A Note from me: I apologize for the late delay; the previous chapter that I'd posted was about where my ideas for this story ran dry. And, needless to say, this chapter came along with a bit more difficulty because of it. But now it is here, and I hope you can enjoy it.
If you've seen my work, and like it, and are a bit familiar with Phoenix Wright (rather, Apollo Justice), please feel free to read and review my newest story, 'The Life for Me.'
The other Guardians had retired for the night, bodies worn, minds flooded with thoughts and ideas on how to proceed with the information having been received (if rather crudely) from yesterday. But Bunny would not sleep. His mind was racing with another kind of thought. Jack Frost. Sure, it revolved around what events had transpired, but he was no longer thinking of peaceful negotiation, slowly coaxing the boy to see their ways
That possibility was far past; Pitch Black had completely brainwashed the boy, no doubt, said all the things the boy had been dying to hear for hundreds and hundreds of years.
This thought passed the bunny's mind, and somberly curved his fervid temper downwards a notch, something that, it appeared, only the thought of the winter spirit could temper. Jack had been searching for companionship, or even just a friend – just a soul to speak to in a world of unseeing eyes – and it was never given to him. That desperate need for another in his life was twisted and molded so perfectly by Pitch; he coaxed the boy with a sob story of his own life, how he was imprisoned, left to rot like a half-dead animal – probably without even revealing the criminal intent behind his imprisonment. Jack would connect himself with the dark spirit, pity him, and perhaps even confide in him. This, Aster was sure of; the Nightmare King's cunning was far too great that no-one – especially not a lonely, forsaken child – could resist.
Antarctica had been a place he had far been used to. Aster's surprise wouldn't even be altered if the two had already packed their things and moved shop. He was prepared for either; after all, the only thing he needed was Jack Frost's scent. Everything else was just a matter of following it; he followed it exactly to where it had been: the castle of ice; however, Jack's scent trail there was stale. A fresher, brighter-blue scent was carried into the wind, across the bunny's nostrils. They lead outward, probably towards nowhere. Poor thing probably sneaks out more than necessary just to taste something familiar: loneliness; he'd been so used to it for so long, and Aster couldn't help but feel that Jack still may seem that way. He could only imagine the boy was treated like a tool, or perhaps smothered too much.
And the spring spirit's assumptions were correct; Jack was alone, swathed in cornflower over his snow-colored hair, over his arms, chest… his legs were bound by brown and twine, feet bare; he'd always liked to feel the ground he walk upon, so shoes would never do for him. His arms rested upon his knees, bright, ocean-deep eyes now low and sad. Yes, he'd escaped from Pitch for a while. He was afraid, alert, anticipating. As his lover said: those Guardians wanted him to hurt Pitch later, not Pitch, and only the man in black was harmed, not him. If the Guardians wanted Jack Frost, they could get Jack Frost. No middle-man. But he sighed. Giving himself up to the Guardians would mean that they could simply hurt Pitch thereafter. It was truly Pitch they wanted, no…? Or was it Jack alone? But what would a group of Guardians want with him?
So time passed, his mind a knot of conflicted emotions and tied-up ideas – the thought that Pitch would be just so upset after Jack would fight. He'd be distressed, angry, maybe even cry, and it'd be all Jack's fault. He sighed a strained sigh, blue eyes of melancholy cast out to the ardent full moon, feet just inches away from the edge – from falling off, falling down, falling away. And he was right where it all began, where his life began to change; this was where he met Pitch Black. The thought easily ran by to have himself fall, die, fade away into the cold and blistering nothingness… he'd had three hundred years – over one hundred-thousand days, countless more hours, nearly-infinitesimal amounts of seconds, instants – for that thought to cross his mind: falling away, but he could never bring himself to do it. Now of all times, he couldn't do it; it'd be a selfish thing. His life was finally getting better. There was no longer a reason to feel so lonely, to feel so hopeless.
And it just kept getting better, didn't it?
There was no denying the heavy thump of the Easter Bunny's great forepaws. Not again. His pale grip tightened on his staff, face flushed in a red sort of anger, though it really wasn't anger at all. It was embarrassment. He was in no mood to confront that Guardian; he didn't have the energy, all of it sapped and lapped away by great, hungry vortexes of mouths, swallowing it as soon as it replenished. But he had no reason to be upset.
The thumps grew gentle, almost embracing, until they slowed to a walk, shoulders pushed forewords in the alignment of a quadruped. His eyes met a cornflower back, hunched, legs drawn; spring green met blue, blue so close to the end, so close to falling off, falling down. He approached with caution. One step, his eyes glanced back up – Jack's body remained the same, not tense, not evasive. Another step, and the response remained. Perhaps he wasn't even aware of the rabbits presence. He lowered the rope.
The figure slumped, sighed. His body reclined back, white hands burying into the chaffing, crunching ivory. His body shifted. Through white hair, white features, an icy eye met Aster's. Tears were in his eyes, brimming with sorrow, an uptight exhaustion. He didn't speak a word.
And, of course, Bunny was not prepared for this. His great ears drooped in a sort of confusion, sadness; the boy looked broken. "Jack, uh…" He murmured. "I expected you to… uh… fight back."
"No…" His response came from a throat as if never used, weak and cracked. "Too tired." He groaned, one hand taken to the side of his temple, the sheer amount of thought having overwhelmed him. The two possibilities – that they either wanted Pitch Black or Jack Frost – having expended his mind so quickly.
Bunny's furry eyebrows knit. "Just a day ago, you were so desperate to beat me up –"
"You were hurting Pitch."
"And what does Pitch Black matter to you?!" Aster blurted out in shock, the absolution anchoring Jack's think voice unsettling and raw. "He's scum; he's… brainwashed you, Jack! Open your eyes! Now, why would you be so far away from your home – away from him – if you were scared I'd hurt him, huh?"
Jack grew no more offended; instead, he appeared more ashamed. He buried his head deeper in his knees, his white grip tightening on his staff. "I'm the problem – I'm the reason you guys wanted to hurt him; it's because you'd wanted me all along, to hurt him…" His body twisted, white hair and white skin smothered by a cloak of cornflower blue, eyes ice-blue and cold, glaring at the spring spirit. "Isn't it?" He asked sharply, like an icicle. Bunny's few passing words made all of his mind up, the rabbit's confrontational attitude doing no better to brighten Jack's mind.
Aster was taken back. Was that a challenge? "What does it matter to ya, mate?" His voice was low, experimental, and cautious. Jack's attitude had fluctuated so quickly, it was as if the cliff-side itself was thin ice, cracking, snapping. He could no longer assume that the boy would come along quietly.
"You leave us alone." Jack warned, rising, pale feet crunching into the snow below, toes curling and tense, mimicking the actions from his fingers above as they tightly gripped his trusted wooden crook. "You can't have me. And you can't take me away from him; I won't let you." He growled. From behind him, a dry, cold wind had begun to whip up from the mountains far away, his precious cold and sleet churning through the blasts, circling about the pale blue energy now concentrating in Jack's crook. "If you keep trying to take me, fine; but as long as I'm here, and Pitch is in my heart, I will give you that fight you want so bad."
Aster would perhaps had laughed, had not given this situation. Still, through buck-teeth, he retorted, "Tough words, kid." His gray paws tightened around his rope, fashioned into a lasso. "But I'm sure you ain't in Pitch's heart."
"Liar!" The boy cried out, "Pitch loves me; you would never understand because all you see him for is darkness. And if all he is, is darkness, the fine; some of that is with me now, and some of my ice is in him."
Aster's eyes narrowed in disgust. Already, he'd known in his gut that Pitch Black had manipulated Jack Frost, by making him feel as though he belonged, but making him eternally loyal to him…? "You're mated…?"
"Yes." Jack hissed out with an exasperated pride, a grin formed on his smooth features. "Yes we are. That's how I know he loves me – how dare you even suggest he doesn't. You don't know a thing."
"Well…" Aster trailed off, one paw gripping the rope still, the other brushing through his short fur. "Don't really know what t' say, except… huh… What can I say?" He mumbled to himself a bit to mull over some thoughts. "You're really worried that we're gonna hurt him, right? Cuz we're comin' after ya, 'n not him."
Jack nodded. "Because you want to hurt him by taking me away, because you know I love him. You want to ruin his morale." But the boy paused a moment. Why would Aster suggest they didn't love one-another, then? "You made me tell! You… You wanted to test how much we loved… each-other… and now I confirmed we did… God, I'm such an idiot!" He hissed, pressing a hand to his forehead. "That we're mates – it's all just ammunition to use against him…!" He growled to himself.
And honestly, Aster didn't follow any of it. Jack was a Guardian, and nothing more. This wasn't some over-elaborate plan to destroy Pitch physically as well as emotionally – he couldn't even imagine that Pitch Black's manipulation would go so far as mating; there was no test. But nonetheless, he took this moment as an opening, wrapping the lasso around Jack's right wrist, the surprise and force causing him to drop his crook.
Jack cried out, his non-dominate hand unable to call forth his weapon to him, and Bunny quickly seized the opportunity to take Jack's captured wrist by his own paw, assuring he couldn't call forth his staff to him. And he made quick work to user the remaining rope to restrain Jack's other wrist. He collected the staff thereafter.
"Hope you don't mind, mate, that it gotta be like this. But don't worry: think of it as… saving Pitch. Savin' him the trouble of havin' t' get beaten up by us constantly. Now we got you; we'll leave him alone."
"You keep lying!" Jack cried out, struggling uselessly to bring his staff to him. "You won't leave him alone – all of this is to hurt him in the end! And you're using me to do it. When's your final strike on him, huh? Months and months after worrying himself sick over me?! Years? Decades?!"
Aster rolled his eyes. "Kid! Kid! Lemme let you in on a little idea: what if – now, just bear with me here – what if this whole thing has nothing t' do with Pitch? What if we just wanted you?"
Jack's struggling lessened, and only the slowness of sadness replaced the high-strung fights in him like amber over a prehistoric insect. "Then… I don't know… He's still going to be upset when I'm gone, but if you won't hurt him…"
"I won't. If you come with me peacefully, we'll leave him alone, okay?"
Jack hesitated; his eyes grew downcast, glancing back to the direction of the dark-and-ice castle. It was for the best, he thought, and made no more move to fight.
Aster, however, did not directly take the boy back to the workshop. Knowing that he'd gone almost completely rogue to get Jack Frost would not bode well with the other three, so he decided it best to wait out the night with the winter spirit in custody.
He sat complacently on a bed of grass made for him, hands still restrained. His staff had been confined to the workshop secretly (it didn't take much stealth to keep the jolly Christmas spirit snoozing), as to make sure Jack truly couldn't escape.
Over the hours, his melancholy and accepting attitude had evolved into an irritated silence. And by that, there was not a peep from the winter spirit's throat. Only hard glares from his icy blue eyes every time Aster glanced up. He'd notice occasionally that the boy would gaze around the room, his eyes meeting the thick dirt walls, grassy trimmings around the windows. It was a very humble place, but it was where Aster called home.
Aster who, in his watchfulness, made a separate bed of grass across the room on the far side of the dirt walls, speaking nothing, and only rising to eat. He'd offered Jack many options of food, but the silently-irritated spirit would have none of it.
So hours passed in silence. Bunny had mostly mulled over all that had transpired in the past two days.
"You really do love him, don't you." He finally said.
Jack hesitated, judging whether to keep the air of suppressed lividity, or to break his own silence. His reply was a hum of approval: "Mm-hm."
"Jack… you know what I am, right? What the Tooth Fairy is, Sandman, and Santa Claus are, right?"
"We all have somethin' in common."
That suppressed lividity was beginning to fall farther from 'suppressed.' "I know." He finally rang out. "You're all Guardians. You were all formed together because the Man in the Moon was worried that Pitch was going to envelop the world in darkness, so he used you all to banish him."
"So Pitch's told you."
"Jack…" Aster sighed, trailing off. He scooted himself closer to the winter spirit. "I know why Pitch chose you. You keep thinking that we're using you t' get back at him," And Jack begun to shake his head slowly, attempting to block out the Bunny's incessant banter. "But really – and I know it's hard to believe, but – he's been using you t' get back at us."
The younger sprite's teeth ground together, his eyes brimming with frostbitten malice. "And why should I believe you?! You've kidnapped me – barged into my mate's and my own house with the sole intention of tearing us apart, and you've put him away before! Why should I believe you?!" He cried, stressed tears beginning to stream down his cheeks, flushed with anger and frustration.
"Because you never heard our side of the story, Jack." Aster placed his hands onto Jack's shoulders, to which he struggled slightly, one paw absentmindedly brushing away a cascading tear. Jack flinched away from the touch, and it was then that Bunny realized that he had just done a sincere expression of affection. His hands remained on the white-haired spirit's shoulders, dazed, and a bit embarrassed.
"What side do you have? Why could you possibly want just me, huh? Why could anyone possibly want just me after five hundred years…?" He asked curtly, wiping away his own tears with his jacket, shifting away roughly from Aster's loose embrace.
"You never once asked yourself that after Pitch found you?" The spring spirit's fiery voice was now surprisingly smooth and even, well-tempered and controlled, though his expression tilted slightly towards disappointment. "If we'd gotten there first, I'm sure you would've swayed – you would've swayed to anything that moved.
Jack hesitated once more, pausing in search of a rebuttal. "I didn't believe Pitch at first; I thought he was too good to be true, but the days passed and he was still there, with me. And then he kissed me…" He sighed, realizing just how unreasonable that all sounded. "I… I'll listen to your side of the story, unbiased." He concluded.
Aster was, once again, taken aback. With all the attention the boy was suddenly getting, he couldn't say he was surprised that Jack was so… moody. He'd probably interacted so little with other people, he was only now getting a sense of character… or being with others enough to remember his old character: Jackson Overland Frost. "Well…" Bunny trailed off. "I don't know where to start, so I guess I'll say the big guns first." He sighed, clasped his paws together. "Jack… the big reason we've come after you, that probably Pitch's come after you, was because you had a big role to play after all this time. I mean, sure, you must've been lonely, but it was all to prep you so you could see what niche you'd dig out for yourself later on in life – heck, we didn't even know that role that you'd play…"
Jack knit his dark eyebrows together. "I don't really understand…"
"What if I told you…" Bunny sighed, "What if I told you… you were one of us?"