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Managing the Fire

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-DURING-

He'd been imprisoned for a very long time. To make the whole thing more interesting, because the snakes got old very quickly, Luke took up doodling. So much could be done with sparks and flame. In those moments when he was left unprotected, the doodles served as distraction and as a point of focus. Here a bird, there a dragon, there a... hammer, here a brother, a wife, a father, a friend. Venomous snakes did not make for good company, and he had nothing but gratitude for David for managing to set him free. Released by accident, of all things!

There was something almost magical, David thought, in Luke's red-brown eyes as he watched the flames gather and grow. That burn scar was nearly gone; only a shadow of it remained. If David had to qualify the look he saw, he would say Luke's expression was one of pure bliss. There was a correlation between the fire raging in the building, the book of matches in his pocket, and the utter happiness on Luke's face, but David refused to follow the thought through to its logical conclusion. Luke was his friend, after all, not someone evil or malicious. Not Luke.

Luke didn't much care to talk about his imprisonment, and David knew better than to press for details. He remembered only too well the fear he'd felt when he had to subdue that snake with the shovel. Try as he might, even with hindsight helping to fill in the details, David still couldn't imagine what it had been like for Luke. Of course what he'd done to get there must’ve been wrong, but David's affection for his friend had equipped him with blinders. He knew Luke was trouble, but he seemed to be trouble of the best, most enjoyable kind.

"What you do," Luke explained, "is play on what's important to people."

"That hardly seems fair," David objected.

The smile Luke gave him was mild, but showed surprise. "Why? You give them what they want and get what you need in turn.”

David shook his head. "It's taking advantage of people, I think."

"Hmm." Luke stared off into the distance. "I don't know that it's taking advantage, if everyone gets something out of it."

"Of course it is," David laughed. "You can't change a thing just by changing its name."

"You'd be surprised," Luke answered. "People can be so gullible."

David thought about the comfortable manner Luke had, how he was able to put people at ease with little more than a kind word, compliment, or a smile. That was a gift, one he'd never really considered. But when he thought back on Mr. Wedding's words about gratitude and the need for it, David couldn't help but think maybe he ought to take a lesson from his friend. Not because he wanted to be falsely grateful, but because the people around him deserved kindness. And so he made an effort, especially where Astrid was concerned. Children needed guardians, after all.

The trip beyond the flames was unlike any other journey David had undertaken. Searching for the thing that looked wrong was a challenge because everything looked slightly off. That, he realized, was because he was seeing things filtered through flame and heat. For a moment he wondered if this was the way Luke always saw the world.

The only thing to do was to persevere and to keep moving forward. The woman slept (he thought) with the saddest look on her face. He watched her for a time, wistful, before he lifted the hammer from her chest. She never woke.

 

-AFTER-

Luke slept and slept. Not in the same sad way as the beautiful lady beyond the flames, but in that comfortable, almost innocent way he'd done the night he curled up with the rug in David's room. Nobody wanted to disturb him, although Mr. Chew and Mr. Wedding and Thor and the Frys and Sigyn paced the living room so fretfully that they wore treads in the carpet. Without Mrs. Thirsk, Astrid and David had their hands full caring for the Norse gods who'd taken up residence in their home. That they cared enough to stay pleased David no end.

With Esquire Fry's help the money was sorted out and the house put on the market. Neither of them could say they were surprised to see a rather fancy white car parked in front, two ravens perched on its roof.

Luke sat at the end of David's bed, his knees tucked up like a gargoyle's. "I suppose this means he wants to keep an eye on me."

"He's only got the one eye." David couldn't help but laugh. "I suppose he wants to keep it on both of us."

Luke smiled his ageless and easy smile. "I suppose you're right."

No matter how many times he looked, David could never find the third door in the basement again. Alan told him the whole thing seemed like little more than a hallucination and that was true, or would have been except for the memories of it waking him from time to time at night. He quite liked the rooms, though, and now that Astrid's sickness competition with Uncle Bernard was well in the past, she proved to be delightful far more often than not. She still lit up like a fire (bad choice of words, he knew) any time Luke visited.

Just because David had figured out the truth of the situation didn't mean the two of them couldn't still be friends. After all, Luke reasoned, there hadn't been many people who'd stood up for him, who hadn't quavered under Wodin's penetrating glance. He even tried to be good (he really did) but old habits died hard and he was used to indulging in a few spots of misdirection. Most of his tricks were mild, since he liked David quite well. On the odd occasion Luke left a trail of burnt foliage in his wake, but that was to be expected.

The best things rarely lasted. That was a truth David came to know only too well. He and Luke visited the wall they'd put back together, but they never went back to Wallsey together. Most people remembered that summer as the one with the most amazing displays of thunder and lightning in recent history.

David knew exactly who had caused that.

Eventually he stopped carrying the matchbox everywhere, because life went on and other things became more important. But he always kept a supply nearby, just in case. It wasn't just anyone who had Luke at their beck and call.

Years later, the events of that summer seemed like nothing but an indistinct dream. The trappings of adulthood convinced David that it hadn't been real, because those types of things simply didn't happen. He still played a good game of cricket and doted on Astrid. She rarely spoke of Luke, or of any of the rest of it. From time to time, though, she would ask him for a match for her cigarette. Then he would see a faraway look in her eyes and know she remembered everything.

"You still smell like burnt toast," she'd tell him with a smile.