Summary: It is the role of a Guardian to protect the children of the world - their hopes, dreams, memories, and wonder - and also to protect one another from whatever enemies might arise. But when the greatest danger to your friends is yourself, that job gets a whole lot harder.
An AU take on post movie events, involving an amalgamation of book and movie canon, along with a side helping of head canons. Enjoy.
-Shadows in the Snow-
Two, simple words. A title. A name.
For the longest time they had been the only possession their owner had. The only thing he could truly claim for his own. When a name was all you could remember, all you knew, it became something far more important than most would think it could be. The name 'Jack Frost' had been a blank slate when he first awakened beneath that icy lake, a canvas ready for the painting, and he had been the artist to determine what colors would cover it. He had had no one to advise him, no one to dictate what shape his creation should adopt, and so he had shaped himself according to his own feelings. He had built an entity around the name of Jack Frost, slowly discovering who he was as he did so, and presenting each discovery proudly to a world that he sometimes believed would never see him. No one had offered to help. No one had outstretched a hand of guidance. Few even bothered to speak to him, and those that did would look upon the person he had created for himself, the person he believed himself to be, and saw anything and everything but what he wanted them to see.
Jack was well aware he had a reputation among the other immortals for a great many things, and very few that reflected well upon him. He was a troublemaker to most. Irresponsible. Selfish. Disrespectful. Disruptive. He knew each and every label that came attached to his name, springing to life in the minds of those who actually knew who he was as soon as he was mentioned. He knew what they thought. What they said behind his back and thought he didn't know about. It never ceased to amaze him that they could conclude so much about his character, and yet never come close to touching upon the truth.
He didn't deny that he had a habit of breaking rules, both written and merely understood. That was probably one of the few things others believed about him that was actually true. As for the rest, well… the kinder characteristics attributed to his name, a considerably shorter list than the other, included playful, cheerful, and carefree. It was a sad reminder of how little his fellows actually knew him that most of those were as false as their less favourable counterparts.
Jack was playful. It was in his nature, a part of his centre, a way to spread fun among the children he had so recently sworn to protect, but who, in reality, had lived beneath his watchful eye for much longer. He had always enjoyed the games invented by both himself and others, and he had never shied away from playing alongside those who did not even recognize his presence. He was playful, they had gotten that part right at least, but as for the rest?
Jack's newly uncovered memories told him that he had once been a cheerful person, a long time ago when his family and friends had been more than just a memory. He had been happy in almost every recollection now restored to him, swelling with the emotion and swamped with so much contentment it had been overpoweringly bittersweet to taste it again. That constant good cheer had not carried through into his second life. He smiled often, the gesture so practiced, perhaps even remembered, that it came naturally as a means of masking his true feelings, and very rarely as a genuine gesture. He had thrown himself into his work that others called play because it was the only thing he knew, and he had spent every day of his three hundred years trying to make someone, anyone see him.
Regardless of what anyone believed of him, it had not been a happy existence, and he had fought each day to keep his smile in place. To pretend that every rejection, every stare that passed right through him did not stab over and over in a place that had never healed. He hadn't always succeeded, despite his best efforts, as Bunny and several others treated to a display of his less positive feelings could attest. But he had tried, a great deal harder than they knew. Nevertheless, he had never been cheerful, instead taking joy in his work as it lasted and seeking comfort however he was able in the few hours of stillness that inevitably came when he was left with nothing to do but sit and consider how solitary his life was.
He sometimes wondered if the others knew how many bitter tears had been shed over his isolation, but always dismissed the idea, because if they had known they would never have called him carefree.
It was a poorly drawn conclusion at best to assume that just because he liked to act in a more juvenile manner than some would like that he didn't have a care in the world. If anything, it was the exact opposite. He acted the way he did to forget those cares. To pretend they didn't exist. A snow day was the perfect opportunity to focus his mind away from the unexpectedly dark corners he knew leisure could uncover in the back of his mind. A blizzard allowed him to vent his emotions without having to think about why he was feeling the way he was. A trip around the world, spreading frost patterns and causing havoc was an escape when the familiar that wasn't familiar began to gnaw at the back of his mind. Jack had a great many cares all of his own, he just refused to let them turn him into someone who couldn't see the fun in life.
And all his waiting, all those bitter, lonely hours and desperate, outlandish attempts to gain even the barest scrap of attention had finally paid off. He was a Guardian now. Officially. Sworn in and irreversibly attached to the title, if North's proclamation was to believed. He had his memories back, a family he could now remember, a purpose clearly spelt out at long last. He had friends, people he could talk to without being instantly dismissed as the troublemaker, even if he did only see them sporadically. He had believers, a slowly growing and expanding number of children who finally recognized the artist behind the work they had enjoyed for centuries. It was, to say the least, a little overwhelming, and Jack had been surprised to find himself deliberately seeking solitude when it all became just a little too much.
He had spent three hundred years begging for someone to see him, and now that they could he had no idea how to deal with being in the spotlight.
If he had been the person his reputation painted him to be, he would have lapped up the attention and allowed it to fuel his ego into something dangerously large, but he wasn't, no matter what anyone said, and sometimes he was horrified to find himself wishing he was invisible again, just so he could do something without being seen to be the one doing it. Outside of Burgess that was a much easier goal to accomplish than inside of it, but even as he found himself baulking at the many pairs of eyes suddenly able to comprehend his existence, he was also terrified of straying too far from those who now believed, lest he return to find himself forgotten.
It was frustrating to find himself tied to the place by his own insecurities and fears, and sometimes he took off for days at a time just to prove to himself that he could. Those weeks spent away were never worth the repercussion of returning, however. Finding his hands trembling where they clutched his staff for fear of being invisible as he landed in Jamie's yard was never quite worth the brief euphoric sense of freedom. Sometimes he felt like one of Bunny's boomerangs, bouncing back and forth between such a range of emotions, and it wasn't an entirely pleasant experience.
He hadn't told any of the others that he was struggling with this. It seemed silly to complain about suddenly having everything you had ever wanted or dreamed of, and the other Guardians were busy in a way he would never be regardless. Even with Easter over and done with, Bunny was busy planning for next year, determined to make it the best celebration of the holiday yet to make up for this year's catastrophe. North was preoccupied with Christmas, and all the preparations that had been put on hold in the face of the threat Pitch had brought to their doorstep. Sandy and Tooth never stopped working, and he wouldn't have been able to get a word in with one of them a lot of the time whilst the other couldn't have given him verbal advice even if he had any to offer.
From time to time he tried to imagine what the separate reactions of the Four would be if they knew how terrified he was of imposing upon their time and making a nuisance of himself. He was a little surprised himself at his own sudden reluctance to cause trouble, though not wanting to intrude in his fellow Guardians' work certainly didn't mean he had any intention of stopping his yearly tradition of sprinkling snow over as many egg hunts as possible.
So maybe he had earned the label of troublemaker, his argument against the others still stood.
Nevertheless, Easter was over for now, and with Spring in Burgess in full swing Jack's sudden disinclination to leave was more than just a little disconcerting. He shouldn't want to be where the weather was warmer, and yet he did, for reasons that were both entirely unexplainable and absolutely clear at the same time. Confused, happy yet simultaneously miserable, and knowing full well that he needed to clear his head before the next scheduled gathering at the North Pole, which would doubtlessly come with a fair number of uncomfortable questions if he didn't sort himself out prior to the event, Jack had eventually found his way to the snow-ridden southern regions that never failed to provide a safe, blank canvas for his venting. They were a haven where he could soar through the air, letting the wind twist and twirl him as he tossed snow flurries and frost bursts around without fear of repercussions. This was as much his hideout as any of the other Guardians' sanctuaries, a safe place he had only once failed to find comforting, and that was more due to who he had been sharing the crisp air with than the location itself.
By the time he was done with his graceful, lethal dance across the heavens the sharp peaks below him were covered in several additional layers of snow, with more to come once the winds whipping ice through the air settled and allowed the last flakes to fall. Spent, comfortably exhausted, and enjoying the peace that never failed to follow the cathartic exercise, he settled upon the highest summit, perched atop his repaired staff to better view his work. The blanket of white was as soothing as it had ever been, and he stretched out a hand to catch the snowflakes raining down around him on his palm, each one just a little different, special by design.
His newfound sense of peace was not to last, however, though this time the disruption of his equilibrium did not come from his own conflicting feelings, but rather from an outside, and wholly unexpected, source.
The oily, smooth tone was entirely too familiar, and he startled, almost tumbling from his staff as he leapt to solid ground, grasping the wooden handle firmly as he swung about, searching for the Nightmare King with his eyes. There was nothing to see, however, save for the white whirlwind he himself had created, and he straightened from his battle-ready stance with a confused scowl.
"You did not really think my own fearlings posed a threat to me now, did you?"
The words, strung together in a sentence and pronounced with such malicious deliberation, should have been more alarming than they were. In all honesty, their impact probably would have been a great deal more profound, had the vehement cloud of black sand that came out of nowhere not eclipsed their sudden and unexpected appearance. He didn't even have time to so much as cry out before it had swatted him from the mountaintop to the valley floor below with the ruthlessness with which a fly swatter pins its helpless victim. One moment he was standing as far atop the world as he could manage, any cares that might have rested on his shoulders stripped away by the breeze, and the next he was on the ground miles upon miles below, a puff of white powder drifting all around him and his back aching from the abruptness of its connection with the snow-covered soil.
He gasped loudly, winded and shocked at the sudden abortion of his former position, but still retained presence of mind enough to tighten his hold on the staff that had miraculously remained by his side throughout his sudden and unexpected flight, his senses alert to a perceived threat, even if his thoughts were not quite swift enough to connect instinct with recognition and reaction. It was that simple act of closing his fingers that ensured the treasured item remained in his grasp as he was suddenly aloft again, something cold and cruelly tight closed around his ankle like a vice and allowing him only to climb so high before wrenching him back down to earth.
"I staged my defeat, and you were all so arrogant, so conceited, that you believed you had actually beaten me!"
He landed on his side this time, and rolled, the snow that had ever been his ally clouding his vision as he struggled to halt his ongoing progress down the incline. Gravity and his own inability to haul his thoughts together worked against him, and he halted only at the bottom, where his headlong spill crashed him neatly into a pair of legs that remained unmoving as he rebounded off their unforgiving surface. Lying on his back he blinked dazedly up into yellow eyes, and was finally given the opportunity to offer some form of response.
"Hello, Jack." The greeting was courteous, tinged with a note of warm regard such as one might expect at a reunion between old and close friends. "You should know better than to travel alone. Unprotected."
It was a small enough warning, but enough for him to roll clear of the heel that would otherwise have made a home in his stomach. Turning his sidewards momentum into a neat head-over-heels motion he was on his feet in seconds, calling the Wind to his side as he pushed off in an attempt to gain some distance. He barely made it two feet into the air before the dark sand closed around his waist and pulled him back down to slam into solid ground a third time. He could feel the gritty substance swirling all around him, relishing his alarm, and wrenching his staff from his hands with enough force as to nearly tear his arm from its socket.
He grappled against the shadowy darkness, striking out against everything and nothing. His fingers missed the familiar wooden surface by mere inches as a hand – an enemy – more substantial than the black sand slowly drawing back and away from him across the snow-laden hillside lifted the rod out of his reach.
"Give it back, Pitch!"
The threat in his words was decidedly empty, but Jack Frost had never been one to back down in the face of a bully, and he wasn't going to start now, with someone he had already beaten. Scrabbling to his feet again he glared at the shadowy figure of his enemy, waiting for an opportunity to seize back his weapon.
"It is strange, don't you think?" the Nightmare King allowed, utterly ignoring the seething, immortal teenager before him. "That your powers should be so intricately tied to this…this stick. I mean, the other Guardians are armed, certainly, but I do not see a single one them so reliant on their weapons for power."
"Give it back!" Jack made a swipe for the staff, but Pitch merely sidestepped neatly, holding the item overhead as he grinned wickedly.
"Some might say it is just a quirk, something else just a little special about the Guardian of Fun," Pitch continued smugly. "But we both know it's more than that, don't we?" Pitch took a step forward, and without thought, without time to consider whether or not it made him seem afraid, Jack took a step away, warily keeping a steady distance between his disadvantaged self and his opponent. "It is a weakness, wouldn't you say, Frost?"
Quirking a smile, he replied without hesitation, "The only weakness I see here is your need to gloat, Pitch. Don't you remember what happened last time you tried to monologue? And there is plenty of ammunition around here, staff or no."
"Oh, I remember," Pitch's voice had grown lower as he spoke, and now, as he reached the pinnacle of his performance, his dark sands swarmed around him, blotting out the moonlight that had found its way through breaks in the clouds above. "The question is, Frost, do you remember what happened the last time I held this mere twig in my hands? Do you remember how much it hurt?"
His own strangled cry cut short what was half-plea and half-demand as Pitch snapped the staff in two with the same ease as he had the first time around. And, just as it had been before, Jack felt that snap within his own body; a terrible, gut-wrenching pain that had his hands instinctively encircling his stomach as his vision momentarily blurred and his lungs refused to draw in breath.
"You put the pieces together last time, Jack," Pitch taunted, and blinking back the tears of pain that threatened to fall the winter spirit found his gaze transfixed by the two halves now twirling in the Nightmare King's hands, clouds of black sand twisting and twining around the wood. "Let's see you do it again, shall we? But we can't make it so easy for you…"
He had only one, horrified second to realize what Pitch intended to do, and it wasn't enough. To brace himself. To stop Pitch. To do anything. The second fracture sounded as loudly in his ears as the first, and he found himself on his knees as the pain inside of him redoubled, a fiery inferno that threatened to destroy him just as surely as the sun melted away his own creations. He did not even have time to breathe before a third crack split the silence, his own agonized scream drowning out the initial sound as he doubled over in pain.
"It didn't have to end this way, Jack!" Pitch echoed his own words with two more loud snaps, and Jack found himself suddenly sprawled on his back, unable to stop himself from writhing in a frantic, and ultimately fruitless, attempt to stop the pain. He kept one arm wrapped around his torso, trying to hold himself together because it felt like he was being ripped apart, whilst the other groped blindly for something to hold onto, his fingers closing over only snow that fell through his fingers. "We could have ruled this world together. We could have ended the Guardians!"
Three more horrendous cracks and he wasn't screaming anymore because he couldn't.
"All you had to do was step off that high horse of yours," the Nightmare King continued, sounding for all the world as if Jack was the one being unreasonable here.
"I offered you an opportunity you should have been begging me for!"
"Well, beg now, Jack. Beg for mercy."
Pitch was still talking, but the words were indistinguishable, lost in the horrible ringing in his ears and the fiery pain he could not escape. He was vaguely aware of the need to breathe, and the fact that his gasping inhalations were doing nothing to ease his agony, but he had no control anymore. Everything faded, and he had no way of knowing for how long he remained drifting in a place that consisted only of pain, but when he found the strength to pry his eyes open again, just two tiny slits of light in a world that had grown suddenly dark, Pitch was still there, towering over him with a cruel smile of triumph on his dark face.
"Let's see you put the pieces back together now, Frost," the Nightmare King gloated, raising his hands and letting the remains of Jack's staff, so many little pieces, rain down upon the prone winter spirit. For a moment, then, just the briefest of moments, there was a look of near remorse on the dark spirit's face as he sighed.
"You should have taken what was offered, Jack," Pitch murmured with a shake of his head. "Now, you have nothing."