A/N: I apologize about the extremely late update. Life's been rough. I will try to update more frequently from now on. I have up to chapter 7 already written up. They just need to be typed. I must admit, it's weird getting back into this story. I love it so much, but it's been years, so I need to re-establish the connection I once had to it.

I know this request is early, but I have a question for any and all readers who happen to like my little fic. Should I continue past the smut chapter, aka chapter 7? Spoiler: things don't progress story-wise past their physical intimacy; meaning the chapter ends with them falling asleep. This does leave the story with an ending quandary, but I recognize that some people simply like to read m/m fics for the sex. I'm not saying this is a bad thing. I just wanna know who will want to read further into the story. I had initially planned on continuing till the very end of Inkdeath and I'm still willing to do so if my readers approve. So let me know what you think.

I deeply appreciate all the favorites, alerts, and reviews I've gotten for this fic so far. It means a lot knowing that people find my stories enjoyable. Again, I'm extremely sorry for not updating this fic sooner. So many of you gave me encouragement. I dedicate this long chapter to you. Thank you all so very much!

* = excerpt from the actual book (it's hilarious how shippy the book made those two. It got to the point that I couldn't ignore it)

Meggie and her mother returned to the Motley camp late that afternoon. Farid waited anxiously, but was rather disappointed when he didn't see Dustfinger amongst the returning group. Though he was glad to see Meggie, he knew deep down that his heart held the fire tamer in a much higher regard. Oh how he longed to see him again.

He looked up at the Black Prince, worry pouring from his dark eyes, and noticed how forlorn the infamous robber appeared. Perhaps he missed Dustfinger, too. Or maybe he's worried about the Bluejay.

"Where is he?" Farid finally choked out.

Knowing how attached the boy was to his mentor, the Black Prince didn't need to think twice about who he was referring to.

"Where the Bluejay is, of course," he stated bluntly with a small sigh. He noticed the terror growing in Farid's eyes and quickly re-worded his last statement. "No, I don't mean in the dungeon. Just near him… watching over his life like a guardian angel. *Death has bound those two together, and only death can tear them apart again."*

'Though, I must admit, those two have been inseparable long before then. I guess it took something as traumatic as death to make them come to terms with it. How fickle. Makes me a tad bit jealous. Oh well. I wish them happiness in whatever path they choose.' He continued the conversation in the safety of his mind, knowing that what he was thinking would probably hurt the poor Arab boy. He began to feel a kinship with Farid, one that was formed only in the mere fact that they both secretly loved their precious fire-dancing friend.

Farid looked quizzically at the robber. Even though the thought of the Bluejay and Dustfinger sharing such a deep bond made his chest ache in unexplainable ways, he still didn't understand what death had to do with what was currently going on.

"What do you mean by that? What does Death have to do with their bond? I understand that the Bluejay brought Dustfinger back from the dead, but you speak as if it runs deeper than that."

The infamous Prince smiled sympathetically at the boy's naivety. He wrapped a large arm around his shoulders and ushered him towards the campsite. "You'll understand when the time is right, my boy. You're still very young. Now then, why don't we go sit by the fire, make ourselves something warm to drink, and you can tell me all about how lovely the Bluejay's daughter is."

He was happy to see Farid tense up a little, not to mention blush at the mention of Meggie. He wanted the boy to forget about his unrequited love for Dustfinger and focus more on people who'd willingly return his affections. He mentally sighed, knowing he had to do the same.

Deep into the evening hours, Farid awoke from his slumber with a start. He looked down and saw a marten gnawing lightly on his toes. He raised a curious eyebrow.

"Gwin, is that you?" The little marten looked up at him and chirped his response. It then scurried to the mouth of the tent Farid was resting in and chirped some more. The boy knew he was being ushered to follow.

"Are you taking me to Dustfinger?" He smiled brightly, and with unmatched excitement, he quietly tip-toed past the sleeping bodies on the floor and hurried after Gwin. He couldn't wait to be reunited with the man his heart yearned for.

Gwin guided him to the east side of Ombra castle, where he saw Dustfinger leaning against the structure's stony wall, waiting and listening intently. Farid followed his heart as he ran at full speed towards the fire dancer.

Upon hearing rapid footsteps heading in his direction, Dustfinger's head jerked in their general direction, ready to defend against the source. He smiled with relief when he saw it was his young apprentice, followed closely by Gwin. Dustfinger always found himself missing the Arab boy whenever they were apart for long periods of time. He considers him the son he never had. With outstretched arms, he readily embraced the excited teen.

The warmth, the scent of fire and ash... just the mere presence of Dustfinger made Farid's heart leap for the heavens. He held him as tightly as his scrawny arms allowed, fearful that if he let go, he would disappear from his life once more.

"Dustfinger, I'm so happy to see you! Thank you for summoning me. I was getting worried."

The fire eater pulled out of the embrace and ruffled Farid's hair playfully. "You worry way too much about me. I've lived in this world my whole life. Well, okay, nine years of it was spent in Silvertongue's world, but my point still remains. I can survive on my own just fine, lad." His face grew wary as he peered up the castle walls, "It's Silvertongue I'm worried about."

"Are they with him now? The guards and the Piper, I mean." Farid asked as he accompanied Dustfinger's vision up the castle walls.

The blond leaned his left ear, along with his whole body, against the nearby wall and fell silent for a few seconds. "No, they haven't visited him tonight, yet. He's okay… for now." A sigh of relief left his lungs.

Farid cocked his head slightly to one side, his brows knitting together in confusion. "How do you know?"

Dustfinger pushed himself away from the wall, but left a hand resting against it. He couldn't contain the smile that grew slightly as he explained, "I can feel it. It's strange, but ever since Silvertongue brought me back from the world of the dead, I've been able to feel his emotions, like they were my own. *It's as if Death transplanted his heart into my breast.*" He placed his free hand over his heart, illustrating his point, "I'm sure it's the same for him."

The joy in Dustfinger's eyes frightened Farid. Ever since he came back from the dead, it's as if a new person took his place and left his old personality behind. He felt so uneasy around him now and he hated admitting that.

He shook his head in an attempt to push those thoughts and feelings to the back of his mind, at least for the time being. He forced a smile as he spoke, "So what can I do to help? You summoned me for a reason, I gather?"

The fire tamer snapped his fingers, "Oh, that's right! I wanted to show you some new tricks I learned while on the other side." He made a fist with his right hand, whispered sweet nothings into it, then placed it against the castle wall. Sure enough, little flaming spiders began crawling out from between his fingers and up the wall. The blond smiled mischievously at his work. "The Piper hates spiders more than anything. Those should keep him and his guards busy for a while – hopefully long enough to spare Silvertongue a beating for tonight."

Farid's eyes grew wide with excitement as he watched his mentor's little creatures climb higher and higher still. "Teach me how to do that, please! I wish to try!"

Dustfinger smiled knowingly, "I'm not sure if you'll be able to. I mean, I was only able to acquire such a skill while being dead, so…"

"I was dead, too, you know! Maybe not for as long as you, but it still counts! Please teach me, Dustfinger!"

Dustfinger hastily put a hand over Farid's mouth and whispered, "Alright, alright! Not so loud! I don't wanna get thrown in the dungeon because you had to be so boisterous about learning a new fire trick. Whisper if you want to say something." He cautiously surveyed the area before removing his hand.

"I'm sorry, Dustfinger." The young boy's head fell in shame.

The fire eater patted him on the head, "No harm done, so lift your head up. I can't show you how to perform new tricks when your eyes are glued to the ground, now can I?"

Farid's head jerked up in time to see a blue eye wink, "You're willing to teach me?" He could not contain his joy as he lunged at Dustfinger, "Thank you so much! You will not be disappointed. I will work very hard. I promise!"

The older man chuckled as he pried himself out of the boy's vice grip. "I know, I know, Farid. You always do your best, so I don't doubt your enthusiasm. Come now, we have so much to do in so little time. Now watch closely."

Like a predator eyeing its pray, Farid never took his focus away from Dustfinger's every movement. Once again, whispers only fire understood could be heard in the dead of the night. Dustfinger gestured for his young friend to do the same, so with a little apprehension, the boy obeyed. As soon as the chant was complete, they both put their fists against the wall to await the fire-lit eight legged creatures. As expected, Dustfinger executed the spell perfectly, unlike poor Farid, whose chant only conjured up three spiders, compared to the other man's ten. He hung his head in disappointment.

Dustfinger placed a sympathetic hand on the boy's shoulder, "It was your first try at a new trick, so don't be so hard on yourself. No one is perfect. Mastering a technique takes a very long time. With practice and patience, you'll be able to do anything. Remember that well, Farid."

The Arab teen sighed in defeat, still not willing to give himself even the smallest ounce of credit. That didn't mean he'd given up, though. "You're right. I'll practice everyday till I'm as good as you. I swear I'll make you proud."

Dustfinger smiled and placed a comforting hand on the boy's shoulder, "I'm already very proud of you, Farid. I've never had an apprentice, so this has been a new and fun experience for me. It's a damn miracle you can conjure fire without the birth-given genes of this world. I'm glad you can, though. You're like the son I never had."

Son... Farid could feel his heart sink in his chest when that one word was uttered. The love he felt for the man in front of him went far beyond friendship and/or family. The realization that the other man did not share his feelings was a little hard to bear. He'd never felt so crushed in his entire life, which is saying something, considering the life he'd led in his own book. He could feel the tears brimming, threatening to reveal his secrets. He let them fall, knowing that time heals all wounds, even emotional ones.

He began to piece things together in his mind, trying desperately to make sense of it all. Then it hit him... His face darted up and he stared wide-eyed at Dustfinger.

The older man was taken aback by the boy's sudden motion. "What? What's wrong? Did my words touch you to tears?" He chuckled a little as he embraced his young friend once again, "It's all true, Farid. You're like a member of my family and one of my closest friends."

Farid did not return the gesture. His head was still reeling from the shock of realizing something he felt he should have seen a long time ago. 'Oh, Dustfinger... you're in love with... Meggie's father, aren't you? My mind is bursting with questions I want to ask you... but I know that doing so might make you distance yourself from me and I don't want that. I think I now see that, even though you don't love me the same way I do you, any love from you is better than none at all. It'll take awhile for my heart to be at peace with that, so until then, I will continue to love you in secret. I hope... that's okay.

After thoroughly analyzing the facts, along with his feelings, he could already feel his heart begin to mend. He finally returned the fire-tamer's embrace and relished in his warmth.

Upon realizing how much time had passed, Dustfinger released Farid and got down to business. "Damn, it's late! I must tell Silvertongue the news I acquired earlier today. Farid, go fetch me a rainbow-colored fairy. The ones Orpheus invented and share his vanity. They'll do anything for a few measly compliments."

It wasn't hard to locate one, since Orpheus made an excess of everything he created. The little multi-colored creature bit Farid quite a few times and he was happy to be rid of it once it was handed to Dustfinger.

No sooner had the fairy been in Dustfinger's possession did it leave and head into the barred window of the Bluejay's cell.

"What did you tell it?" Farid asked, curiously.

"Oh, simply that the Adderhead will be arriving in Ombra in five days time, even with the moss-women trying their hardest to slow him down with curses and the like. Also that we'll be keeping the Piper occupied so he forgets about beating his prisoners. That and... how much I miss him..." That last part was whispered so low, that Farid hadn't heard it. Not to mention the fire-dancer's face had turned to look at Mo's cell window, making his lips unreadable, too.

"What was that last part?" Farid inquisitioned.

Dustfinger snapped out of his dazed state and smiled uneasily at the boy, "Oh, uh... I simply told her that she was the most beautiful fairy in the world. She promised to relay my message if I kept giving her compliments."

While that may not be a complete lie, Farid knew his mentor was hiding a much more intimate part of the message. He sighed heavily, as he longed to learn more about why Dustfinger had fallen for the Bluejay. For a long time, he thought the two of them disliked one another. Who knew it would turn out to be the exact opposite?

A moment later, they saw the little fairy emerge from the slits of the bars and float back down to Dustfinger to relay the bookbinder's response. To Farid, who wasn't close enough to hear her, it seemed as though the message was a bit longer than he felt it should have been. The gleam he saw radiate off Dustfinger's face was almost surreal. He knew that whatever the fairy was telling him, a good portion obviously involved the Bluejay sending his warmest regards to Dustfinger. This made him wonder: does the bookbinder feel the same way about the fire tamer?Even though his heart was still filled with a mess of emotions, he wanted to learn all he could. Ultimately, he just wanted the man he loved to be happy, even if he didn't choose the Arab teen to fulfill that need.

He approached Dustfinger slowly, so as not to scare the little fairy. "So, what did she say?"

Blue eyes looked up at Farid, and the blissfulness once found in them moments earlier was replaced with neutrality. "She simply sent Silvertongue's thanks and didn't forget to add that he, too, thought was was the most beautiful fairy he'd ever seen." He chuckled softly to himself. 'I can't tell him the rest of the message. Silvertongue... how I miss you. My heart aches at the thought of you being tortured by that mad man. I will save you, I swear it! Your life is my life now... always has been... since the day I met you. I want to thank you or missing me, too. Silvertongue...' The special, unique name he gave the bookbinder all those years ago now sent a tingling energy down his spine whenever he uttered it.

It became clear to Farid that Dustfinger was not going to open up, so he decided the best way to get any answers was to see how events play out from here on in.

"Hey, Dustfinger, did you learn any other new tricks while in the realm of the dead?" Though genuinely interested, the boy mainly wanted the fire eater to pay more attention to him.

Dustfinger perked up a bit at the question, "As a matter of fact, I did. Here, let me show you."

This time, the whispers echoing into his hands were longer. Farid found it a little hard to keep up. Moments later, a huge flaming bluejay took flight into the night sky.

Farid was astounded, "Teach me how to do that! Please!"

The older man smiled, "Of course. Now do as I do."

Farid cupped his hands together and copied every whisper he heard from his mentor. As expected, another beautiful bluejay took flight from Dustfinger's hands. Unfortunately, Farid was in for another disappointment when only a few firey moths flew form his warm hands.

He groaned in annoyance, "I can't get anything right tonight."

A comforting hand was placed on the boy's shoulder, "I told you, these techniques take a lot of practice and patience. Don't get so discouraged. Now that we have successfully scared the pants off everyone in the castle with our spiders and birds, I think now would be a good time to hide from our silver-nosed friend."

The Piper sent our guards to search the premises for Dustfinger, who were thwarted by wolves, snakes, big cats, and moths that were being conjured up by the blazing forest of Ombra. Farid and his mentor stayed safely hidden for the remainder of the evening.

Once the sun rose the next day, all the firey creatures, except the giant bluejays, disappeared. The beautiful birds continued to circle above the castle as a warning to the Piper that the Bluejay's shadow will help ensure victory against his tyranny. Hounds were later sent into the forest to track them down, but Farid created firey rabbits to distract and throw them off the scent.

All the while, the Arab teen sat next to the seemingly calm fire tamer and allowed his mind to race. It seemed as though Dustfinger no longer needed protection. 'Except from yourself,' Farid bitterly reminded himself.

"What's the matter?" Dustfinger stared at Farid, as if trying to read his thoughts. When no response came, he took the boy's hand, then blew into it until a white flame rose up and took the shape of a White Woman. "They're really not as bad as you make them out to be. And if they come back to get me, you have to promise me that you won't think it's because of you. Understood?"

Farid's chest tightened as he looked at Dustfinger in horror. "What? They're gonna take you back?! When? Why?"

Dustfinger looked up at the castle, anxiety present in his eyes. "That depends on the Bluejay."

Farid cocked an eyebrow, "What's that supposed to mean? Does he have some kind of power over your very existence or something?"

A small smile danced across Dustfinger's face, "I guess you could say that. Now hush..."

Guards were standing watch under the window of Silvertongue's cell. They stared at the forest in sheer terror, for they did not know what other firey creatures, if any, may pop out and attack them.

Farid did not want to stay quiet. He grabbed hold of one of Dustfinger's arms and held on tightly. "Please don't let them take you away again. Please, Dustfinger! I couldn't bear to live without you around. I need you. I... I love you... so much..." Tears were now streaming down his flushed cheeks. Did he, literally, just confess everything?

Dustfinger lifted the boy's chin with his index finger and looked him square in the eye, "I'll say it again: that all depends on Silvertongue. I don't want to die again, but that's not up to me. Not entirely. So please protect him, Farid. The fate of the Inkworld rests in his hands. That's a lot for one person to handle, which is why I'm here to aide him. He needs me just as much I need him."

Jealousy reared its ugly head once more, but Farid shook it off. This was no time for selfish emotions. He had much more important things to worry about.

"Even though I still don't understand what's going on, this is obviously a very serious predicament. I will do my best to help save this world from a grim fate. I know how much you love your home." He smiled at his mentor.

Dustfinger smiled back, appreciatively. "Thank you, Farid. Now, how about we have a little fun with our friends, the guards, over there? I'll let you decide what creatures we should use."

Grinning from ear to ear, Farid mulled for a moment before answering. "I really liked the wolves. Can we send them out again?"

"Of course. I think they scare the guards more than the other creatures. Good thinking, Farid." He ruffled the boy's hair, then they began to chant the incantation. Soon, flaming wolves shot from their hands and ran towards the unsuspecting guards, howling menacingly.

Farid's grin disappeared as a grim thought came to mind. "Hey, Dustfinger, do you think Violante can protect the Bluejay like she promised?"

A weary sigh came from the fire-tamer, "I'd like to believe she can. But I'm well-aware of the fact that she has very little influence over the Piper and Milksop. I hope she has a plan, because without one, I can't see how she can protect Silvertongue. Let's just keep our hopes high, Farid. Only time will tell if our efforts were successful."