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Cough Syrup

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He shouldn’t have ignored it when one day, right at the beginning of november, after heralding the first snow to his favorite first few children, his throat scratched irritatedly.

He should have gone to North’s when it persisted after a day and only got worse. North would have any manner of remedies, vitamins, or healthy stuff to right him up instantly. But, no. Jack was stubborn and ignored it and followed the cold front he swept down from Canada, excited to announce his reappearance for the coming winter.

Hell, even when a tightness erupted behind his eyes the tooth palace would have sufficed. And, by the time his joints ached with every swing of his staff he would have even taken Bunny’s help.

As it were, Jack didn’t fathom going to his new friends for aid. A flu wasn’t really worth the attention. Or so he thought. Now, he lay on his frozen lake, cheek pressed to the ice dismayed that he was actually melting it, praying for any of them to spontaneously show up with a cup of soup.

He hadn’t felt this bad since he was also affected by that ridiculous flu outbreak in the twenties. Why did he always forget how awful it felt to be sick when you weren’t? Even dying would be a godsend at this point.

Groaning, Jack twisted his head, switching cheeks on the ice, moaning some more because it hurt to even move - and how pathetic was it that there was a cheek shaped indent in the ice because he had a fever. A really bad one. Bad enough that even the chill autumn air wasn’t keeping the lake frozen under him.

He morbidly thought he’d drown himself all over again once he melted the whole way through. He was sweltering, sweating the frost right off his hoodie. And decidedly miserable.

His sinuses were stuffed up, his throat felt like it was bleeding raw - especially when he couldn’t stop the coughs, he had a headache, and if he had eaten something in, like, the past month he was sure it’d be his companion on the ice beside his head right this minute.

Everything sucked.

Why didn’t the Guardians come and save him? Why didn’t he just go to them? Why couldn’t he just not be stubborn and fold and ask for help. Sandy, North, and Tooth said just about every meeting they had that Jack should rely on them more. How he wished to do so at this very moment.

Tears pricked at the corners of his eyes and Jack moaned again. Just what he didn’t need right now. Crying would just make everything hurt more.

North could put him up in a cozy bed, with thick covers, give him warm pajamas. The yetis would bring soup. It could have been like Jack was actually in a family, a real modern one where a mom held a thermometer under the kid’s tongue, a father poured nasty cough syrup into a cap and coaxed his child to drink it even though it tasted bad. He would give up his guardianship for gingerale and saltines right about now. Jack watched enough movies through windows over the years and saw sick kids get their own facsimile of a snowday when parents were kind. He wanted it so badly.

He could bundle up in the infirmary at the tooth palace with the other ill little fairies and enjoy the rare quiet the alcove provided. The warm fresh air would be a balm and Jack would never want for company as every off duty fairy would visit with a slice of citrus because vitamin C was important.

Sandy. Sandy could just let Jack sleep on his cloud until he was in top shape again, letting him dream in blissful peace until all the ill faded right from his body. That would be a dream, sleeping through everything and waking up fit as a fiddle.

Jack really did start to cry as he even thought tucked underground in Bunny’s burrow would be a godsend. The warren was so peaceful, and Bunny had an amazing garden. He tried to laugh but ended up coughing and sniffling at the thought that Bunny would probably gruffly shove cold carrot soup at Jack pretending to be irritated by the burden.

And then the shivers started. The blessed coolness of his ice turned biting and Jack cried in earnest as he tried to sit up. All he managed was to curl up on his side to try and retain the foreign warmth his body produced in the onslaught of having no other source of heat.

And his fantasies spiralled away from him. He felt terrible and he would never get any better and if he didn’t die right on the spot, Jack knew he’d lay here forever and fade away when no more snowdays came and everyone stopped believing.

Kids were so fickle. Jack had been a guardian for seven years now, already kids forgot him. His breath hitched. The Guardians forgot him too. If they cared he wouldn’t be here right now. If they cared they’d invite him over to their homes more often or out to collect teeth or ask him to help make ice prototypes or paint eggs or give them ideas for dreams. If they cared there would be more meetings instead of the three month get-togethers things fell to after the first two years.

He tucked his head to his chest and wrapped his arms around himself tighter. No one cared, and Jack Frost will melt on the lake he died in because he got the flu from grubby snot nosed children who were ungrateful to begin with. Six inches of snow was a lot for the beginning of november! And it was all he needed anyways because the adults didn’t have the salt trucks all rigged up yet. They got their snowday! Three feet was overkill, and why couldn’t they just be happy with -

“My, what an intimidating figure you cut, Frost.” A smooth, deep voice said from the shoreline.

Jack didn’t even need to look up. He just whimpered and curled tighter. What was Pitch doing here of all places?

“No witty comeback? How rude, I expected more from you, Jack. Especially after all this time.”

Jack tried to turn away, but it hurt to move so he winced instead and mumbled into his chest “Leave me alone, Pitch.” Oh, his voice was shot.

“What is wrong with you?” Pitch’s voice was closer, he was on the ice approaching Jack.

“Mm’sick. What’s it look like?” Jack tried to say, but his voice was really MIA and it came out as a raspy whisper. He uncurled a bit and looked up out of the side of his hood to see Pitch looming over him. How did he get there so quickly...Just looking up made him dizzy, so Jack clenched his eyes shut with a small groan.

“You get sick? Curious.” Pitch said with some form of morbid fascination as he knelt in front of Jack.

“No. Shitty.” Jack barked, his voice cracking suddenly, stinging his throat. He winced again. “I was human once. It happens.”

“You were? Oh. Right.” Pitch replied. Jack could tell his was grinning. Pitch obviously knew he was human before he was immortal, after all, he used his very memories to lure him to near defeat all those years ago.

“Look,” Jack croaked. “I’ll give you an I.O.U. for the whole enemies schtick. I can’t right now…”

“Where are your weirdo friends? You are unamusedly easy to defeat like this, shouldn’t they be hiding you away from me or something?”

And Jack couldn’t help his renewed tears as he trembled under the weight of those words. He’d give anything to be with any of them. Anything. Here he was in sucks-town with the mayor of shit-city and there was nothing he could do about it. Pitch could possess him with fearlings, lock him up for eternity, dismember him till he’d never be put back together again. His breath hitched on a violent sob that sent him right into a coughing fit, only escalating Jack’s distress.

“Ah-” Pitch backed off a little in the onslaught of Jack’s tremulous emotions and tiding fear.

“I - I don’t know!” Jack cried and pulled his hood down farther over his eyes, clutching at the edges till his flushed knuckles turned back to white. “I don’t k-know! I’m sick and no one cares!” He tried to sniffle but it came out as a snort. “No one cares, and I’m alone and I just want to die! G-go on! You’re the bad guy! Just put me out of my misery, Pitch. Nows your chance - what you’ve always wanted, get the first step of your next big domination scheme out of the way right now! Just kill m-me, no one cares anywa-”

A warm palm shoving his hood up rested on his forehead, effectively shutting Jack up with a gasp. “You are hot. You must be delirious with fever.”

“N-no,” Jack retorted as his teeth started to chatter together. “No’mm’cold. Cold’n’sick.”

“I see.” Pitch said, and strangely kept his hand on Jack’s forehead. Jack couldn’t help the small relieved sigh on his lips as his eyes closed, and hands curled back under his chin. “You shouldn’t stay out here though, I can’t imagine ice is a good remedy for a human flu.”

“Take me to North’s then?”

“That...wouldn’t go over so well.”

“Sandy’s?”

“Worse actually.”

“Tooth’s? The Warren even?”

“Jack, I’m the Boogeyman.”

“Oh…” Jack felt his tears on his skin become itchy as they dried in the chill air. “Right. Just leave’m here to die then. That’s easy ‘nuff” Jack slurred.

“How melodramatic.” Pitch said amused, his fingers rubbed up into Jack’s hairline. If Jack was any sort of properly coherent he’d marvel at the easy contact officially offered to him freely longer than any hug he’d ever gotten.

“Says Pitch Black.” Jack grinned as he whispered, cracking an eye open. “But give a guy a last dying wish?”

“Hm?” Pitch asked.

“Get m’some Gingerale and Saltines? N’some of that really shitty cough syrup. The kind kids hate.”

And Pitch actually laughed. “Really? Thats what you want? Did you know children actually fear that stuff? Why would you ever want it.”

“B’cuz.” Jack mumbled and rubbed his face into Pitch’s palm a bit harder. He was already sorely compromised, what was hoarding the only affection available to him at the moment gonna do? “Cuz it’s what families do.”

“I see…”

Jac felt himself begin to drift off. He had talked with Pitch for a while now with little energy to begin with. His body tried to yawn, but his aching throat had him flinch out of it. “You wouldn’t deny a man his last request would ya?” Jack tried.

But, he couldn’t hold onto consciousness to hear the reply.

Moaning and groaning, Jack turned to his side as he eased into miserable awareness. He pulled the sheets automatically over his head and tried to will himself back into oblivion.

Wait.

Sheets? Jack froze and for one second he thought North finally found him and whisked him up to the pole for a proper recovery. But, no, Jack opened his eyes and was met with dim dingy darkness, light filtering in beams from a ceiling almost too high to see.

It wasn’t a dream.

Pitch actually visited him at his lake as he lay incapacitated by a crippling flu. A flu that was nowhere near gone. For moon’s sake. Jack shivered and slowly sat up looking around, too preoccupied by his surroundings to mind the headache that roared to life as he lifted his head.

He sat in a massive four-poster bed, the headboard, footboard, and posts made out of jagged obsidian stone, smoothed on its many facets to mirror like shininess. A mass of all kinds of pillows were behind him almost overflowing out of the bed all upholstered in various rich black and deep grey patterns. The soft cottony sheets were also black. A stereotypical Nightmare King bed if Jack had ever seen one. It was lush and grand and also kind of unsettling. Especially because of it’s surroundings.

The bed was on a large dais in the middle of the vast cavern that made up the main part of Pitch’s lair. bedside tables sat on either side of it, but otherwise the bed was left out in the wide wide open. Cages that once held the tooth fairies gently swung in a cave breeze overhead, some low enough that Jack could jump and touch the bottoms, but most of them far out of reach. And a couple of bridges and twisting staircases lead up and down from the bed’s pedestal, but otherwise it dropped off into inky abyss the whole way around it.

Jack’s astonishment soon wore off though as his ailing body reminded him that he was miserable. He couldn’t fathom why he woke up here though. He thought that meeting Pitch was a fever nightmare. Why would he bring Jack back to his lair? Was Jack a prisoner now?

Gasping, Jack shot to his knees and looked around. His staff? Where was his sta-

It was hooked around one of the posts at the foot of the bed. His staff. Right there. Jack scrambled to grab it and once in hand he fell back into the plush bedding relieved and headache resurging.

He groaned and rolled to his side. Ugh. He just wanted to get better.

But a bed was nice. Really nice. Exceptionally nice. Wow. And Pitch’s bed was kind of awesome. Better than any of the ones Jack tried at Norths. Only thing that could rival this was Sandy’s dreamsand cloud, or a good bank of snow.

Jack sighed and relaxed a bit, watching the dust motes in the filtered dim light. Even that was kind of nice. Not harsh on his eyes and headache. His blinding white snow did no favors for the sinus pressure pain.

Then, Jack turned his head as a thick puff of dust drifted down from the ceiling and his eye caught...No way. Rolling to the edge of the bed, Jack couldn’t help his laugh. There on the nightstand sat a two-litre bottle of Gingerale with a glass beside it, a straw even sat in the glass. Next to it was an unopened box of generic saltine crackers, and right beside that was a bottle of cherry flavored cough syrup. Holy shit. Not a dream at all.

Jack didn’t even think twice as he grabbed the crackers and opened them. He stuffed one in his mouth and almost immediately choked on it, coughing into his hand.

He laughed as best as he could with his throat as he poured the soda into the glass and sipped it through the straw washing down the dry cracker.

taking another cracker, Jack settled back into the bed, pulling the sheets back over himself and propping the pillows behind him so he could sit up a bit. He laid his staff beside him and sipped slowly at the soda, content.

So this was what it was like to have bland food and bland soda when your stomach was too sensitive for anything else. Jack smiled wistfully. He didn’t get sick often at all and these things were rather recent inventions so he never had the chance. But looking through windows for centuries gave him a pretty good idea what a family did for a sick child or parent.

Pitch’s lair and bed certainly wasn’t on Jack’s list of choice locales for convalescing, but he’d take what he could get, and Pitch actually provided weirdly enough.

Jack was just eyeing the cough syrup warily, working up the nerve to try it, when he heard footsteps. Pitch. Any number of scenarios suddenly raced through Jack’s head. All of the horrific things Pitch could still do to him, even the not so terrible but still not great things, like giving him nightmares, playing upon his now so obvious fears, taking his staff, taunting him, kicking him out…

Pitch stopped in his tracks when he saw Jack awake and staring at him wide eyed. He quickly moved whatever he was carrying behind his back and cleared his throat. “You’re awake.”

“Uh…” Jack croaked. He still hadn’t tried talking. “Yeah?” His voice wasn’t so shot anymore, he even sort of had one again.

“Feeling better I see.” Pitch said stiffly as he stayed right where he was.

“A little bit.” Jack replied as he sat up a little straighter into the pillows, setting his glass back on the nightstand.

“That’s...good.”

Jack felt his lips twitch up into a smile, but schooled it away thinking Pitch might not like that. Instead he opted for: “What did you bring?”

“Er,” Pitch said then cleared his throat again before stepping up to the dais and around the bed to Jack’s side. He shifted his arms and revealed what he was carrying, a basin atop cloth and something in his fingers. “A change of clothes and some water to clean up with.”

“O-oh,” Jack stuttered extremely surprised, “Wow.” He looked from the folded clothes and bowl up to Pitch’s face. Pitch looked conflicted and constrained, like he didn’t want to be there at all, but also determined to stay. So Jack in turn smiled warmly and pushed the objects on the nightstand to the side to give Pitch room to set his parcels down. “Thank you.”

Pitch’s mouth fell open slightly as if stunned by Jack’s trust, but it only happened for a moment before he clicked his teeth shut and nodded once sharply. He quickly set the clothing down on the bed, then the water on the nightstand before holding up what was in his fingers, a thermometer.

“Open up.” He commanded.

“Seriously?”

“Yes, unless you want it up your ass like a dog.”

Jack choked on an abrupt laugh. Good lord. He coughed into his hand for a second before wiping a tear from his eye and opening his mouth. “Ahhhhhh.” He said in a mock of what kids do for doctors trying to check them for strep.

Pitch placed the thermometer in Jack’s mouth and Jack closed his lips around it still smiling. “Arms up.” Pitch then commanded, like he was giving orders to some faceless servant.

Jack complied with a hum and Pitch pulled his hoodie off over his head, minding the thermometer in his mouth. Without even thinking he threw the hoodie over his shoulder and it disappeared into a swirl of darkness. Jack gasped through his nose and glared at his pseudo caretaker.

“What?” Pitch asked

“Mmm!”

“Your sweatshirt? Its practically dripping. It’s going for wash. I suppose i’ll need to change the sheets too, you’ve sweated right through them. How unbecoming.” Pitch said airily as he wrung out a cloth in the basin and promptly began to wipe Jack’s back.

Jack straightened up stiffly as Pitch wiped his shoulders and neck clean. This was….odd to say the least. What was even going on actually? Pitch? Giving him a sponge bath? Really? He was baffled, but Jack was in no way going to complain. The sheer novelty of being taken care of far outweighed any looming threat for him, and the fact that it was Pitch Black of all people doing the caring was frankly shocking. Jack wished he had a camera.

He paused in wiping Jack’s back to reach and pull the thermometer from his mouth. “Hmm…” Pitch said looking at the mercury reading. “I don’t even know what your normal body temperature should be. Below freezing, I suppose. This says you’re just about a pleasant summer day. Can’t be good. Better than yesterday though…” Pitch said idly like he was talking to himself before throwing the thermometer over his shoulder for it to disappear into the shadows as well.

Jack didn’t say anything as Pitch proceeded to wipe down his front, neck down to stomach, then each arm and armpit. He rinsed the cloth out again before vigorously attacking Jack’s faces with no warning and scrubbing his cheeks and ears.

Jack spluttered and leaned back but Pitch was relentless, though he eased up to wash the sand from the corners of Jack’s eyes. He then scrubbed through Jack’s hair before tossing the cloth back into the basin.

“Pants.” He said curtly.

Jack was wiping his face, it felt raw from the scrubbing and looked at Pitch. “No thanks.”

“You won’t be clean.”

“I don’t want them washed though, you’ll ruin them.” Jack croaked and reached for his gingerale to take a sip.

“Fine. You finish this then, I need to change the sheets.”

“Uh….ok.” Jack said confused as he shifted out of the bed and stood. Pitch hesitated for a second, watching Jack, making sure he didn’t fall.

Jack waved him off after a second, then stripped his pants off and proceeded to clean himself while Pitch stripped his bed vanishing all of the pillows and the old sheets. Jack was leaning against a post to wipe up his feet and watched as Pitch pulled fresh bedding from the darkness and fluffed it over the mattress.

He tossed the cloth back into the water and went to put on the black clothing Pitch provided him with. “Are these made of shadow?”

Pitch paused and looked at Jack then at the clothes. “Yes?”

“Oh. Cool.” Jack said with a little grin and put the pants and button up shirt on. He realized they were loose fitting pajamas. The shadows felt softer than cloud on his skin and Jack sighed feeling maybe a hundred times better already now that he was clean and in clean clothes. “Shadow pajamas.” He said aloud picking at the hem of the shirt and watching it disappear as he pinched his fingernail into it.

“There.” Pitch said as he pulled the last fresh pillow from the abyss and fluffed it before tossing it onto the bed and turning down the sheets. “Get back in bed. Have you taken your medicine?”

Jack crawled back in and before he could do anything, Pitch was pulling the covers up to his chin and tucking him in. “Er….no. Why are you doing all this anyways?” Jack finally had to ask.

The question froze the boogeyman in his tracks. Pitch looked up, surprised and almost fearful. “What do you mean?”

“What do you mean, what do I mean? I mean being so nice. Why are you being nice? Why all this?” Jack gestured to the nightstand littered with caring items.

“I am fulfilling the last request of a dying man.” Pitch said standing up straight, putting his hands behind his back. He looked off to the side.

“Are you going to kill me after all this?”

“You did give me permission.”

“Right.”

Pitch grinned then but still refused to look at Jack.

“But I only asked for the stuff, you didn’t need to….bring me home.” Jack said in a small voice. He really was confused. He shouldn’t be looking this gift horse in the mouth.

“‘It’s what families do’...” Pitch replied even more quietly than Jack and he shifted uncomfortably.

“Oh…” Jack said. Then it hit him. “Oh.”

It was like a freight train to his gut. Pitch was serious. He was serious back then those few years ago in Antarctica. He was serious now. Family. Family. Jack gasped around the enormity and impossibility of it. He was serious! And Jack had no choice back then. If he did he still would have chosen the side of the Guardians. It was heart rending. He didn’t think Pitch was genuine. How could he have been so wrapped up in manipulation, deceit, and tyranny as he was? How could Jack have possibly chosen to destroy hope and happiness the world over because they both wanted the same thing?

Tears sprung in his eyes. “Pitch.”

At his name Pitch looked back at Jack sharply, his brows furrowed, but the expression melted from his face when he saw Jack’s distress. “Jack?”

“I-I didn’t know. I - I’m so sor-”

“Don’t you dare apologize.” Pitch growled lowly.

“B-but?”

“No. You do not regret what transpired, and neither do I.”

Jack gulped and scrubbed the tears from his face with his fingers, nodding.

“Now. You need to take your medicine.” Pitch said closing off that conversation.

Jack looked at the cough syrup then down at his lap. He wanted to talk about it, to find where Pitch’s sincerities lie, but he also knew that merely being awake and washing up had exhausted him. It was a talk for another time. Jack would make sure of.

“But it tastes gross, doesn’t it?”

“It tastes horrid. You were the one that asked for it.”

“Yeah, but...I dunno.”

“You will not deny me personally inducing in you a new fear. You were the one that wanted it.”

Jack couldn’t help but smile. “You are terrible at persuasion.”

“So I’ve learned.” Pitch replied and picked the bottle up, pouring a measure into the cap. “Now, open up. Don’t make me do the airplane.”

Jack laughed a wheezy thing. “Would you seriously?”

“Definitely not. But I am not above holding you down with shadows and forcing you.”

Jack took the cap and held it up sniffing at the red syrup and crinkling his nose in disgust. “You are evil.”

“Yes. I am.”

In one fell swoop Jack downed the medicine and his face scrunched up even more and he retched, licking his tongue through his mouth. “Blech! Oh this stuff is worse than gross! How do kids take it without vomiting!”

“I told you. There are fears of it. Nightmares!” Pitch laughed as he sat on the edge of bed, taking the cap back from Jack and putting the bottle back on the table.

“Quick, give me a drink!” Jack asked desperately holding out his hands. Pitch complied smoothly placing the glass in Jack’s fingers, who sucked down the rest of the soda in one gulp ignoring the straw completely.

He took the glass back and stood from the bed, turning to Jack, Pitch didn’t quite smile but had a warm expression on his face. “Now, get some rest. No nightmares will disturb you.”

Jack nodded, settling down into the pillows. “Thank you, Pitch.” He said trying to convey just how gratefully he truly felt.

Pitch in reply grinned a shark toothed thing. “Don’t thank me, Jack Frost. You are now in one hell of a debt.”

“What? Seriously?”

“Oh, as serious as cancer, Jack.” Pitch laughed as he stepped away and faded into shadow.

“Wait! What! Come back!” Jack shouted but ended up in yet another coughing fit.

Grumbling, Jack crossed his arms over his chest. “Well, shit.”