Sign language is useful.
As always, I don't own Rise of the Guardians or any of its characters.
After that day, Aster and Jack spent almost every waking moment together. They hadn't made it official but it was an unspoken agreement that they were dating. The next few days were some of the happiest Aster could remember.
Then one night, Aster's cell phone rang at 12:30. Half asleep, he sat up from his bed and unplugged his phone from the charger. He yawned before answering.
"…Aster?" It was Jack. His voice sounded… scared.
"Frostbite?" Aster wanted to ask what was wrong but he had a feeling that it wouldn't help. There was a moment of silence when he began to grow worried. "Are you ok?" More silence.
"…Can you… read to me?" Aster blinked in confusion, then gave a sad smile. He figured Jack had a nightmare but was too proud to say anything.
"The man in the moon."
"I haven't read it yet. Thought I'd wait for you." Jack was silent again.
"Well then it's time." He finally answered. Aster made his way to Sophie's room while trying to make casual conversation with Jack but there was something obviously bothering him. He kept pausing as if he needed time to breath. Also the fear never left his voice.
Once Aster got the book, he went back to his room and sat down on his bed.
"Alright, here we go." He read it slowly and with emotion, trying to send Jack a feeling of security and comfort. Once he was finished, Jack didn't speak for a long time. "Jack?"
"Thank you." He sounded pained. Aster sighed worriedly.
"No problem." He was about to offer to go to Jack's house, when he was interrupted.
"Don't worry about it. I wasn't asleep." Aster doubted Jack would believe that, but the boy did not comment on it. He didn't say anything at all. Concern began to flood Aster. "I love you."
He heard what sounded like a shaky sigh.
"I love you too… Goodnight, Cottontail." Aster gave a genuine smile.
"Goodnight, Frostbite. Talk to you later."
Of course, Aster didn't know he wouldn't be hearing Jack's voice for a very long time.
It was his phone, again, what woke him up in the morning. Aster felt much more tired this time as he grudgingly lifted his hand and answered.
"A-aster. There's so-something I have to tell you." It was North. Aster blinked in confusion. Was he still sleeping?
"Aster… he's gone. J-Jack is gone." Any exhaustion he had been feeling disappeared as he sat up in shock.
"W-what? What are you talking about?!"
"I-I can't. I can't say it yet. I just… thought y-you would want to know. Police a-are already on their way."
"North? I don't…" His brain couldn't process it.
"Could… could you c-come here? I don't w-want to be alone." He sounded so pained.
"I-I'll be right there…" Aster hanged up. He didn't understand what was going on, but it was serious. He suddenly remembered Jack's phone call of last night.
He suddenly understood that Jack hadn't been apologizing for waking him up.
The moment Aster stepped into the house, he was enveloped in a bone crushing hug from North. As he hugged back, Aster felt North's shoulders shake with a sob. He had tried to maintain calm on the way to Jack's house, but North crying could only mean very bad news.
"I'm sorry! I c-can't believe… I'm sorry!" Aster felt his heart breaking at North's distress. He wanted to comfort him but he needed to know what was happening.
"North… please." Aster forced himself out of North's arms. He looked at the big man in the eye. North looked terrible. His eyes were wet and fearful. He suddenly looked so old that Aster had to fight the strong urge to make him sit down. "Please," he repeated, "tell me what's going on."
North sniffed and he held his head in his hands.
"H-he took him… he took my son…" Aster felt dread fill him.
"Who?" North looked up, his eyes now overcome with guilt and pain.
"Pitch." He walked away from Aster, who was too horrified to move.
He did it. He actually did it.
North sat down on the kitchen table and stared at a piece of paper that was on it. Aster forced himself out of the shock and made his way to North.
"H-how? How do you know?" Silently, North took the piece of paper from the table and handed it to Aster.
"This was on J-Jack's bed."
Aster took the paper. It was a handwritten letter.
Deeply detested Nicholas St. North,
Oh, how long I've wanted to say that! All these years, pretending to be your friend. I've hated every second of it so much that I've simply stopped trying. Apparently you are too blind to distinguish friend from foe. You see, all I really cared about was Jack. You never deserved him and now I will take what is rightfully mine. And the most hilarious part of all was that Jack knew. He knew all along that I was after him. He never said anything to you, did he? Do you think he was afraid to talk to you? Felt like you would take my side? What kind of parent doesn't realize when their own child is in danger?! When I came to take him away you were sound asleep in your bed. You sicken me. Well, everything happens for a reason. Your failure as a parent is all the best for me. Don't feel too bad, old friend. He will be much better off without you.
With much hatred,
Aster felt his knees go weak. It took all his self control to keep himself standing. Jack had known Pitch was going to take him that day? Why hadn't he said anything? Aster tried to replay his conversation with Jack last night, trying to find any secret messaged from Jack.
Aster looked at North and knew he couldn't even begin to understand the pain he was in. His friend of more than 18 years had just kidnapped his only son.
And Jack. Oh God, Jack.
The thought of Jack being alone with Pitch was enough to chill him to the bone.
He could be anywhere in the world.
He might never see Jack again.
Aster suddenly couldn't breath. He went back to the living room and sat on the couch.
This isn't happening. This isn't real.
Except it was. All the signs had been there. Why hadn't he done anything about it!? He could have prevented this! This….
Aster couldn't believe it. He held his head between his hands and simply closed his eyes, trying to calm the turmoil in his mind.
Jack is gone. Jack is… gone.
The pain he felt at that thought made him gasp for air. This was too terrible. What would become of Jack? His entire life: taken.
Aster realized he was shaking. He hugged himself and took deep breaths, trying to calm down.
This feels like a panic attack. I can't be having that. Not in front of North.
Aster knew that although none of this was the older man's fault he would be blaming himself for it. North had called Aster for support. He needed to get a grip, no matter how much pain he was in.
After holding onto the couch and taking a few deep breaths, Aster stood up and walked to where North was. He placed his hands on the man's back and squeezed comfortingly.
"When is the police getting here?"
"I-I called them minute before I called you. S-station is far away b-but they should be here soon." North placed his hand on top of Aster's and gave it a squeeze. Aster's chest tightened at the sight of the once jolly man looking so broken. Jack would be horrified.
Aster felt the sudden desperate need to be with his best friend. To hear his voice and see him smile. Aster half expected his mischievous snowflake to walk into the room and ask what all the fuss was about.
But no, that wasn't going to happen.
Aster felt his eyes water and he tried to blink it off.
"North… can I go into Jack's room?" It might sound like an odd request, but Aster thought it would be the closest to being with Jack. North hardily seemed to be listening. He simply nodded. Aster gave the man's shoulders one last squeeze before going upstairs and into Jack's bedroom.
Aster noticed 2 things that were out of place in the room. Thing one: The coded money safe that had been on the table next to Jack's bed was gone. Thing two: There was a copy of the book "To kill a mockingbird" on Jack's bed.
Both of these things troubled Aster greatly. The first one made him wonder if Pitch had dared to not only take Jack, but take his money as well. That thought made him want to throw up.
The second one was because Jack hated that book.
Aster remembered the story: Jack had been reading it the day he got his wisdom teeth pulled out. Because of that he now relates that book to the pain he felt, and bowed to never read it again.
Then why was it on his bed?
Aster began walking towards the book. That was when his foot hit something that was only half under the bed. With a frown, he bent down to see what it was. His gasped when he realized it was the coded money bank.
He took the object from under the bed. It felt light. Aster shook it and heard something moving inside. His heart began to race. What if Jack had left some clue as to where he was going to be taken? Problem was he didn't know the code.
Aster turned to the book on the bed.
It must have something to do with this. Jack knows I know he hates that book.
Aster took the book and stared at it. The book was the code, he was sure of it. He began to flip through it to try and find some numbers scribbled on to it, but saw none. Aster began to look for numbers that where already in the book.
He tried the numbers of the bar code. He tried the number of chapters. The number of letters in the table of contents. Nothing worked.
Aster could feel his hope slipping away, but he wouldn't let it go without a fight.
He went to the first page and saw the publishing information. That was when something caught his eye.
Copyright © 1960 by Harper Lee
He could hear his heart beat in his ears as he pressed the number 1960 in the number pad.
The door unlocked.
Aster laughed with relief as he took hold of the little handle and opened the door completely. There was a letter inside. Aster took it and sat down at the edge of Jack's bed. He took a deep breath before opening it.
My dear cottontail,
I knew you'd be able to figure it out. I couldn't write any numbers into the book because it would have looked suspicious and Pitch would have taken it away. When I called you at night I knew Pitch was going to come for me. He had cornered me in the street and told me that he was going to take me away and that if I told anyone, he would kill North. I didn't doubt that he would, Pitch feels nothing but hatred for my father and I couldn't risk it. I'm sorry. I'm sorry I have brought pain to you, to my father, and to everyone who cares about me. I would give anything for you to just forget me and go on with your life, but I know that wont be the case so I wont bother to ask you to. All I will ask is for you to remember me how I was and not to think about my current predicament.
I also have a favor to ask of you: Please take care of North. He will never forgive himself for this and I can't have that. Please keep him company and make sure he stays healthy. I wish you could tell him that I love him and that I do not hold him responsible for anything, but you can't let him know you found this letter. It would kill him to know that I knew Pitch was going to take me but I said nothing to keep him safe. He will already be too hurt as it is. Keep him making toys. Do anything you can to make him happy. Please. I need him to be alright.
Now I'm going to talk about you. I had to call you tonight. I was just so scared; I needed to hear your voice. Every second we were on the phone I wanted to tell you the truth, but I couldn't. It pained me so much, but what hurts me right now is how much I miss you. I haven't even been taken and I miss you already! I need to finish this soon so I just want to say how grateful I am to have met you. Thank you for all the fun and love you brought into my life, even if it was for such a short period of time. I think, if I would've had the chance, I would have been with you forever. I love you, Aster. I always will.
Aster had a hard time reading the letter with the tears blurring his vision. Jack was right about everything, North would be devastated if he found out the details about Jack's kidnapping. He was also right about Aster never being able to simply forget him and go on with his life. That was never going to happen. He was also right about North's condition. His eyes that had once been so full of joy now seemed empty. Someone would have to be with him at all times and made sure he kept eating. Aster vowed to try his best to get North through this.
And how will you get through this?
He knew Jack hadn't meant to hurt him by his words but damn did it hurt.
"I think, if I would've had the chance, I would have been with you forever."
He could've had a future with Jack. He had found the love of his life and now he had been taken away.
Aster forced himself to stand up. He put Jack's letter in his pocket before closing the coded money bank and setting it on the table next to Jack's bed. He took a deep breath and just stood there for a moment. Pain hit him in waves as his eyes landed on "Phil". He slowly picked him up and remembered the way Jack had buried his face in the plushie's fur. Aster did the same before putting "Phil" down and walking out of the room.
He took another deep breath at the top of the stairs before walking down. North was exactly where he had left him. His eyes looked distant and empty. Aster silently took a seat next to him and placed his hand over North's own.
His company was the only comfort he could offer. No words would be able to lessen their pain at the moment but at least they weren't alone.
Soon the doorbell rang and Aster stood up, his heartbeat increasing.
"That must be the police." He muttered. Maybe they would be able to do something. Maybe they could find Jack.
North stood up as well. Aster opened the door and the police went right in, getting to work. North told them everything he knew (which was honestly not much). They read the letter left by Pitch and began to search the house.
"The man made no attempt to hide his identity so that gives us one advantage. We just sent a patrol to search his home address but it is likely they will not be there. We might still find some clues as to where he has taken the boy."
Aster heard what they said but couldn't focus. It still didn't feel real.
The doorbell rang once more. Pained relief filled North's features as he moved to open the door. Standing behind it were Toothiana and that round blonde guy that Aster had seen in Jack's picture.
"North! What happened?" Tooth said worriedly. The moment he saw them, North broke down. He began to cry and both of his friends held him with concern. Aster watched from a distance and wished it would all just stop.
Please tell me I'm just having a nightmare.
North couldn't find words so Aster had to explain what happened. They were both horrified but the round one (Sandy?) didn't seem as shocked as Tooth.
A policeman went into the kitchen and asked to talk to North. Toothiana helped him up and walked with him out of the room.
That left Aster and Sandy on their own. For a moment the blonde simply had a distant look that was so sorrowful that Aster couldn't look away. Then Sandy blinked and noticed he was being watched. He offered Aster a weak smile before waving. Before he could say anything, Sandy took out a notebook and wrote something down before sliding it to Aster.
"My name is Sanderson. You can call me Sandy. I am a friend of Jack's father and I've known Jack since he was little. Are you a friend of his?"
Aster stared at the neat handwriting. This must be the guy who taught Jack sign language.
"Yes. My name is Aster." He hesitated before writing more but he felt like this was too important to leave unanswered. "You didn't look so surprised when you heard Pitch did what he did. Did you know anything?"
He gave Sandy an apologetic look as he slid the notebook back. He was already regretting asking that question when Sandy looked sad as he read it and peered over his shoulder before answering. He wrote for a long time before suddenly stopping and sighing. He passed the notebook to Aster.
"Let's just be careful, I wouldn't want North reading this. He has enough problems. No, I didn't know anything specific but I always distrusted pitch. It was obvious he disliked North but when I tried to ask him about his attitude North just laughed it off. I didn't know of Pitch's interest in Jack but I knew there had to be a reason why he stayed near North even though he hated him so much. I thought maybe he was after his money or maybe even his toy shop. I never thought…"
Aster rubbed his face with his hands. Why hadn't anyone done anything? Sandy suspected. Hell, Aster knew! Yet they let this happen. Sandy seemed to read his mind. He took the notebook back and wrote again.
"I think Jack tried to tell me once. He was asking me what I thought of Pitch and I told him what I told you: that I didn't trust him. I saw him look hopeful for a moment and he asked me if I had ever told North what I thought. I told him North would never suspect ill intentions from his friends. I think that was the wrong thing to say. I disappointed him and he decided not to say anything. We are all at fault for what has happened today, Jack included. It could have been avoided or maybe it couldn't have. All we can do now is support each other and collaborate with the police as much as we can."
Aster felt numb as he finished reading. It was true; there was no point in dwelling in all the "could have"s. Jack was gone and that was that. All they could do now was hope. Aster felt a small hand on his shoulder. Sandy gave him a fond smile which Aster returned.
Jack wouldn't want them to be sad. Aster didn't think he would ever feel truly happy again but at least he would force himself to stop feeling so miserable.
At least pretend to.
The chief policeman's phone rang. He picked it up and answered as Sandy put away his notebook.
"… alright. We'll be right there." He slammed his phone shut and turned to Aster and Sandy. "That was the station. Apparently a dvd was delivered 5 minutes ago. It seems to be addressed to Nicholas St. North."
Aster felt his blood run cold.
This can only be bad.
They informed North and Tooth and soon everyone drove towards the police station. Aster sat next to Sandy feeling sick to his stomach. What would the dvd be of? Would Jack be in it? Was he ok?
He couldn't stand the suspense. North was doing worse thought. He was a shaking mess. As Tooth drove she tried to console North and convinced him that no matter what happened in the video they would probably get a clue to where Jack was.
Aster closed his eyes and tried to fight his desperation.
Please let it not be bad. Please, please, please.
When they arrived they were lead to a room with a dvd player. There were only 3 chairs in the room. The policeman insisted that North, Tooth, and Sandy take them while Aster and the others stood behind them. Aster didn't notice he was shaking until he felt Toothiana take hold of his hand.
The dvd began. At first the screen was only dark but suddenly Pitch's appeared. He was standing in a room with grey walls. He smirked.
"Hello, North. How has your day been? Have had better, I'm guessing?" He chuckled and Aster had never wanted to punch someone so badly in his entire life. "Oh but what am I thinking you obviously don't want to see me!" He suddenly took hold of the camera which seemed to have been standing on a tripod. He turned it to the left and everyone sighed in relief. It was Jack. He was standing in the middle of the room and seemed relatively unharmed. Aster's heart raced with fear but Jack didn't even look afraid. He looked at Pitch with nothing but hatred.
"Yes. Our precious boy." Pitch tried to caress Jack's cheek but the teen whipped his head away violently. Pitch just chuckled. Aster saw North's fist clench out of the corner of his eye. "You see I am very generous." Pitch turned to the camera once more. "I wanted you to see him before we left."
"Yes. We are going to be leaving the country soon. I will send maybe 3 more videos before we do. I just want to gloat a little. Prolong this for you." Everyone in the room stopped listening. They were too focused on Jack who, the moment Pitch turned away from him, began signing to the camera.
"Sandy! Sandy! What is he saying!" North said with almost panic. The police began to near Sandy but the blonde just gestured them away and focused on the screen. His face became saddened soon and everyone called out to him. The chief policeman placed a paper and pencil in front of him. They paused the dvd.
"Do you want us to rewind it? Sandy nodded. They went back to the moment where Pitch turned to the camera.
"Yes. We are going to be leaving the country soon. I will send maybe 3 more videos before we do. I just want to gloat a little. Prolong this for you."
Sandy's eyes followed Jack's movements. Once in a while he would write something down. There was a part where he hesitated and everyone yelled at him to continue but he wouldn't listen. In the end he handed the paper to North. Aster looked over the man's shoulder.
"Sandy! Tell everyone that I'm fine and that you shouldn't worry about me."
Of course Jack wouldn't want them to worry about him but that was literally impossible.
"Tell North that he shouldn't listen to what Pitch says and that I love him."
North gave a shaky sigh and whispered his son's name. Aster could find some comfort in the fact that at least North knows that Jack doesn't hold him responsible for anything.
"Tell Aster not to tell the kids what happened. I don't want them to worry."
Jamie. Sophie. What was he going to tell them? They cared about Jack, it wouldn't be fair to not tell them anything but he didn't want them to be upset. He wanted them to stay happy and ignorant of the horrors that existed in this world.
"I don't know where I am. The only thing I can tell you is that it's a basement."
The police took note of that and called for a search of houses in the city that had basements.
"Thank you for being here. I love you all very much. Please don't be sad. I will be fine. I can handle it."
Those words almost broke Aster. Jack didn't deserve this. He had been afraid all his life; that could hardily be considered being free. Now his freedom had truly been taken away.
Jack finished signing. He didn't smile or cry. His face was expressionless and cold.
"I'll contact you again soon. Until then." The video ended.
"This man seems arrogant and we can be thankful for that. He didn't rewatch the the video once he took it or else he would have seen Jack signing." The policeman said. "It wasn't much but we have more information. We know he is in a basement and that the man is planning on leaving the country. We also know he will send more videos so we have until then to find him."
The police seemed energized after the video but Aster and the others felt all but drained. Seeing Jack forcing himself to be so strong hurt. That would be his life now. He might never see Jack smile again.
Jack might never smile again at all…
Aster forced himself out of the pit of misery that was his mind. He straightened his posture and placed a hand on North's shoulder.
"Come on, North. Let's get you home."