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Gambade (French) : Caper, frolic, gambol, prance, leap
Chapter 3 – Gambade
The sun had only just set when the Guardians arrived in Bangkok. The city was loud, busy and full of lights, the type of place Jack would have liked to plunge into his frozen chaos given the opportunity. As it was, there were thousands of teeth to collect, and Thailand really was too warm for snow and ice.
"Falling asleep, are ya Frostbite?" Bunny chuckled, sending a mocking smirk in the winter sprite's direction. "You can nap in the sleigh if ya want. We'll be fine withou'ch'ya."
"Oh, don't you worry about me, Kangaroo, I'm perfectly fine. I couldn't possibly leave you guys to do this on your own, you'd never get all the teeth without my help." Jack smiled over at the pooka, his mouth twitching as he saw the glare being directed at him.
"Is that a challenge, mate?" Bunny said lowly, eyes narrowed dangerously. In the front of the sleigh, North grinned widely, sensing an oncoming game. Tooth sighed, shaking her head and Sandy just shrugged, not seeing any merit in trying to stop the argument.
"Maybe. Or maybe it's just a thought on my part questioning your ability to perform in this task, Bunny Rabbit."
"Oh, you've asked for it now ya show pony. Let's see how you handle racing a rabbit." The sleigh hadn't even landed on the roof properly when Bunny leapt out, already racing towards the nearest house in search of teeth. Tooth and Sandy rolled their eyes, following at a slower pace as they started their own hunt for the teeth. North laughed, rushing to a nearby chimney to commence his own search, determined to beat both the rabbit and the winter sprite. Jack just sighed, moving to the middle of the roof and closed his eyes. He lifted his head slightly, sniffing intently.
Everything on Earth had its own special scent, a fact well known by the animals. It was simple work for a wolf to sniff out the difference between a crow and a pigeon, or a forest mouse and a sewer rat, or in this case a tooth in a city full of scents. The Guardians had no knowledge of his abilities - ones gained from living with the wolves for so long - and Jack had no qualms using said abilities against them.
The first tooth was mere meters away, missed completely by Bunny in his rush to embarrass the winter spirit. Jack snuck into the child's room, reaching under the boy's pillow for a small tooth. It was small and white and had a strong scent of mint mixed in with the tangy tooth smell, not a trace of blood or gum clinging to the small piece of bone. The child had obviously cleaned it up before placing it under the pillow.
Jack tucked the tooth into a pouch hidden in his cloak, joining the many others he'd already collected. The sprite reached into a pocket, pulling out a small coin - a collection of various currencies and values stolen or found over the years, mere trinkets that he didn't mind parting with - and placing it under the pillow as a gift. He'd remembered the tales he'd heard of the Tooth Fairy, of the trade system she held of swapping teeth for money. Bunny, North and Sandy had all forgotten, and he knew they were just swiping the teeth with nary a care. Jack couldn't help but smirk. They'd have to go back and fix that later.
It wasn't even twenty minutes later that they regrouped, each holding a bulging bag of teeth.
Tooth was ecstatic, buzzing around like a hummingbird on a sugar high. She praised them all, comparing them to her fairies, only to freeze a second later.
"Uh... guys... have you been leaving gifts?" She finally asked, glancing at the Guardians.
They too froze, triumphant expressions morphing into guilty ones. "Uh... whoops?" Bunny said, scratching the back of his head ruefully.
"Oh MiM, didn't even one of you leave something?" Tooth's voice was exasperated, fluttering back and forth in front of the line of 'workers'.
"I did." Jack said, smirking over at Bunnymund. He reached into his pocket, pulling out a handful of coins. "Are these okay?"
"Yes, those are perfect!" Tooth grinned, pulling Jack into hug - completely missing the growing panic in the winter sprite at the touch - before turning to the others. "Go to a laundry or something and get some coins. You'll have to go back and leave the gifts in all the houses you've been to."
The Guardians raced from city to city, collecting the teeth from under the pillows of children and leaving behind all manner of gifts and trinkets in their place. Jack had to admit that it was getting rather ridiculous. Since when did the Tooth Fairy leave Easter eggs or Christmas trees (complete with wrapped presents) as gifts?
"As long as there's a gift." Tooth had shrugged when he'd asked, quickly slipping a coin under a little girl's pillow before zipping out the window.
It was amazing how fast they were clearing countries, over 400 cities and townships in countless time zones in the span of one night. It was interesting for Jack to watch, to truly see how the Guardians worked with each other, how spirits were supposed to interact with each other. It was heart-warming, but it was also saddening. Jack had never known that sort of closeness, the sort of friendship that the Guardians shared with each other.
Jack shook his head, clearing his mind for the seventh time in as many minutes. The little boy in front of him had lost four teeth - four! - the day before after getting in a fight at school for one reason or another. The winter sprite snatched up the teeth, dropping four coins beside the pillow before exiting the building.
That brought his tooth count up to somewhere around 8000. Bunny was sitting comfortably at 7500 give or take, safe in the knowledge that Jack hadn't found as many as he had. North was somewhere around 7500 as well. Tooth and Sandy weren't participating in the 'competition', leaving their numbers uncounted.
Jack snickered, tucking the teeth away as he flew to the next house.
It was a familiar building, one he'd stood outside of and watched as the children went to sleep, the kind mother tucking in her precious ones and kissing them goodnight. That was barely five hours ago, US time. Young Jamie was still asleep, his tooth tucked safely under his pillow and his hands wrapped around the paw of his sleeping dog.
Jack smiled, entering quietly via the window, almost running into Tooth as she moved around the bed.
"Left central incisor." Tooth said, smiling knowingly at Jack. "Knocked out in a freak sledding accident. I wonder how that could have happened?"
"Um... Wasn't me?" Jack grinned, attempting to pass the blame. "Kids, you know?"
Tooth just smiled, slipping a coin under the pillow after tucking the tooth away in a pouch.
"This was always the part I loved the most." She said, floating higher to look at the boy's sleeping face. "Seeing the kids..."
"Why did you stop?" Jack asked, wrapping his cloak around his body. "If you loved it so much, why did you give the task to others?"
"I... I don't really know. Things got chaotic, disorganised, and I ended up having to stay at the Palace to make sure that everything ran smoothly. Eventually, I just forgot what it was like I suppose..."
"Why don't you teach one if the mini fairies to do your job? Show them what to do in order to keep things running as they should so that you can go out more often? When was the last time you left the Tooth Palace?"
"About... Four hundred and fifty years ago, give or take." Tooth sighed, lowering her head. "You're right, maybe I shouldn't have taken on all that responsibility by myself. But which one should take over? Most of them would panic and everything would fall apart. They're a lot like North's elves in that way."
"What about Baby Tooth?" Jack asked, smiling as the little fairy appeared at the sound of her name. "She took her sisters being kidnapped pretty well. I think she'd be able to handle the responsibility, maybe not all the time, but enough to give you the chance to get out sometimes."
Baby Tooth squeaked softly, her eyes wide and a huge grin splitting her face.
She buzzed to Jack's side, hugging his cheek in gratitude for the faith he showed her. Jack smiled back, stroking her feathered head with his forefinger.
Tooth smiled, floating to the winter sprite's side. "Thank you for helping me, Jack." She said, resting a hand on his nest of white hair. "You didn't need to, but you did anyway."
"I helped because its not fair for others to suffer just because the children don't believe. If I can help convince children to believe in someone, even if it isn't me, then I will. Then there's the thing about my memories." Jack sighed, closing his eyes. "It makes me uneasy. I want them back, I want them back so much that I can barely describe it, and I'd accept any help I can find to get them. But at the same time, do I really want to know? What could have happened that was so terrible that I had to forget my former life? How would it affect me to know? Am I really being inconvenienced by not knowing?"
"I don't know," Tooth said quietly. "But I wish I had known about them sooner. I could have helped you before this mess even began."
"Don't worry about me for now, we'll just fix this first and then deal with -"Jack broke off, sniffing the air and listening intently. "We're about to have company."
"There you are!" North's booming voice came right on time, the big man just barely squeezing into the room with Sandy close behind. Tooth quickly shushed him, gesturing frantically towards the sleeping child. North just grinned, shuffling over to allow Sandy room to move.
"How're you feeling?" North asked, trying to keep his voice low.
"So much better." Tooth's voice was relieved. "I can feel the belief again, and it feels wonderful."
"Good, good!" North grinned, shaking his fist in delight. Sandy smiled, holding up a thumb.
"Oh of course..." Bunny's rough Australian accent came through loud and clear, one of his rabbit holes opening in a corner of the room. "You all conspire together to make sure I get last place, eh?"
"Hush Bunny!" Tooth hissed, once again gesturing wildly at the sleeping boy. "Sleeping child here!"
Bunny winced, sending an apologetic look at the large fairy.
"Oh Bunny..." Jack's voice was soft and sad. "I'm heartbroken. I can't believe you think that I'd need the help of others to win against you. I'm more than capable of kicking your arse without assistance."
Jack could physically see the anger rising in the pooka.
"You think you're so great, don't you?" Bunny sneered. "I'd like to see you beat this!" He pulled a great red sack from behind his back. "Well, what about the rest of you?"
Sandy and Tooth just shrugged, neither of them had been participating in the competition and so weren't getting involved. North drew out a bag about the same size as Bunny's, putting it on the ground by his feet with a rattling sound like marbles knocking against each other. Jack smirked, pulling out his own bag of teeth. He was pleased to see Bunny's eyes open very wide in shock.
"How's this? Is it enough?" The winter sprite asked, his voice just too innocent.
Bunny only got more infuriated.
"Why you bloody -" he broke off as a light flashed in his eyes, coming from a torch being held by the boy on the bed. The five spirits stood staring in shock as the kid moved the light from one figure to the next, his eyes getting larger and larger by the second.
"Santa?" He murmured. "The Sandman? Easter Bunny? The Tooth Fairy! I knew you'd come!"
Tooth giggled worriedly. Children weren't supposed to wake up when she was collecting their teeth. "Surprise!" She said, sounding suspiciously hysterical. "We came!"
"He can see?" Jack asked quietly, moving backwards as he realised that the kid was awake and looking right at them. He tried to squash the hope that bloomed in his chest. Maybe this time...?
"Not all of us." Bunny said, glancing quickly at Jack with something close to sympathy in his eyes. Jack looked away, the hope completely crushed once again.
"Uh guys? He's still awake." Tooth pointed out.
"Sandy, knock him out." Bunny ordered. The Sandman punched his fist into his palm, approaching the bed with an almost menacing aura. Bunny rolled his eyes. "I meant with the dreamsand, you drongo!" Sandy looked at the rabbit sheepishly.
A ferocious growling started up from the head of the bed, a steely greyhound prowling up towards them with her teeth bared.
"Oh boy." Bunny's eyes went very wide.
"Abby! No!" Jamie cried out. Lunging for the dog's collar. "That's the Easter Bunny! No, Abby, down!"
Bunny slowly lowered himself to the ground, one paw held out to the dog in an attempt to keep it calm. "Alright, nobody panic."
Jack snickered. "That's a, uh, that's a greyhound. Do you know what greyhounds do to rabbits?"
Bunny sent him a scathing glare.
Jack just laughed harder. "You can't fix this with painted eggs and chocolate, Fluffy. Let me deal with the dog, 'kay?"
Bunny nodded, backing away as slowly as possible.
Jack stepped in front of the dog, his head held high and his stance defiant. He barked loudly, staring straight into Abby's eyes challengingly. She froze, listening as the winter sprite spoke to her in barks, yips and growls, demanding as pack beta that she desist with threaten his pack mates and back down immediately. The dog refused, growling more furiously than before and stepping forward.
Jack's eyes narrowed dangerously, baring his teeth at the dog as she snapped at him. The winter sprite grabbed her around the throat and forced her down, snarling viciously in the greyhound's face. Abby whined apologetically, her tail going between her hind legs as she gave up the fight. The dog lay on the bed as Jack let her go, rolling onto her back in a show of submission and whining apologies. Jack barked softly and nodded, satisfied with the display, before stepping back.
The other Guardians watched, mystified and somewhat disturbed by the exchange.
"Jack," Tooth's voice was filled with awe. "How did you...?"
"For a long time, my only family has been a wolf pack. It's only natural that I learn to speak their language. You are damn lucky that animals can see me you know." Jack waved his hand, directing the dog to go back to her master's side with several grunting barks. Jamie just sat there with his mouth open, trying to figure out just who made his notoriously vicious dog back down so quickly.
Sandy took the opportunity to knock the boy out with the dreamsand. Tooth quickly tucked him back into bed, smoothing out his hair with a tender smile.
"Fenrir helped me learn when I first became his beta. He didn't have a full pack at the time so we could sneak away often." Jack smiled faintly, his eyes clouding over with memories. "They were my family. They gave me friendship, companionship, love. I'd do anything to ensure their survival, learning their language was the least I could do." He smirked mischievously. "I learnt to speak the languages of all snow-dwelling creatures; birds, cats, dogs, bears, foxes, rabbits, caribou. What else is there to do in three hundred years?"
"What did you say to the dog?" Tooth asked as she fluttered back to the group, trying to turn the conversation away from the winter sprite's century-long isolation. Jack's answer was more startling than she imagined.
"I told her to stop threatening my pack mates."
"P... Pack mates?" Bunny stammered, eyes going wide and his ears lying back against his skull.
"Yes, Bunny, pack mates. Family if you need another word. Canine family groups are called packs."
"You... Consider us... Family?" Tooth said softly.
"I consider you the possibility of a family, not an actual one." Jack looked away, embarrassment clear in his eyes. "L-Let's get out of here. I'd rather avoid another run in with a dog, Bunny may not survive the encounter next time."
"Oh, rack off you bloody mug!" Bunny snarled and reached for one of his boomerangs.
Jack quickly leapt out the window, head thrown back as he howled his laughter, snow falling in his wake. Tooth and Sandy followed, more to get out of the crowded room than to escape Bunny's wrath or Jack's teasing. North just sighed, shedding his heavy coat momentarily to shake off some snow that had gotten on it. The last two Guardians followed their comrades at a slower pace, North leaping out of Jamie's room with Bunny following close behind. Neither noticed the snow globe fall from North's jacket, opening a portal and whisking a little girl away from her brother's room and into the Easter Bunny's warren.