
"Same here," Jack said. He was only alive now because the Man in the Moon decided to make him Jack Frost. Without his powers, would he simply give in to the hypothermia that had taken him centuries before?
He had a strong feeling the answer to that question was "yes."
Mr. Qwerty nodded. "Katherine was quite upset that he gave up his powers, she didn't leave his bedside for a moment while he recovered. He knew it was risky, they all did. But sure enough, he regained his strength. He was always a fighter."
"Ah, talking about Nightlight?" came a voice above them. Mr. Qwerty and Jack each turned to find North walking over, smiling softly.
"And Katherine and Ombric," said Mr. Qwerty.
"I do wish you could have met them," North said, patting Jack on the shoulder. North seemed to have finally learned how to control his strength enough to give Jack such comforting gestures without nearly knocking him over.
"So they just… went on being mortals? And died?" Jack said.
"Well, they had full lives as mortals," Mr. Qwerty said. "Nightlight and Katherine got married—"
North laughed, "As soon as he could stand properly again they rushed to altar."
"They had children, lots and lots of children," Mr. Qwerty added. "Ombric got to be a grandfather, which I think he enjoyed very much."
"Being grandparent is great joy," North said fondly. "Is like all the fun parts of being a parent and almost none of the responsibility."
"They lived a long, long time after giving up their posts as Guardians. Even Ombric, who was incredibly old to start with," Mr. Qwerty said.
"He did go first, hit us all very hard," North said sadly. Mr. Qwerty nodded.
"It was the first time we had lost a Guardian. We scattered his ashes all through the Milky Way, so he might explore great worlds even in death," Mr. Qwerty said sadly. "And then, well, then there was Katherine."
"She had grown quite old and she was beginning to forget things. Mr. Qwerty and Nightlight used to sit with her and tell her all her old stories," North said.
"Sometimes she would remember, and sometimes she would ask who wrote them," Mr. Qwerty said, eyes watering.
"There, there, do not cry, you know you lose letters that way," North said, pulling a handkerchief from his pocket to hand to Mr. Qwerty. The handkerchief seemed comically large in Mr. Qwerty's hands. It looked as though he were holding a large bedsheet. The book butterfly dabbed his eyes and Jack noticed a letter "R" bleeding onto the handkerchief when he did.
Mr. Qwerty blew his nose with a noise much louder than Jack expected. "Thank you, I'm sorry, I just miss her. I miss them all, but Katherine…"
"She was special for you. She filled your pages with such magic and love," North said. Mr. Qwerty nodded, dabbing his eyes again. A "J," an "N," and a "K" each bled into the handkerchief.
"I'm sorry," Jack said, truly meaning it. It pulled at his heart, seeing the small creature so upset over the loss of a storyteller that meant so much to him.
Oh, how Jack could empathize.
"If you don't want to tell it anymore," Jack said, "I understand."
Mr. Qwerty shook his head. "No, no, I can't just leave you there. Katherine wouldn't want that. It's not the end of the story!"
"Katherine died in her sleep, peaceful, with a smile on her face," North said. Jack wished he could say it was the first time North had to relay a story like this to him.
"We spread her among the stars, with Ombric," Mr. Qwerty said. "Nightlight was inconsolable."
"He died few days later," North said. "He was quite old, of course, but it was broken heart that did him in, we think."
"We laid him to rest with them. Our Nightlight was gone, but the stars seemed somehow brighter after we spread his ashes. Like he was lighting up the sky for us again," Mr. Qwerty said.
"It's just so weird to hear, that there were other Guardians and they just… gave it up," Jack said.
"It was their choice," North shrugged. "Manny was upset that they would give up their posts, but in the end he respected their choices. We all found it in ourselves to respect it."
"It was what they wanted, and they truly were happy living out their lives as they did after they hung up their titles as Guardians," Mr. Qwerty added.
"Have any of the rest of you thought about it?" Jack couldn't help but ask, wondering if North would get into it at all.
"I cannot speak for the others. I know it has crossed my mind every now and again, but I do not think it is yet my time. I know part of why Ombric felt comfortable leaving was because he knew I would still be here and I feel that stepping down would be a disservice to my mentor. The children still need us. Especially now," North said.
"I had worried about you after Yelena passed, I'll admit," Mr. Qwerty said.
"Ha! She would never tolerate me stepping down to follow her in death. As I said, is not yet my time. Too much still to do. Too many children still in need of Guardians. She and I both knew I would be here long after she was gone," North said, speaking fondly but ending with a sort of sad sigh.
"Love stories always end in such heartbreaking ways, it seems," Mr. Qwerty mused.
"I think my and Yelena's story was quite nice. I'm sure Katherine and Nightlight would say the same about theirs," North smiled.
"I think all love stories are nice at some point," Jack said, glancing out the window again in order to avoid eye contact with the other two. "They just never last long enough."
"North told me a bit about you and the Mortal Muse," Mr. Qwerty said. "I would love to collect your story from you some day, Jack. When you are feeling up to telling it."
Jack frowned, still avoiding their eyes. "Maybe another day. It's too bad Rowan's not here… she would tell it better."
Jack stood on one of the balconies outside the pole, breathing in the cold air and taking comfort in the way the wind stung his exposed skin. The dinner was still going on, though a handful of the Muses, as well as Maris, Mr. Qwerty, and Tooth had all left, either to get some rest or return to their work.
It was still bright outside despite the late hour. The sun bounced off all the ice and snow and had Jack been able to focus on anything but the story that Mr. Qwerty had told him, he might have been vaguely concerned about being burned by the bright rays.
It was hard to deny similarities between himself and Nightlight, but yet again, another immortal being had found a way to have a life with a mortal that they cared deeply about.
The notion of regaining mortality had never occurred to Jack before. He had been this way for three centuries. True, that was hardly anything compared to most immortals he knew, but it was still an awful long time to get used to the whole "not dying" thing.
He doubted it was possible for him anyway. Giving up immortality and the magic that came with it would likely kill him, as it was what allowed him to live in the first place. Not to mention, it would probably take a great deal of magic and skill to strip him of his powers, magic and skill that he didn't possess.
There had been a time, around the time he had met Melpomene, that he had been so hopelessly sad and lonely that the notion of giving up magic and immortality didn't seem so bizarre. Who would want to live in complete solitude, wandering endlessly, leaving cold, dark destruction in your wake?
But it hadn't been as though the Man in the Moon was speaking to him at that time to arrange anything. Jack could remember nights screaming at the moon to put him out of his misery, to show mercy and end his loneliness forever.
Manny had, of course, not responded. Jack didn't like thinking about that time in his life.
No, giving up his powers, giving up immortality, it just wasn't an option.
Especially not now that he had finally sort of found a place where he felt like he had a purpose with the Guardians.
Still, Jack couldn't help but toy with the idea of life as a mortal. He thought of spending time with Rowan without sneaking around, of actually meeting and communicating with the people that meant something to her.
He thought of having problems that didn't involve the Boogie Man or Shadow People or angry sun gods. Worrying about things like rent and work schedules and dinners with parents and other delightfully mundane problems that had no impact on the state of the world as a whole.
He thought of being with Rowan the way she needed, of actually getting to go through the stages of life with her and not once worrying about one leaving the other behind.
The picture he'd built up in his head was a pretty one. It was uncomplicated, domestic, almost boring, but boring in a calming, sort of comforting way.
But it was something he could never have, even if Rowan were still alive.
He was a Guardian, and a Guardian he would stay, until such a point he was no longer needed.
The life he'd dreamed up did nothing to comfort him, and yet he ran it through his mind again and again. He was no stranger to dreaming up different scenarios where things might have gone differently, but being a mortal with Rowan was the most outlandish one yet.
"You're hopeless," he mumbled to himself.
He should go home, stop being hopeless and sulking on North's property while everyone else was having a good time. The Guardian of Fun was sure being a downer recently, and Jack could only wish that eventually that wouldn't be the case anymore.
But this whole day had been a series of bad feelings in the pit of his stomach and hollow feelings in his chest.
At the sound of his name, Jack glanced behind him to see Cupid stepping outside, closing the door behind him. For a moment, Jack considered flying away. Cupid couldn't follow, after all, not with his wing in the state it was.
And Jack was so exhausted from talking.
He wasn't sure if it was the genuinely sad look in Cupid's good eye, or the bruising and swelling in the other one that kept Jack where he was. "What's up, Tyler Durden?"
"If I tell you, I'd be breaking the first two rules of… well, you know," Cupid said, managing a smile. He leaned against the railing near Jack, the two of them finding it easier to look out across the snow and ice than at each other. "I wanted to apologize about, well, everything that happened when I was feeding Artemis information. I honestly never meant to put you or Rowan in danger, and I had no idea that Artemis was going to get you trapped in France that night."
Jack tapped his fingertips against the railing, unsure how to respond. Cupid had saved both Jack and Rowan that night… but he had also been the reason they had been in danger in the first place.
There was part of him that felt like he should be lashing out. It was the perfect opportunity to do so.
But he just couldn't.
"I understand if you don't want anything to do with me," Cupid said, continuing on once it was clear that Jack wasn't about to speak. "I just wanted to let you know that I truly am sorry for the role I played hurting you and Rowan, and I'm so sorry for the role I played leading to her death. All I wanted was to keep my mother and the other Muses safe, and I never imagined Artemis would make the sacrifices she did with the information I gave her."
Jack should be furious. He should be cursing Cupid, vowing to freeze him over for what he did. But once again, all he could think about was the deal he had made with Pitch in the hopes that it would keep Rowan safe.
He and Cupid weren't so different.
"I know it's not like we've always gotten along or anything," Cupid said, "but I really am sorry for the pain I've caused you, directly and indirectly."
Cupid stepped away from the railing and turned, ready to walk back inside now that he'd said his piece. Jack turned to face the other boy at last.
"Hey," Jack said. Cupid stopped in his tracks and turned back, clearly bracing himself for a tongue-lashing. "Are we ever going to talk somewhere that's not a weirdly romantic location?"
Cupid sighed. "It's not my fault you like to brood in scenic areas."
"I'm not brooding, you're brooding," Jack said.
"All you do is brood. And sulk," Cupid retorted.
"I do not sulk, you're the one that's been in his teen angst phase for the past half-millennia," Jack said, sitting on the railing with a smirk.
"You weren't even around half a millennia ago, you infant," Cupid smiled.
"Funny you should call me an infant when you've just barely gotten used to eating solid food."
"Oh god, no joke, chewing hurts so much now," Cupid said, gently rubbing a bruise on the side of his jaw. "But I guess I deserve it."
Jack shook his head. "Nah. Even I've never been punched in the face for messing up, and I've messed up at least as bad if not worse than you have."
"Yeah, well, your screw-ups haven't pissed off Apollo," Cupid shrugged.
"Not yet anyway," Jack mumbled, wondering how long it would be before Apollo demanded to know if he'd done anything to convince the Muses to stay away from Artemis.
"Well, it could have been worse. His type have been known to come up with weird punishments, I'll at least heal from this. Eventually," Cupid said. "So, um, are we cool? If you can forgive the pun?"
Jack nodded, taking Cupid's hand in his to give it a shake. "We're cool."