Edit. I'M BACK FROM TURKEY! AND THAT MEANS IT'S FEELINGS TIMES LOL. I apologize for the lateness; I wanted this up for weeks earlier but I came back with a serious case of jet bloat and vertigo so I couldn't even look at the screen let alone go online. Lol regardless, I hope you had an awesome July and August (I know I sure did, interning abroad was freakin' spectacular!) so thank you for always being so nice during these long in-betweens. And since many of us are all heading back to school, best wishes for the new year!
'Moya Koroleva' means... my queen.
Toothiana's bedroom, 5:57 pm
Tooth's laugh followed as she grew quiet again but by then, his curiosity was already pulling him in.
Jack shoved his hands into his pockets and pressed his bare feet to the marble tiles, the easy, minuscule stretch came to the corners of his lips.
Princess Thia had changed again. Dressed in a two-tone sari of turquoise and green with gold trimmings and he admired how the fabric from her skirt fluttered at her ankles. The upper half gave him the sight of the smooth skin of her stomach and while she was still wearing her beautiful shobha shringar along the crown of her hairline, she had taken off her earrings, her royal choker, a few bracelets. She was essentially the normal Toothiana he knew so well. And yet she was here, in her room, and all Jack could think was... why?
He couldn't lie if he wanted to though; the sight of her in it made the warm flush that always seemed impossible rush down his skin. As he continued walking, doing a quick sweep of her room, Tooth didn't hear or sense him. He listened to her chuckles, low and light...
Until he immediately stopped himself. Because 'surprised' wasn't even the word to describe what he was actually seeing in front of him.
And for the first time in Jack's life, he saw a hummingbird, a fiery-throated hummingbird. The pride of her people and the symbol of Tooth's essence.
He was awestruck. With jewel-toned feathers and a tiny body moving so fast, he almost swore it didn't have any wings. So close to her body, it seemed unafraid of her like a curious baby and Jack inched forward, watching it, staring so intently, as it even hovered just above Tooth's crown. Suddenly, it flashed out of his vision. Tagging it fast, Jack's blue irises caught up to it in a millisecond and readjusted to its new position... right in front of Tooth's face.
Her pink eyes locked with the bird's black, beady ones in some kind of silent confidence. Jack held his breath but all the Hypunjam princess did was smile wider. Then she blinked slowly and finally moved her finger to her lips.
Tooth then grinned at her tiny friend.
Seconds later, the bird bounced once in the air then flew away. In a circling arc, it beat its wings around her head then tossed itself into the sky. Jack followed it for as long as he could strain his eyes. The hummingbird was one of the most beautiful things he'd seen in his life – he felt almost honored that he even deserved to see it after everything else he'd seen.
Jack's mouth made a soft O-shape. "Wow..."
Tooth chuckled again as she followed it too and with a turn of her head, and in the moment, in the snapshot of the bird she'd just sent flying away, Toothiana became, in his mind, the evolved, beautiful human version of its existence. With tiny feet and a body so buoyant with energy, he couldn't split the two, or the image of her wings as long as her tumbling hair.
It first thing he noticed as she moved on the balcony, the length given a steroid shot from all her recent peppermint consumption. It was longer than he'd ever seen, than he'd ever think to see. But it suited her, its darkness in waves down her back with a certain body, size, and shape to it.
His gaze bore onto her and as the last of the bird's teal and purple-colored feathers left her sight, Jack watched Toothiana turn her head toward him. His fingers twitched, and in an instant, the wind picked up around her tossing its warm current over to him. Jack couldn't help it. She was like a film in slow-motion. The orange sparkle of the sunset caught in her brown waves like gold and her streak blew in the breeze like a charm.
And he gave a small smile.
"You know, if I'd known you were here," he finally spoke low and soft as he shut his eyes, "I would've brought you some tea."
Tooth watched him across the length of her balcony and room as he opened his blue eyes surreptitiously. He shrugged one shoulder.
The princess instantly melted.
She was obviously unaware of the trauma she'd put him and everyone else through when she'd been amnesiac 12 hours earlier. But it seemed that along with Tooth's psychological side effects, the remnants of her anti-menthol ingestion were gone. Thanks to the gift of her gene and the gift of her island, Tooth's buoyant personality floated through and her peace settled in Jack's stomach like warm honey.
He'd never get tired of seeing her smile.
"That'd be great," she breathed happily and Jack opened his mouth–Clap clap!
"Okay then quick, Jack!" She grinned and bounced on her perch. "Turn around and go back! Go get me a cup!"
"That's a royal request. Oh!" Tooth interjected. "Or better yet, you know what I want?"
Jack lifted his head expectantly – she smiled.
"A giant cookie."
Jack chuckled lightly, shaking his head.
"What?" A laugh escaped her throat. "In case you've forgotten, I haven't eaten for three days–Wait, neither have you... do you wanna share a plate then?"
Jack still didn't reply.
Instead of granting her wish, he took the opportunity to glance down at his feet and appreciate the tiles under them. The operative even did a quick spin and started walking backwards, trying to admire her bedroom once again. Sharp and bright the operative observed her room, soaking in the warm orange of her private quarters and catching all the sheets of her last night raid. Her laptop's light was blaring on and off in Sleep Mode. He heard the crashing waves of the sea and rustling trees far in the distance.
Jack slightly pursed his lips.
Was her room bigger than it was last night? He tried to figure out if that were possible, mentally measuring the dimensions of the room and wondering if her armchair really was as comfy as it looked. 30 sq. ft by 45? Impressive – a half smile appeared on his face. Her beanbags were the best idea ever. He even gazed on her photos, all her friends, and her sisters... even Mr. Sandy and the late Prime Minister Bangkot who she managed to catch in a photo bomb. The GUARDIAN tilted his head to the ceiling to and gave a barely heard chuckle.
Tooth's skin flushed.
She watched him without expression but her fingers were tingling the cooler the breeze fell around her. Tooth blinked and blinked again as Jack ignored her, but he never once disappeared. He was still the flesh and blood she knew straight ahead of her. She realized a lot of other things about him that she couldn't stop herself from stealing for her memories... Jack was really there, really there.
The stories were relentless during the party and she couldn't have been more afraid or more proud... All the ELFs' babbling about Jack's Center? Th...that immense ice storm North and Aster told her he'd created just to keep himself alive? Tatiana's rant about the ironic parallel in knowing that he'd slept just as long as her? How could he be here? And... how could she have ever doubted him?
It was him, after all.
Toothiana followed his stance, remembering every detail of what his smooth bare feet looked like and how they moved him across her bedroom. Jack was reserved and graceful as ever. His pace was unhurried and his posture was relaxed. Not at all constricted and mind-of-a-soldier like he always was. She drank in his clothes, unending physique, his jawline... even his new black necklace around his throat that was so goddamn distracting and...
Her eyes widened slightly.
...and how was it that his white hair turned silver so easily in the sunset? It was amazing, it was frustrating, it was...
Tooth bent up her knee under her skirt and leaned her head on it as she continued to gaze – she hid her shy smile and warm cheeks in the folds.
She could analyse him really good now and that was good, right? Or, was that bad?
Flustered and anxious all at once, Tooth quickly tried to fix her hair and hopped down from the balcony ledge in her bedroom slippers. She bit her lip when a knot snagged her fingers.
She still didn't know what her hair looked like to everyone. It had never been as long as it was now and Jack had already seen it in about four different ways. If she had her way, he could probably be her hairstylist now if she wanted an opinion. 'Or maybe I'll dye some part of it turquoise or something, just to freak him out.' But the sudden thought of him yelling in horror about her being "compromised" made her cover one eye and suppress a giggle.
Jack paused and turned over his shoulder. Nothing but the wind whistled between them as Tooth's fingers froze on her locks, staring wide-eyed. The tingling in her digits immediately traveled down to her toes. When he raised an amused eyebrow, she shook her head and shrugged her shoulders instead.
A chuckle left her lips.
"Yeah, I'll bet," he remarked and was already turning on the ball of his foot back toward her. "With you, it's always something."
Then he walked through the balcony threshold and within two meters of her body, Jack stopped.
Someone suddenly took a short inhale of air.
Tooth's eyebrows shot up on her forehead.
Jack made a face that made Tooth burst out laughing. And it wasn't long before Jack bent in snickers and shakes of his head.
How was it that with everything that made them stronger, more reassured, and more self-confident, did nothing for how they were actually suppose to talk face-to-face like normal people? Still, if Jack was being completely honest, he didn't even know what to say to Tooth that wasn't danger-related. It was both nerve-wracking and uplifting... but for Tooth–
The princess cleared her throat. The next thing he knew, she'd sobered up with a confident smile on her face. Her hand extended to him. And Toothiana's smile didn't waver for one second.
"Good job, partner."
His brain hitched for two-tenths of a second. But clever as he always was, Jack grabbed her small hand easily in his large one. Once his grip was tight, he shook it firmly and nodded his head, almost bordering on professional with a condescending smirk, enough to make her pinch his nose.
"Can I count on a stellar testimony regarding my performance from you, your highness?"
"Yes, agent. Princess Has-To-Deal-With-All-Your-Shit is satisfied with the outcome."
"That's not shit," he quipped. "That's my life, remember?"
She snorted as he continued.
"All the reckless driving, the vanishing acts, my short fuse, and oh, let's not forget: the does-everything-to-rescue-you circumstance. So yeah, sure. It's all yours."
"Watch it Frost." She puffed her cheeks while his smirk grew slightly wider, and despite herself, Tooth's grin rose all the way to her cheeks. Jack's hand was cold and smooth as always. She reveled in the contact of his skin without his glove and when she glanced down at the top of his hand, her eyelids fell a little. His snowflake-shaped scar was unconcealed and bright under her golden fingers... Tooth quickly lifted her dark pink eyes. She didn't want to break his stare and she was almost overjoyed to find that his gaze hadn't left. As his sapphire irises were clear and resting on her face, their handshake was almost forgotten. But a second later, Jack pulled away.
Tooth froze... until he opened his arms for her. She looked at him for a full two seconds. But a heartbeat later, she closed the space between them, squeezing him tight around his solid waist. Jack puffed in surprise as he rolled his eyes.
"You need to tell me about your condition later, alright? I'm still unclear and a little apprehensive over the fact that you mutated again. I need your reassurance."
"I know, don't worry." Then neither said a word.
In Jack's silence and strong beats under his chest, goosebumps exploded all across Tooth's skin and the memories flashed behind her eyelids like a book. Pages upon pages of them chasing time and holding each other's hands against the winds... She bit her lip gently against her smile.
Finally, Jack let her go and pulled away as Tooth bent near the potted plant. "Wait. Just one thing left, Jack."
Jack pursed his lips thoughtfully as his eyebrows set high on his forehead. Then he caught the silver in the light of the setting sun. It was Tooth's old disposable camera. She rubbed one of its worn edges with adoration but Jack's skin was already prickling with that quiet, striking energy Toothiana always set on him – he smiled.
"Don't worry..." She pointedly avoided his gaze as she glued her own to her cherished Kodak. "You probably still have that fear of being caught on lenses so I'll understand if you say no. But I had to ask. Although you should really look up the technical term for that pho–"
"Just get over here."
Tooth's ramble fell off her lips and her thousand-watt grin shone brighter than the solar light casting across her balcony. In no time at all, she skipped the space between her and Jack and wedged herself in the close proximity between his chest and the length of her arm for a good shot. Jack rolled his eyes.
"Here let me," he chuckled and took the device from her outstretched hand and extended their frame much farther than she ever could.
"Get a good angle!" she piped under him as he angled it high to give the balcony, the sky, and the rain forest behind them a birdeye's view. "I want this to be perfect."
"Why? Who's gonna see this?"
"Uh... just me. But I still want it to be nice."
Tooth swore she could sense the muscles in his jaw stretch into a grin and she blushed shyly. And with a silent count and a click, both their expressions were captured forever.
"Thanks Jack," Toothiana mumbled as she took the Kodak from him. "I know this will be a great memory."
It was then as she stepped away that Jack realized she was still wearing her crown on her head. It was a gold circlet with a double plate to sit above her forehead and across it in intricate wisps and waving lines that reminded him of flames or feathers. 'A state crown, maybe?' he wondered wistfully. 'Or imperial...' It was too beautiful, and he observed her in all her regalia as she took it off her head and huffed slightly from its weight. And he was reminded once again how many worlds apart they could still be. Jack didn't want to get swallowed up in the reality – not just yet. He crossed his arms in a nonthreatening stance.
"I saw your drawings," he spoke gently. "And the reports."
When Tooth came back from her small, gold balcony table where the crown now sat, she nodded and smiled nervously. Jack closed his mouth for prompt.
"I'm glad you did," she hummed modestly only to have Jack react again.
"Are you gloating?"
"Well, let's make a checklist shall we? We saved my sisters, an suspecting world from rising terrorism, and we recovered the secrets of a powerful, subsidized government project. Not to forget that we stopped the complete extinction of its agents and everything you stood for... How's that for biological warfare?"
Jack narrowed his eyes at the floor and subtlety clenched one fist at his side.
"He's dead, Tooth."
A frown graced her delicate mouth. "Are you certain?"
"I was there, wasn't I?"
"I know, and because I know that, we almost lost you... I almost lost you."
She reached over and touched his fist. Jack's fingers instantly unclenched with a gentle tingle – he looked down at her.
"But you didn't."
"Because I'm like you," she put her other hand on her hip. "I'm stubborn. And princesses should never give up."
Jack leaned against the balcony edge. "Yeah... you really don't. And you should actually take some credit for yourself, Tooth. You kept up with someone like me, and look how many enemies you've made... Your fire is incredible."
"Really?" And Toothiana pushed her hair behind her ears with a blush. "Wow, thank you... that's very kind."
"It's in you, Tooth. I'm just half of what you are. Think about what you can do in a few more years... your mother would be proud."
Tooth grinned nervously.
"You sell yourself short," she chuckled. "Uh, pun definitely intended! Sorry..."
Jack merely stared at her with all of his emotions on display. Nothing was guarded, nothing was cold, and every second that passed had her fighting to keep in the air – despite herself, she felt her throat grow dry as Jack's small smile suddenly appeared again. Dammit to hell, why was it that Jack could pin her so easily? The more that smile kept coming, the more she wanted it... she felt like she'd been suffering from withdrawal. Again.
Jack lifted his dark eyebrow. "You think so huh?"
"Yeah. You know how much you took my breath away? Wait, I-I mean–"
A daring smile twitched at the right corner of his mouth again. "Did I?"
Tooth's expression darkened threateningly, but her cheeks grew warm regardless.
"I'm a spy," he interjected. "I don't get many compliments. So by all means, shower me with whatever you're hiding."
She glared. "I am not hiding anything."
And Jack glared back.
"Which means that your dancing ability isn't off the table?"
Tooth blinked up at him.
"Nothing," he said nonchalantly and put his hands in his pockets.
He smirked her way causing a blush bloom ten thousand shades of red on her face.
"H-Hey, excuse yourself!" She laughed to cover it up but the warmth spread from her neck down to chest. "I-I've practiced that for years too and I'm not nearly as good as the other handmaidens! I mean, okay, it might have something to do with my Center mutation now–North's doctors did say my bones are more flexible, almost contortionist worthy, but I haven't even tried doing anyth... Okay, there was that one time I snuck out to find some candied ma–wait a minute, why did you end up here anyway? Did you get lost?"
Jack was startled at first by her abrupt change in conversation. He was enjoying (relishing) how tongue-tied Toothiana could still be, trying to keep up. But after glancing her way, his eyes fell with dampened spirits as Tooth leaned in to peer up at him.
"And I don't just mean in my room. Kinda my fault since I left the door open but–"
"Oh I was... going to pack my things." He couldn't even look at her. Pack his things? He didn't have things.
"Pack your... Oh."
Tooth faltered for a moment, and for the first time since she remembered Pi... that night, so did her voice – she started to frown. "Uh, and...how is everyone? Downstairs, I mean?"
Jack moved to push his hands into his pockets again.
"They're okay. Sanderson's hitting the eggnog pretty hard with North and some of the ELFs, I guess."
It wasn't good actually. Mr. Sandy was notorious for holding in his wine but she wasn't sure if Nicolas or his men were that strong. Her mind wasn't really on it though.
"And Tatiana is looking after the girls," Jack added softly.
"Good. That's good..."
As she nodded, the princess turned and headed back to the edge of the balcony. The ex-Guardian followed suit. Soon they both had their elbows braced on the marble's ledge, relaxing side-by-side and staring out beyond the rain forest and gorgeous twilight. Jack felt the wind instantly fly up to lift his snowy-white bangs. It felt like Philadelphia all over again... the two of them bonding over everything and nothing while the rest of the world spun on, blissfully aware. As his lungs expanded and his mind seemed to slow, Jack shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, your highness. What's your first objective?"
Tooth didn't even react. She sighed as the wind tossed her streak aside. She smiled sadly, "School, obviously."
Jack smirked. "Obviously."
She chuckled at his retort. "You just know that's what I'll do?"
"I do," Jack's eyebrows lifted briefly. "I just want to hear you say it, and make sure you didn't plan on running away with any insurgents thanks to my bad influence."
"I'm not that much of a loose cannon!" Her face grew slightly red. "I can maintain order in my life–but oh come on, what's wrong with that? Becoming a freedom fighter?"
But Jack lowered his head as he stared down into the canopy surrounding her kingdom. "Don't joke," he warned. "I'm serious."
She gave a slight smile which he saw in the corner of his eye. "Wouldn't dream of it without you. Heh but you can't deny that you've rubbed off on me since Day 1."
"Yeah thanks to me, you now hit projectiles with 3 shot-zero precision–"
"–thanks to you, I'm more sure about everything now."
"Okay not everything," she huffed, "but a lot of things. Especially about certain avenues in my life... and I feel it. I've changed."
Her words settled on the both of them. Jack let out an exhale in response. God knows how freaking long he'd been waiting to hear that from her, from anyone really. He almost forgot what it was like to hear conviction, to feel it, sense it, from within someone else. Especially from someone who deserved to say it the most. His facial muscles continued to soften, smoothing his jawline against the orange light.
"I've changed, not a lot... but in the little ways that matter. You know what I mean?"
And his smile slowly came back.
Toothiana shut her eyes gently.
"And I wish someone had been there for you a long time ago. I wish I'd known about your memory in any other way. With the power I have, I could've helped you."
She opened them in the pause Jack weighed. Tooth's cerise orbs lit up with the sun. His lips moved. "...without you, I wouldn't have returned to the clarity and glory that I am. So thanks."
And for Tooth, whose heart skipped a beat in her chest and contentedness spread across her skin, it was enough. As she touched his shoulder, her tiny smile turned into a sweet one before she could stop herself.
Jack blinked sideways at her.
"Just... just look how much you've grown."
"Yeah and me," Tooth added. "We've grown... a lot, and not even over the full span of one week. I mean, one week. That's how long I've only known you."
"Barely," Jack agreed as he blew a long breath between his lips. "But... yeah. Looking at all we've done in these last 6 days, it's astonishing. Shocking, really."
"Mmm," she mused in agreement then walked away from Jack. As he turned and watched her pad around in her slippers, his heart gave a sudden painful thump. Tooth looked so normal, so adorable... He smiled. "And I owe that to you."
"You owe it to yourself."
He glanced at her. "You figure that?"
Tooth put her hand on her hip. "Really? You want me to replay the last week for you or what?" And a sudden, impish smile appeared on Jack's face.
"Our lives may be different, but you sure our games haven't stayed the same?"
Tooth stopped and lifted her eyebrow. "Huh?" She frowned playfully but Jack walked towards her; when he was close again, he opened his palm discreetly in direct line with hers. Tooth sensed it in her fingertips and opened up her hand. But at the last second before their skin touched... Jack smirked. He diverted his hand and missed catching hers. She grinned suddenly. "What're you–"
A chill ran up her spine. "Hey!"
She almost squawked. As Tooth gripped the front of her dress, Jack raised a taunting eyebrow – her father's golden chain was dangling from his fingers.
"First rule of espionage, Toothiana. Watch your surroundings."
"Son of a...What–GIVE IT BACK!"
With a quick rush froward, Tooth cut the distance between herself and the operative in a heartbeat. She swiped – she missed. Jack clutched it tight in his palm and rolled the golden clasp's charm between his fingers.
"Hand it over!"
"You're making this too easy," his smile grew wider. "Come on!"
"Jaaack..." Tooth sang but the 24-yr-old ducked around her fluid dive and twisted away. "Jack!"
His snicker grew louder as Tooth swooped under his guarding forearm; and when she knocked his wrist away without so much of a strategy, Jack was fully laughing. His deep, boyish shrill sent goosebumps running all up Tooth's skin and Tooth paused just the slightest to stare – and she grinned, refusing to admit how much she was falling for him more than she thought she could.
"I can't..." she panted and twirled around in her slippers to find him. "I can't believe you–"
With a slight gasp, she reached up to her chest, feeling the coolness of the chain re-clasped around her neck again. Jack immediately popped up in front of her. He looked completely innocent.
"I didn't do anything."
"You're insane!" Tooth laughed and she squealed as she tried to circle around him, afraid he'd try something in retaliation – and when he laughed in response, she moved quick on Bagua foot patterns; natural, surprising, and out of his eyesight. "Don't even try that again!"
He snickered. "What if I want to tie you up and kidnap you again?"
"You wouldn't dare."
"You still owe me for all the whining–"
"You owe me the years I lost stressed over you–"
"Or... okay, comprise!"
Not even thinking it through, she quickly yanked his wrist – and quickly pulled him with enough accidental force to make her partner slam right into her chest.
Jack automatically rolled his eyes. "Princess Graceless."
"Oh my god, stop spending so much time with Baby T..." but Tooth immediately started laughing again as she looked up. Blue catching pink, her eyes were trapped in his gaze and she couldn't pull away. Watching as all his thoughts and calculations flickered intensely, drawing her in deeper, letting her swim... Toothiana found herself blushing at their closeness and tried looking around for the right answers.
"Uh..." she chuckled pathetically. "W-What I meant was...how 'bout a dance? We still owe each other one. Remember that?"
Jack didn't say anything, just watching in amusement as her one thousand myriad of emotions ran across her face. Her laugh made bubbles inside him pop warmly and loosen the band silently tightening around his chest. He couldn't even think about the party for a second. The physical world could go screw itself.
He was floating as Tooth looked up with a brilliant smile.
"Jack," Tooth then nudged her head in the direction of the bedroom door, "...dance with me one more time?"
He grinned, almost shyly.
"Don't I get an emergency exit?"
But Tooth threw him a teasing grin herself before she busied herself with fixing their arms into the right holding positions. He noticed her cheeks turning pink. "Sorry pal, this is it. And no music this time, or you'll get sappy on me."
Jack chuckled outright and Tooth couldn't be prouder.
"Fine, but I'm not your pal... I'm your partner."
"Damn right you are," she quipped and in one bright sweep, Tooth tugged Jack in a long circle and caught him in a ballroom stance – she grinned.
"Wait, hang on."
A second later, he produced a short, concealed dinner knife from the back of waistbelt.
"Wait, what?" Tooth's mouth fell open as Jack shrugged humbly.
"What what? I have to be armed all the time. For you anyway."
Tooth melted as he smirked. Then without thought or feeling, he moved on automatic. His hand clutched hers tight as he pulled their arms out like two support beams. He felt Tooth's fingers rest on his shoulder and the moment her gene flickered life into him, his other hand found her waist like a lifeline. He gently traveled the length of her silken fabric until his fingers fell naturally against the curve of her waist to her hip. He gripped her tight and with Tooth's blessing, she stepped in closer.
"By the way... I like your dress."
And with her grin, they started to dance in a circle. The dance was so much different from the one in Italy not tight, slow and reserved. Instead, Jack wanted to smile. Tooth wanted to laugh. And in the span of four seconds, they kicked up their feet and they spun in countless circles. Tooth cried out, gold bracelets jingling, when Jack tightened her hand and waltzed her into a rhythm she could barely keep up with. It was crazy, it was different... It was home.
"Holy shit!" Tooth laughed and Jack twirled her under his arm, nearly dropping her in her slippers. "Keep up, Tooth!"
"Wait, wait!" she choked happily. "Hang on a second!"
Jack paused for just a second as Tooth kicked off her slippers and wriggled her toes across from his on the cold concrete.
"Ahh cold!" she laughed and Jack snickered.
"What, and I'm not?" he taunted and squeezed his grip to remind just how icy his fingers still were. "Come on Tooth, show me what you got!"
"Haha okay, okay! Let's go!"
Then Jack was pulling her again and she followed smooth and easy. She laughed in a heartbeat. The two moved like undulating fish, caught in a wave they couldn't chase and both spinning on bare feet – and Tooth couldn't believe it.
"Dance with me, Tooth. I know a little fairy like you can."
"A little fairy like me can also kick your ass if you don't stop teasing me!"
Never did she think that Jack, and that she, would ever be like this: doing something so normal like dancing barefoot, hearing the distant laughs of her castle echo high from over the walls. She might as well fly off the ground right now because–
Jack suddenly tightened his grip around her waist. "What the hell–"
"No, no!" and he clutched her hand tightly, his fingers twitching over her skin as she eyed him suspiciously. "I wanna try something."
"Try something like what?"
And he quickly lifted all 5'2 inches of her off the ground. "P-Put–Put me...whoa!"
When Tooth looked down to stare at his cocky son of a stare, she realized just before she touched the ground again... that he wasn't touching the ground either. And for three seconds, the wind lifted both their feet. "Jack!" They were barely off the ground, mind you, nothing special, and it couldn't even be really visible if you stood far enough. But to Tooth, it was everything.
"No, no, stop!" she gaped. The princess gasped with amazement when her toes touched the ground , and squealed when Jack made her hop again just so the wind could float under them for two another seconds. "How are we... what are we–" But Jack laughed lightly, the wind pushing his white hair around like leaves in a heavy breeze. Jack didn't really care, and her heart raced with him while her head went spinning. The wind carried them in playful circles across her balcony, blowing the potted plants dangerously sideways and lifting any curious hummingbirds that had come to peek. And Tooth didn't want to stop.
She laughed as he let go of one of her hands and twirled her again. As she did, his other hand twisted gently at his side and the wind whistled in their ears. When she was back in front of him again, he caught her again and the wind died down. It sung in his ears, saying a brief goodbye and carrying away on a current he could feel and trace on his subconscious. Their feet gently touched the floor again. Tooth shivered, he flexed his fingers, and gradually the air grew quiet. The torrent became a gentle breeze... Silence fell over the both of them.
Jack waltzed her into a tiny circle, slow and sunlit. As he did, thousand butterflies set off a riot in Toothiana's stomach, mesmerizing her, and fluttered across into his own chest. Their synergy was strong, like the bass in the clubs and the engines of a jet. Or the beat of a thousand soldiers marching proudly home.
Tooth didn't even blink. "...you can't stay."
Jack nodded, a breath of unfettered relief exhaling through his nose.
"No. I can't," he murmured back gently before he craned his neck a little back to study her features. "But you already knew that."
She nodded confidently.
"I've known you all but 8 days Jack," she smiled out at the horizon; but she avoided all eye contact with him anyway. "I mean I could ask you if you'd like to stay. Maybe be my personal bodyguard if you're up to the offer... although we both know that won't last."
Jack snickered at the floor and gazed at their mismatched feet. His steady smile remained but she inquired more, making his heart heavy.
"What will you do first?"
"Not sure. Too many demons to bury still."
Tooth lifted her head, her hair ruffling curiously – she sensed something. His tone changed at the end. And he almost sounded... sad? Tooth tilted her head up at him and smiled sadly. "Jack?"
He rubbed his neck.
"I'm getting used to this," she lifted an eyebrow as he expanded. "This. My staying-close-to-you routine."
He looked down at her.
"I'm not completely done with you yet."
Tooth fell still as everything went completely over his head while Tooth's fingers began twitch. The ex-Guardian looked over the balcony for words and he appeared a little more embarrassed since he'd known her. The princess said nothing, did nothing. 'He doesn't mean it like...like THAT,' she thought with a dry swallow and a lump in her throat. Yet a swell of heat started in her belly like adrenaline, not when Jack stood there, also unmoved and expressionless.
"You don't mean that," she repeated it out loud. "You don't."
But Jack nodded as his lips stretched into a small smile. "But I think I do, Toothiana." The princess stopped instantly and the sound of her breath pulled Jack in again like fingertips under his chin. It was the way he stared at her. It was the way every girl wanted to be looked at. Tooth's fist tightened weakly against her chest like a swooning nut, and she didn't care.
"Are you–are you saying... Do you want me to run away with you?"
Tooth didn't answer in response. Her eyes were shimmering too hard to focus.
"No," he chuckled but he ducked his head out of her direction. "NO you crazy woman. Heh, but it doesn't mean I still don't want to know..."
He popped her dream bubble instantly. "Gotta know what?"
"Your secrets. All of them. And which of your sisters teases you the most or how Mr. Sanderson raises you all... I wanna know what courses you're taking this semester, if you like your program or whether you wanted to do something else with your life."
Tooth blinked rapidly to keep her annoying tear ducts at bay.
"I wonder about what you do for fun," he took her wrists and looked her straight in the face, "and when's your birthday or what other songs you like besides the one we danced to in Rome–"
"I wonder about what you listen to too!"
Jack also found a damn little, dry lump in his throat he couldn't extinguish. He shook his head. "Everything I'm feeling is like... it's like when... okay, when you have an encrypted firewall? And you know the sequence to reconfigure and bypass the IPS system, but you just get so overwhelmed by the endless supply of VPN tunnels that all you end up doing is staring into the coding while the algorithms run–"
"I don't what the heck you're talking about," Well, actually she did because she'd fixed her friend's computer security by Googling it but that wasn't issue. "So what are you trying to say?"
Her head was spinning.
He couldn't see clearly anymore.
"I'm saying that... I never knew this could mean so much. Being with you. Wanting to stay near you. And that terrifies me."
"...but why? Why, you big closet softie?"
Tooth rubbed her cheeks and tried to stop the guilty blush from rising. "I'm not that terrifying!"
"Yes, yes you ARE, and it's fantastic! And I'm crazy about it because I..." Jack stopped himself. It was almost horrific. But it was also perfect, even as he shook his head nervously at her paralyzed state. It was all perfect... and to him, so was she.
"Because I know it means I'm falling in love with you."
He exhaled gently.
"I am. And so that also means I'm the goddamn cliché but I don't care. I really can't see myself without you, Tooth."
Tooth's throat grew dry. Her heart was suddenly having a panic attack and her hand was against her chest. Her gaze slowly fell to the floor where his feet stood. And she couldn't move when the words were still rattling around in her head and traveling down into her heart. Like her warm honey and hot peppermint tea, it was there... with her. Toothiana lifted eyes back to him. She was visibly shaking and before she could stop it, a smile spread on her face.
"Wi..." Tooth whispered before she swallowed down an emotional hiccup and rubbed her eye. "With... wait, are you sure you ha–haven't broken something else? Haha we should probably get you checked out again."
Jack paused in his step and scrunched his face for a moment, but a snicker returned a second later. "I hope not. I have to go back into the field after this," as he came toward her, closing their gap and swallowing Tooth's vision with his white shirt.
"Y-You haven't even been with me lo... long enough, Jack. How can you–"
Her words sent a shiver up his spine. His grip tightened subconsciously around her middle. Tooth's whisper was like feathers on his heart. He smiled at her mystified expression – but then, in classic Tooth, her grin turned cheeky, his very definition of fun. "Are you sure you want a princess? I come with baggage."
He rolled his eyes. "Toothiana, you are the baggage."
Tooth grinned, eyes half-lidded. It threatened to choke her like a nightmare. But when Jack hugged her close, his cold magic pushed them away with a force she couldn't believe. She held on tightly.
"Make all the crack jokes you want about me... but at least I know what I want."
When she said that, his heart was racing in his chest and Jack was certain that if he'd been a normal man, his palms would've been sweaty. But instead, he used his dry hands to cup her face and Tooth's entire body went still. A sudden contentedness washed over both of them and Jack, for all his calculation and clarity, his mind went still with her.
"I'm not in love yet, if that's okay to say," he confessed to her softly which she humbly nodded to, "but... I like where this could be heading."
She laughed and he smiled as he weaved their fingers together. "And if I'm going to continue feeling this intense incline with you, then I don't ever want to slow down now."
Tooth's eyes fluttered under his gaze. "Jack... I think I'm gonna throw up."
Jack sent her mischievous look. "Before New Years?"
She nodded but her smile was already growing on her face and her grip was tightening.
"You're overthinking it, princess," and a slow, content smile stretched across his face, "just follow your gut... your instinct."
A moment later, Tooth's breath hitched with slight hesitation as she started to murmur. "It always seemed off, pointing towards someone who... wasn't right. But with you I feel it. The chemistry isn't wrong this time."
She smiled up at him. "Or maybe, it's biology."
But as quickly as it came, Tooth's resistance trickled away and her fist, the only barrier she still kept between them, became her anchor, pulling her closer... He smiled back. "Should I repeat it?" he countered and in a gentle flourish, the agent let go of her hand and brushed her eyelids closed with his thumbs.
"No," Tooth breathed. "You've been through enough torture for a lifetime."
Jack's heart was uncontrollably fast, his center hypersensitive to her touch. "I can if you want to. Or, should I maybe say it differently so you'll get it through that impressively fast mind of yours?"
Tooth blushed in response.
"Like..." he started, "Ich bin dabei, mich in dich zu verlieben... Ya tebya obozhayu... Pienso en ti todo el tiempo... Stop me if you're getting lost."
Her breath betrayed her and her heart hammered inside from his accent to the way the words changed.
"Or maybe like this," he then whispered and leaned down and kissed one eyelid, sweeping cold over her skin. "Veen detya..."
Then the other.
Then between her eyes as she shivered.
Her knees shook.
And Jack smirked above her mouth.
Jack's thumbs stroked her eyelids again to get her to open them. She complied and fingered the circle in his neck cord. As a slow, content smile stretched across Jack's face, he traced her cheek with one knuckle, and he looked down at her expectantly.
"So what d'you say? Will you give me a chance?"
"...all the chances you deserve. And just so you have something..."
Then Tooth leaned up, pulled him down, and softly pressed her lips against one corner of his mouth, stealing the rest of his words and cleaning away the lingering feelings with hers. She shut her eyes, disbelieving the feeling that washed over her from the deep realization in his calm.
"...my favourite vegetable is cabbage."
When it was over, Tooth's eyelids drifted open again. She stared at the shell of his ear, which wasn't as big as he always complained it was.
Her heart fluttered.
His breath hitched.
The next thing Jack knew, his arm had wrapped itself around her waist and his other hand was holding one side of her head, pulling her lips fully back to his. With a racing heart, she tilted sideways to catch his lips again and closed the space entirely. Her hands came up and gripped his biceps, steadying her body as he leaned down to give her more comfort on her standing tiptoes.
She smiled into the kiss.
Toothiana never felt intimidated by his power again. Her size wasn't the problem. In fact, she wanted his size to encase her. Head pounding and blood rushing, Jack's body, the weight of him and all less-than-6-feet of him made her crazy. The people who underestimated her, who underestimated them wouldn't be prepared for it. She would have Jack wrapped around her not like a shield, but like armor; a protection that fortified her, what made her stronger as she grew and defended herself. She'd never let it go. Neither would Jack.
The two didn't even realize that twilight had set in. As the sun made its final minutes of descent across the horizon and into the sea, its intense oranges and powerful rays split across the sky and bathed everything in one last glow. The warmth was felt all across Punjam Hy Loo as it always was. Lulus throughout the island, home from the party and resting their loved ones, sighed and threw their arms behind their heads in total calm. Silence for a moment passed through the palace as Tatiana and the girls turned to watch the New Year's sun and the other agents gazed in wonder. North and Aster crossed their arms in content, silent and momentarily at peace. Mr. Sandy clutched Tiati's hand and smiled with her, thinking about the last day of the year and the new one to come.
Everything was different now.
Everything had changed.
Jack pulled his lips from hers slowly, remembering the feeling of her skin. Opening his eyes slightly, he listened to her, breathing in until her scent was the only thing he knew. Deliciously red cheeks, clouded eyes and plump lips, he could stare at Tooth for hours...
Toothiana blinked slowly at the sky before turning to lock eyes with him. Everything about him made the warm ball in her stomach float with an energy she'd never known. His messy hair, flipped up collar, his freckles, and his blue eyes – in him, she felt a quiet rebel, a gentle heart, and a carefree freedom she wanted to chase and keep up with; adventure he couldn't express and yet, she could see it. Past the blue, for a flicker in time where the sun gave her one glimpse, Tooth saw his inner Jack... and he was looking back. In her overactive imagination, Jack's skin lightened and his snowy complexion turned peach, like winter to spring beneath his white dress shirt. His hair, hanging over her eyelashes, darkened and in the orange sun, its wispy brown shone with subtle wildness, reminding her of autumn and the drink he loved most. Even his fingertips were warm, feeling almost... normal again, enough to set her on fire with just one summer's touch.
And his eyes... for that one fleeting moment in front of her, his eyes were brown again, more alive than he'd ever seemed behind his colored contacts. Jack's eyes were penetrating, so striking that Tooth swore brown couldn't do that unless it was under some kind of magic. His pupils were an endless black, strengthening and waning in her focus, and with every flicker she saw demons still inside him trying to conquer over blues and whites – for an eye colour of maple brown instead.
Tooth lifted her left hand and rested it against his cheek as she gulped through her whisper. The caged hummingbird in her heart calmed, falling deeper for this man with the quilted heart.
"Don't forget me."
And when he leaned into her, Jack couldn't look away. "Are you kidding? Never."
Her stare was enough send him into another realm. And after ten seconds more, Tooth firmly gripped their joined hands and let him go. And Jack was sure from that moment on that they... that she, was on the road to a greater purpose than even he could ever anticipate.
Now, do you see? It is destiny.. cannot say no.
And he couldn't wait.
Toothiana said nothing as the twilight welcomed them both. She wrapped one arm around herself and as a warm heat spread down again into her stomach, the darkening of her palace's sky increased. The warm and cool air particles encircled Jack at all once. He didn't even care. As Tooth fingered the ends of her hair, she turned to study his face, all flushed and with red, handsome cheeks she wanted to smack – a tiny smile crept back onto her face.
"I-I'll be in Medford eight months a year," she mumbled with a shaky breath of hope. "So... come visit when one of your whirlwind car chases ends you up in the area?"
Jack was silent and frozen for a full minute – but then a tender smile crept onto his face. "Medford sounds like a great idea." She then stood on her tiptoes and kissed his jaw, causing a smile to grace her features and him softly thumbing her chin again, trapped and enchanted. "I'll miss you, Tooth."
Tooth sparkled in his smirk as she reached up to clutch his hand as he started to leave her touch.
"And I'll miss you too... you big disaster."
Jack didn't let her go as his feet moved him at a distance where their arms could no longer stretch far enough. She was the best new chapter in his life and she didn't even know it – even as she rubbed her thumb over his healing knuckle. "You'd better leave a window open for me. You're not too high up, are you?"
She smiled into his fist, tears still glittering under her eyelids.
"You'll make it," she said, then finally, she let him go and watched her bodyguard walk barefoot out of the sanctuary of the room to let his future queen finish up alone. "..I know you can."
And she always would.
Chapter's soundtrack: "The Ellie Badge" – Michael Giacchino