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Aster, fondly known as Bunny to his friends and Bunnymund to just about everyone else, knew something was very wrong as soon as he woke up.


He'd been asleep for the past week, his usual post-Easter nap. Working with perishables meant that the week before his holiday was a frantic rush of preparation. While dyes and chocolates could be done ahead of time, there were a lot of eggs to paint if all the kids who believed in him were to get a fair amount. 


Rolling out of his nest, Aster smirked a bit in smug triumph. This year, he'd done a bit of extra work, a little something to make sure that Frostbite couldn't mess up his big day with snow or sleet. Mind you, the Pooka had come to respect and even like the white-haired teen, and he agreed that Manny had been right choosing Jack as a Guardian. But he knew that Jack was a trickster, that he loved playing pranks and having some fun, and what the teen deemed fun may not align with others' ideas, such as his. In truth, he was just tired of the snow, sleet, and general winter weather messing up his holiday. Was it really too much to ask that there be a nice balmy snow-free day so kids could gather his googies and have some fun springtime fun?


So Aster had made sure Easter would get the weather he wanted this year.


While the rabbit-like spirit was no seasonal, he was aligned with Spring, and thus, had some powers of that season. It wasn't just being able to grow plants, oh no. With a bit more focus and energy, Aster could nudge Spring to come early, could bring the warmth and shove away the cold of Winter. It wasn't his job, but he figured it wouldn't hurt. Besides, it was his holiday, and he was going to make sure the day was one kids and their families would enjoy. So, before Frostbite could bring in clouds of snowfall or hail, Aster had stepped in clearing that all aside.


And it had worked. He'd done his annual run under clear skies and hidden his colorful creations of Hope on the snow-free surface. Once his job had been done, the lagomorph had crawled into his nest for some well-deserved sleep with a smile on his face.


But now something was off, and he didn't like it. A sense of dread and unease curled in his belly, making his ruff poof outward and ears twitch with tension. Leaving his hobbit-hole (as Jack was fond of calling his house under a hill) cautiously, Aster surveyed his domain, mentally checking the magical protections and scanning with his physical senses for what was amiss. Nothing appeared to be out of place, the wards strong and untested, not a spot of blight or damage to the spread of greenery before him. No unfamiliar or worrisome scents or sounds reached his twitching nose or listening ears.


Deciding to check on his fellow Guardians, Aster stepped back inside long enough to grab his bandoleer and other supplies before darting for the tunnels leading beyond his warren. With a bit of time-space manipulation plus his anxiety-driven speed, he made the dash to the North Pole in about half an hour. Paying little mind to the snow under his paws, the Pooka bound to the front door. A yeti opened it and ushered him inside before he could knock, muttering something about the Globe room while waving him in that direction. Figuring it was as good an idea as any, strong legs took him up stairs and down halls before he reached the large space.


North stood before the control console below the massive replica of the planet, gazing up at the various lights with a frown on his face. He glanced at the arriving Pooka absently before returning his stare upward. "Ah, Bunny, you here early. Good. We wait for others."


"Others? What?" Bunny paused on his way toward the fireplace to thaw his cold toes.


"Aurora, summoned everyone." The former bandit-king waved upward, directing his companion's attention to the light show high above their heads. "Reason for coming, yes?"


Blinking up at the waves of color undulating across the sky, Aster frowned, "No, must have left before you set 'em off."


At this, the large Russian turned, confusion clear on his face. "Then what brings you here, friend?"


Shrugging, Aster leaned against the mantle, the warmth of the fire seeping into his body yet doing nothing to ease the unnamed apprehension within him. "Something felt wrong. Figured I'd come check here, see if you had heard anything."


Running his fingers thoughtfully through his beard, North hummed musingly. Just as he opened his mouth to speak, a blur of color darted into the space between them. It stilled save the rapid beat of violet wings into a hover a second later, revealing Tooth with a handful of fairies circling her head. Looking from one male to the other, she asked rapid-fire, "What's wrong? What's happening? Is it Pitch? Did something happen with Easter? Is there -"


"Tooth, breathe." North waved his hands in an attempt to stop the flood of questions. "We wait for Sandy and Jack, then discuss problem."


"Oh, right. Sorry." Running a hand through her headdress of feathers, the bird-like woman drifted to one side, holding a quiet conversation with her little girls as she waited. Sharp ears had Aster overhearing that she wasn't fielding teeth collections as usual but gossiping with the smaller beings. He remembered that Tooth was going out in the field more these past few years and that a few other fairies had been trained to coordinate things from the Palace itself. Looked like the new system was working out, or least enough that the head honcho herself could focus on other matters while her girls handled the job for a while.


Sandy was the next to arrive, a cup of eggnog plucked off of the tray an elf was carrying into the room already in his hand. He waved with the unoccupied limb, a greeting smile on his face. Aster nodded in return as the other two vocalized their hellos, noting that the Dreamweaver didn't seem to know what the meeting was for either.


A cold breeze heralded the arrival of their newest member, a window set on the skylight opening to allow the white-haired spirit to tumble into the room. In a controlled free-fall, Frostbite quickly came to land agilely on the banister of the balcony they were gathered on. His hood was up and blue-clad shoulders tense as he spat out in uncharacteristic sharpness, "Hi, let's get this over with quick, got something major to take care of."


North just blinked once in surprise at the usually jovial youngster before moving onward. "Ah, yes, perhaps you know something, Jack, being nature spirit. Received word of severe storms out of season. Believers are suffering, perhaps even dying. Any news?"


Aster cut in before Jack could do more than start to open his mouth, aggravation driven by the unnamed but persistent unease gnawing at his insides. "Whatcha do, Frostbite? I damn well made sure the weather was good, how you mess things up?"


The blue-clad figure stilled before slowly turning his head toward the Pooka, voice eerily devoid of emotion as he asked, "You made sure, Bunny?"


Striding forward and straightening to his full height, Aster nodded, "Aye, I made sure. Nudged the weather a bit, shooed away your cold Winter for a warm Spring. Kids deserved a nice day for egg hunting."


"You nudged the weather a bit?" Jack repeated, tilting his head slightly. 


Chin lifted defiantly, Aster stated, "Aye, I did. It's my holiday and I do what I want about it."


Everything seemed frozen, the sounds of the bustling Workshop oddly muted as the Pooka and the winter spirit stared at the other. Noticing the growing tension, the other three Guardians glanced at each other nervously, wondering if they should step in. The choice was taken out of their hands.


The temperature plummeted as Jack stepped onto the floor, frost blossoming thick and fast beneath his feet as he stalked toward the lagomorph. Stopping a meter before him, the room seemed to hold its breath as he said, "You altered the weather so your holiday would be a nice day."


Picking up on the fact that Jack was rather upset about something and a bit unnerved at the odd appearance of calm, Aster just nodded his head again.


Pain bloomed in the Pooka's gut as the crook of a shepherd's staff slammed into the flesh, doubling Aster over and sending him onto his rump a few feet back from where he'd been standing. Before he could get his bearings, a cold thin yet strong hand gripped the fur on the top of his head and pulled his head back, forcing his face upward. Blinking back reactive tears, Aster could do little more than gasp for the air that had been knocked out of him.


"E. Aster Bunnymund, you idiot!" Jack snapped. "Do you have any idea what you've done?"


"Wha -" Aster pulled in another lungful of sweet oxygen before trying again. "What are ya on about, Frostbite?"


"What am I - ?" Jack released the Pooka's fur before stepping back to pace a handful of steps to and fro, visibly agitated and probably trying not to hit the lagomorph again. Running a hand through his hair and inadvertently pushing off his hood, the winter spirit scowled down at the Guardian of Hope. "Damnit, Bunny, I want to strangle you right now."


Aster blinked then frowned in concern. "Frostbite, you look like shit."


"Fuck you too, Kangaroo." was the snappy reply.


"No, really." Getting to his feet, Aster reached out as if wanting to touch the teen. He couldn't help but be concerned at the state of their youngest. White hair was sticking up every which way as if the owner had been running his fingers through it again and again. Dark splotches under bloodshot fever-bright blue orbs made it look as if the teen had a pair of black eyes, the face abnormally pale and taut with stress. A dark bruise small but stark rested on the left side of his jaw. "What happened to ya?"


"What happened to me?" Jack waved a hand at the Pooka. "I've been cleaning up your mess, you - you - argh!" He stalked away a few steps before whirling to point an angry finger at the startled and confused rabbit-like being. "Bunny, do you have any idea the consequences of messing with the weather? What you did by nudging things for your nice spring day?"


"What trouble would it cause?" Feeling defensive, Aster crossed his arms. "You mess around by dropping snow and sleet around the time of my holiday all the time."


"I do not mess around, Bunny." Jack shot back. "Newflash, the world doesn't revolve around you and your holiday."


Annoyance reemerging, Aster growled, "I know that, but -"


Cutting the other off, Jack spat, "Obviously you don't. If you had, you wouldn't have stuck your nose where it doesn't belong. What favor did you call in? Who did you have meddle with the weather, hm? I need to kick their ass later."


Scowling, he unfolded his arms and glared. "I didn't have anyone else do it. It's part of my powers as a Spring-aligned spirit."


"Part of your - " Jack sputtered a moment.


Wanting answers, Aster loomed a touch and tried to get a straight answer. "What's going on, and what does the weather have to do with it?"


"Everything!" Jack threw his arms outward in exasperation. "Damnit, Bunny, you don't screw with the weather. Even something as small as having a nice balmy day where it isn't supposed to be has major consequences. You may have some nature powers, but you're not assigned to work weather except in very minor incidents. Even then, that would mean I'd have to clean up after you."


Reeling back, Aster snapped, "You, clean up after me? Yeah right."


Taking a deep breath, Jack spoke in a calmer and oddly chipper tone, "You know what happens when one area doesn't get as much rain or snow? That moisture has to go somewhere, so another area gets more rain. But more rain leads to things like rising water levels in that area, which leads to flooding and mudslides, which leads to property damage and death and topsoil being washed away and crop failures. And you, the mighty all-knowing Easter Bunny who does what he wants when he wants, throwing his weight around since he's got a popular holiday and is a Guardian, you decided to do that little adjustment where? All over North America, parts of Europe too, maybe even Australia, hm?"


A sinking feeling hitting him as his ears drooped, Aster lowered onto his haunches nervously. "Yes?"


Jack nodded in faux calm, slapping a fake smile on his face, "Yes. You decided to mess with the weather for a large area, several large areas. And do you know what that caused? Hm, do you?" At the negative shaking of the Pooka's head, the younger spirit answered, anger slipping into his voice again as he got to the heart of the problem. "It caused storms, Bunny. Storms all over the world. Out-of-season, so people weren't prepared. Large and powerful ones, that are destroying homes and ruining crops and killing people!" Jack pointed at the globe behind him, a number of lights having gone out. "No one is caring about Easter right now, Bunny. Not when they're sleeping in shelters having only the clothes on their backs. Not when their homes and belongings are being washed away. Not when their families are threatened by weather phenoms and their ways of life are being in some cases irrevocably disrupted."


Aster shook his head, trying to deny it.


Pushing on with a nasty facsimile of a smile on his face, Jack continued. "Now, I've always like the holidays, yours included. They make people happy, especially the kids, and I've been the Guardian of Joy long before I took that oath. So I've done my best to give nice weather. Sometimes, a storm can't be held back or, like Easter '68, someone else comes and screws with my work. But I do my best to make sure that if there has to be snow or whatever, it's light or happens the next night. Because, as the Seasonal of Winter, it's actually my job to handle the weather, and I know how much leeway I have and can adjust things a bit here and there, you know what I mean?"


Seeing the teen wanted a response, Aster nodded a bit, guilt and horror making his head and heart heavy.


"Good, good." Jack nodded, that mockery of a cheerful expression still on his face. "Oh! You asked earlier what I've been doing, right? Well, I, as Winter, and Spring - you know, the actual Seasonal of Spring, not a Spring-aligned nature spirit -" He pretended to ignore the flinch from the furred form before him. "- and a handful of other spirits who have experience with manipulating the weather since, who would have thought it, its actually their jobs." There was a wince on that rabbit-like face. "We've been working to control the storms as best we could, draw some of the energy out, nudge the outer-most ones out to sea or to not populated areas so we don't have super-cells and class-five hurricanes. You know, cleaning up someone's mess."


A cold finger rested under Aster's chin, forcing his head up so he had to look up into stern blue eyes.


Tone and manner now dead serious, Jack stated, "There are serious consequences to altering the weather, particularly when you don't know what you're doing. We Seasonals are in charge of keeping a delicate balance that safeguards the entire planet and all the life on it. It's not something to be tampered with, for someone to tweak as they wish. Sometimes that means that holidays don't get nice weather, but that's just the way things are. Nature is fierce and deadly and seldom fair, and you have to accept that. Understand?" Feeling the head upon his finger nod slightly and seeing the sentiment in sad green eyes, Jack nodded in turn, retrieving his digit. "Normally, we Seasonals enact severe punishment on those who meddle with forces they have no right to, especially of this magnitude. I, as Winter and deemed the deadliest, have been known to strip the powers of or even flat out kill those who commit such a transgression." He paused to let the weight to the matter sink in, then continued. "This time, I believe you've learned your lesson and the guilt and grief from what you have sown is punishment enough. Next time, which I sincerely hope there won't be, I can not be so lenient."


"I understand, Fro - Lord Winter." Aster replied, lesson learned.


"Good." Jack released some of the tension and the more serious air, leaving a tired young spirit in place of the foreboding Seasonal. Giving an exasperated look at the Pooka, he said, "I'll have a hard enough time convincing the others to leave you be about this mess, but I'll pull it off. And yes, I have to tell them, we have a code about this. I advise avoiding Spring for a while, like the next decade, because she is not happy about all this. And Bunny?" He let a little smile quirk the corner of his lips. "Next time you want to make sure Easter is clear or whatever other weather alteration, let me know, okay? So I can make sure it's done properly and as safely as can be managed?"


"Aye, I'll do that." Aster replied. Asking for help may sting his pride a touch, but pride was worth nothing compared to the well-being of others, especially the children he was meant to protect.


"Thank you. Oh, and dump the Lord Winter crap, I don't want respect and groveling just because I'm a Seasonal. That's why I don't spread around the fact that I am one." With a weary sigh, Jack stepped back and lifted to hover in the air. Looking around at the others, he stated, "There isn't a ton that can be done on your parts. But, I know plenty of people are going to need good dreams, Sandy. And Tooth, if you and your girls could help them remember the better times?"


The two Guardians both nodded, pleased expressions on their faces as they were eager to help where they could. "We'll get right on that." Tooth voiced for them.


Giving a weary but grateful little smile, Jack looked between the Russian and the Pooka. "I don't know all the rules you two go by, but if you have something you can give, like little toys or treats that can be sneaked in... Well, when times are rough, the small things can mean so much, you know?"


Latching onto the offered olive branch, Aster nodded, determined to try and make things better for anyone suffering from the storms of his mistakes. "Maybe some chocolates? I got some in stock."


"Da, sounds good." North added in, moving to lay a supportive hand on the lagomorph's shoulder. "I make small gifts to hold them in, yes? We work together on this."


"Ooh, and my girls can give out collapsible toothbrushes and mini toothpaste tubes!" Tooth fluttered over with Sandy close behind.


"Tooth, they must enjoy candy! Bring good times and joy, yes?" North refuted.


Jack interjected before Tooth could wilt too much. "No, your idea is good, Tooth, especially for anyone in shelters. Having something as normal as a toothbrush is important right now, gives them a bit of stability. Both gifts are good ideas." Seeing the lifted spirits of his friends, the being of Winter started to drift upward. "I need to get back to the storms. Send Baby Tooth to me so I can try to coordinate with the girls to get them safely through the rough weather." Getting a nod, he sped up and outside, the Winds carrying him southward and whispering of the work the others had been doing while he was gone and where he was needed next.


Aster got to his feet, took a steadying breath, and straightened his back. Meeting the gazes of the other Guardians, of his friends, he said, "C'mon, we've got work to do."