Duck restrained herself from quacking as the small puppet-girl jumped up and wrapped her arms around Duck's neck.
Duck smiled, though. It was nice not to have to worry about Mytho, and just have a normal life. As a girl. It still amazed her that Fakir had turned her back, even after a year.
Speaking of Fakir, the arrival of Uzura would mean he had returned from the errands he had run that morning.
As the school term ended, and everyone headed home, it had just seemed natural that Duck would stay with Fakir, so she had been rooming across the hall from him in Charon's house.
"Hey, Fakir," she greeted him, letting Uzura down, "Charon said he'd be back by dinner. He didn't say where he was going."
Since she and Fakir had been spending so much time together, they had become quite comfortable around each other, not in the way that they didn't sometimes look at each other and blush in awkward silences, but it wouldn't bother them so much, now. They were used to each other's oddities. And both were happier for it.
Fakir nodded, "That's fine." Uzura clattered up the stairs to her room, banging her drum all the way. It was a normal day, the kind that Duck loved.
But for some reason, Duck's mind jumped to a time that seemed so long ago, though it was only a year.
"Hey, Fakir," she said, and he turned, "Do you remember when you told me to beware of Uzura?"
He frowned, a rarer occurrence now than it had been when he had Mytho to worry about. "Yes?" his tone was reminiscent of the time before Duck had known him, and Duck knew she was walking on a thin line. "What about it?" The question was almost a threat, and Duck stuttered.
"Well, I mean, I… Well, I just wondered why. You don't seem to mind me being around her now."
Fakir seemed taken aback, and looked guiltily away from Duck, sorry he had snapped at her.
"It's not important," he murmured.
"What's not important-zura?" Uzura had returned to the living room to see Duck sitting cross-legged on the floor where she had been doing her stretches and Fakir leaning against the hearth, empty of fire for the summer season, his arms crossed and his eyes down.
After a moment of silence, Fakir realized that the two girls at the other end of the room were both looking at him, waiting for his answer.
He blushed a little and turned his body away from them.
"I was hoping that Uzura had some of Edel's memory, and I was looking for advice," he said finally.
"Advice?" Duck asked, "About what?" She turned to Uzura, who opened her mouth in a grin.
Fakir foresaw what might have happened next and glared at Uzura, willing her to stay silent.
She put a finger to her lips in the motion for silence and said from behind her hand, "Fakir said I can't tell-zura."
Duck frowned and looked back at Fakir as Uzura abandoned their silence in favor of her own room.
Fakir could feel her watching him, and he hated lying to her, but how could he tell her? This was exactly what he had wanted advice about, and now more than ever he wished Edel was still around.
He had told Uzura of his love for Duck, and had asked her if she thought he had a chance. Uzura had scratched her head and said, "But didn't you say Duck is lovey-dovey with Mytho-zura?"
Well, it hadn't been from Edel, but it had been answer enough. He stubbornly kept his back to Duck, facing the window and firmly holding back tears. She had already seen him crying once. She was not going to again.
Duck stared in dismay at Fakir's back. This was the first time this summer he had been so distant. She had thought she had gotten him to open up to her. She thought he was happy with her around. Maybe it had just been his sense of duty as a knight that kept him spending time with her.
But… no… it couldn't be. He truly seemed happy when they were together.
Her gaze was broken as her eyes darted down to her lap.
Why did she suddenly care so much anyway? Sure, Fakir was her friend, but… With a start she realized she hadn't thought about Mytho in months, just knowing that he was happy with Rue was enough for her now. She felt… oddly… free from a burden. Perhaps her friends were right. She had ignored them mostly out of habit, but for once they were right. She had fallen in love with Fakir.
And now he was shutting her out again. It hurt Duck more than Mytho had ever hurt her, and finally she had realized why.
Abruptly, she looked back up at Fakir. What was he hiding from her?
"It doesn't really matter, Fakir," she said into the stifling silence, hoping to appease him, make him look at her again, make him smile again, even.
Fakir did turn back to her, but the look he gave her was of pain, and almost before she knew what was happening, Fakir had vacated the room and was clattering up the stairs.
What was hurting him so much? She stood and started after him, only to pause with her hand on the doorknob of his closed door. What if it had to do with her? She would only make him more upset. But… she nodded to herself with resolve. She would try to comfort him. If he told her to go away, that was alright. She would. But she had to try.
"Fakir?" she called much more quietly than she had intended, knocking softly as she opened the door.
Fakir was sitting in the middle of his bed, hunched over, his head at his knees, his breathing audible and uneven.
"Fakir," she whispered softly to herself, hesitating at the door when Fakir did not look up, and she realized he was crying.
Her feet carried her over to his bedside as if of their own will, and she found herself sitting beside him, her hand poised over his shoulder before she could think about what she was doing.
"I'm sorry," she said softly, letting her hand fall gently onto his shoulder.
He did look up, then, and he held her gaze for a moment, something hollow about his eyes, before his gaze dropped again and he returned to his melancholy study of his knees.
Duck hesitated again, then put her arms around him, startling him enough that he looked up at her in surprise. But when Duck showed no signs of pulling away, though she was blushing madly, Fakir wrapped his arms around her and held her tight, not crying anymore, but simply seeking comfort for what he was about to do. Perhaps even some reassurance.
"Duck," he said, still holding her close.
"Yes?" Duck couldn't suppress a smile. She couldn't remember a time when she'd felt safer and happier than in Fakir's arms. She had felt it when they had danced in the lake of despair, but now that she knew she loved him, and they had no excuse for it except they wanted to, everything just felt infinitely better.
"I have something… I want to tell you."
Duck reluctantly pulled away a bit so she could see his face, noticing that Fakir had his hands on her shoulders, holding her less than an arm's length away.
"Yes?" Duck said again when Fakir didn't continue.
"What I told Uzura… and what I told her not to tell you… was about you."
Duck's hope fell a bit. Then it was because of her that he had been crying.
"I wanted advice on how to deal with you. I wanted to sort out my feelings for you. And when I did… I wanted to know if I had a chance with you."
Duck frowned. He couldn't mean… "What do you mean, Fakir?"
"Uzura put it more plainly than Edel ever would have anyway. She reminded me that you were in love with Mytho. You might still be. But, Duck… I love you."
Fakir let go of her shoulders then, so she could run, and turned away in defeat, closing his eyes and waiting for the slam of the door.
This preparation left him all the more unprepared when Duck threw her arms around him, effectively knocking him onto his back and jerking his eyes open to see her lying on his chest, her slight weight feeling somehow… right against his body and her face lit up in a smile, though tears trailed down her cheeks.
"Was that all?" she whispered, prompting a timid smile to form on Fakir's lips.
Fakir blushed even as he smiled and put a hand on the small of Duck's back, securing her to him, his other hand tilting her head down until her lips met his, both timid and pulling away almost immediately, only to crash together again with much more strength and passion.
"I love you, too, Fakir," she paused to kiss him again, then relaxed her entire body, resting her head on his shoulder, loving even more the feeling of being loved by him, protected by him because he loved her. "Never let me go," she whispered impulsively.
"Moron," he said.
Duck propped herself up on her hands to look into his face.
"I never have," he finished, "and I never will."