Signal Fire

Written for NaNoWriMo2010 and to fill the kissbingo prompt of hot and cold over at the LJ. Characters aren't mine. Enjoy.

The wind shrieked as it whipped through the tall trees of the Wayless Wood. Even the tall branches and what remained of the leafy tops of the trees could not stop the sleet and rain and snow from reaching down to the forest floor.

Walking was painful, barefoot as he was. The sleet stung the uncovered skin on his arms and his clothing felt weighed down by the water that had soaked into it. He had no doubt that the spare set in his backpack was similarly sopping.

And it was cold. So unbearably cold that even the fire wasn't listening to him now.

Farid rubbed at his arms, numb to the touch now – just like his fingers and his feet and his nose and ears, and pretty much all the rest of him.

"The desert was never, ever this cold."

Jink chirped and squeaked at him in response to his mutterings, and Farid could see the marten was shivering and wet, too. "We'll stop," he promised. Just as soon as he found someplace dry to hide from the storm.

It was times like this that he wished he hadn't left on this ridiculous trip. He could have stayed with Dustfinger, but that meant staying with Roxane and Brianna and Jehan, too – and he didn't really want to make that compromise. None of them particularly liked him, least of all Roxane, not when he was the reason Dustfinger had been away from them for so long, not when Dustfinger had died for him. Roxane was always staring at him, as if trying to figure out what piece of Dustfinger he had that she didn't, still trying to figure out if he really was Dustfinger's son.

Farid hated that tale most of all. More than he hated Orpheus and Oss for all that they'd done to him, more than he hated Basta, the knife-wielder turned Night-Mare that had tormented Dustfinger in countless ways. He hated it because –

"Alright already," He hissed at Jink, who had nipped at his fingers when he'd reached up to adjust his backpack. "We'll stop."

He hated being called Dustfinger's son because he didn't want to be Dustfinger's son. He wanted more than that, and sons did not fall in love with their fathers. He wanted to be travelling with Dustfinger again, like they had done before they'd found Cheeseface. There would be nights, when they slept tucked into the edge of a forest, when Dustfinger would curl up beside him and make the small fire they'd set dance until they both fell asleep. There would be nights – in both forests and in rooms – when Dustfinger would wake with nightmares. Farid would go to him and they would stay up the rest of the night, Dustfinger would tell him wondrous tales of his home that made Farid feel like he, too, belonged there. When Dustfinger was his, that's what he wanted back.

But, Dustfinger was happy. With Roxane, with his daughter, with the farmhouse, with his life.

A life that did not require that Farid be present.

As if he'd ever required it.

He spotted the small lean-to in the rocks a few moments later and forced his feet to carry him the few hundred yards toward it.

It was cold. So so so unbearably cold. The desert was never, ever this cold.

Farid swayed on unsteady feet, now just a mere hundred yards away from the scant shelter the rocks would provide. It wouldn't be much, but it would be something. Maybe he could speak to the fire there, get some warmth.

He stumbled over some unseen obstacle, covered by the snow. Down to his knees, Farid had no strength left. He didn't even try to get up again; he just laid down and curled up as much as he could.

"The d-desert was never, ever this c-c-cold."

Dustfinger woke with a sharp start. He sat up in bed, trying to force air into his lungs, to force the images out of his head. "Just a dream," he muttered to himself. "Only a dream." The Fire Dancer dragged a hand over his unscarred face, rubbed at his eyes, but the unsettling details of his nightmare would not leave him.

Roxane blinked up at him in the darkness of their room. "What's wrong?" She asked, starting to stir herself.

"Nothing, nothing," Dustfinger replied quickly. "I'm having trouble sleeping, is all. I'm going for a walk."

She looked as if she wanted to protest, just as she always tended to try to do whenever he wanted to be alone with his nightmares, but he was out of bed before she could, and he was tugging on warmer clothes by the time he'd reached the door.

He walked without a goal in mind, Gwin perched contentedly on his shoulder. First he circled the farm, and then wandered further out, trying desperately to forget this new dream. In the time that had passed since Orpheus had read him home, he'd had only one nightmare. It was of Farid, with a knife buried deep in his back and Basta laughing from across a ring of fire – over and over and over again. He never dreamed of the Adderhead, of Piper, of Orpheus. Always of Basta's attack on Farid.

But not tonight. This nightmare had been different.

There had been no attacker, just the icy cold weather that stirred all around him now. The snowfall, the wind and rain and sleet. All of it.

"It was only a dream." He told himself, once again forcing pictures of the boy lying dead and frozen in the snow from his mind.

Another hour of aimless walking and he'd nearly convinced himself that it was merely a dream, that he could turn around and go home and back to bed anytime he chose to. Farid was fine, he was sure. Probably holed up in some house or tucked safely away in some cave somewhere with a strong, warm fire burning.

He was so sure of this that he started to turn around.

But, then he saw Jink.

Farid felt nothing. Not even the cold, after a while.

He wondered if this was what he'd missed after Basta had killed him. This slow, torturous process where everything seemed to just not move, where nothing seemed to change around him. Thoughts of everything and nothing ran through his mind. Of the land he'd come from, of the land he'd been read into, and of this one, where he belonged. It all passed through in a blurry, clouded haze of nothingness.

He wondered if anyone would find him. If someone would tell Dustfinger.

The first one showed up not long after he fell – at least he didn't think it had been long, but then he had no real measure of time anymore – whispering his name.

Farid didn't listen.

Dustfinger ran like his life depended on it.

He only had a vague idea of where he was going, and even then he wasn't entirely sure. The reports – because, of course, he was keeping tabs on the boy - he'd heard on Farid's last whereabouts had come to him days ago, and his protégé could have wandered in nearly any direction from the small town that he'd last performed in.

And even though he'd sent a pack of fire wolves on ahead to search for Farid - to protect him, keep the White Women away if they were coming for him. Maybe they could keep him warm enough until the Fire Dancer found him. – he knew that nothing would quell the nameless fear building in his chest until he knew for sure.

Jink and Gwin sat perched on his shoulders as he ran, and the marten that was loyal to Farid nipped at him when he strayed too far from the path that would lead him to the boy.

He had to find Farid.

Somewhere in his near-frozen mind, Farid felt something pawing at his arm, and then something nuzzle against his palm. Too big to be Jink, but he couldn't imagine any other woodland creature being so friendly and curious in the midst of a snowstorm.

He wasn't scared of the things that wandered the Wayless Wood, but he'd be kidding himself if he thought everything around him there was harmless.

The White Women were still there, calling his name, but they seemed farther away than before, like something was keeping them back. Farid was certainly not complaining.

He was so cold now that he almost felt warm.

He was just starting to lose hope on finding the boy when he finally saw his wolves in the distance. One was wandering circles around a snow covered lump on the ground, growling at the White Women who were drawing nearer and nearer, and the two others were curled up on either side of that lump.

Farid, it had to be Farid.

Racing forward, he closed the distance between them faster than should have been possible, but it still seemed to take forever to reach him.

Dustfinger slid to his knees rather ungracefully beside the boy. His lips were tinged blue, so were his fingers and toes, his skin felt like ice to the touch but when Dustfinger leaned over him, he could hear a low, rattling breath that told him Farid was at least still alive.

"Come on, then," he said aloud, as he slid one arm under Farid's knees and the other under his shoulders. "We'll go get you warmed up."

He pressed his lips gently against the cold skin of Farid's forehead as he gathered the boy up into his arms.

He felt as if he were floating.

He wondered if that meant that the White Women had gotten to him. But, even with that thought in his mind, he found that he wasn't scared. He felt safe and at peace and something that started to moderately resemble warmth washed over him.

When the wind stopped biting at his skin, he stopped thinking altogether.

Dustfinger carried Farid to one of the many hideouts belonging to the Strolling Players, hoping that this one still had some supplies hidden that he could use to get the boy warmed up.

He settled Farid down by the entrance, clear of the wind and snow that whipped in, before he made sure they were alone. Aside from a family of Brownies burrowed into one of the walls deep into the cave, they were, and Dustfinger located the stash of supplies without much difficulty, using his fire as a guide.

It was the furs he was after. He spread one out a good ways into the cave and then went to fetch Farid. The boy hadn't moved at all.

"My, you've grown," the Fire-Dancer half-heartedly complained as he moved the boy to the makeshift bed. It had been months since he'd seen Farid and he'd definitely changed. Less lanky, more muscles, longer hair, a little taller, but still the same Farid that had wormed his way into Dustfinger's heart.

And, at the moment, still cold and blue.

He called on the fire to build and stay steady around the fur, giving them both light and warmth, and he set to the task of working Farid out of his snow-soaked clothes before wrapping him up in several more of the warm furs.

"That should help," he muttered to himself, smiling when Jink and Gwin curled up at the end of the blanket, as well.

The next thought Farid registered was that he was more comfortable than he'd been since his arrival in the Inkworld. He felt almost like he did on those nights when Dustfinger would curl up around him. He felt like that, only he was still freezing.

He could feel himself shivering, shaking violently against something too soft to be the snowy ground.

"Relax," he heard the single word whispered by a familiar voice and could only assume he was losing his mind. He whined in response to the torturous thought - there was no way Dustfinger was really here with him. "You'll be okay."

The first edges of dawn were visible outside, before any sort of change occurred with Farid. Even through the heavy tree and cloud cover, and the snow that was still coming down, it was very clearly almost morning.

Roxane would be worried, but he found that didn't bother him near as much as the thought of leaving Farid did.

Eventually, he wrapped himself up in the blankets with the boy, hoping to offer a better source of warmth with the fire coursing through him as it did. He let it close to the surface of his skin, and he pulled him close.

Instinctively, Farid's arms curled around him, shifting so that he rested half on Dustfinger's chest.

It wasn't long after that when the shivering started up. He knew it was a good sign, shivering meant trying to get warm, and that was progress. "Relax," he whispered into Farid's still damp hair, dragging his hand through the messy black tangles.

Farid made some pitiful sounding noise in response.

"You'll be okay," Dustfinger said, and his eyes landed on the scar on the boy's back, the one that had been at the root of so many nightmares as of late. He let his fingers trace over the wound that had taken Farid from him, cursing Basta in his mind even though he knew that the evil man was long since dead. Other scars were there, too, probably from what that insufferable 'writer' and his goon had done to him in the months he was away.

He felt the gentle movement of hands on his back, felt fingers running through his hair, felt like he was being watched.

It should have been alarming to not know who was touching him, where he was, but it wasn't. Farid was perfectly content to lie here like this for all eternity. At least he could imagine that it was where he wanted to be.

"You're starting to worry me, Farid."

Dustfinger's voice. Farid whimpered - the White Women were certainly cruel to use that against him. Or perhaps it was for his benefit. Who knew?

"You're not allowed to die on me again."

Dustfinger's touch, drawing patterns up and down his arm, trailing over his back and slowly tracing over the scar from Basta's blade.

"It's just like before we came here, you sleeping in my arms. Like those nights in the cold, in the forests, when I'd make the fire dance for you all night? I miss that. I miss you."

Farid shook his head, fighting against the lies the White Women had to be spinning. Dustfinger wasn't here, wouldn't say these things even if he was. Dustfinger was at the farmhouse, probably in bed with Roxane, probably hadn't thought about his protégé in months.

"Moving. That's good, that's progress, I suppose." The voice was so close, he could feel warm breath ghosting against his neck. "Any chance you feel like opening your eyes?"

When Farid started reacting to his voice, to his touch, Dustfinger did both continuously. He didn't know if Farid knew what he was saying, so he just talked – Miss you, in my arms, like before, not allowed to die on me – in my arms – again, worry me. Just every rambling thought he could think to say.

"Open your eyes," he asked again, when the first attempt didn't receive a response. "If you're worried, there aren't any White Women around, I promise you. They can't get you as long as you're with me." He leaned over and presses his lips, warm with fire like all the rest of him, against Farid's.

Minutes passed by with no noticeable change, but then Farid's eyes slowly blinked open.

"If you're worried, there aren't any White Women around, I promise you. They can't get you as long as you're with me." The words echoed in his head over and over again, as if his mind were forcing them to register.

Could the White Women lie, if he was with them? Could they tell him that they weren't there? How could they make Dustfinger sound so real, make his promise sound so sincere?

Somewhere in this confusion, he felt the pressure of lips lightly brushing his own. Warm with a kind of fire that couldn't be imitated, and he had his answer.

Through sheer force of will, he opened his eyes.

"You're here."

Dustfinger smiled softly at the sight of Farid's utterly astonished look. "Of course I am. As if I'd let you freeze to death in the snow."

"You… found me?"

"Jink found me, then we found you." He corrected. He was still intent upon touching, partially because he was using said touch to let the fire lick over Farid's skin, warming him further. A hand moved over Farid's cheek, brushing his hair out of his face.

The marten chirped in confirmation of this answer from where he still rested at the end of the blankets, and Gwin added a squeak of agreement.

Farid grinned at them, and then brought a hand up to his still lingeringly warm lips. "I… I thought the ghosts were playing tricks on me. I didn't think you were really here." Farid leaned into the warm touch as Dustfinger's hand moved lightly over his neck and shoulder. "The fire wouldn't listen to me and it was so cold and…"

"I know," Dustfinger hushed the boy, though he didn't try to explain the terrifying content of his nightmare. "But you're warm now."

Farid nodded in agreement. He was warm now – he could feel his fingers and toes, which had been the first things to go numb on him, he could feel the twinge of pain in his ankle from whatever he'd tripped over in the snow, he could feel Dustfinger pressed up against him and offering all the warmth he could.

"Does… does she know you're here?" Farid reluctantly questioned, fearing that bringing up Roxane would send his mentor running back to her.

"She doesn't, no. And she won't, either, because I'm not going back. I'm staying with you."

Dustfinger's surprising answer forced Farid into enough movement so that he could effectively land an incredulous stare, "I thought you didn't want to travel anymore?"

"I told you before. I missed you, missed the fire. I didn't think I would, when I got back to my old life, but I'm… it's not… me anymore," the Fire-Dancer explained. "So, travel or settle somewhere, it's your choice, but I'm staying with you."

Farid frowned. "For now? You won't just go back to her when you grow tired of travelling? Or of me?"

Dustfinger could do nothing but laugh at that. "I honestly don't think I can be tired of you. I tend to be rather fond of those whom I'm willing to die for." He assured the boy, hands once again dragging through scraggly black hair. "As for the travelling, you'll want a break, too, eventually, and I'll still stay with you. Roxane and I, we've changed. Things aren't the same between us. My daughter's nearly grown and barely knows me – you probably know her better than I do. I'm not needed there."

"And you're needed here?" Farid pressed on. His own fingers, warm and back to their normal color now as opposed to a pale blue, moved over Dustfinger's chest of their own free will, tracing the outlines of scars that had been erased.

"I have a pretty good feeling that I'm wanted here," Dustfinger smiled, once again leaning down to brush his lips over Farid's, and he was rather glad to see that they were no longer residually tinged blue. "Aren't I?"