Kind-of important author's note at the end. Please enjoy!

Julius went back to his home that night, and Bunny, Tooth, and Sandy returned to theirs. Aside from the usual activity around the workshop, Jack was alone. He tried to spend time playing with the elves, but eventually the awful feeling in his chest came back. He hated it even more now that he had no-one to talk to.

He found himself wandering through the workshop space. Flying toys zipped by above him, prototype robots stomped around in circles, and sports balls rolled and bounced around the test area. Everything was just as colorful and exciting as the first time he'd seen it - toys were always getting invented and improved, after all. Jack wished the yetis would let him into the test rooms. It was something he'd actually enjoy helping with! But the last time he took it upon himself to do so, the resulting disaster left North and the yetis less than pleased.

Speaking of the jolly old man, Jack had arrived in front of North's personal office. He could hear music playing from within, along with the occasional tones of hammers and saws. Jack knocked on the door- even though he didn't stay here 24/7, he knew better than to barge in.

"One moment!" North's voice boomed. The construction sounds faded and the door swung open. And there was North, gazing curiously down.

"Wanting to talk, Jack?"

"Uh...yeah." Jack nodded. He followed North into the room. The noise from outside muffled considerably once the door closed. Jack suddenly felt the urge to put up his hood. But North was clearly waiting for him to speak.

"I, uh, had a question…" He started. North nodded and raised an eyebrow. Jack spun his staff back and forth. "It's about…Pitch." he took a deep breath. That feeling was constricting his chest now.

"What about Pitch?" North asked. His voice only grew a hint more serious, but it was enough to make the invisible barbs around Jack's lungs grow tighter. He shouldn't have said anything, he should've just kept it to himself. Now North was upset-

"Jack, Jack, sit down here."

Jack blinked and let his vision come back into focus. North was motioning to a stool by the window, not far from the plush rolling chair he occupied. Jack stared at it for a moment, and then crossed the room to sit down.

"What question do you have about Pitch?" North asked, his voice softer and more level. Jack took another breath.

"You and the others knew him for a long time, right? Was he...always like that?"

North was quiet, his brow furrowed in thought. Jack rubbed his thumb over a smooth notch in his staff. When North finally spoke, it was so careful and solemn that it was almost jarring.

"Not so in the beginning. Not as...violent." he said. "We were not close to him. But we spoke a few times. And then…"

"What changed?" Jack couldn't help but ask. North looked off into space for just a second. He seemed...sad, or maybe disappointed.

"He made his choice, and that choice harmed the children. So we came to be enemies."

"What choice?" Jack tried to read more into North's expression, but the old man huffed and frowned with the usual face he made when puzzled.

"I cannot find the proper words. This question was a surprise, Jack. Have not thought about this in a long time."

"Oh. Well, thanks anyway." Jack sighed and stood up.

"What makes you think of Pitch, Jack?" North asked, crossing his arms as Jack headed for the door.

"Eh, just thinking about random stuff. I don't know."

He left before North could say anything more. As he headed back through the noisy workshop, North's answer settled on the mental pile of troubling words he'd heard in the past few days. It was too much and Jack hated thinking about it.

He hated that he couldn't stop thinking about it.

He didn't want to rest in his room tonight. It was cozy and helped him sleep like a rock, but it was still less familiar than his tree and his lake. Jack hopped from the first open window he found and slipped into the windy Arctic night. The air whistling past his ears made his heart feel lighter. He was over the ocean soon, and then over the tundra, the mountains, the city, until finally he saw the pattern of Burgess' uptown. His forest bordered the Historical Burgess Nature Park, which was thankfully free of people tonight. The lake was alive and the atmosphere was warm, not quite as comforting as its frozen form, but Jack still liked being near it.

Jack carefully landed on an upper branch of his tree. Owls hooted nearby but quickly settled. Nothing but crickets and frogs chirped now. It was peaceful, almost musical. Jack hung his staff on a nearby limb and let his leg dangle from his own reclining branch. Finally he closed his eyes, determined not to think anymore tonight...

Cupid's gardens were in full bloom, and also at the beach for some reason. The ocean sparkled blue and white beyond the rows of flowers. Jack sat on the top of a tree, his feet swinging though he could not reach the waves. He gazed out at the spit, where a figure was walking. She paused and waved at him.

"Hey, Jack, let's play out here!" Clover called to him. Jack jumped down from his spot and hit the ground. He ran, not flew, towards her. When he got there, Julius was there too, running around with Clover in the shallows. They both laughed and splashed like they had no cares at all. He wanted to join them, he reached his hands out-

And a shadow passed over the water. Jack's ears rang, and the waves seemed to pull back until they were still. Julius and Clover looked at him with warm eyes and shy smiles, both of them reaching for his hands.

"We were all somebody before we were chosen." said an echo of Tooth's voice.

Something changed. Clover and Julius disappeared. Jack's hands were outstretched, touching nothing. He thought he could see someone out at sea, hovering above the water. He took a step forward and something crunched under his feet. Black sand was creeping through the gold-

Jack startled awake and grabbed his staff, the only thing that saved him from falling into the lake below. He heard the bushes rustle from every side. It was a terrifying second of noise, but it ended just as quickly as it began. Jack scrambled back up to his perch and threw his hood on, yanking the drawstring shut. He gripped his staff with both hands, refusing to sleep for the rest of the night.

I want to clarify something - Waugh was not a character, it was the sound Tatum made when Jack shoved snow in their face. I'm sorry it wasn't clear in the last chapter!

Also, I want to change some things I said in earlier author's notes.

About how I view Jack and his friends: I'm changing that to a maturity range of late teen-young adult instead of solid ages like 16 or 17. I believe this makes more sense due to their supernatural lifespans, and for some backstory that might come later...also, getting older myself has shifted my perspective a bit.

I also said I wasn't going to focus on romance in this story. It's still not the main focus, but now it's becoming a larger part than I planned! Oh well~

See you next time!