Bunnymund was quite aware that the winter spirit was tailing him. Honestly, with ears and a nose like his it was a wonder that Jack believed he could sneak around the Pooka. And he would have turned around and found Jack in a spit second, ready to give his rival a piece of his mind.
But he had work to do. A guardian was always busy, even if he did only have one day of the year specifically set around them.
He was the guardian of Hope after all. Not a particularly easy job.
He had already ventured all throughout Russia, China, Mexico (he was much more partial to that climate) and was now traveling through the familiar town of Burgess. The sun was quickly setting, so he was out of the clear sight of children. Bunny was sure that it wouldn't have mattered – they'd already seen him many times, though he was sure that a few of them (disregarding Jamie) now thought it had been one very confusing and vivid dream created by the Sandman. And if he really didn't want to be seen in broad daylight, then the tunnels would have helped in a pinch.
But it wasn't daylight and most kids were already escaping the cold in order to eat dinner or read with their families. So travel was easy, making his job of spreading hope a relatively non difficult one.
Finished with the main part of the town, he headed through the woods on the border, towards the lake. From their he'd make a tunnel and head up to Canada maybe, and then from there he'd head back to his nice, warm Warren. Or… North hadn't seen him in a while… maybe he'd-
"Hey there, Kangaroo."
Bunny straitened, turning to look at the winter sprite standing on a tree limb, staff in hand, smirking down at him.
"So, fin'ly decided to show your face, eh? Took ya long enough."
"Oh, you knew!?"
"'Course I knew, ya gumby." Bunny turned away from Jack, walking again, towards the lake. He had a schedule to keep. And besides, he knew Frost was just going to follow.
"What are you doing, anyway?" Jack pranced from branch to branch, short but cold winds whipping against Bunny's form each time the boy's feet left solid structure and became airborne. He shivered, the Warren materializing in his brain. Warm, spring, lots of paint. He'd wanted to test that new design…
"Hey, are you ignoring me?" He shook his head, looking at his minor who now stood in front of him, bare feel sinking into the snow.
"Naw, just thinking." He pushed past Jack and continued on.
Jack, somewhat grateful that the guardian had in fact not been ignoring hi, followed the large Rabbit once more. "So then where are you going."
"To Canada. Maybe. I'm thinkin' 'bout goin' to the Lucky Country."
"Australia, ya dill." he grumbled. He squinted through the trees. There was so much snow on the ground from a blizzard he had thankfully missed. He' dbe sure not to comment on it, or it would go strait to Jack's head. The last thing he needed was the younger boy having one more thing to hold against him.
Taking one more look he spotted a few things he recognized. The gnarled tree, the line of thorn bushes and that circle of rocks. If he could only find the small cliff over the lake… It was so snowy everything was blending together.
"Well, I just finished doing my job. By the way, Sophie say's hi. Well. She didn't quite say hi. She just said Easter Bunny hop hop hop. But I guess that's the same thing, right?"
Bunnymund felt something inside him warm up at the mention of the little girls name. He snuffed it out and hid it with a snort in reply. The last thing he needed was Frost thinking he'd gone soft too.
"I think you're her favorite." Jack smirked, "though I sometimes wonder why."
He was baiting him, Bunny knew. So instead he just snorted again. "Frost, where's the lake. I gotta open a portal."
"Why not just open one here?"
It was a good question, but Bunny just shook his head. "Specific place I have to drop off in." And I can't see if where I'm going with all this bloody snow, he added to himself. Why did the frostbite seem to get more annoying by the minute? Could he just not leave him alone?
And why all the snow? Why now? It wasn't anything close to '68, but then again nothing even compared to that snag. And in truth, Jack didn't know he'd be traveling through tonight, so it wasn't really his fault. And he was doing his job…
Bunny shook his head. He had to stop sympathizing with Jack. The boy and him clashed so often that it seemed he was beginning to forget that they clashed at all. He was family, and family annoyed you. And in truth, he was rather fond of the sprite. But if he showed that, just once…
It seemed to be that Jack felt the same. But both of them kept it down, or they'd be chasing after their lost ego's for years to come.
So Bunny simply ventured on, listening as Jack continued to follow him. After a few more minutes of silent traveling he realized that Frost was no longer following and let out a content sigh. Finally, he could think.
Looking around once more he tried to spot more familiar landmarks. Through the snow he could just make out the edge of a very low cliff, only about twenty or thirty feet high. So the lake was in his general area. He just had to find the right spot around it. After, of course, he figured out where, under all the piles and piles of snow, the lake was. Testing out his luck he moved forward, failing at smelling anything through the neutral and chilled air.
"Still looking, huh?"
He whirled around. The snow, he cursed, was messing with his senses.
"Get lost, Frostbite."
Jack raised an eyebrow, smirking. "Not on your life, cottontail. You know, it's kinda amusing to see you looking through the snow. One things for sure, you're not a winter."
Bunny growled, hopping along the area, feeling the snow crunch beneath his feet as he did. "For the last time, frost, leave. If ya' haven't noticed, I'm on a tight-"
"Schedule. Geez, I know I know. God, you're always working. Take a break!"
"Not gonna happen, mate." The snow crunched some more. Or was that snow? It vibrated more than snow would. He shrugged it off, continuing. "And 'sides, shouldn't you be working?"
"I am," the younger spirit counteracted, "I'm the guardian of fun. All the kids are inside, so I'm bothering you. That's fun."
"You're a real great guy, aren'tchya?"
Bunny hopped a few more steps forward. It was unnerving how much the snow was shifting. "I can tell." He glared up at the spirit while he walked, not even bothering to watch where he was going. "How about you go an' bother North, or somethin'"
"He's busy with work."
"So I'm the next target?"
"You walked to me!" He raised his hands, "that was not my fault."
Bunnymund was having just enough of him at that point. It was cold, he was miserable and to top it off, the Frost kid was messing with his schedule. "You really are a drongo, aren't you? First, you have to live off North. And then you hardly do your job!"
"I'm not living off-"
"I don't see you takin' any responsibility, mate." Jack's glare, which had been so well trained on the guardian of hope just a moment earlier, lessened for a moment. Hurt flashed across his face, eyebrows relaxing and wide blue eyes crinkling. And in a mere moment, it was gone. But Bunny could care less.
"You're hardly doin' your job! I mean, you hardly did anything good before. Blizzard of '68 was enough wasn't it. Now you've got to be a bloody guardian who doesn't do his job! Try spreading something other than fun, mate. Try doin' something that protects someone! Maybe then you'd have more than a handful of kids who can see ya'. Maybe then someone would have a reason' ta b'lieve in ya!"
Bunny knew the words were coming from nowhere, and almost hated himself as soon as they left his mouth. Of course, that almost hate turned genuine when Frost's head drooped in defeat. He didn't even try to banter back, didn't fight any of the acquisitions. He just took it as the truth when it came from his mouth.
Bunny swallowed hard, trying to stanch the feeling of guilt that quickly rose within him. He felt that he should apologize, say it was just because he was cold and annoyed and had a lot of work to do…
Something underfoot cracked. And this time it wasn't snow. He had only about one second to register everything that went on around him. He had been looking for the lake, but he was on it. The ice had been thin, weighed down by the snow. In the time of that one second he saw Jack's face switch from angry sadness into one of pure terror. Jack opened his mouth. He must have shouted his name, but only part of it reached the rabbits ears before he was underwater.
Bunny used to be aware of many things. His talent had always been his awareness. Whether is was with his acute sense of smell or hearing. Or simply his ability to be logical. Either way, he was rather proud of those traits. But after he had dropped through the ice all of those skills seemed to simply disaper and he became aware of things he'd never worry about.
He became aware that it was cold.
He became aware that he was alone.
He became aware that he might, at any moment, die.
And then in the next second he felt himself being pulled up back from the dark abyss of murky water, past broken ice covered in soft, deceiving snow. He was ungracefully plopped down on the ice, coughing and spluttering and shaking himself down much like a dog after a bath, part of it from the water and part from the shivering. He shook his head again, trying to rid himself of the temporary panick.
And just like that his head cleared and he was able to register things once again. Sure, he was cold. But he was far from alone, and he couldn't die. He was immortal. In some ways, at least, he was immortal. Either way, it would have taken more than a dip to get rid of him.
He wiped off his eyes and looked around the lake. The hole he'd made wasn't large, but it had been big enough for him to fall through. And right beside it sat Jack Frost. Bunny tilted his head. In all of his years knowing Frost, and he'd in some ways known the boy for a long time, he'd never seen the winter spirit shiver. He was staring down at the water with wide blue eyes. His staff, usually in his hand, had been discarded. Most likely when he dove in to get Bunny. He didn't look wet, though the water must have frozen as soon as he left the water.
Bunny cleared his throat, "Jack? You okay, ma-" Before he could finish he found himself being practically manhandled in the tightest hug he had ever received. Jack, now with his spindly arms wrapped around the rabbit's torso, had buried his face into Bunny's thick, wet fur in an almost desperate attempt to hold onto him. "Jack?!"
"Don't… don't ever, ever go onto the ice without me telling you it's safe!" The boy's voice was tight, and Bunny thought for one moment that he was crying. It was hard to tell. He was already wet, so added tears would make no difference. "You… you c-could have…" There was no need to finish the sentence, the Guardian of Hope knew how it ended.
Gently he tried to pry Jack off of him, and when he found himself unsuccessful he sighed. He was getting colder and colder. The water from the lake was not helping, as was the snow around him. And now, this additional icebox had decided to hold onto him for dear life.
"Jack, mate, I wouldn't have died." Jack didn't respond. "You know that, right?" Still, no response. "Jack, mate, I'm fine! Look'it me!" He finally succeeded in tearing Jack away from him. He was right, the boy had been crying. Frozen tear tracks shone on his face. "You pulled me out. I'm alright! See." For extra measure he grabbed the boys shoulder, showing him that he was indeed there. Jack nodded, but it looked forced. "We're fine. Both of us. Why are'ya so scared! Blimey, Jack, you're shakin' like a leaf!" He was, Bunnmund's paws practically vibrated from the boy's shoulder.
"I was… scared…" Jack looked away quickly. "I didn't want anything to… I guess we're friends and we're supposed to… I wanted to make sure…" Jack looked back up at him, his eyes wide. New tears formed in them. "I had to protect you. You fell first. You shouldn't have fallen first. It was my job to protect you and I…"
"Oy! Mate, ya did your job! You did a great job! Look, if this is about what I said, I'm sorry! I never meant it. You know me, I'm a bloody whaker sometimes! I never meant a word of it, Jack. You're… you're a great guardian." Jack shook his head, pusing Bunny's paw off.
"You shouldn't have fallen first."
"But that doesn't even matter! You got me out! Hell, I didn't even think ya'd try after all the stuff I told you! I'm honestly glad you didn't nick off when I told you to!"
"But you said… it was all true…"
"No. It wasn't." Bunny carefully guided himself and the younger man around the hole in the ice, not ready to take another dip in the freezing waters. "Look. I'm sorry. Really. I never meant a word of it, I swear." He crossed his arms, once they had gotten to, what he believed to be, solid ground. "I shoudn't have brought up '68, or all the other things."
"No. It's alright. '68 was a big deal."
"It was one snowstorm, and it was 45 years ago. That's past us."
Jack frowned, looking up at the rabbit that he had admired for so long. "Why?"
Bunny reached out and ruffled his hair. Drops of frozen water fell from it and made small holes in the snow as they fell to the ground. "Cuz that's what friends do."
"Friends?" Jack looked almost mystified.
"Yeah, ya mug." Jack nodded, but he couldn't hide the smile that was forcing itself up his face. "And don't worry 'bout how many kids b'lieve in ya. I'll paint pictures of ya on my eggs this year. Then we'll see how many more you get."
"Can I help?"
Jack beamed, and skated quickly across the ice to retrieve his staff, still lying and waiting upon the return of its owner. "By the way, the place your looking for is right there," he shot an icicle into the spot where Bunny had been looking.
"No, not for that." He crossed his arms once more, gesturing with his head towards the large break in the ice. "For protecting me."
Jack shrugged. "It was nothing."
"No. it wasn't. It was something a true guardian would've done."
Jack beamed once more, and nodded again to his senior, how was already gaining entrance to a hole in the ground. When the tips of his ears disappeared and the hole once again closed up, Jack called to the wind and was taken away towards wherever he wanted. Maybe he'd visit Jamie and tell him that he'd finally saved someone. Or maybe he wouldn't.
He knew, and that seemed to count for enough.
North had never been so astounded in his life when, at the next meeting, Bunny and Frost sat right next to each other. No. He was even more astounded when, during the entire stay at the pole, the only fight that they had was obviously a play one, and the most they did was jest. They even managed to have one whole conversation.
The most surprised he'd been was when he'd walked into the kitchen and found Jack and Bunny sitting in compete silence, the two of them bent in concentration over eggs, paintbrushes in hands. When they'd left, North had gone back to inspect exactly what had been done.
One egg had been left behind. Obviously it had been Bunny's work, no one had artistic skills like that rabbit. What was stranger was the design painted on the egg.
Snow flakes and a small picture of Jack himself, balancing on his staff. In letters drawn to look like frost on a window, directly underneath the picture were the words;
Believe in a Guardian
Don't love the ending. But, eh, ce la vi!