Alright, here we go! Introducing the muse I call Hidden Jack.
Reminder, this is a spin-off of The Nature of Belief/The Coming of Someday. You don't need to have read those to understand what's happening, but I think it would add it the experience. This is basically a 'what if?' the Man in the Moon hadn't made Jack invisible to everyone?
Warning: This story is going to have dark themes. It just is. I'll warn for the chapters where it's bad, but just be on the lookout if that makes you uncomfortable.
Like bone to the human body, and the axle to the wheel, and the song to a bird, and air to the wing, thus is liberty the essence of life. Whatever is done without it is imperfect.
-Jose Marti, d. 1895, quoted by William Pfaff, The New Yorker, May 27, 1985
"You are Jack Frost," the voice said.
The words echoed in his mind as Jack touched down outside what seemed to be a little village, giddy and bubbling with energy. He was Jack Frost. He didn't know how the voice knew that, or why Jack himself hadn't known that, but the voice had been so calm and warm that he listened.
It had been so dark, so cold and frightening. Jack had had to relearn what having air in his lungs felt like, if he'd ever known in the first place. He couldn't remember ever breathing before now. Had it always felt so glorious? Felt like living?
There were other things, too. Little things he wasn't sure how he knew. If he touched that tree it would feel rough and familiar under his palms. If he took a breath he'd smell the bark and sharp cold of ice. How did he know what the tree would feel like? How did he even know it was a tree, or that it had bark that smelled like comfort? Until coming out of the lake, he didn't think he'd ever even seen a tree before.
He was glad for it, though. He didn't want to imagine what it would have been like if he'd come out of the lake completely new, with nothing that was familiar.
Jack brushed snow from himself, staff clutched in one hand. The staff was the most familiar thing yet. The grooves and notches felt so right in his grip; it was almost like he'd put them there himself. He liked holding it.
It was with this feeling that Jack entered the village, laughing and joyful as he greeted everyone he came across. Eventually he bent towards a running child. "Excuse me, could you tell me where I—"
Jack panted, shoulders heaving when the child passed through him. Then someone came through him from behind, and he reeled about as another, and another did the same, until he backed out of the village.
Why had they—what was—how had—he was real! Why had they gone through him? Frightened, he crossed the staff—the comforting staff, the familiar staff—over his chest, reassuring himself that he was touching it and it was real so he must also be real.
A light snowfall began to fall as he turned from the village. He tugged the ball of energy in him that he'd used earlier to call the wind, and it came as he ordered. It lifted him over the trees, but he landed not too long after halfway to the lake. In his upset he'd had too much trouble stabilizing himself in the wind to fly the entire way.
Jack stumbled through the trees, and it was dark beneath their branches. Patches of moonlight glimmered through in spots; touching on the snow and making it shine. Jack gravitated towards these places as he made his way back to the lake. He calmed his breathing, the steady inhale and exhale soothing the blind panic that had taken hold of him.
Jack came across a larger patch of open moonlight, and he stood within it. He looked up into the night sky, and his eyes found the full brightness of the moon easily. He bit the inside of his lip, and in a small voice asked, "Why?"
He waited a few moments, listening for the warm, gentle voice that had told him his name to come. When it didn't, he blinked in confusion. He frowned. Maybe the Moon just hadn't heard him? He spoke louder, "Why? Why can't they see me?"
The Moon remained silent.
Jack exhaled in frustration. "Why aren't you answering me? You can hear me! I know…I know you can." His last words came out uncertain.
Silence hovered. Jack prepared to yell, when a quiet snap came from behind him. Jack turned, scanning the darkness past the moonlit patch carefully. "Hello?" he called. "Who's there?"
A form separated from the shadows, skin pale with a gray-ish tinge. Bright gold eyes watched him with shock and confusion from a sharp, angular face. Black hair was pushed back on the person's head, just as dark as the long robe he was dressed in.
"Hello!" Jack smiled in relief, and when he realized that the person was looking at him, bounced in joy. "Can you see me?"
The man looked Jack over, eyes jumping back to Jack's grinning face every few moments. Realization seeped into his gaze, a slow smile taking over his face. "Jackson," he eventually said.
"Just Jack, actually, Jack Frost." Jack pointed up. "The Moon told me so."
"The Moon?" The man stepped closer, but never entered the moonlight. "Did he say anything else?"
"…no." Jack frowned for a split-second before his grin returned. "Say, how did you know my name was Jack? Well, you said Jackson, but that's close enough I guess…"
"Oh," the man placed a hand over his heart, "we're great friends, you and I."
"Really?" Jack leaned on the staff, tilting his head so the wood pressed to his right temple. "How do you know?"
"The Moon told me so," the man assured, nodding with his words.
"He did?!" Jack jerked his head back, looking up at the Moon with awe. "Why wouldn't he tell me?"
The man shrugged, his tone a study in sympathy. "Who knows? I'm afraid the Man in the Moon can be quite short for words most of the time. Why, he hardly ever talks to me, and I've known him the longest."
"That's a bit rude."
The man smiled slowly. "It is, isn't it?" He held a hand out to Jack. "Come with me, Jack. I'll take you home."
Jack hesitated, unease churning his stomach a bit as he stared at the offered hand. "I'm not sure…I-I don't want to be a burden."
"Not a problem, Jack." The man gold eyes showed nothing but comfort. "I'd be more than happy to have you with me. We are such great friends, after all. Or at least, we will be."
The unease continued churning, but it was overshadowed by Jack's longing for contact with someone who could see him in this world that was both new and familiar. He reached out, but his hand hovered at the edge of the moonlight. "What's your name?" he asked.
"Pitch Black," the man answered, and as Jack's hand finally came out of the moonlight and into his, he smiled sharply. "The Bogeyman."
Pitch closed his fingers over Jack's.
For some reason, the action scared Jack a little more than the cold and the dark. By the time he realized this, it was already too late.
The boy that stared back at him from the mirror was a pathetic thing, Jack thought. He stared into his own eyes, blue and dull, and it seemed permanently stained under with deep, dark bruises. When was the last time he'd been allowed to sleep without nightmares? It had to have been a few months, at least.
He had bitten his own lips raw, an act he'd been punished for. Pitch didn't like for Jack to bleed. Bite marks and bruises left from grabbing hands and ropes were different, of course. Those were marks of possession. Pitch said they showed their bond. Jack knew better than to protest.
Dressed in a black button up with long sleeves and black trousers, Jack's skin was too pale in comparison. Looking himself over, though he couldn't see below the waist, sitting at the vanity as he was, Jack decided he seemed washed out. No, more than that, Jack observed in the glass.
The boy in the mirror looked dead.
Not for the first time, Jack found he hated that boy.
He took a shallow breath, and was almost relieved that he could still breathe. When had breathing stopped feeling like living?
He sighed, and closed his eyes, trying to abate the nerves that trembled in the back of his mind. Soon, he assured himself. The plan had already been set. Three hundred years, and after today he'd be free. So long as Rime kept to his promise, and there weren't any big complications, he'd finally be able to rid himself of this place. He'd practiced the words over and over already. He was sure he could remember them correctly.
There was a brief moment of worry as he remembered the contingency his plan relied on. Only when the need is great, and the intentions are good, the book had said. Jack reassured himself that his intentions were good, and his need more than great. It would work.
It had to work.
Jack glanced at the doorway in the mirror, and Pitch smiled back at him. "Yes?"
"Are you almost ready?" Pitch crossed their bedroom, and placed his hands on Jack's shoulders. "You must be excited to get out."
"I am," Jack said neutrally.
"You've been such a good little Consort," Pitch noted. "I'm glad I can reward you this way."
Jack automatically responded. "Thank you."
Pitch nodded. He picked up the brush from the vanity top. "Have you brushed your hair yet?" Jack shook his head. "Then I shall do it for you."
He began brushing Jack's hair, an act that was not uncommon. Pitch enjoyed taking over these simple grooming activities, and not letting Jack do them himself. Pitch claimed it was also bonding. At one time, Jack might have even believed him.
The brush was the only sound in the room for a while, its rhythmic strokes gentle on his scalp as it straightened out his short, unruly hair.
As he attended his task, Pitch began to speak. "You remember the rules, don't you?" Jack nodded. "Recite them for me."
"I am not to speak."
"Good. What else?"
"I am not to leave your side."
"Very good, Jack. And the last rule?"
"I am not to take off the cloak."
Pitch made a pleased sound. "You are such a good Consort, Jack." Pitch locked gazes with Jack in the mirror. "Do you remember why we have the rules?"
The words were natural, practiced, constant. He'd said them too many times before for them not to be. "Because I am a danger to others. If I'm not careful, I might accidentally hurt them. Or they might want to hurt me."
"Why would they want to hurt you, Jack?" Pitch asked calmly.
"Because they would fear me, and think I'm a monster. And because I'm beautiful, and they would be jealous."
"Yes, they would." Pitch set the brush down. He cupped Jack's chin in his left hand, and tilted his head back. In this position, Jack was forced to look up at Pitch. He threaded his right hand through Jack's hair, gripping the strands gently, but firmly. "And the final reason?"
"Because you protect me from them, and I can trust you."
Pitch smiled. "I only do what's best for you." He paused. "Do you love me Jack?"
"I love you." Jack wondered vaguely when the word had lost meaning to him.
Pitch kissed Jack's forehead, and released him, but only after he'd skimmed his left hand down Jack's throat. "Finish getting ready," he ordered, "we'll be leaving soon."
Pitch paused in his exit, pointing to the bed and the garment laying on it with an air of warning. It was a cloak. Pitch had gotten it especially for Jack. It was large, thick, black, and hooded. It would hide Jack's body, and with the hood up it would shield even more of him. Unless he looked directly at someone, they would be unable to see his face when he wore it. Considering Jack's tendency to look at the ground, such an action seemed unlikely. "Do not forget the cloak, Jackson," he reminded.
Pitch left. Jack looked back into the mirror, and the dead boy stared back.
He wanted nothing more than to break it.