Wait. I haven't updated this since exams? ... ... ...

... ... ...

Jeez. I had no idea. o.0

Um. Sorry?

Yikes, I let myself procrastinate too much. See, I rewatched RotG a while ago (along with a bunch of Doctor Who episodes – 10th, and boy didn't that start a new love for a crossover) and was crazy ready to write down ideas … ideas that kept coming, and coming, and coming… So I started writing, like, three chapters for this story, before I slowed down and slapped myself. I need to focus on one at a time. So I focused on this one.

Oh, and just a heads up: recently I started exploring a different writing style for one of my original, non-fanfiction stories, and it was difficult to switch from that to this, so if this turns out a tad off then it's because I fell in love with a new style.

An unpleasant taste pooled in his mouth as he bobbed along a stream of fractured unconsciousness, gasping into weak awareness for a split second before plunging back into the abyss of hollow dreams and waves of unfeeling, continuing the pattern many times over before the wall of unconsciousness thinned and finally crumbled, giant cracks racing up and bright beams of reality burning him all over.

Jack slowly cracked his eyes open, blinking against the light even though it was soft and dim. He was sprawled across the ground, shoulders and head pressed up against an uncomfortable, rocky surface, and his neck felt stiff from the awkward position, yet he didn't have the strength to move. It was dark, and he slowly realized that the dim light came from a single source in the corner of whatever cramped space he was in; as things came into better focus, Jack made out the form of a familiar golden friend.

"Sandy," he tried to say, but his voice failed him, the words making it past his lips as nothing more than a croak. Nonetheless, the Guardian heard him, turning around and floating over to him with a wide, somewhat relieved grin on his face. Jack was concerned to see the slightly frazzled appearance of his friend, the sand he was made of shifting and shaking, unable to settle properly in place. "What happened?" he forced out, grimacing at how dry his mouth was and how rough his voice was.

When he tried to move into a better position, Sandy held him in place and shook his head, wagging a finger in his face. Jack frowned but obeyed, collapsing back against the rocky surface, jabbing himself in the back of the neck as he did. Sandy started to form slow, easy images, and at first Jack didn't know why, and was slightly offended that his friend thought he was incapable to keep up with him – after all, there had been times, few and far between as they were, where Jack had had to translate for the other Guardians when there wasn't time for guessing games or different pictures – but then he started to realize Sandy might have the right idea. As much as he tried, Jack couldn't concentrate on the pictures, for the longer he stared at the Sandman, the more the sight before him turned into a kaleidoscope of colour, sending his head spinning, battering into the sides of his skull.

Sandy didn't appear to notice his predicament, forming and dissolving images as he ticked something off on his fingers, but Jack's sight blurred and the kaleidoscope scene faded. He frowned, wishing Sandy would stop whatever that incessant ringing was, because it was really get on his nerves and making his head ache; it wasn't a surprise that he welcomed the reprieve his mind offered him gladly, impatiently letting the fog take over and cloud his thoughts without a care for possible consequences, the sticky strands of the fog dragging him back into the sea of unconsciousness, where he started bobbing again.

"But where are they! They were right here!" Tooth insisted, clasping her hands together while she scanned the mountainous area around them.

"Toothy, calm down, calm down. All will be fine; they cannot have gone far," North tried to assure, placing a hand on Tooth's shoulder and gently bringing her back down to the ground. "Bunny! Any luck finding them?"

"Nah, mate. It's like they just vanished. My googies can't find any sign of them, and they've searched high an' low all over this place."

"Well, we have to find them. I'll have my fairies search from the skies; if they're above ground, the girls will find them." Beside the fairy, Baby Tooth nodded, a determined look on her tiny face.

"An' if they're not above ground?" Bunny asked cautiously, studiously ignoring North's wince at the question.

"Then you'll have to put your tunnels to good use!" Tooth ordered sternly, her expression daring him to contradict her.

Jack woke up without theatrics; one second he was out, the next he was blinking the sleep from his eyes. He dragged his hand up to rub at his face, smothering his yawn and harshly digging his nails into his cheek to wake himself up more. Sandy sat beside him, snoozing lightly, but jerked awake when Jack accidentally jostled him while moving into a sitting position.

"Hey," he greeted, his voice grating at his throat. Jack coughed, scrubbing his face and struggling to wait for his eyes to adjust to the dark. "Where are we?"

Sandy remained still, watching him worriedly as the winter spirit started to crawl around the small space, trailing his hand over the rocky walls. Jack tried to remember how they'd gotten there, but his mind offered nothing but shattered memories, flashes that were brief and seemingly irrelevant to each other, so he remained clueless, and Sandy didn't seem over eager to impart his knowledge of the event.

"Wait, where's the entrance?" Jack muttered, coming to a halt on the other side of Sandy, realizing he'd gone around the entire edge of the circular space without finding an opening. "How did we get in? How do we get out?" He started scrabbling at the rocky wall with his nails, kicking the rocks with frustration as he started to panic.

A golden tendril snaked around his stomach and pulled him away from the wall, dragging him to the middle of the space, where Sandy was waiting. The Sandman patted Jack's shoulder comfortingly, patiently letting the boy calm down before attempting to communicate.

Jack blearily watched the sand above his friend's head, trying to control his dizzy feeling as well as concentrate, which proved difficult. He thought he made out most of what Sandy was trying to convey, but was also sure he'd missed parts; not that it mattered, since as soon as he could focus on the Sandman without feeling the urge to vomit, his mind helpfully supplied the information needed to fill the gaps.

"I was heading back from playing with Jamie," Jack said aloud slowly, watching Sandy nod in confirmation. "But – why were you there? And the others! I remember all of you showing up, but why?"

Sandy just shook his head sadly, watching the winter spirit struggle to figure out why the Guardians had come looking for him. It was possible he just didn't remember how he hadn't stopped by the Pole for several weeks, skiving off meetings and being extremely difficult to find, but Sandy knew full well that it might just be that Jack didn't understand why they would care about his whereabouts, why they would notice his absence, and that upset the Sandman.

"North wanted to know where I'd been," the boy continued, oblivious to Sandy's distress. Jack furrowed his eyebrows as he fought to remember. "There was – fire? I know there was a fight, but I don't remember who it was." He sent a pleading look at the Dream Guardian.

Sandy silently sighed but obediently formed the generic image of a female, followed immediately by fire, then the female again. Jack's eyes widened in realization before his expression darkened and completely shut down, his eyes dropping to the ground as he curled up in a loose ball.

"Adara," he mumbled, actually sounding kind of annoyed. "But how did we get in here – wait." He nodded to himself. "She managed to hit me, so you took me into a little alcove in a nearby mountain so I wouldn't get hurt more, but she somehow made the place collapse in on itself, I guess sealing the entrance. But where are the others?" he wondered aloud, seemingly calmer now, less likely to panic again. "They know where we are, right?"

Sandy could only shrug helplessly, having spent the last couple of hours wondering the exact same thing himself.

Jack started crawling around the space again, though he wasn't trying to dig his way out again, thankfully; he just kept running his hands over the floor, muttering to himself too quietly for Sandy to make out the words. The Sandman watched him curiously for a while, not interfering since the winter spirit didn't seem in danger of hurting himself – not to say that he wasn't already hurt: Sandy thought he spied a splash of red in the youngest Guardian's hair, something he hadn't noticed before. Finally, the Sandman decided enough was enough and got in Jack's way, trapping the boy in a corner until he looked at him. Sandy quickly formed a question mark, trying to – indiscreetly – get a better look at Jack's head.

"My staff," the boy impatiently said, eyes darting around the small space. "Where's my staff? If I could just find it, then we could get out of here … Oh no, I didn't drop it, did I?"

Sandy tried to remember whether or not Jack had been holding his staff when they hid in the cave, but a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach seemed to answer that question. He sent a sympathetic look the boy's way, to which Jack groaned and flopped against the wall, tugging at his hair, only to wince it pain.

Sandy instantly smacked Jack's hand away so he could finally get a good look at the boy's head, gently but firmly pulling said head away from the wall and closer to the only source of light they had – himself. Jack squawked in protest, but quietened when threatened with dream sand.

Like he'd thought, Sandy found dried blood in Jack's otherwise beacon white hair, near the back, and when he poked the area, Jack tried to jerk away. Sandy let him, but only so he could peer in Jack's blue eyes, frowning.

"What?" Jack grumbled sourly, glancing away.

Instead of trying to explain anything with more symbols than either of them were willing to deal with, Sandy just shook his head and settled down beside the winter spirit, content to wait until either they were found or until Jack decided to speak again – and he had an inkling on which would come first.

"My fairies think they know where they are! Baby Tooth found Jack's staff on a ledge at that mountain," Tooth declared, pointing towards said mountain with one hand while the other clutched at the familiar stick of wood she'd just been given by six of her fairies.

"Bunny, can tunnels reach into the mountain?" North asked, squinting as if to see the missing Guardians from a distance.

"Dunno. Depends how far in they are. Worth a try," Bunny said, thumping his foot on the ground and jumping in the tunnel, leaving North and Tooth to hurry to the sleigh.

"How long do you think until the others figure out where we are?" Jack asked, drawing in the dust beside him. Sandy thought it might be a snowflake. Or a dinosaur. Probably a snowflake. Maybe. "I mean, they know we're in the mountain somewhere, right?"

The only answer Sandy could give was another shrug, mostly because he really didn't know, but also because Jack wasn't looking at him to read any symbols. Of course, that meant he couldn't see the shrug, but that was really his problem – he asked the question, and if he wanted Sandy to answer he would have looked.

They lapsed into silence again, but before long Jack broke it again. "I didn't mean to miss all those meetings," he said, still not looking in the direction of his fellow Guardian. "I didn't realise the first time, I just lost track of time, but then the second time I just didn't want to go."

He still wouldn't look at Sandy, but the dream Guardian at least understood why. Unlike how the others might have reacted, Sandy didn't give Jack a disapproving look or inquire why, content to let the winter spirit tell him when he was ready, or not at all. Sandy had known Jack before he was a Guardian – not extremely well, but well enough to have an idea of how he thought – and as such figured he had more chance than most to be the one Jack confided in; it wasn't a guarantee, as Jack was pretty closed off by nature, but it was something.

"I was going to go to the third one," Jack carried on, adding on to his drawing in the dirt – it looked sort of like a bird now, but maybe Sandy was looking at it at the wrong angle. "But I thought you guys might be mad at me for missing the other meetings, so I stayed away. Probably not my smartest move," he conceded, actually grinning at Sandy before becoming enraptured by his … interesting drawing again.

Sandy just waited until Jack reached the reason he didn't want to go to the second meeting (though he completely understood his not coming to the third – Bunny had been ready to tear into him, and no doubt North would have to tried to have a meaningful lecture that would most likely make no sense).

Jack heaved a sigh and admired his drawing – okay, Sandy had given up trying to make out any shape in that – before bringing his knees to his chest and resting his chin on them. "When we have all our monthly (occasionally weekly – why does North do that, by the way?) 'All Important Guardian Meetings'," – insert teenage boy eye roll here – "all we do is talk about North's new ideas for toys, Bunny's 'risky' new designs, Tooth's obsession – sorry, progress – with teeth, and usually your dreams somehow find a way into the conversation. I get that winter isn't all that interesting, and I know you guys make an effort to ask about it at the meetings, but we all know I have nothing to contribute other than the effect of global warming, which you all knew about anyway, unless the summer spirits start stirring up some trouble again, which they haven't done in years. Whenever I go to the meetings, I end up just sneaking more of North's cookies and messing with the elves. On the rare occasion I'm obligated to say something, all I have is my snowflake patterns and my plans for the next snowfall; which, I might add, Bunny always argues with! 'No, Jack, you can't make a blizzard there! What are you thinkin'?!'," Jack mimicked in a poor imitation of Bunny's accent, pulling a face.

Before Sandy could try to comfort him in any way, perhaps by patting his arm, Jack pulled away from the wall and shuffled to the other side of the confined space, pressing his ear against the wall and furrowing his brow. Confused, Sandy bobbed over.

"How thick do you think this wall of rocks is?" Jack asked absently, head still pressed to the rocks. "Probably not too far in … if I could just …"

Before Sandy could react, Jack pushed away from the wall, only to kick at it with his foot. Sandy winced in sympathy as his companion let out a low hiss, seeing small cuts leaking blood on the bottom of Jack's foot, but it didn't stop the winter spirit; he kicked out again, then again, slamming his foot into the wall in such a way that Sandy couldn't watch and had to turn away.

Personally, the dream Guardian didn't think kicking the wall was going to do anything other than injure the winter spirit further, but he was proven wrong when a thick shaft of light nearly blinded the both of them, streaming in from a crack in the wall, opened up by a kick that had wiggled some smaller rocks loose. Jack grinned and cried out in triumph, sending a smug look Sandy's way.

Thankfully, he stopped the abuse on his foot, instead starting to dig at the small opening with his fingers, digging out more rocks. Sandy floated over to help him, enlarging the hole with his sand and making sure some of the bigger rocks weren't in danger of striking one of them as they fell.

Soon they had an opening big enough for Jack to stick his head through, and they sat back to assess their work.

"I thought I heard voices," Jack said quietly, peering through the hole. "That's why I started kicking. I thought I heard Tooth."

Sandy suddenly formed a light bulb over his head, keeping it just long enough for Jack to see before dissolving it and moving closer to the hole. He crafted a powerful tendril of dream sand, spinning it in his hand like a rope while Jack watched on in interest. Sandy flung the sand-rope out the hole and carefully tracked it as it snaked through the air outside, climbing higher and higher until it twisted out of sight.

"Will that find the others?" Jack asked, looking hopeful. Sandy flashed a thumbs up. "And lead them back here? Awesome!"

He flopped down against the far wall, reaching back for his hood and pulling it up, not bothered by the fact that his whole jumper was riddled with holes. Somehow his trousers had escaped without a scratch so far, though Sandy figured it would be difficult to tell otherwise, what with the condition of them in the first place.

"Now I guess we wait," Jack mumbled, half his face covered by his hood as he stretched out the best he could in the small space.


"Jack? Sandy! Hello?"

"Bunny, are you sure you saw Sandy's sand lead us this way?"

"Yes! I'm telling ya, I saw it come right here! This is the place!"

Jack peered out from under his hood to see Sandy floating by their crude 'window', holding a finger to his mouth in a signal to be quiet, a smile on his face. Jack crawled over and peeked out to the world outside, pushing back his hood. He could see deep red and fur, presumably North's jacket, and it was blocking everything else out.

"I do not see them. Maybe they're on other side of the mountain?" North's voice came through clearly.

"No! I'm telling ya, I know that sand came here! Right here!"

Unfortunately, Jack accidentally rested his hand against a loose rock and it tumbled away, alerting the others to their whereabouts. Immediately the voices stopped, replaced by whispering, until suddenly North's hairy face was thrust against the hole and Jack leapt back from shock.

"Ah! Jack! Sandy! There you are! Why didn't you say something? Come on, come out, out," North waved them through, giving Jack a hand.

Instantly the both of them were engulfed in a feathery hug, though Sandy managed to slip out of it within seconds, leaving Jack to send him dirty looks.

"Oh, are you both alright? Not hurt? Oh, Jack here's your staff, and you really need to talk to Baby Tooth, she's very upset, and are you sure you're alright?"

"Yeah," Jack struggled free of Tooth's grasp, watching her cautiously. "I'm fine, Sandy's fine, we're both fine. Honest."

"Is that blood?!"

"Okay, ignore what I said, then," Jack muttered, nonetheless allowing Tooth to prod at his hair, wincing whenever she hit a sore spot. "Can we go back to the Pole now? Please?" He sent a begging look at North, who gently grasped Tooth's elbow and pulled her away from the winter spirit.

"Yes, yes. Come, Tooth, you can fuss over Jack at the Workshop. And the two of them must be hungry! We can enjoy great feast, celebrating their return!"

Jack squinted at him. "Return? How long were we in there?"

North looked sort of deflated. "… Eight hours?"

Jack blinked. Then shrugged. "I could eat."


Turned out Tooth didn't let Jack eat his full of cookies when they got back to the Pole, instead giving him only healthy things – which led to grumbling on Jack's part that she didn't map out Sandy's meal, and hadn't he been in there just as long as he had? – but Tooth persisted, somehow managing to steal back all the cookies Jack snuck into his hoodie pocket.

North had his Yetis trap Jack in the hospital room for a night to keep an eye on the head injury, though Jack didn't see what the point was other than pay back for missing the meetings. Sandy also didn't mention Jack's reasons for missing the meetings to the others, and neither did Jack; though he still missed the occasional gathering, he made an effort to attend more often.

Baby Tooth stayed glued to Jack's shoulder for a few days, ignoring Tooth whenever she tried to send her out to collect teeth, and eventually Jack had to come collect them with her for a while until the clinginess faded.

The fire spirit that attacked Jack didn't show up again, at least not for a while, so things went relatively back to normal, though now Bunny had new material to threaten/tease Jack with when they argued.

That cave, though, eventually started to get filled with frost, coating the floor and walls, and the small entryway slowly got big enough for North to lumber through without ducking, though it was hidden from first glanced by strategic placing of rocks and leaves. It wasn't used very often, but whenever North mentioned that Jack hadn't stayed at the Pole the night before, Sandy knew where to go to give Jack dreams. It was close to Burgess' lake, and while Sandy didn't quite understand why Jack would want to hang out in the cave, especially when he had a nice room at the Pole, at least it was better than sleeping in the trees, like he'd seen him do previously.

Again, sorry for the long wait. :(

I don't know what's wrong with me, but whenever I get writer's block, I get the urge to write death!fics for my favourite characters... I didn't kill of Jack again (don't worry... for now) but I did come up with the idea that season spirits have a limited life span because the seasons change (sometimes they're longer/shorter than expected, etc.) often, and I don't know, but the idea grew on me. Like, the other Guardians have basically an unlimited life span, but then there's season spirit Jack, with a restricted amount of time (still centuries, I imagine) and the Guardians would have to deal with that ...

I dunno, just a plot bunny that hopped into my dreams a few night ago and refused to go away. Dunno if I'll bring this story to life at some point...

What do you guys think of the idea? Just curious.