Chapter 3: A Stranger In The Night
Joey was eleven years old. And Bunnymund had just come to the same conclusion as everyone else.
"We 'aven't seen Jack in five months," North announced, looking stunned. They had all been busy, Tooth with her fairies and teeth, Sandy with the dreams, and Bunnymund had been helping North with the toys for Christmas. And in their spare time, everyone came to Santoff Clausen to see each other and learn how not-so-little Joey was doing. "Bunny, I know you hate to, but will you go find Jack?"
"Yeah, a'right," grumbled the Pooka, but in reality, he was now dead worried about the ice spirit. A small hand touched his hand, and he looked down to see Joey. Picking the boy up into a tight hug, he then handed his son to North. "Watch Joey, will you?" North and Sandy, who was visiting, nodded. Tapping his foot and dropping into a tunnel, Bunnymund rocketed off to go find their lost winter spirit.
Bunnymund carefully raised his head from the tunnel and sniffed the air before hopping up. The air around Burgess was chilly. Not like Jack, for normally around October it wasn't this cold. Multi-colored lights danced in the small town, and with a jolt, Bunnymund realized what night it was. Tonight was Halloween. Carefully treading so that no one would see him, the Pooka danced around the houses, looking for Jack. There was no sign of him. He caught a glimpse of Jamie, but couldn't catch his attention without going out of the shadows. (Interestingly enough, Bunnymund noticed, Jamie was dressed up as Jack Frost.) He heard heavy footsteps, and saw a group of older boys approach Jamie.
"Hey, nerd, what are you?" one of the boys taunted, pushing Jamie into the hands of another boy. "An icicle?!" The other boys laughed rudely, shoving Jamie around. Bunnymund swore softly. There was nothing he could do to help Jamie. The boys were too old to believe in him, and therefore he couldn't touch them.
"HEY!" snarled a voice, cutting the laughter off short. The boys looked around, as did Bunnymund, and at the same time, they noticed a dark silhouette on a nearby rooftop. For a few seconds, everything was still, until the silhouette leaped into the air and landed a few feet from the group. It slowly started to walk towards them. "Ya know, I've never been real fond of bullies, especially bullies who wear bad costumes." The shape stepped out of the shadows, causing Bunnymund to gasp. It was Olivia, now more frightening due to the fact that with the sun gone down, her yellow cat eyes glowed eerily. She stalked over the the group of boys, picked up the one who had pushed Jamie first, and tossed him up in the air. Upon catching him, she held him close to her face, snarling, "Are you SCARED yet?" The boy blubbered, tears threatening to fall. Olivia laughed mockingly, putting him down and giving him a small shove. "Get going. And DON'T let me catch you bullying anyone else, GOT IT?!" The older boys ran.
"Wow, thanks!" Jamie cried, grinning up at her. "Your costume is so cool, where'd you get it?"
"Oh, this isn't a costume." Her angel wings extended and the humanoid soared into the sky. Jamie gave a whoop. Olivia made not a sound as she landed.
"Y'know, mate, I trust that the tricks you've got hidden are plentiful and amazing," Bunnymund chuckled, walking out from the shadows after checking the street for kids. "However, there's a rambunctious winter spirit loose and I gotta find him. Either of you seen Jack lately?" Jamie shook his head, looking up at Olivia as if for help.
"He's deep in the woods. I'll take you to him," Olivia said, ruffling the kid's hair. "Continue on your way. If anyone else gives you trouble, give a whistle and I'll come help." Jamie gave the girl a quick hug, which showed her surprise on her face, then ran off. Motioning to Bunnymund, Olivia bounded away, and the Pooka followed her. Surprisingly, their path didn't stop at the pond, but went a ways past, to where a group of trees grew close together. Olivia jabbed a thumb at the trees. "Saw him here 'bout quarter of an hour ago." She leaped in the sky and soared away. Bunnymund approached the trees.
"Jack!" he called, feeling the temperature drop suddenly. Wrapping his arms around his midsection, the Pooka walked into the midst of the trees, searching for a spot of blue or white. "Jack! Where are you?"
"Why do you care?" The voice was hostile and cold, but belonged to Jack. Looking up, Bunnymund saw the ice spirit standing on a tree branch above his head. "You don't need me anymore, now that you've got that baby."
"Baby? Wha-Joey," the Pooka breathed, eyes widening as a memory flooded his mind.
Joey was about two years old, and was the sweetest little boy, but one trait of his had confused all the Guardians. He didn't talk, no matter what happened or what tactics they tried. So didn't it surprise them when Joey, standing at the window one day, turned to face them and stated one simple word:
"Yes, that does look like Jack's work!" Tooth chirped, fluttering over. A thin line of frost decorated the window, looking half-finished. The fairy picked up the small boy. "Now that you know his name, can you say my name?"
"Toof!" Bunnymund chuckled at his son's mispronunciation. When he had learned to talk, th's had been hard for him too. Like father, like adopted son. "Norf! Norf!"
"Very good!" The fairy giggled as North's laughter boomed around the room. She zipped away from the big man and up to Sandy. "How about him?"
"And last but not least," Tooth darted down to Bunnymund, "who's this?"
"Papa!" Joey stated definitively, holding out his hands and giggling. The Pooka took his son and held him close, aware of the Guardians around him. But in his arms, the boy squirmed, and Bunnymund set him down. Instantly, Joey fluttered over to the window (they had discovered that he had angel wings, just like his mom) and put one hand against the glass. "Jack! Jack!" The Guardians rushed over. There was no one outside the window.
"Jack's not there, sweetie," Tooth said, patting Joey on the head.
"Buh-bye, Jack," the boy whispered, only loud enough for his father to hear. They were the only two to notice that the line of frost had been finished.
"You were there!" Bunnymund cried. "Why didn't you come in?"
"You don't need me, now that you've replaced me." His tone was bitter, but laced with pain. "I see how it is. You use me to defeat an enemy, then the minute they're gone, you abandon me for someone cuter."
"Jack-" the Pooka began.
"Everytime I try to get close to someone, they leave me!"
"JACK!" The winter spirit had his back turned to the Pooka. "Look, I-we, haven't abandoned you. The only reason we have the baby, Joey, is because he was given to us. The Man in the Moon told his mother that he's the spirit of imagination. Her environment was too harsh for him to grow up in. So she gave him to us. Please, come back with me. Everyone's worried sick about you." The ice spirit hadn't moved, but now he dropped to the ground and started to walk away. Bunnymund dropped his head and his ears lay back. Where they about to lose Jack forever? His head snapped back up at the sound of a loud whinny, and Jack backed up from the black stallion that had appeared in front of him. A cold voice sliced through the night.
"Where do you think YOU'RE going?!"