It hurts. Of course it hurts. Everything hurts, but Jack can't do anything about it. He feels Baby Tooth in his pouch, shivering, only getting more and more chilled as she stays with him. His ribs don't scream as much as groan pitifully when he moves.

He'd forgotten, it's been so long since he has been hurt, how much pain comes from being thrown into something, especially if that something is a rough, jagged stone cliff-face. It hurts even more when you fall twenty or so feet to the bottom of that cliff.

Jack looks around. He is at the bottom of a deep crevice in the mountainside. There is no wind to fly him away, to carry him off like a snowflake, and with his staff broken he couldn't fly anyway. He closes his eyes in defeat. They are going to die here and others will never know what happened to him or Baby Tooth. He feels the cold in a way he hasn't felt in centuries and unconsciously curls up. His ribs and back whimper in protest, but he doesn't care anymore. He will die here. Baby Tooth will die here.

Then he hears a voice. He knows that voice. He feels something give a pulse of something in his hoodie pouch and looks down. Baby Tooth pushes out the tube with his baby teeth.

Jack! I'm scared!

Believe in me.

Hopscotch, like we play every day.


He stops feeling cold that very moment. He actually feels an almost-burn in the cockles of his soul. He's not sure what it means, but he is sure that if does die, then he's going to die trying.

Jack grabs the two pieces of his staff and pushes them together, hoping and wishing with his strength. Baby Tooth sits on his shoulder and offers small trills of support. The trills get softer and more comforting when his hoping fails.

The burn, determination, he realizes, grows into an inferno. He jams the ends of his staff together. He does not wish the two to bond this time. He is a Childhood Guardian, but he is not a child and wishing won't work for him. He uses the sheer will and fire that comes from years upon years of living.

Jack faces the wall and looks up. It's easily a twenty foot drop from the top, with rough edges jutting out. They will make good handholds, but he should probably avoid falling over again them at any cost. His various injuries agree and register their dissatisfaction with him once more. Jack ignores them, and sends a wave of iced air to numb them; to shut them up.

He nudges Baby Tooth into his collar, out of harm's way. He has some difficulty managing his staff, but manages to catch it inside his hoodie so it slings across his back. It's an awkward position; he's not had to climb since he rose from the pond anyway and he's just added a good eight pounds onto his back.

Jack reaches for the nearest handhold, a slim wrinkly ledge in the rock-face. Baby Tooth quivers from her seat on his left collarbone. He grips the wrinkle and pulls. Then he reaches out for the next one. He has eighteen feet until he's to the top and then it's only a short way to the bed-over-the-hole. Jack had fifteen feet to go. Now there are five.

There are two handholds left when he slips.

Jack doesn't remember falling. He remembers slipping, how his shoulder ached and his fingers burned. He remembers Baby Tooth squealing. He remembers waking up. The shadows in the crevice are only marginally longer, most wouldn't even have noticed, but Jack has spent centuries learning to tell time by the sun's movement. His shoulder hurts worse than before. Now it's more of a throbbing pain than an aching one. Jack looks at his fingers. They're scraped and bloody.

He almost gives up, his fight spent. Then he remembers. He remembers the look on Tooth's face when her feathers began to fall out. He remembers how proud North gave no thought into proclaiming Easter the more important holiday, just to boost everyone's spirits. He remembers Bunny forgiving him for some of the freak freezes on Easter Sundays. He remembers Sandy.

He remembers the children he's seen over the years and remembers Pitch's plan: a world made of senseless fear.

Jack gets up again.

He takes the first handhold. North needs me. He pulls up to the second. Bunny needs me. He finds a third. Tooth needs me. He's gone up ten feet. Sandy would be disappointed if I didn't try. He's gone fifteen. Sophie needs me. He has three feet to go. Jamie needs me. He has one handhold left. Jack stretches as far as he can, he stretches his fingers, he stretches his back, and he stretches every part of him until it hurts even the uninjured bits. A bit of wind swirls over the lip of the cliff. Jack nearly falls again, wobbles for a good ten seconds, but catches the handhold in the end.

Jack falls in a heap on the snow. He hurts. He hurts and he's bleeding frozen blood, but he has work to do. He has work to do, so he drags his bones up from the ground. He wipes the blood away into the cool washcloth that is the snow. He calls for cold air to numb him, only staying away from Baby Tooth's perch. He puts on a brave face and lets the wind carry him away.

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