Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Inkheart, but I do own this plot. In no way am I affiliated with the lovely author of the original story, and receive no compensation for writing this other than your lovely reviews.

Author's Note: So this is an AR story. The majority of the events of the first book and movie have happened, except Mo never read Dustfinger back into the story like in the movie, and Dustfinger and Farid never find Orpheus as in Inkspell. It's now seven years later.

Pairing: Dustfinger/Meggie
Rating: M
Summary: It's seven years after the death of Capricorn, and Dustfinger has never come to terms with not being able to return to his home. He is lost in thoughts surrounding those he loves when Meggie returns home early from university. Dustfinger can tell she has a secret she won't quite say yet. How much will these two share with each other?


There was a storm brewing. Dark clouds would block out the sun, wind would whip the trees, and fat raindrops would pelt the windows. There was always the chance that there would be strikes of lightning and rolls of thunder. At least, that was according to the weather channel playing in the background. Strange as it was, the individuals who gave the forecast always seemed excited in general, but seemed to have an extra air of exhilaration as they spoke of the coming storms. Perhaps it was the break of the normal, sunny weather of southern Italy that made them so enthusiastic, the chance something bad might happen in a storm.

Whatever it was, Dustfinger couldn't fathom. He could remember, even if only vaguely, the grim tales of the fortune tellers and seers of his world. They had to be dour sounding for their customers to take them seriously, Dustfinger knew, but there always seemed to be an added note of foreboding when they spoke of a coming storm. Perhaps because storms were a little more serious in his world; the buildings were not as protective against the elements as in this one, and there were fewer shelters there as well. From experience, Dustfinger knew there was typically a store on every corner in a city in which to seek refuge. Even in the country, it wasn't difficult to sneak into a barn for the night.

There was safety in this world, a lack of adventure. Dustfinger missed the risks of his home: avoiding the predators in the Wayless Wood; outsmarting highwaymen who decided that a poor Strolling Player was worth their trouble; even avoiding the Prince's guards from time to time had an impression of danger.

Of course, Dustfinger had run into his fair share of trouble here: policemen didn't often take well to strange men breathing fire on a street corner; this he had found out early in his time here. Just like at home, if his tricks seemed to steal the attention of too many customers in a market, the shop owners would shoo him away even at the risk of being burned by his torches. In some areas he'd discovered in his travels, there were predators that even his fire couldn't discourage.

Then there had been that run in with Capricorn seven years ago.

Reluctantly, Dustfinger admitted to himself that this fast-paced world did have some of the danger he had once been accustomed too. It was much too easy, though, to avoid it all. If one had been born into the right life, tragedy was a rarity. It wasn't every day that one would see thieves and brigands tormenting the poor in town, at least not locally. The news tellers made quite a fuss over something that, in his world, was commonplace.

Perhaps, he unwillingly allowed himself to think again, it was just his home he was still missing, and everything and everyone in it.

Sixteen years was a long time to be gone from a place, to be absent in the lives of his friends and family. Even now, he could recall the feeling of heartbreak he'd experienced when the realization set in that he would never again see his family. He remembered telling himself, over and over, to just forget them; forgetting them would be so much easier than trying to remember all their faces, much less painless than tormenting himself with the memories of people he would never see again. Of course, it had been much easier said than done.

There had been many times he'd lain awake in the midst of the heartbreak clawing at his chest. Silent tears had often escaped him, silent weeping for the ones he had lost. Unbidden, the faces of those he loved would surface in his memory: Roxane, Brianna, Rosanna, The Black Prince, and other members of the Motley Folk. They would always steal his breath, piercing his heart, leaving him gasping in the wake of their memories.

Over time, forgetting them had become easier. He could no longer recall his lover's face with perfect clarity; Roxane's beauty was blurred around the edges, as if she had only been a dream. It did sting to know that even she, the woman who had held his heart, was slipping away from him as time wore on and the pace of this world carried him further away from his home. The Black Prince, once his best friend, had become a faceless figure in his mind, along with his daughters and everyone else he had known.

Despite the time spent away, and how he had adapted to this world, homesickness still plagued him regularly. He still held a sliver of hope that, one day, he could return, that his home would welcome him back with open arms, as would everyone else.

And it wasn't just the people he missed! The fairies, the woods, the way fire would speak to him! Ah, yes. How he longed to hear the whisper of flames again, to feel it caress his skin like a lover. Here, fire was dumb, silent; it didn't understand him as he tried to speak to it. It obeyed him only as a beaten dog would obey its abusive master. Fire in his home obeyed him because he knew its language, because it listened to him as he murmured to it.

It was a long time since Dustfinger had allowed himself these thoughts, to dwell on his home. It was difficult to recall much of that world, but some things never left him. He could still remember the way he felt when Roxane would gaze at him with love in her eyes; to remember that caused only a shadow of the pain he once experienced, followed by the stirring in his chest. There was no problem to recall the way his heart had swelled upon holding his first daughter; tears sprang to his eyes even now.

That was how Meggie found him. He was sitting in a window seat, gazing out at the coming storm, his eyes glistening with unshed tears. He hadn't even heard the door open to announce her arrival. It was only when she placed her hand over his that he was shaken from his reverie with a start.

"Dustfinger?" She spoke his name softly. "Are you all right?"

It took some amount of effort, but he forced a smile. "Just fine, Meggie," he told her, turning his hand under hers to squeeze.

She wasn't fooled for a moment, though. The girl sat beside him and pulled his hand over to her lap. "I don't believe you," she replied in her usual no-nonsense tone. "Your eyes are wet! What's wrong?"

This time, it didn't take any effort at all for him to smile. Meggie was such a sweet, little thing. From the start of their tribulations together, those seven years ago, he had always wanted to spare her the harsh aspects of the world. When he had first come into this story sixteen years past, it had pained him to see her for she reminded him of his two daughters who would never know why their father had left them. Then, when he had seen her again at the age of twelve, the pull toward he that he felt had been because of the love he held for her mother, and the pity he felt for the woman. Now, at the age of nineteen, she had blossomed into a lovely young woman. He never allowed himself the time to dwell on the reasons behind his attraction to her.

"Well?" She was also quite impatient.

Dustfinger raised an eyebrow at her. For the past seven years, he had been sharing a house with the Folcharts, as had Farid. Mo had been kind enough to forgive him for all the treachery after Capricorn's death. Dustfinger knew it was due in part to pity, since the bookbinder had never been able to read him back despite his best efforts. The entire family was entirely too softhearted for their own good sometimes. Regardless of the reasons, Dustfinger had been happy to have a place to call home whenever he grew tired of one journey and before he set out on another. For many years, he had come and gone as he pleased, showing up in the dead of night. It had been a pleasure of his to be in the kitchen when Meggie or Resa would appear, to see their startled faces melt into a smile as they offered him coffee.

Meggie. He had watched her grow up the last few years. During that time, despite their rocky beginning of a friendship, they had grown close. When she was younger, he would tell her what he could bear to remember of his home. He knew her mother always spared the darker details of that world. Despite his want to keep her safe, he had no trouble educating her on those facts. It wasn't like anyone was reading anything out of that book anymore, seeing as only he and Farid knew the location of the last copy.

As she had grown older and reached high school, he had often been her shoulder to cry on as friends came and went in her life, as boys broke her fragile little heart. He had always been willing to help her put the pieces back together. As she had shared her pain, no matter how trivial the cause, he had been able to comfort her and regale her with a story of his home to cheer her.

Often, she had referred to him as her best friend. It had warmed his heart to know that she totally confided in him all her secrets. But now it was apparently his turn, he thought, as she stared expectantly at him. Was he able to tell her of his pain? Even if she couldn't understand his homesickness, he knew she could relate to missing a loved one. Her mother had been absent from her life for nine years. He wasn't sure he could burden her with his heartache, though…

"It's nothing, truly, sweet one," he tried to convince her. Because of their bond, he knew she was unlikely to believe him, but maybe she would take the hint and drop it…

Meggie scrutinized him for a long while. Her eyes narrowed and her brows furrowed together as she tried to wear him down. He simply turned his gaze out the window as the first raindrops began to splatter on the glass, attempting to ignore her piercing stare.

Finally, she sighed. "All right," she began, "I'll let it go for now. But you'll tell me soon, I know it." Her voice was high and confident as she spoke.

A quiet chuckle escaped him. Then it occurred to him… "You weren't due back for another week," he commented offhandedly.

At the age of nineteen, Meggie was a second year student at the university with her main focus as writing. Despite her parents' obvious discomfort with it, she was pursuing a career as an author. She had the knack for it, definitely. After a whole summer of wearing them down, Mo and Resa had finally consented to her attending for writing, but only after a long lecture on the power of the written word. In the few weeks remaining before she had gone off to the university, the two had spent long days studying what they could of their peculiar talent. Mo wanted to see if only certain books could be brought it to life, or if anything read by the pair of them had the potential for something appearing. This research, Meggie had explained to Dustfinger, was because she would undoubtedly have to read aloud in her classes and didn't want anything coming to life there in the room.

After those long days, Meggie would often come to him in the evenings, looking anxious. When he would inquire to her anxiety, she would simply say she was nervous. Of course, Dustfinger was concerned for his friend. A part of his heart ached to see her so undone by the apprehension she felt. Because of this, he would allow her to tell him of her fears, every little thought and worry she had; often their talks would last well into the night, and she would fall asleep, mid sentence, in his arms. She told him of her nervousness of leaving home and living in the dorms, of the possibility of something she read coming to life and ruining her life forever. Once, when sleep had mostly claimed her, she had even admitted she was sad and nervous about leaving him. That had surprised him greatly.

Meggie shrugged slightly in response to his question. "I already passed my exams; this week was just going to be reviews and I've been doing so well they let me come home early for holiday." Whenever she had the chance, Meggie came home to visit, even if it was only a weekend here or there between breaks. The university was only a day's drive away, but she couldn't make it home as often as she liked, she always said. Seeking him out upon her returns seemed to be one of her first self-appointed tasks. There were always new stories for her to tell him, and she would often read to him the assignments from her classes. Each time she read, he always waited with bated breath for something, anything to appear, but it never did. She seemed to be mastering her talent, at least the aspect of not reading anything out of the papers.

For some reason, Dustfinger didn't quite believe her excuse for returning early, but let it slide for now. As she'd said to him, she would tell him eventually. Secretly, he was extremely happy she was home. A smile lit his face as he realized their hands were still together. At some point, she had twined her fingers between his. "Well I'm glad you're home," he told her softly.

Meggie returned his smile and squeezed his hand. There was a short silence between them, and only the rain could be heard on the windows, increasing in its fury as the storm raged closer. Finally, she asked, "Where are my parents and Farid? They'll probably want to see me," she trailed off, apparently embarrassed that she had failed to seek them out in her excitement of seeing him.

Dustfinger took a breath and kept his gaze on the window. "They've been gone this week on a holiday; they'll be back tomorrow or the next day. They'll be surprised to see you home so early." From the corner of his eye, Dustfinger saw it, the change in her demeanor if only for a moment. Yes, there was something on her mind, some reason she had come home early… It was especially strange she hadn't told him anything yet.

Meggie recovered quickly, apparently determined to not alert him of anything wrong. "Well at least I get a day or two with you to myself," she said happily, finally leaning in to hug him.

Deep breaths, Dustfinger told himself as he felt Meggie pressed against him. He held her for a moment, rubbing her hair and her back, enjoying the feeling of her so close to him but also teetering on a thin edge. He told himself that it was wrong that he felt the way he did toward her, that he found himself often wishing for more than just this friendship with her. On more than one occasion, he had tried to convince himself it was just her resemblance to her mother, for whom he had held a special kind of love. Each time she returned, though, and he saw her smile, he knew it was merely a lie to himself. It was always a task to keep his feelings in check, especially when she had fallen asleep in his bed, in his arms on so many occasions. Feeling as awkward as a schoolboy, he had spoken to her father about his predicament – after testing the waters of course to see how much he was against the subject of Meggie dating an older man. Of course, Silvertongue – for he could never be anything else to Dustfinger – had been a little shocked when Dustfinger had uneasily admitted his feelings for Meggie, had told Mo just how much he cared for her. Much to his surprise, however, the slightly older man had just shrugged.

"Nothing against you, old friend," he had said, "as much as I'd want her to choose someone who would have a steadier job than yours, I can't tell her who to love. I'm not going to encourage the relationship if there ever would be one, but I can see you do care for my daughter. Who am I to keep her from you?"

Those words had shocked Dustfinger to the core. He had expected the man to be irate and tell him to get the hell out of his house for even entertaining the idea of these feelings for his daughter. The fire-eater had even had his bags packed and ready to grab in his room. Mo had simply shrugged though, saying Meggie was old enough to choose who she wanted to be with…

When Meggie pulled away, she was still smiling. "I have some new stories to read for you," she announced. "But they can wait. I'm famished! What have you been eating this week while my parents have been gone?" As she spoke, she stood and started toward the kitchen. Meggie was acquainted with his lack of cooking skills in this world. Give him a spit and a fire, he could cook up a brace of rabbits with no trouble. He had never managed to master this stove though…

"Mostly sandwiches," he replied, following her. "Your parents left some tasty morsels in the icebox earlier in the week, but those are gone now." He had, at some point, figured out the microwave and the coffee maker. How he had survived without the coffee drink in his world, he didn't know, but he was extremely happy for it now.

Meggie was poking through the cupboards when he stepped in the doorway then leaned against it. "Well, there's got to be something I can whip together," she muttered as she searched. "Something simple, something easy… aha!" She reached for something at the top of the shelf then swore quietly when she realized she couldn't reach it.

Before she could say a word, Dustfinger was behind her, looking into the cupboard. "What is it you're wanting?" he asked her.

There was a brief pause in which he saw Meggie shiver. He pondered this for a moment but shrugged it off when she answered him at last. "That box of pasta up there, to the left…"

Dustfinger placed his right hand on the counter in front of her and leaned up and over Meggie to grab the box. His chest brushed her back and he felt her stiffen at the contact. Odd…

Wordlessly but with a smile, Meggie took the pasta from him. Dustfinger watched her as she went about cooking. From the other cupboard, she produced a jar of the sauce and put it and the pasta in water on the stovetop. While they waited for the water to boil and the sauce to heat, Meggie leaned against the counter across from him. When he caught her eyes, she smiled slightly but seemed to be far away. He knew the feeling. How far away he had been before she'd come home! His mind was suddenly back there, in his home world. Roxane's face, or what he could remember of it, was there in his head. He could barely recall all the details, but there was a faint memory of her baking bread in the kitchen of the small dwelling they'd wintered in, in Ombra. Her laughter pealed in his head as he said something particularly funny to her. A sad smile crossed his lips.

Before he knew it, Meggie had crossed the room to him. He only realized this when he felt her fingers trace the scars on one side of his face, just as Roxane had once done. A shiver went down his spine from her scrutinizing gaze.

"Where is it he goes in his head when that look crosses his face, I've always wondered," Meggie murmured, not really looking at him but still taking him in all the same. "Even when I was young, and you would have this far away expression, I wondered what you were thinking, what you were remembering, where you were. Only after I knew the truth about you did I realize you were probably home, thinking of everything you left behind…"

Shocked at her ability to read him so well, Dustfinger caught her gaze. "It seems you know me all too well, sweet one," he replied. There was no use denying it at this point, he knew. She had guessed correctly, and if he was to lie to her, not only would he feel guilty, but she would also know and he didn't want to risk hurting her feelings.

They were quiet for a moment as Meggie touched his face. Hesitantly, but unable to resist, Dustfinger put one arm around her waist and held her. She didn't object. "Do you remember her well?" she asked at length.

Again, Dustfinger was surprised at her assumption. In their years of friendship, he had rarely spoken of Roxane, maybe only two or three times at the most. Most of his tales had been of the Strolling Players as a whole. Meggie seemed to have been able to pick up on his devotion to his wife from another world, despite the time and inconceivable distance that separated them.

Finally, he shook his head. "Not particularly," he replied, allowing some of his sadness on his voice. "Her face isn't so clear anymore, and I can hardly remember the way her voice sounded, though I knew it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever heard."

Meggie tucked her head under his chest and wrapped her arms around him. Dustfinger flinched slightly, surprised. "I'm sorry. It must have been extremely difficult all those years ago." She didn't have to elaborate; they both knew what she meant. "I can't even imagine…"

"It still is," he admitted. "I miss her dearly. And everyone else." Never before had he spoken these words aloud to anyone, hardly even to himself. Again, he felt his eyes well with tears. He'd never dwelled too much on the fact that in his absence, so many of his friends and family could have died, even his Roxane. That struck him like a knife to the chest and his breath caught in his throat. Why he was suddenly allowing this now, with Meggie in his arms, he wasn't sure, but it just seemed all right to do, like she only had one purpose currently, and that was to comfort him in his sudden time of sorrow.

She made shushing sounds and rubbed his back. He half expected her to pull away from him as his first tear fell to her hair, to call him weak. She didn't, though. Silent tears slid down his cheeks as he let himself reminisce and accept what he had been denying himself all these years: life had more than likely moved on in his world, so why hadn't he? He was stuck on that tiny bit of hope that one day, he could go back and everything would be fine. Roxane would look at him like he'd just been gone for a few weeks, not sixteen years, his daughters wouldn't be angry at him for deserting them, even though it had been against his will. The Motley Folk would bring him back to their camp with open arms, excited at having their favorite fire-eater among their ranks again.

But it wasn't to be so, he knew. No one could read him back. It was time he fully accepted that he was stuck here in this world that moved too fast, was too noisy for him. He needed to move on with his excuse of a life just as everyone else had probably done…

Dustfinger didn't know how long they stood there like that, Meggie in his arms comforting him. He didn't weep the whole time, though; his face was already dry but his sorrow was still on his face. It was only when Meggie pulled back at arm's length did he realize the water on the stove was boiling. He was about to point it out but something on Meggie's face told him to wait. Their eyes caught. She was looking up at him with compassion and understanding for his loss. Her hand returned to his face; instead of caressing his scars she merely cupped his cheek. Before he knew what she was doing, she had stood up on tip toe and pressed her lips to his in a slight kiss.

So shocked was he that he didn't have time to respond before Meggie had pulled away and started toward the stove to strain the pasta. Dustfinger merely watched her as she went about mixing the sauce with the noodles. Occasionally, she looked over at him, smiling shyly. He was still in disbelief that she had actually kissed him!

Over dinner, Meggie read a few passages from her final project in her writing class. It was a short story about a made up world. Dustfinger recognized a lot of aspects in it from his own world; his heart ached for it still! She smiled at him as if she knew what he was thinking and placed her hand over his from time to time.

After they finished eating, they cleaned the small mess from dinner. The awkwardness of what had happened finally hit them. She had kissed him… Dustfinger looked at her intently, trying to decide if he had merely dreamed it after all. The blush on Meggie's face told him he hadn't, that she was thinking of it too. With a quick excuse of being exhausted from her drive, she quickly retreated upstairs to shower. Dustfinger went to his own room off the kitchen. It was a weatherproofed, screened porch. Blackout curtains outfitted the window panels and parts of the ceiling, but the area directly above his bed was left open to allow him a view of the stars. The storm was still going outside, so there was not much of a view as he lay in bed.

Over the last few years, he had worked to improve his reading. He understood now why Meggie and her father enjoyed books so much; it allowed an escape from his current world. His mind was so full of thoughts he didn't particularly wish to entertain any longer, so he pulled a volume from his small collection of stories and began to page through it.

This was how Meggie found him, almost two hours later. Dustfinger had always been a slow reader; even now, he still couldn't read as fast as Mo or even Farid, who had picked it up as fast as he had picked up fire-eating. He didn't notice her until she was only a foot or two away from his bed. When he looked up at her, a smile touched his face in an attempt to show he was all right and not too upset anymore. His brief escape into the book had calmed and distracted him enough.

It was only after looking at her a little harder that Dustfinger saw the faint lines of worry around her mouth. He scooted over in his bed, allowing her room to lie next to him, which she quickly did. Dustfinger put his book aside and slid one arm around her. "What's bothering you, Meggie?" he murmured into her hair as she snuggled close.

Meggie heaved a sigh. Apparently she realized she couldn't hide the fact any longer that something was truly on her mind. But what she said genuinely took him by surprise. "Would it bother you terribly if we didn't talk about it right now?" she whispered. Something akin to fear laced her voice as she spoke; that worried him more than her reluctance to talk about it.

After a moment of consideration, Dustfinger nodded. "But you'll tell me soon, won't you?" he asked.

He felt her nod against his chest. "Tomorrow," was all she said. Her hand pressed into his chest, and after a moment she shifted so she was leaning over him. A blush touched her cheeks and he knew what she was thinking. "So, about earlier…"

Dustfinger swallowed hard. He had enjoyed the kiss. Even if she hadn't really meant it, it was something he would hold onto for some time to come. In that moment, she had meant it, he knew, had felt something for him different from only a friend. But if she wanted to forget it, he was willing to not speak of it for her.

"If that bothered you, I-I'm sorry," Meggie stammered. Usually so eloquent, her beautiful voice stumbled over the words. "It's just…you seemed so upset and I just wanted you to know I cared…"

He smiled up at her and stroked her hair. "It didn't bother me, sweet one," he murmured and gently tangled his fingers in her hair.

She looked surprised at his words, almost as surprised as he had felt earlier. "It didn't?"

"Not at all." Dustfinger paused, contemplating. "In fact, if you don't mind me saying, I did rather enjoy it."

Silence fell between them. Their eyes caught and held each other's gazes for a long time. Meggie seemed to be processing his words. Dustfinger challenged her to do something about it. He wouldn't apologize for his words. Suddenly, he wanted her to know about his feelings; even in so few words earlier, they had shared so much, why not this?

When Meggie didn't seem to be capable of moving, Dustfinger, with his fingers still tangled in her hair, gently pulled her closer to him. She didn't resist as he leaned his head up to meet hers, pressing his lips to hers. In fact, that seemed to spur motion in her at last. Her hand cupped his cheek as she returned the kiss. Her lips moved against his with a skill he didn't quite imagine her to possess. He would have been kidding himself to think she had never kissed anyone, seeing as she and Farid had dated for a short time. He just didn't expect the level of her affection.

Dustfinger traced the line of her lips with his tongue after a moment. His desire took the seat of control as his other arm wound around her waist, pulling her body against his. After a moment of her hesitance, he extricated his hand from her hair and touched her face. He dragged his thumb along her bottom lip to open her mouth. Slowly, he invaded the new territory, tasting her sweetness as his tongue danced with hers. He explored her mouth, kissing her till he felt drunk off the affection. It was only when the urge to breathe overcame him that they ended the kiss. There was a look in Meggie's eyes as she gazed down on him. He knew that expression, had seen it before but on another woman. It was the look of wanting more.

Quickly, Dustfinger flipped them so he was leaning over her. It had been so long since he had kissed anyone; somewhere around seven years or so, and the last person he had kissed was her mother. Dustfinger didn't dwell on that as he captured Meggie's mouth again. He leaned his weight onto one hand as he felt Meggie's hands against his chest. With his other hand, he touched her face, stroked her hair, caressed her throat. Her pulse raced beneath his hand. His fingers shook as he traced a pattern on her neck.

When Meggie took his hand and placed it over her breast, he gasped into the kiss. He pulled away and looked down at her, shocked. As much as his desire told him to run with it, to go with the unspoken permission, he had to make sure…

Without a word, Meggie leaned up again to kiss him; at the same time, she used his hand to massage her breast through her thin t-shirt. She moaned as he continued to do so without her aid. Encouraged by her response, Dustfinger broke the kiss to explore her neck. He used his lips, teeth, and tongue to taste every inch of skin bore to him. He nibbled her earlobe, sucked every so slightly at the pulse point in her neck, grazed the hollow of her neck and shoulder. That last action brought the most response from her. Meggie moaned and arched her back into him as he kissed and sucked that spot.

At some point, he couldn't recall when, Meggie had worked her shirt up just enough that her stomach and the under side of her breast was exposed. When Dustfinger realized this, he knew what she wanted. With only a slight hesitance, he obliged, but not before exploring this new skin. He started at her waistband with pressing kisses against her silken skin. At the indent of her hipbones, he used his tongue; Meggie's fingers tangled in his hair so he took that as a good sign. Slowly, very slowly, he kissed his way up to her breasts, which he had been kneading with one hand. Finally, he found himself in the valley between her breasts and he pressed a whisper of a kiss there then trailed his lips around them. Dustfinger heard Meggie whisper his name as he continued his exploration. He attempted to put his shyness in the back of his mind as he took one nipple into his mouth. Some of this was actually new to him; he'd only read about many sexual things in the books he'd borrowed from Resa, then returned them with a boyish blush. However, Meggie didn't seem to mind his hesitance as he worked his mouth over her breasts. If her hitched breath meant anything, she was rather enjoying his ministrations.

It was only a few minutes later that he felt Meggie's hand at the waistband of his jeans, working at the buttons. His eyes flew open and he looked down at her with surprise on his face. Dustfinger hadn't really thought about where this all was going, but he hadn't really expected her to go there. He swallowed before he spoke. "Are you sure about this?" His voice was hoarse. It had been so long since anyone had touched him like she was about to; he didn't want to disappoint her at all.

Meggie merely nodded, her eyes dark with the same desire that had overcome him. "I've never been surer about anything else, Dustfinger," she whispered. "To be honest, it's something I've wanted for a long time."

Her admission startled him, but he had felt the same way too. So with a nod, he allowed her to undo the snaps of his jeans. Cool air rushed against him and he sucked in a breath through his teeth at the change in sensation. He rolled his eyes back in his head as he felt Meggie's hands there. It took all he had not to moan as her hands massaged his member.

Dustfinger had never thought of Meggie as educated in anything sexual, had always envisioned her as the picture of innocence. Because of that, there had been only a few things he had tailored in his stories to her. Now, he wondered why. Her fingers caressed and teased him with skill. Eventually, he did moan; Meggie captured that with a kiss, once again getting him drunk on her sweetness.

After what seemed a blissful eternity, he had to pull her hand away; he didn't know how long he could last like that, didn't know how he had lasted as long as he had already. Meggie broke the kiss with a dismayed expression on her face. Dustfinger merely smiled at her and shook his head. "It's, ah, been a long time," he told her and she immediately understood.

Dustfinger kissed her again. His mouth worked against hers for some time. He felt Meggie's fingers working at the buttons of his shirt; he shrugged out of it when she began to push it off his shoulders. After that, she pulled him down against her so his bare flesh touched hers. Her skin was hot against his. He enjoyed the feeling and memorized the feel of her body.

Within a few minutes and some careful shifting, Meggie had wriggled out of her shirt and pajama pants; they were unceremoniously discarded on his floor somewhere. Her hands were working at pushing his jeans down his hips when Dustfinger forced himself to stop kissing her neck once more. As much as it killed him to stop and think, he had to be sure…

"Meggie," he murmured to her, touching her face. "Are you certain? I don't want you to wake up with regret in the morning." Never mind that he would feel regret in the morning if she decided he wasn't what she wanted, but he would survive; he was used to heartache.

With a jerk of her head, Meggie looked at him with clear eyes. "I'm certain. Like I said, I've wanted this for a long time, Dustfinger. Please…" There was a hint of desperation in her voice as she uttered that last word…

She didn't give him time to dwell on it. Before he knew it, she had pushed his jeans down his hips; he worked them down his legs and finally kicked them off to the floor. Meggie pulled his naked body against hers and she sighed contentedly. Dustfinger squeezed his eyes shut, praying that Meggie really was sure and wasn't just caught in the moment. His thoughts were cut off, however, and his eyes flew open when he felt her hands on his nether region again. A breath caught in his throat and he knew it had to be done now or never.

His hand searched for her warmth. Dustfinger, with his heard pounding in his chest, pushed Meggie's fingers away and guided himself toward her. In a moment, he had pushed into her. Then his eyes widened with shock as he realized…

"Meggie?"

Tears had sprung to her eyes and her jaw was tight with pain. Dustfinger rained kisses down on her face. He had assumed from her previous ministrations that she'd already achieved this rite of passage, but apparently he had been wrong.

"Meggie, are you all right?" he asked after another moment. He caressed her face, wiping away tears that streamed from her eyes.

She nodded and gave him a smile. "Yes, I'm fine," she told him. "It just stung at first, but it's fine now."

Dustfinger paused then nodded. Finally, he felt how extremely warm she was around him. He groaned as she moved beneath him, shifting her hips. It took a Herculean effort to hold on, and he focused on breathing for the next few moments to keep his control. When he felt he could do something to make this experience pleasurable, he looked up at Meggie. She was smiling, waiting patiently for him. The last vestiges of pain were around her eyes, but he believed her when she said she was fine. He knew the first time was painful for women, and he regretted not asking, but it was too late now.

He started up a steady pace, gently thrusting. Meggie's nails raked down his back as he moved in and out of her. Acting on a whim, he kissed the curve of her neck and shoulder, grazing his teeth there. He felt Meggie tighten around him and heard her cry out. He almost lost himself in the feeling but managed to hold on and continued his affections in that spot. Meggie's breathing became more labored and she whimpered in a way that made his heart catch. Slowly, because he knew he couldn't maintain this for much longer, Dustfinger worked his hands over her body, her breasts, her waist, stomach, the curve of her hips, and finally, he searched down where they were joined. He knew he'd found the right spot when Meggie cried out again, her nails raking down his back roughly. She threw her head back into his pillows as he continued to rub his thumb over her little button. It didn't take long before he felt her fall over the edge. Her entire body trembled and he felt the fluttering around him. Her ecstasy pulled him tumbling with her and he gasped into her hair.

Trembles set into both of them as the waves of pleasure finally left them. Meggie was breathing heavily under him, her arms still around his torso. Dustfinger moved both arms up above her shoulders to lean on them and look down at her. Her hair was sticking to her face with sweat; he was sure his was the same way. Exhaustion was etched into her face and Dustfinger realized her guard was totally down. He had just begun to read her when her eyes opened just slightly and she smiled sleepily.

Dustfinger returned the smile slowly. Something was definitely wrong and he wanted to know what it was.

However, she had promised to tell him tomorrow, and he didn't want to ruin this moment for her, so Dustfinger lay down on his side and pulled her into his chest, cradling her in his arms. Meggie kept her arms around him and buried her face into his shoulder. He could feel her blush just slightly against his already heated skin. Lightly, he kissed her hair.

"Are you all right, sweet one?" he murmured, his voice heavy. Gently, Dustfinger stroked her back.

It took her a moment, but Meggie nodded. "Yeah," she said at length. Then she shivered. Whether from the cold or something in her mind, Dustfinger didn't know, but with reluctance he pulled away from her and began to pull the blankets up over them.

They stayed there in silence for some time, arms around each other. Dustfinger occasionally pressed kisses into her hair; Meggie would kiss his chest from time to time. Eventually, he felt her body become heavy and heard her breathing become deeper as she drifted into slumber. Dustfinger smiled as she snored ever so slightly into his chest.

Outside, the storm was still raging, louder than ever. It amazed him that Meggie could sleep through it. She probably really was as tired as she had said earlier, even more so now after their activity. Dustfinger smiled and rubbed her back lightly, just a simple stroking of his fingertips against her skin.

He waited for some feeling other than contentment to steal over him. He waited for there to be guilt for betraying the woman he loved still, to this day. Dustfinger half expected his homesickness to return to him, slamming into him like a battering ram.

But none of those feelings ever came. It was with a smile that he drifted off with Meggie in his arms, and a feeling of happiness finally wrapped itself around him for the first time in sixteen years.