Bunnymund's fist barely made a sound when it collided with Jack's cheek, but that only made Jack's cry of pain seem louder. The yelp was cut off as he hit the ground with a thud and then there was silence, complete silence. Bunnymund stared at his fist in horror. He couldn't believe he had just done that. Simply being angry was no excuse for such a violent reaction.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Tooth's hands shoot up to cover her mouth and North standing as still as a statue beside her. Bunnymund knew Jack wasn't the only one that he had hurt with his actions.
Jack slowly raised a hand to his face, catching Bunnymund's attention. Focusing fully on Jack, he was just in time to see a tear trail over the hand clasped to his cheek. Jack didn't even seem to notice; he just stared into the distance, eyes glazed over with shock.
"Jack, I –"
That seemed to snap Jack out of it. Blinking rapidly, he didn't even look at Bunnymund as he lurched to his feet and pushed off the ground, launching himself into the sky.
"Jack, wait!" Tooth called, reaching an arm out.
Bunnymund's own hoarse cry of, "Jack!" quickly followed.
Neither had an effect, but Bunnymund wasn't sure if it was because they were unheard . . . or ignored.
Antarctica was cold and barren, snow and loneliness molded into a landscape. Jack felt right at home as he touched down on a shelf of ice.
With a heavy sigh, he pulled his hood up and finally allowed his deadened mind to rouse itself. There was a lot to think about. Things had been going so well; he had connected with North, helped Tooth, and even made steps toward making up with Bunny . . .
But none of that mattered now because he had ruined it with his moment of selfishness. Why did he always mess things up?
Resting his staff in the crook of his arm, he put his hands in his pocket. His fingers bumped against two objects and he was momentarily confused. He didn't have many belongings to carry around. As he ran his fingertips over hard, angled metal and smooth, rounded wood, he realized what they were. He pulled his hands out so he could look at the objects side by side. The golden memory box was heavy and too big in his right palm, but the tiny wooden doll was light and fit easily in his left, even when he made a fist: two completely different things given to him by two completely different people. They didn't belong together and it felt wrong to keep both.
He glanced to the edge of the sheer cliff several meters away, then back to the objects.
He considered them, weighed them in his hands. An unrecognizable emotion rose up within him and he ran toward the precipice, raising his arm, hefting the memory box, preparing to launch it off the side –
He couldn't. He couldn't do it. He couldn't do anything right. His arm dropped heavily, the weight of the memory box causing it to swing by his side. It pulled on his arm, banged against his leg, reminded him of everything he had messed up. He slipped it back into his pocket and out of his sight. Out of sight, out of mind, but if only things were that easy.
He looked at the little doll that personified North's center, just resting there in the middle of his palm. It was supposed to represent a promise, a reassurance that North was going to be there to help him, but now it didn't mean anything.
He was still standing near the edge of the cliff. He barely had to move.
Extending his arm, he turned his hand over and watched as the wooden carving fell down, down, disappearing into the blizzard below. Out of sight.
"I thought this might happen."
That voice – it startled and frightened and angered him and he let that fury build inside him, until he could barely contain it. Pitch. Pitch had lured him to his liar and tried to break him down. Pitch had framed him to make the Guardians think he had betrayed them. This was all Pitch's fault.
"They never really believed in you. I was just trying to show you that."
Jack had heard enough. He let his anger burst as he whirled around to face Pitch, raising his staff to attack, ready to send a deadly blast of cold at him, but Pitch's expression made him stop mid-swing. He looked sad, genuinely sad. It was evident in his body language, in his drooping shoulders and downcast eyes.
What could Pitch possibly have to be sad about? Things were going marvelously for him; with Sandy defeated and Easter ruined, the Guardians were significantly weakened, not to mention that Jack was no longer among their ranks. They had all played right into Pitch's plan, so what reason did he have to be moping about in Antarctic when he should be elsewhere, gloating over his ensured victory?
Jack sighed, too weary to bother muddling through Pitch's actions. He was tired, tired of fighting and disagreeing and getting hurt, always getting hurt. And he was so very confused. He just wanted it all to stop so he could think things through.
He felt tears prick at the corners of his eyes, blurring his vision so Pitch was just a black smudge on bright light. As his staff listed downward, he took a breath to steady himself, but it was shuddery and produced a choked sob on the exhale. Unable to keep himself together, his legs collapsed underneath him and he landed heavily on his rear. He drew his legs to his chest, buried his face in his knees, and began to sob, powerless to stop and not even caring if Pitch saw him like this.
Obviously, he would have preferred not to break down in front of his enemy – but was Pitch really his enemy? The Guardians had made it clear they didn't want him around and, right now, he didn't want to be around them either. Did that mean he was a neutral party again?
A hand landed on his shoulder, startling him out of his sobbing. It was warm and comfortable – calming even – and he didn't even care that it belonged to Pitch. He lifted his head up slightly so he could wipe at his face with his sleeve, wincing as his arm pressed against the bruise on his left cheek. With his eyes now cleared, Jack could see Pitch kneeling next to him in the snow, concern on his face. It was a bit unnerving, actually. The hand tightened imperceptibly and the warmth intensified.
"Are you okay?"
He felt like a fresh bout of tears was going to begin. A few did slip down his cheeks, but he managed to hold most of them off. He turned his face toward Pitch, blinking away the trapped tears. Pitch gave him a small smile, one that wasn't menacing or taunting in the slightest. It compelled him to answer.
"I'm fine." Jack didn't actually know how he felt; it certainly was not "fine," but what else was he supposed to say?
Pitch opened his mouth as if to respond, but hesitated as his eyes fixed on a point below Jack's left eye. Before Jack could react, Pitch's hand shot forward and pushed the hood back, revealing his face. Fingers brushed over the bruise and Jack flinched, crawling backward on the ground, away from Pitch. He scrambled to his feet, glaring at Pitch, who was also now standing, hands opened and raised to show he meant no harm and a shadow of anger on his face. Jack knew that anger wasn't directed at him, but it still made him afraid.
"Who was it?" Pitch asked.
Jack simply shook his head and pulled his hood back up. He couldn't face Pitch with it down.
Pitch lowered his hands to his sides and clenched them into fists, making Jack eye them nervously. He seemed to notice, however, and relaxed.
"I didn't know something like this would happen. I didn't intend for it, either."
"Well, then what did you want to happen." Jack's tone was caustic, even though he had heard the sincerity in Pitch's.
"Exactly what I said before. I just wanted to show you that the Guardians never cared."
"And you do?"
"More than them."
Jack grit his teeth. "You're the one who set it up to look like I betrayed them! If you hadn't –"
"It was for your own good! I had to show you what the Guardians were really like. From the look of things, they didn't even let you explain. I underestimated how little they cared, how little they understood."
Caught up in his ranting and gesturing, Pitch had taken a couple steps closer, brining Jack to angle his staff across his body. It was a defensive, insecure action as much as it was an offensive stance. Pitch stopped advancing and dropped his arms. His expression was unfathomable, but Jack was just grateful he kept his distance.
"I bet you think you understand," Jack said.
"You think I don't? You're not the only one who has been alone, not believed in for centuries. I know exactly how you feel, Jack. I know how it feels to spend countless hours questioning your own existence."
Jack blinked. Was that really how it was for Pitch? He knew as much about the Boogeyman as he did about why the Man in the Moon put him here. In other words, nothing. Pitch must have noticed the hesitation because he continued talking.
"To spend such time longing for a companion. For a family." At the pointed look he got, Jack realized that referred directly to him. He simply blinked in response, too stunned to react properly. "I thought no one else could possibly understand, but now I see I was wrong. I know you understand, Jack."
"I do," Jack responded without even thinking. He didn't even have to because he knew it was true. This time, when Pitch moved closer, Jack allowed it. He lowered his staff, opening himself up.
"I meant what I said when you visited my home. I'm not going to hurt you. Not only do I not want to, but I have no reason to. You're a neutral party."
"Yeah, I guess I am."
"But you don't have to be. You could join me."
Jack startled at those words. Why would Pitch think he would want that? After everything he had done, after kidnapping Tooth's fairies and killing Sandy?
"Of course, it's all up to you. If you decide not to, then I'll leave you be."
That caused Jack to panic. Now that he had spent time with other beings and spirits that could actually see him, he was sure he wouldn't be able to stand going back to being alone again.
"But if you do – oh, it would be wonderful, Jack. Together, we could make the children believe! In us! Isn't that all we ever really wanted?"
It was. It had been for centuries, ever since that young boy ran through him in the village, but . . .
"Do you really think we could do that?"
"I know we could do it, Jack. I image there's very little we couldn't accomplish together. Gaining the belief of children all over the world would be simple."
Jack considered the offer. Pitch was giving him a choice, something the Guardians and the Man in the Moon hadn't. And it was an easy choice, at that: be alone or be believed in. The Guardians hadn't seemed interested in helping him gain believers, but Pitch – who understood what it felt like to be unseen, to be walked through by a child, to be ignored by the moon – was. If children believed in him, Jack would finally have a purpose. He wouldn't need his memories, wouldn't need the Man in the Moon to tell him why he was there. He would have created his own purpose.
"What do you say, Jack?"
He looked up. Pitch was smiling eagerly at him, a hand outstretched to shake. Jack didn't hesitate.
"I'm in," he said as he grasped Pitch's hand. They shook. Pitch's smile widened with approval, but it was still genuine. Jack didn't feel any sort of unease and found it easy to smile back.
Letting go of his hand, Pitch swept behind him to put an arm around his shoulders. The other arm reached up and pushed his hood back. This time, Jack allowed it. He looked up to meet Pitch's eyes.
"How would you like to pay a visit to the North Pole with me?"
At Jack's assured nod, black sand and shadows swirled up around them, whisking them away.
Not much to say, except I can't wait to post the second chapter, which will probably be in a couple days.
I do want to mention is that I don't necessarily think Jack would join Pitch even if this did happen. Writing this version of the Antarctica scene was actually very difficult because Jack just didn't want to join Pitch. It took a while to figure out what Pitch would have to say to bring Jack around. Jack's thoughts are also a bit skewed and his feelings toward the Guardians are not really my own. He's a bit of a unreliable narrator because of what has happened and Pitch manipulating him into joining him doesn't really help with that.