In hindsight, Jack really would have been the odd one out among the Guardians if he’d truly been a drowned little boy. Because, comparatively speaking? A bandit king who made himself a legend before he was anything more than a mortal man, the last of the Sisters of Flight (although no one had ever explained to Jack who the Sisters were, exactly) who was practically a queen, a fallen shooting star made of the stuff that dreams were made of, and an ancient warrior rabbit who was literally old as dirt. Being a reanimated corpse wasn’t quite in the same league when it came to back stories.
Sure, Jack sacrificing his life for his sister had been noble and a sign of a pure and courageous heart, but there was nothing there to signal: “Pick this guy to protect the world’s children from darkness! Tough spirit-in-the-making right here!” Of all the people to ever give their lives for a loved one, why had the Man in the Moon chosen Jack? But if the life Jack had seen in the tooth box wasn’t his own, then that gave things a whole new spin.
In the end, what gave it away was muscle memory. Even upon awakening, Jack had been able to defend himself with the staff he had claimed for his own. His body knew how to perform different moves that Jack could not remember learning. It was only decades later, after he had discovered the joys of travelling the world and studying humans, that Jack discovered that he was using an actual combat style with his staff, one that was very similar to Japanese kenjutsu.
At the time, Jack had thought it was cool, had thought if perhaps he had been some sort of warrior before he’d lost his memories. But he hadn’t dwelled on it much, because, as far as clues went, it wasn’t much of a one. Never mind how, no matter how he might fight like one of their own, Japan had never felt quite right, the way his little lake at Burgess did.
But now it was ringing some bells. Why the heck would a regular kid from 1700s America know a Japanese martial art?
It was natural for Jack to turn to Tooth with his memory-related questions. He had to know if it was possible, if the memories he had seen could truly belong to someone else. If the images Jack had seen through the tooth box belonged to some other Jack, then why could Pitch use it to lure Jack to him? Did the Nightmare King have the power to do something like that?
These were the questions he asked Tooth, several months after officially becoming a Guardian.
Tooth pursed her lips together in deep, serious thought, before she spoke: “It couldn’t be Pitch’s doing. His magic doesn’t work like that.” The fairy pressed her palms together, like she was trying to keep them still. “He can’t make things up; people need to do it for him.”
“So he couldn’t just take a random tooth box and try to pass it off as mine?” Jack asked, wanting to be absolutely certain. “The box is mine?”
“Not necessarily.” Tooth’s face had a peculiar expression. Jack usually saw it a bit before one of the Guardians told him that, actually, their job was about more than just the material things. “I safeguard the memories of all children who’ve been, who are now, and I will continue to do it for those who will come later.” Tooth threw her hand out, gesturing to the rows after rows of teeth that had been preserved with care and reverence. “I don’t do it for the sake of those who the memories belong to alone, because who can judge what memories belong to whom?”
Jack was taking the moment to truly appreciate Tooth’s palace. It really was a grand monument to memories, with both the spiralling upside-down towers and the quickly speeding fairies sparkling in all the colors of the rainbow, all the colors of the brightest of memories.
“So, you can show someone a memory that came from someone else?” Jack asked curiously. “Why would you need to do that?”
“Sometimes, in the darkest of times, we need reminder of the important things.” Tooth’s voice lowered into a solemn tone. “But what to do about someone who doesn’t have a powerful enough memory of the important things? You have to make them able to imagine them strongly enough to begin to want them.” The severity drained away from Tooth’s face and voice and the fairy turned sorrowful. “I just can’t always tell when that’s the right choice to make.”
“So,” Jack drawled, licking his dry lips and clenching his shaking hands. “You’re saying that the memory I saw was meant to remind me of something that never was? To what end? To make me fight?” Jack felt a bit sick; the effect of the memory had been so strong. To think it was all fake…
“Something about those memories resonated within you,” Tooth replied. “Most likely you were once very similar to the Jack in the memories, but perhaps that Jack drowned in a different lake. Or perhaps he only fell in but was rescued. You simply covered up the missing links with what you assumed must have happened.”
“But what about the voice?” Jack whispered hoarsely, his emotions choking him. “I heard a voice calling my name. It came from the tooth box and I couldn’t resist it. Was she for someone else too?”
Tooth laid a hand on Jack’s shoulder in a comforting gesture. It worked a bit and Jack could breathe more easily. These simple, casual touches were Jack’s favorite part of becoming a Guardian. The other Guardians were socially awkward, like Jack, so they didn’t crowd him with too affectionate touches, even when they clearly enjoyed tactile interactions as much as Jack did.
“I think,” Tooth said carefully and Jack focused on her voice instead of her warmth again. “I think you must have had someone, in your real past life, who you would have answered every single time if she called for you. That is the voice you were truly following.”
Tooth’s words stayed with Jack long after his conversation with the fairy. The voice they had spoken of was like a ghost, haunting Jack’s thoughts for days on end. That voice became Jack’s primary motivation for recovering his lost memories.
No other memory mattered as much, but Jack felt he should remember her at least. He wanted to know if the person Tooth thought might have existed for him at some point was real, if there had been someone so important to Jack that a shadow of her would affect him even without a memory.
But none of the countless tooth boxes Tooth guarded resonated with Jack, not when he didn’t have such a burning need for motivation. It was like Jack had lived before Tooth had become the Tooth Fairy, but the numbers didn’t add up. Jack hadn’t been a spirit long enough for that to be possible; the eighteenth century was when Jack’s life on Earth began.
Jack’s search eventually led him to his birthplace. More than that, it was the place where he died. If there were any teeth to be found, they would be here. So Jack brought the one person he trusted above all others to help him with the search.
“What do you think?” Jack asked Baby Tooth, keeping his emotions in check. He didn’t want to overwhelm Baby Tooth with his expectations. “Can you sense any part of me under the water or the in the ground?”
Baby Tooth’s face scrunched up from concentration, before the expression brightened as the fairy started chirping happily while darting off among the trees. Jack followed right after her, and dug where she instructed him to. He supposed the lake must have been wider several centuries ago and he was digging through what had used to be the muck at the shore.
A shore Jack might have smacked into in his previous life and, according to Baby Tooth’s teeth senses, there was a tooth somewhere there to prove it.
It took some time and quite a bit of effort but, with Baby Tooth’s fix on the tooth strengthening the nearer they got, Jack finally lifted a rather prominent molar up for Baby Tooth to see. Jack didn’t spend much time looking into mirrors, but the tooth seemed larger than the ones in his mouth. Maybe it was just his perception being wonky over how excited he was over this thing.
Jack felt a laugh bubbling out. “It’s not covered in blood and gums but dust and dirt are pretty exciting too, right?” He offered the tooth to Baby Tooth, who chattered excitedly while zipping from side to side to get a good look at the tooth. Well, Jack supposed it was rather finely proportioned.
Despite the excitement still under the surface, Jack forced himself to remain calm. “We need to check if it’s the real deal,” He told Baby Tooth seriously. “Can you do that?”
Baby Tooth nodded her head eagerly before fluttering her wings faster than ever, the tooth in Jack’s grasp beginning to glimmer.
Jack recalled his first meeting with the Guardians at North Pole, everything about the event drawn to his mind in detail. The snow spirit shook his head. “That won’t do,” he murmured. “It’s too recent, with too many witnesses, easy to fake. Look deeper, please.”
At the last word a new scene unfolded. It had mostly likely been called up by the previous image leaving Jack at least subconsciously thinking about it. The Easter Sunday of 1968 had been the last time Jack had met Bunny before being chosen a Guardian.
It had been a rough year before that spring. Everyone had been so upset, and that in turn had worsened Jack’s mood. As the Guardian of Fun, even if he hadn’t known his role at the time, he had been influenced by the lack of joy in people all around, becoming more sullen himself.
Jack had already been having a bad day, in a long line of other bad days, when he had heard the forest spirits tittering about Easter, especially its spirit. “Oh, it’s all gloom and doom now, but just wait until the Easter Bunny gets here; he’ll sort everything out. He’s hope itself, you know!”
What had followed next had been increasingly graphic descriptions of the other assets the rabbit spirit had in addition to his hope-cultivating talents. Later on Jack would admit, even if only to himself, that he might have overreacted a bit to how fixated the forest spirits were on Bunny. But Bunny himself had also overreacted to the blizzard that had ensued of Jack finally deciding to let out some steam, so to speak. Really, holding a grudge for over half a century over one flurry? For a guy who prided himself on being incredibly old and experienced, Bunny sure had a temper on him.
“Better,” Jack commented as the memory started to fade. “But there’s still too many people this memory could have been crafted from.” Bunny himself certainly never shut up about the mess Jack had made that spring. Not even an alp flower could have handled those levels of frost.
That thought summoned the third memory, one several decades older than the previous still.
Jack had first met Bunny on a field of Edelweiss on the Alps in Austria. While Jack enjoyed winter and all its good, clean, white fun, the winter spirit would often meander around outside of his own season to get a bit of a change in scenery. While Edelweiss flowers bloomed in autumn, they were very sturdy and grew even in the deep cold of mountains where Jack was comfortable as well.
But, Bunny also liked flowers outside of his own season, and had sought out the Edelweiss to ‘immortalize them’. Jack had taken offence at first, not about to let the blooms get pressed by some overgrown forest spirit, until Bunny had shown Jack the sketchpad he had been carrying. Then the other spirit had proceeded to point out that he was “the Easter Bunny, not just any run-of-the-mill forest spirit.”
They’d decided to make peace after that. While Bunny had sat quietly on his haunches, studying the Edelweiss for his drawings, Jack had seated himself on a nearby rock and observed Bunny. It had been strange to spend so much time around someone who actually knew Jack was there, even if it had been some oddball not-forest spirit.
Later on Jack believed that if they had been able to have a conversation during that first meeting, they might have been able to become friends. But, Jack couldn’t remember the last time he’d had a discussion with anyone and Bunny was an antisocial jerk, so the result had been a deep, impenetrable silence.
Complete silence and isolation. No one would know of this memory. At least, not anyone who would freely speak of it. Jack and Bunny both avoided bringing up anything from the past that was so wrapped up in bitterness and arguments, since they were now actually trying to be friends for once. Never mind how Bunny probably wouldn’t even recall such an inconsequential meeting anymore, whereas what Jack had remembered had been how perfectly the other spirit had recreated every single bloom on paper. That artistry had been another thing to fuel the hateful jealousy behind the gales of 68.
Jack’s attention was back to observing the molar in his hand. This could really be it. “The tooth really grants access to those memories?” he asked Baby Tooth carefully, wanting to be absolutely sure. “That wasn’t just your mojo?”
Baby Tooth’s chirping took on a notably lecturing tone, and Jack got the impression that tooth fairies couldn’t get at memories without genuine teeth to use for it. Jack smirked triumphantly.
“That settles it,” he said resolutely. “Baby Tooth, let’s see if you can dig up things I don’t remember from this thing.”
Like the girl who called his name, whom Jack was so desperate to answer.