The hallway seemed to go on forever. Jack wrapped his arms tighter around Pitch for reassurance and Pitch dug his nails deeper into Jack's side. Jack hissed and winced and bit his lip when he felt Pitch's nail break through the fabric of his hoodie and dig into his skin. Jack buried his face in the crook of Pitch's neck. He could feel Pitch's neck muscles tighten in annoyance and Jack lifted his head.
Jack squinted when he saw a sliver of light at the end of the hall. The room they entered had a small window on the right wall that allowed light to enter. There was a small wooden table in the middle of the room with three legs holding it up. When they got closer Jack noticed that one end of the table looked rougher and more jagged than the other sides, like the table was originally longer but Pitch had broken the excess off when he realized he would never have guests.
Pitch dropped Jack to the floor. "Stay," he said pointing to Jack. With Jack on all fours, he felt like a dog at Pitch's feet.
Pitch walked around the table to take his seat.
"You eat?" Jack asked as Pitch picked up a fork.
"Of course I eat," Pitch said. "Don't you?"
"Not really. I mean, I don't need to eat," Jack said. "Every now and then, I might find something like a candy bar or something left out in the street and eat it but I don't usually get hungry."
"So you eat off the ground?" Pitch asked.
"Here then," Pitch said throwing a bit of what looked like a dead bird's wing on the floor beside Jack. There were still feathers attached to it.
"I'm not hungry," Jack said pointedly.
Pitch smirked and went back to eating.
Jack licked his lip and swallowed hard. His throat was sore. He eyed a bottle sitting on the table.
"What's that?" Jack asked pointing to it.
"Never mind, then."
"What, you don't drink?"
"Are you a lightweight?"
Jack glared and Pitch laughed.
"What do you thinks' gonna happen, Jack? Afraid you'll run your mouth off? Or afraid you'll hurt someone?" Pitch looked down at Jack. They locked eyes and Jack could tell Pitch knew the answer. Pitch always knew peoples greatest fears.
"You've seen so many people get hurt at the hands of drunkards and you know how emotional you get, what with starting blizzards when being invisible became too much for you to bare, and you caused people to suffer from hypothermia and die." Pitch said it so nonchalantly, as if the thought of someone dying didn't affect him in the slightest. Jack remembered all the people he had watched die from the blizzards he'd caused. He felt the guilt sear through his chest and he twisted his face up to try and make the memory go away.
Pitch waited for Jack to respond, but the boy said nothing.
"Do you remember anything after you get drunk?" Pitch asked.
"So you could've started a blizzard when you were drunk?"
Jack didn't answer. He just folded his arms and looked away.
"You're not very good at acknowledging when you've done something wrong, are you Jack?"
Jack still didn't look at Pitch.
"But what can you do now?" Pitch asked. "You're weak and you don't have your staff. The worst you'll do is yell at me and even if you lash out, I'll over power you."
Jack wasn't sure if this was Pitch's way of trying to make him feel better or worse; he had a feeling it was the latter.
"Here, grab a seat," Pitch said waving his hand in Jack's direction.
Jack was suddenly swept up by black smoke and forced into a sitting position across from where Pitch sat. The black smoke materialized into a chair underneath Jack and scooted him forward. Jack sucked in his gut when he came close to the jagged splinters protruding from his side of the table. Pitch poured the wine into a silver goblet and held it out for Jack to take.
"I don't want it."
"You said you were thirsty."
"I said I don't want it."
"Because if you don't do what I tell you, you're going back in the cage."
Jack twitched angrily. Sitting alone in a cage didn't sound like such a bad idea right now. When Jack swallowed and felt his throat tighten up, he decided to take the goblet. He lifted it to his nose and smelled it. It smelled musty and Jack wrinkled his nose.
"Why do you want me to drink it?" Jack asked.
"Why don't you want to?"
"You know why I don't want to. Why do you want me to?"
"Because you don't want to," Pitch answered plainly, a smirk forming in the corner of his lips.
Jack rolled his eyes. That sounded about right. Jack looked down into the dark liquid and swirled it around in the goblet. Pitch chuckled as he watched Jack swirl, sniff, swirl, sniff, and then finally take a small sip. The liquid stung his dry throat and Jack pursed his lips but it at least tasted better then it smelled. Jack didn't love the taste of wine, but on the rare occasions when he was thirsty he didn't mind drinking out of unfinished wine bottles he found lying around outside.
So he drank as Pitch continued eating.
And then he drank some more.
And one more.
And maybe just one more.
And this would be the last one.
"I think you've had enough."
"No, c'mon. Just one more…"
Pitch grimaced as Jack thrust the goblet in his face.
"C'mon. Don't be stingy…"
Pitch obliged. Jack reached out for the bottle but Pitch held it back and thrust the goblet back into Jack's hands.
Jack had also started talking. A lot. Mostly about the Guardians.
"…so we're at this meeting together, this was about a…about a week or so after Easter. So we're just talking about if Pitch comes… if you come back!" Jack threw his arm out at Pitch causing the Nightmare King to flinch and drop his utensils. He picked up his fork as Jack continued. "So if you came back…if you tried to, you know, kill us again, what would we do. Uhm, yeah, and I was eating somethi-I actually ate something that day!" Jack seemed proud of himself. Pitch pretended to be impressed and smiled and then rolled his eyes and went back to eating. "And I was using a fork, like you are, but not a knife life-like you are…" Pitch started to consider doing a few things with his knife besides eating. "And I guess I was holding it wrong 'cause the Eater Bunny, you know Bunny! The Easter Bunny started laughing and was all "That's not how ya hold a fork, mate"." Pitch twisted his mouth in disapproval at Jack's horrible attempt at an Australian accent.
"Like, like whaddyou expect, man? It's not like I've ever eaten with forks and knives before," Jack said as he began tipping slowly to the side. Pitch made a pointed motion with his index finger and black smoke pushed Jack upright. "It's like, wow, sorry I'm not as sophisticated as you Bunny! I mean, he wasn't even using a fork and a knife like what does he know. I think-I think he just looks for things I'm doing wrong all the time, y'know? Like, "jus' be sure you don't freeze anything, mate" like he thinks I can't control myself from freezing things! I know what I'm doing!"
Jack burped and Pitch waved his hand in front of his nose. He was starting to think he should've just left Jack on the floor with nothing to drink.
"According to him, to Bunny, I don't know how to do anything."
"Did he say that to you?"
"No. But I know that's what he thinks. I've seen the way he looks at me. I've seen the way he's always watching me, waiting for me to-" Jack burped. "-to mess up. I mean, like, he always jokes about me freezing something over it's like, would you get over it! So I caused a few blizzards and ruined Easter in some places but it was still spring in other par-parts of the world."
Jack leaned back in his seat and looked up at the ceiling. There was a iron chandelier with a few crystals hanging off the end that vaguely glittered in the faint light coming from the window. Pitch, who had been trying to block out Jack's incessant rambling, tilted his head to the side trying to get a better glimpse of the expression on Jack's face. His interest in the boy's story had peaked once the Easter Bunny was mentioned. Pitch knew all too well that Bunnymund was one to hold a grudge.
"Funny," Pitch said causing Jack's head to perk up. "How the Easter Rabbit's the Guardian of Hope and new beginnings and yet he can't seem to let things go." Pitch chuckled.
Jack sat up abruptly, throwing his arm out. "Right?!" Pitch jumped at Jack's outburst. "He can't just let things go! That's why I don't visit his warren 'cause if I break one of his eggs or I don't paint it right…heh…"that's not how you hold a paintbrush, mate", meh. He'd never let me visit him again anyway so why bother going?"
"You think you'd mess something up?"
"I think he'd find something I did wrong…"
"But you wouldn't do anything wrong? You wouldn't make any mistakes?"
"Well, I'm not saying I'm perfect…"
"That's good. Because you're not."
"No one's perfect, Jack."
"That still doesn't make me feel better."
"Who says I'm trying to make you feel better?" Pitch smirked.
Jack rolled his eyes and took a drink. His eyes crossed for a moment and then he shook his head. He leaned back and ran his free hand along the arm of his chair. It was smooth and surprisingly solid despite having been made out of shadows. The chair was comfortable after having been stuck sitting in a cage for so long. Jack stretched his back out and seethed in pain when he felt his muscles pull. He slowly bent over and rested his elbows on the table. He looked up at Pitch, who had been silently watching him with mild fascination. Jack wasn't sure what exactly was so interesting but assumed Pitch was enjoying Jack's pain.
"Well," Jack said as he brought his hand to his now throbbing forehead. "Even if you're not trying to make me feel better, thanks for at least letting me talk."
Pitch said nothing and looked away from Jack.
"I mean, I've tried talking to the Guardians about stuff," Jack said. "I used to talk to Sandy about stuff a long time ago but he was always busy so I hardly saw him. I still go to visit him sometimes but I don't talk to him about my problems anymore, I don't want to bother him." Jack's lower lip quivered. A lump formed in his throat and he swallowed hard. His throat was still pretty sore. "I've tried talking to Tooth about stuff but she's always busy, sometimes I don't think she even notices when I show up and take my teeth. I mean, I don't run away with them or anything! I stay at her palace when I look at my memories. I tried talking to North about the Man in the Moon once and he started going on about how great and wise and whatever 'Manny' was so that conversation didn't go anywhere." Jack laughed bitterly.
"North got me a bedroom at his place, and I want to think that he did it because he cares about me but I just feel like-like maybe he-" Jack's eyes crossed and he pursed his lips and scrunched his nose. He covered his mouth and waited for the feeling of throwing up to go away before continuing. "Maybe he wants to keep me around 'cause he wants to keep an eye on me because he thinks I'm gonna do something wrong. Like I said, I know Bunny always thinks I'm gonna do something wrong. And I really want to try talking to him, I don't hate him, I wanna be his friend. I've always wanted to be his friend but he just doesn't like me…he doesn't care about me. Nobody cares about me…"
Jack couldn't hold the tears back anymore.
"Oh my God." Pitch rolled his eyes and threw down his utensils. "Jack, the Guardians don't care about anyone."
Jack looked up, tears streaming down his face. His head was pounding and he had set down the goblet in order to grip his forehead with both hands. "What?"
"They're only concerned about a bunch of snot-nosed brats who they've never even met! They put all their time and effort in protecting children's innocence and happiness." Pitch had suddenly become very animated, using his hands excessively. "They waste their lives away to make sure that children have a toy or an egg or a coin under their pillow. But you know what's gonna happen? The kids are gonna lose interest in that toy after about a month, and that eggs gonna go bad by the next day, and the kids are gonna go out and spend that quarter on some hard candy that's gonna ruin those precious teeth she loves so much."
"But they do it anyway. They still work day and night to make sure that children have that brief shining moment of joy because they can't even imagine what their life would be like if they couldn't bring joy to children so they've based their very existence on the belief these kids have in them. And now they've roped you into it."
Jack lifted his head and winced at the sharp pang at his temple.
"And now that you're a Guardian, you've given your life to these children and there's nothing you can do to change that. All you can do is hope that they'll continue to believe in you, but that'll only last you so long."
Jack's chest sunk in and he closed his eyes, bowing his head in defeat. "Yeah." He hummed a laugh, a fleeting smile flashed across his face. "Wonder how long I'll still be here," he muttered.
"Depends on whether or not the children still believe in you."
"Yeah, I get that," Jack said.
"I'm not finished. You still have believers, obviously, or else you wouldn't still be here. All I have to do is keep it rooted in their minds that you're still out there somewhere and they won't have any reason to stop believing," Pitch said.
Jack's jaw dropped. "Wait. You'll make sure that kids still believe in me?"
"Well, I can't keep you here if you're not around to stay, right?" Pitch chuckled as he started to re-cork the wine bottle.
"You'd really do that?" Jack asked.
Pitch nodded without looking Jack's way.
There was obviously a catch. Jack wasn't going to be allowed to leave and Pitch was only willing to help so that he wouldn't be left alone with the night mares again, but Jack didn't think about that. After being stuck in a small dark space with nothing but his worst fears eating away at him for what felt like an eternity, this small act of kindness had considerably lifted Jack's spirits.
Without thinking, Jack reached out and took Pitch's hand in his own. Pitch's eyes darted from the wine bottle to Jack's hand over his own. They locked eyes for a moment and Pitch became increasingly uncomfortable with how genuinely grateful Jack looked.
"Thank you," Jack whispered.
Pitch looked back down at their hands and nervously bit his lip. He looked back up at Jack who was smiling at him. Pitch slowly slipped his hand out of Jack's grasp. He reached out for the goblet and took it back. "I think you've had enough to drink, Jack."
Jack laughed. "Seriously, though. Thank you. It-it means a lot."
"Mm, hm," Pitch hummed and he popped a shriveled berry into his mouth.
"Really. I mean, I know you don't care about me all that much, but…"
Pitch snorted. "I don't care about you at all, Jack. I don't care about anyone."
Jack pouted. He leaned forward only for his elbows to slip out from under him, catapulting his head forward and hitting the table. He muttered a small "ow" into the table and Pitch rolled his eyes. He pushed his seat back, stood up, and walked around the table to pick Jack up by his hood.
"I think it's time you went to bed, Jack."
Jack's chair dissolved into shadowy mist and Pitch dragged Jack out of the dining room.
"My head hurts," Jack moaned.
"I'm sure it does."
"I feel like a slug."
"You are a slug, Jack."
Jack's head hung limply as Pitch dragged him into his bedroom. There were no windows but light came from a fireplace on the right wall. Jack couldn't see anything else because Pitch had dropped him face first onto the bed.
"This is my bed but you can use it for now."
Jack rolled onto his side. He could make out Pitch's silhouette from the light in the fire place but otherwise, Pitch's face was covered in shadow. Pitch began to walk away but Jack reached out and grabbed the Boogeyman's arm.
Pitch wheeled around and glared at Jack.
"Will you stay?" Jack asked.
Pitch sneered. "Why?"
Jack said nothing. They both knew why.
Jack's hand slide down Pitch's arm and into Pitch's palm. Jack's hand was cool against Pitch's warmer skin.
"I don't think you'd get much rest with me around. I'll just give you nightmares."
"You gave me nightmares even when you weren't around," Jack said.
Pitch hummed in amusement.
Pitch sighed and sat on the edge of the bed. Jack looked up helplessly at Pitch for a while before letting his head drop against the pillow. It was softer, somehow, than the pillows in his room at North's workshop, or perhaps Jack had long since forgotten how those pillows felt in his time trapped behind iron bars. There was a sudden, fleeting image in Jack's mind of North sitting on Jack's empty bed, hunched over with his face in his hands. He seemed to be crying, or at least trying to hold back tears. Jack wondered if this was real or if he simply wanted to believe North missed him.
Jack squeezed Pitch's hand and pulled it close to his chest. Pitch winced and tried to wriggled his hand free. Feeling Pitch try to break free, Jack sighed sadly and released his grip. Pitch paused when he felt Jack loosen his grip. He began to slowly moved his fingers along Jack's palm before he laced both their fingers together.
A smile formed across Jack's face and he looked up at Pitch. Pitch scowled at Jack's beaming face.
"Go to sleep, Jack."
Jack's smile wavered before he let his head fall back on the pillow and close his eyes. Pitch unlaced his fingers from Jack's but never let go of the boy's hand. Holding hands was a foreign thing to Pitch. He had seen people do it but he had never done it himself. It was a strange feeling; slightly uncomfortable because he wasn't used to it, but he liked it. He liked the fact that there was somebody there. It was just unfortunate that that somebody had to be Jack. Pitch really didn't owe Jack anything; the boy had wanted nothing to do with him.
Jack rubbed his thumb along the back of Pitch's hand and peeked through one eye to see Pitch staring angrily at the floor.
Pitch looked at Jack.
"You-you can go if you want…"
"Thank you so much for giving me permission, Jack," Pitch said sarcastically.
Jack lowered his gaze to the floor. He looked back up when he realized Pitch wasn't walking away.
"What?" Pitch snapped.
"You don't have to stay here with me if you don't want."
Jack's eyebrows furrowed. Did Pitch want to stay with him? Jack decided to not bother asking and closed his eyes. He pulled Pitch's hand closer to his chest and began to drift off.
Jack wasn't freezing cold, but Pitch could feel that his hand was starting to go numb. Pitch wanted to laugh at the way Jack coddled Pitch's hand to his body the way a child would with a stuffed animal. It should have been funny how desperate for interaction Jack was that he would be holding his enemy's hand this way. Pitch couldn't laugh because deep down he knew he wanted this as much as Jack did. He was just as lonely and starved for affection as Jack was.
Jack curled into himself and Pitch felt the tip of Jack's nose rub against his index finger. Pitch knew if Jack held on any longer, Pitch would start to lose feeling in his hand. After a brief hesitation, Pitch's hand evaporated into shadows and slipped out of Jack's grip. Jack mumbled but seemed otherwise unaffected.
Pitch stood up and rubbed his hands together. He blew on his hands before rubbing again and looked over at Jack. He was mumbling something in his sleep but Pitch couldn't hear what he was saying. Pitch hovered over Jack, trying to hear him. He leaned in closer and closer until he could barely make out:
At least that's what it sounded like.
Pitch gently moved a few strands of hair out of Jack's face. Jack shuddered but never opened his eyes. He was fast asleep.
Jack continued to murmur in his sleep. Pitch rubbed his fingers together. He could feel something twist inside his chest, and he couldn't help himself from rubbing Jack's back or from leaning in closer, his lips dangerously close to Jack's temple as though he was about to kiss the boy goodnight. Jack mumbled something that sounded like: "Don't leave." Pitch flinched and bolted upright.
He looked down at his hand and then back at Jack. Jack curled his fingers around the edge of his sleeve and whimpered softly into the covers. He started curling into himself. There was a horrible memory itching at the back of Pitch's mind when he had done something similar on a night where the loneliness was too much to bear.
Pitch snarled and began walking away. The whimpering was getting louder. Jack was trembling and muttering something under his breath.
Pitch knew that Jack was scared; scared of being left alone again. He wanted to just leave Jack like this, he should've been enjoying Jack's pain.
It was small and quiet but Pitch heard it. He growled and threw his head back in annoyance. He sat back on the edge of the bed and began rubbing Jack's back again. Jack's lip quivered but his crying started to die down. He continued to mumble tiny words into the bed sheets but Pitch couldn't hear them. He leaned over to listen better.
"I'm sorry…I'm sorry…"
At this point, Pitch wasn't sure if Jack was really asleep or not. He waved his free hand in front of Jack's face but Jack didn't flinch. He must've been half-asleep.
Pitch pressed his hand into Jack's back and rubbed it in circular motions. Jack's eyebrows pinched once the physical contact had registered and he relaxed. Pitch ghosted his hand along Jack's hair and paused at the back of Jack's neck.
Pitch wouldn't give Jack any nightmares, not tonight at least. He would let Jack rest, for now.
Okay, I'm cheating a little bit. I've barely even begun chapter 8 but I figured I'd update since it's been a month since my last update and with summer school starting tomorrow, I probably won't have much time to work on the next few chapters so…here ya go!
This chapter was mainly about getting a dialog started between Jack and Pitch and getting Pitch to kind of sort of like Jack a little bit. I'm sure there was some other way to do it, but I really wanted to get Jack drunk for some reason so this was the result. I think it works out though, what about you guys?
One of the reviewers, Lex, had asked whether this was going to turn into a Jack/Pitch story or if it would remain general. The story will focus on Jack and Pitch's platonic relationship. The two of them will get…urm…intimate later but not in a sexual way.
Enjoy. I'll hopefully be able to get to working on chapters 8 and 9 before the end of June. :)