"I must have taken longer than I thought...oh no."
He complains, stepping out into the town square, the first thing he notices being the giant moon hanging high in the sky. Of course he was kept beyond his usual hours, despite showing up to the town hall bright and early in the morning. Not that it was all the poor Mayor's fault. The man couldn't help that he was a bit of a perfectionist; Jack honestly thought it was a fine trait to have, being similarly minded himself. Just not today. To say he was falling back into his depressive slump wasn't far off; the usual horrors of Halloween having lost their luster quite quickly for him once again.
And after he thought he had it all figured out, too! Why he was disenchanted with the spooks and scares; after having been enthralled by them years before. He was going to enjoy this year's Halloween so much—he had told himself countless times—especially after Oogie tried ruining it with his last dastardly stunt. Seems like his heart wasn't keen on following his own advice. He felt as empty as ever, maybe even worse than before! Jack could only sigh at the disappointment, his steps slowing as he brought a hand to his skull, cradling it.
Oh well. At least when he got home he had something to look forward to aside from his usual empty manor. Yes, something to make all that working more tolerable. Or rather, someone. His dearest friend—aside from Zero—would be waiting for him, her beautiful pale face wearing it's usual excited expression whenever he came home from work. Or he would catch her sleeping—as had been often the case recently—her serene face making his phantom heart melt as he checked up on her before going to bed himself. Living together as they had been for the past two months, after convincing her supposed 'guardian', he was surprised she hadn't gotten tired of him already. He wasn't home often, leaving early in the morning, working all day like he had today, and often coming home very late at night. How she put up with it was beyond him.
Thoughts like this filtered through his mind as he walked the path towards his home, thankful for it being so late, if only to deter some of his more persistent fans from ambushing him. He didn't have time for that now; nor the mental energy to put up with their flattery. There was only one person he wished to see now, his 'heart' beating faster as the tall spire of his tower finally came into view. He was tired, exhausted and as famished as a being without organs or an actual stomach could be. He had forgotten to eat—again—too busy keeping up with the flood of documents and rule changes thrust his way. He barely had time to take an actual break, let alone eat, the work piling up over the past month or so. Part of him was glad Sally was probably asleep in her room; he always felt bad making her worry for him, the look in her round eyes making him squirm every time he saw it.
Taking off his shoes at the entryway, he did his best to walk quietly on the marble floor, his steps echoing through the empty halls despite the care he took. He didn't bother to light any of the lamps hanging on the walls, once again worried about the brightness waking up his roommate, simply snapping his fingers to do the job. A tiny flame on sprouted to life on his fingertip, guiding his way through the darkness. Feeling his energy drop suddenly, he instinctively makes for the kitchen, opening the refrigerator door as quietly as he could. He was surprised to find that the fridge had been restocked in it entirety, some of his favorite foods tucked away in places. He made a mental note to thank Sally later; she truly deserved it. What really caught his socket however, was the elaborate meal on one of the shelves—bones, drink and all—with a tiny handwritten piece of paper that he quickly detached without burning it.
'In case you come home late and forgot to keep your strength up! Halloween Town needs its Pumpkin King after all. And so do I; please take care of yourself, my dearest.'
He stares at the small note, clutching his chest as it burns with shame and guilt. She knew him too well! He didn't deserve her, he thought. She was so kind and considerate, able to put up with his eccentricities and love even those as much as she did. Quite unlike the townsfolk, who only saw the veneer he displayed to them. He doubted any of them would put up with his craziness like she did, the thought making his feelings for her blossom yet again that night.
He felt awful at seeing the dish, knowing she had probably made it especially for him. Seeing as she had something resembling organs, at least from what the Doctor had told him, she had to eat somewhat regular food like the citizens of town. So their meals often had to be separately made; which meant more work for his poor rag doll. Whereas he, with his odd physiology, could go for quite a while without the stuff—though after a time he would feel exhausted, similar to being famished. He imagines her waiting, at the dinner table, a smile on her face as she waits for him to arrive in time for a 'fresh' meal. Only to realize he wasn't going to, despair slowly painting her stitched face as she eats alone in silence, thinking it had all gone to waste. How horrible! He felt guilty, the ache only growing in intensity the longer he stares at the plate of food and nearly diminishing his appetite.
Well, he couldn't stare at it all night in his depressing malaise forever. He'd have to eat it sometime. So, he easily takes the dish and sets it on the table, flinching when it makes a loud sounding bump as it hits the surface. Wanting to be quiet, he carefully uses his fire to heat up the dish, being careful with the flame lest he wind up incinerating the meal and dining table. He has only taken a few bites of the meal before he hears the familiar sound of fluttering cloth, an orange light entering the edge of his vision. A smirk dawns on his skull then, which turns to face his canine companion. Said canine only whines softly, orange nose nearly blinding him on the dark as it peeks over the rim of the table.
"Zero...you can't have this. Now stop whining. You'll wake Sally."
A small whine came from the spectral dog, it's black eyes pleading as it stared at its master. He could only sigh, doing his best to ignore the dog as he continued to eat as quietly as he was able. As he was finishing off the last scraps of food, he hears Zero flutter away and up the stairs again, but not before letting out one last whine of displeasure.
He followed after the spectral dog, after cleaning his mess in the sink, wanting to check up on his love before he himself went to sleep. As he came closer to the door which led to her room, he swore he could hear the sound of her tossing and turning in bed, as well as human sounding whimpers. This worried him, so he carefully wrapped a hand around the knob, opening the door as quietly as he could and peering inside.
She didn't seem to hear his whisper, lost in her nightmare as she was. He could see her frantic form quite clearly, tossing and turning, moving her covers about and muttering every few seconds. Not willing to watch any longer he slipped into the dark room, seating his lanky frame on the edge of her bed, being careful not to wake her despite his desire to free her from her night terror. Shocking her awake would only make things worse; and she looked horrible as it was. No, he would gently coax her out of it as best he was able.
He said her name as quietly as he was able, placing a hand on her trembling shoulder. She didn't respond, even when he softly called her name one more time and curled his fingers softly around her shoulder. He swore he heard her speak, though not to him, muttering to herself, thankfully able to catch what she was saying due to his exceedingly good hearing.
"I didn't….-it wasn't my...I'm sorry! I won't do it...ever again…"
He frowned at her words, an uneasiness settling inside him as he took in their context. Was she dreaming about being back home? With the Doctor? He wasn't sure; he only understood he did not like the way her voice trembled as she spoke. It caused his phantom heart to feel as if it was breaking, and he carefully began to use his other hand to caress the small of her back, being wary enough to not touch any of her sensitive seams underneath her nightgown. He moved from her shoulder to her cheek, cupping her face and brushing some of her hair out of the way as he leaned down closer to her.
"It's all right. It's just a bad dream…"
He whispered softly into her ear, using his long limbs to his advantage as he slipped his hands underneath her sleeping body, holding her aloft for a moment as he brought her closer to him, cradling her against his chest tenderly. Part of him was panicking about the situation, his mind screaming to him how impulsive he was being while his heart goaded him on. It wasn't as if they had never laid like this before, the pair often doing so on the couch in his living room near the fireplace, where he could enjoy the feeling of her warmth and touch. This was simply different, she was asleep after all, and not completely aware of her situation. Still, as he beheld her face, one that had somewhat calmed down compared to when he had started this endeavor, he felt that he was doing a good thing.
"Wake up, my dear...It's only a nightmare…It can't hurt you. I'm right here…"
As is she heard his words, the small doll blinked her eyes open slowly, a tired groan escaping her red lips as she began to shuffle around. It took her a few moments before she woke from her stupor completely, jolting upright from where he had lain her across him. He felt a chill as she moved away from him, yet not fully out of his grip, still half leaning into his comforting touch as she stared at him in pure shock and confusion.
"J-Jack!? I was—the dream…I-it—I..."
"I know. You're awake now. Can you recall what it was about?"
"It's funny...Now that you ask, I honestly don't remember it that well. I simply felt terrified…"
He simply ran his hand through her disheveled hair, not really sure what to say, combing it with his phalanges. She seemed to relax at his touch, leaning into his chest as she turns her head upwards to look at him. It made him feel good, that she could rely on him for support like this; that he wasn't only useful when it came to scaring. That he was actually able to comfort her at a time like this, small as it was.
"I'm sorry. Did I wake you up?"
Her words made something inside him stir then, an ache running across his rib cage and straight into his phantom heart. He tried to ignore the sensation, once again busying his hands by running them along her cloth skin, which was still trembling from fright. He simply pulled her closer to him, Sally resting her head in the crook of his neck, warming his heart and bones. He hoped she couldn't hear his heartbeat, which had increased erratically and was extremely thankful bones couldn't visibly blush. He tried to keep his voice calm and steady as he replied.
"N-No, I just got home. I figured I'd check up on you before I went to bed myself; you seemed to be having a nightmare. And quite a bad one at that, going by how you were fussing about. I simply thought to wake you up."
"Oh, I'm sorry Jack. I didn't mean to cause any trouble…"
Trouble. There it was. That word again. Why did she ever think she was troubling him? Whenever she asked for something; to go out shopping for groceries, for some new books that he didn't have—anything other than being cooped up in their manor, really—she'd always use that phrasing or some variant of it, as well as apologize profusely. And every time he heard it, it made something inside him start to smolder. A righteous anger that seemed to come from the core of his being; and it took quite a lot to raise his ire. He was a patient person, never one to lash out in anger, often kind and generous—or so he'd been reassured by the townsfolk numerous times—yet he was surprised at his sudden change of mood when it came to this. He wasn't mad at her; no, he could never be angry at his dearest friend. He was enraged at her creator—the man who brought her into being and programmed her to think that way about herself!
Why did she think that way? Was it because of the Doctor? He had done something to her to make her feel this way about herself? He knew it was certainly a possibility; the few times he had come over to the scientist's tower, the man had always spoken in less than complimenting terms about 'his creation'. That was another thing that bugged him; the Doctor's refusal to refer to her by name, or as a possession of his, like one of his tools. Like he owned her; like she wasn't a person with a free will and mind of her own.
That was probably why Jack had pushed to move her out of that damnable tower after their relationship had become serious. He couldn't stand seeing her treated that way any longer. He would do better than the old scientist, he promised, and she would want for nothing. Helping her overcome this too was part of his job as her partner for death. At least, he hoped they would be together forever. They had tried to promise each other that much, a year ago—after his stint with Christmas had finally finished.
And as much as he had with her nightmare, he tried coaxing her—gently smiling and holding her shoulder so she would look into his sockets, a bony hand running its way across her cheek.
"Sally…you aren't any trouble at all! I don't know what makes you think that way. It hurts me when you talk like that; like you aren't worth anything, or that you're just a...bother, as you put it. I can't stand seeing you so sad and upset... I don't know what to do when you start thinking that way. I want you to understand that you're important; just because you exist, right here, right now."
She didn't respond to his words, though he noticed her large eyes become downcast as they looked away from his sockets. He grabbed onto her thin wrists, clasping both of her smaller hands into his larger ones.
"I mean it, my dear. I know it's probably hard for you to accept, but I do honestly care about you. Not what you can offer me or do for me, but you—all the small things that make you who you are!"
He moved his skull closer to her downcast face, the bridge of his nasal bone nearly meeting her forehead, leaving a trail of kisses across the back of her hands and some of her fingers. He could feel her shake a bit under his touch, but her eyes still refused to look at him. Worried for her emotional state, and unwilling to part with her just yet, he cupped her chin with his hand, making her stare into his sockets.
"It's getting quite late. Why don't we retire for tonight?"
He carefully scooped her up into his arms, the rag doll let out a squeal of surprise as he cradled her against his chest. He began walking out of her room then, shutting the door closed as he made his way across the hall. He was slightly glad now that the guest room he chose for her wasn't too far away from his own bedroom.
"W-what are you doing!?"
"I'm concerned. You just woke up from a bad dream. The least I can do is help by keeping you company and be there if it happens again…"
"Really? Are you sure that's all it is, my love?"
He could hear the teasing lilt in her voice, a blush forming on her face as she spoke. He didn't hide the sauve tone as he replied, a smirk forming on his skull as his sockets narrowed.
"Well, me missing you very dearly was also part of it, yes."
He pressed a small kiss to her cheek then, causing her to giggle despite the terror that had once gripped her. That was good, he thought, very good.
"Is that so?"
"Yes, I felt guilty about leaving you home alone all day. I wanted to come home sooner, but you know how the Mayor can be sometimes…"
He felt her hand reach up to touch his face, slender fingers caressing his cheek just as he had done to hers.
"It's all right. You're here now."
"Yes. And I'm not planning on leaving your side all night."
He responds enthusiastically, a huge grin on his face, Sally only chuckling softly at him. He opened the door to his bedroom then, Zero's long ears peeking slightly as the spectral dog registers the noise, before snuggling back into his bed. Eyeing his own long bed, Jack simply strode over to it, depositing his dearest friend on top of it. She made a noise, but didn't really protest aside from her flushed face, Jack easily slipping the covers over her and guiding her head towards his pillow. She lay there, an unreadable expression on her face, as he quickly went to his dresser and grabbed a new nightgown. He heard her shuffle beneath the sheets, giving her a soft smile and a wink before he slipped behind the divider separating them.
"Oh, I don't—"
"It's fine. We're simply sleeping in the same bed after all. Nothing more, nothing less. It's just like the couch; only a little less spacious."
He reassured her from his position behind the divider, throwing his dress shirt over the top of it. He was right; they had slept together many times before, though that was on the couch, eventually untangling themselves afterward to properly get ready for bed. Still, it made his marrow quicken in his bones, halting him slightly as he began to don his nightgown. Was he taking things too far? This was his room after all, and unlike before, they were both clad in their pajamas. Yet, he thought back to only a few moments earlier, when he had seen her tossing about...What if it happened again? And if he wasn't there, able to comfort her when she needed it? He barely heard her soft spoken reply, so lost in his thoughts about his dearest as he was.
"Mmmm...I suppose it's ok, then. I did miss you dearly..."
No, he was doing a good thing. She seemed to want it too; if she didn't, she would have clearly told him, right? Pushing such thoughts out of his mind, he walked out from behind the divider, trying to ignore the warmth on his cheekbones as he watched her eyes roam over his form. He couldn't deny he was doing the same thing, enraptured by her even now as she was; hair tousled, clothes wrinkled and eyes still heavy with sleep. He loved her, every stitch of her, no matter how she looked.
He just lifted the comforter, slipping into the sheets and snuggling beside her. She didn't seem to mind, even going so far as to press herself into him, her face muffled by his white nightgown. He was surprised at first, but easily reciprocated the gesture, once again using a hand to run his fingers through her red yarn tresses. He loved the way they felt, loved the way her hair was soft and silky along his hard bones. He would never get tired of touching them.
"So, I think you can guess how my day went. How did yours go?"
"...It went well, I suppose…"
She pulled her head back from him then, her eyes searching and inquisitive as she tried to understand exactly what he was asking for. He smiled, softly touching the edge of his nose to hers as he stared into her eyes.
"You suppose? Well, what did you do while I was gone all day?"
"Uhm...I cleaned the floor in the entryway, reorganized some of the books in the library—"
He stopped her with an outstretched hand—sockets narrowed playfully yet sternly—being careful not to poke her with it, chuckling as he spoke.
"Dearest, I'm not quizzing you on the things you accomplished today. What did you do for fun today—aside from chores—is what I meant."
He sighed, lifting a hand to his skull before he began to pull her closer to him. He was worried about his partner; she wasn't very good at relaxing. Probably another trait developed in the time she spent with her creator. If he saw the man, he would be sure to give him a good talking to.
"Yes, fun. You do know what that is, don't you? Surely you didn't do chores all day!"
She put a finger to her chin in thought, before he notices her eyes droop downward as she contemplated her answer. That made his spine tingle, and not in a good way. He never liked seeing that expression on her pale face.
"...The Doctor never r—"
"—I'm not Dr.Finkelstein, Sally. I'd like to hear what you did for enjoyment today. I want to know; I want to learn about the things you do, like your sewing and other hobbies."
She didn't really respond, her eyes now trying to look anywhere but at him. He simply frowned, once again taking one of her smaller hands and wrapping his much longer fingers around it. This caused her to at least focus her attention on his hand, which was better than nowhere at all.
"You can talk to me about things, you know. I love you. I want to know you better. I can't if you don't tell me."
"...Well, I tried working on some sketches for some designs I've been meaning to try…"
"Oh, good! Did you enjoy working on it? How did they turn out!?"
He exclaimed, eagerly wrapping a free arm around her waist in his excitement and snuggling against her. He felt her tremble, her skin suddenly becoming flushed due to embarrassment. She simply looked up at him, her long lashes pulling him into her bright eyes as they brushed against his skull.
"Uhm...They're going ok, I guess...Still need to add some finishing touches and I might be able to work on the actual sewing soon!"
Her voice actually began to perk up by the time she uttered the final phrase, causing his heart to flutter in his ribs. It was small, but he had managed to get her to open up. It was a start, and he was very glad for her. He loved it when she became enthusiastic about things she was working on. It reminded him of why he had fallen in love with her in the first place; her quiet, determined passion was a contrast to his outgoing, fiery desire. Two sides of the same coin, and no less efficient in their work. It was no wonder she understood him so well. He planted a soft kiss on her lips then, eliciting a tiny squeal of surprise from his love.
"That's wonderful to hear, Sally! I always love the things you come up with. Though I admit I don't fully understand some of the finer aspects…"
"Oh, it's not really a big deal…but thank you…"
He frowned again, feeling bold as he gently lifted her upwards, settling himself underneath the sheets so that she was lying on top of him. She gasped for a moment, pale cheeks a stark red before she focused once again on his sockets.
"Don't say that! I wish I could have a tenth of your enthusiasm…"
"Huh? What's wrong, Jack?"
He sighed, running his hand over his weary sockets before planting it around her red tresses once more.
"Oh, it's nothing my love...My thoughts escaped me for a moment there. We aren't talking about me right now; We were discussing your day."
It was her turn to frown at him then, her eyes narrowing as she searched his sockets—for what he had no idea. A hand brushed his cheekbones then, her fingers making their way up, poking under his nightcap and rubbing the top of his skull gently. He felt his sockets start to close, lost in her comforting touch and reminded of his weariness. He does his best to stay awake, stifling a yawn.
"I can tell when you're hiding things, Jack."
"Hiding? No, I'm quite all right...I as—"
His words are drowned out by a large yawn then, Sally giving him a knowing look as a smile lit her stitched face.
"You're undead tired, my love. I think it's time we go to sleep, don't you agree?"
He couldn't deny that, one of his arms wrapping tightly around her form yet still giving her room to move out of his grip if she wanted to. He only let out a tired laugh, his remaining arm that he managed to wiggle free going for the lamp on his nightstand. It turned off with a click, enveloping the pair in darkness. He could still feel her warmth cuddled around him, warming his bones underneath his gown and making his heart beat a mile a minute.
"...You're not wrong. Just let me know if you start having any more nightmares again, ok? I'm right here, and Zero too."
He felt her stop moving for a moment, her head buried in the crook of his neck.
"...Alright Jack. I simply don't want to be—"
"Don't say it! Tell me when you're not feeling well, or when something's bothering you. I love you, Sally. Sleep well—and tell me if any bedbugs bite, mmm?"
"I love you too, Jack…"