"You're letting him do what?" Bunnymund practically yelled. He didn't visit Santoff Claussen often, preferring his solitude at the Warren but since their youngest Guardian had joined and moved in with North he had made it a point to come more often. His excuse was that he worried North wouldn't be able to handle the Winter Spirit, they were unpredictable, chaotic and - especially considering Jack was merely a child, a hormonal teenager ruled by emotion - a complete danger to the holidays. Of course when North was on a mission there was no stopping him.
"It is fine, Bunny," the large man said, not looking up from the sculpture he was working on. "He's just making the room his own. He is no longer guest, this is his home."
Bunny rubbed his forehead. How could someone so brilliant be so thick? "But paint? You're letting him paint his room? Unsupervised?"
"Da, why not?"
"He's never painted a room before for one," Bunny said in exasperation, throwing up his hands. "Did you give him any guidance? Cover up the furniture? Anything?"
North only shrugged. "He'll be fine, Bunny. Stop worrying so much." He took over his spectacles and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Have more faith him the boy, Aster. He's trying so hard to fit in."
Bunnymund snorted and leaned against the nearest wall. "Need I remind you what he did to my Warren just last week?"
"He told me."
That made Bunny raise a brow. "Oh?"
"It was accident."
"Accident," the Pooka snorted, folding his arms across his chest. "Freezing the river was no accident. He decided to go for a bloody swim and-" His eyes widened and he pushed himself off the wall at the sudden furious look his friend shot him. "What? The kid-"
"Can't swim," North boomed, a large hand slamming against the work table as he stood. The force shook his sculpture, threatening to topple his sculpture. "He's terrified of water. He wouldn't swim in the river to freeze it. why do you think he took off and came straight here? He was scared and you yelling at him doesn't help."
"I...I...I'm sorry, North. I didn't know." His ears pressed against his skull, not used to having North's anger directed at him.
"Maybe you should try to get to know him," North said, his voice back to his gentle timber. He leaned back in his chair and stared up at his friend. "He just wants to be friends, Aster. Is that so bad?"
Sitting back on his hunches and feeling like a naughty child before Santa Claus he just stared at his friend, trying, really trying to understand why he was so defensive of Jack Frost. Sure the kid have saved them from Pitch, saved the whole world really, and yeah he did like the kid to a point but this was Jack bloody Frost! How many things didn't he have to destroy or break before North got it through his head that he wasn't some angel... "Wait, what do you mean he's scared? He dive booms out of the sky at break neck speeds when spreading snow. Why the hell would water scare him? The ankl'bittah is an elemental. Snow and water go hand-in-hand."
North ran a hand through his hair, at a lost one how much to tell the other Guardian, it wasn't really his story to tell. The only reason Jack confided in him was because North had heard him crying in his sleep and - fearful it was an attack by Pitch - had rushed in to find the child thrashing in his sleep. After he had woken the boy, North had cradled Jack against his chest as he broke down and finally told him what he discovered in his memories. It seemed that the boy had been suffering from flashbacks for months since opening his tooth box.
"Bunny...has Jack told you how he became a spirit?" he finally asked.
The Pooka shrugged. "We don't really talk. He visits, frosts my googies and pulls some prank then leaves. Sometimes he might ask a question or too or steal some chocolate but as for an actual conversation, no."
Sighing, North gave a nod. "He wouldn't have told me either had I not stumbled in on his nightmare."
North waved his concern off. "A memory really." He stroked his bread in thought. "Jack is not like other elementals, and not like any of use. He wasn't born an elemental. Tooth knew this, she knew immediately who he was in his past life. I had an inkling but was unsure until Jack opened up. Young Jack was once known as Jackson Overland."
Bunny shrugged, the name meant nothing to him. He had delivered eggs all around the world but never kept a list of children as Tooth and North did. "Okay, so he had a different name once upon a time. What's the big deal?"
"He was a human child who drowned saving his sister." He let that sink in before continuing. "He had a life, a family before Manny changed him. He fell through thin ice after getting his little sister to safety. Whenever he's near water all he remembers is the shock and cold of falling in it and he panics. He did not freeze your river on purpose, Bunny, he was frightened."
For the most part Bunny was lost for words. He stared down at his paws, ashamed that he hadn't taken the time to get to know the kid. Jack had only been a Guardian for a few months and Bunny had been going through his own issues - mating season in high gear ans him trying to hide from his friends until it ended as well as prepare for the upcoming Easter. He hadn't really concerned himself with the boy's welfare or peace of mind. Not a very good friend or Guardian.
"I'll make it up to him," he finally muttered. "Kid likes sweets. I'll bring him a few of my best googies, make him feel better."
"I think he'd prefer you sending some actual time with him." The Guardian of Wonder's blue eyes hardened when the Pooka didn't immediately agree.
"Alright, alright," he grumbled, standing to his full height. "I'll go hang out with him. But if he trashed his room I'm coming back ta laugh at you, mate."
North only laughed, waving him away as he turned back to his sculpture. Bunny shook his head as he headed to the lift and took it down to the floor the living quarters were located. Jack's room was at the end of the corridor and was once the observatory until North expanded the building and built the Globe Room which now also housed the observatory. Load music - if it could be called music - came from the room and Bunny didn't bother knocking, not that the boy could possibly hear over the racket. He glared at the cd player and immediately stormed toward it to turn it down. His poor ear felt as if they would explode, but it wasn't nearly as bad as the young spirit floating in the air singing at the top of his lungs. He didn't seem to notice the music had been turned down. He didn't even notice he wasn't alone.
Bunny pressed his ears firmly to his head, trying to shut out the god awful noise and instead focus on the mess of a paint job he was expecting to find. However there was no mess. Old white sheets cover every piece of furniture and the entire floor. Windows were tapped off and the only thing out in the open was the two cans of paint, the cd player and the Winter Spirit. Well that wasn't quite true. Jack was wearing a paint smeared smock and ball cap, protecting his hair and bucket of paint hanging from the crook of his staff held in his left hand. The walls were a pastel blue with intricate frost patterns that Bunny wasn't sure were real frost or painted, they were so detailed. The room truly looked like a winter paradise and the sunlight from the skylight made it all sparkle. It was quite impressive. Maybe he'd been wrong. Maybe North was right letting the kid decorate his own room.
"Not bad," he said out loud, inspecting an intricate vine of frost that ran up the length of the wall.
A small surprised cry came from above him and Bunny would have laughed at the fact the he had managed to spook the boy if the bucket of paint Jack had been balancing didn't come crashing on his head, dumping blue paint all over him and splattering across the wall and ruining Jack's hard work. For a moment Bunny was fuming, thinking Jack had dropped the paint can on purpose only to hear the boy cry out in panic, not hat his destroyed hard work but at the idea that he may have hurt the Pooka.
"Oh my God!" Jack cried, landing in front of Bunny and throwing his staff on the bed. He knelt next to the fallen Guardian and gently pulled the paint can off Bunny's head. He winced as more paint spilled over grey fur. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," he said in a mantra as he used his hands to try to remove some of the paint. It just smeared and matted the fur. "I didn't hear come in. Why didn't you knock?"
Bunny caught his wrist, spreading the paint over both of them. "Calm down, Frostbite. I'm fine," he said in a gruff voice.
The boy relaxed, seeing that the older Guardian was alright. "What are you doing here, Bunny?" he asked, still stunned by the Pooka being in his room, upper body covered in paint and not mad at him.
"Heard you were painting, mate, thought I'd lean a paw." He ran a paw over his ears and shook off some of the paint onto the sheets. "Or maybe a head."
A smirked curled Jack's lips upward. "Well you know a head is always better than a paw." When Bunny didn't give a snarky reply his smile grew genuine, the first Bunny had seen since the day he took the Guardian Oath. "Thanks, but I think I've got it."
"So I noticed," the Pooka grinned. His gaze moved over the entirety of the room. Everything was in shades of blue and white, even the high beams which were the pale blue-white of a winter sky after a fresh dusting of snow. "This is amazing, Snowflake."
"Snowflake?" Jack asked, his brows rising until the met the fringe of snowy white hair.
"You just called me Snowflake instead of Frostbite."
"Oh..." He gestured to the painted walls. "There's a lot of snowflakes."
"Okay..." Jack was almost certain that the can hit Bunny harder than he let on. Maybe he had a concussion. He should get North. North would know what to do, but Bunny was still holding his wrist. "Are you alright?" he asked, trying to get a good look at Bunny's eyes. He couldn't tell, but Bunny's eyes seemed wider than normal. He seemed to be smiling just a little too much, as if Jack had hit him with one of his happy snowflakes. "I should get North."
"I'm fine, kiddo, just impressed."
Still his eyes didn't look right in Jack' opinion. "Okay..uhm, I need to get something to the clean this up before it dries. It'll be a bugger to get out of your fur later." He wiggled his wrist out of Bunny's grip, grabbed his staff and raced out of his room with a panicked look.
Bunny raised a brow at the boy's strangeness. No witty remarks or jokes about him being covered in blue paint, just fear and panic and then...
Bunny cringed at the high pitch shriek. Damn, that boy had a set of lungs. Frowning, he got to his feet, feeling slightly dizzy from the whack to the noggin. Maybe he was more injured than he let on. He plopped back down on the floor and waited for the imp to return with Pappa North. Laying back he stared up at the timber beams and the intricate clouds painted into the blue sky. He grinned. The clouds were shapes like the Guardians. There was Tooth, Sandy and North, oh and there he was, each guardian a corner as if the directions of a compass. Very impressive.
"See!" Jack's voice lolled him from his thoughts. He rolled onto his belly to see Jack flying back into the room, North right behind him. "I accidentally dropped the can on his head and I think he has a concussion. He's talking funny and..."
"Calm down, Jack," North said, placing a hand on the boy's slim shoulder before kneeling next to the Pooka. "You alright, Bunny?"
"Just a bonk to the noggin, mate," Bunny assured, sitting up again. "Jack, run some warm water in the tub. We need to get the paint off before it dries."
The boy darted into his private bathroom. A moment later the sound of running water filled the room.
Bunny pushed North away from him. "I'm fine, mate. The kid's just panicking."
North nodded as if in understanding. "Boy said you were smiling and acting weird."
"I was not."
Nonetheless North flashed a light in his eyes. "Then why is Jack so scared?"
Bunny gestured to the walls and for the first time North took a good look at the child's room. He said something in Russian along with a low whistle. "I did not imagine this when I gave him the paint."
"Neither did I," Bunny agreed. "Who would have thought our little snowflake had this much talent."
"Tub's ready!" Jack called all too quickly.
"Come, let's get this paint off you," North said, helping Bunny stand.
"I can take care of it later," the Pooka objected.
North shook his head, guiding his friend to the bathroom and large claw foot tub that Jack was fussing over. "Best do it now before it dries. Go on, get in. Jack and I will help."
The Pooka would have kept objecting but the worried look Jack kept giving him made him give up. With a groan he climbed into the warm water - a little cool for his taste but probably scalding hot to the Winter Sprite who had drawn it. At first he didn't like the idea of anyone grooming him but himself. North's large hands kneaded into his sculp, trying to get out the paint as Jack hesitantly scrubbed at his collar, avoiding his chest and face, as if afraid of hurting him. He worked hard to loosen matted clumps of paint with his fingers, staining them blue. He worked with the same focus he had when he painted and his small fingers felt nice, slowly massaging away any tension he had. Bit by bit Bunny relaxed into the firm but tender caresses and soon the paint was washed away. The water was drained and fresh water added to rinse any left over paint away.
North gave a full blown belly laugh when Jack pulled out every towel out of the linen closest and began drying Bunny. The Pooka kept trying to take them away, assuring he could dry himself. As soon as he managed to get some distance he got down on all fours and began shaking himself out, sending water flying all over the bathroom and soaking his fellow Guardians. Jack gave a laugh, trying to shield himself with a towel as North cursed.
"Aster!" he yelled, trying and failing to throw a towel on him.
Jack, not afraid to get a little wet, as long as it wasn't in any large body of water, jumped on Bunny's back with a large towel, wrapping it around the Pooka as he held on for dear life. He laughed like a small child on a bucking horse and for once Bunny laughed with him. There was no teasing, no snarky remarks, not that they would ever truly end, but for once they shared an understanding. Despite being centuries old Jack was a child and a child needed a protector. Bunny felt the sudden need to be that protector. North was his father, whether they realized it or not, and Bunny would be the big brother, the one who would teach and defend and be the rival Jack needed. And sometimes, just sometimes, he'd play with the kid and have a little bit of fun.