End phase (3)
"It was worth a try," North sighed as they returned to the pole. "Sandy was right, there was a large number of nightmares in that area. It must have just been somewhere they hid during the day. Maybe Pitch's new lair is there."
"He knew where Jack was," Bunny growled, slamming his fist into a wall. "He knew."
Tooth nodded. "He seemed too confident for Jack to be in the area. He didn't think we would find Jack."
"We didn't," North said.
A fast pattern of symbols flashed over Sandy's head. They stared at him in confusion for a few seconds before shaking their heads. He sighed and the images faded away, giving up on trying to say what he was thinking.
"We have to find Pitch again," Tooth said wearily. She rubbed her face. "It's going to take a while since Bunny scared him off, but I can't see any other way that we'll find out where he hid Jack." Bunny bit back a protest at that statement. "We need something to offer him, too. A reason why he would give Jack up. If this is part of a plan to take over again, Jack's crucial to it and he won't give him up without good reason."
"Manny was coming out of the clouds," North said. "If Bunny had waited, we would have been able to talk to Pitch."
"Hey!" Bunny gave into the urge. "I was tryin' ta stop 'im from takin' yer 'eads off! Yer welcome, by the way!"
North waved it off. "We are not blaming you. It is just statement. Besides, you were clearly in trouble. Almost fell into lake, no?"
Bunny shifted uncomfortably. "I had it."
North raised an eyebrow but moved on. "Pitch had a large army," he said. "He did not have any such amount when we last saw him. Something happened. He got very powerful very fast and I want to know why."
Sandy waved an arm to get their attention. He fidgeted nervously. A few sand signs flashed overhead. A snowflake, a horse, a ball… Tooth shook her head as they were unable to keep up. He sighed and tried again. The snowflake reappeared. They all said "Jack" at the same time. Sandy nodded. The horse came back.
Sandy frowned and shook his head. After a moment, he got rid of the horse. Another series of images flashed by, but this one had a common theme. Spider, snake, fire, cliff edge, needle, rat…
"Fear?" Tooth guessed and Sandy nodded. He put his hands close together for a moment and then widened the gap. "A lot of fear?" Sandy nodded once more and then put up the snowflake again. "Jack has a lot of fear?" she said doubtfully. Despite her reservations against the idea, Sandy nodded firmly. "But he always seems so…"
"Stupidly brave," Bunny deadpanned.
"What does he fear?" North asked, frowning. Sandy shrugged and shook his head. "You do not know? Then how…?" Sandy gave them a look like it was obvious.
"He's young," Tooth said suddenly. Sandy nodded. "Think about his lifestyle. Too much of it is unstable. He might not fear normal things, but he has a lot of insecurities. Sandy, you think he has a lot of fear from that?" Sandy nodded grimly. "If Pitch has Jack and is using that against him, he could easily gather that much power. Jack's a winter spirit and a Guardian. What exactly is he afraid of, Sandy?"
The conversation went on, but Bunny tuned it out. Jack's fears. As far as Bunny knew, the only thing the kid couldn't handle that was substantial was water. A frown formed on his face as he thought more about it. He gathered up the pieces of wood in his hands and tucked them into his sash. Sandy noticed and sent him a confused look.
"Bunny, where you going?" North asked as Bunny walked away from the conversation. The other two paused, only now noticing that Bunny was leaving. "Do we make such boring conversation?" He laughed at his own attempt to lighten the mood but only elicited a small smile from Bunny.
"Nah, mate, I just want ta make sure the Warren's still safe." He held up the pieces of wood. "I'm goin' ta drop this off in Burgess afterwards. If there's any chance Jack got away from Pitch an' is safe, that's where 'e'd go if 'e couldn't fly." North nodded in agreement and waved him off. Bunny tapped his foot against the ground and jumped inside the resulting hole.
He felt bad about misdirecting his friends, but it seemed like it would have been worse to give them false hope that he might know where Jack had been all this time. The tunnel dropped him off at the lake they had just left. There were still plenty of signs of the struggle, but he ignored all of it and walked to the edge of the lake. He set the broken pieces of wood down and looked at the rest of it. The lake water looked the same as it had been a few hours ago when they had left. Any cracks had refrozen, most likely from the temperature. Bunny would have liked to believe that was the only reason but he was beginning to think this was all going to blow up in his face if he confirmed what he now believed.
He reached out and thumped his foot against the ice as hard as he could. After a few blows, the ice cracked and broke away. With the bit of uneasiness in his stomach growing, he said loudly, "Jack, if you're anywhere nearby, jus'…show me."
He waited a few minutes, shifting back and forth impatiently. He felt like this was going nowhere, and that feeling increased the longer he stood there. This was the only lead at the moment, though, and he didn't want to just give up without even waiting it out.
Suddenly, as fast as a rubber band snapping back into place, the ice he had cracked refroze. Bunny jumped at the sound, even though he had been expecting it. A muffled thud came from below the ice, repeating again and again. He crouched down, eyes wide, watching a small white shape ram into the ice. A fist. Bunny put his paw over the ice, stunned he hadn't figured it out sooner and guilty he hadn't stopped to do anything. The fist stopped banging and flattened out, matching Bunny's gesture on the opposite side of the ice. Horror crept over his face. They had been running past him the entire time and hadn't had a clue that the answer was right beneath their feet.
After a moment, Bunny stepped back. The palm slammed against the ice in a desperate gesture. "Back up," Bunny said authoritatively. The hand pulled away and Bunny used his foot to kick a hole out of the ice again. He dropped down onto his knees and stuck his paw through, groping around for Jack. A hand clasped his. Bunny jerked in surprise as ice formed around his paw. He resisted the urge to let go and instead gripped Jack's hand tighter. He got into a crouch and pulled up as hard as he could, trying to pull the teenager out. A layer of ice formed around his paw as soon as Jack's fingers were about to break the surface. Bunny growled and yanked harder, trying to get him out.
Nothing happened. The ice creaked a bit, but refroze as soon as Jack got any closer. Bunny made a frustrated noise and let go of Jack's hand. The teenager tried to grab his paw but Bunny pulled it out of the ice before he could, yanking it fast and hard to be able to break the surface. It iced over within a few seconds as Jack got close to it.
"Hang on for a minute," he said, putting his hand against the ice again. Jack's hand appeared on the other side, as if trying to push through the solid water for some small degree of contact. "I'll be right back, I swear. I'll get ya out 'a there."
He stood up and opened a tunnel, leaving his anxious friend behind.
Bunny had left.
If he had given up so easily, Jack would probably remain down here for a long time. The thought made him slam his hand against the ice again in frustration. More ice separated him from the outside world once again, a reminder that he was never going to get out. After all, no one else was going to help him. There wasn't anything they could do if the Guardian of Hope had abandoned him.
Why else would Bunny have left? While he wouldn't have picked Bunny as his ideal savior and it would have been certainly been embarrassing later, any sort of rescue would have been welcome as opposed to this life. The brief contact with another living person had been so tantalizingly bittersweet, seeing someone again after so long but realizing it was for naught and that they couldn't help. He was going to be alone for the rest of a very long life.
Bunny's foot slammed down on the ice. A moment later, he jumped into the cold water headfirst. Jack's eyes widened and he tried to warn him off, to tell him the water was too cold. A few trails of ice formed in the water around him from the small motions he made. Bunny ignored his gestures, closing the distance between the two and dragging something through the water after him. He pulled it up and reached out with a part of it wrapped around his hand. Jack realized it was a…blanket?
Bunny, determined as ever, brushed off Jack's last-ditch attempts to keep him from staying underwater any longer. He spread the blanket out in the water and then pushed it towards Jack. As quickly as he could, he swam around behind Jack and pulled it towards him, wrapping Jack in it. The spirit would have protested further except that any action at this point would have resulted in Bunny being frozen. Bunny ignored his look, grabbing edges of the blanket and tugging it around Jack. He ducked down for a second, bringing the blanket up from under his feet. Jack twitched slightly to try and untangle his legs but the rabbit gave him a look and Jack stilled.
After pulling hard on the blanket a few more times until Jack was almost entirely covered, Bunny pulled a final flap over Jack's head and grabbed the entire blanket-and-Jack bundle in his arms. Jack didn't move, remaining as still as possible. The blanket, soggy and wet as it was, seemed like one of the best things he had ever felt. It had been years since he had felt anything but the plants at the bottom of the lake and the water. Bunny held on tightly to the bundle and kicked forward with his legs, swimming to the surface. Without pausing, he threw himself and Jack out of the lake's murky depths.
Jack tensed in his arms, waiting for a crack as he froze the surface once more. To his surprise, he felt himself land on Bunny, who hit the ground on his back. Jack refrained from moving but felt Bunny stand hurriedly, pulling Jack with him. He dropped down to his knees a few meters away from the lake and set Jack down gently. Bunny started tearing away the blanket from him, uncovering the winter spirit and releasing him from the confines of the wet fabric. Jack barely moved, eyes wide and unmoving. Bunny's brow furrowed in worry.
"Jack? Jack, can ya hear me? Yer outta the water." He shook his shoulder, trying to get his attention.
Jack shifted, wobbly arms moving to push himself up. His chest moved like he was inhaling to respond, but stopped suddenly. His breath caught in his throat and he fell to the side, all of his stomach muscles and his diaphragm contracting. Everything that had been in his digestive system before being trapped came up, frozen solid. Bits of something small and solid from his lungs came out with it. He heaved repeatedly, crying from the effort of it. Bunny rubbed his back, not entirely sure what he should be doing. Jack started hacking hoarsely, bits of blood dripping from his mouth.
"Stop coughin'," Bunny ordered. Jack stopped, more out of surprise than anything else. He looked up at Bunny in confusion. "It sounds like ya've got ice in yer lungs. That's goin' ta rip yer throat to shreds as it comes up." He nodded at the blood on the ground. "It already is. I know it's goin ta hurt, but just let it stay there for now. I'm sorry, there's not much more we can do until it melts. It'll be like havin' one 'a the worst cases 'a pneumonia ever."
Jack nodded, biting his lip. He tried to breathe deeply a few times, trying his best to avoid coughing. Bunny started rubbing his back again, staying silent. He wanted to go get the rest of the Guardians, but leaving Jack on his own didn't seem like the best idea and the kid needed a lot of medical attention. They couldn't go to the North Pole. It was cold and wouldn't help melt the ice in his lungs at all. The Warren was warm enough that it would do just that. He could go get the rest of them as soon as he had Jack settled.
With that in mind, he stood up to make a tunnel. Jack lunged out, grabbing hold of his leg before he could. A sound made its way past his throat, hoarse and unintelligible as a word. His lips were saying, "No!" and that was the only reason Bunny knew what he had been meaning to get across.
Bunny knelt down beside him. "It's okay," he started but Jack was shaking his head.
The winter spirit swallowed a few times before trying to speak again. His hand was still gripping Bunny's leg. His lips moved frantically. "Please, I… I can't… Alone…"
Bunny shook his head. "Yer comin' wi' me. We're goin' ta the Warren."
Jack nodded in relief, relaxing his grip. Bunny gently reached over and pulled his opposite side closer, lightly knocking Jack into Bunny's lap. With the teenager flipped, he was able to get an arm under Jack's knee and another one around his back. He lifted him easily and stood up. Just as he was about to tap the ground, the four pieces of Jack's staff caught his eye. He moved over and tapped the ground there instead. The staff fell through and Bunny jumped in after.
He landed as gently as he could but Jack still flinched, curling up further. Bunny crouched and tried to set the teenager down. Jack wrapped his fingers through Bunny's fur and held on tightly. Bunny blinked in surprise and tilted his head, trying to see Jack's expression. The winter spirit turned away, burying his face in Bunny's chest. Stunned, Bunny sat back against the rock wall of the Warren with Jack in his arms. For him to respond this way, the damage that had been done to him must have cut very deeply.
"What happened?" Bunny murmured.
Jack tried to take several breaths to speak, but the air wouldn't go into his lungs like it should have. He gave up and mouthed the words instead. "Animal trap. I was surprised…dropped the staff as I went under…" His shoulders tensed and several of his limbs started twitching in a panicked gesture. Bunny rubbed his back a few times, trying to soothe him. "How…? How long…?"
"Almost two years," Bunny said hesitantly. A sob broke free from Jack. He cried openly, entire body shuddering as he curled up further. "I'm so, so sorry. I didn't know. I woulda… I woulda come immediately if I had known where ya were…"
Jack shook his head and whimpered, sobbing harder. Bunny wasn't sure what that meant, but his ears dipped in guilt. If Jack hadn't been a Guardian, if Pitch had never tried to take back over… How long would he have been under the ice? Would Jack have ever gotten out?
"Okay, Jack," he said softly. "You're goin' ta have ta stay here fer a while. The heat is goin' ta have ta warm the ice in yer lungs up. Sorry, but I don't trust havin' ya anywhere that's not one 'a our 'omes, an' mine's the warmest. It won't take more'n a few days, I think." He rubbed his nose against the side of Jack's head.
"Wait…" Jack ducked his head back down before he finished his thought.
"Yeah, I know it's not fair, but yer goin' ta have ta."
He shook his head.
"I know ya don't want ta, but it's really fer the best."
Jack repeated himself, sobs slowing down as he raised his head. "Please don't go."
Bunny paused for a second, not even able to form words. There were things he had never believed would happen, that he never even considered they would change. Jack's stability as a loner was one of those things. His tendency of fight or flight, standing on his own, and always, always, dealing with problems by himself were unwavering.
"Jack," he said awkwardly, "I know I'm not…the first one ya'd turn ta if ya were in trouble. I can go get one 'a the others."
Jack shook his head, acting much like a young child. He hiccupped, sniffling to try and suppress his tears. He scrubbed a hand across his face.
"Really, it won't even take ten seconds. I'll be back b'fore ya even know I was gone."
"No others-" He broke off as something cracked in his lungs. He winced, breathing deeply to try to stop it from causing him more pain. Bunny held him tighter, breath ruffling his hair. Another sob broke past Jack's barriers and he shuddered, mouth clamped closed to muffle the sound. "I can't…" he said, crying hard again.
"It's alright," Bunny murmured. He guessed that Jack felt embarrassed and didn't want anyone else to see him like this. "I'll tell 'em later." He nuzzled the side of his head again. Jack took a deep breath, controlling some of the tears. "They were in the middle 'a war plans, last I saw. All ready to storm Pitch's lair an' raid the place ta get ya back."
Jack smiled through his pain. Bunny nudged him again and the smile got wider. Bunny smirked and batted him with one of his ears. Jack laughed, butting his head against Bunny's chest in retribution. Bunny whacked him with his own head, which was much larger than Jack's. Jack tried to bite back a giggle. Bunny smiled and reached out to wipe away Jack's tears.
"Cryin' doesn't suit ya."
Jack remained silent but rubbed his head once more against Bunny's shoulder. The thanks went unsaid, but it wasn't hard to hear.
Bunny sighed, letting some of the stress fade away. "I'm sorry this happened ta ya. D'ya want to just rest right now?"
Jack shook his head firmly. "Two years of sitting still," he mouthed.
Bunny nodded in understanding. "Let's get ya cleaned up, then. You're a mess. The others won't even recognize ya."
Jack started to stand up. Bunny grabbed his arm and helped him. The rabbit led the way across the Warren to a small pool of clear water. Jack tensed up as he saw the liquid and turned away immediately. Bunny pulled him down where was right there. Jack looked pointedly away from the water while Bunny grabbed a cloth by the side of the pool and got it wet. He wrung it out, then reached over and started to wipe away the dried dirty lake water. Jack winced and closed his eyes against the feel of water. Bunny ran a comforting hand through his hair.
"You'll be alright," he said, calming down the spirit further. Jack shook his head, but it was just to shake off the cloth.
"I didn't think anyone was coming," Jack said soundlessly. He smiled at Bunny weakly.
The wet cloth whacked him in the back of the head. "Didn't I say somethin' about the cryin'? Don't start preppin' for a cryin' session," he scolded. "If ya ever get inta trouble again, ya better come straight here. I'll help ya sort it out."
Jack rubbed his head. "Sorry, I'm not always a crying mess."
"Ya just drowned fer two years straight. Ya got the right to be a cryin' mess."
Jack frowned suddenly, starting to stand. His breath caught in his throat and he hissed, fighting against a cough. Bunny stood up, dropping the cloth. "My staff…"
"I dropped it by the tunnel we came in through. It's in four pieces, but…"
Jack waved that off. "I can fix it."
Bunny paused and then picked up the cloth again. "Let's finish cleanin' ya up, then. Sit."
"Jus' get it over wi'."
Jack hesitantly sat back down. Bunny went back to wiping all the grime off. To Jack's embarrassment, he ended up lying naked on the rocks by the pool while the stone golems washed his clothes and so Bunny could clean off the areas underneath the clothes. Jack did, however, draw the line at a certain point and cleaned the rest of himself off. Bunny failed to see where his embarrassment was coming from, muttering about the ridiculousness of humans and their clothes. Jack swallowed down a grin.
He was definitely not grinning, though, when Bunny informed him he was on bed rest. He protested for the next hour, but Bunny threatened him multiple times to the point where Jack just gave up and sulked. His clothes were returned around that time, improving his mood slightly. He fixed his staff and promptly covered the entire Warren in a light dusting of snow. It was Jack's turn to smirk while Bunny glowered at him. While it had been a result of power build up and a total accident, it was still funny, even more so because Bunny couldn't yell at him for it when he hadn't been able to use his powers to do anything but freeze himself for two years.
Despite his attempts at acting like everything was fine, he went to sleep only a few hours after that. He curled up on a pile of moss in the middle of a conversation while Bunny's back was turned and was asleep by the time Bunny glanced over to see why he wasn't answering.
He sat by the sleeping boy, patiently letting him catch up on his sleep. The ice he had heard lodged in Jack's lungs was probably filling it up to the point that he couldn't get out enough breath to speak. It had probably damaged his respiratory system as well. There was no way it couldn't have. The water was just going to have to melt and come out on its own. Hopefully, when Jack's emotions and fears weren't running rampant and there was a way to control his power, he wouldn't have trouble coughing up the water as it melted. At least, Bunny hoped so. The ice could also melt and Jack might not be able to cough it up, which would mean he would essentially be drowning all the time. Bunny assumed he couldn't die from something like that, considering where he'd been the last two years, but there wasn't any need to test that theory.
It occurred to him with a jolt that he had left the Pole hours ago, told them he was going to come right back, and hadn't been seen since. They might want an update on what exactly he was doing, wouldn't they?
Bunny looked at Jack uncertainly. He didn't want to just leave the boy here and go get the Guardians, but he couldn't bring the Guardians here when Jack didn't want to see them. With a sigh, he reached over and gently shook Jack's shoulder. "Jack."
His eyes blinked open and he looked around, clearly having not expected to fall asleep. He pushed himself up on one hand into a sitting position. After a moment, he dipped his head and his shoulders heaved for a moment in a controlled manner. Water droplets splattered onto the ground. Bunny smiled.
"That's a good sign," he said. "Look, I kinda left the others an' didn't really tell 'em where I was goin' so they might be a bit concerned right now." Jack smirked. "Mind if I…?" Jack shook his head and gestured with one hand for him to do what he needed to do. "They're goin' ta want ta see ya."
Jack barely hesitated before nodding. He was certainly looking better than he had before.
"I'll go bring 'em over." Bunny got to his feet. Jack didn't move, but his gaze flickered up to follow him. Bunny paused for a moment, seeing a blankness in Jack's expression that didn't belong there. He was trying to hide something.
Of course he was still hurt on the inside, and not just physically. He was probably too scared to be alright for a long time, if he would ever be the same again. In all his years, he had never had anyone to be with when he suffered the aftershocks of shocks of something happening to him. Now had to have been the worst thing to occur and he finally had a family. Bunny couldn't believe that anything worse could have happened to Jack after all of this.
Jack hadn't even remembered his family for a long time. It wasn't until he saw his memories again that he knew what he had forgotten. His pain was not something Bunny would take lightly or would be quick to underestimate, not when his past troubles were combined with his present ones. A family could have been all that was needed to keep Jack out of this mess in the first place. A family wouldn't have waited years before going out to look for him. A family wouldn't have been unobservant enough to not realize their youngest member was in danger. A family would have kept Jack close, not close enough to be oppressive but close enough to let him know he was actually wanted.
Did Jack know that? Why would he? They had only dragged him out of his comfort zone in the middle of winter because someone told them to.
Bunny crouched down by Jack again and hugged him. Jack tensed for a moment before relaxing against his fur. "I'm proud 'a ya, ya know that?" he said quietly. Jack's arms wrapped around him tightly. "Really, truly, proud. An' I'm not goin' ta let anythin' happen ta ya again."
Jack raised his head and smiled at him.
It was going to be alright.
Two months later
North walked beside Tooth as they went to the Globe Room. She was peering over the edge of the railing as she hovered, curious as to what was going on below. There was order to the chaos, of course, but the only ones who could tell the difference between organization and random clutter were the people who worked there. It was always different, depending on when someone visited. Something new happened every day at the workshop.
Now what made it different was the lack of undivided attention. All of the yetis and many of the elves were sparing several glances a minute to look up and see if they could spot something. They had been repeatedly disappointed by not seeing anything. That didn't stop them from routinely doing it, hearts too big to do anything less.
Tooth glanced at North."They're looking for Jack?"
"He should be here soon…" North said uncertainly. "We will send Bunny to get him if he does not show up in hour."
Tooth nodded, sighing. "It's not right for a boy his age to be living on his own."
North laughed. "Tooth, he is older than any mortal adult! How old must he be for him to not be a 'boy'?"
Tooth gave him a look. "You don't give presents to adults but you always give one to Jack. You're trying to tell me that you don't consider him a boy?"
"Ah…am making up for lost time."
"I think you made it up three years ago with the amount of presents, including any that were less than spectacular from when he was mortal! Don't tell me that's the only reason why!"
"Jack is special case!"
"On your list or in age?" She smiled sadly. "We all think of him as a teenager, North. I know he probably doesn't want us to think of him as needing our help, but we all do it anyway. We're kind of his surrogate family now and we plan to stay that way. It's alright for us to take preference of one child over all the rest in this case. He's ours."
"Is it also alright for us to leave child under frozen water for years?" North asked quietly. "Or is it just an exception for this one child to never pay him any attention when he needs it?"
There was a pause before her response came. "That's not what happened, North, and you know it."
"Is how all of us feel."
"I know," she said softly. "We'll make up for it." A few moments passed. "What's up with Bunny?" she asked suddenly, turning the conversation in another direction. "I understand he's trying to keep Jack safe, but I thought he was going to cause one of us damage when we all wanted to go back with him to the Warren. Nothing could be so bad that Bunny would be that protective…" She trailed off like she was thinking something but didn't want to say it out loud.
North said it for her. "…over Jack?"
She grimaced and nodded.
"Something happened to them, that is for sure." He smiled. "It may be for best that something happened to bring the two together. They were too lonely, lost in their own worlds."
Tooth scoffed. "I don't think this is for the best, no matter what the result was."
Something crashed on the level above them. They both stopped and looked up in confusion. A strong breeze swept through, rattling windows and anyone walking by. The tinkering of the yetis stopped as they listened carefully. Laughter filled the workshop as someone's irritable mutterings became audible. Something else hit the ground and an apology was shouted out before the laughing child continued on his way.
"Get back here!"
"Don't tempt me! Come on, you're goin' ta wreck somethin' else!"
"Hey, you hit the yeti, not me, and you didn't even say sorry!"
"You knocked him off course, ya little runt!"
"Sure, we can go with – ack, sorry, Sandy, didn't see you there – that. I'm positive the truth is more like your coordination isn't that good and you just ran into the poor guy-"
"Ya were better off when the ice hadn't melted in yer lungs!"
"You were better off not being a stuck up moron all the time!"
North and Tooth exchanged looks. Never let it be said that Jack wasn't a fast healer.
a/n: This chapter was called "Alone" because…uh…HE WAS ALONE. Duh. It's something that is an everyday thing to him, so much so that he probably doesn't even think about it that much anymore, but when it suddenly becomes that drastic…he's going to be upset. Why did he not go totally bonkers, you ask? Because he's been unseen and unheard for three hundred damn years, that's why. As Bunny said in the interlude, he knows how to entertain himself. Did I write this phase just to show that? …Sure. Did I write this phase just to have that fluff brother moment at the end? Of course not! (YES!)
Yep, this is over. Sorry. It was a lot of fun to write because I didn't have to write it in order at all. Seriously. I wrote part of this one, phase one, phase four, interlude, the rest of this one (didn't go to sleep to finish it, mind you), phase three, and then phase two. Definitely not in order. Loads of fun to write it like that. I'd love to do it again but I don't have another plot like this where I don't have to be really strict about what goes where and chapter length.