Disclaimer: I own nothing.
A.N: Written to the soundtracks Darker than Black and Wolf's Rain.
open the door for air
and on your doorstep
is a dead sparrow
his head and breast
—Charles Bukowski, Love is a Dog from Hell
Silence Without Name
Jack Frost was dreaming.
It was the same dream he'd been having for the past six nights, the same scene over and over again. It was forgotten by morning. He stood in a desert, the dunes glittering as if coated in ice, the sky above black as tar. It was moonless, but for some reason he didn't mind. The sand stretched in every direction without end, the horizon as dark and fathomless as a shark's eye. Some instinct told him it was dangerous to stand in the open. Shelter. Must find shelter. He began to walk without direction, each step slow and sluggish, for every two gained it felt he moved one backward. Faster. Get underground. Before you're seen. But seen by what? He knew nothing beyond the vast, shapeless pressure of fear. Something was coming for him, something without shape or form. Jack tried to run but his feet were lead, his legs iron. His heartbeat started to pound as the desert turned into a frozen lake that had no beginning and no end. He slowed to a stop, unwilling to run anymore. Jack turned to fight, but instead of holding his staff, he found a hissing serpent instead. He threw it, repulsed. It dissolved into oil in mid-air and splashed the lake. From the black mess grew a door.
Jack didn't want to open the door. He sensed the thing he was running from was behind it, but as hard as he tried to remember what, he couldn't. He never could. The same unmovable force that told him to hide now urged him closer. He moved as if against an unseen current, his fingertips brushed against the handle, pausing. The hairs on his neck rose. Someone was behind him.
Forgive me, Jack.
Jack whirled to see the creature who always shared his dream, but by then it was too late. It was always too late. The door was open and in that single moment, Jack understood what it was. It rushed up at him like a terrible, nameless silence, a silence that said,
Everyone is dead.
Jack woke up laughing.
Jack turned in time to receive a faceful of snow. He fell to a knee, sputtering, as whoops and hollers filled Jamie Bennett's backyard.
"Oohhh, Jack Frost down for the count! And the crowd goes wild!"
Jack scrubbed off the rest of the snowball and looked up. Jamie was parading around his friends, fists up in celebration. Their cheers echoed in the quiet Saturday afternoon air. It was instant win to land a hit on the Guardian, and in a game where Jack Frost was at his slyest, quickest, most devious, Jamie's victory demanded celebration. Lots of it. Jack's eyes widened as they stampeded towards him for a dogpile. As light as a leaf he somersaulted out of their grasps and landed on the fence, balancing on the balls of his feet with a stag's grace. He grinned down at them. His grin widened as he conjured a snowball in each hand. They shrieked with laughter and bolted like rabbits.
"Go, go, go!"
"Move it, soldier! Before he gets us!"
Jack chuckled as the kids raced back to the safety of their makeshift snow forts. He straightened. He couldn't believe it'd been five years since Pitch's defeat; it seemed just yesterday Jamie and the others couldn't see him at all. Five years ago he was Jack Frost, prankster, trickster, free-roaming spirit. Invisible. Alone. Now he was Jack the Guardian, bonafide Protector of Fun and Awesomeness, full of companions and laughs. Jamie and his friends were in middle school now, leaving the 'baby-grades' behind. Even at twelve the kid still hadn't lost his love for the mysterious unknown, filling Jack's ear with talk of exploration beyond the stars or the wild jungles or the uncharted ocean depths. His friends were already announcing their interests, which inadvertently led to the topic whose future career was the coolest, which almost guaranteed a heated argument from the twins. Jack always felt a little lost when the kids started talking about their futures. Aside from the few memories his teeth gleaned, he couldn't remember what he had wanted to do with his past life, or very much of it at all. I was a little older than they were when I died, he thought suddenly. As much as he'd like to think they'd get a second chance like he did, Jack doubted it. When they were gone, that'd be it. He shifted his weight uneasily, growing uncomfortable at imagining them dead. He shook the weird thought away. He didn't want to think that. He wanted it to be Saturday afternoons and snowball fights forever.
The screen door opened with a twang, pulling Jack from his musing. It was Jamie's mother, announcing the pizza was ready. There was a moment of silence before Cupcake roared, "The last one in is a rotten egg!"
It was a mass exudes: the warriors abandoned their snowball fight and rushed inside, cheering. Jamie peeled away from the main pack and headed for Jack. The young Guardian experienced a thrill; five years still hadn't worn away the sheer delight of being seen. He grinned and leapt off the fence.
"Hey, sorry about nailing you in the face," Jamie said, cheeks flushed and breathless. He was nearing Jack's height, hair still ruffled and unkempt. "You looked so distracted I didn't even think."
"You kidding? It's about time I gave you guys a shot," Jack said, rolling a shoulder. It seemed like a silly thing to mention he'd stopped because— Jack blinked. Why did he stop? It had been so clear a minute ago, as bright and blinding as the sun's glare on snow. It probably didn't matter now. He was still a little surprised he'd been so caught off-guard; had he really been that inattentive? Maybe Jamie's aim had gotten better. "Consider it a gift for our rematch later."
Jamie scratched the back of his neck. "Yeeaaah. About that. I promised my mom I'd do homework after lunch, then I'm going to Claude and Caleb's house for a video game sleepover. But a rematch sounds totally cool! How bout next week?"
Jack grinned and shouldered his staff. "Sounds like a plan, kiddo."
Jamie's mouth did a queer half-smile, half-grimace. "You realize you're the only person who calls me that, right?"
"Oh?" Jack shifted his weight. "Why's that?"
Jamie playfully wrinkled his nose and stuck out his tongue. "'Cause that's a kid's nickname, silly!"
Then the boy was jogging inside, shouting denials when his friends swore they ate all the pizza. Jack watched him go. The door shut, silencing the excited talking to a faint, distant hum. Stillness returned to the April air. He could hear the icicles melting on Jamie's front porch, heralding warmer climes to come. Spring was a scent on the tongue, fresh and crisp like pine resin. Already the snow forts were sagging, taking on forlorn, drooping shapes. By tomorrow they'd be nothing more than gray, crunchy mounds. Jack shrugged off the pinch of disappointment and decided to see where the winds wanted to take him. This time of the year gave them an enjoyable unpredictability. He caught on the tail end of a passing breeze and allowed it to swing him high, whooping like a coyote as the vast expanse of blue rushed up at him. He rolled in midair and looked down. The entirety of Burgess spread at his feet like a giant brown and white quilt; though snow still clung the town with its white claws, brown patches were peeking though with increasing regularity. Jack knew the cycle. He'd seen in hundreds of times before, and he'd see it thousands of times again. The winds tugged, cleansing his thoughts of Jamie and children and dying. He let himself go, drifting, free. He was so intent on surfing the breezes he almost missed the tell-tale shimmers of the aurora borealis.
"Oh, what now?" Jack muttered. On a whim he flipped over and ducked into some clouds. When he reemerged, they were gone. He grinned and performed a loop-de-loop, moisture crystalizing all around him. North was a just leader; he never brought the Guardians together unless necessary, but even after five years, Jack still wasn't used to being summoned like a well-trained dog to heel. The urge for chaos thrummed in his veins, tickling like champagne bubbles against skin, whispering Left when everyone else said Right. Ultimately, he knew his delay didn't matter: someone would fetch him soon enough. By the time his toes touched ground it was well in the evening, the afternoon long-gone. The sky above was the colour of fire and spilled wine, matching his spirits. He tried to pat his hair down from its wild tousles, but it was no use. He abandoned it when Bunnymund's tall, rangy form peeled out of the woodwork. Jack flashed his cheekiest grin. No matter where he landed, it was as if sour-whiskers had a radar that could always find him. The young Guardian sauntered over, unable to resist antagonizing his favorite victim.
"Why, isn't it Cottontail. What? No sacks and magic portals this time?"
"Ha ha, very funny." Bunnymund's tone was anything but amused. The overgrown rabbit seemed more dour than usual, eyebrows pulled in a severe angle. "D'ya like being a wrench in everything? Answer the bloody summons next time instead of making me chase you around."
"Aw, you know you love it."
The lanky Guardian drew closer, the ring of fur around his neck bristling. Jack mock-frowned. "Were the Leprechaun and the Groundhog at it again? Oh, wait, don't tell me: you lost your eggs for real this time."
"You're in a chipper mood, ain'tcha." If possible, Bunnymund grew grimmer. Jeeze, he could make a gravestone seem friendly, Jack thought. He sobered slightly.
"Is it Pitch?" Aside from the briefest of sightings, the Boogeyman hardly showed his face since his defeat. In truth, the Guardians didn't know what the slippery shadow did with his time. They had considered spying on him in his lair, but North decided against it. Cornering a wounded animal would do more harm than good. Besides, Pitch had his role to play in the world, and fear, though in many ways a negative state of mind, could teach children caution and temperance. Had they made a mistake in their logic? Jack remembered intimately how close the Boogeyman had come to defeating the Guardians. He didn't like thinking about Antarctica. He still owed Pitch a kick in the teeth for breaking his staff.
"No," Bunnymund said, but the way he said it didn't give cause for celebration.
Jack chose to ignore the foreboding tone and smiled anyway. "Well, see, there you go. No hurry, then."
"It's something else. It's the Moon."