A bit of tumbling and flashes of colors later, you’re standing in the grand fireplace room at the North Pole.
Well, kind of standing. You’re wobbling around a bit as you regain your balance, trying hard not to drop Jack.
You manage to successfully recover, now feeling pretty darn proud that you managed not to fall after emerging from the swirling magic portal.
You scan the room for North.
You don’t see him, but you hear his heavy booted footsteps to your right, getting louder the closer he gets.
The elves must have gone to get him once they saw the slightest sign of the portal opening up.
A few yetis and elves come and go, carrying on work as usual in the shop.
At first, North greets you with a wide, jolly smile. But then he sees the look of worry on your face, proceeded by Jack’s limp form on your back.
Just the sight of him makes you want to break down. To run into his big, comforting arms and cry your eyes out, telling him everything that’s been going on. To beg and plea for his help, for answers to the questions that are eating away at your brain. You want him to pat your head and tell you everything is going to be all right, to calm you down like a parent does to an upset child.
But you just shift your weight from one foot to the other, waiting for him to speak first.
You see him whisper something to the yeti on his left—Phil, you remember is his name—and then approach you. He bends down as he looks past you at Jack, inspecting him, diagnosing him. After the run-down, he stands back up in front of you, taking on his full height once again.
“Don’t worry,” he reassures you, gently smiling along with the words. “We will make better. You have done great job.”
A couple of yetis bring out a stretcher and indicate for you to lay Jack onto it. Which you carefully do.
He moves a little, as if reacting to a dream. But not much else.
You lean down to him, taking up his hand in one of your own, your other hand resting on his cheek.
“We’re here, we’re safe now,” you whisper to him as if he can hear you. “Everything is going to be all right.”
You lightly kiss his forehead. The corner of his mouth twitches into a fleeting smile.
You hold onto his hand until the very last possible moment, never wanting to let go.
The yetis and Jack disappear around the corner.
In the time that you had been looking after Jack, North had gone to the control panel and pressed that button to call the rest of the Guardians to the Pole.
As he walks back to you, you see streams of beautiful aurora borealis dancing in the sky, being transmitted into the air like visible radio waves.
Oh, so that’s how the others know to come, you figure as an elf offers you a chair, which you happily take. Just as you’re starting to wonder where Jangle is, you see eight little fingers gripping onto the chair’s arm, the tip of a red hat and a jingle bell accompanying them. You look over to see your little friend in teal struggling to climb up onto the chair, wanting to join you.
He never ceases to lighten the mood and make you smile.
You hook your hands under his armpits and bring him up onto the chair with you, sitting him on your lap like some sort of odd dog.
You return his broad smile, properly greeting him as you do.
North takes a seat opposite of you.
“He has really taken to you,” he comments as he glares at Jangle, as if telling him to behave and not go messing things up.
You nod. There are more pressing issues than an elf taking to you, though.
You have a lot of questions.
And, more importantly, you really need to know if Pitch was telling you the truth or not.
“So,” North says, leaning forward a bit. “Let’s get to business. What happen? Start from beginning, please.”
You tell him the whole story, from right after your conversation with the moon—yes, you tell him, but you spare him the details of the actual exchange, seeing them as irrelevant and some inner voice telling you to keep the contents secret—up to the moment you arrived here at the North Pole. You omit the part with Pitch though. Partially because you feel that doing so would put Jack in more danger. Partially because you want to hear North’s unbiased opinion of what’s going on with the winter spirit.
Throughout your storytelling, the other three Guardians slowly trickle in, taking places around you and North as they listen to the tale. All is quiet besides the fire a few feet away. And even then, it’s quieter than most fires, intently listening, taking down notes to add your story to its already vast collection.
There’s a long pause after you finish.
All of the Guardians wear grave expressions.
Tooth lays a small hand on your shoulder. “I’m so sorry,” she softly says.
Mildly confused, but moreso scared that what you feared to be the truth is, in fact, the truth, you look up at her, your eyes locking with her dazzling purple ones.
“Why? What’s going on with Jack? What’s happening to him?”
“Well, mate,” Bunny begins, leaning on the side of your chair as he holds up a decorated Easter egg. “Jack is, ah…well, there’s no simple way to put this…”
Sandy floats up beside North, his little face solemn. Golden sand swirls above his head, taking form as he waves his arms to accompany unheard speech. The sand creates a picture of a cartoonish ghost.
There’s that feeling of being punched in the gut again.
You refuse to accept that as being reality though. You want someone to actually tell you. You look searchingly at North.
“What does he mean?” you ask, your voice shaking as tears threaten to form.
“Jack is vanishing. At this rate, his love for you will make him a ghost. If you can call it that even, for lack of better word. He is just a little spirit, like Groundhog or Leprechaun. Even for us Guardians, love is difficult thing.”
“You see,” North continues, predicting your next question, “there was a missus North. She…died…long ago. I am Guardian, the first, so Manny made a little beet of exception. But price to pay was still hard. She lived longer tan most, so did our daughter, but I still went on longer.” A mini-Tooth Fairy lands on North’s shoulder, placing her miniscule hand on his cheek in comfort. “Us…Guardians. We can love without becoming ghost. But is difficult, since we will go on forever but our loves will not. It devastates us and can even affect our powers negatively. Vwas not my case but that was first one, with exception. So we try to avoid it and have done so for eons. The children are the center of our lives and will always remain that, so we can go without that other kind of love. Yes?” The other three nod in agreement, briefly smiling at the thought of the children of the world. “Then you have spirits like Jack and thee others. The effect of love and losing the love when they pass would hurt them far worse than it hurts us Guardians. There are variety of possible consequences, none of them good. And they are kind of like fledglings, needing to learn more lessons and not to be distracted from their purpose. So he put up a…checks-and-balances system, you could say. Manny brought us all into being how we are for reason, for world. It is heartbreaking, but for the best for the world.”
Another long pause as you take it all in.
You remember the moon thanking you for keeping Jack company. And yet he didn’t warn you and stop the two of you from falling for each other.
Oh, I see, you realize as you look out the nearby window at the snowy landscape. I helped him learn things. He may not have said much, but I suppose I helped him learn valuable lessons. I helped him after all. Helped him grow…And I kept him company…prevented him from giving up…At the cost that eventually this would all happen.
You return your gaze to North.
“And…the cure? For Jack…What do we—no, I—have to do?”
North’s bright blue eyes become extremely sad. The other Guardians can’t seem to even bear to look at you, each one taking interest in the floor or something else in the room, their eyes filled with grief as well.
Even Jangle slouches over, as if the sadness is too much for his little shoulders to bear, the jingle bell on his hat strangely silent.
No, you think as the tears stream down your face.
Pitch can’t have been right, he can’t have been telling the truth. It’s not fair. This can’t be happening. It just can’t…
North glances up at Tooth, who gives a “go ahead” nod.
He slowly looks back at you. His voice is soft, as if he’s a doctor gently breaking bad news to family members.