Disclaimer: I don't own Inkheart, I'm making no money of this. Quote is Oscar Wilde.
Note: So yeah. I haven't written any Inkheart fan fiction in…four years? When I came back I always thought it would be Basta not Dustfinger I'd be dwelling on. Buuut it's not. So this takes place just before Dustfinger turns up in Gloomy Prospects, after he gets his hands burnt fishing for books in fire. Enjoy.
Courage and cowardice are really the same thing
It is after midnight when Dustfinger wakes up.
As always, in those few moments between sleeping and waking, he is blissfully unaware of the world around him. He is lying under a blanket, in a bed softer to what he's accustomed to, and though his dreams were unpleasant he cannot remember most of them. So for a few seconds, he can lie, comfortable and serene.
Then, his hands throb, and he remembers the smell of burning ink and the sight of smouldering pages. He lets out a dry sob and pulls his knees against his chest, and waves of despair come crashing down on him again.
He lies there - motionless, and far from comfortable now - in blackness and almost-silence. His chest tightens as the total futility of everything presses its fingers against him, into his eyes and nose and whispers into his ear 'This is it now - you're stuck here for good!'
And Dustfinger doesn't have anything to say back, because he knows that he is.
After a time, the thoughts slamming into each other inside his head manage to fall in some kind of pattern, and he sits up. He runs a hand through his hair, and realises that it's been washed. He doesn't remember washing it, so that must mean…
He sits up, looks around the room. Resa isn't there. But there is a small scrap of paper on the table, and Dustfinger picks it up. He drops it almost immediately because he held it too hard - his hands are raw and scarred by flames that used to be his friends, and he knows he'll get by with them but it's going to take some getting used to. More tentatively this time, he plucks the sheet of paper off the floor. Resa's elegant capitals fill the little page.
'I hope you are feeling better. One of the other women told me about what happened - Lydia, who put the balm on your hands? I came to find you and you were outside, curled up. I brought you in and cleaned you up, you didn't seem very aware of things. Please don't worry so much about the book. You can be okay here. I will see you soon I hope.
Dustfinger moves a finger across the letters and his lips move as his brow furrows, deciphering the words. He's far too broken at the moment to smile but when he reaches the end his features soften a little, and he traces the letters in her name a few more times than he needs to.
Then, he makes up his mind. He folds the note and tucks it inside one of the folds of his jacket. He passes a hand through his hair again, and a couple of strands cling to his fingers. He rubs his chin and stubble grates underneath the ball of his thumb, feeling strange and different against the barely-covered flesh. He dithers around for a few more moments, scuffing the carpet with the toe of his boots. And after a little while he's got no excuse not to go because it's getting too late anyway, and if he's going to do this, he has to do it now.
The village is almost completely empty. There are some of Capricorn's men skulking around corners, and one - a boy of no more that twenty, he's sure of it - swings a shotgun up when he hears Dustfinger coming. Then he catches sight of who it is, and his suspicion melts into a dark leer. He glances down at Dustfinger's mangled hands and his smirk widens, and Dustfinger wants to show the brat just what he still can do with those hands. But he's never been one for conflict, especially not when all he's got is fists against metal and gunpowder, and he needs to be quiet tonight, of all nights, so he can leave this all behind.
Let's face it, he thinks, as the boy jerks his head to motion him past. I couldn't have taken him in a fight gun or no gun. It's a dismal thought and Dustfinger doesn't like to think of himself as weak, but he has to. Otherwise he's going to get himself in over his head.
As if he isn't already.
He shakes his head wryly and turns a corner. He's almost at the outskirts of the village now. And…there, there it is - out of the way, tucked back behind everything else, yellow flowers and cryptic symbols flared up against the walls and shutters. Basta's house.
Basta locks his door but that's not an obstacle for Dustfinger, even with the burns. He's in within seconds, and the door it shutting quietly behind him. The little 'click' it makes as it closes makes him wince, and he wishes he could will it silent. He wishes he could will his heart to slow down, too, because even though Basta's not renowned for his hearing Dustfinger's sure he'll be able to hear it, through flesh and bone and muscle and clothes and whatever else he tries to smother it with.
Basta has always had a good sense for Dustfinger's fear, after all.
One of the stairs creaks, and Dustfinger curses it under his breath. He bites his lip and continues more carefully. All the lights are off and Basta wouldn't ever let a candle stay alight in his house while he slept, so it's tricky going, with obstacles shrouded in the darkness and traps that'll leave him with a knife against his throat hidden from view.
The room where Basta sleeps is sparse; he can tell this even in absence of light. But he doesn't have time to take stock of the man's interior decorating right now, and he hopes he never gets the chance to again. Even though Basta's asleep and it's just a house, Dustfinger doesn't like it here. The idea of sharing space with Basta, even for the short space of time he has to, sends a shiver of displeasure up his spine.
Basta does not look innocent in his sleep. For a moment, on his way up, Dustfinger had thought he would, that he'd find Basta curled up and peaceful, mocking him by finding solace from his actions when Dustfinger cannot. He is pleased, then, that Basta does not sleep serenely. His face twists every now and again, and he has obviously been tossing and turning in his sleep - the sheet has mostly been flung from his bed.
The pillow has shifted, too, and Dustfinger can see a glint of silver from behind it. He cranes his neck and - yes, it's a car key! It has to be Silvertongue's friend's; there's no other reason Basta would sleep with it under his pillow. He's protective of his other keys, granted, but Dustfinger knows that the man's superstition wouldn't let him put anything that bloodstained where it could influence his dreams.
Dustfinger stands close to the bed and holds his breath. He calms himself down, reminding himself what will happen if he slips in his nerves and wakes Basta. He places a hand on the table next to the bed to steady himself, and leans over, working a hand very, very gently underneath the pillow. As his fingers close around the keys, Basta rolls up to face him.
Dustfinger's breath catches, but Basta's still asleep. Peppermint wafts up to meet him. He closes his hand tightly around the keys to stop them jangling together and slowly pulls his hand out from under the pillow. Removing his hand is harder because now Basta's head is resting on the centre of his pillow, and Dustfinger is sure he'll feel the change in balance as the pillow drops, and wake up.
But he doesn't. Dustfinger pulls away and Basta suddenly contorts, as if he'd been stabbed or punched in the stomach. He lets out a small whimper, and for a second, for a brief, fleeting second, Dustfinger feels sorry for him.
He has nightmares too and there's no way back for either of them now.
Then the moment passes. Dustfinger shakes his head in revulsion and thinks that Basta deserves every nightmare he gets. He remembers the way his knife looked against Silvertongue's neck and remembers the snake he put outside Resa's door, and he doesn't feel sympathetic anymore, he feels angry.
And then he realises.
Basta is lying prone in front of him, asleep, obviously troubled. Not more than a foot away, his knife sits innocuously on the table, closed, and disarmingly plain. Keeping one hand clutching the keys, Dustfinger reaches over and picks it up. The thought crosses his mind that this knife had probably killed before and he almost drops it in disgust. But he doesn't; instead, he flicks it open and studies the blade.
It is very thin and very shiny. There's very little moon and only a few stars but it still finds light to reflect, and Dustfinger's pretty sure that Basta's put a lot of time and pride into keeping it that way. Dustfinger doesn't need to touch the tip to know how sharp it is, either, he's seen and felt knives like this draw blood too many times before.
The knife is hovering over Basta's chest when the full impact of this hits him. His stomach turns over and he feels sick, thinking about what he was about to do. He closes the blade, and pockets it. Dustfinger turns away from Basta's bedside with not a little relief, and passes his free hand over his brow. The keys are warm in his hand now, and the back of his neck is sweating. He wants to get out of here.
The night air is blessedly cool compared to the house. In truth, it was probably slightly cooler inside, because it's the time of year and place in the world where the nights are balmy and close. But Dustfinger doesn't feel it that way, not tonight. He puts all thoughts of Basta and Capricorn behind him, and makes his way to the cages, stealing around corners like a thief.
He tells himself, as he flattens himself against a wall and one of Capricorn's men stomps past, that he's never killed before and isn't as adept at it as Basta is, so he'd have made a mess and a noise and wouldn't have got it right the first time, and he'd have been there trying to stab him again while the man writhed and screamed and cursed him and woke up the whole village. No, much better to get away now, get away and never look back.
Dustfinger has reached the cages. He closes his eyes, tries to remember which one Silvertongue and the others are in. He remembers. He turns the key in the lock.
Time to go.