"You know, it'd be a lot easier to find some plants without all this snow," Bunny yelled pointedly over his shoulder. Jack laughed, catching up to fly next to Bunny. "So stop looking for flowers. Seriously, that's so boring," he said.
It was late fall, far too early for snow in Bunny's opinion. Unfortunately for Bunny, seasonal conventions did not stop Jack. It was, Jack claimed, a coincidence that it was lightly snowing at the same time and in the same place that Bunny had gone looking for more supplies to dye his Easter eggs.
"We could be having a snowball fight or building snowmen or something. But instead, you're hunting for plants. Is that all there is to do in spring? 'Cause if so, I think you should get a new season," Jack said with a laugh.
Bunny rolled his eyes. He was about to retort, ready for an argument, when he was thrown into a tree by a wave of black sand. He heard Jack yell out in surprise and saw flashes of blue ice as he hopped up and pulled out his boomerang, instantly taking a fighting stance.
"Pitch!" Bunny shouted angrily, looking for the shadow in the sea of sand. He heard laughter that seemed to come from all sides and surround him, but he couldn't find Pitch himself.
Nightmares began appearing, formed from the waves of sand, and attacked Bunny. It was a blitz attack. All Bunny could see was black sand, blue ice, and the glowing yellow eyes of nightmares. He pulled out his boomerangs, throwing them in all directions, but the nightmares kept coming. There were so many that it seemed that for every nightmare Bunny destroyed, there were five more waiting to take its place. Bunny had been separated from Jack, and had not realized what was going on until it was too late. The battle had started suddenly and would end suddenly.
Bunny was reminded horribly of the battle several months ago, when Sandy had died. Except now it was Jack being surrounded by nightmare sand, overwhelmed in an ambush. Jack was the target of the attack, the object of Pitch's revenge. Bunny ran towards him, trying to help, but there were too many nightmares. They pushed Bunny back, until all he could do was hold his ground and watch in horror as the swirling mass of nightmare sand began to close in on Jack.
When the battle ended, it ended quickly. There was a blast of cold, a rush of wind. A scream from Jack.
And then it was over.
Pitch was gone, his mission accomplished. He took his nightmares with him. A clearing had formed, trees bending away from the center, dead and frozen instantaneously. It was eerily quiet; the wind was completely still and any animals in the forest had disappeared. In the center of the clearing lied a crumpled figure, surrounded by ice and black sand.
Bunny was moving before he had time to think. He heard himself call Jack's name before he realized he had opened his mouth. By the time he reached Jack, his mind was filled purely with panic and fear and the odd, distance buzzing of adrenalin.
"Jack? Jack, can you hear me?" Bunny flipped Jack onto his back, looking for injuries. It was hard to see anything under the thin layer of ice coating the boy. Jack's eyes were closed and he seemed, if possible, paler than usual. Is his skin always this cold? Bunny was not sure what was normal for a winter spirit, or what he should do. Regardless, he didn't think he could do much with his hands shaking so bad.
Before Bunny could try anything, Jack shook with a cough, trying to curl in on himself. His eyes were squeezed shut, as if in pain or fear.
"Jack? Where's it hurt, Jack? Jack?" Bunny tried shaking Jack's shoulder to get his attention before pulling back in shock as frost crept over his paw. Jack trembled again, a sickly grey color spreading across his skin. Grey like Pitch. That was when Bunny knew; his fear had been confirmed. Pitch had gotten nightmare sand inside of Jack.
When Pitch had been at his top strength, back in the dark ages, it had been said that with one touch he could leave a child overcome with nightmares for the rest of his life. Pitch was not nearly that strong anymore, with so few believers and so few children afraid of him. And he had not had much time to recover from the last fight, which was one of the reasons the attack was such a surprise. Bunny hadn't expected to see Pitch again so soon, but he was fairly certain that whatever Pitch did, it couldn't cause too much damage. Pitch wasn't strong enough.
That was what Bunny told himself, anyway.
Jack, for his part, had stopped coughing. He was still shaking, but his eyes were open, even if they were unfocused and distant and clouded with fear.
"Jack? Can you hear me?" Bunny asked quietly, calmly, trying not to scare Jack more than he already was. Bunny had never dealt with a situation like this personally, and he didn't know what he was supposed to do.
Sandy. Of course. Sandy will be able to get the nightmare sand out of Jack. Bunny pulled out an egg and a brush, quickly painting a few symbols on it and speaking into it. "Sandy? Get over here now. Pitch attacked, and Jack's hurt," Bunny said urgently. There was a crinkling sound as Sandy received Bunny's message and location.
Bunny then turned back to Jack as the boy let out a small whimper. That, honestly, scared Bunny more than he ever thought it would. Jack did not show fear. He did not show anything that would suggest insecurities or possible weaknesses, especially not in front of Bunny. Bunny had seen Jack angry, and sad, and hurt. But he had never seen Jack afraid. Never this clearly.
Bunny crouched down next to Jack, hesitantly placing a hand on his shoulder again. Jack was shaking, hard, and had curled up on his side. His breathing was fast, panicked, and he seemed to be muttering something under his breath.
"Jack? Jack, I need you to calm down mate. Sandy will be here soon, he'll get you looking right as rain, just hang on." If Jack could hear Bunny, he didn't show it. Instead he seemed to curl into himself even more, making himself impossibly small. His staff was next to Bunny, out of Jack's reach, although Jack didn't seem to notice. His hands seemed to be clawing at his chest, as if it hurt or he was protecting it.
Bunny was not good at situations like this. Emotional situations. Jack's panic fed Bunny's panic, and he hated that he couldn't figure out how to help Jack. He hated feeling helpless. Words and touch got no response from Jack; so instead, Bunny listened.
Jack's panicked, broken mutters were difficult to hear, even for Bunny. What snippets of phrases Bunny did hear, however, made him regret trying to listen at all.
"I'm sorry, I didn't-"
"Help them, please-"
"I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry-"
"Don't, please, I can't-"
"Jack! Wake up!" Bunny was shaking Jack, trying desperately to get him to waken. Ice spread up Bunny's arms, thin and melting. Jack was crying. Bunny never thought he'd see Jack cry. The situation was so unreal, Bunny thought for one wild moment that he was the one having the nightmare.
"Come on, Jack, deep breaths. Listen to me. Can you hear me, Jack?" Bunny tried to calm himself down, tried to stop panicking. He couldn't afford for both of them to fall apart now. Bunny turned back to his egg phone and shouted, "Sandy, hurry up! Get here now!"
It was Bunny's frustrated, panicked yelling that finally got a response from Jack. He twisted and squirmed, trying to get away, eyes clenched shut. The ice on Bunny's paws seemed to refreeze.
"Please, please, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to, please."
"Jack!? Jack, calm down, everything's alright, you're alright, come on Jack, you're fine, calm down-" Bunny held on to Jack tighter in a bizarre sort of hug. Jack's pleading only grew louder.
"No no, I'm sorry, sorry, I didn't mean to, I'm sorry, no no no no, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to-"
"Jack! Come on, listen to me! You didn't do anything!" Bunny had no idea what was going on or what Jack was apologizing for. He wasn't sure he wanted to know. Pitch was infamous for using a person's own worst memories against them.
"Sandy!" Bunny called again, desperate. "It's okay, Jack, Sandy will be here soon, you're okay."
"No, don't, I'm sorry!-"
"Alright, new tactic. Talk to me Jack, what's wrong? What are you sorry for? What don't you want?" This, miraculously, finally got a response from Jack.
"Please, listen to me. I'm sorry. I didn't mean for this to happen." Jack's eyes were still unfocused, looking somewhere past Bunny, but those words sent chills down Bunny's back that were completely unrelated to the frost slowly covering his fur.
"Jack? What're you-" Jack shook again, eyes shutting tight. Bunny had lost him again.
"No no, please! Please! I can't, can't do it again, please don't, where are they, please-"
"Alright Jack, alright, I won't! I won't do anything, please calm down. You're alright Jack, calm down." By then Bunny was shaking almost as bad as Jack, trying to say anything that he thought would help the boy, pleading with him to wake up.
"NO!" With a final scream and a choked sob, Jack stopped struggling. It was as if something in him had broken. "Please, please…" Jack pleaded to someone Bunny couldn't see. The ice that had been climbing Bunny's arms melted suddenly.
"Jack!? Come on, come on…" Bunny was now holding Jack, rocking back and forth. He wasn't sure who he was trying to comfort more now, Jack or himself.
"Please. Please look, what'd I do, why can't you see me-" The panic had left his voice, replaced with a tone of helplessness and hopelessness. Another sob, and then in a resigned voice: "Please, don't leave. I can't do this again, I can't be alone again, please…"
Bunny found he couldn't quite breathe right. He felt lightheaded, empty. A loss of hope so deep, so painful, the snapping of a string that should have broken long ago… and the guilt of knowing that he contributed so much to it. Three hundred years…
Three hundred years could cause a lot of damage. A lot more than Jack had ever shown. But just because he hadn't said anything… And that was the worst part. This was not something Bunny could ignore, or deny, or make excuses for as he had every time in the past. Because Pitch didn't create fear; he couldn't. All Pitch could do was exacerbate fears that were already there. Jack was already afraid of being alone and forgotten. Again, Bunny was forced to remind himself. Jack had been alone for so long before. And the worst part was… Jack had no reason to think he wouldn't be abandoned now. He had no reason to trust Bunny, or the Guardians, or anybody else, for that matter.
Maybe it was too late. Maybe Bunny and the others had messed up too bad to ever gain Jack's trust. Maybe they deserved the hate and animosity Jack had never actually shown them.
Bunny ignored those thoughts, pushing such hopeless words from his head for the moment. Jack was still shaking, crying, muttering 'no', over and over again. Sandy hadn't shown up yet, and Bunny had to do something.
"Alright, Jack. Alright. Look at me. Can you hear me Jack?" Jack's eyes were open again, still unfocused, still not looking at Bunny, but it was an improvement. "Listen, Jack. You're having a nightmare. None of what you're seeing is real, okay? You're okay, Jack. You still got your believers, the kids can still see you. We're still here, me and the other Guardians are. You're not alone, Jack, you're okay. We're here. We're not going anywhere, alright?"
Jack didn't say anything – he still wasn't even looking at Bunny – but he seemed to relax slightly, his shaking calming down some. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse but louder. He was speaking out loud, instead of whispering to the nightmares in his head.
"I don't… please…"
"I know, Jack, I know. But you're alright. You're gonna be alright. Just hold on Jack, just a little bit longer. You're doing great." Encouraged by Jack's response, Bunny kept talking, trying to anchor Jack back to reality. Jack's breathing seemed to slow to a more normal, less panicked state, although tears continued streaming down his face. It was an eerie contrast, but Bunny decided to take it as a good sign.
"Don't… go…" Jack said, somewhere between a question and a plea. He moved then, his hands raising to feel where he was. He felt Bunny's fur and latched on to it like it was a lifeline. Ice shot across Bunny's fur, but for once he didn't notice the cold.
"I won't, Jack. I ain't going anywhere," Bunny said with half relief, half nervousness as he awkwardly patted Jack's hair in what he hoped was a soothing manner. Jack still wasn't quite focused, was still trapped somewhere in a nightmare, but he seemed to relax slightly at Bunny's reassurances.
This time Jack curled into Bunny when his eyes clenched shut and he shook with fear. Bunny held him, saying whatever he thought might help, hoping Jack found some solace in his company. Because there was nothing else Bunny could do.
Bunny wasn't sure how long they stayed like that before Sandy showed up. Bunny looked at the gold man with a mixture of gratefulness and irritation. Sandy, for his part, looked frazzled and exhausted, sand shapes appearing and disappearing before Bunny could even try to interpret them.
"Oi, Sandy, where've you been!?" Sand shapes appeared quickly. Pitch. Horses. A fight. Pitch had been distracting Sandy, trying to delay Jack's help as long as possible.
Bunny thought some very unkind, very un Guardian-like things about Pitch before Sandy pulled his attention back to Jack, his anger melting into exhaustion.
"Pitch got nightmare sand in him and he's been freaking out ever since. But I don't think he's awake, really. Not really asleep either though, you know? He's been muttering and crying, and I didn't know what to do, so I tried to calm him down, but I ain't sure it worked, and-" Bunny continued to ramble, trying to think of any detail that Sandy might need, as Sandy looked Jack over.
Bunny tried to set Jack down so that Sandy could see him better, but Jack's fists were still twisted in Bunny's fur. Bunny tried to remove them, but Jack let out a choked sob and clung harder. Bunny winced and Sandy frowned in concern, dreamsand twirling slowly in the air. Sandy directed a stream of sand towards Jack, lightly touching Jack's forehead with it. Jack flinched and gasped, panic returning in full force.
"Please, sorry, I didn't mean to, I'm so sorry, no, I'm here, I'm HERE-" Jack began struggling again, and Sandy put on a determined look. He knew what needed to be done, and it wouldn't be pleasant.
Placing his hands on Jack's head and chest, Sandy pushed his dreamsand out. Veins of black spread out where Sandy touched him, the skin glowing gold. Jack screamed, struggling to get away. The light intensified.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please, help them! Please, listen to me! They need help, I'm sorry! NO!" Just as the gold light seemed to reach a point of impossible brightness, it faded down to a dim glow. Bunny blinked, trying to adjust his eyes, his ears ringing in the sudden silence. He felt Jack shake again, and then heard Jack's breath hitch.
"no…no…" Jack's words seemed distant and unfocused as the objects of the nightmare faded. He seemed to be calming down. Sandy lifted his hands, directing his dreamsand around Jack once more. The sand floated into Jack's face and he finally, miraculously, seemed to relax. Jack hiccupped and sighed, finally falling into a deep sleep.
Bunny continued to hold Jack, staring down at the boy in shock, not quite sure what had just happened. Then he looked up at Sandy who, although obviously exhausted, gave Bunny a relieved smile. It was over.
Except… Bunny didn't feel quite as happy as he should have. In the empty silence of a seemingly peaceful night, Jack's terrified words echoed in Bunny's head.
"I can't be alone again"
Sandy brought Bunny out of his thoughts, a question mark appearing above his head. Bunny knew what he wanted to say. What he should say. It's nothing. I'm fine. Everything's always fine.
"Sandy… what did we do?" Bunny asked heavily. Sandy looked more confused than before.
"I mean… with Jack. Sandy, we… what did we do to him?" Sandy frowned, a sand snowflake appearing above his head. This was followed by a happy face. Everything's fine.
"No, but…" Bunny paused, seeming distant. "Three hundred years, Sandy." Bunny's voice was thick and heavy. "We left him alone for three hundred years. He had nobody."
Sandy was silent for a few moments, a sad look of understanding dawning on his face. Above his head appeared a snowflake, followed by an egg, a present, a tooth, and a circle. Sandy's symbols for the Guardians moved closer to the snowflake, and a smiling face appeared along with a clock.
"Yeah, I know, but…" Bunny faltered, looking down at the child sleeping in his arms. He doesn't look like Jack when he's asleep. "Do you ever think… it's too late? In some ways?"
Sandy was resolute, determined. A snowflake appeared, and a smile which lingered, followed by a clock with an X. Everything's fine, now. He is okay.
"But he's not, Sandy. You didn't see him, with the nightmare sand. Oh don't give me that," Bunny cut off Sandy's protests. "You know Pitch can't create fear out of nothing. Jack thinks we're gonna leave him. He doesn't trust us. And the worst part is, I don't blame him! I wouldn't trust us either, if I were him."
Sandy was quiet. He wanted to tell Bunny that of course it wasn't too late. Sandy knew this. Because just as Pitch couldn't create nightmares without a seed of fear, Sandy couldn't create dreams without a seed of hope. And Jack, for all he had faced and all that he feared, still had hope. Sandy knew this, he saw this as his dreamsand took the shape of Jack's hopes and dreams. Family. Friends. Love.
Bunny hadn't seen that. And for the Guardian of Hope, Bunny was very good at getting himself into extremely pessimistic trains of thought. Sandy knew that everything wasn't perfect, and Jack wasn't completely okay yet, but he also knew that it wasn't too late and that Jack was strong, stronger than nearly anybody Sandy had ever known. Unfortunately, Bunny wasn't listening and had in fact never stopped talking.
"And it's like he doesn't even… How're we supposed to fix this, Sandy? He acts like nothing ever bothers him, you know how he gets when you try to bring something up. And you know, to be honest, sometimes I think he won't even admit to himself that everything ain't perfect. And even if he does… he wouldn't tell us anything, why should he?"
Bunny cut off his rambling abruptly and hesitated. Sandy didn't try to offer anymore assurances yet. Bunny didn't talk about problems too often, and when he did Sandy didn't like to interrupt. Sandy knew it was necessary to think about problems in order to fix them, and it was rare that Bunny was forced to think about something that he wanted to forget.
Bunny sighed, his voice quieter. Less angry, more defeated.
"You know, sometimes when I think about it… some of the things I did… all of the things we didn't do…" Bunny let out a humorless chuckle. "Sometimes I wonder how close we came to getting another Pitch. And sometimes I think we would've deserved it. An enemy that we made."
Sandy did have a reply to that. Sometimes Bunny got into really negative trains of thought, but those were the easiest to argue. Sandy tossed up some sand and made the shape of a snowflake and a smile. Then a moon, and a heart. Jack is good.
"Yeah, I know that, that's not… That's not the point, Sandy. He should be angry. Sometimes I wish he would yell at us and hate us! At least I know how to deal with that, instead of this pretend nothing happened thing that he does!"
Sandy waved his arms frantically, shapes appearing rapidly. Snowflake, heart, a clock, the Guardians. Love. Forgiveness.
"Yeah, yeah, I get it. It's just… Forgiving ain't forgetting, Sandy." Bunny looked down at Jack, still sleeping peacefully. He felt like if he let him go, Jack would float away, ephemeral, transient. "We both know that. And he just… we made so many mistakes, Sandy. For so long, and…" Bunny looked up at Sandy, hoping, pleading, begging. "Do you really think we can fix this?"
Sandy paused, thinking of how to say it. A snowflake appeared above his head, followed by the symbols for the other Guardians. The snowflake was separate from the others, distanced from the group. A clock appeared, and an arrow facing right. Give it time. The snowflake and the other symbols began to move closer together, slowly but steadily. We won't fail him again.
Bunny was silent for a moment. "And you think he'll forgive us? You think he'll trust us, eventually?" Sandy nodded vehemently and Bunny sighed, dropping the topic for the moment.
Bunny watched Jack for a few more minutes quietly, trying to figure out what to do with him. He wasn't sure how long Jack would sleep for or what he would remember when he woke up, and Bunny didn't know whether he should take him to the Pole or to the Warren or back to the lake.
The answer was decided for him when Jack began yawning and stretching, falling out of Bunny's arms. Sandy smiled, glad that Jack was waking up so soon. That meant that the dreamsand had done its job and all of the nightmare sand was gone already.
Jack yelped as he hit the ground, rolling over and sitting up quickly. He looked slightly confused, his mind still clouded with sleep. "What-" Jack cut himself off abruptly, blinking rapidly. As he took in his surroundings his thoughts cleared quickly and recollections of the fight came flooding back. He looked worried.
"What happened? With Pitch? And the fight? Is he gone? Is everyone okay?" Jack looked around rapidly, his eyes landing on Sandy. "When did you get here? What did-"
"Oi." Bunny cut Jack off, watching him cautiously for any signs of lingering nightmare fear. "What do you remember, Jack?"
Jack blinked. "Uh… you were looking for flowers, right? And then Pitch shows up, and attacks us. He had a lot of nightmare sand, and I was trying to fight it off, but there was too much. And then I… I wasn't here? I think I was… in a nightmare. But that doesn't… What happened?" Jack looked confused again and Bunny wondered how much of the nightmare he remembered.
Bunny replied, "Pitch knocked you out with the nightmare sand. That was the point of the attack; he was targeting you. After you were out, he left. He was too weak to fight any more than that. Then I called Sandy over and he got the nightmare sand out of you and you woke up." Sandy gave Bunny a sidelong look, wondering why he didn't mention what happened while Jack was out. Bunny shifted uncomfortably, not making eye contact with Jack. He knew that if Jack remembered what exactly he had said while he was out, he would fly off and never be able to look at Bunny again. Embarrassment and pride were areas that Bunny was very familiar with, and he knew that Jack handled them about as well as he did.
Jack seemed slightly hesitant at Bunny's answer, as if he suspected there was more to the story but wasn't sure he wanted to know the details. Then he shrugged, deciding to drop it for the moment. "Oh. Okay. So what do we do know? About Pitch, I mean?"
Sandy and Bunny looked at each other. They hadn't thought about that yet. "We should probably tell North and Tooth about it. In case Pitch tries another attack." Bunny frowned, examining some nightmare sand that remained on the ground. "I still don't get how he was strong enough to pull off something like that. Maybe the others will have some ideas."
Bunny paused, looking at Jack. He wanted to say something about Jack's nightmare and fears, but he remembered Sandy's words: Give it time. Trust and friendship couldn't be rushed. Everything Bunny thought, everything he wanted to say, I'm sorry, we love you, we won't leave you again, were more likely to scare Jack off than help anything.
But that was okay. Bunny could wait. And maybe, eventually, he wouldn't have to say any of those things. Maybe, eventually, Jack would already know them. And Bunny was prepared to spend the rest of his life proving to Jack that he was loved.
"Let's get to the North Pole. We need to get the Guardians together."
A/N: So in most of my stories involving multiple characters, it's more of a focus on how the characters would realistically interact in any situation. In this story, instead I went all-out angst and guilt. Hence any OOCness. Sorry. But as it turns out, when I write purely for the purpose of angst my stories end up like four times longer than usual. Also, it's really annoying to attempt to write stories with actual plots instead of just analyzation.