When he first saw the boy who rode upon the wind, ethereal and beautiful as the snow danced around his body, he couldn't believe his eyes. Shaggy white hair and brilliant blue eyes sparkled in the bright sunlight. A simple pair pants and a hooded sweatshirt fit his slender form. He had a tight grip on the staff he held in his hands as he landed gently on the bank of the frozen pond, the loose, shifting snow tumbling around his bare feet.
Seeing the boy dancing there, watching him and he slipped and played in the snow, it brought to mind an old phrase he had heard the people in town use to describe somebody who was happy and carefree. Footloose and fancy free. That's exactly what this boy was, because not even gravity could hold him. The wind bore him up, played in his hair and tangled in his clothes.
Sheltered under the old pine tree, the onlooker felt the sudden urge to kick off the shadows that kept him hidden and go out to play with the boy, to shed all of his defenses and just reveal himself, ask the young man to teach him how to fly on the wind and enjoy the snow, even knowing that he was as invisible to the humans as his unseen observer.
"Katie! Jimmy! Time to come in! Your father will be home soon, and we must prepare dinner!" A woman called out to her two children, who were engaged with a number of others in a friendly snowball fight that had been instigated by the boy of ice. The children laughed and said good-bye to their friends before heading off with their families. And the boy of ice watched them longingly, eyes so sad that the silent observer wanted to reach out to him, to let him know that he wasn't alone, that at least one other being in this world could see him. Slowly, all the children drifted off, heading home with their parents and siblings, leaving Jack alone, but for the wind, and a single shadow under the pines.
Jack Frost was the boy's name, and as the other man stood there in the shadows, sheltered from the bright light of the daytime, Jack proceeded to paint the surface of the pond with beautiful, intricate designs, originating from the staff he held in his hand. Each touch of his staff to the ice brought new, amazing pictures, whorls and curves and knots that painted themselves upon its surface. Each new design was a masterpiece, and the onlooker found himself in awe at the sight, held immobile by the beauty and uniqueness of each delicate addition.
At last, the boy tired of his lonely game and leapt into the air, where he was caught up by the wind, flying wildly over the tree tops, laughing as he went. The man hidden in the shadows remained there a while longer before retreating, heading back to the darkness of his own home.
It was two weeks later, on a Sunday, when he saw the boy again at the same pond. The pond had thawed some during that time, but the moment Jack touched it, the water froze over. The children would be safe to skate on it now, if they came. The man had a moment of surprise when realized that the boy didn't wear shoes, and wandered on the ice and snow with bare feet. Still, he didn't seem to feel the cold, so the other man figured it probably didn't matter if his feet were covered or not.
This time, though, the man came out from the shadows, wincing for a moment in the bright light. The boy, Jack, glanced at him for a moment, frowning lightly, but then turned back to his task, his staff brushing over the frozen ice as he walked around the outer edge of the pond. But when he was approached by the taller man, he paused again and looked up.
"I have not seen you here until recently," the man offered, his voice a soothing baritone. "You seem to be young. Your name is Jack Frost, is it not?"
The boy's eyes widened impossibly, and he saw the hope in them. "You can see me?" the boy whispered, almost as if he couldn't believe it. And he probably couldn't. The taller man nodded, watching him with amber eyes. "But, nobody's ever been able to see me. Not in the past two hundred years." Ah, that would explain it then. The boy was truly just a child, if he had only been a creature of winter for two centuries. After all, the taller man had been around for nearly a millennium. "Please, who are you?"
The man smiled, showing sharp teeth. "My name is Pitch. Pitch Black." He waited, but the boy did not cower from him, or flinch at his name, and his smile warmed into something more genuine, more affectionate. "Where are you from?" he asked next, curious despite himself.
Jack shrugged at this, his eyes turning unbearably sad. "I don't know. The moon told me my name, but I don't remember anything else. He's never spoken to me since I woke up in this pond for the first time," he confessed, and suddenly Pitch understood the boy's attachment, as well as his repulsion. Jack had avoided the place of his birth for nearly two centuries, but now, he found himself irresistibly called back to it.
"I see," he murmured, turning to walk along the edge of the pond. Jack walked with him, his body tense, as if afraid that Pitch might turn him away. The dark man wouldn't do that; after all, nobody could see him, either, though he knew of ways to make his presence known. Nightmares, and fear of the deep shadows that hid unknown terrors, these belonged to him. Just as ice and snow and cold belonged to the boy trotting along at his side, like a lost puppy.
No, not a puppy, Pitch realized. Just a boy, one who didn't remember his past, who didn't know who he had been before he had become Jack Frost. He didn't know if he had parents, though they were surely dead by now. Perhaps there had been a sibling or two as well.
Slowly, the sky darkened, and Pitch looked up. "Ah, I see that it is time that I begin my own duties," he said, his voice turning deep and low, rumbling like the monster in the shadows. Jack shivered and stared up at him with wide, innocent eyes. Pitch stared back, his own eyes gleaming coldly in the approaching darkness.
"Will you come back?" Jack asked, his voice pitiful at the idea that perhaps his new friend would abandon him, leaving him completely invincible once again. "I don't mean every day or anything," he hurried to clarify. "But…sometimes? I've never had anybody who could see me before." And that was the crux of the matter. The boy feared abandonment by the only other person who could see him, who could interact with him.
Reaching out, Pitch pressed his palm gently against the top of Jack's head. "Do not worry, child. The darkness and the shadows are mine to control. I will find you wherever you are, with your cold and your ice. The wind, too, can carry messages between us." The wind had never before played with him, but it would no doubt agree to help the playful child that danced upon its currents, laughing and happy.
He left then, just turned and walked away, and Jack did not follow him. A moment later, there was a gust of cold air, and Jack's presence disappeared, carried off by the wind. That was just as well, for Pitch did not want the other boy to see just what he did during the nights. Moving like liquid darkness through the silent town, Pitch waited, watchful. He was rewarded moments later when a brilliant gold dust settled through the town, granting the occupants dreams of joy and happiness.
A trickle of Sandman's power meandered past him, and Pitch reached out, touching it and watching it turn black, the very nature of it changed. He chafed at the restraints put on him by the man on the moon, and by the Guardians. Pitch had no choice but to bring fear to people, but he was restricted in how he could do it, and how much. A few nightmares that would soon be chased away by more pleasant dreams. Glimpses of dark things in the deep shadows when one was lost and wandering where they shouldn't be. Nothing concrete. Nothing to make people believe in the boogeyman. After all, fear wasn't real, right?
Pitch watched as his nightmare entered a home, the room of a small child. Louise was her name, and as the dark man waited, she woke up crying, scared of the monsters in her dreams. A moment later, the door opened and light flicked on, spilling out onto the frozen landscape. "Louise? What's wrong?" a female asked. The girl's mother reached out and held her child, soothing her. "Come now, Louise. It was just a dream. Would you like to come sleep with your daddy and me?" she asked. The little blond girl nodded, her face buried in her mother's chest, and the woman stood, carrying her back to her own bed, where the girl would be safe from nightmares for the remainder of the night.
Using another trickle of power, Pitch used it to pull the shadows closer to him, away from the light. It's not like he could be seen anyhow, but there was always the chance that someday, a child might see through the shadows and see his face. Only if they believed in him, of course, which they didn't. He was just a nameless fear, something to be despised and hated.
"Is that what you didn't want me to see?" a young voice piped up behind him. Pitch whirled around to stare up at Jack Frost, who was sitting on a nearby signpost, completely at ease. "Pitch Black, huh? I'm thinking the Guardians don't like you very much. Is it because while they're bringing happiness to children, you're off giving them nightmares?" he mused. Pitch didn't answer, and those blue eyes watched him curiously. "What was the nightmare about?" he asked, and his tone was genuine, not judgmental at all.
Pitch just snorted. "Does it matter?" he asked. "This is what I do, inspire fear. Give children nightmares that make them cry, show them monsters in the shadows and alleyways. What does it matter what the nightmares are of?"
Jack leapt lightly to the ground, a small flurry of snow scurrying around his feet. "The children can't see you, either," he murmured, eyes narrowing in understanding and sympathy. "How long has it been? How long have you been the boogeyman?" he asked next. When the taller man remained silent, Jack's lips turned down in a small frown, his eyes slowly growing colder, sadder. It wasn't until he turned around that Pitch answered him.
"That child likes to play with candles," he said softly. "She doesn't understand yet how much damage an innocently burning fire can cause. The nightmares showed her." He didn't know why he told Jack that. Perhaps because the boy reminded him of himself when he was a newling, not understanding why he, of all people, had to bring fear to children, when they couldn't even see him. It was just a part of life now, something that he accepted, but there had been a time when he had wondered. Much like Jack did now.
The boy's eyes softened, warming again, and Pitch felt that same warmth flow through him. This boy, even knowing that he was the cause of a child's fear, accepted him. He hadn't just assumed blindly that he caused terror just because he could, distributed nightmares willy-nilly. All fear had a purpose; it kept people from doing stupid, reckless things. From starting a fire, or from wandering into a dark back alley alone, or from running out into the street. It was necessary for fear, for caution, to be instilled in people as children, when it would do the most good, become a part of their very nature. There was a difference, too, between good fear and utter terror. Pitch hadn't been interested in causing absolutely terror since the Dark Ages, when he had been at the peak of his power.
Jack grinned at him suddenly, his eyes sparkling with mischief. "Come join me, then," he offered suddenly. "I bet with your shadow and my ice, we can make beautiful things. Don't you think?" The words were playful, but under them was a silent plea. Please come play with me, come talk with me, let me know that I exist, that I'm real.
Pitch heard what wasn't said, because the fear called to him. Jack's fear. No matter that he'd been around for at least two centuries; he was frozen forever in the body of a child. And Pitch could hear his fear, the fear of being forgotten, of never being seen by anybody. The man on the moon didn't speak to him, either. Had he wondered if he even existed at all? Had he been afraid that he'd be abandoned, left alone forever to wander, unheard and unseen, bringing only cold and ice to the humans that he surrounded himself with?
For the first time in a very long time, Pitch found himself tempted to wander with somebody else, to spend time with another person. He hated the Guardians with a passion, and one day, he'd see them all destroyed. But this child wasn't a Guardian. He was just a lonely spirit, like himself. And so, he found himself agreeing. The brilliant smile he got in return for his bare nod caught him off-guard, just as the wind swept him off his feet, catching him behind his knees and supporting his back, forcing him into a more-or-less upright position.
Just ahead of him, Jack laughed with childish delight as he played with the wind, spinning in its grip, trusting it not to drop him. It was exhilarating, and Pitch found himself smiling at the young man's antics. "Just remember," he called up to the winter spirit, the wind throwing his voice so Jack could hear it. "I have to get back to the shadows before the dawn."
Jack smiled at him happily, then spoke out loud, seemingly to the wind. "You heard him, right? Then c'mon, or there won't be enough time to show him before the sun comes up! I want to see what we can do!" The wind, spurred on by his words, blew stronger and harder, and Pitch shivered as it tore across the tree tops, scattering leaves in its wake, branches shaking and dropping sparkling shards of ice with the force of the gusts.
Only moments later, they were back at Jack's pond, as Pitch was starting to think of it. Because surely, if the boy was born here, then this was the only home he could call his. As they landed, the ice began to crack under Pitch's weight, but a small tap of the winter spirit's staff, and the layer of ice repaired and reinforced itself. It was an odd sensation, feeling the ice thicken under his feet as he stood there. Jack grinned up at him in amusement, and Pitch smiled back, shaking his head. Still such a child.
Jack skated easily across the ice, twirling, his staff sliding here, or touching there, spreading intricate patterns as he went. There was a vine, there a flower, there a snowflake. There was a rabbit made of ice, and a small village. Some of the designs had no discernible shape at all, but they were as equally pretty as the ones that Pitch could identify, glittering coldly in the light of the moon and stars.
Determined not to lose to the younger one's enthusiasm, Pitch called out to him. "Your ice is indeed beautiful, and cold. But so is the darkness, unless you know how to find comfort in it." Carefully, he sent out the black sand, the sleeping powder that had not been used this night, or the previous nights that had come before.
The sand wormed its way into the ice patterns, settling on petals and rooftops, darkening them, so that they glowed like black ice. Pitch eyed their creation approvingly. Jack had been right, it was beautiful, more so than what either of them could accomplish separately. The moon shone down on them, and for the first time in a long while, Pitch Black heard the man on the moon speak to him. Lifting his head, he gazed upwards, not wanting to listen but compelled nonetheless. Golden eyes narrowed menacingly, and he snapped, "Forget it, old man! You have no say in this! After all, I'm not the only one you abandoned, remember?"
The moon tugged at him, insistent, and Pitch snarled, but he was losing, and he knew it. The moon typically didn't interfere with the spirits, except to give them life, but there were plans in the working for Jack Frost, and for Pitch. The man who was restricted to the deepest shadows could not fight against the brightness of the moon, and he felt his strength wavering as daybreak grew nearer.
"Pitch? Pitch! What's wrong?" Jack's frightened voice called out to him, and Pitch tore his eyes away from the moon to stare helplessly at the confused boy. Jack's eyes were flickering, rapidly going from light to darker blues as he, too, felt the moon's will. "No!" he gasped, his eyes wide. "Please, moon, don't do this! Don't take him away! I can't…nobody else can see me! Please!"
But the moon was adamant, and as Pitch watched, the boy's eyes slowly closed, and he dropped onto the frozen ice, sleeping. When he awake, he would have forgotten all about this chance meeting. Pitch felt the moon's influence wash over him as well, and he smiled bitterly. So that was it, huh? The moon would make them forget each other. They'd go back to the way they had been, lonely, invisible to everybody around them.
As the moon cut apart their connection, Pitch made a silent vow. One day, he'd see that boy again, watch as he danced upon the wind and brought winter and laughter to the children. Footloose and fancy free.