The Art of Being Okay

Chapter 6

Employee Bio: Mr. Pitch E. Black

Submitted by: the IRS

Full name: Pitch E. Black (NOTE: what the 'e' stands for has remained ambiguous and all askers have mysteriously vanished. Popular opinion would state that it stands for evil, were that not too black and white.

Age: 57

Years Employed: 30

Current Position: Head of Tax Department (NOTE: Held for the longest in recorded IRS history, almost twenty-two years)

Race: Unknown. (NOTE: Best guesses place him at Caucasian, though heavy white make-up that has coated his face for the entirety of his employment makes it impossible to know for sure.)

Psyche Profile: Found in pieces. What remained included: anger management issues, issues connecting with other individuals, extreme desire for control – presumably deriving from a lonely - .

(The rest has yet to be found)

Qualities as an IRS Employee: Bloodthirsty and uncaring, dangerously cunning, and inspires fear and thus productivity amongst other workers. Good at climbing corporate ladders and appears to have no higher aspirations, which is useful, if slightly pathetic –


Slightly pathetic? Slightly? Jack chuckled to himself loudly. He'd have to thank Nightlight – his literary contact at Man in Moon Publications by day and hacker by night – for this piece of comedy gold.

Pitch was far more than slightly pathetic.

It was like one of those scales. There was pathetic and then, miles away, there was Pitch. He was quite probably psychotic as well.

Honestly. Who taxes and sues a nonprofit organization from Canada that helps children? That's just something normal, well-adjusted, happy people don't do.

Normal, well-adjusted people do normal, well-adjusted shit. Like getting boring jobs and forgetting anniversaries and getting fired and going to Saturday dinners.

Normal, well-adjusted people were not, by any stretch of the imagination, Jack Frost, Nicholas North, Toothiana (weird, Jack never did learn her last name) or Bunny and none of them would have it any other way.

But there's a thick, distinct line between weird and psychotic and Pitch just about created, defined and backpacked across that line.

Jarringly, Vanilla Ice's Ice Ice Baby blasts out of Jack's butt.

It usually makes Jack smile, Sandy's little joke.

Jack slips his hand backwards into his pocket, sees the caller ID and hits ignore. He slips the phone back into his pocket, and tries turning his attention back to the stack of files on the IRS and Pitch Black specifically that Nightlight had given him.

This was, Jack could venture to guess, not the most legal of activities to be doing, but he –

But –

There weren't many reasons for why Jack was still trying so hard to help Guardian, but the primary one was Jamie. Jamie, and all the other children and Sandy and the Guardian staff, and Christ on a cracker, even Bunny and okay.

Those were a lot of reasons.

One of them may have included his meeting with Kat yesterday.

She'd said, the second she saw him, "Jesus Christ on a cracker," and then she'd said it several hundred more times after that. Now, he was saying it.

Kat had hugged him, and he'd given her a cookie.

"Always nice to meet a fan," Jack teased.

Kat had flushed pink. "Oh, God."

Jack had looked at her, laughter on his lips. "I'm sitting here hopping you're not religious right now, because all you've mention so far has been God, Jesus, and crackers."

"No. No, sir. I just go to church a lot. One of my mom's is religious. We all go with her. Claude – my brother – is even an alter server."

They had talked for about ten minutes, while Jack had signed all four of the books he had out that Kat apparently owned and then she had left.

Jack had asked Jamie what to do if she collapsed. In the end, it turned out the question was unnecessary because she had fainted before Jack had even gotten the words out.

Jamie, glaring at Jack, pulled a pack of smelling salts out of his backpack. "They've for occasions like these, okay? You've got to be prepared. Plus, vampires are allergic to them."

"Put a silver stake through me if I'm wrong, but isn't that garlic?"

Jamie sniffed, affronted. "Popular lore isn't always correct lore."

Instantly, Jamie regrets saying anything, because Jack is looking at him innocently instead of mockingly.

When Jamie goes home to find his backpack full of garlic he knows that it's only the start and he was right to be concerned. You've only always got to be concerned when Jack looks innocent.

Jack shook his head and glanced down.

There was a file on him? The IRS had a file on him? What? Why?

Desperately, Jack flipped through the pages, not exactly skimming them but rifling through them nonetheless. North. Flip, flip. Guardian. Flip, Bunnymund. Flip. Flip. Rise. Flip, Sandy, Tooth. Flip. Flip, flip, flip, Jamie.

Jack remembered his previous metaphor about Pitch and lines and psychos.

Mentally, Jack revised that metaphor. Pitch Black was just a bully.

A bully, Jack decided, and an asshole, who didn't even know there was supposed to be a line.

Jack's focus on this train of thought had previously been successfully in allowing him to avoid the train of thought that said he should not have hung up on North, and he should definitely call one of them, or at least Phil.

Damn.

Just, Jack bemoaned getting up, when the roof was getting really comfortable.


...

Tooth was generally a brave person.

Tooth didn't often feel the need to interfere in other's business.

But she was the only one who knew about Sandy and she was the only one who'd seen how much it had thrown Jack.

In the end, it had come to this: despite Tooth's policy about worries and them being useless, Tooth was worried about Jack.

Her worry, also, was categorized on a list of worries. These worries were not many, and quite obvious, and were as follows: Sandy dying, Guardian falling, and Jack.

Most worries, like the worries about Guardian and Sandy, are specific. There is something bad and you don't want that to happen.

Tooth was scared because she wasn't worried about anything bad happening; she was worried about everything bad happening. She was worried about Jack not being okay, which was silly, because she knew he wasn't.

But worrying was silly and here it was and here she was, being silly.

Maybe Tooth needed some more silliness in her life – but, she hurriedly clarified to herself, not the worrying kind of silliness, but the kind of childlike silliness she'd been avoiding since … just that she'd been avoiding.

Another thing Tooth needed to stop avoiding was the Guardian staff. And, well, Bunny, but he was one of them whether he admitted it or not. It wasn't like Tooth was intending to keep secrets, or even that Tooth normally kept secrets, but there hadn't really been a good moment, not yet.

She had found out only hours ago and Tooth was completely ashamed of her behavior. It was, true, a terrifying concept.

Because Tooth didn't like germs, or sickness or rot even a little bit. It was more than that, because that thought alone was enough to terrify her, and now, it seemed like sickness was creeping into their lives.

It was nothing personal, not really, but Tooth simply couldn't bring herself to tell the others that Sandy had cancer a moment before now.

Now, Tooth screws up her courage and lifts herself up to march into Guardian, while all the children on lunch break.

When Toothiana walks through the door, she is self-aware and it feels like her skin, previously belonging to someone else, is being readjusted to fit her. Yet, nobody else gives her more than a precursory glance. Such is the way with people; everyone too focused on thinking other people are focused on them to notice that other people are too focused on themselves and being focused on to bother.

"North." Tooth walks towards the large Russian, placing a hand casually on his shoulder. "Get Bunnymund, please."

"Be back soon, Tooth!" The New York branch of Rise was only a couple blocks away.

Tooth knows that Jack isn't really a staffer and more of an independent contractor North had hired, but it still feels like he is and he should be there with them, visiting Sandy. Because of course that's what they're going to end up doing.

Without warning, the electricity flickers.

Guiltily, Tooth remembers the letter from the electric company she'd shoved at the bottom of her mail pile and never actually read. Probably wasn't going to do that one again.

"Children! Kids! Um." Tooth started badly. "We forgot to mention this morning that … today is a half day only!" That was dumb. God, that was incredibly dumb. How were the parents going to be able to come get them? How were they going to react?

"Cool!" "Awesome!" A multitude of kids seemed fairly happy about this, but there was nowhere for them actually to go, and Tooth was not irresponsible enough to take the muni with them.

"First," where were North and Bunny? "you guys can celebrate. With ice cream. At the store … somewhere. We'll walk. Wait. No, that'll give you cavities. Ice cream isn't healthy. We aren't going to get ice cream. Too much sugar. But we are going to go for a walk. I think? Exercise is good, yeah? That'll cancel out the tooth-rotting ice cream. It should. We are going to get ice cream! Just brush your teeth really well tonight, promise?"

It was thirty kids, right? How hard could thirty creative kids on sugar be?

Yeah, right. Tooth was screwed and she knew it.

Semi-desperately, she called Jack. It reached two rings before cutting off abruptly. Tooth didn't bother with a voice message.

"Text North," Tooth spoke quickly at her phone. After the ping, she continued. "Electricity going down. Told kids it was a half day. Currently taking them to ice cream … somewhere. Please help."

Her phone whooshed. "Minion." Tooth spared a quick smile while gesturing the children to her. "look up ice cream shops around Guardian. Text the closest one to North. Direct me."

"Seven detected. Closest one, eight blocks. Name: Ye Old Ice Cream Shoppe. Yelp reviews: positive. Turn left. Now."

"Alright, everybody! Turn left!" Several kids turned right, but most just kept going. "No! Wait! Turn in a direction! Don't turn, actually. Stop! Please! Freeze! No more movement! Okay, and now, follow me." Reasonably, Tooth did a brief headcount of the kids after that.

"Continue straight for seven blocks."

"And keep walking straight children, for a couple of blocks." Quieter, "Thanks, phone-minion."

"No problem, Tooth!"

Tooth thought her phone was kind of obnoxious most times, and kind of cute others. Now, it was pretty obnoxious. "One more thing. Record message: This is an automated message from Guardian. We regret to inform you that due to staffing issues, today is going to be a half day. Please, come collect your children by one this afternoon, forty-five minutes from now. Should you not be able to at this pickup time, give us your address and we will drop your kids by your house. Questions, complaints and comments? Please contact Nicholas North at: (212) 883 7234. Have a lovely day!"

Tooth paused for breath. "Stop recording. Send that to everyone in my "2013 Parents and staff" folder, Bunny, Jack and North. Send recorded message and text. Shut yourself off when you're done. Don't talk to me."

Her phone, after several whooshes and beeps and dongs, shuts itself off.

God.

Has Tooth mentioned she loves her phone?

There was silence, before Tooth was turning briskly back to the children. "Step lively, now. We're almost there! And you guys are in luck, because I happen to know where we can get us some quality tooth brushes to use tonight!" Tooth didn't really think that 'step lively' was a thing people said anymore, but she had always liked the phrase and thought it should make a comeback. And she was delighted to see the Safeway across the street.

Dental care was very important, after all.

...


By the time North and Bunny are able to catch up to Tooth and the children, the ice cream is away and Tooth is handing out colored toothbrushes that she'd had her phone have an assistant run out and get.

"Now, ice cream isn't very good for your teeth – all that sugar, you know – so please, remember to brush and don't forget to floss, children! Oh, and look! North and Bunny are here to take you back to Guardian where your parents will be waiting. Well, most likely be waiting. I hope their waiting. We can drop you off if they aren't waiting."

Rapidly moving amongst the children, Tooth begins to lead them back. North, curious, but tactful enough to wait, marches along behind.

Bunnymund simply glares. "The audacity!" He proclaims, looking for somewhere to nail his indignation. "Ya dipstick!" He, after little thought, decides on insults. "What the bloody hell am I doing 'ere?" Buuny finally gets out, dropping the whole indignation thing, mostly because no one seems to be caring.

"Is good. Do not worry. Tooth will tell us soon." North, only half listening, tells Bunny sagely.

Grumbling, Bunny's complaints subside temporarily.

He's aware, he knows, that North doesn't think much of Rise. But not everyone can be a writer, and you needed illustrators and animators for children's movies and books, and Bunny felt like North just didn't understand that.

North had never really understood that, always brushed aside and forgot the illustrators. Not cruelly, or harshly, but with the preoccupied air of somebody with more important things on their mind.

North always had more important things on his mind.

So preoccupied with his thoughts, Bunnymund almost completely failed to notice when they arrived, which, he very well knew, was incredibly unlike him.

Personally, Bunnymund was all for blaming North.

In general, Bunnymund was frequently up to blaming North for most things, if he wasn't too busy blaming Jack.

Tooth flitted over to them nervously. "Have any of you guys seen Jack?"

"Last I see him, he is chasing you. I called him to ask about you, but it went to voicemail. Why? Does Jack need our help?"

"Bloody irresponsible thing. Probably off having a fit somewhere. Now, what was it you needed us for, Tooth?"

Somewhat abruptly, Tooth ducked her head next to theirs. "Shh. Not yet. Wait 'till the children leave. Do you guys have any floss on you? I'm worried about their teeth."

"Their what?" Bunny asks.

"Teeth. We got ice cream."

"Ace idea! Their happy, you're happy, and you don't have to deal with the miserable parents!"

Tooth moves to leave and then turns back towards Bunny. "No! Bunny, I do not want to leave the parents miserable! Oh, they do so much already! And I think, oh I know," Tooth wailed, "I've ruined their teeth for life! They'll have cavities and just think – just think! – of the denture bills!"

Bunny looks at her, exasperated. "Let's get one thing square between us: there's such a thing as too many explanation points."

"What? No! No such thing! And Tooth, you don't worry! You did right thing. I feel it. In my belly!" North demonstratively rubs his belly.

"Look, mate. I'm goin' ta knock explanation points, because they, exclamation points, scream at me to be criticized and on top of that, they are largely unnecessary. North, you're goin' ta defend them, because you're far too much of a fruit loop. I'm not. I'm a knocker. What can I say? Oh, right. Piss off."

"Bunny!" Both Tooth and North seem a little gob smacked at his attitude.

Bunnymund supposes it's a little called for, and elaborates. "I'm tired. No. I'm bloody exhausted. Ya think Guardian is doin' alright, yeah? Well, Rise isn't. Rise is flouderin' and I'm too busy thinkin' a ways ta fix it than ta bother with babyin' you two. So, why dontcha just tell us what's up Tooth, so we can get the hell back to savin' our own damn hides?"

Tooth pulls her head comically away for a second, looking around at all the gathered children and confused and annoyed looking parents. "Not around the children!" she hisses.

Bunnymund desperately wants to mention the explanation points – really, the world would be better off with less of those in general – but bites it back. Things are tense enough. Bunnymund doesn't want to add fuel to the raging forest fire.

Instead, Bunnymund – oh, for the love of, fuck it all – Bunny glances around somewhat bored and settles into think about North some more.

North, while attempting to watch the children, keeps wondering what it is that's making Bunny glare so fiercely at him.

North thinks it must be Frost. The two never did get along.

...

..

.


.

..

...

Dictionary: Secrets

Designed to avoid detection; hidden

Kept from knowledge; unacknowledged

Something divulged to few or shared only among workers within the same craft; trade secret

Synonyms: confidence, enigma, mystery, key, puzzle, strategy, covert, underhand, sneaky, off the books, cloistered, hidden, hushed, intimate, private, concealed, silenced, suppressed, unsaid, clandestine.

Antonyms: common, open, told, shared, obvious, overt.

Guiltily, Tooth looked up from her mobile phone.

Tooth could have said: "Sandy has cancer." She could have broken down crying, and told them that Sandy was dying.

She could have been even more tactless, and yelled it out in front of all the children.

What Tooth did was probably worse than any of that, because despite the horror and the awfulness of any of those statements alone, at least they were forewarned.

At least they'd been prepared, albeit badly, in those scenarios.

Instead, Tooth had, after all the kids were safe at home, solemnly driven them to the hospital. For Tooth, being grave and serious was such rarity that North and Bunny had dared not ask what was up, only thinking and imagining the worst.

When they got to Sandy's bedside, it made sense why.

Sometimes, there wasn't anything to say, because life just happened anyways, no matter how much of it you talked about it happening or why it had happened.

Sometimes.

Once, in a blue bloody moon, you didn't have to speak, because life did it for you.

Those involved call it a tragedy, those watching call it entertainment and the rest don't even know it happened, don't even know life spoke.

And you could say life moves on, but it never really stopped, it rolled through, grabbed a coffee and left without paying as it breezed out the door.

Because if there is anything life really, genuinely needs, it's caffeine.

...


Jack stayed up on the roof for another half hour. Everyone needed to be selfish about something, and right now, Jack was going to hide from the real world in a really high place for a little bit longer.

Eventually, Jack slid, hopped and swung off the roof before it occurred to him that he wasn't technically aware of what hospital Sandy was being kept at. Unfortunately for Jack, but not for, you know, the dying sick people, Jack thought wryly, they were in New York City.

There would never be only one hospital in New York City. There would always be dozens, and Jack didn't have time for dozens.

Despondently dragging his proverbial feet, Jack stares unseeing at his phone for several minutes before realizing that he'd already received a voicemail from Tooth.

It was some desperate thing about staffing issues and clearly addressed to parents.

Jack remembered forgetting about Jamie after he'd fled from Tooth. But, it appeared he wasn't even needed. Jack doesn't much care at the moment about that.

He punches in Tooth's number, and then changes his mind.

Slips the phone in his pocket, and walks away. Pip lives, as much as one can live in a mental asylum, far enough away for Jack to walk there and still be early for their nightly meeting. Taking a step, Jack feels slightly dizzy.

Maybe it would be better if he just stayed here and didn't move again, ever? Because, really, he still had that pounding headache – he'd had it all day and it still felt like North's Russians were trying to remodel his skull.

The only good part of the headache was that it drove out the hunger.

But as much as Jack just wanted to sit here and sleep, Jack owed Pippa. Jack had to go visit her. Jack was going to go visit her. Jack should probably talk to Phil, but every part of Jack, except that small, little childish part still waiting for dead mummy to make it okay rebelled against telling anyone.

His second step felt less dizzy. He'll be fine.

His third step didn't, and Jack finally caved and bought an apple. See? He doesn't need help.

Personally, he thinks it's a little silly the way he feels right now, because Jack's eaten far more in the two weeks he has been working with Jamie than he ever had before. There's a line, between sane and crazy and Jack's trying to toe it more than he ever had before.

In the end, though, sane is not crazy and crazy can't ever be sane and Jack'll always choose Pippa.

He called a cab, and ate the apple painstakingly slowly, watching the clock tick down outside the hospital, waiting for 5:00.

An incorrect assumption of this behavior, oft made by North whenever he could get the kid to eat around him, was that Jack ate the way he ate because of his experiences on the street.

Correctly, they assumed it was because he was always starving and had to make the food last, but that was all anyone ever saw and all anyone ever did about it was attach it to the past.

Eating disorders make people uncomfortable; they're misunderstood and far too easy to hide, but none of that matters because Jack is fine.

Jack is in control, at the very least. He's crazy for Pippa, but besides that, for everyone else, he's fine. He thinks he might have an eating disorder, but he wouldn't quite call it that. He doesn't eat for a reason: Pippa. He could, if he needed to, but Pippa is more important.

Jack's got the power. He's absolutely okay.

He'll always be fine.

He's Jack Frost. And when is Jack Frost not fine?


...

When Jack finally got to visit Pippa, she didn't see him. There were dark circles under her eyes and she was slouched across the bed sobbing.

The doctors told him that they were starting her on a new medication today.

"Take her off! Can't you tell that it's not working? How is that even remotely helpful?"

The tall, African-American man spoke softly to Jack. "It is too early to tell what effect, if any, the new meds are taking on her. We shall know for sure later. I assure you, we are doing our best. But, I do not think your sister has much time left."

That froze Jack. "Wha- what do you mean, 'not much time'? She's in her twenties! How can late twenties be running out of time?"

"It all depends. It is a very complicated situation."

"Yeah? Well, if you don't explain this to me right now, explain what you are doing to my sister and why I'm paying you to not help her, you're going to have another really complicated situation on your hands."

"Jack." The doctor looks pained. He reaches out and places a hand on Jack's back. "You're sister's situation is complicated because it's fairly unique."

Jack's gut twists. His hands start shaking a little bit and he clenches his jaw. "The medication you just gave her though, that's going to work right?"

The doctors lip twist a tad sardonically at the complete 180 in Jack's opinion of Pippa's medications. "Not to kill your hope, but nothing has so far. She's been getting progressively worse – we've had to sedate her a few time – and I only really see her happy when you're here. She's … not taking care of her body, she's throwing herself into wall, and she's depressed. In the end, that's what can kill most psyche patients. Attitude."

"But she's going to be okay?"

"Probably not. I'm sorry Jack Frost. Visiting hours are over." There's a randomly loud bang.

And the doctor whose name Jack never learned in hundreds of visits, gives him a slight nudge to the exit.

Numbly, thinking all the wrong things and twisting everything up in his mind, Jack walks towards the exit.

Nurse Something glares at Doctor Something Else and follows, at a light jog, after Jack's retreating figure.

Jack, due to an innate gracefulness – Pippa always used to tease him and say that he was going to get them rich in the ballet – and despite his numbness, seems to float down the steps.

He only stumbles once, when he reaches the bottom before dully acknowledging that there are no more steps.

"Wait! Wait!" A slightly breathless, vaguely plump, and very voluptuous young nurse grabs his shoulder. She's got short hair dyed multiple colors and eerily familiar eye make-up.

"Jack? Jack Frost?" The young woman blushes and giggles. She ducks her head bashfully and impulsively sticks out her hand. "I mean, I'm Avery."

There's a beat.

Jack turns with a wide, half smile on his face, nervously rubbing the back of his head. "Is this the part where I ask you how you're doing? Because you've already done the introductions for both of us so I'm a little lost here."

Avery smiles again, albeit shyly. "Sorry about that! But, it's just, you're Jack Frost."

Jack makes a sort of what-can-you-say gesture. "And you're Avery …"

"Toothiana's sister. I mean, technically, foster sister, but family's more than blood, am I right? I'm right. I mean, that tends to be –"

"Basically, you're like … like a baby Tooth!"

"Yes. No. Sort of. That's one way of putting it."

"The more you talk, Babytooth, the more I see the resemblance."

"Oh. We're not … actually, you know, genetically related or anything. We're foster sis … but I already said that, and maybe you don't even care – you probably don't even care – and Tooth would absolutely kill me and –"

Doctor Something pokes his head out the door to yell at Babytooth. "Gods sake, bird –"

"It's Avery!" Babytooth yells back at the strict Doctor Something.

"Isn't that a type of bird?" He calls back.

"No, sir, it is not! Now sir, what did you want?" Avery, still screaming, cringes and throws in one more "Sir!" to make it more professional.

"Get back to work." The doctor's silhouette fades as the hospital backdoor closes.

"Yes sir!" Tooth leans towards where the doctor used to be, standing on her tiptoes. "I mean, in a minute sir!"

She doesn't get a response from Doctor Bossy –Stick –Up-His-Ass, but she does get one from Jack, which is far better and much more fun.

"It doesn't actually help, y'know."

"What?"

"Standing on your toes. Babytooth, you are short. This is an unfortunate life fact that you are definitely going to have to live with, but the first part on the hard, long, but not tall, never tall," Jack's barely holding back a smirk now, "journey of life is to accept that.

"We haven't known each other long, but I'm there for you. Now, repeat after me: I am a short person. Pretending to be tall doesn't help. Neither do heals and tipytoes."

"Jack Frost! You most certainly exactly how my sister – fo – never mind, I don't care – described you!"

"Devilishly handsome? Impishly charming? Perfection on ice?"

Babytooth is giggling at this point. "On ice? Why on ice?"

"Things always seem better on ice. And not for the reason you think. I mean, before you're on the ice, you think you've got problems. Then you're on ice, and you know you've got problems. Like, if you're in one of those Disney things on ice, you're on ice problem is that you are about to be part of an on ice Disney production. And that's far worse than any other problem you could possibly have."

"What's so bad –"

"You've just officially lost you're dignity. Plus, you could also be on a frozen lake, but then it cracks. I mean, sure, you had problems before, but now you're dead. Poof! No problems! And things instantly seem better."

Babytooth frowns at that, but before she can speak, Jack does, with a laugh. "No, no. They'll be no psychoanalyzing me tonight, little miss Babytooth the bird." Babytooth opens her mouth again. "And," Jack throws in an incentive, "I won't mention the inappropriate crush you've got on Doctor Uptight."

"He's not that up – and crush? Crush is such a … weak word. Am I right? No need to ask. I know I am."

"Sure you're not related to Tooth?" And how – why – did you trust me not to tell your boss you're in love with him? Jack doesn't ask that, but Babytooth reads it off his face nonetheless.

"Easy. He hates you. You can tell him whatever, but he won't believe you. Hell, he'd hardly hear you, he'd be too busy hating you."

"He hates me? You can do better. Move on, Babytooth. Now is the time!"

Babytooth laughs. "What about you? Got anyone special in your life?"

"That was fast."

Babytooth lightly punches his arm. "Shut up. I'm not hitting on you."

"That was crushing. Really. I'm crushed."

Doctor Something interrupts them again. "Bird!"

"Sir?"

"Why aren't you working?"

"I will be right now sir! Er, in a minute, in reality sir. Er, another minute that is. But in the mystical wish-land, I'll be working yesterday. Sir!"

"Good." Slam.

Babytooth turns towards Jack. "Um, sorry. I've got to go. And, your number?" Jack scrawls something down on Babytooth's professional shrink scrawling pad. "Text me. I don't do calls. And I'm sorry about your sister."

"It's cool. She's going to pull through. Just a rough patch, yeah?" Jack smiles a patchwork smile and turns to leave.

Jack's taken a few steps when he hears a dull thud, right before Babytooth's high pitched, "Heads!"

Jack turns around and looks at the ground. He sees a stick. "It's a stick." Jack raises an eyebrow.

"It's a magical stick."

Jack puts his left eyebrow back down and raises his right.

"Okay. You're right. It's not magical. But it's mine – it's from when I ran away from home. I've stopped running, and I know you said no psychoanalyzing, but I don't think you have."

There was a silence after that.

"Thanks. I've always wanted a stick. How could you know?" It's not like he'd recently been looking for a good walking stick with Jamie and then telling Tooth about it so that Tooth could accidently slip it in during a long overdue conversation with her foster sister because that would be creepy and borderline stalker.

"I'll throw another one at you, don't see if I won't!"

Laughing, Jack walks away. It's the first time Jack's ever walked away from Pippa's hospital laughing. He turns back.

"Oh, and Babytooth?"

"Mhm," she replied, half way through the door. "Trying to gaze lovestruck at my boss, if you don't mind."

"… Thanks."


...

Jack went to see Sandy after that. It was only six-thirty, after all, and Jack really only came to apologize. "I'm sorry," he said. "I wasn't there." And then: "Wish I could have done something."

Sandy doesn't have his paper and pencil and can't reply. Instead, he smiles in a way that is too understanding and sad.

Jack leaves, after that.



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