So I realized I was basically just psyching myself out trying to make this and the next chapter perfect. I swear, every time I re-read this thing I find like six more typos or things to fix. But letting it sit on my computer for months while I wring my hands in insecurity isn't doing me, or you, any favors. So if you spot any typos (-knocks on wood-) go ahead and point them out, specifically, and I'll fix them. I'm actually mildly dyslexic and it helps a lot—Spellcheck can't catch everything for me. Thanks to everyone who pointed out typos last chapter too ('Peggy', 'Lunanoff', 'Funnybone', and like six others… I honestly don't know how I miss these things) and they have been corrected.
Anyway, this chapter is dedicated to showing the Guardians' different reactions. I don't like it when there's a reveal and everyone acts the same – generically shocked/sad/what-have-you. I wanted to take time to show each one's subtly different reactions and the way they approach the news. That's half the fun, right?
I've got the next chapter in intensive editing phase so it should be up soon, too. Like in a day or so. Until then, hope this can tide you over. Read and enjoy!
A Little Misdirection
Jack is fantastic at dodging the subject, much to Bunnymund's dismay.
Jack may not be a good liar, but he is good at distracting others away from important issues. So good, in fact, that a mere ten minutes after Bunnymund read the strange letter aloud, Jack has singlehandedly managed to make everyone completely forget about the "God" issue.
That's not an exaggeration. It takes literally ten minutes, possibly less, for everyone to drop the subject. All it takes is one conversation.
The Guardians climb the stairs and catch up with the kids and Jack in the kitchens. The Burgess kids are already swarming the cookies, swiping them off of the cooling racks and stuffing them into mouths and pockets. The four Guardians pull Jack aside, and North kindly, yet sternly, points to the letter and asks what's going on. But by then, Jack is ready.
"Oh man! You should see your faces!" Jack laughs. He spins, throwing his arms wide, grinning ear-to-ear. "Man, I have never seen anyone fall so hard for a prank!"
"A prank?" North stops short of a stern lecture, and instead blinks in surprise. "…It is a prank?"
"Well of course it's a prank," Jack says, eyes dancing in amusement. He locks eyes with theirs and gives a wicked grin. "What—you don't actually think I'm a God, do you?"
"Uh… no, but…"
"I mean, do I look anything like a God?"
Everyone pauses, looking at Jack—at his messy hair, his baggy hoodie, his tattered pants, his calloused feet. There are many words that come to mind when they look at Jack, but… Godlike?
"Exactly," Jack says. "That's why it's such a great prank."
Jack's charming smile and reasonable tone are enough to convince North, and soon the big man is nodding, thoughtfully stroking his beard as he does. "This makes sense," he says, even though, at least in Bunny's opinion, it makes no sense at all.
"Great," Jack says with a cheery smile. "Anything else? Or can we get back to the cookies?"
As if on cue, one of the kids pipes up. "Jack, are there any cookies here without chocolate?" asks Pippa. "I'm allergic."
Jack is quick to pull a puppy-dog pout on North, and it's the final nail in the coffin.
"Of course, Jack!" North agrees, holding up his hands. "My mistake. We did not mean to get worried by your prank."
Jack smiles, and, before anyone can argue, the winter sprite flits across the room like a sparrow, bounding from countertop to countertop to beckon Pippa towards a storage closet.
Bunnymund huffs at this, and turns to say something to North, but the man's attention has already been stolen by Jamie and the other kids.
"Thanks for the cookies, Santa," the boy grins, offering a cookie to him. The other kids are quick to follow suit, and soon enough they're not just thanking him for the cookies, but the presents they got from him as well, neat and tidy under the tree this Christmas Morning. They start bragging to each other about their gifts—train sets and paint brushes, dollhouses and roller skates, books and bicycles and a bunch of other things, all just what they asked for.
Tooth and Sandman get drawn into the conversation too; Tooth, when Monty lets her see his upper canine that's begun to wiggle recently, and Sandy when Cupcake explains she fell asleep before North got to her house, but still had the most wonderful dream. And by the time Jack comes back, bearing raw gingerbread and sugarcookie dough, along with baking sheets, cookie cutters, rainbow sprinkles, frosting, and a yeti who knows how to use the oven, everyone is too caught up in Christmas Cheer to remember the odd letter from Avengers Tower.
And all Bunnymund can do is stand there, staring in disbelief.
It's an outcome he should've expected, honestly. After all, Jack is the Guardian of Fun, and Fun can be a powerful tool, especially when it's used to distract.
It seems like a silly notion, but Fun is actually quite powerful. After all, Fun was what turned the grim task of collecting teeth into a lighthearted race. Fun was what kept the Last Light believing when nothing else could. And Fun was what stopped the murderous Boogieman himself in his tracks, via a well-placed snowball.
Fun distracts people from the bad, the worrisome, and the frightening by making them focus on better, brighter things instead. If Jack could distract his comrades from a situation as dire as last Easter, then distracting them from an odd letter should be—and is—a piece of cake.
But Bunnymund can't help but sulk. He's known Jack for two centuries now, and the tactic seems so obvious to him. He can't help but resent the fact that the other three don't seem to notice.
The thing is, that letter—it's not a prank.
If it were, Jack would be having a field day. He would've been encouraging Bunny to read the letter aloud, not trying to stop him. He would be rubbing it in their faces, too, acting regal, demanding to be addressed as "Your Godliness," or trying to pass holy decrees declaring that Curfews and Bedtimes are a sin.
But he isn't. Jack just wants to convince his fellow Guardians that the letter is no big deal so that they'll stop worrying about it.
"Bunny, why are you over here? You are not sulking on Christmas, are you?" North asks when he finds the Pooka sitting at a long table in the corner, glaring at the letter in his paws.
Bunnymund sighs and slaps the paper down on the table's polished wood surface. "…Just thinkin', mate," he answers.
"About Jack's prank?"
Bunny's ears flatten in annoyance.
North takes a seat near Bunnymund, groaning as he lowers himself into it. He rubs his arms; his joints must be aching after a long day of delivering presents. Still, he smiles. "It was a good prank!" he announces, sitting back into the chair with a laugh. "I do not know how Jack tricked someone into thinking he is a God. He does not look regal at all. It is funny."
"It's not a prank," Bunny mutters. "And it's not funny."
"Oh? You don't think Jack was joking?" North asks, puzzled. "…You actually think Jack is a God?"
"Wha—? No. Don't be ridiculous."
Sandy pops up at Bunny's elbow, unhelpfully producing a sand picture above his head. It's of Jack, dressed in robes, palms up and arms open—he appears to be glowing as he regally descends from some clouds.
Bunnymund scowls. "Stop that," he orders.
The image disappears, only to be replaced by one of Jack in a toga. Bunnymund glares at Sandy's impish, teasing face, then sighs, turning back to North.
Bunny points firmly at the letter on the table. "North, this Thor guy might be wandering around, thinking that Jack is actually a God. And it's probably Jack's fault, to boot." He points out patiently, eyebrows raised. "…And yer just gonna let the kid off the hook?"
"Hm." North blinks at this, frowning. He steeples his hands in front of his face and leans back into his chair, thinking. "Well, I suppose—good prank is still a prank," he admits. "May have to revise Naughty List before our present exchange tomorrow."
Bunny just lets his paw thump to the table, glaring flatly at the man. "That is not what I meant," he mutters.
It's Tooth, as always, who rushes to Jack's defense. "Oh North, don't be so hard on Jack," she chides. "You can't put Jack on the Naughty List at the last minute. It's his first real Christmas after all." In an instant, she zips over, wings fluttering, bowl of soup in hand; a spot of 'Real Food' for North to eat, instead of the sugary, cavity-inducing cookies he's been gorging on. She slides the soup in front of North with a silent instruction to eat, then straightens, frowns, and adds, "…besides, I'm not so sure this is a prank."
"Thank you," Bunnymund says, throwing his paws into the air. At least Tooth noticed something off about Jack's story.
The Queen nods, hands on hips. "It's probably just a misunderstanding," she goes on. "Maybe this guy saw Jack and just… mistook him for a God?"
Okay, so maybe Tooth isn't suspicious of Jack after all.
Bunny scoffs. "Mistook—Tooth, are ya serious? The kid looks like a hobo."
She glances at him from across the room, watching him laugh as he helps the kids decorate a fresh batch of cookies. She shrugs. "Well, I guess," she says, but then, unexpectedly, swoons. "But his smile is divine."
"…Y'gotta be kiddin' me."
In response, Sandy chips up again, this time producing an image of Jack with wings and a halo. A halo. It's a bit too much. Impulsively, Bunnymund scowls and swats it away with the back of his paw.
"Ah, Bunny, lighten up! It is Christmas!" North says between spoonfuls of soup.
"Yeah, Bunny, stop being such a sourpuss," says Tooth. Bunny's whiskers twitch a bit at the insult, but before he can snap a comeback, she adds, "Why are you getting so worked up over something so small, anyway?"
"Oh, Gee, dunno mate," Bunnymund answers, a bit bitter. "A stranger—an adult—writes a letter to 'Santa' calling Jack a God, askin' for his… divine council, whatever that's supposed t' mean—Nothin' outta place here, I guess. Perfectly natural. I should just forget it, like all a' you have done."
Tooth purses her lips and puts one hand on her hip. "All right, then, what do you think this letter is about?" she asks, motioning to the paper on the table.
Bunny looks at her—at her defiant stance, her stubborn jaw, and the small, barely-noticeable flicker of doubt in her jewel bright eyes. And he wonders, not for the first time, why she's always so certain of Jack innocence. He can tell she has doubts—that Bunny's words are getting to her—but she seems to brush them aside so easily. Jack is a trickster, and a magnet for trouble, but no matter what, Tooth is always the first to defend him.
—He wonders if she feels guilty about Easter, or even Jack's amnesia. That might explain her actions; she's trying to make up for past mistakes? It would make sense, at least.
But either way, Tooth is set on defending Jack—meaning she won't listen to a word Bunnymund says unless he explains things just right.
"Well?" Tooth prompts.
Bunny drums his claws on the table, thinking. At last, choosing his words carefully, he speaks.
"I just think… there's somethin' about that letter Jack isn't tellin' us. Somethin'… bad." Tooth opens her mouth to reply, but Bunny adds, "…somethin' that could get him into big trouble if we don't talk to him soon."
Tooth stops, and looks away. Her jaw is still stubborn, but her eyes have turned thoughtful. She glares at the wall for a long moment, considering. Bunny watches her eyes flicker to the letter, then, for the briefest of moments, to Jack.
She sighs in frustration, her eyes finding Bunnymund's at last. "Well… all right," she says. "If you're so sure, then I guess you can talk to Jack about the letter."
Bunnymund smiles, triumphant, and Tooth says quickly, "But Later, okay? It's Christmas, and the kids are here. It's not the time for a confrontation, understand?"
Bunny scowls at this development, but it's the closest he's going to get to permission from Tooth. "…Fine," he agrees, sour.
"Oh Good!" North butts into the conversation. North has already finished with his bowl of soup, practically inhaled it, really, and he pushes himself away from the table, standing. "Now, if we are… done arguing," he says, pausing to look between Bunny and Tooth. When they don't reply, he smiles. "Then we can get back to the kids, yeah? I have not decorated cookies in ages!"
If Tooth had eyebrows, she'd be raising them in a skeptical manner. "Well, I've never decorated cookies, so…"
North gasps, appalled. "This is no good!" he declares. "Jack! Tooth says she has never decorated cookies!"
"What?" Jack asks, looking up. He glances at Tooth, then at the kids surrounding him. They just grin back up at him in response. Jack laughs and reaches for an unused tub of cookie dough. "Well, come on then, get over here!" he calls, touting the tub of gingerbread dough that is, for Tooth's benefit, presumably sugar-free.
North is quick to usher her over to Jack and the group of kids, and Sandy follows close behind, with golden milk-and-cookie icons dancing circles above his head. Soon, despite Tooth's reluctance, they're busy with the rolling pins and cookie cutters, leaving Bunnymund alone with his thoughts.
The Pooka watches his friends go at it—North explaining the fine art of cookie decorating, Tooth inspecting the wooden rolling pin, Sandy stealing a bite of raw cookie dough from under everyone's noses. Then, Bunny sighs, eyes flickering down to the letter before him.
How can the others act so casual about this? Bunnymund almost can't believe it. Maybe it's because he's known Jack for two centuries—not eight months like the rest of the Guardians—but when Bunny hears the words "Jack" and "Is a God" in the same sentence, it shoots up red flags in his mind. Jack has a knack for getting in trouble, and this letter seems like a recipe for disaster.
But, then again… maybe he's overreacting. Jack is good at getting in trouble, but he's good at getting out of it, too. Even if Jack is in some kind of trouble, he knows how to handle a messy situation. Right?
For some reason, though, Bunnymund can't shake this feeling. Something about Jack's reaction to the letter doesn't feel right at all.
With another deep sigh, Bunnymund looks down at the letter, scowling. He promised Tooth he won't confront Jack—yet. But as soon as the kids get tired, or the festivities die down, Bunnymund is going to pull Jack aside and get to the bottom of this. Even if he has to do it by himself.
Bunnymund tucks the letter into one of his sling's small pockets for safekeeping, and he goes to join the others.
The rest of the evening is spent with the children. And, despite his frustration, his impatience, and the little touch of worry he feels towards Jack and the letter, Bunnymund still manages to enjoy himself. The way the children laugh and joke and talk with excitement as they bake—Bunny can't help but smile. Even if they do make an absolute mess of the kitchen.
After a minimum of five cookie sheets are put into the oven to bake, Jack decides a tour of the Workshop is in order. North is all too happy to oblige. Everyone shuffles out into the hallway, licking frosting from their fingers; Sandy creates a magic carpet to ferry the kids around, and off they go.
The workshop is, in a word, Grand. Quiet, yes, since the Yetis are on vacation, but the kids don't seem to care. They stare in awe and wonder at everything, occasionally piping up to ask a question or make a comment or even just to laugh. North eats up the attention. He goes into full show-off mode, an attitude that would normally irritate Bunny to no end if the kids weren't there to enjoy it. As it is, he just rolls his eyes whenever North acts too extravagant.
Jamie brought a camera, which North seems to have no qualms with. The children pass it around amongst themselves, taking turns snapping photos of whatever catches their eye. Occasionally they even hand it off to Sandy, Tooth, or Jack, to fly up and get photos of things too tall or too far away to properly photograph.
The elves, unfortunately, notice. And soon, the little gremlins concoct a plan; they start to pose next to anything that looks even remotely important—leaning against toys, making pouty faces beside statues, or waving ecstatically from atop Yeti workstations in the hopes that they'll be noticed. Taking a picture without an elf cameo becomes, quite frankly, impossible.
Jamie's also got a journal. It's a thick, red book, with the word "Evidence" scrawled across the cover. As North parades around, preaching the greatness of Christmas, Jamie is sure to jot down every single word.
Bunnymund's got a curiosity streak that's a mile wide, and so he can't resist looking over Jamie's shoulder at the thing. Jamie notices and, polite as ever, offers Bunnymund a look.
It's quite an impressive piece of work. The first half of the book seems to be evidence geared towards proving the Guardian's existence—an egg photo here, a snatch of yeti hair there—all dated from before Easter. Then the book's tone abruptly changes, as the latter half describes Jamie's adventures with said Guardians after having proved their existence. There's the Battle of Burgess, in full detail. There are bios of every Guardian, complete with pictures and quotes. And of course, the most recent chapters are for Christmas—Jamie's wish list. Photos of the tree decorations. Jamie's selfie with Santa. And even a page titled "Plan To Sneak In to The North Pole With Jack."
Jamie's notes are the latest edition, several pages long. "Y've got quite an eye for detail, there, sport," Bunny says at last.
"Thanks," Jamie says, hand resting idly on one page, atop a crudely drawn map of the globe room. "…I just don't want to forget anything, that's all."
Bunny raises an eyebrow, then shrugs. "I'm sure Tooth'll take extra-special care of your memories," he promises.
"Oh, well I know, but I—"
Jamie falters, looking down at the book. And Bunny frowns, crouching to eye-level. "What's on your mind?"
Jamie seems to wrestle with himself for a moment, but he finally looks up, almost timid. "It's just—Jack says the reason you were so weak at Easter is because—Pitch stole the teeth and made everyone forget about you."
"…Yes," Bunny nods reluctantly, "…But the chances o' that happenin' twice are pretty slim, you know."
"Well yeah, he can't steal all the teeth again… But it wouldn't be so hard to steal seven, right?"
Bunnymund looks at Jamie, perplexed, and wonders what he's getting at.
Jamie fiddles with his pencil then looks back at Bunny. "Jack—Jack says we're the only kids who believe in him. If Pitch steals our memory boxes, and we forget, does that mean Jack will…?"
Bunny can see a touch of fear in the boy's wide eyes. He'd do anything to make it vanish. But how can he deny the truth? If the kids do somehow forget, then Jack will fade, and fade fast. And Jamie knows it. Bunny does some quick thinking, trying to locate the right words to quell Jamie's fears, and then, in an instant, he finds them.
"Well, usually that would be true, mate," Bunnymund says, reaching into his pouch to pull out that troublesome letter again. He waves it up for Jamie to see. "But yer not Jack's only believers, now, are ya?"
Jamie looks at the letter, puzzled, before understanding dawns in his eyes. "That's right! Thor believes in Jack!"
Well at least this pesky letter can be put to some type of good use, Bunnymund thinks. He nods, encouraging Jamie's smile. "Right, so even if you forget—though I doubt you will—there's always a plan B."
"Yeah! Thor won't forget Jack ever." Jamie agrees. "He's a superhero!"
Briefly, Bunnymund stops, trying to make heads or tails of that sentence—before he realizes the 'He' in "He's a superhero" is talking about Thor, not Jack. Of course that creates a couple new questions, since although Bunnymund knows about the debacle at New York last summer, he isn't entirely caught up on exactly who "Thor" is. The name rings a bell…
"Alright!" Jack's baritone voice cuts through his thoughts. They turn to see Jack land nearby, touting the digital camera and a broad smile. "I got the perfect picture of the Globe," he tells Jamie, "And, I think this one is finally elf-free!"
"Really?" Jamie accepts it, going into the memory to review. There's the globe, all bright and spectacular as usual.
Jamie smiles, then frowns, squinting at the viewscreen. "Jack, if the picture is elf-free, then…" he points to a little red splotch near the base. "…what's that?"
Jack squints at the camera too. "…Dingle?" he asks, bewildered, and then looks up, eyes searching the globe above. On a nearby ledge, dangling a few hundred feet in the air, is an elf—who timidly waves down at them, while clinging for its life to the ledge, about ready to fall. They can hear the pathetic jingle of its bell as it squeaks for help.
Jack sighs. "I've gotta go rescue an elf," he says, handing the camera back.
The kid smiles. "Okay, whatever you say, Jokul Frosti," Jamie teases in reply.
It's a brief thing, the way Jack's carefree manner abruptly dies, and a foreign emotion flickers across his face. He stares at Jamie, with halting, silent words caught in his throat; then his eyes flicker down to the letter in Bunnymund's hand, and up to the Pooka's face. Jack's eyes narrow in suspicion, and he frowns.
Then, as abruptly as before, he turns back to Jamie, and offers a smile that looks forced. "I'll be right back," he promises, falsely chipper, and launches into the air.
They watch him go, and Jamie blinks, humming a little. "I guess he doesn't like that nickname?" Jamie asks with a shrug.
"Yeah… maybe…" Bunnymund murmurs. He watches Jack fly for a moment longer, then he looks at the letter in his hands, wondering what they said wrong. Suddenly, despite the fun he's been having, Bunnymund wishes it would be over already so he can pull Jack aside and ask.
Bunnymund fights that temptation and instead looks down to Jamie. "Now c'mon, mate," he says, patting the boy's back and urging him to join the others. "Back to the tour. And don't spend too much time with your nose in that book, y'hear?"
"Okay!" Jamie agrees, and keeps that promise. He seems to focus less diligently on the book after that, allowing himself instead to get absorbed in the fun. As they go through the globe room and store rooms and toy assembly lines, Jamie's right there with them, marveling at the sights and pointing out new things to see.
Bunny watches them laugh and tries to remind himself, again, that tonight isn't just about Jack. It's about the children, too, and the other Guardians. The children are happy. North is no longer worrying pointlessly about Pitch's absence. And Tooth and Sandy seem to enjoy themselves too; this is possibly the first Christmas in decades where they haven't had their nose to the grindstone. Now they're all laughing, swapping stories and exploring the workshop together. Everyone else seems to be having a good time—Bunnymund feels, somehow, that he shouldn't ruin that.
But every time he tries to push his impatience away, Jack's reaction at being called Jokul flashes in his mind. Jack is usually so carefree, and seeing the troubled, unreadable expression on his face sends chills down Bunnymund's spine. He can't shake the wrongness of it all, and it looms in his mind. He has to know what made Jack react like that, and, most importantly, why.
And so, despite his promise to Tooth, Bunnymund starts watching for the first chance he can get to pull Jack aside for interrogation.
Jack has… other plans.
The Winter Spirit seems to go into fun-overdrive after that. He occasionally lifts a kid or two up to fly in the air, or brings the toys that float around the workshop down for closer inspection. He even stages a race with remote-control cars, handing every kid a controller, and takes bets on who'll win.
The tour, of course, drags on. Bunny can't wait till it's over.
Nearing the end of the tour, the kids find a whole cache of outfits in one of the back rooms and, at Jack's encouragement, start playing dress-up. There are pirate costumes, and Fairy wings, and a big shaggy coat which Jack drapes across his shoulders and does his best impression of Bunny's Australian accent, grinning ear-to-ear. The sly grin Jack gives him affirms Bunnymund's growing suspicions; Jack might be purposely causing diversions to drag the tour on.
Soon dress-up turns into a game of tag when Jack finds a long black coat reminiscent of Pitch's, and starts playing the part of the Boogeyman. The children, adorned in Guardian-esque outfits, flee and regroup to launch an attack on Pitch Jack and his monstrous elf- and fairy-nightmares.
North helpfully provides waterguns for the assault. "New invention. Need to test them anyway," he says when Bunnymund glares.
Bunny stares at him, then to Sandy and Tooth. "Weren't we gonna get him inta' bed?" he demands.
It's too late. Sandy and Tooth are already selecting their own weapons to help wage war. "Later," Tooth promises with a dismissive handwave, inspecting the sights on a water sniper rifle.
From a few rooms away, Bunnymund can hear Jack's evil laughter. His only response is to groan and facepalm.
Bunnymund sits in the corner to watch and sulk as the war gets underway. He knows he's being a killjoy, but his impatience is honestly killing him. It wouldn't be so bad, except the other Guardians don't seem to be interested in helping Bunnymund out at all.
Instead, everyone wages a mock-war. The battle is like something lifted from an adventure novel, and everyone plays a part. North helps with the Sneak Attack, Sandy shapes the terrain for maximum cover, and Tooth proves to be quite the sharpshooter with her oversized golden watergun. Jack turns his staff into a blunt scythe and monologues in a self-mocking way. The waterguns prove both an effective and ineffective weapon, freezing Jack on contact but also providing a slippery floor which he uses to his advantage. Though Jack clearly has no intention of winning this battle, his ice traps and pitfalls keep the children from capturing him for an impressive length of time.
In the end, Bunnymund thinks they only catch Jack because the winter spirit decides to sit down, and accidentally freezes himself to the floor. Bunny forces himself to feel no pity as he watches Jack get dogpiled by a tooth-fairy!Sophie, tooth-fairy!Pippa, Santa!Monty, Santa!Claude, Sandman!Cupcake, Easter-Bunny!Caleb and a Jack-Frost!Jamie.
From beneath the pile of children, Jack squeaks weakly, "How dare you have fun in my presence! I… I am the boogeyman—"
"Problems, mate?" Bunny asks, finally deciding to hop over.
Jack is barely visible from beneath the child-pile, but his dramatic flail is easy enough to see. "And now Ninja-space-Pooka Bunnymund has come to finish me! This is the end!"
Despite his annoyance, Bunnymund can't help but smile. "I think you knocked a few screws loose," he tells the child who's dressed like him, with a furry coat, rabbit ears, and dual water pistols. Caleb grins back, sliding off the dogpile.
"Jack's never had enough screws to begin with," he answers.
As the rest of the kids slide off, Jack sits up, looking a bit dazed. He turns to Jamie, who's dressed to look like Jack Frost, and prods his chest. "Your friends are calling you a loose screw," he teases. "Are you really gonna let them get away with that?"
"Well, you can't really get mad over the truth," Jamie answers wickedly.
Jack clutches his chest in mock-betrayal. "Ouch. That hurt." Jack ruffles the boy's hair, stands, brushes himself off, then scoops up his fallen staff and Sophie at the same time. She's yawning, practically dead on her feet, and lays her head against Jack's shoulder. "Well! That was fun, and you all look exhausted. Who's ready to go home?"
Two of the kids, caught mid-yawn, immediately snap their mouths shut. All look absolutely alarmed at Jack's suggestion. "Ja-a-ack," Jamie whines, but he's beginning to droop a little, too. "We're not tired, we're not – promise!"
Jack tilts his head, sending a knowing look from the corner of his eye. "Well, if you say so," Jack answers, tapping the icy ground with his staff as he slides over to Bunnymund. "Looks like I need to clean up some ice. Why don't you and the Guardians go back to the kitchens while I clean this up? I'll be there soon. The cookies probably finished baking a while ago."
Jack unceremoniously plunks Sophie into Bunnymund's arms. The girl yawns and snuggles into his fur, grabbing a fistful like a blanket.
It's adorable. But—Bunnymund looks at the kids, reluctantly filing out the door, then back at Jack, off in the corner, whistling as he chips away at the ice.
With a tug of regret, Bunny hands Sophie off to North. "Tuck her in, would'ja? I'll be on in a minute."
North yawns, his exhaustion finally catching up to him, but at the request, he wakes up a bit. "Bunny…" he warns, eyeing him and Jack.
"We'll just be a minute! I'm just helpin'. Cross my heart." Bunny says.
"…" North is apparently too tired to come up with a comeback. Sighing, he makes an 'I'm watching you' gesture, then at last turns to follow the others out.
Bunny shuts the door quietly behind them, nodding to himself. He pulls the letter from his pouch, takes a steadying breath, and turns around to face Jack.
The "war" ended in a garage-like area of the workshop, and the place is a mess. There's ice all over the room, hanging in stalactites and pooling at the floor, and Jack isn't cleaning up any of it. Instead, Jack ambles over to the corner where North's sleigh is waiting for repairs, claims the front seat, and props his feet up on the dashboard, as casual as can be.
Bunnymund sighs and walks over, letting his paw trail absently over the sleigh's front board. "…Well," he says at last, eyes flickering towards the door to make sure the others have gone.
"Well." Jack repeats, raising his eyebrows at Bunnymund and saying nothing more.
Bunny sighs again, this time in surrender. "That was fun, I guess," he says. "You sure have the lot of them wrapped around your finger."
Jack chuckles. "Good thing you didn't join," he says, laying his head back to look at the ceiling. "That fight would've been way too one-sided."
"Hm." Bunnymund pauses, then says, "I particularly liked your tactics, though—how you used the kids to keep North and the others distracted from the letter."
There's a long pause.
"Well," says Jack, "Can't blame me for trying."
For the third time, Bunnymund sighs, and he decides to drop all pretense. He slides into the seat next to Jack, touting the letter so both of them can see. "Jack," he says, "We need to talk. You and I both know this isn't some random letter or a prank. Winter Gods, Jokul Frosti—this aint the first time y've heard of it. Why didn't ya tell us about it before?"
Jack shrugs. "Oh come on," he says, "It's not like you guys talk about your pasts, why should I?"
Admittedly, it's true; with Jack settling in as a Guardian, they haven't taken much time to tell him about their pasts—or learn much about his.
"I mean, I had to ask the elves what a Pooka was. The elves, Bunny. And apparently Sandy was some sort of, I don't know, shooting star pilot? What else aren't you telling me?" Jack prods the sleigh's dashboard with the base of his staff. "I just learned today that this thing used to be a giant robot, you know. Did you know that?"
"Yes," Bunny says patiently, "The Djinni was a great help when we first fought with Pitch."
"But that's so cool, and I had no idea! Why doesn't North use it anymore?" Jack asks.
Bunnymund's nose twitches. "Probably for the same reason Tooth doesn't use her dual swords anymore," he answers, "…Pitch broke them."
Jack's eyes bug out. "Tooth uses dual swords?"
"…Can we get back on topic." The conversation seems to have taken an unfortunate detour.
Jack stares at him for a moment longer, then huffs. "You know what? No. You're lying," he says. "Tooth, I can understand—dual swords, wow, okay—but North is an inventor." Jack raises his chin. "If the robot was broken, wouldn't he just fix it?"
Bunny sighs, frustrated. "I don't know, Frostbite, it's not my area of expertise." He says. "North said the parts that broke were made of some rare, vibration-proof alloy…"
Jack frowns. "What, Vibranium?"
"Can we get back to the letter." Bunnymund would greatly appreciate it if Jack would stop asking questions that he doesn't know the answers to.
Jack sighs, slumping back into the sleigh. "The letter. Right."
Bunny looks at Jack's sour face. The kid acts like he's being held hostage for an interrogation. Bunny nearly gives up right there, but instead, he sits forward, trying to be patient. "Listen, Jack, I'm only asking fer your own good. I've been around since the Earth was created, and I've seen countless spirits pretending to be Gods, and it—well, it never ends well. Trust me."
"Oh, you don't need to tell me," Jack laughs. "I saw Road to El Dorado."
"…Road to…?" Bunny repeats, confused.
"El Dorado? Incan Gods? DreamWorks Animation?" When Bunny doesn't blink, Jack gives him a look, then rolls his eyes. "For a Guardian of Childhood, you certainly don't watch many kids' movies."
Bunny rolls his eyes too. "The point is, Jack," he presses on, "This letter isn't normal. And I need an explanation." Jack crosses his arms, scowling at the far wall. And Bunnymund finally relents. In a quiet voice, he admits, "You've got me worried, Frostbite." His ears fall flat, and he looks at Jack, shaking his head. "Somethin' bout the way you reacted to the letter—the look on yer face when Jamie called you Jokul—it wasn't like you at all."
For a moment longer, Jack stares at the wall. Then, his eyes close, and he chuckles darkly.
"I wish you didn't know me so well," he says at last.
Bunnymund doesn't know how to answer that. He feels as though he doesn't know Jack that much at all.
Jack opens his eyes. "All right," he says, his voice strangely monotone. "I'll tell you what you want to know."
Exactly what he hoped to hear. Bunnymund opens his mouth to ask his first question, but before he can, Jack adds, "…After we take the children home, that is."
It's the argument with Toothiana all over again. Bunnymund grumbles in frustration. "Another delaying tactic," he accuses.
"No." Jack says. They pause. Then, "Well. Yes, I guess it is. But I mean it. We'll take the kids home, then we'll talk. Right then. Right there."
"Why not right here, right now?" Bunnymund presses.
"This is not something that should be discussed in front of children."
Jack sounds oddly detached when he speaks. Bunnymund quirks up one ear, studying the spirit. "Jack, I know you feel reluctant, but I need to know—" He presses. Jack cuts him off sharply.
"This is not something that should be discussed in front of humans in general." Jack corrects, voice edged like a razor.
Bunnymund stops. He turns to look at Jack, eyes wide, and almost speechless. Jack's words are sudden, jarring and—wrong. It's the first solid confirmation that Bunny's received on his gut instincts; that this letter is, in fact, much worse than it appears.
"…Alright." Bunnymund can do nothing but agree.
They both pause. Jack holds Bunnymund's green gaze with his own icy blue ones, a dark emotion flickering across his face. The moment is tense, but Jack, thankfully, breaks it. He blinks, leaning back into the sleigh; he sighs and begins loosening up his shoulders. "Besides," he says, looking away and trying to sound light. "It should be easy enough to get the kids home, I think. They ought to be downright exhausted after a battle like that."
"Dunno, mate, they seemed pretty determined to stay."
Jack cracks a grin. "Let's see, all those cookies mean a sugar rush—and a fast physical activity right after? Yeah, they should be crashing pretty soon, if they haven't already."
Bunnymund blinks. "Did you… plan that?" he asks; Jack seems to be suggesting he did.
Jack just smiles and taps his staff against an icy patch on the ground; all the ice in the room melts almost instantly. Jack doesn't answer the question—instead, he says, "The kids do need to get home soon, you know. They've got curfews, and—what time is it, anyway?"
Both of them look up to scan the walls, glancing around for a clock. Bunnymund finally spots one on the far end, and, squinting, reads the time.
11:04 pm, E.S.T.
They both sit bolt upright in shock.
"Crikey!" Bunnymund launches out of the sleigh, and Jack is on his heels, looking absolutely panicked.
"We should've had them back hours ago!" Jack exclaims.
"We? This is your fault!" Bunnymund accuses. And it's true.
Jack doesn't try to argue. "I know, just drop it, will you?"
"Drop it?" asks Bunnymund as they close the door behind them. "Never."
It takes a brief search to find the kids. They're not in the kitchens or the globe room—on the contrary, they find the whole group holed up in North's study.
And, unexpectedly, everyone's fast asleep.
The kids are curled up on the floor, tuckered out from their long, exciting day. They're all still dressed in their outfits, and they're all huddled together in a pile, as though they fell asleep where they stood.
But it's not just the kids who are asleep. Apparently the long night and the Christmas events have caught up to all the Guardians. North is sprawled out on the floor, snoring away. Tooth is propped up against him, holding Sophie in her lap, and her wings twitch as she dreams. Her mini-fairies have all taken perches atop everyone's sleepy heads—and at least three kids are using Sandy as a pillow.
Jack stops in the doorway, surprised at the sight. He looks at the dreamsand dancing above their heads, all mingling and interacting, like a subconscious party. And Jack, unexpectedly, laughs.
With it, the last of the tension melts away, their argument forgotten for just that moment. Both of them reel backwards at the sight, trying not to laugh too loud or to wake their sleeping friends.
"Bunny!" Jack whispers, bouncing on his toes. He points to the device hanging from Jamie's wrist. "Bunny, get the camera!"
Bunny, equally as amused, complies, because the chance is too good to pass up. He sets to work on delicately extracting the camera from Jamie's grasp, while Jack looks at the scene from multiple angles, trying to determine which one would make the best shot. For a moment, it's as if the letter has vanished from both of their minds; instead, they eagerly set the device on automatic and pose for the camera, throwing up peace signs and wide grins as they crouch next to their sleeping comrades.
North is gonna hate them for this later.
Thanks for reading! I'll have the next chapter up in a day or two, whenever I can finish the last bit between all my hectic Christmas planning. See you then!