This is just an angst little one shot that was inspired by the beautiful artwork by tealgeezus. It fails entirely to do it justice, but any excuse for shameless angst is well received!
It didn't take long to find him. Jack was a creature of habit. When scared or upset or hurt he returned to Burgess, to his lake, and to the comfort of the ice that had ended his last life and given birth to his new one.
Snow was falling gently around the small town, drifting almost mournfully on the wind. North looked over at Bunny and frowned. From previous experiences they knew that when Jack was upset, the weather got violent. Jack had been more than upset when he'd left, and they'd all been prepared to battle a blizzard.
But the snow merely continued to drift around them and North had no difficulties at all in piloting the sleigh down towards the lake.
The ease of their travel made it impossible to ignore the reason they were all there. Even Bunny was onboard, marking the occasion as something of an emergency.
There was no threat to the safety of the children and the world wasn't ending, but emergency was still a pretty accurate description of the situation they were all facing.
It had been a simple misunderstanding that was all.
A failure to communicate.
When North had summoned the other Guardians it was because he found himself missing their company. Both Easter and Christmas were months away, and Sandy and Tooth needed to be reminded to take a moment to relax every now and then.
North had lit the aurora and they had arrived. Only Bunny complained, and he only did so because it was expected of him. They'd all been more than glad of the company and North expected they were secretly pleased he had called them together. Gone were the days of self-sufficiency. They had been friends before the incident with Pitch, but now they were closer. They shouldn't have to work alone, they should be allowed to have fun.
And so they all sat back, waiting for Jack to arrive, stories of times long past flowing between them to fill time, growing wilder and more elaborate with each new round of eggnog.
It had never occurred to North that Jack might not recognize the significance of the Northern Lights.
It should have. Once he had finally accepted the position, Jack had taken to being a Guardian with considerable gusto, but even he couldn't learn everything he needed to know in jut a few short months.
As the night grew darker, it wasn't until Sandy started to nod off that they even considered the possibility that Jack might not have understood the invitation.
It was moments later that Jack had flown in through an open window, eyes bright with excitement and already half way through telling North about meeting the Leprechaun, who was, North vaguely understood, the most amazing being ever.
The others had been happy to see him, right up until the smile dropped off Jack's face. "What…what are you guys doing here? Is it Pitch?" he'd asked, alarm creeping into his voice. He clutched his staff tighter.
North, foolishly, had laughed. "No, we drink and be merry! Much gossip to catch up on." He'd whispered that last part conspiratorially, wholeheartedly including Jack in on the fun. He knew stories about the Leprechaun that would make the boy cackle with glee.
But while Jack's frown did vanish, it wasn't replaced by any of his usual curiosity or excitement. He'd looked completely blank. "Oh, right. I'm sorry, I'll leave to guys too it. Sorry North."
Tooth rose from her place by the fire, calling out to him. "Jack, wait-"
But Jack was already gone. The wind bore him away deep into the night at such a reckless pace even she could not catch him.
So here they were, gathered in the sleigh and chasing down their wayward member in the middle of the night, and all because North was an old, forgetful fool.
"Over there." Tooth pointed out. North followed her lead and set the sleigh down on the ice.
Jack sat on the opposite side of the pond, his knees to his chest and his hood drawn over his head. If he heard their arrival, he didn't move to show it.
"Oi, Jack. Come on mate." Bunny, in his gruff concern, bounded out of the sleigh first and hopped towards Jack. "It's bloody freezing out here!"
"Go away." Jack didn't turn to face them. "Go back to your party."
"Not really a party," North tried to explain. "More of a gathering."
"Whatever. You go back to having fun at your 'gathering' and leave me to have my fun here."
"Doesn't look like all that much fun, mate." Bunny said doubtfully.
"Jack, you don't understand-" Tooth tried to soothe him. She wrung her hands together and fluttered closer.
"I understand just fine." Jack finally stood and turned to face them. His nose was red, but worse were the frozen tracks on his cheeks. "Now leave me alone!"
Now the weather stayed to turn. The wind picked up and the temperature dropped rapidly, leaving all of them but Sandy shivering.
Jack rubbed angrily at his cheeks, his staff clenched tightly.
North's belly began to rumble. This was all going to end so badly.
Then Jack's expression changed again and for a moment his eyes gleamed with tears. There was no threat to the safety of the children but Jack looked like his world was ending. Before any of them could say anything, he took off once again into the night.
North immediately turned on his heel. "To the sleigh! We catch him now or be running around like cats and dogs all night."
"No mate." Bunny said seriously. "Not sure that's a good idea."
North stopped and turned. He closed the gap between himself and Bunny and gapped at what he saw.
Where Jack had been sitting, hidden from his sight by the shadows of the dark, North could finally see what Jack had guarded from them.
He'd built snowmen. Beautiful, intricate snowman. One wore a fluffy Cossack, another had tribal designs etched into its body, a third had wings spun finely from ice, and there was no mistaking the fourth for anyone other than Sandy.
"He made us." North breathed. "But why?"
"Because we're lousy friends." Bunny said sadly. "So he made some of his own."
North edged closer and touched his own image. Jack made the best snowmen, but then of course he'd had years of practice: for a long time, his sculptures were the only company he had.
And now, thanks to North, he was right back where they found him: alone and sad.
But not friendless.
No. Not friendless. Jack had been by himself for three hundred years, and if it took the next three hundred, North would convince him of one thing: he did not have to be alone any more.