The Founding of the Kinship

Progressing Conflicting Interests

Wick frowned deeply, gently playing with the tip of Elsa's braid in his branch like fingers. It seemed to soothe her a bit as she rested her head against his shoulder, his arm hugged around hers comfortingly.

Pitch entered then, Wick glancing up at him. "I request a private audience with Elsa. Wait outside."

Wick bit his lip, glancing down at Elsa. "It's alright." Elsa said, sitting up straighter. "I'll be fine." She smiled lightly as Wick hugged her, returning the gesture. Her whole life, she had little physical contact with anyone; she was so little when her parents hugged her often, she had forgotten what it felt like. The warmth of a hug had become so foreign to her, but Wick had helped her to become more accustomed to it. Where she had shrunk back at the action in the past, she now welcomed it.

When Wick left the room, Pitch stepped forward, glancing at Elsa as she sat at the edge of her bed. His gaze wavered, drifting to the side as he bit his lip, exhaling sharply. He turned, pacing a bit as he allowed his head to hang a bit. Elsa noticed him clenching and unclenching his left hand, as if he were trying to grasp the words he wanted to say right out of the air.

Despite still being a bit shaken up from what had just transpired, she tilted her head curiously. For the entirety of the time she knew Pitch, there was never a time she saw him behave almost like a moving statue. His spine and shoulders always rigid, his head held up high with confidence, carrying himself as if he was the most superior of aristocrats. Nothing seemed to affect him; his tolerance was like a fortress.

However, the wall of that fortress, she seemed to see, had been breached.

After a few minutes of silence, Elsa decided to break it, scooting forward a bit. "Thank you... for helping me just now." She held her hands together in her lap, her braid falling a bit over her shoulder.

This gave Pitch the opportunity to finally SAY something, he thought to himself. He turned to look at her, once again unable to control a swell of emotions inside of him.

"What did you think you were going to accomplish by placing yourself in that situation?" He asked.

Elsa sighed. "I... I wanted to know why. I wanted to understand what was happening to me, to-"

"I told you to be wary of him!" Pitch spat. "Do you think that you will always have someone to swoop in and rescue you when you're reduced to a damsel in distress?"

"I... I didn't think he would go that far... I thought that we were all supposed to be here for the same reason, Pitch! I'm already enemies with the Queen, I didn't think that the doctor could be that despicable!" Elsa exclaimed.

Pitch let his head fall back, scoffing. Oh, she did make a good point; he had told her that once, didn't he, that they were all fighting for the same thing. But in truth, as he learned, they all had their own agenda, they were all ready to tear each other apart for their own sick, twisted wants.

"Well, you thought wrong." Pitch replied. "Do you think any of us are here because we are lighthearted? Because we want to make friends? We are here, because of a pact. A pact to help each other fight our enemies so when this is all over, we all go along our merry little ways! And if you want to make it to the end alive, you will place a great effort in improving your decision making!"

Here he went again, his harshness sharpening his words like a knife. But Elsa sensed something different about its nature than in the past when she failed to meet his expectations. His words lacked the venom that had been there in times past; it had been replaced with something else. She could not place her finger on it, but she witnessed a change. It had been gradual, but progressing.

"So why save me, then?" She asked. "If I am unable to fight our own ally, how do you expect me to defeat Jack Frost? How can I have the strength for one but not the other? And if I cannot defeat him... what good am I?"

Pitch exhaled sharply. She was beginning to see into him, he hated this sense of vulnerability. It was unbecoming of him. "You could have very well been a formidable force if you had not wandered into his midst, unprepared and without caution." He answered. "You will defeat Jack Frost, I have seen your power."

"And if I don't?" Elsa stood up then, watching Pitch as his back was turned to her.

"Stop asking questions I don't have the answer to." Pitch spat.

"Pitch... I don't believe the doctor would have taken my life. I think you know that too." Elsa took a step closer at Pitch shut his eyes tightly. "So why try to save me? What is the reasoning? Is an ally against Jack all I am to you?"

Pitch was near his breaking point, each question like another blast against his internal fortress. The walls were crumbling down, his mind was spinning, how could this emotionally fragile little thing affect him this much? Images from his visions flashed through his mind, he clenched his fists, finally whirling around as he could no longer keep all of this in.

"Do you want to know why, Elsa? Because I am attracted to your fear above all others! Yes, in all my existence no other has drawn me in as your fear does. It has such a strong grip on my senses; I cannot dismiss it even if I tried!" He furrowed his brows, his eyes staring into Elsa's as she stood still, silent. "... So when I sense it... all I want, all that drives me in that moment is to make it all go away, to make it disappear."

Elsa wanted to look away, but she couldn't. She was shocked by this confession, not having expected Pitch to ever become this emotionally invested in her welfare. She knew that he was helping her to control her powers because Anna had sought him out, and that in exchange, she was to help him bring down Jack Frost. She never imagined that their union would go any farther than that, that as he had said earlier, that when this was all said and done, he would go his way, and she hers.

But was that what he wanted now? Was it what she would want?

Could either of them spend the rest of their lives just pretending that their interaction never happened; go back to their day to day tasks like this was nothing?

"Pitch…" Elsa wasn't exactly sure of how to respond, but she knew she couldn't just stay silent. "… I know that… this hasn't been easy for either of us, but… you've given me a reason to have any sort of hope for my sister…" Elsa groaned, holding her head a bit. "… that seemed so… distant… it's hard to remember the beginning of all this… it's hard to remember anything before this…"

"His mind tricks have taken their toll… if you ever want to retain any memories of your sister again you will do your best to dismiss his words." Pitch said.

"I know…" Elsa sighed, holding her head in her hands. Not knowing what else to do or say, Pitch glanced towards the archway.

"I'll go fetch Wick to tend to you." He said, turning around when Elsa's reply stopped him in his tracks.

"Wait…" She glanced up, looking after him. "I- I mean… you don't have to leave if you don't want to… the more people that are near me that I trust… the better."

Pitch closed his eyes for a moment, exhaling slowly. "Very well. I'll at least notify Wick he can come back inside-"

"Coming!" Wick exclaimed from just outside, floating back in as he beamed.

Pitch blinked, rolling his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose. "Wick… do you not understand that the whole point of you waiting outside the room is because my conversation with Elsa was meant to be private?"

"But Pitch, we're all brothers and sisters! Siblings know everything and never keep secrets, right Elsa?" Wick smiled.

Elsa couldn't help but giggle at that, covering her mouth. She glanced over at Pitch who rolled his eyes. Wick may have annoyed him at times, but deep down, he was comforted to know that he kept close to Elsa, especially after what had happened. If Elsa was going to get out of this unscathed, she would need him and Wick to keep an eye on her… and keep the Queen and Bumby at bay.

North nodded to himself, smiling as he looked at the table full of desserts and treats. Anna walked up to stand next to him, smiling lightly.

"This all looks wonderful…" She started. "… but North… is this really a time to be celebrating? I know that we're all happy for Hiccup and that he's better… but with everything that's going on…" She bit her lip, looking down at her feet.

"Anna, it is in times like this that we most need something to celebrate. It is a night like this that gets us through these dark times." He looked around as Sandy placed small tea lights around the workshop. "We forget for one night about the evil weighing us down, so that we may remember what we do have here… we have hope, love, family. We remember not what we must fight, but what it is we are fighting for… who we are fighting for."

Anna smiled sadly, glancing over at the tray of chocolates. "I wish Elsa was here… chocolates are our favorite." She sighed, her eyes tearing up a bit. North gently pat her back, and she sniffled as he pulled her in for a gentle hug.

"Do not lose hope, Anna. This is what tonight is for. I do not know Elsa well, but I do know that she would want you to be happy." North said.

"She would…" Anna replied, wiping her eyes when she heard Kristoff walking into the room. He frowned lightly when he saw Anna crying.

"Hey… are you okay?" He asked as Anna took his hands in hers, nodding a bit.

"Yeah… just missing Elsa, is all…" She said.

"We can just take it easy if you want. We'll curl up in our own little corner by the fire and just enjoy the evening, okay?" Kristoff asked.

"Would Sven happen to be that 'corner?'" Anna asked, raising a brow playfully.

Kristoff smiled, rolling his eyes in response. "Okay, fine… Sven won't be the 'corner.'"

North smiled as the two giggled a bit, Kristoff hugging Anna's shoulders with one of his arms as they headed out of the room.

Meanwhile, the others were gathered around the fireplace, Merida standing up in the middle as she told a well-known folktale from her home in Scotland.

"... the man, Min, began to swim across, knowing that the deadly beast lurked below." She spoke, the hood from her frayed cloak covering most of her hair, a few stray curls poking out to make herself seem a bit more sinister. "The folk watched on in horror as the man, out of his wits, they thought, started his perilous journey across the lake. The monster beneath the dark waters took to chase, about to feast upon his flesh!"

Eliza and Olaf gasped, hugging each other as they glanced at each other with shocked expressions. "I can't take the suspense!" Olaf cried.

"Just when the beast was about to snatch Min up, Columba made the sign of the cross and cried out; 'Go no further!'" Merida paused then, the room silent as everyone listened. "The beast stopped right where it was, and Min is the only man known to swim across the deadly lake and live to tell the tale." She gasped then when Toothless chirped, pouncing and knocking Merida down as he licked at her face. She giggled and held her hands up as everyone burst into laughter. "Down, y' beastie!" Merida shouted, laughing.

"Toothless, you are NOT the Loch Ness monster!" Hiccup laughed, ushering him back a bit so Merida could get up and dust herself off. "You've gone ahead and inspired him, Mer." He snickered.

"I believe I have a story I would like to share next." Alice said, standing up as her and Merida bumped shoulders playfully, the two giggling a bit. Anna and Kristoff walked in then, sitting back a bit closer by the fire and settling in quietly.

Tooth glanced over at Sandy, tilting her head a bit. "Hey, you alright? You seem a bit uneasy, Sandy."

Sandy looked over at her, forcing a smile and giving her two thumbs up. Tooth smiled lightly, but wondered what could be on his mind.

"... the fairies laid her to rest within her chambers, and the whole kingdom fell into deep sleep along with her." Alice lay down on the floor, closing her eyes as she paused. Bunny smirked a bit, poking her side with his foot. When he persisted, Alice could not help but smile, cracking one eye open and smacking his foot lightly. "Bunny, will you- no- sod off!" She snickered, and everyone began to giggle as Bunny went behind her to drag her across the floor a few inches, Alice laughing as she stood up with her hands on her hips.

Everyone of course, except for Jack.

He smiled sadly, his smile eventually fading altogether as Bunny persisted in playfully interrupting Alice's story. He silently got up, floating out of the room and up the stairs towards his loft. The only one to notice was Baby Tooth, fluttering after him worriedly.

"Bunny, let her finish!" Tooth exclaimed as she giggled.

"Alright, alright... I was just showing everyone how the prince woke ol' Sleeping Beauty up!" Bunny laughed.

"I beg your pardon, but I believed the prince kissed Aurora awake, according to the story..." Alice rolled her eyes.

"Oh, well allow me to redo my demonstration then!" Bunny exclaimed, and Alice gasped, laughing as she ran to hide behind Sven. The reindeer snorted, snickering and sticking his tongue out at Bunny.

"Finish the story, I'm getting hungry over here!" Kristoff exclaimed, laughing.

"Alright, Bunny, please take a seat and REMAIN there." She smirked. "Now, I will need the help of Toothless to tell the next part."

Toothless looked around, glancing at Alice quizzically and pointed to himself with his paw. When Alice nodded, he pounced over happily, plopping down in an upright seated position. Hiccup chuckled lightly, shaking his head.

"In order for the princess to be awoken, it could only be done by true love's first kiss... but the prince had but one obstacle; a ferocious, fire-breathing dragon!" Alice giggled a bit as Toothless did a fake growl, crouching down. Alice cleared her throat a bit, biting her lip as an unpleasant memory of the Jabberwocky surfaced. Toothless looked up at her, giving her his puppy-eyed expression to settle her nerves. She smiled lightly, giving him a thankful nod as she regained focus to proceed. "The prince braced himself as the dragon attacked, deflecting its flames with his mighty shield. It was not long before the prince thrust his sword forward, slaying the beast and making his way into the castle. He traveled up to the highest room in the tallest tower, gazing lovingly upon the sleeping princess. He kissed her, and the whole kingdom awoke the moment the fair maiden opened her eyes. There was a grand celebration, and they all lived happily ever after."

Everyone clapped, Toothless smiling proudly and bowed his head at the applause. Everyone laughed, Hiccup getting up to pet the dragon. "Alright, alright you super star..."

"Now we devour food!" Kristoff exclaimed happily, Anna laughing as he practically dragged her to the table.

As they all sat down to eat, Alice glanced around, noticing Jack was no longer with them. She politely excused herself, getting up to try to locate him.

Jack sat up in his loft, sighing lightly as he hugged his knees. "What's the use, Baby Tooth?" He asked. "Here I thought I was the fun one. I've got so much on my mind that I can't even think about having fun."

"Not as much as me, I bet." Alice said as she appeared in the doorway, making Jack jump a bit. She entered the room, sitting on the edge of his bed. "You sir, are required downstairs."

He sighed lightly. "I'm not really hungry."

"Jack Frost not hungry? My, what an ailment you must have!" Alice chuckled lightly, feeling his forehead before placing her hands on his cheeks. He blinked, smiling warmly as he placed his hand on one of hers, keeping it there. "Do not carry your burdens alone, Jack, because you aren't." She gently pulled him in for a hug, for which he returned gratefully. "Now, you shall join me downstairs."

Eliza burst into a fit of giggles when Olaf held one of his arms in the other, using it as a utensil. She glanced over when Alice led Jack down the stairs, her fingers lightly grasping his. The girl hopped out of her chair, running up to them to show them how Olaf chose to dine that night. Bunny glanced over, making a face when he noticed Alice holding Jack's hand.

Alice and Jack sat down next to each other, Bunny just across from them. After dinner, they all digested for a bit before Merida jumped to her feet.

"I have so much energy, I've got do somethin' with it!" She exclaimed.

"Guess it wouldn't hurt to work off some of that cake, huh?" Bunny added, getting to his feet. "Gotta stay in shape, after all."

"I have music player, how about we make this party a bit more lively?" North asked.

"Back in Dun Broch, I loved to dance jigs with m' da! Do y' have any bagpipes or flutes around North?" Merida asked.

"No..." North laughed heartily. "... but I may have a record that may resemble something close to it!" He said as he went to his shelf, scanning his records quickly.

North finally found some Scottish music, taking the record and placing on the record player and placing the needle down. Merida and Hiccup observed it, fascinated.

"What is this contraption?" Hiccup asked. "I've never seen anything like this before..."

"Way after your time." Jack replied, chuckling lightly.

"That seems to happen a lot around here, doesn't it?" Hiccup asked.

Jack laughed when North started it up, Merida and Hiccup jumping back a bit. Toothless sniffed around it curiously, glancing at Hiccup once before sitting back down.

"Well Merida, are you going to dance or not?" Alice smiled.

"Aye, lass!" She beamed, taking Hiccup's hand and dragging him to the center of the room. She went on the now empty table, everyone gasping and laughing as she looked down on them all. "Alright you scallywags! We've got a battle to fight tomorrow! Are ye ready to bring those mongrels down? I said are ye ready?!"

When everyone cheered, she hopped off the table, North turning up the upbeat Scottish music as she began to do a jig.

"Oi, for a ghost she sure is lively, huh?" Bunny exclaimed, laughing.

"There was once a dastardly devil named Bumby,

Was filled from his toes to top hat with blarney,

And never did I ever see such an ugly mug,

So once he's dead we'll 'ave a round from the jug!"

Alice was gasping for air from laughing so hard, Merida taking Hiccup's hand to join her in the jig. Her merriment was contagious, and though Hiccup wasn't all that experienced with dancing, he caught on quickly. Eliza giggled, taking Olaf's stick hands and the two spun each other around. Sven had a silly grin in his expression, his hooves clopping as he danced. Toothless' eyes followed his hooves, hopping up and joining in next to him as he imitated Sven's movements. Sandy glanced over at Tooth, making a motion to clear his throat before offering his hand to her. She blinked, smiling soon after.

"Of course, Sandy!" She beamed, taking his hand as they joined the others in the dancing.

Bunny wasn't going to wait a moment longer, taking Alice's hand and doing his own little jig- as much as his large feet allowed. Jack pursed his lips with annoyance, marching after them. Alice laughed as she did a twirl, but her hand was picked up by Jack then, wiggling his brows as he continued the dance with her. Bunny's eyes widened, huffing angrily.

"There was once a wicked Queen of Hearts,

Who thinks she's as the grandest of arts,

But in her castle there mustn't be a mirror,

Otherwise she'd realize she was a terror!"

Merida sang as they all danced around, laughing as she hooked arms with Hiccup to dance around in circles. Kristoff, smiled at Anna, taking her hand.

"May I have this… dance? I guess this is a dance, it's not a ball or anything, but-"

Anna placed a finger on his lips, smiling back. "I would love to." She said as they finally joined the dance floor.

Alice rolled her eyes playfully as she was passed for the umpteenth time to Bunny. When Jack was about to take her back, she quickly moved Bunny in her place instead, the two dancing for a few moments in a comical manner until they noticed neither of them was Alice, the two finally seeing her standing a few feet away, waving at them as she smirked. The song ended, and everyone clapped, North laughing heartily. Merida hugged Hiccup from the side, beaming at him. Hiccup hugged her with one arm, smiling a bit nervously as he imagined Astrid not appreciating the gesture if she had been present.

"Well, I certainly feel more cultured!" Alice exclaimed, smiling. "However, there is a dancing style I am far more accustomed to. I often did so with the White Rabbit during my childhood stays in Wonderland… he was ironically a fantastic dancing partner."

"What might that be, Alice?" Merida asked, tilting her head.

"North, might you have any sort of Waltz music in your records?" Alice asked.

"I certainly do!" He answered, Alice choosing one out of a variety.

"Ladies and gentlemen… we are going to ballroom dance." Alice smiled.

Anna gasped happily. "Oh, I always love ballroom parties! That's a wonderful idea!"

"Uh… Anna? I've never been to a ball…" Kristoff whispered, biting his lip.

"That's okay, you can just follow my lead." She whispered back.

"Being some of you are a bit inexperienced with ballroom dancing, I shall demonstrate. Now, I need someone to help me-"

"I'll do it!" Bunny exclaimed.

"No Bunny, you'll step on her with your giant feet! I'll take care of this." Jack smirked.

Alice stared at them flatly, turning around. "Eliza dear, you may be my partner."

Tooth and Sandy snickered at Bunny and Jack's disappointed expressions, Alice taking the child's hand as she hopped up to join Alice. She demonstrated how to ballroom dance, everyone nodding and getting the gist of it rather quickly. Alice nodded to North to put on the music, giggling as Eliza curtsied to her, Alice curtseying back. The child then ran over to Olaf, curtseying to him. Olaf tried to imitate the movement, making her laugh.

"No, Olaf, you have to bow like a gentleman!" She exclaimed, showing him how to bow.

"Oh, okay!" Olaf smiled, bowing.

"Now we dance!" Eliza smiled, taking his hands to dance.

Anna burst into a fit of giggles as she and Kristoff danced. "Stop being so nervous!"

"What kind of princess' boyfriend doesn't know how to dance all fancy and stuff?" Kristoff groaned.

"You're getting the hang of it, just try to have fun!" Anna smiled.

"Well, this isn't anything near as fun as a good ol' jig, but I suppose we could try it…" Merida smiled, holding her hand out to Hiccup.

Hiccup cleared his throat, unsure of this. "I dunno, Mer…"

"Oh come now lad, you're probably not as bad as you would think-"

"I- It's not that." He bit his lip, glancing to the side.

Merida frowned lightly, lowering her hand. "Alright, then…" She turned, floating over to the other side of the room. She sulked for a few moments before looking over as Bunny seated himself next to her, mumbling under his breath as he stared straight ahead. Merida followed his eyes, seeing that Jack and Alice were dancing together.

"My, how light on your feet you are!" Alice exclaimed.

"Oh, oh, mister wonderful…" Bunny mocked in a high pitched voice, making a face before rolling his eyes. "More like a bloody show pony is more like it…"

Merida glanced across the room, seeing Hiccup walking over to stand next to Toothless. "I think we're in the same rut, Bunny."

Bunny looked over at her, noticing Hiccup across the room as his expression softened, sighing lightly as he pat her back gently. "You got that right, Sheila."

"Y' know, you and I can give this a go… just a friendly bout, ye ken?" Merida asked, smiling.

Bunny raised a brow, smiling a bit then. "Why not?" He got up, helping Merida to her feet as they joined the others in ballroom dancing.

Hiccup watched on with Toothless, when he felt a light nudge against his shoulder. He glanced up to see Toothless look from Merida and Bunny to him, grunting lightly.

"Toothless, I… it's not right for me to lead her on like that. I love Astrid, we've been together for five years… I can't just betray her like that." He said.

Toothless stared at him flatly, motioning towards Eliza and Olaf, who were laughing as they danced.

"It's not the same, bud… they're kids… Merida and I aren't. I don't want to give her the wrong idea." Hiccup answered.

Toothless maintained his prior expression, before a mischievous smirk worked his way into his expression. Hiccup raised his brows, staring at him warily.

"Toothless…? Whatever you're planning, you better forget it, right now." Hiccup demanded.

As time went on, Alice and Jack both had become lost in the music, Alice staring into his eyes as they danced round and round. Jack bit his lip a bit, smiling shyly as he glanced back at her. No words were spoken, nor were they really needed now. Alice felt herself being drawn closer to Jack, and he wasn't going to question it. He knew he felt very deeply for Alice, and he began to understand why ballroom parties were commonplace for bachelors and bachelorettes to seek courtship in this period. As the song began to come to a close, Alice's feet slowed to a stop, her eyes so lost in his that Jack's feet froze- ironically- as she leaned in closer.

Bunny and Merida had been laughing a bit as they tried to get the movements of the dance just right, when Bunny caught a glimpse of Alice and Jack. He stopped short, his eyes widening as he grit his teeth. Just when Alice was about to close the space between them, she gasped as Toothless bumped into her as he passed through, making her lose her balance a bit as Jack held her shoulders to keep her steady. Bunny's view of them was obscured by the dragon as he plopped down, holding Hiccup by his prosthetic leg in his mouth.

"Toothless! Toothless put me down! If you don't put me down right now, I will- oof!" Hiccup groaned, getting to his feet and rubbing his head. "Just what do you think you're doing?"

Toothless snorted, motioning towards Merida before holding his arms up in and wiggling his bottom as he imitated ballroom dancing.

"I'm not going to- Toothless will you stop- I am going to give you to the count of three!" Hiccup exclaimed.

Merida frowned, floating forward and extending a hand towards the dragon as she smiled sadly. "It's alright, lad." She said as she pat his nose. "He doesn't have to if he doesn't want to." She turned to Bunny then. "Thank you… I'm going to get some shuteye." She floated towards the stairs, heading up.

Hiccup sighed, groaning as he ran a hand down his face. "Great job, genius, now her feelings are hurt!"

"Don't blame the dragon, mate." Bunny said to Hiccup. "When you really like someone, unless they like you back, it eats you up." He glanced over at Jack and Alice, sighing as he pat Hiccup's shoulder. "Speaking from experience." He walked towards the stairs then, deciding it would be best to see if Merida needed someone to talk to.

Merida sighed as she looked in the mirror. She twirled a strand of hair in her fingers before allowing it to bounce back, floating over to sit on the edge of her bed. She glanced up at Bunny, maintaining her somber expression.

"Look at me." She said quietly. "I probably scare 'im out of his boots."

Bunny sighed, sitting down next to her. "It isn't that... I know you like the bloke, but it's hard to make someone like you when they like someone else."

"I can't believe I even like him so much in the first place!" Merida threw her hands up. "After all the arguing with my mom over not wanting to be married!"

"Well no one's telling you to marry him..." Bunny raised a brow.

"I'm not saying that... just... the principle, ye ken?" Merida sighed. "If he loves this… Astrid so much… why doesn't he just go back to her?"

"Hm… probably because his dragon has no flames, and he's invested way too much of his time here to back out now." Bunny replied, smiling lightly.

"I guess…" She looked over at Bunny. "Do y' think I should go back down there?"

"Well, that all depends… if you're too sleepy then you'd better stay up here." Bunny elbowed her playfully, and Merida giggled.

"As if!" She jumped to her feet. Her expression softened, ruffling Bunny's ears a bit. "Thanks, Bunny."

"Anytime, Merida. That's what friends are for." Bunny smiled.

Downstairs, Eliza yawned a bit as she rested her head against Olaf's. "Hey Anna, I think it's Eliza's bedtime." He whispered.

"I'll take care of it." Alice smiled a bit, helping the girl to her feet. "It is getting quite late."

Jack smiled lightly as Alice and Eliza headed upstairs before looking towards Anna. "How're you feeling?" He asked.

"A little better, thanks… tonight definitely helped me." Anna smiled.

"With Hiccup feeling better, we'll probably be seeing Elsa a bit sooner than we planned." Jack said.

"Yeah… just… whatever happens… I hope everyone here makes it out alright… I wish I could tell Elsa myself to… to listen to you…" Anna shook her head. "But that wouldn't help, would it…? She doesn't really listen to me now…"

Jack gently pat Anna's shoulder. "She cares for you, Anna… so much so that she's risking her life. We'll figure something out."

Hiccup sat by the fire, the flames flickering in the reflection of his eyes as he sighed. Toothless was curled up beside him, enjoying the warmth.

"I miss everyone from home… I miss mom… I miss Astrid." He sighed, hanging his head. "I can't even imagine what she must be feeling right now…"

Merida approached then, stopping a few feet from Hiccup, his back to her. Toothless lifted his head calmly, causing Hiccup to glance back. Merida hesitated, clearing her throat.

"Hey… guess I wasn't as tired as I thought…" She said, rubbing her arm.

Hiccup blinked, glancing at Toothless for a moment before turning around a bit more to face Merida. "Oh… that's good, I guess…"

Merida took in a deep breath, hanging her head a bit. "Hiccup, I… I'm sorry about… I just…" She bit her lip. "Y' see, I… I've never felt like this, and-"

"You don't have to apologize…" Hiccup interrupted. "Merida, I've come to… to really cherish the friendships I've made here. It's been hard being away from home for so long, and I know it has been for you too. I just… I don't want to hurt you." He stood, taking a step closer. "When you get your soul back… you can tell everyone about how you learned how to fly a dragon… that ought to help you win some lucky guy's heart…" Hiccup smiled, but suddenly blinked. "… n- not that you don't have any- any other good qualities, I mean… with your archery, and your sword fighting… I mean, I guess guys from Dun' Broch like that, right?"

"Oh, yeah…" Merida rolled her eyes. "Decent men in Dun' Broch are very far and few between, Hiccup, trust me…"

"Well… I mean, don't you… do you talk to any?" Hiccup asked.

"Not really… I spend most of my time in the woods… the fields… the mountainside… the breeze blowing through my hair… the warmth of the sun at my back…" She sighed blissfully for a moment, but her smile slowly faded. "The only boys that wanted anything to do with me were trying to win my affections to please their das… see, m' da is the king of all the clans… so whoever marries me, becomes the next king." Merida crouched down to sit on the floor. "But now that won't even happen, because I'm dead."

Hiccup frowned, sitting next to her, the fire warming them. "You're not… dead, dead…" He said in an attempt to console Merida.

"Look at me, Hiccup! It's a good thing m' family couldn't see me, could you imagine if they had to see this all day? A banshee… the most feared creature of my homeland."

"And the same 'creature' that saved my life." Hiccup smiled lightly.

Merida glanced over at him, a smile gracing her features then. Before she could say anything, she gasped as Toothless nudged her a bit closer to Hiccup, her shoulder brushing against his. Hiccup shot Toothless a look as the dragon chuckled gutturally. Merida bit her lip, scooting away a bit.

"I don't want to make you uncomfortable again…" She said quietly, hugging her knees and staring ahead at the fire.

Hiccup exhaled deeply, glancing over at Toothless. The dragon pouted, motioning his head towards Merida. The young Viking 's eyes rested on Merida, scooting closer.

"You… you don't make me uncomfortable." Hiccup said. "It's okay, Merida."

Merida smiled warmly, blinking as she covered her mouth to yawn. "I think I'm getting a bit sleepy now…"

Hiccup smiled calmly, and he didn't feel guilty when he let Merida rest her head against his shoulder, the warm fire lulling her to sleep. She was just his friend, he told himself. There was nothing wrong with this as long as it was between friends, he assured.

After all, he knew that soon, they would be placing their lives at risk once again, and if anything were to happen… he wanted no regrets.

Astrid grunted as she finished packing and storing away food rations for the winter, wiping a brow. She was about to head out when she heard the door open, turning to see Eret enter.

"Hey, need any help?" He asked.

"Nah, got everything done for the night, was about to head home." Astrid answered.

"I can walk you home if you like. Getting kind of dark out there."

Astrid scoffed. "Please, whatever is out there should be afraid of me, not the other way around. But sure, we can head back together."

"Good point…" Eret said as he walked back out of the small storage hut.

"We'll smoke that fish tomorrow and that should be enough to last through a good part of the winter…" Astrid said. She looked up at Eret as they walked, smiling softly. "Eret… I want to thank you."

"Really?" Eret raised a brow. "For what?"

"For just… making things a little easier. It's good to know that I have someone to help me out around here. And I guess… you've made it easier to deal with losing Hiccup." Astrid said.

Eret smiled warmly, putting an arm around Astrid. "I know it hasn't been easy. But you're a strong girl… it's what I like most about you."

Astrid smirked up at him, punching him playfully. Unlike Hiccup, Eret took her rough playfulness well, not even wincing from the contact. After being pulverized on many occasions by Drago, what Astrid dealt him was nothing.

"Good to know." Astrid replied simply.

After some time, they stopped outside of Astrid's hut. "We're still going to reinforce that dock on the west end tomorrow, right?" Eret asked.

Astrid snickered, raising a brow. "So, you walk a girl home and THAT'S what you end on?"

Eret glanced around, confused. "W- Wait, what?"

Astrid burst out into laughter then, taking a moment to catch her breath. "Just kidding, I'm kidding!"

Eret shook his head, smiling as he rolled his eyes. "I will never understand you, girlie."

"Well…" Astrid's smile faded a bit, glancing back at her hut. "I mean… it's been a bit lonely since Hiccup's been gone… and your hut is all the way on the other side of the village, are you sure you want to walk that far?"

Eret stared at her for a few moments, taking in her question and needed a second or two to process it. "Astrid… what are you asking me?"

"I…" Astrid exhaled slowly, closing her eyes for a moment as she took a few steps towards him. "Eret, I… I don't know if… if Hiccup is ever coming back… regardless if he… if he left on his own, or… something happened to him… the point is, he's gone and I don't know if I'll ever see him again. We've found no leads… nothing. I don't want to feel this pain anymore. I don't want to keep feeling miserable… the worst is at night. When I have no work to do, nothing to engage myself in… it gives me time to think of him. I don't want it anymore. I don't want to think about him anymore, because it hurts."

Eret held Astrid's shoulders to keep her steady once she had come close enough, furrowing a brow as she stared into his eyes. "We'll keep looking for him." He said. "We will find him. However long it takes, Astrid. We need our chief… and our dragon alpha."

Astrid's gaze lowered, exhaling sharply as she gave a firm nod. "We do need a chief… and a dragon alpha."

Eret smiled lightly, patting her shoulders. "See you in the morning." He stepped back, turning to walk away. Astrid looked after him, staring and shaking her head for a moment. Her feet took to action then, her arms coiling around his waist as she stopped him in his tracks, hugging him from behind. He glanced at her over his shoulder in surprise, chuckling lightly. "Damn, Astrid… if you wanted to you would have stuck me good."

Astrid smiled a bit, resting her head against his back. "Good thing I decided to be merciful tonight." She began to walk backwards towards her hut, rubbing his arm. "And yes… I'll see you in the morning."

Eret gave her a nod, watching her go into her hut before continuing on his own way. He hadn't realized it until now, but his heart was beating a bit quicker than normal. He sighed, shaking his head as he closed his eyes for a moment. No… Hiccup was still out there somewhere, and as long as he was still out there, Astrid would always long for him… right?

Elsa opened her eyes, groaning as she found herself trapped in another nightmare. She was in a strait jacket once more, but found herself in her own bedroom in Arendelle rather than in an isolation room within the ominous walls of Rutledge. All she could do was look around, her back pressed against the wall as she could not even stand up. She then heard footsteps, looking towards the bedroom door as someone entered, closing the door behind them.

"Found yourself in another bind, have you?" Alice asked, approaching Elsa.

"Get out of my room!" Elsa cried.

"Make me." Alice said, going over to sit on Elsa's bed. "Look at yourself, Elsa. Do you not realize that you have placed yourself in this position?"

"I didn't do this, that… that doctor did this to me!" Elsa exclaimed. "And you are no friend to me either!"

"Trust me, the feeling is mutual." Alice replied. "But I'm doing this as a favor to someone."

"I don't care why! All I know is that you're only going to drive me more insane than I already am!"

"Madness is not a state of mind, Elsa, it is a place." Alice said. "You were mad long before the doctor dipped his filthy fingers into your mind. You were mad because rather than being with the one you love, you had to lock yourself away because you thought you were a danger to her."

"Stop it… you know nothing of my sister…" Elsa shut her eyes tight, shaking her head.

Alice sighed, hanging her head for a moment. She looked up slowly, walking over and kneeling before Elsa, who tried to scurry backward but could not because of the wall. Alice's expression remained calm, but observant. "I'm going against the wishes of my friends for this…" Her voice was quieter now, more sincere than serious. "But I know the pain of losing a sister, Elsa. I… I'm already keeping one secret in this regard, I cannot keep two. I have to… stop hurting people by my lack of action." She looked into Elsa's eyes. "Tomorrow… we will be returning to where you are to try to get the children back that Pitch and the doctor helped to turn into their minions."

Elsa stared at Alice warily. "Pitch? No… those are all Bumby's, he fabricated them himself."

"Yes… using the souls of innocent children. Souls that Pitch helped to harvest." Alice said. "Destroying him is the key to our victory."

"No." Elsa shook her head. "No, Pitch is nothing like the doctor. He would never keep something like that from me."

"Believe what you want, but I will tell you this. Anna… your sister… is alive and well." Alice said.

Elsa's heart skipped a beat. A chill ran down her spine, her eyes widening. "… what did you say?"

"She is residing with us at North's workshop. She wants nothing more than to collect you for herself, but we are keeping her protected for her safety. Elsa, forsake Pitch and his allies tomorrow, and we can take you to her. Do not give me your answer now; you may communicate how you wish to act tomorrow when we arrive. Just remember what I told you. Pitch is lying to you." Alice stood to her feet, walking over to the door to open it, walking out of Elsa's nightmare. Elsa's breath hitched, shutting her eyes tightly as she willed herself even more now to wake up.

Pitch was petting one of his nightmares lightly, sighing as he tried to drown out Wick rambling to him.

"… so awesome! The way you helped Elsa the other day with those other pillars, it's like your sand reinforced them, so they'll be indestructible when those horrible guardians come back to-… oh, sister Elsa's awake!" Wick beamed.

Pitch glanced behind him, noticing Elsa approaching them and sighed heavily with relief. "Oh, thank darkness for that…"

Elsa smiled lightly as Wick hugged her, hugging him back briefly. "Elsa, can we slide on your ice again?"

"Not now, Wick… there's something with Pitch I have to talk about, alright? I promise, I won't be too long." Elsa replied, smiling gently.

"Okay! Brother Pitch, Elsa wants to talk to you, but in private, so I'll try to stay farther away so I won't hear anything like last time-"

"Alright, alright! Wick, you may wait here, SILENTLY." Pitch groaned as he rubbed his temples, walking towards Elsa.

"Okay!" Wick said as he plopped down, whistling as he stared about aimlessly. He conjured some candy in his hands, popping a piece in his mouth to chew on.

Once out of Wick's earshot, Pitch exhaled sharply. "Did you actually have something to discuss or shall I just thank you for salvaging me from that torturously painful setting?"

Elsa chuckled lightly. "Come on Pitch, he's sweet."

"Sweet? Elsa, if you know anything about me, I don't do 'sweet.'" He rolled his eyes.

Elsa sighed then, her expression becoming a bit more serious. "Well… to answer your question, I do have something I need to talk to you about."

Pitch sat up a bit straighter at that, becoming a bit more focused. "By all means, please express what's on your mind."

"Something happened… last night, and once before… I've been having these… nightmares… but someone has been trying to reach out to me in them as well…" Elsa started.

Pitch narrowed his eyes a bit, intrigued. "How do you mean?"

"It's… it's hard to explain… it's as if she can just… enter into my dream, and speak to me through them…" Elsa said.

"Who is 'she?'" Pitch asked. "Is it someone you know?"

"It's someone we both know, Pitch." Elsa answered, looking up at him. "Jack Frost's ally, Alice."

Pitch's eyes widened a bit, leaning forward slightly. "What do you mean she is communicating with you? What is she attempting to do?"

"She told me that Anna is with them, Pitch. That they have her." Elsa said. "And that… you are assisting the doctor with… with collecting the souls of children…" Elsa sighed. "Look… I know what it is you do, you… inflict nightmares… but tearing out their souls… you would never go that far, would you Pitch? I know we may be… different… dangerous in our own right… but-"

"She is lying to you." Pitch said darkly; he could feel his blood boiling. "There is no way they could have your sister… and I am ignorant to how the doctor conjures his minions just as I am to how the Queen conjures hers, their methods mean little to me so as long as they are effective." Pitch strolled over, sitting beside Elsa. "And I do hope they continue to be… for I shall destroy Alice and Jack Frost for attempting to sway you from me." He said lowly.

Damn that girl, he thought. Getting in the way, trying to ruin everything he had worked so hard for! But there was something else inside him that drove him to currently loathe Alice more than anything; it wasn't just the anger of his plan possibly being foiled, but something else… he began to feel something that was foreign to him; guilt. Why should he feel guilty, knowing Anna was alive and at North's workshop? What Elsa didn't know wouldn't hurt her, right? He should have felt proud for lying to her!

But he didn't. He felt like a dog as Elsa looked up at him with those round, majestic blue eyes. He mentally cursed Elsa for her eyes, how they seemed to draw him in, place him under a spell.

"Pitch…" Elsa said as she broke Pitch's thoughts. "… I know you wouldn't lie to me. After all… you care enough to watch over me… I don't deserve it, but… you've grown more merciful towards me."

A sigh escaped Pitch's lips, the guilt beginning to claw at his insides as they churned. What was the matter with him? He tried to snap out of it, to remain indifferent and uncaring to the plights of others as he always had, so why was he struggling so much to do so now?

"Elsa…" Pitch started. "In the beginning, I… I saw you as nothing more than part of a bargain I had struck." No, stop this! How can you even think to say such a confession, he thought. But he couldn't stop; he felt a great discomfort in his heart, as if it were afflicted by some poison that could only be remedied by allowing the words he was speaking to flow freely. "But we're not all that different, you and I. Both of us are so forsaken by the world, so hated for what we are. We do not do what we do simply because we can… or simply to do so in the name of destruction or violation… we do what we do… because we hope someday that we will be recognized for it. Respected… admired." He turned to look at her, his expression softening. "The line had become so blurred, Elsa. How I see you now has completely changed… and… what I thought was simply an exchange of services before going our separate ways… it isn't so simple and clean cut anymore. I want… for us both to walk this Earth and find what we are both looking for. And when we find it, we can together be satisfied."

Elsa stared into Pitch's eyes, inhaling sharply as she leaned in for a moment, but hesitated, slowly leaning back as she looked down at her hands folded in her lap. "I would like that very much." She smiled. "For… us to still remain in each other's lives… once this is over." She could feel her heart rate increasing, straightening up as she tried to regain a serious air. "But Pitch… there is one thing I must tell you from what Alice said. A piece of information."

Pitch followed her lead in returning to the prior conversation, leaning back a bit. "Information?"

"She said… that she will join Jack Frost and the others in returning… they may very well arrive sometime today." Elsa said.

Pitch blinked, grinning as he patted Elsa's shoulder. "Excellent work, Elsa…" He stood to his feet, pacing in front of her. "Get Wick, tell him to ready himself. I will tell the others and have them make preparations."

As he made his way to leave, Elsa stood up then. "Pitch, Alice… she said that destroying the doctor is the key to their victory." She frowned then. "What if this is all a trick?"

Pitch looked back at her for a moment. "Trust me, this is no trick." He said. He could not let on that he knew of Anna's presence at North's workshop; as far as Elsa knew, she was still frozen solid in Arendelle, and he had to keep it that way. He needed a reason to keep her there… a reason for her to keep fighting. "You've done well, Elsa." He gave her a firm nod before exiting.

The next morning, Alice, Jack, Merida, Hiccup and Bunny all sat at table, having finished breakfast. Anna and Kristoff were watching Eliza and Olaf so they could discuss their next course of action without distractions or interruptions. North, Sandy and Tooth sat at the other end of the group. Though they would not be going out to actually fight as they needed to keep an eye on things at the workshop, their input was certainly valued.

"I'm not confident that Elsa will go against Pitch quite yet." Alice remarked. "If that's the case, she will still pose as a problem for us."

"Can't we just smuggle the lass here and show her Anna for her own eyes to see? Then we won't have to worry about it, ye ken?" Merida asked, biting into an apple and wiping her mouth on her sleeve.

"No, we'll just have to worry about Pitch and his cavalry of Nightmares coming after us then." Bunny commented. "It's too risky."

"We have to keep trying to reach out to her." Jack said. "She's not evil… but she's going to become evil if she sticks around with that bunch for too long."

"I could care less about that." Alice said. "The only thing I care about is restoring the children. And the only way we're going to do that is if Bumby is destroyed."

"Don't forget getting Toothless' flame back… and Merida's soul." Hiccup added. "That Wick guy has to go too."

"You said it, mate." Bunny chimed in. "That horror is nothing but a bloody nuisance."

"Bunny is right." North said. "Wick has never understood the meaning of protecting children or bringing them joy. I remember all the tricks he used to play… he used to think it was all a game… he would hold his hands behind his back, a piece of candy in one hand. He would ask 'trick, or treat?' Then, they would choose a hand… but Wick, he had taken one too many lessons from Pitch. He never played fair, and children feared him sometimes more than Pitch himself. We tried to show him the right way… but he was more interested in Pitch's methods."

Tooth sighed sadly. "I wished that we could help him somehow… but he just wouldn't listen."

"Indeed, Wick will have to suffer what consequences are required to restore both Merida and Toothless." Alice said. "But our primary objective is Bumby. We will not make any significant progress until he is no longer a threat."

"Would be nice if the Queen met her maker too…" Hiccup muttered.

Alice chuckled lightly. "Your wish is granted then Hiccup, she and I are far more acquainted than I'd prefer…" She cleared her throat again, her expression becoming serious once more. "We all need to remain alert and maintain ourselves. We are performing better each time we confront them, but it isn't enough. It's time to push ourselves to the limit, and possibly even break past that limit."

Bunny rested a paw on Alice's shoulder. "Make the call then, Alice. Whatever you think we should do, we'll go for it."

Alice exhaled slowly, standing up from her chair. "We need to change the game a bit. Take advantage of their weaknesses before they can do so for us." She glanced around at the group. "Change up not just how we fight, but who we fight. We may find ourselves a more effective force individually against one of them than another."

"Sounds good to me." Jack said. "I'll try to keep Pitch distracted so you can go after Bumby, Alice." He glanced over at Hiccup then. "You sure you feel well enough to do this?"

"I'm a Viking, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger... right bud?" Hiccup smiled patting Toothless when he trotted up to him.

"And I won't let this lad out of m' sight this time." Merida said, patting Hiccup's back.

"Well, we're not going to get anything done just sitting around, let's get this done." Bunny said, getting up from his chair. Tooth stopped him briefly, sighing worriedly.

"Be careful… all of you." She said, looking around at the group. "We'll take care of things here."

Bunny gave her a firm nod, joining the others as Jack took a snow globe into his hands. Tooth sighed, sinking down into a chair as Sandy gently pat her shoulder.

"Don't worry, Tooth, they can hold their own. I have faith that they will make it out alright." North said.

"I don't trust Pitch…" Tooth remarked. "He always has tricks up his sleeve."

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