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Those Who Favour Fire

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During the day, life filled up David's time, leaving him no opportunity for anything else. In the dark, when Astrid was asleep and thoughts of the day, school and cricket had receded it was easy to strike a match and open a window as Luke's hand reached up to the sill. It was calming to watch Luke's doodles of colour, or to laugh at the way he made flames dance. In the dark, it was easy to want to see more clearly what Luke was.

"What's it like?" David asked, knowing the answer was far beyond him, "What's it like, being you?"

"Difficult to explain," Luke said carelessly, sprawling on the bed. "But it's fun being here."

"Show me," David said, kneeling up in bed. "You're different to everything and I'm so ordinary - I want to know, Luke!"

Luke was quiet, then he was kneeling up too, looking into David's face seriously in the dim light of his forgotten doodles. "You're better off not knowing, knowing won't change anything anyway. It's not sensible," he said. "You should pay attention when someone like me tells you that. Especially someone like me, because I don't normally give people warnings."

"You said you'd do whatever I wanted," David said, feeling like a heel, for he hated thinking of Luke's debt to him.

"Oh, David," Luke said regretfully, and put one thin, burn-scarred hand over David's heart.

The pain was immense, fire running through David's veins till he was consumed, yet leaving him strangely cold. He felt so very hungry and alone, and was dimly glad to feel hands touch his face. He was lying with his head in Luke's lap, though he wasn't sure they were in his room any more. It was snowing, he thought, snowing in May; he would have laughed if his face wasn't so frozen. He looked up at Luke's face, feeling far away from everything. Luke looked older and far more tired as he brushed the fat, wet flakes of snow from David's cheeks.

"What did you do to me?" David whispered.

"I warned you," Luke said; his hands were very warm against David's face as they wiped the snow from his eyes and mouth. It was falling faster and thicker now. "I told you that you were better off not knowing. Shh, it'll pass, this isn't real yet." He reached out to one side and pulled a broken sword close, laying it on David's body and putting the hilt in his hands. Somewhere close at hand wolves were howling, and it was getting darker. David closed his eyes as Luke's voice became softer. "This isn't what I felt in prison," he said. "Prison hurt, and I wouldn't do that to you. It was just one loss of many, and one day I'll have lost so much that I won't see any point in not giving in to the fire. It will take so much ice to stop me. You'd think they'd learn to stop taking people and places I love away from me; eventually there'll only be the burning left. Open your eyes, it's all right."

David opened his eyes. He was kneeling on his bed, facing Luke, whose hand still rested on his chest. He was sure Luke could feel his heart pounding.

"Every loss," Luke said dreamily. "Every one is another step closer to the fire."

"If I -" David started. He stopped. Luke liked him, he knew, and would be sorry to lose him. There wasn't much use pretending; he knew who Luke was, and wouldn't outlast him. "When I die," he said, "Don't take that as an excuse, all right?"

Luke's eyes were sharp and focused, his gaze more certain in the dark than David's could be. "I am sorry," he said. "I did warn you to be careful what you asked of me. I'm tired of losing what I care about before I'm ready, David. I wasn't going to tell you yet, but you have the knack of asking the right questions. You'll be there. You'll fight by my side, won't you?"

David flexed his hand, feeling the phantom weight of a sword and snow drifting down on to his face. He could still feel the fire in his veins, a dimmer heat now but steady. All at once he thought that something had been done to him that would not easily be reversed, something that had started happening when he had jumped through the fire on Thunderly Hill. With all his heart he wished he could pretend Luke was his own age and concerned with nothing more than climbing trees and playing cricket. Mr Wedding had warned him against getting involved, he thought, and Luke had warned him against wanting to know too much. He drew a deep breath. He'd ignored them both, and that was an end of it. Anyway, he liked Luke, and Luke seemed set on being as much of a friend as he could, even if that might now be for longer than David could ever have expected.

"We'll win, won't we?" he said, for he did not like to think that what he had seen of himself and Luke in the snow would really come true, and though he knew Luke's family were powerful and clever he'd seen enough of Luke to know he was as clever as they, and in all their games together Luke had never yet lost beyond all hope of recovery.

Luke's face was unreadable, then he laughed, the doodles flaring up brighter to colour the room in oranges and reds. "Yeah," he said, and he was cheerful and young again, "You just have faith, David. Faith can do a lot more than move mountains." He grappled David down into a ticklish bout of wrestling, still laughing. "We'll face them together and we'll win, and we'll show them," he crowed. "Just wait till you meet my other friends, David, you'll like them!"

David laughed along with him, for there was nothing else to do. Anyway the night couldn't last forever, and tomorrow and the next and the next there would be school and cricket and all the rest of the things that filled up his life. He wouldn't have to think about any of this, for Luke only came when he called him up with flame and would otherwise stay away until the day when he was the one who called and David was the one who answered.

But that day was a lifetime away.