Fifth Night – "What Once Was"
The hour hand on the grandfather clock inside the Schmied antique shop had already struck nine by the time Fakir came downstairs. The bedraggled figure of the young man was a stark contrast to his usual alert and wakeful state in the morning, and Karon looked questioningly at his son as Fakir rubbed his eyes, trying unsuccessfully to rid the stubborn remnants of sleep from his mind.
"Are you feeling all right Fakir? It's very unlike you to be up so late," Karon asked in concern.
Fakir mumbled, "No…I was-I was thinking about a story last night," he explained halfheartedly. While that was not completely true, it wasn't entirely false either. Fakir had spent the rest of the previous night trying to figure out what had happened to Ahiru and had fallen asleep only when his mind had been tired to the point that it could no longer link thoughts together coherently.
It was then that another figure descended from the staircase. Scheherazade did not look like she had slept much either, but from her expression it appeared it had more to do with anxiety than confusion. Carried by Scheherazade, Ahiru the duck looked too as if she had barely slept, but unlike Fakir and Scheherazade, there was an element of anticipation in her eyes. Fakir gazed for a long minute at the two as they came down the stairs, his eyes focused mainly on the slim figure of Scheherazade.
Scheherazade avoided Fakir's gaze and there was notable tension between them as she descended the stairs. This did not go unnoticed by Karon as he greeted Scheherazade and received a weak nod in return. Seeing Fakir's unusually sharp stare, Karon wondered if something had happened between the two. But when he saw the little bundle of yellow feathers in Scheherazade's arms, he asked, "Scheherazade, where did that duck come from?"
Astonished by the question, Fakir turned his attention to his foster father. "What do you mean, Karon? That's Ahiru."
Karon only gave Fakir a puzzled look and said, "Ahiru? But isn't that the name of that girl you know from school?"
At this a realization struck Fakir and he glanced quickly at Ahiru who also seemed to be catching onto what was going on.
To Karon, Fakir quickly said, "We found the duck yesterday and brought her home before you came back from your errand. I forgot to tell you about her last night."
Karon raised a thick eyebrow, not quite convinced. But he decided he was probably thinking too much, and that bringing home a small duck in and of itself was harmless enough. The old shopkeeper smiled benignly at the two young people before him and said, "If that's the case then I don't mind if you want to keep her in the house for a while. But I think the duck would be happier living out in the woods where it belongs, so it might be better if you returned it to the wild later on."
"I know…" Fakir acknowledged Karon's words absentmindedly and looked at Ahiru and Scheherazade. It seems Scheherazade's story has affected more than just Ahiru, Fakir thought darkly.
Somehow Karon regained his memory of Ahiru the girl, but at the same time lost his memory of Ahiru the duck. It almost seem as if Karon's memories had rewound and he is now able to recollect a forgotten past. But the strange thing is that Karon still remembered Scheherazade perfectly. Why only Ahiru? And why were only his memories of her as a duck affected? Is it because of what that girl said last night?
Through the rest of the afternoon Fakir revolved these thoughts over in his mind. The three of them, Fakir, and Scheherazade carrying Ahiru, had strolled through town in the late autumn sun with the goal of buying Ahiru some clothes. A bundle of clothing wrapped in brown paper and tied neatly with a length of twine was now tucked under Fakir's arm. The three of them were now headed towards the water mill where Ahiru could stay temporarily until Fakir could discover what exactly had happened with the town since Scheherazade told her tale last night.
Fakir's mind drifted back to the events from the previous evening and his green eyes caught the back of Ahiru's feathered head as she traveled ahead of him in Scheherazade's arms. Ahiru had regained her humanity, and at the same time Fakir had discovered that the stranger he harbored under his roof was also a Spinner, a person who, like him, could make stories come to life. But while his writing was what tugged and pulled at the fabrics of reality, Scheherazade's influence came from her voice.
Fakir had managed to free Ahiru from the grasp of one Spinner, only to have her trapped by the words of another. The insecurity and frustration of the situation quietly ate at him. He looked at the duck being held by the other Spinner. Unlike Drosselmeyer, Scheherazade appeared to harbor no ill will. Having seen the two of them interact, the young man could tell there was a genuine feeling of friendship between the two. But no matter if they were friend or not, and no matter if Ahiru forgave her or not, in his heart Fakir could not bring himself to fully trust this stranger.
As he looked away from Ahiru, Fakir noticed a pair of ladies staring at them. Although they were too far for him to make out what they were saying, he could however tell that their gaze was on the duck Scheherazade held. This was unusual, as the townsfolk had grown accustomed to the sight of the yellow duckling and her human companions. No one had so much as batted an eye at them yesterday. But now that Fakir thought about it, he realized how queerly all the townspeople were reacting to the sight of Ahiru the duck. Chuckles and whispers, these were the reaction he had received when he first started carrying Ahiru around after the Prince and the Raven story ended. The feeling of déjà vu made Fakir realize something.
So the townspeople don't remember Ahiru either? Then that means she's affected the whole town then. Fakir stared incredulously at the figure walking in front of him. How deep does her power run?
Fakir frowned at his thoughts. The only way to find out would be to keep his senses sharp.
While Fakir was lost in his thoughts, the three of them had arrived at the water mill. Scheherazade inadvertently had lead most of the way; she had remembered the place when Fakir showed it to her on her first day in Kinkan, and therefore had known exactly where it was and how to get there. Walking past her, Fakir took out an old bronze key and unlocked the lock on the mill's door. The smell of stale air and dust greeted the three visitors. Ahiru grimaced, as this would have to be her home or a while.
"We'll have to clean the place up a bit. You can wait outside until I tidy up the place," Fakir said to Ahiru. Ahiru however shook her head and pointed her wing at the bundle of clothes.
"Right now?" he frowned at her.
"Quack, quack, quack!" I want to help too, Ahiru sat up and Scheherazade, understanding her friend's intentions, lowered her to the floor. Ahiru kicked away at the dust around her webbed feet. Looking back at Fakir, her adamant expression said to him, I can help now so I want to.
Fakir sighed. He walked over to the stack of flour that doubled as a bed and put the package of clothes down.
"Fine then; I'll be waiting outside," he said briskly and closed the door on his way out.
When Scheherazade opened the door a few minutes later to let Fakir back in Ahiru was transformed into her human form. She had already gotten to work on sweeping the floor and was wearing a familiar outfit that they had bought earlier.
Whether by coincidence or design (of which Fakir suspected the latter) they had been able to find a set of clothes that were exactly the same as the ones Ahiru used to wear. Ahiru for her part was happy to find clothes she was familiar with. And so there, dressed in her yellow cuffed turtleneck, puffy shorts, and orange clogs everything seemed like it as it had been a year ago, save for the pendent around her neck. The crystal clear jewel was the one constant reminder on Ahiru's person that everything was not the same as it once was.
Fakir took notice of Ahiru's awkward but earnest smile, lightly freckled nose, and flaming red hair. What surprised him was that until that moment he hadn't realized he missed seeing her like this. A part of him wondered if that explained the feeling of comfort he had felt the night before. She was back as he best remembered her: a clumsy, but determined girl.
Absorbed in her sweeping, Ahiru was staring keenly at the dust on the wooden floor when Fakir came in, her hands tightly gripping the broomstick and stepping gingerly around the clumps of dust she had swept up.
"At the rate you're sweeping, we'll be here all day just to get the floor cleaned," Fakir remarked as he walked up to Ahiru and gently pulled the broom stick away from her. Ahiru at first glowered indignantly but when she looked at his face and saw the soft expression there, the words of rebuttal on her tongue vanished and she blinked in surprise.
Fakir seems happy all of a sudden. I wonder why… Ahiru wondered to herself, but then shrugged the question away. He had been so solemn and taciturn lately that Ahiru was simply glad that her friend's mood had improved a little. She smiled to herself. Whatever it was that made Fakir drop his sullen mood, she was thankful for it. And with that thought, the red-head turned away and tried to reapply herself to cleaning out the room.
The room now cleaned and organized, Fakir stood leaning against the wooden table and contemplated what to do next while Ahiru and Scheherazade sat on the bed of flour sacks facing him from the other side of the room.
"Based on Karon's reaction to Ahiru this morning and the reaction of the townspeople it seems like her place in the story has been restored. Whether that means her position in The Prince and the Raven story or her role in an entirely new story is uncertain. The key would be in knowing what exactly you said last night," Fakir directed his gaze to Scheherazade and there was no sign of warmth in his eyes.
"What exactly did you say last night about Ahiru? Tell me." Fakir asked in a voice that was much less a question than a demand.
Scheherazade met his eyes briefly but could not bear to meet them for long and so lowered her eyes again, all the while saying nothing. Fakir looked at her with displeasure, his patience wearing thin once again. Seeing Fakir's irritation and Scheherazade's hesitation, Ahiru inched closer to the black-haired girl's side and said, "It's okay, Sheh-chan. You don't have to be scared. We just want to know what exactly you said so Fakir can try to figure out what's going on right now with my being a girl again and all."
At Ahiru's comforting words, Scheherazade relaxed a fraction and her back straightened a little as she looked back at Fakir. She raised a slender index finger, touched her lips, and pointed it towards Fakir.
Fakir was puzzled by her mime for a second, then said, "You're saying you repeated my words?" Scheherazade nodded.
Both Ahiru and Fakir were startled. Fakir took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
He could remember clearly what he had said and what Scheherazade claimed she repeated. …The way things used to be? The way you were a year ago; the life you had then…the way you were a year ago… the life you had then…Yes, that would explain why she was human again. A year ago they were still trapped in Drosselmeyer's story and Ahiru had the ability to transform between being a duck and a girl. But what about Princess Tutu – has that particular ability been returned to her as well?
Opening his eyes Fakir saw a concerned Ahiru gazing back at him. "Ahiru, do you think you can become Princess Tutu?"
Ahiru twisted her lips and frowned deeply in thought. "I don't know, but I'll try." Her hands cupped her pendent and she closed her eyes. Before when she needed to transform Ahiru would think about the person she wanted to help, be it Mytho or someone possessed by a heart shard. This time Ahiru focused her thoughts on helping Scheherazade.
But nothing happened. After a full minute of concentrating, Ahiru gave up. "Gah! It's not working." Ahiru sighed in obvious frustration. "I don't think I can, Fakir!"
For his part Fakir wasn't surprised by the result of Ahiru's attempt. He said calmly, "Princess Tutu was Drosselmeyer's character and her power was derived from the Prince's heart shard. Now that Mytho has his heart back and the Prince and Raven story has a proper ending it would make sense that you can't transform into Tutu anymore."
Ahiru however was rather disappointed and said, "I was hoping I could though. Then maybe I could help Sheh-chan somehow."
Hearing her earnest words Fakir said nothing for a moment. "…It's better if you don't. We don't know what exactly is going on yet so it would be safest for you to stay here for now. I'll go walk around town and see if I can uncover anything else while I'm at it." He moved away from the table and began walking towards the door. "Wait here, I'll come back and-"
Surprised by the stern protest, Fakir turned around to see Ahiru standing up and facing him. "You can't treat me like you did Mytho. You can't just have me sitting here. I don't want to stay hidden away like this!"
Fakir was briefly stunned. But he soon realized she was right. Ahiru was not the heartless Mytho that Fakir had grown up caring for. Having a heart, she had her own opinion and her own willpower, and he had seen just how strong those traits of her were. He could not make her to do what he thought was best, and though this frustrated Fakir, he reminded himself that, like he had for Mytho with a heart becoming ever more complete, he also had to take into account her feelings, instead of only his own.
"Staying here is the safest thing for you right now," Fakir declared but as Ahiru was about to open her mouth to contest he quickly followed, "but you're right, I can't keep you here against your will."
Fakir sighed and looked at the dumbfounded Ahiru. "Knowing you, you'll probably find some way to get out anyway. You can come with me then, but don't run off where I can't see you." To Scheherazade, he said, "You come with us too. You are the one who told her story; maybe you can detect something we can't."
Scheherazade nodded her consent, and soon their little party was off to explore the town. Ahiru could not help but think about how different Fakir's actions have been from a year ago. Back then he had locked Mytho up in the library to bar him from going to the Fire Festival. It wasn't so much that he had grown nicer, but rather more comfortable with his and other people's feelings. At this Ahiru felt a bubble of warmth in her chest and it pushed the corners of her lips up into a smile.
Walking the streets of Kinkan Town, Fakir, Ahiru, and Scheherazade proceeded through the town quietly. Fakir's keen green eyes drifted watchfully to the people they passed, noting their attitude and reaction to their small party, particularly towards Ahiru. But so far no one had approached them or given them much thought. It seemed there was nothing abnormal about the red haired girl's appearance.
The peaceful nature of the town made Ahiru wonder if it was really necessary for Fakir to be so nervous. Seeing the buildings and places she knew so well at eye-level again and in a human form at first made her feel uneasy, but with Fakir and Scheherazade's presence by her side and the calm environment of the town Ahiru's discomfort was soon eased. The people enjoying the afternoon by the pizzeria, the buildings that hugged the bank of the stream as it wound through town, the cathedral in the distance; it was as if she was coming home and seeing these familiar places again for the first time in ages.
As they approached the street leading to Kinkan Academy, Ahiru suddenly felt an arm around her neck and two familiar high-pitched voices in her ear.
"Gatcha!" squealed Lillie as Ahiru gasped for air.
Pike's face came around behind her and the purple haired girl gave Ahiru an enthusiastic pat on the back as she laughed, "You totally didn't hear us coming up behind you, did you?"
Ahiru managed to croak out an amazed, "Eh?! Pike? Lillie? You guys still remember me?!"
At this Lillie and Pike froze and looked at each other before Lillie turned back and rubbed Ahiru's cheeks. "Oh that's our silly Ahiru-chan alright! Who could possibly forget you, with your utterly adorable clumsiness?"
"But-!" Ahiru wanted to say, yet before she could say any more Pike and Lillie finally took notice of Fakir and Scheherazade, with the former looking exasperated and the latter looking confused.
Pike pulled Ahiru to one side and whispered in a prying voice, "Say, do you know who that girl is? Why is she walking with Fakir-sama?"
"Uh, she's Sheh-chan-I mean-her name is uh…Sche…Scheher…Scheherazade; she's my friend! We uh, ran into Fakir on the way to-to…!" Ahiru stammered, her head spinning.
"To school?" Lillie finished her sentence for her. "But Fakir hasn't come to school for months! He's turning into a delinquent just like I thought he would!"
"Er no, that's not-!" Ahiru began but was again interrupted by her friend.
"Speaking of school, did you start working on the paper project yet?" asked Pike. "Schafer-sensei said to have it ready by Friday." "We were talking to Anna yesterday and she said she met an upperclassman who's in the drama department and he was going to help her with her project!" Lillie gushed. Pike smirked. "And I think there's more to it than just that, but of course Anna wouldn't tell us anything else so I went and found out who he was and then… "
Ahiru had been completely lost in her friends' stream of babbles, so much so that she couldn't even keep up with what they were saying. But as the thought of school sank in, an idea suddenly struck Ahiru.
School…classes…Pike and Lillie…could it be…!
"Guys, listen!" Ahiru said without warning, "I have to go to the school right now; I'll be right back!" The red haired girl then turned and dashed off without waiting for an answer from the others.
Ahiru's sudden action prompted the girls' gossip to come to an abrupt stop as they turned heels and raced after her. "H-hey! Ahiru-chan, wait a minute! Wait for us!" cried Pike.
With Pike and Lillie running off to follow Ahiru, Fakir wondered if he should follow as well. But he had seen Ahiru's eyes light up at whatever thought that propelled her suddenly towards the Academy. Since she had her friends going after her, Fakir knew at least she wouldn't be alone, but having all of them running towards the school was going to attract attention and Fakir was not in favor of that. Better to walk there slowly and meet her at the Academy's gates. With that Fakir too started walking towards the school. Scheherazade watched him go and after a few steps she followed in his wake.
Ahiru didn't stop for breath along the way as she made a beeline towards the Kinkan Academy dormitories. She ran past the front gates, around the fountain with the dancers, and under the flowered archway before reaching the girl's dormitory. Rushing right through the front door of the building, the frantically running red-head charged down the hallway and tearing past the floors stairway by stairway. She only stopped when she reached the bottom of the last flight of stairs that lay between her and her goal. Panting but unfazed from the exercise, Ahiru swallowed as she began making her way up the last set of stairs and down the short stretch of hallway.
Her hand touched the cool metal handle of the attic door and with one gentle push, the wooden door opened and a familiar sight welcomed her. A yellow duck pillow sat by the window sill in front of her while to her left was a small wooden table with books and knick-knacks on it. Ahiru walked into the quiet room. The little pot of flowers by the window was healthy and green, showing it was well-cared for and watered. Walking further into the room, Ahiru looked up and saw her quilt folded rather haphazardly, like the sleeper had been awakened suddenly and had to make her bed quickly before heading out.
This was her room as she remembered it. Everything was as it was when she still lived here; even the red oil lamp she had taken in was sitting exactly where she had left it by the window. It was almost as if this room had still been hers and someone had been carefully cleaning and maintaining the room for the day its inhabitant returned.
Seeing this, hearing her friends call her name again, and knowing she could be a girl again, it was as if she had been transported back into the life she had known and lived months ago. Ahiru had never really thought of missing her old life very much, but now that her former life had been handed back to her did Ahiru realize how much she missed it all. She missed chatting with Lillie and Pike, she missed feeding the birds in the morning before she went to class, and more so than anything else, she missed the feeling of being on the dance floor and being able to dance. Ahiru had been ready to give it all up before because she knew it never belonged to her, because that wasn't who she really was. The ordinary room in front of her was supposed to be the fantasy, the fairy tale. But how could she convince herself of that with it now standing directly in front of her? She was real now, and so was her love for the life she had known while living in this little attic dorm room. She couldn't push all the desires back now; she can't.
Here was her chance, to live out the aspiration and effort she had left behind. Even if it would only be for a little while, even if it would not last forever, Ahiru wanted to move a little closer to her dream.
The sun was beginning to set by the time Ahiru walked out of the front gate of Kinkan Academy. Lillie and Pike had followed her to her room and it took the red-head some time before she managed to convince her friends that nothing was wrong despite her racing up the dorms like a hurricane.
Standing by the iron gates were Fakir and Scheherazade, both of whom turned their eyes to Ahiru when they caught sight of her. Fakir said nothing to Ahiru but looked questioning at her, his arms crossed. Ahiru pursed her lips, knowing Fakir would disagree with her decision, but this was her chance.
She took a deep breath and began recounting what she saw. From Fakir's expression she could tell the news didn't entirely surprise him, but as she predicted, he didn't look pleased either. Ahiru swallowed and said, "I know you're not going to agree with me, but I…I really want to go back to the Academy." She looked down and twisted the corner of her shirt, her face in deep concentration. "I know I'm a duck, but as far as I could remember I've always dreamed about dancing. As a duck I can't dance and I accept that…but now that I'm a girl…" Ahiru suddenly looked up, "I want to try again, even if it's only for a little while!"
Fakir sighed softly, and rather than looking angry, the expression on his face was grave and sad. He remembered Ahiru's silent tears when she watched Scheherazade dance. For her to have another chance at her once impossible dream: Fakir could not refuse her request. Maybe it was his own selfishness at work, trying to ease his feeling of guilt for having had persuaded her to give up that dream, but even if she was trapped in another story shouldn't she be allowed at least this one small wish, this one small bit of happiness?
"Fine then." Fakir's acquiescent reply made Ahiru's eyes widen in surprise.
She had been worried and confused by his calm but solemn mien, and had not expected him to agree so readily without a fight. Still not quite able to believe it herself, Ahiru tried to reassure Fakir, "Are you sure? I mean, you can come visit me, and-and I'll be sure to come by Karon-san's shop everyday so you don't have to worry about me, and of course I can also see Sheh-chan everyday that way," Ahiru prattled on, but the excitement in her voice was showing in her voice as she thought about her future at the Academy. "Ah, but I'll have to do that after school, or else the teacher will get mad at me for skipping class, and I should go to afternoon practice too if I want to get better this time. Oh, but that means I can't come in the afternoon then! I guess I could come after dinner, but I know Karon-san goes to bed early and I don't want to disturb him and-"
"Idiot," Fakir said softly, effectively cutting Ahiru short. "You don't have to try and figure everything out at once. Come over whenever you have time so I know how you're doing, and in the meantime I'll keep looking around to figure out what exactly is going on in town. Just remember to keep an eye out for anything unusual at school and tell me about it as soon as possible."
Ahiru blinked. "Oh...okay!" She suddenly grinned, and seeing the bright smile on this girl's face, it suddenly occurred to Fakir that he had not seen her smile like that in a long time. Her infectious joy lightened his mood, which for the last few days had been overshadowed by anxiety and frustration.
A ghost of a smile appeared on his lips as he said in a gently sarcastic tone, "And this time try to put some effort into learning how to dance properly so you won't look like a grace-less ditz."
The prompt had the desired affect as Ahiru placed her hands on her hips and said indignantly, "And what if I do get better?"
Fakir smirked, accepting Ahiru's challenge. "If you do improve, then…" he paused to think before meeting the red-head's eyes, "…then I will dance a pas de deux with you, because the male partner in a pas de deux is the most qualified person to discern the abilities of the ballerina. Then I will be able to decide how much better you had gotten, if at all, since that last time on stage."
Ahiru knew exactly what incident Fakir was talking about. Her first pas de deux with Fakir had been a mild disaster, when he had graciously left her to fall off the stage. The provocation certainly raised Ahiru's hackles as she remembered the embarrassing event, but it then dawned on her that this was the first time Fakir had volunteered to dance since the story had ended.
He said he had given up dancing, but maybe in his heart he still wants to dance, just like I do. The thought pacified Ahiru and with her spirit full of anticipation, she smiled back at Fakir. "Alright then, I will get better, just you watch!"
Fakir snorted, unimpressed. Ahiru yelled at Fakir for not taking her seriously, for her part seeming to have forgotten all their earlier worries. The situation quickly dissolved into another bickering match between the former prima ballerina and the reincarnated former storybook knight. Scheherazade, whose presence was all but forgotten in their conversation, smiled privately in the warm glow of the setting sun.
Man that took me a long time to get this chapter out. I apologize to the people who've been waiting for this story to be updated. School eats my time away and now that I'm in graduate school (eep!) my time is even tighter than before. I'm still gonna work on this story, but finding time to write is going to be a real crunch for me.