The sound of laughter and music is faint but still audible even from several floors down. That’s possibly because Jack’s pushed open wide the large paned windows of Santa’s personal workshop; the noise’s travelling in from there it seems. It doesn’t bother Jack, although he’d come here in the first place for peace and quiet. It makes him feel included but without all the clamouring, people and celebratory toasts he’d been forced to endure before he escapes to privacy. It’s nice. He thinks he can even hear North’s thundering laughter, though that’s more likely a flight of fancy. Everyone’s getting pretty wild up there.
Well, he can’t blame them. The Guardians have just prevented a global takeover from one of the most ancient and dangerous creatures of legend: Pitch Black, the Guardian who had almost plunged the world into a second Dark Ages. Not only did they stop him, but they had also stemmed further attacks for what could be centuries longer. Indeed, if there is anything that qualifies for a celebration, this episode crowns them all. After a short reprieve in which the Guardians recuperate and catch up with work that had been placed on the back burner in favour of battling Pitch, North had rallied his yetis and invited every single spirit he can think of to what Tooth dubs is “the biggest, most funnest shindig in the past 600 years”.
Jack, too busy laughing his heart out at Tooth’s use of ‘funnest’, is roped into attending before he can come up with an excuse.
“We show you that we, too, know how to have fun,” North informs him before summarily dragging them all off to help with decorating.
It’s not that Jack hadn’t wanted to attend; on the contrary, he loves parties! But one glance at the guest list tells him he knows practically none of the spirits and creatures coming, and he ends up incredibly nervous when the party begins. Having been the key to Pitch’s defeat (a fact North hadn’t been shy in declaring for the opening toast), he is effectively the ‘hero’ of the occasion and everyone is eager to make friends with the newly-inducted Guardian of Fun. Jack had spent most of the hours he’s actually at the party clinging alternately between Tooth and Sandy, both of whom had been more than happy to keep ravenous hoards away from their youngest member, before he’d given North the slip and ended up in his office.
Although Jack finds North’s entire workshop a place of awe and wonder, his favourite room is undoubtedly this one with its humming inventions, comfortable window seat and, most of all, its captivating view of the North Pole. This is the clincher for Jack Frost, spirit of ice and cold, who’d come down here solely for this. Something about the snow-blanketed, irregular yet unchanging landscape settles something within him that hasn’t been calm since his first encounter with Pitch. The wind ruffles against his hair and he smiles.
“Everything looks exactly the same even after everything we’ve been through, huh, Wind?” he says, lifting into view the wooden blue doll he’s been rolling between his fingers. “Can’t say that for me, though.”
She spins around him, bringing with her a sound reminiscent of bubbling laughter, before rushing away and he sighs in contentment. He drops the hand holding the little figure of himself back into his lap and gazes at it for a few moments before looking at the moon. Tonight Manny is a crescent framed by craggy mountains, bright as a lamp and constant as ever. He’s seen it countless times, talking to it for just as many, seen it in all its forms but never before had it been as beautiful to him as it is now. He’s not even sure how long he’s been sitting here, gazing at the way its rays drape over the land, before the door creaking open catches his attention.
“So this is where you’ve been hidin’, mate,” says a familiar dry voice.
Jack looks over his shoulder. “Bunny!” he greets happily as the Pooka lopes to his side. “What brings you to my lair?”
Bunnymund raises an eyebrow at that. “Does North know you hijacked his office to make it your lair?” he asks, sceptical.
“Not yet,” Jack answers with a straight face. Then he breaks into a grin and flaps a hand at the length of window seat. “C’mon, siddown.”
Bunny leans over the stretch of cushion and peers out the window with cautious eyes. “That’s a long way down,” he remarks nervously. Jack smirks at him.
“You scared, cottontail?” he teases.
Bunny gives him an offended look he recognises all too well before resolutely plopping down on the seat, letting those powerful legs hang over the non-existent frame. Although his expression doesn’t change, it’s obvious how uneasy he is with the precarious position. He’s got a death grip on the cushion’s edge and a wary eye on the sheer cliff face Santa’s workshop is built off. Jack doesn’t miss the apprehension.
“Hey, relax,” he says reassuringly. “Even if you fall, I’d catch you.” He leans back to tap at his staff, which is standing against the wall beside him. “There’s nothing to be worried about with Jack Frost here.”
“It’s you I’m worried about,” Bunnymund mutters under his breath, just loud enough for Jack to overhear.
“It’d be pretty stupid of me to do away with you when I don’t have an alibi,” says the winter spirit mischievously. “North’d lay the blame on me straight away.”
“He’d know it was you even if you did have an alibi.”
“True, true.” Jack grins at him again. “So you can relax. I don’t really want to be hunted down by Santa Claus.”
“Feh,” is Bunnymund’s reply but he does relax. “What’s so great about hangin’ ‘round this dingy joint anyway?”
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Jack gestures grandly at the view splayed before them. “Doesn’t that just take your breath away?”
“Suppose it’s nice enough,” Bunnymund agrees a little dubiously. “Bit too bare for my tastes, though.”
“Yeah, you’re a green person, aren’t you?”
Bunnymund shrugs. “I like nature,” he says, and then adds, pointedly, “being an icon of spring and all.”
“Doesn’t stop you from appreciating true beauty, though, does it?” Jack says without missing a beat.
Bunnymund’s lips curl upwards, almost involuntarily. “It doesn’t,” he agrees.
Jack smiles. “I love it,” he finds himself saying. “Reminds me of home. My lake back in Burgess, I mean.”
At this, Bunnymund gives him an unreadable look. Sharp green eyes flick down to the wooden doll in Jack’s hand but he doesn’t comment. After a moment, he says, “Father Time’s looking for ya’.”
Jack grimaces. “That guy’s been stalking me all night,” he says, sour. “It was so hard to get him off my trail.”
“It’s his job to keep records of everything that ever happens.”
“He wants to inject his freaky quill into my head.”
Bunnymund shrugs again but his whiskered face is amused. “S’not like you’ll feel a thing, Frostbite,” he points out.
“Tooth told me how that thing works,” says Jack crossly. “I want a break first before I have to relive every single moment of the past few days.”
“Well, you could’ve told him that.”
“I told him he could come back in a few days and then we’d talk. Old geezer doesn’t know how to take a hint.”
Bunnymund snorts. “Well, he won’t stop bugging ya till he gets what he wants.”
“See if he can catch me,” Jack mutters. He glances over at his companion in the lull that follows.
“So, what did you come down to my new and improved lair for?” he jokes.
“I’m not much for parties,” Bunnymund answers plainly.
Jack valiantly fights down a smirk. “What a surprise,” he says under his breath, and smiles innocently when Bunnymund glares at him. “Won’t the others notice that we’re both gone?”
“Feh, they’re too busy minglin’,” Bunny tells him with an exasperated shake of the head. “Don’t think Sandy noticed that you were gone at all.”
“I feel so loved,” Jack comments.
“Ain’t you just?”
Jack grins at that. “Go on, tell me the truth, really,” he prods, “If you didn’t want to party you could’ve just gone somewhere else. Why’d you come all the way down here for?”
“Was looking for you.”
Jack’s taken aback more by the honesty than the answer. “What for?” he asks.
There’s a long pause. “Wanted ta say sorry,” Bunnymund finally answers, his voice gruff.
Jack looks over at him in surprise. “For what?” he asks, cheek leaning against palm.
“For almost hittin’ ya the other day.”
Jack furrows his eyebrows in consternation, mind blank. Hit him? Bunny’s tried to hit him (plus a few other violent things) multiple times. Which one is he talking about now? So he asks. Bunny’s answer is more slap in the face than he expects it to be.
“On Easter,” Bunnymund informs him, and his expression is somewhat pained.
“He has to go.”
“We should never have trusted you!”
“Oh,” says Jack. Then he shakes his head. “Forget about it. You just got a bit carried away.”
“I still shouldn’t have done it,” Bunny insists. “You didn’t deserve it.”
Jack rubs the back of his head, getting slightly agitated. He stares down at the wooden doll. “You know, I pretty much did, actually.”
He can practically feel the weight of the other’s stare.
“If you hit me, I would’ve deserved it,” Jack says again. “I ruined Easter. If I hadn’t been hanging around Pitch, I would’ve been at the Warren and maybe—maybe we could’ve saved your eggs.”
Bunny’s unexpectedly quiet for a long time. “They were just eggs, mate,” he eventually says. “They would’ve been eaten in the end.”
Jack snorts at him and closes his fist around the doll. “You should’ve hit me,” he says flatly.
“Maybe I should’ve, then ya wouldn’t be pullin’ this pity fest on me.”
This makes Jack blink at him, startled. Bunnymund looks back, supremely unapologetic despite the fact he begun the conversation in a bid to apologise.
“Even if ya’d been there, Frostbite, there’s no tellin’ how different it could’ve been,” he says. “You didn’t see how Pitch’s Nightmares flooded my tunnels. There were thousands of them. There’s no guarantee you could’ve frozen them faster than they could destroy my eggs.”
Jack draws one knee up to his chin. “We could’ve still saved Easter.”
“We could’ve. I’m not sayin’ I don’t wish we did. But we beat Pitch, didn’t we? My Easters’ll be safe from now on. Or they would,” Bunnymund adds, dry again, “if you’d stop messing with them.”
Jack can’t help it. He smiles. But it fades and he presses his lips against the rough cloth of his pants. “You were really mad, though,” he whispers.
Bunnymund sighs. “For the first time since I was chosen as a Guardian, the children didn’t believe in me. Wasn’t exactly thinkin’ straight then, mate. That’s why I wanted to apologise. I shouldn’t have taken it out on ya. You were just…a convenient target.”
He sounds ashamed.
Jack feels his fist loosen around the doll. He glances down at it and then offers it to Bunnymund, who gives it a surprised look.
“Sorry Easter was ruined,” says Jack, giving him a small smile.
Bunnymund is still for a few seconds but then he accepts the peace offering for what it is and examines the doll with curiosity. “This supposed to be you?”
“If you know anyone else who looks that attractive, I’m all ears.”
A roll of the eyes is his response. Jack grins. Bunnymund hesitates, clutching the doll tight for a moment before his shoulders fall and his head bows low.
“…Sorry, too, for what I said,” he says.
“That time I was talking ‘bout how the children couldn’t see you ‘cause they didn’t believe. I’m sorry for saying it.”
Jack allows his gaze to wonder over white peaks, almost glowing beneath the moonlight. “You only said the truth,” he says, far more quietly than he intends.
“Yeah,” Bunnymund agrees, “but it hurt ya, didn’t it?”
“You don’t know that.”
“Of course I knew, mate, or I wouldn’t ‘ave said it.”
From the corner of his eye, Jack sees the gentle way Bunnymund brushes a thumb over the wooden doll’s face. He looks miserable, his ears and whiskers drooping, his lips curled downward and a frown heavy on his brow. Bunnymund turns his face up towards the moon, possibly gathering strength from it as he continues to speak.
“I didn’t actually know how bad it could be,” he says. “Never knew before what it was like to have the kids…not believe. And when it happened ta me, well, it was the worst thing I’d ever felt. Just…just horrible.”
Jack knows. It’s an aching emptiness inside that is at once shocking and chilling in a way entirely different from the cold he spreads. It robs cheer and joy as if they’ve never existed. That first time he’s ever felt it, again and again as the humans walk through him as if he’s a ghost, had been so terrible that he’d broken down the moment he was alone. The despair of being invisible, of not understanding anything, isn’t a tangible pain but it had plagued Jack for years. He hated that emptiness so much that he’d done everything he could to avoid humans before he learnt (from Bunny, ironically enough) why they couldn’t see him. Pitch hadn’t been wrong about what Jack feared. If he’s honest, that feeling still scares him.
“To be honest, mate, I kinda respect ya for dealing with that for 300 years.”
Jack finally turns back to Bunnymund, who’s resolutely staring at the little wooden doll like he can’t tear his eyes away.
“It’s not that big of a deal,” says Jack. “I mean, for nearly a hundred years I avoided most of the humans. And it isn’t like there was anything I could do about it.”
Bunnymund turns to him. His jaw is locked but his whiskers are twitching, a clear sign of his agitation.
“You saw how I handled it,” he says heavily. “Just once and I lost my spirit. But you lasted 300 years. Who knows how many times you felt that…hollow inside. That ain’t no small feat, mate. Half of the spirits up there would’ve vanished for sure.”
Jack’s lips quirk up on one side though there’s no humour in his words. “Lucky for you guys that didn’t happen to me, huh?”
“Yeah,” Bunnymund agrees, much to Jack’s surprise. He hands over the baby doll. “Real lucky.”
Jack takes it back wordlessly and looks away again. By now he thinks he can probably paint an accurate rendition of the scenery; he’s been staring at it so hard. He doesn’t know what else to do. Looking at Bunny brings forth a cacophony of emotions inside him. Some are unpleasant, inspired by memories of unkind words and disappointed eyes that take stabs at his heart.
Then there are the moments with golden tinkling wonders, the tightest of hugs and laughter deep from the belly. A beautiful glade, and a little girl having the time of her life. Moments that bring Jack the peace he’s been aimlessly searching for in 300 years.
Jack takes a deep breath and lets it out in a sigh.
“Thank you,” he says, looking up at Bunnymund, “for apologising.”
Bunnymund’s nose twitches when he meets Jack’s steady gaze. “Anytime, mate,” is all he says.
This time, the silence that follows is serene, no longer weighed with the issues they’ve always had between them. Jack’s a little astounded by how comfortable he is in the presence of someone who’s irritated him for as long as they’ve known each other. Maybe it’s because they aren’t rivals or enemies any longer. They’re fellow Guardians now. He thinks he can even call them friends, ever since that small moment they shared in the Warren.
“Hey, you remember Sophie?” he finds himself asking.
“Course I remember the little tyke,” Bunnymund replies with a huff. “First child to ever invade my Warren. Doubt I’ll be forgetting her anytime soon.”
Jack’s lips twitch. The big softie isn’t fooling anyone. He hears that fond tone loud and clear.
“I sort of accidentally dropped her when I took her back home,” he admits with a small laugh. It doesn’t stay small when Bunny looks aghast.
“You dropped her?”
“She’s alright!” Jack assures him through his little fit. “I put her to bed but then she fell off. She’s a restless sleeper, that one.”
“Knew we shouldn’t have left you of all people in charge of ‘er.”
Jack doesn’t miss the teasing tone either. “You liked her, huh?”
Bunnymund raises one shoulder in pretended nonchalance. “Been a long time since I played with a child,” he says. “I’d pretty much forgotten everything.” Then he smiles, a gentle, slow smile that makes Jack’s heart pulse with something that would’ve been warmth was he human. “She’s a special one, is Sophie. Just like her brother.”
Jack can’t help but smile as well. “Yeah,” he agrees.
The wind sings and comes swirling around the pair at the window. Bunnymund yelps, shivering violently beneath his fur.
“Crikey, that’s cold,” he snaps with chattering teeth.
Jack chuckles and raises his hand, feeling the wind slow down and run through his fingers. It’s several degrees below zero, his favourite temperature, but he knows Bunny doesn’t feel the same way. It’s rare for the wind to be this cold, and true enough Jack flies when it’s much warmer because he wouldn’t be able to get off the ground otherwise. But there are times she comes to him absolutely freezing, a gesture of affection that comforts him in his darkest moods. She tends to baby him, if he’s honest, but he’s content nevertheless.
Bunnymund seems to notice this.
“What’re you smilin’ at?” he says, eyeing Jack warily. “D’ya have to make it so cold?”
“It’s not my fault,” Jack tells him. “I don’t control the wind. She listens to me, but I’m not her boss. She does what she likes.”
Bunnymund looks genuinely intrigued by this fact. “Does she now? She seems to like ya a lot.”
“Well, yeah, I guess, she’s been with me for as long as I’ve been Winter. She takes pretty good care of me.” Jack twitches his fingers and snowflakes appear, beginning to dance through the air as they follow the breeze. He grins when the wind brushes against his cheek in an approximation of a kiss.
Bunnymund watches on in palpable interest. “You seem to like her a lot, too,” he observes.
Jack’s smile becomes soft even as he deliberates over his next words. “She’s been almost as much a mother to me as my real one,” he confesses.
There’s a long pause in which the wind ruffles Jack’s hair like a gentle hand patting his head.
“Mother, huh?” Bunnymund muses.
Jack braces for the question he’s been expecting for a while but Bunnymund phrases it in a much gentler way than he expects.
“Tooth told us you’d gotten your memories back.”
“Not all of them,” Jack says, after a moment, “just…the ones that answered my biggest questions.”
Bunnymund raises an eyebrow at him. “You gave yer teeth back, didn’t ‘cha? Don’t you want the rest of ‘em?”
Jack purses his lips for a moment, thinking about it, even though he’s thought about it over and over again before finally entrusting his memories back into Tooth’s care. He shrugs.
“Maybe,” he concedes. “Someday. I don’t know. I was going to but…then I couldn’t.”
“Couldn’t?” Bunnymund sounds merely curious, instead of pitying the way Tooth hadn’t managed to hide when Jack hands over his teeth.
“I don’t think it’s the right time,” the newest Guardian says honestly. “Yeah, sure, when I found out about it I wanted to have them all back but…” He trails off and tightens his grip yet again on the little wooden doll of himself. He experiences a brief flash of alarm that it’ll break and forces his fingers to relax.
“But?” Bunnymund prompts, when the silence stretches too long.
Jack exhales. “But I guess I wasn’t ready after all,” he admits. “I wanted my memories so I could feel…I don’t know. Real.”
“So why didn’t you get the rest of them after we wrapped everything up?”
Jack chews his lip, unsure how to word what he wants to convey. “Tooth told me that when someone needs to remember what’s important, the memories would come,” he says slowly. “I thought she meant all of the memories, but the ones I got back…the ones that mattered came to me at the moment I needed them most. When everything was over, I thought I’d get the rest of them but then I was…”
“Scared?” Bunnymund supplies with uncharacteristic tentativeness.
Jack closes his eyes, feeling a prick of shame in his belly. “Yeah,” he says softly. “Scared.”
Bunnymund sounds awkward when he speaks again. “There’s nothin’ wrong with being scared, mate. Seems pretty normal to me.”
Jack opens his eyes and contemplates his companion. “Maybe,” he says. “The memories I do have are a lot already. I think I have to work through them first because, you know, they’re pretty intense after 300 years of nothing. I want to get used to them. As for the rest, well, Tooth will keep them for me until I want them back. I don’t think I deserve them yet.”
“Oh, not aga—why’re we still talking about what ya deserve or don’t deserve?” Bunnymund says incredulously. “What’re ya talking ‘bout now?”
Jack laughs humourlessly. “I remembered how I acted when I found out about the teeth,” he says, with a fair bit of bitterness. “It was like…like I was possessed. I forgot about everything else.”
“Well, considering how big a bomb it was for ya, could you blame yerself?”
Jack shakes his head. Bunny doesn’t get it. “After I dropped off Sophie, I started hearing my sister’s voice and I went after it, even though I didn’t know who she was. I didn’t even think about what could’ve happened, how stupid I was being when I knew Pitch was waiting to attack us. Baby Tooth tried to stop me and I got her captured, and Pitch managed to destroy Easter at the same time. All because I was obsessed with my memories. I was just so—”
Jack’s head snaps up and he stares at Bunnymund, shocked by the word snatched straight from his lips. Bunny gazes back, his expression calm and steady.
“You were desperate,” he repeats. “After 300 years with zilch, you find out that you might’ve had a life before Manny chose ya. 300 years being invisible to everyone, being alone, and then it turns out there’s a reason, a start to everything. Thought it might clear some things up for ya, right? So you wanted to know. It was the only way to figure out why you’ve been wandering round like you’ve got no purpose. You were plain tired of it and those memories meant it might finally end. That’s it, ain’t it?”
Jack gapes at him. Bunnymund sneezes and his nose twitches wildly. He covers it with one paw, rubbing it for warmth.
“Mate, take it from someone who’s been through something like that,” he continues, “I know what kind of buggery being alone that long can do to yer brain. It messes with yer mind, makes ya think and do things you’d know was stupid any other time. I can’t say how things ended up after what you did was any good but…I get why you did it. To tell ya the truth, might’ve even done the same meself, if I’d been you.”
Jack thinks that if he clutches the little doll any harder, it’ll crack. With some effort, he loosens his grip and cradles it as if it’s made of glass.
“That makes sense,” he says, after a moment.
Bunnymund grunts, still rubbing his nose. Jack squints at him and then waves his hand; the wind swirls around him one last time before rushing away, leaving behind still air at a higher temperature than previous. Bunnymund flinches and then gives him a surprised look.
“You don’t handle the cold all that well, do ya?” Jack remarks, wry but slightly amused.
“Shut yer trap, Frostbite,” Bunnymund grouses although he doesn’t sound offended. “What part of spring spirit don’t cha understand?”
Jack pokes at his fur dubiously. “So, what, all that’s for show?”
“How ‘bout ya go stand somewhere in Hawaii without yer clothes and see how useful that’ll be?”
Jack smirks. “I was just sayin’.”
Bunnymund continues to grumble to himself but he isn’t shivering anymore. Jack’s lips quirk. It’s as if the serious matters they’ve been talking about had never even entered the conversation. They’ve gone back to their typical banter. Well, Bunnymund’s never been the sort to dwell on anything he believes is resolved. Then again, he never lets go of something he thinks isn’t resolved; Easter of ’68 being a prime example. Jack has never met anyone more willing to hold a grudge.
He notices when Bunnymund turns his head towards him, opening his furry mouth as if to speak but then pausing before the words are actually out. Jack watches in a mixture of curiosity and fascination when those long ears stand at attention, flicking in opposite directions. They looked funny the first time he’s seen them doing this, and they still do now, though he knows better than to mention that aloud. Bunnymund’s gaze meets Jack’s again and when he speaks, it’s with a wry tone.
“Huh?” says Jack, before a faint whistling sound breaches his hearing and something soft barrels into his chest. “Whoa, what the—!”
A swish of air and Jack finds himself with a little green creature chattering excitedly in front of him. His face breaks into a grin.
“Oh, hey, Baby Tooth,” he greets, pocketing his wooden doll and lifting a finger for her to settle on. He brings her close and she nuzzles his cheek lovingly with her head. He chuckles. “I missed you, too.”
“That the same one ya saved back at the Tooth Palace?” Bunnymund asks.
Jack holds Baby Tooth out to him. “Yep,” he answers with some pride. “Been inseparable since, right, Baby Tooth?”
She chirps, her tiny but remarkably expressive face practically alight with joy. Jack’s smile softens without his meaning to; he can’t help it, he’s become immeasurably fond of this little one in the few days he’s had her. Bunnymund reaches out and pokes her small head. She squeaks and retaliates by smacking the finger away, which makes Bunny recoil with a flabbergasted expression. Jack struggles and fails to contain a burst of surprised laughter.
“What was that?” he demands, taking his hand and the scandalised Baby Tooth back.
“Feisty, that one,” Bunnymund comments. She twitters loudly but to Jack it sounds like she likes this description. He shakes his head in amusement.
“You’ve met her before,” he reminds his companion.
“Yeah, but to me she’s always been one of a thousand more. How d’ya tell her from the others?”
“Easy,” Jack replies as Baby Tooth rises from his finger. He winks at her. “She’s the most special to me.”
Bunnymund rolls his eyes, clearly unimpressed. Baby Tooth, though, swoons and coos happily at him. Jack laughs again.
“She has a gold feather here, just like Tooth,” he tells Bunnymund, stroking her head with a light touch. She giggles. “And she’s the only one who’d come all the way out here alone looking for me. The others stay with Tooth most of the time and they’re always in a group.”
“Yea, this one follows you ‘round like a lost puppy,” Bunnymund agrees.
Baby Tooth suddenly pauses in the air before, in a wild burst of activity, she begins to dart jagged circles around Jack’s head. She chatters, wings beating frantically and arms waving around. Jack blinks at her in confusion.
“What’s up, Baby Tooth?” he questions.
She flies towards Bunny and tugs at one of his whiskers. Jack bites his lip, hard.
“Ow!” Bunnymund yelps and jerks away, glaring. “Oi, what’s the big deal? Frost, yer bird’s gone mad!”
Baby Tooth bobs in the air between them, twittering endlessly and Jack realises she’s jabbing her little hands at something above them. Feeling dread rising in his stomach, he looks up. His heart sinks; it’s exactly what he fears.
Bunnymund must’ve followed his gaze because after a brief silence he says, flatly, “Mistletoe.” He eyes the excited Baby Tooth with newfound wariness. “Don’t tell me she wants us to…”
Jack stares at him, wide-eyed. Santa’s workshop being what it is, there’s mistletoe everywhere. He’d spent the better part of his time at the party steering clear of them all; the guests had been particularly determined to trap him under one. He’d been caught only twice, both times with his designated ‘knights in shining armour’. While Tooth and Sandy had been insistent in carrying out the tradition, at least Jack was allowed to get away with very light, very quick pecks. He certainly hadn’t minded those, much less the people involved, but he has a feeling it’ll be entirely different with the Easter Bunny.
“Uh,” he says, tongue-tied. Baby Tooth chirrups in delight, zooming first into Bunny’s face and then Jack’s. He gives her a desperate look which she seems to blatantly ignore. She tugs at the collar of his jumper and points at the mistletoe again.
You’ve got to be kidding me, he thinks, sending a glare up at the offending plant. He looks back down when he hears Bunnymund growl and sees Baby Tooth clinging to his snout, gesturing at the mistletoe again with enthusiastic chirps.
“Sheesh, I see it, I see it, geroff me already.” Bunnymund plucks her off his nose and deposits her in Jack’s palms. Their eyes meet unexpectedly and Jack feels his cheeks flushing with colour; he’s sure it shows. If Bunny is blushing too, the fur hides it well.
“It’s just a tradition, y’know,” Jack blurts out. He’s not sure why he’s so nervous but the thought of kissing Bunnymund makes his stomach do weird things. Baby Tooth snuggles into his skin but he’s too distracted to take notice.
“It’s not even Christmas,” Bunnymund agrees just as quickly. His eyes are darting about. “North’s always makin’ a big fuss of his traditions, bloody show-off.”
“Yeah, it’s mostly for laughs, isn’t it?” Jack grins and fears it’s too wide to be considered genuine. “Who comes up with these weird things, huh?”
Bunnymund shrugs. “Christmas’s a funny holiday. Anyway, I’m the Easter Bunny. I’m not obligated to do any of North’s stupid rituals.”
The disappointment that wells up in Jack is both sudden and startling. “Heh, you’re totally right,” he says, blowing a raspberry that sounds lame even to his own ears. “Plus it’s kind of a human thing, right? I mean, it doesn’t apply to us.”
Bunnymund looks at him doubtfully. “Weren’t the other spirits trippin’ over themselves tryin’ to get ya under this thing?”
He jerks a thumb at the mistletoe hanging innocently over their heads. Jack mouths at air for a few seconds before regaining himself.
“Uh, well, yeah,” he stutters (and silently despairs for his reputation), “but it’s not like they managed it. I only got caught with Tooth and Sandy.”
“You kissed Tooth and Sandy?” says Bunnymund, looking bemused.
Jack wants to slap himself. He pulls a face, reminding himself to play it cool dammit, and answers hastily with: “Just a small one, you know. Lasted like two seconds, ‘cause they wouldn’t leave me alone about it. Bet you didn’t have to deal with that, huh?”
He means it as a joke and has on a grin to accentuate but it fades when Bunnymund avoids his eyes.
“…Did someone catch you under the mistletoe?” he asks in disbelief.
Bunnymund mutters something incomprehensible and then sighs. “It was North, alright?” he says with a glower.
Jack gapes at him in fascinated horror. “North?”
“That numnut pulled me under and threatened to staple one to m’head if I didn’t do it! Said it’s tradition everyone had ta follow since we’re in his domain and—stop lookin’ at me like that, not like I wanted to do it. I was forced!”
Even so, Jack isn’t happy. “Everyone just does whatever they want,” he says, aggrieved. “Stupid traditions.”
This makes Bunnymund frown. “I’m not forcing ya to do it now, am I?” he says pointedly.
Jack’s mouth moves before his common sense can catch up with it. “Not like I’d mind if you did.”
It’s Bunnymund’s turn to gape at him with wide eyes. Jack considers summoning Wind back so she can whisk him away from the complete embarrassment he’s made of himself.
“It’s—I mean…I was just…”
No matter how hard he fumbles for words, there just aren’t any to fix this. He ends up gazing fixedly down at Baby Tooth, who’s taken note of his tension and is crooning softly in inquiry. The utter lack of response is unexpectedly grating. Jack doesn’t think he can bear it much longer. Maybe he should get out of here and spare them both this invading awkwardness.
Then Bunnymund speaks.
“Now that I think ‘bout it,” he says and pauses when Jack’s head jerks up, “guess this tradition ain’t that silly, eh, Frostbite?”
Jack looks at him, unsure if he should trust his ears. “Really?” he says, eventually.
Bunnymund’s averting his eyes again. “You’re not exactly the worst person to get caught under this bloody mistletoe with,” he offers with a little huff. “Better than North, at least.”
Jack’s heart sinks. “Oh,” he says, unable to keep the disheartened tone out of his voice. He can feel Bunnymund studying him but what else should he say? Being told it’s just the mistletoe’s prompting doesn’t exactly make him jump for joy after his own accidental confession.
He hears Bunny sigh. He looks up, disliking the thought that he may be acting like a brat on the day everyone’s celebrating a historical event, and is pinned in place by intent green eyes.
“Can I do it?” Bunnymund asks.
His voice is quieter than before. Jack feels his mouth go dry but he refuses to make a fool of himself a second time.
“Only if you want to,” he replies in a challenge of sorts.
Bunnymund snorts. “Mate, if I didn’t want to, would I’ve asked ya?”
And Jack’s blushing again. On the bright side, he’s pretty sure Bunny is, too, even though the fur’s covering it. A tingle goes up his back when Bunnymund shifts closer. He hadn’t realised it before but there isn’t much distance between them in the first place. Bunnymund could’ve chosen to sit against the opposite wall, which would’ve allowed about four feet of space at least to separate them, but instead he’d sat directly next to Jack. The implications of that are interesting, or maybe Jack’s just thinking too much owing to what’s about to happen.
Bunnymund looks at him uncertainly and Jack, on instinct, offers a grin in response. This seems to relax Bunny, and his face comes forward a few more inches. Jack’s breath catches. Moment of truth, then? He casts a quick glance up at the mistletoe, which is still dangling without a care, and another one at Baby Tooth, who’s staring back with clasped hands and sparkling eyes. Jack releases that pent-up breath and focuses on the Pooka across from him. Bunnymund’s lips quirk in that stuck-up smirk that never fails to infuriate Jack.
“Scared?” he teases.
Unable to help it, Jack sneers. “In your dreams,” he retorts.
There’s something strange but gentle in Bunnymund’s green eyes. Jack spends a second wandering what it means before he tells himself to stop thinking. He closes his own eyes and waits, heart racing just a tad faster than natural.
Gimme a smacker, he thinks in an attempt to calm down.
He gets one alright. Something oddly sleek presses against his bottom lip, making his heart jump, and then he feels a springy, needle-like object swipe over his nose. His eyes fly back open in utter bewilderment. The first thing he sees is Bunnymund who looks like he hasn’t moved from his position at all. Judging by the bulging cheeks and flexing jaw, though, he’s obviously holding back laughter.
The next thing Jack notices is Baby Tooth falling back into his cupped palms in a bundle of soft feathers. She looks up at him with a dreamy smile.
Jack’s mind connects the dots not a moment later.
“Whoa, hey, Baby Tooth!” he exclaims with a startled chuckle. He lifts her up to eye-level. “So you were talking about me and you when you pointed out the mistletoe?”
She cheeps softly at him, clearly high on the kiss she’d received. Jack shakes his head, glancing up at Bunnymund with a grin that’s returned.
“You’re a little troublemaker, you know that?” he says affectionately and kisses the top of her tiny head. She shrieks in delight. He smiles, charmed by how thrilled she is from such a simple thing.
Still, he can’t but feel a little cheated. He steals another look at his fellow Guardian; Bunnymund is watching him but he doesn’t seem at all disappointed by the fact their kiss had fallen through. Jack sighs lightly. He supposes he deserves the indifference for expecting so much in the first place.
“It’s not such a bad tradition, is it, Baby Tooth?” he murmurs. She rolls happily in his palms. And then a paw closes over them, shielding her from view, and Jack looks up in surprise.
Bunny kisses him.
Jack stiffens at first but almost involuntarily relaxes afterward. Bunnymund’s mouth is firm but unhurried against Jack’s own. The thin fur tickles but it isn’t unpleasant or weird, like he’d worried it might be. He doesn’t know why but he actually finds himself liking this, far more than he could’ve ever predicted. So he closes his eyes and kisses Bunny back.
He’s not sure how long it lasts – all he knows is that he’s enjoying it a little too much – but he’s forced to stop when Baby Tooth’s squirming and stabbing at his hands becomes too distracting. He pulls away, quite reluctantly, and parts his palms, allowing her to fly out from beneath Bunnymund’s paw. She instantly zooms towards the Pooka’s face, chattering angrily. Bunny gazes back with an expression wholly unconcerned. Baby Tooth huffs and flies towards Jack next, landing on his shoulder. She gestures and complains in a high voice before cutting herself off. She’s staring at Jack — specifically, Jack’s lips, which may or may not be redder than blue — with blatant suspicion.
Jack gives her his best innocent face.
When she finally subsides, Jack winks at Bunnymund. Bunny gives him a lazy, satisfied grin that Jack likes.
“So, do I still need the mistletoe for round two?” he says playfully.
Much to his delight, Bunnymund’s grin widens and he answers with: “I don’t think the mistletoe’s gonna cover what I’d rather do in round two, mate.”
“Oh, really?” Jack drawls, leaning forward as his lips stretch into a leer inappropriate for the eyes of children. “Do share.”
Judging from his expression, Bunnymund would’ve been more than happy to ‘share’, if not for the doors to the workshop bursting open with a great bang.
Instantly they spring apart as if electrocuted. Jack bangs his head on the wall and curses. Bunnymund narrowly escaped plunging over the non-existent sill but Jack manages to catch him with a leg despite his throbbing head. Baby Tooth chatters worriedly, flying toward Bunnymund as he lies flat on his stomach clutching the cushions for dear life.
North strides in, hands held out in invitation. He stops short when he sees Jack rubbing the back of his head with a scowl and Bunnymund clinging to the window seat.
“What are you two doing?” he asks with surprise.
“Dammit, North,” Bunnymund groans, “can’t cha come in like someone normal for once in yer life?”
North sets his big hands on his hips. “Is my workshop, no?”
“Now listen ‘ere, you—”
“No matter, no matter,” North interrupts cheerfully. “Bunny, Jack, what are you doing down here when party is up there? Come, guests have been missing you both.”
Jack groans softly. Great, he probably won’t be able to escape a second time. He’s going to be stuck in that party until it decides to have mercy and end itself. He grabs his staff and turns to North. Then he notes with alarm that North is looking up at a point above Jack’s head, a small frown forming on his bearded face. Jack jumps off his seat, waving his staff in silent command for Wind to slam the windows shut. This, much to his relief, distracts North from the mistletoe.
“Let’s go then,” says Jack hurriedly.
“Right, right, we go now!” North beam at him and whirls around, making his way for the entrance. “Come! Everyone is waiting!”
Jack turns to Bunnymund and holds out a hand. Bunnymund gives it a suspicious look but accepts the help anyway. When he’s on his feet, Jack makes to pull away but Bunnymund doesn’t let go. He stares down at Jack, who feels the flush returning to his cheeks again.
“What?” he says, striving for nonchalance.
Bunnymund doesn’t respond immediately, scrutinising something in Jack’s face before he smirks. “Nothing,” he says and begins to walk.
Jack’s tugged along, blinking in confusion at Baby Tooth who’s returned to her perch on his shoulder. “What?” he demands to know once they fall into step outside the workshop.
Bunnymund’s answer, if he planned to give one, is cut off when North’s voice calls out to them from wherever he’s disappeared to up the stairs.
“What’s taking so long, slowpokes?” he booms.
“We’re coming, you plonker,” Bunnymund hollers back in clear exasperation. “Keep yer bloody pants on!”
Jack snickers. As they start up the stairs, he checks ahead before speaking.
“I’m holding you to round two,” he declares, his voice barely a whisper.
Bunnymund doesn’t reply, or even glance over, but the corner of his lips that Jack can see curls up. It’s enough to make Jack’s stomach do weird things again. He smiles as Baby Tooth chirps curiously in his ear.
Their clasped hands swing between them and if they’re walking a bit too slowly, North’s too far ahead to notice.