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The Flutter of Breath

Chapter Text

Daddy, wake up.

Golden eyes flew open, frantically searching the darkness for any sign of movement as he gasped for breath, fighting off the vague feeling of suffocation. The room that he found himself in, the throne room of his lair was darker than it usually was due to the lack of entryway from the outside world, but the loss of light made no difference to his sharp eyes. Faintly he could see the outline of one of his Nightmares lingering in the shadows, but he could discern no others in his periphery. Probably a good thing, as now that he was able to establish the lack of immediate danger the Nightmare King could feel the keen ache of his injuries making themselves known and could not help but let out a soft groan of discomfort. Being sprawled out on the cold stone of the floor for who knows how long did nothing to help matters. Thank whatever gods there were that he was immortal.

Not quite sure how he had managed to get to this room in particular, but not really caring, Pitch allowed his head to lull to the side. A light layer of dust had settled on the floor, giving some hint as to how long he had been unconscious. The Nightmare King was disgusted but it distant, almost as if the emotion belonged to someone else. Surely there were far more sanitary and comfortable places to rest than the cold stone underneath empty cages of annoyingly colorful molted fairy feathers.

Everything hurt and as he moved to sit his ribs seemed to scream at him the loudest for the abuse, causing a sharp, burning ache to skitter up his sides. Barely leaning on his elbows, Pitch screwed his eyes closed and tightened his jaw in preparation for what was to follow. There really was no other way, not unless he was to continue to lie on the floor the rest of eternity. So with one last shallow breath, the dark man forced himself into an upright standing position, resolutely ignoring the agony that the movement shot up and down his spine. Will power alone could not stop the world from graying at the edges of his vision, unfortunately, and Pitch knew that he was only seconds from collapsing back onto the hard stone floor again when he felt a solid form to his side keeping him upright. It took a moment for him to recognize the familiar semi-solidness of the Nightmare but Pitch was no less grateful for the assistance that one of the beings that had aided in his downfall was willing to provide.

“Good girl,” he whispered to the beast, chuckling slightly when it turned her head to lip gently at his clothed shoulder. The Fearlings had always been nasty creatures that made his skin crawl but the Nightmares came with some mild fondness. And while the brief affection was all well and good, Pitch knew that he had to start moving while he still had a little amount of strength left to do so. Lingering was of no use to anyone. Resolutely he reached out with one grayed hand and nudged on the mare’s head, silently indicating what he required from her. The mare needed no other prompting and began sedately walking from the darkness of the throne room toward the private quarters of the darkened lair.

He was grateful for his reputation at that moment in keeping others out of his home, as it meant that there was no reason that his rooms could not be close by to his holding chambers. Not that it did him much good anyway. The man and beast had just hardly made their way across the room and into the hallway before his strength began to leave him and he could feel his knees begin to buckle. It was only a split second adjustment of the mare at his side that had Pitch sliding down with her to the floor rather than tumbling down face first.

“Damn it all,” he hissed tiredly. Pitch had never had to face this type of weakness before and the mere thought of it infuriated the dark man. How dare they. HOW DARE THEY!

Those stupid guardians probably didn't know, and if he was honest, didn't care about the damage that they had caused him during their little battle. What true harm could they really do a millennia old immortal? Four against one was bad enough without that little cretin, Sandman, using his sand to fling him around like a child’s rag-doll. Yes, he had had the dream sand to work with and the Nightmares, but what was that in comparison to the powers of all the Guardians combined? What could possibly be worse than being cut down in front of the very beings that he had tried to instill a feeling of fearful respect? And then to have his own Fearlings drag him away had been rather embarrassing, sure, but the worst had been the feeling of all the power that he had worked so hard to regain over the centuries drain away because of those little brats that shouldn't have been a part of the conflict anyway. At least when he had fallen with the Dark Ages there had still been enough belief in him that though he was weakened he was still a force to be reckoned with. Now though, there was nothing to draw on but his own determination and that was quickly dwindling to nothing.

Pitch was brought back to the moment when he felt a tugging on the sleeve of his robes and turned his head to look at the mare calmly trying to get his attention. The Nightmare neighed softly when she saw that she had his notice and began to discorporate. Pitch panted in pain as the mare rematerialized underneath him, jostling his wounds and was quick to grab onto her mane to keep from sliding back to the floor. Gold eyes screwed up again as the sudden movement caused his stomach to rebel and try to remove any nonexistent food from his body. The Nightmare King made himself to take even, shallow breaths to keep from being violently ill as his mare continued on her way down the dim corridor. He could hardly blame the beast for his condition, she was only trying to help, but every step was agony and he was forced to press his face into her mane.

From the intensity of the sickness, Pitch could hazard a guess that he had been out for well more than a couple of hours, perhaps even days and that did not bode well for his chances of gaining his powers back in any quick manner. Regardless of how many nightmares came back to him, the general healing of his wounds would be primarily up to his own strength and there was not much of that to be found at the moment. Stomach jolting again when the mare came to a stop, he pulled his face out of the soft sand that made up her mane and glanced about. The beast had brought him to his room, not that there was much to make it his more than any other room in the place. The walls were black marble, just as the rest of the lair was, and a few candles in sconces on the walls provided the only illumination in the darkness. There was little evidence that anyone had used this room in the recent past other than a few books on a bedside table and the dark grey sheets on the midsized bed that was pushed against the far wall. Outside of these few pieces of furniture, the room was bare of any and all items that may have made it more comfortable. Pitch had never minded this lack of personality in the room; he had never had many possessions to begin with and those that he truly cared about were kept on his person at all times.

With another groan, Pitch pushed himself up and practically fell onto the bed, stifling a scream when the pain flared up intensely with the careless motion. His vision darkened and the nausea that had threatened before came back relentlessly and proceeded to beat his head in with a dull spoon. Wave after wave of the intense feeling hit him for what could have been hours for all he knew, twisting and pulling his insides into rather creative origami, before slowly beginning to abate and he let out the breath that he hadn't realized he was holding. Laying where he was, with his left arm at his side and his right over his chest, legs askew and the sheets pooled around his frame, Pitch tried to regulate his breathing once again.

Once he felt like he was no longer careening into empty space, he opened his eyes to focus on the ceiling, the Nightmare King noticed that any light that had once filtered into the room had long been extinguished and the mare was gone from his side. It didn't matter. He was used to the darkness, it was what he was. And being alone was also nothing new, as he had spent hundreds of years in this very place without another being outside of the Fearlings…not that they counted as company. The lack of light did limit his choices of what he could do at the moment, though. While his vision in the dark was supreme in comparison to other spirits, trying to read in such cases was extremely difficult and he doubted that he was up for the task at the moment. Anything else required movement on his part and Pitch was loathe to do anything that even made him blink funny at this point. So the only real option that he had was to push himself into sleep and hope that he had healed more thoroughly when he next came around.

Already he could feel bone trying to realign themselves for healing and the multitude of cuts and scrapes had already scarred from his tenure on the throne room floor. His entire body felt like one giant bruise, each pulse of blood causing a numbing ache that would take days proper to stop. He couldn't remember the last time he’d been wounded this badly, to the point where he could barely move without pain, however, just because he couldn't remember it didn't mean it hadn't happened. Maybe not as the King of Nightmares but as someone else and now sleep seemed so much more palatable than these confusing shadow memories.

With a sigh he forced his tense muscles to relax into the cool fabric beneath him and closed his eyes once more, ready to lose himself to the peaceful oblivion that was unconsciousness. It was quiet for now, and he was sure that if something were to arise that needed his attention- the Nightmares would wake him. All that was needed for now was to heal and regain his strength. As he allowed his mind to fade into the black, his fingers inched up his chest to the skin right over his heart where a little lump formed under the flesh and stoked the area gently. The fingers passed over once, twice, and then he knew no more.

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It was the stillness that next woke him. Through the years, Pitch had grown used to the subtle shifts in the air that came with the passing of a Fearling or more recently a Nightmare, sort of the way one becomes used to the gentle sound of electricity in the house, a sound that lay in the background of all other noise. It becomes a constant, unnoticeable in the day to day passing of life, but the moment this white noise is gone, the silence explodes around you without this gentle buffer.

Now, there was no movement of any kind in the lair. No Fearlings swooped through the shadows, no Nightmares skittering across the stone. It was almost suffocating. Even in the most sedate of times there was always some sort of movement somewhere in the depths of the darkness, but now there was only stillness.

Something was wrong and Pitch lie still for a moment, hoping vainly that some small whisper of something would reach him. But in his life, the only luck that he had ever known was bad luck, and now was no exception.

Slowly, so as not to aggravate any lingering wounds, Pitch pushed himself to a sitting position assessing the room as he went. There was no hiding in the dark from the man who made an art form out of utilizing the shadows. Golden eyes swept over every corner that may conceal something or someone and came away with the assurance that, at least in this room, he was alone. That didn’t mean much. Quickly doing an inventory of himself, Pitch was able to ascertain that while his bones had healed and the scars where mostly gone, he was nowhere near peak form. His limbs were stiff from abuse and lack of use, aches still covered his body, and a general weariness clung to him like a cloak in the rain. Enough to get around but not much else.

Despite this, something was not right in his lair and Pitch needed to find out what it was before it began to cause major problems. Rising from the bed, he made his way slowly to the doorway and placed his hand upon the metal of the door’s handle. The metal was cool under his skin, but not nearly as cool as the ice that seemed to shoot down his spine. The last that he recalled, the door to this room had been left open as the mare had brought him through and he had not had the inclination to close it at the time. The Nightmares could touch things, but there was not enough strength in them to move something as heavy as a door without many of them working at it and the Fearlings would never bother even if they could. So that left the question as to whom.

Someone or something had been roaming about in his lair, had been in his room with him uninvited while he was at his most vulnerable and that was not a comforting thought. Pitch called to the shadows and opened the door as his scythe materialized in his hand, stepping out into the dark of the corridor as it finished. Nothing appeared to be amiss, but something in the back of his mind told the Nightmare King that something was waiting for him further in the tunnels. Steeling himself against the wrongness in the air, Pitch began to creep down the length of the hall, silently calling to his Nightmares and Fearlings. He was disturbed but not altogether surprised when he felt no answer to his summons.

He moved silently, his boots making no noise upon the stone as he continued, making his way to the throne room. That was where whatever had made itself at home in his lair was hiding, he was sure of it. Pitch followed that feeling to the end of the corridor and allowed himself one more moment of preparation before peeking into the darkness beyond. He was in no condition for a fight and if things dissolved into one, he had to be on his guard.

Nothing obvious met his gaze, no disturbances in the dust on the floor, no break in the darkness of the shadows. Cautiously he stepped out into the room, being sure not to venture far from the wall. When nothing rushed out to meet him, Pitch allowed himself further into the room hoping to get a feel for whatever was here and when he felt the tell-tale feel of shadows upon his free hand the dark man froze. He knew what it was immediately, it was the mare that had helped him in his weakness, but the fact that he hadn't even felt her before she touched him caused the blaring feeling of wrongness in his head to only increase. He slowly allowed his hand to move over her and rest on her neck, never allowing his gaze to leave the darkness around him.

Under his fingers he could feel the mare trembling lightly causing his anxiety to ratchet up. What did it mean when something scared a being of fear itself? Minutes passed and neither moved, eyes carefully watching for any discrepancy in the shadows that might allow some clue as to where the feeling of danger was coming from and when one of the shadows shifted slightly both were instantly on guard for attack.

But the second that it took for the air in the room to shift and become so thin as to almost not exist, Pitch knew it was too late.