Sandy and Tooth moved fast, using every one of Tooth's fairies to search as they collected teeth. Nothing was found and their arrival at where Jack had told them Pitch's lair was proved to be a dead end. The opening was closed up and it was only with the help of 'Baby Tooth', as she liked to be called after her Easter with Jack, did they even know where to look.
"Oooh, dead end. There has to be another way. Unless he doesn't even have Jack here. There are so many places that are dark enough, all he needs is shadow. Oh, poor Sweet Tooth, I don't want to think about what he's doing to-"
Sandy tried to get Tooth's attention as she went off on multiple trains of thought but failed. He resorted to putting up a blockade of sand to get her to notice but she flew right into it without looking, dropping in place with teeth circling her head. Sandy winced, not having intended to do that again, before gathering a sand cloud under her. They were close to the lake Jack was sworn in on and they had intimate believers so, during the day, that would be a safe place for her.
Bunny was very happy when the sleigh landed but he didn't have the chance to show it since the smoke and heat were overpowering his senses.
"No way, the believer's in there? Crikey, no wonder the blighter's lost hope."
"Hey, would you lend me a paw?"
Bunny turned, searching for the source of the gruff voice. He finally relaxed when a huge bear with a ranger hat and a bucket came toward them from the other side of the sleigh.
"Don't stand there. Either help with this fire or evacuate and get yourselves to safety."
"Smokey, there was believer in there 'couple minutes ago. Did child get out?"
Smokey looked between the two through the smoke, registering who they were and what the words meant before sadly shaking his head.
"No humans came out and none live in there either. It's just containment now since anything in there is lost-"
"NO. No, there was a light in there."
North turned at Bunny's words just in time to see him race in. North looked back at the bear and nodded in the direction of his sleigh and the reindeer. "Watch sleigh for me, move if needed."
"Hey, Stop! Wet yourselves first or your clothes could catch fire. HEY!"
North heard the crackling flames drown Smokey out as he ran after Bunny. Aster had only given up once before, at Easter a few months ago. After Jamie, Aster's Hope had been renewed and stronger, never giving up, no matter the odds, even at cards. North stomped through the burning trees, the pine needles fizzling and snapping as the flames spread and consumed them. He heard Bunny yelling just ahead of him, calling for the 'kid' or 'anklebiter' to answer him. Suddenly, Bunny's voice changed to a frantic 'NORTH!' just as he burst into a clearing. It was easy to see what made his friend's tone change. Bunny was fighting to lift a huge, burning piece of wood off a small figure, the child, and move him or her out at the same time.
"Pyotr Tchaikovsky!" North cried out as he ran over and grabbed the bulk of the limb. "I lift, you pull 'im out."
Bunny moved over and crouched down in front of the child, his mind whirling. 'Late teen... hoodie? Can't believe he's wearin' that in late August.' he noticed the boy's hair was soaked with sweat and so coated with ash and soot that it looked gray and white with only some black. One arm was pinned under the body, the other curled around his face, hiding him from the killer smoke around them. 'Kid tried holdin' on even wi'out much hope a rescue. Tha' musta been the only thin' he had.'
Bunny reached down, glad when his paws made contact with the body-boy, instead of going through him. 'He still believes.' He nodded and, as North grunted, Bunny pulled the teen to him. He had a brief sensation of cold, even surrounded by flames but North pulled off his coat and tossed it over the kid.
"That vill give some protection. We get back to sleigh, now."
Bunny nodded sharply, pulling the large coat around the child, not letting his face be exposed. 'Who' didn't matter at the moment, making sure the kid didn't breathe in anymore smoke was what did. They ran, reaching the edge of the fire and almost hitting Smokey the Bear.
"Oi, mate, look out, this kid needs air." Bunny half growled as he started to set his bundle down to check on him. His paw was grabbed before he had the chance.
"No, you all need to move. Fire brigade is flying in to drop suppressant here. You and your reindeer need to get away before that."
"Thank you, we go now. Will send help when child is safe."
North nodded sharply and jumped into the sleigh, grabbing the reins and preparing to go. Bunny said nothing and hesitated only a second before following him, setting the bundle beside him.
"Teenager, no wonder you barely saw the blighter's light, he was almost too old anyway."
"True, but why you feel it so strongly?" North asked as he snapped the reins and headed up, hearing Bunny gasp and, glancing over, saw him leaning over the coat and gripping the seat. "Ha, we find out later, first, hospital."
Bunny half nodded, trying not to puke carrots on the kid since he was still overheated from the fire and a bit nauseous from the earlier ride anyway. Then again, it was North's coat and North's driving so if it came down to it- a bump sent him airborne and he gripped the coat and the kid.
"North are ya tryin' ta bloody kill us?"
North shook his head and looked back. "Air pocket. I was trying to take short... cut-" North noticed now, without the smoke and falling debris, the kid was barefoot, even with the hoodie, and the pants, now barely visible through the opening in his coat, were short, frayed and brown. "Bunny, check him. Now."
"North, look where yer-"
Bunny started, not sure he wanted to remove his claws from the wood but North's voice was a mixture of scared and panicked. He took a deep breath, gulped, and pulled his claws out of the seat board, one by one, as North yelled. When his last claw was free he used that paw to brush the coat aside.
"Bunny, tell me I'm wrong. Is it him?"
Bunny knew who North meant, the chill, first overpowered by the heat of the fire and then shielded by the coat, was now exposed. Not as cold as it should have been but there was no doubt, with the light coating of frost that lined the inside of the coat.
"Pitch. Will. Cark it." Bunny focused on that. That more than the other thought in his head. The one that was asking the question that he didn't know if North was thinking of either. The one that forced guilt into his heart. They went looking for a child, a child whose light was on the Globe. A child whose Hope Bunny felt leaving. A child whose light, at that time, was weak and almost non-existent. A child who was Jack Frost.
"His staff wasn't there, was it?"
"Vith all da burning vood, could not tell. I vill go to Pole, snow may help him; even vith summer, is cold dere," North muttered half to himself as he pulled out a snowglobe and shook it, Santoff Clausen appearing inside before he threw it. "Brace 'im. HA!"
Sandy and Baby Tooth, with Tooth still sleeping peacefully, reached the lake without any luck at finding Jack. Sandy froze when he saw what looked like a person in a dark cloak standing on the edge of the lake and, even stranger, a mist circling him but not the the area.
Will O'Wisp looked around the clear, still lake, cold but not near enough for ice to form without the Winter Spirit to do it himself. Jack would be gone soon and just to spite him, Wisp's first victim would be on the brat's self-proclaimed 'home'. He thought back to the first time he had laid eyes on the frosted brat.
"Excuse me, sir. My lantern has gone out and I am lost. Would you please show me the way out of these woods?"
Will O'Wisp smiled to himself in the fog as he walked, hearing the voice of the little girl who had caught sight of his lantern and started following him. He paused, allowing his cloak to disturb the mist before moving the light off a ways and walking.
The girl laughed and thanked him until she realized he was walking away and her hurried footfalls made him grin. She was young, eager and careless.
They were nearly to the marsh when a cold wind swept by him and the girl gasped. He looked over his shoulder to see a wall of swirling snow between him and the girl. Her cries turned to laughter as the snow spun around her and started moving her away. She slipped and he saw him. A white haired boy in brown pants, a white shirt and a worn brown cloak that barely covered his back.
The teen was floating in midair and used a shepherd's staff to create more ice, guiding the girl away from him and back to the path. He took a few deep breaths as the teen laughed and talked to the girl. She never answered or acknowledged him but she was out of his reach. He lured two drunken men to him later that night but it was not the same as the one that got away and he would never forget the one responsible, even if he did not know his name.
Over the years, Will O'Wisp learned of Jack Frost, the Spirit of Winter. The teenager stopped him several times more over the years and each time their paths crossed, Jack made it a point to allow his prey to escape his grasp. He had sworn that Jack Frost would pay but every time after that, the brat was successful in humiliating him. Almost fifty years ago, the confrontation at Hockomock Swamp resulted in him gaining the upper hand thanks to his larger size and strength, burning the cape off, even if the brat managed to freeze his feet to the ground. When he heard the meddler had been made a Guardian and got actual believers, after the boy's winter cold had killed more at a time than Wisp had, he felt cheated and started a plan.
Gathering others that were known as well, he had them spring the trap when the kid dipped down into Canada early. Summer heat would weaken him further and, although Wisp had planned to have water nearby, just for the satisfaction of shoving him under and trapping him forever, drawing it out long after the other spirits left. Instead, Jack Frost would burn, alone, and Will decided, as he left the inflamed forest, he would lure his very next victim in celebration, into Jack Frost's favorite lake.
Will O'Wisp stood on the edge of the lake, his cloak around him shifting as he summoned more fog and mist to the lake and the surrounding area, pleased with the results. No one could find their way through it now. He turned and spotted a faint, yellow glow disturbing his mist. He held up his own light, keeping his hood up to conceal himself as he tried to draw whomever had managed to creep up on him out and to him.
Sandy kept Tooth on the bed of sand and moved it behind some trees and bushes before sending the small fairy to find the others. Jack was missing and this cloaked figure was on the lake shore Jack visited more than any other that Sandy could think of. The small man glided forward, noting the figure was taller than Jack and, from the size of the cloak, well built and not one he recognized by sight. He froze and tried to duck out of instinct when a human voice yelled out in the mist.
"Jack! Jack, where are you? Did you do this for hide and seek?"
Jamie had only seen Jack twice since Easter, both were cold nights and Jack had stayed inside near the A/C in his room. The snow storm in Canada was called a 'freak summer blizzard' but Jamie knew it had to be Jack. He'd run out of the house and toward the lake as soon as the sun was setting, seeing mist roll over and hide everything: trees, paths, rocks, nothing was clear.
"Come on Jack, no fair."
Jamie moved toward the flash of blue in the mist, trying to catch him. He was close and dove to grab the Winter Spirit, determined to tackle him this time and finally take him by surprise.
"Bunny, next time, not in sleigh and not on coat."
"Hey, it was that or on 'im."
North ignored him as two yetis took his coat and carted it off to the laundry. He pulled the frail-looking teen, a still believing child, to him, seeing new injuries without the coat. Jack's right sleeve was burned and his chest showed signs of fire damage even though he had been pinned, face down with the injured arm under him.
"North, no way those injures came from the fire 'round 'im."
"I know Bunny. We find out later. You call others back vile I take Jack to medical ward."
Bunny huffed but the Globe room was closer so he headed to the lift, slowly at first, feeling better with each step. Solid ground. Nothing was better than good, solid ground under paw. When he reached the control panel, he grabbed the lever, twisted and pushed, lighting the Globe up for the second time that day.
A/N: Hi, thank you so much to Cat Lunanoff for beta-ing this. Bit of suspense here with Jamie but, heehee, I like doing that. I hope you like this chapter and thank you to the reviewers as well as those of you that fav'ed and followed my story, even after just one chapter. I hope it lives up to your expectations. Thanks again and enjoy.