AN: Hello my lovelies! Long time no talk; well, I have good news and bad. I don't know how many of you checked my profile between my last chapter and now, but I'm just not that... interested in Rise of the Guardians anymore, nor fandom in general. I actually stopped writing altogether, probably for close to a full year, and I've only just gotten back into it. With that, I have decided to write the last two chapters I had planned for this drabble.
And yes, they will be the last two chapters.
I'm putting this one up today, in celebration of pippafrost's birthday! HAPPY BIRTHDAY MAN! She's easily one of my best friends, and I met her around two years ago, (maybe more) on this website, so it seems as appropriate a platform as any. Have a great day friend!
And to all the rest of you, the final chapter will be up sometime in the next week. It's been really great, being a part of this community, and talking to people and writing this was a lot of fun, and I learnt so much about writing and improved so much while doing this. So thanks to all of you for making it so worthwhile.
So, without any more rambling from me- read, review, and enjoy!
"Lily?" The blonde had her arms wrapped tightly around her torso, trying to choke down the sobs that threatened to overcome her. She stiffened when she heard the voice.
"Who's there? Oh... it's you. What do you want?" Verity stepped out from the shadows of the edge of the forest, mismatched hair glinting in the evening light.
"No I'm not. Go away, Verity."
"You're hurt." This, Lily could not deny. She could feel blood still seeping from the gash on her forehead, and dark, finger-shaped bruises were beginning to bloom along her arms. More were probably forming on her back and ribcage, but those would be hidden under her shirt. The others, unfortunately, weren't. "You've got a black eye."
That one, she hadn't realised.
"What do you want?"
"Peace for all men. The end of the world. To know what's going on, and absolutely nothing to do with you." Lily rolled her eyes.
"This shit is why people don't like you."
"I know." Verity flopped down a few feet away, looking out over the great lake. "Canada is lovely this time of year. You do a good job."
"Absolute truth or absolute lie?" She shrugged.
"Personal opinion. I'm entitled to those, aren't I? Must everything be black and white?"
"Verity, I don't know if you've looked in the mirror lately..." To Lily's surprise, the smaller girl laughed. For a few minutes they sat in silence, Verity gazing out and Lily shooting her sideways looks. Eventually, it grew to be too much. "Why are you here?"
"Because I am. Does it matter?" The summer spirit scowled.
"Yeah, it does, because no one's ever 'just around'- especially not in Canada." Verity hummed to herself.
"Every spirit has a country to keep to themselves in. Pierre has the Sahara. Jack has Antarctica. Arnold chooses Germany. And you sit here, in the middle of the second largest country on Earth. It's an easy place to get lonely." Lily raised an eyebrow.
"That's two opinions in as many minutes. Careful Verity, you're getting ahead of yourself." The other spirit laughed again. "Seriously Verity, why are you here?"
"There aren't so many spirits around; there are even fewer nice ones. Perhaps it would be better if we stick together." Lily barked out a laugh, harsh and cold. How Verity had known what she'd been considering, she didn't care- how did Verity know anything, after all? Point was, it wouldn't work.
"In case you haven't noticed, I'm not exactly nice. What do you want me to do, bang on Frosty's door and beg for forgiveness? Yeah, and he'll welcome me in with a big hug and we can all play house together, happily ever after. Fucking yay."
"If you were to explain honestly and with remorse, the motives and reasoning behind your actions, they will forgive you. They will not hear you out, slamming the door as soon as they realise who you are." The spring spirit took a deep breath, hugging her knees up to her chest. The possibilities ran through her mind: safety, rejection, anger from both sides, a soft bed to return to at the end of a long day and the protection of a locked door...
"I'm fucking scared to."
"I know. That doesn't mean you shouldn't." Verity stood up, tucking mismatched her mismatched hair behind her ears. "You're not the only one Arnold has hurt, you know." Lily scrunched her nose.
"There's no way he was stupid enough... was he?"
"Only once. They say the truth hurts." She smirked. "This is especially true when the glen watchers know it." This said, she turned away and disappeared back into the forest, leaving the summer spirit gaping after her.
One month passed. Two months passed. The third month arrived with another attack, and Lily knew then that something had to change.
"You know, I believe I've found Cupid's revenge on me." Jack and Pierre were sat in their kitchen, all the ingredients for truly excellent sandwiches laid out before them. Pierre was eyeing a can of tuna, looking mournful.
"And what's that?"
"Well, I've never like olives. Then a few weeks after, I lost my love of pickles, which I really did adore. Over the decades I've stopped enjoying jam, chutney, jerky, pickled onions, sun dried tomatoes and now, canned fish. I think she's putting me off preserved foods." Jack sniggered.
"That's the lamest revenge I've ever heard of."
"I'm seriously concerned Jack. What if I stop enjoying food altogether? What if I no longer want to eat dried mango?"
"I guess you'll just have to get a job at Victoria's secret, then," replied Jack, slathering mustard onto his rye bread. "Besides, at the rate that this is progressing, it'll be another 200 years before she's covered all foods."
"I suppose..." Pierre put down the tuna and began slicing chicken breast instead, his bagel already covered with a healthy layer of mayonnaise. Any further conversation was interrupted by a knock at the door. The two seasonals shared a glance: one of the guardians?
"I'll get it," mumbled Jack, through a mouthful of chicken stolen from Pierre's plate. A few seconds passed, and Pierre stuck his head into the hallway to see who it was. He found Jack stepped back into a defensive stance, wide eyed and with his staff pointed at a shocked looking Lily Breeze. "What do you want?" he all but snarled.
The spring spirit looked worse for wear, Pierre noted, taking in her appearance. Torn clothes, scratched arms and a face and neck splotched with half-faded bruises. She looked like she'd spent the last week sleeping off an attack- he knew because he'd done the same himself, as had just about every other immortal.
"I wanted," Lily began, and her voice broke. She swallowed, visibly composing herself. "I wanted to apologise."
"I mean it!"
"You have five seconds to get off our balloon, or I'm turning you into a springsicle!" Jack paused as an arm came down on his shoulder, careful to avoid touching the skin. The summer spirit stood behind him, a meditative, soothing presence.
"Jack. Let's hear what she has to say." The winter spirit looked disbelieving, while the spring spirit virtually sagged with relief. She hunched in, however, as Pierre turned his steady gaze on her. "Breach this trust, Lily, and know that it will never be extended again. Understood?" She nodded mutely. "Follow me."
He headed down the hall to one of their small sitting rooms, Lily behind him. Jack came last, glaring daggers at the blonde's back. When they got there, the summer spirit took the armchair, so he sat at the opposite end of the sofa to her, as far away as possible. For a long moment, there was silence.
"I've come to apologise for everything that happened." It came out in a rush of words, Lily looking desperately between the two of them. "I know there's no excuse for what I've done, and I know you'll probably never forgive me. But I thought... I thought maybe I could explain why everything happened the way it did. Then I'll go. I can go, and I'll never bother you again."
Jack and Pierre shared glances: the former, angry and doubtful; the latter, contemplative. Finally, Pierre turned back to Lily, and nodded.
"Very well. Tell us from the beginning. But know that if you leave things out to paint yourself in a better light, we will find out." Lily nodded almost frantically.
"Of course. Of course. From the beginning..." Her gaze drifted from them, to the clouds outside the window. "I guess I should go from the very beginning then..."
"I was born in a small village in Roman occupied England, in rough the year three hundred. My father was not wealthy, but he was better off than most, and made his living selling wares such as cooking pots and leather sandals to the soldiers in the barracks. My mother died in childbirth when I was very young, and the baby died with her; it was common in those days."
"My father remarried almost immediately, to a woman from a different tribe who took an instant disliking to me."
"I wonder why," muttered Jack. Pierre kicked his leg to shut him up, but both hissed with pain as foot brushed shin. The winter spirit held his hands up. "Fine, fine- no interrupting. Continue, oh-" he quelled under a look from Pierre- "Lily. Continue."
"Well, they immediately had a brood of small children together, and I was brushed to the side. I didn't mind, really; most eldest daughters were carefully watched for propriety, whereas I was left to myself. But when I reached seventeen, half sibling number eight was born, and it was decided there were far too many mouths to feed." She swallowed hard. "So my father found me a husband."
"He was a low ranking soldier from the barracks. A great hulking brute of a man, foul mouthed and bad tempered- people would laugh among themselves that he was a hairless Minotaur. The wedding was set for the day after the spring equinox, a fortuitous day to be wed. The eve of the equinox, though, Gaia approached me. She offered me the chance to escape my family and my future husband, to become immortal, and to be gifted with the powers of nature. I was a Celtic girl in a bad situation- how could I say no?" The blonde turned her gaze away from the window, blinked, and sighed. "She then froze me in limbo for the next millennium."
"Wait, what?!" exclaimed Jack, as Pierre sat up.
"Why on Earth would she do that?"
"Because she was looking for an autumn spirit. A... complementary pair, if you will: can't have one without the other. When I emerged, the world was a very different place. Still, I believed anything would be better than what had been before."
"And in the beginning, it was good. The spring pixies were kind, and I got along well with the nature sprites. Notus and Boreas were civil enough, if a bit pompous, and Gaia took me under her wing. Showed me how the natural world works. People joke about Mother Nature, but to me, she almost was." Jack frowned, trying to picture Gaia as kind or compassionate... he just couldn't make it fit with what he knew of her at all, and from Pierre's expression the summer spirit was struggling too. Lily clearly saw it on their faces.
"Things were different then. This was before the guardians, or Manny and Pitch, and before Too-" the spring spirit seemed to catch herself. "But I digress. The point is, things were good, and I settled in."
"Unfortunately, Arnold did too. And as soon as he got comfortable, he started showing his true colours. It started off... minor at first, at least in comparison with later events. He bullied me. He threatened me. He left charred animal carcasses in places I'd visit frequently. After a while, I stopped having favourite spots, for fear that he'd find me."
Pierre had heard before that her favourite country was Canada, and now he wondered on it: there are a lot of places to hide in a land so vast. Unaware, Lily continued.
"After about fifty years, things got physical. I always fought back, but he was stronger. There's an imbalance of power, somehow, between him and the brownies- he's got more power than he should, and they're very weak for seasonal sprites. I didn't know why nor how, but that didn't matter; my only issue was the broken bones and the burns and everything else he did."
Jack stared at her curiously: he'd never heard about any of this before. It was hard to imagine his tormentor in his place, but there wasn't any trace of a lie on her glum face.
"I didn't tell anybody. I resolved to tell Notus, but there were rumours going around. Talk of Manny, meddling with her memories along with anyone else who colluded with him and the guardians. I didn't feel safe. So I kept it to myself, for nearly fifty years, and then..." She brought up her hands and made a little explosion gesture. "War. No more Notus."
"I hated Boreas for that. Everyone did, but I doubt anyone more so than I. He'd taken away my only hope. Gaia was near mad with grief, and everyone else was too scared... or indifferent. There's no way I could have gone to the glen watchers."
As inappropriate as it would be, Jack nearly laughed out loud at the thought. Yes, he understood her predicament all too well... it made him sympathise with her and resent her even more, in equal measure.
"So you decided to do the same to me?" She shook her head, green eyes wide.
"No, no- not like that. Yes, in a way, but not like that." She stopped, looking panicked, like she thought they would both kick her out right then and there. Pierre motioned for her to continue.
"Then tell us what it was like."
"Gaia told us the new winter spirit would be as unpleasant as they come, and weak. So weak. She said that he or she would be there for us to vent on, whenever we remembered how Boreas murdered Notus. She'd told Manny to find the nastiest, meanest piece of work. And when you came along, she didn't tell us otherwise."
"I realised, almost from the first meeting, that you weren't what you were meant to be. I think the others did too, but they were still angry- too angry to care. And for once it wasn't me getting hurt. It wasn't my ribs. It wasn't my blood." Lily's mouth twisted, and she seemed to be fighting down tears. When she continued, her voice was thick.
"So when Arnold told me to join in or else, what else could I do? I didn't know you, all I knew was what I'd heard from Gaia, so I went along with it. It was you or me, and I was sick of it being me."
"You're selfish," snapped Jack, looking furious. "Even after all those years, I never would have if you told me to. Never." The spring spirit looked to the floor, tears starting to flow hot and fast down her cheeks.
"I know. I know you wouldn't, do you think I don't know! But you're a better person than me. And I wasn't strong enough to cope." Pierre shot Jack a look as she tried to staunch the flow; it was a look that said hear her out, then be furious. Jack huffed, but slumped back into the couch. With a few watery sniffles, Lily continued.
"But I've got eyes; sometimes I feel like the only fucking one that does. Arnold's not dumb, but he doesn't see anything, and none of the others were bothering to look. I saw the strength of your early storms. I realised you didn't have any sprites, how you have the full power of winter to yourself. You weren't weak, you're probably the strongest nature spirit there is. And... and desperation turned to anger." She sniffed again.
"You could fight back, you could have sent us all flying, frozen us into one gigantic glacier and left us there until it thawed, and you didn't. I would have given anything if I could, but you didn't, and why didn't you?" Jack stared at his feet.
"I don't know," he finally muttered. "I just... I don't know." The spring spirit brushed away more tears and tucked a few blonde locks behind her ears, trying to compose herself.
"Yeah, well; I thought I could get you to. I thought if I bothered you enough, if I just made it awful enough, that, I don't know, one day you'd snap. And then you'd stand up to me, and then you'd stand up to Arnold, and the fucking nightmare would be over."
"Why didn't you just tell me? We could have worked together against him!"
"Because if you couldn't stand up to me, then how could I know you would stand up to him. And I wasn't prepared to take that risk. But then came that godforsaken birthday." Her eyes returned to the window, seemingly unable to meet either of their gazes. "You were gone for two weeks. I thought maybe you had a plan, that you'd decided enough was enough and you'd gone to the guardians, or to Pitch, or to anyone. But when I found you..." Her lower lip trembled.
"I don't want to be a bad person. And I knew I couldn't do it anymore. Bringing you to Arnold would probably have killed you, so I didn't. It's the first time I'd stood up for myself, talked back to him since- well, since you were born really. I was free. It's just... the price of freedom was high." She shook her head, and pushed herself up from the couch.
"I just wanted to tell you. I thought you'd want to understand why those things happened to you. And I suppose... well, I guess I wanted to clear my conscience. But I won't bother you again."
"Lily, wait-" Jack leapt up, grabbing her wrist and freezing when she flinched. He'd never seen the spring spirit so vulnerable- he wondered if anyone had. "Just... just wait a second." Her green eyes flicked anxiously back and forth between the two of them. Pierre also rose.
"This brings context to many of your previous actions," he rumbled, looking thoughtful. "And I believe, in time, forgiveness can come. I speak only for myself, however; Jack?"
"Yeaaah," he said slowly. "Maybe. It's a lot to process. And it doesn't change what you did. But..." he shrugged. "I dunno. I guess I understand more now. It's strange actually." He looked at her, studyingly. "It's like a weird power flip. You're the new me." She gave a wan smile.
"I can't tell you how many times I've thought that."
"But, I guess, I was the new you. I'm just musing out loud; this is a lot to get my head around." He pushed his hair back from his face and continued to stare. "I'm trying to figure out what I should be feeling right now. It's kind of a blend of everything." Pierre stepped forward, placing a firm hand on each of their shoulders. Everyone pretended not to notice the spring spirit flinch again.
"Well; perhaps we should continue our lunch while we think things through. Lily, are you fond of sandwiches?" She nodded, furiously blinking back tears.
"I haven't had one in years, but yeah; I really do."
"Then come join us. I suppose my bagel will be soggy by now, so I'll have to start again; Jack, your rye bread will be the same."
"Bread is bread is bread," the winter spirit retorted, leading the way.
"Complete savage, isn't he? But we have plenty of spreads and ingredients, and a few types of bread- there's an enchanted bread bin, and you can never tell what it will spit out: last week there was pumpernickel- so I'm sure you'll find something you'll like. I can tell you about my pickle issue too."
"Pickle... issue?" Asked Lily weakly. Jack groaned.
"Oh no, don't get him started!"
"Well, it all began when Cupid came to offer us a housewarming gift..."
Pierre set her up in the spare room that night, under the declaration that "you haven't slept in a bed since the Romans were in England, you need to see how technology has progressed."
And then, when she left the next morning, he reminded her that she'd promised to make an olive risotto for him to try and overcome his hatred, so of course she had come back a few days later and do that.
And he loved the risotto so much that, no, absolutely not, she had to come back again a few days after that, to teach him how to make it himself.
Then he wanted to know what other things she could cook, since he was bored of his and Jack's 'bachelor eating habits.'
And before the winter spirit could blink, she'd been to his house eight times in the past month.
"Don't think I don't know what you're up," he muttered one day after she'd left. Pierre gazed his most innocent gaze. "No. None of that. You're trying to get me to come around." The summer spirit's expression turned flat.
"No, that is not what I've been doing. Yes, I have been having her come over, but you may have noticed I deliberately did not seek to include you. If you felt comfortable, you were free to join, but until then I was determined to leave you out of it."
The tension left Jack's shoulders.
"That's... thanks, man. But then what's all this? All this cooking and soufflés, and I saw you throw away the olive risotto you made with her as soon as she left."
"A pity. I was so hopeful. However, I don't know if you've noticed this, but I do believe in reaching out to lonely spirits. And that's exactly what she is right now- a very lonely spirit." Jack harrumphed, folding his arms and looking away.
"What about the spring pixies? Or the water sprites, or whoever!" Pierre shook his head gently.
"That's the thing with unpleasant people: they don't make for very good friends. Even before you became a guardian, even before I was born. It's always been this way. They have their cliques, but they don't like each other. What's the saying... misery loves company?"
"I don't know if I can forgive her."
"I'm not asking you to. I'm asking you to move on from it. For your own sake, just as much as hers." The winter spirit raised an eyebrow. "Holding on to unpleasant negative feelings... well, at risk of sounding like a new-age guru, they do nothing for the soul. I can think of three individuals who couldn't move on; one of them's missing, one of them's banished, and the third is, as you know, little more than a bastard."
"Manny, Gaia, and Pitch. Yeah, I get it." For a long time Jack stared at the wall, turning it over in his mind: his side of the story, her side of the story, and what Pierre had just said. Pierre waited patiently while he did, ready to accept the answer no matter what it was.
Finally, the winter spirit sighed.
"Fine. Fine, I guess we can- I don't know, let her chill with us and stuff. Use a bedroom and the kitchen. But the first sign of trouble- anything at all- and she's out. Got me?"
"That's completely fair," replied Pierre, but he was smiling too. "I'll prepare a room for her, and we can make the offer next time she comes round."
"And when's that going to be?"
"Tomorrow," said the summer spirit. He wandered out the room, humming to himself, as Jack's head thumped against the table.
"Fuck's sake Pierre."
"You did WHAT?!" roared North, Tooth and Bunny as a single voice. Sandy settled for about fifteen exclamation marks jumping above his head. The winter spirit sighed.
"It's a bit of a long story..."