Author's Note: So, what is this? This is the first chapter in a prequel fic to the Coming Of Age story. To put it simply, it's going to focus on what it was like for Bunny to raise Jack. There is going to be a bit of plot introduce in later chapters, but it will mostly be a slice of life fic.
"Bunny?!" North called out as he shut the door behind him. "Bunny, are you here?!" He hadn't seen the painter for nearly a week and it was time for the weekly checkup.
North knew that Bunny - really named Aster, but North had never cared for that name - liked his privacy, but at the rate he was going, North's friend was going to become a lone hermit. It was understandable, given that Aster was trying to keep secret that he was a Pooka. He had limits on where he could go without a disguise. However, the Pooka was still keeping to himself far more than he should. The only social connections Aster had were North, Sandy, Tooth, and Ombric.
If not for them, the Pooka would stay inside the house nearly all of the time. It gravely worried not only North, but Sandy and Tooth as well, which was why they agreed once a week that one of them should poke their head in to be certain Aster was still alive.
The Pooka could keep painting for days on end without sleeping or eating. It was for this reason that North made sure to check on Aster and force him to take a break if necessary.
Suddenly, North found himself pinned to the wall as Aster tackled him and placed a hand over his mouth.
"Will ya hush up!" Aster snapped in a whisper as he glared and looked ready to strangle him. "And stop calling me that!"
North blinked as he looked Aster over. Normally, Aster's shirts were neatly buttoned and tucked into his pants - but it was now hanging loose, with the top unbuttoned. There were also stains on both the shirt and pants and upon closer look, North could see lines under Aster's eyes.
To put it simply, Aster was a mess. Even his usual complaint about his nickname lacked energy. North narrowed his eyes in concern as he yanked Aster's hand off his mouth. "Bunny, what is wrong?" he still said in his normal volume. "Did something-"
"Nothing's wrong!" Aster snapped irritated and didn't seem to realize he was raising his own voice. "But I finally got the kit to sleep and ya big mouth is goin' to-"
A baby's cry echoed throughout the house and Aster winced. "Thanks," he muttered sourly as he let go of North and retreated back into the house.
Curious, North followed the baby's cry into Aster's bedroom. In the middle of the room stood the Pooka whispering comforting words and rubbing a baby's back. The baby stopped crying as he saw North over Aster's shoulder and blinked his bright blue eyes at him.
"Bunny, is that baby?" North asked in awe.
"Naw North, It's a little joey I got at the shop." Aster replied as he positioned the baby in his arms. "Course, it's a baby."
"But what is he doing here?" North asked he approached and the baby gave a grin.
"I found him abandoned in an alleyway when I was gettin' back from yer place." Aster gave a sigh as he took a seat in a chair and sat the baby in his lap. "Been carin' for him ever since."
North sat on the bed and frowned as he looked the baby over. "He is small for age."
Aster gave a sad smile. "Trust me, he's better than he was when I first found him." The baby started to tug on the Pooka's chest in an attempt to climb up, but Aster held him in place. "Didn't think he'd last too long at the foundling home."
"Does he have name?"
"Not a proper one, but I've been callin' him Jack."
"Cause the little devil keeps tryin' to climb everythin', like those Jacknape monkeys. Oi!" Aster glanced down at Jack who was laughing as he tugged the rabbit like ears.
North frowned as he watched his friend. He couldn't take his eyes off Jack's white hair. "Is he a Lunarian?"
Aster forgot about being annoyed and narrowed his eyes. "I'm assumin' half, since I've never seen a Lunarian with blue eyes, have ya?"
North nodded. Lunarians looked almost exactly like humans except they tended to have white or silver hair - barring the royal family that whose hair tended to black.
There were very few Lunarians in Santoff Clausen, and the few that did were all high ranking nobles up to and including the royal family. Lunarians were similar to Pookas in that they could live far longer than a normal human and aged slower. The only humans that could live as long as a Lunarian were ones that studied magic like North, Tooth and Ombric - but they too were few.
North thoughtfully reached out and stroked Jack's head who gave a smile in response.
"You are sure he was abandoned?"
"He was left to die, alone in an alleyway, in the middle of winter," said Aster bitterly. "Doesn't take a detective to figure that out."
North ran a hand through his beard. He understood Aster's anger. It was difficult for Pookas to have children and it was the same for Lunarians.
It served as a counterbalance for their long lives and it was because of this that it was considered a near-miracle for the late king and queen to have had the prince. With that said, it was not unheard for a half Lunarian and half human child to be abandoned. It was a social taboo for a Lunarian to marry a human and it was not only due to social class. However, a more important question haunted North's mind.
"So," North said slowly. "You are adopting him?"
Aster choked. "What?! No!" Jack gave a whimper at the sudden shout and Aster quickly hushed him. "I'm simply goin' to care for him until the tyke is strong enough for a proper family to adopt him."
North raised an eyebrow, but he kept his doubts to himself. It was unlikely that Jack would be adopted by a human family and he and Aster both knew it.
Even if the city wasn't trying to recover from Pitch's attack, anyone who looked at Jack would instantly know he was at least part Lunarian. Few families would dare adopt a child who could cause issues with the noble families.
On the other hand, from his experience, North highly doubted any of the few noble Lunarian families would adopt Jack who was clearly born out of wedlock and was most likely abandoned for that reason. To put it simply, little Jack was an outcast, but he had found himself in the hands of Bunny who was also an outcast.
"Although," North thought. "That is not bad thing." It would not be easy, but perhaps little Jack would be good for Aster. Losing his clan had been hard on Aster, and his friend had been doing well to adjust to the city. However, due to being forced to hide the truth that he was the last Pooka, Aster had been staying cooped up in his house. He needed his time to grieve, but North feared Aster would shut himself off from the whole world, and perhaps eventually from the few friends he had.
However, a child could let the Pooka recall happier times and take his mind off his loss. There was only so much he, Tooth and Sandy could do and a child could provide healing that no one else could.
Aster would insist it wouldn't work, but perhaps with the proper encouragement… North took his coat up and hung it on the hook. "I will help you."
Aster shook his head. "Naw, North I'm fine."
"You are not fine, you are mess," North insisted. "Baby is much work and nothing wrong with getting hands from friends." He smirked. "Tooth and Sandy would agree."
Aster's face was emotionless, but then Jack chose to tug at the Pooka's shirt which caused him to pause. "I do need to get a proper cradle for the anklebiter."
North blinked. "No cradle? Where has he been sleeping?"
"The basket," Aster said as he pointed the a large basket on the bed overflowing with thick blankets.
North choked. "Bunny, baby can not sleep in basket!"
"Stop calling me that name, and I know that," Aster hissed. "But I haven't exactly had a chance to find a cradle." The baby then giggled and tugged at Aster's ears again. "'Course, don't see the point since he refuses to sleep," Aster grumbled.
"I will make you cradle," North declared. "Could even give it engine, so it rocks itself-"
"No engine, of any kind," Aster said firmly. "A regular wooden cradle is all I need."
North waved his hand as he began to head to the door. "Fine, fine, plain wood it is." He turned his head. "I shall be back this evening with cradle, Bunny. Oh! And toys as well."
"What? North, he doesn't need-" North tuned his friend's complaints out as he shut the door and headed back to his shop. He had work to do, and that was after he informed Sandy and Tooth of the Pooka's new predicament.
Aster shook his head and looked to Jack. "And I suppose you'd like to be fed, eh?"
Jack blinked at him curiously. "I'll take that as a yes," said Aster as he scooped him up and carried him into the kitchen. He supported Jack with one hand as he warmed and prepared a bottle with the other. With the amount of milk Jack was going through, Aster began to wonder if he should increase his order from the milkman.
Aster was so grateful for those times in his youth when he was forced to babysit his infant cousins. He had at least some vague idea of what he should do. Aster then went to warm the milk and he made a note to borrow some more books from Ombric on infant care. He rubbed his eyes. "What have I gotten myself into?" he muttered to himself.
Jack's whimper quickly reminded him of the task at hand and Aster quickly tested the temperature of the milk to be certain it wasn't too hot. Once deemed safe, Aster carted both Jack and bottle to his comfy chair in the study.
"Bottoms up," Aster said as he gave Jack the milk and sat down. He gave a yawn as he listened to Jack sucking on the bottle. "Maybe after this you'll feel like sleepin' again, and then I can get some shut eye."
Then again, there was a painting Aster hadn't been able to work on since Jack arrived. He really should get to work on that. Honestly, what was North thinking even suggesting Aster adopt Jack?
He had no time to be a raising a child and he certainly wasn't cut out to be a father. Nope, the tyke was only going to stay here until he was healthy, then Aster would find him a proper home. There was no way a Pooka should be raising a human-
Aster lost his train of thought as Jack gave a sudden yawn and let go of the bottle. He then shut his eyes and snuggled against Aster's chest as he drifted off to sleep. Without realizing it, Aster's eyes softened as he gently stroked the baby's head and caught himself smiling.
Aster then leaned back in the chair and securely held Jack in his arms. He shut his own eyes for a doze as his mind began to wonder if perhaps a Pooka could raise a human child after all.
"Thanks for watchin' him, Sandy," Aster said as he buttoned up his coat and reached for his scarf. "I shouldn't be more than a few hours."
Sandy gave a nod as he looked into the cradle where Jack was sleeping. Jack had been at Aster's home for a month now, and Aster was starting to feel like he was understanding the baby's routine. However, there was a painting he had to deliver and he couldn't take Jack with him without raising a few eyebrows.
The thought had occurred to Aster that he could simply ask Tooth to deliver it for him, but this particular patron would have questions about the painting that only Aster could truly answer. Sandy had volunteered to babysit since the patron had wanted it early in the morning and he would just be coming off his new nightly patrol of the city.
The city was still on edge since they had driven off Pitch's attack and the council voted that they needed a nightly patrol in order to offer some reassurance to the people of the city. With that said, Aster knew Sandy had to be tried and vowed he wouldn't take long.
"He should sleep until I get back, mate," Aster said as he picked up his wrapped painting.
Sandy smiled and saluted as he followed Aster to the door. "Oh," he replied as a thought struck him. "If Jack does wake up, pat his head or rub his back and that should lure him back to sleep."
Sandy gave a nod, but then another thought struck Aster before his hand reached the door knob. "But if the kit whimpers that means he's hungry so warm up the bottle that's in the kitchen."
Sandy gave another nod as he turned to head back into the bedroom. Aster suddenly felt nervous. Did he tell Sandy everything? He didn't, Aster was certain he didn't. "If Jack's cryin' non-stop, read him the book of fairytales on the table. He likes that for some reason."
Sandy raised a bemused eyebrow, but nodded again.
"And makes sure the tyke has a blanket when sleepin', it's been cold lately," Aster stammered on. "But make sure he isn't too hot either, and be sure-"
Aster became quiet as Sandy tapped his foot impatiently and pointed towards the door. Aster swallowed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Right, yeah, I'm bein' silly now. Sorry, mate."
Sandy brightened with a smile as Aster turned the knob and stepped over the threshold. He almost shut the door, but then Aster felt the urge to pop his head back in. "And Jack likes to climb things so watch for that also-"
Sandy suddenly formed the words "GO!" from his dream sand and pointed to Aster with an annoyed look on his face.
"Right, right, I am goin'" Aster replied as Sandy pushed on the door to force Aster out. "But be sure to watch what he puts into his mouth and-"
Suddenly, the door was shut and Aster found himself standing on the front step as he heard Sandy lock the door behind him. Aster's eyes narrowed. "Oi, you do realize I have a key to my own house?!"
When he heard no reply, Aster grumbled and wrapped the scarf around his face. No point in wasting time, the sooner he got home the better.
Aster had to admit, North was a master at his craft and he was grateful for the man's handiwork. As Aster had requested, North had carved a simple wooden cradle. However, the man had gone beyond the call of duty and carved intricate patterns and forest animals into the wood.
If that wasn't enough, North had also made a high chair, a rocking chair and a few toys as well for the anklebiter. It was slight overkill in Aster's opinion. He didn't understand why North went to such trouble, Jack wasn't going to stay here much longer.
Yes, Jack had been here a few months now, but that didn't mean Aster had changed his mind. Jack just hadn't reached Aster's approval for being healthy enough. He was still small for a baby and he would still get slight fevers now and again with no warning. Thankfully, Aster remembered what herbs his grandmother had told him to use to reduce fevers, especially for baby kits.
Aster did have to read through Ombric's books to ensure that the herbs given to a baby Pooka had the same results given to a human baby, last thing Aster wanted was to accidentally poison Jack. However, the herbs were said to produce the same results and so Aster slipped them into Jack's milk.
It was difficult to convince Jack to take the bottle once the bitter taste of the herbs got into his mouth. Aster could tell Jack was going to be a stubborn kid, by the determined glare the infant gave. However, Aster could wait him out, and eventually Jack got thirsty enough to have no choice but to drink the rest of the milk. Aster felt great relief when Jack did so. He really preferred to not get into the habit of staying up all night worrying if Jack was seriously ill or not.
Then there was the fact that Jack was crawling and tried to climb everything he could get his little hands on. Aster lost count of how many times he had saved Jack's neck at the last minute by scooping him up before something fell on him. The worst had been when Jack had tugged on the table cloth and nearly had a boiling hot cup of tea fall upon him if Aster hadn't snatched him out of the way.
Once Aster clued into keeping anything dangerous out of Jack's reach, he finally felt he could relax a little. Honestly, the kid would get himself killed if Aster wasn't there to rescue him.
However, Aster still insisted Jack was not staying, that it was only temporarily. Yet, as the months passed it hadn't dawned on Aster that perhaps he had become attached to Jack until one day when Tooth jokingly said "Oh, Jack! You're so cute, I'll take you if Aster doesn't want you."
The comment made Aster freeze. He knew Tooth had only meant it as a joke as she bounced Jack on her knee, but the very words struck fear into Aster's heart. Someone taking his little Jack? No one could care for the kid like he could. No one could keep him safe and healthy like Aster could.
Aster tried to shake off the feeling since it was a stupid fear to have. It would eventually be the outcome, he told himself. So, Aster had better get used to it - but the fear still lingered in his heart for the next couple of days.
Aster tried to ignore the feeling as he threw himself into his latest painting. Aster let his mind drift in painting the trees and the blooming apple blossoms as he tried to recreate the memories of his homeland. He sat there for a couple of hours, oblivious to the world around him until a stuffed bear was tossed at his back.
Aster gradually turned to look at Jack who was fully awake from his nap and sitting up in his cradle. Aster raised an eyebrow. "Ya want a little play time do ya?"
Jack held his arms up which Aster knew translated into Jack wanting some attention. "Alright, alright," Aster said as he gave a soft smile and stretched the creaks from his back. "Suppose I should take a break anyway."
Jack cooed happily as Aster lifted him up and carried him into the study to play on the floor. There was a rug there for Aster to sit on. If he had to be stuck on the floor, he'd rather have something soft beneath. It didn't have the same feeling as grass, but it beat the hard wooden floor.
Aster set Jack on his lap and Jack giggled as Aster's whiskers tickled his cheeks. Then suddenly, to Aster's shock, Jack spoke.
Aster froze. "What did ya say?"
Jack giggled again. "Bun! Bun!"
Aster's jaw dropped. Jack spoke, he was actually speaking, but wait "Bun"? What did that mean? Then, to Aster's horror Jack pointed directly at him. "Bun!"
Aster's eyes widened as he figured it out in his head. 'Bun' had to be short for 'Bunny', the abominable nickname North had always called him. Out of all his friends, North was the one that had been over most often, so logically it would be what Jack heard the most. He never told Jack to call him "Da da,", but he certainly hadn't encouraged the word 'Bunny'.
"Bun!" Jack said again.
"No, no," Aster repeated fervently and pointed to himself. "Aster."
Jack blinked confused, but then gave his big grin as he pointed. "Bun!"
"Aster," he finished in a whisper and collapsed onto his back in defeat. The name was sticking. Dang it all, North was going to pay for this somehow. Thanks to his influence his kit was now calling him-
Aster paused in thought as he felt Jack climb on top of him and stare at him from Aster's chest. Aster stared back at Jack as he lazily reached out and fingered Jack's hair. The baby he had found was old enough to talk now, and Jack knew who Aster was to him. To Jack, Aster was his parent and if he gave Jack up now, the tyke would feel like he was being abandoned all over again.
Aster could not even stand the thought of that without his heart breaking. Remaining on his back, Aster lifted Jack into his air and hung Jack above his face where he was able to reach and tugged on a whisker with his tiny hands.
"I'm never gettin' rid of ya, am I?" Aster said, saying the truth of the situation aloud.
Jack smiled and waved his arms like he was saying "Well, duh! I'm not going anywhere! You crazy!"
Aster grinned as he sat up and gently tucked Jack beneath his chin. Jack giggled as he buried his face into what Aster knew was his scent gland. It wouldn't be a strong enough scent for anyone with a weak nose like a human, but for any other creature, it would be clear as day.
Jack was marked as his kit, which meant that people had better think twice before laying a hand on him. Aster then removed him from his chin and nuzzled Jack's forehead with his nose the way all Pookas did with their young. The next time Aster saw North, he knew the man would laugh and never let Aster forget how he was right about Aster adopting Jack.
"Bun! Bun!" Jack said again.
Aster sighed as he hugged Jack to his chest, and ruffled his hair. Well, not everything could be perfect.