"You don't have to be alone, Jack. I believe in you, and I know children will, too."
Jack concentrated on his feet, his hands grasping his staff as he tried not to let Pitch's oily words get to him. They were alluring, almost too good to be true, and yet they still felt completely plausible. A summer snow here, a blizzard there, and who knew what could happen? Such things had always felt forbidden to Jack, as if they would drive the world into chaos, but perhaps this was the answer he had been looking for all this time. It wasn't as if the moon had helped him find that answer these past three hundred years.
"Yes! Look at what we can do."
Pitch gestured toward the towering ice sculpture they had created in the chill of battle. Jack gazed upon its immense form, jagged and unwelcoming. The darkness was infused in the ice, twisting and snaking within as if it were an infestation.
"What goes together better than cold and dark?"
Jack's reflection caught on the ice, and he could almost see the point Pitch was driving home. Coldness almost always accompanied darkness, and the same was true of darkness. In truth, Pitch and Jack were just as intertwined as the ice and blackness within the harsh figure before them.
"We can make them believe. We'll give them a world where everything, everything, is Pitch Black and Jack Frost. Your talents have gone to waste these past centuries; there is much you can do for mankind. The cold helps bring people together. It causes them to huddle close to one another to stay warm, to seek out each other's company. Ice can be a wonderful thing when used properly. Ice, and cold, and darkness. Can't you see it, Jack? There won't be a child in the world who doesn't believe in the two of us. We won't have to hide in the shadows anymore."
Pitch materialized behind Jack, his voice soft.
"You won't have to be alone anymore."
Jack froze in place, the shadow's warm breath startling him. This was the same warmth he only felt when he was near another being. The same warmth he felt when North nearly flattened him as he shook his shoulders and when Tooth had pried open his mouth for a closer look at his teeth. This was the same warmth that radiated from the children he could never connect with.
He felt a pang at the thought. He often wished that the children he played with were able to see him. He longed for some small companionship, yet they never glanced his way. Even Jamie, who believed in such absurd things as the Sandman and the Easter Bunny, hadn't heard of him until the other day.
If I follow this man, will Jamie see me one day?
His lips in a thin smile, he let out a nervous laugh. It seemed loneliness was a form of poison after all. Even among the guardians, he still felt like an outcast, right up until just recently. He had just begun to think he was growing closer to them. For one sweet moment, Jack had felt as if he were part of a makeshift family. Bunny, his old rival, had even extended him the palm of friendship.
And yet they had so easily cast him out at the first sign of betrayal. Certainly, Easter may have been saved if Jack were with them to defend the eggs… but wasn't it partially the guardians' fault as well? Shouldn't they take responsibility for their portion of the failure? They hadn't even stopped to listen to Jack's version of events. It was inevitable that the outcast become a scapegoat for their-
Jack raised his head and realized Pitch had at some point materialized before him and extended a hand. He felt his breath hitch as he jolted out of his thoughts and met Pitch's gaze. The golden eyes looked patient on the surface, but it seemed as if there was a touch of hunger lurking beneath.
He stumbled back a step, uncertain. Pitch didn't move in response, as if he were coaxing a wild animal.
Perhaps Jack really was like a wild animal. He had been abandoned by those who had demanded his trust. He couldn't return to them now, not after they had so openly rejected him.
They'll never accept you as one of their own. Not fully.
There was no way he could handle that feeling again. He had no home to return to, save the pond of his origin. The only other course he could take would be to go back to his years of wandering.
Years of loneliness.
Years of pointlessness.
Was there really no point to his existence? Was there really no way to discover the purpose for which he was placed in this world?
Jack cleared his thoughts and made up his mind.
He slowly extended his hand to take Pitch's, still tense and ready to bolt. The shadow didn't make any sudden movements, but waited for Jack's hand to be fully placed in his own. Upon its arrival, his eyes glittered. His hand closed around Jack's and they shook.
"You've made the right decision."
And he was gone.
The shadows had taken him, leaving no trace of his previous manifestation, save the foreboding monument. Jack glanced around, disconcerted, unsure what he was supposed to do next. It was only a moment later when he remembered his original purpose in coming to this wasteland. He reached his free hand into the pocket of his hoodie and removed the golden case that contained his memories. Were the baby teeth sealed within really worth the rebuke they had cost?
Jack gritted his teeth, suddenly angry. Angry at the teeth for leading to suspicion, angry at the sleeping child that had led to his detour. He was angry at Bunny for nearly punching him when he tried to explain himself, North, for not fulfilling the fatherly role Jack had wished for. He was angry at Tooth for giving him that sad look without asking for an explanation and at Sandy for dying without him. Most of all, Jack was angry at himself for being foolish enough to follow that eerie voice and linger in Pitch's lair.
Aren't you angry at Pitch?
Of course not. Pitch was just doing what he believed to be the best course of action. How could Jack blame him? After hiding in the shadows for centuries, even Jack felt he would do whatever was necessary to escape his isolation. While children still believed in the guardians, it would be next to impossible for them to believe in the Boogeyman. Pitch needed to weaken his enemies, and that's exactly what he did. Jack couldn't blame him for being underhanded about it.
Why not? Isn't he just as responsible for your rejection as anyone else?
Maybe, but he had good reason, unlike the judgmental guardians. Pitch was-
Just like you?
What..? Confusion swept through the sprite's mind.
Why did you accept his offer, Jack?
Because it was the only course of action that made sense at the time.
Are you certain?
Of course he was. After everything Jack had gone through, he couldn't go back to his days of wandering the earth pointlessly. He couldn't just travel about painting leaves in the fall and bringing winter to whichever hemisphere was ready. What was the fun in doing the same things season after season without respite? What was the fun in watching every child he ever grew attached to slowly die?
There's something else, isn't there?
How could there be..? Everything made sense. Jack couldn't see any ulterior motive to his alliance, at least on his end.
Isn't there a bit too much common ground between you and Pitch?
Jack froze in place once more. He felt he was on the brink of a realization he didn't want to uncover.
Aren't you just afraid that you'll end up like Pitch? Aren't you just terrified that doing the same thing, day after day, seeing the same horrors, year after year, never earning the belief of a single child, would lead you to the same madness you see in Pitch? And aren't you scared that without him to help you, you'll end up even worse than he was during the dark ages? After all, you have been the cause of death for thousands of people.
You believe he can help you avoid such a fate. You believe he'll lead you away from the mistakes he made centuries ago.
It was the truth. He was afraid, ironically, of becoming fear.
Upon this first epiphany, an even more unsettling realization befell him.
You need Pitch.
Jack was quiet, reflective. He felt the slightest bit of confidence grow in his chest, a sense of direction lodging within him for the first time in three hundred years; he finally knew what path he needed to take. He now possessed the resolve he lacked before.
Jack burst into movement, running to the edge of the cliff he'd been on minutes before. Grasping the golden container, he wound his hand behind his head and threw with all of his might. The cylinder flew through the air and vanished into the darkness beneath, and no eerie call could be heard on the wind.
Jack flew through the air feeling as light as a snowflake. All the pent up frustration he'd carried over the years had lessened, if only a bit. At the very least, he knew what course he would follow. Several hours into his flight, Jack sensed a familiar presence and called out to his old friend with a grin on his face.
"Running a bit behind, aren't you? C'mon, then. Take me home."
The wind whirled around him, greeting him as it helped quicken his pace.
While the wind proved to be helpful from time to time, Jack found it didn't always make the best of company. The wind could never vocally respond to his one-sided conversation, nor could it comfort him during the dark times when he felt the loneliness would swallow him up. Empty as its fellowship was, the wind did show its support for him every now and then, and Jack was thankful for it. It often played accomplice to Jack's mischief, spreading his snow over wider areas and pulling at humans' coat tails.
"The outskirts of Burgess, actually. I'm not visiting my pond today."
He felt a slight breeze rush past.
"Yeah, I thought I'd try mixing it up a bit."
Upon the familiar updraft, Jack adjusted his flight pattern and smiled.
"Figures you'd know something's up. How far does your sight reach up here? There are times when I want to know exactly how much you witness."
The wind was quiet.
"I guess there's no way for you to tell me, is there? Maybe you have it worse off than me. As far as I know, you don't even have the potential to be seen. It must be lonely."
He felt a slight draft curl about him, surrounding him.
"Thanks, but I'm afraid I can't provide much company for you, either."
Jack lowered his gaze, focusing on the approaching river town on the horizon. After a bit of thought, he quietly voiced a question that had been nagging at him.
"So what do you think about all of this?"
The wind didn't change direction, as if to signal its quiet neutrality.
"I thought so. You've never cared much about anything, have you? Aren't you too old to be unconcerned about the world?"
A gust nearly knocked him out of the sky. Jack laughed as he skillfully pulled out of his nosedive.
"I get it, all right? Old isn't quite the right word. …Ancient, then?"
Another gust and Jack found himself caught on the branches of a giant tree.
"Wow, that was fast. It doesn't take much, does it?"
He righted himself and sat on the hulking wood. He sighed and looked up at the air in time to see some of his snow caught in a current. His eyes followed it until it led to the clearing beneath. Jack let out his breath in a whisper.
"So you have been paying attention."
The snow gently fell onto the object in the middle of the familiar glade: an abandoned bedframe. Though Jack was unsure what sort of personal significance the frame held to Pitch, he knew that underneath he would find the hole that led to the shadow's lair.
The air quietly moved about him, questioning.
"Yeah. It looks like that's my best option right now."
It moved again. Jack looked up and noticed the moon gazing on him as well. Not expecting an audience for his answer, Jack laughed and straddled his branch.
"Yeah, old man. Sorry things didn't work out."
The stillness in the night was almost frightening. Jack laughed again to break the tension.
"If you had a problem with it, you should have talked to me sooner. I may have been more willing to listen."
Just like the guardians.
Jack gave himself a derisive smile and looked back at the empty frame. The wind whirled around him.
"At least you're supportive of my decisions. Wait, who do you guys think you are? My parents?"
He flew to the ground and gave the silently bickering forces a grin. It was nice to be the center of attention every now and then. Maybe this whole thing with Pitch would really be worth his while.
"It's been fun."
Jack leaned his staff on his shoulder and gave the two one last little wave before jumping down into the shadows that awaited him.
It's so quiet.
That was the one pervasive thought Jack held in his mind as he cautiously invaded the dark tunnels. As unnatural as the silence felt, it soon gave way to small echoes from the gaping caverns within. Jack remembered his first time visiting this dark place with a flinch, though he quickly put the fresh memory out of his mind.
The cages still housed the chattering baby teeth, which were probably the source of these new echoes. Jack looked at them in pity, almost wanting to rush to their cages and open the doors, though he knew that the act would probably do them no good. With the children's belief fading, he had no doubt their flight was no longer intact. He briefly wondered what happened to Baby Tooth after they got separated in this place, though he assumed she was now one of the many fairies imprisoned above. He pushed that thought out of his mind as well and ventured deeper into the abyss.
Pitch was nowhere in sight, no matter how far Jack pressed on. He wondered if the shadow was still out there trying to stifle the children's belief in the guardians. On a whim, he located the unnerving, empty globe that spoke of the kids' faith. To his surprise, there were only a handful of lights remaining, though they were slowly fading. He watched as they went out, one by one, the smallest pang going through his heart. It shouldn't be necessary to eliminate every single light, should it?
He shook his head. Why should he care if some other entity was losing the children's trust? Let them experience the same pain he felt during his centuries of wandering. Perhaps they would be better for it. Jack snorted and twisted his face into a half smirk. Maybe this would be the ultimate prank.
Somehow, that thought unsettled him. But why should it? Mischief was almost always at the expense of another person.
But there's a difference between laughing at and laughing with.
So that was it? He was just spooked by the thought of playing dirty?
There's more to it, and you know it.
Jack tapped his staff on the ground a few times as he shifted, considering. In the end, he found his attraction to the guardians to be quickly waning. The brief affection they had shown him didn't last longer than a couple of days. Now that Jack thought of it, if they truly cared about him, why hadn't they ever made the slightest effort to contact him before? Certainly, he'd had the rare occasion to encounter them before, but none of those encounters had been significant. Why hadn't any of them helped him find his place when he first entered the world as a sprite? Now they needed him to help fight against Pitch, so he all of a sudden became important? How convenient.
Jack scowled bitterly and turned back to the globe, the lights still flickering away. Whatever Pitch was doing, he was certainly doing a good job of it. Doubtless, nightmares were haunting the kids in the portion of the world that was experiencing night, but what could put out a light that was experiencing day? Perhaps those were the kids who just realized Easter wasn't an option this year, or were just awakening to find teeth under their pillows.
Jack hunched down and leaned his weight on the balls of his feet, experiencing a morbid fascination. Knowing that each light signified belief in the beings who had spurned him made him feel a twinge of childish satisfaction each time one disappeared. Before he knew it, there were only six glowing points left. There were only six precious children left in the world who believed in those ridiculous entities. Jack savored each moment one grew dark until, nestled right in the center of his hometown, there was only one beacon left.
He leaned forward in anticipation, his eyes glued on Burgess, but nothing happened. Of course the last spark would be the most resilient, but that didn't help with his impatience. It wasn't until a few moments later that he realized the meaning of this occurrence and understood why the glimmer wasn't fading away. Jack whispered into the air, leaping onto the globe as revelation overtook him.