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jack, it's cold outside

Chapter Text

The truth about secrets is that they're damn hard to keep.

It's 3:02AM. Jack Frost wakes with a start. He can't remember the last time he didn't wake up this way, covered in sweat and his forehead slicked with sweat. His staff sits a few feet away, lodged in the branch of the tree he fell asleep in. When did the nightmares even start showing up?

Jack sighs, rubbing the snowflakes from his eyelids and brushing hardened tendrils of ice off his hoodie. He catches his reflection in the frozen lake below and sighs. The moonlight shines a strange glow over the hard surface. He looks ghastly: skin paler than a fresh blanket of snow. His cheeks are sore and his hands are shaking, while Jack notices his entire body appears hauntingly fragile. In the lake's surface, he blinks at his eyes, dark circles set deep underneath with a hollowness echoing inside them.

Damn you, Pitch.

He never told anyone. Not really. The nightmares started appearing the very night after the Guardians had defeated Pitch, sending him to his demise through the earth's mouth, swallowed by his own fear and darkness. When Jack parted ways with the Guardians to prepare after-Christmas snow days for children in Michigan, he felt whole. Like the world had suddenly caught on to time's oldest gift: Jack Frost. The spirit behind all the joy and laughter he never knew credit for until recently. So even as the nightmares started entering his sleep, taunting him with secrets he'd sworn never to tell the Guardians, Jack Frost was happy.

Jack visited North when he needed advice on how to help an introverted kid see the fun in snowball fights, or for what to where that time Tooth asked him to go see the Northern Lights in Canada. He chatted frequently with Bunny during the rabbit's off days, which pretty much consisted of every day of the year save for the week before Easter. As for Sandy, Jack spoke with him often and followed him on trips to deliver dreams to newborn babies, even those who weren't predicted to live very long. Jack learned, and he discovered that a Guardian's work is more than the act of spreading wonder: it was harsh, at times.

Sometimes without reward. In those four years, Jack watched Jamie Bennett and his friends stop chatting excitedly about the approaching winter or whether Jack himself would stop by to initiate a snowball fight on a conveniently arranged snow day. They began staying inside, stressing about homework that was assigned over the holidays, whether they would be able to head into the city for the day if the roads were completely snowed in, and cursing at several inches of snow when they had an exam to write that day. Jack watched their dreams fade into worries. He even asked Sandy, who replied that some children simply grow to shake off his sand for a dreamless sleep.

Sandy told him it was better for some, that way. The world needed them to grow up, and it was about time. There would be other children, he assured Jack. So Jack kept watching. He watched Jamie's friends brush off their encounter with the Guardians as a hyperactive episode of imagination and confront their parents about them putting quarters under their pillows whenever a tooth was lost. They rushed out of the neighbourhood for winter shopping sale deals and poked fun at mall Santas.

Worst of all, Jamie followed them. He laughed with them. He laughed until Jack stood by his side one night and Jamie looked right past him.

And Tooth had warned him about adopting too much innocence from the children they protected. Recently, she'd collected teeth from a child she told him was being abused; but it wasn't in her place to do anything. Jack held her until Tooth cried and then couldn't cry anymore. He learned, and he tried to ignore the nightmares as best he could.

After all, didn't all the Guardians harbour similar fears? Who could blame them?

"Ha, you're no different," Jack thinks, smiling weakly to himself. "So what's stopping you from telling them?"

But he knows. Everything is preventing him from telling the truth, and he couldn't change that.

Kicking off the snow that had fallen on him from the night before, Jack yawns and hops off the tree, landing soundlessly on the lake below. The ice beneath his feet swirls with tiny details and an intricate design. Jack purses his lips, staring at the sky and letting out a misty breath. The forest behind Burgess looks so beautiful, the sun trickling over the edges of the horizon. It's almost enough to make Jack forget about what he had dreamt about the night before. Almost.

"Why does this keep happening?" He asks, reaching a hand out towards the moon. His eyes grow wide for a moment, then shut themselves tight. Jack laughs, shaking in the stillness. "No answer, of course." He grabs his staff and begins walking away, glancing over his shoulder at Manny, ever quiet whenever he desperately needed answers.

While heading into town, Jack closes his eyes. It all comes back without warning.

A cold hand on his cheek, the weight of a comforting darkness hanging around him. The world is so quiet. When Jack opens his eyes, it takes a moment for all his senses to collect. His fingers are caked in dried blood; but it's not his own. He feels for his legs, wrapped around skin that is both rough and strong to touch. His arms hold someone close to him, Jack's own heartbeat resounding against a pale chest. In front of him, a pair of eyes are set deep and drowning in lust. A voice Jack cannot hear. But he remembers responding, anyway, his breath hitching as a hand wanders its way down his inner thigh.

"Do you want to be believed in?"

"Yes."

"Do you know that all children must grow up?"

"...Yes."

"Then come. Come with me, and the world will believe, no matter how old each child grows. Wouldn't you like that, Jack?"

"Yes."

When Jack opens his eyes again, he isn't in Burgess. Instead, he's in the middle of the forest, his head in his hands and a sob forcing itself out of his throat. His mind is spinning. He pants, a sick fear growing deeper in his stomach. He feels the sun on his back now-how much time had passed?

Jack can't breathe. The space around him grows hazy while the lake's edge starts shooting out thin spikes, its tips covered in translucent black ice. Jack's eyes widen and he clutches his stomach as his vision rings with a thousand voices. His breaths grow more and more rapid as the spikes snake across the lake and around the forest, covering the trees and hills with icicles sharp enough to kill.

His head stings. He feels the pain deep within his skull just before everything goes silent. The last thing Jack sees is snow, snow falling in heaps around him until he's buried several feet under.

When the black fades, he's in the air, staff in hand. His cheeks are stained in the residue of thick tears.

On January 1st, a blizzard blows across Michigan with no signs of stopping.

 


 

Dear Jack,

I hope this letter reaches you.

It's been a month since you left without a word.

The Guardians and I asked the wind to deliver this message, and we pray that you're safe, wherever you may be. Jack, please come home. We miss you and we can't fix this winter alone. Ever since you disappeared, blizzards have appeared in every continent with no signs of stopping. People are dying. They're dying, Jack, and I know this isn't your fault, but I need you to help us fix this. The children need you, and they need you quickly. We don't know how much longer we can hold. Truth be told, Jack, this has never happened before. North had no idea you were capable of such raw power and it scares him. It scares me, Jack. Where are you? Why did you leave so suddenly? 

I'll always be here for you. I'm so sorry you had to leave. I feel like I might understand if we had just talked, Jack. I know where your mind has been wandering lately. How your eyes linger on the shadows of Burgess' alleyways for a moment too long. You're searching for him, aren't you? I wish you could have told us. Or me, at least. I thought you trusted us, or maybe you do. It's my fault for not noticing this sooner. I'm sorry, Jack, so I'm asking you to help me make sense of all these secrets. Please just come home. We can help you rid your thoughts of Pitch forever. 

Love,

Tooth

 

 

 

Chapter Text

In North's workshop, Toothiana paces the Globe Room in a rapid flutter.

She's early, as always. The other Guardians hadn't arrived yet, save North, who stood silent and still before the Globe of Belief with arms crossed, exposing the faded ink of his tattoos. Tooth couldn't remember the last time North appeared so deep in thought, a pensive look replacing his usual jolly self. Even the Yetis and elves in the room 

"North?" Tooth smiles, hovering towards him and putting a hand on his shoulder. "Is everything okay?"

He pauses, pressing a palm against the Globe, now covered in a thick white mist that shrouds the children's lights. A cool breeze is lifted from Michigan and drifts in all directions at once, surrounding the sphere in snow.

"North?"

"Yes, Tooth, of course," He sighs. "Why not okay?" North turns away from the map, directing his gaze instead at the Yetis sitting uncomfortably in the room. None of them make eye contact, their heads turned downwards. The silence is deafeningly loud.

"Well, you know," she says. "Though, my fairies have been searching diligently while on their daily runs-we've covered much of Southeast Asia and Europe already and Bunny-" Tooth stops. At the same time, a low rumbling sound growls from beneath the floorboards. Tooth lights up, laughing in spite of the moment. "Oh, he's here!"

North too grins, his eyes brightening as he steps out of the way. The floor beneath him caves into a gaping tunnel that stretches for who-knows-how-long underground while Bunnymund leaps up on instinct, landing on the floor with a thud. He spins his boomerang around him and slings it on his back.

"Nice to see I'm not last. Where's the Sandman?" Bunny asks, leaning against the wall. He tosses an egg up in the air and catches it with ease. "Better question-any news of Frost? It's been how long, now?"

"A month and a bit," Tooth says, folding her hands together. "Any luck on your end?"

"Nope," Bunny shrugs. Tooth opens her mouth to speak, then closes it. Despite Bunny's nonchalant manner, she can tell he's just as worried as the rest of them. Or perhaps worry isn't the right word, and Tooth doesn't know what to call this except for the epitome of fear. She shakes her head. It's been so long she isn't sure what to make of the situation anymore, and neither does Bunny or North, it seems.

Tooth still remembers bringing Jack to collect teeth from that house in Massachusetts. How his face fell and Tooth immediately regretted allowing him to tag along as she slipped not one, but four quarters underneath the girl's pillow. The way her dirt-tangled and greased hair framed the bruises around her face. And how Jack had to step back, take in the little girl's empty bedroom that held no toys or personal items, except for a picture with its glass shattered on top of a family of three.

The mother inside was smiling at her daughter, her teeth bright and nearly blinding in the photograph's flash. Her eyes seemed to dance under the sunlight, the same look shared in the girl standing below her, hands holding on to both parents. The father, Tooth had noticed, stared into the camera with a lighter smile, his shoulders relaxed in a way that appeared strange, as if he was the kind of man who wasn't normally seen so calm. The sight sent shivers down her spine.

And Jack had done so much. He held up a hand, though trembling in an emotion he couldn't quite place, to the girl's sleeping face, pressing ice against her wounds. Tooth stayed by his side as he enchanted packages and packages of ice, numbing the girl's bruises as dawn rose over the sky from outside the window. When the girl began to stir, they left without a second glance back, exchanging not a word. Still, Tooth remembered Jack fumbling in the wind when heading back to Tooth Palace and acting unusually quiet. She didn't press him for questions, though.

But perhaps she should have. At the time, how much could she have done to prevent all this? Tooth brushes the thought away, turning back to North, who is in the middle of speaking in a hushed tone with Bunny.

Bunny raises an eyebrow at North.

Footsteps and the sound of dust sweeping the floor echo in the still halls. The grand double-doors swing open and Sandy walks through, his face a mixture of both disheartenment and curiosity. He signs a silhouette of Jack's face overhead, pointing to it expectedly.

"No, Sandy, nothing from us." It breaks her heart to see the Sandman slump over, sitting on the ground beside a cluster of elves. She glances at North, who clears his throat and throws out his arms.

"Guardians! Thank you for coming for-what now?" He laughs, though it doesn't quite reach his eyes.

"The third meeting this week, North. I don't know how to tell you this, but even when we aren't here, these mates and I have been fighting the blizzards in every way possible. We're talking egg explosions on every rooftop, chimney, driveway, and street. Temperatures have been dropping like hell, mate. What is this, the Ice Age?" Bunny crosses his arms. "How am I supposed to have bloody Easter when the snow covers inches and inches of ground every six hours? My eggs are drowning in it, for Manny's sake. Do you know how many children without a roof over their heads have already-"

"Bunny," North warns. He looks at Sandy, who signs a message back: "Half the children in Burgess alone. Not falling asleep as they normally would. Because of cold. No sleep, no dreams. And when dreams," he nods at Bunny, "all about Easter. In February! Because the children need hope. And no hope in snow without fun."

"So we bring back fun!" North cries. The Guardians shift in discomfort. "Or, tried that already?" He chuckles, and Tooth notices how nervous it sounds. He didn't plan this meeting at all, unless, of course, he plans to do what Tooth thinks is their last hope.

"North," Tooth begins, fluttering to the ground to stand. "We're too late for that. We can't reverse the storm. We can't-" her voice breaks- "save all the children. Unless we find where Jack went..."

"If he's alive." Bunny looks at her.

"He is. He must be," North nods, beckoning Tooth to continue, knowing what she would say.

"The world is going to freeze. The children will stop believing. Maybe it's time we tried contacting-"

As if to respond, a trill of a song breaks the tension in the room, and the Guardians turn to face the open window where the moon can be seen.

"Guardians." A blue glow emits from a distance miles away, saturating the room in silver. "It's been a while."

North takes in a breath. "Man in Moon."

 

Chapter Text

Jack Frost doesn't know how long he's heaving, but his lungs hurt in a way he hasn't felt since drowning in the lake as a human.

It's dark. He's sure of that much, but there's little else to note from his surroundings. Jack stands with his weight shifted onto one side and scans the open area, a damp scent curling in the air. There's an odd familiarity about this place, a feeling Jack can't quite place as he reaches out at a smooth, marbled pillar drenched in shadows. A sheen of sweat coats his forehead, his bangs a matted mess of white and greyed strands tousled back. He can't remember how long it's been-how much time has passed since he woke up in this place; or perhaps arrived of his own vocation. His head is a spinning haze. Jack feels his heart resounding in an uncanny rhythm, his pulse quickening with every sound that bounces off the walls. Wait. Could this be-?

A light refracts off a sudden ray of light. Crevices from the ceiling give way to pinpricks of cold sun, slipping in behind shadows. The cracked prism in the center illuminates the space in a dim glow, darkened by yellow and muted hues. Jack gasps, staring at the gaping corridors and expanse of bridges. The clinking of cold metal rings overhead. Jack glances up to find a string of cages, empty, but closed shut. The bars are thick and insides hollow, almost beckoning for something to imprison. They weren't always that way, he realizes. He had saved them.

"Looking for something?"

Jack whirls around and tightens his grip around the staff. His head throbs at the way shadows begin to climb the pillars around him. No. Not again.

"Pitch!" He cries, pointing the staff up while searching for the voice, eyes darting around the room. "I know you're there. Come out or I'll-

"Clever, indeed." A sultry laugh.

"I'm not afraid of you anymore," Jack says, frowning. "Hey, I'm asking you to show yourself or-"

"Where else would I go but inside your head?"

Jack freezes, opening his mouth in protest as a hand clasps over his face. He lets out a muffled scream and stumbles backwards as his lips taste smoke. A second hand encircles his chest, brushing over his frail ribcage with fingertips that barely graze the surface of his skin.

There's another laugh, ringing from the distance while pounding in Jack's innermost thoughts. It reverberates into a resounding softness, caressing Jack's hair with a trickling breeze. Jack can't help but stifle a moan; he whimpers as the hand around his mouth moves towards his cheek, stroking the cold surface with its back. He feels knuckles, bony and-pale? His eyes catch grey veins as the light falls over the shadow behind him, and he gasps.

Irises like raw pyrite flecked with gold bore into his. Jack tries to tear his gaze away, but is instead shushed by the Boogeyman's low whisper. A smirk plays across Pitch's face as he gently yanks Jack's body backwards, surrounding him in a near deathly tight hold. Jack feels Pitch's bare chest against the back of his neck, his hair burying into the space where Pitch's cloak opens to reveal a narrow and firm torso-wait. How does he know this? Jack's jaw tightens and sweat breaks over his brow. How many times has this happened?

Jack twists out of Pitch's grip and around to face him. This wasn't the first time he was in this situation and why did it feel so-

"Come to confess," Pitch drawls. "Again?" He lifts his hands away from Jack's shoulders, tilting his head at the boy as Jack's skin tingles with a sense of sudden emptiness.

He raises his staff without a second thought. "Tell me, asshole," Jack breathes. "What do you want? Why don't you just leave and crawl away into your shadows and hide?"

Pitch raises an eyebrow. "Why, I don't see any need for me to be afraid. Not at you," He pauses. "After all, I'm wanted here. How's that?" Pitch smirks again, leaning over to look at Jack until his face is mere inches away from the tip of his nose. "Call your Guardians. Go on."

I dare you. The thought is enticing to Jack. Inviting, almost. Summon the Guardians to his side and all of this will just go away and Jack will never have to go through another damn nightmare of-oh.

Jack stares back, his lips parting slightly. Pitch chuckles, reaching out to grasp Jack's chin between his thumb and forefinger. He lifts Jack's head until Jack can feel Pitch's breath on his skin, the scent a rose smoke with hints of a winter night's wind. "No can do, right, Frost?"

"I'm not afraid." Jack bites his lip, unmoving from Pitch's hold.

"Certainly not." Pitch nods. "You're...something else, it seems. It's disgusting." He smiles, false pity dripping in his tone. "Aw, you don't even recognize it yourself. Poor Jack Frost. Where are your Guardians when you need them?"

"What?" Jack says, his eyes wide. "What does that even mean?" His expression shifts into a scowl. "I'm tired of your games, Pitch. Get out of my head or I'll-"

"Or you'll do what? Invite me back in?" Pitch extends his arms, gesturing at his lair. "Frost. I know what it is you want."

"Liar."

"And I can give it to you." Pitch smiles. Jack swallows. It's much more terrifying than any smile he's ever seen the Boogeyman give-quiet and taunting. He takes a step back.

"You should know what it is." Pitch sighs. "How it stirs in your thoughts whenever you think the Guardians aren't around. Whenever you're alone and hungry for something greater. It's not power or warmth, you seek, Jack, is it? It's something only I," he reaches into the shadows, "can give."

Taking his hand out, Jack watches as Pitch pulls out a single rose, dark as a midnight sky, and places it in Jack's hands. He is frozen even as Pitch leans in once more and calmly caresses his cheek, tilting his head at his jaw. They are so close. Jack closes his eyes, but no feeling ensues. He opens them. A breath is stolen from his lungs.

"Until next time."

He wakes cold. Something like black sludge clouds his vision, but something isn't right. Still shaking, Jack glances down at his hands. They're covered in a thin layer of frost, dirt, and a trail of something clear white and oozing.

Oh my god.

 


 

 

North and the rest of the Guardians gather closer as the moon's glow spreads across the floor. A warm green flushes through the room.

Tooth perks up, her wings beating rapidly, although she's biting her lip. "It couldn't be, is that?"

Sandy is the first to catch on. His eyes widen at Tooth, then back at the Man in the Moon's ray of light casting a soft silhouette around them. Bunny and North exchange a look, their faces creased in caution, not quite out of fear. Tooth watches in anticipation, hands clenched into little fists as Manny's light shines stronger. The floor crawls with a sea of petals, grass shooting out of the polished wooden boards as tree roots emerge from the surface. An aroma of forest and woodland intermingle in the air. Tooth follows the center of the scene to the emerging silhouette, the once-softened lines now hardening into thicker stems framing the outline of a face.

A woman with skin the color of pale olives. She isn't terribly old, nor young enough to look like the children the Guardians are used to helping. She isn't beautiful either, nor ugly. Her face appears like that of an old woman's: tired of having seen so much, regretting how little she had lived. There are creases in a few areas of her skin, battling against the innocent stare that resembles so much a young girl looking through the window of a moving car. Her hair falls out of place, seemingly everywhere, stray strands spilling over her shoulders. She's frowning.

There is something much more threatening about her than her appearance. 

"Crikey! That's not how I remember her," Bunny spits, pointing his boomerang at the figure. He turns to the moon. "What part does she play in any of this? In case you may have forgotten, mate, the first time she woke up-which is an awful long while ago-she bloody split the land into seven continents!"

He isn't finished. "And you all know the last time she woke up. North was there." Bunny shoots a look at North. "Tooth and Sandy were there. I was there."

Tooth is silent for a minute. She rubs her hands over her arms, looking away from the silhouette. "Bunny-"

"Well," North appraises the image Manny made. "That is not how anyone remembers her," He says, thoughtful. "But there are stories."

Bunny huffs. "Stories of what? Oi, the only tale I recall is..."

"She killed Old Man Winter. At least," Tooth knits her brows together. "That's what the stories say."

"It was inevitable!" North says. He lowers his gaze. "To prevent another Ice Age."

"Either way, that thing," Bunny spits. "killed someone. In cold blood."

"And she's going to do it again." Tooth says, her voice breaking. "Isn't that right, Manny?"

The moon is quiet. Tooth holds her breath. There's no response

Tooth shakes her head, biting her lip again as her thoughts wander to Jack. Jack, who's been lost for a month though it feels so, so much longer. Jack, who, whether he knows it or not, is slowly wreaking havoc across the world as the blizzards begin picking up their pace. She didn't know he was capable of so much; didn't know what or why he was hiding so much from her when the truth had been in plain sight. Perhaps not to the Guardians, she thinks, but to her. Jack's heart had always, always belonged to someone else.

She couldn't be mad at him, she thinks, as the Guardians continue to argue. The moon has already receded from the window, its light now a fainter beacon. Tooth recalls Mother Earth's terrifyingly different image from the one Manny had given them. She knew what they all knew of her: a callous, cold intercepter who didn't take part in conflicts of any sort unless they directly involved her, didn't seem to mind the children as they laughed or suffered, only claimed them when they grew up to bury themselves over her body.

Earth was cowardly, allied once to both Manny and Pitch, indifferent to war unless it was brutal enough to wake her up. She was neither light nor darkness, rather, all the ambiguity found between.

And maybe Tooth remembers Earth in a different light from the Guardians, anyway. She smiles sadly to herself, following the Guardians as they exited the Globe room in a collectively brooding mood.