Actions

Work Header

Dreaming in Stardust

Work Text:

 

The Dreamweaver kept his eyes low to the gently curving surface of the Earth below him as he worked that night, sending glittering trails of wistful golden dreamsand spiralling down to awaiting young minds, eager to receive his latest creation.

There were no prancing dolphins and graceful manta-rays tonight, although Sandy tried. The shapes just refused to come to him, stubborn and obstinate as the most elderly and obnoxious of mules. Sandy knew better than to force them; a forced dream was hardly a dream at all, and could easily turn to a nightmare. No doubt Pitch would appreciate the irony of Sandy trying to give good dreams so hard he ended up causing nightmares instead, but unless Sandy wanted to bring up the time the dark spirit had tried to terrify a little girl and failed so utterly she fell in love with horror and wrote Frankenstein, he would keep his silence.

The night was dark and moonless, perfect for Nightmares and Fearlings. Sandy knew Pitch would be abroad tonight, and although he left the children Sandy had already left to dream in stardust as per the agreement of their truce, even Sandy could not begrudge Pitch the corruption of a weak, broken dream to a harrowing nightmare. It was tonight that the children of the world needed him, and Sandy was failing them.

The dreams just would not come.

They swirled, mocking, in half-remembered shapes: the gleam of upraised ship's prow; shining scythes hewing through darkness like wheat; the honey-silver of the lunar guards' skin; the heady brightness of fellow captains; snippets of old songs sung in voices like the rising and falling of winds through the sand dunes of an even older planet that was nothing more than blurred recollection to even his sharp thoughts. The tall, elegant shapes he remembered from dusty millennia ago, when the Man in the Moon himself had not left the cradle. Ships, their hulls glowing with light, their sails billowing in a wind no human eye today could see, their gleaming white control panels gathering dust in the recesses of darkness. Shooting stars, supernova-hot and whiplash-fast, the drifting, glorious wish-dreams arcing from the endless abyssal sea they sped through, captained by tiny glowing creatures who whiled away the hours of their lives in deep, dreaming sleeps, resting comatose in a small, enclosed cockpit.

A star, falling, plummeting through a taut atmospheric layer and gathering speed all the while, the terror of the imminent crash, the split-second of pure, gut-wrenching, spine-breaking fear, fear as Sandy had only ever felt one time since (an arrow, plunging deep within his unprotected back, shocking starbursts of pain) and the wish that had saved his life and torn it all away by doing so. "I wish you well," the Moon had whispered, deep into Sandy's half-dream, "I wish you would help," trapping him to this earth until it was fulfilled.

Tonight was a night with the stories of the Golden Age cast in the stars.

Sandy avoided their cold gaze, struggling on with vague phantasms of rose-gowned princesses and dashing heroes slaying fearsome dragons that slipped, wisplike and vaporous, through his sand like disapproving fingers on the back of his neck. He could feel the spirits of those he had once dreamed with and shared the remote blankets of space staring down at him with disappointment. He was failing to protect the children from Pitch Black, just as he had always done.

Tonight Pitch was not going to steal and darken their souls, nor was he to plunge them into a eternal labyrinthine world of fear and pain and summon a new Dark Age, tonight, Pitch would just do his job. Sandy knew this, his own job as to counter Pitch just as a balancing scale, but Sandy feared falling off the other end.

He had already fallen so far, for so long. Sandy closed his eyes tightly, did not look at the empty darkness of his former world above him, the mocking absence of friends and comrades that reminded him every night just the magnitude of his failure, and pretended that his heart was not sinking into a mire of sharp thorns.


 

Jack Frost snickered to himself as he crafted the finishing touches on a magnificent ice sculpture, directly in the centre of the main road, and embossed with his calling card, tiny snowflakes forming 'F', for Fun, and for Frost. He was rather proud of the symbolism of that one, and the next time pictures were snapped all over the internet, his own little pool of believers could track his work.

The white-haired spirit pumped his fist into the air and allowed the wind to toss him high into the sky like a ragdoll, laughing all the while. His eyes were bright and blue with happiness.

It had been a good day. He'd met Baby Tooth in the morning, sneaking out from her rounds with ruffled feathers at her own naughtiness. They'd played together for a while before Baby had regretfully zipped away, a small ice sculpture in the shape of a perfect cuspid- apparently -held in her tiny hands as an apology and explanation to Tooth as to why she was late and where she had been. He'd iced up a nice section of North Carolina; he figured everyone needed more snow, and set off a sweet blizzard to roam over Scotland.

Maybe tomorrow he'd go track down Bunny and irritate him for a bit, thought Jack, unconsciously levelling himself out as he shouted a challenge to the wind, daring it to throw him further, faster. The Warren was always springtime, Jack thought the eggs could do with a touch of frost. He snickered. Maybe he'd freeze the dye pools solid- that'd tie a knot in Bunny's ears faster than anything!

A dark thought panged a light heart, turning it heavy with remembrance. Jack knew all too well the last time he'd been at the Warren, disaster had followed. Perhaps...perhaps not Bunny, then. And North was gearing up for Christmas already, and Tooth was always busy...Say, when was the last time he had seen Sandy? The diminutive Guardian was pretty difficult to understand sometimes but it had been a while, and, well...

Jack slipped out of the wind's grasp and landed lightly on a carved balustrade spearing towards the sky blushing darkly with the onset of dusk, the first few stars appearing like weak needlepoints on rich fabric. The white marble looked smooth, carved in intricate patterns of vines and harts, but Jack could feel nothing with his callused feet. Melancholy, he tapped his staff on the stone and smiled at the curling patterns of frost that appeared, playful.

If Jack was honest, he had been avoiding Sandy. He couldn't look at the little man without seeing his shocked expression, honey eyes so very wide and mouth parted just slightly, ever silent, as the arrow thumped into his back with the finality of a dropped guillotine. He could've been faster, Jack knew it. He knew that he and the wind were faster than North's sleigh, but he'd sat in it anyway and watched as Pitch shot an arrow into Sandy's back without bothering to stop him.

Jack knew he was being unfair, even ridiculous. If Sandy had managed to forgive even Pitch and orchestrate a truce with him despite everything the Nightmare King had done, and Jack sincerely suspected that there were many atrocities committed by the grey-skinned immortal the Guardians hadn't even gotten round to telling him yet, there was surely no question he would forgive Jack, who hadn't really been involved, he hadn't shot the arrow, after all.

But nonetheless, there was a nagging feeling that refused to go away. Like a persistent tick, it gnawed at him when he was at his weakest. The Guardians had expected Pitch to act that way. No doubt they might even have been slightly disappointed if he had gone down without a fight. But Jack? They'd made Jack into a new Guardian, asked for his help in stopping Pitch. The Guardians had expected him to help, and what had Jack done? Stared numbly as Sandy was killed, directly in front of his eyes.

He sighed, a gusty thing, and levelled his stare at the moon, more of a habit than out of any hope for guidance. The moon's face smiled down at him wanly, he supposed it looked tired. He wondered if the Man in the Moon ever got tired of being alone up there, with no one but a distant planet for company. "Guess I was a bit harsh on you," Jack whispered to the moon quietly. "You were only trying to help."

He stared at the moon a moment longer, unable to quite quell the instinctual hope that the moon would respond, show that he had heard Jack, anything. But the Man in the Moon was as stubbornly uncommunicative as ever, and eventually, Jack sighed and dropped his gaze, idly scuffing a pattern of frost with his toe.

"Don't bother." The cold voice seemed to ring out from everywhere, and Jack jumped out of his skin with a yelp. A cold prickle ran up his neck and he gripped his staff tightly, whirling around to face the intruder. His dead heart hammered against his ribs.

Pitch Black stepped from the shadows, long grey hands extended as if to show they were empty, although Jack did not trust him for a second. He knew Pitch could materialise his scythe in just the same time it would take for Jack to drop his guard.

Those cold dark eyes observed him flatly, without emotion, as if Pitch simply could not be bothered to contend with Jack's aggressiveness. He walked forward to stand at the balustrade, his hands meeting behind his back and his shoulders carefully rigid.

Jack backed away quickly before Pitch could approach him, remembering all too well the awful feeling of his staff snapped by the dark spirit. Pitch may have agreed to a truce, but Jack knew he could break his word the moment it suited him.

"The Lunanoffs have notorious issues with giving a damn." Pitch continued dryly, as if Jack wasn't aiming his staff threateningly at his unprotected back. Shadows chased each other at the hems of Pitch's cloak, trailed like water off his long form.

"The Lunanoffs?" Jack questioned suspiciously, shooting a glance at the moon.

Pitch stiffened in surprise, and turned his head to look at Jack over his shoulder. His eyes gleamed yellow in the moonlight. "They really told you nothing." The statement was filled with a quiet wonder that turned to a dark, bitter amusement.

"Yeah, well, three-hundred years of no one talking to you isn't exactly helpful learning about the Loony-offs or whatever," Jack replied flippantly, shifting uneasily. Pitch had used his isolation against him before and it had nearly worked.

"Lunanoff," the Nightmare King corrected quietly. He closed his eyes and turned his head to stare down at the shadowed alley beneath them. "The one you refer to as the Man in the Moon is the last of a prominent family of tsars and tsarinas that ruled the Constellations, while they were still inhabited."

"Wait, what?" Jack demanded. "Constellations? As in, the stars? The Man in the Moon's from space? What happened to the rest of his family? What do you mean-while they were still inhabited? What happened to the rest?"

Pitch made an odd sound low in his throat that Jack abruptly realised was laughter. The sound of it so wrong-footed him for a moment, he almost missed Pitch's reply, quiet as it was. "You wish to know what happened? Well Jack, I happened."

An icy ball of dread plummeted into Jack's stomach. The darkly victorious tone flirting at the edges of Pitch's composure promised that this would not be a sweet tale.

"I was newly risen to power." The Nightmare King began, his voice soft, "I had been imprisoned for many years, without any source of sustenance. I was...hungry. I managed to break free in a moment of weakness, but such was the fear I felt, it sent me into a feeding frenzy. It was glorious, Jack! Power such as no creature has known before or since. The very stars themselves wept my name! I was ravenous. I attacked the weak armies of the Constellations and overpowered them. I swallowed every star and slaughtered all that lay in my path. But there was one...one who dared stand against me. The Tsar Lunanoff himself- indeed, he," and here, Pitch's voice darkened with a new bitterness that Jack didn't comprehend, "decided that he would once more stand in my way. He forbade me to go near his precious son, the boy who had never had a nightmare. Your dear Man in the Moon," he added, seemingly for Jack's benefit, but lapsed swiftly into his brooding pose.

He was silent for a while, as if calming himself. When Pitch spoke again, it was once more with a flat tone, devoid of emotion. "I killed them all. I would have killed every last creature alive for what they had taken from me, but I had not bargained against the Lunanoff's last greatest trickery. They sent against me a boy made of light, who pierced my heart and robbed me of much of my power. Yet even as I fell, I hooked with me the last Star Captain, strongest and fastest of his ilk. They named him Dreamcaster and Wishgranter and a thousand other names, but I suppose you would know him as the Sandman." 

He shifted to look at Jack, and with a pang of revulsion Jack saw Pitch's eyes dancing with humour. "He still spoke back then," he added, "he sounded like wind-chimes and desert-sand. Before he took the oath to not wake the children."

"Sandy was...a star?" Jack whispered. "You, shot him down?"

Something flashed in Pitch's eyes, something like anger. "I..." He blinked and it was gone. "Yes." The mercurial King agreed simply, his face shuttered.

"Why are you telling me this?" Jack shouted, his fury rising quick and summer-hot, despite his icy element. He clenched his hands into fists and pointed his staff at Pitch. It had lapsed from it's defensive pose at some point during the dark tale, Jack was swift to correct it.

A hairless brow rose, silkily, the Nightmare King replied, "If not me," he mused, somewhat darkly, "Who else?" Jack hated him for his calmness. "You do not know them, Jack," he coaxed softly, "You know nothing of them. And you think I did dark deeds? Look no further than your precious Easter Bunny!" he snorted, derisive now. "His race were renowned slaughterers, before the General of the Constellations made peace with the wild tribes. North- a bandit king, who killed boys in the bed and took their sisters to be used as whores for his men, who pillaged towns and cities and left thousands to starve!"

Jack stared at him, wide-eyed in shock and horror. He barely registered that he was shaking his head in mute denial. Not true. The Guardians protect children. North wouldn't- Bunny couldn't-

Pitch's tone gentled. "I meant not to alarm you Jack. You don't know them. I was just trying to show you that."

"Tooth...?" Jack asked, and his voice could barely be heard. "Sandy?"

Pitch's eyes glittered. "Sandman would never hurt anyone, Jack."

Jack paused, blinking, as Pitch's words caught up to him. His eyes narrowed, he shifted, staring at the tall dark profile outlined in the light of the moon. He remembered Pitch's body limp and unresisting on the ground as he slept, unconscious, both from the great fall and the dreamsand that had knocked him out. He hurt you, a nagging voice, -that voice!- whispered in the back of his mind.

Pitch shook his head once, lightly, and Jack found words he had not even noticed creep onto his tongue desert him. There was a glint of warning in the golden gaze, and Jack suddenly found himself wondering absurdly what it was that Pitch possibly hoped to warn him against. Feeling sympathy for the devil? Jack was certain he had passed that point when he had actually considered Pitch's offer.

Pitch glanced at the sky. "My time shortens," he said cryptically. He stepped back into the shadows, his golden eyes lighting up like beacons. "You do not know them, Jack Frost." 

And then, as suddenly as he had appeared, he was gone.

Blinking, Jack glared into the darkness expectantly, unwilling to be caught off guard if the Boogeyman proved to not actually be gone, only hiding, waiting to pop out and play some dirty trick. He stood there for far shorter a time than he normally would've done, still badly shaken by Pitch's strange tale about Golden Ages and fallen stars.

You don't know them, Jack Frost, that cold voice whispered smoothly in his ear, rich and deep like dark scarlet Indian silk picked through with threads of gold.

Don't I? thought Jack, desperately. He had so hoped that the Guardians could be a family to him, at the very least, good people. Even through all of their doubt and uncertainty, he'd known, somehow, the Guardians were good, Wonder and Hope and Memories and Dreams were good things that needed protecting, not Fear. He'd imagined Jamie that day on the ice, Jamie poisoned by fear with his bright smile gone and the cheerful look in his brown eyes forever dull and panicked.

But that was the first day that Jack realised that not every person was as carbon-cut-out as they appeared. Pitch Black wasn't evil. The Guardians wouldn't have allied with him if he was, but the Guardians had also spent centuries fighting him. He'd thought at first, privately, he wasn't stupid, that perhaps it was something like it had been for him, when Bunny had turned so violently against him during the failed Easter. Perhaps...perhaps Pitch had been sincere. Perhaps Pitch was nice, was misunderstood. Perhaps Pitch was like Jack himself, lonely and hurting, desperate to just be seen, so desperate he would do anything- even shoot an arrow through Sandy's back.

Yet...to know he had toppled worlds. The way he had talked about his former power with such unholy glee in his voice made it abundantly clear that Pitch regretted not a second of it, felt no remorse for committing genocide. For multiple races. Jack had never imagined the Boogeyman to be innocent but...to have the cold truths of a murderer thrown so sharply in his face.

You don't know them, Jack Frost. He wasn't wrong. Just who were the Guardians? Jack knew how important having a past was. What did their pasts hide? North, a bandit king, just as much a murderer as Pitch Black? Bunny...the kangaroo had always been rough, but Jack would have never imagined he would be a natural born and bred killer like Pitch had implied. And Tooth? Who knew? Sandy...A shooting star. Not even human, not that Bunny had been, either, he supposed. He wondered what a 'shooting star' exactly was. Surely they weren't just lumps of superheated rock or whatever the scientists were saying these days? Not if they could form a gentle creature like the Sandman.

The Sandman wouldn't hurt anyone. But he hurt you. Did it even count? Pitch was a monster. Wasn't he? He fed off fear.

Jack mustered himself. "Well," he muttered to no one quietly, "I don't know them. Maybe you're right. But I can get to know them, right?" He worried his lip between his teeth for a moment. "Sandy," he decided.

The diminutive Guardian was difficult to understand and probably not the best person for the long conversation that would likely unravel from Jack's questions, but there was no other he trusted more. He'd always got on well with the Sandman. Sandy had never turned his back on Jack, and even if he had been remote during those three hundred years, he had still interacted with the frost spirit when he saw him.

So decided, he sprang onto the winds with a laugh, unknowing of the golden eyes that tracked his progress in silence.


 

The winter spirit hurtled out of the dark sky to Sandy's left, startling the out-of-sorts dreamweaver so badly he almost fell off of his dreamsand cloud. Thank the stars he had better practice with controlling his dreamsand than that and he ended up faceplanting ungracefully, but not falling out of the sky a few hundred feet up.

Sheepish, he picked himself back up amidst ringing laughter. Sandy scowled at Jack Frost, who was unrepentantly clutching his sides, in utter stitches. He was as red in the face as he could get, frost blooming in sporadic, short patterns across his cheeks and across his hoodie. Even the Wind appeared to be laughing at the dreamweaver, tussling playfully in the starburst hair.

"Oh God- your face-" Jack wheezed, gasping in great lungfuls of air as he tried to get his laughter under control.

Crossing his arms and tapping his little foot, Sanderson Mansnoozie, Lord High Protector of Dreams as deemed by the Tsar Lunar himself, the fallen star centuries older than the very Earth itself, pouted. It was a masterful expression, one he had carefully cultivated on the biggest and baddest of all creatures over the years, big round golden eyes shining like copper plates and nearly twice their usual size, adorable little nose screwed up and just the slightest hint of a tremble to his bottom lip.

It had worked for centuries on Pitch Black, who would suddenly find his nefarious plans derailed by one hazardously cute Sandman with a sniffling pout (and if that failed, the whips were always a pleasant alternative (for Sandy)). Jack didn't have a chance.

He spotted the Sandman's expression out of the corner of his eye and almost immediately stopped laughing, except for a few weak chuckles that forced their way out of his throat without his permission. "Hey," Jack said awkwardly, almost, almost regretting it. He fought back a snicker at the indignant expression on Sandy's face when he had pitched forward for a facefull of his own sand.

The Sandman sniffed, silently of course, lowering himself into a crosslegged sitting position and dropping his head. Jack felt as if he had run over a truckload of cute fluffy kittens and then nailed them to the wall with a blunt peg.

"Oh, man," Jack shot forward and hovered at Sandy's shoulder, awkwardly patting the air around him without quite daring to touch the other Guardian. "Crap, don't cry, Sandy, I didn't mean to laugh at you, shit-!"

At his words, Sandy cradled his face in his hands and his shoulders began to shake from silent laughter. This game was so much fun, it was almost as hilarious as guilt-tripping Pitch, who still had no idea of how the Sandman was capable of making Fear itself apologise for being a cheaty-peaty-meanie-weenie (in those words). Jack of course didn't twig and thought he had actually driven the diminutive dream guardian to weeping.

"Oh Jesus Christ- Sandy I'm sorry!" Jack howled desperately, sinking to his knees in front of Sandy, "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, please just stop crying, little man, hey, it's okay, no one but me saw, and I've done plenty of embarrassing shit- oh fuck, Sandy please."

He really should do this more often, thought Sandy. The idea of Jack on his knees begging him please was worthy of further pondering. Definitely. Perhaps at home. With that bottle of lube he still had lying around from the last time Pitch tried to take over the world (the man just did not learn).

Hidden safely behind his hands, Sandy's smile grew rather shark-like before he abruptly remembered himself and controlled his face. Unfortunately, Jack had seen the twitch of Sandy's lips, and put two and two together.

"You-!" For a moment he sputtered wordlessly, his cheeks taking on such a casing of ice it looked as if he had grown a helmet.

Sandy collapsed back on the dreamsand cloud, laughing so hard every grain of sand shook, which created an interesting rippling effect across his robe.

"I hate you," Jack announced flatly, flopping down dramatically beside his 'enemy'. For a moment, they stared at the stars, Sandy's body still shaking occasionally from a bout of utterly silent laughter. Jack wondered idly if Sandy ever made any sound.

He still spoke back then. He sounded like wind chimes and desert sand, before he took the oath to not wake the children.

Jack's mood abruptly sobered. Sandy must have sensed the change in his mood, for the Sandman turned his head so that he was looking at Jack with a concerned light in his eye.

Sandy's round cheeks were flushed with laughter and gleamed with a healthy golden glow, and his eyes were bright and shining, amber lashes brushing his skin when he blinked. His usual wide smile still pulled at the edges of his peach lips. With an internal 'aww' he couldn't quite ever seem to stifle, Jack noticed the Sandman had dimples.

Dear God, Jack was certain it was illegal to look that adorable in some countries. Not that he considered Sandy cute. Well, obviously he did, because he was, and blind men regularly exclaimed so, it was a given fact more reliable than the speed of light, but not in that way. What way? Jack didn't even know what way. Because he didn't. Consider Sandy cute that way. If he even knew what that way was. Which he didn't. So he couldn't possibly, actually, think that. And even if he didn't he wouldn't because Sandy was his bro and besides, he'd seen what Sandy had done to Pitch (mark Jack as terrified and excited) which quite honestly scared the pants off him, perhaps literally if Sandy kept looking at him like that.

Like what? Jack didn't know. He had no idea, and maybe if he repeated it enough times it would come true.

His internalised rant was cut short when Sandy nudged his arm, a question mark forming over his head.

Jack scuffed the sand with his foot, suddenly nervous. Why was he doing this? The Guardians were good people, he knew that. They were his friends. So why was he doubting them? Jack would hate it if they started doing the same but...he wasn't some mysterious figure with a past that stretched back millennia.

He swallowed dryly and avoided Sandy's gaze, which suddenly appeared burning. He felt his cheeks flush. "'S'nothing," he muttered. He didn't want to bother Sandy. Besides- Pitch was probably lying. Or trying to trick him. He wasn't. You know he wasn't.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when a tiny hot hand curled under his chin and forcibly tugged his head back around to look at Sandy. Eyes wide and shocked, he stared at the dream guardian, who glared back rather fiercely with an unimpressed look. Jack chuckled nervously, rubbing the back of his neck and choosing to examine Sandy's feet instead.

Sandy poked Jack's cheek.

"Hey!" Jack rubbed the sore area. Damn, for such a little guy, he was strong.

Sandy smiled at him, completely unrepentant and equally unbothered.

"Alright," said Jack wearily, giving in. He paused, and suddenly his mouth dried up and he found he had no words to say. "Um." He cast around for a place to start. Sandy's eyebrows rose higher the longer Jack procrastinated. "Okay- areyouanactualalien?"

The words tumbled out, breathless, and they weren't what he meant to say, but hey, it was a starting point. Sandy's brow furrowed, and for a moment he looked confused, before his brain caught up to Jack's words, and he let out a nearly audible sigh, slumping. Ouch, Jack winced, sore subject.

The quick, whipping sand around them slowed into mindless revolutions that had no artistry to it at all. Slowly, Sandy nodded. Offering Jack a weak smile, he formed a dreamsand arrow pointing up at the stars. The sand reformed into images of a tiny Sandy standing at the wheel of a ship, but unlike any ship Jack had ever seen, this one looked as if it had been made of water somehow made light, all graceful, to the point lines with great billowing sails.

"...A Star Captain," Jack muttered, remembering what Pitch had said. Sandy blinked and then nodded, apparently surprised that Jack, who was usually slow at deciphering Sandy's 'speech', had got the message so quickly. "I'm not a complete spoon, Sandy," Jack snorted, slightly insulted.

Sandy just patted his hand consolingly. Yes you are, but that's fine, I'm accepting like that. Utterly nuts, possessed by ten-thousand fearlings, both, half-bird woman, scary Russian in hat, giant fucking rabbit, mate, I'm as high as balls most of the time I swear.

Clearly, Jack was entirely unaware of his companion's thoughts. He gave Sandy a watery sort of smile. "So you're...like from outer space?"

Sandy nodded patiently. He conjured up images of his tiny ship whizzing past glowing golden planets, sending out trails of dreamsand as they passed them, each planet lighting up with a smiley face and a sleeping child.

"You went around the galaxy giving good dreams to children?" Jack asked, astonished.

Sandy nodded and beamed. Close enough. But never again. His smile fell.

"What's wrong? I mean- why aren't you still up there?"

Sandy slumped. Because I'm weak, because I got caught by the Nightmare King instead of getting away or dying before he could reach me like the other stars. Listlessly, he formed an image of Pitch as he had looked back then, fearsome spikey head collar, staff and all, throwing a harpoon at his glittering ship, which promptly broke up and became grains of sand.

"Pitch turned your ship into sand?!" Jack gaped.

Sandy laughed silently and closed Jack's mouth, wagging his finger at the boy with a remonstrative look. The ex-wishing star shook his head, formed an image of Pitch and then of the ship breaking, crossed out Pitch, showed the ship again.

Jack's brow furrowed, then he looked mainly confused. "Pitch broke your ship...but he didn't turn it into sand. The ship turned into sand without Pitch."

Sandy nodded.

The frost spirit's eyes grew round as marbles and he stared down at the sand cloud he was sitting on. "I'm sitting on something from space," he whispered in awe, and poked the sand cautiously as if he expected it to rear up and start talking at him in a foreign tongue. Sandy raised an eyebrow, unimpressed. Was he aware that he was sitting with a genuine denizen of 'outer space' as he called it, not just the flotsam remains of an old ship?

"Sandy, oh my God, you're from space." Jack tugged his fingers through his hair, grinning widely. "Pitch said that you were- but I thought he was just being a creep-"

Immediately the dream guardian snapped to attention, his gold eyes hard and bright. Pitch told you this? He barely needed any sand to show his thought. "Uh, yeah," Jack said awkwardly, "I didn't go find him or anything," he hastened to say, "He just turned up next to me..." His protest trailed off when he saw, instead of the disgust he expected to see, a wide smile on the Sandman's face.

He must be getting his memory back, the ex-wishing star thought to himself with a quiet not-quite hope, if he remembers the Golden Age. For the longest time, Pitch had been under the impression that he and Sandy had sprung, fully formed, from the belief of children at the beginning of the world, with no memory of his past at all. And perhaps if Pitch was regaining the memory of his acts during the Golden Age, perhaps he could remember before he had been Pitch.

It was unlikely. Kozmotis Pitchiner was long-dead, only flashes of his conscience remained. And perhaps it would be a kinder fate to leave Pitch unaware than to let him know he had once had all that he had confessed to Jack on the ice he longed for, only to have the power in which he took such pride rip it away.

The Sandman exhaled, as silent as ever. He had been quiet for so long that he had almost forgotten how to make noise. He made a 'dead-end' sign above his head and Jack blinked at it.

"Okay," the frost spirit said, "what's wrong with you?"

Sandy looked up, only then realising he had been staring dully back up at the sky again, slowly twisting sand into half-formed shapes before angrily swiping his hand through it. He shook his head. Nothing, Jack. Nothing you can help with, anyone can help with.

"Look, Sandy," Jack said sternly, "I'm not an idiot, I can tell when something's wrong. Is it Pitch? Or..." he trailed off.

Sandy wasn't even looking at him anyway, instead bleakly at the town they were passing above. It suddenly registered that Jack had not seen Sandy send out a single dream that night, and he had been odd-looking on his sandcloud before Jack had surprised him.

Jack glanced up at the remote, dagger-white points of light above them. His brain kicked into gear. "Do you miss them?" he asked quietly.

Sandy went stiff. As if Jack had just shot him in the back with an arrow-full of his worst nightmares.

The frost spirit winced and bit his lip. Now you've done it, you idiot-

The dreamweaver nodded slowly.

"I'm sorry," whispered Jack, raw and heartfelt, because he understood how it felt to miss something, something he hadn't even known he had wanted or needed.

Sandy looked at him, his gold eyes glossy, and gave him a weak sort of smile. Abruptly he turned and threw his little arms around Jack in a hug, hiding his face against Jack's hoodie.

Jack exhaled a surprised breath, staring down at the golden man in his arms. Awkwardly he rested his hands on Sandy's back, feeling the rough, warm texture of his sand-robe under his fingertips. Sandy felt like the sun, but instead of painful and uncomfortable like most heats he was solid, dependable, and hugging him felt like reaching right out into the very heart of the warm current of love that ran between families and diving straight into it. Jack found himself smiling into Sandy's golden hair.

They did not move for the rest of the night, drifting aimlessly on the sand cloud, in and out of sleep. When Sandy tensed a bit and shook slightly in Jack's arms as they passed through a patch of particularly clear starlight as if he could sense it's touch, then Jack would rub his back gently and hum half-remembered old tunes in his ear and pretended not to notice the wetness soaking his left shoulder where Sandy's head was nestled. Slowly, but surely, the grief that the Sandman had carried, silent and quiescent in his heart, for centuries, began to lighten.

And if perhaps the nightmares the children had were not so bad that night, if perhaps parents would wake up with tears streaming down their faces and bittersweet smiles on their lips...well, no one had said the Nightmare King didn't have a heart too.