"Shh. You have to be quiet now, Baby Bird. You're going to get us caught," whispered Jack to the bundle of fluffy feathers that was only barely concealed beneath his hoodie.
Baby Bird, as he'd taken to calling the little penguin, clearly didn't understand the concept of stealth, because he kept right on chirping.
"Aww, Baby Bird. You know what? Fine?" Jack started whistling as he opened the door to North's place and strode right in as though he belonged there. Which, North assured him, he did. Jack had a room there and everything, and North let him come and go as he pleased. He tried to be a good houseguest (North said he was now a permanent resident, but Jack still wasn't sure). He'd stopped harassing the yetis. He made sure to keep the stairs and pathways clean of ice. He didn't eat much, did his own dishes and didn't have to worry about laundry, because he owned exactly one pair of clothes, and they got washed every time he made a storm. In exchange, for the first time in his life as an immortal, he had a place to call home. A safe place, where he could reliably get food, and have company and conversations with people who actually talked back. It was very nice. Jack appreciated it more than he could tell North. There was only one thing that kept the arrangement from being perfect: Jack wasn't allowed to have any pets.
Mostly that was fine. Jack had never really wanted to bring an animal back to Santoff Clausen for keeps. Dogs were too yappy and ate way too much, and cats were too offended by his cool temperature to want to be around him very long. Jack had always known he'd never be able to keep one of them permanently, but that didn't stop him from helping the little guys when he found young strays on the streets. He did what he could for them, guiding them to families he knew would give them good homes, or singles he thought needed someone to share their lives with, or elderly people who needed someone to ward off their loneliness. And Jack was very proud of his success rate at placing stray animals in good homes.
But every now and then, there'd be a stray that needed a little more than some friendly guidance toward a nice house. Every now and then he found one that was injured, and needed a little time to recuperate before he placed it with its new family. Like that puppy with the barbed wire stuck in its leg, or that baby squirrel from so long ago that had lost an eye that had gotten infected. Jack took the ones who needed more help in, even when he had no place of his own. Empty apartments and long forgotten attics made the best temporary shelters, but he'd also found refuge in barns, libraries, and all manner of other buildings. He only stayed in them long enough to nurse the animals back to health then find them families, then he was off on his own again.
He'd thought that his room at Santoff Clausen would be the perfect place to bring his strays to help them recuperate. The yetis, however, thought differently. The first time Jack had come home with a puppy they'd practically treated it like a breach of security. After that, Jack was just careful not to let anyone see him sneaking injured strays to his room. North's place was big enough that he could easily hide an animal in his room for a week or two without anyone finding out about it, then it was gone and off to its new family before anyone even knew it was there.
Technically, Jack convinced himself that he wasn't breaking any rules. North had never flat out told him he couldn't bring home animals. Just the yetis, and they weren't the final word around here. But he never went to ask North, because if North said no, then he would be breaking the rules by bringing back his strays – something he had no intention of stopping no matter what the rules were.
So Jack whistled loudly as he tried to conceal the big lump beneath his sweatshirt underneath his crossed arms.
"Jack? Is that you?" called North's voice from the Globe room as he passed by it.
"Uh oh," muttered Jack.
He heard chirping, and at first thought that it was Baby Bird, but then he was dive bombed by half a dozen of Tooth's mini-fairies.
"H-hey! Good to see you guys too," he said, as they backed off a bit, but hovered in heart formation. Then he peaked into the Globe room and suppressed a wince as he saw that Tooth and North were not the only ones there. Bunny and Sandy were in attendance as well, and Phil was serving milk and cookies.
"Come on in," North invited him.
"W-were we having a meeting today?" Jack asked, still staying outside the door.
"No, no. Think of it more as a spontaneous get together!" North said.
"Oh. Well, uh, let me just run to my room, and then –"
"Get in here, ya gumby," Bunny said. Sandy beckoned to him.
"I'll join you in a minute, I just need – whoa!" Jack stumbled as the mini-fairies swarmed him, herding him into the Globe room. He tripped over an elf and went flailing through the air before hitting the floor. Only a quick turn before landing kept him from squashing Baby Bird underneath him. However, Baby Bird did not appreciate the sudden movement. He let out a squalling, squeaking noise that turned all eyes down to Jack.
North froze in the act of moving to help Jack up. "Jack? What was that?"
"Uh, nothing?" Jack tried, but knew that wasn't going to cut it.
Phil stomped forward blabbering something in Yettish. Jack hopped back away from him, right as Baby Bird decided that was the perfect moment to stick his head out of the neck of Jack's shirt and start chirping.
"Is that a penguin?" asked Bunny.
"Awww, he's so cute, even if he doesn't have any teeth," Tooth crooned.
"Bruffaw shlagog!" Phil shouted, reaching for the little bird.
Jack reacted on instinct and blasted Phil with ice, using his staff. "No! He's mine!"
"Jack!" North looked shocked.
"You can't make me get rid of him, North! He'll die!"
"He was all alone on the ice when I found him. I looked everywhere for his family, but they weren't anywhere! He was all alone!" cried Jack.
"Jack, I –"
"And baby penguins can't survive on their own. They need someone to protect them, and care for them, and show them the way. He would have died if I left him there, North! I couldn't let him die."
"I don't mi- "
"It's not his fault that he doesn't have a family! It's not his fault that he has no one, and that he was all alone! He shouldn't have to be alone! He shouldn't have to die!"
Baby Bird managed to wiggle his way out of Jack's hoodie and would have fallen, but Jack caught the baby penguin in his arms and cradled it to his chest.
"He deserves the chance to grow big and strong, and someday, find a family of his own. Don't tell me to go put him back, because I won't! I won't!" Jack was shaking with emotion, but stared defiantly up at North silently daring him to banish the penguin. Jack meant what he said. He wasn't going to leave the penguin alone. He'd leave Santoff Clausen. After burying it in a blizzard to end all blizzards.
Despite his resolve he still winced when North's huge hand clamped down heavily on his skinny shoulder, practically swallowing it up.
"The penguin is fine, Jack. He can stay," North told him.
And then for some reason, Jack felt very weak with relief. He might have actually fallen without North's hand holding onto him. Something else was falling, actually . . . Baby Bird chirped in protest as tiny beads of ice rained down on his head, then bounced away, clattering to the floor.
"What the heck are those, hailstones? Why are there hailstones . . . oh," said Bunny as he realized what was happening.
"Oh, don't cry, Jack. It's alright," said Tooth, swooping in on his other side to give him a sideways hug.
"I'm not crying."
Sandy made a picture of a face with the nose growing longer and longer, like a treebranch.
Sandy added some leaves, a bird's nest, and a baby bird to the treebranch-nose, and if Jack had had his hands free, he would have iced the sand Pinocchio.
But it was hard to hold onto his annoyance with North's hand on his shoulder, Tooth hugging him, Bunny reaching forward to ruffle his hair, and Baby Bird chirping in his arms.
"It's alright Jack. It's alright to smile again. We'll make sure both our baby birds get the chance they deserve," said Tooth.
Jack looked at her confused. "I only brought one penguin back."
"Of course. Silly me," laughed Tooth.
Bunny laughed too as he ruffled Jack's hair again. "Because birds are clearly the only thing we're talking about."
If you liked this please check out my other RotG fics: "Your Father," "Your Son," and "Five Times Jack Took Care Of Himself, And One Time He Didn't Have To."
Also, please review!