Disclaimer: I do not own Rise of the Guardians - it belongs to the brilliant Mr. Joyce and to Dreamworks Animation. I'm just playing in their sandbox.
This first chapter may come across as a little slow, but it's setting up for the coming chapters, which you will hopefully find more exciting. Constructive criticism is appreciated, if you're feeling magnanimous enough to leave a review. I'm a nutter for grammar and all things conceptual, so my updates will be steady at one chapter every week to two weeks. The complete story is in its final stages of editing, so if I'm really stoked by the reaction to it, updates might happen a little faster than scheduled. ;P I hope you enjoy.
Horrible, pulsating, burning, sharp, and staggering. The moment my staff snapped, I knew something went wrong. I had never felt pain like that before – like something was breaking inside my chest. I couldn't breathe. I couldn't see straight. I couldn't defend myself. I couldn't even stand up. I almost didn't notice being slammed into the ice cliff, except when I hit my head and saw stars. A lancing pain shot through my side then, and it just added to the feeling of wrongness in my chest.
I was tossed like a rag doll into that chasm, alone. Or so I thought. Thanks to Baby Tooth, we survived, I learned who I was, and I got someone very special to believe in me. I saved the Guardians. Me! Jack Frost! I helped kids believe again. Do you have any idea what it's like to be believed in after 300 years of knowing you're missing an important part of yourself? I couldn't fathom the energy it brought, like I was ready for a worldwide snowball fight even though my body was exhausted. For being one, I didn't know much about being an immortal spirit, but I did know that sometimes we have to rest. Something about being immortal, but not eternal.
When we had to leave those kids, Jamie didn't want to see me go. I still couldn't believe it – that he and his friends could see me. So I talked to him, feeling warm and fuzzy about having to help a child understand that just because I'm not right there, it doesn't mean I'm gone. And just so we're clear, warm and fuzzy aren't things I feel very often – kinda foreign to a winter sprite. It reminded me of talking to my sister; there were a lot of memories there that were yet to come back to me, and I would welcome them when the time came.
Waving goodbye from the back of the sleigh was bittersweet. The energy those kids gave to me was still so new I didn't know how I was supposed to be feeling. I felt… jittery, and hot, and exhausted, and giggly, and whole. There was a twinge in my chest and side that actually kinda hurt. I just wasn't used to the attention. I sat on the floor of the sleigh with a heavy sigh.
Everyone was quiet, but smiling. We'd done a good job, and that was all that mattered right now. With Sandy doing his work helping the kids dream and believe again, we were ok to hitch a ride back to the Pole to regroup. I curled up and rested my head on my arms, keeping my staff close to my chest. My insides felt heavy; maybe that's just part of winning a big battle. It wouldn't take us long to reach the Pole, and I'd catch a snooze somewhere peaceful when we got there.
The sleigh ride back to the Pole was smooth and quiet. While the renewed belief of the children invigorated them spiritually, they were exhausted physically.
St. Nick cast a glance fondly at the newest member of the Guardians. It only took a few minutes to get from Burgess to the Pole with the use of a snow globe, but he was already fast asleep. The whole adventure had left Jack exhausted, and rightly so. Being corporeal to the children would take some time to get used to. It had been a draining experience for North himself after he had been changed.
Content with the outcome of everything, North enjoyed the clear sunlight of the morning over the glittering North Pole. The cold air in his face made him a little less tired, and he was glad to see his fortress, Santoff Claussen, a little worse for wear but intact and standing. It, too, had suffered some structural decay during the darkest hours of unbelief, but with his magic returned and the yetis still loyal, the safe haven would be on the mend in no time. The reindeer glided easily into the landing strip buried in the icy cliffs. The wooden runway creaked loudly and tilted under the weight, but with no further danger of disintegration, North promised himself he'd fix that very soon.
"Ok, everybody out," he bellowed. "We rest today and celebrate tomorrow."
The Guardians stirred and rose, filing out of the sleigh toward the fortress. North doled out instructions to the yetis that had come back on the sleigh with them: one yeti was to make hot chocolate and monitor the elves to make food for the Guardians, another was to prepare guest rooms for them to sleep in for the night, and a few others were to free the reindeer of their tack and feed them.
Bunnymund hissed and tottered as he stepped out of the sleigh, and would have tipped if Tooth hadn't zipped over to right him.
"Bunny, are you all right?" North asked, stifling a yawn despite himself.
"Yeah, yeah…" Bunny muttered. He lowered himself to all paws and tested his legs gingerly. He winced, lifting his right leg off the floor "Must've injured my knee during the fight. Didn't stiffen up until now… Probably tore something."
"Let's get you inside," Tooth said. She spotted him closely as he three-stepped into the fortress. North watched the rabbit with mild concern. If he was badly injured, it would likely take more than the usual few days to heal.
It was then that North really took stock of his immortal friends. They had all sustained some damage. Bunny, with his knee injury, was probably the worst off. Tooth, looked a little sore about the wings, but for her and North exhaustion was likely the worst of it. Sandy was looking awfully tired, and not in the sleepy way – had he been fighting Pitch's darkness all along? Dare he ask?
It was one of those rare situations which required genuine rest and relaxation to recuperate. It was usually reserved as a mortal need, but the Man in the Moon had made it clear to each Guardian that they and the other spirits that kept the world in balance were immortal – never aging – but they were not eternal. North had learned the hard way years ago that there was a distinct difference. Sleep was needed when they overexerted themselves. Food sustained their living bodies on a semi-regular basis (though North couldn't imagine eating only sometimes.)
Rest and food. That's what they needed, and they would have it here at the Pole, in safety and warmth and company. With the beliefs of the children renewed, they could rest for a day without risking their guardianship, he was certain.
A quick glance proved that Jack was not with them. Confused, North looked back to see Jack was still curled up in the corner of the sleigh. He smiled softly and backtracked. The boy must have been truly exhausted to have slept through the rickety landing and North's booming voice.
"Jack," he called softly. He nudged the sprite's shoulder, who stirred and sucked in a waking breath through his nose. "Come inside."
North stood and held out his hand. Jack looked about dumbly for a moment, but blinked and took the offered help. North wondered how many times the young man had slept in his 300 years of immortality – a handful, maybe? There would be much to teach the new Guardian about his very existence.
"M'awake," he sighed at length, dragging himself to his feet. "Didn't mean to fall asleep."
"Is fine, Jack," North chuckled, patting the young man on the shoulder. Jack yelped and side-stepped away from North's firm hand, looking wobbly on his feet.
"Jack, what is wrong?" North asked, his concern deep and instant.
"I dunno… Nothing," he corrected himself, meeting North's eyes with a tired, lop-sided grin. "I just feel funny; probably not used to being believed in."
North hurt for Jack and was overjoyed for him at the same time. Hurt that Jack had been alone and unbelieved for so long, but overjoyed that he was now a Guardian with a small clutch of children to believe in him. And that was just to start. Children had an amazing way of sharing their beliefs with other children. It wouldn't be long before Jack had so much energy he wouldn't know what to do with it; it was just the transition that was challenging.
So the elder Guardian smiled reassuringly at the younger, gesturing to the door into the fortress. "Come inside, Jack. Some food, rest, and company will help you feel better." The smile he received was so wide and genuine and blinding that it gave him a small thrill. The trouble maker of their spirit world had grown so much in just a few days.
Jack walked into the fortress with North close in toe. Large lounge chairs were set before the fire in the Globe Room, courtesy of a few yetis. The cushy furniture was set so that the warmth of the fire could be enjoyed, but the globe with all its twinkling lights could be viewed just as easily. North had to toe a few elves out of his footpath, but he made it to a chair across the rug from Tooth and Sandy and flopped unceremoniously into it.
Bunny had already laid out on the floor in front of the fire, stretching out his sore leg behind him while the rest of him was curled into a very rabbit-like posture. His arms were folded neatly beneath him as he soaked up the heat of the fire – he was practically lying in the outer coals, for Moon's sake. He was watching Sandy with a soft grin as the golden man gave a picturesque account of his time away from the Guardians.
The Sandman had opted to stay floating in his cloud of sand – and far be it from St. Nick to make the older man sit in a chair; he had been surrounded by twisted black sands for days. North didn't know how much of the story would end up being true or a product of Sandy's wild imagination, but the eldest Guardian was remarkable at keeping his experience in the shadows lighthearted. North could see his eyelids drooping though; if he weren't the one "talking" he would already be sleeping.
Tooth had settled in the chair next to Sandy. Her wings probably needed a rest, to be sure. She cradled an armful of mini fairies while she watched Sandy's story. She and Bunny were having a good time trying to guess what the Sandman was trying to convey, and for once there wasn't a smidge of frustration on Sandy's golden face at the wrong guesses. It quickly spiraled into a game of guess-the-good-dreams-Pitch-got-bombarded-with, and made for a lot of laughs.
Jack settled furthest from the fire, his mind seemingly elsewhere. The young sprite would smile and put in a good guess here and there, earning hearty laughs from the others; but he seemed much more interested in watching the globe and its lights. As the cocoa was being delivered by yetis it quieted down a bit, each Guardian enjoying the warm vapors and sweet taste of North's perfected drink. Jack took his mug carefully, placing his fingertips on the bottom of the mug. Instantly, the heated vapors were gone, and somehow North knew that the cocoa had gone stone cold. In the comfortable silence, Jack kept his eyes on the lights of the believing children. Bunny must have noticed Jack's divided attention too, because he spoke up in the midst of the quiet banter.
"Feels different, doesn't it, Jack?"
A moment of silence followed, but Jack turned his attention to his new friends with a warm smile. "He figured it out," he said reverently. "Jamie figured it out on his own. About me, I mean." They were all smiling, and Tooth spoke up first.
"He's a very special boy, Jack, but he didn't figure it out by himself. You helped him find you."
"Yeah," Bunny agreed, holding his mug close between his paws. "You did something to make him believe. What was it?"
With a wide smile and a laugh, Jack flitted up from his chair, handing his mug to North as he passed over his head – yep, lukewarm at best (though it was probably very warm to Jack). Halfway to one of the windows behind the fireplace, Jack landed clumsily on his feet and walked to the glass panes. With a touch the glass was covered in delicate swirls of frost.
"I didn't know I could do this," Jack tossed over his shoulder as he stuck his finger in the frost and started to draw, "but Jamie was so desperate to believe in you, Bunny. I had to do something." As he finished his scribble, he moved his hands as if to pull the image from the window. It took some concentration, but Jack's magic really came to life. A pale, iridescent blue bunny rabbit formed away from the glass and hopped about, cutting a trail of iced vapor with every hop. Bunny sat up and perked his ears forward to watch the conjured image, fascinated eyes and a light laugh conveying his delighted impression. The blue bunny danced about the Guardians' heads, then puffed into a cloud of light snow.
"Jack, that was amazing!" Tooth praised. Sandy clapped his hands in delight, and Bunny gave a hearty "well done, mate!" while North guffawed, tittering into the high tones of a laugh full of wonder. The new Guardian bowed dramatically, but teetered when he stood. The smile was still on his face, though, and he walked back to his seat with a delighted expression. North chalked up his lack of balance to battle fatigue.
"When Jamie saw the snow, he started saying my name," Jack concluded.
"You sustained his belief in all of us," said North, passing the cocoa back to him as he went to reseat himself. "You saved us, Jack."
Jack smiled, leaning his staff on the arm of the chair, and rubbed the back of his neck. "Had to make up for my mistakes somehow."
"And so do we," North replied softly. The other Guardians nodded their agreement. They hadn't neglected Jack so much as misunderstood him and left him alone by default. They were not perfect by any means, and they had all made mistakes, whether they meant to or not. "But we have plenty of time for that later."
There was hearty agreement, and the Guardians gladly accepted the food that was offered them, and the refills of hot chocolate for several hours, all from the comfort of their seats. North enjoyed his snack of cookies wholeheartedly, and fought his own heavy eyelids while a few others – namely Sandy and Jack – fell in and out of a light doze.
It was strange, to not want to leave each other's company. Normally, they were all so busy with their respective tasks that social gatherings were kept to a minimum. But after everything – thinking Sandy dead; gaining, losing, and regaining Jack's help; Tooth's lost fairies; Bunnymund's degeneration; and most importantly the threat against the world's children – it all mussed together into a jumble of unsortable emotions that made the Guardians need each other in a way they hadn't for centuries. North had missed this close comradeship, last experienced in much simpler eras. He didn't want to lose it again, especially not with a new Guardian on board – not ever, if Pitch could so easily work under their radars the way he had.
It was time for them to stick together as a team without letting time grow them apart. It was time to be a family again.
With his mind settled on the matter, North tendered a great yawn and rose to his feet.
"Come," he said, "it is late enough for good naps in warm beds." There was a general murmur of agreement as they rose. Yetis were waiting, leading them through the workshops and into a large hallway. Each yeti then escorted a Guardian to a guest room. North followed Jack and the yeti he had called Phil. (The name had stuck, much to the furry creature's annoyance.)
The guest rooms weren't fancy (for North's tastes), but they were generous enough on short notice. Phil opened the door and stood aside. Jack turned in a circle to get a good look at the room – well lit, but out of the afternoon's direct sunlight – and eyed the bed in the corner uncertainly. It was garnered only in thin sheets, and North was pleased to see that this was the guest room with the largest window sill. There were even a few of his ice blocks from the design room piled in the corner. Phil garbled lightly, traipsing over to the sill and patting a large hand on the cushioned seating while he watched Jack.
The new Guardian smiled and walked over. "Good thinking, North," he said over his shoulder.
"Is Phil's idea," he admitted, and Phil nodded with a twinkle in his eye. "He thought you would be more comfortable there."
"I haven't slept in a bed in centuries; this is more my thing." The older man couldn't help but smile as Jack patted the cushioned sill appreciatively.
"There are extra pillows under the seat, if you want them."
Jack was suddenly looking at the floor with a sigh, rubbing at his forehead with his free hand. North watched him for a moment. His concern was flooding back again; Jack hadn't seemed quite right since they had left the children of Burgess.
"What is it?" He wanted to touch Jack's shoulder, let him know he wasn't alone, but he was intimidated by the reaction he had gotten earlier. The winter sprite met his eyes with a wide open expression that made his heart skip, thinking maybe he wasn't happy. Jack looked away almost instantly, letting out a gasping chuckle – the type you heard from someone right before they burst into tears.
"I finally have everything I was hoping for," Jack said quietly. He rubbed his forehead again. "I don't know how to handle it. Just a handful of believing kids makes me…" He was struggling for words. North patted his back carefully, but it still earned him a jolt from the boy.
"Jack, you have gone through many changes in just a few days. There is much to get used to, and even good changes can be stressful. Being Guardian is big job; you don't have to bear that burden alone."
Jack smiled up at him appreciatively, but it didn't reach his eyes. "Thanks," he managed, and turned his gaze back to the sill. "I haven't slept since the Arizona snowstorm in '85."
"Ha!" North guffawed. "That was good one! Short lived, but good."
Jack chuckled along, and when the mirth settled North bid him a good rest. He and Phil left the room. North turned to close the door, glancing up just in time to see Jack settling carefully on the sill. A pale hand was wandering to his side as if he was hurting. North didn't hesitate in closing the door, lest he be caught watching, but that sting of concern was well and truly rooted in his heart now.
With exhaustion setting into his bones, he spared a prayer to MiM in hopes that Jack would feel better after he rested. He trudged down the hall to his own rarely-used chambers, looking forward to a long rest.