Jack sat up in a rush, his head clouded and disoriented. Snow dripped off his face and he felt generally dirty, cold, and fairly wet. It took him a moment before he realized that he was half buried in the snow.

He looked around the dark orchard and came to the conclusion that he had fallen asleep. He pulled out his phone to check the time. Six o'clock. Boris would be getting worried soon.

It was still snowing at a fairly regular drift, and without the sun the air temperature had plummeted. Jack shivered. Usually the cold did not bother him, but coupled with the darkness and the loneliness he felt in his chest, he suddenly was very, very cold.

He sat up a little more and scooted backwards until his back was against one of the trees. His legs came up to his chest and he wrapped his arms around them, resting his chin on his knees. He should go home before Boris called the police, if he had not already. He was not ready yet. He did not think he could honestly face the old man's wrath.

Boris would not yell. He never yelled. He would just look at Jack with that disappointment in his eyes. Jack just could not handle that right now. Too many people were giving him those looks.

He sighed and clenched his jaw to keep it from rattling. He really should at least walk back to town and find someplace warm to hang out for a while. Oddly, being here, under the trees in the quiet moonlight was calming, though, and he really did not want to move.

He sighed. "What am I doing?" he asked quietly. "Who would have done this to me? Did they do it to prove a point, or did they think about what kind of impacts this would have?" He turned his head so that his cheek was on his knee. "Could it be Pitch? He has motive. He could be mad at me for ditching him. But would he do all of this over something like that? It was not even that messy." He frowned, thinking back. "He didn't do anything to his last girlfriend when she broke up with him and if that wasn't a messy affair, I don't know what is.

"Who would want to do this to me? Maybe Pitch is right to suspect Aster. He doesn't like me. He's been trying to get me into trouble for almost a year. Maybe he finally decided to get his hands dirty to do it. I could see him doing that. That stupid egg of his was so precious to him. Maybe painting it was the final straw that broke the rabbit's back."

There was very suddenly an extraordinarily bright light being shown on his face. It made him jump at the sudden appearance of the other as well as effectively blinding him.

"Who are you talking to, mate?"

Speak of the devil and he shall appear.

Jack had to cover his eyes to try to abate the explosion of pain behind his eyes and across his forehead. "Bunnymund!" he exclaimed, trying to shove down the panic and think up an excuse as to why he was sitting alone in a dark orchard he did not own, talking to himself.


Oh that nickname sucked right now. Why did he choose to have an MO again? Oh yeah, because he thought it was cool. How stupid was that?

"Yeah, that's me." He sounded weak and pathetic, even to his own ears. He hoped that Aster would not notice the slight shake in his voice.

The flashlight angled down and finally Jack could see the other boy standing with his dark clothes in the white snow. It was too dark to see his face, but at least he could make out where exactly he was standing.

"You alright?"

Dang, he noticed. "It's a bit cold," he replied, smiling dryly at the other, knowing he could see it.

Aster was completely still for a long moment and for a second Jack was afraid he was going to walk away. That was what he wanted him to do, though… Right? He did not want to hang out with the guy that framed him… or possibly framed him?

He frowned suddenly. Why was this so hard? It could not possibly be anyone else. "What do you want?" He had not meant for it to come out so nastily. It took him a moment to realize that he was angrier at himself than any possible suspect. It was his fault, after all. In the end, everything always boiled down to being his fault.

For some reason that only made his angrier. It was the kind of anger that sapped your energy and left you drained. The cold probably was not helping either.

"I want to know what the hell you're doin' in this orchard?"

"You know, I'd kind of like to know why you're here, too."

"I asked first."

"How'd you get out here, I didn't even hear you coming?"

He could almost imagine the grin on Aster's face as much as he heard it. "I'm a ninja, mate."

"Right, of course you are." Why was he so freaking tired? He kind of felt like he had run a mile and could not quite get enough breath. "You're an idiot." Why did he say that? He had no idea. He was beginning not to care. He actually kind of wanted to curl up in the snow and go to sleep. That sounded like an absolutely fantastic idea.

"Why am I the idiot?" Aster asked harshly. Jack could not help but think his voice was way too loud. "I'm not the one sitting out here in the snow."

His mind actually blanked for a second, to where he only heard 'snow'. Of course, he connected it to his sister. "I like the snow. So did she, y'know?" He tried to bring his arms in the sleeves. He was not wearing any gloves and his fingers were stiff. He clumsily fought with the hoodie for almost half a minute before deciding that it was not actually worth the trouble. "She would drag me out on the first day of snow and we'd play until our fingers numbed. That was fun. I miss those days."

His mind usually turned to darker things at this point and for a brief moment he was there again, on the lake. The ice had cracked and she was staring at him like he was going to save her. He wished he had been quick enough.

His tears were hot on his face and he wiped them away before the other boy could see. What was he doing telling Aster this? That jerk did not need to know that stuff.

He heard something next to him and realized his eyes were closed. When had that happened?

"You alright there, mate?"

Aster was right next to him. He lifted his head to glare at him with his light and his stupid worried expression. "Why'd ya look so worried?" He sounded drunk. He laughed because he sounded like a dork. It came out as a painful hiccup. What was it that Boris said about hypothermia? He could not bring himself to actually care. Hey, if he died of hypothermia, then he would have gone out just like his sister. There would not be any more backfire pranks, no more police officers threatening to take away his chance to go to college, no more of this crap his dad had been pulling on him. No more, no more, and that sounded so very sweet.

There was someone tugging on his arm and he realized that his eyes had drifted closed again. "What're you doin'?"

"Saving you, dumby. You're going to get hypothermia out here."

Jack laughed. "Too late for that. But that's fine. It's all fine."

"You want to die out here?" Aster actually sounded a little horrified.

"Oh, you do care!"

"Oh rack off, you bloody prick."

Aster did not leave Jack like he had originally expected him too. He did not even jostle him. He just pulled him to his feet and draped the arm he had been pulling on over his shoulder. Jack was kind of taken aback by that. Why was Aster doing this? "Don't you hate me?"

"What?" He seemed genuinely surprised by the question. "I don't hate you," Aster admitted with an odd amount of gentleness. "You're a prick with a knack for trouble, but I don't actually hate you."

"What about your car."

Aster sighed. "At least you chose a good alternative color."

"You're just saying that."

"Yeah, I am. I'm still pretty mad at you, but not enough to let you die out here."

"I'm not gunna die," Jack assured him. "I'm not that lucky."

"You know," Aster said, his breath coming out a little labored. "You sure are a depressing guy for someone who has everything."

Jack actually laughed at that. It was a harsh bark that was far from humorous and just a little sarcastic. "What things do you think I have?"

"Money, for one."

"Money's not mine. It's my dad's."

"Well you actually have a dad. I don't."

"You don't?"

"Nope, don't have a mom either."

"Where are they?"

"They died when I was little."

"That sucks."

"Yeah, but I guess it happens. Not all of us can be so lucky, right?"

"My dad lives in Europe. I haven't seen him a year."

"Oh. Well, what about your mom?"

"She got sick and died. That was my fault, actually."

Aster actually faltered in the steady pace he had been going. "What?" He looked at Jack, despite the awkward way he had to crane his neck to do so. "What does that mean?"

"My sister died and Mom just couldn't bear losing her. So she bit the dust, too."

"You seem pretty nonchalant about that."

"What do you want me to do, become all sappy sad for you? Like you said, we can't all be so lucky."

"So why is all that your fault?"

"Remember that rumor about how I killed some kid on a frozen pond or something? I don't really remember, nor want to. You know what I'm talking about, though."

He felt Aster nod, feeling his shoulders tense slightly.

"Well, it's partially true. She fell in; I was not able to save her. End of story."

"Why only partially true?"

"I tried to save her. The rumor says that I did it on purpose."

Aster snorted, but it did not have the desired effect. "I thought you said you couldn't remember the rumor."

"It was hard to forget."

An awkward silence fell between them as they trudged through the snow and leaves.

"You're not going to say sorry?" Jack asked after a minute.

"Not usually my style," Aster replied. "Would you have wanted me to if I had?" The question was more sardonic than anything, so Jack figured that the other already knew the answer to that.

"No," he replied anyway.

"Didn't really think so," Aster chuckled. His breath was coming a little harsher now.

Jack suddenly felt bad. Here they were in some random orchard, and Aster was the one practically dragging him back to civilization. Jack tried to pick up his feet to lessen the burden but found his legs to be rather rubbery.

"I wouldn't," Aster said in response. "The more you move the worse it'll get. I would actually carry you if I was strong enough."

"Now that would just make me feel worse," Jack snarked, not intending for it to come out so harshly.

Again, Aster did not rise to the bait. Jack sulked for a minute.

"You could just leave me here, I really wouldn't mind and I'll be fine and all," he said gently after a while.

Aster adjusted his hold on Jack. "No way, mate. North would kill me if I came back to tell him that I left Jack Frost out here to freeze in his orchard."

"North? You mean Nicholas North? That huge Russian kid with the beard? I didn't know he lived out here."

"Eyup. We're all hangin' out here tonight. Thiana Fairy, Sanderson McSnoozie, and North."

"Why do you call him by his last name?"

"Same reason they call me Bunny, it's just easier to say, I guess."

Jack paused for a moment. "Your friends… they actually call you—" He could not finish before he burst into laughter. It was the first real laugh all day and he could not help but feel a few pounds lighter.

"Aw, shut up, you frostbitten whelp." Despite the insult, Aster had a touch of amusement and maybe even a little relief in his voice.

They pull out of the tree line then, and started walking the short lawn to the barn. There was light coming out of the rafter window and Jack could hear soft music. The thought of getting dry and warm suddenly sounded really fantastic. So did a long nap. It was after dark, maybe he would text Boris and then just sleep in the barn. That sounded really good.

They approached the massive front doors and Aster knocked in an odd pattern. A female voice from inside called, "password!"

"Sweet dreams," Aster called back as if it were the most normal thing in the world. He blatantly ignored Jack's confused expression.

"Nope, that was last week's."

"Then…" Aster paused and mumbled something that sounded like 'North's week'. "Uh, Christmas cookie?"

The door opened and inside stood the most colorful person Jack had ever seen. She was covered in rainbows. In her hair, on her clothes, even the jewelry she wore seemed colorful.

"Woah," he said involuntarily.

The girl giggled. "Close. Gingerbread actually."

"That's nice, Tooth, but I got an emergency here."

It was then that 'Tooth' noticed Jack. "Oh my," she said rather daintily. She pushed the door open and let them both come in.

The air inside the barn was incredibly warm and Jack could not help the grin that spread across his face. The lights he had seen were from a million strands of Christmas lights. Some of them were colored and twinkled; others were brilliant gold and warm. There was a small radio in the corner playing Christmas songs. Two boys sat at a table in the middle of the barn's main corridor, playing a card game. One was so big that he had to hunch to rest his elbows on the table while the other was short enough that his feet dangled off the chair.

Aster set him down on the ground and ran towards the back of the barn. The two boys playing the card game looked up as Aster went past, then over at Jack.

Jack had not realized how dazed he was until suddenly the girl who had let them in was touching his face. He flinched away, not expecting it but even he knew that his reaction had been a little delayed. She was frowning rather intensely.

"Did you hit your head, Jack?"

"You know my name?" he asked stupidly.

Her smile was a little strained when she answered. "Everyone knows your name after today."

"Oh, yeah. I guess that makes sense."

She was frowning again. "If it makes you feel any better, we knew your name before that."

"Oh." He was quiet for a minute and she helped him out of his hoodie. "Why didn't you ever talk to me before? I mean, don't get me wrong, Pitch was a great friend and all, but he can be kind of depressing to be around. I wouldn't have minded hanging out with someone so…" He made a gesture to her in general, "colorful."

She pulled away, dropping his hoodie on the ground next to him. She turned away as Aster came back and Jack could have sworn he had seen a blush on her tan skin.

"His shirt's not too wet," Tooth said as she took the blanket that Aster had brought.

"What about his pants?"

She looked at Jack apprehensively. "Do we have to?"

Aster gave her a derisive look.

"Oh alright. I'm not helping him, though." With that she draped the blanket over his shoulders and marched away.

That left Jack sitting on the cold concrete and Aster standing over him.

"Pants off, now," Aster demanded.

Jack grinned up at him. "Didn't think you were interested in that, Bunny."

Aster leaned down, one finger in Jack's face. "Just because we proved that we could have a civil conversation with each other does not mean that you and I are friends, got it? You don't have the right to call me that. Now take off your pants and get in the chair," Aster growled, pointing to the beanbag in the corner.

It was not lost on Jack that it was the farthest corner from the table that the other three were playing go fish at. "I don't know where you came up with the assumption I wanted to be your friend." He did not need him. He did not need anyone.

Aster walked over to the table, sat down in the last of the four chairs and was promptly dealt into the game. Jack did what he was told, even though he really just wanted to leave. He used the blanket around his shoulders to shield himself from view.

He could hear their conversation and tried not to listen, but could not help it.

"Should I find 'nother chair?" North asked.

"Nah, he's going to sit over there and call home or something," Aster replied.

"Did you get the popcorn?" Tooth- no wait, he was not their friend so he could not call them by their nicknames—Thiana asked quietly.

"Oh crap." Aster again. "I forgot, sorry."

"That's alright. That stuff just gets stuck in your teeth, anyway."

"What're you looking at, mate?"

Jack glanced up from where he had been trying to bundle up as much as possible. His eyes met Sanderson's silent gaze head on. Almost as soon as they made eye contact, Jack diverted his gaze.

There was a moment of silence, then Aster's voice again. "What do you mean he looks lonely? Kid's got plenty of friends. Just 'cause he can't be with them all the time doesn't mean we should all start pitying him."

"What was he doing in the orchard?" Thiana asked.

"Dunno, he wouldn't tell me."

"Maybe we should ask him. He might be in trouble?"

"Whatever trouble he's in, he deserves it." What had happened to the nice Aster that had found Jack? This Aster was angry and accusatory. Jack kind of liked the other guy. This was just a reminder why he did not like him most of the time.

He suddenly stood, frustration and fury bubbling in his stomach. He just could not get a break, could he? "Ever consider that maybe I was tired of everyone accusing me of something I didn't do?!" He had not meant to yell, but it just burst out before he could stop it. The others stared at him, all wide eyed and surprised like they had forgotten he was even there.

It should not have hurt as much as it did. These people were not his friends, so why did he suddenly expect them to actually stop and consider his side of the story? Not even Boris believed him at this point. Why was he so stupid about these things?

He grabbed his pants and made for the door. He did not care if he had minor hypothermia or the thought of going back out in that cold make a pit form in the bottom of his stomach. He did not care that he was leaving his shoes behind. This would not be the first time he had run barefoot in the snow before.

He pulled on his pants before he had even made it out of the door, ignoring the way they had all yelled after him. They were probably just telling him to go away anyway. It was not like they actually wanted him to stay or anything. They had made it abundantly clear that they did not like him.

He dropped the blanket on the ground behind him and took off into a sprint. He ignored the way twigged bit into his feet or that his toes ached with cold. He just wanted to go home, curl up in his bed and go to sleep.

He wished Emma was still there. She would have believed him.

They watched him disappear out the door in a flurry. Aster had jumped up when he saw Jack make a break for the door. The idiot was not supposed to be moving around, let alone going back out into the cold without his hoodie or his shoes.

"Crap," he said after a minute.

Sandy had jumped off of his seat, leaving his whiteboard on the table as he ran for the door. For such a short guy, he was quick, making it across the room and out the door only a couple of seconds after Jack.

Tooth and North were up and after him too in moment, with Aster trailing reluctantly behind. He would have been all for leaving that prick out there, but he remember how he had found him, though, half buried in the snow and paler than what was healthy. He had been mumbling to himself like some broken toy.

Ever consider that maybe I was tired of everyone accusing me of something I didn't do?!

What did he mean?

He caught up with Tooth, who was running a few yards behind North. Jack and Sandy had already disappeared in the tree line.

"Maybe Sandy was right when he thought that Jack hadn't done this," Tooth huffed beneath breaths.

Aster did not reply. He felt a little sick to think that all of the crap that kid had gotten today was all over a really bad understanding.

He passed Tooth and soon North. Running through the trees was difficult in the dark and he had to rely on his inherent knowledge of the orchard. He had run through here a lot since he had met North, years ago. He knew this orchard like the back of his hand. He had no idea how Jack was doing it.

He passed Sandy, and was coming up on Jack. Aster was the fastest of them, having the longest legs. Sure, North was taller, but he was also larger. His size slowed him down.

Jack was not slow, either. The kid rocketed through the trees like a bat out of hell, dodging trees and leaping over the hoses. It took Aster a moment to realize he was counting the irregularities. In essence, they were not actually irregular, just the border of one section of the orchard from another. They were all heading toward the road.

He was out of breath by the time he was close enough to tackle him. There was no way that Jack could dodge him, even if he was aware of how close he was. They both went tumbling through the snow and leaves, their momentum rolling them for a few more yards.

They came to a stop, Aster pinning Jack to the ground. Jack was not happy about this. His eyes gleamed with panic in the moonlight and he swung defensively with his arms. Aster had taken a lot of martial arts classes. Jack was an amateur. He stood absolutely no chance.

One punch to the face dazed the prankster and made him fall limp.

With a heavy sigh, Aster sat up and off of him. "Idiot, what'd you run for?"

"I figured you didn't want me there. I would much rather get accused by my nanny than a bunch of people that don't even want me around. At least Boris has to pretend to like me."

"Oh cut the drama. So a bunch of kids don't like you, get over it. Just because all your friends think you're just so funny doesn't mean that we do."

"I don't have any friends, you dipshit."

Aster could tell the words had come out involuntarily. Jack betrayed himself when he clamped his hand over his mouth and refused to say anything else.

He was not sure what affect that Jack was aiming for, but it certainly got one. Aster felt the prickle of shame race up his arms unbidden. He did not have any friends? He was a prick sometimes but so was Aster, he was not about to lie to himself. But Aster had friends, so why not Jack?

"You're kidding," he said after a moment.

"Forget it. Forget I said it. I have plenty of friends. Just leave me alone." Jack's voice was low and strained and Aster could tell he was lying, even in the dark.

The others had caught up at the point, all of them huffing and puffing and none had thought ahead to bring a flashlight. Aster was a little to shocked to really care.

Earlier that day, Sandy had made a few points in Jack's favor about pranks when all the others had been so quick to denounce Jack. He had said that Jack had never hurt anyone ever. Maybe a few bumps and bruises but nothing you could not laugh at later. So why all of a sudden a dead squirrel?

"What about Cosmo, I thought he was your friends?"

"Not anymore," Jack replied with a false cheer that grinded on Aster. "You could say that he and I have different ideas about ethics."

He had never seen Jack hang out with anyone else. But… That could not actually mean that…

"Did you kill the squirrel?" The others had fallen silent, trying to quiet their breathing so they could hear Jack's answer. Aster could feel more than see Jack's gaze burning into him.

His words dropped like a bomb between them. One simple word, but his tone, his conviction, the darkness and fear and sadness in his voice was what made the real impact. "No."

It was at least another hour before Jack finally got home. Aster and the others had tried to ask him a lot of questions, but he just did not have the answers. North had ended up just taking him home.

Boris was in the living room when Jack walked in. The place was a mess, with books strewn everywhere, on every available surface. It had not been like that this morning so Jack came to the conclusion that Boris had decided to reorganize the bookshelf. He did that when he was worried. It made Jack feel a little better at least.

Boris looked up when he heard Jack enter, looking dirty and cold and little wet. He had a black eye from where Aster had punched him.

"What is God's name happened to you?" was the first thing that came out of the butler's mouth.

"I had a frank exchange of ideas with a wayward rabbit," Jack replied, trying to use humor to defuse the tension in Boris' shoulders. If he could crack a joke, then everything would be alright.

Boris just frowned, setting down the book he had been about to put on the shelf. He came towards Jack, weaving around his mess. Jack put up his hand to stop him.

"I'm fine, Boris. I just want to go to bed."


The younger could feel where that tone wanted to go. "Boris," he cut him off. "I'm tired. I've been nearly frozen to death then punched, all in the last hour. I really just want to go to bed. Can we talk about this in the morning?"

Boris looked worried. Jack could tell he wanted to hug, but quite frankly, the teenager was just generally done with people altogether. He wanted to go upstairs and sleep forever.

Boris sighed, his eyes gentle. "Just because I'm letting you go tonight, does not mean that you're off the hook."

Jack smiled tiredly, but even he could feel how brittle it felt on his face. "Yeah I know. Good night, Boris."

"Good night, Jack."

Afterword: Well, hello! I think I was beginning to bore you guys a little bit, so I decided to write a little longer chapter and start getting to the meat of things. I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter more than last (I get the feeling you guys didn't like it. I didn't get much feedback so I was a little concerned. I tried harder this chapter). Drop a review if you feel so inclined, it really helps me out, guys. :)