-Yes, I am back from the dead! I'm so sorry it took me so long to start this story, it just kept me in a constant cycle of writer's block from the moment I got the idea. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I enjoyed the inner turmoil and mental agony that it took me to even get the plot outlined! If you have any ideas for the story or anything you want to see, feel free to leave a comment/review for they make me feel all tingly inside. So, without further ado, sit back, read, and enjoy!-
~A Long, Long Time Ago, In A Castle In The Moon~
"...Oh, come now. Don't give her that look."
"What, cat got your tongue?"
"...Why are you here?"
"I take a sincere pleasure in seeing you writhe in pain?"
"...Of course I knew. You couldn't spend one moment with that girl without seeing it, without guessing this inevitable outcome. What I wonder is why you're telling yourself that you didn't know."
"Aw, don't get silent on me now, old friend."
"What? Can't stand realizing that you truly did hurt her? Can't speak, being shown the proof of how you did her wrong, and the consequences?"
"How was I supposed to know?"
"Is that a serious question? Because if it is, I may just have to give you a condescending look and leave to brood over your ignorance."
"You just what? You thought that she would just be tickled pink over being forced into this without a say? That, of course, who wouldn't want to be a soldier for the all-mighty 'Man in the Moon'?"
"...Pathetic little man. At least I'm not brooding over losing a mere pawn."
"She was more than a pawn."
"Oh, yes. That's right. She was, wasn't she? And yet you go and do this to her, hm?...Well, if I'm not going to get an answer, I'll be leaving. I find your angst rather unamusing."
"...You did the same, didn't you?"
"You also wanted her, you wanted to use her for your own personal gain, didn't you? So why, why am I the wrong one? Why am I the only one at fault? What makes you so different, Pitchiner?"
"Pitch. That old name no longer belongs to me, now does it? No, I find 'Pitch Black' rather fitting for a man of 'my kind'."
"And as for your question, the answer is quite simple. You forced this upon her. You took everything, her life, her family, without a second thought. You think she wanted this? No...this was you. This was your decision."
"I gave her a choice. I let her say 'no'."
"...Farewell, old friend. We'll be seeing each other again someday, I'm sure."
~Present Day, A Small New England Town~
The smoke before me twisted and danced in a way that made even the most graceful ballerinas jealous, moving silkily through the air and pirouetting before me as I crouched down on the roof, lifting out a pointer finger below the wisp of grey-and-black smoke. Almost instantly, like a dog to its owner, the misty-grey swirled like a ribbon and shot down a few inches, falling into itself and, in one easy movement, condensed into a grey, light, almost transparent butterfly. It looked up at me expectantly, wings fluttering easily open and closed, a small trail of smoke constantly fluttering about it.
I thought for a moment, mind mulling over the possibilities as the tiny creature emitted a small, constant scent. It was musky, deep, what one would imagine the color grey would smell like, floating around me in a pleasant aroma that I'd gotten used to over the billions of years I'd been alive. Kind of like a seriously demented perfume. As I breathed in this scent, some of the smoke flowing towards me as I did, I thought of what I wanted this little thing to do.
"His uncle kills his dog. Nothing too gruesome, just get the point across."I ordered mutely in the silence of night, the small butterfly instantly taking to the air, soaring up as the trail of smoke followed, a few wisps tickling my face as it clumsily and yet still gracefully flew up for a moment, and then took a nose-dive directly downwards into the window below me, passing through the glass without so much as a muted flutter.
I watched it go, cracking my neck and reaching inwards through the upturned hood of the black hoodie, running a hand across my neck in a soothing and stretching gesture. I felt the tips of straight-cut hair brush my fingers, reaching just below my jaw.
It had been a damn-long night, and I couldn't wait to get somewhere less suffocatingly freezing to take a moment's break before making even more people hate me for their tiny problems. The chill of winter in New England took in my thin, zipped-up black hoodie and old black jeans a tad too big on me and laughed, giving even the most immortal of immortals goosebumps.
"That seems quite harsh." I didn't even jump as the voice suddenly registered behind me, the smooth and dark accent breaking the peaceful quiet I'd finally found for myself, nor did I flinch at the presence that was too familiar by now to be caught off-guard by. Instead, I was just mildly irritated that I'd finally gotten a chance to relax, and now all I got was his sarcasm in a British accent.
"Tell me that when he founds the world's largest no-kill pound."I shot back, standing up and walking slowly towards the edge of the small, black roof, pausing just over a mini balcony, the kind that aren't meant to be actually stood on, just there for show. Almost without thinking about it, I stuck out a foot, a sudden flurry of smoke with the outlines of similar butterflies like the one I'd just sent through the window condensing beneath it. I stepped on the smoke-mass, the tendrils lapping against my worn, black sneakers, one foot following the other.
I turned and, using them like a constantly-moving staircase, made my way down until I could crouch on the railing in front of the window, the mist dissipating as I rested my arms across my knees and looked inwards. At my side, a black shadow rose up, quite suddenly and without any warning, casting darkness over the already-dark street, me just realizing that the streetlights that had given the quaint little neighborhood a warm glow had, mysteriously, gone out.
"What a wonderful addition to society."A sarcastic drawl mused out, making me roll my eyes and flick a small shadow away from my face, one of the few that steadily flickered out from the black robe next to me, belonging to an entity most people would cut their arm off rather than be as close to it as I was.
"Shouldn't you be swallowing mothballs under little kids beds instead of criticizing my impact on the future of the world?"I asked dryly, gazing through the clear glass of the window and watching as a teenage boy sat at a cluttered desk, weighted down with CDs and a massive desktop computer. I looked a bit closer as the man above me scoffed, trying to make out images on the screen of the boy's computer. From my angle, I could tell that whatever game he was manipulating had him walking through a dark forest, ripping little pieces of paper from trees.
"No-kill pound? Oh yes, I apologize for losing the significance of a building full of puppies."
"Keep talking and I'll lock you in one. You sound like you could use a little puppy-love."I quipped back at the man as the screen on the boy's computer started to go fuzzy, seeing him tense up a bit and quickly ghost his fingers across the computer keys. I tilted my head to the side, raising an eyebrow as I pointed inwards, cutting off whatever it was the man was about to say, "What the hell is this kid playing at one in the morning?"
The man ducked down a bit, his height surpassing mine even if I were standing, catching the reflection of gold-silver eyes in the glass of the window, narrowed and curious.
"Ah, yes. I believe it's called 'Slenderman'. Quite a quaint little game, if I do say so myself. Makes creating nightmares a tad easier."He mused out, almost happily and content. This only served to confuse me further, catching a glimpse of the gray butterfly fluttering under the boy's door frame as I continued to focus on the computer screen, which was growing more and more staticy by the second, the boy leaning forward tensely.
"'Slenderman'? Sounds like something you would- HOLY SHIT!"I screamed, jolting backwards so hard that I fell suddenly and without the mind-set to have my smoke catch me, jumping backwards off the balcony as a figure in a black tuxedo without a face suddenly popped up on the screen without warning. I felt a sharp sense of vertigo before I landed with a hard and painful jolt on something softer than concrete.
Something lightly brushed up against my arm and neck, opening my eyes and groaning a bit as an ache made its way through my spine. I looked down, seeing what had caught me as black sand shifted beneath my body, a few tendrils almost tenderly brushing against my legs and arms, before resting my head back and panting, allowing my heart rate to calm down again.
"You know, as the very embodiment of tragedy, I didn't expect a simple video game to make you almost pee yourself."A slightly-amused and apathetic voice quipped as its owner leaned over me, arms behind his back and brow raised, golden-and-silver eyes opened innocently and mockingly. The man, to most, was terrifying enough to make them run and scream, especially with him this close and his very own weapon beneath me and sliding over my arms and ankles.
And, to be honest, his looks didn't exactly encourage small children to run and play with him. Dark grey skin over angled features, thin lips forever in either a frown or a darkly amused smirk, with black hair naturally brushed back and spiked up like he'd been through one hell of a wind tunnel and his hair had just stuck that way. He also, almost as if to capitalize on it, wore a black robe that didn't truly seem to end anywhere, just faded into the ground as if he'd cloaked himself in one, large shadow, the black sleeves even slowly fading into his wrists.
Yes, to most, he was truly the 'Boogeyman'. To me, he was an annoying jackass that I couldn't do without.
"That was terrifying. It looked you."I panted out, blinking away the image and wondering, if games like that kept coming out, was my job about to get easier?
"Devilishly hansom? Hm, I must have missed that."He said airily, and I made a sarcastically agreeing sound, rolling my eyes. And, though he rolled his right back in an irritated manner, he flicked a wrist effortlessly and sent the sand beneath me rolling, pulling me lightly up without any force needed at all. After getting to my feet, shaking a few locks of black bangs from my eyes, the black sand swarmed below me and then rose up quickly at my side, morphing quite in the same way that my smoke did into a deformed rendering of a stallion that only Pitch Black could create.
It had sharp, armor-like shards pointing backwards, with a transparent and slightly purple ribcage and glowing, coal-like eyes. It was, by all means, an intimidating creature. But, much like the man standing before me, I couldn't quite catch the fearful cowl of it. Instead, I reached out a hand and brushed it gently over the nose of the horse, which whinnied and clonked a hoof in happiness, nuzzling into my hand and making me smirk a bit, enjoy the way that these creatures didn't appear angry and dark to me, much to their creator's chagrin.
"You know, most people would at least try to act afraid. It's a matter of manners."
"Don't start lecturing me on manners, Mr. 'let-me-appear-out-of-the-darkness-without-proper- warning'."I quipped back, ignoring the fact that he had just prevented a much more painful landing just a moment ago, focusing on brushing my fingers through the silky mane of the nightmare, the horse allowing a small rumbling sound of approval.
"You act as if I haven't been doing that for the past few billion years, darling. Find a new fault."He shot back apathetically. I looked back at him, slinging an arm over the back of the nightmare and resting on it, hooking a thumb in the front-pocket of my jeans and seeing the dark man brush off a bit of lingering sand from his shoulder.
"Don't give me an opening like that, it's too tempting. Why'd you show up, anyway, Pitchy? Thought you were taking a hiatus after those 'Guardians' handed your ass to you."I mused, in a way that was both curious and playfully insulting, unique only to me and Pitch Black. He raised a brow and asked in distaste,
"Yeah, I like it. Think I might make it a new thing, ya know, make you more approachable to the ladies."I airily joked, continuing, "But you didn't answer my question. Last time I saw you you looked like hell, said you had to take a break from our rendezvous for awhile. That was only eight months ago, what changed?" Pitch shrugged, but broke eye contact and looked out into the street, me taking note of how, though he still had slightly darker circles under his eyes and didn't seem quite as ridiculously-power-hungry as usual, he had rapidly recovered from what had happened to him just a short while ago.
I took not of all these things, and hid the fact that, yes, I was secretly glad that he not only appeared better, but was able to reach the surface again. And it was sick, I was well aware. This was the Boogeyman, someone who spread fear to children like it was ice cream, the most powerful entity during the Dark Ages, until the Guardians showed up to ruin his fun. He was by every definition a not-nice guy, and it shouldn't be this easy to talk to him, and I should not miss seeing him on a weekly basis.
Most people would think I was crazy. Most would think I was evil by association. The rest would know I was evil by the product of my 'work', and would view this as just foreseeable. But most people would know what we had gone through. The rest want to know. And so, to me, this was something natural. Something not normal, not a friendship, but somewhat of a reliance on each other, on the only other person somewhat-alive who understood exactly what the other was going through.
So when I asked the question, it was out of a knowing that something was wrong, something was off in a way that only I could tell about him, and vice versa. He took another moment, and then sighed.
"He's planning something." I stiffened a bit, the nightmare beneath my arm nuzzling at my arm and aware of the sudden sense of dread and anger, the tense of my muscles as I knew exactly who 'he' was. An anger twisted in the pit of my stomach as I became acutely aware of the thin cloud cover up above, filtering beams of moonlight as if a shroud, preventing 'him' from hearing most of this conversation. Acutely aware of the fact that, though it was an immeasurable distance away, the feeling of being watched stretched from the moon to where we stood. I scowled.
"Something you think I can't handle? Please, what more could he do to me?"I asked cockily, trying to slide over my anger, knowing this man couldn't be fooled. It was my turn to look into the almost unseeable street, the lights above still blown out, as his eyes fell on me with skepticism.
"Never underestimate the mind of a selfish imbecile. You know better."He said in a voice both airy and warning at the same time. I shrugged, but was developing the feeling of restlessness, the clouds beginning to move at an unnaturally fast pace, as if the moon were trying to clear them from his view. I tried not to look up, though it was impossible to see him. He could see me. And I didn't want to give him the satisfaction of seeing my discomfort and unraveling bitterness.
"Astrid."Pitch said in an attention-getting way, me looking over at him finally and seeing a mildly concerned look over a frown, a look no one else would ever get from this man, a look I never thought I'd want from any one...
But after billions of years of adversity, to have someone actually care enough to be concerned brought an unfightable feeling of warmth and comfort, even coming from the Boogeyman.
"Hey, whatever it is, I'll be fine. I was last time, wasn't I?"I asked while gathering smoke beneath my feet, crouching a bit as the nightmare gave me one last nudge before Pitch snapped his fingers, the black sand disassembling and shooting back through his robe, almost morphing to him as he understood my signal of departure.
"You all this fine? I've seen mental ward patients who were more stable than you."Pitch tossed back just as playfully, and I couldn't fight back the cocky smirk on my face. He saw it and rolled his eyes in a way that he'd done too many times for me to be fooled by it and think that he was actually tired of me. If he were, he wouldn't have come back that first time. Nor the second time, when I damn-near killed the immortal. Nor the third, fourth, hundredth, or billionth time after that.
No, this eye-roll was almost a promise at this point. A promise that he'd come back and we'd both wallow in our angst and pretend to hate each other until the next time.
"Just be careful, you infuriating little brat."He mused as I began to push off, floating higher in the air with feather-light wisps of grey smoke twirling around me in an almost hypnotizing way. I looked down at the grey-skinned man below me, our eyes meeting for a moment. A moment of understanding. A moment of mutual suffering. A moment that only two people who had been abused so harshly could share. A broken look. A neglected look. A defiant look.
"See you soon, Boogeyman."I shot back endearingly, and then turned, gaze falling on the black sky before me, wondering if I could find a place just like that. All dark, or all lit with sunlight. A place where he couldn't see me, couldn't be a constant reminder of everything I'd lost. A place where I could actually do something without everyone hating me for it. A place where I wasn't a pawn.
"Hm, yes. Let's hope not too soon."I caught in the wind as I shot off, smoke gliding over my neck and through my hoodie, as if trying to reassure me.
I didn't stop to wonder what he meant by that. I just wanted to get out of the moonlight.
The clouds tore a hole in themselves like tissue paper, allowing a space wide enough for him to gaze down, a moment too late to catch her, as if he ever thought he could. Instead, she was leaving, off to find somewhere where his gaze didn't suffocate her as it did me in this moment, his glaring light falling over me in a silent way. I looked up, frowning and brow pulled low, clicking my tongue twice in disapproval.
The moment was silent, and a small sense of hatred wound around my chest. Now, I was never one for chivalry, nor did I find myself truly caring for anything outside of myself and my own personal gains. I was not some dark, tragic hero looking out for anyone other than my own person, and I did not pride myself on doing anything particularly kind or favoring towards one party or the other.
But I'd felt her tremor of fear deep in my bones, where it was translated through the shadows. And yes, it was her fear, unmistakable for it was one that I did not feel often, was not one that was open or shamelessly displayed like most were. It was unique to her, because it was so faint, so almost indiscernible that even I had a hard time reading it in the beginning. But now it was unmistakable. It was a quick, heavily suppressed fear of something happening. Something worse, as if that were possible. As if he could have done anything more to hurt her.
And, as I'd felt that fear, a sense of anger and slight annoyance wound their way into me where I would never admit they were there, and yet were prevalent in my mind. I glared upwards, the distinct sense of some game being played once again washing over me, a sense that I'd gotten many times before. But this time was slightly different. This time the game had nothing to do with children or white-haired frost spirits. No, this time, I felt in my bones, it had to do with an old 'pawn'.
I was not chivalrous. I just found his choices in this game tiring and conceited. Especially when it had to do with, unfortunately, the only other entity who I shared anything with. Who I shared everything with, probably more than I should have. And it should have bothered me in all my immense selfishness, to be this close to someone where I would go out of my way to warn them. But it did not, and I'd grown tired of trying to be tired of it.
"Haven't you done enough to her already?"I asked, tone dripping with more venom than I'd care for. When I received only the numb glow of the moon, knowing very well that he could hear me, I scoffed, stepping further into the shadows. Before I wound them around me, before I left to stoke the flame of fear and regain what little strength I had left to find after the 'Guardians'' pathetic attempt at defeating me, I gave him, up in his safe little castle, an icy grin.
"You know, for a man who claims to love her, you are exceedingly talented at making her existence a living hell." The clouds rolled together again, and the moon was hidden, making a depreciating and mocking laugh snap out from my mouth, shaking my head at the lowly coward. As I closed my eyes and sunk into the welcoming darkness, I thought about how nice it would be to just disappear when things got painfully real.
How nice it would be to play a game you could not lose, so long as you sacrificed enough pawns.