"After all, what goes together better than dark and cold?"
Santa Claus had one fatal flaw.
Now, of course, if one were to ask Pitch Black, he would be very quick to point out that the old fool had more than just the one fatal flaw, but it was this one that really mattered, in the long run.
It was, simply put, that he felt safe.
And why shouldn't he? The Guardians were referred to as the "Big Four", but everyone knew that when it really boiled down to it, it was all about Santa Claus and that damnable Christmas. Oh certainly, children would eagerly put their teeth under their pillows and wait for quarters in the morning, and children would scramble through the bushes to find brightly coloured eggs, and parents would spin tales of slipping to sleep with golden motes as singers sang of Mister Sandman, bring me a dream.
But there were only so many teeth in a child's head, and once they were gone, that was it, and there were great stretches of time between when a child might lose teeth.
Easter came but once a year, and after the children had sorted through their eggs, and slept off the sugar sleep brought on by chocolate, they went back to dreaming of summer.
And though he came to them every night, filling their dreams with wonderment, the Sandman was oft forgotten, and the world over, children protested, begging to stay up past their bedtimes, trying to put off his arrival as they begged for just this one time, I just want to stay up and watch this show or read this chapter or play for just a little bit longer.
It was, in the end, all about Santa.
He was the only one with avatars, the world over, for sometimes over a month before the day that was allegedly his, mockeries of him in red polyester suits and fake white cotton beards, sitting in tacky "thrones" in a series of malls, while brats clambered up into his lap and asked for all the things they thought they deserved for simply "being nice", the year long, faking their way through their lies when he asked if they had been naughty. Pitch knew that they had been, he could see the fear in their hearts as they genuinely wondered if this man was the real Santa, if this man could tell that they had been little holy terrors for all the months leading up to the one where it actually mattered. Santa was the only one that got pictures of him stuck on walls, on cards, had little figurines made up of him to sit on people's mantles. The others, people knew their roles, but for Santa they had poems that would allow them to describe him right down to his belly, his nose.
And Santa was the only one of the Guardians that had glimmers of belief from more than just children.
Adults didn't believe in the Tooth Fairy. They came to believe that it was their parents putting money under their pillow, usually long before they even lost their last baby teeth. Adults didn't believe in the Easter Bunny. They would be the ones going to the store to buy chocolate rabbits, complaining that they had to hide plastic eggs around the living room, and missing the fact that more eggs were found than they had purchased. Adults didn't believe in the Sandman. They would instead gripe that they never had time to sleep, and would scarce remember the glorious dreams they got even if the Sandman tried so very hard to give them something joyous.
But they remembered Santa, and even if they had no children of their own, they would tell little ones that Santa would bring them presents if they were nice - even if it was just being used as a ploy to shut them up. Pitch could appreciate a good mite of bribery of brats. They would dress up like him, they would sing songs about him, they would warn that Santa could see if they'd been naughty or nice, they would joke that they'd seen mommy kissing Santa Claus.
What it came down to was that they still carried lingering little bits of belief in him, even when they scoffed and told themselves that believing in Santa Claus was ridiculous.
He defied any of them, if they heard bells on their roof on Christmas Eve, for their hearts to not immediately leap with a sliver of hope, their minds to flee instantly to a jolly old man in a red suit.
Yes, Santa was safe.
And it was because he felt so very safe that he never once questioned his security, the integrity of his home, his base at the North Pole. He was the only one of the Guardians whose home that any child the world over could simply walk into, if only they could find it, because he was the only Guardian that outright advertised where his stronghold was located.
To Pitch, it reeked of arrogance.
Arrogance, and stupidity.
Santa Claus, after all, was safe. He knew that his position as being believed in was safe, more secure than even the other Guardians, and he lorded it over the whole rest of the world. It sickened Pitch, to know that this arrogant fool was more revered and respected than he had ever been. That this Guardian, heady from that sense of security, from the knowledge that no one had ever, or would ever, be able to challenge his hold on the hopes and dreams and beliefs of the world's children, had become so careless as to let Pitch simply slip past his so called wards and dance about in his domain.
Pitch had entered the North Pole for several reasons. Yes, he wanted to scare the old codger. Gave him a good heart pounding too, he had, which filled him with a giddy sense of glee, to see Santa Claus' eyes widen in recognition and terror. And certainly, he had wanted to see the globe for himself, to curl his magics around the little twinkling lights and all the children that they represented, to show that they weren't everything, that even Santa's perfectly secure position was still shakeable. That yes, even the North Pole could be destroyed if only someone could manage to strike more fear than hope in the hearts of the children of the world.
Pitch certainly wanted to be that someone.
But there was so very much more than that, and what Pitch wanted was even more elegant and simple than apparently Santa had bargained for.
He wanted information.
Forewarned was forearmed, after all. He had spent centuries rebuilding his strength, after the Man in the Moon had seen fit to create the Guardians and take the only thing he had - fear in the hearts of man - away from him. Pitch had not rebuilt himself haphazardly, and he had not made this foray into the North Pole prematurely. He had spent those centuries gathering every weapon against the Guardians and the Moon that he could manage, and to his immense delight, it was knowledge that was his greatest weapon.
It worked on the children - science was a delicious invention of the mortals, after all, it did so much to disprove the existence of the Guardians to those that might have believed for many more years if not for school telling them that there was no such thing as magic - and it worked, too, against these Guardians. That was what he wanted, there. Wanted to know about the globe, wanted to know what Santa's security was like.
Wanted to know what the Guardians would do, if they knew that he was free from their influence, and once again ready to reclaim this world.
He hadn't thought them stupid enough to assume he was gone and call all four of them together in one place, but apparently Pitch had overestimated the intelligence of the Guardians, after all, and they had all four bolted together, their words tumbling over each others in a cacophonous blend of sheer nonsense noise. He smirked from the shadows - because even in the heart of the Guardians' gatherings, there were always shadows - and watched them. They couldn't seem to come to any consensus, and though their discord brought him joy, he had to wonder if perhaps they weren't quite the foes he had remembered if they couldn't even trust their apparently leader when he claimed that their old enemy had returned. Perhaps this defeat would be even more sweeping than he had anticipated.
But something happened.
Something he hadn't anticipated.
The Man in the Moon spoke up.
Well, that is to say, that the Moon took a part in the conversation, but of course he didn't actually utter words, Pitch had never actually heard the Moon speak, he seemed as mute as the Sandman.
But he certainly interfered.
Yes, the Moon gave away that he was the interloper that Santa had seen - it was gratifying to see the Easter Bunny pale under his fur at that realization - but it was what happened next that was truly fascinating. Pitch had never seen this before - and why would he, he was the outsider creeping in, lurking in the shadows as he spied on them, silently thanking the Moon for pouring light into the North Pole sanctuary, for the sharp black shadows that were created in response to the bright silvery light - but as he watched, the symbol of the Guardians on the floor was lit up, and a massive crystal, far larger than any he had ever seen naturally forming before, rose from the floor. The Moon poured beams of light through the crystal, and it began to glow, an image forming above it.
"The Man in the Moon has chosen another Guardian," Santa Claus said, and even with the distance between them, his booming voice carried through the silent, cold air.
That was possible? That could wrench Pitch's plans, he had not planned for another Guardian, and this plan was so very carefully worked out against each of them...
The cacophony of differing opinions began again, their words tumbling over each other as they argued about who their newest companion might be. Pitch drew the shadows closer around himself, embraced in a cloak of their darkness, and crept as close as he dared, shifting from the shadow of one pillar to the next, trying to find the place where best he could see the coalescing shape of light, wanting to know who his newest foe, the newest Guardian, would be. He had to know, because he had to succeed.
The shape finished forming, and Pitch didn't need Santa Claus to say the name before he recognized the face. He actually took a step back, shocked, and quickly tugged the shadows closer around himself, so that his position would not be revealed, darting away to a thicker bank of shadows beside the massive fireplace. His mind reeled.
"Jack Frost," Santa said, aloud.
The babbling began again, as they argued, recited some nonsense about following the word of the Man in the Moon, that there was a reason for anything, perhaps spilling all of their problems with him.
Pitch had stopped listening.
He knew of Frost. Had never encountered him, but his name had come up on his searches for information. His name had been logged in his mind for a long time, because Pitch recognized something of himself in the boy.
Jack Frost was the only spirit he knew of that no one had ever seen.
No one believed in Frost - and Pitch knew, acutely, like a still pulsing ache deep in his chest, a sucking wound that had never healed, what it felt like to not be believed in.
So Jack Frost was to be the newest Guardian, then, was he?
Not if Pitch got there first.
It was sunny, where Jack was.
Of course it was, nothing about Pitch's life could ever be simple or easy, everything had to be as complicated and difficult as possible. Standing in the shadow of a large elm tree, leafless and bare, yet, he glanced up at the shadowy outline of the Moon that still hung in the sky, watching over them, and resisted the urge to shake his fist at him. Would hardly do him any good to be angry at the Man in the Moon, and even if it did make him feel better, he should probably try and avoid drawing attention to himself. Wouldn't help, any, to have the Man in the Moon furious at him.
Well, any more than he already was, that is.
There was movement, to his left, and several children laughed as they dashed past, holding sleighs and making an uproar, chattering sounds that sort of fell over each other like the sound of water tumbling over itself in a brook.
He hated the sound, frankly.
Silence was a much better sound - a frozen river would be better, because at least then there would not be such a dreadful racket.
He much preferred the sound of a child cowering silently in fear.
Shifting from one set of shadows to another, this one behind a tall wooden fence, Pitch stretched himself out through the thin shadows, hating the sunlight and wishing he had a way to simply tug the clouds across the sun itself, to give himself more cover. He was able to slip himself thin, though, stretching himself along the length of the fence, to see further. There was movement, to the left, on the top of another fence, and Pitch arched a brow, mentally praising the tracking skills of his Nightmares. Jack Frost was sitting on top of that fence, that crooked staff of his, shaped like a shepherd's crook, dangling lazily from his fingers.
Of course he knew of Jack Frost. Had never actually met him personally, but Pitch had rather been lurking, as it were, in the shadows for the last... millennia, or so. Since the Dark Ages, he had been lurking in the dark places of the world, rebuilding his strength, getting himself ready for his eventual - and inevitable - overthrow of those damnable Guardians. In his search for whatever weapons he might be able to use, he had found - and at the time discarded - the idea of using Jack Frost in his quest.
What he knew about the boy could technically fill no more than a note card, but based on what he had learned, he wasn't sure that any of the other spirits knew any more than that, either. He had been around for about three hundred years, he created snow and his namesake, frost. He was a bit of a brat, liked causing trouble, didn't get along with the Easter Bunny.
And none of the children saw him.
Pitch knew that pain, knew what it was like to feel impotent and helpless as insolent children walked right through him, as though he wasn't even there, he had suffered the same indignity for more than long enough, himself. He, too, knew what it meant to not be believed in, to have no control over children's minds, to have no sway in their hearts.
It had made him boil with rage for longer than he would like to admit, furious and willing to do nearly anything to regain his old glory. As he understood it, Jack Frost had never actually had the power to lose, so he imagined that on one hand perhaps he should consider the boy lucky, that he didn't know what he was missing. But on the other, he thought, perhaps, that he and Jack Frost were kindred spirits. Both alone in the hell that was the mortal world, and both knew the sting of the unbelievers.
But then, perhaps he was simply being optimistic.
Perhaps the Man in the Moon had chosen him because he was pure of heart, or some other equally as insipid reason. Knowing the Moon, it would be something as foolishly simple as that.
But maybe there was some other reason, and maybe that would be why Jack Frost would be the perfect ally for Pitch Black. He had planned to wage this war alone.
But with an ally…
Forget his previous plans for the children of this world. They weren’t grand enough, for what he could do if he were not alone in destroying the Guardians. With help by his side, he could create a kingdom that only he could rule. With, of course, someone at his side, to rule at his right hand. Pitch could share the power, because there would be more power for having had an ally beside him to gain it.
Jack slid off of the fence, and gathered up a handful of snow. Blowing on it, the mischievous spirit turned the ball to ice, then with a devious sort of smirk, threw it at one of the children that had dashed past Pitch only moments before.
Simple fun, really, just trying to entertain the children, perhaps.
Or himself, more accurately.
Pitch pulled himself through the shadows, and caught the snowball out of the air moments before it would have hit the child's head, slipping back into the depths of the shadows before he was anything more than just a movement out of the corner of the children's eyes. It wasn't that he was hiding - it was simply that the time was not yet right. Not to reveal himself to the children of the world, at least, not yet. The time was coming, but not yet.
It was, however, the time to draw the attention of Jack Frost.
Frost, naturally, noticed when he caught the snow ball and it failed to hit the intended target of the back of the child's head. Frost's head snapped up, gaping at him in the shadows, and he grinned, before letting himself fade.
Were he actually trying to get away from him, he would simply dash to a shadow that was out of Frost's sight. It wasn't hard. But he wanted to lure him along after him. He wanted Frost to see where he was going.
So instead, he darted into a shadow of another tree, then another, then the shadow of a light pole, making sure to let the shadows drag just slightly behind him. He had to leave enough of a trail that Frost could follow him - but not enough that he could tell that Pitch was leaving a trail for him to follow. He imagined that children that believed would be liable to catch traces of his shadows, trailing behind him like the tattered edges of a cloak. He actually wondered, for just a moment, what the children thought of that - and decided that he was looking forward to seeing how, exactly, these visions played out in their nightmares tonight.
"Hey! Wait! Wait up!"
Ah, and that would be Jack Frost, nipping at his heels,
Pitch smirked to himself, still holding the snowball cradled in his fingers. Wasn't sure why he was still holding it - except that as he twisted, slightly, he could see that Frost was flagging slightly. Maybe he'd lost track of him - though he doubted it, Pitch was deliberately making sure he could be followed - or maybe he'd simply been distracted by the children again. They were, after all, playing as children were wont to do, tumbling over each other as they clambered in and out of a makeshift shelter, laughing as one of them tried to perch their sledge precariously on the top of the wall, perhaps to give themselves more of a push down the hill. Jack had turned, to watch them, a faraway look in his eyes that told Pitch that if he didn't get his attention back - and quickly - then he had lost him.
His power was weaker during the day. It was harder to fill a person with awe and terror when the damnable sun was lingering overhead, making everything bright and cheerful.
Well, he thought. That will soon be changing, won't it?
Hefting the snowball that he'd managed to snag from Frost, Pitch considered the weight of it for a moment, then with a smirk, turned the boy's antics on his own head. After all, though he were an immortal spirit, Jack Frost really was just a child himself, wasn't he? So though the tactic may be juvenile, it certainly seemed effective to his mind.
He threw the snowball right back at Frost.
It slammed up into the side of the boy's head, exploding in a shower of icy bits that he knew were likely designed to melt and dribble down the back of a mortal child's neck, and though he were not mortal, Frost sort of stumbled slightly to the side, as though he couldn't quite believe that someone would dare to hit him with one of his own projectiles.
Spinning back towards Pitch, Frost's brows furrowed over his sharp, silver eyes, and he knew that he had the boy's full attention, now.
Pitch spread his hands, a mockery of a bow as he bent slightly, then he was gone from the shadow, and onto the next.
This time, he didn't have to deliberately leave a trail for Jack Frost to follow, he simply barreled along after Pitch as though his life depended on it, whipping around corners at a reckless pace, gripping that staff of his tightly in hand as he clipped the edges of roofs, caught himself on ice-covered power lines to keep from overshooting whenever Pitch would shift his course again. The Wind was Frost's friend, he had heard once, and Frost liked to catch little breezes and eddies to carry himself through the air. Didn't really fly himself, then, but was certainly lighter than air either way. Pitch laughed to himself as he lured the boy further and further out of the town that he had found him in, away from those damnable children, and out into the forest that surrounded the town.
Pitch was more at home, here. These were evergreen forests, and while he generally wouldn't find himself embracing something that had very much become part of the whole Santa Claus mythos - chopping these things down, shoving them inside their homes and decorating them with gaudy baubles in the hopes that they had been nice enough to deserve presents to go under it this year - he could certainly appreciate the fact that even Frost's influence didn't drive these trees into the same hibernation their now-skeletal cousins were in. This meant that even in the depth of winter, when everything was stark and bright, Pitch had deep shadows to work in.
That was perhaps why he started showboating, here.
As he lured Jack deeper in the shadows of the trees, he swept more around him, teasingly close. Near enough that more than once, Jack reached out, trying to catch hold of Pitch's sleeve, and more than once, he skittered just out of his reach, darting away, again.
"Wait up!" Frost called, again. "I just want to talk to you! Who are you? Why can you see me?!"
Taking pity on the boy - or perhaps because he needed not to antagonize him if this was to work - Pitch stilled, stepping out of the deep shadow of a massive tree, barely visible in the filtered light. "Surely, you have seen other spirits."
Jack spun to face him, nearly overshooting in his haste to face him. He was gripping his staff so hard that his knuckles were white, but his boyish jaw was set, firmly, making him look less like the child that Pitch had initially thought he was. Frost was closer to being a man, really, than he was to being a boy, and had he been mortal, he would have guessed to be perhaps fourteen winters old. "I've seen lots of spirits. Who are you?"
Pitch smiled, slowly, trying not to look quite as predatory as normal.
He was fairly sure it hadn't worked.
"My name is Pitch Black."
Recognition didn't immediately flicker in the boy's eyes. It seemed he wasn't going to have a dawning moment of realization - Jack Frost genuinely did not recognize the name. Well, sadly, that was no surprise. Pitch hadn't been at full power in a long time.
Slipping back into the shadows the way that another might slip into the water, letting himself be enveloped by them, Pitch emerged from the shadows just over Jack's shoulder, and delighted in the way that the boy scrambled to spin again when he spoke.
"They call me the Boogeyman."
Still clutching that staff between them like a shield, Jack backed up a few steps. "Now that I've heard of. I thought you were just a story."
Pitch didn't bother to hide the wince. "Mm. Is that what they've told you about me? Is that the story that the Man in the Moon is weaving, these days?"
Frost rapidly took another few steps forward, looking up at him. "He talks to you? Just.... he talks to you?"
He hesitated slightly, considering the boy. "Does he talk to you?"
His eyes narrowed, jaw set, he looked up at Pitch, trying to figure out, clearly, why he had answered a question with another question. His mouth worked slightly, as though he was fighting with himself, wanting to speak, but finally, Frost said, "He did, once. He told me my name. Never answered again."
"Ah. Well.... the Man in the Moon tends to be rather... enigmatic," Pitch agreed, dipping his head slightly as he began to circle the other spirit in a manner that was somewhat reminiscent of a circling shark. He could use this. "But he speaks to the Guardians on a regular basis. Advises them, as it were."
The way that Frost crinkled his nose, and kicked at a stone with his bare toes gave Pitch a dark sort of hope.
"Not a fan of the Guardians?" He asked, mildly.
The silver haired boy let out a huff of breath, his hair ruffled by the movement of air, and shrugged, shoving his hands in the large pocket on the front of the sweater he wore. "Just... wish I knew what it was like. To be seen. To be... believed in, I guess."
"Believe me, my boy," Pitch let a tendril of shadows curl out to slide silently over the back of Jack's leg, curiosity getting the better of him. Hm, the boy was as frigid to the touch as he had expected. "I know the feeling."
"Yeah, but I've heard of you," Frost muttered, kicking at the snow.
"Being a Guardian has its... shortcomings, Jack Frost," Pitch purred, and watched as the other's head snapped up, as though he was genuinely surprised that he might know his name. "Far more than our situation has, though it may not seem that way, sometimes. Why don't we go somewhere more... comfortable, to talk?"
Jack hesitated, brows furrowed. "...what do you have in mind?"
"The Guardians aren't the only ones with their own realms."
Unlike the North Pole, the Warren, or the Tooth Palace, Pitch Black's realm didn't really have a name, exactly. If forced to come up with one, he might call it the Realm of the Nightmares, or perhaps the Palace of Fear, but he didn't like to give things names, because giving them names meant they were easier to explain away. When things were unknown, they were more terrifying, and they got under your skin all the faster.
There was no actual location for his realm. Unlike the Pole, and the other realms, his could be wherever he needed it to be, whenever he wanted it to be there. Convenient, he had always thought.
So long as there were shadows, there his home could be.
He could feel the tension practically vibrating in his companion as Pitch walked up to the broken wooden bed that always marked the entrance of his realm, wherever it was, at the time. Rotten, the wood decaying on what had once been a strong bed, the frame did little to hide that below it sat a massive hole, an empty maw that yawned open in the ground, inviting those foolish enough to get lost to explore its dark depths. Ominous, perhaps, but Pitch had made a very good life for himself lurking under the beds of children. Frost looked apprehensive about entering, but he needn't have worried. It wasn't him Pitch wanted to destroy.
"Welcome to my home," Pitch waved a hand at the bed.
"Looks like a bit of a fixer upper, you ask me," Jack said, hopping nimbly up onto the edge of the bed frame, poking at one of the cross-slats with the end of his staff, and watching as it creaked and broke under the pressure, part of the wood tumbling out of the frame and tumbling down into the darkness of the hole below it.
Humour, Pitch smirked. Jokes in the face of fear.
"Yes, I suppose I haven't done much with it in the last few millennia," he conceded, gathering the growing shadows from the trees around himself like a cloak. "Please, do come inside."
Frost frowned slightly, running his tongue over his teeth behind his lips, then shrugged, and bowed towards the hole. "After you."
"No," Pitch rested his fingers on the headboard. "After you, I insist."
"Age before beauty." Jack shot back.
"Mm. If you insist."
Pitch gathered up the darkness, then blasted through the remaining structures of the bed - it was mere illusion, in any case, just there as a sign post, just as the striped red and white barber's Pole at Santa's realm, was - and plunged into the darkness of his home.
He was showing... restraint. Trust, perhaps. To convince Frost that he could be trusted.
And yes, he felt when that frigid slip of a boy slid down into the shadows, and entered the realm that was his domain.
His home, Pitch supposed, must be an intimidating place, for the uninitiated. It was dark, certainly, but there was light here, stark and bright, throwing the shadows into even darker pitches simply because it was there. Everything had sharp angles, there were no curves anywhere, unless he could find a way to make them into a spiral, and everything was angular and jarring. Cave-like, in places, with stalactites and stalagmites that hung from the ceiling and floor like razor teeth, giving the impression that at any time, any of the tunnels might suddenly be revealed to be a beast that was simply waiting for someone foolish enough to walk into its maw so that they might be devoured. In other places, it was like a Roman Coliseum – oh, those were beautiful places of fear - with columns and staircases and walls that seemed to cage intruders in. Cages hung from the ceilings of the cave, metal and cold, useful in case of any need. Gliding from one shadow to another, Pitch waited for Frost to satisfy his curiosity, looking around, and fell almost casually into his throne, which was not made of shadows as someone may expect, but instead hewn from the living rock around them.
Sprawled out in his seat, he waited for Frost to finish his exploration and come to see him, pondering whether or not he ought to create a seat for the other spirit, and in the end conjured something similar to his own seat, though much smaller and with much less grandeur, out of nothing more than rock and magic.
"What's this?" Jack asked, not coming to sit, but instead standing in front of his globe, leaning on his staff.
Trust the boy to not do what Pitch expected of him.
Pitch rose, languidly, from his throne, and approached Frost slowly, calm even as the boy twisted to watch him coming. There was no need to rush, not here, no need to zip through the shadows and impress him with his speed and power - Frost was already here, and the time for the displays of power were over, for the moment. Now was the time to impart on the boy his diplomacy skills - which were, admittedly, rusty - and convince him to work with him before the Guardians got their hands on him.
"Have you ever heard of Santa Claus' globe?" He asked, hands draped behind his back, glancing at the other spirit.
Jack's silver eyes widened. "The globe that shows all the children that believe?"
Pitch hummed, and nodded.
"This isn't Santa's globe, though," Jack frowned slightly, trailing his fingers over the metal that formed North America. Filigreed designs of frost blossomed across the metal under his fingers, a frozen lace work that spread wider the longer his fingers stayed. "That one's huge."
"So it is," Pitch agreed, nodding as he considered it. "This is mine."
"Why do you have one?" Jack dropped his hand, and the designs stilled. "No one believes in you, anyway."
He bit his tongue. It would be so easy to snap at him, to correct him, but that was not why he was here. Pitch simply had to show him the error of his ways, that was all. "What I want to measure here, Frost, is how many children still believe in the Guardians."
"A lot," Jack smirked, leaning on his crook as he looked up at Pitch, with a cheeky grin. "I mean, look at it. That's a lot of lights."
"So it is," Pitch agreed, reluctantly.
"So why measure it?" He frowned, brows furrowed.
"Because those lights will soon begin to change." Pitch reached out to press one of his long, lanky fingertips against a single of the golden lights, for a moment. "Soon, they will stop believing."
He lifted his finger, and the golden light was out.
Jack shifted forward, quickly, reaching up to touch where the little golden light had been, eyes wide as he examined it - there was no evidence that the light had ever been there at all. "How did you do that?"
"The child stopped believing," he said, with a little shrug, and a smirk. Of course he knew how, and why - his own Nightmares were currently circling that boy's bed, their breath snorting hot and steaming in the air around the bed as they walked, pacing in circles, and their report on the boys status was being delivered to him, as it happened - but he was more than willing to let it seem almost mystical and inexplicable.
After all, it worked for Santa, it ought to work for him.
Jack let out a long, stunned breath, fingers dancing over the lights, frost filigrees spreading like cold lace under them, across the metal.
"You bring a certain... touch... to my darkness," Pitch murmured, almost catching himself off guard with the realization. It wasn't dark and evil and terrifying, the way that nearly everything Pitch Black did was, it was actually beautiful, really, the little designs. Certainly striking, against the darkness.
"Yeah, well..." Jack laughed, the introspection disappearing off of his face as he looked up at him, bright and cheerful, and bounced away from him, circling the globe as he looked at all the different scattered lights. "I may as well be good at what I'm good at."
"Mmm, yes, I suppose."
"So what did you want to talk to me about, exactly?" Frost asked, settling finally, perched on top of the crook of his staff like he was a bird on a winter barren branch, his knees crunched up and splayed to the side like he was a gangly-legged sparrow, and grinned at him. Cheeky.
"I have a proposition for you." Pitch stepped forward, hands draped behind his back, walking slowly around the globe. The shadows curled around his ankles, rippling slightly as they scurried about his feet, like smoke around a fire.
"Oooh, a proposition. Sounds serious." Frost swung down off of his staff, swinging down about it like a fireman's pole, landing on his feet as he leaned on it, heavily. Apparently Jack had a problem with standing still, which was sort of interesting. Restless, perhaps?
"Perhaps." He nodded, quietly, and smirked at the boy. "I believe that it would be in both of our best interests to... join forces, as it were."
"Join forces." Jack repeated. "The Boogeyman and Jack Frost?"
"Yes. I believe, between the two of us, that we could be far stronger than the Guardians ever have been. You, yourself, you'd be far stronger than Santa Claus has ever been."
"Yeah right," the boy scoffed.
"Santa has control over the children of the world only once a year, Frost," Pitch pointed out. "Yet every time that those children stray too far from the safety of their homes anytime during the winter, you remind them of your power with the pain in their fingers and toes. You are far more powerful than Santa Claus, Jack, you have more strength than even he."
"In case you haven't noticed," the boy's smile had disappeared. "I am not strong. I am not believed in."
"That is where you are wrong, Jack Frost." Pitch stepped forward, gliding towards him. He had a considerable height advantage over the boy, and he knew it, which could very well make him intimidating. Based on the little flitter-flutter of the boy's pulse in his chest, clearly his height did something for said intimidation - but the other spirit didn't move back. He held his ground. Impressive. Holding out his hand, he laid the flat of his palm over Jack Frost's heart, and said, quietly, "I believe in you, Jack Frost. I believe in you."
Jack drew a deep breath, his chest rising and falling under Pitch's hand. "Well, that's awfully nice of you, but I'm not sure your belief counts."
"I'm offended," he drawled, smirking slightly, and stepped back.
Rolling his eyes, the boy hugged his staff a little tighter. There was something in the way he held his shoulders that said that he was trying desperately to be serious, that he wanted to look confident and in control - but his spine was stiff with nerves. He was off balance again. "Well, what good does it do me, that another spirit believes? I'm not seen by anyone."
"Am I no one?" Pitch spread his hands out.
"Do you twist everything that people say?" Jack shot back.
"At times." He smirked, and started circling the globe again. "But you know the Guardians hide. They're seen by children, yes, but they deliberately hide so that the children will never see them. You get to walk among them, but no one ever sees you. Which, do you think, is better off?"
"Why can't I be seen, and let them see me?" Jack muttered.
"That, my boy, is exactly what I want." Pitch grinned, sharp shark teeth bared in a grin. "To be believed, to be seen. And to rule."
"Rule?" Frost looked skeptical.
"Mm. Certainly." He nodded at the globe. "The Guardians rule now because they are believed in. But imagine a world that is... always winter. Always night. You would rule everywhere, and not just in the north, and not just when Santa Claus wants you for the white Christmases he's always raving about. All the time, Jack, in power, and seen. Doesn't it sound beautiful?"
"No... you see, all it takes... is belief." Pitch turned towards his glowing lights on his map again, and finger walked his way across North America. As his fingers walked, lights went out behind them - but a moment later, they lit again. Not gold, this time, though, but silver. "Do you see that?"
"What is it?" Jack breathed.
Pitch grinned down at him. "You feel it, don't you?"
Looking up at him, those silver eyes wide, he said, "I feel stronger. Like... like I've got so much more energy."
"That's because the silver lights... are children that believe in Jack Frost." He tapped his fingers on the map, and though the golden lights continued to fade in spots, the silver ones stayed strong.
"How is that possible?!" Jack looked up at him, sharply, eyes wide. "I don't understand! No one has ever believed in me, how come they suddenly do?! What did you do?!"
"You know, of course," he answered another question with another question, "Of Sandman?"
Frost huffed, brows furrowed. "Course."
"And you know how he works?" Pitch continued.
"With the golden sand." He frowned. "He sprinkles it on the children's heads, as they're slipping to sleep. He brings them good dreams."
"Yes," he agreed, and stepped back to the shadows by his throne. "But Sandman isn’t the only one with sand, and dreams."
One of his nightmares stepped out of the shadows, then, eyes bright and sharp, snorting at the air. Jack took a couple steps back, startled, and Pitch laughed, reaching up to rub the mare's nose. "Shh, shh, shh," he whispered to the Nightmare, but he was actually saying it to the younger spirit. "She won't hurt you. I won't hurt you, Jack, I believe in you, remember?"
"Yeah well... it's a little terrifying," Jack murmured, stepping forward, warily.
"Thank you," Pitch smirked, mock bowing slightly.
"Is it... is it made of black sand?" He asked, frowning.
"And shadows," He nodded, stroking the Nightmare's mane. "My pride and joy. They deliver my own special brand of dreams."
"You bring all of the bad dreams," Jack actually looked horrified by that.
"Well, I am the Boogeyman. I sort of have a reputation of lurking under children's beds and haunting their sleep," Pitch admitted, still stroking the sandy mane, which curled around his fingers like it had a life of its own. "But no, I don't bring all of the bad dreams. Some are caused by their parents yelling at them, when they were naughty. Or from reading those books that their parents told them not to. Or eating pickles before bed. Or... if you believe the old stories, from sleeping in the light of the moon."
Taking another step closer to him and the mare, Frost scoffed, "The Man in the Moon doesn't give bad dreams."
"Have you ever had him give you good ones?" He asked, smoothly.
Jack opened his mouth, to answer, then hesitated, and as Pitch watched, a look of dawning realization and horror crossed his face.
Of course, to Pitch's knowledge, the Man in the Moon didn't bring any sort of dreams to anyone, good or bad. But the myth was certainly true, and he had heard it many times, when he was still young, as a spirit. Parents would tell their children that it was safer to sleep out of the light of the moon - and Pitch had certainly taken to encourage said belief. After all, the more they tried to get out of the moon and deeper in the shadows, the more power he had over them. Frost had problems with the Man in the Moon, though, he had all but said so, earlier. It seemed wise to cultivate those problems into hatred. It would certainly serve his purposes well, if Jack hated their patriarch.
"I haven't cornered the market on bad dreams," Pitch said, at last. "But mine are so very much better than anyone else's. I simply gave my Nightmares something to bring to the children's dreams. You, Jack Frost. I sent them with you. And now... children believe."
"But from nightmares!" He protested. "They fear me!"
"Would you rather be feared, and rule... or loved... and completely ignored?" He asked, smiling at him. It wasn't a comforting smile, and Pitch knew it, but it was his own.
"I don't know, Black, I think... maybe this was a bad idea..."
"But you haven't even seen what I have in mind for us, for our beautiful conquer." Pitch stepped closer to him, and behind them, the shadows and magic twisted again, forming a stone cot, right behind Jack, pillowed with shadows. "We are meant to work together, Jack Frost. Cold and dark. We go together like a hand..." He held up his, then black sand encased it. "And a glove."
"How are you going to show me?" Jack asked, warily.
"The best way I know how," Pitch said, and sprinkled black sand over the boy's head.
Jack's eyes widened in alarm, startled, then abruptly sagged, and he flagged, sinking towards the floor. Pitch's shadows caught him, curling around the small body, and shifted him carefully onto the stone cot. Leaning over the boy, Pitch watched his eyes moving, skittering, behind his eyelids, and drew the shadows around the boy like a blanket before sinking back to rest in his throne, watching Jack sleep.
Let him see what he had dreamed up for them from the depths of the darkest shadows.
The world was dark.
Jack flew through the air, catching the edges of the gusts of wind, and settled on the edge of the roof of one of the buildings, a town hall or something, he didn’t know – and he didn’t actually care. Resting his hand on the head of a large stone gargoyle, he stepped barefoot to the very edge of the roof, the wind still curling around him, brushing through his hair, though the white fur around the edge of his collar. Little soft tendrils of the fur brushed his cheek, teasing, but he ignored it. Used to it.
The moon was the only light spilling out over the town that lay sprawled in front of him, except for a couple small pinpoints of torch light. It cast the whole world in a blue light, glinting on ice and snow, the banks completely covering half of the buildings of the town.
Drawing in a deep breath, Jack caught the bite of snow in the wind that still curled around him, and grinned.
There was snow everywhere.
Jack felt sort of heavy, as though something very large had been set on top of him, pinning him down, preventing him from rising. For a moment, he struggled against the weight, then resigned himself to being held down, and opened his eyes, instead.
Confused, he shifted his arm - that he was able to move - and rubbed at his eyes, looking around. There was nothing there.
The longer he looked at the darkness, though, the more he finally realized that his eyes just had to acclimatize, and that there were little pinpricks of lights, here and there, and the longer he looked at them, the more focused and bright they seemed to become, until they finally seemed to coalesce into a shape he recognized. Bright and clear and silver, they were the lights on that globe that Pitch Black had been showing him before...
Before he'd fallen asleep.
Well, that had to be Pitch's fault, because Jack was proud to say that he was not in the habit of just going to sleep, willy nilly, wherever he was, especially when that somewhere was technically in the lair of the spirit that was supposed to be the enemy of all spirits. Though, Jack had to admit, he supposed - pre-sleep, that is - Pitch had really done nothing to make himself seem... like an enemy. And even then, all he'd done was make Jack sleep.
Of course, that in itself was a little unusual, because Jack sort of didn't sleep. It wasn't that he couldn't, or anything, because he'd never met a spirit that couldn't go to sleep if he happened to want to, but the simple fact was that he was a spirit, and as such... well. He sort of didn't have to sleep.
Didn’t have to do most things, really, like sleeping, or eating, or really doing anything other than creating the snowstorms – but he supposed even those he didn’t have to do, he just did. Because it was fun. That was why he did most of the things in his life, frankly, because they were fun, and if he didn’t focus on the things that were fun, he was pretty sure that he was just going to go insane and turn into an actual raving ghost in the shadows, talking to flowers and raving at the Man in the Moon with absolutely no purpose or effect. And as… amusing, as that would probably be, for anyone to see, no one would actually see him doing it, would they?
Although… there were an awful lot of silver lights on that globe, come to think of it.
Maybe someone would see him.
Shifting, Jack finally figured out why, exactly, it was that he couldn’t move. The Nightmare that he had seen before was laying beside his bed, its massive head pillowed on his chest. Its eyes were closed – Nightmares slept? – and when he shoved at its head with his spare hand, its ears just sort of flickered, and the massive shadow horse huffed. Displeased, he shoved at its head again, trying to get it to wake up. A moment later, the Nightmare’s golden eyes, malevolent and evil, snapped open.
“Nice horsey…” he cleared his throat, not sure if it was going to eat him now, or something. Could horses eat people?
It whickered, a displeased sort of sound, and stood up.
Jack watched the Nightmare walk away, then took a deep breath, and slipped out of the shadows that had wrapped themselves around him like a blanket, padding quietly and barefoot across the massive chamber. Snagging his staff from where it had been leaning against that globe, Jack considered the lights, frowning slightly. There were a lot of golden lights.
But there were a lot of silver ones, too.
Did children really believe in him?
“Ah… you’re awake.”
Jack spun around to face Pitch as he approached, frowning slightly. The Boogeyman was large and dark, but he wasn’t quite as absolutely petrifying as he’d remembered, from his nightmares. Before meeting him, that was. Outside of nightmares, he was certainly… terrifying. But he wasn’t… numbing. Jack’s blood didn’t run quite as cold when he saw Pitch in person. In his dreams – the dreams that faded all the more the longer he was awake – Pitch Black was so utterly and completely frightening that he seemed frozen in place. As though ice had formed around his feet and pinned him in place, leaving him helpless to the circling spirit.
But in his dreams, Pitch had done more than just circle him.
Leaning on his staff, he frowned slightly, watching the taller spirit. Pitch stepped up beside him, his footsteps soundless on the floor, and stepped beside him, with his hands draped behind his back, quiet.
“Yep.” Jack said, still watching the other. “M’awake. No thanks to you and your Nightmares… apparently they like using me as a pillow.”
“Mmm… they seem to like you,” Pitch agreed, a little smirk playing on the corner of his lips.
“Maybe they inherited that from someone.” He shot back, swinging himself up to sit on the top of the globe. Felt a little like he was towering over the whole of it, looking down at Pitch. Folding his legs, he lay his staff across his lap, and watched the other.
Pitch didn’t look phased in the slightest. Dammit. He’d been trying to irritate him, at least it would crack that shell of his. Easier to figure a person out, if they got irritated, because they let out their real selves, when they did. “Perhaps they did. I told you, Frost, I think we would work well together. I truly believe that we could make this whole, whole world dark… and cold.”
“Probably could,” Jack shrugged, frowning slightly.
“You saw it, didn’t you?” Pitch stepped closer to the globe, tilting his head slightly to the side as he looked up at him, golden eyes bright as he looked up at him. Mischievous. Jack could appreciate mischief. “The world, covered in snow, the humans helpless against you. All of the children believing in you, you strong and powerful because of their… belief.”
“Yeah, I had your nightmare,” he slid off of the globe again, peering at Pitch through the gaps in the globe, considering him. He was tall, and lean, whip-thin and shadow-like, as though Jack could see through him if he tried hard enough. “I saw it. Saw myself living in a world where there was no light, and no summer, just… dark. All the time.”
“And cold.” He corrected, stepping closer, resting his hand on the globe.
Resting his hand on the other side of the globe, he said, “You said there were shortcomings to being a Guardian.”
“So there are,” Pitch dipped his head. “Well, you know what it means, to not be believed in.”
Jack shuddered slightly, looking up at the golden lights that showed those children that believed in the Guardians, still. They cast a golden glow on his hand, on his face, curling around him like warmth – and he was surprised to find that he didn’t really like it. He didn’t know what it was like to be warm. He remembered the cold, had never experienced the warm. Even in the height of the sunniest day, he was still cold. He was Jack Frost, he was made of the cold. “Yeah,” he agreed, quietly, watching as frost curlicues and designs whorled across the metal of the globe. “I know what it’s like to not be believed in. No one sees you. No one knows you’re there. You can do things, but… you have no power.”
“That is all you’ve ever known, isn’t it?” Pitch said, his voice smooth.
“Don’t need to rub it in,” Jack said, perhaps a bit sharper than he should have, fingers curled on the cold metal.
“I was not trying to make you suffer more, Jack,” the other said, and Jack watched the Boogeyman as he rounded the globe, slowly. As he walked around it, the golden lights seemed to dim, in the shadows, but every now and then, another of those little silver lights would take its place. “After all, I’ve had my Nightmares spreading your name to the children the world over. I just meant, Jack, that you are not alone. You have only ever known being skipped over by the children of the world. Left behind by those focused more on the Guardians. They see the Groundhog, Jack, but they don’t see you. I don’t say this to be cruel. I say this because you are not alone. I too, have felt the indignity of being ignored. I was not believed in for longer than I care to remember.”
Jack hesitated, looking up at Pitch, brows furrowed. “So if the children stop believing in them… they’ll become like we are?”
“Like we were.”
The shadows curled around Jack, and he spun around, startled, trying to see where he had gone. The lights of the globe were suddenly gone, but a moment later, light flared around him again, and he spun, startled.
They weren’t in Pitch’s realm any more, they were standing on the roof of a building, the late evening sunset spilling pink and golden light over them. It was a high building, maybe an apartment building, the kind where they could see out over the whole of the city around them. Clutching tighter at his staff, warily, Jack moved closer to the edge, peering down at the city, then glanced back at Pitch. The Boogeyman was standing a ways behind him, his hands still draped behind his back as though he was perfectly relaxed, his black robes rustling slightly in the breeze. The West wind curled around them, ruffling both of their hair, and Jack could hear the soft whispered concerns in the breeze, as it wondered where he had been, why he had been hidden from them, before. Jack held out his hand, letting the West Wind curl around his fingers for a moment, to reassure his old friend, then dropped it back to his side, and turned to face Pitch properly.
The Wind helped him, lifting him a little off the ground, so that he actually had a little of a height advantage on the other spirit – finally – and he demanded, “What are we doing here? Where did you take me?”
“Where is not important,” Pitch lifted a hand to wave off the concern, and began to pace around the roof. “What matters is what we see.”
Jack arched a brow, and shifted to the edge of the roof, looking down again. “…what are we seeing?”
Pitch was suddenly right beside him, and he looked at him, sharply. He wasn’t sure that he would ever actually get used to the other’s way of moving in the shadows, disappearing sometimes in flares of black sand then abruptly being somewhere else. Jack had never been able to do that himself, and while he’d clashed with Bunny a few times, he’d never actually met another spirit that could do this. Sandman probably could, but he’d never seen him to ever be in a rush enough to move quickly like Pitch did. Hands still draped behind his back, Pitch looked down at the city, and said, “Look at it, Jack. There are people down there, moving about like this is all there is to life. They don’t know we’re here, they don’t know what we can do, they don’t believe in us. But we could make them believe.”
“What, by sending your Nightmares after them?” He scoffed slightly, crossing his legs again, floating on the Wind as though he was sitting in a chair. West Wind always had been his favourite, for this.
“It does work,” Pitch pointed out, with a smirk. “But I want you to think of this. How often do they, down there, think of the Easter Bunny?”
Jack blinked, startled by the question. “…around Easter?”
“Mm. And North? When do they think of him?”
Trying to figure out where he was going with this, Jack twisted so that he faced Pitch, and not the city, even though the other spirit was looking down at the movement on the streets below and not at him. “Around Christmas.”
“When they lose a tooth.” Jack let his staff rest just under his shoulder blades, and hooked both of his arms around it, like milk maids used to carry their poles, a bucket of milk hanging from either end of their crooks. “And before you ask, I guess they think of Sandman only when they have really good dreams, and they think of the Leprechaun around St. Patrick’s day, and the Groundhog around Groundhog’s Day, and the same for all the other spirits. They think about them when their days come up.”
“And when do they think of the cold, Jack?” Pitch finally turned to face him.
“…in the winter?”
“When it’s cold,” he shot back, with a smirk, then Pitch reached out, and caught the crooked end of Jack’s staff. Curling his fingers around the curved wood, he tugged him closer, and though Jack was startled, he let him. He could always get free when necessary. “I have said it before,” Pitch said, seriously, though there was that mischief in his eyes again. “And I will say it again. You are not limited to only certain times of the year. You could easily become more powerful than North. All you have to do is make winter last all year.”
“And how, exactly, am I supposed to do that?” Jack said, frowning.
“By working together,” Pitch’s voice was smooth, like liquid silk. “Do you know what happens when there’s no sunlight? When the world falls dark?”
“You rule?” He guessed, with a smirk.
“Yes.” He dipped his head. “But so do you, Jack. Because without the sun, the world becomes cold. You see… this happened once before. Long before you came into the world, the world was wrapped in something we called the Dark Ages. They were dark because there were no Guardians. There was no one to bring light into the world, and because my power is strong, it was dark. And it was cold, Frost. As cold as you. The whole world was cold because it was dark, and it was dark because I ruled it. All we need to do is make them stop believing in the Guardians, and the world will become dark… and cold.”
“…like an ice age.” Jack had read about that before, he’d never seen it, but he knew what it was, he knew what it was like to be encased in ice and snow.
“Exactly.” Pitch smirked.
“You think the whole world would become cold? Even the warm parts?” He asked, leaning closer to the dark spirit, brows furrowed. It was actually a very nice thought, to be cold everywhere, to be surrounded by flakes everywhere, and not just when he created it. All the time, the whole world blanketed…
“With time.” He nodded, hand still holding tightly to his crook.
“And you’re not just doing this because you want to use me, or something, are you?” Jack demanded. Sure, Pitch claimed to believe in him. Pitch seemed to have sent Nightmares to bring his belief to children. Pitch was the one standing here promising him power and belief and a kingdom, really. But this was also the Boogeyman, and who knew if he was actually telling the truth? “You aren’t just trying to get me to freeze the world, then drop me the moment that the Guardians aren’t believed in, and you rule the world?”
He wanted to be believed in.
Pitch said he believed in him, and while he knew he’d said that Pitch’s belief didn’t really count, it did. He’d been the first person he’d ever met – mortal or spirit – that actually said that they believed in him. Jack honestly was starting to think that if he lost that belief, even if it had never really meant anything to begin with, that he may never manage to recover from that.
Funny, that he’d managed three hundred years invisible and ignored – a day of being believed in, and he couldn’t give it up.
“I believe in you, Jack Frost.” Pitch said, again.
He pursed his lips, scowling. “You’re not just saying that?”
Finally releasing his staff, Pitch stepped back, and spread his hands out, bowing slightly. “I won’t lie to you, Jack. I want to rule the world. I want to embrace this pitiful planet of mortals with cold and dark, and I want to rule. That does not mean I must rule on my own. My kingdom… needs a right hand. I want you to rule this world with me.”
Narrowing his eyes at him, Jack considered the other spirit. He was the Boogeyman. He was darkness incarnate.
How do you trust the darkness itself?
“The only things you can depend on in this world, Jack Frost,” Pitch purred, as he slipped into the shadows again, and one moment was behind him, then to his left, then brushing against his back as he whispered in Jack’s ear, curling his hand around his elbow, holding him in place before he could jerk away from him. “Is that the night will always be dark, and it will always be cold. What could work together better than us?”
Panting more than he needed to, feeling the wind curl around them both, Jack tried to concentrate on Pitch’s hand on his elbow, warmer than his own body but still colder than any human hand would ever be. Closing his eyes for a moment, he imagined the world dark, blanketed in it.
Then he lifted his head, and twisted enough that he could see Pitch, even though he still held his elbow tight, holding him in place.
“…what do we do, first?”