A blood-curdling scream reached its target. Pike and Lilie heard their friend's voice, and, with just a glance at each other, started running through the halls to find out what could be wrong. Ahiru would never want to attract this much attention. Something must be horribly wrong. They passed Autor in the halls just as Ahiru screamed again, this time a name.

"FAKIR!"

Autor watched the two usually flighty girls running at full speed to their friends aid. Yes, Autor recognized the voice, and even he knew that something was terribly wrong. And so he ran after them, catching up with the two girls in a moment, and panting, "What's going on?"

They turned to look at him with wild eyes. "We don't know," they said.

That was all that was said.

They followed the screams, momentary allies, to emerge into the afternoon sunlight of the practice room, finding Ahiru curled up into a fetal position in the middle of the floor, sobbing.

"Ahiru!" screamed the girls, running to her side, but she yelped and jumped back, out of their reach, like a stray kitten, afraid of even a potentially healing touch.

And Autor noticed that she held a single rose in her hand, her hand clutching the flower desperately.

"Autor!" Pike turned to him with pleading in her eyes, "What should we do?"

Autor forced his mind to work again. "She was calling for Fakir," he said aloud, musing, trying to piece things together to find out what happened. Pike had other ideas.

"Autor, go get Fakir!" she commanded. For a moment he just looked at her, but she persisted. "Go! We'll stay here with Ahiru."

Then Autor ran, almost twice as fast as he had run to Ahiru, and was panting heavily when he finally found Fakir, lying peacefully on the ground under an oak tree, a book lying forgotten in his lap as he stared off into nothing.

Fakir frowned. "What is it, Autor?"

Autor shook his head and panted.

"Ahiru," he breathed, "Come."

Autor cursed himself for his lack of breath. He had never had to run this far this hard before, and now he had to run back…

But Fakir didn't let him rest. All he did, seeing the look on his friend's face, and hearing her name, was jump up, letting the book, already forgotten in his lap, fall to the ground with a light thud, and run, not bothering to see if Autor was following him.

Autor glared after his rapidly disappearing figure for a moment.

"Damned… jerk…" he panted, before steeling his muscles and running after Fakir.

Needless to say, Fakir arrived first at the practice room to see Ahiru's crumpled figure in the corner, and Pike and Lilie standing uncertainly, watching her.

Lilie was the first to catch sight of Fakir, and for a moment she was speechless, perhaps because of the sweat running down his brow and the wildly terrified light in his eyes.

But then he stepped forward a little, attempting to approach Ahiru cautiously.

"Fakir!" Pike called, a relieved smile taking her features. "Thank God you're here, Ahiru's been calling for you. She-"

Upon the mention of his name, Ahiru had opened her eyes, and when she had seen him standing there, watching her and not really listening to Pike, Ahiru jumped up and ran to him, throwing her arms around him and sobbing into his chest, and Pike gasped, just as Lilie's eyes seemed to grow to the size of saucers.

Autor slipped into the room and sat down against the wall, gasping for air, but unnoticed.

Fakir held Ahiru close to him, one hand holding her waist tight to him, and the other stroking her hair. His chin rested on the top of her head, and he whispered, "Shh."

Ahiru just sobbed into his chest.

"I'm here," he whispered, and Pike and Lilie's eyes almost popped out of their heads.

Fakir did not notice. All his senses could feel was Ahiru. Her smell, the sound of her sobbing, her red hair, recently cut and falling just past her shoulders in wild curls, the taste of the words he said as they left his lips, the feel of her pressing up against him and the imagined taste of the salt of tears on her lips if he should kiss them.

"I'm always here, Ahiru," he continued.

But at this she sobbed harder and shook her head, burrowing more deeply into his chest. "You weren't," she gasped in between tears, and these two words cut Fakir like a knife through his heart.

Pike and Lilie watched as his eyes went hollow and sad, and his arms clenched more tightly around Ahiru's petite body.

He slid down to the ground, pulling Ahiru into his lap.

"I know," he said, and closed his eyes for a moment.

When he opened his eyes, he noticed something that he hadn't before. He saw a red rose clutched in Ahiru's hand.

"What happened?" he asked, gently stroking the fingers that had formed a fist around the rose.

She looked at it for a moment, her sobbing temporarily stopped, though tears still ran down her face. Then she threw it aside, and Fakir saw that the stem of the rose had been dyed red. Red with Ahiru's blood. He looked down at Ahiru.

She was shaking her head into his chest, her sobbing having given way to whimpering, her bloody hand lying limp on her lap.

He held her close, so close. She was so fragile. Sometimes he forgot just how fragile. But sitting on the cold floor of the practice room, staring down at her face, twisted with pain at something, he remembered. And it made him so angry that he hadn't been there to protect her.

"What happened?" he growled at Pike and Lilie, finally noticing them.

They jumped in fear and surprise at his tone.

"We don't know," said Lilie, "We just heard her scream and came to see what was the matter. And she was calling for you."

Pike nodded, adding, "When we tried to approach her, she just moved away, as if we would burn her if we touched her."

Fakir took a deep breath and looked back down at Ahiru.

"Ahiru," he whispered, lifting her chin so she looked at him. She swallowed and took a shuddering breath, tears sliding down her face.

"I love you," Fakir said, loud enough for all in the room to hear. At any other time, this confession would have caused all kinds of mayhem, but then, all those who had been waiting for him to confess to her, or her to confess to him, or him to confess to anybody, just stood watching with a kind of morbid fascination as Ahiru just stared at Fakir, and he leaned closer to kiss her, locking their lips together, his arms holding her to his body as if, should he let her go for a second, she would slip away from him.

But whatever Fakir had felt in Ahiru's kiss seemed to satisfy him, for his eyes had tenderness and love in them, shining free and uninhibited, as he looked at her tearstained face. And she took a gasping breath. "Fakir," she sobbed, and buried her head in his shoulder, as his arms held her securely.

"He…" she sobbed, "He…"

"Shh," Fakir crooned in her ear, "It's alright. I'm here now. You're going to be fine. I'll never let you go, Ahiru."

"I love you, Fakir," she said.

Fakir smiled a little, and closed his eyes, listening to Ahiru's breathing slowly become more normal as she calmed. He barely heard the creak of the door as their friends left them alone in the practice room.

"Now," Fakir prompted when Ahiru's breathing had been steady for a while, "What happened?"

He attempted to pull her a little away from him, so he could see her face, but she merely clutched him tighter.

"Drosselmeyer," she said, "He… He stopped time to speak to me. He made me think that time had started again. He was gone. And then you… you… you tried to kill me…"

Tears started sliding down Ahiru's cheeks again, and Fakir held her even tighter, vowing, "I'd never do that. Even if it meant sacrificing my own life, I couldn't harm you, Ahiru."

Ahiru took a deep breath, and looked up at Fakir, seeming to finally recover, and blushing slightly.

"You—you mean that?"

Fakir smiled slightly and put a hand on her chin.

"Of course I do. I told you I'd stay by your side, didn't I?"

Ahiru nodded, smiling a little too.

Fakir looked at her face. Her eyes were red, her face tear-stained, her nose red, and he found he couldn't think of anyone more beautiful.

"Speaking of which," he continued, knowing that the time was right, "Graduation is coming soon. I won't have quite so good of an excuse to stay with you. Unless perhaps…"

Ahiru's eyes widened as Fakir pulled out a small velvet box, "You'll marry me?"

Her eyes filled with tears again, and for a moment Fakir didn't know why.

"I'm sorry," he said, "Perhaps it was too sudden…" he trailed off, hoping to appease her and stop the tears from sliding down her cheeks. He felt as if his heart would break every time she cried.

"No, Fakir, it's not too sudden," she said firmly, and looked into his eyes again. In this moment, every bit as strong as Princess Tutu, facing his blade.

He smiled at her and slipped the ruby ring on her finger. Not traditional, he knew, but he felt it fit them better than a diamond.

"Finally!" hissed Autor, from where he stood at the window, next to Pike and Lilie, and the girls looked at him in question.

"Do you know how long he's been carrying that thing around?" Autor said in explanation, "They thought they were being so stealthy, dating behind our backs. Ha!"

Pike and Lilie continued to stare at Autor in wonder. Dating? They'd been dating!?


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