Unpredictable

'Rise of the Guardians' story

by: Maven Alysse

Summary: Appearances aren't everything. How can you know how a person will react when you've never spoken to them?

A/N: I've watched the movie only twice (but was impressed enough to buy it right after seeing it in the theater). Three days after the second viewing, I started this tale. I had a wonderful plotline all charted out with Jack actually joining Pitch for a while before discovering he'd been tricked... but then Jack decided to go off on a tangent (he's tricky that way.) He decided that my idea was good, but that this would be even better. It frustrated me at first, but in the end I think he was right. It ended up a bit darker than I originally planned, but it ends on a high note. I hope everyone enjoys reading the story as much as I enjoyed writing it.

888

888

Unpredictable

Moonlight shone upon the sigil on the floor causing it to open and a crystal rose from the floor.

"Do you know what this means?" Toothiana twittered as she flew in a tight circle. "It means we're getting a new Guardian."

"Why do we need a new Guardian?" E. Aster Bunnymund blustered, ears laid back against the Pooka's head. "We're strong enough to take care of Pitch on our own."

Nicolas St. North waved a hand in dismissal. "Apparently, Man in Moon disagrees," his Russian accent thickened in his own excitement.

Bunny huffed. "Well, as long as it's not the Groundhog, I guess it's okay."

An image shimmered above the crystal, coalescing into a short, lithe figure with bare feet, carrying a crooked staff; a cocky smile peeked out from beneath a pulled up hood.

"Jack Frost!" Tooth squealed as several of her fairies swooned in delight.

"I changed my mind. I'd rather have the Groundhog," Bunny groused.

"I must admit, he would not have been first choice." North looked uncertain, his brows furrowed, but then his expression cleared with a good natured shrug of the shoulders. "Well, Man in Moon has his reasons for all."

A flicker of movement from the corner of his eye had Sanderson Mansnoozie turning sharply to stare in the direction of the balcony. One of the drapes gave a suspicious twitch. Eyes narrowed, the golden man floated closer, his actions catching the attention of the others.

"What is it, Sandy?" North followed the short being, one hand drifting down to his sword hilt.

A question mark made of sand appeared above the Sandman's head, along with an image of the balcony and the twitching curtain.

Drawing his sword, North strode forward and pulled aside the curtain, prepared to deal a dastardly blow to any intruder; his nerves on edge since Pitch had invaded his home.

A tiny elf froze in mid-bite of the cookie it had absconded with. At the angry expression upon North's face, the poor thing gave a startled squeak and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

"Bah," the large man turned from the creature. "Bunny, go collect Jack Frost. We need to induct him as Guardian." He stroked his beard, a gleam of glee appearing in his eyes as he handed over one of his toy sacks. "Take two of my Yetis to help." The Spirit of Christmas gave a hearty laugh. "Will be good joke, yes?"

A grin spread across Bunny's face as he took the sack."Now you're talkin' mate."

"I don't think..." Toothiana began, but sighed as her protests were ignored. She exchanged uneasy glances with Sanderson., then spoke louder. "Bunny doesn't get along with Jack. Maybe a more neutral party should be the one to talk to him?"

"Nonsense," North dismissed. "Frost is Guardian. All will be well." The two holiday Guardians walked out of the room, bantering back and forth about the possible places Frost could be at this time. "Use one of my snowglobe portals once you have him."

"Sure enough, mate. But, I'll be returning me own way, if ya don't mind."

"Won't that be too slow?"

"Nah, I'll arrive quicker than two shakes of a rabbit's tail."

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After the close call on the balcony, Pitch Black sped away from North's fortress, his mind working feverishly. So, the Man in the Moon chose Jack Frost as a Guardian, did he? Why? The snow child had even fewer believers than Pitch, if any at all, and as far as the Boogeyman knew, no mortals could even see the spirit. So, why did the Man in the Moon think Frost would be of any help against him?

An evil smile curled his lips in remembrance. For years, the snow child played pranks on other spirits, trying to gain their attention. Unfortunately, the attention he gained tended towards the negative. On one memorable occasion, Frost had caused a blizzard that ruined Easter Sunday in '68. Bunnymund had been furious and had threatened the spirit with pain and dismemberment if he got his paws on him. Years later, even a mention of the incident caused the giant Rabbit to splutter in anger and frustration.

If the Spirit of Hope planned on 'collecting' Frost … Pitch cackled and sped up.

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E. Aster Bunnymund stood in the shadows of the ally, a broad grin on his face as an icy breeze brushed his fur. This would make him feel a whole lot better about the fiasco Frost had made of his holiday in '68. The kid had apologized, but somehow it never rang as genuine.

The slight figure touched down on the ground, posture alert and wary. A gleam of moonlight showed a furrowed brow, while silvered blue eyes searched the darkened corners; thin fingers tapped on the staff in nervous movements.

"Oy, mate," the Pooka purred, grin widening as the ice sprite twitched and turned, that cold stare focusing on him.

The posture relaxed minutely. "Hey, Bunny."

"Got a bone to pick with ya, boyo. North wants a chat, as well." He hid a frown as the young spirit nodded absently, the icy gaze sliding away from him to delve into the shadows.

"And to what do I owe the pleasure?" the ice sprite murmured.

"Your future. Though, it's your past we should be more worried about."

"Ah, you aren't still mad, are ya Bunny?" The cocky grin tossed in his direction had him clenching his paws into fists.

"Yes," he bit out. "There's a thing called common courtesy, mate. You should learn what it means." With a vicious grin, he gave a nod and the two Yeti who'd accompanied him pounced, engulfing the slight figure in the red velvet bag, earning a startled yelp from Frost.

The large creature on the right tossed one of North's snowglobes to open the portal. It gave Bunny a questioning look.

"I'm headin' back me own way. See you back at the Pole." He tapped a paw on the ground, opening one of his tunnels, and hopped in.

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It took split-second timing, and still might not have worked if the Yeti had kept hold of the sack containing his prize. An instant before it would pass through the portal, Pitch Black snagged the bag from the air and disappeared into a nearby shadow, relishing the anguished cries of the Yeti. With the Easter Bunny already gone, it would take time before anyone could chase after him. Time he planned to put to good use.

Reappearing back at his lair, the Boogeyman tossed the sack onto the stone floor, earning a grunt of displeasure from the occupant. The magical properties of North's toy sacks kept Frost's powers at bay, but only for a short while. Pitch could already feel a bitter cold emanate from the cloth and knew it would only be a matter of time before the spirit escaped.

'Can't have that just yet.' Using his Fear-induced Shadow abilities, he transformed into the shape of the Easter Bunny, and with his large feet began kicking the sack, pummeling the figure within. "North was right," he drawled in a passable imitation of the Australian Pooka. "Yer too unpredictable. Well, no matter. We'll soon put you in your place."

Frost never spoke a word as he tried to claw his way out of the sack. Pitch grinned at the boy's grit. One last sharp kick soon rendered the snow child unconscious.

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Bunnymund felt the the smirk fall from his lips as he arrived back to North's Workshop to find pandemonium. Elves ran about in a panic, smacking into one another more often than not, while the two Yeti who'd accompanied him stood off to one side, arguing loudly with one another, their long arms swinging wildly. St. North strode back and forth in front of the Globe, a dark expression on his normally jolly face.

"Oy, what's wrong, mate?"

He flinched at the scowl directed at him. "Frost did not come through portal."

Bunnymund cast a quizzical look at the two Yeti, surprised when they averted their eyes in shame. "What happened to him? He was in the sack, the portal was open, and those two shoulda had no worries in getting him here."

"Pitch grabbed him and disappeared into the shadows with him."

Gaping, the Easter Bunny nearly fell to the floor in his shock. "Where would Pitch take him?"

North glared at the Globe, openly upset. "I know not. Pitch does not stay in one place for long. I do not know where he might currently reside."

"How about old haunts?"

"Pitch knows I'm aware of them, there would be no guarantee that Frost would be there."

"Maybe, but it would give us a starting point at least." Bunny turned to kick the wall in his frustration. "There's no tellin' what Pitch will do to the little blighter." Guilt clenched his gut, knowing that Frost's current predicament was partially his fault. He winced, remembering the cautious way Frost looked even after he recognized the Pooka. Could the winter spirit have felt Pitch's presence?

"Come," the former Cossack ran a hand down his face. "We must inform the others. Perhaps they can be of assistance in locating Frost."

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Pitch open-ended the sack, dumping the contents carelessly on the floor of a cell within his lair. The wooden staff clattered to the stones and Pitch kicked it out into the middle of the cavern. It wouldn't do for Frost to have access to his powers before the game could properly begin. The increased temperature of the cell, being bereft of his power source, and the belief that the Guardians hated him should be enough to turn the boy to his side when Pitch arrived to 'rescue' the snow child from his fate.

Frost's limp body landed with a dull thump. With the toe of his foot, Pitch rolled Jack onto his back, his gaze drifting over the injured spirit. Bruises bloomed, turning pale flesh into a patchwork of vivid purplish blacks and greens. Dark blood oozed sluggishly from a split lip and a cut near the hairline. One hand lay at an awkward angle, the wrist broken.

Thin lips twisted in annoyance at the wheezing breath. "Humn. I may have kicked a tad too hard." Pitch shrugged and crouched over the prone figure, his fingers dancing as he sprinkled black sand over the spirit's head.

The instant the nightmare began, Pitched focused his concentration on directing the dream. He wanted to widen the rift between Jack Frost and the Guardians to the point where the boy would have nothing to do with them.

888

Jack Frost stared in icy silence at the two Guardians. North, the Spirit of Christmas, stood to one side, arms crossed with his "Naughty" and "Nice" tattoos prominently displayed. "You are reckless and arrogant, Jack Frost."

With a painful wrench to his arm and shoulder, Bunnymund threw the young Spirit of Winter into the uncomfortably warm cell, causing Jack to stumble and fall, banging his knee in the process. The Spirit of Easter stalked closer to the boy, yanking him to his feet with a cruel grip on his hair. "You have no respect for other people's holiday's, mate," he sneered. A harsh backhand sent Jack slamming into the stone wall. "No regard for what you destroy and ruin."

"We were right to not associate with you, Frost." North's blue eyes flashed fiercely in his anger. "Much mischief you have done. You are not a good being." His expression turned grave and severe. "You've killed thousands with your cold and ice. Injured many many more. Your pranks caused insurmountable damage and heartache amongst the very children we Guardians are sworn to protect."

A furred fist drove into his stomach; it stole his breath and kept him from mounting any kind of defense, either physical or verbal. Not that he thought they would listen to him, no matter what he might have to say.

"We aren't willin' ta let ya wander about willy nilly anymore, mate." Another punch sent the Spirit of Winter to collapse on the stones. "Here we have you and here you'll stay until we decide otherwise."

Jack pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, bitterness and a growing sense of fear curling in his belly. The terror of being confined warred with the numbness that threatened to swallow him. They'd known of his solitude and done nothing? Some Guardians they turned out to be.

"Nothin' ta say?" the Pooka taunted. "Ah, well, yer not worth the time ta talk ta anyway." He pulled back his foot and let it fly toward the spirit's head.

Unable to dodge quick enough, Jack let out a pained yelp as the kick connected, sending him down into oblivion.

888

Pitch Black reclined on his haunches, a genuine smile upon his face at the bitterness and resentment that flowed from the snow child as his nightmare ran its course. 'That should keep the boy from trusting those two any time soon.'

He brushed his hand through the boy's hair, almost fondly. "I think I'll let you stew for a bit. That way, it will be all the more enjoyable when you join me for 'rescuing' you."

Pulling the bars down to seal the cell, Pitch hoisted the crooked staff to lean against his shoulder, silently marveling at how light and fragile it seemed. "Doesn't seem like much. Neither do you. But I suppose appearances can be deceiving. I can use that."

He sauntered out of the cavern, pleased with his plan. As he cackled to himself he failed to notice a pair of silvered blue eyes follow his movements.

888

Sanderson Mansnoozie frowned. Pitch Black's powers were growing. Children around the world suffered from nightmares and he found himself having to revisit several towns in order to soothe those afflicted with Pitch's minions.

Standing on a cloud of dream sand above one such town, the Sandman spread his arms wide sending ribbons of sand flowing as fast as he could toward the sleepers. It angered him that Pitch had perverted his sands in such a manner. Sadness also washed through him with the knowledge that many children would suffer tonight before he could get to them.

He flinched as a particularly malevolent nightmare flared into being. This one, unlike the others, felt carefully controlled. Who might the Boogeyman deem 'worthy' of a personal visit?

The gentle man bit his bottom lip as tears welled. Until he finished here he couldn't investigate the disturbance, himself. With desperate hope, he sent a tendril of dream sand in that direction, hoping it would reach the individual in time to soften the biting edge of the nightmare. The sleeper felt far away; the Sandman didn't think his sand would make it in time.

888

For long moments, Jack played possum, trying not to squirm from the overheated air that lay upon him like a lead weight on his chest.

He sensed the air currents for sign of anyone nearby. No movement. Satisfied he was alone, he opened his eyes to take in his surroundings.

No light illuminated the area, but Jack didn't need light to see. He never had, though he preferred how the world looked through moonlight.

Unrelieved stone surrounded him; the small five by eight foot cell carved directly from the rock. Bars lined one side from floor to ceiling. From his position, he couldn't see a way to open them.

Pursing his lips, he whistled, calling, and listened to the echoes. The cavern on the other side of the bars felt large, and he thought he detected a tunnel down at one end.

A beat, two, then a slight smile crossed his face as a soft breeze ruffled his snow white hair.

The Wind didn't speak. Not in words, anyway. Nonetheless, the Winter Child understood the Wind's agitation over the situation. It rubbed against his cheek in apology for failing to protect him.

Jack raised his hand, carding his fingers through the breeze as if petting it. "It's okay. It's not your fault. We were both caught off-guard." His own voice drifted soft as snow on the air. "I knew Bunnymund still held a grudge over that Easter in '68, I just never expected him to ambush me like that."

Pushing himself up on his elbows, he swallowed thickly as the room spun dizzily. He spat blood from a split lip and quelled the nausea with careful breaths. Steadier, he took stock of his injuries. One eye had swollen shut and he probed at the cut above it, glad that the bleeding had stopped. He could feel bruises that peppered his arms, torso, back, sides and legs where savage kicks had landed. A couple of ribs on his left side ached abominably, possibly cracked, and his right wrist had broken.

"Do you think you can find my staff?"

The Wind ruffled his hair again, this time in agreement, and slid out of the cavern and down the tunnel.

Jack shuddered as the cell felt even hotter without the cooling breeze. The heat sapped his strength and made it hard to think.

With a grim demeanor, the Winter Child sat up, grasped his right hand with his left and yanked hard, realigning the broken bones. This wasn't the first time he'd been injured. Not even injured by other spirits. Many had highly protective attitudes regarding their realm of influence and guarded them jealously, even viciously. He still carried a silvered scar on his left shoulder blade where Samhain had struck him with a jack 'o lantern over two hundred years ago.

Scooting closer to the bars, he examined them. Metal. A frown crossed his face like a shadow. With his staff, he could easily freeze the bars until they became brittle and shattered with a single blow.

He flexed his left hand, smiling coldly at the coat of frost. His staff allowed him greater control over his powers, let him direct them outwardly. It was not the source of his power, though. Several spirits had made that mistake in the past, and each had quickly learned that Jack was not to be underestimated.

Waiting for the Wind, Jack leaned against the bars in consideration over the nightmare he'd experienced.

The Winter Child seldom slept; he didn't need to like some spirits did. There was plenty of work to do as many places around the world remained cold year long, and he did his best work at night, leaving the day for snowball fights and sledding with the children.

When he did sleep, he seldom dreamed. In three hundred years, Sanderson had only visited him, albeit remotely, a dozen handful of times. Jack either slept dreamlessly or was plagued with nightmares. Alone save for the Wind, was it any wonder that the he craved attention? Over time, he learned to savor the nightmares as avidly as any "sweet" dream sent by the Sandman. Sometimes, even negative attention was preferable to being ignored; he was quite familiar with the mental flavor of Pitch Black's presence.

Despite Pitch Black's intention, the nightmare didn't particularly bother the Winter Child. He already knew that the Guardians, and in conjunction other spirits, didn't have much use for him. Winter storms were frequently destructive by their very nature; though the beings, particularly North and Bunnymund probably never realized their chastisement, neglect, and dismissals caused the more severe blizzards and bitter bone-numbing cold snaps. His powers were emotion based, after all. He knew, also, that his light-hearted attitude tended to rub the wrong way. He liked to have fun and appeared to ignore or make light of the more serious consequences of his abilities. He didn't, but if no one actually took the time to speak with him, how would they know?

Jack had to hand it to Pitch; the Nightmare King had done a masterful job with the nightmare he'd given Jack. Despite how real it felt, though, a few inconsistencies had kept him from falling for Pitch's trick. To start with, he had crossed paths with Bunnymund a few times in the past forty years; if the Easter spirit had planned to take his revenge on Jack for the Blizzard of '68, it would have been then, not after so much time had passed. Bunny held grudges, but the beating in the dream was uncharacteristic of the Guardian of Hope. Two, Nicholas St. North might hold himself in judgment over other spirits, but he would never allow torture; which, for all intents and purposes, was what the beating and confinement would result in a nature spirit. Finally, and more tellingly, none of the 'remembered' injuries correlated with his real ones.

"Sloppy, Pitch. Very sloppy," he murmured. "Though it does make me wonder what you hoped this would ultimately accomplish." If the Boogeyman wanted Jack on his side, this was not the way to have gone about things. Young when compared to the other nature spirits, the Winter Child was not stupid. He had centuries of relying only upon himself and the Wind. Though often lonely, he would not allow himself to be used for someone else's pleasure.

The Wind returned, soothing him with its chill embrace and he sighed in relief, perking up somewhat as his body cooled marginally. Through light touches and gentle tugs the Wind passed on its findings. Jack's staff lay near the entrance to the lair, but the Wind didn't have enough strength to bring it to him in the oppressive atmosphere of Pitch's lair.

"Okay. Then, I'll have to go to it."

He cocked his head in thought, letting a small, devilish grin tug on his lips imagining Pitch's expression as he touched the bars, giving them a slick layer of ice.

Ten painful minutes later, the Winter Child gingerly rose to his feet on the other side of the bars. Any who saw him at this time would draw back in horror at his cadaverous form; forgetting that Winter and Famine at times walked hand in hand.

He limped across the cavern and through the tunnel, one hand along the wall to steady himself.

The tunnel wound through several empty caverns and off-shoots. Without the Wind's guidance, Jack feared he would have become hopelessly lost within the underground labyrinth. Bones lined some of the walls, the area part of an abandoned catacomb. His eyes lingered over the smaller skeletons of children, some older than even he.

A frown creased his brow as he came across something other than stone and bone. This cavern seemed filled with what looked like empty bird cages. They hung in tiers from the ceiling and swung gently back and forth on their long chains. He pursed his lips in pensive thought and continued past, sliding around the menacing things. Each had an oil-slick like aura about them and the idea of accidentally touching one made his skin crawl. He heaved a sigh of relief when he reached the tunnel that led out of the area.

Time passed slowly as he continued along the path the Wind chose for him. A faint flutter of panic had lodged in his breast as he realized just to what extent Pitch had gone to ensure no one found him. He shuddered at the thought of being entombed and hastened his steps at the Wind's assurance that the entrance was near.

Silvered blue eyes cautiously studied the last cavern. Wan beams of pale light came in from a hole near the apex of the cavern. He breathed deeply, feeling the knot loosen at the fresher air that blew in. He could fly out easily, if he could find his staff.

The Wind tugged at his clothes, stronger in the larger space, bringing him to where his crooked staff lay propped against the stone. Jack blinked in astonishment, feeling that the Boogeyman should have used some type of precaution with the artifact, then realized the Nightmare King never thought Jack would escape the cell.

The wood grain felt comforting under his hand, the staff directing his power toward the worst of his bruises and diminishing them with the cold. Ice crept over the cuts, sealing them. More ice appeared around his wrist, supporting the injured joint until his body could finish the healing process.

He smiled, feeling himself relax for the first time since spotting the black blur that he now recognized as one of Pitch's fearlings. "Take me home?" he whispered.

Joyfully, the Wind complied, wrapping itself around him and lifting him out of the lair.

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The Sandman grimly followed the path of the sand ribbon he sent out earlier. He could tell that the ribbon never made it to its destination. As he'd feared, the child had woken before the dream could arrive and since he hadn't recalled it immediately, the dream remained in place waiting for direction.

He had a vague, general idea of which direction the nightmare had emanated, but the trail was gone. Now what?

The familiar sound of North's sleigh broke into his musings and he watched with a raised brow as the Guardian of Wonder pulled up beside him. He noticed that Bunnymund sat within the sleigh, as well; a rare sight as the Rabbit detested flying in any form, preferring to travel via his tunnels.

"Sandy!" North's uncharacteristically grim tone sent a shudder down his spine. "Trouble and calamity, my friend. Pitch has kidnapped Jack Frost."

With a terrible sense of foreboding, the Sandman lay his hands on the dream ribbon that pulsed before him. It made a horrific kind of sense that he would note Pitch's direct involvement in a nightmare, only to learn that the Boogeyman had their newest Guardian in his clutches.

His eyes closed in pain. What horrible things did the Nightmare King force the young winter child to endure? What memories had been twisted? Could anything be done to rectify or mitigate the damage?

Golden eyes snapped open and grim determination settled across his form like a cloak. As concisely as he could, he conveyed what he hypothesized to the others.

"Can your sand still find the place since the sprite's not sleeping anymore?" Bunnymund asked uncertainly, toying with one of his boomerangs.

Sanderson shrugged, but transformed his golden sand into a biplane and motioning for them to follow him. All he could do was try.

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Toothiana slipped out of a child's bedroom after securing the upper left incisor in her pouch. The happy memories contained in that particular tooth thrummed with energy and she gave a soft giggle in delight.

She loved her job. Keeping childhood memories safe wasn't easy, and without her fairies the task would be nigh on impossible due to the number of children in the world who lost teeth every day, but the satisfaction and sheer joy she got from a job well done was worth it.

A cool breeze wafted over her, causing her to shiver and amethyst colored eyes automatically searched the sky as she perched on the outer window sill.

North had urged for both she and Sandy to go on their nightly rounds. "It might take some time to locate Jack Frost. He is elusive and does not really have a set pattern to his movements."

"We're gonna have ta do some investigating before we find him," Bunny added. "There's no real telling how long that might take."

Neither felt particularly comfortable with the "prank" Bunny planned to pull on Jack, but had to admit the necessity of leaving the initial search to the others; the teeth wouldn't collect themselves, and with Pitch active, Sandy's sweet dreams would be needed more than ever.

"We will contact you once we've brought him to Pole," North assured. "And, if by chance you find him first, then you can extend invitation yourself. In meantime, we shouldn't disappoint the children."

The breeze turned even colder. She thought she detected a presence nearby and she tilted her head in consideration. "Jack Frost?" she called softly, aware of the sleeping child in the room behind her. "Are you there?"

The air stilled for a split second, then an equally soft voice responded. "Who wants to know?"

She blinked, a bit startled by the question, as well as the defensive tone . "I'm Toothiana." She craned her neck, trying to get a glimpse of the winter spirit, but he stayed hidden from her sight.

"I know. You're the Tooth Fairy. I've seen you and your fairies out and about."

She blinked again, "You have?"

She heard a noncommittal hum. "Collected Jaime's tooth, yet?"

An uninhibited smile graced her face as she cooed. "It's the cutest incisor. And the energy..." she sighed happily.

Another breeze blew by her, the coldest one yet, as Jack Frost floated toward her from around the corner of the house and Toothiana gave a third blink as she finally gazed upon Jack's slight form in person.

The smile slid from her face and she couldn't suppress the gasp of dismay when she saw the colorful bruises that marred pale skin. He held himself gingerly, as if his ribs pained him, and she caught the gleam of ice protectively surrounding a blackened wrist. "Oh!"

"Energy?" Jack cocked his head at her as if he hadn't heard her cry, though she noted the wariness in his uninjured blue eye. He kept his distance, hand grasped tight enough around his staff that the knuckles had turned blue, but the curiosity was genuine.

Her hands rose from her lap to flutter helplessly before her. Oh, how she wanted to sooth the young spirit before her. To gather him close and take care of him. Jack's posture, however, warned her that the slightest wrong move would cause him to scurry off.

Swallowing her heartache, she responded to his curiosity, hoping to set him at ease. "Baby teeth hold childhood memories. This one … well, this one stored a very special, happy memory just before falling out. So the energy within is more potent. Especially as it's one the child will treasure."

The solemn expression upon the spirit's face cracked and a smile full of wonder broke across his face. Jack's gaze darted toward the window, a mixture of emotions playing within "Really? Jaime really liked what happened that much?"

"Do you know what the memory is about?" She'd leaned forward, fascinated by the gleam of snow white teeth that peaked out of the smile.

"Don't you already know?" He glanced down at her gathering pouch, a touch of confusion on his face.

"Oh. No, I don't automatically know what memories are stored unless I specifically look. And I only do that when someone needs to be reminded of something." She bobbed her head. A person's memories were usually a private thing, and she tried to respect that privacy. "I just keep them safe and make them available when someone needs them." Her response was practically on autopilot; it wasn't the first time someone had asked her about the teeth, but her mind kept straying over the possible causes of the winter spirit's injuries

Unlike injuries caused in a fall or from rough housing, the placement and patterns of bruises looked like a beating. Her blood ran cold at the thought of someone deliberately harming the fragile spirit.

"You … give out memories?"

The odd tone sent mental alarms blaring. "Yes." She drew the word out, questioningly.

"Do … do you ..." a thin hand flexed rhythmically around his staff in nervousness and trepidation. He took a deep breath and squared his shoulders. "I don't remember anything from before I became Jack Frost. And somehow I'm positive that there should be something. Do you think you might have my memories?"

The confession rocked her back. She'd never heard of a spirit that didn't remember some of who or what they'd been before. How was that possible? "You don't have..." her horrified whisper trailed off at his stricken expression and she straightened her spine, smiling softly. "We can check."

He looked so sad and lost. Toothiana couldn't stop herself from reaching out to caress his cheek with one hand. She caught the flinch, though he tried to suppress it "Oh, Jack. What happened to you?" her voice drifted quietly between them. She wanted to know – to help – but would respect his decision if he chose not to tell her.

He backed away out of arm's reach and she let her hand fall into her lap giving him his space.

"Why are the Guardians looking for me?"

The question caught her off guard. "The Man in the Moon told us you are to be a new Guardian. Didn't Bunny or North find you and explain?" She would have thought one of them would have caught up to the elusive ice spirit by now.

"The Man in the Moon talks to you?" She couldn't decipher the look in his eye as he stared upward at the waxing crescent. "He's never spoken to me."

"Never?"

"He told me my name, but nothing else, no matter how often I asked."

Her heart broke at the mournful statement and stiffened her resolve even further. "C'mon. Let's get to my palace and find your teeth."

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Pitch Black danced from shadow to shadow, his fearlings dogging his heels. The second part of his plan required a bit of travel. With Frost safely tucked away, Pitch turned his attention toward the Tooth Fairy's Palace.

Though the Guardian of Memories would be out on her rounds, leaving her Palace relatively unprotected, he had to hurry. His fearlings were more powerful at night and the sun would rise in a few short hours.

An evil grin crossed his face as the brightly colored spires came into view.

With a gesture, he sent his fearlings toward the unsuspecting fairies. "Capture every fairy, my dears. And make sure you collect every box of childhood memories. With those, we can ensure that each child gets a special dream all of their own." His chuckle echoed over the alarmed shrieks of the tooth fairies as the fearlings descended upon them like a dark wave.

Confident in his minions' abilities, he only watched for a moment, savoring the fear from the tiny creatures before melting back into the shadows with the first group of fearlings and their dreadful cargo.

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Almost at the Tooth Fairy's Palace, Toothiana gave a cry, pulling sharply to a halt in mid-air, her wings twitching in agitation.

"What's wrong?" Jack Frost eyed the feathered Guardian with a hint of trepidation, wondering if this had all been a trick of some sort. The genuine distress that filled her expressive face caused some of his wariness of her to fade.

She glanced over at him, wringing her hands. "Oh! My fairies! Something's happening to my fairies! They're so scared!" She took off like a shot, her desperation pouring off her in waves.

Calling on the Wind for help, Jack lent speed to the frantic Guardian's flight.

The closer they flew, the more distressed the winged being sounded. "No. No. Not my fairies. Not the teeth."

They crested a hill. Below them, gleaming in the moonlight, stood The Tooth Fairy's Palace in all it's bright splendor. However, dark, oily looking cloud-like creatures darted around the building, chasing tiny blue, green, and gold feathered fairies, engulfing the frightened creatures and darting away into shadows with their prize.

With a sharp, bird-like shriek, Toothiana dived at the nearest cloud, her wings slicing through the shape like a razor, causing it to explode in a rain of black sand, freeing the fairy held within.

Jack Frost felt the air around him crystallize in his anger. In his eyes, Toothiana's fairies fell in the same category as the world's children: small and generally helpless against those larger or more powerful. He'd befriended a few over the years, sometimes helping them out when a feline got overly curious, or causing a distraction when a child woke before the fairy could disappear with a tooth. How dare Pitch go after them?

Jack felt his mouth stretch in a death head's grin that pulled on his split lip as he froze one fearling after another in place with his ice. Passing them, he gave them an almost contemptuous tap with his staff, causing them to explode. A few fairies flew out of the black sand. Most darted toward their mother, but one chose to hide in the pocket of his hoodie, instead.

The two enraged beings made a sizable dent in the fearlings' number, but in the end, there were simply too many to deal with them all. The fearlings vanished after taking all the memory containers. Not a single tiny fairy could be seen.

Toothiana knelt on an upper platform keening; her arms wrapped around her in anguish.

Jack hovered uncertainly, not sure what to do. Cautiously, he landed beside her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

With a quick motion, she turned and wrapped her arms around him, burying her face in the crook of his neck, her tears hot against his cold skin. He froze, panicked, then awkwardly wrapped his arms around her, patting her on the back while she sobbed.

A startled squeak had them pull apart, and a tiny fairy crawled out of Jack's pocket to snuggle against its mother's cheek.

"Oh, Jack. You saved one." She gave a tearful smile and kissed his cheek. "Thank you." Cradling the baby tooth fairy in one hand, she gently caressed its head feathers with one finger.

He couldn't stand the desolate look in her eyes. "Hey. We'll get them back. Don't worry."

"How? Pitch could have taken them anywhere."

He paused, absently poking at his split lip with the tip of his tongue. "I think I have a good idea where they could be. C'mon." He left no room for argument as he tugged her up into the air.

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