A/N: So, it took 3 years, but this fic is finally over! If it weren't for Mangaka-chan's betaing and encouragement to continue, the second half of this fic would have been written even more slowly. I also want to thank her for her offer to collaborate and we're excited to present This Pendent Heart, the light novel. Each chapter is illustrated beautifully by Mangaka-chan (remove all spaces): http:// sites. google. com/site/thispendentheart/. The site will be updated with new illustrated chapters regularly. I've also uploaded the revised versions of the earlier chapters on FFN, so don't be surprised if you find new scenes, chapter divisions and such in them, but I would really recommend checking them out on the website because Mangaka-chan's art is just stunning.
A big thank you to Moon Shadow Magic for her untiring, patient help with betaing for revision. She's helped me make this story presentable and I really appreciate all the time and effort she put into doing so. All mistakes that remain are, of course, my own.
And I want to thank all of you for reading and leaving feedback and encouragement and inspiration. I don't know if I would have managed to write it all out otherwise. Hope you enjoyed the ride.
So long, and thanks for all the fish,
Once upon a time, there was a girl.
Mythos put his hand down on the table, his fingers covering the words Rue had been reading. She looked up startled, her mind still caught in the overly formal and stiff language of the royal petitions and appeals she and Mythos had been working through. Various advisers and scribes and petitioners buzzed about the room making something of a nuisance of themselves as they brought in more proposals or discussed specific cases or bustled about to appear important or merely tried to catch a glimpse of the royal couple. It was enchanting to see how much the prince and princess were in love, even when flooded with paperwork.
"Come, my princess," Mythos cajoled, with a raffish smile, "let's hide away from our councilors for a moment."
Rue eyed the piles of paper that still covered her cluttered desk as distastefully as if they were insects, and happily took her prince's hand. The idea of sneaking away made it all the more appealing, even if they both knew it was a fiction, and only for a moment. She rose, the long skirt of her wine-red gown rippling like water with her movements; while as rich and elegant as any of her ball-gowns, it was a simple dress, comfortable to work in, especially in this summer heat. She'd had it made in the image of her ballet practice dress, the same elegant cut, the same simple ruffling sleeves, a small and perhaps frivolous reminder of who she was to herself.
Mythos led her out of the council chamber through a small, discreet servants' entrance and those who noticed had the good sense to pretend that they didn't. Out in the corridor, and no doubt under the eye of some dutiful guard or other, they kissed.
For a space, they simply held each other, savoring this moment alone. Ever since they had returned to the fairytale kingdom, Rue and Mythos had found their hands full. Without their darker emotions, those in the fairytale kingdom had been living as much in a waking dream as the people of Goldcrown had when Drosselmeyer's story controlled the town. The kingdom was no longer the smooth, well-oiled machine that it had been for as long as Mythos could remember. There were innovators and artists and change now, instead of a kingdom frozen in a moment of perfect happiness and tranquility. But the sudden jumble of emotions at times also led to disputes, disagreements, and even crimes of passion and premeditation. Such things were unheard-of before and in their very novelty struck fear and uncertainty in his subjects' hearts. His people needed his leadership and his guidance now as they never had before.
At last Mythos sighed, "I suppose we should return. I keep hoping they will run out of petitions, but it seems all of my kingdom wants to set into motion at once the changes and ideas that never occurred to them after all their wildness and passion had fled with the ravens."
"You know, not all those ideas are rubbish," Rue said, just a touch of sarcastic disbelief in her voice. "One of them even proposed opening a school for the arts. Perhaps I can see to that and leave you to your stuffy councilors," she teased even as she knew she couldn't leave Mythos to such a dire fate on his own. After all, she was the one who had rescued him from facing it alone in the first place. She had startled all his advisers and then charmed them by sweeping into the council room looking for Mythos—he had been holed up in there for countless hours and she had tired of waiting—and then insisting it was as much her sovereign duty as his to consider the petitions of their subjects.
"Well, perhaps I shall help you oversee this school, if for no other reason than to sneak away on occasion to dance with you there," Mythos smiled back as Rue tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow and they stepped into the chaos of the council chamber once more, stately and regal as if they had not just stolen away for a tryst.
It was a slow, tedious story to write and did not at all cooperate. But Autor had said that stories should live in the hearts of people, not people in the hearts of stories, and so Fakir kept writing. Slowly and meticulously spinning out all the threads, starting from that first tangled web: Drosselmeyer's life. And then strand by strand, he wove in the Prince's story, the Raven's, and Goldcrown's. So many threads in this tale, Rue's, Autor's, his own, all the townsfolk's tales. But the one that seemed to gleam like a thread of gold in a tapestry worn with time was Tutu's. It wove in and out from all the others, at times seeming to wink out of existence, but always returning, tying them all together.
Occasionally, Autor would come to see them both at the hospital, Duck because she had not yet been released, and Fakir because he spent every moment he could there, by her side.
"Have you thought about publishing?" Autor had asked him one day, his voice low as Duck dozed lightly in the hospital bed.
Fakir had frowned, startled by the question. "Whatever for? Isn't writing it enough?"
"How else will the story live in the hearts of people? It will be there, for them to read, and believe if they want to. Besides," Autor continued more practically, "this should help guarantee that even if the manuscript itself is damaged or altered, the story can't be manipulated."
Fakir nodded and the two fell into an almost companionable silence.
"A new story…it will need a new title, to distinguish itself from the old tale, but also to mark a new beginning," Autor said, after a space.
Fakir, his eyes fixed on the sheaf of papers in his hands, did not reply immediately. Duck shifting in her sleep drew his gaze to her. Color had returned to she cheeks and she had regained much of her strength, but now she chafed all the more at the restrictions placed on her by the hospital staff. The number of times Duck had asked if she was well enough to dance yet had worn thin both their patience and Fakir's own . But for once, having nothing more weighing on her than the upcoming performance of Sleeping Beauty, she couldn't help wanting to throw her all into dance. For although she had loved ballet from that very first moment she had seen the heartless prince dancing, there had always been something else before, something more important than her own practicing for her to worry about. Mythos and Rue's promise to visit for her performance spurred her on even more; she respected them both as dancers and wanted them to be proud of her.
The peaceful look on her sleeping face, so at odds with her usual exuberance and animation, brought a small smile to Fakir's face. "I'm thinking of calling it Princess Tutu" he said at last, "after the character whose story it was never meant to be."
Fakir sat back in his carrel at the library, shaking out fingers cramped from writing before returning to his task once more. He had taken to coming to the academy library to work soon after Duck had been released from the hospital and cleared for light exertion. It was much easier trying to write without her there. It wasn't just her constant questions and interruptions, but his own desire to talk to her, to spend time with her—as if he were trying still to make up for those missing months when she had returned to being a duck once more, as if trying desperately to overwrite that time with new, happier memories—that had gotten in the way of his productivity.
So now Duck was off observing the rehearsals for Sleeping Beauty, and if the doctors were satisfied with the progress of her recovery, she'd be allowed to participate next week. And here he was, alone in the perpetual gloom of the library, weaving this tale. It was lonely without her. Nowhere near as lonely as it had been back before this mess started, when she had returned to being a duck and he felt he was losing her entirely. It was foolish sentimentality, he told himself firmly; he'd see her at the end of the day, when she was finished with practice and he was finished with writing.
It needs to be done, he told himself, the story needs to be written. Because, while everyone had their memories back, Fakir wanted to take no chances. He would write out all that had happened, give voice to the town's past and put to rest the past's mistakes.
Part of this new story now lay on the desk beside Fakir and yet there was still so much more to be written. And so the days passed. All those touched by the curse of the previous tale had been healed and now The Prince and the Raven was no more than a collective dream to most of the townsfolk. Some dismissed these memories out of hand, as dreams, as bouts of madness, as stories heard and remembered but not lived. Others seemed to accept some memories and reject others in a manner that was incomprehensible to Fakir. Others still were willing to believe all and Fakir was more grateful than he could express that Charon was one of these. Part of him wished Charon would never have to know just how low Fakir had sunk, but he also could not bear to lie to Charon, to hide from Charon how much he had wronged the man who had only ever loved him as a son.
Fakir had felt his heart in his throat when he faced Charon's grave expression and recounted all, sparing nothing of what he had become, what he had done. And still, somehow, Charon had forgiven him, had embraced him as his son. It startled him still, how kind people could be, Charon, Mythos, Duck....
"Still not done yet?"
Surprised by the voice, Fakir blotted the sheet before him and looked up to find Duck poking her head around a bookcase, looking half-eager and half-sheepish at her own excitement.
Fakir grimaced, setting aside his pen and gesturing vaguely at the page before him, "Hardly. I've just gotten to the part where they cut Drosselmeyer's hands off. It's strange to think after all the stories he spun, now there's one being spun about him."
"I feel bad for you, cooped up in here all day," Duck sympathized, looking at the books that lay open on Fakir's desk and the mess of papers in front of him. Then, trying on her most winsome smile, she asked, "So do you want to take a break and practice with me?"
"Hmph," Fakir grunted. "I don't need more than four or five hours of practice a day. You're the one who needs to put in more time."
"But I..." the rest of her sentence was lost as she mumbled, embarrassed, her eyes on the floor.
"What was that?" he teased.
She looked up at him, now blushing and glaring at once. "I said I miss you. I mean we see each other but, you know, spending time with you—oh, never mind," she said, breaking off in frustration and embarrassment, her cheeks puffed out in a pout.
If this was just foolish sentimentality, at least he wasn't the only one losing to it.
"Well," he said, picking up a book and a few sheets of paper, "maybe I can work on this part in the practice room with you."
Duck, with Pique and Lillie peeking over and around her shoulders, snuck a glance at the full house from the edge of the curtains. The show would start soon and she could already feel the jitters of stage fright setting in. She had practiced and practiced but the thought of going out there before so many eyes made her knees feel a little wobbly.
"Ohhhh!" Lillie squealed not-so-softly in Duck's ear. The rustling and light chatter of the audience, however, prevented her from being heard beyond the stage. "Are you nervous, Duck?" she asked sympathetically, shaking her friend's shoulder in time with her words. "Are you afraid you're going to forget your steps in front of our famous alumni who've come especially to see this performance?"
"She's not the only one," Pique quipped, pointing at Lillie's own slightly trembling hands.
"Oh, hush!" Lillie huffed back, shoving her hands behind her back. "Anyway, rumor has it, soon Miss Rue's going to be running her own ballet academy somewhere. Maybe if we flunk out of Goldcrown Academy, she'll take pity on us and take us in. I don't see her or Mythos anywhere though."
"You're making her more nervous!" Pique hissed.
"But I'm making me less nervous!" Lillie sing-songed back.
While her friends argued behind her, Duck had been scanning the faces of the audience. She had been looking forward to Rue and Mythos coming to her performance since the very moment they had left, soon after the curse had been lifted from the town, but they seemed to be nowhere to be found. She managed to spot Fakir at least, sitting mere feet away from her, in a seat that faced the edge of the stage rather than the center as she had expected. "What are you doing there?" she tried to mouth to him without drawing too much attention to herself. He raised his eyebrows at her antics and she reddened as a few girls sitting near him caught sight of her and giggled.
Duck hastily backed away from the curtain, but as she stepped back, walking across the stage and then backstage, she realized why he had chosen that particular seat. The wobbliness left her knees, and with a definite spring in her step, she linked elbows with Pique and Lillie, and boldly declared, "We're going to be great! Now let's go break some legs or whatever it is."
"Duck, that's for acting," Pique pointed out.
"Are you worried you'll trip and fall and then—"
Duck just grinned broadly.
Mythos and Rue quietly made their way down the aisle just as the curtain rose. They had meant to leave with plenty of time to chat with Fakir and Duck before the performance, but one obligation or another kept delaying their departure. At least they had made it in time for the performance and fortunately, special seats in the front had been reserved for them as distinguished alumni of the academy. After seating them, the usher quietly slipped away and both began discreetly looking for Fakir among the audience, surprised that he wasn't nearby.
Surely Fakir would not miss Duck's performance. Rue was already thinking how she would making him regret his selfish disregard for Duck's feelings, when Mythos pointed to the end of the row they were seated in. Rue raised her eyebrows, surprised Fakir hadn't had a better seat reserved for himself. She felt a pang of something like guilt for misjudging him yet again, but dismissed it—an entire lifetime of rivalry and ill-will wasn't going to disappear overnight. Although, perhaps she shouldn't be quite so ready to expect the worst from him.
It was at the beginning of the third act that she realized just why Fakir had chosen that particular seat and felt any lingering resentment she had for him dissolve entirely. On stage, all the guests had arrived to celebrate Princess Aurora's marriage to Prince Florimund. The ladies of the palace greeted the guests with airy gestures of welcome and joy. And there, amongst the parade of dancers, in the very back and near the edge of the stage with the young hand-maidens—right in front of the bad seat Fakir had chosen—was Duck.
Most of the audience had eyes only for the center of the stage, where the ballerinas moved in intricately geometric choreography, captivated by the grace of their interlocking gestures, their carefully harmonized jete en tournant, but Fakir's gaze rested only on that one red-haired hand-maiden, dressed like the others in the pale rosy colors of dawn and dancing on the fringes of the stage, the pendant at her neck glimmering now and then as she moved.
Duck did not have very many steps, but his eye, trained and honed in ballet as it was, could see the careful precision behind her small, graceful movements. It was the grace of ballet—not a natural elegance, but one that was painstakingly trained into the body. Her positions were proper and her pointe work, although brief, showed the result of arduous practice. Rue's tutelage while they were still under the curse of the story, and Duck's own unending practice since had paid off. It was clear in the smile that never left her face or her eyes, that despite how minor her role was, she loved every moment of it.
And that made Fakir smile too, because he knew that this, more than anything, was what her heart desired. When the ballet instructor had asked Fakir as an exceptional student if he was interested in participating in this production even at this late date, Fakir had surprised nearly everyone by declining the honor. His refusal had fueled all sorts of speculation among the student body, but his reasoning was really quite simple. Given his own level of skill, he wouldn't be able to dance at all with someone like Duck. If he could not dance with Duck, he was more than happy to sit and watch her dance on her own.
After the performance was over, Rue discovered yet another advantage to Fakir's choice of seating when she saw his seat was already empty. How awfully sly of him, trying to be the first person to get backstage, Rue sniffed, though her lips betrayed a smile.
Behind the drawn curtains the dancers exited the stage, still riding the high of the performance even as exhaustion began to set in. Adoring students and family members clustered about the performers, the principal dancers in particular surrounded by little islands of well-wishers.
Fakir had ducked behind a set of stage props, staying in the shadows and out of sight as the crowd moved away, toward the exits. Duck was the last to leave the stage, taking one last smiling look at the beautifully painted set before descending the steps.
"You don't have to keep staring at it," Fakir said emerging, and from behind his back produced a small bouquet of flowers that he had hidden before the performance, "you'll have plenty of opportunities to be on that stage in the future."
At the sight of the bouquet offered to her, Duck blushed, her eyes sparkling; she reddened even further when she touched Fakir's hand to accept the flowers and he grasped her free hand in his own.
"And I have you to thank for that," Duck said, standing on her toes to give him a quick peck on the cheek. She broke into a teasing smile as Fakir's cheeks matched her own.
By the time Rue and Mythos had finally made their way through the throng of eager students about them, the dancers, save for Duck, had already filed out of the dressing rooms.
At Rue's not very carefully suppressed smirk and Mythos' bright smile, Fakir cleared his throat and replied defensively, "Charon told me I should get her flowers. Although, I can say for sure" he teased, his eyes softening as he turned to Duck once more, their hands still laced together, "you're still far from being a prima donna."
Duck, blushing a brilliant shade of scarlet once more but this time for different reasons, elbowed Fakir quite firmly as Mythos and Rue laughed.
Rue gave the smaller girl a tight hug. "Duck, you were wonderful!"
"Do you really think so, Rue?" Duck asked, her voice unsure. The teasing from Fakir and what she considered high praise from Rue was starting to make Duck nervous again—it was almost impossible to believe that such talented dancers could praise her, clumsy, inelegant Duck.
"It is true, Duck. As a prince I am a man of my word," Mythos assured her, offering her a small bow.
"Yes, and someday you can come dance at my school, as a prima ballerina," Rue smiled sincerely as her prince nodded in agreement.
At this Duck remembered what Lillie had said before the performance and her voice echoed the excitement in her eyes. "That's right! I heard from Lillie that you were opening a school. Will you be teaching there? It'll be a lot of work, won't it?"
Mythos chuckled. "It will take some time as we've only began planning for the new academy, but I think such a school might help my citizens learn to live with their darkness." He continued, a touch of sorrow in his voice, "Just as we have learned to live with the ravens in our own hearts."
Both Rue and Fakir started at the statement, but their expressions lightened when Mythos smiled at Rue and Duck gave Fakir's hand a reassuring squeeze. The guilt, Rue knew from her own bitter experience, would never vanish, never wear away entirely, but it seemed both the prince and his knight were learning to live with the shadows of their hearts rather than being ruled by them.
Seeing Fakir relax again, Duck's thoughts turned to the fledglings she had tended and all of their kindred who had returned to the world they belonged to. "What happened to the ravens? Did they all return to people's hearts?"
"Some of them," Mythos replied. "But others, it appears, came out of the land itself, some seem to be nothing more than birds, and others scraps of magic."
"It's been quite a mess, actually," Rue added. "In fact, a handful of them insist on following us everywhere, even when we travel. They made an awful racket when they tried to nest in a tree right by our window." Something in Rue's tone made Duck and Fakir pity the ravens more so than the royal couple the birds had chosen to pester, for they could only imagine the upbraiding handed out by this indomitable princess, and not for the first time the four friends silently marveled at how much things had changed.
The next day Duck, with Fakir at her side, saw Rue and Mythos off in their swan-drawn chariot by lake just outside the walls of the town. Mythos and Rue were accompanied by the handful of ravens that had followed them to Goldcrown; the birds were now darting about, trying to get a rise out of the regal swans until Rue chided the mischievous birds into a semblance of good behavior.
One raven in particular fluttered towards Duck, and she was sure it was one of the fledglings she had cared for not too long ago. It settled on her shoulder for just a moment, trying to preen Duck's hair as the girl laughed. To everyone's great surprise, when Duck offered the wayward birds a handful of sunflower seeds she had brought as a present, none of them nipped at her fingers.
With some reluctance, the friends said their farewells and smiling, promised to visit again soon. The prince and princess both looked surer of themselves, of each other, as they left for their kingdom this time. As Duck waved to Rue and Mythos' chariot in the distance, strong arms wrapped around her, and she leaned back into Fakir's chest, thinking that perhaps this—her life and what she thought she could do—had changed most of all.
"Fakir, do you want to dance?"
Fakir's eyes looked down at Duck in surprise at the sudden question. "You really never get tired of dancing, do you?" He smiled teasingly even as he knew the answer.
Duck nodded. "But today I want to dance only for myself; I want to dance with you."
The pendant at her throat caught and gleamed in the early morning light, the rich shades of red entwined in a jewel shaped in the promise of a new beginning. And in the distance one last raven winked like a smudge of darkness, its flight seeming to sketch a path between Goldcrown and the fairytale kingdom, because after all, reality and story are neighboring realms.