Author's note- The first two chapters of this fic are also found in A Home For Fear, chapters 82 and 84. Chapter 3 and onwards are new material and will be added as they are completed.
Pitch woke up confused.
Mainly confused because he didn't sleep. He didn't need to, and there were always terrors to attend to. Why on earth would he be-
Jack was scared. And this was a fear of the dark, the unknown, and Pitch hadn't known Jack to display that kind of fear for decades.
Confusion about the sudden emergence of his sleeping patterns faded in the face of the curiousity that sparked from that observation, and Pitch quickly slipped into the shadows to investigate. The fear, unfortunately, vanished just as Pitch reached the lake. He hmphed in disappointment and cast around for Jack. No lingering fear for him to pull at? Shame. Where was Jack, anyway? He cast around the lake, but there was no sign of the Guardian to be seen. But he knew Jack was here, and he couldn't just disappear-
The sound of cracking ice brought his attention to the center of the lake. Fissures appeared in the thick ice, and then Jack was lifted up out of the water, taking a gasp of air and looking around in confusion.
What. Why had Jack been under the ice? That didn't make any sense, HOW would Jack even get under the ice? He would freeze it solid before he could get in there-
He was wearing different clothes, too. The blue hoodie was gone, replaced with a tattered white shirt and a brown cape. Pitch didn't exactly bother to keep up to human clothing standards, but that seemed more the style of clothing of a few hundred years ago, that he could remember.
Oh, and now Jack was reacting to his staff like he'd never seen it before. At least he was reasonably sure that was what it was like; Jack was normally excitable but generally not this enamored with the frilly white frost that he left constantly in his wake.
What on earth was happening? He could have sworn he was in the past, or something.
The wind suddenly swept Jack up into the air, and instead of the usual easy grace that the Guardian displayed, Jack flailed and fumbled and fell out of the sky, the branches of a tree breaking his fall. Pitch couldn't hold back a soft laugh at that. If this was a newly made Jack, he must have improved a lot over the course the three centuries he'd had. It was like watching a newborn deer stumble around right now.
He tried to stifle the sounds of his amusement when Jack paused and glanced around searchingly in the darkened woods. He wasn't about to give up a prime disaster-watching seat just yet.
He flitted through the shadows, following Jack as the boy made his way towards the lights and sounds of a small village. Pitch choked back another snort of laughter when Jack faceplanted during his attempt to land near the outskirts.
Jack's utter ineptitude didn't seem to deter him at all, and after a brief scuffle with his own cape, Jack managed to get back to his feet and headed into town. No doubt to try to cause some trouble and-
Why was he trying to talk to adults?
Did he really not know what his limitations were-
A child ran straight through Jack and he'd gasped and clutched at himself as if to check if he was still there and suddenly it wasn't funny anymore.
Jack didn't know what happened. One moment he was in the town square, surrounded by people who didn't seem to see him, and then someone walked through him, like he wasn't even there, sending a convulsive shudder through his whole body, and the next he was suddenly being seized by something that lunged out of an alleyway and dragged him into the shadows. Literally. For a moment there was only darkness in Jack's view, and the unsettling feeling that he wasn't alone in the depths of it, and then he was abruptly in a secluded, darkened gap between two houses.
He jerked and jumped back a step as a tall, slim man with luminous and predatory eyes loomed over him. Jack clutched his staff defensively to his chest.
"You don't need to be afraid of me, Jack," the man said, taking a step forward to match Jack's step back.
"How-how do you know my name?!" Jack demanded.
That prompted a dark chuckle from the figure. "I know a lot of things, Jack. I know who and what you are, I know where you came from, and I know why no one can see you."
"Wha- Did you do this to me?"
The ominous man paused at that, blinking. "No, you can blame the Man in the Moon for that. I'm not capable of such things. You're a spirit now, a tale, like me. And do you know what happens to stories when no one tells them?"
"I don't know what-"
"They disappear, Jack. Vanish, like they aren't even there."
"What are you talking about?" Jack snapped.
"They don't believe in you, Jack. They don't believe in you, and so it's as though you don't even exist." A toothy grin spread over the man's face. "I can help you change that, though..."
"Uh, yeah, well, thanks for that, Mr. Tall Dark and Creepy," Jack replied, dipping his head in mock acknowledgement without once taking his eyes off of the figure. "But you know what, I think I'm good."
The grin slid off the man's face and he straightened up, clasping his hands behind his back. "You don't trust me."
"Not really, no. Why should I?" Jack said flatly.
The man sighed and shrugged. "Fair point. I'll just do it on my own, I suppose." He turned on his heel and strode out of the alleyway, turning a corner and vanishing from sight.
"Do what? Hey, hold up!" Jack exclaimed, rushing out of the alley. The dark figure who had accosted him was skirting the edge of one house, away from the firelight and from the people who still remained in the square, though it was getting quite late by now, so there were few people wandering around.
"Curious, Jack?" Another sharp-toothed grin was flashed before the unsettling man stopped at a window, pulled open the shutters, and peered through it. "One, two, three..." he counted something inside. "Yes, those should do nicely..."
Jack hurried over to the window to see the slumbering forms of three siblings, huddled together for warmth on the chilly winter night. "Those are kids," he said uneasily.
"Yes, they are. Precious children..." The man replied, his smile razor-sharp now. And suddenly, he was gone. Jack blinked and looked around for the dark spirit, finally spotting him now inside the house, looming over the bed. As the shadow that that the man cast fell over the children, their peacefully sleeping faces scrunched up in anxiety or discomfort, hands tightening on blankets as if in the grips of a bad dream. The man lifted gleaming yellow eyes to Jack and spread his hands. "You're more than welcome to join us, Jack," he said, still grinning.
"Stop!" Jack yelled, clenching his staff and lunging forwards to leap through the window. He was stopped halfway over the sill when shadows abruptly rose up and swallowed both the creepy man and the sleeping children, leaving no trace behind. Jack glanced around desperately, heart pounding. He couldn't just leave the kids to... whatever that guy was. But there wasn't any sign of where they had gone-
A chill breeze gusted over him, seeming to tug at his clothes. As good a clue to follow as any, Jack supposed as he pushed away from the window and dashed off in the direction that the wind was pulling him. The breeze drew him onwards, but didn't pick up enough to lift him up, and he quickly approached a clearing just inside the woods surrounding the town. Sounds of whimpers reached his ears, but they were quickly drowned out by a dark snarl.
"Pipe down, you little snots. These are Jack Frost's woods, and I don't want you bringing him down on us."
"J-Jack Frost?" A soft voice stammered.
"Oh, haven't you heard of him? He's the one who leaves those pretty little patterns on your windows, the one who makes the snow sparkle in the sunlight. He's bizarrely fond of little brats like you, and it would be highly inconvenient for me if he stumbled across us, so BE QUIET!" the dark man snapped, just as Jack crashed through the underbrush.
The children were in some kind of dark cage, suspended a few inches above the snow. The younger two were huddled behind their older sister, who stood down the looming shadow-man with all the courage that a nine-year old could muster. "GET AWAY FROM THEM!" Jack yelled, as the gentle breeze that had been leading him suddenly became a screaming gale, whipping up ice and snow and hurling it at the ominous spirit.
The man stumbled backwards, lifting his arms to shield his face from shards of ice that flew past him. He fixed Jack with a searing glare, all hints of the previously friendly demeanor gone. "Frost," he hissed venomously. "This isn't over!" With those last words, he fell into the shadows and vanished, the dark cage disappearing with him, leaving the children to drop into the snow.
The wind dropped immediately, and Jack hurried over to the kids. "Are you okay?" he asked.
The little girl and her brother and sister blinked up at him in wonder. "Jack Frost?" the eldest asked, wonderingly.
"That's me! Come on, let's get you guys home before you catch cold," Jack replied, reaching out with only an instant's hesitation, remembering the person who had just passed right through him before. The girl took a hold of his hand, one of her siblings holding her other hand, and the third sibling's hand as well, forming a chain. Jack drew them back to the village; they were only a few minutes' walk from their home. Jack lifted them back in through the window and tucked them into bed. "Don't worry, I won't let him bother you guys again," he promised as he slipped back out into the night. And the children seemed to believe him, as they easily settled in and closed their eyes while Jack was shutting the shutters.
The sounds of faint applause made Jack jerk and whirl around to see the dark man from before, clapping. "Well done, Jack. You are a natural, aren't you?" he asked, nonchalantly.
Jack bared his teeth and leveled his staff at the man, the wind picking up all around him. "What do you want?!" he demanded.
The man smiled as if they were having a pleasant chat. "I want to help you, Jack. Speaking of which, you should make the children an ice sculpture or something, or they'll forget you in the morning, think it was all just a dream."
"You kidnapped a bunch of kids!" Jack snapped.
He waved a hand dismissively. "Psssh. I borrowed them. They weren't even gone ten minutes, no harm done. You'd be surprised at how resilient children are, Jack."
"And what if I hadn't found you?"
"Why, they would have been sent back home, safe and sound. I frighten children, Jack. I don't have any interest in doing them lasting harm." He paused, blinking. "Oh, that's right, we haven't been introduced. Pitch Black, the boogeyman, at your service," he added, sweeping a bow. "And I do truly want to help."
"I don't want your help!" Jack snapped, frost sparking along the length of his staff.
Pitch's smile faded. "Very well, Jack. Have it your way. I'll be dropping by tomorrow night, if you change your mind. Best of luck," he said, dipping his head before vanishing into the darkness once more.
Morning dawned, bright and sunny, on the small village. Jack shot up from his crouched position outside of the children's window at the sound of the door to the house creaking open. Out tumbled the trio of children, bundled up in warm clothing and giggling among themselves. Jack sighed, relieved to see that they were okay. "Hey, guys. It's good to see-" he started to say, before the eldest kid ran right through him, cutting through his body more sharply than any winter wind. Jack gasped, clutching his chest. None of the children so much as glanced at him as they dashed by. "Hey. Come on! Hello?" Jack called once he had recovered, whirling around to watch the kids head down the street. Nothing, not a hint that any of them had heard him.
But... But they had seen him. They had seen him last night! How could they just-
Think it was all a dream?
Jack gritted his teeth. No. He could make them see him, he could. He didn't need help.
But by sunset, all he had gotten from his efforts had been five more people running straight through him, driving all the air from his lungs each time. None of the snowballs or icicles or frost patterns he made had been even considered anything but completely mundane in nature. Pegging an older kid with a snowball had been blamed on other bystanders, and even though the ensuing snowball fight had been fun, it didn't help Jack in being seen. So now he was crouched on a treebranch, watching the townsfolk hurry home in the fading light.
"I did warn you about them forgetting, you know," a soft voice said beside him, as the last rays of day vanished. The branch didn't so much as shift to indicate more weight was on it, but the feeling of hair prickling on the back of Jack's neck gave him no doubt that the boogeyman had stopped by, as promised.
"Here to gloat?" Jack grumbled, not looking up.
"It gives me no pleasure to see you like this, believe it or not. I've had far too many similar experiences," Pitch replied.
Jack sighed and straightened up, turning to glance at the dark spirit. "What's the catch?"
"You're not offering help out of the kindness of your heart, Pitch."
"I don't see why I couldn't be. Judging people on their appearances is rather presumptuous, isn't it?" the man asked, meeting Jack's flat, disbelieving stare with an amused one of his own. "To answer your question, it's a mutually beneficial arrangement. I scare the children, you rescue them. Take a few measures to make them remember, and you'll even be able to spend time with them in the daylight, too."
"And I'm supposed to believe that you can't scare kids all on your own."
"Well, yes, I can. But it's hardly as fun. I like a good competition. Don't be thinking that all of your rescues will be as easy as that first one," Pitch replied with a sharp-toothed smile, before sobering. "And of course, I'll personally guarantee the safety of all of the children. No harm will come to them under my care."
Jack bit his lip, seeming to consider the offer. Finally he raised his gaze back to Pitch, eyes narrowed. "If any of them get so much as a bruise, I'll-"
"Yes, yes, you'll hunt me down to the ends of the earth, and I will pay dearly. I've heard the spiel before," Pitch said dismissively. He suddenly vanished, and Jack jerked and whirled around as he felt a hand tap him on the shoulder. The boogeyman had blinked behind Jack faster than it took the boy to realize that he was no longer in his original spot. "Believe me, Jack. If I wanted to hurt children, I wouldn't be reckless enough to attract people's attention to myself when I did. I have quite the ideal skill set for secrecy, after all," he said with a lazy smirk.
Jack glared at the dark spirit. "Deal is that I get to kick your rear, right? When do we start?"
The man's smirk widened into a grin, and he extended one hand as if to shake. "You can try, Jack. And we can start right now."
"I'll do more than tr- wah!" Jack started to retort, but was cut off as he took Pitch's hand and was suddenly dragged into the shadows. The next thing he knew, he was standing in front of a house, with Pitch nowhere to be seen. A window shutter on his left slowly creaked open, and he heard a choked-off gasp from the inside of the room. Then the wind swirled around him and he was on the chase again.
"What do you mean you don't know how to make ice sculptures?" Pitch demanded in a hushed tone, the both of them outside of the home once more.
"I don't know how! I'm new at this!" Jack exclaimed in a whisper-shout. "What makes you think I even can?"
"Because you coul- you can make snow and frost and all that nonsense, a simple bit of shaped ice shouldn't be a problem!"
"If it's so easy, you do it!"
"Ice isn't my domain, you idiot!" Pitch snapped, then heaved an exasperated sigh. "Can you make a chunk of ice, then? You seemed to be just dandy at that when you were firing them at me." As if to illustrate his point, Pitch picked at a patch on the hem of his robe that had been completely crusted over with ice.
"Hey, you told me to do my worst-"
"I didn't ever say that, actually," Pitch interjected, not looking up from his attempts to defrost his clothing.
"Well you implied it when you were being a giant jerk! Which was constantly!" Jack retorted, eyeing his staff calculatingly. "Now shut it. I'm concentrating."
"Oh, was that what that was? I thought I heard gears grinding," Pitch drawled.
"Shhh!" Jack snapped as he closed his eyes and the wind swirled around him. A moment later, an irregular chunk of ice the size of a pumpkin was lying on the ground where Jack had pointed his staff. "How's that?"
"Hmph. I suppose I can work with that," Pitch muttered, dropping the bottom of his robe and stepping up to the ice. Some kind of black sand trickled out of his palms and swirled around the chunk, obscuring it from sight. The stuff swirled faster and faster and then suddenly dropped away, leaving a small figurine behind, scattered among a pile of ice shavings. Pitch picked it up and plonked it in Jack's hand. "There. You'd best learn how to do these on your own; I'm certainly not doing this every bloody time."
Jack blinked and looked the sculpture over. The figurine was humanoid, with spiky hair, wearing a cloak like his and holding a staff like his. "It's me?"
"Well, it's not a perfect likeness, but it will melt some before the children will wake up anyway. It seems an appropriate way to get the message across."
"I... Thanks," Jack said, hopping through the window to place the sculpture on the bedside table. He tucked the blankets more tightly around the napping kids, then he slipped back outside and carefully closed the shutters. "So, got any more dastardly plots against the kids of this town?"
"Oh, I think you can count on that, Jack," Pitch replied with a smirk.
Three 'rescues' later, Jack strolled down the dark, empty street of the town next to Pitch, giving the other a light shove. "You nearly made me jump out of my skin that time, jerk."
"Well, yes, that was rather the idea," Pitch replied, barely missing a stride and flashing a sharp toothed grin. "I take it from your girly yelp that it was sufficiently surprising, then?"
"I didn't know you could make monsters too! It just jumped out of nowhere!"
"Nightmares, actually. And that's just one of my many talents. Wouldn't do to be boring now, would it?"
Jack sighed, rolling his eyes. "So, again? I think we still got a few more houses we can hit before sunrise..."
Pitch shook his head. He'd seen the colored lights play in the sky just earlier. The meddlers were going to get involved soon. "I'd best be off for now, actually. Seems the Guardians have noticed what I've been up to and are going to come stampeding in to crash the party at any moment," Pitch muttered.
"The Guardians?" Jack asked, cocking his head to one side curious. "Who're they?'
Wait. He doesn't know who they are yet. He's not theirs! This is perfect! Pitch realized with a sudden rush of glee. He swallowed a grin and instead nodded solemnly, laying a hand on Jack's shoulder. "You see, they're a group of spirits that try to ruin everything; they-"
No. They'll FEAR both of us. And that's not what I want, a treacherous echo rang through Pitch's mind, and he faltered.
"Pitch?" Jack asked, still looking up at him, trusting.
No. You CANNOT be passing up this opportunity. Are you completely mad?! another part of him screamed incredulously, but Pitch withdrew his hand from Jack's shoulder and clasped them behind his back instead. "They're... twits, frankly. Completely insufferable. We don't get on."
Pitch tapped one finger against the side of his own face, feigning pensiveness. "Hmm, I wonder why? Let's see if you can work it out. I'm called the Boogeyman, and they're called the Guardians." He grinned predatorily, showing off all his teeth. "I'll give you three guesses, and the first two don't count."
"You're… the bad guy?" Jack replied, hesitantly.
Pitch spread his hands. "Oh, I've been found out. What gave it away? My sunny disposition?"
Jack fidgeted, glancing down at his toes. "Well, you don't seem that bad to me…"
Pitch smirked. "Ah, yes. That'll be the brainwashing setting in. Soon you'll be nothing but my obedient little slave."
Jack looked up sharply, blinked, then let out a snort of laughter. "You're a weirdo, you know that?"
"So I've been told. I wasn't lying about the Guardians, though, they quite dislike me, and the feeling is mutual." Stop. Stop. Stop! Pitch took a deep breath and plunged on. "However, you are an insufferable brat, they are insufferable prats, and I think you lot will get along famously, what with your strange fixation on light and smiles and happiness. Oh, and you should really ask the fairy about why the teeth are so important."
"Tell me Jack, how do you feel about putting on a little show?" Pitch asked, grinning.
"You sure it's Pitch making trouble down there, North? This seems like pretty small-scale stuff for 'im," Bunnymund gasped from the back of the sleigh, where he was clinging to the rickety wooden contraption for dear life.
"Even if it's not Pitch, someone is threatening the children," Tooth replied. "It's our responsibility to stop them."
"Exactly!" North boomed, cracking the reigns. "Almost there now!"
A sudden crack of pale blue light from the ground below made the four Guardians crane their necks for a look. An ominous black figure was doing battle against a pale boy in a brown cloak, just past the outskirts of town. Ice blazed a path through the arc of the boy's staff as he swung it. "It is Pitch," Bunny breathed. "But who's...?"
"Whoever he is, looks like he could use help! Come on Sandy!" Tooth dove out of the sleigh, closely followed by the golden Guardian.
"Get out of here-" The boy stopped his shout and jerked in surprise when a lash of golden sand blocked the attack Pitch had launched at him, snapping his head up to spot the arriving cavalry.
Pitch's eyes narrowed at the sight of the Guardians. "Of course. Should have known. Birds of a feather and all that," he spat, before turning his glare on the boy. "Afraid you'll have to take a rain check, Frost. Watch your back." With that last threat, Pitch dropped back into the darkness in time to avoid another golden whip.
"Are you all right?" Tooth asked, fluttering up to the newcomer.
"Uh, yeah! Fine, thanks!" the boy replied with a grin. Tooth's eyes widened and she flitted forwards to pry open his mouth, peering inside with a delighted gasp, prompting a surprised "Gah?!" from the boy.
"Tooth! Fingers out of mouth!" North called as the sleigh landed on the snow with a juddering crash. Bunnymund hopped hurriedly out of the thing, shaking and looking incredibly grateful to be back on solid earth once more.
"Oh, sorry! I don't usually... They're beautiful. Your teeth, I mean," Tooth said sheepishly, removing her hands.
"Thanks?" Jack replied hesitantly.
"I think we owe ya a thanks, actually." Bunnymund said, and stepped forward, paw extended to shake. "Not every day someone faces down the Boogeyman. Who are ya, kid?"
"Jack Frost. Nice to-" Jack started to reach forward, but was interrupted.
"Welcome, Jack!" was the only warning Jack got before he was swept into a massive bear hug.
Sandy floated up to eye level and flashed a pair of thumbs up to Jack before the boy was lowered back to the ground.
"Uh, this is-" Jack started to say.
"You should come with us, Jack! Much to talk about!"
"And if Pitch is after you, it's safer to-" Tooth added, or attempted to.
"Yes, yes, that too! Come, I have eggnog back at home, you'll like it!" North said, pulling Jack along beside him.
"Strewth, do we really have to take the sleigh back?"
None of the Guardians, except maybe Sandy, noticed that Jack seemed more apprehensive about going with the Guardians than he had during the battle with the boogeyman. Not that it mattered, because he was quickly whisked into the sleigh in either case.