This is it, guys. The final chapter, the last homestretch. It's been quite the ride, thanks so much to everyone who came along with me, who reviewed or commented. You're fantastic, wonderful people and I'm overwhelmed by the positive response to this story, more than I've ever received for a single work before. I've had a blast playing with these characters, and rest assured should I dream up of new adventures for them, you all will be the first to know about it. :)

(Also, rating change like whoa. Please take note.)

The day's been a long, tiring one and Aster feels the weight of it straight down to his bones. It's been nearly a month since his last talk with Jack, and true to their agreement Jack has yet to return. Oh he'd seen the boy, at one of North's regularly scheduled shindig's the man now insisted on throwing every few months in the interest of Guardian solidarity, and once when he'd wandered over to Tooth's palace of his own accord for a quick visit and stumbled across the boy just arriving for a visit of his own. Both times had been slightly awkward at first, neither of them sure quite how to treat each other but that had smoothed over in the first couple of minutes together until they were bantering as seamlessly as ever, much to the delight and entertainment of the peanut gallery, simultaneously ignoring the confused glances North kept sending at them. Aster and Jack had, at some point developed the unspoken agreement that the faces they wore for their friends, while not lies or facades, were a little more boisterous and exaggerated then the faces they shared with each other alone. Thinking about it now, Aster wondered how he'd ever been so blind to the rapport he shared with the younger Guardian. It was a complete failure on his part, and total lack of comprehending his deepest of hearts that Aster still hadn't forgiven himself for.

It's more than just physical exhaustion that's been dogging his steps of late. Without the fragile hope of seeing Jack's bright, happy face Aster's been finding it difficult to maintain the routine the boy had coaxed him into; instead he was finding himself slipping back into bad habits, spending longer and longer hours at work and less and less time at rest. Aster will be the first to admit that his old, workaholic patterns were one of his more reliable, if unhealthy coping mechanisms. He'd done it for centuries after all; he was pretty good at sublimating his pain and frustration into creative productivity.

Ambling slowly through his gate and up the pathway, it takes Aster almost half the distance to his front door to notice the colourful quilt flapping cheerfully at him in the evening breeze from the laundry line. Aster blinks dumbly at the patchwork monstrosity for a minute, trying to figure out how in the blazes the item got from his nest onto the wash line, smelling sweetly of Aster's favorite lemon soap. It takes his tired brain a few moments and the additional evidence of the recently emptied wash basin left to dry in the sun before he connects the dots. Suddenly, Aster is more awake and alive then he's felt in weeks, bursting through the door into his burrow and slamming it behind him, pressing his back to the rough wood like he could somehow bar his houseguest from ever leaving. Possibly, he also wants to brace himself against the bitter disappointment when he realizes that he is only dreaming. In the corner behind the table a narrow teenager stands, looking over his shoulder at the other Guardian, back half-turned to the door as he tends to one of the lamps, nimble fingers in the middle of carefully trimming a wick. Aster is nearly overwhelmed with joy when he finds himself staring into eyes the blue of midwinter skies, their owner obviously a little startled by his abrupt entrance, but seeming to be no less glad to see him. Aster feels frozen in place, pinned beneath the warm gaze, unable to speak expect to say Jack's name in what is little more than a choked exhale.

"Aster." Jack inclines his head slightly in greeting, turning away from the lamp while taking a couple steps forward and setting the tiny clippers down on the table, eyebrows furrowing a bit as he has a good look at the Pooka before him. Aster melts a bit as the boy speaks, loving the way the boy's mouth shapes his name, cradling it against his tongue and lips before setting it free into the warm air between them. "You haven't been taking care of yourself again, I see. What, is the memory loss kicking in already, old man?" Jack's tone is meant to be playful, but Aster can hear the concerned undercurrents and his heart pounds faster. Jack is here, in his space, fretting about him like a worried lover and the sudden insurgence of unstoppable, vivid Hope steals his words, forcing him to swallow the lump in his throat in order to talk.

"I'm not so good at that, yeah?" Jack nods in agreement, smile lifting the edges of his lips.

"Yeah you'd think you'd have enough practise at that by now." Jack steps forward again, turning his body slightly to rest his left hip against the edge of the table still between them, crossing his arms as he settles. Jack is wearing his usual, brown pants, blue hoodie with sleeves pushed up to his elbows, and the perpetual white apron that Aster had so missed seeing him in. "Nothing for it though, I guess. I'll just have to stick around do it for you." Jack's deliberately casual tone belies the gravity of his pronouncement, but Aster doesn't miss it, nor does he miss the tension in Jack's shoulders, the only physical sign of Jack's nervous, the fear of rejection. Aster himself is still rooted in place, shoulder blades pressed tight against the door, hand still on the doorknob and gripping to tightly he figured he was leaving indents in the warm metal.

"You're decent at that, wouldn't catch me saying no." By the time he finishes, Aster has forced himself to relax enough to unclench his hand and make his way around the table. Jack straightens up from his slumped posture as Aster moves right into his space. The boy does not flinch, does not look away, maintaining eye contact the whole time until Aster is pressed to him, the table digging into his lower back just below the knotted apron strings. Jack's hands are not idle, finding their way to Aster's shoulder, gently carding through the fur there in a sweet caress that so soft it makes Aster ache.

"You meant it? I can stay forever?" Jack says, fully sincere, his face so close Aster can feel his cool breath against his whiskered cheeks."

"Always Jackie, I'd never lie to yeh about that." Jack makes a hungry little sound at Aster's pronouncement, pulling him down into an utterly graceless kiss. Aster's mouth isn't truly designed for kissing like humans do, but the cool pressure of Jack's thin lips against his is a pleasure he can't deny. Jack draws back a little, feeling him out before pressing forward again, giving Aster another sweet kiss, then another, until he is peppering tiny kisses all along Aster's mouth and muzzle. The boy's arms are tight about his shoulders, his waist so tiny where Aster's hands have come to rest that his fingertips can nearly touch around the circumference of it. Jack is a thin, waifish thing in Aster's arms, like trying to catch snowflakes with your bare hands. Aster barely has to exert any effort at all to lift Jack by the hips, settling him into a seated position on the small kitchen table. Aster had done it mostly to bring Jack closer to his level so the poor boy could come off his toes and give his calves a break, but Jack took it as an entirely different kind of encouragement, instead wrapping deceptively strong thighs around Aster's hips and pulling the Pooka in close. At the same time as Aster's hips made contact with Jack's, the boy took the initiative to tip his head and deepen the kiss. It was messy and awkward as far as kissing went, but Aster loved every second of it, enjoying the newness of the sensations every time their tongues touched. Jack made a little noise in the back of his throat then, something primal and barely human while tightening his legs around Aster's body and wow, hello Jack's erection. Aster could admit he wasn't far behind, so sue him if a little necking turned him on, it'd been a very long time.

"Jack, nest." Aster managed to grunt out between kisses, his hips already beginning to rock into the other male's sweet little eddies of motion that set his blood even more on fire. Jack must've been enjoying it too because he moaned softly into Aster mouth, breaking the kiss just long enough to speak two words.

"No, here." Jack grabs him back into the kiss so forcefully Aster grunts and almost losing balance, forced to catch himself with one strong palm on the tabletop by Jack's left hip. The new angle pushes them even closer together, the warmth between Aster's thighs blooming into full blown pleasure at the increased contact. Jack moans too, pulling away from Aster's mouth to pants heavily; head tipping back and hips canting upwards in a steady rhythm. Aster can't blame him, he's just a lost to the liquid heat between them, the molten flames set to consume even as Jack's body temperature fails to rise above room level.

"Jack, nest, now!" The urgency ins Aster' tone might have been lost to a moan when Jack's clever hands creep off his shoulders, finding their way through the soft, thick fur of his neck and chest and then around to his back dropping farther until Jack has Aster solidly by his ass, using his tight grip to pull Aster's hips forward even harder against his own, increasing the speed of their thrusts as his passion increases.

"No, here." Jack barely manages to gasp past the filthy noises falling from those perfect lips, and Aster's control is gone for good. Sending a quick prayer to the furniture gods that the table will hold, Aster slides the hand that isn't currently supporting his bodyweight under Jack's shirt shoving the blue fabric up to Jack's armpits, letting his paw-pads catch on dusky pink nipples as he feels the contours of the boy's thin chest. Jack whimpers a little with it, and Aster makes thorough notes of which patches on skin seem to bring out the best reactions in his new lover. Aster hasn't the patience to waste a lot of time on foreplay now though, and the wandering hand slips over Jack's bellybutton to the belt buckle at his waist. It takes some creative one-handed fumbling to get it undone, and then further fumbling to get the ties on the front to give way. When he does finally draw Jack's weeping length from its confines, the boy nearly sobs with it.

Aster is too close now, and if the way the boy is thrusting into his loose grip is any indication he is too. Letting go of Jack's beautiful cock for a moment and ignoring the little cry of dismay from the boy beneath him, Aster uses both hands to yank the pants down skinny legs, kicking them away when they fall to the floor. The Pooka then clambers up onto the table, settling onto his knees between Jack's still-spread thighs. The boy immediately compensates for the new position, pulling Aster back into his body with both arms and legs and Aster goes willingly, feeling his hard length drag along the little divot between Jack's hipbone and thigh until he was sliding alongside Jack's own manhood. The boy let out another unearthly noise that Aster couldn't wait to hear again, so he wasted no time in reaching down to grip both their lengths, grabbing almost as much of the flapping cotton of jack's apron as he did flesh. Both Guardians were long past the point of caring, and with Aster working both of them in a large fist it only took moments before each hit his peak, twin cries of ecstasy filling the small kitchen as they rode out their pleasure to the very end.

It was then that the table, having solidly seen Aster through many a meal, decided to collapse.

The sudden jolt of dropping three feet to packed earth makes Aster groan, tasting a bit of blood in his mouth where's he'd nipped his tongue by accident on impact. Aster realizes then that he can feel Jack shaking beneath him, and he nearly panics, pulling back to check that Jack wasn't injured by the fall. Turns out, Jack is laughing. Laughing, with tears on his cheeks, and that somehow worries Aster more than straight up ears would have.

"Jack you ok love?" Jack nods, eyes squeezing shut and head tipping back against the ground as his shoulders continue to shake.

"I'm good." Jack manages after a minute, tears still leaking from his eyes but his trembling has slowed. "I'm not hurt; it's just... really good." Aster nods slowly, feeling like he understands, nuzzling his cold nose into the bit of skin behind Jack's right earlobe. "Nest now?" Jack murmurs into one of Aster's long ears and Aster nods into Jack's neck, slipping his hands underneath the younger spirit to haul him up of the ground, rising to his feet with Jack tucked against him, the winter child's legs tight about his waist to keep from slipping.

"Sorry about the table." Jack mumbles as Aster carries him down the underground hall towards Aster's bed chambers. The Pooka only grunts in response, not caring one whit about the pile of timber upstairs, not when his Jackie was here, cool and sweet in his arms. They reached the nest and Aster eased them both down into its mossy embrace, helping Jack removed his soiled clothes. The apron appears to have taken the brunt of the damage, so Aster uses it to help mop off whatever mess remained on both their stomachs before chucking it away.

"I'll replace it." He mutters, feeling the post-lovemaking lethargy creeping into him, compounded by his earlier exhaustion. He goes to arrange himself next to Jack and instead finds himself dragged down by deceptively strong arms until he's lying on top of the boy much as he had on the table. Aster would be more concerned about Jack being able to take his weight, but the boy was far hardier then he looked, and he didn't exactly need to breath so he lets it go, deciding that some affectionate nuzzling and cuddling were better ways to spend his last few conscious moments then worrying was.

"Aster?" Jack's think voice breaks the comfortable silence."

"Mmmm, yeah Jackie." It's all Aster can do to stay awake to hear Jack's question.

"That was fun. A+, for sure." Aster huffs a tired laugh into Jack's collarbone and clutches the small body just a bit tighter, sinking closer and closer to the oblivion of sleep with each passing heartbeat.


"Mmmhmm?" Fading as fast as Aster was, Jack's voice seemed to be coming to him from a long distance away.

"I'm definitely not taking your last name."

If Aster heard Jack's final quip, Jack didn't know, the Pooka was already out like a light, deep even breaths pushing into Jack's ribcage making it move the slightest bit in mockery of real breathing. Jack pulled his lover closer, enjoying the exotic feel for fur against the whole naked length of him. Jack gently stroked one long ear, smiling softly as it twitched a bit at the touch. Sleeping was another thing that Jack's unique physiology would require, although he enjoyed it sometimes if only out of habit. He usually just stayed up, doing his best work in the deepest hours of night. It was something that would have to change now, like many things would, but Jack was optimistic that things would be ok.

They had an eternity to work out the details, after all.

Jack sighed happily, pulling Aster tighter and dropping a kiss to his forehead before closing his eyes. Now he figured, was a good a time to indulge in a nap as any.