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Autumn Leaves

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Her cold fingers gripped the handle of the festive orange basket as adrenaline pumped through her veins. The gleaming golden eyes of the nightmare met hers as they were locked in a fierce sort of staring contest. To be fair, her instincts told her to leave, every muscle screaming at her to escape the gaze that pinned her down. Ignoring her urge to run, she forced herself to remain still, her feet rooted to the ground by a painful curiosity. Her posture changed, wide eyes swallowing the sight of the beast, with fingers outstretched to touch its murky muzzle. The monster snorted at this sudden action, startled and confused by the fingers that reached out to touch it. An uncomfortable feeling seeping into its own limited conscious, it reared up on its hind legs. The girl shrieked and snatched her fingers back to shield her face as hooves kicked out and came down on her. The shadow surged all of its weight down the small body, stepping back and tossing its head nervously once the deed was done. He would not be happy, this would certainly attract attention. The beast backed away, its body dissolving into curls of black smoke. At least it was over.

She lay alone on the ground, unable to move, her back pressed against the dry leaves and she stared up at the sky, her eyes dry and blank. The moon smiled pityingly down at her from his inky throne, the stars twittering at him senselessly as they too watched the small figure bleed out into the bed of leaves. Many things broken, but perhaps not her spirit, not yet.

 

Chapter Text

The sun hung low in the sky now, casting lazy plum shadows along the forest floor. Drifts of leaves rustled about gently, calling to one another in dry rustlings as night fell. The air hung silent and crisp as All Saint’s Day came to a close. The moon already was beginning to emerge as the sun let its curtain of light fall behind the horizon. Whispers tickled her ears and her eyes fluttered open. She stared up at the night sky, the moon grinning down at her. She saw him and grinned back.

“Hello, friend.” She whispered up to him as the wind showered her with another rain of crackling leaves. “Was it you who whispered in my ear?”

She stretched, scraping her bed of leaves into piles with her arms. Tilting her head, she again considered her glowing friend. “So, who might you be? I believe formal introductions might be in order and, by that, I do hope you can tell me who I am?” She folded her arms behind her head, finding this a comfortable position from which to address her companion. She lay there, regarding him in silence, not concerned about her situation more than she was irritated at being unanswered.

Her face darkened. “I know you can hear me, dear friend. It’s rather rude to ignore people.” A long moment of silence passed between them before the girl pursed her lips, sitting up with an air of indifference. “Fine, I don’t need you, I am perfectly capable of figuring things out on my own.”

She eagerly turned her attention to her surroundings, wobbling to her feet on new legs. She stood now in a clearing, quickly falling into darkness as the moon took over his nighttime reign. The trees around the clearing stood tall and thick with knotted trunks and crooked branches. Her eyes softened on them, appreciating their age. Around them lay a thick carpet of rusted leaves in all shades of autumn. Where she had lain, they had turned dark. Picking one up, she found under the light of her silent companion that they were a deep crimson. Her fist tightened around the leaf, snapping and crumpling the delicately dried membrane between her fingers. Her attention flittered briefly back to her surroundings before a stir of movement in her palm dragged her gaze back. She pulled her fingers back, peering at a small black bird that stared back up at her with bright eyes. “I may not know much about this world I’ve woken up in, but I’m fairly certain that’s unusual.” She blinked at her new companion.

The woods thinned quickly as she walked, allowing a much wider view in either direction, the bird chirped on her shoulder and she shivered in excitement. The world stretched out before her on all sides and a thrill pushed a delighted shriek from her lungs. Wolves howled in the distance and she returned the call defiantly, the wind spitting dark curls into her eyes. She pulled at the strands and looked at them, running fingers over her face in excited curiosity. A brand new mystery to uncover, who was she? Her feet carried her forward, a jog melting into an exhilarated run her bird letting out trills as it followed close behind. What was this new world it was so very new to her, just as she was to it. Far above, the Man in the Moon watched her curiously.

Chapter Text

A general chaos erupted throughout the workshop with elves shrieking senselessly and yetis trying desperately to calm them down before they broke anything. The commotion stopped almost as suddenly as it began as North barged in, peering over the railing at them, “What is meaning of this?” He stopped short, the cool blue light instantaneously silencing him. “Man in moon… I knew it.” He finished more softly, then again with giddiness ringing in his voice, “I knew it! Send word for other guardians!” The commotion resumed, but this time North didn’t care. “This is very soon, Manny. You must wait for other guardians.”

Word spread quickly and the excited man didn’t have to wait for long before he was joined by his fellows.

“Oi, what’s this all about now, eh?” The massive rabbit emerged from the rabbit hole, leaving it to neatly close behind him.

“Bunny, you leave poppies in my workshop again!” The burly man grunted, plucking the small flower left behind by the rabbit hole. The oversized rabbit didn’t have time to retort before a light voice sung out from the other end of the workshop. “North! I’m here! Oh, where is he?” The Tooth Fairy fluttered toward the small group, worry etched onto her face. A little swarm of fairies crowded around her. “Yes, send the squadron to the southern hemisphere ASAP.” She replied to the quiet twittering of her entourage, then, seeing the look on North’s face, she blinked confusedly. “What? Another one? So soon?”

“He-ey everyone, looks like Sandy and I are late to the party. What’s going on, North?” Jack’s voice was light, but his brow was furrowed with worry as he and the Sandman Entered from the western entrance.

“Man in Moon has something to say.” North’s eyes sparkled as if he already knew what the meeting was for.

“Is it a new guardian?” Jack questioned conspiratorially. “I didn’t think this happened that often, it’s barely been twenty years.”

“It is little uncommon, yes.” North grunted as his friends approached. The moon now growing impatient, glinted through the skylight and the guardians backed up respectfully as he shed his light on the stone mural on the floor.

“Well I’ll be…” Bunnymund scratched his head in disbelief and Toothiana squealed excitedly. The familiar hatch opened in response to the Moon’s provocation and the stone emerged, pushed up by its pedestal.

“Oh, no, it better not be.” The Easter Bunny retorted to Sandy’s silent suggestion of the St. Patrick’s day Leprechaun. The fractals of light illuminated the whole room, lighting up the faces of the gathered party. The image collected itself after a few moments and there was a collective exhale.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Bunny deflated, this was just as bad as the Leprechaun.

“That can’t be right!” Toothiana frowned, shooting a questioning glance first at North, and then up to Manny.

“You’re crazy.” Jack breathed up to the grinning moon.

“Silence!” North boomed, bringing silence to the chatter. “Man in Moon has decided and now we respect it!”

They all gazed up uncomfortably at the image of the girl. Dressed in a long hooded cloak staring curiously back at them stood the Halloween Witch.

“How are we even supposed to find her?” Tooth asked timidly.

“This will be fun challenge! Not too hard.” North insisted high spiritedly, though even he himself had only seen her once.

Chapter Text

Hazel scratched under his chin, her wolf stretching into her touch.

“They’ll find me eventually, won’t they.” The canine rumbled in agreement. “Well, not if I can find them first.” She grinned, “Who’s a good boy,” She cooed to him before standing up and brushing the leaves from her skirt. The wolf whined behind her. “Aw what a cutie.” She scrunched up her nose and bent to scratch the belly he offered. “Now scat, tell me how close they are.” With that, the furry thing eagerly dashed out of the clearing and sent up the call. Pride swelled in Hazel’s chest as she watched him go. Although she didn’t know why the big 5 were looking for her, she saw it as an opportunity to do some much needed confirmation of the information her friends had brought her. She tugged her newest notebook out of the little satchel at her side as she walked to the treeline of the clearing. Birds twittered in her trees and small critters scurried through her underbrush as she walked. Her notes so far seemed pretty extensive, but it was mostly based on gossip gathered by her friends or observations she’d gathered from afar. Though it had might have been a while since she had left her home, her feet navigated the confusing trail with confidence.

The Summer was drawing to a close, but the comparative rush of heat that hit her in the face as she left her stagnant season was still a bit of a shock. The temperature didn’t seem to be able to truly bother her since Hazel had explored everywhere from deserts to tundra. In fact that was one of the only things she knew about her current state other than the preprogrammed duty to bring her magic to the people at Halloween time and chase it with the calm quiet of All Saints Day. This magic she had been given worked in strange ways, and the fact that even Hazel didn’t always understand it frustrated her deeply.

A distant howl echoed across the mountains and she sighed, they were close. Determined to keep them from she considered her own haven, she blew from her fingertips a summoned fog, that consumed her and she vanished within it. When Hazel reappeared, she stood on the clock tower in her town, a flicker of sadness and regret immediately snuffed out as she perched on the roof and waited.

Chapter Text

The wind, which had been before tossing him in all directions, clearly unsure of where to go, now threw Jack to the east with new vigor. It was warm and he felt the immediate itch to send at least a small snowfall on the town that came into view beneath him. Said town was quaint, Jack noted, with farmland and trees around it. He let himself drop into the little road, letting his staff brush against the walls of the nearest building. No one would mind a small frost in October. He whistled a soft tune, already uncomfortable at the silence that blanketed the houses. The town seemed to be completely deserted. The clock tower in the distance chimed six and the Sun was already finishing its arch into the hills in the distance. The temperature fell with it, though, whether it was a trick of the light or his own presence that caused the cool breeze, he honestly wasn’t sure. His skin prickled as he felt eyes on him and he twitched, looking up and locking his gaze with hers.

“I um, I found her. She’s here.” He spoke awkwardly into the toy walkie talkie that North had given him when they decided to split up. The button was stiff under his touch and he hoped the frost on the outside hadn’t hindered the functionality of the device.

The spirit clearly wasn’t going to approach him so he gathered the wind under him and let it carry him upward. Catching a small column with his staff, he swung himself over and landed gently on the roof, trying to quirk a non-threatening smile. She stood motionless, the breeze pulling at the dark curls that framed her pale face as she fixed him with huge discolored eyes. Her right was electric blue and the left was an emerald green, drawing to her an uncanny resemblance to a cat. That was the only feature that the Moon image hadn't shown them. Her cloak rustled around her as her arm reached for him. He stepped back, startled, but it was too late. She had him by the sleeve, pulling him to her.

“He-y-” He grunted as she cupped his face, turning it to the right and then the left. She dropped it and reached for a strand of his hair, examining it carefully before pulling out a small leather bound notebook and scratching something down on the page. He stood startled for a moment before lifting off the roof and floating above her at a safe distance, trying to get a look at what she was writing. She was erasing and rewriting something on the first page but on the other page was a drawing of him, sitting on a rooftop. She snapped the book shut and sniffed. Steadily staring him down. She cocked her head, holding his gaze as a little black bird glided in and alighted on her shoulder.

“I'm almost positive they said it was gray but that is clearly white, wouldn’t you say?” She asked, her voice light and airy.

“W-what-” Jack blinked incredulously.

The bird twittered a response and she snorted as if it had said something funny.

“Oh, of course, you weren’t talking to me,” He answered his own question. “You were talking to the bird... cool.”

She seemed almost to see him for the first time now and he started, almost surprised to be acknowledged.

“Hazel.” She introduced briskly.

“Oh, ah, Jack.”

“So, why have I become the object of such a thorough manhunt?” She asked bitterly, her gaze trained steadily on him. "Never took much of an interest before now."

Jack, still unsure of himself, gave the stranger a tentative grin, trying to maintain eye contact. “You’re a guardian! The man in the moon chose you...” He trailed off as she turned her stare to the sky and gave the newly emerging moon a dirty look. The witch broke her gaze and addressed her little black bird, “Just call the whole thing off, tell them to go home.” She muttered irritably to the little bird. It sprang off her shoulder and disappeared into the rapidly darkening sky. Jack watched it go, entirely dumbfounded by the exchange.

“Your friends are here.” She sighed a split second before the sleigh came into view. “Pumpkins, that thing is conspicuous.” She muttered as it came to rest by the tower.

Jack,” North thundered, “You did not use walkie. We had to come look for you, you did not report in.”

“Yeah,” He squinted at his friends, “Froze it.”

The attention fell all at once on the spirit behind him.

“Hello friends,” She smiled sweetly. “I appreciate the offer, but you should all go. I have no interest in being a guardian, it was clearly a misjudgment on the Moon’s part so you should all just,” Her hands were already on Jack’s back, pushing him toward the sleigh that had pulled up by the roof, “Go home.” She sighed with a final shove.

“Hey wait up for a second.” Jack pivoted around, propping himself up on his staff to keep the girl from pushing him off the roof. When the Man in the Moon says something,” He glanced around at his friends for confirmation, “it’s pretty much law.”

“Jack is right. Get in sleigh.” North commanded with a generous helping of intimidation. The girl matched his unflinching gaze.

“Okay, no need to use force, thanks.” She consented, her smile seemingly friendly as she climbed into the sleigh and plopped herself down in between Tooth and Bunny, who were trying not to look uncomfortable and be sick respectively. The group seemed to shake off her sudden change of heart. Jack hooking onto the side of the sleigh just as North threw the snow globe to open the portal. Jack left the town behind with a little snow flurry. Maybe this would be easier than everyone thought.

Chapter Text

It was pretty impressive, even she had to admit, she flipped open her notebook, starting a new sketch of the inside of the workshop. The colors were a bit garish, but sort of outlandishly festive, she supposed. Toy trains like she'd seen the children play with chugged around on gravity defying tracks and little airplanes swooped loops around the wide open space. The yetis caught her attention briefly, but the elves just seemed like a waste of time.

“So, erm, Hazel, is it?” She twirled around at the sound of her name to meet the gaze of the Tooth Fairy. Smiling, she flipped open to the spirit’s section in the notebook and immediately began adjusting the relevant drawings. The Queen of the Tooth Fairies was mostly a vibrant blue-green but there was a crest of yellow atop her head like a crown. Hazel noted as quickly as she could, she had never gotten this close to any of the Guardians before.

“Yes,” She answered around the pencil in her mouth. “Pleasure to meet you.” She said pulling the pencil out of her mouth with a smile. “So are those feathers, then?” She said, gesturing to the Tooth Fairy’s peacock blue covering.

“W-what? U-um yes?” Toothiana answered, flustered at the question.

“Mm,” Hazel flipped through the book collecting notes on the others, completing the pattern description on Bunnymund’s grey coat and a comprehensible summary of the tattoos  that ran up and down North's forearms.

“Oi, what’s sheila doing over there?” The Easter Bunny stooped to ask Jack as he eyed the peculiar girl who was currently harassing Sandy.

“How should I know?” Jack muttered back, matching his friend’s confusion as Hazel examined the sand on the floor beneath the Sandman.

“You found her first, that’s probably the most anyone’s talked to her.” She sniffed the sand in her palm as an uncomfortable Sandman looked on. “And it shows.” He cringed at her behavior.

“Well.” She said bouncing up from where she had been crouching before. “It’s been a pleasure, friends. Do stay in touch.” A dazzling and slightly sociopathic smile was the last thing they saw as she disappeared in a puff of smoke. The discomfort in the room hung as thick as the black cloud she had left in.

“Christmas cookies.” North huffed in defeat. “Girl is strange."

Chapter Text

She flipped through the book again, gnawing on the end of her pencil. The little black bird twittered in her ear questioningly.

“Well you see, even though they can’t touch the humans that don’t believe in them, they can still interact with the environment around them.” She picked up another notebook and reexamined her notes. “That means it would actually be rather easy to get children to believe in me, honestly.” She mused. “Wasn’t it Jack that simply drew pictures on the window to communicate with his friend?” The bird bobbed in agreement. “The major problem is why . Why do I crave the recognition of children? At least when it's the other spirits it makes sense." She tossed the notebooks into the leaves in frustration. "I wonder if it had something to do with my previous life. Was I horribly neglected or something?” She grinned, lost in her own fantasy. “Trapped in a orphanage with no hope of finding a home?” She dragged a hand to her forehead dramatically, “Alone and abused by the only family I’d ever known?” She knew it wasn’t true but her bird chortled at the idea. “Okay, but seriously, why Halloween. More importantly, why me ?” She wished she had lost some teeth or something the day she became a spirit, if only she could remember more. Only Jack died before became a guardian but it didn’t rule out the possibility that so had she. Maybe if they thought she was with them the guardians might be able to fully answer her questions. She flopped over into the soft leaves that rose up like a wave to cushion her fall. The trees pulled back their spindly branches so that she could get a good look at the Moon.

“Here we are again old friend.” She murmured to him as he shone down on her. “Why is it you don’t talk to me, but you seem to talk to them?” She pouted. “You left me here in this very clearing on that night so long ago...” She sat up, her body rigid as she stared at the sleigh’s silhouette as it passed in the distance, blocking the Moon’s light. The trees swung back to close the gap in the sky, providing a leaf cover for her once again. A rock formed in the pit of her stomach and she climbed to her feet. This distraction wasn’t something she needed, there were more questions she needed answering. With Pitch’s power fluttering from the depths again-as it always was this time of year she thought bitterly-after all this time there was still so much more she needed to learn. As much as she ached for companionship, they wouldn’t help her, they wouldn’t care about her questions. They were all so closed minded, she didn’t need their company. They’d only drag her down. Hazel let out a low howl, one she had cultivated with decades of company with her mountain friends, maybe she could just frighten the guardians off.

* * *

A rustle of movement far below caught Toothiana’s eye as the guardians glided through the night air.

“There! Was that something?” Her fairies flocked to her side of the sleigh as they gave up their posts.

“This is close to where you saw Hazel is not?” North glanced at Jack.

“Yeah, this is where Bunny is supposed to meet us, anyway.” Jack swept himself out of the sleigh on a swell of wind, followed closely behind by Baby Tooth, who had been determined not to miss this adventure. They landed softly and the little fairy dropped onto his shoulder, already made anxious by their surroundings.

“Aye mate.” The Pooka nodded to him from where he leaned against a tree on the edge of the woods. He had refused to fly again, especially since this time he actually knew where they were going. “Any sign of your girlfriend?” His tone was irritated and mocking, clearly unhappy at being dragged into the whole affair.

Jack grinned, ignoring his comment even as Baby Tooth made a discontented sound. “Tooth thinks she might have seen something, North is finding someplace to…” He trailed off and The Easter Bunny whirled around, staring into the forest. Golden lights like fireflies bobbed from within the trees. She emerged in their wake, her cloak thrown over her bare shoulders to reveal an ensemble that resembled a jumble of Halloween costumes. From a sleek peasant blouse to a dripping tutu and black ribboned point shoes, her outfit reflected a myriad of outfits that Jack had seen kids wearing over the ages. She even wore tights that looked like they’d been made out of spider silk. Definitely thematic. Jack raised an eyebrow and Bunny snorted. She let her cloak fall quickly, clenching her jaw.

“Hello, friends.” She said tightly, “How kind of you to pay me a visit. I do hope you’re calling to discuss something other than,” She swallowed and tossed her black curls over her shoulder as if daring them to bring it up. “My alleged guardianship.” As she crossed into the clearing, the lights receded back into the darkness, snuffing out one by one.

“Well in fact we do come discussing guardianship.” North walked to stand beside Jack as the Tooth Fairy and Sandman flanked him. “You cannot run from destiny.” His tone softened. “Man in Moon chose you, it is meant to be.”

“And we actually have things to do, unlike some.” Bunnymund muttered pointedly, not moving from his spot against the tree even when she turned her glare on him.

“I understand that Pitch has been more active recently, but you misunderstand.” She said through gritted teeth. “I do not run from my destiny, in fact I’m searching for it.” She shot an ungrateful look at the rapidly descending Moon. “I refuse to accept a destiny that is forced upon me by a Moon that remains so aloof.” She raised her voice, no longer addressing the small group in front of her. “He stole my destiny away from me when he made me this!” She hugged her sides and shouted after it as a cloud moved to obscure it's light from view. “He took me from my home and gave me a duty I didn’t ask for, and now he sends me to protect the children who don’t even know I exist?” Her voice echoed off the hills and growls rumbled from behind her. The gathered party stared uncomfortably at her. Her resolution faltered and she clicked her tongue, furry bodies rushing forward to whine and nuzzle her, aborting the previous plan. Baby Tooth gripped the Jack’s hood and the group tensed ready to fight. Even Sandy looked at her with distrust.

The sun broke over the hills and basked them in warm light and she sighed, her anger falling away. She wiped away her solemn look and finally smiled at her guests. “I’m terribly sorry, I’ve just been rather stressed recently. Won’t you please come in?”

“Crazy.” Bunnymund muttered under his breath.

Chapter Text

They hiked through the dense forest, expecting the worst. The woods were dark and gloomy and discomfort filled their chests as they followed the witch deeper into the woods. She ducked through a small opening and the group reluctantly followed, emerging into a bright clearing, the cool sunlight and the smell of apple pie and cinnamon hit them as their canine ‘escorts’ rushed around them, officially off duty now that they were home. Gold and crimson leaves fluttered consistently from the trees like rain without signs of stopping and light filtered in from the branches even though the Sun had only just risen. Intricately carved pumpkins and knotted apple trees dotted the edge of the clearing. Omniscient light poured from everywhere and the sound of water trickled from somewhere out of sight. An unnaturally massive tree obscured most of the rest of the clearing but this world hummed with life unseen. She turned and smiled, her fingers tracing the backs of her beasts as they snuffled past her.

Bunnymund was the first to speak. “Oi, well this is ah, unexpected.” The smile vanished off her lips, setting them into a firm line.

“Oh! Because there are no zombies or rotten tombstones? Sorry to disappoint.” Her tone was sharp and mocking. “I knew there was a reason I didn’t talk to you people.” She grumbled. Jack winced and North let out a sigh.

“No, it’s lovely.” Tooth ventured in an attempt to make peace. And indeed it was. The clearing let off a surreal vibe that made it feel like a vivid dream.

The awkward silence that followed reminded everyone of the nature of the visit and the uncertain guardians turned their wondering eyes back to Hazel.

“Okay, fine,” She sighed, “Let's talk.”

***

“We worry Pitch may be regaining strength.” North’s brow furrowed and he leaned forward, placing a heavy elbow on the stump-table. Hazel had lead them back into her clearing, trying to ignore their glances toward the center where her leaves turned blood red. Their gazes on it made her uncomfortable as if that place in particular were far too private for such an audience. She lead them further back past her oak tree to her meeting place. A ring of smaller stumps around a larger one that she had created back when she was foolish enough to think she would have frequent visitors-or find much necessity for that matter. Her early labors at making friends with her fellow spirits hadn’t been effective and she had long ago abandoned the idea.

She cast her gaze around the table, feeling all eyes fall on her expectantly. She nodded feebly in response, biting her tongue.

“Man in moon thinks we need more help.” He continued.

Not her help.

“He chose you because he thinks you are best option to help us.”

He obviously didn’t know her that well.

“Last time, he ruined Easter.” The Bunny said, the seriousness in his voice made her want to bang her head against a wall. Instead she plastered a concerned look on her face and nodded sympathetically.

“He took my fairies too, imprisoning them in his creepy lair.” Tooth added in between murmured orders to aforementioned fairies. The one on Jack’s shoulder had been staring daggers at her since they had arrived. She tried a friendly smile but it sniffed and darted into his hood. Jack met her eyes and quirked an eyebrow. She quickly broke his gaze and returned to listen to North, who had continued talking.

“... And so if Man in Moon thinks we need your help, we need your help.”

Maybe she could help them. Maybe they could help her .

Hazel made the mistake of glancing in the direction of the Sandman and instantly regretted it. Casting her gaze down at her hands. It was a bad idea, they didn’t like her, let alone trust her. A burnt bridge is better than one that is crossed and used for outright war.

“Yeah, we don’t even know what he’s been doing.” Jack continued. “You seem, ah, observant, I’m sure you could be helpful.” He was trying to be reassuring.

She smiled meekly. “Okay.” The word had slipped out and she tried not to look regretful of it.

“Alright it’s settled then!” The Tooth Fairy all but flew out of her seat, clearly ready to leave as her fairies had seemed to be pestering her more and more frequently. Hazel had kept the entrance open for them and they left quickly. The pooka digging a hole right then and there and Jack and the Sandman following the uncovered tunnel of trees back the way they had come. The Tooth Fairy was gone before Hazel even noticed and North watched them go wistfully.

“You know, all of them were new guardian at some point.” He turned to her. “But none of them fought change like you have. Even Jack was just afraid of responsibility."

She smiled back at him. “Are you going to give me the ‘what’s my center’ speech?”

He seemed taken aback by her words. “That is something I wonder about you.” You seem to know so much about us while we know,” he flicked waved his hands as if to indicate a lack of knowledge, “nothing about you.”

“My friends tell me.” She answered simply, referring to the birds chirping in the trees and the wolves chasing each other around the oak.

“And why do you have strong bond with these friends of yours?” His eyes narrowed as if she were a broken toy back in his workshop.

“Halloween is a misunderstood holiday.” She blurted out. “Everyone thinks it’s dark and nasty and creepy and just,” She clenched her fists, “plain awful.”

“But it is not?” He prodded her to go on, she disliked that it worked. 

“No.” She said, trying to convince herself as much as the man in front of her. She had given this speech so many times in her imagination and now that she said it out loud she wished harder for her words to be true, trying to believe enough for the both of them. “It’s about the unknown, and the thrill of being alive .That’s my purpose, I bring magic to the kids, something exciting and larger than life” She snapped her fingers and summoned a ball of light to emphasize her point. The same as the ones that had first greeted them outside the forest, it danced around her fingers before settling in her palm. “I push them to continue to seek answers by providing questions. Fear is what manifested out of everyone’s desire to understand what cannot be explained.” Her words were blurring together now and she couldn’t stop. “They fear us because we belong to a world they cannot understand and it’s not… fair...” She pursed her lips and forced herself to stop talking.

“Well, little Hazel.” North leaned back from the table and stroked his beard. “Seems like I came here to teach valuable lesson, but learned new lesson instead.”

Hazel worked her jaw, she stroked a fuzzy head that had come in attempt comfort her.

“You are complicated case.” He said, getting up from the table. “I think about what you have said.” He patted the swarm of dogs that came to see him off, giving her one last gift before he left. “I am glad you are guardian now.”

Chapter Text

 

“Go, go, go. ” She shoved the last wolf into the woods and willed the trees to hide their path.

“A guardian now, hmm?” Prickles ran up her spine and she shoved down the automatic gurgle of fear. She hadn’t asked for this.

“So you’re ignoring me now?” His breath was on her neck but she refused to turn around. “Too good for me now?” She could hear the sneer in his voice. Fingers brushed her back and she stiffened, whirling around to face Pitch.

“Do not touch me.” She tried to keep her voice level. The shadowy figure grinned, his sharp teeth glinting in the rapidly disappearing light. The clearing was undergoing its evening change and one by one the carved pumpkins lit themselves and the golden orbs flickered in the trees. Her fire pit roared to life and flickered warm light around her home, but the shadows they left took on a menacing air with him here.

“Don’t,” He wrapped his fingers around her wrist and yanked it upward painfully. “Pretend to be anything more than you are, little princess.” He released her and spread his arms, gesturing to her clearing. “Look at this.” He scoffed. “You belong in the shadows, like me. Don’t pretend like you’re one of them, like you're better than me, like they want you.” Anger flashed in his eyes. “They’re afraid of you, they hate you.”

“I, am more than the fear I cause.” She didn’t need him, he was wrong. She stepped forward, her eyes flashing. “And don't you pretend to be my friend. I’m not as easily fooled as I once was.” She shoved him backward. Surprise flashed in his face. The growl came low in her own throat and was matched by more in the woods behind her.

He smirked. “More than the fear you cause, huh? Talk to me again when they find you out and throw you away.”

He gripped her chin, anger flashing in his eyes “ I am the only one you can trust. I am the only one who cares about you so don’t you dare try to brush me off.” As if to emphasize his words, he backhanded her across the face knocking her to the ground before turning and disappearing into the nothingness. “Don’t be stupid.” His voice echoed against the trees.

Furry bodies surrounded her and she let them wash over her, silent tears falling into the leaves.

She brought her fingers to her face. How convincing. Warmth surrounded her as the wolves settled down around her. They licked the salt from her face and nuzzled her hair and she was glad for their company.

 

Chapter Text

“What’s this?”Her gaze jumped from the little golden light that twirled in her hand. He stood in the shadows, seemingly cautious. Her light snuffed out but she ignored it.

“Hello.” She smiled as warmly as she could through her excitement of being addressed, not wanting to scare him. “You can seen me?”

“Of course.”

Hope flopped in her stomach.

“You must be new, am I the first one... that can see you?” He asked coolly.

“Yes, no one else seems to know I’m here, I pass right through them.” She replied sadly.

He crossed the clearing to her, he seemed to be dressed in shadows and she stared at him with wide eyes, he was the tallest person she’d ever seen. He had to stoop to look her in the face and she blinked, his dark eyes meeting hers.

“You must have been maybe eighteen when the moon took you, huh?” His voice was raspy and she’d be lying if she said he wasn’t intimidating, but he she was desperate for company. “On Halloween night?” He studied her carefully.

“I don’t know, I can’t remember it I just remember waking up and then the moon ignored me and how old are you? You’re so tall, what are you? Do you know who I am? Why can’t anyone see me but you?” The words flooded out of her like a dam had been broken. He chuckled at her words.

“What’s your name little shadow?”

“I-” She stopped, disconcerted by his words. “Am I supposed to know my name?”

“No matter.” He tapped his chin as if pondering something. “Hazel’s a good name for a witch.”

Her eyes were wide “A witch?" She whispered conspiratorially. "Am I a witch?” Her total lack of knowledge ate at her and she tried to suppress another flood of questions. “Yes, I like Hazel, thank you…?”

“Pitch.” He finished, flashing a sharp-toothed grin at her.

“Pitch.” She beamed back.

He had seemed so kind.

Chapter Text

She hugged her knees and gazed down at her empty town. It had been a day since she had seen Pitch but her stomach was still in knots. A cool breeze blew her hair. Trust him.

“Not likely.” She behind gritted teeth.

“What’s that?” She jumped. Jack sat down next to her, swinging his legs over the roof of the clock tower. He tapped his staff against the wall, sending tendrils of frost to climb down the rough surface.

She plastered a smile on her face, “Talking to myself. I’m crazy, remember?” She flipped her hair over her shoulder dismissively.

“Oh you gotta ignore Bunny.” He sucked in a breath of air through his teeth. “You should’ve seen how he treated me when I was new.”

She stayed silent, biting her lip. The sun was just beginning to brush its fingers over the tops of the mountains and she willed it to rise faster. She could see him studying her but she kept her eyes trained on the mountains.

“Hey, what happened to your face.” It was barely a question.

“Dogs can play rough sometimes.” She said it too quickly and she knew it. It wasn’t a surprise that Pitch had left a mark. Apparently even spirits could get bruises, she’d already added that observation to her notes but it was just another detail that brought her no closer to figuring out what ‘spirits’ were... 

“Hmm, that’s rough” He nodded, completely unconvinced. “I see why you like to sit up here.” He changed the subject, leaning back into the slope of the roof. “This is a gorgeous view.” When she didn’t follow, he pulled her down next to him and she tried not to flinch at his cold touch on her elbow. “Sorry.” He pursed his lips and put his arm behind his head.

A long moment of silence passed between them before he broke it. “I was talking to North yesterday.” She tensed. “He told me that he talked to you and-”

She sat up, eyes still fixed on the sunrise. “He sent you to talk to me, didn’t he?” She cringed. Hopping you could what… charm the answers out of me?” She wrinkled her nose.

He stretched nonchalantly. “I guess I have a trustable face.”

***

Her back was rigid and the sunlight streamed out from behind her as Jack still lay in her shadow. He had screwed up. She was the most tense person he's ever met, and he hung around the Tooth Fairy all the time. Jack could tell that he just made her more uncomfortable, if there was nothing he could do to get her to relax, he was going to get nowhere looking for answers. North had asked him to talk to this girl because he still didn’t trust her? Because Halloween was a “Misunderstood Holliday”? Was that really what all this was about?

“Hey, don’t be mad at the big guy.” There was a 99% chance that his presence was only making things worse but he kept talking anyway. “He’s just worried about you and he thinks you know something about Pitch.” Her dark hair swayed in the breeze but she remained motionless. His confidence wavered and he sat up to look at her face. “He thinks you know something about what Pitch is planning.” Jack pressed, his voice pleading. “Is he right? If he’s right-”

“No.” Her jaw was tight and her right eye glinted icily in the new Sunlight. She turned, fixing him in her gaze. “No one ever talks to me, how would I know what Pitch is planning.”

The question was clearly rhetorical. Jack relaxed slightly.

“You know I heard he was actually responsible for a bunch of deaths a couple years ago.” He said solemnly as he leaned back, crossing his arms above his head again. “So we’re just worried about what he’s doing, you know? Fear can make people do crazy things...”

“Really.” Hazel hugged her legs, resting her chin on her knees as she gazed at the newly risen Sun.

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“Alright, little Shadow Princess.” He broke a crooked grin and backed up. “Let’s see what the man in the Moon fixed you up with.”

Hazel jumped excitedly. “Okay!” She focused, closing out the world. She pictured the space next to her friend, seeing the mist haze over her vision as she melted out of reality, reforming beside Pitch.

“He-hey! That’s pretty good, he chuckled.” She wobbled and blinked the mist from her eyes and he wrapped his arm around her waist. She grinned despite the dark coolness that radiated from him. For all she knew, she gave off the same thing, maybe it was a spirit thing. That’s what he called them, anyway, spirits.

“I still wish I could fly,” She mused, “But it is a lot faster.” She broke free of his arms and beamed, “Hey, watch this.” She rubbed her fingers together, creating a small friction that heated up into a warm golden light. Pitch frowned.

“That’s- that’s something.” But hey show me the leaf trick again.

Hazel obliged, picking up some leaves, concentration angling her thoughts. It was a dark little squirrel this time that stretched to life and chittered softly. “I- They don’t stay alive for long. I mean I have to concentrate to keep them...” She paused, her expression turning grim. “And they always… go away after Halloween.”

“How interesting.” Pitch leaned down to peer into Hazel’s cupped hand. The little animal stared him down, its little gaze holding his firmly.

Hazel’s shoulders sagged, “Yeah, I just wish I knew why .”

With a change of thought, her gaze turned inquisitively on her new friend. “Why nightmares?” she looked up at him and let the squirrel scurry to the ground to investigate its new surroundings, “Such a morbid duty for such a kind person.”

If Pitch was startled by her comment, he didn’t show it. “Who told you.” It more of an accusation than a question.

Hazel smiled in return. “No need to be upset, but my friend, your name does get thrown around quite a lot by the others.” Pitch’s face twisted into an unpleasant expression.

“You’ve been talking to the others.” He said flatly.

“No, they pick up information and bring it back to me.” They both looked at the little squirrel sniffing the air. She closed the distance and hugged him tightly, barely managing to throw her arms around his neck, he towered above her so. “Don’t worry, they don’t like me much either.”

Chapter Text

Another Halloween. The crisp autumn air inside Hazel’s home matched the outside world and she tried to take comfort in her responsibilities though it was always a melancholy time of year. She hung another basket of acorns on a branch, trying to distract herself in the activity. The rustling in the bushes came in response and Hazel let the squirrels and chipmunks fight over the last basket, always extra hungry this time of year. She knew it was getting late, and she let her feet steer her out of the clearing, the trees pulling back their branches for her to pass.

The air outside matched the air inside and Hazel took comfort in the familiarity of it. The short winter months were fast approaching and the Sun had already begun its evening descent. She stopped her hike by a glassy faced pond. There was no particular reason she liked to spend these particular hours here instead of in her own clearing. She supposed it was to keep this particular part of her life distinct and separated. There would be fewer bad memories in her own sanctuary.

Although Hazel’s work wasn’t exactly seasonal, this night seemed to crackle with her own energy, a feeling which came to her at no other time than this. With barely a nudge from her, the magic she had been given burst from her and she became it. Her spirit was free and she was everywhere at once. The birds squawked overhead and lifted from the trees as the curtain of light pulled back to reveal the star-freckled face of the nighttime sky. The moon was full and hung high in the sky, gazing down at her blankly as she worked. She spread across the globe, sending birds to the sky and to the ground. She gently shook leaves from trees and sent small things scurrying in the underbrush. She felt the tension increase as the people trickled into the streets. Her wind tugged at their hair and excitement propelled them on into the night with whoops and laughter as candy and scary stories were exchanged. As the hours began to grow longer Hazel let her lights infect the deep forests enough for one or two to be caught out of the corner of the eye. Enough to appear like a stray firefly or two but elusive enough to leave question in the hearts of those who caught sight of them. She touched the waters, leaving ripples in the still ponds even where there was no wind. She rustled nearby bushes to send laughing couples jumping into each other’s arms and gently opened the doors of crude fairy houses made by little hands. She felt herself fading as the hours slipped by and she let herself retreat back to her own little forest. She gazed at the water of the pond and sighed resignedly as she watched the ice creep over its surface.

“Well,” She regained her composure before turning to face him, his words making her feel naked and invaded. “That was something.”

“Hi, Jack.”

“Is that- Do you do that every year?” He balanced himself on the edge of his staff and considered her evenly.

“You really shouldn’t be here.” Dread sat in the pit of her stomach like a rock. “It’s almost dawn.”

“So? It’s not like immortal spirits have bedtimes,” He grinned, entirely missing the sharp edge to her voice as he took a breath to say something else.

Hazel huffed, cutting him off, “Sometimes I forget that, even though I know so much about you, the guardians seem to have neglected any knowledge of me.” She turned away from him. As if on cue, the flutter of wings and scurry of underbrush filled the clearing and they surrounded her. She stuffed down her resentment, focusing on her surroundings. Black forms of all shapes came to her and she reached to them, stroking their backs and lifting scrambling bodies. Dark little squirrels chattered to her murmuring words of excitement and farewells. She had named them all and would again. Hazel bid each farewell as they nuzzled their heads into the crooks of her arms and neck. The birds sang a last erie farewell as the Sun peaked over the horizon. She felt the collective lift as dozens of bodies leaped from her arms to meet the light. Where the Sun hit them they turned to beams of white and were carried up into the sky as silent as the tears that Hazel shed. They rolled down her cheeks and fell frozen against her lap. Startled, she looked up, remembering Jack. He stood there uncomfortably, his eyes flickering from the sky to Hazel and back again. She wiped her tears from her face hastily rose to her feet. “You wouldn’t have come unless you wanted something. Is it a lack of seniority that means you have to go and talk to the crazy girl?”

As if suddenly remembering his purpose, Jack started. “Yeah I actually came to apologize but,” He scratched his head uncomfortably. “I think I just made it a lot worse. A-are you okay?”

“Yes, we’re fine.” She waved her hand and pulled her cloak tighter around her body against the wind and his scrutinizing gaze.

“You know, I was talking to Sandy-well I say talking.” He shifted and leaned against his staff again. “But he had some interesting things to say about nightmares.”

Hazel tensed. “And?”

“Lighten up! And nothing, really.” He shrugged. “We were just talking about nightmares in general. Forget I mentioned it.”

Hazel’s back prickled and she knew he was there. Jack seemed to sense something too but she wasn’t sure he knew what it was. Not many had spent as much time with Pitch as she had.

“Yeah okay anyway you should really get going.” Her feet felt frozen to the ground and she tugged on her cloak.

His brow furrowed and his hair caught the light of the rising Moon. “Are you sure you want to be alone after… that?” His eyes flickered to the sky.

“I-it happens every year it’s no big deal I’ve been alone after every other time it’s really fine.” She cringed at how truthfully pathetic her words sounded.

“I don’t think-”

“No really,” She forced her feet to move. “I just want to rest and I’m sure you have much better things to do than babysit me.” She pushed him away from the pond and he floated up and out of her reach, clearly not a fan of being pushed.

“Fine, I’m going, sorry to have bothered you.” He pushed off of his staff stiffly and disappeared into the sky. Hazel wished she could have gone with him.

“Jack Frost?” Pitch spat. “ Really?

“Don’t you have better things to do than spy on me?” Her words came out much more meekly than intended.

“I wouldn’t have to keep tabs on you if you would still visit me.”

Hazel shuddered at the thought but stayed silent.

“Oh you’re not still mad about last time? I’m sorry .” He hissed the word as he closed the distance. “Forgive me?” He pouted.

“You can’t keep this up.” Hazel shrugged him off defiantly. “Just give up, I don’t want to be a part of your nasty little scheme.”

“It’s fine, you don’t have to get it. We can start over when they’re all dead and then-”

“Just stop. ” She covered her ears and turned away. “You’re crazy .”

“So are you my darling.” He spat. “So as soon as you think you have a shot with Mr. Perfect you’re too good for me?”

“Wh- this isn’t about Jack.”

“And yet you knew who I was talking about.”

She threw up her hands in desperation. “Pitch, please .” She whirled to face him. “It’s been so long, can’t you let this go?”

He caught her wrists and held them against his chest, locking his eyes onto hers. “Let you go? I love you.”

She hated this. She hated him. She hated that this was her only friend. This was all she had. He was absolutely toxic and she knew it but it was fine, everything was fine. She could do this, she could manage him. As long as he stayed calm she could manage him. He wasn’t angry and she was fine, it had always been the two of them and a voice deep down inside her whispered that it always would be.

Chapter Text

“North, she knows something.” Jack leaned forward on the couch. “What if-”

“Man in Moon would not have made her guardian if she was working with Pitch.”

“But what if when it comes down to it she picks the wrong side?”

“Do you have proof?” North leaned back and sipped his cocoa, snapping his fingers for more cookies. “Jack you know I look at you as equal, but you seem upset.” He leaned forward and attempted a conspiratorial whisper which was more like a quiet bellowing. “You see Pitch?”

“No,” Jack admitted. “But Sandy thinks something’s off with her too. He said it’s like the nightmares chase her and that’s why she doesn’t sleep.”

“She does not sleep?” North tilted his head, finding the conversation newly interesting at the mention of the Sandman.

“Not according to Sandy.” Jack crossed his arms.

“Well.” North chewed on a cookie as his gears turned. “Spirits do not need sleep.” He waved his hand. “This is not unnatural, maybe she does not like sleep?” He shrugged.

“North, I know you like her, but there’s something wrong.”

“And you seem to not like her, Jack.” The burly man fixed Jack with a stern gaze. “Guardians need to respect guardians.”
“Is she even a guardian? She doesn’t seem to think so.” Jack clenched his fists, this was going nowhere. “What did she even say to you to make you trust her so much?” He surged to his feet and stormed out. North leaned back in his overstuffed armchair and took another sip of coca. This news had in fact interested him. He took Jack seriously but North had found him to be slightly impulsive and ignorant, he would drop it in a little while. In the meantime maybe a meeting with Sandman was in order. Hazel was even younger than Jack and her behavior was strange. North stroked his beard. The girl wasn’t crazy but it seemed she might be well on her way.

 

Chapter Text

The water licked at her feet and made her smile. The water was ice cold but it didn’t bother her now. The ocean itself was a mystery and it was comforting to know there would always be more questions. There would always be something else to distract her. It made her feel small and insignificant and she wished she could stay that way. The Moon mocked her silently. She wiggled her toes in the sand and rolled her shoulders. She settled into the fine grains and watched the golden tendrils of the Sandman’s dust glitter across the sky, reflecting in the faceted water. To let herself sleep would be so easy.

***

“... and you can make sure no one finds this place this way.” He said after she they had finished. “Except you and me and your little critter friends of course.” Her tears were freshly dried and the scratches on her arms were already beginning to heal. She had strayed too far into the Ireland that day and the leprechauns had taken it personally, she supposed. They had lead her into the bushes with curious sounds and when she had ventured to investigate they had pushed her down into a bramble patch, calling her nasty names and threatening her as best as one immortal can threaten another. She had told Pitch and he had helped her conceal her clearing so that she could be left alone there without fear of being found should anyone try to harass her in her home. “I- I don’t know how to thank you.” She breathed. His glittering gaze flickered to her. “Well,” He pressed his hand to the small of her back and leaned closer, pushing a shiver down her spine. “It was nothing, really.” And then he kissed her for the first time. It was gentle and Hazel’s pulse quickened but she didn’t pull away. He stepped into the kiss and held her tight against him, unwilling to let her go now that he had her. When it had lasted a few seconds too long Hazel pulled away, blushing. He slackened, but still held her waist. He was so kind to her and he was all she had. She found out the next day that the Ireland sanctuary had been destroyed in a freak accident. Word had said that one of the leprechauns had become paranoid and inconsolably afraid of his own shadow and had abandoned his job regulating the liquid gold. Several were severely burned and there were two casualties.

Chapter Text

Hazel blinked in the light as she entered the Tooth Palace for the first time, her feet brushing softly against the multicolored tiles. Her birds' description of the place wasn't even close. It was full of landings and terraces that made her head swim. It would be hard to navigate for anyone who couldn't fly. She absorbed every detail she could with wide eyes and transferred them to the little journal. Everything from the bright colors and shapes to an estimation of the number of fairies that flitted around the palace was recorded and Hazel found herself rather impressed with it all. 

“We are over here.” North called to her from the group that had gathered in the center of the sparkling balcony. She was startled to hear his voice as the magnificent structure had entirely taken her attention. The pit in her stomach grew when she saw the Guardians across from her, already gathered and waiting. The rest turned their gazes toward her with poorly-concealed suspicion but she tried to brush them off. She knew they had been talking about her. She became more and more sure she was about to walk into a trap as she joined the circle in between North and the Easter Bunny, the latter making a show of shuffling away from her.

“Hello, friends, what is this about?” Her voice was stiff and she tried to sound calm but she knew it wasn't working, the alarm in her throat felt hot and she couldn't swallow it.

“New evidence of Pitch’s activity has been brought to attention.” North grunted. “I turn it over to you, Tooth Fairy.”

She fidgeted uncomfortably under the collective stare. “I believe his nightmares have been kidnapping my fairies again as several have gone missing while out on duty.” She tried to keep her gaze from meeting Hazel’s but failed. Her stomach rolled uncomfortably.

“So what ‘ere we goin’ to do about it?” Bunny asked irritably. “Pitch has been doin’ things for years but we still don’t even know ‘ere he is.”

“Well whatever we do we have to find the fairies!” Toothiana was getting more and more antsy by the minute and there was a general mutter around the eavesdropping babyteeth.

She felt the tensions rising and she clenched her toes inside her slippers.

“I know how you can find him.” It was nearly a whisper but the gathering fell silent as if they’d been waiting for it.

Her eyes flickered around the circle before she spoke. North looked down at her, apprehensive, Jack’s shoulders sagged and he looked like he’d been slapped. Toothiana had a horrified expression while Bunnymund just looked accusatory when her eyes met Sandman’s he just looked at her coolly.

“Well I do have research on him it’s not like he never leaves the nightmare realm… I do hear about him.”

She relaxed as she practically felt the collective outtake of breath.

“So tell us what you know, sheila.” The bunny’s voice was softer when he spoke to her. Somewhere deep inside her she knew she wouldn’t be able to keep it from them forever. Maybe if she wished it hard enough, it wouldn’t be true.

Chapter Text

“Why do you care about these people?” He tried to keep the sneer out of his voice.

Her eyes lit up. “Pitch, I used to live here.” She turned her eyes back to the streets as the little town bustled about. “I used to be one of them…” Her feet dangled over the edge of the clock tower and her breathe caught in her throat when she saw them. They walked side by side swinging a little boy between them as he hung off their arms. She willed the mist take her to them and she walked beside her father as the sunshine spilled down on them. This is how it was always meant to be. She reached to take his free hand just as he pulled it away in a laugh. She snatched her hand away as it passed right through his. Her little brother let out a delighted shriek as their parents swung him high over a puddle. They were so happy. They were so together. She watched them go and tried not to cry.

“What wretched people, look at how disgustingly happy they are.” Pitch hugged her to his side as he watched her family go. “They lost their daughter and they’re going out for what, ice cream?”

Hazel dried her eyes. “No, it’s good they’re happy, I’ve been gone for five years. There’s no reason they should still be upset for me.” She said it but it didn’t make her feel any better.

“Let’s go.” Pitch pulled her away but her feet didn’t move. “Hey, I said let’s go!” He pulled harder on her arm but it turned to smoke in his hand. Hazel sat alone in her clearing and let herself sink into the crackling leaves. She wondered if she ever jumped in piles like this with her family as she cradled the little box of teeth in her fingers.

“What was that!?” Pitch stormed toward her, his eyes flashing.

“Wha-?” He grabbed her arm and dragged her to her feet.

“You care about them more than you care about me, don’t you!?” He was still yelling and Hazel felt her heart pound against her ribs.

“Pitch I-” Confusion and hurt began to mix with fear in the pit of her stomach.

“You knew I didn’t want you to get those teeth and you did anyway!” He squeezed her arm harder and she bit her lip.

“Pitch, I needed to know-”

“You don’t need them. They’re done with you. I was going to let you have your fun because then you’d see them and realize how much you hate them for moving on and then we could move on.” He dropped her and she stumbled. “But you didn’t.”

She started crying pitifully. Why was he being like this? How did he get so angry?

“You’d go back, if you could.” He hissed. “You would leave me for that disgusting family that abandoned you.”

“They didn’t abandon me. The Man in the Moon took me from them!”

“How do you know that you didn’t want to go.”

“Because I remember .” The tears were streaming down her face. “I love them and they loved me. I may not remember how I became a guardian but I remember being with them when I was young. We were so happy."

His demeanor turned pleading, “And you’re not happy here? With me?” It took her too long to answer and his expression hardened. “Fine. No matter.” He turned to go. “You’ll figure it out. I’m all you have now, you know.” And he was gone.

She cried for a long time before finally curling up and falling asleep in the leaves. That night she was plagued by her first nightmare.

She had seen what had happened. He had shown her. They were all gone. The entire town. They had all gone mad and killed each other. Everyone she had ever known was dead.

She knew it had happened, but it was still worse than she could have imagined. Even from afar she could see how death hung over the buildings. The flies had come strangely fast and she gagged. She covered her nose with her sleeve and forced herself to keep moving. She finally found them in their garage with the car still running and the exhaust still pouring out. Their tear-streaked faces looked peaceful, her parents holding hands and her mother still with one lifeless arm wrapped around the still form of her little brother.

Chapter Text

“But if I tell you where you can find him, I will not go with you.”

“You can stay in workshop.” North dismissed the condition immediately.

She paused, biting her lip. “And it will only work this one time, you have to understand that once he knows you know, he will not go there again and he’ll be harder to find.” He would only fall for it once.

“Yea, so spit it out.” Bunny tapped his foot impatiently.

“He likes to visit his daughter’s shrine during the full moon-- I believe.” She added hurriedly. He’s been keeping it in a cave somewhere off the coast of Hawaii... I believe.”

“That’s a lot of not sure, sheila.”

“Wait who’s his daughter?” Jack cut into Bunny’s complaint.

“Mother Nature.” North was eyeing Hazel warily. “How did you come by this knowledge?”

Hazel froze. Why did she have to say anything about the daughter, why couldn’t she have just said the cave part? There was too much to avoid talking about it was so hard to keep track of it all.

“The same way I know everything else.” She said finally, thoroughly exasperated. “I find it out. My friends tell me. They told me he went to the cave all the time and eventually I figured it out.” Panic began to rise in her throat again but she bit it back. “It doesn't matter, the point is that I just gave you very valuable information and you are all still looking at me like I'm on trial.”

This finally broke their gazes from her as they turned to discuss this new information.

“We still have five days before the next full moon.” The Tooth Fairy wrung her hands and turned to her friends.

“What are we even going to do if we find him?” Jack had defeated Pitch once but even he seemed unsure about the scheme.

North pounded his fist into his hand. “We will demand baby tooth fairies and answers about what Pitch is planning.”

Hazel’s stomach rolled, the guardians had been fighting Pitch since before she was even born, let alone made into a guardian, and they were still just chasing their own shadows around in circles. She understood the gist of what had happened when Pitch gained power before but it would be nothing compared to this. There was no reason he would bother with a dark age of man when he could start the golden age of his nightmares. She had seen what he could do, and it was only making him stronger. Not just kids had bad dreams The stories of the suicide town, the increase in murders and serial killers. Now he was just pushing at the people who already stood on the edge, watching them fall as they took out those around him. He was getting away with it too, these “guardians of childhood” were sitting here, oblivious. They just didn’t notice because the kids hadn’t stopped believing, they had just started believing other things too. Lock your windows at night or something might get you while you wait for the Easter Bunny.

“We should all go home.” North grunted. “We will meet at North Pole in four days and leave for this cave on fifth.”

Chapter Text

“I just wonder what I was like before I was… me.” Her head rested lightly on his chest as they lay in the grass.

“But it doesn’t matter who you were before because now you are you.” She could hear the grin in his voice.

“What if I had a family, though?” Hazel felt Pitch tug at her curls as her gaze rested on the stars above. “I haven’t been like this for very long.” She mused. “Only four years if I’ve been keeping track right.”

The night was dark and moonless. Lit only by the stars.

“Hazel.” She turned to look at him, her hair slipping from his fingers. His eyes glinted golden even in the darkness as they remained on the sky, not meeting hers. “Promise me you won’t get caught up in all this past-self shit.”

“But-”

“No,” He met her gaze. “It’s never worth it.” She was taken aback by the look in his eyes, her curiosity piqued.

“Why?” She rolled off his chest and onto her elbows, holding him with her stare. “Who did you used to be?”

He broke her gaze and returned to the sky. “Everyone you know will die and leave you behind, you know that, right?”

“Pitch.” Hazel leaned forward and kissed his cheek. “You can tell me.” She smiled mischievously, “You know I’ll get it out of you sooner or later.”

“I was a general.” His voice was quiet and he still didn’t meet her gaze. Hazel cocked her head to the side, letting her hair spill over her shoulder. “I spent my life guarding the fearlings in a far away prison. That is until they liberated me.” She watched him, silently urging him to go on. “My daughter didn’t understand, she was so young. We both changed but went in different directions and now I don’t hear from her.” He sighed. “She became like everyone else, she doesn’t understand me. She doesn’t understand what we stand for.” He pulled her down next to him and she lay her head on his shoulder.

"Just promise me you won't let anything get in the way of the future." She watched the stars with him until day broke over the horizon and he was forced to leave her.

Our future.

Chapter Text

She gnawed on a gingerbread man and closed her eyes against the flashing lights and bright colors. She’d been there for only an hour and the North Pole was already starting to give her a headache. Eating felt nice, though. She didn’t often bother but it was comforting. The milieu of the room was grim despite the cheerful colors and warmth. Bunny tapped his feet by the fire and even Sandy was wide awake.

“It is probably time to go.” North lumbered into the room, gripping his sabers tightly. “Hazel will stay here-” Bunny snorted and North glared at him. “And hold down fort while we go see Pitch.” He cracked his knuckles loudly.

The other Guardians shuffled to their feet and Hazel was met with a backward glance from each as they exited the room, Tooth muttering anxiously to her fairies. The silence that followed their leave was eerie and unbroken aside from the crackle of the fire.

Only a few minutes after their departure, an elf jingled into the room holding another plate of cookies and Hazel smiled. “Thank you.”

The elf grinned and ran out blushing, unused to such praise. Hazel forced herself to her feet and walked out into the balcony overlooking the workshop. It was comforting to be around so many happy living things and she was glad she had asked to stay here instead of at home. She felt the pit in her stomach grow as she thought about returning to the clearing. She rested her elbows on the balcony banister and watched the yetis work on the toys. She couldn’t stay here forever, she’d have to go back eventually, and Pitch would be waiting for her. Maybe she could avoid him until he cooled off. She clenched her jaw. They would have found him by now. He would know that she had told them. She let the tears fall because it was easier than trying to stop. She was so pathetic, crying by herself in someone else's home. Even if there was no one to see her but elves and yetis anyway.

What if he told them about her? They’d be questioning him, he’d have plenty of opportunity to talk if they managed to catch him. They already suspected her, there was no reason that they wouldn’t believe him. It wasn’t that she hadn’t thought of the possibility before, but that it had seemed more like a possibility and less like a probability.

She should have kept her mouth shut, there was no way they could actually help her, help everyone else.

They were gone for longer than they should have been. It was several hours later and Hazel found herself trying to imagine the confrontation. North would have barged in and accused Pitch of planning something as was his nature, and Pitch would have been furious first at them, then at her. He’d yell something snappy back at them and the guardians would fight him, she guessed. That was more or less how it went when they fought him last time. Finding her imagination on the topic less than comforting she tried to enjoy her surroundings which had been growing on her of late. The yetis were struggling to get the paint color right and their exasperation was almost comical. Everything was so cheerful and bright. There was hardly a shadow in the entire workshop.

When the guardians did return it was a quiet triumph. They must have slipped back in without much of a commotion because they found Hazel tucked into an overstuffed armchair in the room they had left her. She had snuggled into a heap of blankets and was halfway through an old Russian Christmas classic. They were almost entirely unscratched but their expressions were weary. The atmosphere in the room was heavy as one by one they slumped into chairs and couches around her. Hazel dared not speak as they settled in without a word.

North smiled warmly and addressed the room. “I’ll get hot chocolates, yes?”

There was a murmur of agreement from the room as Bunny rolled his neck and Jack stretched out and threw an arm over his eyes. Tooth’s fairies and the crackle of the fire were the only sounds in the room and Hazel avoided Sandman’s eyes because she knew they were still sitting on her accusingly. There was no mistaking the tension in the room and no one looked at Hazel.

“How did it… go?” She offered quietly. No one met her eyes.

“Good.” Jack’s arm still covered his eyes but his knee bounced as North reentered with a platter of cheery mugs.

“We got few answers from Pitch before he disappeared.” North said gruffly. The rest of the room went still. North handed her one of the mugs with a warm Christmas scene before passing out the rest of the hot chocolate. The fire snapped happily and Hazel sat forward in her chair. Her fingers tightened around the mug and she breathed in the steam.

“So what did he say? Did you get the fairies back?”

“Yes.” Tooth said stiffly, casting a glance at North. Hazel tensed and sipped the cocoa, resting her elbows on her knees. It was thick and creamy and it sent a flood of warmth through her that chased away the cold she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. She sipped gratefully it while listening to Tooth speak.

“When we found him, he was crouched in the cave just like you said he would be.” Tooth was speaking so slowly and eyed Hazel the whole time. “And we saw him, and saw the entrance to his caves and so first we made a plan, of course,”

The story was getting dragged out and Hazel couldn't understand why they'd make her wait like this. She would have told her to get to the point if she had cared. The cup slipped from her hands and spilled all over the carpet. Casting a dark frothy stain on the rich fabric. Toothiana stopped and Jack leaned forward in anticipation of what would come next. Hazel looked down at the cup and blinked slowly.

“There she goes.” Someone said.

The ground was getting really close really fast and then nothing but stillness.

Chapter Text

The fire was low when she came to. The room was darker and seemed abandoned besides Hazel. The blanket was still wrapped around her shoulders and her mug lay empty on the ground. She shook the blanket off and stood as the fire began to die. The shadows flickered on the walls and her heart fluttered.

“Hello?” Her vision was unfocused and her head felt foggy.

“North?” She stumbled and caught herself on the small coffee table. “Is there anyone here?”

The air turned still and the fire snuffed out, taking her breath with it. Alarm rose in her stomach as her limbs turned heavy and her voice stuck in her throat. She knew where she was.

“You were always so beautiful when you were scared.” Pitch purred from the couch across from her. “I almost forgot how much I missed seeing that lip quiver.” He spat, his mocking tone like acid. The fire reignited but remained low, only served to cast dark shadows flickering in every corner. He stared into it, his golden eyes the only thing catching the light. “You’re quite pathetic, you know. I gave you everything I had, everything you have .” Her feet were still rooted to the spot, the coldness in her limbs keeping her paralyzed.

“Yet you decide to cast me away, stab me in the back, gallivant off with our enemies. I let you stay in that forest and keep all your little pets. I gave you space, let you be independent. All I did was give. All I’ve ever done was give and all you’ve ever done was take. I just wanted was your love and acceptance.” He stood and looked at her. “You’ve run.” He closed the distance. “You’ve hidden.” He breathed in her face and she stood there like a rock, eyes wide. “And you’ve lied .” She could only see the outline of his face and the gleam of his eyes. “And my dear, I’m tired of giving.” He dug his fingers into her back and he crashed his mouth into hers. Her body went stiff but she couldn’t move. She couldn’t run. She couldn’t disappear. The fog wouldn’t come to get her. It wouldn’t come to save her here. She hung limp in his arms and they fell back onto the couch. “You could stay here forever, once everyone’s gone. Where you can't run from me.” He bit her neck and smiled against her cheek. “There will be no need for your silly holiday once the people are gone.” His hands traveled up her skirts and his fingers scratched at her thigh. “And then you won’t have anything to wake you up.” The weight of him made it hard to breathe and she gasped for air. She felt her muscles contract. He tugged at her sleeves and planted his mouth along her collarbone but it was too late.

She was waking up, she could feel it. Hazel wrapped her fingers around Pitch’s arm and dug her nails into his flesh. He was losing control and they both knew it. He kissed her again but she turned, scrunching her face against his. He recoiled and let go of her. Instead lying limp, all ambition to hurt her gone, Pitch buried his face in her hair and wept, his cheek wet against her neck. “Why did you do it. Why did you tell them. I- I thought I could trust you.”

Light assaulted her eyes as they sprang open and her body convulsed as she wretched onto the carpet. She was soaked and her hair stuck matted to her face with water, tears, and vomit. Bunny held a dripping bucket in one paw and shocked faces stared down at her. She felt the moisture on her face start to freeze and she blearily met Jack’s gaze.

“Sorry,” he breathed, setting her down onto a clean swatch of carpet.

“What did you see?” Toothiana asked, dragging everyone’s gazes to Sandman. His face was pale and he had sat down against the wall. He caught Hazel’s gaze and he shook his head silently in response.

Chapter Text

“We are very sorry, Hazel.” North stared at the ground. “We did not understand that you could get hurt this way.”
“Oh, if we had known he was powerful enough to do anything, we never would have tried anything like that.” Tooth wrung her hands and looked close to tears.

“I-I don’t understand.” Hazel had been returned to an armchair and huddled there in a pile of blankets.

North sighed, “We met Pitch in cave and he was upset you told us where to find him. We retrieved fairies, Tooth and Jack went down after them while Pitch was distracted. We demanded answers, but when we saw how angry Pitch was about you... guardians and I got worried you knew more than we thought.” He deflated a little in his seat, the shame showing on his face as clear as Christmas lights. “We knocked you out with sleeping powder for children and Sandy followed you into your dream to watch you talk to Pitch. We thought we could get answers this way.”

Hazel turned a horrified glance at Sandman, who stared steadily at the ground.

“You fell from chair. Jack caught you. When we saw you toss and turn in sleep, we did best to wake you.”

She felt the frigid water drip down her neck.

“What happened?” Jack’s voice had an edge to it, like a child angry at being left out of a grown-up conversation. His sweatshirt was stained and gross but he hadn't seemed to notice. “In there, what kind of nightmare makes you shake like that?”

Hazel found her own gaze falling to the floor. She wasn’t going to say it, especially when Sandman would tell everyone what he’d seen anyway.

“Did something happen?” Jack leaned back on his heels from his position on the floor next to Hazel, his gaze flitted from her to Sandy. “Did Pitch do something?”

“Jack-” Toothiana pleaded softly.

“No. Stop. What did he do?” His gaze settled on Hazel and the temperature started dropping.

“No.” Hazel finally answered, meeting his gaze. “I’m okay.” She said, trying to insert as much assurity into her voice as she could.

 

Chapter Text

The guilt sat in his stomach like a lump of snow and Jack clenched his fists. He hadn't even noticed his clothes were covered in puke until Tooth had gently told him to go wash them. By the looks of it, Hazel had taken a full on bath since he saw her last. She sat on the edge of a patch of light from a window. The occasional gust of wind blew into her face, throwing her dark hair back into the patch of warmth where the shards of ice glinted.

He sat down next to her, painfully aware that the last time they had sat alone, he had also made and ass of himself.

“It’s really pretty out here at night.”

“Yes.”

“You don’t get cold, do you?”

“No, but I miss it sometimes.” She stared out into the starless night. “Makes it harder to appreciate the warmth, I suppose.”

He stretched out his legs in front of him. “That’s profound.” He paused, but she seemed to have no interest in answering. “I’m sorry for what happened.”

“Why do you always come and talk to me when you need to apologize.”

It wasn’t a question, but Jack answered it anyway. “Because it’s always my fault.”

She turned to look at him. Fixing him with gleaming eyes.

He broke her gaze and looked at the swirling flakes. “It was my idea.” He threw a ball of snow into the darkness. “How was I supposed to know he’d gotten so strong?” She remained silent next to him. “You have to believe me, Hazel, I didn’t know.” He blinked snow out of his eyes and clenched his jaw, speaking so quietly he was barely audible over the wind. “You should have said something. We could have helped you, don’t you get it? Why didn’t you tell me?”

She stayed quiet a long time before turning to look at him. “Take me flying.”

“What?”

“Flying, you can fly can’t you?”

“Yeah?”

“Okay, great, just don’t drop me.”

Chapter Text

She stood up and pulled him to his feet. Hazel wanted to be as far away from the workshop and that room as she could. She had a rock in her stomach and wanted to get away from it, to ignore it and hope that it would go away. She couldn't sit here and listen to him talk about something he knew nothing about. She knew that running away from her problems wouldn’t solve them but it sure as hell felt good to try.

She placed a hand tentatively on his shoulder and he wrapped his fingers around her arm. He kicked off the ground, his feet tugging him upward into the sky. He looked down at her, the wind tousling his hair into a mass of silver and she could make out his concerned expression even though the darkness.

“Are you sure you don’t want to stay and talk or something?” Hazel was already straining on tiptoes under his grasp. She could still feel Pitch’s crushing weight on top of her and she ached for freedom, this seemed to be the best way to satisfy her craving.

“Yes.” She breathed, the ground falling out from under her as Jack pulled her into the sky.  She noted he had left his staff inside and seemed to be able to fly without it. She'd have to write that down later.

The wind supported her from beneath and Jack’s grip held her steady as they were thrown into the sky. Hazel stared, astonished down at the ground as she watched the workshop grow smaller below. She turned her gaze back upward, Jack’s silhouette outlined by the light of the Moon. She was tossed up with another gust of wind so that she hung for a moment by Jack’s side, the light shifting so that she could see his face break into a grin.

“Is this what it’s like for you?” She called to him, straining her voice over the wind even though he was only inches away.

“All the time.” He called back. Delight lit up his face and she could see him make a split second decision.

“You trust me?” His guilt and remorse seemed to have melted away in just a few moments, replaced by a thrilled mischief.

Hazel’s eyes widened, her own grin flashing in the moonlight. “Jack Frost don’t you da-”

His fingers loosened around her arm as she shot above him on a propeller of wind, her feet whisked out from under her, he let his fingers slip down to her wrist before letting go entirely. Hazel fell up into the sky and she let out a shriek, her body rushing up to meet the stars behind her. The atmosphere froze around her and time felt like it slowed, as she watched Jack’s form all but disappear into the darkness beneath her. Her breath came out in visible puffs and the wind turned her like a ragdoll, her face up to the Moon. The wind quelled as she climbed higher. It slipped away until she hung suspended in the air for what seemed like minutes before she felt herself slipping back downward. Hazel clawed at the sky in vain. She knew she couldn’t really die, at least not like a human could-she had tried- but she could get hurt and she was several miles above the ground.

Her flailing fingers hooked onto the blue fabric of Jack’s sweatshirt as he met her and joined her in her fall. She screamed at his grinning face to catch her. He smirked and waited another fraction of a second to wrap his arms around her and gather the wind under them again, slowing their pace. She dug her fingers into his back where they were pinned at her sides and buried her face in his neck. He smelled like open air and burning wood and Hazel breathed him in, grateful to have something-anything to hold onto. In the same split second the smell changed from comforting to stifling. He was too close and she couldn’t move. Hazel’s fear of falling was replaced with a new panic as she struggled to move in his arms. Her mouth was against his ear as she gasped. “Let me go.”

“What?” Jack’s arms instinctively tightened around her which only made it worse. She felt like a bird whose wings had been bound and she felt as helpless as she had in her dream.

Let go! ” She screamed in his ear, finding leverage, she pushed against his chest and broke out of his grasp.

Jack watched her fall, confusion and horror mixing on his face as he froze in midair. Hazel tumbled away from him, head over heals, the wind scrabbled at her feebly, but she was too far away from Jack now for him to have much influence. The ground was only less than a mile away now and Jack blinked and shot downward, the wind pushing him toward the ground. Only then did Hazel scream, the world spun around her and she felt completely alone in freefall. She was moving too quickly for the mist to catch her and she couldn't concentrate with the world spinning so fast. Her descent felt like hours and she couldn’t orient herself, let alone tell how far away the ground was. A cushion of air slowed her and Jack’s fingers wrapped around her ankle. Despite how much she had slowed, his grasp jerked her upward. Somewhere in the flooding thoughts Hazel was glad the outfit had come with a leotard bottom in addition to the sheer tights as she hung awkwardly from his fingers. Her hair streamed into her face for a few moments as the wind swelled under them before she landed with a thump in the snow. He sunk down a few feet away, both of them breathing heavily.

“Oh.” Her voice was soft as she lay in the snow.

“Shit.” Jack panted. “What was I thinking?” Hazel barely heard him say it to himself.

“Hazel I’m so-”

“I swear if you’re about to apologize-”

“What was I thinking? Pulling a stunt like that now-”

“You were trying to help-”

“That was helping?”

“I asked you to take me, it’s not your fault.”

“Dammit I wasn’t thinking.” He rolled onto his back away from her, sinking into the freshly fallen snow. “I’m never thinking- what if you had died or something?”

“I can’t.” She assured him a little too quickly.

He paused for a moment before dismissing her statement. “Do you want to go back inside?” hey had fallen far away from the workshop, it was barely visible over a hill of tundra.

“You know what, I’m sorry.” Hazel offered, frantic to get him to drop the whole thing. She could feel her face flushing hot despite the subzero weather. She pulled herself from the drift and climbed through the few steps of deep snow it took to close the distance, his eyes following her journey. She flopped down again next to him, a cloud of minuscule flakes being thrown up in a cloud like flour. “You’ve just been trying to do the right thing.” She gestured up toward the sky bitterly, “It’s just nothing makes sense when it comes to me, everything is upside down and even I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.” Her hand went limp in the air. “Oh God, what am I going to do, Jack?”

In response, he reached up and intertwined his cold fingers in hers, pulling her hand back down and resting it in between his chin and his collarbone. “You’re going to tell us what’s going on, and then we’ll fix it.” His voice thrummed in his throat and she could feel it hum under her hand.

The snow was comfortable underneath her, it was so deep that it sheltered them from the wind, but also left a wall between them nearly a foot high. The only breach being her own arm which now reached from her crater to his. The world around her was cold but Hazel was warmer than she had been since she had died. Maybe the could help. Maybe it would all be okay after all.

Chapter Text

Hazel sat back in the workshop, in a different room now. Another fireplace crackled in the corner and Hazel ran her fingers over the squirming stomach of a black kitten. She knew she’d regret bringing it to life come Halloween but she never seemed to be able to hold off on creating the little creatures for long, she did miss her clearing. It purred and batted at her hand with little claws.

“I know we hurt you, Hazel.” Tooth wrung her hands delicately from her perch on the couch against the wall. “But if we’re going to defeat Pitch, we need some more information. Sandy’s gaze didn’t move from the floor even as he flinched at Tooth’s words, knowing fully well how giving information had worked out for Hazel before.

“It’s-” Hazel knew it had been coming but it was still hard to say it. “I was so young.”

Jack’s knee bounced anxiously and his eyes urged her to go on. The other guardians let the silence sit heavy in the air, their eyes fixed on her aside from Sandman who drifted away and sat by the fire, his back to the group. Hazel knew he was still listening but she was glad that she didn’t have to look at him, knowing what he’d seen.

“I did not understand what I was-I mean” She swallowed, trying to piece together what she wanted to say. “I did have the instinct to do my duties but the Man in the Moon never even bothered to name me. I was… really alone.” She could see the guilt in her friends’ eyes as she spoke as the last part was partially their fault. “I wasn’t really scared, just… confused. I wandered around doing what I felt like I was meant for. Pitch found me and I- I suppose he saw my ignorance as a chance to make a real friend after being outcast for so long- I don’t know.” She forced the quiver out of her voice. “He told me about the other spirits, the guardians, the politics and who the Moon was. I thought he was the only decent spirit and you all were just bullies- I didn’t know who he really was until...” She shook her head. “The point is, he got jealous and murdered my entire hometown-the ghost town.” The words poured out of her. Everyone was silent and wide eyed. She gathered her courage. “You saw how he was.” Sandy turned to meet her eyes and she spoke firmly. “He can do damage now. We’re not talking about another dark age, we’re talking about genocide.”

“But Pitch needs fear of children to live... no?” North was the first to speak.

“He needs fear, but he could live on that of his fearlings, or the other spirits even.” She pressed on. “The Guardians specifically live on the childrens’ belief, Pitch just needs fear. If he gets rid of all the children, he might be weaker, but it’s a sacrifice he’s willing to make to leave you-us powerless.” Hazel deflated back into the arm of her chair after that last and final act of betrayal. If the guardians failed to stop him now, she would be on the losing team. The kitten, sensing the tension, held still for a few moments before getting bored and scrabbling to the floor to explore.

North leaned back into his imposing armchair, a shell-shocked expression written in the deep lines on his forehead. “How does plan work.” North’s voice was flat and resigned.

“He just drives them all to kill each other or themselves...” Jack’s head fell to his hands. When he looked up again his expression was hard.

Hazel nodded solemnly. “One by one if he has to.”

“How did this happen?” Bunny’s ears drooped.

“He said kids were a waste of his time.” Hazel’s mouth twitched. “He’s been drawing off the fears of everyone, I guess adults get scared too.” She bit her lip. “Just of different things.”

Tooth set her jaw. “W-what do we do now?”

“I have been trying to figure that one out for a long time.”

“Why didn’t you tell us this earlier?” Jack stared at her and his accusatory look made her squirm.

She returned his question coldly. “Would you have listened to me? Would you have taken me seriously?” She hadn’t trusted them to help her either, but she left that detail out.

“We can’t help you if you don’t let us in.” Jack stared at the floor.

“Jack, she’s right, it wouldn’t have done much good.” Tooth said softly. “We didn’t even want to believe North when he told us Pitch had come back.”

Jack looked unappeased, but pacified for the time being.

Chapter Text

 

The familiar scent of dry leaves and earth made her smile. Hazel shook the fog from her limbs and stood again in her own clearing. The trees loomed over her, a friendly smoke puffed quietly from her small hut, and she could hear the tinkling sound of her brook. It felt so safe, so familiar. But she knew at any moment he could simply appear. Pitch could be watching her from the shadows and she would never know. The same could be said of anywhere but it made her skin crawl to think of him being here. Even before everyone knew where she lived, Pitch still had free reign. She shivered at the thought and the canopy pulled back to reveal the light of the rising Sun. There was the excited yipping of dogs as the resident pack caught her scent and came to greet her after such a long time away.

Hazel knelt and received their slobbery kisses gratefully, letting them sniff curiously at the squirming kitten in her arms. The forest animals weren’t as bright as her own, but they did provide comfort and a hobby to distract her. She let the small bundle of fur down, at which it sped out into the clearing and up onto an outcropping of rocks where it stood and hissed down at the watching wolves.

“Don’t chase her.” Hazel warned, and the disappointed dogs snuffled away. The other furry creatures rustled in the bushes and poked their heads out to see what all the fuss was about before returning to their own private escapades.

Hazel moved to the hut which mostly served as a library and took out all her notes on anything Pitch had ever told her. The stack of little notebooks and papers she dug out was intimidating, even though she knew they were all her own words, and Hazel wished Jack were there to keep her company. She lugged the pile to the table amongst the trees where she had first sat down with the guardians. The leaves of her trees rustled their displeasure at a visitor and Hazel whirled around, a mix of hope and dread flooding her chest. It wasn’t Jack or Pitch that greeted her but the round golden face of the Sandman.

Sandy shook his head as if he knew he wasn’t who she was expecting to see.

“Hello.” She breathed.

The little man nodded and took a seat on the stump next to her, turning his attention to the piles of books laid out in front of them.

Hazel ran her fingers over the little books and was thankful for the morning light filtering in through the leaves, brightening the clearing.

“Help yourself.” She smiled shyly at Sandy who for once seemed quite awake. He looked intently at the little books, picking them up and skimming them before putting them back on the stack. Hazel tried not to stare at him as he did this, the notebooks being the closest and most personal possessions she owned. Hazel had only brought the fifteen or so most relevant books to sort through, just the ones that pertained directly to Pitch or what she had gathered about the Man in The Moon. They sat, buried deep in her notes, for the rest of the morning and the better part of the afternoon. The sun was beginning its descent when Sandy stopped where he was and looked at her, eyebrows knit together, pointing to a line about the Man in The Moon, that read in her own writing, “... although he seems to speak to the other guardians on a semi-frequent basis, has never made contact with me.”

Hazel shrugged. “It’s true, I told you he never spoke to me. I wasn’t exaggerating.” He seemed to consider this for a few moments before a couple of wolves strayed into the clearing and sniffed at Sandy, much to the little man’s discomfort.

“Skat.” She pushed them along softly and the two panted and began a game of chase further along the glen.

Sandy returned to reading and Hazel bit her lip knowing she’d regret asking. “Is Jack okay?”

Sand looked at her, eyebrows raised, waiting for her to elaborate.

“I mean-I meant to say is he mad at me?”

The little man smiled and a little image of a brooding Jack appeared in intricate detailed golden sand.

“Oh.” She replied.

Seeing Hazel’s disappointment, Sandy had the little image of Jack stick out its bottom lip in a comical pout.

Hazel quirked a smile. “I see.”

Sandy shrugged clearly not concerned about the behavior.

“I should go talk to him.” Hazel sighed, her stomach tying itself in knots. “You can stay here if you want, see if anything here could be useful. I should be back soon.”

She materialized back in the workshop, an elf immediately running into the back of her legs. It fell backwards onto its rear, stunned. The entire workshop was abuzz with movement, yetis had pushed their colorful toys to the side and were working to polish North’s sabers and ready the sleigh with bright lights. Even the elves were helping though they were mostly offering refreshments to the working yetis.

“Hazel! What are you doing at workshop?” North smiled at her, his arms full of other sharp weapons that she had been unaware he owned. He followed her gaze to his load and pursed his lips, his snowy beard bristling. “Never know when attack may come. Must be prepared for fight.” He explained. “What can I help you with?”

“Oh, I came to see Jack.”

North shrugged. “He is not here.” He continued walking and Hazel followed him. “In fact I was under impression he was going to see you.”

“No, he seemed upset by what I said last night.”

“News upset all of us.” He said gravely before brightening. “But better we know now, knowledge is power, yes?”

Hazel smiled weakly. “Yes, I suppose so.”

“Jack is probably just having snowball fight somewhere.” North assured her.

“I’ll go see if I can find him, thank you.” Hazel smiled at North. “Send for me if there’s anything at all I can help with.”

North nodded gruffly. “I will.”

She willed herself out of the workshop and to the roofs of the little town of Burgess, figuring it as her best bet.

Ja-ack! ” The town was quiet as dusk fell. Her jaw clenched as the breeze stirred her hair and ruffled her skirt. Something felt very off.

 

Chapter Text

Where are you!? ” Jack pounded his fist against a tree in frustration, the bark crackling with ice under his touch. This is where it had been before. He didn’t know why he thought he’d be able to find Pitch so easily. There was no sign of the entrance to Pitch’s realm like there had been last time.

“Aw,” Jack whirled around, his staff clenched tightly in both hands. “Is the little boy throwing a tantrum?” Pitch leaned against a tree a few yards away, his glowing eyes fixed on a fingernail.

“Wiping everyone out?” Jack took a few steps toward the smug spirit, anger boiling under his skin. “That's your brilliant solution?” Ice crept along the grass, freezing it as it blew in the wind, forming sharp little spikes that crunched under Jack’s bare feet. Jack knew he was being reckless, but at this point, he didn’t care. Pitch was going to wipe out all the kids, their parents, everyone. If he didn’t do something more people would die.

“We could have been friends, you know. It could have been great.” Pitch mused casually, tearing his eyes away from his fingernail. “But now I think I’m just going to kill you.” He lunged and Jack jumped backwards, falling into a ring of nightmares which shoved him back towards Pitch roughly. Pitch’s fingers curled around the fabric of Jack’s hoodie and his fist connected with Jack’s jaw throwing him sideways. The trees were full of inky snarling beasts now and they encircled the two, throwing Jack back into the center when Pitch knocked him out to the edge. “What do you even think you’re doing, little boy , meddling in affairs you don’t understand.” Pitch spat. “Did you have a plan, or did you think you’d just try to take me on your own?”

Jack swiped at Pitch’s side with the butt of his staff, catching him and knocking him off balance. “Kinda.” He wheezed as he dug the end of the branch into the frozen grass with a crunch and threw a kick at Pitch’s chest, following it with a swipe of the staff which hit him across the face.

Ja-ack! ” Her shout echoed through the trees. They both stilled and looked back toward the sound. A drop of blood fell from Pitch’s torn lip and was lost in the frosted grass. Jack took a step backward toward the town and the nightmares snorted angrily at him.

“Don’t you go anywhere near her.” Pitch snarled, Jack returned his gaze to see Pitch’s fingers reach out toward him and wrap around his throat. “It’s because of you she won’t even look at me.” Jack gagged and kicked helplessly, trying to pry his fingers away.

“Pitch.” Hazel was behind him, her voice was soft and Jack felt the fingers around his throat loosen. “You don’t have to do this.” Jack slipped from Pitch’s grasp, falling to the icy ground and turning to see Hazel push through the ring of nightmares, palms up in peace.

Her eyes glinting in the fading light. “I’m sorry I told them, I was just afraid. Don’t be upset.” Pitch stepped around Jack and she opened her arms to him, letting him crumple to his knees against her small frame. “Shh, it’s okay.”

Hazel’s eyes fell on Jack’s, flicking to the sky and back again. He shook his head, horrified.

Pitch raised his head and kissed her, planting kisses along her jaw in between mumbled words. “I knew, you didn’t, mean it, I knew.”

Jack’s eyes falling on the smudges of blood his lips left on her skin.

Her eyes turned frantic and when she mouthed the word “Go.” he did, defeated, letting the wind carry him towards the North Pole. He kept his eyes on the place he knew they were for as long as he could, his stomach rolling and threatening to make him sick.

Hazel waited until Jack had disappeared into the night before she let herself dissolve in Pitch’s grasp.

N-no! ” He screamed after her, her waist disappearing from under his fingers and his lips meeting thin air where her neck had been. “You said-” His voice broke off and he beat the ground with his fist in frustration, the grass splintering under the force.

The nightmares shifted uncomfortably around their master, muttering silently to each other.

Chapter Text

Hazel reappeared outside North’s workshop and sat in the snow, waiting for Jack to catch up. It wasn’t snowing, but the wind threw up powdery fluff every now and again, nearly coating her as she waited. It was another few minutes before she caught sight of him. He saw her and skidded to a halt in the snow, his expression unreadable. Hazel stood up to meet him, he jaw already clenching angrily.

“Are you stupid? ” She shook him by the shoulders. “What were you thinking? He was going to kill you .”

Jack looked shocked as if he might be on the verge of tears as he stood before her in the snow. “If I hadn’t happened to be looking for you-”

Jack pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry.

She relaxed at the sound of regret in his voice and wrapped her arms around his shoulders tightly. “If you do that I again I swear I’ll kill you before Pitch lays a finger on you.”

He laughed into her hair. “Yeah I think I’m good.”

He pulled away from her, his expression becoming serious. “We have to stop him, now that I’ve basically told him we know his plan, he’s going to want to put it into action before we have a chance to do anything.” Jack said bitterly.

Hazel held onto his shoulders, regarding him from an arm’s length. “Is that why you went after him?”

He broke her gaze, looking down at his hand on her side. “Yeah but I think I just made it worse again.”

“Jack,” She bit her lip, unsure of whether or not she wanted to tell him. “Pitch has already started.”

He blinked at her, his hands falling from her waist and into his pockets.

She let go of his shoulders too, her own hands wrapping defensively around her stomach as she continued.

“You didn’t think that the people were fighting wars because they want to. They don’t shoot and murder each other because they want to.”

“I don’t understand.” He shook his head even though both of them knew he did understand.

“Jack,” She let out an anxious laugh that was more like a sob. “Look around you, this was the plan! It’s only been getting worse, he’s taking out innocent people using their fear against them. Jack, everyone is so scared .” She was shouting now, trying not to cry. His blue eyes were dark even under the light from the workshop windows and he looked like a ghost as the snowflakes started to fall. The longer Hazel was alive, the scarier her life seemed to get and her voice was barely audible over the light wind that tousled her hair. “A person will do anything to feel safe, Jack, even kill someone else.”

Chapter Text

They sat inside the workshop once again, though this time Hazel sat on one of the couches. She had moved to sit in the farthest corner as she had done normally but Jack caught her arm and pulled her gently down next to him as if to assure her he wasn’t upset with her. She shot him a concerned look. Definitely upset, just not with her. If the other Guardians noticed, they didn’t show any signs of it. Tooth and North faced them and the group talked urgently amongst themselves save Jack and herself, who sat quiet and motionless.

“If Pitch has put plan in action already…” North heaved out the words as if they were too heavy for him.

“We have to act-now! Right?” We can’t just sit around and let him do this?” Tooth’s feathers ruffled and she glanced anxiously around the room for agreement.

“Christmas is right around corner…”

“Forget about blinkin’ Christmas-there will be no Christmas ever if we don’t get this under control.” Bunny tapped his foot against the ground in frustration.

“But it’s been going on for so long already.” Tooth hummed.

“This isn’t just belief we’re talking about-these anklebiters are dying -and right under our noses!” His little pink nose twitched as if to emphasize his point.

Jack tensed and Hazel looked at him out of the corner of her eye. His elbow rested on his knee, his chin perched on his palm as he stared blankly the other Guardians while they argued.

“It would waste our time to work on Christmas instead of fighting Pitch.” Bunny crossed his arms, fiercely staring North down. 

“Christmas is in a week, yes?” Hazel cut into the crossfire.

North sat back and folded his arms. “Yes.”

“Well it won’t do any good to have the kids lose faith now, that will only make us weaker, no?” She set her mouth in a firm line. The word "us" finally starting to sound okay. As it was Hazel figured it would probably be best if she started cultivating her own following after all these years aloof.

“Yeah-no that makes sense.” Tooth picked up her logic. “If we’re not believed in, that only makes Pitch’s part easier.”

“So Christmas as planned?” North leaned forward.

“How many are going to be suffering while we have a merry little Christmas party, eh?” Bunny muttered.

“We’re doing best we can-” North was cut short by the frantic ringing of a bell. Everyone’s gaze drifted at once to the source of the sound. Sandy stood, frustration at being unnoticed for the past few minutes almost instantly replaced with urgency. He dropped a dizzy elf to stumble away on shaky legs, the bell on its hat drooping lopsidedly from the rumpled material where sandy had held onto it. He gestured madly to the image of a little dagger, sketched carefully in one of the leather bound notebooks from Hazel’s hollow.

“Oh.” North muttered quietly. The other guardians stared at it in silence.

Sandy glided across the room and pointed at the picture, shoving it under Hazel’s nose. She the book from The Sandman’s grasp. 

“Hazel, what do you know about that?” Tooth’s voice was lower and more urgent than Hazel had ever heard it.

“Oh-I it was so long ago, um I found that when I went to… Oh wow.” The memory came back to her. “Why, is it important?”

Chapter Text

Hazel blinked in the darkness, her eyes adjusting slowly to the gloom.

“Do… you like it?” Pitch smiled at her anxiously.

On either side of her, cliffs rose from the shadows and Hazel could make out intricate detailing on towering columns. Her eyes followed them up until they disappeared in the darkness, making it impossible to estimate how tall the chamber was. Limited lighting flickered from small torches mounted haphazardly along the walls and pillars, illuminating great staircases that receded into the gloom. The entire place gave off the feeling of a patchwork castle, connected with stalagmites, stalactites, and stairs-lots of stairs.

“This is incredible.” Hazel murmured, for lack of a better word. “It’s really quite dark.” She squinted, trying to see more than a hundred feet in front of her.

“Well I can see in the dark. The torches were mainly just for you since I don’t need them.”

“Thank you,” She smiled. “That’s very sweet.”

“And I could get more-if it’s still hard to see.”

“No, no, it’s fine.” Hazel traced the walls with her fingers, the ancient markings skimmed with a layer of dust.

“How big is this place?”

“Pretty big, there are a handful of large chambers like this one.”

He lead her down a side corridor, handing her a torch to carry. “I didn’t have time to light it all, but you should be fine.” He winked.

Hazel wrapped her fingers around the base of the handle, holding it high to illuminate their path. Little stairways and tunnels were thrown off left and right, nightmares ducking their heads back into the shadows as the two came near, snorting softly their irritation at her presence. Hazel tried to peer at them but Pitch guided her firmly down the hall.

“This first room is mainly just used as an alternate entrance. Makes it hard to find your way around, I know.” He chuckled.

“What are those?” Hazel’s eyes fell on the outlines of massive cages, suspended over more bridges and walkways. They hung menacingly with sharp edges, swaying ever so slightly in the drafty caverns.

Pitch tugged her along when she tried to slow down. “Old traps I had to use to protect myself.” He answered dismissively.

Hazel knit her brows, staring over her shoulder at the ominous things before they disappeared as she rounded the corner. Down more elaborate hallways, Pitch tugged her under a grand archway into a smaller chamber completely littered with stuff. Hazel raised her eyebrows at the sight. Everything from little broken toys to swords and coins were heaped in piles all over the floor. Hazel lifted the torch, letting the light arch over the numerous drifts of junk, the fire crackling softly and echoing around the room.

“Well?” Pitch said excitedly from behind Hazel, making her jump.

“Where did you get all this?” She asked, turning incredulous eyes on him.

Pitch shrugged, “Mostly the nightmares bring them back but I pick things up occasionally.” He sighed, staring out at it. “So much history. I’ve collected this stuff for centuries.” His face brightened. “I have something for you. Stay here.” He breezed back through the archway, leaving her in a sea of junk and dim torchlight.

Hazel turned to the prized possessions, staring forlornly at the few little broken trick-or-treating baskets. She picked up a nearly crushed orange one, the ribbon torn and mashed, trying to imagine the child that had owned it. A breeze ruffled her hair and made her skin prickle, the smell of fresh air making her realize how much she disliked the stuffy air of the cave. She set the festive orange basket down and looked for the source. Running her fingers along the wall and holding the torch carefully, Hazel inched around the haphazard piles, turning into what seemed to be an annex of the first room. It was scattered with less junk than the previous chamber and the things inside seemed centuries older. The breeze drifted by her again and she looked up to see a crevice open to the air, through which moonlight was spilling in and pooling on the ground. She held the torch up to the hole in the ceiling. The room couldn’t possibly be that close to the surface. She moved to stand in the halo of light, accidentally scuffing over a pile of loose dirt in the process. She looked down guiltily at the little mess, scuffing the pile back together with her foot. The torchlight caught on a piece of glass half-buried in the earth, and Hazel reached down to pick up the object. She wiped its facets clean, shining the limited light over it to reveal a little glass dagger.

“What did you find?”

Hazel jumped at the sound of Pitch’s voice.

She turned to face him, examining the object curiously. It was crudely crafted but still quite beautiful and it glowed under the torchlight.

“It’s rather heavy for glass.” She said thoughtfully, “Where did you get it?”

Pitch wrinkled his nose, his golden eyes glinting in the firelight. “Throw it away. Put it back where you found it.”

“What is it?” Hazel ran her fingers over the smooth edges.

“I told you to get rid of it !” Pitch grabbed her wrist violently, and Hazel dropped the blade, shock written across her face.

They both looked at the neat little slit the blade had made on her palm. Hazel gaped at it as the little wound began beading up with dark little spots that shone in the flickering light.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to do that.” Pitch mumbled sullenly.

“It-it’s okay.” Hazel held the cut firmly in a fist, surprised at the wound. It was the first time she could remember getting injured. “It’ll heal.” She pushed down the urge to ask more questions about the dagger. “W-what was the surprise you wanted to show me?”

“Oh!” Pitch’s face lit up at the chance to talk about something else, “Look at this.” He said as he drew the garment from the hand that had remained at his side. The dark material shimmered and reflected the orange of the torch and seemed to ripple like water when it moved. He pulled it up between spindly grey fingers revealing a dripping evening gown. Hazel grinned at the dress, taking in the cinched sweetheart neckline and the gentle ruffles at the hips.

“Where did you find this?” She breathed, feeling the fabric between her fingers.

“I just saw it one night, and thought of you.” He paused, taking in her reaction. “I thought you could wear it when you came down here to live with me.”

Hazel’s fingers froze on the dress and she let it slip through her fingers, looking up at him with wide eyes. He didn’t meet her gaze but instead looked down at the dress clutched in his hands.

“Pitch, I can’t-my family is up there on the surface-I couldn’t watch the glen from down here-I-”

“It’s fine. Forget I said anything.” His expression had turned hard and unmoving.

“No,” Hazel moved her un-bloodied hand to his cheek. “I would, you know I would! I just have too many obligations up there.” She nodded toward the ceiling. “I couldn’t stay here.” She stretched on tiptoes to peck him on the cheek. “I have to go now. I’ll come visit, though. You hang onto the dress and I’ll wear it the next time I come to see you.”

He nodded and swept her up into a deep kiss, her feet barely touching the floor. “I’ll hold you to it.”

***

“I never did get to wear that dress.” Hazel said blankly.

“Oi, did you never visit him?” Bunny snorted.

“Yes, well, the next night he massacred my home town so no,” She said bitterly, “I never did find the time to visit.”

Chapter Text

“Nightlight?” She rolled the word around in her mouth. “Like the little light kids leave on when they’re scared of the dark?”

“He guarded Man in Moon many many years ago.”

“It’s Guardian history.” Tooth added enthusiastically.

“When the Man in the Moon was young, Nightlight was assigned to protect him by Tsar and Tsarina.”

The Man in The Moon? Parents? An ancient guardian that protected The Man in Moon when he was a baby? None of this was making much sense to Hazel.

“Hey, how come no one ever bothered to tell me all this?” Jack feigned a look of offense, his demeanor back to normal.

“Is there a history book or Guardian handbook or something I can read about this?” Hazel’s eyes were wide, plans for a whole new set of journals flooding through her head.

“Look, Hazel, the point is, that dagger you found looks a lot like the one Nightlight made out of The Man in The Moon’s tears that he used to stab Pitch and-”

What? ” Jack’s eyebrow shot up. “So let me get this straight, The Man in The Moon was a kid, Pitch came and his bodyguard Nightlight made a dagger out of his tears to fight Pitch.”

“Yeah, the story gets a little iffy in places but crikey, shut up and listen would ya?” Bunny scratched behind his ears.

“This diamond dagger was what defeated Pitch first time and locked him down in stanky old hole in ground.” North folded his arms.

“So that’s probably why he freaked out when you found it.” Jack turned to her. “Do you remember where it is?”

Hazel nodded. “Yes-I just don’t know how I’ll get it.”

“I hate to ask, but, could you just… teleport there?” Tooth said after muttering with her little entourage of fairies.

“Pitch’s caves aren’t exactly stuck in place. I need to know exactly where I’m going or else… it just doesn’t work.”

“Snow globe might work?” North put forward.

“I don’t know, Pitch isn’t exactly a guy you can find unless he wants to be found.” Jack grimaced.

“And I think he’s done giving me second chances.” Hazel pursed her lips. “Pitch isn’t stupid and he’s not going to believe anything I say again.”

“Well we can’t just sit ‘ere and do nothing!” Bunnymund’s fur bristled.

“I don’t know if we have much of a choice for now, Bunny.” Tooth’s voice was gentle.

“I’ll ask my friends to look out for an entrance, but that could still take days.” Hazel looked up at the huge rabbit who was looking somewhere between helpless and furious.

“Good. Until then,” North put his hands on his knees and moved to stand up. “We work to make sure children believe.”

Bunny grumbled at this, “Which means-”

“Which means Christmas as planned!” North boomed hurriedly. “And we are behind schedule!”

Chapter Text

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The little bird eyed Hazel with intelligent, beady, eyes that blinked at her slowly. She pulled her fingers away so that it could stretch its wings in her palm. “Go on.” It bobbed its little head and flitted off through the trees, followed by hundreds of other little black birds of various shapes and sizes. Hazel watched them like she had seen mothers watch their children leave for their first day of school, knowing this wasn’t the last time she would have to let them go. She let herself be depressed for only a few more moments before refocusing on the task at hand. Her birds and other woodland creatures would have to find an entrance to the caves, she scratched behind the ear of a wolf that brushed up against her knees. She did love the wild ones, but they weren’t as reliable as her own and they struggled with complicated tasks.

“Good girl.” She nuzzled its coat before sending it on its way.

Now she had to do her part.

“Here kitty.” She clicked her tongue from the roof of her mouth and the little black figure appeared from inside the little cottage and trotted toward her nonchalantly. She scooped it up and faded out of the dell, reappearing cautiously in a back alley of the little town of Burgess. The town was full of kids who believed ever since the Guardians defeated Pitch the last time. This being a piece of history that Hazel actually was able to weasel out of Pitch. The original kids the guardians had befriended must have been much older by now, Hazel was pretty sure they wouldn’t believe anymore, but she knew their kids would. She emerged from the alley and scanned the little houses. It was midday, the sun had just passed its peak and the roads were still bustling with activity. The kitten squirmed in her arms and she held it close to her chest. Hazel dodged a group of children as they passed by, not liking the sensation of being passed through.

It would have been easier if she had brought one of guardians with her to introduce her, but Hazel was glad she had the chance to do it on her own. Out of all the things she had tested, Hazel had never tried to get someone to believe in her.

Early on of course, she had refrained from trying since she knew Pitch wouldn't have liked it. Later on, she simply avoided it as she found the way she craved the belief like it was some sort of drug to be off putting.

She dematerialized just before being run through by another crowd of people, appearing again on a rooftop. She balanced carefully on the peak of the slating, surveying the bustle below. The road lay directly beneath her while a little park lay up ahead with more suburban looking buildings beyond it. Hazel let the mist carry her to the park, still cautious of the people that were still active in town. A group of children played in the park and Hazel sat in the swing, waiting for nightfall when she wouldn’t have to take more than one on at a time. She picked one out in the crowd, a little boy with mousy hair, maybe eight or nine, who was babbling about stories his dad told him of seeing Santa Claus as her first target.

Hazel’s gaze softened as she caught sight of the boy snuggling into bed with his teddy bear. She felt creepy, sitting there and watching as his mom tucked him in and turned out the light. Who knew how many more times she would do this tonight, but it would all be worth it if it helped end this.

Hazel pushed the old fashioned swinging window open an inch, the little head immediately popping up from the sea of blankets. She sent a little red leaf through, making it swirl around the room before coming to land at the foot of the boys bed. Hazel bit the inside of her cheek, unsure of how she’d get the message across, especially when this close to Christmas, all he would be thinking about was Santa. She hummed softly, willing little lights to flicker to life just outside the window. The little boy threw off his covers, eyes wide, he snagged the leaf off his bedspread before scampering to the window to peer out at the lights. He pulled the window open further, and the lights danced into his room, illuminating his face and throwing shadows on the walls.

“Woah.” The boy’s eyes were like saucers as he reached to touch the lights. They twirled out of his reach and Hazel lifted the kitten onto the windowsill when the boy was distracted. It mewled and hopped down into his room. Black cats were still Halloweenish, right? She climbed in after it, sitting on the windowsill. The wind blew through the bare trees and the boy’s eyes flickered to the window. Hazel frowned when stared right through her. She puffed a piece of hair out of her face. The lights swirled to a stop in the shape of a broom. This was so tacky.

“A… broom?” The boy squinted at it, clearly confused.

Then they swirled into the shape of a hat, she stepped into the room, the boy’s eyes fixed on the lights.

“Witches.” He breathed, eyes wide.

She stepped into his line of sight, peering around into his face. “Just one, actually.”

His eyes were so wide he looked a bit like a frog. Tingles ran down Hazel’s spine and she blinked. “Can you see me?” The euphoric feeling was better than anything she had imagined and she grinned down at him.

“Please- don’t hurt me-I” Hazel’s face fell at the shaky sound of his voice.

“No, no!” She murmured. “I’m not here to hurt you.” She brushed dark curls behind her ears and bent down to look him in the eye. “...I’m friends with Santa!”

“Really!?” His face lit up instantly. “Do you know what I’m getting for Christmas?” The kitten brushed up against his leg and purred, annoyed at being ignored.

She laughed. “I'm not allowed to tell.” She paused. “But hey, could you help me out?” She kneeled down next to him so she could look him in the face. “I need kids to believe in me.” She gave him her best cheshire cat grin. “Just like you believe in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and all of them.”

“Well you’re like, a witch from Halloween. Right?” The little golden lights still illuminated his face as they floated around the room. “I’ve seen these before on Halloween.” He pointed to the little bobbing orbs. “My mom told me they were fireflies,” He paused before rushing to assure Hazel, “But I didn’t believe her.”

She laughed. “Okay, well I’m still new at this, and I need the kids to believe in me as soon as possible-”

“Oh! You should carry a broom-and you should get more lights-and-” He began to raise his voice, childlike excitement making him bounce up and down.

“Okay, okay, shh. Thank you. I’ll take that into consideration, thank you.”

Chapter Text

“Come on, come on!” North gripped the balcony and shouted down at the yetis. “It is Christmas Eve! We run out of time!”

The yetis grumbled in response as they prepared the sleigh. This is how Christmas went every year and even the last minute panic had become a sort of routine.

They had left all the extra lights on the sleigh, though upon further thought it didn’t seem like they’d be much help against Pitch if he did decide to attack. Even so, they left them be if for nothing more than a slight peace of mind. The gifts were already packed up and everything else was ready, but North was still on edge.

“Hey, everything’s going to be fine. Don’t worry about it.” Jack leaned back against the balcony railing.

North sighed. “I don’t know what to do, Jack.”

“We’ll get through it, we always do.” Jack did his best to reassure his friend even though he’d been a guardian for less than half a century.

“This is different. I worry we are out of league.” North pressed his palm to his forehead.

“Well The Man in The Moon seems to think we’re okay. He hasn’t said anything since he chose Hazel, has he?”

“No that is why I worry. Man in Moon did not warn us about Pitch and master plan.”

“He probably just knew Hazel would come around. Maybe that’s why he didn’t feel like he needed to talk to her either.” Jack shrugged.

“Where is witch?”

“She hasn’t been here?”

“No, not since last meeting.”

“I guess she’s back in the woods.” Jack frowned. “She said she’d send out scouts to look for Pitch, but that was days ago.”

“I am sure she is okay.” North waved his hand. “I have to get ready to leave tonight. No time for distractions.”

Chapter Text

“Okay wind, let’s go find us a witch.” Jack was swept up into the evening sky. The clouds in the northern hemisphere were rosy and golden even in the bitter cold and Jack flew through them, little rivulets freezing to his sweatshirt. He knit his eyebrows as the wind carried him all the way to California. He touched down on spiky grass that stiffened with frost underneath him.

He had landed near a cheerful little house in the middle of a sweeping neighborhood.

“Hazel?” The wind seemed to think she was here.

Jack’s gaze was drawn to one of the little windows as a little slippered leg delicately extended back out of it and onto the lawn followed by the skirt and finally the dark mass of hair thrown over a shoulder. She waved and exchanged some final words Jack couldn’t here with a little girl who leaned out the window. At least she was okay. Jack smiled and leaned against his staff, waiting for her to finish. She handed a little black kitten back to the girl in the window who carried it back inside and shut out the light. Hazel smiled sadly at the girl and said goodnight before turning to go. She jumped a little when she saw him and her eyes lit up with excitement.

“Jack!” She was whispering. “What are you doing here? Isn’t it a little warm for snow?” She bounded up to him like a puppy, her blue eye catching the light from the houses.

“Just checking in. You feeling okay?” Jack grinned down at her, amused by her excitement.

“Why did no one tell me it felt this good to be believed in?” Jack dropped his staff as she grabbed his hands and spun in a circle like a little kid that had gotten coffee before bed.

“What?” Jack stopped laughing. “You mean no one believed in you until now?”

She bounced in place, “Yes! I mean no. But they do now.” She threw her head back, relying on his grip to keep her upright. “It feels so good I can’t believe I let myself be alone for so long I-” Her knees buckled under her and her grip loosened.

“Woah!” Jack tightened his fingers around hers to keep her from crashing to the ground.

Her head hung loosely back and her dark hair spilled out onto the grass in a black cloud as he lowered her to the ground as gently as he could. He peered over her, not sure what to do or what had happened.

“Hazel?”

Her eyes snapped open to look at him and her body went rigid. “They found the entrance.”

“What?” Jack pulled her to her feet. “How do you know, what just happened?”

“I-I saw it. It’s in England.” Where just a few minutes ago she had been excited and happy Hazel now clung to Jack’s sweatshirt, less to keep herself upright than to get his attention. “I don’t know how much longer it’ll stay open we have to go now .”

“North isn’t back, no one knows where we are or where we’re going we have to-”

“Then let’s go .” Hazel let Jack pry her fingers from his hoodie. “I have such a bad feeling Jack we need to do this it can’t wait.”

“Okay, okay go to the North Pole-do you know how to activate the Northern Lights?”

She nodded, already starting to blur at the edges as she summoned the mist to take her there.

“Hazel!”

“What?”

“Don’t do anything stupid, okay?”

Her smile was the last thing he saw before she was gone. “You too.”

Chapter Text

Hazel maneuvered her way through elves and yetis who seemed to be throwing a party now that their job was done. Hazel had to fight her way through some sort of drinking game that involved what looked like spiked eggnog just to get to North’s control panel. The switch itself was easy to locate as it was conveniently labeled, but actually activating it was another thing. She struggled with the heavy switch, barely able to get it to turn.

A yeti bustled up to her, looking quite disgruntled to have Hazel attempting to activate the Guardian hotline while North was out on the biggest night of the year.

“Please, this is so important.” Hazel pleaded, the desperation in her voice evident even to her own ears. The big furry beast seemed to consider her for a moment before nodding and pushing the switch back into the control panel. Hazel chalked up his cooperation to the fact that almost everyone at the party was more than a little bit tipsy.

The lights danced out from the workshop and into the darkness, illuminating the sky on all sides with pastel colors. It was honestly quite stunning. Hazel paced about the workshop balconies for another fifteen minutes before Jack caught up with her.

“Hey, is anyone here yet?” He moved to the railing to look down at the commotion down below. “That’s some party down there.”

“No, no one has gotten here yet and, yes. That’s why I’m up here.” She moved to stand next to him on the balcony. “I nearly got stepped on, I don’t know how those elves haven’t been squashed.”

“Oi, mate what’s up with the sky, what’s going on?”

Hazel tensed at Bunny’s voice and turned to face the giant rabbit. “I know where Pitch is, but not for much longer. We have to go.”

The pooka looked at Jack inquisitively. He shrugged helplessly. “We’re hoping to get everyone together because I told her it was crazy to go alone.”

With every passing hour, Hazel felt more and more sick. Try as she might, she couldn’t connect back to the cave’s entrance. For just that moment she had seen it and she had known how to get there and she had been there. Now, however, she was stuck in a workshop with only four sixths of the Guardians as Sandy had shown up too.

It was near two in the morning when Tooth finally got the call, all full of apologies that she had been out in the field and distracted. Then it was nearly four in the morning by the time North came back, very out of breath.

“What is meaning of Borealis? I rushed route to get back.” He pushed his way through oblivious elves who wobbled around covered in stale crusted eggnog.

“Get back in the sleigh. We’re going.” Jack hoisted himself up from where he’d been sitting on the floor, using his staff for leverage. “We know where Pitch is and we have to go.”

They stood in the stables, the reindeer still yoked to the sleigh, snorting discontentedly. The party boarded solemnly with Hazel bringing up the rear with the Tooth Fairy. Hazel put her hand on the sleigh railing and took a deep breath before boarding, and then she was gone. Back in the caves, she flapped her wings silently, landing behind an outcropping and poking her little black head around the corner into the next chamber.

“Are you clear with the plan.” Pitch addressed the line of nightmares, standing at military attention in front of him. “What a better night than Christmas morning to watch the world burn.” He said, vicious smile splitting across his face.

“We’ll be too late!” Hazel was back in the workshop, being righted by a concerned looking Tooth Fairy.

“What did you see?” Jack was already on board, concern spread across his face.

“Catch up as quickly as you can!” Hazel let herself  fade out of Toothiana’s arms, fog clouding her vision of her confused friends..

“Hazel, wha-” She didn’t hear the rest as she reappeared in England directly above the tunnel opening, falling into nothingness, the sky closing in above her as she fell down the chute. Hazel threw her arms out in alarm, wishing she had aimed better. She banged her elbow on rocks and scraped it up before finally skidding to a halt, Hazel was followed by the rain of pebbles that she had knocked loose on her way down. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and she blinked vigorously.

She had fallen into the chamber with the hanging cages. The stench of death and decay and stagnant air washed over Hazel as she scrambled to her feet, the stench giving her a strange sense of calm. She had to distract Pitch and stall so the Guardians could catch up with her, though after that, she wasn’t sure what they would do, there wouldn’t be time to find the dagger first, as it was she might be too late. Either way, it didn’t matter, Hazel’s legs knew which way to go and now they down the empty halls ran without any command from her. They slowed at the sound of Pitch’s voice and she stood at the mouth of an archway, the stairs curving down below her giving her a slight sense of vertigo. Her slippered feet made no sound as she descended the stairs, but he knew she was there anyway.

“What are you doing here?” Pitch’s voice was low.

“I had to see you again.”

“Keep the bullshit, Hazel, I don’t need it.” He turned to look at her now and she could see the thought written on his face.

“Are you going to kill me?” Her feet moved deftly down the stairs.

“Would you like me to?” His voice was cold and the nightmares swiveled their heads back and forth between the two.

“What is all this” She eyed the nightmares distrustfully, trying to keep him talking.

“If you didn’t know you wouldn’t be here, would you?” He must have known what she was doing but didn’t seem inclined to do much about it.

“Pitch,” He tensed at the sound of his name. “What do you hope to accomplish by doing this.” They both knew it wasn’t a question.

“That is one question you know the answer to very well.”

Anything to keep him talking.

“What’s going to be left for you when everyone’s gone?”

“Certainly not you, I’m sure.”

“No,” Hazel reached the last step but hesitated to step onto the landing. “I suppose not.”

“But that wouldn’t change no matter what I do, will it?” They both heard the noise and Hazel relaxed. He set his shoulders back defensively. “I’m afraid I’m busy at the moment, sweetheart,” He spat, “Bother me later.” Hazel backed up a step as a nightmare rushed her. The body of sand hitting her full in the chest, it threw her off the edge and over into the ravine beyond

“Hazel!” It was Jack's voice. They had gotten there in time.

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The black mass was rushing up the stairs and Jack screamed her name as she was pushed off the edge of the precipice. The Guardians might have rushed toward the edge but were blocked by a wall of snorting nightmares that closed quickly in on either side, their eyes flaming and nostrils flaring.

“Well the witch served as a nice little distraction, didn’t she.” Pitch drew their attention back to the center of the platform. “Kept me from sending out all these big bad nightmares to go kill the precious little children.” He sneered, his eyes landing on Jack. “Well, now they’re all here and ready to kill you instead, aren’t they. Funny how things work out so perfectly.”

The nightmares dove forward at the little group and they became painfully aware of how outnumbered they were; A planned attack to stop the nightmares quickly becoming a fight to survive. The more nightmares they destroyed, the thicker the air got with dark sand. The Guardians fought through it, dodging attacks and bursting nightmare after nightmare, but they just kept coming and the cave was getting darker and darker and it was hard to breathe the air was so thick with inky dust.

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Hazel dragged herself to her knees, her shallow coughs echoing off the walls. Lights flicked from her fingers and illuminated the cavern, the sounds of the fight wafting down through the darkness. One of Hazel’s ribs was definitely broken so that it hurt when she breathed, and she was sure her right leg was fractured as well but it still supported her weight so that she could limp on it.

She chuckled to herself. Lucky, very lucky. She let the mist take her, she knew where she was and there was really only one place to go from here. The treasure room was just as she remembered it and she took a long broom from against the wall, using it as a rather ineffective crutch but she felt like it was fitting. The lights had followed her and they bobbed along behind her as cheerful as an orb ever could be. A swath of fabric caught her eye and she tugged the cloth out of a pile of old junk. It was still nearly pristine, with just some pebbles and dust clinging to it. She rubbed the fabric between her fingers and smiled softly.

Tracing her fingers along the wall she walked through the maze of trash for what would be the last time. This would be an end, whether it were hers or his. This thought brought her fluttering heart to a steady rhythm and she hobbled through the mess. No matter what happened tonight, she would never have to see him again after this. The dagger picked up the dancing lights and still glittered in the dust as she stooped to pick it up.

“You never did wear that dress.” She slid the knife under the fabric of the gown and turned calmly to see Pitch leaning against the archway.

“No, I figured I’d take it now, unless you planned to wear it.”

“Not quite fair when I never got to see you in it.”

“What a shame you never will.” Hazel felt her skin stretch raw and shiny as she tried to smile through the damage.

“Oh, Love , where did we go wrong? Be honest, was it the town?” He chuckled, the pain still audible in his voice.

Hazel leaned against the broom handle, taking the strain off her leg, and the bristles at the bottom bowed under her weight. “Yes, well, when meet the family turns into murder the family, it’s a bit of a bad sign.” Her fingers tightened around the blade, feeling it press against her skin. “Excuse me for being old-fashioned.” She gauged the distance, deciding he was too far away and would see her coming if she disappeared. “I do have to ask, why the fairies? Haven’t you done that one before?”

He shrugged, looking at the wall, “I guess I wanted to see what you’d do.”

“Disappointed?”

“I must say I was.”

“You should have known better than to take it so far.” Her tone was solemn and firm.

“It’s a pity.” He mused.

“Why, have you decided to kill me here after all?”

“Hum, no, I just wanted to find you and let you know I was going to kill them too.” Pitch stood back away from the wall he’d been leaning on. “I suppose if I’m going to murder the family I may as well finish the job.” He sneered. “They seem to have made their way into that cold little heart of yours and I must say I’m rather jealous.” Now he looked at her, maybe to gauge her reaction. “Why did you have to let them steal you away so easily? If you had stayed with me you could have been a princess, you could have had anything you wanted. And I wouldn’t have bothered to kill them, we could have just watched as they wasted away with no one to believe in them.”

Hazel took a breath, pain shooting through her chest at the motion. “I did love you, Pitch.” She matched his gaze. “But I never would have stayed with you. We went wrong long before I met them.”

“And now you’ll be left behind as the lone survivor. That seems fitting, doesn’t it.” His golden eyes flashed and he melted back into the shadows.

Hazel bit her lip and followed, melting out of the room in a smoky blur. If he knew she had the knife, he hadn’t let on. She formed back in the corridor by the cliff. She was well obscured, but had a good view of the landing. The dust billowed but was beginning to settle, leaving a black carpet on the ground. Fewer than a dozen nightmares were left and all the Guardians were left standing, tattered and breathing heavily, but alive. Jack and Tooth were battling four that had worked them into the corner but they were standing their ground, Sandy was struggling with two by the edge but appeared to be winning. Bunny threw one of his nightmares off the ledge on the far side and she watched as North struck a final blow that left a skid of soot off the edge of the precipice. Jack caught sight of her first, calling out to her from across the room. North looked around and caught sight of her, his face lifted with relief and he screamed as Pitch appeared behind him, a malicious look on his face and a horrible black blade forming into a point in his hands. She carried herself forward and dissolved without thinking, her body reappearing in between her friend and Pitch.

This would be an end, whether it were hers or his. Hazel hoped they could still win without her.

Pitch couldn’t pull the blade away in time and it crashed into her body, colliding into her collarbone. Pitch yanked the weapon back in horror but Hazel felt no pain and when he recoiled, it crumbled in his hands, pouring black sand over her like water. She looked down at the coarse powder falling from her head and shoulders in surprise.

A smile curved her lips when she returned her gaze up to Pitch’s startled one, “Oh, I guess I’m not scared you anymore, Love .”

Hazel took a step forward and Pitch backed up. All the anger she had ever had towards him came boiling up in a mixture of hate and betrayal. Everything he did, everything he kept her from becoming. Though, especially now, she supposed there was enough betrayal to go around. Hazel dropped the crumpled dress exposing the glinting little dagger.

“What? Didn’t expect me to run to you?” She took another step towards him and gripped the black fabric of his cloak, holding him close, eyes flashing. She was so close to being free. "It's my turn to slay my demons."

His face fell, losing emotion and he relaxed under her touch. “Okay.” Pitch leant into her grip and brushed his lips against hers as she drove the knife between his ribs. Light flashed through the cave, blinding everyone inside and bleaching the black sand from the floors and air. He staggered back, pulling Hazel with him they toppled over the edge. Hazel screwed her eyes shut against it but still it was dazzlingly bright, she was falling, and then she was landing, hard. She rolled to the side, probably breaking another few ribs on the way down. It was the second time she'd fallen off that cliff.

The world around her was whitewashed and dimensionless. Light poured from everywhere, making her squint and shield her eyes from nothing in particular. A scrawny boy smiled softly down at her. He was clad in thin armor and he looked like a strong wind might blow him over. At his feet was the crumpled form of Pitch, but his expression was more peaceful than she had ever seen it. She sharp lines of his face softened and his expression had become still and neutral.

“It may not seem like it, but you’ve helped him more than you can possibly know.” The boy lifted the tall easily man in his skinny arms before turning toward her. “Poor man was fighting the fearlings for far too long, but you helped him escape.” 

Hazel gaped at him, formulating her thoughts into a coherent stream of questions.

"You get one. No more."

Hazel’s voice was scratchy as she tried to speak, her mind racing and trying to pick a single question. “What happens now he’s gone?”

The boy laughed softly. “There was Halloween before you, and there will be fear after him.” He smiled warmly. “Just maybe a little less.” He looked up into more blinding light. “And don’t be too hard on The Man in The Moon, his job isn’t easy. He didn’t mean to abandon you. If he had done anything differently, nothing would have worked out the way it has.” He disappeared into the blinding light. “Farewell, Hazel.”

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They found her, crumpled at the bottom of the cave, her face battered and bruised. Jack and Tooth lifted her as gently as they could and carried her up and out of the caves by hand as the reindeer had taken off with the sleigh as soon as the fight had started. The rest of the Guardians followed slowly, their eyes lingering on the spot where Pitch had fallen. Sandy picked up a little pile of abandoned cloth and tucked it under his arm before following the rest.

The warm halo of morning stretched across the horizon and the procession moved slowly out into the open. All of North’s globes had been smashed in the brawl so Bunny thumped open a rabbit hole to take them all back to the Pole. Descending reluctantly back underground, many of them limped and dripped little spots of blood onto the fresh earth, but they walked all the same. Hazel breathed shallowly in Jack’s arms and he carried her even though she was nearly as tall as he was.

When Hazel woke up in the North Pole she sobbed for an hour quietly in one of the back rooms, emotionally drained, over tired, and aching. The hungover elves dragged themselves out of bed to bring her the stale milk and cookies from the night before and everyone else let her be, taking their own time to absorb the events of the morning.

When the battered girl finally shuffled out in an over-fluffy bathrobe and slippers, Toothiana flew to embrace her, her wings nearly giving out halfway across the room, they were so badly bent out of shape.

“You did it, it’s over.” Tooth squeezed her tightly and Hazel wheezed. “Oh! So sorry.”

“Ah ha! Guardian of evening has made an appearance.” North clapped a hand gently on her shoulder, “I owe life to you, my friend.”

“Anytime.” She scratched out the word like a frog that had gotten the wind knocked out of it.

“Oi, mate you did alright in there.” Bunny nodded at her affirmingly. Jack waited at the back of the welcoming committee, letting go of a held breath when he saw her. Hazel’s eyes were rimmed red and one eye was shiny and dark. The skin around her jaw was scratched all the way down to the neck of the bathrobe. Her arms and legs were a myriad of different purples and greens.

He closed the distance and rested his forehead down on hers, holding her temples with his thumbs.

His voice was soft when he said, “You look like hell.”

Hazel laughed for what felt like the first time in years, making her ribs ache. “I just got back.”

“We prepare feast in celebration.” North’s announcement was met by a collective groan from the present yetis who all seemed as equally hung over as the elves. “Oh shut up, big babies. You will live.” North barked at their lack of enthusiasm. Jack pulled away from Hazel, holding her by the elbows to keep her steady. Sandy poked her gently, holding up the dress happily.

She grinned, her face stretching painfully. “Would you look at that.”

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She entered the room like a phantom, the dress swaying around her hips like a waterfall. The bodice was fitted snugly and outlined her thin figure. Her skin was pale against it, exposed shoulders and arms patterned with clashing shades of blue, purple and scaly patches of healing cuts. She had brushed her hair, and it fell softly down onto her shoulders in waves, framing her puffy and bloodied face. Jack smiled when he saw Hazel make her way into the little dining room, limping heavily but refusing help. She took a seat by North, across from him, purposefully avoiding the seat that had been left for her at the head of the table. Jack had never been in the dining room before but it appeared to be a place that was used more frequently than one might think. It was merry and bright with embroidered furniture and a large wood-carved table that North boasted about building himself. The little lights from the candles set out on the table flickered cheerfully and everyone had found time to stay, even Sandy, who was managing streams of dream dust at the end of the table. These got tripped over frequently by annoyed yetis. It had been less than twelve hours since they had left Pitch’s caverns and the tension still hung in the air as everyone digested what had happened that morning.

“More pie?” North served everyone cheerfully, being the first to begin to relax after the ordeal. The friends did their best at polite conversation and jokes, but the responding laughter was always tight and unsure. By the time the second dessert was passed around, Hazel excused herself to go stretch her injured leg, but she seemed tense. Jack moved to follow, glancing at North, who nodded worriedly.

“You know that dress isn’t even black.” Hazel jumped a little at the sound of his voice and he joined her out on the little terrace.

“Oh, yes, I noticed,” She smiled, “It’s really more of a midnight blue, isn’t it?” The wind blew gently and the night was cold, even for the North Pole.

“I bet he never knew.” She chuckled, looking out at the miles of untouched snow.

“Maybe he does.” Jack leaned onto his elbows on the railing, letting the moment of silence pass. “It seems like he really loves you.” He didn’t really mean to say it out loud but Hazel just laughed sadly in reply.

“No,” She said after a moment. “I think he tried to, but in the end I was just a plaything that he took a fancy to. I suppose I was a rarity because I would talk to him when no one else would and he wanted to protect that.” She sighed. “I don’t think he ever knew me well enough to love me. We always talked about him anyway.” She dismissed. Her swollen eye watered from the cold breeze and she blinked it away, her expression serene. “I keep rolling around those hours in my head.” She looked at him and he looked back gently. “I think I saw Nightlight. When I… stabbed him and there was the whole flash of light and everything.” It was the first time anyone had talked about what had happened. “Jack, I think Pitch is dead.”

“Dead?”

“Yes, like, gone. For good.” She ran her tongue over her busted lip. “He didn’t fight back when I-when I stabbed him. Right between the ribs, he let me do it.” A long silence passed and Jack tried to work through what she had said before she continued. “Nightlight said that he had been fighting the fearlings for so long and that I had helped him, does that mean he’s gone for good? Where do you think Nightlight went with him? What did I even do when I did that ?” Hazel was working her way back up to tears.

She looked so fragile, Jack thought. Even after killing Pitch, if what she said was right, it was too soon. After being so strong for so long she’d worried so much. No, she'd fallen off the same goddamned cliff, twice, there was no way that was a good idea.

Jack looked at his feet and nudged a little clump of ice off the balcony and into the snow far below them. “How about we let that sit for a little bit before we stir up more trouble. Give ourselves a bit of a break before we stress out again.” He stretched dramatically. “When was the last time you got a good night’s sleep?”

“I was out just this morning.” She said quietly. “Why, do I look tired?” She smiled weakly.

She looked like she was about to keel over from exhaustion. “No, you’re beautiful, bruises and all.” He grinned.

She punched him lightly. “Rude.”

After everyone had gone home, dazed and tired, North found the two heaped sideways on one of the big armchairs, Jack with one arm over his eyes, the other hanging over the side and Hazel with her forehead on his chest and legs thrown over his, still in the same clothing from dinner, softly snoring through her bruised and boated nose.

North smiled and moved to close the door.

“She says she saw nightlight.” Jack murmured without moving his arm from his face. “I don’t know what that means.”

North thought about this for a while before replying solemnly. “I do not know either.”