A/N: Hey, guys, I am SOOOOO sorry about how long this took. A bunch of irl stuff kept delaying me. There was a move and a computer crash, and now a NEW computer, and ugh. Anyway, I just want you guys to know that this fic is NOT DEAD. I swear, I'm still writing it, my muse is still alive and well. J Anyway, thanks to everyone who has read so far, and to anyone who reads now. Loves, Jane
Also, the title of this song comes from Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time", though I pretty much only listen to the Eva Cassidy version.
Chapter 7: Confusion is Nothing New
Meggie spent upwards of three weeks mulling over the things Angela had said to her. In that time, she learned more about the others in the carnival. Claire told her that she'd left home after getting in a car accident, breaking her neck, and waking up in the morgue. She'd stood up, walked out, and been shot by police thinking she was a monster. She'd found the carnival the next day, and never looked back.
Matt had been a worker at his local DMV when he discovered he could read minds. The cacophony of voices drove him to a mental hospital, then to liquor, then to drugs, and finally to a seedy motel with a gun in his mouth. He'd seen a flier for the carnival on the bedside table, and decided to give it a chance. He said if that flier hadn't been there, then Matt would be dead.
Gabriel wasn't all that forthcoming about his past, but Peter told Meggie later that he'd been raised by an abusive, mentally unstable mother. When Gabriel had discovered his ability - to influence the actions of others - he'd told his mother to take an entire bottle of Vicodin, then chase it with a bottle of vodka. He hadn't hurt another person since, but Peter said it was only because of the carnival. If Gabriel had never found Joseph and Angela, he'd probably have ended up as crazy as his mother.
Peter himself said that he discovered his powers quite late in life, while he was in college. He'd gotten in a fight with his boyfriend over something trivial, and during the fight his power flared, and the boy was thrown through three walls by the force of it. It broke his back in five places. Peter discovered that he could move things with his mind, and when the boy later died in the hospital, he left college to find a place to learn to control his abilities, finding the carnival not far from his hometown.
D.L. and Nikki had shown up with their young son one rainy night several years before. Nikki had preternatural strength, and didn't know it until she found herself the victim of an overly-aggressive drunk one night at a friend's party. He'd groped her, and wouldn't take "no" for an answer, so she'd hit him - and he was dead before he hit the ground. She been arrested right away, and their son put in foster care. When D.L. came home from his business trip to find his wife in jail and his son in another family's home, he'd used his ability to walk through solid material to get his wife and son out. They were fugitives now, and had to careful about how far they strayed from the carnival.
Meggie found out that Angel had healing abilities, and that she was Joseph's wife. About Joseph, however, no one would tell her what powers he had. Only that he was strong, and he'd fought hard to get to a place of control. She was told he rarely used his powers, and that when he did, she would know it.
She still hadn't come to a decision about Dustfinger. Every fiber in her screamed that being with a man in that way was wrong, that it was a sin and the mere contemplation of it could send her to Hell. But as the weeks went by, that voice grew softer, and another, more rational one piped up, one that sounded suspiciously like Tobias.
Father was wrong, it said. You can't believe anything he told you. Make this decision on how you feel, not what you think God wants.
The problem was, Meggie didn't really know how to feel.
Meggie had never been attracted to a boy before. She's never flirted or batted her eyes, smiling prettily. She'd never seen the appeal. But Dustfinger…
There was no doubt in her mind that he affected her. When he stood at her shoulder to see what she was cooking, a shiver would slip down her spine. When he smiled, she smiled back. And when his hand was empty, sitting on the table as he read a book, she found herself wanting to slip her hand into his. Did that mean she was attracted to him? Her own inexperienced angered and shamed her, and she wished fervently, not for the first time, that she'd been raised differently.
But then, she may never have met Dustfinger, and the others at the carnival. And Meggie was happy there, happy for the first time in her life.
Meggie was contemplating these very things as she stood at the sink, staring at the small frosted window. She was supposed to be washing the vegetables for dinner, but her hands had stilled as her mind wandered. Suddenly the door crashed open and Dustfinger stumbled in, swearing violently. Meggie flinched a bit at the language, though she was getting used to Dustfinger's somewhat coarse tongue. Dustfinger slammed his hands onto the table. He was breathing hard and there were streaks of mud on his bare back.
"Dustfinger?" Meggie ventured. "What happened?" When he turned, Meggie gasped. His face was bloody and bruised and dirty.
Dustfinger sighed, leaning against the table. "Some local assholes thought it would be funny to rough up the circus freaks. I had to pull some fucker off Matt." He rubbed his hands together then hissed. There were scrapes all across his palms.
Meggie pulled the first-aid kit out from under the sink and pulled the step stool up to the sink. "Sit," she ordered, wetting down a cloth.
"Don't bother, I'm fine - "
"Sit. Down." Meggie pointed firmly at the stool.
Dustfinger quieted instantly, looking both surprised and impressed. "Alright, alright." He sat down and tilted his face up obediently.
Meggie took him by the chin and carefully cleaned off the blood and dirt. It wasn't as bad as it looked; head wounds always made things look worse. She cleaned off his hands next, his fingers warm and rough in hers. That done, she tossed the rag in the sink and pulled out a bottle of peroxide and a cotton ball.
"You don't… really have to do that, do you?" Dustfinger asked, eyeing the brown bottle with distrust.
Meggie rolled her eyes. "Don't be such a baby," she replied. Gently, she dabbed the soaking cotton on the worse of the cuts.
Dustfinger hissed in pain, and his hands clutched at her hips on reflex.
Meggie froze. Dustfinger's hands right at the waistband of her skirt, the tips of his fingers brushing the skin between her skirt and her shirt. The touch was strange and intimate, and sent warm waves of something through her. And she realized, as uncomfortable as it might be, this would be the perfect opportunity to settle those pesky questions about the future.
Meggie forced herself to relax, to forget the hands on her skin and to focus on the task. She cleaned to first cut, then moved onto the next. Another sound of pain, and a tightening of Dustfinger's hands. Meggie's hands started to shake. She managed to clean each wound without moving away or flinching. In fact, she began to enjoy the touch, to lean into it slightly. The moment she was finished with his face, he stood.
"But, your hands…" she began weakly. When Dustfinger stood he'd held onto her hips, and the two were now pressed up against each other.
"They're fine," he said quietly. Her pulled her closer, and Meggie nearly stumbled. She put up her hands to steady herself and found her palms against hot, smooth skin.
Dustfinger radiated heat, more than a normal person, and she wondered if it had to do with his abilities. Dustfinger raised his hands and brushed the backs of his finger across her cheek. Meggie looked up at him and saw a dark, hungry look in his eyes. She bit her lip, and saw his eyes dart to her mouth. He licked his own lips and Meggie gasped softly.
It seemed to break whatever spell had befallen them. Dustfinger's eyes cleared and he roughly pushed her aside, barging out the door before she could speak.
Meggie stared after him, wondering if maybe he was just as confused as she was.
Dustfinger stormed through the camp, cursing himself and his own foolishness. What the hell was wrong with him? Sure, he wasn't blind. He could see how beautiful the girl was, especially after months of good food had put some meat on her bones. She was sweet and lovely, with creamy skin and golden hair, and a timid smile that was just starting to favor him with its presence.
But she was just a child. Fifteen, sixteen at the most. And there he was lusting after her as if he were just a boy himself. He was thirty-one years old, for God's sake! And forgetting for a moment the legal implications of the whole thing, the girl was obviously traumatized by whatever had happened to her before she'd come to the carnival.
But it had been years since he'd been with a woman, since he'd held soft flesh and lovely scent in his arms. And she was so sweet. Sweet like warm spring and honeysuckle. He laughed bitterly to himself. This girl was turning him into a poet. And a bloody awful one, at that.
Dustfinger looked up, seeing that his feet had brought him back to Matt's tent. He pulled the curtain aside. The first room was where Matt did his readings. A curtain in the back was pulled aside to reveal a small cot. Matt's abilities tired him quickly, and he had to take short naps during the day to combat the fatigue. Matt was sitting on the cot now, his arm cupped gently in Angela's hands.
Angela was murmuring soothing words to him as he winced. A cool light was emanating softly from under Angela's palms. She was healing him.
"Hey, Dusty," Matt said through gritted teeth.
Dustfinger moved forward, into the farther room. "How are you?" he asked.
Matt shrugged. "Still alive. Thanks for jumping in, there, buddy."
Dustfinger waved a hand. "It's fine," he said. "Not a problem. How badly did they hurt you?"
"They… busted up my arm pretty bad," Matt said, the pain evident in his voice. "But Angela's taking care of it."
"Angela's doing what she can," was the woman's clipped reply. "But I'm forbidding you to work for at least a week. You know I prefer to let injuries this severe heal on their own."
Matt sighed. It was obvious this was an old argument. "You guys need my help breaking and setting camp. We can't afford to lose a pair of hands."
Angela released Matt's arm. He twisted it around gingerly. "It's healed, but barely," she said, mouth pursed. "Take it easy." She turned to leave. Seeing the marks on Dustfinger's face, she laid a hand on his cheek. Coolness poured through him like liquid, soothing the heated burn of pain. She pulled back.
"I noticed you managed to control yourself," she said to him. "No more fire whipping up around you when you're angry."
Dustfinger scowled. "One time," he insisted. "One time I lose control and no one ever lets me forget it."
Angela's eyebrows went up. "You think we should? You and Gabriel are the two most dangerous people in this camp. As much as we love you, we'll always be watching you." And on that very depressing note, she left.
"So… you got a thing for the palm-reader, huh?"
Sometimes, Dustfinger hated Matt Parkman.
"It's not polite to root around in your friend's head," Dustfinger grumbled, sitting down next to Matt on the cot.
Matt laughed even as he cradled his newly-healed arm. "I don't have to; Dusty, I could hear you coming a mile away. You were screaming in your head about blonde hair and statutory rape, and I may be dumb, but anyone could have put it together."
Dustfinger sighed, running a hand over his face. "What the hell am I supposed to do?"
"Well…" Mat began slowly. "You could talk to Joseph about finding another place for her to stay."
"You sound as if there's a 'but' coming."
"But… I think you may be freaking out over nothing."
Dustfinger shot him a disdainful look. "Do tell."
Matt sighed. "Look, I actually know what's happened to her in the past. She broadcasts louder than anyone else here. I want you to know that. Which means that whatever advice I give you is informed with that knowledge."
"I'm not going to tell you her life story, because that's not my place. Let's just say it was bad, and leave it at that. However, she's beginning to heal, to get past her traumas. And honestly? I think you two could be good for each other."
Dustfinger stared at him. "Are you out of your mind?" he asked. "She's a child!"
The look Matt gave him was half-knowing, half-exasperated. "She's seen more and been through more than most adults ever manage. Believe me, she's plenty mature. Look, she needs someone she can count on; she needs to see that there is such a thing as a man who doesn't hurt you."
Dustfinger's blood boiled at those words, at the awful, unnamed things that had been done to Meggie.
"And look at you, right now. All I have to do is allude to the idea of abuse and you're ready to start a forest fire."
Dustfinger looked down at his hands clenched in his lap. They were glowing a dull red. He took a deep breath and relaxed, letting the light and heat dim from them.
"Look, Dusty, I'm not saying you should go back to your trailer and seduce her. I'm saying that you should stay open to the idea. But let her come to you. Let her choose to be with you and you could be happy. You both could."
Dustfinger laid his head in his hands. He could never make someone happy.
Because he didn't deserve to be happy.