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Barren Warren

By ABluewolf All Rights Reserved ©

Fantasy / Adventure

Chapter 1

Jack had been enjoying his time since Pitch's defeat. After today's snowball fight in Burgess, he'd started to head back to his favorite lake to take a good long rest before heading to see North. The man had become like a grandfather to him in these past few months, and since Christmas was in a month, Jack thought he would offer a hand with the last few toy based issues. North had insisted that the boy stay with him, but Jack had politely declined. He needed his freedom, and being cooped up in a workshop for ten months out of the year wasn't going to fly with the ice spirit.

Walking down the deer path that lead to his favorite frozen pond, Jack allowed his thoughts to wander to his fellow guardians. He remembered how well they'd taken him in, even after all the mayhem he'd caused over the time he'd known them. Tooth was more than happy to sit with him while they reviewed his memories, going through every blasted heart wrenching thought that returned to Jack about his past life, and tending to the minor fallout the boy experienced (despite his best attempts to cover it). Sandy had given him fun dreams ever since the big battle, and for once he didn't have to worry about a dreamless sleep. North had offered him a new home with the Russian man at Santoff Claussen, which Jack was still debating on taking. Rumor had it the man had designed a whole room for the kid with everything he could have imagined- from old fashioned toys to new video games. Jack didn't know if it was right to hold himself away from people this long, but it was a very tempting offer.

And then there was Bunnymund…

The rabbit had been a good friend in the past few months, and served as a big brother figure to the boy. Jack was beginning to feel something different rise in his chest every time he was in the Pooka's presence. He couldn't quite place it, but it felt like he was going to puke from his throat area when the Pooka looked at him. He tried to ignore it at first, thinking it was just food poisoning, but-

A large, blunt object hit the back of Jack's head, knocking the boy to the ground. A familiar dark figure gathered the boy into his arms and quickly disappeared into a dark portal. The dazed Jack regained his strength as his head cleared, gripping his staff tightly as he was thrown onto the cold floor of a dank lair. He felt his arm hit first, hearing a light snap as he landed roughly. His good arm found its way to the floor to push himself upwards, then to tend to its injured sibling. A quick survey of the area showed his location was none other than Pitch's abode.

"Where are you?!" Jack barked, knowing full well that the Nightmare King wouldn't be kind to his youthful pain in the rear. A deep chuckle resonated through the chamber.

"What's the matter, Jack? Are you frightened?" Pitch's voice slithered through the lair, causing the ice spirit to shiver.

"Why? Should I be?" Jack mocked, knowing full well that he couldn't take Pitch on by himself.

"Oh my! So feisty! You were always the fun one, weren't you, Jack?" Pitch practically moaned into his ear as Jack felt the large hand of the man find its way to Jack's less sore shoulder. Jack spun around quickly, nearly losing his balance as he tried to freeze the man in his place.

"I'm not afraid of you!" Jack growled as his eyes darted around the room, trying to get a good grasp on the Nightmare King's position before firing. At the rate he was going, he was going to sap his energy before he even got a shot in.

"Oh, but you should be." Pitch said as he used his powers to slam the younger spirit against the far wall, generating a sickening crack from the blue clad teenager. Jack gasped as he hit the wall, sliding down the cold stone to the floor. Before he could regain his composure, he felt the burning darkness slam against his wrists, holding him to the wall. Jack thrashed around as best he could, but to no avail. He managed to pry his frustrated teary lids open to see the grotesque smirk emanating from Pitch's lips casting a new wave of vomit worthy cringing through the boy's body.

"Let me go!" Jack growled through tensely shut teeth. Pitch chuckled again, making Jack give a hard kick outwards, but only managed to his air.

"I don't think so." Pitch said as he reached his pale hand towards the boy's head. Jack jerked his head to the side, but didn't avoid the grim fingers from finding his head.

"What are you doing?" Jack gasped as Pitch's fingertips glowed with a green light. Pitch smiled as he replied.

"Just a little experiment." The Nightmare King replied. Jack's head exploded in heat, making the ice spirit scream in pain as the Nightmare King cast his spell. Jack felt his bones rearranging themselves, stretching and twisting in unusual shapes. Numbness started to take over his body from his feet upwards as Jack felt his skin tingle. Darkness entered his mind not long after the numbness reached his head.

The Guardians were cautious as they padded their way into Pitch's lair. The obvious set up for an ambush wasn't enough to make them turn back. If Pitch's message to North was any indication of the youngest Guardian's whereabouts, they needed to at least investigate the dark lair of the Nightmare King.

"Maybe the old horror story was lying?" Bunnymund suggested as he walked behind North with his ears raised high, trying to pick up on the tiniest sounds of assailants. Pitch's fortress had to be crawling with Nightmares by this time of night, and Bunny would be royally ticked if they thought they'd get the better of the four Guardians by sneaking up on them.

"It's always possible, but unlikely, my friend." North replied, his swords drawn and ready for any fight that wandered their way. Leave it to Pitch to make the most guest hostile lair in history. There was barely enough light to see where you were stepping, and what little was granted had to be granted by Manny through the cracks in the fortress walls. Thankfully, there was still a giant, gaping hole in the side of the mountain where Pitch's Nightmare would return each night. It provided a fair bit of light in the Nightmare King's throne room, courtesy of an 'unexplained' ice avalanche a few months back. That very incident was probably the precursor to their trip here- Jack. Blasted brat didn't know when to keep his tricks to himself! Now the Nightmare King had captured the kid!

"And Frostbite?" Bunnymund growled, displeased that his normally restful offseason was interrupted by Jack Frost. The cute little ice spirit was nothing more than a pain in his side, and always addressed him as the 'Easter Kangaroo'.

"Pitch said the brat fell in here during a trick, but I doubt that." North replied.

"You don't think he tried to catch Jack, do you?" Tooth asked, fearful that something horrible had befallen their youngest member.

"Knowing Pitch's past, Jack could be strapped to a table right now." North replied. Pitch had a fetish for scaring people, and he would occasionally catch some poor fool and torment them with close calls and mock surgical setups. Surely enough, it worked. People believed in the Boogeyman again because he scared them out of their pants.

"But Jack's too strong to-" Tooth was cut off as a blur of grey and white sped past them, nearly knocking Sandy down from his floating position. Bunnymund skidded to a stop as the others watched where he was going. He knelt down and started to tend to a small form on the floor of the far wall. The remaining three Guardians rushed to see what the grey Pooka was so interested in.

On the floor, curled into a fetal position, was a small white Pooka. North couldn't believe was he was seeing, but Tooth and Sandy quickly joined the grey rabbit in investigating the small being. North approached the other Guardians, kneeling to see the small rabbit. They had no markings, so familial identification wasn't possible. Judging by his coloration, this Pooka didn't even seem to be part of the southern clans.

"We need to get out of here." Bunnymund said grimly, fearful of this Pooka staying in Pitch's lair. Pitch caused the massacre that left Bunnymund alone all those years ago, and Bunny refused to let him steal this last soul from him. The years alone in the barren warren had left the rabbit resigned to an immortal life of wondering what he could have done different that day. All these years of regret that seemed to subside to resignation of grave bedded memories had vanished in a moment when he saw this tiny, living Pooka. He swore he'd protect this last chance of hope, even if it still meant the species was functionally gone.

"What about Jack?" Tooth asked as she ruffled the small rabbit's top most fur.

"Oh, don't worry." A slimy cool voice penetrated the room. The Guardians shot the Nightmare King a unified dirty look as he glided down the steps of the throne.

"Where's Jack?!" North barked, his swords drawn and ready to fight for the young man's safety.

"He's apparently in good hands." Pitch replied curtly.

"What did you do to him?" Bunnymund demanded as he held the small rabbit tightly to his chest.

"Nothing you haven't seen already. Now please, get out of my lair. Your business here is over." Pitch announced as he turned to leave again. The Guardians looked to North, who motioned for them to gather the rabbit and get out of the lair while they still had a chance. Bunnymund grabbed the tiny white bundle and started to run with all his strength towards the sleigh. His rabbit holes could mange him alone, but carrying anything larger than a basket was nearly impossible without hitting his head.

They were almost out the door when Tooth noticed the young ice spirit's staff discarded on the floor of the throne room. She went to gathered it, but noticed shreds of blue and brown fabric scattered around the stone. She had to wait to tell the others as she fluttered out the door to catch up.

-Santoff Claussen-

The small rabbit had been placed in the medical wing of North's workshop and was being carefully tended to by the elves and yetis. North, Tooth and Sandy discussed what the next move was, and how to find Jack since North's globe wasn't working on the ice spirit. It kept detecting that he was right there in the shop, but the only object of his that was in the Germanic wooden decorated walls was his precious staff.

Bunnymund, true to his personal promise, sat vigilant at the young rabbit's side. The white ball of fluff had yet to awaken, and the longer it took, the more Bunny worried. Such a young Pooka in the hands of Pitch was concerning to say the least, but there was no explanation as to how the smaller fluffy being had arrived at the dark, dank lair of the Nightmare King.

North entered the room to check on the rabbit after four hours of discussion and small talk. Bunny hadn't twitched a muscle, and North managed to accidentally startle the rabbit from his thoughts about the Pooka race and longing memories of his own family many years ago.

"Any change, my friend?" North asked as he took a seat opposite the rabbit. Bunny smiled for a moment before rubbing his eyes and shaking his head.

"Nope. Little fluffy here's still out cold. Any news on the annoyance?" Bunnymund replied. North breathed deeply as he hoped the younger rabbit would have some news or at least an idea of how he fell into the Nightmare King's hands. This rabbit couldn't have been older than Jack, which was all the more reason to worry about him. North had grown very used to the boy coming in and out of the workshop as he pleased, stealing cookies or cookie dough when he was hungry. North had even begun to prepare a room for the boy, and was planning to ask him to join him in Santoff Claussen in the off season, but Jack refused. The teenager said he was too free to ever really feel at home in a cooped up workshop. North tried not to take it personally, but it still hurt to know the boy didn't want to stay with him. His disappearance weighed on North much like a parent would to any child.

"Not a peep. The globe still says he's here. I think it's stuck." North replied, knowing that Bunny hadn't been a part of that discussion.

"So what are we gonna do?" Bunnymund asked as he removed a boomerang from his satchel and examined it for the eighth time that evening.

"We keep looking. Maybe he got shoved into the staff?" North offered. Bunnymund chuckled at the other man.

"Would seem right! He always hated being confined!" Bunnymund laughed as the mood dissipated. North joined in the awkward laughter, his belly jumping with laughter as he chuckled harder and harder.

"Oh! And when we get him out, he'll have rabbit ears!" North joined in the fun, totally ignoring the resting charge in the bed between them.

"Oh, that would be a treat! Then he couldn't call me 'Kangaroo'!" E. Aster laughed back. A tiny moan interrupted their chortling. They looked down in unison to see the small Pooka twitching in his bed. White furry eyelids began to pry themselves open as he twisted, his forehead knotting and unknotting as he opened his bright blue eyes to stare at his saviors.

"Hey there, little guy." Bunnymund spoke, his voice gentle and easy. He'd forgotten when the last time he spoke to someone like this, but it had been far too long.

"Wha-?" The small rabbit's voice mumbled out, barely intelligible to the two mens ears.

"Oh, good! We thought you'd never wake up!" North added in. The small rabbit raised his hand to block the bright light above him, moaning in minor pain as the light ground into the eyes.

"What?" The small Pooka replied. Bunnymund silenced himself as North kept smiling.

"What is your name, little one?" North asked, receiving a questioning look from the young rabbit.

"North?" The rabbit replied, his tiny voice finally coming through. North froze and Bunnymund straightened himself in realization.

"Oh no…" Bunnymund said as he reached forward to examine the sweet rabbit that was still lying on the bed.

"Jack?" North gasped, completely sideswiped by the realization.

"Yeah? Who'd you think I was?" Jack replied as he started to sit upwards. Bunnymund offered a strong arm to help the injured ice spirit sit up. Jack's hand flew to his chest as it stung. He then noticed the thick padding of fur that covered his entire body.

"Jack, stay calm." North said as the white Pooka started to thrash against the blankets. Jack managed to kick them off and observed the pristine white fluff that covered his body. His breathe caught in his lungs, strangling him with stress filled confusion.

"WHAT- WHAT IS THIS?!" Jack yelled. Bunnymund had to bend his ears to prevent his eardrums from being shattered. North jumped forward and gripped the young rabbit, who was now fighting to get out of bed. Jack beat him to the edge of the padded surface, but tripped over his now enlarged feet.

"Jack! Please! Calm down!" North ordered, trying to get the small rabbit to relax as the epic breakdown began.

"Calm down?! Calm down?! I'm covered in fur! How am I suppose to be calm?!" Jack panicked. North released the young Pooka as he tried to escape, only to be caught by Bunnymund instead.

"Jack, stop this. We can fix this." Bunnymund encouraged. Jack gave a few more mediocre kicks before tucking his head into the larger Pooka's chest. Bunnymund ran a hand over the smaller rabbit's ears as North excused himself to the archives of Santoff Claussen to search for a cure. Jack shivered against the larger Pooka, who in return gathered the small rabbit into his arms and placed him on the bed.

"I hate this…" Jack said as he clung to Bunny, who only let go of the younger Pooka to grab the covers that had been kicked off earlier and wrap them around both inhabitants of the bed.

"I know, but just calm down. No need to get so worried about all this. North will find a fix or we'll ask Manny about it." Bunny said as he cradled the tiny rabbit in his arms. Jack shivered and shook a few more times before nuzzling into the thick fur of Bunnymund.

Bunny watched the younger Pooka drift off for a few minutes before resting his head on the pillow. He knew in the back of his mind that Jack couldn't stay in the frozen north for too long, or he'd freeze from the weather. Pooka bodies weren't made to withstand temperatures below temperate regions, so they would have to nudge the young Pooka into either staying with Tooth or in Bunnymund's warren. Despite their past misgivings, Bunny had begun to enjoy having the brat around. It was almost like having a family again- with Tooth and North as the mother and father, Sandy as the wise cousin, and Manny as the grandfather who just laughed at everything they did. And Jack? Jack was somewhere between annoying younger brother and potential sparring partner.

Bunnymund's thoughts were lost as he relaxed into the bedding, his arms protectively curled around the ball of white fluff nestled against him. Dreamless slumber took in less than a minute.

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