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Kenopsia

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Kozmotis had to fight to open his eyes. All around him was darkness, the type that Fearlings and Nightmare Men loved so much, with just enough light to make the shadows seem that much deeper. Dust lay thick on his tongue, and waves of pain throbbed their way through his body. He had failed. He had opened the doors and now the
Constellations, even Tsar Lunar would be ravaged by the monsters he was supposed to keep imprisoned.

Keeping his eyes open was too much of an effort along with breathing, so he let the lids slowly shut and just breathed. His failure echoed through his mind, tormenting him like the Fearlings’ whispers, like their cries in his daughter’s voice.

His daughter. She was in danger too. Strength flooded his sore and trembling limbs. He tried to move them to get up. He had to get out and warn everyone.

That was a mistake.

Nausea filled him and he just barely managed to roll onto his side, his shoulder screaming in protest, to vomit a small dribble of bile onto the dusty ground. Its sour taste and smell filled the air as his body shuddered with dry heaves. His ribs felt like horses had stomped on him. He had never, ever felt this bad. Not even after his first battle as general of the Tsar’s armies, where he had nearly been gutted by a Fearling’s lucky strike.

Gasping for air, he wiped his mouth and rolled back onto his back. Alright then. He’d just have to take this a little bit slower.

Slowly, he managed to push himself up onto his elbows, breathing shallowly from the pain of his protesting rib cage. Sweat covered his brow as his head pounded, and he looked down his body. Something white glinted in what little light was in the prison.

“Oh.”

It was part of his shin, sticking out of his leg.

He breathed deeply, trying not to pass out.

He passed out.
* * *

Rough wood pressed against his jaw, forcing his head to move. He slowly opened his eyes, trying to focus. There was a hazy silhouette by his feet, holding what seemed to be some sort of staff. A small shape detached itself from the silhouette and came closer. The buzz of what must have been wings filled his ears.

It was a tiny thing. (The birds in the Lunar gardens had been the same his daughter had always loved to chase after them in a game of tag) It darted around his head, moving too fast for him to focus on it closely and squeaking shrilly. His head throbbed. Part of its face seemed to be white, and what looked like a little beak stuck out of its face. He closed his eyes again but was forced to open them when the staff that the silhouette held jabbed his jaw again.

The silhouette was saying something. He couldn’t understand it; it was like no language he had heard before. Impatiently, it repeated itself.

Wait.

Kozmotis’ brain finally restarted itself. There was someone else here. He might not be able to move, but if he could somehow make himself understood, then maybe –

“Please,” he said, struggling back onto his elbows, “please, if you can at all understand me, you must warn the Constellations. Tell them that General Pitchiner has failed, and that they must raise the Armada again.”

This made the silhouette stop mid-sentence. Kozmotis felt a small bit of hope take root in his chest. Perhaps the person did understand him, and had simply been speaking a regional dialect.

Slowly, the person stepped closer, still pointing their staff at him like a weapon. Struggling to focus his eyes, Kozmotis tried to see who this person was.

A boy. Well, a young man really, if he was any judge. Certainly, he looked old enough to be at home on any ship in the Lunar Armada (so many lied about their age so many died). But he was dressed so strangely! His pants were a light brown, tied closely around his calves with what looked like rough twine. His feet were bare, and had the look of having never seen the inside of a shoe. It was what covered the boy’s chest that threw Kozmotis most, though. The fabric (so soft looking like his daughter and wife’s dresses) was loose around the body, yet tightened around the wrists and waist. And what appeared to be a pouch was sewn onto the front of it. Most strangely though, were the delicate white designs around the sleeves and neck.

Kozmotis managed to drag his eyes away from the strange clothing long enough to look up at the boy’s face. It was young. So young. He had seen hundreds of faces like that, both before and after battles, always so afraid but trying to look brave –

Wait, afraid? Looking closer, he realized that the fear did not seem to be directed towards their surroundings, but at him. Why would someone be afraid of him? Nervous, yes (the great General Pitchiner hero of the Golden Age), he could understand that, but afraid?

The boy turned his head and shouted “Sahndee! Eye fownd hem! Butt sumting’s weerd!”

Kozmotis was still puzzling over the fear in the boy’s face when a golden man, seemingly floating with no support, approached the two of them. Particles of what looked like sand (like the beach where he and his family had spent their last vacation together before the war by the stars he missed them) drifted off of him. He didn’t have time to think any further when the man then threw a ball of the glittering sand into his face and everything went dark.

Chapter Text

Jack laughed as he soared through the sky, Baby Tooth doing loop-de-loops around his head. Tomorrow, the kids of Burgess would wake to a snow day, the first of a new year.

It had been six months since the defeat of Pitch and the advent of his first believer, Jaime Bennett. He whooped at the thought of the boy. Without him, he would have been invisible forever! Now, he could feel his belief base growing every day.

Speaking of Jaime, he probably wasn’t asleep yet. Jack hummed and smirked.

“Hey, Baby Tooth!”

The little fairy chirped and flew closer to his face.

“Think we should visit Jaime?”

Baby Tooth trilled happily and zoomed off towards the little boy’s house, Jack following closely behind. They zoomed between buildings, Jack occasionally flying a little higher so that he could jump from roof to room, leaving icicles on eaves troughs and his namesake on windows. Everything seemed perfect in a way it had never been in his previous 300 years of life.

Jack paused for a moment to shape the frost on Cupcake’s window into a scene of unicorns frolicking in a meadow, with her riding the largest one, when he heard Baby Tooth scream. Immediately, he jumped to the sky, looking around wildly.

There, down below in an alleyway between a Laundromat and a clothing store, shadows roiled like a pit of snakes.

“Pitch…” the name left his lips like a whimper.

How could he be back? He had asked North and the rest just after his first defeat if Pitch could come back and they had assured him it would take centuries for him to gather enough power to try something again. But the shadows – only Pitch could use them like that!

Another shriek from Baby Tooth snapped Jack out of his shock.

“Wind,” he shouted, “help me!”

The North Wind roared like it hadn’t in years, coming to the aid of its rider. The cold of the Arctic night surrounded Jack and flowed through him, into his staff and out, blasting the shadows away that stood between him and his little fairy friend.

Baby Tooth, to her credit managed to dodge everything that the darkness threw at her, claws and hooves missing her by millimetres. But her luck ran out. A claw smashed into her delicate body and threw her out onto the dimly-lit street. Her scream rang through the air.

Jack snarled, not recognizing the noise that erupted from his throat. Ice crawled up the walls of the alleyway as he swung his staff and tore through the frozen tangle of limbs towards Baby Tooth. He burst free and dove, catching the little fairy before she hit the pavement.

“You okay, Baby Tooth?” he panted.

Baby Tooth was clearly gritting her teeth, hunched over in pain, but nodded. Jack sighed in relief. She cuddled up to his thumb and closed her eyes as he gently stroked her crest with a cold finger.

Behind them, they didn’t notice the shadows that had been scattered by Jack’s ice reforming. They squirmed like worms, crawling over each other, swelling grotesquely until boney limbs like splintery sticks with claws at the ends burst forth. Wet red mouths gaped, filled with long, sharp, shark-like teeth and lolling tongues. Finally, glowing uneven eyes didn’t so much open as the swelled out of the darkness, likes bubbles in stinking swamp water.

Its claws reached out to grasp Jack, whispers emanating from everywhere but its mouth.

“Jack” the voices wept, “Jack, I’m scared.”

His head jerked up, almost too late to duck under the swiping, scythe-like claws.

“What the-“ he choked out, staff forgotten as he scrambled backwards.

The creature did not quite laugh; rather, a blend of screams emanated from it, starting and stopping unpredictably. It seemed to grow larger in Jack’s eyes, towering over him and filling his vision. Terror weighed down his leaden limbs, making them clumsy as his staff slipped out of his grip. Baby Tooth wailed, an awful sound like an injured baby, and for a moment Jack truly thought that it was the end. That this was how Jack Frost would die.

But light burst forth behind the shadow creature. A whip made of glittering sand that was as bright as the sun wrapped around it and pulled it into the sky, far away from the two that lay on the cold asphalt.

Jack gasped, sucking in icy air greedily. He could feel Baby Tooth shaking in his fist, tears and other fluids trickling through his fingers. His face was wet and hot, and his eyes blurry.

Small, soft hands pressed against his face, wiping away his tears and gently patting his cheeks. He lay there, breathing and trying to calm down.

As his eyes and mind cleared, he realized that it was Sandy that was standing above him.

“What was that?” Jack croaked.

Sandy looked sympathetic and patted his cheek again. The sand above his head swirled, shifting shapes rapidly until settling into a profile of Pitch.

Jack struggled to his feet, loosening his grip around Baby Tooth when she squeaked. She immediately fled into the pouch of his hoodie.

“Pitch?! But you guys said it would centuries before he could come back.”

Sandy looked at him solemnly and gestured for him to follow the older Guardian as he floated into the sky.

Jack was shaky on the wind as he followed. Baby Tooth, curled up in his front pocket beside one of North’s snow globes, squeaked in protest.

“Sorry, Baby Tooth,” he said, reaching in and stroking her crest with a finger, “I guess I’m still shook up from that thing.”

Sandy sent some curls of sand to encircle them, grabbing their attention. He had found what he was looking for.

It was Pitch’s bed. As Jack set down on the ground, Sandy was already poking a few tendrils down the hole under the shattered bed frame. He turned towards Jack and pointed down the hole as he made another profile of Pitch.

Jack immediately took a step back.

“Wait, you want us to go pick a fight with him? In his own home?”

Sandy nodded and flashed him a thumbs up.

“Shouldn’t we, I don’t know, get the others first?”

A golden hourglass appeared, its sand rapidly falling into the bottom bulge. Jack immediately realized what Sandy was trying to say.

“It’s time-sensitive?”

Sandy nodded, and before Jack could raise anymore objections, jumped down the hole. Saying several things that he would never repeat in front of Jaime and his friends, Jack followed.

Arriving in Pitch’s lair was as disorienting as Jack remembered. Darkness swirled around him like a living thing all the way down the tunnel. His knees buckled when he finally hit the ground, only Sandy’s quick hands saving him from scraped knees and hands.

Propping himself up with his staff, Jack looked around, wary for attacks.

The large cave was in shambles. The staircases and archways that had slid in and out of the shadows were cracked or even smashed entirely, the rubble carelessly strewn about. Cages lay on the floor, bars bent and chains lying around like broken spines. The place seemed darker as well. Beams of light were fewer and farther in between than before, and seemed paler and weaker.

Sandy was already moving forward, his head swinging around and eyes darting into every shadow. When Jack went to follow him, though, he held up a hand a shook his head.

Gently, he grasped the younger Guardian’s shoulders and turned him around, nudging him into a different area of the cavern.

He furrowed his brow.

“You want us to split up?”

Sandy nodded.

“But what if more of those things are down here?”

A web of golden sand pulled together above the Sandman’s head. It formed into a globe with the cavern in it, and the recognizable figure of nightmares running through it.
Suddenly, though, they all ran away. After the last one disappeared, Jack watched as the place fell apart. He frowned.

“I’m not talking about nightmares, Sandy, I’m talking about whatever that thing was back there!”

Sandy had a terribly expressive face. Jack was reminded of this fact when in a single look, he managed to communicate that yes, he was aware of that, that what he had just demonstrated with the nightmares was still true with the creature that had attacked him, and that he knew Jack was scared, but also knew that Jack could do what he was asking of him.

“Well, gee, how could I argue with that,” he asked, only partially sarcastic.

Sandy smiled at him and patted him on the shoulder before floating off.

Jack kicked a small piece of rubble. He really didn’t want to be here. He also really wished that Sandy could talk and just tell him what that thing was. He had never, not even when directly fighting Pitch, been paralyzed with terror like he had been with that creature.

Taking a deep breath, he straightened and squared his shoulders. Sandy believed in him. He could do this. He could search the cave for Pitch and demand answers.

The walkways and stairs seemed to go on forever. Baby Tooth had eventually stopped trembling and was now curled up against his neck, another pair of eyes for him. The dust in the air had dried out his mouth and had dulled the colours of his hoodie. It felt like it had been hours.

Suddenly, Baby Tooth squeaked. Jumping into the air, she lightly tugged his hair, forcing him to turn his head. An ankle was poking out of the shadows of a walkway across from them, clad in a filthy boot.

Jack jumped over, his eyes quickly adjusting to the dark. Winter nights were long, after all.

He hadn’t expected this.

It was clearly Pitch. Jack had never met someone with a nose quite like Pitch’s, and the lack of eyebrows was a big clue as well. But his skin was no longer grey. It wasn’t a healthy pink, but where it wasn’t bruised it was a translucent white, with blue veins visible in his long neck and in the hollows of his temples. His hair was mussed in a way that seemed extremely un-Pitch-like, tangled into greasy knots. A flash of white in the darkness of his clothes made Jack’s stomach churn when he realized that it was shards of bone sticking out of his leg.

Jack licked his lips and grasped his staff with both hands. Slowly and gently, he leaned forward and nudged Pitch’s jaw with the crook of his staff. There was no reaction.

Emboldened, he did it again. Pitch’s head flopped to one side. The gasp of air that he took as his eyes opened made Jack jump back in fright, his mouth half-open and prepared to yell for Sandy.

But the look on Pitch’s face made him stop. There was nothing but confusion. Even when Baby Tooth flew towards him to inspect and berate him for what he had done, there was no comprehension. Just bemusement and what seemed like…nostalgia?

Jack hardened his heart. Pitch was a great actor; this didn’t make sense.

“What were you doing, sending that thing up there? What was it?”

Nothing.

Glaring and gripping his staff tighter, he tried again.

“What’s your plan this time? If you think that we-”

Pitch opened his mouth.

What came out of it was like no language he had ever heard before. It was filled with sighs and silences, and floated from Pitch’s lips to his ears. But underneath the pauses was a sense of urgency and desperation.

Jack stood stock still when Pitch ended. What had that been? Slowly, he stepped closer.

The nightmares had clearly done a number on him; there was very little skin not stained with bruises. Jack was willing to bet believers that there were more broken bones than just the man’s leg. His clothing was also filthy and in disarray in a way that Jack doubted Pitch would normally allow.

Pitch’s eyes raked over his body in a strange, non-intrusive way. He looked fascinated by Jack’s clothing, which was odd. He hadn’t changed it at all since the two of them had last met.

This was getting too weird.

“Sandy!” He shouted, turning on his heel, “I found him! But something’s weird!”

Sandy must have been nearby, because it couldn’t have been more than thirty seconds before he appeared and chucked a ball of his dream sand at Pitch, immediately putting him to sleep.

After that, he floated closer to the Nightmare King, and leaned over to inspect him.

“Wait-” Jack yelped as the golden Guardian went to touch Pitch’s face.

But nothing happened. There was no sign of the darkness taking over Sandy’s body like when Pitch shot him with his arrow. Jack felt his brow crinkle in confusion.

Sandy straightened and turned towards Jack. Above his head, a snow globe formed. Jack patted his front pocket, realizing immediately what Sandy wanted. As Baby Tooth circled his head, he pulled it out and shook it while whispering,

“North’s Workshop.”

And let it drop to the cold stone floor where it shattered, forming a portal.

Turning back to Sandy, who had gotten Pitch onto a dream sand stretcher, he noted nervously,

“This is something big, isn’t it?”

The look that Sandy gave him was all the answer he needed.

Chapter Text

Rather than darkness and dust, Kozmotis woke to warm light streaming through his eyelids and the smell of sweetness coating the back of his throat.

For a few moments, he just allowed himself to drift, enjoying the light and warmth that had never quite managed to penetrate the gloom and darkness of the Great Prison. It felt like the light was entering him and igniting a long-snuffed candle in his heart that warmed him to the tips of his fingers and toes.

But eventually, he made himself open his eyes wider than a crack. His soldier’s instincts would not allow him to simply laze about until he knew exactly where he was.

The room was completely made of wood. That was an unusual choice; most of the Constellations and their people preferred the stone of asteroids in building their homes. Still, there were always eccentrics out there. Up near the low ceiling of the room were small light fixtures, coating the room in a soft golden honey-like glow. The room itself was bare; the only piece of furniture in it was the bed he was lying on. Beside it was a small stand, upon which a sack of clear fluid was hung. A tube was connected to it, and it snaked down until it was under the red and white patched quilt that Kozmotis lay under.

Ah. It must be an I.V. He was in some sort of rustic medical center. That would explain the itching that he recognized as coming from bandages. The mound underneath the quilt where his injured leg was meant that it was elevated, and had probably been treated as well. Curiously, he did not feel any real pain. That meant that there was most likely some sort of painkiller in the I.V.

Still rather tired, Kozmotis closed his eyes and felt the ache in his muscles that begged for a stretch. He was fairly sure that he did not have any injuries in his upper body that would keep him from a brief stretch of at least one arm. Breathing in deep, he tried to lift his arms.

He couldn’t.

His eyes snapped open as he tugged at his arms. They were bound by wide, flat strips. Struggling to stand up, he found that it was the same across his chest and uninjured leg.

Sharp, stabbing pains that lanced through his chest forced him to lie back down and think.

The lack of furniture now made more sense. This was not an infirmary, it was a cell. A comfortable one though. His wounds had been treated, he had been given painkillers and probably other medicines. But despite his injuries, he was still seen as enough of a threat to be tied down.

Kozmotis wracked his brains as he lay there. The hinterlands of the Constellations and Tsar Lunar were filled with a variety of peoples. But most of them had loved the Tsar, or at least his Armada, once they had captured and imprisoned the Fearlings and Dream Pirates.

So who would see him as a threat? Or for that matter, not recognize the language of the Stars? Thinking back, he realized that there had been nothing but confusion on the boy’s face; there had been no comprehension whatsoever.

Who were these people?

* * *

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” Bunny growled, “and not a moment before.”

Jack gritted his teeth and rubbed his forehead. They had convinced North to call the other Guardians as soon as they had stepped through the portal into the workshop, but after they had arrived things had ground to a halt.

Firstly, Bunny seemed to have trouble with believing what Jack had seen.

“I know what I saw, Bunny, and he did not recognize me or Baby Tooth or even Sandy!”

Bunny, despite already wearing a deep frown on his face, managed to make it deeper. Tooth, fluttering in the background while quietly giving orders to her mini-fairies, took pity
on the both of them and inserted herself between them before they came to blows.

“Jack, I’m sure that what Bunny means to say is that Pitch is a good actor; he could have fooled you.” She moved back a little to perch on North’s broad shoulders and crossed her arms.

“He’s done it before.”

North patted her foot sympathetically.

And there was the second issue. Even the Guardians that believed what Jack had seen thought that he had misinterpreted it.

But he hadn’t. Jack knew what he saw. He had spent three hundred years observing people as they went about their lives, and he liked to think that he knew when people were acting.

Sighing he sat down on the stool in front of North’s workbench. On it were bits and pieces of half-finished toys and a small bowl filled with warm water that Baby Tooth was splashing around in. He really wished that he could do the same. He hadn’t had the chance to go and wash the dust of Pitch’s lair off of himself before the others had arrived. As he watched, she crawled out and shook most of the water off of her feathers before climbing onto his arm to arrange her feathers.

“Nobody’s that good an actor,” Jack said tiredly, “Sandy, back me up, will you?”

The Sandman had stayed out of the argument that had started once they had gathered. He simply floated on a pillow made of his dreamsand and sipped a cup of eggnog, looking pensive.

He nodded once.

Bunny bristled.

North sighed and cut off the argument before it could restart. “Enough. We have been arguing for hours. Let us take a break and eat, yes? And maybe sleep.”

Jack glanced out the window and realized that the sun was coming up.

The Guardians filed out of North’s workshop, quiet except for Bunny’s grumbling. Jack flew up a level in the workshop, Baby Tooth safely tucked into his hood, to get to the small room that North had furnished for him soon after Pitch’s defeat.

The room was tucked up in the rafters of the workshop, its ceiling following the curve of the workshop’s roof. Inside of it was a squashy, overstuffed red armchair, an oak chest of drawers and beside it a small bed with a blue and white checkered quilt, exactly Jack’s size. In the ceiling was a small window, just big enough for him to comfortably slip in and out. Looking out of it, Jack could see the moon, pale in the light of the rising sun.

He sighed and turned away. Truthfully, he was tired. Arguing with the others like that had been exhausting. But his mind kept running at a hundred miles an hour.
What had happened when they had brought Pitch into the workshop, for starters. That had been more frightening than anything Pitch had thrown around during the fight with the Guardians.

It seemed to have been the lights. As soon as they had pulled the man through the portal, he faded. Like a ghost, he had become see-through and started to fall through Sandy’s stretcher. When Jack had tried to grab his arms, they passed through his fingers like wisps of clouds.

Someone gently tapped at the door before opening it. Tooth’s head poked in.

“Hi Jack,” she said, smiling gently, “I just came to get Baby Tooth.”

Jack had totally forgotten that the little fairy had crawled into his hoodie. Tooth floated in and scooped her out of his hood, cuddling her close to her chest. Baby Tooth chirped and hugged her mother’s thumb. Jack couldn’t help but smile at that.

“I’m sorry about the meeting Jack.”

He lifted his head, surprised.

“What for?”

“For ganging up on you like that and not explaining.”

Jack raised an eyebrow.

“Explaining what?”

Her voice, when she had said that, had been heavy and sad, like a parent remembering losing their child after a few years. The grief was still there, but a blanket of exhaustion had settled over it, separating them somewhat.

Jack sat down on his bed. Tooth floated over and much to his surprise, stilled her wings and perched beside him. She didn’t look at him, instead concentrating on her little helper.
“This goes back to when the Guardians were first brought together by Manny,” she said, stroking Baby Tooth’s crest.

“We didn’t start out as the Big Four. We had a fifth member. His name was Nightlight.”

Jack wrinkled his brow.

“Wait, like that little light in Sophie’s room?”

Tooth gave a sad laugh.

“Or like a candle left burning in a dark room; that was what he had been doing for his entire life when we met him. Keeping the dark, and Pitch, away from children. Naming those lights after him was all we could do to keep his memory alive.”

Jack’s stomach turned. This was not going to be a happy story.

“A long time ago, before any of us were born, there was a general of a great army named Kozmotis Pitchiner.”

Pitchiner. Pitch. Tooth glanced out of the corner of her eye and nodded at the look on his face.

“He fought against the fearlings with the army and eventually succeeded in locking them away. When a jailor was needed, General Pitchiner volunteered. He lasted for years, listening to the fearlings whisper at him. But eventually, the fearlings figured out his weakness. He had a daughter.”

Jack’s stomach was flopping around on his bare feet.

“The fearlings mimicked her crying, begging for him to help her. Eventually, he broke. He knew that she was far away from the prison and safe, but he had to check. He had to make sure. So he opened the door.”

Her eyes were wet. Baby Tooth squeaked and cuddled closer to her mother’s chest in an attempt to comfort her. Jack sat frozen on top of the bed’s quilt.

“The fearlings immediately possessed him, and Pitch Black was born. Eventually, he ended up on Earth, and started the Dark Ages.”

He could barely wrap his mind around this. Pitch Black had been a good guy? A father?

“But eventually, Manny brought us together to fight him.”

She wiped her eyes and looked at Jack intently.

“Nightlight was a lot like you, Jack. Always kind, always smiling. Having you around has almost been like getting him back.”

Her eyes fogged over, remembering.

“When we fought Pitch, it was like he was fearless. None of the fearlings or nightmares could touch him. And it was his idea to try to bring Kozmotis back.”

Oh no.

“Fearlings hate light. And he had this spear, and at the very tip he collected moonlight. He thought that if he collected enough and used it all at once, he could drive the fearlings from Kozmotis’ body. So we tried it. We all herded him to a frozen lake, where he couldn’t hide from Manny’s light.”

Her voice quavered and her hands shook. Jack gently placed his hand on her arm.

“And then he did it. He poured all of his light into Pitch; it was like a star had gone off! When we could see again, Pitch was slumped over. Nightlight, he was exhausted after that, but he still went to check. To see if the general had been freed.”

Tooth tried to blink back tears, but failed.

“Pitch moved so fast, none of us could stop him. Nightlight,” she paused to breathe deeply, “Nightlight was cut almost in half with that scythe of his. And Pitch just laughed and disappeared into a shadow underneath a rock.”

“North,” she sobbed, “he held him as he bled to death. It was so fast, there was nothing we could do but watch him die!”

Baby Tooth fluttered out of her mother’s hands and flew around her head as she sobbed, chirping frantically.

Jack followed his instincts and wrapped his arms around her, hugging her fiercely. A lot of things clicked into place as he held her. Why the Guardians hovered so much when he was around them. Why they were so skeptical when he told them what he saw.

He clenched his jaw. He needed to see whoever the prisoner was again. To talk to Sandy. He definitely wasn’t sleeping any time soon.