Jack dropped on the roof of the long standing barn house light as the breeze that had carried him there. The moon was starting to rise in the eastern sky and Sandy would be making the rounds soon, but he couldn't yet see the telltale signs of the golden sand. That was just fine with him anyway, he liked having a slightly longer moment with the children inside. Fearlessly, the winter spirit leaned over the edge on one side of the house, if he had been anyone else his sense of balance would have betrayed him to a sudden two story drop, but a light gust of magic kept him centered as he rapt on the glass window. Two children looked up and smiled widely at him, each getting up and running to the window, but the boy made it there first and tossed it open. "Jack, Jack, Jack!" the girl called, nearly teetering but catching herself and proudly staying upright.
He laughed as he crawled inside, swooping to pick her up in a twirling hug before setting her down to give her brother a hug. "Hey guys," he greeted, "miss me?"
"Only like a lot!" the boy said, taking the pale hand and pulling him along to the bed. Jack collected the little sister once more, depositing her this time on the bed itself, her bed of flowers and butterflies and fairy sheets and pillows. She laughed as she clung to his neck and Jack rocked a bit to test her strength before tickling her sides to get her to let go. He plopped on the bed next to her, letting the girl crawl onto his sweater clad stomach as her brother collected a discarded book before he too crawled onto the tiny bed. "I was starting to worry you wouldn't make it in time for the story."
The winter spirit paused in his gentle batting of the girl on his abdomen to consider the boy. "Jamie, when have I ever not made it for the story?" he asked, reaching out a hand to brush some of the brown bangs from the kid's face. A grin not unlike his own graced the boy's lips, and Jack idly noted the loose tooth he'd been told about last time now seemed more dangerously close to falling out. Above him the little blonde girl mimicked brushing Jack's snow white hair from his face, effectively drawing back his attention back to her. "We picking up where we left off then?"
"Of course!" Jamie replied. He pulled his sister off Jack enough so the frosted boy could sit up in the bed with them. Jamie propped himself with the pillow, Jack leaned into him and Sophie snuggled her face against Jack's chest, just below the frost of his collar. The younger brunette boy cleared his throat and began to read. "'The first thing Peter did next day was to measure Wendy and John and Michael for hallow trees. Hook, you remember, had sneered at...the...boys...for...thi...'"
Jack's thoughts drifted out of the story; he'd actually heard it a few times already from sitting outside window sills and listening to mothers get their children ready for bed. It was one of his favorites and he was glad that Sophie loved it as much as he did, but for somewhat different reasons. Instead his mind wandered to the brother sitting just beside him reading his little sister a bedtime story, and he pondered on the thought of family. He hadn't told the nine year old the secret he'd been carrying since just before Pitch's downfall six months back, that they were in fact related. Distantly, of course, but blood was blood and some of Jack's ran through Jamie and Sophie's veins, however slight. Absently he reached up and ran his fingers through Jamie's hair again, remembering a time when his hair was just as brown. His memories weren't all there, some were faint or fractured, but he'd found the answers he was looking at the time, so he supposed the rest didn't matter. And it wasn't like he couldn't ask Tooth to help him with the rest if he really wanted to know, it's just that she had been anxious about getting her palace back to rights after the attacks and his baby teeth were a set she apparently coveted above most else, more so since he became a Guardian. If it hadn't been Tooth he'd have been really weirded out handing them over.
For his entire existence as Jack Frost he'd wanted a family so bad it had hurt. Just to have someone to talk to, to acknowledge him, to show him they cared and worried for him. And, for 300 years, he had been continuously denied that. It didn't take long for him to fixate on someone, calling them family in his mind and pretending for the longest time that they could see him, hear him, give him what he wanted, no, needed, something to occupy his ever lonely time. It was a comfort now to know that at least she had really been his sister once, that his fixation on her, her other siblings, her mother and father wasn't just him being a complete and utter nutter, though he was still sore over everything he'd gone through in the meantime as it happened.
Truthfully, Jack had descendants nearly everywhere now and being someone's approximate great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great uncle meant he was far enough removed from most of them that he could be considered a stranger. With the exception of the one line of his family that he had never been able to let go of, the one in whose home he was currently sitting in, he honestly couldn't tell you now for sure which of any of the numerous amounts of kids out there in the world had ties to him anymore. But he was happy he knew Jamie and Sophie did. He was so happy that they were really his family, far removed or not. And he was so very happy that Jamie had been the one to see him first, to believe in him first. That, to him, was a magic that transcended the ability to ever be put into words.
Beside him the boy shifted, looking up with brown eyes Jack now knew he'd once had. He was softly closing the book, having finished that night's chapter, and motioned for Jack to be quiet as he pointed at his little blonde sister, now thoroughly passed the hell out on Jack's chest. The winter spirit nodded silently, waited for Jamie to be clear of the bed, and then ever so carefully rolled over and peeled the girl off of him. By now he was mastering the art of how to deposit little Sophie Bennett in bed without getting strangled in the process, a feat he was quite proud of. Without a second thought to it he pressed his lips against her forehead in a quick kiss, tucked the blankets around her and backed slowly away. Together the two boys tiptoed across the hall to Jamie's bedroom.
"So it's mid November," Jamie said as he crawled into bed. "That means you'll start sticking around more often right? And you'll bring lots of snow days?"
"As many as you want," Jack replied. "How's the tooth?" Jamie opened his mouth and pressed his tongue against the pearls of white lining his mouth. Lower left incisor leaned precariously forward, hanging on by it's last threads. "Whoa! It's almost out there, kid. You could pluck it right now, you know."
"Could you?" Jamie asked, scooting a little closer. "I mean, Tooth won't mind right? She'll come if we pulled it out right now, right?"
"Yeah," the winter spirit said with a chuckle. "Tooth loves you, I could tell her to stop by personally if you'd like. Here..." He gestured for the boy to sit still and show him the tooth again. Carefully he laid two fingers on either side of it, cooling the tips just enough to numb the area before quickly plucking the small fleck of bone from the child's skull. Jamie clamped his mouth closed as soon as it was done, instantly running his tongue over the new hole and the dab of blood there. Jack held out the incisor and he took it back with a smile.
There was a tapping on the window that drew the two boys attention and before the younger could find yet another reason to get out of bed Jack was there to open it. "Hey Sandy," he greeted as a dwarfish man who seemed to be made up entirely of golden glowing sand stepped into the bedroom. The likeness of a miniature bed and clock face hovered over his head as he gave Jack a slightly exasperated look. Jack scrunched his face in concentration for a split second before responding, "Bedtime! Right, got it, I know, Sandy. I was just saying goodnight." The little man tapped two fingers on his wrist with a slight smile. He knew Jack didn't mean to keep Jamie up too late.
"Tooth under your pillow?" Jack said as he tucked the little boy in.
"Yeah," the kid yawned. "Jack? I'll see you tomorrow, right? It's Saturday after all."
"Of course," the Guardian replied. "But if you want snow I'm gunna have to leave now to stir up a storm. Goodnight, Jamie."
"Night Jack. Night Sandy."
As he had done with his sister, the winter lad leaned down and pressed his lips against the child's forehead, a gesture he'd watched countless mothers and fathers lay upon their children at bedtime from the lonely perch on window sills. He thought little of it now, showing that gesture of affection to the kids he considered his own family was quickly becoming his favorite part of bedtime because to him it was a cementation of his ties to them, even if they didn't know that yet. Too distracted with that little act he missed the curious look Sandy gave him for it was gone when he finally stepped back to let the Sandman do his work. Gently Sandy sprinkled sand over Jamie's head and the boy was asleep, a pleasant dream of a snow day playing out over his head.
Jack followed his fellow Guardian back to the window and out it, alighting on the roof once more. His head tilted momentarily to regard the moon, a small smile caressing his lips at the large orb slowly climbing the sky overhead. Streams of Sandy's work ebbed around the whole town, giving it a soft glow of safety. Jack turned, watching Sandy craft several delicate fairies from his dream sand which he then shooed down to Sophie's window. "How've the dreams been?" Jack suddenly asked, catching the little man's attention. "No nightmare's spotted lately, right?"
With a free hand Sandy made a swirl of nightmare sand appear, doing little more then twirling it around before it crumbled and blew away in the nipping wind. He shook his head. Since his downfall, neither Guardian nor child had seen the boogie man in person but his nightmares seemed vary content to roam around without regard and prey on whomever they could. Sandy didn't look after just the children but he was becoming increasingly annoyed at having to double back for the adults that staved off his sand with caffeine and sheer willpower. The nightmares favored anyone who didn't abide by the protective power of a regular bedtime. They were easy to fend off or change altogether back into good dreams once caught, but a few herds of them were still at large.
"Well, I've got Burgess and the surrounding areas covered for tonight," Jack said as he turned back to look out across the town. "I'll let Tooth know when she stops by for Jamie, alright?"
Sandy nodded, miming a bunny racing around various areas above his head to tell Jack that Bunny would be out as well that night. The swirling sand then changed to look like dangerous storm clouds and Sandy worriedly made an X with his hands.
Jack stared blankly at the little man for a moment then seemed to snap to. "Oh, you want me to go easy on the snow," he concluded. "Yeah, sure thing. I was just thinking a few inches anyway, but just a dusting, ya know? Save the good stuff for Christmas vacation, North will love that right?" He chuckled at the exasperated look he got in response. A sleigh appeared in the sand then, with tiny little North, Sandy and Jack flitting about in it. From the look Sandy was giving him Jack could feel he was being asked a question but he had some trouble deciphering it. "Uhhhh...something with North...?"
Sandy looked slightly troubled. It wasn't that he and Jack never bumped into one another before then but they'd rarely, if ever, had a reason to communicate. It wasn't until a few years back that Jack had even known Sandy was mute. Now working together as Guardians they checked in more often, Jack often saw the fairies more then North or Bunny anyway, but it quickly became apparent that it would take some time before the winter boy would understand the Sandman as well as his peers did. Simple symbols didn't always work and complex symbols overwhelmed Jack so it was a matter of finding the right way of showing him the proper images so he could grasp the basic concept of the phrases. Sandy tried a simpler image of North and himself on one side of an addition mark and Jack on the other with a question mark following up. Jack looked, if possible, even more confused.
"Yoooou want me to join you and North in a threesome?" Jack questioned. Sandy facepalmed in response. "I'm sorry," the lad giggled, "That was the first thing I thought of; isn't that how this usually works, the first impression is usually right? Okay, okay, so you, me and North...are what? Wait, in the sleigh? Is North giving sleigh rides?"
The Guardian of Dreams waved his arms frantically. He tried the sleigh image again, this time over a town and had them play out each of their rolls, the tiny Sandman swirling tiny streams of sand to the houses below, the itty-bitty North hopping down to the houses once the sand had taken effect, and the little Jack swirling up a cloud of dream sand that made gentle puffs of dreamsand snow down on the little dreamsand town. The real Sandy looked hopefully at Jack and smiled when realization began to dawn on the boy's face.
"He wants to know if you'll help him and North on Christmas Eve."
"Thanks Tooth," Jack sighed disappointed he didn't get the words out in time. He forced a smile though, knowing she only meant to help. "That was going to be my next guess, you know, after I guessed weither I was being invited out on a panty raid or not."
"Jack!" Tooth gasped instantly looking flustered at his joke. Beside the boy the little golden man rolled his eyes in as if to say he could hardly believe the laughing boy beside him. "North would never-"
"I know, I know," Jack got out through giggles. "But can't you just see it now? Sandy puts everyone to sleep, we sneak in, steal the prettiest panties, badda-bing badda-boom and we're outta there! Hey, you want us to pick you up anything while we work it on Christmas?" Jack laughed as he ducked and dodged the incoming halfhearted swipes from both the toothfairy and sandman. "I jest! Haha, I jeeest! Ow! Hahaha!"
"You're terrible, Jack Frost," Tooth said, crossing her arms over her chest and trying not to crack a smile. "This is why North keeps you on the Naughty list."
"Well, I do have a reputation to uphold," the boy replied. "But yeah Sandy, I'll help out on Christmas, of course. Just don't hold me accountable if I panties go missing that night because I won't say I didn't wa~aarn yoo~oou!" he ended on a sing-song note. "Anyway, Tooth, Jamie is asleep safe and sound, and his tooth-"
"Right! Teeth!" the fairy giddily exclaimed and quickly zipped away over the other side of the house. Sandy and Jack exchanged knowing looks. She was back less then a few minutes later, Jamie's tooth cupped between her hands. "Sorry, did you guys need anything else before I head out?"
"No, just look out for Nightmares," Jack warned. "Give a holler if you see any."
Tooth actually set down on the roof for that comment, her face becoming serious. "Do you think we still need to?" She looked to her long-standing co-worker. "I mean, no one has seen Pitch or his nightmares for some time, right?" Sandy gave a nod to agree with her. "And the fearlings seem to be completely gone altogether."
"Fearlings?" Jack asked.
"They were like his nightmares," Tooth explained. "But they were just...shadows and less sand, you know? But I guess they were before your time as Jack Frost. I mean, you got picked around the same time Kath..." now her and Sandy exchanged looks, "The same time we stopped Pitch before." If Jack noticed the switch in her words or that exchange he didn't comment on it, just nodded his head as he looked out over the town from the rooftop they stood on.
"Still, I don't think it hurts to be keep a constant vigilance," he remarked. "I'm sorry if this sounds mean, buuut, you guys seemed not to want to take Pitch's threats too seriously at first and maybe that was because you all got a little complacent, hmmm?"
"You didn't think he was such a threat either, if you'll recall," Tooth replied.
Jack awkwardly chuckled to cover up his own discomfort. "I didn't want to get sucked into all this hard work," he said. I didn't want to believe he would be were the words left unsaid in his mouth. "But here I am, and here we are and if you're going to put me to work, then let's get it right the first time around so there's more room for play, alright?"
"Okay," Tooth conceded. "I suppose you're right and it can't hurt. I have to get going. Remember we have a meeting at North's in a week, try not to be late this time, okay Jack?"
"I'll try," the boy said with a wave as he watched the fairy take off. He stretched and started cracking his knuckles. "You might wanna start vamoosing too, Sandy. I'm about to drop it like it's cold up in here, as per Jamie's request." He nodded at the worried look and the reinstated X over thundering storm clouds made out of dreamsand. "I knoooow, not a full on snow storm, I got it."
Sandy spun forth a nimbus of his element and gently hopped on board, giving Jack a smile and salute as his ways of bidding the boy well. It wasn't long after that that the golden strands of glowing sand started to dissipate; Sandy's job was only to inspire good dreams, once they took root the kids could cultivate and grow them on their own. They would always remain happy and positive if the kids themselves stayed good. Overhead, the moon looked on with an especially bright halo this evening through the lingering cirrostratus clouds..
Over the years, Jack had become unsure which frame of hours he liked the most. The day was full of people and things with which he could amuse himself, but always the threat of being reminded that he couldn't be seen. The night held no such threat, but it did well to remind Jack that he was ever alone. Between watching families snuggle up for the night from windows or pleading to the never talking moon, Jack had felt a lot of heartache at night. It had lessened considerably in the last seven months, but as he watched the dreamsand fade he momentarily caught another taste of it. Bitter and sour, just as he remembered it.
Audibly shaking himself, Jack reminded himself that he'd promised Jamie snow. If he wanted to keep Sandy happy he couldn't let the bad thoughts linger in his head, or they'd make themselves known in a full on blizzard. Jack crouched then quickly launched himself into the air, his lithe form catching hold in the wind and shooting up ever higher. After a few dizzying spirals he could feel his own joy resurface, it bubbled up and poured from him in whoops and laughter as he spun through the cold, thin air of the higher reaches of the atmosphere. Condensation started forming around him, the wind whipping about to bring in the storm. Jack rode the air currents in vertiginous spins, the sky and earth mixing around him until he couldn't tell which way was up or down. The feeling of free-fall flight was his greatest exhilaration, holding tightly to his staff as his only anchor and trusting in the winds no to drop him. Sometimes, he swore it wasn't just him in the air, but that the winds were actually like him, sentient beings playing out a dance with clouds and precipitation as partners. Sometimes in the dizzying ecstasy he thought he'd catch the flash of a face in the nimbotratus clouds that would form around him, but this time as the mists in the high air swelled and took shape he hardly noticed anything beyond how nicely their bellies their bellies swelled with the pregnancy of his ensuing storm.
The snow that began to blanket the tiny town of Burgess was soft with fat, fluffy flakes. On it's own it would die out in a few hours, but not before a sheet of perfect puffy snow covered everything. In the morning there would be enough to sled on, and pack a few snowballs, but the fort building and snowman making would have to wait until deeper into winter yet. His snow job over Burgess done, Jack latched onto a swift moving air current and let it cart him across the lands. The light of the moon left few areas for any nightmares to hide this night and it wasn't long before Jack had finished his rounds, frost and ice trails left behind in his wake. It also didn't take long for Jack's excitement from the snow storm to die down and boredom to set in. Tooth was right, they were looking at some pretty uneventful nights coming up.
He was dropping out of the sky before he realized where he was, yet he set down as gracefully as he ever did, stooping into a crouch on the already frost covered ground. It seemed darker here, even during the predawn hours of the day, and in all the many times he'd visited Jack could never figure out why. Perhaps because it was abandoned now, the inventive buildings crumbling, not a soul to walk the streets in many years. Perhaps because the vegetation was overgrown and dormant for the coming winter, as the edges of town had long since been taking over by the thorny vines that thickly surrounded the building's locations. Perhaps because the giant oak tree that stood in the center of town, the one that looked like it had once been a grand and majestic place of residence for someone quite important, now stood ever bare and bleak, a withered husk whose insides were little more then rotten mulch now. Whatever it was, his thoughts weren't on it as he made his way to a certain area of town.
Not far behind the great oak was the town cemetery. It held enough graves for a town this size, and bore nearly as much signs of neglect as the rest of the villa. Names were long ago eroded off the headstones by the elements. Even now, he could hardly make out the name he was looking for, but it was hardly needed; Jack had the location and grave marker memorized by heart. It lay just to the left of the statue of a bear and wizard, both of them unknown to the ice spirit, and was marked by it's own statue of a young girl and giant goose. Jack ran a finger over what was left of a name, mouthing silently along 'Katherine the very Brave.'
"Good morning Grandmother Goose," he voiced aloud as he sat at the foot of the grave. "I'm sorry I haven't been by more often, we've been very busy, the Guardian's and I. It seems things are dying down now, so perhaps I can stop by more often, hmmm? It looks like your husband hasn't stopped by in a while...I wish you'd had the chance to tell me who he was so I could let you know how he's doing now. Well, I'm sure you're watching over him, aren't you?" Jack idly drew letters in the dirt, feeling for a brief moment a pang of guilt that he'd given Tooth and Sandy such a speech about being diligent in their duties as Guardians, yet here he was lallygagging around. "Jamie read for me and Sophie again last night. We finished the book of fairy tails and he's reading for us Peter Pan now. Sophie really likes the fairy Tinkerbell. Oh! And he lost another tooth as well and Tooth was super excited about it, as usual. I think you would have liked Tooth, if you'd met her..."
Jack looked up when the wind carried the sounds of voices other then his own to his attention. In all the years he'd been in and out of this place, the only other person he'd ever encountered here was now laying buried under his feet. Cautiously he got up and went to investigate.
The sounds drew louder as he walked around the oak tree, sounds of a child laughing, which only perplexed him more. He couldn't imagine he'd missed an old lady AND a child in the 150 or so years he'd been visiting this abandoned town. Even so, a child meant he had a duty and that duty was fun, so if there were smiles to be had he would certainly like in on the fun. Another voice seemed to join in, this one lower in nature and belonging to a man, perhaps a father. Yes, buy the sounds of the words Jack could hear they were playing a kind of cat and mouse game where he was pretending to be a monster and chasing the giggling girl around. Jack smiled thinking that he already knew the perfect roll to play in such a setting and skipped the last few paces around the tree to the town clearing. He never seen the girl before in his life, but it couldn't have been her father that was chasing her around the clearing, that man he knew.
It was Pitch Black.