This is a piece of historical fanfiction, focusing mostly on American history between the '50s and '60s. As such, it contains references to the Cold War, the Vietnam War, the Ash Wednesday storm of '62, and other events of the time. I tried to be sensitive to real-world tragedies, but of course I wasn't alive when these happened, so I can't be perfect. I wrote this in a fit of inspiration, almost all in one sitting, so I am not certain how accurate it is. Please take this fanfic with a grain of salt.
When I was researching the blizzard of '68, I was surprised how many things happened on that date. I don't think this is actually how Bunnymund and Jack's confrontation went down, but it is one option. This fanfic operates on the headcanon that '68 was the last time they met before the movie, not the first. I think Jack's been bugging Bunnymund since the 1700's, actually.
Obligatory Warnings: this fic contains death, child death, mature themes, bomb references, disturbing imagery, violence, slight gore, child neglect, and the main character developing PTSD like symptoms. It is not quite graphic enough to justify an M rating, but it's close. Please proceed with caution.
That said, I would love some critique or at least feedback on this piece, if you have the time. Keep an eye on the parallels in the fic, those were intentional. I'd like to know if they were effective, and what could be improved.
So, without further ado, Please read, and hopefully review.
It's a game they play, and Jack doesn't like it.
Jack is a master eavesdropper, so he knows what's going on. There's a war, the adults say. A Cold War. They say cold like it's a bad thing, and in a way, they're right.
Jack no longer has the strength to defend his own nature against people who can't see him. He admits, cold can kill. And frequently does.
This Cold War is something different, though. The eloquence is not lost on him. Ages of conflict have passed by his eyes, always violent, vicious, visceral. In the bleakest of winters, he's seen crimson splashed on snow, as soldiers take one another's lives for a cause as abstract as war. It's been a long time since Jack's seen that kind of bloodshed (almost a year!) and he's thankful.
This game, though, this Cold War, it's—not a war at all. It's more of a rivalry than anything, a game similar to the one he likes to play with the Easter Kangaroo. The two have been going at it for a while, teasing and pranking and wrecking each other's things, trying to push one another to the edge. One day, Jack knows, that game will end. One day, either he or Bunny will snap, go too far, cross the line. And that'll be the end of everything.
The humans' Cold War is a race, a race to outdo one another. It's 1953, and the game is tied; Soviet Union vs America, bottom of the ninth, bases are loaded, two out. There's such a chance for victory, such a tangible taste of success in the air, but one wrong move and it's over.
There are weapons, he's learned. Ones that, with the push of a button, can make a city vanish.
He wasn't there for Hiroshima (thank god, thank god) but he did see the aftermath. Ground zero was desolate, almost enough to put Antarctica's bleakest ice shelf to shame. When standing at the center, destruction rolled as far as the eye could see. He was certain there'd been a city here, before. But when he stood at the bombing site—well. His belief was not easily shaken, but this was a special occasion. Warped wood, cracked concrete, twisted metal, mangled limbs. The world there was nothing but debris, a scrapheap, a graveyard. The air itself felt different, and, as he poked at the wreckage, he found the ground did too. He stayed only long enough to discover a corpse of a child, emaciated and charred black, curled in on itself.A life, taken in an instant. A million more, he knew, lay just out of sight. A million corpses, charred and black.
The American children play a game, now. The teacher yells "Drop!" and they have a minute to duck under their desks and pray. Mostly, the kids smile and roll their eyes, or giggle as they shoot knowing glances to one another. Afterwards, they get cookies. "Good job, Mary. Good job, James." Pats on the back, all around. It's a game they play. The adults get worked up, and the children smile and pretend that nothing's wrong.
The game is called a Duck and Cover drill, and Jack does not like it.
Sometimes, there is no warning. The teacher just steps into the room, movements brisk and urgent, and yells "Drop!" The children don't giggle then. They don't share smiles. They duck, and steal peeks up at the ceiling, all too aware that the little shelter of their desks won't save them from the bomb.
Sometimes, when the fear is thickest, a tall dark someone grins from the shadows.
"Nice to see you, Pitch," Jack would say, nonchalant. "Feeding again?"
"What can I say?" his unwelcome guest might flash a predatory grin that has too many teeth. "I just can't stay away."
"…Need any company?" Jack would offer, and suddenly find himself talking to air. Pitch does that on purpose, he assumes. Leaving, that is. Pitch knows better than to stick around and let Jack be a pest, especially after that first incident. Or—perhaps—Pitch simply knows how much Jack detests being alone. Maybe it's meant as a punishment, as though Jack is some naughty, misbehaving child in need of scolding.
When Pitch comes, the fear is just too solid to shake. The adults cancel class for the day, but even the children can't find joy in the extra hours of recess. Even if they got cookies and praise for the false alarm. Even after a brush with death, everything seems oddly calm. "Good job, Mary. Good job, James." Pats on the back, all around.
The children simply file out into the schoolyard and sit to chat amongst themselves. Sometimes they share excited glances, "What if, what if a bomb dropped, though?" they would ask, minds amix with the possibilities. Children huddle, shadows twist.
Some schools hand out dog tags to children. For security, they say. Just in case a bomb drops. The tags are silver and jangly and bright, and have such fine lettering carved into their surface. Of course the children take delight. Jack only scowls and watches the snow fall harder. The tags, he's seen. Countless times before. They're meant to identify bodies in the case the wearer is too mangled to be identified by normal means.
Mangled, emaciated and charred black. Bodies curled inward on themselves. A life taken, maybe a million more.
Jack wants to snatch the dog tags away. His children are not soldiers.
Instead he kicks up some snow. It's a game he plays, getting the kids to smile and pretend nothing's wrong. A snowball fight or two wouldn't hurt. They're sort of soldiers, he admits. Some make excellent generals, others are terrible at dodging. Mock fighting eases the fear of real fighting, for some reason. If Jack's ever been good at anything, it's banishing fear in others.
He's never been good at banishing his own fear, of course, but that's irrelevant. No one is around to watch when he crumbles and he cracks.
Mangled, emaciated and charred black. Corpses curled inward on themselves—
It's 1958, and joy is so easy to spread around. It's a fact, when things get dark, people either curl inward on themselves—NO!—they, ah, they either hunker down and get to business, turning cold and emotionless, or they snatch at any ray of hope. When Jack kicks up some winter fun, teenagers might join in, slipping and sliding and sledding through the snow, laughing till they cry. More than ever, adults will grab at his glimmer of fun, just begging for a chance to relieve some stress, relax and unwind. The tension in the air isn't thick—it's sharp. Drawn tight like a piano wire, waiting to snap the moment it's severed.
The children, his soldiers, grow up with a sort of recklessness that Jack's all too familiar with. It's a game they play. His children smile and pretend nothing's wrong. After all, why shouldn't they play? Why shouldn't they ditch responsibilities and live in the moment? They might never get another chance. His soldiers know how life could end in an instant. Any minute, one party or the other might release the bombs, and they'll be nothing but mangled, emaciated and charred black—
In 1962, Jack kind-of-almost-ruins Easter. Not Easter, per-say, so much as Ash Wednesday. Bunnymund is livid anyways.
Allegedly, Jack had brewed a huge storm off the east coast of America, one that mixed poorly with high tide. The rain and floods were immense, Bunny says. Snow fell thick and cold, as far inland as Kansas, and Florida was below freezing for a week.
Jack—doesn't remember much of it. He just remembers beforehand, of course; walking along Alabama's wilds, enjoying the twilight hours. He remembers what set him off. He remembers finding two African American teenagers and a baby drowned in a river, mangled, black, curled inward on themselves—
God, he needs to talk to somebody.
There's no talking to Bunny, of course; he's far too wound up. But Pitch is around more than ever. Sometimes, Jack chases after the shadows to pester him, babbling about cold dark lakes, and crimson on snow, and mangled, emaciated, black—
He's nothing but a pest to Pitch, but then again, the man does occasionally stop and linger, yellow eyes pierced with interest. "Tell me again," Pitch would say, "How many people have you killed?"
"Sixty four," Jack would answer, then count on his hands. "No, wait, sixty five. Sixty eight?"
"Quite a lot. How many were children?"
"Enough. Maybe two dozen."
Abruptly, Jack would find himself talking to empty air. Pitch does that on purpose, he assumes. Leaving, that is.
After Pitch unexpectedly leaves, Jack would busy himself with counting and recounting how many people died, and how many, exactly, were children.
His little soldier children are older, now, though some still have their dog tags. Most, now, have their own children, a decade of fear behind them. Their children go to school and hide under desks.
It's 1967 and Jack doesn't know where the time has gone. He only knows that there are riots in Hong Kong and the Prime Minister of Japan is dead and interracial marriage is suddenly legal and the Beatles are playing in Europe.
He's heard about Vietnam but he vows not to go there because he hasn't seen bloodshed in a while (almost a month!) and doesn't want to ruin his record.
Instead, he plays a game. He smiles and pretends nothing's wrong.
The following year, Pitch actually seeks him out for the first time. Maybe out of some misplaced loneliness, and maybe he regrets it the moment he sets foot in Jack's presence, because when Jack turns around, Pitch is already trying to slink off into the shadows. But it's February, and unnaturally warm, and Jack has nothing better to do than chase the shadows that haunt him.
Pitch admits, in careful words, that maybe the fear is getting out of hand. He mentions something about patriotism and soldiers and the Vietnam War. Pitch almost—almost—laments, because his power's grown a tad out of hand. With a humble air, Pitch smiles, pretty-as-you-please, and asks Jack to… interfere.
"Uh, isn't Vietnam in a tropical climate, though?" Jack asks.
He's talking to empty air. Jack knows Pitch does that on purpose. Leaving, that is.
So Jack takes off from the northern hemisphere a month early, because surely Bunnymund would appreciate an early spring for once, no snow on the ground anywhere. He's always ragging about ruining Easter, and lately, their relationship has been hostile. He'll give Bunnymund a break.
Jack should've kept his own promise not to set foot in Vietnam.
It's March, and the weather is sweltering. The US soldiers carry themselves like his child soldiers, boasting their dog tags and snapping their heads to look at any threat in the dark. The shadows here twist so often. Pitch? It couldn't be. There are no children here.
Except there are children here, children who carry knives and stand on roads in the way of oncoming convoys. It's an ambush situation. Sometimes the trucks stop, to avoid hitting the child, and the enemy leaps from the tall grass to kill the drivers. Sometimes, the trucks just barrel on through. They leave the child in the middle of the road, broken, mangled, emaciated, curled inward on itself—
There's no snow here, no white to clash with the bloodshed. Jack spreads the cold everywhere one night, though, and it cripples both forces. His magic works wonders in giving these strained people, the soldiers and the civilians, a rest—even a laugh. Until the next morning, that is. When both sides get up to slay one another again, and he is too tired to stop them.
Jack cools off Generals and their tempers, and helps steer them away from heated decisions. Jack nips at haggard soldiers, giving their dark, hollow eyes a glimpse of light to catch hold of. Jack fascinates the natives with fleeting glimpses of snow, flashes of unexplained ice. In the moment, it seems to work. But the fear swells and overwhelms anyway; he's only delaying the inevitable.
Jack tries, endlessly. His impact is profound, but fleeting; like snow melting in the jungle. The war continues on, endlessly. Jack feels like he's just leaving a mess wherever he goes.
And then. And then.
And then Mai Lai.
Jack was simply at the wrong place, wrong time, and there are bodies everywhere. Mangled, emaciated and dark, corpses curled in on themselves.
Some soldiers just shoot, on order. Some, some really like shooting, and they swing about, dog tags hanging uselessly from their necks. Those tags can't identify the monsters who are attacking now. These are someone else entirely.
The native women and children are unarmed, unresisting. They let themselves be herded, thrown about, hoping for mercy. The soldiers toss them into a ditch and shoot anyway.
Jack's seen this somewhere before, he thinks. On a battleground of ice and snow forts. Children, his soldier children, armed with snowballs, mock fighting to the death. Some make excellent generals, others are terrible at dodging.
For a time, Jack just stands there, shellshocked. Screams yell in the distance. One of them is a child.
And he snaps.
He has no magic to counter this kind of fear, or at least, he thought he didn't. But something proves him wrong, and he goes about, wind whipping in his wake, doing damage control. In some kind of mad trance, Jack finds them, the photographers. He tricks them, compels them, to keep their lens trained on target, to keep the cameras rolling. "Don't you dare look away," he says, and they obey. "Don't let this go unnoticed. Don't you dare."
There's a few soldiers who don't shoot. Jack weaves among them and finds the few, precious few, who know better than to cause this kind of atrocity. Jack literally pours his magic on them to lend them courage, and they stand up. It's terrifying, watching soldier fight soldier, but Jack doesn't dare look away.
There's an officer who looks befuddled. Jack knocks him out of the fight.
There's a helicopter pilot who's absolutely horrified. Jack sends a mess of magic his way, and soon he lands his craft between soldiers and their victims.
There's a woman bleeding to death, gasping for mercy. Jack grants it. His total human kills is now up to 68.
He doesn't know when the chaos dies, and can't keep track. The heat and the air is terrible and thick and chokes him once he tries to breathe again. Eventually, after endless chaos, Jack stands back to look at the empty, silent city. The air feels funny. Things are on fire, debris is everywhere, and the corpses are uncountable and hidden in the wreckage.
Buildings are destroyed. Jack could've sworn there was a city here, once, but now he's not so sure.
He suddenly remembers Hiroshima.
When it's all over, all over, Jack flees home, because—
Mangled, emaciated and charred black, corpses curled inward on themselves—
Riddled with bullets, bleeding, screaming, crying, endless endless endless—
And when he finally collects himself and ventures down into America, there's no word of the war on television. Nothing but lies that assure the public that the US is winning the war.
Is that what it was. Winning the war.
It's Easter Sunday, 1968, and in his anger, Jack forgets not to make blizzards.
Considering the circumstances, Jack feels the blizzard was remarkably contained. The snow barely comes a foot high and doesn't even cover half the continent. It gets in the way of Easter hunts, though, and the Cold War tension between Jack and Bunny snaps.
Bunnymund finds him near Lake Michigan, weak, emaciated, curled inward on himself.
"What," Bunny snaps, absolutely livid. "Is your problem!"
—mangled, emaciated and charred black—
"I've had it up to here with ya! I've got a job to do, hope to uphold, children t' protect. Between the Cold War and this blasted new one in Vietnam—"
—screaming, crying, endless endless endless—
"There's so little hope, I can hardly function. I'm having a hard enough time keeping the world from breaking out into a nuclear war, and I don't need yer selfish antics on top of that—"
—68 murders and child soldiers and games that aren't fun—
"Are ya even listenin' to me? Ya aren't! Strewth, I don't know how to get through to ya anymore! Drop these antics, ya hear me? Drop!"
"Drop!" says the teacher, and the children duck beneath their desks with a smile. It's a game they play. The adults get worked up, and the children giggle and smile and pretend nothing's wrong.
Jack giggles and smiles, and hops away from the Easter Bunny.
"What can I say?" he asks, and flashes a grin that has too many teeth. "I just can't stay away."
"I'll make ya stay away," Bunnymund warns, with a shake of his fist. "If you ruin another Easter, I'll take this to North. Ya don't want the Guardians on yer tail, Jackie. This aint a game."
"I didn't know the Easter Bunny couldn't handle a little snow," Jack teases. "How many eggs do you have left to deliver?"
Bunnymund opens his mouth to reply and then stops, whole body going stiff. "Crikey, I've got half a million left," he mutters, thumping the ground twice with a large foot. He stops, then turns to give Jack a glare. "Enough with the snow, Mate. If I see you next year—if you threaten my job again—yer dead. It's too bloody cold for this."
He says cold like it's a bad thing, and in a way, he's right. Jack admits, cold can kill, and frequently does.
Jack no longer has the strength to defend his own nature against people who don't see him.
"See you next year, then!" Jack taunts, making clear his threat.
The next second, Jack has to drop to the ground, Duck and Cover, as a boomerang slings past his head. It nearly grazes him, nearly cuts across his fragile neck. Jack is breathless as he scrambles back up, blood pounding, ready for a fight, but Bunnymund has already disappeared beneath the earth. The boomerang was just a warning.
The brush with death ought to leave him frazzled, but instead, Jack just feels calm. Jack thought he had crossed the line, but Bunnymund didn't retaliate, didn't end their war in a blaze of fire and fallout. Jack feels like a kid hiding under a desk.
False alarm! No nukes today, it was just a drill, just a drill, their Cold War is still going. Who wants cookies?
"Good job, Mary," Jack whispers to the air. "Good job, Jack. Pats on the back, all around." The smile seems stuck on his face, and it fits oh so well.
Bunnymund has every right to be angry. Kids need that touch of hope, especially nowdays. The only way Bunny can deliver that is through his baskets of eggs, though, and he can't deliver them easily now. Children, if they come out, will be wading through snow to look for any sign of gifts.
Jack wonders what would happen if Bunnymund doesn't succeed in spreading hope on his holiday.
"What if, what IF a bomb dropped, though?" Ask the children, eyes amix with the possibilities.
Jack remembers Pitch, and wonders if Bunny even knows the enemy he's fighting against.
"Tell me again, Jack, how many people have you killed? …How many were children?"
Jack remembers Bunny's enraged face, stressed beyond belief. That, at least, Jack feels sorry for.
"I promise I won't mess up any more Easters," Jack says with a sigh.
He's talking to empty air. Jack thinks Bunnymund does that on purpose—leaving, that is. Maybe it's Bunny's way of punishing Jack, like he's some naughty, misbehaving child.
Is he a child, though? At two hundred years and counting, is he really?
A desolate wind blows across the lake, and Pitch's voice curls in his ear.
"Tell me again," Pitch asks, his yellow eyes pierced with interest. "How many people have you killed?"
"Sixty four." Jack answers, then counts on his fingers. "No, wait, sixty five. Sixty eight?"
"Quite a lot. How many were children?"
Children? What does that word mean, anyway. 'Children'. Someone who is young. Someone who is powerless, who needs protecting.
"How many were children?"
He thinks about Children who hide under desks. Children lynched and drowned in a river. Children who carry knives and stand in front of convoys. Children who carry dog tags and shoot into the ditch. Children who are nothing but corpses, hidden amongst the wreckage.
"How many were children?"
Mangled, emaciated and charred black. Corpses curled in on themselves. A city vanished with the push of a button. A million corpses, maybe more.
"All of them, Pitch. They were all my children."
Children, his child soldiers… They were all so young. They might look old, but Jack is so much older.
They carried dog tags in their youth, and they carry them now. He's watched them murder, watched them die. But even now, past the mangled and charred black, Jack would always remember those faces—
Giggling, smiling, hiding under desks.
It's a game they play. The adults get worked up, and the children smile and pretend nothing is wrong.
Adults fret. Children play.
Jack frets, endlessly. Mangled, emaciated, charred black—
The Cold war continues, endlessly. Corpses curled inward on themselves—
It would be nice, he thinks, to play.
And why shouldn't he play? Why shouldn't he ditch his responsibilities and live in the moment? He might never get another chance. He knows how life can end in an instant.
Carefully, Jack picks himself up off the ice and turns to stare at the spot on the ground where Bunnymund disappeared. Bunnymund is so old, he realizes, just like Pitch. They're the adults here. Responsible and strong. When they set out to do a job—spread hope, generate fear—they get it done. Meanwhile, Jack just leaves a mess wherever he goes.
Jack is young. Jack is powerless, too, unable to stop a war or even hold it back. And, though no one is willing to rescue him, Jack would really appreciate being protected from the horrors in his head.
Maybe Jack is a child after all.
It's time to stop chasing the twisting shadows, Jack knows. Time to stop dwelling on the past. It's been a long time since Jack's seen bloodshed (almost a week!) and maybe it's time to move on.
Jack smiles. Jack giggles. Jack runs off to play, and leaves all his mangled, emaciated, charred black corpses behind.
It's a Cold war, and it is endless endless endless. But that's okay, the adults can deal with that. If Pitch goes a little power crazy, that's his problem. If Bunny gets in a little over his head, he's got the Guardians to back him up. So, let the adults get all worked up. They'll sort it out in the end.
Jack doesn't have to worry about his child soldiers anymore. Jack doesn't have to worry about anything.
He just has to smile, giggle, and hide under the desk… and hope that he survives.
It's a new game, and Jack is ready to play.