Chapter 4

Jack woke to the sound of metronomic beeping. He had no idea of its source, nor was it quite soothing, but it was rhythmic and had a hypnotizing effect.

Focussing on the sound, Jack faded in and out of sleep for a while longer, though the boundaries between awareness and oblivion were unknown to the winter spirit.

It wasn't until a new soft noise roused his mind to fuller consciousness, that he really began to wake in earnest.

It was the tinkling jingle of bells.

That was weird though, because it sounded almost like Christmas bells and it wasn't Christmas. In fact, Jack was pretty sure it wasn't even winter. He had this funny feeling it was closer to summer more than anything. He could feel it in his bones.

Speaking of bones, why in the hell did it feel like every single one of them was broken? Jack pulled his face into a grimace at the pain and tried to riddle through the mystery.

Perhaps he had been flying and the wind had dropped him? It was a possibility, but it didn't seem to fit. He had taken a few crash landings in his day, but this didn't feel like one of them. There was something too simple about that explanation.

The bells sounded again, but it was familiar in a different way this time. Something was triggered: a memory of riding in North's sleigh.

That's when it hit him. The Guardians, the battle, Pitch Black, Jamie Bennet, his death, his sister, his family! He remembered it all. With a gasp Jack's eyes shot open.

There was a dim, artificial light, and that's all his senses would register for the moment.

His body ached something awful. He groaned quietly to himself and blinked furiously, trying to condition his vision to work properly god-damn-it.

Jack's eyes, still taking their sweet ass time focussing, finally managed to come round.

He was in a clean white room. The walls were empty save for a few strands of garland hung in odd corners. Strange. Jack rolled his head to his left, taking in the other half of the room. That was when he found the offending noise that had woken him.

A tiny bell, perched on the tip of a pointy hat, wiggled back and forth. Under the hat was a short plump elf.

He was at the North Pole it would seem. Why else would this silly little thing be sitting in front of him? And that might also explain the random drapes of garland in the room. Jack stared blankly at it, his mind overwhelmed by the realization of the past couple days and his sheer confusion at how he had ended back at the pole.

The elf was sitting on a small metal table situated just next to the bed he was laying in. In it's stubby-fingered hands it held a metal scalpel. It was examining the bladed edge and poking it, testing its sharpness. It then proceeded to swing the rather dangerous object around as if it were brandishing a knight's sword.

"Hey! Don't play with that!" Jack said. On instinct, he propped his body and made a grab for the sharp. He did not get quite as far as he'd hoped, however, as pain washed over his torso, pausing his action.

The elf, startled by Jack, whom he had thought to be asleep, dropped the object in surprise and jumped dramatically. The thing became off balanced and teetered at the edge of the table before finally falling off with a clatter. He landed with a disgruntled squeak 3 or so feet below.

The comical thing then stood, rubbing its sore behind. It glared a hundred daggers at Jack before scuttling out of the room. Jack chuckled genuinely before he realized it hurt so much to do so that the situation was no longer funny.

Jack dropped the smile from his face and sighed deeply, wincing as the peak of inspiration triggered a sharp pain in his side. There were neatly wrapped bandaged encompassing his abdomen indicative of a wound below. He gingerly un propped himself until he was flat against the bed once more.

"Dammit," Jack hissed.

This was sucking. He supposed he shouldn't be surprised though, thinking back to how much he had been tossed around like a rag doll during the battle. That wasn't even mentioning his nasty one on one encounter with Pitch. The thirty story drop probably didn't help matters either, thinking back on it.

He had solved the mystery as to why he felt like he'd gone through a blender, but there were more memories to be dredged from the time spanning from just after the battle to the present.

He recalled vaguely being in North's sleigh with the Guardians leaving Burgess. He must have fallen asleep during the ride at some point.

He wracked his brain hard until snippets fit well enough to form this scenario: he had been injured in the battle, and the Guardians- the Guardians, Jack emphasized with impression as days before none of the protectors would have given him a second glance- had cared enough to bring him to this place to recover.

Jack let a small smile play upon his lips once more, despite his bodily discomfort. It felt nice to have someone actually care.

Slowly his smile faded to a grim shadow. He found his stomach twisting with nerves. 300 years of solitude did not exactly prepare one to become emerged in social interaction. What was he supposed to say to the guardians when they found him awake. He didn't have the slightest of clues. The idea of company made him uncomfortable, especially in his weakened state.

It was like a claustrophobia and suddenly he realized, he had to leave. Now.

Jack lay motionless for a moment, like a deer caught in headlights. He needed a plan. Jack shut his eyes in concentration; he would find his staff, catch the winds to the South, and ride them out to the opposite pole. There he could finally sleep peacefully. His body would heal with some time. It always did if he gave it enough patience. Once his wounds were licked maybe then he would come back to face the Guardians.

Jack inhaled deeply, very consciously realizing the pain it caused, before setting his muscles to used his elbows to prop his torso. It jarred every bone in his body but he was determined to get out. He scanned the room purposefully, taking in the widened view.

The source of the beeping became apparent when he spotted a clunky looking machine situated just next to him. If it was meant for metronomic purposes it was not doing a very good job as the slow steady beeping had begun to pick up speed in random increments. A digital green line formed sharp mountains and valleys in time with the noise.

The next thing Jack noticed was the spread of cots he had somehow missed seconds earlier. They were not empty, but filled with various lumps and mounds covered by quilts and pillows.

Jack swallowed hard as he realized he was not alone. The Guardians: Sandman, Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, and Santa Clause, were all in the room, less than 20 feet away.

This didn't change his plan of course. It just complicated the need for stealth.

Not letting his eyes leave the make shift beds, Jack slowly and carefully maneuvered his legs so they dangled over the edge, toes barely grazing the floor. He panicked slightly when the cots swam out of vision as the room spun in dizzying circles just from the slight movement of sitting upright. Jack had to fight back nausea as the dizziness prevailed.

"Oh come on," Jack whispered to himself, squeezing his eyes shut. He felt like he was spinning in circles. He brought a pale hand to rub at his face but stopped when he felt a tugging on wrist. He opened his eyes plainly out of curiosity and was relieved to find his vision much more stable.

He was covered in wires. Five were stuck to his torso with some sort of adhesive while the one connected to his wrist seemed to be piercing the skin itself. On instinct, Jack grabbed the wires from his chest and peeled them away, much like removing a bandaid.

Instantaneously, the once docile machine flared in anger. The steady beeping abruptly changed to a continuous whine. Jack nearly fell of the bed in surprise. It was loud.

"Oh, no, no, Shhh!" Jack whispered frantically, knowing full well that this darned contraption would probably wake the Guardians any second. Not knowing what to do, Jack reached out to the thing, pressing random buttons to no avail. There had to be an off switch somewhere. Unsuccessful in his first few seconds of searching, Jack gave up and brought his hand down harshly, planning on beating the thing to silence.

When Jack's hand slammed onto the surface, the machine quickly became coated in a thick layer of ice radiating from the point of contact. The screen cracked diagonally and the beeping finally ceased.

Jack gritted his teeth in a permanent wince. He glanced unwillingly over to the Guardian's, sure they had woken from the racket. To his immense surprise and relief, they remained unaware.

Jack let his shoulders fall from their tense state and let out a deep sigh. His heart was racing.

He looked down at his wrist at the last wire grounding him from leaving. Without a second thought, he ripped the clear catheter from his arm cleanly. Droplets of blood sprayed from the vein, staining the pure white floor.

Why he was so desperate to get out, he had no idea. He felt like a caged animal.

Jack ran a shaking hand through his white locks and tried to focus on the task at hand. He needed to find his staff first. His eyes darted around the room, searching for his most important possession.

The ancient wooden staff was easily spotted leaning lightly near the exit door. Maybe his luck wasn't all shit.

With that as inspiration, Jack began his progress once more. He rested both hands at either side of his hips and pushed off from the bed into a standing position.

"Easy," Jack whispered, realizing the need to slow his actions. His body was damaged and he simply could not forget that. Both feet lay flat on the floor but his legs were protesting aggressively. It didn't take a lot to realize that there was a slim change of him making it to the door with out something to hold onto.

Luckily for Jack, there was something at hand to aid his purpose quite nicely. A metal pole stood just next to the bed. Its use seemed to be connected to the tube he had pulled from his arm as the plastic catheter dangled from a bag of fluid hung on the pole. Even more conveniently, the thing had wheels. Perfect.

Shakily, Jack grabbed onto the cool metal and slowly released the bed. With heavy steps, Jack made his way to the exit and towards his staff. The wheels were un-oiled and squeaked in a deafening tone. Eventually he found both hands grasping the metal support like a lifeline. It really was the only thing keeping him off the floor.

Jack's anxiety rose as his vision again began to dim. The pain in his side was increasing quickly as well. Not soon enough Jack had made it to his staff. Desperately, Jack clasped the ancient wood and, unable to resist, leaned against the wall in exhaustion. It was just a short break to catch his breath and regain his darkening vision. As he stood there panting miserably, he realized it wasn't going to get much better. He just had to go on with it if he wanted out.

With one last glance at the cots, Jack pushed away from the wall and exited the white room purposefully. The hallway he entered was quite. The only noise was the sound of his own labored breathing.

All he needed was a window. An exit, and he was gone. He was so close. Continuing his way further from the white room, he painfully made progress. Where ever he was in the workshop, it seemed void of openings to the outside world. He would have to press on.

"Shit," Jack murmured to himself as he stumble on his weakened legs. He leaned upon the staff with nearly all of his weight, and the wood creaked in protest.

Jack took that moment to take another rest. He glanced back at where he had come from. There was a thin trail red droplets following him. Jack traced the trail with his eyes until he ended by his feet. "Oh no," Jack said. The bandages wrapping around his stomach were beginning to seep with red. In the silence Jack could hear the faint drip of blood falling to the floor.

He had to keep going.

Break


Bunny would consider himself a light sleeper. His large sensitive ears saw to that just fine. Very small noises could usually rouse him from sleep, and though it became more difficult at very deep states, he still woke easier than most.

Now, Bunny was in one of those very deep states of sleep. It was not surprising considering the past couple of days and lack of previously needed hours. That was why the small commotion in the room did not wake him instantly. His ears twitched like crazy as they picked up the sounds of the small elf and the haywire machine, but they were hard pressed to actually wake the rabbit.

He had no idea what actually woke him. Perhaps it was his senses finally urging him from sleep, but whatever it was caused him to start.

"Huh- wha's going on," Bunny sat upright, his ears swiveling on alert. The other Guardians had not stirred from their sleep. Whatever had awoken Bunny had clearly not disturbed them.

For a minute, the rabbit could only hear the creaking of the tiny cot that lay beneath him. The makeshift beds North had found lying around the workshop the previous night were rather small with rusty springs supporting water stained mattresses. It had not been the most comfortable night of sleep, but it was worth it to stay together.

They had placed their cots in the corner of the medical room, closest to the tiny wood stove that provided heat to the room. Jack's bed, of course, had been pushed far from the space heater, as they figured it would probably be better to keep him in his cold element.

In the dazed state of just waking, Bunny relaxed, becoming unaware of his better sense. He was about to lie back down when he spotted something completely wrong. The bed where Jack had been lying was empty.

Bunny was on his feet in an instant.

It wasn't possible. There was no way anyone that injured could just get up and walk out.

Bunny was in shock and for a moment or two. He stood stock still, heart pounding furiously, eyes wide with rabbit-like anxiety. Bunny's muscles slowly unlocked themselves as he found his ability to move. He bounded to the bed with agility. To his surprise, it was very apparent that Jack had done the impossible, gotten up and strolled out.

Bunny looked at the empty bed and saw the discarded ECG pads and frozen machine. Bunny looked to the exit and made his way to where Jack's staff had been placed. Unsurprisingly it was gone as well. Bunny noted the IV pole had been moved to that point. A puddle from the unclamped tubing trailed from the bed to the spot he was standing, the bag of fluid now shriveled and empty. Jack must have ripped the tubing out once he had sat up.

Bunny made his way through the exit and was dismayed to be greeted by the same empty space Jack had entered. The Easter Guardian made his way down the hallway quickly, hoping Jack had not made it far, though he had a feeling he was too late.

Bunny had begun to notice the first scattered but progressing to constant spatters of blood intermittently splayed across the floor. It made his stomach sick.

Finally reaching the end of the bay, Bunny pushed through the double doors and into the adjacent hallway leading away from medical. Jack was not hard to follow as his trail was quite readable. Bunny continued his hurried pursuit, making it through the windowless hallway and through another set of doors. The workshop was really like a maze.

Prepared to follow another bloody trail Bunny found himself not needing to. A few meters from where he stood, Jack could be seen leaning heavily against the wall of the corridor. His body language portrayed weariness all to obviously. Bunny was about to call to Jack when the winter spirit suddenly buckled. Instinct kicking in, Bunny raced to Jack's side.

Break


Jack had made his way down nearly three damned hallways at that point and had had no encounters with a window or exit of any sort. He was beginning to feel pessimistic of his escape. He was fatigued and the bandages wrapping his stomach seemed to only be becoming more saturated.

"Come on, get it together," Jack muttered to himself. His feet had become tripped again causing him to fall against the wall hard. It was an uphill battle for sure, and he was no war expert but it was pretty clear he was loosing. His vision was swimming and there was no way walking would ordinarily provoke such shortness of breath.

Preparing to continue on, Jack attempted to take a step, though his legs had reached a new level of shakiness. Without warning, a sharp pain suddenly gripped his side. He gasped, losing hold of the wall as his hands moved to his bursting side.

Unable to catch himself, Jack's legs finally folded under him and he collapsed, knees first, onto the wooden floor. Jack yelled hoarsely in pain as his kneecaps cracked against the wooden surface. He doubled further onto all fours, gagging as the sudden pain became unbearable.

"Jack!" It was Bunny. Jack's heart sank in dismay.

The large Guardian was knelt next to him. Jack could feel a furry paw resting ever so gently on his shoulder. He was so embarrassed.

"What were you thinkin', Jack" Bunny said gravely. The winter guardian had all but destroyed the progress they had made in his recovery. If anything he had set them even further back from their original starting point.

Jack could not bring himself to respond. He was ashamed. Not for trying to leave, but his inability to finish the job. With another shock of pain from his bleeding wound, Jack's head spun dizzyingly. Jack began to topple to his side, no longer able to even hold himself in an animalistic slouch. How pitiful.

Bunny caught him before he could hit the floor. That only made Jack feel worse.

"I'm taking ya back to medical, we gotta stop that bleeding," Very gently Bunny began to gather Jack into his arms.

"No, don't!" Jack felt a new energy dawn upon him as the words flowed instinctively. "Please. Just let me go and I'll take care of myself. I...I just need to get outside,"

"Are you crazy mate? I think you've lost a little too much blood,"

Jack desperately pushed away from Bunny and extraordinarily found himself slowly making his way back to his feet. "No, I think I'm fine, and I thank you for your help, but I'll take it from here,"

Using his staff, Jack slowly straightened into a standing position, or as much of one as he could. His side protested any position higher than a hunch. Bunny stood in disbelief not quite sure what to do. It was clear Jack did not want his help but was in desperate need of it.

"If you could just, point me to the exit," Jack said, loosing stability slightly and propping himself with the wall again.

"Look, Jack, you really need to reconsider...Jack!" Bunny found he did not need to argue anymore with the winter spirit as Jack's face became ashen gray. Bunny had to rush forward to catch Jack as he lost consciousness.

Without a moment's hesitation, Bunny scooped Jack up into his arms. He found the fur he had worked so hard to scrub free of blood the night before becoming stained once again.