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Lullaby

Chapter Text

It began with a song.  A lullaby, in fact, echoing slow and soft in the twilight hours, drifting from the rooms of children after their parents put them to bed.

Look for the boy with sad blue eyes.

It began in Tokyo.  In the narrow and winding back streets, rising up between the concrete ravines of towering apartment buildings, haunting and sad in the flickering shadows where the moon couldn't shine.

Riding a horse of fire and ice.

It bloomed like ink in water, welling up across Japan, in Brazil, in Ohio and Hawaii and California, in China and the Phillippines, and spread.

He comes to find you in the night.

Which was when Baby Tooth took the matter to Jack Frost.

"A kidnapper?" Jack echoed, the tiny fairy chirping worriedly in his cupped hands.  "I dunno, Baby.  Wouldn't it be 'mad blue eyes' if it was evil?"  Baby squeaked at him, waving a little fist imperiously, and he hunched into himself.  "All right, all right, I'll look into it.  It started in Tokyo, right?"

Baby Tooth cheeped an emphatic 'yes'.

-0-0-0

There was a storm going in the mountains just northwest of Tokyo.  It wasn't quite where Jack was supposed to be looking -- the story's epicenter was Tokyo proper -- but there was a hint of telltale power to the snow, something aloof and unconcerned rather than malicious, and it would be a lot easier to make contact with it than to just go barging in right off the bat.

Jack had tried to find spirits in megacities before.  It didn't work too well; plenty of them existed, of course, and they got along fine with people like North (man-made everything) and Tooth and Sandy (human-oriented powers).  They didn't take nearly so well to, say, Jack, what with the frosted power lines and frozen plumbing and annual potholes.

(Sometimes the kids giggled going 'boink!' in the car.  That was Jack's story and he was sticking to it.)

The woman at the center of the storm was tall and whipcord thin, nearly emaciated; she had a pot-lid hat of winter rushes weather-worn to gray, gauzy veils hanging from the brim; a kimono trailing billowing sleeves and sash in snowy whites, patterns of ice cracks at the hems; and, just barely visible under the veils, a ponytail and eyes the blue-black of arctic seawater.

When Jack touched lightly down on her rooftop, one elegant hand drifted down, the whistling breezes going quiet with it.

"Dare ka?" she asked, in a voice like wind through broken reeds.

That sounded like a 'who are you', so,  "Jack Frost," Jack said, and bowed.

Her brows came together.  "Jyaki... Furo-suto...?"  Her hat tipped, veils drifting, as she visibly eyed him up and down.  Then she scoffed faintly.  "Jyaki no Fuyu, jitsu ga."

"... Okay, yeah, Jyaki."  Close enough.

Another measuring pause.  "Jyaki Fuyu-san wa nihongo o wakarimasu ka?"

He'd managed to figure out 'who', but that question was way too long to guess at.  "Sorry, I have no clue what you're saying."  Jack grinned sheepishly, clutching at his staff.  "I don't suppose you know any English?"

"Saa, wakarimasen."  She shook her head, more as if agreeing with something she'd already thought than telling Jack 'no'.  "Kagami-ni-san o hitsuyoda."  She turned half away, gesturing Jack in the same direction.  "Ikimasu kudasai."

That looks like a 'come with me'.  Jack shouldered his staff.  "Okay.  Lead on, milady."

She stepped onto a razor-thin leaf of ice, floating at the edge of the rooftop, and floated up into the sky.  But she didn't lead him into Tokyo.  Just over the mountain ridge, there was a larger town, and she drifted to the sidewalk before the doors to a department store.

"Douzo," she murmured, again gesturing him to come along, and they slipped in on the designer heels of a woman in a long black wool coat.

They went up the escalators, with Jack twitching at the impulse to surf on the moving handrail, and then into a home goods department.  One short aisle held decorative mirrors in all sorts of frames, sleek black and overwrought gilded and carved wood, silver spiked and sunburst round, and the snow spirit stopped before the largest.

"Kagami-ni-san, himitsu aikousha," she purred to her veiled reflection.  "Himitsu o sashiagemasu."  One long-nailed finger traced over the mirror's center.  "Himitsu o sashiagemasu."  Then she leaned in, parting her veils, and breathed, "Himitsu o sashiagemasu," a third time, the mirror fogging up under cool breath, except where a complex character showed the lines of her tracing.

When the mirror cleared, a man all in white peered back.

Jack blinked.  The top hat, the white suit, the flowing cape and bright monocle...  "You!"

The man -- Jack's favorite, the mystery focus for joy and fun that had caught his attention on his first trip to Tokyo decades ago, the man who'd vanished just five short years later -- tilted his head.  "My reputation precedes me," he said lightly, happily, with the faintest hint of a British accent.

Oh thank goodness.  "You speak English!"  Oh, and "Actually, I kinda saw you a few times before..." Jack flapped a hand at the mirror and the whole oh-hey-now-you're-a-spirit thing.  "What reputation?"

The man's grin sharpened just a little bit.  "Oh, nothing.  Before, hm?"  Amused blue eyes flicked to the snow woman.  "Yukionna-dono," he said, bowing.  "Doumo arigato gozaimasu.  Kongo wa, kono otoko o atsukaimasu."  Then something sly slid over his expression.  "Himitsu... o kudasaimasen kereba ka?"

She flicked open a nearly-translucent fan in front of her face, looking quickly away.  "Saa... sore ga..."

"Nan demo nai," the man in the mirror replied, before reaching out towards Jack.  "Come in?"

"In?" Jack echoed, but gamely pressed his hand to the mirror's surface.

He gasped when suede gloves yanked him through.

-0-0-0

There were suede-gloved hands clamped around Jack's wrists, and sharded shadows in his eyes, all of them something like a steel-and-glass Escher print, and everything seemed to be slowly spinning without moving an inch.  He squeezed his eyes shut, swallowing hard.

"Sorry, it's a bit non-Euclidean in here," the man apologized.  "You've got enough ice and moon in you that you shouldn't get sick off anything else about it, though."

Carefully, Jack winched one eye open.  The only spot of true color here caught his eye, blue shirt and red tie and the face of someone who didn't get much sun.

"Better?"

"Maybe a little."  As long as he didn't look past the man.

The man's grin gentled a little bit.  "Excellent.  Welcome to my humble abode," he said, sweeping his cape to the side and bowing just enough to be noticeable while still blocking most of the view.  "I go by Kaitou Kid, or Kid the Phantom Thief, or," something quirked at the corner of his mouth, "just Kaito or Kid.  I also may or may not answer to 'hey you', 'bloody wanker', and a number of Japanese epithets that I doubt you know."

Jack grinned.  "Well, Kid.  I'm Jack Frost.  I'm also known as the Guardian of Joy, and may or may not answer to Frostbite, Snowball, and a few growls and cheeps that I'm not sure can be made with a human throat."

"Ooh, I am in exalted company."  Jack winced (exalted company?  Him?  No, he was just good ol' Jack of Snow Days and Snowball Fights) but Kid simply waved that off.  "So, Jack Frost.  What brings you here to Tokyo?  Snowstormus Interruptus doesn't seem like you."

Well, no.  "It's not," Jack admitted.  "A friend of mine picked up on a rumor making the rounds among the kids, some sort of magical kidnapper?"  Kid's smile flattened out, so Jack added,  "The rumor's epicenter is here, so."

"Hm.  I've not heard about a kidnapper, but... how's the story go, do you know?"

It had been difficult to translate from Baby Tooth's piping calls, but, "Yeah, pretty much.  It's a nursery rhyme, goes," Jack cleared his throat, "Look for the boy with sad blue eyes, riding a horse of fire and ice.  He comes to find you in the night."  Then, "It kinda feels unfinished, but that's what I've got."

Kid's own blue eyes were wide and round.  "I'd say.  That's pretty much a direct translation of Kanashii no Aome-kun, but you're missing the fourth line entirely."  He thought a moment, murmuring rhythmically under his breath, then nodded.  "It should end with He's the last you'll see til the monster dies."

Wait, what?

"Kanashii no Aome-kun o miharu.  Koori to hi no umaninoru.  Yoru ni kodomo o tsukesaru.  Oni wa shine mae ni o miru," Kid chanted, sobering.  "He's no kidnapper, Frost-san."

"Then what...?"  Some sort of monster hunter?  A new spirit fighting nightmares and Pitch all alone?

But Kid's eyes were as sad as the rhyme's.  "Some children need more than Christmas presents and sweet dreams."  And he pulled Jack deeper into the shining Escher world.

-0-0-0

They stepped out into a dank cave, cold and oppressive with the weight of stone above, and almost entirely silent.  Somewhere, water dripped, faint and maddening; somewhere, dim light glistened onto the rippled rock wall.

Jack's fingers clenched on his staff.  This place seemed oddly familiar...

"This way," Kid murmured, pulling Jack out of the shadowy alcove where a vein of hematite had let them through.

The corridor was floored in loose, ankle-twisting rubble, some deceptively smooth to skid out from under the feet of the unwary, some flattened slabs like pavestones waiting to tip someone off of them, and far too many sharp-edged for falling to be at all safe.  Kid skipped easily across them like they were all cemented in place, and after the third attempt to slice Jack's feet off, Jack floated in his grip and let himself be towed behind.

Only a few twists of the tunnel, and a hint of warmth brushed over Jack's face.  Another turn brought them to a heavy wooden door, splintered planks and spiked hardware, paint worn to some indistinct grimy noncolor flaking freely away.  In the cracks, Jack could see flickering firelight.

Tap tap.  "Meitantei?" Kid murmured, and a low, comforting hum came to a halt.

Something rustled behind the door.  "Douzo," came the reply, soft and worn thin.  Jack couldn't tell if it was a man or a woman's voice, hovering somewhere in between.  The rhyme had said 'boy'...

The room inside was warm and cozy, thick Oriental rugs and massive pseudo-medieval tapestries -- unicorns, ladies, forests, bards, lambs, all in greens and deep blues without a single hunter or monster to be seen -- hiding the cold stone.  In the far corner, an overstuffed couch piled high with pillows and blankets overlooked the room; in the opposite corner, a slender black horse lay curled up, blue fire burning coolly from its hooves, mane, and tail.

Next to the hearth, a wingback chair sat across from a simple rocker, where a petite, cloaked figure was bottle-feeding a tiny infant.

"Hey," Kid said, as he entered the room, Jack hovering uncertainly behind him.  "Slow night?"

The figure sighed.  "It never is," he replied in perfect American English, raising his head to show blue eyes behind massive glasses that Jack hadn't seen for nearly fifty years.  Not since...

Jack dropped out of the sky and barely managed to freeze the coming avalanche solid before it could break free.

The kid fell to his knees, breathing hard, and so close that Jack could see the hope die in his eyes.

"Kuso..." the boy breathed.  Then, "KUSO!!!" and he was clearly cursing, punching the ground, tears dripping to freeze on his glasses.

And that was when Jack recognized the sensation of a million gallons of icewater tearing the valley apart.

"Oh my god," Jack whispered.

He'd let the avalanche go.  The kid had survived, barely, by scarce seconds and a lot of luck, but then he kept doing it.  Pulling dangerous, self-sacrificing stunts to rescue people... to rescue children, so often it was children... every time Jack saw him, for years.

Until Jack had blown through Tokyo one year, a scarce five years after the first time, and the boy had disappeared.

"Here," the boy said, offering the infant and its bottle up to Kid.  "I can't... I don't have time, but he's starving..."

"I've got him," Kid said softly, letting the boy settle the infant in his cupped arms.  The baby whimpered, but settled quickly when the bottle didn't get taken away.  "How old is he?"

"A year, I think?"  

The baby didn't look more than about six months, at his size, but that wasn't the face of a six-month-old.  Jack's hands clutched at his staff.  Literal starving.  Months of no food, a lifetime of it, and the so-called kidnapper had... had...

"I've got to go," the boy said, voice breaking.

"Meitantei."  Kid rested his forehead against the boy's.  "Shin'ichi.  I've got this one."  It seemed, for just a moment, like Kid's mouth had to brush against Shin'ichi's forehead.  "Go."

Shin'ichi clicked at the horse in the corner, which picked itself up and trotted over happily, hooves not quite touching the floor.  Taking its reins, he dropped a quick kiss on the baby's downy head, then left.

Kaito settled himself into the rocking chair, rocking gently as the baby slurped at the bottle.  "Shh, shh.  Nennen korori yo, okorori yo..." he crooned, some quiet lullaby Jack didn't understand.

Slowly, Jack collapsed into the matching wingback.  Frost curled out across the worn fabric, thinner on the firelit arm than the rest.  "He's rescuing them," he said hoarsely.  "Hungry children..."

"Starved, beaten, molested," Kaito murmured, in the lullaby's tune.  "All the children he can find, all the children he can reach."

Jack swallowed, eyes burning.  He could do the math.  North barely managed with two nights -- Catholic and Orthodox Christmas were thirteen days apart -- and only about a third of the world's children believing in him, and he had yeti and elves doing most of the work.  Bunny, with similar numbers, barely managed either, and his two Easters could be the same day or they could be up to five weeks apart.   Tooth had thousands of fairies and a division of mice, and Sandy could spread his sand for hundreds of miles and generate more from thin air.

Shin'ichi had to find and rescue every child personally.

"It's never enough, is it," Jack asked.

Kaito shook his head.