Long time, no update! Sorry about that. It seems that along with bringing snowdays and ice skating, Jack also brings wicked bouts of pneumonia. My two week stint in hospital was followed by the horrors of returning to a house that had been left in the hands of a five year old boy, his teenage brother, and their domestically challenged father. Its something of a miracle there was anything salvageable at all. Still, home now!
(Just a small warning: there are some mild elusions to child abuse in this chapter. Also, cliffhanger. Eek!)
Going after Pitch directly was, Jaime started to understand, officially the worst idea he had ever had. And he had had some pretty awful ideas, up to and including the time he'd convinced Jack to help him hunt down Bigfoot.
Turned out the reason no one had seen the big man in so long wasn't because human beings were generally an intolerant species, but because Bigfoot was genuinely the least sociable creature in existence. He'd punched Jack right through the side of a mountain, and it would forever be the one event Jack would bring up when trying to remind Jamie that he should probably leave the adventure planning to someone who had a better track record.
Not that Jack could really talk. He still had to do all his work in Ireland via long distance after he'd upset a leprechaun – or maybe The Leprechaun, Jamie couldn't remember – back during the Irish Potato Famine.
So between the two of them, they didn't exactly have the best credentials for breaking into the lair of an evil madman. Certainly not when the trump card of Jack being, well, Jack, was truly null and void.
The deeper they ventured into Pitch's lair, the more logic slowly started to creep back into Jamie's thinking.
To be fair, there was usually a good reason why ten year olds weren't allowed to plan battles. Or raids. Or have responsibility for anything other than walking their dog, and feeding the goldfish Jack had accidentally killed last spring.
He swore under his breath and Jack's eyebrow rose. "I should wash your mouth out for that." He said mildly, and obviously with no intention of doing such a thing.
Still, it peaked Jamie's curiosity. He wanted to know more about Jack's childhood and had for as long as they had been friends. Before there had been an unspoken agreement between them both not to talk about it, if only because it made Jack sad and neither one of them wanted to admit as much. Now though…
"Did your mom do that to you?" He asked curiously. "Wash your mouth out with soap, I mean?"
"Cloves." Jack grimaced with an expression of supreme distaste.
"I've never tasted them." Jamie admitted. He was glad of the conversation. The darkness around them was oppressing and it was almost impossible to walk quickly for fear of colliding with the walls and stone outcroppings that seemed to appear from nowhere. Jamie wished he had a torch.
Jack seemed to agree. "They are absolutely disgusting." He admitted. "I'd try avoid them."
"Noted. Avoiding cloves, soap and other disgusting gargly things at all costs. I guess it's a good thing my parents have a sense of humor."
Jack smirked at him. "With all this casual rule breaking? I'd say."
"We aren't breaking any rules. We're just sort of…bending them a little." Jamie hedged, using Jack's own words against him.
"There aren't any rules about breaking into the Boogeyman's lair?" Jack didn't believe him.
"I guess there probably should be." Jamie admitted.
Jack smirked at him again, an expression so familiar it made Jamie's heart ache. "I suppose it's more a case of common sense, yes? Sane people don't go looking for trouble."
"We aren't looking for trouble. We are looking for your staff."
"My magical staff." Jack said flatly.
"Just think of the stories you'll have to tell when we find it." Jamie tried to cheer him up. Jack always had the very best stories.
Jack snorted. "And exactly who am I going to tell? Assuming my parents wouldn't just hand me straight over to our Pastor for consorting with demons – not to mention making a home visit to one of them – I can promise you they wouldn't be all that pleased with me." His expression suddenly became wistful. "Though my sister would probably enjoy it." He looked down at Jamie, his eyes soft, "she's about your age."
Jamie knew that. He smiled encouragingly. "My parents wouldn't like it either." He admitted. "This is probably the worst thing I've ever done. My mom would go mental if she knew I was here."
"I'm not sure if it is the worst thing I have ever done…I suppose it depends who you'd ask. It's enough to make my father reach for his belt at any rate." Jack steered Jamie out of the path of a looming boulder and they both had to duck as a swarm of bats swooped low from above. Jack's arms covered Jamie's head as he covered him protectively.
Crouched together, Jamie could feel the heat radiating from Jack's skin. He could also see the goose pimples raised as well. For all that Jack seemed to be ok, Jamie knew he was still sick. Maybe even dangerously so. They had to find his staff, and quickly.
He grabbed Jack's hand and tugged him onwards as soon as the last bat flew overhead. Their footsteps echoed strangely as they pressed deeper into the dark.
It wasn't until the sound of the bats faded completely that Jamie stopped to consider the last words out of Jack's mouth.
"Your dad hits you with his belt?" He might be ten, but he wasn't completely naïve.
Jack frowned at him. "Doesn't yours?"
"Jack, that's awful." For some reason it made Jamie's eyes sting with tears despite the complete nonchalance in Jack's expression.
It only got worse when Jack shrugged. "It's better than the birch, that stings."
Jamie swore again.
This time, Jack didn't scold him. Instead, he tripped over something on the ground and landed with a heavy thud and a yelp of pain.
"Ow." Jamie flailed for his hand in the dark. Their palms collided and he tried to pull Jack back to his feet. "What the –"
Jack felt around in the dark, looking for whatever it was he had tripped over. Bending down, Jamie began to help.
The floor was freezing cold to the touch, and damp.
In fact, it felt a lot like…
Jamie was close enough to see now and fear spiked through him.
Jack had frozen beside him, on his knees, his hands spread out across the black ice beneath them. The expression that twisted his face was nothing short of terror. "No, no, no, no please no…"
"Jack-" Jamie reached for him again, his fear vanishing in the face of Jack's.
Suddenly light flared above them, illuminating a vast cavern. The far reaching walls were black and glittering, the light reflected on the glassy floor beneath them.
Jack's eyes were screwed up tight against his fear. Jamie shook him gently to get his attention. "Look, Jack, the light!"
"All the better to see you with my dears." Pitch's voice echoed in the cave so loudly that the very walls trembled.
The ice fractured.
"Jamie." Jack breathed, grabbing on to Jamie's arm so tightly it hurt.
Jamie had no chance to respond as the ice beneath them shattered and they tumbled into the freezing water below.