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Nightmares (and nightmares)

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It was said that all nightmares were the work of Pitch Black, but even legend had it wrong sometimes. Pitch might control his created Nightmares and Fearlings, but even he had no control over the natural born nightmare. It was a creature so wild and erratic, that neither Sandman nor Pitch Black himself knew where it would strike, nor had any hope to control one.

 

Where Pitch's Nightmares would pollute a dream, corrupting it and giving the Bogeyman strength through fear, true nightmares actually fed on memories and dreams, turning them dark and twisted to sate their vicious hunger. A nightmare, a true one, was not a horse-shaped monstrosity like Pitch's Nightmares, but a small winged creature, that looked vaguely like a cross between a butterfly and a mouse, if a mouse had eight legs. Its appearance belied its power, if it had been a real creature, instead of one of dust and smoke, some people would even call it cute.

 

A true nightmare could even feed off the dreams of the Guardian's themselves, though it rarely happened with the Sandman keeping watch over his friends. Sometimes though, a nightmare would get through the shining golden curtain of sand that protected the Guardians when sleep beckoned.

 

It was one such nightmare that wove and slunk and creeped its way into the North Pole, darting to and fro hunting for a dream or memory to feed from. A sleeping Yeti held no nourishment, nor did a snoozing elf, but it flitted up and down the building, its hunger growing with every wing-beat.

 

A turn brought it to a hallway, and if such a creature could read, it would have read the signs on the doors along it. Five doors, but only three had names on the bronze signs, the fourth was neatly carved into a block of wood. The first said Sandman and the nightmare gave it a wide berth, not wanting to meet the purveyor of peaceful dreams and the nightmares worst enemy. The second plaque said “Tooth Fairy” and it was cracked open, but empty. The third, read “E. Aster Bunnymund” and was shut tightly, a faint sparkle of golden sleep dust shimmered at the handle of the door.

 

The nightmare turned away, and flitted to the fourth door, it was closed as well, but no glitter, no sand. The creature flowed though the cracks in the door, like smoke though a cloth, and glee danced though it's evil scrap of a heart. A boy, white-haired as fresh snow, slept curled beneath a thin blanket. No golden sand danced over his head and the boy slept on. This was what the nightmare hunted for, a sleeper, a dreamer, unprotected by the Sandman's sand.

 

It flitted closer, hovering above the boy's face and with a quick twist of it's body, split apart into wisps that flowed into the boys eyes, ears, nose, and mouth, disappearing into the boy's head, and into his dreams.

 

--- --- --- --- ---

 

Jack blinked in the sunlight, he could hear his sister calling his name.

 

“Come on, Jack! I wanna go skating!”

 

He slung his skates over his shoulder, jogging through the snow towards his sister's voice and the pond they skated on every winter. The ice was thick this time of year, especially at the edge where he made sure his sister stayed safely. He lost sight of her though the trees and hurried to catch up.

 

He reached the pond and gaped, his sister was already on the ice, right in the middle of the pond. Her face was frozen in terror as she caught site of him and tears flowed down her cheeks. Jack could hear the ice cracking under her and stepped unflinchingly onto the ice.

 

“Jack, no. It's going to break!” His sister sobbed, trying to keep still, even as another snap cracked though the air.

 

“It's okay. I'm here.” He spotted a crook shaped stick on the ice. “We're going to play a game. Hopscotch, just like we do at home.” He waited for his sister's tearful nod and slowly, ever so slowly, he worked his way to the branch. He snatched it up and with one move hooked his sister around the waist and flung her towards the shore and thicker ice.

 

“Jack!”

 

He looked down, and breathed a sigh of relief, the ice under him was solid. He went to take a step when something dark flashed under the ice, slamming into it and making the ice beneath him jerk. He lost his grip on the staff and it slid away.

 

“JACK!” His sister's scream made him fling his gaze up to her. She had made it back to shore, but huge black shapes were flowing from the shadows of the trees to surround her. Huge smokey creatures shaped like horses stepped onto the fresh snow, black tendrils snaking out from their hooves.

 

Another step and again, something slammed into the ice beneath his feet. The crack of ice splitting made him freeze in place. His feet were cold, when had he lost his boots?

 

A chilling laugh drifted on the wind. “You can't save her you know. You're nothing but a trickster and a liar. But, I can call them off, you just have to do one thing for me...”

 

Jack turned his head, searching for the voice. He knew it,but he didn't know how he knew it. “What? What do I have to do?”

 

“Why Jack....You have to DIE!” The last word was shouted and Jack flinched, his feet numb and skidding on the ice. His eyes flashed up to his sister's and he gaped.

 

She was caressing the muzzle of one of the horse creatures, her eyes pitch black and her hair waving wildly. An evil grin twisted her once beautiful face into something sinister.

 

“Oh Jack. You shouldn't have saved me. Now you'll be gone and no one will protect your family.” One of the shadow horses dropped to a knee and she scrambled up onto its back. “Oh and Jack...Enjoy your swim.”

 

The ice around his feet cracked open and Jack felt himself fall, the cold water a painful shock. It closed over his head and he resisted the urge to gasp. He could see the surface, the hole he'd fallen though. He knew how to swim, and kicked with all his strength, clawing through the icy water for the break in the ice. His head broke the surface and he took a lungful of cold air. He reached for the edge of the cracked ice.

 

“Ah ah ah, big brother, this is my game now.” A small hand reached over to his head and shoved it under again.

 

He flailed and kicked, but this time when he reached the surface, something was blocking his way. He couldn't see anything but the dark expanse of the sky, not even stars. The twisted mockery of his sister's face loomed into his vision, even as it darkened around the edges. She waved at him, a child's bye bye gesture and he felt something bump into him.

 

He turned and yelped, air rushing out of his mouth. One of the shadow horses was under the water with him. It swam at him, and he saw the fish-like tail right before it plowed into his stomach, pushing him deeper into the pond. He gagged, water flowing into his mouth and down his throat as he watched the last of his air drift upwards. It hurt, the water flowing into his lungs and freezing them from the inside.

 

He was cold and alone. His vision darkened and he looked up at the now distant hole, hoping for even a glimpse of something, but only blackness met his eyes. The black encroached further and all he could hear was that sinister laugh echoing in his ears.

 

--- --- --- --- ---

 

E. Aster Bunnymund was soundly asleep, dreaming of his eggs and carrots and sparring when a sudden blast of frozen air snatched him straight out of his Sandman induced dream. He snorted, rubbing at his eyes and gaped at the completely frozen door to his room. Ice covered the door, icicles jutting out at odd angles and frost along the floor.

 

“If that kid's playin' a prank, I'm gonna show 'im what for.” Bunny grumbled as he hauled himself out from under the covers. He hissed as his paws hit the ice covered floor, and he glanced down. He could actually see the frost spreading, but not in the fern like pattern Jack usually used, this one was jagged and random, something was plain wrong.

 

It had been months since the battle with Pitch Black, and with Thanksgiving over, North had asked them all to come and help him get ready for Christmas, which was only three weeks away. Bunny had reluctantly shown up, unhappy that eggs and carrots weren't allowed, per North's decree, but he'd actually had fun, working with the Yeti's to make toys. Tooth had shown up too, but was in and out, kids didn't stop loosing teeth after all.

 

Jack had actually been the first to arrive,arranging for the snow clouds and the wind to blanket the areas needed with snow from the Pole rather than by hand. He'd occasionally disappear to go play with children, especially Jamie, but always came back with fresh ideas for toys. His ice molds had hurried along productivity quite nicely too.

 

Bunny shook his head, something was wrong and he didn't know what. He hopped over to the door and stared at the iced over handle. The ice was at least an inch thick and Bunny growled and did what he did best. He kicked at the door, shards of ice scattering all over his room and one particularly jagged shard nicked his foot and he swore. It didn't stop him as he battered at the ice and finally it broke apart, and he shoved the heavy door open.

 

He froze, his eyes wide and ears stiff. The entire hallway was frozen over. Icicles hung from the ceiling, wide around as dinner plates and nearly reaching the floor. Ice coated the walls and floor and snow drifted down in thick wet flakes. A sob reached his sensitive ears and he turned, pointing his ears right at the door to Jack's room. Ice covered Jack's door, even thicker than it had been on Bunny's and he could see it growing even thicker.

 

He frowned, his whiskers twitching, something was wrong with the ice itself. He stepped over to the door, ready to move if the ice surrounded his feet, just in case and peered at the ice. It was spider-webbed with darkness, cracked and dull. Another sob reached his ears, this time a whimper of “Please, no.” accompanied it.

 

Bunny didn't even hesitate, he tapped his foot twice on the floor and dove down the hole that formed. A few hops though his warren and he flew up out of the other end of the tunnel into Jack's room.

 

He gaped, the room was filled with jagged chunks of ice, sharply pointed and dangerous looking. He looked over at the bed and swore loudly. The boy was covered in ice, a thick, black-veined sheet of it covering him from his toes up to his chest. Bunny watched it slide higher when another sob from the winter sprite echoed in the room.

 

He didn't pause, heedless of the sharp ice that cut into his paws he darted over to the bed and stared. He could see a thin black film covering Jack's head and face, but it didn't look like Pitch's work. He hadn't been seen or heard from since his Nightmares chased him down into his pit. This blackness was more fluid than sand, and Bunny reached out, intending to wipe it off and hopefully wake the boy up.

 

Just as his hand reached Jack's face, the blackness reacted, forming a sharp spike and striking at his hand. He pulled back with a yelp.

 

“Oh no ya don't.” He reached forward again, ignoring the frantic stabbing of the shadow liquid and grabbed Jack by one shoulder and shook the boy, his other paw scratching at the ice imprisoning the boy's body.

 

“Jack, come on mate, wake up.” The ice gave a little under his claws and Jack moaned pathetically. “Just a bad dream, ice boy. Wake up!”

 

Bunny shook Jack harshly and the inky black film pulled back from the boys face. Bunny watched as it slid tendrils from the boys ears and eyes and from his nose and mouth. “Nightmare.” He pulled his paw away from the ice and swiped at the creature that was forming above Jack's head.

 

“Get outta here ya little bugger, or I'll shred ya, smoke or no.”

 

The creature darted away from the rabbit's claws and took its shape again. It didn't look like a cute little eight-legged winged mouse now, it was a twisted humanoid shape, with a huge head full of sharp teeth and bat shaped wings. It hissed at the rabbit and darted for the window, crashing though the ice covered glass and sending shards of ice and glass down the side of the mountain.

 

Bunny shook Jack again when the creature, the nightmare, escaped and with a harsh cry, the boy's eyes snapped open. The boy flinched backwards, the ice on his chest and legs shattering with a crackle. Jack practically flew off the bed and into the corner of the room, drawing his legs up to his chest and burying his face into his knees. Bunny could see the boy shaking and heard the muffled sobs Jack was clearly trying to contain.

 

Bunny crouched down, the ice was already retreating, the clear ice returning to Jack, while the black veins disappeared in little puffs of smoke. He hop-crawled over to the winter sprite and crouched in front of him. One big hand reached forward and touched Jack lightly on the shoulder.

 

“It's okay mate. Just a bad dream.” Bunny heard Jack's breath catch at the word “dream”. “Wasn't one of Pitch's, I promise. He's gone for a long time.”

 

Bunny watched Jack lift his head. Tears, if you could call the little tear-shaped ice crystals that formed tears, fell from Jack's eyes. Each one clinked against another or the floor as Jack stared at him. Bunny had never seen Jack so upset, the boy personified happiness and glee, and it was disturbing to see all that gone from the white-haired boy's face.

 

Bunny patted Jack's shoulder awkwardly and was completely surprised when the boy launched himself from his curled position and into the rabbit's chest, wrapping cool arms around him and burying his face in the Pooka's fur. Bunny instinctively wrapped his own arms around the shaking boy, just as he would any child that hugged him, even though he knew Jack wasn't really a child anymore.

 

He felt Jack shaking against him and felt the little ice tears hitting his fur as Jack clung to him. “Easy, Jack. It's over and done with. The little nasty's gone now.”

 

“What...what was it?” Jack gasped out against the Pooka's fur.

 

“A nightmare. A true one, not one of Pitch's. He doesn't control 'em, they just exist.” Bunny smoothed a hand over Jack's back, soothing the still frightened sprite. “They're not usually this far north. No food, ya know? It must have been starvin' to come after ya.”

 

Jack buried his nose further into the rabbit's fur. It was soft, softer than he'd imagined, considering how tough the rabbit was. It was also warm. Jack usually loved his cold and his ice, but right now, he wanted to be anything but cold. He shifted closer to Bunny, enjoying the way the Pooka's arms tightened around him, and pulled him closer to that warmth.

 

“Here now mate. What's wrong? You're not usually this clingy.” Bunny asked. He knew that Jack was still pretty standoffish, even though he'd accepted and been accepted as a Guardian. He knew the boy was upset and he could feel Jack pressing close and nuzzling his fur. It felt strangely good.

 

Jack pulled back, a blush of red flowing over his cheeks, unknowingly giving him that “nipped by Jack Frost” look so many parents warned their children about. “Sorry...just...never mind.” He pulled away, suppressing a whimper as he left the heat of the Pooka and the cold in his room swept over him. He shivered and looked away, wrapping his arms around himself. Maybe he could find a fire and some blankets to get warm.

 

“I got one in my room, come on.” Bunny said, standing up on his hind paws.

 

Jack looked up, realizing he'd said that out loud. “No, it's okay. I'll be fine.” Jack struggled to his feet, swaying slightly as shivers racked his body. He'd never been this cold. Well, he had been, but he hadn't felt it.

 

Bunny huffed at the boy and with a swift move lifted the boy into his arms and headed towards the door. The ice had fallen away, leaving the door bare and Bunny managed to get the door open without putting Jack down. Surprisingly the boy hadn't protested being picked up and had instantly curled into the Pooka's chest.

 

Jack wanted to argue that he wasn't a kid to be carried when Bunny picked him up, but the warmth from the rabbit's chest flowed over him and he sighed, snuggling closer and loosely wrapping his arms around the Pooka's neck.

 

Bunny carried the boy to his room and with the flick of one ear hit the switch to start the fire in his fireplace. North hadn't put one in Jack's room, assuming the sprite would prefer the cold. Heat rushed into the room and silently Bunny thanked North for his magic at making the rooms comfortable. He felt Jack squirm as the heat hit him and Bunny balanced on one big paw as the other reached for his bed, grabbing a blanket between his claws and tugging it off the bed. He flung it onto the fur rug in front of the fire and knelt, setting Jack, who seemed to be half awake onto the fur and wrapping him with the blanket.

 

Jack barely kept back a moan as heat swept over him and around him as Bunny wrapped him in a thick blanket. He felt the big Pooka start to stand and panicked, flailing one arm out of the blanket and latching onto Bunny's hand. “Don't.” He looked away, unable to meet Bunny's eyes. He was embarrassed about his behavior, but more scared of being left alone with his thoughts and the memories of the dream.

 

“No worries, kid. Just getting ya some cocoa.”

 

“Oh.” Jack let go of his hand, blushing again.

 

He listened to the Pooka putter around in the little kitchenette North built into each of their rooms and blinked when a steaming mug of cocoa was shoved practically under his nose.

 

“Drink, ice boy. Seems like ya need it.” Bunny handed off the mug to Jack and watched the boy, no the young man sip at it. Belief had been good to Jack, the boy had actually aged a bit since becoming a Guardian, no longer appearing fourteen, but closer to seventeen or eighteen. He was still lanky and whip-like and would stay that way, even though his name was known and he was believed in. He was still the mischievous and sometimes irritating winter wonder, but he was stronger now, more settled.

 

His new physical appearance didn't detract from his believers, since they mostly saw him as they wanted to, still a fourteen year old child, just like most children saw North as a “traditional Santa” and conveniently ignoring the naughty and nice tattoos on his arms. Jamie was an exception, he saw them as they really were, which was something they enjoyed when they visited.

 

Jack sipped at the cocoa, relishing the way it warmed him inside. He felt Bunny sit next to him, and tried not to lean over onto the Pooka. Even with the blanket, the fire and the cocoa, he was still cold. Every breath felt like ice, and he was still shivering. He'd never dreamed before becoming a Guardian, not in 300 years, but it seemed awakening his memories also awakened his ability to dream.

 

“Wanna talk about it?” Bunny asked. “Sometimes it helps.”

 

Jack didn't really want to, but the image of his sister's twisted face and the Nightmares and the Nightmare-fish thing wouldn't get out of his head. He haltingly told Bunny, a bit at a time, staring at the cocoa as it cooled.

 

When he finished he was surprised to feel Bunny's arm wrap around him and tug him close. Jack managed to set the cocoa on the floor and turned into the hug, sighing as the Pooka rubbed his back.

 

“That's a bad one all right.” He smoothed his paw over Jack's back and wasn't surprised when the boy settled even more firmly against him. He'd known the boy was touch-starved, it was to be expected after having no contact for three hundred years, but the fact that Jack was seeking comfort from him was surprising, after all, they'd done nothing but argue and fight for years. A soft groan and a stretching nuzzle got his attention and he looked down. Jack was asleep, half laying on Bunny's lap and wrapped in the blanket.

 

Bunny went to slide out from under the boy and a whimper from Jack stopped him. The boy clutched at his fur, but didn't wake as Bunny winced at the pull. It looked like he wasn't going anywhere for the duration. He reached one hand out and tapped on the floor, giving a low, soft whistle. A dozen of his eggs popped out of the hole and he gestured at the pillows on his bed and waited while they retrieved them. Bunny pulled and piled them behind him and laid back, propped up enough to be comfortable and couldn't help a grin as Jack wormed closer and attached himself like a limpet.

 

This would get him a decent amount of gentle teasing material to use on Jack come morning, but for now, he was warm and tired. His eyes grew heavy and it wasn't long until he drifted off.

 

--- --- --- --- ---

 

Jack woke slowly, he was warm and comfortable, both were a rarity, and didn't want to wake up. He was just starting to drift off again when there was a small sound and the heavy weight he'd failed to notice draped over his waist pulled him closer to the warm furry body behind him. He felt something brush though his hair and realized it was Bunny's chin. The arm wrapped around his waist was warm and Jack dozed, the feeling of being protected by the fierce Pooka was comforting and the nuzzling was surprisingly relaxing.

 

He laid there, getting nuzzled and feeling secure for nearly fifteen minutes until Bunny suddenly stiffened behind him.

 

“Jack?” The voice was confused and wary

 

“Mph...what?” Jack was still mostly dozing and wanted the nuzzling back.

 

“Umm. You alright?”

 

“'m fine.” Jack felt Bunny's arm start to pull back and woke up enough to grab it, and tug it back around his waist. “'ou're warm.” His head tilted back unconsciously, seeking the rabbit's chin again and he squirmed backwards when Bunny arched backwards.

 

“Jack, wake up.” There was a note of panic in the Pooka's voice and that got Jack's attention. His eyes snapped open and he twisted, turning his body and facing the rabbit who was eying him warily.

 

“Dude, what?” He asked. He'd been comfortable, warm and protected, and he scowled. He felt Bunny pull away, lifting his arm off Jack and the sprite couldn't hold back the sudden whimper that escaped his lips as the cold suddenly enveloped him again. It wasn't the normal cold he embraced, this was a biting, painful cold. A memory of the nightmare flashed though his head and he could feel the icy water filling up his lungs again.

 

Bunny stared as Jack's eyes went from scowling at him to wide and frightened when he pulled away his arm and the boy went pale, even more than he usually was. A whimper slid out of Jack's lips and the boy started shaking again, his lips turning from their usual red to a pale blue. Bunny could hear the rasp in the sprite's chest as he heaved for breath and didn't hesitate, wrapping his arms back around Jack and pulling him close as he turned onto his back, dragging the sprite onto his chest.

 

“Breath, Jack. It's alright.” The change was instantaneous, Jack's muscles unlocked and he collapsed against the Pooka's chest, breathing heavily and small shivers still shaking him.

 

“What in the Moon?” Jack asked, struggling to even out his breathing and coughing harshly. He felt the painful cold receding and frowned. He was still chilly, but it was the normal cold he was comfortable in and barely felt.

 

“I dunno.” The Pooka ignored the fact that the boy felt right laying on his chest and grumbled. “I think we need to ask the others.”

 

Together they managed to get up, quickly figuring out that as long as Bunny had a hand on his shoulder, the painful freezing cold stayed at bay. Jack desperately wanted to tuck himself against the bigger Guardian, but he didn't want to show any weakness. He ignored the cold hovering around him and focused on the warmth of Bunny's hand though his hoodie.

 

The walk to North's dining room was short, and was the one place guaranteed to have the other Guardians. No one missed North's breakfasts if they could. Sure enough, the others were there, seated and attacking the massive feast laid out. Tooth was picking daintily at her meal of vegetables and seeds, while Sandy and North were apparently attempting to out eat each other.

 

“Bunny! Jack! Is good to see you!” North boomed, a mug of milk in one hand and a handful of cookies in the other.

 

Tooth just gave them a small smile, while Sandy waved one hand, the other holding his fork.

 

“We got a problem.” Bunny said, deciding to get straight to the point. If he let them, the other Guardians would take forever getting to the issue at hand.

 

Tooth immediately darted over. “Oh dear, did you lose a tooth?” She pried open Jack's mouth and he glared as she poked at his gums. “You have been flossing haven't you? I know I left a toothbrush in your room for you.”

 

Jack flailed his arms at the overzealous fairy. “'m fiin. Geh ouua mah mouf.” Tooth had the grace to look abashed for a moment and darted away, but gave him a concerned look when she noticed Bunny's hand on his shoulder.

 

Sandman just formed a “?” over his head and peered at them, while North huffed. “Well? What is problem?”

 

Bunny looked at Jack who nodded. They'd discussed that the best way was to show the others what was wrong, rather than tell them. Bunny pulled his hand away from Jack regretful about the pain he knew it would cause the boy.

 

Jack's scream shook the walls as he slumped to the floor, his body racked with wave after wave of shaking. The winter sprite coughed harshly, gasping for breath between the screams and the coughing and the shaking. He was barely aware of Bunny gathering him back up and holding him close. He panted for breath, clinging to Bunny's fur.

 

Jack barely heard the distressed warble of Tooth and North asking questions in an actual inside voice as Bunny told them what he knew. There were angry noises at the mention of the nightmare and Jack managed to raise his head up to look at the others. His head was pounding and his chest ached. It took a moment for the three of them to come into focus and he blinked blearily before realizing that he was curled in Bunny's lap and the Pooka was wrapped around him. He could feel the tears start to form in his eyes. He didn't want to cry, didn't want to look like he was a kid, but Moon, it hurt. He hid his face from his friends and tried to get control of himself.

 

Bunny was unprepared for Jack's reaction, he was as pale as newly driven snow and not in a good way. Bunny immediately heard the harsh rasp of Jack's breathing, but his time a disconcerting gurgle was mixed in. It almost sounded like he had water in his lungs. The shaking was worse this time, almost like a seizure he'd once seen a little girl suffer through on the Easter of '98. The worried shouts and cries of the other Guardians were ignored as he dropped to his haunches and hauled the shaking teen into his arms.

 

It was harder this time, the shaking slower to stop and it took longer for Jack to focus on anything other than the cold and pain. Bunny was relieved when Jack finally lifted his head and looked at the others, but the unfocused eyes worried him. The boy turned away from their friends, hiding in his fur, and the Pooka could feel the ice tears fall, small specks of cold against his chest.

 

“What's happenin' to 'im?” Bunny asked. He gratefully accepted a blanket one of the elves carried over and let Tooth help him spread it over the shivering winter sprite.

 

“I am not sure.” North said. The big man looked very concerned for the youngest of the group. Jack was youngest in both time of existence, and in physical appearance, and he'd once confessed to Bunny that Jack reminded him of his long dead son from when he'd been human.

 

Tooth fluttered around awkwardly, unsure what to do and unable to help. “Maybe we should ask the Man in the Moon?”

 

“A good idea. Perhaps he can tell us what is wrong with Jack. Man in Moon knows everything!” North nodded to himself. It was, unfortunately, the middle of the morning, and even at the North Pole, the Moon wasn't always visible. They'd have to wait for night to fall.

 

“I'm takin' 'im back to the room. Have Phil bring us somethin' yeah?” Bunny asked, rising easily to his feet despite the extra weight of Jack.

 

“Of course, of course. You ask Phil for anything, he bring it.” North clapped a hand to Bunny's back and tore out of the room, intent on finding the Yeti who had a soft spot for the winter wonder. Tooth flitted back and forth unhappily and followed them to Bunny's room. Jack's was no longer covered in ice, but it was overly damp.

 

“Oh dear. I'll go get the elves to clean his room.” She flew off before the Pooka could say anything and he shrugged and moved to open the door when a tendril of golden sand did it for him.

 

“Thanks, Sandy.” He said as the golden man gave him a happy grin.

 

Jack lifted his head from the Pooka's chest and looked down at Sandy. “Thank you, Sandy.” He croaked out. He winced, his throat was raw from the coughing and the screaming from earlier. The little King of Dreams darted off to the kitchenette, rattling around as Bunny carried him back to the rug by the fire and sat down, Jack tucked between his legs and against his chest as he leaned back on the pile of pillows from earlier.

 

Jack looked up at the Pooka and sighed sadly. “I'm sorry.”

 

“for what?”

 

“Everything. I know you don't even like me and now you're stuck carrying me around and having to touch me.” Jack looked away, eyes on the fire and ducked his head.

 

“I didn't say I didn't like ya. Granted, you're annoying and mess with Easter, but this isn't your fault. You're a Guardian, and we stick together.” Bunny said, ears twitching.

 

Jack twisted around and stared at the Pooka, whose whiskers and ears were twitching back and forth. He opened his mouth to speak and there was suddenly a cup of hot cocoa under his nose once again. He saw a second one under Bunny's.

 

Jack blinked and accepted the cup, glancing over at Sandy who had a dozen images flashing over his head, faster than the eye could see. “Thanks.” The Sandman just gave a little bow and floated out the door, closing it behind him. Jack sipped at the hot cocoa, he'd learned to enjoy it once he'd become a Guardian and it gave him a feeling of home and security.

 

The winter sprite stared at the cocoa, and smiled sadly at the little floating marshmallows Sandy had dropped in. He heard Bunny set his mug down and felt a tap on his shoulder. Jack turned his head, but didn't meet Bunny's eyes.

 

“Kid, ya know this ain't your fault. You didn't ask for this. The Man in the Moon will tell us what's up.” The Pooka huffed out a breath. “At least, he'd better.”

 

“Thanks, Bunny.” Jack yawned, he was still tired and the Pooka behind him, the fire in front and the blanket surrounding him combined to make him start to drift off again. He barely noticed the Easter Bunny pluck the mug out of his hands and put it aside before he was drifting off again.

 

Bunny wrapped his long arms around the boy and kept watch as he slept, making sure the nightmare didn't return, even though he was fairly sure it wouldn't, and even if it did, it wouldn't get past the Sandman. Phil the Yeti arrived with breakfast, carrot pancakes for Bunny, and a various goodies for Jack. The big creature was astonishingly light on his feet and came and went without disturbing Jack.

Hours passed and Jack didn't wake, though he tossed and turned in his slumber. He stayed plastered to Bunny's chest and it was a rare moment when the sprite didn't have a fistful of fur in at least one hand.

 

The Pooka grit his teeth as another shift managed to rub the boys hips against his own. They'd long since shifted to laying down and Jack was completely flopped over the Pooka, pressed against his front and his legs tangled with Bunny's. It was times like this the Pooka regretted not wearing leggings like some of his kindred did. Another wriggle and stretch, combined with a small whimper from Jack had him thinking about rotten eggs and wilted carrots to keep from reacting.

 

He was glad, so very glad that mating season was out of the way. Not that he participated in it, busy being a Guardian, but he still felt the urge. It had been centuries since he'd felt attraction to anyone, and he'd certainly never expected to feel it towards a mischievous winter pain in his tail like Jack Frost.

 

A sliver of moonlight appeared through his window, shining gently on the floor of his room. All the rooms faced the Moon, but it was unusual for the light to actually shine though the windows. A soft musical tinkling filled the room and Bunny listened as Jack moved restlessly on his chest. A ray of light split off and bathed the boy's face and he settled with a contented murmur.

 

“Wait, what?” More tinkling filled the room, rising and falling like someone speaking.

 

“He's going through WHAT? You can't be serious!” A harsh jangled note.

 

“He's just a boy, a child! I can't.” A long series of notes, rising and rising before falling swiftly.

 

“I'm hundreds of years older than him. We're not even the same species!” Bunny argued. The light on the floor brightened, and the tinkling rose and fell, almost too fast to hear the individual notes.

 

“He'll what? But he's immortal, like us. He's lived alone for years.” Bunny said, and absently soothed Jack as the boy trembled against his chest and whimpered. Another tinkle, this one gentler and almost sad.

 

Bunny looked down at the boy laying on his chest and soft white hair rubbed against his nose. He inhaled and his eyes widened as his ears twitched. The boy was carrying his scent. Not just the low grade scent he'd had from being in Bunny's arms, but scent from the glands under the Pooka's chin, the ones used to mark mates.

 

“Really?” An affirmative tinkle and the light faded away.

 

Bunny smiled, apparently he wasn't the only one with feelings he didn't quite know how to deal with. He nuzzled the boy's hair, brushing his chin though the silken strands and whistled softly. The dozen eggs he'd called for earlier trotted out from under his bed and he tapped the floor, a hole forming that would lead outside his room. The eggs jumped through and he knew they'd gather more eggs before going to the other side of the tunnel. Hopefully they'd be enough to keep certain nosy Guardians at bay.

 

He kept nuzzling Jack's hair, and he could feel it as the boy started to wake up from the sleep the Man in the Moon had placed him in. Bunny reached up with one hand, cupping the immortal teen's face with one hand.

 

Jack lifted his head as he felt a warm hand caress his cheek. He looked up at Bunny and the Pooka's warm eyes filled his vision. A rush of heat flowed through him, settling low down in his belly and warming him from the inside out.

 

There was a soft tug and suddenly the Pooka's lips were on his own, the soft fur tickling his face. Jack jerked and his body flashed hot and cold and hot again and he leaned farther into Bunny's embrace. Jack had never been kissed before, though he'd seen it hundreds of times. Little pecks on the cheek between children, soft kisses between adults and deep kisses between lovers out on a romantic snow walk.

 

He was confused, but it felt wonderful and when the Pooka licked at his lips, he gasped, allowing the Pooka's tongue to dart in. With a moan, Jack surrendered to the feeling, letting Bunny lead the way.

 

Bunny licked into Jack's mouth and tried not groan at the taste of pure, clean, water and a hint of the berries the boy loved so much. He felt the boy responding, in more ways than one, as Jack pressed against him and kissed him back. With a quick move, Bunny flipped them over, hovering over Jack and not once letting go of the sprite.

 

Jack groaned, he felt heat pool in his pants and realized he was getting hard, something that had never happened before. Each movement the Pooka made rubbed against him and he bit back a moan as they rolled over.

 

“Jack.” Bunny looked at him with kind eyes. “You are an incorrigible brat with a penchant for snowing on my work day, but,” The Pooka nuzzled along the boy's jawline. “I love you anyway. I never thought I'd admit it. Crikey, I pretty much just realized it when the Man in the Moon pointed it out. Why did you never tell me you loved me?”

 

Jack flushed, his blue eyes never leaving the Pooka's face. “No one ever cared about me, and irritating you at least got me attention. I didn't think you'd ever feel the same way.” Jack tilted his head as the Pooka's fur brushed along his neck. “I thought I'd be alone forever.” The last words were spoken softly and sadly.

 

“Well, now you aren't.” Bunny caught Jack's mouth again.

 

Together they lost themselves in the cool rush of a cold front and the excitement of discovering hidden treasures. The eggs outside the door did their duty, keeping guard on the door and spelling out “GO AWAY” when someone came near.

 

--- --- --- --- ---

 

The next morning dawned bright and clear, with a distinct chill in the air. North bundled himself up in his red coat and even fashioned one for Tooth when she complained of the cold. Sandy, who was immune to the temperature, just smiled benevolently.

 

The appearance of Jack and Bunny was greeted with a clap on the back each from North. “Man in Moon tells us you are bonded. Bonded like glue! This is happy day!” It took him a moment to realize the changes in the two Guardians. Bunny's tattoos, once black, were now ice blue and white, while Jack's staff was now covered in markings that bore a great deal of resemblance to Bunny's tattoos.

 

Tooth just tittered at them and grinned, before giving each of them a tight hug. They'd find out later that she'd tucked toothbrushes and floss in Jack's hoodie. Apparently it was really the only gifts she had on hand.

 

Sandy just bounced up and down, images of Bunny and Jack darting to and fro over his head. A heart floated above the images and Bunny's ears twitched and dipped in embarrassment.

 

“Come! Man in Moon says this is day for celebrating!” North boomed out. “Today we have feast to end all feasts! No work today!” There was a cheer from the elves and a few grunts of displeasure from some of the Yeti's down below, but they were quickly swarmed over by the elves and silenced with little booted feet.

 

Bunny just tucked Jack under his arm and the young man snuggled into his side. He was happy, in a way he never expected he'd ever be. The piercing, painful cold hadn't reappeared to trouble Jack again and Bunny liked it that way. The boy was back to his natural, cool-to-the-touch self and in good spirits, that was enough for him.

 

Jack grinned as he snuggled against the Pooka and flicked one hand, the one hidden at his side by the staff. He winked at Sandy and Tooth before breaking away from his new lover with a laugh and pelting him on the shoulder with a perfectly formed and perfectly cold snowball.

 

Jack gave a huge grin as the Pooka slowly turned his head and with a yell jumped after him. He darted away and flung more snowballs and the chase was on.

 

He knew he'd be caught by the big gray Pooka eventually, but after all, the chase was half the fun.