Disclaimer: I do not own Rise of the Guardians. Dreamworks and William Joyce does.
Summary: They say he hasn't been right in the head since he fell through the ice. They say that the man who is enshrouded in shadows and lives under his bed isn't real. But Jack knows he's there, always watching, waiting to drag this one mortal who can see him into his realm of nightmares.
A/N: Fill for RotG kink meme on dreamwidth. Prompt was this, Jack actually survived his accident in the lake, or someone was near to take him out, idk... but due to that near death experience he can see Pitch when he was in one of his weakest form. So naturally, the Nightmare King gets a little possessive with this strange human, and they form some bond... Totally up to writer if Jack become Frost or not...
Ch.1 Shattered Ice
Sharp as daggers, slicing into his skin. The bitter coldness of it filling his lungs.
The weight of his body sinking swiftly like a stone into the dark, frigid depths.
The reflection of the sun shining mockingly through the ice above him growing dimmer every second.
The growing pressure around his head as the lake held him in its icy clutches and ruthlessly squeezed.
"Give in," the water whispered as it wove itself around him tightly. "Give in and stay with us forever."
The cobwebs that swept across his mind, blocking out every reason and memory of why he should keep fighting, keep striving to hang onto the fragile thread of life when the water was so very inviting.
"Don't leave," the water pleaded, caressing his numb limbs. "Stay, stay, it's so very peaceful down here. Why would you want to go back up?"
There had been a glimpse of face that had flashed before his eyes. Brown hair, someone, something, and brown, the color brown mattered, but he was so tired.
And the water had become so deliciously warm...
He shut his eyes and gave himself over to the lake's welcoming embrace.
Someone was screaming, high-pitched and hysterical, and his ears were ringing. His chest heaved a violent spasm that sent him rocking forward choking on the liquid trapped in his lungs. Strong hands gripped him by the shoulders and turned him over where he proceeded to empty the contents of his stomach. It seemed to help dispel the remaining water he had unwittingly swallowed.
He crouched there, doubled over on the cold, frozen ground, coughing and gasping for air, and was barely aware of the small figure that had attached itself to one of his arms and was crying terribly.
"Jack, Jack, I'm sorry!" the figure shrilled, pressing her face into his shoulder as her small body wracked with sobs.
It was a girl. A girl with brown hair. Brown… oh, yes, he knew her, didn't he?
His head was buzzing and he couldn't think clearly, couldn't feel anything but the bitter cold of winter wind seeping into his wet clothes, into his skin, and into his very bones as it blew its icy breath down the back of his neck.
"Jack," the girl at his side said again, tugging on the soaked sleeve of his shirt. "Jack, please say something!"
Jack… that was his name, wasn't it? Everything was slowly coming back to him now.
"Enough, Emma, leave him be," came another voice, deeper and more gruff. "The poor lad's probably brain-dead now. Spent too much time under-water ."
"No, he's not!" the girl shrieked angrily before bursting into tears again.
Under water… the lake, oh, they had gone skating… but the ice had been too thin…
"Ay, he'll be useless as a lump on a log no doubt," the gruff voice rumbled on. "Just like ole Mrs. Putnam's grown son, the one that got born with his birthing cord around his neck. Not good for nothing except sitting in a rocker and drooling."
"STOP IT!" the girl screamed, letting go of her hold on him to rush over and begin beating at the man with her tiny fists. "Take it back, take it back, take it back!"
"Ease off there," the man said, swatting her away gently with his muscled arm. "Taking it back won't change anything. You children shouldn't have been playing on the lake so early in winter. It's all your fault, really, this happened. Just count yourself lucky I was out checking my traps today. Poor git," Jack felt the man's gaze fall on him. "Would'a been kinder to let him drown, I suppose."
The most horrific, heart-wrenching wail fell out of the girl's mouth as she collapsed on the white ground, on the snow, and buried her face in her hands.
Something stirred with Jack at the sight, because the girl was young and small, and other people shouldn't pick on her, no one but him… because, because… because she was Emma, and he didn't allow anyone to bully her… brown-haired, Emma, Emma… his sister. Oh.
He opened his mouth to say something, tell her he was alright, he was fine, he was, wasn't he? He had just imagined that the lake had talked to him. But all that came out was a symphony of gigantic sneezes followed by a severe case of the shivers.
"Damn foolish children," he heard the man curse as something heavy and warm was draped over him, before he was swung up over the man's broad shoulder like a sack of potatoes. "Don't tear my furs on anything you understand, Emma? I aim to sell these at the trade-post."
From his view-point, Jack could see his sister bundled in a fox hide, white enough to match the snow, trailing listlessly behind them. Her eyes were downcast and her cheeks shone with the silvery traces of frozen tears.
"Ah, I don't know how your poor mother's going to take this," the man said as they continued to walk. "With your father already dead and all, and now an idle mouth to feed for the rest of her days…"
They crested the slope of a hill and Jack could see the lake below where they had come from: the large, jagged hole in the middle of it resembled a monster's mouth gaping hungrily after him. Even from this distance, the loud crack of the ice splitting and breaking fired off like rifle in his ears.
He would have said that it was the lake, voicing its anger and displeasure to the forest that it had been deprived of its victim, except… he wasn't crazy…was he?
Jack wished he was back in the lake, back in the frigid water, because everything was burning.
He drew in several shallow breaths and the air was suffocatingly warm, thick enough to swallow. His head was hot so much though he often imagined he was no more than some small fire sprite dancing in the crackling flames of the fireplace.
There were always shapes hovering over his bed: a woman pressing something damp and blessedly cool to his forehead, a young girl on her knees on the floor holding his limp hand. Silhouettes of people he did not recognize and hushed murmurs he could never quite make out: "near drowned…", "…fever", "…adled in the head." Vile, disgusting-tasting liquid that was forced down his throat, but made the violent tremors go away.
He lost track of time. The sun would stream in through the widow and he would watch the dust gleam in the golden rays. He would shut his eyes and open them to the pale light of the moon spilling onto his pillow and whisper into the night to anyone who might be listening that he hadn't gone mad.
Then the shadows came to prove him wrong.
They came creeping from beneath his bed, thick, black tendrils, coiling and slithering like a nest of snakes, up, up, up his bedpost, curling around the edge of the footboard and Jack could only watch in numb, muted fear as they merged together to solidify into a tall, slim figure of man. A man whose grey-tinged skin and golden glowing eyes were the only features visible amongst the swirling mass of darkness wreathed around him.
Unbidden, one of his temporarily lost memories rushed back to Jack full-force.
"Boo!" he shouted leaping out from behind the old oak tree in their backyard, making sure to flail the folds of the black robe around widely enough to make it look like he was gliding on air.
His sister screamed in fright at the dark figure in front of her and dropped the laundry basket she was carrying, scattering the freshly-scrubbed clothes into the dirt.
He had chased her all the way back to the house where his mother had wrung him by the ear and shook him roughly. "Jackson Overland!" she had yelled. "You do not go about scaring your sister in any way! Especially in Father Goodall's church robe! What on earth did you do to it?" she demanded pointing to the hood he had attached with his meager sewing skills.
The boys in the village had made fun of him for having learned a "woman's chore". He had really been on his way to frighten the living daylights out of them. His sister had just been an unexpected bonus.
His mother had made him take every stitch that he had sewn out, then made him re-do the laundry he had soiled. She, herself, had taken the robe back to the village minister and apologized. Jack had been sentenced to a month of chopping firewood for the man, while Father Goodall had sat outside and recited verses of scripture about sinners and hellfire.
Jack had decided dressing up as Death to scare someone wasn't worth the repercussions and never did it again.
The frantic beating of his heart drumming loudly in his ears snapped him back to the present and made him realize why his mind had decided to remember that all of sudden.
This man in front of him now, this man surrounded by shadows, was he Death coming at last to claim the soul that had escaped his clutches a few days earlier? Was Jack supposed to have died in the lake?
"Oh, my fearlings, I'm afraid this one isn't quite asleep yet," the dark man spoke causing Jack to jump. He hadn't seemed to be addressing him, however, but rather the writhing mass of shadows around him. "A pity, it's so much quicker to taste the fear through a nightmare. Ah well, there other ways."
The man spread his arms out wide and the shadows exploded in a flurry of motion. Jack watched half petrified/half fascinated as the shadows separated back into tendrils and wreaked havoc about the room. They sunk into the floorboards and made them creak noisily. They rattled the windowpane and let the wind in through a crack which caused a ghastly, howling sound. They skittered across the rafters of his roof, spraying straw and timber shards down. They knocked against his headboard with a loud thumping and scratched on the wooden wall of his room something terrible. They kicked up such a ruckus, Jack was amazed no one had come in to check on him.
The dark man was frowning now as one of the tendrils slithered back to him and wrapped itself around him almost apologetically. "Is the child deaf?" the man asked, stroking the shadow as one would do a pet. "He should be screaming bloody murder by now."
"Have you come to kill me, then?" Jack asked hoarsely.
The man appeared startled by his outburst for a few seconds. For one moment, golden eyes bored directly into brown, seeking some unknown answer with a desperate longing before the man broke his gaze and snapped his fingers. The rest of the shadows raced back over to him, encircling him in their dark mass.
"We shall waste no more time here," the man said scornfully. "There are other children in the village to make a meal off of. Ones who are not daft in their heads. Our fear can do nothing if it does not breach the mind."
The words struck a chord of anger deep within Jack. He was tired of people saying he had lost his mind. He had had enough!
"I'm not crazy!" he shouted sitting upright and flinging the covers halfway off him. "I fell through the ice and I got sick, but I'm not crazy!"
In the blink of eye, the man wreathed in shadows was standing next to his bedside, staring down at him and just as quickly, all of Jack's anger and what little courage he had gathered fled from him.
"I will only ask this once," the man said bending over so that his face was scant inches away from Jack's. "Can you hear me, child?"
From this close space, the man's features were defined: a thin, sallow face, high cheekbones, an elongated nose and narrow jaw-line.
Paralyzed in place with fear, Jack could only nod numbly.
His mother liked to tell him and his sister stories. Stories about mythical fairies helping people, and brave warriors off on adventures, and fables that always had a lesson to be taught. There had been one about a wolf and a girl in a red hood…
The man's lips stretched into a sinister smile at his response, showing off two rows of needle-sharp teeth that gleamed as the faintest traces of moonlight reflected off of them.
"Can you see me?"
"What big teeth you have," that's how he was supposed to answer, wasn't he? But the words died in his throat and Jack could only find the strength to nod his head again.
"Do you know who I am?"
The man's voice was filled with unbridled, unholy glee. The shadows around him were flickering and pulsing excitedly like dark tongues of flame.
"You're Death," Jack whispered, the name falling off his lips like the signal for his own execution.
The man's smile faltered briefly as he paused. The shadows stopped their jubilant, twisting dance to weave to and fro in an uncertain fashion.
"Death," the man said, rolling the word on his tongue as if sampling the flavor.
"Yes. You came for me because I almost drowned in the lake. I think I did for awhile. That's why I can see you," Jack said.
Farmer Pratchett had been struck by lightning the year before. Ever since then, he had claimed he could see angels everywhere.
But this man in front of him now… he was no angel.
"If I am Death," the man spoke slowly. "Are you not afraid of me?"
Jack was pleased to discover he wasn't. That the pure, numb terror he had felt when the man first appeared in his room had all but abated. Now that he knew who he was, there was nothing left except for the awkward unease of first meeting a stranger.
He shook his head. An action which seemed to displease the man. Death's lips curved down into a scowl.
Footsteps pattered lightly on the wooden floorboards leading to just outside his room.
The man's eyes darted to the door as it began opening a crack. "I believe you are mistaken, child," he said crisply, the smile back on his mouth as he turned to look at him again. "I'm not here for you, but there are other occupants of this house, am I correct?"
Anxiety sparked in his chest and dropped to the pit of Jack's stomach. "What do you mean?" he demanded frantically.
"Jack?" a small girl's voice rang out in the silence as his sister poked her head around the door. She often checked on him Jack recalled through his hazy, feverish memories. She checked on him many times in the night as if to comfort herself that he was still breathing. "Jack, are you awake?"
"Jaaaack," Death crooned softly. "Such a fine, young name for a fine, young man. So healthy, so alive. So different from his sister."
The man flung out his arm and one of the shadows shot forward and began curling itself around his sister's head like a crown of darkness.
"Leave her alone!" Jack yelled furiously, falling out of bed in haste to reach her.
"Jack?" Emma said nervously, pushing the door open wider. Jack watched as another shadow-tendril slithered by his line of vision and wrapped itself around the girl's ankles.
"Get off her!" he cried, trying to get to his feet, but his whole body felt so weak. "I'm the one who drowned not her! I'm the one who should die, not her!"
Emma was staring wide-eyed at him now, her mouth forming a wordless little 'o' of shock.
The shadows coiled around her abruptly expanded in size. Death gave a lilting laugh and drew in a deep breath of air, as if drinking in some intoxicating scent.
"'m sorry, 'msorry, sorry, sorry, sorry," Emma began to chant, bright tears welling up in her eyes as she backed away from him.
The shadows draped around her knitted together to form a dark shroud, the kind Jack had seen old Mrs. Smyth wear daily to mourn her dead husband. "I shall be buried in it," she had remarked once.
With a howl of rage and burst of energy he didn't know he possessed, Jack leaped up and sprang at her, trying to tear off the shadows that were attached to her head. His hands passed right through them though. He ended up pulling harshly on his sister's hair.
Emma started to scream.
The scorching heat was back inside his head, he was a dying flame that walked free of the fireplace, the room was spinning, someone was shrieking, and the damn shadows wouldn't go away!
They taunted him mercilessly, batting at his face, flitting about the floor knowing he couldn't catch them and Death's amused, rumbling laughter rang throughout the room.
"Shut up! Shut up!" Jack cried falling to his knees as the last shreds of strength deserted him. "If you're going to kill me, kill me! Stop torturing us!"
"Oh, but Jack," Death said with pretend-surprise. "That's what I do. It's my job."
There was someone else in his room now. Someone who cupped his face in her soft, gentle hands and wiped the cool sweat from his brow with the hem of her nightgown. Someone who said, "Emma, go get Doctor Brown," and who helped him back into bed and tucked him under the covers.
The room tilted up and down like a see-saw as the shadows played merrily on it. And all the while Death stood and watched him with greedy golden eyes.
The vile liquid was once again forced down Jack's throat and he struggled against it, because he had to save Emma, had to warn her, had to warn his mother, about these shadows, but he was sinking, sinking like before on the lake into dark, murky depths.
"Shhh, Jack, don't fight it, go to sleep," Death crooned coming over and ghosting curved nails over his face. "Come visit me in my realm. We have lots to talk about."
The last thing Jack saw was the moon outside, bathing the man in its pale light. He stretched one hand out towards it, silently begging for something he knew not what, but of course the moon did not answer. Why would it? Besides, he wasn't crazy… was he?
To Be Continued…
A/N: Whew, can't believe I'm actually writing for this fandom! Bless the meme for such amazing prompts! X3 Anyway, yes, Death is really Pitch. He's just toying with Jack's head right now and making him believe otherwise to make the fear more potent. He's a jerk like that. The prompt is actually Blackfrost or whatever the pairing name is called. I might go down that path. I'm not adverse to it, however, I want to establish their friendship first. Pitch has severe trust issue as well as possessive tendencies now that someone can finally see him. I think Jack will see/meet the other Guardians as well in this fic. His near-death experience brought about that ability. The downside is that everyone thinks he's out of his head now. Poor Emma, I feel sort of bad for her. I'll try and make it up next chapter!
I hope you have enjoyed reading this! Please review and share your thoughts. I love hearing what you liked best and it's the only reward a fanfic author gets. Thank you!^^