Something bright and golden roused Pitch from his slumber. "Sanderson, turn off the lamp," he muttered, squeezing his eyes shut and burying his face into the couch cushion.
When the couch cushion instead felt like cold, hard ground, his eyes popped open and he sat up with a start. He was in the forest outside his lair, and the light that had woken him up was the Sandman himself, curled up next to him and fast asleep.
Pitch's gaze followed the grains of glittering sand that hovered in the sleeping man's hair. He reached out, as if to catch one, then stared at his own arm. The black fabric of his robe faded into his wrist, and his hand was gray. Tentatively, he flexed his fingers. Black shadows slithered up between them.
"We're ourselves again," he whispered, as if afraid to believe it. He gently shook Sandman awake. "We're not human anymore, Sanderson. We've got our powers back!"
Sandman sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes. Impatient for the little man to join him in celebration, Pitch leapt to his feet and stretched his arms wide. He felt like laughing. He felt like howling. Shadows flew from his arms to play among the trees, darting around branches and hiding behind the colorful leaves.
Leaves. Pitch frowned. Why were there leaves still on the trees? He looked up at the constellations in the night sky, checking their position. They did not lie. It was the same November night he had fallen asleep, wishing bitterly that he wasn't alone.
The playful shadows melted into the darkness and disappeared. Had the last two months really never happened? Had it all been a dream?
Pitch's eyes narrowed. Sandman must be responsible for this. A shadow scythe formed in his hands and he clenched it, enraged. Old wounds reopened as he remembered the repeated humiliation he had suffered while asleep. It felt like a betrayal. Had he almost thought of the sadistic little dream-weaver as a friend?
His lips pulled back in a snarl as he turned and raised his scythe, intending to cut the other man clean through.
Sandman was staring at the trees with a question mark above his head. It was only because he looked so lost and confused that Pitch hesitated, but it was a long enough moment of uncertainty for Sandman to notice the scythe and jump back several feet.
But instead of creating sand whips, the Guardian of Dreams merely held out his hands in a gesture of supplication. I don't know what happened, either. Give me time to think, the symbols above his head pleaded.
Pitch lowered the scythe a fraction of an inch. "Make it quick," he growled.
Tiny sand spirals danced between the dream-weaver's fingers as he paced in a circle, deep in thought, until a look of realization dawned on his golden face. Symbols flashed above his head too rapidly for Pitch to understand.
"You're speaking nonsense, old man." Pitch sighed in exasperation and lowered his arms. The scythe disappeared. "Start from the beginning."
A moon appeared over Sandman's head as he tried explaining again, this time more slowly. Pitch grimaced. "He told you to look for me? Well, naturally, you'll do anything that decrepit crater-face tells you. Sneaking up on me while I'm asleep, though, that's a low one even for you…"
Sandman shook his head. I wasn't planning to attack you. You were surrounded by fearlings. I made them go away.
Pitch felt his cheeks burn. "Well, good for you. Your good deed for the day, was it? Why didn't you just leave afterwards?"
It was Sandman's turn to look embarrassed. I fell asleep. I try not to do that around other dreamers. The sand can merge.
"So somehow we shared a dream, is that what you're telling me?"
We shared more than that. Sandman looked at him meaningfully.
"The wish." Pitch looked away, a scowl on his face. "We may have made the same wish, but it was still nothing more than an illusion."
Sandman approached him and gently tugged at something wrapped around the Boogeyman's neck. Not quite.
Pitch looked down. He was wearing the scarf Sandman had gotten him for Christmas. He ran his fingers along the fabric in disbelief. "How… how is this possible…?"
Sandman floated up so they were eye-to-eye. He gently touched the shooting star pin stuck into his ascot. I don't know.
"What do you mean you don't know? Was it real or not?" Pitch balled his hands into fists. "Answer me, Sanderson! Was it a dream or was it real?"
Does it matter? The dream-weaver pursed his lips together, but his gaze was soft and vulnerable. It doesn't matter to me.
"Of course it doesn't to you, O Guardian of Dreams," Pitch replied sarcastically, but there wasn't much heat in his words. "What I also doesn't understand is why you of all people would wish not to be alone."
Sandman smiled. He showed a shooting star crash into a familiar planet. A little figure of him and Pitch walked the globe, sometimes facing towards one another, sometimes facing away, but never far apart. The other Guardians appeared, but the tiny Sandman was not standing next to them. They are my friends, but they are not like me.
"And you think we have more in common," Pitch remarked dryly, crossing his arms.
Sandman's smile grew. He lifted up his hands. Stars and planets and elegant ships spiraled out of sand and whirled above their heads.
The celestial view brought out a deep sense of longing from within Pitch. He was suddenly afraid, too, of something new and fragile that he couldn't yet name. He hid his anxiety with a sharp smirk. "So, then, our wish came true. Very well. Are we to be friends? Amigos? Spend our days playing chess and gossiping over cups of tea?" Tendrils of shadow radiated from his body and a dangerous glint appeared in his eyes. "And what if I decide that I want to be seen again, to be believed in so strongly that there isn't any room for your dreams? What will you do then?"
Sandman raised his eyebrows, his smile turning sly. An image appeared above his head of himself with a paddle in one hand and Pitch bent over his knees.
Pitch blushed furiously and waved his arms above Sandman's head, trying to erase the image. "Be serious!" he barked. "We've been enemies for millennia! What makes you think things will be different now?"
The dream changed us. You talked. I listened. Maybe we can keep doing that. He looked at Pitch hopefully. I liked not being alone. Didn't you?
"Yes," Pitch admitted quietly, the memories of their time together out-weighing his pride. He cleared his throat. "All right. I suppose, considering what we've been through, it's only fair to call a truce." Sandman beamed and clapped his hands. Pitch glared at him. "But that doesn't mean we'll be friends!"
You'd prefer us to be something else, then? The golden man hovered closer, a crafty look in his eyes, and Pitch suddenly felt nervous.
"No. I take that back. We can be friends." Sandman placed a hand on Pitch's scarf and trailed it up to his neck. "Good friends." He watched as the little man leaned in and lightly nipped at the fabric. "The best of friends, stop it right now you glitter-dusted lunatic!"
Sandman chuckled silently and floated out of Pitch's personal space.
"I honestly do not understand how anyone tolerates you." Shadows pulled at Pitch's feet. "But that is a puzzle for another time. I need to return to my work, and I suspect you do, too."
The Guardian of Dreams nodded and turned to leave. Pitch cleared his throat. "Perhaps… tomorrow. We could meet here again. To talk."
He expected the huge grin to appear on Sandman's face.
He did not expect the tackle-like hug and manic ruffling of his hair.
"Argh!" Pitch grabbed Sandman and threw him off, sending the dream-weaver somersaulting through the air. "Blast it, old man! I have an image to maintain!"
Sandman righted himself and formed a jetpack with his sand. He waved cheekily before blasting off into the night. Pitch watched him leave while he smoothed down his hair, a faint smile passing over his face.
Far above, the moon watched over them both.
((AN: Thanks to everyone who read and enjoyed my story. I appreciated every word of encouragement. I will be writing a sequel, but I will not be posting it here. Instead, I will use my account at Archive of Our Own (notastranger). Please look for me there! 3))