Sanctuary: The Workshop, pt. 2
by K. Stonham
first released 30th December, 2012
Ten Years Previous
The summons had rung like a bell through the Warren, waking Bunnymund, who had been dreaming about the prettiest egg patterns... which were now completely gone from his mind.
Grumbling about North's perpetually terrible sense of timing, it took Bunnymund a moment to realize this wasn't the usual summons from the Pole. When he did, he froze. He offered up a prayer that North had maybe just (please, please) accidentally put the summons lever in the wrong position.
Then he opened a tunnel and ran for the Pole as fast as he knew how.
When he got there, some of the others were already at North's traditional gathering area: North, Jack, Phil the Groundhog (Bunny made sure to stay on the other side of the gathering from him), and Eros. They were all watching the globe.
Accepting a goblet of mulled cider from an elf, Bunny glanced up at the globe.
The goblet fell from his hand, splashing hot liquid all over the floor and his feet. "What - what is this?" he asked, shocked beyond all belief.
Jack, from his position perched on the railing, glanced at him. "Nuclear war," the winter sprite said softly.
The second word Bunny knew, though he didn't understand how any war could be doing... that. "New-clear?" he asked. "What in the bloody blazes is that, mate?"
"Jack will explain as soon as rest of Council arrives," North intoned. "Ah, Jack Skellington," he greeted the All Hallow's Eve spirit as he joined them. "I hope your journey went well?" A brief smile flashed across North's face. "At least I am not returning your favor and kidnapping you in sack!"
"Wait," Jack Frost interjected, "he's who you got that idea from?"
There was little room on the round, skeletal face for pleasantries. "What's happening, Sandy Claws?"
Joviality fled North's expression. "I fear, my friend, the end of the world."
The grand Council chamber had a long table set with thirteen chairs. Jamie followed Jack into the room quietly. "Do I need a run-down?" he murmured.
"You know the Guardians," Jack replied, equally sotto voce. "The redheaded guy in green over there is Patrick, the Leprechaun. He's in charge of St. Patrick's Day, does stuff with rainbows and clovers and gold coins. Don't go drinking with him and North."
"I sense a story."
"I'll tell you about it when you tell me about your fraternity hazing," replied Jack, who had never yet gotten that story out of Jamie.
"Never in a thousand years am I going to give you that ammunition. Who's the man next to him?" Jamie indicated a tall, athletic man with curly dark hair and golden skin - one of the other human-looking Legends.
Jamie stopped, blinking. "Cupid?" he hissed.
Jack grinned. "He hates that name. His wife loves tormenting him with the diapered baby images."
"Oh, God, Greek myths." Jamie held his head in his hands and took a breath. After a moment, he straightened again. "Okay, and the others?"
"Skeleton guy is Jack Skellington, he's in charge of Halloween. Little bit creepy, but mostly okay. He and North apparently go way back. The furry who isn't Bunny is Phil, the Groundhog. Bunny really doesn't like him, but I've never been able to get the backstory of why. North says he'll tell me when I can hold my liquor."
Jamie snickered. "So, never."
"Shut up," Jack said with no real heat. "The African lady with antlers in her hair is Gaia, Mother Nature, and... she isn't looking too good." Concern reared up. If Mother Nature wasn't looking well... "The guy she's standing with, the one whose hair is starting to go gray, is Peter. Father Time. And the other guy with them, the one with the feathers, is Thomas. He's in charge of Thanksgiving."
"He doesn't look good either," Jamie murmured.
"Yeah." Jack was grim.
Jamie counted. "That's twelve. Who's missing?"
If possible, Jack felt his expression get even darker. "Mort. Death. She's kind of busy right now."
The high back of Jack's chair was engraved with a snowflake. Jamie looked around; North's was marked with a wrapped gift, Bunny's with an egg, and Tooth's with, of course, a tooth. Sandman's, Jamie figured out after a moment, was a swirl of sand particles. The heart, clover, coffin, and pumpkin all seemed obvious enough. He blinked, however, at the carved turkey that looked like nothing so much as a child's elementary school hand-tracing project.
North... had a strange sense of humor, Jamie decided.
The chair with a tree had to belong to Mother Nature, and the one with a hourglass to Father Time. Why there was a round clock face on the last seat, though, Jamie wasn't sure. By process of elimination, it had to belong to the Groundhog; did he also have some kind of time powers?
"Stand behind my chair until you're called," Jack said quietly as everyone began drifting toward, or, in the cases of Mother Nature and the Thanksgiving Turkey, being helped into, their seats. "Humans don't get a voice in the Council; we're probably going to be fighting uphill here."
"What's the goal?" Jamie murmured back.
Jack's mouth thinned. "To figure out what we can save."
"The chair recognizes the Winter Shepherd," Father Time's smooth, steady voice said. "Jack Frost, why have you called this meeting of the Council?"
Jack looked around the circle of the people who were theoretically his peers. Part of him still found several of them intimidating. He refused to let that show. "You've all seen the lights going out on North's globe. And Mother Nature, Turkey... you're both obviously feeling the effects of what is happening today."
"An' what is happening?" The Leprechaun leaned forward.
Jack frowned. "Nuclear war."
"What is this 'new-clear' war?" asked Eros.
Bunnymund nodded. "That's what I want to know, too, mate."
Jack took a deep breath, and took a risk. Would they listen to a human? "I cede my authority to an expert. Jamie Bennett."
A murmur of voices fluttered up as Jack stood, pushing his chair back and standing. Jamie, God bless him, didn't need any prompting to step up by Jack's side.
"Nuclear war," Jamie's voice, a teacher's voice, cut across the low noise, "is what happens when humans wage war on one another using nuclear weapons."
There were blank looks almost all the way around the table. "Use smaller words," Jack murmured. "Older concepts."
Jamie blinked. "Nuclear weapons," he tried again, "are like... bombs. Very big, very destructive bombs, that not only destroy cities, but poison them as well. Poison the land, the water, the trees... everything living. And the poison, the radiation, persists for years. Centuries, even. There are sites of nuclear disaster like Chernobyl where it still isn't safe, seventy-five years later. And, as a following concern... the strikes kick dust into the air. A lot of dust. It's believed..." Jamie stopped, steadied himself, went on. "In 1815, the explosion of Mount Tambora capped a series of other major volcanic eruptions, similarly expelling dust into the atmosphere." He looked down at the table. "I believe most of you probably remember 1816. Humans call it the year without a summer. A nuclear war on this scale could have similar, or even worse, environmental effects."
"Still, this human war concerns us how?" asked Father Time.
Jamie drew a long breath. "Meaning no offense, sir... but from what I understand of your role, everything belongs to you, correct? Time eventually reaps everything. All humans included." This earned Jamie a nod. "But I don't believe I'm wrong to say that all of you," he said, his gaze sweeping the table, "also belong to my kind."
A cacophony of protests burst out, which was only dispelled by Time banging loudly and repeatedly on the table with his gavel. His black eyes were dangerous as they looked at Jamie. Who, thank God, did not flinch. "Explain yourself," Time said, "but do not try my patience."
"What are you," Jamie asked quietly, "without humans? Not just the Guardians; all of you. If no one survives to give thanks, or to fall in love... what happens to Turkey, to Cupid? If there is no green of Saint Patrick's Day? No one to scare on Halloween? If there is no one left to reap, what of Death?" His gaze lingered on the empty chair. Then Jamie looked straight into Time's eyes. "What becomes of time, sir, if there is no one left to mark it?"
Time's hand clenched on his gavel, then relaxed again, as if forced to by its owner. "What do you propose, human?"
Jamie smiled, but it was a thin thing. "I cede my authority back to Jack Frost. He's the one with a plan."
"Thanks so much," Jack murmured, unsure if he was being sarcastic or serious.
"Jack?" Toothiana asked.
Jack drew a breath. "I propose that we rescue as many humans as possible. Bring them into our strongholds. Shelter them, and keep them alive until it's safe for them to go back to the rest of the world."
"Frostbite." Bunny's voice was very soft. "They can't see us. Can't touch us. How're you proposing to save them?"
Jack's smile was wan. "We can touch the unconscious ones. And Sandy's very good at knocking them out."
The Sandman smiled, and made a small bow.
"And these new-clear and ray-dee-ation things?" Phil the Groundhog leaned forward. "What's the point of trying to save humans? If the stuff's that deadly, it'll just kill us too."
"Actually." Jamie pushed his glasses up, "it won't."
"Explain," Jack Skellington bid Jamie, completely ignoring Time's rules of order.
Jamie smiled. "I've known Jack for fifty years. He's let me wave various science gadgets at him. And one thing we found out is, magic beats radiation." He waved his hand at the room. "Every inch of Santoff Claussen, and all of your domains too, I'll bet, is soaked in your magic. It's safety and shelter. Sanctuary."
North stroked his beard. "This could work," he said, speaking for the first time. "Here, and Warren, and Tooth Palace... Sandy's Island..."
"How many would we have to rescue?" the Leprechaun asked. "My Underhill's a bit cozy, but if Bunny or Phil's willing to help me, I suppose it could be expanded."
"Ideally..." Jamie paused, then continued, "ten thousand plus."
"Ten thousand?!" Jack demanded, staring.
Jamie shrugged helplessly. "Too few, and you get a genetic bottleneck, which introduces limited variability, which means you get one good disease and the whole population goes down." Eros was nodding, so he at least understood the concept.
"It's not just humans we'll need to be saving, either," the Groundhog said. "There's entire vulnerable ecosystems out there. Plants, animals..."
Jack faltered. The sudden realization of the scope was staggering. He looked up at Jamie. "We can't do this," he whispered. "It's too big."
"Jack." Jamie's hand was on his shoulder. "One step at a time. You've already saved my family. Maybe you can't save the world. But whatever you can... it will be enough. We will make it be enough."
"Jack." His attention switched over to North. "If this is to happen... you must make your stronghold part of it."
Jamie's hand tightened. "You have a stronghold?" Jamie asked. There was a definite undercurrent in his voice of and you never told me about it?
Jack shrugged. "Not really a stronghold. It's just a playground, down in Antarctica."
"Nonetheless," said North. "You must make it more. Now."
Jack bit his lip, then nodded.
"Are we agreed, then?" Tooth looked around the table. "We rescue humans, and bring them into our shelters?"
The Leprechaun pointed at the empty chair. "Not Mort's. 'Tisn't possible."
"And not ours," said Mother Nature quietly, speaking for the first time. Her hand was on on Father Time's. "If what Mister Bennett has said is true... it will soon no longer be viable."
"What I'd like to know, though," the Leprechaun said, "is how something like this happened at all."
North's face darkened, but he stopped. Looked at Jamie. "Jamie, thank you for testimony. Rest of Council meeting, I think, is not for humans to hear."
Jack could see the protest form on Jamie's face. He stopped it, a hand on his friend's arm. "Trust me," he said. "You really don't want to be here for the rest."
"Jack, that's not-"
"Trust me," Jack repeated firmly. "There are things you don't want to see, Jamie." And given what Jack could read on his fellow Legends' faces... he suspected there were things they did not want humans to know. Not even Jamie. The thought made him nauseous, that one of his own kind might be responsible for this.
Jamie studied his face for a minute, then acquiesced. "Come find me when you're done."
Jack nodded and saw Jamie to the door, closed it firmly behind him. Turned back to the Council. Retook his seat.
"Well handled," Jack Skellington complimented him.
Then North burst out with the theory Jack had been dreading, and he closed his eyes, not wanting it to be true, but at the same time unable to deny that it felt right.
Author's Note: The above scene continues directly into the flashback scene in chapter 3. And I can't remember who in this fandom first came up with the term "winter shepherd" for Jack, but it was brilliant and apt and I hope they don't mind that I've borrowed it here.
Unfortunately this is the last fanfic bit I'm going to be putting out for a bit, since I've promised myself this January to work on my second novel, Field of Stars. So... my fanfiction is now semi-officially on hold until February 1st. Any bits that may come down the pipeline will be things that were already 90% finished and just needed tweaking, or stuff I write during my lunch break at work. Sorry for the hiatus, but I really do want to have my own original work published at some point. See you in February!