Inspired by lots of things: Rufftoon's prequel comic to the Rise of the Guardians movie, various fanarts from Tumblr and of course the movie itself. The animation was gorgeous, and Jack's memories AND Bunnymund's meltdown over their failure to save Easter were just really, really beautifully done. I've been dying to write a story with Sandy and Pitch, and after finally seeing the movie, I can! So here you go :)
This is the spiritual successor to my other fanfic, The Blizzard of '68, which also deals with Jack Frost and drownings.
"So now everybody's leaving?!"
All the Guardians-except their newest member-exchanged looks. Bunnymund shrugged. "We don't actually spend that much time together. We've all got our own work to do."
Tooth shot him an irritated look, and turned back to Jack to say, "I'll visit lots! I promise I will. I mean, I'll be busy, but I'll figure it out."
Jack blinked at her. There was never a moment since they had met that he had not been overwhelmed by her energy.
"If you ever want to visit me, just knock on the front door," North boomed. "The Yetis will know to let you in this time."
Sandy waved a bit of sand over to ruffle Jack's hair, and Jack seemed to find some meaning in it. "Yeah, but-"
Jack was silenced by a kiss on the cheek from Tooth. She whooped, delighted that she had finally done it, and sped off into the night.
"If we ever need to meet up again like this, then I will send out the signal," North patted Jack lightly on the shoulder. "The Northern lights! You know."
Jack's shoulders sagged under the weight of North's hand, and he mumbled in a low voice, "But what if I need you?"
North and Bunnymund froze. They exchanged wide-eyed looks over Jack's head.
"Just knock on wood, mate," Bunnymund said slowly, giving Jack's arm a little punch. "I'll come running. Whatever you need."
"You can call us for anything," North assured him. "Anything at all."
ONE YEAR LATER
Jack Frost hit the tree with his staff.
Faster and faster, until he was just beating the thing to splinters, all the while chanting: "Bunnymund, hurry up, Bunnymund, hurry up, stupid kangaroo, you said you'd come if I did this, now I feel like a freaking idiot and there's no time-"
The staff was yanked sharply from his hands, and Bunnymund held it out, away from him. "Even the fastest thing in the world takes a couple seconds to travel, mate. It's near Easter, you know! Now what the-"
"There's a kid!" Jack reached wildly for his staff. When Bunnymund held it over his head, Jack stamped his foot and screamed, "I DON'T HAVE TIME FOR THIS, HE'S FREEZING TO DEATH!"
Bunnymund dropped the staff in shock. Jack didn't even bother to pick it up; he grabbed Bunnymund's paw and dragged him over to the edge of the pond, where the very still body of a child lay. The little boy was soaked through, and shivering. Just a few feet out, a jagged gap in the ice dragged the light from the clearing.
"This kid-the ice was way too thin, any IDIOT could see that, but he-but I pulled him out! But it doesn't matter, because he's still freezing to death, and I can't touch him because all I can do is make things more cold and I suck and this is awful and I don't know what to do-"
Without a word, Bunnymund gently pushed Jack down into a sitting position, and, with a pat on his shoulder, indicated that he should just stay. Jack, for his part, didn't argue; his breath was coming in uneven gasps, and he was shaking all over. In a bound, Bunnymund swept the human boy up in his arms and started rubbing his back vigorously as he carried him away. "I'll be right back," He called back to Jack.
Bunnymund was gone for no more than two minutes. It was a bit tricky, since he couldn't be seen, but all he had to do was hop over to the hospital and deposit the boy on the motion-sensor mat. It was like ringing the doorbell and running away to watch the kids discover their chocolate eggs.
He returned to Jack, beaming. "It's all fine, he's sorted out," He assured Jack, patting him on the shoulder. "Modern medicine is pretty fantastic. He'll shiver for a bit, and his parents will be worried, but he'll be more careful next time."
Jack didn't respond. When Bunnymund shook his shoulder again, he flinched. He was staring, eyes painfully wide, at the jagged gap in the layer of ice covering the pond.
"Jack, say something," said Bunnymund, eyes narrowing. "Jack, breathe!"
Jack took a long, painful gasp of air. And another, too quickly. And another, even faster. He was hyperventilating. The wind about him began to blast in short, sharp puffs, and Bunnymund shivered as the temperature plummeted.
Bunnymund rubbed Jack's back vigorously, as he had done for the half-drowned child. "Hey, hey! You did the right thing, mate. I told you I'd come. That was good! He's going to be fine."
Jack shook his head, words garbling in his throat. "This wasn't…that's the spuh-spuh-spot I, and the ice, I should have, I, she was where you were stuh, stand, standing, and I was…was…out," He pointed a shaking finger at where the child had fallen through, "Except I'm not, but I, I, I! Remember! Drowning!"
Bunnymund tried to chuckle. "Mate, you know you can't drown. You're Jack Frost! The water freezes right under you! You'd never be able to, unless you mean…before you became…" Bunnymund glanced at the ice and gulped. "Jack, I need you to calm down."
There was a gust of wind above them, slower and softer than the blasts responding to Jack, and golden sand rained down. Sandy dropped in at Jack's feet, and blew a fistful of dust into his face. With a sigh, Jack collapsed back into Bunnymund's lap.
"Good timing!" Bunnymund gushed. "I thought he was going to really freak, I thought-"
Sandy shushed him with a wave of his hand, and pointed to the sand now forming above Jack's head.
A flat plane of sand appeared, and two figures stood upon it, their legs wobbling. One was tall, with ruffled hair; the other small and cringing. Cracks began to form in the sand beneath them, and they seemed to talk to one another.
The story continued; the taller figure began to lead the smaller to safety. A branch formed out of the sand, and the taller figure grabbed it and held it out to the other. Bunnymund couldn't resist glancing at Jack's staff, clutched tight in his fists.
Bunnymund's eyes widened in horror. "Sandy," he whispered, "What the hell are we watching?"
When the tall figure and his staff finally plummeted through the surface, the sand turned black as night, and a shadow fell over the three of them.
Bunnymund strained his head to turn and glare at Pitch, who held up his hands defensively. "Hey, I'm just doing my job."
It was a sort of seventh sense. The sixth sense was reserved for the children of the world; all the flavors of nightmares and despair. But the seventh sense applied to the nightmares of his fellow entities. They slept so little that any nightmare from one of them was a special treatment.
And this particular instance was far more than a mere misbegotten fancy on the lateness of a delivery or the miscoloring of an egg.
This was a flashback.
Sandy was up to his elbows in sand, molding a new dream, as Bunnymund and Pitch bickered.
"Guardians only sleep when Sanderson makes them," Pitch said calmly. "And then they dream. And if they should happen to have a nightmare, it's not my fault. I'm just here to take care of it."
"Whatever that was, it wasn't a nightmare!" Bunnymund snapped. "It was a, a-"
"Flashback," Pitch said, a true shiver of delight travelling up his spine. "All mine."
"It should be Tooth! Tooth is in charge of memories!"
"It's a dream within a memory. Does she pop up every time a child dreams of the time they won the soccer trophy?"
"You leave this to us, mate, alright?" Bunnymund stuck his nose in Pitch's face. "Do you even have enough power right now to handle this?"
Pitch's face went blank. And then a ferocious leer grew. "I thought you learned a lesson that day. You wept like a child. You should know better. Than to taunt. Me."
A speck of dreamsand flew between them and danced for their attention. Pitch turned his gaze, and was met with the sight of Sandy rolling his sleeves back down and looking immensely pleased with himself. A new dream swam above Jack's head, and Pitch couldn't help but watch with interest. Despite their differences, he and Sanderson always took time to appreciate each other's work.
"Oh, look," he cooed pleasantly. "You've given him a nice dolphin. You really do come up with the best dreams, Sanderson. I doubt he even really knows what a dolphin is. I bet he'll dream about that dolphin for years now, just trying to figure out what the wonderful, majestic creature could be. He's too stupid to just go look in an ocean, but at least now he gets to enjoy something nice. And you've given that to him! Aren't you something. Well done."
Sandy narrowed his eyes. Pitch narrowed his eyes back.
"And when he has another fit, will you give him another dolphin? Every time he has a flashback, will you just replace it with a dolphin? There aren't enough dolphins in the ocean for that. Even worse," and Pitch smiled at this, "He won't be able to do his job. Winter will never be fun again; it will be bitter and frigid and chilling and killing and dead all four months of the year, every year, forever. While he's dreaming of dolphins," He sneered. "Is that what you want?"
Sandy looked speechless. Pitch had to laugh at the irony.
"Now, I think we can all agree that I'm right and you're wrong," He said pleasantly. "So step aside and let me do my job. This nightmare will be a one-time performance, I think, and then he'll never see it again. And yes, he will be scared, and miserable. But it's only temporary. That's the thing about fears," He said with a roll of his shoulders. "People learn from them."
Bunnymund called North and Tooth while Pitch settled himself near Jack and waited for the boy to wake up.
"I don't understand," Tooth wittered frantically. "He saw his memories just last year! He knew what happened."
North shook his head. "I don't like it. I don't like that Pitch showed up so quick. This is wrong-"
"Now hold on."
Tooth and North glared at Bunnymund as he tapped a foot nervously. Finally, he said, "I always knew Jack didn't have believers. I…ribbed him about it. I held it against him. But I didn't know what that actually was until it happened to me."
Tooth and North exchanged a look. "Well, none of us did," Tooth said gently. "We just didn't know."
"And I was cruel. It hurt so much, and it…hurt more knowing what I'd said to him," Bunnymund charged on. "But you know, I don't think I would have appreciated how happy it made him to get just one kid on his side, if I hadn't experienced that. He still doesn't have that many believers, and he never complains. He's still obnoxious and sticks his nose in everything, but he throws his full lot in, wherever he's needed. I'd say it was a full turn-around, but the truth is that he was always like that. And we knew that, but we just didn't know."
North smiled "Bunny," He rumbled, "You've never said so many nice things about him at once."
"I'm going to tell him everything you said," said Tooth teasingly, hoping to cheer the rabbit up.
But his frown deepened. "Tonight, he saw a kid nearly drown. That's why he had the flashback. But I get it, I think. I get why this got to him so badly, so quick." He glanced over to where Pitch sat, patiently waiting for Jack to awake. "I think this needs to happen. He's got to understand it, or it will just keep coming back."
North glanced over to where Sandy hovered, a little ways away from their group. "Sandy? You approve?"
Sandy turned and looked at where Pitch sat. The little man glared, the most vicious expression the Guardians had ever seen on his face. But then his gaze turned to Jack, and his face melted into sorrow. He nodded and turned away.
In truth, Jack had awoken long before he opened his eyes. But he could feel Pitch next to him, the dark shadows leeching his energy and light, and he was too scared to move.
And Pitch loved it. Jack could nearly smell his delight.
"Jack Frost," Pitch wheezed as Jack opened his eyes, "I understand you had a nightmare."
Jack nodded. His arms and legs felt like so much dead wood. He remembered feeling fur underneath him, and sand above him, and wanted the other Guardians so badly it hurt. "Where are they?" He croaked.
"Your precious Guardians? They're nearby."
"Why aren't they beating the crap out of you?"
Pitch chuckled. "They seem to think you deserve this."
Jack narrowed his eyes. "Liar."
Pitch sighed. "Oh, fine. So I fibbed a little. But not much. Nightmares are my job, Jack. The Guardians are going to let me do my job. We're going to work on this nightmare of yours."
Jack shivered. "Do you have to put me to sleep?"
Pitch smiled, almost kindly. "Not at all! You can have nightmares when you're awake. It's very easy."
Jack turned an interesting shade of grey. "Oh."
"So!" Pitch rattled on cheerfully. "You had a flashback. A deathy-type flashback!"
Jack cringed, and the smallest whimper forced itself out of his throat. Pitch rolled his eyes to hide any trace of empathy. It wasn't his job to be sympathetic. "I'm doing this harsh but quick, Jack. It'll be over soon. So! You remembered dying."
Jack nodded. "I knew I had died. I remembered , the day I defeated you. That's how I knew what to do. But I didn't…know." He wrapped his arms around his chest, as if trying to squeeze his own perpetual cold out of his body. "It felt like a knife. I don't know why I never thought of that."
"Fear overwhelms many people as they die," said Pitch with relish. "It blocks out all other feelings, until they can't feel anything else. Fear is all that's left. That's how you died, Jack. In fear."
"I remembered my sister watching."
Pitch smiled. "Even better."
"That's the part that I hate-she watched."
"Watched and didn't help. You must be angry."
"I just can't believe I made her live with that."
Pitch blinked. "What?"
Jack's chin wobbled. "She had to watch that and keep living. Did she ever skate again?"
Pitch looked down at him curiously. "That's what's bothering you?"
The boy didn't respond, but the truth of it hung in the air, and for a moment, Pitch was genuinely disappointed.
But then, life was full of that.
"Oh," He sighed. "Well, no. She never went near water again in her life."
"How do you-"
"I remember your sister."
Jack stared at him for a long while. Finally, he said, "Nobody tells me anything."
"It took a bit to jog my memory," Pitch said gleefully. "But I remember your sister. Slight, trembling little thing. Some people found her timidity very becoming. It was attractive in that era. She had recurring nightmares about you and cried every time she got near the lake. It was dreadful. I spent a lot of time with her."
Weakly, Jack let his head sink back against the leaves and stared up at the moon.
"Her husband was an understanding man," Pitch continued, as if narrating a horrific bedtime story. "He held her at night while she cried. He never took offense when she called out your name for protection instead of his. It tortured your mother, to see her only living child so affected."
"Stop," Jack gasped. "Please, please stop."
"You wanted memories once," Pitch leered. "Memories can be good and bad. Your father became a grim old man. He and his wife were sad, silent people. Many looked on them for their strength, and took their quiet natures for stoicism. They suffered in silence."
Jack continued to stare hopelessly at the moon, silently pleading with the man up there to intervene. The orb shone calmly back.
"And her children! Your nieces and nephews, I should say. This town never knew such a protective mother. Her children were never allowed to skate, or climb particularly tall trees, or do anything remotely dangerous. All the things you like to do with children, they never did. Not once. She never let them out of her sight."
Jack closed his eyes and wished he could die again. "I ruined her life. I ruined everything."
Pitch let him lay there helpless and completely at his mercy for a moment, relishing the misery for as long as he could. Finally, he had to say, "Well, no."
Jack raised his head a little.
"I mean, you act as if ice skating is the only fun activity in the world. Your sister was never remiss about filling the gap for her children. She read them books, and taught them how to make puppets. They invented all sorts of games together. And she knew how to do things like that because you taught her. Your sister was best known for being timid…except in the company of children. She was regarded as one of the most devoted mothers in the world. It was with children that she was really alive." Pitch shrugged again. "Which was acceptable at the time. Women in the home. As I said, it was the era she was in.
"As for your parents, they truly were pillars of strength in this town. They carried the weight, that was true, but the most important thing is that they carried it. They never succumbed to grief. They honored your memory constantly. They carried on.
"As for your nieces and nephews, the stories of Uncle Jack did not fade for several generations," Pitch sighed. "They did eventually fade, into myth I suppose. But that happens in families. That would have happened if you had lived or died.
"It hurt them. They feared. But they turned out okay. And so did you.
"Also, I think you're forgetting one tiny detail: you saved your sister's life. Better a timid life than none at all, eh?" Pitch nudged him with the toe of his boot and smiled, just a little. You were never allowed to look too pleased with results, in this job. "How's that, eh?"
Jack looked up at him, the joy Pitch had been expecting completely absent. "Children have drowned before. On my watch. Before I knew. I saw it happen, and I thought…it felt right, somehow. It was familiar." He reached one hand up and caught the edge of Pitch's long coat. "What do I do about that?"
"Are you afraid more children will die?"
Jack nodded, eyes filling with tears.
"Do you feel bad about the ones that are already gone?"
Jack nodded again, choking on a sob.
"You fear. You hurt," Pitch said coldly. "And you carry on."
He stood, brushing leaves off himself. "Everything requires sacrifice, I suppose. Burgess learned, in your time, to fear thin ice. Sometimes people need a reminder that they fear because there are things to fear. It…rankles me, frankly, that you and your lot try to act as though nothing in the world requires respect, or avoidance, or just plain fear," Pitch's lip curled. "Bravery won't save you from stupidity."
Jack's hand reached towards Pitch. "But fear shouldn't be something that stops you from-"
Pitch brought his foot down on Jack's hand, and the boy screamed through clenched teeth. Pitch grinned. "From what, Jack? Fear shouldn't stop you from what?"
Jacks' face twisted, and he wrenched his hand away. "From trying!" He cried, and a blast of icy wind hit Pitch like a wall, knocking him back.
Pitch could hear the Guardians somewhere above him, running across the clearing to intervene. And he could feel Jack standing up above him, glaring down at him in pure anger.
"I don't regret what I did," Jack spat at him, eyes watering. He clutched his injured hand to his chest. "I'm happy I did it. I'm sorry it hurt her, but it's better that she lived. I did everything I could, and I'll do everything I can from now on! I won't waste what they went through. I'm not sorry!"
Pitch smiled, and sat up as gracefully as he could. "Well," He said, with a smile. "My work here is done."
"What happened?" North demanded, red coat billowing about him. "What's here?"
"Results," said Pitch, pushing himself up to standing. He glanced over to Jack, still furious and nursing his injured hand. "He'll be fine. Won't you, Jack?"
"Keep away from me!" The boy snapped as Tooth enveloped him in a hug. He resisted her embrace, but weakly, and soon she had petted him down into quietness, and possibly tears again.
Pitch rolled his eyes. "Careful with that hand, now."
"Get out!" Jack croaked through Tooth's feathers.
Pitch saluted the group, and turned to leave. "Have a thoroughly pleasant evening, then-"
A small dart of dreamsand nicked his elbow.
Pitch turned slowly, teeth already clenched in an effort to keep his temper. "I showed up," He said slowly. "I didn't have to, not for you lot, but I did. I did my job and nothing else. I-"
It was Bunnymund, glaring at the ground. Pitch watched him, lip twitching contemptuously, until the rabbit said:
"Thanks for coming so quick."
After a moment's hesitation, Pitch nodded, too startled to retort effectively. Bunnymund took another breath, and continued in short, sharp statements:
"Thanks for spotting the problem. Thanks for being honest. Thanks for getting him through it quickly. I'll make sure he thanks you properly later, when he's calmed down."
Pitch nodded again, and then, rather stupidly, said, "Okay." After another pause, he added. "Your…welcome?"
Sandy drifted to Bunnymund's side and glared at Pitch, who glared back. But then Sandy's expression changed, and a wisp of dreamsand flew to Pitch and whirled around him gently. Sandy waved gently with one hand, and while he didn't smile, he looked grateful.
"Safe journeys!" North called across the clearing.
"Pitch!" Tooth cried shrilly over Jack's shoulder. "Uh…keep up the good work!"
Pitch glared at them all, too confused to register their farewells. "I'm leaving now," The Boogeyman announced. "This was very strange. Let's not have it happen again anytime soon."
When he was gone, Bunnymund turned back to the others ruefully. "I think he thought we were making fun of him."
Tooth sighed and cradled Jack in her arms. "Well, we'll just have to keep trying."