Bunnymund gaped down at the winter spirit lying at his feet. "And exactly what are you doing here, Frostbite?"
Jack coughed and rolled over onto his back, trying to pull off his hoodie at the same time. After a bit of struggling, he succeeded, revealing a plain white T-shirt underneath. The lack of the hoodie only served to make Jack look smaller and paler. Or, as much as he could possibly get. Though at the moment Jack honestly wasn't looking that pale; his face was flushed pink and he was breathing heavily.
"Your place was closest," he panted, wiping sweat from his brow.
Bunnymund raised his eyebrows. "And where exactly are you coming from?"
Huh. Jack had a point; the Warren, as it was located in Australia, was technically the closest location. Tooth's palace was above India, Santoff Clausen was, of course, in the North Pole, and nobody really knew if Sandy had a permanent home. The Guardians just hypothesized he slept on clouds of his own creation or something.
The Pooka sighed. Why him? "What were you doing on southern Africa, mate? Not exactly winter season down there."
Jack's arm, which had been shading his eyes from the Australian sun, flopped back to the ground with a dull thump. "I wanted to see the desert."
"Why is that?"
His ice-blue eyes cracked open and he glared at Bunnymund, "Hey, I'm allowed to be a tourist sometimes, too."
"Never said you weren't." Bunnymund raised his paws defensively. The kid really was snappish at the moment. "So what happened? You look like you're about to melt."
"Once again, your powers of observation..." Jack let out a heavy breath, evidently deciding the snark wasn't worth the effort. "I went at night, because the desert's supposed to be freezing at night. I guess I got so wrapped up in what I was doing I didn't notice the sun coming up. I didn't get out fast enough. This was the closest place, so I came here."
"I was going to say that if you were looking to beat the heat, here was not the best place you could have picked," Bunnymund quipped.
"So can I just sort of...sleep here for a while?"
"No bloody way. You think I want to spend my off-season free time babysitting you?"
"Oh, come on! It's not like I can move anywhere else!" Jack's voice pitched in desperation, and Bunnymund almost laughed out loud.
"I'm just messin' with ya, mate. I honestly don't care."
He did chuckle, however, when Jack grabbed his staff and rolled like a worm into the shade and appeared to immediately fall asleep. The Pooka rolled his eyes and turned to leave Jack to his business and go about his own, until the boy called out, "Hey."
He looked over his shoulder, "What?"
Bunnymund shrugged. "It's no problem. It's not like we're bitter enemies anymore, not that we ever really were. You crashing here isn't a personal offense."
Jack muttered his reply so softly Bunnymund could barely hear him. "You never used to be this accommodating."
"Well, we're partners now, aren't we?"
"...weird. I didn't think you actually liked me so much."
This caught Bunnymund's attention, and he crouched down by the winter spirit to feel his forehead. "Exactly how bad is your fever?"
Jack batted his paw away with a scowl. "I'm serious. You used to hate me. I guess I never really gave you much incentive to like me, all things considered, but still. I got the impression that we were just...business associates or something."
This was the moment Bunnymund realized that Jack's fever was worse than he had initially thought. He knew Jack would never say anything like this on his own volition, being too stubborn and, quite frankly, too shy to discuss his feelings with others. He was the product of three hundred years of isolation, and a few months with four close friends and about seven believers wasn't going to immediately change the fact that he still considered himself alone.
Not being good with personal emotion himself, Bunnymund had half a mind to turn on his heel and leave Jack wallowing in his own personal misery. But he knew he couldn't leave things as they were. And so, he stepped over into Jack's patch of shade and sat down in the grass next to him.
"Alright," he sighed, "What's eating you?"
"You just said my name," Jack pointed out dully.
"And you mock my powers of observation." Bunnymund took a deep breath and continued, "Look, of course I like you, as painful as it is to say it out loud. How could I not, after everything you did? You're an aggravating little twat at times, but I don't hate you. I never have."
"I destroyed Easter," Jack mumbled. "You told me I shouldn't have been trusted, and to leave."
Bunnymund rubbed his eyes. "You can't remember the day of the week half the time but you cling to every word I say..."
"That's because I was afraid. That's why I remember."
Floored by the bluntness of the statement, all the Pooka could really do for a moment was stare at Jack in surprise. He had only ever heard the boy admit to being afraid of anything once, when he confessed about what he had seen in his memories and, subsequently, his fear of water and drowning. Jack usually covered up his weaknesses well, not revealing the slightest hint of pain. It was one of the things Bunnymund respected about him, and one of the things that made him the most frustrated with the winter spirit. After all, how was anyone supposed to get close to him if he kept himself bottled up?
Bunnymund sighed heavily. "You're right, mate. I did say that. What made you so afraid?"
"When Pitch was distracting me on Easter," Jack began, once again speaking so quietly Bunnymund had to strain his ears to hear, "he kept bringing up my fears. He said that I was afraid of nobody ever believing in me, and that I was afraid of you guys casting me out again. He was right about all that." His voice cracked as he continued, "And then when I got back, you... you..."
He didn't need to go on. Bunnymund knew what he was about to say. In just a few short words, he had confirmed Jack's worst fears, without even realizing. Sure, he himself had been out of his mind with fear and sorrow, but was that really any excuse? He didn't know exactly what went on with Jack after he chased him out, but he'd never made any effort to learn. A rush of guilt and sympathy for the boy he never knew he possessed rushed through Bunnymund's body like a tidal wave.
"I shouldn't have said what I did," he told Jack in a low voice, "It was wrong and stupid. Once I thought about it, I realized that for a split second what it felt like to be you." He laughed dryly. "Being walked through by that little girl was the worst bloody experience of my life. I don't even know how you managed to deal with it for three hundred years. I'm really sorry, mate."
Jack had been laying on his back with both arms crossed over his face, covering his eyes. For the first time since this conversation had begun, he peeked out with a worried expression.
"I'm sorry about the blizzard," he said out of nowhere, "The '68 one. That was wrong and stupid too, not to mention incredibly immature."
Bunnymund smiled. "You think I'm still mad about that?"
"You said you were."
"Crikey!" Bunnymund threw his arms up in frustration. "There you go, memorizing random sentences from months ago again!" He sighed again. "I'm not mad at you about anything. At this point in our association with each other I'm not going to hold your random acts of looking for attention against you."
"And I'm sorry about Easter, and the kangaroo thing, and—" Jack probably would have rambled on if Bunnymund didn't cut him off.
"Stop, stop! Listen to me."
Jack quieted and turned his attention to the Pooka, eyes wide. Bunnymund couldn't shake just how childish and young the winter spirit looked just then, like he was about to be scolded by his parent.
"Are you listening?"
"Good." Bunnymund crossed his arms. "You, me, and the others. We're a family now, got it? You don't have to worry your skinny little arse about what we think of you, because I can damn well say it's nothing negative. You're not alone now, understand?"
Jack was silent.
"Frostbite, you said you were listening."
"Then say something. Did you even understand a word I just said?"
Bunnymund sighed for the umpteenth time. This was more exhausting than he could have anticipated. "You understand that you're not alone, we're your family now, and I hold absolutely no grudges against you despite how much I may gripe about your many misdemeanors?"
"... I understand." Jack's face was blank, showing no emotion whatsoever. Then, after a moment, his lips quirked up in the smallest possible smile. "Thank you."
"No need to thank me." Bunnymund ruffled his white hair. "Now, what was the desert like in Botswana? I hope you at least got a little enjoyment out of this. What did it look like?"
Jack frowned, thinking. "Hm...it was kind of like the bottom of an ocean, only with all the water drained out. I wonder if you could do that? Maybe it was the bottom of an ocean once. Just imagine if there were still big fish lying around, or even still moving around, just floating—"
"You're delirious. Go the hell to sleep."
The bromance has returned! And Jack turns into a tumblr night-blogger with that last bit. This one has replaced chapter 12 as my favorite.
This was a request from...someone (I honestly lost the name, I'm so sorry) who wanted a heart-to-heart between Jack and Bunny. I figured the only reason Jack would willingly discuss his feelings would be when he was loopy from a fever or something XD It turned out a lot longer than I thought it would. Which is good, actually, because there was a lot to be said.
Okay, on a more serious note:
Can I ask you guys to please not threaten me with physical harm if I don't update? I'm chill with a lot of stuff, but that just makes me really uncomfortable. I mean, I know that the odds of one of you actually tracking me down and boiling me in oil are pretty slim, but that doesn't mean I want to read about how you would actually do it. (That was just an example, nobody really said that.) Look, I'm really pleased that so many people like my story. I feel really loved, and that makes me motivated to make good on my daily-update promise.
But please keep in mind that I am a human being, not a lady machine that constantly churns out chapter babies. More specifically, I am a sixteen-year-old junior in high school who is struggling to get her grades up so I can get into a private art college, not to mention the fact that I have a lot of work to make up from my two days absent due to illness. Despite all this, if I don't update, there's usually a very good reason (such as my aforementioned illness, and there won't be any updates on Christmas or the day prior).
I feel really bad that I have to lay this down here when I want to be happy and chipper in the author's notes like I usually am. I haven't had a lot of problems with this—I can count maybe two total—but I feel like I should make my stance on the matter clear so it doesn't happen again, because, quite frankly, it really creeps me out.
Thanks for being cool, guys. I love you!