Pitch remembered the first time he saw Jack Frost. Not met - "met" implied conversation - and Jack hadn't been capable of it at the time.
Pitch knew all of mankind's fears, past and present, so it was rare for him to come across a new one.
"The invisible angel", they called it. An outline in the snow, human in shape, leaves and pinecones falling on and around it as if something was physically there, but human hands passed through it.
Pitch knew better than to tread where demons might walk, but there had been no demon sightings in a very, very long time. He couldn't help but be curious.
Strange to find the invisible angel was nothing more than a boy. A dead boy's spirit, clearly - still of limbs and lungs, and untouchable by human hands - but something about it caught his interest.
Its face was pale but soft. Peaceful.
Pitch left the body as it was, though his mind occasionally dredged that memory back up whenever he let it wander over the passing years.
Four decades slipped by before Pitch found his attention called back to another ghost in the snow. War had stolen the word "angel" from children's tongues, but Pitch could guess what he would find in the vicarage garden.
Same body, different location. It scared children and upset their parents. Boys of this age weren't coming home.
Pitch disliked interfering with the work of those who gave his own business a boost, but he had no intentions of leaving the spirit to be exorcised.
Pitch scooped up the body, smiled as he felt a child watching from a nearby window start shivering. He doubted they understood what they were seeing, but their fear was no less real for it.
The body in his arms was light, still clutching the staff it had wielded in life protectively, and Pitch carried it across to the town cemetery as soon as a shift of clouds gave him the shadows for an easy journey.
Pitch stroked the boy's hair back from his face after propping both body and staff up against the wall of an aging tomb, allowed his fingers to linger against the boy's ear for a moment. He'd encountered angry spirits and miserable spirits before - no ghost lingered unless it had met an end cruel enough to scar the world it walked in - but this spirit he'd only ever found lying down, as if it had simply died in its sleep and forgotten to pass on.
Pitch wondered if Sanderson would ever allow a sleeping spirit to dream. He would have loved to see the peaceful creature's nightmares.
Putting two and two together was disappointing when Pitch first encountered a conscious Jack Frost. As a ghost, Jack had fascinated him. As a potential guardian - if a reluctant one, given what his fraught relationship with the others implied - Pitch couldn't help but lose interest.
It wasn't until Jack tore his nightmares apart with a blast of ice shards that Pitch thought maybe, just maybe, Jack was worth pursuing. With Sanderson defeated and the fairy helpers caught, the Guardians were weak. Turning Jack over to his side, or at least weakening his attachment to the Guardians, that could be the weight he needed to tip the balance in his favour.
It wasn't hard to find Jack's teeth - not when Jack's fear of losing his memories was fresh and shining, making his container seem to glow amongst the others. It hadn't demanded attention from Pitch's eyes before.
Pitch looked at the brunette boy with Jack's features and wondered at the change, wondered what memories were held by those teeth, before pushing the thoughts down and out of the way.
His nightmares were powerful beasts, but unruly, and he had Easter to destroy.
In a fair world, defeating three guardians out of four would have meant victory.
It wasn't until the nightmares were through with him that bitterness and misery overpowered Pitch's fear long enough for him to realise he had not lost so much as he'd had his victory stolen.
Vengeance had given him strength so many times before, but as he sat at the top of a staircase, watching the nightmare he had thrown down it collapse into tainted sand, his hate only made him weak. Envy was no source of strength.
Pitch needed the fear of others to survive, and no child feared him the night their Sandman returned.
Nor did they fear him the night after. Or the night after that.
Pitch did not know why the man in the moon wanted him not only defeated but buried, and he could only curl up in the shadows cast by his home and wait to be forgotten.
Don't be dead
Please don't be dead, I didn't mean to kill you
Please don't be dead
Pitch hadn't felt warm in a long time, but he could feel it settling in his stomach as a panicky chant echoed in the world above him. It was just one person's fear, not enough to take the chill out of his skin or give strength back to his frozen limbs, but enough to remind him he was alive.
Don't be dead, don't be dead, please don't be dead
Pitch felt the pull of that fear like a magnet, stronger and clearer than any he had felt in years because it was one kind of fear, from one person, and aimed so clearly at him personally.
Pitch sank into the shadows and stepped out into a bitterly familiar clearing, saw the person responsible, and laughed the second he recognised their face.
Of all the indignities.
Jack's fear turned to relief as soon as he saw Pitch, sapping the little warmth he'd given Pitch with his frightened mantra, and Pitch felt Jack's arms catch him as he stumbled.
"How the tables have turned," Pitch mumbled as he collapsed altogether.
No nightmares came to him. No dreams either.
Pitch woke to find Jack sat next to him, propped up against a tree with the staff tucked comfortably under one arm, keeping up his defences even in sleep.
Moonlight made Jack's white stand out all the more next to Pitch's grey, and Pitch caught one of Jack's arms with his hand, shook Jack to wake him without success.
Pitch wondered what it was about Jack that let him die in his sleep without ever passing on.
Then again, with the moon's touch evident in Jack's hair and Jack's skin, maybe it was just that the man in the moon was too possessive to let Jack go.
"Why you?" Pitch asked, searching Jack's face for an answer and finding none. Jack didn't stir, his skin cold to the touch, lips faded to blue in his sleep. In every way that mattered, Jack was dead.
Pitch stroked his hand from Jack's arm down to his wrist, felt the lack of pulse, and frowned at the thought that for all Jack had done, for all Jack represented, all Pitch could see in that moment was something beautiful.
Pitch knelt between Jack's legs and leant forward, pressed Jack's lips open with his own, and breathed into him.
Jack's exhale was an empty, reflexive thing, and Pitch climbed to his feet, dusted the snow from his own clothes before dipping back into the shadows and leaving Jack behind.
His touch protected others from demons and ghouls. He guarded fear.
Strange that he was the one being haunted.
One of the glorious qualities of fear was how it could not be killed. Pitch felt bruises healing and cuts scabbing over as children ran into everyday fears - getting lost in marketplaces, catching glimpses of movies they weren't meant to watch, hiding after breaking the treasures of their parents.
Dirt crumbled from the ceiling of his home, and Pitch looked up to see a dark, clouded sky. Freedom to exit and enter as he wished.
He doubted it was a sign of forgiveness on the man in the moon's part.
It wasn't until Pitch heard hammering on another night that he thought to look up again and saw a glimpse of familiar white hair.
Pitch stepped out of the shadows of the forest, calling a scythe to his hand, and watched Jack pick through wooden dowels and metal bolts, occasionally fitting them into larger slabs of wood before setting the pieces aside.
Pitch let the scythe dissolve. "What are you doing?"
"Pitch! I, uh," Jack started, putting down his tools carefully and scratching the back of his neck. "It's meant to be a surprise."
Pitch looked at the hammer and looked at the re-opened path to his home, less than three feet away, before laughing. Of course this was Jack's idea of subtlety. "When did you become a carpenter?"
"Apparently I wasn't bad in my last life," Jack replied, shrugging before handing Pitch a paper leaflet, "But I'm cheating, this one's from Ikea."
Pitch let the shadows of the woods cover him as he read through the leaflet, hiding his features in the dark before they could give anything away. He checked the booklet twice to make sure he had not misread. "You're building a bed."
"I felt guilty about the last one," Jack said, expression uneasy.
Guilt Pitch could understand. Guilt Pitch was familiar enough with to handle. He couldn't remember the last time someone had given him a gift. "Do you want forgiveness?" Pitch asked, trying to sneer but finding he couldn't quite make the expression convincing.
"I can't say no to that," Jack said before holding his hand out for the leaflet, "But I just want to set the record straight. Or balance. Whatever."
Pitch handed the paper over and took another step back into the shadows, enough to disappear from sight altogether in Jack's eyes, but close enough to watch him work.
He didn't know if Jack expected a reaction once the bedframe was finished, but judging by the fact Jack maneuvered it back over the entrance to Pitch's home without calling for assistance, it seemed not.
Pitch stared at the bedframe for a long time after Jack left.
Jack didn't return until the Spring and Summer of that year had passed. In all honesty, Pitch hadn't expected him to return at all.
Pitch wasn't sure what Jack's decision to sleep on the bed above his lair meant. He didn't know if it was a taunt - a way for Jack to show how little he feared Pitch - or if it was a peace offering for the exact same reason.
He didn't understand how someone who lived their life as frantically as Jack did could sleep like that.
Pitch allowed the shadows under the bed to lengthen, moved with them to kneel at Jack's bedside, and pressed a hand firmly against Jack's chest, shoving hard.
Jack moved a little but didn't wake, and Pitch frowned before letting his fingers slide under Jack's hoodie, feeling the cold skin of Jack's bare stomach.
"What are you?" Pitch asked, hating that no one made him question himself as Jack did. He'd been defeated before, been ground into the dirt and forgotten, but he'd never felt it sink deep into his skin until Jack was first involved.
Perhaps that was why. Jack represented hope more effectively than its guardian ever did.
Pitch wondered what would wake Jack. Wondered what it would feel like to sink his teeth into the frozen-white skin, or to slide his fingers over and into all of Jack's hidden places. Jack couldn't stop him, if he wanted to.
In the end, that was the same reason why he let Jack go. What was the point in having Jack if it was without his consent? What sort of victory could he find in taking Jack against his will?
Pitch straightened Jack's hoodie and waited in the shadows for him to wake up.
Jack didn't seem to notice how the bare wooden slats of the bedframe creaked when he sat up, or care about where he would fall to if they happened to break beneath him.
"You looked after me," Jack said, his expression shy but gaze unfaltering once it found Pitch's eyes in the dark. "I spent years trying to guess how I moved or who did it, but it was you."
Pitch frowned, wondering what game Jack was playing at. "I thought you were dead. It was only a courtesy."
Jack leant forward, hugging his own stomach as if he could feel the cold for once. "I did die," Jack said, "but that never scared you, did it?"
"Of course it didn't," Pitch snarled. He controlled fear, and until Jack and the Guardians defeated him, he'd rarely had the joy of experiencing it.
"I don't know how to tell the others," Jack admitted, finally revealing why he'd made a point of visiting Pitch when anyone else would have accepted their victory and left the loser to lick his wounds. "Cemeteries and drowned kids aren't really their thing."
Pitch thought through his options. Laughing at Jack's plight. Spitting the confession back at him. Jack had left him alone before.
But Jack was the only one who had ever come back.
Pitch stepped out of the shadows, offering Jack a hand to help him stand up, and stroking Jack’s hair back from his face with the other. It didn't escape his notice how Jack flinched at first, or how Jack leaned into the touch once he realised it wasn’t meant as an attack. "I can be here for you," Pitch said, his fingertips pressing past hair to the cool skin of Jack's scalp, "But I may never be kind."
Pitch bent over and kissed Jack, found his pink, waking lips pliant compared with how they had been when blue and sleeping, the soft exhales through Jack’s nose strangely reassuring. "I can work with 'may'," Jack said.
Time had stolen patience from both of them, Jack clinging and desperate for touch, Pitch eager to learn every inch of skin Jack had previously hidden from sight. It didn't allow the moment to stretch on, didn't allow it to be committed to memory in full, but when Pitch buried his face in Jack's hair afterwards in a tangle of limbs and scattered clothes, moments stood out that he'd never forget.
The first press of Jack's lips to his neck. The gasp from Jack when Pitch drove a thigh up between Jack's legs for him to grind against. Jack's hands on his bare shoulders, gentle and almost reverent before they turned hungry.
Jack's mouth on his cock.
It was freeing to be able to stroke Jack's bare chest without guilt while he slept, feeling the lack of movement, the way the skin lost any heat Pitch's touch gave to it within seconds.
Pitch doubted he would ever understand why Jack's ability to be so still had caught his attention when other spirits and Guardians had never been a source of great interest to him. Perhaps it was the contrast between his waking form and sleeping form. Perhaps it was the fact he embodied the source of so many fears.
Pitch curled tighter around Jack, drew the shadows over them like a blanket, and wondered why a boy who'd stolen victory from him made him feel safer than any darkness could.