A/N: I'm ba-ack. This, alas, is the final chapter, and before we get started I just want to drop a great big colossal THANK YOU to everyone who read and reviewed and followed and favorited this story. Like I said in the note, it means a lot to me, and it was hard to write sometimes. I have, rather tacitly, admitted things here that I've never told anybody aloud. Thank you not only for that but for your prayers. I'm happy to say that I've won this round. Now, enjoy the last chapter (and seriously, if you don't review now, what can I do to get you to? :P). And, once again, thank you all. ^-^
It would be a very, very mild understatement to say that the Guardians' fight was not going well- not for them, at least. For Hate, it must have been going wonderfully. A sudden upsurge of power (in the back of their minds they all knew it was from Jack and it broke their hearts so they didn't even think about it) gave Hate just enough of an edge to sort of turn up the Firelings, essentially burning through the bonds that Pitch had placed around them and freeing up every one for more combat.
Firelings didn't get tired, but Guardians (and Nightmare Kings) did, and slowly but surely they were forced backward towards the very center of Santoff Claussen and their chances of successfully disposing of a Fireling were slim indeed. They could feel despair creeping slowly into their hearts as they were pushed further and further back until finally they were surrounded on all sides. Now it was just a simple matter for Hate to move in and destroy them all. He gave them a terrifying, toothy grin and raised a hand, preparing to have his Firelings move in for the ultimate kill-
Only to be knocked flat on his ass by a bolt of ice. He rolled across the floor, reeling, while a weak looking but utterly determined- and more importantly, blue eyed- Jack Frost circled his friends in the air. "Bet that hurt, didn't it buddy?" he smirked down at the old man, who had regained his footing. Hate returned the smirk.
"Oh, it did. I really can't wait until you pay for that, Jack Frost. I am surprised you haven't given up yet."
"Well, I love surprises," Jack retorted, cocky. "You know, you really are weak; I'm surprised no one else has realized that yet. You're the coward and the helpless one, not me. Not anyone else. You're the easiest thing in the whole world to get rid of. And guess what?" he continued, relishing the look on the older spirit's face, "I know how to get rid of you and your minions for good." He swooped down at the ring of Firelings, flying faster than he had ever flown before, and behind him he left a trail of stone cold, dead Firelings. He swept back up above Pitch and the Guardians protectively.
"You see, I couldn't figure out how I did it the first time. But finally, I realized it- you can never just get rid of hatred. It's a creeping thing. And there's one thing that it's always looking to snuff out- love. If hatred wins, then love will die-"
"And with it, those that we love," North finished quietly, a small smile coming onto his face as he began to catch on to what Jack was saying. "Those that we fight for." Jack nodded.
"Exactly. It's not force that gets rid of you, Hate, it's love. When we're fighting for people we love your hatred can't touch us. You'll never win this fight, because you don't love anyone, but us? We all got something to fight for. So basically, what I'm trying to say is, you're totally screwed." Jack gave him a predatory smile, and Hate snarled angrily.
"Get them!" he hissed to his Firelings, who attacked obediently. The defenders all copied Jack's smile and ran to meet them and after that the tide of the battle had turned considerably. It took a couple of tries, but soon all of them were leaving Firelings behind them, dead on the floor. Now it was Hate who was retreating hard and fast, calling in all his reinforcements to try and overwhelm the Guardians with sheer numbers. And right at the front was Jack Frost, smiling and blue eyed, who had something to fight for now, after three hundred long years.
The attackers were down to their final numbers now, and Hate knew a lost cause when he saw one. With a scream of anger, he snapped his bony fingers and he and all his remaining Firelings simply blinked out of existence, back to wherever it was that they had come from.
Once the army had gone, all of the defenders collapsed onto couches, chairs, or anything they could find that simply wasn't the floor, too exhausted to move. They stayed like that for about an hour before Jack rolled off the couch and sat up with a small grin.
"I think I've won." The Guardians all whooped, and even Pitch had a small smile on his face, though he'd deny it 'til his dying day if you accused him of such. He was not happy for Jack Frost, no, he just… was relieved that now there wouldn't be any competition for him. Yes, that was it. There was nothing else it could be. He turned to leave, not anticipating any goodbyes, when a cold hand on his arm stopped him.
"Hey Pitch, I was wondering about something," Jack started. Pitch lifted a brow at him.
"Do try not to hurt yourself doing that, Frost." Jack rolled his eyes and kept on trucking.
"You could kill them too- the Firelings," he elaborated, seeing the other spirit's confused look. "You can only kill them fighting for someone you love. Who was it?" Pitch wasn't about to answer, but he figured it wouldn't hurt to give the boy something nice and unspecific to keep him curious for a while.
"I was human once, long ago. Had a family and everything." He turned to leave for good but Jack stopped him again.
"Um, still not really good with all this emotional stuff, but I just wanted to say- you'll probably ignore me, but I think you can still win against the darkness too."
"Unlike you, Jack, I am afraid that I have already lost my fight." Jack gave him a hint of a grin.
"So did I, for a while there. But then I found my way back. You can too, even if you don't believe me right now." He stopped and grew thoughtful for a moment but shook his head, seeming to snap back out of it. "Anyways, North is throwing a party with food and everything and I figured I'd see if you wanted to stay." Pitch, to his immortal surprise, found himself giving the little spirit a genuine grin.
"Thank you for the offer, but I have had far too much cheer for one day. As to your suggestion- as astonished as I am to be saying this, I very well might think it over. One day. Goodbye and good luck, Jack Frost." He slipped backwards into a shadow and vanished without a trace, leaving only a small whoosh of air behind him. The winter spirit stared into the dark patch with a small, slightly sad grin toying on his face.
"And goodbye and good luck to you too, Pitch Black." He sighed infinitesimally and swooped back to the kitchens to find the other Guardians. "Hey North," he greeted the boisterous Russian. "Sorry I was a little late to the game." He grinned wryly only to be clapped on the back with such force that he came a few inches away from going headlong over the table.
"No matter, no matter. You are here now, and that is all that is important my boy." North stopped thumping him on the back and wrapped his arm around the spirit's thin shoulders. "Now, let us eat and celebrate and then we can talk." True to his word, none of the Guardians even mentioned Jack's fight- either one of them- until after they'd finished eating and just generally celebrating their victory. They settled down in the globe room, whose windows had once again been painstakingly repaired by the yetis, and fell into a comfortable silence until Jack stirred and sat forward.
"So," he asked lightly, "what did I miss?" Sandy rolled his eyes and gave Jack a soft whack on the shoulder. "Aw, come on Sandy, I think I've earned a little flippancy." He winked at the small golden man.
"Well," Bunny answered him, "we were a few seconds from getting used as floor mops when you showed up but before that it was sort of like a really subdued lights show. But what happened, mate? We thought for sure that you'd lost for a minute there." Jack snorted.
"I had lost for a minute there actually." The others sat so quietly you could hear a pin drop. "But… I got it back." He smiled widely but the rest of them knew that he was dodging around the whole story. But they knew better than to push him, so they let the matter rest, until Jack could sort out his thoughts enough to tell them all that had really happened. The next two weeks passed in a quick flurry of activity. The battle had been extensive to say the least and many areas of Santoff Claussen had been damaged or ruined completely.
The only good part was that it was January, so North could take the time to give everything its proper repair without having to worry about getting his Christmas gifts ready for the children. Sandy and Tooth spent most of their time off taking care of their daily duties and Bunny had Easter to prepare for so most of the work was left to North and Jack- well, mainly North, truth be told. Jack had taken off like a shot as soon as the major work was done, claiming that he had some winter cheer to deliver to make up for the last couple of weeks. In his belly, North knew that Jack just needed some time on his own to reconcile his thoughts and he hadn't objected. He was actually rather fond of doing all the work himself. It made it more personal and enjoyable.
In mid-February all the Guardians had gathered for their monthly meeting, a tradition they had only picked up once Jack became one of them; they hadn't even noticed at first, it had simply become a thing, like North and Bunny bickering and Sandy being ignored when he had something important to say. To their surprise, a blue and brown blur shot through the high window that was always left open for him and none other than their resident Guardian of Fun landed on the couch, flopping backward lazily.
"Good morning," he drawled happily, stretching out the 'good' into a long string.
"Jack!" Tooth let out a high shriek and hugged the white haired boy tightly. "It's so good to see you again! We've missed you. Where have you been?" He shrugged somewhat evasively.
"Around. Spreading winter. Went to see Jamie and talked with him for a while. Actually, he'd the reason I came back already. I told him about… all that happened and he said I should tell you guys too, if you want to listen," he finished uncertainly.
"Of course we will listen." North answered the unspoken question and all the Guardians sat down on the couches, making sure not to crowd the spirit. Jack took a deep breath and started from the very beginning, retelling what he remembered of his fight and captivity, followed by all that had happened afterward up until the big fight, the one that he had confessed to losing for a moment. The silence in the room was thick when he'd reached the climax of the story, that one moment he had thought he was going to lose.
"How did you-?" Tooth broke off the question halfway through, not really sure how to finish, but Jack got the drift of it.
"I heard you guys talking to me," he replied, noticing their surprised faces. "Heard you telling me that I wouldn't be alone and that I could make it through. Were you actually talking to me?" They nodded. "Well, I heard you, I guess. It made me think of my sister and the stories she used to ask me to tell. They were all from the Bible, you know? That was the only thing we actually read and all the stories we knew were from it. I remembered that one where Peter asked Jesus about forgiveness, and how many times you should forgive somebody if they wrong you." He fell silent for a minute, trying to figure out how to sort his thoughts into words.
"I… That was when I realized it- if you forgive someone, you can't hate them. It's impossible, you know? And all of a sudden I realized that forgiving other people means forgiving yourself too. You have to forgive yourself, I mean really forgive yourself, because that way you can't hate yourself anymore. And so I finally did." Jack was no fool; he knew that he would be fighting against this enemy for many long years to come, probably the rest of his days. The light in the dark would sometimes grow dim. But, then again, Jack was no fool. He knew that every time that little light grew dim he would have the Guardians there to keep it going until it could shine again on its own. In time, he knew, everything really would be okay.
Sometimes, the world seems like a dark, scary place, and you seem like the darkest and scariest part of it all. But I guess it's just like that saying- without darkness, there can be no light. Only whoever said that, they didn't finish it- with light, there can be no darkness. You see, that darkness is the easiest thing to get rid of, once you just know how to. Yeah, sure, the light won't make it all go away. The darkness will still be there sometimes, pressing in on you and trying to drag you back down. But once you have the light, as long as you have the light, that darkness can never ever win. You know why? Because no matter how dark everything gets around you, that light? That light will never go out.
Thus endeth my baby. :) I just wanted to leave you guys with a word of advice of my own, for what it's worth (probably, roughly nothing). Don't give up, no matter what. I've been there, I know how tempting it can be to just lay down and die. I spent too many years of my life feeling like that, full of nothing but misplaced hatred and misery and I'd give anything in the world to never see anybody like that ever again. But all in all, I wouldn't trade my life for another, because in the midst of that suffering I realized something that I wouldn't have otherwise: I am not alone, and neither are you. Not ever. The Lord is always with us and He'll pick us back up even if we fall a thousand times (and I think I might have come close to that...). Keep walking, because you're never walking alone. He reached me at a time when I wondered most days whether or not I should just go ahead and off myself and kept me from doing it without me even realizing He was there.
I know that sounds kind of hard to believe, and trust me, I know just how hard it is to believe when you're at the bottom of a pit that you dug and you don't even know why you should be alive anymore. But God is there at the top of that pit stretching out His hands and waiting for you to take them. He will be the Light in your darkness, I promise, and He will never leave you nor forsake you. So lift up your hands and take His. It won't be an easy trip (that I can also promise you, unfortunately) but you will come out the other side stronger and better for it. And, best of all, you'll learn what I finally did: there is always something to live for.
If any of you guys ever want to message me, I keep my PM box open and check my email most days. I'll shut up now, but I just want to leave you with one last reminder before I go- "And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love."