This chapter is short. ARE YOU NOT SURPRISED AND PLEASED?! Haha I can't believe it took 52 chapters for me to finally make that promise...and I feel sorta empty. Is that weird now? Lol but don't worry, the long chapters will come back. Two more to go! So let's do this for Jack and Tooth!
*This chapter was beta-ed by Lauren, aka sass-master-jack-frost on tumblr, my hilarious whirlwind of a friend who deserves more Red Velvet ice cream than she is due! Thank you sweetie. :D And thanks again to all you guys. :) Replies are still on the way!
Punjam Hy Loo, 5:16 p.m.
"Hah! ...ah–haa! Hahaha!"
"Come on, one more time!"
"Haha one more!"
"Why can't you just–""Okay, okay! Ready?"
"–den... Dva... Tri!"
Then North picked up Tina a second time and spun her around. The other two youngest handmaidens squealed and jumped, wanting another ride too, but the Russian Chief laughed and showed his skill by balancing her on his strong arm.
"Me next!" Tina cried. "Me–ah!"
One of Phil's giant furry officers swooped in and hefted her onto his large shoulders. He smiled the whole way through.
Tina laughed hysterically – even behind his broom-of-a-moustache, no one could understand a thing.
When Nicolas realized that the lieutenant was trying to give her the best view ever, he guffawed from his giant belly and Tiati jumped back a bit in her party flats when his gut almost knocked her out. Her royal jewelry jingled and her coin purse attached to her hip bounced along with her.
Nicolas looked at her when he came back around in his spin.
"Ah, you little princesses," he smiled, his heart filled with father-like warmth. "You're all on naughty list!"
"I'm okay with that!" Tina shouted and she hugged the "yeti's" head as he bounced on his knees with the beat.
"One, two, one, two!"
And no one was going home, at least not yet.
"One, two, one, two!"
Thunder was the living heartbeat throughout the entire castle...strong as Jack, pure as Tooth. All the people were shouting, cheering, and the music was so loud that the Hypunjam palace had basically become the island's amphitheatre. The bass carried the steady pulse and with it, the castle workers, the Lulus, the (nightly-retired) press and dignitaries and secret agents followed along.
Toothiana's royal halls were filled with color and dance and she grinned with gentle ecstasy as she got swept up in the magic of the people and beauty of her three cultures.
Clap, clap, clap
Clap, clap, clap
She bent her head and closed her eyes.
Everyone's feet jumped twice and as she raised her arms, her entire service of handmaidens threw their hands up. Then they clapped in unison, finishing their group celebratory dance. She then threw them all a nostalgic smile as they quickly separated from her and danced with other people.
In the near distance, glasses clinked and men (many of them from the Hypunjam Army, Southeast Asian national police, and undercover ELFs) smiled tirelessly, already thinking about what the transforming princess would get herself into next. Locals shouted this way and that, reuniting with friends and family in the Guard and at the palace who been away from home since Princess Thia had disappeared, ready for new stories to hear. And the momentum never stopped. Even as the sun peaked high until it started to move, the light in the palace was bright and tension snapped like peanut brittle.
Tooth's flats pounded the marble floor as she gripped Tia's hands and danced in a fast circle.
The bun atop her head bopped along with her gold crown and white feather. Her father's necklace bounced against her dress.
"Faster!" she challenged the 15-year-old, "come on, is that all you got?!"
And for the first time in a long time, Tia laughed hard and loud.
Still jumping to the beat of the music, the two sisters let go and started turning already in the direction of the high-pitched shout. They moved quickly together through the enormous crowd. Tooth's heart pounded with so much unkempt energy, making her center sing warmly inside her. Twice, she was pulled into a tight hug by two palace workers she'd grown up with, and one older guard even picked her up ("Hey put me down, Chayakorn!") just to throw her to the rest of her sisters.
Tat was already standing with the seven, dressed as the rest in jeweled party clothes (each with one color of the rainbow splotches on her dress) and jingling gold jewellery, as Tiana held up what Tooth hadn't seen in months – a camera.
BT ushered all the girls into a tight cluster.
"Ow! You stepped on my f–"
"You have a center gene Tiana, you can deal with it!"
"–nd this time's no one's touching this photo!"
"Aa Ta! Get in here!"
Prince Tanvir laughed.
Tooth grinned lovingly and hugged his waist.
As the music continued, the flashes went off...and this time, all the photos remained personal.
Mr. Edmund, come! COME!
Oy, what're you–
All the forgiveness was genuine, all the feelings were real.
"Dance with us! Please, please, please!"
Aster gawked as Tulia and Tatiana pulled his arms to the dance floor. He chuckled warmly, a sound and feeling in his throat he almost forgot he could make. Making his heart soar, it cemented his adoration for having ever met the princess.
"Heh sorry girls, I don't dance."
"One! Just one!"
"Can you jump and take me to the washroom?!"
He laughed outright.
"You cracked up little–are you kiddin' me right n–"
"Uh bup bup!"
And before he could sense her intrusion, Tooth appeared, gripping his arms.
"Go!" the princess ordered – then she tugged his sleeve and made him lean down to her tiptoed height... and she kissed him on the cheek. When she pulled back, his cheeks turned slightly red with embarrassment.
She was grinning ear to ear.
"Where would I be without you, Mr. Bunny?" she teased and clutched his hand. "Thank you so much."
Aster laughed and shook his head, then smiled softly back at her. Tooth rolled her eyes.
"Ah come on I'll help, girls!" and Tools and BT helped her drag him in for one crazy ride.
Everything about the sun, the energy, and the mission... it all seemed to chase the darkness away.
Mr. Sandy! Mr. Sandy, over here!
And for one auspicious moment... it was perfect.
Sanderson grinned and lifted his arms for Tooth. She squatted low in her dress and enveloped him in the tightest hug ever.
"...thank you for everything," she whispered as her eyes squinted shut. Sandy didn't sign anything. Instead, he closed his too squeezed her back, all his frown lines and stress almost evaporating for years at her service. He merely held on tight.
Everything was as it should have been. Better.
The ELFs in attendance took pictures with their teams, still in their business suits, still smiling and still making fun of each other and getting high off the castle alcohol. In comparison, the few undercover agents from the publicly known agencies shook their hands and offered them advice about staying covert and to call them for intel anytime. And as Jack moved around shaking hands and clapping backs with North and the others, further solidifying his trust in his stealth teams and the ELF organization, they reflected back onto him and everyone else. Whether it was showing off Aster's weapons when no one was looking, yelling fifty languages back and forth across Tooth's palace, or just... being their regular human selves.
Dean managed to sneak in a photo bomb with Linae until she clocked him in the side of the jaw.
He rubbed his sore spot as the ELFs laughed around them and Linae leaned in to glare dangerously.
"Such poetry, Casanova," she smirked – then grabbed his hand and deftly wiped her number in his palm. As she finished, the wolf calls were heard and pulled back with a point at his dumbstruck face.
"Did you just–"
"I expect a candlelit dinner your grandmother will be ashamed of, a new glock, and anywhere that a kink isn't implied will get your woo with me severed just like *snap* that," she smirked. "So you'd better commit that to memory before the ink washes out. I'm not giving it to you again, dumb bum!"
And Dean's lopsided grin appeared, the first one in all the years since he'd been on N.O.N.
He then high-fived his old ELF buddy who was watching in shame on the side. Linae walked away to leave him in his own embarrassment.
One, two, one, two!
Are you ready?
Tooth laughed. Tuhina squealed and covered her eyes to stop from fidgeting as slightly-taller Tina finished drawing the feather on her head. All the sisters were in a loose circle – the words Happy New Year kept leaving their laughs and filling their hearts.
"...I wish you'll get a new sketchbook," she finally wished out and Tuhina blushed and dropped her hands from her face. She bounced excitedly on her knees. Then standing on her tiptoes, Tuhina reached up and drew a long feather on Tina's forehead that the 12-yr-old knew had more detail than hers.
Tuhina grinned. "And I hope you find your soccer ball this year."
Tina pulled her head back with a cheeky grin.
"Why? Did you steal it?!" and she poked the younger sister in the stomach as she squeaked and giggled.
As they continued to pester each other, to their left, the other girls had finished drawing their sixth set of feathers on each other before they rotated again. As Tulia raced away from Tat, Theena finished pulling back from Tooth's head – she smiled.
"...I wish that we will always be your sisters and not your clones."
Toothiana smiled back and bent herself lower on her knees to be at Theena's height.
"You were never clones. After everything we've been through, are you kidding me?" and Tooth pulled Theena in for a tight hug. "I'm back again, for real this time. Truly, and I will never forget our memories, I know it... I'll be that kind of guardian."
And Tooth pulled her away at arm's length and pointed at her chest.
"I'm your GUARDIAN now. Right here."
The sisters beamed as Tooth crossed her arms and smirked.
"But seriously? Codenames? You guys had them way before me, and you'd never even MET a spy until I..."
She shook her head and remembered the tooth boxes, all now in her bedroom above the fireplace like trophies until North and GUARDIANs needed them again.
Siamese redbacks, redwings, Robins, motmots, swallows, condors, cranes and kiwis...
And none of the names would be scratched out. She'd make sure of it.
"Well?" Tia smiled nervously as she clasped her hands behind her back.
"No, no, I'm not jealous! Psh, please! If anything... I am so happy."
Tooth grinned and on instinct, she moved graceful and quick, just in time to catch Tiati who hugged her around the neck. The girls laughed and cheered and they all jumped on their feet and started dancing again. And Tooth held Tiati closer and gave her tight spin.
Her heart never soared so high.
"Sorry again, Toothie."
"No more sorrys," she breathed one more time, just for them because she knew they were still lingering on it just a little bit longer. When she felt their centers flutter around her, she shut her eyes and smiled.
"You are my sisters... and I will always love you... no matter what."
And when Theena moved in to hug her legs, Tooth laughed – Tiati gave her a quick kiss on her cheek before she hugged her face.
Tooth laughed even harder.
Clap, clap, clap
"Long may she reign."
Uncle Tanvir lifted his glass and the entire hall followed with their champagne, sparkling water, and juice. They were all pointing to Toothiana in the center of the circle – but she shook her head firmly.
She then lifted her own even higher... smiling into the sun. "...long may we reign."
And the castle, the spies, the islanders, and the officials smiled, each in their own pride. And nothing could top what Tooth felt in that moment – infinity, the feeling of home, the unity...
One, two, one, two!
Pitch almost won, professors could've made her redo her midterm, another man might lose his nuts tomorrow if he tried to kidnap Tooth again ... and they could all go to hell. Nothing was more important than the feeling of triumph and more important...the feeling of family.
"Aw, you're kidding me."
Jack grinned softly and squatted lower on the balls of his heels as Tiati used his arm for balance.
He held up the intricate leather cord with (knotted at one end) the small and sleek, pipe of tungsten curved and soldered into a complete circle. Jack immediately swept his blue eyes across between Tiati and Tuhina.
He was in awe.
"You two got this for me?"
Tuhina nodded bravely (to the point of shaking) and traced a feather under his bangs – she had no concept of manners like her big sister.
And Jack grinned at that.
"It's not New Years yet," she recited with nervous grin, "but we want to wish Jack the best year ever, and to thank him for everything he's done with his friends."
He then let Tiati put the necklace around his neck.
Then the circle was resting against his white dress shirt under his tuxedo, and since he had no tie and his top buttons were open, it settled handsomely against his exposed throat.
Jack's smile turned shy, but he couldn't deny the stretch it wanted to make across his face.
"Thank you for saving us, Jack," Tuhina said, and he easily wrapped his arms around the two of them for a short, but little sisters' hug. Jack shut his eyes, old feelings coursing through his veins and into his heart like an overflowing river.
There were so many reasons and he just couldn't get enough of anything.. of Tooth's sisters, the feathers in his heart, the people he'd surrounded himself with.
To hell with painful satisfaction, fighting sorrow, and his competitive struggles for one day in his life. Even in the way his stealth ELF team survivors stayed close, the sounds of North and Prince Tanvir talking more and more casually with Sandy in support and the thought of how out of place he must seem to everyone, Jack didn't care.
"One more picture for me!" Tina shouted across the hall with a 'certain royal guard' and a snickering Baby Tooth.
His laughed traveled across the room – as did Phil's gargantuan shout when more food rolled in.
Tooth was close to tears in laughter.
She continued dancing on.
Jack slowed in his walk away from his photo op with North, Aster, Sandy, Phil, and his ELF stealth team. His hand slipped from the two medals now resting against his chest. His gaze cut through the sea of dancing palace people as clear and clean as a diamond. Tooth's jumping flickered in and out behind the people and her mouth flying open in a laugh he couldn't hear... but seeing her was his kryptonite.
For a flicker of a moment, he caught her rise up above the crowd as Prince Tanvir lifted her up in a surprise dance lift. He made an "oof!" right after – because Tooth elbowed him in the gut on instinct.
"Haha sorry, Aa!" she laughed and it filled his ears.
And something inside Jack made his center pulse long and strong. As he turned back around, Aster was standing there with his arms crossed. His expression was open and relaxed – almost foreign to Jack.
The brunet shot him a mischievous smile.
"So...does this mean that we're–well, I'm," he smirked, "no longer marked as a criminal? Seeing as all the feds are here. And the reporters? I mean–"
"Pft, like you could handle y'self if they wanted to."
Jack shot him a look.
Aster let up and chuckled as he dropped his defensive stance.
"Jack, relax..." he slapped Jack across his back. "The world may know us now and what we've done, but no one's gonna see yer face on these camera feeds. The Hummin'bird's personal station made sure of it. The papers will circulate and the stations will talk...but only th' island can see us."
Jack's dark eyebrows lifted.
"Oh really?" he asked, to which Aster nodded.
"Trust me for once, mate, and stop frettin'," he smirked and crossed his arms. "The girls and the island are safer this way. And thanks to all th' agents encryption codes here, I managed to hack into a massive databank of servers and list serves, and I removed you off all the wanted lists."
When Jack said nothing in immediate response, Aster glanced over at him.
Seeing Jack's mouth slack without a smartass comeback was something he thought he'd never get to do again.
"You've been expunged. You're a cold case now, y'gumbie," he said reassuringly albeit a little proud. "Jack Frost is invisible again to all the transnational policing organizations, and major government threats. And if anyone says different, the blokes here will cover yer ass... Your credentials are with us in case anyone ever needs your help, but you're free."
A word Jack could not, did not believe he would ever hear again.
He thought... He thought he was...
And yet here, now–
Aster watched with a soft (but smug) smile on his face as Jack stared down at the floor. His mouth was moving for a second, trying to put together the words, before he stopped altogether and looked back up at the Australian.
"Edmund... You son of a..."
A second later, a sigh left his mouth and Aster smirked.
"Even morons need friends."
And a grateful smile split across Jack's face, real and pure.
He raised his hands.
"Nice try, cottontail," Jack grinned then he moved in and shook Aster's hand – and immediately followed with a one-armed hug and back pat. Aster was stunned for a split second, his green eyes wide with surprise. Jack had even said... said his first name.
But then he closed his briefly and gave Jack the manliest hug back, full of gentle testosterone and genuine compassion.
"Not bad yourself, you big-eared pony."
Jack rolled his eyes.
The two held it for a sold three seconds before Aster pulled back. The Aussy touched his shoulder and as he looked back at through the crowd, his smile growing slightly bigger.
"Glad you came back, mate," he admitted gently while North came up suddenly behind Jack with a warm gaze.
And when Jack followed his emerald gaze, he realized where the hacker was looking... straight at Tooth.
"I wouldn't miss you guys for anything," he smiled in distraction and Aster snickered. He even failed to miss as Aster moved away to find Sandy and some carrots (a shock even to him) as Nicolas placed his large hand on Jack's shoulder.
He leaned in close.
"Now, do you see?" North mumbled as he hovered over Jack's ear. The two said nothing as their wintry blue eyes swept the entire room, full of light and frolic. It was the way it should be and the people were as North said they should always be.
Jack nodded humbly, to which the Russian grinned softly.
"It is destiny... you cannot say no."
And the younger GUARDIAN smiled slightly.
"Jack, come on! Eat something, y'damn string bean!"
"Alright, alright," Jack chuckled. "I'm coming."
Tooth gave Tiati one more tight squeeze.
"I'm so lucky to be a sister," she teased before she dropped the tiny girl on her even tinier feet.
"And you are very, very, VERY LUCKY to be a princess!"
"Why?" Tooth laughed.
The girls, all except for Baby Tooth, grabbed her arms and dragged her lower into their circle.
She laughed again. "Haha why?!"
"WHY?!" Tiana grinned. "Because isn't it obvious?!"
"Jack is so protective of you!" Tia giggled and Theena gripped her arm tighter.
"He's so brave!" she threw in. "I mean, they're all brave! But Jack watches over you a lot and you don't even–"
Tooth blushed a shade of pink as Tuhina did too and nodded her head in agreement.
"He's really sweet too, Tooth!"
"And so hot."
"And he has really nice teeth, you like those, right Tooth?"
"Oh my god, BT!"
But Baby Tooth teased her anyway, not at all fangirling like she thought she might – Tat guessed that maybe it was because she saw Jack in a different way thanks to Pitch.
It didn't stop her from smirking anyway.
"Gorgeous teeth for you. I know!"
"We all know," Tia grinned.
"And he can fight!"
"Duh, because he's a spy! Like that Tom guy in those Mission Impossible movies Minister Ty liked so much," Tina added with wide eyes as she jumped up and down. "Oh! Oh! Ooh, can you ask him to stay and teach me a few moves?"
"Oh come oooon, Toothie!" Tulia cheered. "Don't you like Jack? You need to make him stay! Don't lie to us!"
Tooth sputtered. "What t–b-but I–"
"Because he's just so..." Tiana rose her hands like she was holding his face in her hands and they were physically shaking. "Ahh he's amazing!"
Tiati bounced up and down. "Jack! Jack! JACK!"
At her outburst, the eight of them froze instantly while Tiana slapped her hand over the eight-year-old's mouth – but Jack had already paused in his mid-turn and stared at them over his shoulder. Across the room, their nine pair of jewel-colored eyes locked on his face so intently. He felt a little self-conscious. Jack gulped and for the first time in hours, he worried more about his appearance with a set of girls than an actual set of criminals or Nightmares. But then he caught Tooth and her powerful magenta irises slightly higher than the bunch.
He watched her cheeks dusted with a rosy splash of skin... and it was everything he needed. Just the sight of Toothiana, healthy, beautiful, and right there, even at the expense of his discomfort... was everything.
She tilted her head.
Then the girls watched as it melted into a soft, handsome grin and he gave a small wave.
When Tooth's skin burned red hot, the girls erupted in hysterics, squealing at each other and covering their eyes like he'd blinded them with his teeth. And Tooth smiled shyly, and threw him the tiniest, most pathetic wave back.
'You little shit!" she fought with herself. 'You should never be allowed to smile like that again!'
Too bad her eyes were telling him different.
Yet even as the girls danced again and again, Tooth found herself glancing more at Jack and his heartbreaker blue eyes – and he smiled back, more content to just stand and move along the sidelines around her circle.
His heart was erratic in his chest.
One, two, one, two!
Clap, clap, clap
Long may we reign.
The dance went on for several more hours, carrying with it the sun and the warm glow of the islanders and its protectors. The dancing did not stop, even as many of the reporters left and the dignitaries departed on their private jets back to business and affairs, and the few hundred locals remaining promised to help the palace workers distribute any leftover food they had to their extended towns and villages.
As the party came to gentle rumble of beats and occasional cheers, Jack watched the sun, waiting for the moon.
He excused himself out of the hall for a moment to think on it. The moon meant night-time, and night-time meant cool island breezes, and cool island breezes...meant that his gene would get to play in the Hypunjam palace one last time.
As he walked alone, Jack took one hand out of his dress pants' pocket and flexed his fingers. It was still warm and the breeze only held on for a few seconds before they died away.
He then reached up and clutched the steel charm from the cord of his new necklace. He could come up with a thousand analogies for the meaning of a circle... and every reason, and everyone who could reflect them perfectly. But all he wanted to do was breathe.
Jack flexed his fingers, still achy from his coma.
He wanted to breathe... he wanted to fly. Hell, Jack wanted to leap right off the ground and let the wind take him to where his heart wanted to go in all four directions. He had... He had so much time now and there was no more clock to outrun. The memories were aligned, the darkness in his mind had dimmed, and the rage in his heart (while still burning ready for when he needed it) was back on the right path again. At least, he hoped.
And he should at least try to enjoy that because soon, he would be leaving summer and saying hello to winter like he always did.
As he walked, he looked up and shook his head.
A low chuckle left his lips.
Goodbye summer? It was goodbye to the entire year, and everything it had brought!
He fallen through the cracks and forgot everything about himself, edging so close to the point of no return and yet, here he was in a completely different scenario. He was in a story he could never have imagined himself.
Or, maybe the right choice of words was... He could have ever dared to believe?
Yeah. That was more like it.
What a dare to believe in this story.
What a year.
He sighed and ran the hand through his hair instead.
And what a way to go.
With a quick glance, Jack noticed he was going to pass the east wing and he took a quick turn in and jogged down the steps. The thoughts of assault rifles, highly classified information, and criminal affiliations were the furthest things from his mind.
All he wanted was his mind to himself.
Jack paused in his walk and pulled his hand from his hair with a slight frown.
And maybe one more stop to the nursery wouldn't hurt either – the ex-operative still had one more vial of biotic to use.
He blew a breath passed his lips.
30 minutes later...
Jack left behind his tuxedo coat and rolled up his white sleeves. He pushed his white bangs away from his eyelashes and smiled.
All the dye was gone.
Without the reporters to see, his brighter eyes and brighter hair were free and wild again.
And best of all...no more pain.
He still carried his scars, his eyes were still blue, and major cuts and bruises were still littering him, but the biotic (in its 24-hour lifespan) was true to its word.
No more physio, psychological, and self-consciousness for him. Healing always took time, but at least people managed through them.
That was the last time Tooth's cells would be harvested – and no one could be more grateful than him.
The wind whistled alongside him, feeling his core pulsate as if to agree.
As Jack walked again, he rolled up the sleeves on his white dress shirt and unbuttoned the top a little more – the setting sun still did little to cool his body, but hey, at least he didn't have to worry about feeling improper.
By now the party had ended (Lulus were always known to finish occasions before it got dark in order to relax and watch the horizon) and the wing he'd been staying in was the one that had the most privacy. Most rooms in the east wing didn't even need shoes to be worn (custom, he guessed) except for workers or visitors from other parts of the castle. So for the first time in an eternity, Jack didn't have his shoes on and padded silently through the wing, absorbing the cold surface of the marble and relishing in his center's essence.
Padding silently across the open balcony Jack tested his smile again, nearly trapped in it.
He loved it so much.
He almost wanted to be barefoot for the rest of his life. And it seemed like no one had come in yet to disturb the area, so it was him, all alone again to enjoy the solitude... He'd almost forgotten what it was like to even miss simple things like this.
With a tiny chuckle, he even hopped a little on his soles, cold exploding across his skin and driving through him like an anvil saying this is you...really, you.
So don't forget it.
'Don't forget it.'
Jack then turned his head to look out to the open balcony running beside the open hallway. He stared down at the island and laced his hands behind his head.
"Don't forget..." he mumbled and his center thumped deep inside him. And Emma.. somewhere inside him, Emma was giving him a big smile, like a photograph... a ribbon still tied to his heart.
The GUARDIAN sighed.
He tried to memorize every feeling about this palace. He knew that Punjam Hy Loo would be, by far, one of the most exotic and unforgettable destinations he'd ever traveled to. Of all the places he'd been, he could earnestly say that. But what about the ones he'd only been to once? Or the ones he'd never been to?
Jack stopped, his left foot hanging in mid-step. He leaned his head back past an open door and refocused his gaze again at what he was finally seeing. But he felt no immediate danger. In fact, it was the complete opposite.
Jack dropped his hands from his behind his head.
Funny how mischief and danger, though two words on complete ends of the scale, went hand-in-hand so easy. He'd stopped right in front of the princess' royal bedroom. And deep inside at the other end, sitting on the balcony edge all by herself...
He saw Tooth's back, watching the dying sun.
Chapter's soundtrack: "Promise" – Thomas Bergersen
See you in three months! :D
Hahaha no no I'm not that mean! But I do have some news to announce. From June 29th, I'll be working in Turkey for a month and a half and, while they promised internet connection in our dormitories, I can't be certain. So... this might be the last update you will see until I come home in August. I'm so sorry! BUT, I will be bringing my laptop and trying to consult my betas any chance I can get and who knows... if we're lucky you might see an update while I'm there. I just wanted to let you know in case this story might be delayed AGAIN, but I'll never stop writing. :3 I'm still having a blast sharing this story with all of you. So thank you guys for always being so understanding and super kind, and I promise to have the story and all its beautiful insanity ready for you while I'm there or when I come home.
Lots of love!