I've decided to edit this story. As you will see, I am a notorious underwriter. This first chapter alone went from ~950 words to over 3200. I hope that you will all enjoy this revised and expanded story. It is now much closer to what I originally intended, which just goes to prove that edits are important. Let me know what you think of the changes in the comments.
I will update this story as I get the chapters edited. The more comments and attention it gets, the more motivated I'll be to do it quickly!
Jack Frost stood in front of E. Aster Bunnymund, the Guardian of Hope, and sincerely hoped that the Easter Bunny would stop staring at him. The dark purple bruise on his cheek throbbed painfully, but Jack knew he couldn't flinch. He couldn't show any weakness. He had to stand strong and smile because the Guardian of Fun couldn't care about pain. The Guardian of fun was supposed to laugh off such things!
Despite knowing this, Jack Frost couldn't shake the image of Autumn's cruel grin as the Fall spirit left him bloody and broken just ten minutes ago. Ashamed of his own weakness, when Bunnymund had shown up five minutes later, Jack had shoved the three pieces of his staff under some bushes, praying that the Easter Bunny hadn't seen him do it. Of course, the Spring spirit demanded to know what had happened to his fellow Guardian, and Jack had spat out the first lie he could think of.
"So…" Bunnymund asked, narrowing his eyes. "You fell out of a tree, eh, mate?"
"Yes," Jack replied, resisting the urge to cower under the bright green eyes.
The Easter Bunny crossed his arms, shifting his weight. "Okay. Then where's your staff?"
Jack felt his face chill in a blush, his cheeks turning a pale blue. He knew he was just digging his own grave, but he lied again. "I left it back in my tree."
Bunnymund snorted, shaking his head in disbelief. Jack frowned.
The giant Pooka took several steps forward then circled Jack. The Winter spirit forced himself ramrod straight, knowing he looked terrible. His hoodie was rumpled and had several drops of his dark blue blood on it. His hair was damp with sweat and coated with dirt, his face was streaked with the remains of his shimmering tears, and he was pretty sure his ribs were bruised. He felt awful, and his heart pounded in his chest as he was analyzed.
Bunnymund made a noise, pausing behind him. Before Jack could turn, he heard a rustle of leaves. His heart sank, and he slowly turned to see the Spring spirit crouched by his hiding place. In his paws were the three pieces of his staff. Bunnymund had seen him hide them. Still, Jack Frost refused to give up his lie.
"That's where that went."
Bunnymund stood, his impressive height towering over the Winter spirit; he felt like a child caught with his hand in the cookie jar, which made him feel even worse. The Guardian of Hope didn't mince words any longer.
"Who hit ya, mate?"
Jack felt his cheeks chill again, but he stubbornly shook his head. "Nobody hit me, Cottontail. I fell out of a tree. My staff broke when I fell."
Bunnymund stomped a foot in irritation. "That's ridiculous. I've seen ya fall from three miles up and ya landed without a scratch. That sorta thing just don't bother us. Spirits hittin' us, on the other hand, will damage us. Magic is the only thing that can damage magic. Now, who hit ya?"
Jack slumped down, knowing he was caught. He shook his head, turning away. "Just leave it alone, Bunnymund."
There was no reply, but the sensation of being stared at continued. He slipped his hands in his hoodie pocket, nudging a small rock with his bare toes. He wished he were somewhere else, anywhere else, just so Bunnymund would stop standing there judging him.
There was a tap on his shoulder, but it wasn't a finger. His staff pieces appeared over his shoulder, and Jack pressed his lips together tightly as he took the bottom and middle pieces. Without a word, he went to the place inside of himself where his magic came from. He could feel the winds roaring deep down as his emotions raged. Still, he forced the winds to slow until they were calm. He connected the torn edges and took a deep breath. A burst of blue-white light flashed over his staff, and it became one piece.
He repeated the process with the third part of his staff, and suddenly he could breathe easier. His focus didn't like to be in pieces, and now that it was whole again, it iced over, the frost cooling his warm, blue-tinted fingertips. It was a bit warm to be in this part of the world at the moment, but that was the least of his worries.
Bunnymund watched without comment. Jack twirled his staff then slammed it down to spread a thin layer of ice across the ground. It immediately melted, dampening the earth and grass. The water sparkled in the rays of the afternoon sun. That reminded him of his cheeks, and he hurriedly wiped away the icy streaks as covertly as possible. If Bunnymund had any tact, he would leave the subject alone.
"I'm still waitin' for an answer, mate." So much for hope.
"No," Jack replied tersely. "What are you doing here anyway?"
Bunnymund frowned. Jack knew he was displeased with the lack of answer, but he didn't care. It was his business, not Bunnymund's. And it definitely didn't deserve the attention of the Guardians. His thoughts churned as they recalled the taunts from Autumn, and one particular idea played through his mind. They are the Guardians of Childhood, so wouldn't that make this their business? Jack clenched his jaw, knowing the Spring spirit was watching his face carefully.
After what seemed like an eternity, Bunnymund leaned against a tree. There was still enough summer left that moss bloomed across the bark. "North's called a meetin'. Wanna fly there or take the tunnels?"
Jack knew that Bunnymund wanted him to take the tunnels. It would move them so much faster, and then he would have to immediately speak to the others. The thought of that conversation made him answer very quickly.
"I'll fly. See you in an hour or so."
Bunnymund left with a frown, and the tunnel filled in behind him. As soon as the Easter Bunny disappeared, Jack allowed the tears to fall. He sat down beside a pond, looking down into the reflective surface. The damage was worse than he'd thought. The cut on his cheek oozed his dark blood, and the shoulder of his hoodie was soaked and stained the deepest blue. Scooping up a handful of the warm water, which immediately became icy cold, he washed his face. The bruise stood out on his pale skin, an ugly reminder of his helplessness and of Autumn's strength.
He stripped naked and doused himself in the water, rinsing the brown streaks out of his hair, then scrubbed the blood out of his clothes. He was thankful for the magic that radiated out of his fingertips into the cloth, washing it clean of the stains. His undershirt became white as snow, his hoodie as blue as the sky on a winter's evening. His pants washed clean, too, and the tears magically repaired as he ran his fingers over the rips.
The process took five minutes, and his clothes were as pristine and perfect as ever. He stepped out of the water, glancing down distastefully at the seasonal markings that decorated his bare skin. With a single thought, they disappeared, and he analyzed the damage that Autumn had wrought.
His chest was the same, uniform shade of purple as his cheeks. Imprints of the Fall spirit's fists ran marked his arms and legs, but thankfully nothing felt broken. Still, his body was sore, his muscles stiff. It would take over a week to heal from that beating, even with his magic.
He dressed awkwardly, every movement making him groan. Picking up his staff, he called the winds to lift him into the air. They gently caressed Jack's cheek, as if wishing him speedy healing. He smiled and commanded them to take him to the North Pole. As he flew, he wondered if he should have taken the tunnels. An hour alone with his thoughts didn't sound pleasant at all. But he had made his decision. Though he fought to keep his mind off of what had just happened, but he couldn't.
Every so often, the Fall spirit decided that his season should be longer than usual. To make sure he got what he wanted, he would track down his Winter counterpart and use his fists to persuade Jack to wait for as long as possible before beginning his season. The vicious beating didn't happen every single year, but usually once or twice a decade. Still, it left Jack Frost weak and afraid, which was no doubt the intent.
Autumn had been selected by the Man in the Moon and immortalized when he was twenty-four. At only fourteen, Jack was physically ten years younger than him. That meant that Autumn was far stronger than him, and he always used that to his advantage. The Fall spirit was a full-grown man, while the Winter spirit was 'just a boy' even if he was hundreds of years old. Autumn took great pleasure in demeaning him, taunting him that he was just a child and always would be. And the teasing had only gotten worse since Jack was chosen to be a Guardian.
"You know Manny must have made a mistake, right?" Autumn's voice asked, echoing from just half an hour before. "Why would he want a child instead of a real man? You're not good enough to be a Guardian, no matter what the others say. They'll never accept you as one of them. You'll always be a burden to them. They'll always have to take care of you. Sooner or later they'll get tired of babysitting, then where will you be?"
Jack covered his ears, moaning out loud. He begged the Winds to blow faster, harder, louder. He couldn't stand to hear those words. Yet they repeated inside his head, Autumn's voice as strong and real as ever. The words mocked him, reminding him of his weakness, feeding his insecurities, which had heightened since he had taken his oath. He knew that he was Jack Frost, the Winter spirit, Guardian of Fun. He knew he had been specifically chosen by the Man in the Moon to protect the children of the world, to keep the Fun alive. But at that moment, he felt like a wounded child, unable to grow up yet forced to act like a grownup. How could there ever be a balance for him?
By the time he reached North's workshop, he was emotionally drained. As soon as he'd pushed open the door, Phil waved cheerfully then led him to a parlor. He didn't even have a chance to breathe for a moment, as the yeti immediately opened it, said goodbye, and left. He stepped in, unable to look up, and closed the door behind him. Toothiana gasped and fluttered over, tilting his chin back to see the ugly bruise.
"Oh, Jack!" she said, tears gleaming in her bright pink eyes. "Bunnymund told us that somebody attacked you! Hold still, let me see."
Jack flinched as she put the slightest pressure on his cheek. It hurt so badly that he shoved her away with a suddenness and violence that shocked even himself. She actually stopped flying and nearly fell over, catching herself on a cushioned chair with a sharp intake of breath. There was silence, everybody's mouth hanging slightly open, their eyes wide at the act of aggression. Jack's cheeks darkened to blue again, and he crossed his arms, looking away.
"I-I'm fine, Tooth," he said, though he didn't feel fine at all. "I promise I am. Please don't be concerned. I've actually had worse from Au…him."
Jack's slim hope that they hadn't heard the slipup disappeared the second after it appeared. Everybody had perked up at the beginning of the name they really wanted to know, and immediately they all began going over the names and functions of the different spirits that roamed the Earth.
"Au…?" Bunnymund asked. He puzzled over the syllable for a moment until it clicked, and his hand twitched toward his boomerang. "Autumn? The Fall spirit? He's the one who did this to you?"
Jack's deepening blush and fearful look said it all, made worse by his stuttering attempts to cover his tracks. "What? No! I mean…er, yes, But he was just…I mean, we've had disagreements before. It's just a little spat, um, so you don't have to mention it. You don't need to bother him about it. He's just a little twitchy about winter this year and…"
Jack trailed off at the look on the Pooka's face. Bunnymund's ears were flat against his head. His lips curled in a sneer as North slammed down his cup of eggnog, eyes narrowing. Even the Sandman looked angry, a feat in and of itself, and flames of sand began to burn around his head.
"No, mate," Bunnymund snapped. "Don't you dare try to excuse him. He shouldn't be beatin' up nobody. Especially not a Guardian. I think we'll talk to him. Get our point across." He snatched his boomerang and twirled it threateningly, the promise of pain in his green eyes.
Jack shook his head weakly, and he bit his bottom lip to keep it from trembling. "Really guys. It doesn't matter. Please leave it alone."
"This will not happen, Jack," North said matter-of-factly. "We are your family and we will protect you."
Jack clenched his hands around his staff, anger etching into every tired line in his face. "I don't need protection," he said through clenched teeth, the temperature of the room plummeting.
"Jack, please. Let us talk to him," Toothiana said, flitting back into the air, though she didn't approach the Winter spirit.
"Why?" Jack asked bitterly. "Do you want next time to hurt worse? He's got quite the right hook, if you didn't notice."
Every eye landed on his wounded cheek. After a pause, Bunnymund pursed his lips, stood tall, and shook his head. "There ain't gonna be a next time, mate. You leave that to us."
Jack knew that he would never convince them to stay away from Autumn. He could hear the Fall spirit laughing at him. "The little boy can't even fight his own battles! There you go again, Jack, running to the grown-ups to handle your problems! You're nothing but a baby!"
The Guardian of Fun walked over to the chair closest to the window and farthest from the fire. It was his customary chair, so he could open the window if he got too hot. His movements were jerky, each step an effort. He refused to let his pain show on his face. He was already a baby in Autumn's eyes. He didn't need the Guardians' pity, too.
A hiss escaped him as he sank down, and his free hand jumped to his ribs. It was almost as if he was wearing a straitjacket. The bruises squeezed the air from his lungs and didn't want to expand to let more in. As he gasped in a lungful of too-hot air, he couldn't help but shudder from the stiffness and the aches that would only get worse.
North frowned, glancing at the others before approaching. He reached for Jack's staff, but the Winter spirit snarled, pulling it close. It bumped his chest and a strangled noise left his throat, his body spasming involuntarily.
"Sandy, go get one of the yeti medics," North ordered.
"Wait, what?" Jack asked, his eyes widening.
"You're hurt. Let us see."
"See what?" The boy's voice actually cracked with fear, his blue eyes even more terrified now than they had been earlier.
"You are not bruised?" North asked, alarmed at the sudden change in Jack.
"No! No bruises! None!" Jack said, a tinge of panic to his voice. "Just a little sore. That's all. Autumn gave me a right good beating, so I can be sore, can't I? It makes sense that I'm sore. I don't need a medic. I'm fine, just fine!"
Sandy had paused at the door, his hand on the knob. The four older Guardians gave each other a look that seemed to say something, but Jack didn't understand what it was. Terror and panic had swelled until they were unbearable. He couldn't take his clothes off for them.
Nobody had ever seen him naked, not once in the three hundred years he'd been alive as Jack Frost. Yes, he knew they didn't care. Yes, he knew they could possibly help him feel better. But he just couldn't do it. Shyness and nausea fought inside of him, his heart pounding violently in his chest. He tensed, ignoring the pain as he prepared to bolt through the window if he had to.
But after they looked back at him, Sandy floated back over to his drink, picking it up in his small hands and sipping it. His gleaming golden eyes seemed to be trying to see everything inside the boy, and Jack immediately lowered his blue eyes to the ground, afraid to be known by somebody so ancient and powerful. Once again, he felt like a little child, unable to handle himself like a grown-up.
"If you're sure you are fine, Jack," North said. "Then we will not get the medic. Now, I thought we could discuss our business. Yes?"
"Business? You mean, like, the kids? So winter and fun?" Jack relaxed, sinking back into the cushions. "Sure! That's cool. Can I have some of that eggnog first? I'm thirsty."
"Sure," North said jovially, ringing a bell to call a yeti.
Jack grinned wide, watching Tooth crane her neck to see his teeth. She looked ecstatic. He pretended not to notice. While they waited on refreshments, North leaped into the topic of the Workshop and the children and the Wonder in the world. Jack smiled to hear of the magic of childhood. But deep inside, his insecurities struggled to get his attention with a barrage of questions.
Was he nothing but a child to his friends, the Guardians of Childhood? Was the reason MiM picked him because he needed to be watched over? Was he always destined to be a weak, needy child, stripped of Wonder, Hope, and Dreams, lacking even his Memories from life? If he was a child, how could a child protect children? But if he wasn't a child, how could he be a Guardian of Fun?
His heart seemed to crack as the questions poured through his mind. But on the outside, he smiled and laughed with the other Guardians as they told stories, ribbing each other. Because he was the Guardian of Fun. And the Guardian of Fun had to be fun all the time. If he wasn't, something might break inside of him, letting out the storm that blew and tumbled around his heart and mind. But he couldn't do that. People got hurt when it came out. He couldn't feel pain and sorrow without causing even more. So he resolved to keep it in.
So though it hurt to hold it in, he smiled and laughed and drank eggnog, hoping against hope that the raging wind and icy snow would stay locked up until he was alone, and afraid of what would happen if it didn't.