Chapter 24: In Which A Red Light Stops More Than Cars
Summary: Jack is home and he and Bunny are officially married, but the honeymoon will have to wait. Baby Tooth is missing and planning must be done... What are they to do about Mother Nature? Can Easter succeed? And what could be wrong with the Globe of Believers?
- I'm am so so so so so incredibly sorry it has taken me so very long to get this chapter out. Between the upheaval in my life at the moment as well as the multiple health issues I'm not going to bore you by listing, it has been very hard to find the time to work on this. Thing are hopefully calming down a bit now, so I should be able to work on thing more often now. That you for your patience with me and please enjoy (and review) the latest chapter of Global Warming. ^_^
- The Guardians of Childhood; Rise of the Guardians and all characters involved belong to their respective copyright holders. I make no claim to these characters and make no money from this story.
"Husband..." It had been so quiet. Said in such a way that Jack knew for certain only the big bunny ear so near his mouth could pick up on such a quiet affirmation, the breath against that ear almost louder than the words themselves, but that was what he'd said. It wasn't that he wanted it to be a secret, of course. The teen simply wanted to give Bunny the privilege of being the first to know that he had 'accepted'.
Not shy at all about using Bunny as a full body bed, Jack stretched out and laid his head against him... and his eyes went wide with shock. He couldn't hear a heartbeat! Where was the strong, steady rhythm he had become so accustomed to hearing over the last few days? Had he just given the pooka a heart attack? His eyes flicked up to the rigid countenance above him, looking for signs of life. His pupils were blown, his nostrils were flared and his whiskers were nigh unto quivering. Ok. Not dead. Not yet anyway.
"Bunny? You ok, Cottontail? C'mon, say something."
Relief flooded him as the rhythm he'd expected resumed, although far more rapid than normal and Bunny's mouth still didn't move.
In fact, it wouldn't move. It had been working just fine, right up until the word 'husband' slipped past Jack's lips. All of a sudden, he couldn't speak. Aster barely even dared breathe. ~Husband... Husband..?~ Did that mean what he thought it did? Did it mean... Had he really... Had Jack actually accepted?
It took a minute for it to sink in fully, during which Jack shifted atop him, a foot casually kicking the air and eyes glittering like undisturbed snow. A stunned smile slowly made progress from the corners of Bunny's mouth to the center and up from there to his eyes, till his entire face was alight with it. ~He said husband!~ his mind squealed at him. Thankfully, what came out of him was a much more controlled and dignified, yet barely audible, "Really?"
"Yes, really," Jack replied, expression full of genuine happiness. He knew that come time for him to explain what had happened in his absence, the other guardians would scold him for being so late, but for now, he was just happy to be 'home', and to lay on Bunny like this - like he owned him - and to whisper, "I love you, Aster."
Like someone had pressed play on a paused video, animation suddenly returned to the rabbit-man. "Ha hah! Ah love ya too, Mate!" he cheered. Laughing, loud and strong, he squeezed Jack tight again. Then, unable to resist the urge to roll, just a little, he rocked them both in his joy, bending his waist a bit from one side to the other, effectively thrashing in slow motion.
Peels of tittering laughter drifted up from the sprite as he was swung around, simply enjoying the jubilation of the moment. He was happy, Bunny was happy - they were married... and Bunny was making him feel as if he were riding a giant snake in his enthusiastic writhing. Wasn't that reason enough to be laughing?
He was not the only one who found the whole thing amusing. A hearty chortle and the, "Eh hem!" of North clearing his throat caught his attention and Jack nudged Bunny to halt his gyrations.
Oh... right. They weren't alone were they? Glancing in the direction the sounds had come from, Aster found they had a rather amused-looking audience and had the good sense to be abashed. "Uh... G'day, mates," Bunny greeted with a sheepish smile and a furious blush spreading across his cheeks.
"If you are done sweeping the floor with your back, we would like to welcome him home as well," North chuckled, indicating himself and Sandy.
Truly, Bunny was disinclined to release Jack just yet but, with people watching them, he couldn't very well continue his rather embarrassing antics, and so, first whispering, "Ah'm takin' out a rain check on this," he opened his arms to allow Jack to stand. Of course, the devious sprite had to go and give him a quick scratch under the chin and he forgot himself again, leaning into the touch, a moan of pleasure escaping him, sole thumping the floor a few times before his brain registered what his foot was doing and he swatted his Mate's hand away. "...the Hell, Mate!" he grumped as he pushed Jack off and got to his feet, although he still sported an ear to ear grin. Nothing on Earth would dampen his spirits right now.
For once in his very long life, Bunny felt secure. He wasn't worried about losing Jack, at least for now. He knew Jack loved him and he knew Jack could handle himself in ways Lyra never could. Jack was not Lyra and Aster was just starting to come to grips with that fact. Just because he was Bunny's Mate, that did not mean his husband would suffer the same fate his wife had.
Bunny was drawn out of his musings as North swept Jack off of his feet, gave him a back-cracking bear hug and kissed his cheeks. "Welcome home, Jack! Is good to have you back!" He nearly told North not to kiss his Mate, but then he remembered that this was a Russian thing. They just tended to kiss cheeks like most gave hugs. Since there was nothing sexual or even romantic involved in the gesture, the Pooka let it slide.
He did not, however, let slide North's next comment of, "Now maybe Mother Hen here can get back to his eggs...", which he whispered behind a hand cupped over Jack's ear.
Either St. Nick had forgotten how sensitive Aster's ears were or he was only pretending to try to hide it. Either way, he was heard quite readily. "C'mon, mate! Ah wasn't that bad!"
"'Not that bad', he says. Sandy, show Bunny what he looked like last two days!"
In a rare demonstration of his martial arts skills, the Pooka chopped the half-formed sand image from the air above Sandy's head before it could fully take its intended shape and did it with such speed that no one saw his hand move. Just the sand exploding all over the floor. "Ah don't think Jack needs ta see that, North," Bunny irritably pointed out.
"Oh, yes. You may have point..." North conceded.
Jack gave his new husband a funny look as he squatted down to quickly wrap his arms around the Sandman as well. There was obviously something Bunny was not telling him but, though his curiosity was piqued, he wasn't given the chance to ask.
"Speakin'a which... Mate, what took ya so bloody long at Mother Nature's place? Ah mean, ya were over eighteen hours late! What the Hell kept ya an extra eighteen hours!" Bunny griped and strode to where he could stand before Jack. "Ya had me scared stiff, Snowflake! Fer the love'a MiM, don' ever be that late again!"
"I was looking around for… a while." Jack frowned as he responded, "I don't really know why it took so long…" The thought made him his brow wrinkle in confusion. "I don't… remember what I was doing. I only remember looking at… her room, and a mirror… Looking for signs of a struggle..."
North raised a concerned voice. "Jack… you cannot remember?" he asked.
He shook his head and pushed a hand through his hair. "No… It was hours - dark by the time I left - but I don't remember." He frowned. "I was a little distracted by the crowd..." he supposed. The only other option was that someone, or something, had made him forget, or kept him there. He didn't like that option.
"Crowd?" Bunny tilted his head in confusion. Mother Nature /hated/ crowds. The idea of her grove crowded was a little hard to picture.
"That's the only part I can remember clearly. The crowd! You know how I wanted to make sure Mother Nature was okay? It wasn't just me. It was every seasonal spirit. All of us! All together at once! Well, except for you, Aster... but I don't think that's ever happened before." He stood back up and took a few paces forward. "They're all going to do their best to keep the earth cool - but you were right. Mother Nature is gone. No trace of her at all, not even any signs of a struggle. She's just gone and her grove is dying."
The news that Mother Nature was missing was concerning to Bunnymund - to all of them. That meant that they had guessed correctly as to why the Earth was heating up and they could do nothing to stop it until she was found. Even though there were no signs of a struggle, it also meant she must have been taken by force. Mother Nature loved the Earth and she loved her grove, just as Bunny loved his warren. If not only her grove, but the entire world, was ailing, she very well could be dead for all they knew - and that did not bode well.
Just then, a high-pitched cry of joy heralded the arrival of Toothiana, who immediately wrapped herself around Jack, spinning him for a loop in her enthusiasm. "OH! Sorry, Baby Tooth!" she squeaked in dismay, looking down at Jack's pocket, which she had just flattened.
Alarm bells began tolling in Jack's head as Tooth peeked into his pocket and a look of confusion and concern washed over her face. "Baby Tooth? You mean she isn't here?!" he asked, glancing from one Guardian to the next.
Four set of eyes registered shock and distress at Jack's startled question.
"No, Jack. Should she be?" North questioned, although the answer was fairly clear.
Jack blinked owlishly at them. "I sent her ahead of me... to tell you I was alright." Well, that explained their worry over his late arrival.
"She never got here..." Tooth revealed, concern and anger overwhelming her features. "GIRLS!" she cried to her entourage of fairies, "Your sister is missing! Gather as many of you as you can and find her!" With a squeak of assent, the six mini-Tooth's zipped away immediately on their appointed task, while their mother stared forlornly at the empty airspace they'd left, her initial anger having faded to worry.
With a decidedly repentant expression, Jack could do naught but watch and apologize, but his apology felt weak in light of the loss. He had known sending Baby Tooth was a bad idea, yet he'd done so anyway and now they all paid the price. ~Great job, Jack,~ he told himself, ~There you go making a mess of things again.~
Ever perceptive, Tooth patted him on the shoulder as she said in reassurance, "She was doing her job, Jack. This isn't your fault. Okay?"
"She's right, Mate. An' don't worry, the fairies'll find 'er. Ya'll see."
"Is best we can do for now, I am sorry to say. Most important thing right now is to find Mother Nature," North reminded them. Then, stroking his beard in thought, he asked, "How do we find her?"
"We find Pitch." They had absolutely no idea where to look, but Bunny was convinced that, if she still lived, she was with Pitch, wherever he was.
"You are certain it is him?"
Bunny, who was idly combing his finger through Jack's hair, picked a small stick out, turning it over in his paw for a moment he then sniffed it, eyes going wide. "Ah told ya before, Ah know it's him," he reaffirmed, flicking the stick at North one-handed.
North caught the stick easily without even looking and raised an eyebrow at the Pooka.
"That reeks of Pitch," Bunny informed the others.
So it was true. Tooth soon asked the question that plagued all of their minds, "Then how do we find him?"
Bunny pondered this.. or rather, attempted to, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Jack. Their lives had changed so much over the past few days and yet Bunnymund couldn't imagine his life any other way now. How quickly Jack had wormed his way under his skin... into his heart. Or had it really been quickly at all? They had been friends for close to five years before that stupid blizzard and Bunny had been harboring these feelings for at least the last year of that time, then buried them for the next forty six. Really, if you thought about it, it had been exceptionally long in coming. It was a good thing they were practically immortal or they may have died before actually admitting their feelings.
Thinking back to the blizzard made him think of Easter. He still had a greatmany eggs to finish and only three days to do it in. This was so familiar to Bunny that it felt like deja vu, but he refused to let things fall apart this year. There had to be a way to get the eggs finished and delivered even if they couldn't find Mother Nature in time. Jack had said that his powers were weakened, but what if there was a way to boost them? That thought brought an idea to mind, "Maybe we don't have ta..." Aster speculated, "Ah'm bettin' Pitch wants ta see us suffer for last year. If Easter succeeds, it just might draw 'im out."
"If it'sPitch," Jack said pointedly.
"Oh, trust me. It's Pitch alright," Bunny assured Jack, thinking back on that nightmare he'd had before Jack left on his over-long excursion, a shudder coursing through him. He slipped a paw around his Mate's hand, just to reassure himself. "With the dreams Ah've been havin'…"
"Yes, Bunny. I know," North interjected, "We do not need specifics." Aster had already told him, in great and disturbing detail, about the horror show Pitch had forced him to endure.
"Ya really think Ah'm gonna go inta detail about that right now? Mate, that dream aint somethin' Ah wanna share with everyone! Ah only told ya as much as Ah did cause Ah wanted ta.. GAH! It doesn' matter!" Aster asserted, throwing his hands up in frustration. "What does is that Pitch has Mother Nature, he must be forcin' 'er ta turn up the heat somehow an' we've gotta stop 'im."
"Then we need to focus on Easter. Kids need Easter." Bunny needed Easter, and Jack meant to be certain it happened.
"Dah." North agreed, "Jack is right. We needto make Easter a success."
"That's what Ah was just sayin'!" the exasperated pooka huffed.
Jack turned to face his husband, poking him square in the chest. "So Aster? How about those eggs. You had a lot to paint last time I checked. If we can lure Pitch out of hiding just by bringing a big, beautiful, egg-filled Easter, then we have a lot of work to do. And I promise not to paint too many snowflakes on them."
Bunny took the offending finger which had poked him in his paw and frowned down at Jack. "If ya poke me again, Ah'm gonna break yer finger, Mate," he muttered, only half-joking.
Jack raised his eyebrow at the Pooka. "If you break my finger I'll freeze your 'rabbit junk' right off." He warned in a quieter tone than earlier.
"No ya won't. Ya like my 'rabbit junk' too much fer that," Bunny purred back quietly into Jack's ear, eliciting a smirk from the shorter man. Then, casting his gaze around at the assembled Guardians he said, "Ah don't have mah warren ta help get the eggs done in time. That means we got three days ta paint about eight thousand googies by hand! An' we gotta figure out how Ah'm gonna hide 'em without passin' out five houses in."
"What about your tunnels?" North suggested, "If we could keep them chilled, you could cool off between houses…"
"No good, mate. It's warm enough here that we got sparrows showin' up. Ah don't even wanna think about how hot it must be in the temperate zones. Or worse, down by the equator."
Santa stepped closer, and asked, "What did you just say?"
"The equator, mate. Ya must know what tha…"
"Not that," North dismissed, "You said you saw sparrows?!"
"Oh, that. Ah meant ta tell ya about that…" Bunny began, rubbing the back of his neck in his chagrin.
"You should have told me sooner," North scolded the rabbit.
But Bunny was no longer listening. He was staring at the globe, a look of shock and horror on his face. Turning to see what had caused the Guardian of Hope to look so dismayed, he was met with a sight that made his heart sink. Before his eyes one of the lights, close to the equator, had turned red and then slowly faded to darkness. Then another… and, a moment later, a third. Light after light was changing color, then being snuffed out.