Or: Facing up to the expectations of others
Looking back he didn't really feel any remorse. He remembered clearly the joy, deep pleasure and satisfaction of frightening people on the streets, of reigning victorious over the other Guardians. His chest stirred as though something was telling him to feel awful and feel guilty about the things he had done under the influence of Pitch's darkness.
But he didn't.
He felt strange and disconnected from the person who had done those things. It didn't feel like he had done any of those things for all that he could remember his limbs going through the motions. Why should he feel guilty for another's misdeeds? He had hardly just let them happen, he wasn't there for them; he was in the centre of them, the dark and lost of them. It wasn't him.
The one thing he felt sad about when recalling his time as Blackjack (he thinks that as though it were time spent in gaol) was Bunny's boomerang. It had been utterly destroyed. It was that which stopped him from flying immediately to the Guardians, that and the numerous bruises, cuts, and abrasions he'd gifted them. Though it wasn't truly him, it was another in his place, wearing his face and using his voice. It wasn't Jack. Would they realise that when he came to call?
The wind plucked his sleeves and tussled his hair to try and soothe his anxiety. Jack sighed, smiling a little at the mothering he received from the wind. It didn't concern itself with good or bad, right and wrong. The wind would just as soon gust someone off a cliff or a ship into a stony shore as it would expedite their journey home, or knock a ball from the branches of a tree into the waiting arms of its owner. For the wind there was no right or wrong, there was movement and stillness, sound and silence. It couldn't really understand the dilemma that Jack struggled with. It tried. It failed. So instead it sought to soothe. It puffed up his hoody playfully to distract him, tried to get his hair to reach his nose and tickle it, but nothing would distract from the thoughts and purpose that Jack had set himself on. He knew he had to do.
The Guardians had taken to meeting often at North's to strategize ways in which to get Jack back from Pitch, to organise attacks and share information. There was a good chance they would be there now.
His fingers twitched against his staff, he had never been one for confronting others, for shouldering the responsibility to return somewhere he didn't wish to go. He could barely stand to think of the looks on their faces, the pain and disappointment they must feel, the horror at his atrocities. How would they feel if they knew he felt no horror in recalling them? How would they react to knowing that he could feel the barest hint of a shadow in his mind telling him that the nightmares hadn't left Pitch's lair in days. It was an advantage to them, strategically speaking, that he could feel the nightmare sand and shadows as a very vague sensory perception, lurking in the recesses of his mind, just slightly out of reach. But it meant they were still there. There was still a tiny piece of Pitch Black in his mind.
He had to go though. They were his family. He had fought them. They worried. They didn't know he was okay again. Was he okay again? He felt it. Felt it in the soft snow that fell and the playful wind that huffed impatiently, desperately wanting to throw him through the sky. He was Jack. He was fine. Really. He was.
He took a deep breath, tightening his grip on his old companion as his faithful carer prepared to lift him away. "Alright, let's go."
"It's been over two months now, what if we can't-"
"No!" North barked, interrupting Tooth's doubts. "We can change him back. Next time we do not hold back. I know is hard to do, sometimes he still looks like Jack." A sigh, a frown, a hand rubbing at his aching head. "We must subdue him, bring him back to pole."
Tooth clasped her hands in front of her chest, flitting nervously as she attempted to strengthen her resolve. "I don't know that I can." She whispered.
Surprisingly it was Bunny who moved to her, clasping her hands between his soft paws. "Trust me, as much as the Snowflake gets on my nerves, I don't want to hurt him either." He said, voice rumbling softly. "But we don't have many options left and I'm not leaving him to Pitch."
North nodded approvingly, folding his arms across his chest. "So how do we do this? Sandy cannot make him sleep with dream sand, they become nightmares." He frowned.
Sandy quickly made figure of Blackjack, then showed the same image but he was missing his shepherds crook. Bunny nodded. "Aye, remember during that fight with Pitch? He couldn't fly once he lost it. That would help a lot, he and the wind are too much to take on together."
North grimaced. "So we get staff, then Sandy, Tooth and I will distract him and Pitch while Bunny you knock him out and take him down tunnel."
They all agreed, reluctantly. "So do we just wait for them to surface again?" Tooth asked hesitantly, wringing her hands, feathers twitching.
"No other choice." Bunny shrugged, meandering over to the globe. The lights were still shining not so many as their once was now that Blackjack and Pitch were working their terrors on the children.
Tooth fluttered over to join him, looking at the lights. They had stopped flickering out so fast now, in fact, she frowned. They had stopped flickering out altogether.
"What is it?" North ambled over.
"The lights." She whispered excitedly.
"What about them?" Bunny asked, cocking his head to the side as he scrutinised the globe more carefully.
"They've stopped going out!"
"T-They have too!" Bunny exclaimed, before calming himself. "This might just mean they're taking a break or something, or planning something more devious."
"Yes but it change in pattern!" North said excitedly. "Maybe…"
They began to speculate on what it could mean. The lights still on, not growing or decreasing. Sandy watched silently, it was often hard to get his opinion in but he didn't mind. He enjoyed watching the banter between the three, North and Bunny's rivalry set aside, Tooth carefully and quickly interjecting her ideas.
Then they started to argue.
Sandy rolled his eyes, turning away from the globe, was that a breeze from somewhere? He looked towards the large arching windows, eyes scouring the wooden frame. Were Pitch and Blackjack going to attack them here? Was that the reason for the change?
He slowly moved closer to the window, peering cautiously around its corners for any hidden danger. Then he saw it, or rather him. A face slowly alighting up from the edge of the window, nervously peering into the room. His hair a perfect snowy white, his eyes bright blue and anxious. They widened in shock when he caught Sandy looking at him before the corner of his mouth twitched up in an awkward smile and he gave a tiny wave, his expression cautiously optimistic like a teenager that had been caught out after curfew.
Sandy felt his heart swell in joy to a degree where he almost opened his mouth to shout his happiness to the room. As it was his lips split into a grin so wide it almost hurt and he flew break neck to the window, throwing it open and scooping Jack in. And it was Jack. Everything about him was Jack. The wind was so light and playful, his hair so white, eyes so innocent and so Jack and so not Blackjack.
He wrapped his arms around the frost child, heart pounding in happiness. He felt Jack stiffen uncomfortably in his arms before relaxing an iota to wrap his arms around the giver of dreams in a gentle hug.
"Hi Sandy." Jack whispered. Sandy tightened his grip.
"J-Jack?" Soon more arms, first Tooth then Bunny and finally North's all-encompassing limbs.
"Oh Jack you're back." Tooth said, voice thick with relief and joy.
Parting was awkward, as one by one they let him go, happy and confused. Next came a barrage of questions.
"How did you escape?"
"Are you alright?"
"Where is Pitch?"
"How did he get you in the first place mate?"
They fell like an avalanche on Jack, even Sandy was firing off symbols and question marks. He put his hands up defensively as though trying to halt a physical assault, heart hammering as they quieted. After so long craving to be seen, to suddenly be under such scrutiny made him quail a little, his resolve flickering like a candle caught in a breeze. He wanted to flee. But he owed them. Owed them a tale of a Nightmare King and his Prince, of a General of Nightmares with a sad and tired face. He owed them apologies and explanations. He felt he most owed these to Bunny whom he had taken physically from whilst he was Blackjack.
They looked at him expectantly, as he gripped his staff and strengthened his resolve. "I was watching the sunset in the Arctic when he got me. He surprised me, I didn't notice what was happening until I was too slow to stop it."
And so he told them a tale of a Blackjack and Pitch Black; told them of the disconnect between who he was and what he was doing. He didn't tell him his lack of remorse and he defended his position on giving the not-Pitch back his shadows and nightmares. He owed them a lot, he owed them as close to the truth as he dared, but something in the shadowy areas of his heart, where the loneliness had receded to, felt that the shadows trapped in his mind were something unforgiveable. That not immediately seeking away to get them out was unforgivable.
So he didn't tell them.
Maybe he'd tell them when Pitch stirred again.
Maybe he'd tell them then.
A/N: And pretty sure that that is the end of that little saga. I apologise (I'm not really sorry) about the word gaol - you may know it as JAIL but my spell checker is okay with my Australian English word for it so :P