Bitty looked through the window at Rebecca Fowler. She was 6 years old - had been play fighting with her brothers and managed to knock loose her front tooth. He could feel the tug of the incisor through the glass, calling him, making sure he didn’t pass this house and miss the chance to switch it out with a shiny coin.
He’d been there for half an hour, and although he’d been telling himself that he’d simply been making sure that the little girl was asleep, he knew in his heart all he was doing was stalling. Putting off the inevitable.
He’d been sent out into the field - his final test - to bring back a handful of teeth within the month. It wasn’t hard - not with the amount of kids in the world. Nice easy jobs for the graduating ToothFairy. All the tests and practices were over, this was the real thing. And Bitty was terrified.
“It’s a nice easy one.” Bitty told himself, not for the first time. “She’s sound asleep - look at her. She’s out. It’s now or never…” He swallowed and squared up his shoulders, ghosting through the glass and setting his feet carefully on the fluffy rug under the window. He tried to remind himself of all the things he had learned - how everyone had been so proud of his soft, swift fingers, so easily skimming under pillows with lightning speed. He’d impressed his tutors and topped his classes on Sweets, Desserts and Sodas…
And then he’d been put in the field.
“You can do this.” He whispered, gingerly stepping forward, gentle feet making no sound on as he carefully placed one foot in front of the other.
There was a soft click, and Bitty froze on the spot. In another part of the house he could hear the TV playing some sport - the low murmur of her parents talking - but that wasn’t what he’d heard. This was much nearer…
The closet door slowly opened, and a liquid shadow seeped out along the floor like an oil spill in the water, creeping up the walls until half the room was pitch black. Bitty faded out - removing himself from the physical form he would need to swap the tooth, becoming nothing more than another shadow in the darkening room. Just in time too, it seemed, because Rebecca wasn’t as asleep as he’d thought - he heard her breath hitch as the darkness filled the room, every corner a deep, unwavering shadow that seemed to swallow up the soft glow of the nightlight by the bed.
Bitty watched as the long, liquid tendrils drifted up the coverlet, saw the moment that Rebecca hauled in a deep breath, eyes wide with fear - and screwed his eyes shut for what was going to be one earth shattering scream for her parents to save her from the Boogieman in her room. His whole body was tense as he waited.
Bitty opened his eyes and found himself having to blink at the sight in front of him. The room was back to the warm glow of the nightlight by the bed, all traces of shadow gone, and in it’s place stood the Boogieman. The very… attractive… Boogieman. But even that wasn’t enough to hold his attention, because Rebecca Fowler was asleep. Not just asleep - Bitty knew from his classes - but something the ToothFairy community liked to call: Dead To The World.
Her mouth was open from where she had been about to call out - but rather than yelling, all that was happening was gentle huffs of childlike snores. She looked shockingly peaceful. If Bitty hadn’t been in the room a few seconds before he would never have known that she was about to cry out for help.
He blinked again, and looked back at the Boogieman who was glaring at him as though it had been something Bitty had done to make the child fall instantly into a deep sleep. He had the most stunning blue eyes - they seemed to give off a soft glow - but it was tempered by the harsh set of his mouth and the deep furrow of his brow.
“Who are you?” The Boogieman snapped, not even trying to keep his voice low. Bitty knew that the adults in the house wouldn’t be able to see them, but that didn’t mean that the little girl wouldn’t wake up.
“Shh!” He found himself hissing, pointing at the bed with a universal ‘tada’ gesture.
“She’s out of it.” The (very attractive) Boogieman said, sending him a withering look. “Obviously.”
“Well excuse me,” Bitty found himself whispering. “But some of us have a decent amount of skepticism over that.”
As if to poke fun at Bitty at that exact moment, Rebecca let out a sleepy snort and rolled over, one foot sliding out of the coverlet, and the Boogieman raised an eyebrow that clearly pointed out that Bitty was obviously the stupid one in the room.
He watched in horror as the Boogieman carefully pushed her foot back under the blanket with gentle hands, tucking the cover in so she wouldn’t get cold. “The room is crowded enough without inviting a monster under the bed.” The Boogieman said, sounding a little more defensive than Bitty was expecting. “You don’t need to look at me like that.” He straightened up - and Bitty was struck again with just how… perfect he was. Oh god, he had a face that looked like it had been carved out of marble, and broad shoulders that looked like they carried the weight of the world. “Are you here for a reason?”
Bitty blinked, realised that he’d been caught staring, and gave a little cough. “ToothFairy.” He said, pointing to the little badge on his shirt. “Uh, in training.”
“She wasn’t asleep when you arrived.” The Boogieman said, frowning at Bitty again. He was starting to think that the frown might just be a permanent expression on that handsome face. “You should have been able to tell.”
Bitty felt himself bristling at the criticism. Who was this guy, thinking he knew how to be a ToothFairy better than Bitty, who had been at the top of his class - in all of his classes - since day one?
“I wasn’t in the room long enough to check before you showed up.” He retorted. “And I’ll have you know, I’m perfectly capable of doing my job when I don’t have asshole Boogiemen crashing my Collection.”
The Boogieman glared at him for a few seconds and then seemed to sag a little. “Sorry.” He said, and Bitty found his anger dissipating faster than the shadows on the wall had. The Boogieman gave a nod and stood back. “Don’t let me hold you back.”
Oh dear lord. It was happening. He was going to actually get his first tooth. Nerves swirled around in his stomach and for a moment he thought he might just be sick, but he had to prove that he could do it - to himself, and to the Boogieman looking at him with those large, sad blue eyes.
He took a step towards the bed, a breath, a moment to settle into a solid form - reaching out, he slipped a hand under the pillow and…
The world went black.
Before he opened his eyes, he did a quick mental check. He was still corporeal, so there was a good chance he hadn’t been seen, wherever he was it was dark and a little stuffy, and someone was sitting beside him.
He opened his eyes slowly, expecting the worst and then seeing only darkness. “Where am I?” he whispered, and his voice sounded too loud - obviously he was in a very small place.
“Uh,” The person sitting beside him said, and Bitty realised it must have been the Boogieman. He shifted a little, obviously trying to give Bitty a little more space. “The closet?”
Bitty groaned. “Typical. Story of my life.”
That got a huff of laughter from the Boogieman, and Eric found himself smiling a little too, despite the dawning realisation of what had happened. “I passed out again, didn’t I?” He asked, hoping that the Boogieman wouldn’t be able to hear the slight waver in his voice.
“Ah, yeah.” The Boogieman said, sounding a little sheepish, like he had any reason to be ashamed. “She wasn’t awake though, she just rolled over.”
“Did I get the tooth?”
“I, uh, I got it for you?” A slight shuffle of limbs and then something small was being pressed into his hand. A Tooth. The first tooth Bitty had ever gotten on assignment. He could lie - no one would ever know. “I shouldn’t have pushed you into getting it if you weren’t prepared. I’m sorry.”
Bitty gripped the tooth tightly in his fist before sighing. “I can’t take it. I can’t cheat my way into the programme.”
The Boogieman shrugged, Bitty could feel the way he was pressed against his side, the closet far too small for both of them. “They give you another chance.” He said, and Bitty found himself gripping the tooth tightly again.
“I know.” He whispered. “They give you three.” He pushed the tooth back at the Boogieman. “This is number three. My last chance to prove I belonged.”
The Boogieman didn’t say anything for a few seconds and then he sighed - a soft, gentle huff of air. Nothing at all like the Boogiemen that Eric had met previously, rather than set him on edge it made him feel more comfortable, at ease. “How long have you been passing out like that?”
Eric shrugged. “Since forever. I didn’t even know at first because you don’t get to work with real kids until the final year. I’ve been Seen more times than anyone on the programme. This was my last chance before I get dropped out of the ToothFairy-” He paused. “Sorry, I don’t mean to dump this on you.”
“It’s okay.” The Boogieman shrugged, pressing a little closer to Bitty in the closet. “What did your coaches do?”
“Everything they could, I guess. I’m just the farm boy with the fainting goat complex.” The Boogieman let out another huff of laughter at Bittys dry tone. Weirdly, Bitty didn’t feel like he was being laughed at.
Under his fingers he could feel little rough grains of sand, probably tracked in from the shoes around them.
“I’m Jack, by the way.”
“Eric. But everyone calls me Bitty.”
“Well, Bitty, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t have the best track record at the moment either. You saw earlier… who ever heard of a Boogieman who can’t scare kids?” Eric hadn’t wanted to bring it up, not after he’d made such a complete idiot of himself, but he did feel a sudden wash of sympathy for the Boogieman. “I had… a rough patch… and since I came back… nothing.” A sigh, soft, gentle. Oddly comforting. “Every time I get close to a kid, they fall asleep. If this gets out…”
“I won’t say a word!” Bitty hastily promised, before pushing his shoulder against the much firmer one of the Boogieman. “What a pair, huh?”
They sat together for a few moments, and Bitty wondered it it was weird, just sitting, when Jack took a breath.
“I could help you.” He said, sounding very sure.
“I could help you. Stay on the programme. You just have to get past this block. It’s a mental thing. I can help.”
Eric could still feel the tooth in his grip and blinked. “How, exactly?”
Bitty took a deep breath. The bedroom was pitch black, inky tendrils working along the ceiling and floor. In the bed, a little boy - Zack, 5 years old, a perfect tooth under his pillow - snored gently, a faint whistling through the gap in his grin. Bitty took a deep breath and stepped forward. Jack stood by the foot of the bed, strong, sure - ready to jump in if Bitty needed help - which was more of a comfort than Bitty would ever have expected it to be. He was so big.... He pulled his thoughts back to the boy sleeping. He should not be thinking about Jack at all when he was about to become an official ToothFairy. Another step closer and he was almost there - he could feel the tug of the tooth calling to him, and he held his breath.
With a speed that had shocked and impressed his coaches, Bitty shot out, smoothly stealing the tooth from under the pillow without disturbing the sleeping Zack at all. It felt warm in his fingers - small, light and oh so perfect. He gripped it in his hand as he’d done with the tooth Jack had given him, but this time he could tell that it was his. He couldn’t help but grin when he slipped it into the pouch on his hip, pulling out one of the gold coins he’d been given to replace the stolen tooth.
Jack was smiling too - his sad eyes glowing a soft blue in the darkness. Bitty could see where he’d been keeping one long hand over Zacks foot, keeping the boy soundly asleep while Eric did his job. Jack had explained it.
It wasn't cheating, if Bitty needed a little more help on his first couple of outings. All he really needed was to get over the initial fear and once he saw how easy it was, he’d be fine. If the kid did wake up, Jack could step in and all they needed to say was that they'd both been working at the same time and hadn’t noticed. Bitty wasn’t sure that it was going to help Jack at all, but it did give him an extra boost of confidence knowing that someone had his back.
He held up the coin so Jack could see it and grinned wide. His first coin. Jack nodded and pointedly tilted his chin towards the pillow, and Bitty nodded, stepping forward, the slightest sound of grit underfoot. Weird, but he had other things to think about. Finish the job.
“Did you see that?!” Bitty crowed as they walked down the street. “I just - swooshed - and then-” He punched the air. “Bam! Coin under the pillow!”
“Haha, nice.” Jack said, grinning. He had such a lovely smile that for a moment, Bitty could just stare. He hadn’t realised just how long he’d been looking at Jack without saying anything until the taller man frowned.
“Oh, gosh, sorry!” Bitty said, fumbling a little. “I just… you’ve got a nice smile. Teeth. Your teeth are nice.”
“Thanks.” Jack said, before bumping into Bitty to keep him moving. “So what now?”
“Uh, well… I guess I’m an official ToothFairy now.” He paused. “Goodness. It’s actually… I never really thought of myself as… gosh.”
Jack smiled down at him as Bitty walked on, side by side. “You should celebrate.” Jack said, suddenly. “Something sweet, right?”
“Mister Jack, I’ll have you know that the completely unfounded and bias generalisation that ToothFairies only eat sweet things is a complete lie.” Bitty said, as snootily as he could.
“So you weren’t walking in the direction of the only cafe in town that sells the sugar sludge passing as coffee?”
“I was not.” Bitty retorted. “However, now that you mentioned it…”
After that it became something of a habit. Bitty would feel the tug of a Tooth and Jack would already be there. Bitty never wanted to question why - they made a good team, and having Jack there was such a thrill. At the end of the night they would always stop for something to drink, black coffee for Jack and the sweetest thing on the menu for Bitty.
And they would talk. Bitty loved to hear Jack talk - he had such interesting stories about his life as a Boogieman - and it was during one of those late night, early morning chats that Bitty found out something that shocked him to his core.
“Your dad…” He said, staring at Jack who was drinking his terrible bitter coffee like he actually enjoyed it, “Is Ol’ Man Trouble?”
“Well… that’s just…” Bitty blinked. “Goodness. Those are some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Jack shrugged, but Bitty could see the way that his shoulders had tensed up, how his brows had pulled down. “Of course, you didn’t grow up with your daddy being the Golden Goose coach.” Bitty said, hoping that he sounded more teasing and playful. “I swear, in my hometown, it’s all about the Eggs.”
He leaned forward and brushed a little sand off Jacks sleeve before realising what he’d done and leaning back, blushing hard.
Jack grinned into his coffee mug and Bitty felt a flood of happiness that he’d been able to hold off Jacks tension even for a little while. “What’s it like out there?”
“Well,” Bitty said, mock serious, “If you like Geese it’s great.”
Jack's laughter kept him warm for a lot longer than the hot drink in his hands.
Bitty handed over the small pouch of teeth to the quality control manager and got a wide smile in return. “Well, things are certainly looking up for you!” She winked, glittering green eyes sparkling. Her pointed ears were pierced three times and Bitty thought she was pretty cool. “Thank you very much ma’am.” He said, with a little nod. “I gotta admit though, without Jack...”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself, Bits. You were top of your class for a reason – and if I remember correctly, Jack wasn’t even there last week and you topped the leader board for teeth collected.” She winked at him. “Although I guess having your hunky boyfriend around would make the nights go a lot faster.”
“Oh, goodness!” Bitty stammered, “Oh, that’s not... we’re not... he’s not...”
“Oh please.” She said, rolling her eyes at him dramatically. “Did you forget that you sat in the same cafe as Chow and I last month? That boy is so gone on you. I had to stop Chow from rushing over and hugging you both twice.”
“That wasn’t a date!”
“Well it looked like it. And he totally has heart eyes around you.” She paused. “I know. My parents are cupids.”
“Oh, hush you.” He said, grabbing at his now empty pouch. “No pies for you.”
He couldn’t help but laughing when she clutched at her heart, with a horrified “No!” in a scandalised voice. “You can’t deny the truth!” She called after him as he walked out.
“What truth?” A deep, accented voice said, appearing beside him.
Bitty couldn’t have stopped the gasp that came out of his mouth if his whole life depended on it. “What? Nothing!” He managed, once he’d gotten his breathing under control. “I swear you sneak up on me just to make me jump.”
“Boogieman.” Jack shrugged, and Bitty couldn’t help the way his eyes tracked the little trickle of sand from his shoulder onto the ground.
“You do keep telling me that.” He said, nodding.
“Jack?” Bitty asked, slowly, as they walked down the street from another successful night of teeth collecting. “Can I.... um... ask you something?”
“Sure.” The other man said, giving him an odd look before bumping his shoulder. “You never asked before.”
“Well, it’s just... it might be personal and I don’t mean to pry.”
Jack slowed until they were no longer walking – just standing under the golden glow of a streetlight. “Okay.” He said, sounding more like he was about to face a firing squad.
“Have you always been... you know?” He waved his hand in the air and tried again...” I mean...”
“Gay?” Jack said at the same time Bitty managed to get out: “A boogieman?”
Bitty stared. He wasn’t quite sure what he was supposed to say, but the idea that Jack thought Bitty was going to ask if he was gay was just... oh goodness.
Jack didn’t look much better that he felt though, as he ran his fingers through his hair. Some more grains of sand fell onto his shoulders, like the oddest dandruff ever. “Oh, um... yes?” He said, after a few breaths when it became obvious that Bitty was no longer capable of using words. “To both. Boogieman and gay.” He paused. “Well, Bi, I guess. But... yeah. Both.”
“I mean, I thought you might know? Because of the dates?”
“What dates?” Bitty said, blinking in the streetlight. “Dates?”
Jack rolled his eyes and leaned forward, gently pressing his lips to Bittys, a soft quick thing. “Bitty, we’ve been getting ‘coffee’ for nearly five months, every night. I spent Easter with your parents. My dad has your number.”
“Oh goodness.” He said, before completely forgetting everything he wanted to say – reaching up to pull Jack down for another kiss, this time a little more thoroughly.
Bitty looked through the window at Rebecca Fowler. She was 6 and three quarters years old - had been play fighting with her brothers (again!) and managed to knock loose her bottom front tooth, this time. He could feel the tug of the incisor through the glass, calling him, making sure he didn’t pass this house and miss the chance to switch it out with a shiny coin.
But that wasn’t why he was there. Another ToothFairy was going to get the chance to switch out the bright little tooth hiding under the pillow because Bitty was there for something completely different.
The room filled with darkness, seeping across the floors and slowly swallowing up the light given off by the nightlight at the side of the bed. Slowly, gently, it crept over the comforter and brushed against the soft cheek of the drowsy eyed little girl.
Bitty watched, holding his own breath as Rebecca gave a soft sigh and smiled, eyes drifting shut, small grains of sand forming at the corners of her eyes.
The shadows pulled back, and there was Jack, his blue eyes glowing a soft blue in the darkness. On his shirt was a little pin.
“Sandman in training.”