"The Frost Prince?" One of the older children asked. They hadn't heard that one before.
"It all started on a cold night, just barely warming for spring when a child of the winter had just finished a day of bringing happiness and fun to the children."
"Happiness and fun? In the winter?" the child asked. "How could he do that?"
The gray-eyed lady smiled again, acknowledging his question. "He brought the snow. You see, my dear ones, the Frost Prince consisted of cold. Everything in the world that you can think of."
"Like ice sickles?" one child asked.
"Yes," the gray-eyed lady said, her smile encouraging and kind. "He was made of all of that and more. His very essence, his soul, consisted of the very first frost of each winter."
Cold doesn't do anything to me. It took me…well, longer than I can really guess to realize that cold really hurts humans. Well, I knew the cold could kill them, I just didn't understand how. I didn't know what it did to them. How could I know that once their body becomes cold that eventually it would get painful and then numb as it shuts down. I still can't quite comprehend it because even in the coldest cold, I can feel whatever I touch without any pain. But then I look at how I feel now…emotionally. I remember how it (I don't know what to call it; my heart? My soul?) hurt and then it got numb and then I stopped caring. It shut down. Once I realized that I could begin to see how cold can kill so easily.
Jack leaned against the wall in the dark, underground lair with his hood up and a scowl on his face as he watched Pitch chortle to himself. The Boogieman walked around his globe again and again, only frowning every now and then at the light that belonged to Jamie before glancing narrowly in Jack's direction, but then he would dismiss it until he came to it again. It was getting rather old. Still, despite the one, little flaw, he still seemed to love how dark the rest of the large globe had become. He would.
Finally, Jack had enough. "Alright, already," he said. "You won, the world is yours, everyone believes in you now, whatever. Are you going to get the Tooth Fairies home or what?"
Pitch paused and turned slowly to Jack. "No."
Jack frowned deeper. "You said you'd return the Tooth Fairies."
Pitch raised a finger, cruel smile in place. "I promised that I would release them, and I have. As I said before, they are all free to go."
"They can't fly," Jack practically growled. "How are they supposed to get back to the Tooth Palace? Walk? That would take them weeks! And that's if they could make it at all!"
"Tooth Palace? You mean whatever remains?" Pitch snorted. "I don't know how they will return or if they will return and I don't care."
Jack's hand clenched around his staff and the room dropped several degrees. Pitch raised an eyebrow and smirked. "You have quite the little temper on you for an ice spirit. Partnerships work out like this, Jack. Especially those like ours."
The message was clear: If you want them gone, take them yourself.
Jack felt his jaw tighten for a second and he wanted with all of his being to attack the Nightmare King, but he forced himself to calm down. That wouldn't help anyone in the long run. It would actually only put the little fairies and Jamie within Pitch's reach.
Still glaring at the Nightmare King, Jack leapt into the air and grabbed onto a cage, swinging up so he could see the little beings inside. Little, fearful squeaks came from within.
"Don't worry," he said as reassuringly as he could. "I'll get you guys home."
None of the little fairies answered him. Instead they backed as far away from him as they could. Jack sighed. Then he looked around at all of the cages so full of the little fairies. The only way he could think of to get them all home was to take a cage at a time; maybe two or three if he rigged something up. He did not like the idea of leaving Pitch alone for that long at the moment (would he seek out and hurt the Guardians? Go back on their deal without Jack ever knowing? Jack wouldn't put it past him), but then what could he do?
"Fine, I'll take them," he muttered. He'd have to bunch them into the cages, and it probably wouldn't be comfortable for them (or him, lugging those giant things back and forth), but it would get them all home and safe. He glanced at Pitch suspiciously. "What are you going to do now?"
He really had a bad feeling about letting Pitch out of his sight.
Pitch held his chin in his hand thoughtfully. "I think I'll wait here for you to come back and help me."
Jack scowled. "I'm not helping you tonight."
"Then it is back to nightmares."
The winter spirit felt his gut clench. He was trapped…and he couldn't see a way out. Well, not for everyone. "Not in Burgess."
The Boogieman paused, raising an eyebrow. "What?"
Jack clenched his teeth. "Fine, go ahead and have your nightmares tonight, but it's your last night, and no nightmares in Burgess. Just leave my kids alone."
Pitch scoffed, stepping forward with a swing of his hand in an arc. "Just one city, Jack?"
If Jack could have frozen him with just a look, Pitch would have been a rather large popsicle at that point. "Just one city. It's my city, and I'll know. No nightmares there."
The Nightmare King frowned. "You cannot change the details of our arrangement at your whims."
Jack snickered humorlessly, resisting the urge to roll his eyes. "I'm just laying down the letter of the law. Partnerships work like that."
Silence met his words, loud and oppressive in Jack's mind. Then, after what seemed like forever, Pitch did something Jack hadn't expected: he laughed. "Well said, Jack. Why have we not joined forces before?"
The winter spirit didn't answer. He didn't feel the question required one.
"Your word," Jack said finally.
Another chuckle. "You have it, Your Majesty. But just for tonight."
"No," Jack responded harshly. "I'll help you do whatever—scare children or what not," he ignored the weak, fearful squeaks of protest from the fairies, "but not in Burgess. Never in Burgess."
"And what do I get in return?" Pitch asked slowly. Jack frowned. "Oh, please, Jack. You cannot keep changing the deal and expect me to not clarify or push back."
Jack bit his lip. He did not like where this was heading, but he just couldn't bare the thought of all the children in his town being tortured like that. "One night," he said finally. "One night a month, you can have your nightmares."
Pitch raised his eyebrow as if to say 'oh really?' Suddenly Jack felt as if he'd given something vitally important away.
The dark spirit opened his mouth, but Jack cut him off. "And!" Pitch closed his mouth. "And," Jack continued, "you help me take the tooth fairies home safely. All of them."
"And how would you suggest we accomplish that?"
The white-haired boy frowned. "The same way you kidnapped them."
The fairies all squeaked in fear again. Apparently that hadn't been the most pleasant experience, but he didn't have any other ideas, and it would get them home. Pitch seemed hesitant and Jack scowled.
"I mean, it's not like your nightmares are being used for anything else at the moment anyway," he said, his voice laced with the threat new the Nightmare King would catch.
Pitch turned and looked down at him, bemused. "More observant than you let on. Very well." He snapped his fingers and the nightmare sand began to form into horses, swarming into the lair from all sides and stomping angrily at the ground.
"Get them home safely," Jack insisted, his voice calmer now. "I'm going to stop by later when Tooth gets there and make sure that every one of them is accounted for."
Pitch stared down at him for a few seconds before bowing mockingly. "What ever you say, my Prince."
Jack scowled. "And stop calling me that."
The Boogieman paused for a moment thoughtfully. "No," he said finally and snapped his fingers again. The tooth fairies all squeaked as the horses and the cages vanished into the shadows. Jack jumped forward to stop it, but couldn't reach any in time. In a few minutes, the only beings remaining in the lair were Pitch and Jack.
"What did you do to them?"
"I sent them all home," Pitch said with an exasperated roll of his eyes.
Jack just glared at him for several minutes.
"Well," the Boogieman said finally petting a nightmare at his side gently as if it didn't look like it wanted nothing more than to charge both of them down. Those were the things Pitch let loose in children's heads? "As your evening is now free, would you care to join me?"
It was a poorly veiled reminder. 'Help me, or I unleash my nightmares.'
Something inside of Jack seemed to break as he realized what his answer would be. Unable to open his mouth or look the other man in the eye, he simply turned his gaze to the floor blankly in front of him and nodded.
Jack did not want to do this. The thought made him physically sick, actually. It was a rather interesting sensation as he couldn't remember his body ever feeling like that before.
He gripped his staff tightly and glanced at the window they'd (well, Pitch had) chosen. A little girl lived here. The Nightmare King had melted through his shadows to the house's interior already after Jack had refused to be taken in the same way. He'd told the dark spirit to let him in the window, not comfortable with Pitch's ability to travel through shadows yet (and he hoped he never would be).
For a moment, his stomach hurt so badly that he had to sit down. This was a bad idea. Could he do this? Should he? But if he didn't, children would be tortured by nightmares every night, and he couldn't allow that to continue. This was a better alternative…wasn't it?
His breath sped up, and he jumped when the click of the window sounded in the still night.
"Scared, Jack?" Pitch asked mockingly.
Absolutely, but he wasn't about to admit it. "Why should I be?" he whispered back and forced himself through the opening.
"Oh, please, Jack," the Boogieman rolled his eyes. "You know you can't hide it from me. Although I am wondering what there is to fear from a six-year-old girl."
Jack felt his cheeks color with embarrassment. "Yeah, whatever. Let's just get this over with."
Pitch shrugged as if to say 'suit yourself' and turned to the sleeping little girl on the bed, studying her intently with an air or professionalism. It struck Jack as inherently creepy on a whole different level than what Pitch normally pulled off.
For just a moment he could see it. He could see how this being had been feared for centuries and how he'd earned his name as 'The Boogieman'. This was the spirit of fear and deception, and he fit the part well.
"She can't hear either one of us at the moment," the dark spirit commented as if he were assessing a challenge.
"She doesn't believe?" Jack asked skeptically, eying the figure on the bed. "She's six."
"Her parents do not encourage such 'frivolous' thoughts."
The winter-spirit frowned. He didn't like the thought that a child didn't even get to believe in anything at all. Although it would benefit her in this case.
"So," Pitch continued, "we are going to convince her otherwise."
"How?" Jack asked, not sure if he wanted the answer.
The Nightmare King shrugged. "If I cannot use nightmares, she will have to be awake. That in and of itself is simple enough, as is scaring her. The real trick is to instill the base belief of that fear—that you and I are, in fact, here. To do that, we need to offer proof."
"Proof?" Jack asked.
Pitch turned and raised an eyebrow in an expression that clearly said 'are you really that stupid?' "Jack, why do children—I mean, why did children," that cruel, triumphant smile was back even as he continued, "believe in the other Guardians?"
Jack blinked. He'd never really thought about it before. "I…don't know."
The other man rolled his eyes. "Think, Jack. Why did children believe in Nicholas St. North; in Santa Claus?"
"Because…he left them presents?" the winter spirit said tentatively.
Pitch nodded and his face relaxed ever so slightly, somewhat appeased. "Yes. And what of Toothiana?"
"She leaves gifts," Jack said, a little more firmly this time but still cautious as he was unsure of where this was going. He sincerely doubted Pitch wanted to leave anyone gifts.
"As does that ridiculous rabbit," Pitch added. "So what did the dreamweaver leave?" His smirk caused Jack to wince and his glare to sharpen threateningly. It still hurt to think about Sandman.
"I don't know. Good dreams?" he answered with gritted teeth.
"Evidence, Jack," Pitch corrected. "Evidence of their existence. That is why no one ever believed in you."
"Hey," Jack frowned. "I leave plenty of evidence wherever I go!"
"But nothing that cannot be attributed to a miscalculation of nature at worst," Pitch said, waving his hand in the air dismissively. "Think about it. Are you responsible for every single storm in the entire world?"
"No," Jack said slowly, mind still not processing what the other spirit was telling him.
The dark spirit nodded. "And humans can only predict the weather marginally, even today. You can do everything that a full-fledged spirit of winter can do, and the wind follows you, but nothing you do can be attributed to anything but an accident.
"To humans, that is what you are: A happy—or unhappy—accident."
Jack looked down at his staff as he tried to process this information. He didn't want to admit that it made sense, but he found he couldn't deny it. It was so simple…how could he have missed it before? He knew humans tended to be blissfully unaware of the world around them. He knew people wouldn't believe unless they wanted to, whether the truth stared them in the face or not. He knew, and yet he'd always assumed he'd been doing enough—more than enough—to get the attention he deserved when in reality it hadn't been nearly enough…or at least not nearly blatant enough.
"Then how do you do it?" he asked softly. Pitch cocked his head, asking for clarification. "How do you make a child believe? What kind of proof do I need?"
"Ah, and that is the trick, is it not?" The Nightmare King grinned wickedly. "Too blatant and they brush it off as an unclaimed joke or prank, sometimes even a threat from a very different source—a friend or family member for instance. On the other hand, if your proof is too subtle, it gets passed by either unnoticed or dismissed as the fleeting remnants of a bad dream and nothing more."
Jack still felt like he was reeling from what Pitch had just told him, but he had enough presence of mind to realize a misdirection when he heard one. "You still haven't answered my question," he muttered.
Pitch chuckled softly. "You create a memory; one that distracts and draws attention to itself; one that will not be overpowered by another."
Jack's eyes widened. "That's why you took the teeth!"
The Nightmare King's smile widened. "If you have no good dreams to battle the nightmares, and if you have no bright memories to battle the fear, belief will always fade. The children needed to forget."
The winter spirit stared at the other man in disbelief. "Memories?" Jack murmured, half to himself, almost as if confirming that he had indeed heard correctly.
"The stronger the memory, the stronger the hold," Pitch sounded entirely too cocky now, but this fact only barely registered to Jack. "Do you know how to make a memory, my Frost Prince."
"Don't call me that," Jack snapped, finally breaking out of his shocked reverie.
"Well?" Pitch pushed, ignoring Jack's comment.
"Repetition and impact."
The winter spirit blinked. "What?"
"Repetition—you're always there when a child comes to their room. They just know you're always under their bed. I found out a few centuries ago that the nightmares that Sandman let slip through were quite helpful in my endeavors of convincing children that I lived under their bed, but even with their help I could only do so much. I could only haunt a handful of children for months, sometimes even years on end, and even then I could rarely get to them during the day. They only believed in me at night."
Jack tried to swallow the sick feeling in his stomach away. It didn't help.
"Impact—where an experience is so frightening they will revisit it themselves and keep themselves afraid. The problem here is mainly timing. If everything isn't exactly perfect, if you do not take the time to set up correctly and if you do not know exactly what you are doing, it all comes to naught. That is what my nightmares did every night for the last week: Set the mood."
He paused and grinned wickedly at Jack. "My little trick of turning dreams into nightmares allows me to create a repetitive impact on a wide scale. You see, we will obtain the most fear if we can combine the two concepts."
It had gotten hard to breathe. He hadn't even know he needed to breathe, but every word Pitch had spoken seemed to steal just a little more precious air from his lungs. "I can't do this," Jack said finally, turning to leave.
"Think about it, Jack," Pitch's voice stopped him. "A handful of children every night if you help me, or every child every night with my nightmares. It's your choice."
Involuntarily, Jack felt himself freeze. He hated this. But still, through the growing despair and desperation he felt, he realized one thing: Pitch didn't need him. He could have had all of that power, but he'd given it up just so he wouldn't be alone. Jack was really starting to hate the fact that he knew that feeling so well. He was also beginning to resent the fact that he would do anything to be rid of said feeling.
"I don't want children to fear me," he said finally. "I never have."
"They don't have to. I have no problems taking all the credit," Pitch said with a dismissive laugh.
Jack frowned and looked back at him. "What was that about children believing in me?"
"Oh, don't worry, Jack. This is a mutual partnership. You help me, and I'll help you."
"No fear involved," Jack insisted.
"Of course not," Pitch deadpanned. "That is my area of expertise."
Jack still didn't like this, but it was better than the nightmares scaring every child every night."
"Alright," he said lowly. "What do you need me to do?"
The Nightmare King smiled triumphantly, but only barely. "I don't need you to do anything, Jack." It was just an affirmation of the winter spirit's own conclusion, but he still felt his frustration boil over at the words.
"Than why am I here?" Jack yelled, grateful the little girl couldn't hear them for once. She'd have woken up long ago otherwise.
Pitch raised an eyebrow. "Well, it is simply a matter of what you can do to help me. I'm sure we can devise a way to combine our powers and create a memory. After all, memories often come back through smell and touch. If she remembers actually feeling something then the memory will linger because it will feel real to her. That is part of the spell that allows them to interact with us. We are only alive because we are real to her. 'I believe' is the most basic and powerful magic spell in existence."
"Are you saying I've never been alive?" Jack asked quietly, not entirely sure he wanted to know the answer. This whole situation was only getting more and more disturbing the further it went on.
Pitch didn't answer for several seconds. When he did, his voice held a tone of forced nonchalance. "Does it mater? We will soon remedy the situation one way or another."
Jack frowned. It did matter to him. The idea of him walking around as some sort of dead ghost… His stomach hurt even more at the thought.
Pitch continued. "The night grows late. Tell me, Jack, what can you do to help me create an impact?"
Jack glanced around the somewhat messy room, wanting to look anywhere but at Pitch. He had to stop thinking that he didn't want to do this and start focusing on the problem at hand. Too bad he really stunk at it.
Wait, Pitch had said something about people remembering because of smell and…touch.
"You want me to freeze something?"
The Nightmare King rolled his eyes and leaned in, causing Jack to step back uneasily. "You're thinking too small, Jack. We need something that will give irrefutable proof."
"But I have no idea—"
"What can you do Jack?"
"That's what I'm trying to figure out!" he shot angrily.
"I meant in general." Jack new what little patience Pitch had was waning rather quickly. Actually, he couldn't help but be surprised that the other had lasted this long.
"Uh," Jack said slowly, wondering what this had to do with anything, "I can freeze things?"
"And?" Pitch asked, turning and pacing around the room, kicking toys and clothes to the side with distaste.
"Make it snow?"
Very deliberately, Pitch stopped walking and turned to face Jack with a pointed look, his silvery gold eyes glinting eerily in the dim light.
"You…want me to make it snow?"
As if putting up with a particularly irritating child, the Boogieman rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Not outside."
Jack's eyes widened. "In the room? But that's—"
"Unnatural? Unheard of? Exactly what we need?"
The winter spirit sat there opening and closing his mouth for a few seconds without any sound coming out. Then he looked down, and then over at the still sleeping girl.
"And that's…all you want me to do?"
Pitch shrugged. "For now."
Jack did not like the sound of that, but then what could he really do about it? Without putting the children in danger. Well, more danger.
He sighed. "Alright."
Alicia first woke up to the sound of something clattering onto the floor. It hadn't been very loud, but it had disturbed her none the less, startling her awake. She could see nothing out of the ordinary in her room, and her eyes had just began to close again when she felt the cold pricks on her face, as if something were falling onto it.
Sitting up, she blearily rubbed the sleep from her eyes and noticed the most amazing thing: it was snowing…in her room.
At first she could only stare in wonder. Then she let out a loud giggle and went to get out of bed, but a dark shadow moving out of the corner of her eye had her pausing. And that suddenly, the cold didn't feel so friendly.
"Mommy and Daddy say there's nothing there," she told herself firmly. Then again, Mommy and Daddy would also say that it shouldn't snow in her room…
Steeling herself, Alicia swallowed and tried to be brave like Daddy always said, and ran over to the other side of the room, flicking the light-switch on and washing the room in the relief-giving light as the fixture in the center of the ceiling burst to life.
She instantly felt better…but the snow didn't leave. A light blanket of white specks covered everything in her room. She stared at it nervously. Should she go and get Mommy or Daddy? No, they would get mad if she did.
So instead she settled for the next best thing and walked back to her bed without shutting off the light. She then proceeded to bundle herself up in her blankets and hoped she could go back to sleep.
"I don't understand," Jack said in confusion, glancing back at the still lit window as he followed Pitch away from the house. "She didn't see us so she doesn't believe. Isn't that what you wanted?"
Pitch rolled his eyes. "True belief doesn't just appear, Jack. Sometimes you can exploit a moment of belief, even a slight flicker of 'maybe' in a child's mind can be enough to startle them with a shadow, but actual belief takes time and patience."
"So…you aren't going to stay until she believes in you?"
"Of course not, Jack. It will take a few nights at least. Surprisingly," he paused and smiled at his companion who stopped in his tracks and backed up defensively at the expression, "your presence has cut the time down immensely."
"Huh?" Jack asked, more confused than ever.
"A child like that can take months without nightmares and apparently weeks with nightmares. Now, with the evidence you have left behind, I think we can get her to begin believing within days."
"You mean fearing," Jack muttered softly.
Pitch frowned but said nothing. After several seconds of scrutiny, he turned and walked down the street. "I hope you do not plan on standing like that all night. We do have other houses to visit."
Jack's stomach flip-flopped and he closed his eyes for just a moment. When he opened them again though, they had gained a fiery determination that belied the frosty color. He would do this! If this is what it took to help the children in the long run, he would endure this for now. He could. After all, he'd endured solitude for over three centuries.
With his jaw set firmly, he followed after the Nightmare King as he disappeared into the night.
Sorry this took so long, guys. Work has been...demanding. I'm working on finishing this though and have most of it plotted out. :)