Title: Scorched, or The Effects of Acid Rain
Author: Ani (ani_coolgirl)
Pairings/Characters: Mo/Dustfinger, mentions of Mo/Resa, Meggie
Warnings: slash, spoilers (Inkheart, Inkspell), mild drug and alcohol use, lemon (sex)
Word Count: 13,566
Summary: Even after all these years, he can't get that damned fire-juggler to leave him alone – and it's getting harder to order him away each time.
Author's Notes: Because I refuse to believe I'm the only one who has thought of this pairing. It's so… obvious. Especially after the third book, I mean c'mon… But in any case, I suppose this means I can declare this the first Mo/Dustfinger fic on the 'net (though not the first slash). If I'm wrong, feel free to correct me.
It has also been a while since I've read the books, so if I get any facts wrong, don't kill me. Also, this hasn't really been betaed (beyond what I started at, oh, 3 in the morning), so feel free to point out my errors and beware of future edits!
His toolbox was almost full when he heard the knock on the door. His heart jumped to his throat and stuck there – no, they couldn't be back, not so soon. He didn't think he'd have the strength to drive them back. Last time he was lucky. The rain wisped loudly about the house and faint flash of light illuminated the room.
The knock came again, softer this time, almost drowned out by the approaching thunder, and he just couldn't find it within him to ignore it. It was with great reluctance that he left his workshop, and though he knew that it was most likely in vain, he grabbed the sword by the door just in case. The door didn't have a peephole, for the house was a rickety, old house, so there was no telling what was on the other side. He steadied himself with a deep breath before he opened it.
It was the fire-eater. Not the cruel overlord or the knife-wielding monster, but the fire-eater. Though it had only been a week (an agonizingly long, stormy week), it seemed that he grown even smaller and more pathetic to the eye; his ginger hair had paled to a sickly blond and stuck to his forehead, and his eyes, which were horribly bloodshot, couldn't hold a gaze steady even for a second. Shivers wracked his body and his hands couldn't keep still, twining and weaving in front of him like something should have been in there, but wasn't. The marten was noticeably absent. Another lightning flash lit up the performer like he was on a stage, performing fabulously before thousands: but the light faded and he was again nothing but a shivering man in the doorway.
Before he could scarcely say a word, the fire-tamer spoke. "Send me back," he begged, "send me back!"*
Oh, how he pleaded. With every word the man spoke he felt something inside him crack a little more. Was this what Resa was feeling? Was every moment in that other world killing her too?
"Come inside, Dustfinger," Mo said softly when he finally finished.
Dustfinger did so, and Mo closed the door behind him; water dripped all over the carpet from his wet clothes. Mo walked to the living room, Dustfinger trailing behind him like a living shadow. The book (not just any old book, but the book) was sitting on the couch. The cover was arched in the air, having been held open for far too long in an uncomfortable way. He would have to rebind it later. Because no matter what, that book couldn't fall apart on him. It was his only chance.
Mo carefully leaned the sword against the wall and sat on the couch, tucking the book between the cushions, hiding it from view. Dustfinger stood silently before him, miserable and dripping wet, studying the carpeted floor like it was his salvation – or perhaps he was simply too terrified to look up. He didn't see Mo hide the book, but he would find a better hiding place later.
"Are you hungry?" Mo asked, but Dustfinger was already shaking his head wildly from side to side.
"I don't care about that," Dustfinger explained desperately. "Just send me home."
"You won't have the strength to get around if you're starving," Mo pointed out. "Then you're likely to get your throat cut, right?"
Dustfinger couldn't argue with that, and as if agreeing with Mo, his stomach growled viciously. Rubbing his arms, he slowly nodded. Mo patted the seat next to him and Dustfinger sat down, though it seemed like he barely sank into the fabric.
"I'll get a towel and then put on some soup," Mo said, noting the rapidly soaking couch and rising to his feet. Dustfinger's eyes followed him out of the room, and as he opened the linen closet he suddenly felt such an overwhelming wave of sadness come upon him that he nearly collapsed. It wasn't until the towel was in his hand that it clicked – that all of it really clicked. The man in the living room shouldn't be in his living room. His wife should be there, insisting on a "rainy day" book, something full of danger and swordfights. She shouldn't be living it. He buried his face into the cloth, willing himself to calm down, to breathe… just try to breathe. He grabbed two more towels.
When he returned, Dustfiinger was pacing the length of the room. Mo winced when he saw puddles of water forming dangerously close to his pile of books, but said nothing, only beckoning Dustfinger back to the couch, which he covered with one of the towels. Just before Dustfinger sat down again Mo quickly pulled Inkheart out from between the cushions and tucked it under his shirt. It was doubtful that a trick like that would work normally, but the fire-eater was far too distressed to notice. Mo handed Dustfinger two towels and bee-lined straight for the kitchen.
The kitchen was a mess. Numb from Resa's disappearance, doing simple things like cleaning up after himself seemed utterly pointless. But as he looked at the mess he felt a bit of embarrassment and shame well up in his stomach – he couldn't simply stop functioning while the rest of the world moved on, heedless that it was missing one woman. Besides, she would undoubtedly berate him later for the mess. He opened a can of soup and as it heated on the stove top, began to clean.
As he put yet another plate into the cabinet, he was suddenly reminded of the book half-tucked in his pants. In a burst of inspiration he placed the book neatly behind the dishes, nearly invisible at first glance after he finished stacking the plates. The book would safe here. Who would look for a book in a kitchen?
The soup finished within minutes and though the kitchen was still a mess it did look a little better. "Food's ready," he called.
Dustfinger slunk in unhappily, but instantly perked the moment the aroma of Hearty Beef with Mixed Vegetables (according to the can's label) hit his nose. He sat at the tiny kitchen table cautiously, eyeing the various appliances as though they would come alive and snap at him any second. He seemed particularly put off by the toaster. Mo placed the steaming stew down and sat across from him. Though clearly starving, he didn't touch his food until Mo did. But once he started, it seemed like he would never stop. Dustfinger finished his bowl within minutes, and Mo couldn't deny the pathetic look that asked for more. He slid his own soup, less than half-eaten, across the table, which Dustfinger proceeded to polish off as well. Mo rolled his eyes upward and stared at the kitchen light, a pale yellow, until the sound of the spoon scraping the ceramic bowl ceased. When he looked down again he noticed how much color had returned to Dustfinger's cheeks and the seriousness resting in his eyes.
"Send me back," Dustfinger repeated.
Mo tried not to sigh. He failed. "It's not so simple."
"You're a magician," Dustfinger protested, "Surely –" Mo silenced him with a shake of his head.
"I'm no magician," said Mo flatly. "What happened was an accident."
Dustfinger lowered his eyes like a scolded school boy. "Whatever I did to deserve this… I take it back. I didn't mean to."
Surprised, Mo could hardly reply. He thought Mo was lying to him, punishing him for some misbegotten deed he couldn't recall! "You haven't done anything," Mo reassured him. "I'm not punishing you."
"That's not what it feels like," Dustfinger replied bitterly under his breath. "If it was an accident, then how did I get here?"
Mo told him. Told him everything without stop, start to finish. It all spilled out so rapidly that he didn't realize how much was being revealed until he admitted how guilty he felt about Resa's disappearance, the uncertainty of his future without her, how he wasn't sure he could take care of Meggie. Dustfinger's eyes widened at all the appropriate intervals, the stark disbelief of his situation showing out plainly against his face. When Mo finally finished, all that could be heard for a long time was the buzz of the kitchen light.
"You are a magician," Dustfinger said quietly. "Your voice is your magic. Your words are like silver… Silvertongue."
"I'm not –"
"Where is the book?" Mo didn't answer. "You must try again. You must."
"I can't," said Mo. He was beginning to feel like a broken record. There was nothing he could do. Nothing. He could feel it, the weight of cannot suffocating him.
"Then… Then I will try, I'll read myself back in, then…"
Wordlessly, Mo handed Dustfinger the closest object with something written upon it – the dishtowel upon his shoulder bearing the word Charmin proudly in curled calligraphy, stitched in red and blue. "What does this say?"
Dustfinger traced the raised letters with the very tips of his fingers silently. Suddenly he threw the towel down and stormed out of the kitchen. Mo followed him back into the living room where he found Dustfinger clawing through the piles of books upon the floor. "I must have the book! Where is it?" Mo's refusal to answer only fed his anger as he tossed books aside searching for the one book that he knew must be there. Mo let him look. It took ten minutes of vain searching for him to finally pause long enough to turn his furious eyes back on Mo.
"Where?" he shouted. "Where is it?"
"I'm not telling you," Mo snapped. "I told you –"
"You're not trying hard enough!"
"How dare you suggest that I haven't tried hard enough. Do you think I want you here?"
Dustfinger, ready to shout back, was halted by a third voice, high-pitched, trembling, and small. "Mo?" Meggie, bleary eyed and blanket draped over her shoulders, stood in the doorway. "Mo?"
Mo was instantly by her side, scooping her up in his arms. Dustfinger couldn't stop staring as Mo placed a kiss on her forehead and wrapped her up in the blanket holding her close. Meggie looked on the verge of tears.
"I heard noise," she whispered, burying her face in the crook of his neck.
"I'm sorry." His fingers stroked through her blond hair. "I'll put you back to bed."
Mo turned to leave the room. "Who's that?" Meggie asked and suddenly Dustfinger felt even more out of place than ever and couldn't meet the three-year-old's eyes.
Mo glanced over his shoulder and Mo couldn't look at him either. "That's nobody." He hugged her tightly. "Go to sleep."
Mo hesitated. "Not tonight."
Meggie was asleep before he even reached the bedroom and Mo tucked her in as carefully as he could. Resa was much better at tuck-ins than he ever was. He closed the door as quietly as he could, hoping she would remain asleep until morning – she had been having bad nights too.
"I have two girls," said Dustfinger when Mo returned, voice oddly pitched.
"I know." Mo collapsed onto the couch, leaning his head back, eyes closed. Dustfinger sat next to him. "Aren't you going to keep looking?" Mo asked tiredly, cracking one eye open.
"I want to see them again," Dustfinger whispered.
While reading Inkheart, Mo never imagined the performer as the type who would shed tears. But this was not Inkheart, and the tears that slipped down Dustfinger's dirty cheeks were more painful than anything his imagination could ever think up. He expected Dustfinger to flinch away when he laid a hand upon his shoulder, but Dustfinger leaned into the touch. "Please," he breathed. Mo could only shake his head.
He wasn't sure how long they sat together, but the next time Mo looked over, Dustfinger had fallen asleep. He retrieved a few blankets from the closet and covered him up best he could. By the time he was done, Mo found himself yawning more often than not and decided maybe he should take a page from Meggie and Dustfinger and turn in.
As Mo settled down to sleep, the clock by his bedside reading one in the morning, he could only pray that he would not dream of Resa, as he had done the past several nights, or of the fresh sorrow in Dustfinger's eyes that was for some reason as equally painful.
Mo was usually the type to wake up slowly, gradually breathing in the scent of the new day a bit at a time, cracking his eyes open unhurriedly as to make every morning a surprise. But today, as it had been everyday this past week, he snapped into wakefulness abruptly and painfully, keenly aware of the chill from the other half of the bed and the emptiness that accompanied it. The slightest movement hurt and for a long time he considered not moving at all, simply curling back up and going to sleep. However, a repetitive thunk, thunk, thunk reminded him of his somewhat unwelcome house guest and he reluctantly crawled out of bed to face the rest of the world.
The thunks were the sounds of books hitting the floor. Dustfinger, already awake, was prowling once again through the piles of books and the bookshelves, heedless of the mess he was creating. Dustfinger didn't notice as Mo stooped to gather the discarded novels and even jumped in surprise when Mo appeared next to him, returning the items to their proper place.
"You'll wake Meggie," Mo said softly. Dustfinger looked for a moment like he was going to stop, but then continued his work, this time setting the numerous volumes on the ground instead of tossing them over his shoulder. "You won't find it."
Dustfinger continued to ignore him until Mo roughly grabbed him by the shoulder. Dustfinger angrily knocked the hand away, but did stop his scrounging. "Like hell I won't," he retorted lowly.
"Dustfinger, I can't let you have the book."
"Please, I just need to… I can't live here like this!" Dustfinger's voice was frantic and Mo could clearly see the panic in his eyes. "Everything here is so wrong. It's all wrong!"
Mo shushed him and pulled him into the kitchen. "Let's eat breakfast and decide what to do from there, okay?"
Dustfinger nodded miserably, and though he frowned over the offered bowl of cereal for several minutes he did eventually eat it, making faces for every bite of cornflakes he devoured. "You can have some of my clothes," Mo said after they had finished. "You can't go around looking like that."
Dustfinger tugged at the ends of his performer's outfit, clearly reluctant to part with the only thing he'd brought from his home world, besides the marten. "Fine," he said flatly.
"Come on." Mo led Dustfinger to his and Resa's bedroom and poked his head in the closet for something that would hopefully fit the man. While he searched, Dustfinger investigated Resa's dresser, sniffing the various lotion bottles and fingering the long-handled brushes. Mo finally pulled out a pair of jeans, a turtleneck, and a pair of old boots that looked about Dustfinger's size. "Don't touch that," he snapped irritably at Dustfinger, who was holding a butterfly hairclip. He hastily dropped it and Mo instantly felt guilty.
"You should take a shower first," Mo muttered, brushing past him into the small bathroom. Dustfinger trailed after him, perplexed. "Bathe," he explained, leaning into the shower.
"How am I supposed to bathe in there?" Dustfinger jumped about a foot in the air when water exploded out of the showerhead.
"I'll show you how it works later." When Mo turned around, Dustfinger was already in the process of stripping. Embarrassed, he averted his eyes and shuffled out as quickly as he could, pulling the door closed behind him. Dustfinger watched him curiously as he left, as though a thought just occurred to him.
Dustfinger stepped out almost half an hour later, soaking wet and the shower still running. He hadn't bothered to put any clothes on. "I can't turn it off," he announced. Mo nearly spit out the coffee he was drinking and lowered his eyes again. He had tried to distract himself by reading, but had been failing miserably. Swallowing thickly and setting his drink aside, he rose from the bed and walked by Dustfinger without looking at him.
"Hot water, cold water," he explained turning the shower's knob. "Push in for off, pull out for on." Dustfinger nodded leaning over Mo's shoulder. Dustfinger was standing far too close, but Mo pushed aside his nervousness. He was being silly, he decided. "Get dressed," he said, pulling away. "Then we'll talk."
"What is there to talk about?" Dustfinger demanded. "All I want is for you to send me home."
"And I've told you a thousand times that I can't!" Mo ran his hand through his hair. "We need to discuss your… options."
"My options?" Dustfinger laughed and the sound was sharp and bitter. "I can't live here, Silvertongue."
Mo frowned. "That's not my name."
"Yes it is. You're the magician Silvertongue, and you're refusing to send me home because that's what magicians do," Dustfinger spat. "They toy with people's lives for their own amusement."
Mo was ready to strangle him. "I am not a magician, my name is not Silvertongue, and I cannot send you home." As he spoke he backed Dustfinger against the wall of the small bathroom. The corner of the toilet paper dispenser dug into Dustfinger's thigh and his head scarcely missed the edge a cabinet. Dustfinger was shaking, and Mo once again felt that guilt settle firmly upon his chest. The fear on Dustfinger's face made him sick to his stomach and he closed his eyes in shame.
The first touch of Dustfinger's hand against his cheek made him flinch. At the second caress he looked up and their eyes met. Again, Mo was suddenly aware at the nearness of their bodies and he longed to move away, yet found that his body refused to obey his mind.
That snapped him back into awareness and he stormed out of the tiny room. "Get dressed," he threw over his shoulder.
When Dustfinger still didn't emerge after ten minutes, he knew something was wrong. But when he returned to the bathroom he found that the fire-eater had gone, as though he had never existed.
"Mo." Meggie woke up an hour after Dustfinger's disappearance. She found her father sitting upon the large queen that he used to share with his wife, one hand clutching Resa's old nightgown in one hand and a still damp towel in the other. Resa's scent still clutched feebly at the worn garment, comforting and familiar. The towel, however, smelled freshly of some wild, burning spice and clung to every corner of the room, filling Meggie's head the moment she stepped in the room. Mo tossed the towel aside as Meggie crawled onto the bed, wriggling into his lap. "Where's Mommy?"
"Gone," he said tiredly. He couldn't lie to her anymore. Meggie didn't look surprised, the odd shine of ancient wisdom in her youthful eyes.
"Oh." She picked at the nightgown. "I'm hungry," she said after a moment.
"Alright, Meggie." Mo slid off the bed, lifting Meggie off as well. "What would you like? You can have anything you want."
"I want Mommy," she said plainly.
"I know. Anything else?"
Meggie glanced at him peculiarly and Mo prayed she couldn't see the weakness in his eyes. "Eggs."
"Eggs it is."
It was almost six months later that Mo saw Dustfinger again. Everything was warm in this part of the country, the rays of the June sun pleasant to the touch. Meggie, tired from a morning of running around in the yard, was napping inside. Mo read on the front porch and with each page he turned he found himself sinking deeper and deeper into the realms of the book, far away from the world where one person's absence made even the summer heat turn to a chill.
A shadow fell over his body and the crisp pages, and for a moment he thought it was a cloud. But clouds did not speak. "They're coming."
Mo didn't want to look away from his book. With great reluctance he tore his eyes away. Dustfinger had hardly changed over six months, though his hair was a bit longer. The horned marten was on his shoulder, though he hissed once and scampered out into the tall reeds after catching sight of Mo. Neither of them were sorry to see him go.
"Dustfinger." Mo tried to keep the resentment out of his tone.
"Silvertongue," Dustfinger acknowledged. Mo scowled, but didn't correct him.
"Capricorn and his lot."
Mo felt his heart freeze and instantly looked through the screen door where Meggie was sleeping upon the couch. Her breaths were calm and even, though sweat tickled her brow from her previous activities. She turned on her side, sighing softly once, then burying her face into the faux leather cushions. Meggie stopped having bad dreams almost a month ago. He wanted to keep it that way.
Mo rose to his feet, opening the squeaky screen door so he could shut the front door. The air conditioning was broken, but all the other windows in the house were open – Meggie wouldn't awaken from the heat. Mo turned back to Dustfinger, arms crossed and a stern look on his face.
"Why would they be coming here?" he hissed.
Dustfinger crossed the porch and sat down on the large swing. He kicked his feet back and forth, making him appear much like a child. His wardrobe didn't help the image. He was not wearing the turtleneck Mo had last seen him in; instead he wore a t-shirt that was two sizes too big and hung off him in an odd way that exposed his shoulders, probably a gift from a shelter. The jeans were a different pair as well, though they fit much better than the shirt. He was still wearing Mo's old boots.
"They're coming for the book," Dustfinger answered, pointedly not looking at Mo. Cursing, Mo slammed his fist against a beam, but then paused. In two quick strides Mo was grabbing the chain of the swing, ignoring the way it pinched into his hand as it stopped Dustfinger's gentle rocking. Dustfinger still wouldn't meet his eyes.
"And how did he find out about the book?" demanded Mo in a very low voice.
Dustfinger didn't answer for several long moments.
"They would have figured it out eventually," he said softly, kicking his feet again, making Mo release the chain.
"That doesn't mean you had to tell them!" Mo exclaimed angrily.
"I didn't have any choice!" Dustfinger retorted sharply. He was lying, but Mo didn't know that. Mo looked at him expectantly, clearly waiting for Dustfinger to explain himself. "They caught me," Dustfinger clarified, "just a few weeks ago. I'd been following them and… I got too close. They wanted to know everything about the magician and, well…" He self-consciously traced the trio of scars running down the side of his face. "I didn't want any more of these."
Mo wanted to be angry at him. He really did. But the summer days had made him mellow and even-tempered and he just couldn't summon up the energy. He fell into the seat next to Dustfinger and glared off to the side, watching the slight breeze dance fairly through the healthy stalks of grass.
"I'm sorry," Dustfinger whispered and Mo felt any remaining animosity melt away.
An uncomfortable silence stretched between them, both unsure on how to proceed. Mo found himself swinging his feet much like Dustfinger had been, causing the swing to wobble shakily to one side. Just as it seemed like Dustfinger was ready to make a break for it, Mo spoke again.
"What have you been doing these past months?" Mo asked suddenly. It wasn't exactly that he was interested, but in a way Dustfinger was his responsibility, and he should at least know how the man was feeding himself.
"Traveling. Keeping an eye on Capricorn and Basta. From a safe distance of course," Dustfinger smiled wryly.
"How are you getting food?"
Dustfinger hesitated before answering. "Performing, like I used to."
Mo caught quickly caught sight of the guilt on his face. "And stealing," he accused.
"Well, what do you expect?" Dustfinger snapped back. "It's all I know how to do. How else am I to make a living?"
Get a job, Mo thought instantly. But the more he turned it over in his mind, the more he realized how that wouldn't work. Even the simplest jobs took understanding of basic technologies that would baffle the poor entertainer. He couldn't even flip burgers at McDonalds.
"Do you get enough money that way?" Mo asked finally.
Dustfinger shrugged and his shirt slipped down further. "Sometimes. Those – what do you call them, soup kitchens? – are nice. They don't have those back home. They even give out stuff sometimes." Dustfinger tugged at the large t-shirt. "The shelters too. But the lines get too long."
"Oh." Mo thought back on all the times Resa would insist upon sending her old clothes to the charities. Mo would promise to take them to the nearest drop off, but the clothes would usually end up in a box in the back of the closet.
"What have you been doing?"
Mo blinked in surprise, but it was clear that, like Mo, Dustfinger wasn't really interested. He was just being courteous. Odd, for Dustfinger, but Mo supposed he was still trying to apologize about the book.
"Working, mostly. There's a bookstore in town that I've been helping out for a while now."
Dustfinger nodded. "I've seen it. The woman inside likes to chase Gwin with a broom whenever he gets too close."
"That sounds like Mrs. Janice. Oh, and I've been taking care of Meggie too, of course. She's growing fast. She just turned four." Mo felt his insides tremble. He never imagined that his little girl would turn four without a mother. Neither did Meggie – he didn't have to ask what she wished for when she blew out the candles.
"That's nice," said Dustfinger. "Silvertongue?"
The sudden pleading in Dustfinger's voice threw Mo off guard. When their eyes met he felt himself being dragged deeper and into the intense gaze; it wasn't entirely unwillingly. He couldn't quite pin down the names of colors in Dustfinger's stare as they whorled together in a wild storm. Suddenly the warmth of the sun, so comforting and close before, disappeared, and Mo felt himself shiver. There was something unidentifiable in Dustfinger's eyes. Something amid the chaos and underlined with desperation.
He didn't know if he imagined Dustfinger shifting closer, but knew the subtle fingers on his arm were real. For a moment Mo forgot how to breathe – they were too close and something like lightning was building in between them, drawing closer and closer to a thundering explosion.
Dustfinger leaned in close and his fingers reached the back of Mo's neck. Mo could smell him, and he didn't smell like he'd been living on the streets for half a year. Instead he smelled like the untempered wild – of wet, misty mornings and shifting earth and the underlying scent of some fiery foreign spice, like he spent his nights in the woods. He probably had.
Suddenly Dustfinger was speaking quickly and urgently to him, thumb rubbing circles into his neck – "Could you try again? Just once, I promise, please, just once. Then you could get rid of Capricorn and Basta and you wouldn't have to be afraid for Meggie. Just get the book and –"
The magic of the moment faded. Mo abruptly stood, shoving Dustfinger's hand away from him. His throat was tight and he felt like something had kicked him sharply in the stomach.
"You need to leave," Mo said tightly.
"Silvertongue –" Dustfinger began but the hostility in Mo's stance sent a clear message.
"Now," Mo ordered, face hard.
Dustfinger seemed to drag himself from the swing seat. He looked like Mo felt, hunched within himself like a kicked dog. As he descended the stairs, he spared one last glance behind him; Mo's expression didn't soften.
"You should start packing," Dustfinger advised flatly. "They'll be here within a day or so."
Dustfinger gave one high pitched whistle. Out from the weeds tumbled Gwin the marten, a small bird clamped in his jaws and looking extremely pleased with himself. He scampered up Dustfinger's jeans and shirt, and though Dustfinger cast a disgusted look at the dead animal in his pet's mouth, he did nothing to get rid of it.
By the time Dustfinger had disappeared from sight the sun had begun to set, casting rich oranges and golds across the field. The taste of spice remained in the air, mixing with the dying sunlight. Everything felt bitter. When he entered the house Meggie was just waking up from her nap. She smiled when she saw her father and held out her arms. He lifted her up without question and held her close, trying to banish all thoughts of the fire-dancer and how he had somehow made him forget, even though it was just for a moment, that he had a wife.
Mo saw Dustfinger five more times over the next three and a half years. All his visits were short and to the point – Capricorn's close, time to move again – though it was Mo that prevented them from being anything more. Their sentences were blunt and terse and physical contact was kept to a minimum, as though they were carefully circling each other, waiting for the other to make a false move. The moment the word "book" crossed Dustfinger's lips he was ordered out of the house, though Mo found himself tempted more than once to ask him to stay. It wasn't right for anyone to be living the way Dustfinger was living, and while he was adjusting, albeit slowly, to the world, he was out of place and miserable and Mo found it impossible to imagine his smile.
He found him thinking about Dustfinger more often then he should have. It was disconcerting, and without anyone to share his emotional turmoil with, he found himself burdened with more and more sleepless nights. He thought missing Resa would get easier over time – he was wrong, and in a disturbing way Dustfinger was starting to fill that gap in his life in the form of an unwilling obsession.
If Meggie noticed anything odd about her father, she didn't say. She never stopped trying to get Mo to read aloud to her, though she was asking less and less frequently. She also regularly asked about her mother, which was something Mo was quite willing to talk about, if only in a desperate attempt to cling on to the rapidly fading image of his wife.
One sleepless night as Mo poured over a particularly difficult binding, he heard a knock on the door. Too absorbed in his work, he moved to answer the door without thinking.
On the other side stood Dustfinger. Or rather, there swayed Dustfinger – his normal grace and balance seemed to have completely disappeared, leaving him awkward and unsteady. The man blinked owlishly several times before a large grin split across his face. He tossed his backpack inside and spread his arms wide in greeting.
"Silvertongue!" he boomed, stumbling forward. Mo instantly clapped his hand over Dustfinger's mouth, dragging the man inside and looking over his shoulder. Meggie was, at two in the morning, obviously asleep. Earlier in the day she had been plagued with a nasty cough, and Mo wanted her to get her rest. Dustfinger, annoyed at being so hastily silenced, licked the palm of Mo's hand. Disgusted, Mo retracted his hand and wiped on his pants. Dustfinger laughed and kicked the door shut behind him; Mo winced as the slam rattled the doorframe.
"I'm so glad I found you," Dustfinger continued, clearly enthused. "This is the fourth house I've been to."
"What are you doing here?" Mo demanded quietly but sternly, still trying to hush him. "Is Capricorn nearby?"
Catching the hint, Dustfinger lowered his voice, though it was still uncomfortably loud. "What, I'm not allowed to visit my favorite magician once in a while?" Dustfinger's words slurred together like running honey; Mo could smell the alcohol on his breath.
"No," Mo replied plainly. "If that's all –" Mo tried to reach around Dustfinger to open the door and force him back outside, but the fire-juggler would have none of that. Looking wounded, Dustfinger poked Mo viciously in the chest as he spoke, backing him away from the entrance.
"But I came to see you!" Dustfinger objected. "Why are you being so… so… unhospitable?"
"Inhospitable," Mo muttered under his breath. "Look, you're clearly drunk and you can't just come barging in here –"
"Why not?" Dustfinger cried in outrage, eyes blazing. "I just…" he trailed off, as though he forgot what he'd been saying. "Besides," he said after a moment, "I don't get drunk. I can drink the Black Prince himself under the table."
About to protest, Mo paused. Dustfinger was not simply bragging about his drinking abilities – he remembered a similar line within the pages of Inkheart nearly identical to what Dustfinger just proclaimed. It would take a lot more than Dustfinger could probably afford to truly get him drunk.
"Dustfinger," Mo asked cautiously, "are you okay?"
"Never better!" he replied brightly. "Did you know there are fairies in the world? It took me a while to find them, but I did." He dug his hands eagerly into his pockets. "But when I caught them –" he slowly held is arms out, hands in loose fists, "– they all died."
Dustfinger gradually opened his palms, inch by inch, to reveal an assorted collection of dead fireflies. "I think I squeezed too hard," Dustfinger explained. "But they just wouldn't come to me. I tried calling them, and fairies have always liked me, but they just wouldn't come."
Mo didn't know what to say. He stared at the bugs, fragile wings crushed, bioluminescence forever extinguished, and just couldn't find a way to explain that the ugly little creatures in his hands were not fairies. Meggie used to think that lightning bugs were fairies too, and the disappointment on her face when she realized that they were insects like any other was heartbreaking. It was somehow worse with Dustfinger.
As Mo's eyes wandered to Dustfinger's face, his eyes caught sight of a strange mark on Dustfinger's arm. Mo felt his stomach drop; his hand shot out to grab Dustfinger's arm just above the elbow, the other pushing up the long sleeves. Startled, the collection of insects went tumbling to the floor.
"Oops," Dustfinger said vaguely.
Mo's throat tightened as he traced a tiny dot on Dustfinger's forearm. The track marks were scattered all over, undoubtedly on the other arm as well. They were a horrible blemish upon Dustfinger's skin, a unique type of scar that could have never been acquired between the pages of the story that spawned him.
"Jesus, Dustfinger…" Mo breathed, grip tightening. Dustfinger winced.
"That hurts," Dustfinger complained. Mo, suddenly infuriated, shook him like a doll.
"What the hell were you thinking?" Mo roared. He prayed that the cough medicine he gave Meggie would keep her asleep – he wasn't sure he could control his volume. "Or were you thinking at all?"
"I was thinking!" Dustfinger jerked his arm back and stormed past him into the living room. Mo followed him, trying to prevent the piles of books he crashed by from falling over. Dustfinger stood in the center of the darkened room, crossing his arms and glaring.
"Obviously not! Do you know what this stuff does to you?"
Of course he doesn't, Mo. How would he? Mo's inner voice whispered. Mo, too angry to care about logic, stomped the thought into silence.
"He told me…. The man told me…" Dustfinger dropped his arms, apparently confused.
"Told you what? I can't wait to hear this!" Mo snarled, uncharacteristically aggressive.
"He said it'd take me home."
That was not the answer Mo was expecting. Dustfinger looked so lost and so pathetic that Mo felt sick at his own rage. Dustfinger's eyes were red and stinging, but it was like he couldn't cry. Instead he just stared, completely and utterly lost.
"He said it could take me anywhere," Dustfinger whispered. "Anywhere I wanted to go. Even home. And for a little while, he was right." He rubbed at his eyes, and, catching sight of the horrid marks, starred at them, utterly fascinated. "But then I started looking for you because I couldn't find Roxane, and…"
Dustfinger looked ready to collapse. "Sit down," Mo said softly, leading him over to the couch. Dustfinger shakily sat down. He'd begun to sweat and tremors ran up and down his body. "I'm going to get something for you to drink."
When Mo returned with a glass of water and a damp wash cloth, Dustfinger was staring at the ceiling as though it were the most fascinating thing in the world. He jumped when Mo sat down beside him and looked at him as though seeing him for the first time that night.
"Did you know your ceiling sparkles?" Dustfinger asked. "It's very strange."
With all the lights turned off, Mo wasn't sure how he was coming up with that, but decided it best not to dwell on it. He handed Dustfinger the glass, which he drained in a few quick gulps before Mo could stop him, and then pressed the cold cloth to his forehead, mopping away the sweat. Dustfinger froze at the first touch of the material to his face, but quickly relaxed and even leaned into the touch.
"That feels nice," he murmured. As Mo tried to pull away Dustfinger grabbed his wrist, keeping him in place.
"Dustfinger," Mo said sternly, but Dustfinger either didn't notice his tone or didn't care. He nuzzled the washcloth once with a sigh and then, in cocky defiance, removed it with his free hand so that Mo's fingers trailed across his damp flesh. Mo's fingers twitched, and that's when Dustfinger pressed the first kiss against Mo's wrist.
Mo's breath caught in his throat and he tried to tug away his hand, but failed. Dustfinger kissed the soft skin again. "Your fingers are rough," he commented.
Before Mo could reply, Dustfinger yanked him viciously foreword and kissed him hard against the mouth.
It wasn't a good kiss – it could barely qualify as even a decent kiss. Dustfinger's mouth tasted like beer and yesterday's meal while Mo's was dry and stale. But it quickly dissolved into something else entirely when Mo gasped and opened his mouth; Dustfinger slyly slipped his tongue past his teeth. It became wet and sloppy and delved deeper and deeper until Mo snapped his head back in a brief moment of clarity.
"What are you doing?" his voice was shaking though his face betrayed nothing. Dustfinger only smiled and pulled him in for more. But Mo jerked his hand from Dustfinger's grip and pushed against his chest. "No –"
In a surprising burst of strength and speed, Dustfinger pinned both of Mo's wrists against the cushions and sprawled himself over half his body. He bent down to lick Mo's neck and Mo shuddered in response. Dustfinger's lips travelled all over Mo's face and throat, leaving no inch of flesh untouched.
"You smell like home," Dustfinger mumbled in between nips and licks. "Every part of you – you reek of magic."
"Dammit, Dustfinger," Mo snarled, but his words had no strength behind them, "stop it."
"You feel so good," Dustfinger continued, unheeding. "So good."
"Dust –" Mo started. But every intelligent thought flew from his mind the moment Dustfinger found that spot behind his left ear and reached down to roughly cup his crotch.
Mo instantly bucked up off the couch and an inhumanly desperate whimpered clawed its way out of his throat. Dustfinger laughed and sucked the sensitive area, rubbing the heel of his hand against the worn denim. Mo thrashed and writhed, and finally getting his hands free, clawed desperately at Dustfinger's back.
It had been so long. Too long. Though his and Resa's relationship had never been about sex, it was still something they both enjoyed. When Resa disappeared, the thought of touching another person so intimately never even occurred to him – but now that he had a taste of it again he realized how much he missed the long, slow nights of pleasure… not that this was anywhere near what he and Resa shared. No, this was something else entirely, the physical drive wild and blazing instead of a warm and gradually building heat.
Dustfinger thumbed open the button on his jeans, and at the sound of the zipper, Mo almost thought he should try to stop him again. But then Dustfinger's clever hand was working inside his trousers and gripping his length through his underwear and "stop" simply wasn't in his vocabulary anymore. The ache in his groin was unbearable, and though he wanted to do something more, he simply couldn't get any his motor skills to function except to rock unsteadily against Dustfinger's hand. Dustfinger seemed content with grinding against Mo's leg and the couch and instead took to whispering nonsense into Mo's ear.
"So good, I can taste you everywhere… Gods, you feel so good, just…just, don't move, just like that, like that…?" Mo could feel it building, curling in his stomach. Everything felt damp and hot and the room was spinning and Dustfinger was right, his ceiling did sparkle… "Just like that…
"Silvertongue," Dustfinger whispered in his ear.
Maybe it was the way he said his name or maybe it was just finally just too much; in either case a second later Mo was coming in his jeans like a teenager and Dustfinger was swallowing up his cries with another kiss. An instant later, judging by the shuddering beside him, Dustfinger climaxed as well, and Mo, in a random epiphany, realized that he would have to flip over the same cushion that had the fruit juice stain on the other side.
Sticky and unhappy, Mo wriggled beneath Dustfinger. "Dustfinger," he called. Dustfinger didn't stir. Mo shook him roughly. "Dustfinger," Mo repeated, a little louder. When there was still no answer Mo's suspicions were confirmed – the man had passed out. With some difficult maneuvering, Mo managed to free himself, leaving Dustfinger alone on the soiled piece of furniture. Too exhausted and numb to worry about anything but his messy jeans, Mo dropped his pants and underwear in the laundry basket on his way to the bedroom and curled up underneath the covers of his bed and let sleep overtake him.
Mo awoke three hours later, though neither the ringing of an alarm clock nor had the first touches of sunlight filled his room. A glance at the silent clock told him that it was almost five thirty. He stared at the flickering red numbers and wondered if he looked hard enough for long enough if the they would start counting backwards until the past four years simply erased themselves. After ten minutes he realized it wasn't working and finally dragged himself out of bed.
He showered and dressed and before he realized what he was doing he was picking up Resa's old gray phone book and dialing a number. Restless and antsy, he paced the hallway until he stopped in the living room. Dustfinger was still asleep, draped half off the couch and curled up in an awkward way. The other end rang four times before there was an answer.
"Hello? Is this… Yeah, I… I know it's early. It's Mortimer. Mortimer, Teresa's husband? Yeah, hi. Listen," he shifted the phone to the other ear, "I know it's sudden, Anita, but I need you to take Meggie for a little while. Meggie, my daughter. I know, I know, it's just…" Mo glanced over at Dustfinger again. At the sound of Mo's voice he had begun to stir, but he didn't wake up – he only pulled himself back onto the couch and shifted into a more comfortable position. "She's just getting over a bad cough but I've got to leave for a few days for a job. I really need someone to look over her. I… oh, about, um, a week? School… uh…" Mo rapidly wracked his brain. "No, it's a holiday. Will you? Anita, thank you so much. I'll be there in a few hours. Thank you so much. Bye."
It wasn't until Mo hung up that he realized what he had done. But there was really no undoing it now. Mo went to Meggie's room and opened the door. She was asleep, but the moment Mo neared her bed her eyes slowly creaked open.
"Mo?" she mumbled tiredly.
"Hey." He knelt by her bedside and gently touched her hair. "You've got to get up and get dressed."
"But I'm tired," she muttered.
"I know. You can sleep in the car, okay?"
Mo turned to leave, knowing that Meggie would do as he asked without anymore prodding. Meggie sat up and stretched, rubbing her face and running her hands through her tousled hair.
"Mo?" she asked softly. "Are we moving again?"
Mo paused in the threshold, hand on the doorknob. "Not yet," he replied and shut the door.
Thirty minutes later Mo and Meggie were in the car on the way to Aunt Anita's, one of Resa's more tolerable relatives. Meggie didn't ask why she was being left at a near-stranger's house, but she did try to plead with him in the car.
"It'll only be for a little while, Meggie," Mo explained, but Meggie would hear nothing of it. She pouted and didn't speak to her father for the majority of the trip. Mo knew better than to take it personally, but still wished he had thought of some other solution for his problem. But there was no other way – if he wanted to take care of Dustfinger in his less than stellar condition, he could not have his seven-year-old in the house. Especially not after… he swallowed thickly and focused harder on the road. He didn't want to think about last night. He couldn't think about it. It made his face burn in shame and his stomach twist and toes curl. It made him feel like dirt.
It made him feel something dangerously close to happiness.
The drive came to an end some two hours later. Mo didn't take in any of the picket-fence scenery, quickly helping Meggie retrieve her overnight bag and knocking upon the door. Anita answered after three sharp knocks, hair in disarray and irritation standing out clearly on her face. Her gaze softened when she saw Meggie though, who blinked up at her with clearly nervous eyes.
"I haven't seen you since you were a baby," said Anita, "so I don't suppose you'll remember me." Meggie didn't answer and held Mo's hand all the tighter. This seemed to amuse Anita, and a second later she was ushering the young girl inside. "Go on. Albert's set up the guest room for you."
Meggie cast one last terrified glance behind her and Mo hoped his smile looked reassuring. As soon as Meggie was in the house Anita stepped outside and shut the door behind her, arms crossed and eyes probing. "Are you in some sort of trouble, Mortimer?"
Why were all of Resa's relatives so blunt? It was anything but an endearing quality, but they couldn't take all the blame – according to Resa he had an "open face" and wore his heart on his sleeve. She had thought it sweet, but Mo found it didn't serve well when it came to unsavory characters or annoying relatives.
Mo tried not to look away when he answered. "Why would you think that?"
Anita scowled. "We may not have always been that close, Mortimer, but I've kept up with you two. And from what I've heard, you and that child are never apart. So are you going to explain to me why that confused little girl is inside my house at the crack of dawn instead of home in her bed?"
It was official. He hated Resa's relatives.
"I've got work," he replied evenly. "Like I said."
Anita shook her head, but it seemed she was ready to give up. "If you say so. But this better not be a repeat occurrence."
"It won't be," Mo answered a little too quickly, causing Anita's stare to grow prying once again. He cautiously blanked his face and she seemed temporarily, if not happily, satisfied.
"See you soon, Mortimer," she said at last, the words sounding more like and order than a farewell. It wasn't until the front door shut again that Mo allowed himself to breathe again. He practically ran back to the car and hoped that he hadn't just made two mistakes in the last twenty-four hours.
As he gave the house one last look over, he nearly missed the sad pair of eyes staring at him from the second story window.
It was then he realized that if he drove away now, he will have made that second mistake.
Mo put the car in reverse and rolled out of the driveway.
When Mo returned, he found Dustfinger on his hands and knees in the bathroom, washcloth in hand, scrubbing furiously at the floor. The man didn't look up immediately and Mo watched him work silently. Though he seemed completely focused on his task, his arms were shaking and he stopped every other moment to scratch at his arm or swipe a hand across the back of his mouth. When Mo cleared his throat Dustfinger jumped away from whatever he was wiping at and froze. Hesitantly, he glanced over his shoulder, but relaxed when he saw it was Mo, though a guilty look was on his face.
"You weren't here," said Dustfinger, returning to his task, "when I woke up. I thought you went away without telling me."
"I went to drop off Meggie." Mo tried to peer over Dustfinger's shoulder, but most of Dustfinger's body was blocking his view. "If you thought I left, why did you stay?" Dustfinger didn't answer. "What are you doing?" Mo tried instead. Dustfinger leaned back to reveal a brownish-pink, chunky mess before him.
"I missed the toilet," he explained and went back to mopping up his mess. A second later he stopped abruptly, shivering violently. Concerned, Mo knelt by his side, trying to take the cloth away from him, but Dustfinger jerked away, pale face angry.
"I'm fine!" he said, voice a bit shrill. "I've got it!"
"You should be in bed," Mo replied gently. Placing a hand on the small of his back, Mo slowly guided Dustfinger to his feet.
"But I'm not done…" Dustfinger protested as Mo led him out of the bathroom. Mo shushed him, and after a moment's hesitation, steered him into his bedroom instead of back to the couch. Dustfinger fell boneless onto the bed. Mo, blocking all thoughts of the previous night, placidly stripped him down to his underwear. Dustfinger was not in good shape – he seemed much thinner than usual, sweats and shivers wracking his body.
Though Dustfinger weakly tried to push the covers away Mo still tucked the bed sheets firmly around him. "Everything hurts," Dustfinger moaned. "Why does it hurt?"
"The stuff you took was bad for you," said Mo, as though explaining to a child. Dustfinger looked up at him with large watery eyes and groaned, turning on his side. "I'll get some water."
"Uh huh," Dustfinger mumbled. Mo didn't realize that he was rushing around until he spilled the first glass all over the kitchen floor. Calming down and scolding himself for acting like a fool, he walked back into his bedroom with a straight face. Showing Dustfinger how fretful he was would do nothing to help his situation.
"Drink slowly," Mo ordered. Dustfinger sipped slowly at the glass, eyes heavy. A few swallows later, he leaned back. Mo brushed his hair away from his forehead more tenderly than he meant to.
"Sleep," Mo said softly.
"It hurts," Dustfinger whimpered. But already his eyes were sliding shut.
"I know." No, he didn't know. Not really. But at that moment, he wanted nothing more than for Dustfinger to feel safe. Cared for. Not alone.
Like Mo had been.
"Sleep," Mo repeated. Seconds later Dustfinger's rapid breaths evened out into gentle, lulling sighs.
Mo kept himself busy by cleaning up the mess in the bathroom (a rather unpleasant task) and tidying up the house. He tried to work on the books in his workshop, but his hands were shaking too badly to get anything done. After slicing his palm for the third time he gave up and went on to less dangerous chores. All the while Dustfinger drifted in and out of consciousness, never staying awake long enough to do anything but take a few bites of food and go to the bathroom. At least he wasn't throwing up anymore.
Days went by with this odd routine. Every night Meggie would call, begging to come home, and every time Mo would whisper a soft "I love you" into the mouthpiece and hang up before she could object. With every phone call his will was cracking, but a glimpse into the bedroom would remind him why he was doing it in the first place.
It took four days for Dustfinger to come to full wakefulness. His eyes, previously clouded with mist, were clear and sharp, darting curiously around the room. It was mid afternoon and the light spring rain tapped a gentle cadence against the window pane. Mo was not in the room. Feeling the stiffness in his limbs, Dustfinger moved from the bed slowly, sheets draped over his shoulders. He opened the window and stuck a hand outside. The drops danced across his fingertips. As if he wasn't sure it was real, he brought the water to his lips – it was cool and sweet.
"You'll get sick again if you leave the window open like that."
Dustfinger spun around, hand still to his mouth. Mo eyed him strangely, almost smiling. A dishtowel was draped over his arm and his hands were still soapy with large, white bubbles. He dried his hands off with the towel as he crossed his room and shut the window. Oddly self-conscious, Dustfinger wrapped the sheet more tightly around his body, silently following Mo's movements.
"You've been in and out for almost four days," said Mo. "How are you feeling?"
"Fine," Dustfinger answered instantly. At Mo's raised eyebrow, he relented. "Better."
"That's better than nothing." Mo paused, struggling with something. "How much… How much do you remember?"
Dustfinger's look said it all. Mo quickly turned away, walking to the door. "Food will be ready in a few minutes, if you're up to it. Since you're up, I think we'll try something a bit more solid than chicken noodle."
Dustfinger nodded, but remembering that Mo's back was to him, spoke. "Alright." He coughed – his throat felt gravely from disuse. It took another second for Mo to leave the doorway. The tension in the room for those few fleeting moments was thick and nothing was said to ease it. When Mo walked away, Dustfinger felt a breath he didn't know he was holding expel from his body and he slumped down on the mattress.
Lunch seemed like the most delicious food he'd ever tasted. It was nothing fancy – a few sandwiches – but he downed them like it was his last meal on earth. Mo watched him eat without taking anything for himself. The more he ate the happier Mo seemed to be, though he tried (and failed) to hide it. When Dustfinger finally finished, he felt his eyelids begin to droop. He attempted to stifle a yawn but it escaped him nevertheless.
"Once you take a shower, you can go back to sleep." Mo gathered up Dustfinger's dishes and put them in the sink. It was still overflowing with bubbles. A single iridescent sphere glided over and popped on Dustfinger's nose.
"I've been sleeping for four days."
"But you haven't been resting. You need to get some real sleep."
Though Dustfinger's brain wanted to argue, his body didn't. He took a quick shower (afraid that he would fall asleep and drown himself) and took the liberty of borrowing one of Mo's shirts to sleep in. He settled down in bed, tilting his head towards the window to watch the rain. It had yet to stop.
A short while later Mo came into the room. He stood at the threshold for several minutes; Dustfinger didn't look at him. Finally, he settled next to Dustfinger, a hair's breathe away. Close enough to touch. Close enough to…
The rain pitter-pattered against the window. "Tell me about your world," whispered Mo.
The subject of the land tucked between the covers of Inkheart – the world that swallowed Resa, the world that had so quickly and cruelly rejected Dustfinger – was more taboo than even the discussion of the book itself. Neither of them had ever wanted to think of a place that held such terrible feelings of resentfulness and longing. Not once had it been spoken of through the long years. But now, watching the rain, Dustfinger allowed himself to think back; back to his home and the land he loved.
At first he couldn't capture the image, and it terrified him so; but then it flowed back and his eyes fluttered shut briefly to sharpen the reflection to perfection.
"When it would rain," began Dustfinger, "like it's doing now, it would soak the forest floor and bring all the richness of the earth to surface. The drops would cling to leaves for hours, long after it had stopped, trapping the smells between the canopy and the roots. The air was thick; heavy, like a woman's perfume, but not false or artificial. It was all real – so real.
"The fairies would hide from the rain for as long as they could. But it would catch them eventually, and soak their wings. The sunlight would shimmer off them and cast rainbow shadows on the ground and would change and glow every time the sun moved. The wild glass men would come out too, and when the rain hit them it would create a beautiful song, like glass shattering over and over again in rhythm and time.
"I'd walk barefoot through the woods when it rained like that. Usually rain made it hard to create fire, but when it rained like that, I didn't mind. It was like walking through a dream; a beautiful endless dream."
Dustfinger finally looked at Mo. Mo's lips were slightly parted and he was gazing nowhere; his eyes were clouded over with fog that reflected nothing but drops of rain and Dustfinger's hair. Their eyes met and Mo's eyes cleared.
"It sounds wonderful," said Mo.
"It is," replied Dustfinger.
The rain continued on. The sun sank lower towards the horizon and shined through the window, casting rainbow shadows on the floor. The air was thick.
Unwillingly, Dustfinger looked away first; his jaw stretched open into a yawn. Mo slid off the bed.
"I'm sorry. Go to sleep."
"Where are you sleeping?" asked Dustfinger, even as his thoughts began to muddle within his brain.
"I've been sleeping on the couch." Mo flipped the light switch off, banishing the multihued shades, and began to shut the door.
"You don't have to do that."
No. He didn't. They both knew what Dustfinger was really saying: Come. Stay. Stay with me. Don't go. Come. Stay.
But no. Not yet.
Dustfinger was asleep before the word "goodnight" was able to pass his lips.
Mo went to sleep not to long after Dustfinger. He slept deeply and fitfully with dreams of fairies and forests and awoke feeling better rested than he had in years. For the first time in a long time, his dreams held not even a whisper of Resa. He didn't know if he should be frightened or grateful. He settled on both and didn't dwell on what kind of man that made him.
The two men danced about each other in a pleasant haze that morning. They both awoke with the sun and moved around the house as though they had done it a million time before. Neither asked what the other wanted for breakfast, simply taking what they wanted, and passed the coffee pot back and forth over the table. They didn't quite smile at each other, but whenever by chance their gazes happened to meet they would look away out of shyness more than embarrassment, and the hidden expressions would grow a little wider.
After breakfast Mo went into his workshop and left Dustfinger with the television. He hummed as he cut and stitched and the process never felt more natural. The background hum of the TV was a welcome accompaniment and he chuckled every time he heard a gasp or a snort wander in from the hallway.
Are you crazy, Folchart? his mind asked every few minutes.
Yes, he would answer. And he didn't mind.
He stopped for lunch at noon. Dustfinger joined him, and for what seemed like the first time, they simply talked. About television, of all things. The miracle of the glass-faced box never ceased to amaze the fire-juggler and he simply didn't understand why Mo didn't watch it more often. Mo let Dustfinger ramble on and on about how the shows made no sense, but how that was their appeal. Mo thought it best not to point out that he'd been watching soap operas and of course they didn't make sense, but he assumed Dustfinger wouldn't understand what he was talking about and just listened instead, smiling and nodding.
Mo went back to working and Dustfinger went back to his soaps and it began raining again, like yesterday.
Around two o'clock Dustfinger turned off the TV and wandered outside, barefoot, in nothing but Mo's shirt and underwear. He stood on the porch listening to the light showers splash and splatter against the gravel driveway and tin gutters. It wasn't the tinkling of raindrops upon glass men; but it was music of a different kind nonetheless. He stepped away from the shelter of the house and let the rain mist against his face and hair.
Around two-thirty Mo put the finishing touches on one last book before deciding it was time to take another break. Though he hadn't completely caught up on his work yet, he was farther along than he thought he'd be. He began wandering the house, unconsciously looking for Dustfinger. He stopped in his bedroom and stared at the empty bed; the empty bed that had been occupied for nearly a week by another man. The sheets were tousled, twisted, lived in. Everything was cast in an odd, orange-ish glow that reminded him of a hearth, but the echo of the rain made him think of something else.
Distracted by his own idle thoughts, he didn't hear Dustfinger enter the room behind him. But despite that, he didn't start when his felt the other body near his own. He didn't move when he felt fingers trail down his arms, nor did he flinch when a forehead rested against his back. The dampness of rainwater chilled his shoulders.
"You've been outside," Mo commented. He didn't know if he should be speaking or not, but he didn't know what else to do.
"I wanted to feel the rain." Dustfinger's hands continued to ghost down Mo's sides.
"You might get sick again."
"I wouldn't mind that much."
Mo felt weightless, like in a dream. He turned around slowly until he and Dustfinger were face to face. It took a moment for him to remember to breathe as they stood there together. Mo had never thought that men could be considered beautiful, but there was no other way to describe Dustfinger in that moment. Droplets clung to him and made him glow in the midday light. His hair, slightly frizzed, fanned his head like a halo. His body, even when standing perfectly still, gave off the sensuous air of a dancer, accented by his long, exposed legs. He could smell him – a damp, sweet spice, good and familiar.
For once, all words were lost – they were meaningless now. Mo cupped Dustfinger's face with both hands and kissed him softly on the mouth.
Dustfinger didn't react right away. But then his lips parted and his tongue flicked out to touch Mo's, returning the embrace.
The kiss lasted for a long time. They were in no rush; it was not the frantic, ragged race like the encounter from the beginning of the week. This was something gentler, more heartfelt – more meaningful. Touches were hesitant, thoughtful, and carefully place. They tested each other, moving about in each other's space finding comfortable handholds that would lead to mutual pleasure. Courteous, but not awkward. Trying to make it how a "first time" should be.
Mo and Dustfinger were equally surprised when the back of Mo's knees hit the mattress and they tumbled upon the bed. A short nervous laugh burst from Mo's mouth. Dustfinger just smiled and kissed him again. He wiggled off of Mo's body and rested on his knees, drawing Mo up as well.
They undressed each other slowly. Dustfinger almost timidly worked the buttons on Mo's chest, starting from the top and working his way down to the bottom until finally pushing the shirt of his shoulders. He idly traced the skin of his neck and shoulders – every part of him was unbelievably soft. He'd never even touched a woman that soft before. Mo removed Dustfinger's shirt as well, pulling it over his head, revealing inch by inch his stomach. Dustfinger shook his hair and tossed the shirt aside before squirming out of his briefs.
Mo felt lightning charge between them. Dustfinger's cock, proudly erect, was dusted with light red curls. Mo's mouth went dry and suddenly a very obvious part of reality began knocking on his door – he had no idea what he was doing. He opened and closed his mouth several times, searching for a way to explain his dilemma without sounding like a complete fool.
Chuckling at Mo's expression, Dustfinger put a finger to the bookbinder's lips and guided the other man's hand to between his legs. He leaned in close, cheek to cheek, and whispered into his ear.
"Like you do yourself."
No other explanation was needed. Though still a bit hesitant, Mo began moving his hand up and down over the other man's length. Dustfinger moaned at the touch and his arousal grew. He tangled one hand into Mo's hair. Their faces were still touching.
Experimentally, Mo ran his thumb over the tip several times; Dustfinger hissed sharply and Mo did it again. Dustfinger's hips rolled back and forth and Mo increased his pace, lightly squeezing the base. Precum leaked from the end and his balls tightened. Dustfinger came with a gasp and Mo continued to pump his erection until the last bit of seed had emerged.
Dustfinger finally pulled away, face flushed and grin wicked. Mo squirmed in place; Dustfinger's expression made him achingly aware of his own hardness, still contained by jeans.
Slyly, Dustfinger lifted up Mo's come-covered hand and lapped the seed from his fingers; Mo whimpered.
Dropping Mo's hand, Dustfinger wordlessly and gently pushed Mo onto his back, bending his legs at the knees and spreading them. Mo settled onto this elbows to watch, but Dustfinger pushed him back down again. He leaned over and kissed his way down Mo's chest, lapping and nipping at his nipples, hands cleverly undoing his pants.
Mo's breath grew shallow as Dustfinger's mouth neared his erection. His lips paused at his navel and with a swift jerk, Mo's blue jeans and briefs were down to his knees; Mo helped him along by kicking them the rest of the way off. Dustfinger temporarily abandoned Mo's stomach to kneel between his parted thighs. His hot breath caressed Mo's prick, which twitched.
Mo nearly screamed when Dustfinger's lips closed over the head of his cock; instead he bit down on the inside of his cheek so hard it bled. Sensing Mo's strong reaction, Dustfinger held down his hips as he engulfed more of the swollen length.
Dustfinger's tongue swirled and teased the flesh as he sucked. Mo bucked and writhed, but Dustfinger's hands held him firm. He would not be able to last that long, not with the way Dustfinger's mouth moved over his cock. His hands tugged Dustfinger's hair, but the man didn't seem to mind. He went right lapping at Mo's dick, but right when Mo was sure he was going to come, he pulled away.
Dustfinger came off of Mo's flesh with a wet pop and Mo nearly cried out in frustration. Unknowingly, he had been squeezing his eyes shut during the whole ordeal; now he cracked them open to find Dustfinger doing something peculiar.
Dustfinger had moved nearly to the opposite side of the bed and had positioned himself on his hands and knees. Oddly fascinated, Mo could only watch as Dustfinger put three fingers in his mouth and began to suck on them in an almost obscene fashion. His tongue swirled around the digits until they were sufficiently wet. Then, he reached behind himself and…
Oh, Jesus! Dustfinger pressed the first finger into himself with relative ease. Mo, eyes wide, was completely frozen. The second and third fingers were a little harder as they moved and stretched inside Dustfinger's ass. Mo found his hand creeping towards his hardness at sight.
Spying Mo out of the corner of his eye, Dustfinger swiftly removed the fingers and returned to him, batting the hand away. He straddled him slowly. Their lengths touched; Dustfinger was already hard again. He touched their lips together and settled down upon his hips, pressing the head of Mo's cock against his entrance.
Mo's hands shot up to grab Dustfinger's thighs. "You… You don't have to –"
Dustfinger's lips travelled to his neck and to the spot behind his ear. Mo jerked and squeezed the skin in his hands. Dustfinger laughed softly and impaled himself upon the hard flesh, moving down inch by inch. Within moments, he was completely sheathed.
It felt… there were no words for what it felt like. When Mo listened he could hear the whole world captured with their breaths, steadily moving in and out; the sound of their heartbeats, beating in time. Synchronicity, simple and all encompassing, consumed their beings. It was anything but crude. It was perfectly everything. The feeling lasted all but a second. And that was enough.
Then, Dustfinger began to move.
He rocked up and down on the shaft, drawing away and shifting closer in an unhurried tempo. With every movement Mo gasped and groaned, pulses of heat flashing behind his eyes and bursting within his stomach. It took a few moments for him to gather his wits enough to move with the fire-bringer, but soon they rocked together as they tried again and again to capture that now-elusive sensation of absolute togetherness.
Mo grunted and in a dizzying maneuver, rapidly flipped their positions, thrusting inside the other man with new-found fervor. Dustfinger only spread his legs wider in response, arching up as Mo brushed a certain spot inside him that made him see stars. All earlier hesitations and reservations were lost; they rushed forward in their passion, lost in the overwhelming heat of the moment; all-consuming, scorching heat.
Something coiled and twisted in Mo's lower belly, threatening to explode. He bent down low and whispered something into Dustfinger's ear, chanting it over and over again like a lifeline. Dustfinger bucked and twisted and was whispering, rambling back. They whispered hidden words, words that should never be said aloud unless under special circumstances (but they did anyway), decorated with lust and fire and the rain and some unnamable secret spice. Whispered words that should never be shared twice – yet both men had with women locked away in another world. Words that were so much more than words.
Mo came first, exploding hotly into Dustfinger. He nearly collapsed, but instead reached in between their bodies to give Dustfinger the few, hard strokes needed to push him over the edge; his orgasm spread messily between them.
Mo pulled out slowly and fell beside his partner, breathless and exhausted. There was come on his thighs and chest. Dustfinger turned onto his side so they faced one another. He wiped them down with the bedspread and then discarded it, crumbling it into a ball and throwing over the edge of the bed.
Warm with afterglow and something else, they fell asleep, fingers entwining between them.
The rain still tapped against the window.
He had terrible dreams.
Fever dreams; painful, stinging, burning a black path across his mind. He dreamt of dead woods with ugly brown bugs with dying glows instead of fairies. He dreamt of crumbling castles and empty marketplaces littered with filth and remains of plague. He dreamt of white women.
He dreamt of two little girls and an elegant maid in the arms of the white women. He dreamt of tombstones with no names.
But then he dreamt of rain; light showers and sprinkling drizzles. Silver rain, falling down, down, down and soaking the earth and making rainbow shadows.
The rain scared him more than the headstones.
The liquid silver cut him deep, far too deep; straight to his soul. It filled him up, so easily, so sweetly, so…
"I love you."
He had terrible dreams.
When Mo awoke, Dustfinger's eyes were just beginning to creak open as well. Their gazes met at the same time and Mo couldn't help but smile. He reached out and gently stroked the hair falling onto Dustfinger's cheek. The sky outside was dark and the rain had stopped.
"Hey," said Mo gently.
Dustfinger didn't answer, only sighed and nuzzled the caressing hand. Mo indulgently twirled the red strands between his fingers for a moment before dipping in close for a kiss. It was chaste, but pleasurable, and was followed shortly by a second and a third. As the number of kisses steadily rose, Mo found himself rolling on top of Dustfinger.
"So will you do it now?" Dustfinger asked as he came up for breath.
"Hmm?" Mo's lips fluttered from Dustfinger's face to his neck, lightly nipping and sucking.
"Will you – ah! – will you send me home now?"
Mo drew away sharply. Heedless of Mo's startled expression, Dustfinger rolled his hips up and curled a fist into his hair.
"What?" Mo whispered.
"Send me home," Dustfinger repeated casually, peppering nips across Mo's jaw. "Where is the book, by the way?"
Numbness spread throughout Mo's body from head to toe. He wasn't hearing this. He couldn't be hearing this.
"I gave you what you wanted," Dustfinger continued, running his hands down Mo's sides, "so I figure my debt's repaid. You can send me home. It's only fair."
He wanted to scream; he wanted to hit something, beat at the walls, tear through the house as a whirlwind of destruction. He wanted to cry. But all he could do was stare down at the man (god, not just a man anymore, his lover) beneath him and struggle to get his vocal chords to work.
Dustfinger began reaching for his flaccid cock, but Mo roughly pushed his hands away.
"You still think, after all this time, you still think I did this on purpose?" Confusion, pain, and anger rolled together to form a terrible ugly sound, unlike anything that had ever before passed his lips. Dustfinger stilled completely. It was the most horrible noise he'd ever heard emerge from Mo's mouth – it sounded so wrong coming from that silver tongue, so adept at spinning beautiful tales. "You still think I'm… punishing you, toying with you?"
"I…" Dustfinger's face was perplexed. "Am I wrong?"
There was moment of dead silence.
"So you thought I dragged you here on a whim," Mo said flatly, cold rage creeping into his voice. "Thought I had planned this whole game, thought I decided to torture you for a couple of years until you finally figure out that my method of payment is a good fuck. Is that what you thought?"
Is that what you think of me?
"It's what you wanted," Dustfinger pointed out.
"What I wanted? What I wanted? I didn't want all this!" Mo's nails violently dug into Dustfinger's shoulders. "I just… all I wanted was…"
To have my wife in my arms again. To hear my daughter laugh. To have a normal life. To erase the past.
To stay with you, to fall in love with you, to love you, to forget the past…
"Can do what, Dustfinger?" Mo asked tiredly. Dustfinger's hands wandered again, this time to Mo's face. Mo pulled away and off of Dustfinger, shoving the fire-dancer away. "Get out."
Puzzled, Dustfinger reached for Mo again, but was swiftly rebuffed – Mo pushed him away so hard that he scrambled precariously on the edge of the bed for several seconds before falling to an ungraceful heap onto the ground. Painfully, Dustfinger rose to his feet and began to gather his discarded clothes (borrowing Mo's pants). The small pile in his arms, he timidly approached the bed. Mo said nothing – his eyes were layered with frost.
"Please, Silvertongue," he began.
"I said get out," Mo hissed.
Suddenly, Dustfinger's wariness disappeared and anger colored his cheeks.
"Send me home, dammit!" Dustfinger cried, voice splitting through the air. "I just want to go home!"
Mo looked up sharply. A second later he was getting off of the bed, eyes narrowed dangerously. Panicked, Dustfinger stumbled away fearfully as Mo backed him towards the bedroom door. Then, with cold precision, Mo stuck him hard across the face.
Dustfinger's ears were left ringing and a dark contusion began to form almost immediately on his cheek. He shrank into himself as he stared up at Mo in terror, knees weak.
Mo had never hit anyone before in his life. But he didn't leave himself time to regret it or even think about it – he was screaming and shouting like he had never before, hands itching to have another taste of bruised flesh.
"I can't!" he roared, shaking from the intensity of it. "How many times have I told you? I can't send you home! I don't even know how I did it! I'm not a goddamn magician!" Dustfinger was trembling – Mo didn't care. "I never wanted you here! You were just a stupid story!"
Mo had backed Dustfinger against the door as he yelled. "I am not magician, my name is not Silvertongue, and I cannot send you home! So get the hell out of here!" Mo's voice dwindled down to a harsh whisper. "And don't you ever come back here again, because even if you do I'm not going to be here. Now, get. Out."
Dustfinger's hand groped wildly behind him for the door handle. Finding it, he swung the door open so quickly that he nearly fell trying to get out. Upon reclaiming his balance, he ran through the house, not even stopping long enough to put on any clothes. As he rushed through the front door, he grabbed his backpack, pulled his t-shirt over his head, and didn't look back.
Mo wanted to weep. He wanted to curl into a ball and disappear from the world. But it was as though all emotion short of weariness had been sucked out of him. So he did what he should have done a week ago – he called his daughter.
He would waste no tears on the fire-eater named Dustfinger.
Mo remained true to his word – when Dustfinger returned to the house two days later, it was empty. Nothing was left, save a lone bed sheet stained with splotches of white. He burned it.
Meggie never asked what happened to her father in that long, lonely week. Over time, it seemed like she had forgotten all about it. It was for the best – Mo could only wish his memory was so fickle. Hard as he may, he still had dreams of a golden afternoon and a tangle of sweat-slicked limbs. And whenever he walked by a spice rack he would try in vain to pick out a unique, fiery blend, only to realize seconds later that it simply didn't exist. And he didn't cook, in any case.
But worse of all, whenever it rained, the light spring rains that felt like mist against his face, he would think of a surreal forest that sang when the rain fell and cast rainbow shadows on the floor. He would think of it and hate the rain – but hated himself a little more.
A thousand miles away, another man would feel the rain, feel it burn instead of soothe, and think the same thing.
*Borrowed this line from the book! Yay!