Ashes, Ashes

Summary: Sophie learns that darkness doesn't have to mean fear; there are shades of gray to every black and white.

Chapter 3: When To Stop

She was a seventeen-year-old and Sophie Bennet still believed. She believed in the Tooth Fairy even though she didn't have any more baby teeth to spare. She believed in Santa Claus, especially when he had placed a beautiful and mysteriously nostalgic snow globe for her under the tree on her twelfth Christmas. She believed in the Easter Bunny since he still hid a few colorful eggs for her to find despite she being a bit too big to be regarded as an "ankle-biter." She believed in the Sandman because sweet dreams existed.

She believed in Jack Frost, and he and Jamie made sure that she would. She believed in Pitch Black, and the big guy didn't even need to try. He didn't have to, not when he still made his occasional visits (was she still fearful?).

But, despite of how much she believed, Sophie didn't have time to acknowledge their existence. From essays to community service to exams, the girl would fall on top of her bed and immediately slip into slumber without giving Pitch a minute of her attention. She was busy; she was exhausted. It seemed to go on forever when it had only been half a year.

The other Guardians weren't bothered; they knew how demanding a young adult's life could be, and they too got their hands full. Pitch, on the other hand, was disgruntled. If he appeared before her, she would walk around him. If he called out to her, she would ignore him. He even experimented on this by taking a two week absence; when he returned, she hadn't even noticed.

She wasn't noticing now. Her room was flooded with light due to the small lamp sitting on top of her desk. Sophie spilled herself over her work, her hand in constant motion scribbling down notes while her eyes flickered from her notebook to her laptop screen behind her glasses. He hated when the girl stayed up late to study. She allowed the detrimental illumination from the lamp to pervade the usual floors that he strode upon, to cast a barrier separating him from her. Was she deliberately pushing him away?

Pitch took shelter in her closet and had the blankets of darkness shroud him protectively. He loathed the way the light gleamed boldly, so white and bright, and the way the girl welcomed its feather touches regardless of how artificial the emanation may be. Electricity, he mused grimly, was a handy repellant against the dark when candle-lit flames couldn't do much justice.

"Pay attention to me."

He was surprised to feel his voice rumble from his throat and his lips form the words. He didn't intend on saying anything; she hardly looked at him even whenever he spoke to her.

Much to his shock, Sophie actually responded. "I'm busy at the moment. I'll talk to you later."

"You're always busy," he scoffed.

"I'm only human," she said, turning her head to shoot him a look of exasperation. "And seventeen. I don't have the freedom I once had when I was fifteen."

"Impossible. There are children your age who don't expend their energy on schoolwork and other frivolous tasks." He paused. "At least, that was what it was like centuries ago."

"Well, sorry that you have to stick around for the twenty-first century," she said dryly.

Just when he was about to make his retort, Sophie looked away and pulled one of the desk's drawers out. She rummaged through the contents and pulled out earbuds. She stuffed her ears with them and attached the metallic end to the laptop. Pitched grimaced.

"Oh, what is so fascinating about schoolwork anyway?" he grumbled aloud. The spirit shot up to his feet and began pacing around in impatience despite the tiny space. "All there is nowadays is work, work, work! Pathetic little fools, gluing themselves to paper and pencil and books when there is a whole world out there!"

"I don't see why you're still here," Sophie sighed, taking one bud out. She raised an eyebrow. "If you're so bored outta your mind, then you can always leave and terrorize other unfortunate children."

"Yes, and let myself perish alive because I'm desperate enough to leave even when the light could burn me to a crisp," Pitch drawled. "Think, Girl! Would I have left this place if I noticed you had yet more things to study about?"

She held her hands up in defense. "Whoa, calm yourself. I just don't wanna take anymore of your complaining."

He fumed. "I do not complain!"

"So you say," the girl muttered under her breath, her words reached his ears nonetheless.

"I am simply perturbed with how infrequent I am able to analyze you. How am I able to discover your fear when I can barely hold a conversation with you?"

"How can you analyze me with a conversation?"

"I demand that you cease your task and pay attention to me at once," Pitch declared imperiously.

"Seriously, Pitch, this is important. You know what? Never mind—you hardly see anything as important if it's irrelevant to fear and darkness." With that said, Sophie placed the bud back in and resumed back to her studies. Pitch called out to her several times, but the girl did not respond to him again, most likely listening to whatever music that she had set in high volume.

He groused to himself before sitting back down. It might take two or three hours before the girl chose to turn off the lamp, and when that time comes she would be nothing more than an unconscious heap of wasted youthfulness and crammed book-knowledge.