... So it's been awhile, huh? Let me tell you, the hiatus was unexpected. It was a mix of real life (blech, am I right?) getting in the way and the fact that I started up another fanfiction and have been working on that. It wasn't my intention to let this chapter remain unfinished as long as it has, and from here updates should theoretically be a little more reliable. At the very least, there probably won't be another multi-month hiatus.
Truth be told, I'm a little emotionally attached to this story for a very specific reason. This was the story that got me back into writing fanfiction in the first place. I started off writing in middle school (as evidenced by my frankly cringeworthy older stories I kept up on my profile from the days of old), then stopped. For a very brief period of time in high school, I tried again and published the first chapter of this story. It wasn't very well-written and I had absolutely no plan for how the story would play out. So, I abandoned it again. And then lo and behold, some years later a random reviewer reminded me that this story was still around and I decided to give things another shot.
Okay, that's enough of the mushy stuff. Now, I bring you the arrival of Pitch onto the scene!
Pitch was honestly starting to regret interfering at all. He should have simply remained in his lair and continued to rebuild his strength, so that perhaps once more he could be as powerful as he'd been. He should have stayed a neutral party and just watched with unrestrained glee as the Guardians ran around like chickens with their heads cut off in pursuit of the wayward spirits.
Instead, he'd taken some semblance of initiative and personally rescued both Dawn and Primavera from Summer's Isle, leaving only black sand as evidence for his deed.
Why was he regretting his decision you ask?
Not because he was worried about being hunted down by the Guardians once more, nor because he was afraid of losing his powers again.
It was because he had forgotten how utterly annoying Dawn and Primavera were.
Dawn was openly hostile, constantly trying to pick fights with either him or the few Nightmares that were constantly trotting around his lair. More than one had been dissipated back into fluid sand by a fireball. Though, it was predictable behavior from someone whose center was literally Aggression.
Meanwhile, Primavera spent most of her time bemoaning the lack of plant-life and non-Nightmare Sand animals within his lair. She had visibly wilted, seeming less… colorful than she usually did from the lack of sunlight and fresh air. Just to keep her at least a little docile, he'd allowed short visits to the surface (escorted personally by him, of course).
They were both thoroughly grating on his nerves. At this point, he was dearly wishing he could trade the Guardians for their two seasonal spirits. Maybe then he could at least have a few moments of peace.
It had been Tooth's idea to set up a 'babysitting' schedule for Jack and Ash. None of the Guardians were willing to leave them alone in the event that Dawn and Prima made a move, especially if Pitch was involved in the debacle. North had wanted to keep the two at the Pole until the situation was dealt with, but Bunnymund was quick to remind him that they two actually had seasonal responsibilities they couldn't ignore for such a long stretch of time. At the moment, Sandy was keeping an eye on Ash at her home while he had taken the tunnels to find Jack.
"Whoa, Frostbite, what's got ya looking so downtrodden?"
Bunnymund had been honestly surprised to see the winter spirit looking so… dejected… when he had appeared in Burgess. The boy was perched precariously on the back of a park bench, as he was apparently unable to sit like a normal person. His signature staff was propped up next to him, and his hands were twined together, eyes glued to the ground.
"It's nothing." Jack's reply was automatic, but his tone belayed it as nothing less than important.
"Yeah, and I'm the Groundhog." Bunnymund scoffed, plopping himself down on the bench. He was so tall, he was nearly eye level with Jack. "You know I'm always willing to listen. The ears aren't just for show, ya know." He gave a pointed twitch of his ears and looked at Jack expectantly.
Silence settled over the two for a few moments as Jack Frost twitched and refused to look at the pooka, internally debating the merits of spilling his guts to the much older spirit. And having Bunnymund's eyes on him certainly wasn't helping. Finally, he blew out a breath and his shoulders sagged, his eyes flickering briefly towards the Easter Bunny. "It's just…" He trailed off, disentangling his hands and pushing one up into his hair, thoroughly ruffling it.
Seeing Jack was still wary, Bunnymund reached out and patted him on the knee. "Hey, whatever you have to say stays between the two of us. I promise ya that."
"Thanks" The teen said quietly. Clearing his throat, he turned to face the pooka. "It's Ash… I mean, lately she's been acting really off and it's been worrying me. So there's that, but… but she said something when we were at the workshop." Swallowing heavily, he shifted his position a little. "Well, you obviously know about her… memory lapses."
"Understatement" Bunnymund murmured. "Go on."
"Well, she'd… A long time ago I asked her if she knew why and she said she didn't know. At first, I figured she just couldn't remember at the moment, so I asked her a few more times just to make sure. And every single time she told me she really had no idea."
Aster's fuzzy brow furrowed a little. "So what's changed all of a sudden?"
"North told us that Tooth would be willing to help her figure out what the problem was… And she said she already knew."
"Are you sure she wasn't lying?"
"Positive." Jack nodded. "The way she reacted, it wasn't…" He huffed a little. "It was genuine. So… she must have been lying before, right?" Sighing, he curled up a little and wrapped his arms around his knees, still managing to stay balanced on the back of the bench. "We tell each other nearly everything. And when I got my memories back… she was the first one I told. But apparently she doesn't trust me as much as I trust her."
Aster waited a few moments to make sure Jack had spoken everything on his mind before he blew out a harsh breath. "Jackie… Ash is… She's… Well…" Rubbing at the bridge of his nose, he sat forward. "Bloody hell this is difficult. Look, I'm just goin' to be straight with ya. I've known Ash for a fair few years now, a decade or so longer than you probably, and I've had the time to make a few guesses about why she's..." He made a vague gesture with his paws. "And let me tell ya, if I'm right… then I can understand her not wantin' to talk about it."
"What… what do you mean?" Jack asked, sounding genuinely worried.
"I mean that… You lost all your memories of your human life when you changed, but that was about it. She's still having difficulties with her memory even after Manny worked his magic on her. That's… It's not a good sign."
Jack's eyes suddenly widened as the implications of that. "… Oh. She… Oh."
"Yeah, that's about how I feel too. Just uh… Don't go spoutin' all this off at her or the other Guardians. I'm pretty certain they know too, but it's not really somethin' we should be bringin' up."
"It's like you said, this stays between us, right?"
"What do you mean she got into the tunnels again?!" Bunnymund exploded at the egg sentry that had just trundled up to him. Pacing back and forth, he threw his paws up into the air. "I don't have time for this! Easter is in two weeks… Just… Just bring her back here, I'm too busy to go chasin' after her myself."
The old pooka settled himself back down comfortably on the grass and waited for sentries to bring back the intruder. Picking up his paintbrush and the nearest egg, he went back to work.
The only indication he gave that he was aware of the presence of the fall spirit was a slight twitch of his nose. She had sat down heavily next to him, crossing her legs and readjusting her skirt so it covered all the important bits.
"You're very good at that, Bunnymund." She said, breaking the silence first.
Bunnymund couldn't help but snort. "I'd hope so, considerin' how bloody long I've been doing this."
Aspen hummed to herself, watching the parade of painted and unpainted eggs making their way through the Warren.
The two slipped easily back into a comfortable silence, Bunnymund for one relieved that she wasn't in a talkative mood, nor was she showing any inclination of interrupting his work. He wasn't sure exactly how long the young spirit sat next to him motionlessly before she suddenly shook her head and her gaze started to dart around the place uneasily.
"Somethin' wrong?" He asked, finally turned to her for the first time since she'd shown up. His eyes narrowed slightly as he registered the panicked look on her face.
"Er… Where am I?" Aspen clambered to her feet a little unsteadily, almost staggering in place as she continued to take in the sight around her. "This… This isn't Primavera's place, right?"
Bunnymund inhaled and exhaled slowly, for an instant bemoaning the loss of egg-painting time. Though he quickly squashed that thought down in favor of focusing on stopping the young spirit from falling into a panic spiral. "This is the Warren."
Scarlet eyes blinked a few times in confusion, the implications of that information not reaching her.
Instead of going into detail, he tried a different approach. Reaching out, he placed a paw gently on her shoulder. "Do ya remember who I am?"
"… Have we met?" She asked, her voice quiet.
"Once before, yes." He nodded. "Ya ended up in my tunnels and needed directions home. Ya turned into a coyote to mess with me."
Her nose wrinkled slightly and he could practically hear the wheels turning in her head. "… Easter Bunny?"
"That's right, but most call me Bunnymund." He grinned, relaxing a little from relief.
"This is where you paint your eggs? To give to the kids?"
"Mhmm" Seeing how lost she still was, he angled his head towards the nearby eggs. "You know, I could use some help. You any good with a brush?"
Aspen bit her lip slightly. "… Maybe?"
"Well, it'll be a learning experience for the both of us."
Bunnymund quickly set her up with a few jars of paint and a few different paint brushes, allowing her to focus her attention on something else. Internally, his mind was whirling. The first time that he had met Aspen, he'd brushed aside her memory lapse as flightiness. After all, most spirits developed a fair few quirks during their time as immortals. But this time, she'd completely forgotten where she was and who she was with, all in a matter of minutes.
He was an old pooka and he had millennia of firsthand experience with spirits. And from what he knew of the turning process, this kind of trait in a spirit never boded well.
Shaking his head to abandon that darker train of thought, he glanced over to check on Aspen's progress. She had a pile of multi-colored eggs bustling around on her lap, smearing paint all over her skirt. There was even a streak of bright blue across her forehead and splatters of pastel pink in her hair. Nevertheless, she was wholly focused on her egg painting.
"Not bad, Aspen" He nudged her slightly with his shoulder, earning a bright, beaming grin from her.
And that's the end of the chapter. Hope you enjoyed Bunnymund playing Group Mom. I can assure you next chapter isn't going to be nearly as angsty. In fact, I believe it will be downright hilarious and entertaining.
Until next time!