ohmigod, I was not expecting such an amazing reaction to this! I love you all, particularly the beautiful reviewers, and I'm going to continue this. It'll probably end up being about five chapters, and fair warning (in case you somehow haven't worked it out already)- this is not going to be a happy story. So, with that in mind, let us proceed!

Jack lay where he had lain for the past... how long had it been? The sun had moved, he knew that much, but summer in Antarctica lasted six months, so all he knew was that it had been less time than that. This little bit of rational thought alone wore him out.

He had been looking for... something. Something important. He knew he had been looking for something important, and it was... his staff? Yes! No. No, it wasn't his staff. It was penguins. Because... because there were penguins in the Antarctic. Apparently. He had yet to see any. Perhaps they were dead too? Like the Schrödinger's guardians. He giggled a little this, proud of the comparison he had thought up back... back when... in the chasm! During the At First! It had been thought up in the chasm, when his thoughts were still... not blurry. Clear? Possibly.

Because penguins were animals, that much he did know. And they had yellow on them. He was sure they had yellow on them. When he squinted his eyes and looked straight at the sun and drummed the rhythm of an old song whose name and most of the words he'd forgotten on his eyelids, he thought that he could see yellow in his mind's eye. Maybe. A little bit. Ice yellow; did that exist? He hoped so, otherwise he had more proof that he was going mad. The fuzziness stole into his mind again, this world disappearing, and when he snatched back the clarity- at least he thought it was clear- his fingertips were covered in blood.

It was his blood, he knew this much, and he didn't want to think about where it came from, because the pain it brought wasn't the good pain of an icicle being sliced through his skin, but a ragged, stinging pain that reminded him that he was not in control. He was never in control.

So instead he thought about the song, and he tried to remember more words, but memories were blurring. He knew it was a song he'd sung a lot, back in the At First. It had words, because a lot of songs did, and it had a tune, because that made it a song, but he didn't know what the tune was. Had no way of hearing a tune. Couldn't even hum anymore, could only gasp, and mustn't gasp because gasping made him panic and panicpanicpanicdon'tpanicpanicdon'tpanic

Happy Birthday!

Those were words! Two words, in fact, from the song he was trying to remember. And knowing that he had done this, that he had remembered those two words, helped stave off the rising breakdown that built in the back of the winter spirit's throat.

Thoughts and challenge kept him sane. There was no stimulus out here, not for a starved and powerless spirit such as he. Starved of food, of touch, of challenge, a mind left to fester in the putrid scars of others' words.

But these words were... different. Better. Had spoken to him in a way that things he knew hadn't. These were words he wanted to remember, rather than the ones that echoed cruelly round his head, unforgettable (and he didn't want to forget them, he didn't want to forget anything, for memories were all he had left), cruel, true, all of them true, all of them right, theyshouldneverhavetrustedmeImakeamessofeverything Iwantedtobealonewhatdoiknowaboutprotectingchildren

Happy birthday. Happy birthday.

The smile felt like it was breaking his face, though to anyone watching it would have been barely noticeable. If he could have, he would have laughed. He knew the words, and they repeated, because everything repeated. He could see that now: everything repeated.

He was alone before, and he was alone again. He'd ruined Easter before and he'd ruined it again. The sun would set for six months, rise for six months, and then set again. The stars were gone now, and next time they were out they would disappear again. The rock was there, and the rock was there, and it was there andthereandthereandthereandthereandthereandthereandthereandthereand

When he once again became aware of being, the sun had moved. Again. He tried to think of when that haze had taken over, but he had no time and no time counter. Just that time had passed. Probably.

But he had been thinking of something important... The Words! The Words he had sung in the At First. He didn't know a lot, but he knew that he missed the At First. In the At First, the hunger didn't hurt so bad, and a corner of him still had... love? Joy? Body fat?

Well, that too.

Hope? Perhaps. The spirit no longer really knew that meant. The belief that things could... change? Become different? For there was different, of that he was sure. There was a time when there was still time, and time consisted of minutes and hours and days, and days had meaning, and children had special days that they would 'hope' for and oh!

Children waiting for the day they feel good. Happy Birthday. Happy Birthday.

The memory crashed over him like waves on a rock, and he knew it. He knew The Words that he had sung in the At First, and everything repeated because he knew them once and he knows them again, and they no longer connect because

All around me are familiar faces. Worn out places. Worn out faces.

So now the spirit is crying, tears streaming from eyes whose colour he thinks are maybe blue, freezing on his cheeks or pooling on the stone beneath his face, and he's not crying because The Words no longer connect, but because he knows them, and this is bad, because he doesn't want to know them, he needs them to keep his thinking not blurry and his mind is starved of stimuli and he's sure there's a colour ice yellow because you mustn't eat the yellow snow, and you mustn't gasp because then you panic and you lose control because you remember and you don't want to remember because then you have nothing to challenge you but memories are all he has left and it's not dark it's light, and it might be cold but he doesn't know anymore since he's a winter spirit, so if it isn't dark and it isn't cold is he still Jack Frost, because if a winter spirit breaks and there's no one around to care then do they exist at all, and why is Schrödinger's guardians so clever he knew in the At First, but now he's lost in the Antarctic, and someone (Pitch?) took the At First away a long time ago, in fact just after he first lost time, and he's been trying to get it back ever since, but memories are all he has and the man in the moon took those and he can feel nails tearing at his face, and of course they're your nails because none of them can see you and then the sky is rent into tiny little pieces as the Earth explodes into a cacophonous roar, and all the winds of the world try to beat him, but they pass through it's just an expression sweetie and he has no control over anything, and his body aches to fly, his hands clutching for a thingum a staff? that has been missing since time went missing, traded for a creature with baby teeth and feathers that were colours like ice yellow and it waseasterhappyeasterhappyeasterruinedbyanexpressio nalonebeforeandaloneagainandanotherstoneandanother stonechildrenwithbabyteethlookingfortime

When things again become non-blurry, he wonders- if time were a thing, how much would have passed?

But dwelling on these things does not keep him he'snotsaneanymorehe'smaduntrustablesowhatdotheyke ephim? and instead he turns his mind to puzzling out why Schrödinger's Guardians were clever in the At First but not clever here. The Words of minutes and months passed are forgotten as a new challenge occupies the spirit, who dregs his memory, and if he were to somehow think of the words Happy Birthday then they wouldn't have meaning at all, except he might know that a birthday is a thing he knew about once. The pattern of remembering and forgetting repeats, just as everything repeats, especially in the Antarctic.

The Nightmare King hadn't bothered to check on the winter spirit in the time that had elapsed. He could feel the child's fear from across the continents, and he didn't want to risk being seen, lest the boy believe he might actually have people who cared about him.

So when he peered out the shadows closest to the prostrate form, he wasn't expecting the lurch his stomach gave. For a few minutes he just stared, taking in the sight before him. He had known that seventy years alone would have some negative consequences, but this... a wide smile spread over his face. Oh, the grand unveiling was going to be excellent.

Jack had worked some things out, and his thoughts were feeling almost not blurry. He knew that a Schrödinger was a box, and because boxes held memories there was obviously a link to Tooth, and therefore the guardians, so that could lead you to Schrödinger's guardians. However, he still couldn't think why this was clever, and he was on the verge of tears with frustration when a sudden movement snapped him out of his reverie.

Long tendrils of black something made out of something else were snaking up from the ground and began to wrap themselves around his arms. He opened his mouth to scream, but of course no sound came out. He raised his arms to struggle, but paused.

Perhaps this was death, finally coming to collect.

He relaxed again, a small smile shattering his chapped lips. Death. He had waited so long for death, and it was finally coming. Perhaps, if it turned out they were dead, he could meet the Schrödinger's guardians in the afterlife. If there is one. He'd given this a lot of thought, and wasn't worried either way. He'd been longing for any way out ever since time broke, and numbness would be gladly accepted. How nice it would be to be numb.

The tendrils lifted him slowly, cradling him, and another something out of something appeared. It looked like a thing that Jack had known once but forced himself to forget (he didn't want to forget, not really, for even in death memories would be all he had). Something bad. Something to fight. He was gently deposited on the thing's back, and a feeling washed over him. He'd probably forgotten what the feeling that washed over him was called, because the only word he could think of was wrong.

But death wasn't wrong. To die would be a wonderful thing.

At least, that's what he tried to remember as the creature sucked him into the shadows, a silent scream dying on his lips. If he was dying, then why were his thoughts so clear?