Notes: Wild ride! And we're coming to a close. Thank you all so very much for sticking this little story out with me!
Once they got away from Pitch's domain Bunnymund was able to open up a tunnel and the two dropped in. Bunny still holding onto the girl and they navigated the tunnels to the place that Jack wanted. Popping out near the pond. This close to Christmas it was frozen over and Jack ran over to it making a quick loop around it freezing it over a little more solid. A habit of his, from before he could even recall who he had been before.
He always had to take the time to freeze this pond. To make sure no one could get hurt here when it was cold.
He came back around to Bunny who had crouched by the pond the young woman looking small and child like in his arms.
"How is she?"
"Not well." Bunny verified to Jack as he balanced the girl and brushed back a bit of her hair. "Pitch went into overtime on her, she's pretty much all base instinct at the moment."
"She'll be alright though. We'll make sure of it." Bunny promised him and Jack gave a hesitant smile in return.
"So," the Easter Bunny said looking around "Why did North tell us to come here?"
"Because this is where I was told to go." The voice that cut through anything Jack would say made both the immortals start and shift to see the golden figure stepping out of shadow. How he managed to hide Jack would never know.
Yeah. Seriously. That guy was scary.
"Lion, Dude, why are you here?" Jack asked, trying to keep his voice light hearted. Years of experience had made it easier and once he was smiling his mood was lifting. Which was good, as he did not like being so angry.
"After I had given my explanation to North and the rabbit left, your 'Manny' contacted us. He was the one that said I should come here instead of going after Key." He told them then paused. "And now I see why that was so." Jack wasn't sure how the sword came to his hand, it was as if it just appeared, and that might have been the case. But he moved as a golden streak a fierce warrior who put himself between the other two and oncoming Danger.
Two figures stepped into view. One was an older looking man. A long cloth of white draped around his shoulders and head. He was very thin and older looking. But his eyes were hidden by the drape of cowl. In his hand he held a time glass. Sand dripping down with impossible slowness.
Next to him the other figure was hard to make out. Vaguely female in shape and outline but there was a deep blackness that at the same time contained nothing but light.
Time and Space. Even Jack had heard of these two. The Eldest of them all.
Why where they here?
"Give us the Key." Space's voice echoed hallow and with hardly anything in it marking it as anything remotely connected to mortal world or concern.
"No" the Protector said simply "She followed your rules, her escape was within the rules as laid out."
"You where only an observer, not to be involved Lion." Time said his voice equally as hallow and without emotion as Space.
"Sheesh!" Jack cut in before this could turn into an argument. He saw a cloud clearing from around the moon as he glanced up to roll his eyes expressively. And it looked huge and full, and wasn't it meant to be a new moon this time of month? The Man in the Moon was up to something that was for sure. "Can we all chill and just talk about this like calm adults?"
"Her sentence had been laid out since the beginning of time when she was not meant to be born. The anomaly must be contained." Space said to Jack.
Jack found himself mouthing 'anomaly' to himself. They spoke as if she was a mistake, a joke.
Oh yeah, he knew that feeling and his own eyes hardened. "She's not some object you can lock up! She's a living being with Hopes and Dreams like the rest of us, HELL she's the SOURCE of all of it! How can you just lock up belief like that? Take away the magic, for what? A CHANCE that something could go wrong? Well guess what! It did go wrong! And because of you she could not even defend herself!" he stepped forward. Beside the Protector who stood solid and sill as carved stone, his blade held ready in case the other two made a move.
Behind him Bunny was impressed. Not many could stand up to those two without flinching. He kept the girl close. He was not about to put her down one bit, so no one could get the chance to nab her without getting a kick from his foot.
And no one, absolutely no one, could kick like a rabbit.
The big two where silent as if Jack's talking back to their orders and will was a shock.
Then Time lifted his hourglass, "If you will not do as we say then we have no choice but to sentence you."
He was not able to do more when there was a portal and Santa's Sleigh came careening out of the air. Everyone had to back up as it more crashed than landed between the two groups.
"Are we late?" Santa said cheerfully. Sandman waved and hopped out. Tooth darted out as well and came to a stop as she spotted Space and Time.
Space showed no reaction though Time raised a brow. "This is a matter that is very simple. Give us back Key. She does not belong here."
North dropped a tied up Pitch to the ground by them. The Boogeyman was looking a little motion sick. No one looked overly sympathetic.
"She belongs here!" Jack shouted shifting around the sleigh. The others blinked at him, "She is the source of magic and belief!" some of it he learned some he just figured out and all of it he knew to be true as his own core was Play. Her's was the very stuff that made it all real. Made children see them. Made life happen. Without her, there would have been only time and space forever expanding with very little interesting things going on.
Maybe in a way, that was what scared them most. She added an element that they could not fully control. Time could only move forward, never look back, and space was just… there.
"If you take Key, Ashley will die and then what? We just keep going like before? Nothing changing? Where is the fairness!"
"Jack-" North started but Jack only glared at him.
"Can it jolly man. I know the world isn't fair. I know this better than anyone. I spent three hundred years learning just how unfair the world was! But she's spent even longer!" he pointed back towards Ashley. "I think it's not a time now to go with just fairness. But Justice.
She never did anything WRONG, she was just born. If she was born towards the beginning of everything how can she be an anomaly without making the rest of us the same? If you are punishing her for being alive then you might as well do the same for all of us."
"Bad choice of words Mate." Bunny said softly as Time seemed to smirk. Jack blinked in confusion but readied for a fight.
"If that is your choice." He responded. Everyone got ready to battle.
Before they could do more though the beam from the moon struck the ground and after a long moment there was a man standing there between them all.
Jack blinked, well, that might explain why he had been taking a bit of time to do something.
Dressed in a simple suit and hair pushed back the Man in the Moon straitened his jacket. "I am afraid you cannot go threatening my Guardians. You are currently in my Realm and my World. So nothing can be done without my permission."
"If the rules have been…" Space started.
"The only rule breaking I've seen have been you." The MiM snapped looking a bit irritated. Turning he walked back towards the group. "Did good." He said to Jack patting his shoulder. The young winter sprite bit his lip. He thought he hadn't wanted anyone's approval over his choices, since it had almost felt as if he had been the only one fighting.
But so simple a phrase and he felt as if his whole existence had just been validated.
"Manny. Old friend." North stated and the MiM smiled at him.
"Good to see you again. It is sad that I couldn't make this trip just out of desire to speak with you all more directly." He said to them and then walked past the Lion who looked like he was going to move but Jack laid a hand on his arm. He looked down at him and for a moment Jack feared he was going to fight him, but instead the sword was gone from his hands and he folded them behind his back. Still again, though watching everyone very carefully.
The Man in the Moon knelt by Bunny still holding the girl and brushed her cheek "I am so sorry I did not know before now just what they had done to you." He said "But I have something you might like." And leaning close he whispered to her. Even Bunny with his big ears could not make out what was said.
But her eyes shot open, alternating between brown and silver. The smile that broke out over her features was huge. "My… Name."
"Guard it well, it took me a bit of hunting to find it. Or I would have come sooner." He told her and taking her hand, with Bunny's aid, he got her to her feet.
"What are you doing?" Time demanded.
"Clearing up at least part of this mess you two created with your rather narrow and unimaginative ways." He snapped "She is one of mine, a Guardian."
The others looked at her as if they expected her to change, but her eyes settled back to brown. Other than a streak of white that had formed in her black hair she looked the same as before. And completely human.
"Huh?" Jack voiced things first.
"Guardian of Belief, she is and always will be Human."
"But that is only one half of her." Space said, "Giving Key her Name did not merge them."
"Of course not they have spent too long apart for the Gate and Key to merge. Key is as well her own being and is the Immortal half. She is also a Guardian." He stated with finality "Thus now they are mine and unless I allow you to, there can be no punishment."
There was silence. As if the wind itself held its breath.
"Fine." Time finally said.
"But these two are not yours." And both Pitch and the Lion found themselves singled out.
"But!" Jack was held back by the Man in Moon who looked at him a little sad.
"I'm afraid Pitch did commit a crime as well as the Protector, crimes against the laws that those two have set out. In this I can do nothing. But have faith." He told the boy.
"It's not fair." Jack said.
Manny smiled at him and just patted his arm. Ashley stood next to Bunny her hands against her mouth. Part of her was screaming the other half having no clue what was going on at the moment. Which left her feeling confused and scared.
"Lion Protector. You are stripped of your Rank and Title." Time started.
"Dark One Boogeyman. You as well are stripped of your Title and Rank." Space continued.
"As this realm will still be in need of a Dark One, You" Time pointed towards the Lion who was looking a little uneasy "Shall take on the mantle of the Boogeyman. The Shadow of the realm and the Fear Aleese bon Sune"
"His first name was Alice?" Jack muttered with a snicker. North snorted but straitened his features and Tooth hissed at them to be quiet.
"Pitch Black, your punishment is to become the new keeper of Key Tower."
"What? No!" Pitch snapped out of his shock and daze to attempt to escape. But the shadows did not respond immediately to him.
"If that is settled, then why don't you be on your way?" Manny told them stepping forward with a clap of his hands. "After all we cannot have you two here for too long without messing with this realm's sense of time and space."
They nodded. Space lifted her hands and a portal opened. The two stepping though and Pitch found himself pulled towards the black hole that seemed to bend all and drag it into its depths.
Then he was sucked through and gone.
"That… was not how I expected things to go." Jack finally voiced and then pretty much the whole group looked towards the Man in the Moon who cheerfully grinned back at them all.
"That went much better than I was expecting! Congratulations on your new position Sune!" he said giving the lion a friendly clap on the shoulder.
His color seemed to be changing, darkening, until all that remained of his old color was hint around his bronzed skin, flecks in his hair and intensely lion like golden eyes. "So, it would seem." He said looking down at his hands as if trying to place the changes.
It was odd how Jack had a feeling that while there would always be a fear of the dark and boogeyman, it wasn't going to be so horrible anymore. He remembered the other talking to him about what the Boogeymen were.
And it seemed, what they were going to be again.
"What about Pitch?" Tooth asked.
It was Ashley who snorted, but moved over to the lion and gave him a huge hug. He paused a moment and his face softened as he hugged the girl back. Silvery eyes looked out from black hair saying it was Key talking now.
"He'll be fine. Once he gets over the shock I actually think the Tower will suit him." She looked up at the lion who nodded.
"I saw his fears, when he was being drug away. The Tower is a place out of time, he will have no worries of becoming nothing there. And with the prisoners, well, there are many he will have plenty of time to show them fear."
"That, seems like a bum deal for those trapped there." Jack said.
Sune shook his head "Most are criminals, somewhere like Key and innocent, but we cannot save them all and as it stands, the Tower should by this point be fairly empty as all who where there have escaped when Jack freed myself."
Manny nodded "They will head back to their own realms, or have followed Jack and Sune to this one. Some, we may only have to give them a place to stay and a home. They will settle in fine. But others, well, there were worst things in the Realms than Pitch."
"Lovely, so I take it we're going to be fairly busy then?" Bunny said rubbing his face.
"I'm afraid so." The MiM agreed.
"HA! Let them come! We are Guardian!" North said "We will protect this world and its children."
"But, what about me? You, said I'm a Guardian, but…" Ashley/Key looked at their hands. They seemed to be having some sort of internal conversation at the moment.
Manny walked over and took the girl's hands "Ashley, you will always be Mortal. I could not change everything and your death is in itself the greatest power. When you die it will bring Belief and Magic to this world."
"No… I can't handle my sisters dying young!" It was Key talking.
"Before they choose to kill the Gates as children. Because children are the carriers of belief. But now, with the Gate now and forever a Guardian means, when she dies it will be of old age. With a life rich and blessed and full of experience. In that moment, she and you will bring about more power transferred to all the realms than ever before. There will be more magic, and more Belief in our worlds. Making everything better, for everyone. Then you Key, will be able to always be with your sisters. Because the Gate will live again because of you. From the ashes a new Gate will be born, protected and loved by you."
She blinked and felt her lip quiver. "To grow up, and have children?" she said softly.
"To fall in love, to see children and grandchildren. Then start again to experience it all for the first time." Manny said.
Ashley for herself just felt relief that she would never have to live in fear. To be able to have a life without constantly looking over her shoulder. And in an odd way knowing that her life would forever have a very special meaning.
And she was never going to ever be alone. Because Key would be with her. Always. No matter how many lives she lived she would always have Key.
"And I will always be beside you both." Sune said softly and the two turned their gaze to his golden one.
Ashley felt a sense of amusement at the utter love Key felt. Seems she was not to be rid of the Boogeyman.
But this time, she knew it wasn't going to be a bad thing anymore.
"Hey, as a Guardian she won't be rid of us that easy either Mate." Bunny said coming forward.
Ashley grinned looking about herself.
She wasn't alone.
And she was never going to be.
The girl broke into peels of happy laughter. Tears down her cheeks. For all her family never celebrated Christmas, it seemed she was just given the best present ever in her whole life.
And it was going to last her whole life.
And her next one. And the Next.
Yeah, she could live with that.
Ashley closed the door of her apartment. Even though the new Boogeyman had removed the doorway to the dark realm from it there was still too many cold and scary memories here for Ashley or Key to be comfortable.
"This is just, rather weird." Ashley said as she leaned against the closed and now locked doorway. She tossed up the key and would have caught it if Jack had not nabbed them and giggled at her from the roof. She stuck out her tongue "What are you doing here? Don't you have a blizzard to organize or something?"
"All done, I'm actually getting ready for a snow day for this region." He told her.
"Ah, well, I guess that makes sense. So why are you bothering me again?" she raised a brow.
He dropped her keys that she caught and cursed because they were now freezing. He laughed at her. So she flipped him off which only made him laugh harder. Tucking them into her coat pocket she looked back at the mischievous spirit "Well mostly to make sure you were still ok," he admitted "And then to pass on the invite from North. We'll be having the post Christmas party at the pole." He tossed her an empty snow globe.
She caught it and blinked at it "As a Guardian, you're invited." He told her.
She grinned "Well, it sounds fun."
Jack laughed "It should be a riot. Sandy is the best as charades and Bunny can never seem to not get himself utterly smashed on eggnog."
She chuckled "Seems I should bring a camera." She said.
Jack laughed "Oh would you? It would be great!" he was practically dancing.
She laughed and nodded "I gotta get going." She shouldered her bag "See you later then."
Jack smiled and with a couple bounding steps and a cheerful shout he let the wind carry him off. She shook her head. Really couldn't call that flying that he did. More like controlled falling, with style.
She had two families now. And it seemed two lives, and two selves.
Most would call it crazy and impossible and so many other names, but she was Gate and Key.
Keepers of Belief and Magic.
And they were Guardians.
End Notes: This was seriously FUN to write. I hoped I managed to get everyone well. And it's been awhile since I read the original books so I couldn't fully remember what the Man in Moon was like. I did my best off of vague memories and William Joyce's wonderful illustrations.
As always, pardon my typos, I do a cursory look over (some days better than others) before posting but I have no beta readers and these go up as soon as I finish writing them. (that way I can stop procrastinating and get back to my real work lol.)
I dunno if I will go back to this world. If I get an idea. I mean I do love the way its set up and wanted to expand and play a little more in it for ages. The movie just kick started the ideas. (And since I've watched it like 4 times now… And I shall see it again! ) I do admit I'd like to play with some of the non-guardians. Like Cupid whom I introduced here, but I also have ideas of some of the other holidays and personification of concepts (Such as the movie mentioned the Leprechaun and the Great Elk [or did he say oak?]) And I'm a bit of a fan of Tooth and Jack.
As for Pitch, well once he adjusts I actually think he won't find Key's tower so much a prison as a new Palace. A captive audience, nice views, and no fear of being forgotten or unrelieved in. Plus a lovely bonus of being able to use his very position as the Key of the Tower to dangle as a carrot to keep his captives playing…
Will he ever leave himself again? *shrugs* Who knows.
As for Ashley, she'll grow to be a ripe old age, have lots of kids and grandkids and great grandkids, then die nice and quiet. Releasing all the years of magic and belief she'd been gathering (meaning power wise, she'll get stronger as she gets older) into the realms giving everyone a wonderful boost of new wonder and belief. Then Key will carry her spirit to another little child about to be born and they will start again.
She'll forever be the mortal Guardian, but also the one that doesn't NEED belief in her to exist.
Key will be more like the Pheonix, always rising from the ashes. And with her Protector now the new Boogeyman, she'll have him by her side. And he's in this not for the fear or belief. He won't care if anyone really believes in him (but oh will they) for him it is a Duty. And a Charge that he will carry out.
If anything, he's a bit scarier LOL for him it really is nothing personal. Heheh.
Anyway thanks for hanging around and letting me blather at you for 7 chapters! Now off to real work and my other fanfic…