Falling in Snow
The polished trumpets sounded off with a fervency that was as much amusing to watch as it was hurtful to hear. North's elves danced amongst themselves, Christmas ribbon trailing underneath their tiny boots in precarious multi-colored trails. They romped gleefully around the empty boxes and rolls of wrapping paper and tape littering the floor, blowing in the newly crafted instruments until they were red in the face.
Sandman floated a safe distance away, smiling widely at their antics as he clapped with the small band of elves who decided to join him in celebration. The guardian turned laughing bright eyes to Jack, the young spirit sitting comfortably on a window ledge away from the performance. Jack returned the smile with one of his own before shaking his head and chuckling. The trumpets had picked up again, and Jack was sure he was going to lose some of his hearing.
"I know I'm the guardian of fun and all" Jack began, watching the elves as they jumped into another routine. "But I think those guys are having a little bit too much fun"
Sandy laughed soundlessly at that and cringed as the horns grew even more uncoordinated. His smile broadened even as his ears were ringing and the elves below him broke into cacophonic chorus not a minute after.
"Okay, that's it, all right you guys!" Jack interrupted finally. He dropped down from his seat and walked over to the horn players, sharing an amused glance with Sandy as he passed. He stood over the elves and looked down at them skeptically. "Why don't you guys save the band for later when the rest of the gang comes?" he asked with a half-smile. "Wouldn't want them to miss it, right?"
Looks were exchanged amongst the elves as they considered the guardian standing over them. A moment passed before one elf rolled his eyes and raised the trumpet to his mouth with a snort, but a touch to the head from the end of Jack's staff froze him quickly, and then that was the end of that. The frozen elf clattered to the floor and his friends crowded around him in awe.
"Oh! You two are early!"
A blur of green and blue flashed into his vision before Jack felt fingers invade his mouth. The corners were pulled wide as Toothiana peered inside at his teeth, her feathers bristling with joy. Her mini fairies buzzed around her, hoping to get a look as well as they squealed with excitement.
"My goodness, look at them! Picture perfect as always" she chirped brightly. Multiple cheeps responded excitedly in agreement and someone fainted.
"Ahm, dhan yhu" Jack garbled around her fingers. He raised a good-humored brow at his friend and waited patiently for her to notice.
Toothiana giggled sheepishly when she did and pulled away with visible effort, fluttering back until she was beside Sandy.
"Sorry" she apologized with a shrug. "They're so nice"
Jack laughed at that. She was still prone to swarming his dentures, but she was learning control, thankfully. That was only the first time he tasted feathers in three months. "Thanks, it's good to know I'm appreciated by someone" he said.
Unlike certain anthropomorphic alien rabbits he knew.
Jack took a moment then to take in the two of his friends that made it, looking just as excited as he felt. He had even gotten up early that morning, sailing the winds as he waited for the sun to rise. Jack rarely got the opportunity to see his friends all at once, busybodies that they were, always caught up in work. He greatly anticipated their monthly gatherings, though the winter spirit would never let them know just how much.
"So when is North and Bunny coming?" he asked. He rocked on his heels, wondering if the giant rabbit discovered his "gift". Jack looked expectantly to Toothiana, who's smile edged away. She looked apologetic as she shook her head.
"I don't know…I haven't heard from those two in a while" she responded. Sandy nodded in agreement, looking about as clueless as she.
Jack pursed his lips before looking down at the elves at his feet, now knocking diligently at the ice encompassing their frozen friend.
"Where's the big man, little guys?"
The elves gave him varying looks of irritation, annoyed at being interrupted from their rescue attempts. Jack received multiple shrugs and shakes of the head in reply and he looked back to his friends, a little miffed.
The Yetis setting the tables with food and games prepared the night before offered no answers either. One came over to the three guardians offering Christmas cookies however, and Sandy gladly took a few.
"Why don't we catch up first?" Toothiana piped up, rising a bit in the air. She clapped her hands together and looked to both her friends, feathers ruffling as she spoke and her perfect white teeth flashing. "I'm sure North and Bunny will be here soon. I doubt we'll have time to chat when North gets here" She giggled at that, the sound airy and cheerful.
Sandy smiled around a full mouth, sandy images popping up in quickly over his head. He was in.
Jack ran a hand through his hair. "Yeah, let's catch up" he replied a little hesitantly. He sighed and took a cookie and bit off the end.
The music of the wood elves drifted through the clearing like a lulling breeze, their voices weaving together an ancient story with each perfect strum of a note or whistle of a flute that was beautiful and hopeful and lifting. Bunnymund could feel some of the tightness in his muscles melt away as he listened, eyes closed and feet crossed underneath the wooden table. Wood elves were known for their music and its magical properties everywhere—there was nothing like it. Bunnymund could almost forget his troubles, could almost relax the claws digging into his arm rest as he sat at the Oval Table in the Winter Wood with the present holiday spirits, waiting for his fellow guardian to arrive and the annual meeting to start.
He could steadily feel the soft caress of the old magic trying to coax his mind at ease, but it was no use. Every time he closed his eyes, Bunnymund saw the green little mound in his personal garden where he had buried his precious googies. It was the only thing he could think of to do for them, letting the protein from the eggs and the little bit of magic left in them fertilize and return back to the endless fields of the Warren from where they had been born.
Melodious giggles arose from behind Bunnymund amongst the small band of elves nearest to the trees, making his ear twitch in response to the sudden sound. The young elves were sharing demure smiles and sighs over their harps at the newest arrival to the Gathering of the Holidays. Saint Valentine touched down with a flap of his wings and smiled charmingly to those wood elves that came to collect his coat and the magical appendages, the crow's feet at his eyes crinkling. Bunnymund rolled his eyes at their delighted giggles and eyed the empty seat to his right. Magical musical therapy aside, the Guardian would not be able to stomach the meeting in his foul mood without speaking to North before the thing got started. As much as it irritated the Pooka being around so many spirits at once when all he wanted to do was go out and see if any more of his googies were out there undiscovered, he knew it would only get worse when a certain chairwoman arrived.
If North didn't arrive soon, Bunnymund didn't think he would be able to endure the meeting without incident.
When the Russian man did appear, most of the holiday spirits were already crowded around the table. The relative silence had been broken long before, the obnoxiously boisterous Groundhog the loudest of them all. The music of the wood elves was but a whisper in the background, and Bunnymund felt his dour mood steadily reigning in like dark clouds. North left his sleigh nearby, close enough where he could keep an eye. He spotted Bunnymund immediately and approached his side, unknowingly pushing past the wood elves that had assembled around him with his large frame. The Pooka hardly had a chance to stand before his old friend had him gathered in a vice grip and lifted into a hug.
"Bunny! You are looking like you need hug" North announced grandly. Bunnymund long learned that struggling was futile, half expected it made matters worse even, so Bunnymund forced himself to remain still despite his crying lungs. When he was set back down in his chair, Bunnymund gave the larger man a disgruntled glare before looking away, smoothing over mussed fur.
"What's with you? Don't tell me you've forgotten, mate" he said bitterly, voice dark.
North's brows furrowed.
Bunnymund felt a firm hand on his shoulder, big and warm and comforting. When he looked back up, there was kindness in the other guardian's blue eyes that struck a chord deep in his chest. "I have not forgotten my friend, but all this worry will change nothing. You are not helping yourself" North said.
Bunnymund sighed and turned his gaze to the floor, one ear falling back as he did so. His shoulders slumped also, the beginnings of guilt creeping on him now for his childish behavior, bordering on just the right side of outright impudence. There was no reason to snap at one of the most emphatic people he knew, one of his oldest friends. Bunnymund didn't apologize, but the squeeze of the shoulder he got before North sat down let him know he didn't need to.
"Good'ta see you two could finally join us!"
North smiled with unabashed amusement when Bunnymund's eye began to twitch. The Pooka forced himself to ignore the Groundhog as he and his friends broke into peals of laughter from the other side of the table, badly startling the elves nearby.
"It is good to see you as well, Hog!" North answered back gaily. The Russian missed the way Bunny rolled his eyes and face palmed. Sarcasm rolled off of North like water, too magnanimous of a man to notice the taunting edge to otherwise innocent comments. "It has been long time"
Groundhog chortled obnoxiously and elbowed the Jester, the elaborately dressed spirit grinning widely next to him. "Don't think you shoulda come, cotton tail" Groundhog replied, face almost split in two as he tried to speak through his sniggers. "NY is gonna make herself a new fur coat with you"
"Would it not smell of eggs?" Jester asked, tears in eyes.
"Yeah…you're right" Groundhog said. Both of their shoulders were shaking by now. "He'd probably make a better rug. Maybe you could beat the smell out!"
This appeared to amuse the two to no end and they fell apart again in hysterics. Bunnymund shot up and slammed his paws on the table, teeth grinding as he glared down at the two spirits as they cried and fought for breath, unable to control themselves. North barely had a chance to respond before the Pooka was reaching for his boomerang.
"Ya migh' wanna wai' for tha', coinín " said a voice beside him.
Bunnymund turned blazing green eyes down to a tall red top hat sitting well below his initial line of vision. The vibrant gold-laced accessory was perched crookedly over wild orange curls that looked as if they exploded from underneath the rim. The little leprechaun looked expectantly up at him, his own green eyes serious beneath the messy locks. "She's here"
The table hushed, conversations dropping immediately at the statement as backs and faces straightened in a single beat. At any other time Bunnymund might have laughed at how pathetic they all looked shuffling about like terrified children in their seats, but Groundhog was giving him such a smug look from his own seat, that Bunnymund was having trouble keeping his paw away from anything blunt.
North brought a hand to his arm, noticing his intentions.
"Bunny" His voice was stern, warning.
The light touch brought the Pooka back to his senses and he snorted.
"Remember, we are not on NY's nice list. It is best we stay out of trouble, da?" North said. He raised a brow as he waited and Bunnymund sighed again in defeat.
"Not like it'll do them any good" came Groundhog's clearly audible snicker. He and the Jester broke into giggles then, covering their mouths to stifle them. Still, the chortles were raucous, noisy little sounds that garnered most of the attention from the other holidays, impossible to ignore.
Grinding his teeth, Bunnymund forced himself to drop down into his chair and save himself from doing anything stupid. North's hand fell and he shoulder bumped his friend, smiling despite the other's stormy expression and crossed arms.
A swirl of white light whipped through the clearing to the empty end of the table, causing its occupants to quiet once more. The dazzling light burst into millions of particles, the tiny flecks of magic catching the morning rays in brilliant hues that glittered down to the soft grass of the wood. A figure emerged in the fading brightness, drawing the attention of every holiday spirit in attendance.
"Always so dramatic" Bunnymund muttered underneath his breath. The corners of North's mouth twitched.
The spirit of the new year, representing renewal, change, the beginning of things to come and the remembrance of things that passed, now stood at the Oval Table with her hands planted firmly on her hips like some high-fashioned general. Like always, the old holiday spirit was dressed head to toe in what had to be the modern dress for high society if Bunnymund had to guess. Still, far from appearing like any welcoming model from an expensive clothing line, New Years looked deathly fierce, red lips pulled down like an arched bow and eyes sharp like a newly edged blade.
Winter spirits weren't generally known for their overwhelming warmth.
"Good morning holidays" she said curtly, getting straight to business. No one responded, but no one was expected to—her clipped tone left no room for reply. The greeting was meant only to show basic civility, one of the only social skills she possessed that made an otherwise frosty personality somewhat bearable.
"As usual, I expect a full report of your respective holidays for the previous year, as well as your plans for the new. I plan to do this quickly, so let us get started immediately"
New Year's eyes scanned the occupants of the table then, her frown deepening at the sight of Bunnymund and North. Her eyes narrowed into a heated stare, too refined to be a glare, and North chuckled nervously underneath the uncomfortable scrutiny.
"Zdravstvujtye, New Years. You look beautiful as always" North said, speaking up. He stole a quick pleading glance to Bunnymund, who gave him a half-hearted helpless shrug. "…Like doll" he finished.
Her brow arched.
"Why don't you start the reports this time, St. North?" she proposed. "It's been two years that I haven't seen you, if I do recall"
North colored instantly, rubbing the back of his head as if in apology. He looked embarrassed. "Da, that is true. I apologize for the-"
"Not like it was his fault, what with the bloody boogeyman prancin' about" Bunnymund interjected instantly. All eyes at the table were turned to him now, North's blue ones the widest of them all. Bunnymund could clearly see the shock there in his peripheral, the trepidation. Yes, his temper was really something short today, he could see that clearly too. Yet, even as the thought entered his mind, Bunnymund found he was having a hard time keeping his mouth closed. He felt completely unlike himself, for the worst, seemingly ready to blow up at everything. " Or did'ya forget?" he added.
Unsurprisingly, true to her nature, New Years hardly seemed fazed. A dainty finger pushed up the edge of her newest accessory, angular eyeglasses that did nothing to soften the sharp features of her face, as she addressed the disgruntled spirit.
"That incident occurred two years ago after Easter. What does that have to do with the two annual meetings you both were required to attend nine months after on the first day of the first month? "
Bunnymund hesitated then. The words that seemed ready to come bursting out escaped him. The last two years seemed more like two centuries to him, recovering the damage after Pitch's attack, integrating the young spirited Jack Frost into their little family, getting preparations ready to make up for the one Easter that didn't come. He didn't even know where to start, not when no one there but North could possibly comprehend, not when he was still reeling from yesterday morning's discovery.
Not when New Years looked about as understanding as a blizzard storm.
"We had to train a new guardian" he started. "There were repairs to be done, preparations to be made"
"Ah, Jack Frost" she said. "The new winter spirit. Are you insinuating the boy is more important than your duties? And your preparations exempt from your reports?"
"And if that was even hardly an excuse, that still does not account for last year when I again did not see either you. These gatherings are mandatory, need I remind you. Centuries have gone by with but one or two absences then centuries apart from each other, and now I have five absences in three years consecutively"
"Five?" North asked.
"Three years?" Bunnymund looked confused. "What—"
New Years sniffed. "Five. Two apiece counting Bunnymund and yourself. And we have another absent spirit today. That's three consecutive years of absences"
All of the spirits began to look around the table, accounting for who was present. New Years said nothing, but it didn't take long before it was pretty clear who had been forgotten. Bunnymund felt his ears drop as the whispering started, and North looked over to his friend in concern.
Groundhog was the only one to laugh, the raucous sound causing everyone to quiet.
"Do you find something funny, Groundhog?" New Years asked, voice cold enough to freeze over. "Could you share this hilarity with us?"
The rodent flinched at her tone but recovered quickly, laughing nervously.
"Oh, it's nothing really, it's just..." Here Groundhog turned dark beady eyes to Bunnymund, a sly look curving his mouth into a slight smirk. "It seems like cotton tail and his friend over there are encouraging bad behavior. Halloween probably felt like it wasn't fair he couldn't skip out and stayed home"
"What?" Bunnymund exclaimed incredulously. "What does us missing a couple meetings have to do—"
New Years crossed her arms together. She looked borderline livid, a feat considering her expression hardly changed at all. "That's quite enough, thank you. I'm quite through with this carelessness of duties that seems to be spreading. You all are to deliver reports every year and that's final, extracurricular activities do not exempt you"
Her eyes were trained to the guardians as she said this and Bunnymund glared right back.
"Bunnymund, St. North, I expect three reports from each of you tomorrow. For today, you will sit through today's meeting and listen, and observe, and relearn what it is that's expected of you as I'm sure you've forgotten"
North cringed minutely while Bunnymund scowled quite openly. On the other side of the Oval Table Goundhog looked gleeful, and Bunnymund made a mental note to search him out later when this was all over.
"Additionally, in regards to Halloween, I would like for you to bring him in with you tomorrow, as I will need his report for this year and last year's as well"
New Years was looking straight at Bunnymund now, clear gray eyes demanding he retort. "His holiday is especially important you see. I needn't remind you why, I'm sure" she continued.
Bunnymund wanted to refuse, he did, felt his tongue ready to form the words, but he nodded his understanding instead, albeit quite grumpily. New Years was the head of the holidays after all, set to lead them under Man on the Moon's wishes, so he couldn't just outright disobey. No matter how much he wanted to. Part of being a guardian, part of his extracurricular activities, demanded he follow the rules.
Which he had pretty much bogged up now.
New Years nodded in return and pushed up her glasses again. "St. Valentine, start the meeting as usual, if you will"
The spirit of Valentine's Day stood from his seat and gathered up his scrolls, dropping them spectacularly before he managed to compose himself and situate his report. His cheeks were almost the color of the dark red hair falling in waves to his shoulders when he began reading, officially starting the meeting.
The tension had gone from the air, but Bunnymund inwardly groaned and resisted the urge to drop his head on the table.
Eight grueling hours later, and the gathering was brought to a close. New Years gave Bunnymund and North one last meaningful look before she dissolved into white light, traveling up and out of the woods to wherever uptight frozen ice queens decided to defrost in the world.
Bunnymund was in an even worse mood than when he discovered his googies dead and frozen over in the snow, something he had been honestly expecting considering his less than satisfactory temper control. He had been ready to deliver the news in his report, see what New Years had to say about it, or even the other spirits and get some answers, go out looking to see if more of his googies were left from last year, but that would have been easy.
Now, he had to not only wait for the next day to meet up with one of the most unpleasant people he had the displeasure of knowing to deliver said report, but he had to do it with one Halloween spirit in tow?
It was certainly a cruel punishment. Just thinking about the spirit gave Bunny the chills.
"How long you plan on sitting and sulking like baby, Bunny?" North said. The larger than life Russian man was standing over him with the grandest smile he'd seen on him all day, St. Valentine behind him.
Bunnymund wasn't too familiar with the other spirit, though he knew him to be friendly. St. Valentine was hard to get close to usually, almost always surrounded by his flock of cherubs, love-struck nymphs, elves, animals, other spirits, etc, or chatting with Cupid, who Bunnymund made sure to avoid at all costs.
Actually, love spirits made him wary by rule of thumb.
The Pooka was tense now, giving his friend a questioning look.
North laughed loudly at Bunnymund's caution, holding his belly as his shoulders shook. Bunnymund narrowed his eyes as he waited for his friend to calm down, tears in his lashes before he wiped them away.
"My friend, Vartan Valentine has been talking to me about some things I have been wanting to know" North smiled and waggled his brows, and Bunnymund immediately caught his meaning.
"Seriously, mate? You're worried about some sheila now?" he asked, dumbstruck.
North looked affronted. "Not just any one woman, the woman, though it is Cupid Valentine is telling me I must speak to"
St. Valentine smiled easily at the mention of his name and nodded to Bunnymund.
"I've heard about everything the Guardians did that day, how you all defeated Pitch Black, and I'm impressed" he said. His dark eyes were sincere, and Bunnymund felt his muscles relax, if only the tiniest bit. "I hardly got a chance to speak to you before since you both were gone"
"And now it looks like we are being punished for those absences, Bunny most of all" North added. "Where is Halloween living? Do you know?"
St. Valentine cupped his chin in his hand and rubbed a thumb against the dark red scruff growing there thoughtfully. "I believe he still lives in France. I don't remember exactly where, but it might be somewhere in Besançon"
"We can ask Tooth. Wouldn't she have his baby teeth?" Bunnymund suggested, albeit a little impatiently. He was still irritated, he could hardly help it.
"That is good idea! Why have I not thought of that?" North exclaimed excitedly. "We will go tell Tooth and she will tell us where to find—"
The Russian man stopped. Bunnymund raised his brows in concern, his confusion growing when North groaned out loud quite theatrically. St. Valentine looked downright worried, stepping closer to the much larger man with his hand raised as if to offer some kind of comfort.
"Ustvolskaya! Tooth!" he cried suddenly. North clapped large hands to his face and turned to Bunnymund, his eyes wide like a deer caught in headlights.
"What about Tooth?" Bunnymund asked carefully. He was getting a very bad feeling about something, a nervous feeling that soon turned into realization when he remembered, and suddenly he was face palming too.
"Bloody hell" he cursed.
"What happened?" St. Valentine asked, looking between the two of them. "What's wrong?"
"Forgot about the stupid meeting the little frost bite had going on" Bunnymund said in answer. North, the poor man, looked as if he had just run over some kid's pet with his sleigh.
"Da. Jack will not be happy"
"Not like it matters" Bunnymund said. Anger was easier to manage than the guilt, and he had plenty to be mad at. "You remember what the little dill did yesterday? I outta throttle him when I see him!"
"We outta be headin' out now" Bunnymund interrupted. He had almost forgotten about Jack, Jack, the little impish winter spirit who had his right foot's name on his skinny little arse. There was so much weighing on his mind, so many things that he was going to have to mull over in his nest back at the burrow, and Jack and his crazy antics were near the top of it, like always. The bugger enjoyed hassling Bunnymund far too much for his liking, and the Pooka was going to deliver the good that got him real soon. Then he was going to talk to Tooth, find Halloween, and report the state of his googies to New Years and hopefully get some answers.
"I'm taking my tunnels" the Pooka announced.
North and St. Valentine watched him as he conjured up a hole with a tap of his foot and dropped in without another word.
"I should probably leave now as well" North told the other spirit, eyes trained on the grass and flower that quickly covered the tunnel Bunnymund had taken.
St. Valentine nodded and watched him go, sighing in disappointment.
He had really wanted to talk to the guardians about their victory over the Boogeyman, having heard so many amazing stories about the event from others. It was difficult to catch them on his free time, especially considering they hardly had time out of work themselves. St. Valentine couldn't help but sulk as he watched Nicholas head for his sleigh.
The wood elves he had greeted before handed him his coat and wings, which he took back with gratitude. It was only a few holiday spirits left in the clearing, mainly Groundhog and his friends, and St. Valentine had no wish to be alone with them.
Besides, Nicholas wanted to get some information from Cupid, which meant it was best he left while the sun was still up. Catching the other spirit of love was nigh impossible when the moon was out and the potential to be lying in someone's bed almost certain. Not that it took much coaxing on Cupid's part, but the spirit did enjoy spending nights in someone's company.
St. Valentine took off with a great flap of his wings.
OMG, close to 5000 words, I can't believe it's so long O3O I'm so sorry to everyone who had been reading this, I had no idea how my inspiration would fail me after I made the choice to take the Jackrabbit pairing out. I just can't do it, I have to have it, and now I feel like I'm overflowing with inspiration! There will be Jackrabbit, damn it, and it will be awesome! Sorry to all my male friends I tried to appease, but you can just suck a googie (I apologize to any Australian persons for my probably horrible Aussie lingo, slang, colloquialnessityism and whatnot that will rear its head in this story. Everything I know is from Google)
So basically, this fic will now run along the path I had set for it in the beginning. I've done some edits, so if you would like to reread the other chapters, go ahead. Also, please review! I have a lot of OCs and I've taken some liberties with the verse, so if you have any comments or suggestion, I'm wide open for them!
Thank you for reading :) And thanks sososososo much to everyone who reviewed, favorite, or followed this story already. You guys are all lovely. Bunnymund will now visit all your homes and give you chocolate.
KageKoketsu: lol, okaaaaay. I will do my very best to disappoint you and make this awesomer :D
ILikeTo Sneeze: You have the best username ever XD I'm evil because I left you on another cliffhanger, lol, but it's all in love! Thank you for reviewing 3
RoyEdugawa: Thank you, I hope you liked the third chapter :)
nolifeandlovingit: Thank you sweety, sorry for the wait D: I hope you enjoyed the third chapter
HerHiddenSecret: Turns out I couldn't even write the thing without the prospect of Jackrabbit, so now there will remain Jackrabbit. Thank you so much, I enjoyed writing their little argument :D Phil seems like he really knows what he's doing, so he could tell North a thing or two, lol.