Warnings: Currently rated T for language, though liable to change in future chapters for dark imagery and mature content.

Disclaimer: I claim no copyright ownership to Rise of the Guardians or any recognizable characters depicted by DreamWorks, William Joyce, or other miscellaneous fairy tale creatures. However, the plot and original characters are my own.

"All those days watching from the windows,

All those years outside looking in.

All that time never even knowing,

Just how blind I've been."

Chapter One

There had been a weird feeling settling in pit of Jack's stomach for a while now.

After the defeat of Pitch Black and Jack's coronation as an official Guardian, Jack couldn't stop the nagging pull in the back of his head that something wasn't right. And what bothered him almost more than the feeling itself was the fact that he couldn't decide if it was a bad thing or not. At least, in the sense that something bad was going to happen. He wasn't very experienced with bad feelings and didn't know if he fared well or not in his sense of foreboding. Being lost, however, was a feeling he knew all too well. It was probably the only thing he was particularly good at besides snowball fights.

For the past three hundred years, Jack always felt like a piece of him was missing. He assumed a child finally believing in him was that missing piece, but then the fight with Pitch reared its ugly head and he thought maybe surviving that fight would make him feel normal again. Not that he really knew what being normal felt like. He was sure he was normal once, a long time ago, but after so long the concept of normality was lost on him.

After he came out victorious with the rest of the Guardians and became an official Guardian of his own, he was certain the strange feeling would go away. But it hadn't.

It frustrated him because he was able to discern the feeling in a couple different ways. His first theory was that Pitch Black's reign, however short-lived it was, was only the first domino to fall and there were worse battles in store for the Guardians. And in these battles, not all would make it out alive. Sandy almost hadn't with Pitch – they got lucky. Surely they weren't going to be so fortunate a second time.

This was the theory he feared the most. He didn't know what he'd do if he lost one of them. The thought of living in a world where one of them didn't exist was unfathomable. And knowing that he was immortal; that he would live through all the ages of this world and the next without seeing them again made him sick to his stomach.

His second theory was that he hadn't found his true purpose. This one he could handle, but he still couldn't wrap his head around the possibility. For three centuries he was in the dark, not knowing who he was or why he existed. After the veil was pulled back and his eyes were opened to this world of Guardians and being the protector of children, he felt relieved. He finally discovered who he was meant to be and though there was resentment bubbling beneath the surface at the Man in the Moon for leading him on a wild goose chase for three hundred years, he was able to keep that anger at bay.

A time would come when he would be able to face MiM, but that day was long into the future. His heart had been smothered in darkness for so long; his mind taken by that rage that he was surprised he was able to escape it. He didn't want to go back to that. Not after knowing what he did now. So he held it back.

And then there was the third theory.

Well, he wasn't quite sure if this had anything to do with that particular weird feeling. It was another weird feeling. This one may have bothered him more than the first, though it was more of a recent development.

It was regret.

Regret for Pitch's defeat.

Regret for not having found a way to somehow make them coexist. Regret for not having realized sooner how similar he and Pitch really were.

Maybe he didn't understand it before because, well, Pitch was centuries upon centuries older than Jack. Pitch had succumbed to darkness long before the notion of Jack was even conceived. The fury that had nearly swallowed Jack whole for years – the anger that he restrained… Pitch never held that back. He had delved so far into his loneliness that he was unable to come up for air. The suffocation drove him mad and the only semblance of control he could muster was, ironically enough, through chaos.

Deep down, Jack could understand that. He would never say it out loud or bring it up in casual conversation, but he got it. Inexplicable anger was something he knew quite well. He understood the desperate need to feel as though he had some sort of say in his own existence.

He and Pitch were on the same wavelength, albeit miles apart. Pitch had made that connection early on. It was why he had shown such an interest in Jack. Yet another thing Jack never took the time to realize.

Jack should know almost better than anyone that the world wasn't only in black and white. It wasn't a separation of good and evil. There was a time in Jack's existence long ago that someone may have perceived him as evil. When he would cry into the night, demanding answers and damning those who condemned him to that hell of aimless unknown.

He was able to come back from that. And the lump of regret inside him whispered, 'What if Pitch had been able to come back, too?'

Though he loathed admitting it, Jack knew that good and evil had a way of balancing each other out. He wasn't stupid. You couldn't have one without the other. That's not how the world worked. Whereas children needed hope and wonder and fun, they also needed fear. Without fear, the human race couldn't survive.

Jack never saw Pitch as a Guardian. But that's because he never took the time to dive under the surface. In reality, Pitch Black was probably the most important Guardian of all. Fear was protection against harm. Fear was the natural intuition that something bad was going to happen. It made you think twice before doing something reckless. After all, what kind of place would the world be if kids did things without being afraid of the consequences?

He was the feeling in the backs of their heads when they knew something wasn't quite right. He was the voice that whispered stop because if they didn't, they were going to get hurt. He was what made their hearts race when all the lights went out and ultimately what led them back into the light again. Because they were scared of the dark. And wasn't that the greatest protection of all?

No child should be raised to believe that there was no evil in the world. After growing up, you begin to realize that the outside world was a very cruel place. They needed to learn somehow… didn't they?

It was all water under the bridge now, conquering Pitch, but that regret would probably never leave Jack. But the way Pitch had punished the children for his misgivings were unforgiveable and made his demise a bit easier to bear.

All these thoughts that had been swarming around underneath his silvery white hair made Jack feel older and wearier. Wise beyond his years, though that was a bit of a stretch. He was three centuries old now wasn't he?

Back to the original weird feeling, though. (That's all Jack's existence was now – weird feelings. Guardianship. Next time read the fine print, Frost.)

Despite the fact that it'd been eating away at him longer than he cared to remember, he was able to suppress the feeling for the most part, having more important things to do than worry about something that ultimately didn't exist.

Until suddenly, it did.

All Jack could say was one moment he was lying on a bench, glancing sleepy-eyed up at the glittering stars above in the vast night sky, and the next he was somewhere else entirely.

Jack squinted, looking around in confusion and nearly feeling whiplash as he was suddenly upright. He knew he was somewhere, but everything around him was blurred. Like the scene hadn't created itself all the way, but enough so to where it would feel familiar to him and make him comfortable. He could slightly make out the forms of trees surrounding him on all sides, dark and misshapen but still there nonetheless. The air was still and somehow wrong, and provided no level of comfort. The ground below him was a fuzzy shade of murky green. There was no movement, save for his own erratic heartbeat.

"Hello, Jack."

An odd voice startled him and he spun in the direction it came, recognizing a figure standing not twenty feet away, hooded and cloaked by shadows.

"Where am I?" he tried not to panic, fearing the worst. His eyes darted every which way as he stood alert, waiting for the inevitable shoe to drop. He felt naked without his staff.

"Asleep," came its droned response. "I am sorry for interrupting you in your dream state."

Jack knew himself well enough to know that he didn't really sleep. He could, of course, but he didn't exactly need to. And he knew for a fact that he didn't dream. One of the prices of Guardianship they never tell you about on the pamphlet. Jack couldn't remember the last time he slept and actually felt well rested afterward waking.

"I know I never came to you sooner…" the figure bowed its head in shame. A flicker of regret darted across the man's face (he was certain it was a man), though it could have been a trick of the light. Shadows were covering most of his form, making him quite indiscernible to the eyes. And something about his voice didn't sound right; every now and then it would change timbre, sometimes sounding completely different than it had on the word before.

Jack squinted again. "Who are you?"

"I don't have much time," the man continued as if he hadn't spoken and Jack was able to detect a hint of remorse. "I just wanted to apologize."

"Apologize for what?"

He then realized.

He wasn't sure what made him come to the abrupt conclusion, but the warm twinge in his gut and the figurative light bulb that flickered to life above his head told him it was so and the air seemed to shift. "MiM?" he whispered, unwilling to believe it.

The man tilted his head in acknowledgement to the nickname and Jack's eyes widened comically. "You're the Man in the Moon, aren't you?"

And suddenly it all made sense. They were inside his head. The Man in the Moon must have tried to form some sort of memory that he could place himself inside of, but without having any real knowledge of what the outside world looked like, he was only able to dredge up what he could find in Jack's brain. If he looked close enough, maybe squinted a little, he was able to recognize where he was. The forest lain just on the outskirts of Burgess. If only a little colorless.

And MiM's face. The shadows cast over his front were unsettling, but as Jack didn't know what MiM looked like – or would have looked like if he were indeed a man – his mind wasn't able to conjure up a face.

"I want to apologize for a lot of things, Jack."

Jack clenched his jaw; ready to spit the words back in his face, say he didn't care, tell him to save it… anything. But for some reason, his mouth wouldn't let him. He cast a steely glare in the man's direction and waited.

"I'm sorry for taking you away from your family, and I'm sorry for not telling you who you were," the voice couldn't decide on a pitch, or which emotion to convey, so it ended up sounding like a jumbled mess. Like a bunch of audio clips compiled into one. "I know you were lost for some time, but know that that was never my intention. I assumed things would… fall into place much sooner than they had. I apologize for that."

Jack didn't know what to say so he didn't bother trying. And he had a feeling MiM knew his confession wasn't worthy of a response. This conversation was about three centuries too late.

"I'm sorry for all that I've put you through…" and suddenly there was a certain hysteria to his voice. "… but I'm afraid I've made a terrible mistake."

The hairs on the back of Jack's neck stood on end. "What do you mean by that?" he asked, voice squeaking into such a high octave that he would vehemently deny if anyone asked.

"I know that it is beyond me to ask of it, but I hope that one day I will earn your forgiveness. I think I will," he added as an afterthought. "But I've made a mistake. And I pray to the Gods above that it won't be catastrophic."

Jack couldn't control his panicked breathing. The idea of a God himself praying to a higher deity didn't sit well with him. "I don't understand," he uttered through gritted teeth. If there was one thing that royally pissed him off was the fact that everyone around him spoke in riddles. Was it so hard to just say what they wanted to say and get it over with? It'd be another damn century before Jack figured out what the hell they were talking about.

The Man in the Moon flickered like a holograph, and the last thing Jack wanted was for him to leave now with no explanation. He couldn't not tell him what was going on. Not again. "Wait—"

But MiM continued his mantra of, "I've made a mistake, I've made a mistake, I've made a mistake," and there was no getting through to him. Jack felt like he could breathe fire.

The Main in the Moon shook his head, a movement that was so utterly human that it almost floored Jack, before glancing up at him and Jack could almost see a pair of eyes glowing beneath the shadows.

"I've made a mistake," he voiced somberly one last time, tone flickering in and out of pitch and sounding otherworldly. As if there weren't creepier ways to tell Jack he was doomed. "And I hope that you are able to forgive me. One day."

And then he was earth bound. He was jerked back into consciousness and his limbs felt heavy and his eyelids weary. It took Jack a moment to realize he was still breathing deeply and he raised a pale hand to his forehead before jerking back in shock at the clammy skin. His chest felt cold, but the rest of him was unpleasantly hot and he had half a mind to bury himself in the snow like a gofer.

"What the hell," he gasped, squeezing his eyes shut and willing the uneasiness away. It took a minute or two before his body temperature cooled and his breathing calmed. He blinked his eyes rapidly up at the stars, unfazed from his plight and twinkling ever endlessly as if they could perceive they were being watched.

Once his fingers sparkled with frost once more, he swallowed thickly and was left with a sinking feeling of dread in his stomach that wouldn't go away.

"We are fine," a girl in her late teens stressed, glowering icily across the desk at the woman who had the gall to fold her arms across her chest, waves of condescension and superiority emitting off of her like a beacon. If the girl's glare became any colder, the woman would've turned to ice.

"You have to understand, Miss Chaplin, that it is my job to ask," the woman replied, exasperated. "Where is it you plan on going?"

The girl had to hold her tongue, her privacy feeling violated. Was she never going to get these retched people off her back? They constantly kept sticking their noses in her business and it was starting to grate on her nerves. It was throwing her off her game. She could do this. Why was it that nobody saw that?

"Burgess, Pennsylvania," she said finally.

"Why so far?" the woman immediately asked with an undertone of suspicion, immediately jumping to conclusions.

"It is only one state over," the girl uttered between her teeth. "And it's also where my aunt lives. I figured it would be better to be close to family in case—"

"In case you needed help?" the woman interrupted, eyebrows raised as if she caught her slipping up.

Feeling frazzled and undoubtedly angrier than before, the girl stood from her chair and kicked it back. "I'm done," she announced with finality, though the second she had her back turned she spun back around and pointed an accusing finger at the woman who stared back without surprise. "You people make me sick," she spat. "You're so quick to judge someone because they're young when you fail to realize or even bother trying to understand the fact that I'm good at what I do!" she felt tears burn her eyes, frustrated that her tear ducts were hardwired to her emotions, but she swallowed them down.

"You have no right to claim that you care. I can see right through it. I do what I know is best, which is more than you pricks can say for yourselves. Just because I may need some help along the way does not make me incapable. It makes me human. I'm sorry if that's not good enough for you but you're just going to have to deal with it. You can take your hypercritical bullshit and shove it where the sun don't shine!"

She breathed heavily for a moment, steadying her nerves, clenching and unclenching her fists.

"Do you really think it's smart to stay here? After what happened?" she asked softly, with a touch of malice. "Trying to stay here has been the dumbest thing I've ever done."

The woman leaned forward in her chair, clasping her hands together. "What you need to understand is—"

"No," she shook her head. "I understand plenty. And I'm done listening to you. You had your case. I've let you crow at me for a year. It's over. We're leaving in the morning whether you like it or not, and you are on no grounds to stop me," she said lowly, inching forward. "Because you know there's no evidence against me that I can't do this. I've proven it to you time and time again. So we're leaving. And you're going to stop following."

With one last glare, the girl turned on her heels and marched out of the office, bumping shoulders with the suited man standing outside the door and not looking back to apologize.

Entering the lobby, she caught sight of a small blonde-haired boy donned in a Transformers shirt, swinging his legs back and forth in a chair too big for him with a book in his lap. He looked smaller than usual under the glowing domed ceiling.

She marched towards him with a purpose, daring anyone to get in her way.

"Max," she said. The boy lifted his head in response. "Let's go. We're leaving, now."

The boy jumped up, putting his book down on the end table next to his chair before running to meet her and lacing his tiny fingers in hers. She led him out of the building, tartly shoving open one of the doors before one of the security guards could do it for her.

They walked silently down the steps that led into a congested parking lot and made their way through the maze of cars. The boy, Max, kept stealing glances up at the girl, biting his lip to keep from saying anything. He couldn't have been more than seven, though his dazzling blue eyes said otherwise. For a kid just a few years shy of ten, he had an air of maturity you didn't often find in children – especially little boys.

He watched carefully as the girl steeled her jaw and paraded forward with her chin held high. Trouble was creasing in her brows, and her eyes seemed to hold a shadow he not often saw. He tried to not let that bother him.

At last they reached a car and the girl helped him get settled in before climbing into the driver's seat, exhaling slowly the second her door was closed. She shut her eyes and took a few steady breaths, trying to ease the migraine forming behind her temples.

"Did everything go okay?" a small voice dared to ask.

She peered over at Max. She never told him what went down with Social Services. She didn't even tell them who they were. And yet, looking at him now, she wondered if maybe he'd managed to figure it all out on his own.

"Everything's fine," she tried to smile, reaching over to brush the messy hair out of his eyes. He would need a haircut when they got to Burgess. She wondered idly if her aunt would do it. "You ready to leave tomorrow?" she asked excitedly, hoping to deviate from the topic.

Max nodded, bouncing up and down in his seat with a wide grin. "I'm all packed and everything! I even put my shoes by the door so we can leave right away!"

She grinned a little to herself and put the keys in the ignition, slowly backing out of the parking space and heading for the main road. "Good job, rugrat," she commended, watching out of the corner of her eye as he seemed to beam at her praise. "Not long now, buddy," she told him warmly, turning down a small, winding street. "This time tomorrow we'll be on the road to a brand new life."

Max was awake and bouncing around the following morning before her alarm had even gone off. They were set to head out at daybreak, though the sun hadn't quite begun to rise in the sky and already they were fully clothed and packing the last remaining boxes in the car that hadn't already been sent off with the truck.

By the time dawn was painting the clouds in brilliant hues of pink and orange, the two already had their McDonald's and were on their way to Burgess, Pennsylvania.

Max was a sincerely well-behaved kid. He rarely complained, hardly asked for anything and was practically an angel, and that was probably the only way they were able to make it to the small town in record time.

At noon, they pulled up to a small yet quaint yellow-painted house in the heart of Burgess just five minutes from the local park. The truck wasn't scheduled to arrive until the following day, so they only had what they could fit in the backseat and trunk of her silver sedan.

It took only twenty minutes for them to unload everything and before she had even finished placing the last box in the empty living room, Max was hopping around her again. "Can we please go to Aunt Liza's now? Please?"

She rolled her eyes good-naturedly but didn't protest. It's not like they really had anything else to do.

"I suppose—" she started, only to be interrupted by a door slam as Max was already out the front door. She laughed to herself and followed in his wake, locking the door behind her and sparing another glance at their new house. There were white shutters decorating every window and pink and purple flowers straining to breach the surface of the sparkling white snow that decorated the front lawn.

The driveway had some ice and was too precarious to drive on so she had to park on the street. Max was already waiting for her dutifully by the passenger door and she gave him a noogie, smirking as he whined and attempted to fix his hair.

Her aunt only lived a block away but she drove anyway because they were going to be spending the night there as they didn't have their beds yet. She already had two bags packed in the backseat.

Before she parked the car fully, Max was tugging on the door handle impatiently.

"Calm down, dude," she chuckled, putting the car in park before unlocking the doors. Max threw himself out the door and up the slippery sidewalk that led to the two-story home's front door, chanting 'Aunt Liza! Aunt Liza!' as he skidded along.

"Be careful!" she called over the top of the car after climbing out. He slipped and slid around, thrashing his tiny legs about as he tried getting traction and if she weren't so paranoid he was going to fall and crack his head open she would have found it hilarious. "Max!" she scolded and he stopped suddenly, turning bashfully back to her with a look of apology on his face before walking the rest of the way to the front door.

He was bouncing back and forth on his heels as she approached, both bags tossed over her shoulder. The second she stepped up beside him he rang the doorbell, making little giddy noises to himself and she shook her head again.

The door flew open and Max attacked the owner, not paying much attention as to who it actually was. A girl not much taller than himself was struggling to keep the both of them upright. "Max!" she gasped, her gangly arms wrapping around him in both a hug and support.

She peeked her head over the top of Max's messy blonde hair. "Hey, Alice!"

Alice grinned at the two, wiping her ice-covered boots on the porch's welcome mat. "What's up, Pippa?" she greeted, allowing the warmth to defrost her skin as the aforementioned Pippa stepped aside – or tried to, with Max still latched onto her like a growth – to let her in.

"You've gotten taller," she quipped appreciatively.

She took her hand, placing it flat on Pippa's fuzzy white beanie before pulling it towards herself and stopping at her collarbone. "At the rate you're going, you're going to be taller than me."

Whatever Pippa had said was muffled in Max's hair and she tried spitting the strands of platinum silk out of her mouth before tackling Max to the floor. They writhed around a bit and all the commotion must've alerted everyone else in the house, for a tall, thin woman with rusty brown hair peered around the corner from the kitchen.

"Alice Chaplin!" she gasped. She made a beeline for her and Alice met her halfway, the two crashing into each other and sinking into a warm embrace.

"Aunt Liza," she breathed into the older woman's neck. "It's so good to see you."

"Oh heaven's me, look at you," the woman gushed the second she pulled away. She held Alice at arm's length and drank in the sight of the five-foot-seven nineteen year old. "You're such a woman! Oh dear, where has the time gone?"

She fussed with Alice's wildly curly, dark red-violet hair, admiring her small Buddy Holly glasses with a quirk of her lips and smoothed down the sleeves of the girl's green jacket absently as she counted the freckles on her niece's rosy cheeks. "Come on you, let's get you settled in."

She led Alice into the kitchen, allowing her to deposit their bags and her jacket on the loveseat alongside them, leaving the kids to wrestle it out in the entryway. Aunt Liza offered her a glass of water which she was quick to accept with a grateful smile. The two leaned against the counters opposite one another and exchanged smiles.

"How did it go with Social Services?" Aunt Liza eventually asked.

Alice rolled her eyes, slamming the cup down on the island with more force than she intended. "As to be expected," she spat. "They asked a bunch of useless, intrusive questions they weren't supposed to ask. The case was closed two weeks ago and they still wouldn't let up. I eventually just snapped and told them to back off. They're still trying to tell me I don't deserve custody of Max."

Aunt Liza frowned. "Persistent bunch," she mumbled, taking a ginger sip of her water.

Alice huffed and brushed her overgrown fringe out of her eyes. "Well they're not getting Max, I don't care what they say." She leaned against the island behind her, arms resting on either side and supporting her weight, and Aunt Liza's smile softly returned.

"You've grown up so fast," the woman whispered, pride swimming in her voice. Alice exhaled slowly before returning the smile, if a bit tightly. "After you took in Max, I was afraid that..." Aunt Liza stopped herself and shook the words away, bowing her head and gazing into her half empty glass without really seeing it.

"I'm proud of you," she continued fiercely, returning her dark brown eyes to Alice's light ones. "Never think for one second that I'm not," she insisted vehemently. "And I love that boy as if he were my own. It's just—" she paused for a second and sighed. Alice shifted from one foot to the other, realizing that whatever was taking her aunt so long to say she probably didn't want to hear, or else the woman wouldn't be having such trouble saying it. "I wish you didn't have to grow up so fast."

Alice sighed. "Everyone has to grow up sometime, Aunt Liza," she uttered quietly.

"Not like this," her aunt countered, not unkindly. "You had plans, Ali. You knew what you were going to do with your life. You had excellent grades, universities were throwing themselves at you and you were offered a full-ride scholarship," Aunt Liza stressed, eyes gleaming with delight and tone thick with emotion. "Honey, very few kids are as lucky as you."

Alice pursed her lips, tracing the dark creases and indents of the cherry wood cabinets near her feet with her eyes. Of course she knew all of this already. It was her life. It had been her life, until suddenly it wasn't. It amazed her even to this day how she hadn't looked back without even a second glance. She hadn't hesitated to walk away from the future that had so intricately painted itself right before her very eyes. It had been such a whirlwind of activity that she didn't have time to wallow in self-pity or bother dwelling on the fact that maybe she resented it even just a tiny bit. She wouldn't let her thoughts stray to such a dangerous place after she was already in so deep.

The redhead swallowed carefully before returning her gaze to the older woman. "Well, that was then. This is now. I'm here now. That isn't me anymore."

Aunt Liza exhaled tiredly, rubbing a hand down her face. "Don't misunderstand me. Like I said before, I love Max," she raised an arm to Alice's shoulder and stroked the material of her shirt with her thumb, watching her with a gaze that was very much motherly. "I just hope you don't think you didn't have any other options."

Alice quirked somewhat of a half-smile. "Don't worry," she said delicately. "I didn't hesitate."

"Then the fact remains," her aunt pulled back, that proud look etching into the laugh lines of her smile once more. "I'm still so very proud of you."

A warmth settled in the pit of Alice's stomach at her aunt's praise and her smile widened before relaxing into a daze. "She was a good mother."

"Hmm?" Aunt Liza hummed, though Alice had a feeling she knew exactly who she was talking about.

"Anne was a good mom," she nodded to herself. "For how young she was, she was an amazing mother. Max is probably the most well-behaved kid I've ever met. He never cried as a baby, he was always so happy..." she trailed off. "And the way he looked at her, it was like she hung the moon and the stars."

"Well," Aunt Liza gave a watery smile. "She was his mother."

Alice nodded to herself, biting back the tears before they swelled up in her eyes. She sniffed, tossing her head back and squinting at the studio lights above that threatened to render her sightless. Thinking about Anne always cast a heavy lump in her throat she couldn't shake for hours. It was best for her to just not think about her at all, but in doing so she was afraid she was somehow dishonoring her memory. Like maybe if she stopped thinking about her long enough, her spirt would just disappear – be forgotten.

"I don't think you quite realize the way he looks at you," her aunt countered knowingly, coming to lean against the island beside her. "He's always looked you with such a twinkle in his eye, like you're a fairy tale come to life. He looks at you and he's not afraid because you make everything alright. Even before his mother passed," Aunt Liza stroked the girl's hair. "He looked at you just like that. And that's never changed."

A traitorous tear rolled down Alice's cheek and she quickly wiped it away, sniffing again.

"He knows his mother's gone, but he also knows he's always had two."

Alice coughed as the pounding of footsteps clobbered down the hallway and she heard Max's yelp of delight. She quickly wiped her eyes with shaky hands and pushed herself away from the island, plastering on a quick smile to hide the turbulent emotion threatening to break the surface.

Max flew into the room, stomping as he did so with Pippa hot on his heels, tickling at his sides as he tried to get away.

"Aunt Liza!" he gasped, arms outstretched as he rammed into her legs. The aunt in question smiled brightly at the boy and picked him up, settling him on her hip as she smacked a wet kiss on his cheek and he shrieked again with indignation.

Pippa looked disheartened that Max was no longer subjected to her mercy. Alice smirked and threw an arm around the eleven-year-old's shoulders, nudging her with her hip.

"You ready for a sleep over, Pip?" Alice grinned mischievously and the lanky girl returned the grin with equal mischief.

"Oh, you know it, Chaplin."

Hi! New ROTG reader and writer here. This was one of those ideas that just kind of sprung to life out of nowhere after watching the movie. I'm a newbie when it comes to this kind of fanfiction so I don't really know what to expect. My biggest concern is portraying the canon characters as well as I can without making them OOC. I don't like switching between points of view often, so rarely will you see Jack's perspective unless it's absolutely necessary. But seeing as how it's the first chapter, I figured it'd be a good idea to have the best of both worlds starting off.

I'm really hoping this story will blossom into this masterpiece I imagine it to be inside my head. I have a lot of plans I'm excited about and a few choices to make on which direction the story will go. I accept and welcome criticism, that's how I improve as a writer! I don't have a beta, so if you guys catch any grammatical errors my eyes may have missed after staring at the chapter for hours at a time, I do sincerely apologize for that but it's bound to happen. Still, don't hesitate to point them out to me so I can correct them.