A/N I would like to express my apologies for having not updated in a month. I shouldn't give an excuse aside from the fact that I've been caught up in school and my job as a student athlete at my university. I am embarrassed to admit that for a long while I had lost inspiration to write this story, and for that I'm deeply sorry. I can promise you this story will not go on a hiatus or any kind of extended period of incompletion because I have full intent to finish it, I've just found it hard to write recently.
That being said, I hope you enjoy this and please leave a review telling me what you think! I haven't responded to everyone, but some of the reviews I've received have both encouraged me to continue as well as point out missing plot points that I either already had intention on filling or ones that I had overlooked. For that I thank all of you!
Here's some actual plot progression (what? unheard of.) and I already have most of the next chapter written out, and we'll see a lot more of our usual Jack in the upcoming chapters.
Chapter 7; Rose and Pewter
The giggling threw them off, at first. It was a lilting laugh, not the impish one of the Not Jack that they had met earlier. It bounced off the walls of the glacier, escalating into a full-fledged shriek of glee before it dropped back down to a soft titter.
"Jack?" Tooth called, her own voice mixing musically with the laughter. The sound of it caused her to want to smile and join in, but the sheen of the glacial walls reminded her of where she was. They had noticed as they continued to walk that deep within the whites and blues were frightening deep veins of darkness that pulsed through the ice as though they were alive and pumping life to something deep within the maze.
It had sobered them from the previous curiosity immensely, and they weren't sure if it was worse that the thick veins were too deep to examine or to have the toxin seeping through cracks in the ice like a parasitic sludge spilling out of an infected wound.
The laughter cut off abruptly and they worried for what that could mean but the silence was soon cut through with a "hellloooo!" and Tooth tilted her head in confusion and looked back at Bunny and North. Both of them shrugged noncommittally, not wanting to think the worse but constantly being prepared for it.
"Hello." Tooth called out sweetly and as they turned the corner, were shocked midstep at what they found.
The ice that stood before them was sculpted. Not like the fort that they had been confronted with at the beginning, but like a work of art. The ice that surrounded them was akin in skill and beauty to the toys that North meticulously crafted in his workshop.
There were spirals and snowflakes suspended in the air, swirls and frost designs adorning them. The ground was adorned with designs and patterns and the walls had elaborate drawings etched into them. Tooth had to gently push the floating objects aside as she fluttered her way warily through.
"Careful!" The voice called, though it was said in jest and not in warning. When they had pushed the crystal art out of the way they came upon something that surprised them once more. There was indeed a Jack before them, but this Jack was a mere two feet tall, sitting on a bubble made of frost and smiling at them.
His eyes twinkled as pink as tourmaline and when he smiled at them a rosy blush dusted his cheeks.
"Hello." He said, his voice sounding strange coming from such a small frame.
"Hello." Tooth greeted again, fluttered up to be even with the tiny thing. "Who are you?"
"I'm Jackson!" Jack said. It was said shyly and as Jackson spoke it his blush deepened slightly. "You're so pretty." He cooed and reached forward with one small hand to trace Tooth's feathered brow, the fairy having to resist the urge to pull back at the tickling sensation.
"This isn't a Jack I'm familiar with." Bunnymund muttered, the Pookah sounding oddly uncomfortable as he examined the designed floor beneath his paws. He had long stopped feeling the cold of the area, and wondered if that was to do with the surreal plane of existence they were currently in or if he had just grown numb to the chill.
Jackson popped the bubble he had been floating on and grabbed at his staff which had been floating beside him, the end of this branch ending in a closed triangle and pointing out like an arrow. Hanging from it, Jackson dangled his feet in the air and propelled himself over to the Pookah with a swinging motion.
When he got within reaching distance of the Easter Bunny, Jackson reached his foot out and rubbed it along the length of one of Bunny's ears, feeling the soft fur between his toes. Bunnymund was hard pressed to decide if he enjoyed the feeling or if he wanted to shove the little Jack away.
Jackson pulled back without prompting and looked to North, "You're the best." He said simply and North's eyes widened, dark brows rising up in bewilderment. "You are!" Jackson pressed.
"I am the best?" North asked, voice gruff.
"You're the best. You guys are all the best. Thanks." He puffed his chest out and grinned at them, eyes sparkling like finely polished gems. Jackson didn't say anymore but he did whistle slightly and poked at the air, small crystals forming where it toes clenched in the air.
The Guardians merely watched but finally a low voice cut the air. "He's love." Tooth whispered as though she had found a survivor of a long extinct species. Bunny looked to her and watched as she cupped a hand over her mouth and turned away, shoulders hunching.
"Why am I the best?" North asked, expecting some kind of ridiculous answer. Bunny gave another look to Tooth before turning his attention to 'Jackson'.
The tiny Jack snorted, pulling himself up onto his staff and sitting there, kicking his legs back and forth like an elementary school girl on the swing set, gazing at them with adoration. "You're awesome." He shrugged, "You gave me a bed and a room and you don't care when I push elves down the stairs. That's pretty cool." He grinned, bright and prominent before turning to Bunny.
"You're pretty much my best friend." He said and Bunny's ears dropped to press against his skull, "I know you don't think so. I don't have a lot of friends, except Phil I guess. But you're what a friend is like, right?"
"Mate, I don't think we should be listening to this." Bunny whispered to North, "This isn't something he'd want us knowing. There's gotta be a reason this Jack is so… is so tiny."
North looked over but didn't get a chance to speak before Jackson had thrown a little snowball at Tooth's back. The Fairy turned around and gave a watery smile at him as he spoke. "You're the prettiest. I wish you were my mom. I don't remember much about my own, I guess." He kicked at the air and spun around on his toothpick of a staff.
"He wouldn't want us knowing." Bunny pressed and North nodded, though he couldn't pull his attention away.
"You guys are the best family ever, you know. And I know what families are like, I've seen enough kids with their brothers and sisters and parents to wish for one. You know I-"
"That's enough!" Jackson was interrupted by Tooth, and both the other Guardians looked at her in surprise. "That's enough for now, Jackson." She said, softer, and the flush returned to Jackson's face where it had gone white at being yelled at. He grinned again as if she had complimented him and opened his mouth as if to speak so Tooth flitted forward and grabbed his tiny shoulder, turning him to give him a soft kiss on the cheek.
"You are loved, Jack." She whispered, closing her eyes. "You're loved. Don't think you ever haven't been, or ever won't be." Her words were secrets against his hair and Jackson looked down and shuddered before he melted in her hands.
Tooth wanted to reel back, to shake her hands of the bluish white that dripped between her fingers that was once a living thing but she didn't. She held it in the cups of her hands until it slowly dripped onto the ground where it seeped into the ice and glowed a soft white before vanishing completely.
Both Bunny and North were quiet for a moment before the Russian put a heavy hand on Tooth's shoulder, the fairy standing on the ground, wings twitching limply as she looked down at the spot where Jackson had gone.
"It is okay, Tooth."
"He was so small."
"It is okay."
"That was Jack's love, and it was so small. Did we do that, North? Is it our fault he was so small?"
Bunny hopped forward, watching as the designs on the wall grew and expanded, the floating snowflakes spinning in a lazy dance where they had once been motionless, "It isn't something we did. But Tooth, I think we're fixing 'im. We don't have time to dwell on it. You'll be able to make Jackson as big as you want but we gotta get the whole Jack back first."
Tooth sighed heavily before nodding, looking up with a new determination in her eyes. She gripped North's hands in reassurance before she pushed herself off the ground. "You're right, Bunny." She didn't wait for a response before she was flying around the next corner.
North and Bunny shook their heads in fondness at their friend's enthusiasm and went to follow after.
/ / /
Sandy sat back on his heels from where he sat over the sleeping Guardians, ever vigilant for any sign of something gone wrong. He felt as though he should be concerned at the absolute stillness from each of them, but wondered if it was merely a result from the deep sleep that Time had sent them into. Jack himself, though, looked deathly pale now that they had wiped away the black that had decorated his chin and face. Sandy yearned to run a hand through his hair in comfort, but balked at the possible consequences of accidently waking the youngest Guardian up.
Before him in the throne chairs, Mother Nature and Father Time idly sat, doing what Sandy assumed they did with most of their time. Their conversation was minimal, the other seeming to know what each wanted merely by body language or a quick glance. Sandy's own heart warmed at the connection.
He watched as they methodically created new life, Time molding the framework within his aged hands and Nature kissing color and soul into it. They had made dozens of butterflies and the things hovered and darted about the room before dashing into the mirrors that decorated the ornate walls when they changed to the desired destination.
Smiling, Sandy too pulled his creativity from his soul and pulled dreamsand into his hands, a flurry of movement sparkling to conception a mess of his own creatures. Beetles crawled up his arms to bury themselves in his hair and stick insects clung to his arms. A single butterfly looped up into the air to flit about the real ones before it gently came to rest on North's forehead.
As soon as it touched, though, the tiny thing let loose a sound that resembled a scream as it burst apart as if by combustion. The gold sand glittered on the ground before dulling and Sandy gripped at his chest in a physical pain, a tiny, inaudible shocked gasp escaping at the sight of what had happened.
He heard the intake of breath before him and he looked up to lock eyes with Nature, the elder Guardian's own eyes wide with confusion and pain, almost as if she too had felt the death of the dream. Time's hands had stopped their motion and Sandy's hands shook as he considered what had just happened.
Because neither of the Guardians before him could move off of the thrones they had become a part of, it was Time's owl that finally fluttered down to inspect the situation. The owl, though old and wizened, gave Sandy the soft coo of a young bird mothering its chick and nibbled its beak against Sandy's arm. Sandy mindlessly patted the bird before the owl looked back at Time. Time crooked his fingers at the bird and the owl stepped its feathered leg into the dusty sand pile before gliding back to its shoulder perch, holding its appendage out for inspection.
Time ran his hands along the underside of the bird's foot, gathering a few grains between his own fingers. As he rolled them carefully, his eyes tightened minutely and immediately Nature was grabbing at his arm.
Sandy looked down at the pile that had once been a dream and felt his own heart constrict at the sight. No longer was the sand golden, but it was a dusky gray and when he attempted to call it back into the air and back to him, it remained an inanimate pewter smear on the marble floor.
"What is it, dear?" Nature asked quietly of Time and Sandy didn't want to acknowledge the confusion and fright that decorated her lyrical voice.
Time pinched the sand between his fingers tightly, so that his knuckles ran with fine tremors and his words were dragged from his throat as if with a rake. "It is death."
/ / /
Pitch sat lazily on his throne, watching his own thin chest rise and fall as he idly dragged his hand through the dust that decorated his throne chair. In the distance he heard something crack and give way, a cavern wall or a roof or even one of the many bridges that wound their way through his domain. Pitch had little care anymore; now that the Guardians were occupied he had little else to do aside from watching his kingdom continue to crumble.
He had been surprised when they came and went so quickly, clearly driven with the blind need to fix their youngest Guardian. He figured they'd keep busy with that and then stay away, giving him all the time he could need to lay on his throne and listen to the slow collapse of his decaying home and the wheezing breaths of his moldering nightmare that lay beside him, the thing having the desire to get up and trot like it had once but no longer possessing the ability to on broken and decrepit legs.
Pitch would be loath to admit he was surprised, then, when he saw the gold shimmers of dreamsand floating through the air as precursor to the Sandman making his appearance in his realm.
"Sanderson." Pitch drawled, easily masking his surprise. The visit wasn't completely unexpected but certainly earlier than he had anticipated.
Sandy looked at him for a long stretch before sand exploded above his head, Pitch's eyes darting back and forth to keep track. The fallen Nightmare King watched as beds, butterflies, a mother rocking a child, an explosion, and finally a skull and crossbones appeared above Sandy's head. When it was finished, the grains fell back around the Sandman and Pitch's frown had deepened, watching as Sandy's chest heaved in exertion and frustration.
Raising an eyebrow, Pitch shrugged his bony shoulders, one hand falling to rest on his mare's flank. The beast snorted at the welcome touch but did nothing more to acknowledge the gesture. Finally, Pitch sighed long suffering sigh. "Oh, my dear Sanderson. It is less a question of why you've come and more the inquiry as to why you would think I could help your…" He waved his hand in the air searchingly, "…predicament."
Sandy huffed, blowing sand steam out of his ears. He took a menacing few steps forward and shook his head, creating a stop watch and then a tree above his head, followed by the mother and child imagery once more.
Pitch rolled his eyes, "Yes, I was the one to tell you to go to the parents. What's your point?"
Above Sandy's head the image of his exploding butterfly repeated and Sandy almost winced at the scene. He created the picture of the Guardians sleeping and then the stop watch once more followed by the skull and crossbones.
"Well now you're just repeating yourself. Getting forgetful in your old age?" Pitch said but was stopped from saying anything else when a golden fist wrapped itself around his throat and shoved him against the back of his splintered throne. Pitch gurgled and gasped around the constriction and the Nightmare raised its head in an abandoned attempt to get to its creator, as it could not find the strength to aid him.
Pitch's eyes rolled angrily as he looked to Sandy, the fury that flashed in the Guardian's eyes reflected in the anger that sparked dangerously in Pitch's. The flood of rage coursed through his body like blood long lost, and Pitch raised an arm to wrap around the grainy wrist to attempt and pull Sandy off of him.
The Sandman merely shook his neck once, the image of two boxing gloves clashing together floating above his head. Pitch scowled and finally stopped pulling at Sandy's arm as he slumped his shoulders. Seemingly satisfied, Sandy let Pitch's throat go, watching as Pitch drew back into himself as the golden being took a step back, mouth twisted into a frown.
Pitch rubbed at his throat and coughed twice, voice rough as he spoke, "So testy, Sanderson." At the step forward once more, Pitch raised his hand up in surrender. He was not one to easily bow to another, but he knew when he would not win a fight, and this was not one he wanted to venture. "Fine. Yes, I sent you to Mother and Father with ulterior motives. Did you really not think to question me? I take no responsibility for your idiocy."
Question marks popped up angrily above Sandy's head, and Pitch mused silently at the Sandman's ability to angrily do anything without the use of his words or physical gestures.
Pitch propped his head up with one hand, the other continuing to massage his throat. "Shut up." He spat, "You think I don't know what's wrong with your precious Guardian of Fun?" He sneered and Sandy's expression darkened. Pitch waved him off irritably, "Stop with your act. Of course I knew. Not even our parents know what's truly wrong with the boy because they've never seen it happen in motion before, just the end result."
Sandy tilted his head in confusion and Pitch knew if he had had the energy he would have slapped the smaller being. "Me, you dolt! You pathetic excuse for a childhood creation." Sandy's eyes widened and Pitch watched as his gaze darted around the throne room as if looking for some kind of answer. Baring his teeth, Pitch hissed, "I know what is happening because I lived it. And now there'll be another."
Imaged flashed above Sandy's head almost too fast to follow, but Pitch caught an arrow pointing at himself, a moon, and a monster lurking beneath a bed.
"I wasn't always the Nightmare King, Sanderson." Pitch said simply, bitterly, and he gripped his throne chair, black nails digging into the wood
A golden bandage appeared above Sandy's head and Pitch laughed. "Fix it? You really are simple minded, Sandman. You've done all I could want, why would I fix what you've done? You took out three of the Guardians and I had nothing to do with it." Without waiting for the maddening question mark to pop up once more, Pitch continued, "You think you can send a soul into the mind of another without consequence? The shadows that ravage Jack Frost's mind and body are a virus, Sanderson. And it is highly contagious."
Sandy didn't wait for another word before he was back pedaling out of Pitch's domain and flying back through the opening in the ground, the haunting echo of Pitch's laughter following after him.
/ / /
"I don't want to think of what's coming next." Bunnymund muttered to his companions. They had stopped to look at a fracture in the glacier stone next to them. From the crack it wept black ink, the substance so thick it was congealing like tree sap inches from where it was gurgling out of the split.
"It can not be good." North muttered as he stuck his finger towards the glue. The Russian jumped back as the substance practically came alive and reached for him like some sort of plasma, wrapping itself around his finger. "Chto za khernya!" He shouted and he wiped the gunk off on his pants. He went to examine his finger and saw that is was grey, as though it had been deprived of blood, but was returning to its normal color quickly.
"That's not normal." Bunny observed as he took a quick sniff at the stuff before pulling away, wrinkling his nose. "Smells a bit like tar, if you ask me." As he pulled back his ears pricked at the slight hissing sound that the goop was making whenever one of them came near, as if it was a sort of snake hissing at them a warning.
"This stuff is coming from Jack." Tooth spoke quietly, cautious about what she was saying. "We are in Jack's head. I know we're all thinking it, but I wonder if this is what was causing the problems earlier. It's corrosive. Whatever this is, it's like a cavity. If we don't get to the root of the problem it's going to eat away at the molar before going to infect his whole mouth."
The other two shared a grimace with each other before nodding gravely. "Then we have no need to decide what do be doing." North said, "We are all in agreement that we will continue on!"
"That's a given, mate. It's what we're gonna find I'm not so sure about." Bunny swore and led them forward. North and Tooth nodded as they trailed behind him, neither thinking to look back to notice the glowing gold eyes watching them from the walls. Nor did they hear the bone chilling howls that reverberated deep within the ice sheets.
/ / /
The wolf watched the group through a yellow haze, the sepia tint warping the world that it saw through the ice. It jerked its head back to its companions, the other four creatures practically thrumming with the energy and desire to leap from the glacial walls and rip the jugulars from the trespassing souls.
The wolf growled low in its throat, a warning to its companions to stay where they were. They had gotten no go ahead from their master to attack the things, no matter how badly the wolf's jaw ached with the need to break bone and rip flesh and muscle, to feel blood hot enough to melt its teeth drip down its chin.
But it was wolf before it was ice, and its cold heart could not override its sense of loyalty. So it watched the things walk away, watched mesmerized at the fluttering of wings and the smell of wild animal and the colors of red and white that stood out so starkly against the sepia tinted blue of the world that the wolf saw.
Tossing its head back, the wolf howled deep into the glacier, listening as its companions picked up and followed suit.
/ / /
"It can feel them." The dark thing that looked like Jack hissed and Jack looked up, head hanging heavy in exhaustion. His vision blurred grey at the corners and the world danced with fluxuating spots of red. When he didn't immediately respond, Dark gripped Jack's white hair and smacked it back against the ice.
With a guttural moan Jack finally looked Dark in the eyes. "What… do you mean?" He asked, voice slurred and sounding as though he was rolling marbles in his mouth.
Delighted that Jack had responded, Dark grinned, "The shadow. It knows they're there. It wants them." He said, humming as if he had taken a bite of something delicious, "I want them."
"Want them for...what?"
"I want them because they're light." Dark snarled and he turned to Jack, the Guardian cringing back unintentionally at the look of hatred that seeped into the yellow eyes like liquid fire. "And after you're too weak to do anything about it, you'll watch as they fall under. And once you're broken, what part of you is going to be left to keep me inside?"
Jack swallowed thickly, tasting the blood that ran down his throat from a broken nose and the pull on busted lips and a bruised throat. He watched as Dark turned around before he allowed himself to drop his head. Deep inside his chest he could feel the pull, the spark that made him who he was. He concentrated on that light like a flickering torch in the dark. He drew comfort from it, and as it was still lit, Jack still had strength. He didn't know how much, and while he hoped that the Guardians would come, because he knew that they could reignite it, he also wished they would have just stayed away.