Disclaimer: I don't own Rise of the Guardians or The Guardians of Childhood.
Author's Notes: Not only is this my first contribution to the Rise of the Guardian fandom, but this is also the first thing I've written in nearly a year. I apologize in advance for any awkward transitions or characterizations you may come across. Basically: I tried and therefore no one should criticize me! xD
Jack was missing.
This wasn't exactly an uncommon occurrence. The adjustment from three hundred years of alone time to suddenly having a slightly dysfunctional family of overbearing personalities and possibly a love interest was certainly going to take some time. That's why the Guardians let him have his space, and tried not to worry too much about him in the mean time.
But as much of a trickster as Jack was, he was never late to a meeting, whether it be official Guardian business or just a 'play date.' His new family might be a little daunting to him at times, but they knew that he loved them, appreciated them and the time they spent together. They cherished those moments together just as much as Jack did.
That's why, when Jack was late for a painting session (a date, though he would be too embarrassed to admit if asked) with Aster, they worried.
Jack blinked awake and promptly wished he hadn't.
Being conscious had a funny way of making you completely and totally aware of every single hurt, and Jack was certainly aware now. There was blood –so much that he could smell the tang of it. His head dipped, neck sore and aching, and there it was, the source of the smell. The blood was saturating the front of his hoodie, and from the ache in his stomach he could tell that's where it had originated. He shifted, trying to get comfortable, but it was impossible; he was sitting on an uncomfortably stiff chair made of what appeared to be tempered metal, his wrists and ankles chained to bolts resting in the chair's arms and legs. He yanked on the chains a bit, but it was mostly for show -he could tell from their weight when he moved his hands that they would hold, and freezing the metal enough to break it would take a lot of concentration, power, and above all, time –something he didn't have much of, especially if he wanted to get back to Aster before the Pooka could throw a bitchfit.
Oh crap, he and Aster had only just begun a relationship and he'd already skipped out on a date, never mind that it wasn't on purpose. Aster was going to be so mad!
For the first time since waking he looked up, almost shocked when he realized there was more to his surroundings than just the chair. The first thing he noticed was that it was not dark; there was light, and it filtered in through blindless circular windows and lit up paper-thin walls.
The sound of a door sliding shut startled him and he whipped his head around and saw…a woman with a surgical mask.
"Who are you?" He blurted out. She paused, then, and Jack saw her face shutter into a murderous rage before the features smoothed.
She bobbed her head in an abbreviated bow and said, "I am Fumiko." Her voice was delicate behind the mask, but her eyes were steely and focused on him. Jack returned the gesture automatically, confused and dazed and aching. Her eyes crinkled in a smile.
"And you are Jack Frost. Tell me, Frost-san, if I ask you a question will you answer me truthfully?"
She was walking over to him now, footsteps measured and gentle against the hardwood floor, silent, calculating. Her gaze never left his, he could feel it, even as he shook off his lethargy, realizing that this was perhaps more serious than he thought. His eyes darted around the room, searching for an escape, a weapon, a clue, anything.
She stopped in front of him then, head tilted to the side in a parody of concern, and he felt the fear that had been tamped down rise up inside of him like bile.
Fumiko grinned beneath her mask as Jack began to shake.
"Tell me, Frost-san. Do you think I'm pretty?"
It didn't matter that Bunny was probably the fastest thing on the planet. It didn't matter that the Pole was going through its winter season and he hadn't even thought to grab a cloak. What mattered was that Jack was missing, gone, and he couldn't get to the Pole fast enough.
When the front door opened, Bunny shoved his way inside, shivering. North's jovial attitude was immediately doused on seeing his friend's miserable state.
"What is the matter my friend? Why you bulldoze yeti?"
"Jack's missing," he replied, his teeth chattering. Being inside made the cold ten times worse. North sent some yetis off in search of blankets and hot chocolate, and Aster gave him a grateful look.
"What do you mean, Jack is missing? Start at beginning!"
He did. He told North of his and Jack's plan to meet up, and how Jack had been looking forward to another painting session. He left out the part where he was looking forward to it just as much, if not more.
"North, I waited for him. For hours."
They settled into an unfamiliar silence. The yetis came back with blankets to drape over Aster's frozen fur and a warm mug of hot chocolate to soothe his deadened paw pads. He took a sip on autopilot and didn't feel anything except a growing lump of red-hot dread settling to rot in his stomach.
"I…I think something happened."
He didn't have to look up to see that North felt it too.
After that, it took nearly no time at all to set off the emergency aurora and ready the sleigh. Their youngest was gone, and they had to work quickly –Bunny's sense of smell was their only lead, and they couldn't afford to lose it.
He knew as soon as he opened his mouth that he'd given her the wrong answer. That hadn't stopped the pain from exploding across his face when the woman hit him, though. He groaned and spat blood, working his jaw only to find that one side was hanging slightly off –dislocated, then.
He did his best to glare at her, but the woman just smiled at him, a smile he was beginning to understand wasn't a smile at all, and lifted her surgical mask.
He flinched as his eyes fell to her mouth. The woman –no, this was obviously not a normal woman. A…kuchisake-onna? He really needed to read up on his Japanese folklore –was slit from ear to ear in a sickening mockery of a grin. The wounds, while old, were still an angry red and looked as though they could split open at any moment. The thought of her mouth opening into a wide cavern of darkness and sharp, sharp teeth made Jack shake.
"My husband did this to me because he was jealous," she said. "I was too beautiful, he said. He didn't want me garnering too much unwanted attention. So he gave me a smile and painted my lips red."
Jack stared, his jaw slack from pain and terror. She looked at him again, and he realized something –her eyes were clear, but her mind was not, and there would be no talking his way out of this one.
"As he did it, he said 'there, now you won't have too much fun while I am away.' I have been living in peace for decades, but then you came along, Guardian of Fun, always smiling.
"I will give you something to smile about."
"Wh -? No. Please. Please, I –" He cut himself off, breath snatched from his throat by fear's delicate fingers as the kuchisake-onna reached into her dress pocket and pulled out a dull, rusty knife. It flashed in the dimming light as she leaned toward him.
There was nowhere to run, he realized. He was already pressed back as far as the chair allowed, to the point where the rough metal was carving into his skin even through his hoodie. He took a deep breath and tried to dislocate his thumb, but he couldn't do it one-handed and the other chain wasn't long enough for him to reach over. He let out a frustrated sob and thrashed, trying to keep away from the hands reaching out to hurt him.
The kuchisake-onna managed to grab his chin in mid-shake and dug her nails in to keep him still. Her face twisted into a vicious snarl as her other hand swung back and struck him in the temple with the butt of the knife still in her grasp. His mouth fell open in a silent scream and white spots twisted through his vision. He could feel the tears –involuntary and embarrassing –running down his cheeks and mixing with the blood at her fingertips.
"G-god," he choked out, dazed. She shook his face and his world was filled with pain –pain from his dislocated jaw, pain from the puncture wounds her nails caused, pain from the chaffing of his wrists and ankles, pain from his stomach wound, pain from his back, pain. He'd lost enough blood from his stomach wound –the wound that had taken him down in the first place –that he was starting to feel hazy. Or maybe it was the blow to the temple, he didn't know. He didn't know anything anymore.
The woman grabbed at his hair and he let her yank his head up, too dazed to try to get away.
"Don't worry, this will only hurt a little," she said, working the knife into his slack mouth. He squeezed his eyes closed and sobbed.
The initial bite of the knife was lost to the sea of pain he was already drowning in, but the further the knife was pushed into his cheeks, the more acute the pain became until it was all he knew. He was distantly aware that someone was screaming and he wanted to tell them to shut the hell up. His head, his body, everything ached. He could feel the blood run down his cheeks and drip off his chin like a gross perversion of spring rain.
By the time the knife was pulled away he was near to passing out, his eyes open but unseeing. He keened and panted for breath, barely aware of anything save the pain and the manacles around his wrists and ankles, his anchors to reality. He heard her wipe his blood off on her skirts and slip the knife back into her pocket and desperately wished he could curl up, get away. The wounds, he knew, weren't that deep, even though it had felt like she'd torn his face to shreds.
The thing about Glasgow Grins was that while the initial slice into the cheeks was painful, it wasn't anything compared to what happened next. Instead of suffering through being cut, the victim would just be beaten until he screamed so much that the small cuts ripped him open all the way to the ears.
Knowing all of this, he was shocked when the woman, instead of beating the hell out of him, waved her hand and vanished the manacles around his wrists and ankles. For a moment he just stared stupidly at the raw skin on his wrists where the chains used to be, but then he was up and stumbling to freedom. His staff, he had to get his –
He didn't make it very far. A sharp elbow bit into his back and his chin bounced as it made contact with the floor. He sobbed –he had stupidly hoped, he should have known better –and willed his body to move, damnit, but before he could she had him pinned.
"Ah-ah, Frost-san. I need you out of that chair, but I can't have you running away."
"This should do the trick," she said, smiling as she took the knife out once more and merrily sawed into the backs of one of his feet, severing the Achilles tendon. His mouth fell open and he screeched and sobbed and ripped open his own face. It hurt so bad and he could barely suck in a breath, and as she started on the other one, all he could do was scream and scream and scream and –
Was someone calling his name? He could barely hear anything through the rush of blood and his own screams tearing up his throat.
"Shut up!" Fumiko shrieked, pulling at her hair. "No one was there to help me and no one will be here to help you!"
He cringed away, hope dying in his chest, doused with the very real possibility that no one was coming for him. He hadn't told anyone where he was going, and even though he never missed a meeting with any of the Guardians, he did tend to take off without warning.
Well, whether someone was coming to get him or not, he wasn't going to lie down and make this crazy spirit's job any easier. It took a tremendous amount of effort, but he managed to grit his teeth and kick her in the midst of her tirade, effectively shutting her up and sending her tumbling back into the chair.
She had dropped the knife, he could see it lying on the floor, gleaming with his blood. He crawled, using his elbows and hips the way he'd seen it done in the military. It was painful and slow going and he wasn't going to make it –
The knife disappeared from his field of vision and he barely had a chance to feel the bone-aching disappointment before the knife reappeared, sinking into the back of his hand and pinning him to the hardwood floor. His entire body tensed up with the effort to hold back his scream. She tsked, like she was scolding a naughty child, and stood to retrieve something he couldn't see.
His Glasgow Grin was halfway to his ears and his whole world was nothing but fear and pain and red red smiles. He cried and pulled at the knife, desperate to get away before he could find out what else she had in store for him, but it refused to budge and her footsteps were drawing near once more.
He turned his head just in time to see his staff –his own staff –come down on his ribs in a sharp crack. He cried and shook, surprised and somehow betrayed oh god this wasn't happening his own staff –
And that was when everything went to hell.
Jack's scent trail led them to southern Japan. Incidentally, that's where the Guardians found Pitch.
Before the sleigh even landed Bunny was on him, sharp edge of a boomerang pressed against the Shadow King's throat.
"Tell me where he is or so help me I will slit your throat," Bunny snarled, boomerang pressed ever so slightly into the soft underside of Pitch's chin in a promise.
"And what makes you think I know," Pitch drawled. He raised an eyebrow and made no effort to escape the Pooka's clutches.
Bunny sneered but North's hand on his shoulder stayed him. "What can you tell us?"
Pitch glanced from Guardian to Guardian, as though trying to decide whether or not to say anything at all. The boomerang was still pressed to his throat though, and it hasn't been all that long since he'd been defeated –he knew he couldn't win in a fight against the Guardians so soon after the last one. So he sighed and said, "call the rabbit off and I might be inclined to oblige."
Aster almost refused, but a look from Tooth told him to stand down, so he gathered up his strength and did.
Pitch leered. "I saw him a few hours ago. I heard there was something terrorizing the children and you know I can't pass up on a good feast. Of course he had to come swooping in, trying to play the hero. Last I saw, she was dragging his unconscious body off that direction," he said, pointing toward an old, abandoned-looking bathhouse a good distance away.
Pitch grinned. He could taste their fear. It was almost as delicious as the children's.
"You should have seen him. Valiant effort, but certainly no match once he'd been stabbed. I hear abdominal wounds are painful."
"Bunny, wait -!" But it was too late, he'd already disappeared into one of his tunnels.
He gritted his teeth and his heart raced as he ran, wondering how the others could ask him to wait when his Snowflake was so close it hurt. The feeling that something had happened from earlier had become a brick in his stomach, making it churn and slowing him down, he needed to go faster.
He broke through the basement floor of the bathhouse and immediately bent over to retch. The smell of blood was sickening and overwhelming to his sensitive nose, and the fact that it was mixing with Jack's scent made it so much worse, but he couldn't say here, he had to keep going.
Bunny hurried through the bathhouse, ears pulled forward and straining for any hint of movement, and –oh thank the moon the bathhouse was so quiet, or he'd never have heard it! There, coming from what was probably the top floor of the bathhouse, a thump, a sob, voices. Relief flooded through him at the sound of Jack's voice. If Jack was well enough to talk, then maybe…
The Pooka had just made it to the penultimate floor when the screaming started. He faintly registered a gasp and an exclamation from a few floors below, but it was like hearing it through several feet of water and he paid it absolutely no attention –the sound of Jack's pain took precedence over everything else.
He moved then, practically vaulting up another set of stairs and bursting through the walls, leaving Bunny-shaped holes ripped in the paper as he ran, blinded by the need to reach Jack. As he rounded a corner he could hear the screaming taper off and turn into a scuffle, and when he finally finally broke through the wall that led to Jack, he almost stopped short because the relief at seeing Jack moving around and conscious was so intense it was almost like a punch to the gut.
And then he realized that Jack was not alone, there was a woman with him, sickeningly gleeful grin plastered to her face. Bunny's relief turned to white-hot rage in an instant as soon as he saw Jack's staff –her weapon of choice –clutched in her hands, raised and ready to strike.
He wouldn't give her the opportunity.
It took a massive effort to tune Jack out, to turn his focus to getting rid of the threat, but he did it. She looked up just as he was leaping for her, and they fell to the ground in a tangle of limbs. They rolled several feet away from where Jack was struggling on the floor, and Bunny took out his boomerang and smashed it into the woman's hand, breaking it and forcing her to let go of Jack's staff with a cry of pain.
To Bunny's disappointment, she barely struggled at all. Once the staff was out of her hands, it was like she'd given up. She smiled that grotesque smile as Bunny snarled and used the sharp edge of his boomerang to slit her throat. It wouldn't kill her, but it was enough to incapacitate her for the time being, and he felt a strange satisfaction as he watched her blood spill over the floor.
An eye for an eye, but it wasn't enough. He wished she'd put up more of a fight so he'd have an excuse, an outlet for all of his blind rage. He was disappointed, and he was disgusted with himself for it. But Jack made a sound then, and awareness crashed on him like a wave. Jack. Jack needed him.
Jack was scrabbling at something on the floor, babbling "please Aster, please" and "get me out of here," and to Aster's growing horror, he saw that Jack was pinned to the floor with a knife. Through his hand.
"Oh hell Jack, I'm –"
He slid over to the younger Guardian and hovered, afraid to touch him. Part of his mind recognized the sound of the other three Guardians arriving –Tooth's gasp and North's shocked groan echoed through the room –but most of his attention was on Jack and the knife embedded in his hand. Oh God.
Bunny cleared his throat. "This isn't gonna feel so great, Snowflake, but it's gotta be done, so bear with me," he warned, wrapping a paw around the handle. He tried not to think too much about the slide of sharp metal through flesh as he pulled, careful but quick. Jack just clamped his mouth shut and shook and breathed heavily through his nose, eyes scrunching closed as he tried to ignore the pain. Pain Bunny was causing him. Oh God.
It had to be done but that didn't make it any easier on either of them. Finally the knife was pulled out and Jack scrambled to his staff in a sudden burst of movement that surprised everyone in the room. He clutched it to his chest, eyes darting back and forth in search of the enemy. He was like a wild wounded animal and was liable to hurt friends and enemies alike and no one dared approach him, though it only took a moment for him to calm when he realized that the kuchisake-onna was bleeding out on the floor a few feet to his right.
Bunny caught Jack as he slumped; now that the threat was gone, the adrenaline seeped from his veins, leaving his Snowflake drained, exhausted and hurt.
"It's alright Jackie, you're safe now, you're safe, I've got you," he murmured, over and over, arms coming around the small body and pressing it closer to his chest. Jack made small noises and clung, drinking in his warmth and words like they were the most important things in the universe.
North caught his eyes over Jack's shoulder and they frowned at each other.
"Bunny, we must get Jack back to Pole. Can you assess his injuries, see if he is okay to be moved?"
The Pooka pulled Jack back slightly and was about to reply to the Cossack, but the sight of Jack stopped him cold. He had been in such a rage that he'd failed to actually look at Jack, and what he saw horrified him. He knew there'd been blood, a lot of it, but there was a difference between smelling it and knowing it was there, and seeing it firsthand.
Jack's hoodie was stained a dark purple color; the majority of it seemed to be on the stomach, but there were streams of it making paths across his hood and down his chest, and it all shown wetly in the dying light. His horror only grew when his eyes had traveled up to his face and saw the Grin slashed into his cheeks.
Bunny shushed him and brought a paw up to feel the back of his head, checking for blood. His other paw slid down Jack's spine. When he felt no blood, bumps, or breaks, he nodded to North.
"He can be moved, and I suggest we do it now. In fact, I'm going to take him in my tunnels while you go back in the sleigh. It'll be faster for him."
He looked down as the others moved to leave. Jack's eyes had slipped closed and the last of the tension had bled from his shoulders in his slumber. Bunny wanted to cry.
"I'm so sorry, Snowfl –Jack. God, this…this shouldn't have happened to you."
I'm sorry I wasn't there to protect you.
Jack woke in the Pole's infirmary, alone. He tried not to be hurt by that.
It wasn't like he would've been good company anyway; his mouth was stitched shut so that his flesh could heal properly, and his body was so bruised and tired that moving felt impossible. Not that he could move much, with his tendons severed, but still.
A screech from beyond his closed door stole his attention. He could hear Tooth shrieking at Bunny about something and North laughing that full-bellied laugh of his. The corner of Jack's lips twitched but the motion made him cringe in pain. Right. Glasgow Grin. Mouth kind of out of commission.
Before he could fall into a funk, a furry head poked in and Jack felt warmth bubble up inside him as those green eyes brightened at seeing him awake.
Bunny sauntered in with a grin and sat himself down at Jack's head. North, Tooth, and Sandy weren't far behind.
"Strewth, thought you were never gonna wake up, Snowflake."
Jack glared at him, and they all laughed.
"How you feeling, Jack?" North asked. Jack just stared at him until North remembered that Jack couldn't speak. "Oh, da, the stitches. Those should come out in a few days, and there shouldn't be any scarring. Your stomach is healing just fine, but you'll be off your feet for a couple of weeks while your tendons heal. I'm sure Bunny here can look after you." North gave Aster a sly look and Jack rolled his eyes.
Jack only felt a little guilty for the relief he felt when North said his Grin shouldn't scar.
The Guardians only stayed for a short while after that. Just because Jack was an invalid didn't mean they could give up their duties to sit with him, though they all told him they wished they could. One by one they trickled out, until it was just he and Bunny left.
The room was silent for a moment and Jack closed his eyes.
"This is good look for you, Frostbite. Should sew your mouth shut more often."
Jack couldn't test his razor sharp wit on Bunny with his mouth stitched shut, and in any case, he could see through Bunny's casual demeanor like it was glass. The older male refused to look at him –he had obviously been worried –and Jack couldn't soothe him with words, so he lifted a hand and gently settled it on Bunny's cheek, thumb stroking the soft fur there.
It's okay, he thought at him. It's okay Aster, please…
Bunny sighed and held Jack's hand to his cheek with a shaking paw.
"I'm sorry, Jackie. I should've been there earlier. I wasn't able to protect you, and I'm…I'm sorry."
Jack made an angry noise and forced Bunny to meet his eyes. He tried to communicate through his gaze alone that it was not Aster's fault, it was not, damnit, Aster would not take responsibility for what some crazy spirit did, Jack wouldn't let him.
Bunny seemed to get the message loud and clear, because a corner of his mouth lifted in a self-deprecating grin.
"Right…right. I'm still sorry that I wasn't there, but I'm here now." He coughed and his nose turned a darker pink –his way of blushing. "Now scoot over, Jackie. Since you missed our dat –er, painting session, it's only fair."
Jack gave a long-suffering sigh, but it was only for show and they both knew it. He made room and the Pooka cuddled up behind him, arm coming around to settle low on his stomach as Bunny nuzzled into the crook of his neck.
The message was clear –Jack was safe, Bunny was there, and he was going to continue being there for as long as Jack needed him. Their relationship was just beginning, but Bunny's silent promise meant there would be arguments and happiness and lots and lots of smiles in the future.
Jack looked forward to it.
AN: IT'S DONE. Just a few things to note:
1. A kuchisake-onna is the malicious spirit of a woman whose husband gave her a Glasgow Grin because she was unfaithful to him. She wears a surgical mask and traps children by asking them if they think she is pretty. If they answer no, she kills them. If they answer yes, she takes off her surgical mask and asks again. She kills them if they answer yes or no. The only way to fool the kuchisake-onna is to answer 'you are average' or something like that. The kuchisake-onna will be confused and it will give the child enough time to run away.
2. Fumiko is a Japanese name that means child of treasured beauty. I thought it fit.
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