"Fakir!" Autor frowned and rolled his eyes. Fakir wasn't responding. He was just sitting on the windowsill of the library, staring out at the Academy grounds.
Autor approached Fakir and tried again, this time yelling in his ear.
"That's the third time in half an hour that you've spaced out," Autor scowled at him, then grinned wickedly and added, "If you really love her that much, you should just tell her."
Autor didn't miss the slip in Fakir's expression, and couldn't help but grin wider as his friend looked down and muttered, "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Of course you do," Autor pressed him, knowing how thin a rope he was walking on, with Fakir's temper. While improved, probably due to the subject of their conversation, it still flared easily.
"Tell me," Autor wasn't about to stop now, though; not when he had Fakir so vulnerable, and so close to confessing, at least to himself, that he was in love with Duck. "What do you think of when I say the word 'Duck'?"
Fakir started, but stared more intently at the ground, fighting against the image of her springing to mind. It was the time he found out she was a duck. She was yelling at him, but he could barely hear her. He had to force himself to look away, and a blush to rival his at that moment rose up at simply the memory. Or perhaps it was just his imagination as heat rushed through his system.
Fakir shifted, turning completely away from Autor and staring out the window again, seeing Ahiru in the glass of the window, and feeling her soft skin in his arms. How could she think she wasn't pretty? She was beautiful, and since turning her back to human form, he had found it harder and harder to bear watching her every day, as her dancing rapidly improved and he couldn't get her out of his head even for a moment.
"Hmm?" Autor was enjoying Fakir's discomfort, surprised at the strong reaction and hoping for an even better one with his next weapon. "How about 'Princess Tutu'?"
Fakir clenched his teeth, thinking of how she had come into his arms when he had called her from the clock world. She was so light, so fragile. But… but it had all been for Mytho. It was only a sense of duty that kept her spending time with him.
"Nothing?" Autor laughed, and without waiting for a response, asked, "Why don't you tell her how you feel?"
The question caught Fakir off guard, and the grounds of the Academy came tumbling back into vision, dragging his mind back to the present.
"Oh, I'm sorry, Fakir," Autor said this in such a way that Fakir turned to look at him in unmasked confusion, and Autor feigned innocence, "I forgot. Is she still in love with Siegfried?"
Fakir couldn't control himself. He stood in anger and glared daggers at Autor, desperately denying his impulse to throttle the bespectacled boy before him. So what if it was true? Did Autor have to rub it in his face?
Autor grinned again. "It's a shame she doesn't know what she's doing to you," he goaded, "Your reactions are priceless."
Fakir blushed again. Why was Autor doing this? What did Autor expect to gain from torturing him?
"You know," Autor continued, "I'd like to see just what you think of when you blush like that. I've never seen you so flustered. Surely you can't be chivalrous all the time, Fakir. You want her, don't you? Frustrated you can only imagine her undressed?"
"No!" Fakir finally found his voice, but the protest ended up sounding like a child's whine. At least it was partly true. He didn't have to imagine her undressed, only her willingness to be undressed in his presence.
Autor raised an eyebrow. "Oh really? Then pray tell, what do you think of?"
Fakir was saved by the very subject of their conversation.
Duck walked up to them, and Fakir had to look away. It was true. His thinking wasn't at all chivalrous. He hated it when Autor was right.
"Hello, Autor," Duck said cheerfully. Autor scowled at her. He had been so close to making Fakir do something drastic.
And she brought the noisemaker. Lovely, thought Autor, turning to leave.
"Hey! Why is Fakir all red-zura?" Uzura had managed to peer into Fakir's face, and had seen the blush that dominated his features.
Autor abruptly changed his mind and turned back. Maybe the noisemaker was useful for something after all.
"Hey, Duck, can I ask you a question?"
Duck turned her worried eyes to Autor, and they turned curious. "Sure, I guess," she said, not knowing what Autor could have to ask her.
"What do you think of when I say the word 'knight'?" Autor grinned at the double meaning. Even if Duck didn't catch it, Fakir would.
Duck turned red, and Autor smiled inwardly. So she had caught it.
"W-which one?" she stuttered, daring a glance at Fakir when she thought Autor wasn't looking.
"Either," Autor shrugged, "Just the first thing you think of."
She could only do one thing, now. She didn't have enough time to think up another answer, now that he had said 'the first thing' she thought of.
"Fakir," she answered.
"Really? And why do you think that is?" He had a purpose now. The fun part would be how long he could make it last before they either ran in embarrassment, knocked him unconscious, or confessed, preferably the latter.
"Because he's a knight," she mumbled.
"How about 'safety'?"
"Wh-what?" She was so surprised that she missed the wounded look that Fakir gave her.
"I said 'love,'" Autor repeated matter-of-factly. Then she did look at Fakir, but his gaze had returned to the floor.
His eyes jerked up at the same time hers dropped down. Autor rolled his eyes. That was as close to a confession as he was going to get from her. Now all Fakir had to do was take the damned bait.
Fakir just looked at Duck, his eyes seeming to reach hungrily for her.
"Does that mean Duck and Fakir are in lovey-dovey-zura?" Uzura piped up, excitement in her voice.
Autor raised an eyebrow at the couple still in denial. "Yes," he said to Uzura, acting as if Fakir and Duck weren't in the same room, "That's exactly what it means. Judging from the reactions I got from Fakir when I interrogated him in the same way only a few minutes ago, and the reactions Duck just gave, I'd say that Duck is still unsure because she didn't hear, or rather see, as they were mostly blood-related anyway, Fakir's reactions, and Fakir is in complete denial and telling himself that she only said his name because it was at the forefront of her mind when I asked the question."
A smirk crept across his face as he watched the two alternatively look up in surprise and down in embarrassment. He knew very well that was exactly how it was. Uzura was looking up at him in interest and surprise that he seemed to know what Fakir and Duck were thinking and feeling, and curious to know what else.
"But in reality Duck was hesitating because she was unsure of his reaction and Fakir knows that, so there's really no reason except his own stupid chivalrous ideals that's stopped Fakir from grabbing Duck and kissing her, if not simply tackling her to the ground."
"I would not tackle her to the ground!" Fakir protested loudly.
Autor raised an eyebrow and chuckled. "You'll notice that the emphasis was on 'tackle'. But you admit that you're longing to kiss her. What would you do? Throw her? Pin her? Cast her? Assault her?" Autor beamed as each adjective sent Fakir's face a shade darker and Duck's eyes a centimeter wider, and he laughed.
"Take your pick, I have more," he teased.
Fakir looked up and glared at him, for once raising his head at the same time as Duck. Perfect. Now to get them to look at each other. That would surely set them off.
"You really should see each other's faces. They're priceless."
No. That didn't work. Now they were both looking anywhere but at each other. Autor sighed and thought. What now?
And then it came to him. But which would be the easier target?
He looked back and forth between them for a minute, considering, then decided that Duck would be the best. Besides the obvious drawback of Fakir being much stronger than Autor, his reflexes were far too good for it to work. But Duck was just clumsy enough, and Fakir was just knightly enough… and maybe even just jealous enough to make physical contact unnecessary.
Autor snorted at the couple, still avoiding each other at all costs, to the point of staring at the floor and pretending to examine the nearest bookcase.
Upon this latest noise, they both turned back to Autor, and he shook his head at them, smirking.
"I guess I'll leave you two to work it out. Just don't make too much noise while your doing it. There are rules in the library, you know."
With this parting jab rife with innuendo, Autor started walking away, past Duck, until he was right behind her and shoved.
"Qua-!" Duck's attempts at flailing her arms to regain her balance were compromised when she slapped her hands over her mouth to keep herself from uttering the syllables that would leave her in feathers.
But it was already too late, and she uttered a final whimper before dissolving into a small yellow duckling.
Autor turned around and stared.
This was better than he could have hoped for! Fakir hadn't removed this part of her enchantment when he turned her back!
Fakir sighed and resignedly bent down to scoop up the small bird, feathers turning red in a very human blush, when a small, somewhat squeaky, in Autor's opinion, voice called, "I've got water-zura!"
Autor frowned. What could that stupid little puppet be up to now?
Sure enough, before anyone could move from their current positions, as much as Fakir, for one, might have liked to, Uzura came hurtling back around the corner and drenched Duck with water from a vase, which Uzura set down on a table very carefully after she had poured every drop of the contents on Duck.
And, as was inevitable, Fakir found himself mere milliseconds later with his arms around the human Duck, who was desperately trying to clutch her uniform around her.
"So that's what you meant, Fakir," laughed Autor, chuckling uncontrollably at their expressions. Both Fakir and the newly-human-again Duck were rapidly turning into tomatoes in coloring.
Now would be the time, Autor decided, still laughing, coming up behind Fakir. Now, when neither of them were prepared for it.
So a quick kick to the back sent Fakir down, ending with him straddling Duck, and their lips meeting, much to the amusement of the two spectators.
Uzura stared open-mouthed at the proceedings. They'd never done this before.
Autor watched to see what would happen next. It seemed Fakir didn't have to tackle her to the ground at all. Nor did he have to imagine what she looked like naked. He briefly wondered how many times before this sort of thing had happened. Doing a quick calculation based on the known factors, he would say several times a week, if not more than once daily. Oh, if only poor, naïve, little Duck knew what she was doing to her knight in shining armor.
Fakir retreated from the kiss as if he were burned, but made no more of a move to release Duck. Though, to be fair, she made no struggle. They sat there, staring at each other, for a long time.
"Fakir?" Finally Duck broke the silence, her voice timid, and her eyes wider than usual, "Umm... did you... is Autor... are you... do you...?"
Fakir blinked, opened his mouth, then closed it again.
Autor chortled behind his hand.
"I..." Fakir tried again, "I..." With a sigh he gave up again, and twisted away, so he was sitting with his back to Duck, his knees up and his arms resting upon them.
Duck, for her part, sat up very slowly, almost, but not quite, forgetting her state of undress. She continued to stare at Fakir's back for a while, then hopped up, jumped around a bookcase, and momentarily reappeared, straightening a button.
When she returned, her eyes went straight to Fakir, who hadn't moved, and was currently proving to all who cared to witness his exposition just how many shades of red there are, going through a different stage of embarrassment, guilt, reminiscence, or any combination of the aforementioned for each.
Duck started forward, reaching out a hand and kneeling as if to touch his shoulder, but abruptly, mere inches from her apparent destination, she stopped, cringing, and looked behind her, straight at Autor. She bit her lip and her eyes melted into a cerulean sea-storm of doubt and worry.
Autor was stunned for a moment. This was not a game anymore. It could never be, with the pain in her eyes, and Autor felt almost ashamed of himself that he had made light of it.
After what the two had been through, they needed each other, but they needed to confess that themselves.
"Come on, Uzura," Autor found himself saying, "Let's give them a moment or two alone."
Duck's eyes softened a bit, as if in thanks, and Autor turned back just before going down the stairs to the main library. "I wasn't lying, you know," he whispered to those eyes. He never did know if she heard him, but he felt she did.
Duck and Fakir stayed both silent and motionless as Autor clattered down the stairs, Uzura on his heels, literally, by the sound of it.
Then Duck finished what she had started. She laid her hand on Fakir's shoulder very gently. It still caused him to jump.
"Fakir," she said softly, coming around beside him in such a way that her breath tickled his ear.
He couldn't look up at her. He just couldn't. She knew. And Autor had made everything worse. He was wrong about Duck. He didn't know Duck. She said his name because it was at the forefront of her mind. And… and yet the bastard had given him hope for a second. For one glorious, torturous second.
And now he, Fakir, had ruined everything. He could have caught himself. He might have caught himself, if he hadn't been longing to kiss her.
And now his mind was conjuring up every image of her he'd ever thought of. Both real and imaginary, she was flitting behind his eyelids, smiling her beautiful smile, or kissing him, or going glassy-eyed at his touch, or even arguing with him. And then there was always the light in her eyes when she was dancing with Mytho, and the joy that simply radiated from her. He gritted his teeth, then, to stop himself from crying.
Ahiru withdrew a bit, her face falling slightly. Maybe… maybe Autor was wrong. Maybe he just embarrassed Fakir. But… then she still had to say she wasn't mad at him, and for that she needed him to turn around.
The dark-haired boy took a shuddering breath, and she could feel his muscles tense under her fingers, giving her a rush that turned her glassy-eyed for a moment. If only he…
"Fakir," she said again, holding her breath for a moment before blurting out as fast as she could, "I-don't-know-about-you-but-for-me-Autor-was-right-so-was-he-right-about-you-or-are-you-just-mad-at-him-and-think-I'm-mad-at-you?"
Fakir didn't move for a moment. He played the jumbled words back in his head until they separated enough to make coherent sense, and Ahiru was beginning to wonder if it had been right to say anything at all, and withdrew her hand from his shoulder, sitting on her knees, her hands limp in her lap.
But when Fakir comprehended the syllables that had escaped Ahiru's mouth, he lifted his head and turned very slowly around, his legs falling as he twisted his body around as well.
Ahiru bit her lip and stared resolutely at her lap, wondering what was going to happen next and trying not to cry. She didn't know what she would do without Fakir.
But in the next moment, Ahiru found herself lying on her back again, speech made impossible by the mere fact that Fakir's lips were in the way.
But then again, they didn't really need to say anything. Knowing they could, without either of them disappearing was assurance enough for now.