Bunny cradled Jack in his lap, watching the sunset peacefully. The boy had fallen asleep with his head resting on Bunny's lap, no doubt exhausted from his healing injuries, escaping the North Pole and flying himself to the cliff, and the emotional realization that he was in fact, no longer alone.
Bunny ran his paw through the boy's fluffy mop of white hair, and Jack sighed contentedly in his sleep, unconsciously leaning into Bunny's touch. The corner of Bunny's mouth twitched upward in a seldom seen smile.
The frozen tears now shimmered like diamonds on Bunny's lap where they had fallen from the boy's cheeks.
As the sun sunk lower in the sky, the wind picked up, swirling around Bunny dotingly. It stroked his fur soothingly with its cold touch, silently thanking him for saving its precious boy. The wind circled Bunny, the smell of the warmth of the Warren riding it. Bunny sighed with pleasure, longing to return home. It was getting late. He needed to wake Jack and return him to the North Pole, under North's patient care. Gently, he put a paw to Jack's shoulder.
"Jack. Jack, you've gotta wake up now. Jack." Jack groaned and blinked blearily, unsure of where he was. He sat up, rubbing his eyes with a yawn. The wind glided around his head unseen, gently brushing against the boy's cheek. Jack looked up at Bunny, dazed.
"We need ta get ya back, Jack." Bunny said as explanation. "No doubt North's worried sick about ya."
"Yeah, of course." Jack said, picking up the frozen tears and playing with them absently. "Sorry… I sort of lost it earlier…" Bunny waved his hand dismissively, and Jack grinned in relief. Bunny stood slowly, stretching as his muscles ached from being in the same position for so long.
"Come on." Bunny yawned, holding a paw out to Jack, who was still crouched over the tears. "North'll be worried 'bout ya, beanpole." Jack huffed at the nickname, looking up at Bunny from underneath his bangs, a smile playing at his lips.
"Ya heard me." Bunny said gruffly, bending down to teasingly poke at Jack's ribs. "Yer downright scrawny. The lankiest sprite I've ever clapped eyes on." Jack pushed Bunny's probing paw with a laugh, struggling to stand up quickly.
"See wha' I mean? Ya can't even get up without lookin' like a new-born deer with yer gangly legs!" Bunny guffawed, amused as Jack watched Bunny with laughing eyes, his arms crossing over his torso and shielding his ribs. "Now hurry up. We need ta get yer skinny arse back up to the North Pole." Bunny turned away with a chuckle, tapping the ground twice with his foot. A tunnel opened up next to him amid the stone. Bunny sighed as the smell of tulips and fresh dirt wafted up to him. Bunny turned back to Jack and was about to tell him it was time to go when he hesitated. The boy's lone silhouette stood in sharp relief to the blazing sun. The clouds turned dusky rose and gold in the twilight. To their backs, Bunny knew that the stars were just beginning to shine. It was a glorious moment, a threshold of worlds, one day and one night. Bunny had through the eons forgotten the twilight, lost as he had been in his underground catacombs of eternal spring. And perhaps that was the one fault of his Warren- it was too perfect. Too unchanging. The most beautiful things were like this twilight- mortal.
That was very important, being mortal.
Spring above ground was beautiful not just for its colors and smells, but also for its ability to change into summer. It was fleeting and elusive, a mere gossamer moment in a far greater chain of seasons. There was no certainty to Spring's arrival or departure. It was an incorporeal moment. It could not be chained down or set into stone.
It was so desperately mortal.
And that is what breathed life into it. Bunny in all his eons had come to understand and accept this whispered song of life: all good things must come to an end.
Bunny's chest felt hollow, knowing that he was denied a part in this song, this whispered secret. All of the Guardians were. But that was how it was supposed to be. It was a sacrifice. With something as precious as mortality, someone has to give it up, to lose it, so that others may have it. And whether conscious of it or not, every Guardian had given that sacrifice. Bunny had come to terms with his. All that he had or might have had he gave to the children.
That was why he was a Guardian.
"Why?" Jack's question echoed through the sky. Bunny looked up at the boy, puzzled. The sun had sunk below the horizon.
"What is it?" Bunny asked, cautiously walking up to the boy, placing a paw on his shoulder.
"Why- why is it I don't want to leave?" Jack sighed with frustration, looking up at Bunny miserably. "This place- it's done. All that's left here is ruins and painful memories. At the North Pole with you and North and Tooth and Sandy, I have a future waiting. I've never had that before." Jack put a shaking hand to his face, covering his eyes. "But why-why can't I just forget about this place?!" He exploded, looking up at Bunny for guidance. Bunny shook his head ruefully.
"Do ya really think that buryin' the past is the same as forgettin' it?" Bunny asked. Jack looked away, disappointed, but Bunny gently took his chin and turned it to face him. Bunny lowered himself to Jack's height, capturing those crystal eyes with his.
"Ya cannot forget it, Jack. It is a part of ya now. The past leaves its mark on ya, and no amount of forgettin' will change that. Don't bother worryin' what ya cannot change. Ya bury yer past so ya can build yourself a better future. Do ya understand that?" Jack was looking at him intently, his sharp eyes filled with wonder. Bunny squeezed his shoulder reassuringly before continuing.
"Now, are ya truly going to abandon this place? The frozen lake is still here, as are the winter woods and Burgess, yer first home. Ya had a family there, once. Ya don't want to leave that, do you?"
"No." Jack breathed slowly, unsure. His eyes were intense, like the piercing bite of the winter's cold.
"And what about Jamie? The little gumby believes in ya. You'd never disappoint him, not for the world. There is more to this place than just painful memories, isn't there? Ya don't want to say goodbye to all that as well."
"I think I understand." Jack said truthfully. "But you don't get it. I can't shake this feeling… that this place won't be the same. I love this place, you're right about that. Just-" Jack grappled to find words, his brow furrowing in frustrated thought. "I won't to be able to let go. Of what happened, I mean. How can I come to terms with that knowing that my fear… is what caused it?" Jack sighed wearily, as if he had been festering over that question for far too long. Bunny tilted his head to the side and observed the boy.
"Ya can never let go of the past. That's how you'll come to terms with it. The secret is to recognize that ya are from the past. A difficult, painful past. But look where ya are now. You're here with me now in the present. The past is still part of you, but you can move on without letting go."
"By being above all that. By keeping yer head up." Jack was quiet for a moment. He looked away from Bunny, looking up at the night sky.
The full moon was shining bright in the distance. Its presence seemed to calm Jack. His face relaxed as he stared up at the silver orb, the tension leaving his body. Jack's eyes fluttered shut as he enjoyed the moonlight. During the three hundred years of isolation, the moon had been his anchor. Even now, believed in and with a family to turn to, Jack never forgot the sense of security the moon gave him.
"Could I rebuild it?" Jack asked unexpectedly, his eyes opening suddenly as he turned to stare at Bunny. "My home. Right here." Jack looked up at the moon again with a peaceful smile.
"I think that's a lovely idea, Frostbite." Bunny said, taking his paw off Jack's shoulders and mussing up the boy's locks instead. Jack laughed softly at the sensation. It was such a brotherly gesture, something that had been denied to him for so long. The laugh continued, growing with mirth.
"What's so funny?" Bunny asked, a smirk on his lips. Jack shrugged with a grin.
"Come on, I'm not foolin' around with that. Now what's got ya laughing?"
"I just- well, it's funny, isn't it? This place was going to become Pitch's new throne of power, fueled by my fear. But now- it's mine. I'm gonna build on top of the ruins of my fear. Pitch said that this place is my prison, the place I come to when I'm too weak to face the world. But it's doesn't feel like that anymore. It feels… free. A bit funny how that worked out."
"Yeah." Bunny echoed, looking down at Jack with misty eyes, a small smile on his face. "Funny… how that worked out. Ya did good, kid." He cleared his throat, his smile widening as he playfully cuffed Jack on the arm. "Right now, enough foolin'. First, the North Pole. Later after you've healed properly, we can come back and start building. I'm sure North'll spare a few yetis to help."
"Then let's get going!" Jack said excitedly, running over to his staff. Jack kicked his staff off the ground and into the air in a sudden blur of motion. Leaping up in enthusiasm he caught it, staying in the air longer than normal. He grinned, twirling his staff expertly as frost spread from his touch on it. It shone a blazing blue as power surged through it for the briefest of moments before fading. Jack landed delicately on the frostbitten ground, his staff grasped firmly in his hand.
"Show off." Bunny huffed, though he was admittedly impressed. Jack's grinned only widened. For such a skinny little gumby, Jack had some amazing powers lying just beneath the surface.
"Hurry up, cottontail!" Jack shouted over his shoulder as he scrambled for the hole Bunny had created earlier.
"Frostbite!" Bunny yelled incredulously, chasing after the boy. "Ya don't wanna race a rabbit, remember?" Jack laughed mischievously, his voice clear and ringing.
"I know I want to race you, kangaroo!"
"It's Bunny! I'm the bloody Easter bunny, fer cryin' out loud!" Bunny caught up with Jack, both of them shaking with laughter. Together they jumped into the hole.
Somewhere in the North Pole a hole would be opening up and Bunny and Jack would find themselves, still laughing, in the workshop right at the feet of three very worried guardians. But the guardians would quickly forgive them for their absence.
It would be the first time that any of them had heard Jack laugh like that.
Miles away on a lonely cliffside blossomed a single purple flower.
Its petals unfurled in the moonlight, a single promise of the hope yet to come.
Wow. I'm sitting back and looking at what I've written. I can't believe it's over. It seems unthinkable. I'm kind of in shock… I guess I never realized just how much this story meant to me.
Okay, time for the moral behind this chapter. I've had the idea to close my story like this for a while now. I hope you like it.
Four months ago, I went to the service for my friend. He was a brilliant actor and had lived his life to the fullest onstage. The service was held at the first theatre he performed at. The best part of the service was at the end. A movie screen descended from the ceiling, and a man came on stage. He said that for the last part of the service, the boy was going to give one last act, his final bow. The lights dimmed, and the screen flickered to life. On it was the boy, only a few months before his death. He was dancing with a girl onstage in a professional ballet. The dance was beautiful and powerful. They flew dancing around radiating happiness and life. You could tell by his smile that he was doing what he loved, what he lived for.
The service taught me a lesson. Every moment we live can be taken from us. The service taught me that every dance could be our final bow.
And if that's true, I'm going to make that dance worth it. I'm going to dance through life, and you can bet that it will be the best dance I can give.
Thank you staying with this story. It has affected my life, and I hope it has affected yours. Please review and tell me your thoughts! Any suggestions for future writing will be considered.
Have a merry Christmas Eve!