This is set some indefinite time after E. Aster Bunnymund and the Warrior Eggs at the Earth's Core. Enjoy!
The Silent Treatment
The endgame of sitting by one's bedside late in the night is usually to sneak off when the one for whom you are bedsitting finally falls asleep.
However, Nightlight did not sleep.
North felt this should have negated the need for Katherine to bed-sit at all; Nightlight did not sleep, therefore Pitch could not give him bad dreams. But the state Nightlight had been found in seemed to negate the need for Pitch to poison his dreams at all; fantasy, daydreams seemed to be bad enough. Nightlight flickered with every breath.
Ombric admitted quietly that he was stumped as to what had made Nightlight cold, catatonic, and so fearfully clingy. The moonbeams had struck sharply through the windows to catch their attention, and carved a sharp path to Nightlight, where he lay unresponsive, though seemingly unhurt, in the snow. There had been no sign of Pitch, which meant absolutely nothing because Pitch very rarely left signs
Nightlight was in bed, because logic claimed that beds are required for resting. He was wrapped in blankets because he appeared to be cold, or at the very least shivering. And Katherine was bedsitting for him because he had refused to let go of her hand so far, and no one had the heart to pry their hands apart. North had rumbled that the whole thing was silly, and holed himself up in the workroom to be alone.
And of course, Bunnymund had to be the clever one and whisper, "You only don't like it because Nightlight is not supposed to get hurt like this."
North hunched his shoulders and squinted at the doll he was making for the children. They needed a distraction from Nightlight's condition.
Katherine had dutifully kept her spot at Nightlight's side for several hours. She read him stories from her book, and made up new ones when she ran out. Sometimes she reached over and brushed a few ethereal wisps of hair away from Nightlight's forehead, because she had read several stories where the heroine did that for her hero. She had done it for North a few times, when he lain helpless, recovering from his injuries from his first fight with Pitch.
"Nightlight always sits up and watches over us," she said proudly. "The least I can do is sit up one night for him."
Nightlight continued to stare blankly at nothing.
At one point-a moment of great excitement-Nightlight shifted, turning on his side to face Katherine. His gaze did not gain focus, but it was activity, and rare. Katherine repositioned her chair so that his gaze met with her chin, the closest she could get to eye contact without making her back sore from slouching.
It was many, many, many hours later when guilt finally dragged North from the workroom to find Katherine, slumped in her chair, starting to fall asleep. He sighed and touched her shoulder, and she jumped, nearly smacking him in the chin.
"It is time to go to bed," North said gently. "Nightlight would agree."
Katherine, after a moment's struggle, relented, and admitted that she was exhausted. North began to help her stand up, when she was yanked sharply down again into the chair.
The pair stared at Nightlight's hand. His gaze remained blank, but his fingers were digging into her skin. It appeared that he did not, in fact, agree.
Katherine tried a number of gentle maneuvers to shake him loose, but every touch seemed to make his grasp tighten. Katherine's eyes began to water, whether from the pain in her hand or from pure exhaustion she would not say.
"He's not hurting me," She said stubbornly, wiping her eyes with her free hand. "He's just upset because he doesn't want me to leave."
And in that moment, North's patience was at an end. He enclosed his hand over Nightlight's and squeezed with almost as much force as Nightlight was squeezing Katherine.
"Nightlight. Katherine is tired. Let go of her now."
For a moment the words seemed to register, and Nightlight's eyes widened, coherent and guilty. Then the energy faded, and with it his grip wilted. Katherine's hand slipped free.
And fast as a glimmer, Nightlight's fingers circled around North's wrist and held fast.
"If you're not going to bed, then I'm not going to bed," were Katherine's first words, sparking an argument which could have been quite long if Ombric had not come in and escorted Katherine away. He returned a few moments later to find North sitting in the chair, arm held outstretched for Nightlight, who continued to cling to him.
"He has a very strong grip," North said ruefully. "I am always surprised by his strength."
"I consulted with MiM," said Ombric. "He has no memory of Nightlight ever behaving this way…and therefore has no advice."
"We could dump a bucket of water on him," said North. Ombric frowned at him, and North quickly added, "For his own good! We would be doing it for his own good!"
"You might be a little kinder," said Ombric. "This isn't like you."
"I don't like problems that don't have solutions," said North.
"The solution," said Ombric, "is waiting."
North frowned. "I don't like waiting, either."
But it was late, late nighttime now, so Ombric left North to wait alone.
For a few moments, North got his own hopes up by imagining that Pitch would come to finish whatever work he had done on Nightlight. That, at least, could prove to be a productive battle! But another hour passed, and Pitch did not make an appearance, and North's arm became sore from being held out so stiffly for Nightlight.
North shook his arm from side to side, as an experiment. In a flash, Nightlight glowered fiercely and dug crystalline nails into North's wrist, drawing blood. North chuckled.
A few more similar experiments revealed that North could sit far more comfortably on the edge of the bed, rather than the chair. Nightlight, upon sensing the move, released his grip on North's wrist and now clung to his entire arm, pushing his forehead against North's shoulder.
For someone else, this entire display might have proven to be endearing. North only frowned and tried to make himself more comfortable on the bed's edge.
The glow from the lamps never faded, because it was a magic light that Ombric had left on specially for the occasion. The light warded away the nocturnal animals that usually sounded off a symphony near the window, and the quiet only worsened North's mood.
"Can you hear me?" He demanded at last in the silence. "You are awake. You don't know how to sleep."
Nightlight didn't respond, but that did not mean that he was not listening.
"Are you having a tantrum?" North continued. "Most people think tantrums are the loud, squawling kind, but I think the quiet tantrums are worse. They draw more attention. Are you doing this for attention?"
Nightlight continued to flicker weakly, which was hardly an indication of anything.
"Are you tired of being up at night by yourself? You could just say so. We all know you can talk."
Nothing in the room, the air, or the night stirred, and North was infuriated and lonely and childishly, inexplicably resentful.
"No one ever sat up with me," said North finally, "when I couldn't sleep."
"That is not, technically, true," said a quiet voice, accompanied by the imagined sound of a nose twitching. "I have it on good authority that Katherine sat up many a night with you when you first arrived here."
North glared at the doorway where Bunnymund stood.
"Of course, I don't know if she would anymore," Bunnymund continued. "You are a little old for that sort of thing."
"I was barely conscious when I first arrived here, and Katherine only sat with me sometimes during the day," said North, "and spying is rude."
Bunnymund's nose twitched, this time in amusement. He padded softly over to the bed and sat down in the vacated chair.
"Katherine lasted several hours," Bunnymund commented. "And you have been up longer than her. You must be tired."
"I've stayed awake many nights."
"This is nothing to me."
"Well, it's Nightlight's first bad night," said Bunnymund sharply. "If you are really so jealous that Katherine has found someone else to pay attention to, you might have the decency to handle it a little more directly."
There was a sound, a slight movement. Bunnymund and North snapped to attention as Nightlight shifted, once, to curl up a little tighter and bury his face in North's sleeve. Several more minutes of tense anticipation yielded no further movement, and the pair relaxed.
"Besides," said Bunnymund, "I don't think Katherine sees you as the kind of person who has bad nights."
"Everyone has bad nights," said North. "Even you."
"That is what I was going to say to you," Bunnymund sighed. "But yes. Everyone has bad nights. I would have thought you would be the most understanding."
North bristled at this. "When there is a problem, you fix it. You get up and do something. If you can't sleep, it just means you have been given some extra time to work!"
"Pitch's power is far more-"
"This isn't Pitch's power! I know this too well!" North gestured at Nightlight, almost violently. "It's the silent treatment! I did this as a child!"
"Did it work?"
North hesitated. "Well, no. Mainly people were relieved that I was being quiet for a change." He shook his head. "It's not the sort of behavior that ought to be rewarded."
"Your logic is flawed," said Bunnymund. "Nightlight is always quiet; if anything, he needs a little more attention. As far as I can tell-"
"Making Katherine sit up all night isn't the-"
"As far as I can tell, you are simply jealous because it worked for him."
North gaped at the rabbit with his mouth open.
Bunnymund shrugged. "Humans can be awfully funny about this sort of thing. It doesn't matter what age your kind reaches; there is always a…a…a fantastic childishness when it comes to competing for a mother's affection."
"Katherine isn't my mother," North said automatically.
"No," said Bunnymund. "But she might as well be."
North felt his gaze drawn around the room, avoiding the rabbit and searching for other answers. He found none. "I've never had a mother."
"Neither has Nightlight," said Bunnymund gently. "Can't you both enjoy it a little?"
A bird chirped timidly outside. Dawn would be approaching in just a few hours.
"Would you like me to take over?" Without waiting for North's answer, Bunnymund reached over and touched Nightlight's arm. "Nightlight? I think Nicholas is getting tired. I can sit with you now."
For a fraction of a second, there was no movement. Then, as before with North, Nightlight's fingers found Bunnymund's arm.
This time, however, was different. Nightlight sat upright, staring at his fingers disappearing into the fur of Bunnymund's wrist. Then, in a swift dive, he wrapped his arms around Bunnymund's neck, and hugged him very nicely until he grabbed two handfuls of the rabbit's fur and tugged, hard.
Bunnymund made an excellent show of keeping a straight face, but North noticed his lip twitch. "I don't think Nightlight has had much experience with fur," Bunnymund said carefully.
That certainly seemed to be the case. Nightlight soon released his hold on Bunnymund's neck, and settled down to rub his fingers back and forth through the fur of the rabbit's arm. It seemed to put the boy in a trance. Soon the quickness in his eyes had faded again, not to total blankness as before, but something more content.
"It's certainly something to keep in mind," said Bunnymund.
"A fur coat for Nightlight. Something that could withstand high altitudes. Possibly a new project for you?"
North shrugged, and tried to pretend six new designs had not popped into his head. "I don't know if coats can be made that small."
"You're a wizard of an engineer. You could figure something out," said Bunnymund. He began to rub Nightlight's back soothingly. "After all, he sits up during those cold nights without any company. He might like a coat, at least."
As North departed, he noticed that Nightlight had settled from his restless flicker into a soft glow.
North went to bed, but did not sleep. Part of him wished to seek out company; part of him wanted badly to talk to Katherine. He sat quietly in his bed, in the dark, alone, before his self-taught instincts kicked in. With a sigh, he turned on his desk lamp and began to sketch out new ideas.
North liked solutions. He hated waiting for things like sleep, or comfort.
By the time Nightlight was recovered from the mysterious whatever-it-was, there was a new coat waiting for him, lined with the fur of a bear who had bequeathed it to a new owner at its death. North insisted the coat would withstand any weather, and that it had barely taken him any effort to put together at all and so was not worth any thanks.
Nightlight held it up to look at for several minutes, and it took some prompting to remind him that coats are for wearing. He slipped into it as though afraid he would break it. When he thought no one was looking, Nightlight caught a bit of fur between his thumb and forefinger and rubbed, like a child worrying at a favorite blanket.
Later, Katherine hugged North warmly and showered praise upon him for being so generous and good. North avoided Bunnymund's knowing look, and instead basked in the rare sensation of having Katherine's undivided attention. This did not go unnoticed by Bunnymund.
That night, North sat up in bed, in the dark, frowning at his desk sitting dormant across the room. It was a routine he was coming to loathe.
He had just swung his legs over the side of the bed to get up when he noticed a soft glow at the corner of his window. He stared at it quizzically for a few moments before allowing himself a small smile.
"Well, goodness," he said, loudly, "I don't know how I'll manage to sleep with a strange, glowing figure lurking outsde my window."
The glow disappeared sharply, and he added, "Oh no, now it's worse, because even though I can't see it, I know it's there. It's thoughts like that which keep a person awake."
Silence hung in the air for a few moments.
"It would be much better," said North, "for the source to come inside and make itself known."
There was no movement.
"It isn't locked," North added helpfully.
Slowly, timidly, the window squeaked open. North busied himself with rearranging his sheets so as to avoid watching Nightlight sneak into the room.
"Good night," he said pointedly, rolling over onto his other side. He closed his eyes firmly, and after a few moments, actually felt himself begin to relax.
"Good night," a soft voice said back as North drifted off to sleep.
It was a truce, anyway. They could sleep on that for now.