"North, are you sure you know where you're goin'?"

North laughed cheerily at Bunnymund's skepticism. "Of course, Bunny! Why do you ask that?"

"Because I'm pretty sure this is the third time you've led us through this same clearing!" Bunnymund snapped. "Admit it, we're lost, aren't we?"

"...Okay, so perhaps I am still slightly affected by my alcoholic eggnog," North confessed sheepishly. Seeing the look Bunnymund was giving him, he added defensively, "It was a good idea at the time!"

"You Russians think that, but we Australians never think drinkin' vodka while drivin' is a good idea," Bunnymund deadpanned. "Why are you the leader again?"

Completely ignoring that question, North pointed out, "Besides, it does not hurt to look in the same place again."

"Yeah, except that we're most likely ignoring the other places we haven't been too yet," Bunnymund argued back.

"They are probably being looked over by Tooth and Sandy. Unlike us, they possess the ability to fly above trees and are able to see where they are going. They are undoubtedly covering more area than we are."

As if on cue, Baby Tooth, who had decided to stay with her mother, suddenly zipped towards them, squeaking wildly. It wasn't that North and Bunnymund could understand her, but it didn't take a genius to figure out what she was trying to tell them.

North gave Bunnymund a triumphant smile. "See? We have lead now. I win."

Bunnymund held back a growl.

After the Guardians left, the living room had become unusually silent, aside from the chatter that occasionally took place. In the kitchen, Mrs. Bennett had quietly started preparing dinner. Cody and Anton had switched out of their dresses, thrown them into Anton's trunk, and dumped their wigs into the garbage as they were ruined now (Kayla was a little disgruntled, but overall she didn't seem to care all that much).

"Andy, I thought you promised Mom that we'll be home by dinner," Kayla piped up as she lay on the couch. She had carelessly propped her feet up on Claude's lap, trapping the boy in that position (Zander had made several snide remarks about that, but Spencer had pinched him until he shut up).

Anton was more than pleased to take his sister's legs off of Claude. "Yeah, I did. You want to go home?"

"Sure, I'm bored anyhow," Kayla sighed and sat up. She swung her legs off of Claude, letting the boy finally relax (He had been growing increasingly uncomfortable with the death glares that were sent his way. An overprotective older brother really was something).

Once the Suzuki siblings were both outside, Kayla immediately spoke up, "You owe me an explanation."

"Only if you behaved yourself," Anton corrected. "And you ended up putting your little, innocent legs onto your man friend. So I don't owe you anything."

Kayla stomped on his foot once she realized what he was implying. "It didn't have anything dirty to it, idiot!"

"Dammit, Kayla, that was the foot Cody dropped a rock on!" Anton yelled as he hopped up and down on his uninjured one.

"Serves you right, mother—"

Anton gave her the evil eye. "Finish that word and I kill you." He just knew it was a bad idea letting his baby sister be around Cody for too long.

Kayla began to sulk. "Why are you so Asian?"

"You've Asian blood in your veins too. It just hasn't come out yet since you haven't felt the pressure of being in high school yet," Anton muttered bitterly. "Anyway, if it'll shut you up, I'll tell you everything during the car ride home. Deal?"

Kayla nodded, finally satisfied. She marched over to Anton's car (Tires unharmed, thank the heavens), opened the back door, and hoisted herself inside. Anton followed, grumbling in Japanese about how he had to deal with enough stress on a daily basis, so Jack's possible demise and Kayla's crap were completely unnecessary in his life.

"Are all of you staying over for dinner?" Mrs. Bennett peeked her head out from the kitchen doorway. She still looked a little like a mess, but she was at least not freaking out anymore.

Pippa shook her head. "No, if my dad finds out that I'm staying any longer, he'll flip and suspect something going on behind his back. Same situation for Cupcake."

Cupcake rolled her eyes. "Dads, man."

Pippa's cell phone, which was in her jeans' back pocket, started vibrating and she took it out. Flipping it open, her eyes scanned over the text she had just received, and announced, "That's my cue. I better go."

"Well, I'm not staying around as the only girl left," Cupcake said. "Later." She took out her own cell, presumably to call or text one of her parents that she was coming home, while following Pippa outside.

"What about the rest of you?" Mrs. Bennett inquired.

"We can stay." Spencer motioned at himself and Zander.

"Not us! Claude, don't you remember the last time we stayed over for dinner? Mom never let us hear the end of it about how we didn't call home and that she was just about ready to call the police!"

"Wasn't that when you guys were over at my house?" Monty questioned. "...I can stay, by the way."

"I can stay over too," Cody spoke up. "I need to get out of the house with my dad there anyway. I'm not hungry though."

Mrs. Bennett opened her mouth to object, but decided not to and instead asked Jamie, "Sweetheart, do you know why I came into the kitchen to find baking soda all over the floor and our blender broken?" Her eyes appeared to look up at something. "Also, there's a knife up in our ceiling."

"...No, Mother, I do not," Jamie stated flatly as he turned to glare accusingly at Cody, who only folded his arms and looked away.

Mrs. Bennett sighed. "Could you at least...help me clean up?"

"Fine, give me a minute and I'll be there." When his mom went back inside the kitchen, Jamie turned on Cody. "What did you and Anton do in there?!"

"Okay, so after our entire soy sauce fight, we both decided to just finish making smoothies, and Anton agreed that I could make my favorite flavor—blueberry-raspberry, by the way—if I let him make his orange-kiwi first," Cody explained offhandedly. "He pressed the grind button, and then the blender began smoking. Not, like, with a cigarette, but like, smoke started coming out. I think Anton kind of realized what was going on so he poured baking soda all over the blender. As for me, I threw the butcher knife up to the ceiling and broke the fire alarm, just to spare us all that really annoying wailing noise."

"Are you kidding me?!" Jamie yelled.

"Nice to see that you understand how pissy I am that I ended up not being able to make my blueberry-raspberry."

"What?! No, that's not it! It's just that... Ugh, never mind!" Jamie stormed off to he kitchen.

Zander snorted. "Good job, man."

"Would you rather have me stop a big scene from happening, or just let it happen, which would only result in more trouble?" Cody asked testily.

"...Fair point. So what's up, Monty? You're gonna be stuck with us until the end of the day." Zander grinned and ruffled the younger boy's hair.

Monty only looked like he was torn between being terrified for his life or rolling his eyes. He definitely shouldn't have chosen to stay. He decided to go over to help Jamie clean up that mess in the kitchen.

"Speaking of which, we should go," Caleb piped up. "Come on, Claude."


Cody looked up from flipping through the channels and saw Zander holding out a corndog.

"Figured you might want this."

"I said I wasn't hungry." Cody took it anyway.

Zander stood for a second, then sat down next to him. "I also thought you might want a little company."

Cody raised an eyebrow. "And since when did I ever want company?"

"Ever since I caught on to the fact that you have a bad habit of trying and failing to make people think you're a mean old hermit when you're really just sad deep, deep down." Wow, Zander, good job, where'd that come from?

Cody was now looking at him funny. "Excuse me?"

"Never mind. Anyway, what's up with the bad appetite? Me and Spencer had growling stomachs by the time dinner was served."

Cody didn't answer. He just turned back to the TV and tried as hard as he could to pretend to focus on whatever was on—Supernatural. Great, that meant it wouldn't take much acting to pretend he was interested.

Zander could tell he had said something Cody didn't want him to say. "So there really is a reason why you don't feel like eating?"

"Don't you think it's obvious?"

Zander caught on and grinned cheekily. "You're worried about Jack."

Cody did a double take. "W-What? No! I... I'm just a representative for all the worry you guys must be having."

"...So you're worried. Face the facts and stop being so stubborn."

"...Okay, so maybe I'm not exactly made of stone," Cody reluctantly admitted. "But you know, it's not easy to be okay with the fact that Jack is who knows where and there's a pretty likely chance of shit happening."

Zander frowned. "He'll be okay, I'm sure of it."

"Do you know how many times I've heard people say that? When Carrie died, the policeman, the coroner, even everyone at the funeral noticed just how closed up I was and they told my parents that I'll be okay eventually. Fast forward eight years and I'm still as fucked up as before."

"So basically, this whole situation is reminding you of your sister's suicide?"

Once again, Cody began to stare. "What?"

"Sheesh, for someone who tries so hard to not show his feelings, you sure are easy to read," Zander snorted. "I mean, it's obvious that you're thinking about that right now."

Cody looked away. "Do you...think I might be clinging on to the past too much?"

"Just a little. But nobody really minds, so don't worry about it."

"I'm not worrying," Cody snapped. "It's just that if maybe I had moved on by now, I might just have a little more faith in the possibility that Jack will be okay, and I wouldn't have to brood in my own...angst."

Zander looked down at his own hands. "Were you two close?" Once the words were out of his mouth, he regretted asking something so obvious.

Cody apparently thought the same. "Nope, we were simply forced to hang around each other by our parents so people would think we got along well and therefore one of the closest pairs of siblings on the planet. You're having a problem with stating the obvious today, aren't you?"

Zander rolled his eyes. "Things don't always meet the eye. If you must know, me and Spencer were pretty distant with each other for a certain time."


"Yeah, hard to believe, isn't it? We were okay for the first few years of our lives, but then we started getting farther apart during middle school. We grew up with different personalities, so when we first reached that age where kids grow less..." Zander paused. "...tolerant of people who see things differently, so we had a little falling out. We made up soon after, but we still fought a lot, which eventually led to us not talking to each other, and instead hanging out with other people. And once we entered high school, I guess one of us decided that we should just grow up and that this whole thing wasn't worth it, so we began talking again. Then slowly, we went back to the way we were before. So yeah, not even twins can always be guaranteed to be able to stay with each other 24/7."

"Oh hey, are you telling him about that time when the two of us stopped being around each other?" Spencer suddenly entered the room, having finished dinner.

"Yeah. That was stupid of us, I mean, we might as well at least be on speaking terms if we were going to share the same bedroom," Zander grinned. "We gave Mom and Dad hell back then, what with all the desperation to stay away from each other."

Spencer chuckled. "I remember that. I also remember how the only reason why I made the effort to start getting along with you again in the first place was because I overheard Dad complain to Mom about how if this continued any longer, he was going to start cutting. That really scared me."

Zander's jaw dropped. "Are you serious? I thought you genuinely wanted to speak to me again! What the hell?"

"Hey, I like talking to you now, that's the bright side of it all." Spencer shrugged. "Besides, you weren't going anywhere near wanting to make up either."

"Yeah, but you're the one who tries his best to stay peaceful!"

"Excuse me, but I thought it was more peaceful around the house when we weren't interacting."

"What was that about your dad threatening to cut?" Cody interrupted. I'm surrounded by idiots. "Because, you know, that's what I did during my suicide attempt. In the bathtub and stuff."

"The bathtub?" Spencer echoed.

"Yeah, the blood flows out easier that way."

"Yes, we know," Zander stated. "Anyway, if you're asking if our dad was threatening to cut in the bathtub, we don't know because it's not like he ever did it—"

"No, I'm asking why he chose, out of all things, to say that. Because, let me tell you, cutting isn't fun, nor is it something to be taken lightly," Cody began to rant. "Do you know how many suicidal teens have developed a habit for cutting? It's one of the most serious issues in today's society. I mean, not saying I'm going to try to kill myself again, but sometimes I'm still tempted to do it — and I only did it once before. I hope you can see how addicting cutting can be for troubled teens, and also..."

As he continued, Zander glared at Spencer as if to say, You just had to mention that threat, did you? Couldn't you have done it when we got home? Now he hates our dad.

Spencer huffed in response. You made no attempt to stop me from saying it, so part of the blame goes to you.

Suddenly, something on the coffee table caught Zander's eye, and he purposely interrupted Cody mid-sentence to say, "Hey, what's this?" He picked up the object, and once he recognized it, he began to laugh. "This is a Twilight DVD! Somebody in this house likes Twilight!"

"Oh yeah, doesn't Mrs. Bennett enjoy that movie?" Spencer asked.

"Right. Hey, wouldn't it be funny if someone else besides her liked Twilight? What if Jack liked Twilight?" The mere thought was more than enough to make Zander start laughing again.

"Wasn't he carrying around that Fifty Shades of Grey book at school that one day? So it wouldn't be a surprise if that were true..." Spencer mused aloud.

Zander rolled his eyes. "Gross. Fifty Shades may be better than Twilight, but it still sucks. It's like, 'Oh hey, my name is Anastasia Steele and I was a virgin until I met this really tall, dark, and handsome dude named Christian Grey! No more than a week after I met him, I had rough sex with him and he beat me, so then I realized I like S & M!'" he mimicked in a high-pitched voice. "I mean, what exactly attracts her to Christian in the first place? I see nothing sexually appealing, and I'm pretty sure it's not just because I'm a guy. What kind of name is Christian anyway?"

"It's not that E.L. James could've just kept Edward and Bella's names," Spencer defended, "which, to be honest, would've been pretty disturbing to read once the sex scene starts."

"I know, but she should've chosen another name that sounds less...old-fashioned." Zander cringed. "Don't get me wrong, I have nothing against Christianity, but the name Christian sounds like it belongs more during the medieval ages when people were complete fanatics when it came to religion."

"But it also sounds sophisticated," Spencer argued. "And Christian Grey was sophisticated. Sadistic, but sophisticated."

"Oh right. Anastasia must have been like, 'Oh, Mr. Christian Grey, or should I simply call you Mr. C. Grey? Because I see grey! Fifty shades of it, actually," Zander took on a faux British accent.

"Alright, first off, that pun was so terrible, it took me like a second for it to dawn on me and cause me to mentally facepalm. Second..." Cody's tone took on a menacing air, and his eyes narrowed. "Do you have a problem with the name C. Grey?"

"What? No, what makes you think..." Zander trailed off, realizing what was irritating Cody. "...Oh. Oh. Right. Christian Grey... Cody Gray... Right." Seeing the disapproving look Cody was still shooting him, he added, "Me and Spencer should really try to stop antagonizing you. For some reason, we keep setting you off."

Cody only raised an eyebrow.

"But hey," Zander spoke up, grinning, putting Cody in a headlock, "if you ever feel lonely and sibling-less, just know we're here for you. Feel free to join us and become the third twin."

A taken aback Cody paused before shaking his head. "Nope, not happening, go fuck yourself."

"Why?!" Zander whined.

"I'd rather not become part of the new set of Robinson triplets," Cody deadpanned. "And get your arm off of me."

Not wanting to annoy him anymore than he and Spencer did already, Zander obliged.

"So, uh, Zander, what'd you think of the new movie trailer I showed you yesterday night?" Spencer attempted to begin a new conversation.

"Which one? That horror movie one?"


"Eh, it was alright. I'm probably not gonna go see it though, since it's basically a remake. Didn't they already make like three of them in the past?"

"Come on, you said the same thing for Romeo and Juliet."

"Romeo and Juliet sucks, bro."

"What the hell are you guys talking about?" Cody questioned.

"This new adaptation of that Stephen King novel, Carrie," Spencer explained. "It's basically about a girl who has a fanatical mother and is ostracized at school. She discovers she has telekinetic powers, and one day, her bullies go too far and she ends up causing a huge massacre all over town—"

"Uh, Spencer?" Zander nervously nudged his brother, prompting the latter to stop. He motioned towards Cody, whose eye was now twitching unnervingly. "Stop talking."

"What? It's just a horror movie..." Spencer's eyes widened. "...called Carrie. Right. Bad call, not a smart move, okay..."

He couldn't add on anything else before he had to duck to avoid Wynter's litterbox being flung at his head.

"So Jamie, how do you play solitaire again?" Monty asked, a deck of cards out in front of him on the floor. "Show me as we go along."

"First of all, it's a game that you play by yourself, hence why it's called solitaire," Jamie said, thoroughly amused with Monty's cluelessness. "But sure, I'll demonstrate for you. So the main objective of the game is to create four piles of cards—one per suit—in ascending order, with the aces at the bottom and the kings on the top. So lay out your cards like this—" A clanging sound from the living room erupted, abruptly cutting him off. "What was that?!"

Monty stood right up. "I'll go see what's going on." He disappeared off to the living room, only to emerge a second later. "Uh, Jamie?"


"All three of them ran out the door."


"Technically, Zander and Spencer ran while Zander dragged a really uncaring Cody out the door behind him—"

"No, but how would that cause that noise we heard?"

"Oh yeah, I think Cody kind of chucked the cat's litter box across the room."


"Hey, if you don't believe me, you could come and see the cat's litter all over the floor."

Jamie groaned. "Oh my god, Cody, first the fire alarm and now this?"

Anton sighed as he slumped in the driver's seat. He had managed to convince his parents that he needed to head back to Jack's place without giving away the reason why. He ended up parking his car about five houses down, thanks to a backyard party that was going on down the street. Anton openly showed chagrin at that (not that there was a anyone but himself to show it to) because while those partiers were most likely having the time of their lives, he and the others were stressing over the chance that the next time they see Jack, he won't be alive.

He opened the car door and stepped out. He looked up at the house in front of him, and the newly placed 'SOLD' label that had been stuck onto the older 'FOR SALE' sign out front—this was the house Jack had led Mrs. Bennett to believe was his new home. Though in all honesty, Anton couldn't see how Jack could keep up that lie after this whole thing blew over. Right now, there was a moving truck in the driveway, so it was safe to presume that the new residents were currently inside. Since the lights were also on and all that.

Anton sighed and glanced up at the second floor, where light was letting out from one of the windows. And at that moment, he saw a girl who was looking down at him. He couldn't get a very close look at her, since she had retreated and closed the shutters no more than a second after he had spotted her, but she looked to be the same age as him, with neat, brunette locks of hair and what seemed to be hazel eyes. Anton blinked in confusion, then shook his head. Chances are he'll see her again at school.

Focusing once again on why he came back in the first place, Anton strolled down the sidewalk to Jamie's own house. There, he noticed Zander, Spencer, and Cody all sitting down by the curb. Zander appeared to be chewing out one of the other two—Anton couldn't tell who. "Uh, guys?"

"Oh, Anton, hey. Cody went berserk and threw Wynter's litterbox at my brother's head," Zander explained irritably before the redhead could bother to ask.

"...What." Anton stared at Cody flatly. "For real?"

Cody rolled his eyes and said, " For the tenth time, if there's one horror novel-slash-movie that I can't bear to watch or even hear about, it's Carrie."

"Well how was I supposed to know that?!" Spencer defensively exclaimed.

"It should be pretty obvious that the eponymous character and what happens to her by the end should provoke more than a couple sore spots!" Cody argued, before turning to Anton. "Anyway, why are you here?"

Anton was a bit dazed, not knowing the whole context behind the topic of Stephen King's Carrie, but shrugged it off. "I don't know, I figured like if you guys were going to stay here, I should too. Nobody knows when the Guardians are going to show up again, and I might as well be here to see them get back."

"Okay, well, how did Kayla react to your explanation about what's going on?" Zander asked him.

Anton sighed wearily. "She called me a bully who likes lying to younger kids and shut herself in her room once dinner was over. In other words, she didn't believe me."

"Did you want her to?"

"No, but seeing her react like that was more hurtful than I thought it would be," Anton stated.

"You don't know how hurtful your siblings can be sometimes until you actually experience the sight of their corpse hanging from the ceiling," Cody muttered bitterly. He clearly wasn't in the best of moods tonight.

That comment ended up ceasing all conversation and cast an awkward silence amongst the four boys. It remained like that for a while, before Anton spoke up again softly, "What if Jack isn't going to be okay?"

"Of course he will be..." Spencer tried to stay optimistic, but faltered. "Hopefully..."

"But what if he won't be?" Unlike his brother, Zander was concentrating on the negative side. "What do we do then? And don't answer that with, 'Carry on with our lives,' because if you do, I'm gonna kick over a trash can. I don't know about you guys, but I can't just get up and move on from this if Jack dies. If it weren't for him, the four of us wouldn't be chilling out here together in the first place, Anton would still be too fearful of Samson to do anything else, and Cody most likely wouldn't even be alive."

Spencer laughed humorlessly. "Pretty amazing how one guy you've only known for a couple months could do so much in so little time."

"I mean, he's probably the biggest moron I've ever met in my life, but I still think we're all lucky that we got to know him personally and see just what one person can do," Zander continued. "In this generation, it's so rare to meet someone who's capable of reaching out to someone without having any ulterior motive. He's genuine and able to tell if somebody just needs a guy to be next to him and say it's okay. The problem I have is what's going to happen to us? And I'm not just talking about if he doesn't live through this. I'm also talking about if he does. Either way, he's gonna leave. His only two options are dying or getting his powers back and going away. So no matter what, he's not staying after this." His voice slightly wavered. "And it's just not fair. How he can just come, do what he's done, and then just suddenly go when nobody expects it. That's what I've been stressing out over ever since that whole thing with Pitch Black. When I first met him, I thought he was a weirdo, but he was nice enough. Then he started doing all these things, and I began liking him more. So yeah, he's an idiot, but he's also undoubtedly one of the most wonderful people on Earth."

"Zander, are you about to cry?" Spencer asked gently, putting a hand on Zander's shoulder.

"No! What makes you say that?" Zander's voice sounded high-pitched. His answer was much too quick to make anyone believe him.

Fortunately for him, nobody prodded him any further, for the now familiar sleigh suddenly appeared from a portal in the sky and crash landed right to the ground, skidding to a halt.

All four boys were visibly stunned for a few seconds, before exchanging looks with one another and dashing off towards the vehicle.

Bunnymund's ears popped up from the backseat, then his entire head appeared. "North, I thought you weren't drunk anymore!"

North laughed heartily. "Yes, but crashing is just so fun! I needed to experience that adrenaline again."

"You coulda injured someone!"

"No such thing as injured Guardian of Childhood!"

"Uh, guys?" Anton tentatively piped up. "Did you, you know...get Jack back?"

Bunnymund completely ignored his question and instead sarcastically replied, "There aren't any drag queens inside the house this time, are there?"

"Would you rather have one of us pole dance on that lamppost?" Cody snarked back. "Because I'll do that if you want me to."

"No, thank you," Tooth managed to remain polite. "I'd rather not go back to the Tooth Palace with that image in my head."

That was when Zander spotted the unconscious figure lying in the shadows. "Jack!"

Jack groaned as he felt himself slowly wake up and become aware of his surroundings. What had happened? He found the answer to that no more than a second later when he remembered why he was passed out in the first place, eliciting another grumble from him. That cursed immortality stealer—

Jack felt around, and everything his fingers touched were nothing but sheer, soft cloth. He finally mustered up the strength to open up his eyes, and he found himself staring up at the familiar ceiling he had woken up to almost every morning for the past few months. He was in his safe and comfy bed, he realized. But this was strange. The last thing he could remember was Immo catching up to him, deep in the woods, so the last place he was supposed to be in was his own warm bed. He obviously missed out on something. Rolling over, he was about to get out of bed...only to come face to face with Zander. He screamed.

"You know, it's been a while since someone has even thought to say a proper hello to me, which really sets off some unfortunate implications—"

Jack interrupted him. "What are you doing here?!"

"Relax, Captain Kirk, I'm not Immo in disguise," Zander replied nonchalantly. "I just waited for you to wake up."

"Then why didn't you say anything after I did?!"

"It was kinda entertaining to see you brood in private without knowing I was here. Besides, I'm not the only one. My brother is out in the living room watching Cody and Anton go against each other with Dance Dance Revolution on Bennett's Wii." Zander paused, then added, "Anton's winning, by the way. Cody tried to be a good sport about it, but apparently and also unsurprisingly, he's really bad at hiding his anger so now he's yelling some not-so-nice words at Anton while struggling to keep up with him."

Jack blinked. "You mean... They're still at it?"

"Pretty sure they are." Zander went quiet, and Jack could faintly make out Cody hollering at Anton some rather insulting words about his mother. "Yeah, they are."

Jack sighed. "The last time I saw Cody, he threatened to smother me in my sleep. Is he still mad at me?"

"Nah man, he was fine the next morning. He actually lets go of stuff pretty quick, which makes me wonder why he hates Anton so much. Except, well..." Zander rubbed the back of his head. "Me and Spencer pissed him off again last night. Three times, no less."

"Oh god, what did he do then?"

"He didn't do anything the first two times, but... Let's just say he threw stuff. But that's not important." Zander grabbed Jack's hand and attempted to pull him up. "Gotta go tell them you're awake."

"What? Why? I literally just woke up, I don't think I have the strength in me to stand up—"

"Come on, it's not like you spent two whole weeks unconscious—"

"I was still asleep for more than... What time is it?"

"Two in the afternoon."

"So I was still passed out for almost a day! That's not normal for the average sleeper, let me recuperate—"

"We let you recuperate for sixteen hours!"

"No—hey! Stop! Don't drag me on the floor!"

"I'll stop once you're willing to get up!"

"No way!"

"Too bad!"

During this entire banter, Zander had managed to lug Jack off of his bed and down the hallway, while Jack simply let himself be dragged, too tired to pry his friend away.

Once they reached the living room, Spencer immediately spotted them. "Oh, you're awake! How do you feel?"

"Crappy. Your brother dragging me does not help at all," Jack groaned. "Zander, I'm here and I'm obviously not going to run away, so you can let go of me now."

Zander complied, and Jack collapsed and hit the carpet floor.

"Little twat face! Fat ass piece of shit! There's no such thing as an Asian redhead anyway! This isn't cool, fucker! Why the fuck did you choose this song?! I hate this song! Annoying thing people call music these days!" Cody shouted.

"Well I like it. And also, it's fun to annoy you to the point that every sentence you say has at least one curse word in it," Anton grinned, effortlessly managing to get every correct step perfectly.

Meanwhile, Cody was missing most of them. "You know, I'm surprised you're even able to do DDR in the first place, considering I'm sure you got plastic surgery and gave yourself three hairy—"

"Okay, girls, you're both pretty and awesome and amazing and beautiful, it doesn't matter who dances better," Jack grinned, calling out over the EDM music. He didn't have any desire to hear Cody finish that insult (though it was pretty obvious what he was about to say). "No need for anyone to get plastic surgery—especially not down there, alright?"

"Oh, you're awake," Anton remarked, taking his eyes off the TV screen—yet somehow still getting perfects. Jack started to suspect that he had his own DDR at home and played it so often that he pretty much memorized the steps. "Finally."

Jack rolled his eyes. "I wasn't unconscious for long."

"That was not what you said when I was dragging you out of bed," Zander argued.

"You know Zander totally went gay for you when you were gone?" Anton said cheerfully. "He was practically in tears last night."

"Some pollen just flew into my eye! I am Zander Anderson, I do not cry."

"That'll be true once Cody beats me at this game sometime today."

Speaking of Cody, he seemingly remained completely oblivious to the things going on around him. "If I fucking lose again, I'm throwing this Wii console into the sun!"

"You can't do that! My uncle got me that for Christmas two years ago!" Jamie, carrying Sophie, appeared at the foot of the top step of the stairs, then freezing when he saw Jack. Once he got back to his senses, he rushed downstairs. "You're awake!"

"I've been getting that a lot for the past five minutes," Jack muttered, but he smiled when Jamie tackled him into a big hug, which he gladly returned. Pulling away, he said, "I was wondering where you were."

"Sophie woke from her nap. She was in a bit of a bad mood, so I decided to stay up there to play tea time with her for a few minutes," Jamie explained. "Mom went out to run some errands, which include buying your cat a new litterbox."

"What's wrong with the old one?"

"Cody hurled it in a fit of anger and it cracked once it hit the ground," Jamie stated somewhat accusingly.

"...What," Jack deadpanned. "Are you kidding me?"

Cody apparently was aware of his surroundings the whole time, because just as the DDR round ended, he said, "One day, I'd like to tell that to someone and not have them give me that flat 'what,' because that was basically Anton's reaction too."

"And mine," Jamie added in.

"But... Why Wynter's litterbox, out of all the things? What did my cat ever do to you?"

"It was the closest heavy object I could find. Besides, I think she prefers shitting in the grass in your backyard over shitting in a little box you put outside for her every time she needs to shit."

"Those were a lot of shits," Anton commented from the sidelines.

"What, did you want me to talk about fucks too?"

"If this is gonna turn into a conversation about shits and fucks, I'm just gonna head to the kitchen," Jack said flatly. "I'm freaking hungry, I gotta grab a bite."

When he went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator door, his eyes scanned through the various rows, debating on what to eat. "Toast... Eggs... Bacon..."

"Look, if you don't know how to cook, then you should just settle for plain white bread."

Jack turned to see Cody leaning against the counter. "You followed me?"

"No, there's actually two of me. My name is Cory, and my twin brother Cody is in there failing epically at DDR."

Jack glared. "The sarcasm is strong."

"Just get the bread," Cody deadpanned. "Unless if you want to choose eggs and accidentally end up throwing them at the wall in order to crack them, or if you want to choose bacon and start a fire that burns the whole damn house down, get the fucking bread."

Jack rolled his eyes and took the bread out. "Can I at least toast it?"

"No! For an ice person, you sure are open-minded to the idea of arson, aren't you?"

"When did you end up choosing for me? This is my food!"

"And it was my friend who ended up trying to burn a guy's house down when he was a freshman! He went to jail! He had to rely on his rich cousin to pay bail! You may laugh now, but trust me, it wasn't as funny as you think."

Jack blinked. "What? You know someone who committed a serious crime? And you were friends with him? You have other friends?"

Cody slammed his foot down on Jack's own bare one. "I'm being serious, bitch!"

"Ow! So am I!" Jack defended himself, rubbing his now pained foot. That's gonna leave a mark. "I... I just thought you were entirely friendless until I came along!"

Cody gave him a rather unimpressed stare. "I thought you learned on Friday that I wasn't always so...pissy. So yeah, I had friends. I mean, we weren't friends anymore when he was arrested, but yeah."

"Oh right... Ow..." The pain in his foot wasn't about to go away anytime soon. "Anyway... Sorry about what happened with your dad."

Cody looked like he didn't know what Jack was talking about until a few seconds later. "Oh. That. You're still thinking about that? I completely forgot about it. But yeah, it's fine."

"So you're not really going to kill me in my sleep during our future sleepover?" Jack asked, feeling relief surge through his body.

"You were serious about that? You sounded like you were only going along because my dad suggested it."

"Well yeah, I was, but... It's not that much of a bad idea now that I really think about it."

"...Jack, pay me and I'm still not sleeping with you."

"But isn't that the whole point of sleepovers? ...Oh. Oh." Jack's eyes widened once he realized what Cody meant. "No! That's not what I meant, oh my god..."

Cody interrupted, "I'm just fucking with you, so don't overthink it. I know that's not what you meant."

"But you sounded too serious! Maybe it would help if you, you know..." Jack set the bread on the counter and pinched Cody's cheeks, trying and failing at an attempt to turn his mouth upwards. "Why won't you smile? You should do that so girls will flock around you more easily."

"Haven't I made it perfectly clear in the past month that I am not even remotely interested in romance?"

"So? Being surrounded by girls doesn't necessarily equal romance. I've wandered around the world long enough to know that."

"That's true, Anton lost his virginity last year during a one night stand."

Jack's hands fell from Cody's face. "What now? Anton, he—he lost his—what? What?!"

"He didn't lose it to me, if that's what you're thinking."

"I...did not think that, but I appreciate the clarification— He lost his virginity? But why?! He doesn't look like the type to mess around in bed!"

"Yeah. Not to you." Cody rolled his eyes. "Just don't ask me how I know this, because I simply overheard a conversation he was having with Samson about it."

Jack suddenly felt very, very awkward. "Um... Did you come here for something?"

"Nothing other than that Jamie reminded us that there was a four year old in the room just as we were entering that lovely subject of debate about your cat's shitting habits and her avocation of fucking around the feline neighborhood. He also said that if she ends up picking up those words and uses them at her daycare center, he's putting the entire blame on me, and I don't see why he'd do that."

"Because you swear the most out of all of us?" Jack said as if the answer were obvious.

"You're the one staying here. I've heard that you don't have the perfectly angelic mouth yourself."

"I've been trying to avoid it lately! And you should too, unless if you want a girl to come along and call you out on it."

"Jack, I swear to god, if everything we're gonna talk about is just gonna end up with you mentioning my not-so-potential romances, then I'm leaving and going back to that other room."

It was Jack's turn to roll his eyes. "What are you gonna do there, keep losing to Anton at DDR?"

Cody shrugged. "Why not? In all honesty, I don't mind losing. I can't be better than him at everything."

"Really?" Jack asked skeptically, clearly not believing him. "A few minutes ago, you were screaming your head off at him, then you threatened to take it all out on the console."

"Dude, if you were going against him and you see he's not even trying to hit the perfect steps while you're so busy struggling, you're gonna want to flip your shit too," Cody pointed out. "But really, I don't mind. Not in the long run, at least. Anyway, eat your goddamn food while I go back out there and continue to piss myself off with that equally goddamn game." As if for emphasis, Cody took a slice of bread and stuffed it right into Jack's mouth. "Oh, and one last thing."

"Mmph?" Jack managed to get out.

"Lie and tell my dad that I watch porn again, and—" Cody grabbed the butcher knife with the dangerously sharp blade off the nearby cutting board. "Let's just say that you may have been lucky enough to escape being killed by Immo, but you're most likely not going to be spared from disembowelment as long as I'm around."

Jack nodded his head profusely as he made poor attempts to swallow.

Thankfully, Cody was satisfied and put the knife down. He began to head out of the kitchen, when he said quietly, "Just know that I lie sometimes. Maybe I do care. A lot."

Jack managed to force enough bread down his throat to finally talk coherently. "What?"

"I'm not saying that again!" Cody said stubbornly. "Just... I'd rather have you here alive than killed by an inhumane blob when nobody knows where you are." I'm happy you're okay. "And you know, even though it often doesn't seem like it, I...don't have that much desire to end my own life anymore..." Recently, I've enjoyed my life far more than I have in the past eight years. "...But that's probably just because of therapy!" Fuck myself, why the fuck?! Cody, you idiot.

Jack appeared rather stunned by this. Cody hurried out of the kitchen and into the living room, quickly putting on an expression of disinterest as he told Anton, "Choose another song. I'm gonna beat you this time."

As Anton scrolled through the list of options on the screen, he asked, "What happened in there? What'd you say to him?"

"Nothing, why do you ask?"

"There's something off about you right now."

"What? No, there isn't!" Cody shot out quickly. Off?! What's off?! I look perfectly normal!

"Your face is a little pink," Spencer offered from the sofa. "I remember your natural skin color being a little less rosy than that."

Cody immediately turned on him, something he tended to do whenever he couldn't think of a good excuse. "Shut up, you're probably just high as balls from having all that weed earlier! I mean, you had a lot!"

Now Spencer just looked confused. "But I didn't have anything!"

"That's what you think, but you might have just had so much you can't even remember!"

"Wait, dude, are you accusing my brother of smoking marijuana?" Zander questioned. "Where'd this come from? Everyone here is sober."

"Just...choose a song already," Cody bit out at Anton.

Anton stopped scrolling and replied, "Actually, why don't you go up against Zander or Spencer this time? I'm gonna head to the kitchen. I need a snack." That, of course, was a lie.

When Anton got to the kitchen, he saw Jack grinning like a maniac while toasting a slice of bread. "What happened in here?"

Jack looked toward him, still smiling. "Huh?"

"Cody looked a little embarrassed. He tried to hide it though. What did you say to him?"

Jack's grin grew, if that was even possible. "I didn't say anything. He was the one who said stuff."

"What kind of stuff?"

"I'm just gonna put out there that he's the most stubborn person I've ever met. He kinda failed at trying to hide his softer side just now." Jack's smile fell off his face as he seriously inquired Anton, "Did you really lose your virginity when you were a junior?"

He half-expected Anton to scoff and completely denounce that allegation, but instead, the redhead only shouted, "Who told you?!"

Jack's eyes widened. "So it's true?! I thought Cody just wanted to make up lies to get back at you for being better at dancing!"

"Oh...my...god—Cody!" Anton groaned. "Why?!"

"That's what you get for telling my dad that I'm a pervert who loves watching pornography!" Cody's voice came from the living room.

"Whoa, but wait, why?! How?!" Jack attacked Anton with questions. "You don't seem like the type!"

"It...was Bo Robinson," Anton reluctantly admitted. "But that's another story for another day! Just don't tell anyone else."

Jack nodded. "Okay, I won't—Bo Robinson?!"

"Shut up, the twins will hear you!"

"I'm pretty sure Cody's telling them as we speak," Jack retorted. "But whatever. Do you want toast too?"

Anton shook his head. "Nope, not hungry. Are you sure you should be using the toaster?"

"Why does everyone doubt me? I'm not gonna cause a house fire!"

"Winter spirits tend to not have culinary arts as their forte. So are you saying you know how to cook well?"

"No, but I can at least know how to toast bread!"

As if on cue, the toaster suffered a shortage and a few sparks flew in all directions, though not enough to start a proper fire.

Anton looked at Jack flatly. "You are officially deemed a cooking hazard."

"Hey, the toaster was old!" Jack scrambled to defend himself. "Jamie's mom has been trying to find a new one for a while, but everything she's found so far sucked!"

"Jack, it doesn't matter, I'm pretty sure your toast is burnt either way."

"Well... I didn't want toast that much anyway! I can live with white bread," Jack attempted to cover up.

Anton rolled his eyes. "Right. Anyway, that new family moved in."

"What new family?"

"...The one who bought that house you pretended to be moving into?"

Realization hit Jack. "Oh yeah." He had completely forgot about that. "Uh... How do you know?"

"Saw the moving truck last night. Also, I got a little look at the girl. She looked to be around our age, so she's either the daughter or an extremely young mother."

"So we're likely to be seeing her around at school?"

"Pretty much, yeah. You gonna head back and tell Jamie about your now shorted out toaster?"

Jack took the bread and placed it back in the fridge. "Sure. If I'm really that hazardous when it comes to cooking, then I see no point in staying around anyway."

"Hell yeah, I won!" Zander boasted triumphantly while an unamused Cody gave the TV screen the ultimate death glare. "This is the bomb!"

"Why did you have to choose the Hard level?!" Cody yelled. "I do not like that shit!"

"Any level easier than that is boring." Zander rolled his eyes. "Besides, you would've lost no matter which level I chose."

"Well... Does it really matter anyway?" Cody tried to pull the 'I-don't-care' route. "I mean, dancing isn't really that important in life unless if you want to become a stripper when you grow up!"

"You were the one who volunteered to pole dance last night," Anton muttered, though no one heard him.

"I'm still dizzy from seeing all those arrows," Jack commented in the background. "I would probably suck at this too."

Cody suddenly stiffened and gave Jack the ultimate glare, dropping the poorly executed uncaring facade. "You. Me. Against each other. Now."

Jack's jaw dropped. "W-What? But I don't even—"

Cody's stare intensified. "Now."

Jack groaned and reluctantly got up. He trudged over to the dance pad, and once he placed one foot on it, he slipped forward and fell on his face. Zander, who was standing next to him, failed to hold back a snort and told Cody, "I had doubts before, but now I'm sure you'll finally be able to win at this."

"My only defense is that I'm still a little weary since I only woke up like an hour ago," Jack stated, raising his head. "Also, nobody ever told me how slippery this pad was."

"Define slippery. Actually, that doesn't really matter because this thing isn't fucking slippery in any way," Cody contradicted. "Now get up before you embarrass the entire neighborhood."

"But I like it down here," Jack lamented, turning over and putting his hands behind his head. "Jamie, did I ever tell you that you have a nice ceiling?"

"Thanks?" Jamie questioned.

An extremely unamused Cody only kicked Jack as hard as he could, evoking a cry of pain from the latter. Jack glared up at him, opening his mouth to say something when a car beep outside sounded.

"Oh, my mom's home," Jamie announced casually. "Jack, I hope you're prepared."

Jack stood up. "For what?"

Everyone else in the room gave him an unimpressed look. "You're stupid," Zander simply deadpanned.

"What? Why?" Jack frowned.

"You didn't actually think Mrs. Bennett was totally cool with you disappearing off in the middle of the night without a trace, did you?" Anton asked. "Because that's just the impression I get right now."

Jack's eyes widened and his mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water. "Oh god—But—But—But—"

"Let's not mention the fact that you haven't yet wondered why your circumstances are currently like this," Spencer spoke up. "I mean, you're in your house with no clue who brought you back here, and on top of that, you're still mortal."

"I actually did wonder why, but I figured one of you was gonna offer an explanation eventually..." Jack trailed off, then squeaked, "Bye guys, I'm just gonna go hide now!"

He turned to bolt, but Cody had somehow sneaked off to the kitchen again and retrieved the knife he had threatened Jack earlier with and was now wielding it again. "I think I failed to mention that the disembowelment thing also qualifies for excusing yourself," he stated monotonously.

"Screw you, why?!" Jack shouted, just as Mrs. Bennett opened the front door carrying a grocery bag on one arm. Once she saw Jack standing there stiffly like a robot, she promptly dropped it.

"This is gonna be good. Should I get the popcorn, Spencer?" Zander grinned.

"Wait... You're gonna watch this?!" Jack shot him a glance of disapproval.

"I never pass up an opportunity to watch something interesting," was the unrepentant reply.

Mrs. Bennett had been speechless until this second, and once she regained her voice, she calmly asked (read: demanded), "Could all of you give Jack and I a moment of privacy, please? I would like to talk with him alone. Also, Cody, put that knife away."

Zander frowned, but Spencer, who had obviously expected this, grabbed him by the back of his collar and dragged him off to the adjacent dining room. As Anton and Jamie followed them, Cody muttered to Jack, "Just remember: disembowelment." He didn't wait for Jack's reaction to go after everybody else.

Jack stared after him, but once he turned to face the wrath of Mrs. Bennett, she had already grabbed him by the shoulders. "Where were you?! Do you know how worried I was?! I was completely freaking out all day yesterday because you had disappeared! I was about ready to admit to myself that you weren't going to come back! What were you thinking?" she scolded sharply, though Jack could hear the clear relief in her tone.

"I... I'm sorry," was all he could manage to get out, but he immediately regretted those words. "I-I mean, I know an apology isn't close to enough, but—"

He was cut off when Mrs. Bennett suddenly pulled him into a warm embrace, and he was too stunned to return the gesture. "You scared me so much," she whispered, voice almost unheard. "I didn't know what I would do if you didn't return."

"...I'm sorry," Jack said again, suddenly feeling less timid than he did before. "I... I don't know if I can tell you what exactly happened. The story's really complicated, and—"

Mrs. Bennett pulled away and interrupted, "If this is about anything concerning the fact that you're not really who you wanted to make me believe you are, I already know."

Jack's eyes widened. "R-Really?"

"Of course. You didn't really think I'm that gullible, did you? And yes, I already know about the sold house. I just met the new residents, they seem like lovely people," she added, before continuing, "I simply didn't say anything because I knew that whatever motive you had for coming here, it wasn't a bad one. For the past couple of months, I had gotten to know you, and even though you're clearly not very truthful with who you really are, I have always known you were a good person." She moved over to the sofa and beckoned for Jack to join her. "So I stayed silent. That didn't mean I didn't want you to properly tell me the truth, however," she said more sternly. "I only wanted to wait until you were fully comfortable with coming clean. I didn't want to seem like someone who pries."

By now, Jack's eyes were like saucers. He definitely was not expecting a revelation like this. Looks like Mrs. Bennett wasn't the only one shocked today. "Um... Well, considering all that you've done for me and how I made you stress so much... I guess now would be the right time to tell you the full story."

"I'm all ears."

Jack took a deep breath. "The truth is, I'm not really a human. Well, I wasn't at that time, but you get the idea. I'm actually the winter spirit, Jack Frost."

Mrs. Bennett was already looking at him as if he were crazy, oh goodie. "For real?" she managed to ask. "I was expecting all the explanations I could think of, but I didn't think yours would be so far-fetched. How exactly am I supposed to believe that anymore than I believed your other excuse?"

"It's not an excuse!" Jack insisted. "I know it's hard to fathom, but it's 100% true. I mean, I knew right from the start that you would think I was literally insane if I just fessed up right away. It's the whole reason why I lied in the first place."

Mrs. Bennett sighed. "Okay. I suppose I should let you finish the whole story before I make any comments. Continue on."

And Jack did. Once he was done giving her the background of his identity, he proceeded to explain why he had become a human back in December and what had exactly happened that caused him to run off on Friday night. "And now I'm back. To be honest, I don't exactly know how because I happened to be unconscious, but I'm assuming that somebody found me and brought me back here."

"The Guardians went on a scavenger hunt for you," Zander said, his head appearing in the doorway. "They eventually found you out in the woods all passed out, and they brought you back. They had no clue where Immo was though, so they went out there again to search for and get rid of him."

"Were you really listening to my entire explanation?" Jack asked, not amused in the slightest.

"I told you, I don't pass up on anything interesting."

"You already knew, so how interesting can this be to you?"

"Hey, it's not my fault your walls aren't soundproof, alright? So all of us could basically hear what was going on whether we wanted to or not."

"That's...really embarrassing," Jack mumbled.

"You're an embarrassment yourself, you shouldn't mind it all that much." Zander shrugged, stepping out. "What happened anyway? Like, why wasn't Immo there with you when you were found?"

"How should I know?"

"You were the one being chased and all that."

"Zander, I told you it's rude to butt into a deep conversation between an adult and a teenager without consent," Spencer sighed, also appearing.

"Aw, come on, they were done talking!" Zander argued. "It's not called 'butting in' then."

"Speaking of butts, Anton's being a butt," Cody spoke up, coming to the living room.

"What did I even do?!" Anton defended, following him.


Jamie was the last to appear, sighing at the apparent immaturity of Jack's friends. "So Mom, what'd you buy while you were out?"

"A new fire alarm, a new blender, and a new litterbox," Mrs. Bennett informed. "I'm simply hoping they won't get wrecked like the old ones."

"You might want to go out again and buy a new toaster as well," Jack piped up sheepishly. "It kind of...shorted out."

Mrs. Bennett unhesitatingly turned to look accusingly at Cody. "What happened this time?"

Cody, noticing the question was directed at him, answered placidly, "Mrs. B, just because I had a part in damaging all three of the things you had just listed off, that doesn't mean I have any remote idea on why your toaster is now also broken."

"I tried to make some toast but the thing just...died on me," Jack admitted. "It wasn't on purpose, I swear."

"Goddammit to hell, Jack, I told you not to use it!" Cody chided irritably. "But no, nobody ever listens to the guy who's always a dick to everyone, even though he's surprisingly smart!"

"Look, I may be more associated with cold stuff, but I didn't think I was that hazardous when it came to culinary skills!" Jack shot back, then turned to Mrs. Bennett and simply apologized, "I sincerely am very sorry. It was not deliberate in any way."

Mrs. Bennett chose to pay no heed to this and instead sighed and said, "So since nobody has contradicted him yet, I assume Jack's telling the truth about his backstory? But what Zander said earlier brings up an interesting point, what exactly did happen while you and that blob were running around in the woods?"

"Um..." Jack tried to remember. "I...don't really recall, since I was mostly concentrating on just getting out alive. I wasn't paying attention to Immo at all. So I don't really know why he wasn't with me when the Guardians found me, especially since I wasn't awake at the time. I mean, I remember parts of the chase, like when I climbed up a tree and stayed there for who knows how long before he finally spotted me up there."

"I'm starting to think this Immo thing is an incompetent idiot," Cody muttered under his breath. Beside him, Anton, having heard him, nodded in agreement.

"And I have a feeling that this is natural, but I don't really remember what caused me to pass out either," Jack continued. "Obviously he caught up to me somehow, but it still doesn't answer why he ended up sparing me."

"He didn't mean to, I'll give ya that," Bunnymund, suddenly appearing in and leaning against the front doorway (Mrs. Bennett forgot to close the door), spoke up. "Good thing you're awake, mate."

"Oh hey, Bunny. It's been a while," Jack said back nonchalantly. "Didn't hear you come in."

"Yeah, well, I managed to convince North to land the sleigh smoothly for once and not cause a ruckus like he did the last few times," Bunnymund smirked satisfactorily. "That flyin' death trap is surprisingly quiet when North's not crashin' it onto the street. Anyway, I heard you all wonderin' about Immo—Bloody hell, North, I'm not enjoyin' callin' him that..." He mumbled that last part to himself. "And the four of us found him."

Jack sat straight up. "And? Is he out there? Did you take him hostage and force him to confront me properly?"

"What? No, we are Guardians, not bloody blobnappers. I'll tell ya what we did, we beat that thing to a pulp. Let's just say he won't be tryin' to feed off of anybody for awhile. Or ever, actually. Kinda, uh, accidentally destroyed the thing." Bunnymund cringed. "And believe it or not, that was not a smart move."

"What? Why? Now he won't be trying to kill anyone else," Jack pointed out, confused.

"Yes, but Jack, don't forget you're not back to normal yet," Tooth told him, appearing alongside Bunnymund.

Jack froze, looked down at himself, then raised his head again. "Right," he deadpanned, then started, "Wait... But I should've—"

"I am afraid it does not work that way," North said grimly. "He had taken away your powers, and he can only return them to you if he is willing to... As willing as he can get, I mean. And there is no possibility that he can do that if he is killed."

Jack was silent, soaking this all in for a bit, then once the gravity of this dawned on him, he began to breathe heavily. "So... So I'm basically...stuck like this for the rest of my life? I'm not gonna go back to being Jack Frost? Why..." He felt anger bubble up inside him. "Why did you kill him?! Why weren't you more careful?!"

"Mate, we didn't do it intentionally!" Bunnymund insisted. "We simply didn't know how much it would take to bring him down. We figured he would be tougher than that, so we just gave our all."

While Bunnymund was explaining all of this, Sandy was miming gestures to go along. Once the Pooka finished, the little man concluded by conjuring some sand and creating a shapeless figure, then putting a sword through it, causing the image to fall apart.

Jack began to breathe even faster, beginning to border on hyperventilation. "But... But..."

"Jack, we're sorry. We really are," Tooth said sincerely.

The twins, Cody, and Anton, who were all forgotten by everyone except for Mrs. Bennett, exchanged looks with one another. Of course, none of them appreciated seeing Jack so distressed, but what could they do? They had no choice but to stand there and watch Jack begin to freak out like this. Though Zander in particular felt especially conflicted over this. He didn't like the bomb the Guardians dropped on all of them any more than the rest of them did, but at the same time, he felt...happy. This meant that Jack would be a human for at least a longer time than they all had expected, which then led to the realization that Jack would still be around for a while, instead of leaving like Zander had been so upset about last night. Zander knew he was being selfish, and if he voiced these thoughts out loud, he would be seen as acting inappropriate. But these were not emotions that he had any control over. He couldn't help it if he was actually more overjoyed than saddened by these news. After all, he was a human, just like Jack was. And humans were far more unsympathetic and self-centered than they were willing to let on. It just wasn't anything that could be changed throughout time.

By now, Jack was practically in a full-fledged panic attack. "But I... Who will bring winter from now on? Who's going to be the one to pull pranks on the other spirits? Who's my replacement? I don't want to be replaced! I don't...want to be..." Jack fell silent due to his efforts to hold back a sob that threatened to erupt from his throat.

"Jack, listen to me. I am positive that Manny has plans for you, just like he had before. I do not think he would allow Immo to be killed and prevent you from becoming immortal again if he did not have reasons. I think you should wait for a while to see what he is devising. Do not panic right away," North advised, in a rare moment of somberness and wisdom. "Please. It's for the best for all of us."

At least Jack slowed down and began to breathe normally again. "And what if nothing happens? What then?"

"This is not to be discussed right now. We talk about that if it is guaranteed I am wrong," North said firmly. "We will help figure out a way. I can try talking to Manny if he does not act soon."

In defeat, Jack sank into the sofa. "Can you please leave?" he asked quietly. He wasn't just talking to the Guardians. "I'm not in the mood for company." Standing right up, he headed towards his room dejectedly.

"God, I feel so bad for him right now," Anton remarked, watching him go.

"Well don't," Bunnymund ordered him as North, Tooth, and Sandy went back out to the sleigh. "He won't be too down for long. That gumby tends to bounce right back after falling down. Plus, we're all gonna figure out a way to help 'im. Just make sure he stays out of trouble this time around." And with that, he went out and closed the door behind him.

"Hey, Zander?" Spencer began, as he and his brother walked across the street to their house.


"You're not really upset about Jack's predicament, are you?"

"What? Of course I am, what makes you think—" Zander hurriedly tried to cover up, but Spencer was not about to be fooled.

"Oh please. You're my twin brother, you're like literally a part of me," Spencer interjected matter-of-factly. "I'm sure I'm more than capable of telling whether you're happy or sad. And what I saw back there was you trying to hide your joy away by putting on a worried look."

"...Okay, you got me," Zander sighed. "The truth is, I don't like seeing Jack that upset, but I can't help but feel like nothing's wrong with this. I mean, his expectations might not have happened, but this also means that he'll still be around. He may not see it like this, but I think I'd rather have him around here than halfway across the world and in the southern hemisphere. I know I seem heartless and selfish, but—"

"Nah man, I totally understand," Spencer nodded. "But you know, you shouldn't forget that even though he's going to be staying around longer than expected, it doesn't mean he's going to be forever. You heard what Bunny said, there's a good chance that he's going to go back to normal sooner or later. What are you going to do then?"

Zander looked away. "Hopefully I'll be ready when that time comes around."

As Jack looked out the window late that night, he could see the full moon glowing brightly against the dark sky. "I know you can hear me." Words that I've said a million times before, he thought bitterly. "But I also know you're not gonna answer me. However, I need to get this out to you just so you know exactly what I think of you trying to keep me human—I hate this. I don't care what you're planning to do, you've been disappointing me over and over again for the past 300 years. Yes, you ignored me for centuries for a good reason, but have you ever thought of handling your problems another way? Why am I always the one who ends up getting the worst situation? Right now, I'm seriously doubting you, Manny. Am I still mortal because you've always wanted to get rid of me? That's really the only explanation I can think of, and believe me, I've done a lot of thinking since this afternoon." He looked at his reflection in the window resentfully, before glaring back up at the moon. "Just... Why?!"


www . fanfiction s/9948593/1/ (remember to get rid of the spaces)

Jesus, you guys get a chapter that's over 10,000 WORDS LONG and the first chapter of the long-anticipated sequel (I HOPE YOU'RE MORE THAN HAPPY BECAUSE IF YOU'RE NOT I'M GOING TO GO CUT UP SOME BITCHES). This Christmas spirit must really be affecting me. Merry (early) Christmas/Happy (late) Hanukkah/Happy (early) Kwanzaa to all of you, by the way :)

...Holy crap, just realized this, but today marks the anniversary of the day Powerless Guardian was first published last December. OHMYGOD THIS WAS NOT INTENTIONAL ON MY PART, I ONLY REALIZED THIS LITERALLY RIGHT NOW.

Fantastic, I give you people a Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa gift (or gifts, if you count the Forgetful Guardian chapter), which also doubles as an anniversary present. Look at me, aren't I just the nicest human being on the planet?

So anyway, sorry for the poorly executed faux climax thing...yeah. It sucks, I know. I'm sorry.

Forgetful Guardian will be a better story. I promise. Maybe.

(Also you guys should listen to Fall Out Boy's song The Phoenix because I am literally obsessed with it right now and I listened to it on repeat as I typed the last part of the chapter. My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark (Light 'Em Up) is good too)

Replies for the last time on here:

storygirl99210: Typed most of this chapter during finals week. You're welcome ;]

Brass Sparrow: Jack didn't get his powers back. Sorry :D And I expected you to be a girl, it's just that when I use the word 'son,' it's basically another version of 'dude' or 'man.' To me, at least. In other words, when I say 'Nah son' the gender does not matter.

Sol's Darkness: ANTONELIA AHAHAHAHAHAHA Ahem, I'm sorry, I'm not making fun of that little mistake/typo. It's pretty funny actually, I probably should've named her that XD

ReganRocks: Boy, are you going to be upset when you see what happens to him in the sequel :D

Writeous: I was really tempted to drag Jack's appearance out for another chapter because I was incredibly amused by your Scooby Doo scenario. As for the Sophie thing... Sssssshhhhh... *whispers* She's a ghost in the Bennett residence. She can appear and disappear whenever she feels like it o_o (No, but in all seriousness, I kind of realized that Sophie was absent early on, I just couldn't figure out a way to incorporate her into the story. She was never important in this story so I couldn't put her in the last couple of chapters without making it seem like she was there just to be there... So let's just pretend she had a nap. A long nap.) And you know what's even cooler? TODAY IS THE FREAKING ONE-YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF THIS STORY (which I already said, but yeah). Also, I enjoyed your multiple reviews.

candycanelila: Okay, now I'm going to be the one to answer every point you made. Look, I know what I'm about to say is going to make me seem really rude and irritable, but the points you made were a little...weak, and I really didn't find your argument that...legit (I'm sorry). First thing first, there is no way in hell I'm bleeping out cuss words. It's silly, pointless, ridiculous, and really just shows how immature someone is as a writer. I used to bleep out words in my first story, and I regret that so much now, because whenever I read that again, I just wince and shake my head. Also, if I say f*ck, I really don't see the difference between that and its uncensored counterpart. There is literally nothing changed if only one vowel is removed. And I'm just going to inform you right now that you're the only one who takes my swearing in a negative way. Additionally, I have a bunch of Christian friends who swear like sailors out at sea. Also, I don't see how swearing makes a situation awkward, because to me, if some teenager next to me said, 'what the freaking heck,' I would think that sounds too much like they're purposely avoiding the actual, more explicit words. Trust me, man, it's been a looooong while since I've heard someone say that phrase (haven't heard that since like the seventh grade). The least we say now is 'what the hell.' Last but not least... Listen. Just because Jack might be clear on what's right and what's wrong doesn't mean he does his best to avoid doing the things that are wrong. In the movie, it's clear that he enjoys playing tricks on people, and it's pretty obvious that he's more than aware that his pranks lean a bit more on the wrong side. If I made him a goody-two-shoes who tries to fulfill the universal ideals constantly, it'll simply make him seem like a Marty Stu (male version of Mary Sue. I hate those characters so much). And yes, Jack was born at a time when mostly everyone was a Christian, but that was such a long time ago. He's wandered by himself for 300 years, so it's only natural that he'll end up picking up habits as they come and go. It's just that thing about peers. If he hangs around someone else often, it's not very surprising if he ends up picking up those habits eventually. Besides, he hasn't really swore in a while.

Artimes' Thorn: All of your guesses were rather interesting, but I'm afraid I have to answer no to all of them. Immo's officially out of Jack's life, and I wouldn't really say I'm making him normal 'again' (as he never became immortal again hehe). And he's going to stay single as far as I'm concerned.

Lolxxx: I sort of remember you asking me to make Cody a stripper, so on top of all the Jack/Zander in this chapter, you get a little mention from the 17-year-old emo kid himself :D

So...uh... I'm normally supposed to ask you guys to review, but... Um... See you in Forgetful Guardian?