Don't Wander Off

Jack grabbed the nape of Jamie's cloak, hoisting the child up and over a protruding tree root. The boy protested. Regardless if North had to awkwardly clamber over it or if Bunnymund had to make a large bound, he still argued that he could've climbed over it himself. Jack looked behind them at the root that clearly reached only a few inches below his chest. His bond was probably small enough to duck under it, but the spirit still chuckled at the younger boy's confidence. However, a strong gust of wind quickly carried the laugh over the trees and deeper into the forest.

Jack frowned. The further they walked, the more stifling and denser their surroundings got. The trees that lined the border of the woods stood upright and normal, but the ones that were around them now loomed, towering over as if trying to reach out for the strangers walking in their domain.

Everyone was already on high alert before, but things seemed edgier now. Bunny's ears pricked at every rustle of leaves or howl of wind. Tooth's feathers were ruffled out slightly, like goose bumps over skin. North kept a hand over one of his sheathed swords. Sandy, trying to stay calm as usual, still wrung his wrists. And Jack, normally collected as well, still kept a tight grasp around his staff, not loosening his grip for a second. Jamie blinked. Even after feeling the faint, creepy wisp of chuckling hit his ear, he still didn't feel as wound up as the others. Oh, that was Jack's chuckling, Jamie thought with some relief.

"Trying to lighten the mood, Jack," Jamie asked, looking up at Jack through his chestnut bangs.

With the tilt of an eyebrow, Jack finally tore his gaze from up ahead to look down at his apprentice. "Huh?"

Jamie tried to glare through his grin. "You're still laughing at me not being able to get over that root."

Jack's eyebrows furrowed further. "That was over a half hour ago Jamie. I haven't made a noise since then."

"But, then what was…"

North cleared his throat. "Nightfall is coming," he said, starting slightly when he heard the snap of an overhanging tree branch swaying in the breeze. "We are all jumpy, tired, and could use a place to rest." The Guardian brought out a sword, using it as a machete to tear away at a wall of undergrowth. "And I think I just found us one." The shredded leaves fell away, revealing a large opening in a wall of stone.

Bunnymund flicked a claw over a match to light it, and threw it in with the branches. He grinned as the fire ignited, warmth spreading through the cave.

"Aha," North exclaimed, digging through his pockets to bring out packs of sandwiches. "Here we are," he said as he passed food out to his friends. "Here, Jack." North gave the spirit an extra sandwich. "Give that one to Jamie."

Jamie had one hand resting along the mouth of the cave, his eyes staring fixedly out into the forest.

"Don't even think about it."

Jamie turned at the sound of the familiar voice. The little boy cocked his head as Jack walked up to him. "Think about what?"

"You know what," Jack said, even though he knew Jamie's confusion was genuine. The winter spirit gave a sigh and a lopsided grin. "You can be just as curious as me sometimes…which isn't good. I don't want you wandering off while we're here." Jack handed Jamie the sandwich, which Jamie gratefully began digging into.

"I won't wander off," Jamie objected between mouthfuls.

"Of course you won't," Jack scoffed lightly, earning him a glare from his friend. "Come on," he nudged Jamie's shoulder. "Let's go join the others."

The night fell over the six friends that were gathered around the fire, their light laughter sending echoes throughout the cave.

"You know," Jack said, coming down from a joke-induced laugh. "We should go camping more often." The winter spirit wagged a playful eyebrow as he passed the other half of his sandwich behind his shoulder. Jamie, unable to change his body temperature like Jack, sat slightly behind his Guardian. To him, the small warmth of the fire was sweltering.

Jamie bit into the sandwich without guilt. Jack had told the boy that he brought a sandwich along for himself and didn't need the one that North made. The winter spirit could see how hungry Jamie was, and Jamie, too hungry to see through the lie, scarfed down his meal. Jack reached back and ran a cool, gentle hand through Jamie's hair. The poor kid hadn't eaten in hours.

As hours passed, one by one they all turned in for the night, with Jamie being the first to fall asleep. Jack tugged off his hoodie, revealing the white, colonial shirt underneath. He balled up the sweater and moved it under Jamie's head. Jamie's eyes fluttered open to see his Guardian laying down a foot or two away from him. His eyebrows furrowed. Normally he would've woken up in Jack's arms, face buried in his hoodie. Jamie's question quickly fell away when he saw that everyone was asleep.

"Who's watching for Reaper's," the kid asked aloud.

"Sandy," Jack replied groggily, tired eyes opening at the sound of his bond's voice. "Nighttime is his time, remember? He's out in the forest keeping watch. He'll let us know if he sees any Reapers."

"But his gold sand glows," Jamie mused. "Won't the Reapers see him?"

"I asked him the same thing, but he just smiled at me and went out of the cave."

Jamie nodded, and he looked to the mouth of the cave with a sigh. "I hope this whole mess gets sorted out soon."

"Come on, kid," Jack grinned with a wink. "We're Guardians. We're professionals at this kind of stuff."

"A couple hours ago you didn't even know what Reapers were," Jamie said blankly.

"Ye of little faith," Jack sniggered, and Jamie smiled along with him.

"I just want to be sure that mom and Sophie are safe."

Jack's mischievous smile grew softer. "They will be, as will everyone else in the world." Jack rolled to lie on his back. "We just have to do some Reaper hunting first." Jamie nodded, taking up the same position.

Jamie turned a little to watch the faint flicker of the fire, shadows from the flames dancing over the walls and ceiling of the cave. In a matter of minutes, all that would be left were burning coals, and then lights out. As this was Jamie's only nightlight, he wanted to be asleep before that happened, so he felt his eyes slide shut, only to open again at the sound of Jack's voice.

Jamie sat up slightly and stared at Jack. "…What?"

"You're father," Jack repeated. "What's he like?"

"I-I don't know," Jamie stammered slightly. It wasn't out of fear or anxiety, it's just that no one had really ever asked him that before. Everyone who knew them never really questioned his mom's marital status. And if anyone ever did ask about Jamie's father, he was either met with a shrug or an apologetic smile. "Why?"

"Well," Jack said, tracing his finger lazily through the dirt while not taking his eyes off Jamie. "You always talk about your family, but you've never really mentioned him before." Jack shrugged, assuming the worst. "You don't have to talk about him if you don't want to."

"No, no," Jamie said quickly. "It's just…well... I did know him for a while, but he's been gone since then."

"What ever happened to him?"

Jamie scratched his head, his memories always fuzzy on that particular subject. "Don't know," he replied. "I think mom said that he went out one night to get takeout and…never came back. She was pregnant with Sophie at the time," he added.

"That's tough," Jack murmured apologetically.

Jamie shrugged, but then started to smile. "I don't remember a whole about him," he said. "But I do remember when we'd watch cartoons together. We could only really hang out much on weekends 'cause he worked so much." Jamie's wistful smile broadened, eyes staring at the small fire in front of them. "I remember we'd always laugh at the same parts." He looked at Jack, who was smiling along with him. "Mom said I got his looks from him."

"He sounds like a cool guy."

Jamie chuckled, but his smile started slipping. "Mom always said she never knew what happened to him that night." Jamie shook his head. "Maybe he had got into a car wreck and mom never wanted to tell me." Jack nodded. And he almost let it slip that there was also the possibility of him... cheating on her, but he knew Jamie wouldn't want to hear that. Plus, Jack really couldn't say anything for certain.

"Hey," Jack piped up. "There were a few picture albums I had salvaged from your old bedroom. After we're done here we can go and look through them, see if we can find him in there."

"That'd be great, Jack!"

The winter spirit smiled as Jamie yawned through that statement. "Bedtime," Jack murmured conclusively before laying back.

Jamie, however, was too distracted to sleep. For the first time in a long while, thoughts of his father lingered in his mind. He started to really concentrate on his memories, trying to dig up old moments between him and his dad. Even just a still image would do, anything at all. All he could remember was them watching cartoons together. He hummed lightly, trying to imitate his father's laughter after all these years.

However, Jamie gasped when the cave suddenly plunged into darkness. Jamie sat up. The fire had gone out. Jamie fidgeted in place, only to jump when a gust of air hissed at the mouth of the cave.

"Jack," Jamie whispered with uncertainty. "Can I sleep with you tonight?" A question like that always rolled off a child's tongue. Not only was it a request for some attention, but also a sentiment of fear, fear of the unknown. Between the two boys, that question was always unnecessary. Jamie knew that Jack would have no problem allowing Jamie to do that. Although, he still asked it anyway, and was surprised when he received no answer. Jamie finally heard the light snoring. Jack had almost instantly fallen asleep, leaving Jamie alone with the night.

Swallowing, Jamie lied down, using his leather cloak to help curl himself into a ball. He was barely able to make out Jack's outline in the darkness. Jamie shut his eyes, trying to forget about his father, or Reapers, for that matter. And when he finally managed to fall asleep, he woke up some time later. It wasn't the noise of the wind that had awoken him, it was noise that the wind was carrying.

* I apologize for the lack of updating. I got a new job and it's been taking up a lot of my time. But I like this story too much to put on hiatus. So expect another update in the near future (hopefully tomorrow or next week).