The Art of Being Okay

Chapter 9

Love by Anonymous

Love isn't a poem,

Because

Poems are too poetic,

Too well phrased

Each and every little line

Fits

Perfectly.

.

Love isn't a poem because poems are beautiful,

And Idealistic

And far too angsty.

Poems have a reason,

And love just is.

.

Love isn't a poem,

Love is a mess.

Love is emotional where poetry can't ever be

Because love is real and poems are words.

Love isn't a poem,

It is just

oceans of purposeless meaning.

-Author: Unknown


Jack is smiling when he reads the poem because he didn't know what else to do. He had completely forgotten about the scrap of paper he'd stuck in his hoodie pocket on Friday.

At the time, when Babytooth first asked him to take a look at it, Jack had told her he'd do it later in a rush of words; it was a promise he'd forgotten, until now. Jack cursed himself, wishing for - a better memory, or for him to just stop letting people down.

He hated the idea of letting Babytooth down, even if she didn't know it, because his entire life was an effort not to let Pippa down and he thought it seemed so much easier for everyone else to be there and support their siblings.

It's even worse, because it seemed to be happening more and more recently, the memory thing and the letting other's down thing, things just slipping Jack's mind, water through mesh. Perhaps, Jack thought, it was because he had never really had things he needed to remember before and he simply wasn't used to it.

But then, a small part of him wants to say, you'd be getting better, not worse. A mind full of holes, Jack thinks and he lets the objection float away.

He and Babytooth, they'd been talking about love when she'd given him the poem. I mean, that was why she gave it to him.

The two of them were chatting outside the hospital while Jack was waiting for Pippa during Babytooth's break. Somehow, the conversation got around to Doctor Whatever - the hot one Babytooth worked with, the one she loooved.

"So, you're not actually kidding when you say you love him?"

"No," Babytooth had replied simply.

Jack looked back at her, taken aback. "And what? Does he love you? Are you caught in the middle of a bad soap? Are you pregnant with someone else's child? Is he pregnant with someone else's child?"

Babytooth merely stared at Jack as if he was barking mad, eyebrows furrowed and eyes wide as she nodded carefully and slowly at him. Her mouth crept up in a smile, though, almost against her will.

This wasn't a new look for Jack to receive. He called it the Crazy Child Caution Look, but it didn't make sense because he was almost certain it was Babytooth being the weird one here and not him.

Sighing, Babytooth had berated him. "Don't be ridiculous. He doesn't even know my name."

"Have you guys even talked?"

"Of course! About work. Once."

"Is this a thing now? You just fall in love with random dude you don't even know?" Jack gets it, he really does, he kind of sounds like he is losing his shit right now. For a good reason: he is. Because: what the hell? What the hell, Babtooth? What the hell?

There Babytooth is, falling in love with someone she doesn't even know and while Jack is still having trouble accepting that he likes Sandy. It's a switch and Jack isn't going to delve into why well adjusted, emotionally mature people make him feel a little uncomfortable.

Babytooth paused at that, opened her mouth, closed it, flapped it around a bit and eventually settled on glaring defensively at Jack. "Ever hear of love at first sight?"

Its Jack's eyebrow's turn (not Jack's turn, but his eyebrow's, which has a mind of its own and operates seemingly autonomously of Jack's better wishes) but instead of furrowing and squiggling together or any of that shit, Jack's eyebrows flinch up his head. "Ever heard of a chick flick?" There's an awkward laugh with the joke, but the words don't sound right anyways. They're tight with controlled emotional, as opposed to Jack's usual apathetic mocking.

He had to clear his throat, half way through, too, right between "a" and "chick flick".

He thinks, after they drive themselves outwards and into the world that they sound cruel, too, a man who isn't Jack and who doesn't know Babytooth speaking from a half forgotten script while Jack takes the back row to avoid touching the splatters.

But: It doesn't make sense. But: Jack's never been in love.

He wondered if these two thoughts were related.

Jack shoved that thought violently to the back of his brain before they could do too much damage; hopefully, they'd stave back there, slowly, ironically, without too much fuss. Jack's head ached enough as it was – throbbed, on a bad day, his brain pulsing with his heart, nerves all over his body tight and bothersome.

"Okay, wrong approach, clearly." Babytooth, Jack assumes, had been so used to the skeptics that that she had several conversation starters, approaches and logic lines, all to get to the one theoretical explanation. In other words, she was prepared.

"Love," Babytooth went on, flapping her arms here and there, "Is like a dog whistle strapped to a firecracker."

Jack, who hadn't known what to expect but knew it wasn't ever going to be that, laughs, startled and incredulous, in short little breaths. Babytooth, maturely, ignored this, in favor of explaining her metaphor. "I don't get it when people say, 'that's someone I could fall in love with one day'."

Excuse me. Taking the long way to explain her metaphor. She paused after that statement, seeing Jack's confused face. "We'll get back to the dog whistle strapped to a firecracker, don't worry," she reassures him.

That really wasn't something Jack was worried about or needed reassurance over, but he wasn't here to judge.

Well. Okay, maybe he was here to judge a little. A lot. Same difference.

"Anyway, I don't get when people say 'oh, I could learn to love you'. It's not like that. You don't do that. Love isn't something you can chose, isn't a ball of thread you can toss out and follow to a cute guy, a kid, a dog and a white picket fence."

Jack didn't see the connection to dog whistles and firecrackers yet, but Babytooth was getting there. "You don't get to choose who you fall in love with, only if and how you develop a relationship with them after you've fallen in love. Because I believe that someone's eyes are the gateways to their soul and once you see their soul, two things happen. Either that fireworks go off and the dog whistle starts it's high pitched whine – except, you're the only dog that can hear it and it's not actually a dog whistle, it's more like a you whistle – or they don't.

"And yeah, that right there, once your personalized dog whistle goes off, that's when you get the choice. And most times, you won't even know. It's a dog whistle for your unconscious after that it's up to the unconscious to grab your conscious' attention.

"Sometimes, that won't work, even if your unconscious is wearing tight, neon shirts in a hot body, jumping up and down around your dick.

"It'll want you, this crazy unconscious, always want to consciously love them. 'Falling in love'" Babytooth made air quotes around the phrase, "is always about the conscious, because the unconscious is already there. I've been in love a lot, and sometimes you convince yourself you fall out of love because there are shinier souls and sometimes you look in their eyes without the fireworks and you know something has changed. They or you or something but the love doesn't, can't won't.

"Love is always there. It's just this thing that we can't always tap into consciously and that's what relationships are. Building up to the conscious touching of souls. That's what falling in love is."

Babytooth looked intensely into his eyes for a couple of seconds before dragging his face even closer for a nostril flare and several more seconds of charged staring.

Eventually, she let go and dropped his face.

"I don't think I'm in love with you," she causally informed him. "But I could be wrong. Anyway, I've got to go, my shifts starting. Read this. It's what got me thinking on love and souls and all that." Babytooth shoves a tiny piece of paper at him and hurries off.

Regaining his senses, Jack called after her, "So, what about soulmates?"

"Soulmates are stupid." Jack laughed then, too, echoing Babytooth's own giggles back at her.

Jack had promptly forgotten the whole thing, trying to ignoring the way the world seemed to pound and sway around him and shoved the paper into his hoodie pocket.

He had forgotten about it until blearily waking up alone in a bed that would always be too big for him. Jack's thinking about eating breakfast and thinking about just not even bothering when his hands brush the poem in his pocket.

Stretching, Jack reads it for the first time and smiles as he reaches the end because he doesn't know what else to do.

The second time he reads it, in the alley outside of Guardian, Jack smiles (still and again) and (still and again) doesn't know what else to do.

...


It's not, Jack reflected nervously on his way to work – and he still got giddy jitters when he thought about that one – that Jack didn't genuinely love working – there they are again – at Guardian.

The place was great. He got to see North and his agent every day, and everyone else seemed moderately cool to crazy fun to annoy (Bunny).

Jack just doesn't like working at Guardian now. No one is at their best right now. There is to be a lot of forgiving and forgetting going on today, probably. It was hard to care when no one else seemed to and easy to blend in when everything else was completely fucked and it wasn't just you.

He fought with Tooth, he knows, and he thinks she apologize. Or something. He supposes he forgives her, because he doesn't feel angry anymore. He doesn't feel much though. Maybe a little numb, maybe really cold even on hot days with a jacket but not much else. He grins, trying to shake off the dark clouds that obviously want to tell him something and ignoring the way shaking his head was the equivalent of tossing a hive of psychotic wasps around inside his skull.

He looks down at his hands and pretends things about them too, when they bruise when he tries opening doors or when they shake if he doesn't keep them steady against a walking stick.

He ignores the way he needs a walking stick, ignore the way everything seems to ache when he sleeps and ache when he moves and his bones seemed to have acquired a permanent chill and when he moves he things he feels them grating against each other.

Jack is good at ignoring the signs. He's had practice.

Jack stops shaking his head and grins harder. That was a good line. The one about the wasps. He should probably write it down. Usually, he'd be able to remember it. That's kind of how he (had to) managed to write on the streets.

He'd keep his story in his head until they could either afford paper, or until he couldn't anymore. When he couldn't keep things straight, he'd go dig around in recycling bins for pieces of cardboard to write on.

Thus, normally, Jack might have cared a bit more about his declining short term memory.

But it was summer and it was early and he's exhausted, despite getting ten hours of sleep and everything was falling to shit anyways and there wasn't much left in Jack that could spare energy to care.

Normally, that would have been a warning bell.

So preoccupied in his thoughts and only half blind, Jack discovered that Babytooth had been looking for him by walking into her at the front of Guardian.

Instantly, the black clouds covered his mind again and Jack remembered everything that happened and what that giant pit of anxiety was doing in his stomach.

"Jack …"

Jack hesitates, thinking of something to say. Jack blames his difficulty in thinking of one on the suddenness of the situation. Eventually he settles on: "I read your poem."

"It's not mine, mine," Babytooth can't resist pointing out. There is a brief pause before she continues, after noticing that she is waiting for Jack's snappy comment that doesn't come. "And I need to talk to you. And – and I really need to ask you something, and I think you need help."

Jack's jaw tightens as mini lightning bolts of fear – fear-bolts – race through him. "Not now, Avery." He brushes past her into Guardian.

"Jack, wait!" Babytooth follows him.

"Avery?"

"Not now, Tooth!" Babytooth hollers back at her sister from across the room. Jack's already half way up, probably from running, but he's stopping to catch his breath.

"Jack!" Babytooth catches up to him easily, in the end. She ran the 800m on her high school track team for four years and she was good. Fuck, was she good. Who da man? Babytooth restrained herself from asking out loud, barely. Not the time.

Jack's wheezing is almost nonexistent but he's leaning against the railing and all traces of Babytooth's previous humor vanish at the sight.

Babytooth lowers her voice. "Do you have any kind of eating disorder, Jack?" Babytooth is a sledgehammer, a blunt tool, and she's worried and exhausted and she's been up all night crying and she's not going to beat around the bush.

Jack pushes Babytooth backwards. "What is wrong with you?" He laughs coldly. "I am fine. I'm not some fucking teen girl or some bullied high school kid. Why don't you people get that? Got on fine for years without anyone, don't you see? Don't you get it? I'm fine! I don't need you – any of you, and I never have! Because I'm fine!" Jack shouts the last bit, high and loud and a little bit hysterical.

His face should look flushed but instead it looks kind of ashen and Babytooth is really glad about her not-found-by-stalking-at-all stick that she'd tossed Jack because he's slumping back onto it (like he needs it, she realizes with a dawning sort of horror).

Babytooth wants to say more, but Jack's phone bursts out obnoxiously into song. Jack turns away to answer it.

Babytooth leans over and snatches the phone right out of his hands.

The look of desperation on his face almost convinces her to give it back but then the air whispers control and the feeling of desperation coursing through her body vastly eclipses the feelings swirling over his features. "We're talking about this. We're talking about this, and then you're talking to other people about this. Because last time this happened, I didn't say shit."

Babytooth pauses and swallows and she feels the tears forming. "And do you know what?"

"I'm sure you're going to tell me," Jack interrupted, making a grab at his phone. He misses and Babytooth barely even has to try.

"She died. Alright? I thought … I guessed … I mean … you know. And then, she was dead. Hospitalized for a while. Eventually, dead. I still feel guilty."

"So what? I'm your feel better project? I don't need that, and I don't need your pretend problems. I've got work to do now, anyway. Let it go, Ba- Avery. You're being ridiculous again." With that last taunt, Jack yanks his phone from Babytooth's grasp and walks away.

Flipping open his phone, Jack curses when he noticed that he has missed Jamie's call.

He redials.

"Hey, kid!"

"Jack!" Jamie's voice sounds different over the phone. More … drilling. "I can't come to the program thing anymore." His voice dips. It sounds nice. "Kat's kind of mad at me and she won't watch Sophie –"

"Wait a second here," woah. Dizzy. "Your sister, Sophie?" Jack isn't quite aware of when he started messaging his temples. "Your younger sister, Sophie?"

Jamie, because he knew Jack, spoke in that fearful, hesitant tone adopted by all corrupted goody-two-shoes when he confirmed this to be the Sophie to which he was referring.

Revenge, Jack thought. "Bunnymund is out of work right now," is what he said. "He could swing by,"

Jamie, thankfully, didn't comment on the obscene amount of gleefulness in Jack's voice. He was too scared.

...


...

WebMD: Anorexia Nervosa: Causes and Effects

Causes: Despite common opinions, anorexia nervosa, commonly known as anorexia, is not necessarily about weight or food; it is about control. Often due to various pressures, stresses, a desire to be perfect, or a lack of control in your life, anorexia replaces your negative emotional responses. You restrict your eating patterns due to a variety of underlining psychological issues. Your life and self-esteem revolve around diet and weight. Eventually, without getting help, anorexia is fatal.

Symptoms: The most common physical symptoms of anorexia include: extreme thinness or weight loss, growing a fine layer of hair all over your body, depression, lack of energy, yellowing skin, memory problems specifically with short term memory and headaches or dizziness. Mental tips off or symptoms may include: eating rituals such as not eating in public, lying about eating habits and distorted body image.

Effects: Anorexia nervosa affects all of the body, starting with the changing brain chemistry and psychological reasoning behind developing the eating disorder. From there, it also affects memory and mood. While your hair will get thin and brittle, skin will yellow and bruise easily. Internally, muscles and joints are weakened while anemia and other blood pressure issues are linked to anorexia. Further, heart palpitations, a lowered heartbeat, and even a heart attack can result from this deadly disease.

...


...

It's torn around the edges, – perhaps a nervous tick from the owner – wrinkles everywhere and once Bunnymund has finished skimming the dumb sheet of paper he'd found on a chair in the reception lounge of, he tossed it with a grumble about idiots and littering.

Elsewhere, Babytooth is too shaken up to notice her information print out is gone.

Continuing on his way, Bunnymund is forced to pause as his phone bursts into a bloody U2 song. Regardless of what Sandy seemed so determined to believe, U2 was not an Australian band. It was an English band.

And no, Sandy, English people are not the civilized version of Australian people, they're the wuss version.

It had been Bunnymund's ringtone for a while; he never really bothered to change it. Mostly this was due to Bunnymund and electronics having a working relationship. That is, the relationship still needed a mountain, a mole hill and a damn fine boob job before things would even begin to work themselves out.

He flipped the thing open.

"G'day mate."

"Bunny! Glad to chat with you!"

Bunnymund, meanwhile, sighs. "Whadda ya want?"

"You are, shall we say, out of work?"

"Whadda ya want, Jack?"

"I want nothing! I have job for you – nice, easy job. No tricks, just work."

"Really? Crikey, feels like it has been awhile. Is this what unemployment feels like? It doesn't suit. Suicide rates are lookin' more believable buy the second."

"… couple of words from you, and I'm already regretting my decision."

"That's probably 'cause ya make dumbass decisions."

"Getting you a job is a 'dumbass decision?" Bunnymund scowled. Jack, talking to him on a phone, took no notice. If he had exerted the time or effort, he probably could have guessed Bunnymund was scowling. However, Jack neither cared nor had the energy and, as such, he simply steamrolled on. "Anyway, I've got a job for you. Do you want it?"

"I'll take it," Bunnymund sighs, as though he was the one doing to favor.

"Jamie Bennett's house. For the entirety of the Guardian program."

Jack hangs up before Bunnymund can ask what job it was that he would be doing.


...

Bunnymund shows up at Jamie Bennett's house, fearful because it was Jack, and confused, because it was Jack.

When he knocks on the door and is greeted by harried looking Ms. Bennett with a handful of child, because Bunnymund was smart, the confusion fell away to straight up fear.

However, as Ms. Bennett begins to list numbers and emergency situations and such, a smirk drifts across his face.

Bunnymund had helped out in his mom's daycare multiple times before. It was simple: you just gave the little ankle bitters a game or two and some sugar, and you were golden.

It is three hours after the food experiment – that Bunnymund still hadn't finished cleaning up and it was better not to ask – and Bunnymund is finally learning the concept of a sugar rush. Kids never stayed that long in day care, and oh god, is that what they had been sending back to the busy, exhausted parents?

Apparently it was.

Also apparent is Bunnymund's own inability to babysit a child and how much this job is going to suck. That, he admitted, was probably Jack's main motivation for trying – for successfully – corralling Bunnymund to work with children. Sure, Bunnymund's job was technically working with children, but he was far too busy with spreadsheet and bills and fundraising to spend more than an hour or two with the kids a week.

Bunnymund used to mentor one kid, until about five years ago when things just got too hectic. It's not like you forget how to hang around kids, Bunnymund had thought.

Kids have got to be like that bloody bicycle that Bunnymund had never gotten around to learning how to ride.

Currently, he was standing the in Bennett's wooden patio, underneath a broken umbrella stand in the corner and begging Sophie through the glass to let him back in.

Sophie was just giggling madly.

Bunnymund couldn't call Jack, because that would be admitting defeat and Tooth was a woman and therefore had instinctual mothering techniques.

Not that he'd ever tell her that because, you know, Tooth was kind of terrifying and that sounded a bit sexist.

But Bunnymund figured you couldn't bleed potential babies out once a month and not develop a degree of understanding and spiritual connect.

Never mind that said potential child was just a cell – half of a cell, technically.

Regardless. Spiritual connect made.

Bunnymund called Tooth and she picked up on the second ring.

"Jamie? What's up? Are you alright? Do you need me to get Jack?" Tooth's kind voice bombarded Bunnymund with questions.

Bunnymund hung up. Very suave, he thought. James bloody Bond. Or, M, really, because Bunnymund was the one giving the orders. He considered, briefly, the pros and cons of calling Tooth back and informing her that she was the James Bond to his M, but discarded it.

Tooth would probably just warn him about the teeth-damaging sugar content of shaken vodka martini's or. Or laugh at him, Bunnymund supposed.

He kept right on thinking that, up until the point where Tooth showed up.

Bouncy as always, Tooth hops out of the cab (Bunny lasted five minutes before his concern for Sophie took over his feelings of mortification), braids flopping everywhere. She smiles sweetly at Bunnymund. "Right, so what are we going to be doing here?"

Bunnymund points at the house. "Babysitting."

Instantly, Tooth's entire demeanor changes: her eye's narrow, her mouth shrinks as her lips press tightly together, and her nostrils flare as she takes a deep, irritated, breath.

"Do I look like a babysitter to you?" She enquires, dangerously normally.

Bunnymund tells himself that he is not scared of Tooth. As such, he rolls his eyes. "No, ya don't even look like a high school student." He turns back to the door in time to see Sophie run into a different room. Gruffly, he flips back around to Tooth. "Look, I've been a right dill and gotten m'self locked out of 'ere. There's a kid runnin' loose, you if ya don't mind, Toothie?"

At the words locked out, Tooth's entire expression changes to one of abstract horror and you can almost see the gears in her head churning out a responsibility lecture.

Truthfully, Bunnymund is a bit surprised that she manages to push past that and move straight into save the kid mode.

"C'mon, Tooth. I called you 'cause you'd be the most motherly." Bunnymund consoled again.

Tooth's indecisive face melted into one of approval. "I try." She flounced up to the glass door. The door shaped windows. Whatever they were called in polite society, Tooth flounced up to them in such a way that clearly demonstrated she did not know the proper name of the glass-door-windows and had never even desired to be a part of polite society in her life.

"Sophie!" Tooth calls out to the young girl.

Curious about the new arrival, Sophie wanders back to the door. She gargles at Tooth.

"I'm Toothiana! It'd love to meet you. Why don't you let me in, sweetheart?"

Sophie looks Tooth up and down. She frowns. "No. Stranger danger!" She sing-songs at Tooth through the glass.

Briefly, Tooth curses the whole commercial campaign. Immediately after, she regrets thinking that and instead turns her attention to the apparent thinness of the glass windows. She could easily break through, she thinks.

"But I'm not a stranger! I know you're brother, Jamie."

"No hop-hop. 'pose to listen t'mommy."

That's it. Tooth is looking for a stab-y looking rock. And she turns around and wanders off to do just that when Bunnymund snatches at her wrist. "Oi! What the 'ell do ya think you're doin'?"

Tooth replies that she thinks it should be perfectly obvious – she's going to break in.

"What? Why?"

"Look," Tooth explains, seeing how her behavior might appear slightly erratic. "I'm worried the kid is going to kill herself. Right now, the importance is her safety not the safety of the glass."

Tooth had a slightly crazed, sleep deprived point and they needed a win. Still, Bunnymund couldn't help but hope they weren't so far gone that they didn't need vandalism charges to gain that win.

"Let's think. Wait a second 'ere Toothie. Let me talk to the kiddo."

Bunnymund approached the door. "Soph? Sophie? I'm Aster. Aster Bunnymund. Remember?"

"Bunny!" Bunnymund rolls his eyes. "Hop, hop?"

"Sure."

"Hop!"

Bunnymund hops. "Right, right. Calm your … overexcited body parts, eh, mate? I'm safe. Now, come on, let me in kid."

"Funny!"

"Soph, let me in right now!"

The two glare at each other through the door. "We can paint pictures? Just open up, Sophie."

"Paint! Paint's fun! Let's paint!"

"Alright, now open the door."

Finally, Sophie consented and the latch was unlocked. Bunnymund looked at his watch and, seeing he still had four hours of babysitting left, and groaned loudly.

Maybe Tooth would do it for him. However, when Sophie took one look at Tooth and ran crying into her mom's room, Bunnymund regretfully discards that idea.

"Ay, thanks for the help, Toothie. Now, Sohpie …" Bunnymund's voice trails off while Tooth fumes.

The sheer nerve of Bunnymund! She was trying to be a good friend, really trying, but it obviously wasn't enough - she had dropped everything to help here, for babysitting of all things, and Bunnymund just dismissed her like that.

Tooth actually felt a little bad about how she had treated her sister, Avery. Honestly, she had been completely surprised when she had ran into Avery on her way to earth.

It's not that she wouldn't love a moment to catch up with her sister, but she hadn't seen Avery again, after the first time when Avery dismissed her to run up the stairs, until right before she had to leave to help Bunnymund. She had been in the process of grabbing up her things and walking out the door when a hand had grabbed her shoulder and twisted.

"Tooth, I … I really think I need to talk to you. Now."

Barely hesitating to glance at her sister, still a little miffed, Tooth had taken a somewhat perverse pleasure in repeating Avery's earlier word's back at her.

"Not now, Avery. I've got to run."

Half way out the door already, Tooth didn't hear or care about Avery's call to please wait, for god's sake, it's important.


...

Jamie, meanwhile, clueless to the casual chaos in his home, is staring at a blank screen, not really talking to Jack. Jack's not really talking back and Jamie wishes that he knew what to do next. He'd reached the bit where his characters were just about to be invaded by the evil armies but something was missing.

It's not like the evil armies could just attack them outright or anything.

There had to be build-up! Ignorance! Playful banter!

Or, at least, that was what Jack was so fond of telling him, not that Jack had told him much today.

Jack had, in fact been in a bad mood – or something – all day. He sounded fine on the phone, but when Jamie had shown up, Jack had looked hollow with shock and anger, all pale and shaky.

"Jack?" Jamie asked. "Something wrong?"

A really irritated look crossed over Jack's face. "Nothing is wrong, Jamie."

Jamie shrugs. "Alright. So, what are we doing today?"

Jack blinks. "Today … oh, yeah, it's the program on … on … with Guardian." Jack shook his head. "We're just going to work."

It's missing Jack's usual smile or quip and Jack is still looking off into the distance, clearly unsettled and not paying much attention.

Jamie knows what he wants and he figures that Jack's awesome pretty much all of the time, so Jamie can give him an off day here. It had been three hours, and Jamie felt like, as useful as those hours were, he needed a break.

"Hey, Jack. How about a break?" Jamie was not at all worried about disturbing a brooding Jack, because Jamie didn't tend to put much stock in things like bad moods and tact.

"What?" Jack shook his head, winced, and closed his eyes. "Right, um, sure."

The two of them walk back into the building, slowly. There's a bunch of other children already there, getting lunch and a pretty girl in colorful clothing standing, arms crossed, with a determined frown on her face.

Jack's steps falter and then stiffen when he catches sight of her. Jack fumbles a shaking hand, reaching for Jamie's shoulder, and he mumbles, low and tight, something about the bathroom and disappears.

The pretty girl frowns deeper and starts. For a second, she makes a move like she's going to follow him before sinking back into the wall.

Jamie himself hesitates for a moment, internally debating if he should follow Jack or just get lunch. Ultimately, the call of his stomach coupled with his trust in Jack outweighs his concern and curiosity.

Apparently, the same does not hold true for the pretty girl, because after twenty seconds of leaning against the wall, constipated and clearly torn, she shoves her palms backward into the wall and speeds after Jack.

Oddly enough, the conflicted look doesn't leave her face and is instead joined by the nervous flickering of her eyes and cinching of forehead wrinkles.

Jamie pushes the incident to the back of his mind, to recall after sandwiches.

Like earlier, Babytooth manages to catch up to Jack quickly.

She knows that he wouldn't leave – Jamie's here, but while he cares an incredible amount, sure, it's not a guarantee that he won't bail on Jamie just to get away from her. It's - it's not even rational, most times, Babytooth remembers, remembers how hopeless Katie used to say she felt, remembered how Katie hadn't ever even wanted to get better. It messes you up inside, to where you don't think you even want to be better because you think you're a bad person, a weak person if you get better.

It's - horrible and terrifying and Babytooth doesn't know what she's going to say to Jack but she needs him to know that he's strong if he fights it, he deserves to fight it and win and eat and be happy.

Jack would say he was already happy but - the most broken people were usually the most likely to think they were and the first to reassure and support others who maybe weren't.

Denial was a main phase of an eating disorder and Babytooth was sure that Jack was going to cling to his idea that he was perfectly okay, that illusion where he was still in control of himself, and if he couldn't even let himself see the truth, he definitely wouldn't allow anyone else the opportunity.

Which, Babytooth though, her heart sinking, meant she had little to no chance of actually getting through to him. Her mouth twisted inwards and she fought back a desire to cry.

What was she, seven?

Emotions only barely in check and thoroughly convinced that Jack was in the building, Babytooth resumed her search.

Walking fiercely to the front desk where Tooth was packing up, Babytooth is stricken with the desire to tell someone else. She doesn't want to do this alone, because she's sure that she's right and Tooth, of all people, needs to know.

"Tooth, I … I really need to talk to you. Now." Babytooth spoke carefully, terrified, relieved and hopeful. She might not like talking about feelings to her sister, but Tooth would know what to do. Tooth always knew what to do.

But instead, Tooth barely looks up from her phone, dismissively telling Babytooth, "Not now, Ave," as she pushes past her sister out the door.

"Wait!" Babytooth tries calling after her.

It doesn't look like Tooth hears, but Babytooth doesn't know if Tooth, had she hear, would have taken her seriously enough to turn around.

A wave of irritation swept through Babytooth. It was the best feeling she'd felt all day and that said way fucking more than it was even supposed to.

It occurred to Babytooth, seconds later, that Jack had probably gone to the Men's bathroom to prevent her from following him. That cemented her conclusion that Jack needed help; no friend of hers in their right minds would believe that something as basic as a men's room could humiliate her enough to keep her away.

Babytooth had entered many male bathrooms, with much less fanfare, and for much less legitimate reasons.

Snazzy, knee-high black boots clack as she walks down the bathroom. She twirls the dangly end of her wildly streaked blue and green scarf anxiously as she rushes down the hallway to the ill-used, shitty, first floor restrooms.

"Jack Frost!" She bangs the door. The irritated she felt earlier has flared up into full-grown anger.

Predictably, there's no answer.

Whatever. Babytooth is going to talk to Jack about this, and she is not going to let anyone else down. Babytooth is used to being called flaky or shallow or ridiculous by everyone and she's so tired of it, because she isn't a goddamn child anymore and she is capable of forming lasting relationships.

Her chipped nails push at the door and it opens easily.

Inside the bathroom Babytooth can see the butt-ugly, a-typical blue checked floor design and three stalls. Opposite the three stalls are two urinals and a dirty white sink resides between those.

Which, for the record, was a really disgusting idea. Who wants to wash their hands next to another dude's urinating dick?

Babytooth looked around for Jack. He was off the side, by the second urinal, wiping the shell-shocked look off his face.

"What?" Babytooth questions, somewhat defensive. "You had to know I'd follow you in here. It's just the Men's room."

Jack looks faintly confused as he slowly processes that. "You … I did?"

Babytooth looks at Jack, again, and it's so different from the first time she saw him. Whereas before Jack was no more than 'that' slender, pale kid with the probably arousing bed-head, the large innocent eyes, and the glimmering teeth you always noticed because Jack was always smiling, he didn't look like that anymore.

His eyes were still wide, but deceptively, hiding everything. Tooth loved teeth, and treasured them. Babytooth loved eyes, loved looking into people's eyes, loved describing them, and knew she could see their soul laid bare if she looked hard enough.

But Jack eyes were a barrier, a façade of innocence, and she wondered if anyone ever really knew Jack Frost, ever really saw him laid bare in front of them.

She doubted that, because Jack's eyes were made gorgeous and deep with layers.

Babytooth saw, also, the deep shadows, looking like bruises on his chalky face. Because his face, his skin, it was no longer a quirky pale, but something scary and unhealthy and stretched tightly of hollowed cheekbones and a toothpick neck.

Beyond that, he shook. Slight, and more of a vibration, but Jack's legs wobbled. Babytooth couldn't tell if this was a new development, or if had always been the case and she had been too blinded by the compiling story of Jack Frost, the charming prankster of an author with the mysterious past.

She caught the hand rubbing his temple and saw the lines of pain in his forehead. She saw the chapped lips and the wrists, so thin and white, Babytooth can only assume they're just bone.

She sees Jack sagging against a wall because he's clearly forgotten her stick somewhere – proud, arrogant, Jack – and that hits her, worse than anything,

It takes once glance at Jack and all her rage is gone and her voices trembles like Jack's entire body as she begs him. "You've got to talk to me Jack."

"I-"

"I know you're not okay."

"Mind your own business," Jack snarls. He doesn't attempt to move though. Babytooth foolishly hopes it's because he's willing to listen, instead of the reality that he doesn't think he can.

"Jack, you're my friend. Don't even think about telling me this isn't my business. Let me help you Jack. That's the first step. Come on! Just admit you've got a problem."

"What do you – what do you want from me?" Jack sways a bit after he's managed to force that bit out.

"I want you to stop killing yourself! I want you to talk to me!"

"Don't be ridiculous, Babytooth." Sheer joy at Jack calling her Babytooth again and speaking without stopping overwhelms Babytooth for a moment.

"We are – we are talking." But Jack stumbles over the next sentence and slumps more, grabbing at the air for support and the relief is gone.

"And I'm not …" Jack pauses, pushing himself off the wall with apparent difficulty, " dying! It's –"

Whatever it was, Babytooth never got a chance to find out before blood rushes up to Jack's head at the sudden movement and he sways forwards collapsing in a dead faint on the bathroom floor.

It sounds like a fake, plaster skeleton smashing into a million little bits in an abandoned museum.

It sounds, in other words, like death.



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