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The Art of Being Okay

By killerturtles

Drama / Humor

Chapter 13

Hospital Guide: Caloric Recommendations

Goal: between 2,000 – 3,000 Calories a day

Split into breakfast, lunch, dinner and two snacks (or other, preferred, specialized meal plan)

Meals should be at least 500 Calories and snacks should be at least 250 Calories.

Treatment with a psychiatrist or nutritionist or psychologist and any combination thereof is highly recommended

For the first six months, there are weekly check ins with your doctor

After the first six months are over, the check ins are reduced to once a month

After your first year, the visits are twice a year and this maintains for the rest of your life

All of these are your personal recommendations and can be discussed and altered by your personal doctor at any time.

...


...

Jack stops reading. He doesn't want to read anymore and Tooth is texting him breakfast plans and Jack's heart is beating a shade too rapidly because he can feel it, feel it in his wrist, feel it like it's about it break his skin and spill all over the ground.

Jack just had breakfast, and while he is getting better at this whole eating thing, it's still with others and in public and Jack already has the meal plan for the day and this will just screw it up.

But it's his first day out and his friends haven't eaten breakfast and he doesn't want to mess everything up because he is supposed to be okay now and he is, he can eat normally, he just can't eat now. But they're not going to understand that and Tooth is going to look sadly at him and Bunnymund'll pretend that he doesn't notice and North will make Jack eat something anyway and –

Let's do it tomorrow instead. Also, I have cancer.

"Sandy!" Tooth reprimands. "You can't keep pulling the 'I have cancer' card! You don't have cancer anymore and I think it is time that you start accepting that and saying 'I had cancer' as your manipulative card – oh! literally. That's funny. It's morally wrong somewhere, I'm sure."

It's not morally wrong here. I'll take my chances.

Sandy slips Jack a wink and a tap, before writing up one more sign.

Besides, I've got stuff to tell you.

"I think ya mean show us, mate." Bunnymund interjects wryly and receives a well-deserved glare in return.

"Thank you Bunny," Tooth rolls her eyes sarcastically, "for adding that useless bit of information."

The two exchange smiles as Bunnymund shrugged at and moved on.

When they get to the car, everyone sort of piles in and they drive to Guardian, skipping on the breakfast without another word (Jack hates the gratitude bursting inside of him) – it's exactly forty-two minutes before the kids arrive – and they shut their eyes and pretend they aren't losing everything the next day.


...

Jack can't help but feel nerves twisting around in his stomach, despite how hard he tries to ignore them. They only intensify when Jamie shows up, looking at Jack, painfully earnest.

Without warning, Jamie grabs Jack and clings to his waist and refuses to let go.

Jack, stunned, doesn't respond at first, just appreciating the solid feel of Jamie around him, as he slowly lifts up his arms to pat awkwardly on Jamie's back. It felt good.

"So glad you're back. But I knew you'd come back, y'know? I mean, it was dead boring without you. The substitute didn't even let me paint his nails, Jack! It was hell! It was torture! I was burning in agony!" Jamie, after finally letting go of Jack, strikes several dramatic poses, eyes clenched tightly shut, ending on some odd combination of a stork and an orangutan.

Slowly, Jamie peals his left eyelid back to peek at Jack from under the shadows of the orangutan half of his final pose. "I didn't visit you in the hospital," he mumbles. And then, brightly, "is it working?"

"Is what working, kiddo?" Jack asks with his trademark half smirk.

"My guilt tripping?"

"A little," Jack admits. "I won't ditch you here again."

Jamie mumbled something under his breath, trailing his foot along the ground, a burning cement rock. Jack knelt down beside Jamie and placed a hand on his shoulder. "What's that?"

"It's just … it doesn't matter anyway, does it?" Jamie asked Jack, scrunching his mouth to the side.

"Huh?" Jack looks at Jamie confused. Jamie starts walking around, pacing the street outside of Guardian, speaking adorably earnestly to Jack.

"Guardian's ending like tomorrow, right? And there's kinda no point to the whole, y'know, writing thing. Y'know? My mom's right. I need an actual job. I need t' start focusin' on real stuff, and it doesn't matter because," Jamie pauses, and then, with surprising insight, continues. "It doesn't matter 'cause the real world's always gonna be there t' drag you back down, no matter how good you are."

Jamie has worked himself up into a frenzy by this point, gesturing wildly and pacing more quickly. He comes to a complete, dead stop when he reaches the end of the sentence before plaintively staring into Jack's eyes.

"But even when that happens, you gotta promise me you're not gonna leave with 'em." Jamie ends his rant quietly, with hints of desperation in his voice.

Jack, already kneeling next to Jamie, wraps him into a large hug, returning Jamie's favorite gesture of comfort. "I won't. I promise I won't. I'm staying right here with you, and you aren't giving up. Jamie, I'll stick with you as long as you don't give up. Believe in yourself, kid."

Awed and overjoyed, Jamie nods his head, barely getting the words "sure, Jack. Sure thing," out.

The two settled into the familiar routine of writing and playing and laughing, unconscious of the rapidly passing time.

Ice, ice baby.

Jack's phone. Sandy. Jack's mouth flew upwards, because Sandy was better now and Sandy was calling him.

"Go for Frost." Jack freezes in horror immediately after the words leave his mouth. "Fuck, why'd I say that," Jack muttered to himself. "I sound like a douche bag." Louder, "No, don't – don't do that," he tells the phone. "Forget I said that. What's up Sandy?"

"Wha – you know what? I don't care. Get your ass down here, pronto."

"Babytooth?"

Click.

Jack sighs internally. "Lunch, Jamie."

"You're going to eat something?" Jamie asks with wide eyes and the lack of tact characteristic with children everywhere.

Jack sighs externally and squirms awkward, rubbing his hand against the back of his neck, mumbling his answering and hating it. "Uh, yeah, I'm going to eat. We're all going out with Tooth and everyone."

Jamie visibly turns down the intensity. "Okay. I'll see you in an hour."

"Yeah." Jack rubs his neck again. "See you then, Jamie." With that, Jamie watches Jack's lanky form wander off in the general direction of the Guardian lobby.


...

Sandy, when the five finally meet up for lunch, is practically bouncing off the walls with excitement, which is odd in and of itself because it's Sandy and he is usually relatively mellow, but he's next to Tooth who is not bouncing - which is also weird. Jack performs a double take at the sight of them.

No words are really exchanged at this point and the mismatched group wanders off to North's obnoxious, red van that he always drives like a complete maniac which he somehow manages to never get arrested for.

Bunnymund hates the van.

However, it's the only thing that all of them will fit in, and so the van it is, as Tooth is forced to frequently remind Bunnymund.

"Can't I just take my own bloody car and meet you sods there?" Bunnymund complains.

Tooth hits him. "Yeah, and waste several gallons of gas while you're at it, sure," which is something that could always convince Bunnymund. North's car was energy efficient and in full support of green alternatives to gas.

It even had a bumper sticker proudly and obnoxiously proclaiming it to be such, with a catchy slogan and everything. The bumper sticker was also green.

The bumper sticker should probably be taken with a grain of salt, though, because North had one other bumper sticker that proclaimed the car to be one hundred percent deer free and everyone who knew North knew that he helped out at wildlife shows and frequently carted deer all around the world.

They think he got the bumper sticker for tax purposes; as in, he thought having bumper stickers was the end all be all of proving the claims on your tax forms were true.

This is not the case.

Inside the van were six green plastic seats in the back and way back and two large, glorified couches masquerading as seats in the front.

North always sat in the driver's seat and Tooth somehow always got shotgun.

She claimed she got car sick easily.

Vicious, vicious little thing.

Bunnymund, grumbling as always, would grab the seat directly behind North in the back and nobody was ever willing to sit next to Bunnymund when he got into his moods. Except Jack. Sometimes Jack, instead of slipping in the back with Sandy, Jack would plop himself down right next to Bunnymund with nary a seat or atom between them and a cheeky grin plastered to his face.

Jack, according to Bunnymund, had no notion of tact or even the most basic, preliminary aspects of simple human interaction.

Bunnymund often said this in an increasingly hysterical, sharp voice while glaring at Jack.

Things never really improved between the two when that happened.

But today, things were different, because even though North still hopped in the driver's seat and Tooth had the passenger's seat before North was even in the car and she didn't even have the car keys, Bunnymund had crawled into the way back, flushing, and plopped next to Jack.

Wordlessly, Sandy and Babytooth made the executive decision to sit in the middle, taking up Bunnymund usual spot right behind Tooth and North. Everyonemade the executive decisions to leave Jack and Bunnymund to their little argument.

The car started, startling everyone - Tooth to the point of screaming. But after the sound of her blood curdling shriek fades and the car rolls onto the highway, there was an awkward nature to the silence that no one was daring to break.

North focuses on driving, and rarely talks on car rides regardless. It's odd being in a car without Tooth's inane chatter and retroactively ironic comments on the health of Jack's teeth. Bunnymund hopes that he is not the only one who is painfully aware of the silence – because, hey, misery does love company and also because Bunnymund wants to fix things.

He reaches his hand towards Jack's leg and the hand makes it about half way before Bunnymund retracts it. That would be awkward. And sexual. And awkward. Bunnymund moves his other hand towards Jack's shoulder instead but – for God's sake, you're not the boy's father and your arm is barely half way across your body – that's a no-no too.

Uncomfortably aware of his hands, Bunnymund shifts around, moving and shifting his hands every couple of seconds before finally settling on clasping them in his lap, even though he feels that hand clasping is giving him a preachy sort of vibe, which is honestly the last thing he wants to do..

Up in front of them, Bunnymund can see Babytooth and Sandy conversing in low voices and the occasional strain of low volume music drifts back to the two of them, but beyond that, the awkward silence remains stretched between him and Jack.

Already, Bunnymund is regretting his 'talk it out' plan. Why was talking it out his plan? He never talked things out. He hated talking things out. He was going to do this anyway! ... no he wasn't. Was he?

Neither of them end up saying a word to each other the entire car ride, though Bunnymund opens and closes his mouth fifteen times total.

He even clears his throat twice.

Jack, who normally would have teased him to no end about not being true to his Bunny-ness by trying to swallow bugs like a frog, doesn't even giggle.

The group gets out of the car in complete silence.

"Shall I –" Tooth's voices comes out rusty and she coughs to clear it. "Shall I get our table?"

Relieved, everyone nods and Tooth walks off. Jack looks around the restaurant and he can't help but think that there is food here and they've probably soaked it in fat and there are people and he really, really doesn't want to be here.

His stomach is twisting and flopping and strangling him; this is considered better, Jack thinks. There is no way that this pain is better. Jack closes his eyes, weary and tired of fighting himself as he slumps against the counter.

"Take it one day at a time, mate. Trust me."

Jack, normally, would lie and smile and move on from the conversation, but it's Bunnymund and you can't always burry everything. Jack is raw when he finally opens his eyes.

"You don't understand. Eating is three times a day, every day. There isn't an end. There isn't a break. Every day. Three times every single day and I –" Jack stops speaking, because he doesn't know what he is supposed to say, doesn't even know what he wants to say.

"I'm sorry, Jack," Bunnymund tells him.

"Yeah," Jack grunts and turns away, back towards the counter.

Tooth comes back to where Sandy and Babytooth are still whispering excitedly at each other and Jack and Bunnymund aren't even facing the same direction.

"North?" Tooth calls out cautiously.

"Here!" The large Russian man sings as he steps out of the monstrous van. Appeased, Tooth turns back to the rest of the party and gestures them all to follow her.

Tooth is returning to drag everyone to their table but then black is white and white is black and - oh! Waitress uniform - Tooth has just intercepted a member of the waitstaff and they are now careening into the floor.

All Tooth knows is that one second, she is watching and awkward and painful reunion and the next -

"Boobs." At least the gender question was answered. Belatedly, Tooth regrets that her first words are a sex organ as opposed to an apology. "I did not mean that – it's just – it's only that I'm in shock and – oh, god, I am terribly sorry, m'am? M'am? Are you okay? Do you – yeah, probably would help if I got off of – sorry, again. Truly, deeply sorry. Does it help if we have a reservation?"

The blond glares fiercely at Tooth while Tooth's forehead crinkles sincerely back.

It's apologetic Tooth. There is no way for wait staff lady to come out of this with her dignity intact and the seventeen year old seems to realize this because she colors and marches off to serve the other diners.

Or something.

Everyone is looking at Tooth, at this point. Not just North and Jack and Bunnymund and that lot, but the people in the outdoor seating area and the pedestrians on the street are all watching Tooth, shell shocked.

Utterly unselfconscious, Tooth ducks her head, giving them a wide sheepish grin. "They've got the table!" She tells them cheerfully and Bunnymund, Jack, North, Sandy and Babytooth all follow her into the restaurant.

Tooth points them in the direction of a helpfully looking Italian waiter before dragged Jack off to the side of the building.

Tooth shoves a crumpled piece of paper in his hands. "I've made copies," she warns.

Jack pulls out the paper. It's his meal plan, the one where he is supposed to eat 1,500 – 3,000 calories a day and Jack can't help his flinch.

The doctors gave him one of these when they had reluctantly released him from the hospital and Jack had promptly thrown it away.

Jack knew he had to eat now; theoretically, this shouldn't be that hard.

All he had to do was eat. That's what the doctor's said; it's what Tooth and everyone said, and it couldn't be that hard it was just food. Just eating. (Except it was wasn't wasn't wasn't)

Jack threw the paper away and pretends it's not because losing the paper would make a nice excuse to conveniently "forget" the recommended meals.

Even though Jack wasn't doing that, wasn't forgetting and not eating because Jack was trying now. Jack was postponing it as much as possibly, but Jack couldn't end up in the hospital again, so Jack would eat and hate that he actually liked pasta ( it was his first safety food).

And he wasn't going to cry about it, because Jack wasn't fucking weak and he could goddamn deal with the choking pain that filled up his throat in the morning or the cold compulsion, need to run and sprint and work off all the weight he was eating, the nauseous feeling he got whenever he thought about food (always).

He could deal. Jack doesn't have problems, and he likes pasta and he has to be okay so that he can still see Pippa. And what is his life without Pippa?

So: he'll like pasta, and he'll deal with everything else as it comes because that one moment, in the hospital, when Jack had actually, grudgingly admitted that pasta tasted good, was almost surreal; and in the shock of that moment, in the middle of a Doctor Who marathon on FX, Jack really tasted the food and enjoyed it.

Jack, for those couple of seconds, was happy because of something he was eating.

He's not sure if the glimpse of normal made this entire fucked up situation worse, or better, but he knew he couldn't deny he had a problem, not when he had shattered the bowl against the wall – an abrupt motion that left him panting that scraped his shoulder bones uncomfortably together – and curled up into himself, staring at the blood sinking into his wrist and staining the thin yellow hair that had always sort of been there, thinking that his hand looked as fragile and breakable as the bowl.

Jack couldn't remember the last time that he had eaten pasta, before being hospitalized. That was horrifying. That was agonizing. Jack couldn't remember the last time that he had eaten most of the foods he was given in the hospital and it was terrifying.

The food was fatty and greasy and he just had to keep eating all day.

He is going to have to keep eating, every single day.

It's never going to end or stop and Jack is going to be stuck like this forever and he got the memo, thanks. Got that it isn't going to work. Something is wrong with him. Figured that one out years ago, with Tooth and garlic bread and Jack knows that this isn't going to work.

He's exhausted and he can't fight against Pippa when he has got nothing to fight for. And he doesn't.

Jack doesn't fight for himself – he thinks, on a detached level, he probably should – but he knows he doesn't deserve to be fought for, so it's okay.

Jack can fight for Pippa. Jack can be better to stay out of the hospital because he's got to be there for Pippa. If he isn't okay, he can't be there for Pippa and Pippa has always been everything for Jack – the reason he writes and eats and doesn't eat. Pippa has always been Jack's life.

Wordlessly, Jack shoves the paper back into his backpack.

"I love you, you know that, right Jack? You are one of my best friends and I know you've got the strength for this." Jack draws himself out of memories and blind panic and struggles to concentrate on what Tooth is telling him.

He nods, coasting into diner on the temporary belief Tooth has in him.


...

Five minutes into the restaurant, all the coasting and relief and strength was gone. It fled, banished permanently like the temporary reprise that it was.

Everyone marches into the restaurant determinedly and they, their entire group of oddly matched people, sit down. They're sitting down at a fancy looking table with chairs that are dark mahogany, ornate with small metal tassels.

Jack thinks Babytooth says something about, something about how they'd look nice in her café or something.

It's eerily silent as the chair scrape against the floor and there's a muffled thump as Jack drops painfully onto the chair.

There are people around them, everywhere. It's at the height of lunch hour – whatever time that is, it's now – and there are painted grandparents with brightly colored children and posh looking women with their suit and tie business lunch and chubby looking people and thin people and they are all eating.

Forks clink against knives clink against spoons clink against plates into mouths during the pauses in the burble of conversation. There are teeth smashing and gnawing as the waiters slip in between tables carrying heaping piles of calories, numbers on plates that kept coming, endlessly from a kitchen of numbers and weight and value that Jack doesn't deserve.

Tooth has them sitting at the six person table in the middle and it feels like a spotlight.

He looks at the menu and there are five things under the appetizers and seven under meals but there are thirty-eight different types of wine with an average of seventeen more letters than the names of the dishes.

Jack tries to grin, shakily, "that's … d'you know if that counts as one or two?" gesturing at the menu.

"One or two what?" Tooth asked, confused.

Jack continued talking to himself softly as if no one had spoken. "It's one paper but it's got two sides –"

Jack breaks off. "Nevermind. Sorry."

Everyone relaxes as the waiter comes with bread and water and,

"I can take drink orders now –"

And it dawns on Jack that they are in a restaurant and Jack is going to be expected to eat. Everyone is going to watch Jack and he wants to eat with Tooth and Sandy and North and everyone but he can't.

He can't actually do this; it's just too much. People and judgments and food but Jack doesn't have that much of a problem – he can control it, he can deal. He's getting better for Pippa. He can deal for her.

"- sir," the waiter finishes, looking directly at Jack. "Water," Jack's eyes widen as he shoves the word out, torn abruptly from his internal monologue.

The others order, but Jack's head is too busy swimming with the images of eating and people watching him eat and the menu didn't say how many calories and Jack needs to know. The people would bring him food and he wouldn't throw up and he would sit there and eat it and not even know the count, the math, the numbers.

It itched at him, this driving need to know, searing into his brain and setting his entire body on edge.

He's sitting in the chair, all bones tensed, inches away from the table, feet pounding furiously against the ground.

"Jack?" Babytooth asks. "Are you alright?"

Yes, Jack thought sardonically, I am absolutely fine, even though I just got out of the hospital hours ago and I would totally admit it if I wasn't, in a rare flash of insight.

Jack manages half a smile that disappears into his sharp, icy check bones but didn't say anything. Maybe Jack is tired of the lies.

Nonetheless, Babytooth seemed to get the message, and turned back to the mundane murmur of conversation. Jack looked around the restaurant again, seeing fat and numbers and control on platters and tables.

Jack can't look away, because every time he does, then the people are looking at him (instead of the other way around) and his mind is telling him that they know that you don't belong there, don't deserve any of it, had abandoned your sister to be crazy alone.

The waiter doesn't come back to wrench Jack from his thoughts this time, but Jack imagines that he will eventually. And then the waiter'll ask for their orders and Jack will have to go first because that's why they are all here, right?

It won't just be his imagination because they are all trying to help and they just aren't getting that Jack can't eat every single day. Jack can't just sit down and eat. They wait for the waiter and Jack thinks the entire time about food and counting and how worthless he is and how this is what it'll always be like.

And this is repetitive and the same thing over and over again and he's not writing or thinking or doing anything new because that's how it feels.

It's a rut, it's a trap, it's your life. Food is your entire life.

And once something becomes your life in the way an eating disorder does, it's hard, half-impossible to pull away from that.

He remembers how they make him want to be better and how Pippa needs him to be and he knows that'll give him the temporary strength to order something terrifying and fatty and full of wasted, undeserved, calories, like pizza.

The waiter will look at him with shock in his eyes at the amount of food, or make an overused joke about quick metabolisms and everyone wants him to get better but no one understands what's wrong.

Scrape.

Jack's head starts to hurt again, but not enough that Jack needs to push the heel of his hand into his forehead; no, it's the voices and the screeching that makes him do that. Or maybe it's the low blood pressure or maybe Jack is getting what he deserves, seeing what his sister sees. (Why her and not him?) Jack hopes it's that because Pippa is a good person who deserves nice things.

Thunk.

The waiter is starting to come towards them, Jack notes.

The anxiety and dread that stained the air during Jack's stay at the hospital is returning and all Jack has been thinking about all day is this lunch and living it and reliving it in his mind. He orders salads in his mind, with dressing on the side, even though he knows none of the others will let him. Or, at least, they won't let him without worry lines marring their brows and frowns slipping on their faces. Jack can't bear more than a salad in his mind and how is he doing now?

Clang.

Jack's chair is vibrating against the ground, Jack is stammering out "I've – I've got to go" and "s-sorry" and "see you – later. See you – sorry" and everyone is watching Jack shove away from the table and anxiously slip away, nearly tripping a waiter.

"Jack –" Tooth never finishes her sentence and no one follows Jack. They are bound by the same, unspoken knowledge that it was better if they stayed away. Everyone at the table is frozen in the moment, unsure of what to say or do next, unsure of how to react.

No one is going to follow Jack this time and the worst part is that not even Jack will ever know if this is good or bad.

Solemnly, propitiously, Sandy silently shifted his sheets of paper back into his bag. Now was not the time for his good news.


...

Regular conversation, of a sort, began abruptly after Jack left.

It was stopped five minutes in by a keening sob from Tooth. The four looked at Tooth alarmed, Babytooth especially, but that was the only sound Tooth made.

And when they all saw Tooth, they didn't see the tight, rainbow tank or the blue jeans or even her carefully accessorized hair. Instead, they saw her eyes. They saw pain and tragedy in Tooth's eyes and then, in those eyes and oceans and pain, they saw themselves.

With this sound, they could see and feel and hear the pain because they shared this pain.

They couldn't taste it because that was the problem, wasn't it? Jack still wasn't eating. Tooth didn't think she could do it, if she were an adult.

But Jack is stronger and this was too much, too soon. He'll be in the fifty percent that survive. To some degree, it is this certainty that is shared as well with all members of the table and it is to this certainty they cling, unwilling to imagine life without the strange, enigmatic man – boy – who waltzed into their lives so recently.


...

There are good days and there are bad days and there are days that don't have much of a name, after that first day.

There's the first time Jack visits Pippa – minutes after leaving that lunch – and there's the times that he'll spend all day at Guardian with Jamie, working those precious few days before they shut down for the year.

Jack just hopes that they'll be able to open next year.

This year wasn't entirely ruined, though, he thinks optimistically. It had its ups and downs but it wasn't altogether a complete failure and Jack is both grateful and sad and then worried.

There might not be a next year, he realized a while ago.

There might not be anymore Jamie, or late nights with Tooth and North and Sandy and even Bunnymund, Jack realizes now.

He kind of thinks he has something to live for besides Pippa on those days. Those are the good days where Jack replaces the sugar with the salt in Guardian's lunch area and has a helping of both with lunch.

There's even better days where Jack and Jamie water balloon cars again and Jack shows up to the midnight meeting late, soaked, with pizza that everyone – including him – eats and doesn't contribute anything more than a constant smirk, a stream of highly inappropriate puns and a steady mockery of Bunnymund.

"Kangaroo," Jack has become quite taken with the nickname. "See how not to fail a business, 'roo?"

"You're a two-bit author. Whadda ya know about business runnin' anyway?"

Jack shrugs his shoulders, wide and innocent, gaps visible in his teeth. "I'd say 'you tell me' but I think we've already established that you can't." Even Jack's voice laughs when he's like this.

"Oh, boy, you damn well know I can."

This is where Jack would pull out his whopper of smile and announce that he "highly trouts that" and all civilized conversation or hopes for sense were lost. No one even minded though and really, it's not like they got anything done otherwise.

Jack would go to The Cage with Babytooth in the afternoon of the good days. They'd order their coffee's and Babytooth would stand in line threatening an unceasing and seemingly endless list of progressively grisly murders she had planned for the poor cashier and owner until her and Jack's orders are brought to them – on the house.

But then there are the bad days, where Jack doesn't eat anything all day and stutters his way through Tooth's pleas, North's attempts at solidarity through fruitcake – no longer a joke but a familiar ritual that let everyone know if today was a good day or a bad day. More often than not, Jack wouldn't take the fruit cake, but he would try really hard and close his eyes, open them, and shake his head and they knew that today would be a good day. Sometimes, Jack would take half piece and devour it in quick, sickening bits. He'd spend the rest of the day distracted and chugging glasses of water and eating in tiny, birdlike bites only half the food in front of him but it got easier each time.

Those days were the hard days. They were the days that didn't quite have a name, the days after Jack had seen Pippa and they were the days Jack works at trying, the days that narrowly avoid being bad days.

On the bad days, Jack takes a piece of fruitcake and a napkin and sets them delicately to the side while he takes exactly three microscopic bites and leaves the room to throw nothing up. Sandy doesn't say anything – write anything – on the bad days and Jack refuses to respond to Babytooth.

Bunnymund sits and talks on the bad days.

The bad days, everyone knows, are Bunnymund and Jack and a rooftop somewhere. Bunnymund apologizes for the hospital the first couple of times, until it fades from their minds and conversation.

Typically, Jack just sits in silence while Bunnymund talks. Bunnymund would, if he were ever given opportunity, explain that he wasn't one for earbashing: he was, after all, far too grumpy and damned busy to have lengthy conversations about his life. Talking about emotions was worse, because Bunnymund was rough and hard around the edges, and not at all like Tooth or North or Sandy who were all soft and in touch with themselves.

But on the bad days, Bunnymund would talk to Jack because, despite all past posturing, he liked the little blighter, and he knew what it was like to have bad days. They didn't talk about that though. And that was the way it was.

On the bad days, Bunnymund sat and talked and Jack listened, shook, and very rarely – once – spoke; but Jack never cried.

"I – I don't – don't want this." Snort. "I mean, you know that right? No way in hell anyone wants to be like this, but I … can't."

Jack didn't say anything else, thinking about Pippa as Bunnymund told him about losing his parents and about half of his family after leaving Australia. Jack writes a lot on the bad days, about Pippa and how she isn't getting better and how he used to make her smile whenever he gave her an extra apple or an extra slice of bacon.

His writing used to make her laugh. Jack hasn't written anything worth reading to Pippa in the last month. Jack misses writing.

Jack has more good days – though even the good days are hard and he always thinks of Pippa instead of food – than bad days, and the bad days have gotten easier to deal with in the last two weeks. He gets it now, that he will always have bad days; it's okay though because he can deal with bad days for Pippa.

Sandy still hasn't shared his news, not for the first fourteen days, because it doesn't feel right.

Instead, he tells them while everyone is there and putting up decorations for Guardian's last day of the year party.

Er.

He's Sandy. He never tells anybody anything.

But he does wait until this moment to drop a packet of legal jargon that makes absolutely no sense and looks like it weighs a pound or two heavily onto the floor. And then, Sandy shows them the slideshow on the MacBook Air, a delightfully light computer with over nine hours of battery life.

Slowly, cautiously, superstitiously, desperately, everyone gathered begins to smile and then grin and then glance around approvingly at each other; but more than that, they begin to hope.



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