Summary: Three hundred years is a long time to go with only minimal physical contact. Jack needs it. Tooth understands. Jack/Tooth.
He gets his first inkling when Tooth spins him around, her arms encircling him.
Her hug is a blur of forest green and the smell of rain just before it falls, and it results in a pleasant sensation he hasn't felt in, well… ever. But it's more than that, much more, and he can't quite put his finger on it, in the rush of so many things and the distraction of her violet eyes.
Perhaps it's truly awakened with the shock of Jamie's hug. A thousand emotions are kindled in that instant, and it's a wonder Jack doesn't shatter like ice under them. All he knows, as he returns the embrace, is that there's a certain wholeness that takes form, because of this child who believed in him, who finds him solid and real and not a mere phantom. It's as if a piece of himself, the existence of which he'd forgotten, returns... and it feels right.
And that's when he begins to suspect what it is his body and mind crave.
The Guardians are certainly a touchy-feely lot, but Jack isn't complaining about that; he welcomes it, needs it, even though it never shows on his face. North is prone to bear hugs - giant ones that envelop Jack whole, and he squirms and pretends to protest so that North won't notice the fact that the winter spirit legitimately enjoys such contact. And then Sandy, silent as he is, often uses touch to convey a message when he's near enough; much more fleeting than North's contact but incredibly expressive, and Jack learns to read it nearly as well as the sand images. Even Bunnymund has his moments; more rough, punches on the shoulder in challenge and the like, and Jack is more than happy to return it, smiling mischievously to hide the fact that he's grateful for the contact that makes him feel as if he's a part of something.
It's kind of pathetic, he thinks, and maybe that's why he's so keen on concealing it. But it's a bit harder to conceal around Tooth; she's naturally expressive and comfortable with herself and everyone else... and even more huggy than North.
Jack likes that a lot. He likes her a lot.
He soon makes a habit of flitting between his fellow Guardians' strongholds, when he's not busy with his own icy duties. After three hundred years, friendship is the most addictive kind of drug, and it's not something he's planning on quitting any time soon. Sometimes he stops to think and is dogged by a persistent if unreasonable fear that he's a nuisance to them, showing up as he does. But he's always reassured, eventually; he gets warmth and open arms and the faintest hint of guilt, and he suspects that they are, in their own way, apologizing for his isolation.
Tooth's palace is in the midst of summer on one of his visits, and perhaps that's why Jack's senses are a little more dulled than normal; heat can do that to him. It doesn't stop him from offering his services for one of the nightly deliveries. Since the battle with Pitch, Tooth has shown more of an inclination to be out in the field, at least every once in a while... but sometimes it takes a little coaxing from Jack to remind her.
It's also an excuse to spend time with her, which is just fine by him.
It's early morning in this particular time zone when they return, and Tooth, excusing herself, flies off for a moment to check up on everything and reassure herself that nothing went wrong in her absence. Jack entertains himself by playing a game of tag with Baby Tooth in the meantime, and they're darting in and around the lower parts of the palace with glee by the time Tooth returns.
"It's not all gone to pieces, then?" Jack calls when he sees her and halts in mid-flight, as Baby Tooth triumphantly emerges from behind a pillar and latches on to his shoulder, ruffling her feathers in a proclamation of victory. He chuckles and concedes graciously.
"Thankfully, no," Tooth says, with a smile and roll of her eyes, as Jack and Baby Tooth descend to the ground below, where Tooth has alighted. "But you can't blame me for worrying!"
No, Jack thinks as he lands, playfully twirling his staff - not after Pitch's attack; he doesn't blame her in the least.
To his surprise, Tooth suddenly darts forward, pulling him into a hug. The warmth of her body contrasts sharply with his natural cold state, and as his arms reflexively wrap around her, the staff slipping from his fingers, he's aware of the lean muscles and all-too-human-like figure beneath her feathers. He leans into the embrace, smiling, his eyes half-shut; his brain, already the slightest bit drowsy from the heat, fills with a pleasant buzz, that feeling of wholeness enveloping him like Tooth's arms.
"Thanks, Jack," Tooth says warmly. "It was fun."
She tries to pull away, and Jack's heat-addled senses don't catch up in time. He forgets to untangle his own arms, lost in the sensation and unconscious protest, until Tooth is looking at him in surprise, and then he retreats all in a rush, feeling his pale cheeks color ever so slightly. "S-sorry," he says, irrationally embarrassed; he laughs weakly. "Uh..." And his normally quick tongue, always ready with a witty retort or joke, fails him.
After a moment, he feels Tooth's gentle hand on his arm. "What's wrong?"
There's no hiding things from her; she's too sharp and what might otherwise be taken as inexperienced romantic nerves or simple attraction is now under her scrutiny, Jack knows. "Nothing's wrong, I just-" he trails off, suddenly frustrated by his inability to express it. It's so simple, and yet... maybe it's rejection he fears, but he can't quite voice it. "Sorry, I'll just-"
He moves as if to pick up his staff, to leave, but Tooth is quicker; her hand slips into his, and though she exerts no force, it holds him back. Again, his movements are reflexive, his inhibitions lowered by the heat; his hand tightens around hers, and that's when she gives him a knowing look, laced with enough sorrow that he turns away, wondering if it's actually pity.
"Jack." Her free hand comes to rest on his other shoulder, gently turning him to face her. "I'm sorry."
His brows furrow. "For what?" For not feeling the same, for not wanting to return it?
"You've been alone for so long." It's Tooth's turn to look away, her eyes falling to the ground. "We get so wrapped up in our work that sometimes it's all we focus on, but that's no excuse. We should have extended friendship to you a long time ago... and not just when we needed you."
Jack shakes his head, relieved beyond measure; that, he's already forgiven. "I should've made more of an effort, myself," he admits. "And been less of a nuisance. Friendship goes both ways." He declines to mention that half of his mischievous actions had been, in hindsight, childish appeals for attention... hardly the best way to go about initiating regular friendly contact. "Agreement to share the blame?" He cocks his head as he says this, his voice light and playful to let her know that it's done, forgotten.
Tooth smiles at him. "Agreed," she confirms. "But I'd think you were almost too mature about this."
Jack returns with a crooked little grin. "Definitely not the impression I want you to have."
Tooth's hand leaves his shoulder and travels up to his face, softly tracing his jaw line. The sweet moment settles into something a little more melancholy, and Jack can't look away from the glittering violet of her eyes. "You need this," Tooth says quietly.
"Well, it... it's stupid." Jack falters now, automatically ready to pull away as a three-hundred-year-old defensive instinct wars with his overwhelming need for touch and comfort.
But Tooth shakes her head. "It's understandable," she corrects him. "You may be a Guardian now, and immortal, but you're human, too. I don't mind." She giggles, a wondrous sound, and gives him an appreciative look. "I really don't mind." He can feel her shivering a little at her prolonged contact with him, but with another laugh she waves away the concern that enters his eyes. "It's too hot this time of year, anyway."
"Well, in that case," Jack remarks lightly, and maybe the heat makes him bold, because he wraps an arm around her waist, only a little bit hesitant. Their hands, still linked, untangle, and his other arm encircles her. He realizes that he's holding his breath, hardly daring to believe that it's happening, and it comes out in an uneven little sigh as Tooth leans forward and wraps him in another hug. This one isn't brief and merely friendly; it's deep and meant to comfort, and he buries his head against her shoulder, breathing in her rainy scent and wishing for this moment to stay suspended in time, at least for a little while. It feels so wonderful and whole.
An indignant chirp has them lifting their heads, though not separating, and Jack grins as Baby Tooth suddenly descends on them. They'd completely forgotten about her presence - though not without some maneuvering on her part, Jack thinks, judging by the sly look in her mismatched eyes.
"Have you been spying?" Tooth asks, laughing, and Baby Tooth feigns innocence as she lands right at the crook of Jack's neck. She nestles against him for a moment, rubbing her head against his neck in a comforting gesture, and Jack finds himself having to blink rather rapidly through suddenly watery eyes - from the heat, he tells himself.
"Thanks, Baby Tooth," he says with a smile, swallowing thickly.
Her little wings carry her up near his face, where she bumps affectionately against his cheek before suddenly darting in a circle around them and zooming off.
Jack and Tooth watch her go, and Jack feels Tooth's arms leave him, only to come up around his own. She places a hand on either side of his face and meets his gaze, her head tilted, her look infinitely tender. "If you ever need a hug or a cuddle," she says, "just ask. There's no need to be embarrassed."
He nods, more grateful than he can express that she is so open and honest and sure. Her thumb runs over his cheek, brushing a bit of cold water away... so maybe it isn't just the heat. He blinks again and leans forward, resting his forehead against hers, exhaling slowly. "Thank you," he murmurs.
"Anytime," Tooth replies, with a smile so infectious that Jack can't help but return it, feeling his spirits soar as if carried by the Wind.