Coping With Hardships
The Queen returned to where Pitch was resting, narrowing her eyes upon seeing that Elsa and Wick were there. She approached them without hesitation, anger swelling within her once more. "Go and find useful employment for yourselves. I will watch over him."
Elsa turned, Wick remaining by her side. "I'm not doing anything you say. I don't have to listen to your nonsense."
The Queen growled lowly, feeling a prickling on her skin as she became enraged. "My patience for your defiance has reached its limit, step aside or I shall end your pathetic excuse for a-"
Wick stepped in between them then, narrowing his eyes. "You let that bad doctor tried to hurt her."
"Oh, what a pity... your dim-witted brains have finally come to that conclusion. You shall pay as well if you don't oblige me." The Queen threatened.
"I may not understand all those big words you use, and I may not be very smart, but I'm not dumb, either." Wick replied. "I'm not going to let anything hurt Elsa or Pitch."
"Really? Well, you may be surprised to know then, that Pitch almost met his end going out there to fight for your precious little Elsa!" She hissed. "And that I was the one who returned him here safely." She grinned proudly. "Yes, I ended Alice Liddell's life, and she shall meet an ill fate as well!" She pointed at Elsa. "She cannot fend for him as I can, she is like a swan, beautiful but fragile, so vulnerable to death!"
"I won't let you hurt her!" Wick exclaimed.
"Oh... fret not, Wick, I am not her only foe." The Queen replied lowly.
"I won't let the doctor hurt her either!" Wick answered.
The Queen laughed. "There is but one last foe you are forgetting, one that all but she is immune to!"
"Whatever it is... I'll do whatever I can to protect her." Wick said.
"Is that so?" The Queen chuckled lowly. "This foe is invisible, inevitable..." She took a step closer. "Its name is mortality. Yes... despite her powers, Elsa is still human. Mortality shall use its greatest weapon of age... something she cannot be saved from, something that will slowly rot her into nothingness..."
"Stop it... I won't let that happen..." Wick whined.
"And though Pitch may be attracted to her now, every beautiful flower wilts, every plump piece of fruit over ripens... he will see more and more my eternal beauty, that I am a better match for him than she, that his heart and my heart are one of darkness and always shall be!" The Queen spat.
"Maybe he looks at more than just beauty." Elsa spoke finally, taking a step forward. "And if that's the only reason why you hate me, then that's pretty shallow of you."
"Lucky for you, it isn't." The Queen replied. "The other, more important reason, is because you have the audacity to call yourself a queen. I'm sure you know the story of the Swan Queen my dear, and how it ends is that said queen falls to her imminent death! Do you know why? Because she has a penetrable heart... but the black swan has a heart of stone... a resilient heart, immune to weakness. It measures its worth by endurance. I fight for my luxuries, I do not have them granted to me by a wave of my hand. You shall never be worthy of such a title, not now, not ever!"
Elsa glared up at the Queen, standing tall. "Fortunately it's not up to you to decide whether or not I deserve to be a queen, being it was my birthright. You're a queen because you stole that title from someone."
The Queen hissed. "You know nothing of the credentials or character of Alice Liddell! How ignorant you are to assume such a ridiculous notion, I may as well speak to a toad!"
Elsa shrugged. "I guess we finally agree on something."
Reaching her breaking point, the Queen stormed out, going to the other end of the cavern where she screeched loudly. She breathed heavily, growling after some time when she noticed Bumby leaning up against the wall, gazing at his pocket watch.
"It seems that time isn't the only thing running short." He said as he pocketed the object.
The Queen went to come back at him with a snappy remark, but she hesitated, rethinking her actions. She realized that at this point, she could not continue along this path of making Bumby her enemy. Until Elsa was destroyed, she had to stay on somewhat good terms with him. She closed her eyes for a moment, thinking of a way to get him to work with her again. Whatever it was, it had to be something worthy to once again solidify their partnership, lest they have another critical disagreement.
Merida's brows twisted with shock as she read the small note left in Hiccup's bedroom. She had gone in to check on him, having noticed that he retired early the previous night. She slowly sat on his bed, the small piece of paper slipping from her hands as her hands remained where they were, as if the paper were still in them. Tooth fluttered in the doorway then, peeking in as Merida stared straight ahead.
"Oh, there you are... Jack is looking for everyone; he wants to talk to all of us about something over breakfast." Tooth said, tilting her head when she received no response. "Merida? Is everything okay? Where is Hiccup by the way, isn't this his room?"
"No… he isn't in his room…" Merida grit her teeth as she held back tears. "He's nowhere around here, lass. He's jumped ship, he's abandoned us!"
"W- Wait, what do you mean?" Tooth tilted her head.
"Read the note for yourself, everythin' you need to know is there." Merida's voice shook, storming past her as she glided down the stairs.
Bunny was about to head up when he noticed Merida's emotional state, approaching her as she reached the bottom of the stairs. "Oi, what's eating you, Merida?"
The young princess looked up at him, her lip trembling as she shook her head. She shut her eyes tightly, wordlessly hugging him as she broke down in tears. Confused, Bunny glanced up at Tooth as she fluttered near them. She frowned lightly as she held the note in her hands.
"He went home to his family…" Tooth sighed lightly, handing the note to Bunny. "Better give this to Jack…"
"Oh…" Bunny breathed, understanding why Merida was acting this way. "Look, Mer… I'm sure he won't stay away, he's bound to come back to get Toothless-"
"No… no, he's going to see HER… and like an enchantress she'll keep the lad under her spell…" Merida cried. "Let him stay… I don't need him!" She screamed angrily.
"Come on, you don't mean that… he's probably feeling rotten after everything that happened, he probably just wanted to see his family again." Bunny said.
Merida's eyes narrowed, wiping her tears away. "Never again, laddie." She said lowly. "I'll never give m' heart away again. It belongs to the bow and arrow, to the sword, to the victory of this fight. I will never love another boy again." She stormed into the dining area, Bunny watching after her sadly.
"I really need to clock that bloke upside the head if he ever does come back…" Bunny sighed as he followed after her.
Jack glanced up as they both sat at the table, glancing around. "Where's Hiccup?" He asked.
"Who cares?" Merida responded spitefully, making Anna jump a bit when she stabbed a fork into her food to shove it into her mouth.
"So, um… tell me again how… how a um… Banshee, you call it? How they can… eat…?" Anna said, shrinking back when her attempt to change the subject failed.
"He skipped out on us during the night, Jack." Bunny said, glancing over as Toothless wandered into the room, head bowed as he sat near them. He whimpered sadly, glancing up at them with a boo-boo eyed expression.
Sven frowned at this, lightly patting Toothless' leg with his hoof.
"Sven is saying that Toothless tried to convince Hiccup to stay, but he felt he had abandoned his family for too long... that he's holding everyone back here." Kristoff translated.
"Not if he runs off in the middle of the night like a filthy rat with his tail tucked!" Merida exclaimed before glancing at Kristoff. "By the way... how is it you can understand him again?" Merida motioned to Sven, tilting her head.
"Guess we're both confused about something." Anna chuckled nervously, shrugging.
Jack sighed after reading the note, resting his head in his hands. "Alright..." He breathed, rubbing his temples as he scrambled to find a solution to remedy his group literally falling apart. "The reason why I wanted to speak to you this morning is because I think we all need to figure out how to get back on track. I'll try to find a way to bring Hiccup back into the mix, and Alice..." He paused, a lump forming in his throat, taking a moment to compose himself. Indeed, the wound from her loss was still fresh, but remembering North's words, he knew that he had to press on in Alice's stead, that they all needed a leader in her absence. "... we need to remember everything that she stood for. We need to remember her courage, how she never gave up, and we need to do the same. Those kids are out there, they still need our help." He glanced back at the globe, a large dark spot where the lights had faded throughout London, and it was growing in radius. "I won't let Alice to have died in vain, and I know none of you will either. The only way that's going to happen is to get those kids back."
"Which mean's Bumby's got to meet his maker, mate." Bunny commented. "But we're down two people. It wasn't easy to begin with."
"I know." Jack replied. "We need to make a new plan of how we're going to do this."
Anna stood up then, a determined expression on her face. "I'll go."
"Anna, are you crazy?!" Kristoff exclaimed. "How many times do I have to tell you that you'll end up getting killed or something-"
"I may not have any special powers, and I'm not an expert at using weapons... but there is something I can do. Something I should have done a long time ago. I know you're all concerned for my safety, and from the bottom of my heart, I'm thankful for that. But... if I could just speak to Elsa, if I could get her on our side... we may finally have the chance to end this once and for all." Anna replied.
Jack knew for some time now that it would come down to this, and they were out of any other realistic options. "Alright. We'll have to decide-"
"Well if she's going, so am I." Kristoff stood. "I don't have special powers either, but I'm going to do what I can to protect her. I almost lost her once, I'm not going to lose her again."
"Alright. So what I think we need to do is have the rest of us try to hold off Pitch, the Queen, Bumby and Wick. Let Anna and Elsa talk things out and keep our fingers crossed that Elsa can be convinced. But if anyone interferes with them, especially Pitch... it's going to make things harder." Jack said.
"Well, there's five of them, and three of us, not including Anna and Kristoff here. How are we supposed to do that?" Bunny asked.
"We'll give it the best we've got." Merida said, pushing her empty plate forward. "If it's meant for us to lose, at least we won't make it easy for them."
Jack nodded. "I'm going to talk to the other guardians for a few minutes, and then we'll get back to planning."
He got up, going into another area of the workshop where Sandy, North and Tooth were discussing things among themselves. When Jack entered, Tooth was the first to notice him, doing a double take before fluttering over to him.
"Hey Jack… before we talk, there's something I wanted to give you. I asked Baby Tooth to look, she searched all night but she was able to find it." Tooth said, before producing one of the small cases where teeth were held in her realm.
Jack blinked, gently taking it into his hands and looking it over. When he looked on the one side of the tube shaped case, he gasped lightly, his eyes widening as he gripped it a bit tighter. "Is… is that…?"
"Yes… these are Alice's teeth. Now, it's been a few decades since I've been on the field, but… when I inspected them myself… they hold something truly special, Jack. I thought that giving them to you would help console you." Tooth said.
Jack stared at the case for a bit longer before looking up at Tooth. "Thank you for this, Tooth." He breathed. "It's like… I still have a part of her." He straightened up after a few moments, tucking Alice's tooth case into his sweatshirt pocket. "So… what are we all talking about?"
North exhaled slowly, looking over at Jack. "We were discussing the same thing you were in there… how you're going to bring down Pitch. We do not want to stand idly anymore, Jack."
Jack blinked, looking at them. "Now hang on a second… we can't have all of us going out to fight, there's still my sister that someone has to-"
"We decided that Tooth will remain here to watch over her. Sandy and I want to join you." North replied.
"But what if something comes here? I- If they see all of us there, they will know this place is unguarded!" Jack exclaimed.
"You, Bunny and Merida alone cannot fight them. You are all strong, but three against five, and their minions, you will never survive!" North exclaimed.
"I'm going to find Hiccup and try to get him back on track here, okay? At least we'll still have him and Toothless to help." Jack replied.
"Hiccup is looking after his family, Jack. It is no personal ill will against us, but there is no guarantee that he will return." North said.
"But Toothless is still here…" Tooth added. "I don't think he would just return home and never come back without his dragon, right?"
"I'm going to find out." Jack replied. "Just… I need some time to try and pull ourselves together for this."
North gave a nod. "I have faith in you, Jack." He smiled lightly as he patted his shoulder. "You are a true guardian."
Jack smiled back a bit. "Thanks, North. I'm going to think some things over. Come grab me if you guys need anything."
He turned then, floating up to one of the skylights to head outside, going out into the snowy tundra to touch down on one of the smaller ice glaciers sticking out of the ground. He glanced over, noticing a bit of pinkness in the snow. Flashes from the encounter that had occurred the day before played in his mind, making him shut his eyes tightly as tears squeezed through them. He took out the small tooth case, hugging it to his chest as he sobbed quietly.
He needed time to think. He needed time to mourn. He needed time to figure out how to lead as she would have. But that was the thing; he deduced… he could never be like Alice. Nothing could replace her. As Tooth had said herself, she had been someone truly special.
The Queen opened her eyes, looking around for a moment as a grin slowly grew in her features. Her eyes darted towards Bumby, who had already noticed her sudden change in expression.
"Has your mood had an upswing, your grace?" He asked flatly.
"Indeed, it has…" She chuckled lightly, making him stand a bit straighter as she approached him, one of her large hands patting his shoulder. "Listen to me closely, Doctor… I have news both good and ill."
"By all means, I cannot bear the suspense." Bumby replied sarcastically.
"I have sensed the stirrings in the heart of Jack Frost… and I have read within it a secret that even he is not aware lies in his very hands." The Queen replied.
Bumby raised a skeptical brow. "And why would that interest me in the slightest?"
"Because it has to do with our former nemesis, Alice Liddell." She replied.
Bumby scoffed. "What do I care for her now, she's dead, is she not? Anything relating to her is of no further use to me." He turned away from her, phasing into his ghost form to float away from her.
The Queen growled lowly at this, not appreciating being ignored. "Would you care if I told you that he holds the key to her abilities, quite possibly her return?!"
Bumby stopped where he was, furrowing a brow lightly as he slowly turned to look back at her. "How do you mean?"
"Ah… I've regained your attention." The Queen grimaced in annoyance, approaching him. "Allow me to explain the workings of exactly what he possesses." She thought for a moment. "Do you remember the 'guardians' we encountered when we first smuggled the book used to resurrect Wick?"
"Indeed… ridiculous creatures, the lot of them. Why do you ask?"
"Do you remember the airborne one? The er, delectable one, almost as if she was a fowl of some sort… a tasty morsel she would have been if she had not been too quick to flee…" The Queen mused.
"Let's not get too distracted now… I do remember whom you speak of, yes." Bumby replied.
"Within the land she governs, she retains the teeth of every child who has outgrown their juvenile choppers, it seems… and out of pity for the woeful Jack Frost, having lost the love of his life, sent her little ones out to seek out one set through their vast stash… one set that would bring great comfort to him, but if he were to discover the truth, bring great misfortune upon us." The Queen said.
Bumby narrowed his eyes a bit. "How on Earth could a set of teeth from the deceased bring great misfortune? You may be a believer of superstitions and omens, but I am not."
"It has nothing to do with the sort." The Queen replied. "Besides, if that were the case, I would have a crippling fear of the Cheshire Cat, no doubt." She chuckled. "However, you seem to be forgetting that this is Alice we're talking about. Her teeth; a portion of them, at least… hold memories and powers that are pure in nature, before the era of her downward spiral into chaos and corruption."
Bumby chuckled at that. "Such a bland time that must have been." He said. "I'm glad to have remedied that." He said proudly.
"I was not able to see too deeply… but as long as her teeth remain, even those after the fire… because of the… otherworldly properties they possess… there may be a way for Jack Frost to use them to his benefit. Though she may not be here physically, with those teeth, it could be as if she was. With those teeth, he could possibly resurrect her as well." The Queen said.
At this, Bumby's eyes widened. "Impossible… even fathoming her return incites a rage within me!"
"Then we must remedy this problem before it progresses into something beyond our repair. Now, you have more than ample expertise in twisting the mind… especially ones overcome with grief, those plagued with trauma. The mind of Jack Frost is certainly in that state, vulnerable and open for the taking." The Queen leaned forward a bit, her eyes shifty. "You must find an opportunity… one in which he has placed himself in isolation. Then, you must give him a reason to sacrifice the closest thing he has to her."
Bumby pursed his lips at her words. "What would convince him, I wonder… other than forcefully taking it from him?"
"You won't need to." The Queen smirked. "There is one thing that he would give it up for now… something of equal importance to Alice's sake as much as his."
"Do tell, what might it be?" Bumby asked.
Yes, the Queen smirked as she realized she had Bumby right where she wanted him; he was the knight on her chessboard, not particularly the prince charming in golden armor sort, but just what she needed for the occasion. She had no personal interest in him outside of using him to perform her dirty work, as a knight's purpose was on the chessboard. However, getting back in his good graces would hopefully lead to Elsa's eventual demise to once again be a realistic and probable outcome. She had successfully given him a reason to entertain her words, and she was the one who held all the cards again.
"I will tell you what you need to know… but first… you need to guarantee one thing." The Queen said with a serious expression.
"Very well. State your terms." Bumby replied. He figured that to have elaborated this much knowing the consequence of retaliation if any of her statements proved to be false, the Queen was not fabricating this report.
The Queen leaned in a bit closer, looking Bumby dead in the eye. "Elsa is to be totally and utterly ruined. Cast her into the blackest darkness; erode her purity into the grittiest corruption. Make it so Pitch shall never desire her again."
Bumby smirked lightly, nodding. "It shall be done. You have my word. Now… elaborate upon how I may approach this issue concerning Jack Frost."
Jack glanced up, blinking when he thought he heard a voice whispering to him. His hands felt over the surface of his sweatshirt, eventually digging into its pocket to take Alice's tooth case into his hands. He noticed it was glowing, raising a surprised brow.
"How is this possible...?" He asked himself. "Can I... look into her memories?"
He graced his fingertip over it, the diamond patters flickering and glowing as he felt himself being drawn into its atmosphere. He felt himself falling, falling, as he had once in his visions, his eyes darting all around as he fell past floating clocks, teacups, chess pieces, random objects and voices abound. He finally burst through the rabbit hole, glancing around as he floated down into an enchanting forest province. His feet touched the ground, and he observed the flowering trees, the rich blue sky accented with fluffy clouds, the babbling brooks as leaves floated down like feathers to be carried by the crystal clear water. He turned, exhaling slowly as he discovered the source of the water; a large stone formation of a young woman touching her face with her hands, water pouring down her face from her eyes like tears. It was a magnificent display, Jack never seeing anything like it in his life.
Before Jack could think upon his surroundings further, a voice spoke to him.
"So, you've finally found opportunity to drop in and stay a while."
Jack jumped, whirling around to look behind him. He furrowed a brow when he saw no one, gripping his staff. "Who's there? Show yourself!"
"You've nothing to fear, I mean you no harm. Consider me a friend, of sorts; as odd and nonsensical as my nature can prove to be, there is a method to every madness." The source of the voice finally revealed itself, his signature grin displayed proudly as he materialized before Jack.
The ice guardian tilted his head, moving forward slowly to take a better look at the creature. "Who are you?"
"Oh dear, where are my manners? I am the Cheshire Cat; one of the many residents of Wonderland as well as one of Alice's closest companions." He answered, bowing his head lightly. "And you are a one Jack Frost... the most recent source of Alice's fondness and admiration."
Jack's eyes widened. "W- Wait a minute... this... this is Wonderland?" He asked, glancing around a bit.
"Indeed it is... a portion of it, one of the nicer areas... not all of Wonderland is tranquil and beautiful, and those portions lacking such qualities, as well as those who reside within them, often take it upon themselves to prey upon those that are. No matter for now however, it's been quite peaceful as of late. I have a feeling that peace may not last depending on how the near future transpires." The Cheshire Cat replied.
"So... how big is Wonderland, exactly?" Jack asked.
"Hard to tell by exact measurements, being no such thing exists here. I will tell you that it's quite extensive... but that's not really important now. I would give you a grand tour as it would be proper of a good host, but time does not quite warrant it at this point, I'm afraid. Another convoluted measure here, always having so much of it yet always running out."
"What do you mean?" Jack asked.
"There is still much left to do, Jack, and we're all running on a tight schedule. Though the Queen of Hearts is not assaulting our ears by allowing her ranting and raving to carry throughout the air and pollute everything around it, she is still causing more than enough damage-"
"Woah, hang on a second... the Queen of Hearts LIVED here?" Jack's eyes widened. "I just... I thought she was some monster created by Bumby o- or something..."
"Unfortunately not. She's made her misery all of ours in her wretched lifetime, even while nestled deep within the oozing folds of her 'queendom.' During Alice's stay in Rutledge, she rose to great power and spread despair throughout the land. It was only when Alice conquered her, and her foul pet the Jabberwocky, that peace lasted until she fell under the doctor's influence. He caused more damage than she; Alice's triumph against he and his forces was surmountable. However, their union will prove all the more difficult." Cheshire Cat warned.
"Yeah... I've noticed that." Jack sighed sadly.
"Overcoming these menacing foes is possible, even without Alice physically present to assist you. If she was to be completely lost, Wonderland would vanish." Cheshire Cat continued.
"Oh no..." Jack breathed. "Well, I'll do whatever I can to make sure that-" He stopped then, realization hitting him like a ton of bricks. "Wait... b- but if Wonderland is still here, then..." Jack's eyes widened.
"Hm... Alice was truthful when she said you were clever." The Cheshire Cat commented. "As long as Wonderland exists, Alice exists; as long as Alice exists, so does Wonderland. It is a rather vicious and complex cycle."
"Where is she? Where can I find her? Can I bring her back?" Jack asked in quick succession.
Cheshire Cat chuckled. "I'm afraid I cannot answer those now, Alice is a wilful young spirit who goes where she pleases... just remember one thing, Jack Frost, before you take your leave; to every treasure contained is a key to unlock it and that vessels come in many forms. Also, something valued after one life has ended can continue in a life still remaining."
Jack tilted his head. "Uh... I'm sorry, I don't understand."
"Perhaps if you ever see Alice again, she can teach you to be more proficient in the art of solving riddles. I bid you farewell, Jack Frost." Cheshire Cat said as he disappeared.
Before Jack could say anything, he felt his feet separating from the ground as he began to float upwards. The dizzying spin he first experienced seemed to play in reverse, and as he floated upwards, his eyes widened as he caught a glimpse of a... particular companion of Alice's.
"Hurry sir, don't want to be late!"
Jack blinked as he watched the vested white rabbit disappear from view. "Well... guess I know what Alice was referring to with him now..." He said to himself as he became temporarily blinded by a flash of white light. Whiteness returned to his vision once it cleared, snow around him and wind blowing through his hair once again as Jack gasped lightly. Taking in his surroundings and realizing he was back, he looked down at the small case in his hands. "So... that was... it was beautiful..." Jack breathed, standing to his feet as he pocketed the case. Taking in a deep breath, he felt renewed, turning back towards the workshop in the distance. "I have to get Hiccup back. We're going to need all the help we can get."
Elsa gasped lightly when she heard the sound of stirring. She took Pitch's hand in hers, holding it comfortingly as he slowly opened his eyes. "Pitch? Are you alright?" She asked softly.
Pitch groaned as he sat up, rubbing the back of his head. "E- Elsa...? Impossible... I'm... outside of the workshop..."
"You were hurt badly... the Queen brought you back here." Elsa said with a bit of irritation in her voice.
"The Queen- I don't even recall..." He glanced at Elsa warily. "What exactly happened?"
"This is what I know... at some point you had been knocked unconscious... the Queen must have known about it because she came to your rescue and killed Alice." Elsa said.
Pitch was a bit surprised at this, raising his brows. "Alice... is dead?"
"Apparently..." Elsa replied.
"For once, that woman's constant interference served me well." Pitch muttered, glancing up at Elsa when she bowed her head. "Listen to me, Elsa. Please do not fret over her."
"It's not the reason you're thinking." She replied.
"What do you mean?"
"I fear for my safety, and Wick's..." She sighed. "I know that I'm next on their extermination list. They've made this very clear, and I'm afraid my time is running out." Elsa said.
Pitch's expression darkened then, moving a bit closer to her. "What have they said to you? What have they done?"
Elsa sighed. "Does that really matter now? Pitch, you said you want a future where we will be recognized, where we won't just be hiding away in the shadows. We don't need to fight with them. You and I, and Wick, we can return to Arendelle... but we need to save my sister first. I don't know how they managed to unfreeze her if they did... but maybe now that Alice is gone, I can beg them to give her back and we can put this all behind us. I know you want Jack Frost to be destroyed... but I think losing the one he loved is just as devastating."
Pitch closed his eyes for a moment, sighing. As much as he tried to run from the lie he had conveyed to Elsa since the very beginning, he realized that it kept catching up to him, and the risk of that lie being exposed loomed over his head. His greatest worry was losing her completely, subsequently forced to once again roam the Earth, concealed within the shadows of despair and emptiness, for all eternity.
"I understand what you mean, but you must realize that doing so would place us in a very dangerous situation on both fronts." Pitch replied. "Whatever it is they have done to you, I don't expect your forgiveness."
"Why should you be sorry? You're the one who's protected me, you're the one who risked your life just to try and reclaim my sister..." Elsa frowned. "Do you... have any idea how she is? What condition she's in?"
"I assure you... Anna is perfectly fine exactly where she is. No harm will come to her there." Pitch gently squeezed her hands then. "But Elsa... there is something that I must make you aware of... a grave mistake on my part."
Elsa furrowed a brow. "What is it?"
Pitch sighed. "In the beginning… when I told you that your sister had come to request my assistance in reuniting her with you… I-"
"Brother Pitch, you're awake!" Wick exclaimed as he floated towards them, nearly tackling Pitch as he hugged him. "I thought you were a goner!"
"Ack! Get off of me you oversized-!" Pitch shouted as he tried to shove Wick away from him.
Elsa covered her mouth lightly with her hand as she giggled, shaking her head as she watched the scene. The serious moment between them had been broken, Wick finally plopping down beside her when his excitement finally settled. "I'm glad you're okay, Pitch." He smiled.
"You should be glad I don't wring the sap from your neck." Pitch muttered. "Don't ever do that again or my urge to do so may exceed my willpower to resist."
After a few moments, Elsa cleared her throat. "So, Pitch, um… you were saying something to me… about Anna…"
"Oh, your sister! I can't wait to meet her, can you Pitch?" Wick beamed.
Pitch groaned as he rubbed his face. There was no way he could come clean now… not because of Wick sitting there, but because in that moment, he realized that if Elsa were to loathe him forever, that this would place Wick in a position where he had to choose.
Not only did he suspect that Wick would choose Elsa from the get go… but even if he was plagued with indecision, he would urge him to keep watch over her. He cared for her too much to rob her of more than what he already felt he had.
With a heavy heart, and much regret, Pitch exhaled slowly as he looked back up into her eyes. "It's… it's nothing that needs to be said now. It's not all that urgent."
Elsa nodded lightly; she didn't want to press him further, but she could see a degree of uneasiness in his eyes. "Alright. You know that you can tell me anything." Elsa smiled lightly.
"Of course." Pitch nodded. "Now… would you care to tell me what more you know of what happened after I fell unconscious?" Pitch narrowed his eyes then. "And I don't just mean in the North Pole."
Hiccup groaned as he was roused from sleep, feeling someone shaking him. He blinked his eyes, shielding them for a moment as he adjusted them to the brightness of day. When he was able to see clearly, he furrowed a brow when he saw Astrid kneeling over him.
"Hey… I looked all night for you." Astrid said quietly, frowning lightly. "Didn't want you running off on me again."
"Why?" Hiccup asked, grunting as he got to his feet, dusting himself off. "You have Eret, you don't need me."
Astrid heaved a sigh. "Hiccup, what do you want me to say? I thought something had happened to you… he helped me to move on, he helped me cope with the pain."
"Yeah, I'm sure he did. I could tell from what I saw last night." Hiccup glanced away hurtfully.
"I don't know how else I can apologize to you, Hiccup." Astrid threw her hands up. "A woman has certain needs, and I'm no exception."
"Well, that's good to know. Next time I'll make sure I don't get thrown into some deadly situation where I end up with every single bone in my body crushed to dust." Hiccup said sarcastically.
"You know Hiccup, you told me last night that I see you as nothing but a joke; but you know what? You don't know how to take ANYTHING seriously. You have NEVER taken anything seriously until something really bad happens! What is it going to take for you to wake up? What is it going to take for you to commit to something, someone? When are you going to stop and look at the big picture and be proactive for once?!" Astrid exclaimed.
"Maybe when you see me as more than just a way to move up in this village!" Hiccup shouted, whirling around to face her. "I was nothing to you until I became something. You only cared to get to know me when I did something no one else could, not even you. You hated that the scrawny kid who always screwed up actually got better than you at something, so- so when you can't beat 'em, you join 'em, right?" Hiccup exhaled sharply. "You were so ready to be my wife, weren't you…? When my dad would joke around about you being his future daughter in law, and you would smile proudly… that wasn't for me, was it, Astrid? It was for you. It was for knowing that soon, you would have the title of the chief's wife, the highest rank that you could have in this village. You have never truly loved me, have you, Astrid? You've loved what I am… a dragon rider, a chief's son… but not for who I am."
Astrid avoided his gaze, lowering her eyes a bit. She took in a deep breath, shaking her head lightly. "The last five years of our life together really meant something to me, Hiccup. I'm sorry you feel it didn't." She sighed, turning away. "I'll be home if… if you need to find me." She said as she began to walk away slowly.
Hiccup watched her disappear into the trees, closing his eyes tightly as he sighed. He bit his lip as he wiped a few fresh tears away, sinking down once more to sit back against the tree trunk. He allowed his arms to hang limply at his sides, feeling completely disheartened. Who could possibly give him the hope to venture on now?
"So, that was the infamous Astrid, huh?"
Hiccup scrambled to his feet, crying out in surprise and whirling around, a bit too quickly as he swayed from an onset of dizziness. Before he could lose his balance, he felt a hand grab his shoulder to steady him, shaking his head as he looked up. When he saw who was standing before him, his eyes widened in shock.
"… Jack…?" Hiccup breathed.
The ice guardian smiled lightly, nodding as he pat Hiccup's shoulder. "Looks like someone's had a rough night."
Hiccup leaned against the tree, remaining on his feet this time as he did so. "Jack… I can't believe… for five years, I devoted myself to her. I can't believe she would do this."
Jack frowned at this, not wanting to ask nor needing to know what the explicit details were to get a general idea of what had happened. "Sorry to hear that…" He said as he leaned up against the tree next to Hiccup. "What will you do now?"
Hiccup emitted a sarcastic laugh. "What CAN I do now?" He shook his head. "You know why I came back here, Jack? I didn't do it out of… of spite, or hate, or because I don't care about you guys… but because I was scared for them. Like you had been for your sister, I felt that way for my entire village."
"I understand that, Hiccup." Jack replied. "I don't want you to think I'm angry, because I'm not."
"Thanks…" Hiccup said quietly. "You know the other reason why I came back here?"
"Why's that?" Jack asked.
"Because I thought that it was the one place in the word I felt like I actually belonged." Hiccup closed his eyes for a moment. "I thought it was the one place where I could actually do something right, I could actually… I could actually be worth something." He shook his head. "But I was wrong." He shrugged. "I'm just as worthless here as I am anywhere else."
Jack frowned, looking over at Hiccup. "Hey, that's not true."
"It is!" Hiccup's back separated from the tree as he moved to stand in front of Jack. The sunlight began to extend down through the treetops like fingertips. "First of all, if I wasn't a dragon rider, I would really amount to squat here. Secondly, aside from when I'm with Toothless, I couldn't even fight in combat before all of this! So- So where does that leave me in the skills department, making saddles for dragons? Making a mess of everything? I'm pretty damn good at that!" Hiccup's voice began to shake. "Where do I belong, Jack? When am I going to actually find my place in this world?!"
Jack straightened up, feeling upset for Hiccup. He had come to see him as a close friend over the course of the time they had spent together, and he knew that the downtrodden Viking needed his help as much as Jack needed his.
"I asked myself… well, myself, and the moon… that same question, day after day, for over two centuries before it was finally answered." Jack said. "I had been given these powers, but no one was able to see it. This gift that I was given could be given to no one, because I was invisible. Even the guardians, after I was finally chosen to be one, didn't take me seriously in the beginning, they didn't think I had what it took to be one of them."
Hiccup blinked at this, his expression softening. "You…? But you're… you're so good at… at-"
"And so are you, Hiccup." Jack smiled. "You may not have ice powers, or the ability to fly… as far as you alone, go… but you have a gift too, Hiccup. And more importantly, you strive to do the right thing. Things aren't always going to go the way we plan, and we're going to make mistakes. But you aren't alone. You can't turn away the people who care about you, and who you care about."
Hiccup hung his head a bit, biting his lip. "I've got to get Toothless' flame back… and help you guys with those kids…" He sighed sadly then. "… and help Merida get her soul back."
"Well, those are all on our 'to do' list…" Jack smiled a bit before his expression became a bit more serious. "Look… with Alice gone, we need to give this everything and everyone we've got. It's the only way we're going to have any chance of finishing this."
Hiccup was quiet for a few moments, thinking upon Jack's words. After some time, he nodded. "You're right. I'd be dishonoring her… all of you… if I just stayed away."
Jack smiled sadly, patting Hiccup's back. "Alice would be proud." He nodded, a lump forming in his throat as he glanced away; now it was his turn to have fresh tears in his eyes.
Hiccup frowned at this, pulling Jack in gently for a comforting hug. "I guess you have to wonder which is worse… to have someone who loves you die… or someone who doesn't love you living as a constant reminder of that fact."
Jack exhaled sharply, wiping his eyes. "I might need to use a lifeline for that." He chuckled softly through his tears.
Hiccup raised a brow, tilting his head. "Huh?"
"After your time." Jack smirked a bit.
"Oh, come on, you really need to stop that!" He laughed, playfully nudging Jack's shoulder.
Astrid sighed to herself, her footsteps slowing to a stop as she was near the edge of the woods. "I can't just leave him out there by himself… he'll starve or something… I have to convince him to at least come back home, we can always work things out later…" She turned, retracing her steps as she ventured once again through the trees. After some time, her movements slowed when she thought she heard voices. "What is that…?" She asked herself softly, narrowing her eyes a bit as she continued forth quietly. When she was a few yards from where Hiccup was, she ducked behind a tree and craned her head to look as stealthily as possible. Her eyes widened when she saw Hiccup with another person, but this isn't what shocked her. This person looked… different. He clearly wasn't from around here, not with his attire and the color of his hair. He had an unearthly air to him, and she wondered what was with the staff that he possessed. Before she could mentally inquire further, Jack produced a snow globe from his sweatshirt pocket, casting it to create a portal for their return trip to the workshop. She backed up as she gasped, shaking her head with a combination of fright, fascination, and confusion as she witnessed Hiccup enter into it with Jack. In a moment's time, they were gone without a trace, leaving nothing behind. Astrid exhaled deeply, trembling a bit as she clung to the nearest tree. "He was telling the truth…" She breathed. "… it's real…"
Merida was sharpening her blade when she heard a low grumbling from behind her. She glanced back to see Toothless, bowing his head sadly and curling his tail around himself. She sighed, placing her sword down and floating over to him. She gently pet his face with her hands, Toothless closing his eyes in comfort. "I know y' miss him, laddie." Merida said quietly. "I'm sure m' Angus has the same feeling back at home. His legs need the work, his lungs need the fresh air." She rested her forehead against his nose gently. "I can feel it Toothless... the chance at returnin' to life slipping away." The dragon whimpered in response, tilting his head before one of his ears flickered. His eyes darted upon detecting a sound. "What is it?" She asked, looking around.
Eliza was playing with Olaf and Anna when she noticed something, turning and smiling. "Jack!" She giggled, running towards him when she saw he wasn't alone. "Hiccup, you're back!" The child hugged Hiccup's leg, who chuckled and patted her head.
"Yeah... I'm back." He nodded, the two heading inside as Anna smiled with relief.
Tooth's head feathers flickered, taking to flight when she noticed who had entered. "Hiccup!" She exclaimed as she fluttered over to hug him. Hiccup blinked with surprise, patting her back lightly before she allowed him to pass. Bunny entered, nodding as he approached.
"Welcome back, mate." He made Hiccup wince a bit when he slapped his back, laughing. "But if you run off like that again I'll have to make a Hiccup stew out of you."
Hiccup tilted his head a bit. "Uh... wait, what?" He groaned. "Let me guess, after my time?"
"Nah, that's just a Bunny thing." Jack laughed.
Before any of them could say anything else, they all ducked as Toothless cried out happily, pouncing Hiccup and knocking him down. "O- Okay bud, it's good to see you too- ah, come on Toothless, not the face!" He laughed as he held his hands up. "Toothless, how many times do I have to tell you that doesn't wash out!" He snickered, the overjoyed dragon finally letting up on the slobbering as he wagged his tail, wiggling happily. "It's good to see you too, bud." He said softly as he got to his feet, hugging Toothless' face.
Everyone parted then, Toothless blinking and moving back when Merida floated forward. She was nowhere near as optimistic as the others had been, her glowing eyes glaring into Hiccup's as she grimaced at him silently for a few moments. Hiccup gulped, clearing his throat.
"Oh boy..." Jack chuckled quietly to himself.
"Uh... hey Merida... I can tell you're pretty angry at me... I didn't want to hurt everyone here, but... a lot happened in a short amount of time and it's kind of made things a bit clearer. I was so concerned about abandoning my village that I didn't realize I was abandoning all of you... I know that I'm needed here now." Hiccup said sincerely.
"Oh, that's great!" Merida said sarcastically. "Now allow me to tell ye that you're a filthy rat and a traitor!"
Jack frowned. "Come on Merida, give the guy a little break... he had a rough night and-"
"If he thinks that I'm going to going to let him off easy, he's dead wrong, lad. He should be lucky he's not just dead!" Merida shouted.
"Alright Mer, that's getting a little extreme, huh?" Bunny asked.
Merida whipped her head towards him, scowling. "I have a right to talk, I AM dead!"
Bunny blinked, shrugging. "Well, she's got a point..." Sandy glanced over at him, rolling his eyes and rubbing his face with annoyance.
Hiccup bowed his head a bit. "Merida, I'm really sorry, okay? I- I got home and I searched everywhere for Astrid only to-"
"So it's still all about her, is it? That's all I ever hear about is Astrid this, Astrid that, not that your dragon's got no fire to spout or y' got wee ones getting their souls harvested like potatoes, but just about the magnificent Astrid of Berk!" Merida spat.
"I- I know, but when I found her, she decided that she-"
"If ye like this Astrid so much, why don't ye just marry her then, huh? Why don't ye just make a nice happy life for yourselves and roll around in all of your lovey dovey affection like pigs in sh-"
"It's over, Merida!" Hiccup exclaimed, furrowing his brows deeply. "I came back, and she found someone else!"
Merida's expression was surprised at first, but after a few moments, it darkened. "Oh... I see what this is, lad." She shook her head as she spoke lowly. "The shiny apple's got a rotten core so now you'll go for the duller one, is that it?"
Hiccup shook his head. "What are you- Merida, that's not what I-"
"So that's all I am you ye, just a last resort! That's what we all are to ye!" Merida shouted.
"N- No, I came back here because I realized that I-"
"That ye had nowhere else to go because you would have been made a fool of in Berk! This was supposed to be a kinship, where we stay loyal until death! You've got a lot to prove if y' want to call yourself one of us!" She jabbed his finger at him before whirling around, floating away as she stormed up the stairs.
Hiccup sighed, once again feeling defeated as North came up to pat his back. "Give her some time to let the anger dissipate." He said. "You can't see it, but she is relieved that you're back."
"I'm such an idiot…" Hiccup groaned. "I treated her like a joke just like Astrid has always done to me. I'm no better than her."
"There is still time to make things better, Hiccup. You're on her naughty list now, but with a little bit of effort, you can get back on her nice list, hm?" North smiled. "And one other thing. No more running away with my snow globes or you'll be on MY naughty list." He smirked, shaking a finger at him.
Hiccup rubbed the back of his neck sheepishly. "Sorry about that…"
"'Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,' am I right mates?" Bunny said.
"Uh... since when do recite poetry, Bunny?" Jack snickered.
"Since I've lived for quite a few centuries; sometimes I needed a break from painting eggs all day, you know." Bunny replied.
"I guess." Jack sighed as everyone slowly gravitated back to doing their own thing. He glanced over at North speaking to Hiccup, trying to lift his spirits. "Hiccup will come around..."
"Yeah, we've all had a bad card dealt at us." Bunny said, holding his hands up when Jack shot him a look. "It's just an expression, mate!"
"I won't let the Queen get away with what she did to Alice." Jack said, sighing a bit. "Now that Hiccup is back, I can get a plan started. I'll be just outside. Just make sure Merida doesn't kill Hiccup please."
"I can't make any guarantees about that mate, but I'll give it my best." Bunny said as he playfully nudged Jack's shoulder.
As he was about to head outside, Jack felt a light tugging on his shirt sleeve, turning to see Eliza smiling up at him. "Hey, kiddo." He smiled, crouching down a bit. "How're you feeling?"
"I'm feeling okay… but Jack, there's something I have to tell you later… it's about a dream I had." Eliza said.
"Okay… you can tell me now, if you want." Jack replied. "It wasn't a nightmare, was it?"
Eliza shook her head. "She said-" Eliza paused, shaking her head. "I mean, I just want you to know first."
Jack nodded. "Alright." He pulled her in for a gentle hug. "You can tell me about your dream when you're ready." He then got to his feet, floating over to one of the exits to head outside.
Meanwhile, Hiccup sighed, biting his lip as he glanced up at North. "Let's hope I live through this..." He said as he made his way to the stairs. Bunny chuckled as he watched him go up, elbowing Toothless.
"Well mate, you may need a new partner." Bunny said, making Toothless roll his eyes and trot away.
Once upstairs, Hiccup exhaled as he approached Merida's room, peeking in to see that she had resumed sharpening her blade. "Hey, Merida... I, uh... wanted to talk to you."
Merida forced a laugh. "I think y' said enough for yourself downstairs."
"Look, I... I really am sorry... I think you would have done the same for your family if that were the case-"
"D' ye have any idea how many times m' da left us to fight our enemies? He would be gone for weeks at a time but we would know he was out there defending us! And m' brothers will do the same when their grown. When a man has a battle t' fight he doesn't run." She narrowed her eyes, furiously sharpening her blade.
"I know that. My dad was the same way, but I already know that I will never amount to a fraction of what he was. I just... I want to do whatever I can to make it up to you." Hiccup said.
"Why? Oh, because y' don't have your lovely Astrid anymore, so now y' care what I think." Merida replied.
"I know it seems that way Merida, but believe me when I tell you, I do care, I have cared, you're one of my closest friends, Merida." Hiccup said. "You believed in me, you've motivated me and I let you down."
"Well believe me when I tell YOU lad, I need no man, and I won't put m' heart on the line again and give away m' strength, ye ken?" She spat.
"I don't expect you to." Hiccup said, a hint of sadness in his voice. "I just want your forgiveness."
"Fine. If you're true to your word, then you'll heed mine. You want m' forgiveness? You'll have to earn it." Merida said, shoving her sword at Hiccup's chest, causing him to scramble to grab it and hold it steady. "Meet me downstairs."
Hiccup looked from her sword to the direction she floated, groaning lightly as he hung his arms. "Yup, she's gonna kill me." He heaved a sigh as he trudged towards the stairs.
Jack sat outside, using his staff as a utensil to make small diagrams in the snow, whispering and nodding to himself. As he did so, he didn't realize that there was someone standing about a few feet behind him, watching silently until they spoke.
"I must say, your dedication is most admirable."
Taken totally off guard, Jack whirled around, having no time to register how this was happening as he gripped his staff, pointing it at his foe. "What in the hell do you think you're doing here…?!"
Bumby chuckled lowly, taking a step forward. "Now, now, Jack, I'm not here to fight. I'm here to have a civil discussion."
"Yeah well I'm not, and if you don't get away from here I'll turn you into a block of ice!" Jack shouted.
"I figured you would respond in this manner… so I decided to bring along a small token. Consider it an offering of good will." Bumby said, and Jack's eyes widened when he ushered out a small child from behind him.
"I- Is that… I remember him… he was one of the children from Alice's sanctuary…" Jack breathed.
"What an excellent memory you have. Indeed, you are correct. I am willing to return all the children from the sanctuary to you, for I don't have to be a mind-reader to know that their reinstatement there was a final wish of Alice's as well as yours. Fortunately for me, I am, to a degree." Bumby said.
"This has got to be some kind of a trick… I don't believe you!" Jack exclaimed.
"A warranted reaction; we haven't exactly seen eye to eye, have we?" Bumby replied. "However, with Alice Liddell now dead, I no longer have a reason to affiliate with Pitch and the Queen. To their current ignorance, I have opted to resign from their collective and go off on my own to remain a neutral and unparticipating party."
"Say I do believe you… I know you wouldn't be doing this for nothing." Jack said, his staff still raised.
"You're quite a clever one, Jack Frost." Bumby smirked. "I only ask for one thing in return for all of the children from the sanctuary."
"If you think I'm going to give up any of my friends, you've got another thing coming, pal." Jack spat.
"Now I didn't say I ask for one person, Jack… I asked for one thing." Bumby corrected.
"What would this one thing be that you think I have? My staff? What good will that do you?" Jack asked.
"You're jumping to conclusions, boy. " Bumby took a step closer. "I ask for Alice's teeth."
Jack's brows furrowed in bewilderment, narrowing his eyes warily. "You want Alice's teeth? Why?"
"Does it matter? Isn't the return of the children more important than the incisors and molars of a deceased wretch?" Bumby chuckled.
Jack grit his teeth, gripping his staff tighter. "Don't you talk about her that way!" He growled. "I'm not giving you anything, so get out of here now before I get my friends out here to destroy you!"
"One, my opinion of Alice has nothing to do with the trade I am attempting to offer you… secondly, by the time you would get barely halfway back to your safe haven, not only will I have more than likely incapacitated you, you would also be placing the lives of all your friends at risk… including your precious little sister." Bumby said.
Jack's eyes became a bit crazed then. "If you even think about laying one of your filthy hands on her I'll-"
"Thirdly… by refusing my offer, you are not only neglecting your obligation as a guardian, but you are denying Alice, the woman you supposedly loved more than anything, her last dying wish!" Bumby said, his expression dead serious as he took another step forward. He narrowed his eyes, placing his full focus and concentration on Jack.
As Bumby continued forth slowly, Jack's brows furrowed deeply, his eyes widening as he began to tremble. "N- No… what… what are you…" He shut his eyes tightly then, gritting his teeth as one of his hands held his head.
"Ah, yes… painful to hear, isn't it? The sound of their crying, their echoing wails? To you it may be, but for me, it is a rather delightful sound… it is the sound of repurposing otherwise discarded and unwanted children into something useful to me. At the cost of their suffering, I rose within the ranks of society faster than anyone in my field. And in exchange, they learned to love the suffering, the cries you here are merely their acknowledgement of their function, the purpose I gave them. You see, Jack… I too, am a guardian… we simply have a different perspective of its meaning." Bumby smirked, his hand slowly lowering Jack's staff as he now stood inches in front of him. The ice guardian was defenseless now as the sound of children screaming swelled in his mind, falling to his knees as he clutched his head.
"N- No… please… someone h- help…" Jack whimpered.
"There is no one here to help you now, Jack. I can make it all stop, I can make the pain, the guilt, disappear into thin air if you just honor the terms of my trade." Bumby said, extending his hand.
Jack wanted to fight this, he wanted to rise above the voices and conquer Bumby's power over him, but the chaotic chorus of voices was overwhelming. His eyes snapped open, his hand shakily digging into his sweatshirt pocket to grasp Alice's tooth case. He yanked it out, his arm shakily extending towards Bumby. The man tilted his head, smiling a bit as he took his time to take the case, milking Jack's agony for a bit longer before he finally let up.
"Now… was that so hard?" Bumby chuckled lightly. "You will find all of the children from Alice's sanctuary there… not a hair harmed on their little heads, as per our agreement. It was a pleasure doing business with you, Jack Frost…" He turned, glancing over his shoulder. "… if you do ever meet up with Alice in hell, do give her my regards, will you?" He laughed mockingly before continuing along his way, disappearing into the wind and snow.
Jack remained on his knees, hugging himself even after Bumby was gone. He didn't know why, but he felt a great emptiness and dread inside him, as if he had just lost something very dear to him.