Disclaimer: I do not own Rise of the Guardians. I make no profit from this work of fiction.
This was a challenge issued on tumblr (30daychallengearchive), and it certainly seemed like an excellent opportunity to explore a character. Thus this was born.
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It was really clear to him, most days, that he had accepted the job prematurely. Staring down at the boy who had been so scared after Pitch's defeat, it had been so easy to spout platitudes. Over the years, Jamie had grown, and forgotten him as children tend to do when they become teenagers. The one thing he had not realized when his presence was invisible to the world's youth ultimately became his undoing.
"You still out here moping?"
Turning his head slightly to see the giant pooka, the newest guardian could not even muster the smirk his colleagues considered to be his trademark. A moment's silence passed between the two of them before the ice wielder turned away from his companion. Quiet steps which would have been silent if he had not frosted the grass around him announced the rabbit's approach long before he felt the furry arm slung around his shoulders.
"It's hard, the first time."
Jack turned to stare at his fellow guardian. "I suppose." After several moments of meeting his unblinking gaze, Bunnymund gave a simple nod. The younger guardian turned back to the view he had been observing prior to the interruption. Several more minutes passed between them in silence.
"Well, belief doesn't take care of itself, and there's a whole world full of children that need us."
Jack nodded solemnly, using his staff to help rise from the position he had been occupying for several hours. Hearing his bones crack as he stood, the older guardian chuckled. Whipping his head about, Jack scowled. "Amused, are you?"
"Quite. I'm the old one, after all, and my bones don't make noise like that! You seem to be living up to that name of 'old man winter' those Americans dubbed you with." Caught up in the mirth of the moment, Jack allowed himself a smirk. The reaction caused a profound smile to alight Bunnymund's face. "Well come on then, 'old man' – let's see if you can keep up with this young rabbit!"
"Why you –" Jack's words were swallowed by the laughter echoing through the spring-colored countryside. Creating a path of solid ice, he followed his jovial compatriot back to the heart of the warren. Neither of them expected their headlong flight to be halted by North's yetis. Jack's laughter reverberated from the hills as Bunnymund's creative curses of North's parentage filtered back to him through the magical tunnel the yetis had opened to facilitate their journey to the workshop.
"You know I hate the bloody cold!"
North looked between Jack and Bunnymund, his brow furrowed. "But you spend much time with Jack."
Toothiana covered her mouth to stifle her chuckle as Bunny's fur took on a decidedly red tinge. North still appeared to be quite confused. Jack perched himself on his staff, blithely ignoring his companion's discomfort. The Easter herald was saved from further embarrassment as the workshop elves began chirruping animatedly. Tooth's fairies began buzzing about frantically.
"Chto eto?" North's baritone rang out loudly, causing the kerfluffle to momentarily cease. A golden hook situated itself briefly around the large jolly man's belly, causing him to turn about. With his hands on his hips, he stared as his longtime friend. "What is it, Sandy?"
The dream weaver appeared to be rather frustrated, using his sand to model images rapidly in an attempt to remind their host of the purpose behind his intrusion into the warren.
"Of course! Yes, you are quite right."
"So what's this all about, eh? Or did you just have us nabbed for funsies?" The large rabbit was keen to change the topic of conversation and gladly grasped at the proffered straw.
"You distracted me with your talk of cold." North's brow furrowed again, but cleared quickly as Sandy stamped his foot in aggravation. "Nevermind. Sandy is right. Something has happened."
"Well, it's not Christmas, it's not Easter, and as far as I'm aware the big man hasn't declared the need for another guardian... Unless that's what you've brought us here for." Jack's drawled observation settled in the air in the relative quiet of the room.
Bunny's pallor became quite wan at the thought. "Oh, no. Not again."
"Aw, you wouldn't want another one of me?"
Though Jack's words were jovial, the lagomorph had learned that he said more with his body and intonation. Frowning, he answered with his customary brusqueness. "I don't know if I have the patience." The winter guardian snorted softly. "C'mon, mate, what did you bring us here for?"
"There is a problem in England."
The large globe dominating the room shifted to center on the British Isles. The lights which clearly showed the children of belief caused a shadow to fall over Jack's face. Since he was acutely aware of the absence of particular lights on the globe, he noticed the change before the isles came completely into view.
"They've … stopped believing?" His voice was barely more than a whisper, the downtrodden tone immediately drawing Bunny to his side.
"I do not know what has happened to cause the change. Those isles have long been a haven for belief – they have been rich with tales of magic since there have been children there."
"It's not Pitch?" The hard edge to Bunny's voice escaped none of those gathered.
"Even if he did gather the strength to come back, I seriously doubt that he'd be able to cause this kind of havoc." Tooth's assurances earned a decisive nod from Sandy.
"Man in moon has not said what it is."
"Then I suppose," Jack began as he dismounted from his staff, "we ought to make a little trip to find out." Sandy nodded emphatically as Tooth clapped her hands in delight.
North held out one of his magical globes. "I hoped you would say that." Throwing the globe to the ground, the air warped to form a familiar tunnel, English moors visible on the other side.
Bunny turned to face the ice wielder. "You just had to suggest that, didn't you?" Jack's mischievous grin lightened his visage once more.
"What's the matter, dear?" Reaching out, he looped his arm around his shocked friend. "Don't you want to ride with me?"
The rabbit's surprised shout was swallowed by the tunnel as Jack launched the pair through.
"Something is … how you say, 'up' with those two, da?" North appeared genuinely confused as he asked the question. Tooth smiled, shaking her head while Sandy merely patted him gently on the arm, leading him to the tunnel.
"Come on, girls. Let's go make sure those two boys leave something in England for us." The fairies chirped as they flew in her wake, Sandy gently coaxing North through behind them all.
The cool wind wrapped firmly about his shoulders, making Jack reminisce about the more frivolous pursuits of his past. He allowed a wistful smile to light his lips for a brief moment, ignoring Bunnymund's rather vocal complaints as the others stumbled through the tunnel. Shaking his head, his features resumed the melancholy which had become far too customary for his liking.
"It's cooler than it should be." Jack's voice cut cleanly through Bunny's grumblings.
"Chto? Cold is normal for the north."
"For Siberia, yes." Frowning, the winter guardian knelt down, placing his hand firmly against the earth. "England shouldn't be this cold in June. Not like this." He stood once more, turning to face the group. "I've traveled with the wind for a very long time. Cold like this I would expect in Scotland. Not this far south." Though he was speaking aloud for the benefit of the group, Jack seemed to be talking only to himself. Sandy shrugged at the curious look Tooth shot him, unsure what to make of the unusual behavior. Bunny simply stared at him, not having seen Jack show any amount of interest this deep in quite some time.
After several minutes of silence, North took a step towards the youngest guardian. "Jack, do you have an idea what is causing this?"
"No. Not yet."
The sound of laughter over the next rise diverted their attention. As they looked up to find the source, the fact that the sun was directly overhead registered with Bunny. Frowning, he turned to Jack only to find the ice wielder staring into the eyes of a young girl.
She was taking several deep breaths as she cleared the rise. She had been running, playing a game of tag with the neighbor, completely oblivious to her surroundings. Having grown up on the moorland, her knowledge of the hills was comprehensive, and she rarely had cause for concern. As she cleared the rise, though, she found herself overwhelmed with the beings before her. The white-haired man staring at her captured her attention. She stood rooted to the spot where she had come over the rise, only tumbling forward as the other child barreled into her back.
"Got you!" The girl that had been chasing her giggled gaily, offering a hand to help her rise. "Your turn to chase me!" The girl started to run off, jerking to a stop only as the first grabbed her sleeve.
"What? You know how the game is played. So catch me if you can!"
"Hang on a minute!" The previous tagger threw her hands up in the air before plopping herself down on the frosted grass.
"Fine. You need to catch your breath, fine. Just don't take too long 'cause this grass is cold!"
Whipping her head about to make certain she had spied the group, the first girl deliberately swallowed before turning back to her playmate. "Turn around for me for a sec."
"Ew! Ya gotta squat, I can go down the hill!"
"No, no! Look at me!"
The second girl turned sharply in her direction, eyes squeezed tightly closed, her face slightly scrunched with the effort of concentrating on remaining oblivious to her friend's physical state. "I'm not about to watch you do that. No."
"Libby, just – oh, open your eyes, blast you! I'm fully covered and not squatting at all!"
Taken aback by the other girl's forcefulness, Libby opened her eyes blinking in startlement. "What then?" She stood and dusted off her now damp breeches, shivering as her hands made the rough denim connect with her bare skin underneath the soaked spots.
Closing her eyes and taking a deep breath, the girl turned towards the gathered guardians once more. As she opened them, her gaze swept over the group in consideration. She nodded almost imperceptibly before pointing directly at Bunnymund. "Do you see the rabbit just there?"
"Cor! You cracked?" Throwing her hands up in exasperation, the playmate scowled at her friend. "We're out for a lark. You need a breather, just say."
"No, really, Libby, do you see him? Just there!" Her finger shook slightly from the force she employed in pointing at the blue-tinged pooka.
"Maisie, really." Walking over to her, Libby gently placed a hand on her arm to lower it. "If there's a rabbit in the field, he won't last long before a hunter gets him for food. Come on then, let's go back. I'm too tired to play tag anymore, and mum will have nosh up soon."
Maisie stared between all of them before resignation slowly settled. Nodding to her friend, they turned to leave. She looked over her shoulder every few steps until she had cleared the rise, no longer able to see the group.
The five guardians exchanged concerned glances. Tooth's fairies allowed their wings to droop as they hovered and the feathered guardian permitted herself a rare landing, settling her feet on the frigid green. Jack turned from the others, staring into the direction the girls had gone. A chill wind blew into him from behind, nudging him slightly towards that path. He forced his feet to hold their ground.
He turned his head slightly as Bunnymund approached, the lagomorph's soft steps crunching on the frozen ground. When the older guardian rested his hand on Jack's shoulder, his eyes slipped closed. After several moments, a single tear made its way down his right cheek, its path halted by the fur-covered finger of his companion.
"You were right." His voice was barely more than a whisper, and Bunny was certain that only his large ears had picked it up.
"Back in sixty-eight, what you said." Jack's eyes fluttered open, his icy cerulean gaze pinning his long-time sparring partner, leaving the pooka slightly winded with its intensity. Cocking his head to one side, the rabbit silently encouraged the younger guardian to explain. "You told me then I didn't know how good I had it. Not having to worry about being seen."
"Oh, Jack, I –"
"And I didn't believe you." Jack's voice cut him off cleanly. "I should have." Taking a step back, the youngest guardian wrapped his arms about himself as though to ward off the cold in which he reveled. "I didn't even really get it when Tooth's feathers were falling out, but that's because I'd always been invisible."
"Jack, we've been through a lot since that spring –"
"But I get it now." Though he was frustrated by his friend's refusal to listen to him, he kept his thoughts to himself, allowing Jack to continue. "You were right. I don't know that I can handle this."
Sandy stepped forward, having quietly made his way towards the pair as North and Tooth watched silently. The gold question mark above his head caused Jack to smile wryly. Taking another step away from the group, the wind seemed to wrap itself about him slightly as a shield. Jack allowed his arms to drop into a more relaxed position by his sides.
"What I said then –"
"Was absolutely right. It made me so angry then, but I see the truth of it now."
Gripping his staff tightly in his right hand, the ice wielder held out his left to halt whatever platitudes his friend might utter. "You said I was too interested in having fun and didn't know when to let go of something. You said I wouldn't be able to handle it – that I could never stand being believed in because I wouldn't be able to walk away from a child once they stopped believing to help foster the imagination and wonder of another." Letting the wind lift him slightly off the ground, Jack hovered for a moment, the light leaving his eyes as his melancholy gaze captured the verdant green of his furred companion.
Sensing Jack's intent, Bunny stepped forward. His action was a moment too late, the youngest guardian's words floating back to them on the tail of the wind that was carrying him away.
"You were right about me."