The unusual family stumbled into Sandy’s home after the events with Nightlight and, feeling like they could finally rest knowing their child would survive, promptly fell asleep. They were exhausted physically and emotionally. The star baby slept safely in its bundle at the head of the bed, just above the pillows, smiling like it was content just to feel the happiness of its parents nearby.
It was night out when the nocturnal spirits awoke.
“Stars, I didn’t realize how tired I was,” Pitch muttered as he sat up. He attempted to smooth his dark hair, which was somewhat mussed. The moon outside was now waxing; they must have been asleep for days. While they slept in their regenerative rest, Pitch’s duties had been carried out temporarily by his nightmare creatures. Sandy could work in his sleep, and now that he had renewed vigor it seemed easier for him to reach out far across the land from his stationary slumber.
< You barely slept last week… were so busy watching over the baby, > Sandy replied, petting his back, including the obvious moon lance scar.
Pitch turned to check on the child. It was very different from a human baby in that it seemed quite content to just sleep and sleep.
“Are they alright…?” He whispered. He leaned over and studied their features. They HAD features now, not just being a ball of light anymore. The baby had light peachy skin and a more rounded face like Sandy, but Pitch saw an obvious bit of himself in the beginnings of a distinctive Pitchiner nose bridge. He hoped it wouldn’t be as harsh as his own, but only time would tell. The dark hair was un-star like, but even though it was dark, it had a sparkly golden sheen like goldstone, glittering in every movement. The hair seemed to have grown a bit while they all slept, and now the ends curled in untamed ways like Sandy’s when he was younger.
< Star babies sleep a LOT. Though I've been told when they are NOT asleep they make up for it with boundless energy. > Sandy’s voice giggled through Pitch’s mind. It was one thing to see other star children and hear about them second hand, and quite another to be the parent, Sandy thought, hoping he could raise their baby as a star ought to be. He picked up the child and cradled it in his lap.
Pitch watched Sandy intently as he unfolded the dreamsand bundle to check on the child. He smirked and cocked a brow at the Dreamweaver, “Well remember, the child is half me. I have no doubts they’ll be a little terror. Or I’ll be sorely disappointed.”
Sandy grinned right back at this statement. < Half your spirit and heart, but physically they are a star. Which is to say, not like human children who need to eat, and have their diapers changed. >
“I guess I should be thankful for that.” Pitch snarked softly. He couldn’t help but beam with pride and happiness that the child was alright, and beautiful. The most beautiful baby he’d ever seen. Though every parent thought that, didn’t they?
While no larger than an average human newborn, the baby seemed more developed - like a miniature two year old. However, their legs and torso were not quite as long as one would expect, but still not as short as Sandy's. Pitch wondered what height they would end up at. The baby curled up in Sandy’s lap, and started sucking their thumb in their sleep, briefly showing off a few small teeth. Sandy loosely wrapped them in the dreamsand blanket once more.
“They need a name,” Pitch’s velvet voice said.
< OH actually, I dreamed up one I thought sounded fitting. I do my best thinking while asleep. >
“Of course you do,” Pitch laughed. “So tell me.”
< Umbra. >
The way Sandy’s voice said that was like a trickle of a moonlit creek across smooth rocks in a dark, foggy forest. Resonating, mysterious, striking.
Pitch liked it.
“Umbra,” His own dark tongue tried it as he stroked the dark hair of the sleeping baby. The baby made a small sound and nudged their head into his hand. Their eyes opened. It was the first time Pitch or Sandy had got to see the baby’s eye color. It was shimmering gold. Both parents melted at the sight.
“I think they like it?” Pitch looked at Sandy.
Sandy nodded fervently.
Sandy was glowing like you would expect of a proud father as he tickled the star baby where they laid in their bassinet. Umbra giggled and flailed their little arms around. Sandy had dressed them in dreamsand footed pajamas, not that it was any surprise, and Pitch had casually added a black vest when Sandy wasn’t looking. Sandy gave him a look like ‘oh, is this a contest?’ when he saw it, but didn’t take it off, but Pitch missed the long look Sandy gave Umbra as if checking the black sand closely.
Pitch asked about leaving Umbra alone as they traveled the Earth. He knew nothing of star children and wanted to learn fast as he could so he could best take care of and protect his child. Sandy told Pitch his seashell soldiers could make sure Umbra didn’t escape from the nursery if the child awoke.
<But really, the baby will sleep most of the time, and is fine to leave while we roam the earth. They are stable now and won’t go out any time soon. > Sandy reassured him. This seemed to alleviate the Boogeyman’s worries.
They spent some time fixing up the room to look more like a nursery. Pitch kept adding black additions which Sandy was at first amused by but then began to look a little uneasy.
Pitch then asked if it would be okay if Umbra came to spend time in his realm too. Sandy thought a moment and said he thought his island was a ‘safer’ place for now. Pitch scoffed at that and said something along the lines of ‘what, you think my nightmares would be bad babysitters?’
Sandy hesitated, and then explained what had been bothering him…
While the nightmare creatures Pitch made now were good at their core, and would never harm the child outright, they still were nightmares, and therefore were polar opposite in nature to dreams. Nightmare men could burn away at the hulls of stars with just a touch back in the Golden Age, same as how they did to each other sometimes playfully. But the star child was young and therefore more fragile.
< I just am being paranoid perhaps…but it’s best to play it safe, for now, yes? >
Pitch stiffened, feeling a pang of dread. The very idea that he could inadvertently harm his child hurt him to his core. He certainly was not the fearling infested creature he had been before with a closed off heart. He was a shepherd, a guardian of fears now... wasn’t he?
< Pitch, > Sandy said, seeing the look on Pitch’s face, < I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to say it like that... >
Pitch looked to the wiggling child in the bassinet. Umbra’s gold eyes looked at him. The black vest he’d put on his child didn’t seem to hurt them, why would a nightmare creature or his shadows?
“Let’s have a little test then… to put my mind at ease.” Pitch conjured up a small nightmare in his palm. It was a fox-like creature, but no larger than a squirrel. It looked alert and intelligent, with shining gold eyes and glowing tail tip, as well as flecks of gold in the fur of its back like spots.
Sandy wavered, but the baby would be around Pitch’s nightmares and shadows much as his own dreamsand. Better to find out under controlled circumstances then by surprise later.
Umbra seemed to perk up at the display, making grabby hands at their dark father. Pitch gave Sandy a look as if saying ‘See? They like it already.’
Pitch let the nightmare slink into the bassinet. It sniffed Umbra, and both parents watched carefully.
The nightmare was suddenly snatched and pulled into a bear hug by little arms, as if Umbra saw the dark creature like nothing more than a cuddly teddy bear. The nightmare struggled as it was helpless to the onslaught. It eventually gave into its fate as Umbra started chewing on its tail, and gave a dejected little whimper.
Pitch laughed heartily as the tension in the room faded away.
“Chip off the old block!” Pitch beamed, “Adorable little terror aren’t you,” He cooed and scritched Umbra’s hair.
< I was a great fearling warrior too you know! They have it from both sides, > Sandy puffed up with a smile.
“So what was all that talk about you being worried my nightmares might hurt them?” Pitch scoffed with more deep laughter.
Sandy pressed his lips together and rolled his eyes to the side. He was the one behaving like an overprotective father now. The baby was a hybrid so he was being extra careful, especially after all they had been through before the star had stabilized.
Pitch smiled knowingly in return. He could clearly sense the fears Sandy had. He gave him a kiss on the forehead. “We both want to protect them best we can. I understand your fears old man.”
Sandy’s lips curled up, feeling better knowing Pitch’s nightmare creatures wouldn’t hurt the star child. He pointed as the Boogeyman was cuddling onto him, trying to bring his attention to Umbra. They had fallen asleep again and seemed content to use the nightmare as a pillow. The fox-like nightmare settled in as the choke hold on it loosened, and purred as they too dozed off.
A fortnight passed as the new parents got used to their life as – well, parents.
Umbra didn’t have the same needs as a human baby, but they did need things all the same.
Sandy and Pitch were sure to feed Umbra plenty of love, which Sandy said a young star required to grow big and strong until their own light was inextinguishable with self confidence, wisdom, and joy.
Umbra got regular doses of it; gentle rocking, petting, singing, and sleeping at the head of the bed near their cuddled up parents. They would wake up and cry if alone too long, and Sandy’s dreamsand or Pitch’s nightmares would alert them, so at least one could return. Umbra would quiet down and be happy soon as they got the affection required, and Sandy and Pitch got better over time at coming back at the right intervals, to avoid making Umbra cry.
When Umbra was awake they were played with, tickled, taken outside to see the stars and point out the constellations. Like a human baby they still needed to learn everything.
However, unlike a human, Umbra had no vocal language. Pitch would hear Umbra reach out to his mind in giggles and coos, or crying when they tripped over rocks down on the beach. So funny to see their little eyes well up and mouth agape, but no sound except ringing in his mind.
While Sandy’s voice was most ‘native’ to them, Umbra seemed always put at ease by their dark father’s voice, even just him saying ‘there, there, little one’ was like a little lullaby on its own.
“Sandy,” Pitch asked one evening, looking at Umbra’s smile as they crawled around after the nightmare fox in a game of tag. He’s noticed Umbra had been born with a small set of front teeth, and already they nearly had a whole baby set. “Will Umbra lose their baby teeth?”
< Tooth would be disappointed to learn that no, we do not. We also can’t get cavities, which she would be fascinated by I am sure. > Sandy chuckled like a gentle roll of beach surf.
“Ah, I am sure Toothiana would be indeed.” Pitch smirked, scooping up Umbra in his arms to give them a playful attacking face nuzzle. Scary as his face and jagged-tooth grin was, Umbra seemed to just squeal in silent delight at their dark father.
< Oh!> Sandy gasped through Pitch’s mind, <The other Guardians, they do not know yet… > He thought about how when he bumped into Jack out in the world none of them mentioned it. Nightlight must not have told them, assuming Nightlight spoke to them at all for they never mentioned him either. He was not the chatty sort to begin with.
Pitch paused, taking in Sandy’s words. They would have to find out eventually. What would they think? The Boogeyman and The Sandman, fathers. The Guardians already knew they were an item, and that Pitch was not trying to destroy them anymore.
Umbra paused too, sensing their father’s worry. Their face wrinkled up like they were going to cry.
Pitch saw this and snarled playfully at them with another face nuzzle. This distracted Umbra, who laughed and squealed again.
Sandy smiled sagely, < We’ll tell them when the time is right. I do not think we need to fear. >
“I’m not afraid.” Pitch eyed him just as wisely.
Pitch was able to put another mind at ease - that of the little believer who had given him cookies.
The orb that housed her fears was completely full, and he went by her home to deliver it…
He’d thought her sleeping, but she was not in her bed when he emerged out from under it. He heard her door creak open, and brown eyes locked with gold ones as she entered the room with a glass of water. There was no light on in the hallway, and she didn't rush to flick on the light in her room, staring instead at the dark figure before her. Only the gold in his cloak and eyes was visible. She closed the door behind her, not taking her eyes off the Boogeyman.
He could sense them, the fearlings in her heart, the ones that whispered fears of the dark and fed on them in a never ending cycle - only now they were crying out sharply, trying with one last ditch effort to make her afraid. But she had not been afraid since that night she and Pitch had spoken on the step.
Pitch took the gold orb from his cloak and it cracked open. He vanished as the rainbow-iridescent black sand inside swirled outward like a whirlwind. The fearlings would be fed now forever by the stored and cultivated fear, which Pitch now returned to her in the form of conquered fear.
When the girl blinked, it had disappeared as fleetingly as déjà vu. She jumped into bed, gave the darkness one last look, and flicked on her bed lamp; she was in no big hurry to do so. She wasn’t afraid anymore. She took out her Mother Goose book and idly flipped through it for a story to read before bed.
“They are alright, you know.” A smooth voice came over her ears.
She looked up, seeing that familiar dark shape sitting on her desk in the corner of her room, drawn out by the shadows cast from her lamp. “Your friend?” She whispered.
Pitch’s gold eyes turned to her with a smile. “Yes.”
He was about to leave when she jumped out of bed and came over holding the Mother Goose book.
“Could you… give them this? You think they would like it? It helped me when I was scared but I don’t think I really need it anymore.” She handed it up to him.
He took it like it was an honor to be given such a book. “Thank you. Yes, I think they would like it.”
She tugged on his shadowy cloak and he leaned over with an odd look as if thinking, ‘what else?’. She whispered in his ear, “And tell Mother Goose I said hi, would you?” She said bashfully.
He smiled warmly at this, nodding in reply.
He melted into the shadows and was gone.
< A child gave you this? > Sandy looked through the book.
“Yes, my little believer.” Pitch smoothly replied from where he sat cross legged on the floor. He didn’t look up from the wiggling baby in his lap. He was teasing Umbra with a miniature pony nightmare. The fox nightmare was glad to have a rest from babysitting, and was licking its paws proudly like it had dignity left to save. Eventually Umbra grabbed the mini nightmare pony, who neighed in protest at being nuzzled firmly and then chewed on.
Sandy sighed through Pitch’s mind wistfully, < Katherine… I wish she could be here in person. >
“I do as well.” Pitch replied solemnly. Umbra quieted down as they felt the somber mood of their parents. Umbra looked between them with worry and confusion.
“Umbra,” Pitch cooed, scooting over to be next to Sandy and sitting Umbra up in his lap, “A friend gave you this.” He took the book from Sandy and put it in front of them.
Umbra, still clutching the nightmare pony with one arm, reached out to touch the open pages and the pretty illustration of a woman riding a goose there.
Pitch and Sandy took turns reading rhymes from the book until Umbra fell asleep.
Pitch closed the book, feeling over its surface. He thought about how that girl believed in him, but also in Mother Goose, in Katherine, right?
“Sandy, could Katherine come back for real? Would she if she had believers?”
< I… suppose so. She lost her will after Nightlight vanished. Over the years it eventually ate away at her. They loved each other, you know - very strongly, despite Katherine having been so young. It would be like if you lost me… >
Pitch’s silver face lit up, and Sandy seemed to think the exact same thing as he locked eyes with him.
Sleeping Umbra cuddled onto their nightmare and smiled.
“Sandy, are you sure we should have brought Umbra?”
< I’d rather take them than leave them, who knows how long this might take. Besides, far past time to tell the other Guardians I’m a papa now, yes? > Sandy winked at Pitch.
They were flying in a dreamsand airplane through the chill of snowy air, though Sandy was keeping to a lower speed than usual because of the precious cargo. Pitch held Umbra in his arms, wrapped warmly in a black and gold blanket. They were almost at the North pole.
“It’s time - yes,” He sighed with a grumble. “I can only imagine the chaos this will cause. The barrage of questions... the baby talk... the crowding and ogling - ” Pitch made a face.
Sandy only chuckled.
The dreamsand airplane flew into the large window of the workshop and docked at the main floor. Yetis scampered about to go tell North it was Sandman – and Pitch. While they had been told he wasn’t an ‘enemy’ per se anymore, and knew how he had changed his tune the last time he was there, it would take time to trust it was a permanent change. He was still the King of Nightmares after all.
Pitch glanced about warily as he set a shadow-clad foot on the beautifully inlaid wood floor of the workshop. Umbra was fast asleep in his arms despite all the hubbub. Just like their golden father, they could sleep anywhere. He cradled them a little closer so their face tucked into his chest.
North appeared within moments, and came up to the Dream Guardian, “Sandy! What brings you here? Have not seen you since… well, you were here last time.” He eyed Pitch seriously, gauging him carefully. “Is all well?” He asked both of them.
“You do not need to look at me like that, Cossack.” Pitch stated with the smallest twinge of his disdain. His tone was calm though as he continued, “I mean you no harm. I am still as I was the last you saw me.”
“Habit,” North put his big hands up, showing he was unarmed, and therefore not on guard. “I am sorry. Not easy habit to break, you know, despite how we fought for you last battle. Glad that you are well.”
Pitch replied with a faint smile and a nod of respect.
Sandy jumped up in front, gesturing to North with symbols to try and convey he had big news!
“Big news?” North seemed to actually get that.
Sandy floated over to Pitch and motioned to the bundle in his arms. North had noticed but not really had time to think about what Pitch was holding a bundle of dreamsand for. He inched closer and Pitch turned it towards him, revealing the little sleeping face there.
North’s blue eyes went wide. What was this? He swore the baby’s face resembled Pitch’s, and the hair was a lot like Sandy’s only darker… “Sandy, what is this?”
Sandy beamed, his smile telling, and gave Pitch a kiss on the cheek. Pitch, while not one for PDAs in front of the Guardians, smiled with a defeated sigh.
North had a double take moment looking between the two faces there, the golden one smiling serenely and the gray one giving him a look of 'yes, yes it's exactly what you think.'
The old Cossack ran a hand through his white hair. “I think I need to call other Guardians."
It didn’t take long for the Guardians to respond to the northern lights signal. As each arrived and saw Pitch there they had a few seconds of worry that he had relapsed somehow, but all worries were dashed as soon as they saw the adorable baby in his arms and were told whose baby it was.
North seemed to accept the fact Pitch and Sandy had a baby rather gracefully, and was already beaming like a proud uncle when Bunny was the first to arrive.
“This old star a papa?” Bunny grinned with a raised eyebrow at Sandy, playfully ruffling his hair. Sandy attempted to fend him off. “Holly Dooly, still got some spunk left in ya, huh? And you,” Bunny pointed a paw at Pitch, “Mate, that’s some feat. Though, knowing old Kozmotis, I’d say his heart would have that kinda light any day. Congrats… truly.”
Pitch seemed uneasy at the mention of his old name, but he knew Bunny meant it as a compliment. Being from the Golden Age he knew about stars, his people, all those things. “Thank you,” he managed in return.
"You give 'em a name yet?" Bunny's whiskers twitched.
"Umbra!" North blurted it out before Pitch could respond, "Isn't it so fitting?"
"A beaut!" Bunny inched close with a palmed chocolate egg, and whispered at the sleeping baby while North continued to go on about their name, "You like chocolate eh mate? You will grow up to loveee chocol- "
"Bunnymund!" Pitch shied away.
"Aw come on, all kids love chocolate, and mine's the best!" He rolled the chocolate egg in his paw.
Sandy dashed symbols of foods over his head with a big 'no' sign, then smacked the rabbit's paw smoothly, knocking the egg from it.
"Aw Sandy, what'ya mean no food at all yet?" He caught the egg easily with a foot then juggled it back up to his paw.
"No sweets or anything for that matter till they are 3 years old." Pitch eyed the rabbit. "Sandy's orders."
Bunny looked dejectedly at the chocolate then tucked it away. "Guess they'll just have to wait to enjoy the finest sweets in all the galaxy."
As gracefully as North took the news, the same could not be said of Jack Frost when he arrived moments later.
“Wait – you two –had a kid?” Jack pointed his staff playfully between them, and then leaned on it. “Who’s the MOM?” He raised an eyebrow and stifled a laugh looking right at Pitch like he was picturing him being pregnant. Oh god, the IMAGE.
Jack’s tone was cheeky and playful, not to mention he had no idea about the biology of stars, but this didn’t stop Pitch from bristling with the awkwardness of the situation. He gave him such a look of infuriated derision to the winter spirit he could have bored holes through his head.
“Sandy is not human, Jack. Remember? And technically neither is Pitch – but anyway, point is, Sandy’s people don’t have kids like we do.” North said.
“So you’re the mom?” Jack pointed at Sandy.
It was Sandy’s turn to give Jack a look.
“Jack, we are both fathers.” Pitch rolled his eyes, “But if you must get technical, yes, but Sandy is not biological like you and I, their people don’t have gender. So he is not technically physically ‘male’ despite identifying as such, but he is not ‘female’ either.”
Sandy nodded like this was an acceptable explanation.
Jack still seemed confused. “So who had the kid?”
“JACK!” Pitch bristled; he would NOT give Jack a biology lesson and would NOT elaborate any further on this discussion as now he was obviously doing it on purpose.
“Woah woah, calm down!” Jack laughed, putting his hands up in a surrendering gesture, “I’m sorry, I getcha, I getcha, mostly.” He still was unsure about how the kid came to be exactly, but maybe they’d elaborate more for him later. “I just never knew that about you Sandy, you’re full of surprises aren’t you?” He grinned at his friend.
Sandy gestured with a hand in reply, his expression saying ‘I suppose I am!’
It was just then that Tooth flew in, disappointed she was last, but soon as she saw what the reason for the meeting was and heard about the circumstances she was nothing but smiles.
“Oh my god – oh – OH my god! Umbra is such a perfect name!” Tooth’s feathers fluffed multiple times, “OH she, he? They are so PRECIOUS!” Tooth fawned over the baby.
Pitch attempted to gently lean away from her overzealous, personal-space-invading ogling, but Tooth was impossible to avoid. He gave up and stood there like a dark pillar as Tooth tried to coax the baby’s mouth open. “They have no gender really… so ‘they’ would be fine.” He stated.
Sandy was so terribly amused watching Pitch. He was not used to all this social interaction, nor was he used to being around the other Guardians yet.
Umbra opened their eyes a crack and yawned, finally awoken by all the commotion and noise, though Tooth trying to stick her fingers into the baby's mouth hadn't helped.
Tooth melted, and cooed like a mama hen. “OH they have eyes like you Sandy! Though more gold even, so pretty!”
Umbra stared at Tooth, fascinated by her bright colors and fast movements. They opened their mouth like to babble something but nothing came out. Their smiling face got across the message though. Everyone crowded in to see the baby actually awake. Pitch felt claustrophobic all of a sudden and wondered why HE was the one holding the baby through all this.
Tooth blushed, “I love themmm…”
“Tooth, you love all little kids,” Jack smirked, laughing.
“But they are all so precious,” She cooed.
Pitch stepped out of the circle of Guardians to breathe. “Personal space, know of it?”
Everyone chuckled as Pitch handed Umbra to their other father, and Sandy floated up to be at eye level with everyone. Pitch sighed with relief now that Sandy was the center of attention. Sandy pointed to each of the Guardians to remind Umbra of their names, speaking silently of course, though sandy symbols appeared over his head representing each of the guardians as he did so. Umbra couldn't say them yet, but Sandy knew it would sink in eventually.
Jack asked, voice careful, “May I… hold them?”
Pitch’s gut reaction as a protective father was an automatic NO, but he didn’t blurt that out. Jack had reached out to him, forgiven and believed him when the others did not, even after all he'd done. He considered him a true friend, that he could trust him. Surely Jack could hold a baby, yes?
Sandy glanced at Pitch like he wanted his confirmation, and Pitch nodded.
Everyone made their way into North’s meeting hall and were seated at the table. Jack was still carrying the baby. He bounced Umbra in his arms – they were happily waving their arms around in response to his silly faces, and looking very amused. “You love winter don’t you, don’t you? I bet you’ll love snowball fights and – “
“Frost, that will be quite enough.”Pitch smoothly chimed in from his seat. Stoic as he was trying to be though, it was obvious he was pleased with how Jack was handling the child.
Sandy made a pillow on the table for Jack to place Umbra upon. Umbra settled in as Sandy re-bundled them up, their little eyes drooping.
“Now everyone, besides the news that Sandy and Pitch are fathers, there is something else Sandy said he wants to tell you all.” North said seriously. That was all Sandy had told him, but now they would hear the other big news.
Pitch waited until everyone was quiet. He took out an object from the bottomless shadows of his cloak. A story book was placed onto the table. Mother Goose.
He spoke for both he and Sandy, “I take it Nightlight has reunited with you all?”
Everyone fell into stunned silence.
Bunny was the first to speak up, “What?”
“You mean he has not talked to any of you yet?” Pitch was just as shocked now.
Sandy flew symbols of nightlight, the moon, and question marks over his head showing his own shock.
“Nightlight… is gone.” Tooth spoke carefully.
“No he… he had been sleeping, in me.” Pitch placed a hand over the scar hidden by his cloak, “He was released by a moonbeam a fortnight ago. I assumed when he flew off he would find all of you.”
Suddenly there was noise and a flash of light in the workshop. North raced from his seat as the Yetis all went ballistic. “What is going on out there?!” He barged out of the room, and stopped dead as there hovering right outside the door was –
“Nightlight!” He gasped. Moments later the boy was pulled into a bear hug.
Everyone was about to jump up to follow but North brought him into the room and closed the door.
“Are you a sight for sore eyes!” Bunny was stunned.
Nightlight gestured to the aurora borealis outside, like that was how he found them.
“That’s right, this workshop wasn’t built when he was alive.” Bunny twitched his nose.
“I am sorry I did not find you sooner friends, but I was talking to MiM, we had a lot to catch up on. Time passed like a blink on the moon. When I saw the signal over Earth, I came flying.” Nightlight’s voice chimed otherworldly.
“So glad to see you,” Tooth flew over and hugged him.
"You were on the MOON?" North gasped.
Nightlight chuckled like it wasn't a big deal, but everyone was impressed and shocked.
Jack of course had never met Nightlight. He was stunned. This boy looked even younger than him, not by much though, but still. He was so used to being the ‘baby’ of the group, and here was someone that was similar to him in appearance and youth.
Sandy gave a respectful bow to Nightlight, like thanking him all over again for helping to save Umbra.
Nightlight bowed back, "MiM told me you've been a great ally against the fearlings Sanderson Mansnoozie, he wanted me to thank you personally."
Sandy took the honors gracefully, and then gestured for Nightlight to come over to Jack.
"Someone you want me to meet?" Nightlight whispered.
North nodded, "Meet our newest Guardian, Jack Frost!"
"Hey," Jack was a bit star struck, and fumbled with what to do as he stood from his seat. Should he offer a hand to shake, bow, or give a hug? He decided on a little bow as that was what Sandy had done, "Nice to meet you."
Nightlight giggled and embraced him in a hug.
Jack loosened immediately, and hugged back. He was laughing too as he withdrew, "I like that laugh - it sounds like the laugh of someone who knows how to have fun!"
"Oh goodie, two Jack Frosts, that's all I need," Pitch rolled his eyes.
Everyone laughed that time.
North relayed a brief history of what Nightlight had missed, though the others all chimed in from time to time. Pitch huffed then felt guilty hearing about all his squabbles with the Guardians, and the one last big battle. He spoke for himself to explain what had occurred to him personally, though Nightlight seemed to have known the changes ever since Sandy cracked his heart open. They explained about Ombric growing old - older - and handing his magic over to his apprentice, North. There was just one person missing though in the story -
Nightlight was somber when they finished. “And… what of Katherine? Why is she not here with you?”
There was an uneasy silence. Pitch took the reins to answer the query - “She vanished... into her stories,” Pitch said softly, picking up the book. His gold eyes were full of resolve when he darted them up at Nightlight, “But I think we can call her back. With your help.”
Sandy bounced on the table and nodded, darting symbols over his head of books, moons, hearts and Nightlight.
Nightlight stared at Pitch, face slowly brightening with hope. It said ‘you think so?’ Pitch handed the book to him. He only meant it as a gesture but then something unexpected happened.
The book began to glow in the boy’s hands!
Nightlight gasped, the book jittering like energy was coming out from inside the pages, like it was trying to force itself open. Nightlight opened it quickly –
From the pages burst a glowing mass of energy that plowed right into Nightlight, knocking him backwards and resulting in him dropping the book.
Everyone jumped to attention, worried it was attacking him, but the cheerful laughing that rang out showed there was no need to worry. The mass of energy formed a young woman, her arms wrapped around the spectral boy in a tackling hug.
“Katherine!” Practically everyone yelped at once.
The joy in the room was palpable as the two swung each other around, laughing. Her large sun hat went flying and hit Bunnymund in the face.
When Katherine started crying, Nightlight didn't understand - wasn't she happy? He was SO happy to see her! He had so many feelings, things welling up he didn't understand; but while Nightlight had been sleeping, Katherine had spent decades living with the sadness of Nightlight being gone, for what she had thought would be forever. He didn't have much time to think about it before she pulled him into -
- a kiss.
Nightlight didn't quite know what to do, and everyone fell silent watching.
No one had ever kissed him before! He'd seen other people do it, like MiM's parents kissing the young Tsar goodnight or other parents kissing each other. Kisses were powerful, he knew that. But this kiss, this one was for him. It was only a brief kiss, but to Nightlight it seemed to last forever.
Katherine withdrew and blushed deeply after she realized what she had done in the heat of the moment. Her heart was beating so fast. She gave Nightlight a little breathing room and caught her own breath. "I... I thought you were gone forever…" Her eyes scanned the room looking to see all her Guardian friends there. Pitch was there too - smiling.
"Goodness, you all look so different!" She laughed, "I didn't get a clear look at you before, from that moonbeam..." She realized she and Nightlight were still holding hands and he too was looking bashful.
"Oh Nightlight, I'm sorry, I got so carried away -" She bit her lip, embarrassed.
"You've grown." He said, like it had finally sunk in. She was taller than him, by a foot.
"Kids grow up," She nodded wistfully. "I wish we could have done it together."
One of her tears fell from her face, and Nightlight caught it. Just like when he saw her nightmare in her dream tears so long ago, this time he saw her memories. All the time she spent while he was gone. While there were joys with her stories and her travels, there were also the sorrows, the longing to see him again. The sadness that she never got to tell him how much -
- she loved him.
Nightlight felt something in him change at that very moment. He'd never wanted anything to do with adults, or 'tall ones' as he used to call them... he was an eternal youth, guardian to the children of the Tsars, a being created only to protect, to defend.
But when Katherine said that, the immediate response in his mind was, 'I wish that too - that we could have grown older together'.
He actually wanted to grow up.
Because he realized what he felt about her, too, was more than their close friendship.
Pitch felt a strange sensation, like he could sense that change in Nightlight. He was beginning to notice it more all the time, as if he was the last doorkeeper to childhood. Growing up was a fear a lot of children had. It was a fear he too was helping them conquer. While he'd not been there for Nightlight like the human children, he could still feel that tingle of energy.
Energy? Pitch gasped as he realized there was also a physical tingle, like static, across his skin. Right next to him Sandy was glowing. He remembered then - wishes. Last time Nightlight made a heartfelt wish it resulted in the fearlings' physical forms being burned away.
Everyone thought it was impossible to be any more shocked that evening than they already had been, but they were proven wrong.
Nightlight leaned in and kissed Katherine back. In the process, his body glowed even brighter, and shimmered, like water rippling against glass. As suddenly as if the light had shifted, he was all at once equal height with Katherine.
"Nightlight!" She gasped, seeing him when they withdrew.
He looked human. Though still ghostly pale like Jack, he now seemed a lot more tangible, and most of all, a lot more grown up.
"Shostakovich," North whispered.
Bunny reached out a paw and closed his jaw for him.
"Having dreams now you say?" Pitch called to Sandy. He was outfitting his elk mount with a baby seat and saddle, standing in the middle of his realm's main atrium. Sandy was jumping about checking on the golden orbs hanging all around and growing off the dark trees. Each one had a child's sleeping face, not unlike Tooth's boxes. Inside the hanging cages were ethereal balls of fire, some black, some gold.
< Yes, the fact he is sleeping is quite amazing. To never sleep for thousands of years, I cannot fathom it! >
"Well if you want to get technical Nightlight slept in ME a long time. Twice," Pitch replied. Umbra was crawling about on the floor, amusing themselves with trying to catch black and gold butterflies.
< I don't think that counts as sleeping as he did not dream. > Sandy's voice rustled like leaves.
Pitch shrugged before picking up Umbra and strapping them into the dark baby seat, which looked similar to what you'd expect to see on the back of a bicycle. "Coming out tonight with daddy to scare some children hummm?" He grinned.
Umbra babbled through his mind like wind chimes. They seemed to love this idea.
< Don't forget, Katherine wanted to meet us at dawn over the midwest. Has something for you. >
Pitch nodded, "I won't forget."
It had been a few weeks since the fateful night Katherine reappeared. The Guardian of Stories was back, and now had Nightlight at her side to help ease children's fears at bedtime.
While technically Pitch was at odds with her, they knew he was part of a necessary balance... and that he had the children's best interests in mind. As it was late summer in the Northern Hemisphere, they had already shared a few evenings around campfires where kids were telling scary stories to each other in the dark. It was a situation where their 'powers' met in perfect harmony, and they found they enjoyed it immensely.
Pitch rode through the night, following the dark across the globe. He and Sandy crossed paths multiple times, weaving their respective dreams and nightmares, stealing a kiss here and there, and handing off Umbra so she could see both of them at work. Umbra watched intently, seeing their golden father weave beautiful dreams. Some were just for the fun of it, with dolphins and flying and unicorns, fanciful joys meant to bring happiness and imagination. Other dreams were meant to inspire heartfelt wishes that might carry over into waking if the wish was true, dreams of new creations to draw or write, projects to build, goals to meet, things to aspire to.
Their dark father prowled through every corner of the world, spreading fears of all sorts. Don't enter the dark forest alone, monsters lurk there. Don't swim too far from shore, a sea monster will eat you. Don't climb so high up that tree, lest you fall into a bottomless pit. Cling tight to your father's hand when crossing a dangerous street, it will protect you from the monsters. Keeping children safe and in line, running back to their parents, and giving them respect for the dangers. In time children overcame and understood these fears, giving strength to their confidence and courage to do things alone... as they grew into young adults.
Pitch also wove darkness into some of their golden father's dreams, a pinch here and a sprinkle there. Pitch occasionally found outright nightmares tearing into children, the fearlings inside them strong and lashing out like a wild stallion. He did not agree with having Sandy merely send in dreamsand to try and convert them right away. How could a child face the horrors of the real world if they didn't begin to face the imaginary ones? Also, some nightmares were too strong for dreamsand to defeat easily. Instead, Pitch sent his own nightmare sand into these wild nightmares to guide these children, trying to show them ways to take control and face their fears in the dream world. When they succeeded, they'd awake shaken, but empowered, the dreams leaving lasting impressions.
Umbra understood their golden father's ways easily, as it was part of their nature as a star, but Pitch's work was harder to grasp. Umbra knew they loved their nightmare friends, so they couldn't understand why others they saw fought them. Though that said, the wild nightmares they saw out in the world were not exactly like their dark father's... they didn't have the same gold eyes or markings.
The night wore on, and before they knew it, dawn was just about to rise on the horizon over mid-western America.
Pitch appeared in a flurry of shadows from the darkness of an old forest, riding on his favorite nightmare creature, the gold spotted elk. Sandy floated over from the top of the sky, riding a seahorse-like mount. Pitch handed him Umbra, and Sandy put the child in his lap. They were fast asleep; they couldn't stay up all night no matter how much excitement there was. Sandy bundled them up warmly and set them into the baby seat at the back of his seahorse's saddle.
"There you all are," Katherine called out. She was perched on a high tree atop her Snow Goose's back. Kailash, as the Snow Goose was called, had reappeared not long after Katherine had from the pages of Mr. Qwerty once they reunited her with the old bookworm. Nightlight hovered nearby. Despite gaining physical age and a more human nature, he still retained his powers of flight. He looked like a soldier worthy of the war of the Golden Age.
The elk galloped over, and then up through the air until they were at eye level with the tree tops. Sandy followed suit, and rushed up to embrace Katherine in a hug. After a pause she waved Pitch over, and they too shared a loving, albeit more reserved, hug. The black and gold spirits gave respectful nods to Nightlight as Katherine smiled at the sleeping child on the back of Sandy's dreamsand mount. She was still getting used to the fact they had a child. After the initial shock had worn off, she settled into an utmost happiness for them both. With how Pitch acted around her now, she swore she was first in line to be the child's godparent. Not that she'd have a problem with that.
"Not late, are we?" Pitch asked.
"Not late no, I just am extra punctual." She opened up a small notebook and flipped to a page, "I wrote you both something, I wanted to deliver it in person as I scribed it into Mr. Qwerty."
Sandy spoke with symbols depicting a pen scribbling in a book, and images of him and Pitch.
"Yes, about you two! I was quite inspired seeing how you two interact now. Think of it as a nursery rhyme." She motioned to the bookworm who opened a blank page for her.
She began scribing down the poem, and recited it out loud with an impeccable reading voice as she did so,
Light and dark brush lips at dusk.
The nighttime tastes of mirth and musk.
Fading sunlight on clouds of gold.
Dreams swirling through the dark take hold.
Pitch black of night will shepherd you,
on golden galleons fierce and true.
Face your fears and greet your dreams,
for in the darkness gold still gleams.
Black and gold brush lips at dawn.
A day as sweet as candied pecans.
The sandman rests as you get set,
but he’s not alone so don’t you fret.
Sandy and Pitch were stunned. It was lovely. Both flushed ever so slightly.
"You're going to read that to children?" Pitch asked, obviously jesting at the kissing allusions.
"OH so that's too much but all the blackbirds pecking out eyes is perfectly acceptable?" Katherine smirked.
A small throaty laugh then, "... It's lovely Katherine. Thank you." Pitch's voice was like velvet once more.
Sandy nodded and a gold heart appeared over his head.
Katherine smiled warm as the sun.
It was strange to think that just half a year ago Pitch was at the heights of desperation, plotting the demise of the Guardians. Now he was flying alongside three of them, two of whom he had helped bring back to the world.
How, how could he have spent so long in the dark...
But the more he thought about it, the more he realized it had not been total darkness all along, merely an eclipse. His heart always retained a sliver of goodness, hiding inside the umbra of his soul. It just took a crack to let it out, and a little faith and guidance to nurture it.
The past didn't define him anymore.
He defined his future.
And thanks to a shining star who never gave up on him, he had a future.
And what he could see in that future now -