It had been the after-Easter party Bunny normally threw. Being of a private nature, he didn't necessarily like throwing a party, but North had an after-Christmas party and he wasn't about to let the man one-up him. Bunny's party, in contrast to North's, was only the Guardians. It was smaller and personalized, and he made sure all of his guests had a good time. He was certain North's couldn't compare, especially this year. The Guardians had all had a good time, and they were even beginning to bring Jack into their fold.
In the beginning, Jack had fled the instant any of them attempted to spend personal time with him. This party was a good way to sneak time in while he didn't notice, and Bunny was hopeful that he would relax a little and finally stop trying to inch away. It was irritating to see him try to sneak out of friendship and bonding, for reasons Bunny didn't like thinking too carefully about.
But now everything was perfect. Everyone was relaxed and chatting, Jack wasn't even pranking anyone, and it was well past midnight. Sandy had a frankly evil look in his eyes and everyone was blinking drowsily, so Bunny supposed he was going to have to actually use his guest rooms. Just as well, he'd made one for each of the Guardians, so it would be good to actually get some use out of them.
Speaking of bed, Bunny himself was feeling a bit drowsy. He glared at the Sandman without heat-he did actually need to stay awake, if only to get his guests to their own rooms. Tooth was giggling at nothing and swaying through the air drunkenly, muttering about teeth and baseball bats.
"Come on Sheila, time for bed. You can hardly fly straight, and I know I didn't spike the punch. That's right, this way," he guided her to her room, tugging gently on her hand when she got distracted by something-or possibly nothing-in the warren.
"Norssh!" She told him excitedly. "Norsh...Norsh...what?" She looked confused for a second, before shrugging and attempting to touch the ceiling. She promptly forgot her wings and hit them on the ceiling, falling to the ground. "Oops," she looked at him from the path of the warren, and Bunny just steeled his patience and simply picked her up, despite her half-formed protests. She had to be absolutely sloshed; normally she could hold her alcohol much better than that. He suspected North must have been the one to spike the punch, because there was no way copious amounts of alcohol were not involved in this behavior.
Carefully, he put her on her bed-no blankets, because they got tangled in her wings and made her feel trapped. He'd designed this room specifically to look open and roomy, with murals of sky scenes and fairies all over the walls.
"One down, three to go," Bunny muttered to himself as he returned to the party.
He'd tackle North next, he decided. He'd be the most stubborn except for Jack, and Bunny was hoping Sandy would send Jack to sleep before he had to open that kettle of fish.
North was actually much easier to send to bed than expected, as he and Sandy had fallen asleep on top of one another with half-melted snowballs and little clumps of dreamsand all around them. Bunny was very suspicious of the wickedly-grinning winter sprite taking pictures and cackling at them from on top of his staff.
"Dare I ask?" He asked Jack. Jack just laughed in response.
"It's not my fault Sandy's idea of a snowball fight involves sending the participants to sleep!" He protested through his continued snickers.
"I gotta admit, I'm a little disturbed by how amused you are by this." Bunny glanced suspiciously at him.
Jack sobered, reluctantly, and straightened up, flipping off of his staff. Bloody show-pony had to parkour everywhere, of course. "What do we do with them now?"
Well, Bunny had intended to put them into their own bedrooms and let them take the night off-it wasn't like North's yetis couldn't take care of themselves, and Sandy did occasionally need breaks-but Jack's camera had given him an idea. He gestured to it before it could disappear into that endless pocket of the kid's, and said, "Hey, gimme that. We're getting some pictures."
Jack looked puzzled. "I already got plenty," he told Bunny.
Bunny just grinned. "Just you wait and see, this is how a master does it!"
Gently, he lifted North and carried him towards Sandy's room. Sandy's dreamsand had some hangover-like effects in large doses, and with any luck the two would think they were a little more drunk than they actually had been. Served North right for spiking the punch, if Tooth's ramblings were to be believed.
"Hey, get Sandy!" Bunny called to Jack. Jack floated towards him.
"Sorry, no can do. You'll have to take two trips," he grinned sheepishly at Bunny.
"Look, mate, he's not that heavy. You can do it," Bunny encouraged. Why he was encouraging Jack's mischievous ways was beyond him, but he suspected it had something to do with the greater good that was getting one up on North.
"No, I actually can't," Jack cautioned him, sounding just a touch upset.
Bunny put North down, the slightest suspicion niggling in his mind. "What do you mean, you can't?" He asked, making sure his posture was as nonthreatening and uninterested as possible.
Jack flipped his Hood of Feelings up. Oh dear, this couldn't be good.
"...I can't touch him," Jack muttered, looking at the ground.
Bunnt would like it to benoted that when he says something couldn't be good, he is nearly always right.
"Why can't you touch Sandy?" He asked warily, not certain whether he'd like the answer or not.
"I don't really...I mean, I have some ideas..." Jack mumbled, shrinking in to himself. He looked about three seconds from flying away to get out of this conversation, but Bunny put a paw out to him to encourage him to stay. He couldn't quite reach Jack's shoulder, but he didn't dare get any closer lest he scare Jack off.
And he didn't want to see if his hand would go straight through Jack.
"Tell me." He ordered, making sure his voice was gentle enough to keep the kid comfortable, but not letting him get out of this.
Jack looked very much like he wanted to be anywhere but here, but met Bunny's eyes from under his hood.
"I think it's because I don't have dreams...or sleep, really. Which is great, because sleeping looks boring anyway! And I get to play more this way, no curfew or anything! Speaking of which, I should really be going now, if you don't mind, bye-bye!" Jack took to the air and began to turn and retreat, but Bunny was faster. He lunged forward and caught Jack by the shoulder-or he tried to.
His paw passed straight through, and Jack flinched violently.
It made sense now.
Bunny had some limited sense of what people hoped for the most, barely enough to be sure he felt anything, and he'd always sensed his fellow spirits' hopes more strongly than humans'. But he'd never felt anything at all from Jack. He'd always though it was his imagination, or Jack just had no particular hope that shined out more than the others did, but maybe...
"Jack," Bunny said slowly, "Tell me something you hope will happen. Anything."
Jack remained where he was, still in the air with his back to Bunny, half-curled as if to protect himself from a blow. He mumbled something, completely indistinguishable even to Bunny's hearing.
"Jack," he stressed.
Jack whirled around, finally twisting so that Bunny wasn't sticking his paw through the boy's shoulder.
"I don't, okay? I don't need all your Wonder, or your Hopes or your Dreams or happy Memories. I don't need them, and I don't want them! Do you know what they would do to someone out on their own? Do you know what happens to people with their silly little Hopes and Dreams in the dead of winter? They die. They freeze to death, and you can see their corpse depending on the hope that their happy little family will save them. And they never do, you see? If I depended on your stupid Hopes and Dreams, I would be weak and I would be dead. That's not how you survive. You survive by getting tough, by making them play by your rules, and by never, ever letting them see you cry. There is no room in winter for hopes, or dreams, or wonder, or happy little fairies that don't know anything! I don't need them, so stop looking at me like that!" Jack was shouting, he was shouting terrible things about Hope and all of the things the Guardians protected. That was all Bunny registered.
"You don't need Hope, huh? Then tell me what gets you through the day. Tell me what makes you happy, without Hope! What is wrong with you?! Everyone needs Hope, and just because you're the great Jack Frost doesn't mean you get to be anything more than a stupid little brat without it! Y-" Bunny was cut off by the thick sheet of ice that suddenly covered his mouth.
"Shut UP! Shut up shut up shut up! You don't know anything about winter, and you know nothing about me! I can take care of myself, and I don't need some stupid bunny and his high-and-mighty virtues telling me what I need! I an Jack Frost, and that is all I need to survive!" Jack was covering his ears like that would make Bunny's remarks disappear, and Bunny felt a vicious satisfaction. He dimly recognized that this was unlike him, and when he calmed down he would feel terrible, but now it just felt too good to watch someone who didn't believe in hope hurt for it.
"Jack," he heard a voice say behind him.
They'd woken North up. This wouldn't go well for any of them. Sandy flew towards Bunny, gently tugging the ice off of his muzzle.
"Jack." North called again, his tone unreadable. Jack remained as he was for an instant, before he turned and flew away.
It only took them four hours to find him, but by then Tooth had woken up, and the whole story had been told. Through the entire first telling, Bunny had managed to hold onto his rage, but by the time it came to tell Tooth, he was feeling the tiniest seeds of regret-and even worse, guilt. By the time they'd opened a rabbit hole in the middle of bloody Antarctica, he was willing to apologize for some of the things he'd said, if Jack would apologize for and most of all explain what he'd said, because Bunny just couldn't believe that someone out there could live without Hope.
Jack was sitting in front of a sculpture that radiated unhappiness and bad feelings all around, something that glittered blue with hidden black shadows on the inside. Wherever Jack touched it, the shadows disappeared, and the Guardians were as quiet as they could be for a few precious moments.
Jack's face scrunched up in pain, and the darkness moved towards his next touch.
"Why?" He murmured. "I don't get it. Why would he think winter needs Hope? I don't need those things, those things are death in a pretty package. Why don't they understand? Why don't they see? Sandy always gives the prettiest Dreams to the dying, all full of Wonder and Hope and happy Memories with their families, and all that means in the face of the cold is that there is nothing left for you but pretty dreams. That is not me."
Bunny felt that he was beginning to understand now. If Jack associated their centers with death and loneliness, and especially if he associated them with the feeling that no one would save you, or no one cared, or even worse thought that they were all illusions to distract you from the fact that you were losing everything, he would understandably feel very threatened by their closeness. No one wanted to be distracted by happy lies while they didn't notice that they were dying.
Applied to Jack's situation, it was even more terrifying. The more he grew to care for the Guardians, the less he could leave them without causing himself unhappiness-and the more of their centers he absorbed. As he gained Hope and Memories and Wonder and Dreams, or came close to gaining them, he became afraid that if worst came to worst and it was a lie-from Jack's perspective, it undoubtedly was-he would be left with even less than before.
That was...Bunny though he understood, now. He felt the last tiny traces of anger leave him, to be replaced by a strange empty sadness that smacked of pity. Jack hated pity, he knew, and refused to admit that the years alone were hard for him, but there it was. Just as he was about to move forward, though, Jack began to speak, in a defeated, angry tone that Bunny would remember for the rest of his days.
"I don't believe in the Easter Bunny."
In an instant, the Guardians rushed forward. Jack knew what not believing in them meant. He knew exactly what this would do to Bunny.
"Jack, wh-" North started to ask. He was interrupted before he could finish, though, when Jack said calmly, "I don't believe in Santa Claus."
"Stop!" Tooth cried out in distress. "Jack, please stop this! You're not thinking, please just-"
"I don't believe in the Tooth Fairy!"
She stopped, looking so very hurt and betrayed, and floated gently to the ground.
Sandy was in front of Jack now, putting up a big X in sand. He knew-they all knew-what Jack was doing, but Sandy still had to try to stop him before he couldn't see any of them anymore. Jack reached out, as if to ruffle his hair, but his hand went straight through. He smiled gently at Sandy, crouched down a little to be at his level, and whispered softly, "I don't believe in the Sandman."
It was done.
Unless something happened to make Jack want to see them again-for he couldn't truly stop believing, though he could believe in not believing in them enough to not be able to interact with them-they would be as invisible to him as he had been to his precious children for three hundred years. It almost seemed fitting, that now Jack was the one not seeing people, but it was just wrong. Jack was a Guardian. He should have had the least reason to shut them all out.
Bunny sat in the snow, in front of that terrible, terrible sculpture. Jack was...the Guardians might as well be dead to Jack, now. How had this gone so wrong?
Bunny had thought they were finally getting through to Jack. He was fleeing less and opening up to them more, and he would almost stay in one place long enough for a meaningful conversation to be wheedled out of him. Bunny had hoped...
But Jack didn't hope. Jack had never hoped. Jack had never once even dreamed that they would be a family, because Jack didn't dream, either. The only Guardian Bunny had ever seen Jack physically interact with was Tooth, and that only meant that he had memories. How had he not known? Why had he dismissed all the signs?
There was a distressed little twitter from next to Tooth, as Baby Tooth fluttered unhappily. Bunny hadn't known that she'd been there-that must have been hard for her to see. "Sorry, sheila," he whispered to her, "he's gone."
She looked at him, then got the most determined, indignant little face on and flew to Jack, who was staring blankly at his sculpture. She hovered right in front of his face and squeaked indignantly at him, sounding for all the world like she was scolding him. She even had the hand gestures.
But what was surprising was when Jack looked up. "Baby Tooth?" He whispered, sounding just as shocked as Bunny was.
She squeaked at him, then crossed her arms.
"I'm sorry," Jack apologized gently. "But I'm not going to sit around their centers anymore. It hurts to be so close to so much happiness-It burns you, and you know what it is to have all of that for yourself, but you can't understand what it's like for me to have to watch that.
"Maybe...I've been thinking, maybe the moon made a mistake making me a Guardian. Maybe I was just supposed to bring snow, and he just made me a Guardian because they needed the help-let's face it, who would want Jack Frost protecting their charges? I make a mess of everything, remember?"
To Bunny's surprise, Baby Tooth stabbed Jack with her little beak. She just grabbed his hand and stabbed into it.
"Woah, woah, I'm not saying I'm gonna go the way of Pitch! No worries, I won't take any innocent fairies hostage. I'm just...not cut out to be a Guardian." Jack soothed. Apparently this wasn't good enough for Baby Tooth, who shook her head and stomped her foot on the air.
"Great job, Baby Tooth!" Tooth cheered. "That's my girl!"
Jack frowned at her. "It's not like I'm saying goodbye to you forever. The Guardians...I don't know. It'll be a while, and they probably don't want to deal with me anyway. I can still see you, though, and we'll still see each other often enough. The Guardians probably gave up on me as soon as I stopped believing, anyway-they're not even here right now, are they?"
Baby Tooth nodded encouragingly and hovered right over Tooth, pointing down at her.
"Someone...stayed?" Jack asked, bewildered. "But that's...why would anyone do that? I said terrible things about their centers! I insulted everything they stand for, spat on it, then actively undermined their existence! Short of joining Pitch or causing the next ice age, there's not much worse I could do to them! Why would anyone..."
Baby Tooth flew back to Jack, nuzzling his cheek and settling firmly under his Hood of Feelings. She cooed and petted Jack's neck, and the last of the anger visibly drained from Jack. Jack's eyes locked on to Bunny's.
"Because you're a Guardian, mate. And you know what? You are bloody well going to learn to hope, and it will not kill you, and then I will never let you forget how wrong you were about Hope and Dreams and Memories. You might be right about the Wonder, though, I mean who needs Christmas?"
That startled a laugh out of Jack. A harsh one that was uncomfortably close to a sob, but it was a laugh, and everyone relaxed. Jack even flipped down the Hood of Feelings, forcing Baby Tooth to squeak indignantly and relocate to the top of his head-his hair was a few twigs off of a nest, anyway.
"Come on," Bunny reached out a paw to Jack. "Let's go home. We have some photos to develop!"
Jack took his paw, and Bunny felt the cool, bony hand. It didn't go through.
Whee~ this was a request by magiccatprincess, so it's all her fault. Beta by Tomoyo, as usual. Thank you!