AN: Apparently, I've written a sequel. I have two people to thank/blame for this piece's existence: guardian921 at FF, who wondered about the fallout after This God Did Shake; and dreamingperson at ROTGKink, who posted a prompt regarding this theme. I've taken and twisted the latter to fit my previous story, but I hope it will still serve the purpose. I suppose this can stand alone, but it's much better after having read This God Did Shake. And as with TGDS, I've cribbed a line from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar for the title.
Disclaimer: I own nothing regarding Rise of the Guardians, and I make exactly zero money off of this.
Thou Bleeding Piece of Earth
Christmas had come and gone, and spring was rounding the corner. Soon Nicholas St. North would wake from his month-long nap and check up on his workforce. The yetis and elves had long since met the Guardian's manufacturing goals for his absence; nothing set the tone for a horrible year more than North emerging from hibernation to find himself behind on toy production. The last time it had happened, the eggnog rations had been cut in half for three months.
That was never going to happen again.
A panicked squeak rang through the hall, and an elf shot by the assembly line, furiously ringing a bell twice his size. The workers snapped to attention and began preparations to look as busy as possible, putting the final touches on pieces they had purposely left just short of completion. It always paid to appear to have just barely met the quota; there was no sense in inviting extra work.
After a few moments, the door swung open, and North shuffled out in an enormous fur-lined house robe and bunny slippers. The latter had been a pre-hibernation gift from a certain mischievous winter sprite, who never seemed to tire of hinting that perhaps Hope and Wonder were rather compatible qualities. The large man always pretended to ignore Jack when the conversation turned to such things, yet the slippers had somehow found their way onto his feet.
The workshop paused, holding its collective breath until the verdict arrived regarding North's mood.
"No, no, no!" his voice boomed, and they all cringed, wondering who had messed up this time. Striding over to the far end of the workshop, he plucked a toy from a yeti's hand, paint smearing as he did so.
"I tell you red and gold, not red on gold! It is no good! Why do you never listen to me?" The normally jolly spirit swelled up, then deflated as he sighed in resignation. "Do it again. Red base, gold accents." He dropped the toy on the workbench.
The yeti stared at the toy, then at the line of toys next to him, then at the stack of boxes containing the rest of his finished work. A tear rolled down his cheek, and he began hammering his head against the bench.
North, meanwhile, had already moved on, pacing down the assembly line to inspect the others' work. "Good, good, more glue, good, wait. Make these red from now on."
"Why does everything have to be red with you, Nick?" The unmistakable accent caught North by surprise, and he whirled to face the speaker.
"Bunny! You are here!" Tattooed arms enveloped the pooka in a bone-crushing hug.
"Yeah, not for long if you keep squeezin' me like that, I'll tell ya that much," he gasped as he pulled himself free. "Seriously, though, why is everything always red?"
North wagged a finger in his furry companion's face. "Now, Bunny, I do not tell you how to paint Easter Eggs, do I?"
The spring Guardian's nose twitched. "All the time. And always red."
Santa waved his hands for a moment, eyes searching the ceiling for a retort, before he stopped and snapped back to stare at the rabbit. "Why are you here, exactly?"
E. Aster Bunnymund smiled. "Haven't seen you for a month, Chuckles. You think I'd pass up a chance to see you with bed head?" He narrowly dodged another hug that would almost certainly have fractured his spine. "Hey, hey, easy now. The others are on their way, too. My money's on Tooth being here first. She's always on time to Guardian Meetings."
"Guardian Meeting?" North bristled. "Why was I not told?"
Bunny gave a snort. "You were asleep, remember? No one wakes up Santa from his beauty sleep. Heaven knows you need it." He dodged a halfhearted slap to the back of his head, then bolted across the room as North began chasing him.
So caught up were they in their antics that they did not notice the arrival of the Sandman and the Tooth Fairy, neck and neck in a race that led them streaking past Phil the Yeti, who whirled around and shook an indignant fist at the pair.
Invited guests or not, North's head of security was not overly fond of people zooming through the workshop without checking in with him first. Jack had been working to cure him of that notion, but yetis were not quick to change their minds.
Pulling up just shy of the seasonal Guardians, the newcomers admired the scene. Bunnymund had managed to perch on North's head with one foot, hopping every time the giant man tried to grab him, laughing at the colorful Russian expressions streaming from his friend's mouth.
When the pair looked up and saw Tooth and Sandy waiting, the Easter Bunny gave a start and tumbled down. Thankfully, North's quick reflexes landed Bunnymund safely in his arms.
As their friends applauded, both North and Bunnymund blushed deeply enough to turn nearly purple, quite a feat considering E. Aster's fur.
North recovered quickly, though, and seized them in a hug that squished Bunnymund between the three of them. Accustomed as they were to the jolly man's displays of affection, they took it in stride, though grumbling in an Australian accent could be heard from somewhere beneath their chins.
"Friends!" he exclaimed when all the Guardians had managed to extricate themselves. "How have you all been? And what is reason for this meeting?"
Sandy summoned a picture of the earth, then one of a small child. The latter dissolved.
"I do not understand."
Bunnymund put a hand on his friend's shoulder. "Look at the globe, mate."
North's eyes shot to their livelihood, and his eyebrows knit together. "There are not as many lights. Why do the children not believe in us? We have been having wonderful holidays, and Pitch Black is no threat to them now."
Toothiana spoke slowly, carefully. "The problem isn't that the children don't believe. It's that there aren't as many children left."
The Guardian of Wonder stared at her, mouth agape, before blinking and gesturing for her to continue. "Explain. Please."
"It's happening all over the world. Children are running in front of cars, wandering off at night, trying to pet wild animals. They're completely reckless, and they're dying because of it." Her eyes glistened, and she swallowed hard.
"You all know of this?"
"And Jack?" It was no secret that North felt a fatherly affection toward their newest addition, often erring on the side of overprotectiveness.
Bunnymund looked down. "We haven't told him, but I think he knows. He's... not himself lately."
"Where is he now?" Nicholas asked, dreading the answer.
"Right here, guys," a voice came from the ceiling.
Jack floated down from the rafters, wobbly and unsteady in his flight. As he landed, he bumped into a workbench, scattering toys all over the floor. He giggled, then mumbled an apology.
All the Guardians stared at the winter spirit as he approached them. His hair was disheveled, his sweater torn and frayed in various places, but the most disconcerting feature was his eyes.
Mirth and mischief had once sparkled there, radiant blue hinting at countless adventures to be had. Now it seemed those eyes had been replaced with blue ice, frozen solid and lifeless. They were sunken, hollowed out.
Coupled with the forced smile on his face, the effect was horrifying.
"Jack," Tooth said, trying to hide a stammer, "How are you?"
"I'm..." He looked down, and his fist clenched around his staff. Suddenly, his head snapped up. "Hey, is that Phil?" Without another word he shot off to give the bewildered yeti a hug.
Sandy thought he saw a flash of blue sparkles behind Phil's back, but he couldn't be certain.
When Jack returned to them, he was giggling and smiling, but the hollowness had not fled from his eyes. "Yeti hugs are just the little pick me up you need sometimes, y'know? So yeah, anyway, I'm good. How about you guys?"
North put a hand on Jack's arm. "Jack, there is something wrong, and I think you know what it is."
The ice spirit squeaked. "Me? No, you guys are the ones with the noses for trouble. I mean, really, Bunny totally has the nose for it. Just look at him! And your belly, y'know..." he trailed off as North's eyes bored into him.
"Well, yeah, I mean, it's bad, but at least the kids are all right... right?"
Four stone-faced stares met him.
"Mate," Bunnymund said, carefully considering each word so as not to fly into a rage, "Children are dying. They aren't afraid of anything, and it's killing them."
The unnatural smile melted from Jack's face, and he swayed on his feet. "So he was one of us. I wonder if he ever knew."
A question mark appeared over Sandy's head, and the others voiced similar thoughts.
Jack's lip trembled, but a tiny smile flitted over his face. "Pitch. He was a Guardian. I mean, at its center, fear is just caution, right? And now there's no caution left in the world."
Tooth was the first to recover from the shock. "All right, so we go to Pitch and apologize, and then we beg him to come back so the children will be safe—"
"You don't get it, do you?" The venom in Jack's voice was completely foreign to them. "He isn't. Coming. Back. He's dead, you idiots." With this, he flew to the top of the globe. The Guardians stared at him in horror, watching as he summoned a cloud of enchanted snow and blasted himself in the face with it.
North was profoundly shaken, but he pulled himself together. "Wait, Jack, what do you mean, Pitch is dead? How?"
"Oh, did I not tell you?" Jack's face was lit up with artificial glee. "Pitch is dead. He disappeared cause no one believed in him." A giggle burst from his mouth. "Hey, who's up for a snowball fight? Come on? Somebody? It'll be fun!"
The Guardians stared aghast at their youngest member, who was laughing, hopping back and forth atop North's globe. The winter spirit's laughter carried a manic tinge, and Bunnymund barely managed to catch him when he fell.
Jack began thrashing, trying to break free, and Bunnymund was losing his grip. "Nick! A little help here!" he cried.
Too late, the large man's hands began to close around the boy's bare ankles. In a massive burst of magic, Jack slammed all of them with his snow, leaving them in a daze as he went rocketing out through the hole in the roof.
When the high faded, they were left staring grimly at each other. None wanted to speak first, but eventually North took it upon himself to break the silence.
"Jack Frost must be found. We must help our friend however we can. But more importantly, we must find a way to save our children... by any means necessary. Do we agree?"
The somber nods sufficed for a vote.
"Now," North continued, "We search for Jack. Tooth, Sandy, you will split up and search from air. Bunny, you and I will go to Pitch's lair to see if we can find some clues. Get your weapons and meet back here as soon as you can. We will not be caught off guard if there is trouble."
Having received their assignments, the Guardians took to the search with a vengeance.
The Sandman soared above the trees, eyes combing each branch for any sign of his friend. Jack could often be found tucked into the crook of some tree, especially when he was feeling sad, and so Sandy was determined to start there.
Miles of forest whizzed by, and there was no sign of the boy. He stopped short, however, when he saw a familiar shape on the ground.
Slowly, silently, Sandy touched down on the ground and approached the Nightmare.
The creature was gaunt, emaciated, but no less menacing for its sickliness. It whinnied as he drew closer, snorting and stamping at the ground.
Sandy held his hands up, palms open, and the Fearling calmed somewhat. He projected an image of Pitch, and the Nightmare shrank with sorrow.
The nature of the Nightmare made communication simple; it was his creation, however corrupted it had become, and he would always have an affinity with it. He felt its grief, its loneliness at being the last of its kind; there was nothing uncommon about these feelings. What surprised him, though, was the Fearling's concern for the children of the world. It could sense, just as the Guardians had, that they were in danger, and it longed to do something to protect them. All alone, though, what could a single nightmare do against a fearless world?
Jaw set in a firm line, Sandy weighed his options for several minutes before deciding there was no alternative. Reaching his hand out, he beckoned to the Nightmare, feeding a small trail of sand into its mouth.
The sand turned black, and the Nightmare grew as it floated closer and closer, eventually beginning to consume his hand.
With a silent scream of agony, the Sandman accepted the transformation, shaping and molding barriers to keep his own essence intact.
It was done in a matter of minutes. Black and golden sand swirled together in striations, always in a half-and-half balance. Examining his hands, the dream spirit nodded in somber satisfaction.
Never again would children's dreams be pure and unfettered, never again would they wish without restraint. But they would be safe.
And the Sandman would forever bear Pitch Black's burden.
North and Bunnymund tread carefully as they entered the cave, eyes searching every corner as they walked with weapons drawn. They would normally take Jack at his word that Pitch was dead, but given their friend's altered state, they had to take every precaution.
When their eyes fell upon the cot, though, Bunnymund's nostrils flared, and he began piecing together a story that he did not like one bit.
"That is..." North said, shifting from foot to foot, "Yes? On the sheet?"
The Guardian of Hope nodded. "Jack's. Both of their scents are here, though. They..." he looked away, unable to meet his friend's eyes. "Did that."
"Where has Pitch gone, then?"
Bunnymund shook his head. "His trail doesn't leave the bed. I think he... faded away before it was over." His ears drooped.
North gave a slow nod, but couldn't shake off one detail of what he was seeing. "That is... quite a lot, no? For one time."
"It wasn't just one time, mate. Most of this is fresher. Pitch was only there the first time, but..." The pooka gnawed at his lower lip. "I think Jack's been... coming back here... and... well." He gave a nod toward the bed.
Uncomfortable as he was with the sight in front of them, North couldn't keep tears from welling up in his eyes. "Oh, Jack. Why did you say nothing to us?"
Unable to speak, Bunny dropped his boomerangs and buried his face in North's chest.
Toothiana knew Jack better than most, though she would never admit the source of most of that knowledge. It was perfectly normal to be concerned about a friend's well-being, but to send Baby Tooth to shadow Jack whenever possible might not have been an entirely healthy habit.
Still, it was because of her obsession with the boy that she knew where he went when he was feeling the worst— the lake.
It was an awful fixation of his, returning to the site of what he considered his one success whenever he was faced with failure. This time, though, she was glad he was so predictable.
She took her time approaching him, flying up slowly from behind so as not to be seen. She didn't want to risk him running before she was close enough to stop him. He was seated cross-legged on the ground, and she could hear muffled sobs and groans. They echoed strangely, as though his mouth was full.
"Jack?" She thought it best to alert him to her presence rather than startle him. He made no move to acknowledge her, though.
Tooth circled, giving him a small berth as she came around to face him. His hood was up and his face was pointed at the ground.
There was something red on the ground in front of him, and a crimson stain was rapidly spreading to the area around it. As Toothiana drew closer, she saw that it was, in fact, a pile of smaller objects.
Thirty-two of them.
She gasped, a tiny hand at her mouth. "Jack, what... why—"
He brought his face up, and she bit back a scream. His cheeks and chin were covered in blood. Still, she couldn't control a whimper when he tossed a bloodied object at her feet.
It was a pair of needle-nose pliers.
"They hold our memories... you said." Jack's words were sluggish, and blood poured out of his mouth with every movement of his tongue. "Why do I still remember him, Tooth?"
Toothiana knew that Jack needed her, knew she had to hold herself together for his sake, but the horror of the sight before her was too great for the Tooth Fairy to bear.
With a scream, she fled, leaving Jack Frost alone and weeping in her wake.