AN: Rise of the Guardians and all affiliated characters belong to Dreamworks Entertainment, and the parties thereof- namely, William Joyce.
He had almost frozen to death a few times already, this year. It had gotten expressly cold, in the past few days, even for January, and Jack had begun to look for other refuge, away from his traditional perch in the loading dock behind Frosty's Frozen Foods.
It was Tooth that spotted him, as he usually spotted her first and avoided the situation, but he must have been groggy from the lack of sleep, as she seemed to materialize before him, her thick coat and scarf shades of peacock blue and jade, "Jack," she said, a sad puff of fog emerging from her lips.
Jack pulled his hood down lower over his eyes, slipping past her and disappearing into the crowd.
He was on his way to another of his safe-havens- the pet store. It was a couple of blocks past the boy's home, shorter still, if he took a few frozen alleyways and skirted a chain link fence or two. It was a lot easier than people thought, and quieter, without shoes. Sometimes he would spook a few stray cats, sending the hissing felines scattering away into various corners and garbage cans.
The door of the shop jingled open in its traditional manner as he elbowed it open, and he was shocked to find strangers staring at him, "Whoa," Jack exclaimed with a smirk, "people shop here?"
Aster glared at him from over the counter. He was a tall, thin man, tattoos hidden on his cut arms by an un-ironed button-down and shop apron. He was fairly handsome, Jack guessed, save for his rather pronounced front teeth, which took away from his gruff demeanor considerably. It didn't help that his last name was Bunnymund, either, "Anyways," Aster said, returning to ignoring Jack and tending to his clientele.
Jack ignored him back, and took to wandering the shop rows, gazing at various pet foods and vitamins, immediately bored. He had learned long ago not to try and steal anything, as Aster had very keen ears, and was not above a sharp strike to the back of the head. Not that he could use or sell any of it anyways, Aster's business was always in the red, but the man only continued to care for his animals, regardless of profit. He had a lot in common with Tooth, in that respect, "Jack Frost," Aster greeted gruffly after the patrons had left, "what brings you across town?" His Aussie accent was clear and pronounced, in his agitation.
"Nothin' much, Easter Bunny," Jack chided in return, stuffing his hands into the pocket of his sweater as he surveyed the label of a can with disinterest. In truth, he hated the knick-name that had been given to him, but he wouldn't let it show, "I was just in the neighborhood, thought I'd stop in and see how business was failing."
Aster scoffed, crossing his arms across his chest, "Is that all it is? I head the temp dropped to the negatives, last night. Small wonder you're still alive, kid."
Jack shrugged a shoulder, "I might be looking for greener pastures, I haven't made up my mind."
"Tooth was lookin' for you."
Jack frowned; "If you're telling me to go back-" he started defensively.
"I'm not tellin' you anything. I'm just saying it might be a good idea to have a roof over your head until this weather clears out." Aster carelessly adjusted a box or two on the shelf, "maybe she'd put you up for a little while."
"I'll be fine." apparently staying at the pet shop was out, "I've got something else going on. Tell her I'll be all right."
Aster leveled his gaze on Jack, "I don't want to see ya dead, Jack."
"I'm not going to die. Quit freaking out, both of you."
The Northmen, or 'Yetis', as they were commonly referred to, ran the gamut from the shipyards up to the bridge at Burgess Pass. It was a large part of the city, but there wasn't a lot of money to be made, in protection, as the area was mostly industrial warehouses.
But warehouses were a good place to hide things.
Nicholas St. North had been an orphan, much like Jack, and a good number of the Northmen, and had aged out of the program. His parents had been immigrants from Russia, or some such cold place, and had been killed in a robbery or a hate crime or something, North had never said. He had found work at the shipyards with a good number of the Yetis, a life of dull of unbecoming. A life of someone no parents had ever wanted.
Rumor was he had started the Northmen when he was eighteen, only a few months after he had been booted out of the home. They had begun by simply stowing away little bits of cargo and selling it for meager profits, and it wasn't long before the police had caught on, and North had been thrown in prison for three years. When he had got out, he had emerged a new man- one with a much, much bigger plan. Whole shipments had begun to disappear, untraceable. Inside jobs, but no one would point a finger, particularly at North. In the span of three months, it was said that he had over half of the shipping industry under his thumb- they got over eighty percent of their workers from the home, and he had known nearly all of them since childhood. Now, when a kid aged out, he could always find sanctuary with North and his Yetis.
All but Jack, it seemed.
North and Tooth had developed and accord, when she had retired from her dental practice and begun to volunteer at the Home, and she hadn't liked it. But there was no denying that someone had to look after the boys when the state wouldn't allow them any more time. The state may have placed them with a job, but North could give them more; he gave them a family. And for that, they were loyal to the core.
Jack had met North, when he had come to see Tooth, in the first few years she had started working in the Home. A towering man with thick, dark hair crisped with silver, and a broad mustache peppered with white. His eyes were bright and blue, his laugh deep and joyful- Jack had been young enough to think he was Santa Claus. He had even asked him why the other reindeer were so mean to Rudolf.
Jack got off the trolley and avoided a traffic officer that might have asked him for a ticket he clearly didn't have, and made his way across the snowy sidewalk to the cleared bit of roadway. A truck honked at him and he waved at it aggressively, and it swerved around him. In a few fleeting steps, he was crouched on the tailgate, headed west.
You could pretty much be certain that any truck going in to the area would be going to North. Jack had only to wait, picking at the chipped white paint on the hatch, until they reached their destination. Jack could never be sure of when North would move his operations, only that he often did.
They passed a few chain-link gates, rows of tall, tagged-up steel storehouses lining the narrow road, and Jack squinted at each of them carefully in passing. His legs had fallen asleep, by the time he found what he was looking for- a slightly listing, spray-paint depiction of a Christmas tree.
He stepped off the truck and nearly fell, on the ice, regaining his footing and hurrying into an alley beside the warehouse and out of view. It took him a few minutes to find a hole in the rusted chain link that he could wedge himself through, cautious as he climbed up a stack of empty crates to a broken window.
He could hear a few phrases in Russian, as he slipped inside, soundlessly dropping to the floor on bare feet, and North's booming laugh echoed over the shuffling sounds of busy working and the constant hum of trucks idling. From the looks of it, North was getting ready to move again; tall, bearded men were hauling everything from canned goods to furniture into the backs of semi truck trailers. The noise and movement made it easy for Jack to slip around unnoticed, and he shoved his hands into the pocket of his sweater, calmly approaching the huge form of the man calling orders.
"Hey, North," Jack greeted jovially, causing the big man to jump.
"Jack Frost!" North greeted cheerfully, after he had overcome his initial surprise. The rest of the Yetis eyed Jack with equal shock, but far less compassion, "What brings you across the tracks?" North may have meant it as a joke, but the warehouses were literally on the other side of the train depot.
"Just wanted to see what was up," Jack replied evenly, situating his hands in the pocket of his sweater, gazing around absently at the yetis, whom were covertly shuffling away anything that might be incriminating out of sight. It irked Jack, but he said nothing.
"I am happy to see you alive, young friend," North stepped away from the table, pushing his sleeves up his tattooed forearms, "It was very cold, last night. Where did you stay?"
That was North- always to the point. Jack had always had a suspicion that this was due in part to his one-track mind. But perhaps he could use it to his advantage, "You know me. Here and there." Jack pointed to some crates nearby, "hey, what's in those?"
North ignored his question, fixing him with a serious gaze, his thick fingers playing over his white mustache and beard, "This is no good. It is too cold to be staying out, at night, too dangerous. I worry."
"So let me stay here," Jack shrugged, still trying to catch a glimpse of the crate as a Yeti shuffled it away with a quick glare in his direction, "I could help you guys."
North shook his head, the brightness of his eyes seeming to lessen, "No. I tell you no every time. You should go back to Tooth." He turned his back to Jack to shout something in Russian to one of his men.
"I can't go back to Tooth," Jack growled, pursuing North, "You know that. I aged out three months ago- there's no place for me at the home, now."
"Then get a job."
"Come on, North. It'll just be until it starts warming up again. Just until it isn't so cold," North was looking at him, now, chewing the inside of his cheek thoughtfully, and Jack pulled his hands from his pockets, shrugging, "Just until I can get my feet under me."
"What happened to the shoes I got you for Christmas?" North questioned.
"They didn't fit," Jack lied, never breaking eye contact, "what do you say?"
North sighed, raising his hand to smooth his nearly-white hair back on his head, "Well..."
Jack tried not to look too pleased with himself, "I swear, I'll stay out of the way. You won't even know I'm here. I'll just learn from the Yetis-" and with that, he had stepped too far, and North's expression darkened and Jack knew he had lost him.
"No. I'll call Tooth and have her make a place for you. And I will buy you shoes- what size?"
Jack bit back his reply, "Forget it." And turned on his heel, pulling his hood up over his head.
"Jack, come on," North called after him, "Let me help you!" Jack slammed the door of the warehouse behind him.
Jack pushed his way out through the chain link, slipping out into the snow. His throat hurt, and his ears burned- he though back on his young self, and the first time he had wished North would adopt him, and remembered every time North had left the home without him. Jack cursed, and took off at a run to lose his thoughts in the frozen city.